Welcome to Living from My Abundance

welcomedeck

We all have an abundance of something, and sometimes we see our own abundance better through the eyes of someone else. We were put on this earth to share, to love, to give and to grow. Let’s live from our abundance together. And leave the legacy we are called to leave. Keep reading for tips, ramblings, recipes and more.

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“Sons and Daughters”

God has been taking me on a journey of painful renewal over the past year and a half.  My spirit has been restless for a number of reasons, and my faithfulness has been put to the test.  I wish I could say that I have passed this test with flying colors, but I cannot.  For one thing, I’m still in the fire of refinement.  For another, I have been stubborn and even lazy when it comes to my relationship with Jesus.  I know what He’s asking me to do, but I just don’t want to do it.  Sometimes, it hurts to be obedient.  It hurts to be faithful.  It hurts to be humble.  It hurts to forgive.  These are the things I have been struggling against.

The aggravating thing is that I have gone through much of this before and have pushed through to experience victory in Christ.  The peace and joy that come on the heels of my choice to be faithful are a heady reward indeed–worth every heartache.  So, I guess this current season proves that I am a slow learner.  Again.

Sigh.

I want to share a portion of one of my recent journal entries with you.  My hope is that you will feel encouraged by it.  Perhaps you even know someone who might be blessed to know that they, too, are not alone.

The kids and I went to an Iron Bell concert at the church last night.  It was a beautiful time of worship.  I regret that I still sometimes feel self-conscious during corporate worship, and I wish I did not.  Why do so many of us care how other people respond to You in praise?  I don’t know, but I sometimes struggle against the voices in my head.  Please forgive me when I focus more on them than on You.

The Iron Bell song that most grabbed my heart last night was “Sons and Daughters”.  The guitarist shared a beautiful testimony of the first time he really understood You to claim him as Your son.  This song is an outpouring of that moment, and it just reinforces, over and over, the pure and joyful love that God has for us.  One of the phrases God speaks in the song is, 

I sought you,
You were lost.
You were worth the cost.

That got my attention.  The cost was the cross!  The cost was the betrayal, the torture, the humiliation, the abandonment and the brokenness that culminated in the brutal crucifixion of Your Son!  My heart screams, “Why, Lord?  Why was I worth it to You?  Why would You do that for me?”

And I know in my heart that it is because You love me as Your daughter.  No price was too great for You to pay for my salvation.  This is such a humbling realization  While I understand the sacrificial love of a parent, this kind of love–Your kind of love for me–is beyond my comprehension.

I don’t fully understand why some people don’t have parents who pursue relationships with their children.  I don’t understand why some parents check out or give up.  The abandonment/neglect/favoritism that some children experience from their parents leaves a hole that is not easily filled.  

If only each of us could truly grasp that we have been chosen by You.  I am treasured by You.  I am enough for You.

Wow.

When my kids were little, I sang over them and I danced with them.  If they weren’t so appalled by these demonstrations now, I would probably still outwardly do these things with them.  Instead, I do them inwardly.  Songs of thanksgiving in my heart.  Dances of praise and wonder and hope.  The Iron Bell song I mentioned talks about You singing and dancing when You think of me.  This is such a beautiful and humbling picture for my heart.  Thank You, Lord.

I know that there are some people who have never had a parent sing and dance over them.  To be honest, there are people who have never had a parent think of them with any tenderness at all.  This song reminds me, though, that You are more than enough of a Father for the fatherless.

And, since You are also the Giver of all good things, I pray that You will restore broken relationships.  That You will bring the lost to Yourself and restore him to his family.  Thank You for being able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.

Check out “Sons and Daughters” by Iron Bell Music.

 

Chocolate Zucchini Sheet Cake

 

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Lots of zucchini + 2 upcoming pitch-ins = a need for this sort of yumminess

I have a serious problem with using other people–often people I don’t even know–as my guinea pigs for new recipes.  This weekend is no exception.

I have two pitch-ins this weekend (one last night and one today).  When deciding what to make, I wanted something that would travel well, something that used summer squash and something that utilized on-hand ingredients.  Voila!  I made two of these cakes, which I had never made before.  Such a risk-taker!

The bad news is that the batter for this cake really filled my jellyroll pan.  So, when I put on the icing, there was some drippage.  My recommendation to you is to either cut back by one egg or ice to within half an inch of the edge of the cake with the understanding that the warm cake will naturally move it closer to the edge.  Or, be like me and let it drip!

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The good news is that nary a crumb remained from last night’s first round of guinea pigs.  Let’s hope round 2 is equally successful today!

2 c. sugar
1 c. oil
3 eggs (or 2 eggs to reduce the amount of batter a bit)
2 1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. milk
2 c. grated fresh zucchini (or any summer squash)
2 t. vanilla

Frosting
1/2 c. softened butter
1/4 c. cocoa powder
6 T. evaporated milk or half-and-half
1 lb. (4 cups) powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla

In large bowl, combine sugar and oil.  Cream in eggs, one at a time.

Combine dry ingredients.

Gradually add dry ingredients, alternately with milk, to creamed mixture.  Stir in grated squash and vanilla.

Pour into greased jellyroll pan (15x10x1).  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until cake is done.

While cake is baking, combine all ingredients for frosting; mixing until smooth.  Spread frosting on cake while still hot.

Cool on rack.

 

New Arrivals

Summer is always a busy season on our little farm.  This summer, though, is probably the busiest I’ve experienced since I was in college.  My younger two kids and I were gone the better part of two weeks in June for Bible Bowl tournaments, and my oldest daughter and I are soon headed to Haiti (hopefully) for her first mission trip.  I say “hopefully” because Haiti is fairly unstable right now with recent rioting over the proposed removal of fuel subsidies, which would result in skyrocketing fuel prices.  Needless to say, that situation is taking up more of my brain space than I’d like to admit.

Anywho, good news is always welcome in my world, and we had some very unexpected good news yesterday.  Two fluffy chicks greeted my son with noisy peeps yesterday morning!  I love babies of almost anything (except maybe possums and raccoons…just because I know they’ll grow up to terrorize our flocks and gardens), and surprise babies are even more special.  We had a surprise chick a few weeks ago, but it unfortunately didn’t make it.  We think the roosters may have had something to do with that.

To increase survival odds of these new arrivals, we relocated them and two of the broody hens to our old chicken run, temporarily dubbing it the Maternity Ward.  They’re all tucked safely into the coop and seem to be enjoying their new space.  I get a kick out of watching the mommas try to stay between us and their babies.  Those little ones are under a faceful of their momma’s feathers more often than not!

To add to the festivities, we got a call from the U.S. Postal Service this morning to let us know the broilers we ordered last spring are in.  These little ones (50 total) take a lot more care and attention.  It took me about an hour to get them set up in their temporary residence in our garage and to make sure they knew how to drink from the nipple watering system.  Once they’re big enough, we will transition them out to a moveable coop that Farmer Dave built a few years ago.  They’ll get a fresh patch of grass every day as we pull their coop around the yard.  While they mow and fertilize our grass, they will also develop high-quality meat for our freezer.  They grow so quickly that they’ll be ready for processing by mid-September.  It’s really a pretty good system, and I’m thankful we can do it.

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With this morning’s cool temps, these little fluffballs were happy for the heat lamp once I got them home.

Life does not always bring us what we order, but there is always beauty and blessing all around.  While my days just got even busier with these new arrivals, they also got more full.  New life is a beautiful thing, and I take great delight in caring for babies.  In addition to that, we have the hope of quality meat for our freezer and more hens to lay eggs.  We can also look forward to learning new things and sharpening old skills.

Every day brings opportunities that are a gift.  There is a tendency for us to view many of life’s opportunities as burdens.  Or, we can get so caught up in our responsibilities that we race through each day as though our sole purpose is merely to meet each obligation.  The best option is to give thanks for these opportunities and allow them to grow us closer to the Lord and to the people around us.  We really do get to make a choice.

So, today, join me in choosing gratitude.  Even if you don’t feel it, speak it.  Write down your blessings if you need to.  Start a list and add to it every day.  Call out your blessings while you’re mowing the yard or rocking the baby or driving down the road.  A grateful attitude can take a sick heart and make it well.  It can breathe life into a stagnant spirit.  It can make the difference between joy and bitterness.

Choose gratitude.

Garlic-Herb Breadsticks

Since our kids were little, we have reserved Sunday evenings as Family Nights.  We rotate through the family, taking turns choosing our activity for the night.  We have made some worthwhile memories with this tradition, and I am so thankful my husband had the foresight to put it on our calendars.

Last night was my turn to choose an activity.  The weather made my first choice a not-so-great option, so I chose Scrabble, a new breadsticks recipe and an old Ingrid Bergman/Yul Brynner film, “Anastasia”.  See, I wanted to watch an old movie, but not all of my family loves old movies like I do.  Plus, I had never seen “Anastasia”, so I didn’t even know if it was worth watching.  I basically added the breadsticks to soften up my crew with food.  It mostly worked.

These are a quick yeast bread breadstick, so don’t expect the soft yeasty-ness of Olive Garden.  They are yeasty on the inside and kind of crunchy on the outside.  Even though the recipe I used calls to make 12 breadsticks, we made 10 since there are five in our family.  We each shaped two sticks and dressed two sticks according to our preference.

These guys would be tasty with soup or with a good ol’ summer garden supper…or as a snacky bribe on your next Family Night!

1 t. active dry yeast
3/4 c. warm water
2 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter, softened
Topping Options:  More butter for brushing on top, salt, minced garlic or garlic powder, herbs

Combine yeast and water and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.

Add flour, olive oil and butter, mixing until dough forms in a ball.

Dump dough onto flour surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

Brush 2 baking sheets with olive oil.

Divide dough into 10-12 pieces.  Roll each piece into 12-16″ rope, rolling them in the oil to coat before setting them on baking sheet.  Cover pans with towel and let rise 45-60 minutes.

Preheat over to 400.  Brush melted butter over breadsticks and top according to preference.

Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

 

Dilly Beans

Dilly Beans are basically a pickled green bean.  I prefer to pickle the young, tender beans from the plants’ first harvest because the beans are nice and straight, making them an easier fit for my pint jars.  (Subsequent harvests tend to have beans that curl more.)  I usually leave the ends on my beans before pickling, which makes a nice little “handle” for pulling them from the jars when they’re ready to eat.

I would think that any dill pickle recipe could be used with green beans, but this is the one I typically use for mine.  When I have access, I will also add half of a seeded jalapeno to my jars.

2 pounds (ish) green beans, washed well
1/4 c. salt
2 1/2 c. vinegar (white or apple cider)
2 1/2 c. water
4-8 cloves peeled garlic
4 heads dill

Combine salt, vinegar and water in large pot; bring to a boil.

Pack beans lengthwise into hot, clean pint jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.

Add 1-2 cloves garlic and 1 head dill to each jar.

Ladle hot liquid over beans, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Adjust lids and bands.

Process pints for 10 minutes in hot water bath.

Makes 4 pints.

As you can see, I have pickled all manner of veggies when I have them available. I especially enjoyed these pickled carrot sticks!

 

Raccoons are Vermin

As I’ve been sharing our little farm’s recent battle against a family of marauding raccoons, I am well aware of what some of you are thinking.

They’re so cute!

They’re God’s creatures, too!

They’re just doing what they’ve been created to do!

I get it.  I really do.  I like sweet, fluffy animals as much as the next person (Actually, I like them more than a lot of people I know.), but we don’t have room on our farm for chicken-eating, egg-sucking predators!  A family of raccoons can wipe out a flock of 20 chickens in just a few weeks without any problem.  A gaze of coons can also decimate a quarter acre of sweet corn in about three nights.  Don’t ask me how I know that.

Raccoons are vermin.  Regardless of how cute their little masked faces are, the fact is that they are destructive.  They are cunning and sneaky and completely out of place on a working farm.  We have 20 acres of property, and they are welcome to 17 of those acres.  We will not share the rest.  We have animals to protect and food to raise for our family.  Our priorities are clear.

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A cute face and a fluffy tail do not always indicate a friend. After its attempts to rob the chicken coop were thwarted, this scoundrel was a hissing, spitting, scratching mess.

Just because raccoons look sweet and innocent, it does not mean that they are.  As my wise friend, Jenny, reminded me, “Sin is the same way.  It looks fun and maybe cute. Perhaps it appears harmless, but it is very deceiving”.  I once heard a preacher say that sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost far more than you can ever repay.  Oh, how I know this to be true!

Just like allowing one raccoon to help himself to our laying hens has resulted in a number of raccoons terrorizing our flock, one seemingly small sin can grow into a habit that wreaks havoc in us and in our loved ones for the rest of our lives.

The easiest way to kick a harmful habit is to never start it in the first place.

The good news is that, even when we’ve been weak in an area, God provides us with a way out.  I Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I love that promise!  I can just picture Jesus standing out in the pouring rain with a bright red umbrella.  He beckons us to take cover under its protection with Him, but we’ve got to be smart enough to move our feet and cozy up under the umbrella with Him.

We are not alone.  God does not ask us to recognize and overcome the vermin of this world in our own strength.  When we read His Word, spend time with godly people and lean into His Spirit, He opens our eyes to what is good for us…and what is not.

One of the prayers I’ve prayed for my kids since they were teeny-tiny is that sin will always look like sin to them.  We live in an incredibly confusing world.  Principles that have long been held as truths are now open to individual interpretation.  Feelings, more so than facts, are allowed to determine our actions.  If someone considers something “cute” or “fun”, then surely it can’t, in reality, be harmful, right?

I’m not sure who we’re trying to kid, but we certainly are confusing our children.

On our little farm, raccoons are a menace.  Warm and fuzzy solutions are not solutions at all; they only make the negative consequences more dire and far-reaching.

In our lives, sin is destructive.  Warm and fuzzy justifications or kind-hearted avoidance tactics are not solutions at all; they only make the consequences more dire and far-reaching.

Dear friends, stop being deceived by what looks to be warm and fuzzy.  Move under the promised protection of Jesus and His Truth.  Look for the red umbrella.

 

 

 

Mama Drama

Okay.  In the wee hours of this morning, I posted a brief blog about being awakened for the second night in a row to the sounds of a chicken being killed by a raccoon.  While making refrigerator pickles and performing other household tasks today, I’ve been processing last night and trying to find a solution to our situation.  I’ve also been replaying last night’s events in my head and have come to the conclusion that parts of the story were just downright funny.

First, the problem and the solution…

My younger two kids and I have put our heads together and come up with what seems like the only plausible explanation for the raccoon getting into the chickens’ coop.  Farmer Dave made the coop secure.  While the coons can get under it in a few places, there does not seem to be any place where they can get into it from underneath.  The walls are tight and the doors were closed last night.  The only possibility we can see is that the wily raccoon lifted the flap over the laying boxes and squirrelled into the coop.

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I have no doubt that raccoons are smart enough to figure out how to get in under these flaps.

If this is the case, then this should be a relatively easy fix.  We can secure the flaps through the night with bungee cords or something to hopefully keep the varmints out.  If there is another point of entry, I have no idea what it is at this point.  Maybe Farmer Dave can give it a good look when he gets home from work today.

Either way, the flaps will be secured and the live trap will be re-set tonight.  Like it or not, Rosie, our ultra-lazy watchdog, will sleep in the barn.  (Our chicken coop is actually built into our barn.)  And, I can almost guarantee that the coop doors will be shut.  This is our current plan of battle, and I’ll let you know the results–hopefully not at 3:30 tomorrow morning!

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Rosie, our reluctant raccoon dog. Good thing she’s pretty.

Second, the funny parts that were not so funny in the middle of the night…

I easily get heebie-jeebied.  I don’t know that there’s a good reason for this, but I startle exceptionally easily, and my over-active imagination often gets the better of me.  (I tell you this with complete and total trust in the hope that you will never, ever, ever use this confession against me.)  My husband says I am dangerous (and loud) in these situations and has learned to approach me with caution lest he catches me unawares.

So.  I was outside in the pitch black at 3:30 this morning with only a flashlight and my overactive imagination.  I was also very angry and in my pajamas.  (Now you can truly picture the scene for what it was.)

I noticed the coon in the live trap, and I was glad that we’d caught one, but I knew that it wasn’t the one I’d heard torturing a chicken a few moments earlier.  I kept shining my light around, trying to find the culprit on the loose, but to no avail.  I then heard the hens in the coop flying around in a panic.  I loudly yelled, “Nooooooooo!” and banged on the side of the coop in order to scare the raccoon out of there.  Chickens sleep in an almost comatose state, and it takes a good deal of excitement to wake them up at this point, so I knew that the raccoon was in the coop…or had been recently.  I had no idea how it had gotten in there and was more than a little concerned that it would come barreling out from underneath the coop and run right at me.  Heebie jeebies galore.

I opened the barn door and turned on the light, then banged on the side of the coop again.  I heard more squawking and flapping, but didn’t hear any scratching or other sounds I considered to be from a raccoon.  I worked up considerable courage to partially lift the flap over the nesting box to shine my flashlight in for a clearer assessment.  This was remarkable bravery for me.  I truly anticipated a snarling raccoon with shining green eyes to be staring at me once I lifted the flap, but no.  There were just roosting hens.  I shone my light around the feather-littered floor of the coop and saw what appeared to be two dead Black Australorps.  “Noooooooo!” I again yelled.  The Black Australorps moved.  Not dead after all.  Not even injured.  Just freaked out from all of the banging and yelling, I’m sure.

I then screwed up my courage and lifted the flap over the other nesting box.  Still no coon.

Only one more test was necessary to confirm that the coop was clear, and that was to open the door and walk in so that I could see the entire space all at one time.  Folks, I won’t sugar-coat it:  My bravado was just about maxed out.  After a quick prayer and a fleeting consideration to rabies, I cracked open the door and peeked.  Nothing.  Wider, still nothing.  Nothing but chickens.  The coast was clear.

Now, I knew that a coon had been in there, and I knew that it still might be around, so I backtracked my way back out of the barn carefully, my senses still on high alert.  After getting back out into the night air, I decided to walk around to the other side of the barn to see if perhaps the raccoon had abandoned the chicken in fear of my top-of-the-food-chain presence.  Nope.  Nothing.

I relaxed.

As I walked back around the barn to head toward the house, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the light from my flashlight reflect on some metal.  It was a man standing in the dark with a gun.  No, I am not even kidding!  I screamed bloody murder, and all but dropped to all four in the grass in a heap.  And, I ain’t gonna lie; I almost wet my pajama pants.

The reality is that my 14-year-old son, who is looking more like a man than a boy these days, heard all of the banging and yelling and came out to see if he could help…with his .22.  It took my mind a split second to register all of these facts, but my physical body was well behind in its recovery.  It was very…um…dramatic.

Needless to say, my scream woke my husband (and, quite possibly, the neighbors), who started yelling out the window to see what was the matter.  At this point, I was almost in tears, and I meekly mumbled that I was fine as I walked in front of the house and headed back to bed.

It was a long night.

Remarkably, my daughters slept through it all.