A prayer for troubled times

September 27, 2015 | My Jottings


“O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

II Chronicles 20:12

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Bowing out for a while,

Cruise Lessons

September 21, 2015 | My Jottings

No matter how exciting it is to plan a trip and anticipate what you might see and do once you go, there’s nothing like coming home. Home to your own more comfortable bed, your own drinking water, your own normal sized toilet, your own familiar floors that don’t rock beneath your feet.

Earlier this month I took my two foster residents on a long-awaited and much planned for week-long cruise to Alaska. My friend Carey offered to come along to help, which ended up being invaluable. And my friend Denel from California joined us, which was a wonderful treat. (If you’ve been reading here long, you know that Denel and I have been trying to take yearly trips together, flying to meet somewhere for a long weekend to catch up and marvel again at being friends since we were seven. Based on our maiden names, we’ve called them our Lupi-Soo conventions. Now that Carey was joining us, we thought it only fitting to add part of her maiden name to ours, so this was our Lupi-Soo-Berg gathering.)

Here are a few pictures.

This is Tracy Arm Fjord below, which was so much more gorgeous than this simple shot portrays. We got up early on this morning so we could be stationed on the viewing decks of our ship (Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas) as we slowly cruised up the fjord. We gazed at dark teal, opaque, glacier-silted waters, icebergs floating silently by us the size of small cars or large mattresses, long-faced, shaggy mountain goats hundreds of feet above us, standing on cliff ledges no wider than your leg, sea otters the size of small Labrador retrievers undulating through the glassy sea near the ship, and the Sawyer Glacier, which you may be able to see if you click to enlarge the photo.

One of the people I was with wasn’t at all happy about having to get up in the morning to look at such beautiful things, but I think the rest of us thought we could have stayed here for days to drink in the splendor.


This is the stateroom Carey and I shared, which was pretty comfortable, if you don’t count the very very very very firm beds and the floor beneath our feet which kept moving. We all took Bonine each day to prevent any seasickness and that worked for three of us. Unfortunately on the days we were at sea, in the open Pacific rather than in the protected Inside Passage, Carey and Denel both got a bit sick from the slow but fairly dramatic galloping motion of the ship.


If any of you have cruised before, you probably have experienced the efficiency and attention to detail your cabin steward gave to your stateroom. They also leave adorable towel sculptures on your beds.


This is right outside Juneau. Betsy has been with me for 12 years and Carrie for over 7.


The food on a cruise is almost beyond belief. I remember Michael and I saying to each other on our first cruise years ago, “This is not real life,” and on each subsequent cruise I’ve heard that same thrumming thought. There are people in the world who don’t have one daily meal to count on, much less mountains of fresh fruit and eggs and meats and pastries from which to choose each morning. I never know quite what to do with that conflict: enjoy the abundance in front of me and send a check to ministries who feed people? Not travel at all? Feel guilty for being born with these choices? Somehow I always feel like I’m probably doing the wrong thing.

That being said, I took a few pictures of our food, especially since Betsy wanted me to email her mom what we were eating. I will spare you the lobster, beef tenderloin, French onion soup, chopped asparagus salad, creme brulee and Thai vegetables with jasmine rice, and just share one appetizer I had. It was a wild mushroom with wine sauce over puff pastry appetizer, which even the best food critic would have a hard time describing. Absolutely delicious.


And here we all are on one of the “formal nights.” From left to right, Carey, Carrie, me, Betsy and Denel.


Here are a few other things some of us saw on our cruise: butterflies the size of your hand lighting on an arm, seventy-six souvenir shops in Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier, humpback whales breaching, lazily slapping the water, and feeding in tandem, brown bears eating salmon on the shores of the Inside Passage, almost nothing but rain and low clouds in Skagway, hundreds of acres of breathtaking flower gardens on the island of Victoria, British Colombia, 12-foot gray swells outside our stateroom window, and snow-capped Alaskan mountains that made me think of Psalm 121.

One of the things I learned on our cruise was how I’ll do future trips with my foster gals. They were not interested in the scenery at all, and didn’t have the good time I had hoped they would have. They were bored and disappointed that there weren’t more opportunities for shopping. Over the years Michael and I have taken them on many vacations, and I learned on this one that they really only want to shop. You’d think I would have figured this out before now.

So in the future, I’ll plan shorter weekend trips for them, where we’ll go to a place they can buy souvenirs. They let me know that this is what would make them really happy, not trips to see grandeur and gorgeousness.

I will probably save those kinds of trips for myself. I’m thinking the Atlantic crossing of the QE2. I’m thinking European river cruises. I’m thinking little stone cottages in the Highlands of Scotland and walks on the beaches and cliffs of Cornwall. I’m thinking of guided trips to Israel and driving a rental car by myself all through the Alps.

For now though, these will just have to be dreams. Michael has been gone for 32 weeks today. And that’s the lonely reality that keeps cutting the line of my dream balloons, sending me falling harshly back to hard earth, where he no longer lives.

Anyway, back to every day life, which is a blessing of its own. I have foster care meetings this week, Community Bible Study has begun again, there’s fall air pouring into our open windows, leaves are turning color everywhere I look, and there are plaid flannel sheets on the bed….

How about you? What do you have planned for the week ahead?

The House on Eckerman Avenue

September 15, 2015 | My Jottings

(Reposted from the archives…)

We moved into the house on Eckerman Avenue when I was three years old. I remember being in the back of an open trailer being towed by our Buick station wagon, with my thirteen year-old brother Steve and our dog Dutchess, and pulling up in front of the house for the first time. My parents chose the house because it was new, and one block from Covina High School where my father taught school and coached basketball. When we moved in, the house was yellow with brown shutters.

So many milestones happened in that house. I have some wonderful memories from the twelve years we lived there. And there are some pretty sorrowful memories too.

I made my first real friend at that house — her name is Tauni and she and I are still friends today. She lived on Puente Avenue, just over the fence from us, and I spent many carefree hours with her family during my childhood, especially in their built-in swimming pool.

I learned to read when I lived in that house on Eckerman Avenue, and of course had no idea that reading a Nancy Drew book a day was paving the way for one of the greatest pleasures I have in life — books.

I met Denel when I lived in that house, when we were in second grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School. We spent countless hours together in her house on Rowland Avenue and in mine on Eckerman, playing hopscotch, listening to music, doing homework, dreaming dreams.

I remember a favorite snack I enjoyed in that house — a spoonful of peanut butter and one of grape jelly, washed down by a swig of milk. I still like that treat today.

Perhaps my love of green and blue began in that house. My mother decorated with teal blue and avocado green, which looked fine back in the 60s. Today I’m always drawn to blues and greens.

On Eckerman Avenue, we had six fruit trees in our large back yard. Nectarines, plums, apricots, and lemons the size of oranges, and a ground cover of wild strawberries all along the perimeter of the fenced-in yard.

Some other random vivid memories are of my mother’s wonderful tacos with home-fried corn tortillas, the one fire a year we were allowed to have in our living room fireplace, bike riding for miles, skateboarding, visits to the beach forty minutes away, watching Saturday morning cartoons and putting off my chores, going barefoot almost everywhere, my mother’s amazing talent on our Hammond B-3 organ, my own organ lessons with a brilliant woman named Gerry who’d been blinded in a fire and who lived in a trailer park, braces on my teeth, thick glasses on my face, my father allowing me to sit in the front seat of the car and steer while he braked and accelerated, going to Sunday school each week and growing in my love and awe of the Lord, and thinking I might be an astronaut someday.

Other memories from the house on Eckerman Avenue are a little darker. I remember my father driving away with his face all screwed up in tears, and the few months he and my mother were separated. He had his own apartment nearby and I visited him on weekends. When he moved home I was very relieved. I also remember my mother’s depression, which I couldn’t identify then but recognize now. I remember feeling lonely a lot, in spite of my few dear friends.

One horrible night time memory comes from when I must have been about three or four. My parents were out and my two older brothers (who were about thirteen and eighteen) were home, and I was in bed. I was awakened by the sound of my younger brother screaming and crying while my oldest brother violently beat up on him. I went into the hallway sobbing and begged for my brother to stop hurting my other brother, and he yelled at me, “Julie, get back to bed!” and he didn’t stop for a long time.

Also in the house on Eckerman Avenue I began to lose hope. Things between my mom and dad grew more silent and distant and I knew her world of music and his world of sports weren’t meshing. I grew tall, buck-toothed, long-legged and more gangly by the month, and by the time I was thirteen I was convinced I was unattractive and that no one would ever love me.

When I graduated from Traweek Junior High School (the eighth grade), I was thirteen, and that summer my father told my mother he wanted a divorce.

It was also at this time that other relationships in my family finally broke apart after having been fractured by pride and anger for so many years. I felt like the ground had opened up and was slowly swallowing all of us.

I prayed and asked God to restore my parents’ marriage and it never happened. Of course I know now that neither one of them were exactly walking in God’s ways, but in my immature faith I couldn’t understand why God wasn’t bringing the miracle I was pleading for.

Two years after this eighth grade graduation picture of me was taken, we had to sell the house on Eckerman Avenue, and my mom and I moved into an apartment while we looked for a different house. When we left, the house on Eckerman Avenue was grey with turquoise shutters.

As the years passed I continued to be a good student and always did well in school. I was a cheerleader. I had a part-time job after school and bought my own car. I was involved in sports. I had a boyfriend or two. And my friends and I had some pretty fun times together. On the outside, I think children can carry on and appear as if divorce doesn’t crack the very inner foundation of their lives.

But God was also faithful to me when I lived on Eckerman Avenue. I didn’t understand this fully until I grew into my (middle) old age. So many times we can’t see God’s hand in the pain and hard times we’re experiencing. We ask Him to remove them and when He doesn’t, we wonder what the heck prayer is all about. I wish someone had taught me more about this when I was young. Anyway, I can look back now and see His hand of protection on me in so many ways. I can see His mercy threaded all through those dark times, and I’m so thankful He has allowed me to live long enough to recount them.

In the house on Eckerman Avenue, a seed of faith in Jesus took root and I became a Christian. In the glorious jumble of darkness and light and hope and fear that was my young life, Jesus reached out and chose me. (See Ephesians 1:3-10).

And I chose Him back.

And by His grace, I choose Him again today….

Humiliation on the William A. Irvin

September 14, 2015 | My Jottings

(Reposted from the archives…)

I have always liked practical jokes. Not cruel ones, but the good-natured kind that take everyone by surprise and make for a memory that just won’t go away lasts forever.

About fifteen years ago my oldest daughter Sharon was in college, almost finished earning her degree for teaching Social Studies to high school students. She was a great student herself, and had part time jobs all the way through her college years to support herself.

One of Sharon’s summer jobs was as a tour guide on the William A. Irvin, a huge, retired ship docked in our harbor. Over the years of the Irvin’s service on the Great Lakes, she carried millions of tons of iron ore to various destinations; ore which is mined in northern Minnesota. The vessel is over 600 feet long, and is similar to the famed Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in a stormy Lake Superior in late 1975.

One fine summer day, my dear friend Kathleen, who is one of the funniest people I know, conspired with me to play a little practical joke on Sharon. We thought it would be the most wonderful thing to dress as hobos or homeless people, and show up unexpectedly at the William A. Irvin to take the tour given by Sharon. Because Sharon has a quick and quirky sense of humor herself, we knew she would appreciate what we were doing, and all the trouble and time it took for us to do this.

Michael, Kathleen and I did everything we could think of to make ourselves look strange. We colored our teeth brown with eyebrow pencil. We wore clothes that didn’t match and didn’t fit. I pulled on a petite orange sweater over my plus-size clothes on a very warm day, and wore a holey hat. We put a ton of gooey, shiny gel in Michael’s hair, plastering it down and arranging goofy little points on his forehead. Michael wore an ugly double-knit “tourist” shirt, elastic-waist shorts pulled way up to his armpits, like some older men wear their pants. He wore black knee socks and old shoes. I browned out one of my teeth; Kathleen did all of hers. And I carried a hand-held personal fan to take with me. We practiced quirky expressions (see Michael below) and odd, nasally ways to speak. We posed for a quick photo before we drove down to the ship to surprise Sharon for our tour.

Many people were on the tour that day — families with children mostly, and the three of us. As soon as Sharon stepped out of the office to call the next tour-takers around her, I raised my hand and twittered in a nasally voice, “Hi Sharon! Hi Sharon! Hi! We’re here to take the tour Sharon! We’re so excited Sharon!” Michael and Kathleen also greeted her with great enthusiasm. Probably no one else noticed it, but I saw the split second of shock on my daughter’s face. Sharon is quick though, so in a flash she was in I-don’t-know-these-people mode, and she carried on the hour-long tour with composure, confidence, and her usual uncanny ability to retain and impart encyclopedic amounts of information about any given topic. In this case, the topic was the history of the esteemed William A. Irvin, and all the things that made this ship interesting.

As the tour proceeded over several decks of the ship, we three waddled along behind the crowd, who politely and consistently kept their distance from us. I used my personal fan two inches from my flushed face for most of the hour. We clapped our hands giddily when Sharon extolled about the luxury of the ship’s elegant guest suites. We made perfect O’s with our mouths and nodded at each other, sort of like these guys do on Sesame Street. We twittered, we gawked, we grinned stupidly as Sharon knowledgeably led the tourists through the ship and pretended that Kathleen, Michael and I were completely invisible.

After the tour was over, the three of us thanked Sharon profusely for how thoroughly impressive she was in her position as a docent on the distinguished William A. Irvin. I’m not sure she heard our rhapsodizing, though, because she didn’t make eye contact with us as we were bobbing and gushing. I think there was something exceedingly important for her to do in the ship’s office, because after ending the tour she headed in that direction posthaste.

I’m not sure if we created a good memory for Sharon or not, but I do know that Kathleen, Michael and I gave ourselves something to cackle over for the rest of our lives.  :)

How about you? What practical joke have you played on someone? Or what’s one that has been played on you?

I was eight…he was sixteen

September 12, 2015 | My Jottings

(Reposted from the archives….)

I was eight years old and growing up in Southern California when this picture of my husband Michael was taken during his junior year at Proctor High School. It was 1965 and he was sixteen. He grew up near a lake in northeastern Minnesota and loved to hunt and fish by the time he was ten.

He joined the United States Marines two years after this photo was taken, and after boot camp when the boys men were asked to volunteer for the front lines in Vietnam, he courageously raised his hand.

Three days after arriving in Da Nang he had his first encounter with the carnage that would eventually become an almost everyday occurrence during his tour there. Three young Marines took a direct hit from an enemy mortar while they sat at a table eating their meal. Their bodies were completely blown apart. Michael was spared.

The next eighteen months were filled with days and nights that only his fellow Vietnam vets can truly comprehend. Trudging single-file through the jungles, sleeping very little, hardening their hearts in order to witness the destruction and do the killing the government required them to do, and watching close friends step on land mines just a few feet in front of them, was all part of a day’s work. He did not have any sort of faith then, despite growing up with a devoutly Catholic mother. He wondered why so many died around him and he survived.

Michael was a muscular 192 pounds when he went to Vietnam, and came home fifty pounds lighter thanks to dysentery. When he was notified that his service in Vietnam was over and he returned to the States, he was not expecting the hurled tomatoes, the angry jeers and the “Go back, baby killers!” placards waiting for them at the Los Angeles airport. No one had debriefed them. He was not expecting that his parents would not want to hear about what he had experienced in Vietnam. He did not know that for years if a passing car backfired he would instinctively drop to the ground, or that he could never again handle being near strobe lights.

When Michael was sixteen, he couldn’t have known that going to war was just around the corner, and he obviously couldn’t have known that his future wife was eight years old and growing up in a decent but slightly unstable home in southern California. He probably didn’t know that much of his entire life would call for bravery and strength. But God knew.

When Michael was thirty years old someone told him that Jesus was real, that He loved him and would change his life here on this earth and in the one to come. Michael believed the message with his whole heart and never turned back; His faith in Christ has been the central part of his life since 1978.

He and I “met” when I was twenty-three and he was almost thirty-two. We had only been in each other’s company once before marrying in 1981. He did not know that marrying me and being a daddy to my two little girls would require strength and courage. Even though he would dismiss my saying this today, I know it has taken great strength to stick with me all these years. He has a backbone most men don’t have. And he has humility and patience that I rarely see in anyone.

Four decades after his stint in the Vietnam war, Michael fights another enemy. This one stalks his brain, silences his speech, and stiffens his joints and muscles. This one has stolen pieces of his life and abilities, bit by ruthless bit. But he resists this enemy in the power and grace that Jesus gives him each day. He continues to be strong and courageous right in front of his family’s eyes, and he is deeply loved and respected by us all.

(However, he is by no means a saint. Even though I wish to honor him here, he has an annoying trait or two that has tested my patience over the years, and I know he feels the same way about me. For example, Michael could very well be the male version of Sarah Winchester, a strange woman who kept compulsively adding on to her huge California house until the day she died. Michael has a penchant for continuous building projects as well, and recently built a “small” storage shed I call The Taj Mamichael in our backyard, much to my dismay surprise.)  :)

When I was eight years old and reading my Nancy Drew books in my sunny pink bedroom, I had no idea that a handsome sixteen year old boy living in the north woods of Minnesota would someday be my husband. When I was ten years old and swimming every minute possible, I could not have known that a strong and courageous eighteen year old who would someday be my children’s daddy, was steeling himself each day to face the horrors of war.

But God, who numbers our days and orders our steps, knew.

When I look at the photo of my husband when he was a junior in high school, I see the core of who he is today. Out of His great love, God preserved Michael’s life for me and for our family. Out of His great power, God has made Michael a strong and courageous man to face the many challenges that life has presented to him.

6“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”   Joshua 1:6-9

All these years later, my strong and courageous husband is still teaching me by his example to be strong and courageous myself.

I have so much to learn, but I have a brave, handsome and kind teacher.

(Note: my husband Michael died on February 9, 2015. If you would like to read the account of how God met us and blessed us so unforgettably during the week of Michael’s dying, please click here, and read that, and then the next posts in order…. there is one for each day, February 2 through February 9.)

Green Macaroni and Cheese

September 10, 2015 | My Jottings

(Reposted from the archives….have you tried this recipe yet?)

About twenty-five years ago a friend of a friend told me about a simple and unique (and more healthy) recipe for macaroni and cheese. I was intrigued by the ingredients and made it right away. It was pretty tasty, and I made it again, tweaking the simple recipe a bit until it was something we loved, and I’ve made it often ever since.

My daughters grew up eating this Green Macaroni and Cheese, and they still love it. I think Carolyn makes it for her family now and then. Even my grandbabies enjoy it, and some of them are fairly picky eaters. Sara introduced this dish to her best friend, and now Layla talks to her about “your mom’s green macaroni and cheese.”  (I’m pretty sure they talk about other things too, but I’m honored that smart, beautiful and accomplished young women think highly enough of even one creation of mine to make it a topic of conversation.)

I’ve received enough requests for this recipe that I thought I’d share it on the blog. It’s simple enough to make, but there are a few putzy steps that can be better illustrated by photos than by me trying to write the recipe out on 3 x 5 cards. Anyone who knows me knows that a 3 x 5 card might be large enough for me to write my name and phone number on.

Julie’s Green Macaroni and Cheese

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

So here’s what you’ll need for a large batch:


A cup of milk, 16 ounces of spinach nests pasta, 4-5 tablespoons of soy sauce (I use low-sodium but you can use the stuff that’s brown liquid salt if you like), 2 containers of cottage cheese and some grated mozzarella cheese.

I have only been able to find these spinach nests at one store in our town, and it just so happens that last week when I went to buy some, they were gone and it didn’t look like they were coming back any time soon. So I put in a request with the manager and we’ll see if he does anything about my family’s regular need for spinach nests. Not being one to wait for another person to hold my destiny in their hands, I did a little search online and found our beloved spinach pasta nests through Amazon. The case of twelve 16-ounce boxes of spinach nests arrived today.

If you can’t find spinach nests where you shop, you could probably use other spinach pasta that isn’t made into little circular nests. And I have made this recipe with multi-colored rotini pasta and it’s yummy too. Play around with it until it’s something your family likes.

This recipe will need a fairly large baking pan – I use my deep lasagna pan. I make a large recipe because at our house we basically feed the multitudes, and some of us around here love leftovers for our packed lunches.

If you don’t have multitudes to feed, I would suggest you cut this recipe in half, and use a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Pour all the spinach pasta from a 16-ounce box into a large mixing bowl. See the cute little nests?


They look innocent enough, but they will cut your fingers into shreds if you try breaking them apart with your hands. Don’t try it.


You’ll need to break these nests up now. I use a metal measuring cup and just slowly crunch up the nests by pressing down on them in the bowl with the cup. If you have Miniature German Schnauzers with sensitive ears, they will probably run into the other room while you’re crunching up your spinach nests in a metal mixing bowl.


Just press and crunch until there are no more nests left – just bits of spinach pasta a couple of inches long.


See? Like this. If you use a pasta that already comes in a bag and looks like this, you won’t need to crunch and crunch it with a measuring cup and scare your dogs.

Now take two entire containers (24 ounces each) of cottage cheese, and dump it out onto the broken up spinach pasta. (Remember, if you want to make a normal-sized batch and are halving this recipe, you’ll only need one 24 ounce container of cottage cheese, 8 ounces of spinach pasta, etc.)


Be sure you get all of the cottage cheese out. You can use 4%, 2% or 1% cottage cheese, but I wouldn’t recommend using skim.

Now comes the soy sauce. I like Kikkoman best.


Add four or five tablespoons of soy sauce to the cottage cheese and spinach nest pasta.

And now add one cup of milk. Again, you can use whole milk or 1% or 2%, but I don’t recommend skim milk for this recipe. Pour the milk over the green mess mixture.


Give these four ingredients a good stir. You might be thinking, “This is awfully dry — how is this going to make a delicious, creamy macaroni and cheese dish?”  That’s what I thought when I first made it too, but I promise you’ll see how yummy it is soon.


I don’t think this recipe would qualify for Better Homes and Gardens or Bon Appetit magazines, because it’s too easy and it doesn’t photograph well. But I think we all know someone who doesn’t take a good picture who has a deep inner beauty that makes you completely forget about outward appearances. That’s the way this Green Macaroni and Cheese is. It has a deep inner beauty.


Pour all this into a greased (I use Pam) baking dish.


Be sure you scrape all the whey from the bowl too. You want all the liquid in there since the spinach nests aren’t cooked before you put all this in the oven.


Here’s how it looks spread evenly into my lasagna pan. Sara knows I like dark blue in my kitchen and gave me this pan a few years ago.

Bake this at 325 degrees and set the timer for 15 minutes. This will be the approximate halfway point, and you’ll have to take out the not-quite-done pasta and give it a good stir.

Below, here’s how it looks after about 15-20 minutes at 325. The pasta is softening up a little.


Now just stir it up a bit in the baking dish. Below, see the whey that the cottage cheese finally releases as it’s stirred? It’s pretty liquidy — just stir and fold, so all the dry bits of spinach pasta get covered with the whey. Experience has taught me that any little stray bits of pasta sticking up out of the liquid will get very dark and crisp, and will not taste very scrumptious.

We don’t want our spinach nests going rogue on us.


Stir those curds and whey, stir that pasta. This takes about a minute at the most.


Now spread it out again, making it even with the back of your spoon. It’s going back into the oven to finish baking. Set your timer again for about ten-fifteen minutes, and then pull it out again.

Here’s the part that just takes a time or two of making this dish to understand or recognize. When you pull out the pan the second time, if there’s still a lot of liquid and it hasn’t been mostly absorbed by the pasta, stir it again and put it back in the oven. Keep watching it every few minutes until the pasta has absorbed the liquid. It should be moist, but not swimming in whey. You don’t want to wait too long though – it will result in dry pasta, and you won’t like this recipe and your grandchildren won’t have a chance to try it.

I find that an oven thermometer is a very helpful tool. Even though my range is new and has two ovens, I leave an inexpensive oven thermometer in there all the time. One oven cooks a little hot and the other a little cool (yes, I’ve had the Sears guy out), and if your oven cooks at 375 when it should be 325, it could make a big ugly difference with your Green Macaroni and Cheese.


Once the liquid is mostly absorbed into the now-soft pasta, pull the pan out and sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. As much or as little as you like. We like a goodly amount.


Above, here’s what ours looked like today before I put it under the broiler.


The final step: put the pan under the broiler and watch it carefully. Here’s my first peek after about 3-4 minutes — nope, not yet!


And here’s my second peek after about 5 minutes — yep, this looks just right! It’s ready to come out into the light of day again.


I let this sit for about 4-5 minutes before cutting it into squares and serving it on a small salad plate.


Can you see why I don’t try to write this all down on a recipe card?  :)

I hope you let me know if you try Green Macaroni and Cheese. It can be a side dish to whatever you’re making for dinner, or it can be lunch itself with a nice Honeycrisp apple and a few carrot sticks.

This makes good leftovers too — just store it in an airtight container in the fridge, and warm it up in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.

Now when I look at the other kind of macaroni and cheese we’re all familiar with, it seems so foreign to me, so orange looking.

I’ll let you know if the store manager calls me to say they’re back to carrying my spinach nests again. But just in case they decide not to, I’m equipped for several months, at least.


Green macaroni and cheese has definitely transformed our consumption of mac and cheese.


Winning over Grandma Oma

September 8, 2015 | My Jottings

(Reposted from the archives….)

My Grandma Oma didn’t like me much. Oh, she tolerated me well enough when we first met. I was three years old, and she and Grandpa Bud had just moved to Southern California from their Hereford cattle farm in Kansas. My parents were happy about my grandparents moving to our town in SoCal so we kids could get to know them. But as I grew older, my maternal Grandma seemed increasingly distant and sometimes even disgusted with me. She thought I was a spoiled little girl; too mouthy, too whiny and demanding.

When I was very young I used to climb up in my Grandma’s generous lap and she would lightly scratch my back while we watched TV on Sunday nights after dinner. She wasn’t critical of me then and I relished those times. She would rock the chair back and forth and I would be very quiet. I thought I could feel her love for me then.

But before long I’d taken too many cookies out of her cookie jar or sassed my mother or turned the TV channels too fast, and she’d knit her brows and purse her lips in disapproval. I’d hear her mutter under her breath to my grandpa, “That child is spoiled rotten!”

Despite my suspicion that Grandma didn’t care for me a great deal and thought I was “too big for my britches,” I enjoyed going to her house. It was small with a good-sized yard and there were lots of interesting things for a young girl to investigate. There was Mr. Clean, their canary who used his cage water dish for a bath several times a day, there were richly upholstered rocking chairs where I loved to curl up and read, and intricately crocheted afghans and lacy doilies. I loved to walk through the rooms and study the different treasures: a Japanese music box that played a mournful tune when I lifted the lid (“Julie, you’re going to wear that thing out!”), a massive Drexel mahogany bedroom set that Grandpa polished to such a shine I could see my reflection in it (“Don’t get your fingerprints on that dresser!”), and a beautiful nightstand lamp that had three settings. I used to sit in my grandparents’ room and slowly turn that lamp on and off, on and off. It was delicate and old, with two milky globes, one at the top and one on the base, and I loved how it could give bright, medium, or very soft light when the key-like switch was turned. But then I’d hear Grandma’s footsteps coming down the hall and she would scold, “Julie, you are going to break my nice lamp, now stop fooling with it! Go outside and play.”

Years passed and by the time I was sixteen Grandma’s feelings for me hadn’t seemed to change much. Even though I wasn’t the juvenile delinquent she felt certain I would turn out to be, she seemed to merely put up with me. In fact, I thought she was more disappointed in me than ever. I never seemed to be able to win her affection. I drove too fast, was away from home too much (“always out gallivanting around”) and spent too much time running with my friends, she thought. I was resigned to the fact that Grandma would always think I was a disappointment as a granddaughter, and I just went on with my own life that by this time consisted of cheerleading, working part time, keeping up with my studies, and spending time with friends at the beach.

In early 1974 Grandpa had a stroke and several months later he died. Grandma was lost without him. She moved in with us and I could tell she was unhappy about losing her independence. She spent her days cooking and helping around the house and her nights sitting in a chair watching TV. She particularly loved “The Lawrence Welk Show” on Saturday nights, and sometimes as I was getting ready to go out with friends I noticed that Grandma would gently tap her foot to the music as Bobby and Cissy danced, or as Guy and Ralna sang a peppy duet. I would roll my eyes and heave a teenaged sigh. I hated “The Lawrence Welk” show. It was certainly not my generation’s style of music and it was just another thing that Grandma and I did not have in common.

One day as my grandma sat dozing in her chair, I studied her, and a pang of regret assailed me. I wondered what had happened to us. Why had we never really been able to bond as a grandmother and granddaughter should? Why wasn’t she able to reach out and love me, shortcomings and all? She was 73, and as I watched her it dawned on me that if anyone was going to change, it was going to have to be me.

The following week I had an idea and told Grandma to be ready for an all-day outing with me on Saturday. She looked surprised and irritated. She questioned me about what kind of an outing I was talking about, but I refused to give her details. “Oh, you’ll see, Grandma. You and I are going to have a wonderful time together!” I assured her. We had never done anything together and I’m certain she was wary and curious about what I had up my sleeve. But she didn’t say she wouldn’t go with me.

Saturday arrived and I helped Grandma into the car. I was shocked that she actually allowed me to good-naturedly blindfold her to keep our route and destination a secret. Her mood was light as we drove along the southern California freeway system and I inwardly rejoiced that she was willing to go along with my little plan.

When we arrived at the entrance of Disneyland, I removed her blindfold and fluffed her snowy hair. It took a moment for her to focus her eyes and realize where we were. “Well I never!” she sputtered. Grandma had never been to Disneyland and I thought it was something she needed to experience. old-disneyland-entrance

“How in the world am I going to walk around this big place?” she asked testily. “Not to worry,” I responded. “I’ll push you in a wheelchair up to each ride. I’ll help you board the rides with me and then we’ll put you back in the chair when the ride is over.” Much to my amazement and relief, Grandma didn’t resist.

We spent the entire day exploring the famous park, going on the tamer rides, watching shows, shopping, laughing. Yes, laughing. I pushed her all over that place until dusk, when, exhausted, we made the forty-minute drive home. Before we went to bed that night Grandma looked directly into my eyes and said earnestly, “Thank you, Julie. This was a wonderful day.”

Soon after that I took her on another outing and she again submitted to my silly blindfold idea so I could keep her in the dark and totally surprised until we reached our destination: Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where we saw the movie Earthquake. Even though she had lived in Southern California for many years, she had never been to Hollywood, never been in a theater like this one. All the way home Grandma marveled about what a nice time we’d had.

Grandma Oma and I gradually became closer after that. Our conversations were light and we even laughed together. I talked to her about my friends and school, asked her questions about her childhood and how to cook and bake, and what she was interested in. I asked her questions about my  Grandpa – she loved to talk about him. I found that she had a lot to share. I felt like I was getting acquainted with my Grandma for the first time. And little by little, she was definitely warming up to me.

I started sitting with her on Saturday nights as she watched “The Lawrence Welk Show.” She told me all about the people on the show as if they were old friends of hers. I learned to enjoy watching Arthur Duncan tap-dance and even tried to imitate him in front of Grandma, making her chuckle. We listened to Norma Zimmer and Larry Hooper sing, and to Myron Floren play his accordion. I learned songs I had never known before and I actually liked them. Most of all, I was learning to appreciate my Grandma, and I think she was learning to love me.

My Grandma Oma died in 1982. Her gleaming mahogany bedroom set sits in our master bedroom today. I treasure it. I also have her beautiful lamp, but about a year ago I accidentally bumped it and it crashed to the ground, shattering the top globe. I try not to hold too tightly to material things, but I was sad about this lamp breaking because it had been such a part of my childhood. I stared at the pieces on the floor and memories came flooding back, of me as a little girl exploring and dreaming, and turning that lamp at Grandma’s house on and off, on and off.

The memory of my Grandma’s “off” years of seeming indifference to me isn’t painful anymore and I don’t question why things were as they were. Instead I have the remembrance of our few “on” years together — how I believe God helped Grandma and me do what neither one of us knew how to do on our own — begin a loving relationship and make a real connection with each other for the first time in years.

Now I’m a grandma myself, albeit a few years younger than my grandmother’s age in this account. Only heaven knows what my grandchildren will remember about me when I’m just a fading memory to them, but I’m determined that they will never have to wonder if I loved them. They know already that my heart is nearly bursting with love for them all.

And all these years later, Lawrence Welk is still in the picture. My seven year-old granddaughter Clara loves to watch that old show with me when she spends the night on the occasional Saturday. She thinks it’s called “The Loren Swelk Show”, and I’m not in any hurry to tell her otherwise. As we sit and watch Bobby and Cissy, Guy and Ralna, Arthur Duncan, Tom Netherton and all the others, I sometimes think about my own Grandma Oma, and I’m thankful for those few pleasant memories we made.

And I say a silent prayer asking God to help me make lots and lots and lots of precious memories with my seven wonderful grandchildren.

I know this is one of the reasons I’m alive.

Helen’s Gift

September 2, 2015 | My Jottings

The day before yesterday I went out to get the mail, and sitting on our front deck was a good-sized package from Switzerland. My sweet blogging friend Helen had emailed recently and asked for my address, so I knew something was coming. Maybe a piece of Swiss chocolate or a quilted Christmas decoration? Helen loves to quilt (and knit, and sew, and read, and run, and translate difficult documents since she’s multilingual, and raise her family, and travel), so I thought it might be something homemade, even.

But never did I expect to receive the lavish gift she sent me. A large lap quilt, with all the right colors, with exquisite stitching and precision, and with Helen’s compassion and love sewn throughout.


This work of art will look perfect in my living room, which has taupes and reds and walls that are robin’s egg blue. It would look perfect in my office, which has red and cream toile wallpaper and aqua velvet curtains. And it would be wonderful in my bedroom, to put across my lap when I’m reading, or writing in my gratitude journal.

Here’s the reverse side — have you ever seen anything so cheery and striking? And you can enlarge these photos to see the amazing stitching swirls Helen did. Perfection.


And as I was inspecting the quilt, jaw dropped and eyes welling, I saw some birds. Red birds. Cardinals. Anyone who knows me knows I love cardinals, and they signify hope and God’s help and presence in my life. If you haven’t seen it, I wrote a little children’s story about a family called the Buehlers, which is really about our family, here.

Here’s a view of some of the cardinals.


Last night after my Fosters went to bed for the night, I got into my plaid flannel nightgown, made some popcorn, put my feet up in the recliner, and watched my favorite show on TV. I put Helen’s quilt over my lap and thought of Michael, because in her note Helen said she began working on the quilt before Michael died, knowing from reading my blog that things had gotten very difficult as Michael’s health continued to decline.

I love when something has multiple deep meanings for me. I will use this quilt often, if not nightly. I will remember the loving handwork of a friend far away with a beautiful heart, and of the hope that’s always there in God even when we think that hope is hidden. In a way, I feel like I’m being covered by a prayer, Helen’s prayer, that God would help me walk this sometimes lonely path of widowhood.

When I sit with my quilt, I will also pray for Helen. I will ask the Lord to bless her in every way possible, and that He will blanket her (x 1000) with the warmth, beauty and comfort that she has given to me.

Failures in frugality

August 28, 2015 | My Jottings

I don’t think I would label myself as truly frugal, but I love alliteration and “Failures in frugality” sort of fits what I’m going to share about, so I went with it. I’m careful with money and I like to save, but I will also not think twice about spending or giving a large amount if I feel the cause is right. So frugal might be a bit too strong a word. Anyway…

Ever since I started using a CPAP machine on April 13th of this year, I’ve apparently been doing damage to the inside of my mouth. Since I have to sleep with my mouth closed now (I have a CPAP with nasal pillows), I’m inadvertently pushing my lower jaw out and chewing on my inside cheeks, to the point where I have discolored lesions that could lead eventually to serious things. Gah! So I went to the dentist and thought I would get a simple mouth guard to keep me from this destructive somnolent nocturnal activity. Here’s what it looks like:


It’s made of very hard plastic, and I was expecting something a little softer. The little turquoise bands are supposed to keep my lower jaw from extending out past my upper jaw while I sleep, and prevent me from chewing on the inside of my mouth. There’s only one problem. One night with this instrument of torture was, well, torture. Every single one of my upper teeth ached as if they’d been hit. My jaw ached for so long the next day I thought I had the start of TMJ, which I’ve never had. According to my dentist, all that’s needed is for me to let them file down the upper tooth sections, a little bit at a time, so that I can try the mouth guard every night until it doesn’t hurt anymore. While going into the dentist repeatedly for these small adjustments until I finally have a better night’s sleep.

So in a nutshell, after Michael died I was having serious sleeping problems, had a sleep study that showed I was getting absolutely no Stage 3 sleep (the kind of deep sleep that enables your brain to catalog and store all your memories from the day before), got a CPAP that I’m tethered to until the Twelfth of Never, started unconsciously chewing on the inside of my mouth, and paid almost $500 for a mouth guard that fits me perfectly but pains me intensely and can never be used or returned. It sits in its little plastic container in my medicine cabinet, but I feel like I should attach some fishing line to it and hang it on the Christmas tree this December. At least I could get some use out of it. Ha. Ha. Ha.

My next money fail came when I ordered a dress from an online company I’d never dealt with before. I buy most of my clothes online because A. I’m overweight, B. I’m pretty tall, C. It’s less traumatic to try things on at home, keep one or two items and send the ones I don’t like back. I am taking my two foster gals on an Alaskan cruise soon, and if any of you have cruised before, you know there are usually one or two “formal nights” for dinner. Men are required to wear tuxes or suits and ties and women are encouraged to wear dressy, “cocktail” outfits. I didn’t have anything that fit the bill and neither did my fosters, so we each bought an appropriate outfit. They look adorable in theirs and are so happy with what we found. I searched and searched online for my dress/pantsuit, and the things I found that I liked were either too short, too brightly colored, or already sold out in my size. Or more than I wanted to spend. So I finally found an online company with many lovely “mother of the bride” type outfits, and I ordered a black, chiffony dress with a beaded black jacket to wear over it. Understated, pretty, and just right. I thought.

Oh my gosh. I have never experienced with any other clothes company what I’ve gone through with them.

My first red flag was when the dress arrived in a box with an unreadable return address from China. I tried the dress on right away and laughed when I looked in the mirror and saw how short it was. The jacket was too short, the dress wasn’t nearly as long as the photos of the tall women in the catalog represented, so I folded it neatly and looked inside for a return slip. No. There was no return slip. No paperwork inside the package of any kind.

So I went to the website and found the customer service email and wrote to them right away. I said that the dress had arrived, was too short for me, and would they please tell me where to return it so I could get a refund? I had to write to them twice before they responded. Two days later I finally heard back from them, and thus began a series of seventeen emails between us, that ended in their refusal to give me an address to return the dress to them, and me contacting my credit card company, who issued me a “provisional” refund while they investigate the company.

Here are exact samples of some of the emails I received from this company:

Dear customer,

We are sorry to hear that. We made the dress according to your order information. Would you please check with our size chart to see whether you chose a wrong size? If the size is correct, could you please send us some picture to show your measurements of your bust, waist and hip size so we can confirm the size problem? Thanks.

Best Regards,

I wrote back and kindly told them that I had ordered the correct size, but the dress and jacket were too short. They wrote again asking me to send them detailed photos of myself wearing the dress, centering in on my “bust, waist and hip,” so they could determine if they had made a mistake.

Dear customer,

Sorry for the inconvenience caused to you. We made the dress in the size  you chose. If you think we made wrong size for you, please offer us clear pictures of your own measurements with tape (bust, waist, hip). And send us pictures to show the dress on you (or pictures showing that you can not put the dress on). Then we will confirm with our factory if we have made you wrong dress. We will try our best to help you before you return it, we will need to check the problem first. Or we will not accept the return. Thanks for your cooperation in advance. Please check the attached picture to see how to take measurements pictures.


I wrote back and told them I bought most of my clothes online, and that every single company always takes the clothing back if they don’t fit or if I don’t care for them, and I told them I was not going to take pictures of my bust, waist and hip with the dress on and send them to them, and that I wanted them to please send me the necessary information on how to return the dress, and that it fit okay, but was just much too short. I told them (all very respectfully but more firmly now) that I needed return information from them within 24 hours or I would be contacting my credit card company.

Dear customer,

Please note that we made the dress in the standard size you chose according to our size chart on the website. Before we sent the dress out, we will put it on the model to check the size. Only passed the quality-check can the dress be sent out. So there is no problem about the size. Hope you can understand that. If you chose a incorrect size, you can go to a local tailor’s shop to make adjustments. Because we always leave a little space on our dresses in case there a change to make. Because we made the dress for you after you placed the order. It can not be sold again. Hope you will not let credit card company to involve in this. Because once they step in this, it will take several months to get a result. Thanks for your cooperation in advance.


Many emails exchanged. Finally, I sent back a short note: “The dress is the right size, it is just too short. I am contacting my credit card company. Sincerely, Julie B.”

Dear customer,

Please note that you chose standard size. Then the dress’s length is also made in the standard size. If your height is same as the model’s. When you wear the dress, it will get same effect. If you were taller than her, the dress will be a little short for you. The dress is so beautiful. If you really do not like it, you can resell it or give it to your friends as a gift. Then we will offer you $10 compensation.


The dress cost $171, more than I have ever paid for any garment in my life. And they’re offering me $10 and thinking I might like to give it to my friends as a gift.

I did not respond to that email but instead contacted Visa.

A couple days later:

Dear customer,

Here we heard that you not satisfied your this order and we want to help you out, but you not reply us.

So if you have any question or also need help, please contact us back, then we will help you out timely,

Your understand will appreciate

Best Regards

And after sixteen emails, here was my final one to them:


I will try to state things as clearly as possible.

1. I ordered a dress in good faith from you. I ordered the correct size.

2.  The dress is too short. I am very tall, and the sleeves on the jacket are too short, and the jacket is too short.

3. It isn’t the wrong size, it is the length. It doesn’t look good at all.

4. I have ordered from online catalogs many times. Sometimes things fit well, sometimes they don’t. Whenever I send something back that doesn’t fit, the other companies gladly refund my money and take the item back.

5. You are the only company who has ever given me trouble about returning an item.

6.  I will ask you one final time. Please send me the address where I can return this dress. And please refund my money.

7.  There is nothing more to be said. You should do what every other dress company does, and take care of your customers.

This is my final email to you.

Thank you,

Julie B.


So Visa requested copies of all seventeen emails, which I mailed to them this week. They’ll do an investigation and determine if the company should take their dress back and refund my money. If not, I will have wasted $171, and like my mouth guard, the dress will never be used. Unless I can give it as gift to my friends. :) (By the way, the fine print on their website doesn’t reveal any of these policies, but I blame only myself for buying from someone I wasn’t familiar with.) Of course a google search of this company, after the fact, revealed dozens of warnings from other customers with headings like “DO NOT BUY!” and “They ripped me off!” Sigh…this was a lesson learned.

I finally did find something to wear for formal nights on our cruise. It’s this pants suit:


And I’ve found a way to protect the inside of my mouth too — I’m just wearing soft teeth bleaching trays over my teeth at night. This has seemed to help and the little chewed spots are healing.

I hope we see some whales on this cruise to Alaska. Something like this would be excellent.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 121

August 26, 2015 | My Jottings

“I don’t like it when people minimize their gifts. There is a difference between humility and insecurity, and self-effacement does no one any favors.


We teach our watching children to doubt and excuse and diminish themselves. Do we want our kids to reflect on their mothers and have absolutely no idea what we loved? What we were good at? What got our pulses racing and minds spinning? Don’t we want them to see us doing what we do best?”

~~Jen Hatmaker, in “For the Love”

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

I’ve been thinking on these words lately. I’m pretty sure if I got a do-over I would more confidently embrace my gifts instead of minimize them, especially to my daughters.

Friends, what are your thoughts on this?

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