Sep 22, 2012

♫ On the first day of Au-tumn ♫

I had picked up a large head of cabbage from our local farmer's market recently that needed to be used, and today a sweet friend gave me two beautiful smaller heads from her garden. I've been in the mood to make stuffed cabbage rolls and today I did!  I'd forgotten how easy this dinner is to make.  Here's how:

I rinsed off the cabbages and peeled away the top layer.  Then I placed them  in a  large pot and covered them with water.  I put a lid on the pot and brought the water to boil.  I turned the heat off and just let them steam for about 10 minutes.  I carefully drained the water off and let the cabbages cool until I could handle them.  I know everyone has an idea of the "easiest" way to do this, but this is my method and I'm content with it! 

 Once I could handle the cabbages, I took a sharp knife and cut a ring around the core, and gently pulled it out.  The cabbage leaves separate easily.

In a large bowl, I mixed the following:

2# ground chuck
1/2 c. uncooked regular white rice
1 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
1/2 c. water

Then I put about a tablespoon of the meat mixture on each leaf of cabbage, rolled them, tucking in the sides, and placed them seam side down in an oven proof crock or pan.

To make the sauce, I heated 2 Tablespoons of Crisco in a saucepan and added a Tablespoon of finely chopped onion.  When the onion started to get soft, I added one Tablespoon of vinegar, one Tablespoon (Wondra) flour, a tsp. garlic salt, and a 48 oz can of tomato JUICE. I brought this to a boil and poured it on top of the stuffed cabbages.

Lastly, I covered the oven proof pan and baked the cabbage rolls at 375℉ for 1 1/2 hours.  I actually doubled this recipe which yielded a pan for us, a pan for the freezer, and a pan to give away!  

It was a good day for comfort food, just like Mom used to make!

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1

Sep 17, 2012

Sin and the kitchen floor...

Recently we decided to take some money my hubby earned and give it to Lowe's in exchange for a new kitchen floor.  The one we had was really pretty over 17 years ago when it was very white and shiny.  I worked hard to keep it that way too for a long time. Eventually however it lost it's no-wax feature and became a real source of aggrevation as I struggled to make it look as clean as possible.  But no matter how hard I tried, time, kids, and wear and tear had taken its toll and it just never looked really clean anymore.  

So we went from one extreme to the other, this time choosing a darker laminate that has a random pattern that looks something like stone.  It's amazing how I don't spend nearly as much time cleaning the new floor.     It just doesn't "look" dirty.  I gleefully posted on Facebook: "So, if you change out your all-white kitchen floor for a darker, patterned one, the same dirt accumulates, but you don't see it, right?  works for me!"

A friend commented: "When the sun shines in and shows all the dust I thought I'd cleaned, it helps me remember that in God's light, I'm more sinful than I appear!"

Now isn't THAT the Gospel Truth!

And it is actually something I've been thinking a lot about lately too.  I know I am more sinful than I appear. And I bet you are too.  Just like there are areas of my home I keep hidden from visitors, there are hidden places in my heart that are messy at best, but when God shines His light on them, they are exposed for what they are...dirty, sinful rooms that need a makeover.

God's shining light is a good thing. I'm thankful He cares enough about me to show me where my thoughts, words, or deeds are not expressing His pure nature~areas that He wants to clean up and replace with something new, clean, and beautiful.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
See if there be any grievious way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting!"
~Psalm 139:23-24~

Sep 6, 2012

Where am I?

More than a few years ago now, our younger son was a new driver and out on a date with his then girlfriend, now wife.  We were at home in bed, though of course not asleep.  It was nearing the time that he should have been home, and the phone rang.  My husband answered it, only to hear our son's near frantic voice:  "Where am I?"  As it turned out, he was on his way home and a fire truck was blocking his normal route and traffic was redirected, causing him to become disoriented in an unfamiliar neighborhood in downtown Akron.  His father talked him back onto the right roads that would get him safely home.  We've had  tons of laughs over the years at this memory and it's sure to be a funny story passed down through the generations.  

There have been several times in my own life when I've stopped to ask myself the question, "Where am I?"~not because of being lost while out driving late at night, but because circumstances beyond my control sometimes make me feel lost and disoriented.  Roadblocks I never planned on appear out of nowhere, and I'm forced to move in a different direction or to think in a new, better way. 

Most of us like to feel settled in to what becomes comfortable and familiar in our lives.  We like predictability, whether it is knowing a paycheck will be deposited into our account every couple of weeks, seeing our spouse go off to work and come home around the same time every day, or just doing the things we enjoy that become happy traditions for us.

Getting older and feeling it is an unexpected change that can be difficult to wrap our arms around.  The energy we had just a few years ago is gone and we find we don't have the stamina or strength to do many of the things we used to do at the pace we used to do them.  On days like that, I find myself wondering "Where am I?" along the continuum of life ~ will I live to be an old lady telling stories to my great grandchildren from a rocking chair, or am I already almost at the end of my journey here?

Then there are the times I try to take a personal spiritual assessment test.  "Where am I?" in terms of my eternal relationship with God and my relationships with people?  Am I resting in the knowledge that God is "for" me and that whatever might be a surprise to me in life was no surprise to Him and He is weaving this tapestry into something very beautiful? Am I always looking to make and keep peace with friends and family,  so that I can look forward with confidence and back without regrets? 

When my brother got his cancer diagnosis ten months ago, one of the first things he wanted people to understand was that eventually all of us will be thrown an unexpected curve ball in life, and when that day comes, we will need an internal compass to help and guide us through difficult times. 

Friend, don't wait till the turmoil comes.  Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but by Me."   God has provided that Compass for us and we don't have to live our lives in fear, despair, or anxiety, no matter where we find ourselves or what our circumstances may be. Even when our world is turned upside down, our heavenly Father will show us the way to go and lead us safely home. 

Aug 17, 2012

I'd rather wear out than rust out...

Years ago my grandparents were in a fun local seniors band and that was their slogan.  I've sort of adopted it as my life's theme.  It's another way of saying something else I often repeat: "I want to live till I die."  

Yesterday I wanted to do something special with the grandchildren, since there is only one more week until school starts.  I knew I was on my own with three of them, and I was at a loss to come up with a plan for the day.  We've done a lot of the usual already: the zoo, the local parks, hiking, swimming, the library, baking, crafts, a lemonade stand, the flea market, and playing in Grandma's park (our backyard).  

Before they arrived yesterday morning, I did something I often do when I feel a lack of direction for the day ahead.  I prayed.  "Lord, I need you to order my day.  I know for sure there are two things that you have promised to give for the asking:  forgiveness and wisdom.  I need both.  Please give me an idea of something fun to do with the kids today."

It wasn't very long until I thought about taking them to Ohio's Amish country, located in Holmes County and a little more than an hour's drive away.  It would get us out of town and into the beautiful countryside, and I thought they would love tasting the cheese at Heini's.  But could I handle three of them on my own for such a venture?  I'd never gone there by myself before, but I knew I kept a detailed map of Amish Country in my car. And I had Dora, my faithful GPS, plus a stroller. Confidence rose and I felt my prayer had been answered.

When I finally got everyone dressed, fed, and buckled tightly into their carseats, I pulled out of the garage and stopped.  I announced to the kids that whenever grandma and papa go on a trip, we always say a prayer first.  So I prayed out loud for a safe and fun day and gave thanks for the beautiful weather and our special time together.  Simple and to the point. A teachable moment too.  

There were many more teachable moments, especially once we got off the highway and onto the country roads.  We took turns spotting grazing cows, baby goats, lots of horses, beautiful farms and rolling hills.  We started counting how many horses and buggies we saw until they became a common scene.  We looked for houses without any electrical lines attached to them, and we saw lots of clothes being dried outside in the breeze.  I pointed out several small Amish school houses.  We talked about some of the differences between the Amish and the Mennonites, who also populate the area.  In answer to my granddaughter's question, I explained that even though it is called "Amish Country", that we were indeed still in the United States!  We talked about the difference between being "in the country" and "in the city".  

Our first stop was the Ashery Country Store. Located in Fredericksburg, Ashery's is a bulk food store I've enjoyed going to since my own kids were young.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much the store has expanded and the grandkids loved that there were free samples throughout ~ candy, pretzels and dips, even sassafras tea.  When I was looking for a certain item, I inquired to a woman I recognized had been there for probably 20 years! Even though the store had changed slightly, it really did seem like time had stood still here!  People were so friendly too, stopping to chat and admire the grandchildren. There are some interesting facts at the Ashery website, found here.

Ten minutes farther down the road is Heini's, where cheese-making operations have been going on for 75 years.  It takes a little time to walk around the store and sample every cheese they sell.  And behind large glass windows we could see the workers cleaning out the huge vats where they had made cheese earlier in the day.  We paused to watch part of a video which showed the process.  

On her own, Elylah decided to keep a little scorecard of ranking her favorite cheeses!

 Ethan: "Grandma look! Mouse cheese!"

Some unusual varieties included rainbow fudge cheese.

We left Heini's and drove a few more miles down the road to "downtown" Berlin.  Main Street is full of tiny little primitive looking shops and I knew of a restaurant where we could get some lunch.  I didn't try to take the kids inside any of the shops (I'm not THAT crazy!) but we enjoyed strolling up and down the street a little.  I did take notice of lots of "new" shops that weren't there the last time I was in Berlin, and I'll go back to check them out another time when I can freely browse!  

We waited about 15 minutes in line to go into Boyd's, a great sandwich shop in the heart of things.  Again I was stunned to realize a waitress was someone I recognized from more than a decade ago.  The place was just as busy as always, filled with visitors from all over.  The kids wanted home made chicken noodle soup, and I had a half-order of a hot roast beef sandwich, my favorite when I go to Amish country. Apologizing for the mess we left, I gave the waitress a good tip.  She chatted with me for a minute, and we were on our way.

The timing worked out perfectly and I drove the kids directly home.  They slept the entire hour.  I'm still glowing with memories of this perfect, gifted day.  God is good.  And I thank Him!

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given." 
James 1:5

Aug 12, 2012

The World Needs More Pie...

Anyone who knows me knows I do love to bake pies.  I have my own favorites:  peach, apple, cherry, lemon meringue, pumpkin, chocolate, peanut butter, and vegetable/meat quiches.  On my to-do list is finding time to experiment with some other varieties.  

If I lived near The American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, I would beg Beth M. Howard for a job at the Pitchfork Pie Stand, where she has made peace with herself through making people happy with her pies.  In fact, she has written a book chronicling her journey into pie making: Making Piece, a Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie.  It just sounds like so much fun!  She and her team have actually traveled to third world countries to teach pie-baking.

I saw a recipe a few months ago in a magazine for "hand pies" so I've tired my "hand" at it a couple of times recently.  I just use the same pie crust recipe I always use, and so far I've only used an apple filling.  I have found I can get about 6 hand pies from one pie crust.  These are great when you want to just take a little treat to someone.

One time I was asked to make 5 cherry pies for a Valentine's Day appreciation dinner our small group put on to thank our church's youth group leaders.  That was really easy since my pie crust recipe makes 5 crusts, and I just needed to make 2 batches.

I have made the pumpkin pies for our family Thanksgiving celebrations for years.  I just use the recipe on the Libbey's pumpkin can and double it to make four large pies.

I've posted the pie crust recipe before, but it is the one I use exclusively, so here it is again.  My aunt Mary Ann gave me this recipe back in 1967, 45 years ago, so why would I change now? Sometimes I even make the pie crust one day, divide into 5 equal sized balls, wrap individually and either refrigerate or freeze them.  When ready to use, I let them come to room temperature before I start rolling them out.  

Never-Fail Pie Crust

5 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 tablespoon vinegar
cold water
Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add shortening and work into the flour with two knives until course, about the size of peas, (or use a pie crust cutting tool.) Into a one cup liquid measuring cup, break one egg and beat slightly with a fork. Add vinegar, and then enough cold water to make one cup liquid. Add this to the flour/shortening mixture and mix into a good consistency for rolling.  Note:  In recent years I have been using a very finely ground cake flour.  I have found that I can eliminate 1/2 cup of shortening when I use the fine flour.  Roll the crusts out one at a time on a floured surface, being careful not to over work the dough.

For a great apple pie, here's what I do:

First I have my pie crusts ready and the pie plate lined with the crust.  Then I take 6-7 medium sized granny smith apples, peel, core, and slice thinly.  As the apples are being prepared, I put them in a bowl with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.  To all the sliced apples, add 3/4-1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.  Toss gently and fill crust-lined pie pan.  If I remember, I might add 1-2 Tablespoons of butter on top of the apple mixture.  Then I cover with the top crust.  I take my kitchen scissors and cut the perimeter of the crusts so they just barely hang over the pie plate and they are even.  Then I carefully tuck the upper crust in under the bottom crust, then flute the edges with my fingers.  Then I make about 6 small slits in the upper crust.  Lastly, I brush on a very thin coat of milk on the upper crust and sprinkle the whole top with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Bake the pie for about 50 minutes at 400℉.  

There is no question that I fully agree with Beth Howard, The world needs more pie! How about you?

Aug 6, 2012

Waking up in faith...

I always look forward to the short Sunday prayers that my friend, Dee, puts on FaceBook and on her blog at One Foot Out of the Box. This week she mentioned she was thankful to "wake up in faith".  That phrase drew me in and got me to thinking about what it means.

Contrary to what some might initially think, faith itself is a gift...a gift from God.  It is not something that we can muster up on our own with enough will power to get us through life. Faith is instrumental in securing our eternal salvation...God's faithfulness in loving us, Christ's faithfulness in dying for us, the Spirit's faithfulness in wooing us.  When we experience the new birth, that same faith is imparted to us and enables us to believe and become children of God.  (Did you know that everyone is not a child of God? It's true...but that can be a topic for another time!)

I think what my friend was referring to was her thankfulness that in waking up to a new day, she has the assurance that she is safe, happy, and secure in facing the day because she can have peace in knowing that God has her in the palm of His hand.  

I woke up just a bit too early this morning, but I'm happy to say that I have woken up in faith. I don't know what today will bring, but I know God is in control and He has a plan.  And at the end of the best or the worst days, I know He loves me still.  He has given me the gift of faith which enables me to believe that no matter what, He has my best interests at heart. He is for me, and He is working all things together for good. I can face any day believing that!

There will be another day to wake up in faith.   I love my life and all the wonderful relationships I have and the beautiful world we live in, but I know someday the curtain will be drawn.  Unless Jesus Christ returns first, this life as I know it will come to an end and I will close my eyes in death.  And so will you.  But because of the gift of faith, we can know for certain that we will wake up to a new and glorious life safe forever with God.  

Did you wake up in faith this morning?  

 "...for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have commited unto Him against that day." 2 Timothy 1:12

Jul 30, 2012

no answers here...

I have an aunt who passed away a few days ago.  She died alone and without the love of many friends or family.  Most likely she suffered from mental illness.  I'm obviously not a doctor but looking back, I would guess in her earlier years she probably had what we now call bipolar disorder.  I doubt that she was ever treated for any of her emotional disturbances.  In later years she became mean-spirited and alienated herself from those who wanted and tried to love her.  

I don't know how this happens and I don't know what, if anything, could have been different.  I'm feeling regrets for not reaching out to her in the last few years when I learned how alone she was and how difficult it was for her immediate family.  I don't like to live with fact I try to make a point not to.  But I am living with this one.  

I haven't been close to Aunt Nancy in probably 25 years.  I have absolutely no explanation for that.  She didn't live all that far away.  And I liked her.  I liked the Aunt Nancy I knew when I was growing up.  I saw her often in those days, and by the time I was about 12 years old, she hired me to babysit.  I admired her many talents. She was an accomplished seamstress. She was always coming up with a new craft to create.  I still use Christmas tree ornaments she hand made decades ago.  My grandchildren use a baby blanket she made for my younger son.  They play with the Care Bear she made for my older son.  We baked and sold Christmas cookies together for several years. We did craft shows together.

I remember there was always lots of intensity whenever Aunt Nancy was around.  She was my mother's younger sister, and she lived her life a little more on the wild side than we did.  She did a lot of things we didn't do as a matter of fact:  she smoked, she drank, she played bingo, she used course language.  And oh my could she get mad at the drop of a hat if something didn't go the way she wanted.  

I still liked her.  I admired her energy.  I was impressed that her house was always clean and quite beautiful. She had a lot of knick knacks and some antiques and all kinds of interesting stuff.  I wanted a house that looked like hers someday. She worked hard at it and I think some of that did rub off on me.

When my cousin, Aunt Nancy's daughter, had a baby out of wedlock, my aunt helped raise her granddaughter.  Years passed and the little girl grew up and has a husband and children of her own now, and lives within walking distance of me.  The other night we chatted on line after Aunt Nancy died.  She said she and her mom and the others all wish things could have been "different" ~ meaning that the relationships weren't good.  I told of how much her grandmother loved her when she came along, and how she helped her mother take care of her.  

I told her to hang on to the good memories and let God sort out the rest.  That's all I can do now too.  I don't know that it would have done any good for me to contact Aunt Nancy and try to make amends for...what?? There was never anything amiss between us as far as I knew.  But all around me I knew things were not right in her relationships with others close to me and those who she should have been close to.  Maybe that's why I stayed away.  Maybe I didn't want to chance my own memories being tarnished.  That's not a real good excuse, is it? But it's the only one I can think of.  Maybe I knew in my heart I couldn't change her.  Maybe I was afraid she would reject me as she had rejected others.  I don't know.  But I will hold onto the good memories and let God sort out the rest.  

I have a favorite quote from the movie, A River Runs Through It.  The Reverend Maclean, a Presbyterian minister, is speaking to his congregation after the death of his wayward and rebellious son, Paul:

"Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?  For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us.  Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted.  And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us.  But we can still love them ~ we can love completely without complete understanding."

Today I choose to love Aunt Nancy completely without complete understanding.  I had many opportunities to witness the good fruit of her life before whatever emotional or mental illness it was that overtook her.  I choose today to remember the Aunt Nancy I knew and admired, yes loved so many years ago.  I choose today to weep with those who weep for their loss, mainly the loss of what should have been and now never will be. And I recommit myself to live today and every day to the fullest and seek to keep peace in all my relationships.

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."  Romans 12:18 NIV

Jul 18, 2012

Take a hike!

(clicking on pictures will enlarge them)

Three energetic little children arrived at my house this morning all dressed in clean clothes and ready for the day.  From "no where" the thought entered my mind to take them to the Seiberling Nature Realm, part of the Summit County Metro Parks System.  I'm ashamed to say that though this particular conservation park is only about 10 miles away, I've never been to it before!  I was in for a very pleasant surprise!

(If you click to enlarge this picture, you will see a little guy posing)

Thankfully we had  Dora the Explorer Elylah to guide us with a map...

and watch the signs along the way...

And I was glad we packed a little lunch to bring along...

When we arrived at this spot, I encouraged Ethan and Elylah to take a long look around and say a prayer of thankfulness for all the beauty of the good earth that God created for us to enjoy...

The Visitor's Center was quite impressive.  Everything was nice and clean, air conditined, and very "hands on" for the children.  They could learn what the land in our area was like 200 years ago, and why we need to practice sustainable habits for the sake of our environment.

I loved the way they had little step stools so the kids could see

a teaching "recycling center"

a replica of a Great Blue Herron and nest

art created with recycled materials

The above four photos were taken from behind a one-way glass. We could see the wild life, but they couldn't see us!

I was very happy to think of something "free" to do today that was fun and would wear them out so they'd rest this afternoon.  One last "perk" we had on the way home...we had run out of water and everyone was very hot and thirsty.  I pulled up to a McDonald's drive through window and asked only for 3 glasses of ice water, and offered to pay for them.  The girl was so sweet and waved me on...

Our little field trip to the Nature Realm reminded me of the words of two great old hymns...

♫ Were the whole realm of nature mine
that be an offering far too small
love so amazing, so Divine
demands my soul, my life, my all. ♫
♫ For the beauty of the earth
for the glory of the skies
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
this our hymn of grateful praise! ♫