What My Dad Taught Me for this Fantastic Friday

An unforgettable lesson learned from my father is the the subject of this Fantastic Friday look back at the past.This Fantastic Friday post comes from October of 2007. It’s one of the first blog posts ever published on Down the Gravel Road. I can’t remember the name of the person who’s funeral is mentioned. But every day, I remember and treasure the lesson my dad taught me each day of his life.

On Monday, I went to a funeral for a man from our church. His children paid tribute to their dad during the service. He’d been a wonderful father, who took them hunting and fishing. He coached Little League, encouraging and teaching every child on the team. They mentioned that throughout their adult lives, when they reunited with childhood friends, their friends said hello and in the next breath, “How’s your dad?”

Maybe I shouldn’t confess this, but their memories saddened me. They reminded me of all my father couldn’t do with us. Don’t get me wrong. Dad was a vibrant man who loved children. He would have been a great Little League coach. And though he wasn’t a hunter or fisherman, he would have led our 4-H club. He would have taught us to raise, show and judge cattle because that was what he loved.

But he couldn’t do any of that because multiple sclerosis put him in a wheelchair when he was thirty, my sister was six, I was three and my brother was a baby. So I was sad at Monday’s  funeral, not only for the family of the man who had died but also for what our family lost to Dad’s illness.

For the last few days, God has comforted me with truth. Over and over I’ve pictured Dad in his wheelchair while he lived at home or in his bed at the nursing home. And in every picture, his wide face is serious, even sad. Until one of his children or grandkids comes into his presence. Then his face breaks into a big grin that shows his square, white teeth and his green eyes light with delight.

And that is what Dad taught me: a father’s delight in the presence of his children. His delight didn’t come from what we could do for him. He was delighted because we were his children. We had taken time to be with him.

So now I’m thinking about God the Father. When I enter His presence, does His face light up? After all, I’m His child too.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Yogi Berra, author mathematics, and Little House in the Big Woods cozy in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. I’m taking the death of Yogi Berra pretty hard. Not because I’m a Yankee fan. But because the media tributes have revealed that at least half of my dad best one liners were plagiarized from the great ball player.
  2. After double-checking the math, I can confidently say that having 3 books published in 1 year + completing a mystery novel = almost 2 much.
  3. With a winter’s worth of jugs full of rain water for the house plants in the basement, as well as several apple pies and bags of basil pesto in the freezer, our home has that Little House in the Big Woods cozy feeling.

What makes your house feel Little House in the Big Woods cozy?

Yummy Apple Dip

This non-dairy version of peanut butter, cream cheese dip will satisfy your craving for caramel apples.Fall is here, which means harvest season in Iowa. Thanks to bountiful summer rains and near perfect growing conditions, the apple crop is plentiful and delicious. Every time the smell of apples greets me at the grocery store, a craving for caramel apples hits. A craving never to be satisfied because real dairy-based caramel can never be dairy free.

So I did the next best thing by taking the recipe for my second favorite apple dip, which is peanut butter dip and made it dairy free with the assistance of Tofutti non-dairy cream cheese. The recipe is super easy and low in sugar.

Non-Dairy Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Dip

8 ounces Tofutti non-dairy cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup peanut butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons coconut, almond, or soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup chopped salted peanuts

Place non-dairy cream cheese, peanut butter, and brown sugar in a bowl. Stir by hand or with small electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla, chopped peanuts, and enough milk substitute to reach desired dipping consistency.

Serve with apple slices. Can be refrigerated in an air tight container for 1–2 weeks.

Top Ten Air Travel Thoughts

Airport layovers give a person plenty of time to think. Here are my top ten travel thoughts.Long airport layovers give a person plenty of think time. Here are 10 things I’ve been thinking while sitting in airports lately.

10. Sitting beside a sweet 12-year-old during her first flight ever makes flying fun again.

9.  Smart phone boarding passes. Totally worth the price of an iPhone.

8.  If we can send men to the moon, why can’t escalator handrails be programmed to move at the same speed as the escalator steps?

7.  I predict that in the next few years cup holders will become a fixture, not only on chairs in airport gates, but also in airport bathroom stalls.

6.  Airport coffee shops. Ahhh!

5.  Diabetics, people with celiac disease, and dairy allergies should never be assigned to airport gates directly across from Cinnabon. It’s cruel and unusual punishment.

4.  In addition their two free bags policy, Southwest Airlines flight crews give extra peanuts if you ask.

3.  They also let you use the bathroom before take off. Especially if you ask with a very pained expression. Don’t ask how I know this.

2.  And when they page a passenger with an ordinary name to come to the front of the plane, they also page Brad Pitt. Believe me, that gets everyone’s attention right away.

1. Sadly, the powers that be removed the Blues Brother statue from its spot between the A and B terminals at Chicago Midway Airport. Only the sight of a Southwest gate attendant in a black fedora mitigated this traveler’s disappointment.

What do you think about during airport layovers? Keep it clean, people!

Finding Holiness in the Ordinary

Why growing in faith involves finding holiness in the ordinary and persevering in holiness.But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith.
Jude 1:20

A couple weeks ago I flew to North Carolina on Friday and returned on Sunday. Both flights departed v-e-r-y early. So early that I had to skip my daily exercise routine for an entire weekend. Secretly, I appreciated having a legitimate reason to play hooky. I told myself it meant more time to meet and minister to hurting parents and network with others who serve special needs families. And to hobnob when the opportunity arose. And to do all of it guilt free.

Reality returned Monday when I resumed the old routine. About halfway through the morning walk that’s normally a breeze, my muscles screamed “Enough already!”

Talk about God’s perfect timing! There I was, walking down an ordinary street in my ordinary town when he used my aching muscles to drive home a point Oswald Chambers made in the devotional I had read just one day early. At the airport. While waiting to board the plane home. Chambers said this:

It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God–but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy in the ordinary streets, among ordinary people–and this is not learned in five minutes.

At that moment God made his priorities for my life very clear. He considers my faithfulness in the small, daily happenings of life as more valuable than my participation in exceptional events. He wants me to devote the bulk of my time to the ordinary. He calls me and all Christians to see the ordinary as holy.

But how can we frail humans be exceptional in the ordinary things? How can we persevere through the mundane dreariness of daily duties? How do we infuse holiness into the wiping of noses, changing the oil, yard work, visiting elderly neighbors, walking the dog, and punching the time clock at work day after ho-hum day?

The truth is, we can’t do it ourselves. The only way we can do it by asking Jesus to quicken his Spirit within us. To transform us into a people for his own purposes through the consistent practice of the spiritual disciplines he uses to draw us closer to him.

So that through perseverance and faithfulness, we grow strong enough to live like Jesus did during his time on earth. To walk down dusty roads with people who need compassion. To welcome children and the messes they make into our lives. To devote the best part of our days to ministering to the sick, the broken, and the despised. To wake up in the morning ready and willing to do it all over again. To count as holy and exceptional the ordinary work he calls us to complete.

Because if Jesus, the exceptional Creator of the universe, considered the ordinary people and ordinary events worthy of his time and devotion and lifeblood, how can we do anything less?

Lovin’ That Tech Support this Fantastic Friday


In the past 2 months, we’ve been without internet service twice. For a week each time. So when I ran across this post from September of 2010, it was an obvious choice for this Fantastic Friday. The Man of Steel, who dealt with tech support this time, discovered that tech support hasn’t improved much in the past 5 years. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

Gotta Love That Tech Support

For about twenty-four hours, ever since our modem died yesterday afternoon, the technological forces of the universe did their best to unwire our household. Thankfully, despite their best efforts and my lack of technological skill, they failed miserably.

I won’t bore you with the entire saga. (Careful now, your sigh of relief could be audible.) Instead, here’s a quick run down of the three – count ‘em – three calls to our internet provider’s tech support headquarters it took to before all systems were once again go.

PROLOGUE: All three calls began with one of those obnoxious, prerecorded helpers designed frustrate clients so they’ll hang up before reaching a live technician. My favorite part of the pre-recorded advice was given right after I indicated the problem was a lack of internet connection. The mechanical voice announced, “You’ll find ways to fix many internet-related problems by yourself using the free tutorials and instruction manuals at our website.”


CALL #1: When the live tech support woman finally came on the line, she scolded me for not checking for power cord issues before calling. When she heard the cord was plugged into a power strip, she suspected it was the culprit. After I performed a series of contortions to unplug the modem and several tests per her instruction, the modem came back to life. “See,” she admonished, “You could have determined it was a power cord issue without my help.”

Before our call ended, I had to promise this woman that if the modem again failed, I would complete the power cord test before calling for tech support. Two hours later, the internet connection again failed, so I performed the required tests. But this time, I couldn’t resuscitate the modem on my own, which led to…

CALL #2: When a live tech person finally came on the line, I described the tests completed before calling. “Okay,” she said, “let’s start by checking for a power cord issue,” and began describing the tests I had just completed. When she finally realized I’d been a big girl and done those tests all by myself, she said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have a bad modem and need a new one.”

I really, really wanted to ask her to get the previous tech person on the line and repeat what she’d just said, but restrained myself in the interest of time. She also said another tech call would be required to configure the modem, once it was purchased, which led to…

CALL #3: After purchasing the new modem, I once again called our internet provider. A friendly, helpful and very young-sounding man walked me through the configuration process. While we waited for stuff to download and reconfigure, he made comments like, “That’s a good-looking modem you’ve got there,” and “You’ve got yourself a real good modem,” and “Everything looks good from this end.” All of which made me wish I’d spent more time on my hair and make up this morning, ‘cause who knows what else was showing up on his computer screen?

We checked and double-checked the internet connection and then the wireless router, and all systems were go. So my complimentary helper ended the call by saying. “Now, won’t your husband be surprised when he comes home to find you set the new modem up all by yourself?”

If I were a brave woman, I would call tech services to ask one last question: Do you have an online tutorial that teaches tech guys how to quit while they’re ahead?

Three Thoughts for Thursday

An upcoming trip, my new super power, and watching the local wildlife in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Press Release: The Man of Steel and I are going to Philadelphia with my sister and brother-in-law next week. We want to assure reporters in the City of Brotherly Love that we do not expect the same level of press coverage as the Pope received. Though we wouldn’t turn down a parade in our honor and a ride in the Pope-mobile.
  2. New Super Power: The ability to select the public bathroom stall with a latch that appears to be secure but mysteriously opens once I’m seated on the porcelain throne.
  3. Simple Pleasure of the Week: Watching a flock of birds discover and devour the teeny-tiny fruits on our ornamental crab apple tree. Though if they eat all the fruit before it ferments, we will have to forego the annual tipsy-birds-falling-out-of-the-tree extravaganza.

Thai Chicken Soup

This simple and delicious Thai chicken soup is delicious, perhaps because some of the chicken broth was replaced by ham broth. Yum!Fall has arrived which means my soup cravings have begun. To be specific, cravings for Thai chicken soup with a coconut milk base. Though the last Thai soup posted on this blog was good, I was feeling adventurous enough to try something new. I found what I was looking for at the Food & Wine website. I tweaked it by using green onions and replacing some of the chicken stock with ham broth, and using Thai noodles instead of fettuccuni. Even with the changes and without the recommended wine, the soup was delicious. Delicious enough to receive the coveted Hiram Seal of Approval. It was also very simple, so it was a win-win-win for everyone.

Thai Chicken Noodle Coconut Soup


1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 bunch green onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups homemade chicken stock
1 cup ham broth
2 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk
5 teaspoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 package brown rice Thai noodles
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3), cut into 14-inch slices
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)


Heat oil over moderately low heat in a heavy dutch oven. Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, coriander, ginger, black pepper, and cayenne; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
Add both kinds of broth, coconut milk, fish sauce, salt, and lime zest. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
While the soup stock simmers. cook the Thai noodles according to the package directions and drain.
At the end of the 10 minutes, add the chicken to the soup and simmer until just done. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the fettuccine, lime juice, and cilantro. Serve the soup in bowls with a fork and spoon.


Top Ten Reasons to Visit North Carolina in September

Here are the top ten reasons I'm ready to return to Charlotte, North Carolina for a visit as soon as possible.During a recent Joni & Friends Conference in beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina–where even the backdrop for a book table is gorgeous–I came up a whole bunch of reasons to make a return visit. Here are 10 of them.

10. White rocking chairs are placed in front of huge plate glass windows in the Charlotte airport. And people sit in the chairs and look out the windows instead of at their phones.

9.  That panicky moment when you get off the airport and wonder if the conference is in South Carolina and not North Carolina passes quickly.

8.  Legendary southern hospitality is not a legend. It is real, from riding from the airport to the motel in a VW convertible Bug to being called “honey” by the hotel clerk who sounds like Kevin Spacey to being treated to supper at the New South restaurant on Saturday night.

7.  Collard greens, grits, okra, and Hoppin’ John are as much a part of the New South restaurant menu as they are a part of old southern cooking. The Hoppin’ John was yummy. On my next visit, I’m going for the collard greens.

6.  Southerners are so hospitable, they will pretend they know where Iowa is and that they have heard of the Iowa State Cyclones. But when I told them about the Bacon Festival, it was obvious we were all kindred spirits.

5.  September weather in Charlotte is 80 + degrees and sunnily gorgeous. Natives were amazed that I wasn’t shivering in a sleeveless dress and made sense of my odd behavior by saying, “Of course, you’re from up north.”

4.  In Charlotte, my name is 3 absolutely musical syllables: Jo-la-ene.

3.  Not just Jo-la-ene, but Miss Jo-la-ene.

2.  Or even Miss Jo-la-ene, ma’am.

1. In Charlotte, the crepe myrtles are still blooming in September. Springtime for the soul while autumn’s knocking at the door.

Have you been to Charlotte? Do you want to go back for a visit? Why?

A Woman of Aluminum Gone Wild Weekend

What's the difference between men and women? To answer the question, I compared my husband's agenda for a weekend alone to mine. For the first time since who knows when, I spent several days at home.

All by myself.

No Man of Steel, who went to Minnesota for a long weekend motorcycling with his brother-in-law and doing Papoo stuff with the grandkids. No speaking engagements, because the one scheduled for Saturday was cancelled. No kids, because they were here over Labor Day weekend. No pets, because we gave up pet ownership several years ago after gaining a reputation in the neighborhood as the black hole of pets.

Just me.
The Woman of Aluminum.
Alone at home.

Quite a switch at our house, since I’m the one who’s usually out and about while the Man of Steel sticks around to keep the home fires burning. This is a situation that can be extrapolated to reveal much about the true differences between men and women. Here are 4 examples that come to mind.

  • When home alone for a weekend, the Man of Steel eats meals that require no cooking beyond the microwave and no dishes. Only paper towels. He purchases bagged salad or potato chips to take to the church potluck on Sunday. When the wife gets home, the dishwasher holds exactly the same number of dirty dishes as when she left.
  • When home alone for a weekend, the Woman of Aluminum eats BLTs for supper every night because it would be a shame to let the last, gorgeous tomatoes of the summer go to waste. She makes chocolate chip oatmeal cookies to take to the church potluck on Sunday and since the oven is hot, finally bakes that apple pie she’s been meaning to deliver to the new neighbors who moved in a year ago. She loses track of how many times she runs the dishwasher.
  • The Man of Steel mows and trims the lawn and deposits his dusty clothes in the laundry room.
  • The Woman of Aluminum bites the bullet and cleans the refrigerator for the first time in more than a year. It is gross.
  • The Man of Steel goes running as often as possible on bachelor weekends and remembers to leave his sweaty running clothes in the laundry room hamper so the bedroom won’t smell like a locker room when his wife returns.
  • The Woman of Aluminum walks every morning of her solitary weekend, but her clothes don’t get sweaty because she refuses to run. Because running is against her religion. She sorts the week’s laundry before the Man of Steel returns from his trip and is struck by the dearth of sweaty, dirty man clothes and the abundance of kitchen towels and dish rags in the wash.
  • The Man of Steel cranks up the volume on his speakers and listens to loud music every spare moment alone. All weekend long. Over and over.
  • The Woman of Aluminum binges on Glimore Girls DVDS and The Hunger Games movies. Without popcorn. But with a few of the chocolate chip cookies that won’t be missed at the church potluck.

I could go on and on. But won’t because I’m writing this blog during my weekend alone and I really, really want to complete every item on my Woman-of-Aluminum-Gone-Wild weekend agenda.

Next up?
Balancing Mom’s checkbook and paying her bills for October.
After that?
Don’t ask. Just don’t ask.