It’s Snow Time

The northern states experience frequent seasonal blasts of wind-driven snow. These weather phenomenons, known as blizzards, last about a day before they take off for the Atlantic coast. Forget about interstate driving or escaping by air. You should have embarked on that adventure sooner. Now you’re dealing with closed schools and highway travel advisories. Here’s my solution: throw a party instead. Do it to the degree that your comfort level allows, even if that means it’s a Zoom party.

Weather forecasters give us ample warning to prepare. Step one, join the hordes of locals who descend on grocery store shelves like locusts in August. Grab whatever you want to eat, or ingredients for whatever you want to cook, if you’re so inclined. Tidy up the house and call your friends who live nearby. Add them to the ones you’ve already invited while standing in the grocery store check-out line.

Be sure to include the grandkids and their friends. Toddlers through teens, their natural level of activity will get things rolling. All you need to do is have some age-appropriate games or activities set around the house in plain sight. Note of caution: someone might need to jump in occasionally so that lamps and other breakables remain in their unbroken state. 

Music is a must have. We invite guests to bring instruments and sheet music for favorite songs. For non-musicians, the recorded stuff or a radio station works fine. Try a mix of secular and worship tunes, maybe a video or family-friendly movie. Then relax. 

There’s always someone willing to jump in and help. People ask, “What can I do?” They get bored when their only contribution is standing around with their arms crossed over their chests. For distance parties, consider exchanging dishes to share ahead of the storm. I find there’s no easier way to open up conversations than when I’m serving food and cleaning up with a friend. Once you get a comfortable conversation going, deeper, more personal topics rise to the surface. Let them.

Talk about how you first came to know Jesus personally. Share ideas for passing your faith along to grandchildren or how you deal with challenging family situations. Pray with one another. Thank God for the good family and friends in your life. Be grateful for all you have. And don’t be surprised if, before the evening is over, you’re starting to plan for the next snow day.

Blessings by the Month

The Bible clearly instructs us, in places such as Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Ephesians, to pass along our testimonies of faith in God. This presents a wonderful opportunity for grandparents to pray special blessings over grandchildren throughout the year. 

Like adults, children enjoy reading notes and letters, especially ones that are written about them personally. When a grandparent puts their love for a grandchild into words, the messages become treasured keepsakes that grow deeper in value over time. The power of such words can have a positive impact for decades. 

Here is a way to pour forth blessings throughout the year. Starting with a selection of 12 inspirational Bible verses and writing prompts, send one personal note or letter each month to your grandchildren. Use the suggested Bible verses and prompts below, or choose others that speak to your heart. At the end of the year, you will have prayed 12 blessings over each of your grandchildren. 

January

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
I remember when I first met you. You were…

February

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3)
God blessed me when you were born. I know this because…

March

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)
You are unique in all the world. Some of my favorite things about you are…

April

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
You can always count on God. I know God will care for you. Trust Him when…

May

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
You won’t go wrong if you do what is right. When you give your best in all you do…

June

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 36:7)
You are loved even when you mess up. God’s love never ends. I know He forgives us because…

July

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)
You can stand up against evil. I have learned to rely on God when…

August

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” (Matthew 17:20)
You can do all things with God. I have seen you show confidence in God when…

September

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)
You have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful to God for you because…

October

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
You are a reflection of God. I see the Holy Spirit working in you. It shows when…

November

“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19b)
One of my favorite songs reminds me of you. It says…

December

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Your Heavenly Father has something to tell you. In the Bible, you will find…

By the end of the year, you will have given your grandchildren a dozen reasons to put their faith in Christ. Think about this. God, who created the entire universe, stepped down from Heaven to take on human form as the person of Jesus. The only one qualified because of His sinless life, Jesus gave His life to pay for all the sins you and I have done. Jesus did this so we can live in Heaven with Him for eternity. All we need to do is accept His gift and allow Jesus into our hearts. Tell Him something like this: 

Lord Jesus, I need You. 
I am sorry for all the bad things I have done. (Romans 3:23) 
Thank You for dying on the cross to pay for my sins. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) 
I choose to trust You as my Savior and Lord. (John 3:18) 
I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave His life for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Lord, make me the kind of person You want me to be.

Let this be a unique year of blessing for your grandchildren. Give them a dozen reasons to put their faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Ho Ho Whole Lotta’ Memories

As has become a tradition at our home, our grandson plays a huge role in transforming our house into an exuberant display of Christmas greenery, ornaments, blinking lights, and so much more. It struck me how this decoration overabundance is replete with family memories spanning at least four generations. 

The carved wooden trio of gingerbread men made by my brother reminded me of long-ago years when our dad taught him how to use carpentry tools. A set of ornaments listing attributes of Christ caused me to pray for my sister, who sent them to me as a gift one year.

My husband expressed delight when he unwrapped the toy vehicles his father made more than 50 years ago when he was a high school shop teacher. Then, holding his copy in hand, my husband reminisced about the college professor who read the classic, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas to his students  each year during this season.

Some of the most fetching moments occurred when my 10-year-old grandson dug through boxes filled with bubble-wrapped contents to find the things most dear to him. The first thing out of the box was the animated reindeer that plays a series of scratchy Christmas melodies as it nods its head. Following close behind came the Chihuahua that sings a Spanish version of “Where is Santa Claus” while shaking maracas. My grandson lined the Christmas stockings along the fireplace wall and hung his personal collection of  hand-made ornaments on the tree, beginning with the one he made while attending preschool.

It appears our efforts to intentionally instruct our grandson about Jesus are making a lasting impression. When I saw him carefully handling the soft-sided nativity set we found during his toddler years, his comment, “We need to set this up,” touched my heart. He then reminded us that part of our Christmas celebration is when he reads the 24 verses in his annual Chocolate Advent Calendar about the birth of Jesus. Any doubts about the impact we as grandparents are having on his faith were dispelled in that moment. 

“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old
they will not turn from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

We are in the midst of reading the Book of Luke, 24 chapters through the first 24 days of December, the same way we did last year. It is a future memory and another tradition I hope our grandson will carry on long after we are gone. I am reminded that God faithfully fulfills His promises when we obey His command to teach future generations about Jesus.

Be encouraged to make faith-filled memories with your grandchildren, even if you do not see immediate results. Their minds are absorbing everything that you say and do. You may be delighted someday to see how God responds to your efforts.

Bread of Thanksgiving

It’s a classic, and for a good reason. This Bread Stuffing recipe is the only one I use for occasions that involve turkey. Credit my stepson, the chef, for introducing it to me. While is a bit more complex than pulling stuffing out of a box, this one is worth the effort.

Ingredients:
2 baguettes, country, or sourdough bread
8 tablespoons butter, divided, plus more for baking dish
2 onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
½ tablespoon freshly chopped sage
½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
½ tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Directions:
1. Tear or slice bread into cubes and leave out overnight to dry out. (Or, spread bread pieces on baking sheets and bake at 200 degrees for 20 minutes).
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a large baking dish. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add onion and celery and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Stir in remaining 5 tablespoons butter and parsley. 
4. Place bread in a large bowl. Add the skillet mixture and chicken broth.
5. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Bake until cooked through, 45 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 15 more minutes until bread is golden. Garnish with parsley before serving.

The year 2020 will be remembered by many for its many challenges. It is good to pause and express gratitude to God for His many blessings. Whether you are sitting across a table from your loved ones, or dining together via a video conference, remember to give thanks to God, our Creator.  

“Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.”

Psalm 106:1

Faithful Endurance

I was raised in the USA by two parents who shared a goal to usher me into adulthood before they passed away. That objective most likely stemmed from the fact that both of them endured the stinging loss of a parent early in their lives. 

At the age of six, dad lost his mom along with a two-year-old brother; his first stepmother died the following year. His second stepmother, along with his father, raised him to adulthood. My mother lost her father when she was four years old and was unable to attend his funeral because she had no shoes. Her mother, who did not speak English, relocated with four children under the age of six to a different state where a cousin helped her find employment. 

Both of my parents were children of immigrants who left Europe for America as events leading up to World War I were building toward that global disaster. I am grateful for their sacrifices. Because of their courage and tenacity, I live in a country that, so far, is built on a foundation of freedom.

Unlike many others, I was blessed to be raised in a family that valued high ethical standards and worked to instill them in their children. The stories from my parents’ youth permeated my childhood, along with lessons about standing strong in the face of adversity, respecting civil laws along with those in authority, and facing life’s challenges with courage and perseverance. It is a testimony to my parents that when they passed away, my siblings and I were more concerned about one another’s emotional needs than anything of monetary value we might obtain from their estate. 

We do not get to choose our time or place of birth; God does. It is no accident that I was born into a family such as mine at a time such as this. I am exactly where my Heavenly Father intended me to be, gifted with the exact abilities I need to fulfill His purpose through me. With this awareness, I come before the Lord asking for His continued blessing over our nation. He remains faithful even though we as a nation have turned our back to Him. It is time to repent.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves,
and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven
and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14

The Lovin’ Soupful

Dad could do anything. At least, that’s the way I remember him. He made projects like rearranging interior walls and made constructing backyard playgrounds look like child’s play. There was one task that he was least inclined to take on: cooking. He had few exceptions to this rule. Fortunately, Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup made his “can do” list. 

Dad started by making a stock from leftover chicken and a mirepoix to create the base for a delicious soup. The best part was his homemade noodles. Nothing beats homemade when it comes to soup. Try your hand at making this soup, you’ll like it.

Step 1: I’ve learned a secret from a younger relative, Danielle, that makes the task easy for anyone. Fill a crock pot or similar device with leftover roast chicken bones, vegetable scraps, and some herbs. (I freeze scraps from cooking prep until I have enough to create this flavorful bone broth.) Add enough water to cover the contents, switch it on slow cook, and walk away for several hours. Voila’. When you return, a flavorful broth will be waiting for you to use.

Step 2: Use a large pot to sweat one large, diced onion. When the onion becomes soft and transparent, add one cup each of diced carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Add about one cup of diced cooked chicken and your strained broth. Toss in a handful of chopped parsley and/or thyme, rosemary, and basil. This entire step takes about 10 minutes.

Step 3: If you’re not so energetic, or just came home from work, use dry or frozen egg noodles from the grocery store. But if you are feeling inspired, make fresh egg noodles. To make noodles, measure one cup of flour into a bowl, add a pinch of salt, two egg yolks, and three tablespoons of water. Mix it up until a dough forms. Roll it out on a floured surface and cut into thin strips. Drop into boiling, salted water and cook until noodles float to the surface. (An alternative method to rolling the dough is to pinch small pieces of dough between your fingers and drop it into boiling, salted water.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer noodles to the soup pot. Adjust seasonings to taste.

That gives you a tasty dinner for a cold day in about fifteen minutes, not counting the time the stock was cooking while you were out doing whatever it is you do during the day. And, if you’re like me, you will be sitting down to a nutritious meal filled with warm memories from years gone by.

Timely Reminders

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

September is my birthday month. This one was significant not so much because my new age sports a zero, but for the many reminders that I am loved. During the past few weeks, I have been inundated with cute cards, unexpected gifts, and well wishes from family members and friends of all ages. My siblings even flew in from two different states to help me usher in this new decade. (Thanks, Dave, for arranging that). 

I believe birthdays are one of God’s ways to remind us that relationships are important. The times we have spent with people in the past influence their likelihood to connect with us in the present. He created us to live in fellowship with others, and to enjoy this life as best we can.

These reminders also serve as a guiding light for the future. The way I interact with my grandson will affect his future, not only with me but with everyone he meets throughout life. The example I set for him today will serve to mold his outlook on the world, and more importantly, on his relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all about bringing glory to God.

“Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children.”
Proverbs 17:6

It’s an important calling, this grandparent thing. But I’m loving it every step of the way. And that is one timely reminder.

A Slice of the Ol’ Apple

Baking Apples From the U of M Apple House

One of the family traditions I’ve carried through the years is making late-summer apple slices. They’re as simple as making apple pie, except this treat is baked in a jelly-roll pan instead of a pie pan. That does mean double everything, which is always a win with my family. Here’s how to do it:

Bottom Crust:
Mix up dough for a Standard 10” pie crust (enough for top and bottom crust). Use your favorite recipe, or try this one:
2-⅔ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
7 to 8 tablespoons of ice water
Measure flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times. Add half of the shortening and pulse. Add the remaining shortening and pulse until mixture forms a mealy consistency. Sprinkle water one tablespoon at a time into the mix through the feed tube until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Cut a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the size of a jelly roll pan and lightly dust the surface. Flour the surface of your rolling pin and roll the dough on the parchment to an even consistency, large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the pan with a little left over to crimp. Slide the parchment with the crust onto the pan. Use scrap pieces of dough to patch any holes. Pretty doesn’t matter; the bottom crust will not be seen. Set aside.

Filling:
16 cups thinly sliced, peeled, and pared tart apples
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons nutmeg
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
Mix it all together and spread it onto the bottom crust in the jelly roll pan. Dot the surface with 6 tablespoons of butter.

Top Crust:
Repeat what you did to make dough for the bottom crust. When it’s ready, either place the entire sheet of dough on top of the apple mixture (poke holes in the crust to allow steam to escape), or cut the dough into strips to make a lattice top. I like the lattice route. It looks pretty and is easier for me to achieve. Plus, you get enough leftover dough to make an extra pie shell. Pinch the edges around the perimeter to pretty it up. 

Trim away any excess parchment paper that might be sticking out around the sides of the pan. Slide the entire jelly roll pan onto the middle rack of a preheated 425 degree oven and slide a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack below it to catch any wayward drips. Give it about 40 to 50 minutes to bubble up and turn toasty brown. Cool on a baking rack. 

Icing:
To top it off, stir together 2 cups of confectioners sugar, a dash of salt, 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla and just enough milk (about 4 to 6 tablespoons) to make a runny icing; add milk one tablespoon at a time until you like what you see. Drizzle this mixture onto the apple slices and step aside to save yourself from getting run over by a stampede of hungry humans. Maybe while they’re fighting over the corner pieces you can score some vanilla or cinnamon ice cream to make the deal even sweeter than it already is.

Enjoy! And be sure to let me know how your Apple Slices turn out.

Let Your Faith Overcome Your Fears

Sometimes taking a stand for Christ is scary. But by faith we know God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were paralyzed with fright by its unknowns. Isolation became the norm as a measure to reduce the risk of catching the virus or infecting others. Fear and anxiety dominated social media discussions. God’s Word tells us something different.

“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Philippians 4:6 NIV

Despite some trepidation, my husband and I decided to share God’s message of hope with those around us, while complying with all COVID-19 safety precautions. I constructed a rustic cross and painted the words, “Faith over Fear” across its front. My husband secured the cross prominently to the front of our house, clearly visible from the street. The response was unexpected.

Through our front window, I could see cars slow down as they drove by and riders turned their heads toward our cross. Neighbors smiled and waved as they passed by. One lady who hardly spoke to us made a point of complimenting our cross. A man from a nearby neighborhood stopped to commend our boldness in sharing this message of hope. Our grandson saw a young boy placing rocks hand-painted with images of trees and hearts on our sidewalk.

All these things happened because we chose to boldly proclaim our faith in God despite what was happening in the world. The biggest blessing for us is that our grandson witnessed God’s response to faith in action. God can be trusted to be true to His Word. It is a beautiful reminder to let hope in Christ overcome any fears we have on earth.

Quick Chicken Meatball Meal

A Grandkid-Tested Recipe

Sometimes I get tired of trying to figure out new ways to prepare chicken, especially with the added challenge of making it appeal to a child with limited food preferences. This dilemma resulted in the creation of a new recipe that may be the easiest way I know to cook a winning meal in 15 minutes. Get ready to roll!

Boil water to make four servings of pasta noodles, such as penne, farfalle, or rotini, according to directions. I like to sneak in some veggies by tossing a handful or two of broccoli tops into the boiling water during the final five minutes of cooking. Reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water before draining the pasta and broccoli. 

While the pasta is doing its thing, pull out your food processor. Toss in:

  • One pound of cubed, raw chicken
  • ¾ cup roughly chopped onion (about one medium onion)
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2-4 cloves (to your preference) garlic, smashed, peel removed 
  • One or two large handfuls of fresh, roughly chopped  basil (for extra pizazz, add a sprig of rosemary leaves stripped from the stem)
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

Pulse the blender until everything is mixed together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. This will take about one minute. Shape the mixture into 1-inch meatballs and fry in a pan with a small amount of olive or other oil. 

Add cooked pasta and broccoli to the pot. Add about ½ cup of Parmesan and a small amount of the pasta cooking water to create a bit of a sauce. Stir, adding more water, if needed. Toss in the meatballs and blend.

Divide into bowls and serve. I like to garnish the plates with a sprig or a chiffonade of basil for fun (that’s a fancy way of saying chop a few basil leaves into thin strips and sprinkle them on top of the pasta dish).

Trust me, this is a winner. And, of course, ask God to bless your dinner time together before you dig in.