Friday, July 29, 2011

On Dreams Turned Over and Hands Opened

I’ve been holding it here in my hands for quite a while now, this dream. I know the feel of it, and the heft. The longer I carry it, the heavier it gets as I try to convince God of the wisdom of my plan, and the burden in my heart gets deeper as I long for this dream to come to fruition.
I’ve had burdens before, so clearly placed by God and it has been miraculous to watch His plans unfold. This one, however -  maybe it is mine alone and not a plan, not a seed God has planted. I know from hopes confided by friends that many have dreams buried deep, or held in hands as closely clasped as mine.
Once I heard a speaker talk about our hopes and dreams. We clench them so tightly, she said, that our hands aren’t open to what God may have for us instead. Oh, I have cradled this dream, held it close, talked long with God about it. And yes, my hands have been closed tightly around this hope, my eyes focused on it even as I talk to God, on whom my eyes should rest.

The other night: a tough one. The heaviness is difficult and I want to lie down and cry for a little while. Instead I think I should perhaps tend to the little flock here, and so I turn the praise music up very, very loud on my small kitchen radio, and begin to wash dishes. Husband comes down shortly, and observes with a question in his voice, “You’re really crankin’ the tunes down here.”

“Trying to replace the spirit of heaviness with the garment of praise,” I tell him. Husband murmurs ascent, and goes to put in a load of wash. He knows me.

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

                                      Isaiah 61:3

          Hands in soapy water, lips and heart raised in praise, I try to let go. I was not put on this earth to realize my own dreams, I know, but to glorify the one who made me. It’s up to Him where I do it and how; my task is to do it, wherever, however, giving thanks always. Oh, that I could do it more gracefully, that I could do it in all things. Scrubbing pots, I press on, whispering thanks.

            The next morning, sitting pondside as boys swim, I thumb through a magazine. Should I be surprised to see this verse, on this day?

Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;

You have made my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

Surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5-6

            How very blessed I have been. There have been difficulties and there are private griefs and struggles but in Him, my lot is always secure. I look out at brown boys diving off the dock, at Littlest happily pushing a boat through the cool water; at the robin’s egg blue sky and the sand and the sun, and I know that the boundary lines of my life are pleasant.  I am so grateful for this inheritance, for His inheritance. Sitting there, toes in sand, I tearfully peel back my tightly clasped fingers and let the dream sit next to me. It’s not gone yet. But my hands are open, my eyes are looking up, and my heart is thankful.

Among the listed thanks:

Moonlit walks with Husband
Grilled zucchini
Painted toenails (blue!)
Story time with boys and Husband, dog and cat all listening in
Libraries full of treasures
Estate sale treasures
Cat who curls up close and purrs loud
Insights from boys
Visit from brother and sister-in-law from CO
Cookout with family, sharing and laughing
Cooking and cleaning together
Almond flour blueberry muffins (Yum!)

There is always, always so much to be thankful for.

Trusting in Him,

Monday, July 25, 2011

On finding the perfect gluten free, dairy free chocolate chip cookie recipe

            I have loved baking for years, since I stood on a chair next to my mother and we made cookies and Parker House rolls. Later, I was allowed to use her big silver mixmaster, with the admonition that I had to clean and shine it properly when I was finished. As a teen, I made all sorts of whacky recipes with it, though I never did manage to get it quite as shiny as she did.  Through the years, I developed a number of my own specialties that I mixed up in my own Kitchenaid mixer in my own home. However, I never could make chocolate chip cookies as wonderful as my Aunt Susan’s. Mine, made with the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag, with real butter, were too crunchy. Hers, on the other hand, had a bit more substance, and managed to be chewy and gooey at the same time. Finally, one day I called her and begged, “Please give me the recipe for your chocolate chip cookies! How do you make them so delicious?”

            Her giggled reply startled me. “Butter flavor Crisco,” she confided. “The recipe is on the back of the can!” It was a jar to my health-food seeking heart, but I bought a can and the first batch confirmed it – the Crisco was the secret.

            Then, seven years ago, I learned I needed to eliminate all gluten from my diet, and later, dairy went too. I very slowly learned to bake again, using different flours and foreign-to-me ingredients like xanthan gum. Using gluten free cookbooks and the internet, I tried lots of chocolate chip cookie recipes. There were the cookies made with soy flour, which tasted like – well – chocolate chips and soy flour. There were dry and crumbly cookies, flat and crunchy cookies. Finally, I remembered Aunt Susan’s recipe, and decided I’d try to adapt it – could they be worse than the ones I’d been making? Surely not. With a few changes, it turned out to be the best gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipe I’d ever made, and is our go-to recipe when we want cookies. Try bringing them to a picnic – no-one will believe they’re gluten free.

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. firmly packed light brown sugar

¾ c. Crisco Butter Flavor All-Vegetable Shortening

1 T gf vanilla extract

1 egg

1 ¾ c. gluten free flour mixture (see below)

1 t. salt

1 t. xanthan gum

¾ t. baking soda

1-1  ½ c. gf,df chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375. Combine sugar, shortening and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Combine flour, salt, xanthan gum and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture and mix ‘til blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto parchment paper covered baking sheets (I prefer the insulated baking sheets). Bake 9-13 minutes, depending on whether you’d like them chewy or crispy – they’re wonderful somewhere in the middle. When they’re golden brown and you like how they’ve cooked, slide the parchment paper onto a cooling rack, and try to let them cool before you eat them.

·               If using Crisco really offends your sensibilities, go ahead and try Earth Balance (read the labels to find the gf,df version) or another butter substitute. The cookies will still be yummy, just crunchier.

·               You may sometimes need to add a few T of flour to get the dough to the right consistency for cookies – add at your discretion.


Gluten Free Flour Mixture

1 24 oz bag Bob’s Red Mill white rice flour (I like the fine consistency of this brand)

2/3 c. tapioca starch

1 1/3 c. potato starch

      Combine all in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid, and shake well. Use cup for cup in recipes calling for regular flour. If the recipe hasn’t already been adapted for gluten free ingredients, you will need to add ½ t. xanthan gum per cup of flour.

Trusting in Him,

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Wedding

It was a beautiful day on a ranch nestled in a mountain valley in Colorado, and my little brother was getting married to his lovely sweetheart.

We made the drive from our hotel in Denver, through the rain that we learned characterizes many Colorado afternoons. By the time we reached the ranch, the sun was shining again.

Look at the background - I mean really, could it be any prettier?

Is it time YET?

And then there they were; the little boy I used to love taking care of, exchanging vows with the beautiful woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Amazing, that, the choice to put another first, from this day forward. Husband of mine says that is the most key part of marriage for him - choosing what another wants or needs over your own desires, and he compares it to the Biblical story of Christ laying down His life for us. It was lovely to watch two such special people commit their lives to each other.

Then there were the festivities.

The eating,

the examination of the ring by The Student,

And the dancing.

Grandpa and The Artist - my father and my daughter - had a dance of their own.

What a beautiful thing, to see the generations come together to celebrate love, and the beginning of a new partnership for my brother and new sister-in-law.

Mark Twain said, "Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century."

We know for sure that we will never be perfect, but perhaps in our sacrifice and service and friendship and faith, our love can come close. These two are on their way, and we wish them a beautiful journey of their own.

Trusting in Him,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Purple Mountains Majesty: Colorado, Part I

            I like to think I’m adventurous, but really, I like the predictable. I like my cup of tea in my favorite mug in the morning, drunk in my favorite spot while I wake up slowly. I like our school schedule and reading books and baking and knowing what to expect next. Luckily for me, that works well with kids who’ve had too many changes in life – there is a comfort in the familiar. But, I learned on our trip to Colorado for my brother's wedding, there is also a beauty in experiencing delays, discomfort and great adventures together - we grew together as a family, learned more patience, and had an awful lot of fun! One of the things I greatly appreciated about this trip was seeing nature's testimony to God's creative powers. Even as we arrived, we saw things we’d never seen before, like the mountains rising ahead of us. I thought we had mountains here, but goodness, these made ours look like speed bumps.

After showers and clean beds (we never appreciated them so much as we did after our 50 hour train trip!) and cousins and family to visit with when we woke,

there was a visit to the zoo where we saw unlikely friends.

There was the Garden of the Gods

And a trip to the top of Pike's Peak with Aunt and Uncle.

I mean really, I have never before seen anything like these views. (I kinda like the kids too.)

       We saw hundred-year-old wagon tracks going up Pike's Peak, snow-covered mountains and beautiful wildlife. We learned that America the Beautiful was in part, inspired by a trip to Pike's Peak:
In 1893, Katharine Bates, an English professor, had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs to teach a short summer school session. One of the things that inspired her poem was the view from the top of Pike's Peak, and despite our oxygen deprived dizziness, we could see why! Simply breathtaking.

      All through the trip, I just kept marveling at this incredible world God has given us. He did not have to make it so unbelievably beautiful and yet in His goodness, He gave us not only everything we need, but a creation that shows His power, majesty and beauty.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 
Psalm 90: 1-2

I'm so thankful I pretended to be adventurous. Next, the wedding.
Trusting in Him,
- Aimee

Friday, July 15, 2011

Giving Thanks

            It has been a wonderful gift this week, to spend lots of one-on-one time with Littlest, to hear his thoughts, and to realize again how very far he has come. During the school year we spend a great deal of time together working on math and reading and narration, but the time we had this week was minimally scheduled, and our fun times were largely dictated by what Littlest wanted to do. He is an easy child, this one, and while we have worked hard together to help him overcome his early delays, he really doesn’t demand a whole lot of attention. He is an easy traveler, an easy sleeper who is cheerful upon waking, and a voracious eater of all things healthy who tells me each night which leg he’s filled with the inordinate amount of food he’s consumed. He has been so easy, in fact, that I have to make sure that I am paying extra attention to him, encouraging him to use words instead of nonverbal body language or his brothers’ interpretation of his body language. Without his two closest-in-age brothers here this past week, it has been amazing to hear what this little one has to say!

            We have played games together – Lewis and Clark and Apples to Apples. We have read together – he is delighted to listen to Little Pear every night – and he tells me he likes to hear stories about naughty children, even though he tries to be very good. The fact that Littlest can listen to a chapter of a book, comprehend it and share his thoughts is HUGE.  The past school year was devoted to lots of work on narration, using the methods of Charlotte Mason. For Littlest, it was also a form of therapy – for listening, and for speech. We started with books I’d read the other children at this age, but Littlest couldn’t recount even a bit of just a page I’d read to him. I chose books that were simpler, and Aesop’s Fables, and we started, a paragraph at a time, to work together. I’d read, then stop and ask him to tell me about what I’d read – not digging for scripted answers, but looking for signs he’d heard and comprehended and could make it his own in some way. It is much easier for him when he reads it himself, but listening comprehension is so important, I feel it’s worth working on this too. It is a continual delight to me now, after months of working together, to see Littlest enjoy Charlotte’s Web, Pinocchio, and Little Pear. So this week, we read. Lots.

            We hiked, the rocky, winding path running along the side of a waterfall, and picnicked near a calm pool downstream. The Rower and I sat in the sun to eat, and I watched Husband and Littlest enjoy their sandwiches on the top of a large shaded boulder while the dog lay in the cool below them.

We swam each day, out to the raft at the pond we’ve been bringing the children to since College Boy was just ten years old. He will be 21 this September, but I remember him, brown and lithe, diving off this dock, digging in the sand, catching crayfish. Each of our younger boys has come home to this pond, and it has been lovely therapy, full of sand and water and dragonflies and little minnows that swim around your feet and scoot away when you move. This week, what a pleasure it was to watch Littlest’s improved dive and backstroke, to sit on the raft and watch him do trick after trick – and to listen to him talk about it all! The Rower kept a steady Frisbee game going on the grass, and checked in for drinks.

On the way home, we stopped at a little organic produce stand in the front yard of a nearby house, and bought 2 zucchini, a huge bunch of broccoli and a bouquet of cilantro, all for four dollars. We put the cilantro in a vase College Boy made for me long enough ago that his name is written on masking tape on the bottom, all in wobbly capital letters. I sautéed onion, zucchini,  broccoli, and julienned carrots with a few shakes of red pepper flakes, sea salt and a splash of soy sauce (La Choy is gluten free). Littlest thought this was much better than the leftover pizza he’d excitedly brought out for the Rower and himself, and went on and on about this incredible thing I’d made with just a few ingredients, right from someone’s garden. “You should put this on Facebook,” he told me, meaning here, so here it is.

After stories and snuggles, he went to bed, sad that we hadn’t had time to bake cookies for the bigger boys’ homecoming from camp tomorrow, but much too tired to be a baking helper. We decided together that I’d make the dough tonight, and in the morning, we’ll bake fresh cookies for our much loved and much missed boys.

There a bunch of them, these kids of mine, but I cherish them. They are like flowers, unfolding and blossoming, and I am continually mystified that I get to be part of this. So many of these small moments – the dives, the conversations, the little gifts – I want to etch into my memory so I don’t lose them. It goes so quickly, I have seen this.  It is not always easy, this walk, and I’m sure others have different walks with different challenges, but goodness, God has blessed us each with so many every day miracles. I pray my eyes will be open to them, each new day.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In which Littlest and I bake

            This week, Littlest and I have been spending the mornings alone together, while the Rower is at summer crew, and the two ten-year-olds are at sleep-away camp – what a strangely quiet house we have here! I must confess, while I wonder if our guys at camp are homesick, I suspect I may miss them even more than they miss us. They’ve not been away for more than a night since they came home.  Back then, little two-year-old D, the Musician, used to wail until he made himself sick when I went out for a few hours. The Wrestler, on the other hand, has always been incredibly independent, focused and organized, even as a newly-arrived three year old, but this mama’s heart still worries. I know they are in good hands, and ultimately in much more capable hands than any here on this earth.

            So, to keep Littlest busy and perhaps to busy my mind and hands as well, we’ve had to-do lists each day this week. Monday, we played games and baked. Tuesday, we played games and visited the library, and today, after shopping and swimming, we’ll be baking some more. Think maybe we like baking? Littlest is a fine helper, perched on a stool, and is most excited to crack eggs himself – something he is actually quite good at. Only one landed on the floor, an anomaly rather than a regular occurrence.

His request on Monday was our easy-peasy peanut butter cookie recipe, great for whipping up for unexpected guests or baking with small boys who have a hankering for something sweet. They have just four ingredients, no flour of any kind, and never, ever, fail. On the sweet side? Quite. Not health food, these, but so yummy. Cousin Laurie makes them every year for the annual Fourth of July celebrations in my hometown, and she uses a melon-baller to make nice round cookies, slightly flattened at the bottom. We scoop out tablespoonfuls and shape them in our hands – kind of like play dough therapy, but you get to eat the results (do be sure to have little ones wash well afterwards, though, when raw egg is involved, and no eating before you bake!). We double the recipe and use a whole 16 oz jar of unsweetened, natural peanut butter, but I will share the original recipe here. Perhaps you have a small one who wants to bake?

Easy, Peasy Gluten Free, Dairy Free Peanut Butter cookies

1 c. natural peanut butter

1 c. sugar

1 egg

1 t. gluten free vanilla

Optional: ½ c. gfdf chocolate chips

            Combine first four ingredients in mixing bowl. If you’re using the chips, stir them in next (I realize I’ve pushed us over four ingredients, but still, you can do it!). Shape the cookies into rather rounded, tablespoon sized blobs, and arrange a few inches apart on parchment paper covered cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 9-13 minutes.
Resist the temptation to overbake. These are just lovely when the teensiest bit moist inside. These can also be flattened with a fork in a traditional, criss-cross pattern, and will have a crunchier texture baked that way.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Journey

It was a train trip across the country, for my youngest brother’s wedding. Six of us were leaving for this adventure; the oldest two were staying behind to travel later with grandparents. We left the East Coast on a Saturday evening in high spirits, with great excitement and anticipation – we would see the country, and wasn’t train travel exotic and even a little European? I had been assured that the seats fully reclined and that sleeping in the regular cars would be comfortable and fun. We were ready!

On the train, Littlest was riveted to the window for an up-close view of tracks, crossing signals and other trains, and the other boys were excited about the snack food we’d packed and their second-hand, seldom allowed little game systems. I sat calmly but a trifle miffed - it was husband’s and my 23rd anniversary that day, and I thought he’d forgotten, and I was feeling a little smug about the still unsigned card I had tucked in my bag to give to him later. We’d been frenzied, getting out of the house on time, and his choice to repair the washing machine pipes hadn’t been on my to-do list (but was certainly a good choice – it was leaking, and oldest son home alone + flooded laundry room + dad gone = bad).

As Littlest called out each train name and the boys settled into their games, Husband turned to me and pulled out a silver-wrapped package from the jewelry store – under wrappings and beautiful box, a silver necklace he’d chosen to go with the dress I planned to wear to the wedding. He’d told the gal at the store that I would be angry with him for forgetting our anniversary, that I would think he’d forgotten, that he would pull this out on the train, and I would feel chagrined for doubting him…he certainly knows me after 23 years. We settled for the night content, thankful, counting blessings.

That first night turned out to be long; the seats do not, actually, recline very far, and the lights are not, actually, turned off down the center of the train during the night. I wrapped a boy’s t-shirt around my head, punched and arranged pillows, rearranged the small boy sleeping on my lap. Littlest woke throughout the night with an excited start at each passing train, sitting up to look out the window and taking with him our shared blanket. Somewhere around Buffalo, sometime around 2 am, Border Patrol entered the car, and walked up and down the aisles asking each sleeping passenger if they were an American citizen and where they were going. I woke feeling very proud of surviving the night, confident that the following morning would find us in Colorado.

We switched trains in Chicago, an enormous station to navigate with four boys and multiple suitcases, backpacks, cooler and pillows, and boarded a two-story train for the final leg of the trip. We were still grinning broadly as we found our seats and began to wind down for the evening. Then the rain started, and the thunder, and the lightning, which, for the record, looks much more alarming over a flat expanse of plain, viewed from the window of a two-story metal can set on tracks on the middle of nowhere. I reminded myself that surely these things were meant to withstand storms, reread the safety manual and studied the emergency escape instructions, distributed blankets (Littlest got his own this time) and went to sleep.

Around 5 am, I woke to see the sun rising on the shore of what looked like a Great Lake. We were due to arrive at 7:30, and I sleepily wondered what huge lake was in Colorado, and why the train wasn’t moving. I crossed the aisle to my husband’s seat and realized with a bit of alarm that the lake was on his side as well…and that trees were growing out of it in random places. The train began to slowly creep along the tracks, and I saw barns and propane tanks and crossing signals rising eerily from the expanse of still water, and later, sandbags stacked alongside the tracks. As dawn broke, the conductor announced that we were in Nebraska. The train had spent much of the night at a stand-still due to tornado warnings, lightning and flash floods, and would now proceed on a slightly different course, slowly, to allow time for braking should there be hazards ahead. There would also, he said, be unscheduled stops for track repairs.

There was no choice, really but to pray and to trust that the conductor knew where to take the train, that he had the skill and the knowledge to do it, and that he would ultimately get us safely to our final destination. We exhausted our supply of food, and the boys enjoyed vacuum packed, microwaved sandwiches from the lounge car (really, they did!). We sat in an observation car and looked at miles of plains and farmland as the train sat and waited for track repairs, and met travelers from throughout the country and overseas. It was announced that we had a five hour delay, then seven, then 10. Finally, nearly 50 hours after we’d left our hometown, we arrived in Colorado at 6pm, weary and sorely in need of showers. There would be nearly two weeks of wonderful visits and sights and reunions with family members, but that night, there was rest.

As I lay (in a bed!) and reflected on our journey, I remembered standing at the front of a church with Husband 23 years earlier. My Uncle David had performed the ceremony, and he reminded us then that marriage is like a train ride. “At first it’s a little rough,” he told us, “and the food isn’t so good and you might want to get off in Chicago.” There will be delays and unexpected events, he told us, but, “you can’t get off. You are in it for the long haul.”

At the time I had neither the benefit of long years of marriage, nor the experience of a long train ride, so I laughed and understood it as best as I could back then, just 22-years old, naïve, idealistic and too self-assured. Now, 23 years and a long train ride later, I was amazed at the accuracy of his comparison. We have passed through storms we never could have expected, that left us shaken or grief stricken or terrified, hanging onto God, the Rock we knew would never desert us, the one Conductor we knew we could trust. We clung to the belief, the hope, that God ultimately had a plan and would bring good from the confusion surrounding us.  There was loss; there was beauty. There were times when people we loved chose to jump into the chaos outside the safety of the “train,” and we could only watch, helpless, trusting again that God uses all things for good. There were interminably long waits, there was redemption. There were, and are, incredible blessings every day.

The two of us, Husband and I, are still on the train ride of our lives, with a whole bunch of passengers of varying ages, so thankful that we didn’t get out off in Chicago but chose to ride for the long haul.

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” – Romans 5: 2-5