Fantastic Food: Green Beans

ThinkstockPhotos-dv1356071We’ve had a wonderful harvest of green beans this summer!  Whether it’s garden harvest or fresh beans from the grocery store, I’ve grown to prefer fresh beans over canned or frozen beans (although canned or frozen beans are perfectly fine to eat!)

Fresh green beans are pretty easy to prepare; they take just a little time to cook. Simply break off the end of the beans and break the beans into the size you want. This is a great project for your kids to help with. I’ve had many conversations with my kids over the years as we sat together breaking fresh beans!

green beansOnce, the beans are broken, boil them in salted water for 20-30 minutes, based upon the tenderness you prefer.  I usually start testing them at 20 minutes with a fork.

The key to yummy green beans is adding bacon grease. I know it sounds odd to say that…but it makes a ton of difference!  We now buy the Naked Bacon brand of bacon because it contains no sugar, nitrates, phosphates, or preservatives. It’s definitely more expensive, but if we’re going to do bacon, we’re choosing a healthier option.

Every time we make bacon, I throw the grease in a glass jar and put it in the freezer. I just keep adding more grease to the glass jar until it’s full.  When I make green beans, I add a couple of heaping tablespoons of the bacon grease to the beans. So yummy!

How about you? How do you prepare fresh green beans?

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The Power of Your Words

ThinkstockPhotos-97700999Mark says: What we say and what we don’t say in our marriage is a measuring stick for the health of our marriage.

Jill says: Did you know the Bible talks about the power of our words over 3,500 times?  That alone indicates that our words are pretty important!

Mark says: Too often couples let their tongues go and their words flow. This damages relationships.

Jill says: I’ve been working hard on taking my thoughts captive and stopping critical words from exiting my mouth by dealing with them while they’re forming in my mind.

Mark says: I’ve also been working hard on taking my thoughts captive as well as choosing to encourage rather than condemn, and lift up rather than criticize.

Jill says: There are some things that simply do not need to be said. In fact, a lot that comes to our mind should never be said.

Mark says: “Loose lips sink ships.” This was a phrase used during WWII reminding citizens and servicemen to avoid careless talk about secure information that might be of use to the enemy.  A similar phrase could be used for marriage, “Loose lips sink relationships.”  We need to avoid careless talk that will definitely be used by the enemy to steal and destroy our marriage.

Jill says: Here are some of the things God says about our words:

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 29:20

“The tongue has the power of life and death.” Proverbs 18:21

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

life or deathMark says: So today the challenge we’re giving ourselves and passing along to you is this: Are you bringing life or death to your marriage with your words? 

Jill says: One of the most important things we can do is learn to PAUSE before we speak. Just stop and ask yourself: is what I’m wanting to say going to bring life or death to my marriage? 

Mark says: Self-control is resisting the urge to do what we FEEL like doing and choosing instead to do what is RIGHT.

Jill says: Sometimes we need to operate as if there really is tape over our mouth. We need to measure our words carefully.

What about you? Do you need to change the words you speak to your spouse? 

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Quote of the Week

Quote-of-the-Week pic“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”  

                                                    ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Is It The End or The Beginning?

ThinkstockPhotos-AA047273Perspective.

It is the way we see something.

It’s the compass for our emotions.

It’s the change we sometimes need to get our head and our heart in a better place.

Perspective is something moms need every August as we wrestle with how we view our kids growing up.

So is their start of preschool, their new grades, their movement from one school to the next, their start of college an end or a beginning?

Of course, the answer is these steps of maturity are both an end and a beginning.

Yet, as moms, we usually see them more as an end than a beginning.

If you’re experiencing a new season of school with one or more of your kids, can I lend you my perspective for a moment?  My perspective as a mom of five with my youngest heading back this coming Saturday his second year of college?

New seasons are a beautiful beginning. They are a window into who our children are becoming. They represent accomplishment for us as mothers. They are a reminder that our children are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing…growing up!

When we focus on their growing up as an end, we’re making their next steps all about us. When we focus on their growing up as a beginning, we’re making their next steps all about them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that shedding a few tears on the first day of preschool, or the first day in a new grade, or when dropping a child off at college is wrong. Those tears represent the joys you’ve experienced with your child and the love you’ve poured into him or her.

Allow yourself to feel the reality of the end. Then, turn your head and view this as a beautiful beginning.

The beginning of new knowledge.

The beginning of new opportunities.

The beginning of discovering new interests.

The beginning of a new way of relating to you.

The beginning of more mature conversations.

The beginning of seeing glimpses of who God has created them to be.

Your ability to see their new seasons as a beginning more than an end gives your kids the freedom to mature and move forward in life. It’s also a gift you give your child and a gift you give yourself.

Our children need us to be excited about their future. They need us to celebrate their next steps. They long for us to embrace the new and let go of the old.

May you and I give the gift of beginning today.

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Doing Nothing Together

ThinkstockPhotos-179044139Mark says: “We need to do this more often.” That’s what I said to Jill yesterday morning as we spread out a blanket on the grass along the shore of Lake Michigan.  The International students we were hosting really wanted to see the Shedd Aquarium.  We’ve both been there and didn’t really want to go, so we took a blanket and found some shade along the lake.

Jill says: I asked him, “We need to do what more often?”  He said, “We need to do absolutely nothing together more often.”

Mark says: For many of us, Jill and I included, we often have a non-stop “to-do” list in our head.  Between kids, work, and home projects, there’s always something that needs to be done!

Jill says: It was good to just spread a blanket, talk, read, nap, talk some more, and daydream a bit.

Mark says: We often do that when we are on vacation, but not usually outside of vacation.

Jill says: A couple weekends ago, we kept our grandkids so our daughter and her husband could do “nothing” together. They didn’t go anywhere. They brought the kids to our house (we live a little over an hour from their house) and went back home to spend a low-key weekend together.

Mark says:  We know another couple who, after they put the kids to bed, they go out and lie on the trampoline to talk and gaze at the stars together.

Jill says: When our hot tub is working (it often is NOT working!) we use it to “do nothing” together. We have some of our richest conversations in the hot tub where we are not distracted by the television, cell phones, computer, or the everyday activities of life.

Mark says: You can “do nothing” by spreading a blanket in the park and picnicking a couple times a month.  It costs nothing, and requires only intentionality. It doesn’t even have to take much time. A 30 minute “nothing” date is far better than not doing one at all.

Jill says: It’s hard for us “Type A” driven personalities to slow down and do nothing. Yet, it’s important for our emotional and relational health!

Mark says: We’re going to be more intentional about occasional times of doing nothing together. Want to join us?

What about you? How do you and your spouse “do nothing” together? How about making a date to do nothing sometime in the next two weeks?  

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Quote of the Week

Quote-of-the-Week pic“Constant criticism makes people bitter.  Constructive criticism makes people better.”  

                                                                       ~Todd Clark

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Fantastic Food: Cauliflower Rice

photo 4When my daughter mentioned that she’d made cauliflower rice, I admit that it didn’t even sound good.  Of course, at that time, I wasn’t motivated to change my eating like I am now post-cancer.

I was at her house one day when she made it for dinner. After helping her prepare it and having it for dinner, I was in love!  So yummy!

I confess I’m not a huge cauliflower fan. I can eat it…preferably covered in cheese, please. However, cheese isn’t really on my diet right now so cauliflower rice is a great way to get in this veggie!

photo 5Cauliflower has so many nutritional benefits, but it’s a huge provider of Vitamin C more than anything else!

A food processor (of any size) is helpful for making cauliflower
rice. You can also use a knife if you don’t have a food processor.

Start by cutting and washing your cauliflower. Then process it in the food processor until it is the size and texture of rice.

Put a little bit of coconut oil or olive oil in a pan and cook (sautphoto 2e) the cauliflower. You can also add chopped bell peppers, diced zucchini or yellow squash, chopped green beans, or any other chopped veggie you want to add to it. If I have fresh broccoli, I sometimes throw the broccoli in the food processor with the cauliflower. So yummy!

photo 3My daughter also introduced me using coconut aminos in place of soy sauce.  Honestly coconut aminos taste just like soy sauce…but they are healthier!  I buy mine at HyVee Grocery Store or our local health food store.  I often use coconut aminos to flavor my cauliflower rice. I also use onion powder, garlic, salt, pepper, turmeric, paprika, and any other spice I feel like throwing in!

Don’t be afraid to try different spices or to just experiment with food.  You need recipes with baking more than with cooking!  Try different things and taste test along the way to see if you should add more.

photo 1What about you? Have you ever made cauliflower rice? Would you add any other ideas for how you like to prepare it?

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Quote of the Week

Quote-of-the-Week pic“Comparison robs us of the joy of obedience.”  

                                                                            ~Jennie Allen

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Fantastic Food: Bell Peppers

ThinkstockPhotos-481247983My husband loves to eat bell peppers raw. He just slices them up and enjoys!

I’ve not always been a fan of bell peppers, and I don’t particularly care for them raw, but I’ve learned to love them in stir fry or sauteed  vegetables. Last night I made cauliflower rice (that will be next week’s Fantastic Food!) and added diced bell peppers to it. Not only did it add flavor and color, but it added so many additional nutrients!

Bell Peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C (more than twice the amount of vitamin C in an orange!) and they offer a very broad range of antioxidants.  Not only that, but they’re pretty! The more color you have on your plate, the more nutrient and antioxidant power you have in your food.

Peppers are a pretty commonly used vegetable so I may not be introducing you to something new. However, you might not know that peppers are one of the easiest vegetable to freeze. You need to know this even if you don’t have a garden because you can take advantage of “pepper season” at the grocery store.

If you’re going to freeze most veggies, you have to blanch them to stop the actions of enzymes.  However, bell peppers don’t have to be blanched. Just cut them up, bag them, and throw them in the freezer!

I love this for two reasons:

peppers1) I have instant diced peppers. I just pull the bag out of the freezer, squeeze it to separate the frozen diced peppers, pull out however much I need, and throw the rest of the peppers back in the freezer.

2) I can take advantage of sales. Right now you can find pretty good prices on bell peppers–yellow, red, orange, and green. In the winter, however, the prices go up. I can buy peppers now at great prices (or harvest them from my garden), wash them, dice them, and throw them in the freezer to use over the next few months!

Add some color to your food this week with bell peppers! While you’re at it, dice up some extra and throw it in the freezer. It will make reaching the goal of eating 27  different vegetables a week so much easier! (And yes, if you use four different colored peppers, that’s four different veggies…if you’re counting!)

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Look At Me!

ThinkstockPhotos-77741634Jill says: Last week I was chatting with an event photographer who told me, “I shoot a lot of engagement sessions and weddings. Sometimes I get the opportunity to do a photo shoot of a couple celebrating a longtime wedding anniversary. I find it interesting that it’s the couples who are married the longest that seem to have the most trouble being comfortable with holding eye contact with one another.”

Mark says: That’s amazing to me. Surprising for sure. I would have expected it to be the other way around.

Jill says: Me too. However, as Mark and I talked about it we began to think about how much we do side by side and how little we do face to face.

Mark says: When we ride in the car together, we’re side by side.

Jill says: When we watch TV, we’re side by side.

Mark says: When we go to a movie, we’re side by side.

Jill says: When we cook together (IF we cook together!), we’re side by side.

Mark says: Even if we go to the ocean together, we’re sitting side by side on the beach.

Jill says: Add to that our addiction to smartphone, computer, and video game screens, face to face communication most likely will not happen unless we become intentional.

Mark says: Communication in and of itself is a skill. Just because you’re human doesn’t mean you know how to communicate. You have to learn communication skills and constantly be improving them throughout life. Eye contact is a communication skill.

Jill says: Eye contact is also intimacy. It’s a form of vulnerability.

Mark says: And many of us are afraid of real intimacy…even after being married for years. We’re experts at building walls instead of opening ourselves up to our life partner.

Jill says: So what do we do with our lack of eye contact? We increase it intentionally. Here are six ways to do that:

1) Sit down for dinner. At least a few times a week, sit down to dinner as a couple or as a family. Make sure the dinner table is a no-screen zone—no television and no phones. Look at your spouse as you ask questions and talk about your day.

2) Play a game. Instead of sitting down and watching television every evening, a couple times a week keep the TV off and pull out a deck of cards to play a game of double solitaire. If you’d prefer a board game, pull out Yahtzee or another favorite. Laugh, tease, and enjoy some face to face time.

3) Greet. When your spouse arrives home after you do, resist the urge to yell, “I’m upstairs,” and instead stop what you’re doing and go greet them face to face.

4) Look. When you’re talking to your spouse, look at them directly. If they’re not looking at you, say something nice like “I love your eyes. Let me see them.”

5) Evaluate. Are you fearful of emotional intimacy? Does being vulnerable scare you? If so, you’re not experiencing all that God designed marriage for. Challenge yourself to tear down walls you’ve constructed. If you feel you need help, make an appointment with a Christian counselor to dig into why you keep your spouse at arm’s length.

6) Open your eyes. One of the most powerful places to pursue eye contact is during sex. Yet according to one survey we’ve read, 65% of us keep our eyes closed during sex. Open your eyes and look at your spouse when you’re making love. If you’re not in the habit of doing this it will likely feel uncomfortable at first. However, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become, and the more connected you’ll feel to your spouse.

Mark says: Marriage is too important to fall into side by side habits. Commit today to increase your face time and deepen your intimacy.

What about you? Do you have any ideas you’d suggest for increasing eye contact in your marriage?

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Fantastic Food: Kohlrabi

k 2Since my breast cancer journey, our family has slowly been changing our eating habits. Cancer has a way of making you think about what you put in your body more intentionally.

When I finished my treatment a year ago, my oncologist told me, “You now need to take three steps to do everything in your power to stay healthy:

1) Eat nutritionally
2) Exercise regularly
3) Keep your weight down and in a healthy range.

Initially I met with the dietitian at the Cancer Center and she gave me great insight into both food and spice choices. I would take in my food log and she’d help evaluate it. I was great about incorporating fruit into my diet but she told me that I really needed to up the vegetables.  One book I read post-cancer stated that for the best cancer-protecting diet, you need to eat 27 different vegetables every week! I thought, “Do I even know of 27 different vegetables?”

At first the transition was slow and frustrating. Both of my daughters were also changing how their family ate so I was learning a lot from both of them.  However, it wasn’t until January when Mark and I decided to do Whole 30 that we really turned the corner and made big changes.  I emptied my refrigerator and pantry of anything that had preservatives, additives, gluten, legumes, and refined sugar. Both were nearly bare!

Then I started to learn how to shop and cook differently.  Fresh vegetables, lean meats, fruit, and nuts….that’s about all we eat now. We’ve added legumes (peanuts and beans) back into our diet on a limited basis, but have pretty much maintained a gluten-free, sugar-free, preservative-free diet.

I never thought I’d actually enjoy this, but I am!  It is challenging me to think differently, make better choices, and learn new skills. Mark and I are both down over 20 lbs each and are still losing slowly. I feel better than ever and am back to my pre-cancer energy level.

I am often asked about the food changes we’ve made. I know many people want to make changes but just don’t know where to start.  So once a week I’m going to do my best to share a Fantastic Food post.  If you’re wanting to make some changes in your family’s diet, just try one new thing a week.

Today’s fantastic food is kohlrabi.  I’d never even heard of kohlrabi until our daughter planted it in the garden!  Our first kohlrabi were harvested a few weeks ago and I have fallen in love with it!

k 1Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family. It is a mild tasting vegetable that is VERY versatile.  It’s also quite inexpensive. In fact, it’s so inexpensive, we’ve decided we probably won’t grow our own anymore. At my local Meijer store I can buy a bunch of 3 kohlrabi for anywhere from $1.50/bunch to $1.99/bunch. (I paid more than $1 a plant for the garden which produced only one kohlrabi bulb!)  You can most likely find kohlrabi at your local farmer’s market this time of the year, too!

What do you do with kohlrabi?  Well first you wash it and then peel off the thick outer-most layer of the bulb. The outer layer is a little greener than the white inside of the bulb.  You can either peel it with a vegetable peeler or you can slice the kohlrabi and then use a knife to peel the outside layer off each slice.

Because we are not eating bread and Mark takes his lunch everyday, he now uses slices of raw kohlrabi in place of bread.  We buy nitrate-free, preservative free deli meat (Boar’s Head brand is what we get) and he makes his yummy sandwiches with kohlrabi, sliced tomatoes, and turkey.

We also cut up raw kohlrabi and add it to our salads.  You can also shred it and make slaw. (I make my own slaw with flavored vinegar and oil.)  Steamed, it can be added to stir fry or soup.

k 3You can also cut it into slices or fries, toss it in olive oil, add spices like garlic powder, red pepper, salt, pepper, basil (basically any spice you have on the shelf!) and grill it (see photo above) or roast it for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees.  We love it this way! Sometimes I cut up kohlrabi and sweet potato into fries, toss them both in olive oil, sprinkle with spices, and cook together. Everyone loves them!

If you’re looking to expand your family’s veggie experience, give kohlrabi a try!

What about you? Do you have any ways you like to use kohlrabi? 

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Don’t Talk About Frustration In Frustration

Mark says: We’ve all been there. Our spouse does something that frustrates us. We react in frustration and let them know how we feel.

Jill says: Because we’re frustrated, we come across very strongly in our communication. Our spouse responds to our strong words and emotions with defensiveness.

Mark says: Before you know it, you’re in an all out argument that will likely not end the way you hoped.

Jill says: There is another way: Don’t talk about frustration IN frustration.

Mark says: Wait until you’ve cooled off and moved past the moment. In a time of non-conflict, tell your spouse you need to talk through what happened earlier.

Jill says: There’s still the possibility that the conversation will elevate to an argument, but you raise the odds that it won’t if you wait to communicate it at a time when you’re no longer super-charged and frustrated.

ThinkstockPhotos-475746021 (1)Mark says: I recently used this strategy to talk to Jill about the way she said something to me.

Jill says: I recently used this strategy to talk to Mark about my frustrations of how a large purchase was recently handled.

Mark says: Those conversations were still hard conversations to have. We don’t see eye to eye on some things no matter how we approach things. However, the way we had the conversations did make a big difference.

What about you? Can you resist the urge to deal with frustration when you’re frustrated? Can you communicate in a time of non-conflict? 

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7 Ways to Help A Friend In Crisis

ThinkstockPhotos-78805527My friend Cheri Keaggy released a powerful album three years ago. “So I Can Tell” is the light that has come out of a dark season of Cheri’s life.  The songs are heartfelt expressions of a woman who has come to know God deeply.

She sent one my way three years ago when my marriage when through it’s darkest season of Mark’s infidelity and decision to leave for three months.

When I got to the 3rd song on the album, the tears started flowing.  The song was titled, “When You Were Jesus To Me.”  Until the night that Mark left, I had never experienced anything close to an emotional crisis.  I was so crushed by grief that it was squeezing the life out of me. Even cancer wasn’t as hard as the emotional pain I experienced in that season of my marriage.

As I walked through that dark season, God greatly increased my empathy, compassion, and mercy.  More than that, through the loving actions of my dearest friends, He also showed me how to respond in a crisis.  My friends were truly Jesus to me.

You may not need this now…but at some point, it’s likely you’ll have the opportunity to “be Jesus with skin on” to someone else.  Here are some tangible ways to make a difference when a friend faces a crisis:

1) Be there. Stay with her. Don’t feel like you need to say any words, just hold her and let her weep.  My friend Becky did this for me. She was at my house within the hour and she didn’t leave until two days later.  I’m grateful even three years later to Becky’s husband, Dave, who supported her staying with me for that long.  Eventually my sister came for a couple of days and then my dad came and stayed for 4 more days.  This support was so important for me and for my boys who were still at home.

2) Think for the person. When crisis hits, the last thing that person can do is think about taking care of themselves. In those first few days, I honestly don’t think I would have  had anything to eat or drink if Becky or my sister Juli had not actually put the plate of food or the glass of water in front of me and said, “Eat” or “Drink.”

3) Provide food. My friends Crystal and Lisa, who also stayed with me until well after midnight the first night, brought meals throughout that first weekend.  Eventually my Hearts at Home family and church family set up a meal plan for several weeks.  This was so helpful because I suddenly had so many other things I had to tend to.

4) Help with daily routine stuff. Becky, Crystal, and Juli cleaned, did dishes, made guest beds, ran to the store, picked up prescriptions…you name it…they did it.  I was so thankful.  For the first month, my friend Crystal called me anytime she was running to the store to see if I needed anything.  I was so thankful because this kept me out of public settings where I could lose it emotionally so easily.

5) Do any “unpleasant” tasks.  When Mark requested more of his personal belongings, I could not handle packing those things up. Crystal and Becky did that job for me.  If the crisis involves a death, this can particularly be helpful when that friend is ready to part with the personal belongings of the person who has died.  Even answering phone calls can be an “unpleasant” task…don’t hesitate to do that for the person to protect them from having to share the story one more time.

6) Don’t be afraid to help.  If you are a close friend or you seem to be the only person reaching out, you are not infringing on their privacy…you are helping them survive.  I always worried about infringing on someone’s privacy in times of crisis until I was on the receiving side of crisis.  I had trouble functioning, especially in the early days.  I was so thankful for friends and family who didn’t leave my side.

7) Pray with and for the person.  When in crisis, there are sometimes no words to utter to God…just tears.  Sometimes you can just be there and sometimes you can be the one to utter the words to God on their behalf.

We all need each other. In good times and bad, we’re designed to live in community with other people. That’s why I’m writing the next Hearts at Home book Better Together. That’s why we’re focusing on mom relationships at our 2016 Hearts at Home conferences. And that’s why I wanted to share with you today some practical ways to live that out.

Because your friend will never forget when you were Jesus to her.

What about you? Have you ever been loved well through a crisis? What would you add to this list? 

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