Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reaching Out in Love

   Living in a Mennonite community off the beaten path has its blessings. There's less fish bowl, more intimacy, and fewer pressures to follow the trends that sweep through churches like a swift but silent wind that could tear off a roof. There are also inconveniences. We are the furthest branches of the grapevine, so news from afar comes late. Some of us long for home comforts or cooking ingredients you can only find (at the best price!) in a particular Amish bulk food store two hours away. It's a balance that at is freeing at its best, and on the worst days, lonely.

   At the end of the summer, our church hosts an annual community day, a bonanza of hospitality we sponsor to show love to the neighbors. Come out and meet us! Have fun! We'll feed you for free! For a small fellowship, this takes a lot of energy and teamwork. Almost too much. Especially if it's a 95 degree day and the bouncy house, positioned in full sun, is filled with squabbling kids who have been abandoned by their grandparents who have sought the comforts of air conditioning in the church building. Seeking refuge in the church is usually done under the guise of being overly interested in the bake sale. I'm not pointing fingers. I saw everyone because I was in there trying to cool off, too. 

   I really enjoy baking for the bake sale. Even though I'm asked to bake the same mini-banana bread loaves, and two types of cookies every year, I never mind a day of baking. It makes me feel good to see tables full of homemade treats priced so low that anyone could indulge in our deliciousness. At the end, we give it away for free.

   I'm not overly optimistic about outreach. I've met the curiosity seekers, the check-list churchers who want some of the stuff we have, but no, not that, and then some stuff I've never heard of. We've met the families who agree with our beliefs but find our demographics all wrong or simply live too far away. I have met the people who come to be nourished by our kindness and our wholesome food but miss out on the "good part" that Jesus described to Martha.

   At the end of the long, hot day we have broken bread with those who are passing through and extended a hand in love. It's what any of us are called to do on any given day. To show unmerited love, kindness, and peace to those we interact with in our daily lives. Aren't we rich that we have so much to give?

   There are still some ears of corn floating around market stands, but when the weather turns cooler I look forward to some warm baked corn. Baked corn is an old favorite around here, and never lasts long. It's a warm and filling side dish.

   This recipe came to me years ago in a slightly different form, from an Amish lady. If you want to duplicate Esther's Baked Corn, simply add a small jar of chopped pimentos. I never have pimentos and can never remember to put them on my list. I often use half of a green pepper and half of a red, for color and taste. In this instance, I used some roasted red peppers for a little seasonal taste. 

Baked Corn Casserole

Combine in medium bowl:

1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn
1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped OR 
1 medium bell pepper, chopped

2/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/4 cup butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste
a dash of red pepper

Mix well and pour all ingredients into a 2 quart casserole dish. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Lightening Your Load By Extending a Hand

   In the midst of my endless canning time, school time steps in without any subtleties and inserts its new sneaker firmly into our well-established routine. I'm still picking and canning tomatoes. This year I did a lot of pizza sauce since the tomatoes are free. I figure I make at least 50 pizzas a year. What if I had sauce for every one of them? Anyway, I'll be ready for fall when most of you are wrapping Christmas gifts.

   School, however, can't be ignored. Things shut down after Labor Day. The weekend before school started, Little Mister liked my spontaneous suggestion of a backyard picnic on a blanket by the swings. I could not have concocted a better idea had I spent all night planning one. The basket! The turkey sandwiches! The special drink that he has no idea is Kool Aid! Honestly, a strategic team of fun experts that couldn't have produced this grand a time. Secretly, my heart was a little dim with the knowledge that in a few short days I would put him on the bus for another year of preschool and speech therapy. While I'm grateful for all of the speech therapy he has gotten from the local school, there is still a part of me that feels no child should be experiencing their THIRD first day of school at the tender age of four. A child that age should be home baking cookies with mom, getting into things in the backyard and begging me for ice pops on joint trips to the store.

   Little Mister would like it just fine if we turned it down. He doesn't care if someone doesn't understand him when he talks. That's their problem, he figures. 

I like having fun at home, he tells me. 

"You have to understand," I say to his Dad, "I am extremely fun." 
He howls. 
What? Who wouldn't want to spend all day with some lady telling you to clean up your mess and to stop messing with the dog, he does not want to pull your sleigh. I sometimes yell. I have to yell because my house is loud.

Sandwiches, blue corn chips, guacamole. 
I have Morning Glories everywhere right now.
   Yet, the school has done so much good. He has made so much progress. You absolutely wouldn't send him if it wasn't the very best for thing him. I had to keep reminding myself. We send money to missions in other countries so that children with little opportunity can go to a school. Oh, the irony.

   In the midst of the first-day blues, I longed to take the focus off of my feelings of being deprived of what could have been Little Mister's last year home with mom. I needed to stop thinking about me and readjust my thinking to what is right for him, at least for right now. 

   On Sunday morning I heard the sound of a vehicle stalling at the nearby intersection. One of our ministries, if you can call it that, is helping the numerous people who break down on our busy road. I have lent out tools for changing flats to confused teens at an hour before midnight. It's a mission that chose us when we unknowingly purchased a home along a rural mini-intrastate. Out the kitchen window, I saw it was an older man with a nearly new truck that was overheating. I walk over and set him up with a bucket of water while he waited for his son to arrive and offered what help I could. 

   Later, when he returned the bucket, he tried to give me a cash tip. I wouldn't take it. 

"No, you take it, you don't find friends like this anymore," he told me. He threw it in my bucket and walked away. 

   "We're all just here to help each other," I hollered back. The simplicity of that truth rung in the air.
The first day...again.

   I sprinted up the steps into the house, feeling a little more "free" from "me". If I could effortlessly drop my routine to help strangers with car trouble, my own longings could surely take a backseat to doing what's best for my own child. It's true what they say. A pity party can be disbanded quickly when you reach out to help others What a blessing that I don't have to leave home to do it, and neither do you. 

   For my birthday, a good friend and fellow food lover gave me this wonderful book on making fun looking, healthy food for children: (Amazon affiliate link) What I love about this book is that all of the ingredients are things you likely have on hand, so you don't need to make special purchases. Also, the ideas are all healthy and animal-themed, so it's nice that your child recognizes what that pancake with eyes is supposed to be. Also, if you're not gifted enough to make any of them, it gives you some ideas, like this peach parrot I put together: 

  It's not perfect, but I kind of pride myself on posting recipes that I actually feed my family and that fit into a busy mom lifestyle. With two peaches, a knife, and a pair of scissors, this is fairly easy and fast. 


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