Friday, December 30, 2011

Of joys and tears

We had lovely Christmas moments of welcoming our Savior and making memories with family, and I held them all a little closer in my heart this year. These days go by so quickly; we’ve seen it with our bigger kids and we see it now with the littles. We’ve learned how soon children become young adults who have to make their own choices in the world, and how short a time we are allowed the privilege of their care. There’s a feeling of safety when they’re small and we know we have control; most parents learn, as their kids reach young adult-hood, that these young people have to make their own choices - just as we did and just as humans have done since the beginning of time.

This year the moments of sweetness were especially poignant, as we’d learned on Christmas Eve morning of the death of a wonderful, kind 18-year-old who was part of our homeschooling community. The circumstances surrounding his death were heartbreaking, and any parent who’s spent much time with teens, or had a child struggle with depression or bad decision making, had the painful realization that it could have been their child, their family.

Last gifts were wrapped through tears as we tried to process the news, children were hugged a little closer, and as we celebrated the birth of our Savior, hearts cried out for this boy’s family and for the brokenness of our world, and hung on to the hope of a day when there will be no more tears.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Revelation 21:4

Stopped in my tracks, aching for the grieving family, I ask myself again: can I live until that day with gratitude, never forgetting to be awed by the gifts I’ve been given?

The loss of this precious boy reminds me, even as I hold his family in prayer, to cherish the sweetness of moments that will not pass this way again, holding them in my heart.


Dear Lord;

For these days, I give thanks.

For Christmas carols sung with generations;



For our young adults, and we ask that you guard and keep them while they are away from us;



For brothers who love deeply with a bond not forged by DNA;

Brothers roasting by an open fire

For time spent with grandparents;



For the fact that You loved us enough to come down and join us in our joys and in our tears.

We ask you to comfort our friends in their unfathomable grief, and give them a peace that can only come from You.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen


Kiss your children, and enjoy the gift of this day with them. And might I ask, would you please keep our grieving friends in your prayers?

Trusting in Him,

Aimee

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Peace

     We’re hunkered down here, happily making preparations for Christmas and savoring these busy yet peaceful days. I love the candles burning in the darkened afternoons, our Christmas CDs playing when kids aren’t making music for us on a guitar or piano, the smells of Christmas baking. I love the excitement of kids who want their turn at a shopping date, where they’ll choose a gift for the sibling whose name they picked in our post Thanksgiving name-drawing. I cherish the trip with each of those kids, where we share a treat of their choice, and I see their sweet excitement at finding just the right secret present.

          It’s a balance, doing all that must be done, while keeping peace and joy and managing to enjoy any of it. Perhaps this is the reason I light my candles early in the evening, need the soft music like I need water, and hold fast to tradition. Some years we keep traditions just because we love them, and other years we’ve clung to them, when our worlds were rocked and we needed something safe to return to.
Sometimes, the glittering, shopping mall holidays - full of expectations and pitfalls - can be brutally painful. Many I care about are experiencing this right now: a first Christmas without a loved one; a failing marriage; strained family relationships, children with behavioral special needs, disease. I know families ripped apart by addiction, and others struggling to parent adolescents born with brain damage from their birthmothers’ alcohol use. My heart aches for those families, and they are in my prayers.

We’ve lived through storms of our own these past years, and I’m thankful for what I’ve learned:

Peace

          Peace is not in circumstance - it cannot be, because those can’t be controlled and we’ve been promised peace as a possibility, regardless of what we walk through. At this time of year, especially, we remember this.

          “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

           Our God is a God of peace who offers that gift through His spirit – not necessarily in our circumstances, but in our hearts. I need that, and I think we all do.

          “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever.” Isaiah 26:3-4a

          We can’t control what others choose to do, but we can control what we surround ourselves with and the boundaries we set. I choose to try to create peace. Daily, hourly (every minute?), I need God’s help with this.



We’ve established traditions like anchors both comforting and necessary: our advent spiral and nightly Jesse Tree devotional readings, the candles Husband makes each year,




...tree decorating followed by a viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas and snack of eggnog and cookies.


The children don’t let us vary this routine – it is how it must be done, and I think of the peace and security it must give them, and it makes me feel peaceful too.

This year we’ve added things I suspect will become tradition. We made huge snowflakes to gift and to create a blizzard in our own home.

Students had a “science lesson” as they helped their dad make deliciously scented candles,



and boys have made beautiful music for us as we’ve gathered together to sing Christmas carols. The simple beauty of these moments takes my breath away.


Boundaries and Simplicity

          We’ve learned we need to set aside both time and space to nurture relationships and keep peace. Sometimes this means saying no to things we’d held as obligations, and choosing which things our family can participate in. It means paring down, simplifying, and cherishing time together instead of being swept up in the mad rush that roars by like a tide this time of year.

Thanksgiving

          “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

          A tough order on some days and for those in the midst of trials, but on the hardest days, it’s still the key. Even in days of darkness, there are beautiful glimmers of light, moments and small gifts to be thankful for. Literally counting blessings, we find much to cherish, and see in small things much to be grateful for: a cup of tea, birds at the feeder in drizzling rain, a family of deer in the back woods; boys playing a board game, a sibling helping another, Husband making a special dinner, sans allergens, just for me. My cup runneth over.

 Comfort

         We need people who are there for us – the kind who will listen and not judge, the rare kind who will stop right then and there and pray with and for us. I will always remember leaving the grocery store in a daze years ago, just days before Christmas, when a phone call had left our worlds reeling. I ran into a new friend and after my story had poured out, she surprised me by taking my hands and praying for our family, right there in the back of the grocery store by the gum ball machines. The comfort of her bold and unexpected prayer was an indescribable gift; she loaned me her peace when I had none, and brought me to the throne with her, when I could scarcely crawl there myself. I count as blessings those friends and family members who have walked through hard things with us; we need friends like that, and we need to be that kind of friend for others.


“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”      2 Corinthians 1:3-4


    
     (Even Sadie, the 55 lb goldendoodle, needs comfort sometimes. In the middle of the music making and baking and cleaning, we realize she doesn’t appreciate the electric guitar.)

I am thankful, so, so thankful, that what we celebrate at Christmas is deeper than the thrills promised in television commercials from the purchase of the perfect present, and goes far beyond the perfect set-ups in magazines. We’re promised a peace and joy that can only come from knowing a Savior who cared enough to come live among us, in the lovely moments, and in our messes. With the broken and the hurting: He is there. In the quiet moments and the stillness: He is there. As you spend a few more days busy with last minute buying, wrapping, baking and preparing, I wish for you His peace, as you get ready to celebrate the birth of our King.

Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Birthday for the Rower


Fourteen years – where did that time go? Fourteen years ago on Sunday, we welcomed a tiny bundle, born two weeks late and so very cherished. He was a quiet baby, snuggly and pink, with huge gray eyes that watched everything; a gentle baby who wanted to be held close and was easily soothed in arms.

He was, unexpectedly, a rambunctious toddler, but periods of bouncing off walls were interspersed with times of intense concentration, keen observation and sweet companionship. This was the child who taught me to really look at things; a walk around the block could take an hour, because mustn’t we examine every pebble, scrap of metal and piece of broken glass? And look! There’s a bug, and isn’t he cool?

The wild toddler grew into a calm boy who kept his keen sense of observation and appreciation for beauty around him. He became a wonderful big brother, welcoming home each of his new siblings and embracing them fully, sharing a room, toys, life, without question or complaint, and helping with their adjustments by his happy companionship.

His faith grew, and he follows his strong convictions, and shares them freely. We have wonderful discussions I wouldn’t expect to have with a person his age, and I am so thankful for the gift of this young man.

When he was tiny, he’d open each present, and joyfully exclaim, “It’s just what I always wanted!” He is still just as much fun to give presents to, and just as happy to receive them.


Still patient with little brothers who watch his every move;



Still an awful lot of fun.



 Happy Birthday, Rower. We love you, and the way you let your Light shine in our home and in the world. Keep on shining!

Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Children are Waiting

            Numbers can be hard to wrap your head around; statistics aren’t warm and fuzzy and who can relate to them? 147,000,000. 147 million. Can you picture 147 million of anything? I can't. How about more than 147 million orphans worldwide, right now – can you even begin to conceive of it?

Here is a thought: start here, with me, with these three children who are orphans no more, and imagine something different. Imagining this hurts like a sucker punch, but try with me for a minute, please.

Start with this boy - the one who is tall and strong, an amazing guitarist with a tender heart, a kind big brother and son -  and imagine that he is instead still in his country of birth. In this future, he lives in an orphanage, and his terror at the many changes of caregivers he experienced his first years has hardened into attachment disorder; he is angry, he is lonely, and inside his tender heart, he is afraid. His teeth haven’t received the extensive work they needed, to make up for poor prenatal nutrition, and his mouth hurts always; even his adult teeth have been destroyed by the constant infections of his baby teeth. In this reality, this child not placed initially because of a frightening diagnosis now suffers an unrelated hearing loss, and without hearing aids, he misses much of his world, including conversation and schoolwork. He does not have a guitar, pets, siblings, parents. He is alone, and at 18, the world will not receive him kindly.

            Imagine this child next: the child who rides a hand-cycle, keeps most of his family organized, is wildly intelligent and runs with his siblings on his prosthetic legs. Imagine that he was not adopted, but instead, sent to another orphanage – his third – where children are often sent when they haven’t found a family. His grief over losing the foster mother he loved so dearly, and the rejection he felt at their parting, have taken over his once joyful spirit. At two and a half, upon his arrival at the orphanage, his paperwork said he shrank into himself, had “slightly below normal intelligence” and that he could not play with the other children because of his limb differences. Imagine that now, at 11, he feels his differences deeply, stays apart from the other children, and has stopped trying to prove that he is smart. He needs vision therapy to help his eyes focus, but no-one has ever noticed this. Despite the work of dedicated people trying to change perceptions of those with disabilities in his birth country, in this reality, he will not have many chances as an adult.

            Last, imagine the youngest – eight now, full of words and imaginations and hugs. Imagine that at two and a half, when his lack of speech prompted a diagnosis of developmental delays, he was not adopted. Imagine that instead, he stays in an orphanage – his fifth placement. Perhaps he is moved again, at five, to a more permanent orphanage, where his rehabilitation therapy and hope of a family end. With each placement he shuts down further, though no-one knows that his blank stare, slack face and even drooling are part of him disassociating – a PTSD sort of reaction that has also stunted his physical growth. It is hard for him to pay attention, with his heart always racing so, and after a while, it becomes easier to give in fully to his habit of lying on the ground and pushing a toy in front of his face – that is soothing and always predictable. He stops asking for hugs, and people stop trying to teach him, because, after all, what could he learn? He is tiny and stunted, and his hope is gone.

These are not statistics – these are real children; my children, as “real” as the children physically born to me, and this is what they might have faced had they not been adopted. Imagining their options without a family is heart-wrenching, and imagining our family without them is equally so. It has been the greatest privilege of our lives to welcome our children home and provide them with what they need to thrive, and we have been outrageously blessed as we’ve watched them blossom.

But now we know – the more than 147,000,000 children waiting – they are not statistics. They are real children, in orphanages, foster homes and worse situations, around the world. They are children with names and personalities and feelings, waiting to become the people God made them to be, waiting for families who will love and nurture them and show them the way. They are, each one of them, bigger than a statistic, bigger than a diagnosis. Each one is a child of God, perhaps your child, waiting.


Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27


Now you know: 147 million. Please, consider. Adoption and orphan care is not only for the childless or infertile – not just for those who hear an audible voice from God telling them to get busy and care for the orphans – he has told us: it’s in His book. We have been adopted and redeemed by a gracious God and how can we not want to respond in turn?

    God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.   Ephesians 1:5 NLT

     We are not left with a hopeless future; we belong, our future is certain, and we know we are loved. What about the more than 147,000,000 children? They are waiting.



Some resources to consider:
RainbowKids.com Waiting child photolisting and advocacy, adoption e-zine. Our three youngest were Rainbow Kids.
Children's Home Society and Family Services (CHSFS was the placing agency for our boys)
Love without Boundaries -  worldwide group of volunteers dedicated to improving the lives of orphaned and impoverished children in China

I know there are many more - for this National Adoption Month, I'd be glad to share other resources brought to my attention.

Thankful to be part of this journey, and
Trusting in Him,
Aimee

           

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Picture Study Wednesdays

            In an earlier post about our Tuesday Poet-Teas, I mentioned the rhythm of our weeks, and how comforting it is to small ones (and me!) to have certain things in the week to look forward to. Our Wednesday Picture Studies are another fun piece of structure and Charlotte Mason style learning that we all look forward to. I never cease to be amazed at the rapt attention of the children, ages 8 through almost 14,  as they gather around to look at a masterpiece I hold before them, and at their attention to detail and how their observations become deeper as they become familiar with the artist’s style and body of work.

Charlotte believed that education should be a feast for children, exposing them to a rich array of ideas, and that even young children are capable of appreciating fine works of art much more deeply than we give them credit for. She was keen on teaching children to really notice things around them, and picture study is a wonderful way to cultivate that habit and expose them to a culture of art appreciation that they’d not naturally seek out or be immersed in.

“By this sort of culture I mean, not so much the getting of knowledge, not even getting the power to learn, but the cultivation of the power to appreciate, to enjoy, whatever is just, true and beautiful in thought and expression.” (Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character.)

It sounds daunting, but is surprisingly easy, and takes about 15 minutes each week. While some folks use fine art prints made from internet websites, we’ve been helped greatly by a beautiful Picture Study Portfolio purchased from SimplyCharlotteMason.com. In general, one artist per term is chosen for study, and care is taken not to study the artists in chronological order. I chose Rembrandt for our first picture study experience, and ordered a Picture Study Portfolio that held 8 (beautiful!) full-color works printed on heavy, coated stock, and a booklet that contains instruction and a brief artist biography, as well as leading questions and a bit of information about each painting.

We read the biography first, in two short sittings, and began our study. Ideally, each child would have their own copy of each painting studied, and now additional copies are available through SCM. We have just one copy of each masterpiece, and while it’s perhaps not ideal, it’s worked. I slip the week’s masterpiece into a plastic sleeve to protect it from fingerprints (I want it to be handled once we've discussed it), and then I sit in the center of my group of guys, and ask them to silently look at the painting and see what they can notice about it. I don’t tell them the title of the painting or what it’s depicting – that comes later! Sometimes they’re excited and start to gush; they have to learn to wait, and quietly study for a few minutes. When everyone is ready, I turn the painting over, and ask what the kids noticed.

Some take great pains to remember the wardrobe, or the faces, or the expressions. They’ve learned to notice the source of light, and who is most emphasized by it, and to guess at the artist’s motivations. These things didn’t come naturally at first; a few leading questions (some are included in the guide) help jog their memories and spur their thoughts. The Wrestler studied Rembrandt’s self portrait and mused that the artist was honest in his assessment of himself; the Musician has taken a special interest in noting how the artist uses light. My very visual smallest learner takes special joy in this study, and notices things that escape the rest of us.

Once everyone has shared their observations, I tell the children the title of the painting and give them a few more details about it. Sometimes there’s a coordinating Bible passage listed in the guide, as in The Return of the Prodigal Son, and this deepens our appreciation. We don’t go deeply into technique or art history; this is a time to notice and enjoy.

            “We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon a child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education.

When we’re done with the masterpiece of the day, I place the picture on the wall, along with the others in our growing (decidedly unglamorous) gallery of Rembrandts. If each child had his own copy, he could put them in a binder, and have a small, portable gallery. Many people display just one masterpiece at a time, but we’ve also seen a benefit to leaving the pictures displayed together. Just last week, the Musician was sitting quietly at the table after a meal, studying the pictures, when he observed, “Rembrandt liked to use a lot of red in his paintings. Look at how much red there is in each picture.”

He was right. Not an earth shattering observation, but it showed me that he is looking, noticing and appreciating these beautiful pieces. A visiting friend with a degree in art history commented on the shapes used in the compositions of each piece – see the triangle in that one, the circle in another? Perhaps tomorrow, when the children have all made their oral observations, I’ll ask if they noticed any shapes in the way the figures are arranged, and then our wall gallery will offer a place where they can notice more shapes, should they choose to do so later.

If you've tried picture study at your house, I'd love to hear what works for you; please do share!
 
 
Breakfast is calling, and it’s already been noted that apple cider and pumpkin cookies, leftover from last night’s dinner, would be the perfect snack to go with our Poet-Tea today. I agree.

Wishing you a blessed day, and
            Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Staying Connected, and Breathing Deep

Keep Calm And Carry On Vintage Aqua Blue (ITEM S336) Free Ball Chain Necklace or Key Ring

            I needed her advice badly that Monday morning, after weeks of churning worry. Medical questions long on the backburner were on my mind, and imagination was running wild with the worst sorts of scenarios. I’d called a wise friend who’s lived her share of medical ordeals and life upheavals. My concerns poured out, and she answered in the soothing tones I know to expect from her. First, advice I was too befuddled to come up with on my own: call this person, schedule that. Then, words I needed to hear that became a gift throughout the week: go outside; take a walk, and stop thinking about this. Be where you are, focus on what is around you. She laughingly pointed me to the words on the necklace (like this one) I’d ordered for her the year before, taken from a British WWII poster meant to be used if a German occupation had occurred: Keep Calm and Carry On.

            And so I called, and scheduled, and then laced on sneakers and piled outside pell-mell with dog and boys and bikes, walking behind the unruly parade, noticing birds and leaves and the chatter of the children. Mind wandered, as it’s prone, to questions, and was quickly reeled back to the people and places around me. So many gifts to be thankful for: smell of crunchy brown leaves, gold of sun on changing trees, sound of laughter and jokes and most amazingly, these wonderful people I get to share life with. The late missionary Jim Elliot wisely advised, “Wherever you are, be all there.”

What a difference those words make! If I am “all there” with my family, I am not worrying. And if I am all there, they know it; they feel it. Our relationships are deeper, and the beauty around me is breathtaking, from the obvious, to the subtle; the smell of brewing decaf after dinner, glow of candle reflected on children’s faces; hand held by child still small enough to hold fast, purr of warm cat on cold night.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:27

            It was later that night, I believe, the boys started with the song. Inspired by older sister’s preparation for a coffee-house performance, the Rower and Musician searched out the chords for Let it Be, and started to practice. Rower on piano, and Musician on newly purchased electric guitar, they plinked and strummed until they had it down. Each morning that week, after quiet time and children’s breakfast and chores, the music started; beautiful, glorious noise of young musicians practicing, sweet voices raised in song, reminding me to hang on to my Father, and then Let it Be.

            My life, my children, our futures are in God’s hands. Nothing passes our way that He is not aware of, and we pass through nothing without His presence and His care. Worry, the thief, steals peace, steals moments, hours, days we never get back; keeps breathing and relationships shallow and is, I’ve heard said, the opposite of faith.

Through the Waters

            My friend Katie has a giant SUV with a snorkel on top. She told me yesterday that when the family goes camping in the deep woods, miles off the beaten path, they often have to cross streams and creeks to reach their destination. I gasped at the thought of driving through so much water, but Katie says she reads, she closes her eyes, and I am imagining she focuses on the people in the SUV with her; those who matter most in her life, knowing that they are safe, and that the snorkel provides oxygen for them and the engine until they are out of the waters.

            Chopping potatoes last night, I imagined Katie and her family driving through a creek. The metaphor hit me then: this life is full of floods and storms and fires – we are, in fact, promised that it will be. We see it in broken relationships, illnesses, prodigal children, and countless other hurts we have perhaps already experienced. But we are also promised that we will never, ever be alone in those things:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2

Our Heavenly Father is here, present in every circumstance.  I need to stay as connected to Him as Katie’s snorkel must stay to a source of oxygen. And then, knowing I’m connected, I can breathe deep, all the way in. I can “be” where I am, and join in the wonderful, glorious noise that is my life.

Giving thanks and
 Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Poet-Teas

            Tuesday again at Evergreen Academy – do you know what that means? On Tuesdays, snack time is Poet-Tea time. It means one boy chooses a special snack to help prepare, and we’ll get to eat something tasty off of Grandmother’s transfer ware dishes, while we gather around the table or on a blanket outside. We’ll share poems that catch our fancy, and we’ll giggle and pass the anthology and listen while someone else reads another. Perhaps big brother will use his best British accent, and we will all be very impressed, and Littlest will be reminded of a poem he likes, and will want to read just one more. If a guest joins us, we'll ask her to bring a poem, please, and perhaps we'll recognize the author's name. If you've written one yourself, do share, if you've come to tea. The children have been very kind when I've shared my own, and they've shared some fantastic ones they've penned.

Through our years of home schooling, there have been so many special things I’ve wanted to add into the school day, but it sometimes seemed the special things came at the expense of the regulars, or the specials just didn’t happen at all. Little by little, we’ve worked our way into a schedule that gives predictability to a small one who craves stability, and offers something different to look forward to every day. Some of our favorite special activities now include Poet-Teas on Tuesdays, and Picture Study on Wednesdays – both super-easy ways to add a bit of Charlotte Mason inspired fun and learning to our week.

            Poet-teas are simple, and require little preparation save for owning (or borrowing from the library) a volume or two of poetry. We choose a poem (or a few) shortly before we gather together during either our morning or afternoon snack time, and one boy gets to have the fun of baking or assembling a special snack with me. We’ve enjoyed homemade brownies, boxed cookies, fresh fruit, trail mix, and this afternoon, coffee ice cream and coffee-flavored frozen coconut-milk treat (we were out of most everything else, how lucky for them!). We have fun setting the treats on my Grandmother’s dishes and using a special teapot and cups, or a thrifted collection of small glasses, when it’s too hot for tea.

            We begin simply, usually with prayer, and then one or another boy will excitedly start us off with the poem he’s chosen to share that day. Then the book is passed, and another of us reads. I enjoy using the seasonal poems listed in Favorite Poems Old and New, and The Rower likes to look for poems by favorite authors. The Wrestler likes the random open-and-read method, and The Musician loves poems with long words. Littlest usually chooses from his volume of A Child’s Garden of Verses, and today wowed us all as he read his poems with expression– a new development for him.

            We don’t critique the poems, though we will discuss words and things that may be unclear. We relish the poems, repeat lines that are lovely or funny, and we laugh or appreciate. Conversations flow naturally as a child recognizes a similarity between a poem they’ve just heard and one read earlier, or an author’s name or style becomes familiar. In about 10 or 15 minutes, we have read our poems, we clear our dishes, and we carry on with the next item on our to-do lists. That’s it! It’s easy, lovely, and it is so much fun to see these boys genuinely appreciating poetry.

Must-haves on our poetry shelf:

Favorite Poems Old and New
Stories and Poems forExtremely Intelligent Children of All Ages
A Child’s Garden of Verses
When We Were VeryYoung

Going to sleep thankful for the gift of this day, and
Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Autumn Walk

From my journal...


Twigs snap as we walk
on the acorn strewn floor
of the forest.
A small black bird (junco?)
flies low from bush to bush
away from us,
the intruders.
Sunlight filters through
the gold and red canopy,
and a lone goose cries out
as he makes his way South.


Loving this beautiful season, and
Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Musician's Birthday, and Luscious Gluten Free Lemon Cake

            Yesterday, our wonderful Musician celebrated his 11th birthday. We had a lot of fun reminiscing about the first time we saw his picture, just after his first birthday, and how hopelessly, head-over-heels in love we fell with him. We remembered the first time we saw him, pudgy legs and black hair that stood on end, and how he used to scream and scream whenever we had to leave him, during his first year home. That included his distress when we had to leave his side for late night bathroom trips – we bonded big time, and stayed close, day and night, for quite a while.


We remembered how healed his little heart was when the Wrestler came home from Korea, and how inseparable the two became; my instant, three-year-old twins. We laughed about the mischief these two used to make, remembering the time they poured the dregs of a nearly empty bottle of laundry soap onto their train table (while I, clueless, folded laundry just feet away), and slid around on the slippery mess, until their giggles gave them away.


            I kept remembering the scripture that was put on my heart again and again during our adoption process:

            For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

            Our Musician is a gentle, loving, generous kid whose enthusiasm for life makes him a joy to be around. He has wonderful gifts, including his music, and we know God has great plans for him.

            For his birthday, I wanted to bake a lemon cake for my lemon-loving boy, but I didn’t want the crumbly texture that’s characterized every yellow GF cake I’ve ever made. I adapted a recipe I found at the Land O’Lakes site, making it dairy free, lemon-flavored and a tiny bit lower in fat. I also added a bit of almond flour, because I've found almond flour can add a nice, moist richness to cakes and muffins - and I love it with lemon. The frosting I came up with had a strong lemon flavor; we like it that way, but you can adjust to your taste by decreasing the lemon juice and adding a bit more water or some coconut milk, if you want it less lemony. The result was a wonderful, moist, lemony cake that met rave reviews. Here is the recipe for you, just in case you are craving lemon with your coffee this morning.


Gluten Free Dairy Free Lemon Bundt Cake
2 c. sugar
¾ c. Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (check for the DF/GF version)
4 eggs
2 t. lemon extract
½ c. almond flour
1 ½ c. white rice flour
1/3 c. tapioca starch
2/3 c. potato starch
1 t. xanthan gum
2 t. baking powder
¼ c. unsweetened apple sauce
1 c. coconut milk

Cream sugar and Earth balance until blended and fluffy. Add eggs and lemon extract, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add dry ingredients, and blend until well mixed. Add apple sauce and coconut milk, a bit at a time, blending well. Pour into greased Bundt pan that has been dusted with GF flour mixture. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of a section of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for ten minutes, and then invert onto plate and remove pan. When cool, enjoy plain, with berries, or frost with lemon frosting.

Lemon Frosting
3 c. confectioners sugar
2 T Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread
1 T shortening
Grated rind of ½ lemon
2-3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T water

Blend sugar, Earth Balance and shortening. Add lemon rind and lemon juice and mix well. Add 1T water, and blend, adding more water a teaspoon at a time, if necessary, until frosting is spreading consistency. Spread on cooled cake and prepare to swoon.

Wishing you a blessed day, and
Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On the Power of Stories

            Earlier this week, Littlest and I pulled out his copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, as we do every day, to read a poem. I realized as we turned the page that this day’s poem was a favorite – one that filled me with emotion, and sent memories and images through my mind as I read.

Farewell to the Farm
The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything! 

To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

And fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door,
O hayloft, where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we swing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

            The farm, the gates, the stable and hayloft – I could see them all, and I remembered my tears the first time I read this poem, at the thought of leaving the beloved farm. The thing is, I have never lived on a farm, and the memories and images I had in my mind all came from the begged-for stories my dad told of his own childhood on a farm.

I knew about Bossy, the cow my dad and his brothers sometimes rode, and about Scrappy, the dog who had several unfortunate run-ins with porcupines. I knew about the apple tree and the hayloft and the barn cats, and hours spent outside swimming in the creek and walking down the lane to the one-room schoolhouse. I knew about the fresh butter, and jam made from berries picked by my father and his siblings, and I knew about the love on that farm. Later, I exchanged many letters with my grandmother, and she shared even more stories about life on the farm, each one giving vivid details that added to my own memories of a place I’d never seen.

I finally had the chance to see it, as a young adult, when my parents and I were graciously given a tour by the farm’s current owners. I wrote excitedly to my grandmother, and told her how I wished she could have been with us.

Her response surprised me.

Grandmother's Letter
“Glad you had a chance to go out to our old brick house. But I would not like that at all,” she wrote, and she began to detail her memories, starting with the boys filling her woodbox so she could make breakfast, and continuing, “Children coming downstairs in the morning, standing over the furnace register dressing and getting ready to run up the road for another day at school. Making strawberry jam on my new 'Monarch' stove, running out just a minute to see where the smallest child was. Coming back in the kitchen, jam had boiled out of the pot, down my new stove and halfway across the kitchen floor.”

            She went on, to tell me of the dreadfully dirty and messy attic, and how she’d torn down the walls and thrown the pieces out the windows, scrubbed the floors with a paint scraper and pails of soapy water until she found “beautiful yellow boards,” and how snug and cozy that room was in the winter. She described the food she made each night, and told of washing the dishes with her eldest daughter, as she taught her songs, prayers and poems.

            “What beautiful memories I have of that dear old brick house,” she finished. “No. I do not want to go in the house and see the changes that have been made. To me, let it be as it was, long ago.”

            And so when I read that poem now,  I see a well-loved farm peopled with my family - my father as a boy, my dear late grandmother and my aunts and uncles. Saying goodbye to that farm is so hard, even when those stories were not my own. That is the power of story.

Our Stories

            Today, the boys and I ate lunch reclining on a blanket on the kitchen floor, with Middle Eastern foods the likes of which shepherds might have eaten in the days of Abraham. They asked me to read to them, and ran to get Carry On Mr. Bowditch, our current, much loved read-aloud.

“They might have told stories at lunch in those days,” one son remarked, as he reached for some grapes.

            “Jesus always told stories,” Littlest observed. And I realized he was right; Jesus surely knew the power of stories, and the impact He would have by teaching not through lecture, but by engaging his audience - for thousands of years now - through story.

We have the privilege of passing on Jesus' wonderful story. We have also been given our own stories, and our family’s stories, to share. Let us remember to pass them on, and give our children a richer inheritance, a connection to things they have not seen, and the desire to share stories of their own someday. Who knows…perhaps one day a man will tell his child about a lunch shared on a blanket, while he and his brothers listened to a story.


Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Monday, September 26, 2011

Curried Kidney Beans with Coconut Milk

          Not so long ago, comfort food meant macaroni and cheese or a casserole with thick sauce. Celiac and dairy allergy changed all that, and it’s ok – I have Curried Kidney Beans with Coconut Milk. I would never have eaten this  as a kid, and it amazes me every time I see my kids gobbling this up. It’s a creamy, spicy, favorite here, easy on the budget and oh so good. We ate big pots of it on our extended family vacation this summer, and it's a wonderful comfort food as the weather gets colder. I have been asked for the recipe many times, so finally, here it is.
Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients; it’s really quite easy and worth the bit of measuring you’ll do. Try mixing up the spices in a little bowl before cooking, and it will seem super easy to dump them in - but go easy on the cayenne and red pepper flakes until you know how spicy you like it, and add those in a little at a time (I've jazzed this up a little too much in the past, so now I spice with care!). Look for spices in bulk or at a health food store; our local store buys spices in bulk and sells them in little zip-lock bags, for a fraction of the cost of the jarred spices at the grocery store. Happy cooking!

Curried Kidney Beans with Coconut Milk

1 onion, chopped
Vegetable oil
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. cumin
½ t ginger
A few shakes - ¼ t. cayenne (start light and adjust to taste)
1 t. coriander
1 t sugar
2 T chili powder
½ t cinnamon
½ t. salt
A few shakes red pepper flakes (optional)
2 T soy sauce
1 14.5 oz can petite cut diced tomatoes (or a few fresh diced tomatoes)
1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed ***
2 T lime juice

 Sauté chopped onion in heated oil, stirring and cooking for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for a minute or so more. Stir in spices and soy sauce, and cook for another minute – doesn’t that smell amazing? Now, pour in undrained tomatoes and coconut milk, stirring until the sauce is creamy and blended. Add kidney beans, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, stirring regularly. The sauce will thicken, but if it gets too thick, add a bit of water from time to time. Stir in lime juice and serve with basmati rice.

***I often use 3 cans of kidney beans without increasing the amount of tomatoes or coconut milk, just increasing the spices a bit; it goes a little further this way and is just as delicious.

Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Living Books

            When I think back on my childhood education, I don’t remember most the teachers, the classrooms, or the lessons. I remember the books, first enjoyed snuggled up to my mother as she read aloud, and then as I read silently during after school-hours. “Put that book down,” my father would tell me at the dinner table, or during family car rides. “Look out the window!”  Even when I wasn’t reading, I “lived with” the characters who peopled the books I read: Laura Ingalls Wilder and the other characters from Little House on thePrairie; a girl named Karen; Mandy and the children in The Secret Garden.

            Laura is in good part responsible for my love of the country, nature and simple living; Karen gave me a blueprint for raising a child with a disability, and many old favorites became part of a fabric of my being.

            When our older children were small, I read them many of my own childhood favorites, and felt terribly uneasy when I saw some of the books being sold in the Scholastic book flyers that came home from school, and the books that stocked the shelves of the public school classrooms.

            “That (awful) series?” I remember asking The Student’s 3rd grade teacher with dismay, after learning in a conference what he'd been reading at school each day. “He has read 11 of those books during independent reading time this quarter?”

I explained my concern about the series he'd been reading: besides the dreadful subject matter I didn’t want him exposed to (a whole other story), I knew that these and other popular series books relied on small words, short sentences, short paragraphs, poor sentence construction and a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter to entice the kids to read (and buy) more. My request that she encourage The Student to read other books during class time was not honored, and it became increasingly difficult to interest my intelligent, formerly interested-in-everything-boy, in real literature.

Twaddle vs Living Books

When we began homeschooling years later, I first heard the terms “Living books,” and “Twaddle.” Twaddle, I came to understand, was the stuff I already knew I hated – the books that talk down to children, underestimate their intelligence or potential; and dilute the information into small bites and yet make little sense as a whole. They are the books that attract children with “eye candy” like characters from movies or television shows, but have content that is badly written or just plain silly. The differences between these volumes, and the majority of books written for children one hundred years ago are striking.

            Living books are the ones you want to live with, the ones you want your children to take under their arms and find a cozy corner to snuggle up and read. Usually written by one person who is passionate about the subject matter, they're most often written as a story or in a conversational style. Because of this, readers are transported into the story, where they can make connections, and remember much more than if they'd read a textbook or an encyclopedia spread. They can teach morals and values through tales of adventure and sacrifice, and leave children with memories of places and events they have only visited in those pages. In our home and school, these are the types of books we use as school books, reading books, free-time and family reading.

Long after they would have forgotten dates memorized from a textbook, our children will likely remember gathering together to listen to their father read Little Britches – and they will likely remember the tears of their parents as we finished that book one winter night. We will always remember Charlotte, and her devotion to a pig (more tears). They remember our outdoor snack and lunch times, when they learned of the courage of those who stood against the Nazis in occupied Holland in The Winged Watchman, and begged for just one more chapter, and will not forget curling up with their dad to listen to missionary adventures. And perhaps one day, in a way we cannot yet imagine, God will use one of the living books they read to light a fire and shape their destinies as they find the paths He has laid out for them.

A Few Favorite Living Books

Through the years and for a variety of age groups, here are some favorites at our house:
-          Little House on the Prairie and other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
-          Little Pear
-          Charlotte’s Web
-          Fifty Famous Stories Retold
-          The Bible
-          Hero Tales
-          Little Britches and other books by Ralph Moody
-          The Book of Indians by Hollings C. Hollings, worth searching for!
-          Paddle to the Sea, also by Hollings
-          The Adventures of Pinocchio
-          Moccasin Trail
-          The Winged Watchman
-          The Door in the Wall
-          Understood Betsy
-          Cameron Townsend - Good News In Any Language
-          Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
-          Bruchko
-          Carry On Mr. Bowditch
-          Treasure Island
-          The Kite Fighters
-          Cameron Townsend
-          The Cat of Bubastes
-          Stories and Poems for Highly Intelligent Children of All Ages
Have a favorite living book? Please do share, we always love another book to explore.

Loving to read, and
Trusting in Him,
Aimee






Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Fine Morning for Running

It was a still-foggy morning, chores done early before school, perfect for a walk - or a run, if you have just gotten your new running legs, or your new Chucks to make you go faster. Cool, are we not?


Off we go!

Faster!



Brother notices the leg, on its temporary socket, is twisted. A brother with an Allen Wrench is handy when you need an adjustment, mid-run.



These running legs were an amazing blessing, awarded through a grant. My heart is so full as I watch these treasures bounce down the street, that I think it might burst.


I can't keep up, but I do my best. I jog behind with dog and camera, watching through misty eyes as my youngest beautiful boys soar. It is our job, as parents, to help them learn to fly, even though eventually it will mean flying away from us. What joy to watch them fly, and what a privilege, again, to have a front row seat to miracles.

Counting my blessings and
Trusting in Him,
Aimee

Friday, September 9, 2011

In Which I Adore Smoothies

Lunch. Since I was a kid, I’ve had trouble figuring out what to eat for lunch. I never liked traditional lunch foods, and once I went gluten free, it only got harder - if you've ever tried to eat a sandwich on gluten free bread, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. I have no problem finding nutritious and creative things for the kids to eat, but I seldom want to eat much at that time of day – and yet if I don’t, blood sugar drops mean I’m a pretty grouchy camper by mid-afternoon.

Then I started to hear talk of smoothies – green smoothies in particular – and it piqued my curiosity. Could a smoothie made with spinach really be any good? I followed my cousin Laurie’s instructions, messed with the ingredients a little, and people, I am in LOVE with smoothies.

I make my green smoothies with tofu, of all things, for protein, and I keep sliced, frozen bananas and bagged frozen fruit in the freezer at all times, so I’ll be ready to whip up a smoothie whenever. The bananas give a rich, creamy texture, a lot like ice cream, and the spinach makes the drinks bright green and extra nutritious. Be brave, you can try this!

One evening, I was out of tofu and spinach, but wanted something cold and sweet, like the ice cream I haven’t been able to eat since I went off dairy last October. I remembered something I’d read somewhere, and started throwing things into the blender as my husband and father looked on skeptically. The result was a chocolate, peanut butter banana smoothie that tasted like the chocolate peanut butter ice cream I used to love; amazing, and with no added sugar. Husband passed, but Dad was impressed.

I’ll share both recipes here – feel free to let me know how they turn out, and share your own smoothie ideas, if you like!



Green Tropical Smoothie

3 oz tofu, cubed

2 c. baby spinach, stems removed

4 oz orange juice

Water, as needed

½ sliced, frozen banana

½ c (or a handful) frozen mango

Place tofu, spinach and OJ in blender, and blend until smooth and uniformly green (no spinach pieces visible). Add frozen bananas and mango, and blend until smooth, adding water, a tablespoon at a time, until fruits are blended and smoothie is the desired consistency. Mess with the quantities, if you like; add more fruit if it’s too thin, more liquid if it’s too thick. You can’t really do this wrong.

Frozen peaches or berries can be substituted for mango, and ¼ t vanilla or almond extract may be added if you like (check to make sure your flavorings are GF).


Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie

1 sliced, frozen banana

4 oz + vanilla soymilk

3 T cocoa powder

2 T natural peanut butter

Place all ingredients in blender, and blend until smooth. You may need to stir, scrape down the contents on the side of the blender jar, and add more soymilk 1 tablespoon at a time if the mixture’s too thick to blend. Blend until no chunks of fruit remain and the smoothie is the consistency you like; you can leave it thick, to eat with a spoon like soft-serve, or make it thinner, like a shake. Grab a spoon and find someplace comfy to sit down and get your chocolate fix.

Wishing you a blessed and yummy day.
Trusting in Him,
Aimee