Christmas Cheer And A Really Cool Gift

 What a treat last week was!  In the thirteen years we’ve lived in Massachusetts, we’ve never had family visit at Christmastime.  It’s always been a super quiet day for us, which we’ve always enjoyed, but this year it was just super special.  My youngest sister, Melinda, from Texas arrived on Friday, and then my brother, Stu, and his new wife, Rachel arrived on Christmas Eve.  Sadly, I came down with the same flu/cold/fever I’d been nursing my family through in the previous two weeks, so I missed the trip to Boston to pick them up AND the Christmas Eve service.

 We set the Christmas-morning-wake-up-time to be 8am.  This was in order to give mom and the weary travelers a chance to rest, but it is still quite a stretch to put off the opening of the presents until that late in the morning.  I’m pretty sure Kayla was wide awake at 5am.  We all enjoyed a Christmas devotion and prayer together, and then opened stockings.  After that, we tried to make the present-opening last as long as possible by letting each person unwrap one gift at a time.

 The last gift to be opened was the “big” one ~ an Xbox 360/Kinnect and one new game per kid.  To my never-ever-had-a-game-system-kids, this was VERY exciting.  Kayla’s game was Just Dance 4, and that’s pretty much all we did for the rest of the day!  Even I was able to muster up some energy to play and score higher than Kayla once or twice.  It must have been the fog of fever and congestion that enabled me to do this, because I’m pretty sure it will never happen again, but for a few short moments all those old cheerleader dance moves returned, and I could actually follow the steps.  ☺

 Here are the “Aunts” competing against the nephew and niece!

 It may sound silly, but I actually prayed for a white Christmas, so that Stu and Rachel, who came all the way from the California desert, could have that magical experience.  Well, we did get a dusting on Christmas, but then two days later, we got about five inches.  They got to throw snowballs, make snowmen, and even try their hand {and poor old backs} at shoveling!  Now they’re in Boston to celebrate the New Year, and got pummeled by almost a foot of snow there yesterday.  We took them into the city early in the day, and then spent four hours trying to get home in the snowstorm later that afternoon.  We made it home without incident, and were just so happy to have been able to spend a bit more time with them in one of our favorite cities!

 It was definitely a highlight for Cooper, who got to visit the Newbury St. Niketown TWICE in one week.  He even got to purchase the awesome Jordan backpack he’s had his eye on for a while.

 Lunch at The Cheesecake Factory at the Prudential Center, Starbucks, and then sad goodbyes at the Westin.

And now I just HAVE to show you what one of my Christmas gifts was this year.  My siblings and our spouses “draw” names for our Christmas gift exchange.  Rachel, my new sister-in-law as of July, drew my name this year, and I was so excited and blessed by what she gave me.  Take a look….

 Rice, quinoa, olive oil, and soup mix…

 ….and chocolates…all “natural, organic, and fair trade grocery items” from a Christian company called Trade as One whose mission is to create dignified employment for the poor.  Rachel had heard the founder of this organization speak at her church.

 And all of the wonderful food products were neatly stored in this beautiful bag.  I made the bean soup for lunch one day, and it was really good!  Robert and I spent time reading their website today, and are planning to subscribe to their quarterly shipment of products.  I can’t wait.

But wait, there’s more!  Also found in that cute shopping bag was this:

A gorgeous necklace and earring set from an organization called NightLight International, which is a Christian organization that seeks to “address the complex issues of commercial sexual exploitation through prevention, intervention, restoration, and education.”  My jewelry was made in Bangkok, Thailand by a woman who was rescued from prostitution through the alternative employment that NightLight offered her.  I’m in tears just typing that sentence.

Is that a cool gift or what?  So full of meaning and purpose.  So centered on Christ’s character of compassion and grace.  I am so touched to own these things and to now know small, but specific ways I can help in these important ministries.

It’s really what Christmas is all about.

Heart full of thanks for a wonderful Christmas week!

Condescending, Rude, and Near

I’m sitting here in a quiest house on Christmas Eve with a fever, sore throat, and nasty head cold.  I thought I might just escape the virus that everyone in my family has had in the last two weeks, but it caught up with me on Saturday.  Kayla and Robert just left for the Christmas Eve service.  Kory, Cooper, and my sister Melinda are on their way home from Boston’s Logan Airport with my brother, Stu, and his wife, Rachel.  Fortunately, I felt “well enough” to cook some food and wrap some gifts, but right now I’m happy to sit down and write about a Christmas idea that the Lord has overwhelmed with with in the last year.

I think it all started about a year and a half ago when I read R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Actaully, no.  It started when the Lord began a relationship with me at about 7 years old, of course, but this teaching of “Immanuel,” of “God with us” to my heart and mind began, I think, when I heard a song by Wes King called “Who But God?”  It goes like this:

who but God
would send His Son
to condescend
and make Himself the likes
of mere mortal men

who but God
would not regard
equality with God
a precious thing
not to be held onto

who but God
would condescend for us
and choose the weakness of the cross
wet the tears that conquered sin
that we might laugh with Him

who but He
who knew no sin
would make Himself
the very thing He knew
He could not look upon

endure the cross
and scorn its shame
and choose the very weak things
of this world to overcome the strong

only God would send His only Son
obedient to death our spotless one
servant savior so lowly now
soon every knee shall bow

It was that “condescend” word that got me.  It’s not the modern definition which is about assuming a posture of superiority, but it’s the first and main definition, which interestingly enough, means the exact opposite.

Condescend: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank.  

That use of the word really stuck with me.  Now, fast forward to two summers ago when I began reading The Holiness of God.  It’s a fascinating, yet simple treatment of this characteristic of God.  He is HOLY, but what exactly does that mean?  Here’s just one excerpt of many that served to completely overwhelm me with how “other” and perfect and majestic God is.

God’s holiness is more than just separateness.  His holiness is also transcendent.  The word transcendence means literally “to climb across”…God is above and beyond us.  Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness.  The word is used to describe God’s relationship to the world.  He is higher than the world.  He has absolute power over the world.  The world has no power over Him.  Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness.  Transcendence describes God in His consuming majesty, His exalted loftiness.  It points to the infinite distance that separates Him from every creature.  He is an infinite cut above everything else. (p. 46)

So, He is holy, and yet He condescends ~ limits and lowers Himself to earth as a baby in a manger at Christmas.  A rude manger, and another first and main definition of the word “rude” as in “The Hymn of the Nativity:”

It was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature, in awe of Him
Had doffed her gaudy trim
With her great Master so to sympathize;
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour

Rude: being rough and in an unfinished state; natural, raw; lacking refinement or delicacy; offensive in action or manner.

The holy, majestic, transcendent God….condescends… to a …rude… manger and world at Christmas.  Now, that is really something, but He knew that I wasn’t quite as impressed as I should be by these images, these truths, so He sent me to Florida in June just so that I could hear Paige Benton Brown give her talk on the dedication of Solomon’s temple at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference.  Through it, Holiness Himself brought me to uncontrollable sobs over the realization of just how awesome, incredulous, and unreal is this condescension into rudeness by Holiness Himself.

And I know I’ve said it before, but you should really take 45 minutes and be overwhelmed yourself….

In the Temple: The Glorious and Forgiving God from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Without ever taking a breath {I don’t think I did either}, Paige took us from the dedication of Solomon’s temple when the glory of God filled it {impressively condescending enough} to the Cross of Christ {another temple dedication…quite rude} to these sinful, fleshly bodies of ours {the current temples…rude yet redeemed} to get us to see how “IN” Jesus is.  According to Paige, and according to my streaming tears, He is “ALL IN.”

He who is the definition of holiness limited Himself to a fetus, a feeding trough, and what’s worse, my own rude heart.

All of this led  me to search the keyword “near” on Bible Gateway the other day.  I scrolled through every verse in every book of the Bible, and here’s a sampling of what I found…

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Deut. 4:7

When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand.  So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter.  Esther 5:2

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

You are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are truth.  Psalm 119: 151

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. Psalm 145:18

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, “And not a God far off.”  Jeremiah 23:22

You drew near when I called on you.  You said, “Do not fear!”  Lamentations 3:57

“They shall enter my sanctuary; they shall come near to my table to minister to me and to keep my charge.” Ezekiel 44:16

Now all the tax collectors and all the sinners were coming near to Him to listen to Him.  Luke 15:1

But now in Christ Jesus, you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  Ephesians 2:13

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.  The Lord is near.  Philippians  4:5

…and on the other hand, there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.  Hebrews 7:19

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  James 4:8

I wish I could wrap this all up really profoundly, but it’s not totally possible with words ~ especially words struggling to arise from my feverish mind and body. Oh, how I did not and do not want to be sick on Christmas!  My literally ill-written summary is this:  I’m so grateful to be overwhelmed by Christ’s condescension into rudeness on my behalf; that He would “waive the privileges of rank” to save me and to be so near to me that He lives inside of me giving comfort and hope.

He came near at Christmas and nearer still at the Cross.  I pray you would know His nearness.  I pray those in Sandy Hook, CT who are destined to have unwrapped gifts under their tree would know His nearness.  I pray that I would never cease to be increasingly overwhelmed by this unfathomable gift.

Gluten Free Friday ~ Flu Season Edition

 We’re not escaping this brutal flu that’s been going around.  Two Krums have been down this week with high fevers, aches, and awful coughs.  Kayla and I had a couple of sit-on-the-back-steps-in-frigid-temps sessions last night to help open up her airways, as her cough was getting very croupy, and she was getting panicked over not being able to get a good breath.  Ugh. That is no fun to experience or to watch, and I really thought we were headed to the emergency room. {We’ve done this many times over the years with each kid!} She made it through the night without a hospital visit, and I’m so thankful for answered prayer and protection.  Needless to say, she did not get to go and see The Hobbit last night at midnight, which is something she had been looking forward to for weeks, but her daddy has promised to take her when she feels all better.

Speaking of feeling better, there are a few home remedies that we’ve used which really do seem to help.  One is a “creamy” chicken and rice soup which has lots of  hidden veggies and garlic in it.  Garlic is a natural anti-microbial/bacterial/viral.  I’ve made the soup for sick folks who are not too keen on veggies, and they’ve enjoyed it. My family doesn’t really mind veggies, but they love this soup!  The “creamy” part is a whole head of steamed cauliflower, sauteed onions and celery.  There is no milk or any dairy products in it at all.

“Creamy” Chicken and Rice Soup

1 whole chicken or 1lb chicken breast, baked and shredded
1 1/2 cartons GF chicken broth {6 cups}
1 cup rice, uncooked
1 large onion
3 celery stalks
4 carrots
1/4 cup olive oil
4+ garlic cloves
1 head cauliflower
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Cook chicken and chop/shred into bits.  Cook rice according to instructions and set aside.  The rice will be one of the last things to go into the soup. Cook in water or steam cut up cauliflower.  Saute chopped onion and celery in olive oil.  Place cooked cauliflower and softened onions and celery into blender, and blend on high until creamy and white.  Pour chicken broth into stock pot and add sliced carrots, chicken and blended cauliflower mixture.  Add spices and let simmer on medium low until carrots are tender.  Press 4 or more garlic cloves into soup and add rice.  Stir and serve.

I added peas and corn to mine as well as you can see.

My bloggy and Facebook friend Cinnamon messaged me last night to remind me of another home remedy called GOOT. It stands for “garlic oil ointment” and is a mixture of coconut oil, olive oil, and garlic.  Kayla fell asleep last night before I could mix this up, but this morning she’s been sitting around with this stuff slathered on the bottoms of her feet and Ace bandages wrapped around them!  She actaully doesn’t mind, and prefers these “natural” treatments to medicine and impending trips to the emergency room, of course.  Here’s the recipe:

3 Tbsp coconut oil
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp minced garlic {or 4-6 cloves pressed garlic which takes up less space than minced}

Stir it all together ~ or blend it if you like.  I put mine in the freezer for a few minutes to make it easier to spread on her feet.  The bottoms of our feet are direct entry ways to the blood stream, and the garlic juice can more easily do its job there, but you can also rub this stuff on congested croupy chests. A glass container would be much more ideal for storage than this plastic one, but it was handy and the right size, and is now sitting in the frig awaiting it’s next patient.  This ointment can be used in MANY ways.  Be sure to click on Cinnamon’s name above and read all of her posts about different ways she’s used it.  Check out this post about GOOT as well.

 Eucalyptus oil is another way to open up and heal congested airways. We’ve been putting drops of it on a warm, wet washcloth and wrapping it around necks or on chests.  You can put a few drops in a warm bath as well as in your humidifier, and evidently you can also rub it on the soles of your feet to prevent and heal a cough. Here’s one of MANY convincing posts I read about using eucalyptus oil to stop a cough, and I definitely prefer using this to the menthol rubs that are mostly petroleum oil/products.

Kiddo number three is headed downhill now, and I hope he only has a touch of what the other two have had.  Parents are healthy so far.  I suppose I’m glad we are walking through this now rather than during the week of Christmas.  We’ve done that before, too, though.  It was Kayla’s first Christmas.  She was 6 months old and so sick ~ as were the rest of us.  You should see the pictures!  We tried to do the stockings and gifts, but everyone had glassy eyes and red cheeks.  It was pretty sad.  I walked into the pediatrician’s office at 8am with all three children on the 26th of December 2000, and the receptionist asked cheerily “Who are we seeing today?”  “EVERYONE!” I declared, feeling miserable myself.

Oh, the memories!  ☺

Thankful, though, for these miraculous bodies designed to heal themselves in spite of their fallen states.  It really is all grace.

Gluten Free Friday ~ Green Breakfasts

If only I had been taking photos of all of the goodies that are being made in my kitchen this morning, then I could have a cute Christmas-y post today!  I just made 12 graham cracker gingerbread houses, while my friend Jen made GF chocolate chip cookies, and now I’m about to start on a Christmas version of Rice Krispie treats and a batch of Christmas roll and cut butter cookies.  There is royal icing everywhere you look and a sink piled high with mixing bowls and cookie sheets!  This is all in preparation for Kayla’s annual tea party tomorrow.  Maybe the cute pics and recipes will find their way here next week?!

Instead, I’ll share a couple of breakfast recipes with you that I’ve been enjoying lately.  We get so many hearty greens in our farm share toward the end of the season, and while my family doesn’t mind them once in a while, I have a hard time using them all in a week’s time.  And canning, freezing….yes, I know that can be done, but it takes time and forethought, neither of which I have or have time to have at the moment. I really hate to throw them out, and I love all of the vitamins they hold, so I end up putting them in either my eggs or my smoothies.

Here’s my egg scramble method:

Greens and Eggs

bunch of greens {2-4 cups kale, spinach, chard, bok choy, vitamin greens, etc}, washed and torn in pieces
2-3 tsp coconut oil {tastes delicious and so good for you, but most any oil will work}
2-3 cloves pressed garlic
4-5 eggs, whisked
salt and pepper
1/4 cup cheddar or other cheese, grated {optional}

Whisk 4-5 eggs together in small bowl. Heat coconut oil in a small skillet.  Add greens and pressed garlic and saute until greens are wilted. Pour in whisked eggs and stir until eggs are cooked through.  Add cheese if desired and stir until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with GF toast or fruit.

Last week, Kayla went shopping with me and put some strawberry kefir in my cart at Trader Joes. I thought she might have a hard time drinking it all herself, so I started using some of it in my smoothies.  We also happened to have a couple of bags of spinach that I didn’t use at Thanksgiving, so I started making my way through the bags by using the spinach in my smoothies, too.  The spinach will turn your smoothie very green, but they are still very yummy and healthy, of course.

Green Smoothie
{one of MANY versions}

1/2 banana
1/2 cup mangoes {mine were Trader Joes frozen}
3/4 cup strawberry kefir
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp flaxseed oil {optional}
1 cup fresh spinach

Place all ingredients in blender.  Blend until thoroughly combined and smooth. Add more water if too thick.

Easy ways to get greens in your breakfast ~ enjoy!

Counting One Thousand Gifts ~ November { More Bible/Parenting/Advent Adventures}

The cute Facebook photos and glowing blog posts don’t usually reflect it, but there is often groaning and complaining at my house ~ and not just by the younger three that live here ~ but mostly.  Vespers at Amherst College was not high on their list of desired activities for a Sunday afternoon this weekend.  Sunday lunch went like this: “Didn’t we just get through with church?  Same old chicken for lunch? Why do we have to sit through another service?  Can we go out to eat afterward? How long is this going to take? Why did you only buy bagels but not cream cheese? How long will it take to get there?”  Muffled moans, more incredulous inquiries, and the questioning of their parents’ sanity had to be confronted and then ignored.  Parental patience had to be decided, and perseverance to follow through with the plan to attend the special Advent service in the face of great protests had to be chosen.  Miraculously, the moaning ones survived an hour of lessons and carols, and even got to eat their usual pancakes, eggs, and sausage while watching favorite TV shows once home.  Whew! It was a near death experience, but they made it.
Family devotions can be the same way.  Parenting is a long-term laboratory for standing for what is good and right despite continual, wearisome complaints, questions, and rolled eyes.  Honestly, it would be much easier to let them have their own way, but, though they don’t and can’t fully understand it right now, gathering them for a Vespers service, or rounding them up to read the Bible  ~ especially in spite of their obvious displeasure ~ is an act of love and obedience.  We’re trying to treasure them, but they are claiming torture. Seems like we’re trusting the Lord for the fortitude required in this kind of battle more than ever these days.
And so, I didn’t want to tell them how amazing I thought it was that we were reading about the shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse this week during Advent devotions.  It’s a risk and a vulnerability to show personal excitement about the Bible when you know they’re ready to get it over with, but I did it anyway, and they patiently indulged me and were politely attentive.  And if I remember correctly, there were even a few follow-up questions by the eldest. ☺
It’s just that I had been reading II Chronicles this week ~ the part where Solomon is building and then dedicating the temple.  God had never allowed for His Name to dwell in one specific place, but David had it in his heart to build Him a permanent dwelling place, and so the Lord allowed it. {and eventually indwelt it!} Though David was not the one God allowed to build the temple, he made almost every preparation and provision before his death, so that his son Solomon could be the builder of a glorious temple.
Once it is built, Solomon gathers all of Israel, and kneels before them with his hands outstretched toward heaven, and he prays.  He prays for the Lord to “hear and forgive” the nation of Israel in a multitude of potential future situations, one of which is captivity by an enemy in a land far away.  He asks the Lord to…
“…hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, their prayers and supplications, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against You…O Lord God, do not turn away the face of Your anointed  remember Your kindness to Your servant David.”
II Chronicles 6: 39-42
Our Advent reading that day was this:
“Then a shoot will spring forth from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord…”
Isaiah 11:1
This “shoot” from the stump of Jesse ~ a stump because all of Israel would eventually find themselves “cut off” and in captivity ~ was the answer to Solomon’s prayer that the Lord would hear, forgive, and not turn His face away from His anointed ones taken into captivity.
The “shoot” is Jesus, of course.  He is the answer to our pleas for freedom from physical captivity and captivities of every sort.
My kids are captives to selfishness, yes ~ but so am I.  I am captive to my desires and expectations of ease and comfort and peace and quiet ~ and a LONG list of other things.  Advent reminds me that the promise of freedom and release has already come in Christ ~ and that I can have freedom now {if only I will}, but also that He is coming again in the future and bringing full victory, restoration, and permanent freedom.  Oh ~ may I experience the one while eagerly awaiting the other!
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus; Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation; Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation; Joy of every longing heart.
~Charles Wesley
Focusing on His good gifts in order to access freedom from captivity now…

1. Pinterest Energy Bites {eaten}
2. Enchiladas {eaten}
3. Mama Iguana Fish Tacos {eaten}
4. New Asics Running Shoes {worn}
5. Clothes for Portraits ~ finally! {worn}
6. Paths of prayer and Scripture {worn}
7. Napping Babies {starts with “N”}
8. Note from Megan {starts with “N”}
9. A New Novel {starts with “N”}
10. Ideas for Beloved Retreat {gathered}
11. Lunch at my house {given}
12. Birthday gatherings at The Roost {good}
13. Old pearl earrings {acorn-small}
14. Opportunity to serve my dad {acorn-small}
15. New relationships with Bible study girls {acorn-small}
16. Peace {government}
17. Order {government}
18. Protection {government}
19. Tall pine saved from storms {from my window}
20. Cooper dunking the basketball {from my window}
21. Kalya swinging with green headphones {from my window}
22. Waffle with peanut butter, yogurt, and honey {sweet}
23. Kale and egg scramble {salty}
24. Hot tea and God’s Word {sipped}
25. Encouragement from other women {harvest}
26. Teaching experience {harvest}
27. Sweet & red potatoes {harvest}
28. “There was joy indeed in Israel…” I Chron. 12:40 {in Bible reading}
29. “David inquired of God…” I Chron. 13. 10 {in Bible reading}
30. “David inquired again of God…” I Chron. 13:14 {in Bible reading}
31. Army stories from my dad {of remembrance}
32. Funny marijuana story {about a friend!} from my dad {in remembrance}
33. My dad’s emotion over election and people’s hearts {in remembrance}
34. Successful knee replacement {at noon}
35. Multiple ways to help and bless {at noon}
36. Time to read {at noon}
37. A room at The Towers {behind a door}
38. My healing, healthy dad {behind a door}
39. An old high school friend {behind a door}
40. Early mornings with the Lord {silent}
41. Early morning runs in S.A. {silent}
42. 5:30am {silent}
43. Jack and Kelly {and Cleo’s!} friendship {golden}
44. Cleo’s life and joy given {golden}
45. Memories of Buddy {golden}
46. Conflict {hard eucharisteo}
47. Temperaments ~ mine and others’ {hard eucharisteo}
48. Valley Church ending {hard eucharisteo}
49. Kids’ stories at dinner table last night {laughter}
50. With Ryan and Christie at Chilis {laughter}
51. Over Coop waiting at empty bathroom at Chipotle {laughter}
52. Chicken Lettuce Wrap dinner {made}
53. Lunch with Traci {shared}
54. Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert {passed on}
55. Holiday magazines {autumn}
56. New England Colors {autumn}
57. Pumpkin Spice Lattes {autumn}
58. Always different and some same guests at Thanksgiving {traditions}
59. Place cards handmade {traditions}
60. Praline Sweet Potatoes {traditions}
61. Joyful, growing marriage {family}
62. Healthy, happy BIG kids {family}
63. Sanctifying responsibilities {family}
64. God’s sovereign salvation and provision {grateful}
65. Izckra and Mary {grateful}
66. Other kindred spirits {grateful}
67. Holy Spirit {only in Christ}
68. True Identity {only in Christ}
69. Hope {only in Christ}
70. Welcome Home sign by Kayla {humble}
71. Poinsettia from Karsten and Kirstine {humble}
72. Robert’s responses to me {humble}
73. Long to-do list {ugly-beautiful}
74. Late nights {ugly-beautiful}
75. Exploded containers of Christmas decor all over house {ugly-beautiful}
76. Two days Thankgiving prep with Izckra {preparing}
77.  Day after Thanksgiving Decorating {preparing}
78. Advent wreath and Jesse Tree poster {preparing}
79. Sara’s cowl and running headband! {handmade}
80. Baby Edison {held}
81. Kory’s acceptance to Baylor {happy}
82. Thanksgiving guests {community}
83. Welcoming babies {community}
84. Kayla’s fundraising requests & rejoicing friends on Facebook {community}
85. Kayla’s Santa hat & tights for race {red}
86. Tazo Awake Tea {red}
87. Passion and competitive spirit in Challenge I debaters {red}
88. God’s Word {Astonishing!}
89. Beautiful, Biblical Vespers at Amherst College {Astonishing!}

90. Sarah’s un-birthday and fruits of church planting {Astonishing!}

Crazy Weeks Cute Hats

 There have been plane trips made, knees replaced, groceries bought, pies made, turkeys brined, guests hosted, a Christmas tree chopped, a Christmas tree lit, Elf watched, a house decorated, a church hung with greens, advent bags hung, and snow twice fallen…
 …emails returned, a debate competition hosted, essays graded, Latin quizzes made, homework prizes given, homework charts created, lists made, some gifts bought, cards ordered, stamps bought, tea party invitations sent, a Bible studied, devotions had, read-alouds read, birthday gifts mailed off, basketball tryouts attended, disappointing results received, cheer-up root beer purchased, prayers said, marriage sermons listened to, and small groups reminded…
…homeschool help given, perimeters measured, polynomials factored, nouns declined, verbs conjugated, dance class attended, 24hr cross-country marathon fund-raisers finished, un-birthdays celebrated, gifts delivered, meals delivered, pizzas made, college essays edited, letters of recommendation requested, vaccination records obtained, lots-o-copies at Staples made, college applications express-mailed, college acceptances received, a chiropractor seen, a finger infected, a finger scalpeled and with liquid nitrogen sprayed {ouch!}, lunch with a friend squeezed in, more birthdays celebrated, more lunch dates with best friends had, and more shopping today done…

…which resulted in a couple of cute hats by Kayla bought and worn!

And this mom smiling at the cuteness of unique kids by Christ created.

Oh ~ and a 1000 gifts list almost completed.  November’s list come Monday ~ posted.

December ~ here we go!  Started perfectly this morning with a light snow fallen!

Cider Brine and Asaph’s Special Assignment

 I polled my family this weekend to find out what their favorite Thanksgiving dishes are.  Here are the results:

mashed potatoes and gravy, hot cider, chocolate pie, and pumpkin pie
pumpkin souffle
cranberry sauce
praline sweet potatoes

Robert wasn’t home at the time, so I send him an inquiring text message.  I received back two messages that read:

all pie

Nothing new here.  I was in the mood to try something new, though.  Last week I spent four days in a hospital room with my dad where he was recovering from a knee-replacement surgery.  I managed to get part of a book read, but I also looked at a lot of food magazines and we watched a lot of TV, too.  I think I must have been exposed to at least 10 different ways to make a turkey in that time. {fry it, grill it, baked it, smoke it…}  The recurring theme was the brine method, and the “cider brine” especially appealed to me, so today I’m giving it a whirl ~ along with preparing all of the usual dishes my family looks forward to.

My grandmother’s pecan pie…

 from her old Methodist Church cook book.  It’s called “Fifth Sunday” because if the month had a fifth Sunday, there was a potluck at the church, and this is a collection of many of the beloved recipes the women {and some men ~ think venison.}  would bring.  I pull this cookbook our every Thanksgiving and Christmas to make her pecan pie.

 I made six pie crusts last night before going to bed.  The missing two are in the oven as the above-mentioned pecan pies.  And look at those chocolates!  We had a very special and unexpected guest stop by this morning bearing a box of delicious chocolates and even three “ice cream cone” chocolates on a stick for the kids.  Really fun to catch up with our friend, Wid!  {Izzy, where WERE you?}

 The brine cooled this morning, and I just finished plopping the turkeys {I always make two.} into the delicious smelling cider brine.  The recipe is here but I used all regular cider and not the alcoholic version that it calls for.  I’m sure it adds to the taste, but I didn’t want to spend the extra time and money to buy it.  The turkeys will be in the brine overnight, and I can hardly wait to see how they turn out and if the flavor is that much different.

 These just came out of the oven, and the pumpkin pies are in now.  Chocolate is up next…

 And now I’m facing this:

A mound of sweet potatoes to peel and boil for the famed Praline Sweet Potatoes.  Then it will be the mashed potatoes, a regular and gluten free version of stuffing, and an Autumn Chopped Salad.  I do have a couple of helpers on their way, though, so the job should be done in no time.  Well, the cooking part anyway.  We’ll do the cheese platter and roasted vegetable platter tomorrow morning before our 12 guests arrive ~ including a couple from Denmark who are here only for this semester and have been visiting our church. They are bringing a traditional Danish dessert of some sort!

Recently, I finished reading 1 and 2 Kings and now I’m on to Chronicles.  Chapter 16 is all about the bringing of the ark back into the tabernacle soon after Saul dies and David becomes king.  This is also after Uzza put his hand out to steady the ark and drops dead as a consequence.  A while later, David not only figures out that this is the designated job of the priesthood, but that there is a certain way in which God has asked for the ark to be transported.  He asks the priests to consecrate themselves for the holy purpose of carrying the ark, and reminds them of the way Moses had been instructed to have the ark carried ~ on poles, on the shoulders of the priests.

The ark {and the priests!} arrives safely in Jerusalem,  is placed inside the tabernacle, and there is a loud musical celebration that follows ~ harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets.  The next part is what I think is so interesting, though.  David “assigns” Asaph the priest, and his family the job of giving thanks.

“Then on that day David first assigned Asaph and his relatives to give thanks to the Lord.”
Chronicles 16:7
I’m pretty sure that as Christians, we’ve now all been given this assignment…
“…in everything, give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
May the thanks and praise that flowed so instantly from the heart of Asaph in his “assignment” flow from my heart on a daily basis as well…
“Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations,
The covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac…
…He permitted no man to oppress them, and He reproved kings for their sakes…
…For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He is also to be feared among all other gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and joy are in His place.  
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come before Him.
Worship the Lord in holy array.”
Chronicles 16: 12-29
Have a WONDERFUL day of giving thanks tomorrow!  Consider it a privileged and pleasant assignment.

Gluten Free Friday ~ Balls of Energy {and other “away” food}

 Leaving tomorrow for a week in Texas.  I’m looking forward to it for a couple of reasons, but boy is it difficult for a mama to leave the house!  My dad is having his second knee replaced, and I will get to be with him during his surgery and hospital stay and hopefully his transition back home.  Being so far away from him, I miss being able to see him often, and I’m really thankful for the opportunity to be of help to him next week. So, this week has meant preparing and trying to make it easier on everyone while I’m away, which means lots of grocery shopping, stocking the pantry, cooking and stocking the freezer and leaving a menu so that no one even really has to THINK about food.  It’s a busy week, and having this BIG part out of the way will hopefully mean that my husband doesn’t go crazy next week.  It’s definitely not a super-healthy menu ~ lots of ground beef and hardly any green veggies, but there are apples and carrots and lettuce and frozen veggies to add when necessary!☺

Recently, my friend Yvette, pinned a recipe on Pinterest and commented that it would be a good one for Cross Country meets.  I agreed.  They are called Energy Bites, and are full of protein and healthy grains and sugars.  I made a batch for Cooper’s next Cross Country meet. He ate them on the bus, shared them with teammates, and then we ate some while we watched and cheered on his team. They were gone in no time!

So since the Energy Bites were such a hit, I made a double batch of them the other day and filled a large plastic container with them, so that my kiddos can just grab them out of the freezer for an easy snack all week.  The last two days have also been spent fending them off from all of this food and lots of “Do not eat that!!!! It’s off limits until Mom leaves the house on Saturday!”

And don’t be fooled, they won’t be cooking Salmon and squash while I’m away.  I return Saturday afternoon, and that’s the meal I plan to cook when I get home.  By then, they’ll need a good dose of omega-3’s and winter squash ~ some salad will probably be a good idea for that night, too!

Here’s the recipe:

Balls of Energy

1 cup GFoats
2/3 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup flax meal
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together.  Form into small balls and place on a cookie sheet.  Place in the freezer for 20 or 30 minutes and then store in a container in the frig or freezer.  They will stay intact without freezing, but I think it helps to store them this way and keeps them fresh.  Toss them into a ziploc bag for a handy to-go snack!

Counting One Thousand Gifts ~ October {Tensions, Vacations, Elections}

I should be preparing for tomorrow ~ packing up books and supplies for Classical Conversations, studying Latin and Algebra, typing Kayla’s essay for Challenge A, addressing the many items I need to take to the post office, cleaning my house, etc., but I’m hoping the practice of enumerating my gifts for last month ~ only two more months in this Joy Dare ~ will lift my spirits and renew my perspective.

A friend sent me a text message with a quote from Larry Crabb, the Christian counselor/author that we both  love to hate, because he always speaks knife-sharp truth.  He was recounting a friend’s comment about his {Larry’s} sinful tendencies and discontented heart. It went something like this…

“He told me I have a special gift for being depressed in the midst of blessing.”

Yep. Me too, Larry.

It’s precisely why I began this joy journey ~ this dare to count 1000 gifts.  Surrounded by gifts, and somehow always able to find something to be disheartened by.

We even had the privilege of spending 3 days at Cape Cod ~ a low-key vacation and escape from daily duties and tasks ~ yet I still found ways to be discontent.  This time it involved my marriage, and my lofty expectations for how it should look, and how he should know, and what he should say and do.  And all of my attempts at self-restraint, and desperate prayers, and Bible reading  didn’t adjust my stubborn perspective.  It still ended in tears and painful conversations and misunderstandings and an overall disconnectedness between us.

Thankful for the security of covenant tonight, though ~ God’s covenant with me and Robert’s. I can express frustrations and fears and disappointments and insecurities without it changing my status with either of them.  At the end of the day, neither one is going anywhere.  They are both here to stay no matter what.  And miraculously enough, they each still love me.  {Me!?}

So I’m exhausted, and I hate to say it, but it’s really my own sinful fault.  I’m “gifted at being depressed in the midst of blessing.”  I’m valedictorian, most-likely-to succeed, best-all-around in this unfortunate ability.

And just to continue in this sad, stream-of consciousness-ish vein, I guess I’m also “depressed at being gifted” with the right and responsibility to vote.  It is election eve, and it’s really a disheartening election, in my opinion. I will get up extra early tomorrow, which will mean 4:45am and not the usual 5:15am, so that I can get to my polling place at 7am after dressing, preparing breakfast, packing lunches, and loading up the van for our Tuesday CC day.  I’ve thought about it, and prayed about it, researched the ballot questions {Marijuana and euthanasia here. Yes, really.} looked at the sample ballot, and heard the arguments on both party sides.  Neither are compelling.  Neither are hopeful.  I will cast a vote, though.  It’s just that it probably won’t count for anything but civic duty and a hope, albeit a diminishing one,  for real change.

So here’s my list of gifts.  Yes, the ones I managed to wallow in despair in the midst of.  Funny, so many of them are regarding Robert and my marriage.  So many about hope and perspective, too. I don’t believe in coincidence, of course.  The Lord knew that on this night I would need to be reminded that His gifts are so good, so abundant, and so unique to me.

I feel like saying “Shame on me!” right now.  How dare I wallow?  Is He not enough?  Was the Cross an unsatisfying gift?  You’d certainly think so if you saw me the last couple of days.

Thankfully, at the Cross He took even that sort of shame and still decided to shower on the grace gifts…

1. Front porch pumpkins {orange}

2. Leaves lining my running route {orange}
3. Mashed sweet potatoes for dinner {orange}
4. Anxiety and worry levels {falling}
5. My love for Christ {falling more into}
6. My love for Robert {falling more into}
7. Love for the Word {caught}
8. Control {let go}
9. Book of 2 Kings {mid-way}
10. Trust {reaped}
11. Peace {reaped}
12. Knowledge of the Word {reaped}
13. Hospitality {returned}
14. Forgiveness {returned}
15. A smile {returned}
16. My life {redeemed}
17. Life of Rosaria B. {redeemed}
18. Lives of siblings {redeemed}
19. Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins {baked}
20. Coffee on a cool autumn afternoon {stirred}
21. Beef Stew and Cornbread {eaten}
22. Marriage and Robert {prayed for}
23. Continual provision {prayed for}
24. Love for the Word {prayed for}
25. Hope {praised for}
26. Privilege of ministry {praised for}
27. Provision {praised for}
28. Seeing others suffer {hard eucharisteo}
29. Command to be hospitable {hard eucharisteo}
30. Seeing my selfishness {hard eucharisteo}
31. My perspective {change}
32. Rain into sunshine {change}
33. New couples and families at church {change}
34. Kayla wanting to pray after running {small}
35. BLT {AC’s} for dinner {smaller}
36. Text messages {smallest}
37. The Basket of Flowers book with Kayla {read}
38. Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert via Jennie{read}
39. Psalm 20 {read}
40. “The students like you…” {said}
41. “Good run!” {said}
42. “You are beautiful.” {said}
43. Colossians {re-read}
44. Bold Love {re-read}
45. Stepping Heavenward {re-read}
46. New autumn candles {burning}
47. Basketball passions in Coop {burning}
48. Desires for maturity and identity in Christ {burning}
49. Rain on portrait day {ugly beautiful}
50. Released bitterness {ugly beautiful}
51. “Turns of events” 2 Kings {ugly-beautiful}
52. Half-marathon and an empty house {shared}
53. Funny quotes from kids saved {saved}
54. Expectations {surrendered}
55. Gluten Free  delicious Carrot Cake at the Roost {unexpected}
56. News of new Chipotle in town {unexpected}
57. Joy and healing in a friend {unexpected}
58. Back to sleep after dawn cross country meet send-off {unconventional}
59. Friendly and helpful bank teller {unconventional}
60. Two evenings out with couples we love {unconventional}
61. God’s grace{undervalued}
62. My home and location {undervalued}
63. My family {undervalued}
64. Early mornings {silent}
65. Sleeping children {still}
66. Robert’s faith {strong}
67. Boston Field trips {begun}
68. Learning history and economics {begun}
69. Another year of life for Robert ~ Oct. 23 {begun}
70. School preparation {accomplished}
71. Family portraits thanks to Kylie {accaomplished}
72. Kayla’s art work {accomplished}
73. Time away at the Cape {enjoying}
74. Walk on the beach {enjoying}
75. 5 Aspects of Woman ~ again! {enjoying}
76. Gift of family photos {extravagant}
77.  Forgiveness {extravagant}
78. The Holy Spirit {extravagant}
79. Being asked to forgive {humbling}
80. Kayla’s affection {honoring}
81. A clean house {happy}
82. A rooted identity {in Christ}
83. Hope {in Christ}
84. Security {in Christ}
85. Another week off to recuperate {on time}
86. Time to work on college essays {on time}
87. Power/Electricity still on {on time}
88. No hurricane damage {Overjoyed!}
89. Bible study member’s answered prayer {Overjoyed!}
90. A Chance to slow down/catch up {Overjoyed!}
91. My marriage {hallowed}
92. Life ~ born and unborn {hallowed}
93. The Name of the Lord {hallowed be!}

Gluten Free Friday ~ Crock Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup

Enchiladas seem to have been the theme here this week!  Last week was a scheduled week off from Classical Conversations, and this week brought another week off, with the uncertainty of what hurricane Sandy would bring. It allowed for some extra time to peruse Pinterest and a few magazines that were stacked up here.  It’s a little weird to be posting about recipes I found during a storm that has left so many people devastated.  My heart goes out to friends in New York and New Jersey who are still without power, still battling floods, and many who have had to evacuate and find temporary refuge at the homes of friends and family.  I pray they are home safe and sound ~ soon, and that in ways only God can, He will reveal Himself in provision and hope to those who are struggling right now.  Cooper’s Cross Country Team has organized a donation effort, and will be loading up a truck full of provisions tomorrow during Coop’s final meet of the season.

It was a semi-quiet week here, though, and so we made enchiladas to share with friends on the night of Halloween ~ or Reformation Day. ☺ I also made this crock pot soup that one of my friend’s {Hi Yvette!} had found and posted on Pinterest.  It is a slight variation of the one found here, because “Cream Of” soups are not typically gluten free.  Usually, I just skip over recipes that include those soups anyway, because the ingredient list is just WAY too long and scary for my liking, but I decided to try this Pacific Natural Foods version of Cream of Chicken soup this time as a substitute.  It’s not half as scary as the other brands, and it seemed to work just as well.
I also love it when “crock pot” dishes are truly what they claim, meaning you just put all of the ingredients in, turn on, leave for hours, stir and eat!  The only “extra” part of this one is the removing of the chicken breasts near the end of cooking to chop or shred them and add them back into the soup.  Easy!

We’re always dismayed when the Chicken Enchilada soup is off limits at a restaurant due to thickeners and cross contamination, but this is one that resembles those in every way, and was enjoyed by all!

Crock Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup

1/2 red pepper, chopped

1/2 yellow or orange pepper, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 can Rotel {or diced tomatoes and green chilis}
1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
10 oz can of GF enchilada sauce
10 oz. pkg. frozen corn
2 chicken breasts
1 cup water
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup milk


Crushed tortilla chips

Grated pepper Jack or Monterrey Jack cheese
sour cream

Place beans, Rotel/diced tomatoes, corn, onions, and peppers on bottom of crock pot.  Place chicken breasts on top of this mixture.  Whisk together enchilada sauce, soup, and water and pour over chicken, beans, etc.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours.  Near end of cooking time, remove chicken breasts and chop or shred and stir back into soup.  Stir in half and half and milk and let cook 10 more minutes.  Top with your favorite enchilada toppings and enjoy!