Parody of the Pickles…and Perseverance

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“Julie,” my mother said. “We aren’t those kind of people.”

“What kind of people?”

“Pickle-making people.”

My husband Rick had just brought in a mountain of cucumbers from his garden and we planned to make pickles.

Cinnamon Red Hot Pickles.

Starting the tedious process I thought, What in the heck are we doing? Mother’s right. 

Our ingredients included strange things like ALUM and PICKLING LIME.

Here’s the recipe I’m warning you. It’s intimidating. The recipe says it takes three days, but we started at night. It took four.

Washing, peeling, and removing the seeds from 5,000 cucumbers was quite an ordeal.

Next we cut them into a million pieces.

It.

Took.

Forever. 

We cheated and used the dishwasher to sterilize the jars.

With each step, my doubt grew.

We’re wasting our time.

Mother’s right. 

We aren’t pickle-making people. 

It was messy. Sticky. Exhausting.

One night after eleven o’clock, I was so sick of making pickles that I went to bed and left Rick stirring.

Somehow, we made a monumental mistake and bought the wrong kind of Red Hots. 🙁 Ours turned into clear rubbery balls that wouldn’t dissolve.

Nevertheless, Rick charged on, hoping they’d miraculously melt.

They didn’t.

By day three, red sticky syrup covered the counter. Cucumber seeds clung to the cabinets, the floor, and the refrigerator door.

The final morning before Rick left for work he asked me to do the next step.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “We’ve wasted enough time. Let’s just quit.”

“Nope. We’re not giving up.”

Feeling foolish and frustrated, I took the stupid cucs out of the fridge.

To my horror, they were pale green and pink. 

Not candy-apple red.

Then my mother called. “I tried to tell you,” she said.

Throwing the mess away, I decided NO MORE PICKLES. 

This is it. 

I’m done. 

But Rick wouldn’t give up. 

He went to four stores in search of the right kind of Red Hots.

He found them.

This time, he called his aunt for her recipe.

We started all over again.

But guess what?

It worked!

We did it! 

We made absolutely incredible Cinnamon Red Hot Pickles! 

Mother still can’t believe we’re pickle-making people. 🙂

I saved her a jar. 

If you’re working on something that seems impossible:

1. Tune out all negative thoughts. And comments. 🙂

2. Don’t be afraid to change your approach. (Aunt Jane’s recipe.)

3. Hang in there. Sometimes God’s favor comes when you least expect it.

Can you identify?

P.S. They’re gluten-free!

Love,

Julie and Rick

 

 

How to Stay on Vacation All Year Long

This summer, my husband and I had a stay-cation. We slept late, had long porch parties, and slowed down. I loved stay-cation so much, I didn’t want our simple way of living to end. 

On Friday, we drove to Blue Ridge, Georgia to Mercier Orchards.

I’d brought a stack of books and my journal. “Do you have room for your feet?” Rick said.

“I’m fine.”

Reading was a big part of my stay-cation, and who knows? I might be inspired to write in the car.

Two hours later, we entered Blue Ridge.

“It’s so pretty up here. Wish we could make today last longer.” I decided to jot down every detail so I wouldn’t forget the beauty. I opened my journal. Grabbed a pen.

Instead, an unexpected prayer rose. I began writing. Didn’t stop to edit.

Father,

Thank You for stay-cation.

For being in the car with a man I’ve loved for 40 years!

40 years!

Thank You for plenty of books at my feet. 

I glanced at Rick’s left hand.

His hands–how hard he works–for all the wrenches he’s turned so I can write. 

We stopped at Cheeseburger Bobby’s.

Incredible cheeseburgers, but their fries aren’t gluten-free, and I have Celiac.

Rick ran next door to Chick-fil-A. They have GF fries. 🙂

Thank You for Chick-fil-A fries.

For a husband who’ll get them for me.

Then on to Mercier’s.

When we got there, we sat in the car for a minute, in awe of the mountains and deep valleys.

Thank You for mountains and valleys.

Family problems entered my thoughts.

I paused.

Stopped writing.

A new kind of prayer came.

Thank You for the problems.

For things I can’t change. 

For me having Celiac

Mercier’s is an apple orchard, but they didn’t have many apples.

It was July.

Not October.

Disappointment tried to worm its way in.

Then we spotted summer fruit. 🙂

Thank You for peaches and blackberries and blueberries! 

And fudge.

And kettle corn!

And cider!

 And jelly!

We filled our cart.

And I filled my heart.

Maybe the secret to staying on vacation all year long is to keep saying, “Thank-You, Lord.” For everything.  

Don’t you love vacation relaxation?

What are your va-cay plans?

P.S. Apple pie wasn’t GF, but the fudge was! 🙂

To find out why Rick wears a nine-dollar wedding ring, click here.

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship…Served With Love on a Paper Plate

A couple of years ago, my husband was all gung-ho about joining a small group at church. Not me. You can’t just throw people together and say, “Wa-lah! Make friends. Form bonds. Trust each other.”

Friendship takes time. 

And it’s risky. 

Being vulnerable enough to experience community brings the possibility of getting hurt.

Yes, of course, I’ve been hurt. I bet you have too.

And I’m embarrassed to tell you, but I wondered if I’d reached a stage in life when you don’t make many more new friends.

But my word Surrender wouldn’t leave me alone.

After days of running scared, I let go of control (again!), and we joined a small group. We knew Rick and Kim, our leaders, and one other person, but the rest of them were strangers.

That first night, my heart went thumpety-thump as we introduced ourselves.

Over time, we shared our struggles, our prayer requests, our joys. Something spread between us like warm caramel.

We were no longer strangers.

We became friends.

Since we ate together, I told them about having Celiac disease, an autoimmune illness, meaning I have to eat gluten-free.

After eighteen months, my husband and I became small group leaders.

Guess what else?

Rick and Kim invited us to their small group party last week!

Kim texted me: CAN YOU HAVE JELLO INSTANT PUDDING?

YES! 🙂

She made two gorgeous orange pineapple cakes–one regular and one gluten-free. For me. 

I nearly cried!

It had been almost eight years since I’d had a layered cake. I didn’t even know it was possible! And my cake looked exactly like the regular one.

Kim reached out with love and helped me feel like a regular person!

The next morning, I had two pieces for breakfast. 🙂

When we relinquish control, sometimes God brings the sweetest surprises. And friendships! 

(Kim used Pamela’s GF vanilla cake mix for mine.)

Thoughts on friendships? 

Share a time when someone’s kindness blew you away. 

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

Straight from the Heart

This past Sunday we were having a tiny family get-together to make Christmas cookies. Very low-key. But Saturday morning, we had a church commitment and overslept.

Hurrying, I forgot what matters most.

“I hate running late!” I said. “Now we’ll be behind all weekend long. I have so much to do.”

“Nah,” Rick said. “We’re fine.”

By the time we got back home, I felt like I was chasing myself around trying to catch up.

Get a Christmas tree.

Bring decorations upstairs from the basement.

Decorate.

Go to the grocery store.

Finish addressing Christmas cards.

NOW. Hurry!

And I’m married to a man who can’t be pushed. Or rushed. The harder I tried to get things done, the slower he moved.

Sunday afternoon right before the party, he finally brought the tree inside, and I started making cookies.

Which should’ve been done hours earlier.

Scanning the box for directions, I discovered something odd–

A paragraph explaining why “Mr. Sunface Bebo” founded Immaculate Baking Company.

This sentence seemed about ten feet tall. 

“His vision is to inspire people to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

Whoa. 

A baking company has a vision to inspire people to love one another? 

And it’s right here on the box.

Straight from the founder’s heart.

Something inside me shifted.

In all my hurrying, I’d lost my vision for why I was having a cookie party.

Because I love my family. 

Before long, I saw–really SAW–our son Thomas and his girlfriend Brittany decorating the tree.

Our daughter Katie was frosting cookies.

We missed you, Jamie. 🙁

I sat beside Rick. “Sorry, I pushed so hard.”

He made his my wife scares me face. Which is part of why I love him. His sense of humor.

Later, alone in the kitchen, I turned out the big tree lights.

And studied our nativity.

Because of God’s great love for us,

We can love one another,

Straight from the heart. 

Do you decorate Christmas cookies?

Have you been hurrying too and missing the good stuff?

(The glutenfree cookies were amazing! I have Celiac.)

“…love one another…” John 13:34

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

Cruisin’ the Coast and Cruisin’ Through Marriage

“You can still change your mind and come with us,” my husband Rick said. It was our final Porch Party before he left town. He and his uncle were driving from Atlanta, Georgia to Biloxi, Mississippi. They were taking a 1988 Chevy truck Rick restored for Uncle David to a car show called Cruisin’ the Coast.

Before restoration:

After restoration: 

They’d be tooling the town looking at 10,000 cars.

I squirmed in my rocking chair. “Thanks, but y’all go on. I’m going to be cruisin’ thousands of words at home.”

I was looking forward to a week by myself, but I felt a twinge of guilt.

Aren’t married people supposed to love the same things? 

But after 36 years of marriage, I probably wasn’t going to develop a sudden passion for cars. And Rick probably wasn’t going to enjoy cruising bookstores.

By the middle of the week, I was getting sorta lonely. Thursday night he called. “Do you miss me yet?”

“Yes. Especially in the mornings when I’m porch partying by myself. Do you miss me?”

“Yep.”

He wasn’t coming home until Sunday, so thinking about marriage and love and porch parties–the things we have in common–I got an idea.

I bought two new mugs and made pumpkin bread.

Before baking.

With yummy topping.

All done minus one piece. 🙂  

We’d have a Welcome Home Porch Party Sunday night!

Here’s a marriage hint that took me forever to learn:

Marriage isn’t about becoming clones of one another.  

It’s about encouraging each other to become the incredibly unique person God created us to be. 

*Click here for Pamela’s Gluten-Free Pumpkin Loaf Recipe. (Just use self-rising flour if you aren’t eating GF.)

*If you’re into cars, here’s an article from The Sun Herald about the record-breaking numbers who attended Cruisin’ the Coast.

Love,

Julie

P.S. Did you marry your exact opposite too?

So Much More Than Chicken Salad

Have you noticed that when girls get together to celebrate, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re eating, we share one thing in common.

We love laughing and talking–just plain being silly and having fun.

Maybe you do too. 🙂

This past Friday, we had a birthday luncheon for my mother and sister at a quaint little tea room in Atlanta called The Swan Coach House. We’ve always just called it The Swan House. This picture is from their Facebook page.

They specialize in Southern yumminess like as cheese straws, chicken salad, and frozen fruit salad. The chicken salad is to…die…for!

Here we are from left to right–minus my other daughter Jamie and our son’s girlfriend Brittany who couldn’t make it.

My daughter Katie, my sister’s daughter, Libby, me :), my sister Jennifer, and Mother.

Right before this picture was taken, Mother had been craning her neck to check out everyone’s shoes.

“I don’t get out enough,” she said. “I can’t stop staring at people. Look at the hostess’s shoes. Aren’t they adorable? Beige and wheat colored flats with black trim. They match her dress perfectly. And I’m wearing a very brave shade of bright yellow today. Want to see?” She raised her foot slightly. “I’ve never had yellow shoes.”

“Y’all know I don’t know about colors, or clothes, and I hate to shop,” I said.

“We know, Mom,” Katie said. “That’s why I shop with you.”

After lunch, we went to my sister’s house to open presents.

Mom hugging Libby and me …

Libby, our matriarch, and Jennifer …

I felt a touch of anxiety as they opened their gifts from me, but bless their hearts, they oohed and ahhed over them.

Sitting there on Jen’s back porch, I said, “This has been so much fun. We should do it more often.”

We talked about going to the Fox Theater in Atlanta, or maybe even flying to New York to see a Broadway play.

“We could, you know,” Mother said.

“We should,” Jennifer added.

Driving home I thought about something.

At The Swan House, everyone feels like a beautiful swan. And if you ask for a box for left-overs, they return with your carry-out tucked inside heavy tinfoil fashioned into a perfect swan.

But we left with so much more than swans.

In our hearts, we carried out sweet memories.

My sister’s amaaaaaazing chicken salad recipe (gluten-free!)

Jen’s Jenerous Chicken Salad

3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

A stem of grapes, red or green, cut in half–a good handful or so

Slivered almonds, about half a cup

A big spoon of mayo (start with maybe a third cup)

Sour cream, (optional) about a teaspoon or two

Salt and pepper to taste

Thyme (optional) about a teaspoon

Boil chicken breasts in water sprinkled with salt, pepper, and thyme. Boil for about 45 minutes. Let cooked chicken cool. Either shred it with a fork or chop it really small. Stir in other ingredients. Delish!

Love,

Julie

 

Retro Recipe and Reminiscence

On a random Thursday night this past December, I wondered if we could possibly experience a touch of Christmas morning joy–the kind you feel as a child. Mother had an impromptu pre-Christmas dinner. Only five of us could make it–my sister Jennifer, my niece Libby, Mother and her husband Gene, and me.

We had oyster stew and chocolate fudge. Mother makes the best fudge. She’s been making it since we were little.

After we ate, we played beauty parlor, and Mother braided Libby’s hair. Libby looks so much like my sister, I pretended it was 40 years ago .

 

And then Mother said, “I got y’all a little something to open. Don’t get too excited. It’s not much.”

Beautiful socks!

We gathered in a tight knot, shoulders touching, and took pictures of our hands. I have no idea why. Sometimes mothers and daughters and sisters do the silliest things. 🙂

I’ll never forget what happened next. It’s as if the Lord Himself tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Pay attention.”

This is the second picture of our hands. When Mother saw the first one she said, “My hands look terrible, like chicken claws.” She hid her swollen thumb joints. She has rheumatoid arthritis.

But I hadn’t noticed her joints.

Instead, I saw the circle of our lives and love.

I thought about time passing–went back to my childhood.

To Mother’s creativity–her hands. How her fingers flew over her typewriter. Back then, she painted. I could see her doodling on sketch pads and setting the supper table pretty each night. I remembered how fast she could fold a stack of towels, change a baby’s diapers, and make a pitcher of tea.

All grown up now, I hadn’t expected that under-the-Christmas-tree feeling to find me.

What brought it?

I know it began with gratitude.

Could I reproduce it?

The meal was simple. Mother’s fudge recipe hadn’t changed in 50 years.

Maybe joy-moments can’t be orchestrated, but that doesn’t mean we don’t watch for them.

Anticipate them.

Welcome them.

They’re unexpected gifts from God.

Mother’s Fudge–Gluten-free if you use GF vanilla

This recipe is easier is more predictable with a candy thermometer, but Mother doesn’t use one.

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups milk

2/3 cup cocoa

dash of salt

1/2 stick butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 heaping cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Butter an 8 or 9 inch square pan.

Using a heavy 6-quart pot and a wooden spoon, stir everything except butter, vanilla, and nuts on medium heat. Keep stirring until it comes to a full boil.

Then stop stirring but let the mixture continue boiling until it comes to 234 degrees on a candy thermometer, which is a “soft ball” stage.

(If you aren’t using a thermometer, begin doing the “soft ball” test after about 10 minutes of boiling. To perform soft ball test: put a few drops of the mixture into a cup of cold water. When fudge is finished cooking, it will form a soft ball in the water. If you touch the fudge in the water, it will feel formed. It won’t fall apart in the water. Your test ball will flatten when you remove it from the water.)

At the “soft ball” stage, remove fudge from heat.

Add butter and vanilla but don’t stir.

Let fudge sit and cool until it reaches 110 degrees, lukewarm. (If you aren’t using a candy thermometer, this can take about 2 – 1/2 hours.)

Beat fudge until it starts to looks less glossy and gets thicker–usually about 7 minutes.

Then quickly add nuts and pour into buttered pan. Let it cool before cutting.

Slice into small pieces. The fudge can be frozen and makes wonderful Christmas gifts.

Love,

Julie

 

I Give Thanks for You, Dear Readers

I process life with my heart, my gut, and my instincts. Usually not logically. Sort of like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

Take blogging, for instance. When I first started, I decided it would a good idea to write dozens of posts in advance and pre-schedule them.

But my heart wouldn’t cooperate.

I panicked.

What if my creativity dries up? Then what? I’ll be an ex-blogger? An un-blogger.

But each week an idea comes.

Just one.

A gentle thought–so tiny, yet it sparkles.

Almost like manna from heaven.

Impossible to ignore.

And along with fresh ideas, God’s provided readers.

This Thanksgiving I’m grateful to you, Dear Readers.

You’ve demonstrated God’s faithfulness to me.

Thank you for the privilege of your time.

Thank you for reading, for each comment, and most of all, for you friendship.

We connect hearts here, don’t we? 🙂

Wouldn’t it be fun to gather at my cabin? I’d fix cheesecake and plenty of coffee and sweet tea.

We’d have a sure ‘nough PORCH PARTY, wouldn’t we!

I believe today’s message is…

If God’s calling you into a new adventure, no need to fret. He’s faithful. He’ll provide. His way. In His time.

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies…” Psalms 36:5 NIV.

Gluten-Free Cheesecake

Easy Gluten-free Cheesecake

Crust:

Midel Gluten-Free Ginger Snaps (1 1/2 cups) Just use regular graham crackers if you don’t eat gluten-free.

1/2 cup melted butter

 Filling:

3 (8-oz) packages softened cream cheese

5 eggs, separated

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

 Topping:

1/4 cup sugar

1 (8-oz) sour cream 

 Melt butter. Pour over cracker crumbs. Press into bottom of spring form pan (or use a 9 inch Pyrex dish). I always use a spring form pan. Set aside.

Separate eggs. Beat whites separately until stiff but not dry. Set aside.

Beat cream cheese, eggs yolks, sugar, and vanilla. Fold in egg whites. Pour over crust. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes. Mix sour cream and sugar. Pour over cheesecake and bake for 5 minutes.

With so much love and  gratitude,

Julie

The Wizard of Oz from Flickr Commons

Friendship…a lot like Heaven

Driving to my friend Robin’s house this past Saturday, I was having the best time sipping coffee, thrilled to be going to her Fall Family Party, when I thought uh-oh…

I’m not a part of their family.

I don’t belong.

Ahhhhhh!

Robin and I’ve been BFFs since high school. She has the gift of hospitality. Just look at her blog, ALL THINGS HEART AND HOME.

But I’m not family! I should’ve politely declined.

It was too late now.

My heart fluttered as I rang the doorbell.

Robin’s son opened the door and bear-hugged me. Her sister gave me a big hug too. Her husband stopped building a fire to greet me.

Maybe they don’t mind…

“Julie! You’re here!” Robin grabbed my hand and led me out back. She’d set up HOT SPICED CIDER — gluten-free from TRADER JOE’S. We both have CELIAC.

As I mingled with the family, she made me a cup of cider–even squeezed an orange slice in it.

Robin’s daughter Emma from YELLOW DOOR CREATIVE took pictures.

Almost 40 years of friendship…

Weddings, motherhood, births, death of loved ones, raising babies and teenagers…

 

Time for the annual family picture.

I left the circle. “I’ll take the picture. I’m not family.”

“Of course you are,” Robin said.

Emma set the camera on auto…

Tears welled up.

Surely, this is a lot like Heaven. 

We’ll be welcomed.  

Restored.

Unconditionally loved.

We’ll be family.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 NLT

I’m so grateful for my FRIENDS OF THE HEART.

Tell me about your friendships. I’d love to hear.

Love,

Julie

Nighttime Porch Party ~ and a Marriage Secret

I wish someone had shared this marriage secret with me years ago, but I doubt I’d have listened. Saturday night my husband and I were watching TV. “Wanna have a porch party?” I said.

“Right now?”

“Why not? I’ll make coffee and cut some raspberry cheesecake.”

We started having porch parties about three years ago. Every morning we start our day together on the front porch, but nighttime porch parties are magical too.

Surrounded by crickets and a blanket of darkness, we speak in quiet, almost reverent tones.

“What’re you thinking?” I whispered.

“Oh, nothing.”

“Yes you are. Tell me.”

“Just wishing one day we could drive ROUTE 66  together… in a muscle car I’ve restored.”

“Really? That’s what you were thinking?”

He nodded.

“Make it happen, and I’ll go.”

My answer surprised both of us.

 “You serious?” he said.

“Sure, why not.”

“Well, all right then. One day we’re going.”

We talked about places we’d stop along the way, how we’d need a camper–something big enough to pull his car, and also have a small kitchen so we could cook gluten-free for me. (I have CELIAC DISEASE.)

My reaction amazed me because…

I didn’t respond like the Old Julie.

I didn’t analyze his bucket list dream to death.

I didn’t try and convince him that driving Route 66 in a muscle car wasn’t practical.

Nope. I didn’t do any of that.

Instead, something fresh and shiny and new rose inside of me.

A spirit of adventure.

 SURRENDERING to God makes marriage is a lot more fun!

This story to be continued…some day. 🙂

 

Picture courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/luppes777/8754910333/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Gluten-Free raspberry cheesecake is made with MI-DEL GINGER SNAPS as a crust. 🙂

P.S. Here’s Rick’s story in Guideposts about a muscle car he restored.

 

Love,

Julie