Friday, September 19, 2014

Go-To Pasta Salad

We have a pot luck dinner to attend tonight... Actually, they're calling it a "covered dish," but I digress. The entree is barbecue, and we were asked to bring a feed 40 people. Never fear, the best pasta salad in the world is here.

How gorgeous is this?

I first encountered this delicious dish at a baby shower when we were living in Enid, Oklahoma, and my friend, Lauren, was gracious enough to share the recipe. Since then, it has become my go-to recipe for baby showers, bridal showers, pot-lucks, picnics - you name it. It is beautiful, colorful, and absolutely delicious. It can easily be divided to feed your family, or it can be multiplied to feed a crowd. It can (and should) be made ahead, so it's perfect for parties, and the leftovers keep well for several days.

First, get a big pot of water boiling, salt the water, and cook your pasta as directed until al dente - "to the tooth," meaning you don't want to let it get anywhere close to mushy. I've made this salad with linguini, which is lovely, but a little tricky to wrangle onto the fork. Rotini is standard pasta salad fare, but I like to choose something a little less predictable. Bowties (farfalle) work well, but my new favorite is campanelle, which I used today.

Meanwhile, wash and start chopping your veggies. I love to have a wide variety of colors, flavors, and textures in this salad, and so I use about a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters (depending on the size of the tomatoes); one cucumber, only partly peeled to leave some traces of green, sliced thin, and then cut into quarters; about half of a red onion, cut in half and sliced thin; and one bell pepper, yellow or orange to add more color (this time I used one of each because I doubled the recipe), diced.

Drop the veggies in a large bowl, and add half a bottle of Italian dressing. Then add half a bottle of McCormick Salad Supreme and stir. I also like to add a little freshly-ground black pepper.

Once your pasta has cooked, drain well, and add to the veggie mixture. Do not worry about cooling the pasta - a little heat won't hurt anything, and I think it may actually help to meld the flavors.

Cover and refrigerate overnight - or if you're serving this at dinnertime, you can get away with making it in the morning and refrigerating it all day. (If you're short on fridge space, you might transfer to a gallon-size zip-lock baggie or two.)

Just before serving, stir in the remaining half bottle of Italian dressing.

Fabulous Pasta Salad

  • 1 lb. pasta (Try campanelle, linguini, farfalle, or rotini.)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 cucumber, sliced and quartered
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 bottle of Italian salad dressing (Save half the bottle for just before serving.)
  • 1/2 bottle McCormick Salad Supreme
  • black pepper, to taste
  1. Cook pasta as directed on packaging.
  2. Mix vegetables with half bottle of Italian dressing, McCormick Salad Supreme, and black pepper.
  3. Toss veggie mixture with cooked pasta.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  5. Just before serving, stir in remaining half bottle of Italian Dressing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Be still.

How tempting it is to bustle around today!

We have spent the last two weeks sick. Just a cold with a cough, nothing major, but enough to put the brakes on life. Caroline came home early from school a week ago Tuesday and stayed home Wednesday and Thursday of last week. Both girls were at school on Friday, and we had a cough-free night on Saturday night. Then by Sunday, Abigail was coughing and running a fever. Thankfully, her fever broke Sunday night, but she was home Monday {feeling much better and practically bouncing off the walls, mind you}. Her coughs kept us up Monday night, though, and by Tuesday, I had it, too.

As I was getting the girls ready for school Tuesday morning, I told Stephen that it felt somewhat redemptive that after years of stay-at-home mommyhood - years of catching our children's illnesses, yet having to function through those days to take care of them, get meals on the table for them, and generally keep them alive even if I felt like death - for once I was going to take a sick day. They went to school Tuesday, and I watched a movie, took a nap, and didn't do so much as empty the dishwasher until after they came home from school. {Moms of littles take heart - you, too, will get here someday.}

While I know that taking a sick day helped, it was probably not in my best interest to pop out of bed Wednesday morning and hit the ground running. I felt much better...until about noon. Ugh...

Yesterday, I felt better again, attended my Bible study group, but thought, "It's taking an awful lot of effort to be part of the conversation this morning." I think it was a good choice to skip my multiples club meeting last night, even though I really enjoy those women, and they only meet once a month.

The thing is, I have a really hard time being still. Especially when the past two weeks have been spent caring for and being among the sick, I can't help feeling that I'm behind on life right now.

It's not that I have ADD - I know children and adults alike who have to keep moving... or else. It's also not that I have energy that needs to be burned - it's that I feel that every moment of every day has to be productive. I need to get stuff done! I am good about calling it quits after we get the girls to bed, but up until that moment, it's go-go-go.

I've come across stay-at-homers who decide to go back to work, saying that they couldn't stand sitting around the house.  ?!?!?!?  Writing this right now is the most sitting around I ever do. Maybe these other moms don't have a compulsive need to clean? And pull weeds? And cook? And reorganize their closets? And tackle every little job in and around the house that they see? God bless them - I wish I had the ability to just let that stuff go.

And maybe that's what I ought to pray for.

I love the fall. It may be my favorite season. I'm ready for a break from the mosquitoes and the poison ivy, and I just love the cooler {but not yet cold} temperatures and the warm, fiery colors of autumn leaves. Mums? Pumpkin muffins? Apple picking? Yes, please! Sign me up. And don't even get me started on college football. Hooray for fall!

And yet I start to look at our calendar and panic a bit, as the weekends are already filling up. So much to do - so little time!

I'd heard of this little devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, by Sarah Young. I wouldn't expect the library to have such a thing, but lo and behold, they did. It has a short paragraph or two each day with two or three Bible verses. I've been reading it almost every day for about a month, and it is amazing how so many of these devotionals speak so clearly to my state of mind on a given day.

The one for August 10, the day before the girls' first day of school, included the following:
Time spent with Me not only increases your trust; it also helps you discern what is important and what is not. Energy and time are precious, limited entities. Therefore, you need to use them wisely, focusing on what is truly important. As you walk close to Me, saturating your mind with Scriptures, I will show you how to spend your time and energy.

And today's message says, in part:
Quietness and trust accomplish far more than you can imagine...Spending time alone with Me can be a difficult discipline, because it goes against the activity addiction of this age.

And how about this scripture selection for today?

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength." -Isaiah 30:15

I will be purchasing my own copy of Jesus Calling - it's a keeper.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Real Mommyhood

A couple of weeks ago, Stephen and I attended a dinner at the home of our pastor and his wife. They have a lovely home, filled with photos and mementos from their 40 years of marriage - black-and-white pictures of their granddaughter in a simple white dress adorn the entry hall, a serene photo of their favorite beach at sunset overhangs the fireplace, a fern in a beautiful multi-colored vase sits on a plant stand in the living room - you get the idea. The house was lovely, and they did a wonderful job of making everyone feel comfortable and at home.

While they had plenty of perfect pictures and decor, what I loved most about their home were the signs of imperfection - of humanity - that appeared here and there. Our favorite "piece" in their home? A photo on their fridge of their grandchildren, one of whom was in a fit of tears.

We've all been there. The family photo shoot... Photographer ready, everyone forced to wear coordinating outfits, hair coiffed, smiles on. But wait a minute - WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! SMILE!!! Look happy, for the love of all things good and pure, because we are paying a fortune to capture this perfect moment! Do not frown, and do not even think of crying! Your eyes will be all red! Okay... QUICK! Everyone fake a smile for the camera.

Though I was seriously annoyed at the time that Abigail was pulling on Caroline, who was not cooperating, but rather irritating her sister {and making me worry that someone would get hurt, and then we'd have some real tears on our hands}, I was happy in hindsight that our photographer-friend captured this moment, because it was real.

People ask me all the time if our girls are always so well-behaved, if they always play nicely together, and the answer is no. Definitely not. We parent the best we can, so that they generally {though not always} know how to act in public, and we try to teach them to be loving and kind towards each other no matter where they are. But they are real kids.

One time last year, their kindergarten teacher told me that another teacher had had to pull them off of each other in the bathroom. Abigail had needed to use the restroom after school, and when Caroline declined the invitation to go in there with her, Abigail decided to take her by force. The yelling and screaming got another teacher's attention, and she found them on top of each other on the bathroom floor. {Nice when they decide to misbehave, mistreat each other, make a scene, and do it in the germiest place imaginable - an elementary school bathroom.}

Yes, they are real children, and we are real parents. I let them watch TV - often as a babysitter. How else would I have gotten a shower for the first four years of their lives? I do make their lunches every morning, but it's almost always peanut butter-and-something. Those bento box things that people put on Pinterest are adorable, but that's not me.

A note for one of the girls' lunch boxes - I meant for it to say TGIF

Speaking of Pinterest, I like it as much as the next gal. But it also worries me. Sometimes I get wrapped up in the Pinterest culture that today's moms live in and start to feel insecure because I didn't throw a birthday party that would ever get copied by someone else. {Okay, I do make some great cakes, but the rest of it would never adorn someone else's Pinterest boards.} I did not create tactile learning activities or make busy books for my girls when they were two, nor did I develop literature focus units for them when they were three.

And then I wake up. I remind myself that being a Pinterest Mom does not equal being a Good Mom. My children have learned plenty through play and have been read to a ton, without it involving a Pinterest-worthy project. Remember how our parents and grandparents and all of their ancestors became productive members of society without their mothers creating mini-preschools in their homes? There are only so many hours in the day - something our fore-mothers knew all too well, as they laundered by hand, gardened every vegetable they ate, made their own butter, and had to keep the fire going all day long if they wanted to keep their families warm. They didn't hover over their children in some anxiety-ridden supermom competition, and their kids turned out just fine. In fact, one could argue that they were better off for it.

A while back, I reviewed Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond.  I do not agree with 100% of what Rosemond says, but I wholeheartedly agree with his idea that moms in our society put too much pressure on ourselves {and on each other} to be "supermom." I see it in my fellow stay-at-homers, who feel that our homes, our meals, and our time with our children have to be perfect - ALL the time. After all, what excuse do we have for imperfection when we don't have another job to do??? I see it in my working-mom-friends, who seem to feel that they have to have perfect careers AND somehow manage to create perfect homes and spend perfect quality time with their children when they are at home. How can I not make every precious moment count??? I guess all of that is a lovely utopian ideal, but it's unrealistic - and the pressure of trying to meet those expectations makes us all crazy. I'd rather my girls have a sane mom any day.

In John Rosemond's August 6 newsletter, guest columnist Janet Carter hit the nail on the head:

The notion of women "having it all" is just one more idea in the list of cultural lies out there, contributing to our stress and robbing us of life.  NO ONE can have it all.  Man, woman, child - no one.  Life is all about making choices, and the very nature of choice suggests that when something is chosen, there is something not chosen...

One of the many drawbacks of the choice of hyper-scheduling is what is not chosen: time. The system works on the assumption that children and family and life are like computer programs - download the schedule and let her run. No accounting for the inevitable snags, problems, mistakes and messes that come with the human condition.  And if your family includes children, then you are going to need triple the time cushion, because children generally function on snags, problems, mistakes and messes.

A day in the life of a child is a day in the life of the unexpected.  They just don't run on our schedules.  Generally, they don't care about our schedules.  Children have no schedules; what they have is time- endless amounts - to do with as the moment dictates. Frankly, it is one of the lovely attributes of childhood, and when we, the adults in their life, try to force them too quickly into our paradigm, we are only asking for additional stress, disappointment and frustration.  

And all too quickly, their childhood passes us by.  Gone in a heartbeat, we are left with only a distant memory of our own defeat and exhaustion.  And sadly, all too often, children robbed of their own childhoods remain children far past an appropriate age.  We were not made to go, go, go.  We were made to work and rest, work and play, work and rest, and without that critical rhythm, we often sacrifice our health, our joy, and the pleasures that can come with having a family. 

There's a new school year ahead and a fresh calendar waiting to be filled. What will you choose? What will you not choose? Leave a few of those days empty - you won't regret it. 

Find more from Janet Carter at