Tuesday, February 28, 2023

In the Kitchen: Menu Planning, Spice Organization, and a New Recipe

Having some type of a menu plan especially helps me to be more consistent with cooking for just the two of us. Of course, it definitely helps when cooking for a crowd, but I need it just as much for a meal for two. 

The photo above shows the menu planner that I am using this year; sitting on my kitchen counter, ready and handy to refer to. The photo above was taken on Feb. 13, with the recipe written in for that day - a delicious new recipe I tried. We loved the Creamy Tomato and Spinach Tortellini Soup we had that evening. 

On the post-it notes you see the other two recipes that I had selected to use that week for main dishes. I made Teriyaki Salmon the next day (Valentine's Day!), a favorite of my hubby's. We love that recipe!

I like to be flexible with my menu plans, usually waiting to fill in the daily squares as I go through the week. But having the recipes picked out ahead of time helps so much, also gives me the time needed to shop for the groceries. And I like the flexibility of using the post-it notes. 

And on the additional days of the week when I am not preparing one of the recipes that I have picked out to use, you will most likely find us heating up a homemade freezer meal. I usually have a ready supply of those on hand in our extra upright freezer. This happens naturally as I continue to prepare my recipes as they are originally written, even though there are just two of us at home now. Instead of down-sizing them for just two of us, sometimes I will even double the original recipe so that I will have a number of freezer meals - for us, and also to share.

Last month we gave our kitchen a little new year gift! Our spice collection was becoming a bit of a mess. So many spices, and it was becoming a challenge to quickly find the ones that a recipe called for! 

So it was the right time to purchase some new spice racks, and also some new spice jars! I used my label maker to make the labels that you see on the jars. The round labels on top came with the purchased jars. Why did I wait so long to do this?! Click to see the spice racks (I purchased two of these), and the spice jars that I purchased from Amazon. And click for the label maker that I purchased a few years ago, and that I use often!

And back to that new recipe that I tried out mid-February ... here's a photo of it! I put several meals of it in the freezer, and yesterday we pulled out one of those freezer meals to use. It was just as delicious after being frozen, thawed, and heated up in the microwave as when I made it fresh earlier this month. Click here for the recipe: Creamy Tomato and Spinach Tortellini Soup.

(A few changes I made to the recipe: I doubled the recipe, and also substituted 1 can of crushed tomatoes for 1 of the cans of diced tomatoes ... also used chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. I chose to freeze it with the tortellini already added to it - instead of how the recipe describes doing it. The recipe also suggests adding cooked sausage to it, which also would be delicious!)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Secrets of Prayer

For several months now, I've had a growing desire to focus my mind and heart in deeper ways on ... prayerOver the years, I have collected many verses on prayer, choosing to call them my HEART CONNECT verses. For that is what I think prayer is ... connecting our hearts to His, in response to His heart of love for us. 

And there is so so much to learn and grow in. I have especially been longing for ways to connect more deeply to His heart in praying for others ... for our growing family, and then also for others, and for our hurting world. Do you grow weary sometimes, as I do? I find it hard to keep my heart and mind focused. Each of us operates in our own unique ways, even as we pray. And I am learning of some new ideas that are helping me.

Since I have a collection of verses on prayer already, I am choosing to go a bit deeper with these verses. One way to do that is to do a WORD STUDY with each verse. I came across a source that is very helpful with this process. This source explains about Bible Verse Mapping, or WORD STUDY as I refer to it. I've learned from this helpful source, ordered their Digital Verse Mapping Journal, am using the main ideas, and also adapting these ideas for my own use.

As I was focusing on a verse from my collection, Psalm 17:6-7a (pictured above), two of the words I chose to look into deeper were "unfailing love". For as we talk with Him, pour out our hearts to Him, we are communicating with Someone whose love is unfailing, never-changing. Looking deeper into these words, I discovered the Hebrew word from which "unfailing love" derives from ... hesed

Can we even imagine all that this word encompasses? "Hesed is not merely an emotion or feeling but involves action on behalf of someone who is in need. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person." (online source)

Hesed is 'wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty - in short, acts of devotion and loving-kindness that go beyond the requirements of duty'. Hesed is translated in a number of different ways: steadfast love, mercy, kindness, and goodness. (online source)

As we pray, 

as we pour out our hearts to Him,

this is the God who hears us.

This describes our God, this is who He is, what His character is ... He is bound to us with unfailing love, mercy, compassion, kindness, goodness, loyal, and not in word only but acting on our behalf. Always. 

"Used nearly 250 times in Scripture, in such a powerful manner that some theologians have suggested it may be the most important word in Scripture, hesed is the forever covenantal, always unconditionally, unwaveringly loyal, kind love of inseparable bonding, of divine family, of eternal attachment. That's what hesed-love is: Hesed  is attachment love." (Ann Voskamp, in Waymaker)

This is the God who hears our prayers, our cries for help, and listens to and holds the deepest longings of our hearts. I, personally, can hardly even grasp the realities of this; our greatest gift, to be loved so deeply by our Creator, our God. And I am drawn in, pulled close, desiring to be in continual communication with this God. 

To read more of my 'Heart Connect' posts:

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Collection: January Books and Cozy Winter Decor

Closing out this first month of the year with a few book recommendations! The winter months are the perfect time to curl up with a book, especially during the evening hours. My dear husband loves to read, as well, and we both even prefer a good book over watching tv. 

I had the joy of reading three books this month ... one nonfiction book, and two fiction books. And I loved them all! A nonfiction for learning and growing, and fiction books to relax with in the evenings. I also have just started reading my second nonfiction book for this year: Holy Hygge, and am loving it, as well. I recommend each of these books.

My three books completed in January:

The Story Keeper - by Lisa Wingate
One of my favorite authors for fiction, I like how Lisa Wingate draws us into the hearts and lives of the main characters. This book (a birthday gift from a daughter - thanks, Sara!), is set in the Appalachians, and is the second book in her "Carolina Chronicles" series. 

Heaven Rules - by Nancy DeMoss Wilgemuth
My husband read this first, and highly recommended that I read it, as well. It is such a timely read, especially in the confusion and heartache of the times we live in. The author uses Daniel as a backdrop as well as multiple personal stories, to remind us that we know Who is ultimately in charge, and Who we need to keep our hearts and trust focused on.

A Heart Adrift - by Laura Frantz
I love to have a historical fiction book to pick up and read, and Laura Frantz never disappoints. My favorites need to be accurate to history so I can learn, and also carry a redemptive quality. This book definitely meets those qualities, and is set in 1775 as the threat of war with France loomed large over colonial Virginia. 

I'm also going through A Lovely Life season by season, and finished the "Winter" section during January. Melissa Michaels gives such good insight and ideas for "Home-Making", and "Soul-Tending" each season of the year. This beautiful coffee table style book, a gift from my dear hubby, is a delight and inspiration. 

Finishing up this post by sharing a few photos of some of my winter decor around our home. I've been trying to focus more on the beauty of the season itself, and then will add extra decor for the various winter holidays, as well. 

A little silver tray with a touch of beauty on our kitchen counter, and with some wise encouragement as we start out our days.

The centerpiece on our dining room table was perfect for Christmas, and also for these next two winter months. I just changed it out a bit by adding the gray and white "table throw" that I purchased this month. Adding another layer adds a depth of warmth and cozyness, which I love these winter months.

The display above, on our dining room buffet, had a few other items on it during the Christmas season, which I changed out with a touch of green and spring to come. Small little touches that bring a sense of peace and beauty for each changing season.

And finally, a few quotes I love from the Winter section of A Lovely Life.

"Some of us stumble into our dream homes by creating something beautiful and attainable with what we have right in front of us."

"Short winter days might be exactly the gift we need. With less daylight for the hustle and bustle of activity, we can savor the downtime of longer winter evenings, of quiet activity and reflection."

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Start of a New Year - Journals and Planners


Can you believe we are already in the second half of January? It has been a full first half of the month. And I do love this time of year ... a pause after the holidays, a time to catch our breath, to look back and look ahead. A time to savor memories, and a hopeful, prayerful time looking ahead to the new year.

These two weeks have also been a time to re-organize, and to set up planners, journals, and care for various home-keeping things as we step into a new year. Most of my set-up for this new year is in place. And I am thankful. And I am also very aware that, even with all the ideas, all the setting-up and organizing, that the most important, most integral and essential part of a New Year, is Immanuel: God with Us. His Love, His Promises, and His Presence ... each day, each and every moment. 

Much of my writing here on my blog first begins in my journal (as was true with this post), pictured in the first photo. This is where I connect deeply, through written words - writing out His Words, listening to His heart, and responding from my own heart. And then, the other two notebooks (pictured above) are helpful to me in the actual living out of my weeks, days, and moments.

This is the second year in a row now that I have used this notebook (pictured above), for my main yearly planner. I found this on Amazon (click here), and I really do love it. (I notice it is currently not available - hoping it comes back in stock!). I use the six sections for some of my main focuses each year, breaking them down month-by-month. Categories for keeping up with our big family, various aspects of home-keeping, and also the many projects I have in this season of life. The beautiful calendar pages in the first section of this notebook are printed out come from this online source.

These two photos show the notebook where I break down my main focuses into weekly, and then daily pages. I go through one of these notebooks each three-month season. This is where my main focuses (from my main yearly planner) flesh out into the weekly, and the daily. 

Planners are helpful for living out each year, each month, and each day. For keeping the main things in the forefront, and also for keeping on track with all the small, but necessary things of life. Of course, using these various notebooks would all seem quite tedious to those who don't love planners, but for me, this is a joy. It is very helpful to me to put things down on paper, rather than carrying ideas and plans around in my mind. And, also, I love all the pretty notebooks! 

But as important as planners are to me, most important is living each day connected deeply with the One who loves us more than any other. Who knows us more completely than we even know ourselves. Who created us to uniquely reflect His Love to those around us. 

Thanks for reading my first post of 2023! Sharing about my planners at the start of this year because it gives me joy ... and also with the hopes that in some way my words can be an encouragement to you. Maybe even in some simple, small way.                              Wishing you a Happy New Year!                                    

Monday, December 26, 2022

Closing Out Another Year


Entering in here, with a quiet little post to finish out the year 2022. It has been quite an unusual year for us. So full of happenings (from radiation treatment for my precious husband, with everything turning out very well! ... to spending quality time with my siblings, including working together moving our youngest brother to an assisted living facility just two blocks from our home). All of these happenings left very little time for me to write and post here. Something I really do love to do, but just needed to be set aside for a season. Actually, a rather long season.

But I am not complaining ... it has been a lovely year, in its own way. Filled up with evidences of God's loving care, and His faithful presence in all the facets of life. We are thankful.

Here are a few little glimpses into our lives from these past few weeks ... just a random little collection of things that have given us joy.

A few weeks after the very special treat of having 21 family home for Thanksgiving, quite unexpectedly, both my hubby and I came down with one of the many cold/flu bugs that have been making the rounds. As a result, we had a very quiet Christmas together this year. 

Our new pre-lit flocked Christmas tree that we had purchased the end of November, together with the warmth from our electric fireplace stove ... provided a very cozy setting for us to rest up during our days of not feeling well. We had some super cold days right before Christmas and over Christmas weekend, so it was the perfect time to just stay indoors.

Oh, we really do love our Skylight Photo Frame, a Christmas gift from our family a year ago for Christmas!  It's quite magical, with photos that they email to our Skylight email address automatically appearing on our screen within a minute or less after they send them! Such a joy. We are so grateful for our growing family ... six grown children together with all the loved ones they bring with them! And very soon, we will gain another family member ... our first great-grandbaby! We are so very excited for this next season ... 

Though I absolutely love all the holiday baking and prep, it looked quite different for me this year with not feeling well in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. Also, as our family came home for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. But there were a few things that just had to happen anyway. One of those things was the baking of cinnamon rolls, a recipe that I put together years ago. And I make these every.single.Christmas. So yummy. Click here to see the recipe.

And the holiday cookie that I could not skip, is Date Pinwheels ... click here for the recipe. My dear mother made these, and I love to continue on with the tradition. Here's a photo from a previous Christmas (date pinwheels in the upper right).

I'm spending these days reflecting, and thanking God. And also, am already overflowing with ideas and thoughts for the New Year. I hope to be posting here more regularly in the weeks/months ahead. And will just quietly trust, and wait on God for opportunities for writing and sharing here.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Thanks-giving Prep for the Heart and the Table

Oh, it has been so long since I have posted here ... not since the beginning of September! And what a whirlwind it has been since then. A four-week trip to Oregon to be with my dear siblings (first time in almost five years), and also a concentrated time of packing up and helping my youngest brother (suffering from Parkinsons) to move to an assisted living place, just two blocks from our home! 

And after the four weeks in Oregon, we have been involved for seven weeks now, helping our dear brother settle in ... in a new state, and into a new life with assisted living care. It has been quite intense, and also, it has been filled to overflowing with God's daily strength and care as He has opened up doors for this big move. We are thankful.

And now, this week ... another gift from God has been for me to start reading through Emmanuel: An Invitation to Prepare Him Room at Christmas and Always. Click here to see this brand new book by Ruth Chou Simons. Yes, it is not the advent season quite yet, but I am so very thankful to start reading this book a few weeks before Dec. 1st.

In the midst of a very full and busy season, it is exactly what I am needing. Slowing down the 25 daily readings so I can savor each one more deeply. Here's a quote from the reading for Week One: Day Two ...

Worship begins when we bow our hearts before Jesus

and trust Him for all that we can't fix on our own ...

which, as it turns out, is everything.

This is so true for us all as gals -  wives, moms, gramas, singles - all of us who are caregivers, life-givers, as we are in need daily of God's loving care and strength. And maybe especially so, as we approach the holiday season. 

I know that I have been in such great need of His care these past few months. And in the world and times that we live, we find ourselves so often helpless, and in need. Feeling completely inadequate to keep up. We are often tempted to try to do things on our own, to rely on our own strength. To trust our own wisdom for impossible situations. 

Where in reality, these situations are all opportunities to realize our need, and to draw close to the only One who can meet us right where we are, and give the strength and wisdom needed each day. Challenges and busy times can become opportunities to grow in deeper trust and peace. So true each day of this whole year, and also as we enter the holiday season.

With plans for 21 precious family around our table for Thanksgiving this year, I wondered how I would possibly have time to prepare. And it has been so amazing for me to see and experience God's care in the midst of this very full fall season for us. Our sweet daughters are helping by bringing multiple food items for our feast, and I have also been greatly enjoying preparing food, as well. Always choosing to do as much prep ahead of time as possible, I have prepared the pie crusts for pumpkin pies (ready, in the freezer, for baking this next week).

And also this Pecan Pie is ready, waiting to be pulled out of the freezer next week. Click here for this new-to-me recipe.

Also I tried out another new recipe, for a sweet potato side dish ... click here to view the recipe. I tried it out earlier this week on the two of us, and will be preparing it next week for our big group. It is delicious, and beautiful! I also have prepared the mashed potatoes already with an amazing make-ahead recipe ... click here for the recipe.

Preparations for the heart and for the table ... both are critically important. And both are needed and are essential for a memorable time with family and friends, and most of all, for us as we grow in trust and love with Emmanuel: God With Us.

Friday, September 2, 2022

A Collection: Seasons, Welcoming Autumn, Banana Zucchini Bread, Zucchini Muffins, Autumn Inspiration


I'm so grateful for the seasons. Our summer was beautiful and restful ... times with family and friends, enjoying our veggie, herb, and flower gardens. And our summer also was filled with difficulty, with many phone calls with my siblings from afar as we helped our youngest brother with his increasing health concerns with the debilitating affects of Parkinson's. The last portion of summer actually went by in a blur, as the concerns and the accompanying phone calls increased. 

In the midst of a beautiful and a broken world, our loving Father continues to comfort with His Words, His Presence, and also, His gifts of the changing seasons. And this coming season is one of my favorites ...

For the first time ever, I started slowly pulling out my fall home decor the last part of August already. Partly because I love it so much, but also because we'll be traveling for part of this coming season to be with my siblings as we are present with our younger brother. 

Summer was a time of planting and growth, and Autumn is a time to remember, to draw close to each other, to be grateful. I love the reminders for both the growth and the thanks in these words from Colossians 2:7 (NLT) ...

Let your roots grow down into Him,
and let your lives be built on Him.
Then your faith will grow strong 
in the truth you were taught,
and you will overflow with thankfulness.

A part of my seasonal decorating, pillows have become a fun way of filling our home with touches of the seasons. It's an easy way to add the colors of fall (or the other seasons), with a cozy, warm touch. And changing them out, adding a bit of change through the year is always fun and refreshing ...

Of course, the aromas of fall, are a big part of the season. It started the end of August for me when I baked delicious Banana Zucchini Bread (above), using up zucchini from our veggie garden. Click here for a previous post that gives a link to this recipe.

Muffins is another favorite way to use zucchini. Click here for the Zucchini Muffin recipe, shown above. Zucchini, chopped raisins, and chopped walnuts make this a delicious recipe. 

I also recently made another amazing recipe, also using zucchini ... click the following link to read a previous post: BBQ Ranch Grilled Chicken and Veggie Bowls. This is probably my favorite rice bowl recipe.

Yes, I love the seasons. Each has its own beauty, and are gifts from God for us to savor and enjoy in the midst of our beautiful, and challenging days. I've been loving the insight and ideas for each season in Melissa Michael's new book, A Lovely Life: Savoring Simple Joys in Every Season. Part of my Mother's Day gift from my dear husband, this book is packed full of big and small ways to enjoy and celebrate each season. And also, it's filled with such good quotes ...

Autumn is the season to reconnect your heart and soul
to the familiar pleasures of home and hospitality.

(Melissa Michaels, in A Lovely Life)