Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Birthday Morning

In my family growing up, we had the tradition that on your birthday, you were awakened by the rest of the family singing "Happy Birthday," and Eric and I have continued the fun with Ian. Here's a video of the first few minutes of Ian's 4th year. (Warning: it's 7 minutes of Ian blinking and saying some mildly intelligible things, which we tried to translate, so unless you really love Ian, it might be a bit...slow. But it's a 7-minute window into our lives for all of you far away.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Birthday #3

Ian's third year came to a close with a whirlwind of fun! Beautiful weather on Friday and Saturday allowed us to spend time outdoors, including a picnic lunch on Saturday at a nearby playground. Sunday was spent at a super-fun zoo birthday party with tons of family and fascinating animals. And today was the best day of all: his birthday!

We woke him up in standard birthday fashion by flipping on the light and singing "Happy Birthday" (Maybe Eric will post the video sometime soon...hint, hint, Babe!), followed by giving him our present to him: the complete compilation of the original Thomas stories written by Rev. Awdry. He was so enthralled with the big, hardback book full of Thomas pictures, that he didn't want to leave his bed, even for chocolate-chip pancakes! We finally got him out, though, and we enjoyed a nice breakfast together. The morning was spent doing our weekly grocery shopping, and then we picked up Eric from school to go have lunch together at Chick-fil-a, one of Ian's favorite places to go. He really loves it there now, since they gave him both an orange balloon and a stuffed cow for his birthday! Score! Plus, we got to share a chocolate milkshake, which he ordered all by himself. Does it get any better than that?

Apparently, it does. After lunch, we all went to Toys'R'Us, where Ian was allowed to pick out one new engine of his choice. Going in there, he had already decided which engine he wanted: Toby the Tram Engine. But when we got to the Thomas section, they had a table set up with some tracks and engines, complete with a Harold the Helicopter. Well, an engine just wouldn't do after seeing cool Harold! So that's what Ian got, and I don't think he's regretted it a bit. As soon as we got home, Harold was released from his plastic prison and was immediately set to rescuing a disadvantaged Percy, who had apparently been derailed and needed assistance to get back on the track (a similar thing happens to Thomas in one of Ian's favorite books). Ian spent pretty much the rest of the day playing with his new engines and expansion tracks that he'd gotten from various family members. His track collection is quite diverse now, allowing for even more creative playing time!

So I think his third birthday was a good one, and it seemed like he thought he was in heaven. Isn't that what a good birthday should be?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Birthday Party Fun

Today, we drove down to Lafayette's Columbian Park Zoo for a combined birthday party with Ian's cousins Keith and Sefia, whose birthdays were last week (Ian's is tomorrow). It was a little bit of a bummer that it was cold and rainy so we couldn't enjoy the park, but really, the party in the zoo's classroom was great! Some fun guests came to the party as well: a python, an armadillo, a sugar glider, and a wallaby! We got to learn about each one and pet them, then the kids all got their pictures taken with one of them, along with a frame they got to decorate themselves. Add in some cupcakes, pop, and birthday presents, and the party was a big toddler hit! (Thanks for the good idea, Anne!) Here are some of my favorite pictures from the fun day:

the amardillo & wallaby

Ian holding the snake. He doesn't look happy because he's blinking, but he was really excited.
Singing "Happy Birthday"
Cupcake fun
"Wow! Tracks!"

Thursday, April 16, 2009 the moon...and back.

We have never been the kind of parents who were into extended bedtime rituals (and we're still not). However, a couple nights a week, Ian and I have lately been reading a particular book before bed. It's called "Guess How Much I Love You", and for some reason it has really resonated with both of us. It is the story of a father rabbit and his son having an informal contest to see who loves the other more. A few weeks ago without any prompting, Ian started pointing to the little rabbit saying, "Ian", and the big rabbit saying, "Daddy". I didn't have a chance; if he wanted to read this book before bed every night, well by golly, I was going to do it. So much for not having a bedtime ritual (at least it only takes 3 minutes...)

Here's a video Lisa took of a recent reading. The color is a bit odd because the video was shot using the low light setting on our video camera because it was a little dim in Ian's room. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Enchilada Lasagna

One of Eric's top five favorite meals. It's that good.

Mexican Enchilada Lasagna
from Emeril Lagasse,, 2004

4 T. unsalted butter
4 T. unbleached flour
2 c. milk
1 c. chicken stock
3 c. shredded pepper jack cheese
½ tsp. salt
18 corn tortillas
2 lb. cooked cubed or shredded chicken
2 tsp. Emeril’s Southwest Essence*
4 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, & chopped
1 c. chopped green onions
3 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 c. chopped fresh tomatoes
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
4 oz. Queso Anejo (or Parmesan cheese)

Melt butter in saucepan over med. heat; whisk in the flour and cook 1 min, stirring. Gradually whisk in milk. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil; cook about 10 min. Melt in pepper jack cheese and season with salt. Heat a small skillet over high heat. Spray each side of each corn tortilla with cooking spray and cook 30 sec./side. In a bowl, mix chicken, Essence, peppers, and onions together. Preheat oven to 350oF. Lightly grease 9x13” casserole dish. Spoon 1 c. of sauce onto bottom of dish. Top w/6 tortillas, spreading evenly. Top with ½ of the chicken mixture, 1 c. of the sauce, and 1/3 of the Monterey Jack cheese. Make another layer the same way. Top with remaining 6 tortillas, remaining sauce, tomatoes, cilantro, and remaining Jack cheese, then sprinkle Queso Anejo over the top. Cover w/aluminum foil and bake 20 min. Remove foil and bake 10 min. until brown on top. Serve with sour cream and fresh salsa or pico de gallo.

*Emeril's Southwest Essence consists of:
2 T. chili powder, 2 tsp. cumin, 2 T. paprika, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 T. ground coriander, 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 T. garlic powder (NOT garlic salt), 1 tsp. crushed red pepper, 1 T. kosher salt, and 1 T. oregano. Throw it all in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place.

Here's Ian digging in:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not Made for Destruction

Today after lunch, Ian and I were playing with his trains in his room. (Ok, that could be said for every single day of my life, but whatever.) It was almost nap time, and I advised him to only get out some of his tracks instead of all of them so we would have more time to play. You would have thought I'd asked him to stand outside in the snow with no shoes for two days, or something equally abusive and horrific. Oh, the crying and screaming and thrashing about that ensued!

In the midst of this typically toddlerish tantrum, he began kicking and throwing around the tracks that were already out of their box. I was immediately reminded of something that our former pastor in Bloomington, Bob Whitaker, said in a recent sermon about the 6th commandment. He reminded us that we are made in the image of God, and therefore, are not made to destroy, but to create, reconcile, restore, and heal.

Try explaining that to an upset 3-year-old.

After Ian calmed down enough (and after a well-deserved 3-minute time-out), we cuddled in the rocking chair and talked about how God made us to help him take care of things and not to hurt them and other people. Surprisingly, he seemed to get it. We got up, went back to his room, and played happily (and constructively) with choo choos until nap time.

Check out Bob's sermon in its entirety here. (23 minutes, 15 seconds)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Life and Death Are All Around Us

Last night, Eric and I were watching the movie "the Namesake" on our couch, having just enjoyed a wonderful dinner and some Cadbury creme eggs for dessert. It had been a somewhat rough day for both of us, for various reasons, and we were intentionally celebrating with thankfulness the goodness of our lives: good food, a good home, good friends and family, and each other. During a rather sad scene in the movie where a woman gets heart-wrenching news about her husband's death over the telephone, our own phone rang. It was my mom, calling to tell us that a 25-year-old family friend had committed suicide yesterday afternoon.

In the midst of our attempts to choose life, it felt like death was winning.

But I was reminded this morning of what Jesus said to us in John 10: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." To the full can also be rendered "abudantly" or "a rich and satisfying life." The final goal of everything Jesus did was to give us life -- and not just a wimpy, poor existence like the struggling daffodils in my snowy flower beds, but a powerfilled, content, joyful kind of life that is bursting at the seams. Life in abundance.

The terribly sad thing about living on this earth in its current state is that we are confronted with death on a daily basis. But there is hope because there is life all around us, as well. The question is, which one are we going to let color our thoughts and attitudes and rule our lives?

With the help of God, I pray it is life.

For those of you in the habit of praying, please remember our friends Mike and LuAnna Schone and their daughter Christina as they mourn the loss of their son and brother Ben. Please pray, also, for Ben's young friends, as many of them are dealing with something like this for the first time in their lives. Pray that their pain is not wasted, but will lead to life.

Grilled Soy Pork Tenderloin

Two things contributed to this recipe being added to our repertoire:
  1. Sherri and Adam gave us a "Grilling for Dummies" recipe book for Christmas, and
  2. Eric used his saved-up birthday money towards a new Weber charcoal grill.
The first use of the book and the second use of the grill begat the making of this succulent, flavorful pork tenderloin with a side of veggies. I added some rice noodles bathed in a Thai peanut sauce, and it was an Asian-flavored heaven. The pork was practically gushing juice and nearly melted in our mouths, and the marinade served as a very fine glaze for the vegetables. For those of you who are down on pork because of its tendency to be over-dry, a recipe like this is the method for you. The juiciness is due not only to choosing a good cut of fresh meat (always important), but mostly to the marinade and the indirect heat from the grill. Eric grilled a whole chicken almost the same way (minus the marinade), and it too was delicious.
Soy Pork Tenderloin with Asian Vegetables

2 pork tenderloins, about 3/4-1 pound each
6 T. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. vegetable oil
2 T. sesame oil
3 T. water
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground ginger (or 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 large carrots, peeled and quatered
1 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1/4 c. cold water
1 tsp. cornstarch

Blend soy sauce, onion, brown sugar, vegetable oil, sesame oil, water, garlic, ginger, black pepper and cayenne in a large zip-lock bag; add the pork and mush around with your hands to get it coated. Refrigerate the entire bag for 4-6 hours, or overnight.

Prepare a medium-hot, indirect fire in a grill (push all the coals to the sides and leave the middle open if you're using charcoal). Remove the pork from the bag and reserve the remaining marinade. Place the meat on the grill; cover for 10-15 minutes, then turn, cover, and grill for another 10-15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 155 degrees. There should be the slightest hint of pink in the center.

Meanwhile, bring some water to a boil in a large saucepan or wok, and add the carrots. Cook for about 6 minutes, then add the green beans. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes, or until the green beans are a brighter green. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 c. water and cornstarch. Bring the reserved marinade to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cornstarch mixture (also called a "slurry") and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until sauce is thickened. Add the warm sauce to the still-warm vegetables and toss to coat. Serve warm with some cilantro for a garnish.

Rice Noodles with Thai Peanut Sauce


1/4 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 T. lime juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 T. rice vinegar
1 T. honey
1 T. cilantro for garnish

Blend all ingredients except the cilantro in a small saucepan and cook on medium heat until heated through. Toss with 1/2 pound cooked rice noodles and sprinkle with cilantro.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Where, O Where, is Spring?

At about 2am this morning, while we were snug under our heavy comforter in our blissfully dark, black-curtained bedroom, Eric and I were rudely awakened by what sounded like something being repeatedly yet randomly thrown at our roof. This continued for a few minutes, and Eric decided to manfully see what was up. As it turned out, our neighborhood trees were launching snowballs at our house. Wet, nasty, cold snowballs. In April.

Imagine my delight.

So I turned on some soft music to muffle the thud, thud, thud, buried my head under the covers (for those of you who know me, it takes something drastic for me to cover my face, especially my nose), and attempted to salvage a good night's sleep.

Here is what we woke up to:

On the bright side, more snow means that we'll enjoy the warmer temps, the soothing sunshine, and the spring fragrances that much more when they do decide to stay for awhile!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Spring Pea Soup

While we have our standard year-round favorites, our menu choices are often determined by current seasons. As spring gradually makes itself more known, one of my favorite soups comes out of hiding and graces our table on a more regular basis: Spring Pea Soup. I made this for my mother-in-law's birthday a few weeks ago, prepared it today for a luncheon at our house, and plan on serving it at our annual Resurrection Feast on Easter Sunday. The first bite is often met with surprised exclamations of, "I like this!", as if pea soup were the last thing my guests would choose to eat of their own accord. And granted, pea soup is often over-cooked and under-flavored, and usually turns into a brownish-green mess of mush, in my experience. But this one is smooth, flavorful, and fresh tasting, thanks to the mint that is added towards the end. Plus, it's SO EASY! I absolutely love this recipe. So here ya go:

Spring Pea Soup

1 small onion, chopped
4 cups of red potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3-4 potatoes)
32 oz. chicken broth
20 oz. frozen green sweet peas
2 T. chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 c. sour cream

Put the onion, potatoes, and chicken broth in a large soup or stock pot and bring to a boil; decrease heat to medium. Allow to simmer until potatoes are almost tender, then add the peas. Increase the heat to bring to a boil again. Immediately remove from heat, then puree in a blender or food processor, or in the pot with a stick blender until very smooth. Add the mint and sour cream and blend again. Serve hot.

Ian helped prepare the food for the luncheon today, and asked to make the cucumber cranberry salad himself. Doubtful that he could do it, but wanting to reward independence, I let him go at it. This is what he showed me after announcing "All done!"