Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On migraine and thanksgiving

            A dull throbbing let me know before I’d fully awakened this morning that migraine had come calling. It was confirmed when I tried to move; a gong had been placed somewhere behind my right eye. While I waited for medicine to kick in, I lay with cloth over face in the living room, listening to boys play quietly – they know the drill. Self pity likes to come calling with migraine, but this morning I remembered the best medicine of all: thanksgiving. I had to smile as I listened to their play, and even before the headache subsided, I had a long list of blessings counted.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
 I Thessalonians 5:18

            They’d taken out the Citiblocks I’d found on clearance for $14.99 at a big-box toy store; perhaps no-one there was looking for anything simple, made of wood and not requiring batteries. I wish I’d bought two sets! These blocks are the most played-with toys in our house, by all ages. They make fabulous towers, bridges, roads and – well – cities.

Today there were all sorts of structures, and somewhere mid-morning, I overheard discussion of a hurricane hitting one of the buildings, and road crews being called to repair the damage. A line of matchbox trucks moved out to help, and before long, the damage was repaired.

The Wrestler decided he'd use part of the morning to write thank you notes, and carefully wrote out acrostic poems for each recipient’s name - his idea, well underway before I wandered in with camera in hand.

Giving thanks today for boys who cared for their mama by playing quietly; for creativity and diligence; for loved pets,

 and for a cozy morning devoted to nothing but delight-directed activities that I never could have orchestrated so nicely. Even the cat enjoyed a nap in the sunny window sill.

When the headache subsided, I snuck in a few pictures, and we enjoyed a late breakfast together, still in PJs. For at least one boy, however, the relaxed spirit of the morning went on through the day.

Yes, he really can read like that!
Trusting in Him,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Habit - a good servant, and a bad master

            I love this time of year, with crickets singing loudly at night and into the morning, and the sky a rich blue over the cooling pond. The vibrant green tree tops blow in a cool breeze, and it’s the perfect weather for sitting outside with a book, or taking long walks. Somehow, it all makes me want to hang on to the last drops of summer sweetness, and at same time, get the kids started at their schoolwork again. This week, we’re doing a bit of both, and there are lessons in it for me, too. We’re starting slowly, with just math and reading, and don’t plan to start the rest of our work for another week or so. I am seeing such benefits from starting this way!

            A certain small person here has a very hard time with changes in routine - not uncommon with children who've experienced too much change - and while he thrives in the structure of our routine school days, it’s very difficult for him to get back into the swing of things when routine’s been thrown off. In previous summers, we’ve done math every other day, but this summer we’ve been more sporadic because of our travels. Now, easing into math again isn’t so easy. The simple math lessons he’d been cruising through in 20 minutes in June have taken over an hour to complete, because when you have to hang upside down off your chair, go to the bathroom 10 times, run outside to get the mail, and periodically drop yourself at your mother’s feet to moan and whimper about how hard math is, it takes a very, very, long time to complete a lesson.

We’ve done a lot of talking here about habits, and how we have to get our brains into the habit of working hard and our bodies and minds out of the habit of dawdling. Littlest is a devoted train buff, and so the terminology used in some of Charlotte Mason’s writings makes a perfect illustration and jumping off point as we discuss the importance of habit.

“Just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril. It follows that this business of laying down lines toward the unexplored country of the child’s future is a very serious and responsible one for the parent.”

Charlotte Mason, Volume 1: Home Education

            And so these first few weeks of school work are as much about laying down our habits, as they are about studying math. We discuss where we want our rails to take us, and what skills we will need to get there. We talk about what rails would be laid down if we followed the habits most easy and natural to us – the ones that would have us lay about, do what is easiest and most fun, and forgo our work. We agree that we don’t like where we’d eventually wind up, riding those rails.

            “The habits of the child produce the character of the man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on for ever unless they should be displaced by other habits. Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it,’ ‘He’ll know better by and by.’ ‘He’s so young, what can we expect?’ and so on. Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than anything else, future character and conduct depend.”

Charlotte Mason, Volume 1: Home Education

The children are not the only ones who need to work on habits. If Littlest is able to wander about and dawdle at his math, I see that not only have his habits of attention slipped, but mine have as well. It’s my job to make sure he attends, to give him a different, varied piece of work if he’s dawdling, and return to the math in a bit. I sigh inwardly and think we should be done with this habit, and then remember how easily I am distracted still. I pore through my copy of Laying Down the Rails, A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook, reminding myself that this is bigger than math. These habits of attending to work, of doing our best without complaining, of delaying our hoped-for fun until we’ve completed the work at hand – will serve each of us well through life.

            “As has been well said, ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

 Charlotte Mason, Volume 2: Parents and Children

The amazing thing Littlest has discovered this week is that once he stopped telling himself how hard math is and focused on the work at hand, he could complete it quickly, and could move along to swimming and bug-watching and bike riding – a lesson his brothers have learned this same way, through the years. In a few weeks, when more subjects are added and we return to our regular schedule, finishing the less beloved subjects will allow us to move along to those that are more “fun,” and after three have been completed, there is always a Yummy Earth Organic Lollipop waiting in the big glass jar on the counter, to be enjoyed during silent reading.

This week is giving me time for mental inventory before our school year begins in earnest; even before curriculum, what habits do I need to focus on in each of the children? If I am honest, I know I need to reflect on my own habits as well. Am I going to bed on time, so that waking isn’t a chore? Am I studying God’s word, so that I have something to pour into my family that is bigger, and better, than my own strength and wisdom? Am I keeping laundry, and shopping and cooking to any degree of organization, so that our days will flow more smoothly when school is in session? Are there bad habits – like internet time or late-night reading, that crowd out or replace good habits in my life? I have my own habits to get in order these next few weeks, and I should think, for the rest of my life.

“Each of us has in his possession an exceedingly good servant or very bad master, known as Habit. The heedless, listless person is a servant of habit; the useful, alert person is the master of a valuable habit.”

          Charlotte Mason, Book 4: Ourselves

I’d love to hear what habits are being reflected on and making a difference in your home. Want to share? Leave a comment!

Trusting in Him,

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gluten Free Coconut Cupcakes and little treasures

            We have a terrific gluten free bakery not far from my house, and sometimes I just get a hankering for one of their cinnamon buns or carrot cake muffins. I figure, eating just one of those has to be better than making and eating a whole batch of something here, right? One day I sent The Student on a mission there, and he returned with gold: a coconut cupcake. I savored that cupcake and then thought about that cupcake….and dreamed about that cupcake...for days. I decided I just HAD to figure out how to make a coconut cupcake myself, and in my internet searches, I stumbled upon not only a wonderful recipe, but an even more wonderful organization, An Orphan's Wish, in China. Their mission statement reads:

“An Orphan’s Wish is a group of dedicated volunteers striving to improve the lives of orphans in China. Through child sponsorships and donations we support orphans with special needs residing at the House of Love in the city of Guilin.”

       I will share the recipe I adapted, but first, go look at these beautiful children and the great work that’s being done there. I will wait! I love that An Orphan's Wish is providing care for little ones with no-one in the world, and that they allow other folks, who may not feel able to adopt a child, to participate in the children’s care through sponsorships. And I love that the people at An Orphan’s Wish nurture these little ones, prepare them for a forever family, and advocate for them. All children need love and acceptance in their earliest years, and children with physical differences or medical issues, who may or may not be accepted in their cultures, especially need people who will help them receive medical care and show them their worth as human beings.

“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

            When my parents were children, children with disabilities were often sent to institutions, or kept at home, out of sight. It was assumed that someone with a physical disability also had developmental disabilities, and that people with either couldn’t be part of society.

Unfortunately, in many countries, it is still like that, with very little in the way of disability access, and little acceptance of those with differences. Organizations like Social Welfare Society in Korea, which cared for our sons prior to their homecomings, are showing the children and the societies they live in a different way. We have a photo album The Wrestler’s foster mother sent home with him, showing the outings she took with him to pizza restaurants, parks, stores and festivals. She helped teach our son that he is not defined by his limb difference, and that he is valuable, he is lovable, he is worth loving – and he can do anything! I am forever thankful to our children’s foster mothers and care nurses in Korea, and I know that the boys' emotional wholeness is in large part due to the love they were shown.

Are you done trying to figure out how to sponsor a little one, and ready to bake? When I saw the recipe listed on the website, I couldn’t believe that something with only five ingredients – and no eggs – could make a good cupcake. But it was simple, and worth a try. I made a few changes to make the recipe gluten and dairy free, upping the ingredients to a whopping 6 with the addition of xanthan gum. The results were a huge hit here. We make these for parties, for Tuesday Poet-teas in our homeschool, and for potlucks, and wherever we bring them, people ask for the recipe. They are moist, sweet (but not too), and something like a macaroon. With chocolate chips added, you could get sort of a Mounds thing going on.
The original recipe calls for dessicated coconut, which is a very finely shredded coconut I’ve gotten at the health food store, but regular grocery store coconut works just as well. It also turns out beautifully baked in a greased loaf pan, lined with greased parchment paper – a thin cake to slice and serve. And for cupcakes, I just found these these parchment baking cups at our local grocery store - very much like regular muffin liners, but non-stick. These are sticky cupcakes, and these liners peel off easily.

Coconut Cupcakes (Gluten and Dairy Free)

1cup coconut

½ tsp xanthan gum

1 scant cup sugar

1 cup Silk coconut milk (or other similar brand) or almond milk

1 tsp. baking powder.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. Add coconut milk beverage/almond milk and stir until well mixed. Spoon into cupcake pans lined with paper liners, and bake in 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown on top and lightly browned on the bottom (I peek).

I’ve found cupcakes have a tendency to burn on the bottom, so I place one cupcake pan on the top shelf, and the second, on an insulated cookie sheet on the middle shelf of the oven, sometimes carefully switching their places once the batter is set.

Yield: about 10 full-sized cupcakes. I double (or triple) this recipe.

Happy Eating!
Trusting in Him,

Monday, August 15, 2011

A birthday, bulgogi and brownies

Eleven years ago in Korea, a most incredible baby boy was born. He had thick black hair that stood up straight and even in his early days, I can see from his pictures, he had a joyful little laugh. I first saw his picture two years later, and was captivated by the laugh I could see frozen in that still photo, transferred over time and space through my computer screen. In my heart I gave him a Biblical name for one who laughs, and I prayed for that baby boy every day for a year and a half, until he was safely home, a part of our family and very much as if he had always been here.
In Korea, our little man had stayed in a wheelchair outside,
but here, he was anxious to show us what he could do. He quickly ran in the little knee-shoes Daddy made for him, rode a skateboard, 
climbed ladders to pick apples, 
drove a hand-cranked bike like a banshee. 
 We marveled then and we marvel still at our fantastic, determined, wonderful boy. He is thoughtful, wildly intelligent, and a whole lot of fun to be around. Happy Birthday, dear Wrestler. You are a treasure, and we are so very proud of you, and so thankful that you are our son.

For his birthday dinner, The Wrestler requested his favorite meal, Bulgogi, sticky rice, Korean cucumber salad, seaweed sheets, and spicy spinach, with Andes Candies brownies for dessert. And in honor of his birthday, we will share some of the recipes here, with you, dear friends. May you enjoy them as much as we did tonight.

1 lb steak (we use London Broil)
2 T soy sauce (La Choy is GF – check other brands for gluten)
2 T sesame oil
1 T sugar
3 tsp minced garlic cloves
1 tsp pepper

Sticky rice
Romaine lettuce leaves

Cut steak into thin slices (cutting while partially frozen can help you cut it thinly). Mix other ingredients thoroughly, and marinate the beef in mixture – overnight is best but a few hours will do in a pinch. Stir-fry the meat in batches in a non-stick pan with a small amount of oil. We serve this with rice and romaine leaves: each person takes a lettuce leaf and wraps a bit of rice and some beef. If you are a Korean lad, you will insist this be served with a heaping side of kimchi.

Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad
1 lb cucumber
1 tsp salt
½ t sugar
½ t red pepper flakes (sold in Asian market – NOT cayenne)
½ t sesame oil
1/4 t. salt
½ t rice vinegar
1 minced garlic clove
1 t sesame seeds

Cut both ends off of cucumber. Slice thinly, add salt, and let marinate for 30 minutes (go start spinach salad now!). Rinse well, then press out water. Mix with remaining ingredients, and serve.

Sesame Spinach Salad
            This is our version of a salad we found in a fabulous cookbook full of healthy, delicious international dishes, called Extending the Table (highly recommend!).
2 lb spinach, fresh or frozen (we use frozen, chopped spinach most commonly for this dish, though fresh would surely be more authentic. No-one has complained here though!)

Steam spinach (or microwave) until just tender. Squeeze out as much water as you can, and if you’ve used fresh spinach, chop it coarsely. Place it in a bowl, and mix in another dish:
5 T soy sauce
3 T sesame oil
1-2 T toasted sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic
2 T sugar
2 T rice vinegar
¼ T red pepper flakes (NOT cayenne) or black pepper, or to taste

Mix dressing over spinach, and serve to hungry kids. I swear I have never seen kids eat so much spinach.

Trusting in Him,