Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend 2010

Allan Pinkerton of the secret service, President Lincoln, and Major General John McClernand, 1862

Abraham Lincoln
The Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

God Bless our Troops and God Bless America.

I am thankful to be an American today and always,

Friday, May 28, 2010

Garlic Roasted Green Beans with Shallots and Hazelnuts

Summer officially arrives this weekend. This is one of my favorite side dishes to serve at dinner parties on the patio. The original recipe belongs to Bobby Flay, the great master griller. You can be sure this one is absolutely a winner!

Garlic Roasted Green Beans with Shallots and Hazelnuts

What you will need:

1 pound green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss the green beans in a large baking dish with the oil and shallots and season with salt and pepper. Roast until just cooked through and golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes. Combine the hazelnuts, zest, and parsley in a small bowl. Transfer green beans to a platter and sprinkle with the hazelnut mixture.

Note from Michelle: If you don't have hazelnuts on hand, use slivered almonds instead.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stop and Smell the Roses

Well, yesterday started as another Tuesday Morning and ended as a Wonderful Wednesday. An impromptu get together with two of my sisters-in-love and their kiddos made for an all around great day. I forced myself to come inside around 10 o'clock last night. I didn't get a single thing done I had planned on doing and, you know what, it was great. I love it when fun stuff pushes away the mundane!

This morning we headed out for a family hike along the beautiful towpath. I decided I would try and capture every single wild flower I walked by. I am not going to take the time to look-up all of their names in my handy wildflower book, but it's easy to use one's imagination.

Here's to another stunningly beautiful day...enjoy the flowers!

This is how the trail begins...

You could smell the rushing water in the air

This was a strange sight...perhaps some kind of fungus

These little flowers are the size of a pencil eraser

It took several photos before I captured this little butterfly with open wings

Wild could smell their fragrance all along the trail

Stop and smell the roses today,

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Morning

The view from my chair this morning

Snow Mound Spirea...I love this beautiful flower that looks like thousands of stars

White Rhododendrons with a gorgeous hint of yellow and fuchsia

I thought I'd share with you how my day started early this morning. I suspected it might be this way last night and warned Mr. Wonderful to be ready first thing.

Well, this morning we shared our first cups of coffee together outside on the patio. It's been too long in coming, that's for sure. But the weather just hasn't cooperated until now. So we found ourselves lingering over our cups of coffee, listening to all the birds greet the morning. A beautiful Baltimore Oriole was checking out a basket of flowers I have hanging near the woods (and he's been back several times since this morning). You can't see it, but there's a water feature made out of big river rocks just left of the stairs. The trickling water makes everything so peaceful.

Oh, it's such a great way to start the morning. I wish it could be this way every day. I love the quietness we get to share together as we sit in our chairs, rocking and sipping, and talking, and rocking and sipping. The sun finally peeks through the canopy of the tall shaggy bark hickory trees mingled between maple and beech trees. It's all so beautiful. I found myself wanting to stay in that spot forever.

Alas, the laundry was calling to be collected and I still had a flat of flowers to finish planting sometime later in the day. Even still, we enjoyed the beauty of a new morning together.

Psalm 5
For the director of music. For flutes. A psalm of David.

1 Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.

2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.

4 You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.

5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.

6 You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

7 But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.

8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies—make straight your way before me.

9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.

10 Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.

11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

12 For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Hoping Wednesday will be another Tuesday morning,

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Screwtape Letters (Product Review)

C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters
Focus on the Family Radio Theatre
Collector’s Edition

Our family is bringing our school year to a close by reading and listening to The Screwtape Letters. One word used on the cover of the packaging says, “Diabolical.” And buddy they aren’t kidding. Get ready to hear the voice of Andy Serkis (Gollum of “The Lord of the Rings” as Screwtape) as it drips pure evil. His cackling laugh and sarcastic thoughts and accusations against The Enemy are enough to send chills down your spine. After all, he is an accomplished demon serving His Father Below.

Here’s an excerpt from the Classified Materials:

While C.S. Lewis was writing “The Screwtape Letters”, he read them out loud to some of his friends. This group of writers and thinkers, which included J.R.R. Tolkien, was informally known as The Inklings. They greatly admired the “Letters,” so Lewis published them in weekly installments in “The Guardian” newspaper during the dark days of World War II. In 1942, the “Letters” were published in book form in England—dedicated to Tolkien. The following year, the book appeared in America to great acclaim, and Lewis appeared on the front cover of “Time” magazine in September 1947. The book has remained in print ever since.

Sixty-three years ago Lewis appeared on the front cover of “Time” magazine? Imagine what an oddity that would be today! Nevertheless, it is an important piece of literature which, I think, speaks even louder to a generation of Christians who find themselves living in a hostile world. Loud voices are everywhere we turn. In the Letters, we find it’s the whispering voices in the recesses of our minds we need to fear.

I wonder what Mr. Lewis would think if he could hear the dramatization of his Letters. I imagine his glasses would be pulled down on the bridge of his nose, and his famous cigar would be perched between his fingers. I think he would smile and then laugh and then say, “Exactly!”

The Preface of The Screwtape Letters begins like this:

I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is the disbelief in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them….

Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle. …There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on Earth.

Screwtape, that worldly-wise old devil, gives ageless advice to his nephew, Wormwood, a young, inexperienced demon, who is charged with securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. Do you know any ordinary young men or women? The likes of Wormwood are not too far off from them.

This full-cast dramatization of The Screwtape Letters is a masterpiece which draws in its listeners from the very moment the first letter begins. One can easily imagine smoke curling from the nostrils of Screwtape. The background sounds mixed in with the words of the Letter bring flat pages in a classic book to life. Be prepared to feel the heat!

I highly recommend this audio dramatization which also includes a bonus DVD of behind-the-scenes video featurettes as well as 5.1 surround sound mix of the entire program. The recommended age is 12+. I absolutely agree. This certainly isn’t for the younger crowd.

Lunch anyone?

P.S. You have just read the mock product review I submitted for consideration to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. I found out on Friday I was selected and am now officially a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew for 2010-2011. Starting in July, I will begin writing and posting product reviews 3 to 4 times a month. This should be an exciting adventure!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Those Potatoes

I came across a recipe a number of years ago while looking through the pages of a magazine. The recipe itself came as an advertisement for Grey Poupon mustard. I didn't write down the recipe, but got the general idea and have been making it ever since.

This is a family favorite and they always work well with a party on the patio! I've never given this recipe a name, but whenever they're requested it's usually, "Can we have 'those potatoes'?"

Those Potatoes

What you will need:

1 1/2 pounds small red skinned potatoes
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 tablespoons Grey Poupon Country Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees*

Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and mustard; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Dump the potatoes on a baking sheet* and spread out into 1 layer; roast in the oven for at least 1 hour, or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking to ensure even browning.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and serve immediately.

Note from Michelle: *When the oven is turned on, place an ungreased baking sheet in the lower rack until the oven comes to temperature; when the potatoes are ready to be baked, carefully remove the baking sheet and quickly pour the potatoes onto the hot surface. This little preheating of the baking sheet will keep the potatoes from sticking and make clean-up much easier.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

God's Magnifying Glass

Raindrops are...

...God's Magnifying Glass

We are busy getting ready for Rachel's birthday party tomorrow. We usually have her party later in May with hopes of warm weather. It has warmed-up and the sun finally came out yesterday. It's still shining today and we are all very happy about that.

I took these pictures yesterday before the sun came out. Isn't it amazing how each individual raindrop holds on to its assigned position? Each one disappears in due time. It made me think of this saying by Longfellow:

Be still sad heart and cease repining;
Behind the clouds the sun is shining,
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life a little rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary

And then I couldn't help but notice how those raindrops magnify the veins on the leaves and the peony bud. Aren't they just beautiful?

God sometimes uses raindrops in our own lives to magnify Himself.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Importance of Guarding Statues and Toilets

Scary, huh?

So it was a month ago today I posted Weeds and Yours Truly. I thought of this story just the other day and thought it would make a good follow-up.

After I left the law firm I went to work for a company that sold computers. That's a story that will have to wait for another time. But, while working for this company I decided I wanted to make some extra money. I have no recollection how this particular "opportunity" came along, but it did and I took it. Honestly, it's laughable. Are you sitting down? Well, I suppose you are. I was a security guard for the summer. Yes, a security guard.

I remember going for security guard training. I think it involved standing up straight and having a serious look on your face. I did get to carry a weapon though. My weapon of choice (the only weapon I was allowed) was a billy club. Mmm hmm. Yep. And I had this stunning burgundy polyester security guard outfit that included shiny black shoes. At least I had one thing going for me back then...I was 5' 9" and weighed about 115 pounds (that, my friends, will never happen again even in my wildest dreams!).

My job that summer as a security guard was policing a very popular music center that has a very famous outdoor amphitheatre. Did I guard the backstage? No. Did I guard the famous musicians? No. Did I guard the ticket centers where all the money was collected? Nope. My friends, I guarded a statue. Yes, you read that right. A statue. In addition, I also stood guard outside the toilets. And it was while guarding the toilets this little incident took place.

I have always been one to follow directions, so you can be sure I was guarding my post with great posture and a serious look on my face. Out of nowhere comes this huge, and I mean huge, black man. Huge as in tall and huge as in he might have given Goliath a run for his money. He comes right up beside me and bends over to sort of whisper in my ear. "So tell me, just what would you do if I decided to do something?" Without so much as skipping a beat I answered, "Run!" Well, he laughed and laughed and I laughed and laughed right along with him. (I know, I broke company protocol). But it was hysterical! I mean, really. What on earth would I do? Besides pass out.

I had lots of fun that summer. I made a little extra money. I saw lots of great concerts. I saw lots of interesting people. And I got to guard a statue and a few toilets. How cool is that?!

Your coolness,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Cup of Tea

Michelle and Rachel at the Ladies Spring Tea

This gorgeous May pole greeted everyone upon arrival

Is there anything better than strawberries dipped in chocolate?

Beautifully presented tea sandwiches

Scones and assorted pastries

Rachel and I invited Mrs. Nagy to join us at the Ladies Spring Tea hosted by our church this past weekend. When I walked into the room and saw the May pole with all the pastel satin ribbons reaching to the far ends of the room, it took my breath away. It was simply stunning! Needless to say, the food was incredible and the presentation of every little detail was quite amazing. I heard someone talking in the Ladies Room that it took over five hours just to assemble the tea sandwiches. What a labor of love!

The theme of this year's tea was Legacy of Love. The scripture that brought everything together was:

One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
Psalm 145:4

A panel of women comprised of grandmothers, mothers, and daughters answered questions about how they were living out their faith as a family and what Psalm 145:4 meant to them. I realized I was sitting with a woman whose great faith had been given to her at her mother's knee while they lived in a concentration camp. Mrs. Nagy passed on her faith to all three of her children and now, they are passing their faith onto their children. God's faithfulness down through the generations is an amazing thing to me.

I have come to realize that a person's background doesn't matter. No matter how deep the pit, no matter how dreadful the mud and mire, His arm is long enough to reach you. There is no one, no one that is beyond the reach of God's love. I know. I am a living testimony to His grace and mercy. Listen...the first generation of commending works to another may very well start with you.

Who knows--leaving a legacy of love may very well involve conversations over a cup of tea.

Giving thanks to my Jesus today,

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Cup of Bee

These bloomed on Saturday while the sun was shining

I went to cut a bouquet and found a little surprise!

A cup of bee...isn't he just bee-autiful!

I can't say I've ever been a bee lover. I was the one that would swat bees away whenever they flew near me. I wasn't terrified of bees, but I didn't like them invading my space. That is, until Mrs. Nagy's brother, Adam, invited us to his carriage house several years ago.

I remember getting out of my car with Caleb and Rachel and seeing the sign that said, "Warning! Danger! Bee Hives on Premises!" OK. That scared me right there. Actually, as we walked closer I could see them everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The entire front of the property was planted with bee balm and every kind of beautiful flower you could imagine. But there were bees everywhere. Adam assured me everything was fine and just to, "Come on back!" The closer I walked to the hives, the harder my heart was pounding. Everything in me just said to stop and go back. Protect your children. Protect your children. Protect your children. Thankfully, I didn't listen to that inner voice that knew nothing about honeybees.

The kids and I learned many lessons about bees that day and I've been in love with honeybees ever since. They are an incredible work of the Master's hand.

Adam has a trickling water fountain on his front porch where the bees come and get a drink. He told us the story about the day he was sitting on the front porch watching the bees flying over to the water fountain to get a drink. Suddenly, one of the little guys lost his footing and fell into the water. He said he watched as several bees tried to help rescue the drowning bee. And they succeeded in their rescue!

We donned bee suits. We watched worker bees manning the entrance to the hives as they looked out for predators. We watched sick bees being carried out of the hive. We watched nectar laden bees fly in to drop off their loads. We smoked the hives. We opened the hives to give them food for the winter. We have harvested honey. We have nibbled on fresh honeycomb. We did just about everything you could do except experience a bee sting! It was an amazing experience for our family.

A couple of years ago Adam gave me several lavender plants. I have them planted in the front landscaping. Oh, my! You should see the honeybees once the lavender is in bloom. I love watching them!

So imagine my surprise when I headed out Saturday afternoon to pick a bouquet of peonies. With scissors in hand, I stooped to cut my first flower. Then I heard a familiar buzzing and saw movement inside the bloom. A precious little honeybee was loading up on nectar. The pockets on his back legs were bulging with yellow gold. I looked in every single peony bloom and found, in most cases, two to three honeybees collecting nectar. It was the coolest sight!

Instead of cutting a bouquet of my favorite flowers, I decided it would be best to leave them for the honeybees.

Be a friend to a bee today!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Strawberry-Mint Iced Tea

Doesn't this make your mouth water?

A number of years ago I joined a number of other ladies and scrap booked a recipe book. I created a spread of pages called "Summer Tea Party." Strawberry-Mint Iced Tea is on the cover page. It's a wonderful recipe passed on to me by my dear friend, April. I have made this yummy tea many, many times, and every time I do, I always think of her.

Strawberry-Mint Iced Tea

What you will need:

6 cups water
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
8 fresh mint leaves
7 tablespoons sugar
4 bags Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea

In a medium sauce pan, bring water to a boil. Add 3/4 pint strawberries and mint. Simmer approximately 6 minutes or until water becomes light red in color.

Add sugar and tea bags. Simmer 1 minute.

Remove sauce pan from heat and allow tea bags to steep 3 to 4 minutes.

Strain mixture through a fine sieve and mash strawberries to extract more juice.

Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pour over ice. Garnish with remaining sliced strawberries. Makes 6 servings.

Michelle's advice: Double this recipe. I can almost guarantee you the pitcher will be empty in three seconds flat!

By the way, the other recipes that go with my Summer Tea Party are:

Best Ever Chicken Salad Croissants (my concoction that, I must say, is fabulous!)

Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Mustard Dressing (yes, homemade bacon dressing)

Lemon Crumb Muffins (from a quaint little gourmet cafe we visit at Christmastime)

Banana Cream Supreme (my altered version of a Pampered Chef recipe)

If you'd like the recipes, let me know. I'd be happy to post them!

As always, enjoy!

P.S. We are a little sad today. We have been watching a mama and papa Robin that built a nest in our climbing hydrangea. All four eggs hatched on Monday and Tuesday. We took a picture of them on Wednesday. This morning, they were gone. The perfectly hidden nest is in tact. Several crows were in the woods the past two days. We did our best to scare them off, but I guess we can't police the nest around the clock. Poor robins--this is the second year in a row.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Suddenly Walking Slowly

"It will cost something to walk slow in the parade of the ages, while excited men of time rush about confusing motion with progress. But it will pay in the long run and the true Christian is not much interested in anything short of that."

June 3, 1950
A.W. Tozer

"Suddenness is often used as wrapping paper for God's sovereignty."

May 9, 2010
John Shearer

Pondering today,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Winds, Water, Rain and Thunderstorms

When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,

when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,

then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.

And he said to the human race,
"The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding."
Job 28:25-28 (NIV)

As a little girl who grew-up in the country, my father always took us kids outside onto the front porch whenever a storm was coming. We felt safe with him sitting there for we knew he would never put us in harm's way. And so I have never been afraid of clapping thunder and I've always loved to see lightning streak across the skies.

When we built our home, we didn't realize we were positioned at the highest point of the county and in the middle of what the locals call the cauldron. It didn't take long before we found ourselves quite shocked by the severe weather that would appear out of nowhere. The first time it happened, Caleb was about four and Rachel was two. We saw that a storm was coming in, so hoping to pass along those fond childhood memories, we grabbed a couple of chairs, gave everyone a Popsicle, placed the kids on our laps, and waited for the storm.

A new home was about to be built across the street from us (maybe 500 feet away). The basement was dug and a huge mound of dirt sat on the backside of the property. It was not raining yet. It was not lightning. The wind was not blowing. We were just minding our business and watching the sky, enjoying our Popsicles. That quickly came to an end when dirt started flying out of the basement. In an instant, we heard trees snapping. Yes, that quickly. We grabbed the kids and ran to our basement for safety. When all was said and done, we had six big trees down, our neighbors had trees on their houses, and the little village where we live looked like it had been ripped to shreds. All of this damage was from wind shear--a tornado that doesn't touch down.

This has happened to us at least three more times over the 14 years we've lived here. The front of our property used to be heavily wooded. Today, there's just a handful of trees. At least we've got lots of great firewood!

I've gone from being a storm lover with many fond memories to a storm loather. My poor Rachel is terrified of storms. This girl has seen far too many twisted trees.

We have had two tornado warnings in the past four days. Last Friday night as we were coming home from our pizza party and game night, we were driving in a storm, but it seemed most of the heavy stuff was north of where we were. We continued driving west when all of a sudden the Emergency Broadcasting System came on the radio. We've heard this many times, however, this wasn't just a test. Well, it appeared as though the very place we were heading (aka home) had perfect conditions for a tornado. We took the next exit and sought shelter at my dear brother and sister-in-love's house. We waited until all the warnings had expired, then drove home. Thankfully, there was no tornado and there was no wind damage.

This brings us to last night. We were just minding our business, when the phone rang. My sister-in-love called to tell us that she heard our little village was once again under a tornado warning. We quickly turned on the television and, sure enough, a big cell was moving our way.

I have to say, I just couldn't believe it. My heart started pounding. I could see the look on Rachel's face. However, Mr. Wonderful was convinced it wasn't coming our way (which I did not believe because Mr. Weatherman, who has a degree in meteorology, said it was) and, Caleb, well, I think he enjoys watching how each one of us reacts so differently. He's calm, cool, and collected.

We've taken refuge in our basement too many times over the years. We have a flashlight ready and a little corner where we huddle together. Every single time...every single time, we pray together as a family and ask for God's protection--not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors, and others who might be in the path of the wicked weather.

Last night, we kept watch as this huge spinning cell headed straight for us. And then, it just disappeared into thin air. Even Mr. Weatherman commented, "Look at that! It's gone. I think it's gone!"

You do know how to spell "coincidence" don't you?


Winds, water, rain, and thunderstorms are all controlled by the hand of the Creator.

Resting in His hands,