Archive | November 2013

Tired of Turkey? Optional Thanksgiving Treats

Wild Turkey

Gobble, Gobble… Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

In anticipation of the USA’s annual stuff-our-stomach-with-as-much-turkey-as-possible-a-thon … a.k.a. Thanksgiving, I wanted to be sure that you, dear readers, had a few delicious options for what to do when you are well, simply put – tired of turkey.

Of course, the day after your filling Thanksgiving feast you can always make yourself the traditional turkey sandwich with your leftovers, or simply re-heat the whole meal and enjoy all over again. For me, it usually ends there and even at Christmas time my family is still too tired of the turkey taste to cook another on Christmas Day. Instead, my husband has always prepared a delicious filet mignon with lobster tail meal – and there is never a leftover in sight to have to worry about!

Several years ago at a chain store called Ollie’s, near my mother’s house in a small Pennsylvania town, I bought a set of 10 short hardback cookbooks for $10.00 (LW Press – a division of Publications International, Ltd.). What a bargain, and they are simply adorable! I know, perhaps a strange adjective to describe cookbooks, yet it’s true. Each has a different theme: Comfort Food, Slow Cooker Recipes, Soups & Stews, Favorite Chili Recipes, Hearty Casseroles, Simple Winter Meals, Classic Appetizers, Easy Appetizers, Holiday Appetizers, and Kids’ Favorite Christmas Cookies. These cookbooks are great because rather than search through one big one for a recipe that might suit my craving, I can just breeze through the few pages in the book I’m interested in. All of the recipes are easy-breezy and do not require a lot in the way of fancy, what-in-the-world-is-that ingredient and where in the grocery store would I find it? The cooking directions are clear, and pictures accompany many of the recipes.

Cookbooks

The best $10 I ever spent!

Below, I share with you three of my favorite recipes from the categories of Appetizers, Slow Cooker Recipes, and Desserts. Bon Appétit!

Oh, and of course … let me know if you enjoyed making any of these tasty dishes as well!

Sweet potatoes

Turn these spuds into Sweet Potato Chips! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Appetizers –

Microwave Sweet Potato Chips

2 cups thinly sliced sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons margarine

Place sweet potatoes, in single layer, in microwavable dish. Sprinkle with water. Microwave at HIGH 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and margarine. Microwave at HIGH 2 to 3 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

 

Slow Cooker Recipes – Cheesy Slow Cooker Chicken

6 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ½ pounds)

Salt

Black Pepper

Garlic Powder

2 cans (10 ¾ ounces each) condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted

1 can (10 ¾ ounces) condensed cheddar cheese soup, undiluted

Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1) Place 3 chicken breasts in slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Repeat with remaining 3 breasts and seasonings.

2) Combine soups in medium bowl; pour over chicken. Cover; cook on LOW 6 to 8 hours or until chicken is no longer pink in center. Garnish with parsley before serving, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

 

 

Mmmmm, Mmmmm, Good! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mmmmm, Mmmmm, Good! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Desserts – Peanut Butter Chocolate Chippers

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter

1 egg

¾ cup milk chocolate chips

granulated sugar

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2) Beat brown sugar, peanut butter, and egg in medium bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add chocolate chips; stir well.

3) Shape heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into 1 ½-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

4) Dip fork into granulated sugar; press criss-cross fashion onto each ball, flattening to ½-inch thickness.

5) Bake 12 minutes or until set. Cool on cookie sheets 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Note: This simple recipe is unusual because it doesn’t contain any flour – but it still makes great cookies!

 

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Being Content: In the Midst of Typhoons, Tornadoes, Thanksgiving and Black Friday Sales

By Karen Hendricks

Typhoon Haiyan 2

Debris lines the streets of Tacloban, Leyte island. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Today, as I write this, there are horrific scenes coming out of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan: complete devastation, bodies in makeshift graves, debris everywhere. The scenes out of America’s mid-west are also disturbing. Tornadoes ravaged Illinois and Indiana last weekend, however, thankfully the death toll was extremely low. Natural disasters are especially hard to comprehend during the holiday season.

Turn on the TV or radio (even the :15 ads on Pandora Radio), check your mailbox, pick up a newspaper, and you’ll be bombarded by ads promoting Black Friday specials. The Christmas holiday season however, doesn’t seem to be kicking off on Black Friday. Instead, it’s invading the turkey-induced peacefulness of Thanksgiving evening. Lots of stores are opening their doors Thursday night so that shoppers can allegedly get the best bargains. What happened to the meaning behind Thanksgiving, the thankfulness that we’re supposed to be honoring?

So in the wake of natural disasters, death, devastation and the pure greed of Black Thursday/Friday shopping… I am offering a solution: being content.

Last spring, I wrote about “the margins” in our lives (click here)—the need for unstructured time in which to breathe, reconnect with friends and family and simply “be.” I have since finished reading the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. My women’s group had some awesome discussions that are still rattling around in my brain!

One of the lasting impressions from this book is the idea of being “content.” What does it truly mean to be content? I thought I knew… but the book helped me to see contentedness in a new light.

From the chapter “Health Through Contentment,” under the subtitle “Inextinguishable Discontent,” Swenson writes, “Discontent as a driving force for a society might make that society rich, but it will bankrupt it in the end. As the coffer fills, the soul empties.”

I always thought of “contentment” as “happiness,” being satisfied with what I had, what I earned, where I was in life. However since the book Margin is written from a Christian perspective, Swenson defines contentment as a two-step process: not only accepting whatever comes from God’s hand, but also putting our faith and trust in God. It’s having a peaceful, secure feeling that God has our back. It’s “a joy that exists in spite of circumstances and looks to the God who never varies.”

Swenson writes that contentment is not:

  • “the comfortable feeling of well-being when all our needs and desires are met”
  • Pursuit of the American dream
  • Keeping our circumstances under control
  • Pretending that things are right when they’re not

Consulting another source… Being content is defined as “An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.”—Holman Bible Dictionary

I know it’s a lot to absorb! But more and more, given the headlines, I am trying to be content, at peace, and thankful.

One other area of my life has me examining this feeling of contentment. So many friends of mine are returning to work, driven by a desperate feeling that they need to earn money towards their children’s college fund(s). Let me tell you, as a parent of a college freshman, I can testify that the cost of college can indeed send you into a tailspin. And I don’t blame them for feeling this sense of desperation.

However, I realize more and more that I am not living out “the norm” by stepping off the merry-go-round of crazy-paced, full-time employment while many of my friends are jumping back on that same carousel. Working for myself, enjoying a handful of clients and the work they send my way, has given me wonderful fulfillment, more time for my family and finally—some margin in my life. A combination of factors helps us afford the cost of college: yes, both of our jobs for which we are thankful, but also an examination of our family spending and our efforts to reduce those costs where we can—trimming our phone/cable bills, trimming grocery bills, cutting out extravagances, etc. This helps separate needs from wants. It’s a challenge, in our society, to be content with life and put complete faith in God.

Food for thought, as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.

Wishing all of our readers a joyful, blessed Thanksgiving—filled with a renewed sense of contentment. 

Typhoon Haiyan

Philippine civilians walk out of what remains of the Guiuan East Central Elementary School in Guiuan, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2013. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Typhoon Haiyan 3

A Guiuan woman stands outside of her makeshift shack in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Dinner Dilemma: Kids or No Kids?

Kids & restaurants: a good combo?

Kids and restaurants: a good combo? / Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Karen Hendricks

Have you heard about the recent controversy caused by a number of restaurants establishing “no kids” policies?

Some have outright banned kids, saying they want to establish a place for parents or couples to “escape,” while other restaurants have declared a “no kids under 7 after 7 pm” zone.

People have come out in favor of each side, with some of the points being:

  • There are too many parents bringing their kids to restaurants without expectations of appropriate behavior, leaving other diners disturbed by tantrums, screaming, etc.
  • All patrons deserve an enjoyable night out.
  • Not all families should be “punished” by these policies, as some parents truly do set rules and expectations for their kids.
  • Many family-friendly restaurants still do exist.
  • There are plenty of restaurants that don’t come out and say “no kids allowed” but if they don’t have high chairs or a child-friendly menu, the writing is on the wall. Some restaurants are simply geared towards adults.

I had mixed reactions as some of these news stories broke over the past few months. As the mother of three teens, our kids are beyond the tantrum stage (thank goodness!) but when they were younger, we truly limited our visits to restaurants because it often felt like more of a hassle than what it was worth. Our two youngest children are only a year apart, so I do remember getting “looks” several times when we dined out and needed two high chairs. We were always on edge, aware of every sound they made, in tune with their moods, and if they started to shift… it was time to ask the waiter, “Check, please?!”

We never wanted to upset other diners around us, especially those who didn’t have children. When we were younger (PC… “pre-children”), I have to admit, we were often disturbed by crying babies or toddler tantrums. Let’s just say they didn’t help set the tone for romantic candlelight dinners. But, in those PC days, does anyone truly understand what it’s like to be a parent? I know now… children are unpredictable, even for those of us who try our best to parent, establish rules, etc. Our tolerance levels shift, our understanding deepens, as we become parents ourselves.

Part of me wants to stand up for the idea of families doing something as basic as eating a meal, together. As a society, I feel as though we should support families more. We need all the help we can get!

On the other hand, we are so very blessed in America to have the ability to start up any type of business we’d like—law-abiding, of course. And if we wanted to open a restaurant geared towards adult clientele, or pint-sized patrons, then that’s our right. It’s the American dream, right?

So after chewing on this issue for a while (bad pun alert)… here’s how it all shakes out for me. I think the real issue is with the segment of parents who simply don’t parent. Maybe they don’t like to tell their children “no.” So for that reason, I’m going to say “yes,” I’m completely in favor of restaurant owners who decide to establish a no-kids policy. There are still plenty of other dining options on the menu for patrons of all ages.

Do you agree? Do you eat out with your family? What have your experiences been like? Feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Background:

Texas restaurant bans kids under 7 after 7 pm 

New sushi bar bans those under 18 

Café owner shames moms and kids on Facebook 

Food & Wine lists a number of restaurants with no-kids policies 

The Washington Post follows-up and reports the no-kids sushi bar is doing just fine

A Gift from My Father

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

On Thursday, October 3, my father passed away. He was not only an accomplished individual, yet he was a wonderful dad. A hole has been left in my heart and a special part of my life is now missing because he was a dedicated follower (and fan!) of Off the Merry-Go-Round. In my life, he was the biggest supporter of all my writing pursuits and professional accomplishments. He was also the person who supported me most as an adoptive parent.

That now sometimes makes it hard for me in both these areas of my life because they are the two most important things to me, and I am missing his words of encouragement. On a positive note, though, as he knew he was becoming weaker he began writing me more letters than usual with encouragement in those areas – all of which I saved. When I feel ready to re-read them, I think it will be then that I fully realize that I still and always will, have his love and support with me.

Dad was my biggest supporter as an adoptive parent.

Dad was my biggest supporter as an adoptive parent.

In the end, my family and I were blessed to have Dad with us for as long as we did – he was 94 years old and fully cognizant until his last breath. His heart basically just gave out that morning as my mother sat down beside him on the bed to ask how he was feeling that day. So, he left this world with my mother by his side and, though he was transported to the hospital, for the most part his last moments were in the beautiful farmhouse they lived in for 49 years, and which he treasured so much.

As my Dad got older, I used to think that although of course I would be sad when he passed away I would feel more matter-of-fact about his death because he had lived so long and, well, “that’s life.” Now, however, I realize that no matter how old your parents are, it hurts to lose them and though of course that raw pain will soften over time, it will never completely go away.

Despite my father passing away when my son was 4 years old, his memory will live on in the every day little things my son and I do together - which are similar to what Dad did for me.

Despite my father passing away when my son was 4 years old, his memory will live on in the every day little things my son and I do together – which are similar to what Dad did with me.

For awhile, it was a little difficult to get back to life – especially to my writing, and I basically cancelled writing, and life, for October. My OTMG colleagues were wonderful to fill in for me, and I am so appreciative of all they did for me and for my family to honor my father’s memory.

I dedicate this blog piece, and the rest of my writing (and living!) career, to my beloved father, R. Winfield Smith. Below is a piece I had published in the Summer 2006 edition of Faith & Family magazine in their Summer Lights section which was titled, “Daddy’s Girl Still.” The poem that accompanies it I had written shortly after I received the necklace mentioned.

I love you, Daddy – always.

“Daddy’s Girl Still”

For a little girl, a father is a very special person. He can be her light in a world of darkness. He can be the rock she clings to when she is battered about in life’s storms. He can be a constant presence in the changing seasons of life.

On my 12th birthday, my father gave me a garnet necklace accompanied by a note explaining that the garnet is my birthstone. This year, I am 38 years old, and my beloved dad turned 87. After all of this time, he still has a handwritten note I scrawled in pencil as a “thank you” for that gift. Although the writing has faded noticeably over the years, it is still legible.

Dad still has my thank-you note, and I still have his necklace.

A Gift From My Father

5K… Hurray!

5K

Running in a 5K is an awesome experience!

By Jen Ashenfelter

It’s really difficult to maintain healthy habits and an exercise program when there’s so much else to get done. Why is it that the first things we take out of our daily routine are the very things that keep us going? I’m guilty as charged.

I know I should get more exercise, but I don’t. I know I should drink more water, but I don’t. Carbs are bad, but just try to take away my bagel. I watch Biggest Loser. I see the Facebook posts and pictures from friends who are logging miles with Nike, checking in at the gym, eating vegan meals, participating in Tough Mudder events or biking a distance I wouldn’t dream of going without a car and scheduled rest stops, but I do nothing.

After a hectic week at work or a never-ending string of school events and evening activities for the boys, before you know it, I started substituting Coke Zero for my water and instead of taking 20-minute walks or jogs I began punching the snooze button for the same amount of time on my alarm.

In the long run, bad habits and the inability to put ourselves first catch up. Taking care of yourself and exercising doesn’t require hours at the gym. In fact, working out for a few minutes throughout the day is just as effective according to The Benefits of Physical Activity published by the Harvard School of Public Health. (Very helpful article!)

The lesson I learned? You don’t have to be a perfect runner. You don’t have to give up eating carbs. And you don’t necessarily have to go jogging at 4:30am—there’s something to be said for getting enough sleep—unless you want to do all those things. All you really need is motivation, the ability to start in small increments and build momentum, and the willingness to forgive yourself when the going gets rough so you can start again.

Getting into the 5K craze 

With all that said, my husband and I started walking early in the morning late in the summer. When cooler mornings moved in, we added jogging to our routine. So we set our sights on running a 5K together in late September. Setting a goal with a deadline is good motivation, but there’s a better chance of success with a solid plan. If you’re not a runner or have never participated in a 5K (3.1 miles), then you really should choose a Couch to 5K plan—there are a plethora of apps and you can usually find a class at the local Y or health club—which breaks training into a manageable daily schedule of walking, jogging, and cross-training options over four to eight weeks.

I have trained twice before as part of a program—the last one being with the Y running outside during February. (Nothing improves your run time at the end of eight weeks like shedding 20lbs of winter clothing!) In 20 – 60 minutes a day, you’ll be ready for the race.

It wasn’t easy training for the September race. Life got in the way, again, and our training was rather inconsistent…okay it was basically nonexistent, but that didn’t stop us. Knowing the race course was flat and being motivated to raise money for a planned veteran’s park, we showed up.

Three days before the race I jogged a hilly 1.7 miles in roughly 20 minutes. I’m not great at math, but to me, that calculated into a respectable finish time of less than 45 minutes. I was thinking about the picture I would post on Facebook!

Race day was beautiful—not too warm, not too cold. My new sneakers felt good. We walked, we stretched, and then we were off. I was off alright—off my rocker. During the first mile I couldn’t catch my breath. During the second mile, my bladder screamed at me. During the third mile, my head was pounding, my feet hurt and I almost quit…3 times. During that final stretch, however, I was breathing like a champ, I didn’t have to pee and my feet were light as feathers as I crossed the Veterans Park 5K finish line at 36:40. It felt great! I was ready for the next race…

On a runner's high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

On a runner’s high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

New habits die fast

With my goal of running a 5K for the first time in years accomplished, sadly, the high didn’t last long. This fall, exercise and “me time” were replaced with more hours at work and a busy family schedule. In a recent moment of mental disarray—okay, probably more like a hormonal imbalance with a lack of Starbucks and absence of downtime—I  realized it was time to take a step back and breathe deeply to regain some perspective and natural energy to keep moving forward.

A power walk or leisurely jog around the neighborhood and eating healthy really do make a difference! Since taking that step back and returning to a few minutes of fresh air and shocking the cardio system back to life, I feel more energized to tackle each day with less stress and a more positive outlook.

I’m motivated to keep exercising because it feels really good, the holiday party season is fast approaching, and I’m going to a family wedding in January where probably 99.9% of those under 30 are Cross Fit fabulous. Yeah, I’m really motivated to keep moving. But I’m not kidding myself. The first thing to go when the going gets tough will be exercising and eating well. No worries though, I’ll dust off my weights and running shoes to begin—again. Hey, the 5K season ramps up in March.

Do you exercise regularly or set aside time in your busy schedule just for yourself? What motivates you? Finish a race or reach a personal goal? Friend us on Facebook and share a photo of you doing something you enjoy just for yourself!

Waiting for Wisdom

From MetroParent

Image courtesy: MetroParent

By Chris Little

One of the things I’m learning about having a college student for a kid: My role as his parent demands quite new behaviors from me. When something happens to him–let’s say the end of a relationship, an untimely migraine headache, or even just a hassle with a class schedule–where I once might have swooped in with advice or a cup of tea, I’m learning that my role now is to, well, just kind of sit still. Preferably in silence. It’s been… let’s just say, it’s been a learning experience—and this from someone who was never one of those helicopter moms who made a life out of rescuing her kids.

The wonderful writer Anne Lamott became a grandmother not too long ago, an experience she learned provided a whole new opportunity to sit still and let her adult son, now a parent himself, learn his own lessons. She came up with an acronym to help her remember that it’s no longer her role to step in and run the show: W.A.I.T., which stands for Why Am I Talking? You can read about it here and here.

It’s hard for us parents, and maybe especially for us often hyper-communicative mothers, to opt for silence sometimes. At least in my house, my husband is much better about giving the kids space to work things out on their own without the benefit of his talking. So as I’ve been adjusting to having one kid living halfway across the state, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lamott’s handy mnemonic. I like to take each word in turn:

Why am I talking? What purpose do I wish my words to serve? All too often, I can talk for unhelpful reasons, like wanting to keep my kids engaged with me, wanting to protect them (or myself) from uncomfortable feelings—or thinking my words can serve as a kind of talisman to protect them in unsafe situations. One day I heard a radio show about the drug MDMA, and I commented to my high-school daughter that I thought I’d give the freshman a call, you know, just to remind him to steer clear of parties where kids might be trying it. “Don’t,” she suggested, kindly hiding her impulse to roll her eyes. “He’s already learned all that, and at this point, your telling him isn’t going to do anything but irritate him.” She had a point. Still, I had this feeling that if I could just warn him against the drug (again), I could protect him. I know I’m not the only mom who’s wanted to dole out desperate little pieces of advice out of a deeply engrained instinct to protect my kids. “Don’t climb too high!” “Hold on tight!” “Be careful!” Now, that’s not to say I’m never going to give my freshman a nugget of advice—but I suppose I should start by knowing why I want to do it in the first place, and follow up by asking myself whether it’s something the kid really doesn’t already know.

Why am I talking? If I’m the one doing the talking, what’s my kid doing? Is he listening? Is he tuning out? Is he wishing he could get out of the room? And what about me? Am I thinking about the kid at all—or am I just satisfying my desire to control him? In other words, are he and I actually communicating, or am I just lecturing, or worse, filling space? Have I asked him his point of view? Am I letting it be as real as mine feels to me?

Why am I talking? Because most of the time, listening is better. And if you’re so inclined, prayer is too (as long as we’re talking about private, silent, open-hearted prayer, not the spoken kind that seeks to guilt-trip the kid, which is really just another form of exerting control).

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not giving my college kid the silent treatment, not by any stretch of the imagination! But now that my freshman is more on his own, I’m trying to be more aware of what I’m saying to him and why, so that I give him the space to grow into a healthy adult (and not coincidentally, hopefully one who wants to spend time with me!).

Kat B. said it very well over at Travel Garden Eat when she quoted Robert Brault: “It is one thing to show your child the way, and a harder thing to then stand out of it.”