February 25, 2011

Gourmet Friday

It's been a little while since I posted a recipe and earlier this week we had a WONDERFUL meal, so here it is!

Tuscan White Bean and Sausage Stew

3/4 lb hot Italian sausage links                                       
2C chicken broth
2 medium carrots                                                           
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 medium bulb fresh fennel                                           
2 cans (15oz or 540ml each) cannellini beans
1 can (14.5oz or 398ml) petite diced                             
1 pkg (18g) fresh basil
tomatoes, undrained

~Remove casings from sausage. Cut in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2 in nuggets.
~Place sausage in large pot and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
~As sausage cooks, peel carrots. Chop carrots and fennel; add to pot and cook additional 3-5 minutes or until sausage is no longer pink and vegetables begin to brown.
~Stir tomatoes, broth and garlic into sausage mixture. Drain and rinse beans in small colander; add to pot.
~Simmer stew, uncovered, 10-12 minutes or until vegetables are tender. As stew simmers, chop basil. Remove pot from heat; stir in basil. Serve immediately.

Note: I used mild sausage since I don't like hot spicy things. I also only bought one can of cannellini beans by accident, so I substituted one can of red kidney beans. And finally, I used dried basil instead of fresh since I had that on hand. It turned out very well and we loved this meal. It will probably become a new staple for us. It was fast, flavorful and not expensive. I highly recommend it!

February 11, 2011

Night and Day

It's no secret that nights in our household are not as peaceful or as restful as we adults would like them to be. My first round of sleep training for S helped but was derailed by some other issues that I'm still not ready to let go of yet to start re-training. He wakes up at least three times a night, between bedtime at 6:30-7pm and waking up at 6-7am. And more often he's waking up every 2 to 3 hours wanting to eat or be comforted. K wakes up at least once most nights of the week, sometimes a couple of times and sometimes staying up for a while. Thus, nights are not much fun for me.

However, S is a pretty good napper during the day. He takes two naps, morning and afternoon, and they last at LEAST an hour (unless he's sick or something weird happens). Most of the time he naps 1 1/2 to 2 hours for each nap, and sometimes he'll even give me 2 1/2 to 3 hours!

Now that I have had both a napper and a non-napper I can confidently say that there is ABSOLUTELY NO COMPARISON in quality of life and parenting.

I used to be jealous of people who talked about their sleeping and napping children. I always suspected that the world was a different place for them, and it's true. If a parent has always had children who nap, they literally have no idea how much harder in every possible way life is for the rest of us.

K was not a napper. His "naps" were 20-40 minutes for his whole life. The first few weeks of life, I would get longer stretches of sleep from him, but that quickly disappeared. Then that awful, useless 20-40 minutes. You can't do anything in that amount of time. If I was exhausted from a long, sleepless night it wasn't even enough time for me to fall asleep if I laid down for my own nap. If I decided to get stuff done, it was enough time to take a shower OR make and eat lunch OR get some cleaning done.

There is a tension level as a parent that surrounds your sanity. At certain points in the day or week, the tension is high and you are at a breaking point. You need some time alone, some quiet, a chance to be uninterrupted for a few moments. Nap time provides that. It lets you loosen the slack, take a breath, grab a firmer hold of your sanity and prep for the rest of your day or week with the little person you really do love and cherish.

When your child doesn't take a decent nap, or a nap at all, the tension level stays elevated. The wire around your sanity frays and snaps around. It is hard to be strong, to go toe to toe with a strong-willed or even just high energy child.

Now that I have a baby who naps, my days are so much better. Even though K does not nap (and hasn't napped regularly for over a year now), I can feel the difference. It is much easier to let go of stress when S is sleeping. I can let K watch TV and take a shower and still have time to do a few other things, either with K or while K is occupied. Despite having two kids now, I feel more peaceful than I did when I just had one.

Anyone that gives moms of non-sleepers a hard time for losing their tempers, being negative, complaining, not being as involved or proactive with their kids needs to realize how hard life is for those moms. They need a break, because heaven knows that the kids sure aren't giving them one!

February 2, 2011


Last week I got an email inviting me to sign up to win the HGTV Dream Home contest. I went here to look at the house and fell in love! I've looked at the pictures and videos multiple times now and have lots of little daydreams stored up of what it would be like to live there.

Rarely do I see homes that have been recently designed that appeal to my aesthetic so closely. The simple, rustic details mixed with practical luxury are quite appealing! It reminds me of going to camp and the types of buildings that were found there, in the woods of Northern Wisconsin. The exposed wood, high ceilings and natural colors are very inviting. But it doesn't have the over done feel of so many designs that are termed "rustic".

A few years ago I designed (very roughly) the layout of a dream home of the future for my family, nuclear and extended. I love the idea of having a really big place to invite everyone for holidays and vacations. This place isn't nearly as big as the one I imagined, but it still has plenty of space for family ski vacations!

Since Jim loves the mountains so much, I know he'd love this house. The multiple views of the mountain range are breathtaking from the Dream Home's many, many windows. I love that too-the accessibility of the house to the outside via so many windows. Natural light is always a must for me. I can see playing outside with the boys, going in that hot tub, writing on the balcony or inside near a window.

Of course, the practical things are unknowns. Would we ever be able to afford to keep up a place like that? Is there any kind of job that we could find in Stowe, VT? Are there possibilities for friends or a church? None of these things will probably matter in the long run because the odds of winning are slim.

Still, the idea of a home like that. Wow.

In so many ways, Jim and I still don't know where we fit in our own lives. Where we belong or where we'll feel most "at home". We talked last night about his absolute love for Colorado Springs. He came alive and fell in love (with the place) there. Watching that happen to him opened my eyes to the way that certain locales seem to have a pre-carved place in people's souls.  Many, many other residents of Colorado Springs felt the same way. I can't even count how many people told us that they came 20, 25, 35 years ago to the Springs and never wanted to leave. I didn't have the same feeling as any of them. It was beautiful there, and has many great elements to it, but I never fell in love. And the negatives for me were always (and are still) very obvious.

So I wonder where my niche might be. Maybe near an ocean or lake? I love the beach and have always felt more complete there. I grew up spending a lot of time on Lake Michigan, especially in my early years. I love to swim, walk on the beach, hear the ocean, play in the sand, climb dunes, etc. I've never lived all that close to a body of water, though, so maybe that would be my earthy soul mate, if I ever did.

Or maybe it's a city, or somewhere abroad.

I've always wanted to travel. I got to go to Australia and New Zealand when I was in high school and LOVED every SECOND of the traveling and exploring experience. I cried when the plane touched back down in Chicago and it was all over. We take some advantage of traveling within the States, but I still long to see so many other places. Particularly Europe.

When I see photos of other people's trips to England, Italy, France or any other place, it effects me deeply. I literally feel like a piece of me is missing and I won't find it until I go there. I don't know if "there" is any one place IN Europe, but certainly Europe itself has been issuing a siren call to me for a long time. Jim feels it, too, and we both have a sneaking feeling that if we ever go, we might not come back! Maybe that's why God is making us wait.

February 1, 2011

The Prodigal's brother

The parable of the Prodigal Son is very well known. It's used as an example to make all kinds of different points. It's an amazing story of redemption, parental love, forgiveness, etc.

I've always kinda hated it. That loser brother is so annoying. "Dad, give me all MY money. I'm leaving and I don't care about you or anything you've done for me. I'm going to be a huge douche bag, waste all your hard earned cash on frivolity, laze around with my loser friends who barely know me, end up homeless, destitute and depressed in a couple of months, then come back to have you fix all my problems and impose on you again. K?"

Obviously, I don't connect with the Prodigal.

The steadfast son is who I understand. I connect with him. The one who stays faithfully by his family's side, working hard, dealing with all the day-to-day cares of the household. He probably had to watch his dad's heart breaking over and over again while his brother made such terrible choices. He might have wanted to leave and do his own thing, too, but he knew his family needed him and he stayed. Sometimes that is the harder thing-to do what others need and to make sacrifices because you know it really is the better choice for everyone.

When the Prodigal returns, I bet the brother is not too happy about it. I assume that he's glad his brother is alive, and is glad to see his father happy again, but still a bit frustrated at the welcome the Prodigal receives. And wondering how long it will be before he's picking up the slack and watching his brother screw up again.

It is frustrating to see that the Prodigal seemingly gets REWARDED for his bad behavior with a party (more expense), a lot of attention and what seems to be a consequence-free end to his hard living, free spending ways. And after all that the brother has done, his dad seems to brush him off and take him for granted. To be completely petulant, it isn't fair.

I know that the point of the story is the depth of God's love and forgiveness to sinners. And while I also know that I am a sinner (like the Prodigal) it was only more recently that I realized that I AM the Prodigal! I've spent so much time sympathizing with the brother, that I went the opposite direction and got a little self righteous! The brother was probably in the same boat. He might have ended up focused on all the good stuff he'd done and continued to do that he thought he was so much better than his brother. He might not have realized the benefits that he was already getting.

I think we forget that making the right choices doesn't mean we deserve recognition or praise. Making the right choices means we don't have to suffer all the negative consequences that plague those who do follow the wrong path and who make mistakes. The Prodigal had to go through some awful stuff (so hungry that pigs' food looked appetizing?!?!) while his brother remained comfortable, protected and loved. And, of course, our ultimate rewards come in heaven, not on earth. THAT is really easy to forget because the earthly rewards are the tangible ones.

The Prodigal still annoys me. He had the same chances to do what was right, and chose wrong. He had the same loving family and gave up on them. I sympathize more with the brother in most ways, but I'm learning to admit and recognize my prodigal ways. The times and ways that I hurt others, show my selfishness and fall short of the standards that God sets. I know that I want to be welcomed back from my failures with as much love and forgiveness as the Prodigal receives, even if it doesn't feel like I've done anything nearly as extreme. Because it isn't about ranking our shortcomings or pitting them against each other. At the end of the day, we all have things to learn and areas to grow in. It doesn't help me to focus on anyone's issues but my own, or try to do a better/worse comparison.

So, I try to give the real life Prodigals some slack. Try to be as humble in my return to the fold as he was, returning home knowing how bad he must look after his ill-conceived foray into independence. And try to be grateful for the benefits I receive in the times that I chose not to stumble away from truth, even if they don't seem like much at the time.