Packed with Care


Memories. Tears. Sighs. More memories. Laughter. And gratitude.Cyrus with ornament

I am packing up our Christmas decorations today. But it is different this time. This is the last time I will take our stockings from this mantel. The last time our nutcrackers will grace this kitchen window. The last time our beautiful nativity sets will be taken down and boxed in this house. The last time Cyrus will pull ornaments off a tree in this living room.

We are putting our house up for sale in a Living room treecouple of weeks and will be moving to Tennessee to start a new, exciting life this summer. This old house has seen eleven Christmases. Eleven years of putting up and taking down Christmas wreaths while dressed like Mikey from A Christmas Story. Eleven years of lovingly hanging ornaments made from little Jansen hands on beautiful trees. Years of shrieks and laughter and prayers on Christmas mornings.

I am boxing up those memories and preparing them for a long move. I write FRAGILE on the boxes but I realize that what is really fragile are the memories. They are sweeter and more precious than anything I can put in a box. And I am eternally grateful for each tree

ItWillow Tree is hard to pack it all up not knowing where it will be unpacked. But I do know that wherever it goes, the warm memories go with it. And every Christmas as I open the boxes, these pieces will bring the familiar memories and stories and tears and laughter that were collected in this old house. It will be like unpacking blessing after blessing. Nutcracker. Blessing. Ornament. Blessing. Baby Jesus. Blessing.

I am overwhelmingly thankful. And a bit weepy.       20131204_170845 front of house


How Does That Add Up?


A48artThe announcement said there would be thirty-seven people on the flight. My boarding position was A48 and there were people behind me.  How does that make any kind of sense?
Well come to find out the airline leaves the first fifteen spaces for “preferred members.” On my flight there were only two people who fit that description. The rest of us apparently were non-preferred. But the math still wasn’t working for me. But who really cares? Only thirty-seven people meant a guaranteed window seat. Score!
Have you ever had moments like that when you thought WHAT? How does that add up? What is going on here? I have had many of those moments. Often when dealing with the non-adults in my household. Sometimes with my bank account. And now and then with God. What are you doing God? How is this going to work?
I sometimes wonder if He realizes that things are not adding up. How do I feed hungry kids with an empty bank account and empty cupboards? Does He realize that is not working? My schedule requires that I be in two places at the same time. How can that work?
I pray for bread but doubt it will show up. Then a friend visits my office out of the blue and comes loaded with loaves of bread. Beautiful loaves from Panera. While I was trying to figure out how to make things work out, God was using someone else’s surplus to meet my need. Never would I have thought that bread would just show up at my desk. But God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts greater than my thoughts.
So I am learning to accept that no matter if things add up in my mind, when God is involved the answer is multiplied with divine mystery to equal something amazing. A48 is AOK.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8–9 nlt


2 Corinthians 4:6-9 NLT

6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

Spring Faith



This winter had been an unusually long one. Seven inches of snow on April 19, four on the 23rd, four more May 3. It hasn’t been a record-setting winter but it has challenged we Minnesotans who have been indoors since October to keep believing. Will we ever need pedicures again?

I knew that Spring would come. But the timing was tricky. Easter dresses were worn with winter coats and (horror of horror) sandals with wool socks. We had snow ice cream with our peeps. And  tricked out cute little dogs with Easter bonnets and matching insulated snow booties.

One woman at church told me her kids were asking to put the Christmas tree up for Arbor Day. Oh ye’ of little faith.

Spring always follows Winter. There is always the budding out of trees, the smell of fresh-cut grass, and the eye-swelling pollen (to make it even more real). I have lived long enough now to know that season follows season without fail. I don’t have to spend time worrying about it.

Faith in God is eerily similar. We know He is there. We know His answers will come. We know the sunshine of His love will warm us after a cold winter of trial. But we grow tired of waiting. Those with little faith start doubting He will show up at all. We want tulips and redbuds and daffodils and we want them now.

And if all we get is more spiritual snow, we lose faith. We turn to fake messages as fast as Snookie bakes on a fake tan. We grow as cold as International Falls in January.

This year I am going for Spring faith. Whether my spiritual winter is short or agonizingly long, I will trust in God’s timing. It is perfect. He’s never skipped out yet and He never will. He is faithful season after season without fail.

We threw open the windows today and rejoiced in the soft Spring breezes and fragile green buds (and the invention of Zertec) that have finally shown up. Spring has come at last. Hallelujah!
first daffadil of spring

Look, the winter is past,
and the rains are over and gone. The flowers are springing up,
the season of singing birds has come,
and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.
Song of Solomon 2:11-12 NLT

Disappearing Effect


My husband, son, and I went to a cheap movie the other day. One of those places that runs commercials for a long time before the movie starts. One of the repeating commercials was for a show on the National Geographic Channel, Brain Game.

YellowdotsThe commercial talked about how our brains play tricks on us. To help explain the phenomenon a graphic was put on the screen with several small colored dots. We were told to stare at one dot. As we did, the other dots disappeared. If we didn’t blink or change our focus too much it looked like the dot we were looking at was the only dot on the screen. But when we changed focus and looked at the whole screen, the other dots were right where they had always been. (See a sample of this effect here.)

Tricksy it was!

The spokesman said that our brains will just stop seeing a group of objects when we stare too long at one item. It simply removes the others from our sight.

Does that scare anyone else? (Although I admit I tried staring at my knees hoping the fat on my thighs would disappear.)

It made me wonder if we do the same thing spiritually. If we stare so long at what we want–food, sex, success, beauty–do we stop seeing our blessings? When we concentrate intently upon our unhappiness, pain, unjust treatment, do we miss happiness, healing, or mercy? Are our minds tricking us into thinking that the less urgent, the less immediately thrilling, the less glamorous areas of life have no value?

What if one of the dots that disappears is our kids? Our friends? Our spouses? Our responsibilities? Our talents?

What if one of the disappearing dots is God?

On the other hand, what if we focus our gaze on God? If we are looking only at Him we can see the same disappearing effect. He takes away our worries, anxieties, jealousies, addictions. As long as we look to Him, trust Him, He will wipe away dots of sin for once and for all. He will remove them from our sight.

That is a disappearing effect that I will tune in to see.

He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west
Psalm 103:12 NLT

Yum, Yum Cake a.k.a. Tres Leches Cake



This weekend I am at a friend’s home, affectionately called “The Farm,” in western Minnesota. Once a year six to eight women leave their homes, families, and good sense behind to come together to giggle, eat (copious amounts of food), play games, and relax in the light-filled hearthroom overlooking the amazing snow-covered lake. It is bliss.

Tres Leches Cake to ShareThis year my contributions to the 48-hour feast were Cranberry and White Chocolate Chip Scones and Tres Leches Cake. These are two of my most used recipes. They are always a big hit. And both are way easier to make than they look (double bonus!). I thought publishing the easier of the two recipes would be a good idea and maybe get this group of ladies to read my blog! This is a yummy dessert that is easy to throw together but by no means a gourmet recipe.

For the cake, I use a mix if I have it and make it from scratch when I don’t. White. Yellow. Purple. Whatever vanilla flavored cake you have will be just fine. WARNING: This is not a cake to make unless you have several people to help eat it. Otherwise you will need drawstring pants for a few days!

20130223_144516Easy Tres Leches Cake

1 vanilla flavored cake baked according to directions in a 9 x 13 pan (one with a lid is best)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 (or so) cup milk (whatever you have in the fridge)
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
whipped cream (homemade or from a tub or can)
1 1/2 cup coconut (toasted)

Bake and cool cake. Toast coconut in a pan on medium heat, stirring frequently (it burns easily). Cool coconut and store in sealed container.

Using a fork, poke holes all over cooled cake. Pour condensed milk into a bowl. Add heavy cream to empty can and add other milk until the can is full. Add to bowl, add coconut extract, and whisk until well mixed. Carefully pour milk mixture over cake using the back of a spoon to push milk into all the holes. Refrigerate cake (or set it on the back porch if you live in MN).

To serve, place a piece of cake on a plate, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with coconut. Yum, Yum.

Fire Down in My Soul


backyard fireThere is a song we sing in church that goes, “Set a fire down in my soul, that I can’t contain, that I can’t control.” And when I am in church I feel it there blazing like a signal fire that can be seen by astronauts. Then I leave the sanctuary where I meet friends and discuss lunch plans in the foyer and it indubitably morphs into a largish bonfire. By the time I’ve eaten lunch and am reviewing the upcoming week’s schedule and budget, the blaze has been reduced to a controlled flame in a fireplace. By noon Monday even that is banked. By Friday I’m lucky to have a candle-sized flame flickering to stay alive.

Can you relate?

But as Saint Francis of Assisi wrote, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” That is all it takes. Faith the size of one candle. When darkness (uncertainty, death, sickness, weariness, responsibilities, unbelief) is all around, the light of one candle (a kind word, a helping hand, a free cup of coffee, a listening ear) offers hope. Especially when that candle leads the way to a bigger light, a real light, a shadow-destroying light. The Light.

Even if we can’t hold on to the uncontainable fire from Sunday, surely we can nurture a little candlelight. A votive or tea light will do. Those of us who have felt the dark know the value of even the smallest hope. Our light is all the more precious for having flickered in the dark but continuing to shine. “My Light shines most brightly through believers who trust Me in the dark,” is one of my favorite Sarah Young quotes.

We all have the ability to shine. We don’t have to do great works, spout jaw-dropping theology, or even preach a sermon. We shine by loving God, loving our neighbors, and being who God created us to be. Maybe, just maybe, if we do those things day in and day out, we’ll find a fire down in our souls that blazes all week long.

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.
John 12:46 NLT

Are you feeling more like a blaze or a little flicker? I’d love to hear your comments.

Aebleskiver Experiment

The best of the experiment—brushed with melted butter and rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Donut holes without the grease.

The best of the experiment—brushed with melted butter and rolled in cinnamon and sugar.

Fresh out of the pan Aebleskiver.

Fresh out of the pan Aebleskiver.

My hubby is of Dutch heritage (although a little Irish and German have sneaked in to his almost pure blood). I am a mutt—more Irish than anything, a little French, German, English, with a whole lot of Hillbilly! So our traditions are a tad all over the place. We eat pinto beans, cornbread, fried potatoes, and fried okra while drinking sweet tea out of mason jars like my Hillbilly ancestors. We put out wooden shoes in the Dutch tradition on St. Nick’s Day. We wear all green and eat bangers and mash with Irish soda bread and Dubliners cheese for St. Patrick’s Day. We have embraced a global heritage and enjoy adding new traditions when they fit our family.

This Christmas I received an Aebleskiver pan. I think it is pronounced able-skee-ver in the plural and able-skeeve in the singular (one little ball). The cast iron pan has eight little holes in it and is used to make nummy pancake-like balls that are usually topped with powdered sugar and served around the holidays. It is a Danish tradition that I thought might work its way into our hearts. So we decided to experiment.

Aebleskive with chocolate ganache and powdered sugar.

Aebleskive with chocolate ganache & powdered sugar.

When I looked into recipes there were several, although most could be sorted into two basic types—baking soda recipes and yeast recipes. Last month we tried a plain baking soda recipe and a Mexican chocolate recipe. The plain ones were a hit. The chocolate ones bombed.

Today Jeff and I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen trying a yeast recipe with various toppings. We liked the cinnamon and sugar the best (dip the finished aebleskiver in melted butter and roll in a mix of sugar and spice). We tried them with powdered sugar, strawberry jam, and chocolate ganache (even chocoholic Jeff did not like that). These are much denser, much prettier, but not as tasty as the baking soda type. They tasted more like a small dinner roll than a pancake. I think they would make amazing little slider sandwiches. I am keeping a few to try with roast beef or chicken salad.

An aebleskive with strawberry jam in the center.

An aebleskive with strawberry jam in the center.

The traditional way of making them would include cooked apples (thus the name AEBLE) in the middle of the ball. We haven’t tried that yet. It is on our list to try next time with caramel sauce. It is an ongoing experiment!

The recipe below is for the yeast balls. If you want to try the baking soda recipe, the recipe is here.

Yeast Aebleskiver

1  1/2 cups whole milk
1 envelope dry yeast
2 cups flour
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, separated

Unsalted butter
Fillings: Raspberry or strawberry preserves, powdered sugar, cinnamon and sugar mixture, chocolate ganache, cooked apples, or your favorite meats.

Aebelskiver cooking in the unique pan.

Aebelskiver cooking in the unique pan.

Heat milk in microwave safe bowl until lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in milk.
Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat egg whites in bowl of electric mixer until stiff. Whisk the egg yolks and vanilla into milk. Add the milk mixture into the flour and mix well. Fold egg whites into batter. Cover loosely and let rest one hour at room temperature.
Heat aebelskiver pan on medium heat. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small dish. Brush the inside of each indentation of the pan with butter.  Pour batter into each indentation, about 2/3 full.  Cook until golden brown underneath, 3-4 minutes.  Using a wooden skewer, turn aebleskiver over and continue to cook until golden and cooked through, 3-4 minutes.
Remove æbleskiver from pan, and repeat with remaining batter.  Serve æbleskiver with cinnamon and sugar (or other toppings) or use to make small sandwiches for a fun luncheon or fancy tea with the kids!

Gratitude by Way of Exhaustion


snowlamps ©JoelJansenI just got back from a business trip that was exhausting. It started on a snowy, freezing morning around 5 a.m. and ended the next night after midnight. The meetings were great, the welcome warm, but the jiggity jogs between what I was expecting and what actually happened were emotionally trying. I had prayed for God to give me guidance and direction, to shut doors or open opportunities in an obvious way. And, boy howdy, did that happen. The reality of the new dynamic was hard to accept even if it was an answer to prayer. My emotions ran the gamut from anger to gratitude, from surprise to acceptance, back to exasperation and then resignation, conciliation, and thankfulness. The kind of emotional roller coaster that leaves you drained and confused. So today I was just tired, sore, and bone weary.

Then I opened Jesus Calling and read the selection for today:

Come to Me for rest and refreshment. The journey has been too much for you, and you are bone weary. Do not be ashamed of your exhaustion. Instead, see it as an opportunity for Me to take charge of your life.
    Remember that I can fit everything into a pattern for good, including the things you wish were different. Start with where you are at this point in time and space, accepting that this is where I intend you to be. You will get through today one step, one moment at a time. Your main responsibility is to remain attentive to Me, letting Me guide you though the many choices along your pathway.
    This sounds like an easy assignment, but it is not.  Your desire to live in My Presence goes against the grain of “the world, the flesh and the devil.” Much of your weariness results from your constant battle against these opponents. However, you are on the path of My choosing, so do not give up! Hope in Me, for you will again praise Me for the help of My Presence.

Wow, how is that for God speaking directly to me? I read the text a few times because it just seemed unreal. I felt like my soul was opened up and these words were poured in spreading warmth and healing throughout my being.

But, wait, that’s not all.

When I went through my email this morning, I found another answer to prayer. Another unlikely, big answer to prayer. A proposal I sent a week ago was met with openness and a quick response. God knows how to throw a girl some curves! It was a reminder that I have a host of friends and loved ones praying for me, that God listens and responds, and that no matter how I’m feeling, no matter how things look, God is behind the scenes gently weaving my life into a pattern for good. He is in control. I’m giddy with gratitude. God is soooo amazing.

I know I am where I am supposed to be. I know His presence is with me in airports, board rooms, and little shops in Franklin, TN. I know He is guiding, prompting, fighting on my behalf. I may be tired but I am thankful.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT

Wild Rice and Chicken Soup


Yesterday we had baked chicken fajitas and there was a couple of cups of chicken leftover. So naturally I thought of whipping up some Wild Rice and Chicken Soup! Besides it is the coldest day in years so thick, bubbly soup and Snuggies were called for!

This is a recipe I came across when I moved to Minnesota and was looking for “native” foods. Up here wild rice is king and I am now a royal subject. We have been tinkering with the recipe ever since.  I rarely use the celery. The king of my castle hates it.

Let me know if you like it.

1 small onion (or half of a large one)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cans evaporated milk (or 3 cups half and half)
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked wild rice
2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup parsley

Saute onions in butter. Add flour to make a thick roux. Slowly add broth and milk with a whisk.

Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Add rice, salt, chicken, vegetables, and parsley. Simmer 5–10 minutes. If soup is too thick, thing with broth. Serves 8.