Friday, May 23, 2014

Bible Study Update and (last week's) Meal Plan

I'm about 20 years behind, but I just starting reading Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series. Oh my! It is such a great story! I have a hard time putting it down sometimes. I'm on book two, and I can't wait to find out what happens. It's such a beautiful story of faith and unwavering devotion to God.

Have you read any Francine Rivers stuff?

Speaking of unwavering devotion to God, Ben taught an amazing lesson yesterday morning about self-examination. He talked about how we all want to know why we do the things we do in reaction to our circumstances, especially the sinful ones that we regret. There are many excuses that we can come up with for why we respond negatively to life, but if we are believers, then we should be able to look internally (not externally) for a solution. And that solution is always the process of self-examination led by the Holy Spirit, which leads to confession of the particular sinful response, which should prompt repentance (turning away from), which should bring us back into worship and closer fellowship with God. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to "Love The Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength." If we say that we want to obey this command, then we must own-up to our sins, big and small, seen and unseen. 

It was a very convicting lesson, and I am proud of Ben for teaching so obediently.

Last week's meal plan was extremely random. I made several things that I do not make very often, and there were not any repeat ingredients between any two recipes. It's rare that that happens. Here's what we had:

Brittany's sweet potato and black bean chili

Pulled pork BBQ sandwiches with broccoli slaw and baked beans

Eggplant zucchini bake (Rachael Ray)

Homemade pizza

Some lunches were:

Leftover chicken tortellini soup from last week

Veggie sliders

I feel like I get in a lunch "slump" a lot. Do you have any lunches that you are enjoying lately?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I remember 7th grade... and why it scares me.

Do you remember those awkward middle school years?

Most of what I remember is embarrassing moments, confusing moments, and wishing I were older... 

When I was asked to talk to the 7th grade girls at our church it took me back to that time. Back to my little classroom at my little K-8 school; back to cheer camp, basketball games, sleepovers, long phone conversations about nothing, huge sibling spats, learning how to put on make-up, and "liking" boys. 

I have to admit something here. When Ben and I were expecting a baby the first time around, I was fearful of having a girl. My fear stemmed from all the bad memories surrounding those middle school (and high school) years that were mainly a result of my being a girl. Those fears still crept up when we were expecting the second time. But around 18 weeks, we found out that God was giving us a daughter. I am not at all saying that I was happy; I was elated! But Satan has a sly way of turning our joy into fear sometimes. I expressed my fears to Ben and a couple of wise friends, and they all had wonderful words of Godly wisdom for me. This is still something I sometimes struggle with. {More on this in a bit.}

The 7th grade Sunday school teacher asked me and two others ladies (all in different stages of life) to talk to the girls about a female from the Bible that we relate to. I really struggled at first on who to parallel my life with. And I also really struggled with feeling confident that the girls would "get" what I wanted to say. 

So, I decided on Mary, mother of Jesus. Funny decision for many reasons, but hopefully you'll see where I was going with it (and hopefully the girls did too). Here's what I shared with them:

I talked about how Mary was asked to do some heavy stuff: become pregnant (by the Holy Spirit) while un-married yet engaged, and then raise the Child as the Son of God. Luke 1 tells us that Mary was initially "confused and disturbed" by what the angel said. But it did not take her long to accept the calling that God had placed on her. 

A few years ago, God asked me to do something that initially disturbed and confused and intimidated me. He brought before me the opportunity to be director of our moms ministry, PEP Moms. Obviously, the task does not compare to the one that Mary was confronted with, but nonetheless, God was asking me to do something that was out of my comfort zone. Luke doesn't tell us exactly how long it took Mary to tell the angel that she was willing to take on the task, but it appears it wasn't very long. I admitted to the 7th grade girls that it took me several days to finally say yes, but I truly believed what the angel told Mary: that with God, all things are possible. 

Less than a year ago, Ben and I were asked to do something that was out of our comfort zone: lead the newlyweds Bible study at our church. In a similar fashion, we were "confused and disturbed" and initially resistant to the prospect. As we prayed and sought advice, again, we came to the conclusion that with God's guidance, we could do it, and that He was asking us to say yes. 

We have learned so much about what it means to be obedient to God through both of these situations. He has entrusted us with these tasks in order to bring Himself glory and to grow us closer to Him. Thinking about how He has guided us thus far and blessed our efforts, ideas, and attempts of new things makes me feel so joyful. It is not always easy or even fun, but I know that God is pleased with my willingness as long as I am doing it for Him. 

Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, praised her for her willingness to be the mother of the Savior of the world. I believe that Elizabeth's encouragement and recognition of God's blessing on Mary's life lifted Mary's spirit and affirmed her. When people give me encouragement and positive feedback, it furthers my belief that I am right where God wants me. Mary responded with a beautiful "song" of praise to God. She said, 

"My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name..."

God has been so faithful to me in these tasks that He has put before me. Mary mentions the "generations" calling her blessed. For me, those "generations" are my children, grandchildren, and so on. I pray that as a result of my faithful willingness to say yes when led to do so, they will call me blessed, Godly, wise, obedient, faithful, and loving. 

I think the girls understood most of what I was saying and they seemed to pay attention for the most part. 

Back to my fear that I shared earlier...

Raising a daughter in a world so full of perversion really does scare me. The task ahead makes me feel "confused and disturbed." Ben and I are  incapable of raising our daughter (and our son) in a way that pleases God. But just as Mary never questioned her own abilities and fully relied on God to give her the wisdom and guidance necessary to perform her task well, I pray for that kind of faith. A faith that never even considers my own abilities to be an asset. My only tools come from my relationship with my Savior and Lord. He will guide me; he will protect my daughter. I only need to believe that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)

How do you handle fears?

What are your memories of middle school like- good or bad?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Meal Plan Monday (on Tuesday 3/20)

We got hit with the stomach bug last week! It staggered through the kids and Ben, and we are still seeing lingering symptoms. I've somehow been able to avoid the bug so far. We did still manage to get a few good meals in last week, despite the madness...

Grilled marinated chicken tenders with homemade mac n cheese and French green beans

Leftover quiche
Mug brownie for a late-night treat

Summertime chicken tortellini soup (made with leftover grilled chicken tenders)
These leftovers were great for soothing sick tummies all weekend. 

The kids helped me make batch of these mini muffin corn dog bites to freeze. As it turns our, they don't like corn dogs! Oh well... they'll make good snack or lunch for me.

Here's a little pre-view of our eats for this week:

Sweet potato and black bean chili
Crock pot BBQ sandwiches
Eggplant Zucchini Bake
Trader Joe's black bean burgers
Indian spice curry chicken and veggies

I hope these meal plan posts inspire you to try some new stuff for your family!

What are some new recipes you've liked lately?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Easy Money-Saving Whole Wheat Pie Crust Tutorial

If you read around my blog much, you know that our family LOVES quiche. We would eat it twice a week and not complain. For a very long time, I used store-bought refrigerated pie crusts in my quiche. I always felt intimidated by the prospect of making my own. But several months ago, in an effort to cut back even more on the amount of packaged foods in our house, I started doing some research on making simple pie crusts. I experimented with a few different recipes, and finally came up with my own. It makes two crusts, so it's perfect for my quiche recipe, which makes two pies. It could certainly be halved, or doubled if you wanted to freeze the other two crusts.

Here's what you will need:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 

1 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut up

1/4 cup cold water
Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer or spoon)
Put the butter into the bowl and begin mixing on low-med speed

It will start to combine and look crumbly or cornmeal-ish

Add the water, a little bit at a time.
Increase the speed slightly and scrap the sides of the bowl as it combines.
A dough ball will begin to form and stick to the mixer attachment.
Turn off the mixer.

Lightly flour your two pie plates
Push the dough out of the mixer attachment. Form a ball again.
Dough ball
Divide the dough by eyeballing into your two floured pie plates, sprinkling a little flour on top of each one.
Press dough into pan evenly
Pinch the dough if you want it to look a little more polished (This is totally not necessary; you can just fold it down.)
Refrigerate until you're ready to use it. (Cover it if it will be more than a couple of hours.)
No need to pre-bake this crust. Just pull it out of the fridge, fill it as you desire, and bake! Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New River Marathon Recap

This was my second marathon, and I registered for this race knowing that is was extremely hilly compared to my first marathon (Seven Bridges in Chattanooga, TN). What appealed to me about this race was it's location: fairly close to home and rural scenery. (It was a little over three hours driving to get to Boone, NC.) We have visited the area before, so we already had a couple of restaurants and shops in mind to visit before packet pick-up Friday evening. We got in to downtown Boone around 12:30, and went immediately to Our Daily Bread, a place I describe as Panera Bread on steroids. If you are ever in the area, you must go here for lunch! I had a black bean burger with pumpkin curry corn chowder, and Ben had a roast beef and blue cheese sandwich with roasted tomato and Gorgonzola soup. Both were incredible!

We (I) browsed one of my favorite antique shops for about an hour and found a Hollie Hobby doll to add to Lottie's collection, plus a super-cute set of retro plates and saucers. I also bought a few gifts for upcoming birthdays, graduations, and babies. 

We found an Earthfare to grab some last minute things to complete our pre-planned dinner at the cabin, then headed over to the race site where we met up with Chris and Buck for packet pick-up. 

Since it's such a small race, there was no "expo" like big races. You just grabbed your packet and left! My kind of pre-race! They did offer a vegan spaghetti dinner with a guest speaker, but since we had an awesome cabin and friends to hang out with, we chose not to go. 

We immediately started dinner when we got to the cabin. Chris made whole wheat penne with meat marinara, and I made whole wheat angel hair with artichokes and sun dried tomatoes. We also had salad and french bread, plus some blueberry lemon bars that I had made ahead and packed in a cooler.

I ate a HUGE amount of the angel hair that I had made. I usually try to not over-eat before a long run, but for some reason, I wasn't too concerned.

We got in the hot tub for a few minutes after dinner, talked about our plans for what time to get up, what time to leave for our 20 minute drive to the race site, etc., then headed off to bed. I realized that I was so concerned about having the right clothes for the race and dinner out after the race that I forgot to pack any pajamas!

I slept fine anyway... even though it did take me a little while to settle down... I had to get up and pee three times thanks to all the water I had been drinking all day! 

My alarm went off at 5:30, and I had set the coffee maker to brew around 5:15 so we could wake up to coffee ready-made! [If you are in the Boone/Blowing Rock area, look for Bald Guy Brew. It's a great local coffee spot that we discovered on our previous visit a couple of years ago. We had gone in on Friday afternoon and bought a bag of their Colombia roast to have at the cabin. It was great!] My go-to breakfast before a long run is almost always a mini cinnamon raisin bagel with just a little bit of peanut butter. BUT, Chris had gotten an assortment of Panera bagels for us to all share for breakfast. I couldn't resist, so I ate one of the amazingly delicious (and dangerously sweet) cinnamon sugar ones with honey walnut cream cheese. I ate the whole thing! The. Whole. Thing! Before a marathon! Again, I don't know why I was making these off-color decisions, but at the time, I didn't really think much of it. I never felt overly full. [Keep reading to see how all those calories worked out for me.] ;)

We headed out about 6:45, which was about 10 minutes later than we wanted to. We did get stuck in some "traffic" when we got close to the race site because the parking area is literally right off the road where the race begins. No biggie, though... Chris and I jumped out of our cars near the portables to take one last bathroom break before the start. There was a line, but it was not much of one. We even got to hear the pre-race prayer after our pit-stop. I was pumped from that moment on! I felt an excitement in my soul that gave me more confidence that God was going with me. They started making announcements that the start time would be delayed a few minutes so that they could get all the cars parked. (The road had to be closed eventually because the starting line is in the road where people drive in.) 
Full and half marathon starting lines

Ben snapped some pics at the start line. It was not a big group of full-marathoners. 

My ponytail is doing a happy dance here!

The first mile was pretty and flat. Between miles 1 and 2 there was a section of some steep rolling hills that quickly had us shedding our long sleeves. Once we got over the last big hill in that section, there was a race photographer waiting on the generous downhill. We were running along the river (I assume it is the New River) a lot of the time, and we had a nice long flat section for quite some time after that zinger. There were aid stations approximately every two miles with water and gatorade and portables (and encouragement). All of the volunteers seemed happy to be there. There was another hill that wasn't as steep around mile 5, and that's when I knew it was going to be a good run for me. I started feeling really good, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Early in the race, we were behind a man that had Isaiah 40:31 on the back of his shirt. Ben and I memorized verses 29-31 a while back, and I quoted it our loud when I saw it. I've never felt so energized as I did when I was speaking God's Word while running. It was awesome! 
"He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."

We went back by the race site around mile 11, and the next aid station had Hammer gels. I grabbed several esspresso flavored ones, and was disappointed when I saw them. I love coffee, but I wasn't sure how I would like that flavor as an energy gel. It turned out to not be so bad! I made sure and drank plenty of water with the gel, and it sat fine on my tummy (whew!). 

Ben and Buck were able to drive around the course, and the first place they waited for us was at mile 12. They refilled my sport drink bottle with Advocare Rehydrate. (Chris and Buck are Advocare distributors.) Ben gave me a kiss and asked how I was feeling; I told him I was feeling great, and I went on my merry way...

I had to pee pretty badly at this point, and I had tried to stop a couple of other times, but I wanted to be able to run right in, and they had all been occupied. Finally, right before mile 13, I was running up to a portable, and someone came out! YAY! I think I might have lost 15 seconds at the most! I was really glad that I had been able to go because right at mile 13, there was a big hill. People were walking all over the place. I was temped to walk too, but I knew that mile 16 was going to be brutal, so I was saving my walking for then. I told myself I was just gonna try to have fun up the steep hill... so I made friends. As I was passing a group of guys who were walking, I asked them "Didn't you guys hear the rules? No walking on the hills!" Thankfully, they were friendly, and they laughed; then said, "Oh, we thought the rule was you HAVE to walk on the hills." I said something (don't remember what), then they said "Sorry, we don't have an entourage following us around and cheering for us! You're lucky!" I said, "Yes, I am. They are awesome!" And then I was at the top of the hill! It was about here that I started noticing that my Garmin was .3 miles ahead of the race markers. (I had doubled back early in the race to talk to Chris, but it was only a few feet, I thought.)

The "entourage" passed me as they drove on to mile 20 as I was approaching mile 14 on a steep downhill. I told them that had been my slowest mile, asked how Chris was doing, Ben blew me a kiss, and then I was alone on the course for quite a while. It was really pretty. It looked a lot like home: country, backwoods, mountain roads. I was thinking a lot about how blessed I am to be able to run; I was praying prayers of thanks and praise several times in this section. Toward the end of mile 15, we started a gradual uphill; the higher up the hill I got, I started seeing people ahead make a 90 degree turn to the right. Little did I know that not only was mile 16 a very long and steep hill, but it was dirt and rock!
Photo Credit to Chris here

When I made the turn to head up the hill, I knew that now was the time to walk, and everyone in front of me was walking too. So, I channeled my inner speed-walker, leaned slightly forward, and started swinging my arms and walking as hard as I could. I came up with my own breathing rhythm that I kept focusing on the whole way up, and I managed to pass a lot of people with my "power-walk!" I caught up to a younger girl at the top of the hill where we were greeted by some not-very-friendly dogs in a not-so-nice neighborhood. We came to another steep hill at mile 17, where I walked again and so did my new friend. It was a little shorter, and there was a nice downhill when it was over. We also got back on pavement somewhere around there too. There were some beautiful views in the next section as well, and it was nice to be having conversation again. The girl I was running with was 24 years old, and it was her first marathon. Her goal time was pretty much the same as mine, and we were both very happy with our current pace. It was hard, but we were making it easier for each other by staying together. 

My cheering section was waiting for me at mile 20, and again replenished my drinks this time with a Rehydrate/Spark (energy) mixture, and Ben gave me his hat: the sun had become really strong and it was in our faces. My friend stopped for a drink at an aid station, then we started running together again. We were talking about how it was getting harder, and I could tell she was slowing down. Somewhere between miles 21 and 22 she said "See you at the finish line," and started walking. I kept going, but very slowly. My feet and hips were tired. But I couldn't believe that I didn't feel like I needed more fuel. Even on 16 mile training runs, I sometimes need two energy gels. It was awesome! AND, I didn't need to go to the bathroom either! Praise the Lord! (Really!) I ALWAYS have to "go" during a long run. 

The course got monotonous. It was getting hot. I was by myself. People ahead of me were walking. There were no spectators. At least the scenery was pretty. I kept saying in my head over and over, "Even if you walk, it's still going to hurt. Even if you walk, it's still going to hurt." So I tried my hardest to not walk. (I was so proud for not walking during the last six miles of my other marathon, and for some reason, I wanted to be able to say that again. But, I can't say that.) I did walk. But not much. And never for very long. I knew going into the race that the last six miles were very flat; so I was kind-of hoping for some speed. But it never came. I realized around mile 24 that a PR was not really possible, but that I was going to finish close. It was frustrating that my Garmin was measuring so far ahead too. Despite all that, though. I am even more proud of this race than my first because of the level of difficulty. My time was just less than 6 minutes slower than my first marathon--- with all those big hills! And I enjoyed it more. 

My overall experience of the New River Marathon was very good. God blessed me with a great run that day. I think all of those extra calories from my bigger-than-usual dinner and breakfast kept me from relying so much on energy gels, which my tummy appreciated (I think). I was well rested, well hydrated (and well-staffed!). The race was organized, small, and super friendly! I would definitely run it again. And they have the most unique medals: reclaimed wood, pressed to look like the race logo, which is a historic farm symbol that you've probably seen on old barns before. Very pretty! Oh, and the t-shirts are great too!

Praise God for a healthy body and His beautiful creation that we can enjoy!

So... at the finish line area, while I was resting in the grass, Ben overheard some guys talking about this perky girl wearing purple pants who had a car full of people following her around, and he knew they were talking about me. He didn't hear exactly what they were saying, but they found me later. It was the guys that I had been joking with on mile 13! They told me that they had nicknamed me Peppy Purple Pants! So now when I'm acting feisty, that's what Ben calls me. ;)