Maman’s Ratatouille

My friends R and J work with North African Muslim immigrants in France, and one summer I had the privilege of helping out a little too. One afternoon, J set me to work helping her make a huge dinner of ratatouille for a wonderfully large group of guests (oh, for the good old days!!), which was so memorable that I asked if I could share her recipe with you. She’s actually made a small recipe book full of her favorite french and North African dishes, and this is one of the recipes in her book. I made it for (family) company recently (less than 10 of us), and they all approved. If you like fresh veggies, or vegetarian dishes, I think you’ll love this:

Maman’s Ratatouille
(Serves 6-8+)

What I did was slightly different, so I’ll tell you what I did, but J’s crock-pot approach would doubtless be excellent too. I just wanted the veggies a little less cooked.

In a large skillet (or the bottom of a large cooking pot), chop and saute together in
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions
1 large green pepper
1 large red pepper.
3-5 cloves of minced garlic
(about 3 tablespoons if previously prepared fresh or 2 T. dried)


When these have started to brown nicely, transfer to a large cooking pot and add the following chopped:
1 large eggplant
3 medium zucchini
3 medium onions
3 tablespoons fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste (I added:
1 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoning salt
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons pepper
)

Just before serving, or if you’re making it to serve immediately after cooking, add:
1 six-ounce can of tomato paste
1 can black olives, chopped
(I used a 12-oz. can and added the juice)
3 tablespoons fresh basil, then heat until it’s simmering and steaming again.

I think fresh bread is a must, but we also served it with a tossed salad and a bowl of watermelon. It’s definitely good enough to be a stand alone meal if served with bread and butter!

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith” (Proverbs 15:17). In these days of COVID concerns, a dinner of fresh herbs is a real treat! I had just been to the store before our family (who are also sheltering-in-place) arrived!


Steamed Garlic Mussels

I was never much of a fan of mussels until Alan and I visited the Normandy Coast in France a few years ago with two of our sons.

Along the boardwalk in Étretat, mussels were obviously the top seller and most popular local dish, so we all thought we really ought to try them. Feeling a bit like Dr. Seuss’s Sam I Am testing green eggs and ham, we tried them . . . and unilaterally LOVED them!

(Mussels is one dish definitely not meant just for the birds! 🙂 )

Since then, we’ve tried them many places, although the memory of first experience with those amazing pots of steaming mussels lived on in our imaginations as something almost inimitable.

Because we live in the center of America—far from ocean beaches—it’s taken me a long time to get around to tracking down a reputable source for mussels, but they do exist, and if you’re interested, you, too, can make pots of fresh, steamy mussels that (possibly?) come close to rivaling the flavor of Normandy.

(Or else I just can’t remember how much more wonderful they really were). If you’ve tried mussels and like them, then try this sometime:

Steamed Garlic Mussels
(Serves 2)

In the bottom of a large cooking pot saute:
3 tablespoons of butter
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons fresh, crushed garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
When the onions and garlic are nicely browned, add:
2 cups white grape juice, apple juice (or traditional if you’re french, which I’m not, white wine)
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s, but whatever you have is good)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 zested lemon (or you can use a lime in a pinch)
1 teaspoon crushed, dried parsley (or 1/2 cup fresh added just before serving, if you have fresh, which is truly delectable 🙂 )
Bring to a simmer

Add 2 pounds of prepared mussels. (Yes, each person gets their own entire pound. In France, they often served them in even larger proportions!) If the mussels are really fresh, you’ll have to clean and de-beard them, and then cook them in salt water. However, if you buy mussels that have already been cooked, cleaned, and flash frozen, then prepare them according to the directions on the package. Once they are cooked, add them to the broth above and let them simmer for 2-3 minutes. If most of the shells are already open, you can add the broth and turn the heat off, allowing the flavorings to meld with the mussels. Test to make sure they’re salty enough, although they probably will be if they were cooked originally in salted water. Add more salt only if needed.

Steamed Garlic Mussels garnished with fresh parsley and served with fresh lemon
Along the Normandy coast, we could discard our shells into the top half of the pot.
However, if you don’t live along some wildly romantic coastal area and just happen to have pots for steaming mussels or clams, then you can do what I did:
Serve mussels with an extra bowl for the shells! Also . . . a loaf of fresh bread with lots of butter and hopefully a tossed salad.

Steamed mussels are also great in pasta, served over rice, or with french fries.

However, we like them just on their own merit, with lots of bread to sop up the broth (which is delicious; consider it a “soup”).

And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them” (Genesis 6:21). “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Genesis 9:3).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (75): Go and Show

Have you ever found yourself doubting whether or not Jesus really was the Son of God? Let’s face it—maybe you’re among the many who even doubt whether or not Jesus really lived. Do you relegate him to the status of myth? Did you know that there are more extant written records concerning Jesus existing as a real, historical person than there are for King Tut . . . or probably any other famous person from antiquity? If you accept that Buddha, Julius Caesar, Muhammad, and Genghis Khan were real people, then you should not doubt that Jesus Christ was a real person who lived and died in space and time here on earth. He was legendary but not a legend.

But, who was Jesus? Was he really the Son of God as the Bible claims, or was he simply a good man who went about miraculously healing people and speaking words of wisdom? Even his cousin, John the Baptist, began to experience doubts about Jesus while sitting confined in prison. John became so discouraged that he sent two of his followers to ask Jesus, and I just love the answer Jesus gave them: “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matthew 11:4-6).

If you are not sure whether or not Jesus really is the Son of God, then I would like to encourage you to make a scientific study of the evidence. I’m just finishing an excellent book called Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for Christianity, by J. Warner Wallace. Detective Wallace mentions one mysterious case where a woman disappeared and became a “cold case” until he picked it up years later. He gathered so much evidence that he was able to convict the true killer—who turned out to be the woman’s husband—even though the family could not believe the husband was capable of killing his wife. At the sentencing, the husband finally confessed to killing his wife, even telling the court where her remains could be found!

The remains of Jesus will never be found, because he rose again from the dead, but that’s not my real point. My real point is that there is so much evidence pointing to the reality of Jesus’ life of miraculous healings, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection that I think an honest study would bring most people to believe there is enough evidence to “convict” Jesus of being whom he said he was: the Son of God. In the book of John, we read this discussion about the person of Christ, “There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21).

What do you think? Have you met anyone who could actually restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, heal the lame and lepers, raise the dead, and preach the gospel? IF someone really did this, wouldn’t you tend to want to follow him . . . to figure out who he was and how he got his power? Wouldn’t you be likely to believe him when he said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:9-11).

If you’re feeling confined at home during this COVID-19 pandemic (maybe just a little like John the Baptist was 2,000 years ago), this might be the perfect time to investigate the claims of Christianity and make sure of your faith! Several of J. Warner Wallace’s books are available on Amazon, or if you have Scribd, you can listen to them as audio books. I would like to recommend these three:

Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels

God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe

Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for Christianity

Once you’ve confirmed your faith, then you’ll be in a position to follow Jesus’s admonition: “Go and show!”

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 11:2-6 “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. ” Also from Luke 7:18-23 (although I’ll only quote verse 22 here): “Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

*Photo credit: The beautiful painting by Yongsung Kim is used by permission of Haven Light Ministries:

https://www.foundationarts.com/yongsung-kim

Ten Reasons Why I Loved Home Schooling

I know many of you are ready to pull out your hair with your kids confined to home 24/7, and I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it would be to have an emergency start in the middle of the year with kids in various grades, without any teaching manuals, and likely many parents trying to work remotely from home to boot. I totally and sincerely empathize! However, I also want to mention that home schooling, when planned for (and I spent my entire summers preparing for the school years), can be an amazing experience both for the parents and the kids.

Why am I on a soap box today shouting out praises for home schooling? Because some people are suggesting that home schools should be banned, probably based on personal frustrations over homeschooling, which is especially testing the patience and stability of homes during this COVID crisis.

If you’re among those who think homeschooling should be banned, please read this helpful article by a Harvard alum (PhD) who home schools her four children:

https://fee.org/articles/harvard-magazine-calls-for-a-presumptive-ban-on-homeschooling-here-are-5-things-it-got-wrong/?fbclid=IwAR3PCAm51mqVZ5PghJGFFs7Ywg2fgWYauoaP1xQrWIK-CR7uaWfSkCduJGU

Kerry McDonald isn’t unique in being a brilliant woman who values her children’s education above her own career ambitions. My closest friend during our early homeschooling years had a PhD in statistics from Princton and gave up a glowing career to home school. Today I have friends who are both physicians, although the wife gave up her career to home school their beautiful family and told me not long ago that their oldest was just accepted into her alma mater for university training, so she felt relieved to know she hadn’t “failed” her kids.

I started homeschooling not because I thought it was a brilliant idea, but as a result of economic duress (which meant we couldn’t afford tuition for the Christian school where we were sending our two oldest). I was lamenting about our financial situation to my best friend, and she responded, “Kathi, the Lord is just backing you into a blessing! Try home schooling.” I didn’t think it would be possible. My oldest was eight and almost uncontrollable, not to mention the other three were two, four, and six.

We started timidly, thinking we’d just home school for one year, but by the end of the year no one was interested in returning to a regular class room setting. Why? Well, here were some of the unexpected pluses:

  1. More freedom and time to grow and explore creatively. I think the biggest plus for my kids was the fact that as soon as they were done with their school work, they were free to pursue their own interests. They didn’t have to sit and wait for everybody else in the class to finish, which really cut down on boredom. The eager beavers also put positive pressure on their sibs to get done so they could play.
  2. More input by parents as to what the children are learning. I don’t know if this meant much to our children, but it meant a lot to me. I loved being able to tailor our curriculum so that I was teaching the children spiritual and moral values as well as academic lessons.
  3. Better able to tailor curriculum to fit your child’s individual needs. Not all kids are born academically equal, so to speak. I am deeply grateful for public education being available for all children in America, but of necessity it has to be geared for the average child, so children on either end of the spectrum do not have their needs met as ably. The closer to the ends of the bell-shaped curve, the less public schools are geared to meet the true needs of the child. So, home schooling is especially helpful both for children who have learning challenges and for those are particularly gifted.
  4. Requires (and therefore develops) more independence on the part of the students. A dedicated teacher who only has to teach one grade or subject can focus all their attention on that subject or class during the day, and schools have a complete support staff to oversee all the other aspects of the children’s care. A mother in a home has to provide for every aspect of the school. She’s not only the teacher, she may be replacing several teachers (one per grade level or subject). She is also the principal, the maintenance man, the recess supervisor, the cafeteria personnel, and the child care worker (for any preschoolers). I remember being consoled by learning that butterflies need to fight for themselves to emerge from their cocoons in order for their wings to become strong enough to fly. My kids would get so frustrated waiting for me to finish helping someone else that they’d often figure out the problem before I could get back to them. It forced them to THINK!
  5. Less “seat” time and more “hands on” time for learning. Learning didn’t end when classes ended. In many ways, I felt like the kids learned more in their free time than during their academic studies. They probably learned more “facts” studying math, science, history, English, spelling etc., but they learned more about how to live by living and doing.
  6. More flexibility as a family. This was a huge advantage! Whenever Alan was available for a vacation week, the rest of us could go anywhere with him. We didn’t have to juggle nine schedules! My personal theory was that I didn’t want any kid to miss any really cool opportunity, and that was pretty consistently true over the years. If a special occasion came up, we could make time for it. (Just one small for instance, but Jon loved trains as a child, and one day he [and I] got to take a train ride with a real, live engineer (who was a patient of Alan’s). We could always take time to enjoy special community or church events, etc. Life was rich with unexpected prospects for adventures and learning experiences.
  7. Bonds the family together. There is nothing quite so bonding as working side by side on positive projects, and spending your life working and playing together makes for some pretty tight, lifelong friendships. All of my kids are still very interactive with each other. Not all with all, but all with some. We were always active in a church community wherever we lived, and the kids also played with neighbor children (when there were any) and cousins, but to this day the kids still text and share and think and dream and joke together.
  8. More variety and opportunity to teach and learn life skills. Before we started home schooling, we asked the kids if they’d rather go to the local elementary school or try home schooling, with the understanding that if we home schooled, they’d have to help me with family chores. They all signed on to the experiment of homeschooling, and they all learned how to do pretty much everything I knew how to do. We had rotating assignments for almost all aspects of home and yard care. We cooked, cleaned, babysat, shopped, gardened, and canned together. In the evenings after Alan came home from work, we played sports together—hockey, softball, tag football, volleyball . . . swimming, hiking, biking . . . whatever was going wherever we lived. They all had to learn how to play the piano, read music, and sing; they all learned how to sew on buttons and iron shirts. They learned how to handle money. They got comfortable with people of all ages. We got involved in a family music ministry and sang in rescue missions, camps, churches, nursing homes and college campuses. They learned to care about other people. They were eager to talk to adults and children . . . people of all ages. Shaking your hand and looking you straight in the eye came naturally.
  9. Better use of family financial resources. When we realized we wouldn’t be able to afford tuition for our kids, the school offered me a job teaching high school English. However, I had two preschoolers whom I was unwilling to put into child care (which had nothing to do with the excellent school but everything to do with my passionate desire to care for my own little ones). Over the years, Alan would notice articles detailing the additional expenses incurred by a second family member working outside the home, and by most accounts, unless the second job is really high paying, it’s a “wash” as far as expenses and additional income. According to the 2015 documentary on The Happiest People on Earth, once a family has about $50 thousand (not sure exactly what the amount would be today), there is no perceptible increase in “happiness” no matter how much more the family earns (according to self-reporting research). In fact, the happiest people on the earth are not the richest monetarily, they are the richest in the love of family and community. Not only did we save thousands of dollars by home schooling, I believe it greatly enriched our family life . . . a trade I’d make any day!!
  10. More control over influences in your children’s lives. We all love positive influences in our lives, but the more we can control negative influences, the better. Homeschooling doesn’t eliminate negative influences by any means, but hopefully it will lessen them. I also believe that the older a child is before being exposed to evil, the better able that youngster will be to recognize and handle problems. That being said, I failed to understand that evil lurks in the hearts of children (as well as adults, although I already knew that). If you home school, don’t assume your little cherubs are perfect and would be beyond lying, cheating, or any other problem that all people find tempting. We’re all just humans and need watchful supervision at all times! (One small case in point: One of my kids years later admitted to cheating on math during fifth grade. He kept wondering when I would catch him but finally realized I never would! [It didn’t cross my mind to suspect him.] Thankfully, when he realized that, he became honest because he knew that’s what he needed to do.)

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).

If you have time, I’d love to hear your comments. If you home school or home schooled, any advice or tips? If you’re struggling with home schooling right now, any questions? If you’re considering home schooling next fall, anything else you’d like to hear about? Blessings~

More Ideas for Boring Days

Here is a list of ideas that you may have already thought of, but I hope maybe one or two will be novel and helpful for you if you or your family have some extra time on your hands. Many of them would work just as well for adults as for children:

Write stories or poems, keep a journal about this “special” time at home

Coloring, drawing, painting

Origami; all sorts of YouTubes on how to paint, draw, etc.

Free printable coloring pages can be found by googling a subject such as “large format, free printable images of cats” (or whatever else)

YouTubes on animals and plants

Skype with friends and/or cousins

Free online course on typing for children

Organize your very own “homeschool!”

Make a star chart for your kids: make bed, brush teeth, pick up room, memory verse

Subjects each day? Devotions, prayer, and memory work

Memory work: Bible verses, poetry, songs

Games: treasure hunts, variety shows, share memories from years gone by; look at photo albums and tell stories about what you remember from past holidays or family vacations

Read books aloud or to one another (let kids draw while listening)

Check out these sources for reading materials: Revival.com

Hoopla library app

Cooking together; pass along recipes to one another

Nature hunts around yard. Google what you find

Color a picture and then cut it into about 20-30 pieces to make a puzzle

Bird stories (I have written a bunch on Summer Setting under “A Few of My Favorite Birds”)

Make cards or write e-cards to elderly friends and family

Picnic in unusual place around house

Build fort with blankets or sheets

Math practice: use playing cards, dominoes, cooking

 Let kids use exercise machine while watching videos

Air Force Exercises: look online and help kids exercise together as a family

Music class: what have you got? Learn instruments, make up and share songs

Tell stories: Have one person start and go around the room taking turns adding

“Art for Kids Hub”: lots of resources for artwork

Kids’ programs that can be found online:

Adam’s Answers (You Tubes made by a friend from Grand Rapids)

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

Sesame Street

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Frankenmuth: The Birthday Club and Historical Society Roots Tour

I wrote about Frankenmuth eight years ago as a sort of “Christmas Present” event, where Alan and I enjoyed the Christmasy ambience of this historic German community, complete with an afternoon of shopping at Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store, which houses over 50,000 gifts in an area nearly the size of two football field.

I’m sure I’ll write about Frankenmuth again as a “Christmas Future” event, because Frankenmuth now sports two waterpark hotels where several of my children and their children love splashing around for a weekend on adrenaline-pumping rides like the Super Loop Speed Slide or the Tantrum Twist Raft Ride (or . . . the warm kiddy pools). 🙂

Today, however, I want to write about my “Christmas Past,” outing last week with the Birthday Club, where we concentrated more on the historical aspects of this charming village, which has even more to offer than great food, shops, and joy rides.

Just a few historical “fun facts” for would-be tourists! There are absolutely NO parking meters anywhere in town, so parking (where available) is totally free! How’s that for German hospitality? Also, the oldest neon sign in Michigan stands in front of Zehnders (which is also probably the oldest, most famous restaurant in Michigan).

Frankenmuth is also home to Michigan’s oldest continuously operating woolen mill.

This was the first stop on our list of tours, although faaaaar from the last!

The Frankenmuth Woolen Mill has been in operation for 125 years.

Anyone can still have their own sheep’s wool cleaned, carded, and batted!

Even though it’s a working mill, they have windows where you can observe some of the processes when they work.

Also, if you call ahead, they will arrange personal tours for groups of ten or more.

However, if you don’t have ten in your party or don’t come at the right time, there is a constantly running, short but very informative video that explains the process, and the clerks are hospitable and willing to answer questions.

As you might imagine, the store is full of wonderfully pleasant woolen products . . .

and other fun stuff, sure to make you smile! (Susan made us pose for this one! 🙂 )

There is also a historical museum, although it was closed the day we were there.

All the shops were open, though, including this fabulous old fashioned market that seemed straight out of my childhood, complete with a big pickle barrel. Huge dill pickles are sold for $.49 or a whole gallon for only $7.00!

For those of you who long for a day to experience the past in all it’s present glory, Frankenmuth is hard to beat!

Another fantastic shop is the Cheese Haus, which brought back memories of Alan and my visit to Edam in the Netherlands a couple of years ago . . . a wonderful store full of amazing cheeses, many of which can be sampled on the spot! (Tourist alert: Come hungry to Frankenmuth and pace yourself!!)

Of course, the culinary highlight of the day was experiencing one of the city’s historically tastabulous chicken dinners. Frankenmuth has two restaurants that were begun over 160 years ago by two German brothers. They have identical menus.

The first and most famous is Zehnders, which was just announced as one of 6 recipients of 2020 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award. Zehnders seats 1,500 in their ten dining rooms. It was one of 10 largest restaurants in America in the 1980’s, and I believe it still has the largest seating capacity of any restaurant in Michigan, serving about a million chicken dinners annually.

However, in honor of Susan (who has German roots) and me (who has a German daughter-in-law), Cindi opted to eat at the brother restaurant right across the street, where everything is just as wonderful, albeit with Bavarian ambience rather than Zehnder’s colonial American decor.

Needless to say, we were totally charmed and completely pleased by our dining experience at the Bavarian Inn!

If you go to Frankenmuth, be sure to walk around to the side of the Bavarian Inn in time to see the wonderful glockenspiel and hear the 10-minute performance about the Pied Piper.

Although it’s done in a rather cheerful manner, the moral of the story is somber and clear:

Pay those to whom payment is due, be fair, and don’t lie, or you will be very sorry in the end!

Well, like so many travel posts, this one is way too long already, but I want to encourage you to save time for one more historical site if you visit Frankenmuth.

This utterly charming community was begun by fifteen German Lutherans who had a heart to share the gospel with the Chippewa Indians in this area (back in 1845).

Across the street from the present day church, there is a replica of the original church.

Except during services, visitors are welcome to ring two ancient “church bells in the forest!”

There is also a fascinating cemetery filled with gravestones and expressions of faith.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Lorenz in Frankenmuth, Michigan

This historic church is alive and well today, open to the public and sharing the Gospel!

Inscription on the wall of St. Lorenz

To Susan, Cindi, and me, it was the crowning touch to a completely warm and wonderful day!

Thank you, Jesus!

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (72): Finding the Strait Gate

I cannot read Jesus’ admonition to enter the “strait gate” without thinking of “every man” from Pilgrim’s Progress.

This man was so burdened by what he’d read in the Book that he left his hometown in search of the Celestial City.

However, he quickly discovered that he had to enter through a special gate before he could find the narrow path that would actually lead him to the great city.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus explained it this way, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Have you found and entered the Strait Gate that leads to heaven?

In Pilgrim’s Progress, a man named Evangelist points “every man” to the gate where he can be relieved from his burden.

But, it’s a difficult climb to get to the gate, and along the way, he meets a man named Obstinate, who refuses to make the climb, choosing rather to attempt reaching the Celestial City by traveling one of the many easier, wider, less restrictive paths.

This part of the story is very sad, of course, because no one can actually get to the Celestial City unless they are willing to pass through the Strait Gate first. It’s not that the gate is hard to find, or that people won’t be allowed in after they find it. All they have to do is knock, and the gate door will be opened, but most people are too proud to ask, and so they wander off trying to find some other way across the chasm of death to everlasting life.

My father became a believer shortly before he died, but for most of his life, he preferred quoting this poem:

Invictus
—William Ernest Henley, 1875

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

It is with great relief and joy I can share with you that just a few years before he died, my father decided to enter in through the Strait Gate, drop his burden of sin at the foot of the cross, and begin his journey to the Celestial City. As his youngest daughter, and the one who had the privilege of pilgriming beside him during those last years, I observed that he was a much more peaceful, pleasant companion after he gave up trying to be the captain of his own soul.

Is your head still “bloody, but unbowed”? If so, will you bow your head today and let Jesus forgive your sins and heal your heart? Will you join with the millions of us who are pilgrims on the narrow road that leads to life everlasting? Don’t be angry with God! He loves us. He provided a way for us to be reconciled to him through the blood of Christ. He offers eternal life for “whosoever will” believe. Will you take him at his word and begin your journey through the Strait Gate to the Celestial City?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Harriet and Slavery . . . Past and Present

It’s terrifying to face the evils of society. Incredibly painful. Gut-wrenching. We’d rather not even think about it.

Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman

However, the battle between good and evil rages whether or not we’re willing to acknowledge it or engage in the battle.

Leslie Odom Jr. as Abolitionist William Still

Blind eyes and hard hearts allowed the horrors of the death camps where millions of Jews were exterminated during World War 2. Deaf ears and love of comfort allowed the terrors of black slavery that existed before the Civil War in the U.S.

Harriet was helped by Quakers

We like to think that we’d all be abolitionists if we’d lived during the 1800’s . . . but would we?

Harriet is a powerful look into the lives and times of slavery in pre-Civil War America, and I wish everyone would take the time to watch it, even if it makes us wince and lose some sleep.

Harriet Tubman’s Last Words

Harriet recounts the true story of one of America’s bravest women: Harriet Tubman. She was born around 1822 as a slave; she died in 1913 at about age 91 and was an amazing example of courage, faith, self-sacrifice, and compassion.

As a small child, Harriet was beaten every time the white baby she was tending would cry. She recalled being beaten 5 times before breakfast one morning!

Photo of the notice run in the newspaper offering a $100 reward for the capture of “Minty” (Harriet) and her brothers after they escaped in 1849. (Wiki)

Much of her life as portrayed in the 2019 story is consistent with history (with the usual literary license and compacting of some historical events).

It is true that Harriet rescued 70 slaves in 13 expeditions and advised many more.

She usually left on Saturday evenings during winter to avoid detection, because notices about runaway slaves wouldn’t be printed until Monday, and plantation owners didn’t like going outside in the cold to search for themselves.

Harriet experienced visions directing her, which she attributed to God. She was deeply Christian. She really did pray for God to kill her evil master, who died suddenly a week later! (She later expressed ambivalence about her prayer after her cruel master died.)

Nicknamed “Moses” for her God-inspired ability to lead people to freedom, Harriet never lost a single soul: “I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger” (Wiki).

During the Civil War, Harriet worked as a nurse and made pies and rootbeer in the evenings to sell so she could support herself.

She also worked as a spy and map maker, and she was one of few women in American history to ever lead an armed assault during war—along the Combahee River, where 750 slaves were freed.

“Unidentified photographer, A large albumen photograph of Harriet Tubman by Tabby Studios in Auburn, NY. Enlarged from an older print.” Public Domain (Wiki)

As an elderly woman, Harriet needed surgery to relieve pain from the childhood head injury she had received, but instead of using anesthesia, she chose to bite down on a bullet, as she’d seen Civil War soldiers do while having their limbs amputated! She was one tough lady!

In honoring Harriet Tubman when her biography was written, the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, wrote this: “The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. … The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.”

If you watch Harriet and lose sleep the way I have, I would like to encourage you to start praying about what you might be able to do to help stop slavery, because slavery is not just an artifact of history. Slavery is very much an alive and evil ongoing issue. In fact, human trafficking is the fastest growing “enterprise” in the world today. Thursday I want to share some information about present day slavery and one avenue for helping fight it.

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Brenda’s Tangine Adventure

Here’s a story on trying to be thrifty that will make you laugh, shared by Brenda, who has been my Anne-of-Green-Gables style “bosom friend” since childhood.

As a quick introduction, Brenda and I met on the first day of eighth grade and have been close ever since.

It was a bittersweet day indeed when Brenda married Tom and “left me!” However, after twenty-five years of marriage, we ended up in the same community and have been able to resume our steadfast friendship for this past twenty-five years! We were over to their home for a delicious Moroccan dinner recently, and the story behind the meal was so funny that I asked her if she’d be willing to write it up to share with you. Because—if you are at all like me—you will resonate with the idea of how often we spend money trying to be thrifty! Here it is:

I started with the best of intentions.

I’m not sure when this project took on a life on its own, but it did. It was like a snowball rolling downhill gathering speed and becoming bigger.  How did having a dinner party for close friends end up with an international cooking experience that involved new equipment, new spices and new cooking methods?

It started innocently enough.  I was going to make Candy Cane coffee cakes for Christmas gift giving.  I needed cherries and dried apricots for my baking project.   The first step on the path was buying my apricots at Costco where a 3-pound package of apricots sells for the same amount as a one-pound package at my local grocery store.  As I look back, this is the point where the snowball started rolling downhill.  Imperceptibly at first, but slowly and steadily it got bigger. I had bought that big bag of apricots trying to be a cost-conscious person.

After I had finished making and distributing many candy cane coffee cakes, I still had 2 pounds of apricots remaining.  I needed to find a way to use them up, since I didn’t want to waste them.  I’m a cost-conscious consumer, after all.

I was going to be hosting a dinner party for friends after Christmas, so this was the perfect time to try something new.  I began looking for a main dish recipe that included dried apricots.  I found one easily online.  Lamb and Apricot Tagine.  A dish from Morocco that used several cups of apricots.

I decided that this was a perfect recipe to treat my friends coming to the dinner party.  We had eaten together at a Mediterranean restaurant, so I knew they were up for adventure in this type of cuisine.  What a great way to impress them while being a cost-conscious consumer.

The recipe said the Lamb and Apricot Tagine was cooked in a traditional Moroccan dish called a tagine.  This clay pot allowed slow cooking that continually steamed the food with a domed lid. I could almost smell the dish cooking as I read the recipe and the cook’s comments. The recipe also included instructions for cooking in an Instant Pot, which I have, but that couldn’t be as tasty as using a dish that had been used for hundreds of years in the Middle East, could it?

After researching sources for a tagine, I found that World Market had them and with an after-Christmas discount, I was able to buy one for under $30.  Not too bad but slightly more than I wanted to spend.  However, the price was much higher on Amazon, so again, I felt like I was being a cost-conscious consumer.

I began to gather the ingredients.  The lamb for the recipe meant a trip  to an international market.  I learned a lesson here-lamb is not a cost-effective meat to use. Then I needed saffron threads.  I found these at the International Market after much searching.  I asked the clerk and found they keep saffron in a locked cabinet behind the counter, which tells you the value of the spice. 

On the advice of my chef son, I also ordered some saffron from Amazon who was happy to deliver a small amount of the spice.  Saffron is really the thread-like parts of a crocus flower that grows in the Mediterranean area.   The most expensive spice in the world by weight but luckily, I only needed a very small amount. 

On the positive side, the use of a tagine on an electric stove requires a diffuser to keep the heat from directly touching the tagine.  Fortunately, I have a gas stove and could bypass the diffuser by keeping the heat very low. 

As I began planning for the dinner party, I realized the tagine would not hold enough ingredients to feed six people.  I was going to have to make two batches of the recipe which would require six hours of cooking.  But as often happens, the day of the dinner party, I didn’t have six hours.  My daughter and family had decided to come for a visit from Ohio and left just a few hours before the dinner.  Necessity stepped in, and I had to  cook one batch in the tagine and one in the Instant Pot. 

When my guests arrived, I shared the whole story of the dinner menu that had spiraled out of control.  I placed two dishes of the lamb and apricots on the table and asked them to compare and decide which method was  tastier.  They felt the results were very similar, and that possibly the Instant Pot version was slightly more tender. 

Lesson learned: Either don’t buy large quantities to save money or go with the flow and be open to new experiences to broaden yourself.  I’m going to go with the latter.  We’ve tasted new food, learned how to cook with a tagine and found that the new method (Instant Pot) may be as good as the method used for several thousand years.

But now I need to get a recipe book that features Moroccan cooking so I can make more meals in my tagine.  So, I may not be done with my cooking adventure yet.  After all, I’m a cost-conscious consumer.

(Tangine! This Saturday I’ll share her recipe) 🙂

And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour,
it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

Traveling with Togo

Want to snuggle up and watch a heart-warming true story about an incredible dog who was named the most heroic dog in history by Time magazine in 2011? This cold winter weather is perfect for staying inside and being glad we’re not actually out in the blizzards of Alaska back in the winter of 1925, when the event actually occurred.

Togo was released at the end of 2019 and has all the dog prints of a true Disney classic: a PG rating, 8.2 on IMDb, great acting, stunning cinematography from Alaska, and full of suspense, courage, and love.

It’s a remarkable story about Togo, a sickly, undersized husky pup with an oversized ability to get into mischief, the heart of a true survivor, and a passion for his master. Willem Dafoe does a masterful job portraying Leonhard Seppala, the stubborn Norwegian who had to balance love for his wife with his professional wisdom as a musher, where wrong decisions can end in death for both the master and his dogs.

The challenge? To bring serum from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska during the worst winter in twenty years during weather too dangerous for flights. Why? Because a diphtheria epidemic was threatening to wipe out most of the area’s people.

Leonard Seppela and his team of huskies crossing Norton Sound of the Bering Sea

Nome, Alaska, is just 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle and is located on the southern coast of Seward Peninsula at Norton Sound along the Bering Sea. Today, there are fewer than 4,000 living in Nome, but due to people lingering after the gold rush at the turn of the century, in 1925 the little outpost of Nome was the largest town in Northern Alaska.

In order to carry the serum across 674 miles from Nenana (where the serum had been transported via train from Anchorage) to Nome, more than twenty teams using over 100 huskies were organized, and the event was widely broadcast as the “Great Race of Mercy.”

Many of us have watched the movie Balto. This movie immortalized the lead dog who ran the last 31 miles to bring the serum into Nome, but Leonhard (which means “lion-heart”) Seppala and his faithful dog Togo ran the penultimate race: 264 miles, sometimes enduring temperatures of —30°F. with wind chills making it feel like —85°F.!! Until this movie came out, Leonhard and Togo were pretty much the unsung and forgotten heroes.

Julianne Nicholson as Constance Seppela in Togo

The race was not for glory, it was for good, and the most magnificent message for me was watching the love, resolve, and reward for the couple who risked everything to save their community. It was unbelievable to me that they didn’t get the praise and glory they deserved, but I think that is more often true in this life than we will ever know. I am reminded of Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 9:11, where he laments: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

In our personal pilgrimages through life, few of us are asked to do terribly dangerous and risky things, but all of us are asked to run our race faithfully, for good, and not for glory! But, there is a promise in the example of Jesus, who ran the race before us for joy and for love of God.

May we run our races as doggedly as Togo . . . and like Togo, to please the One we love!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).

(Disney’s version of the story runs very close to the reality, although they had a somewhat abbreviated, “happily-ever-after” style ending. If you want to read more of the thrilling [scary] details, there’s an excellent Wikipedia article listed below.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonhard_Seppala