It’s Good to Have a Guide!

This is a traffic map of the way I get to work.

This morning it was pretty tame – most days, there’s a lot more red on the traffic maps early in the day, because traffic is usually a disastrous hot mess.  But I drive about 20 miles to work each day, so knowing what the route looks like can be a big help.

One morning this week, Brian left the house earlier than I did.  That usually doesn’t happen, as I’m most often out the door ahead of him.  But on this particular day, he was ahead of me.  We often talk on the phone in the mornings, and we were talking that day (thank you, Bluetooth, for letting us talk without holding phones up to our ears!).  As we talked, he told me what traffic looked like on the bridge across the Mississippi River.  He was able to tell me where the slowdowns were, and said I might want to get off on a side street and pick up the interstate farther along the way.  I did, and it saved me some time and headache in traffic.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone who could act as a guide for us in our everyday lives?  Someone who’d already been where we were going and could give us directions as to what path we should take?  Wow, that would be amazing.

You know what?  We do.

There isn’t a place we’re headed to that God hasn’t walked before us.  There isn’t a day we face that He hasn’t seen.  He knows what’s coming, and He stands ready to walk with us through whatever each day may bring.

As Lauren Daigle says in her song Trust in You, “Your ways are always higher, Your plans are always good, There’s not a place that I’ll go You’ve not already stood.”  What a marvelous thought.  I don’t have to fear the future because I have a Guide who has already seen what’s around the corner.  He’s just waiting for me to trust Him to direct my path.

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Brian’s best Christmas present ever – the Cameron’s stovetop smoker

Okay, maybe not the best *ever*, but certainly the hit of 2016 – Brian got this Cameron’s Stovetop Smoker, and it is fabulous!!!  We’d talked about something like a Big Green Egg or a Kamado Joe, but those were really more than our budget could handle.  When he found this little gem, it seemed like the perfect fit.

The Stovetop Smoker comes with everything you need to get started – the smoker, the drip pan, the rack, and three good-sized samples of wood chips.  Ours came with hickory (the granddaddy of all woods for some good smoke flavor!), pecan, and alder, which is a good selection to get started with.

The first time we fired it up, we decided to make smoked meatloaf.  A local barbecue restaurant serves smoked meatloaf, and it’s my favorite, so that seemed like an appropriate first choice for our new stovetop smoker.  I used my Dr Pepper Meatloaf recipe from one of my Baylor cookbooks.

You don’t need a lot of wood to bring some big smoky flavor to your food.  Just a tablespoon or two of wood chips in the bottom of the pan is all you need.

smoker-wood-chips

After you put your wood chips in the pan, you cover it with your drip pan, lined with foil, and your rack, sprayed with cooking spray.

smoker-prepared-drip-pan

And then you’re ready to get smokin’!  Here’s the meat loaf, shaped and ready to go.

smoked-meatloaf-ready-to-smoke

The Stovetop Smoker comes with a recipe guide, which is handy if you don’t know how long to smoke meat for.  The guide gave a time of 30 minutes for 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef in the form of hamburger patties.  We had about 1 1/2 pounds of meat in the form of two loaves, so we figured that would be a good starting point.

We put the lid on the smoker, set it on a stovetop burner, and let ‘er rip.  It works over any heat source, including open flame and electric stovetop.  We’ve got a gas stove, and we centered the smoker over one burner, as the instructions said.  And in just about half an hour, behold!  Glorious smoked meatloaf!

smoked-meatloaf-done

The one on the right was touching the top of the lid, so next time, I’d squash my meatloaf down a little flatter.  But it was tasty and delicious!  We’ve also done smoked hamburgers, which were a HUGE hit with Thing One and Thing Two.  We may never cook another hamburger on a grill again.

The Stovetop Smoker does release a little smoke into the kitchen, but it’s not much.  If it’s smoking too much, that’s easily fixed by tweaking the lid.  It’s stainless steel, so pretty easy to clean, and the pan is supposed to get darker with use (and ours definitely has).  We are enjoying the heck out of this thing, and I can’t wait to see what all we can smoke in the comfort of our kitchen.

If you think you’d like to try the Stovetop Smoker yourself, please feel free to use one of the links in my post.  Thanks!

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

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National Roof Over Your Head Day

Today is National Roof Over Your Head Day. I thought that was appropriate to post about during the holiday season. So often we get caught up in the whirl of parties and baking and decorating and finding just the right gift, and what should be a joyous season becomes a season of immense stress. We forget to stop and be thankful for what we have.

roof-over-your-head-day

I’m celebrating National Roof Over Your Head Day by saying a prayer of gratitude for our home. On this gray, chilly, rainy day, we’re warm and dry. Especially in this area, after the August floods, this is a blessing that many don’t have. Homes are in various stages of reconstruction, or have been destroyed utterly. Today, I don’t take the blessing of a home for granted. Whether your house is modern and luxurious, small and cozy, or just an average house on an average street, take time today to appreciate the roof over your head.

Today would also be a good day to consider making a donation to a local homeless shelter or other organization that gives people a place to come in out of the rain.

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Tuneful Tuesday: Flood and Hope Edition

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know south Louisiana has been hit hard by flooding in recent weeks.  (Or maybe you don’t, given the lack of significant national media coverage.)  The amount of rain that fell on parts of the greater Baton Rouge area in just a matter of days was more rain than Los Angeles has gotten in the last four YEARS.  Let that roll around in your brain for a minute.  Twenty, twenty-five, thirty inches or more of rain, in a matter of hours, days.  It’s done incredible amounts of damage, and I have friends and family who had to be rescued from their homes, and in some cases, who lost everything.  You see the devastation and it’s like you’re looking at a movie.  This can’t be real.  But it is.

Song:  “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman

When something like this happens, you hear people say about the wreckage, with the best of intentions, “It’s just stuff.”  And to some extent, perhaps that’s true.  Furniture, curtains, cabinets, dishes, all that can be replaced.  It’s the sentimental things that are harder to toss on the junk pile as “just stuff”.  Wedding photos.  The little outfit your baby wore home from the hospital after weeks in the NICU.  The cards your kids made you for Mother’s Day when they were young.  The love letters your father wrote to your mother when he was serving overseas in World War II.  Those things, once gone, can never be recreated.

But even so, there is a hope greater than the things we can see and touch and mourn the letting go of.  What peace comes when we can cling to the Hope of eternity, the Light of the world.

“So lift your voice just one more time
If there’s any hope may it be a sign
That everything was made to shine
Despite what you can see
So take this bread and drink this wine
And hide your spirit within the vine
Where all things will work by a good design
For those who will believe
And let go of all we cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue”

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1

 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.'” – John 8:12

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Sprucing the blog up a little….

Thanks to the lovely Giselle at A Book and a Cup of Coffee for my blog header!  I’m graphics challenged, so I really appreciate her designing the header for me.

What do y’all think?  🙂

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Book Review: Jilted by Varina Denman

Jilted CoverTitle:  Jilted
Author: Varina Denman
Genre: Drama
Publisher: David C. Cook
Date: June 1, 2016

Lynda Turner has struggled with depression since her husband abandoned her and their young daughter fifteen years ago. Yet unexpected hope awakens when a local ex-convict shows interest. As long-hidden secrets resurface, Lynda must fight for her emotional stability and for a life where the shadow of shame is replaced by the light of love.

 Jilted tells of a woman who has lost the joy of living, a man determined to draw her back toward happiness, and a town that must—once and for all—leave the past where it belongs. It is a gentle reminder that all things can work together for good.

 Don’t you hate it when you read a book or watch a movie and the main character is perfect? Or if they have flaws, they’re the adorably cute kind that everyone loves? I can’t relate to characters like that.  And that’s why I always enjoy it when I open a Varina Denman book. She doesn’t sugar-coat life and make it all seem perfect. Her characters have real lives, real struggles, and real issues. And through each journey, they need to learn how to deal with these issues.

Lynda Turner is one of those people. Life has dealt her some hard knocks, and she’s learned to deal with the pain by withdrawing, by remaining aloof.  Some of the people in Trapp, Texas, the small Panhandle town where she lives, think they know what kind of woman she is.  Clyde Felton is another.  Unjustly accused and sent to prison, he’s back home in Trapp now, and people think they know who he is – Clyde Felton, convicted felon.  He’s known Lynda for years, and he wants to let her know how he feels, but he’s not sure how she’ll take it.  When she realizes Clyde’s feelings for her, Lynda isn’t even sure how she’ll take it.  Can she let hope and love take root and grow?

There are moments in this journey that were difficult to handle. A couple of times, I felt like I was watching a movie through my fingers. Lynda’s feelings were turbulent and hard to handle. But the step by step journey as she took apart the bad memories and redefined her thoughts of herself and her situation were beautiful. Sometimes we all need to take a step back and see ourselves from a different perspective.

I really enjoyed this final chapter in the Mended Hearts series. The entire series, as a whole, gave an in-depth look into life in a small town, and as I grew up in a small town, I can relate to that. From those who spend their time focused on everyone else’s issues to those who feel that they are infallible, Denman nailed it.

This is one of those books you might want to tuck into your bag for the beach. A fast read, but one that doesn’t negate the depth of the characters. Entertaining from cover to cover, Jilted is a story that will stick with you in the best way possible.

Author Bio

Varina Denman is author of the Mended Hearts series and a native Texan. She spent her high school years in a rural town and now writes stories about the struggles women face in similar small town settings. She and her husband live near Fort Worth, where they enjoy spending time with their five mostly-grown children.

 Note: I received this copy of Jilted as a part of the Radiant Lit Jilted blog tour. The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com.

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Tuneful Tuesday: Josh Garrels

I don’t remember where and how I came across the music of Josh Garrels – oh, wait, yes, I do.  I was looking for some ambient-type music to try to help Thing One sleep (he preferred dubstep – definitely NOT restful, settling-down music, and that boy needs all the help he can get going to sleep), and came across some references to Christian ambient music.  I thought, huh, well, let’s see what that’s all about.  And behold, Josh Garrels.

While his lyrics aren’t always Bible-thumpin’, whack-you-over-the-head-with-Jesus, they are clearly influenced by a faith in God.  Here are two of my favorites:

Bread and Wine:

This song speaks to our need for community.  From the beginning, we were not intended to be alone, and a community of friends is one of the most important things we can have.

“If I fall, I fall alone, but two can help to bear the load
A threefold chord is hard to break
All I have I give to you if you will share your sorrows too,
Then joy will be the crown upon our heads
My friend”

And this.  The first Josh Garrels song I ever heard, and I was immediately taken with it.

The Resistance:

“Hold fast like an anchor in the storm
For your love, we will rise and overcome
Through the fire

“Hold fast my people and sing
Through peace and through suffering
All for the joy that it brings, to be free
It’s gonna cost us everything
To follow one Lord and King
True love endures everything
To be free”

Hold fast.  Endure.  Press on.  Love.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:1-3, NASB

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Happy Hug Your Cat Day! And National Adopt a Cat Month!

Did you know that June 4 is designated as Hug Your Cat Day?  In honor of this momentous feline occasion, I want to introduce our two cat-beasts.

This is Camille.

Camille at rest

Our cat Oscar had died in 2013 after living as Queen Sassy Cat for 20 years, and we hadn’t yet had the heart to bring another cat home.  Thing One was at his dad’s for Thanksgiving in 2014, and he called all excited, wanting to know could we bring a cat home from his dad’s house.  They had three cats and were looking to rehome them.  He chose the little gray and white one (who was named Oreo at that time, for reasons we can’t fathom – Oreos aren’t gray and white!)  We decided it was time, and Oreo the gray and white cat came home with us.  We promptly renamed her Camille.

She was a little bitty thing when we got her, with long, long fur she hadn’t yet grown into.  But she grew.  Oh, she grew!  We think she may have a little bit of Maine Coon in her, because she’s a sizable cat, with a lot of fur and big ol’ feet.

She is the cat who says, “if it fits, I sits”.

Commander Camille and Her Cardboard Spaceship

Commander Camille and Her Cardboard Spaceship

She’s a jumper.  The first time she ended up on the highest cabinet in our kitchen, we could hardly believe it.

Camille on the Cabinet

She’s fond of water.  She’ll come stare at the faucet when I’m at the sink with water running.  We often find her in the bathtub or the bathroom sink (but only if there’s no water actually in it).  And she does like fruit.  And books.

Camille and Bananas

Camille goes bananas

Camille with Books

Is that really a comfortable place to sit?

And since June is also National Adopt a Cat Month, how appropriate that we have another cat to write about!  Camille had lived with us a few months, and I happened to look at our parish’s shelter page.  I saw that a tuxedo cat, female, also (originally) named Oreo, was scheduled to be put down that Friday if she didn’t find a home.  I told Brian she was an Oreo cat, too, she needed to come live with us!  So I went to the shelter and brought her home, and she has been my cat ever since.  (And I do mean my cat.  If I sit down, she’s in my lap in about 3.2 seconds.  Anyone else, she pretty much looks at and runs away most days.)

We thought Oreo was kind of an obvious name for a black and white cat, so we renamed her Truffle.  Truffle is the longest, lankiest, skinniest cat I’ve ever seen.  If I didn’t know how much she eats, I’d swear she didn’t eat and was malnourished.  She’s not.  She’s just built this way.  Truffle is all long legs and big ears and big eyes.

Truffle helping with my work

Truffle helping with my work

Truffle at rest

Truffle at rest

Alien Truffle?

Alien Truffle?

We’ve joked that Camille is our therapy cat, because she’s big and fluffy and lets us pick her up and hug her, and Truffle is our cat that needs therapy, because she’s nervous and twitchy and always startled when someone walks up on her (on a serious note, we do wonder if maybe her previous owner wasn’t kind to her).  We love them both and are constantly entertained by them, and we hope they live long, healthy lives like Oscar did.

Now, go celebrate National Adopt a Cat Month by visiting your local shelter and bringing a new feline friend home.  And always have your cats spayed or neutered, so as to reduce the number of cats who end up in shelters and who end up running wild.

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Gardening as faith

Gardening Faith

“Gardening is a demonstration of faith; it’s belief in a tomorrow.”

So said my friend April on her Instagram account.  Those words spoke to me, and she was kind enough to let me use them.  The picture above is a picture from our garden, the first tomato to turn red.  Our tomatoes have really gone bonkers this year – it’s a contest to see which will take over the garden first, the tomatoes or our one cucumber plant.  We were thrilled to see the first fruit turning red, and we delight to see the plants laden with tomatoes just waiting to ripen.  (Tomato and cucumber salad, spaghetti sauce, salsa….)

But what April said really rang true with me.  Those of you who read my ramblings at bigfatf.com know that we’ve been kind of hanging on by a thread financially since I was out of work for a big chunk of 2014.  I loved the job I got with the state, loved my co-workers there, but the salary wasn’t enough to make ends meet, so we stayed in the hole even when I was working.

Praise God, I started a new job April 18 (there will no doubt be more on that later), and it does pay more.  But we’re *still* trying to dig our way out of the hole.  (Eight months of unemployment can put you in something that very much resembles a crater.)  We aren’t on an even keel financially yet, we’re facing the prospect of going back into default on the mortgage if we can’t get it caught up, and it’s tough.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.

But our garden.  We’ve planted it.  We’ve planted flowers.  Irises, my favorites, that come back and grow and bloom year after year.  Sunflowers (we had a random one pop up in the compost bin this year, and it was beautiful, and we had nothing to do with it).  If we move, whether by choice or by have-to, a garden isn’t exactly something we can pack up and take with us.  We planted those tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers in anticipation of being here to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

So like April said, our garden is belief in tomorrow.  We plant in a demonstration of faith.  We believe that God can make a way, that He is bigger than our finances, than our mortgage, than the mortgage company.  He can make the math work where we can’t, and He can make a way where there is no way.  And, God willing, we’ll be right here in this house to enjoy our tomatoes.

“We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-9

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Onward!

Big Fat F has moved.  The budget just didn’t allow for self-hosting right now (paying for our house is a little more important), so I’ve moved here.  If you’d like to keep following along, you can find us at https://bigfatfblog.wordpress.com.  🙂

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