Monthly Archives: September 2013

a mind of metal


lisaAuthor J.R.R.Tolkien has brilliantly written an epic story of good and evil, power, greed, and redemption, which has impacted many people’s understanding of these forces and their roles in this world.  As we examine the room of the mind today, my mind instantly goes to a scene from the movie adaptation in which what was once good has been corrupted…to potentially the ruin of all. Here is an scene from “The Two Towers” in which two young hobbits, innocent and loving creatures, learn a bit of that lesson from the old and wise shepherd of the forest, Treebeard.

As Treebeard, Meri and Pippin are walking through the woods towards safety at the prodding of Gandalf the White, Pippin notices smoke rising in the distance. Treebeard comments that there is always smoke coming from Isengard these days. He goes on to say that Saruman the White, used to walk in those woods and care for growing things, but now has a mind of metal.

What happened to Saruman? What changed him from the white wizard who was respected and revered as an authority; a leader, into the power hungry force of destruction that he is portrayed as in the two towers? Originally Saruman was good, but somewhere during the fulfillment of his proposed purpose in middle earth, he changed and became what he originally worked to defeat. Evil.

We all have the potential to realize a corrupted purpose. Originally we can desire good,working toward God’s purpose for us, with every intention of noble purpose. But the fact is, the evil forces of this world are constantly working to derail us, to persuade us that our desires and theirs are the same. Before long, the need for control and power take over and all of the good that was in us has been hardened into metal.

Treasure for this room consists of peace and contentment. When our minds are at peace, the rest of our lives can fall into place. The mind controls our emotions, how we feel in any given situation, and how we react to the world around us. So protecting it is of utmost importance.

The Apostle Paul instructs us in Philippians 4:8,9:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me , or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (emphasis mine)

Peace is our goal. Peace in our homes. Peace in our work. Peace in our ministry. Peace in our reactions to the external. Peace in our hearts. When these things are at peace…contentment will follow.

Putting this into practice is a whole different matter.  It isn’t enough to read the bible and know what it says, we have to put its lessons into practice in our lives. Live the way we were meant to live. If we simply read the words but don’t make any changes to our behavior, we are not changed. It’s easy to sit in church on Sunday listening to a wonderful sermon, nodding our heads in agreement, but then return to our lives unchanged, acting the way we always act, doing the things we always do, thinking the things we always think. We have to apply these truths, make changes.  But how?

  1.       Examine what you put into your mind through television, books, and the internet. Media is a great tool for Satan to infiltrate our minds. Make sure that you are engaging in worthy media.

  2.     Pay attention to the conversations that you have. Are they kind? Do they build or destroy? Is there a particular person that drags you into a negative pattern of thinking? If so, try directing the conversation toward the positive, or ask them not to go there. If this doesn’t work then it may be time for you to take a break from that friendship.

  3.       Fill your mind with worthy and wholesome things. Movies and books can start off great but quickly turn malevolent before you even know it is happening. Determine to find wholesome entertainment.

  4.       Music can be another avenue for Satan to work his evil deeds. Did you know that before his fall he was in charge leading worship to God? Hmmmm….so he most likely knows how to manipulate that particular entertainment very well….to the ruin of many. (remember all of the angels that went with him?)

  5.       Finally – and above all, read God’s words to you ….His personal love letter to His children. And pray…everyday. For His strength when we need it. His mercy and grace when we fail. And His love throughout these trials of life. Always Love.

If you take steps to live a changed life, peace will come. Write “PEACE” on notecards and place around your house, in your car, on the mirror in your bathroom, or in your drawer at work to remind you to always seek it. Peace will come my friends, and He will bring it to you when you seek Him with all your heart!

Lord, give me peace this day in all that I do, in all that I think, and in all that I say. I desire this above all things, for I know that when I place myself in your hands and live as you desire, everything else will fall into place. Remind me daily to seek you, for when I seek you with all my heart I know that I will find you. Amen

Soli Deo Gloria!


Next week is the final week for “the rooms of our house” series. We will be talking about the body and linking all of the rooms together to show how they help to rebuild our “temples”.

See you next monday!




Firepit lll


mischHowdy Gang,


Well here is the final frontier and we honestly be cooking with fire by the time we are done.

So far we have manage to design, layout our brick edging, set our fire place ring, fill in the area with slag and put in our patio stones.  Looking good wouldn’t you say?!

Nice and level and even my cat has moved into the picture!

firepit 3 1

The next step that I did was take my wet saw and cut the stones to fit around the fire pit ring.  Since this is a minor project you can take a skil saw…meaning just a regular electric hand saw and put a masonary blade on it. Wet down your patio stones quite a bit. Measure and mark the lines you wish to cut and just start filling in the last bit. The best way is to keep water running onto the cement stone. Definitely be very careful not to get your power chord in water. I think I only had to cut 8 to 10 stones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey are minor cuts and should be

Fairly easy to manage with a skil saw. Don’t worry about being exact because as you can see you will be filling the seems in with pea gravel or slag. Depending on your choice of look.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ok now all the stones are in place so it is time for the finishing touches. I used approximately 5 bags of (small) pea gravel to fill the cracks in. I spread it out with a broom. Don’t pile it in one spot it is hard to get it moving just kind of pour it all over an area and then proceed to broom it into the cracks.firepit 3 4

Of Course you need to add in some chairs. I purchased these from a garage sale, the were all torn up. I purchased out door material on sale and refurbished them. It was kind of like wrestling a monkey to the ground. LOL but I would do it again. Someday I will have to teach you all how to sew!

firepit 3 5

A few years later, I decided to plant some hosta’s to soften the edges and put a few little Stone tables near the chairs for comfort and I also with some Tiki torches. We are able to sufficiently back up from the fire if it gets too warm so it has been well designed.


We have enjoyed this for 3 years only a couple of patios stones have moved over that amount of time. I have to say that I am truly happy with the result thus far. Only thing I found I need to do is hit a few spots with weed killer….I think because I used pea gravel instead of slag for looks but otherwise it is pretty maintenance free.

Gotta love Maintenance free!


Happy Fall Days to you all!

Mischele Makhlouf

dear Vanessa ~ Paralysis by Analysis


praying woman

Image of VanessaDear Vanessa,

I have gone through various phases in my life and at each phase, I asked myself “what if”?  I have been told that I overanalyze, but I just do not know how to stop it.  Any thoughts or suggestions on this topic?

Sincerely ,


Dearest Emma,

The mind is a powerful thing; it can lift us up, or bring us down in a matter of moments.   Our beliefs are fostered through various places, people and events in our lives.   But the one thing we do actually have control of in this life is how we respond to every circumstance.   What is the voice that you want to hear after you ask yourself the “what ifs”?   Is it the voice of the one who loves you unconditionally, or is it the voice of criticism and condemnation?  I truly believe we are what we think and we have the power to create such wonderful things in this life.  But we also have the power to choose a direction that is not best for us.  Let me take you through a series of questions that I asked myself as a young lady….and then mother.

  • I am young, looking at the rainbow in the sky, and wonder if there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  “What if it rains? What happens then?”  There is always light after the rain…..

  • I am entering a new grade, bubbles creep up inside, “ Can I do this?  What if they don’t like me?”  Trust…You will meet someone that will see that special something inside of you….

  • I am about to perform in front of a large group of people, excited about the music that will fill the air, “What if I slip up on a note?”  The music that fills the air makes you feel so good, press on.

  • I leave home for new beginnings,  I don’t know myself yet, don’t know where I am going, “What if I can’t make it?” When each door closes another one opens….

  • I meet a man that sees the light in me, just me, “Is this real?  Do I have to pinch myself?” You can be loved unconditionally by someone outside of your family…

  • I am holding a baby in my arms, and feel the wonderful feeling of love and admiration.   Inside, I feel fear, “What if I am not good enough?  What if I fail?” This is a gift, and he will look to you for guidance and love you for the wonderful woman you are….

  • Someone close to me is ill. “What if they don’t get better? What if I can’t help?”  You are not in control child,  lift it up to me….

Taking that first step forward can be hard, but He reassures and defeats the evil voices if you just Trust.  We must move forward, even when the conditions from our perspective may not be favorable.    As you reflect on your life,  take a deep breath, do you see the good that has always come out of the moments where you were challenged?

Sometimes the things we remember are the challenges, where we feel our spirit may be lost… But life is not meant to be wasted.  Rise and remember the good that came out of the times where we were challenged, because He was always there.  He carried us, He shows us how to be light, we just need to take the leap forward and trust.

John 14:27

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

What is the voice that you want and choose to hear in this life?   You have the power of choice my friend, that is something that God has given us in this life.

Dear Lord God,

I pray for the men and women that have the tendency to jump to the “what if” scenario in this life.  I pray for them to hear Your voice and Your words.   You reassure us that You can bring us peace of mind, and a life of abundance – I pray for this a million times across this earth of ours.   I pray for protection of the mind from the evil one that preys to take over our minds and lead us down a path of distruction.  I pray for Your power and Your voice.  I pray for this in Jesus’ Name Amen.

May you be blessed beautiful lady,


If you have a question for Vanessa please email her at [email protected]

You can also read Vanessa’s personal blog and journey at

Deadline approaching


There are only 4 days left to pre-purchase “Penned from the Heart - 2013″ Thank you to everyone for the great response!  My prayer is that this book will give you joy when you read the devotions and comfort when you need it most.  Saturday is the cut off date and the book will go to the retail price. It is $8 (pre-sale) and makes a great gift for friends and family! If you purchase multiple copies you will only need to pay one shipping fee. If you have any trouble with that let me know! (there have been a few glitches)  email me at [email protected]  Here is a bit of info about what I am talking about:

PFTH announcementCover of Penned From the Heart, vol. xv

Here is a past cover from 2009

Anticipated publish date: Oct. 22, 2013

To Purchase the New 2013 edition, please follow the link below. You can pay with either your paypal account or a credit card. Thank you!

Preview Image

Anticipated publishing date: October 22, 2013

Soli Deo Gloria!


Lemony Blueberry Ricotta Poundcake


maria wolffeThis delicious pound cake was another item I made to use up the ricotta cheese I had in my refrigerator after it failed earlier this month.  I also had lots of blueberries and lemons, so I combined all three flavors, resulting in this moist and delicous cake. This would be lovely to serve as an easy dessert for informal get together’s with friends or family, or you can dress it up with whipped cream and extra blueberries to make it a little fancier for a more formal dinner. However you choose to serve it, this will keep well in your refrigerator for several weeks.

*Make sure that you have the eggs, ricotta cheese and butter at room temperature when you make this. To bring the eggs to room temperature quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. The leavening in this recipe comes from the eggs and the baking powder, so make sure your baking powder is fresh (less than six months old).

Diff: Easy Prep: 20 min. Cook: 1 hr. 5 min. Serves: 10-12


  • 1 ¾ c. all purpose flour – (250 g)
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • ½ t. kosher salt
  • ¾ c. unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)
  • 1 c. ricotta cheese (8 oz./230 g)
  • 1 ½ c. sugar (300 g)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 1-4 T. lemon zest (I used 4 T.)
  • 1 cup (or more) fresh blueberries (5 oz./140 g)


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. (160 C). Prepare a 9X5 loaf pan, either spray inside with cooking spray or smear with butter.


  • In medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and kosher salt together well.


  • Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, ricotta, and sugar.


  • Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on medium speed for one minute after each addition.

  • Mix in the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Don’t worry if the batter looks curdled at this point; it really isn’t!


  • Stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions to bowl of wet ingredients, until just incorporated. Do not overmix! Stir in the blueberries.



  • Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing out the top with a rubber spatula.


  • Place on a baking sheet on the middle oven rack. This will regulate the temperature on the bottom of the pan.
  • Bake for 65-75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. For the last 10 minutes of baking, you might want to put a sheet of aluminum foil over top of cake to prevent excessive browning.
  • Remove from oven when done and let cool 15 minutes in the pan. The run a dull knife around edge of cake to make sure it is seperated from pan. Gently remove cake and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Isn’t this one of the most cheerful pound cakes you’ve ever seen? Did I mention that a slice of this can serve as a quick breakfast when you’re on the run? (OK, I know it’s not the healthy thing to have, but …) And just try a slice it toasted in a toaster oven! Even better with just a bit of butter on it!

May you and yours enjoy some of this luscious lemony pound cake soon! Until next week, wishing you and your family all of God’s blessings, good health and happy eating!

Smiles, Maria

“Blessing is like Rain”


blessing is like rain

Gray clouds descend, cold and foreboding, consuming; like a blanket upon the earth.  Wisps of rain come down, lightly at first, and then as another form of covering; wet and penetrating. Autumn rains.  I look out the window from the warmth and comfort of my couch, wrapped in fleece. Dry. But I wonder at the rain. Its appearance is welcome and unwanted at the same time. And I recall a sign on the wall of a shop I visited at the holiday.

“Blessing is like Rain”

I wondered at its message then. How. How is blessing like rain.  Is it because when good things happen they seem to fall all at once, drenching the receiver to saturation? But what about the misty sort of rain? The kind that just leaves you slightly damp and just plain miserable. Is that a blessing too.

I pondered this thought while I watched the mist turn into a downpour. Drops raining down upon the waiting ground; waiting to accept its blessing.  A blessing of nourishment, quenching the thirst of a parched land. But the mist? It neither quenches nor nourishes. But is it blessing?

Blessings can come in many forms, some not perceived as such, but none the less a necessary component in the equation.  Sometimes those occurrences that we see as an annoyance, like a misty rain; not much good for anything, are the very ingredient necessary to get us to the next step. The very thing that will prepare the way for the downpour. Whether it is a downpour of good - or challenge, preparing our hearts for what is to come next will help us to use the rain….as a blessing.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Penned From the Heart


PFTH announcementCover of Penned From the Heart, vol. xvHere is a past cover from 2009

Anticipated publish date: Oct. 22, 2013

To Purchase the New 2013 edition, please follow the link below. You can pay with either your paypal account or a credit card. Thank you!

Preview Image

Anticipated publishing date: October 22, 2013

To purchase, follow this link:

Fire Pit II


mischHowdy all,


This is the second article for our fire pit project. At this point in our article we have designed and cleared out the area in which we want to build our fire pit.  We also have put down slag on the outer edges and set our patio stones. Everything is lining up nicely and looking square! That is if you are building a square! LOL


Tools we are using on this job:


Shovel                         Pick axe                       Branch Clippers                      Slag

Pea gravel                    Fire pit ring                 Long straight edge                  Lg. Square

Rake                            Patio stones                 Level                                       Gloves


At this point we need to measure the size of project to find out how much cubic feet of slag we will need. I found it much easier and cheaper to just have it delivered than to pick it up in bags from the store.


Here are some simple measuring tools


Cubic Yard = 27 Cubic Feet; 3 Feet = 1 Yard; 144 Square Inches = 1 Square Foot; 9 Square  1 Cubic yard will cover 162 square feet if spread 2 inches thick.



  1. Length x Width = Square Feet
  2. Square Feet ÷ “X” = Cubic Yards (to find “X,” match depth with number at right –on page below)
  3. To convert Cubic Yards to Tons*: Cubic Yards x 1.4 = Tons
  4. To convert Tons to Cubic Yards*: Tons ÷ 1.4 = Cubic Yards


1.4 is a rule of thumb that will work for most sand and gravel products (1 yard = 2,800#). Some products such as soils and mixes may vary due to their different bulk densities (weight per cu. yd).


Example 1: 2,000 Square Ft. bunker at 6″ deep
2,000 ÷ 54 = 37 Cubic Yards Bunker Sand
37 x 1.4 = 52 Tons
Example 2: To cover cart path 1,200′ x 4′ x 3″ deep
1,200 x 4 = 4,800 square feet
4,800 ÷ 108 = 44.5 cubic yards gravel
44.5 x 1.4 = 63 tons

































I hope this chart is useful. You can also find a calculator on line and just plug in the numbers and it does the work for you.


Next we need to put our fire ring in place. I basically centered it by measuring from the ring to the inside of the patio stones and kept adjusting it till I had it completely center. Change up your design if you like. I set my fire pit ring about 2-3 inches above where my patio stone would lay. You can make it flush but I wanted a little height to mine. Next I laid a two by four across it because it is so wide and checked it in several directions for levelness. Once this is in place go to work and start filling in the remaining area with slag.

firepit 2 1


Definition of Slag: It is a partially vitreous by-product of the process of smelting ore, which separates the desired metal fraction from the unwanted fraction. Kind of cool they found a use for this by-product!


There are two different grades one is what they call “foundation” slag which has more stones in it.  The other is a “finishing” slag which is usually used in between the patio stones. It just sweeps right in place and acts kind of like cement keeping the patio stones from moving once in place. Slag also is a great weed preventer and does a better job than sand will.


It is important to use slag as a foundation f you have to worry about frost in your area. Slag may not be necessary in warmer climate areas.



I used a rake and started spreading it around leaving about an inch below the surface of the retaining wall blocks. This way when I start laying the patio stones they will be nice flush with the out side border. Definitely use your legs for lifting….I know you have heard it a thousand times.

 firepit 2 2

As you can see I started going across the shorter edge first going from corner to corner and then I went up the left side. This gives me reference points for putting in the next stones. I left about ¼” in between the patio stones. It is very much like laying tile. You need to lay the stone then check for levelness and move on to the next stone. I found my self going back and making adjustments as I went and tapping them into place with my palm to make sure they don’t move after I have finished the project.


Don’t know why but I find it really relaxing and I just take my time enjoying the work and my surroundings. I hope you find it therapeutic as well.



Stay tuned for the next article. We will put the final touches on this project. I couldn’t wait to get this finished for fall festivities.


Have a blessed week!

Mischele Makhlouf


dear vanessa~ Perseverance


perseverance pic

Dear Vanessa,

I feel overwhelmed and overloaded.   I see pain everywhere with our family and friends.  People have illness, others have lost their jobs, and many feel depressed and overloaded.    How can I help?  I just wish sometimes I can relieve the pain. 


Your thoughts are welcomed,



Dearest Anita,

I understand how you feel, when I see someone in pain, I just wish I could reach out and help.   But we cannot take on the burdens of others.   We can give perspective, but cannot take on the pain.


My advice to you and your family or friends is Don’t give up.

There is always hope, and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Life can feel light…. All you have to do is Trust, and lift up your thoughts or worries to Him. 

The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis reveals how life can bring many struggles.   Joseph was treated poorly by his brothers, who later sell him into slavery. He encounters many trials in life.  But one things that stays constant is that Joseph never stops trusting in the Lord in all things.   He lifts up his life to Lord.    He leads by example in all interactions which lead to him one day becoming one of the highest regarded advisers in Egypt.   Many years of struggle did not lead Joseph down a path of resentment or feeling sorry for himself.  Instead, he relied and surrendered to the Lord.     The gifts he received were beyond his wildest dreams.    He shows us forgiveness in the pain, by forgiving his own brothers that handed him over into slavery.     We see through his experiences forgiveness, perseverance, and trust in God in all things.   He asks God to guide his days, and God blesses him beyond his wildest dreams.

In this life once Eve bit the apple, we entered into a life that would have struggle.  But the one thing that holds true is that God is there for us.  He will help us navigate through difficulty, through painful experiences.   We need to persevere and not give up.   Look to God to help you navigate, rely on Him.   He will lead you through.

God will give us strength to push through in the painful circumstances.

Forgiveness is always possible with help from God.

God will bring good out of all things and sometimes we have to endure suffering or pain in order to feel light.  God does not inflict pain or suffering on us, but sometimes, just like a parent, he takes a step back and sometimes we learn things the hard way.

We need believe that we were meant for a life of abundance, we are what we think and this is what God wants for us.

God brings light out of darkness, and knows our needs.   All we have to do is Trust.   Lift up your worries through prayer.

Dear Lord God,

I ask that you help your children to learn how to relinquish control onto you.   Help guide them through difficulty and pain, allow them to hear your voice to guide them in all things.   We are so thankful Lord God that you have always been there for us in the pain, carrying us and helping us through.  Teach us to relieve the burdens to You as You are the one who is in control. 

I ask this in Jesus Name Amen.

May you be blessed beautiful lady,


If you have a question for Vanessa please email her at [email protected]

You can also read Vanessa’s personal blog and journey at

Sturdy Sourdough Pizza Dough


You knew I’d get back to something sourdough eventually, didn’t you?

This is my favorite sourdough pizza crust recipe. Because this is sourdough, you really shouldn’t expect it to rise much. However, the recipe does contain ½ t. of yeast, so there will be a slight rise and puffiness in the dough. If you don’t know how to make a starter, or don’t have any starter handy, please refer to the 3/27/13 post for directions.

My homemade starter is now almost a year old, and has survived up to 3 weeks of neglect and has always come back strong after a feeding or two. It is currently bubbling happily away on my kitchen counter, re-energized after being fed yet again. (Kind of like my cat, Riley). I also like this recipe because it uses bread flour, which makes for a sturdier pizza dough.

This recipe will yield enough dough for one large 14” pizza or seven miniature pizzas.

Diff: Inter   Prep: 15 min+4 hr. rise   Cook: 15–20 min   Serves: 6


1 cup sourdough starter, unfed, straight from fridge (great for those of us that can’t seem to plan ahead!)

½ c. warm water (110 degrees F)

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour

1 ¼ c. bread flour

1 t. kosher salt

½ t. instant yeast (rapid rise)


  • Place sourdough starter in a large bowl.  Add warm water, flours, salt and yeast.


  • Stir until dough starts to come together.


  • Knead until just barely sticky, adding more flour if needed 1 T. at a time until dough is smooth and elastic.


  • Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in bulk. (This will take 2-4 hours).


  • Once dough has doubled in size, gently deflate by punching down.*


  • *At this point, dough can be wrapped in plastic and frozen, or put into refrigerator for use later.**


  • Transfer dough to a floured work surface, and roll the dough out a 14 inch circle for a large pizza. 


  • Or, as I did, you can remove tennis ball size pieces of dough and make miniature pizzas instead.


  • Before topping crust(s), pre-bake them either on a pizza stone (preheat this in oven when you set temperature) sprinkled with cornmeal or a greased sheet pan in a 500 F. oven for 7 minutes.



  • **After pre-baking, crust(s) can be frozen to be used later.


  • Brush crust lightly with olive oil before adding toppings. This will keep crust from getting soggy. Add sauce, cheeses and any other desired ingredients to pizza.  (Yup, that’s really a bottle of olive oil, it’s shy so it tried to hide…)


  • Bake at 500 F. for 10-20 minutes. At this temperature, check your pizza frequently. You can decrease the temperature and increase the amount of cooking time.  (I erred on the side of only cooking this pizza 10 minutes, so the crust isn’t very brown).



*Remove frozen dough from freezer the night before and let thaw in refrigerator.

**Let frozen pizza crusts thaw for an hour or two before topping and baking.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with this pizza dough, as it’s quite versatile. Thick or thin, homemade pizza is always a treat!

Until next week, wishing you all of God’s blessings, Good health and Happy Eating!

Smiles, Maria