Recipes from Life

I just finished reading “Recipes from the Dump” by Abigail Stone. Written in stream-of-consciousness form, it parodies cooking novels. I’m really not sure why I kept reading about the every day ponderings of a fictional single mom. Her fixation on catching a man got old after a while. The book did, however, challenge me to write a few “recipes” of my own.

For a taste of my life recently, try a few of the following dishes:

This first recipe comes from the first few months of living in a new location, with husband busy at a new job and teenage son far away as a volunteer camp counselor for the summer. Two extremely extroverted people (mother and daughter) who can’t figure out where and how to find new friends resulted in this stew.


(best made on a gray, rainy day, a week of rain is even better)

2 large onions, chopped

3 cups root vegetables, chopped

3 cups sorrel leaves

6 cups chicken broth

3 Tbsp hot sauce

2 cups, coarsely ripped chunks of stale bread

Lightly sauté vegetables in a large kettle: onions to make you cry and root vegetables to remind you of your life having been pulled up by the roots. Stir in sorrel leaves to add bitterness and sorrow to the soup. Pour chicken broth into the kettle and bring to a simmer, letting your fears and doubts seep into all crevices of the soup. Add a burning taste with the hot sauce, enough to bring more tears to your eyes.

Serve in a shallow bowl over chunks of stale bread, memories left over from better days.

Chop Salad

Overgrown Chop Salad

This next recipe is a necessary dish to prepare when you buy a house that has not been well maintained due to degenerative health problems of the previous owner.


2 lines of overgrown hedgerows along the lot lines

1 semi-circle of bushes overwhelming a brick wall

5 trees, out of control

3 predatory woody vines, woven throughout other bushes

House Gutters full of tree seedlings

Spend hours and hours over a number of weeks, chopping out overgrown branches, hedges, brush, and trees. Make a huge pile in the driveway, larger than your vehicles and higher than the eaves on the garage. Scoop handfuls of tree seedlings out of the gutters and toss onto the pile for extra spice. Let rest for a few more days for all the flavors to blend.

Rent a wood chipper and run all the woody branches through the grinder. Don’t forget to wear gloves to protect your hands!

Carefully shovel chopped bits onto exposed dirt areas under the hedgerows to prevent weed growth. Come back inside and enjoy a tall, cold one after all your labors.

Color Crunch (main dish)

Color Crunch (main dish)

Color Crunch (main dish)

As a main course, consider fixing the following recipe. It can be altered as needed, based on ingredients you have on hand.


1 brick wall (can substitute a sidewalk or driveway)

1 package of new sidewalk chalk in a wide variety of colors

                (my daughter informed me the 4 pack would never do)

2-5 noisy preteen neighbor girls

2-3 bicycles

Wait for sunny weather. This dish doesn’t work well on gray, rainy days.

Mix noisy girls with colorful chalk. Allow them to smear the chalk all over the bricks, making interesting patterns and color mixes. Step back from time to time to enjoy the mess. Add in dancing and MP3 music if desired.

If the mixing process is too noisy for you, consider wearing earplugs or hiding inside. (Pre-teen laughter CAN be loud and rambunctious!)

Add a side of bicycles thrown in the yard where they came to a screeching stop as the gathering started.


Principle Ingredient of Nostalgia Pie

Principle Ingredient of Nostalgia Pie

As you start to make friends and feel more “at home” in your new neighborhood, you might still find some of the following dessert in the back of your frig.


1 crust made of photos, cards, and scrapbook pages

Several text conversations between old friends

2-3 invitations to parties being held in your old stomping grounds on the other side of the country

1-2 phone conversations with old friends

Tears, to bring out the flavors

Dig through packed boxes to uncover mementoes from previous location. Mix together photos, cards and scrapbook pages into a thick crust to hold the pie filling.

Use your phone for text and voice conversations with old friends. Listen to activities you are missing and reminisce about past fun had together.

Receive invitations for events you can not possibly attend, some with expressed regrets for your absence.

Mix filling. Layer on top of crust. Sprinkle with tears. Set aside for flavors to blend. (Warning: gray, rainy days deepen the bitterness and strong flavors of this pie, especially when previous home was in a bright, sunny desert location!)

When you think all traces of this pie are finished, you might well find more pieces buried in the back of your frig…

Finally, as you begin to adjust to your new life in your new home in your new location, consider finishing this meal with a cup of coffee, best shared with a new friend.


Take time to check out the various gathering places in your new town. Share a cup of coffee with the people you find there. Suggested places to visit: local church, home group for said church, women’s group, local swimming pool, variety of neighborhood coffee shops, home-town library branch, and more. In addition to a cup of coffee, share pastries or other treats for extra sweetness.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading these recipes I have been cooking for the past few months. What’s cooking in your life right now?


The Wrath of Mama Bear

“wrath” (noun) – strong, stern or fierce anger

I tutor at-risk students in the local school two full days per week. The principal had to work hard to juggle my schedule since, by federal mandate, no pull-outs can occur during “core instruction time.” To me, this is ridiculous since many of the students I work with are critically behind their classmates. Core Instruction Time is merely time when they feel overwhelmed and more lost than ever. It is time when these at-risk students often give up completely. It certainly is not effective learning time.

To meet federal rules, in the mornings, I work with smaller groups in the classroom itself, focused on independent reading skills while the teacher works with other students on general language arts skills.

some of my “bear cubs” at the end of our Immigration Activity time

A few weeks ago that teacher and I put together a special morning of activities to end a language arts unit on Immigration. (You can read more about the activities and see photos HERE.) You can imagine my frustration when the acting principal interrupted us to make it clear all students had to be in the gym for a rah-rah presentation by the candy fundraising company. I argued. I ranted. I cried. I cussed. In other words, I totally lost it!

I cried all the way home. I cried while I whipped out a ripping letter to the editor and submitted it to four local newspapers. I cried while I drove my kids to town for errand-day. I cried myself to sleep that night. I was overwhelmed with anger.

At first I was upset with myself. How selfish could I be? Yes, I had put extra effort into the special activities. Yes, I had come in as a volunteer on a day off to do the activities. But it seemed petty to be so angry about something that was easily re-scheduled, right?

Now it is two weeks later. I just finished rewriting and condensing the letter at the request of an editor. It will be published in one of the papers later this week. (You can read the final submission at the bottom of this post…) And I am STILL angry.

As I thought about this over the past few weeks, I realize this incident is a picture of the overwhelming problems at this local school (and at many other schools across the country.) There is no time for anything more than prepping for state tests and “core curriculum.” There is no time to include art, music, free reading, or one-on-one tutoring, even though there are shelves and shelves full of research that show how these things increase proficiency in core subjects for at-risk students. But, apparently, there IS time for fundraising companies to have access to our students during that same core-instruction time.

In talking with teachers and the principal at this school, I discovered another thing that makes me furious. They constantly urge the students to “just say no” to harmful things such as drugs, alcohol, abuse, and dangerous situations. They expect the students to learn to judge activities on the merits of how this will help them or harm them. They urge students to stand up to (or avoid) parents who are making decisions that will harm the children. (The majority of our students live both below the poverty line and in very dysfunctional family situations.)

And yet, the response I got from school staff when I questioned this abuse of core-instruction time, was that they “had no choice.” They couldn’t turn down the mandated presentation time by the fundraising company. They couldn’t even demand an afternoon assembly. In other words, they couldn’t “just say no.”

And that makes me angry. That makes me furious. That brings out my WRATH!

I’m no longer beating myself up for my “inappropriate” response to a “frustrating situation.” I’m no longer going to apologize (again) for my angry words. I am like a mama bear, protecting her cubs. When they are at-risk, she roars!

And, in the process of writing all of this down, I realize there IS something good to be found in this situation. I now have a specific discussion topic of a real-life harmful situation for my tutoring students to wrestle with. Perhaps, as I share my anger and what is behind that anger, these students will gain the courage to speak up about things that anger them, things that are harmful to themselves. Maybe that is one way to protect my “cubs” and help them be ready to face the challenges of life out here on the edges.

Dear Parents:

School administrators say they have your student’s best interests at heart even while bemoaning the lack of parental support. You hear them (or maybe they say it out of your hearing) complain about students who live below the poverty line and whose parents can’t pay for special activities.

Today’s focus on testing and on a “core curriculum”, has limited time available for other subjects during the school day. At our local school, funding shortages recently eliminated weekly “enrichment” time. There has been no time for art or music for years. Prepping for state tests is of higher importance than educating a well-rounded student!

Your child may complain about this year’s school lunches—only healthy food, no seconds, limited calories (even for student athletes). By federal mandates, students can’t have outside food until late afternoon, when the entire school has finished lunch “hour.” No parties can be held on half-days before holidays. Or rather, no treats can be eaten at those before-lunch parties.

Administrators claim to be concerned about these issues. But it is now “that” time of year, time for candy sales. It is time for YOUR child to become the coerced worker for fundraising companies. Students miss core instruction time for presentations urging them to become the high-sales winner. There are tantalizing prizes based on sales levels, most of which will break within weeks. Students are pushed to sell something they would not even be allowed to eat at school!

Of course, there is no time for art or music. Of course, no candy is allowed at the school. Of course, you, as parents with little extra money, are asked to help your students sell lots of candy to all your relatives. (And, of course, neither the fundraising company nor the school will explain that the majority of money made by these efforts will go to the company rather than to the school.)

If you see a problem with this situation, it is time to rebel: refuse to buy any candy, prevent your child from becoming unpaid labor for the candy-company. School fundraisers do more harm than good for students.

Sincerely, Jill Emmelhainz, Reading tutor


How in the world does someone get back to writing regular blog posts after falling way, way behind? I thought about writing a summary of this summer. I thought about just apologizing and jumping back in. I thought about writing frantically for a few days and posting a bajillion stories all at the same time. None of these felt right…and none of these motivated me to log back in to wordpress.

But…I do like participating in Five Minute Fridays “where a beautiful crowd spends five minutes all writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em on a common site” This week’s prompt is “CHANGE.” Somehow that grabbed me, so I’m jumping back into regular blogging by joining this week’s challenge. Then I will (re)start posting on Mondays and Fridays, starting next week. See you then!

Ready, Set, GO:

Change…oh how I love change! I confess that I get bored when expected to do the same thing over and over and over. Fortunately, I have spent most of my adult life working with kids—my own and other people’s. And it is rarely possible to be bored when surrounded with kids. You just never know WHAT might happen next!

This summer has been filled with busy-ness. I’ve been to London. I’ve photographed two weddings for Navajo friends. I’ve chauffeured kids to the back of beyond and home again. I’ve worked hard to help kids transition to highschool and to college (other kids) and back home for school (daughter Anna).

I KNOW life has been too busy because when I woke up this morning with nothing I “had” to do and no place we “had” to go, I didn’t know what to do with myself!

And in the midst of busy-ness and travel and fun activities, we are beginning to realize it is time for a bigger CHANGE in our family situation. We have been (mostly) volunteers in a remote area of Navajoland for the past 2 1/2 years. While we love living here and working with at-risk Navajo youth, we are recognizing that we are lonely. We are “dry” without regular soaking worship and prayer time (even though we are at church most Sundays). We are weary of feeling the stress of tight finances. I want to pursue using EMS to help others and am frustrated at the lack of opportunity to do so out here (even while there is a desperate need for emergency medical care in this abandoned and remote area).

I guess life is feeling a little bit like the local scenery right now…

What will this CHANGE look like? Right now we have no idea… Even though my immediate, emotional reaction is to suggest we relocate to some other place immediately, my wise and less-impulsive husband reminds me that we are committed to be here (for now), we need to find paying work before we would move, and we have plenty to keep us busy until changes happen…

Sigh…guess I will keep plodding along.

Come to think of it, that relates well to the word-for-the-year I chose way back in January: “walk.” Perhaps I should take some time and ponder that word again–even when I prefer to JUMP…or at least to RUN!

So while I keep on walking, I will just comfort myself with the thought that change IS coming…


shrug atlasWhat do you do when the world is heavy on your shoulders? When it feels like you are carrying more than you can handle? When others expect you to carry the burdens because they can’t…or won’t…or don’t…?

Years ago I read a book which I keep coming back to. Over the years the picture it paints of American culture becomes scarily more and more true. The book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Yes, it has some preachy sections that go on and on about the author’s economic views. Some of those views I agree with, and many I just skip over. But it also has good advice for life: When the world is too heavy on your shoulders…SHRUG!

And that’s what I’ve been trying to do recently. We love being here in Navajoland. But living and working here takes all of my emotional energy. There is great joy in working with children and young adults. There is excitement in witnessing an “a-ha” moment. And there is great pain in walking with our friends through tragedy. I have realized that I have enough energy for what I am called to do, including nurturing relationships with family and friends. But no more than that.

So…I’ve decideworld in handsd to put up some boundaries in daily living. I choose to pursue things that I’m passionate about. While that often involves serving others, I do NOT choose to continue carrying burdensome weight that could or should be carried by others. I do not choose to have my energy drained by negative comments, or backbiting, or second-guessing by others. I plan to SHRUG!

I am no longer willing to carry the world on my shoulders. When I carry my piece of the world in my hands (with God’s help) it is not overwhelming. With passion, the work becomes enjoyable and the world feels manageable.

What are YOU carrying? When is your time to SHRUG?


(images from Microsoft Office clipart)


Over the weekend, I woke up a number of mornings with a sore jaw and sensitive teeth. I finally realized I must be grinding my teeth in my sleep. Ugh! I haven’t done that for years.

shadow boxingTaking time to think about it, I realized I’m stressing about an upcoming meeting. I cope fine with direct attacks or specific roadblocks. In those situations, I make my plans and ready for the fight. But this? It feels like I’m shadow-boxing, turning this way and that, trying to avoid an attack, trying to prepare an offense, all with no specific opponent clearly in sight. There has been no attack, no specific dissatisfaction voiced, no direct opposition. There are only innuendo, vague comments, and possible displeasure, all voiced with concern, stated in terms of “someone said…”

I HATE feeling like I’m at the mercy of others, especially ones who don’t seem to be willing to take responsibility for their own thoughts, concerns and feelings by talking to me directly.


Then I was reminded that I am NOT at the mercy of others—I’m under the mercy of God. On the one hand that is a comfort. My God is bigger than any obstacle or roadblock. He is the one who protects me from unknown assailants. I can stop shadow-boxing and let Him hold on to me.

On the other hand, God is not physically with me. I can’t SEE Him protecting me or working on my behalf. It’s easy to have faith when life is good. And when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I usually turn to God. It’s hard to have faith when I’m feeling strong but under attack…

handsGod works hard to catch my attention during those times that I’m independently readying for battle. The same day I realized what was happening and why my jaw was so sore, I had two encounters that were greatly encouraging. One was a person that has a vision for work which might end up being mutually beneficial with things we want to be doing. Another was a conversation with a few young men who gave me excellent ideas for resources and possible funding sources for future ministry in this area.

So…I guess I will try hard to stop the shadow-boxing; remember often that God really IS taking care of the details. I will unclench my fists and reach out for HIS help.  And maybe, just maybe, I will stop grinding my teeth in my sleep. It would sure be nice to get rid of this jaw-pain…

You. Are. WRONG.

Some memories stick in your head for a very long time. Many of those memories are happy ones. Some are sad. And some are memories of injustice. Two such memories from my growing up years still have the power to make me clench my teeth. Still have strong emotion attached.

When I was elementary school aged, our family went to a party at a neighbor’s house. I have no idea if it was a holiday party or a “block party” or some sort of open house. I clearly remember adults talking and talking. I don’t remember kids running around, but we must have been. The snack table was glorious with every imaginable treat. There was even a big bowl of…BUGLES! I was going to grab a big handful, but remembered just in time that my folks would probably get upset with me if I was so greedy. So…I put just one pointy Bugle on each finger. There! Not too many snacks plus I could have fun playing with them before eating them one by one.

And then, then the injustice occurred. My dad saw me with my fingernails of salty snacks. He took me I don’t know where and lectured me. He said I was rude. He said I was greedy. He said lots more. As I stood there, seething inside, I wanted to yell “You are WRONG!” but knew that would only make things worse. So, finally, 40-some years later I will give voice to the little girl that was me: “Dad, you really didn’t understand. I respect you. I love you. But that time? That time you were indeed wrong.”

The second strong memory of injustice was during Junior High School. I had a wonderful art teacher. I loved art class. I could be creative AND use lots of color. It was enjoyable AND I was good at it. Art was a highlight of that year. At one point, we had an assignment that was challenging for me. We had to draw someone’s hand(s) holding something. I drew my mom’s hand, holding a glass. It was hard to make it look realistic. I drew it and re-drew it. (Did my mom patiently sit there while I worked so hard? Or was I re-working the picture from memory? I have no clue…) Finally, it was finished. I was proud of the shading. Proud of the realistic wrinkled joints, short stubby fingers, and veins on the back of the hand.

I was excited to turn in the project. I was certain I would get a good grade on the assignment. Even more important, I was sure the teacher would be happy with what a good drawing I had made. A few days later I got it back…with a lower than expected grade and no positive comments. When I asked the teacher about it, she explained that it was an okay drawing, but that I had made my mom’s hand look like an old person’s hand but it was supposed to be a drawing like a photograph, showing reality. Oh, Ms. Art-Teacher. You Were WRONG! Over the years, at random moments when I see my mom’s hands, and, increasingly, when I notice my own hands, I think again, you were SO wrong. Both my mom’s hands and mine ARE short and stubby with wrinkled joints and with veins showing on the back…

Why do I tell you these two stories? Partly because these are memories that still hold strong emotion. Partly as a reminder to myself to be more careful what I say to kids around me since words can be so powerful and echo for years into the future. And maybe, just maybe, by writing down the explanations I wish I would have had the courage to give when I was young, these stories will gradually lose their power. Maybe the echoes will fade. Maybe these injustices will become an insignificant part of my past. Maybe I can move on to other stories from my past with more positive echoes…

Take Time to SMILE

You have forgotten what it is to smile
In your too busy life come, rest awhile.

{Lucy Maud Montgomery}

...gettin' silly...

I smile often. I smile as a greeting to strangers. I smile in agreement when talking with a friend. I smile at the wonderful, creative ideas my kids come up with. I smile at the antics of some of the critters around here. I sometimes even smile at the irony of bad service or frustration bureaucracy.

And I love to laugh. Even more than smiling, laughter lightens the mood of those around me, whether friends or strangers. (You should SEE the looks I get when I laugh out loud at something I’m reading in a coffee shop!) I enjoy getting silly and laughing with my kids, my mom, my friends. And it’s even more fun when they initiate the silliness and trigger my own laughter.

Some parents worry about what their child thinks of them. I take it as a compliment when I’ve said something silly and my oh-so-serious son says with disgust, “MO-om…” Then I know I have done my job well and enriched his life with a laughing moment. After all, “they” say laughter makes you live longer. (Just who are “they”? Dunno…“they” seem to be authorities about many things. But I digress…)

James with the Cheshire Cat Smile

Something I treasured after our son James died a few years ago was all the comments by friends about his smile. So many remembered how his smile lit up the room, how the memory of that smile stayed with them for hours, how he delighted in mischief and in making them smile as well. One commented that James was like a Cheshire Cat—even after he left the room, his smile was still with them. I hope others think of me that way…

The quote at the start of this post was a good reminder to me. It has been a hectic week in every way. Yesterday, I was rushing to get out the door, discussing something with Randy, thinking ahead of everything that needs done over the weekend, and not-quite-looking-forward to being a chaperone for a school trip. Anna came into the room wanting attention for the third time in as many minutes…and I snapped. Neither she nor I had any hint of smiles at that moment.

...playful, colorful SMILE-bringers...

I was too busy. I had forgotten my smile. Fortunately, once we got to the State Fair, our little group took time to enjoy the Chinese Acrobatic Troop. When the bouncing, colorful lions (dogs? dragons?) came on stage, I suddenly found my smile (and my laughter) again.

Maybe I should make a large print of those wonderful critters as a reminder that the more hectic and busy my life gets, the more important it is to SMILE.

Previous Older Entries