Monday, September 25, 2023

He Shall Supply - Part 1

 I was going through some files and found this account that I recorded back in 2015. I had completely forgotten about it, and don't remember the details, such as what was the emergency medical bill. But I do remember that God had given me some experiences that bolstered my faith. I didn't know how much I'd need a strong faith for 2017.

“It might work out after all.” Ed pushed his chair back from the desk.

I looked up from my book. “You mean you paid all the bills?” I knew the balance of our checkbook. A new heating system and an emergency medical bill had depleted our savings. With the recent birth of our baby and taxes due, finances were tight.

“All of them, even the taxes,” said Ed. “I drained the checking account, but by the time the hospital bill comes, I'll have another paycheck. We might just make it—if nothing unexpected happens.”

I grimaced. I could guess what he was thinking. Two aging vehicles sat in our driveway. In the past, they had broken down at the worst possible times. What were the chances that one, or both, would choose this time to add some more bills?

Ed and our older children spent the next Saturday cutting wood. Late in the morning, Ed pulled into the yard with a pile of wood on a borrowed trailer. I expected them to stop for lunch, but our daughter ran into the kitchen with the empty water bottles.

“Dad wants to know if you can give us some lunch to take along. We're going to get another load.”

I threw sandwiches and cookies into a bag, and she dashed out. Soon the truck was pulling out the drive.

Later that afternoon, a tired husband and children came in from the woodpile after bringing home a second load. “Did the children tell you about our close call?” Ed asked.

“No. Did someone nearly get hurt?” I envisioned tragic accidents with chain saws and falling trees.

“Not that. It was the truck. The alternator went out.”

“The what?”

“The alternator—the part that charges the battery. I knew the battery wasn't charging so when I dropped off the load before lunch, I let the truck run. If I turned it off, I didn't think I'd be able to start it again. By the time I got back to the woods, even the turn signal wasn't working. When I turned off the truck, the battery was completely dead.”

“Then how did you get home?” I looked out the window to see whose vehicle he had borrowed.

“Well, your brother Eric happened to be in the woods too. You know how good he is with motors. And today we were cutting wood from the back of the wood lot—right beside the junk yard. We walked down to the junk yard, bought an alternator that fit the truck, and Eric had the tools to install it.”

“You mean it is already repaired?”

“Yes. And it only cost $20.00.”

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

Friday, September 8, 2023

Sisters Summer Reading Challenge Reviews

I'm learning to choose the right book for the right season. It is okay to set a book aside if it doesn't feel right for a specific time.  With that in mind, I enjoyed reading this summer. I chose some lighter reads, reread some favorites, and picked some nonfiction on heavy topics (like grief) that were short and doable.  The result was that, though summer was busy, I read more and enjoyed reading more than some busy seasons.

And please, if you don't read at all during a busy season (or any other time) don't feel any shame. These book posts are not to make you feel guilty. Charity and I read constantly. We might read less at times, but I'm not sure we are physically capable of stopping all reading. But if you choose to set books aside for a season, that is totally fine. No shame from us.

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' Summer Reading Challenge Reviews 

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

Charity - Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Sayers' detective novels have recently been a highlight of my reading. Gaudy Night is so much more than just a mystery. It explores what it means to be a woman, and if women can be both educated and intellectual while also being wives and homemakers. The mystery is so fun, and I loved trying to figure out "who done it." Gaudy Night is number ten in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.

Gina - Every Ocean Has a Shore by Jamie Langston Turner

It has been over five years since Turner published a new book. Every Ocean Has a Shore is delightful as all of her others. Three people are in a Chicago deli when it is held up. That day marks the turning point in each of their lives. The book flips between these three as they move to other states and begin a journey toward God. And we get to revisit the beloved Eldeen, a character in Turner's first book, Suncatchers, who has shown up briefly in nearly all her other books.

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

Charity - Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

In this little book Wilkin brings us a case for Bible literacy and a how to study the Bible. She challenges us that we become what we behold therefore how can we become like God unless we behold Him through His Word? I definitely plan to keep this book close as I learn to study the Bible better. It is also a great guide to use when preparing a Bible lesson.

Gina - Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

The majority of the chapters in this book cover a possible diagnosis for why we are "crazy busy." The last chapter gives the cure. (Hint: Find it in the story of Mary and Martha). I love that Kevin is a busy pastor and father of many small children who wrote the book to try to figure out why he was crazy busy and not because he had it all figured out. Crazy Busy doesn't try to help you become more efficient or manage your busyness, but confronts the underlying thought patterns that contribute to the craziness.  

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.

Charity - The Robe by Loyd C. Douglas

I finally read this well known classic, and it was so exciting I couldn’t put it down! A young wealthy Roman is sent to Jerusalem during Jesus’ trial which leads to his encounter with Christ and his life is forever altered. Though I enjoyed this book, I don’t believe that Jesus’ robe had power, and I didn’t appreciate the biblical inaccuracies. 

Gina - Jack by Marilynn Robinson

Jack is the fourth book in the Gilead series. Each book in the series follows a different character, and I thought that maybe by reading Jack, I'd understand the prodigal son that played such an important role in the other books. But I didn't. I'm still confused about Jack's life choices. I have no idea how Robinson pulls so much life into such quiet stories. I'm amazed at her writing skill, though I don't think I'm smart enough to appreciate it fully and sometimes just feel confused. But if Robinson writes another book, (hopefully about Della), I'll certainly read it.

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

Charity - Micah
Why don’t I write down key ideas from each chapter I’m reading, every day? This challenge was absolutely wonderful! I am entirely too skilled at reading without remembering but finding out the key thought of a passage helps me stay engaged.  Micah may be one of those tedious minor prophets but it is so rich.

Gina - Nehemiah
Like Charity, I was amazed at the difference of reading the Bible with a pen and intention to write down the key ideas from each chapter. After reading Nehemiah, I went on to read Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah since they were men who were teaching at the same time as Nehemiah.

I'd love to hear what books you read this summer!

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge

Summer may have left us panting, but Charity and I are looking forward to our fall reading. We chose a variety of reading challenges for this fall that will both challenge, inspire, and comfort. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge 

1. Read a biography. 

Probably no other genre has impacted my life as much as biography. Reading about people from the past can teach, inspire, and warn. Some of my favorites are A Chance to Die, the biography of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, and Ann Judson by Sharon James.

2. Read a book set in England. 

I'm not sure why I think of England when I think of cozy books. Maybe it stems from reading James Herriot's books and being grateful to be warm and cozy in my bed while tramping with a vet in the brutal wind of the Yorkshire hills. Maybe it is the delight of detective stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers. Or English authors such as Elizabeth Goudge and D.E. Stevenson. If cozy English cottages are not your thing, there are plenty of nonfiction set in England.

3. Read a book with a subtitle.

It seems that subtitles are all the rage in nonfiction. Titles seem to be getting shorter, and I find that I often choose a book because of its subtitle. Find a book with a subtitle that promises a topic that interests you. 

4. Choose a Bible character, study his or her life, and draw a time line of their life.

I'm eager to pick a person from the Bible, perhaps one whose life spreads over several books of the Bible, such as Paul or Moses, and dig into their life. Hopefully sketching out a time line can help me put their life events into the context of other events.

If you care to join us, we hope some of these ideas can breath some crisp fall inspiration into your reading life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

4 More New Books From Friends

A few months ago I shared several new books written by friends. Here are four more new books written by friends. (At least they used to be new. By now, some of these have been out for a year!) Each of these authors I have met in real life at least briefly. I not only like their books, but appreciate them as people. 

Unless otherwise noted, I purchased these books myself. I included ordering information directly from the author or their distributor. If you live in a Mennonite community, you can probably find them at your local bookstore. 

Or if you want to order several of these books, the cheapest option may be from FaithView Books. They don't have an website, but you can call and ask for a print catalog or order by phone.  

Coming Home to Roost is the latest of Dorcas Smucker's essay collections. I first learned to know Dorcas from her blog when she had a houseful of children many years ago. I've enjoyed each of her essay collections. But now, her last child has found her wings and Dorcas says this is her last collection of stories about her flock, though the door is always open for the returning brood. 

Dorcas' down-home wisdom has been an encouragement to me in my own motherhood journey, and I think this is my favorite of her books. In the last years, I've realized that there is so much that a mother can't write about parenting teens and young adults because the stories are not yours. I think that is why I've appreciated Dorcas's level-headed writing about her chickens, fabric collections, the old family van, while considering regrets, middle-age adjustments, and young adult conversations.

This is a book you can pick up and read in any order and would be the perfect gift for that older mom who is adapting to her own nest changes, though I think a woman of all ages and stages of life would enjoy it. 

Order Coming Home to Roost (and all of Dorcas' other books) at Muddy Creek Books. You can follow Dorcas along on her further journeys at her blog.  Dorcas sent me a complimentary copy of her book.

I've known Mary since she was a shy girl in our homeschool group, but it wasn't until years later that I realized that hiding behind the shyness was a lot of wisdom. Mary has written a number of books for women, but her latest book, The Girls Inside, is for girls. The Girl Inside tackles subjects that any Christian girl wonders about including relationships with boys, changes in her body, friendships, and more. 

Mary speaks bluntly, though with discretion. To me she feels like a big sister or kind aunt, reaching out to a younger teen in her life. I would place the target age for this book to be girls in their upper teens and early twenties, but I found myself challenged and encouraged as a mother of girls. It is refreshing to read a book that holds up a high standard for holy living without heaping on shame. The chapters on body image and thin culture are excellent. This would be a great book for a mother or mentor to read with a teen or for a girls' Bible study. 

You can order The Girl Inside from Amazon (affliate link) or Christian Light. Check out Mary's website for lots of book reviews. Mary sent me a complimentary copy of her book.

In October of 2021, seventeen missionaries were traveling home from a Haitian orphanage when they were kidnapped for ransom.  For weeks, my first thought when waking in the morning was, Is there any news from Haiti? I knew several of the missionaries just briefly, and I couldn't imagine how their families were coping as one week passed and then another without hearing anything about their loved ones. Like thousands of others, I rejoiced to hear of the group's safe return to their families.

Kidnapped in Haiti by Katrina Hoover Lee shares their story. Katrina interviewed each of the members of the group as well as family members and mission staff. Kidnapped in Haiti shares details from both Haiti and the US and Canada during the two months of their captivity. I read this book aloud to my children and found it very faith strengthening. God truly can sustain His children through difficult circumstances. (This is an adult level book, and I did a tiny bit of editing-on-the-fly to avoid a few heavier details that I didn't think appropriate for my youngest children.)

Purchase Kidnapped in Haiti directly from Katrina or from the publisher. You can follow Katrina's blog or sign up for her email newsletter to find out more about her writing projects. (This includes affiliate links.)

I've always loved stories that take me to lands I will probably never visit and show me sights I'll probably never see. Alison Stoltzfus carried me with her to a huge refugee camp in Bangladesh where she served with her nursing skills in 2021. This book was far too short, and I was sad it ended. Alison is skillful with words, and I loved her honesty about both her challenge of showing love in a new culture and climate and opening herself up to love back home. 

I'm hoping that Alison will keep sharing her talent and write more books, but right now she is a busy mother of new twins. You can read more of her words on her blog and get your own copy of How Beautiful the Dusty Road at Christian Light. 

Friday, August 18, 2023

When My Little Brother Gets Married

"How do you feel about Vaun getting married?" 

I've been asked this question countless times in the last months. And I never knew what to say, because three emotions are equally true.

1. I'm delighted that Vaun found a lovely woman to share his life. As one who experienced a wonderful marriage, I wish it for others.

2. We will miss Vaun. While others may guess, they don't truly know how much Vaun has done for us the past four years.

3. But while this will bring change for our family, we've weathered change in the past so surely we will again.

So who is Vaun? And why will we miss him?

Vaun is my youngest brother, born just before my twentieth birthday. Of course I dearly loved my sweet baby brother, but with the huge age gap, I didn't relate to him nearly as much as the brothers close to my age. I was busy and flying in-and-out of the house as twenty-year-olds with jobs and a full social calendar do. 

Vaun was six when I married and, in the coming years, he became an adored uncle to my children. They loved going to Grandpa and Grandma's house where Uncle Vaun and Aunt Charity poured attention on them.

Then Vaun grew up and became the busy teen with job and friends. He lived life on high gear, trying to fill his days with six more activities than he had time for.

When Ed was diagnosed with brain cancer, Vaun was in training for ministry in the Middle East. He spent almost two years teaching English to refugees. He returned home just weeks before Ed's death, immediatly sliding into a role of helping with Ed's care.

After Ed's death, Vaun was very deliberate in his care for our family. He spent every Thursday evening at our house, sometimes working on a house project, other times playing games with the children. He went on vacation with our family and took us on a volunteer work project. He spent hours remodeling a rental property for us. 

I battled a bit of guilt, feeling that Vaun had set aside his plans and goals for our family, though he claimed he was doing exactly what he wanted to do.

We had nearly survived our first year without Ed when Covid hit. Vaun asked if he could move into our house to help with some projects while he was off work. Our bedrooms are small, and he slept on a floor mat sqeezed between my sons' beds. But he stayed with us for the next three and a half year, until his wedding. 

I can't begin to describe all the ways Vaun helped us during those years. It was more than repairing the bathroom ceiling, making coffee each morning, and changing the oil in vehicles. My oldest turned sixteen the week after he moved in. We were entering new territory with new drivers, car purchases, phones, and jobs. Having another adult in the house was a huge gift. While I'm sure we would have muddled through alone somehow, I'm grateful we didn't have to. 

The children's attitudes were much better with an uncle around. But I'll admit that mine was too. For example, after Ed's death, it had been very hard to cook meals. I know it was silly because I still had six children to cook for, but the meals I placed on the table were rather pitiful. Vaun's arrival breathed new life into all of us, helping us care about things like a clean house and carefully prepared meals. 

Vaun helped my boys start a little mowing business, showing them how to send invoices and track spending and income. When my oldest son finished school, he began working with Vaun in construction, a job he seems to enjoy. Helping my boys find employment had been a worry for me.

Vaun joined us in our projects, taking us on trips and visiting our friends. But he also allowed us to join him in his projects. I was floundering to figure out my role in church and ministry as a widow, and this was such a gift. Whether it was sawing wood for Bible School crafts, planning meals for the TESOL class he organized, or planning a picnic for a Ukrainian refugee family - Vaun's enthusiasm for ministry pulled us into projects and expanded our lives in healthy ways.

I don't want to turn this into a eulogy, but i thank the Lord for my little brother and his willingness to come alongside our family. He claims to have loved the last few years, and I hope he has. We will miss his Saturday pancake breakfasts, his bedtime stories, and adult conversations. But we are thrilled that Emily agreed to be his wife and look forward to watching the Lord bless their commitment to Him. They bought a house nearby, and we hope to continue to be part of their lives.

Here is a glimpse of the wedding.

Dad was able to enjoy the wedding, though it was the week of his chemo treatment. So gratful for the good health he currently has. 

The whole clan! When you are the last of nine to marry, you have a large family photo.

The newest little ones.

Vaun and Emily with his nieces and nephews.

The nine siblings.

One of the songs we sang at Vaun and Emily's wedding was "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart." This has been a favorite song of mine for years, but I don't think I ever heard it at a wedding. But I thought it was quite fitting.

  1. Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart
  2. By George Croly

  3. Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
    Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
    Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
    And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
  4. Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
    All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
    I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
    Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!
  5. Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
    Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
    To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
    Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
  6. Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
    One holy passion filling all my frame;
    The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
    My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

Here is a video of the song arranged by Lloyd Kauffman.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Thinking About Summer Stress


Recently I flipped through last summer's planner to find some information. I read the notes on one particular week when I had two children with emergency medical visits (neither serious). Somehow just reading those notes in my planner gave me a feeling of panic. I could remember the stress of those weeks. 

And then I realized how much less pressure this summer has had. I'm not completely sure why. We are still very busy. Many of the activities from last summer are repeated this summer - even a sibling wedding. But I remember last year waking up on Monday mornings and almost dreading the week. I usually love Monday mornings and the anticipation of a new week, so it was unusual for me to feel discouraged on a Monday. 

I don't want to get stuck analizying the past, but this winter I did consider the last year and changes I could take to keep from becoming so overwhelmed. Life will always bring unexpected things (like those emergency medical visits) so I wanted to provide some margin to give a cushion.

I've become aware of how much I find fulfillment in being busy. I love planning events, sharing life with family and friends, and helping others. I can work fast and efficiently and get a lot accomplished. I like a bit of pressure, such as waking up and knowing that I have an hour to study for the Bible study that I'm teaching tonight before going out to pick the green beans. I'm slowly realizing that my personality finds so much satisfaction in activity that it is hard for me to build proper boundaries. It is hard to say "no" to things I love. 

For example, last year four of my siblings bought houses within just a few months. I love to paint. I wanted to spend time with each of my siblings helping in their new houses. My children are old enough to stay home by themselves for the day. But eventually it became clear that I just couldn't be gone multiple days helping paint and not feel the strain, especially if I was also involved in several others things that week. 

It seems silly that it is so hard for me to admit that I'm human and have limits. When I had babies, it was easier to stay home. Now I no longer have Ed to tell me, "I think you are doing too much." In November, after helping plan three events in three weeks (on top of quite a few other events in the previous months), I realized I had to listen to my stress level and be the mature person and start saying, "no" to things I really wanted to do. 

This year I made a simple guideline that I was going to place priority on serving in my local church and community. I know, that means I can still be quite busy, but it helped me turn down opportunities that were further away. My children aren't babies anymore, but they are still young enough that they don't like me going away too often. I want my children to learn the joy of serving, but they also needed to not feel like they always were given mom's leftovers.

Another deliberate choice I made this year was to look for ways to streamline tasks, even if that meant more work and time (maybe even money) upfront. For example, this spring I tore out some of my perennial flowers, planted some shrubs, and laid down mulch. This will hopefully save future hours. I've also tried to be more deliberate in menu planning and grocery shopping to avoid the last minute "what's for dinner" panic that I had fallen in. I've tried to work ahead on projects (like wedding sewing) to avoid last minute stress. 

I'm still not sure why I'm enjoying this summer so much. But this is only July. Maybe August will be frantic and frustrating and blot out the enjoyment of June and July. Many things are outside my control, and I want to learn how to have peace in times of unexpected stress. But I also want to recognize when change is needed. Even small adjustments can make a difference.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Fresh Herb Dip

 I've had an herb garden for years. In fact, I rode my bike to our local greenhouse, before I had my driver's license, to purchase herb plants. I'm not sure why I was so infatuated by herbs, but I nearly memorized my mom's herb book. I loved the smells and textures of herbs. It was such fun to weed among such lovely plants.

An herb garden was one of the first additions I added to our property when we moved here. I've moved it to different spots, but found I was most likely to use the herbs if they were on a pot on my porch. 

But still, I rarely actually cooked with fresh herbs. I occasionally picked a sprig of rosemary or made a batch of basil pesto, but I was far better at growing herbs than using them. 

Until last year. 

One of my daughters was spending the day at my parent's house, and my mom was making a simple dip with fresh herbs. She came home with the directions and suddenly my pot of herbs was being snipped repeatedly to make herb dip. She loved making it so much that when winter came and our herbs died, she adapted the recipe to use dried herbs. But we were all delighted when spring came ,and she could use fresh herbs again.

This recipe can be adapted with whatever herbs you have. She likes to have at least three kinds. The amount of herbs is approximate. She simply picks a few sprigs without measuring.

Fresh Herb Dip

1 8oz pack of cream cheese

1/8 cup mayonaise

1 Tablespoon each of chopped basil, chives, oregano, parsley, thyme, and rosemary

In the winter, use a teaspoon of dried herbs.

Edited: I should have specified that this recipe is more of a spread or cheese ball. We eat it on crackers. If you want to use it for a veggie dip (which is also delicious) add more mayo and be sure to let it sit out of the fridge a bit to soften the cream cheese before serving.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge

I struggled to read at the beginning of this spring. I'm not sure why I felt so distracted and listless when it came to books - it is an unfamiliar feeling. But eventually I got over my slump, and I read quite a few books that I loved.

Note: The photos on this post were taken just a few weeks before the birth of Charity's baby boy. Not sure how much reading Charity will get done this summer. Maybe more than usual - maybe far less!

This post contains affiliate links which give me a small bit of credit with no extra cost to you. 

Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge

1. Read a book that is longer than your average read. 

Charity - Middlemarch by George Eliot

Long books are delightful as long as I have the time to really embrace the story. Eliot wrote a fascinating novel about family, love, and money set in the fictional town of Middlemarch. I found that I needed to patiently allow the author to introduce me to the cast and weave the plot for a few hundred pages until I was entrapped. Step into nineteenth century England with patience and before long you will not be able to put the book down!

Gina - Island of the World by Michael D. O'Brien

I knew exactly which long book I wanted to read. A blog reader had sent me Island of the World after I told her that I had been searching for a copy, since I had heard rave reviews of it. But I found the book intimidating. Not only was it long (over eight hundred pages!), it is also sad. I've cried over a number of novels set in World War 2, but this book is a level of gut-wretching sad I found hard to read. Set in the Balkans, Island of the Word follows the life of Josip Lasta. I'm only about halfway through, but if it wasn't for this challenge, I wouldn't have gotten that far, and I plan to continue working on it this summer.

2. Read a book about motherhood or a book that has a mother as the main character.

Labor with Hope by Gloria Furman

While preparing for the arrival of our baby, I found this book a beautiful way to explore what the Bible says about childbirth and pregnancy. Furman takes you through God's Word and show the hope and eternal analogies that are found all throughout the Bible. 

Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies by Hillary Morgan Ferrer and others

The authors of this book suggest that we as mothers need to be firmly grounded in truth so that we can help our children navigate the many voices in our world. They give a thorough overview of the many isms that we encounter, such as self-helpism, naturalism, and skepticim. I love that the authors are firm on truth in a loving way and use humor to lighten a heavy subject. 

3. Choose a bookshelf, count the fifth book from the right and read it. 

Charity - How Beautiful the Dusty Road by Alison Stoltsfus

A nurse's memoir of serving refugees in Bangladesh. Join the author on her journey of learning to love the people of another religion and ethnicity while finding her heart is sometimes miles away. I easily slipped into her world and found her skill with words made me grieve it was such a short book.

Gina - A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry

It always takes me a while to get into Berry's novels. The plot moves slowly and there are so many characters, though the more of his books I read, the more I'm becoming attached to his fictional Port William community. A Place on Earth is set during World War 2 and I was saddened by the unhealthy ways that the characters reacted to grief without the hope of Christ. Yet Berry's skill as a writer and how well he shows life's reality and the gift of the agarian community means his books stay with me long after I finish the last page.

4. Choose a word or phrase in the Bible and look up five or so verses that contain that word and read them in context. 

Charity - Trust/Refuge in the Psalms

The last few months I have been strugglign to surrender and trust the Creator. That led me to read all th passages in Psalms that speak of trusting God and/or taking refuge in Him. Writing down teh verses that appliedto me in my journal was so encouraging and is a place I can keep going back to on hard days.

Gina - Word

What does the Word say about the Word? That question sent me all through the Scripture, searching what God said about His Word. What a rich gift we have been given.

Other books I've loved this spring:

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Coming Home to Roost by Dorcas Smucker

Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler

Will the Circle Be Unbroken by Sean Dietrich

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.


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