Monday, July 30, 2018

Mexican Rice

I was hoping to share some good deals on the Instant Pot on Amazon Prime Day, but they sold out so quickly that I didn't bother. This post contains affiliate links. 

I still use my Instant Pot often despite my initial reluctance to purchase one. Here is a recipe that I make nearly every week. I love that it always turns out perfectly.

Mexican Rice

2 cups chopped green pepper
2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup butter
4 cups brown rice
6 cups water
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp chicken bouillion

Place all ingredients in Instant Pot. Cook on pressure cook on manual for 22 minutes. Allow to reduce pressure and serve.

I often cook this rice before leaving for church and just let it sit in the pot on warm until we get home.

If you don't have an Instant Pot, this recipe works well in a slow cooker for 4-6 hours. You may need to add a bit more water.

I usually serve this with a stir fry or baked fish or chicken. Usually we have some leftover rice which makes perfect fried rice for lunch the next day.

What is your favorite way to use the  Instant Pot?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

In Search of Joy

I've been thinking a lot the last few weeks about what brings me joy. I could relate to what a friend wrote to me in a letter this week. "I often live for the things that make me feel happy." When lots of things in my life are not happiness producers that is a problem. This summer my happiness meter has jerked up and down like an oil well.

I feel happy when...
Ed has enough energy to play a game with the children
the children are helpful and well behaved
my laundry is flapping on the sunshine
we enjoy a yummy meal of fresh garden produce
a bouquet of cheery zinnias sits on a clean kitchen counter
we get a lovely rainfall at exactly the right time

I feel sad when...
the groundhog chews down my zucchini plants to the ground
Ed falls asleep mid-sentence right after supper
nasty words bounce around the living room
I fight a losing battle with tiny ants in my kitchen

I don't want my joy to be dependent upon things, circumstances, and the weather.

I think God delights in giving us gifts like zinnias and a sun-ripened tomato and I want to find joy in these simple pleasures. When God answers our prayers, I want to rejoice. But these things can't be the source of my joy.

We are nearing the fifteenth month since Ed's GBM brain cancer diagnosis. Every day I thank God that Ed is still with us since I know that many with GBM do not have even fifteen months. Ed fights fatigue but still works and enjoys spending time with the children as much as possible.

But saying that "it could be worse" is a small comfort when I wish my husband was cancer free. It makes me mad that I can't plan next weekend or next month because all plans depend on how Ed feels. Counting blessing, though a valuable exercise, can't always salvage broken dreams. Even Jesus wept with his friends so I don't think we have to force a smile on our face when our hearts ache.

My joy cannot be dependent upon circumstances. When I think of the believers who have been persecuted for their faith  and lost every earthly pleasure to serve Jesus, I realize that I have all I need for joy. Ed has had such firm faith throughout this past year that all will be well. He has confidence that in life or in death, God is with us and we have nothing to fear.

I've been reading slowly through Isaiah and love the prophecies of Christ such as Isaiah 61:3. "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified."

I want the joy in my heart to be because of Jesus.

This week Ed had another MRI which showed significant tumor growth in the last month. Aggressive GBM like Ed's can double in a week or two, but even knowing that fact doesn't make these scans any easier to prepare for.

In hopes of slowing the growth of his tumor,  Ed has decided to do some more radiation. He starts August 1 and will have 14 treatments. Please pray that the treatments will go well and that he will not have severe side effects. Pray that our faith in God will stay strong, and we will find joy in Him.

I'd love to hear about the little gifts of God that are bringing you joy today as well as what brings you deep unfailing joy in hard times.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Six Girls and Three Good Books

My oldest daughter often shares favorite books with her friends. Like me, she knows that a good book improves with sharing.

At the beginning of summer, we asked several of her friends if they'd be interested in a summer book club. We chose three books that we had recently enjoyed reading, handed out copies, and set a date in July for a book club meeting.

Last week six girls and their moms met at our local library. All the girls and some of the moms had read all three books. I had prepared a short quiz on facts from the book plus some open-ended discussions questions. 

We had brought a box of favorite books that we had picked up at the used book store. The prize for the winner of the book quiz was first chance to pick a book. Everyone went home with a "new" book. 

Some of the girls asked if we could hold another book club meeting in August, so I called the evening a success. 

We chose the three books for their literary quality, ease of finding at the local library, and their ability to build empathy. We also chose books that were slightly below the girls' reading level. This was meant to be a fun summer activity, not a challenging school project. None of these books were overtly "Christian," but all shared important life lessons and didn't contain objectionable material, in my opinion. 

Here are the three books we read. (This includes affiliate links so a purchase gives me a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
I had tried reading this book years ago but was turned off by the frilly cover. But this spring I tried again and loved it. Esperanza enjoys a privileged life as the daughter of a rich landowner in Mexico. But when her father is killed, Esperanza and her mother flee to the US. Life at a migrant farm during the Great Depression is hard,  and when her mother catches Valley Fever, Esperanza is forced to find a way to survive. 

This story is based on the author's grandmother's life. I highly recommend listening to the audio version so that you can enjoy a good Spanish reader. Even my boys listened to the book. I didn't know when we chose this book how much immigration would be in the recent news. I love how books like these help me walk in another's shoes for a few hours.

My daughter said this was the favorite book she read this year. Nine children climb on the bus on the first day of school, and we travel with them through the year with a different child narrator each month. There are a lot of characters,, but several mysteries and a strong plot line keeps the story moving.

Each child has their own set of challenges at home (these aren't the perfect Sunday School families), but by the end of the year, each one has learned how to support each other. Note: The book contains a violent bus crash that some children may find disturbing. 

A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park
This book will probably be added to my list of best books I read in 2018, even if it is a juvenile book. Park shares the true story of Salva, one of the lost boys of Sudan in the 1980's. The hardships that Salva survived and the way he has chosen to help others is inspiring. Also included is the fictional story of Nya who spends her hours each day walking to get water for her family.

The book is not long, but will be remembered long after you read the last page. Note: This book contains description of war and terrible violence but is not graphic.

If we have another teen girl book club next summer, by the books we enjoyed, what books would you recommend?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Miriam - A Woman of Courage

We are enjoying summer picnics, hosting friends from Canada, preparing sweet corn for the freezer, and wondering how summer is flying by this fast. 

Busy summer is a good time to pull out an old article from my files. This is a continuation of my study on Proverbs 31 and women from Scripture. I wrote this last June soon after Ed's cancer diagnosis. This week I needed a reminder to keep courage. 

Miriam - A Woman of Courage

She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. Proverbs 31:17

I like to appear strong, capable, and efficient. I shy away from any impression of weakness; I don't want to be needy and vulnerable. But sometimes I'm helpless to control the circumstances of my life.

Our human weakness is especially evident in the area of our health. We may try to live a healthful lifestyle, but accidents and disease still occur. 

As mothers we want to protect our families from poor health. So we strengthen our arms, read another health article, and order more supplements. This may be right and good, but sometimes our search for health steals the place that belongs to God and becomes an idol. We want to control our health so badly that we may forget the One who truly is in control.

Young Miriam knew about the king's evil command to cast all the baby boys into the river. She watched in disbelief as her mother dared to place her baby brother into that dangerous river with only the security of a bulrush basket and his family's prayers. She mustered up the courage to stay near the river to watch that floating basket and even dared to speak to Pharaoh's daughter. Miriam witnessed with her own eyes the power of God to intervene in impossible situations.

Over eighty years later, Miriam watched her now-grown brother hold out his rod over an impassible body of water. Behind them tramped the king of Egypt with his army. With no possible way to escape, the people cried out to God, and God opened up a path through the sea.

Miriam led the women in a song of praise. “Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 16)

The children of Israel were not a bunch of weaklings. They had built Pharaoh's cities and were mighty in number. But God placed them in a position where muscles and numbers weren't enough, and they had to call on Him for deliverance. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

I need to remember that, like the Israelites, God uses my weakness to show His grace and power. Not when life is easy, not when I think I'm in control, not when I appear strong and capable, but only when I realize that I need God's power to hold up my arms.

I'm writing this a few weeks after my husband's diagnosis with aggressive brain cancer. He went from being strong and rarely sick to experiencing severe pain and unable to think or communicate clearly. We are now on a journey which has included scary statistics, endless doctor appointments, brain surgery, radiation, chemo, radical diet changes, and an unknown future.

What do we do when we are faced with a health crisis? 

Our reactions can look much like the children of Israel by the Red Sea. First may come fear. We are confronting something we cannot control, we can't see a way out, and we are scared. Anger is another option. When God allows our health to be taken, we find out how important health is. When we feel we have lost something that belongs to us, we can react in anger and bitterness. Like the Israelites, we can lash out at God for leading us into this mess which He could have prevented.

Courage looks at the facts of our human frailty and trusts God. 

Courage recognizes that sometimes God's best answer to our prayers is a glorious life with Him.

Courage is not fearing the death of our physical body, but the spiritual death that comes from a soul filled with bitterness. (Matthew 10:28)

It is normal to desire life, and we want to care for our bodies as the temple of God. (1 Cor. 6:19) God gives us wisdom to research cures for illness. But we dare not follow the example of Asa who asked the Syrians for help in war and sought the doctors' assistance for his foot disease. The prophet told Asa that God was looking for opportunities to show His power and Asa had done foolishly in not turning to God in his distress. (Read 2 Chronicles 16)

God expects us to strengthen our arms, to weave a basket, and to raise our rod. He gives us wisdom to choose how to use our resources. But we glorify God when we realize that the strength of our arms comes from God for all areas of life including parenting, relationships, finances, weather conditions – and our health. 

Like Miriam, Moses, and the children of Israel, I want the courage cry out to God and defeat fear. 

However He answers, with miraculous healing, unfathomable peace, or grace for another day, I will rejoice in His deliverance.

This article was first published in Keepers At Home Magazine, Summer 2018 issue.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Banking Memories

Is no news, good news?

This past week was so chock-full with making good memories that I rarely picked up my laptop.

Ed was feeling great all week so we stuffed the schedule. We usually keep a strict early bedtime for his sake, but this week we were up late many nights. One night we butchered beef with my family. Another night we talked until after bedtime with friends from church. 

A special treat was spending a day with a friend who I haven't seen for years who was on furlough. I love friends who only take minutes to bridge the years and get deep in discussion of what really matters.

We spent the Fourth with friends who took our children caving and introduced us to an amazing park with huge rocks for exploring.

Even raindrops can't ruin the fun when children are getting dirty, and the moms are discussing books.

Like last year, Ed's brother and his family insisted on coming to stay with our children so we could take an early anniversary get-away. We had a relaxing overnight stay at Annapolis, Maryland and enjoyed a perfect July day.

We kayaked for several hours, watched the sailboats, and soaked in sunshine while eating lunch on the dock. The weather couldn't have been better.

In the afternoon we searched for some air conditioning and found a fascinating museum at the Naval Academy. The old boat models on the second floor were stunning. The one above was built by a French prisoner of war out of bones. The detail of the carving was unbelievable. We didn't have near enough time, and we want to bring our children sometime.

Back home we are listening to our children tell us about their fun (aunts and uncles are far cooler than parents) and transitioning back to a school schedule. (We start school in July, a few days a week, with the goal of finishing the school year in April.) It is time to get back to a routine. I'm reminded again of how much I enjoy teaching, but of how much time teaching takes.

Also this week Ed has his doctor's appointments where he'll get his staples removed and learn what the testing showed and what treatment is recommended.

I wish we could forget cancer. But that is not our reality. So we attempt to add to our bank of good memories.


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