Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kickin' Cranberry Chicken

I'm not usually one to laud the practice of filling the freezer with extra meals, because it seems I can't ever convince myself that there is time in my life to devote to the actual filling part of the whole process. Before we left for our trip however, it became necessary for me to be converted. We've passed the half-way mark of our time away (and of eating almost exclusively what we brought with us for dinner) and I'm here to tell ya that the lack of stress involved in feeding my pack of hungry eaters because of the front end work of bagging and tagging and freezing our meals is WORTH IT!!

As school starts and schedules fill and life returns to a more ambitious pace, what my family needs and maybe yours does too, is an easy fix-ahead and freeze-an-extra sorta dinner solution. As we prepared to be away a few weeks ago I scoured my collection of cookbooks to find easy freezing and portable in a flat freezer bag meals. Of the twenty or so that we brought with us, this cranberry chicken meal was easily the easiest and even the cranberry-shy among us gave it a happy thumbs up. 

Kickin' Cranberry Chicken


{printable HERE}

Here's what you'll need:

6 skinless boneless chicken breasts or thighs or a combination of both cut into serving size portions.
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup Catalina dressing (Russian dressing will also work)


Here's what to do:

If you are preparing for your freezer:

With a permanent marker write the following on a gallon freezer bag: "Cranberry Chicken, date, thaw then bake @350 for 90 minutes". You really do want to do this first if you are making this to feed your freezer because after you put the chicken and sauce in the bag, it's much more difficult to write on the bag. 

Cut partially thawed* chicken pieces into serving size portions and then place in the freezer zip top bag and set aside. (*NOTE: Some of those individually frozen chicken breasts that come in the mongo bag from the freezer section are huge. They realistically make two portions for an adult. I usually allow the chicken to partially thaw which is the ideal time to cut it because cutting a partially thawed piece of chicken is so very much easier than trying to slice into the gooey slipperiness that is a thawed chicken breast or thigh!) 



In a medium bowl combine the other three ingredients and stir well. 




Pour mixture into the freezer bag over the chicken portions.



Allow as much air as possible out of the bag and seal it.  




Lay the bag on a large plate or platter or even on a cookie sheet; anything that will fit in your freezer and allow your creation to freeze flat which both allows for quicker thawing and more efficient storage in your freezer (or cooler) once it has frozen. 


When you are ready to enjoy cranberry chicken for your dinner set your flat freezer bag in the fridge in the morning to thaw. If I need to hurry along the thawing process I'll sometimes set it on the counter top though I'm not sure the FDA would approve. Once your cranberry chicken has thawed, dump it into a sprayed casserole dish (9x13 works well).


Toss it into a 350 oven for 90 minutes. This dish comes with lots of yummy sauce that goes well over rice or mashed potatoes or even noodles.

If you are making this for dinner tonight...

Place chicken pieces in a sprayed casserole dish. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl and stir well. Pour the mixture over the chicken in the casserole dish and bake at 350 for 90 minutes. This dish comes with lots of yummy sauce that goes well over rice or mashed potatoes or even noodles.



There was precious little of this dish left over when we enjoyed it on our travels, so I was glad to have doubled the recipe. If you are planning on feeding less than six, one recipe should serve you just fine. This is such a simple recipe to have in your back pocket and I plan on making two or three more recipes to have on hand for the upcoming fall. 

Here's to feeding your family AND your freezer!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Faithful-Every-Week-Church-Going Believers... I'm a FAN!

I have a healthy new respect for the faithful-every-week-church-going-folks this evening. I have learned this weekend how easy it could be to just decide not to go to church, just for this one Sunday. Oh yessir, I'd have missed having gone to church, but the reality of that feeling alone would not be enough to get me there.


For the past week, my time has been devoted to doing pretty much exactly what I have intended and have desired to do. I have spent time on my own and time with my gang and time with my Man. I have spent time each and every morning in my Bible and in deep thought about my spiritual condition and about life in general.

And yet...

...as today [Saturday] wore on, I began to think of reason after reason why it might be okay for our family not to attend church tomorrow.  I have no other obligations or even penciled-in plans awaiting my attentions, I just don't really feel like making the effort, it's just one Sunday right? So, my mind is working overtime on reasons not to go. Please understand that every one of my reasons if spoken aloud would make the faithful-every-week church goer and their pastor's wife roll their eyes and possibly belly laugh.

Please also understand that this realization serves as a lesson to me.

On my last Sunday with our church family before going on sabbatical, one of our members confided to me that they were planning a bit of a sabbatical of their own.

"Really?" I said, "where will you be going? What will you be doing?"

"Oh, I'm not going anywhere, I just want to read the paper and drink my coffee for a few Sunday mornings."

You can imagine how this blessed my socks right off.

"Can't you do that on Saturday morning?" I asked, smiling, sort of, "Then you can come on Sunday mornings and support the men who will be preaching here?"

"Well, there is just something extra special about Sunday mornings with the paper and coffee."

"I wonder," said I, "just why it seems extra special particularly on Sunday mornings?"


I couldn't believe I was having this conversation. I know there are plenty of folks who might be tempted to do the same thing, planning to do the same thing even, but I was just a bit perplexed by the one who decided to share their plan with me out loud

Eventually I forgot about the whole incident until, after surviving a particularly harrowing grocery store visit this afternoon, I looked over stacks of grocery bags at my Man and said, "I have a whole new appreciation for faithful church folks who show up no matter what. I have learned today how easy it could be to just not go, just not show up, just stay in my pjs and drink my coffee and read my books about being a Christian and living within a community of believers..."

...I was now the person on the other side of the conversation, wasn't I?

"I know," he said, "it would be so so easy."

This evening I sat across the table from my Man as he did what so many folks do when they are in a new town, he searched online for a church for us to attend in the morning. Molly grew tired of waiting for her daddy's attention, she had plans for him this evening, and said, "Dad, I think you can just do this church thing on your own for us tomorrow, OK? Now come on, let's get going." She was not the first to make such a suggestion.

It was explained to her that yes, we could easily "have church" and do a good job of it on our own tomorrow but...we would worship best within a church body where worship is so sweet and where there is fellowship with other believers, and where we can be ministered to as we sit under the preaching of the Word.



In the morning, Lord willing, the Wright gang will "get going" as well. We'll fill a pew in a church somewhere because there's a God we need to praise and a man who has spent the greater part of his week working on a message, and not just any message, but a message of great import about a Savior who sacrificed all for me!

Who in the world am I to decide that I'd rather have coffee?

Need more convincing? Click play below and turn your volume way up...




"YOU stand alone, I stand amazed..."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Involving the Owner's Manual, the Bathroom Scales, and a few very unSabbatical Moments...

Greetings from the margin!


The Wright gang is doing well as we near the halfway mark of my Man's sabbatical. We find ourselves in a locale with no internet which has been, as one of our favorite TV characters likes to say, a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because...less ringing and dinging and... just, less. A curse because when you want to look up something nifty an a food blog, like how to make those spectacular muffins that your teenagers loved, well...you're sunk.

The first week of sabbatical was spent preparing for the next three weeks and can I just say that it may well take us all three weeks to recover from the last few days of that first week! The night before we bid our home adieu we spent more than a few stress-filled hours loading our van.

Just as the last few items were carried down the stairs to the garage we noticed that our van was sitting a bit low to the ground. This was concerning but we thought that it would probably be ok until we remembered that we still had to add six bodies into that van in the morning, four of which weighed well over one hundred pounds! Children were summoned and seated in the van and it became clear that some tough decisions had to be made.

The next few hours involved the owner's manual for our van (to look up the maximum load allowable), our bathroom scales, four concerned-for-their-stuff children who had to be continually shooed from the garage, and two nervy adults who worked as hard maintaining patience with one another as they did determining exactly which items were absolutely necessary to our existence during the next three weeks.

We'd never been gone for three weeks before.

My Man has a t-shirt that has a quote from Erasmus:

"When I have a little money I buy books; and if I have any left I buy food and clothes."


That quote pretty much summed up our problem. I had prepared and frozen enough meals to feed us for 21 dinners and lots of lunches and many breakfasts.


We were sporting one large cooler and two medium coolers full of gallon zip bags which had been filled, labeled, and frozen flat in preparation for our time away. In addition to the three coolers, we'd filled two large Thirty One utility bags full of non-frozen food stuffs including canned goods, bread, rice, etc.  We were prepared to eat out only minimally...too well prepared as it turned out.



To make matters worse, as the weeks counted down to this day, this very day that we would leave many of us Wright's had been preparing in our minds stacks and stacks of books that would travel with us. I had two bags full plus my computer and some other things and my Man was attempting to carry on three bags full. Cole and Meg both had backpacks loaded with chosen books and the little girls were bringing along only the books that we forced them to.

{My stacks...before the purge.}

After much load shifting and the weighing of our children, our books, our dry goods bags, and our coolers, we came to the sad conclusion that we were going to have to significantly lighten our load.

The children were asked to pare down their "carry on" backpacks.  We'd only brought along a few outfits of clothing each so unloading suitcases was not a possible option and when I suggested that we only take one outfit each in order to spare some of our books, I was swiftly and soundly and unamimously out voted.  My Man and I each unloaded some books and then we unloaded the 50 pounds worth (or so said the bathroom scales) of dry goods figuring to purchase them at our destination.

I am happy to announce that we safely reached our destination safely and happily and our vehicle seems no worse for the wear. What did remain after the pairing down of our load was the deep feeling of gratitude we feel for our church family for caring enough to allow us this time away. We feel cherished and cared for and we carry with us the responsibly of returning home rested and renewed and ready to serve.

{Kate en route.}

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Keeping Ourselves Company

Molly joined me in the kitchen yesterday morning, wiping the sleep from her eyes and looking about for breakfast options. 

“Is today Daddy’s day off?” She knows that Mondays usually are, but she asks weekly to make sure.

“Yes.”

“Oh good! We should have a family day and go shopping and get me a new backpack.” 

Her Daddy had tried to convince her a few days ago that she needed a new one because her beloved Princess Sophia backpack had a tear in it. She had remained unconvinced.

“So you think you need a new one now, I guess?”

“Well,” she answered, “It wasn’t my idea, DADDY said so.”


“I’m not sure what Daddy is planning on doing today. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have a family day.”

Wait!” said she, “Does Daddy have to go to work tomorrow?”

“No, remember, he’s on sabbatical. Come look at the calendar. Here is today and here is the day Daddy returns to work. Let’s count the days between.” And so we counted.


“That’s a lot of days,” she said jumping up and down and clapping. “Does Pastor J have that many days off?”

“No. He’ll be at work while Daddy is not there.”

“Ok then,” she pondered, “here’s what we should do: we’ll all go up to Pastor J’s house and keep Mrs. D_____ and O____ and dear little M______ company while he’s at work!”

When her daddy returned home later in the morning I asked Molly to share her plans with him. And she did with much animation.

“Molly, that’s some kind of plan, but I don’t think Mrs. D_____ needs all six of us in her home this month to keep her company. Our plan is to keep our own selves company for a while.”


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dreaming and Dabbling and Diving into Margin

As August approaches, our family is beginning a sabbatical which will allow for my Man to rest a bit and read a lot and, Lord willing, be able to reflect and relax as he embarks on his third decade of ministry and his second decade with our local church family.


The kids and I are planning our activities as well and will hopefully serve to prepare us for another year of learning whether it be in our school setting, within our church family, or out in the great big world. We hope, while on our break, to read a bit, play a lot, and dream and dabble a fair amount too.


One of the most intimidating challenges facing me as I prepare for time away is what books to pack. Our space is ever limited and it is frowned upon by the establishment when I attempt to carry three overstuffed books along with me on our travels. I'm grateful for my iPad in these situations because it allows me bring along many books within it's digital circuitry, but just now I find myself in a phase in which I desperately desire to hold the actual book that I am reading in my hands and turn the physical pages and feel the weight of the finished pages accumulating in my left hand as the bundle of pages yet to be read in my right hand dwindles. So, there's the rub. As we prepare to head for our destination, I've considered mailing a box of books ahead so that space will be saved in the family van...


It's been fun to look forward to what we pray will be a healthy time of soul-feeding and family focus within and a time of preparing and recharging our hearts and minds for the outward-facing calling that the Lord has placed within each of our hearts. We speak of activities which we might undertake by saying "that might be beneficial to do on sabbatical." When a certain type of resource crosses our path someone might say, "Hey, let's listen to that on sabbatical." You'd certainly imagine that there are books arriving in our mailbox and making their way onto lists which we've determined would be "good sabbatical reading."


This will be our second sabbatical while serving and worshiping amongst our church family and we are so blessed and thankful to God that He has chosen to place us in this particular body of believers. To be loved and cared for in such a way that we are able to both look forward to partake of such a respite is a meaningful gift from God and from our church family. Thom Rainer has written an excellent and very short article {click HERE to read it} entitled Five Reasons Your Pastor Should Take a Sabbatical and every single reason received a hearty AMEN from this pastor's wife.


I used to dread the thought of our family on sabbatical because I felt it implied emergency first aid to the exhausted and beleaguered pastor's family who were teetering on the edge of disaster and we are, by the grace of God, not that. We are weary at times, yes, but so is the coal miner's family, the kindergarden teacher's and the grocer's. We are tugged apart toward a myriad of obligations and endeavors and come home fairly tuckered, late at night after ministering to those in need or after exciting activities, but so do deacons, and children's workers, and the ladies of the social committee.


We are not exhausted beyond measure but this pace for this family both in life and in service is best not maintained long-term without the provision ahead for sabbatical. Sabbatical, which I learned after the experience of our first one years ago, is not an ER visit after an explosion of life has occurred, but instead is like the administration of vitamins and immunizations which serve both to maintain and enrich the health and vitality of this ordinary ministry family in which we live and breathe.


In his book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson writes,
Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.
So...we are headed toward the margin for the next 30 days or so. While we abide in this place between our load and our limits, we'll plaster the cracks that are sneaking up the walls there and patch the holes in the roof lest our margin begin to leak and by God's great grace we'll return as we did last time with fresh hearts and rested hands and heads ready encounter all that is to follow.


{Please continue to check back in here as the weeks pass as I'm eager to share what I'll be reading  and learning and laughing about because surely as we pull the laces more snugly around ourselves things worth relating are bound to be squeezed out!}

With love and appreciation for your stopping by this space...
Gretchen

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Left To Our Own Devices

All four of our children are away this week. The older two are at church camp and the younger two are at grandparent camp. We have had reports of all manner of fun and learning from both camps and are thankful that the kids are enjoying themselves.

Though we take a week each year to travel without the children, it has been many many years since my Man and I have found ourselves home alone.

{You saw that coming right?}

Here's what I am learning as we have been left to our own devices...

My Man does, in fact, remember how to take the trash out.

I do remember how to unload the dishwasher.

There is little need to do either of these activities because the amount of trash and dishes generated by two 40 somethings is significantly less than what it was, say...last week!

The same holds for the laundry.

When my Man is away, the kids and I plan all sorts of adventurous "Daddy's Gone Dinners" with international themes and ingredients. When the kids are away, however, an acceptable dinner just might be two bowls of cereal enjoyed in front of a favorite TV show.

When the children are away it is possible to actually HEAR every word of a favorite TV show.

A spoon loaded down with peanut butter and chocolate chips is the perfect lunch.

My Mother-In-Law was correct when she told me that cooking for two is not nearly as fun as cooking for the whole family.

There is no one with whom to share trivial things with the very instant I learn of them after my Man has gone to work.

I have no earthly idea what LeBron James is up to this week.

There is no one around to "do what I say and not what I do".

Minivans are huge with only a driver.

Socks do not magically appear on the living room floor or on the couch or under the dining room table or in the fridge but I did hear a report of an orphaned sock of my Man's appearing at church camp?!

Our home echoes when there is only one person in it, that is, if that one person choses to create noise, but really...what is the point?

Podcasts are wonderful ways of learning and of filling a house with sound.

So is talking to oneself.

There is no line at the coffee pot in the morning...but there is also no one to bring me coffee out of the goodness of their teenaged hearts in the middle of the morning either.

Finally, I've learned that time alone is a wonderful restorative privilege in this life of mine for which I am grateful but it is not the life which I've been called to live. So as the house fills back up and as the noise level rises and the pantry level dwindles and the laundry piles and the dishwasher runs and runs and runs, and the line at the coffee maker grows, my prayer is that my heart will remember the joyful refreshment of this week and then charge ahead to the jolly chaos of the next.






“Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” 

~Sarah Dessen
What Happened to Goodbye



Thursday, July 17, 2014

All the Wrong Rules

Growing up, my family owned a checker game much like those you see at Cracker Barrel. Big and soft and carpet-like with red and black checkers that were roughly the size of hockey pucks.

My Dad taught us how to play and reigned as Checker King for as long as I can remember. It always perplexed me how he could be planning strategy three steps ahead while my whole goal was to not get jumped in the very next move.

I remember a particular match between my Mom and Dad where my father won in such grand fashion that my Mom was forced to grab the corners of her side of the checker board and flip the remaining checkers (all of which belonged to my Dad, of course) at the King. 

This summer Molly has taken quite an interest in the game and I've spent a good deal of time teaching her the basics during the last few weeks. This week while visiting my parent's home, she was destined to meet up with both the checkers set from my childhood and the Checker King himself. 

Last night I received this report from my Mom via text:

Dad and Molly just at [checkers] game for 30 minutes. Kate and I in beauty shop. Molly came up and announced that "Mom taught me all the wrong rules but I let Poppy win two games." Thought she would be sweating but none was visible. [She] was in a tiny snit over some king issue.

The question that remains is not what the snit over the king issue was, though one does wonder. The question that remains is how Molly managed to win or rather how Molly was allowed the victory because, as the child of King Checkers...I do not ever remember being allowed this pleasure!! 

And so I conclude... Poppy has gotten soft. 

This is yet another example of the affect of grandchildren on formerly sensible adults. 

Mark it down and enjoy!


The true art of playing is not only to make the right move at the right time, but to leave unmade the wrong move at the moment of truth. 

Players are usually at their most confident peak....just before they walk into disaster.

~Tom Wiswell, World Checkers Champion 1951-1976~

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How to Make Your Gal Grin...{a little}.

My Man and my kids had been working hard outside all morning. 



It was a day that threatened rain but in the meantime was delivering humidity by the bucket. I made an iced tea-lemonade combo from a powered mix I’d purchased. 


On a whim, I sliced a circle of lemon and added it to my Man’s tea before delivering it to him on the front steps where he and Cole were working.

After a long drink he said, “Wow!!” and then looked our boy in the eye, “Son,” he said with a serious voice, “marry well. Marry a woman who will care for you like this.”

{I might have grinned a little.}


Please note here that the THIS my Man was referring to was merely powdered drink mix and a lemon slice!! 

It was not because of a washed car or a hot meal made from scratch, it was not because of a freshly mowed lawn or even enough clean socks to make it through the week (as if!).


It was because of a little slice of lemon.


When life gives you lemons…put a slice in someone’s tea… at the very least, they’ll appreciate the thought, 


...and maybe, just maybe they’ll say just the right thing…an make you grin…{a little}.

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