America, Celebration, Family, Farm, Food, Funny, Health, Uncategorized

The Marriage Bread

Chris recently said that he was “getting really tired of calling me his girlfriend.” Most girls would probably be a little bit offended by that, but I knew he was thinking about a title upgrade, not a title downgrade, so I let it slide.

I’m not really known for anything significant. Some people are known for being great swimmers or accomplished pianists, but I’m known for random things, like being able to tell the difference between cauliflower and broccoli plants, knowing the exact percentage of cotton in different t-shirts by just feeling them, and drinking an exorbitant amount of coffee every day.

And, apparently, bread baking.

I found a recipe for bread in my grandma’s local newspaper a few years ago. And like the dweeb I am, I cut it out and saved it. No new age Pinterest recipes for me! (Just kidding Pinterest, you know we’re buds.)

According to the article, people submit recipes all year long to the newspaper and at the end of the year someone chooses the favorite from each category. This just happened to be the best in bread and it sounded good, so I kept it.

I’d never made bread before, which should be a testament to how easy it is. However, I’ve made it multiple times for multiple people and everyone loves it and acts like I’m a magician for being able to make it.

When Chris and I started dating, I warned him that I was by no means a chef and didn’t cook super often. Then, I realized that was probably not the best thing to say to a potential suitor, so I followed it up with “but, I could feed you.” Yes. I really said those words. On our second date.

Which in my mind meant, I’m not a great cook, but I can cook and you won’t starve. He laughed because I’d worded it all in such a roundabout way. And, he kept dating me, so hey, not so bad!

Back to the bread. Chris met my extended family after we’d been dating for awhile and one of the first few questions he was asked was whether I’d made him bread yet. I hadn’t and my uncle said “just wait til you try the bread she makes, you’ll want to propose to her on the spot!”

We’d been dating about three months at this point and both found this to be a funny quip.

As we travel to see each other, we don’t cook together very often, so I still hadn’t made the infamous bread when Chris had been to see me. When he came in early December, I made a loaf and he claimed it was the best bread he’d ever had.

Now, was he just saying that because I was his girlfriend? Probably. I think he’s a bit biased. But, unbeknownst to me, he did ask my dad for his blessing to marry me that same weekend. Coincidence? Who knows, but the girl who regularly wears socks with sandals won him over somehow, so the bread theory is as good as any.

And a little over a month later, on our trip to Breckenridge, Chris conspired with another couple we were with and we drove out to Hoosier Pass on the Continental Divide and he proposed. And I said yes!

For breader or for worse.

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Auto, Celebration, Culture, Family, Farm, Outdoors, Summer

Give & Take

Teaching children is one of the great joys in life. Or so I’m told. 

I have friends who teach children daily and I don’t know how they do it. But, I teach a class at church once a week and for the most part, it’s joyous. Sometimes the teaching isn’t as joyous, but the learning definitely is. 

That moment when one of the kids is actually able to remember and apply what you’ve taught them, that’s the moment I think any teacher has to live for. 

Recently I’ve been teaching the class I fondly refer to as “the littles”. They range from 4 to 6 years old. They’re at the age that they soak up everything, the good and the bad. We’ve been learning about Job for awhile and they’d never heard the story before. 

For those of you who haven’t been teaching about Job lately, I’ll update you on his story. He was a good man. One of our first memory verses was “Job was an upright and righteous man who feared the Lord…” (part of Job 1:1) This is a memory verse that some of the kids can still quote, even weeks after they learned it. Proud moment. But the Lord allowed Job to be tested. Job lost everything. His riches, his family, his home, his livelihood, all his worldly possessions. Finally, he lost his health. 

As many of you know, my grandpa passed away recently. And I miss him. He, much like Job, was an upright and righteous man who feared the Lord. 

He was born on the farm we currently live on and grew up well below a poverty line that was not even defined yet. He got an 8th grade education before he had to start working. But, he could read the King James Version of the Bible out loud more eloquently than anyone else I’ve ever heard. 

He raised a son who loves the outdoors and that son raised me in the same way. I have more memories than I can even begin to number from hunting, fishing and farming with him. 

He was raised in a small country church that he went on to pastor, a position he held for most all of my life. He taught me for years, which is probably how I find myself now teaching the next generation in the same church. 

The memory verse the kids learned about Job being an upright and righteous man who feared the Lord is a good verse for them to know. But, it isn’t the verse that comes to mind when I think of Job. 

Job suffered. I’m not sure exactly how long he suffered for, but the Bible devotes 42 chapters to his life, so my guess is that the suffering was anything other than temporary. But during that time, he never denied God. He never blamed the Lord for what happened to him. He continued to be upright and righteous. In all of it, Job is recorded for having said this:

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b)

This. Said by a man who suffered failing health, the death of his children, the loss of everything. He’s blessing the name of the Lord in his times of receiving and in his times of losing.

It’s really easy to bless the name of the Lord in our times of receiving. To say thank you for good things, to feel like God is blessing us. But what about in the times of losing? 

What happens if what you lost and what you gained joined hands and became the same thing?

We focus on our loss in death, but what if we look at what the Lord gave us? 

I was given a grandpa who I saw 2-3 times a week for my whole life, who loved me and told me so, who taught me the right way to live, who made such an impression in my life that I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without his influence. 

My dad and his sister got a father who was involved, who was present, who prayed before meals, who worked hard to provide for them. 

My grandma got a husband for 55 years, a man who was faithful and loved her in a way that is rare to see in today’s world. 

There were countless other people who gained from my grandpa’s existence. A church family who got a humble leader, a host of family that he loved in so many different ways, and hundreds of others. His funeral was the largest I’d ever been to, filled with people I had no idea he’d affected so profoundly. 

There’s a popular worship song that uses this verse in Job as some of its main lyrics.  

“You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name.”

Today, we have a choice. In our trials and in our rejoicing. In our times of blessings and in our time of loss. The choice is left to us. But, I know what my heart’s answer will be.

Lord, blessed be Your name. 

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America, Celebration, Culture, Family, Farm, Funny, Summer, Travel, Uncategorized

Thoughts from an MOH

My best friend is on her honeymoon right now. I didn’t text her to check in to see if they’d made it safely to their destination but she sent me a message once she arrived. Not a message to necessarily tell me that they’d made it. She sent me her thoughts from a plane. 

I’m not sure who started doing thoughts from a plane. I want to credit her with it because I feel like she was the first one who came up with it. But, it may have been me. I’ll have to confer and get back with you on that one. 

Anyway, thoughts from a plane are literally just that: your thoughts about what is going on around you while on a plane. Maybe we started doing it because it can get terribly boring being cooped up in an airplane for a long time. Or, it could’ve been because you’re in such tight quarters that you can hear and see everything that everyone is doing. Either way, it’s funny to us to share our thoughts from a plane with each other. I wrote about it one time, if you want to read about it here

As I was saying, Jordan got married last weekend and part of my Maid of Honor duties were to write a speech, which I then relayed at her rehearsal dinner. 

I’m not a great public speaker, but I’m generally not terrible. I don’t think I did very well with this speech for two reasons

1. I wasn’t quite sure what emotions were going to be going on, so I was a little apprehensive about being overly emotional. I made it through just fine though.

2. I wasn’t sure what crowd size I’d be speaking to, so I’d made my speech more for a little bit more intimate of a gathering and there were quite a few people there. 

I feel like I’m generally better when I’m conveying thoughts through writing rather than speaking. It just comes more naturally. Even though I tend to write exactly as I would think/speak a thought. 

So, since I’d written the speech anyway, I thought I’d memorialize it in blog form. Because this seems like an official place to memorialize something of magnitude, right? 

Here they are: my thoughts for my best friend on the evening before her wedding: 

When Jordan told me that I would need to make a speech tonight, I wasn’t really sure what a Maid of Honor speech should be like, so I just wrote what came to mind. 

Jordan and I have been friends for a long time. Our families have been friends for over 100 years, so we technically have a long history together. But, I didn’t grow up with her, so I never really officially met her until we were around 14 or 15 years old. 

I remember the first time I heard about Jordan. I had just switched schools and some of my friends were hanging out by my locker, talking about this girl and her shoes. I have never cared too much for fashion and as an 8th grader, I cared even less. But, there was apparently a girl walking around in pink stilettos. And it was Jordan. 

It’s ironic that my first memory of hearing about Jordan has to do with shoes, because I swear, the girl currently owns about 500 pairs. 

I really got to know Jordan in high school. We had a class together and the first day I walked into class, there she was, seated in front of my desk, crocheting. She had her yarn spread out and could care less what anyone thought about it. I thought maybe during the lecture, she would take notes, but she continued to crochet. 

We did our classwork together, probably mostly because I was the one with the notes, and also because we were two of the only girls in that class. I’ll not bore everyone with stories of our youth, that most likely only the two of us would find funny. But, we began a friendship that has personally enriched my life a lot over the years. 

We are pretty much opposites when it comes to most things, so I think we both stretched each other in different directions in a way that causes so much growth as people.

Jordan wouldn’t let me have a slide show, but immediately, when I first started thinking about this speech, there was one picture of us that immediately came to mind. It was a picture of the two of us, on our last day of high school, right before we graduated. 

I had tried like everything to convince her to go to the University of Arkansas with me and she had likewise tried to convince me to go to OSU with her. But, both of us knew that the other place wasn’t where we were meant to be. So, we were going to be parting ways and on the last day of high school, that reality was sinking in a little bit more. 

You can tell in the picture that we had been teary eyed saying bye to all our friends. And, I know it seems a little bit childish now, but it was a big deal to us then. We were, in a tiny way, embarking into the unknown. We weren’t going to be full fledged adults by any means, because what 18 year old can really be considered an adult? But, we were striking it out on our own. 

We had no idea the people we’d meet or the new friends we’d gain, most of whom for Jordan are seated here tonight. We had no idea if we’d still be friends after it was all said and done. And, we had no idea the lives we’d eventually lead. So, the tears were understandable. 

But had we known then what we know now, how even though this step from high school into adulthood was a bit daunting at first, how it lead to so many great things, we may have still been teary eyed, but not because we were sad for moving on, but because we were overwhelmed and happy for the new things to come. 

And, as I’m writing this, I’m expecting that there will be some tears as Jordan and Jade now prepare to enter into a new, exciting phase of their lives together. But now we know that if we get a little teary eyed, it’s not for sadness of what Jade and Jordan are leaving behind, but for joy for the life that they’re about to walk into. Congratulations Jordan and Jade! I am so happy for both of you and can’t wait to see what blessings marriage brings to your lives!

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America, Animals, Celebration, Culture, Family, Farm, Funny, Outdoors, Summer, Travel

Pura Vida 

We found a boy with a machete to cut a way through the jungle to take us to see a waterfall. I wish it were less sketchy than it sounds, but it’s not. 


We were supposed to be fishing on Lake Arenal in Costa Rica. But, the wind had other ideas. So, Plan B? A “horseback ride to a waterfall”. My mind is conjuring up images of a peaceful, smooth horseback ride down to a quaint waterfall, a splash in the water, then back on the horse and to the barn. This picture encapsulates my mental image. (Also, there’s the lake I should’ve been fishing in the background.)


What I didn’t have in mind was climbing up and down very steep hills (more commonly called mountains) on horseback and nearly sliding down the mountain on the back of said horse. 


I also didn’t realize that our guide would be a 15 year old boy with a machete and his uncle. Who didn’t speak much English.

Or that they would need the aforementioned machete to slice through the jungle to create a “path” that would could “walk” (read: slide) down.


Or that it would be such a slippery, steep, and narrow “path” that I would need to hold someone’s hand the whole time to navigate. 


These poor guys had to switch spots to constantly be in front of me to help me every step of the way. I know this because they kept talking to each other and saying “ella”, which I knew was me because I was the only girl in our group of 4. 

I only fell down twice, and laughed through most of it, as the ridiculousness of what we were doing kept setting in more and more. 


I also didn’t realize that this hike would take nearly two hours to complete and that it would be the most intense hike I’ve ever done. 

So, here’s me, not thinking about what I’m actually getting myself into. What’s new? 

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Culture, Family, Farm, Religion, Summer

Running on Empty

I think I’m well on my way to becoming the Maysville Call Center. My grandparents keep walking in with phones that won’t work. Last week, my grandma walked into the office holding her flip phone that had finally died. It just so happened that on the same day, her wi-fi went out, leaving her completely unable to contact anyone. So, she walked in, needing to use the phone. Of which I was able to offer her 5 options. A few days later, my grandpa walks in. Carrying his own flip phone (haven’t all of these disappeared yet?) Says: my phone won’t work, can I use one of yours? I didn’t even ask any questions. I just handed him the cordless and let him make his calls.

VBS week has me feeling like the kid in the blue. I think I’m having fun, but I’m also slightly terrified and confused. Basically, I’m just rolling with life at this point. Should I mention that I took orders for 3,596 shirts last week? Actually, I didn’t. I took orders for more than that. But, I stopped counting there. Because I got a little too overwhelmed to even keep count any more.


I planned VBS in my usual fashion. We talked about it a few weeks before in May and decided that the second week in June would be good. So, I waited until the first week in June to remember that it was the first week in June and we had tentatively planned to start at the beginning of the second week in June. Everything got lined out really fast. AKA: other people took over and assumed their roles and I hastily put together our schedule and it came together.

Scavenger hunting


Treasure hunters

So, we’re in VBS week. And we’re printing 4000+ shirts. And, it just so happens, we don’t have water. Not in the Al Gore, global warming, type of way. More in the our well system isn’t really working type of way. Apparently, when you have a hole in a water pipe, it doesn’t matter how much water you have access to. The water isn’t getting from point A to point B. Calling a company to come out and fix it was helpful too. They said they would come, then called the next day saying that someone had an emergency in a tiny town in Missouri, so they wouldn’t be back in town for a few days.

I don’t know what this other person was going through or what constitutes an emergency these days, but I feel like me not having access to drinking water is a little bit of an emergency too. Not to mention that we have no water to make coffee with. I mean, that seems a little emergent. Yes?

So: VBS week + piles of shirts + no water. Don’t worry, I issued an emergency bulletin to all (3) of our staff that read: “Warning Notice: Skyline Printing and Merchandising is officially in a state of emergency as water levels are reaching an all time low. Please be advised that conditions may worsen. Updates will be provided as this situation unfolds.” I think I was the one who was the most amused with my antics.

Luckily, a different company came to the rescue and fixed the water situation the next day. We’re back up and running. Literally.

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America, Culture, Farm, Food, Garden, Health, Summer, Travel

Leading the Whey

I’ve been a lot of places in the world, but I’ve yet to find a place that I like better than home. 
I don’t know if it’s the people or the place or a combination of both, but there’s just something special about the place I come from.

This time of year is especially beautiful because everything is green and growing. I left a few weeks ago, with freshly planted seeds in the ground (literally, I planted the watermelon, cantaloupe and squash the day before I left) and came back to a pretty little garden developing. Also, my sweet potato slips are in full growth mode, in case anyone was wondering. 

That first row is my baby sweet potato plants that will soon take over everything

The people make our little corner of Arkansas pretty unique too though. I’m not just talking about my family. They’re definitely unique, but when you come from a tiny farming community, you know most people like family. Farm people are a special breed. They’re raised on hard work and sweat and a little bit of gossip.

I love the barter system. They talked about it in history class like it was an ancient thing. The trading of goods or services for other goods or services. But, the barter system very much lives on. People around here trade work for work, milk for eggs, garden produce for fresh bread, the list goes on. Last night, we traded one of the neighbors some fresh raspberries for some work on my car. Not kidding, that’s really the way it works. And, we’ve learned to trade t-shirts for just about everything.

My brother and I come up with crazy ideas just about on the daily. If I haven’t thought of it, he definitely has. Generally, he’s the one with the idea and I’m the one he convinces to go along with it. I could list a million of these day dreams: buying a hot air balloon was one we thought about for a few days, starting a farmer friendly barber shop (that one is possibly still in the works).. Starting a screen printing business was one that he came up with about 10 years ago. And, we all see where that’s taken us. 


So, when he said he wanted to try cheese-making, I got on board fairly quickly. Any way to produce farm fresh food is pretty much a sure deal for me. The cheese making supplies arrived in the mail a few days later. 

We’ve been getting raw milk from our neighbors for awhile now. Everyone tells me: don’t drink that, it’ll make you sick! However, I’ve been drinking it daily and feel strong as ever. See, the pasteurization process destroys some of the raw milk’s antibodies in the heating process. So, it’s technically healthier. And, I think it’s pretty safe. It’s how our ancestors drank it and generations of humans have survived since then, so it can’t be that bad, am I right?

Anyway, raw milk. In reading about cheese making, it is the cream of the crop. Pun intended. It makes the most curds, which in turn yields the most cheese. So, since our neighbors milk 21 gallons a week, we have access to excess raw milk. 

Side note: let me tell you a little history about where this milk comes from. These neighbors got a blind dairy cow from another neighboring commercial dairy farm, so they were going to milk it by hand. But, the cow “got down” and wouldn’t get back up. So, these neighbors called us to use our “hot shot” (an electric prod) to get this cow back up. Which is how we ended up in the free raw milk exchange. 

When we decided to make cheese, we knew we’d need extra milk, past our regular weekly gallon. So, we called and they said to come over and get a couple extra gallons. 

Now, it’s country rules that if you ask something from your neighbor, you don’t go without giving something in return. Well, Jake had just baked a few loaves of fresh bread.[He currently has a sourdough starter, for those of you who know what that would be. So, it’s producing three loaves of bread weekly right now] I had some homemade mulberry jam in the pantry, so we decided to take that. But, I also had some raspberries from the garden and Dad caught some catfish, so we took fish and berries too.


When we arrived, the exchange was happily made. We got our raw milk, they got their farm fresh goods and we went on our way. But, not before I got to meet their pet squirrel. I can’t make this stuff up, ya’ll. 

I’m a little sad to say that no one knows how to make cheese any more. I asked both of my sets of grandparents if they’d ever made cheese or seen it made and none of them had. I thought they were supposed to be the ones teaching us how to do this type of thing?
I really thought it would be much more difficult than it turned out to be. You start with a gallon of (preferably raw) whole milk. The cheese process essentially takes all of the milk solids (read: fat) out of the liquid. You will typically yield about a pound of cheese from one gallon of milk. 

(Side story: In Laos, I asked my nutrition training participants what was the first thing they thought of when they heard the word “fat”. Their answer? Cheese. Looks like they were right.) 

You start with citric acid, vegetable rennet, and your milk. Mozzarella is the simplest cheese to make (because it doesn’t have to be aged), so that’s what we decided to start with. 

Note: the cheesecloth was not used in this process. I’m told it’s for “cheddaring”


I’ll condense the cheese making process for you. You dissolve a little citric acid powder into a little bit of water, pour the milk over it, heat to 90 degrees, and watch the milk curdle a little bit.

Then, you pour in a little bit of rennet and water. Wondering what rennet is? I was too, so I did some really official internet research. It’s actually an enzyme that is produced in the stomachs of mammals that consume milk that helps us digest it. Apparently, in ancient times, they somehow harvested the rennet from the mammals stomachs to use. However, these days we might consider some of their methods a little barbaric. So, they figured out how to engineer vegetable rennet, which is essentially molds that mimic the process of breaking down milk. Sounds tasty, right?

Anyway, rennet goes in. The milk gets stirred gently for 30 seconds, then left to set for 5 minutes. It gets to a custard consistency, then you break it up a bit, cook a little longer, and you officially have your curds and whey. 

And yes, I do feel like Little Miss Muffet. Really though, what was she doing eating curds and whey? After seeing this process, there would be no way that I would want to eat curds and whey. 

This is the point at which things become really interesting. You separate the curds and whey, using a slotted spoon and a strainer. And your goal is this: get as much of the whey “water” out of the cheese solid as you can. You can squeeze it, heat it slightly, squeeze it again, whatever method works. 

I thought it would be really delicate, but it isn’t. You pretty much knead it like bread, until it forms into a solid little disc. You yield just about a gallon of whey water out of the process. Which, I didn’t throw away, of course. This is a really protein rich liquid that has multiple uses. The Swiss actually bathe in this water because it makes your skin really soft. I won’t be bathing in it, however I will attest from handling the cheese, that it does make your skin incredibly soft.


We made the first disc of cheese and it was so easy that we decided to make a second one. The first one took a little bit longer, but by the second round, we had it down to a science. All you need is 30 minutes to go from milk to mozzarella. 


Maysville Mozzarella, coming to a store near you!

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Animals, Asia, Culture, Farm, Food, Health, Missions, Travel

Ride or Die

 I’m still trying to catch up on my posts from Vietnam.We moved around a lot from place to place while we were there, which provided lots of travel time to write. However, what I lacked was the time to actually post what I was writing. If you know me very well, though, my delay should not come as a surprise.

                                                              

I ate a cricket this morning. And it was surprisingly refreshing. Not because it tasted great or anything. But, because I wasn’t going to do it, then I decided that I could handle it. So, I did. Pushing the limits you set for yourself can be a good thing.

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My carefully selected snack

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 I also rode an elephant. It wasn’t a first or anything. But, I was in the hotel room in the middle of the afternoon and I got a phone call. I answered, of course, and the voice on the other end said: “do you want to go ride an elephant?” No hello, no this is so-and-so, just elephant ride? And what’s your natural response for a phone call like that? Sure.

                                                              

So, we went on elephant excursion number three. This one was pretty typical: elephant, basket, little boy sitting on his head while we trek around. But, the seating arrangement was different. It was a wide metal basket with a narrow bench and no harness or strap of any kind. I’ve only been in bamboo baskets, which create for a little more traction. But with the metal bench and my denim shorts, I was sliding all over the place. Combine this with the fact that we were climbing down a steep embankment and the “driver” kept hitting the elephant on the head with a metal rod: I was sure I was going to topple out of the basket any minute.

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Treacherous looking basket

 But, I survived. Upon dismounting from the basket, the animal wranglers were offering other various rides. I had never seen anyone ride an ostrich, but they had them saddled up and ready to go, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It kinda made the elephant ride feel safe.
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Taking in the view

 The “saddle” has handles on the front and the back, and you are encouraged to hold onto both. Because those things take off like they’re trying to buck you off. Me and my ostrich were pretty in sync though for the most part and it was calm. We settled into a little routine. In fact, in most of the pictures, we even had the same facial expressions.

                                                              

Until the boy with the metal rod came around again and started hitting him. Then he took off and I nearly fell off again.

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Trotting along

I’m thinking some animals just weren’t meant to ride. But, then again, there’s a first time for everything.
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