Advent Resources for Young and Old (er)

Good-bye Autumn


Aren’t these porch pieces fun? Thank you, Sheila Anderson for blessing me with the two wicker chairs and iron table. I gladly took these off her hands since she didn’t have a space for them anymore. Lucky me! They used to look like this:

black spray paint for one easy makeover

Hello, Advent


I finally got around to putting away the Fall porch decor and am slowly catching up to the Christmas season. Somehow the first week of Advent flew by me.

So I’m a little late in choosing my daily Advent devotion, as well. Maybe I’m not the only one a bit behind!

But it’s never too late to add a special reading or advent activity to your devotional time. Here are some gems I’ve collected from friends and family in case you still need some inspiration.

For Adults

From Wende:
I’m using the daily readings from USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops) this year. You can subscribe on their website and they’ll email a reading each day of Advent that includes a passage from the OT, a psalm, and something from the gospels. I like following the church calendar during Advent, and I enjoy the liturgy.
For the daily devotional, go here.

From Laurette:
I am reading Louie Giglio’s “Waiting Here For You” advent devotional. It’s very good so far, very rich and easy to read.
For devotional book, go here.

From Pam:
A variety of resources, pictured here~

Top Row: Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from Henri J. Nouwen
Come, Lord Jesus: Devotions for the Home by Susan Briehl
Advent Reflections: Revive, Restore, Reveal By Ruth Haley Barton

Bottom Selections: Between Two Advents by William Willimon
All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss (children and family)
A Season of Little Sacraments by Susan Swetnam
Preparing for Christmas by Richard Rohr

From Me:
I finally decided to stick with the devotional workbook, Morning Prayer, that I started a few weeks ago. It’s not an “Advent theme,” but is so enriching and formative I didn’t want to put it aside.  Morning Prayer is written by one of my former Ashland Seminary students, Dr. Roberta Cabot.
For a brief book review and ordering information, go here.

For Kids and Family

From Christy:
Out of Sync Christmas Lego Activity
For instructions, go here.

Truth in the Tinsel,  An Advent Experience for Little Hands
To order, go here.

From Isaac:
I enjoyed using the advent coloring sheets from this website, Illustrated Children’s Ministry.
– very high quality, definitely for kids with fine motor control
 A good resource for church, go here.

One of my friends from seminary who blogs also has some fun ideas:
Having Fun at Home, Our Family’s Advent Tradition
For information, go here.

Another fun idea from the same blogger:
Make your own Jesse tree tradition.
For instructions, go here.

I would be interested in what you’re reading these days as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the Christ child.

Thanks everyone for the great resources.

If any more ideas roll in, I’ll do a Part II later this week.


Spicy Black Bean Chili


If you’re stocked up on stock from your Thanksgiving turkey carcass, now is a good time to make this Black Bean Chili. This is one of my favorite University of California Davis MenuBook recipes. I changed it up a bit to take the spiciness down a few notches. This makes a nice hot meal for those not so nice chilly, chili? evenings.

Spicy Black Bean Chili


1/2 large yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 yellow pepper, diced

4 stalks of celery, diced

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. chipotle chili pepper seasoning

1/2 tsp. cumin

3/4 cup homemade vegetable, turkey, or chicken stock (I used vegetable stock.)

3/4 cup water

1 16 ounce jar of mild chunky salsa

1 15 ounce can of fire roasted diced tomatoes

2 15 ounce can of black beans, drained


  1. On medium low heat, sauté onions, pepper, garlic, and celery in a couple of splashes of stock in a 4 or 6 quart stock pot. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables are softened.
  2.  Mix in seasonings and another splash of stock.
  3. Pour in rest of stock and water.
  4. Stir in salsa and tomatoes. Bring to boil.
  5. Turn heat to low. Stir in black beans and simmer for twenty minutes.
  6. Serve in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt, or cashew cream.


21 Day Whole Food Plant Based Meal Challenge

This Fall I spent five wonderful weeks immersed in Minnesota life, kids, grandkids, violin and piano lessons, soccer practices in the rain, 500 Rummy and Ticket to Ride games, reading stories, and over-indulging at local restaurants! While my heart was full, so was my belly and I gained a few pounds.

Photo Credit: grandson, Levi

My doctor once told me for every decade of life we need to increase our exercise and decrease our calorie intake. Certainly not rocket science, but in my relatively new decade of the 60’s, I guess it’s time to take that seriously.

Interestingly, when I arrived home from MN a food challenge popped up in my FB newsfeed. It was developed by an integrative specialist at the University of California Davis Integrative Medicine center (UCDIM). The post caught my attention because my family doctor, who I respect greatly, also practices integrative medicine.

UCDIM was sponsoring a 21 Whole Food Plant Based Eating Challenge replete with an online support group, meal planning calendar, and recipes.

A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil. (Forks Over Knives)

Maybe? I’m a little weird, but this challenge sounded intriguing. Perhaps I’d lose a little weight in the process! So I gave it a try and actually stuck with it for the full three weeks.

I am surprised by several of the outcomes~

  1. I always felt full. Amazingly, eating fruits, grains, vegetables, tubers, and legumes did not leave me hungry.
  2. I did not crave sugar.
  3. I did not miss meat, even chicken, which I love.
  4. I like Mediterranean meals.
  5. I did not miss salt when cooking with a good blend of spices and herbs.
  6. Sauteing with vegetable stock works and is quite palatable. I did not miss olive oil, which I love as much as chicken.
  7. I missed grabbing my favorite snacks such as cheese and crackers or a handful of chocolate chips, or a piece of dark chocolate, or about anything chocolate. I was surprised how dependent I am on those snacks.
  8. My go to cheap coffee treat wasn’t such a treat anymore. McDonald’s 79 cents senior coffee with three creams began making my stomach hurt. The little processed cream it offered just didn’t sit well with me.

And a few things I already knew~

  1. My kitchen would be extra messy due to the prep it takes for WFPB meals.
  2. Food prep would be time consuming.
  3. I wouldn’t like most Asian spices and vinegars that the recipes required.
  4. Tofu would continue to gross me out and I would ignore meals with tofu.
  5. My husband wouldn’t be eating like this due to his food sensitivities.
  6. All natural Ohio maple syrup is my friend.
  7. I don’t plan on shunning meat, dairy, or sugar forever.
  8. Making vegetable stock is rewarding. I suppose that’s a little silly, but it makes me feel so resourceful. I regularly save veggie scraps in the freezer for a big crockpot of stock when I’m running low.

What I will do more often because of this challenge~

  1. Make more vegetable stock. Here’s a quick lesson if you wonder how to do it.
Put a bunch of veggie scraps such as celery, peppers, and green bean ends, carrot, onion and potato peels, etc. in a crockpot and fill with water. I keep a running batch of them in the freezer that I add to when I prepare food. Fill crockpot with water, set on low for about 8 hours give or take.
Strain stock into a large bowl. Pour into jars, filling to an inch from the top. Freeze. I keep the larger one in the fridge to have on hand for sautéing.

2. I’ll eat more oatmeal for breakfast. This Banana Bread Crockpot Oatmeal is so satisfying and tasteful. It truly tastes like yummy banana bread. I especially like the consistency which is fluffier and more pleasant than gloppier oatmeal.


A small crockpot that my daughter gave me is the perfect size for this recipe when cut in half. I end up with leftovers for two more breakfasts (less if I can get Jim to eat it). Or for those of you with kids at home just make the recipe as written and cook in a regular size crockpot.

For recipe, go here.

Peaches from my freezer and a few fresh banana slices on top~ or go with a drizzle of maple syrup

3. I hope to experiment more with oil-free dressings. In a WFPB diet, oils are out because they are a processed food. One of my former students, a nutritionist and specialist in eating disorders, suggested I sauté my vegetables in water. I think I looked at her like she was crazy. The fine folks at Today’s Kitchen Store  proposed I omit oil from my salad dressings and use fruit or herb flavored vinegars. Then I read Forks Over Knives which preaches the same thing about going oil free.

Hearing this three times was a charm so I tried out  Jane Esseltyn’s 3-2-1 Salad Dressing found in F.O.K. For recipe, go here. Basically, it’s balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, and maple syrup. I think it’s delicious. Most others I’ve tried fall flat for me. This dressing is especially tasty on Asian chopped salads. It’s a cinch to make and a little goes a long way.

4. It’s been good to incorporate new recipes into my meal planning. To sign up for the UCDIM MenuBook that I followed for three weeks, go here.

Some of my favorites from UCDIM~

Breakfast Potatoes from UCDIM MenuBook and Chocolate-Banana Smoothie


The smoothie is an old standby for me. Blend four ice cubes, 1 tbsp. ground flax meal, 1 small, frozen, diced banana, one handful of frozen kale, 1 tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder, and 8 ounces of almond milk. (Fresh basil courtesy of my neighbor, Joanne)

Roasted Rice and Kale Stuffed Peppers from UCDIM
Go here for recipe.


Sweet and Tart Baked Apples from UCDIM
Go here for recipe.

Holiday Wild Rice With Cranberries and Pecans from UCDIM
Go here for recipe. I omitted the cranberries and subbed sweet potatoes for the butternut squash.



Oatmeal Pear Crisp from UCDIM MenuBook



Spicy Black Bean and Corn Salad from UCDIM MenuBook



Sometimes checking out new recipes can be addicting and I need to take a break from all my internet searches. But it would be fun to hear what recipes you’re trying, or what flavors you’re “chasing” as the pro chefs like to say. 

The best part of this challenge was finding more vegetable dishes I like. It’s so easy to go through the day and not eat a single veggie! This rings especially true on days like today, when I snacked my way through our downtown Holiday Shop Hop. ‘Tis the season, right?

Holiday Blessings,

Stone, Gene. 2011. Forks Over Knives





Stocking Up

Last year’s post. Making a lot more vegetable stock these days. Both are good for you and a fresh alternative to butter and oil in your sauté pan.

Season Six(ty) life in the 60 something years

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Today we celebrated with Jim’s mom and sister. I used homemade turkey stock I had on hand in the freezer for the turkey gravy (gravy recipe courtesy of Pioneer Woman.) More on that later . . .


If you haven’t embraced making your own chicken, turkey, vegetable, or beef stock, now is a great time! Save that Thanksgiving turkey carcass, or ask your holiday hosts if they want to part with theirs. Stock is healthy, easy, delicious, and economical.

I got hooked on making homemade stock thanks to Lisa Leake’s encouragement on her  100 Days of Real Food blog. Basically, real food to Lisa means bypassing food purchases that boast more than five ingredients on the label. Anymore than that and, Lisa contends,  you will probably be eating chemicals. Homemade stock requires only real food ingredients which is a necessity for Jim and…

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Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers (inspired by University of California Davis Integrative Medicine Menu Book)

Looking for a lighter selection for your meal planning? In between heavy holiday meals and cookie laden Christmas parties, you can pace yourself with a nod to vegetables, whole grains, and fruit. This recipe yields four half stuffed peppers; I ate two halves for dinner and froze the other two. Pair with fresh fruit.


I switched up a few ingredients from the original recipe to suit my personal preferences. One time I made these with leftover hash browns (leaving out the sweet potato) instead of rice and they were just as tasty. I’ve also used spinach instead of kale since that’s what I had on hand.


2 red, green, or yellow peppers, halved longways, pulp and seeds removed

3/4 cup vegetable stock

1/2 large yellow onion, diced

1/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts, diced

1 sweet potato, cooked and diced

1 cup of kale or spinach, chopped

2 cups of cooked brown rice


worcestershire sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a small cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Heat a skillet on medium. I use a large enamel cast iron pan. Splash some vegetable stock in the pan of your choice. Add onions and cook until softened. Add splashes of stock as needed so onions don’t stick.
  3. Add artichoke hearts, remaining vegetable stock, cooked rice, sweet potatoes, and kale. Cook and stir occasionally until kale is wilted.
  4. Season with pepper and 3 splashes of worcestershire sauce.
  5. Fill halved pepper cups.
  6. Place on cookie sheet. Bake for twenty minutes.


Aren’t they pretty on this plate? My daughter picked out this classic ivy pattern for me several years ago for Christmas? my birthday? (can’t remember) and I use them everyday.





Four Easy Tablescapes for Holiday Meals

My son Jeff says with our recent move we’ve “right-sized.” Right-sizing was right for us at this season of life, but poses some interesting challenges. We actually have more rooms, but they’re definitely smaller more intimate! Sadly, I no longer have space for our large harvest table. I sure do love that piece. But I am very thankful that our table found a new home in our daughter’s dining area. With a family of seven it’s definitely being put to good use!

Our newest edition, Calvin Isaac!

It’s been a fun table to decorate during the holidays. Here are four of my favorite tablescapes that take very little time to do and not a lot of creative know-how. (Just in case you’re like me and your art skills got stuck at the kindergarten level.)

Kid Friendly Family Table


One of our family holiday habits is to linger at the table long after the feasting is over. That means coffee, dessert, more coffee and dessert, and a lot of talking. One year I hosted about 10 family members and knew a lot of conversations would create loooooong lingering. We’re also known for chatting away during the meal, so the whole event can drag out for our grandsons. Of course the boys aren’t going to leave the table before dessert, so I copied the restaurant trick to keep little hands busy.

(Pictures from Thanksgiving, 2014)

Our #2 little Indian, Owen, with Mommy and Uncle Jack

I figured if giving kids crayons and coloring paper works while eating out, it would work well at home, too.  I covered the perimeter of the table with butcher block paper, set a small mason jar of crayons at each place setting, and provided sheets of Thanksgiving stickers. Yes, the adults got them, as well! No one could resist coloring. It was rather interesting to watch the big people fashion turkeys and pumpkins with their colors.

Our oldest “little Indian” Levi with Great Grandma Thomas, Aunt Jerri, and Silas (# 3 Indian)



With all the Thanksgiving dishes to pass and many place settings, there’s not much room for a centerpiece. For this tablescape, I just pulled a few things together I had around the house.

Small green cloth in center, lantern candle, pumpkin gourds, and tepee

Our little artist, Owen, was last to leave the table. No surprise! I think he used every sticker that was left behind by the rest.


Oh, and the boys loved wearing the Indian feathers that I bought at a party store. I wish I had thought to buy pilgrim hats for the adults.


Grandpa fitting Indian feathers on Levi

Autumn Harvest Table

Visually, this is my favorite. I still have the bittersweet that I bought from a local repurpose shop. It also makes a pretty arrangement in the living room for the Fall season.


Thanks, pinterest, for the idea to float pine sprigs and tea lights in mason jars. The bittersweet makes a strong focal point and mini pumpkins mark the season.

I love cobalt blue Fiesta Ware. Blue hadn’t been part of my decor for a long time. And I missed it! But when we decided to move, I knew I would go back to it. I discovered my friend Jeanie had her eye on my dinner ware in the more earthy tones and she owned my favorite blue Fiesta Ware, so we traded! Both in our 60’s, we weren’t motivated to spend money on new place settings. So the swap worked out perfectly.


Winter Theme Tablescape

I found these winter snow scene dishes at a clothing shop, of all places. In order to get 12 sets, my sister-in-law and I helped the store clerk dismantle Christmas displays around the store and in the window. It was great fun walking around the shop, finding the pieces to make a set. On top of the sale price, I got a discount for opening up a charge. I’m all for a good deal!


The red chargers were bought at an after Christmas sale at Hobby Lobby. The eucalyptus wreath was a steal at Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Wreaths make an easy centerpiece with a pillar candle. The little holly plants were take home gifts for Jim’s mom and sister.


The lighted pencil tree in the background was also from ReStore. Love buying second hand items at a low price! Rather pretty with the chandelier lights lowered.


Simple Christmas Setting

That lantern and candle get a lot of use. The greens are real and I just pulled out some ribbon and red berries from my Christmas decorations.

It’s been heartwarming for me to reminisce over our dining room table. Is that silly? Of course, the precious reminders are the living ones and the ones to which we have said good-bye, our family that supped together over many a holiday meal. Tomorrow my daughter hosts her husband’s family for Thanksgiving; more memories around this great table will be made. Christy is an excellent planner, amazing baker, and great cook. It will be a wonderful day of new traditions with some old favorite family recipes. I confess I’m quite proud of her.

(By the way, now that we’ve moved, blue is almost in every room. Eventually we will get past “early construction” and I’ll have some pictures to post.)

Happy Thanksgiving!






Minnesota Memories (and the reality of long distance kids)

My sweet friend Vicky emailed upon the arrival of her second grandson, hundreds of miles away from her home. She wanted to know how I manage emotionally with long distance kids and grandkids. Vicky knows I feel her pain. Brian and his family live in China, Jeff lives in the state of Washington, and Christy and her family reside in Minnesota.

Our Minnesota Family~ First Photo of 7 with Newborn, Calvin

Vicky’s email surfaced some nagging questions asked by many friends in the same boat.  How can we be “effective” grandparents when we don’t live in close proximity? How can we love and serve our far away families? 

The Grandparent Study, while dated but informative nevertheless, notes “the vital factor of grandparent presence has been shown to be positively correlated with a child’s emotional security” (Kornhaber, 1996,Hagestad, 1985). Data analysis of the concept of “being there” revealed grandparent and grandchild companionship related to well-being. 

So what’s a long distance grandparent to do? Well the good news is, those of us who live miles away can be equally impactful in the psychological wellness of our grandchildren. This proved true in the data analysis of ninety-four grandchildren. The defining factors included: good communication between grandparent and grandchild, forming an alliance of understanding with them, and becoming active partners in finding ways to be together (Kornhaber, 1996). In other words, fostering these three areas with our grandchildren can help us become the effective grandparents we all long to be. 

While we certainly don’t have this all figured out, Jim and I choose not to dwell negatively on the distance between us and our kids/grandkids.  We try to find creative ways for all of us to be together. An extended stay rental in Annandale, MN turned out to fit the bill.

The main purpose of our Fall 2016 Minnesota visit was to be present for the birth of my daughter’s FIFTH son. We wanted to spend both quality and quantity time during their transition to a family of six to seven. So with the help of Debbie, my sister-in-law who is savvy to vacation rentals, we found this great place 30 minutes from Christy and Isaac’s. An extended stay residence allowed us the opportunity to be available for a good stretch of time as well as enjoy an Autumn season vacation with our grandsons and their Mom and Dad.


I spent an amazing five weeks (Jim, two) in this cozy place on Clearwater Lake. Minnesotans call retreats like these “cabins.”  In Ohio, they would be marketed as lovely, lake homes! Actually it’s a converted garage, but you’d never know it from the inside. It boasted of tasteful decor, a fully equipped kitchen, comfortable beds, and was impeccably clean. Since we rented it during the “off season” I was able to negotiate the price. It still wasn’t cheap, but well worth the investment. Most importantly for us, we were only steps away from the lake.

Breathtaking at times.

Photo Credit: Isaac Gould

I knew our grandsons would have a blast playing around the lake area. Our rental hosts took us all for a pontoon ride and even let the boys steer. Sleeping at the cabin was a novelty and a bit of an adventure for the boys, as well. At their ages, simple pleasures bring much joy. 

Speaking of simple pleasures, I could be content just staring at the water.


 Morning, noon, and night, Clearwater Lake was stunning. We had many peaceful moments relaxing at the water’s edge. In this sixty-something season, corralling four loving, energetic, smart, and creative busy boys definitely necessitated some down time.


Not ducks, but coots. They’re prolific on Minnesota lakes. So fun to watch. 


Hands down, twilight was my favorite time to behold the beauty of Minnesota skies and water.

And obviously our greatest new blessing to behold, Calvin Isaac Gould.


Love, love, love, holding this little cuddle bug. Calvin is such an alert little guy, as you can see as he gazes into Mama’s eyes.


Grandpa and Calvin, five weeks old


Suffice to say, I downed a lot of caffeine to keep up with a super busy household. Thank you Caribou Coffee and Liquid Assets. Just look at this crew. Five weeks of go, go, go. (Silly Daddy.)


Besides great coffee, I frequented one of the best of the best restaurants and bakery ever. I DID NOT pass up those Minnesota specialties at the Nelson Bros. Restaurant and Bakery at the Clearwater Travel Plaza (conveniently located on the way from the cabin to Christy and Isaac’s home).  Jim and I lingered over coffee and gourmet breakfasts in the morning when we were sans kids.

This was no ordinary truck stop. A major part of the complex is the cozy restaurant with the friendliest of servers, a coffee station, sandwich deli bar, ice cream counter, pizza ovens, and take home section.
Nelson Bros. Yummy Morning Fare Fritter French Toast & a side of Wild Rice Sausage Links
The Bakery, OH MY

When in Rome . . .

stearns-history-museum-logo_mediumthumbWhat’s nice about hanging around for five weeks is the opportunity to do a variety of activities. The county history museum offers a children’s play area, busy boards on the museum hallways, and interactive displays to help the kids engage in the pioneer life of early Minnesotan settlers.


Image from Wikipedia


Much to our delight, our oldest grandson Levi loves to ice skate. Both Jim and I have skated since we were kids, and Jim is a hockey fanatic. So the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center is a favorite.



I also had the joy of facilitating the creation of Halloween costumes. I gathered the materials and the boys painted, blended colors, and painted some more until they achieved the look they wanted. Let me tell you, they knew exactly what they were going for. I think they were happy with the results.

Jupiter and Saturn boys

Near or far, grandparenting is exhilarating, exhausting, and life-giving. It’s a whole new identity. I think grandparent expert Arthur Kornhaber nails it when he declares:

“Every time a child is born, a grandparent is born, too.”


Kornhaber, Arthur. 1996. Contemporary Grandparenting. Thousand Oaks, California:
Sage Publications.