Tuscany Bound!

img_1603

Tomorrow, Brad and I will travel to Europe, specifically Italy, for the first time in our lives. Finally.

This has been a dream for a long time. For a husband-and-wife team that loves exploring new places and learning about new cultures, Europe has been on our wish list for a while.

It’s not like we didn’t want to go sooner. In the early years of our marriage, finances were tight. Brad was a youth pastor and I was finishing college and starting my teaching career. Once we became more financially stable, we were too busy figuring out our lives to recognize that this window of time before children arrived might be a good time to go. When it did dawn on us, I was a stay-at-home mom with two young children. We lived on one income and, once again, travel to Europe was beyond our financial means.

So I started my Europe folder. Whenever the Chicago Tribune or other publications ran articles on budget-friendly European travel, I added them to my folder. From time to time, I pulled out the folder out and reread the articles, dreaming of the time Brad and I would go. I loved hearing friends share their stories of the places they visited (Okay, sometimes I was slightly jealous too). I couldn’t wait for the time I could say, “I’m going to Europe.”

Last fall, an incredible online deal for Italy appeared in my inbox. If you haven’t heard of Travelzoo, you need to check it out. This particular deal included round-trip airfare, hotel, and a rental car for seven nights in Tuscany. One of the perks of living near New York City is that it is a hub for international travel and with that comes great deals for travel. The price for this trip was amazing. The dates perfect—during our Spring Break. Within 24 hours, we found ourselves pulling the trigger and purchasing the deal.

And here we are. The day before we leave, pinching ourselves and feeling like giddy teenagers. One of the highlights of our 25th anniversary trip to Montreal this past summer was the realization that we make a good pair when we travel. We like hanging out together. We can still irritate each other or have different expectations that we need to sort through, but I’m excited to take a trip like this now after so many years of marriage. We have our shared history to help us navigate this new adventure.

I plan to write some more about our trip after the fact, but if you want to come along while we explore the hill country of Italy, follow me at Instagram: aliciabrummeler. I will be posting regularly. Can’t wait for that first espresso on the Autostrada!

Arrivederci, amici.

Posted in Europe, Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Slow Cooking: A Magical Transformation

img_1548It could be because it is winter. It could be because whatever is “old” is now “new.” Or it could be because cookbook writers and others have been singing the praises of the humble crock pot for the past several years. Whatever the reason, slow cooking is enjoying a revival. The latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens even contains an article about the wonders of slow cooking.

I am the product of a crock-pot-using-mom. In my own family, when I taught in Texas and needed to put dinner on the table every night, the crock pot was a lifesaver, making an appearance most weeks during the school year. These days, my crock pot doesn’t even reside in my kitchen cupboards, claiming precious retail space. I have it tucked away in a makeshift pantry in another room. However, last weekend I pulled it out and used it to cook a sirloin pork roast along with some potatoes and carrots.

It was the best meal I have had in a while.

Over the course of the ten hours or so that the roast cooked, a magical transformation occurred. The result? Meat so tender and so flavorful that it melted in your mouth. The potatoes and carrots were soft, but not mushy, and captured the meaty flavors of the pork roast. My seasonings were simple—a couple of garlic cloves, half an onion, some salt and pepper, and some water to create moisture.

Even better was the low cost of this meal. I bought the meat at Aldi for under five dollars. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was close to three pounds. Of course, potatoes and carrots are inexpensive food items. To round out the meal, I made biscuits—something else I haven’t fixed for a long time. A simple meal for sure, but so good and perfect for a January winter’s night.

 

Posted in Cooking, Family life | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Winter Fare: Soup for Dinner

A few weeks ago a snow storm passed through my area. Starting mid morning and ending later that evening, continuous, powdery snowflakes fell, resulting in approximately eight inches of snow. Since it was a Saturday, it was a perfect day for enjoying a fire, going for a snow walk, and planning for dinner.

Thus began the pantry raid to see what ingredients were on hand for soup.

Fortunately, I had a bag of lentils, along with an onion, a couple of garlic cloves, some carrots (these are optional), and olive oil—all the ingredients necessary for lentil soup. Usually I default to Ina Garten’s recipe for lentil soup, which uses a few more ingredients. But this time I wanted to try my friend Rachel Stone’s recipe that she included in her book Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food. Rachel is a fellow colleague and a writer. I haven’t finished her entire book yet, but I love what I have read and I like that she includes recipes at the end of each chapter.

img_1527

Whenever I make soup for dinner, I also want to make bread. Knowing I had the time, I decided to make french bread. Once again, I have an easy go-to recipe that is a favorite. All you need is some yeast, warm water, flour, sugar, and salt. This recipe also makes two baguettes. Usually we eat one and freeze the other for another time.

Scrounging around in my freezer, I discovered a frozen pie crust. Of course, the husband and college-aged son wanted Lemon Meringue Pie, but I didn’t feel like driving to the store in the snow in search of lemons. My instincts told me that a look through my More with Less cookbook would probably reveal a good recipe. I landed on Shoo-Fly pie. Leave it to the Pennsylvania Dutch to provide a yummy option without a lot of fuss. The filling is molasses (if you don’t like strong flavors, perhaps skip this recipe), eggs, baking soda and water, with a bit of flour. In addition, there is a crumb topping that is combined into the filling and sprinkled on the top before baking. Served warm with a dollop of whipped cream, this pie is perfect for a winter evening.

The biggest challenge to pulling off my dinner was timing. I needed to allow the lentils to soak before cooking them. Also, soups taste better when they have time to simmer for a bit so I needed to factor that piece in as well. I also needed rising time for the bread. Once I figured out those parts, this was an easy, satisfying meal to prepare. I baked the pie during the second rise of my french bread so the oven was already warm when the bread needed to bake.

img_1528

The evening ended with watching the final two episodes in season one of The Crown, a fabulous and fascinating show on Netflix that I highly recommend. The snow stopped by the time we went to bed. Our stomachs were full and our beds warm. A perfect ending to the day.

 

Posted in The Ordinary, Winter | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Cultivate a Writing Life: Attend a Writer’s Conference

At the end of October, I attended my first Writer’s Conference—The Indiana Faith and Writing Conference at Anderson University. I’m so glad I went.

I’ll be honest and say I was a bit nervous beforehand. I wasn’t sure what to expect. As silly as it may sound, I still find myself hesitating before readily saying, “I am a writer.”

Somehow the idea of walking into a room filled with other writers felt intimidating. A bit like junior-high school and wondering if anyone will want to sit with you at lunch. Fortunately, my mom attended the conference with me so the experience wasn’t as nerve wracking as it might have been if I was by myself. As for the worry about the “scary” writer crowd? Nonexistent. Smiling, friendly faces greeted both of us as we found our seats for the opening session.

While I enjoyed the workshops, for me the best part of the conference was the plenary sessions. The writers and poets that spoke inspired and challenged me. Addie Zierman, the author of When We Were on Fire and the more recent book Night Driving, gave the first plenary address. I read her first book and appreciated her honesty about her complicated relationship with her faith. On Friday evening, Susanna Childress poet and professor of English at Hope College spoke. Speaking in a slow, southern drawl, I found myself captivated by her storytelling as she explored what it means to abide in the midst of mystery.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, Frank X. Walker, a former poet laureate for the state of Kentucky shared poems from several of his collections. His poems, told from the perspective of real, historical figures, combine the beauty of poetic language with compelling characters.

The final plenary address was given by Alex Marestaing, a writer of young adult fiction. He challenged us to have a strong voice as writers. The writing life can be discouraging and fraught with self doubt. Yet, there are moments when “God walks in the room” and you realize that you must continue to write no matter if the words ever leave the pages of your journal or Google Drive.  His talk was the perfect conclusion to a wonderful weekend.

Even though it has been several months since I attended the conference, I still find myself recalling the talks, the workshops, and the conversations with fellow writers. This is why attending a writer’s conference is such a  valuable experience. Whether you call yourself a writer or not (no one checks your credentials at the door, btw), hanging out with others who love words and well-crafted story adds a richness to everyday life. These are people who care about writing and want to learn how to improve. These are people who have experienced the highs and lows of the writing life and have insights and thoughts to share with others. These are people who love the good, the true, and the beautiful. These are the kind of people I want to hang out with.

 

Posted in Writing, Writing Conferences | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A New Year, A New Book

It’s Monday. The start of a new week and a new year—2017.

On several occasions at Always Orange, I have professed my fondness for New Year’s Resolutions. Over the years, my practices regarding this tradition have adapted to fit my season of life. These days, I am more likely to set some goals for myself at the beginning of August to coincide with the start of school. But whether I am setting goals at start of a new calendar year or a new school year, I value the opportunity to pause and reflect on the “what ifs” for the coming year.

My  “books-to-read-in-the-coming-year” list is always part of this process. Like many avid readers, I have a book stack in my room. Actually I have two. One is on my nightstand next to the bed. The other is on my desk, waiting to move over to the coveted first-position spot.

Guess what? I have a book recommendation for your “first-position” spot.

If you are looking for a practical, engaging read, I think you will find Everywhere God, Exploring the Ordinary Places helpful. No pressure here. Just a reading suggestion as you think about the books you want to read in the coming year. Or if you know someone who could benefit from such an approach to expanding her thoughts on how to walk daily with God, this could be a great gift or suggestion.

everywhere-god-cover-1

And one more request. If you are currently reading Everywhere God (perhaps you are close to finishing it?), would you consider posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads? Reviews are a crucial part of the publishing process for any author.

Blessings, readers—may 2017 be a year where you discover God’s presence in unexpected ways in your everyday life.

 

Posted in Everywhere God, Good Reads, Publishing, Recommended Reading, The Ordinary | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Advent, Week 4: Gift Giving

advent-candles

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Matthew 2: 11

The Christmas story brims with generosity. There is the long-desired child that comes to Elizabeth and Zachariah. John the Baptist prepares the hearts and minds of a people waiting and longing for the Messiah. The gracious hospitality of Elizabeth to Mary—the  young, pregnant, and most likely frightened teenage girl—who stays at Elizabeth’s home for three months is another example. And then we have the Magi, offering lavish gifts that many scholars believe helped support the family financially, especially on their trip to Egypt.

Over the years, I have listened to my parents recount the story of the Christmas they spent in Israel. They were young, newly married, poor graduate students. After attending a Christmas Eve service at Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem, they were invited to spend the night with a woman who had connections at the school where my dad was a student. My mom always told with great affection the lovely, yet simple, meal the woman served, the heated water bottle she placed in my parent’s bed before bedtime, and the single rose gracing their bedside. As a young child, I did not appreciate or understand how this memory could evoke such strong emotions in my parents. I was far too worried about the lack of presents. How could anyone be happy with NO gifts?  

Little did I realize what a gift my parents received.

Now when I hear that story I have a completely different response. Yes, receiving an actual gift is wonderful. But presents aren’t the only type of gifts.  In this case, my parents received the gift of hospitality. The fond memory of that experience has stayed with them through the years.

As we head into the final week of Advent, let us consider some other ways we can give a gift. Perhaps you can offer the gift of time to a lonely friend or an act of service to a neighbor. Maybe you can bake some homemade goodies to share with coworkers. Or maybe you can even host someone in your home whom you may not know very well, like the woman did for my parents.  Who knows the impact your gift of time, service, or hospitality may have.

Blessings to you and yours this Advent season.

Posted in Advent, Christmas | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Everywhere God Launches

Reader, the book is available for purchase!

In some ways, I can’t believe I made it to this point. I think every author has a moment, or two, or three, where she wants to quit. The task of writing a book seems too daunting, too difficult. I certainly hit that moment several times along the way.  

Thank you, friends and family, who encouraged me and believed I could do this. I am grateful beyond words.

I look forward to sharing the book and connecting with readers in the coming months. Stay tuned for more information in the weeks ahead.

And, if you’re still looking for a few Christmas presents, I have the perfect suggestion!

With gratitude,

Alicia

 

Posted in Everywhere God, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment