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Archive for August, 2010


            “What’s wrong Ash?” said Jeremiah as she reached the ground.

            “Jeremiah,” she whispered, “Someone is in our tree!”

            “Don’t be silly,” said Jeremiah in his most annoying grown-up-y voice, “There’s no one out here but us.  Mrs. Adams came by to return Mother’s cake plate.  They are in the kitchen having tea.”

            “But Jeremiah,” Ashley said still whispering, “I heard someone moving around in the tree.  I thought it was you.  I was mad because you wouldn’t answer me!”

            “Why would anyone be hiding in our tree?” asked Jeremiah.  “It was probably just the wind.  Come on, let’s go.  You can be Princess Ashley,” he wheedled.

            “It wasn’t the wind,” Ashley insisted stubbornly, crossing her arms against her chest, “And I’m not going back up there!”

            “Very well, Your Highness,” said Jeremiah bowing, “I, Jeremiah, your loyal Captain of the Guard will go seek out the spy that has invaded our beloved Castle Bear Fairy.”

            “Fairy Bear,” Ashley corrected him, giggling.

            “Yes Ma’am, Fairy Bear.”

            Jeremiah saluted and picked up a small branch from the ground for a sword.

            “Be careful Captain,” Princess Ashley whispered, “The spy could be dangerous!”

            Jeremiah tucked his sword into his belt and began to climb up the ladder.  He imagined himself to be Sir Edmund Hillary scaling the treacherous heights of Mount Everest, battling the elements with every step.  As he reached the summit, he paused and looked carefully around.  He didn’t really believe there was anyone up there, but he decided to check anyway.  After all, he had heard the rustling sound as he climbed up.  And though the wind may have been blowing madly on Mount Everest, here at Castle Fairy Bear it wasn’t strong enough to make that much noise.  He wasn’t going to admit that to Ashley, though.

            He proceeded to cautiously scout out the terrain.  When he was satisfied that no one was up there, he quietly entered the castle.  As he went inside he heard another noise, different from the rustling.  And this time it came from directly in front of him!  Quickly drawing his sword, he advanced on the enemy.  Catching sight of the intruder, he stopped and stared.

            Waiting anxiously down below, Ashley heard nothing but silence.  Then suddenly, Jeremiah’s voice came from above.

            “Your Majesty, I have found the Spy!”  He chuckled, then began to laugh.  “And the spy has planted a bomb in your castle.”

            “A bomb?” said Ashley, alarmed.

            “A bomb,” confirmed Jeremiah, “And it is disguised as an egg!”

            “An egg?” said Ashley, confused.

            “Yes, an egg,” said Jeremiah.  “Our spy is a chicken!”

            “But,” protested Ashley, “I know I shut the door on the chicken house.  How did she get out?”

            “It’s not one of Mother’s chickens.  This one is all red,” explained Jeremiah.

            “Well done, Captain,” said Princess Ashley remembering who she was, “You shall receive a medal for your brave service.  We shall have to put the spy in the dungeon until we find out who sent her.”

            “How am I supposed to get the spy out of the tree, I mean castle?” asked the Captain.

            Princess Ashley thought for a moment.  “I remember seeing a cardboard box on the back porch this morning.  Could you put the spy in the box and lower it in the basket?”

            “Excellent idea, Your Highness.”

            “Then it shall be done,” declared the Princess, dashing royally off to the house to retrieve the box.

            It took Jeremiah a few minutes to chase the spy into a corner so he could pick her up.  Then he gently put her in the box that Ashley had brought up.  The box was then put into the basket.   Using the rope, he slowly lowered the basket to Ashley who was now waiting at the bottom of the tree.  The children took their prisoner over to the chicken house dungeon and released her.  As they watched her through the fence, she headed straight for the feed tub and began to eat.

            Ashley didn’t like the looks of this spy chicken.  She wasn’t pretty like Mother’s chickens.  She didn’t sparkle in the sun.  In fact, she was the color of the old rusty latch on the barn door.    “She probably doesn’t lay pretty eggs, either,” Ashley grumbled to herself.

            “No, she doesn’t, she’s a Rhode Island Red, not an Araucana like the others,” said Mother’s voice from behind her.  Startled, Ashley turned quickly around to find Mother smiling at her.  “Her name is Spot,” Mother continued, “And she will lay twice as many eggs as the other girls.  I’m glad you found her.  She wasn’t in her coop this morning when Farmer Dennis went to get her.”

            “Spot?” Ashley sputtered.  “Spot?  That’s an ugly name for an ugly chicken!” she declared.

            “Ashley,” Mother said gently, no longer smiling, “That is a very unkind thing to say.”

            “But Mother,” protested Ashley, “This chicken is a spy we caught sneaking around in the castle.  We must find out why she’s here and then send her back to wherever she came from!”

            “Spot was Miss Hazel’s chicken,” Mother replied.  “Miss Hazel left today to go live with her daughter in the city.  Before she left, she asked me if Spot could come and live with us.”

            “But she’s so ugly!  Whatever will I say when stuck-up Macy Adams finds out?”

            “That is quite enough, Ashley,” said Mother sternly.  “Macy is not stuck-up, she is just very shy.  I will not allow you to talk about her that way.  As for what you’re going to say, you should decide quickly.  Mr. Adams has gone to town, so I have invited Mrs. Adams and Macy for dinner.”  Then Mother left to go pick vegetables from the kitchen garden.

            Ashley looked at Jeremiah who had been standing very quietly by the corner of the chicken house.  He shook his head slowly, then whistled to Sheila-the-Wonderdog and ran off to the pasture to play.  Ashley watched as Jeremiah climbed over the top of the split rail fence surrounding the pasture.  Sheila-the-Wonderdog just squeezed under the bottom rail instead of jumping over.  Soon they were both hidden by the tall grass swaying in the gentle summer breeze.

            After they were gone, she wandered slowly back over to the oak tree and spent the rest of the morning sitting quietly by herself in the tree fort, thinking about what Mother had said.

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            I am what my family affectionately describes as “directionally challenged”.  I was born with a complete and utter lack of a sense of direction.  As far as I am concerned, north is whatever direction I happen to be facing at the time.  I have an unshakable belief that it is hereditary, (my uncle suffers from the same affliction), no matter what my father says. 

            Regardless of the cause, because I suffer from this particular disability, I never drive anywhere without detailed instructions and maps from the internet.  Imagine my delight when, on a trip to Dallas with some girlfriends, I was introduced to GPS!  You tell it where you are and where you want to go and it figures out how to get you there!  What a delightful little magic box!

            It has a very nice voice that tells you where to turn, as opposed to the ones that typically come rudely from the back seat.  And if, for some entirely unavoidable reason, you should miss a turn, does the GPS have a conniption and cast disparaging remarks on your mental capacity?  No!  Does it whine about being dizzy?  No!  It very calmly tells you, “Recalculating route”.  That’s all, just “Recalculating route”.

            Wow!  No more guesswork, no more squinting to see microscopic street signs, no more driving around in circles because, “I’m sure it’s just down here!”  What freedom from maps that simply refuse to re-fold, shuffled MapQuest pages, and hand scribbled directions that have sudden become ancient Sanskrit.

            “Wouldn’t it be amazing,” I mused, “If my life’s journey had a GPS?  Something that would help me stay on the right track”.

            In a sense, those of us who know God, do have a GPS for our life’s journey.  Holy Spirit knows where we are supposed to be going and exactly how to get us there.  The Bible tells us in Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’.”  All we have to do is listen for His voice.

            Unfortunately, most of us put more trust in a magic GPS box than we do in God.  Why is that I wonder?  Perhaps it’s because the “still, small voice” gets drowned out by the busyness of our lives.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t recognize the voice as His.  Perhaps it’s because He wants to take us off the beaten path.  Whatever the reason, we all take many unplanned detours in our life’s journeys.

            The beautiful thing is that as soon as we realize we’ve missed a turn, we can stop and turn around and ask God to show us the right path again.  And without recriminations, Holy Spirit simply tells us, “Recalculating route”.

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Mini Trifles


 

This is what I made for dessert the other night.  Doesn’t it look pretty?  I usually make it in a large bowl, but I thought the mini bowls were kind of fun.  Trifle is a traditional English dessert usually served for special occasions (or at least that’s how it was when I lived there about a hundred years ago). The bottom layer usually consists of ladyfingers on the bottom and sides of the bowl, sometimes moistened with sherry, then a layer of fruit. That is then covered with a layer of fruit preserves, a layer of custard, and a layer of whipped cream. Yummy!!

I usually don’t have ladyfingers, although I can find them every once in a while. So, I have to be creative when I make it. Here is what I do: I put a layer of cubed pound cake in the bottom, put in a layer of peaches and then cover that with black cherry jello.  Followed by a layer of real English custard compliments of some real English people that brought me some mix on one of their visits. Thank you Richard and Audrey! 🙂 When I run out of the custard mix I will go back to using vanilla pudding or making the custard from scratch.  Top that off with whipped cream and a cherry and, voila!  Trifle! 

I would love to hear how you would make it. What kind of fruit would you use? Nuts or no nuts on the top?

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     This is a story about a little girl named Ashley who had curly blond hair that all the grownups thought was adorable, green eyes that flashed when she was out of temper, and who was very grown up for being only eight. It’s also about her brother, Jeremiah, who had dark reddish brown hair like Grandmother’s that curled up on the ends, green eyes that turned almost blue when he was happy, and who was very smart for being only nine. Their very best friend was Sheila-the-Wonderdog, who was black on the top, the color of Mother’s buttercream on the bottom, and was the bravest dog in all the world. Ashley, Jeremiah, and Sheila-the-Wonderdog all lived with Mother on Bear Creek Farm. They had many exciting adventures there, and this is one of them.

Chapter One: The Tree Fort

     It was a fine summer morning at Bear Creek Farm. As Ashley looked out her bedroom window, the sunlight was so thick and golden that it made her think of Farmer Lee’s clover honey. An altogether perfect day, she thought, to climb to the very top of the tree fort with Jeremiah and find animals hiding in the white puffy clouds scattered across the sky. The tree fort sat snugly between the three largest branches of an ancient oak tree. The rough brown trunk was so big it took four children holding hands to go all the way around it. The branches went up so high that Ashley sometimes wondered how the clouds didn’t get caught in them. This was Ashley’s favorite place on the farm. She loved the old tree. She could sit in it’s branches for hours. In the springtime, the leaves were bright green. When she laid along the branches it was like floating on a sea of swaying emeralds. In the summer, Mother allowed the children to spend the night in the fort. She would string twinkle lights on the branches so it wouldn’t be too dark. Ashley always thought the lights looked like a cloud of softly glowing fireflies as she drifted off to sleep. In the fall, the children would take turns burying each other in the deep drifts of red and gold and brown leaves. Sometimes they would throw great piles of them high up into the air and dance as they drifted down, with Sheila-the-Wonderdog dashing around in circles and barking madly. And in the wintertime, huge drifts of snow would gather on the roof of the fort and on all the tree branches. Ashley thought the snow sparkled just like diamonds in the sunlight. And the fort was the very best place to hide in and throw snowballs at people.

     Ashley shared her plan for the day at the breakfast table with Jeremiah, who happily agreed. So, as soon as they had finished the last little bit of cereal, they hurried off to do their chores. Ashley skipped over to the chicken house, humming happily to herself, while Jeremiah took Sheila-the-Wonderdog and ran off to the barn to feed their cow Rosie. Sheila went along to make sure Rosie didn’t get too frisky when Jeremiah filled her manger with sweet smelling hay from the hayloft. Jeremiah thought that his job was more important because, “Mother sells the butter, you know.” But Ashley didn’t care. She loved Mother’s chickens. When they were inside they looked black, but after she opened the door and let them out into the sun, their feathers sparkled with green and blue flecks just like someone had sprinkled glitter all over them. Mother said that they were special and had named them all after queens.

     After Ashley finished filling the water and feed tubs she went back inside the chicken house. This was her most favorite part. Very carefully she put her hand into the first nesting box. She felt all around inside until her hand touched the cool, smooth, roundness of an egg. She put it gently into her wicker basket and continued down the row of boxes. Some of the eggs were a pale green and some of the eggs were sky blue. Ashley was very proud of their pretty chickens and colored eggs. She and Jeremiah had gone with Mother last week to welcome a new family to the neighboring farm. There, she met the daughter, stuck-up Macy Adams. Ashley told Macy about the chickens and said, “Our eggs aren’t ordinary brown or white eggs like yours. It’s like having Easter every day!” After carefully gathering all the eggs and taking them inside to Mother, Ashley skipped over to the oak tree in the far corner of the yard.

     The fort had a ladder that went right up to the blue door, and windows on the other three sides with green shutters that could be closed against the wind and rain. A rope was attached to the wall under one of the windows. The other end of the rope was tied to the handle of an old wicker basket. The children liked to have snacks or sometimes even lunch in the fort. They would put all the goodies in the basket at the bottom of the tree and pull it up to the fort with the rope. Jeremiah had wanted to name it “Fort Bearus Creekus” because it made it sound like someplace in one of Mother’s history books. Ashley thought the name rather silly and wanted to call it “Castle Fairy Bear”, but Mother liked Fort Bearus Creekus and said it sounded ‘educational’ whatever that meant, and so the name had stuck.

     As Ashley climbed the long wooden ladder up to the fort her imagination was already at work. She was no longer Ashley-of-Bear Creek Farm, she was now Princess Ashley-of-Castle Fairy Bear. Princess Ashley was climbing to the top of her tallest castle tower to escape her arch enemy – the evil Prince Jeremiah!

     “I don’t think he’s going to like this game,” she thought, and giggled to herself.

     Just then, Princess Ashley heard a rustling in the leaves above her.

     “Rats,” she thought, “the evil Prince Jeremiah finished his chores before I did!”

     “Evil Prince Jeremiah,” she said to the leaves in her most princess-y voice, “I, Princess Ashley, command you to come down from my tower!”

     There was no answer from above, just more leaves rustling.

     “Evil Prince Jeremiah,” she said again in an extremely annoyed princess-y voice, “you must follow my commands!”

     This time there was nothing but silence.

     “Jeremiah, don’t be mean,” she said crossly, stomping her foot. It wasn’t easy to stomp her foot while standing on a wooden ladder halfway up a tree, but somehow she managed.

     “What are you all mad about, Ash?” asked Jeremiah.

     “Why didn’t you ans…” Ashley stopped mid-word. She suddenly realized that Jeremiah’s voice had come from below her, not above her. She looked down and there he was, standing at the foot of the ladder with Sheila-the-Wonderdog at his side.

     “But I thought…” she began and then stopped because she heard the rustling noise from above her again. Then, as fast as her eight-year old legs would move, she scrambled back down the ladder, all thoughts of cloud animals and evil princes forgotten.

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A while back I had the opportunity to take a wood-turning class through my local Arts Program. It was incredible to be able to take a piece of rough wood, and transform it into a beautiful and functional item. On the last day of class, the students each got to pick out a piece of wood and decide what they wanted to make out of it. I chose a big chunk of ash. I wanted a large piece because I wanted to make a short, wide bowl that had a small opening in the top. I measured and planned and marked, and then I began.

As the wood spun and I applied the tool, big chunks of bark flew off like torpedoes. After the bark came the long, curly shavings of wood til the floor at my feet was carpeted with fragrant ringlets. As the bowl began to take shape the tool suddenly caught on something and the piece of wood flew out of the lathe. I chased it down, anxious that it might have cracked on impact. As I wiped off the sawdust and wood chips, I noticed a small hole in the side. That’s what had caught the tool and sent the wood flying. The instructor came over and looked at the hole. He said that an insect had bored into the tree at some point and that as the tree grew the hole had been covered over with new growth. He poked a tool inside the hole and discovered that it was quite deep and at an angle.

“You can still make a bowl,” he said, “You’ll just have to work around the flaw,”

“But I wanted to make a big, round bowl!” I protested.

“Sometimes you get to decide what you’re making,” he said with a smile, “And sometimes the wood does.”

I thought about that as he handed the wood back and I reattached it to the lathe. As I worked the wood, cutting around the flaw, the bowl began to take on a beautiful shape. One that I would never have designed into a bowl. It became smaller than I had wanted, and was narrow on the bottom. The sides curved up and out to form a wide top. I hollowed it out and sanded it smooth. And I think it’s just beautiful.

Now, my small, flared bowl sits on my writing desk. I keep it there to remind me that my plans are not always the right plans. My life has certainly not turned out the way I planned it when I was young. Sometimes I feel like I’m on Plan Z! When I get frustrated because things aren’t going “right”, I look at the bowl. Then I ask Father to reveal His plan for me in the present circumstances. And you know what? Just like The A-Team, with Father there is no Plan B! Plan A is all we ever need. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” And although my life has not unfolded along my plan, it is a richer and deeper life than I could have ever imagined before. Now at those times when miracles happen (often disguised as coincidence), if I listen real hard I can almost hear a deep chuckle and a voice from heaven saying, “I LOVE IT when a plan comes together!”

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