Lighten Up Chili (i.e. Even in the Midst of Teenage Chaos There is Something to be Learned)

There I was in organizing bliss. Well, actually, scratch that. I was hyperventilating and covered in perspiration as I surveyed the boxes of games and puzzles with missing pieces and cried out in desperation, “Someone get me an Old Fashioned!” even though I don’t drink Old Fashioneds but my Granny always used to ask for them and so I thought I would too. However, regardless of all that, I was actually organizing. And I wanted to continue organizing. Mother Nature had cancelled our plans for skiing and a commitment-free 3-day weekend lay before me. Since I had announced publicly on this here blog that I would be organizing weekly, I was feeling the pressure. People would be asking me how it was going. I had to have something to report back.

Deep in concentration assembling a Madeline puzzle, (I can’t in good conscience donate a puzzle with missing parts, now can I?) my daughter flits by and says, “So, I’m having two people spend the night Sunday and we’re making cookies for Ronald McDonald house for our community service project.” To which I respond, “Yes, that’s what we agreed on.” “Okay,” she says back and then adds on, “Oh, and some of us are talking about going to a movie. I don’t know, like, tomorrow or something.” “Oh, okay,” I say non-chalantly to her while silently cursing this puzzle with its odd shaped pieces.

A few hours later, I am beside myself with frustration. “Where is the humongous fungus?! Nobody in their right mind will want to play Shrek Operation with a missing body part.” Coming through a bin of random toy parts, I search for the humongous fungus. Seemingly out of nowhere, I detect my daughter’s legs just outside the bin. She speaks to me saying, “Okay, so the 1:50 pm movie on Sunday works best but we might change it to Monday. We thought cookies from 4-6p on Sunday would be good but if the movie happens we’ll do cookies on Monday. (pause) Oh, and Betty is coming too.” To this last bit I pop my head up, “Wait a minute. I said two people. That’s it.” “But, Mom, Betty needs her community service too and we were already talking about it at school and I forgot.” Overwhelmed with the amount of details coming at me and around me, I sigh and say, “Fine…but that’s it. And who’s taking you to the movies?” “Probably one of the other Moms.”

Still perspiring but making progress, I had different piles going. One labeled, “Ready to Donate.” Another labeled, “Missing pieces.” And a final one, “Too far gone.” Isn’t it interesting how not one child has touched these items in years, but the minute I pull them out and spruce them up, it’s like Christmas all over again? Out of the corner of my eye, I see the 5-year old taking apart the car carrier with all of its car pieces I had diligently located and before I could begin to address that situation, my daughter appears again saying something like, “Okay, Mom. So here’s the plan. Betty, Barbara, Missy and Cindy are going to the movies with me. Dad is dropping us off. You can pick us up after you pick-up my dear brother from the party. Then, Cindy, Barbara and Betty will be arriving at 6pm for the sleepover. Linda will be coming at 8pm. We’ll make cookies in the morning. Oh, but Betty has to leave early so you can just take me, Cindy, Barbara and Linda to drop off the cookies later that afternoon.” I sat there…stunned. All I could manage to do was look at her and say, “Wait…what?” Somehow I knew I was being scammed but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Mid-weekend, I moved my unfinished organizing project to a corner of the room, knowing that the floor space would need to be available later that evening for sleeping teenage girls. At least, I hoped they would be sleeping. I called my daughter down to the room and asked her to sit down. “Now, here’s the deal. I said two people. Somehow it’s now four people which is fine…but here are the rules. I’m not okay with 5 in the morning bedtime. Look in my eyes. Right here.” “I’m looking.” “All lights and screens must be off by 1am which means if you want to watch a movie by what time do you need to start it?” “I know Mom.” “No tell me, what is the latest time you can start the movie?” “11pm” “Right. And no kitchen raids after midnight. Say it, no kitchen raids after…?” “Midnight.” “Lights and screens off by….?” “I know, Mom.” “Tell me.” With a giant exhale, she says, “1am.” “I’m trusting you to be in charge of your friends.” “I know.” And with that I start up the stairs. “Uh…Mom?” my daughter calls up to me. “What?” “Well, I’m just asking you because they were asking me and I told them I would ask you but would it be okay if Louisa came too?” “No.”

The evening progressed like any teenage slumber party would. They were polite at dinner. Ate their chili. Said please and thank you. Cleared their dishes. But once my sweetie and I had retired to our bedroom, they raided the kitchen after midnight. Ran around the house whispering and giggling until 2am. At 4am, my sweetie finally went downstairs to remind them that five hours of cookie baking lay ahead of them and it would be best if they got some sleep.

Bleary-eyed the next morning (or should I say a few hours later?) they reluctantly started mixing up cookie dough. “How many cookies do we need? Four dozen cooked plus dough for the freezer. Why do they need dough for the freezer? I don’t know. Just do it.” They mixed. They rolled. They baked. They asked if they could take a break and walk down to Starbucks. I said no but pointed to the pile of dishes they could do and continued chatting with my neighbor who had kindly come over for moral support. They sighed. They washed. They dried. They decorated. They sprinkled. They packaged. And finally, they loaded up and we headed to the Ronald McDonald house. Driving there, exhausted, I thought to myself, “Never again.”

The house was quiet but warm. The girls presented their goods to the manager on site. She asked them if they knew what purpose the Ronald Mcdonald house served. They nodded yes. She gave them statistics about how many families lived there at one time. What kind of patients they usually had there. The girls listened to her attentively. She explained to them that the house was quiet now because the children were out getting their chemo treatments. It was in that moment that I saw a softening of their faces. She took them to a bulletin board with photos of all the families currently living there. Names and faces made these unknown patients become real for them. Finally, she said to them, “I bet you’re wondering why we asked for the unbaked cookie dough?” Again, they nodded yes. “Because within an hour of arriving at the hospital they take on the smell of the hospital. It’s in their hair. Their clothes. Their skin. The smell of baking cookies helps mask that smell and makes this place feel more like…a home for them. And then, of course, the cookies themselves are a nice treat.” I looked over at the girls. All of the “teenageresque” attitude had disappeared and they stood there with genuine interest and concern at what they were being told. Perhaps realizing that what had seemed like a chore for them, meant so much to someone else.

“They just want to smell cookies baking,” I kept thinking to myself as I dropped each girl off at her home. All of the anxiety about organizing and teenage slumber parties and the chore of baking cookies suddenly seemed so trivial when compared to simply wanting the smell of freshly baked cookies to mask the smell of sickness. And it was in that moment that I knew I should never have said never because I would absolutely do it all again just to fulfill that one simple request.

Tying up a few loose ends from my last post….

And the winner of the Seattle’s Best Coffee Curiosity Pack, as chosen by the 5-year old, is:

Lighten Up Chili
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Serves: 1 big pot-full
This is a chili recipe that I go back to time and time again. Everyone loves it. It's easy to make. I used to make this with 2 pounds of ground beef but because our family isn't eating as much beef as we used to, I decided to lighten it up with half ground turkey, half ground beef. I liked it even better this way.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground white meat turkey
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced, about 2-3 stalks
  • 1 green or red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1-2 pinch(es) red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you like it
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
Optional toppings: grated cheddar cheese, minced cilantro, chopped green onions, diced avocado, sliced black olives, hot sauce
  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat your olive oil. Add in your ground beef and turkey. Season with a couple pinches of salt and a pinch of pepper. Brown over medium heat.
  2. Add your onion, celery and red pepper to the pot with the meat and sauté 5 minutes of so. Add your garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and sauté another minute or two. Stir in your tomatoes and tomato sauce.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce your heat and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add your beans and simmer 30 more minutes.
  5. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if necessary. Ladle into bowls and top with grated cheese and/or other toppings listed above. Enjoy.

I know where to find you. I will hand deliver it to you. Enjoy…..

I’ve had a few of you stop me in my tracks to let me know you made the White Bean and Kale Soup Peppered with Pancetta and you couldn’t believe it, your family loved it, “green stuff and all.” For a live version of how to make that soup, here’s a video of yours truly whipping it up with Helen on AM Northwest.

If a video screen does not appear above this line, click here to be taken directly to the site.

Organizing Project:
Jan 10-16: Only made it halfway through dreaded toy/game closet before I had to step out for oxygen.
Jan 17-23: Finish dreaded toy/game closet.

How are you all doing with your organizing? I’ve heard from more than a few of you who originally said you weren’t joining me in the insanity and now….. while I’m still trying to get through one closet, you’ve sorted through multiple rooms, entire wardrobes and even laid down beautiful new contact paper in kitchen cupboards. “Sigh…” I’m so proud of you. (Or, do I detect a little competition going on here? Game on!)

All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010


  1. Courtney Cook Hopp says:

    Dang it! Now I'm going to have this heart twisting story stuck in my psyche for the time my boys ask me to do something ridiculous. Beautiful. You and Hanna, Betty, Barbara, Missy and Cindy. Well done, girls!

  2. What a great project! Very inspiring! And great job on the TV segment!

  3. Cookin' Canuck says:

    Now that's what I call writing. You have a very entertaining, conversational style.

  4. Liz Campbell says:

    Loved the soup…can't wait to try the chili. Thanks for sharing your story!!!

  5. Ah isn't true we get all caught up in something relatively unimportant or should I say eternally unimportant, then WHAMMO God brings us right back to the thing that really matters. Great post. Beautiful pictures.

  6. Kim @ Quit Eating Out {Recipes to Make Dining Out a Choice, Not a Chore} says:

    I'm sitting here sick and tired (literally)… and if I must admit, cranky. As my hubby and I are getting our kiddos ready for bed I feel myself focused on some really unimportant tasks. This post hit home to me tonight. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing! PS ~ I just made a chili very similar to this lightened version for the same reason. I found that all turkey isn't a great taste choice. But the balance of the turkey and beef is wonderful and lighter. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!!!

  7. Courtney – That's parenthood for ya. Just when you think you're doing it correctly, they change it up on ya.

    Thank you, Maria and Cookin' Canuck!

    So glad you like the soup, Mrs. Campbell.

    Sheila, Isn't that the truth?

    Kim, You are so welcome and good to know you discovered the same thing as I regarding the turkey in the chili. And yes, I agree…all turkey would be too much but the half and half definitely works.