Top Ten Reasons I Love July

Hiram and Jolene engaged

July is a hot and sticky month in Iowa. Even so, it’s one of my favorite months. Here are 10 reasons why.

10. I save so much time in July not having to dress in layers, pull on boots or coats, or hunt for gloves before going outside.

9.  Fourth of July celebrations are great fun, but they are more than fun. They are a time to be grateful for the freedom we enjoy in this country thanks to the courage and wisdom of our country’s founding fathers.

8.  What is more lovely than gazing at fireflies twinkling during as long summer days fade from dusk to darkness?

7.  Sweet corn.

6.  My birthday is in July. I will celebrate the arrival of my 59th year, grateful to be in good health, relatively sound mind, and able to walk miles each day.

5.  My sweet daughter turns 27 in July. She is a blessing worth celebrating all year long, but especially in July.

4.  That same daughter and her husband were married in July five years ago. They are an amazing, faith-filled couple who are living an amazing life together.

3.  In a few weeks, I get to spend a week helping out with our youngest grandson. A whole week of toothless grins, coos, and snuggles. What’s not to like about a July that holds that kind of joy?

2.  Shadow Valley Family Camp begins tomorrow in Idaho. Look out mountains, here I come!

1.  The Man of Steel and I were married in July 38 years ago. I can’t imagine enjoying July without him.

What do you like about July? Leave a message.

Weary and Heavy-Laden

Are you about to falter under the burdens you are bearing? Remember, you don't have to bear it alone. There is One who will bear it with you.Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29–29

Rarely have I felt as weary and heavy-laden as I feel today. So many burdens are bearing down. The Red Card Kids Sunday school class broke the hearts of everyone in attendance as we were brought face-to-face with the conditions children live in around the world. The killing of nine people attending a Bible study in Charleston sent believers in our country reeling. Every week parents of kids with special needs email their stories to me and ask for advice. And right now, this very minute, my husband and I are shouldering burdens concerning people we love very much, and we feel too weak to bear the weight much longer.

I am so weary, so heavy-laden. What I want right now if for the world to leave me alone while I watch one happy-ending movie after another, starting with The Wizard of Oz and ending with Ella Enchanted. Why do I–and maybe you, too–want to escape the woes of this world? Because, deep down, we know we can’t fix what’s wrong.

We can’t ease the daily suffering and oppression of millions of children.
We can’t end the racism that led to the killing of nine Christ followers.
We can’t provide the resources and rest parents of kids with special needs require.
 We can’t even make things better for the people we love most in this world.

And yet as believers we are commanded to end oppression, to fight injustice, to heal the broken, and to maintain loving relationships. We are called to bear burdens we can never fix. God’s commandment seems so unfair. Impossible to obey. Unless we remember Jesus’ call to bear our burdens with HIm. To be yoked together In Him. Not alone. Never alone.

Of course, being yoked to Jesus so the burden can be shared requires us to make some adjustments. Being yoked to Jesus means matching our steps to His. Going the direction He says is best. Moving forward in His time, not ours.

Being yoked to Jesus means total dependence on Him. Total release of our will to His. Total relinquishment of our loved ones to His sovereign will. Total trust in His wisdom and power when all appears hopeless, when evil seems to be winning.

Only when we realize that all the impossible things God calls us to do are only accomplished through His divine power are we able to lay find rest for our sore and weary souls. Only then do we discover His yoke truly is easy and the burden is so very, very light.

Only then.
Only then.

Peanut Lemon Stir Fry for a Fantastic Fourth

shapeimage_1-2715-300x171Tis the season for grilling and stir fry. We’ll be eating this delicious meal over the fantastic Fourth of July season. What about you?

Last week and this week, our CSA share has included one of my favorite summer treats – sugar snap peas. Often, I stir fry them solo in olive oil, with a dash of crushed garlic and kosher salt added at the last minute.

But I also like to make them part of a main course, so last week I threw together this peanut-lemon dish using whatever was in the fridge. My, oh, my it was so tasty that we’re going to have it again tomorrow night. I’m already drooling at the thought. So give it a try and leave a comment about what you think.

Peanut-Lemon Stir Fry

1 chicken breast, cut in bite-sized pieces
2 cups sugar snap peas, with tops cut off
1 medium onion cut in wedges or 2 bunches green onions, cut in small pieces
1 sweet red pepper, cut into chunks
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Thai peanut sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine lemon juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Add chicken and marinate in refrigerator for 1/2 hour or longer.

Put peanuts in a small cake pan and roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Cool.

In a small bowl mix together the broth, peanut sauce and corn starch. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in skillet or wok, medium high. Add peas and stir fry for 1 minute. Add pepper and stir fry for another minute. Do the same with the onions. Pour all veggies into a bowl. Heat remaining olive oil and add chicken (but not the marinate). Stir fry until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

While chicken is cooking, add 1/2 cup of marinate to the broth mixture. Stir well. Add mixture to the skillet, stirring constantly, until it bubbles and turns clear. Add vegetables to the skillet, stirring until they are hot and coated with sauce. Sprinkle peanuts on top and serve over rice.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Happiness, sadness, and winning in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Happiness is balancing your elderly mother’s checkbook on the first try, something you were never able to do with your own checkbook growing up, no matter how often your much younger mother tried to teach you to do it.
  2. Sadness is knowing that if you tell your elderly mother you balanced her checkbook the way she taught you to do it, she won’t even care.
  3. Winning is spending an afternoon with your elderly mother doing what she does care about–Rummikub.

What made you happy this week? Leave a comment.

Cold, Spicy Noodle Salad

This cold summer noodle salad can serve as a main dish. It's dairy-free and totally delicious!

This recipe comes from my dear sister. She sent the recipe a few months ago because it was tasty and non-dairy. This one meets both requirements, and because it’s a cold dish, makes a delicious summer meal.

I adjusted the recipe a bit, using radishes and sugar snap peas that were in our CSA share last week. Also, I added some leftover grilled chicken breast to make it a main dish instead of a side. It received the coveted Hiram Seal of Approval, and it will show up on our summer supper table again in the next few months. Thank you, dear sis!

Cold, Spicy Noodle Salad

This cold summer noodle salad can serve as a main dish. It's dairy-free and totally delicious!1 pound fresh wheat-flour Chinese noodles or dried, thin spaghetti
4 tablespoons toasted Asian sesame oil, divided
4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter*
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste
3 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
2–4 tablespoons warm water, divided*
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1-2 grilled chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 large carrot, shredded coarsely
1/2 cup sugar snap peas, cut into thirds
5 radishes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain well and rinse with cold water. Put noodles in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons each of sesame oil and soy sauce. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To make peanut sauce. combine remaining sesame oil and soy sauce, along with peanut butter, honey, sesame paste, vinegar, 2 tablespoons warm water, salt and red pepper in blender or food processor. Blend or process until sauce is smooth.

If sauce seems too thick, add more warm water, a tablespoon at a time. Set sauce aside at room temperature.

When noodles are chilled, add peanut sauce and toss with tongs to coat noodles evenly. Spread noodles in a deep platter. Top with chicken and vegetables. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*If you use natural peanut butter, the drippy kind, you will not need to add any water to the sauce.

The Fun with Dick and Jane Never Ends

The fun with Dick and Jane never ends as this progress update about my mystery novel set in South Dakota proves.For years now, you’ve heard progress reports about my wannabe mystery novel featuring Jane was moving at a slow crawl, not progressing at all, or temporarily shelved because of other book commitments.

But today–and this really should be accompanied by young men in Henry the Eighth era costumes that include tights standing on either side of the castle door blowing trumpets–the news is quite different. I am happy to announce…

cue the trumpets

..that the first draft of Run, Jane, Run is done, and…

cue the trumpets again

…so is the first revision, and…

cue the trumpets yet again

…so is the second revision, as well as proofreading…

cue the trumpets one last time

Therefore, I am about to send both my agent and my daughter the manuscript for their feedback.

That, dear readers, is a terrifying thought. As I told some former teaching colleagues who are also parents, sending off a novel is like going to parent-teacher conferences, at which you know you will be told that the child you have poured your life and soul into is not perfect.

Hearing those words is like a knife wound to the heart.

Even though you know your child–or your novel–is not perfect. Even thought the weaknesses of your child–or novel–are glaringly obvious to you. Even though the only way to rectify those weaknesses is by asking for help.

Even so, hearing those words is still like a knife wound to the heart.

So if I seem extra needy in a few weeks, you can assume that feedback has been received, that it was not all good, that I am dealing with it, and am spending the few hours of each day I’m not in therapy furiously reworking the novel and/or writing a book proposal.

Just in case my agent believes a publisher might just want to publish it.

In other words, stay tuned. Because as so many of us learned in elementary school, the fun with Dick and Jane just never ends!

Three Fantastic Friday Thoughts

These three thoughts for a June Thursday in 2012 seem appropriate, especially #3, as Mom’s annual mammogram was yesterday. No tress. Just the press.

For the past couple of weeks, my life has revolved around caring for friends and family – Hiram’s surgery June 12, a Camp Dorothy overnight last weekend, and taking some kids swimming so their pregnant mama could get some rest. Such circumstances rarely shine a light on my finest hour, but the situations did result in three care giving thoughts for Thursday:

These 3 caregiving thoughts from 2012 seem appropriate since Mom's annual press (no tress) was yesterday.

1.   I’m pretty sure the doctor prescribed a 5 pound lifting limit for a certain male patient who had back surgery to keep him from lifting more than 10 pounds.

These 3 caregiving thoughts from 2012 seem appropriate since Mom's annual press (no tress) was yesterday.

2.    Taking imaginative children to the swimming pool isn’t about going swimming. It’s about prowling in the water like a tiger cooling off on a hot jungle day, hopping in the water like a frog in a pond, and swimming underwater like a tadpole. But after 2 1/2 hours of prowling, hopping, and swimming, the tiger, frog, tadpole, children, and adult weren’t pretend tuckered out. They were honest-to-goodness, for real tuckered out.

These 3 caregiving thoughts from 2012 seem appropriate since Mom's annual press (no tress) was yesterday.

3.   I usually take Mom for her annual mammogram, but since it was the same day as Hiram’s surgery, my brother took her instead. She had a haircut the same morning, so during our Camp Dorothy overnight last weekend, I asked her, “Did you survive your big squish and snip morning okay?”

She shook her head and smiled. “It wasn’t squish and snip. It was press and tress.”

Yup, Mom’s still got her sense of humor!

Have you had any memorable care giving moments lately? If so, leave a comment.

Dairy Free Fresh Blueberry Cobbler

This recipe is a dairy-free adaptation of the fresh blueberry cobbler recipe from the 1977 Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Some things are just met to be. One of those things is fresh blueberry cobbler for Father’s Day when the holiday and blueberry season coincide. Here’s the recipe, a dairy-free adaptation of one from the 1977 Betty Crocker Cookbook Grandma Josie gave me as a wedding shower gift. The best dad I know finished his helping and said, “That’s really good stuff!” I hope you agree.

Dairy Free Fresh Blueberry Cobbler

1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups fresh blueberries, washed and picked over
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup almond, coconut, or rice milk
3 tablespoons dairy free shortening such as Earth Balance Vegan Sticks, coconut oil, or lard

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Blend 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add berries and lemon juice. Stir well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Pour into an ungreased 2-quart casserole dish. Keep fruit piping hot in oven while preparing the biscuit topping.

Measure flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Cut in shortening. Add milk and mix until dough forms a ball. Drop dough in 6 spoonfuls on top of the hot fruit. Bake for 20-30 minutes until topping is golden-brown. Serve warm with milk or cream if desired.

Top Ten Uses for Plastic Grocery Bags

Have more plastic garbage bags than you can count? This top ten list can help you get rid of them.For some reasons, plastic garbage bags played integral and unique roles at the Cedar Falls Writers’ Workshops last week. They led to to this top ten list of ways to use the crinkly things.

10. Plastic grocery bags make wonderful trash can lines. Even better than the paper bags they replaced since they are waterproof. Unless they have holes in them.

9.  Stick a couple in a packed suitcase for a dirty clothes bag.

8.  Or stick shoes in them to protect clothes from dirt and pet doo-doo stuck on the soles.

7.  In honor of Iowa’s senator, Joni Ernst, use them as boot liners to keep shoes dry.

6. After cutting flowers to send home with someone, wrap the stems with wet paper towels. Then wrap the paper towels in grocery bags so the car doesn’t get wet on the way home.

5.  They can be used in place of bread bags to make padded hangers like the ones Grandma Josie gave her grandkids when they set up housekeeping.

4.  Plastic grocery bags make highly effective asphyxiation chambers for those gross, horned tomato worms that are death to BLTs.

3.  Wad them up and use them to pad packages. This use comes compliments of my mother-in-law.

2.  After you mistake the trash can containing plastic grocery bags, in the cabin where you are staying during a writers’ conference, for the real garbage can and throw coffee grounds on the entire grocery bag stash and ruin them all, you have a humorous story to tell at the beginning of the teaching session you are leading. You can also bond with the audience by begging them to donate bags so you can replenish the cabin’s stash.

1.  In the absence of an umbrella, a grocery bag makes a stunning rain hat. Much more tasteful than the embarrassing ones worn by grandmothers in previous generations.

What creative uses do you have for plastic grocery bags? Share them in the comment  box.