Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Easy Chicken Taco Tray

"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability." ~ Sam Keen

For a recent summer bash at church, I loaded up a tray with all the fixings for chicken tacos. Although this has been one of my favorite family meals of late, I had not really thought about sharing it here until the other adults in attendance started making a fuss over the idea.

Perfect any time of year, this quick and easy menu is especially enjoyable on the hottest days of summer when you don't want to turn on the oven or stove.

The focal point of the buffet is this savory chicken, which doesn't even merit a recipe! In the morning, simply place chicken breasts in the slow cooker, pour a jar of salsa over, and cook on low for at least 8 hours. Shortly before serving, shred chicken with two forks. That's it! This entree really stretches to feed a crowd. I usually use 3 chicken breasts for our family of six, and I always have plenty of leftovers for salads and wraps throughout the week.

Arrange favorite toppings on a tray, and you are ready for dinner out -- whether that means by the pool on a lazy Saturday, on the screened-in porch for a weeknight supper, or at a party with friends.

We took our sweet little neighbors with us to the summer bash, and when I placed this tray in Emma's lap to hold steady during the drive, I heard one of the girls whisper, "We're not allowed to eat in the car." Ha! There was no passing of the taco tray during our commute, but there was a lot of singing "It's Raining Tacos."

Alongside chicken and flour tortillas, we like to serve spring mix lettuces, black beans, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and cilantro. For me, the brightness of the fresh herb turns this easy, breezy weeknight staple into crave-worthy cuisine.

 While the kids enjoy making soft tacos, I prefer piling on the greens for a refreshing salad. Add chips and queso, and something frosty and cool for dessert, and you have a menu that is as simple to prepare as it is delicious to eat.

"The summer night is like a perfection of thought." ~ Wallace Stevens

Monday, June 19, 2017

Letters from Daddy

I originally wrote this essay for Ideals magazine and wanted to share it again here in honor of Father's Day.

In my first weeks as a college freshman, nothing pleased me more than finding a letter in my mailbox. Several times a day, I would make the trek across campus to the student center, hoping to find a note from a friend or relative. Letters from home helped give me confidence to reach out to new people, even as they helped me feel closer to the ones I had left behind. Eager to keep up with news from my hometown, I opened letters postmarked from Morristown immediately. Unless the letter was from my father.

Recognizing my father’s script on the envelope, I would quickly tuck the letter into my backpack, afraid the tears welling in my eyes would betray my emotions. I was trying to be a mature and independent college girl, after all. But with just a glimpse of my father’s handwriting, I was reduced to a homesick Daddy’s girl.

Growing up, I idolized my dad. He is a minister, and in my mind there was no Bible question that he couldn’t answer. But even more impressive to me, he lived his faith. I knew he was a man devoted to prayer and Bible study because I saw that he communed with God daily. He served and counseled church members with patience and compassion, yet he never forsook his role as husband and father. He served God, church and family with quiet humility. In my young eyes, he was perfect.

Heading back to my dorm room to read a letter from my father, I smiled remembering how Daddy’s letters had helped take the edge off my homesickness during my first trips away from home. When my sister and I spent a week at summer camp together, Daddy wrote that he asked our younger brother if he missed us girls. “If the girls were here,” 3-year-old Nathan responded, “I would put them in the trash can.” Only a brother could make you miss him more with such a statement.

Daddy’s letters could always make me laugh. “I’m sorry I haven’t taken time to write yet,” he once wrote to me at camp. “We have been busy painting your room this week. It looks really nice. I think you’ll like the polka dots and stripes.” Daddy often included comic strips, sometimes jotting notes relating to camp food or new friends.

My father used his letters as teaching tools also. “Thought you might enjoy this good article,” he would casually suggest at the end of a letter. I still have many of the magazine clippings he sent me to encourage purity or strengthen my faith.

Most meaningful to me were Daddy’s heartfelt sentiments. After I served as a counselor during the week he was camp director, he took time to write me a letter. “Dear Melissa,” he began, “I was so proud of you at camp again this year. You got involved, spent time with the campers, and made me proud in every way. I do not often enough tell you that I love you and appreciate you, but I really do. I am so glad to have you as my daughter. I hope this school year will be a great one for you. Learn just as much as you can, because these years will soon be gone. I love you with all my heart. Daddy.” I treasure this letter, and all the others I received from him.

Daddy’s letters taught me the power of putting pen to paper. This is a lesson I try to put into practice today. As my children make their first tentative steps into the world, I hope that a note slipped into their lunch boxes will help them get through a day of kindergarten. As they grow, I hope my letters written along the way will encourage and teach them, but most of all remind them they are loved.

This year for Father’s Day, I’m sending Daddy a letter. I want him to know that after all these years, in my eyes he is still perfect. I hope that when he recognizes his daughter’s familiar script on the envelope, he will know this letter is one to tuck into his heart to keep forever.

Happy Father's Day!

"Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding ..." (Proverbs 4:1).

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Garden Variety of Rosy Perspectives

"Each fairy breath of summer, as it blows with loveliness, inspires the blushing rose." ~ Author Unknown

Our recent family session with photographer friend Lauri Ann Itson at the Fairhope Municipal Pier ended with the girls and me in the historic landmark's fragrant rose garden. Knowing it would mean a lot to me, the boys even joined us for the pose above. I couldn't resist snapping a few photos of favorite blooms, so I am scattering those among the images Lauri Ann took of Mary Ashley, Emma and me.

Thank you for indulging me in sharing so many portraits this week; capturing this moment in time before our first child leaves home has been such a precious gift to me!

"I question not if thrushes sing,
If roses load the air;
Beyond my heart I need not reach
When all is summer there."
~John Vance Cheney

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Favorite Family Beach Pictures

"I find myself at the extremity of a long beach. How gladly does the spirit leap forth, and suddenly enlarge its sense of being to the full extent of the broad, blue, sunny deep! A greeting and homage to the Sea!" ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

A blessing of meeting our sweet photographer friend Lauri Ann Itson at the historic Fairhope Municipal Pier during our recent visit to the Alabama Gulf was taking advantage of the area's varied landscapes for a diverse session of family portraits. We met at the park, under the canopy of gracious branches, for the series of photos I shared in Monday's post. Then we ventured to the water for a sunset stroll along the shore before catching the last rays of sunlight in the rose garden. Here are our favorite seaside images!

"I descend over its margin, and dip my hand into the wave that meets me, and bathe my brow. That far-resounding roar is the Ocean's voice of welcome. His salt breath brings a blessing along with it." ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Monday, June 12, 2017

Cherished Family Portraits

"When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses." ~ Joyce Brothers

A highlight of our recent trip to the Gulf was meeting up with sweet friend and photographer Lauri Ann Itson. With son Carson heading to college soon, it was very important to me to capture this precious moment in the life of our family -- this last fleeting summer before our dynamic changes. I appreciate Joe and the children for indulging me in this special photo shoot. These heart-melting images are a priceless treasure to me!

"Having a place to go is a home. Having someone to love is a family. Having both is a blessing." ~ Donna Hedges

Friday, June 9, 2017

More Grand Garden Views

"The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses." ~ Hanna Rion

"In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful." ~ Abram L. Urban
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