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How to Be a Mennonite Presbyterian

My boss came to town recently, Amy Gingerich, editorial director for MennoMedia/Herald Press. She had cleaned off her bookshelves of items she was ready to discard.

I was amused to land two particular books, The Presbyterian Handbook and The Lutheran Handbook. I already had on my own shelf a copy of The Mennonite Handbook, purchased earlier. Both the Presbyterian and Mennonite handbooks are modeled on The Lutheran Handbook with permission of the original publisher, Augsburg Fortress. These handbooks are themselves a knock off of The Survivors Guidebooks or Worst Case Scenario guides or other “field type guides.”


It didn’t take me two seconds to realize that the three nifty volumes sandwiched my religious life in microcosm, which is frequently reflected here in this blog: a gal who grew up Mennonite, married a Lutheran, and found middle ground by joining a Presbyterian church.

These whimsical denominational handbooks tip their hands with cute caricatures right on the cover of their respective founding “fathers:”

A backwards cap (Menno Simons)


  Some cool shades (John Calvin)

And a wink (Martin Luther)

There’s good solid information in each—along with insider, informal stuff like “How you can tell if you’ve accidentally sat in someone else’s pew (or chair)” and what to do if you eat the communion bread before you’re supposed to (pretend you still have it in your mouth if everyone else is chewing). And basic stuff that you really need to know but no one tells you on what to bring to a Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Mennonite potluck.

I grabbed up the Presbyterian and Lutheran editions, not so much for instruction or information but looking for the differences. And was tickled to find a cache of fun: the Lutheran copy was all marked up with the editor’s changes (Sarah Kehrberg edited the Mennonite one) that needed attention for the Mennonite version.


(I know, what passes for fun for a writer/editor/bookworm quasi-Mennonite historian might not be such a hoot for normal people.)


But just in case you’re interested, some of the terms circled in the original Lutheran “Handbook” as needing editing or removal for a Mennonite edition include:

  • Fancy robes
  • Acolytes
  • Sanctuary
  • Communion attendance books
  • Baby illustration for “Anatomy of a Baptism”


The handbooks may strike some as a not-comfortable marriage of a modern telling of the Christian story while trying to be funny and hip. While they try to be serious in chapters showing key Biblical stories in pictograph fashion, sandwiched in between the lighter stuff, if I am a newcomer, I can never be sure which is satire, or oh my goodness, do they really do/think/practice that? (Which is what I worried about too when guffawing uproariously reading Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.)

The basic facts about the Bible and key stories are clearly for newcomers to the Christian faith. The Mennonite version also tells and depicts the story of Dirk Willems, an early Anabaptist/Mennonite bedrock story of amazing willingness to help a persecutor. It, of course, is not meant to be funny, nor is the depiction of Christ’s crucifixion. Some may find chapters on “How to Wash Feet” and “How to Survive a Church Split” amusing, but actually have useful and (unfortunately in the latter case) timely information.

More fun stuff is a drawing of Jeremiah in his filthy underwear (Jeremiah 13) and a reference to Saul relieving himself (1 Samuel 24:2-7). Potty humor in a church handbook? Well I never. Oh wait, that stuff’s in the Bible first. Okay…

Perhaps I need to write my own handbook/survivors guide/worst case scenario guidebook: How to Grow Up Mennonite, Marry a Lutheran, Live Out Your Life as a Presbyterian—and Find Harmony on the Journey. I have certainly learned much about all three denominations over the years including my husband’s Lutheran tradition where my husband’s brothers and a sister-in-law and family are members. I feel my faith life is richer for it. We all have much in common. Thanks be to God.


What faith traditions do you bring together in your family?


All the books mentioned are available on Amazon with links above, but you can also purchase The Mennonite Handbook here for just $5.

How to Use Up a Few Red Raspberries: Red Raspberry Cheesecake


We have one red raspberry bush which bears just enough from one picking for a few berries on cereal or to make a nice topping for ice cream, but rarely enough to make a pie or a raspberry crunch unless I save them up for several days or freeze them first, or get some elsewhere.

I’ve been looking for an easy way to make a good cheesecake base, and finally decided to try using my normal Cherry Delight recipe, cutting it in half for the crust and the cheesy middle, with a cooked berry topping. The result was a wonderful variation on the Cherry Delight, but not quite having typical luscious cheesecake properties (or taste) in the middle. Next time I will have to just try a standard cheese cake recipe which looks a little daunting. Does anyone have a good cheesecake recipe to recommend?

Until then, if you want a colorful dessert for a festive picnic or party this weekend, this might be a relatively easy way to go.

Substitute for sour cream. My other experiment here was making my own sour cream, since I didn’t have any on hand and didn’t want to run to town. I used vinegar plus Half and Half which worked fine. (It does need 24 hours to turn to sour cream, and you keep it out of the fridge during that time. So plan ahead.)


Here I garnished the cheesecake with a handful of blueberries to add additional color and antioxidants.


Red Raspberry Cheesecake


1 cup graham crackers, crushed
¼ cup butter
½ Tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon plain gelatin

Cream cheese mixture

4 ounces prepared whipped cream
4 ounces creamed cheese
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream

(Or to make your own sour cream, substitute ½ cup heavy or half and half cream, plus ⅛ cup vinegar – let sour for one day or about 24 hours.)

Berry topping*

½ cup fresh or frozen berries, crushed
2 Tablespoons water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch


Small amount of water/juice/cornstarch to shake in small container.


Cooking berry mix in small sauce pan.

Combine water, berries and sugar. Drain off about 1 ½ tablespoons juice to mix with cornstarch. Put juice in container with cover and add cornstarch. Shake until dissolved and smooth.

Heat berry/sugar mixture (there should still be some liquid with the berries) on stove until it comes to a boil, plus as it heats, more juice comes out of the berries. Add in cornstarch mixture, stirring all the while. Cook 2-3 minutes or until the cornstarch turns clear. Cool.

* Or, if you have plenty of berries, you may want to just put fresh or slightly sugared berries on the top without crushing and cooking them.


Simply in Season, Tenth Anniversary Edition

FREE SAMPLER PDF. Check out the wonderful options for using fresh foods in season, like these berries, in the popular cookbook, Simply in Season, now updated with gorgeous recipe photos. There’s even a free PDF sampler you can view or download, here.

When a Vintage Boston Pencil Sharpener Made My Day

A story told by my husband Stuart, warehouse worker and shop tinkerer.

StuartEdited6thGradeI was in 5th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Bowman—a great teacher, just ask my brothers. She had the typical pencil sharpener of the early 60s in her room.

I was always delighted for an excuse to leave my desk, walk to the pencil sharpener, slowly make a dandy point, and ease on back to my seat. We had to ask permission.

PencilSharpener1Then the pencil sharpener stopped working and after repeated tries to figure out what was wrong, Mrs. Bowman decided to order a new one. When the new one came, she was just going to trash the old pencil sharpener.

PencilSharpener3I asked if I could have the old one. Mrs. Bowman said sure. I was thrilled. We didn’t have much at home. We made our own entertainment.

I carefully carried it home, took it apart, cleaned it out good, tinkered with it a little, and without too much trouble got it working again.PencilSharpener2

When my wife and I moved to our first home I built a rolling tool stand in the basement and fastened my sharpener to the top. Our daughters would go to the basement to sharpen their pencils to do their homework. I now have that tool cart in my garage where I still pause and carefully sharpen my pencils. There is something very satisfying about a nicely sharpened pencil. The vintage Boston sharpener has a wooden sleeve on the handle rather than plastic.

When Mrs. Bowman gave me that pencil sharpener, I felt like a million dollars.


What’s a memory of a favorite teacher?

What excuses did you use to get up out of your seat in a classroom?


Did a cast off item ever become your treasure?

Were you, or your spouse, good at fixing things no one else could fix, or wanted to?

I’d love to hear your tales!


For more stories, visit my Another Way Newspaper Column’s home base on Third Way website.

What Will I Be When I Grow Up? Scrounged From My Office Files

How do our children find role models?

I was rummaging through some old files at work when I ran across some writings and mementos from my daughters.

… A clip art Valentine depicting me at the office


… A “While you were away” homemade note pad, complete with a “refill now” note at the end(!). Remember those? For receptionists to write out messages for workers who missed a phone call or visitors? Yes, people were paid to write out messages for others. I’m guessing this “note pad” was Michelle’s handiwork (with two spelling errors she’d never miss today).

NotePadEdited2 OopsNoteEdited

I was smitten, of course, with these things I’d saved …


Even notes they typed playing office at home when they were older, likely on a snow day …


Now that my daughters are all happily situated in jobs related to their college majors, it amuses me that they are all office workers just like me—even though in different fields and specialties. I never like to reveal identifying specifics here but one is an advertising account manager at a large city newspaper, one an artistic administrator for a medium sized city symphony, and the third works as a certification coordinator for a national environmental organization.


From my youngest. Always a great note to find on a Monday.

If I had become a nurse or doctor or teacher or store manager would we maybe have ended up with one of them in education or medicine or retail? Much more likely. I always encouraged them to go into the medical field because I don’t see it being phased out anytime soon. But I am very happy with where they are!


“Braces” by Tanya, the only one who never wore braces.

My dear husband would be quick to tell you he always told them (when they needed egging on with their homework or brought home a lower grade): “You can mess around in school like I did and end up in factory or warehouse where there’s no air conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter like me, or study and do well in school and end up working in a nice office like Mom. Take your choice.”

Of course there were a lot more choices than that but that was The Dad Sermon. And apparently effective—they didn’t really bring home low grades very often. (There were also cash incentives.)

But they did like to play office and library and bank. They also played the “poor” game when they dressed up like ragamuffins and scrounged nuts and bean pods off the “cigar tree” (Catalpa) for their pretend food. Not sure where that came from but their marvelous and active imaginations, and perhaps their experiences in our church and helping with the church Clothes Closet.

The other discovery I loved in this file were early drawings that I had actually dated (yay Mom).


“Please be QUIET” by Tanya, 8/87


“Don’t comb my hair” by Tanya, 8?87

… which are interesting now that my grandsons are getting a little older. The older of the two, Sam, now 21 months, has begun scribbling and for Father’s Day added a “drawing” and “name” to the card for Grandpa (below).


Not only that, look at how his mother labeled his drawing—just like I had labeled hers years ago.  She hasn’t seen her drawings for many years. So where does that come from?

Finding patterns, and loving it! Of course the patterns can be negative, as well. But we won’t talk about those here. And while our daughters have not followed their dad into a factory warehouse, I love that somehow he managed to raise all of them so they are handy around tools, don’t mind outside or dirty work, and are more concerned about their work ethic than wearing huge amounts of make up or designer labels.


Two years ago, when two of them were expecting.

Best of all, they love their new roles of mommy, and auntie. Maybe seeing patterns there, too!


Homemade computer card from our first computer & dot matrix printer.

Did you end up in a job like your mom, or dad? Have your children followed their parents into similar fields? I’d love to hear your stories!

What other patterns do you see through the generations?

Quick(er) Amish Dinner or Sweet Rolls – A two-fer

Quick(er) Amish Dinner or Sweet Rolls – A two-fer

CoffeeAndRoll2Amish cook Lovina Eicher, whose syndicated newspaper column Lovina’s Amish Kitchen we distribute from MennoMedia, had a recipe that tipped me off to a bagged “raised donut mix.” It is available in many bulk food stores, very handy to have around, and keeps well in the refrigerator.

She used the baking mix “straight” for what she called Rise and Roll Bars, which you can find here. I made those with excitement wondering if I had found a shortcut to the famous “Amish Crack” Rise N Roll Doughnuts I wrote about here, but the texture of the buns was more like a tray of prepared, purchased rolls out of a grocery’s prepackaged section. They were okay and very sweet and tasty, but for me, not to die for.

Since then, I have adapted the roll mix to make both plain dinner rolls and also cinnamon rolls. Typically I make little sweet rolls almost every Sunday morning using canned biscuit dough, recipe here. You can see I’m not adverse to shortcuts in the kitchen.

But there’s something special and delicious about real bread dough rolled into cinnamon/brown sugar/butter-slathered goodness that beats my biscuit-made sweet rolls. I also added a portion of whole wheat flour for a little more fiber and nutrition. Now these, I’m excited about! This is pretty much my own concocted recipe. If you try them, let me know if they turn out or whether the recipe needs tweaking. These are small quantity recipes.

Dinner rolls

2 cups “raised donut mix” (check your favorite bulk foods store)
1 package fast rising yeast
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup white flour (and up to 1/3 cup extra flour for kneading and rolling out)
1 egg
½ cup warm water

Mix yeast in ½ cup warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast action begins. Put flours and raised donut mix into large bowl. Add slightly beaten egg. Add water and yeast mixture. Stir together well. (I don’t use a mixer for this quick dough). The dough should form into a soft clump of dough, almost sticky. Add up to an additional ¼ to 1/3 cup flour to keep dough from sticking. Knead slightly on flour covered board or counter.


Place dough in greased bowl for rising. Cover with clean cloth and set in warm place to rise until double in bulk, about 45 minutes – 1 hour. Punch down and form dough into round shapes, about the size of an egg. Place close together in greased baking pan, so sides of rolls will touch after rising. (This makes rolls with softer sides.)

Let rise again, for about 30 minutes or until double in bulk. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or less. Watch that they don’t get too brown.

Makes about 16 dinner rolls.

Sweet rolls (mixing the dough part is exactly the same as the above recipe.)

2 cups “raised donut mix” (check your favorite bulk foods store)
1 package yeast
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup white flour
1 egg
½ cup hot water

Mix yeast in ½ cup warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast action begins. Put flours and raised donut mix into large bowl. Add slightly beaten egg. Add water and yeast mixture. Stir together well. (I don’t use a mixer for this quick dough). The dough should form into a soft clump of dough, almost sticky. Add up to an additional ¼ to 1/3 cup flour to keep dough from sticking. Knead slightly on flour covered board or counter.

Place dough in greased bowl for rising. Cover with clean cloth and set in warm place to rise until double in bulk, about 45 minutes – 1 hour. Punch down and roll out with flour covered rolling pin to make oblong piece of dough about ½ inch thick. (Can also be spread out just using hands/fingers.)

OblongDoughEditedTopping for dough

¼ cup melted butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Melt butter. Spread over dough. Sprinkle dough with brown sugar. Sprinkle brown sugar and butter topping with cinnamon. On long side of oblong dough, begin rolling up dough. When it is formed into a long tube, pinch dough together. Slice off rolled up dough into 1 inch slices. Place each roll on its side (so you see the spiral of brown sugar/cinnamon) in greased pie pan or baking dish.

Let rise again, for about 30 minutes or until double in bulk.CinnamonRollsBeforeBakingBake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or less. Watch that they don’t get too brown. Remove from oven. Can put on serving dish or frost (see below) right in the pan. Makes about 16 sweet rolls.


1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
2 tsp. milk or half & half
¼ cup melted butter

Stir powdered sugar, milk, butter together. Should be slightly runny. Add more powdered sugar or milk til you get a consistency you like. Drizzle over warm sweet rolls.

Approx. total time from beginning to serving for either recipe: two hours.

CoffeeAndRollMaybe these are some ideas for a special treat this Father’s Day weekend!

What’s your favorite Sunday morning breakfast or brunch? Recipes? Or is Saturday morning when you take time for treats and a more leisurely breakfast? Who cooks?


More lovely bread recipes can be found in my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner?


Like my coffee set? This Vietnamese-made pattern came as a gift from Artisan’s Hope, a fair trade store in Harrisonburg.

Best times on family vacations?


Earlier in May, I enjoyed sharing photos and highlights of a few days we were able to spend at the ocean romping in the surf, playing in the sand.

But as I look through my photos and sift through my memories, I realize some of the best moments were not on the beach. They were spent around tables when we were eating and chatting and playing games. On vacation, it is not so much the sights we see, but the relationships we build.

My nephew took his two children out of school for a week in order to join part of the family on vacation with Grandma and Great-grandma. When I quizzed him about getting them out of school he shrugged and said, “They both got great grades this year so …”

I got the picture. As a single dad, he knew that rewarding them for their good work all year was valuable too; time spent in nature, as a threesome and with an extended family of caring relatives was perhaps more important than additional hours (at the end of the school year) spent in the classroom. Of course they had homework to complete.

Family time is the icing on the cake of summer vacations and travel. That said, I’ve been through enough moments when the traffic is backed up for miles and everyone has to suddenly go to the bathroom, and times when sisters are yelling at each other about who has to sleep on the motel room floor or miserable roll-away tonight, or “But I’m tired of McDonald’s! Can’t we go to Burger King?” … “No, so-and-so doesn’t like Burger King French fries” arguments that I know family time is not all is it sometimes cracked up to be.

One of the highlights of this family vacation for me was getting to know my nephew Scott and his two kids again, and observe how thoughtful and kind and helpful they were. How had he and his ex managed to raise such wonderful kids in spite of their own ups and downs?Greedy2

Scott’s son happily cleared the table and set it up for nightly games of “Greedy” in the beach cabin dining area. I enjoyed watching the interplay of Scott and his daughter, who carefully eyed her father’s reaction to each play she made—because whatever her call and move with the dice, would affect his next move and opportunity with the dice.

Greedy1WebThey both seemed to be game for whatever activity was suggested next: it was the adults who had trouble agreeing on timetables and plans.


They pitched in to help wheel Grandma onto the beach in her special buggy, made their own sandwiches for lunch, played with their toddler cousins and generally watched out for their safety. The kids seemed to truly enjoy talking with their great Grandma and observing her reactions to all we saw and did.

StoneAndGrandmaWeb MeganAndGrandmaWeb

Don’t overlook or miss out on these family times no matter where your summer takes you: to a local campground or lake, a longer jaunt out west, or even just your own backyard. These years pass too soon.

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. Jude 1:2


Some photos courtesy of Nancy Ketcham and Scott Kemp.

More Sunset Beach NC stories and photos here and here.


What do you like best about vacations? What games do you play?

Favorite stories from a family getaway?

Behind-the-scenes at a photo shoot: Storytelling via words and images


Chicken at Brubaker homestead.

I’m a writer, not a photographer. But like any “Jill Writer” these days with a somewhat decent digital camera or a smart phone, I’m doing the best I can to use the visual dimensions offered by online blogs and social media to enhance my writing.

Moreover, the board at Media for Living which employs me as editor approximately 1/5 time (most of it worked at home in the wee hours of the morning) had begun asking for more local stories and covers with local people. You could say we’ve become locavores, if I can borrow that word from that food movement. Media for Living publishes Valley Living and a website, but informally we just call the magazine Living.

Local people on covers means photo shoots. My little Panasonic Lumix DMC-Z56 is not quite up to the quality required for newsprint reproduction in a blown up fashion, so we’ve worked with several local photographers in the year we’ve switched to local people on the cover.


Eric, Lydia, Norah and Peggy Brubaker enjoy some downtime.

This is both a fascinating experience which I enjoy, and a time suck, but whatever. I love having the chance to meet wonderful, interesting people (sometimes semi-famous) doing fascinating things, so why not love this? I especially enjoy the fact that for Living, it is not a news magazine nor do we engage in investigative journalism, muckraking, or hard news. Therefore the people we interview get to read the stories we’ve written before publication (which does NOT happen in the daily newspaper). This means our stories are not only more accurate, we hopefully don’t end up making the persons interviewed, mad.SwingingEdited

Living recently got to do a photo shoot with one member of The Steel Wheels, an up and coming “roots” and “Americana” band which has turned professional, in terms of its members not having other jobs. That’s a big leap, to go from part time gigs to full time touring, which can crunch into family life. So that is the crux of the article and dilemma as ably covered by our writer Lauree Purcell.

The Brubakers offered to let us do the shoot at their home, with allowed the least disruption to their home and family time together. Eric worked in construction in his previous life and built their home several years ago. I wrote a little about the issue of photographing children in the current editorial, and I got some of my own shots for Facebook aLeggingsEditedEggsEditednd to share here. But Amelia from Pinwheel Collective, did the cover honors and the photos featured in the magazine. (See the actual cover here. Read the story here. Then if not tired yet, read the editorial about the cover shoot and the trials of photographing families, here!)

Eric’s wife, Peggy had done a great job of helping their daughters chose outfits that would look summery in an outside shoot on a cool, early spring day, due to the lead time required in the set up, design and printing of a quarterly magazine. The shoot came on a day between rains, so I was a little worried for their darling leggings and sandals—that they wouldn’t get muddy.

P1070556Norah at seven is the older of the two and she is taking actual Suzuki violin lessons as Eric did when he was just five, and Lydia, five, is becoming familiar with her own pint-sized fiddle as well. But the girls were just as interested in making sure we saw their chickens in one of those cute little chicken houses, and Norah proudly displayed the eggs she quickly gathered.

Last fall I got to visit former NFL player Sonny Randle in his home near Staunton for a photo shoot. My family is pretty nuts over football so it was fascinating for me to enjoy the memorabilia in the Randle home, meet Sonny’s awesome dog, and hear Sonny’s outstanding memories from his career both as player, coach and radio commentator.SonnyAndShirtEditedSonnyAndDogEdited

And the year before, I was so touched to sit down with Debbie and Wes Songer as they re-opened their still-breaking hearts after their son, Ben, was murdered. They shared the pain in order to help others in similar situations and to change a law, which is often the case in this kind of tragedy.


Tomorrow I’m off to Sentara RMH local hospital to meet and photograph a man who says volunteering at Sentara “gave him his life back” after his beloved wife of many years passed away, for an upcoming issue of Valley Living. He probably won’t be on the cover of the magazine, but I can’t wait to see the mural he painted for the nurses’ lounge there and learn out more about his story. (To keep up with this forthcoming story in Valley Living and much more, I invite you to like the Valley Living FB page!)

Everyone has a story. Everyone. Even those never covered by any kind of media. Some of the best stories can never be told in print, on air, or online. It’s true. For reasons of confidentiality, decency or protecting a beloved family member, or indeed the lives of colleagues (as in one hostage situation in the Middle East a few years ago)—you probably know or have heard various stories perhaps you alone are privy to: precious life journeys that will never be public. I’ve finally learned to be ok with that, and to treasure the stories entrusted to me that I can never share. Those memories are valued and dear, and private. Those are the stories you hold on to, or pass on only orally, or in private journals and keepsakes.

But I’m also grateful for the parts of lives I’ve been privileged to listen in on and learn from, glimpsing someone else’s triumph and all too frequently, grief. In the telling of these stories, we create a history. It’s an honor.

And I love being able to share photos to go along with my stories. Can you tell?


All photos used on my blog are mine unless otherwise indicated.


Make plans to attend The Steel Wheels local music fest, Red Wings Roots Festival here in the Shenandoah Valley at Natural Chimneys Regional Park July 11-13, 2015, featuring The Steel Wheels of course but also numerous other bands. If not this year, put it on your calendar for next–a great vacation destination. Ask for tickets for a birthday treat or for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any old day.


What are you tips for getting good natural looking photos of families? Do you favor posed and organized shots, or more informal?


What do you think about your untold stories? While I can’t/wouldn’t ask you to share them here (!), I would love to hear your thoughts on the untold, unsharable stories and how to honor them.


Or perhaps another question is, are there stories you hope your children never tell when you are dead and gone? Why or why not?

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