Janet & Marian: A Tale of Two Houses

My writer friend Janet Givens and I have both said Goodbye to houses this summer. She, to a vacation house on a canal in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and me to our family homestead 12 miles from the beach in Jacksonville, Florida, geographically about 750 miles apart as the crow flies.


Our meeting in 2014 was also geographical – and digital. I responded to Janet’s post about her Peace Corps experience in Kazakhstan, linking her experience to my trip to Ukraine, both countries with a Soviet-era history. From there the connection continued on each other’s blogs. That was until I, along with 5-6 other writers, were invited to her cozy log house on the Island. You can view the view memories of that magical first trip here.


I know many of the nooks and crannies of Janet’s special place and feel I’m such a lucky duck to accept her invitation not once but twice to the spacious log house for a writers’ retreat. I can understand her bittersweet sentiments as she lets go of it now.

On both trips, we spent time writing, eating healthy food, talking and laughing in the sunroom, and gazing at the sparkly bay, which leads out to the Atlantic.


Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos
Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos

Ah, and seeing the ponies, personal and close up:


A Vermonter, Janet is bidding farewell to her second home after 22 years. We’ve lived in our house, our primary residence, for 37 years. Pencil marks on the kitchen door record our kids heights from ages 8 and 9 ½ until they were teens. Photos of our long history there fill family albums.


Of course it’s a cliché, but life really is all about trade-offs and feeling gratitude for what is now. I think Janet would agree with the J. R. R. Tolkien quote below. I know I do!


Maybe you have had attachments to a house in your past, perhaps a childhood home or one you used to own or visit.

Golly, it could be the one you live it right now.  Grab a cup of something cool or warm and let’s have a chat!    🙂

Above all, do check out Janet’s own thoughts about her love affair with the Chincoteague house here on her blog. You can also find a link to her memoir there: At Home on the Kazakh Steppe.


Mennonite Girls Can Cook

Yummy Recipe

Last week I was in the kitchen with my nearly vintage Mennonite Community Cookbook (1978) creased open to page 155 where I checked out the recipe for sautéed (Okay, I’ll admit, it’s fried!) egg-plant. Hours later when my new and improved Mennonite Community Cookbook arrived in the mail, I quickly turned to page 155, and behold there was the same egg-plant recipe contributed by Mrs. Hubert Pellman, wife of one of my favorite English professors at EMC. No, I didn’t use the new cookbook because I didn’t want to splotch it up. But when I switch over I’ll enjoy the spiral notebook style of binding and other updates on the new edition.




Here I substituted olive oil for lard.
Here I substituted olive oil for lard.

Blurb from the Old Mennonite Community Cookbook: First published in 1950, Mennonite Community Cookbook has become a treasured part of many family kitchens. Parents who received the cookbook when they were first married make sure to purchase it for their own sons and daughters when they wed.

The Mennonite Community Cookbook, 1950 – 2015

Dubbed the “grandmother of all Mennonite cookbooks” author Mary Emma Showalter compiled favorite recipes from hundred of Mennonite women who brought their recipes directly from Dutch, German, Swiss, and Russian kitchens. A “dab of cinnamon” or “ten blubs of molasses” have been translated into standard measurements. Fine pen & ink drawings of the pie shelf in the springhouse, outdoor bake ovens, the summer kitchen recall cookery in Grandma’s day.


You can buy the book here, or go to their MCC Facebook page and enter to win the cookbook. As of this date, there are drawings for free books every week.

Mennonite GIrls Can Cook

Also produced by MennoMedia (Herald Press): Mennonite Girls Can Cook, volume 1 and their second volume, Celebrations.


This book required collaboration from 10 authors (cooks and writers) all but one from Canada. Names like Friesen, Wiebe, Klassen, and Penner suggest their southern Russian (Ukrainian) roots.


Their Celebrations cookbook, on special for Mother’s Day (half-price until May 9), is a collage of recipes, of course, and meditations of faith celebrating milestones such as birth, marriage, and holidays illustrated with first-class photographs. Some surprises: a mini-pizza recipe faces one for homemade potato chips. Pages later, a lattice-topped grilled apple recipe followed by Borscht and Zwieback (first cookbook).

The authors emphasize “hospitality over entertaining” and “blessing rather than impressing.” Appropriately, the Celebrations book’s end-leaf posts a copy of Old Hundred, Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow. Best of all, royalties go to nourish children around the world. You can follow them on their blog, Mennonite Girls Can Cook, which attracts 7000 views daily.

Short History

Many Mennonites (Anabaptists) who live in the USA have Swiss roots, but fled to Germany to escape to religious persecution. When William Penn offered them rich farmland in Pennsylvania, these folks, my ancestors, immigrated in the 1700s with hopes of adapting their love of the land and family tradition to the New World. Similarly, Canadian Mennonite forebears fled western Europe and religious persecution to live in Russia from where they immigrated to Canada escaping political upheaval.

Tie-Dye Rainbow Cake!

I can’t wait to make the tie-dye rainbow cake with Jenna or one of the grand-boys, and soon! (Pages 60 and 61 in Celebrations)


Your turn: Are you familiar with either cookbook? Do you have a favorite recipe or cookbook – or do you just “wing it”? Thank you for sharing your thoughts here!

Coming next: An Orphan Speaks on Mother’s Day

Our Easter in Ukraine

Khristos voskres!

Christ is risen indeed!

These words spoken in Russian are the very first expression of Easter joy we hear on Sunday, April 24, 2011 as folks gather at Birth of Christ Church in Kiev, Ukraine, preparing for the worship hour.

Here is the choir after rehearsal preparing to ascend the steps to the sanctuary for the Easter service.

Easter_UK_Birth of Christ Choir

At the invitation of ABCLife, Kathy Gould’s ministry to children and families, husband Cliff and I spent two weeks in Kiev (April 8 – 28, 2011) and surrounding towns performing art and music shows in public schools and churches. His final program entitled “He is Risen” is presented here at Birth of Christ Church on Easter weekend.

After the exchange of greetings, we worship by singing songs of the resurrection and then thrill to the experience of seeing the “He is risen!” presentation accompanied by exultant music and special lighting effects.

Easter_Birth of Christ+new mural_6x4_300

Before the service, early this Sunday morning, we see a couple, basket of Easter bread and eggs in hand, wending their way toward a Ukrainian Orthodox church farther down the road. Ukrainians walk every where possible as cars are very expensive here, and today the weather is cool and gorgeous. This couple graciously allow me to photograph their beautiful paschal offering.


Their special bread is frosted and coated with sprinkles. Here is a recipe for Ukrainian Easter Bread (Paska) from Extending the Table, a World Community Cookbook published by MennoMedia in a revised edition. In my older edition from 1991, the recipe is found on page 65.

RecipeExtending the Table_recipe_p65

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After completing 19 shows in a 12-day period, we are ready for a respite, which we enjoy in Crimea: the ornate Livadia Palace, site of the signing of the peace treaty between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin; the Church of Foros with its onion domes, where celebrities marry. Then in a park in the city of Yalta, a statue of Pushkin, the celebrated Russian poet and one of Chekhov’s “Lady with Her Dog” virtually come to life along the promenade bordering the Black Sea.

Sadly, the door is barred to Crimea now, once the accessible southern-most region of Ukraine. Since our visit, President Vladimir Putin has wrested this lovely coastal land from Ukrainian hands.

Pray for the people of Ukraine!

Cliff’s YouTube connection

Coming next: Enchanted April, Renewal and Possibilities