Category Archives: Fun with Friends

4th of July Sopapilla Cheesecake

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4th of July Sopapilla Cheesecake

Sopapilla Cheesecake is my go-to, super-fast-and-easy dessert after any Mexican dishes that I serve for supper (like “Taco Tuesday,” Taco Salad, Tamales, Chicken/Cheese/Beef Enchiladas, Chili Rellenos, Asada Street Tacos, Carnitas, Loaded Nachos, Quesadillas, etc.).  This year I decided it would be a perfect Red, White, and Blue sweet ending to our Independence Day meal, because of the colors, and because I had all the ingredients in my fridge!

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

 

2 (8-oz) pkgs Cream Cheese, softened (room temp)

1 cup sugar

½ tsp Mexican Vanilla (or, if you want to be fancy, you can scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean pod)

Mix together all three ingredients until smooth and thoroughly incorporated.  Set aside.

 

2  (8-oz) tubes Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (or, you can make your own croissant dough)

¾ cup sugar

1 tsp. Cinnamon

½ cup butter, softened (room temp)

¼ cup honey (warm in microwave for about 20 seconds, after baking cheesecake)

Lightly grease a large baking pan (or small high-sided cookie sheet) with a tablespoon of the softened butter.  Unroll one tube of crescent rolls and roll out to fit in the bottom of the greased baking pan/sheet, pinching the perforations together.  Spread the cream cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a small edge of the dough all the way around uncovered (like a pizza).  Unroll the second tube of dough and roll out to fit over the cream cheese layer.  Press down slightly around the edges.  Mix the sugar, cinnamon, and remaining softened butter together into a paste.  Spread over the top layer of dough. 

Bake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for about 30 minutes, until puffed and golden.  Remove from oven and drizzle the entire top of the cheesecake with warmed honey.

 

Strawberry Blueberry Compote

(This is what gives the dessert the RED and BLUE  on WHITE treatment)

¼ cup of cold water

Juice and zest of one lemon

½ cup sugar

2 Tbsp Cornstarch

1 pkg frozen strawberries

½ pkg frozen blueberries

Place water, lemon juice and zest, sugar, and cornstarch in a sauce pot on the stove.  Stir to mix the ingredients and then turn heat on medium high.  Add strawberries and bring to a boil, stirring until mixture is thick.  Remove from heat and add blueberries.  Set aside until ready to serve.

 

Cheesecake may be served warm or cold.  My son-in-law loves it warm and gooey.  I think it is delish the next morning after being refrigerated overnight, with a hot, creamy cup of coffee – like a cheese danish.  Mmmmmmm…don’t you?

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The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself.

Proverbs 11:25 NKJV

 

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” 

Galatians 5:1

 

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South Texas Style Chili Rellenos

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South Texas Style Chili Rellenos

The title is kind of a guffaw, actually, and the reason I grin-and-bare that is that when hubby and I first moved to south Texas, and specifically the little town that we’re in, there wasn’t a chili relleno to be had on a single menu; not in a single restaurant in our town.  And when I asked for “green chili” on an omelet for the first time I was met with a puzzled look and a question, “Do you  mean Tomatillo sauce?”  Um, no.

Needless to say, we were terribly disappointed, and bewildered.  How could this be?  Is it that green chilies only migrated north and west from New Mexico and not east?  Maybe they aren’t a Mexican food at all?  Perhaps it was my ignorance that green chilies and Tex-Mex were synonymous? 😞

I’m happy to report that just a couple of years later Hatch green chilies started making an appearance in these parts, and when they did, they made a big appearance.  There are still no Chili Rellenos on the menus in our town, but at least this girl can get the ingredients in our local grocery to make them now, and that’s really all that matters.

And in all fairness, not all of South Texas is a dry Rellenos area; we’ve had them in a few San Antonio restaurants, even though they only barely resemble the authentic Rellenos that first stole my heart.

And, please pardon if I don’t make mine like you do.  This is the way I personally like them.  I’m sure I would love yours, unless you make them with ground beef filling, and then I’ll have to reserve my judgement until I’ve tasted them.  Husband likes the beef filled rellenos, but I dream about cheese filled rellenos and am content to eat those for the rest of my days.

I got my Ranchera Sauce recipe from a gal I stopped in the middle of HEB not long back.  She works in a local restaurant, so I knew she would steer me straight, at least as much of it as I could remember as she rattled her recipe off to me in the midst of my gathering ingredients.  Ha!  I hope I’m making it right. It’s sure tasty, so I’m sticking with it. 😆

First we start with the Ranchera Sauce

Place a stick of butter into a heavy pan and on medium high heat begin melting.  As soon as it is melted add one whole large chopped onion (white or yellow).  Saute the onion until it is translucent, turn heat down to medium and continue sautéing until the onions are caramelized.  This will take quite a while.

Chop 2 jalapenos (stems discarded), and about 6 large plum tomatoes into chunks.  Add them to the caramelized onions and let them cook until softened.  Add a 14-oz can of tomato sauce to the mixture, stir, place a lid, reduce heat to simmer, and let cook until you are ready to batter and fry the rellenos.  At that point you will want to use a Braun Wand blender tool to whirl the Ranchera sauce into a smooth sauce with no large chunks.

Now, the preparation of the green chilies…

Pick the largest, firmest ones you can find at your grocery.  Bring them home and wash them, and then dry them.  I like the spicy ones.  You might prefer the milder ones.

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Move an oven rack up to the highest level of your oven.  Preheat your oven broiler (you can do them on the grill too…but the oven is faster and easier).  Place your washed chilies on a cookie sheet and slide them onto that top rack in the oven.

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Close the oven door (I prop my door open slightly with a wooden spoon – I like to hear my chilies popping and crackling).

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Let the chilies broil on one side long enough for them to become charred and blistered.

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Use tongs to roll them a quarter turn and return to broiler.  Check them often for doneness.  Continue turning and broiling until the chilies skins are blistered and charred all the way around.

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Quickly remove them from the cookie sheet and place them into a large Ziploc freezer back, and seal it.

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Allow chilies to steam inside the bag for several minutes, while you prepare the rest of the meal.

NOTE:  I like to serve my Rellenos with homemade refried beans and a cheesy green chili rice.  See those recipes below, and it would be a great time to start making them now.  This is also a good time to blend your Ranchera sauce and make is smooth.  Keep it simmering on a back burner until ready to serve.

Start about 2 inches of oil getting hot in a deep sided frying pan (…just hot enough that a droplet of water makes it pop and fizzle.  Not hot enough to be smoking.  If you are seeing streaks/waves in your oil, it may be too hot.  Either drop your heat, or add a little more oil to cool it down a bit before adding your chilies).  The pan you use should be large enough that two chilies will fit without touching the sides or each other.

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As soon as the green chilies have cooled enough to handle take them to the sink and begin removing the skins.  They should slide right off easily.  If not, be careful not to tear the chili, as it will be hard to keep the filling inside while you are battering it.

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Once the chilies are skinned, make a slight slit along the side near the top stem of each.

cut the chili

Only make it big enough to slide the pieces of cheese inside.  If you wish to remove some of the seeds you  may do that also.  I push the seeds out through the slit.  I don’t mind a few seeds in my rellenos though.  I use Pepper-Jack Cheese.  For 8 to 10 chilies you will need about 1 1/2 8-oz blocks, which I cut into quarter-inch slices and then into quarter inch strips.

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Begin stuffing your chilies with strips of cheese, about 5 or so strips per chili.  Dust the outsides with flour and lay them on a paper towel as you prepare them.  Once all the chilies have been stuffed and floured, you are ready to make your batter.

I beat two eggs and add about a cup of water to them…

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…and then I whisk in some seasoned beer batter mix (part of one bag) until the consistency is about that of thin pancake batter.  The batter should stick to your chilies, but just leave a fairly thin film.  Hold the chili by the stem and dip it into the batter.  Use a fork to sweep batter over the top of the chili and then gently lift the chili out of the batter, with the fork.  Slide it into the hot oil and let it begin frying.  Add another chili and let the two fry together.

Allow the chilies to fry for a few minutes and then use tongs to turn.  The batter should turn a golden color.  Scoop the chilies out of the oil and place on paper towels for a moment to absorb the oil.  Quickly plate them and cover them with simmering Ranchera Sauce.

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Oh my how I love them!!!!!   Now if I could figure out how to feed a crowd all at the same time I’d be in business.  I only know how to make Rellenos for one person at a time.  Hot and fresh.

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Colleen's Chile Rellenos

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Mama’s Refried Beans

If you’ve made a pot of pinto beans and have leftovers, by all means use them for this.  If not, look for these varieties at your local grocery store.  I used 2 cans of Charro and 1 can of Barracho (which means drunken – notice that they use Shiner beer for this).

First I drained my beans of all the liquid (don’t rinse them).  I melted about 2 Tablespoons of rendered pork fat (lard), actually I used some bacon fat I had on hand, in a sauce pan on the stove, and then added my beans.  I let them just bubble and cook on medium low heat until I was almost ready to serve my meal.  Moments before I was ready to serve I took a potato masher and mashed the beans until they were the desired consistence.  They may be served with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and some chopped green onion.

NOTE: This also makes a wonderful bean dip, if you like that with tortilla chips for a snack.

DSCN9810Cheesy Green Chili Rice

First I sautéed my rice in about 1/2 a stick of butter in a small sauce pot, on high heat.  After about a minute of continuous stirring, I added 2 cups of hot chicken broth, 1 can of diced green chilies, and a grind of sea salt.  When the liquid boils, place a lid on the pot and turn the heat down to low.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Lift the lid and lay several slices of pepper jack cheese on top of the rice.  Replace the lid and leave until cheese is melted.  Lift lid and fluff rice with a fork, incorporating the cheese throughout.  If you like it just a little creamier, you may add a splash of Crema, or heavy cream, and a sprinkle of cayenne.

 

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.”  Acts 2:46

 

 

End-of-the-school-year OLYMPIC GAMES

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End-of-the-school-year OLYMPIC GAMES

Are you looking for a clever way to close out the school year for your little group of elementary students?  Are you on a tight budget, or have very few amusement options available in your town.  NO WORRIES.  Us too!!!  Hopefully your town at least has a city park that’s kept nice, mowed and watered, or a nice, large, grassy area with lots of shade trees?  That’s all that’s needed for this shindig.

There goes the school year!!!! Grade One Done… Only eleven more to go!

I sketched out my party plan in a notebook…

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…and then went to work making the signs for the games:

 

….and TORCHES for each of the kids to wear (as medals)…

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I printed out sheets of the torches, wrote the kids’ names on them, had them laminated, and then punched a hole at the top to string a ribbon through.  On the back I printed the list of events so I could mark winners with a red sharpie, or completed with a blue sharpie.

The kids began their afternoon of fun by first having lunch delivered to them at the school (from Wendy’s, courtesy of one of the awesome parents), and after each of them had used the bathroom, they began their little journey from the school to the park (about a 3 block walk with their teacher).  When they arrived at the entrance to the park, this is the first thing they saw:

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They were presented with their TORCHES, and then positioned behind the sign to pose for pictures.  We were blessed that a very talented member of the school staff, also teacher, photographer, and composer of the school’s yearbook, was there to take some wonderful pictures, which I will post here as soon as she makes them available, and gives me permission.

 

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BANG!   Let the games begin!

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The first game in our line up was the…

Lunchbox “Hammer” Throw

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(The kids aren’t gonna need a lunchbox for a few months.  Hip hip hooray, let’s toss it away!)

First I demonstrated to the kids what they would be doing in this game.  I grabbed the lunchbox by the handles, put my left arm straight out, twirled in a counter-clockwise circle a couple of times, and then when I was facing the field, let go of the lunchbox and let it fly as far away as it would go.  After the demo I handed the first kid the lunchbox and let them try.  The kids lined up behind the starting line and took turns twirling and tossing the soft-sided lunchbox out into the field.  (P.S. I had placed a small bag of pinto beans inside to give it some weight).  The child with the farthest distance after three tosses was declared the winner!

Supplies needed: Sign, lunchbox, a couple of orange cones, a jump rope, and something to mark the farthest distance.

 

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The next game was…

Crayola Archery

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After I attempted to demonstrate this game, we decided to turn it into a Crayola Javelin Throw, since our cheapo “dollar store” bow kept breaking.  The darn string kept popping out of its slot (Update: wind a rubber band tightly around the tip ends of the bow to keep the string in place. This works like a charm).  Anyway, after a bit of frustration from the darn bow popping apart every time we used it, we just decided to throw the crayon like a javelin.  The kids each got a turn to stand behind the line (I used a downed limb from one of the trees as the marker for this) and then take a turn hurling their javelins at the three hula hoop targets laid out in the distance.  (You can barely see them in the photo below, but look close.)

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This is what the arrows/javelins looked like up close.  I used fat crayons and inserted them into big straws (the ones used for smoothies).  They were a perfect fit, and stayed snuggly attached to each other for the whole event.  At least something stayed to together!

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(This is the dumb bow we used.  Um, scratch that.  Didn’t use!!!!)

The student with the most targets bullseyed after three tries was declared the winner!

Supplies needed: One dollar-store bow and arrow set, 1 pkg big crayons, the sign to identify the event, and three hula hoops.  Oh, and something to mark the starting line.

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The next game was…

Homework Fencing

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You are looking at the fencing arena.  Ours was marked by 4 trees as boundaries.  After demonstrating to the students what they would be doing, the students lined up behind the sign and two pairs at a time faced off using the pool noodles as their fencing swords.  (I got the fatest noodles I could find, to make it harder for little hands to hold onto).  With one arm behind their backs they each swung their noodles at their opponent’s noodle, trying to knock it out of their hands, because homework is now out of their hands.  Any body contact or face contact, or stepping outside the boundaries was considered a scratch and the offender was disqualified.  Winners of each duo were collected to the side to compete in round two.  Eventually a final winner was declared.

Supplies needed:  The sign, four pool noodles

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The next game was…

Alarm Clock Shot Put Throw

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(Hey kids, say goodbye to the alarm clock for a few months!!!!  In fact, let’s pitch that obnoxious contraption as far as we can throw it!)

First I demonstrated to the students how this game was played, similar to the hammer throw, and then the students were lined up behind the starting line, and took turns holding the alarm clock under their chins, twirling, and then heaving it as far as they could out into the field.  (Note: I used a cheapy plastic clock from the dollar store.  It broke on the first throw and left kind of a sharp edge that I cautioned the kids to be careful with.  Then the glass also broke.  Fail!  The better choice would have been something made 100% out of non shatterable plastic and no glass).

The child who launched it the farthest distance after all of them had been given three tries was declared the winner.

Supplies needed: Sign, cones and jump rope to mark the starting line, an alarm clock, and something to mark distance.

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The next game was…

Three R’s Shooting Competition

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The three R’s stood for Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic, which were featured on the three targets placed at a distance from the starting line.  (Way to target your subjects this year kids)!  The students lined up behind the starting line. They were instructed that one kid at a time would approach the starting line, grab a squirty bottle, aim at the first target, and begin squirting at it, moving in closer until the stream of water touched the first target, then they could move to the next target, and then the last target and do the same. Their time started when the teacher said, “GO” and they began squirting and stopped when they hit the last target.   Each child took their turn.  The kid with the fastest time (after three rounds) was declared the winner.

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Supplies needed:  A sign, three targets, and a squirty bottle filled with water.

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The next game was…

Water Bottle Relay with Hurdles

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(Hey kids, you’re not gonna need those water bottles for a while, AND we can celebrate that you all got over your hurdles of – Language, Art/Music/P.E., and Science this year.  Way to go kids!  You are all champions!!!!)

The kids lined up in two groups behind the starting line.  After demonstrating to the kids how to run the course, I handed each first person in line a water bottle. At the sound of my whistle the two kids with water bottles ran down the course, leaping over the hurdles and down around the cone at the far end of the course, and returning to hand off their water bottle to their next teammate.  The first team to complete the course was declared the winner.

Supplies needed: A sign, three hurdles with words attached that represent school subjects, two water bottles, a start line, an orange cone, and a whistle.

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This concluded the structured games.  At this point the kids were given a break to get a drink and snack and rest for a bit. Several of the parents brought coolers full of drinks (bottled water, juice, Gatorade, etc.) and snacks (Cuties oranges, goGurts, popsicles, cookies, carrots, etc.) for the kids to  munch on and stay hydrated with, and they served their treats “Tailgate style” out of the back of their vehicles, parked alongside the park.

For the remainder of the afternoon  the kids participated in free play.  I had set up a Badminton net and blew up a giant beach ball for them to either toss over the net to each other volleyball style, or just kick around the park in a giant game of “keep away.”

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In addition I brought a giant soft-sided Frisbee, bottles of bubbles for everyone, a soccer ball, the hula hoops, and gave each child a squirty bottle full of water to also play with.  In addition, one of our awesome parents brought a huge cooler full of water balloons for a hot potato game.

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The parents and I chilled out on blankets spread-out under the shade of a grand old oak tree, and visited with each other while the kids tear-butted around having the time of their lives.  I think the kids all had as much fun, if not more, with free play as they did with the games, hey, but a theme is a theme, right?  What a great afternoon and terrific group of kiddos!!!!  I hardly noticed that it was 95 degrees and 50% humidity.  HA!

After a couple of hours of playtime, the parents went around and gathered up the signs and parts of each game and helped pack everything up.  The kids picked up all the trash and bits of broken balloons and then gathered with their teacher to walk back to school.  Before they dismissed to go home each was presented a gift bag, which contained a movie theater pass (that they could use to go see Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2, which just released in theaters the week before), a pass to the local indoor inflatables park, and a gift certificate to Dairy Queen, plus a Nerf ball (which gave me the inspiration for the theme of the bags), so they could all… “Have a BALL this Summer!”  🙂

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Yay kids…you finished your race well!  Happy summer to you all!!!!!

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“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Hebrews 12:1-2  NKJV

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SUMMER SURVIVAL GUIDE for parents & kids

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SUMMER SURVIVAL GUIDE for parents & kids

DSCN9607Summer’s comin’! Are you ready?  I came up with this blog post after using the posters (featured below) for an end-of-the-school-year bulletin board.  It garnered such incredible feedback from the parents that I thought y’all might get some use out of it too.

Honestly, I don’t know about you, but when I was a young mom, the month of May was a complete whirlwind, a blur, sooooo crazy busy with end of the school year activities, and after-school clubs and lessons and sports events winding down and gearing up, recitals, and graduations, and a yard that was totally out of control, that I didn’t know if I was coming or going, let alone think about summer.  And then, BAM, here it would be, like a brick wall on the 1604!  Instead of getting to sleep-in though, and be lazy that first wonderful morning, my eyeballs were dredged open and I was jarred out of delicious unconsciousness by a bedroom full of bouncing, wide awake kiddos huddled around my tossled bed, begging for breakfast, and quizzing me on what we were going to do that day.  Whoa!  Time-out kids!  You gotta let mama sit with a cup of coffee for about thirty minutes before you start in on me with the needy kid stuff, c’mon!  Eventually we’d get into a new routine of sleeping in, being lazy, being bored, bickering and squabbling, and spending entirely too much time vegging on the couch in front of a television – a rut that’s hard to break out of.

Soooo… for all our sanity, I’ve come up with a plan, and we’ll see how long it lasts.  I’ve divided the summer into the individual weekdays.  Figuring on about twelve Mondays, and twelve Tuesdays, and twelve Wednesdays…. etc.  I came up with themes for each day (for variety), and then at least twelve activities for each day that we can check off the list.

Monday’s theme is CHORES, with age-appropriate jobs for the kids to do, which I hope will kind of earn the kids the fun being offered the rest of the week.  In fact, you could pay your kids for their chores with play money and then charge them for the activities later on.  Even fine them for whining, if necessary, but I’ll bet they’ll like having chores to do.  I know my grandkids love helping with things.  It makes them feel grown up.

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Click here for the Chores Monday FREE PRINTABLE!

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Tuesday is a physical and outdoorsy theme, to keep the kids active.

Check out this fun backyard Ninja Warrior Course a dad created for his daughter. There are lots of other plans on the Internet and on Pinterest.

Neighborhood KIDS (Bicycle/Tricycle/HotWheels) Poker Run:

1. Get your kids’ friends, and their moms, together for a neighborhood kid’s poker run. Need seven moms, and at least seven kids on bikes, tricycles, or Hot Wheels. Could even do roller blades, scooters, or skateboards.  Each of the seven moms will be in charge of a card station (preferably right outside of their house – provided all the moms live in fairly close proximity to one another), and have beverages and snacks on hand for the kids.  Each of the kids will need to bring a good, nice toy or item that they don’t want any more as their payment to play.  All the toys/items will be collected into a prize basket.

2. Plot a course. Draw a map of your neighborhood, and show the boundary lines for the Poker Run and where the stations are. Pre-arrange for seven stations where the kids will collect cards from.  A mom will be at each station.  You’ll need a deck of cards, divided into seven portions, and a portion given to each mom for each station, and a scoring sheet for each kid showing what the order of winning hands are.

The kids will ride their bikes from point A to point B along the route, and draw a card at each station.  The mom at that station will mark what the kid’s card is on their scoring sheet, offer them something to eat or drink, and send them on their way.

Basic Rules for a Poker Run: Participants meet at a pre-arranged point, and pick up details of their route and the stops they’ll need to make. Each participant is given a score card which will be filled in as they progress along the route. At each designated stop, the participants draw a card at random (or are dealt a card). The card drawn or dealt is recorded on each participant’s score card, and the winner of the event is the participant who makes the best five card poker hand (out of the seven cards they collected) at the end of the run. Normal Poker Run Events usually end with some entertainment at the designated “last stop” of the route, along with the awarding of the prizes.

There are no prizes for speed – it does not matter who is first to complete the course. It is not a race.

The winning hand is determined by standard poker hand rankings. Decide ahead of time if you will use “wild cards” and if players will be allowed to buy extra cards at any point. Some runs, for example, allow a player to replace one card in their hand by “buying” one more card at the final stop for a fixed fee.

The “last stop” can be your house, where you have a movie set up outside for the kids to watch, or it can be a nearby ice cream truck or store, or it can be a swimming pool, or a skateboard park, or bowling alley, or gaming arcade.  Honestly, any place that kids would find fun.  The kid with the winning poker hand will get first choice from all the toys/items paid to the prize basket.  The next highest winning hand will get second choice, and so on until each kid has chosen a toy/item.   You can sweeten the pot by adding some prizes of your own (i.e. a horn for their bike, a new ball cap, or beach towel, or music CD, etc.).

There are lots of ideas for a Nature Scavenger Hunt (do a Google search, and then pick one).  If you want, its kind of fun to make plaster castings of the hoof impressions and animal tracks that you find.  You might also catch a horny toad, frog, turtle, or lizard that you could bring home and place in a terrarium for a few days.

This is how you play Frisbee Golf.

Progressive Lunch Bike Ride (or Hike)  If you know several moms in the neighborhood, or within close proximity to you and each other, ask them if they would like to get the kids together for a progressive lunch bike ride.  Each mom will host a portion of the meal (drink, sandwich, chips, carrot sticks, apple slices, dessert, etc.).  All the kids will meet at the first house for the first item of their lunch.  Then they will ride their bikes (with that mom) to the next house, for the next part of their lunch.  Both moms and the kids will then ride to the next house for the next portion of their lunch.  This continues until all the moms and all the kids have made it to the last house and eaten all their lunch.  The last house can then host an activity for the kids, like a driveway basketball game, or set up a hot wheels track, or play a backyard game of hide-and-go-seek, or play on a slip-and-slide, Croquet, volleyball or badmitten, or just do some trampoline jumping, etc. When everyone is ready to call it a day, the moms and kids can follow the course backwards to each of their houses.

A Sidewalk Chaulk Art Rally is basically just getting all the neighborhood kids together, asking them to bring their own sidewalk chaulk, giving each kid a section of the sidewalk, and putting them to the task of creating a work of art within a time limit, to be judged (or not) by the neighbors, or parents, or whomever you wish.  Provide drinks and snacks for the kids.  Be sure to take a nice photograph of each finished creation, even video the works in progress, and interview each artist.  Your local newspaper may even be interested in doing a story on your event.  You can host the rally in your neighborhood, cul-de-sac, or neighborhood park.

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Click here for the Outdoor Tuesday FREE PRINTABLE!

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Wednesday features activities to challenge their little noggins, and hopefully keep them learning. Find Summer Bridge Activities workbooks and Brain Quest workbooks at Amazon.  You can find language courses, and teach-yourself musical instrument courses online or at most libraries, or bookstores. And Walmart carries a selection of Smithsonian (science) kits in their crafts isle. And this is just one of many great places to find: Summer Reading Lists For Kids (Grades K-8)

http://www.thejennyevolution.com/ultimate-summer-reading-lists-kids-grades-k-8/

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Click here for the BrainQuest Wednesday FREE PRINTABLE!

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Thursday is all about the crafts…‘bout the crafts, and being creative and busy with their little hands.

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Click here for the Creative Thursday FREE PRINTABLE!

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Friday ends the week with lots of ways to give and serve others, because it makes us feel good to do that, and turns our focus on others instead of ourselves.

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Click here for the GiftsOservice Friday FREE PRINTABLE!

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NOTE: I didn’t put anything on the posters about swimming lessons, or VBS or summer church camps, or summer movies at the local theater, or roller skating at the local rink, or bowling, which the schools usually send fliers home about at the end of the year that offer special prices and promotions.  I also stayed away from costly activities like bouncy house places, trampoline parks, amusement places, laser tag, go carts, mini golf, climbing walls, and all that sort of stuff, but you are certainly welcome to add those on to each day as you wish and can afford.   Have a fun and blessed summer y’all!

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Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might as unto the Lord and not men.

Ecclesiastes 9:10  &  Colossians 3:23

Daily Prompt: Festive

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Daily Prompt: Festive

via Daily Prompt: Festive

dscn7518Tis the season for TAMALES, fa la la la la la la la la…

What could be more festive than tamales?  Just the shear process of making them is by definition, FESTIVE!  All the women of the family, closest friends, and surrounding neighbors gathered together in one tiny house.  Cherished loved ones in aprons hovering over perfectly seasoned smoldering pork and stewing chicken.  Gifted hands dutifully chopping and cleaning jalapeños and onions.  Skilled hands making masa with lard, kneading it for an hour to get it just right, and washing and soaking corn husks.  Little hands scrubbing countertops and tables in preparation of the assembly process.  Pots of steaming water bubbling away furiously on the stove.  Music and chatter, mostly Spanish, lingering festively in the atmosphere.  Restless children bustling underfoot.  Moms and grandmoms hollering at them, and also sharing stories of Christmases past, faith, and Jesus and Mary and Joseph, women having babies, and the glory of God.  Aunts, cousins, and in-laws laughing, tasting, teasing, gossiping, squabbling, crying, and making merry with one another.   Everyone settling into their station to lovingly mass produce dozens upon dozens of these tasty little treats, for their grateful families…and ours.

 

Even the act of eating tamales is festive.  In fact, Christmas isn’t Christmas without tamales (especially if you’re in Texas)…freshly made, piping hot little packages of glistening gold, waiting to be unwrapped, and then decorated with red and green, and flocked with white.

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My very favorite tamales are savory pork with spicy jalapeno and dripping with bacon fat.  Mmmm.  Oh my goodness!  I love them hot and fresh from the steamer, buck naked, and so scorching that I can barely hold onto the wrapper to unwrap it, blowing and blowing, and deliriously addicted to its intoxicating aroma as it passes over my lips and melts on my tongue.  If that were the only way I could ever have them, it would be plenty enough for me, but a little hot sauce, red or green, makes them even better!  And, oh how I adore them dolled up Tex-Mex style, like a taco.  Three sleepy amigos laying on my plate, brought to life with green onions and lettuce and cheese and pico de gallo and black olives and sour cream with salsa mixed in it, spooned on top.  Or, how lovely they are dressed with green tomatillo salsa and some chopped green onion, or smothered in spicy New Mexico green chili, or Terlingua red chili.  Or swimming in a spicy, creamy pepper-jack cheese sauce and heaped with fresh pico on top. Or, my favorite way, decked out like a bowl of tortilla soup, sitting in their husks and splashed with a squeeze of lime, then slathered in red or green salsa, with a handful of chopped, fresh cilantro, chopped green onion, guacamole, and a generous crumble of queso fresco tossed on top.  (I’m seeing a Tamale Bar in my future; an Ugly Sweater Christmas party with a Tamale Bar and a house decorated in hot chili pepper lights – see how festive tamales are?).  Oh how I love them!!!!!!!  I love them sooooo much!   I feel almost guilty penning my intimate thoughts.  Fifty shades of GOLD.  Is it okay to lick the husks?  <blushing!>

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Just lift the lid and let the steam swirl up onto your face.  Gaze upon their golden deliciousness!  Decorate them with your favorite red and green, and white!  Serve them at parties or eat them on the street.  Give them to your family, or sneak a midnight treat!   Eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week and the whole month of December.  I know all these tamales will lead to diet resolutions, but for now please let us savor our binomial distributions!  Muy fantástico!

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* feliz navidad *

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Come for Supper – Asian Hot Pot Party

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Come for Supper – Asian Hot Pot Party

This party is from the book, Come for Supper? the memoirs of a reluctant hostess 

It was my first attempt at writing.  I self-published a few copies of the book to give out to friends and family, testing the waters to see if it would be worth the added effort of seeking mass distribution.  In all honesty, it didn’t go over very well.  I soothe myself with the delusion that my friends and family were probably hoping it was a book of my own recipes and when they discovered it was world cuisine were possibly disappointed or uninterested.  I couldn’t ever bring myself to ask them. And they have never mustered the courage to tell me, so I could be all wrong about that, but licking my wounds I buried the remaining copies I had purchased in a small, unmarked grave in the back yard, under a tree, next to the cat; without much pomp or circumstance and certainly  no fanfare, I patted the dirt over the heap and piled on some rocks, and every little once-in-a-while I wander out there with a little bouquet of kitchen scraps, lay them on the heap, and just sit and ponder its short, unfulfilled life.  Sigh.1 Asian Supper

The book may have been a failure, but the suppers inside of it weren’t.  This is one of the parties from inside its pages.  It was one of my kids’ very favorite parties I ever threw while they were still living at home. It is also one of the favorites of my cooking club group, who helped me test some of the recipes in the book.    

It’s like an “Asian fondue” party! Everyone cooks their own food — which is a reluctant hostess’s dream party, right?  All you have to do is collect some equipment, do some grocery shopping, do a little slicing, dicing, and chopping, mix up some sauces, set up tables, toss a CD in the player, and decorate.  Voila! (– or however they say it in Chinese).

So now, imagine yourself invited to my house for Chinese.  You come knocking on my door and can hear Chinese music playing faintly, and can also smell what smells like dinner cooking (in reality it’s just chicken broth and hot peanut oil).  You’re dressed in your best Asian get-up (complete with a coolie douli hat?) and are eager for me to turn that knob and invite you warmly inside.  When I do, you find me decked out in a green t-shirt with Chinese scribbles across it, my hair tied up with chopsticks, and wearing flip-flop house slippers on my feet.  Inside the house there are paper umbrellas hanging upside down from the ceiling over the lights, and little paper lanterns strung about.  Some little Chinese fans scattered on the tables and around.  Vases of bamboo set around as gifts for guests to take home after the party.

Some of my other guests have already arrived and are wearing red silk dresses, tank tops with black leggings, and one is wearing a white Gi, tied with a yellow (beginner’s) belt.  There is laughing and mingling as everyone crowds into the kitchen to pour themselves a drink.  Your options are hot Green, Oolong, or Jasmine tea, Bubble Tea, a shot of sake, or a cold imported Chinese Tsingtao beer.

The music that is playing sounds a little bit like a Chinese version of Manheim Steamroller, so you ask, “What is this playing?” and I answer, “It’s Twelve Girls Band!”  Hmmm…nice choice, right?  My daughter turned me on to them.  

And when everyone has arrived we take our places around the tables.  Each has been set up with a wok in the center.  The wok at one table is filled with a steaming hot liquid bubbling inside.  On either side are platters of raw ingredients, meats on one side and veggies on the other. At each place setting around the table is a bamboo mat, with a small platter centered on it.  A set of chopsticks lays across it, and each is flanked by several small cups of sauces of various colors.   

At the other table is the hot peanut oil wok.  The platter to one side is egg roll wrappers, little cups of water, and a bowl of filling , and on the platter on the other side are various raw meats and veggies and a bowl of tempura batter.  The guests sitting at this table get to fry their supper.  Their place settings are the same.

I gather my guests to the tables and we join hands as I play an audio version of the Lord’s Prayer being spoken in Chinese, from YouTube, and then we pray the same prayer together in English.

I explain to everyone how we’ll select a meat or veggie from the platters using the fondue forks, and then plunge our selections into the hot broth to cook.  After a minute or so we can bring the morsels to our personal platters and spoon on whichever sauce we’d like to try.  After half an hour or so those seated at the broth wok will take their personal platters and trade places with those seated around the hot oil wok to make egg rolls and tempura things.  And then, when everyone has had a chance to try everything, I toss a bunch of noodles into the broth wok and in a few moments serve a small cup of noodle soup to each of my guests.

Of course we all sit around the woks and cook and eat until we are so full we can’t breathe, and that’s when I suggest we leave those tables and gather in the living room for games.  I have several set up to choose from: Go, Mahjongg, and Chinese Checkers (even though I’ve been told Chinese Checkers aren’t really Chinese – although if you turn my game tin over to the underside it says, “Made in China” which is good enough for me.  Of course everyone is welcome to refill their drinks, and those who are up for learning a new game can sit down to it.  Those who know already how to play are encouraged to teach others, and those who are not into new and complicated games can play Chinese Checkers.  We all had a set of those at home when we were kids, right?  Easy.  Only trouble is Chinese Checkers is over in a short time and boring after a while, so for a backup activity I have a Chinese movie all ready to go.  

Although the Chinese do not eat dessert (or take beverages) as part of their meal, they do snack on sweets between meals.  Their sweets traditionally consist of fruit or almond cookies.  So I have a big fruit platter set up in the kitchen with cut up melon, bananas, oranges, apples, strawberries, grapes, berries, and whatever else is in season at the grocery store, along with a platter of crisp Almond cookies, and those yummy rice krispy type treats made with sesame seeds that they serve at my favorite Chinese place on main street, plus a big pile of Fortune Cookies (which also are an American invention, but at least from China Town in San Francisco).  My sister has this fun little tradition of adding “…in the bathroom” to the end of all Chinese fortune cookie fortunes, which  makes them kind of funny, so I of course suggest we do that.  And everyone reads theirs, and we all laugh, because we’re supposed to.  And it’s a little awkward, so we refill our drinks and grab some dessert, and head out to the family room to play our games or watch the movie.  

What is the movie, you ask?  Well, you have your choice:  I have China Cry for the Christian crowd, who possibly wants to be inspired by a flick about faith, or I have the Karate Kid for all of us who remember that from what, the 80’s?  I have a Bruce Lee flick, and a Jackie Chan.  Or, I also have the Season One episodes of Better Late Than Never, with Henry Winkler, George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw, and William Shatner saved on my DVR for anyone that missed that and wants a good laugh.  (They are probably available on Hulu or Netflix too, and the NBC website).   

(In the book I also suggested that a host of this particular supper may want to invite some missionaries from their church who have returned from China and would have interesting stories to share, pictures, and treasures that we could touch and pass around.  I also suggested that we could talk as a group about going in on a donation to support a missionary we know, or give a donation to an organization that gives out Bibles in China, or give a money gift to a couple adopting a child from China).

When we’re ready to call it a night, I hand out fireworks (just sparklers and party poppers and the safe backyard varieties) and we all wander out to the front yard to end our night with a BANG! But not too big of a bang because all the neighbors are sleeping.  Shhhhh!   I have little red goodie bags also hanging in the trees and ask everyone to go look for one by flashlight and take with them before they head to their cars.  They have little trinkets from the dollar store in them, a chinese jump rope, some small candies, and a few shiny new quarters – because that’s what they do in China.  There’s kisses and hugs all around, as engines begin starting and lights start flipping on, and one by one the cars drive away.  And that’s when I turn and contentedly wonder back inside with a heart full of memories and a sink full of dishes to wash.  

YumYum Chinese

MONGOLIAN HOT POT
You’ll need a platter of meats and a platter of veggies, cut up and ready to cook fondue style.

Meats: Scallops, Shrimp, Chicken breasts (cut into strips), Beef (flatiron steak cut into small strips), Pork (loin, cut in small strips or pieces). Place meats on a platter with partitioned wells (like a serving set for tacos) would be ideal. This way the meats won’t mingle and contaminate each other in their raw state. I cut my meats and wrapped my platter in plastic wrap, and stored in the refrigerator the morning of my dinner. Be sure to clean cutting surfaces with warm, soapy water and Clorox wipes between meats and when finished.

Veggies: Carrot coins, cut on the diagonal and then in half, Celery slices, cut on the diagonal and then in half, Snow peas, Cabbage leaves, Broccoli florets, Green pepper slices, Zucchini-cut on the diagonal and then in half, Mushrooms (straw or shitake), Green onions, cut on the diagonal.

Additional ingredients for the soup: bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, and noodles (I don’t really care for the traditional cellophane noodles, so I substitute Ramen or thin spaghetti), garlic cloves, and a smidgen of honey. I also like spicy Thai peppers and cilantro but not everyone does so ask your guests before you add these to the pot, as they can easily be added to individual bowls of soup instead.

Add chicken broth to a shabu yaki, (or electric wok, or an electric skillet or large fondue pot). Fill to about an inch or two below the rim. Place in the center of the supper table. Be sure to wrap the cord securely down a table leg so no one accidentally trips on it and pulls the hot pot over. Plug into a power source and set the temperature dial at the boiling point (about 215 degrees F).

Hot Pot is like fondue. Guests are seated at the table with plates and samplings of sauces. Each uses chopsticks (or fondue forks), takes meat and veggies from the platters, and cooks in the boiling broth. They bring their cooked morsels to their individual plates and dip in their choice of sauce (recipes below) before eating. Once everyone has tried everything and is near being full, noodles are added to the pot, along with the additional ingredients (mentioned above), and then everyone is served a bowl of soup.

NOTE:  After my supper I wrapped up all my leftovers and the next day made the best stir-fry ever with all the meats and all the veggies, and what was left of the sauces. If you prefer, this would also be a great idea for your Chinese Supper. Instead of making ‘hot pot’ as above, place all of your ingredients out on the table in the same manner, but replace the broth pot with a hot wok and a little peanut oil instead of broth, and let your guests make their own little “stir-fry” concoctions that they cook themselves. Kind of like a self-serve Mongolian Grill at home.

SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch or tapioca starch

1 cup water

2/3 cup rice vinegar

1 1/3 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce

½ teaspoon of red food coloring

In a saucepan dissolve the cornstarch in the water, add the remaining ingredients. Heat over medium high heat until sauce boils and thickens.

PLUM SAUCE
2 cups plum jam, jelly, or preserves

1 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon ground ginger

4 teaspoons cornstarch

4 teaspoons soy sauce

4 teaspoons wine vinegar

Mix jam and applesauce in saucepan. Bring to boil. Combine ginger, cornstarch, and soy sauce, vinegar. Stir into jam mixture. Cook stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Cool. Refrigerate until serving time. Bring to room temp before serving.

HOT MUSTARD
½ cup dry mustard

4 Tablespoons peanut oil

4 Tablespoons water

½ cup sugar

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

½ cup white vinegar

Mix mustard and oil in small bowl. Gradually add the 4 Tbsp. of water, stirring constantly to form a smooth paste. Stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in saucepan. Gradually add the cup of water and vinegar. Blend thoroughly. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens. Gradually add to mustard mixture, stirring constantly until blended. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve at room temp.

TERIYAKI SAUCE
1 cup pineapple juice

½ cup packed light brown sugar

4 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 Tablespoons peanut oil

1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan, simmer to blend flavors.

GARLIC GINGER SAUCE
2 Tablespoons ground ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

½ cup water

4 Tablespoons sugar

1 cup soy sauce

Mix all ingredients. Use as a dipping sauce.

DUCK SAUCE
1 small can cling peaches in heavy syrup

¼ teaspoon ground mustard

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root

4 teaspoons red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon Chinese Five Spice

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 Tablespoon water

Drain pieces and reserve juice for something else. Mash peaches with a fork or potato masher until well crushed. Add mustard, ginger root, vinegar, and Chinese Five Spice. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to sauce, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, continuing to stir, until thickened. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Bottled Soy Sauce (try Kikkoman, which is slightly sweet, and La Choy which is more salty)

EGG ROLLS  (this recipe was given to me by my Japanese/American friend, Cyndi)

1 (16-oz) pkg Jimmy Dean regular sausage

Shredded or chopped Napa cabbage (a green cabbage will also work)

½ pkg of bean sprouts (approx. 2 cups)

¾ cup grated carrot

Grate about 2”  of ginger root on top

Mix together by hand.  Lay one egg roll wrapper on work surface and place a heaping spoon of the meat & veggie mixture in the middle.  Fold the wrapper as shown on the packaging.  Get a little water on your fingers and moisten the final corner of the wrapper so that it will stick and seal the roll.  They must be cooked fairly quickly after they are made as the wrappers will become soggy if wrapped up and stored in the fridge for very long.  And they can’t be fried and kept for very long either, as they lose their crunch.  They should be the last thing you put together for your meal, moments before your guests arrive.  Or, let your guests make these themselves, just as with hot pot above.  Have the meat mixture and egg roll wrappers (and small cups of water) ready for each guest to assemble on his or her own. 

Set up an electric wok with enough peanut oil for deep frying (again fastening the cord down a table leg so it isn’t accidentally tripped over).  Oil temperature should be about 360 degrees F. Consult your owner’s manual.  Drop a few egg rolls at a time (not more than 4 or it will cool the oil too much) into hot oil and turn once in a while during frying so they cook evenly, until golden brown.  Lay on the rack or drain on paper towels.  Serve with soy sauce, hot mustard, or sweet and sour sauce.

TEMPURA:  You can also mix up a batch of tempura batter and let guests batter their Hot Pot meats and veggies instead and fry them.  When I had my Hot Pot party I set up a soup table and a fry table.  I sat the girls down around the soup (Hot Pot) and the men around the wok.  I intended to have my crowd eat for a while at each table and then switch, but the men liked frying and didn’t want the hot pot, so they ended up frying egg rolls and tempura things and passing to us, and then just had a small bowl of our noodle soup at the end.

TEMPURA SAUCE

½ cup chicken stock

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 Tablespoons cream sherry

2 Tablespoons grated daikon (Japanese radish)

2 Tablespoons peeled and grated fresh gingerroot

Combine first three ingredients.  Just before serving, stir in daikon and ginger.

((( Or just use a boxed mix.  That’s easiest! )))

Mongolian Hot Pot Party

(Scrapbook page from my party memoirs)

So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 8:15

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

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The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16 (NKJV)

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

My Bible footnote says it would have been 6:00AM.

Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 

My Bible footnote says a denarius (a word of Latin origin) was the standard wage for a full day’s work.  The KJV uses the word “penny” or pence in place of denarius which in Roman currency of the time would have been ten asses (asses were bronze or copper coins used during the Roman Empire).  Denarius is the origin of the common noun for money in Italian denaro, in Portuguese dinheiro and in Spanish dinero.

Here are some example salaries and product costs as of the times of Diocletian in the third century AD:

Farm laborer monthly pay, with meals = 400 asses

Teacher’s monthly pay, per boy = 800 asses

Barber’s service price, per client = 32 asses

1 kg of pork = 380 asses (1 lb = 170 asses)

1 kg of grapes = 32 asses (1 lb = 15 asses)

* Source: Wikipedia

And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 

The third hour would be 9:00AM; and there were more people standing inactive, unemployed; (by implication) lazy, useless: – barren, idle, slow“(Strongs #692 argos) in the “agora” (Strongs #58), which is probably the town square, market, or thoroughfare/street.

and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 

Their wage: whatever is right (just drawing attention to that).  The Greek word used is dikaios (1342) and it means “equitable” (in character or act); (by implication) innocent; holy, just, meet, right(-eous).

Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 

The sixth hour is noon and the ninth hour is 3:00PM.

And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle,[a]and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ 

The 11th hour is 5:00PM (an hour before quitting time), and is it just me or does the land owner seem kind of annoyed that there are folks just standing around idle all day?

They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’[b]

Again he promises “what is right.”

“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ 

To pay them, the landowner worked his way backwards from the new hires to those with seniority (which btw, is an exact representation of the grapes in the basket.  The first grapes gathered are at the bottom and will be last to come out. The first grapes to come out of the basket are the last ones that went in).

And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. 

Quite a generous wage for an hour’s worth of work.

10 But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 

The landowner was certainly a man of his word wasn’t he, although “fair” is in the eye of the beholder isn’t it?   Ever been hired for a job and completely happy about your wage until you found out what others were being paid?  My husband calls it O.P.M. (other people’s money), and it is the root of all discontentment.  Yep; been there and done that.

11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 

12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ 

13 But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?

14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.

I believe the “wage” in the parable is probably A TICKET TO HEAVEN, and when I look at it like that I kind of get a different perspective. I can’t help but draw a parallel with the thief on the cross.  Jesus told him as they hung on their crosses together, with the sun fading on the day, that today he would be in paradise with Him.  The thief had run out of time to do very many good works.  He was at the 11th hour of his life.  All he had time for was to witness to one last man, yet he got the same reward as our righteous King, as well as all the prophets and saints and godly Hebrews of the Old Testiment who had preached, and prophesied, and judged, and led, been faithful, and died before him.

The thing I have to remember is that Salvation is not earned.  It is a gift rewarded for saying yes to an invitation.

15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ 

My Bible footnote says that this parable blossomed out of the attitude that the disciples had shown toward service and rewards.

I find this a tricky thing about church. It is so easy when you belong to ANY group of people to look around at others and compare.  So easy to get hurt feelings about things.  So easy to get wrapped up in unholy competitions.

Am I the only one that is secretly longing for pats on the back for my good deeds? Sometimes tempted to brag about charitible things I’ve done just to make myself feel more spiritual or worthy to my peers?  Am I the only one that feels a twinge of jealousy when someone else in the congregation is liked more, fawned over more, appreciated more?  Am I the only one that is hurt when my fruit salad is passed over for Linda’s Fritata?  Or when Beth is chosen to lead next month’s Ladies Group instead of me?  Or when Emily puts a picture on Facebook and it gets 47 likes immediately and I don’t even have 47 friends?  Or when a certain, once unknown blog writer, celebrates her Food Network show and new line of kitchen wares filling up all the isles in all the Wal-mart stores across America and I count it a huge success if just one person clicks the “like” star on one of my posts.

Although rewards are part of God’s plan (Romans 2:6; Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10), Jesus rebukes the spirit of serving for the rewards rather than out of love (1 Corinthians 13).

16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”[c]  

Matt20.16

Click this link for the FREE downloadable coloring page: Grapevine  to use for your small group, or Sunday School class, or just to color as you spend time in prayer.

The last will be first and the first will be last…just like the grapes being gathered into the baskets, the last ones in will be the first ones to enter the winepress, but they will altogether be a lovely batch of vino.

Chosen vs. Called. 

The Greek word for Called is “Kletos.” Strongs #2822.  It means invited, appointed.  It is used eleven times in the New Testament (Bible Study Tools), and most of those times it is in reference to a calling to ministry or a special appointment, such as apostle or saint.

A calling is kind of a general thing, but it is usually geared to a specific group of folks.  For instance, I think of a ranch cook calling the hands for supper.  She yells or rings the bell and anyone on HER ranch who is hungry will come running.  A church bell calls ITS congregation to church.  A school bell calls ITS students to class.  The disciples, and we as Christians, received a calling from Christ to take the love of Christ to our neighbors.  Many are called.

The Greek word for Chosen is “Ekletos.”  Strongs #1588.  It means select, favorite, elect.

Choosing is much more personal.  We choose a mate.  We choose our clothes.  We choose what we want to eat from a menu.  Choosing is intimate.  This word is used 23 times in scripture (Bible Study Tools). Most of those times the word is translated “elect” as in “the elect,” the favorites of the called, the cream of the crop, the most exalted ones of the called.  Jesus called many disciples, but chose a smaller group of twelve apostles.  Of the apostles, Jesus chose an inner circle, Peter, James, and John as His elect.  Often He asked these three to come be with Him for something special, like healing miracles, the transfiguration, or the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Although the two words, Kletos and Ekletos are spelled the same, they are not pronounced the same and have different meanings.  They are homographs, but I have an uneducated hunch that there is an intended play-on-words in the Greek that is sort of lost in English, don’t you?

The same phrase is repeated in Matthew 22:14.

We all have an inner circle of friends, a small group that we trust just a little bit more, cherish just a little bit more.  I want to live my life in such a way as that the Lord would trust me just a little bit more, and cherish me just a little bit more.  Not to lord it over anyone, but just to have Him smile at me with affection.  I want to have a comfort zone thing with Him.  I want to have the trust/integrity thing with HIM!!!!  I have been forgiven much, I also want to love much (Luke 7:47)!

Personal Application

In penning this post I got to thinking about the shopping trip I made with my granddaughter this past weekend.  It wasn’t going to take us long to pick out some uniform pieces for school: a couple skirts, a couple pants, and a couple pair of shorts, but our little dash in to Old Navy hit a roadblock when we encountered the unbelievable, Disneyland-like lines for the dressing rooms, and then to pay at the end.  It was just crazy how many people were in that store.  I guess that’s what we got for not arriving there until afternoon on the half-price day of the tax-free weekend.

While we were in the monsterous line to pay we passed a bouncy-ball vending machine, and to help pass the time I dug some quarters out of my purse to let my little schnookums try for a pink ball.  One…two…three tries and one…two…three green/blue/yellow balls came out.  Well, shucks.  I asked her what she was gonna do with three balls?  She decided she would give one ball to her sister and keep the other two for herself, but I suggested she give the third ball to another kid in the store.  “Why?” she inquired.  “To be nice,” I riposted, and then I asked her to look around for a kid her age who would be a good candidate.  She looked around, but was overcome with fear and shyness.  She wanted me to do it.  I kept pointing people out to her, and encouraging her, promising that it would make her feel good to do it, but she just couldn’t get up the gumption to talk to someone she didn’t know.  I asked her to choose which ball she wanted to give away, and on our way out of the store I asked a little girl if she’d like to have it.  Although my little jelly-bean was too scared to step out and talk to another person, at least she was willing to give, and I was proud of her for that.

I feel the Holy Spirit challenging me in several ways today through the reading and studying of this parable.  Like my darling granddaughter, I too hold back sometimes, because of timidity.  My anxiousness causes me to stand around idle all day in my comfort zone waiting for a job to come looking for me.  Sometimes I find myself looking around to see if anyone else is stepping out before I do, so I don’t look foolish taking a leap-of-faith all by myself.  Consequently, I don’t make it into the vineyard until the 6th or 9th hour (if at all).  But then there are other times when I feel like I am the one who has been there all day, putting in the biggest effort, and here come others that have done barely anything and are getting lavish praise.  Sometimes I get jealous over favoritism shown to others in the small groups that I belong to.

In all honesty, I don’t accept praise well, but admit it is a nice reward to have someone notice my efforts (so that I can humbly dismiss them – ha, right?).  But to get very little praise or appreciation when others around me seem to be getting tons of praise for what seems like a fraction of the work, that is pretty hard to take.  Stumbling blocks.  Oh Lord, I hate the stumbling blocks in this Pilgrims Progress of life.  They are so hard to get past, but here’s what I’m feeling the Lord leading me to use as tools to help me climb over them, dig under them, and squeeze around them:

ladderTry to remember that Jesus made a fair deal with me when He invited me to work in His vineyard.

pick-axeRemember that He is a man of His word and will reward me with what is right. “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  Galatians 6:9

shovelStop looking around at the deal everyone else is getting, or get jealous over favoritism.  It’s Satan’s oldest trick to get us to LOOK at things we’re not supposed to have and then looooong for them.  There are far more harder working Christians out there than me who are going to be given the same gift as me in the end, and who have done a mountain more work.  Who cares if I am His favorite or not.  As long as I make it to heaven, who cares if all I have to live in is a pup-tent, and scraps from the Master’s table to eat.  Tis better to be in God’s kingdom than to be anywhere else.

RopeBe motivated by love, and not distracted by greed, or jealousy or even obligation, nor tempted into expecting a reward for every little thing.  To keep my eyes on the vineyard and not on the prize box.  To take the hard shell off my heart and let it swell for that person in front of me who needs a friend, or a sandwich, or a hug, or a kleenex, or a good laugh.

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Dear Lord Jesus, help me not to fall into the trap of comparison.  Help me to keep my eyes on You and consider only the prize that You have promised me.  Help me to be content with such things as I have.  Help me not to be idle, or crippled by fear or timidity, or green with envy and miss a great blessing.  In Your precious name I pray.  Amen.

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“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)