Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fighting For A Taste of Summer

He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. – Acts 14:17

For the past few years, I have lived the ups and downs of an amateur vegetable gardener. The first year, my plot grew such an abundance of gargantuan vegetables that I delivered bags of my wares to the local food bank because I had already overloaded my friends, family, and passing strangers with more produce than they could use. I felt like King Midas of the gardening world—everything I touched turned into zucchini.

The second year, cooler weather kept things smaller and slower growing, but I still ended up with a decent crop and tried my hand at freezing and canning my extras so we could enjoy the fruits of my labor into the winter.

This year, however, has been a disaster. King Midas is long gone and he took with him my hopes of filling my freezer in order to cut my grocery bill. Early in the season, some unknown critter managed to get through my eight-foot high, deer-proof fence, and helped itself to a salad bar made up of two entire broccoli plants, two entire artichoke plants, one entire eggplant plant, and all of the leaves off of my grape vine. When I say entire, I mean every scrap right down to the ground.

A few weeks after this invasion, I was cursed with a grasshopper plague of Biblical proportions. People would actually come for a visit at my house and say, “Where did you get all of these grasshoppers?” These pests devoured the corn, bean, cabbage, cucumber, raspberry and blueberry plants. In desperation, I abandoned my efforts at organic gardening and bought some grasshopper killer. It worked.

Interestingly, grasshoppers aren’t attracted to tomatoes, but apparently hail is. A mid-August storm battered my still-green beauties.

The bright spot in all of this destruction and disappointment (not to mention financial loss) came one day when I noticed two lovely, unscathed zucchinis growing amidst the weeds I’d given up pulling. This meant I had the key ingredient for my favorite summer-time treat—chocolate zucchini cake.

If you are growing zucchini this year or want to pick some up from the grocery store, give this recipe a try. It is sure to be a family favorite and, if your kids are like mine, may be the only way they will each zucchini.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

½ cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
½ cup evaporated milk + ½ tsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 ¾ cup flour (I use gluten free flour and it works just fine)
¼ tsp. cinnamon
5 Tbsp. cocoa
1 ½ cup sugar (I use about half this amount of turbinado sugar)
2 cups shredded zucchini

Cream butter, oil and sugar together with mixer. Add eggs and vanilla. Sift all dry ingredients and add alternately with zucchini and sour milk. Pour into greased and floured 9x13 pan. Sprinkle on topping made by combining:

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup chocolate chips

Bake at 325 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

Enjoy the cake and say a little prayer for next year’s garden while you eat!

Jake is the great nephew of my friend, Jan Parrish. He is only three years old and is having transplant surgery today. His mother, Heather, is donating one of her kidneys. Please pray for Jake, Heather and the entire family. To see a slide show of Jake or get updates on his progress, please go to Thank you for your prayers!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let’s Talk Sunscreen

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. – Psalm 5:11

Late August may seem like a funny time to mention sunscreen, but I know that after months of enjoying the pool and the park, many of us are running low on the white stuff and need to restock. We easily have six more weeks of bright sun (and those of us in Colorado pretty much have it all year).

I had often wondered what all those chemicals listed on the sunscreen bottle really were, and what effect they might have on our bodies (or more accurately, on my children’s bodies). It turns out that many sunscreens are toxic once absorbed by the skin. Many even contain hidden estrogen.

Last year I found a list that rates different sunscreens not only by how well they protect from sun damage, but also how toxic they are once absorbed.

Here are the top five best sunscreens according to the Environmental Working Group, which studied 786 name-brand sunscreens:

1. California Baby Sunblock Stick No Fragrance, SPF 30+
2. California Baby Sunblock Stick Everyday/Year Round, SPF 30+
3. Trukid Sunny Days Facestick Mineral Sunscreen UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum, SPF 30+
4. Badger Sunscreen, SPF 30+
5. Vanicream Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin, SPF 60

These better-for-you brands provide the highest level of protection with the least toxicity. However, they can be tricky to find and even harder to pay for. Vitamin Cottage carries California Baby products, which I use, although the location near me only has a sunscreen lotion (number seven on the list). If you decide to try this brand, realize that a little goes a very long way, and getting too much will leave you with a very white, zinc-covered kid.

The names that seem to pop up most frequently on the list of the worst sunscreens are Walgreens and Coppertone. L’oreal, Elizabeth Arden and Nivea also find places near the bottom of the list. To find out how your sunscreen ranks, go to the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database at to get the list.

And don’t forget, we all need twenty minutes of sun exposure every day without sunscreen so we get enough vitamin D from the sun. I don’t put sunscreen on my kids when they go to school so recess takes care of their twenty minutes.

Enjoy the warm weather while it lasts—before we know it we will be talking about putting sunscreen in our ski packs!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

God Is Good – Even To Kindergarteners

NOTE: Now that I’m back on the school-year schedule, I am posting every week again. Also, I am now posting on Thursday mornings instead of Mondays. Thanks for reading!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. – 1 Chronicles 16:34

The calendar may say it is still summer, but life tells me the lazy days are over. My kids went back to school yesterday, officially ending summer in my mind.

My youngest started kindergarten. I could tell she was nervous because everything was a little off for her—her shorts were too loose; her hair wrap was too tight. The hook for her backpack in the classroom was too high; her nametag wouldn’t stick on right.

But then the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine brightened her day. She found her name printed on a colorful laminated tag stuck to the desk right next to her best friend in the class. I could see the feeling of comfort and relief spread over her face as she settled in next to a trusted partner.

God is good and He is faithful. He knows everything about us—even how to calm our first day jitters. And more often than not, He gives us a friend for the journey so we don’t have to battle our anxieties alone. There is nothing in our lives that is too small or insignificant for Him, nor are we ever too young to receive His grace.

How has God been good to you this week?