Friday, April 23, 2010

Baked Potato Night and Other Buffet Meals at the Knowles House

Dear friends,

I count myself quite fortunate that I only have to cook three nights a week, since my husband and a few of our daughters each have an assigned dinner making night.  My turns are on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday.  Melody (4) is always asking me, "Who is cooking tonight?"  I think she's going to learn all the days of the week just asking that.   Sometimes I just fix something quick like spaghetti or baked chicken, but I try to make a more creative and unique meal whenever I can.

My friend Tonya and I often talk about cooking while we go on our morning walks once or twice a week.  She has a wonderful blog called Mrs. T.'s Thoughts from a Titus 2 Mom.  The other day we were talking about potatoes and garlic, since she had done a feature on How to Peel Garlic / Best Mashed Potatoes Ever.  I usually take the easy way and use the minced garlic that comes in a jar, but occasionally I chop up some fresh.   Each head of it pulls apart into cloves, as in the picture.

Anyway, coinciding with this discussion, I had just been to our local Aldi discount grocery store and found a bag of 16 potatoes on sale for 79 cents.  My kids, especially Micah, love for me to bake a whole bunch of them and have a potato buffet with all sorts of toppings.  So that's what we did tonight, and since I happened to have a head of fresh garlic on hand, I took the time to pop onto Tonya's blog for a refresher.   We also had butter, sour cream (fat free, which the kids don't like as much), shredded cheddar cheese, fried turkey ham diced into pieces, and fried turkey breast.

A few little tips and tricks for potato night and other crowd cooking:

When you are cooking a bunch of things, you might need to keep some of them warm.  A thick dish towel does the trick for a pan of potatoes.  I baked the whole bag of them, so to speed things up, I put 5 or 6 at a time into the microwave to get them going while the others were already in the regular oven.    When a plate was done in the microwave, it went into the oven with the rest of them.   We'll use the left over potatoes for lunch tomorrow.   Yum!

Serving butter to a crowd is a whole lot easier and neater if you have a simple old-fashioned butter slicer, like the one we inherited from my mother-in-law.  Naomi helped me out here!  Many hands make light work.  Naomi also often shreds cheese if we are using a block of mozzarella.  Unfortunately, our grater just fell apart, so we used pre-shredded cheddar.  We keep shredded cheese in the freezer since we buy 5 pounds at a time from Sam's Club. I had to remember to thaw it out ahead of time on a pie pan.

I sauteed the onions and garlic in olive oil.  This doesn't have to be expensive.  I buy mine at Aldi, and the bottle looks fancy enough to satify the aesthete in me.  I also use canola oil for sauteeing foods, depending on what recipe I'm making. 

I served the toppings in soup bowls. I bought these for only $1 a piece at Walmart since so many of our glass Corelle bowls have broken over the past 25 years. We don't like to use plastic bowls in the microwave, so it's nice to have a stack of sturdy glass ones on hand.  They make pretty matching serving dishes when we're doing a buffet.

At our house, half the fun is getting to serve yourself on a buffet night.  Even little Melody gets to help herself to her favorites.
Here's my plate.  I don't like sour cream much at all, but I  sure love butter!  The turkey ham is inexpensive, only about $1.50 a pound at Walmart.  That's the diced brown stuff on the potato to the right.  I had bought a few turkey hams at Eastertime, but since we'd had to cancel our big Easter dinner because of illness, I had plenty to spare.  I needed to use it up.  The turkey breast at the front is from Aldi, purchased last week half price.  Our other favorite meat topping is bacon, but we didn't have any available tonight.  We just used what we had on hand.

That's our baked potato buffet night!  Two of our other favorite build-your-own buffets are:

Mexican Night with all of the ingredients for tacos and burritos: seasoned ground beef or ground turkey, warmed tortillas and taco shells, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, green peppers and onions, etc.  We actually did a huge version of this, with many more ingredients like guacamole, for our daughter Mary's wedding reception.  The guests loved it.

Fruit and Waffle Night with sliced up fruits, waffles, syrup, and whipped cream.   When I am topping waffles, I use different fruits than I would for a regular fruit salad.  I like to use a frozen three berry blend from Aldi (blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries), as well as sliced fresh strawberries.  Some of our kids like cantaloupe, and fresh pineapple is also a treat.   It's always easy to find a helper for slicing fruits because all of our kids like it so much. I buy non-dairy whipped topping in a tub, but Tonya has written about how to make it the real stuff: Making Homemade Whipped Cream.

Many delicious blessings to you and yours...


Sunday, April 18, 2010

True Repentance (It's a Very Good Thing!)

Hey, don't let that title scare you! Even if you aren't a religious person, you might want to read to the end… There's something there just for you!

Dear friends,

Whenever we extract a sound bite from what someone else has said or written, we run the risk of the words being misconstrued since they are out of context. As a writer and speaker, I've often had that happen to me.

Yesterday on Facebook, I noticed that our youth pastor, Jesse Phillips, had posted a snippet of a John Piper sermon from the T4G (Together for the Gospel) conference that he and our other pastors attended this week. I'm assuming he was trying to provoke thought and discussion when he quoted: "We sin every time we repent for sinning." Huh, what? Jesse must have been successful on the provoking part because he had a flurry of comments, including several from me. Two of my replies were:

"With a focus like this, why get up in the morning? Why do anything? I stand with being completely covered with the blood of Christ, and that my repentance is pleasing to the Lord. He knows our frame. To focus on repentance being tainted is to detract from its inherent beauty. He forgives us, not on the purity of our repentance, but on the purity of his mercy. So I walk in the victory of knowing him, and this gives me the confidence to go do the good things I know he has called me to do (including repentance), not worrying overmuch if they are somehow not good enough. My gifts, my heart, my worship are given in love, and even this feeble human love is gladly received by the very Source of that love. We are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12)."


"With all due respect, I spent enough years dwelling on sin and my inherent failure to be good enough, but the real joy and peace came when I started resting on who I am in Christ, in God’s work in me, and in the empowering fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit. It is the intense focus on our sinfulness that has led so many people to become discouraged with life and with church. A focus on the victory of Christ leads to liberty and progress. It is indeed a matter of focus, but that little matter makes all the difference to me and to so many others. I’ve tasted the sweet goodness of God and there’s no way I am going back. I hope to lead some others along with me in the process."

I still stand by those comments, but I decided to think a little bit more about Jesse's explanation that, "His (Piper's) point is that our motives are always mixed and tainted by sin. Even the good things we try are not perfect…" and "Sin is not just sinful acts, but missing the mark in general, which we always do (Romans 3)."

Even though I would have chosen better words to describe it, I would agree with them that sometimes our repentance falls short of the mark, and I'm sorry I reacted so defensively to him quoting it.   Anyway, I was thinking early this morning about what true repentance is. The Golden Rule, "Do to others what you would have them do to you," came to mind. How do I want other people to repent when they have offended me? I should do the same, not just for them, but for God.

So, without a long chapter-and-verse theological treatise, here is my take on what real repentance looks like -- at least ideally (recognizing of course that I fall short of this every single time!):
  • I will listen when others come to me and tell me that they are concerned or have been offended by what I have done, said, or even communicated through my body language. I will think about this, and discern whether there is truth to what they are saying. Even if I do not agree or if I think the accusation was unfair or poorly presented, I will not react with defensive anger, but I will communicate my perspective to them pleasantly and ask for any needed clarification.
  • I will acknowledge my hurtful attitudes, words, and actions. I will not deny that I did them or that they were wrong, nor will I come up with a dozen excuses or find a way to blame anyone else for what I did. (That is not to say that someone else wasn't wrong too or that their actions shouldn't be addressed as well, just that I can't blame my action on them. I still have to take the responsibility for my part.)
  • I will explore and seek to understand specifically how these attitudes and actions have dishonored God and/or hurt someone else, and I will take steps toward restoring peace and making any necessary restitution. This includes apologizing to the offended party and to anyone else affected by my poor example, paying for damages, attempting to repair someone's reputation if I have slandered them, etc.
  • I will try to discern the root causes and motivations (anger, pride, selfishness, fear, ignorance, laziness, etc.) for what I did so that I can change my behavior in the future. If I am really sorry, I won't want to do it again, and I will be proactive about this.  I will not give up, even if I continue to fail in the same area.
  • I will realize that I can't do any of this in my own strength and wisdom, so most of all, and through it all, I will ask God for his gracious help and guidance. I will thank him for forgiving me, not on the basis of my behavior, but on the mercy of Jesus dying on the cross as a sacrifice for my sin.
Did I cover everything there? Probably not! Oh well, at least it's a start! Now to do it that way. That's quite another story, for sure.

When I think of repentance like this, I don't see a morbid preoccupation with failure or shame. I see a very good thing, a healing thing, a positive thing that brings about lasting change, a beautiful ripple effect. If everyone took repentance so seriously, wouldn't the world be a better place for all of us?

By the way, I think I have a little apologizing to do myself now!  Jesse, I'm sorry for jumping on your case so quickly without thinking more deeply about what you were trying to communicate!  I was wrong and I'll do better next time!  Really, truly! :-)

OK, to my non-religious friends who have been kind enough to stick with me this long, thanks! I know that repentance might be a theological word that's not part of your daily  vocabulary, and that all this talk about God could make you squirm. I can relate. In fact, in my younger years, I was actually quite hostile to pushy Christians who rattled on about sin and judgment. You might like to read my 2008 essay, "Lord, Have Mercy!"  in which I tell my story of finding grace -- in spite of myself.

Thanks for reading! Please hit the comment button and let me know what you think!

In grace,
Virginia Knowles

Monday, April 12, 2010

To Life!

Yesterday was my daughter Julia's 21st birthday. She is such a blessing to me. I love to see how she has gotten involved in the pro-life movement, showing up at an abortion clinic every Tuesday during her lunch hour to stand and pray for Allura, a woman from church who faithfully paces the sidewalks to try to convince the women not to kill their unborn babies. Saturday night, Julia spent the night with friends, so the first time I saw her yesterday was after church. She had a little Haitian baby girl in her arms. Her friend Stephanie held the twin sister. (The picture above is so small because I uploaded it from my new camera phone.) Where did Julia meet the precious mommy of these babies? In front of the abortion clinic, where she had gone to abort them over a year ago. She left, choosing life. Now she has two beautiful chubby little 5 month old baby princesses, all decked out in frilly dresses. Allura and her friends have helped the parents (who have a toddler son, too) in all sorts of ways, with money, food, and baby gifts. And Mommy and Daddy were there at church, beaming with joy. They chose life. I am so touched that Julia has a heart for the sanctity of life, too. Then my oldest daughter Mary told me of a young woman whom she met at her husband Ryan's 10th high school reunion. The woman is pregnant and planning to abort, but taking a poll to see what others thought she should do. Mary, who is several months pregnant herself with my grandson Jacob, said, "Don't take a poll. Talk to God about it. Keep your baby. It's the right thing to do." The lady e-mailed her sonogram pictures a few weeks later. Pray she will continue to choose life for her baby. We too, must stand against this holocaust of our day.

(I just compiled a vocabulary list for the Jewish Holocaust at

L'Chaim! (To Life!) and Shalom (Peace and Wholeness)


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Paradoxes & Poems

Dear friends,

"Jesus had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
Had no army, yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today."

My new friend Pat Finch, whom I met in the post office this past week, sent this to me.  She was supposed to come for Easter dinner today, along with some of our other friends, but we had to cancel because three of us came down with the tummy flu last night. 

Anyway, what she sent me reminds me of a poem I wrote at Christmastime many years ago, but that is just as relevant at Easter.

The Paradox

by Virginia Knowles

Come, see where He lays,
Good Shepherd and Little Lamb
King of Kings and Servant of All
Prophet and Prophecy Fulfilled
Physician and Wounded One
High Priest and Atoning Sacrifice
Counselor and Rejected One
Builder and Foundation Stone
Righteous Judge and Condemned Prisoner
Ancient of Days and Newly-born Babe
God and Man

Jesus is a paradox, a seeming contradiction in terms. Who is he? What is his nature? And why did he come? If you have ever wondered how to understand or explain the mystery of Jesus, I invite you to look up the following passages, which correspond line by line to the facets expressed in the "The Paradox."

◦ John 10: 11 / John 1:29
◦ Revelation 19:16 / Mark 10:43-45, Philippians 2:7
◦ Luke 7:16 / Matthew 1:22, Luke 4:16-21 (Isaiah 61:1-3)
◦ Matthew 15:29-31 / Isaiah 53:4-6
◦ Hebrews 7:23-28 / Hebrews 9:11-14, 10:19-22
◦ Isaiah 9:6 / Isaiah 53:3, John 10:22-33
◦ Hebrews 3:3, Matthew 16:18 / 1 Peter 2:4-9
◦ John 8:1-11, Acts 10:42-43, Acts 17:30-31 / Mark 14:60-65
◦ Daniel 7:13-14 / Luke 2:8-20
◦ John 1:1-5, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:19-20 / 1 Timothy 2:5, Romans 1:1-4

While I'm thinking of Easter poetry, I'll just tuck in two more that I wrote in my younger years (hence the maiden name).

Creator on the Cross

by Virginia Quarrier, 1984

Oh, the love of the Holy God
For man whose life was lost
No greater love there is than this
My Creator on the cross.

He made me, yet he died for me
He paid the greatest cost,
The blood of Jesus Christ the Son,
My Creator on the cross.

Grace abounding and mercy free
Set fire to my frost
My blackest sin washed white by him
My Creator on the cross.

How Will They Know?
by Virginia Quarrier, 1980

When I was young, I went to Sunday school.
I learned “Do Unto Others”, that Golden Rule
I learned that Jesus loved children and fed the sheep,
But I never did give him my soul to keep.

How will they know unless we tell them?
How will they know unless we show them from his word?
I don’t like to think of where I would be right now,
If I had never, never heard.

Heaven was just like Santa Claus,
You’ve got to be good to get your reward,
You have to do right or you won’t get in.
No one told me that God forgives sin.

I guess I knew that Jesus died,
The pictures on the wall showed him crucified
But no one told me what he died for
I really wish they had told me more.

Easter was just a new spring dress,
Dolling up in our Sunday best,
Bunnies and chickies, and “Watch how you behave!”
No one told me Jesus rose from the grave.

No one told me that he was coming again
To take his loved ones back with him.
I thought when he left he was gone for good,
I only wish I had understood.

No one told me to ask him in
To enter my heart and take out the sin
To take my life as Savior and Lord
And that he was knocking on my heart’s door.

Somebody finally told me all the things I’m telling you.
Somebody finally told me all the Gospel truth.
I finally told Jesus I wanted him as my Lord,
When somebody finally cared enough to show me from his Word.

How will they know unless we tell them?
How will they know unless we show them from his word?
I don’t like to think of where I would be right now,
If I had never, never heard.


If you want to read some of my newer Easter poems, you can see them here: Easter Poetry & Art

Resurrection Blessings,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Good Friday
by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky.
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.


Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvatore Dali, 1951

Who Overcame Evil by Good
by Mary Whitcomb Hess
after a homily by Saint Amphilochius in the 4th Century

They stretch Him
On a Cross to die ---
Our Lord Who first
Stretched out the sky

Whose countenance
The cherubim
Dare not gaze on …
They spat on Him

And gave Him gall
To drink
Though He
Brings us wells
Of eternity.

He prays for them
“Father, forgive…”
For He was born
That all might live.

Round the sealed tomb
Of Him they’ve slain
They set a guard
In vain, in vain

Round Him
Creation can’t contain
Who dies for us
To rise again.


Have a blessed Good Friday, dear friends.

May I ask, "Is the Cross a Way of Life for You?"

Joy and peace,
Virginia Knowles

An Afternoon at the Beach

Dear friends,

Yesterday my husband Thad spontaneously suggested that we load up the kids in the van and take a quick afternoon trip to New Smyrna Beach, which is an hour away.   There was still "a method to his madness" since Joanna needed a ride over there to celebrate a friend's birthday this weekend.  We were all so glad to get out of the house, especially since our five younger children had spend most of this spring break week down with the stomach flu! 

We had just a couple of hours to make some sandwiches, buy some more sun lotion and drinks, and find everyone's swim suits and such.  We stayed on the beach for a couple of hours, then ate our dinner at the picnic tables.  I didn't get too many pictures, but when Joanna gets home with her camera tomorrow, I might post some that she took. 

I guess I'm just a sentimental mommy!

Micah spent part of his time taking pictures of the birds, which is quite typical for him.  You can see more of his bird pictures, including two other gull ones here: Nature Study: It's for the Birds!

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