Week 3: Finger Foods

I wish I had some better pictures, but alas - sometimes cooking is all I can manage. Cooking and taking cute how-to photos? Not so much. But what I can tell you is a few things that have worked for Lois just recently.... 

Chicken Dumplings with Major Brothy Benefits - 

Before anyone has the chance to tell me, "duh," I am going to go ahead and clear the air by saying there is nothing complicated about this little secret. However, because I figured it out on my own and it has provided dozens of delicious lunches and snacks, I thus claim is genius. 

As you know, every good Chicken and Dumplings begins with a rotisserie chicken, frozen dumplings, and organic chicken broth from a carton. If you didn't know that, you're working too hard. The first step is always: 

Bring your broth to a boil. TaDaaaaaa! 

Here is where the mommy skills come in, and what I tell you can be applied thusly to any soup you make henceforth. Once your broth begins to boil, dont waste it! The day I made these Dumplings it was cold and rainy and I knew when I went to grab the "essential three" from the store that soup must be made. While on the freezer aisle for my dumplings, I also picked up one bag each of crinkly cut carrots, peas, lima beans, and assorted veggies including brocolli and cauliflower. 

  1. Now, before you proceed with spicing your broth and adding your dumplings cook your veggies for baby! One at the time, I poured each bag into the boiling broth. In other words, pour in your carrots and cook until soft. 
  2. Retrieve those carrots from the boiling broth with a slotted spoon, and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. 
  3. Place cookie sheet in freezer. Proceed to next veggie thus until all veggies are complete. 

ONE of the best things about doing your veggies this way is that they are saturated in the delish broth taste and can easily be thawed for a quick and healthy go to lunch, snack, or side for your little one. 

THE OTHER best thing about doing your veggies this way is that all those good veggie tastes get in your broth and so when you finish you dumplings (add seasoning, then dumplings, then chicken last) they taste wonderfully. 

PS - if your baby is eating meat, it will LOVE the dumplings too. Just don't make them too salty. Guaranteed to make that sick baby happy!

Fresh Coconut Teethers - 

I mean - I want to take pictures of this but honestly - just open a coconut and let your baby chew on large chunks of the flesh. LL loves it and its easy, not to mention full of all sorts of good fats. 

Giant Crosstitch DIY

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The other day - well, it has been weeks now - I set about cross stitching something for my home. The only catch: I had never cross -stitched before and I didn't want your average product. I wanted it to be as big as possible.

Here are the ingredients I acquired:

  • The biggest quilting hoop I could find. That just so happened to be this 23 incher from Amazon.
  • A pattern. I found a cute one at this Etsy's CrossMyHeart
  • Embroidery Thread in your colors of choice. 
  • Embroidery Needles. I used an 18 gauge needle
  • 14 count cross stitch fabric. You have to find a roll of it large enough to fit your hoop. I found it at Hobby Lobby, but I am sure they have it at Amazon while you're at it. 
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Here's How To:

So…making your pattern large. It requires a little math. The trick is knowing the count of your fabric. Since I used 14 count, I know that there are 14 stitches (holes) per inch. So for my 23 inch hoop (stretch with 14 count fabric), I have approximately 322 stitches across my hoops diameter. (That is 14 stitches per inch X however many inches you are working with).We will call this NUMBER A. If you are using the same pattern that I used, and if you ignore the extra grid with no stitches in it on the pattern like I did, Then your pattern is 50 stitches by 50 stitches. 

If you are using your own pattern, just count how many stitches across and up is in your pattern. We will call this NUMBER B. Now, divide NUMBER A (stitches on canvas) by NUMBER B (stitches on pattern). For this Home Sweet Home pattern it is approximately 6 (322/50 = 6.44). We will call this NUMBER C.

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VOILA! NUMBER C is how large you can make each of your stitches. What the heck does that mean? A cross stitch pattern is usually just one square per stitch. But when you want to blow it up, just multiply those stitches by what you're able. For my pattern I ended up using 5 squares for every 1 stitch on my pattern. Does this picture make it any better?

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So you see those little holes? Usually you would just skip across one square for a  single stitch. But when you're going big or going home, you gotta swallow more of those squares per stitch. See? 

Now, about doing the actual stitches. I had never really cross-stitched before. Well, I once made a very cool cross stitched drink hugger for my friend, but that was made from a kit for pre-schoolers. Cross-stitching like this isn't hard. Especially this pattern. The trick is to start in the middle and work your way out and around. Starting in the middle is the whole way to make sure that your pattern will be center on your canvas. So on your 23 inch hoop, measure in and over 11.5 inches to find your start place. Also, youtubers will tell you to make your stitches all go the same way (over under, etc). Rubbish. Just do it. 

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Ok my beautiful babies - stitch away! If you make something cool show me. This was a very excellent time suck while I was waiting to heal from surgery. I encourage you to make your self do a craft anytime you have to sit still for a while. Doing so while the demands of parenthood are all around can be hard. Cross-stitching makes it easier. 

Fat Tuesday Activities

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For children, who are innately self-centered and very needy, the journey of Lent is a difficult one. The message of sacrifice, solidarity, and grief are difficult even for adults. However, if you offer your children lived experiences it will surprise you just how well they can come into an enduring understanding of the Seasons and the Mystery of G-d. Further. If you lead the way and engage the Mystery of the season yourself, you will be surprised at how well your children catch on to the changes of their parents soul-ish parts. I have a post Engaging Mardi Gras that is all about the significance of the season. Check it out!

As Daniel and I venture into our first Lent and Easter with a child, I have been spending a lot of my free time in thought about how to begin structuring our rituals. Although Lois is still a baby and will sleep through most of this, many of my readers have older children and well...its better to start now. So for our future and for my lovely readers here are some of my thoughts:

Party

Where we live, our school system closes for the whole week of Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, so it is easy to make it a day of play and baking for you and your children. In the history of the Church, it is traditional to use shrove Tuesday to empty the cupboards of all the decadence, delicacies, and temptations that your family will sacrifice during Lent. An idea? Make a party of it! 

Bake, Fry, Eat

We will be inviting friends and family over that evening for a Fat Tuesday party. Guests will be encouraged before hand to consider their upcoming sacrifices and bring something to share with guests that represents that sacrifice. If they don't have anything or aren't particularly religious, no problem! As the guests arrive we will have fun baking with the kids - emptying out our cabinets of all the rich flours, eggs, butters, and chocolate chips that we will be doing without. Dinner will be equally wonderful - perhaps fried chicken and bacon-laden beans?

Make Some Noise

Don't forget to sing songs of Hallelujah - or at least listen. I honestly detest being made to sing in public (I would rather drink melted lard than sing Happy Birthday). Either way, get all those sweet songs of glorious and raucous praise out of your system in preparation for the somber tone of Lenten worship. Daniel, Lois, and I, being Episcopalian, won't hear the word allelujah in worship for several weeks. It is amazing how you come to long for it and how satisfying the Hallelujah Chorus is on Easter Sunday after such a simple fast of Words. 

Alleluia Scroll

On Fat Tuesday (or during the party) set up a crafts table with a large scroll to decorate. Have one of the adults write a huge "Alleluja" in big block letters on the scroll so that the children can color in the letters and paper with all the bright colors, paints, and glitters of spring. The scroll is to be buried after dinner and resurrected on Easter Sunday. I think the creation and burial of the scroll is a really powerful symbol of the Lenten fast of words for the Children. Something about putting to bed the most colorful things to meditate on the less exciting, somber, and even sad things...

Silence

After the last bite of dinner, maybe sing one last song together (or dance, scream shout, whatever) as you exit to bury the scroll. As the scroll is buried everyone enters total silence. If you're not doing the scroll, still do the silence. I understand from my friends with children, that the observance of silence on the eve of Ash Wednesday is wonderful contrast and observance for the young ones as it helps them realize that the threshold to a new season has been crossed. This silence is observed for the rest of the evening. That means cleaning the kitchen, riding in the car, brushing the teeth, and going to bed.....whew!

For more ideas and an all around good discussion on the subject, check out To Dance with God by G.M. Nelson.

I am excited and hope you are encouraged to engage the season. Carnival is laden with interesting symbols and opportunities for growth and Engagement. Meanwhile, Laissez les Bonne Temps Rouler! 

 

Engaging Mardi Gras

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The big Mystery of Mardi Gras is hidden in the upcoming Lenten season. Now, what comes to your mind when I say Mardi Gras is your own business, but it is likely an extreme and nefarious version of what is absolutely necessary: a moment set aside to recognize and honor those things in our selves that we would, on every other day of the year, rather not acknowledge or accept. Often called Carnival or Shrove Tuesday in the church, Mardi Gras is a time to become aware of our sin nature - the sins we nurture - and begin to prepare ourselves for the Fast of Lent. It is a time to join in community to acknowledge those dirty, dark, and speckled pieces of your self and our society that must be brought to light if it is to be ordered. If Lent is a period of cleaning, repentance, and sacrifice, Carnival is the the white glove come to test our sills and pull everything out of the cupboard.

For every step into light and consciousness that a society is able to make, it must remember and honor what is dark and messy and disorganized on just the other side of our human consciousness.
— Gertrud Nelson

Every civilized society must set aside a moment to briefly return to chaos - if for no other reason than to appreciate G-d's great redemptive work in our lives and acknowledge the wonderful journey of sanctification that remains.  If we don't bring our dirty bits into awareness, how will we ever know what needs cleaning? I just so happen to enjoy a good dose of chaos and I love Christ's redemptive work, so Mardi Gras has always been - and this is no joke - my favorite holiday. Right or wrong, I like it better than Christmas.

Further, the excess and playfulness of the Mardi Gras season (especially if you live on the Gulf Coast) is an incredible prelude to the leanness of Lent. If nothing else, the contrast alone can startle even the simplest human to worship. Go to parades, encourage dressing up, and eat tons of kings cake. There is a theology of dress in scripture. If you'll pay attention, your children can speak to you and you to them through costume. Go for it.

 Here are my costumes from the last two years....

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Yikes….

Stay tuned tomorrow for a few specific Fat Tuesday suggestions (party planing and crafts, woot) that will certainly help your children bridge the threshold and enter Lent, Mystery and all. 

The Rising Tide of Parenthood

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When one has a baby there is a period of calm and quiet – of sweet, soft noise speckled through hours of sound infant sleep. Even the smell is one of peace - It is the sweet remnant of heaven. Comforted by the stillness that settled into my spirit during the months prior to Lois' arrival, I cherished these moments. I knew singularly that the moments I spent nursing her, holding her, and rocking her were sacred. They were times of peace saturated with heartfelt prayers for the Spirit’s fruit and guidance in her life.

Fast-forward several months to December: Even as I walk into the café where I am destined to have breakfast with a dear friend – my heart pounds. It isn’t the coffee; I haven’t had any. I wonder if it is the cold, or my blood sugar. Either way, it’s a stark contrast to the desire of my heart. A deep irony in the mingling of spirit and physical. The frenetic pace of my December thus far propels me in a flurry and fluster. My heart pounds in revolt of what the season asks of us: slow yourself.

I suppose it was the gaping discrepancy between the tender invitations of the advent season and my own pace that helped draw my attention to the agitation and commotion that had settled inside my heart and head. While motherhood begins in a gestation full of hope and expectation, followed by those gentle moments of peace and heavenly aroma, the grind steadily picks up pace and life quickens as the quotidian begins to call.  There are dishes, laundry, bottles, the feeding of family and child. The necessity of work, the lure of friendships, the burden of countertops filling with dust and disorder all threaten to overwhelm the self.

What began as a refreshing dip in a gentle stream quickly became a fight to keep my feet grounded and my head above the current of daily living.

Most parents get to this point, some sooner rather than later, and a question soon enters our consciousness and nags at our attention: How does one make room for a Savior in all of this? How does a mother or father find pause? How can life be lived, as one intends: inside out and from prayer to action, when what I have always conceived of as prayer has become flitting and elusive?

In the context of a less demanding, pre-baby family life, many of us have the luxury of coming to understand prayer as a quiet and intentional slowing of self to the rhythms of G-d. Before baby, I had grown accustomed to stilling myself daily for an hour or so just to sit alone with Christ. The bulk of Christian literature, written by men, monks, and others in the pastoral vocation, confirms this idea. Unfortunately, stillness and aloneness are almost impossible for most of us – especially women and men employed in full time domesticity.

Many of us, unable to accommodate our daily rhythm to the concentration, time, and privacy that we believe prayer requires, become disillusioned. Prayer becomes yet another source of inadequacy and guilt. In December, desperate for shelter and quiet, I cried out, asking forgiveness for my poor habits, asking for comfort and restoration. The answer I received was a nourishing reassurance of the Lord’s presence. Rather than demanding more and shaming my absence, G-d simply asked that I forgive myself the changes prayer makes as the tide of children and family rises. 

We have to learn to change. To hold on to a prayer life that was or “used to be” is vapor. Our life of prayer, and contemplation – our very relationship with Christ - changes as we enter different seasons. It must change and with those changes comes adjustment and new learning. 

The true masters of parenthood and faith are not those who have figured a way to carve into a day isolation and silent contemplation of holiness. Rather, they are those who manage to find G-d in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self…They treasure the rare moments of solitude and silence that come their way, and use them not to escape, to distract themselves with television and the like. Instead they listen for a sign of God’s presence and they open their hearts toward prayer.
— Kathleen Norris

To the young parents and new professionals learning to juggle child-rearing and earning. To people who feel that life is endless in its repetition or constant in its change, who perhaps bounce between drudgery and excitement with both fervor and fear. When the moment strikes and the daily transforms into routine – allow the mind to simply wander toward grace. When the child naps or the commute gets long, treasure the silence. Stop escaping from reality into Facebook. The mindless flicking through a New Feed is comforting, but there is a deeper silence that can be restoring. I have no long steady time to simply meditate, but Christ doesn’t ask this of me right now. He just asks to be welcomed into the present and routine. These quotidian moments with all of their possibility for absent attention are breeding ground for the type of spiritual awareness that he wants for us. His grace is complete and His power to strengthen still stands while we fold, cook, wash, and mend.

Christ’s word to us is not “try harder,” it is “self-forgiveness.” Take wisdom’s hand, young momma, new daddy. Treasure your rare moments of solitude and hold fast to the occasional silence. Allow your heart to wander toward Christ. These are moments of prayer – the kind of prayer that leads to restoration of peace, patience, and strength. The kind of prayer a young parent needs.