Friday, April 29, 2016

Bookmarks: Picture Books on Birds

We are enjoying watching birds recently. My boys had made several bluebird boxes this winter and we placed them within view of the house. A few days ago I saw a robin struggle with a long string that had tangled in a pine tree. Her efforts were finally rewarded by freeing the string and I assume the string is now part of her nest. 

Spring is a marvelous time for bird watching, as birds return from the south and begin making nests. Here are a few of our favorite picture books to enhance bird study. (Note: Some of these books contain evolutionary information.)

White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies, Illustrated by Michael Foreman
Lush paintings and a sweet tale of a young girl and her grandfather combine with facts about the barn owl. Includes hints on how to build a barn owl nesting box. Don’t miss this one.

Woodpecker Wham! by April Pulley Sayre, Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
A fun to read story, fascinating illustrations, and several pages of woodpecker facts give a well-rounded view of the many species of this amazing bird.

Arrowhawk by Lola M. Schaefer, Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
This is the true story of a red-tailed hawk and his fight for survival after being pierced by a poacher’s arrow. Includes information on raptors, birds of prey, and why they are a protected species.

This Way Home by Lisa Westberg Peters, Illustrated by Normand Chartier
How does a small bird navigate the 1,000 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf and then find its way back again in the spring? Lovely watercolors share the story of the journey and facts about how the Savannah Sparrow uses the sun, stars, and the earth’s magnetic field to find its way.

The Robins in Your Backyard by Nancy Carol Willis
We’ve all watched robins in our backyard, but the detailed drawings and information in this book will teach all of us something new about these common harbingers of spring.

Owls by Gail Gibbons
Vivid watercolors show the details of the twenty-one types of owls living in North America. Learn about the characteristics and habits of these nocturnal birds.

Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky

Arnosky’s nature books are always treasures but this book is magnificent. Fold-out flaps depict incredible life-size paintings of the largest predator birds in North America. Learn about hawks, herons, eagles, vultures, and more in this stunning book.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Meatball Sub Casserole

I love meatball subs but it is such a mess to serve to children. I also love one pan meals that are hearty and satisfying. This casserole meets both needs.

I adapted this recipe from a recipe found in the Food for Life cookbook. This cookbook was created to meet the needs of those following the Trim Healthy Mama diet. I don't know much about THM (something about separating fats from carbs?) and don't follow the diet myself (Okay, my real-life friends can quit rolling their eyes at the thought of Gina dieting.) but this cookbook looks like a great resource for those who do. It is a lovely cookbook with lots of photos that makes one just want to try a recipe.

I glanced through a friend's copy of the cookbook and found this meatball sub recipe, which has become a new family favorite. 

I layer thick slices of sourdough bread in the bottom of a pan. You could use any kind of bread that you have on hand.

The creamy cheese layer is what makes this casserole so delicious.

I swapped the meatball recipe in the cookbook with my favorite meatball recipe. You could do the same.

Pour pizza sauce over the meatballs.

Layer on the cheese, slide in the oven and prepare for a yummy meal.

Meatball Sub Casserole
(Adapted from Food for Life)

2 lb ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 eggs
1/2 cup tomato juice
6-7 thick pieces of sourdough bread (or other bread)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp pepper
1 quart spaghetti/pizza sauce
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

Mix ground beef, onion, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, eggs, and tomato juice. Shape into balls (I use a small cookie scoop.) Place on pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until cooked through. Cool.

Layer bread in a greased 9x13 pan.

Mix mayonnaise, Parmesan, cream cheese, Italian seasoning, and pepper. Spread over bread, sealing edges so the bread does not get soggy. Place meatballs over creamy layer.

Pour sauce over meatballs. Sprinkle on cheese. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sourdough Egg Bagels

I've already shared a sourdough bagel recipe several years ago but recently I've been making this version from Teresa Greenway and I think it is better than my former recipe. I assume it is the eggs that make the difference.

I usually make these with part whole wheat and part white flours but you could use all of white or all whole wheat.

Sourdough Egg Bagels

2 cups active starter
1 cup warm water
3 eggs
2 T. oil
1 T. honey
1/4 cup vital gluten (optional)
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups white flour
3 1/2 tsp salt
Desired topping: egg wash, onion flakes, poppy seed, sesame seed

Mix all ingredients together. Allow to rest for twenty minutes. Knead dough for five minutes. Add more flour if needed. This will be a stiff dough. Place in a greased bowl and allow to rise for 4-6 hours until doubled. While rising, stretch and fold the dough at least twice to help strengthen the gluten.

After rising, divide the dough into 12 pieces and shape into balls, then punch a hole in the center of each ball and stretch into a bagel shape. Cover bagels and allow to rise for two hours. In a large pot, boil two quarts of water with 1 T. salt and 2 T. baking soda. Gently drop bagels in the boiling water and cook for thirty seconds on each side. Place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Brush with egg wash (egg beaten with 1 T. of water) and sprinkle with favorite topping. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Variation: For cinnamon raisin bagels add 2 tsp cinnamon to dough. Soak 2 cups of raisins in 1 cup hot water for 15 minutes then add to dough. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before baking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Three Months and Thriving

I was asked to share a baby update.

And I don't need to be asked twice. (Darla, hope these photos can make up for the ones I haven't sent to you recently.)

This is the cheery face that watched me make supper last night. Yes, she is a happy, healthy baby.

The two-year-old demonstrates how all the toys work.

She gets lots of lovin'.

Babies are not the only ones who are growing.

The kittens are thriving as well.

This is how I feel some days.

Hands full and running over with lots to love, cuddle, and care for.

Yes, I am blessed.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Two Hindrances to Serving

The last two days I've shared some of what I have learned about sharing in a prison Bible study.

Should everyone serve in prison ministry? 

Of course not. There are plenty of other ways to serve God and others besides prison. But each of us should minister to people in some way. Reaching out to others with the love of God is not optional for the believer.

I think there are two common hindrances to our ministry.

Or maybe I should say that I personally have found two roadblocks that keep me from serving others.

1. Fear

It is scary to reach out and become vulnerable to rejection or misunderstanding. But fear is never a good motive for decision making. Choosing to reject ministry because of fear is limiting the power of God. 

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

With experience it may become easier to share God's Word but some of our fear may remain. Sometimes we may find it easier to share Christ in prison to strangers, than to share truth to our neighbors with whom we will have continued interaction. I don't have this all figured out because I still make far too many decisions based on fear but my frequent prayer is that the the women at my church will be so full of love for God and His Word that we can't help spilling truth into the lives of others.

2. Busyness

Often I think I am too busy for ministry. 

It is true that we only have 24 hours in each day. If I am not careful, the daily routines of life will swallow up all these hours. 

There may be seasons of life when any ministry outside the home is impossible. After the birth of of a new baby (like now) I need to step out of prison ministry several months. A mother of an infant may hardly find time to shower. A mom with several preschoolers has all the ministry she can handle within her own four walls. But we need to be careful that those seasons of life don't become a lifelong excuse.

I've never met a woman between the ages of 16 and 65 that doesn't claim to be busy. Time for ministry will need to be sought, prioritized, and fought for. 

Do I really need another new dress, or could I spend that time preparing a Bible study? Can I fix a simpler supper and use the extra minutes to write a letter of encouragement to a missionary? Must I attend another yard sale, or could I visit an elderly neighbor instead? Which will matter in eternity—a Tupperware party or an evening encouraging a struggling teen? What about limiting my time on Pinterest so that I can make a meal for a new neighbor?

We all have time for what is important to us. Of course, the needs of our family must come first. But our children also need to learn to reach out to others—and they will learn best through our example. Our husbands can help us sort out our priorities, find a proper balance, and utilize our time in the best way.

Today we have open doors in places such as our detention centers to share the gospel. Someday we may not have this freedom. What am I willing to sacrifice to show God's love to the “least of these”? 

“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

What do you find as the greatest hindrance to ministry? How do you make time in the busyness of life to reach out to others? 

Friday, April 15, 2016

What I Have Learned From Prison

Yesterday I wrote a little about my start in helping with a Bible study at our local detention center. I have learned so much through this experience. Here is just a taste.
  1. I realized how many reasons I have to thank God.
I love my life as a mom and homemaker. But some days I feel like I'm holding on by my fingernails and one more jolt will push me over the cliff. 

Some days I need the reminder to count my blessings. I have a secure marriage, comfortable home, godly heritage, and a support network. These are unheard-of luxuries to the women in prison.
  1. I learned the benefit of studying God's Word.
I have heard Bible teaching all my life and thought I had a good amount of Bible knowledge. 

But in teaching these women I had to dig deeper. Putting spiritual concepts into language and explanations that these women could grasp was a challenge. It wasn't good enough to know pat answers; I needed to know how to explain truth in living, relevant ways. My personal Bible time was changed by the effort of studying to share with others.
  1. I saw the benefit in Christ's example of sending workers out by twos.
Two ladies from our church attend the Bible study together. One prepares a Bible lesson and the other lends support. 

How often I was glad that I wasn't alone. When the ladies brought questions such as “Does hell last forever?” my mind might go blank. I was sure there was a good Scriptural answer somewhere, but where? While one of us attempted to answer, the other paged through her Bible to find the Scripture that addressed the issue. And often the Lord put the right answers in our mouths and flipped the pages of the Bible to the right page.

My bond with my sisters in the church was strengthened as we served together. Sometimes it is easy to associate only with the ladies my own age or stage of life at church, but at prison I served with singles, grandmothers, and all ages in between.
  1. I learned that humans are the same everywhere, even behind bars.
At first I asked “What do I have to share with an inmate?” 

But I soon learned that I could look at what I was struggling with, whether it be anger or ungratefulness, trusting God or controlling my tongue. Whatever the topic God was teaching me, I could share with these ladies. They have the same fears, struggles, and challenges that I do. 

Yes, they may have chains of addiction I have never known, but the root causes and heart conditions are the same in every human. When the ladies shared prayer requests for their children and mourned over the separation from those they love, I could see that underneath the orange prison jumpsuit was a mother heart just like mine.
  1. I saw firsthand the wages of sin are steep.
Often I justify my own sin. Somehow it doesn't seem too bad to disobey as long as it is “small” or I don't get caught. 

But in prison, the results of sin are much more obvious. No one sets out to become a prisoner of sin, but even small compromises will eventually reap a bitter harvest. If ever I'm tempted to try to manage life on my own without God, I hope I remember these ladies' stories.
  1. I learned that I'm not responsible for ministry results.

My enthusiasm was high when I first visited prison. We quickly formed relationships with the ladies who faithfully attended the Bible study each week. We rejoiced when their time was served, and they were released to return home. 

But what a disappointment to see some of those same ladies back in prison a few months later. What had we done wrong? That is when I learned that I am not responsible for another's actions; I am only responsible for my own. God gives us the ability to choose. I can't give up just because of another's failures. 

And it made us rejoice even greater when we meet a woman at the mall who has been out of prison for several years and making good choices. God's grace is available and mighty to help any of us live in freedom from sin. Without that assurance, there would be no hope for any woman, whether or not we have lived behind bars.

(To be continued) 

What lessons has God taught you from ministry?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Why I Go To Prison

(I wrote this last spring and thought that the time was right to share it with you. Or maybe am just becoming embarrassed at how little I'm posting here.)

 “Bye, Mom!” the children shriek from across the lawn. Ed is playing catch with the children on this lovely evening, and I'd like to join them. Instead, I slide into the van and drive to the detention center. I spend the evening behind concrete walls bent over my Bible with ladies whose scarred faces and tattooed arms will get no glimpse of smiling children running over green grass.

When I arrive home and help tuck the children to bed, I turn to Ed with thanks. “The women said that Wednesday evenings are their best evening of the week. Thank you so much for encouraging me to go to prison.”

Eight years ago, I would have been shocked to hear myself saying those words.
It all started one Sunday on the way home from church. So are you going to sign up?” asked Ed.

That morning a plea went out for church ladies to volunteer. For the previous five years, men from our church had held a weekly Bible study for the men at the detention center. Now we had been asked to hold a Bible study for the women at the same detention center. But that meant some of us women would need to get involved.

Do you think I can?” I asked Ed. “I like teaching children, but the few times that I've taught the women's Sunday School class, I've been so nervous that my hands shook. And they were my friends. Prisoners? I've always heard that female inmates are a coarse, hardened bunch. I don't know if I could.”

I'm not saying you have to,” said Ed, “but if you want to, I don't mind keeping the children so you can go.

Several months later, I joined about a dozen ladies from church in completing paperwork, background checks, and volunteer orientation. We nervously walked behind barbwire coils for the first time. 

And each of us were stretched, challenged, and encouraged by discussing the Word of God with the inmates.

Now, eight years later, I look forward to my evenings at prison. My turn comes around about once a month or so. I don't often have an evening away without my children, and the undistracted time to study God's Word is always a blessing. 

The inmates claim that we encourage them, but I'm certain I have gained more than I have given. 

(To be continued) 

Have you ever done something far out of your comfort zone - and been glad you did?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bookmarks: Picture Books About Famous Authors

It has been a while since I shared some of my children's book lists with you. Here are some great children's picture books about famous books and authors. Look for them at your local library. (You might find you enjoy them as much as your children.)

A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by John Hendrix
One of England's most famous authors grew up as a small boy working long hours in a factory. This story shares Dickens' world through words and vivid illustrations of London.

With quotes, soft watercolors, and fast-paced text, the story of Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, is told for a new generation of readers. Learn how Twain's life inspired many of his books.

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough, Illustrated by Bethanne Andersen
Alcott's beloved Little Women can be traced to childhood years. This short biography shares the ups and downs of Louisa Alcott's life with colorful paintings.

Emily by Michael Bedard, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Who was the mysterious woman in the yellow house? Her young neighbor helps bring a bit of spring to her life. A sweet introduction to both Emily Dickinson and poetry. Cooney's illustrations are always a pleasure. If you want a gentle introduction to Dickinson's poetry, check out Emily Dickinson, Poetry for Young People, edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Ever wonder what inspired your favorite story book? Charming paintings and old photos tell the story of the bear who starred in one of the most loved children's books. From the wilds of Canada to a military camp, from the London zoo to the pages of Winnie-the-Pooh, this picture book tells the story of the journey.

Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Some of our most loved books are not story books at all. Marcia wanted to be her mother's helper, but she didn't know how to cook. But Fannie Farmer did, and with Fannie's help, Marcia learned to cook. Fannie may have invented the modern recipe, and her cookbook with its detailed directions and exact measurements became the cookbook standard.

Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Most authors have a dictionary on their desk. But how did dictionaries begin? This book is an amusing way to learn about Webster and his famous dictionary.

Have you found any fun books for your children recently?

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sourdough Cornbread

For several weeks I was on a baking binge. I pulled my sourdough starter out of retirement and put it to work. I improved a number of my sourdough recipes. Some of them I think are good enough to share with you.

My family loves chili and cornbread. It is a meal I could serve every week without any complaints.

Sourdough Cornbread

1 1/2 cup active sourdough starter 
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs
3 T. honey
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

In a bowl mix starter, milk, butter, eggs, and honey. In separate bowl mix dry ingredients. Add the wet and dry ingredients together and stir just until mixed. Pour into a greased cast iron skillet or 9x13 pan. Allow the batter to sit for one hour to absorb the liquid. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.


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