Glad it’s Friday!

Coming off a nasty cold (as is Middlest — I think I caught hers). Finally feeling some energy again. So, today will be something of a catchup day. I have to be careful not to overdo and consequently relapse. Add to that the fact that it’s so chilly, it’s hard to stay warm short of turning the heat on again. (And we did turn the heat on earlier in the week, funny thing to do in May but when you have sick people, you’ve got to keep them warm!)

The weather all week has been more like March than May. After the summery weather early in the month, we were all ready for summer, but summer, it seems, is not quite ready for us…

Have you been reading the 30 Day organizing series at The Happy Lil Homemaker? I just stumbled across it this morning. Just might be the thing for the month of June. Will let you know.

Thankfulness

Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thess. 5:16-18 ESV
¬†It’s not always the easiest thing to do. Grumbling for some reason is much easier than gratitude. “Counting your curses instead of your blessings” is what we call it around here, or rather, when in the middle of Attitude Adjustment, it’s in the form of an admonition to count your blessings, instead of your curses.
I’ve been pretty grumbly at times today. We need a new roof, and there’s water damage in the living room that may or may not come from the old roof. We’re hoping that it won’t be serious in the end, but we won’t know until they tear off the old roof and see what’s there to see. I could go on and on, but I won’t.
You see, we are so blessed, so very blessed, that we don’t even know how blessed we are. How many people are out there with no roof, or dirt floors, or a whole family crammed into a room or two, or not enough to eat? And here we are, grumbling about our not-perfect house, or an annoying sister, or plans that aren’t shaping up exactly the way we want them to. Not to mention our own shortcomings, the things that didn’t get done today because of our (poor) choices.
No. Not going there. I’m going to concentrate on blessings right now. I can hear the Giant Schnoz enthusiastically gulping her dog food after ignoring it all day. (A little kombucha was all she wanted. Guess she was feeling grumbly, too.) Dinner will be quick and easy tonight — crepes. Just whip them up in the blender and start frying, one by one, and top with powdered sugar and lemon juice and roll them up. Church meeting tonight to talk about the possibility of a new pastor, after our church has been in limbo for many months.
(Still counting blessings… the interim pastor has been a gift of God, a shepherd who loves the sheep he’s been given to guide through a difficult time, who has brought healing with his wise and understanding heart.)
Anyhow, am going to keep on counting those blessings and more, even after I finish up here and post this.
How many blessings can you name today?

Cool!

The last speech and debate qualifier tournament is now officially behind us. There were five qualifiers over the season, and we went to every one. In case you were wondering, the “qualifier” means that if you have a winning record at a tournament, you get an invitation (or qualify) to compete in the regional competition. Middlest and her debate partner qualified four times over, and learned valuable lessons in the tournament where they did not qualify. A winning record, in case you were wondering, is winning at least four out of six debate rounds. There’s also a deal where you can win three and lose three and still qualify if the judges give you high points for your speaking skills, but I don’t really know how that works.

We traveled all over the region to these tournaments. Well, not quite “all.” There wasn’t a tournament in California, but there were tournaments in each of the other states in the region. Our shortest drive was about 40 minutes, the longest took the better part of a day.

We were blessed to have “host housing” when we traveled out of town. This is where people open their homes to far-from-home students and their families. Some of the hosts have students who are competing, but this wasn’t the case in three of the four homes where we stayed. Some were church friends, some had been involved in speech and debate but their children had graduated, and the last family we stayed with were homeschool graduates themselves, and had competed in speech and debate in the early days of the NCFCA!

Not only do I find homeschool graduates encouraging, I find a lot of them amazing, and this young family fit into that category.

They apologized for the fancy car parked in front of their house. (I hadn’t even noticed the car — in our neighborhood, other people park in front of our house all the time. Makes it hard to find parking sometimes.) They wanted us to know that they weren’t the kind of status-seekers who go into big debt to buy an impressive car; they had won the car in a contest.

I’ve never known somebody who won a car in a contest before. Amazing.

They showed us the ad with them and the car. Not only did they win a car in a contest, but they won a car in a contest in Rolling Stone magazine, and went to the Grammy awards, and were featured in a full-page ad in the magazine. The photo they submitted for the contest was on their refrigerator, and I can see why it caught editors’ attention: The family business is zipline gear, and their Christmas card photo (the one on the fridge) shows the mom dangling upside down from a zipline, calmly kissing her hubby while the little kids hang around in helmets and zipline harnesses (not literally hanging from the zipline, I mean, just casually standing around looking preschool cool).

Now, we were told repeatedly that host families only provide a spot to sleep. You might very likely have to bring your own sleeping bags and be prepared to camp out on the floor, or a sofa, or a blow-up mattress. Host families might provide refrigerator space (we always asked for this as we are gluten free) but they don’t, as a rule (this was emphasized to us when we were learning about the host housing option), provide any meals.

These guys had been to tournaments; they knew what we were facing: grueling 14-hour days, a 40 minute drive from their house to the school where the tournament was held, leaving before 7 and getting back late. The mom baked a huge batch of gf muffins the day we arrived, one big bowl of dairy-free and one big bowl with dairy. She used a Pamela’s mix as a base for her muffin recipe. I’d never eaten Pamela’s products before. Let me tell you, those muffins were delicious. She also set up a French press before she went to bed each night, and a teakettle full of water waited on the stove when I got up, which meant all I had to do was turn on the stove on my way to the bathtub, and pour the boiling water into the French press on my way back to the spare room where we were bunking in. Coffee and muffins and even yogurt for breakfast, perfect for a quick starter.

They also fed us dinner after our long drive to get there, the day before the tournament began. What a treat! It was good, too, roast chicken and cottage potatoes and fresh green beans, pretty similar to the way we cook at our house. They have gluten-free family members as well, so they understood our constraints and concerns.

Oh, and that spare room? No sleeping on the floor, no, the two girls shared a futon and we parents had an inflated mattress, and our host family provided bedding and towels, what luxury!

Probably the best part of our stay were the conversations. The evening we arrived, we talked over chocolate and tea, a wide range of subjects, from ziplines to adventure movies to literature to homeschooling. The talk was lively and interesting — and so was the early morning conversation I enjoyed with the little ones as I poured out the coffee, peeled hard-boiled eggs and set out muffins on plates. With Youngest being 14, I miss those childish insights in the morning. (Of course, when I was a younger mom, I didn’t really appreciate them, being desperate for more sleep and wondering just how a child who’d been up and singing in her bed at midnight could be so bright and chatty at six a.m….)

Anyhow, it was a good trip, and now I’m in full-blown catch-up mode. So I’m going to have to cut this off short today. Hope to see you again in a day or two! Thanks for listening.

Here’s a blog post from “Down Under” that I stumbled upon this morning. Breathtaking photos. I can’t imagine farming in such dry country, and yet somehow they are managing.

Review: Free Printable Blog Planner from Homeschool Creations

Here’s my very first review for the Mosaic Reviews Team, from Homeschool Mosaics. Members of the review team were given a list of free blog planners to choose from. It was a difficult choice! I might have chosen a one-page planner that sort of hit the highlights, or a blog planner that had a nice introduction to blogging and a mini-lesson on setting priorities.

But the Free Printable Blog Planner from Homeschool Creations really spoke to me. I almost passed it by, at first glance. I found 63 planner pages to be overwhelming. I barely have enough time to keep up a blog as it is… and yet, as I perused the pages I found so much practical help that I kept reading. I can also reassure you that you don’t really get 63 unique pages to agonize over. Much of the planner is made up of the same few pages, 12 copies of each, so that if you print the planner and bind it, it’ll be good for a whole year.

Anyone can be a hit-or-miss blogger. I’ve done it for years, but I’m trying to get more methodical in this endeavor, as in many others. However, with blogging, as with so many other things, a little planning goes a long, long way. Now if I could just get a little ahead on my blog posts, so that they could be automatically scheduled and just, plunk! — sort of post themselves. That takes time. I’ve gotten better at planning, but too often lately I’ve been thrown off my blog plan by an unexpected curve ball, like coming down with a cold, or a too-busy schedule.

With a blog planner, though, I can think through the coming days and weeks, write down themes and ideas, and actually have a target to shoot at. It’s so much better than sitting down at the keyboard, looking at that blank page, and thinking in a panic, “I have to blog something!

So what do you get in this blog planner? There’s a pretty cover sheet, a link to a blog post where the author shows how she uses her planner (I always find this kind of thing to be very helpful, as I tend to be seized by paralysis when confronted with a blank form), and a 2013 year-at-a-glance calendar. For each month, there’s a blank monthly calendar, with an area to record a focus (or eleven) for the month; a page to document reviews, giveaways, notes, and contact information; and two pages of weekly calendars with room for a to-do list for each week. (I haven’t used the weekly calendars yet, but I can see how they would be useful as I ease into regular blogging.)

Additional planning helps include pages that will help you keep track of blog statistics, websites and passwords, affiliate information, Twitter hashtags, linkups, an income and expense sheet, and (for the serious blogger whose blog is her business) even a mileage tracker.

A couple of “Notes in my head” pages round out the planner — honestly, these two pages are the ones that I’ve found most useful. Now I’m keeping my notes in one place, rather than stuck on sticky notes that end up who-knows where.

The planner is done in a pretty pastel pink-and-green color scheme. It looks really nice on the screen. Mine is printed out in grayscale for the sake of my budget, but it still works.

You can print the planner and bind it, or punch the pages and put it in a separate section of a planning notebook, or even break out the monthly and weekly pages and incorporate them among your homeschool/home planning pages. It’s a versatile format!

You can download your own copy of the planner at the link above. It’s free!

Gluten free? Be careful…

While perusing magazines in the orthodontist’s waiting room yesterday (emergency appointment; Youngest has been miserable with the latest adjustment last week, scarcely able to eat — doing much better today, am thankful to say!), I picked up the March issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray.

I subscribe to very few magazines, but I’ll occasionally pick up an issue of Rachel Ray’s cooking magazine at the store, especially if I’m hungry, going through the checkout line, and the recipes look good. (Musical scrap of an old advertisement floats through my distractible brain: Don’t shop when you’re hungry! No! No! No!)

Back to my train of thought. The March issue looked good, certainly, and I may well seek it out next time I’m grocery shopping, and snap it up. I adapt some of the gluten-containing recipes, and others are naturally gluten-free.

Imagine how pleased I was to see an article for a buffet meal for friends that was gluten free and allergy friendly!

In the old, carefree days, before we discovered severe gluten sensitivities in some of our family members, I might have cooked up this menu and invited gluten free friends to dine, blithely assuring them that the magazine said it was safe for them to eat, as the recipes were gluten free. (Thankfully, our celiac friends are very careful and don’t just take people’s word for it…)

You might think Chicken Cordon Bleu rolled in a cornflake crust would be gluten free, wouldn’t you? After all, a lot of GF people can eat corn products, like corn tortillas or cornstarch. Cornflakes ought to be a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, no. When I cleared out all the gluten-containing foods from the pantry (to keep our GF family members safer, from cross-contamination and accidental self-poisoning) and removed these foods from my shopping list, my beloved cornflakes had to go. (There’s nothing better in berry season, than cornflakes with fresh-picked blueberries and some lovely raw honey drizzled over it all…)

On rare occasions, I will still buy cornflakes in boxes that are marked “gluten free,” but they cost more than my old standby brand, so it’s a rare treat. Usually in blueberry season.

The problem with a lot of cereals seems to be the malt flavoring, which comes from barley, which contains gluten. This has, sadly, reduced the list of cereals we can use. Former favorites like Rice Krispies and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes are off our list. (Rice and Corn Chex cereals are a decent substitute, though they don’t make very good “Rice Krispie Treats” as far as we’re concerned.)

If you decide to make a gluten free meal, and you’re new to GF cooking, be very careful. Read the ingredients list. Look at the labels on the ingredients for the words “gluten free.” Ask an experienced GF friend for help in maneuvering through the maze of ingredients that are out there. Don’t just assume something is safe to eat because a recipe claims it’s safe.

For more information on finding gluten free cornflakes, check out this article at about.com.

Easy GF Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

How I love chicken enchiladas. I almost can’t tell you how much I love them. It’s one of the few dishes where I will take seconds when offered. From my old Weight Watchers days, I guess that would make them a “red light” food, as in foods to avoid, because they trigger excess eating. Not much worry about that — I never made them, up until last week, I only enjoyed them at potlucks and other people’s houses.

You see, all the recipes I’ve seen for my favorite chicken enchiladas, up to this point, involved cream of chicken soup. With more than half of my family gluten free, and a couple of us very sensitive to MSG, well, you can see the problem.

(Yes, I’m aware that you can make your own gluten-free “cream of” whatever soup approximation. I just never got around to it in the case of this recipe.)

Last week, I was really wanting Mexican food. People in my family really aren’t that wild about that flavor profile. None of us likes cilantro, for example. Once in awhile I can get away with homemade tacos, or chips and salsa, or Spanish rice, or chili, and not hear too many complaints. But enchiladas? Nobody (but me) likes them.

I got reckless. I really wanted chicken enchiladas, you know, the kind laced with cheese and sour cream and no tomatoes. (I like tomatoes, but my favorite chicken enchiladas are not tomato-based.) I had leftover chicken I needed to use up. I didn’t want to make one of our standbys for using up cooked chicken, like Fried Rice or Chicken Salad or a number of other things. I went looking online for recipes, and found this. Amazing! The first recipe I saw, at least this time around, and doesn’t call for canned soup! With very little adapting, I made it gluten free and also hassle free. No need to stuff individual enchiladas and roll them up; this recipe works well as a layered casserole. So here goes:

Leftover cooked chicken, shredded or diced, as much as you want (I used a whole breast)

1 medium onion, chopped (I didn’t have any fresh onions so used 1/4 cup dried onions, sprinkled over the chicken-cheese layer)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use coconut oil for most cooking, and if I’d had fresh onion, I would have fried it in the oil until translucent, and mixed with the chicken before layering)

12 corn tortillas (we use non-GMO organic corn products)

1 1/2 cups grated monterey jack cheese or 1 1/2 cups Mexican blend cheese, divided

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour (gluten free flour mix works)

1 (15 ounce) can chicken broth (I used 2 cups homemade chicken stock)

1 cup sour cream (see the Daisy? No thickeners, just cultured cream)

1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies

Directions:

Grease casserole or spray with nonstick spray and lay down a layer of corn tortillas. It doesn’t have to be pretty — it’s going to be covered up by other ingredients.

I love my Pampered Chef clay lasagna pan. After much usage, it’s practically non-stick even without greasing. I think I wiped it with some olive oil on a paper towel before I added the tortillas, just to make sure.

Spread chicken and 3/4 cup of the cheese over tortilla layer.

(By the way, you can cook a chicken breast, cut it up and use it in this recipe, but I had leftover chicken. If I had an uncooked chicken breast, I might not have made this recipe…)

If you want to make them richer, you can add a dollop of sour cream on top of each tortilla. Lots more calories, though. Here you can see that I boosted the calorie intake for the family members that actually need more calories, by adding extra sour cream to two of the servings. Can you imagine needing more calories? Seems like a dream to me.

Top with another layer of corn tortillas. Six was the right  number for my baking pan.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan; stir in flour to make a roux; stir and cook until bubbly; gradually whisk in chicken broth then bring to boiling, stirring frequently.

(Easy GF Flour Mix: 1 part brown rice flour, 1 part white rice flour, 1 part starch — I usually mix two starches, choosing from cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot. We can’t use potato starch, but that’s an option, too.)

Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and green chiles.

Pour sauce evenly over enchiladas.

Top with remaining 3/4 cup cheese.

Baking dish may be double-wrapped and frozen at this point, if you’re using a foil dish perhaps. I can’t spare my Pampered Chef pan; I use it often. If I wanted to make this ahead and freeze it, I’d probably line the pan with parchment paper, assemble the dish, put it in the freezer, lift the whole thing out when frozen, and double wrap it. We avoid using aluminum foil as much as possible.

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce near edges of baking dish is bubbly.

Yum. Even those of us who were indifferent to the delights of Mexican food liked this dish. Some (besides myself) even asked for seconds!

My very fussy eater managed to eat most of a portion.

I think this one is a keeper.