Leona's Mexican Cornbread

It was a rainy and cold day here, on the last Saturday of the year. For us it was also one day after the last of a string of Christmas get-togethers and one day before the first New Years to-do. It seemed weird to just be doing normal chores instead of cooking (or cleaning or wrapping) for the masses. 


It was the kind of cold and wet in-between day that just sort of cried out for a fire in the fireplace and steaming bowls of the chili that simmered on the back burner while I was getting Christmas dinner ready. (Cook once + clean the stove once + eat for days = my present to me.)

Chili's good with Fritos, but when we smoked yesterday's brisket for the Barton family meal at our house, I threw 20 whole jalepenos on the top rack of the smoker.  They smelled so good that Chet's mama's Mexican cornbread seemed in order, as well.

And then I noticed that everything in it except the jalepenos was either sunshiney yellow (corn meal, corn, oil, eggs, cheese) or the cloud white of a pretty day (onions, sour cream). Just stirring it up brightened my day.


Leona passed on in December about five years ago, so having one of her signature dishes was warming in another way, too. Not only was she the family's glue, she was a foodie before the word was invented. She read cookbooks for entertainment long past the time she was able to cook any more.

When I found this stuck between the pages of one of the many cookbooks I inherited from her (Lucky me!), I could just see her chatting with some "lady at the groceries." Realizing she was about to get a good recipe, she would start scrabbling in her handbag for a pen and something to write on. In this case, she pulled out a check.


Notice the simplicity of the document. It's from the days when you were
a person and not a number, I guess.
Even though she'd pretty much stopped cooking this long before I entered the family,
 it's a fond memory for them and a favorite for my family and friends.



And lucky you, here's the recipe. 

Leona's Mexican Cornbread


1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 cup creamed corn
1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
2 jalepeno peppers, chopped
2 T diced onion
2 eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

 1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Mix all ingredients in order listed but reserve the cheese.
3. Pour half the batter in a greased 9 x 13 pan. Top with half the cheese, then the rest of the batter. Top with cheese.
4. Bake in preheated oven until cornbread is light brown, the center is set and cheese is bubbly, about 30-35 minutes.


Enjoy this with your family on some cold and wet day.



Zesty Lemon-Dill Firecrackers, Mix Free Version

I love the holidays mostly because they present the opportunity to give just-big-enough treats to people who brighten my world!

Two years ago my mom's neighbor shared a recipe for these crackers after we raved over them. I've made--and shared--them several times since (especially with those who watch sugar intake for whatever reason).

But this year, there's the problem of the bee.


The one in my bonnet.

The kitchen project that's trumping all others right now is mindfully replacing all the junk masquerading as food with real food. I am frankly bewildered when I look through old recipe books and find cans and boxes and packets called for, almost to the exclusion of anything fresh or real. When did we get to be a bag-and-box nation?!

So I'm working on it, replacing whatever I can wherever I can.

It's MY  bee, to be sure, since a bowl of silky, four-ingredient pudding makes my kids no happier than the 37-ingredient kind from a mix, but it makes me happier. And you know what? That counts for something.

When it came time to make one of my favorite teacher- and  neighbor-treats, I set out to replace the called-for packet of dressing mix with something a little less scientific and vague, using whatever I thought might be in ranch dressing.

Next time I might add in some powdered buttermilk to make it more ranch-y, but right now I'm loving it just like it is. I hope our neighbors--and you--do, too.


If you don't want to mix your own, simply substitute a packet of
Ranch dressing mix for the ingredients that go in the food processor bowl. 

 Get the Recipe

Click HERE 
to get your own set of these FREE tags
(for personal, non-commercial use)
 to make your gifting easy.


Blessings--and real food--to you and yours!




Toffee Blondies in a Jar

At our Pinterest Party last Sunday, this easy gift was the "top seller."


Counting the jar and all the ingredients, real cost was $3.30 per mix. (The ribbon and fabric were stashbusters and the cardstock is just something I have all the time, so account for that if you're budgeting for these.)

Though we didn't finish during the party--because "lightly packed" is open to interpretation and because I didn't correctly calculate just how many boxes of crisped rice cereal would be required--we eventually ended up with 54 jars (55 if you count the sample). Like I said HERE, I planned to do too much (or underestimated how many snack-and-chat breaks we would need, whichever), so sixteen jars ended up being assembled on Monday, after the dust had settled some.

The idea came from this pin, but my taste-testers found that recipe too-too sweet, so I played around with a few recipes until I found a mix that was nicely toffee-y and deliciously chocolaty but not cloyingly sweet. (It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it!) The printable recipe below (a Google document) is the recipe we settled on. I hope you try it and enjoy!


The original pin included some labels, but frankly, sticker paper is expensive (especially when you need 55 of them and when you're trying hard to keep the cost way down). And anyway, it's not fun to peel stickers if you have NO fingernails, once you've cut the edges, have you noticed?

So I set out to design some just for us (and you).

While sitting at my laptop, chin in hand, staring at a blank Publisher page, trying to think through an easy-to-cut label and a way to attach it, this is what I noticed:


And that's how I knew:


Click HERE for this printable. It's free for private, non-commercial use.

The party iteration of these had a separate "directions for baking" card that was just one more thing that had to be cut/punched/tied, but I've since added the directions on the back of this label.

LESS time + LESS paper = MORE yay!

Trim it along the light grey lines, use a punch or scissors to round the corners and use an X-acto knife to open the little grey slits for the ribbon. Cut 17" of ribbon at an angle, then use the point to thread front-to-back first. Tie it in a knot around the jar, and trim the ends.

Add a 7-inch circle of fabric and a ribbon if you're feeling festive...or an upside-down cupcake liner in Christmas colors if you're feeling rushed, like this:


A real plus of this shortcut is that at least I don't feel wasteful when I use one of these. 
I never know what to do with the circles of fabric I receive on gift jars, do you?
(I'm open to suggestions.)

By the way, these "Enjoy" liners came from the dollar bins at Michael's.


Merry Christmas!



Whipping Up Christmas

What do you get when you mix eleven good girlfriends (and one friend's visiting mom), a bunch of crafting and cooking supplies, a rainy and cold Sunday afternoon in early December, and a shared Pinterest board?


170 neighbor/co-worker/teacher gifts,
that's what!

(Note: The recipes and printable labels we used are coming in the next two days 
to make your last-minute gifting easier. Merry Christmas.)

The Pinterest Christmas Crafting Party at my house is now the kickoff of my holiday season and definitely one of its highlights for me. (This was our second crafting party; we also have a recipe party at St. Patrick's Day.) It is an invigorating challenge to get it organized, sure, and it makes for a long day when we finally get down to crafting, but it's a real hoot that we don't have to feel bad about taking time out for. This isn't just another stand-and-chat party squeezed into the crazy holiday schedule.

THIS is a party that GETS STUFF DONE. Think of a hyper- productive Santa's workshop wo-manned by the people you like best in the world. One that's fueled by homemade soups, salads, desserts, and cocoa (and, okay, slightly spiked wassail with little clove-studded roasted apples floating in it). And one with the volume turned up. (Waaaaay up!)

This year, after my awesome husband ceded the house to mess-making (for what he calls the "HEN-terest Party," and escaped with the other mates to their usual "Men-terest Party" (read: football and grilling) at a sympathetic friend's house, we made (in order):

SIX pounds of pistachio/cherry chocolate bark,


FORTY half-pint jars of Praline Ice Cream Sauce,


 SIXTEEN 4-ounce jars of Caramel Dipping Sauce, 


THIRTY-THREE Bath Bombs, 



TWENTY-FIVE pots of orange-oil scented beeswax and shea butter Body Balm,  


and FIFTY-FOUR quart jars of Blondie Toffee Bars 
for our (other) friends.


Plus COUNTLESS good memories, for ourselves, of course.


It was just what I want for Christmas: creative time with people I care about.

I wish I'd gotten over my sense that my house isn't big enough or grand enough to entertain my friends a long time ago, I do. (False pride. Immaturity. Insecurity. Take your pick.)  See, I have an open living room-dining room-kitchen, but it's really on the small side.  There's no granite or hardwood or stainless steel in sight.



And yet, we managed to shoehorn ourselves in, have a GREAT time, get a lot done, and still keep our fingers out of the way of paper cutter blade and our feet (mostly) off each others' toes. We wore work clothes and comfy shoes and stayed until we ran out of brown sugar (oops, my bad) and energy, working sweatshop-style.

Now, it took us SEVEN hours--since I'm always more ambitious planning than I have a right to be--but that included steamy mugs of cocoa, Wassail, salad,  and shrimp-and-corn soup breaks, and lots of catching up off to the side. And plenty of laughter, of course, especially as the evening wore on.

In addition to having sweet little homemade somethings to share with others, we came away with the gift of knowing a little more about each other in the way you just can't until you share a task and see someone work with their hands. I don't think you really know somebody

until you do tedious work together, 


until you have to admit your bath bomb looks vaguely obscene despite your best efforts,  


and until you have to swallow the crow of triumph you really want to make 
when yours comes out perfect! on the second try:


Friendships fostered on dinners out and Bible studies can't help but metamorphose 
when you craft and cook and really just create together. 

I don't know what makes Christmas special for you, but when I think of the best parts of the season, they don't come in a box with a bow. They every single one have Christian names. I will admit I'm vaguely irritated with the syrupy carols and mildly bemused by the plethora of decorations crowding my neighbors' yards. I honestly don't care what's under the tree for me or on the table come mealtime (though I expend prodigious effort on our meal and on gifts for others). The best part--the only really important part--of the holidays is the gift of marking another year with these people I love the best,  and who grant me the grace to love me back (even when I miscalculate how many boxes of brown sugar and crisped rice cereal we'll need).

In other words, the gift I look forward to is the same as the first Christmas, that of love and time and memory shared.

The Divine Mrs. M's Salted Caramel Shortbread

A few staple ingredients and an hour equal an amazing food gift!
I'm gearing up for holiday giving to neighbors, friends, family, and teachers, are you? This is one of my favorite edible treats to send to school. It's easy, almost universally liked, and it travels very well!

We've been blessed with so many really good teachers since our oldest started school in 1999. In that universe of bright and shining stars in the educational firmament*, there are two who truly stand out. Interestingly, they're both named Mrs. M.

One Mrs. M taught both Sweetpea and G-man early in their high school careers, and  hers became a respite class for both of them, a welcome safe harbor in the rough seas of a 2000-kid school. No surprise, she's also Jesus-lover, and it shows in her positive outlook and cheery personality. She's a real delight to watch in action. She just loves to love on kids, and what kid doesn't need some extra loving-on in those tough years?

The salted caramel shortbread comes into play because yesterday was this Mrs. M's birthday, and it's her very favorite, see?


If it's a nice, low-humidity day, this is a cinch to make. Keep your eye on the caramel and get it off the heat when it's light-colored and bubbly and in the process of thickening but not actually thick, even if the shortbread's still baking. It will thicken considerably as it cools.


When it has cooled on the shortbread, you should be able to make a soft fingerprint in it somewhere off to one side. (If you can't leave a fingerprint, use caution when biting into a bar so you don't break a tooth. It'll still be awesome; it'll just take you longer to eat it!)

I try to give credit for recipes that aren't original, but the closest I can come with this one is that it's from some magazine I found in the doctor's office while waiting for Sweetpea to have her foot x-rayed:

Oh, funny! Notice the penciled-in addendum that "Steph" loves these, too? That's the other Divine Mrs. M, who is also a Jesus-loving teacher! I should introduce these two wonderful women, don't you think? They seem to have quite a lot in common. Until I can arrange that, though, a bright blue plate full of squares is on its way to Steph's house tomorrow, just because.
salted caramel shortbread in an hour: humofdelicious.com

For this very special birthday wish, though, a little embellishment seemed in order. A leftover wrapping-paper flower with a button-jar find topped off with a bit of curling ribbon and a birthday card, and it was good to go.
salted caramel shortbread with a wrapping paper flower, a button, and some curling ribbon

Click here for the Google Docs printable recipe:


*A Singing in the Rain allusion, in honor of both kids, who can recite the whole movie verbatim.

Ruminations and Roasted Peach Butter

What if trials are really blessings not yet ripe enough to pick? Roasted Peach Butter Recipe

I had great plans two weeks ago tomorrow. I was going to take about twelve pounds of spectacular peaches and put them up for Christmastime, rust-colored fragrant Summer preserved in pint jars for spreading on winter biscuits.

It would have been fine, I'm sure, just the way I planned it, just fine. Then what felt like a catastrophe at the time became the catalyst to something better. A finish-up dental appointment went nuclear and left me looped out on serious pain meds long past when--by my schedule, at least--I should have had a row of pint jars filled with peach butter up on the shelf.  But noooo.  Nevermind what I had penciled in; my Teacher had other plans for the week. 

The peaches (and the housework and the writing and even the chewing I was counting on doing) were just going to have to wait. Which, as it turned out--and as it often turns out--was a good thing.

Have you lived long enough (like I have) to consider that trend? The "Wow, that's bad--no, wait!" trend? Have you started musing too that maybe trials are really still-green and too-tart blessings,
and nothing a bit of patience and Divine intervention can't sort right out? If you haven't, I hope you get there, every bit as much as I hope I'll manage to stay there. Because when you do--when I do-- it will Set. Us. Free.

For myself, I've seen so many trials mature into juicy why-did-I-ever-doubt blessings that I can trust the ones which still seem green to me will one day get really, really ripe. I honestly believe--and have some hard-core soap-opera strength experiences to back up my faith--even the greenest, face-puckering-est trial I've ever endured will be mouth-wateringly sweet and gloriously delicious after it has been in the presence of the Son long enough.

One day, every trial I've ever endured will be like these peaches, perfectly ripe. And oh, I was delighted to find some affordable Freestone peaches that weren't hard as rocks and actually smelled like real peaches instead of freon. I can't imagine what I'll feel when I see my "trials" served up to me, at last at a recognizable as the sweet, hand-picked blessings they always were.

Roasted Peach Butter on a plate with cinnamon toast
Back to Thursday two weeks ago, though.  With the peaches tucked into my cooler bag in the parking lot outside the dentist's office, I sashayed blithely into the blessing of an "easy" dental appointment gone wild. A cracked tooth under that temporary bridge? Another abscess? No other options left after a summer-long saga at the dentist? Oy.

Needless to say it was Saturday before I cared at all about the peaches. While slumping on the couch in a post-Lortab daze, a news-show chef displayed roasted peach something-or-other on a plate with some other stuff. (I said I was dazed.) And, then, mind unfettered by habit, I wondered, what if I didn't have to do boiling water and ice baths and stand-and-stir to get peach butter? 

And there you go.  I do believe there might be a great big picture involving the reorganization of my mouth, a Texas-sized masterpiece of blessing somewhere down the line. But right now, here I am, with my nose pressed against this single pixel of expense and loss and pain, believing that even this pixel in this moment has the texture of benediction layered in over the OW.

In the Right Now, there's this clue to the Later I'm trusting God for: we'd probably have still had peach butter this winter, but chances are it'd be of the pedestrian sort. Because of the delay and the Lortab feeding the need not to have to do it the usual way, we got something new and better than we'd been expecting, something with hints of honey and ginger and cardamom, warmed by cognac-and-vanilla under it all.



While it doesn't anywhere near make up for the crazy rendezvous with the dentist's chair,
it's a nice enough little consolation prize. 


roasted peach butter

Click HERE for a Google Document recipe.

Roasted Peach Butter 

12 pounds of peaches (about 40) preferably of the Freestone variety
1/2 cup (or to taste) unpasteurized raw honey
1/8-1/4 t ground cardamom
1/8-1/4 t ginger
2 T vanilla extract (I used homemade—vanilla beans steeped for a year in cognac) 

Wash and slice peaches in half lengthwise through the stem and around the pit. Hold the peach gently in both hands and slowly rotate the halves around the pit in opposite directions. The pit will stay in one half of the peach and be easier to remove, whether you do it now or after roasting.

Place peaches cut-side up in two foil-lined baking sheets. Roast at 350ยบ for 30 minutes, then carefully flip and roast another 15-30 minutes. Peaches should be soft and deeply colored when they are ready. How long this will take depends on how ripe your peaches are. 

Meanwhile, prepare your jars/lids/rings and a hot water bath canner according to canner directions.

Allow peaches to cool slightly, then use tongs to remove skins. Discard the skins and coarsely chop the peaches before placing in a Dutch oven. Scrape any “syrup” from the foil with a rubber spatula and add to the fruit in the pot.

Heat over medium-low until hot and bubbly. Sweeten with honey to taste. Again, the ripeness and natural sweetness of your peaches will change how much honey you need. Stir in the vanilla, then begin adding the other spices in small increments, to taste.

If you like smooth peach butter, blend with an immersion blender. While maintaining a gentle boil over low heat, dip the peach butter into hot jars, wipe rims, seal, and process 20 minutes in a boiling water bath, following canner directions on cooling, checking seal, and storage.

YIELD: 7 pints, plus about 1/2 cup for “quality control”

Special thanks to Stephanie for sharing a FB post that helped me 
shore up my understanding of the unripe fruit analogy I've used here.

If you're wondering, this is the pan I used to roast the peaches. It's my go-to pan for everything. If you get one, be sure to consider using foil for any endeavor that results in a baked-on mess. That's what I do, because the dishwasher dulls the beautiful shiny finish, and also because I'd rather write/cook/sleep than scrub.






"Fruit" Leather

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Want a fruit rollup?

Just foolin'. 

Unless you're willing to agree that the tomato is a fruit, that is--something my sweet husband would never admit--you're out of luck.

Citrus Jelly Babies (Pate de Fruit)

My lovely and generous neighbor Michele had a LOT of citrus on her trees this season, and she's not the only one.  Seems everywhere I went before Christmas, someone was graciously offering or eagerly taking lemons, oranges, tangerines or satsumas. I've been asking everybody who's taking or giving: "What do you do with it?"

I have heard precisely three replies:
  • eat one a day (oranges),  
  • make one pitcher of lemonade after another, and 
  • freeze lemon juice as ice cubes. 
Honestly.

That's it.

Come on, now. In a part of the world celebrated for its food? With the internet and Pinterest in our very pockets? That's the best we can do? I don't think so.

When there's fresh fruit to be had and neighbors willing to donate it in the interest of (kitchen) science, I'm determined to try as many recipes as possible that don't end with "-ade."

So far: 
citrus handscrub
limoncello
arancello
citricello (and each in the "di crema" variety as well)
orange corriander liqueur
candied peels
orange vanilla bean jelly
lemon vanilla bean jelly
burgandy orange jelly
the first two jellies in a no-sugar-added variety
orange date walnut bread
lemon ricotta muffins
fruit leather
dried fruit sections for hot tea/snacking
...!


whole fruit pate de fruit made without gelatin and molded into "gingerbread people"
And these. They are made from an old Iraqi recipe I found online in the middle of one night and now cannot find to save me. (If you know where it is, please tell me, and I'll give credit!)

I made these before Christmas, sorry. We've been caught up in such a crazy time around here since then with so many more serious issues to think about that I never got around to posting it. Still, they're worth looking at even in January. Ponder the possibilities for snacks in non-Christmas shapes; it's what I'm doing. Hearts for Valentines (post soon!), Crowns for Mardi Gras, Shamrocks for St. Patty's Day.

Or just cubes for the average Thursday, like these:
<img src="http://www.humofdelicious.com" alt="citrus pate de fruit">
These little sweeties are what the French call pate de fruit [PAHT duh fwee] and pastilles by the British. Think gumdrops, but all natural, or think your morning glass of orange juice molded into candy-aisle orange slices.

Think yum.

I think they might be vegan friendly, since they don't use commercial gelatin like most recipes do, but I'm not sure. It's just one whole piece of fruit, some sugar, and a little time (most of it without your attention), and the results were perfect for both the season's bounty and the season's gifting.

Time: about 10-minutes hands-on time, about 40 minutes total.

[Click HERE for a printable recipe without the narrative.]

Ingredients:
one nice-sized orange (see below for other citrus to use)
3/4 cup sugar
 maybe just a little powdered pectin, depending (see recipe)
Method:
(Don't faint...it's not hard at all!)

keep the orange submerged under boiling water with a smaller pot lid!
Boil the fruit whole in enough water to cover. I used a pot lid from a smaller pot to hold the fruit under the water, as you can see in the picture at right.

While the fruit is cooking, prepare your container. You can use a pan lined with parchment and slice the candy into cubes. Or, if you have them, spray with non-stick cooking spray and use a silicone mold like this "anyday" shape or the holiday-appropriate mold of your choice.


Dip the fruit out into a bowl and dump the water. You'll need the pot in a little while. Let the fruit cool enough so you can easily touch it.

Remove all the seeds. Really, every one. (You'll have little dots in your jellies if you don't.)

Decision time: how much do you like the slight bitterness of pith? The thickening power of the pectin is in the peel, so I think you might need at least some of the peel in the slurry.  If you like it a lot, dump the whole fruit and any juices that have run out into your blender. If, like me, you're fonder of biting into very sweet things that don't bite you back, remove and discard about half of the peel. THEN dump everything in the blender.

Add 3/4 cup sugar to the blender and liquefy the contents. If you discover you missed a seed, use a knife blade to remove it. (I don't know why this works at removing particles without taking too much fruit with it, but it does.) Some bigger bits of zest look pretty and work out just fine, but do puree the fruit. No lumps allowed!


Return this sugary slurry to the pot. If you've removed part of the peel, sprinkle 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of powdered pectin over the top, depending on how juicy your fruit turned out to be. (I used Ball low-sugar pectin.) Heat over medium to a low boil.

Watch and stir frequently (or end up scrubbing to get rid of stuck-on goop...not that I know that or anything) until it's nice and thick. You'll know it's done when you dip a wooden spoon in and it clings instead of drips. Tip: don't let it cook too long, or it will CLUMP instead of cling.

Spread into the prepared pan and use a spatula to smooth the top, or dip by spoonfuls into whatever mold you want to use. Set aside for 4 hours or longer to firm up.


Finally, sugar coat everything. Prepare a pan with superfine sugar or granulated sugar spread about 1/4 inch deep. Slice or unmold your jelly and place in the sugar. Roll to cover, leave to sit for a day or so. Roll them every time you pass by. The flavor improves and so does the texture, so a day or more of rest-and-roll is ideal.

Look how pretty!

<img src="http://www.humofdelicious.com" alt="citrus pate de fruit">
Other citrus fruit variations I've tried:
--one of our very large local Meyer lemons 
--three limes
--three tangerines
--two of Michele's Satsumas for a lovely bright orange color

Added Flavoring ideas:
--half a vanilla bean to orange or lemon
--1/2 t grated ginger to orange, satsuma, or tangerine (perfect for my "gingerbread people" molds!)
--1/4 t ground nutmeg or cinnamon
(I think the vanilla is my favorite addition, but just plain orange is just plain delicious, too.)

Just A Drop in the Bucket


I've been looking out the window and eavesdropping in the ICU waiting room all week. Talk of bucket lists is actually frequent here, where life is suddenly (though no doubt only momentarily) valuable. "When this is over, I'm going to..." might be the second or third most often used phrase (right after "I can't believe..." and "We're just waiting...").

Bucket Lists are all the rage these days, and if you're short of ideas you can find them posted all over Pinterest and FaceBook.  100 places to go, 25 things to do before I die, 75 experiences I need to make me happy and complete.

It's a catchy idea, but it makes me vaguely uncomfortable. It sounds awfully cocky to me. Who am I to announce that I must have this experience or see that thing before I can die content with my life?

I have come to believe that there's such a thing as a divine lesson plan and that I'm the student. A teacher at heart, I know that SOMEbody needs to keep an over-arching view of what's gotta get learned...and that the "somebody" is NOT likely to be the student, not even the brightest one in the class.

I remember letting kids choose their stations as a young-and-hopeful new teacher, only to find out at the end of the unit that some kids had stayed too long at one of the "fun" stations and many had simply found a way to look busy while skipping the hard ones entirely. They all liked to play the games and paint, and would maybe condescend to writing me a sloppy rough draft if it wasn't too hard. But the difficult tasks? Nuh-uh, no thank you.

I've been trying that with my life (and sometimes I still do), have you? I've attempted to grab the plan book and fill up all the boxes with recesses and pleasant lessons so maybe there'd be no time in the class period (my life!) for too much of the rigorous work.

The view out the window from here
Making a bucket list would feel like more of the same.

Age and ouches have taught me this: it's best to leave the lesson planning to the Expert. I just don't believe I can out-god God any more.

While I trust that I can't outrun God either--meaning that however badly I choose, God will use the mess I make for my good and His glory--the several years' accumulation of teethmarks on my hindquarters have finally convinced me that setting myself up for independent study has some serious drawbacks. While it's educational enough in the school-of-hard-knocks kind of way, I get myself off into the brambles where the Wild Things with the Very Sharp Teeth reside.

Every single time.

Rather than staring out the window of the divine classroom,
wishing I was out at recess or daydreaming about that cool and easy-peasy classroom down the hall,
and instead of wheedling that I can learn all the math I'll ever need by playing card games,
I'm paying closer attention to the lessons already in progress.

At what I have been already been given.

Seeing the wrecks and the rainbows, both, as gifts.

It may sound nuts to you, but I truly believe that none of this craziness I call my life--NONE of it--is an accident. God doesn't deal in Plan Bs; whatever is happening was always on His lesson plan...and His is the only plan that matters.

Here's why: 
If I am in Christ (and I am), 
and Christ is in God (and He is), 
then any circumstance that gets to me 
has done so only by going through both of Them. 

Picture this: 
There's a book. 
In the book is an envelope.
In the envelope is a piece of paper. 
Can an arrow (or a fiery dart!)  hit the paper
without first getting through the book
and the envelope, both?

Nope.

That's it in a nutshell, but it would be hubris to apply out loud to anyone but myself, this platitudinous truth that God's got it handled and it'll all work for the good in the end.

"Count it all joy" is a lesson we cannot teach but only learn.

I don't say it blithely.  Don't think I've been living under a rock, that I've been sheltered. If I wrote it out for you, my life from early childhood on would sound like a bad made-for-TV movie script. Murder and shootout and stalking and abuse are on my life's word wall, mixed in with sweeter words like Jesus and blessing, and husband, children and joy in the later chapters.

When I say "It's All Good," I'm not spouting platitudes like the well-meaning hospital chaplain who stopped by this week, her religious-buzzword necklace so loosely strung together that if I didn't keep a weather eye on pop Christianity I might have wondered if she was quite entirely sane.

I know whereof I speak,  and these words have some substance.

And so the only bucket list I care about is the one God's got jotted down. I want to seize this day, this situation, these people. They are all--good, bad or ugly--God's gift, to me.

If I can't learn to consistently lean in, do the extra Book work, focus on the Teacher, and count every single lesson joy, it's not going to matter if I ever make it to Greece or see the Northern Lights, or not.



Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. 
It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it,
For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think
In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.

Ecclesiastes 9: 7-10
The Message



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