Saturday, July 17, 2021

Book Review: Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings

I knew I was in trouble when I read the introduction to Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings. Shari Zook says, "This is not a book about self-care. This is a book about receiving the care that surrounds you."

I don't do well in accepting help. (That might be an understatement.) I remember one morning many years ago when my children were all babies, and I woke up with a painfully stiff neck. I was barely able to get out of bed, but I hobbled through the motions of caring for my family. Ed looked at me before he left for work and said, "Are you going to call your mom and ask for help or do I have to?" By this time, he knew how stubborn I was about asking for help.

In the last four years, I've been forced to accept help. I've opened checks that paid for our medical bills, served casseroles made by other hands, and watched others cut firewood, do home repairs, and care for Ed. I'm incapable of providing for my children alone, and I know it. I'm grateful for all the ways others have held up our family.

But I'm still slow to admit my emotional needs, and if you ask me how I'm doing, my default will be "I'm fine." Last year  I read a book that made me realize how deeply my identity was founded on feeling capable, efficient, and productive. I'm most comfortable giving and serving. I don't want to look needy and helpless and am willing to fake to the point of deception to hide my needs. 

For months I had Colossians 4:19 hanging in my kitchen. "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." I've seen God meet my needs, and I'm grateful for the abundance of His riches. But what if I'm missing part of the glory by shutting myself from the people of God? 

So that is the background in which I opened up Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings by Shari Zook and read of her desperation when being capable and efficient didn't work anymore. She faced challenges in parenting, ministry, and marriage and watched God reach out to her through other people.

Shari writes beautifully and has the ability to laugh at herself. But she doesn't shy away from looking straight at the reader and asking the hard questions. She tells of her discovery of her own failures and losses and practical ways to reach out for the grace of Jesus through the ministry of others.

If you live locally, I'd love to say that you can borrow my copy of Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings, but I think I need to reread it first. One of my friends asked if I was interested in reading through it slowly, maybe two chapters a week, and discussing the end-of-the-chapter questions together. That kind of vulnerability scares me silly, but Shari has modeled it and showed us how beautiful honesty can be. 

If you want your own copy of Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings - and you do if you are a mom of a challenging child, or are a foster mom, or have faced depression, or avoid asking for help until you are dying, or are a pastor's wife (and that pastor disappoints you), or want to find a mentor. You can find your own copy at Amazon (affiliate link) or the publisher Herald Press. You can also get a sample of Shari's writings at her blog Confessions of a Woman Learning to Live.

Shari gave me a copy of her book as a friend, but didn't require a review in return. All opinions in this review are my own.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Rosemary Yogurt Flatbread

 


I get in a rut with food, especially what I serve guests. If you have ate a meal at our house this summer, you likely were served flatbread wraps. 

My brother spent a couple years in the middle east and acquired a love of naan. A friend gave us this recipe for flatbread that is similar to naan, but simpler to make. The actually cooking takes time, but it isn't difficult. Especially if you don't worry about making your flatbread perfectly round.

I prefer them small, easier to handle and eat. We like to load them with veggies such as lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and avocado. Add some cheese and grilled chicken and drizzle with a yogurt sauce. The possibilities are endless and usually depend upon what I have on hand, but the result is always a satisfying meal.

Rosemary Yogurt Flatbread

3/4 cup warm water

3/4 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk

1 Tablespoon instant yeast

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp salt

1 long stem of rosemary (strip off leaves and chop)

4 cups flour

Mix all ingredients except flour together. Add flour until makes a soft dough. Knead for five minutes. Divided into 12-15 balls and cover with a damp cloth. Rest for 15 minutes. Preheat skillet to medium-high heat. Roll out each ball of dough and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.







Yogurt Sauce

1 cup of plain Greek yogurt

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1/8 tsp cumin

1 T lemon juice

Mix all ingredients. Drizzle over flatbread wraps. Store in refrigerator.


What are you eating on these hot summer days?

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Sisters' July Reading Challenge

 Looking forward to another month of great reading!


This post contains affiliate links.

1. Read a magazine from start to finish.

If you don't subscribe to a magazine, pick one up at the store on a topic that interests you.


2. Read a book with a color in the title.

For example: The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

    The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

    Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang


3. Read a book of essays.

For example, authors such as Dorcas Smucker and Elizabeth Elliot have compiled books of essays. Or books with a collection of essays from various authors such as The Living of These Days.


4. Read a book or listen to an audio book in a vehicle.


5. Read beside water (ocean, lake, river, pool, creek, or lawn sprinkler).


I can't wait to hear what you enjoy reading in July.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sisters' June Reading Challenge


This June was one of the busiest months I have had in a long time. The month was rewarding with inspiring conversations and fulfilling experiences but didn't allow much reading time. So I purposely picked short books to fulfill the challenges this month. I left Charity read the long books.

I have many unread books on my shelves. I've been purposely choosing books off my shelves to fulfill these challenges. So fun to actually finish books that have long been on my TBR.

This post contains affiliate links.


 1. Read a book with a title that includes something from nature (plants, weather, flowers, etc).

Charity - Jayber Crow by Wendel Berry

I've been waiting to read this book because I heard that Berry is an author that you need time to read. They were right. Jayber Crow is the fictional life story of a man born in Kentucky in the early 1900s. The book is beautifully written and incredibly woven together and left me overwhelmed with delight and thoughtfulness.

Gina - The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

I knew this fairy tale was about a magic mirror that distorts the beautiful into ugly and have long wanted to read it. But I was a bit disappointed to find that the interesting premise that begins the book turns into a basic journey tale. where love melts hardened hearts. I'm glad to have finally read it, but it wasn't exactly what I expected.

2. Read a book about animals (fiction or nonfiction).

Charity - Beowulf by an unknown author

This book has been sitting on my TBR and making me feel overwhelmed every time I opened it. The poem was most likely written in the eighth century and considered one of the foundational texts of English literature. I opted to enjoy it as an audio book and found the free verse style and old English a delight to listen to, though I struggled to follow the story line. Beowulf is a story of the battle between a great prince and a monster (or dragon). Maybe I'll read it next and understand it better.

Gina - Sounder by William H. Armstrong

Years ago I borrowed this book from the library. Our neighbor boy saw it at my house and told me it was a very sad book and I returned it unread. Sounder is short, with a suitable reading level for a child, but I'm glad I waited until now to read it. The simple spare language somehow manages to load on the emotion of a young black boy who loses both his father and his dog. Maybe it is a hard read because I know it is based on a true story and similar accounts took place throughout southern United States.



3. Read a book of history or historical fiction (fiction or nonfiction). 

Charity - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, cancer cells were taken from the body of an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks. Those cells would become the world famous HeLa cells, that have grown and multiplied into billions more. Skloot seeks to gives the world a human behind the cells, telling of Henrietta's life and the life of her children and family. Not only do you get a glimpse of science labs during the 1900s but also into the personal lives of lower class African Americans and the medical treatment available to them. This is not a boring true story. Skloot masterfully places you in another place and time and makes you feel like you know the people she is writing about.

Gina - A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh

This book was set in England in the 1600s during the Black Plague. At first I had a hard time getting into the writing style, but then I realized that the author was trying to stay true to the time period. She managed to write a book that felt authentic and by the end I couldn't put it down. I felt immersed in the religious conflict and the horrifying pandemic of the time. 


4. Read by a campfire.

Charity - Unless you let me call a candle a mini campfire, I failed this challenge. Campfires are something I do with people. So this month I sat around a campfire with those I love and enjoyed a candle-lit book reading by myself on the porch. Both were lovely!

Gina - I love people and activity, but sometimes I crave quiet. In the middle of this busy month, I was given several hours alone on a quiet mountain farm where I could hear no human noise. I lit a campfire and soaked in the stillness. Delightful.


5. Enjoy a book-themed garden party.

Charity - My oldest niece and I have an obsession with a particular book series. She had some friends who also share our obsession. So we did the most logical thing! We held a Mitford party complete with food from the Mitford cookbook. We enjoyed an evening of exceptional food and hysterical laughing. Since we can never meet Father Tim, Cynthia, and Dooley (and all our other favorite people) in person, we read about them to each other. If only Jan Karon could know how much we appreciate her. Now I'm dreaming up a new themed book party. Who should be next? Jane Austen or Charles Dickens? (Most of the photos on this post were from this Mitford party.) 


Gina - My two youngest girls play so well together that I sometimes regret how little time I spend with them. I rarely even read aloud to them, compared to the hours I read to their older siblings. Right now they both are enjoying the Little House books. So I purposed to have a Mary and Laura tea with them. They wore their sunbonnets and aprons, and we sat in the shade reading Little House in the Prairie and sipping ice tea.




I'd love to hear what reading looked like at your house in June.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Classic Strawberry Jam with Apple Pectin and Stevia

 


When I shared the above photo on social media, I was asked, "Why apples in  your strawberry jam?" I had nearly forgotten that this wasn't normal.

My memory of my mom making strawberry jam when I was a girl is going to the grocery store for pectin (Sure Gel) and finding that other jam makers in the community had stripped the shelf bare. Sometimes we'd go to several grocery stores before finding enough pectin. 

I always enjoy learning new techniques, especially if they mean less reliance on purchased products, so when I saw a recipe in Cooks Country magazine that used an apple for pectin, I decided to try it. I loved the result and have used this recipe every year since then.

There are disadvantages of using an apple for pectin. Some of the modern kinds of pectin require less sugar and no cooking which makes jam making faster. A cooked jam does take longer and the flavor is a little different than the non-cooked type of jam. 

But if you'd like to try making jam the way your great-grandmother may have made it, here is the recipe I use. 



Classic Strawberry Jam with Apple Pectin

3 lb strawberries
3 cups of sugar (or alternative sweetener)
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/4 cup)
2 T lemon juice

Cap, wash, and crush strawberries. I use an immersion blender. Add all other ingredients. Boil until thick. I found this took about 15 minutes of a rolling boil. Cool. Freeze.


Jam is notorious for boiling over if you walk away. This pan wasn't very full, but the jam foamed up and over the pot. You don't need to constantly stir it, just keep an eye on it and stir occasionally.



The jam will thicken as it cools so it can be hard to know when it has cooked long enough. To test when the jam is thick enough, I keep a small glass plate in the freezer. When I think the jam has cooked long enough, I place a teaspoon of jam on the plate and return it to the freezer for two minutes. I then drag a finger through the cooled jam to text its thickness. You can see here the difference that a few additional minutes of cooking did for the jam. When it is finished it will be a dark red and there will be no sign of the grated apple.

I have also used this recipe for red raspberry jam. I assume it could be used for other fruits.

I've read that Granny Smith apples have more pectin than some other apple varieties, but one year I used Ginger Gold apples in my raspberry jam and it turned out great.

I usually substitute stevia for some (or most) of the sugar. One teaspoon of pure stevia is equal in sweetness to one cup of sugar. I've done as little as 1/2 cup of sugar and replaced rest of the sugar with stevia and my family never knew the difference.


I freeze the jam and find that it keeps its color and texture perfectly even after several years. 

I'd love to hear if you have experimented with apple pectin or stevia in jam making.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Sisters' June Reading Challenge

Looking forward to another great book month in June. Feel free to join us for one or all five of these challenges - or make up your own challenge for June.

This post contains affiliate links.


1. Read a book with a title that includes something from nature (plants, weather, flowers, etc).

For example: 

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell

Some Wildflower in My Heart by Jamie Langston Turner 


2. Read a book about animals (fiction or nonfiction).

For example: 

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Charlotte’sWeb by E.B. White

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand


3. Read a book of history or historical fiction (fiction or nonfiction). 

Examples:

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Cabin in Trouble Creek by JeanVan Leeuwen


4. Read by a campfire.

With the long hours of daylight in June, you can sit by a campfire and still have light to read.


5. Enjoy a book-themed garden party.

This can be as simple as sipping iced tea while chatting about books with a friend. Or serving honey bread to your children while reading Pooh. You can get fancy with an Austen- or Mitford-themed party.

 Many children's books mention food: The Little House in the Prairie, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Bread and Jam for Frances. Keep this simple, or make it elaborate, but the idea of this challenge is to be inspired by a book to go outside and share food with a friend or two.

Whether you choose to do these challenges or not, I hope you enjoy learning and growing through the written page in June.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Sisters' May Reading Challenge


Did you enjoy reading in May? We did!

This post contains affilant links.

1. Read a book of letters (fiction or nonfiction).

Charity - The Letters of E.B. White

I knew this author only from his children's books, but through this compiliation of letters, that span his life, I glimpsed into the real person behind the most beloved pig. I didn't complete this book, but enjoyed it in little moments, especially before bed. White's humor and life experiences are a blast to tage along with.

Gina - Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

I've read lots of historical fiction set during World War 2, but I didn't realize until I read this book how little I knew about World War 1. Thousands of letters traveled between English troops stationed in France and their family and friends back home. This book uses fictional letters to share stories of hope and grief. The plot isn't gripping, and it was hard to feel attached to characters known only through their short letters, but I enjoyed this glimpse into another era.


2. Read a book set in a country you've never visited (fiction or nonfiction).

Charity - Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge

Goudge is one of my favorite authors, and this book was another emotional roller coaster. Most of the book is set in either the Channel Islands or New Zealand. The main characters are two sisters and their childhood friend, William. The book follows their entire lives and their battles with each other and love. As I read this book, I was reminded of surrender and how our will has the ability to destroy our lives. I loved how this novel was entertaining but also personally challenging.

Gina - I read a travel memior from Austrailia and discovered that I knew almost nothing about this huge fascinating country. While I learned an immense amount from the book, I'm not going to mention the book by name because of its off-color humor. 

3. Read a book that your mother or mentor enjoys.

Our mom has great book tastes, and I always like to check out what she is reading when I visit her house. 

(Fun fact: There are more years between Charity and me than my mom and me. My mom was twenty when I was born, and forty-three when Charity was born - which means that Charity and I are twenty-three years apart. So glad that books have bridged the years between us. We have seven siblings in between us.)

Charity - The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria has shattered my view of home and family. Along with her husband and children, the author challenges you to make your home a place of refuge for your neighbors, no matter what their background or current life. As believers, we have something wonderful to offer, the Gospel. How will we use our house key? Hospitatlity took on a whole new meaning after reading this book.

Gina - Missional Motherhood by Gloria Furman

I've read a lot of parenting books, but none like this. Furman took me on a journey through the Old Testamen to see God's plan for humandkind, then shows how Jesus fulfills God's plan as prophet, priest and king. How does that relate to motherhood? Furman says "mother" is a verb and challenges all women, whether biological mothers or not, have been called to help others find new life in Christ. I'll be rereading this book.

4. Read in your backyard, on your porch, or on your fire escape.

Charity - One very exhausting Tuesday I arrived home from work with only one goal in mind. Rest. And when I rest, I read. I spent two delightful hours in my backyard with a hammock and an entire bag of books, journals, and pens. I read, listened to the chatter of my neice and nephews, and traveled to New Zealand (aka Green Dolphin Street). Moments like those got me through the crazy weeks this month.

Gina - When I sit on the hammock or the porch to read, it rarely lasts five minutes before I'm interrupted. But that doesn't keep me from continuing to try. At this point in my life, I find most of my reading time at night, but maybe since it is warmer and the sun is up earlier, I should try reading on the hammock before breakfast. 

5. Ask someone at church what they are reading.

Charity -Books are quickly a conversation between the youth girls at church. Recently we have been reading a book together and enjoying lots of conversations about it. But I also love chatting about books with random people at our little church library.

Gina - One Monday in early May, a friend from church texted to tell me she had finished reading a particular book and would love to discuss it with me. Since it happened that my oldest three children were away that morning and we weren't having a typical school day, I invited my friend to come over. I was thrilled when she agreed. It was such fun to set aside the Monday projects and enjoy some unexpected book (and life) conversation. 

I'd love to hear what you read in May. 

Look for the Sisters' June Reading Challenge tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Abundance

I could tell you of the pleasure of May gardening and spring flowers, of a delightful tea party and picnics with friends, of the excitment of new projects and future plans.

I could write about sadness and the longing to spend one more spring with Ed, to have another conversation about all the important and mundane details of life, to be able to tell the children "ask dad."

Both would be true in the conflicting days of May.


The Miss Kim lilac Ed gave me the first year of marriage, bloomed right on cue on my birthday as always.


Daughter playing with her dolls in the falling cherry blossoms.


New kittens.


Food tastes best outdoors.


Last week I taught Sunday School from John 10. I love verse 10. "I (Jesus) am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." The word "abundantly" gives the idea of unmeasurable, and not only in quanity, but in superior quality. Life on earth can be rich and fullfilling, despite sorrow, because of Jesus. Even more, we can rest in knowing that eternal life will be even better.

I looked for verses that speak of God's abundance. I hate to pull verses out of context but here are some favorites. I encourage you to look them up and read with the surrounding verses.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

Romans 15:13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:

2 Peter 1:3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

Ephesians 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,



Whatever the physical details of your life - whether you are weak or strong, whether your life could be described as delightful or drudgery, may you cling to the abundance that God gives through the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Sisters' May Reading Challenge

 


I'm excited about this  month's reading challenge. So much potential for great reading! 

This post contains affilant links.

1. Read a book of letters (fiction or nonfiction).

For example: 

84,Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (A New York writer sent letters to a London used book seller after World War 2 and their coorespondance has become a classic.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (Fictional letters between a London writer and the islanders of Guernsey and a celebration of the role literature played in their survival of World War 2 occupancy. Delightful book though there is a gay character- a minimal part of the book.)

Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot (These notes to her daughter were written decades ago but are still relevant.)


2. Read a book set in a country you've never visited (fiction or nonfiction).

We were going to suggest a book set in Mexico or Latin America for Cinco de Mayo, but that seemed too restrictive. But I would love to learn more about the  US neighbor so if you have some book suggestions set in Mexico, please let me know.

Examples for this challenge - they are endless.

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan (Middle grade fiction from India)

Peace Child by Don Richardson (A missionary classic from New Guinea)

In the Land of Blue Burquas by Kate McCord (Powerful story of a woman reaching out to the women of Afghanistan.


3. Read a book that your mother or mentor enjoys.

In honor of Mother's Day, ask your mother for a suggestion of a book she has particularly enjoyed.


4. Read in your backyard, on your porch, or on your fire escape.


5. Ask someone at church what they are reading.

Have fun reading in May!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Sisters' April Reading Challenge



I thoroughly enjoyed this month's reading challenge. I'm not sure if it was the type of reading, or just my mood this month. 

This post containes affiliate links.

 1. Since April is National Poetry month, read from a book of poetry.

Charity - I enjoyed several books of poetry this month, though I read none of them in their entirety. From African American poetry to Emily Dickenson, my poetry books took a permanent residence next to my bed for the month of April.

Gina - For the last several years, I've been trying to gain a greater enjoyment of poetry. I picked up a poetry book by Mary Oliver at the library's poetry display. I especially enjoyed Oliver's nature poems but didn't care for some others. I decided that I need to read poetry differently than other books. It's okay to simply dislike some poems. 

2. Read a biography or autobiography.

Charity - Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini’s life is one of contrast. As you read it you almost feel like he must have lived several lives. From rebellious childhood to a POW camp in Japan, you will be amazed at how many memories one person’s life can hold. Though at times I could barely read any more of the brutality faced as a Prisoner of War, the redemption made it worth every moment it took to read!

Gina - Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Dr. Paul Farmer has dedicated his life to giving medical care to the poor. This biography reads like a personal memoir because Kidder spent a lot of time with Farmer, hiking for hours over Haitian mountains to see a patient and traveling to Russia to work with prisoners with tuberculosis. Kidder is a remarkable writer, and Farmer's passion for curing infectious diseases is inspiring. Note: the book is from a secular perspective and contains profanity and details of immorality. 


3. Read a fairy tale or a retelling of a fairy tale.   

Charity - The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Loosely based on the fairly tale by the Brothers Grimm, Goose Girl is the story of a princess' struggle to relate to the people around her and mostly to her queenly mother. Ani's mother ultimately sends her off into an adventure that will either end Ani’s  life or make her a queen. I was pleasantly surprised to find that though it was an adult novel, it was still clean. It does contain violence, but it is not graphic. One caveat would be that  there is talk of powers or gifts that involve being able to speak to animals, wind, etc., but there are no wizards or witches.

Gina - The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

What happened next in the "happily ever after" in the stories of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty? It isn't what I expected. Four men, all known only as "Prince Charming," are on a bumbling quest against the evil witch. The author throws in lots of humor and creativity along with trolls, a robber king, and a dragon. With four stories merging with four kingdoms and their royal families, I struggled to keep all the details straight. This is a fun middle grade book but with the fantasy and bad attitudes, I hesitate to give it to my children. 

4. Celebrate spring by reading in a park.

Charity - I loved the excuse to throw my book of poetry in my bag when we went to the lake last week. My enjoyment of Dickenson’s nature poems were definitely enhanced by the nature around me. Maybe I’ll read at a park more often.

Gina - I'm realizing that my little girls don't get the chance to play in playgrounds since we often choose activities the older children enjoy. So this month I took them to the park several times, reading my book between pushing them on the swings and admiring their climbing skills.

5. Share a poem with a friend by a card, email, text, or social media.

Charity - For the month of April, a few siblings and I created a chat to share poetry that we were enjoying in honor of the month. I loved reading what others liked. Sometimes laughing at a humorous poem, crying over a sad one, and, always, soaking up the beauty of words perfectly combined.

Gina - There is nothing more fun than sharing words with friends, and our sibling poetry chat was a highlight of my month. 

I'd love to hear what you read this month. Did you read an inspiring biography? Did you find a fun fairy tale? Does poetry lift your heart or are you a reluctant poetry reader like me?

Come back tomorrow for the Sisters' May Reading Challenge.

Thanks for your patiences as I figure out the new email service. Some of you recieved two emails last week. Some found the email in your promotions. If you didn't get the email, and can't find it in your spam or promotions, try signing up in the right column. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Grief and Trust in April


I love the change of seasons and look forward to each season as it arrives. But spring is my favorite. I enjoy watching the earth awaken from winter, robe itself in green, and burst out with the music of birdsong and blossoms.

For years I worked at a greenhouse. Every day my hands were in the soil, and I talked plants and gardening with customers. It was a dream job.

This spring may be more beautiful than usual, or maybe I just forget. I'm relishing all the spring joys. 

Yet I feel melencholy. I can't help but recall the past several springs.

2017 - Ed had more and more frequent headaches in April let to the discovery of a brain tumor and diagnosis of glioblastoma in May.

2018 - Ed's tumor returned, and he had his second surgery in March. In May he had a grand mal seizure which I veiw as the turning point of his cognitive ability.

2019 - In March we learned that the cancer had spread to the other side of Ed's brain. His quick decline to a wheelchair, then to a hospital bed, cumilated in his death in May.

2020 - Covid reached our area in March and normal life ground to a halt. 

While in many ways Covid didn't change my days as a mom and homeschooler, I feel like I've carried grief this past year. Grief for the misunderstandings and strained relationships. Grief for the loss of life. A grief that continues a year later.

*****

Years ago, when I was still a teen, one of the customers at the greenhouse was a sweet older woman who loved gardening. Many years later I met Ed and discovered that this lady went to his church. Throughout the years, I've enjoyed many gardening conversations with her. She usually sat in the row in front of me at church and at this time of year, she would ask if I had been to the greenhouse yet. I have a gift certificate in my purse that she gave me last spring to the greenhouse where we first met. 

But this spring she is in the hospital fighting for her life against Covid. While I know numerous people whose life has been taken by Covid, this is the first person who I saw often. Will you pray for a miracle for Esther?

*****

As I flipped through the photos I've taken the last few weeks, I realized that we've done many walks in the woods. 

At the end of March, I gathered with 25 widows (most of them strangers) at a camp on a Pennsylvania mountainside. We tramped in the woods that was still stark with winter, ate wonderful food, and spent hours laughing, talking, crying, and singing. I can't describe how soul-strengthening the weekend was for me.

A few weeks later, I hiked with my brother and children to Black Rock on the Applachian Trail. When Ed and I were dating, we hiked here often, but it was the first time I had taken the children. 

Last weekend I walked through the woods with my parents and enjoyed the redbud and other blooming trees. 

I've been thinking a lot about trust and what it means to trust a God who doesn't always answer prayer as I wish. A God who brings us each season despite personal or international grief. A God whose plans are bigger than mine. A God who walks beside us as we carry pain into a beautiful April. 

I'm realizing that I hold God at arm's lenth when He doesn't feel as safe and predictible as springtime. But I'm longing to find new life, renewed relationships, and joy that lasts longer than April blossoms.

And now I can't find a neat and tidy ending to this blog post. So I'll just close with verses that have been meaningful to me in case your April doesn't feel neat and tidy. 

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

 I'm trying a new blog email subscription service and may have some bugs to work out. If you get this by email, I'd love to hear if you can view the blog posts.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Fish Tacos

 


My dad takes my boys fishing in every spring. But never have they caught fish like this year. For the first time in his life, my dad has pulled out his limit on trout. And not just one day. 


I love how easy trout is to serve. I brushed them with a little olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkled with salt, and baked at 425 for about 15 minutes. The fillets then lifted off the bones easily. Yum!

Speaking of fish...

I'm always on the lookout for simple meals. On one of our visits to my sister-in-law's home, she made us fish tacos, and we gained a new family favorite.

I now try to keep the ingredients for fish tacos on hand at all times. This includes a pack of frozen white fish such as tilapia or whiting, a pack of fahita-size tortillas, and cabbage. There are lots of others ingredients that can be added to a fish taco, but these three ingredients are the basics for fish tacos at our house. 

With these ingredients on hand, I can put together a simple meal very quickly even if we were gone for the day. The fish is often vacummed packed in single packs which can quickly be thawed in hot water. I usually bake the fish in the oven because it is simpler, but sometimes I go to the extra work of breading and frying the fish. 

The cabbage can be chopped an eaten fresh, but my children love if I saute the cabbage in a bit of butter. 

Then I pull out any other ingredients that I have in the fridge that would go on a fish taco. Avacado, cheese, hot sauce, onion, tartar sauce. 


Layer it all in the tortillas and enjoy! It isn't fresh-caught trout, but it is always delicious. There are few meals that my children enjoy more.

Do you have a simple meal that is a family favorite?

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Sisters' April Reading Challenge

I really enjoyed the March challenges. Five challenges (three books and two activies) was just about right for me. I hope you join my sister Charity and I for the April Reading Challenges. We'll give some examples, but you can choose whatever books you want to fit these categories.

This post contains affiliate links.


1. Since April is poetry month, read from a book of poetry.

    Examples: A.A. Milne, Emily Dickinson  

 

2. Read a biography or autobiography.

    Examples: A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot 

    Truman by David McCullough


3. Read a fairy tale or a retelling of a fairy tale.   

    Examples: Beauty by Robin McKinley

    Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine


4. Celebrate spring by reading in a park.


5. Share a poem with a friend by a card, email, text, or social media.

Have fun with these reading challenges!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Sisters' March Reading Challenge

 


Charity and I enjoyed the March Reading Challenge so much. The amount of challenges was much less than the Brighter Winter Challenge and felt more doable. Here is a review of what we did for the challenges.

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Read a book set in Ireland (in honor of St Patrick's Day).

Charity: Let Me Die in Ireland by David Bercot
Several years ago I read this book for the first time and it impacted my life deeply. Reading it again only challenged me more. St. Patrick’s life is surrounded by many myths and this book seeks to bring a story to tell the truth about this man of God. Not only is his life story fascinating and educational, it also bears testimony to what it looks like to be a part of the Kingdom of God.

Gina: A Slip of a Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff
 This is a free verse novel about the Irish Land Wars. I listened to it on audio and the reader's Irish accent added a lot of pleasure to the listening experience. Nory Ryan's Song is by the same author and also about the Irish Potato Famine, and I may have enjoyed it more since it is in prose not in verse. 

2. Read a book written by a female missionary.

Charity: Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose
As a young wife, Darlene traveled into the jungles of New Guinea with her husband. They were ready to serve God among the unreached. But World War 2 and the Japanese invasion of the island would change her plans. This is her story of God’s faithfulness even while facing unimaginable suffering. Gina and I place this among our top favorite books by a missionary. 

I had read this book as a teenager and thought it would good to reread the wisdom in these pages. Elliot writes Scripture-saturated books. This one starts with a study of the Lord's Prayer then proceeds into a discussion of finding God's leading and will.  

3. Read a book about food.

Charity: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
This memoir was the product of an impulsive thrift store buy. Though it’s focus is far from just food, she still had me drooling over her descriptions of Italian cuisine. Through the pages of this book she tells about the beauty of Italy, the trials of renovating an ancient house, the culture in small Italian towns, and, most of all, the amazing food that is placed on her table. My favorite part is her two chapters of recipes. Some day I hope her meals will grace my table in PA.

All of Reichl's memiors are a step into an unfamiliar world of food and culture. Save Me the Plums tells of her years as the editor of Gourmet magazine. I liked Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires more but this trip into the high-stress magazine world and high society of New York City was fascinating.

4. Write out a quote and tape it to your mirror.

Charity: “I have been safer here, overshadowed by Your love, than I would have been anywhere else on this earth outside of Your will” - Darlene Deibler Rose

Gina: "God gives us more than we can handle because what we can't handle drives us to dependence on Him." - Masonheimer

5. Mail a book to a child, invalid, or friend.

Charity: I was overjoyed to have an excuse to send a book to a friend who recently moved away. I sent a book by one of my favorite authors, Elisabeth Elliot. A few months ago, during a hard week I picked up her book Keep a Quiet Heart, and it was perfect for those days. Each chapter is an excerpt from her newsletter, so it is short and could be used as a devotional. 

Gina: My mother-in-law, who spends most of her days alone, told me that she looks forward to a good book so I ordered a copy of A Chance in the World by Steve Pemberton to be mailed to her house. I've never read this book but it had been recommended to me. Maybe I can read it next.

If you did one or more of the March Challenges, we'd love if you shared in the comments.

Check back on April 1st for the April Reading Challenges.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Strength for Today and Hope for Tomorrow

Long-time readers may remember that nearly ten years ago, Ed was ordained a minister at our church. That week had been hard as I surrendered part of my husband. In the years following, we experienced the challenges of church ministry but also found joys. Seeing God work in our lives and the lives of others was rewarding. The extra time spent studying God's Word was a blessing. We enjoyed being part of the ministry team at our church. 

That all changed with Ed's illness and death. Since then I've struggled to figure out my role and identity in our church. Who am I if I'm a former pastor's wife? Typically widows of ministers are in their seventies or eighties. Young widows are rare, but young minister's widows are even more rare. I didn't feel like I fit any normal category in the church.

This week a new minister was ordained to take Ed's place in our church. I fully supported the ordination and was glad to see our church moving forward. It is a joy to see a younger man take a leadership role.

But the week was also harder than I expected. Emotions that I've buried deep were raked out to the surface. I had to recognize and name some of my coping mechanisms that I've used as a barricade. 

Last night at the ordination, the service began with the well-known hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." It was the perfect reminder to me that God has been faithful the past ten years, and His faithfulness would continue in my life and in the life of our church.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
by Thomas Chisholm

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.


Here is a video if you'd like to listen. (If reading by email, click over to the blog.)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Where Winter and Clouds Are No More


The first spring crocus appeared this week. 

I love the coziness of winter and delighted in the snow we received this year, but, when March arrives, I'm ready for spring.


This week we had warm enough days for the first trip to the park. Even in the dreary brown, there is spots of color. I even saw the first robin at the park.


My little girls add color to my fridge.


And our local library reopened this week. 

Only this year do I view walking through the library, pulling stacks of books off the shelf as a sign of spring and hopeful days. 

For years I had reserved stacks of books for pick-up since libraries and babies didn't mix well. But that is one more example of a routine that I lost the past few years. So even though my library offered curbside pick up and home delivery, I haven't used it much the past year. I've missed sitting down on the couch with my littles and stacks of unread books.

Last week I was convicted and inspired through our revival meetings. I planned to share a song we sang last week, but instead this one came to mind. 

Without Jesus, my soul stays in the barreness of winter.  In His presence is the joy and growth of springtime.

How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours 
by John Newton

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers
Have all lost their sweetness to me
The midsummer sun shines but dim
The fields strive in vain to look gay
But when I am happy in Him
December's as pleasant as May
His name yields the richest perfume
And sweeter than music His voice
His presence disperses all gloom
And makes all within me rejoice.
I would, were He always thus nigh
Have nothing to dread or to fear
No mortal so happy as I
My summer would last all the year
Content with beholding His face
My all to His pleasure resigned
No changes of season or place
Could make any change in my mind
So blessed in the light of His love
A toy would a palace appear
And prisons would palaces prove
If Jesus would dwell with me there
Dear Lord, if indeed I am Thine
If Thou art my sun and my song
Say, why do I languish and pine
And why are my winters so long
Lord, drive these dark clouds from my sky
Thy soul-cheering presence restore
Or take me up with Thee on high
Where winter and clouds are no more

You can listen to the song being sung on the video. (If reading this by email, click over to the blog.)



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