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,

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,

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,

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!


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,

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,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Repentence and Rest

            I wasn’t expecting it, that day. I thought I was ready for the start of school, and had carefully chosen books and materials and rearranged the bookshelves. The microscope was set on the library table, the children’s school bins had been cleaned out and refilled with new, patterned notebooks and school supplies, and I’d fed them a protein filled, yummy breakfast before we sat down to work together.
            And yet it came creeping through the day, like a fog, until it nearly engulfed me – the panic and heaviness of worry and self doubt – was I doing this right? Did I choose the right materials for each child? Could I possibly do this – me? Surely God must have me confused with someone else, someone organized and capable and strong. The school day went well and children were tucked in peacefully, yet at bedtime there was my churning stomach and whirling mind, still groping for reassurance and calm. When I reached for the Bible from my bedside table, it fell open to a sticky note in Isaiah that I didn’t remember leaving there, and the underlined verses stood out in the dim light of my late-night bedroom.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy one of Israel, says:

In repentence and rest is your salvation

In quietness and trust is your strength.”

Isaiah 30:15

            It stopped me, that verse, in my tracks. The whirling and churning came to an abrupt halt as I repeated it over, and over, and over. Repentence and rest? Quietness and trust? Where do I stand with these?

We live in such public days, with facebook and blogs and tweets connecting and entertaining us. There are favorite bloggers who lead me to Him, and there's a plethora of advice about homeschooling, adoption and gluten free living online. I’ve spent hours taking in schedules and kitchen remodels, projects and thoughts on life, all accompanied by lovely images, full of color and beauty.

What is missing? The pictures beyond the frame. We feast our eyes on the beautiful, the memorable, the picturesque chosen from dozens of photographs taken. I am guilty – this photo didn’t make it into Migraines and Blessings last week because it showed a perfect view of the scratched floor, and dust and toys scattered under the sofa.

            A few bloggers have shared posts about the gritty – like this must-read, about the difficult days after adoption, and this, one of my favorites, about the ugly-beautiful in life. Mostly, we want to leave our dirty laundry in the hamper, and share the things that are working in our lives. Online, there is a kaleidoscope of beautiful schoolrooms and perfectly organized homeschool schedules, happy families, kitchens scoured and decorated, and cooks who lovingly prepare organic meals. It's the same even in our neighborhoods or churches – we entertain when things are spotless in our homes and our lives, tucking our stories and our messes behind closed doors.

It’s easy for the mind to race to despair, looking around: beds yet to be made, breakfast dishes unwashed, a child who complains or has an outright fit, peeling paint and an army of shoes spread near the front door. In my mind, there swim pictures of beauty and perfection, and there is the feeling that somehow, I am missing the boat. Sigh.

"In repentence and rest is your salvation

In quietness and trust is your strength.”

Repentence. Repentence, when I am feeling insecure?

“An idol,” He whispers, “you’ve made of those images, those standards.”

The perfect curriculum, homeschool, children, housekeeping….none of these are things God has set for me to aspire to. They are inventions of man, made with good intentions, but all, when followed as idols, lead to exhaustion and despair.

Lord, forgive me for giving some things more importance than they warrant, and for forgetting to look to you.

Rest: can I rest in the assurance that God is enough, and that in His strength, we can do this thing, He and I?
"When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
Yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet."
Proverbs 3:24

Lord, help me rest in your promises and your presence.

Quietness: can I still my inner thoughts enough to hear His voice, and His guidance on the things that trouble me, or am I searching for other things, other answers that in the end, only make me more anxious?
"Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31

Lord, help me to be quiet and to listen.

Trust: can I trust in the knowledge that He has placed me right where He wants me, as the mother of each particular child he has blessed our family with, and that He will give me the wisdom I need to raise and teach them? Can I trust that He is always here, and always good, regardless of the state of the dishes or dust or attitudes (mine, or the kids')?

"You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you."
Isaiah 26:3

Lord, help me to trust more...

"In repentence and rest is your salvation

In quietness and trust is your strength.”

     I repeated the verses all night long, whispered them when I woke briefly in the wee hours, and they were on my lips as dog and I scuffed down the stairs in the morning, rested and quiet, to put the water on for tea.

Trusting in Him,