Day 74: False Gods

"I learned that God didn't want false gods or idols. I thought it was terribly selfish of God as a child but I think I get it now. . . We were made perfect and they are imperfect . . . and will never live up to what we want or need them to be." - Kelly Clarkson reflecting on the death of Amy Winehouse

I can honestly say I have never ever thought about why God didn't want us to worship false idols or other gods. I just accepted that He didn't, and I said ok.

But I can also honestly say I have struggled not to make idols out of so many things in my life, and I have struggled not to make gods out of so many people in my life.

What simple truth from her words though. "We are perfect and they are imperfect and will never live up to what we want or need them to be."
So like God to give us a commandment that isn't about Him demanding our attention and affection, but is about His protection for our hearts and our minds. He is all that will ever live up to our wants, our needs, our expectations, our hopes, our dreams. Only Him.

All that to say, I never imagined I'd be quoting Kelly Clarkson, much less appreciating her wisdom, but wow. Well said, Kelly.

Day 73: Tension

I have been quilting for a few years now, 10 to be exact, and I do use the term "quilting" very loosely. I've never made anything really difficult, and only attempt things that involve me sewing squares or rectangles together, but nonetheless, I have created some beautiful things along the way.

I hated sewing when I was in high school and swore I would never sew again, much less actually ENJOY sewing or find it to be something that calms me. But I do love it.

Mostly I love it.

I absolutely hate it on days when my sewing machine is possessed. And by possessed I mean the bobbin eats thread, the thread constantly breaks (which is ESPECIALLY annoying because I am half-blind now and can't see to thread the stupid needle!), or the fabric won't feed, or blah, blah, blah, you get the picture. Usually when that happens, I just quit sewing for a while. Sometimes for the day, sometimes for weeks or even months.

I was sewing the other day and was having a "machine day" when instead of giving up, I decided to play around with the tension of my machine. I have always been content to set my machine controls right in the middle of the suggested settings area on the machine. I always figured that those blue squares indicating where I should set the controls were there for a reason, so I've just always used them. It never occurred to me that each machine was going to be different and I might have to "play" with what normal looked like for MY machine.

Turns out, the tension on your sewing machine is incredibly important. Too much tension and the thread breaks, too little and the extra slack in the thread causes the stitches to be messy and the thread to break (why does everything end in the thread breaking?!)

In my usual, "over analyze" everything way, I started thinking about how the tension of my sewing machine was a lot like the tension of my life. Too much tension and things break. Too little tension and things just get messy. Try to live in the "what's normal for everyone else" mode too long, and things don't work either.

All that to say, next time things get out of control, instead of giving up, I'm just going to adjust my tension.

Day 72: Recipes (The Contest)

So far I have received a recipe for Migas from my good friend, Doug Jackson. And, because I said I would cook every recipe that was submitted, I cooked them, though in truth I was pretty skeptical about anyone else in my family eating them. (And, considering Doug, himself, said that he was the only person in HIS house that ate them, rightfully so!)

They were pretty good. Won't be a family favorite though because I'd have to take the cilantro, onions, tomatoes, etc. out of them for anyone else to eat them. Turns out the girls have as many "texture" issues as their brothers. Are all kids like that or do I do something to turn mine into people with texture issues?

Last night we ate a recipe submitted by a. nonymous. So, of course their recipe doesn't count because the rules say that you have to submit your recipe on the blog.

It was Rosemary Garlic Chicken with Fettucine Alfredo and Chocolate Gooey Cake for dessert. Here are the recipes.

4 Frozen Chicken Breasts (boneless, skinless, duh)
2.5 tsps Creole Seasoning (with salt)
1 tsp fresh rosemary (but all I had was dried, so I just reduced this a bit)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sliced onion
1 clove garlic

Rub the olive oil on the chicken. mix seasonings together and rub on chicken. Place in baking dish.

Sautee 1 minced or pressed clove of garlic with sliced onions. Pour on top of chicken in baking dish. Bake COVERED at 375 until juices run clear from chicken (about 45 minutes) Uncover for last 10 minutes to get a nice crispness to the chicken.

Cook fettucine to al dente.

Alfredo sauce
2.5 cups cream or half/half
1.5 cups freshly grated parmesan
pinch salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic

Sautee pressed garlic cloves in butter. Stir in 1.5 cups of cream, salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Add cooked fettucine noodles, remaining milk and cheese. (I added the cheese first to be sure it melted really well and the sauce got really creamy (which it didn't b/c my cheese was frozen when I grated it, note to self!)

Plate and add chicken breasts to top of noodles. (I did not serve them with the onions or the garlic on the chicken . . . texture issues . . .but the flavor was there!)

As for the chocolate Gooey cake, well, emphasis is on the gooey b/c I accidentally added an ENTIRE JAR of chocolate fudge sauce instead of 1/4 cup. Bummer. But I'm going to retry that recipe b/c it sounds delicious, and the part that I got right (the crust) was scrumptious!

All that to say, my husband is probably going to be begging me for hot dogs by the time I have finished trying out new recipes! Don't forget to send your in to this link.

Day 71: Vacation Day 2 - Making Memories

Day two didn't start out exactly as planned, and I'll spare you all the details of why, but suffice it to say it was "unscripted."

So, we got up early and went to Kerby Lane in Austin for some yummy and world famous pancakes. Really though, they should tell you in advance that your "pancake" is more the size of a frisbee than a pancake! I would have adjusted my order significantly! They cook pancakes in such a way that they are the slightest bit crispy on the outside, but sweet and fluffy and delicious on the inside (I included the link to their pancake mix. GET IT!)

Shortstack saw a homeless lady outside the restaurant and asked a stream of questions about her. Mostly the questions were "what happened lady?" and "what she do." She was very confused. I thought about polishing over the whole situation, but decided that she wasn't too young to understand about such things.

Moving on . . .

After much searching online for something fun and cheap to do with the kids, we settled on a safari that was somewhere near Austin (according to Mike and his mad iphone search skills!)

Not to focus on the negative, but the safari trip was kind of a "three strikes" experience.

Strike One - Turns out the safari "somehwere near Austin" was almost 2 hours away (I seriously hate technology sometimes). Luckily, Nitro slept the whole way, and Shortstack entertained herself with songs and animal sightings and trucks.

Strike Two - the "cheap family entertainment site" must have a different measuring standard than I do for cheap. It was $34.50 for us to drive-thru it in our own vehicle. (The site said a "wild ride" and we assumed that we would be exiting our vehicle and riding on a train or a tram or something else. Boo.)

Strike Three - there were virtually NO animals. Seriously. The girls had a great time throwing food pellets out of the back window to the invisible animals(when they weren't trying to secretly eat the food pellets themselves!) But, we knew we had come upon something incredible when we noticed about 10 cars stopped on the side of the road. I have included a picture so you could see the few animals who were actually at the "safari."

This is not a close-up or zoomed in shot. It was actually this close to me.

So to recap, we drove for two hours to get there, drove around for about an hour, and then drove home (about 3.5 hours away). There was a brief 30 minute diversion in the petting zoo where we had to remind Nitro that animals do not like to be hugged or have their tails pulled. Especially goats.

I'd like to say it was a fun day. But have you ever spent the better part of a day in a car with twin three year olds? :)

Actually, it wasn't that bad. I crawled in the backseat with them at one point and watched a movie. (please get a mental picture of me wedged between two car seats in the backseat of a car. It's worth your mental effort.)

The day closed with a trip to McDonalds, a gourmet meal of chicken nuggets and french fries and lots and lots of ketchup. Toddler heaven.

I felt so bad for them being cooped up in the car all day that I even let them play on the giant playground, which I am sure was teeming with disgusting germs, and if you know me well, you know how I feel about that!

All that to say, we arrived home after 9 p.m., gave our tired toddlers a much needed (albeit FAST) bath and put them in bed where they fell promptly asleep. I must remind myself that every day we are making memories with them. Sweet, precious, memories.

Day 70: Day One of our Budget Friendly Vacation

Mike and I took the girls to Austin this weekend. Well, techinically we went on Sunday and Monday, which isn't EXACTLY the weekend, but hey, he makes his own schedule now, and I'm on vacation this week,so the weekend is when we say it is, and we said it was going to be on Sunday and Monday.

We chose Austin because Jacob lives there now, and Mike had never seen Jacob's apartment, and it would be cheap because we could stay at his apartment instead of a hotel (don't forget, we're on a budget, what with Mike starting his new pest control company and all . . . I hate budgets.)

Sunday's drive was just absolutely delightful, minus Shortstack throwing up her oatmeal without warning, unless you count, "my tummy hurts" coming from the backseat like twenty times. (Seriously though, don't judge me. I thought she had to poop!) Turns out she doesn't really process oatmeal and twists and turns and Pop's driving so well. Note to self, "my tummy hurts" means "I'm going to projectile vomit. Be warned."

Once we had pulled over and changed clothes and cleaned up throw-up out of the car seat and let the girls walk around on some entrance to a random ranch, we got back in the car and headed to Austin (without incident I am happy to say.)

We swam and played in the pool at Jacob's apartment (more cheap/free entertainment!) The girls loved it! Shortstack was a little intimidated, but she usually is of everything at first. Nitro, on the other hand, was fearless (as she usually is!) She kept doing this thing I started calling the "death roll" (because it reminded me a lot of what an alligator does when it has chomped its prey and is rolling over and over in the water while it drowns its victim.) I also called it the death roll because it nearly scared me to death everytime she did it without warning. (Did I mention she can't swim?) She's been practicing this move in the bathtub, but it's a lot less scary when she does it in 6 inches of water!

Then Jacob got home from work and we ate burritos and went for a long walk in search of dinosaurs (toddlers are easily manipulated, and we were tired of saying, "don't run in the house, the neighbors downstairs can hear you!") Desparate times call for creative thinking! After they were sufficiently worn out, we gave up our dinosaur search (though we did see some tracks!) and went home to go to bed.

Our napless toddlers, our very grouchy napless toddlers fell asleep at 7:50 p.m. BLISS!

Jacob was gracious and gave us his bed and bedroom for the night, while he slept on the floor in his living room. We put the girls in two pack-n-plays in the bedroom with us.

Two problems with our thinking here.

1. They have grown considerably since they last slept in those, and easily crawled right out of them.
2. Nitro bangs her head all night while sleeping. All night. In the same room with us. On my side of the bed.

I almost lost my mind! At one point, when Nitro finally stopped banging her head, I was just about to doze off and Mike started snoring. OMG!

Finally, I moved Nitro into the bathroom and turned on the bathroom fan (I hear the judgment in your head right now). (PS - Pack-N-Plays don't fit through doors so I had to completely disassemble the stupid thing, in the dark, with a sleeping baby and a half-awake husband who was receiving the brunt of my sleepless frustration!)

Day one of our budget friendly vacation. Over.

Let me give you a couple tips on Budget Friendly Vacations.
1. Stay with a family member
2. Eat their food (note to self: bachelors don't usually have a lot of food)
3. Do free stuff, like swim and go on dinosaur hunts.
4. Rent a movie at the "Green box" (it was green. it was still $1.00!)
Total cost of the day: $30 including gas and a few groceries we had to buy.

All that to say, even though it sounds like a good idea to let your toddlers skip their nap so they'll be really, really sleepy and go right to bed in the strange new place and you won't have to battle them at bedtime, don't fall for it! It's a bad, bad idea! But we still had a fun day. Here's a couple pics! (I forgot my camera so our entire vacation is on my iphone camera! Awesome.)

Nitro exploring the bottom of her shoe while sitting in timeout for jumping in the pool without warning and also without her floaties! Did I mention she is fearless? Jacob was EXACTLY like this! LOL.

Shortstack having some fun times with her Pops.

Day 69: Bored with Food (Recipe Contest!)

When my sons were home, the older they got, the pickier they got, so the more restricted I felt in what was okay to cook. We had precious few meals that "everyone" loved. So when they left home, I swore our dinner choices would be wide open!

But alas, that has not been the case. I find that I still cook the same old boring recipes. Spaghetti, tacos, gumbo, breakfast for dinner, lasagne, stuffed bell peppers and sandwiches seem to be our standard fare.

Add to that the fact that I work a very full time job, and I have toddlers who aren't patient about waiting for a dinner that takes a long time to cook, and you can see how challenging it can be for me to cook a meal that is flavorful and not the same old junk I've been cooking for years.

So, I'm asking for your help. I would like your very favorite main dish recipe. It can be a casserole, a meat dish, a soup, whatever. But I have to be able to prepare it and cook it in less than one hour.

Here's the deal. You have to post the entire recipe on this blog as a comment, or as a link to your own blog where you have posted the recipe. The recipe must include a picture. Remember the time frame (see above paragraph). It cannot contain mushrooms or okra because I hate both of those.

I will personally cook each recipe for my family and will post that recipe (along with photos and my family's reaction.)

**Clarification** I'd like to have your recipes as soon as possible because I have to cook them all by October 31st. IF, and this is a big IF, you cannot submit a picture of your winning recipe, then I'll be gracious, because I really want that recipe! And it doesn't have to be original or anything like that, just good, easy, and family friendly (and without mushrooms or okra!) So start sending them in today!

If I receive at least 30 recipes, then the winner will receive a $100 gift card! The winner will be announced not later than October 31st (It's going to take some time for me to cook all these recipes!) which will give you some Christmas shopping money!

And as a bonus, add a dessert or side recipe that goes with your recipe and your winning dessert and/or side will win you a surprise prize! (That just means I don't know what it is yet!)

All that to say, I am hungry, and bored with my meals, and tired of looking up recipes online! And, as a "pay it forward" gift, I will cook the winning meal (including side and dessert) for a family in need of a meal. So get busy and send me your recipe!

Day 68: Life Unscripted

I haven't blogged about this day, and I don't really know why, because as far as days go, it was absolutely one of the most perfect I have had in a really long time.

Of course, any day that is a "perfect day" for me involves family. I can't imagine anything better than spending the day with my family; my husband, my sons and my daughters.

We started our day with The Woodlands 4th of July Parade. Believe it or not, in the 14 years that I have lived in The Woodlands, I have never attended the parade. But having babies in your home again makes you do crazy things! So we braved the 100 degree temperatures and the ridiculous humidity and 15,000+ people, because, well . . . we have babies in our house!

She loves firetrucks, so the parade starting with like 10 of them in a row was just about more than she could handle! Just look at that smile. She laughed, she screamed, she blew kisses to the firetrucks, she said, "bye bye truck. Love you truck."

Her sister was a little more intimidated by the sounds and crowds and was content to spend the day in her daddy's lap or arms or sitting on top of his shoulders.

We had sweet seats at the parade because "Tina" saved us seats right in front of Sweet and Sassy. (Which by the way, also included awesome air conditioned air wafting out the doors onto us all morning!)

And Jacob braved the crowds with us because he didn't want to miss his sister's first parade! (So sweet!)

After the parade, we set up the girls' swimming pool in our front yard (yes, I said our front yard!)

along with a tent (yes a tent, it was absolutely ghetto fabulous!)

and we swam, and hung out, and ate watermelon

and made homemade banana ice cream!

All that to say, it's good to enjoy life together. We didn't plan this day. It was all just kind of thrown together last minute. From the parade to the grilled hot dogs and homemade lemonade, down to the blanket in the front yard (under the tent), it was a great day. The unscripted days always seem to be the best ones.

Day 67: Encouraged

One of my favorite things to do is to send people a note of encouragement in the mail. Real mail. The kind that requires an envelope and a stamp. I could give you countless stories that people have told me about how encouraging or timely or life giving those notes have been to them.

I send those cards because my love language is words of affirmation. It's how I give and receive love.

A few days ago I had one of the most loving, encouraging conversations I have had in a long time. And it was from a stranger that I met in the bathroom at church.

I guess "technically" she wasn't a stranger, though I didn't know her personally, but she knew me.

I was washing my hands (aren't you relieved to know I wash my hands when I'm finished!) when she looked over at me and said, "Sister Carol?"

I smiled at her and said, "Yes," then extended what was probably a somewhat damp hand and we shook hands, followed by a quick hug.

She said, "I wanted to tell you how much I love your prayers over the offering. They mean so much to me. You have such a sweet tender spirit and it is evident you spend a lot of time in the presence of the Lord."

Ummmmmm, wow. Needless to say, I was incredibly humbled by her statement. (As one of the Pastors of my church, I do the announcements portion of our service about once a month, and that also includes the offertory prayer and the receiving of the offering. So that's the prayer she was talking about.)

What's funny is that the whole prayer is usually like 30 seconds, maybe a minute if I go really long.

And the point of this post isn't my prayer or whether or not it's good, or whether or not I spend a lot of time in the presence of the Lord. (Because trust me I don't spend NEARLY enough time there!)

The point is how miraculously well-timed her words were to me. It had been an incredibly long and difficult day. My heart and mind were heavy with thoughts that would have easily capsized me had I given way to them for long. I was barely hanging on. Inches from tears that threatened to spill over without notice.

And in that frame of mind, over the sinks in the bathroom, the Lord sent this woman, whom I had never met, to encourage me.

Proverbs 25:11 says, "The right words at the right time are like beautiful golden apples in a silver bowl."

And though her words were soothing, I was reminded that my words are not always an encouragement. Often I speak things that do not help or heal, they hurt. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up that it may benefit those who listen."

All that to say, in a day of hurtful words, I was reminded of how much better it is to be encouraged than cursed. With the power to hurt or heal, I should probably be a lot more careful with my words.

Day 66: Peace

I have had this thought for several days now.

Peace is right in front of you.

In multiple ways I have sensed that God was saying this to me.

Peace is right in front of you.

Even in my dreams, I have heard this phrase. Last night I dreamed I saw myself in a forest that was barren. Maybe it was a forest in winter, or maybe it was a forest that was dead. But a terrible strong wind came up, not a tornado, but still a fierce wind. And the wind began to break the trees and to swirl the dead limbs and sticks and twigs all around me. I felt terrified, threatened even, by all that was swirling around me, and in my terror, I did not move.

But just ahead of me, just steps ahead, was a well worn path at the edge of the forest, my way out, peace.

And I heard these words.

Peace is right in front of you.

"What does this mean?" (I said in frustration to God in my quiet time this morning.) "Quit saying this to me and show me what you mean!"

And here is what I read in my morning devotional, (Sorry, it's long)

"Trust me with all your thoughts. I know that some thoughts are unconscious or semiconscious, and I do not hold you responsible for those. But you can direct conscious thoughts much more than you may realize. Practice thinking in certain ways - trusting me, thanking Me, and those thoughts become more natural. Reject negative or sinful thoughts as soon as you become aware of them. . . this will keep your mind in My Presence and your feet on the path of Peace."

In short, a lack of peace, is a lack of trust. I find it very easy to "say" I trust God, but the lack of peace in my life that I often feel, is simply a lack of trust in God. A lack of trust in His plan, in His goodness, and in His mercy.

All that to say, Peace is right in front of me. It's the very face of God.

Psalm 20:7 says, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

Day 65: We Are Family

Anytime I entitle one of my posts with the name of a song, I can't help but wonder if you are singing the song that is running through my brain as I type. (Random start to a blog post).

Here's the real post.

I deeply love my family. Why? You ask. There are multiple reasons but here are my favorite things to do with my family.

1. Sit in a room and talk. You never know where the conversation will lead, but it is always sure to include the following: Zack speaking in musician talk, Jacob and I talking about running, someone getting a lecture or correcting someone else, someone making fun of someone else, someone quoting a movie, laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

2. Play a game. We are a gaming family. We love to play games. And the BEST thing about playing games with my family is how much fun we have playing them. Our favorites are card games and trivia games. But we're pretty awesome at making up random games too. In fact, we made up a golf game in our front yard the other day that was so much fun that a random neighbor kid rode his bike up into our yard and started playing with us! And some of our games are even locally famous. Take F-No for example. It's a variation of UNO, only wayyyyy more fun. (If you haven't played it with us, you should. It's hilarious!)

3. Cook. We have a surprisingly good time cooking together. Even though most of us are not what I would call great cooks. I think it might be the talking and laughter that I enjoy.

4. Family Celebrations. I might be biased, but I think we ROCK at family celebrations. And somehow, no matter WHAT the celebration, we can incorporate macaroni and cheese into it. (Of course, we can also work an argument into it as well, but you put enough type A's into a room and someone is BOUND to have a divergent opinion!)

I think the thing I love the most about my family is that we all really love each other. We all have different personalities, talents, hopes, dreams, interests, strengths, weaknesses (lots and lots of weaknesses). But despite all of that, we love each other fiercely.

All that to say, I just wanted to say, I. LOVE. MY. FAMILY.

Day 64: Time

"I designed time to be a protection for you."

These are the words Sarah Young penned in her book, Jesus Calling, a book written as though God, Himself, is speaking.

I have thought about these words many times since reading them.

"I designed time to be a protection for you. You couldn't bear to see all your life at once."

I am certain that is true. If I had been able to see in advance just the life that I have lived, thus far, it would have been too much.

It is why I feel certain that we are to live in the moment. Because in this moment, in the presence of the One who created this moment, I can be free from worry, free from the thoughts that plague my mind, and free from all the "what if's" that my mind so proficiently creates.

All that to say, Time is my protection. Not my enemy.