Thursday, September 29, 2011


     At church on Sunday the pastor told of a man who, when asked where he was from, replied "I'm from Paradise". I've been thinking about that all week. As a follower of Christ, I know in my mind that I'm a citizen of a heavenly kingdom and that this world is not my home. It's so easy to forget and live like this is all there is. I've spent many months of my life traveling with not much more than what could fit in my backpack. At those times I remember thinking of all the things I had at home and how I really could live without them. But inevitably, when I get home and start settling down, my "stuff" becomes more and more important, to the point where it's easy to fix my mind and heart on having more and more of the comforts that this life offers. Psalm 84:5 says "Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage." Another version says "in whose hearts are the highway to Zion". We are called to be pilgrims and strangers in this world, our hearts fixed on heaven.

        While passing through the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh several years ago, I saw a group of Muslim men going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. There was something powerful about their presence. Each man was dressed in white robes and their voices rose in united prayer and song. They exuded a feeling of excitement and expectancy: this was a culmination of years of longing, saving, and planning, as many were already old men. They were singular in their focus, united in their goal of reaching Mecca and fulfilling one of the requirements of Islam. I will never forget the impression that seeing those men made on me.

        When people look at us as followers of Jesus of Nazareth do they see a people who are traveling or one who is content to stick around here and be as comfortable as possible? When I'm camping, or traveling, it's easy to forgo many of the things that I might like to have, because I know it's only for a while. I'm afraid that I too easily lose the focus that life as we know it is just temporary and my real, eternal home is in heaven. How easy it is to store up treasures here and forget that my heart is to be set on pilgrimage. The dictionary offers a couple definitions of a pilgrim:

        1.        A religious devotee who journeys to a shrine or sacred place.
        2.        One who embarks on a quest for something conceived of as sacred.
        3.        A traveler.

        As a Christian, want all of those to characterize my life. I'm journeying to a sacred place, to the very heart of God, and someday to eternal joy in His presence. He has put me here on this earth to glorify Him and to learn to love Him. He has given me many things to enjoy and to use here, but I must remember that I'm only here for a while. I'm a foreigner, just passing through, and someday I will go home. Abraham was called out of Ur, and in Hebrews 9:10-11 we are told "By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." He lived in the land that God gave him, yet as in a foreign land. I need to remember that I'm just a traveler here, a camper, and there are many things I can do without, because it's only for a while. My prayer is that I will dwell in this land in the same way Abraham did, looking forward with excitement and longing to my true home and what awaits me there.

    This is a repost from 2006, shortly after I started blogging. I thought it was appropriate to share it again as we prepare to pull up stakes and embark on our own pilgrimage of sorts. Our home, where we've dwelt for the last six years, will soon be on the market, and we wait with excitement to see how and when we'll be able to leave. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moved With Compassion


    These three little words have been floating around in my head for the last several weeks: moved with compassion. They come from stories about Jesus, how he would look upon someone and be "moved with compassion". What followed was always some sort of loving action. Jesus didn't merely feel sympathy; He did something to help. He healed the sick and touched the untouchable. He taught the multitudes, spoke to them life giving words that opened hearts and minds. He lifted the burden of guilt, the heaviness of the law, by extending forgiveness and grace. He fed hungry people and opened blind eyes. He took children on His knees and blessed them.

    The dictionary defines compassion as sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it. As I've pondered these words I've realized how often I've failed to have true compassion on my children. How often I've brushed off minor injuries or the seemingly little things that concern them greatly. How I've ignored a child who I deem to be "overreacting" to a situation. I've subconsciously expected them to have a maturity they simply don't have, to realize that a torn page or a lost pencil isn't really a big deal. But it's a big deal to them, causing them distress. And a compassionate response would make their concern mine and do whatever is in my power to alleviate it. So often I've offered words, hollow words, a flippant "oh, I'm sorry" or "that's too bad" with no action, no movement to help them.

    As I've journeyed toward a more grace-filled relationship with my children, I've been thinking about how compassion is not just a loving and helpful reaction to their distress, but it also compels me to be a lot more pro-active. I'm sad to say that my discipline has often grossly lacked compassion; I've expected too much of them and then been frustrated and angry when they failed to perform. Now, I do think children should learn to obey, but instead of using my energy to repeat myself, get frustrated, and punish them when they don't, a more compassionate response would be to get up and help them. This is a lot harder to do, especially when I'm breastfeeding a baby, or reading to another child, or anytime I'm doing something else. But what if, after giving a child a direction and seeing them hesitate or even run the other way, I simply get up and cheerfully ask if they needed a little help? Or put my hands on theirs and did it with them? This communicates to them not only that I do expect them to do what they've been told, but also that I'm on their side and will do what it takes to help them. At the point that I've issued a directive and my child is having a hard time obeying, whether they're being obstinate or simply distracted or childish, I can move in with compassionate help instead of punishment. Either way, I'm expending energy, but the movement of helping them builds up our relationship in a way that punishment never does. Both actions communicate that I mean business, but one also communicates grace.

    There is a verse, in the 103rd Psalm, that I read nearly every week. It says "As a Father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him." It serves as both gentle inspiration and sobering reminder that I am shaping my children's view of God. I so often fail to show them how full of grace He is. God, in His great compassion for me, equips and strengthens me to do what He asks me to do; shouldn't I do the same for my children? He gently leads and guides and helps and empowers me. He's gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in mercy. He models exactly what kind of parent I should be; He is moved with compassion toward me, actively offering help every moment. The only acceptable response to this is to look upon my children and be moved with compassion, to follow the example of my kind-hearted and merciful Christ and speak words of life, to offer a healing touch, and to take my them on my knees and let His blessing flow through me to them. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Elderberry Syrup

Image from the Bulk Herb Store, where I buy my elderberries.

   As summer fades away thoughts turn toward the upcoming months of cooler weather, cozy mornings, rain, crackling fires... and colds and flu. We're thankful for the good health our family enjoys, and I believe a big part of this comes from eating plenty of nourishing, real food. One of my favorite foods to boost the immune system is the humble elderberry; simmered down into a simple syrup, it becomes a nourishing and delicious tonic. Instead of buying expensive bottles of it at the health food store, it's simple and frugal to make at home, and you can control what sweetener you use, as well as how much you put in. 

    Here's what the Bulk Herb Store, where I've bought dried elderberries, has to say about them: Elderberries are tasty flu fighters. They contain compounds that inhibit the enzyme flu viruses from penetrating our cell membranes and also prevent the virus from invading respiratory tract cells. Taken early enough, as a tea or tincture, you may be able to head off an upcoming illness before it becomes a full-blown flu. They are especially good for bronchitis, colds, coughing, and influenza. Also contains substances that ease inflammation and pain and soothe the intestines, thus making them useful in all inflammatory bowel diseases.

   If you'd like to make this wonderful food for your own family this cold and flu season, here's a simple recipe to get you started. I try to give my kids a spoon full every day through the cooler months; sometimes they take it straight and other times I mix it in with kefir, milk, or put it in a smoothie. If someone seems to be getting sick, they get some several times a day. You can read more about elderberry here. As with anything, please do your own research on any potential risks or benefits. 

Elderberry Syrup

1/2 lb (approx. 2 C.) Dried Elderberries (Sources below)
16 C Pure Water
Spices (Optional - 2 cinnamon sticks, 8 cloves, a chunk of ginger, a few cardamom pods.)
8-12 C. Honey (preferably raw)
2-4 T Clear Alcohol (Everclear or Vodka) (Optional)

In a large stainless steel pot, pour water over dried elderberries. Soak for a couple of hours, until berries have softened. Add optional spices and bring to a boil. (I think the spices make it taste nicer, but don't always use them.) Lower heat and simmer for a couple of hours, until the water is noticeably reduced. It has a very pungent, bitter, almost burnt smell; this is normal! You will notice small "oil slicks" on the top of the water. Take off heat and strain the liquid into a large bowl. Add in an equal amount of honey' this will vary depending on how much you reduced the liquid. It will take a while for the honey to dissolve into the elderberry juice; you can use a stick blender to speed it up if you like. 

Once it's well mixed it should be at room temperature and you can add the optional alcohol. This will act as a preservative and make your syrup last longer. In past years I've not used it, and have found my syrup lasts our family of 6 through the winter season, with enough to share. (Although it molded after that.) This year, I used some elderberry tincture as a preservative to increase the immune boosting properties of this syrup. Whether or not you choose to use alcohol,  you'll need to refrigerate or freeze this; it can only be made shelf stable by adding a LOT more sugar or honey, which I prefer not to do. 

    This recipe makes 4-5 quarts of syrup, plenty for a large family plus some to share. To make a smaller batch, use the basic formula of 2 C Water for every 1/4 C dried berries, then add an equal amount of honey. 

    Dried Elderberries can be purchased from The Bulk Herb Store, Mountain Rose Herbs, or Wilderness Family Naturals

This post is part of The Nourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter, Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday, and Real Food Forager's Fat Tuesday blog carnivals. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Simple Science

    Poppy informed me the other day that she doesn't like Science, which I took with a grain of salt. As you can see here, she doesn't seem to mind it one bit. This is a simple and fun project we did for the first time a couple years ago to help the kids learn their primary colors. I'm not sure that Poppy remembered it, so it was like doing it for the first time with her.

We started with the primary colors, and a little plain water in the other three jars.

I asked her which two colors she thought would make orange, so this was her answer.
She was surprised to learn that blue and yellow make green, not orange!

Aha! Red and yellow make orange!

Uh, I'm not sure this is going to make purple...

I did it! I made a rainbow! 

Thumbs up from Peregrine!

Raphael, aka Superman, got in on the action too. You can see yellow droplets
of water dripping off his face. Might be kryptonite. 

    After the camera was put away, the kids had a blast playing "chemistry lab". There were colorful explosions all over the place, and skin turning all kinds of funky colors.  If you're ever in our neck of the woods, watch out for my mad little scientists and their "Formula 14"!


Friday, September 09, 2011



 It's strange how a heart can hold so many things. I read somewhere that you can only feel one emotion at a time, but I don't believe it for a minute. Today as I sat on a fallen log watching my children scramble over slippery stones and wade in cool water, my heart was filled with both joy and sorrow. What joy to hear their happy chatter and cries of delight as they played beneath a tumbling waterfall! And at the same time, my thoughts turned to things that might have been.

    On this day five years ago I lay helplessly on a hard bed in the Emergency Room of our local hospital. I'd known for nine days that the baby I'd been carrying was no longer alive, and I'd waited through each with a mixture of grief and anger and peace and the tiniest bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, there really was life still hidden away within me. I'd waited for my body to give up that little one; I'd hoped and prayed for a peaceful passing. Instead I, hemorrhaged in the night, losing a frightening amount of blood and ending up in the Emergency Room. The next weeks dragged by as I slowly regained strength and learned to live with the loss of our precious baby.

    I sat in the forest today, holding my sweet little Pearl, watching Peregrine wading and Raphael balancing on fallen logs. I spotted bright thimbleberries growing in shady places and called Poppy over to introduce her to their melt-in-your-mouth sweetness. We decided they're the food of faeries, and I think she liked them as much as I do. The kids spotted a crawdad; they all crowded around to watch it. Erik stood far off and took pictures of them playing, of the trees, of the water cascading over the rocks. He came close and played with them, helped Raphael over the slippery places, cheered Peregrine on in his quest to touch the waterfall. Peregrine decided it's the place where he'll ask "the girl" when he decides to get married. (Only he won't plunge into the water on that day. He's got it all planned.)

     I let my heart wander with my thoughts, thinking of a little one I never got to know, never held outside my womb. She would be 4 1/2 now. I wondered if she'd look like Poppy or like Pearl, or totally different. I really don't even know if she was a girl, but in our minds she is. We gave her a name. Of course we gave her a name; she is our Esther Bihana Hope. Peregrine, our perceptive boy, knew I was pregnant before I did, and he told me her name was Esther. Bihana is the Nepali word for morning. (I think of a long ago morning, an empty tomb. The Morning of mornings.) Hope is both my mom's middle name as well as what we hold on to. And when there is no strength to hold onto hope, Hope holds onto us.

    The familiar words of the Nicene Creed echo in my heart. I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. I know someday we will be together. Our Esther is not dead; she is truly alive. She is where there is no sorrow or pain, a place where someday, God will wipe every tear from my eyes. But for today, my joy is mingled with sorrow when I look at the four children who are here with me, and think of the two I do not yet know. (We lost another baby to miscarriage several months after Esther.) Today, I remember these babies and my heart is full, but there is room for both sorrow and joy.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


Peregrine and Poppy looking out at Laguna Yal Ku, Mexico, 2007.
They were so little!
    I came across a fun contest the other day on Ciao Bambino, a website with the goal of inspiring families to travel the world. (Not that I actually need any more inspiration!) To enter the contest, you had to ask your kids for their best travel advice. Here's what Peregrine and Poppy came up with:

    Peregrine (8 years):
  • Visit towns that are less of a tourist attraction. You'll find them to be a lot more quiet, peaceful, and convenient.
  • Also, never buy cheap souvenirs; they'll last you for not very long. 
  • And one more good travel tip: the smaller the restaurant, the better the food!

    Poppy (6 years):
  • Don't climb Mount Everest and fall and get killed.
  • Do kayak in the river.
  • Make sure to not eat poison oak.
  • Keep your seat belt on in an airplane.
  • Don't jump out of an airplane without a parachute.

    That, my friends, just may be proof enough that my kids are getting a decent education! If nothing else, they won't be buying cheap souvenirs, eating poison oak in fancy restaurants, or falling off of Mount Everest! 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Living With Less

Random Things

    With a nearly constant barrage of advertisements inducing us to purchase more, to trade up, and to own the newest, fastest, and best, as well as the availability of credit, it takes a real effort to live with less. I wish I could say that I've resisted the marketing, but I haven't. I've slipped into rampant consumerism with the best of them, believing that happiness could be found if only I acquired just the right stuff. Of course I know this isn't true, but I've sure amassed a lot of unnecessary things acting like it is.

    I've often looked around my home and felt completely overwhelmed by our things and the energy they require of me. Do I own them, or do they own me? Do they bring me enjoyment or enslave me? So much time is spent trying to keep it all picked up, put away, organized, and clean. Is that really how I want to spend my time? I know that life is simplified and and enhanced by having certain things, but without really thinking about it, we've amassed a lot more that what we really need.

    I'm in the process of trading more stuff for less, and of exchanging stability for adventure. I'd take a smaller house for my bigger one, or, for a while, no house at all. We're setting out on the pilgrim way, leaving behind the familiar for the unknown. What do I think I'm going to gain from stepping out of this comfortable life and from letting go of material posessions? The example of saints through the ages, people who have given up everything to acquire the Spirit of peace, show me that I have everything to gain. And really, nothing to lose. Less time taking care of things will mean more time caring for and being with the people I love. Less attachment to what cannot last will help me to be more aware of what is eternal. Less to call my own will make it easier to live in community with those around me. And less to worry about will enable me to fully breathe in the gift of grace that is each moment.

   It all sounds great, but I can tell you this with certainty: it's a lot harder to get rid of than it was to collect. I've been consistently going through our home and paring down for the last couple years.  Every item I come across requires me to make a decision and then act on it; that gets tiring! As we prepare to leave for an open ended adventure, we're slowly parting with a lot, but it still feels overwhelming at times. With every box that leaves the house I feel a little lighter. I made a goal a few months ago to reduce by half, and while I don't really have a way to tell if we're there, we're making progress. Bookcases have been emptied, drawers and closets are looking a little less stuffed, totes full of fabric and craft supplies have been given away. It feels good!

    A line from a favorite song keeps running through my head: "Sometimes the only way to return, is to go where the winds will take you, and to let go, of all you can not hold on to."  (Beyond the Blue by Josh Garrels.) I'm ready to go where the wind takes me. I'm throwing off the weight of too many possessions and lightening my material load. I'm letting go of things I can't hold on to anyway.  By seeking to live with less, I'm embracing more of what is truly important to me: my family, faith, relationships, growing in grace, creativity, travel, and discovery.

    This post is part of a group writing project of Families on the Move. Read what others have to say about living with less: