Monday, September 28, 2009

Tasty Tuesday--Bruschetta Pasta


With an abundance of garden fresh tomatoes threatening to go bad before I can use them, we are constantly on the look-out for recipes that incorporate our bumper crop. Making things all the more complicated, our time for cooking is limited and quick recipes are the ones we go to most often.
A couple of years ago, I realized that making bruschetta at home was quick and easy... and such a tasty treat! The ingredients are simple and easily grown. Needing only ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and olive oil, I could quickly pull together a topping for toasted french (or Italian) bread that served as a wonderful appetizer.

A local restaurant serves a bruschetta pasta and I decided to come up with a similar recipe for our family. The amounts needed of each ingredient will vary depending on how many people you are feeding. I cook for 6, two adults and four children. Check it out!

Bruschetta Pasta

6 medium tomatoes
10 leaves fresh basil
4 garlic cloves
1 box whole wheat spaghetti
olive oil
parmigiana-reggiano cheese
salt and pepper

Prepare pasta according to directions, cooking to al dente. While the pasta is cooking, rinse tomatoes and basil. Cut tomatoes into fourths and slice the basil into ribbons. Peel and quarter garlic cloves. Put tomatoes, basil and garlic into a food processor. Add olive oil (about a quarter cup or less) and salt and pepper to taste. (I use kosher salt and fresh, ground pepper.) Pulse these ingredients until they are coarsely chopped... garlic must be ground to "minced" size but you should easily be able to see separate ingredients.

When the pasta is cooked and drained, add the bruschetta mixture and toss. (The tomatoes in my sauce are usually processed smaller than those in the picture.) The sauce is light and will flavor but not coat the pasta. Add parmigiana-reggiano cheese to top. Serve with garlic bread. (I posted this recipe a while back, click to see...)
Easy, light, fresh!



Friday, September 25, 2009

Glimpses of Grace


In the last few weeks, I have become increasingly aware of the power of grace in my life. In reading that, you may imagine huge, sweeping events that have left me awe-struck in their wake. The reality is very different. It is the minute exchanges of unexpected offerings that have left me slack-jawed and wondering. A few to share...

-Yesterday, I woke up, wandered downstairs half awake, and found a pot of hot coffee brewed and waiting. Before Mark left for work, he made me coffee... though he does not drink it himself. I started the day with a smile and one less to-do on my list.

-Having lunch with a friend this week, she took my cup to the pop machine and filled it with Pepsi while we waited for our food to arrive. This small gesture nearly moved me to tears after being the one filling my children's cups for years. Mommas are not always used to being the ones who receive...

-In the middle of dinner last night, Josiah looked up at me and said that it was the BEST dinner EVER and thank you so much for making it. (It was hot beef sandwiches...) After a tortuous dinner the night before when no one happily ate the new chicken casserole I had made, this was a welcome surprise.

-A couple of nights ago, one of my older boys threw his arms around me as I sat on the couch and said, "Momma, I just love to spend time with you..." With a gangly boy in my arms, I relished the fact that, as big as he is, we have been able to remain connected and I am blessed to still hear such words.

If we understand grace to be an unexpected and undeserved selfless gift, all of these examples fit. Each exchange cost the giver nothing and yet, the response in me was deep. In the midst of a life that often moves too fast and days that are too long, these words and acts were a balm to my weary soul. Truth be told, in each of these situations, I wanted to grab hold of the giver and thank them. The offerings were small... but the response in my heart was great.

I have had to think of grace of this week... and have had to notice truths about the core of it that simultaneously make me smile and squirm. There are questions that about it all that have poked at me, like:

If extending grace to another can so easily be done, what keeps us from doing it more often?

Is there someone near me that needs a gift of grace that I can provide?

Another thought came to me, as I processed these glimpses of grace... and it left me humbled and convicted all at once. This morning, when I woke up, I was selflessly given another gift that I do not deserve. The truth is, I receive this gift each day and over time, have come to take it for granted.

This morning, when I woke up, I was showered in love from the God who created everything I see. The One who made the whole wide world took notice of me, sustained me through the night, and offered me one more day. Another day to hold my babies. Another day to pack their lunches. Another day to walk the dog, talk to my husband, clean my messy house. Another day to live in His amazing Grace and extend that gift to those around me. I live today and have hope for tomorrow because of His great love.

Does this glimpse of grace effect me as deeply as a cup of coffee? a selfless act? a gentle word? an affirmation of love? As I feel convicted by being MORE deeply affected by those experiences I shared above, I am suddenly aware that there is a connection here that ties common grace and God's grace into one big box. Could it be that maybe, just maybe, when I am moved to tears by a friend who fills my cup that I am connecting to The One who fills my life to overflowing? And, might it be that when I hear my boy whisper sweet, loving words in my ear, that I am reminded of the God who seeks me, too? In finding myself awash in common grace, I see glimpses of the grace God offers me that saves me and gives me hope... and then the common grace is not so ordinary as I might have thought. Instead, it becomes a way that God can show us, again and again, how very loved we are.

Today, if I let God lead my hands and mind, what will He have me do to extend grace to someone else? What small, undeserved offering can I give to another to remind them (and me) a bit about who He is and how He loves his children here on earth? It's something to think about...

Blessings on your day.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tasty Tuesday--Pumpkin Bread


How I love cooler days! The changing of the seasons, from summer into fall, always brings in me a deep desire to bake. Over the past few months, I have begun to realize that taking time to bake is a good thing... but doubling the recipe and freezing some of that bounty is a VERY good thing! This week, when the mood arose, I pulled out our cookbook and decided it was time for pumpkin bread. I love this easy quick bread because I do not have to wait for fruit-on-hand to ripen. Unlike zucchini and banana bread, the ingredients needed are easily kept in the pantry, ready to go. This recipe is one my children's favorites and it doubles nicely. All told, I was able to quickly bake two full sized loaves and 8 mini-loaves of this perfect-for-the-season, spicy bread.

Pumpkin Bread
3 1/2 cups of flour
3 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can of pumpkin (not pie mix)
2/3 cup of water
1 cup of oil (cut to half, adding half applesauce, if desired)
4 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans

Sift the first five ingredients together and add the remaining ingredients next. Bake in 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
**Optional adds: I often add ground flax seeds for fiber and omegas and up the spices with whatever I have on hand... usually adding pumpkin pie spice, ground cloves and nutmeg. I do not measure these but sprinkle them into the batter.

Another benefit of doubling the recipe is having plenty to share! This afternoon, I hope to drive over to Trinity and bring some fresh baked bread to students who miss home-cooking! Who do you know who would love a home-made gift today?

Blessings on your day!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crickets

This weekend we enjoyed a backyard campfire with our children. We have a fire-pit and use it often. We roasted hot dogs and made s'mores and sat with our children on and near us as the sun set slowly. I love those nights. I love watching the fire rise and fall. I love having my children close by. I love eating and laughing and listening together.

As we all sat there, the temperatures cooled and the chatter fell away and we made a point of spending a few minutes being deeply aware of the world around us. A gentle, autumn breeze blew through and the tree frogs sang songs from limb to limb. The smell of herbs, ready for picking, rose from the nearby garden the cheerful chirp of many crickets filled the air.

In the momentary quiet, my mind was brought back to other times when the sound of crickets surrounded me.

I remember being little, maybe 6 or 7, and running through the yards catching lightning bugs. I remember falling onto the grass in our small backyard, looking up at the stars and letting that familiar sound wash over my small self.

I remember working at a Christian camp the summer that I was 20. During a week of younger campers, I sat outside my cabin one night, with my best friend June, talking about how we each saw God. "I think," June mused, "that God is someone you can sit back to back with outside Cabin J..." And when she stopped talking, the crickets took over.

I remember the last August we spent as residence directors at Trinity Christian College. The student leaders had moved back onto campus and the freshmen were going to move in the next day. With the arrival of students, campus always took on a frenetic and full feeling. I remember sitting with colleagues in the lobby of my hall that night. The resident assistants were scattered all over campus praying for the students who were moving in soon. I remember hearing the crickets' song flowing freely through the windows and finding myself acutely aware of the noise and busyness that would arrive with the students, I murmured aloud, " This is the last night we will be able to hear that sound."

And then there was this weekend, temperatures cooling, sleepy children seated close, Josiah's sweet hand rises up touch my arm. Contented sighs. Full bellies. Enchanting flames. And that comforting, familiar chirp.

Sometimes, one small thing can tie all the pieces of my life together in a nice, neat package. One scent, one sight, one sweet sound. Then, all the hardships that may have surrounded that same season fall away and I am left with something I choose to embrace. I wonder what will trigger these memories for my four children. What routines and traditions will bring unity to their life-long stories? The smell of Sunday dinner? The sound of a crackling fire? The feel of a soccer ball hitting their foot? The song of crickets on a cool summer night?

We have no control over what they remember or what will cause those memories to rise and fall in their minds. But, I know what I hope for my kids... I hope that they know what it feels like to be loved. I hope that they know what it means to have parents who choose to be present with them. I hope that when they are grown, a rush of warm memories flow easily back to them in watching a fire rise and fall, feeling the cool breeze brush their faces... and listening to the crickets sing them a song.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stopping Time

Some days call for a bit of quiet. Some days call for a time when all the noise and activity around me falls still and I am left with a minute to look around me and see what is left behind.

My children have a book called The Boy Who Stopped Time. In the story, the boy does not want to go to bed and so he reaches into a clock and stops the pendulum from swinging and then everything around freezes, except the boy. He wanders through his house, his town, examining everything in great detail and eventually returns home desperate for life to move and live and breathe again. He starts the clock and is happy to go off to bed. The story has great draw for my kids... the idea of halting time and landing a later bedtime is a dream come true! I like the book as well... though for very different reasons.

Over the past few weeks, my life has changed dramatically. The end of summer always brings a different rhythm. But this year, the end of summer brought far more than a schedule adjustment. This year, when school started, my life as a mother to my four little ones changed completely. For nearly 13 years, I have spent almost every day with someone by my side. I have had a child on my lap, following behind me, knocking at the bathroom door, for well over a decade. I don't say that as complaint. It was a choice. It was a choice to be here, loving on them, reading to them, disciplining them, snuggling them for all these many years. But, a couple of weeks ago, every, single one of my children strapped on a backpack and headed off to school.

I am not sure how to process all of that. I am so right-in-the-middle of it all that I have struggled to find words to share with all of you. Normally, I try to blog about what I know. What I see. But this... this I do NOT know. And what I see is the backs of my sweet babies as they head on into school. The sight is both wonderful and exciting and deeply sad. Not for them you see... but for me.

Is the sadness from the missing? Maybe so... But in another way, the weight of it comes from the marking of the end of one well-loved season. The end of hands-on, all-day mothering. The end of the constant companionship of a little growing person discovering it all in front of me. The end of having really little ones. The end of what I have known and loved for almost 13 years.

Know this... the sadness is okay. I am not crushed. I am not overwhelmed. I have, instead, made space in my life for reflection during this strange time of adjustment. And making that space has been helpful to me... and leads me to a whole new appreciation of the book The Boy Who Stopped Time.

Sometimes, as mommas, we need to find a way to catch our breath, find some quiet and take a look around. Claiming those seconds to step back and really SEE gives us images to recall when the life we are living is chaotic or filled with change. In my head, I see these images today and in them, I gain comfort and perspective.

I see:

Noah at 15 months holding tightly to the wall, looking at the couch. Suddenly, he releases his grasp and heads 3 steps to the couch... and learns to walk.

Benjamin at two, pushing a red, plastic chair into the center of the living room. I watch as he climbs onto the top of it, carefully placing his feet on the outer edges of the seat. He lifts his left foot and the chair begins to tip. Quickly he slams his foot back down, rights himself and laughs out loud at the thrill of ALMOST falling.

Josiah at 4 months, cuddled in my arms. He has just finished nursing and is gazing and cooing up at me. His blond hair is all fuzz standing straight up on end and his grin is fully toothless. I remember clearly thinking, "I am happy."

Elizabeth, almost one, sitting on the living room floor. We had been home from China roughly two hours. The boys burst into the house and all my children saw each other for the very first time. Within 5 minutes, they were all laying on the floor cracking each other up. Our family was complete.

Over the past several weeks, I have flipped through images of stopped-time again and again. I have looked at them in great detail and have revelled in the fullness and richness of our shared life. I have been reminded of the importance of the ordinary... the memories we make in our day-to-day life... and how they live longer and in brighter color because they are repeated again and again. And I have come to see that all that is important is not in the past.

This week, I see:

Noah, at twelve and a half, running down the soccer field, dressed in a school uniform. He looks at me, smiles wide, and the sun gleams off the braces on his teeth.

Benjamin, nearly 11, making a face at his little brother during dinner and both of them erupting into giggles that fill the dining room and spread quickly to their siblings.

Josiah, newly 7, making a list of the books he has read this week to turn into his teacher at school. The list is then put carefully into a folder and added to his backpack and he smiles to himself at his preparedness.

Elizabeth, five-years-old, gathering snacks to put in her Kai-Lan lunch box, relishing the organization of it all and the deep feeling of inclusion she feels in finally being old enough to actually go to school.

Stopping time is good. But, I don't want to live in a place where all those images remain stopped. I loved those moments. I loved my babies as babies, as toddlers, as preschoolers and I love them now. I soaked up those minutes and I expect to do nothing less in this new season of life. It looks different. It feels different. It really IS different. But memories are being made in real time today. My children are running and smiling and laughing and we have things to store up right now. This new season of parenting may be unfamiliar but this too, is good.

Today, I will let the clock run but make time and find energy to let myself see this in all it's wonder. The endless job of parenting marches on and I don't want to miss a thing.

Blessings on your day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Blog Rewind: How It Happened For Us


Noah was four. Benjamin was almost three. I had MOMs Group that morning and was trying desperately to get ready for the opening meeting of our season. The boys were watching Blue's Clues and I was trying to run a brush through my tangled tresses while answering the phone ringing with requests from freshman college students for keys and ideas and notes about classes. We were living at Trinity then, our family of four, as residence directors of South Hall.
I was later than I should have been and needed to get to church. I almost didn't answer the phone but thinking better of ignoring a call, I grabbed it and ran to the back to find shoes for my day. It was Mark.

"Is the TV on?" he asked.

"The boys are watching Blue's Clues..."

He said, "Nadia, we have been attacked. You have to turn on the news. Something bad is happening."

I don't remember hanging up but I remember turning the channel and looking at my boys... those little blond heads... those bright, wide eyes. I saw it then. So did they. The look on Diane Sawyer's face. The tone of Peter Jennings voice. The buildings. The airplanes. We stood still, the three of us and I suddenly thought that I needed to protect my boys.

I took them by the hands and led them their toys. I turned off the sound on the TV and read through the captions instead. I tried to process it all, tried to think, tried to figure out what you do when this happens. I had no idea.

Working on a college campus is a complicated thing. I had a responsibility that morning to my babies playing with blocks and to the 250 freshmen students who lived in my building. We did not have cable and they were in class. Somehow they would have to be told what had happened to their country and without knowing exactly what to say, I typed a sign that we would hang in the building to help them to know that something had changed... that something had happened... that what we thought we were, where we thought we lived, how safe we felt had all become something incredibly different. I did not save that document on my computer. I wish I would have. I know that I typed something about a terrorist attack in New York. I know that I tried to be calm and clear and follow Peter Jennings lead of giving only the information we actually knew. It suddenly felt like we knew nothing at all.

After posting the signs on every door in South Hall, I left quickly for church and the MOMs Group I run. Our opening morning. The boys were uncharacteristically quiet on the drive and I put the radio on only in the front of our truck. As I drove, a building fell. On the radio, they announced that several other airplanes were still "missing" and that they had no idea what to expect. I called Mark from the truck. He works downtown Chicago in a building that is part of our skyline.

"Come home." I said.

He told me that he was not sure he would be allowed to leave and I pleaded with him explaining that he really might not be safe. He talked about job security. He could not see the TV. He had NO idea what it looked like. The video was very motivating.

"If they fire you for leaving on a day like today, so be it. COME HOME."

He agreed and made plans to leave the city.

By the time I got to MOMs Group, the second building had fallen. Into church came moms, at least three with multiples, juggling their children and questioning the day. We had quads, triplets and twins in the nursery, tired mommas drinking coffee and a ministry to run.

Auto-pilot. Two and a half hours of auto-pilot. Welcome. Pray. Wonder. Chat. Wonder. Worry. Chat. Pray.

My cell phone rang as the moms were leaving. Mark was out of the city. We live 30 minutes from downtown and the commute had taken him nearly three hours. By the time he had gotten to the train to come home there were thousands of people downtown, crammed underground, fleeing Chicago in hopes of getting safely home to their families. He said it was scary seeing so many people in one place... knowing we could be attacked and thinking how they sat, waiting for trains, like sitting ducks.

We met at a restaurant and I don't know if I have ever been so happy to see him. Our city was never hit... but thinking that it might be was overwhelming to me. I could not begin to imagine the loss and heartbreak New York was experiencing... they were people just like me... but I had my husband home. I had him in front of me having a burger and thinking through this experience in discussion and exchanged glances and deep silences filled with words we would never be able to say.

By the time I got back to campus, the students were absorbing the news and were overflowing with questions and worries and feelings none of us knew how to process. The other residence directors and I met together quickly while Mark kept the boys away from any media sources. We had to do something but what do you do? No RD training that we had ever gotten had prepared us for helping the students to understand a terrorist attack on our country. We thought through the possible needs and planned to offer a live feed of the president's address that evening available in the college chapel. We called therapists, pastors and history professors to be on hand that night to meet the students where they were.

After the president spoke, we let the students ask questions and I remember trying to answer them... knowing almost nothing myself. Everything about that day was outside my comfort zone. After the gathering, Mark and I sat in our South Hall apartment while students met with someone who could help them more than we could. Some were in prayer groups. Some were with therapists. Some were with pastors. Some were pondering the historical pieces with professors who could shed light on what this all might mean. I sat stunned. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. She came in.

I knew this young woman well and loved her positive outlook and example to students. It was so early in the year that there were more students we DID NOT know than those we did. But this one, I knew. She rushed into my apartment and sat on the couch. She cried and we waited for feelings to flow to thoughts to flow to words. I cried too.

"I don't know what's wrong with me... " she began, "but I just keep thinking about how sad I am for THEM... for the terrorists who were SO LOST that they would participate in such total evil."

Tears again.

We talked for a while about how she felt bad about feeling bad for them... about how her friends did not understand... about how there is no way to know how we will feel about something like this because we never saw it coming and have no way yet to process it at all.

We cried and prayed and then, with fewer tears, she left the calm of our apartment for the chaos of the residence hall. Mark and I talked about how hard it was for them... for the students who had just graduated from high school, just left for college, just been handed their world, only to find it laying in pieces at their flip-flopped feet.

Over time, the words ran out. The campus quieted. Around midnight, we closed our apartment door. And that was it... the end of the day.

For weeks after that day, I begged Mark to stay home again. I did not know how I would ever trust him to be safe in the city again. If they got New York, they could get Chicago, too. For months I could not go to the city I love so well.... and when I did, I got teary just thinking about the what ifs...

Most people have memories of that time in their lives. We have something more concrete. Because Mark shot video of all campus happenings throughout each school year, we have video taken on campus on September 10. That night we had run a program for roommates to get to know on another better. "Something to Chew On" was a laugh-out-loud list of questions intended to spark conversation between women who were just getting to know each other as friends. The students had come in pajamas and giggled like school girls and eaten cookies with hot chocolate just 12 hours before the whole world changed. It is strange to watch it now... knowing what the morning would bring, knowing what would follow on Mark's videotape next. A presidential address. Prayer groups. Professors discussing. Students embracing. September 11, 2001 in the lower right corner of the shot.

It has been eight years. My boys, now 12.5 and almost 11 still remember that morning. They called it "the day the airplanes knocked over the buildings" for years, though they now know what it all really was. Our lives are different than they were then and I cannot claim they are not. For months following September 11 people said that if we changed anything about our day to day lives, the terrorists won. Such a strange request... to NOT change after having been through such a significant experience. I am changed. Maybe this is their victory but maybe, just maybe, it is mine.

Since September 11:

-I never take my skyline for granted. I love my city deeper and better than ever before and pray for those who lost loved ones in New York every time I drive into Chicago. I am raising my kids to know that we are exceedingly blessed to live where we live and love the city we call home.

-I value my family in a way I never knew to value them before. Finding out that the world can change first thing in the morning on a clear September day gave me perspective that makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer than I might have otherwise done.

-I understand bravery and sacrifice in a way that I never did before. How does a fire fighter rush into a building that will surely fall? How do you help when you know it may cost you everything? Sacrifice no longer means writing a check to help feed the hungry. It means giving it all. Offering it all. And I still stand AMAZED at those who did just that on the morning of 9/11.

-I know now that I cannot shelter my kids in the way I may have thought necessary before. Instead, I have to teach them... to see, to think, to feel, to learn and to build bridges... and yes, to be careful. Sheltering is nice but preparing is essential. I am careful in how this happens but I am also careful to be sure that it does.

Since September 11, truth be told, I am sometimes fearful, sometimes worried, sometimes unsure about what is happening in this world. But, hope is built as I see life go forward, as I watch my children grow up, as I enjoy a clear day in Chicago. We, as a country, were not destroyed. We did not become something dark and sad and broken. We, as a country, as a family, moved on to what was new for us. A new way to live and to love and to trust and to grow. There is hope in that. Can you see it, too?

Eight years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is speaking. We all promise to remember and in doing so, honor the lives of those who were lost on that dark day. And as I sit here now, the faces of so many beloved students flash through my mind... those who walked with us as we found a path we never knew we would need... All of us, the students, MOMs Group, my two blond babies now grown taller, we all are connected in a way that is deeper and more profound than we otherwise would have felt. I am grateful for that because in my confusion and sadness and loss and anger, I did not walk alone. We did not walk alone. And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.
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