Friday, June 6, 2014

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

I've decided to start adding recipes to my blog, in the hopes of expanding not only my number of posts, but also the topics that I write about, and I'm hoping that this will also in time expand my desire to start writing again. So here's the first of hopefully many recipes I include.  This particular recipe I received from my grandmother several years ago, and it has become one of my family's favorites. I hope you enjoy it, as well. Bon appetit!

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 can diced green chiles
2 medium-large chicken breast
1 cup milk or milk alternative (I use unsweetened soy milk)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I like medium cheddar or pepper jack)
12-15 corn tortillas, cut in half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. Saute in a skillet to cook, using just a tiny bit of oil to keep the chicken from sticking to the skillet. Cook thoroughly. Add green chiles, cream of chicken soup, milk, and about 1/4 cup of the shredded cheese into the skillet with the chicken. Heat until all ingredients are mixed well, and cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Using a 9x13 in pan or casserole dish, layer ingredients. Add a small amount of chicken mixture to bottom of pan, then layer with tortillas, spreading the cut tortillas across the pan into a single layer. Continue to layer as follows: Tortillas, chicken mixture, cheese. Repeat layering until all ingredients have been used. Place dish into oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until top cheese layer is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven and let dish rest for 5-10 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Serves 6-10 people.

Additions, Tips, and Alterations:
-If short on time, substitute canned chicken meat instead of fresh chicken breast. Simply drain any unwanted liquids from can, and add to saucepan with the other ingredients, heating the same way as above.
-To alter the thickness or 'juicy-ness' of the recipe, add more/less milk to the sauce mixture.
-If you don't want to alter the chicken mixture, simply double-layer the tortillas while building the casserole.
-I've started adding 1 cup frozen corn to the sauce mixture, to add more texture to the casserole, and increase my family's veggie intake. This recipe could also be quite tasty with bell peppers, onions, beans, or almost any other veggie you prefer!
-The chicken mixture seems to work best if the pieces of chicken are small, or even shredded. This prevents the casserole from being heavy on the chicken in some areas, while lacking in others.

If any of you have questions or additional tips for this recipe, please leave a comment below!

Recipes? We'll see about that.

I’m feeling a bit impatient today. And quite a bit exhausted as well. I had jury duty for the last week, and while it was much better than I thought it would be, and I was really interested in the whole legal process, it left me with very little energy by the end of the night. And since my dad STILL has not gotten his own car, (or his own apartment, for that matter), I’ve been having to wake up early to take him and Jorel to work each day. This does not make for a refreshed and energized Melanie. This makes for a very tired, and usually grumpy Melanie. Luckily I was only serving as an alternate to the official jurors, so there was no chance of the verdict being altered by my moods. 

Anyways. I was trying to update my blog, and since I don’t really have any original thoughts right now, I was just going to post some of my favorite recipes in the mean time. BUT, there seems to be something wrong with my Internet connection, or the Internet itself, or maybe its just God’s way of telling me to not post recipes right now. All I know is that every website I go to will only load about halfway (at best), and then it just stops progressing altogether. It remains with the never-ending revolving circle of loading death, and never finishes bringing up my webpage. This makes for a very unsuccessful blogging experience. So instead I'm typing in Microsoft word, because at least it’s working properly. What I'll do once I'm finished, I have no idea. Maybe try posting again. Maybe make some jewelry. Maybe I'll make some lunch, or clean my bedroom, or walk the dogs, or wallow in self-pity and do nothing for the rest of the day. Who knows? I just know that the world will be a slightly darker place without having seen my chicken enchilada casserole recipe. And you know what? We can blame the internet for that.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Journey: Day 2

It's been a really tough week for me, and it's not even over yet. As some of you already know, my Aunt passed away on Tuesday. And as you might think, it's pretty much all I can think about. Her death was sudden, but at the same time, I knew it was coming. She had been struggling with alcoholism for several years, and it finally caught up to her. She went into the hospital about a month ago with liver and kidney failure. At the time, the doctors didn't know the severity of the situation, but regardless, I knew that she wouldn't last very long. I have been in a slow process of mourning ever since that original hospital stay occurred, but it did little to prepare me for the inevitable.

I am in mourning now, as you would think, but not for myself. I do miss my Aunt. She shared her birthday with me, her favorite football team was the same as mine, and I have countless found memories of her from my younger years. She was always joyful, always laughing, smiling, cracking jokes with the family. She was always the one who cheered loudest for my cousins- her sons- while at their sports games. I will miss her terribly, and our family will always feel the loss of her presence. But my mourning is not for my own loss. It is for the loss and hurting of the rest of my family. For my grandmother, who is now experiencing the first loss of a child. For my Uncle, who has lost his wife of 23 years. I mourn for my cousins, who have lost their mother. My youngest cousin is still in high school, and now will not have his mother at his graduation this summer. I mourn for my Aunt's family who, although I did not know them, I can only imagine the pain that they're feeling right now with the loss of their daughter, sister, granddaughter. I do not mourn for myself, but for all those around me right now who are hurting so deeply, and yet I can do nothing to take away their pain.

My Aunt's service will be on Monday, in her hometown in Washington. My family will be driving up there this weekend, and will be staying for as long as we can. Please, send your prayers to my family.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Journey: Day 1

This post was actually written two weeks ago, in a moment of clarity. Since then, I have been dragging my feet to edit and finally post it, for several menial reasons. I've finally finished it. Today's score is: 
Journaling: 1 
Satan-induced procrastination: 0
Let's hope it stays this way.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I don’t even remember how long it’s been since I’ve done any journaling. This is evidenced by the fact that I have no current journals to write in, which is why I’m writing via the computer. I don’t know what I’m going to say, so forgive me if this is but random bits of nothingness. However, I am going to continue writing for as long as I have time, because I have a nagging feeling that Satan is trying to keep me from writing. Do I know why? Absolutely not. Do I have guesses? Of course I do. However, I will be avoiding speculation and focusing on the act of writing itself, to see what happens.

So far, I’ve been noticing that every time I decide to start writing, other things come up that ‘need’ to be done, like checking emails, browsing yahoo, talking to dad, planning my week. Plenty of things that truly do need to be done, but can wait until a later time to be accomplished. Currently, I have finished my tasks that really do need to be done in a timely manner, and now I have nothing else that is pressing into my writing time. Hopefully this will help keep me on track with this journal entry, even though the entry itself seems to have nothing of importance to write about.

I've learned from experience that lots of times, just the act of writing is the important part, and not the words or thoughts that I’ve expressed. I have no idea what to write about, and in the same moment, I have SO much to write about that I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps I should start with where it all began, but even that path is muddled and unclear in its origins.

I tend to think that this path began about two months ago, when I met a woman named Lucy*. She attends my church, and she is the mother of one of my friends there. I met her one day, and though the event was nothing special, it prompted me to add her as a friend on Facebook. This then led to me finding a page that she created to promote her blog website, and on a whim, I decided to explore her blog. I read every entry she had posted so far, and I that same day I felt a pulling inside of me to start writing again, for myself. I didn’t know what I would write, I didn’t know how long the desire would last, and I definitely didn’t know what the outcome would be. But I sat by my window, watched the rain coming down in sheets, and the words started forming as quickly as the raindrops fell. I completed the ‘article’ of sorts, and immediately clicked over to my Facebook page. I fired off a quick posting about my recently completed works, citing Lucy for unknowingly inspiring me to write again. This post sparked a short conversation between Lucy and I, which then pushed me to creating a blog website of my own. Again, I didn’t know why I was doing it, what I would write about, or what the purpose of the endeavor was, but I knew it needed to be done, so I did it. In the following few days, I wrote a couple more articles, and each day I felt a freeing confidence I had never experienced before. It came with clicking the ‘Publish’ button when I finished an article, and I believe it stemmed from doing something that was of completely unknown motivation for me. I was doing these things, and writing these articles for reasons that I did not know, but somehow I knew that they were things that I was meant to be doing. It was completely unusual, totally out of character, and absolutely thrilling for me. My husband would come home each day, see the giant grin on my face and quickly come to the conclusion, 
“You wrote something today, didn’t you?” he would ask. I would just nod my head happily, and he would do the same, simply stating, 
“Good.” At the time, I confess, I was a bit put off at his seemingly disinterest in this new development for me. I mean, shouldn’t he have been as happy as I was? Shouldn’t he be proclaiming his joy and pride at my accomplishments? But I realize now, with more clarity than before- It was not disinterest he was showing. It was a quiet, peaceful confidence that what I was doing was exactly what I needed to be doing, and he had a simple kind of happiness about that.

But as confident as those days were, they were the only ones to come. I quickly fell away from writing, excusing myself from the new project by simply saying, “I have nothing to write about right now.” And this I know to be a lie. My life is not static. It is not stagnant; it is not a string of identical days without distinction, interest, or purpose. Each day there is always something new to write about, because there is simply always something new. Even if the things I write are not interesting to all people, or even to myself, I cannot excuse myself from this project by lying myself into believing that I have nothing to write about. There is, and always will be, something to write about. Everyday, for the rest of my days until I die, there will always be a reason to write. The journey is in finding those things to write about. This is Day 1.

22 "Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

*Name has been changed*

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Who Am I?

Recently a newly acquired friend was scrolling through my Facebook postings. We came across an article of sorts, in which I listed out several unknown or hidden aspects of my life, and my personality. This particular posting happens to be several years old, and I had completely forgotten that I'd even posted it, let alone the content and information I'd written. So with a slightly increased heartbeat, I went to the posting and read through it.

I quickly realized one thing: most of what I'd written back then was no longer true. Certain fears I had, and insecurities that I never thought I'd leave behind were now so far in the past that the idea of agonizing over these issues at all seemed completely foreign to me. And it got me thinking that maybe I should revise that post. After all, the person that my new friend had just read about was no longer the same person that I am today. Frankly, I'm surprised that she even recognized me as the same creation that I had been so long ago.

So now I've decided to fill you in on a few of the things that I know to be true of myself, the person I've grown to be over the years.

- I am a daughter of the Almighty God.
- I am still learning to understand what this means.
- I have come to recognize -and depend on- God's interventions in my life more now than I ever had before.
- I have had many hardships in my 22 years of living, some harder than others.
- I have learned what its like to grieve, and I've felt the hurt of losing someone I loved.
- I love the color green, but my favorite color scheme is brown, tan, teal, and turquoise.
- I have a hot temper, and a short fuse.
- I spend lots of time dreaming of what my life will be like in the years to come.
- I try not to sweat the small stuff, but I usually do.
- I can never quite figure out where I belong, or what my contributions are.
- I am definitely an animal person.
- I don't regret things, even some of my biggest mistakes. Because regretting means not learning, and not learning means I might make that mistake again.
- It takes me a long time to forgive people. Myself included.
- I don't really know what it is that makes people like me.
- I HATE being lied to. I hate finding out that some thing-or someone- I thought was true, is actually a lie.
- However, I still believe that people can be honest without being unnecessarily hurtful.
- I tend to be a very pessimistic person, and its hard for me to look on the bright side.
- I have an amazing husband who complements me more than I thought possible.
- I am a bit OCD sometimes.
- I love lists. They make me feel secure.
- I follow my Dad's advice: Its better to do things right the first time, even if it takes a bit longer to do it.
- I believe that puzzles help me make sense of the world.
- I am slowly realizing the creative potential that I possess, and that it's OK for me to not be a painter, actor, singer, potter, sculptor, sketch artist, or master costume maker like my siblings.
- I am currently a housewife. Someday I hope to be a stay at home mother, as well.
- I am slightly scared of having children. And I'm terrified of the possibility of being unable to conceive.
- I make a lot of the mistakes of my parents. This scares and frustrates me.
- I feel complete when I am at the ocean, or in the mountains.
- I will be a marine biologist someday.
- I have a bucket list. It isn't complete yet.
- I am still learning who I am, and where my life is going to go.

As you can tell, this is a pretty sizeable list. However, it is in no way extensive, and there are still many more areas of myself that haven't been expressed here. Some of them I haven't discovered yet, some of them I still don't fully understand. I may never understand everything about myself. However, I take solace in knowing that there's someone else who DOES know all of me, and understands every single piece. It is encouraging and strengthening to know that my God knows me in ways that no one else could even fathom. I don't have to explain myself to him, because he knows already. This makes my uncertainty so much easier to handle. I am still learning about who I am, and why I think, feel, say, and do the things I do. But I'm lucky enough to have a Redeemer who already knows the answers to my questions.

"I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb." Jeremiah 1:5

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fear or Faith?

How can we tell if what we're experiencing is an abundance of fear, or a lack of faith?

Personally, I don't know that I've been able to answer that question yet. I feel as though I'm right on the verge, right on the edge of understanding, but I'm just not quite there yet.

Recently, I felt a push to volunteer with the Children's Ministry at my church. I went to the Ministry Fair, spoke with a few people from the First Impressions Team, the Worship Team, the Children's Ministry Team, and by the end of the event, I knew that I was being led towards the Children's Ministry. I don't know exactly why I felt the pull for that particular group, but I filled out the application anyway. 

My plan was to work with the babies. What could go wrong? Who wouldn't want to spend the morning cuddling and loving on newborns? It sounded great to me. 

I was approached by one of the leaders a few weeks later, and they were offering me a position elsewhere. Two and three year-olds. They want me to work with the toddlers. Inherently, there isn't anything wrong with that idea. Toddlers are adorable, they're hilarious, and I'm sure that each one of them has a lot that they can teach us adults. But the idea of leading a story-time in front of a bunch of over-active children sends me into a slight panic. 

I have a hard enough time talking in front of groups of people my own age, without adding into it the necessity of goofing around, adding in silly voices, and generally making myself look a bit less-than-sane for the sake of maintaining the attention of these children. Just the thought of it makes me queasy. I still have yet to give an answer to the leader who approached me.

And this is where my previous question comes into play: How do I know if my reluctance to help out in this area is coming from a lack of faith? 

I was completely willing-and joyful, even-to help in the Children's Ministry when I thought that I could work with the newborns. I had no second guesses, no moments of panic, when the ideas and choices were my own, and were within the realm of my comfort zone. But now that I've been nudged in a slightly different direction, I can't seem to commit to it any longer. 

Is my reluctance based on an understandable apprehension about my capabilities of working with toddlers? Is it not, in fact, a total lack of faith in the direction that God is guiding me towards? 

I could give a dozen different excuses, each more valid than the last, as to why I am currently unfit for the position of leading the toddler group at my church. But the amount I offer doesn't change the fact that they are all still excuses. None of them are actually valid reasons for why I should not trust in God's calling, and follow after him with faith and confidence in His ability to guide me. Because the truth is, there are no valid reasons. 

Do I trust my God? Yes. 
Do I believe that what He has planned for me is nothing short of the best? Yes. 
Do I know deep down that His strength is sufficient in my weakness, and that He can overcome anything? Yes.

So then after this, I have no reason, no logic, to excuse me from following after Him, and allowing Him to use me in ways that I could never allow for myself. Because I know that no matter how unfit I am, my God is strong enough to overcome. And no matter how nervous, and even scared, I could be, I have faith that God will guide every action. And I know that in the end, He will have used this opportunity and this call of faith as a reminder to me of His glory, and His power. Nothing I do while I am with those toddlers will actually be my own. It will all be His.

And that is faith stronger than even my worst fears.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise- in God I trust and am not afraid. Psalm 56:3-4

Your turn: When have you decided to forsake fear, and have faith instead? What was the outcome?

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Six Things I've Learned About Rain

I've been living with rain for about three days now. It comes and goes, and right now, it seems as though it's here to stay. I've been doing some reflecting while watching the rain, and I've found that there are some things that are quite characteristic of not only rain, but of life as well. I hope the things you read next will offer some insight for you, as they did for me.

One: Rain varies depending on where you are. It could be lightly sprinkling, it could be relentlessly pouring down, or there could be no rain at all. You can be sitting at a window, watching as the rain comes down in torrents, while someone else is enjoying a perfectly sunny day. It all depends on where you’re at. For me, it’s raining right now. It’s somewhere between a drizzle and a downpour, a significant amount, but I am in no concern of a flood. 

Two: When you think you don’t need an umbrella, that’s when it usually starts raining the hardest. Sure, it might be just a light sprinkle when you start out the day, but it never fails. As the day goes on, the rain gets harder, and you find yourself soaking wet and wishing you had brought the umbrella.

Three: When you have your umbrella, a rainy day is always so much more pleasant. Even those of us who love rainy weather can still become downtrodden and miserable when we’re caught unaware in a storm. But as long as we’ve got a trusty umbrella with us, even the worst weather seems like nothing more than an adventure. That one object can make all the difference in a person’s mood.

Four: It can be raining in your life, without raining outside.  I trust that you understand my meaning. That’s what happened for me, about three weeks ago. There was not a drop on the ground, and yet it felt to me like there was an endless bucket being poured over my head.

Five: Those who see the beauty, tend to enjoy the rain the most. Rain is wet. It’s cold. It makes things muddy, makes it hard to see, hard to drive, hard to get anywhere or do anything in a timely manner. All of these things are usually true. But for those who see the beauty of each rain drop, the possibility that rests within the drenched soil, and the flowers that will be pushing through the ground in the weeks to come? Rain is an enjoyable event, not a misfortune.

Six: But the most important thing about rain? Eventually, it stops. No matter where you are, no matter what the weather has been like, the rain will always stop. Even in the rainiest conditions, even when it seems like there’s going to be no end to the down pour, there will come a time when- even if for just a short while- the rain will cease. The skies will clear up, the sun will come out, the roads and the grass will dry. There will be a break in the storm, sometimes just long enough for people to appreciate the sun again. Sometimes the rain stops for a long time, sometimes for just a moment, but always the rain will stop. And we will go on about our lives, eventually behaving as if it had never rained at all, as if that dark and stormy day had never happened. We will continue on as we did before, but always knowing in the back of our minds that it did rain, that it might start raining again soon. And we are grateful that right now, in this moment, we can enjoy the sun shining. 

Now, as you might've gathered, these ideas can sometimes apply to more than just a simple rainstorm. Life, love, marriage, family, the list goes on. I am one of those people who loves rain, as long as the 'rain' is not happening in my life. I've had quite a few storms come through in the past weeks and months, and some have been worse than others. Although I am trying to start seeing the beauty of the obstacles in my life, I still have quite a ways to go. Hopefully I'll continue to remember to see the beauty that comes after each storm has passed. After all, there's always a rainbow after the rain, right? I hope this will uplift your spirit as you face your own storms, and I pray that each of us will have our umbrellas ready, so that we can continue to see the beauty that the rain possesses. With Love,
Melanie Motley

Your turn: What life lessons have you learned from everyday items, objects, ideas, events?

James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.