We {still} Are, and I’m still proud…

A few friends have asked what I thought about the recent sanctions brought down by the NCAA to the Penn State football program.  As an alumna, it confuses me.  Here are some initial, slightly jumbled thoughts.

I think this is another example of the focus being taken off of the actual perpetrator as well as the actual victims of this crime, and propagandizing the whole big mess.  I definitely agree with sanctions – even the death penalty would have been understandable.  But Penn State was poised, and preparing, to become a world-class research and treatment center for child abuse.  With the marring of the football program, the university will slowly see their endowments and funds diminish.  Taxes in my state will go up, and tuition will rise to help make up the difference.  (Penn State is already one of the most expensive public schools in the union.)

These big goals to provide effective child abuse prevention programs will never be able to materialize in the wake of these sanctions.  I’m willing to bet that if JoePa’s image wasn’t as squeaky clean as it was, the sanctions would not have been so drastic.  This is pure propagandizing by the NCAA.  There’s very little therapeutic value in these sanctions for the victims, and it really punishes the entire state of Pennsylvania as well as anyone and everyone part of the Penn State community from the past to the present.  Did anyone from the NCAA even ASK the victims how they think Penn State football should be punished?  They are all young adults and able to speak for themselves.

(I may be opening up a can of worms here, but I can’t help but mention that the Vatican was FAR LESS punitive on the child abuse cover-ups which pervaded the Catholic Church for nearly 25 years.  The President even granted immunity to Pope Benedict!  I’m not asking for immunity for Joe Paterno or the football program, but we COULD compare these cases as apples to apples if we wanted to.)

Stripping Joe Paterno of his wins is a slap in the face to every single football player who played in any Penn State game during that time.  Taking away scholarships is only going to close more doors to higher education for student-athletes who need them (I’ll save my rant on higher education access for another time).  Disqualifying PSU for postseason games is fair.  It will, however, discourage new recruits from playing for Penn State.  Who the heck would play for Penn State now, knowing that they can’t play in a Bowl Game until maybe their junior or senior year?  THIS will be what wreaks havoc on the funding of the football program.  We will lose major donors, which will have a devastating effect on the University’s ability to not only recover, but to give back.  And Penn State really does love to give back.  And I really can’t see how this is at all helping the kids?  Remember what this is all about?  The KIDS.

So sanctions in and of themselves, I agree with.  I believe punitive action is necessary.  But some of these sanctions seem quite a bit counterintuitive in their attempt to address the real issue.

Ok, maybe I should pull out my box of college photos and destroy them now.  There’s no reason we should have been having so much fun at all those games in Beaver Stadium…. I just found out we didn’t win any of them after all.  😦

Penn State will never be the same.

On second thought, wait… They might actually mean more to me now than ever.  Because they tell the neessary story of how life just isn’t fair sometimes.  And how nothing, not ONE thing in this world, no matter how benign it might seem on the outside, is not tainted by profound, disgusting, deplorable sin – the effects of which are incredibly far-reaching throughout many generations.    I’ll tell these stories to my children one day, through these pictures.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus…

My freshman roommate and I on a mini-reunion at Beaver Stadium, Oct 2011. We had no idea that trouble was just around the corner for Penn State.

We had no idea we were watching Joe Paterno coach his last home game.

Nothing like a night game.  In the snow!

Penn State family, Sandusky does not define us.  Neither do the actions of any of the leaders who dropped the ball.

xo,

jen

 

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So much for a lazy summer…

Well, I dunno about you, but this was supposed to be a lazy summer for me.  More than a month in, and I’m realizing how not lazy it has been so far.

Since I have a tendency to ramble, I’ll keep it simple.  Here’s what I’ve been up to, in photos, since my last post:

Weekend at the lake with some of my favorite girlfriends…

Isn’t our little lake house the cutest thing ever?

Lots of baking, of course.  I veered a bit from my favorite artisan bread recipe to give this one another go.  It’s absolutely fantastic.  I also made this avocado pie once, and I’m sorry I don’t have a picture to show you.  I know you’d love it.

A couple of nights of roughing it with the entire family.  I’ll keep their mug shots private, so you only get the “kitchen table” for now.

Had some time to get my craft back on.  This will be bunting, for a big party that T and I are hosting this summer.  I got high expectations for it to come out great, but I’ve never made it before.

More party decorations!  When this is all finished up, I’ll post the finished product(s).

Happy 10 years to a very faithful friend, my trusty steed Stella.  She’s been back and forth across the country with me more than once and wears her mileage proudly.  {Why yes, I did take this picture while I was driving!}

Taking two summer intensive classes that start on Monday, so I had a ton of reading to do too.  The book on top was wonderful, about an emotionally disturbed child who comes to resolve his identity through a series of play therapy sessions.  The one underneath, meh, not much I haven’t heard already.

That’s pretty much it, as far as the busyness of my life goes these days.  But no rest for the weary, I tell ya!

Hope your hot days have been at least half as fun and twice as restful as mine have been.  Happy summer!

xo,

jen

Pass it on…

I haven’t had much else to say lately, and I’m not one to post for the sake of posting.  But there’s something that’s telling me I should share this little ditty…

A wise friend took me to a diner for breakfast one fine sunny day during my senior year of college.  Up to this point, she had invested time, wisdom, and lots of encouragement in me quite like a few of the other women on staff with the Christian organization I was involved with as a college student.  Kelly sat me down and talked about my future plans and what I thought my purpose in life was.  I was at the crossroads.  Her job on staff was to help me figure out where God was leading me.

It’s been over ten years, and I’ve forgotten most of the conversation.  I’m sure we talked about my upcoming trip to Venezuela, where I worked with students in a similar capacity as she did for a short time.  We probably talked about her new little one (who is now 11!)  and maybe what her family’s plans were for the summer, but it wasn’t about the small stuff.  I’m typically forgetful of that, but there was one piece of not-so-small stuff that has been etched into my heart ever since that morning.  She said someone wise in her own life had shared it with her a number of years before.

I’ve kept it near and dear to my heart – finding hope in it through the really tough times, rejoicing in it through the best of times, and just trusting in it through the ordinary times. Like a beetle on a screen door in the summertime, I cling tightly to it!   I thank God for how it continues to transform me and how I get to see it work so powerfully in action with others.  Most importantly, I want my life to fully reflect the charge it contains.  About two weeks ago it challenged me yet again at a missions conference with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

I write it into cards, letters, emails, and I share it whenever I feel led to. It’s the first thing that ever gets written into a new Bible – either my own or as a gift.   Without further ado, I’m passing along my most time-tested, transformational, and enduring truth that I’ve ever received.

‘Two things are eternal: the Word of God and the souls of men.

Devote yourself to these things.”

Decipher it for yourself.  Or tell me what’s your take on it…

As always, thanks for reading!

xo,

jen

A few thoughts about advice

So it’s the close of the spring semester for me. I’m not entirely sure where the time went – especially the month of April! I’ve finished up my Live Lightly challenge, and managed to wipe out half of my closet in the process of removing and rearranging my clothes. It hasn’t been very easy – in fact, at times it’s been downright drudgery. I’m so glad the task of cleaning out my closets is now behind me!

I’ve found that I have pretty deep emotional attachments to a lot of my clothes. I remember buying certain things, or wearing them to particular occasions. {Remember my Tennessee Yellow I told you about a couple of weeks or so ago?} But, unlike that sweatshirt, some things I just won’t get rid of.

Clothes aren’t the only things on my mind, however. I’m thinking a lot about giving and getting advice.

I have a few very dear friends, both old and new, who have been soliciting pretty personal advice lately. I’ve actually been quite humbled by the advice I’ve been asked to give. Marriage. Family. Work. Dating. Relationships. It always seems to boil down to the R-word, doesn’t it? {Even parenting… what the heck do I know about parenting…!}

Maybe since I’ve started working on my Master’s degree in Listening {ok, it’s really called Counseling}, it’s as if I wear a huge neon light blaring across my forehead blinking, “ask me!” I don’t consider myself worthy to offer major life perspective to many people, but nonetheless am glad to have a chance to shine some much needed light in some dark situations as I’m asked to offer my perspective.

Giving advice is very much offering my “view.” The word advice comes from the Old French phrase a vis which is a derivative of the phrase ce m’est a vis, meaning “it seems to me that,” or “in my view.” The actual root phrase is the Latin videre which means “to see.”

So as I’ve spent the past month cleaning out my closets, thinning my stash and donating clothes, I have been pondering advice. I’ve found the two concepts to be quite similar, actually.

How many items of clothing do I own that I feel a sense of obligation to, even if they no longer help me look great? What things in my closet am I just holding onto, for memory’s sake? How much longer do I need to hold onto my gorgeous college graduation dress that is four sizes bigger than I am now? Clearly this dress will never look as flattering on me again. That ratty Penn State sweatshirt laden with huge holes and even bigger memories of home games at Beaver Stadium? I will probably never get rid of these clothes, yet they are also not the ones I reach for when I really need to look my best.

And just like these clothes: How often do I so naturally turn to those “comfy” few when it comes time to delve into my problems, even though their advice might actually prevent me from truly being at best? When I need advice, am I reaching for what’s nostalgic and cozy, or the timeless classics in my life that help me truly be my best self?

How about when I’m offering advice? Am I simply soothing my friends and allowing myself to be that comfy pair of high school track sweatpants for them, or am I truly helping them be their best – which might mean telling them the hard truths of what they need to hear? Am I aiming to be a timeless classic to my circle of friends?

What is it about someone that qualifies them as “advice-worthy?” When I think about my own life, I have a just a few close confidants I turn to for their time-tested wisdom. I’m not saying my friendships have worn out like a pair of sweatpants -please know this. I have lots of friends that I love very dearly, and I don’t plan on thinning my stash of friends any time soon! I just don’t tend to ask all my friends for advice; and I honestly challenge that thought. Because I don’t believe friendship in and of itself is what makes someone “advice-worthy.” As I thought about the idea of wise counsel, I settled on this straightforward litmus test for soliciting advice:

  • Does the person live a life that I desire to emulate? In other words, I’m a Christian. That means I desire to live and be like Jesus Christ. Does the person I’m asking for advice live a life that reflects Christ with the same (or even more) intensity? Why would I ask for advice from someone who wants to live less like Christ than I do myself? Their advice will likely not bring me closer to Jesus, and therefore, not help me be my “best” self.
  • Does the person’s advice measure up to the standards I live by? Sure I can look in the back of my Bible or even google the topic in a commentary, but spending time to truly know God’s Word is the best way to be prepared to actually determine if it measures up to His standard, which is my standard. If someone offers me advice or a suggestion that contradicts what the Bible says, then clearly this is not advice that will help me be my “best” self. Secondly, if I’ve answered ‘yes’ to the first question, it should likely pass this second question with flying colors.

So there you have it – some thoughts on seeking and offering advice. Do you ever consider who you seek advice from or who seeks it from you? Are you that comfy pair of tattered sweats or are you a timeless, trusted staple in someone’s wardrobe? Is it time to give your advice closet a good solid look-through?

Who do you turn to for advice? For some thoughts on wisdom and advice from the ancients, check out the middle chunk of the book of Proverbs {which has 31 chapters}.

Proverbs 15:14 – The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.

Proverbs 16:22 – Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools.

xo,

jen

The LL Challenge – Day 11

We’re eleven days in, how are we doing? Are you still with me?

Well, I told you I’d be posting periodically throughout the challenge to show you what’s in some of that pile-o-stuff. Unfortunately a bunch of stuff got in the way, one of them being whether or not I should even let you in on what I’m putting in that pile. I decided, however, that I have nothing to hide, and I’ve made a commitment to being real with everyone, so that includes you!

So, here’s a little bit about the very first item I pulled out:

{a.k.a. maybe one of the hardest posts I’ll ever write…}

This Easter-egg-yellow sweatshirt from Tennessee represented something absolutely major to me. But now, it’s become something that I’m also willing to let go of.

This was not pre-orchestrated. I had absolutely no intentions of pulling this sweatshirt first, nor did I even realize it was stowing away in the first drawer I opened. But there it was.

My Tennessee yellow. My emblem of freedom.

{Story}

You see, you may or may not know that once upon a time, what seems like a lifetime ago… {wait for it… wait for it…} I was married.

Gasp!

Neither the relationship nor its subsequent demise is something that today I am particularly proud of, nor frequently talk about. But let’s be honest for a minute, ok? I can’t change the fact that I was once married and am now divorced. I don’t announce that proudly, but neither can I ignore that it is the truth. It has now become a part of my history, just as much as is having had a pet hamster named Smoky when I was 10. I’m not trying to be humorous about it, I’m simply stating facts. Praise God that even through that season of darkness in my life {the divorce, not the hamster}, He saw fit to redeem me from really what felt like a grave. Thank you, Jesus. You are my Redeemer!

{If that’s going to cause you to stop reading and enjoying my blog right here right now, then that’s your prerogative. To which I would say, that’s also your loss.}

But let’s get back to that yellow sweatshirt.

When my marriage ended, I went on a long journey. It was quite a special journey, never to be replicated… One U-Haul with one car on the hitch, one iPod, one GPS, one loyal brother, one exasperated mother, and one very reflective, melancholy, brokenhearted, lost, deluded, troubled girl. And together, we drove. We sang, we cried, we ate, we yelled, we talked, we cursed, we sang, we shouted, we laughed. And we drove. Actually, my brother and I drove most of the time just to avoid having to sit spread-eagle in that middle seat, which wasn’t really a seat at all. {Sorry, Mom…} And when we got to Tennessee, things got a little chilly. So I browsed through the Cracker Barrel shop after dinner one night and found this. It was warm. It was a happy color. It said “Tennessee” on it, and I had never been to Tennessee, and so far, I thought it was just beautiful. It was the place where the first few real smiles had emerged from their hiding spot. I wanted to remember Tennessee.

Did I have to have it? No, probably not. I didn’t really think I had to have much of anything at the time. Life was just sort of swirling around me, dizzying me. Numb.

But it was late fall, a crisp wind was in the clear night air… and when one tiny thought suddenly flashed through my mind like a white-hot bolt of lightning in a summer desert sunset, it was settled.

I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to purchase it.

You see, he and I didn’t have any sort of mutually-trusting financial arrangement. I made a lot of money, and he made a lot of money. But I was not the accountant of the money, so the arrangement was pretty much this: If I wanted something, I had to ask first. And if anything was purchased outside of that arrangement, things didn’t bode well for me, which in turn didn’t bode well for the relationship itself. I will spare you the details, because this is really about that sweatshirt.

I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to purchase it.

I looked – ok, gawked – at the price tag. {Remember friend, I’m in the Cracker Barrel gift shop. Who buys sweatshirts there? Apparently I do.} I bought it because I didn’t have to ask anyone if I could. Surrounded by the glorious colors of fall on that early evening in Tennessee, I found my new leaf, this yellow sweatshirt-of-a-leaf, and turned it. That sweatshirt represented freedom for me. Hope.

Please don’t go thinking this post is all about women’s lib or how I must not be obedient to Ephesians-Five-Submissiveness. This is not about philosophy, feminism, or theology. This was simply one quiet act of acceptance that a very dark chapter in my life was nearing its close, and I was about to embark on a new one. A happy, yellow one.

Here’s where it gets a bit interesting. Naturally, I wasn’t eating well, wasn’t sleeping well. I basically had to remind myself just to breathe. I had lost so much weight through this ordeal, through my pain and heartache. Not by trying, mind you – that’s not my style – but just because. I already had major self-image issues due to the expectations of perfection that he had for my appearance, which didn’t help the fact that I wasn’t eating well. So I felt awful, and felt as if I looked awful. As it was, I was the skinniest I ever recall being.

But, oh the irony. That sweatshirt? I bought a size Xtra-Large.

I put it on right there in the Cracker Barrel gift shop and wore it for what seemed like another lifetime. But I was swimming in it! In fact, I think I kept myself hidden inside it for the rest of the trip.

Now, when I look at that sweatshirt, I see a lost, skinny girl who thinks she’s huge and feels like a $50 purchase is some sort of act of rebellion. No wonder I don’t wear it anymore. I certainly was pathetic.

I’m so thankful that God has pulled me out of that dark muck and mire that was tearing up my soul. Since He has put my feet on solid ground, He has helped me come to learn that:

  • The end of that relationship was not the true freedom I needed. Yes, it was not a good relationship for either of us, but my prison was much larger than the relationship itself. I want to make that distinction clear. I am free – not because I am no longer married, but because Christ has set me free. Jesus said, “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” {John 8:31}
  • Beauty does not depend on the size of one’s body, yet whose attention should I really be striving for anyway? “For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. {1 Samuel 16:7}

Dear Jesus, thank you for my Tennessee yellow, and the token reminder it was to me of the turning point I was going through. Thank you that it represented a new lease on life for me during my darkest days. I pray that it finds its way to another cold person who needs it more than I do and blesses them with warmth. God, I thank you most of all for allowing me true freedom which comes through you and you alone. O Lord, truly I am your servant; you have freed me from my chains. {Psalm 116:16} You are my Redeemer. Amen.

Do you feel like you are truly free? If not, do you want to be? What are the chains that are holding you back from experiencing true freedom? Just something to think about…

Ok, on to living lightly!

xo,

jen

The Live Lightly Challenge

God’s been really working on my heart and calling me to rethink my lifestyle.

Ok, wait a second before you go judging… 🙂 First off, if you know me, I hope you know that I’m not exactly flashy. I don’t drool over name-brand purses, I hardly ever wear jewelry, and I’m still wearing the same pair of Payless tennis shoes since 2007.

But fancy purses and expensive shoes aside, I’ve still managed to aquire an awful lot of… stuff… And it’s becoming more and more obvious that God’s plan for me is to live lightly. Why? Well, here are a few reasons He has revealed to me.

  • Owning so much stuff is expensive. Looking back on my history, it seems as though I make a pretty considerable move every two years. By considerable, I mean across state lines, not just to a cooler apartment. This most recent relocation from Northern Virginia to Western Pennsylvania was especially stressful. I hired a moving company to do the hard work, thinking I was giving myself some relief from the stress of moving. Nope. My moving truck broke down leaving me with nothing but an overnight bag for nearly three weeks! That was my first wakeup call. When that moving truck finally arrived, I was ashamed at the amount of stuff that was unloaded – most of which I wasn’t even using! There are a lot more lasting things I can invest my money in, and I will save so much money {and stress} by owning less “stuff.” 
  • I often find myself clinging to what is familiar, instead of clinging to Jesus. With every move, the transition seems to get more difficult. I’m sure that’s because I’m getting older. I’ve become a bit more cautious. I’m still adventurous, but I don’t jump in with as much gusto that I used to. And in times of uncertainty like a big move, we look for what’s certain, what’s comfortable, what’s familiar. My things! I can see them and wear them. Familiar books can be reread, favorite bowls or plates dug out and all of a sudden my life looks like what I’m used to. But God calls us to cling to him during uncertain times. “Do not worry about tomorrow… Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” {Matthew 6:33-34} Why is it so hard to cling to God when it’s unfamiliar? Well, that’s obvious. We have to look harder to see Him. He’s not as visible. But I know he’s there. By living lightly, I leave myself nothing tangible to cling to when I need a sense of security, and force myself to cling to God alone.
  • It’s one of the costs of following Jesus. When he sent his disciples out, he specifically told them, “take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic {Luke 9:3}.” What does that mean to me right now? Well, I’m preparing to be used. I am waiting for him to send me out. And when he does, I want to make sure I’m ready to go. What if he calls me to go to Guatemala and work in an orphanage? What if he sends me to India to work with rescued girls? Even if he were to call me back to Arizona, or to Northern Virginia, my “baggage” does not reflect my readiness to follow very easily. And I don’t want to give him any reason to think I’m not willing and able to go wherever he wants me to go – whenever!
  • It’s about giving to someone who needs it more than I do. In John 21,
    Jesus asks Peter three times if he really loves him, and each time Peter says yes. With each response and with no hesitation, Jesus calls him to prove it by saying “feed my lambs,.. take care of my sheep,.. feed my sheep.” By meeting the needs of others, even through giving my clothes away to others who need them, I am not only showing them Christ’s love but also showing Jesus that I love him. In one of his parables, Jesus also says that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” I’m not willing to have the reputation of someone who is perfectly capable yet unwilling to meet a need. Especially when so much has been given to me.

I’ve been milling this over, and praying about it, and talking about it with a few friends for quite some time. Enough thinking already, it’s high time for action! So here’s my gameplan: I’m choosing 25 items of clothing to donate on April 1, and will continue selecting one item of clothing each day during the month of April. I’ll keep you updated throughout my destash. I’ll go through the good, the bad, and the ugly with what I’m saying adios to. I don’t want anyone to assume that I think this will be easy.

I don’t think it will be. {I’m already nervous about the end of the month and what my dress stash might look like.}

But it will be rewarding for all the reasons I’ve listed above.

Will you join me?

It’s not too late to start!

Here’s a picture of my day one pile to get you thinking!  I’ll tell you more about what’s all in there next time!

xo,

jen

Back from my hiatus

No hard feelings if you “defollowed” me. 🙂 It has been a really hectic few weeks! Here’s a quick look at some photos to show you what I’ve been up to:

A trip to the desert, one of my favorite places in the world… Love having family and friends there, since it’s a great excuse to get me travelling!

Some serious silliness with these lovelies…

Of course with their mama {my cousin} and scootchie lil sis!

Then, of course some time with our other cousin {that’s her in between my mom and I}. Wish we could have stayed longer.

Bridal shower and wedding for one of my dearest friends! I couldn’t imagine not being there.

Of course, for a true desert experience, I convinced my cousin and mom to hike Camelback {the easy hike!} It was gorgeous.

Ok, you are right. This is not eight weeks worth of pictures. Sadly, only for the fun things do I carry a camera.

The less photogenic activities things can be summed up in this: studying!

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

A very dear friend and I have been talking about getting together for a few weeks now before she has her second baby.  {She’s due any day now!}  We finally made plans for Superbowl Sunday, but after I heard that just a few days before that she was in the hospital and having contractions, I started thinking I may not see her that weekend after all.  As God would have it, it was a false alarm!  She and her hubby headed back home later that same afternoon.  When we spoke over the weekend, she said she still wanted me to come over and keep her company on Sunday for a bit.

I decided if she’s that darn close to delivering, well, maybe I should bring some food with me, so she can relax and not have to worry about food.  {Plus it gives me another excuse to make cupcakes!}

Lasagna seemed like a great choice.  A huge tray makes tons of leftovers.  Plus, she’s Italian.

Only one problem…

I’ve never EVER made lasagna before. 

I didn’t realize that her parents were still in town from having dropped everything and coming just a few days before during the false alarm labor.  When I saw them as I walked in, I secretly panicked.  Famous for her homemade gravy (Italian for tomato sauce) and all things wonderfully yummy and Italian, I wondered how my tray of spinach and turkey would measure up for her.

Luckily, it was spectacular.  Everyone thought so – even her mom!

Here’s the recipe:

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

*supposedly this is the official recipe from the White House Executive Chef, Sam Kaas.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound fresh ground turkey
  • 1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 16 cooked whole-wheat lasagna noodles
  • 15 ounces low-fat ricotta or low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, washed, but not dried
  • 1 pound low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add ground turkey and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add damp spinach, stir until wilted. Add plum tomatoes, tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper; let simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in basil and parsley; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and egg; season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Ladle one-quarter of the turkey mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; spread to cover. Add 1/4 of lasagna noodles, one-third of the mozzarella, one-third of the ricotta mixture. Repeat process two more times; top with remaining lasagna noodles. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top; transfer to oven. Bake until bubbly, about 35-40 minutes.

Let stand about 5 minutes before cutting, and then serve.

What I learned from making this recipe:

  • I boiled my lasagna noodles before realizing that I had bought “no-boil” noodles.  It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.  It was difficult to separate the noodles once they were cooked and drained, but rinsing in cold water helped with this.
  • I completely forgot to add the fresh herbs into the tomato sauce mixture but it still tasted fantastic.  I won’t forget it next time – who doesn’t love fresh basil?
  • The tomato/meat sauce seemed a touch on the stingy side, so be prepared for this if you are serving a crowd that may want extra sauce on the side.  {That’s how my own mom usually serves it.}

Whipped Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting with Red and White Stripes

Today was my day to bring a ‘treat’ for one of my classes.  To me that means, ‘bake something’ for my classmates.

I’m always talking about how much I love to bake, so often times they ask about it.  I usually have some kind of excuse like “I was so busy studying this weekend, I didn’t do any baking!”  In reality, I should be saying to them, “I baked cookies this weekend and didn’t save you any!

Shame on me.

Well, now if they’re reading this, they’re likely to be more inclined to push the issue.

{Good thing I just found the flat beater for my Kitchenaid that had been missing for nearly a month!}

With that in hand, I set out to make a perfectly chocolate cupcake with red-and-white peppermint cream cheese frosting.

Here’s my very own recipe for the frosting. This was also my first attempt at it, so I was praying the whole time that it came together and, it worked!

Whipped Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting

{Makes 12 cupcakes.  Easily doubled.  Piping is a breeze.}

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese *Don’t skimp and get low-fat or fat free kind.  You will thank me later.
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon pure mint extract
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream

Use your Kitchenaid mixer with the Whisk attachment to whip the cream and cream of tartar.    Spatula it out into a huge bowl.  Then put your flat Beater attachment onto your mixer {no need to clean the bowl}, and beat the cream cheese, sugar, and mint.  When that’s nice and fluffy, add your cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream, folding gently but thoroughly, using a wooden spoon or a spatula.

{No stand mixer?   No problem – your electric mixer will do just fine for both whipping the creams and beating the cream cheese. Just make sure to do them separately.}

It’s done!  Let me show you my piping skillz.

I’ve seen frosting stripes a few times online and wanted to try a new technique.  I cut the tip off of my piping bag, and used a Wilton 1M tip.  Using a small paintbrush and some red food gel, I painted about five or six long, dark stripes.

pastry tip with gel paint stripes

{Your cupcakes must be completely cooled before piping.  It doesn’t take long.  Your impatience will otherwise give you frosting that slides right off your cake!}

What I learned from making this recipe:

  • Everyone loves the frosting.  It’s light {no butter} so with a light cake, it’s the perfect combination for a non-filling treat.  {After eating one, I overheard my professor say something like “hashtag frosting,” which made some of us laugh.  I’m so glad this was a hit!}
  • I was pretty heavy handed with the food gel, since it was my first time with this method.  Just a few dark stripes of food color in the bag striped about 35 cupcakes.  But the first few were very dark and unappetizing, and the last few were so faint that the color was barely noticeable.  It was that middle ‘sweet spot’ of about 25 cupcakes that looked the prettiest.  {I’m sorry I do not have pictures!} Next time I make this, I’ll paint the lines, then just squeeze a fair amount of frosting back into the bowl.  Or I may just make the paint lines a bit lighter.
  • My cupcakes caved inward a bit.  I used the first few wonky ones as practice, but using the Wilton 1M tip covered them over really easily and no one noticed.  It was my first time doing roses, I usually do swirly caps.  {Start in the middle and pipe outward for a flat rose.  Start on the edges and pipe inward for a swirly cap.}  I love how the roses came out.

pretty swirly cupcake

It’s Superbowl weekend!  Cupcakes on your gameplan?  You can try this with just a few red and blue stripes, and you’ll be a hit with whoever your crowd is rooting for!

Happy weekend!

xo,

Jen

Do you seriously think God can’t use you?

I’m in this great new small group at church, and we’re reading Me, Myself and Lies by Jennifer Rothschild.  I love this woman!  Not only is she a woman who really strives to know the Lord, she’s got a great personal story.  And she’s a good storyteller, too!  That usually makes a difference.  Read more about Jennifer on her homepage here.  You might hear me talk more about her later, since she’s a favorite of mine.

But this week, we talked a lot about labels.  Labels that we impose on ourselves, labels that others impose on us, or labels that just sort of become part of who we are.  Some labels we might use to identify or describe ourselves could be things like “stepmother,” “outgoing,” “teacher,” “anorexic,” “fat,” “stupid,” “divorced,” or “irrational.”

“Incapable.”

“Broken.”

“Failure.”

Ouch.  When I examined my own labels this week, I really had to dig through which of my labels were actually true and which ones weren’t.  Whether they are true or false, unchangeable or permanent, how often do I find myself hiding behind them?  How often do they keep me from acting, saying or doing something that I know I should?  Should I allow them to hold me back?

I can think of quite a few labels that paralyze me or hold me back.  I bet you can, too.  Often, particular labels that I choose to (or simply have to) bear seem to have the ability to render me useless to God.  Or so I think they do.  There are things I want to do, or wish I could do, but inside I hear myself making excuses based on my labels.  “It’s useless to try because you know you won’t finish. You’re just lazy.”  “Why would they believe anything you say about {whatever}?  You’re just ______!”

I’ve been mulling all this over since small group this morning, wondering about those various labels I hide behind, knowing that God wants me to start taking them captive.  That’s right -full on imprisonment.  Punishment.  Life Sentence.

Then later this evening on Pinterest  {Remember my love affair with the site?}, I came across this great quote.  Ok, a bit more than a quote… a mini essay.  But it speaks to exactly what I’ve been thinking about, and I know God put it there to catch my eye.

{So, is wasting time on Pinterest permissible when it’s really divine intervention?  As I say… “oooh, how pinteresting.”}

{By the way, what a fun image of Jesus, pinning.}

But seriously.  One label in particular can really hold a lot of power over me.   It can sometimes make me feel incapable of so many things.  I’m finally ready to pull out my handcuffs and read it the Miranda.

Anything you can take away from it?

xo,

Jen