In the Beginning, God.

Our family enjoys homemade foods and prepares them as much as possible. We like growing our own organic vegetables and fruits, picking wild berries, and preserving canned and frozen foods for later use. We feel blessed to have our own little garden paradise. A while back, I became interested in making homemade apple cider. We started out by purchasing a small tabletop fruit press. It worked well, but was good for just making small amounts at a time. It became obvious that we needed a bigger press to handle the amount of cider we wanted to process. Fortunately, my husband is somewhat of a “jack of all trades.” He often jokingly adds “and master of none,” but that’s what a man of humility says. Anyway, plans were found online to build a larger fruit press and the wood, tools, and metal parts were purchased. After a lot of hard work and time on Scott’s part, we ended up with a masterpiece! The result was a beautiful homemade fruit press which we now use in the fall to prepare fresh apple cider!

In the biblical account of creation, the Garden of Eden is first mentioned in Genesis 2:8. In the verses prior, we read of the creation of the heavens and earth, light, plants, animals and man. God Himself planted a garden paradise; it was perfect, unlike the lovely, but imperfect garden growing in our yard. In His garden, God caused to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).

God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). It was there in the Garden of Eden where God created woman out of one of the ribs of Adam. Sadly, in this beautiful garden which God marvelously created, man (and woman) failed. Creation became marred by sin. Through the freewill given to man by God, the choice to sin was made. With that choice came consequences – consequences which would forever affect all of mankind.

HOPE NUGGET: 
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…..For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ [Romans 5: 12, 17].

The Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Its taste is described as a cross between a banana and a mango. Even though the pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to the United States and can be found growing in the wild in 26 states, not many people have heard of or tasted a pawpaw. Last weekend at Lake Snowden in Albany Ohio, I attended the 21st Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival with my husband and son. After several years of talking about making the 3 1/2-hour drive west, we finally coordinated our schedules and made plans to attend the first of the three-day event.

The festival far surpassed our expectations. Chris Chmiel, founder of Integration Acres, gave an informative pawpaw presentation and led a walkabout in which he helped us to identify pawpaw trees in the wild. We learned the proper way of opening and eating the creamy custard-like sweet fruit. We learned that pawpaws are very nutritious and high in Vitamin C. Did you know that George Washington’s favorite dessert was chilled pawpaw?

Many activities and booths were available at the festival and there’s something for everyone. There was the Pawpaw Cook-off, the Pawpaw Eating Contest, sustainable living workshops, music, booths of all sorts – food, crafts, art, history, education, lots of activities for the kids and even a talk about Bigfoot sightings! In addition to fresh pawpaw fruit, we enjoyed eating pawpaw ice cream, pawpaw bread and pawpaw chicken adobo. With so many food booth choices, we didn’t get the chance to try pawpaw cotton candy, pawpaw cookies, pawpaw funnel cake, pawpaw burritos or pawpaw waffle-on-a-stick! Maybe next year!   https://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/index.html

If you would like to learn more about pawpaws, the book “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit” by Andrew Moore is highly recommended by my husband. A portion of the book’s description reads: “As much as Pawpawis a compendium of pawpaw knowledge, it also plumbs deeper questions about American foodways―how economic, biologic, and cultural forces combine, leading us to eat what we eat, and sometimes to ignore the incredible, delicious food growing all around us. If you haven’t yet eaten a pawpaw, this book won’t let you rest until you do.”

Until last weekend’s festival, I had no idea that I was missing out on a delicious and healthy fruit! Because of that trip, we now have 2 pawpaw trees planted and growing in our back yard. We’re looking forward to the day when they bear fruit. My introduction to pawpaws reminded me of a time, decades ago, when I was introduced to Christ and made the decision to follow Him and to walk in His ways. If I wouldn’t have been willing to “taste and see” by putting my hope and trust in Him, I would have never fully realized His goodness. How about you? Are you willing to taste and see that He is good?

HOPE NUGGET: Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! [Psalm 34:8]

Camouflaged (2)

Camouflage is an adaptation that is used as a survival technique in the animal kingdom. It is a way for animals and even for humans to blend in with their environment. When my husband served in the Army during Desert Shield / Desert Storm, he was provided with desert camouflage uniforms known as the Six-Color Desert Pattern or sometimes referred to as Chocolate Chip Camouflage. The purpose of wearing the pattern of light tan, pale green and two-tone brown with black and white spots was to blend in with the desert sands of Saudi Arabia. The black and white spots were designed to mimic the appearance of pebbles and their shadows. Wearing a uniform of those desert colors was a way of being undetected by the enemy which helped to provide safety for the service members.

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (June 1991)

Through some research, I found that animal camouflage is also referred to as cryptic coloration. Small animals such as lizards, snakes, insects and frogs blend in with their environment by using this unique adaptation to avoid becoming prey. These animals are often the same color as the leaves or twigs around them and some of the insects are even able to look like the twigs or leaves. They use camouflage to mask their location, identity and movement. One of the most beautiful and interesting animals to use camouflage is the Eastern Screech Owl. This little owl has the ability to hide in plain sight in tree holes with its feathers camouflaged to match tree bark. The camouflage is used as a means to protect its home and to capture unsuspecting prey which venture close.

Eastern Screech Owl

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the command of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to Christians to let their lights shine before the world. I wrote about the green bean patch in our garden and about how the green beans were so well hidden in the bushes. I wrote about how sin causes us to blend in with the world rather than standing out and being separate as representatives of Christ. Since that last blog post, I returned to our garden to gather more beans from our little patch. This time while picking, a few beans fell from the plants to the ground below, becoming lost beneath the thick bushes. It made me think of the dangers of blending in, of having the idea that no harm will come by having partnership with the world. It’s a frightening thought…lostness. Yet, by looking at the lifestyles of many who proclaim Christ, it appears that the possibility of lostness does not occur to some. It seems that they believe they can look and act just like the world without detrimental consequences. It is really a very dangerous place to be. Christians are certainly in the world, but by no means are meant to be of the world. Instead of adding more and more layers of camouflage, why not be obedient to God and clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ? It is in Him where safety is found.

HOPE NUGGETS:

*I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness [Isaiah 61:10a]

*Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  [1 John 2:15-17]

Camouflaged

Gardening season in southwestern Pennsylvania has reached harvest time. The row of green bean plants in our garden has grown very big and bushy. Gathering beans from those plants is a challenge. It requires squatting or being down on knees, trying to separate and lift the tangled bushes and stems from each other enough to spot the elusive green beans underneath. It’s not as easy as one might think! I don’t know if the picture below gives a good perspective, but the beans are hidden very well amidst those bushy plants. One would never know that quarts of green beans were hanging in there if just walking by that row of green plants without intentionally looking or investigating more closely.

As I picked those beans a few evenings ago, I wondered if that’s what the church looks like to the world. Are we camouflaged so well that we blend in with the world? Are we hidden so well that others need to go to a lot of effort to find us? Or, do we stand out to others, letting our lights shine before them that they see our good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven? [Matthew 5: 16]  If our lights aren’t shining…why not? Perhaps it’s that ugly three-letter word: Sin. Maybe we blend in so well because we look just like everyone else. Maybe it’s because we act like those who aren’t followers of Christ. Our actions cause us to be indistinguishable from the rest of the world. We are lustful, gluttonous and greedy. We are lazy, envious and prideful. 

We neglect to attend or serve in the church, but in its place are sure to find time for pleasure and recreation. Are Sundays set aside to gather with the church to worship God or are Christians instead involved with other seemingly more important activities on that day? Does the way we go about life look like it does for everyone else? Are Christians avoiding sin and offering ourselves as living sacrifices to the Savior of our souls? Are our lights shining brightly enough that we can be easily seen by those who are in need of salvation? Do our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family have the impression that God is the priority of our lives? Do they see by our words and actions that we live to please Him?

Maybe if those green beans were neon or yellow or any other color besides green, they would be much easier to locate. Maybe they would then be easier to identify as the bean and not mistaken for the stem or leaf of the plant. Maybe if Christians would walk and talk more like Jesus, they would be more easily identified by others as belonging to the kingdom of God. Maybe then they would be making a greater impact on this world rather than spending so much time wringing their hands over the direction that the world is going. Just maybe.

HOPE NUGGET:  Spoken by Jesus:   I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  [John 17: 14-16]

Preparation: Soup and Souls

Green beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes. Last week, I gathered them all from our vegetable garden. For years, my husband and I have processed foods to be used throughout the year after gardening season is over. It’s a hobby that requires a great deal of work, but one that we both enjoy. The benefit for us is having healthy, organic homegrown food on our table, not only during the summer months when the vegetables are fresh out of the garden, but year round. There’s nothing like sitting down to the comfort of a steaming bowl of vegetable soup on a chilly fall or cold winter evening.

The vegetable soup recipe that I used was from: https://www.freshpreserving.com/homemade-vegetable-soup—pressure-canning—ball-recipes-br1067.html.  The only change I made was to use green beans instead of limas. TIP: Be sure to allow a 1-inch headspace in each jar!

There’s no way around it; anything important enough and worth having takes work and maintenance. Whether it be relationships, a marriage, a home, vehicles, belongings. They all require time and attention and care. The same is true for the church. If the church is to grow and is to be healthy, it won’t happen without work. Sitting comfortably on our back porch with glasses of iced tea in hand and looking across the yard at our garden in June and July and August without setting foot in the garden would have resulted in a different outcome than the one we have. The weeds would have grown and would have blocked our view of the lovely vegetable plants. Weeds are ugly and unsightly; they are also very destructive. They would have choked out the vegetable plants and taken over the garden.

The Parable of the Sower [Mark 4: 1-7]:

Again he [Jesus] began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.”

Before planting could even begin in our garden, preparatory work was necessary. The rototiller was put to use. Rocks were removed. Stakes with strings were placed to create straight and even rows. The hoe and shovel came out. The holes were dug, the seeds were sown and plants were placed in the ground and then fertilized and watered. Over the days and weeks and months that followed, having a good quality garden required continued watering, thinning out, pruning, staking and tying back, mulching and weeding. It wasn’t until all of those steps were completed that a successful harvest came. A willingness and commitment and sacrifice of hard work, time, patience, and a hope that the weather (out of our control) would cooperate.

If the church is to grow, the same kind of hard work and nurturing and maintenance is necessary. Prayer is foundational to the success of the church and every person and every plan must be bathed in prayer. We must have leadership willing to initiate and develop a plan, to organize, and to set it in motion. We must have dedicated workers to fill all of the needed roles and to accomplish all of the necessary tasks. There must be enthusiasm and excitement and interest which starts at the top of the leadership and spreads it’s way through the congregation. If the church is to grow, we cannot just “sit comfortably on our porch with our iced teas in hand,” without putting our hands and feet to use. We must join together as a team and be sold out to accomplishing the work of The Master.

HOPE NUGGET:

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [Mark 4: 8-9]

A Day of Refreshment

At the end of each busy and tiring week, most of us look forward to the weekend for some time of recouping and relaxing. Sundays became important to our family from early on in marriage. We decided to set aside Sunday mornings for attending worship service with fellow Christians, and as much as possible to avoid work and keep Sunday as a day of rest. Even though Sunday is considered to be the final day of the weekend in American culture, it is also shown on the calendar to be the first day of the week. Over the years, we’ve experienced the benefits of following through with our commitment to worship service and rest on Sundays and have enjoyed those days as special times of refreshment for starting a new week.

This afternoon I made chocolate ice cream for the first time and we enjoyed it together with special friends who were visiting. What a wonderful visit and a refreshing and yummy treat! A few months ago, I purchased a Pampered Chef Ice Cream Maker and over the summer have put it to use numerous times by making different flavors of ice cream. I’m not a Pampered Chef sales consultant…but I do like their products and highly recommend the Ice Cream Maker! Below, I’ll share the ice cream recipes that I’ve used which are now tried-and-true. Maybe some of you will enjoy them too!

Chocolate Ice Cream in the making!

VANILLA ICE CREAM

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the bowl of the ice cream maker into the freezer on the coldest setting for at least 24 hours.
  2. Combine ingredients and whisk for 1 minute, or until the sugar is dissolved. Place bowl in refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until mixture reaches 45F (7C). 
  3. Remove the bowl from the freezer and attach the assembled clear lid to the bowl.
  4. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Once the paddle starts rotating, pour the cream mixture into the bowl.
  5. When the Ice Cream Maker stops turning, check for doneness. The mixture should be a soft-serve consistency. If needed, add more time until desired consistency is reached.

CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

Follow directions for vanilla ice cream and add 1/2 cup of chocolate syrup to the mixture. Set the Ice Cream Maker timer for 25 to 30 minutes.

STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the bowl of the Ice Cream Maker into the freezer on the coldest setting for at least 24 hours. 
  2. Coarsely chop the strawberries and combine with ½ cup of the sugar. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. Pour the strawberries into a small colander and use a large spoon or spatula to press out as much liquid as possible. Add the strawberries to the cream mixture and stir to combine.
  5. Remove the Ice Cream Maker bowl from the freezer and attach the assembled clear lid to the bowl.
  6. Set the timer for 30 minutes. Once the paddle starts rotating, pour the mixture into the bowl.
  7. When the Ice Cream Maker stops turning, check the doneness. The mixture should be a soft-serve consistency. If needed, add more time until desired consistency is reached.

BLUEBERRY ICE CREAM

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • ¾ cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup whole milk

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the bowl of the Ice Cream Maker into the freezer on the coldest setting for at least 24 hours.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, ½ cup of the sugar, and the water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and chill the mixture for 2 hours.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the remaining sugar, cream, buttermilk, and milk. Whisk for 1 minute, or until the sugar is dissolved. Place the mixture into the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until the mixture reaches 45°F (7°C).
  4. Add the blueberry mixture to the cream mixture and whisk to combine. Remove the bowl of the Ice Cream Maker from the freezer and attach the assembled clear lid to the bowl. Set the timer for 25 minutes. Once the paddle starts rotating, pour the mixture into the bowl.
  5. When the Ice Cream Maker stops turning, check the doneness. The mixture should be a soft-serve consistency. If needed, add more time until the desired consistency is reached.

FROZEN CUSTARD

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3  egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the bowl of the Ice Cream Maker into the freezer on the coldest setting for at least 24 hours. 
  2. Combine the cream, milk, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly add 1 cup of the hot cream into the egg yolks to temper the eggs. Slowly add the egg mixture back into the hot cream. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and reaches 165°F (75°C).
  4. Remove the pan from the heat, add the vanilla, and pour the mixture into a clean bowl. Cover the bowl and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or until it reaches 45°F (7°C).
  5. Remove the Ice Cream Maker bowl from the freezer and attach the assembled clear lid to the bowl.
  6. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Once the paddle starts rotating, pour the mixture into the bowl.
  7. When the Ice Cream Maker stops turning, check the doneness. The mixture should be a soft-serve consistency. If needed, add more time until desired consistency is reached.

HOPE NUGGET:  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Stirring up a Hornet’s Nest

My first time picking blackberries with my granddaughters ended with an experience that I’ll never forget. The sun was bright in the hot afternoon last Saturday here in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were prepared with our supply of sunscreen, water bottles, bicycles, wagon and berry buckets and headed out onto the trail. 

We had previously scouted out some good patches of berries near one of the trail’s access points which we knew would be easy to reach while pulling the wagon with little girls. With plans to host a family birthday party picnic the next day, our goal was to pick 3 quarts of berries which we’d use to prepare a special and refreshing fruit drink that our family enjoys. 

For each 12 ounce can of Sprite or 7UP, add 1/2 cup of blackberry mixture & ice

We arrived at our spot and stepped off the trail down into the weeds and brush where the berry bushes were growing. With 4 adults picking, it shouldn’t take long for us to gather the needed amount of berries. We had finished picking in the first patch and had moved on to the second. Fortunately, the girls had already tired by this point, so were back up on the bike trail with their mom and uncle and away from the berry bushes. Their dad (my son) and I were pushing on to finish gathering the remaining berries from this final patch of the day.

In order to reach the berries which are farther back on the bushes, it’s necessary to step blindly into the weeds and brush, not fully knowing what’s beneath. After years of berry picking, we’re used to dealing with sometimes difficult conditions and often come away with various bug bites and scratches from the sharp thorns. This time though would be different than usual. I took one step, then another, then another until I felt the first stinging pain on my elbow. I thought that it must have been one big mean fly to hurt so much and swatted at it while telling my son that I had just gotten bit.

Meanwhile, whatever had just bit me, was now buzzing and circling at my face and zooming in over and over. Before I knew it, there were more “flies,” which I would soon realize were hornets. They were swarming now and aggressively attacking, and as I was instinctively backing away from them and getting more stings, I heard the voice of my son telling me to get out of there and to start running. If it wasn’t for him being closeby and swatting the bees away from my back and legs and arms, I would have likely ended up with more stings than the five I received.

Just some interesting information about the differences (**steroids)

It was a pretty painful experience. One which I’d never had before that day. Three days later, I was still feeling the pain and effects of the stings. In the hours that followed, I thought of how sin operates in our lives. How we take one step in towards it, not realizing what’s below our feet or what’s ahead in the next move we make. How with each step forward, we gain confidence when nothing bad occurs. It seems safe enough. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the stings begin, one after the other, ferocious and painful, until we succumb to them or run from them, sometimes needing the hand of a friend to pull us away or to fight for us.

Years ago, while teaching a middle school Sunday School class, one of the kids shared a saying with me that I’ve never forgotten: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” The biblical definition for sin is: rebellion against God or transgression of the law of God. Sin hurts. It is painful. It has consequences, sometimes terrible consequences. Don’t stay in it. Run from it. As fast as you can. Turn to God in repentance. He is waiting for you.

HOPE NUGGET: O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off. Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long. But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes. But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me, who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! [Psalm 38]