Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Clean-up Game, and Many Thanks

      Recently, we enjoyed visiting with good friends - an evening of nine kids running around, fellowship and fun. At the end of the visit, the room was strewn with matchbox cars and trains (not an unusual state, actually). Tom, the dad, taught us the "game" he'd been using with his kids to make cleaning up quick and fun. We've since tried it twice after busy mornings, when the house was strewn with not just toys, but books, curriculum, and clothes (where do they come from - especially the socks???). It gets the job done so beautifully that I had to share!

       Here's how it went. I set the timer for two minutes, and each child had to scurry about as quickly as possible, picking things up, putting them where they belonged, and keeping count of the number of items they'd cleaned. I had to be very clear that the items were to be put in their proper places - not on the hearth or coffee tables or counters - in order to count. At the end of two minutes, each child gave me their total, and the child who'd put away the most items was now excused from the game. The timer was set for another two minutes, and at the end of that time, the next child with the winning total was excused. Another two minutes of cleaning followed, and the last guy left had the timer set for just one more minute, to finish the job. I kept myself busy during this time too, and it was amazing to see, at the end of 7 minutes, just how much we'd gotten done!

      It was so much nicer to do our afternoon reading in a clean living room - could it have attracted the hummingbird spotted outside the bay window as we read, or the sparrows scolding there a bit later? Perhaps not, but still, the game is a keeper.

      I'm off to bake for a picnic. How blessed we are to have the kinds of freedoms we do, to enjoy this Memorial Day weekend and worship as we see fit. My thoughts and prayers are with those mourning loved ones who've made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and with those who are serving now.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13

Thank you doesn't seem like enough.

Trusting in Him,

Friday, May 25, 2012

On Amy Carmichael and Thorns

          For the past few weeks, the kids have been immersed in the story of Amy Carmichael, Rescuer of Precious Gems, and they were sad to read the last chapter yesterday. Their daily narrations piqued my interest in her story yet again, and I pulled out my copy of Amy Carmichael, God’s Missionary, a slim but meaty little volume she wrote in 1939 while ministering in India, to set a standard for missionaries. It was as challenging then as it is now.

          For our calling, by its very nature, calls us apart from everything else; it has for its object nothing less than this: the knowing of Christ, the living of Christ, among those who do not know Him. The love of our God must shine through us unhindered if we would live to Him here. Surely, whatever makes for holiness of life, for the clearing of the glass through which the light shines, this is for us and nothing else.”
                                     Amy Carmichael, God’s Missionary

          And I know I am not a missionary like Katie or Summer, some of today's versions of Carmichael, and yet I think, here in my home, educating young ones and guiding young adults, this is my own little mission field. In any case, I know what is needed for this job and this life, and it is more of Him, and less of me.

          “The love of our God must shine through us unhindered if we would live to Him here. Surely, whatever makes for holiness of life, for the clearing of the glass through which the light shines, this is for us and nothing else.”

          What hinders, keeps that love of God from shining through – what clouds the glass?  Surely, distractions and worries cloud my thoughts and fill my mind, and out come snappish answers and curt responses. Seeking escape from concerns, I become mindlessly busy. Can any light shine through the spiritual dullness that ensues?

          “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”   Matthew 13:22

          The cares of this world choke out the word…. and then these choking cares – worries or things I care about more than God or those around me -  keep His love from shining through. We have this precious gift, this word, and I wonder how often I fill up with it, only to have it choked, midday, with thorns of fear, confusion, or mind-numbing distraction.

          I’d never consider going to the filling station to fill my car’s tank with that costly, precious gas, and then go home to fill the tank with sugar. I’d surely not travel far after that. And yet I fill up with this word, and so quickly let it become choked out.

        Amy finishes the first chapter of her little book with St. Paul’s life as an example of giving ones-self wholly to their calling.

          “He stood forth in the midst of his shipmates and said, ‘God, whose I am, and whom I serve,…’  Can we imagine him frittering away his time in aimless trifles, matters which had not as their end the salvation of the people on board or how own preparation for the battle before him? Could our attitude of life on board ship be always described as that single sentence: ‘God, whose I am, and who I serve.”

          Convicting. Challenging. Praying today for thorns to be weeded out and cast aside, and for His wonderful light to shine through.  

Trusting in Him,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another Birthday and Fudge Frosting

        On the heels of Mothers' Day, we had another celebration here - Littlest's 9th birthday! He's been counting down the days for months, and the day finally came. My father has a tradition of taking each child out for breakfast on their birthday, and somehow this slipped my mind (and his!). On Monday morning, at 5 of 8, I asked Littlest what he'd like for breakfast, and he replied that he figured Pa would be there soon to get him. I called my father quickly, and he and Littlest made arrangements, in which Littlest assured him he didn't have to rush, but could come over at 8:55.

Later that evening, at Littlest's request, we had chocolate cake with strawberry jam in the middle, and a rich, boiled fudge frosting on top.

(Fudge Frosting - Stir together and melt 2 C sugar, 1/2 c cocoa, 1/2 c Spectrum shortening, 1/2 c Silk coconut milk - boil 2 minutes, cool, stir in 2 t vanilla. If you cool it quickly in an icewater bath the way I did - not recommended - it'll be a thick paste you will have to press onto the cake. Try cooling slowly and pouring over cake for a glossy finish...)

       There were lots of rowdy family members,   

and singing and gifts,

and a boy who went to bed happy, counting down the 365 days until he can do it all again. And yes, I did realize at the end of the night that he'd had a sticker on his forehead throughout the evening.

It has been such fun to watch this little one blossom and grow these 6 years he has been with us - a privilege and a wonderful gift. He has a sweet, gentle nature, a way with animals, a sense of direction I've never seen on a child this age, and a fun sense of humor. He's a great baking companion, budding chef and thoughtful boy who loves to share. Littlest, you are wonderful, and we love you. This may be the last year we can call you Littlest...

A wonderful surprise in my inbox - a photo from a special friend in Korea, of Littlest at 2

Thanking God for another year with our guy, and
Trusting in Him,

Friday, May 11, 2012

Narration ideas and the Rower's Debut

            In our homeschool, we use narrations rather than comprehension questions and quizzes. Narration is deceptively simple; it requires the child to tell back, after a single reading, what they recall of a story or lesson. A younger child begins with short passages, like Aesop’s Fables, and gives narrations orally. I write down some of these narrations, and sometimes, I’ll ask the child to copy it into his composition book, perhaps illustrating what he’s written. At about the age of ten, the child begins to write more of his narrations – a few per week – while still giving an oral narration for each thing he’s read, whether for history, science, or literature. This means I listen to a plethora of narrations each day, but it’s been fascinating to see what they’ve learned.

            As of late, the Rower, 14, has grown tired of giving straight narrations of Moby Dick (what a long book!); he wanted a challenge. I found a fantastic list of narration ideas at Simply Charlotte Mason, and he jumped at the chance to try something different. He shocked me by choosing to write a ballad, and his enthusiasm is inspiring me to mix up the narrations a little bit and try more of the ideas with the other kids – perhaps some might work in your school. Here, in the Rower’s blogging debut, is his ballad.

The First Lowering

Hark hear the watchman crying out,
As the morning rooster crows.
Hark hear the watchman crying out,
Shouting out from his high post
Hear the clock of action toll,
Singing out its rising notes
“Hasten, hasten!” it extols,
“Each man quickly to the boats!”
“Hasten, hasten!” it extols,
And a war cry wells up in each throat.

In the fray of action,
The time for thought has come and gone.
Instinct, the minds now ruling faction,
Urges now the hunters on.
They rush forth with steely lance,
Like great plunging razor talons
”I’ll not rest,” say they in fierce trance,
“Till I or foe have fallen.”
And so the hunters chase, and chase,
Until they have found their prey.
As the leopard prowls the jungle,
So they sail in ocean spray.
”Heave ho, my hearties,”
Starbuck now doth urge,
“Break your back, my rowing party,
And I’ll not let our paths diverge.”

So the intrepid hunters these,
Have come to the beast they would have die.
The harpooner knight sets his lance free,
He lets his harpoon fly,
And when it hits the beast,
And pierces his great side,
There is a mighty wave unleashed,
Stronger than a full moon’s tide.
Crew and captain are cast from boat,
Into the churning waters,
Into the water they’re all thrown,
Into the churning waters.

Our heroes float by capsized boat,
Wishing to heaven for
Something that seems beyond all hope;
To be rejoined
With the vessel they were on before.
Alas, they had been left for dead,
For a gale had struck the sea.
But there is no great need for fret,
As you soon shall see;
The main ship had kept its first course,
And by some course of luck,
It made its way to the very place,
Where whale and boat had struck.
And so the warriors
But unhurt,
To hunt another day.

Wishing you a beautiful day, and

Trusting in Him,

****note**** I've had a few comments sent to my inbox that are unavailable when I try to read them online. If you've written and I haven't seen your comment, so sorry! I do love the chance to "meet" visitors here and value your comments!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thank you, Rainbow Kids

     Ever feel you owe a debt of gratitude to someone? That's how I feel about Rainbow Kids. Years ago, when we first began to discuss adoption, I had a strong sense that our next child would not be the healthy, white newborn so coveted by couples hoping to adopt (and this implies no judgement - we just knew those babies would find families, and we felt called in another direction). We had three children who happened to have been born healthy, but we knew they could have been born with any variety of issues or disabilities, and they'd still have been our beloved children. Somehow, I knew our child would be waiting due to a medical issue, and once we learned how much harder it is for a little boy, particularly with any health issues, to find a family, we knew our next child would be a boy. But where on earth would he be, and how would we find him?

      Our local agency only placed healthy infants, but our social worker referred us to Children's Home Society and Family Services of Minnesota, where the Korean waiting child coordinator directed us to the Rainbow Kids photolisting. There, we were stunned to see hundreds of children listed, from countries throughout the world, with issues as mild as missing fingers and as severe as serious heart issues. All beautiful, all precious in His sight, all deserving of families.

     There, we found our beautiful Musician, and fell in love with his sweet face even before we understood his special need or had a homestudy completed. How excited we were when we could finally be matched, and while we waited for his homecoming, we fell in love with the Wrestler, also on Rainbow Kids. Later, our Littlest would be listed there as well.

     Martha Osborne, the founder of Rainbow Kids, has an incredible heart for orphan care and adoption, and she's put together a beautiful video highlighting some of the amazing Rainbow Kids who are home with their forever families now. Take a moment to watch and be blessed. Then check out the adoption stories,  and ask yourself: "Is there a Rainbow Kid waiting for me?"

Giving thanks, and
Trusting in Him,

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pure Yumminess - a GFDF Chocolate Cake

            We had a lovely birthday celebration with Nanny (my mom) and are back into the swing of school – but what fun it was to have a day of birthday school with my helper! So much baking and writing and drawing!

We thought you might enjoy trying the cake that got rave reviews that night. The original recipe is from Elizabeth Barbone’s Easy Gluten Free Baking (a GREAT book – everything in it turns out so well!), but I’ve adapted it to make it gluten, dairy and corn free by changing the liquids, and substituting for the corn starch and baking powder (did you know baking powder contains corn? I've adjusted the ingredients here, but if you'd like to make your own corn-free baking powder, simply mix 1 t cream of tartar with 1/2 t baking soda).

 Before baking, I take out a bit of this batter to make myself a few cupcakes before I pour the rest into the pan. I frost the family's cake, while I enjoy my babycakes with strawberries. If you can find a corn-free powdered sugar, the frosting could be made corn-free as well.

 Classic Chocolate Cake (gluten, dairy and corn free)
1 ¾ cups gluten free flour mixture
1 cup unsweetened GF cocoa powder
1 t. cream of tartar
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 ½ t xanthan gum
2 c granulated sugar

2 large eggs
1 cup non-dairy milk (I like Silk coconut milk)
½ c canola oil
2 t GF, CF vanilla
1 c very hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan, or line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes at medium speed. Scrape down bowl, and add hot water and mix until blended. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake. For a 9x13 pan, the cake should bake about 45 minutes; for cupcakes, 18-20. I very, very, slightly underbaked mine – a toothpick was almost clean after being inserted into the center – and the cake seemed a little moist on top after it cooled. However, it resulted in the most lovely, moist cake, and people asked repeatedly whether it was really gluten free.

Chocolate Frosting (dairy and gluten free, but not corn free)
3 T Spectrum Shortening (pure pressed palm oil)
1 lb confectioners sugar
3 T cocoa powder
3T non-dairy milk, plus more as needed
1 T GF vanilla

Blend the shortening, sugar and cocoa powder until it’s well mixed. Add the liquid and vanilla, and blend well. Add more liquid, a T at a time, continuing to blend well, until the frosting reaches spreading consistency.

 Happy Eating!

Trusting in Him,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, Nanny!

         Today’s a really special day here. We’re cooking and baking and snapping green beans and drawing and writing, because Nobility is coming to dinner. Actually, my parents are coming to celebrate my mother’s birthday with us, and it’s fun to have a night to honor this wonderful lady who has blessed me throughout my life in so very many ways.

          Years and years ago, it was my mother who introduced me to great books, spreading before me a rich feast of literature. I remember curling up beside her while she read The Wind in the Willows, the Little House books, Charlotte’s Web and countless other favorites.

          It was my mother who introduced me to other cultures, taking me to the Festival of Nations, and sparking a deep interest in how other people live. While she was never big on camping, it was my mom who helped spark a love of nature, with picnics and park outings, lots of time outdoors (and little TV), and a tolerance for the many animals she allowed to dwell with us.

          She indulged my fashion sense with incredible clothes she sewed for me through the years. We were a team: as I got older, I’d pore through Vogue magazines, design wild and wonderful outfits, and find patterns and fabrics to bring them to life. She’d cut and sew for hours – I think she had the harder end of the deal! She taught me to love warm strawberry jam, just off the stove, and homemade bread, fresh from the oven.

          My mother gave me a blueprint for how to deal with the sometimes hazardous activities of boys. Frequently, one of my three brothers or another injured himself, and would holler, “MOM!” She’d call back, “Is it bleeding?”

          If the answer was yes, her next question was, “Does it need stitches?” If the answer was no, we were to carry on.

          The most important thing my mother gave me, though, was an example of deep and abiding faith and lessons in how to live it out. On the wall of our eat-in kitchen was a huge paper sign, a foot tall and perhaps four feet long, advising, “Let Go and Let God.” She meant it, and has always worked hard to follow that advice. She blessed me by seeing that I was involved in Bible studies and youth groups, even though the church we belonged to at the time didn’t offer those things.

          In terms of living her faith, one thing is huge in my mind. At Christmas time, she sought out families in need to bless each year. When I think back on the gifts she chose for each member of the family, the Christmas tree, the clothes, I’m amazed that she and my Dad did this on his teacher’s salary, while still providing wonderfully for all of us. The most powerful part of this, though, was bringing the gifts to the family, one of whom we visited for many years in a row.

          This family made such an impact on my life, when we were supposed to be the ones helping them: there was a single mom and her son, Carl, who had spina bifida and walked with metal crutches, and wore the old-fashioned heavy metal and leather braces used back then. His grandmother also lived with them, and she and his mom were both battling chronic illnesses. Despite this, they had the most cheerful, loving presence, and greeted us each year with packages of homemade cookies to take home with us. It might not have been easy to let others help them, but they were so gracious, and the effect of this was profound.

         She also taught me lessons in forgiveness, and I still have a small heart ornament she gave me after one of our many arguments when I was a teenager. She handed it to me with an apology, and that small thing meant so much that I've cherished the ornament ever since. I’m so grateful to my mom for her faithfulness, and for teaching me many lessons that shaped my future. She hasn’t stopped. She blesses our family regularly with the special relationship she has with each of our children, with her listening and ministering spirit, with her gifts of service and the shopping trips and lunch dates she blesses our kids with. She’s a blessing to many, but we are so very lucky to have her as our very own mother and “Nanny.” This is long, but fitting, so I'm including it all:

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31: 10-31
            How blessed am I, to have a mom like that? We love you, Mom. Happy Birthday!
Giving thanks, and

Trusting in Him,