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Caroline: Young ballerina in New York City

Working hard and living a dream …


Caroline and friend Diana in Central Park. Photo courtesy of Jon Catherine Dolittle.

Today I’d like to tell you about Caroline, a young woman who is currently studying ballet in New York City. Just to write that sentence is a WOW. She’s really there, after years of doing what she loves most, dancing.

I knew Caroline as a young girl and member of our church. My youngest daughter “babysat” for her a time or two when she was old enough and Caroline thrived on creative, imaginative play. Her father is an engineer but her mother, Mary Jean, has mostly worked on their mini-farm to help with family income, as well as giving horseback riding lessons—mostly on a donation basis because they couldn’t afford the liability insurance to cover a riding program.


Caroline as a “princess” in a horseback riding competition.

But the horseback riding—another love for Caroline—not unrelated to the grace of ballet, inspired Caroline and her mother to help out at a nearby therapeutic stable and camp for children and adults with disabilities. One year they even planned a fundraiser birthday party for Mary Jean’s elderly pony, Trixie, to raise money to help build an amazing wheelchair accessible tree house for the nonprofit therapeutic program at Camp Still Meadows.


Newspaper clipping of Caroline and her mother when they planned a fundraiser for a wheelchair-accessible treehouse.

I knew her mother and grandparents even longer—her grandfather was the pastor who married me and my husband almost 40 years ago. So the ties are long and special. And the whole family is that kind of family—always responding to help others as needed.


Caroline’s class at Joffrey Ballet.

Caroline is currently studying ballet at the renowned Joffrey Ballet School in New York City. I know she is working hard. I was amused at one quote from an instructor she shared on her Facebook page, “I want to see a LINE, Caroline. Your name even has “line” in it.”


Posing in a subway station.


Enjoying sidewalk eats (notice the pink slippers at the bottom of the jeans).


At the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This fall Caroline has enjoyed all the city has to offer, but mainly because it is bringing her closer to her dream. Here she shares some of her experience and the hard work:

“Everyday I’m here is one step closer to my dream of getting a job as a professional ballet dancer. Not only am I getting the training I need but the city itself is such an opportunity for young artists. Everywhere I look there’s inspiration and such respect for the arts! Being here is such an amazing opportunity that I’ll do almost anything to stay here for the rest of the school year.

It means the world to me that people believe in me enough to donate. It blows my mind sometimes. But having that support does more than help me financially. On those days where I’m having an off day, feel like I’ve got three left feet, and when I’m in the middle of four hour rehearsals and my body’s just like “Nope, I’m done now,” I look myself in the mirror and say to myself: “Pull yourself together Caroline. There are people out there who believe in you enough to give you their hard earned money. If they can believe in you enough to give you this chance, you can do the waltz of the flowers one more time.”

Caroline very much wanted to come home for Thanksgiving, but no one could really afford to buy the train ticket for her, especially since she gets to come home for Christmas. Her grandfather, Don, suggested, “All your life you’ve watched the Macy Parade on Thanksgiving Day. Millions of people would love to be where you are and able to watch the parade in person, and here you are, living in the city. Maybe this year is the year for you to see it!”


Macy’s Parade, 2001

Caroline, according to her grandfather, thought about it and decided he was right, and she could stay in the city with some of her new friends from abroad and other places too far to go home. She calls her ballet group her “Joffrey family.” Still, I know her parents and family will miss her greatly.


Caroline and her mother, Mary Jean.

I’m proud to know a young ballerina following her dream in New York City, but mainly because she’s not just star struck. She has said she wants to study ballet until she is able to land a job with a company in any midsize city that offers that opportunity closer to her home, such as Richmond, Va.—it doesn’t have to be New York!


Caroline hamming it up outside a theater marque.

Perhaps you too are inspired to join me in helping Caroline in her dream. Scholarships for Joffrey School of Ballet where Caroline is enrolled are not commonly offered, so students are left to find family funding or anyway they can. She is trying to raise money one semester at a time.

Here’s the link to the Go Fund Me page for Caroline. I know she would appreciate any amount you can spare.


You can also leave your good wishes, prayers, or comments/stories for Caroline here and I’ll be sure she sees them.


Here’s one of my own favorite posts about some dreams fulfilled for our daughters, including our trip to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2001.


A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to all. And now I’ll take a mini-blog vacation, thank you very much! There are children and grandchildren to feed, love & hug!

Easiest Cranberry Salad



My mother and grandmother’s recipe and process for making cranberry salad was long and complicated. But it was one of the traditions of our Thanksgiving that I loved. It involved getting out Momma’s hand cranked grinder, which had to be attached to the edge of a table with a clamp. Then you poured cranberries (we bought them frozen) into the chute of the grinder, and cranked that handle. Yeah. I loved it then: it was like making Christmas cookies or dyeing Easter eggs or carving pumpkins: you loved it because it was a tradition, and you could make a mess.

After grinding the cranberries, which became my special job, mother chopped up oranges, apples, celery, and nuts. This recipe doesn’t eliminate those steps, but for many years as an adult, not having a way to grind up cranberries kept me from enjoying the lovely tang and twist cranberry adds to the Thanksgiving taste palette. And I wasn’t about to buy a grinder to use once or twice a year.

So, once we stopped driving the 1200 round-trip miles in crazy Thanksgiving traffic to my parents’ house, I greatly missed my mother’s cranberry salad (and home, of course!). But I would satisfy part of my craving by just buying expensive cranberry salad from delis for years.

Finally, a few years back, I got this much easier recipe from my church friend, Alisa Hillary. Alisa has since gone on to enjoy her Thanksgiving and all holidays with our Creator, so I will make this again with a toast to Alisa for not only simplifying my Thanksgiving cooking, but almost giving me back my mother’s cranberry salad, save the grinding.

Easy Cranberry Salad

1 small box orange jello (notice, orange, not red)
1 can whole cranberries in sauce (I used Ocean Spray “whole berry” sauce)
1 cup / 250 ml chopped celery
¾ cup / 175 ml chopped nuts (pecan or walnut)
1 cup / 250 ml chopped apple pieces
1 cup / 250 ml chopped orange pieces

Make Jello according to package instructions. Let Jello cool a half hour or so in refrigerator, then add all the other ingredients. Let jell in refrigerator 3–4 hours.


To be honest, most of my family are not big fans. So I make this mainly for me. Is there any holiday food you make or enjoy just because it is your tradition? 


This recipe is found in Whatever Happened to Dinner: Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime. Win a free copy from Amish Wisdom blog (offer good until Nov. 27, 2015).

The Word That Renders Evil Powerless: The Mighty Fortress Who Is


At our church we observed Reformation Sunday in late October. Along with probably most Protestant churches which follow the liturgical church year, we sang the majestic “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” written by reformer Martin Luther. It’s a favorite of mine anyway, partly because my born-and-bred Lutheran husband always enjoys and sings it with great gusto. He would be the first to tell you he is not the greatest singer in the world but, like my father always did, booms out with heartfelt enthusiasm on a familiar song.

I don’t think the words ever spoke to me as powerfully as that Sunday. So old fashioned with its eths and doths and images of trembling before a prince of darkness grim. Here are the words to all but the second verse:

A mighty fortress is our God
A bulwark never failing
Our helper he amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us.
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Our interim pastor, Sally Robinson, used the story of Job in the Old Testament to address the oft debated topic of “where is God with so much suffering in the world” but with a twist. It is human nature to lament and rage against the heavens when bad, horrible things happen, as they did again this week, and indeed happen every week somewhere in the world. But that’s another topic and my heart goes out to all affected personally.



The Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park, Utah.

The question Sally asked was “why don’t we also question God when good things happen?” Sally has many years of ministry and life experience, including the good, the bad, and the boring.Looking at Job (as I did in three posts on this blog, a condensed version which later appeared in The Mennonite) we wonder how one human could bear so much grief as he loses all his riches and his family. But when his blessings are restored many times over, we don’t wonder any more. We don’t question God when blessings flow.

Pastor Sally pointed out that part of living means accepting and acknowledging our blessings—in humility—and accepting the risks. For instance, when we fall in love (or grow into it) and marry, we accept the risk that one day we will lose our beloved—or they will lose us (and perhaps some pass on together—a blessing for them but a double grief for their families). To love and be loved in this life—we agree to pain and suffering. The alternative—to hibernate or withdraw from friends, loved ones and society is to lead an incredibly lonely life—a grief and loss of another kind.

In that context, “A Mighty Fortress” takes on an even richer significance. Essentially if we take it to heart, it frees us to look the risks—even the rage of the evil one— straight in the eye and say as Jesus said to the tempter in the wilderness, “You have no power over me.” (I can think of more profane ways to say that but I won’t here.) With Luther we can rest in the stronghold God provides and belt out, “God’s truth abideth still.”


Abide—even without the eth on the end—is a wonderful, out of date word, in common usage only as a negative thing, as in: “I cannot abide that!” In the Bible abide is far richer, evoking comforting, big arms enveloping us—but also a responsibility to stay put and not stray from God’s side.

Those words offer out-of-this-world comfort, and a place to draw the strength to carry on.

One final thought. Four lines in this great hymn left me greatly perplexed for awhile, where the thought carries over from one verse to the next (the parentheses inserted below are mine):

For lo! His doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
(No thanks to them), abideth.

Luther is almost satirically saying the earthly powers have nothing, NOTHING, when it comes to the might of the Fortress (God). One commentator says that word is love.

Even when the way seems dark and full of sorrow and fear, love trumps the evil powers of this world.



How does this hymn speak to you? Or not? How do you interpret those perplexing lines I called out above?

Here are some conservative Mennonites with an a cappella arrangement of A Mighty Fortress is Our God.


For some additional, but different thoughts on Reformation Sunday, here’s theologian Stanley Hauerwas.



We need a Lutheran Hymnal in our collection, don’t you think??


All photos mine.

Roast Pork and Two Pulled Pork Options: Three Delicious Meals


This is the time of year when I don’t want to make roast turkey, chicken, or ham for a special meal, because, well, the holidays are coming when I will be making at least turkey and ham.

That’s when I think about pork: as the pork producers say, the other white meat we sometimes forget about.


Roast or pulled pork is another dish or meat that is incredibly easy to pop in the crock pot before you go to work or church and chop up into “pulled pork” for sandwiches or serve as roast pork wedges.

A must with pulled pork or plain old BBQ pork sandwiches? The cole slaw. I didn’t grow up that way (in fact I doubt I ever ate a BBQ pork sandwich until I moved to Virginia), but once here, the slaw—even on top of Sloppy Jo’s (made with ground beef of course) is a favorite! That nudges in vitamins through the cabbage, carrots and green or red peppers if you add those.

Roast Rubbed Pork (adapted from the National Pork Board)

1 3-5 pound boneless pork butt (shoulder)
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne or chili
1 teaspoon dried thyme (leaves)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup water


Raw pork, rubbed with seasonings. (Be sure to keep hands washed handing raw pork.) 

Combine seasonings in a small bowl, rub evenly over all sides of roast. Place meat in a 4-6 quart slow cooker (depending on the size of your roast). Add water. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours or high for 4-5 hours or until pork is very tender.


Remove pork to a large cutting board or platter and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Make slaw or other finishing touches for dinner. Then pull off, slice, or chop to serve. Can be served in buns with barbecue sauce.

Serves 12-15 if you use a 5 pound butt.

Since I usually only have two of us to feed anymore, I use the pork for multiple meals as follows:


Roast pork, sliced, with all the trimmings.


Pulled pork sandwiches with cole slaw, oven baked potato wedges. Optional to add a BBQ sauce on top of the pulled pork.


Pork sandwiches mixed and heated with Pineapple habanera sauce for an extra kick; served with pork and beans, rice, or mac and cheese.

I hope to make a lentil soup using the pork broth and maybe some still left over pork pieces.


Did you grow up eating cole slaw on Sloppy Jo’s or pork BBQ? Is that a southern thing?

Do you have a good and easy recipe for cole slaw, or do you buy yours?


If you’re a newcomer here, check out my book with over 100 recipes (not all mine) Whatever Happened to Dinner, with plenty of inspiration for keeping or starting a regular family meal tradition in your home.

Racism: Working at Harmony Across the Great Divides

Freedom of expression is a wonderful gift we have in this country and Canada as well (a tip ‘o the hat to my Canadian followers). With the ease of instant world wide communication when anyone, including me, can publish an opinion—or hundreds of them all day long through places like Twitter—freedom of expression is not only a gift, it quickly becomes a threat, a goad in the side, a source of much discord. The opposite of harmony, the underlying theme of this blog.


Ever since the Confederate flag came down in the wake of the despicable killings at the Wednesday night Bible Study in Charleston, S.C., many of us have noted an uptick in the number of Confederate flags flown on trucks, cars and front yards. On that dreadful Thursday morning as full news of the horror of that shooting rolled out, I listened on the radio feeling the precious spirit of an ordinary Wednesday night Bible study fellowship shattered forever. That could have been my church, my small Wednesday night group.

I will always remember how and when I first became aware that the Civil War was not over. It was 1969. My family moved from the north to the deep south and I was a senior in a high school that had been forced to fully integrate that year for the first time. I was teased because I was a “Yankee” which did not really hurt, because I was white. But my jaw dropped when one kid added “Damn” in front of his taunt and uttered the line that still shocks me to this day: “If we could fight ‘cha again, we’d win this time.”

Huh? What?

Yeah. That was 1969. Fast forward to a high school parking lot in 2015 in Virginia.


This is a recent photo I took at my kids’ former high school. My mother, living in Indiana, talks about seeing loyal Confederate flags from lawns and trucks there in “Yankeeland.” And I get that for many, the old flag is history, a piece of cultural and family heritage, reminiscent even of a certain elegance—the mansions, the parties on the lawn, the Gone with the Wind era genteel society. As whites.

People say it is freedom of expression to display the Confederate flag. But no matter how loudly people remind us that the Civil War was more generally about “state rights,” it was, fundamentally, the right to own slaves that people fought and died for.

As the old saying goes, “My freedom of expression ends where your nose begins.” And the painful, deeply divisive cut of racism through our country’s heritage sometimes means leaving history and cultural heritage for museums, books and films. We need to continue the painful, ongoing reconstruction of a better society. We must reach across history, misunderstanding, war, murder, and mistreatment to build new relationships. The good families of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston have already shown the way in their early, amazing expressions of forgiveness.

My father and mother did a wonderful thing in moving our family 900 miles to a new culture. I’m grateful for that difficult year—difficult not only because of new awareness of how blind I’d been to the deep continuing discord of racism, but also because I was simply lonely as a new girl my final year of high school.

My friends and family in the south still live every day in a more racially mixed culture than I currently do. We have to make an effort to step across racial boundaries in my part of Virginia (not so much in Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, and points south, with much larger African American populations). Our churches in the Shenandoah Valley are still largely segregated places. Many of our work places are not racially mixed. Perhaps our factories and fast food joints and nursing homes are the places where black and white and brown rub shoulders, working together, today. Our challenges to get along as long time immigrants (mostly from European countries), forced historical immigrants (mostly African), and recent economic immigrants (mostly from Central and South America) are huge. We are all, except for native indigenous peoples, immigrants here.

We know Jesus reached across cultural and racial boundaries. The times he lived in were no less prejudiced and racially divided than we have today. The conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman (racially despised by Jews) at the well (John 4) continues to give me hope today. As we go about our daily lives we can work to get to know just one individual at a time on a human level. We need to converse and find out what makes them tick—or ticked off. These are simple ways each of us can begin to change and maybe heal the scars that slavery brought upon our dear land. And don’t expect smooth sailing. I will get into that in future blog posts.


I’ve used one of my freedoms to open my heart on a tough subject. I’d love to hear from you, even if you don’t quite agree. Stories? Your own experiences?

True Love in a World Gone Nutty

The world was at war. My father was in Civilian Public Service working as an orderly at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan where patients with mental difficulties were treated.

And he was a young man in love.


My father Vernon U. Miller on his wedding day. I have his eyebrows, and maybe the square jaw.

On a recent spin through White Pigeon, Michigan, I knew I would have to stop again at a store where Dad used to buy gifts as he was courting my mother, just to pay tribute to their long lives and enduring love.

As I entered the Tasty Nut Shop in White Pigeon, Michigan, I tried to imagine my Dad, young and dapper, unhitched and childless, long before any of us came on the scene.


Tasty Nut Shop in White Pigeon, Michigan.

The store still has its creaky wooden floors and a working old-fashioned soda and ice cream counter at the back of the store. This old timey nugget of a store has survived since 1921, even through the Depression and depressing urban sprawl and malls.

Up front, a glass display case still offers nuts “from all over the world” at decent prices. Containers tempt children with a huge selection of penny candy. An article I wrote at the time of my original visit reminds me that my daughters enjoyed watching a woman make fresh peanut clusters.


Store owner Marjorie Hamminga measuring out my cashew nuts.

When I first stood in this store with my Dad and Mom (married 47 years when I went there with my three daughters), I tried to imagine the dreams and fantasies he, in his late twenties, held of my mother, of what life would bring. His father lost their farm in the Depression and they were all enduring the long and uncertain years of World War II. They did not know yet about Hiroshima and all that was to follow. Working in a mental hospital in those days was not war, but was still a certain kind of hell.

On my first visit, I had gone to Indiana for a business meeting during late summer with my three daughters in tow (at the time ages 12, 10, and 7); of course I had to buy some nuts from the store to take home to my husband who was waiting for us to return. Maybe it would buy some luck or some love.

On this visit 22 years later—our daughters long sprung from the nest—I had to pick up a treat for my husband, who once again was home waiting for my return.


Stuart’s cashews.

My husband enjoyed his small bag of cashews, from which I sneaked only a few on the long train trip back home.

If the store still stands, maybe some day our grandchildren too will have the chance to step back in time and hear the story of how their great-grandfather—in a world gone nutty—used to stop here to buy nuts for his sweetheart.


Daddy carved the initials VM + BM in a heart on a tree in the woods on their farm. In 1977, one year after we were married, my husband also carved our own initials on the same tree.


What stories of love–for nuts, your parents romance, your own love story, OR for great old-timey stores still around–does this bring to mind?


Parts of this post were previously published in Purpose magazine (how do you like that alliteration?), available by subscription from MennoMedia.The editor there is also always looking for great inspirational stories and writers. Check the writer guidelines here. (A paying gig!)

Baking My First Shoo Fly Pie

Reblogged and adapted from Mennonite Community Cookbook blog where it was first published.

Mennonite Community Cookbook’s Vanilla Pie (Better than Shoo Fly?)


I recently made my very first shoo fly pie. The recipe is actually called Vanilla Pie, because it makes a milder version than the traditional, robust, molasses-based pie. (If you’re wondering where molasses come from, Wikipedia definitely had stuff I didn’t know!)

That shoo fly pie is associated with Mennonites, Amish, and in general plain people, is undeniable. What’s not so clear is how widespread is the love? (No pun intended.)

Pennsylvanians from Mennonite, Amish and other backgrounds from Anabaptist-related groups are frequent fans. But growing up in Indiana in a Mennonite home and church, I never tasted shoo fly pie until I went into Mennonite Voluntary Service with three Pennsylvanians in my unit/housing. Then I became a fan of the milder versions of shoo fly pie.

As I looked for a recipe I might like, a Facebook fan for Mennonite Community Cookbook Facebook’s page mentioned Mennonite Community Cookbook’s recipe for vanilla pie. Vanilla pie? I had heard of wet bottomed shoo fly and dry bottomed shoo fly, but vanilla pie? What was that?

Eureka. There on page 382 of most editions is a recipe for this pie. I’ll also include my tweaks and additional directions in italics, because these older cookbooks–even as good as Mennonite Community Cookbook is, are kind of lacking in the “extra” comments and directions that some of us love and need.


I think the only reason this is called Vanilla Pie and not Shoo Fly is because this uses vanilla! Otherwise, they are very similar.* There is also flour, egg, and brown sugar in the gooey part for this recipe, which softens the strong taste of the pure molasses, sorghum, or dark Karo or (or whatever you use). Someone also suggested King Syrup is less bold and more agreeable for newbies. (I also suggest reading the whole recipe plus directions before beginning.)


Bottom part:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (I used 1/4 cup molasses and 1/4 cup light corn syrup)
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Top part:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening (butter)
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pastry for 1 (9 inch) crust

Thickening the gooey part.

Combine ingredients for bottom part and cook until thickened. [The thickening took awhile! Stir almost constantly. Also, a blog post at Our Heritage of Health recommends making your crumbs first–see directions below–so that the molasses part doesn’t lose frothiness while you mess with the crumbs.)

Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Pastry cutter to make crumb topping.

Top with crumbs made by combining sugar, flour, soda, baking powder, and melted shortening. (I did not melt the shortening. That didn’t sound right. I cut it in with a pastry cutter–or use two knives–to make a traditional crumb type topping.)

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes.  (I wish I had taken mine out at no more than 40 minutes, it looked a little brown, but it depends on your oven.)


Makes 1 (9 inch) pie.

From: Mrs. Amos Leis, Wellesley, Ontario, Mrs. Noah Hunsberger, St Jacobs, Ontario, Mrs. M. C. Showalter, Broadway, Va. [no doubt a relative of Mary Emma’s. Can anyone confirm?]

I shared with our office staff who seemed to enjoy it–especially those who were accustomed to the strong taste of molasses. One said, “I don’t usually like shoo fly pie, but this is good.”


That’s good enough for me. I did not have one crumb to take home.

Back in the day, this was also considered a poor man’s pie. It didn’t require any fruit, no pecans, no fancy ingredients (other than the corn syrup or molasses which would have been a staple longer ago).

One more thing: I love it served with vanilla ice cream. Some folks pour milk over their shoo fly. I have a feeling if you threw pecans in it, it would also make a fine pecan pie. Hmmm. But now I’m getting fancy.


Do you like Shoo Fly Pie, or are you a Shoo Fly virgin? If you make Shoo Fly, what recipe do you follow?


Shame on me for not remembering a whole blog built around Katie Boyt’s “The Shoofly Project,” in honor of her great grandmother, Keturah (the blog is no longer active, but check it out here!)


*If you have an older version of Mennonite Community Cookbook, I noticed the ingredient list for Shoo Fly Pie changed fairly significantly somewhere between 1950 (my copy) and 2015, the current edition. Does anyone know when??

mennonite community cookbook

To buy a copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook 65th Anniversary Edition, check here. It includes a fascinating 12-page historical section.


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