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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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Advent, Week 4: Gift Giving

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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.

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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

 

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Advent: Savoring the Season, Week 2

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As we head into week two of Advent, I wanted to share some ideas and suggestions for ways to observe this meaningful season. Some of my ideas are geared towards families. Other ideas are more individual in nature.  I’m no expert on this topic and I don’t want to suggest there is a “right” way to celebrate Advent. But if you’re like me, you enjoy hearing ideas from others and you will pick and choose the ones that suit you best.

Whether you have children in the home or not, an Advent Wreath is a lovely starting point. Your wreath can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. Check out Pinterest if you’re looking for inspiration. For a number of years, each Sunday evening our family would gather to light one of the candles and read the appropriate Scripture passage. Once our children learned to read, we shared the reading duties.Throughout the week, while eating dinner, we would relight the candle(s) for that week. I particularly enjoyed this aspect—lighting the candle(s) each night—because it made Advent feel more like an “everyday” observance rather than a once-a-week affair.

Another family-friendly Advent tradition is an Advent calendar. I’m not referring to the kind that gives a gift each day, but the one that opens to a picture or a verse related to the story of Christ’s birth. Jacob and Anna loved taking turns opening each day’s frame. I found the Advent calendar a fun way to foster anticipation—a central theme of Advent. What does today’s picture reveal in the Christmas narrative?

A more recent tradition that has been meaningful to me personally is to light  a candle each morning while reading my Bible and drinking my coffee. This simple act of bringing light into darkness, as well as some good smells, reminds me of Christ’s presence as I begin another day.

Several of my friends celebrate St. Nicholas Day with their families. Allowing a child to open a small gift on December 6, the actual feast day for this saint, eases some of the tension of waiting all the way until Christmas Day. While this day is not connected to Advent per say, it provides an opportunity to talk and to think about gift giving and showing compassion to others. Perhaps this could be a day where you bake a special food gift and give it friends or neighbors. I know, not much lead time on this idea as tomorrow is St. Nick Day.

Lastly, this is a season for reading aloud, whether it be Scripture, poetry, or a classic piece of literature such as The Christmas Carol. Some of my favorite read alouds contain some lovely Christmas scenes. Reread the scene in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when Father Christmas visits Narnia or find all of the vignettes about Christmas in The Little House on the Prairie books.  For a number of years, as our family drove to the Midwest for the holidays, we read aloud The Best (Worst) Christmas Pageant Ever. This heartwarming story guaranteed good laughs along with poignant moments that helped the long hours to pass more quickly.

What about you? Do you have any special Advent traditions? I would love to hear them!

May Christ’s peace and hope be yours this week.

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Advent: A Reality Check for Real People, Week 1

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Outside, the falling rain hits the roof in varying degrees of intensity as the wind whips the bare trees. The golden leaves of a few weeks ago no longer remain. Today’s weather feels like quintessential late fall. Winter is just around the corner.

I don’t know about your November, but mine has been a whirlwind. Earlier this month, I wrapped up another coaching season, which included travel to upstate New York for the State cross country meet several weekends ago. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Brad, Anna, and I left for several days of college visits before continuing onto Nashville to celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family. Arriving home this past Sunday after a day and a half of travel, I felt less than prepared to usher in Advent–a season I look forward to each year. Mentally, my mind was ticking off “to do” lists even as my heart told me to slow down, relax, take a deep breath.

Where do you find yourself this Advent season?

Already my calendar is filling with commitments and plans. I don’t want the next four weeks to be a blur. I want time to pause, to reflect, to think, to pray, to properly prepare for Christmas.

Is that even possible?

Reading through some of my previous posts about Advent, I came across one I wrote several years ago. I’ve tweaked it a bit to include here. The Scripture passage is one of my favorite Old Testament passages to read during Advent.

If you at all think Advent is warm-fuzzies and good cheer, think again. I have been struck this year by the misery, the yearning, the suffering that God entered into when he sent his Son to earth as a baby. His people weren’t a perfect lot and still aren’t! But God entered that messiness because of his love for me—for the world. I can type those words more easily than I can fathom them. As I read Scripture, I come face-to-face with my own brokenness and disappointments.

 In Isaiah 40, I find a mixture of comfort, prophecy, as well as a reality check. Verse 1 begins by Isaiah telling the people of Israel, “Comfort, Comfort my people says your God,” which is a reminder that God does care about the well-being of his people. Dare I say it? No matter who is President of the United States.  

In verse 3, there is a prophetic reference to John the Baptist and eventually the Messiah—“a voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord.” What does it look like to “prepare the way for the Lord” in my everyday life? This is one part of the verse I want to think and reflect on over the next several weeks.  

And then in verses 6-8 a reminder of how limited humankind really is, “all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall.” Just this morning, while listening to NPR, I heard of a freak accident that killed a local man who was cutting down a tree in a park as part of his job. I don’t know if he was married or had children, but how awful for that man’s family. That morning he left for work like he always did.

The passage ends with a beautiful image of God acting like our shepherd as he “tends his flock and gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” Each of us enters this Advent season with joys and burdens. This passage reflects the mixed nature that is so often a reality of life. There will be times of peace, times of pain, times of joy, and times of suffering. Yet God has made clear, through the Incarnation, that he has chosen “to dwell among us.” 

With hope and anticipation this Advent season…

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