Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Easiest Vegetable Soup You Will Ever Make - And It Tastes Good Too!

 This is a super-easy vegetable soup that my sister-in-law showed me a number of years ago.  I just made a pot because Mike has a bad cold and asked for it.  This soup is easy because:
  • it uses very few ingredients;
  • most of the ingredients can easily be varied;
  • you can use up leftovers from your refrigerator; and
  • it's ready in half an hour.
The ingredients are:
  • 1 package frozen vegetable gumbo mix
  • 1 can northern beans, mixed beans, pinto beans, or whatever you have on hand
  • browned ground beef - however much you like
  • V-8 juice to whatever soup consistency you prefer.  

The V-8 juice is critical because it gives a better taste than plain tomato juice.  I think the gumbo mix is necessary because the okra in it adds to the soup consistency; however, if you are adamantly against okra I suppose you could use plain mixed vegetables.  And if you don't like canned beans, leave them out.  When making a lot of soup, use one bag gumbo mix and one bag plain mixed vegetables.  Or whatever you like.

Mix in pot; bring to a boil; put burner on low to low-medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, for a half-hour or so.  Quick, easy, and it is GOOD.
p.s. For a family member who likes things hot - he can add hot sauce at the table.  :-)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday's Fave Five, 9/26/14

Link to Friday's Fave Five host blog.

1. Great weekend last weekend at a conference in the beautiful NC mountains.  This was a missions conference with the organization that our son is with - but not a typical meeting of that sort.  This is all about the 10-40 window and all the challenges of going to such countries.  The speakers all challenge the thinking of those attending - there are no platitudes at all.  This was our second year to go, and we are always glad to attend and have our thinking stretched.  

2. Only 2 1/2 days of teaching this week.  The calendar said we were supposed to go to the annual teachers' convention this week; however, with several students being withdrawn right at the first of the year, the funds just weren't there for us to go.  So Wednesday afternoon we had security training at school; yesterday we had first aid and CPR training, and today we are off.  However, I got an extra day off due to a bad cold.  I got charged with a sick day, but I had to take it - just did not have the wherewithal to go in.  If you can't go, you can't go.  
And - the extra day off must have worked because I am feeling some better today.  Not all the way better, but some.

3. I am going to have some injections in my knee - some kind of a lubricating substance (WD-40 for the knee?) :-)  that is supposed to help the pain I am still having.  I have to get the shots sent from a specialized pharmacy to the orthopedist's office, and it has to be cleared through insurance, etc., etc., etc. - the typical medical stuff (that is going to get worse as we get more and more into Obamacare).  I got all those phone calls made this morning and got the appointments set up.

4. Had a nice phone call with an old friend that I hadn't talked with for many years.  One of the speakers from the conference is going to be at their midwest church this weekend, and I wanted to tell her about him.  It's amazing with old friends - you just pick up where you left off when you get the opportunity to connect again.

5. And - Mike fixed my elliptical this morning!  It had a problem in the linkage so that it knocked and made a loud sound with each go-around.  Now it is smooth as silk.  He is so good to fix things and I do not take it for granted!!

Quick bonus - just heard that my daughter's good friend, who does my hair, can take me this afternoon. So nice not to have to try to get in after school in the late afternoon!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ten Literary Classics That Have Stayed With Me

Most of these are from teaching.  I would be interested to know if any former OCS English students remember their recollections of these also.

1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I am reading this right now, with the seniors, for the fifteenth time.  In recent years I've read through it completely with them, taking a significant amount of class time to do so, but feel like it's worth the time and trouble so that they get the benefit of the themes and intricately woven plot.  This book has so many layers that I still uncover new ones every year.  The story of Pip, his immaturity, his snobbery, and then his maturing gratitude, is very good.

I do wish sometimes that someone could take the works of an author like Dickens, and, without changing any of his basic storyline or characters, just simplify the language somewhat.  The eighteenth-century style of fiction is so flowery and wordy, that today's high schoolers really struggle with getting something out of it - yet there is much depth there that they need to learn from.

2. Macbeth by Shakespeare.  This play is the perfect literary interpretation of James 1:15 - "Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."

3. Hamlet by Shakespeare.  Another outstanding interpretation of a Biblical principle, that the sin of one man, in this case Claudius, sends out tentacles that end in consequences for many other people.

4. Works of Anne Bradstreet.  This Puritan author, the first poet in America (not just the first female poet), writes beautiful work, very readable, and very uplifting.  She was a Christian first, then a wife and mother.  Some feminists have tried to appropriate her and her work, because she was the first poet and wrote of desiring to have her work acknowledged by men; however, she was very devoted to her family and did not espouse the independence desired by most in feminism.  I wish I had paid more attention to my sister's graduate recital, about Bradstreet, a number of years ago!

5. Silas Marner by George Eliot.  I dreaded teaching this for the first time, two years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised, especially after supplementing this work with Focus on the Family CDs.  Although Eliot has the layers of wordiness like Dickens does, she has crafted a deep, complex, and beautiful story with a great theme of redemption.  I've really enjoyed reading this with sophomores.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Strong evidence that even authors who do not espouse godly principles in their lives, nevertheless have godly principles written on their hearts.  You can't repeat the past.  You can't find happiness in affairs or in huge parties.  Gatsby's funeral is a stark reminder of what is left after a shallow life.

7. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  Okay, I confess, I like the BBC film version of P&P, and the Ang Lee film version of S&S, better than the books themselves.  But I could watch them repeatedly.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Wow.  In spite of the language, this should be required reading for all young people, who have no idea of what stark racism was like in the 1930s.  Gripping and very heavy story, lightened by her device of telling it through the eyes of a humorous small child.

9. Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.  I've only read two of them, "The Nun's Priest's Tale," and "The Pardoner's Tale," but we read most of the prologue about the characters.  Chaucer was known for his understanding of people, his storytelling ability, and his humor.  All that comes out in what I've read - and his style is very readable.  He may be studied in depth on a higher level, but he is very enjoyable for regular people to study also.

10. Works by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  It's easy to see why he was called "The People's Poet," because of his readable poems and narratives.  He suffered greatly through the loss of his dear friend, and his poetry not only tells good stories, but also gives much food for thought.  I especially like "Ulysses," "In Memoriam," and "Enoch Arden."

Other classic writings we read with more enthusiasm than some pieces, just not on the previous list:  The Scarlet Letter, Julius Caesar, Ethan Frome, Huckleberry Finn, The Importance of Being Earnest, works by Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Burns, and many other poets!

My tastes do not run to fantasy or science fiction.  I prefer realism in readable packages.  And all of these have stayed with me for many years now.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday's Fave Five, 9/19/14

Link to Friday's Fave Five host blog

It is a rainy, cool Friday morning - the first time that the weather has really felt like autumn at all.  I'm ready for it.

1. We went to a beautiful wedding last Sunday night.  The bride is the daughter of good friends, and the officiating minister is our assistant pastor, who is not only a great preacher during normal sermons, but also ties a fine knot at a wedding.  I've been married 29 years but still got some great food for thought at this wedding.

2. Just got a text from a missionary friend in Beijing whose stateside van was stolen about six weeks ago - it's been found and had been used all this time by a ring of thieves who used it as a getaway car for burglaries.  The friend's daughter had to have transportation due to being a nursing student, and now she has her van back - and it still works fine.  Glad to have this taken care of for them.

3. We are going to a great conference in North Carolina tonight, with the organization that our son is teaching in China with.  Looking forward to the conference and to the time away.

4. Daughter still enjoying her job and doing well at it.  She's finding out all the "funnies" that elementary students can come up with.

5. Good week.  I had a lot of papers to grade, but was able to stay on top of them, and should go home today without much to do!!  That's so much better than the weekends where I feel covered up, yet want to get away from schoolwork at the same time.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Introduction to Classics List

I want to do one other list - Classics that have stayed with me.  Most of these are books/works I have taught over the past fifteen years of teaching English rather than read on personal time, but, regardless, they are works that make an impact.

In the book Twelve Trademarks of Great Literature, J. F. Baldwin lists the things that make a work of literature great.  The ones that I have noticed the most are:
  • The work moves at an appropriate pace - not too fast, not too slow.  (It's the fast pace of so many modern fiction works that keep them from lasting.)  
  • The work shows rather than tells.  --I used to get weary of books for children that told a cute little story and then threw in a moral at the end.  That is a poor style of writing.
  • Re-reading is rewarded.  There are many layers to a good work.  I'm reading Great Expectations with the seniors this year, for the fifteenth time, and still find things I haven't discovered before.
  • At least one character is sympathetic.
  • Moral tension drives the plot.  To quote Baldwin:  "The form of a book will suffer if the author forgets to rely on God's moral laws to create the tension in the story."
Herman Melville said "To produce a mighty work, you must start with a mighty theme."  Baldwin says "If the author seriously elevated the trivial or denigrated the profound, readers would find themselves disagreeing with the author's entire framework.  For example, a serious novel based on the theme that a preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla is an abomination would be ignored or ridiculed by the general public."

I would love to be a thinker on the level of the above writers, and on the level of the writers of great works, but am merely a mediocre absorber of some of the truths that they state.  But there is much to learn. I do not have time right now, but either later today, or tomorrow, or the first of next week, will get the list of ten classics written out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Influential Books

Well--with all those reading friends out there--NO ONE has tagged me to do the "Ten Books that have Stayed With You" list.  So I am doing it anyway--but am dividing it into two lists:  books from adulthood, and books from childhood.

These books from adult years (of course the Bible also) have stayed with me.  There are others, but like the others who have done this list, I could go on and on.  This does not include the classics that I have read with literature classes.  That's an entirely separate list.
  1. My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  I still remember studying this book with my dear college friend, Barby, night after night, in our summer staff dorm room.
  2. Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot.  Barby and I devoured this one also.
  3. Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  4. A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent
  5. To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson, moving and thought-provoking biography of Adoniram Judson.
  6. MacArthur commentaries - several of them.
  7. A Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner, my favorite, for deeply personal reasons, of her many novels.
  8. Musings of a Mother by Doris Coffin Aldrich - taken from her magazine columns ("Out of the Mixing Bowl") and now out of print; her lovely devotional style of writing as the mother of nine in the early '60s is worth trying to find a copy on eBay, Amazon, or elsewhere.
  9. Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose - outstanding missionary book.
  10. Birds of Eastern North America by Roger Tory Peterson.  My go-to book for birds for 28 years now.
These books from childhood or young adulthood have stayed with me:
  1. All the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  2. Separate Star, The Edge of Time, The Years of the Locust, and others by Loula Grace Erdman.  She was a fiction writer in the 40s and 50s, and her characterizations are outstanding.
  3. The Cherry Ames series by Wells and Tatum.  Standard young adult series fare, but I loved them - especially Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse and Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse.  These books captured for young adults some of the timeline, and some of the horror, of World War II.
  4. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  5. The Peggy series by Dorothy Martin - Moody Press around the same time as the Danny Orlis series.  There were about eight books or so in the series, such as New Life For Peggy, Open Doors for Peggy, and so on.  
  6. The Bible in Picture for Little Eyes by Ken Taylor - we read one of these stories every night when I was a child, and the illustrative paintings are classic. Also Stories Jesus Told by Butterworth/Inkpen - actually from my children's childhood.  Great re-tellings and artwork of Jesus's parables.
  7. Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories - loved by my siblings and me, as well as my own children.
  8. Not My Will and Light In My Window by Francena Arnold.  These are still favorites and were more from young adult years than childhood.  She was an early novelist for Moody Press.  I think many of today's modern popular Christian fiction writers need to read Not My Will and take a lesson from Arnold's outstanding pacing in her plot and character development.
  9. Favorite Poems Old and New by Helen Ferris.  As a child, I loved reading this, or hearing my mother read this.  I also remember Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.
  10. Grosset and Dunlap Signature Series biographies such as The Story of Edith Cavell, The Story of Florence Nightingale, etc., and many other The Story Ofs. . . . These were the go-to biographies when I was young, and there are many historical titles.  Two of them are the middle picture above.
I'll think of many more later.  That's just the way it goes.  But here they are for now!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday's Fave Five - 9/5/14

Link to Friday's Fave Five host blog

1. Mike had a huge test today at work - several more experienced operators had not done well - and he passed with a 90% this afternoon.  So we went out to eat to celebrate tonight.  And got a piece of citrus cheesecake compliments of our neighbor, the manager!

2. I got an elliptical last weekend.  I noticed that a good friend was having a yard sale and that she was including an elliptical.  She was very glad to sell it to me, at a very good price, because they are moving and she needed to get it gone.  So Mike picked it up and set it up out back in the pool house.  It still needs a couple of adjustments, but it will be very nice to just go out back to get on it instead of having to pack up and go to a gym.  Plus, it was 1/7 of the cost of the gym.

3. Last Saturday I went to Greenville, to Jamie Langston Turner's book signing, and got an autographed copy of this new book, To See the Moon Again.  I finished it by Wednesday night.  It was another good read by her.  Probably not my favorite, but still a good read.  Always love a new book by Turner.

4. Quiet weekend for Labor Day, but we got a lot done around here.  We are going off for a retreat in the mountains in a couple of weeks, so not going anywhere was OK.

5. This is a little thing, but kind of funny also.  I bought a couple of nightgowns from a catalog several weeks ago - there were two "one size fits all" options.  (Isn't that an oxymoron?)  Anyway, I went with the larger one to make sure it would be roomy enough as a gown.  Well, even after washing/drying it was huge on me.  Someone who lives in this house compared it to a "circus tent."  This week I sewed several side seams in the "circus tent," and now it looks much better and is very comfortable.  I will not name the person who made such a derogatory remark.  :-)

"Don't Waste Your Life"

This morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, with the local news creating noise in the background, the program rolled over into the Today show - which gave the first ten minutes to the passing of Joan Rivers.  The news of a coalition forming to fight ISIS, or a NATO meeting in Wales about Ukraine, or a third American with Ebola - all of that had to wait until ten minutes could be devoted to Joan Rivers.

I do not pass judgment on the condition of Joan Rivers' heart; however, observations of what I've read of her and her work indicate someone who outwardly was shallow and profane.  And when an older woman uses as much Botox as she did, and no doubt a great deal of plastic surgery, just to attempt to keep from looking older - well, that is sad.

Her famous line, from many times asking it of celebrities on red carpets and rope lines, is "Who are you wearing?"  She did stand-up comedy and critiqued the fashion choices of stars.  Nothing wrong with making people laugh, but that alone is a thin contribution.

This news makes me think of four paragraphs from John Piper's book Don't Waste Your Life.  I typed them out years ago and re-read them every now and then for perspective.  I also use them in school whenever possible.  Here they are:

"But I know that not everybody in this crowd wants your life to make a difference.  There are hundreds of you - you don't care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you.  If people would just like you, you'd be satisfied.  Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife and a couple of good kids and a nice care and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell - if you could have that (minus God) - you'd be satisfied.  THAT is a tragedy in the making.

"Three weeks ago we got word at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards had both been killed in Cameroon.  Ruby was over 80.  Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: To make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick.  Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing 80 years old, and serving at Ruby's side in Cameroon.  The brakes failed, the car went over the cliff, and they were both killed instantly.  And I asked my people: was that a tragedy?  Two lives, driven by one great vision, spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ - two decades after almost all their American counterparts have retired to throw their lives away on trifles in Florida or New Mexico.  No.  That is not a tragedy.  That is a glory.

"I tell you what a tragedy is.  I'll read to you from Reader's Digest (February 2002) what a tragedy is:  'Bob and Penny. . .took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51.  Now they live in . . . Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.'  The American Dream: come to the end of your life - your one and only life - and let the last great work before you give an account to your Creator, be 'I collected shells.  See my shells.'  THAT is a tragedy.  And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. . .Don't buy it.

"Don't waste your life.  It is so short and so precious.  I grew up in a home where my father spent himself as an evangelist to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost.  He had one consuming vision:  Preach the gospel.  There was a plaque in our kitchen for all my growing up years.  Now it hangs in our living room.  I have looked at it almost daily for about 48 years.  It says, 'Only one life, twill soon be past.  Only what's done for Christ will last.'"

Now, I don't think Piper is preaching against collecting shells, or vacationing in Florida, or doing any other common things.  But he is giving an example to keep it in perspective.  Don't waste your life.  Look for opportunities to make a difference in the world for eternity.  I pray that I can do that, until my time is done.  And I hope that, in private if not shown in public, that Joan Rivers made a more substantial difference as well.