Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, December 29, 2023

Oh, Fudge!

Sometimes, a boy has to sell his friend Schwartz down the river to protect his old man... especially when it comes to THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words. Fans of the 1983 classic movie, A Christmas Story, will know the significance of the phrase, “Oh, fudge,” and why it caused one character to get his mouth washed out with soap. To be more precise, he was made to hold the bar of soap in his mouth for a specified time.

I’d rather have my mouth washed out with fudge.

I asked Facebook friends to name their favorite traditional Christmas dishes and was met with a plethora of delicious-sounding delights that would take me a year to share, let alone prepare. But this is not a cooking column and I am not an impressive cook. I function somewhere between the kind who dump together various cans and boxes of prepackaged food items and call it a meal, and the hardcore foodies who use only hand-grated Parmesan cheese. I look for what’s fast, easy, cheap, and nutritious, and I substitute ingredients all the time.

Our family spent Christmas at our daughter’s home this year. In mid-November, I asked her what meals or treats she wanted me to bring. I totally expected her to say “fudge” as it’s been the most requested item other years. Instead, she left it up to me and instructed me to let her know what I decided so items weren’t duplicated. She’s more mature than I am.

I made my list. Three different soups, five different casseroles, gingersnaps, banana bread (made more special for the holidays by adding maraschino cherries) … and fudge.

I’ve never had anyone turn down my fudge, but many have asked for the recipe.

The secret is, my fudge recipe couldn’t be easier. I can’t claim to have invented it, but I’ve been using it so long I don’t know where or how I obtained it. All I know for sure is that it never fails…provided you use fresh marshmallows. In my never-ending quest to be frugal, I once made the mistake of trying to use marshmallows that were beginning to harden. Let me save you some time by telling you not to do this.

Here’s the recipe.

Chocolate Fudge

(No baking required)

2 Tbsp. Butter or margarine

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups mini marshmallows

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Combine butter, milk, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in marshmallows, chocolate, nuts (if using), and vanilla. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until marshmallows are melted. Pour into a foil-lined 8-inch square pan. Chill until firm. Using the foil edges, lift the whole slab of fudge out and place it on a cutting board. Remove foil. With a large butcher knife, slice into 2-cm. squares or smaller. They’re very rich. Make some now, before you have to start your New Year’s diet!

Friday, December 22, 2023

In a Barn

An acquaintance of ours died recently. 

Though I couldn’t attend the funeral, I spoke with her daughter a few weeks later. She told me that at first, the family decided they weren’t going to have a public service. Just the family. Six or eight people. But as they were leaving the funeral home after making the arrangements, both sisters had the sinking feeling they’d made the wrong choice. They went back inside and changed their plans to include whoever wanted to come. To their surprise, over a hundred people signed the guest book. From those guests, they heard stories of love and appreciation they’d never have heard otherwise.

“We would have cheated ourselves of so much,” she said. “But we would have cheated a whole bunch of other people, too.”

Her words cinched it for me. A few days later, on our drive to our grandsons’ Christmas band concert, I replayed the conversation for my husband.

“When it’s my turn to go, I want a big party,” I told him. “Why is it so hard for people to understand that these types of gatherings are for the living? The love, support, and stories can provide healing as we cry and laugh together. I hope there are gales of laughter at my funeral, but I don’t believe in saying ‘Don’t cry over me,’ either. It’s an honor to think my friends might cry for me, just as I will honor them with my tears if they go first. Tears are healing. They acknowledge our humanity and they value the person’s life.

“Well, there, now you know my views on this.” I ended my rant, we reached the school, and we enjoyed the concert.

Afterward, we stopped at our son’s home briefly. The boys changed out of their concert clothes and the middle one, Allistar, went out to take care of his chores. Within minutes, he returned with the news that he’d found their cat, Scamper, dead under a heat lamp in the barn. This was not unexpected, since the old tom had become disinterested in food. Still, I’m sure it was a shock for Allistar. His brothers went out to see for themselves and returned shortly to the house.

I put on my boots and coat and headed for the barn. I found Allistar kneeling in the hay, stroking the dead cat. Overhead, the guinea fowl roosted on their perch, adding soft sounds of life and warmth to the otherwise forlorn setting.

As though God had granted me our driving time for rehearsal, I voiced the same thoughts for the second time that evening. “It’s okay to cry,” I told Allistar. “Your tears honor Scamper’s life.” I talked about how good it was to know the cat had died warm and safe and how he wouldn’t have to endure another cold winter. How appropriate that Allistar had been the one to find him since he cared the most.

Then I kept my mouth shut and simply cried with him. My tears had far less to do with the death of a barn cat than with the pain in my grandson’s heart. Less about this fresh grief, and more about the distressing losses and upheaval he’s had to work through in recent years. More about my helplessness to fix any of it, as much as I wanted to.

After his dad came to sit with him, his grandpa and I drove away, a far quieter ride than the previous one. Somehow those few heart-rending minutes in the barn with my grieving grandson became a defining moment for my Christmas this year. I received a profound reminder of the way God came to us in a stable, in all our dirt and squalor, pain and tears. He came not only to give us life but to grant us peace in our pain, comfort in our sorrows, and healing for our broken hearts.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that, by God’s grace, that baby in a manger will meet you in a profound way, wherever you are—turning grief to joy, brokenness to healing, and despair to hope. Merry Christmas!



Friday, December 15, 2023

Hanukkah 101 - Part 2 of 2

It started as a lark. Our House Church was planning its Christmas party and the host asked everyone whether December 8 or 9 worked better. I replied that the only thing on my calendar for the eighth was “Hanukkah begins.”

“Maybe I’ll bring Challah bread,” I joked.

Then I thought, why not? Or why not any other traditional Hanukkah food, for that matter? Online recipes can be found with a few clicks of a mouse. Surely, they wouldn’t all require only Kosher ingredients, and even if they did… we’re not Kosher. We’re not even Jewish.

Among the most common Hanukkah dishes are brisket (which I’ve never made), latkes (fried potato pancakes, a version of which I’ve made regularly for years and which my family loves. The oil they’re fried in is supposedly in remembrance of Hanukkah lamp oil. They’re served with apple sauce and/or sour cream.).

Sufganiyot (pronounced soof-gone-YOT) is a deep-fried jelly doughnut. (Oh, the calories!)

Matzo ball soup is a hot, tasty staple at many Jewish celebrations. The matzo balls are dumplings typically made from matzo meal, which is ground up matzo bread. That sounded like way too much work for me.

I looked at a few recipes and decided Challah (pronounced haa’luh) bread probably was the simplest for me to try, especially since I have a mixer that can handle the kneading. It turned out beautifully and was a hit with our friends. I’ll share the recipe later. First, more details about what this celebration represents.

Hanukkah commemorates events in Judea, about 160 years before Jesus was born, when the Syrian king Antiochus ordered the Jews to abandon the Torah and publicly worship the Greek gods. Of course, this went directly against God’s commandment to have no other gods besides Him.


A rebellion rose up, led by Judas Maccabeus. The Syrians had desecrated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, but the small army of only forty “Maccabees” managed to win the battle and retake the temple. They then commenced cleansing and rededicating the temple in a ceremony requiring eight days to complete. But according to the Talmud, they found enough consecrated oil to re-light the menorah for only one day. Miraculously, it remained lit for eight days.


Although Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday compared to Passover, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, it has become the most well-known to us Gentiles, probably because of its proximity to Christmas. In fact, some modern Jews have adopted gift-giving and other Christmas-like traditions to their Hanukkah celebrations. On a related note, in 2024, Hanukkah will begin on Christmas Day.


Here’s the Challah recipe I tried:


1 cup lukewarm water

2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 large eggs

1large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil


Dissolve the yeast in water with a pinch of sugar. Mix the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, yolk, and oil. Mix to form dough. Knead 6 to 8 minutes. Let the dough rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Divide the dough into thirds and roll into 16-inch long ropes. Braid the ropes, pinching together at both ends and tucking under to form a loaf. Lay challah on a greased cookie sheet. Let rise about 1 hour. Brush the challah with egg white whisked together with a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake 30-35 minutes at 350 F. Cool the challah. Slice and eat.


Chag Sameach! Happy Hanukkah! 

My Challah Bread

Friday, December 8, 2023

Hanukkah 101

Please don’t die of shock. This little Christian blogger is forfeiting her annual opportunity to write a four-week Christmas series in favor of acknowledging the eight days of Hanukkah. I’ve found no better way to learn something new than to write about it. For starters, how to spell it. One n, two k’s. And if you really want to be authentic, start it with a C, drop one k (Chanukah) and pronounce it like you’re clearing phlegm.

Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah doesn’t always fall on the same day of our Gregorian calendar. That’s because it is always on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. In 2023, it will begin at sundown on Thursday, December 7 and last until sundown on Friday, December 15.

The word Hanukkah is Hebrew for “dedication,” and it is the Jewish Festival of Lights. Although not considered a major holiday, it’s probably the one we hear most about. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp. 


The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day. Yet it lasted for eight full days, the length of time needed for the ceremonial cleansing. 


To commemorate this, celebrants begin by lighting one candle in their menorah. The menorah consists of nine candle holders, one for each night of Hanukkah and one to hold the Shamash (literally, “helper,” the candle used to light the others.) Each night, they light one additional candle. Parties, gifts, special foods, attending religious services, music, and games all play into the traditional celebrations.

Do you know how to play Dreidel?

Sometimes spelled dreydel, pronounced DRAY-dull, a dreidel is a four-sided, spinning top. On its four sides appear four letters from the Hebrew alphabet: Nun, Gimmel, Hey, and Shin. Together these letters translate to “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the shin is replaced with a peh, so the letters spell out Nes Gadol Hayah Po, or “a great miracle happened HERE.”

To play, you’ll need: two or more players, the dreidel, 10-15 pieces to use as game tokens (players traditionally use foil-covered chocolate coins called gelt—Hebrew for money—but you could use any small items.)

How to play:

1. Divide the game pieces equally between all the players.

2. Everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel. The one with the highest spin has the first turn. (nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) If there’s a tie, those who tied spin again.

3. Everyone puts one game piece into the middle (the “pot”).

4. Spin the dreidel once. Depending on the side it lands on, you give or get game pieces from the pot, as follows:

·       Shin: put one more token in the pot

·       Nun: do nothing

·       Gimmel: take all tokens from the pot

·       Hay: take half of all tokens from the pot. In case of an odd number of tokens, round up.

5. Pass the dreidel on to the next player in a clockwise direction.

6. Keep playing until someone wins by collecting all the tokens.

7. If you run out of tokens, you are either out or you may ask another player for a loan.

Playing Dreidel is a wonderful way for children to learn part of the Hebrew alphabet and even a little math while having fun. I can’t help picturing Jesus as a little boy playing this game with his cousins, friends, and younger siblings. In John 10:22, he visits Jerusalem for this “Festival of Dedication.”

Hanukkah reminds us that it’s up to each of us to be a light in the darkness, and that even a little light can go a long way. Next week, I’ll tell you some of the traditional Hanukkah foods and share a recipe.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Crazy Little Routines

Our little bungalow has three entries. The front door normally gets opened five times a week to check the mailbox. If readers stop by to purchase one of my books, I generally steer them to the front door as well.

The back door off the kitchen, leading to a mid-size deck, was not part of the original house but makes a nice addition. Normally, it’s used only in the summer months.

Our most-used entry.
The side door is the one we usually use. It utilizes one of those arrangements common to homes built in the 1960s. You enter, stand on a three-by-four-foot landing to hang your coat, leave your boots, and then choose between three steps up to the kitchen or nine steps down to the basement. Not a problem in the summer months. But in winter, or when company comes, it’s a nightmare for everyone to unboot themselves without booting anyone else down the stairs. I don’t know how families managed with these cattle chutes back in the day. Still, it generally works fine for the two of us.

Thanksgiving weekend, the handle on our side storm door broke. Hubby took the handle to the hardware store where we’d purchased the door, only to learn it would take six to eight weeks to get a replacement handle. This left us with no way to latch the storm door. Since we were leaving on a trip, Hubby threaded a plastic zip tie through the hole and tied the door shut. With that entrance out of commission, we needed to develop some new habits. Switching to the front and back doors was not a major inconvenience. At first.

Then winter blew in.

Suddenly, coat hooks, closets, and boot trays were in the wrong spots. The corner stand where we collect items to be grabbed on our way out the door now stood in an inconvenient place. Turning off a light on your way out the back door required traipsing across the kitchen floor in your boots. I couldn’t sit at my usual place at the table without moving footwear. Instead of one small rug accumulating dirt, snow, and gravel, we had three. Every time I left the house, I seemed to be gathering items from all over. I didn’t know how to go anywhere anymore.

How can such a small change throw our whole routine into confusion?

John Dryden, an English literary critic and playwright of the 1600s, said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” We humans are creatures of habit and the older we grow, the more attached we become to our routines. We resist new tricks, even when those tricks could improve our lives or even save them.

Sometimes we need a little shakeup to keep our brains sharp or to experience new adventures. If I hadn’t been forced to use alternate doors, I wouldn’t have found the house key I thought I’d lost. I wouldn’t have discovered the cute bunny living in our shrub. I wouldn’t have realized that taking the kitchen garbage out the back door is actually handier.

Is there a routine you need to shake, some flexibility you need to adopt, or a new spirit of spontaneity you’d love to embrace? What small change can you implement today that will create ripple effects into 2024 and beyond?

Micro habits are small yet meaningful practices that will improve your life when done consistently. These can be as uncomplicated as leaving your phone in another room when you retire to bed or visit the bathroom. As simple as rising a few minutes earlier or taking a minute to stretch or pray or meditate or step outside or drink a glass of water or count your blessings. I’m sure you can think of more. Can I challenge you to deactivate your most-used door (your least helpful habit) for a few weeks and see what better alternatives might arise?

Friday, November 24, 2023

Survey Says...

I felt privileged to be the guest speaker for a women’s retreat at Newton Community Church recently. Those ladies know how to create fun!

One of the games we played was “Friendly Feud.” Like the game show Family Feud, our version came complete with buzzer, theme music, and video graphics on the big screen. Unlike the show, each round required a fresh team of five contestants on each side. Several of us went up more than once, always sticking with the same side. This method made the game active, interactive, and entertaining. A few hilarious answers shouted from the crowd kept things lively, too.

The most frequent feud-generating objection occurred when the answers provided by the 100 surveyed people felt wrong to us.

“Name a food that goes with peanut butter.” The Number One answer was jam or jelly, but the subsequent answers left us shaking our heads. Honey, celery, bananas, and Oreos all made the list, but no one said bread!

“Name a holiday where you give presents.” The survey-takers had included birthdays and anniversaries even though those are not holidays, but they’d left out Easter.

“Name something you use your lips for.” I was on the buzzer for that question and got the Number One answer—kissing, of course. But when the last remaining answer stumped us and it turned out to be, “lick your lips,” my friend Nita voiced the obvious question. “You use your lips to lick your lips?”

But this was not Jeopardy. Giving a correct answer and guessing how most of the surveyed people answered are not the same. To play this game well, you must think the way people think when put on the spot, even though they might provide a different answer if given time to ponder, research, or discuss.

How simple it is, when surrounded by public opinion, to believe said opinion is the “correct” answer. It’s equally easy to insist that our answer is the only correct one and live with our minds closed to all else.

In his book, High Voltage Habib: Gospel of Undoctrination, Author Abhijit Naskar wrote,  

“In my 30 years of existence I’ve come to the realization that all talk of truth is nonsense. Because even though we assume truth to be absolute and universal, in reality, in our human world no one truth is universal or absolute, it’s all relative. The only force absolute and universal is love – there’s nothing higher, braver, or wiser.”

Well, that sounds like a lovely philosophy to live by. Just love. Do you suppose Naskar’s statement is an absolute truth? If so, wouldn’t that make it false?

In my 65 years of existence, I’ve come to the realization that loving well means making a thousand unselfish choices every day, year after year. I don’t know about you, but I simply do not have it in me, in my own strength, to love the way even those I love most need to be loved. This weakness would leave me with no hope at all, except for a truth I believe to be absolute. I have a Savior who not only loves perfectly but who called himself the truth.

Alistair Begg said, “…to advocate for truth is one of the most loving things we can do—for it is to call people to live in line with reality, and away from building on falsehoods that, sooner or later, will crumble beneath them.”

In the game of life, don’t put too much stock in what the survey says.