Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Recommendation

I'm working on this year's Valentine's party's post, but it may take me a little while because it involves uploading pictures and that still falls under the category of huge hassle in my book- I'm probably doing something wrong! ;) Anyway, just to keep from letting so much time go by again before I post, I thought I'd do one of my posts from old- the kind where I talk about what I'm thinking and hashing through. I quit doing this when everything I was working through seemed a little more intense. How it was more intense than anything else I ever used to write about, I don't know, but I guess I just felt the pressure of being looked at and wondering what people were thinking but not saying. That last sentence is a little like living in the South! Ha! It's also a lot like being a pastor's family. Incidentally, my husband is the assistant pastor at our church, so if I ever talk about "our pastor" (I am fixing to refer to his wife), I mean our church's senior pastor. Our pastor's wife recently told me that she and some other women at church felt that it was really important to let me know that they don't have any expectations for me. I thought that was very kind of her. Clearly, these ladies have picked up on the fact that I live in fear under the crushing weight of expectation, or rather, what I perceive to be others' expectation of me.

I wrote some time ago about a sermon our pastor in St. Louis gave about perfectionism and about how I struggle with fear and anxiety and always trying to measure up. Some time ago in this instance is over five years ago and I still really struggle with it. I really crave relationship, spending time with people, being part of people's lives, having people be part of my life. So, for me, just shrinking back and avoiding people rather than have them not like me is not really an option. But I think about some of the people I know and wonder if they made that choice at some point. It's tempting sometimes! I think often about quitting my job because I feel like my boss has really high expectations and doesn't communicate or teach well so it's nearly impossible for me to figure out what to do to please her. On the other hand, I work with a girl, who also does my job but does it perfectly, somehow having the same idea about how things should be done as my boss. Working with her, although she is very nice, gives me the feeling that I am a complete failure and shouldn't even come to work. Some of it is because she takes charge and so there really isn't anything left for me to do. But some of it is because she does just what my boss wants her to do and I know that, even if I work at the shop for ten years and eventually have a clearer understanding of my boss' expectations, I'll never be able to do what this other girl does.  I am well liked at work, and I know my strength is my customer service- everyone loves the Southern charm!- so there's a reason to keep me around. But I know that my strengths aren't as valuable to my boss as my coworker's. In this case, I truly don't measure up.

So, I guess you could say I'm a little discouraged. I like being around people all day, so that's a plus of working. I like having the extra money- while some of it isn't extra, George says we could find a way if I can't handle working right now- so that's a plus of working. I feel intense pressure to be available more than I can be, to be more assertive and "pushy" than I could ever be, and to understand things that aren't being fully explained, so those are some weighty negatives of working. But, except for the understanding things that aren't fully explained, I think that, no matter where I work, I will always have to deal with these things.

With these things in mind, I'll share that I have been reading a book lately that has really blessed me. It may be something many girls would think is cheesy so I have hesitated to bring it up. But there was a big part of me that was ready to purchase a dozen copies to send to all the women in my life for Valentine's Day.  And then I wondered if anyone else would have any use for a book like this. Because why haven't I heard of it before?! One of my favorite people is a friend of mine who is a natural beauty, always socially savvy, so chic and fashion forward, an amazing cook, industrious, intelligent and well read, both polite and sincere, hospitable, funny, energetic, super classy, so capable, and just an all around loving and caring neighbor and friend. And I know for a fact that she is self conscious and worries that people might not like her. I love her so much and I just can't imagine anyone in the world not liking her! But I figure if she struggles with it, then I must not be completely alone in my fears and discouragements. Thinking about it more, I have another favorite person, also a dear friend, who has the sweetest disposition, the most beautiful smile, the most generous nature and kindest heart, only the best things to say about or to everyone in her life, a fantastic sense of humor, a real gift for speed (seriously, she is fast), a deep sense of compassion, and a contagious joy. But I know that she too struggles with whether she is accepted and loved by others- ironic because she accepts and loves everyone. In writing this, I actually just went ahead and sent both of these girls a copy- so if y'all didn't already know who you are, you will when the book shows up in two days (Amazon Prime! Oh yeah!!!) And if you don't get a book in two days, it's not because I don't also think you're  wonderful person, it's just because I didn't know that you might appreciate some extra encouragement. I'd love to send it to you though if you might. Really, I would. And I will if you send me a note.

Anyway, the name of the book is You're Already Amazing: Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be by Holley Gerth. It's been so encouraging to read. And here's something that may destroy my credibility but, remember how fun it was to do quizzes in Seventeen and YM magazine?! It was so hard to have a real sense of identity in those adolescent years, and when simply answering five questions could tell you which big screen heroine you were or what you would be if you were an animal, you had a piece, a very very small piece, of the puzzle that was you put into place. Well, twenty years later (wow! twenty years! that's so weird!), I still have a lot of things I couldn't tell you about myself. And reading this book has made me think that probably a lot of people couldn't tell you a lot of things about themselves. But instead of some fairly general questions arbitrarily pigeon holing you into one of four disappointing slots- "you are Mary Stuart Masterson from Fried Green Tomatoes" huh?!- this book offers lots of insights into what your gifts may be and how you can use what you're good at and what you love to love others. It's like a woman in the church version of What Color is Your Parachute? (but not as tedious, because, although it's been quite a while, I couldn't get through all the work in What Color is Your Parachute?). But even if you already have a good sense of what you like to do and what you're good at, this book is also very good at helping you appreciate that and let that be enough. It's good at helping you see- if you're like me and you feel like you're just trying to do something, anything, because you're just not sure what to do- what you're not good at and what you can let (really let because someone else has that gift and wants to do it!) someone else do.

My friend Blair told me of a sermon illustration she heard once: There was a couple and the wife always made her husband and herself a sandwich at lunch time. Every time she had baked new loaf of bread, she made her husband a sandwich with the nice, soft slices from the inside of the loaf and trimmed the ends off and made her own sandwich. She didn't like the end pieces at all, but she didn't want her husband to have to eat them, so she ate them on her sandwich and let him have the nice inside slices. One day, as she was serving the sandwiches, her husband exclaimed in exasperation, "Could I just once have a sandwich made from the end pieces?!" As it turned out, the end pieces were his favorite, but he never got a chance to eat them because his wife always ate them so he could have what she thought were the best. That story has always stayed with me. And it came to mind recently as I looked more into the different ways we are all gifted. Some of the more practical ways of meeting others' needs are more obvious to us, and for me, they have been modeled well. I have another dear friend who is a very practical person in the first place. She has no patience for some of the things that I would say are the best things in life. But she is so good at understanding how some of the most exhausting or trying things in life can just be the logistics of day to day life. She is always there to lighten your load and to validate those feelings of being overwhelmed by strenuous circumstances. She is a meal maker, caretaker extraordinaire! Our old pastor used her as an example of servanthood because she is just that, and yet, as much as I would love to be exactly like her, reading this book has made me realize that I'm not like her and not gifted the way she is. I mean, clearly, I am not a practical person! If I tried to do what she does and she tried to do what I do, we might find ourselves with the wrong sandwich, so to speak.

I'm having a hard time thinking of a way to pull this all together and wrap it up. Basically, in a nutshell, this is a "you be you and that alone is good" book. I say that like it's a genre and there is really nothing else out there like it that I know of. Maybe there are things out there that I don't know about, but I wonder if they speak to women in the same grown up, intelligent way. I'm not really speaking in a grown up, intelligent way at this point because we're coming up on midnight, but I think this book could really bless anyone who needs a bit of encouragement and clarity as they seek to be who God has called them to be.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine Party 2012- Angelina Ballerina Tea

Yesterday I made mention of Elspeth's annual Valentine's Day party. Her birthday is in September, right after August's birthday, which almost always falls conveniently (for a birthday that time of year) on Labor Day weekend. But with all the back to school madness, and then trying to get August's birthday party together, Elspeth kind of gets the short end of the stick when, the very next week, Mommy is trying to throw her party together and no one can come anyway with all they have going on. Last year, after several years in a row of having very little birthday party success for my dear one, I decided to give her a Valentine's party. Her ballet class last year was small and close knit so we had all the little girls "twirl on over" the Saturday before Valentine's Day. This is a post with pictures from last year's party, an Angelina Ballerina Tea Party. Saturday, we had a V"owl"entine's Party, but I actually didn't take any pictures! I'm so sad about it! But I'll try to make a post about it anyway.

 I chose this picture because none of the girls are looking at the camera but Elspeth and I didn't ask the moms if I could put the picture online. That little lady in the background is my buddy Emma from church who made the Angelina Ballerina cupcakes for me and stuck around to help with the party. Emma isn't all I borrowed from church; I snagged the cut glass plates and punch cups too. It's so funny to me that we have those at our church. I think I am the only one who has used them in years. We used tons of them for George's ordination party last December too.

The cupcakes were chocolate with strawberry icing. I am not a chocolate and fruit kind of girl, but I'm not afraid to eat icing by itself, and I must say that the icing "tutus" were delicious. As I mentioned in the last post, I am having trouble finding a chocolate cupcake that suits my tastes and also the tastes of children. Emma did a great job with these though! The Angelinas were adorable!

The rest of the menu included pink lemonade (Simply Lemonade- we love it!), pimento cheese sandwiches, cheese straw, and cut apples. Of course we had lots of cheese because that's what a mouse would have for tea! And we used a small teapot to hold flowers in the center of the table, though no actual tea was served- except sweet tea for the moms.

For party favors, I found this great little lot of brand new Angelina Ballerina card games on Ebay. I also had ballerina pencils from the ballet store in St. Louis. I had a bunch left over, along with some stickers I had gotten from a seller on ebay, from Elspeth's third birthday party that didn't quite turn out as planned. Lastly, I had this seller on Etsy make me a whole bunch of cutie ponytail holders to give out. I looked high and low for bags in the right shade of pink and finally found them at the grocery store, of all places, for about a quarter a piece. Hurray!

I don't have many pictures of the decorations that I can find. I have had these same lanterns since Elspeth turned one. The original piece hanging down was a 1, but I have changed it out several times. They are a little worse for the wear at this point, but they are perfect for an Angelina party because of all the similar decorations at Angelina's party in Angelina's Birthday. The Angelina piece here actually came from a paper doll book. We had a lot of smaller Angelinas from a peel and stick sticker book that we used to decorate placemats for everyone at the original Angelina birthday party that didn't quite work out. I am giving these details because Angelina Ballerina party stuff is hard to find, so these are ideas in case anyone ever needs them. Besides all of this, we just did a lot of streamers in shades of pink and lots of balloons as well. A good time was had by all!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cake Mix Doctor Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I could have sworn I had put this recipe up before. A friend copied it for me from her cookbook a few years ago and I used it several time before I somehow misplaced it. When I went to look for it for Ellie P's annual Valentine's party this year, I could find it almost nowhere online. I even had to employ quotation marks and the minus sign in the Google search bar! So here it is, a great go to for a basic, super easy, chocolate buttercream for anything- even a box mix if you're in a pinch (which I was yesterday and tried, without doctoring, for the first time yesterday since college and was totally grossed out by! fortunately, the frosting received several compliments in spite of being paired with a flavorless, oily mess. coming soon: kid friendly chocolate cupcakes from scratch- when I find a good recipe!).

8T butter at room temperature
2/3c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3c. powdered sugar
1/3c. milk
2tsp. vanilla
1/4tsp. salt
- beat butter and cocoa powder until well combined
- add remaining ingredients and beat until frosting lightens and is fluffy
- add additional milk or sugar if necessary to achieve desired consistency

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Chicken Picatta

So, back to recipes. It may surprise you that they who must not be named actually have easy, throw it together because I'm extremely tired and haven't been to the grocery store and have almost nothing in my fridge appropriate recipes! Or, just recipe. Still, this is a keeper. Your children will thank you. So will your tired limbs. Save the blue box for another day.

2 large lemons
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.5 pounds), rinsed, dried thoroughly and pounded*
1/2 c. all purpose flour
4T vegetable oil
1 small shallot, minced (about 2T) or 1 small garlic clove, minced (about 1 tsp.)
1c. chicken stock or broth
2T capers, drained
3T unsalted butter, softened
2T minced fresh parsley leaves
- adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, set large heatproof plate on rack, and heat oven to 200
- halve a lemon pole to pole, trim ends from one half and cut crosswise into slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. juice the other lemon half and one additional lemon for a total of 1/4c. juice.
- sprinkle both sides of chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, shake to remove excess
- heat skillet over medium high for about two minutes, add 2T oil and swirl to coat pan. saute chicken 2-3 minutes per side and transfer to plate in oven, and repeat with remaining oil and chicken
- add shallot or garlic to empty skillet and saute 30 seconds for shallot or 10 seconds for garlic, then add chicken stock and lemon slices, increase heat to high and scrape skillet bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. simmer until liquid reduces to 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. add lemon juice and capers and simmer one minute more. remove pan from heat and swirl in butter until butter melts and thickens sauce. swirl in parsley. spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately.

* original recipe calls for making cutlets, but I am not real accomplished with a knife-- clumsy girls pound!

 Lots of swirling in that recipe! We serve it with angel hair pasta because that also cooks super fast! 

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