Category Archives: Simple Pleasures

An Avocado Boat of Ideas, Especially Fantastic Guacamole with an Orange Twist

avocadosAvocados (also known as “alligator pears” because of their rough, green skin and elongated shape) have won their way up from southern Mexico to America, where their consumption rate has more than tripled in the last 15 years! salad-pine-nuts-guacamoleAlthough technically a fruit (and they are used in fruit smoothies and as flavored milkshakes in some countries), their most common use in America and Mexico is in guacamole, used as a dip with tortilla chips or as a flavorful topping on various dishes. Because of their high fat content, avocados are sometimes used as a meat replacement in vegetarian dishes, although they are not high in protein. (They are high in fiber, however: Half an avocado is about 130 calories and will provide 20% of your daily fiber need.) tossed-salad-with-avocadoAvocados are also used as a garnish, eaten plain as a healthy snack (way better for you than a doughnut!), and are a common additive in vegetable salads, where they are especially useful in providing necessary oil for proper vitamin absorption. If you’re not familiar with avocados, please try them! fruit-bowlChoose firm, green ones with no dents or dark spots but are the least bit giving if you touch them. Keep them on the counter until they are slightly soft (not dark), and then use them immediately or store them in the refrigerator (Ideally, no more than a week). avocado-pit-being-removedTo use, cut lengthwise, and then take the pit out by stabbing with a knife and twisting gently. The California Avocado Commission recommends the “nick and peel” method of slicing the avocado into length-wise, quarter-inch slices and peeling like a banana. avoocado-sliced-in-halfI prefer to use a spoon and scrape off the entire inside lining, which is richest in carotenoid antioxidants. (However, this doesn’t produce the best looking bites, so if you want fresh slices, use the CAC’s method). discoloration-of-avocado-exposed-to-airAvocado does discolor quickly when exposed to air, so either serve it immediately after cutting or protect it with a little citrus juice and plastic wrap. (The first time this happened to me, I thought I must have cut my finger…)avocado-boat-with-ahi-tunaOne clever, simple entrée is to fill half an avocado with shredded meat (chicken breast, tuna, etc.). ahi-tuna-and-avocado-boatI also enjoy them as a simple side dish, known as an avocado boat (best by far with salt and lime juice). Just for the record (studies funded by avocado growers, of course), it’s been found that people who eat avocados tend to be healthier and have less heart disease. (I sometimes wonder if such studies are confounded by the economic status/social class of those studied, as avocados aren’t exactly cheap. [I always wait and buy them on sale.])

At any rate, I want to pass along my all-time favorite recipe for guacamole. Alan and I first fell in love with guacamole when it was made table-side at a little Mexican restaurant along San Antonio’s River Walk, and then we fell in love again in San Diego’s Gaslamp District last year. However, once when we were out of limes, my son Joel altered my recipe (gathered from watching these “bests” being made), and I think his is actually better than the best!

Fantastic Guacamole with an Orange Twist

guacamole-01-17-171 entire orange, peeled and cubed (this is the difference; everybody else uses fresh, squeezed lime juice, which ends up with a thicker guacamole but doesn’t taste as amazing) garlic-cloves1 cup cherry tomatoes cubed
2 garlic cloves peeled and pressed (worth the bother, so don’t substitute garlic powder unless you can’t afford fresh, although you can substitute both garlic and onion powder as needed)
guacamole-with-orange-garlilc-onion-and-tomato1 onion finely chopped
2 avocados peeled and well mashed
Salt (preferably coarse-ground seasalt) and pepper to taste (start light and add)avocado-into-guacamoleThe result is so flavorful that I could eat a bowl for lunch (and have been known to do so). However you serve them, though, I hope you enjoy avocados!

 “Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.” (Daniel 1:11-16) (I’m not a vegetarian, but I do believe in the high value of a largely vegetable and fruit diet with less meat, diary, and grain products.)

P.S.—Although I sometimes add avocado to omelets (just enough to heat through at the end), I’ve read that cooking avocados not only destroys the vitamins but can actually be toxic for some people. Also, guacamole can be frozen, but slices don’t freeze well, so enjoy them fresh!

P.S.S.—Got a favorite way of using avocados? Please share with us!

Life in Season: Cozy and Warm

life-in-season-bookLife in Season is a book of gentle reflections to “Celebrate the Moments that Fill Your Heart & Home.” It’s the type of book you’d like to curl up and read beside the fire with a cup of hot chocolate in hand. At least, that’s how I enjoyed it! vanessa-hunt-and-heather-patterson-life-in-seasonTwo sisters, Vanessa Hunt and Heather Patterson, open their lives to give you glimpses into what the Lord has taught them through their tears and triumphs…mostly as wives and moms, but ultimately as women. scars-life-in-seasonTheir meditations journey across the four seasons of the year, and the entries are a potpourri of lessons. quote-by-oswald-chambers-life-in-seasonAs I read, I kept having the fantasy that they’d cooked up a nourishing bowl of oatmeal, sprinkled it with craft projects and evocative photos, and poured over it some warm milk of the Word. hospitality-life-in-season                                                      Very sweet soul food. mind-the-gaps-life-in-seasonIf this sounds interesting to  you, check out their website, At the Picket Fence. peppermint-sugar-scrub-life-in-seasonIf you enjoy that, Life in Season is a new release that’s now available on Amazon. Or, if you live close by, you can borrow the copy I received for this review. It might be too late for Christmas this year, but there are ideas for Valentine’s Day and Easter at the beginning of the book…

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:8-11. ESV)

To Toss or Not to Toss: If You Like It, Try It!

tossed-salad-veggieWhen I was a kid a million years ago, tossed salads were usually made from leaf lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and celery. Do you remember? About thirty years ago, salads became a little more exciting, and extras like onions, olives and avocado brightened the flavor considerably.tossed-saladHowever, today anything goes, and salads have become major flavor feasts! This salad has spinach, shredded red cabbage, corn on the cob, apple, and mixed nuts, but there’s virtually no end to what can be thrown together in a tossed salad and made into a healthy dish full of protein and flavor as well as all the usual suspects (vitamins and minerals). If you like it and happen to have it on hand…don’t be afraid to add it and see if you like it in the mix!

Suggested leafy bases: all types of lettuce, kale, spinach, and shredded cabbages

Veggies: carrots, tomatoes, onions, peppers, celery, avocado, cucumber, zucchini, any leftover cooked vegetable such as peas, beans, asparagus, corn, chick peas, black beans, beets, Brussels sprouts, etc.

Fruits: apples, pears, berries of all kinds, mandarin (or fresh) oranges, pineapple, mango, peaches etc. I personally prefer crunchy fruits to more mushy ones like bananas, but taste is one of those wonderfully unique pleasures, and some may just love the addition of juicy/mushy fruits.

Extra credit taste points: pickled beets or peppers (or other veggies), capers, olives (of all varieties)

Proteins: any type of nut or cubed cheese you happen to have around. (To make it a full meal, you can also add chopped hard boiled eggs, tofu, crumbled bacon bits,  cooked, cubed meat or a piece of grilled meat on top.)

Dressing: your favorites. Also, I’ve invested in some flavored vinegars and olive oils that really provide a variety of flavors.

What else? Tried anything different that you really love?

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat” (Genesis 1:29). (Obviously, some fruits and herbs are poisonous today! The Lord’s original gift and this statement was made before the fall.)

 

 

ArtPrize 8 Winners…and Tips for ArtPrize 9 Contestants

lizzie-checking-out-from-the-rising-of-the-sunAfter 19 days with hundreds of thousands of visitors viewing 1,453 entries from 44 countries at 171 venues here in Grand Rapids, 380,119 votes were cast to determine which entries were the best of the best! wounded-warrior-dogsAlas, I was not among that starry group, but I can definitely take my hat off to the winner of the public vote, James Mellick, whose entry was called “Wounded Warrior Dogs,” an exhibit designed to raise awareness and support for vets using wooden carvings of several canine warriors who were wounded in war.  xThe other (juried) $200,000 grand prize was given to Stacey Kirby for her “The Bureau of Personal Belonging,” which was a three-part installation hearkening back to 1968, interrogating visitors about their views on sexual identity and gender in order to determine if they were “valid” members of society. Ummm.  benedicts-visit-from-the-rising-of-the-sun-artprize-8Despite the fact that there are now fifty-eight gender options for Facebook users these days, under 2% of the population self-report as anything other than heterosexual, so I’m not sure why gender studies have become all the rage on college campuses across our continent, but I’m certain that how we answer questions about gender is not the proper litmus test for our validity as members of society. It’s my theory that if we are human, we are valid. Nevertheless, we are called to be law-abiding, not law-breaking, and countries differ widely on their laws, which (whether or not anybody’s willing to admit it) are all based on moral ethics. What is moral and what is not? What is so immoral that the society is willing to outlaw it? Tough issues, and obviously highly charged with emotion, as we each defend our ideas of right and wrong based on whatever makes us believe this or that is right or wrong. Right? And, those issues really never disappear. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”   meijer-garden-panel-from-artprize-8When Alan and I left a paneled interview of the artists that exhibited at Meijer Garden, I whispered in his ear, “Well, I have no worries of ever winning a juried award!” The popular vote is totally unpredictable and as capricious as people, but the juried vote is much more predictable and follows distinct patterns.   recycled-items-for-artprize-entryIf you’re after a juried prize for 2017, I have a few tips for you! Tips one and two: be sure your work is modern art, not traditional, and use recycled waste. ditch-liliesThe singular contestant who was ranked in the top twenty for both the popular and juried votes was a man who gathered dead day lily stems from ditches around Grand Rapids and lined them up in such a way that they cast interesting shadows on a wall. ditch-lilies-2Clever, and his play with light was creative, but when interviewed, it sounded like he came up with his plan and executed the project in a day or two after arriving in GR, and the fact that he was a finalist in both categories was a bit deflating for those of us who spent months or years preparing our exhibits. artprize-8-mural-with-armstrong-familyTip three: you’ll get the most positive attention if you can come up with some creative way to make a philosophical statement that reflects support for gender diversity. artprize-8-family-visiting-from-the-rising-of-the-sunOtherwise, (tip four) come to ArtPrize for the joy of it! Create to give, not to take, and like Eric Liddell, take delight in sensing God’s pleasure in what you’re doing.  artprize-8-kathryn-w-armstrong-with-helen-bI 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” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).monarch-butterfly-exhibit

ArtPrize 8: Just Where is the Rising of the Sun?

the-more-you-sweat-in-practice-the-less-you-bleed-in-battle-artprize-8-kathryn-w-armstrongArtPrize 8 is off and running! I’ve had several friends wander into the Holiday Inn without realizing that my mural is there, so let me give you the details in case you’re in GR and planning to go to ArtPrize, because I’d love to see you and I’d hate to miss you! My entry is titled “From the Rising of the Sun” and is being displayed at the Holiday Inn at 310 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504.

gerald-r-ford-museumIt’s opposite the Gerald Ford Museum, van-andel-museum-center-jpgacross the street from the Van Andel (Grand Rapids Public Museum), devos-learning-centerand kitty corner from Ah-Nab-Awen Park.

grand-riverIt’s just across the river (0.2 miles) from the Amway Grand, so it’s at the cross roads to some of the best art in town. It’s also just 0.4 miles from Grand Rapids Art Museum, 0.5 miles from the B.O.B. (Grand Rapids’ “Big Old Building), and 0.6 miles from DeVos Place, so it’s super convenient for the most popular venues! arriving-at-the-holiday-inn     Whether you go in the front or back entrance,  you’ll see half the mural.artprize-8-front-lobby-mural-at-holiday-inn “January through June” is at the front entrance, and “June through December” is at the back entrance. Using 400 of my favorite  photographs from around the world, I’ve created a collage trying to tell the story of life on Planet Earth through the seasons of one year and one lifetime. artprize-mural-summer-to-winterHere’s my “Artist Statement: “The top row reminds us of the universal constants we all experience: the glorious sun and moon, rising and setting with comforting precision. Row two showcases another global experience, the beauty of flowers, which can be found everywhere around the globe. Row three highlights the experience of fauna through the seasons. Row four looks more closely at how the flora and individual homes are affected by seasonal changes, using photographs from our cozy “Tanglewood Cottage” here in Grand Rapids. Row five takes an intimate look into one person and one family (mine) through the seasons of one year and one lifetime, but my hope is that it resonates with the emotions and cultural experiences of everyone who views it: birth, growth, adulthood, marriage (or family life; I know some never marry), new life and enjoying grandchildren, growing older, and finally, in the December of life, walking into a sea of clouds on the mountain top, looking hopefully to a glorious future life after we leave Planet Earth.january-of-the-year-artprize-8The lower half of the mural is arranged in ten collages, each comprised of twenty photographs from around the world on a particular theme that compliments the season above.”   artprize-8-from-the-rising-of-the-sunThis is my hope and prayer for the mural: “From the rising of the sun on the day we take our first breath until we walk into life’s sunset, I hope the beauty of our world lifts our hearts to praise the One who created us and provided such a glorious home.” friends-stopping-by-to-see-from-the-rising-of-the-sun-mural-artprize-8I have a booklet with notes on each photograph for anybody who comes and would like to know more detail, although if I’m there when you come, I can answer questions! I’d really love to see you if you come, and if you leave me a message in the comment box or on Facebook (message works too), I’ll try to make sure I’m there when you come! I’ve been going about 10:00-5:00 Monday-Friday every day, but I’ll be less regular on weekends due to family responsibilities and fun, although I’ll still be there at times, so please don’t be shy! It’s a real highlight of my day when friends drop by!

from-the-rising-of-the-sun-mural-artprize-8“From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same,
the Lord’s name is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3).

The Birthday Club: Bike Rides and Covered Bridges

Fallasburg Covered BridgeOn my trip to France, I had a dream one night that our birthday club was seeing all the D-Day sites, and since that night I’ve become obsessively enamored
with the idea of writing a novel about our birthday club traveling the world. Photo of Three SistersHowever, I will state up front that if this book ever comes to pass, the characters will not reflect the persons of my two dear birthday buddies—absolutely and unequivocally—as I have a friend who wrote a book with a character suspiciously like me, of whom I did not at all approve, and so I wouldn’t want my real friends to disown me for misrepresentation.

Nona's Restaurant. Ada MIStill, the adventures we have on our birthday club outings are truly a blessing, and so I’ll share this spring’s adventure with you. Flat River GrillFor a starter, the two non-birthday members go into cahoots
planning a surprise for the birthday honoree, Ada Covered Bridgeand this time Cindi had two irresistibly bright ideas for spoiling Susan: Biking near Ada Covered Bridge MITo go for a bike ride,Birthday Club at Ada Covered Bridge and to visit two (of the only eight remaining) covered bridges in Michigan.

Flat River in Fallasburg County Park MIAlthough Alan and I spent years riding racing bikes together as the #1 event in our favorite Date Night Triathlon (followed by #2. soaking in a hot tub and #3. eating out), I haven’t been on a non-tandem bike in years, so riding brought me straight back to my childhood, and I came home telling Alan that we need to start biking again! (Big advantage of Birthday Club: Trying new [or old] things!)Lunch at Nona's in Ada MIThe second event in our Birthday Club Marathon was lunch at Nona’s in Ada, MI which has just opened a new restaurant. (Cindi’s daughter is working as a prep chef there this summer. The mushroom ravioli is awesome, just so you know!) The third event was touring the little village of Ada and their Tuesday Farmers’ Market (in the parking lot of Ada Community Church, where my son Stephen served as the pianist for several years). Ada County ParkI was riding my bike as inexpertly as a teen just learning to drive, so I didn’t dare bring along my camera. Therefore, most of the photos from Ada are compliments of Cindi’s photographic skills. (Thanks, Cindi!) We also biked through Ada Township Park and stopped to enjoy vistas of the Thornapple River from the Ada Covered Bridge.

Fallasburg Covered Bridge InformationAfter parking our bikes, we drove to the Fallasburgh Covered Bridge
along the Flat River near Lowell, MI, Fallasburg School Museum. MIwhere there are a number of old, historic buildings left from the mid 1800’s. Fishing at Fallasburg County Park MIIt was a perfect summer day, breezy and beautiful, and as we meandered along, Cindi read verses from the Scriptures to remind us that God “covers” us
and listens with tender affection to our prayers,
the way a loving Father attends his children. Verses on Covering(This was inspired by the “covered” bridge theme.) Dessert at the Flat River Grill. Ada. MIThe day ended with coffee and dessert at the Flat River Grill
and sharing some birthday presents, Sisters!but the sweetness of our fellowship and God’s love for us
has lingered past the sweetness of our dessert. Birthday GiftsTruly, God’s love is our best gift! He is our inheritance, our covering,
and our “exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1).Fallasburg Covered Bridge. Vergennes. MII will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings.” (Psalm 61:4)

Window Pains

Deer in lakeThe next best thing to being outside is looking outside, as far as I can tell. Impatiens by lake 6.16We live in the woods on a tiny lake, Racoon by dockand there are few things that give me more “simple pleasure”Delphinium 6.16 than being able to look through the window panes and see something lovely, Old Snageven if it’s just an old snag Sun filtering through trees on lakeor the sun filtering through the trees on his way up   Rabbit eating cloverto greet Bunny Bright Eyes, who’s outside nibbling clover on our front lawn.Geese on lake frontStephen, taking a week’s respite from his PhD studies in NY,
offered to wash our windows, which is even more of a great idea than I realized! IMG_5708It wasn’t until this morning that I really noticed just how dirty our windows are.Reflection in Glass Oh, I always notice that I have to watch my angle
or I’ll get a reflection of myself when shooting out a window, IMG_5731and I notice how the sunshine coming through the window casts reflections thatIMG_5755 are sometimes so compelling that I focus on the reflection more than the reality, IMG_5732or find my vision somewhat obscured. IMG_5754It can be very disorienting! Plants in front of windowThere can also be so many things going on inside that my vision gets blocked. MandevillaMy heart is like that too! Sometimes I’m busily working away, Rain on Mandevillathinking everything is fine and not really noticing that things are getting a bit dingy ( or vaguely conscious but not yet motivated to fix it), Robin feeding babiesand it takes an offer of help from the outside to set things right. Dirty Windows!Of course, there’s nothing like good, strong sunlight to reveal all the dirt! IMG_5706When I sense that my vision’s becoming blurry and my heart is pained,IMG_5719 or that I’m distracted and out of focus, Cross by windowit’s time to listen to the promptings of friends
and let the Holy Spirit wash the windows of my heart, Doe standing at water's edgeso I’ll have clear, bright vision again! Gold Finch singing in the tree topsSearch me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

(Just in case you’re wondering, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I took all these photos out my windows over the past few days and this morning. Isn’t it amazing how clear and clean things can seem if we’re not focusing on them… until the Light shines just right?)