Full Circle

A nearly full moon hangs low on the horizon, buttery yellow and hung with the shred of cobweb clouds. My footsteps stir the tang of fallen leaves. Woodsy, smoke-scented shouts of distant children drift on newly chill air. I lift the lid on a carved pumpkin and inexpertly light the candle inside. This watershed event is witnessed only by a passing ghoul who is clueless to the fact that this is the first year I’ve been deemed grown-up enough to do this job totally on my own. But the significance isn’t lost on me. I importantly monitor the flickering flame inside the jack-o-lantern and feel suddenly grown-up. I’m ten years old and responsible enough to use matches unsupervised to light a pumpkin I carved by myself with a real knife. In a few minutes I’ll even be going trick-or-treating with friends and not parents for the first time in my life. Euphoria fizzes through my body. I lose some of my elation by racing, skipping and dancing around our front yard, safe in its familiarity but exhilarated by its transformation to shadow, mist and moonlight. I am giddy on the rite-of-passage incense of scorched pumpkin.Twenty-five years later, a nearly full moon hangs low on the horizon on a Halloween evening. I’m in a different house now, in a different state. Being “big” isn’t quite as exciting as it once was. But the smells are the same. Earth, dew, leaf, smoke, flame. The scents of nostalgia. As usual, I am the self-appointed lighter-of-pumpkins. And this year my own children are old enough to be interested in my ritual. They crowd around: two medieval princesses and a knight in shining armor, jockeying for a good view. “Can I do the next one?” one of them asks eagerly. A chorus of, “Me, me, I want to do it!” ensues. I inform them they aren’t big enough yet. “Well, when will we be big enough?” one of my three-year-olds want to know.”Maybe when you’re ten,” I say, remembering. “That’s forever!” Rapunzel wails. I know otherwise, but I don’t argue. Instead, I divert the conversation. “Hey guys! Who’s ready to go trick-or-treating?!” As one, the three of them jump up and down shouting, “I am! I am!” If they were any more enthusiastic, they’d wriggle right out of their skins and shoot up into the sky like tiny bottle rockets. Instead they start racing around the yard after each other, not straying far from the safe pools of shadowy light cast by the lamppost and the jack-o-lanterns. In the thrall of their excitement, I feel suddenly un-grown-up, suddenly ten again. There is that same surge of euphoria, and I lose some of my elation by joining my children in their mad dance around the front yard.Pretty soon we’re shrieking, laughing, howling, cavorting in the mist and the moonlight. “Mommy! Look how big we are! We’re not even scared of the dark!” one of them shouts exultantly. How big indeed.And they, newly big, and I, newly little, dance on in the shadows of our common ground, intoxicated on the smell of scorched pumpkins.

Reprinted by permission of Karen C. Driscoll

Slow Cooker Chipotle Beef Burrito Bowls

  • PREP TIME:20 MINUTES
  • COOK TIME:6 HOURS
  • TOTAL TIME:6 HOURS 20 MINUTES
  • YIELD:6

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2.5lb beef chuck roast
  • 1 tbsp salt + more to taste
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 – 15oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 – 4oz can Diced green chilies
  • 1/3 cup Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 water
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 tbsp chipotle powder or chili powder
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • sliced bell peppers and onions, for serving
  • romaine lettuce, for serving
  • salsa, for serving
  • cauliflower rice, for serving
  • guacamole, for serving
  • limes, for serving
  • jalapeños, for serving (optional)
  • cilantro, for serving

Method

  1. Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, sprinkle a half tablespoon of salt on each side of the beef. When the pan is hot, add the coconut oil. Sear the beef for 7-8 minutes per side until it’s golden brown. Remove the meat from the skillet and place it in the slow cooker.
  2. Lower the skillet heat and then add the apple cider vinegar to deglaze. Next, add the onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook 3-4 minutes and then pour over the beef.
  3. Add all of the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook on high for 5-6 hours until the beef is tender and easily shreds with two forks.
  4. Make the fajita veggies by sautéing sliced bell peppers and onions in a skillet over high heat. Finish the veggies with a little salt and fresh lime juice.
  5. Assemble your burrito bowls. Start with romaine lettuce and then top with salsa, guacamole, cauliflower rice, fajita veggies, and the shredded beef. Serve with fresh limes and lots of cilantro.

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN James Colasanti, Jr.

I can still remember my 80-year old mother working at the Kitchen table the day after my father passed away. That fragile, diminutive lady sat in her chair crocheting a Scarf. Time and devotion had made this her domain. She had lived in This very same house for most of her adult life. Because she was Hearing-impaired, she didn’t look up from her work when I entered the Room. However, I could tell that it was here that she had found Peace with the world. In retrospect, it wasn’t our old rooster that woke me early Sunday mornings, even though he contributed loudly to the harmonics Of the dawn. It was the pungent aroma of the garlic and oregano from The smorgasbord unfolding in my aging mother’s kitchen. The smells wafted up the steep staircase to my bedroom. Their Essences then crawled under the door space and permeated the room. I immediately threw off the bedclothes, the cold tempered with The warmth of the culinary sensations. Next, I heard my mother yelling (sometimes in Italian, sometimes In English), “James, get up and get ready.” Neither needed Translation. Being Italian and Catholic, 8 o’clock Sunday Mass was a Weekly necessity — attendance required. Down the stairs I flew. On the kitchen table — a red and white Formica topped 1950’s piece — my cup and spoon would be waiting. I Had been allowed to drink coffee from a very young age. Although Meticulously clean, the white-painted plaster kitchen walls had a Shiny, almost greasy, patina from the years of perpetual cooking. Jars of spices and home-grown herbs circled the kitchen counter tops. On the wall facing the table was a 5-foot ceramic rosary with “beads” an inch in diameter — a Mother’s Day gift from me. It was Her prize possession. In her kitchen she could cook, and if she felt the urge, she Could pray. She knew her thoughts had to be heard by any available Saint on a rosary that big. My mother, already 39 at my birth, had Her graying black hair pulled back severely into a bun. She always Dressed in her housecoat while working in the kitchen and a flowered Red apron covered the housecoat for added protection. At dinnertime, my father, my mother, my Aunt Tina (my mother’s Sister), and I gathered together, but my mother always made enough Sunday dinner for an army. The dining room table was set with the Good China and the good silverware, and the extra place settings were Always stacked on the sideboard — just in case. Amazingly, friends and relatives knew to drop in (uninvited) at This particular time of the week. Flavoring the extra sauce was a Conglomeration of meats — big beef bones (one for the dog), hot pork Sausages, and a variety of chicken parts bubbled slowly in the big Dutch oven on top of the gas stove. Below, several loaves of bread and the main course, the lasagna, Baked happily away. Each layer of the lasagna was infused with a Variety of Italian spices (garlic, basil, and oregano), ground meat (both veal and pork), ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, home-made Tomato sauce, and a top layer of parmesan cheese. Although my mother was not the animal lover in the family Because she had been scared as a young child in Sicily by a pack of Stray dogs, she was in charge of making sure everyone was fed, Including the animals. On the day I was born, my parents received a small black and tan Puppy from a perceptive family friend who knew every boy needed a dog. Mother always spoiled Butchy and there were many days when I Thought Butchy was actually the favored child. As a baby, I would Lay in my cradle and Butchy, still a puppy, would curl up next to me. If I cried, she would lick away the tears, and if there was a Problem, she would “yap” for my parents. Because she knew the dog was my guardian and my protector, Mother treated her accordingly. And on Sundays, mother always fixed A plate of lasagna and an extra large beef bone especially for Butchy. Butchy was my first dog, and she was also my first best friend. Butchy was the very first in a long line of canines to teach me what I have experienced so many times. We don’t get over losing the dogs Who have been a part of our lives. We just get used to living Without them. In everyone’s life there are moments when a family shares a joy And everything seems to have a purpose. Those memories of Sunday dinners forged from love remain with me — lots of great food, good times with my family, and the animals With whom I grew up. And most of all, my mother.

James Colasanti, Jr.

Easy banana pudding


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 quart milk
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/8 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces vanilla wafers
  • 3 bananas, peeled
  • 8 ounces Cool Whip

Instructions

  1. Heat milk to 170 degrees F.
  2. Mix eggs, vanilla, flour, and sugar in a bowl.
  3. Slowly add the mixture to the milk and cook until thick and custard-like.
  4. Layer the vanilla wafers on the bottom of a baking pan.
  5. Slice the bananas and layer over the wafers.
  6. Pour the custard over the wafers and bananas. Cool for 1-1/2 hours. Spread the Cool Whip over the top.

~Brief Encounter~

Several Saturdays ago I was cleaning my car at a do-it-yourself car wash. As I vacuumed, I noticed a few wisps of yellow dog fur.I stopped my cleaning. I picked up the fur, placed it in an envelope and put the envelope in the glove compartment. The fur belonged to Buddy. As I went about the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but think of the brief encounter with Buddy and his “family” just a couple of days before.It was a Wednesday afternoon. I had just gotten off work. As I passed a truck stop, I noticed a man with a large backpack. There beside him was a dog on a leash sitting in the grass strip that separates the entrance and exit to the interstate. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and quite hot. I stopped a few feet away and walked up to the man. “You and the dog okay?” I asked. I guess he was a little startled. “I’m not breakin’ no law sittin’ here, am I?” he asked.”No,” I replied, “I just wanted to make sure you and the dog were okay.””We’re okay, just a little hot.”I noticed a handwritten cardboard sign beside him saying something about working for food. My guess was that he hadn’t had a good meal in some time.”Look,” I said, “here’s a twenty – make sure you and the dog get a good meal tonight.””God bless you, sir,” he said as he accepted the money. I walked back to my car. As I turned around, the pair were headed under an overpass to the westbound side of the I-78 ramp. Somehow I felt I should have done a little more. I went into the truck stop, bought a large hoagie and soda for the man and a couple of hot dogs and water for the dog.As I approached the ramp, they were gone. I figured someone had picked them up. I got back on the freeway intending to get off at the next exit. There were my two “friends.” I pulled over. As we spoke, I gave pieces of the hot dogs to the dog along with a few sips of cool water. The stranger wolfed down the sandwich in two minutes.I asked the dogs name, it was Buddy.I don’t usually give strangers a ride, but I just couldn’t let them walk down the busy freeway at night. I offered to give them a ride, and they accepted. He instructed Buddy to get in the back seat, but I told him it was okay if Buddy rode in the front. Buddy put his head on my lap as though we had been friends for years. I knew he enjoyed the cooling breeze of the air conditioner. He very quickly fell asleep, as I occasionally petted him on his head.Buddy was a beautiful, noble dog, some kind of mixed breed although the man said he was a sheltie. His fur was soft and surprisingly well kept. The man was a drifter.He told me bits and pieces about his life. He said he didn’t have any sort of identification. He told me he had lost his wallet a few weeks back. My guess was he was about forty. He was tall and lean, with a beard. His piercing blue eyes seemed to hold pain, but he was a gentle person. He was born in Oregon and traveled around always looking for work, he said.I asked him about Buddy. He told me he found him in Alabama as a puppy about a year and a half before. From that day to this, they had always been together.There was a pause in the conversation and I asked him whether the dog was ever a burden to him, with all the traveling around. I would have gladly offered a great home to Buddy. There was a long silence. From the corner of my eye I could see tears rolling down the man’s cheeks.”Sir,” he said to me, barely above a whisper, “old Buddy is the only family I got. Some days, when food is scarce, I’d gladly go without, so long as Buddy has somethin’.”There was no doubt he spoke the truth. I felt embarrassed that I would even think of offering to take the man’s only worthwhile possession.The ride was all too short. I pulled over and the man got his backpack out of the back seat. Then Buddy hopped out. The man began to slowly close the door. Buddy turned, looked up at me and wagged his tail a couple of times. I’m certain it was his way of saying “thanks.”I turned around and headed east. I had one last look at Buddy and his “family.” As I drove off I was disappointed in myself; I didn’t even ask the man his name.That night I was out late watering the flowers. I looked up at the heavens. I wondered why it is that sometimes these brief encounters make such profound impressions on my life. I said a little prayer asking God to please watch over them in their travels, and to say thanks for just the few brief moments I was able to share with them.Without their knowledge, the two “world travelers” had enriched my life, touched my soul and heart. The wisps of fur will always be a reminder to me of the summer afternoon that I encountered Buddy and his companion.

That Day on September 11th

You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news on September 11, 2001.Neither will I.I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say , “Good-bye.” I held his fingers steady as he dialed.It gave him peace to say, “Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK..I am ready to go.” I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children.I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night.I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out for me for help. “I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!” I said, of course I will show you the way home – only believe in me now.”I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his flock in Heaven. He heard my voice and answered.I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.I was in Texas, Kansas, London. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense me?I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name – though not all know me. Some met me for the first time on the 86th floor.Some sought me with their last breath.Some couldn’t hear me calling to them through the smoke and flames; “Come to me…this way…take my hand.” Some chose, for the final time, to ignore me.I did not place you in the tower that day. You may not know why, but I do. However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for me?September 11, 2001 was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek me now while I may be found. Then, at any moment, you know you are “ready to go.”I will be in the stairwell of your final moments. Remember…I love you.~God

Chicken on the ritz casserole

Ingredients

• 1 (10-1/2-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken with herbs soup • 1 cup sour cream • 1/2 cup sliced green onion • 1 cooked rotisserie chicken, deboned and shredded (about 3 cups) • 2 sleeves salted snack crackers, crushed • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted 

Directions

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.Step 2

Spray a 2-1/2-quart baking dish (or a 9×9 square baking dish) with non-stick cooking spray.Step 3

In a large bowl, mix together the soup, sour cream and green onion. Stir in the chicken, and spread the mixture into the prepared dish.Step 4

In that same bowl, combine the crushed crackers with melted butter. Sprinkle the cracker mixture over the casserole.Step 5

Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the cracker topping is golden brown and the casserole is bubbly.

LABOR DAY MEMORIES- Ken Pierpont

The older I get the swifter time passes, especially betweenMemorial Day and Labor Day. One Labor Day stands out. It was the last Labor Day we were all together as a family under one roof. The next summer our first-born son Kyle would leave for a year of missionary service and then college a continent away. On that Labor Day evening, we drove to Grand Haven on the WestCoast of Michigan. In a resort town like Grand Haven the wholeAtmosphere changes after Labor Day. When we arrived it was cool and fall-like. The sun was droppingSteadily into the lake. We strode quickly trying to reach theLighthouse at the end of the pier before the sunset. As we walked,The sun touched the horizon and then steadily sank from sight. Everyone had gathered and waited to see the last sunset ofSummer and they were talking about how quickly the sun had set.Walking along I heard more than one person say, “That was over soFast.” All I could think about, walking out toward the sunset withMy precious first-born son, was about how quickly the sunset on ourLast summer together had come. The whole family gathered at the foot of the lighthouse on theEnd of the pier and watched the sky turn golden-orange. A few boatsGrowled into the harbor for the evening. A ship sat out on theHorizon moving imperceptibly slow going who-knows-where. GentleWaves lapped the rocks. Occasionally a bigger wave spouted up inSpray and mist. We all stood close to keep each other warm. ThereWas a sweetness in the air. My heart grew tender and alive to theWorld around me. My mind went back through the years with my son. They passedSwiftly. We went to a few ball games together. We camped outTogether a few times. Together we gazed into a few campfires.Together we floated a few rivers. We went fishing a few times. WeWashed the car together a few times. I taught him to tie a tie,Shake hands, and drink his coffee black. I taught him the books ofThe Bible. I taught him to ride a bike and a few days later I taughtHim to drive. Together we laughed and cried. We loved a couple of dogsTogether, buried them together, and together we hurt. A few times weWalked together under a full moon in awe at the wonder of God’sWorld. Together we sang and prayed and worshipped God. And soon, for the first time, we would go on — but notTogether. The reality of it settled in on me that night on the pier. As the purple of night pushed in on the pale blue and orangeTwilight we turned and made our way back. Kyle was holding hisLittle sister Hope. She was giggling over his shoulder at her motherWhen suddenly she said “Momma” for the first time. Lois was delighted and her eyes glowed. Hope looked back withThe same lively brown eyes… One child ready to go make his way in the world was carryingAnother just learning to talk. When we reached the boardwalk we all turned and saw theLighthouse and pier lights blinking red against the dusk. A stringOf white harbor lights lined the catwalk. The afterglow of the sunCast the lighthouse and the pier light in a sharp black silhouette. Stars appeared in the growing darkness overhead. Lovers heldOne another or walked hand-in-hand. Fishermen sauntered in withTheir gear along the lighted walkway. In an hour we had watched the sun set on summer and turnedToward autumn with a life-long memory in our hearts. I felt the painThat always comes with love and my soul whispered, “Breathe deep,Walk slow, hold tight to those you love, the sun is setting and itWill be over so fast.”

Beautiful Flower In A Broken Pot

Our house was directly across the street fromThe clinic entrance of Johns Hopkins Hospital inBaltimore. We lived downstairs and rented theUpstairs rooms to out patients at the clinic.One summer evening as I was fixing supper,There was a knock at the door. I opened it toSee a truly awful looking man. “Why, he’s hardlyTaller than my eight-year-old,” I thought as IStared at the stooped, shriveled body. But theAppalling thing was his face, lopsided fromSwelling, red and raw.Yet his voice was pleasant as he said, “GoodEvening. I’ve come to see if you’ve a room forJust one night. I came for a treatment this morningFrom the eastern shore, and there’s no bus ’til morning.”He told me he’d been hunting for a room sinceNoon but with no success, no one seemed toHave a room. “I guess it’s my face… I know it looksTerrible, but my doctor says with a few more treatments…”For a moment I hesitated, but his next wordsConvinced me: “I could sleep in this rocking chairOn the porch. My bus leaves early in the morning.”I told him we would find him a bed, but to rest onThe porch. I went inside and finished getting supper.When we were ready, I asked the old man if heWould join us. “No thank you. I have plenty.”And he held up a brown paper bag.When I had finished the dishes, I went out onThe porch to talk with him a few minutes. It didn’tTake a long time to see that this old man had anOversized heart crowded into that tiny body.He told me he fished for a living to support hisDaughter, her five children, and her husband,Who was hopelessly crippled from a back injury.He didn’t tell it by way of complaint; in fact, everyOther sentence was preface with a thanks to GodFor a blessing. He was grateful that no painAccompanied his disease, which was apparentlyA form of skin cancer. He thanked God for givingHim the strength to keep going.At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children’s roomFor him. When I got up in the morning, the bed linensWere neatly folded and the little man was out on the porch.He refused breakfast, but just before he left for hisBus, haltingly, as if asking a great favor, he said,”Could I please come back and stay the next time IHave a treatment? I won’t put you out a bit. I canSleep fine in a chair.” He paused a moment and thenAdded, “Your children made me feel at home.Grownups are bothered by my face, but childrenDon’t seem to mind.”I told him he was welcome to come again.And on his next trip he arrived a little after seven inThe morning. As a gift, he brought a big fish and aQuart of the largest oysters I had ever seen. HeSaid he had shucked them that morning before heLeft so that they’d be nice and fresh. I knew his busLeft at 4:00 a.m. And I wondered what time he hadTo get up in order to do this for us.In the years he came to stay overnight with us thereWas never a time that he did not bring us fish orOysters or vegetables from his garden.Other times we received packages in the mail,Always by special delivery; fish and oysters packedIn a box of fresh young spinach or kale, every leafCarefully washed. Knowing that he must walk threeMiles to mail these, and knowing how little moneyHe had made the gifts doubly precious.When I received these little remembrances, I oftenThought of a comment our next-door neighbor madeAfter he left that first morning.”Did you keep that awful looking man last night? ITurned him away! You can lose roomers by puttingUp such people!”Maybe we did lose roomers once or twice. But oh!If only they could have known him, perhaps theirIllnesses would have been easier to bear.I know our family always will be grateful to have knownHim; from him we learned what it was to accept theBad without complaint and the good with gratitude to God.Recently I was visiting a friend, who has a green-House, as she showed me her flowers, we came toThe most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum,Bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise,It was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket.I thought to myself, “If this were my plant, I’d put itin the loveliest container I had!”My friend changed my mind. “I ran short of pots,” sheExplained, “and knowing how beautiful this one would be,I thought it wouldn’t mind starting out in this old pail.It’s just for a little while, till I can put it out in the garden.”She must have wondered why I laughed so delightedly,But I was imagining just such a scene in heaven.”Here’s an especially beautiful one,” God might haveSaid when he came to the soul of the sweet old fisherman.”He won’t mind starting in this small body.”All this happened long ago — and now, in God’s garden,How tall this lovely soul must stand.

ANZAC BISCUITS

If golden syrup isn’t a regular in your pantry (Lyle’s is the brand if you’re in the US), you can substitute maple syrup or even honey. It will be a different flavour profile, of course, but it will work and still be very good.

Makes about 2 dozen.

125g (4½ oz) butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 cup (90g) rolled oats
1 cup (80g) desiccated coconut
1 cup (150g) plain flour
½ cup (110g) caster sugar
¼ cup (55g) brown sugar
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Set your oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking tray (or two, if you have them) with baking paper.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and golden syrup together. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a roomy bowl, mix together the oats, coconut, flour and sugars with a wooden spoon.

Mix the bicarb with 2 tablespoons of boiling water in a small bowl. Stir into the butter-syrup mixture, then pour this into the oat mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined.

Roll the mixture into heaped-tablespoon balls and place on the baking tray, leaving about 5cm (2 inches) between them. Bake for 12 minutes: they should be pale golden and quite soft. Leave on the tray for 5 minutes, where they will darken and set enough to be lifted to a wire rack. Leave to cool completely.

An Unlikely Birthday Cake

Divine guidance leads a pastor’s wife to find the perfect way to regift an unusual Father’s Day present. By Becky Campbell SmithPastor’s wife, church secretary and minister of all things miscellaneous. That’s me. I’d been in and out of my office since morning, running here, running there, checking on one thing or another, solving problems, most of them minor, thank goodness.Now it was evening and I still had one more obligation. I swung by the office to pick up some papers before racing off to our monthly women’s group meeting in the church hall. I rushed in, grabbed a folder off my desk and…stopped dead in my tracks.There was something unusual sitting on my desk, amidst the usual piles of paperwork. A plain blue card on top of a cake box. Had someone left me a cake? I couldn’t imagine why anyone would. It wasn’t my birthday. Or any anniversary.The only upcoming holiday was Father’s Day, and that obviously didn’t apply to me. I went over to my desk and looked at the card. There was one word scrawled across the envelope and it was written in all caps: GOD.Was I seeing things? I rubbed my eyes. It had been a long day. Nope, the envelope was still there. The cake too. It wasn’t the first time I’d found some random thing left on my desk by a parishioner. Usually it was a pamphlet, a note, or even something for the lost and found.I’d never found anything like this before. What was the protocol for opening God’s mail? I supposed as the church secretary it was okay for me to read it. I tore open the envelope. A Father’s Day card, signed by two boys who occasionally attended our church with their mom.Their dad lived out of state and was no longer in their lives. I opened the box and— sure enough—found a cake. “Happy Father’s Day!” it read. For a moment I was confused. Did the boys think I could get the cake to their dad? Then I remembered the name on the envelope.The children had trusted me to get the cake to their father in heaven! I know you’re with those boys, Lord, I thought. And you’ve seen the beautiful cake they bought for you. But now I had a problem. What to do with the cake? God wasn’t actually going to eat it.And I certainly didn’t feel right bringing home a cake meant for him. Maybe I should call the boys and explain, I thought. But what would I say? Sorry, kids, God’s unavailable for Father’s Day? It would break their hearts!Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to come up with a solution just then. The women’s group meeting was about to start. I left God’s cake on my desk and hurried to the church hall. One of our parishioners was already standing outside. “Happy birthday, Miss Edith,” I said, giving her a big hug.I was frazzled, yes, but a pastor’s wife always tried to remember birthdays. By the time the meeting ended, I was exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to drive home, kick off my heels and relax with a good book. Then I remembered that cake and card in my office, demanding my attention.I still had no clue what to do with them. I packed up and carried God’s gift to my car. Maybe my husband the pastor would know what to do. I’d gotten a mile down the road when I heard it. A quiet voice from within. Invite Miss Edith to your house for birthday cake.I shook my head. That was ridiculous. I was way too tired to entertain guests. And this was a Father’s Day cake, not a birthday cake. Think of Miss Edith, the voice seemed to say. She was a widow and her kids lived far away.What if she’s alone tonight? On her birthday… I turned the car right back around, and entered the church parking lot just as Miss Edith was pulling out. I motioned for her to stop and hollered out the window, “Miss Edith, do you like cake?”She smiled. “I sure do!” “Well, then,” I said, “follow me.” We arrived at my house and I led Miss Edith to the kitchen. “I’ll be right back,” I said. If we were going to celebrate her birthday, we were going to do it right.I ran upstairs and explained the impromptu celebration to my 12-year-old daughter. “A party!” she said. That was all she had to hear. She rushed off to find candles. Meanwhile, I got out the birthday napkins and plates, and set the cake up on the kitchen table.My husband arrived home minutes later. “What’s going on here?” he said. I filled everyone in. “Well, I’ll be,” Miss Edith said. “It’s not every day you get to eat a cake meant for God!” We turned down the lights and sang “Happy Birthday.”Miss Edith said she already had her birthday wish with our little party, and blew out the candles in one big, energetic puff. Everybody clapped. God our father had received his gift, after all. And he made sure we knew who to share it with.

Mexican restaurants white sauce.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 Cloves Garlic
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp Oregano, Dried
  • 4 dashes Hot sauce
  • 18 Pimento stuffed olives
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp Garlic salt
  • 1/2 tbsp Red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Sour cream
  • 30 oz Miracle whip jar
  • 1 tbsp Olive juice from jar

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Easiest recipe ever!!
  2. Just put all of these ingredients into your food processor and blend till smooth!
  3. Here is the MOST IMPORTANT PART!
  4. You HAVE to refrigerate this sauce for 12-24 hours.
  5. You have to give it that time to meld together or it will not taste right so make sure to plan ahead!!
  6. It makes a ton and is good on everything!

Trader Joe’s cowgirl bark

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup peanuts
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 18 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup Rice Krispies Cereal
  • 1/2 cup pretzels
  • 5 gingersnap cookies, broken into chunks

Instructions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Chop the peanuts and almonds, or grind in a food processor for 20 seconds.
  3. Over a double boiler or in the microwave, melt the chocolate chips until smooth and fully melted.
  4. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate on top of the parchment paper until it is about 1/8″ thick.
  5. Sprinkle the warm chocolate with the dried cranberries, Rice Krispies, chopped nuts, pretzels, and pieces of gingersnap cookie. Press down on the pretzels and cookie pieces to make sure they hold.
  6. Let the bark harden for at least 1 hour or until solid.
  7. Once the bark is hard, remove the parchment paper and cut into chunks.

The Night She Dined with Angels —Mari-Ann Mellville

I had just walked in the door after a long commute from downtown Toronto. The bus had been late, and I was tired. It wasn’t easy working three jobs and raising four active teenagers.Mine were good kids—three girls and a boy—but they were still a lot to handle. Especially for a single parent. I had hoped to come home and find them all quietly doing their homework. That was the deal. But they were running around with the five next-door neighbor children instead. I sighed.My oldest daughter rushed up to me. “Mom, can they stay for dinner?”I didn’t have much planned, just some leftover spaghetti with half a loaf of bread. And only six meatballs. I was already buying on credit from the neighborhood grocer. So a quick shop to fill out the meal wasn’t an option. I put down my things. Tonight of all nights, I thought. I had barely enough to feed my four, but all nine of them?I looked over at the neighbor children. I knew their family situation. They’d lost their mother only a few weeks earlier and needed all the warmth and support I could give. They needed a mother—if only for a night.Other people and prayers had seen me through bad times. A medical scare. Separation from myhusband. Finding a home to raise my children in. Angels hadn’t failed me yet, so I trusted them to get me through this too. I went to the kitchen and opened the cupboard. Please, let there be enough. I had a bit of extra pasta.“Well,” I said to the kids. “This will have to do.” They settled into homework mode while I triedTo work a miracle at the stove.I was still worried when we took our seats to say grace. I didn’t want to send anyone home hungry. At “amen,” the table erupted in a symphony of happy chatter and clinking forks. What a group! They had me laughing so hard, I forgot to keep track of who was eating what.By the end of the meal I felt so much better than when I had first walked through the door, burdened by my troubles. The children had licked their plates clean. We were all full and happy, and grateful for one another’s company. I moved to clear the table with my oldest daughter. My mouth dropped open. Two meatballs sat uneaten on the platter. How was that possible?My daughter put her hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong, Mom?”“Did everybody eat?”“It was delicious!” the youngest neighbor boy said. “The best meatballs we ever had. If you have any leftovers, can we take them home?”I was astonished. How had I managed to feed everyone? Had the kids cut the meatballs in half? Maybe some of them had only eaten pasta. Or had had a big lunch. There was no logic to it. There hadn’t been enough food at the beginning of the meal, and by the end of it everyone was full. We must have had unseen company, I thought as I said goodbye to the kids. Angels had shared our dinner.That night left me with an overflowing heart and great hope for the future. I sent the leftovers home with the neighbor children for lunch the next day. Things were hard now, but they would get better. For us. For the neighbor children. Because when you dine with angels, there is always enough to go around.

A Perfectly Timed Hymn

A Perfectly Timed Hymn Helped This Postman
by Jeffery Taylor

Overworked and stressed, he worried about his future until he heard a beloved song coming from a house on his route.

Finish this shift, get to the next job, study for midterms, practice the sheet music for church, tuck Matt into bed….

I walked from house to house, delivering mail and tallying the long list of things I needed to get done that day. There was no way I could do it all.

I was an undergrad at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, working two jobs to support myself; my wife, Angie; and our young son. One in the evening, doing retail inventory. The other, working part-time as a substitute postman. With midterms looming, things were piling up. I felt stretched thin. Even my church commitment was complicated these days. Our worship team was pushing the congregation to embrace some contemporary hymns I’d learned on the piano, but folks were reluctant.

I slipped a stack of letters into a mailbox and continued on my route. I had hoped my shift would give me time to sort things out as I walked, but all I could do was worry.

As I walked up the path to the next house, I heard something familiar. Music spilled from the house’s open windows and screen door. As I got closer, I realized it was the same new hymn we had been teaching at my church. I lifted the lid on the mailbox and peeked in through the screen door. A group of young people sat together, singing in harmony. An older man and woman led them, the man playing along with a guitar. It must have been a mission house for the local college.

I lingered on the porch for a second. The music washed over me. Their voices lifted my spirit higher and higher until I was singing along with them. I figured they were too engrossed in their praise to notice. As I sang, the stress I had been carrying subsided. for the first time in months. I felt calm and reassured. It was so perfectly timed, as if this moment had been set up just for me. The song ended in a final, resounding chord.

I quietly left the porch and continued on my route, still humming. My worries would return soon enough, I knew, but in that moment I was free.

The years passed, and with hard work and study, I completed college. After graduation, I continued working for the post office and eventually moved into management. A transfer relocated my family and me to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But with that came a whole new set of worries.

The cost of living in Pennsylvania was higher than what we’d been used to. We were in temporary housing until we found something permanent, but our searches had proved fruitless so far. And we still needed to find a suitable high school for Matt. He’d taken after me with his love of music and become an accomplished saxophonist. Unfortunately, the school system where our temporary housing was located had a terrible music program. Matt was getting discouraged and thinking about quitting.

Once again, I felt weighed down by worries. Had we made the right decision moving to Pennsylvania? Would this place ever feel like home? I hoped that finding a new church would offer some stability. But that was proving difficult too. After visiting nearly a dozen, we still hadn’t found one that felt right.

“Let’s just try one more,” Angie said, looking at our list.

“Okay,” I said, feeling discouraged.

The pastor and his wife showed us around after we attended a few services. The church was nice enough, but I still wasn’t certain.

“How about lunch?” the pastor offered. “We can get to know each other better”..

As we ate, the pastor got on the subject of moments when God shows up in our lives. It felt like ages since I’d experienced something like that. Then I remembered that day on the porch in Birmingham, all those years before.

“I had one of those moments once,” I told the pastor. “A long time ago.” I told him about working as a mailman in Birmingham and how I’d stood on the front porch of a mission house. How the worshippers had sung a favorite hymn of mine, and how singing with them helped me during that difficult time.

“It was just a small thing, but it was a perfectly timed blessing,” I said. Actually, I could use another one of those now, I thought.

I stopped, confused by the look on the pastor’s face.

“Well, I used to work at a mission house in Southside Birmingham,” he said, “and I still remember the day, 11 years ago, when I heard the postman sing with us from the porch.”

Better than sex cake

Ingredients

  • 1 box Angel Food Cake mix, or one premade Angel Food Cake
  • 1 small box of instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 tbsp slivered and toasted almonds
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1 ½ cups of milk
  • 1 can cherry pie filling
  • 1 tub Cool Whip whipped topping, or home made, whichever you prefer

Instructions

FIRST STEP:

Bake the Angel Food Cake according to package directions

Allow to cool and then cut into cubes

SECOND STEP:

In a mixing bowl, combine the sour cream, pudding mix and the milk and beat until smooth and starting to thicken. Set to the side

In a 9 x 13 baking pan, using half of the cake cubes, place a layer of cubes in the bottom of the pan

THIRD STEP:

Spread ⅔ of the cherry pie filling over the cubes

Place the remaining cubes of cake over the cherry pie filling

FOURTH STEP:

Spoon the pudding mixture over the cake and spread evenly

Spread the whipped topping over the pudding mix evenly

FIFTH STEP:

Garnish the top of this with the remaining cherry pie filling and sprinkle the toasted almonds on top

Chill for 4 to 5 hours before serving

This recipe can be changed up. Put your own spin on it with different cakes, puddings,nuts and pie filling.

GOD’S MOUNTAIN GARDENBy Bertha M. Sutliff

The best place to seek God is in a garden. ~George Bernard Shaw

I grew up on a farm in the mountains of northwest Arkansas. As children, my brother and I roamed every inch of the little mountain facing my parents’ house. We knew where every giant boulder and animal burrow was on that little piece of mountain bordering my dad’s farm.One day, my grandpa came to visit from his home several miles away. We sat on the front porch swing looking at the mountain, and he began to tell me a story. It was a delightful tale about him and me living in a little cabin on the mountain.”Can you see it?” he asked. “It’s right there by that big acorn tree. See it?”Of course I saw it. What eight-year-old child wouldn’t see what her imagination wanted her to see?”We’re gonna live in that cabin. We’ll catch a wild cow for our milk and pick wild strawberries for our supper,” GrandpaContinued. “I bet the squirrels will bring us nuts to eat. We’ll search the bushes for wild chickens and turkeys. The chickens will give us eggs, and we’ll cook us a turkey over the big ol’ fireplace. Yep, we’ll do that some day.”From that day on, every time I saw my grandpa, I asked when we would go to live in that little log cabin on the mountain. Then he’d once more spin the story of how the two of us would live in the cabin with the wildflowers and wild animals around us.Time raced on; I grew into my teens and gradually forgot Grandpa’s story. After graduating high school, I still saw Grandpa and loved him dearly, but not like that little girl did. I grew out of the fantasy of the log cabin and wild cows.Before long, I married and set up my own house. One day, the phone rang. When I heard my daddy’s sorrowful voice, I knew my grandpa had left us. He had been in his garden behind his house and died there, his heart forever stopped.I grieved alongside my mother for my dear grandpa, remembering his promises of the cabin in the woods with all its animals and flowers. It seemed I could once again hear his voice telling me the fantasy we shared. I felt my childhood memories being buried with him.Less than a year later, I went to visit my parents’ farm. Mama and I sat on the front porch admiring the green foliage of the mountain. It had been ten months since Grandpa had passed away, but the longing to hear his voice one more time was still fresh in my soul.I told Mama about the story Grandpa had always told me, of the cabin in the woods, the wild cow, the chickens and turkey. “Mama,” I said after I had finished my story, “would you mind if I went for a walk by myself?””Of course not,” was her reply.I changed into old jeans and put on my walking shoes. Mama cautioned me to be careful and went on with her chores.The walk was invigorating. Spring had come to the country, and everything was getting green. Little Johnny-jump-ups were springing up all over the pastures. New calves were following their mamas begging for milk. At the foot of the mountain, I stopped. Where did Grandpa say that acorn tree was?”Straight up from the house,” I thought I heard him say.I began my journey up the little mountain. It was steeper than I remembered, and I was out of shape. I trudged on, determined to find that tree.Suddenly the ground leveled out. I was amazed to see what was before me. Soft green moss covered a small, flat clearing. Dogwood trees, smothered in pastel blooms, surrounded it. Off to the side stood a tall oak tree ? Grandpa’s acorn tree! Scattered among the tufts of moss were vibrant colors of wild wood violets. Green rock ferns and pearly snowdrops were scattered about as well. I could hardly catch my breath.I don’t know how long I stood there ? several minutes, I suppose. Finally I came to my senses and sat down on the moss. In all my childhood wanderings on the mountain, I had never seen this magically beautiful place. Was this what Grandpa meant when he pointed out our special spot on the mountainside all those years ago? Did he know this was here?A squirrel darted in front of me. He had a nut in his mouth. I watched as he scampered up the oak tree. No, I didn’t see a wild cow or chickens. But in my heart, I knew they were there somewhere.I decided to go tell Mama what I had found. She would want to see it, too. Before I left I took one more look. It was the most beautiful place I could have ever imagined.It didn’t take me as long to get back to the house. I burst into the kitchen babbling about the clearing on the side of the mountain. Mama calmed me down enough so she could understand what I was talking about. Daddy heard the conversation and tried to convince me there was no such place up there. He knew the mountain and had never seen anything like that.On my insistence, he and Mama decided to go see the amazing place I was raving about. Once again I climbed the mountain straight up from the house. Before I knew it, we were at the top.”We must have missed it,” I told my dad.He just nodded and we retraced our steps. We searched for over an hour for that little place on the mountain. We never found it. I was devastated.On the way back home, Mama put her arms around my shoulders.”Sissy,” she said, “you know what you saw, don’t you?””Yeah, I know what I saw, and I know it’s there somewhere. We just missed it.””No, sweetie, it’s not there anymore. You saw God’s garden. Only special people can see that. Your grandpa loved you so much, and he knew you were grieving inside. Hold that memory in your heart.”I’m fifty-two years old now. Every time I go back to Mama’s house and sit on the porch, I remember the secret garden Grandpa told me about. But I no longer go out and look for it. No, I know just where it is.

THE JOY OF A SUMMER’S RAIN


At first the summer heat was just mildly uncomfortable. Next it
became tiring, and then, oppressive. By July, it felt a lot like
working in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day — like standing in front of
a hot oven for six straight hours. Yet the temperatures continued to
rise, until finally, in the dusty, dried up days of August, the rain —
at last — came.
After day upon day of parched summer heat, the rain was such a
welcome relief! The children shrieked with joy and begged to go out in
it. I said “No” at first, almost automatically. But one look at their
crushed expressions and I reconsidered. It had been much too hot to
play outside lately — how could I say no now?
“Well… OK,” I said with a grin. “But stay on the porch. And
keep an eye on your little sister!”, I called to the back of their
heads.
As they headed out the front door, I felt an almost forgotten rush
of glee. Smiling to myself, I ran to get the towels and umbrellas and
soon joined my children on the front porch. There, they danced and
giggled, and leaned out as far as they could, catching the rain on their
hands. They squealed in approval whenever the wind blew the rain their
way. Only Abby was timid. She stayed safely near my side, and when the
wind tickled her face with moist spray, she shivered and clung tighter
to my hand.
After a while, I timidly stepped out from under the porch roof,
safely beneath the protective waterproof fabric of the umbrella. I held
my navy parasol in one hand and Abby’s drippy little fingers in my
other. Finally, I couldn’t restrain myself anymore.
In a burst of childlike impulsiveness, I tossed my umbrella aside.
Feeling like a kid again, I gathered my two-year-old and headed out into
the downpour. She blinked and scrunched up her wee nose in
disapproval. Before long, however, she was tilting her face to the sky
and catching raindrops in her mouth.
“Come on!” I called to the boys. “Come out here with us!”
Daniel and Thomas looked surprised (like Mom had gone a little
mad), but they didn’t argue. Eagerly they grabbed the big black umbrella
that had been their grandfathers. I watched them as they struggled to
raise it, and as they fumbled trying to share the handle. They squished
together, trying to make themselves fit under the very center of the
dome.
Something about my funny little boys and that big umbrella made my
eyes unexpectedly fill with warm tears, which ran unrestrained down my
already soaked cheeks.
The rain intensified. Still, we stayed. The gutter in front of
our house had become a small stream. It actually bubbled and rippled as
it grew and tumbled toward the water retention basin at the end of the
block.
Suddenly inspired, I sent the boys inside for a few supplies. In a
jiffy they returned from the house with a grocery bag holding the simple
construction supplies they had procured from the kitchen.
For the next hour we made makeshift tinfoil boats. Then we sailed
them, skippered by toothpick-and-scotch-tape men. Abby giggled with
glee as she watched her brothers and I race our shiny little vessels
down the river of rain.
Later that night, after warm baths and a nourishing dinner, I
tucked my children into their beds with a heart full of joy.
It had been an unforgettable day, thanks to a little inspiration
and a summer’s rain.

— Natalie Whitlock Walker

Easy Asian Beef and Noodles

What You’ll Need

  • 1/2 pound boneless sirloin steak
  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups prepackaged coleslaw
  • 2 (3-ounce) packages beef-flavored ramen noodle soup
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

What to Do

  1. Cut steak diagonally across grain into very thin slices. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add steak and onions; stir-fry 1 minute. Remove steak mixture from pan; keep warm. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil until hot. Add slaw; stir-fry 30 seconds. Remove slaw from pan, and keep warm.
  2. Remove noodles from packages; reserve 1 seasoning packet for another use. Add water and remaining seasoning packet to pan; bring to a boil. Break noodles in half; add noodles to water mixture. Cook noodles 2 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Stir in steak mixture, slaw, and soy sauce; cook until thoroughly heated.