A Day in Paradise

Everybody deserves a day in paradise–at least once.

Last weekend my daughter and I headed to Long Pine, Nebraska for a mini vacation in the Sandhills. Tucked away in a wooded valley near the edge of town is a cluster of cabins called Hidden Paradise—a perfect name for this little gem of a community.

creekHidden Paradise is unique in that Long Pine Creek twists and curves among the cabins reminding me of a lazy river at a water park, though this ride was created by God.

When my daughter first asked me to go floating with her, I’ll admit I was a tad nervous since I don’t swim and the resort doesn’t supply life jackets.

“What if I tip over?” I asked her.

“Stand up,” she answered.

Well, all righty then. If the water is shallow, I’m game. I agreed to the float and am so glad I did.

The first morning at the cabin was a bit on the chilly side, but being the brave soul that I am, I agreed to a mid-morning float. (The real reason was I didn’t want to look like a complete weenie in front of my daughter. But I’m sure the ear warmers I wore took care of that. Hey, don’t laugh. I have very sensitive ears. I can’t help it.) Fortunately for both of us, we had the creek to ourselves so no one noticed my fashion faux pas. I hope.

sand-hillsSo anyway, we grabbed our inner tubes and traipsed to the launch area and settled into the chilly water for a relaxing float down the clear, bubbling, sandy bottom creek. We bobbled along with the current, twisting and turning around the curves of the creek, floating beneath foot bridges that linked cabins to properties on the other side. As we floated along I gazed up at the Sandhills and overhanging trees. Decorative flags fluttered from cabin decks and flowering plants graced porch rails. Wild flowers and grasses sprouted along the sandy banks. Aah. A little piece of heaven.

(BTW, since my middle name is not Grace, I did manage to tip myself over getting out of the tube at the end of the float. So as I held my head above the water, I remembered my daughter’s advice and stood up. Hmm, that wasn’t so bad. The water was only knee deep.)

long-pine-creekWe floated a couple of more times that day and by afternoon the day had warmed up nicely. Thankfully we had one nice day on the water since the next day the temps didn’t get out of the 60’s, so we spent time hiking in a nearby park.

Hidden Paradise also boasts a very cool old railroad bridge transformed into a pedestrian bridge which makes an ideal spot to star gaze on clear nights. Though it’s a bit weird walking the bridge in the dark, it is an awesome experience.

railroad-bridgeWe spent our third and final day reading and watching chick flicks. A girl never outgrows George Strait in “Pure Country” or “Anne of Green Gables.”

So, that in a nutshell, is how I spent my days in Paradise, and I can’t wait to go again.

Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

It seems like in our crazy, crazy world many of us are so busy we barely have time to breathe. We run ourselves or our kids from one activity to the next, our schedules so full we have to pencil in something as important as eating supper as a family. We begin to wonder how we can do it all.

It’s not only our bodies that are busy but also our minds. Our thoughts are filled with worries like health scares, family problems, financial insecurity, or that persistent political thorn in everyone’s side this election year.

Hurry and worry. They are a pair. We try so hard to make our lives perfect that we forget how to live for Christ. The anecdote is spelled out simply for us in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

How simple is that? Yet how often do we remember it? I know I’m guilty for not following that verse nearly enough. If our minds and our bodies are constantly busy, how can we ever hear God speaking to us? His words get jumbled up with all the other crud stashed in my brain, things that I can’t fix, no matter how hard I try. Things I’m not even supposed to fix. Problems that God has promised He will handle. So why is it so hard to be still and turn it all over to God?

Because I am human and a sinner who needs forgiveness.

bethesda churchDear God, help me to be still so I can hear your voice and feel your loving presence. Help me to put all my baggage in your care, for you alone are our protector from evil. Let me be still and trust in you. Amen.

Books on My Fall TBR Pile

Now that the busy days of summer are winding down, I’m anxious for the cooler weather so I can finally put my garden to sleep for another year. With a little more time on my hands, I hope to curl up in my chair in the sunroom and catch up on my reading as autumn leaves drift by.

Since I adore World War II novels, I found a couple to put on my to-be-read pile. The first one on my list is The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. The publisher’s blurb reads:

Distant HoursNew York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

The second book on my TBR pile is The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. The publisher’s blurb reads:

The #1 internationally bestselling author of The Forgotten Garden mesmerizes readers with this haunting tale of long-buried secrets and the twists of fate that can alter lives forever.

It starts with a letter, lost for half a century and unexpectedly delivered to Edie’s mother on a Sunday afternoon. The letter leads Edie to Milderhurst Castle, where the eccentric Blythe spinsters live and where, she discovers, her mother was billeted during World War II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives caring for their younger sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancé jilted her in 1941. Inside the decaying castle, Edie searches for her mother’s past but soon learns there are other secrets hidden in its walls. The truth of what happened in “the distant hours” has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. In this enthralling romantic thriller, Morton pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.

The Tasty Tomato

It’s that time of year again. The garden is in full swing, and I’m slowly filling the freezer and pantry with goodies to last throughout the year.

Now it’s tomato time and I love trying new ways to use this veggie in a variety of sauces. One of my favorites isn’t new at all but it’s delicious and easy to make. This freezer recipe for spaghetti sauce is so yummy you’ll never want to use store-bought again:

Freezer Spaghetti Sauce

20 cups chopped tomatoes

3 ½ cups chopped celery

3 ½ cups chopped onions

1 cup green pepper

5 cups water

1 ¼ cup sugar

1 ½ T. oregano

1 T. garlic powder

1 T. pepper

3 T. canning salt

4 – 12 oz. cans tomato paste

Mix all ingredients, except for tomato paste, in a large pot and simmer for 2 hours, stirring frequently. If you like a smoother consistency, use an immersion blender. Remove from heat and stir in the cans of tomato paste. Cool completely or chill. Then freeze in freezer bags or containers. This recipe makes approximately 14 or 15 pints.

The following tomato sauce recipe is a fairly new one I found and tweaked a bit to suit my tastes. I can it in pint jars for pizza sauce and freeze some in small containers for those recipes that require a small amount of tomato sauce, like sloppy joes.

Tomato Sauce

1/3 cup cooking oil

2 cups finely chopped onions

1 small finely chopped carrot

1 stalk of finely chopped celery, including leafy tops

2 T. oregano

2 tsp. basil

1 bay leaf

2 T. sugar

2 T. chopped garlic

8 cups of fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped. (Remove seeds if desired.)

1 T. salt

½ tsp. pepper

2 cans (6 oz.) tomato paste

tomato sauceHeat oil in a large pan and cook onion, celery, and carrot. Cover and cook over low heat until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently. Add remaining spices, tomatoes, and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for about an hour until sauce has thickened to desired consistency. Remove bay leaf. Use a blender if you like a smoother consistency.

This recipe makes about five or 6 pints of sauce.

The Ride

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Colossians 1:10-12 NIV

As I read the above scripture, it reminded me of a big event that comes to the state of Iowa every year at the end of July. RAGBRAI will start this coming weekend and this year’s route takes bikers within three miles of our house. (For those of you who have never heard of it, RAGBRAI stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride across Iowa.)

This is the 44th year for the ride and what started out as a couple of hundred riders has now grown to approximately 10,000 bicyclists. These brave souls don their riding gear and pedal their way across our great state. This year the course is just over 400 miles with various overnight stops planned in small towns along the way. Fairgrounds, city parks, and private lawns are filled with brightly colored tents the riders bring along in support vehicles.

These riders always amaze me with their athleticism. In my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine riding a bike that far. I can only guess at the months and months of training they put into this ride, building up their endurance so they can complete the ride. They seem to be prepared for anything—breakdowns, injuries, and inclement weather. Anybody who has ever been to Iowa in July knows this can mean just about anything—scorching heat, 90% humidity (or so it seems), rain, hail, tornadoes, and flooding. That in a nutshell is weather in Iowa in the summer.

As I hear about these bikers preparing for their ride, I can’t help but compare their training to the life I should lead when living out my Christian faith. How often am I prepared for the storms that come my way? Do I work on my faith endurance like these RAGBRAI riders do physically?

Every day on the news we hear about more and more tragedies and horror in our world, and it doesn’t look to me like it’s going to change any time soon. But then I think—we’ve had a pretty easy ride—at least I have since the days when I was a kid. Life in general went along pretty smoothly, except for the usual bumps in the road. The state of the world didn’t really concern me a whole lot, even as I got older, because the trouble was all…over there. But now it’s hitting closer to home more and more often.

I’ve often wondered if God is giving us a wake-up call to change our ways and get us back on track. I know I’ve let the ways of the world influence my thinking way too often. Is God knocking us out of our comfort zones to move us into action? I think so.

racial harmonyHe wants us to come together and decide what’s really important in this life. Is it financial security and material possessions? Or is it showing love for our neighbors and our enemies?

If we could heal our divisions and come together as one, we can endure this storm together…and what a beautiful ride that would be.

Memories of Independence Days Past

Every year on the 4th of July, I’m reminded of why I’m thankful I grew up in farm country USA.

Unlike most July days in southwest Iowa, Independence Day this year was delightfully cool and refreshing–only 24 hours before the heat advisory swept across our area. In the tiny town of New Market where I spent a good portion of the first eighteen years of my life, the population swells from somewhere around 400 to several thousand over the course of the three day celebration. For me the holiday is somewhat of a town/all-school reunion where friends meet up every year.

The festivities begin two days prior with BBQ cook-offs, ATV races, draft horse pulls, a car show, and many other attractions, including dodge ball tournaments and a life-size version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos and human foosball.

One of the most popular activities comes on the 4th itself. This quiet little sleeper town comes to life as hundreds of spectators line the streets watching the hour long parade led by the American Legion Honor Guard marching down the tree tunnel of Main Street. The crowd grows serene as Old Glory passes by, the stars and stripes rippling in the cool breeze.

Followed by a drum line and color guard, the procession of antique cars, tractors and trucks and homemade floats begins, carrying uniformed ball teams and county fair queen contestants in glittery gowns waving to the crowd. The parade continues past the few remaining downtown businesses, guarded by the stately old water tower that once proudly boasted a purple and gold beanie to match the school colors. Now the school is closed and the beanie is gone, the tower sporting its shiny bald head instead.

As the  parade weaves throughout town, the kiddos scurry to fill their bags with candy tossed out by parade participants. Aah, how I remember the sugar highs of yesteryear.

The procession of horses, and a buggy or two, brings up the rear. The clip-clopping hooves pound the pavement, mingling with an occasional neigh or snort, as their riders wave and call greetings to the spectators.

With the parade now over, the crowd congregates in the town park filled with tantalizing scents of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and funnel cakes galore—comfort foods of the 4th of July. Of course the celebration wouldn’t be the same without ice cream or a bag of kettle corn.

I sniff the smell of diesel filling the air as the truck and tractor pulls begin on the old football field, spewing black exhaust into the air. Into the evening the pulls wind down and the music begins. This year a gospel and bluegrass band belted out tunes.

As the festivities end everyone waits for the grand finale to start. As darkness descends, the kids all wave their glow sticks, looking like hundreds of lightning bugs dancing in the nighttime air.

As a spotlight pierces the darkness, Old Glory is lowered and retired for the night. The light goes out and a recording cuts through the silence, a voice over the loudspeaker reminding us of why we celebrate this day. Independence Day is not about the fun or the food, but a time of remembrance and thankfulness for those who fought for our freedoms we so often take for granted. As the recording ends, the MC asks the veterans to stand and be thanked by an enthusiastic crowd.

fireworksExplosions of fireworks, all set to music, fill the sky with brilliantly colored sparks and smoke. When the fireworks in the shape of an American flag starts to burn, its embers drifting to the ground, we know the show is ending in all its glory.

As we finally make our way out of town and head for home between the corn and soybean fields of farm country, traffic dots the highway with miles and miles of red taillights, like a string of Christmas lights in the dark stretching from one town to the next.

Another Independence Day is in the books. Until we return again next year, I’ll remember that it’s more than the 4th of July. It’s a day we commemorate our veterans’ gift to all Americans—the gift of freedom–and for that I am blessed.

5 Things Nobody Told Me About Writing

It’ll be fun, I thought. It can’t be that hard, can it? After all when creative writing time came around in high school English class, way back when, I was pretty sure I could pull off an A, maybe even an A+. Same thing with college writing courses. Years later I thought becoming a real writer would be a snap.

Oh, how cocky I was. I had so much to learn about the writing world. When I took my first correspondence writing course, I was stunned to learn how much I had to learn about writing. You mean there’s more to it than having a beginning, middle, and an ending? Oh, and of course, good grammar. Seriously? There’s more to it than that?

Was I naïve? Just a wee bit. Two writing courses later, I felt ready to take on the writing world and get my work out there, but I soon learned several things no course could ever teach me.

  1. Once you realize you were meant to be a writer, there is no going back. You’re in it for life. Every snippet of intriguing conversation you hear, that strange character you saw in the grocery store, or that weird tale someone told you, is followed up by, “Hmm, how can I use this in a book?” In your wildest dreams, you cannot imagine not writing.
  2. Once you have that great idea in your head for a novel, it will always be there, like a CD stuck on repeat for the…rest…of…your…life. Even if that great idea doesn’t pan out and a newer, more improved idea pops in, that original plot idea will always be there in the back of your mind saying, “Use me, use me.” Get used to it. It’s part of your life now. If you are hearing voices, you are an official writer. No matter what anybody says, do not let them take you away. If they do, however, remember you can write them into your next book from the safe confines of your hospital room. Then they will be sorry they ever messed with you.
  3. Rejection is a fact of life. At first you may want to curl up in a ball in your bed crying out, “Why me? Why me?” But someday that sting of rejection will turn to tears of joy when you tell your family, “The agent/editor/publisher doesn’t want to take on my project, but they said my story was wonderful.” That is a moment of pure bliss and should be celebrated as such. Little did I know I would ever welcome rejection. That just seems so…wrong.
  4. My biggest dream as a writer has changed from being published to receiving a phone call from an agent informing me that publishers are in a bidding war for rights to my novel and that Hallmark wants to buy movie rights. Ah, how I look forward to that day when I find myself lying on the floor taking that call. (Then I wake up and reality hits.)
  5. No one ever told me how much joy I would receive from fan mail from little girls who read my books. All of the hard work and the waiting, waiting, and more waiting pays off when that first letter comes along. Knowing that something I wrote has touched a young person’s life is one of the best feelings ever. As a writer, it doesn’t get much better than that.I love writing

The Rainbow

Several days ago when I started working in my garden I noticed much of the sweet corn and a couple of tomato plants had blown over. I was shocked because I didn’t remember any strong winds lately. Apparently though, a strong gust must have blown through sometime, maybe at night when I didn’t notice it. I staked up the tomato plants and hoped for the best.

Today I noticed that the corn already looks taller as the stalks are straightening as they reach higher. Before long I’m sure the plants will be back to normal, and hopefully the tomato stems will strengthen enough to bear fruit later on.

The corn is prospering despite the damage done to it. The roots are growing deeper, giving it strength to withstand a storm. As the corn reaches for the nourishing sun, it grows stronger every day.

That wind-toppled garden reminds me of life at times. Just when things are going along nice and easy, a storm blows in, threatening everything in its path. James 1:2-3 states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I’ll be honest here. I’ve always had a problem viewing trials as joyous occasions, but He’s expecting us to be gracious always. It’s easy to thank Him for the blessings He’s given us, but I have a lot of work to do in showing gratitude in the problem department. He knows our true needs better than we do, though it may not be what we want or think we deserve.

As true believers, God expects us to look for the rainbow after the storm so we may see His full glory and walk more closely beside Him.

 

 

What I Learned From the Little Red Poppy

When I was a kid I dreaded Memorial Day. While all my friends got to sleep in (it was summer vacation after all), my mom pried me out of bed at the crack of dawn so we could get to the cemetery bright and early before the visitors arrived to decorate their loved ones’ graves. As Girl Scout leader one of Mom’s jobs was to organize the girls and their parents to put poppy’s on veteran’s graves.

For some strange reason, not many of the scouts volunteered for this form of early morning torture, so guess who was the lucky ducky every single Memorial Day while I was a Junior Girl Scout? Me-me-me-me-me! Life can be so cruel at times.

Still grumbling by the time we got to the cemetery, Mom handed me a box of red crepe paper poppies and instructed me and another scout (also dragged out of bed by her mother) to start putting poppies on the veteran’s graves. Disabled veterans had made the poppies and it was our American duty to recognize these men and women who fought for our freedom, she said.

cemeteryWith my eyes still narrow slits, I traipsed through the dewy grass, twisting the thin wire of the poppy’s stem around the metal grave marker. On and on we went until every veteran’s grave had a poppy and my tennis shoes were soaked through.

Arriving back home at a time when normal kids would have still been in bed, I settled in for a second breakfast and wondered what the fuss about the poppies was really all about.

Years later when I’d visit the cemetery on Memorial Day, I noticed the sea of tiny red poppies dotting the graves of those who served–the poppy that symbolizes the blood shed by veterans of every war since World War I. I thought of my dad who fought in World War II who has now earned his own poppy. I thought of the handicapped men and women creating these poppies with their own hands to recognize and remember those who fought for our country’s freedom and have now passed on.

Now in the days before Memorial Day when I see members of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary selling their poppies at the grocery store entrance, I think of the true meaning of the little red poppy and am thankful for our veterans–today and everyday.

Takin’ the High Road

 

In my neck of the woods it’s not often that a girl makes it big in Nashville, but that’s exactly what’s happening to Sarah Davison and her gospel group HighRoad.

As a child Sarah grew up on a farm near the tiny town of Braddyville, Iowa playing music with her dad. After high school Sarah moved to Nashville to study commercial piano performance at Belmont University. In 2010 she formed the vocal group HighRoad whose members give spectacular performances on keyboard, piano, fiddle, acoustic guitar, upright bass, and mandolin. Since then the group has received numerous achievements, including receiving the 2015 AGM (Absolutely Gospel Music) Female Group of the Year award; performing at the Country Music Hall of Fame; Women of Faith conferences, Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri; Singing in the Sun—a six day gathering in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina which includes some of gospel music’s greatest talents; the Gatlinburg Gathering; and many others.

high road roadThe name HighRoad refers to the narrow road we, as Christians, must take to follow Jesus. Through their music the group hopes to give their listeners a message of hope and to encourage them to serve Christ. Watching them perform is an inspiration for everyone to chase their dreams. HighRoad is the perfect example of how hard work, diligence, and faith pays off for those who trust in Jesus.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sarah many times as I know her family quite well, and I can attest to the fact that they all live their lives in accordance with God’s plan. Sarah makes it evident that she won’t forget her country upbringing, coming back to the family farm regularly to sing in the local Cowboy Church led by her dad (who I must say is also really into music) and even entertaining her grandparents and other residents at a nearby assisted living facility.

HighRoad continues to minister through their music as God unveils His journey for them. This is one group of young ladies I can’t wait to follow as God leads them along His path.

Click here to listen to HighRoad’s hit song “Don’t You Weep for Me.”