Friday, February 22, 2013

We can overcome!

Evil has a way of showing up in large and loud and destructive ways.  It seems that evil isn't content to be small and unobtrusive.  And when it comes in such large, overpowering doses I wonder what are we to do?  

I'm imagining that many are wondering what is going on in our world right now.  Why do such terrible, horrible, unthinkable things happen?   What is the world coming to?

I heard those questions posed from many sources after the tragedy in Connecticut.   I, myself, was tempted to wonder what are we to do.  I prayed that God Himself would put an end to the madness, that He would come quickly to snatch us away from this world of senseless evil.  I have carried a heaviness inside of me that has brought me to my knees and tears to my eyes.  And I have wondered is it possible to survive in this insanity.  I have wondered how God can be glorified in this mess.

Then God spoke: 

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
 (Romans 12:21).

But I asked: 

"How can we come up with enough good to overcome THAT evil?  How can smiling at the grocery store cashier counterbalance the pain in a mother's heart somewhere in Connecticut?  What is a insignificant small town Nebraska empty nest homemaker to do?  

And God answered:

"Do good."

As I have pondered this conversation I have concluded that the Evil One shows up in loud and explosive ways because he is so desperate.  He wants me to think I can't win, that I can't stand up against such "power".  He wants me to panic and feel hopeless, to roll over and play dead.

But God says, 

"Don't panic.  Just do good."

He wants me to remember that He has already won. 

 "I have overcome the world"
John 16:33
There is no reason to panic.  There is hope because the Evil One has already been defeated.  And He wants me to know that as an insignificant small town Nebraska empty nest homemaker there is something I can do.  

Be Good!  

Every act of kindness and goodness I share each day is more powerful than the "atomic bomb" of the Evil One.  And when we all work at this together our deeds of kindness accumulate and the effect of each one is magnified and overcomes evil.  Jesus spoke this very truth.  

"In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."  
John 16:33

And what overcomes the world and all the evil that seems to be overwhelming?  

Do Good! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recipes for 16 Meals in 2 Hours Flat!

Because the I am not as smart as I think I am and the link I set up for the recipes for 16 Meals in 2 Hours Flat! didn't work, here are the recipes I used.  Sorry about that!

6 Italian sausages (or chicken sausage)
2 green peppers
1 red pepper
1 large red onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
2 Tb.s Italian seasoning

Add ingredients to bag, seal, mix, freeze

Cooking instructions:  Add drizzle of olive oil, cook on low 6 hours, serve over hot noodles.

Small bag baby carrots (or 4 large carrots, cut in chunks)
Red onion , cut into large chunks
2 large cans pineapple, undrained
4 garlic cloves
4 Chicken breasts
1 cup teriyaki sauce

Add all ingredients to bag, seal, freeze

Cooking instructions: Add ¼ cup teriyaki sauce to crock pot.  Cook low 6-7 hours. Serve over rice.

Approx. 36 meatballs
16 oz. grape jelly
20 oz. BBQ sauce

Add  ingredients to bag, seal, mix, freeze

Cooking instructions:  Cook on low 2-4 hours. 

2 lb. Beef round steak cut into strips
2-cans Rotel tomatoes (tomatoes with green chilies)
1 large onion
1 green pepper, cut into strips
1 red pepper, cut into strips
2 tsp. cilantro; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 2 tsp. chili powder, 2 tsp cumin,
salt and pepper to taste

Add ingredients to bag, seal, mix, freeze

Cooking instructions: Cook on low 5-6 hours.  Serve with tortillas and fixings.

3-4 lb. boneless chuck roast
1-2 T. steak rub
1-2 T. olive oil
¼ c. water
2-3 large onions, peeled and sliced thick
1 c. beef stock, reduced to ½ c.
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup tomato sauce

Rub meat with steak rub.  Heat oil in heavy skillet. Brown roast on both sides in pan.  Bring 1 c. beef stock to boil in saucepan and cook until reduced to ½ c..  Cool slightly and mix in vinegar and tomato sauce.  Deglaze skillet with ¼ c. water and add to sauce mixture.  Add roast, onions and sauce to freezer bag.  Seal and freeze.

Cooking instructions:  Cook on low for 6-8 hours. 

2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 lb. beef stew meat
2-6 oz. cans tomato paste
4 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. pepper

Add ingredients to bag.  Seal, mix, freeze

Cooling instructions: Cook on High for 4 hours or Low for 8 hours.  Add 1/2 cup sour cream about 10 minutes before serving.  Serve over egg noodles.

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 lb. ground beef
4 celery stalks
6 red potatoes
2 individual can V-8 juice (or 1 ¼ c.)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups frozen green beans
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. beef broth
2 T. dried parsley flakes
2 tsp. basil, dried
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 T. sugar

Brown ground beef, onion and garlic.  Cool slightly, add to bag with rest of ingredients.  Seal, mix, freeze. 

Cooking instructions:  Add 1 ½ c. water and 15 oz. beef broth to crockpot along with frozen ingredients.  Cook on Low for 8 hours

2 green bell peppers, cut into strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 zucchini, chopped
2 onions, chopped
6 red potatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 chicken breasts
1 T. quick cooking tapioca
1-15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 T. yellow mustard
½ tsp. salt

Add ingredients to bag.  Seal, mix and freeze.

Cooking instructions:  Cook on High for 4 hours or Low for 8 hours.  Serve over rice or noodles.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Get a Grip!

Although I am sure I am not a candidate for "The Hoarders" television show, I can be a tight wad when it comes to getting rid of stuff, especially if I think there is any remote chance that I can use it again or if I sense any hint of value in the object.  

Case in point...the extra mattress and box spring set that we had to decide what to do with last weekend.  It all started when Hubby and I upgraded our bed set last fall.  After discovering that neither one of us was sleeping very well and that I had developed the habit of "noisy sleeping" we concluded that the mattress was the villain and that it needed to be switched out for a newer model.  Much to our enjoyment the newer king size bed solved our sleeping dilemma; it even put an end to my bad nocturnal habit of "noisy sleeping".  

However, now came my new dilemma...what to do with the extra mattress.  I know, I know.  I can hear you saying,

"What!  You haul that baby to the dump right now!"

But, let me give my side of the story.  Sure it wasn't working for us to sleep on every night but that didn't mean it wouldn't work for the occasional house guest or for one of the kids to sleep on when they come home, which is rarely I might add.  (Hum, do you suppose this story will encourage more visits especially when they discover that they are sleeping on hand me down beds?)  And the mattress looked fine...not worn out at all.  

It still had life in it.  
It still had some usefulness in those springs.  
It still had value.  

At least that was the argument going through my warped brain.  Oh, maybe I am a candidate for the aforementioned program.  I spent months (yes, I said the network!) debating which mattress to pitch, our former one or one from another bed which could then be replaced with our former mattress.   It pains me now to think how much brain energy I put into this question.  

Finally, last weekend I decided that enough was enough and the oldest mattress in the house would be the candidate for the landfill.  Hubby was more than willing to help out and haul it off.  But as we carried it down the stairs, out the front door and placed it in the pickup, I started sensing my hand gripping it tighter with a reluctance to let it go.  I jokingly commented that if I took a knife and sliced up it's fabric cover or stained it with a pot of coffee or can of paint maybe I would have a clear conscience as he drove away with the set.   And to make this story even more pathetic I must tell you that the mattress that left my house that day was almost (brace yourself) 30 years old!
"Hello.  My name is Mary and I am a hoarder."

Okay, now that I have shared that ugly story with you let me share what God had to say to me later.  I read Ephesians 5:15-17 (Phillips Translation)

Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God. 

God encouraged me through these verses to hold tightly to what I know He wants me to do just as my silly ridiculous self wanted to hold tightly to a mattress, of all things.  I had to spend some time examining my heart.  

How tightly was I grasping God's will for me in my life?  

I realized that rather than hold on with a white-knuckled grip to God's direction for me I was vaguely holding it with a limp wrist and letting it slip through my fingers.  

How did I know this?  

I looked around me and saw unfulfilled applications from His word.  
I saw poor choices of how I had spent my time lately.  
I saw a lot of cutting corners in taking care of responsibilites. 
I saw some unhealthy habits creeping back in. 

Comparing my grip on God's will for me and my grip on an old mattress I concluded that I was expending energy grasping the wrong thing.  

I don't know if God really cared about what I did with that old mattress but I do know that He cares about what I do with His will for me.  

He says to hold on tight and don't let go!   

Sunday, January 13, 2013

16 meals in 2 hours flat!

The past few months I have gotten reacquainted with my slow cooker.  It seems like I go in spurts with different cooking methods and for some reason my slow cooker hadn't ventured out of the cabinet much.  Then when my son asked for his own slow cooker to use at school, interest in mine was piqued.  And because this son of mine showed interest in cooking healthy meals for himself I decided to encourage his efforts by putting together some freezer crock pot meals that could be put into the cooker in the morning when he left for class and be ready to eat when he came home.  I started to search the world wide web for ideas and recipes, finding some promising ones.  Most of them would serve an average family and since he is living the bachelor life and my hubby and I are living the empty nest life, I decided that each recipe could be divided and provide enough for two meals, one for him and one for us.  

The thing I discovered about freezing crock pot meals is that the prep is so easy and can be done in an hour or two.  There is very little precooking involved.  Mostly, it is a lot of chopping and measuring and filling freezer bags.  Pretty simple stuff. 

This past Friday night I assembled 16 meals in about 2 hours.  Factoring in leftover meals, dining out occasionally and other meals I will prepare at home, that is the equivalent of cooking 2 months worth of meals for the three of us. 

The process starts with collecting recipes.  I found most of mine at Six Sister's Stuff, Who Needs A Cape, Ring Around the Rosies. 

There are plenty of other gals who are sharing their secrets and recipes, too.  Just do a web search.  

These are the recipes I prepared this go around:
Vegetable Beef Soup
Teriyaki Chicken
Balsamic/Onion Pot Roast
Healthy BBQ Chicken
Stephanie's Goulash
Sausage and Peppers
Slow-Cooked Steak Fajitas

I really appreciated the sites that listed a shopping list so here is mine:

2 red onions
3 lb. bag yellow onions
1 zucchini
1 large bag carrots (Baby carrots can be used if you want to eliminate some chopping)
2 Garlic Bulbs
6 Green Bell Peppers
3 Red Bell Peppers
Celery-1 Bunch (I only used part of a bunch though)
3 lb. bag red potatoes (I bought the 5 lb. bag because it was cheaper!)
1 bag frozen green beans
10 skinless chicken breasts (I used 5 per recipe. Adjust according to your needs)
3 lb. beef stew meat
1 bag frozen meatballs (or make your own if you so wish)
6 Italian sausages (pork, beef or chicken)
2 lb. ground beef
3-4 lb. beef chuck roast
2 lb. round steak (I used sirloin steak that was in my freezer already)

2 lg. cans pineapple chunks
16 oz. jar grape jelly
20 oz. BBQ sauce
2-14.5 oz. cans Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2-15oz. cans tomato sauce
2-6oz. cans tomato paste
2 cans Rotel tomatoes
V-8 juice (1 six pack individual cans)
1-32 oz. carton beef broth
Worcestershire sauce
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive oil or vegetable oil
Teriyake sauce
Italian seasoning
Steak seasoning (I use Weber Canadian Steak seasoning)
Quick cooking tapioca
Prepared yellow mustard
Dried Parsley Flakes
Dried Basil
Dried Thyme
Cilantro (dried or fresh)
Chili powder
Brown sugar
Gallon Size Freezer Bags (I prefer the zip lock closure just because they are easier to seal up when hands are wet from prep work)

I suggest reading through the recipes and making any adjustments to your shopping list based on what your family likes (i.e. lots of carrots vs. no carrots in the stew) and on what you have on hand.  I substituted sirloin steak for the round steak in the fajita recipe because it was already in my freezer.  

My favorite way of approaching the process is to shop shortly before I am going to assemble the meals so I don't have to put ALL those groceries away.  They can just wait on my counter until I use them.  (OK.  If that makes you nervous, put the meat in the frig.)

Once your are ready to get this show on the road, begin by labeling all your freezer bags with the name of the recipe, cooking instructions, any additional ingredients that will be needed and serving suggestions. 

Trust me! You don't want to do this after you fill the bags.

Now you are ready to clean and chop and open cans and fill bags.  I have no photos of the assembly because it was not a pretty site.  I am one messy cook!

But about 2 hours later I had this:

And once it was all tucked away in the freezer all I had left was this:

An additional perk to slow cooker freezer meals is the relatively small pile of dirty dishes that results.  Most of it went into the dishwasher.  In fact, I only hand washed the large skillet that I browned the roast in.  Not bad for 2 hours of work.  

A couple of suggestions:
     Have a large cutting board for chopping all the veggies.
     Line up the freezer bags and fill with meat first.  Gets
        all of that out of the way and cuts back on a lot of
        hand washing between steps.
    A good chef or santuko knife is invaluable.
    Sort out all the ingredients into like categories before
         you start (i.e. canned goods, fresh veggies, meats,
         condiments).  Makes finding the next ingredient in the
         recipe a breeze.
   Squeeze extra air out of bag as you close it up.  Then
         lay flat in freezer.  The  bags will take up less space if
         that is an issue.
  Any of these recipes can be divided into 2 bags like I did.  

Here are the recipes:
16 Meals in 2 Hours Flat Recipes

I'll update this post with our reviews of the recipes.  Feel free to add your suggestions and ideas in the comments.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I resolve to...

It's January.  

The month of planning; of making new goals; developing new game plans.  


Words like "planning" and "scheduling" and "routine" are the equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard to me.  I have friends whose eyes light up with excitement and anticipation when such words are uttered but not me.  I cringe and get knots in my stomach and begin to feel like I'm being enclosed in a vacuum with no air to breathe!  Everything inside of me screams, 

Let Me OUT!  


But experience and life has taught me that I can't go through my days willy-nilly (as much as I would like to!) without some idea of where I am heading or what I need to attend to.  

Proverbs 21:5a  The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage.....

And experience has also taught me that I need a little bit of wiggle room or else I do suffocate (or at least feel like I am). 

Proverbs 21:5b ....but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.  

So I DO make some goals at the beginning of each year to guide me throughout the next 12 months.  I use John 2:52 as my guide, something our wise mentors taught us some 30 years ago.  

And Jesus increased 
in wisdom and stature 
and in favor with God 
and with men.

The idea is that if Jesus, the Son of God, grew in these areas of His life they warrant some attention in my life, too.

Wisdom--Mental Growth
       Something to keep me mentally alert or sharp.
       Something to expand my knowledge base.

For example, in the past I have made goals of taking a quilting class or reading a certain number of books.

       Something to improve or maintain my physical body.

For know the better, exercise more, take my vitamins, etc, etc, etc.

Favor with men (people)--Social
       Something that improves my relationships with 

For example, I have made goals to invite friends for dinner or prepare freezer meals to have something ready to share with a family in need of some encouragement.

Favor with God--Spiritual
       Something to deepen my relationship with God

For example, I have made goals to develop a better Scripture memory verse plan or have my devotional time before I allow myself to turn on the computer. 

Okay, so like I said, planning and goal making and me don't always see eye to eye.  This has not always been a joyous experience for me.  I have approached goal setting with the mind set that I just need to buckle down and try harder and force myself to trudge through it.  

Total Fail!  

I have decided at times that this just isn't my bent and chucked the whole exercise.  

Total Fail!  

So through much trial and fail I have come to the point that I set down goals but keep them brief.  No more do I write down 52 things I intend to accomplish the next year even though each one might be admirable and beneficial to helping me increase in the four areas I mentioned.  I have honed my list down to ONE in each category.  Maybe I am an under achiever but I prefer to call myself a realist.  It's not like I'm not doing anything else in my life to become wiser or get in better shape or improve my relationships with people and with God.  My goals just become my bench marks to determine if anything has happened in the past year.  

Do I have complete success?  NO!  In fact I scored less than 50% success rate last year.  But even the misses were beneficial.  My lack of accomplishment in some areas made me evaluate what went "wrong", made me understand better why God puts so much emphasis on perseverance, pressing on.  It showed me how incapable I am in doing anything apart from God.  I was made aware again of how much of a role accountability with another plays in reaching the goal.  I was humbled (always a good thing!).  And the best thing I learned from my "failures" last year is that progress isn't necessarily measured by crossing the finish line.  Imperfect progress, as author Lysa TerKeurst calls it, is still progress.  I'm still moving forward, maybe by baby steps rather than giant leaps, but it's forward.
I am convinced that God is not a God of disappointment but of hope.  I have determined not to allow this process to disappoint me but to find hope in the truth that God is completing in me the process He started. (Philippians 1:6) Even though I didn't fulfill all my goals last year I know they moved me down the road at least a little.  I made some imperfect progress.  

And that is better than no progress at all. 

So be encouraged all you fellow willy-nilly-ers.