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,

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,

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,

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,