Beef and Macaroni Skillet

This dish was a favourite in my family growing up. Now I occasionally make it for my family and the kids love it. I think they all had two or three helpings last night, which is not typical for two of the three. =) We all prefer the barbecue flavour over standard pasta sauce, and you can’t get much quicker and easier than this “homemade hamburger helper.” I usually serve it with creamy coleslaw and green beans, just like my mom. If you have Esther Shank’s Mennonite Country-Style Recipes, you can find this recipe on page 558. Otherwise, here you go.

Beef and Macaroni Skillet

1 lb. ground beef
1 med. onion
1 qt. tomato juice*
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. vinegar
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. salt
1/8 t. black pepper
1 t. ground dry mustard
1 1/3 c. dry macaroni
2/3 c. grated cheese

Brown meat and onions in kettle or deep skillet. Add next eight ingredients. Cover and cook until macaroni is tender, stirring occasionally (about 20 min.). Sprinkle cheese on top before serving.

*We usually use our homemade tomato juice that is seasoned with salt, pepper and sugar. If you are using plain juice, you may need to adjust the seasonings a bit. I have also replaced the juice with undrained diced tomatoes and that worked fine.

Since I don’t have a picture of this recipe, you get a picture of my breakfast chefs making memories by cooking outside in the cold, just because.

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Book Review: All the Pretty Things

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In this memoir, Edie Wadsworth tells the story of her childhood in Tennessee, a childhood defined by alcoholism, broken family relationships, neglect, and poverty. Though she was introduced to the church at a young age and her commitment to the Lord shaped her growing up years, the pain and trauma of her childhood followed her into her adult years, resulting in devastating choices that only added to her guilt and shame. Through hard work and determination, she became a doctor and immersed herself in helping others, but her personal life was crumbling. At the lowest point, she sought help and was able to work through and make peace with her past, ultimately finding hope and healing in a restored relationship with her loving heavenly Father.

I really cannot comprehend the pain of a childhood like the author describes. Edie Wadsworth is certainly an example of how God can bring beauty out of ashes. Reading this book reminded me how much I often take for granted and inspired me to think more compassionately about my neighbors and community, which bears resemblance to that of Edie’s childhood in some ways. I was blessed by how God strategically placed people in Edie’s life, and the power of simple things like a warm meal and encouraging words. I want to be a life-giving person, the hands and feet of Jesus, to those around me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Spaceman

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In this book, Mike Massimino tells the story of how his childhood dream of being an astronaut became reality. During his NASA career, Massimino went to space twice on servicing missions to the Hubble Telescope. Persevering and overcoming odds that seem impossible is the underlying theme of this book. Even though Massimino was not born in the “right” place, didn’t know the “right” people, and didn’t get the “right” education, he worked hard and kept trying. Often, the things that weren’t “right” ended up being the things that made him unique in a field where competition for the few positions was intense. Massimino repeatedly illustrates the value of being a team player, being a friend, having a sense of humour, and not giving up when things get difficult.

I don’t know much about NASA and I’m certainly not a scientist or engineer, but I found this memoir to be very readable and interesting. It is not highly technical and gives a great inside view into the life of an astronaut. The book focuses mainly on Mike’s career and experiences in space. I would have been interested in knowing more about his family and how they dealt with the challenges of having husband and dad in such a risky, demanding career, but that wasn’t mentioned much.

Any person with an interest in space, astronauts or the Hubble telescope, or who enjoys an inspiring “overcoming odds” story will likely enjoy this book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

November 14

A collection of miscellaneous things that are and are not very important.

Update:
Last week was kind of rough but it feels like we’re getting back into the family groove again after J and I’s travels. We enjoyed a fun weekend with my friend Bethany and her boyfriend. We have no Thanksgiving plans. I’d love to hear if you have traditions or ideas for ways to make Thanksgiving meaningful for kids (unrelated to big dinners and football).

Computers:
We own a number of computer devices, dating back over the last 8 years or so. We have a desktop model. We have a laptop. We have two Surface Pros, one that is J’s and one that is mine, and docking stations, monitors, keyboards, etc. for both. Being the type to simplify and eliminate unnecessary clutter, the fact that we have four computers hanging around kinda bugs me. And since I am only one person, and three of those devices are currently used only by me, it seems like one or two could Adios! on out of here. But there’s a problem. The Surface doesn’t have any way to play CDs or DVDs, and while not a deal-breaker, it also doesn’t have a memory card reader, which makes importing photos from my camera unhandy. The laptop’s disc reader doesn’t work and it still has the Vista OS, but it has piles of memory that is storing photos and music (from which we sync the iPod) and all kinds of stuff I really don’t want cluttering up the Surface. And the desktop has no mechanism for connecting to the internet, but it does have a functional disc player. So they all linger, filling their little niche, and in the scope of the world’s problems, it doesn’t matter. But one day,  I’d love to have a clean desktop again. One monitor, one keyboard, one mouse.

Overheard:
M was sitting at the table, coloring, and began singing. “Oh be careful little toes where you wiggle, oh be careful little toes where you wiggle. For the Father up above, his face will surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” Verse two was exactly the same, only instead of wiggling toes, the phrase was “oh be careful little nose what you snort.” I’m pretty sure that’s not the Sunday School version, but yes, one does have to be watchful in all things. =)

Answered Prayers:
One always needs to exercise caution when praying, for there is always the distinct possibility that the Lord will actually answer. Hmm. Anyhow. The Bible study I attend has been studying the book of John and during the studies covering John 4-5, we talked a lot about being filled and overflowing with living water, worship and witness as evidences of a life satisfied by Jesus, reaping to fill God’s storehouses instead of our own, and so on. I do firmly feel that my primary “harvest field” at this time is my children, but in the course of the study I prayed that God would bring opportunities to invest in the lives of others as I am able, and that I would be willing to join his work. One morning after that prayer, I opened my email to find an invitation to speak to the middle and high school girls for two chapel sessions. Public speaking is certainly NOT my thing, but it felt like the Lord was answering my prayer and I really couldn’t say no. The chapels are part of a series based from the book of Proverbs on being wise women (vs. wild women). I’m one of a number of speakers, and my assigned topic is “speech.” So that’s my current step out of my comfort zone.

Vote:
My sister took some pictures for us. For the dining room wall: A or B?
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While I’m at it, if you are a regular or occasional follower of my blog and have not answered the three-question survey I posted, I’d love to hear from you. It’ll take you 23.5 seconds or less. Click here for the survey.

Book Review: The Beginners Bible

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The bestselling Beginner’s Bible, first released in 1989, has a new look–3D artwork and googly eyes. Featuring 48 Old Testament stories and 44 from the New Testament, this story book gives a good overview of the Bible. The stories are short and simple, written for ages 4-8. A glossary is included in the back to explain words with which children may not be familiar. Since the stories are so short and written using simple language, there are obviously a lot of details and narrative that are left out. I think the overall conveyance is mostly accurate to the Bible (with the disclaimer that I have not read each story critically). There is no commentary, explanation, or application in the stories, just sequence of events.

My children are 4 and 3, and they enjoy the stories and pictures. I’m not a fan of cartoony pictures in general, and the 3D enhancement gives more distinct definition to the female figure than I would prefer, but the illustrations are very colorful and active, which appeals to the kids. This won’t become my favourite Bible story book, but is definitely a good choice for age-appropriate telling of basic Bible stories or for early readers.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

Book Review: The Low Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler

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This book features four principles to make parenting preschoolers less stressful. They are easily summarized in outline form:

  1. Shrink your Job Description (It is not your job to make sure your child turns out right, and it is not your job to do everything perfectly. The parents’ job is to validate (primarily the father) and nurture (primarily the mother).
  2. Make Friends with Free Will (Teach the three rules: You live and die by your own choices; You can choose smart or stupid; and, Somebody or something will make your life miserable when you choose ‘stupid.’ Give children a voice.)
  3. Step Away from the Power Struggle (Figure out what you control and what you are responsible for and let the rest go. Let your child do the same. Tips for how to practically do this.)
  4. Reduce Rules (Differentiate between rules, advice and suggestions. Principles for instituting consequences.)

Since I have three preschoolers, I was interested in seeing what the author had to say. I’ve also read a lot of parenting books, and while this one was easy to read, I didn’t think it was particularly stellar. While it is definitely written from a Christian perspective, the book isn’t Gospel-centered. By that I mean the points could’ve probably been made with no reference to the Bible in a non-religious positive parenting seminar. (That is not necessarily bad, and probably gives the book a wider appeal.) That being said, there were helpful reminders that I’m sure will come to mind in my parenting, particularly the part about helping children learn to accept responsibility for their actions and not take it myself.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

Hither and Yon

I started this post almost two weeks ago. I had a pretty good idea how my week was going to go down, but never imagined the living between then and now.

So that week, the week of October 23, J had to go to WI for his biannual re-certification training (for work). He left early Sunday morning. I had a fairly busy week planned, so the time went relatively quickly. A highlight was the day we spent at my mom’s house making potato chips. The kids played hard with their cousins all day and the mamas worked hard all day, ending up with a pretty impressive amount of chips that should keep us stocked for awhile.
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I was on kid duty at lunch time. =)
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This is what B thought of chip making. He seemed determined to keep this up all day.
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All our buckets and containers full of chips. Yummmm.

Here’s what I had written back when I started this post: This week I’ve noted three things that always happen when J is gone. One, I stay up late reading books. Two, our menu consists almost entirely of southwestern food, curry, and other such fare that the kids and I enjoy but J doesn’t so much. Three, I wear sweatpants and socks to bed. That third one…I’m a cold blood, but I spend most nights shedding blankets and by morning, I usually have only a corner across my back. I sleep with a furnace, people. It is amazing. When he’s gone, I’m right back to sweatpants and socks and blankets all night long. That’s all the further I got. =)

 J got home early Saturday morning.

On Tuesday I had found out that a friend from my Red Lake days had unexpectedly died. Due to circumstances, the funeral date was not set until Sunday morning. All week I was talking with friends and trying to decide if I would go to the funeral. They were making the same decisions, not knowing the exact funeral date, and it was a big kerfluffle. Long story short, on Sunday afternoon it seemed like plans came together in such a way that I could go. Then the flurry began–packing the kids’ stuff for a week at Grandmas, getting the house in shape to go…. We all went to my parents’ yet that night so the kids would be there in the morning (I had to leave at 3:30). So after just two days of being together as a family, we split ways for another week. I flew to northern MN and friends picked me up for the rest of the drive to Red Lake. My time there was short but sweet. Our friend had had such a hilarious sense of humour and we laughed ourselves to tears as we reminisced and told stories about our adventures with her. =) The funeral was long but special, and I was glad I was able to be there.
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Here are two pictures I stole from facebook. The first is the balloons we released at MJ’s grave. The second is some of her friends who were at the funeral, wearing hats she had crocheted. I can’t begin to tell you how many precious memories I share with these people. It was such a blessing to reconnect.

The car load I was traveling with left Red Lake early Thursday morning and drove straight through to OH, where J picked me up. He had gone out Wed. for meetings. We got home Fri. evening. I’m so thankful for safe travels and for a restful weekend now readjusting to being family. Considering how little sleep I got this week, I’m feeling amazingly normal.

The day before J left for WI my family was together to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday. It was a windy, chilly day, but we did venture out on a hike, and despite the cold, the kids spent most of the rest of the day outside in the bounce house my parents had set up. That was definitely a memory maker for them. Credits for these pictures go to my sister Mel.
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Other fall pictures from the last couple weeks. The weather has been unbelievably dry and warm, and we’ve been enjoying it.

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(You can’t really see the water in this picture…B is sitting in it and A is “fishing.”
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J’s leaf hauling invention. He blows the leaves into it and it saves him a lot of time since the banks are so tall and steep to blow all leaves up and over. He’s been dumping the leaves on a huge pile and the kids are enjoying riding their bikes into it and getting buried.
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Book Review: The Great Good Thing

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Author of internationally bestselling crime novels, Andrew KIavan, tells of his coming to faith in Christ. Klavan was born into a Jewish family in suburban New York City. His childhood was troubled, particularly his relationship with his father. He left home and wandered in search of Experience, eventually ending up at the University of California at Berkeley, where he met his future wife. Through Klavan’s experiences and reading, God began to reveal himself in small yet powerful ways to this agnostic, angry, depressed and suicidal man. Over a period of years, Klavan eventually came to faith and was baptized as a Christian.

As one would expect from a bestselling author, this memoir is very well written. There is a lot of description of thought processes and logic, and some of that took several reads for me to figure out what he was saying. The book doesn’t talk much about Klavan’s doctrine or discipleship, just his journey to Christian faith.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

Apple Pie Filling (to freeze)

I am not a fan of canned apple pie filling. I made it one time and it sat in the jars for several years before I finally used the last of it. It seems mushy, and I don’t care for all the thickened liquid. I want my apple pie filling to be…well, apples. And not much else.

A friend (Iris!) gave me this recipe years ago and I’ve been making it ever since. I’m not sure if I’ve actually made pie with it, but it is so handy to have this in the freezer to pull out for a last-minute apple crisp. Scrum-dilly-icious. This isn’t a particular recipe. I rarely measure my apples, skimp on sugar, shake in the lemon juice…you know, so I have an excuse to taste test. =)

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Using my apple machine makes the process go quickly, and usually guarantees me some help. Whether I am particularly eager for the help will be my little secret, but one day, I’m sure I’ll gladly say, “Sure kids, give it a go! I’ll check back in when you’re done!” and they’ll have whipped it out themselves, easy as pie.

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Apple Pie Filling (to freeze)

6-8 c. sliced apples
pinch of salt
2 T. flour
1/4 c. sugar (or less)*
1 T. lemon juice
1 to 1 1/2 t. cinnamon

Stir well. Spoon into gallon bag and freeze.

*I usually use golden delicious apples, since they are naturally sweet and I don’t need to add as much sugar. The original recipe called for a half cup of sugar, so if you try it with a tarter apple, you may want to taste for sweetness.

When I’m ready to use, I put the frozen apples in a 9×9 pan, let them partially thaw, spoon a crumb mixture of 3/4 c. oatmeal, 1/2 c. flour, 1/2 c. sugar and 1/4 c. butter over top, and bake at 350 until browned and bubbly.

Book Review: Love Unending

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In a book that reminded me of The Love Dare, Becky Thompson (popular blogger of Scissortail SILK) leads busy, tired mothers in a 21 day challenge to invest in their husbands and marriages. Each day the reader is asked to remember how it was when they first fell in love with their spouse, consider how things have changed, and then do something to bring back the “first love.” Each challenge ends with a prayer and space to journal what you plan to do, how it went, and how the challenge is going over all. Topics include speaking kindly, being grateful, listening well, serving joyfully, fighting well and forgiving quickly, honoring consistently, correcting sparingly, spending time together, connecting intimately, and more.

As a mom with three preschoolers, there was hardly a chapter in this book I couldn’t identify with in some way. By using her own experiences as her primary illustrations, the reader feels her sympathetic “me too” instead of a preachy “you should.” While I didn’t “do the challenge,” I came away convicted, encouraged and recommitted to making my husband and marriage a first priority.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.