Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Sisters' Summer Reading Challenge

 A new season means a new list of book! Yeah! Summer tends to busy, but we still want to read, so we kept these goals lighter.

1. Read a book by a favorite author that you have never read before.

It might be a new book by an author, a sequel to a favorite series, or a back-listed book by the author.

2. Read a book that contains less than 200 pages.

In the spring we chose a long book (Confession: I'm still working on mine) so this is a chance to choose  a short book. Maybe there is a middle-grade novel that you've wanted to read. 

3. Pick out three books that you'd like to read. Turn to the first word in each book, and read the book whose word comes first in alphabetical order.

I have a whole shelf of books that I want to read and I can become paralized on which one to read next. This is a way to force myself to just get started. You can choose an e-book, audio, or physical book.

4. Read a book of the Bible and a write down the key idea from each chapter.

Short or long, pick the book that is best for you in this season. 

I hope you have an excellent reading summer! I'd love to hear what you plan to read.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

One Name

I slit the envelope

and new checkbooks slide out. 

For the last four years, 

whenever I wrote a check

I saw our names together at the top.

Ed and Gina

But not anymore.

On these new checks,

my name stands alone.

Those first months after Ed's death

contained so many papers—

vehicle titles

electric bills

bank statements—

each with a name—his name—

that needed to be



I made phone calls,

handed over death certificates,

heard sympathies

from staff members who have done this often.

A couple, with names once connected,

now severed—

by death,

by choice,

by tragedy.

Each a story.

Now, my story.

I still say 

we, us, ours.

I want to imagine they will always be

our children, 

and this our house, 

the one Ed provided for us,

But I know that the future is just me

and the responsibility is mine

for my children and my home.

I don't like

me, my, mine.

I know they are God’s,

and He is here.

But I miss flesh and blood,

skin and bone,

paper documents

with his name attached to mine.

But I hold the proof in my hands.

A checkbook

with only one name. 

Is a stone in a graveyard

the only place to find our names together?

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Review of Poetry Month

 I began the month of April with the goal of reading more slowly and reading more poetry. And I did both.

On a whim, I decided to post a poem a few times during April on my WhatsApp status. I thought it would be a good way for me to pull out some poems I liked and maybe I'd find some new poetry. 

The first week of April was the week of Palm Sunday and Easter. There were so many great Easter poems that I shared a poem every day. Then I didn't want to break my streak. And I found if I didn't share a poem in the morning, one friend would ask where the poem was. :)

While I guessed that most of the people who saw my status would ignore the poems, I was surprised how many people, even rather unlikely ones, said that they enjoyed the poems. A few even stated that they were sad to see the month end.

At the beginning of the month, I would have guessed that I didn't have thirty favorite poems. I had decided that I would only share one poem per author, so that cut out sharing my collection of Amy Carmichael poems that I've enjoyed since I was a teen. But I ran out of month before I ran out of poems. I didn't even get to my favorite children's poems.

I began the month with no planning. Most days I had no idea what poem I would share the next day. I wouldn't say I shared the best examples of poetry by the best poets. Sometimes I shared a poem because it fit the one I had shared the day before. Sometimes I shared a poem because it was the one that caught my attention at 7:00 in the morning. Some of the poems were long-time favorites. Others I found because a friend said, "Have you read any poems by.....?" Some were shared when I asked a poet friend, "Can I share one of your poems this month?"

Was the month a success? I think so. I read (and enjoyed) far more poetry than usual. I loved finding new-to-me poets and hearing others' favorite poems. 

In case you are curious which poems I shared, here is the list. If they are found online, I'll include a link. If they were found in a book, I shared a link to the book. (Number 14 is a video of the author's friends reading her newly-published poetry book.)

1. The Bright Field by R.S. Thomas

2. Palm Sunday by Malcolm Guite

3. The Messiah by Sarah Beiler

4. The Thorn by Elizabeth S. Riall

5. As Simon by Lydia Hess

6. Royalty by Luci Shaw

7. Amazing Grace by Marlene Brubacher

8. Seven Stanzas for Easter by John Updike

9. The Lord Is Risen! by Emily J. Gingrich

10. Go and Tell Peter by Gwendolyn Eby

11. Spring Romance by Janice Etter

12. Plant Me by Lucy Martin

13. When Spring Breaks Forth by Rebecca Weber

14. The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living by Leslie Bustard

15. Working with Daddy by Daniel Hess

16. Make Me Thy Fuel by Amy Carmichael

17. A Birthday Poem by Claudia Martin

18. Anniversary by Claudia Lehman

19. Like the Water by Wendell Berry

20. On His Blindness by John Milton

21. Thinning Pines by Sarah Martin

22. Ritual by Lori Hershberger

23. I Shall Not Want by Jennifer Perfect

24. What a Gorgeous Thing by Mary Oliver

25. The Mask by Maya Angelou

26. The Early Bird by Ted Kooser

27. Pray by Ruth Bell Graham

28. God's Grandeur by Gerald Manley Hopkins

29. Matthew VII, 28 ff. by Richard Wilbur

30. Make Me Red-Tailed Hawk by Abigain Carroll

You could probably find a theme in this collection if you searched for it. Grief, birds, God's Word, gardens, spring, quiet. 

If you are interested in stats - Nine men and twenty-one women are featured on this list. Nineteen of the poets are still living today and all but two were living within the last couple decades. Fifteen, exactly half, of these poets are Anabaptists (probably because I found many of these poems on The Curator. 

And best of all, seven of these authors I consider friends. And I could have included poetry by more friends if April had more days.

So, maybe you could say I most enjoy modern poetry written by Anabaptist women. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Favorite Mac-and-Cheese

If you are a long-time reader of the blog, you know that in the past, I shared lots of recipes. The unexpected result of a blog full of recipes is that typically, when someone asks me for a recipe, I can easily send them a link. In fact, finding recipes on my blog is easy that I'm guilty of reading a recipe from this blog on my phone instead of searching for it in my recipe file.

But since I haven't been sharing recipes in recent years, newer recipes haven't been included in this filing system. One of those is this Mac-and-Cheese.

One of the first recipes I shared was my mom's baked macroni and cheese which continues to be a family favorite. But in 2020, we began helping with a monthly community meal in our nearby city. I offered to make a large electric roaster full of macaroni and cheese and needed to find a different method. 

I combined a few recipes to come up with a version that was simple and delicious. I think I made eight batches that first day, and it was consumed with rave reviews. 

I've lost count of how many times I've made mac-and-cheese for the community meal. It is perfect paired with lots of menu items and any time I offer to bring mac-and-cheese, I am never turned down. Though I think I've made a lot of good food over the years, it is a little embarrassing to realize that the lowly mac-and-cheese has garnered more praise than anything else I've made. 

So I'm sharing the recipe so that I have an easy way to send others the recipe. 

A few hints:

  • If you aren't serving the mac-and-cheese immediately, make sure the pasta is fully cooked. If the macaroni is under-cooked, it will continue to absorb the sauce and the result will be a tacky mac-and-cheese. Since we like it super creamy, if I know it will be sitting for a while, I'll add another 1/2 cup of milk.
  • Preshredded cheese is a big time-saver, but pre-shredded cheese includes anti-caking ingredients that make the sauce gritty. For best results, buy a chunk of cheese and shred it yourself. It is worth the extra time. If you have lots of mac-and-cheese to make, a food processor is a time saver.
  • Feel free to change up the seasonings. How about a little garlic and rosemary? Adding a can of diced green peppers gives a nice zing.


(serves 10) 

16 oz macaroni

1 T olive oil

4 Tablespoon butter

1/3 cup flour

4 cups milk

4 cups (12 oz) shredded Cheddar cheese

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Cook macaroni in boiling water until soft. Drain the water and drizzle oil on pasta and toss. 

Sauce: Melt butter in pan. Stir in flour. Add milk and stir over medium heat until thickened. Add cheese, salt, and pepper and stir until the cheese is melted. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni.

At this point you can serve immediatly. 

Or you can place the mac-and-cheese in a crockpot and keep warm until ready to serve. 

Or you can refrigerate the mac-and-cheese and warm it in the oven or crockpot the next day. 

Or you can place the mac-and-cheese in a 9x13 pan and bake in oven for fifteen minutes at 325 degrees. To add a layer of crunch, you can add a crumb topping with buttered cracker crumbs or bread crumbs. (Topping option: Mix 1 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 4 T. melted butter, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and 1/4 tsp paprika.)

I make five batches of this recipe and place in a large electric roaster to serve about 75 people.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

4 New Books By Friends

 In the last few months, a number of friends have written and published books. Most were self-published, and some of them I read in early drafts to give feedback to the author. I know all of these women in real life. Some I only met once, and others I've known for many years.

Unless I state otherwise, I purchased these books myself. I love shopping on Amazon and the convience of ordering a pack of socks, a washing machine part, and a bottle of vitamins in a few minutes. But books written by my friends are one place I splurge and either buy directly from the author or from small Mennonite book stores. I love knowing that the author is getting a reasonable return on their investment of time and hopefully it encourages them to write more books. 

I'll include ordering information directly from the author or from their distributor. Or, if you live in a Mennonite community, ask for these books at your local bookstore or fabric store.

A Time to Heal by Emily Steiner

For those who have followed Justin and Monica in the Time trilogy, this is the final book of the trilogy. In this book, book Justin and Monica cross the ocean - Monica to Ukraine and Justin to Ghana where they face the challenges of a new culture, new language, and new co-workers. Emily, the author, visited Ukraine before the war, and added flavor that could only come from someone who experienced the culture firsthand. 

Emily's books include characters with flaws and strengths that feel realistic. If you want to know what it is like to be an older single in a Mennonite setting, this series will give you an inside peak.

You can purchase A Time to Heal from Emily Steiner for $14 each with $3.50 shipping for the first book and $1 for each additional book. Contact Emily at  jemstyle01 and ask to be added to her email list to hear about future books.

Student with Seven Teachers by Sarah L. Martin

I met Sarah a few years ago by email, then later met her in real life. Since then, we talk often. Our children are similiar ages, and I've enjoyed the regular emails she sends sharing the everyday life of a mom of seven in Eastern Ontario. 

Sarah compiled almost 70 of her essays into a book for moms. This is the kind of book I would have enjoyed reading when I was nursing a baby. The accounts are short, but the reader gets to follow along as Sarah learns about God and life from her children. Sarah is in the challenging stage where her children stretch from teens spreading their wings down to pre-schoolers.

Sarah's book was given to me by a friend, and I recommend it for a gift for any mom who needs to hear from a fellow mom reaching for grace in the middle of the crazy mom years.

Student with Seven Teachers is distributed by Living Waters Bookstore which has distribution points in both Ontario and New York and can mail books to both Canada and the US.

Edit: It looks like the link for the Living Waters website is in Canada which gives very high shipping to the US. To call their US office, you can try this number 1-888-932-0209. You can also purchase Student with Seven Teachers and probably most if not all the other books in this post from Faith View Books. They don't have a website to order but they have a great print catalog and helpful phone ordering.

Bargains for Blisses by Darletta Martin

Darletta was a teacher at a small conservative Mennonite school and is writing a series set in a similiar small school. If you want a real glimpse into a Mennonite culture (instead of the Amish romance books written by authors who have never been Amish) here is a good series for you. 

Bargains for Blisses is the second in the Creekside Characters series, the sequel to Nothing So Kingly. Each chapter follows a different teen as they struggle through the normal challenges of growing up and interacting with their parents, siblings, and friends. I like that a wide variety of homes are depicted, as well as teens with different hobbies and dreams. My fourteen-year-old is the perfect target age for this series.

You can purchase Bargains for Blisses from Darletta (dgdfmartin for $9.99.

Tricked on the Tracks by Katrina Hoover Lee

If you have read any of the previous books in the Brady Street Boys series, you know this is an action packed series, following three brothers who live along the river. In Tricked on the Tracks, Gary is still searching for the doctor that removed his leg many years before. Clues lead the boys to a hobo camp along the railroad track and gives the boys an unexpected adventure in a boxcar. 

I describe this series as a cross between the Hardy Boys and the Sugar Creek Gang. Not as preachy as the Sugar Creek Gang, but more inspirational than the Hardy Boys. Set in the 80s, this series gives a refreshing glimpse of life before cell phones, though a cell phone would have come in handy when the boys were trapped in a train car. 

When I read them aloud to my girls, they beg for "just one more chapter" and unlike some books, I don't mind reading more myself.

You can purchase all the books in this series at Katrina's website (affliate link). You can read more of her writing on Katrina's blog or sign up to recieve her weekly emails. 

I have more books by friends to share, but maybe I'll save them for another post. But I will also mention that the newest edition of Motherhood is available. 

Issue 4  of Motherhood focuses on God's faithfulness. I help to edit Motherhood, and I was inspired by the stories of God's faithfulness to mothers in various stages of life. This is a full-color, coffee-table type book with lovely art work and photography. These issues have been going fast, so to get your copy, go to the Motherhood website. If you live local to me, I have copies available at my house for purchase. This makes a perfect Mother's Day gift.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

On Selecting Reading Material

I wasn't the only one who wishes to learn to read slowly. I loved connecting with a number of you on this topic, both in real life and by email. And some of you left some great thoughts in the comments of the last post. 

Bethany said that she did a book reading challenge last year to encourage herself to read more deeply in physical books.

Beverly says that she is writing out Scripture in cursive as a way to slow down and think on what she is reading, and Dee says she is paring down her online reading to only a handful of sites that truly builds her walk with God.

Mary Kathryn gave some specific poetry recommendations, and Jessica says that she found that she enjoys children's poetry best.

I've been thinking more about why I didn't think I liked poetry. I know that part of the reason was that I was trying to consume it too fast, to bolt it down. Poetry is like cheesecake. It must be eaten slowly and savored. While a novel can be inhaled in an afternoon, doing the same with poetry gives indigestion. 

But also, when I've tried reading poetry, I liked some poems, but not nearly all, so I thought I didn't enjoy poetry.

What kind of crazy thinking is that? Why did I think I didn't like poetry just because I didn't like every poem that I read?

When I walk into a library or bookstore, do I like every book? Of course not. I have no desire to read most books, either because of the content or the style. But I don't decide that just because there are many books that I don't like, I don't like books. If I read a novel I don't like, I don't decide I hate all fiction. If I read a biography I don't like, I don't decide I hate all biographies. 

I have no desire to read most of the hundreds of thousands of books published in the US this year, even if I could. Over the years, I have learned to evaluate the books I read and figure out what kind of books I most enjoy so that I can select more books that I enjoy. 

Take a genre such as fiction. There is a lot of fiction that I dislike, but there are some I love. When I find one I like, I try to find more books like it. That may mean looking for more books by the same author. Or books that are listed as similiar to the one I liked. I've also paid attention to friends who like the same books that I do and ask them for recommendations. As I learn more about my own reading tastes, I spend less time reading books that aren't a good fit for me.

Maybe I need to change the way I look at poetry. Maybe, like other genres, I won't like most of what is published. But maybe I can find a few authors I enjoy. Or ask friends with similiar tastes for recommendations. Maybe I can discern what style of poetry I most enjoy. 

The good think about poetry is that it is short so if I do read a poem that I don't enjoy, I've not wasted a lot of time. I've decided that I like poems that I can understand, that I can find meaning in, yet aren't trite. I want some element of surprises or impression of "Me, too!" when I read a poem. I want to feel some kind of emotion such as sadness, conviction, joy, or gratitude. I don't want to be completely bewildered. I've read poems and thought, I understand every word but don't have a clue what the author is talking about.

I think I prefer modern poetry toward old classics. And maybe that makes sense. We don't hand A Tale of Two Cities or Moby Dick to a beginning reader. Maybe I need to strengthen my poetry reading muscles before I can take on Milton or Keats.

I don't like poems where the rhyme and rythym feel forced. In some poems, I found the word choices distracting. (Why did they use that word 'vain'? Oh, I guess they had to find a rhyming word for 'rain.' Insert eye roll.) 

For a while I didn't think I liked metered rhyming poems. Free verse may still be my favorite, but when I read a poet such Malcom Guite, I don't think about rhyme or meter. So maybe it has more to do with the skill of the writer. Some writers carry me along on the words with no jarring distractions just to find a rhyme. This is what I'm looking for in a poem. (And maybe if I'd try writing poetry I'd have more compassion for the poems that feel contrived. I'm sure producing quality poetry is intensely difficult.)

For me, finding that there are specific poems I like and acknowledging that, like most genres, I won't like most poetry, has helped me enjoy poetry more. 

And though I said I didn't really enjoy poetry, I realized that I currently have three poetry books on my bedside table. One was a gift, one is borrowed, and one I bought. These three have been there for a while, as I dabble in them slowly.

I've already mentioned Word in the Wilderness, compiled by Malcolm Guite. Calling Your Name by Janice Etter is from a talented German Baptist writer from Indiana that I met once. Leaf 2022 is published by The Curator with new poetry and a few prose pieces from Anabaptist writers.

Want to read a bit of poetry? I recommend The Curator website and Malcolm Guite's website for places to start. You probably won't like everything, but maybe you'll find one or two that you do enjoy.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Why Read Slowly?

For years, I wished that I enjoyed poetry. I loved words and stories; I thought I'd should enjoy poems too. But when I read a book of poetry, I quickly became frustrated. Reading a book of poetry was so different than reading fiction or nonfiction. I decided that I must not like poetry. 

But I kept trying. I picked up poetry books at used book stores. I read poems to my children. The last couple years, in the month of April, several of my siblings and I exchanged poems on Whatsapp. I enjoyed some poems, but sometimes it felt like swallowing my vitamins.

I've also noticed a disturbing trend in my reading. Impatience. 

Maybe I can blame it on our instant gratification culture. Technology allows knowledge to be gained with little effort. I've become good at skimming websites for information, immediately skipping to the next relevant post in the Google search. I could feel my attention span decreasing. When listening to an audio book or podcast, I pushed up the speed, hyper-listening. More words, more chapters, more content in less time.

I found myself craving slowness. I wanted to linger, to savour, to treasure, not gulp, guzzle, and cram. I wanted to fight against a culture that said more and faster is always better.

In anticipation of the busy holiday season last year, I decided to take a stand against our frantic frenzied culture and purchased Malcolm Guite's Advent poetry collection, Waiting on the Word. (This post contains affiliate links.) Each day I read one poem selected or written by Guite and read his short commentary on the poem. I had to read each poem more than once to extract the meaning. I still didn't think I was great at reading poetry. I didn't know if I even liked poetry. But I did like what slowing down, reading carefully, and rereading was doing for me. 

I enjoyed it so much that I bought Guite's Lent and Easter poetry collection Word in the Wilderness. I don't observe Lent as a spiritual practice, but I'm enjoying this collection of poems on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. 

Was it just happanstance that this winter I purposely began to practice slow Bible reading?

Last year I read through the Bible in a year, which I enjoyed because it gave me the wide-angle view of the Bible in a big swath. But I felt like I was galloping through the prairie. I wanted to slow down and look for wildflowers. I didn't want to skim read. I wanted to camp out under one tree for a week and count the ants and acorns. 

I wondered if my habit of skim reading online, of listening to audio books in double speed, was ruining my ability to read God's Word deeply. How can I follow God's command to meditate on His Word when I'm rushing to complete my chapter for the day to fill my brain with the next bit of noise?

So my Bible reading this year as been slow and deliberate. I spent weeks in the book of Habakukk, reading and rereading the verses. I worked through the Kingdom of Priests Bible study published by Daughters of Promise. I have taken one passage and turned it over and studied each side. Then did it again the next day with the same passage. 

Is there a connection between my goal of reading poetry and my deliberate practice of slow Bible reading? Can I train my brain to focus, just as I once urged my brain to speed read? Speed reading may have value, but right now I'm relishing slow and steady, deliberate and thougthful.

April is National Poetry Month in the US and Canada. (Who comes up with these designated days? Well, a quick search found that this one was begun by the Academy of American Poets, a nonprofit who attempts to encourage the reading of poetry.)

Want to join me in some slow reading? Do you, like me, want to use poetry as a way to build a habit of reading more deliberately? I hope to talk more about poetry this month, but I'd love to hear from you. How do you fight against the instant culture? Have you chosen any specific practices to slow yourself down and think deeply? 

Housekeeping note: I recently had to switch to a new provider for my email blog service. I hope I have the bugs worked out, but if you signed up to receive blog posts by email and no longer are receiving them, check your spam or email me. If you'd like to sign up on the email list to have these blog posts emailed to you, go here.


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