Gourmet Hot Chocolate from Scratch

One of the joys of chilly autumn days is having a cup of steaming cocoa, don’t you think? When I was a child, cocoa was always made from scratch, and I can remember being entranced when my oldest sister started working at a restaurant where they had special packets of hot chocolate mix you could add to boiling water! I loved stirring it all up and finding some bursts of flavor where I hadn’t taken time to mix it all up thoroughly . . . and the last thick, sticky slurp of chocolatey sludge that invariably settled to the bottom of the cup.

Sixty years later, it occurred to me that there may be a generation of people who don’t know how simple and easy it is to make hot chocolate from scratch. It’s cheaper, more nutritious, almost as easy, and avoids additives and preservatives.

All you really need are milk, sugar, and cocoa powder!

Hot Chocolate
(per serving)

Add in a saucepan:
8-12 oz milk (depending on the size of your cup)
1 teaspoon of cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sugar (You can add more or less, depending on taste; if you’re diabetic or dieting, hot milk with cocoa powder is actually a pretty good drink in its own right.)

Heat, stirring often until all the sugar has melted, the milk is starting to bubble at the edges (but don’t let it boil), and the cocoa powder has been blended in (which may require systematically smashing the resistant bits against the sides of the pan with your spoon or using a whisk).

Now, most of the time, this is sufficiently delicious, but if you really want to be gourmet (as my youngest son often does), melt in 2 tablespoons of special dark (or semi-sweet) chocolate chips and stir until completely blended.

Pour into a cup and top with:
1 marshmallow (or many minis)

Gourmet Hot Chocolate

If make it especially festive (and compete with the finest restaurants without having to go out or spend so much money), then top with whipping cream and drizzle with chocolate syrup.

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.”
(Psalm 74:17)

Let Us Pass Over—Even Across a Small Lake!

There are only a dozen homes on our lake, so you know it’s small . . . small enough to swim around every evening for exercise and pleasure.

When we first jump in, Alan says he feels each of his 70 years, but within a hundred yards or so, he swims backward in time until he’s only eight again! He feels as carefree as a little boy jumping off the dock at Kinross Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where he grew up. Not a worry in the world! Just the joy of living and splashing around in refreshingly cool water.

In the autumn or spring, before the lake is warm enough for swimming, we’re more inclined to canoe around.

In the winter when it freezes over, the lake is great for snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating.

It’s a year-round treasure, and simply looking out across the lake is one of our greatest daily pleasures!

It definitely makes exercise and keeping (at least a bit) in shape an anticipated joy!

All this to say that we’ve been swimming, skiing, and boating around the lake for the past twenty-seven years—ever since we moved to GR! Over the years, we’ve met most of our neighbors. Some have been good friends for many years—like our next-door-neighbors, who grew up on the lake and can tell stories from 60 years ago when an ice-cart and horse plunged to their death through broken ice one winter. (You can imagine how wide-eyed our kids were to think the remains of such an event might be buried still beneath the murky waters!)

We thought we’d met all our neighbors sometime between 27 years ago and this year. Hardly anybody moves away, but there have been a couple of new families over the years. We talk to them as they float by on rafts or fishing boats.

There’s more than one access road, so we’re most familiar with the neighbors on “our side” of the lake, but we still thought we knew everyone . . . until the last time we were kayaking around the lake. We noticed on the far side of the lake the beginnings of a new dock, so we assumed a new couple had moved in. We were glad to see a young-looking Asian man laboring to build, so I called out to him, “Hello! Are you our new neighbors?”

“No! We’re your old neighbors!” As we drew closer, I could see greying at his temples, and I supposed he was teasing about his age. His eyes were definitely twinkly.

“Really? How old?”

“We’ve been here for twenty-seven years!”

I was totally shocked! How could that be? Neighbors who had moved here the same year we had and had lived opposite us across the lake for twenty-seven years without our even being aware? Wow! On closer examination, we realized that his home was nestled well away from the shoreline (and hidden completely from view via our home or dock). Somehow, because they had no dock (and the shoreline is a tangle of water lilies, loose strife, wild roses, and weeping willows), we had failed to notice that there was one family with lake access who had never actually accessed the lake!

“We moved here twenty-seven years ago too! I can’t believe we’ve never met!” We quickly introduced ourselves to him, and he replied warmly with his name and his wife’s name. “We’re from South Korea!” We exchanged pleasantries about how long they’ve been in America and how much we enjoyed visiting South Korea. We admired his new dock and expressed our certainty that they would be delighted with greater access to the lake.

“Hasn’t the weather been perfect this summer?” I commented enthusiastically.

“Yes!” he replied, lifting his hands to the sky.

South Korean, lifting his hands to the sky— I couldn’t help but ask: “Oh, are you believers?”

“Yes! We praise Jesus! We praise God!” He smiled broadly and lifted his hands again.

We didn’t talk too long, but long enough to know that we shared not only homes on our little lake but also the assurance that Jesus was preparing homes for us in heaven too; we were not only neighbors, we were brothers and sisters by faith in Christ. Siblings in the family of God.

Last Sunday I wrote about Jesus’s invitation: “Let us pass over.” The Sea of Galilee is huge compared to our little lake, but what a happy surprise to “pass over” and reach out, only to discover that our “new” neighbors are “old neighbors” who share our faith. God has definitely been impressing on my heart to be a better neighbor lately. With Alan retired, we have more time, but because of COVID, we’re trying to practice social distancing. How does that work?? I guess we can still be good neighbors and stay 6-feet away! But, a smile, a greeting, a prayer, exchanging contact info and the assurance of being available should anyone need help . . . these are things we can do. At least it’s a start!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, ESV).

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Happy Twelfth Anniversary, Summer Setting!

Once a year on the anniversary of my blog, I reminisce about the joy of writing and what’s happened over the past year. Technically, my anniversary was April 8th, but last month—as America lunged into the COVID pandemic—it seemed more appropriate to concentrate on trying to encourage others in the face of trials than to indulge in personal introspection. However, now that it’s May (and Cinco de Mayo to boot!), I would be very grateful if you’ll allow me the liberty of reflecting on my writing adventure, and I hope you will offer me some counsel as I wrestle with what the Lord may have in mind for my future.

One of my (unspoken until today) dreams for blogging has been to write until I have a million views and then perhaps try to write a book of devotionals. This past week, the 750,000-view mark came and went, so . . . three-fourths of the way to fulfilling this particular vision! Should the Lord see fit to bless my writing with readers at the current rate, that would theoretically make me mature enough to attempt a series of daily devotionals by 2023. However, COVID concerns have changed not only the world’s economic landscape, but my personal sense of how the Spirit may be leading me.

Instead of spending my days embroiled in joyful experiences with family and friends, traveling at home and abroad, I am spending my days enjoying a “sabbath rest” from life as usual. Alan is working virtually from home, giving him at least an extra hour (commute time) daily to invest in home projects. Instead of waiting until he retires, we’re starting the huge process of trying to unbury our basement from 27 years of family life here in GR, not to mention 44 years of parenting and 47 years of marriage. It is daunting, but exhilarating!

We are almost finished with four years’ worth of renovating our kitchen and adding an addition to accommodate our burgeoning family. We moved into our beloved but small “Tanglewood Cottage” with a young family of seven children. Today—with our children and grand children— we number thirty-two and counting, so the extra breathing room is a wonderful blessing. Now we have the happy task of expanding into the new space, finding and making accessible what we have, and throwing out the unwanted and unneeded extra “stuff” that’s gotten buried. Just a few “for instances” that might make you laugh or be aghast (depending on how good a housekeeper you are): I found one daughter-in-law’s wedding dress, my daughter’s master’s thesis, one son’s “Bod Book” (names and addresses of everybody at his school . . . from 1994), and THE WINNER: a box labeled “boys clothing.” We haven’t had “boys” small enough to pass down clothing for at least 15 years and probably longer! (To be honest, tied for THE LOSER are dead stink bugs and dust bunnies! 😦 )

All this to say, perhaps it’s time to expand, de-clutter, clean up, and reorganize my writing life as well. Alan and I have been trying to walk three miles each day, but just up and down our lane. Instead of glorious vistas from around the world, I’m drinking in minuscule changes in the flora and fauna! The cherry trees in blossom; the goslings and ducklings coming ashore, the weeds popping out. If the COVID pandemic keeps us all from venturing very far from home this coming year, I’m thinking about the possibility of writing daily devotionals starting January 1, 2021 based on “little things” (and maybe some of the grander graces of nature) that are common place and surround many of us. Would that be interesting to you?

If I head that direction, I would still have the rest of this year to finish my meditations on the commands of Christ, family recipes, world travel (which I hope has not ended forever but may be postponed for a year or so), and actively trying to review favored movies and books. To be transparent with you, these are the posts which to date have been the most read, so it might be a big change, although— as life has it and minds inevitably operate—I’m sure whatever I experience will find its way into my writing. But, what if I spend 2021 with more of a focus on learning spiritual lessons from nature? Would a closer look at the simple and common encourage us during our months of more confined living? I’m thinking about just one photo per day and basically one simple message, so shorter but hopefully not less worthwhile. That is the possibility I’ve been praying about lately, and if you read this blog and have an opinion about what might be most uplifting for you, I’d sincerely appreciate hearing what you think! Thanks!!

Where no counsel is, the people fall:
but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

S’mores in a Pan (So Easy Even Grandpa Can Make This One!)

This is such a simple treat that you might wonder why I’ve bothered to “write it up,” but it never occurred to me spontaneously, so maybe you haven’t thought of it either! It’s a great way to enjoy s’mores in the winter, passed along to me by my daughter.

Toasting marshmallows over coals on a warm, sunny day

Traditionally, (at least in our home) making s’mores has been a summer treat reserved for camping trips or backyard picnics after the fires have burned low. Outdoors! Where the kids can run around accidentally dropping burned marshmallows off the ends of their roasting sticks and smearing gooey fingerprints everywhere without making too much of a mess. It’s just too risky trying to make s’mores inside, even if you do have a fireplace. However, somebody thought of this:

S’mores in a Pan

Preheat oven to 400°F.
In the bottom of a cast iron griddle, spread:
2-4 oz. of chocolate chips per person
Cover with miniature marshmallows
Heat on top rack of oven for 3-5 minutes, or until chocolate is melted and marshmallows are starting to turn golden. (If the marshmallows haven’t browned, you can turn on the broiler, but then you really have to watch it carefully; I almost burned this batch, as you can see!) **Obviously, your cast iron pan will be burning hot, so make sure everyone knows NOT to touch the sides of the pan!

Serve immediately with graham crackers. Each person can dip in his own crackers and make his own s’more as he pleases. If kids stay at the table, it’s possible to eat the s’mores in a semi-reputable fashion, although the crackers will break apart (as always), so plates are good!

For chocolate lovers, chocolate graham crackers are a bonus, but they’re really yummy either way!

If you have little ones at home, or your grands come over unexpectedly, this is the perfect way to make a guaranteed-to-please treat in about 5 minutes!

Maybe not quite as thrilling as burning your own marshmallows over an open fire, but definitely great fun in winter! 🙂

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:24-27).

Have You Found the Joy in They Call Me Mom!?

Do you ever find yourself trying to conjure up a smile while your kids are screaming and some little old lady pats you on the hand, smiling sweetly and trying to encourage you with, “Enjoy them while they’re young. Just remember: These are the best days of your life!”? If so, then next time try reaching for They Call Me Mom and a cup of coffee rather than rummaging around in your medicine cabinet for something to get rid of your headache.

They Call Me Mom is a heart-lifting, laughter-inciting look into the lives and loves of two every day moms* who wrestle with the same world of dirty diapers and vomit-scented tees that every young mom faces daily, and they’ve collaborated together to share with you their worst experiences and their best tips on how to survive and—even thrive! (Well, least . . . sometimes! I mean, let’s be honest, we’re never perfect, and our days don’t always end well, even if we are livin’ the dream. Right?)

Thankfully, Michelle and Bethany are open about sharing the ups and downs that come with living the dream of marriage and motherhood. Personally, I remember the days when I’d pray my way through sleepless nights with sick babies and start the mornings feeling like an explorer lost in Africa, trying to chop a path through the jungle, machete in hand and a trail of seven little ones behind. Life is never easy!

Nothing on earth quite so special as home and family!

Bethany Jett is the wife of a military man who gets regularly deployed. She is often left to parent her brood of boys alone so has lots of empathy and insights for single moms. Michelle Medlock Adams has two grown daughters and is starting that magical age of being a grandparent, so she can conclude with pleasure that—although every day is really the stuff of “the best day” and should be lived with joy and pleasure— grandparenting is also a new season of “best days.” Personally, I resonate with this too; I truly keep enjoying my children and grandchildren more and more as they (we all) continue to grow!

They Call Me Mom: 52 Encouraging Devotionals for Every MOMent

So, if you’re a young mom, or love a young mom, consider looking into this delightful book. Each devotional addresses some aspect of mothering, such as being called “supersleuth, mean mommy, cheerleader, worrywort, overprotective, beautiful, embarrassing, rainbow recorder” . . . and 44 other names delineating our job descriptions as mothers. Each devotional gives vignettes from both women, healing thoughts from the scripture as to what our loving Heavenly Father has to say about us (and to us), and then concludes with a short section of helpful strategies for solving problems.

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 6:33).

(*Yes, the authors are “every day mothers,” but they are also both successful authors who know how to write a good book! 🙂 )

Without Much Fanfare

North America’s most renowned venue for Shakespearean plays is in Stratford, Ontario, and during their “Stratford Festival” from May through October, the town is brimming over with art and theater lovers (except early in the morning when I took this picture; I think most of the town was sleeping in).

Alan, Joel, and I went recently for a long weekend to take in a couple of Shakespeare’s finest—one comedy and one tragedy—and a musical.

Sunset along the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario

Each play was so provocative that I’ve reflected for a long time on the themes, morals, and values, but today I want to admit that what I loved the most—and what I’ve remembered with the greatest sense of pleasure—was our evening walk through the Shakespeare Gardens and along the Avon River.

Oh, the plays were amazing, no doubt about it! The acting was superb. The props were fresh and fun.

Sydney Opera House in Sdyney, Australia (2004)

Alan and I saw The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Sydney Opera House fifteen years ago, but it seemed (if anything) even more ludicrous than ever.

The tragedies of Othello were still as dark and senseless as ever, and the musical (which I’d never seen before) was both enlightening and hopeful (although the profanity was so bad that I wouldn’t personally choose to attend it again 😦 ).

Fanfare at the Festival Theater

Five minutes before the end of each intermission, a troupe of musicians came outside to alert us that it was time to go back inside, playing a short fanfare. It made me smile, as I always think of “fanfare” as some sort of ostentatious commotion used to draw attention to something . . . which—of course—it was, but not as we think of it today. This fanfare was straight out of Shakespearean England and the 400-year-old tradition of announcing something important: In this case, the conclusion of an impressive play!

That being said, our visit to a local church Sunday morning and our walk along the Avon River Sunday evening (following the Sunday matinee and a great dinner) were the true highlights for me!

Bumblebee on Dill Weed in Shakespeare Gardens

They weren’t our reason for going, and they weren’t what we paid to see, but those events most refreshed and restored my soul, and they gave me the most pleasure!

Truly memorable breakfast at Features Restaurant in Stratford, ON
(YES! I recommend it!! 🙂 )

In your busy life, what most feeds your soul? If you’re like me, it’s not the fanfare of life’s theatrics but the solace of God.

Not in excited pomp and circumstance, but in stillness and reflection . . . Truly, in practicing the presence of God and communing with Him through prayer.

The silent testimony of God’s great goodness speaks to me

Full House at Stratford’s Festival Theater

even more eloquently than the thunder of music and applause.

How about you?

Raindrops on roses . . . one of my favorite things!

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee . . .To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name” (Psalm 60:1-3).

Thoughts on the Value of Giving

Having just spent four beautiful weeks enjoying our children and grandchildren (including our youngest grand child’s first birthday, which was yesterday), I want to add just a few more miscellaneous thoughts on the joy of giving and the rewards that come to us for sharing what we have with others:

“Those who are happiest and those who do the most for others” (Booker T. Washington).

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” (Winston Churchill).

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” (Jim Elliot).

“It is in giving that we receive” (St. Francis of Assisi).

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it” (Albert Einstein)

“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give” (Ben Carson).

“No one has ever become poor by giving” (Anne Frank).

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another” (Charles Dickens).

“If we want to know our God-given gits, we must know the giver” (Eric Samuel Timm).

“You can’t celebrate gifts without celebrating the giver of all gifts, so I want to celebrate Jesus” (Lecrae).

“Every day is a gift from God. Learn to focus on the Giver and enjoy the gift!” (Joyce Meyer).

Giving isn’t just a duty; it’s a privilege!

The greatest joy in life is finding God’s love and sharing it with others!

Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you” (Good News Translation of the Bible).

First Bouquet of Spring

In fall we plant bulbs;
In spring God gives us bouquets
That say, “I love you!”

My youngest son and I had a standing game for many years: Who could find the first crocuses each spring? (They are the first flowers to bloom around our home.) Although we’ve planted many crocuses over the years, between the ground squirrels, deer, and construction projects, I take each blossom as a treasured gift, recognizing that I can plant and wish, but only God can take dry, brown bulbs, nurture them into life, and allow them to grow safely into a riot of color and beauty! What a gift we enjoy in the resurrection of life—without, and within!

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
(1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

I Believe in Miracles
(—John W. Peterson)

“Creation shows the power of God,
There’s glory all around,
And those who see must stand in awe,
For miracles abound.

Chorus:

“I believe in miracles, I’ve seen a soul set free,
Miraculous the change in one redeemed through Calvary;
I’ve seen the lily push its way up through the stubborn sod;
I believe in miracles, for I believe in God!

“I cannot doubt the work of God,
There’s glory all around,
And those who see must stand in awe,
For miracles abound.

“The love of God! O pow’r divine!
‘Tis wonderful to see
The miracles that He has wrought
Should lead to Calvary.”

Savory Green Bean Casserole with Mushrooms and Onions

Do you have a system for storing favored recipes? I have a loose-leaf notebook, but my mother had a recipe box with 3X5″ cards, which I inherited. The last time my oldest son was home, he was interested in enjoying a couple of her specialties remembered from childhood. One of our mutual favorites was a casserole made with french-style green beans, mushrooms and crispy onion rings on top. I altered it slightly, to include fresh mushrooms (rather than mushroom soup) and onion straws, but otherwise, this is an authentic throw back to days of yore.

Green Bean Casserole with Mushrooms and Onions
(Serves 12)

1. Start preheating the oven to 350°F.2. In a shaker or other means of mixing well, blend:
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
(I also inherited my mom’s copper shaker, which has outlasted and worked better than the Tupperware shaker I bought as a newly wed!)3. In a skillet, sauté:
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped or sliced
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

4. When the veggies are browned and tender, add:
The flour and milk mixture
1 tablespoon garlic  5. Heat until the flour mixture becomes a gravy, then add:
16 oz. frozen, french-style green beans
1/2 cup french-fried onion straws

6. Heat until everything is hot.
7. Pour into a 8X10″ baking dish.
8. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes at 350° F.
9. Remove cover and top with 1 cup french-fried onion straws.
10. Bake about 10 more minutes until the straws are a crispy golden. 11. Serve piping hot, hopefully having timed it to finish when you’re ready to serve dinner. I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Psalm 18:1-2).