Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our Busy Life Style is Taking a Toll

I think I added too much to my plate.

While attempting to mother three small children, I was the leader of the moms’ group at my church.  I started a part time out of the home business that took off and began to become very time consuming.  All three of my children have allergies to different foods, which made cooking a great challenge.  My son started waking up in the middle of the night to throw up.  I thought he had the flu, but this occurrence continued for months.  I was also, on occasion, being woken up in the middle of the night by my other child who was dealing with the constant pain of his eczema.  

My husband was working 15 hour days.

I had a hard time going to sleep at night, and often I woke up in the middle of the night to throw up myself. 

If that wasn't enough lack of sleep, every morning I was awoken by lovely beams of the sun shining in my face, which would wake me way before it was time to start the day.

Could it be that I was overwhelmed?  Duh.

My heart palpitations seemed to be more frequent.

Talk about stress.  And when you are stressed who feels it the most besides you?  For me it is my husband and children, that’s who.  I know it must have been taking a toll on them.  And I wondered what they were being taught by this go go go lifestyle?

I couldn’t keep my house clean.  I couldn’t keep up with the laundry.  My kids hair wasn’t brushed.  My hair wasn’t brushed.  Their teeth weren’t brushed either, but that’s o.k. because the first set of teeth are just there to practice on, or so I thought.  The dentist just told me that that isn’t true….$600 later.  Great.  Add brushing onto my list of things to do.   

I began to live just to get through each day.  In the back of my mind a little voice of hope comforted me, “Night time will soon be near and I will get to watch t.v.!  Is Office on tonight?  Maybe "Dancing with the Stars"?”  There is always some kind of reality show to hold my interest.


Dan walked through the front door, home from a 9 hour work day.  He was about to get started working on his side business. 

“Why are we doing this?”  He looked at me with fatigue in his eyes, really expecting an answer.

I answered while sighing deeply, “I don’t know.”

I couldn’t help but to agree with him.  Why are we living life at this pace?  What are we doing to ourselves?  To our children? 

We both could see what was coming.

We needed a major change. 

In the back of my mind, I hoped I wouldn’t be waking up nauseous in the middle of the night again.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Flavorful Fish Kabobs with Basmati Rice

This is such a delicious way to serve fish.  If you don't like fish, you will now.

Allergy friendly recipe.
Gluten free. Dairy free.
Photo:  Matt   Food Stylist:  Jason

1 tablespoon chili powder
4 tablespoons Italian salad dressing
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ -2 pounds orange roughy or halibut, cut into 1-inch cubes *Option:  1 pound of white fish of choice and 1 pound of salmon to alternate on skewers
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks

Homemade Salsa:
    Juice from half of a lime                              
   1 garlic clove, minced  
   1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
   ½ red onion, chopped
   1 large tomato, chopped
   2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced      
   1 avocado, diced            
   Salt and pepper, to taste
*Before getting started, if you are using wooden skewers, soak in water before using.  This is to prevent them from burning.  

Combine chili powder, salad dressing, and 2 garlic cloves.  Place fish in a shallow dish, and pour marinade over, making sure fish is coated thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate.  Allow fish to marinate while cutting bell peppers and making salsa.

To make salsa, in a medium sized mixing bowl, combine lime juice, 1 garlic clove, jalapeno pepper, onion, avocado, tomato, and cilantro.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

To make kabobs, arrange fish and bell peppers alternately on skewers.  

Grill or broil until fish is opaque and flakes easily, about 5 minutes, turning once to ensure even cooking.  Serve over bed of Basmati Rice.  Top with Homemade Salsa.

Basmati Rice

1½ cups basmati rice, rinsed
2 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon thyme

In a medium saucepan combine all ingredients, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I’ve Got My Plans

We all have dreams for our lives.  We make plans.  We have our lives all mapped out.

I know where my family and I will be in 5 years, in 10 years, in 20.  I know how many children I will have and what school they will go to.  I know what neighborhood we are supposed to be in.  I have all of my friends picked out and my children's friends picked out.  I know what I am serving for dinner on any given night. 

I have it all under control. 

So when life pulls the rug out from under my feet, I raise my eyes to the heavens and say,

“Um, excuse me God.  I think you missed this part of my plans.  Shall I get out the outline I have made for my life to show you how this is suppose to go?  If that isn’t specific enough, I can get out my more detailed map of my life.” 

I pull out my life map and spread it across the table.

“Now, see here, God.  I am going this way, and I am supposed to be going that way.  We are a little of course here, but with just a few easy adjustments of my life, God, I can be back on the course I have set for myself.” 

O.K. now with that talk, I should be back on course in no time.  I just need to wait on God to get things back in place.   

I can just see Him, with a gentle grin on His face, shaking his head, “If you only knew what I have in store for you, if you would only stop and listen.  For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Are you going to trust me or are you going to fight me?” 

I answer back, “God, I am not ready to surrender to you.  I am afraid of where you will take me.” 

And I fight.  I fight for MY plans.  I have spent a lot of time making those plans, and I think they are the best.

I began to feel a tug on my heart. 

I didn’t know what it was pulling me toward. 

All I knew was that it was making me very uncomfortable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Delicious Lentil Tacos

These are healthy and delicious.  They are also allergy friendly.  
Gluten free.  Vegetarian option.  Dairy free option. 
You can substitute vegetable broth to make them vegetarian.
You can omit the cheese to make them dairy free. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2½ cups chicken broth
1 cup salsa
Canola oil
Corn tortillas
1 medium tomato, chopped
Green onions
Shredded cheddar cheese

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and sauté until tender.  Stir in garlic.  Add the lentils, chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and simmer for 1 minute.  Pour in broth, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover, and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until lentils are tender.  Uncover and continue to cook for 6-8 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.  

When lentils are ready, mash slightly, and stir in salsa.

Meanwhile, in a medium sized skillet, add about 1/4 cup oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Fry the tortillas until crispy.  If oil smokes, it is too hot.  Drain shells on a paper towel. 

Spoon lentils into taco shells, and serve with toppings.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who is Leading This Family?

“What about moving out of state, Janna?”   

My husband looked at me with hopeful eyes.   My husband deep down is a mountain man living in a cage called “the city.”  Dan is tall, dark, handsome, and hairy- the perfect mountain man candidate.  Not that you have to be hairy to be a mountain man.  But from all of the mountain men I have seen on t.v., I am thinking it has to be a prerequisite.  

I answered, “No way.  Never.  I would never leave my family.  I would never leave my friends.  Dan, don’t even ask me to.”  

I love my family.  I love my friends; they are like family to us and to our children.  They are known by the titles “aunt” and “uncle.”  Their children call us the same.  There is so much depth there, I could not possibly leave.

I looked my husband in the eyes and said, “I will never move far away.”  Deep down I heard a question within my heart, “If God has a different plan for me and asks me to leave these people and this place called home, would I?”  My answer to that question in my mind was, “No, I won’t leave even if God asks me to.” 

I turned my eyes to the heavens and said, “Don’t ask me to, God.”

It was not a state of defiance, but it loomed dangerously close to the edge.

My husband’s eyes fell to the ground.  His dream was shot down by me.  As he walked away downtrodden, a thought passed through my mind.

Who really is the leader of our family here?

I knew the answer, but I dared not say it out loud. 

Maybe just in writing.

It was me. 

I thought back to other decisions made for our family.  Hmm, they all seemed to have been made by me, oh, by me and my closest friend, Anita.  I can recall my husband asking me, “Well, then, do you think this is a good idea?”  My answer, “Let me talk to Anita first, and you talk to my dad.”  When did I start relying so much on my friend Anita and my dad to become the final decision makers in this family of ours?  I am sure my husband had the same question.  He is so easy going, it didn't seemed to bother him. 
I wondered to myself, have I stripped him of his manhood? 

Life seemed to be leading to many changes, not just the location in which I lived.  Things in my life had begun to stir.  I hate change.  Change is painful to me. 

I could foresee a lot of pain in my near future. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Other Dream Neighborhoods Exist?

Our eyes were peeled, looking for a place to live in our dream neighborhood.  We were constantly checking on the market to see if anything popped up that we could afford.  When I say anything, I mean anything.  We were so desperate to be in this certain area that we would even have considered a one bedroom apartment fixer.  People in other parts of the world do it all the time.  A five person family living in one room.  Could it be such a bad idea?

While in this state of limbo, we took a trip to my husband’s sister’s house for the first time.  They moved out of L.A. to a small city called Temecula.  I remember them packing up to move.  I wondered to myself, “How can they move away from their family?  How can they leave all that is familiar to them?”  It is only an hour and a half away, but even moving an hour and a half away can change your relationships, your routines, your life.  As we were driving out there, I carried skepticism.  What could possibly draw them away from family?  

We entered the freeway on-ramp.  Brake lights signified we were entering a parking lot rather than a highway.  I hate traffic.  Additional minutes were being added to this hour and a half drive.   Ugh.  I was looking forward to getting out of our overcrowded city. 

Two hours later we were no longer in the city.  Green rolling hills lined each side of the freeway.  I love rolling hills.  If I could live on one I would.   

We entered the small city.  Cute.  Quaint.  I was surprised.  Still not a good enough reason to move away from family.  I stood my ground.

We drove through the old town strip.  The buildings were old, marked with evidence suggesting a town’s past.  I loved to see details of history before me.  A local farmer’s market was the cause of a mild hustle and bustle of people.  Nothing compared to the busyness of the large city we live in.  The “small town feel” evoked a certain charm that began to captivate me.  I began to see my sister-in-law’s attraction to this place.  Still not a good enough reason to move.  Period.  

As we entered into a housing track, we passed by the most adorable playgrounds deep within the neighborhood.  Kids were swinging, running, and riding their bikes throughout.  A family walked by wearing swimsuits and carrying towels.  I wondered where their final wet destination was.   

We drove up to my sister-in-law's house which was located in a cul-de-sac.  There were boys at the end of the street playing basketball.  Oh, my gosh, could this be just like my ‘dream’ neighborhood that I grew up in?

We opened our car doors to get out, and the neighborhood came to a standstill.  We could feel all eyes following our every move.  I glanced up at the man across the street who was interrupted from cutting out a big stump from his front yard as his wife and son sat on the lawn watching.  A big smile brushed over his face.  He waved and called out, “Hello.”  We waved back.  It was weird that he was so friendly.  We aren’t used to making eye contact with strangers.  Stranger=Danger, so the saying goes.

After family greetings, hugs and kisses exchanged, we were taken on a short walk to the local neighborhood pool.  Come to find out, each neighborhood had their own pool!   

I lathered each child with all natural sunscreen made from green tea, my children and any other child within arm’s reach.  My husband swam and splashed with the kids in the water.  I watched on, sitting in the warm rays of the sun.  It was one of those moments when you feel like you are smiling on the inside.  Mmmm, can life be so perfect?  Could it be this place?  This endearing city?

As we walked back to the house, we passed a home for sale.  My husband pulled out a flier and gasped.  “Let me see,” I said, anxious to find the source of his heavy inhalation.   I looked down at the flier, and then I also let out a gasp.  Our eyes met, “That’s it!” we said at the same time. 

Neighborhood pools, schools that you could walk to, open land, options of acreage, a local library within walking distance.  This was better than my ‘dream’ neighborhood.  Suddenly I began to understand why my sister-in-law decided to move her family here.  Maybe it had so much to offer that the opportunity could not be passed up.

As we drove away from our short trip, filled with things to ponder, we both left with the same question in our minds:

If this place exists, then what else is out there?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pineapple Chicken

Photo:  Matt    Food Stylist:  Jason

1½ cups uncooked basmati rice
2 cups water
1 can (20 ounces) pineapple chunks in syrup
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
Seasoned Flour Mix:
     ¾ cup flour
     ½ teaspoon salt
     ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
     1½ teaspoons paprika                                               
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
   cut into chunks              
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped

In a medium saucepan bring basmati rice and water to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.
Drain pineapple, making sure to reserve ½ cup of syrup.  Set pineapple chunks aside for later.  In asmall bowl combine syrup, brown sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce.  Set aside. 

Combine Seasoned Flour Mix ingredients in a large resealable bag.  Put chicken into bag and shake to coat.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half of the chicken at a time, and cook until chicken is lightly browned.  Set aside.  Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and second batch of chicken.  While cooking the second batch of chicken, add bell pepper to the pan right before chicken is completely cooked.  Return all chicken to pan.  Pour pineapple juice mixture over chicken.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add pineapple chunks and green onions.  Stir to heat.   Serve over bed of basmati rice.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Beach House


 So we moved into the beach house.  The name “Beach House” actually sounds a lot more amazing and enticing than it actually was.  When I say “four-story beach house” you probably imagine your dream house.   



High end.  

A spectacular view.

There was a spectacular view.  That much is true.   

View from the roof.

As for the state of the house, however, it wasn’t as dreamy as you might think.   

Think Magnium P.I. from the 80s.   

I would be embarrassed of it when Cameron Diaz came over to hang out. 

It was built in the early 1980s and had not been touched since.  Sea foam green walls.  The original green carpet.  At least, I think it was supposed to be green.  Someone must have loved the carpet idea because the bathrooms and kitchen were also lined with carpet.  Because lining a toilet with carpet is a really great idea, especially when you have two young boys who can hardly keep their whiz aimed into the toilet hole.   

The house was four stories tall.  Do you know how many stairs that is?  Every time I climbed them I would get a butt blasting workout.  Doing laundry was my workout.  As I remember ascending the four flights- pause, catch my breath, keep climbing, pause, remember to breathe.  Only 200 hundred more stairs to go.  Feel the burn.  See how firm.  Butt blasting!  

Oh no, on occasion, I would turn to see the last of my daughter's hair disappear as she rolled down a flight of stairs. 

I would fetch her at the bottom.  It was not the first time it happened and wouldn't be the last.  But no harm done.  The stairs were carpeted too, of course.

Despite its interior flaws, the house was in a fabulous location, and we had the best landlord in the world.  We were going to live there and love it.  We would rest on the beach and spend lazy Saturday afternoons picnicking away on the warm, sandy shores of Southern California. 

The timing was perfect.

Summer was just around the corner and would be here before we knew it.  Couldn't wait to test out the waters.  

We didn't know how long we would be living here.  I would try a mother's best to make it feel like home. 

As I laid down on the floor to read my little girl a book, I put a blanket down so we wouldn't have to touch the carpet.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's Plan B?

We had a plan.  We were just not sure it was a good one.  The plan?  1. Sell our house 2. Move into dream neighborhood.  That was it.  That was the plan.  No need for a Plan B. 

Just didn’t realize dream neighborhood was so out of reach.

We almost signed our lives away for a house that we couldn’t afford, a house that could have swallowed us whole.  Aren’t many marriages destroyed over financial pressures?  It is another example to me that God knows best.  His answer “No” to my prayers was a good thing.  The house ended up selling for $5,000 less than what we put an offer in for.  Ironic?

For fear that we could make a rash, permanent decision (like we almost had), we decided to rent a house to give us time to collect ourselves, our thoughts, and our plans. We would take one year and research where to move our family permanently.

As we were packing our house up, my dad’s friend called him and asked him if he knew of anyone who would like to rent a house on the beach, a house in the same neighborhood as Cameron Diaz!!!  We jumped on it.  When else would we get this opportunity to live on the beach?  We will live here, sign the lease for a year, and by the end of a year, we would move to where we would raise our children for the next 20 years.  Should be easy enough to figure out by the end of a year.  A year is a really long time, right? 

We would ride the market in hopes that the housing market would drop significantly enough so that we could afford to buy a house in my dream neighborhood.  “What if prices don’t come down enough?” I asked my husband in a concerned tone.  “I don’t know, Janna,” he answered back.  What do you mean you don’t know?  I didn’t feel safe and secure with that answer.  We sold our house without a backup plan?!!!

I wanted to scream.

I felt scared.

The only consolation to me was that we would be living right by Cameron Diaz.  Yes, that was what consoled me.  We didn’t know where were moving, what we were doing, and for how long we would be in this state of limbo, but we would live near Cameron Diaz, so everything would be fine.

Maybe next time we make a huge life-altering decision, we should have a backup plan.  Whoops.  

At least I would have a new friend.  


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chicken Fajita Pizza

2 packages uncooked pizza dough (to make two pizzas) or homemade pizza dough
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup mild salsa or medium salsa if you prefer a bit more spicy
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 450o.

Divide the dough in half, and roll out to form two pizza crusts.  Place on pizza stones, and bake for 8 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove from oven. 

In a medium size skillet over medium-high heat, sauté chicken, half at a time, in oil until lightly browned.  Return all chicken to pan.  Add onion, red bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, and salt.   Sauté until vegetables are tender.  Turn off heat.  Add salsa and mix through.  Divide and spoon onto both pizza crusts.  Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese over each pizza.  Bake for 10 minutes or until toppings are lightly browned.

Photo: Matt  Food Stylist: Jason

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Have We Signed up For?

We packed up our house to move.

But....we kind of needed a place to move to.

So my husband and I put an offer in on the fixer upper house in my dream neighborhood.  This was the area where we wanted to be; this was where we wanted our children to be.  Grandma and Grandpa would be right down the street.  I would be back home once again, in the neighborhood where I belong.  We waited, eagerly anticipating a response from the seller.  We prayed over it, a prayer similar to a beg, “Please help us to get the house.  Please help us to get the house.”

Could we possibly own a home in my dream neighborhood this quickly?  This easily? 

So what would happen if we couldn't make ends meet?  My husband started putting out applications, but what if he couldn't get extra work?  Well, have I told you about my well-to-do father?  If trouble comes, Daddy will save the day!  He has always wanted us to live near to him.  He loves the idea.  He would help if we needed it; we would have to pay him back, of course.

Two days dragged by slowly, and we hadn’t heard back about the house.  During those two days, I was thinking and wondering about our future.

I am tired.

I miss seeing my husband.

For quite some time, he had been working two jobs.  He worked 8 hours days and commuted another two hours per day.  He had also been working on his side business, via internet, before work and after work. Day in, day out, same old thing, and I could see fatigue chipping away at his core.  I started to wonder when he would have time to take on another job to pay for fixing up this house we planned on having.  I missed him; how much more would I miss him if he added more to his plate? By the way, when would he have time to fix up this house? 

Oh, no!  What did we just sign up for?  Am I sacrificing my husband for a house?!!

My prayers changed.  They became something like this, “Please help us not to get this house.  Please help us not to get this house.”  It’s funny how desires can change when your perception of something changes.

We waited, holding our breath.

My thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone.  I flew across the room, jumping over the couch, reaching for the phone.  For those three days I slept with the phone, took out the trash with the phone, and went to the bathroom with the phone.  I included the phone into every activity I participated in, well, except for the shower, but, you better believe, it was in ear shot. 

My husband came out of nowhere.  His body was flying through the air for the phone as well.  Where did he come from?  He wasn’t even in the room.  We entered into a tackling frenzy over the phone.  It was intercepted out of my hands.   “Hello?  Oh, hi Alan (my dad). Yeah.  Uh-hu.  Mmm.”  His vague responses gave me no clues.  My palms were sweaty.  My heart was beating through my chest.  He hung up the phone, “Well?  Did we get the house?” I asked, nervous to receive the answer.  “No, they rejected the offer,” he answered.  I sighed one of relief, but then my heart started to pound once more, and I was filled with fear.  I looked around at our house which was filled with piles of moving boxes.  “What are we suppose to do, Dan?  Where are we moving?”

We had two weeks to find a place to move our family, and moving in with my parents was out of the question.