Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Saint Lucia

    December 13th was Saint Lucia day, but we waited until the weekend to celebrate so that Erik could be home with us. Poppy and I made these gluten free buns from the Spunky Coconut. While they were baking Erik sat with the kids and read Lucia: Saint of Light. It's a lovely book which tells the story of Lucia, as well as explaining some of the traditions that have risen in remembering her, especially in the Scandinavian countries. She was known for her purity, love for Christ, and care for others. I love that we remember her right before Christmas, as it seems we need to keep being reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive. When the buns were done, Poppy got dressed up as "the Lucia bride", remembering that Lucia chose not to marry so that she could serve Christ without distraction. The red sash reminds us that she was martyred for her faith and love for her heavenly bridegroom. Poppy served us the buns, just as Lucia used to give out food to those in need. It is said that she would go into the catacombs where Christians were in hiding, and in order to keep her hands free to carry food, she wore a wreath of candles on her head. While I love the idea of a flaming crown, I thought this wool felt one was a little more practical and safe. (The pattern was in Living Crafts magazine a few years ago.) This is the first year we've really celebrated Saint Lucia Day and I think we've established another family tradition. I think it's so important to make our remembrance of the saints meaningful and special for the children. May we all be brave, loving, and kind like Saint Lucia!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saint Herman of Alaska and Spiced Snickerdoodles

Father Herman with Northern Lights behind him.
Painting by Poppy and I, with a little clip-art monk.
    December 13th is one of the days that Orthodox Christians remember Saint Herman of Alaska, a Russian monk who lived among the Aleut people two hundred years ago. He settled on Spruce Island and cared deeply for the villagers there, sharing with them God's love and his very life. He taught them to boil salt out of the ocean water and preserve food for winter, and he defended them against corrupt traders who sought to exploit and abuse them and their land. He was greatly loved and respected by those who knew him. The Aleuts called him Apa, or Grandfather, and he did all he could to help, care for, and protect those in need.

Peregrine chose for us to paint the story of when a tsunami was coming and Father Herman placed an icon in the sand, praying to God to save the village. In faith he said the waves would come no further than where the icon stood, and they didn't.
Both paintings were inspired by the book North Star: Saint Herman of Alaska.

Our Playmobil advent calendar was transformed into a scene on Spruce Island today, complete with Father Herman, who was a borrowed shepherd from our nativity set, and a little paper church. It is said that the animals all loved Saint Herman and even bears would eat out of his hand!

Father Herman loved children, and would bake lots of biscuits and cookies to share with them. In his honor we made some cookies and all enjoyed them very much.

    These cookies are inspired by Glutenfreefix's Snickerdoodles recipe. I made several changes, and these are gluten free and also vegan. They are delicious, and still very healthy.  I'm really happy with the texture, which is just a little chewy in the middle but has a nice crunch on the outside. I added more spices than a typical snickerdoodle, and so these are more of a cross between a spice cookie and snicker- doodles. Enjoy! 

Saint Herman Day Cookies
Gluten Free and Vegan
1 C Coconut Oil, room temperature
1/2 C Honey
1/4 C Coconut Sugar or other granulated sugar
1 t. Vanilla

1 1/2 C Almond Flour
2/3 C Coconut Flour
1/2 C Gluten Free Flour of your choice (I use a blend)
1 t Baking Soda
1/2 t Sea Salt
1/2 t each Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger

Cinnamon-Sugar blend for rolling

 Mix Coconut Oil, Honey, Sugar, and Vanilla in a mixer until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. If the dough is too soft to roll into balls let it rest in the refrigerator for a half hour or so. Form into 1-inch balls and roll in Cinnamon Sugar to coat. Place on a greased or lined baking sheet. Press each ball gently to flatten just a bit. Bake at 325° for 8-10 minutes. You'll know they're done when they've flattened, puffed, and just started to look a bit "cracked" on top. Take them out when they still feel pretty soft if you prefer a more chewy cookie. Cool for a few minutes on the pan before placing on a rack. 
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies. 

This post is part of The Nourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter and Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


  Eugene is a regular at our church; he comes faithfully every Sunday. He's not, however, your typical church-goer. Eugene arrives on foot, and we often see him shuffling along the sidewalk, jacket slung over his head like a hat, bag over his shoulder, bare feet inside broken shoes. Eugene comes to wash up in the men's bathroom, and I've heard that the toilets have been plugged after he's filled them with the paper towels he's dried off with. Eugene sits in the entry way during church, slumped into a chair, kept company by moms and dads, flickering candles, golden icons, and noisy children. Eugene is not shy about getting in line for food when it's time, nor is he self conscious about heaping his plate high or going back for seconds or thirds. Sometimes we put leftovers in bags to send "home" with him.

    Eugene has come to our parish for years. I'm glad he's there. We greet him cheerfully and sometimes get a word or two in response. He must have his camp somewhere nearby. I wonder where he lives. Does he have a warm sleeping bag, a tent to keep him dry? Does he camp under a bridge? Does he have a mother who prays for him, a family who remembers him? Is anyone's heart broken over what this man has become? Once he was someone's little boy. What is his story? The other day I watched him empty a quart sized bottle of hand sanitizer into his water bottle; presumably it was his next drink. I wonder how many of those bottles he's emptied. I wonder if that's how he keeps warm on these cold nights.

   Is Eugene just another homeless man, or is he the very presence of Christ among us? Our faith teaches us to see the image of Jesus in everyone, and that what we do for "the least of these", whom Christ calls his brethren, we do to Jesus Himself. I was lying in bed Sunday night, sleepless, and thinking about Eugene. I remembered Tolstoy's story of the Shoemaker Martin who so desired to see Jesus. He was visited by different people, waiting for his Lord, but only met with common folks in need. He welcomed each, sharing and giving hospitality, but Jesus never came. In the end, Jesus reveals that it really was He who had come, and that Martin had indeed welcomed Him.

    Someday I will stand before Jesus, and I will be judged on how I cared for - or didn't care for - the Eugenes of this world. It's a pretty thing to go to church on Sunday, to prepare my heart to worship Christ, to receive Him. But how often do I miss seeing Him, grubby and smelly, in the face of the stranger on the corner or the homeless man reaching into the bowl of fruit with his dirty hands? I don't know how to "help" Eugene. I can continue to smile at him, to greet him warmly, to treat him with love. I could pray for him more regularly, knowing he needs healing of mind and spirit.

    I was at the store yesterday, something I'd rather avoid at this time of year. The friendly cashier asked me if I was "ready for Christmas". I know what she meant, but my thoughts turned to more than lists checked off and presents bought. Is my heart ready to receive Christ? Is there "room in the inn" for Him, room in my life? As I ponder the incarnation, God clothing himself in humanity, I think of Eugene and those like him. It is here I have a chance to love my Lord, by caring for the least of these, His brothers and sisters. May I be faithful to see the face of Christ and pour myself out for them.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Saint Nicholas Day

Detail of St. Nicholas throwing a bag of gold, from Raphael's stocking.

    Years ago, a friend lent me a book called Celebrating the Christian Year. One of the ideas that stuck with me was to open stockings on St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas morning. The tradition, after all, comes from a story of the saint throwing gold coins into the window of a poor family. Legend has it that the coins landed in the stockings of the three daughters, who then had a dowry and could marry. Four years ago I finally got it together to open stockings on St. Nicholas Day and we've enjoyed it very much. We've tried to keep the stocking stuffers simple and have some items that relate to stories about St Nicholas. Here are a few photos of our St. Nicholas Day celebration! 

Stories tell that Bishop Nicholas would hand out small, spiced breads to children, so we like to make gingerbread cookies shaped like him. It's been said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but I think that's true of all of us, and especially for children.  I like to try to incorporate special foods into our celebrations of saints when we can. We got to stay after church and decorate our cookies together with a couple other families. Fun was had by all! Our cookie cutter came from the St. Nicholas Center.

Our Saint Nicholas books only come out at this time of year. Getting them out is like greeting an old friend. We have a couple about the life of St. Nicholas and a few others fun stories based on him. One of our favorites is The Baker's Dozen, about a Dutch baker in the American colonies and how he learns to be generous.

St. Nicholas Day morning! Happy kids excited to find what's in their stockings! One of our "traditions" is to give the kids a new pair of pajamas each year. I put them under their pillow the evening before so they can wear them to bed. I have usually bought them on after Christmas clearance the year before, but this year I made the bottoms of soft flannel and bought knit shirts to coordinate.

It's funny how everyone seems to have their hands in Pearl's stocking except for her! Lots of helpful siblings!

We were blessed to get to attend the Liturgy on St. Nicholas day morning. I love the joy on Father Jerry's face in this photo! "Wondrous is God in His saints!" I'm grateful for such examples of selfless service as Saint Nicholas! 

The kids get in on filling the stockings too. I love that they want to share and give. They not only filled Erik's and mine, but tucked lots of little things in one another's stockings. I'm so glad they are learning the joy of giving! Celebrating Saint Nicholas early in the Christmas season is so appropriate as it helps us focus on giving.

One other thing we do in honor of St. Nicholas is to make muffins for the homeless in our town. My parents are involved in a lot of community outreach so it's easy for us to find a way to get our humble gift into the hands of those who need it. Our parish also hosts a giving project each December where we have the opportunity to give to those less fortunate in our community. This year we are sharing gifts with elderly residents in a memory care center, especially those who may not have anyone to remember them at this time of year.

Wishing you the joy of giving this season! And a happy (late) Saint Nicholas Day!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Giving

Wee Felt Wisemen Ornaments, made with love.
Tutorial from Wee Folk Art.

   There have been years where I've tried to get all my Christmas shopping done prior to Thanksgiving so I can more fully enter into the joy of the season. This year, I'd like to just skip the shopping as much as possible. Christmas, of course, isn't about the gifts, but we do enjoy both giving and receiving them. We are celebrating the greatest gift of all, and it seems an appropriate time to give. But I've been considering where these gifts come from, how they're produced, whether they're even really needed or wanted. We're trying to get rid of stuff, not collect more, so we're thinking more carefully about gift giving this year.

    I come from a big family, and all of my siblings are now married with children of their own. Add in Erik's family, close friends, and our own children, and there's a whole lot of gift giving (and spending) potential. The last few years my family has agreed to give to a favorite charity instead of buying gifts for each other, and that's been great. (Our gift has gone to The Apparent Project in Haiti, a non-profit that employs people, allowing them to rise out of poverty.) I've loved doing this. My family has also, since I was a child, supported an orphanage in Mexico, and has given alternative"gifts" that help impoverished children. One year, Erik's dad and his wife bought a goat in our honor, and another year a flock of chicks for a needy family. (I believe those were given through World Vision. We've also given through Heifer International.) As much as I love to receive gifts, some of my favorites have been ones that have gone to someone else in my honor.

    What about the kids? We will give them a few gifts, or course! (Can I just say how thankful I am that there hasn't been any real talk of "what I want for Christmas" yet!) Two of them are getting backpacks, something they need anyway. Peregrine and Poppy are each getting a new box of pencil crayons and I'm planning to make a pencil roll for each of them. I'm going to get Raphael the Busytown Airport book, and Pearl really is too small to care about presents, although she's getting a tiny backpack of her own. I will probably sew a dress or skirt for Poppy with fabric I already have. We will also give the older three a certificate they can cash in for a special outing with the parent of their choice; they love getting to do this. I bought a Groupon a while back for the local ice skating rink, so we will do that as well. We open stockings on St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6th, and our stocking items are usually somewhat practical, although still fun. (A pair of cute socks, a new pair of pajamas, a box of silly bandages, some chocolate coins, an orange, etc.) We'll spend lots of time as a family creating handmade gifts for each other, our family and our friends. (You can see some of our handmade gift ideas here.) Most importantly, we'll make a point, throughout this season of preparation, to look out for the needs of others and actively seek to help the poor. This may be as simple as keeping some granola bars in the van to hand to a homeless person or by eating more simply so we can share our extra grocery money with orphans in India or needy families in Haiti.

    As we enter into this "most wonderful time of the year" we want to keep our focus on what is most important. It's not about amassing stuff, but about sharing love and celebrating the birth of Christ. We will enjoy both the giving and the receiving of gifts, but more than that we'll find joy in being together, loving one another, and sharing with others.

    This post is part of a writing project of Families on the Move, a group of families who live a nomadic lifestyle or are preparing for long term travel. Read how other families celebrate Christmas "on the move".

A King's Life: Forget the Gifts, Give an Experience this Christmas
Pearce on Earth: A Different Kind of Christmas
Family Trek: What's for Christmas?
The Nomadic Family: Poverty for Christmas
New Life on the Road: Dear Mr. Santa Claus, What's for Christmas? 
With 2 Kids in Tow: Dear Santa, for This Christmas we Wish...
Living Outside the Box: The Best Christmas Presents
Discover. Share. Inspire. Christmas is Coming- What do we Give on the Road? 
Bohemian Travelers: Gift Giving While Living a Simpler Life
Little Aussie Travelers: Presence vs. Presents
Family Travel Bucket List: Feliz Navidad Without all the Stuff
Livin' on the Road- Susan: Christmas Traveling
Livin' on the Road- Peter: Christmas
A Minor Diversion: Reinventing Christmas
The Edventure Project: On Christmas: A Reflection on the Real Gifts

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Handmade Christmas

A Christmas Fairy inspired by my friend Chelsea and Wee Felt Folk.
(This makes me excited to unpack the one Chelsea made me and hang her on my tree!)

    As we've moved slowly toward a simpler lifestyle, I've been thinking about what to give for Christmas this year. I've always enjoyed being creative and making things, and although I seem to have less time than ever to do so, am not going to let that stop me! I will still order a few gifts online and shop at our local handmade Holiday Market, but I'm trying not to buy many commercially produced goods. Much of our "school" this coming month will consist of making gifts and getting ready for Christmas. I sat down earlier and wrote out a little list of things we've given in the past or are planning to make this year. Most of these are fairly simple and all can be made for less than you'd buy them. They have the bonus of being handmade with love, and though they may be small are always appreciated. The kids can also help with many of them, and to me, this is so much more rewarding and fun than taking them to the store to shop. Last year Peregrine spent weeks crafting presents for people, and I have no doubt this year will be the same. Several of these are items that friends or family members have made for us one year and I've turned around and made the next year. (You can't underestimate the gift of inspiration either!)

  • Spiced Nuts A nice alternative to all the sweets at this time of year. 
  • Granola  This is is a great recipe. I like to use dried cranberries instead of raisins. 
  • Coffee Liqueur Similar to Kahlua. Using decent quality vodka and coffee makes a nicer finished product. 
  • Limoncello When we visited Italy years ago a friend pulled a bottle of this out of the freezer after dinner. I made a batch last year. It's a bit labor intensive but great for lemon lovers.
  • Vanilla Extract  This is super easy, just soak vanilla beans in vodka or rum. I've ordered vanilla beans from Arizona Vanilla Company. I keep a half gallon jar of vanilla brewing all the time. As I pour it out I just throw in some more beans and top it up. It's so yummy! 
  • Rolled Beeswax Candles These are a fun, simple project that the kids can help with or do themselves. I buy beeswax sheets and wicking from GloryBee. You can make them very simple or decorate them a little. Who doesn't love candles? 
  • Christmas Ornaments Endless options here, from simple ones the kids can make themselves to more detailed ones. I've enjoyed making some felt ornaments for the kids' stockings. A google search will turn up a wealth of ideas and tutorials for them. 
  • Lotion Bars The woman who makes and sells Made On Hard Lotion is kind enough to share recipes and tips for making your own lotion bars. I love this stuff. She also sells a DIY kit that's a good deal. I've bought ingredients for making hard lotion from Mountain Rose Herbs
  • Lip Balm So simple and inexpensive to make. Several good recipes here, as well as ingredients, lip balm tubes and containers.
  • Candle Lanterns My sister did these with the kids one year and they're so pretty. We made them with leaves for fall, and I think we'll do some more with snowflakes to brighten the dark days of winter. 
  • Photo Gifts Framed pictures, photo calendars, and greeting cards made with pictures from our travels are all gifts we've enjoyed giving. Sites like Shutterfly and Mixbook offer great deals at this time of year. You could also get the kids' art printed on a shirt, tote bag, mug, etc. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


    This morning I was reminiscing about Thanksgiving as we celebrated it on the prairies. In Canada the holiday is observed in early October, closer to the harvest time. Set along the front of our church would be long tables and people would place on them offerings of home canned goods and fresh produce from their gardens. To me this was the perfect picture of Autumn and of Thanksgiving; the deep reds of pickled beets and jellies, the pink blush of crabapples, dill pickled green beans in shiny jars, knobby potatoes and long carrots dug from the earth, and winter squash in all shapes and sizes. After the service these things would be boxed up and given to the poor among us. My family usually qualified.

    I've been thinking about the beauty in this, not just visually, but how beautiful it was that people brought the literal fruits of their labor and made an offering of them. That right along with giving thanks to God was giving to others. I've often peered in to the large cardboard boxes that grace the foyer of many churches. Here the collections for the poor usually contain an abundance of things like ramen noodles and creamed corn. I'm thankful that people are giving, but I can't help but wonder- is that the best we can do? I'm as guilty as anyone. I've cleaned out my cupboards and dumped my extra cans of food in the box, the ones that that aren't organic or healthy or "good enough" for my family. I know that we are to give the first fruits, not the leftovers, but it seems that too often my gift is given out of obligation, not love, and that it's the dregs and not the cream.

    It often seems that beauty and wonder are missing from the worship we offer God. Maybe this is part of why so many people are attracted to the Orthodox Church- they have maintained a beauty that touches the senses, but that also echoes with mystery and eternity. Maybe people are tired of sitting around tables in gymnasiums to worship the Creator. When we visited cathedrals in Europe I was amazed at the beauty and the extravagance that was evident there. I know that any building can just be a sepulcher housing dead mens' bones but I think there is something inherent in beauty that draws us to God. Something that inspires us to present whatever we have back to Him and believe that He will make it beautiful. Like the woman who spilled her tears over Jesus' feet and washed them with her hair. It was done in love and humility and to me it was one of the most beautiful acts of worship recorded in Scripture. She was forgiven much and she loved much.

    So I think that thankfulness and giving are intertwined. When I realize that all I have is a gift I don't deserve it causes me to want to give to others the lavish love that's been poured out on me. I have so much to give thanks for and along with that I want to learn to give abundantly, joyfully, to take what I've been given in this life and offer it back to the Giver. I want to make something beautiful and delicious, not only for my family, but for the poor and homeless. I want to love and serve my husband in ways that bring him joy and peace and to make our home a beautiful sanctuary where people can find rest and and be drawn closer to Jesus. And I want whatever is on my table to be offered with love.

    This is a repost from six years ago, but I was thinking again of those long tables laden with food and thought I'd reshare. I am challenged once again by reading these words; is my giving beautiful? And in the year after I wrote this, we too found our hearts at rest in the Orthodox Church.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful: Family

Mi familia... most of them anyway!
(This was over a year ago, but I think it's the most recent picture with both of my brothers.)
Look at that tiny little Pearl. She was only a couple weeks old here.
    Today I'm especially thankful for my family. I say especially, because I'm always thankful for them, but sometimes I'm reminded of just how blessed I am to be part of such a wonderful and loving family. I grew up in a big family and have the happiest memories of my childhood. My brothers and sisters are still some of my best friends, and days like today where we sit around and eat and laugh and talk and play games are very special. I love that my family is always there for each other, whether someone needs a listening ear, or a pot of soup on a hard day, an encouraging word, prayer, or someone to help with the kids or pick something up at the store. My sisters are some of my closest friends. I love that we've all been at each others' births and shared so many special life moments. Up until the time I got married, and I was 26, when I was at home I'd still go crawl into bed with my parents and talk. I don't hesitate to call them, day or night, if I'm in need of their wisdom or comfort. I'm so blessed to have lived near them for as long as I have.

    And if it weren't enough to have been born into such an amazing family, I have wonderful, loving in-laws as well. Both sets of Erik's parents have welcomed me into their lives and are wonderful grandparents to our children. We're so blessed by their love and support. I hear people talk about the difficulties they have with family and am so, so thankful for the relationships we all have with each other. I actually knew Erik's mom before I knew him, and she has been such a special part of my life, truly like a second mom to me. It was like icing on the cake that I got to marry Erik and have her as my mother-in-love.

    As we raise our own little family, I'm grateful for the loving homes we both came from. It's not something I ever take for granted as I see so much pain and brokenness in people's family situations. I hope that our children will grow up to be the best of friends with one another. I love that they all get to spend time with cousins and grandparents. (This is something I missed out on as we lived in a different country than any of our relatives growing up and only got to see them every couple of years.) Thanks to technology, communication with those who are far away is a lot easier than it was when I was a kid. (But we still miss them!) I'm so thankful for family! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankful: Friendship

Two of my best friends, Shelley and Paula, and most of our kids, the last time we were all together.
Which was way too long ago, I might add!

   Today I'm thankful for good friends. The older I get the more I realize that true friendship really is a gift. I meet a lot of people, enjoy their company, and even have a lot in common with many, but it's more rare that there's that spark that grows deeper into friendship. I'm grateful for those people with whom I can be myself, knowing that I'm fully loved and accepted. For the ones that I may not see often, but when we do it's like no time has passed. For the ones whose houses I can walk into and rummage through the fridge, flop down on their couch and feel right at home. For the ones with whom I can share my struggles, my tears, and my joys. Here's to friendship! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful: Thanksgiving Day

Our Tree of Thanks
Thanksgiving was never meant to be for a single day~ "Robert Casper Lintner"

    My Grams posted this quote on her Facebook wall earlier today, and it's such a good reminder. I'm glad we have this day set aside to give thanks. Gratitude it something I want to continue working to cultivate in my heart and in the hearts of my family. This month we created a Tree of Thanks as a way to help us remember that Thanksgiving isn't just a day; it's a way of life. I love how it started as just a bare brown trunk and grew into something beautiful as we added daily our little offerings of thanks. I love the leaves in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. I like the big scrawly writing of certain kids, the misspellings of others, and the fact that they each have their names up there several times - they are thankful for each other! Here are a few others: 
  • Lego (This is also up there numerous times! My boys spend lots of time with their legos.)
  • Kasles! Hoklit Bunes! (Castles and Chocolate Bunnies.... Poppy is just starting to write on her own and her spelling needs a bit of interpretation!)
  • Reading stories
  • Making crafts
  • The WRLD and everything on it! (Poppy again.)
  • Cowboys
  • A fire in the fireplace on a cold day
  • Mama
  • The Ducks (That would be Peregrine)
  • Lego (Did we mention Lego?)
  • A good, secure job.
  • I'm happy for Pearl (Raphi loves his baby sister!) 
  • Chili and cornbread
  • Good coffee (Erik)
  • The weekend, my family together
  • Unicorns. And Butterflies. And Cats. (Poppy. Definitely Poppy.)
  • Thanksgiving!
  • My beautiful wife. (My sweet husband.)
  • A warm and dry house
  • Sushi
  • Playing with Dad (Peregrine)
  • Sleep (that would be me)
  • A healthy family
  • Church
  • Family and friends
  • Books
  • Helpful big kids
    It makes my heart happy just to sit and look at this, the giving of thanks for things big and small, things often unnoticed. The kids are already talking about doing a "Christmas Tree" and I think it's a great idea. Let's keep the gratitude flowing; it does us all good. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Far Away Thanksgiving Memory

    Special days are often full, not only their present joy and celebration, but the memories of other such days. As we give thanks today my thoughts turn back to other Thanksgiving days; this one was most unusual. It was the year 2000 and seven friends and I were in Kathmandu, Nepal seeking to share our lives and the Good News of Jesus with western travelers. We were staying in a dark guesthouse with hard beds and cold rooms. Fall is Kathmandu is beautiful; the air is cool and clear and the majestic Himalayan foothills loom in the distance. For days before Thanksgiving we made our plans and invited people whom we had met and gotten to know; we ended up with twelve guests- twenty of us altogether. There were a few North Americans, and others from Israel, Denmark, France, And Nepal.

    Our "kitchen" consisted of a small room on the ground floor of our guesthouse. What made it a kitchen were the two low tables, a kerosine burner (the scary kind), and a few containers of water. With two more borrowed stoves we were ready to cook! Here's what I wrote in my journal:

    "We don't have a steamer basket so I inverted a bowl in the pot, rested a plate on that, and placed the chunks of pumpkin on it. I had to do two batches as only half would fit in the pot. I've only made pumpkin pie from canned pumpkin so this is a little different! It was really watery so I put it in some cheesecloth and hung it with clothesline overnight. Early this morning I mixed up the pie. Of course we don't have a pie plate so I poured it into a pot to bake and put a crumble topping instead of a crust. (No rolling pin and no clean surfaces to roll dough on.) I walked over to Shiva's Restaurant, where I often eat breakfast, and they allowed be to bake it in their toaster oven, since we don't have an oven either. While it baked I ate my usual breakfast of hash brown potatoes and hot lemon with honey. When I returned we gathered in one of our rooms for a time of giving thanks and praise to God. After that four of us headed downstairs to begin cooking. It was quite a scene, and although we were crowded it was a lot of fun. A Nepali friend also came to help with the cooking. Christyana made fried tofu and stuffing in the wok, John made steamed vegetables, Joy made fruit salad and mashed potatoes, and I made mushroom gravy and cucumber tomato salad. Dan and Mick, two travelers from the U.S. brought rolls and drinks. They even brought drinking glasses that they were able to borrow from a restaurant! Joy and Christyana transformed their room into the "dining room". They took the mattress off the bed exposing the wood platform and spread a tapestry on it. This was our table and as the guests arrived we all took our places on the floor around it. We filled the room and spilled out into the hallway. One of our fellow American guests suggested that we all share something we were thankful for and so we did. Most of the others had probably never celebrated Thanksgiving before and I was really glad to be able to share it with them. After the meal people hung out and talked and played music together and later we had pie. It was a beautiful day. I'm thankful for every good and perfect gift, for being alive and loved and able to love. For being here. For these friends who are like a family to me. For my family at home, and all my friends who love and pray for me."

    I'm still thankful for all of those things and so many more- a wonderful husband and children I could never have imagined. For the life God has given me now and for all the memories of the other places I have been. They are part of today, part of who I am, and for that I am thankful.

    (And Rachel and Chinua, John, Christyana, Joy, Rebekah, Christy- I love and miss you all!)

Happy Thanksgiving to each and all.
May your hearts overflow with a good theme as you give thanks!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful: Peregrine

    Tonight I'm thankful for my oldest son, Peregrine. It's hard for me to believe he's nine. (Nine! As in, halfway to eighteen.) Peregrine is full of life; on a scale of one to ten, I think he lives between nine and twelve. He doesn't have any small feelings, and pours himself fully into whatever he's doing. (Or into wishing he wasn't doing the thing he has to be doing.) Life with him is never dull! I'm enjoying watching him learn and make connections about the world around him. I love that he can follow a recipe and likes to cook. He's a great reader, and is always surprising me with bits of knowledge he's picked up here and there. He loves to be in charge, and I just gave him the responsibility of "teaching" a preschool class to Raphael every morning. He's perfect for the job; he's been reading Raphael stories and then making crafts to go along with them! Raphael is loving it too, and it's keeping them occupied (constructively) so that I can clean the kitchen after breakfast. He's a big help around the house, actually lightening my load a fair bit. He's constantly creating things; if it's not with Legos, then it's with paper, tape, beads, wire, anything he can get his hands on. He loves to draw too, and lately has been making comic books. I'm so glad God gave me this intense, spirited boy! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful: Poppy

    Today I'm thankful for my Poppy Joy girl. I was watching her today and marveling at how big she is. Wasn't she just my little blue eyed baby with the wispy hair? And now she dances and tumbles about the house with the best of them. Still a little girl in so many ways, she's emerging somehow, into a more thoughtful quiet little lady. I often wonder what's going on in her mind, and have to gently draw her out. She is over the moon in love with Pearl, and I'm glad for these two; sister love is so sweet. (I know, because I have two amazing sisters who are some of my best friends.) She also plays happily for hours with Raphael, and lately has taken to drawing comics along with Peregrine. She still loves to have long sleepy snuggles when she gets up in the morning; I like them too. Like a certain auntie of hers, she seems to change her clothes an awful lot. (And, she loves purple... ahem, Gloria!) I love this girlie of mine, and am so thankful she's part of our family. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankful: Raphael

Boy meets Ink. Ink wins. I think Poppy introduced them.
And no, it wasn't washable Ink.

    Tonight I'm thankful for my little man-cub Raphael. This boy, at 3 1/2, keeps me on my toes, keeps my running, and makes me smile often. He has always been busy busy, into everything, and wanting to figure out how things work. While he's incredibly independent, he also loves to be with me. If I'm cooking, cleaning, running to the store, he wants to be right there in the action. He sees no reason why he shouldn't start throwing in spices, chopping (with the big knife), or adding ingredients. Life with him is never dull, and if it is, he's probably into something. He was slow to talk, but he sure does pay attention to little things. He's usually my first one up in the morning and I'm glad that we have that time to snuggle, read, talk, cook together before the house is buzzing. Right now, he's loving building "shecial creations" with legos; these are usually honey factories and cupcake trains. He brings me lots of cupcakes in all different flavors. "Garilla", also known as vanilla, is my favorite. He's rough, wild, affectionate, and sweet. He often tells me "I love you, Mama. I love to be wif vou."  I love to be "wif" him too, and am so grateful that God gave us this little guy. 

Living Without

    A couple months ago a number of families wrote about why they've chosen to live with less. This month our group project was to write about things we've learned to live without. Even though I've been deliberately culling for a long time now, I still feel like we have so much. When I began to think about things we've learned to live with less of, or without, here are a few that came to mind:

  • Two Incomes. When we got married ten years ago, Erik's co-workers assured him we'd never survive on his income alone. We've proved them wrong. We've added four kids to our family since then, and we still live on his income. (Thankfully, it has increased in those years!) I've chosen to stay home with our children and am committed to giving them that gift. I'm happy to live without a career of my own. Erik's co-worker were right that we couldn't live on his income alone- if we had to have new cars, a boat, and a vacation home. We've chosen a different lifestyle. 
  • New Cars We do have two vehicles, but they're both older models. They're both paid for. We will drive them until they no longer serve us well, or until we leave the country. (Hopefully leaving the country will come first!) 
  • Credit Card Debt Neither of us even had a credit card when we got married; we'd both decided long before that we'd live within our means. We soon realized that having no credit meant we couldn't buy a house, so we both hold several cards now. We use them too, but pay off the balance every month. (And accumulate airline points in the process!) 
  • Television For most of our married life, we've not had a TV. We watch the occasional movie via Netflix or on DVD, and don't feel we're missing out on a single thing by not owning a TV. I think that living without the constant barrage of advertising that comes with TV makes it a lot easier to be content with that we have. 
  • As far as Stuff is concerned, we've gotten rid of a lot in the way of Books, Toys, and Clothing. We started our our marriage with two big bookcases, both full. As we added children's books over the years, we got rid of some of ours. This past summer I pared down to one bookshelf for the whole family. We've tried to invest in quality toys, and find the kids tend to play most with Legos, Playmobil, dress up things, and several other simple toys. I've pared down my wardrobe significantly. This is a slow process, but I'm working it down to fewer things that I really like. I still feel we have more of all these things than we really need, but we've learned to live with less than we had in the past. It's a process! 
    One of the benefits of intentionally paring down is that I've become a lot more careful about what I buy. I can honestly say that having less is freeing. It's easier to keep things picked up and organized. I still have a long way to go toward living as simply as I hope, but can also see that we've made a lot of progress. Living without and living with less frees up time, energy, and resources for relationships and experiences.  

    Read what other families are living without here:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thankful: Pearl

    Tonight I'm especially thankful for my baby Pearl. She's a year and a half now, so not really such a little baby, but my baby still. She's been such a happy little one, full of smiles and happiness. She's petite and taking her jolly time to do things, but I don't mind one bit. I think she's getting very close to walking... finally! (I'l miss the way she scoots around on her bottom.) I love her sweet little voice and hearing her try out new words. I think she's going to have a fun sense of humor too. I'm so very thankful that God added this little one to our family. She brings so much sweetness to my days. (And nights.... she's been my worst sleeper, but I know I'll look back with joy on all our midnight snuggles.) 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thankful: Raspberries and Roses

    It's been a lovely fall here in Oregon; mild, sunny, trees ablaze with color. We've only woken to the glitter of frost a few mornings, and haven't had a lot of rain yet. But cooler weather is finally settling in, and it's supposed to dip below freezing tonight. As days grow shorter and skies darken, I look forward with a bit of dread to the upcoming months of gray, drizzly skies.

   So today, I'm thankful for these summer gifts that have hung on this long. Here we are, more than halfway through November, and still there are roses blooming in my yard. They seem to be more fragrant than in summer, but perhaps I just notice it more because it's unexpected. And raspberries! Poppy brought me a handful of them the other day; ripe, sweet berries. Yesterday Raphael picked some at my parents' house; he arrived home with face shining, holding up his little container and saying "I picked these for 'vou'". And today I was able to gather a small bowl to share with Erik and Pearl. I cut the last of the rosebuds and will enjoy watching them open and inhaling their sweet scent. I'm thankful for these little unexpected gifts, promises that the dark days will pass and once again there will be abundant sunshine, bouquets of fresh flowers, and bowls of sweet fruit.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thankful: Trash Day

       As I was lying in bed this morning listening to the garbage truck rumble into our cul-de-sac, I thought back to this post I wrote nearly six years ago. I'm reposting, since it fits right into my month of thanks.

       Friday is trash day. The trucks come rolling into our neighborhood at 6:45AM. A certain small boy thinks this is very exciting and comes bounding out of his room way too early. I usually lie in bed groaning at the prospect of spending an entire day with a way-too-tired boy on account of him wanting to see the garbage trucks. It's not a good way for me to start the day.

        A few hours after the trash was picked up this morning I got to reminiscing about my time spent in India and Nepal. In light of my grumblings about the trash trucks coming so early, I've compiled a list of things to be thankful for. They're simple things that in this country I usually take for granted. Hopefully next time I start to let my complaining heart take over, I can read this over and find something to be thankful for instead.

        1. Trash Service This seems a logical place to start, since that's what got me whining first thing this morning. It's pretty amazing to have a truck that comes by on a regular basis and hauls my trash away. In India we just had to dump it out by the street, where passing cows, goats, pigs, and people could rummage through it and scatter it about. I think there was some sort of truck that might come pick it up once in a while, but we never knew when. I always felt guilty just throwing my trash on the street.

        2. Electricity Can you imagine living even a day in your home without power? Maybe if you knew it was going to happen it could be sort of fun for a while, but the novelty would wear off pretty quickly. In India and Nepal, the power would come and go without warning. Sometimes I thought I had it figured out, like it's off from nine to one every day, but then it would change, usually in the middle of writing a nice long email (that would then be lost) or cooking dinner. Then I would get to continue cooking over my very scary kerosine stove by the flickering of candles. And not nicely scented clean burning ones, but ones that sent up toxic black smoke that almost made me choke.

        3. Heat This one goes along with electricity for most of us, but I think it deserves its own category. My house is so nice and comfy, even if it's freezing outside. If I get too cold I can turn up the heat. I remember huddling in my sleeping bag in Nepal, burning a candle in vain hope that it might warm up the room a bit. Brrrrr....

        4. Water There's plenty of fodder for thankfulness here. First off, I can turn on my tap anytime I want and have water that's safe to drink. No boiling, cooling, or pumping. No having to think about (or try not to think about) the fact that this same water was just pumped out of the river where people bathe, wash clothes and dishes and water buffalo, and throw the dead bodies. Even if it's been boiled and filtered, it's still just kind of gross. Secondly, within seconds the water that comes out of my tap will be hot if I want it to be. (I must admit that I often get impatient in those seconds.) In some places we had hot water if the sun had been out and warmed the solar tanks on the rooftops. Other places there was no hot water unless you heated it yourself. Bathing was a real ordeal. Which brings me to my next point....

        5. Bathrooms It's easy for me to feel a bit sorry for myself because we only have a shower and not a tub. But really I have nothing to complain about. Our bathroom in Varanasi, India was a dark room with concrete walls and floor. At one end of the room there was a hole in the floor where one might wish for a toilet. About halfway up one wall was a spigot for (cold) water. I will never complain about not having a bathtub again.

        6. Medical Care I took Alethea to the doctor this morning for her check-up. Sometimes I get annoyed at having to wait more than a few minutes to be called in for my appointment. When I was in Nepal I was extremely sick and taken to a hospital. The waiting room was full- and I mean full in the Asian sense of the word, like people in every available inch of the room. Who knows what one might contract waiting in there for hours. It's pretty amazing that we can get in to see a doctor and have good medical care when we need it.

        7. Refrigeration I have one of those side-by-side fridges and still I find myself wishing I had a bigger one sometimes. I need to remember what it was like to have no refrigerator. I had to shop one day at a time, and I never quite knew what to do with leftovers. Thankfully my friend Leilah would usually come in sometime around 2 AM and finish off whatever was left in the pot. I'd then see her hunched over in her sleeping bag reading her Bible by (smoky) candlelight.

        I could go on, but that pretty much covers the basic things that it's so easy to take for granted, like they're my inalienable rights or something. While there's a simplicity that I miss about living in India, one has to work pretty hard to accomplish anything there. I have so much to be thankful for. I'm going to try hard to remember this when I'm lying in bed next Friday morning and those garbage trucks come around.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thankful: Choice

    Today I'm thankful for the freedom of choice. While I often feel overwhelmed by the abundance of choices I face on a regular basis, I am glad to have them. (Seriously, I've nearly had a breakdown trying to pick out dental floss. Way too many options!) I believe God gave us great dignity by bestowing free will upon us, and I try to honor Him with the choices I make. Today I'm grateful to have the freedom to choose:
  • To educate my children at home.
  • To practice our faith and worship communally without fear of persecution.
  • To buy healthy and nourishing foods. 
  • To use alternative health practitioners.
  • To learn about and research anything that interests me.
  • To travel virtually anywhere we'd like to... time and resources being the limit here!
   It's funny, as I look over this list, I realize that several of these are areas where I see more government involvement than I'd like. Some of these choices, from homeschooling to buying raw milk, are being challenged on various levels and I often feel up-in-arms over it. But on the other hand, our country is still a land of much choice, and I realize we have more freedoms than people in most times and places. For that, I'm very, very thankful. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thankful: November 16

This picture has nothing to do with my post. It was just a neat building we saw in Montova, Italy, many years ago.
Which, incidentally, I'm thankful for. So there. It's relevant after all.

    Today I'm thankful for many things:

  • The smell of granola baking.
  • Open gym play time for the kids, visiting time for the mamas.
  • Having Erik home earlier in the afternoon.
  • Getting closer to putting the house on the market, slowly, slowly.
  • Lentil soup - simple, hearty, filling.
  • Pearl's sweet voice.
  • A good day with a child who often is very challenging.
  • My favorite candles burning on the mantle - orange, clove, and cinnamon.
  • Quince simmered in apple cider with cloves, reminiscent of canned crabapples, memories of a happy childhood.
  • Being close enough to my mom and dad that the kids get to see them often.
  • Brothers playing happily together for a long time.
  • Getting to see both of my sisters.
  • A warm, dry home on a drizzly gray day.
    My sister Alyssa wrote today about her gratitude for her own warm and dry home. She expressed very well what a great gift this is. I encourage you to go read it here

    For what are you thankful for today? 


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thankful: Advent

    Today I'm thankful to be setting out on a journey, one that will take 40 days and lead to us to the Nativity of Christ. In the Orthodox Church, we begin our advent season today, November 15th. Everywhere we go we're inundated with advertising, busyness, food, stuff, and then more food and more stuff. We're told that joy and peace can be bought with credit and that happiness comes in pretty packages. Meanwhile, the Church quietly calls us away from these distractions and toward Christ. It is a season of preparation, and yes, we will buy some stuff, we'll continue to eat, and we'll inevitably be busier than we'd like. But we will also intentionally turn ourselves away from gluttony through eating simpler meals, fewer treats, less mindless eating. We will try to "unplug" more often so we can be more connected to one another. We will actively seek to remember that it's more blessed to give than to receive by taking part in various giving projects as a family, of trying to be more aware of others needs than our desires. We will focus on the meaning of this time by reading together from the Old Testament, reading the old, old story that started in Eden and led to the manger. We will hang up a corresponding ornament on our Jesse Tree each evening as we learn about those who came before and make up the lineage of our Saviour. We will move Mary along on our starparth, slowly filling the sky with stars as she nears the cave. 

    Last night we sat together, in the glow of candle light, and talked about what we would do if we learned that in 40 days we'd be visited by a King. How would our lives change as we prepared for his coming? If he were to visit our home, if he were to stay with us, wouldn't we declutter  and clean and decorate and save the best for when he arrived? And wouldn't he want to see that in all our preparations, we didn't forget the least of these, his very brethren, but shared with them from our abundance? And wouldn't we want to practice showing love to each other, because we know that is what pleases Him best?

    A King is coming, and so we make ready. We will attempt to prepare our hearts as well as our home. And when He comes? We will feast and celebrate! But now is the time for preparation, and I'm grateful for that. When Christmas morning comes, and the gifts have been opened, we'll just be getting started. (We keep the 12 days of Christmas, after all!) I'm thankful to be setting out on this journey today, one that leads to the Prince of Peace! 

Read how other families keep the season of advent here

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thankful: November 14

   As the days grow darker I'm thankful for the warmth and brightness of light, both spiritually and physically. Last night we read about St. Martin of Tours and took an evening walk with the lanterns the kids had made. They were so beautiful, the warm glow illuminating the darkness and reflecting off happy little faces. We talked of letting the light of Christ shine through us, about loving one another and caring for the poor, as St. Martin taught us by his example, and of seeing Christ in everyone we meet. 

"O Joyful Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy blessed Father, O Jesus Christ. Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God." 
(Ancient Christian hymn sung in the evening service of the Orthodox Church.)

"The Light of Christ illumines all!"
(From the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts)

"The early Christian ritual of carrying a lamp into the evening service led to the present-day order of Vespers with its entry and the singing of the ancient hymn, O Jesus Christ, the Joyful Light…, which expresses the Christian teaching of spiritual light that illumines man, of Christ the Source of the grace-bestowing light."
(Quote taken from here.)

"And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it"
(John 1:5)