It is Good to Give Thanks….

It is good to give thanks to the LORD
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning
And Your faithfulness by night,
With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp,
With resounding music upon the lyre.
For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done,
I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.
How great are Your works, O LORD!

Psalm 92: 1-5

We’ve had a wonderful week of Thanksgiving preparations – preparing food, decorations, and most importantly our hearts. We also had a great Thanksgiving Day with a houseful of friends from church.

The kids got especially excited about our Thanksgiving exercise this year. We tried to make our “leaves” last several nights – each night after dinner writing a few things we are thankful for. They kept asking to write things down during the day and pretty soon filled up all the leaves I had cut out. Robert and only got 5 leaves each! What follows is a list of things we are thankful for this year, and wrote down on our “thankful leaves.”

A warm November…powerpoint…art…Kayla’s love for animals…homeschool…Friday night movies…Chicago Bears…church planting…The Today Show…family bonding time…our trampoline…hot cocoa…trees and plants…the magic of birth…doughnuts…home cooked meals…the Bible…God’s forgiveness…Prudential Tower Nachos…Creation…health…Buddy…the Bible…snow and winter…holidays…my friends…music…my family…my pets: bunnies, chickens, and Buddy…sunsets…fried eggs…rain…Mercyhouse…college student friends…Kory’s maturity…dates with Mel…a husband who loves, serves, and helps me…my backyard…Cooper’s fun-ness…Kayla’s thoughtful, helpful, and kind spirit…Kory’s strength, wisdom, kindness, and maturity…Cooper’s music, humor, kindness, and forgiving heart…Netflix…football…and animal babies!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Livin’ in the Land of the Literary (and the Historical, and the Political, and the Financial)

So said Hester Prynne, and glanced her sad eyes downward at the scarlet letter. And, after many, many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial-ground beside which King’s Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both. All around, there were monuments carved with armorial bearings; and on this simple slab of slate – as the curious investigator may still discern, and perplex himself with the purport – there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald’s wording of which might serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow: –

“On a field, sable, the Letter A, Gules.”
The Scarlet Letter, Chap. 24

Elizabeth Pain’s Grave in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground

As the curious investigator may STILL discern????
I first read The Scarlet Letter for a high school English class. Recently, I read it again in preparation for the Challenge 1 Classical Conversations class I’m teaching. I could not believe all of the references to Boston and locations that I have had the privilege of visiting many times. But, had I made all those trips to Boston in the last 10 years and never realized that Hester Prynne, of Scarlet Letter infamy, was buried in the graveyard next to the King’s Chapel??? I’ve visited the chapel at least 20 times taking Texas tourists for Freedom Trail strolls! But, should I really be surprised? After all, in the last ten years, I’ve been able to visit the homes of Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and last, but not least, Emily Dickinson. (I actually used to live on the same street as Emily!) I’ve also walked around Walden Pond several times, and recently visited Salem’s House of Seven Gables about which Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in 1851 -the year after The Scarlet Letter was published.

While at the House of Seven Gables back in August, I asked the museum docent if Hester Prynne was really buried next to Arthur Dimmesdale in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground. Well, it turns out that Hawthorne really had me going with that “curious investigator” thing!

“No,” she said. “There is no actual Hester Prynne, but there is a woman buried there who some think may be the woman upon which the character of Hester is based.
Her name is Elizabeth Pain.”

Well…. I would be sure to check that out next time I’m in Boston!

And my opportunity came very soon after that. My dear friend Kelly (a.k.a Miss Riggs) and her husband Jack came for a visit a few weeks back, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking them to Boston. (I really love Boston and never tire of taking and touring folks around that amazing city!) As we approached the King’s Chapel on the Freedom Trail (a walking tour of the major historical sites in Boston), I greatly anticipated looking for Elizabeth Pain’s headstone and grave. I walked into the chapel and noticed right away that they sell copies of The Scarlet Letter in the small gift shop area. I asked for directions to Elizabeth’s grave, and easily found it in the burial ground outside the above pictured headstone. It is thought to possibly be the grave of the woman whose story matches Hester’s because of the coat of arms that adorns the headstone. It seems to match the description in the final line of the novel: “On a field, sable, the Letter A, Gules.”

Of course, there are many theories about who this woman was – and who the beloved, yet guilty minister was. I have since read several of those ideas and will spare you the details, but let me tell you…they completely fascinate me! And to think…they were real people, and it happened right here. Amazing.

Mrs. Mallard and her Ducklings:
Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack

And do you recognize these little guys? They are the ducklings from Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. The story takes place right in the Boston’s Public Garden which is directly across the street from Boston Common. You can even still ride a swan boat on the pond there – which the kids and I have done many times.
Kelly and Me in front of the Old South Meeting House

Another book the students and I read this semester was Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. It takes place during the time leading up to the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The book is historical fiction, and so I found myself again wondering how much of it was true. Like, did Johnny really go and listen for a secret phrase spoken by Samuel Adams in a rally at the Old South Meeting House?

“Now, Johnny, you are to listen to what Samuel Adams says next. Look you. If Mr. Adams says, “Now may God help my country, ” come back here. Then we will take off our disguises and each go home and say nothing. But, if he says, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country,” you are to get out of that crowd as fast as you can, and as soon as you get into Cornhill begin to blow upon this silver whistle.”

Johnny Tremain, Part 6, chapter 6

Well, when we visited the Old South Meeting House on that Boston trip, we walked inside, and there was Samuel Adams (in cardboard cutout) holding a sign that read,
“Do you know my secret phrase?”

So, it was true – the signal to go and dump the tea into the harbor – and I’m standing in the very place it happened!

Samuel Adams’ Grave in the Granary Burying Ground

Samuel Adams and Paul Revere are also major figures in the book (as they were in the Revolution!) and they are both buried in the first burying ground you come to as you walk the Freedom Trail. John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin’s parents are buried here as well.
View from the Prudential Building Observation Floor

A few weeks after that trip to Boston with Jack and Kelly, I had the privilege of going back there on a field trip with my students and showing them the things they had just read and written essays about! Our day in Boston began with a trip to the Federal Reserve Bank where they participated in a wonderful program on economics, received a package of shredded money, watched a video on the Federal Reserve System ( I could hear Ron Paul’s concerns running through my mind all the while!), and competed in an investment game complete with real historical investment scenarios. This was a wonderful opportunity for them, as one of our subjects this semester is economics, and they’ve been working hard to invest a pretend $10,000 in the stock market, collect weekly articles on economic current events and report on them in class.

After the Bank tour, we hit the Freedom Trail and took note of the above mentioned sites, completing a fill-in-the-blank worksheet at each historical place. We finished up our day with dinner and shopping at the Prudential Center which boasts every restaurant and hip shopping venue you can imagine.

And here are the students who got to participate in the hands-on literary, historical, political and financial field trip to Boston – Brianna, Megan, Britta, and Kory.
(I know. Poor Kory. In a class with his mom and three other women!)
Of course, they don’t know how blessed they are to live in the place where American history and literature began, but this native-Texan-turned-perpetual-New England-tourist does, and I just LOVE sharing it with them!

Gluten Free Friday – Praline Sweet Potatoes

I can hardly believe Thanksgiving is next week! We will be having our usual gathering of a few families and any folks who can’t travel to their own homes for the holiday. It is one of my kids’ favorite days of the year – lots of guests and lots of food and lots of football – like heaven!

If you’ve ever eaten Mexican food in Texas, you know that you can’t leave the restaurant without being tempted, on your way out, to buy a praline, which is a candy with lots of butter, sugar, and pecans. They are delicious, and this recipe adds their sweet – candy-ness to top off a wonderful Thanksgiving side dish. Inspired by an old Austin, TX Junior Forum cookbook called Changing Thymes, this recipe is one of Robert’s favorites. I think I left it off the menu one year and he pouted, so it has now become a forever traditional Krum Thanksgiving dish. It is easily made gluten free and dairy free if you tweak just a few things. This morning on the Today Show I even saw a sweet potato dish that used coconut milk and a bit of curry! So, go ahead and substitute the milk with coconut or almond or rice, and the butter with something like Smart Balance if you need a dairy free dish!

Praline Sweet Potatoes

6 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter

Praline Topping:

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup GF flour

Mix (I use a hand mixer) together mashed sweet potatoes, brown sugar, vanilla, milk, and butter. Spread in a baking dish.

For topping, stir together butter, brown sugar, pecans, and GF flour until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350* for 30 minutes. Topping should spread out a bit and may even be bubbly. Serve warm.

*A couple of times, I’ve added GF oatmeal, cinnamon, etc. to the topping to make more of a “crisp” topping. Yum!

Gluten Free Friday: Out-of-Town + Sick Kids = Recipe Rerun

We just returned a couple of hours ago from an annual denominational meeting in Maine. When we left we were fairly sure Kory was getting over his 2 days of low-grade fever, and that it would be fine to leave all the kids with two of their favorite kid-sitters: Rachel and Virginia. (Thank you so much ladies!) Well…Kory called us this afternoon upset about how sick he was feeling, and it was pretty obvious that he had taken a downward turn with whatever bug he has. Then Coop got on the phone to say that he was starting to feel badly, and I was getting anxious about being 3 hours away and leaving them with college girls who don’t have time to be sick! Fortunately, Kayla went to spend the day with one of her favorite friends, and has been feeling fine. We finally made it home around 8pm, and then it was Kayla’s turn to start coughing! So…we now have 3 with fevers, coughs, sore throats, and congestion. Swine Flu? I have no idea, but I do know that this thing is so rampant – and it’s only November. I was getting the heebie-jeebies this week just hearing people talk about how sick they or their kids or their husband or their neighbors are or had been…..washing my hands every hour and stocking up on Zinc, Echinacea, Vitamin C, etc. Actually, when I went to Whole Foods to purchase these things, they were almost completely sold out of ALL of it!

So pray for my kids to recover quickly. I hate it when they’re sick, but I have always loved the opportunity it is to really nurture and serve and love them. It seems that tomorrow I will get ample opportunity for this – blankets, movies, hot tea, and some homemade soup! As, I made a batch of homemade chicken stock this week and put it in the freezer, I had a feeling it might not be there long, and I was right! Tomorrow I will thaw it out and use it to make this soup. I posted this recipe almost 2 years ago after making it for my sister’s family who had the flu. It was inspired by one of those recipe books that shows you how to “sneak” veggies into your family’s meals – hence the steamed and pureed cauliflower, onions, and celery! Don’t be afraid to use 4 or MORE freshly pressed garlic cloves into the soup! It makes it taste great and contributes to the healing benefits with its anti-microbial properties.

“Creamy” Chicken and Rice Soup

1 whole chicken
1 carton GF chicken broth
1 cup rice, uncooked
1 lg. onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, sliced
4 carrots
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves
1 small head of cauliflower
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place chicken in large pot of simmering water. Let simmer until done. Set aside to cool. Save broth.

2. Cook rice according to package instructions. Set aside to add to soup before serving.

3. Cook/Steam cauliflower until tender. Drain and place in blender or food processor.

4. Saute’ onion and celery in olive oil until tender. Add to blender/processor with cauliflower.

5. Blend cauliflower, onions and celery until it looks like creamy white mashed potatoes. Press 2 cloves of garlic into this mixture and blend some more. This will be the “cream” part of the soup and a sneaky way to get some veggies in!

6. Remove cooked chicken from broth and debone. Pour out some of the broth from cooked chicken. Skim some of the fat and particles off until it looks clear. Add carton of both to this.

7. Add carrots and chicken pieces to broth.

8. After all of chicken has been added, pour in the “cream” and the cooked rice and stir.

9. Press 2 more cloves of garlic into simmering soup, stir.

10. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 6 quarts. Serves 10-12

And for those brave enough to eat the green stuff, I would add fresh or frozen peas and some fresh kale!

Gluten Free Friday – Cheese & Pesto Straws (and a kombucha update!)

My little (big!) girl has turned into quite a chef lately. She has always loved to help in the kitchen, and has even been known to purchase cookbooks with her own money. (A smoothie cookbook that she uses regularly!) For her 9th birthday, we bought her DK’s Cookbook for Girls, and recently she has made several things from it. In fact, in the last week, I think she’s cranked out about 5 different items!
But, the cheese and pesto straws have been everyone’s favorite. The only gluten free substitution we needed was the flour – everything else is naturally gluten free. We even had the handy pesto pops in the freezer, which saved a trip to the grocery store for jarred pesto. These are wonderful with soups, salads, or just as a snack by themselves. They are not difficult to make; in fact, Kayla completed the entire process by herself!

Cheese & Pesto Straws

1 1/2 cups GF flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup Gruyere or Cheddar, finely grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 whole egg, plus one egg yolk
2 Tbsp pesto

Sift flour and salt in a mixing bowl, and add butter working it into the flour with fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in 3/4 cup of the cheeses. Beat together whole egg and egg yolk, and stir into flour along with pesto sauce. Mix until it resembles dough. Roll it out onto a floured surface, and cut into narrow “straws.” Transfer straws to a cookie sheet, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on the tops of each straw. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350*. Let cool on a wire rack. Yum!

P.S. The kombucha is still sitting in the cabinet above my frig. I see bubbles around the rim of the container, as well as gatherings of bubbles on the surface of the tea. So…something is happening, but it might be another week or so before the “mushroom” forms. Stay tuned…..