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March 22, 2012

Bookworm: "I Don't Want to Go" & "Suppose You Meet A Dinosaur"

I had the privilege of reading to CJ's 3-year-old class at his preschool yesterday.  Although he specifically requested that I bring car books (didn't matter which ones as long as they had cars in it), I brought books I thought would be of more value to his class and still be enjoyed by the children.  And quite honestly, I'm tired of hearing about Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater.

The two books I selected were I Don't Want to Go by Addie Meyer Sanders and Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur by Judy Sierra.  The students and the teacher - none of whom had read either books before - absolutely loved them (the teacher jotted them down to order for the class).

One addresses anxiety and the other introduces good manners.

I Don't Want to Go 
by Addie Meyer Sanders

When I saw I Don't Want to Go at the library, I immediately checked it out because it seemed perfect for my oldest son.  Starting at 6 months, he exhibited a serious case of separation anxiety and it was difficult for my husband and I to leave him, especially in the nursery at Sunday school.  We would usually get paged within minutes of dropping him off, and one of us would have to miss worship service to sit in with him.  This trend lasted until he turned 3.  And up until two months ago, he was the only one among his classmates at preschool still kicking and screaming every time I dropped him off.  He would wake up in the mornings and ask where he was going, and if Daddy or I replied, "school", he'd have a nervous breakdown and cry "I don't want to go!"  Of course, when he does go, he has a great time and doesn't want to leave when I go to pick him up.  And now that he's made friends and gained confidence, he's the first one running in the door to get to school! 

So this story about Joey is really about any child who experiences anxiety and fear in new or unfamiliar situations.  When Joey is told he's going somewhere new or doing something he hasn't done before, his mind immediately conjures up frightening scenarios so he decides he doesn't want to go.  But lo and behold - much like my son - when he actually does go, he has an amazing time.  Over and over again, his fears are conquered and he discovers fun in the unexpected.

Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur 
by Judy Sierra

Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur is a fun way to teach simple manners, especially if your child loves dinosaurs like mine do.  The rhymes and illustrations are adorable.  In no time, your children will be using, "No, thank you", "Yes, please", "Excuse me", and other well-mannered phrases.  And if your kids already know these, this book is a great way to reinforce those polite manners.

Hope you enjoyed these reading selections.  I'll be posting more of these regularly.  I love finding good books (for children and grown-ups).

Read anything good lately?  I'd love to get some suggestions for my summer reading list.


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March 19, 2012

Liquid Gold (aka Chicken Stock)

{ Chicken stock from the leftovers of one rotisserie chicken.  
Labels are self-stick notepads from last year's IJM's Global Prayer Gathering. }

Who doesn't love rotisserie chicken (well, besides vegetarians and my mother-in-law who has an abnormal aversion to anything chicken)?  Now our family has been around the block when it comes to store-bought rotisserie chicken.  We've tried one at nearly every location that offers it (including some specialty shops), and we have yet to find one better than  . . . Costco's.  And at $4.99, you can't beat the price!  I always wonder how they can offer it at such a low price and how they keep their chicken so tender and moist (I plan on asking at my next trip).

Anyhow, the thing I love about rotisserie chicken is its many uses.  I love shredding the chicken and using it for all kinds of different recipes (which I plan on sharing later).

The thing is, though, that most people are probably missing out on the best part of the rotisserie chicken.

This:

Most people see this and think "trash."  No!  Not at all.  You don't want to throw this stuff out.  It's liquid gold.

You throw that sucker into a pot with water, onions, salt, pepper, celery, and others herbs and spices, let it simmer for a few hours, and you've got yourself the best chicken stock money can't buy.


I've made some of the best chicken soup with this, and I love to use it in my cooking.


And the boys absolutely love it.  They sometimes like it as plain and simple as rice mixed in the broth.   This soup has helped mend many winter colds.  They'll eat it up and sometimes even slurp it up with a straw (why, I don't know).


So next time you see this:



Think this:


And you won't regret it.

This recipe is for the most basic chicken stock involving 5 ingredients.  It tastes amazing.  But for added flavor, you can include celery, carrots, parsley, thyme, and garlic.

Chicken Stock
{Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 4 hours; Makes: 4 quarts}

Ingredients:
Carcass and remains from 1 rotisserie chicken
18 cups of water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 onion, unpeeled and quartered

Directions:
  1. Place the chicken carcasds, onion, pepper, and salt in a large stockpot. 
  2. Add 18 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours. 
  3. Strain contents, using a colander, into another large stockpot. 
  4. Chill broth overnight and remove the surface fat the next day. Use immediately or freeze in containers for up to 3 months.

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March 12, 2012

Missing The Child I Never Knew

{ the beautiful cake presented to me at my baby shower while eagerly expecting my firstborn }

I could've been celebrating my baby's birth date any day now.   Instead of writing this post, I would've been making final preparations for his/her arrival, drafting the announcement email and soon plastering Facebook with a very first picture.  Who knows?  Maybe my family and friends would've even thrown me a baby sprinkle, even though I would've protested thinking it completely unnecessary.  The thought of it all makes me quite sad.

Obviously that's not how things turned out.  That's not what God had in store for our family.

The miscarriage last August didn't just throw me for a loop; it made me grieve like I never had before.  I was taken aback by my sense of deep loss, because it had been a pregnancy both unplanned and initially unwelcomed. 

I wrote much of this post months ago while in the process of grieving and wasn't sure it was something I'd ever share.  But what I realized about miscarriages is that they are so common yet uncommonly spoken of.  When a miscarriage survivor grieves, it is often done so privately.  In the past, I have had a few friends share with me the news of their miscarriage, and all I could do was sympathize with them and say, "I'm sorry."  This post assured me that it was the best and sometimes only thing you can say.

Until I experienced the miscarriage myself, I didn't understand the level of physical and emotional toll it takes on you. I didn't understand the emptiness it leaves or the sorrow that lingers of never holding, meeting, or knowing your child.  Now I know.  Sharing my experience is important to me, because I think it's part of the healing process and perhaps others who've endured a similar loss will find some comfort knowing they're not alone.

After the positive pregnancy test last summer (and two more tests after that just to be sure), the truth is I was not jumping up for joy or bouncing off the walls with delight.  In fact, I was a complete mess.  How were we going to manage?  I could barely keep up with the boys as it was.  We couldn't possibly do this again.

It was enough to make me cry.  And with raging hormones all about, cry is exactly what I did!  The first few days were a blur as I tried to soak in the news.  This was definitely not a part of the plan.  We felt complete as a family of four.  We had finally fallen into a rhythm with our 3 and soon-to-be 2-year-old sons.  Things were finally getting easier for us.  This threw us off.

But my husband and I eventually came to grips with this new reality, because really, we had no other choice.  We surrendered our plans to God.  “Okay, Lord.  This is what You want.  We'll trust that You'll provide all we need.  We will welcome this baby into our family with open arms.”

My husband and I began thinking about how insane this spring would be for us, but we slowly allowed ourselves to look forward to the madness.  We suspected it was another boy and even joked around that finding a good name would be hard – we’d already exhausted the top contenders on our boys' name list.  Maybe we could go with Ethan or Aiden (although those names were becoming more and more frequent in our circle of friends)?

We started to think of creative and clever ways to share the news with family (we had sent boxes filled with baby stuff to our parents when we were expecting our firstborn).  However, not long after, I started to feel  cramping in my stomach.  It wasn’t severe, but it was uncomfortable enough to make me worry.  So I googled “cramping in early pregnancy” to see if this was normal and to my relief, I discovered that it was.  Then later that evening, the back pain started.  But because I was prone to back aches, I thought nothing of it.

The night after that, spots of blood appeared in the toilet.

Even though spotting in the first trimester is common, I knew right then and there something was not right.  This hadn't happened in my previous pregnancies.  I had trouble sleeping that night, and when I finally did fall asleep sometime in the dawn hours, I had a dream.  It was very fragmented and hard to make out.  I was at a big party crowded with complete strangers.  But in the midst of the crowd, I saw a very familiar face - that of my mother.  She looked stoic and calm.  Then I suddenly had an urge to use the bathroom.  So I looked all over the venue for a toilet and found one in the middle of the dance floor, with nothing but sheer drapes surrounding it.  I had to go so badly, I didn’t care who could see me.  As I relieved myself, I looked down and saw a pool of blood.

I woke up frazzled by the dream.  I gingerly touched my stomach, and my instinct told me the baby was gone.

That morning, I called my OB’s office and described the cramping, back aches, and bleeding to the nurse over the phone.  The doctor was able to see me that afternoon.  My sister-in-law kindly watched the boys for me while they took their afternoon naps.  We had yet to break the news to her, and this was not the way I envisioned telling her. 

As I sat in the waiting room, I absentmindedly skimmed through the pages of a pregnancy magazine, my mind completely elsewhere.  I wished my husband had been there with me.  I was not prepared for this, but I told myself everything would be alright.  A nurse finally called my name and escorted me into the room with the ultrasound machine.  And as I sat on the examination table waiting for the doctor, I said to God, “Whatever happens, I will trust You.”

And that’s when I heard the uncontrollable sobbing coming from the office next door where the OB conducted his consultations.  Whatever news had been broken to this woman had practically broken her to pieces.  I sat there, head down staring at the linoleum floor tiling, listening to the wailing through the thin walls and struggled to fight off tears myself.  “I’m so sorry.  I’m truly sorry for whatever it is you’re going through,” I thought to myself. 

A few short minutes later, there was a knock on the door and the OB and nurse walked into the room.  I tried to conjure up a smile, and the OB poorly attempted to do the same.  There was only somberness in the air.  Whatever news he’d just relayed to the woman in the room next door affected this veteran obstetrician as well.  I lied down on the examination table and said to the doctor, “I can’t believe we’re doing this all over again.”  He had seen me through my first two pregnancies.

When the doctor looked at the screen on the ultrasound machine, I knew it wasn’t good.  He turned the monitor towards me and pointed at a small white circle about the size of a quarter; it was the birth sac where the baby should have been.  He very calmly said, “There’s an empty sac.  This could mean two things.  It’s either too early in the pregnancy to see the baby, or it’s a bad pregnancy.”

I had never heard the term "bad pregnancy".  Miscarriage, yes.  Bad pregnancy, no.  I didn't like the sound of it at all.  It didn't seem right that there should be such a thing.

“We’ll draw some blood and be able to know for sure in a couple days.”

“And if it is a bad pregnancy?” I asked.

We’ll have to schedule an appointment to do a D&C.”  He printed out the sonogram of the empty sac, and for a moment, I thought he was going to hand it to me.  But he placed it in my file instead. Would it have been weird for me to ask for it?  It was the only physical reminder, other than the positive pregnancy tests, that this child existed.

I asked the doctor, “Can I just pass it naturally?”  The idea of my baby’s remains being scraped or suctioned out of me made me sick to my stomach.

“There could be a lot of bleeding and hemorrhaging.  D&C makes it easier.”

“Okay.  Thank you, Doctor.”  It was all I could say.

The nurse drew my blood.  And with a prick in the arm and a pit in my stomach, I left the office.

That night, I bled heavily, and because I opted against the D&C, I continued to bleed for over two weeks.  I wondered if it would ever stop.  Each trip to the bathroom became a painful reminder of the baby I had lost.

In the aftermath, the grief consumed me.  The miscarriage numbed both me and my husband with a lingering sadness that ensued for days.   But it also made us embrace what we did have - the incredible blessings in our lives, namely our two sons.  I know there are many couples who experience miscarriages (and some tragically more than once) who have no other children to help soften the blow or ease their pain and suffering.  My heart absolutely breaks for them, and for any woman who’s experienced life and death in the womb.

It’s an awful thing. 

Though I had told God I would trust Him no matter what the outcome, my anger took over.  I felt like my chains had been yanked and I wanted Him to answer for this incredible sense of loss I carried with me for weeks which turned into months.  I started to question everything about Him - God's very character and even His purpose and plan, not only for me but for the world.  What is the point of all of this?  What's the point of all the suffering, all the pain, all the hurt?

I retreated and fell off the face of the planet, abandoning a lot of things that had been a big part of my life before - church, ministry, work (I was still consulting), blogs, social media, social circles, writing, baking.  Instead I spent that time questioning, doubting, reading, researching - trying to find the truth.  I read a lot of Scripture in the attempt to analyze, dissect, and cross-examine the God I thought I knew but felt betrayed by.  I bombarded my husband and anyone who would listen (these were usually friends from my growth and discipleship groups) with endless questions about faith, God, infallibility, creation, redemption, salvation, justice, suffering, heaven, hell.  What did it all mean? 

I came to a point where I had to either reject what I've always believed or continue to have faith when it didn't make complete sense.  After a great deal of wrestling, the conclusions I came to were (1) I will never have all the answers.  I'm not God.  And I am in no position to shake my fists and demand all the answers from Him (not that it's wrong for me or anyone to ask the questions).  (2) With every fiber of my being, I cannot deny who I am or who Christ is.  I'm a sinner.  Deserving of a punishment I can't imagine.  But saved by the love He demonstrated on the cross, taking on the punishment that should've been mine, literally going to the depths of hell for me.  I was bought and redeemed by this act of love.  I am His and He is mine.  These are the things I know to be true, even when my logic would try to tell me otherwise.

I also know what's true of God's character.  He is good, even though I questioned that for a period.  Miscarriages and "bad pregnancies" are not His design.   And one day, we'll live in a world where these things no longer exist and every tear will be wiped away.  Sorrow will be no more.

And it's there that perhaps I'll get to meet and hold my baby, whose fragile heartbeat once resided with mine, even ever so brief.


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March 2, 2012

Lemon-Garlic Cajun Shrimp

{ Lemon-Garlic Cajun Shrimp prepared for my son and brother's birthday bash }
I love that scene from Forrest Gump (one of my favorite movies) when Bubba tells Forrest about all the different kinds of shrimp.

"Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it."

It makes my mouth water every time I hear it.

Though there are so many wonderful ways to prepare shrimp, my favorite is the simplest and most basic of them all -- prepared with lemon, garlic, and butter.  It doesn't get any better or easier than this.  Well, actually if you add just a hint of cajun spices for a little bit of heat, that about makes it complete and takes it to a whole new level which I'm sure even Bubba would approve.  This is perfect over a bed of pasta, cajun rice, or paella.

Lemon-Garlic Cajun Shrimp
Adapted from PBS/Everyday Food

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-½ pounds medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tablespoon of Cajun spice (if you don't have one prepared, here's an easy recipe)
2 tablespoons juice squeezed from fresh lemon
Coarse salt & pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions:
  1. Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add shrimp and Cajun spices; cook, tossing occasionally, until pink and opaque, 5 to 7 minutes.  
  2. Toss with lemon juice.  Remove from heat.  Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chopped parsley.  

 

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