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Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I had the blessing of spending a lovely weekend at my oldest sisters house which is always so much fun to me. Her children were my very first nieces and nephew and they seem so old now as one has become a teenager and this weekend the two oldest kids watched the "grown-up" movie with us on Saturday night.  When we are in their small little town I love how things always seem to slow down and yet we always seem to have true adventures when we are there.  As their family recently brought home a new puppy we were happy to let our dogs play together and that kept us quite entertained.  We even brought them to an event her town had called Bark in the Park and my dog won Bronze medal in a tail-wagging competition, pretty exciting.  My sister and I had tons of time to talk, and we crafted together using Pinterest of course.  My husband got his "boy" fix having a full out war with my nephew and brother in law with air-soft rifles.  And my daughters disappeared into the recesses of my sister's massive house to play with their older girl cousins and were so happy to play and play and play. It was, in a word, delightful.  My sisters are both such wonderful hostesses, they of course take perfectly after my Mom who makes everyone always feel right at home.  My sister cooked amazing meals for us when we were there.  Even her casual lunch of sandwiches became Italian Paninis which were awesome.  She introduced me to an amazing book on bread baking which I am TOTALLY going to ask for for my birthday so I may be turning into a baker yet.  I wanted to share a recipe she made that was SO yummy and unique and the ingredient list is so interesting it's kind of an "all-inclusive" and with Back To School season we all need new crock pot meals in our repertoire, right? 

Spiced Braised Beef With Sweet Potatoes
from Real Simple magazine


  • 1 1/2 pounds beef chuck                                                                              
  • 2 sweet potatoes cut into 1/2 inch chunks                   
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 large onion cut into wedges                                                                     
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots                                                                            
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger                                                                             
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • kosher salt
  • 1 10 oz box couscous (my sister actually substituted quinoa, does she know me or what?)                                       
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas 
  • 2 cups baby spinach                                                                             
  • 1/4 cup roasted almonds, chopped   


  1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the beef, potatoes, tomatoes (and their juices), onion, apricots, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water.
  2. Cook, covered, until the meat is tender, on high for 4 to 5 hours, or on low for 7 to 8 hours.
  3. Ten minutes before serving, prepare the couscous (or quinoa!) according to the package directions.
  4. Add the chickpeas to the slow cooker and cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach. Serve with the couscous (or quinoa!)  and sprinkle with the almonds.
  5. To freeze: Omit the couscous and spinach. Cool the beef to room temperature and divide among freezer containers or bags. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  6. To reheat: Thaw in a bowl of cold water or overnight in the refrigerator. Cook in a pot, covered, stirring occasionally, until heated through, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the spinach. Serve with the cooked couscous.

This was so so so good.  I am totally making this again this fall. It was like fall comfort food and yet totally unique and awesome! Loved it!  I warned her that I felt as though I had to add it to the blog, everyone should know about recipes that are this good.  By everyone I mean all five of my readers :)

So any who, coming home from such a fun weekend I began to think about what it means to be a good hostess and to be hospitable.  Am I hospitable? Who am I hospitable too? Do you only need to be a gracious hostess in your own home? Am I warm and inviting in my interactions with friends? Coworkers? My patients at work? My family? Jesus?

A few years back my small group did a bible study "My heart, Christ's home" in which the story is told of a man who invites Christ into his life and an analogy builds around each room in the house as he shows Christ around and whether you are truly making yourself open to fellowship with Christ, in your whole life, every room! That always really hits home to me. Often I feel in the hustle and bustle of it all I am not being a gracious host to the King of Kings that has come to live in me.   I don't always give him the best of me, the best part of my day, my most attention, my deepest praise and love.  Not many of us would have guests come to town and serve....leftovers.  If you are like me, and my sister, you work hard to clean and cook and serve them in a way that makes them feel loved and honored and special and served.    And yet sometimes, I give my Lord, the King of Kings, My Glorious Bridegroom.....leftovers.  I give away my time and energy to what is commonly called "the Tyranny of the urgent" and as I am reeling round and round bouncing from task to task I end up with less than ideal time, energy and attention to give to the things of God.  I give in to my Martha-like tendencies and the beauty of Mary's graciousness and humility and adoration to her guest, her Jesus, is what I long for but can't not seem to give.  I have not been treating him like my most honored guest and for that I have humbly asked his forgiveness.  

I have been working diligently over the last few weeks to map out schedules and implement various organizational safeguards to get our upcoming school year humming along efficiently and under control.  However with all this busy work I have been guilty of treating my most treasured relationship like a check box on my to-do list.  This is a compromise I am not willing to make any longer.  Sometimes I have to reign my husband in or you could walk up to him and say "Would you be available 5 nights a week for 3 hours each to help me out?" "Sure!" he would reply.  Because that is the kind of guy he is! A helper and a fixer.  However sometimes that causes our little family unit to be overextended and over committed.   I know plenty of people who have their kids in a million activities and run here there and everywhere and handle it with what looks like, to us outsiders, as grace and poise.  Surely while they are effectively juggling so many balls in the air one has to drop somewhere right?  This isn't the kind of life my husband and I are looking for.  I am committed this fall to saying "yes!" to God, "yes!" to family time, "yes!" to my commitment to improving my health and the other stuff will just have to fit in around that or they will have to be a "no."

I lost my footing somewhere last October and with all the "shake-ups" in my family this year I never seemed to find solid ground again and I feel like I am coming round and round to this feeling of starting over without actually crossing the starting line! I had thought of throwing in the towel, getting my "fat" clothes out of the To Sell bags, shut down this blog and fade back into isolation and failure. So much seemed to have changed. Was lost.  I can't seem to get it back.  I failed.  Yesterday I was playing MarioKart on the Wii with my kids.  I am not super awesome at video games anymore. At one point I got my little cart messed up and I was going the completely wrong way on the path, I had somehow done a 180deg turn and couldn't get myself reoriented back the way I was supposed to go.  That's how I feel I have done this year.  I was on the right path, moving along, everything was humming and clicking and BAM! there is a blinking light in front of my face telling me I need to turn back and yet I am so off course I can't find my way. And where do I usually end up on those video games when things go awry? In the gutter.  And there I have wallowed.  I am a failure.  I lost.  I am unworthy. I am alone. All these feelings have plagued me. You may have noticed I have a "thing" with music.  It's my version of therapy.  I heard a song Sunday night and immediately started bawling.  I don't know how a man like Big Daddy Weave can read my mind so clearly but I have to break it down for you:
Seems like all I can see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me "Son,

Stop fighting a fight that's already been won"
I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off theses heavy chains
Wipe away every stain now I'm not who I used to be
I am redeemed

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, "Child lift up your head"
I remember oh God, You're not done with me yet

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off theses heavy chains
Wipe away every stain now I'm not who I used to be
I am redeemed

I don't have to be the old man inside of me
Cause his day is long dead and gone
I've got a new name, a new life I'm not the same
And a hope that will carry me home

Here is the video for those of you who like me need to HEAR it to FEEL it!

I am so blessed that I don't have to stay in that gutter. But that HE lifts my head and promises he isn't done with me!!! So I guess I better not be done with myself!  When I am playing the part of Hostess I have also noticed a common denominator of anticipation.  Waiting excited and breathless for the arrival of guests.  Sometimes you are trying to beat the clock to get everything ready for their arrival.  And usually everything is done and in those last minutes you literally just sit and wait.  Too excited to focus on anything else but the arrival of your guests.  Maybe I am the only one who is like that, it's kind of nerdy.  But I noticed that when I pulled in to my sisters driveway, she and her youngest were swinging in the yard, clearly they were waiting for their guests.  We as Christians are the Bride of Christ. He is our Perfect Bridegroom.  Imagine how a Bride feels waiting for her Bridegroom!  Really sit and meditate on that for a minute.  The butterflies in the stomach, breath caught in your chest, anticipation and excitement you can feel in every cell of your body.  That is how I need to welcome my Lord into my life each day! I need to tidy myself up and make myself ready to be a good hostess to my King. With a fresh face and the anticipation of a Bride I can stand proudly as the shackles of shame and regret fall away and welcome my Lord as his Beloved, His Bride, His Redeemed!

This is one of my favorite sayings:
I hope you will!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Redefining "Hole in the Wall"

One thing I have always been a big fan of when traveling is eating among the locals.  Of course there is an element of comfort that can be brought by every McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Applebees across the nation.  You know exactly what you are going to get. And when traveling with young kids this fall back plan is so often necessary.  However when I am on vacation I always make it a point to try out some local fare whenever possible. 

This last week my family spent on our annual excursion to Lake Manistique in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We go every year, we repeat many activities that we love like stopping at Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse right next to the bridge and visiting Oswald's Bear Ranch and the U.P. Trading Co. (aka "The Moose Store") in Newberry or attending the annual Craft Fair in Sault Ste Marie. However we also try to take in different experiences while we are up in the U.P. This year, seeing as I have been having so much fun with photography I had my heart set on taking the Pictured Rocks Sunset Cruise which runs out of Munising. We needed to grab a quick bite before setting sail and really had a limited time but once again I thought we could do better than the proverbial Golden Arched food and I soon stumbled on to this place...

Due to the glory of modern technology I hit the scout button on my Windows 7 phone - best feature ever -
And I got a list of most popular eating establishments in the immediate area.  Johnny's Dogs was right near the top of the list and had a website link here and the menu quite intrigued me! Summertime brings a high census of hot dog consumption at our house but the idea of jazzing them up sounded exciting plus I knew hot dogs would be quick for making our boat ride on time. The scout feature hooked with the gps and began directing us there. However we blew right past it and had to circle around.  It was hardly distinguishable from the sparse small town street that is the norm in the upper peninsula.  It quite literally was a "hole in the wall." However we plunged ahead and were not disappointed. We were met with clean fresh retro decor,
A very clean restroom (always a plus when traveling with little tykes!), a wonderful full menu
The seating options were carryout or patio seating which we happily enjoyed since the weather was glorious. They had Fried Mac N Cheese which my daughter adored (I promise not to start deep frying her Kraft!)

My in laws both had the Bacon Blue Dog with Applewood smoked bacon, crumbled Bleu cheese, roasted garlic mayo

I was tempted by that one...yummy!

My husband had the Boston Terrier Dog with house made baked beans, BBQ sauce, onion, Applewood smoked bacon

Would not be my cup of tea but I can see the appeal and he loved it!

I had the North Carolina Dog with house smoked pulled pork, Orange Pop BBQ sauce, and coleslaw

This was out of this world yummy! For one I totally want to learn to make BBQ sauce from orange pop! It was so good and unique, sweet, tangy sauce, the salty beef hot dog, the cool and crisp coleslaw! Yummy!

I was grateful to Microsoft for my phone that found this gem.  Grateful that in an area so economically depressed there was some semblance of life to be had. And interested in taking my hot dog consumption to more inventive levels using Johnny's as my inspiration.  Ketchup and mustard are a thing of the past! And next year, I will try to visit them again and lend my support.  The hot dogs however were not the star of the day:

The Pictured Rocks

 Lover's Leap

Indian Head

Heading home! A rough day on Lake Superior!

So please vacation in Northern Michigan, there is so much beauty and wonder to be had, start right in Munising, make a trip to Johnny's for some unique gourmet hot dogs and follow it up with the gorgeous sunset cruise to look at the pictured rocks.  You can thank me later!