A Simple Recipe for Spring

IMG_8148.JPGStep 1: Bathe everything in a very generous amount of warm sunshine.IMG_8060-01Step 2: Wait for an awful lot of all this to melt.  Allow it to soak in thoroughly.IMG_8136.JPGStep 3: Enjoy the results, springing up from the sun-soaked, well-watered, nitrogen-infused happy earth.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
            And do not return there without watering the earth
            And making it bear and sprout,
            And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
            It will not return to Me empty,
            Without accomplishing what I desire,
            And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Free Indeed

IMG_2096Freedom is not merely the happy state of a blessed country.  It is also can, should, and far more crucially, be the state of a soul.  And if the souls of the people of a country are not free, can it really be said that such a country is free?

“Jesus said…“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… (John 8:31-32)

“For freedom Christ has set us free…Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:1, 13-15)

All These Things

IMG_1042IMG_1043This is the story of a search for morel mushrooms.IMG_1055 Twice I went looking…IMG_0883Twice I returned empty-handed.IMG_1052But, in process of closely examining large stretches of forest floor in vain, I did make a lot of other wonderful discoveries.IMG_0880 Once, I sat quietly staring into a stand of fiddleheads so long, a grouse thought I’d left and started drumming his log within ten feet of me.  For just a minute, I thought my heart was palpitating—until I realized that he was really just that close.  Then he exploded suddenly off into the woods when I tried to shift to a spot with a better view, which is, incidentally, when my heart rate did increase.IMG_0891I nearly stepped on the elaborate den of some creature (I’d like to imagine it a fox den, but it more likely belongs to far less charming skunks), and happened upon a wolf track, perfectly dried and preserved in last week’s mud.IMG_0886-01 IMG_1039  I chanced upon a place where jack-in-the-pulpits preached in a woodland meadow to spears of blue flag leaves…IMG_1048…and another where the wild plums were wreathed in clouds of frilly white.IMG_0978I didn’t find what I was looking for—but I did find so much more.

The search for the elusive edible delicacies of the forest will continue.  One day, I’ll find what I’m actually looking for—and we’ll fry them up in butter and eat them—but even after that it will continue, because then they’ll be gone and we’ll want more. It’s one of those kind of searches, never ending, always new, always exciting.  The desire is insatiable.  If you don’t like morel mushrooms, I’m sorry that you won’t be able to identify with this, but if you do, you know what I mean.

And along the way, the search is always guaranteed to be fruitful.

Because, see, regardless of whether I came home with mushrooms or not, I did come home with my head and camera full of spring’s splendor flung glorious across the forest.  (Such riches!)  And I did find information to help me with future searches.  (Now I know where they’re not, sigh.)

It reminded me, in a happy, unexpected sort of way, of another ongoing search I’ve been challenged to, one in which I continually search for one thing of great value and end up with so much more along the way.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)





Ten Things To Do When Overrun With Pumpkins

img_7563And I return, with the second in my series of “Ten Things to Do With Over-Abundant Vegetables” posts.  I didn’t necessarily set out to make this a series, but last year’s post on cucumbers ended up being a popular one—and even I referenced back to it when I needed to refresh my memory this summer.  So, here we go again—and this time pumpkins get to take the stage!

Last year we got so many pumpkins, I gave some away, allowed others to freeze in their role as porch decorations instead of rushing them inside to save them, and even threw away the last couple that spoiled before I could get to them.  That was after I had frozen I don’t know how many quarts of roasted pumpkin for future baking projects.

I scaled back on the number of pumpkin hills this year, but the ones I did plant are already promising to produce abundantly.  And then, when I cleaned out our freezer last week, I discovered 20 quarts of frozen roasted pumpkin.  People, I did this is a whole year later, and I promise that I actually did use some throughout the year.  Whoa.

So it looks like I’ll be making a lot of pumpkin things in my kitchen in the coming weeks—and I thought maybe you’d like to join in on the fun?  The list that follows includes some of my personal tried and true favorites.  (It does assume, though, that you know about the tried and true classics, like pumpkin pie (Libby’s forever!!!) and pumpkin bread.)

  1. Give thanks for your blessings.
  2. Make the cupcakes that are usually my birthday cake.
  3. Make these pumpkin muffins with cream cheese filling, or these without.
  4. Make pumpkin pecan backed steel cut oatmeal for breakfast.  Pro tip: surprisingly, this dish, like pumpkin pie, is better cold so it’s great for making the night before.  Also, it’s especially amazing topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a drizzle of maple or agave syrup.
  5. Make sweet pumpkin scones or savory.
  6. Try pumpkin in your pasta.
  7. Try your hand at a homemade pumpkin spice latte!  My friend Erica has an awesome recipe here.
  8. Carve out the inside of a giant pumpkin and fill it with apple cider for a fun punch bowl for an autumn party.
  9. Fall decorations, of course.  I love the look of white pumpkins in rooms where I don’t necessarily want to add the color orange, but do want to add a touch of fall!  Take note for your garden next year:  this little heirloom variety is easy to grow and produces enough to decorate your whole house and share some with your friends!  (Spoken with the voice of experience!)
  10. You know how they say that the old time settlers used to use all of the pig except the squeal?  Well, you can use all of the pumpkin except the skin.  Roast the seeds, and  then recycle the stem to make these.
  11. Bonus for you: my favorite Cinderella pumpkin seeds can be found here.

In Spite of the Cosmos

IMG_6813.JPGThe theme of my flower garden this year was, officially, low cost and low maintenance.  Low maintenance, because I knew I’d have less time than ever with a newborn this summer, and low cost, because why spend money on something I might not even have time to take care of?

A few days before our third daughter was born, I thinned out all the baby cosmos plants that had self-seeded from the year before.  Then I filled in the holes with miscellaneous flower seeds leftover from previous years.  And then I abandoned it to grow, hoping the emerging seedlings would somehow trump the inevitable emerging weeds without any help from me, and that when I came out of the fog that is life for the first month or so after a baby is born, there would be a garden full of flowers.  It’s not exactly my recommended method of flower gardening, but I figured it still might be better than nothing.

A month or so later, when I remembered again that I had a flower garden and went to see what had become of it, I was surprised to find that the flowers had actually triumphed over the weeds.

The only problem was—the conqueror had been the cosmos, and the weeds were not the only victims to languish in it’s shadow.  I looked in vain for the calendula, foxgloves and cone flowers, and finally located a few pale lupines.  Deep beneath the jungle of feathery giants, were some sickly zinnia plants.


Obviously I had not thinned the volunteer cosmos quite as well as I should have.  So much for my idea of a mixed flower garden. Sigh.

Well, anyway, I was just happy to still have some flowers growing on a year I didn’t have much time to invest in caring for them.

Then, one day in August I glanced out my kitchen window and noticed something glowing brilliantly coral in the midst of all the pink.  I hadn’t planted any coral colored cosmos.  I don’t think there’s even such a thing.  I went out straightaway to investigate.img_6822That’s when I discovered that the pale zinnias I had dismissed as failures hadn’t languished in the shadow of the cosmos after all, but had pushed through sturdily and bloomed.  And they weren’t even stunted.  They were magnificent!img_6740img_6736IMG_6824.JPGAnd so, the moral of the story is:

When it feels like the entire cosmos, er, universe is against you, don’t shrivel up and languish like a calendula.  Don’t wither away like a halfhearted cone flower or foxglove.  Be a zinnia.  Dig your roots in deep into Christ, push your way through the overwhelming obstacles, and grow.

It’s a beautiful thing.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)



Triumph of the Tulips

IMG_3632You watched them get planted.  You watched them grow up through the snow.  It only seemed fair that you should get to watch them bloom, too!IMG_3635This story wouldn’t be complete, however, unless I told you about the very last piece of adversity they had to come through to reach this glorious moment of full bloom.IMG_3271Yep.  This would be the guilty culprit, caught in the act of walking nonchalantly into our front yard in broad daylight.  No shame whatsoever.

One morning, I looked out the front window at my flower garden as usual, and my jaw dropped open.  There were literally half as many tulips in the garden as there had been the day before.  I guessed that it had been the deer even before I ran out and found the cloven hoof prints clearly defined in the soft garden dirt.

I wasn’t about to watch the tulips I had waited for all winter be systematically consumed by deer who have the entire national forest at their disposal for dinner, without even getting to watch them bloom!  Where there is a will, there is a way—and bird netting was the answer.

A few days later, under their protective veiling, fat buds on the surviving plants emerged and blushed coral-pink.  Yesterday I took it off for good, as they opened their glowing petals to the morning sunshine for the very first time.  They had persevered through winter, unexpected spring snowstorms and foraging deer—and somehow that made the triumph all the more joyful!

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”  (James 1:12)IMG_3645

Hope of Spring

tulip bulb / rejoicing hillsShhh!  Don’t tell the chipmunks.  This last week, thanks to this unseasonably mild autumn weather we’ve been having, I knelt in the soft earth of my flowerbed and tucked fifty tulip bulbs deep into the ground.

I dreamed of spring as I carved out those six inch deep holes and dropped in the white bulbs with their papery-thin rosy-brown skins.  It always seems strange, even cruel, to plant bulbs just as winter is looming with it’s long months of bitter cold.  I know it’s the way it has to be, though, and I know that sure as the spring will come, these tulips will come alive and blossom in due time.

It seemed very fitting that I planted them the same month that my grandpa went home to be with the Lord and we buried his remains also in the earth.  This, too, seemed like a harsh end for a beloved man who lived so long and well.  Or rather, it would have if it had not been for a confidence of a different sort of spring we all cherished in our hearts as we said goodbye.

Yes, those last days of suffering,

that shadow of death,

the tears,

that hole in the ground amidst a crowd of other grave stones,

the empty armchair in the house down the road—

the cruel reality of it all was harsher than any bitter winter wind that ever blew on earth.IMG_1422 edit

IMG_1436 edit

Yet the sadness was so colored by joy, it was almost hard to tell the difference.  The damp chill of a November rain hung around us, but the church rafters rang with victory, because what seemed like loss and death to us meant only triumphant new life for him in the presence of the God and Savior he had loved so long.

He had waited eagerly through all the seasons of life, finally and bravely walked through the darkest death of winter—and now, somewhere, up in heaven, it was springtime at last for Grandpa.

“We hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”  (Romans 8:25)

For more posts about my grandfather, see here and here.


Ten Things To Do When Swamped With Cucumbers

eggplant / rejoicing hillspumpkins and watermelon / rejoicing hillsAt this time of the year when I walk outside, the call of the fields and forest gets somewhat dimmed by the call of the garden.  Out in the woods, the ferns are curling up brown and everything is in that sort of awkward transition between summer and fall.  But in the garden, at least the one I planted this year, everything is just reaching it’s most splendid peak.

And so that’s where I go, taking my camera with me to document the discoveries of dark round watermelons beneath notched leaves, big orange pumpkins and shiny purple eggplant.  And the little yellow cucumber flowers, bright like little stars amidst the delicately serrated edges of leafy vines.cucumber flower / rejoicing hillsAnd then I dig down beneath those leaves, and I fill the wheelbarrow with cucumbers (and zucchini—but that’s another story) and I bring them up to the house, stack them up like cord wood on the kitchen table and wonder what in the world I’m going to do with them all.cucumbers / rejoicing hillsHonestly, I thought I had planted just the right amount (just one hill, so we could eat them fresh), but lo and behold, I was wrong.  We are drowning in cucumbers—and we still have pickles in the basement from last year!  What do you do when you don’t need pickles and a daily whole fresh cucumber for lunch is getting a little old?  Well…

  1. You give thanks for the abundance.  It is truly a blessing to have my cup—er, wheelbarrow—overflow with produce, even if it is a bit of a scramble to use them all up before they spoil.
  2. You research the amazing health and home benefits of cucumbers to boost cucumber enthusiasm house-wide.  Did you know that a single cucumber contains pretty much all of the vitamins your body needs for one day?  Or that cucumbers are good for treating both high and low blood pressure?  Or that you can use cucumbers on sunburns just like aloe vera?  Or that if you rub a slice of cucumber along a squeaky hinge, it will stop squeaking?  There’s a great list with more fun health benefits and uses here.  I’ve always liked cucumbers and after reading this, I finally know why!
  3. You slice them up thin and use them in lieu of lettuce in sandwiches.  Or you skip the bread and stuff a hollowed out cucumber with the sandwich fillings.  We tried ham and cream cheese—yum!stuffed cucumber / rejoicing hills
  4. You put them in all tossed salads and try to keep the ratio of lettuce to cucumber somewhat reasonable, so you can still call it a lettuce salad, because…
  5. You also make cucumber salad, which is different.  This version with tomatoes, avocado and feta cheese is my new favorite this year!
  6. You make gyros with cucumber sauce.  (This probably qualifies as my top favorite way to dispose of cucumbers.)
  7. You make cucumber-and-cream-cheese tea sandwiches (and cucumber-tomato-mayonnaise sandwiches if your tomatoes are ripe, which mine are not).  Only skip the tiny tea size and make them big.
  8. You try every new and interesting recipe you can find.  Nice to meet you, cucumber soup and cucumber chips.
  9. You bless all your friends by smuggling them into the back seats of their cars as surprise gifts.  (Just kidding—actually bringing a pile them to church with a “help yourself” sign attached might be a better idea!)
  10. And if all else fails, you make a cake.

cucumber cake / rejoicing hillsBecause naturally a cucumber cake probably would be the last thing you think of. But no, I’m really not kidding on this one.  There really is such a thing—and it’s delicious!  (If you’re adventurous enough to try it, too, the recipe I used is here.  I doubled the recipe—because, hello, we’re trying to use up cucumbers over here!—but stuck with a single batch of the frosting and used lemon juice instead of the elderberry cordial.)

“He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”  (Acts 14:17)

What are your favorite ways to enjoy the blessing of cucumbers?