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)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thankful: November 13

    Today I'm thankful for our parish and our church family. Our journey toward the Orthodox Christian Church began nearly seven years ago and I'm so very grateful to be where we are. I love the rhythm of the liturgical year and for seasons that shape the calendar for us. I love the history and the sense of connectedness I have with the body of Christ through the ages. I love worshipping in a place of beauty, a place designed to be an extension of heaven. I appreciate that the liturgy engages all of our senses; we see, we smell, we touch and taste and hear. We worship with our bodies, not only our hearts. I love that the church is a place of healing of both soul and body, that we are called to lay aside our earthly cares at the same time that we are being equipped to live on this earth. 

   On a more local level, I'm so thankful for the people that make up our parish. Over the years they've become so dear to me. I love that our children are welcomed to be with us, that we very often receive encouragement about them. I can't count how many times someone has said to me "I love hearing your kids in church. I'm so glad they're here!" That means a lot to a mama of many young, active children! I give thanks for this group of people, this body, as we grow together, struggle together, serve together, and love one another.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanksgiving: November 12

    Today I'm thankful for a warm house on a cold day, a cozy fire, a pot of simmering chili, cornbread with cinnamon honey butter melting into it, my rocking chair, the quiet after kids are tucked into bed, a lunch date with Erik, waffles with fresh warm applesauce, and a comfy bed waiting for me.

   Here is a cornbread recipe passed down from Fannie Farmer's cookbook to my Grandma, to my Mom, and then on to her children. This version contains less sugar than called for by Fannie (and I would use honey or even less sugar). This is the cornbread I grew up eating, and it's super yummy with some cinnamon honey butter on top! 


1/4 C Melted Butter
2 Eggs
2 C Milk
1/2 C Sugar

Stir together and add to wet ingredients:
2 C Flour
1 1/2 C Cornmeal
1 T Baking Powder
1 t Salt

Bake 20 minutes in a greased 9" x 13" pan at 425.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thankful: November 11

    Today I'm thankful for Erik. Well, I'm thankful for him every day, but on this day I'm writing a little about it. We've known each other for fifteen years and been married for just about ten. In that time he's gone from being a slightly intriging fellow to being my husband and closest friend. Here are just a few of the many things I love about this man:

  • He is hard working and loyal, steady and strong. 
  • He doesn't complain, even though his job challenges him in many not-so-pleasant ways. 
  • He is always trying to find better ways of doing things. 
  • He has amazing blue eyes. 
  • He's humble. 
  • He makes me chai.
  • He loves our family.
  • He cleans the kitchen. Often.
  • He loves my cooking.
  • He brought home Coconut Bliss tonight. (Bonus points for that!) 
  • He's very generous.
  • He cares deeply for his parents.
  • He has a tender heart.
  • He understands the importance of good chocolate.
  • He gets up with the kids on weekends so I can sleep in.
    I waited what seemed like a long time for the right man to come along, and I'm so glad I did. We've grown and changed a lot in the last ten years, and I look forward to many more. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thankful: November 10

    Today I'm thankful for being able to spend one-on-one time with my kids. It's something we've been challenged to do in the last few months, to try to carve out special times with each child on a regular basis. Ideally it's a time where one of us can give one of them undivided attention doing something they enjoy. I'm aiming for ten minutes each day for each child, but it doesn't always happen. I obviously have to fit this into real life, so sometimes special time is just getting to go to the grocery store with mama, or choosing a book while I nurse the baby. Other times it's building legos together or playing stuffed animals. Pulling one child out of the wild rumpus of life at our house gives them an opportunity to shine, to absorb lots of attention, to be reminded that they're special to us.

    I didn't plan it, but Raphael wanted to come to the grocery store with me this afternoon. My first internal reaction was "no, I can be so much faster alone" but of course I wanted to be with the boy who wanted to be with me. I was so glad he came along, as we had a really sweet time together. We stopped at the post office and he carried a package for me. I loved hearing his voice, his thoughts, with no interruptions from other kids. He asked me if at night time the post office workers went home. I assured him that they did, but he was puzzled because he didn't see a gate where they could get out from behind the counter! At the grocery store he wanted to ride in one of the "car" shopping carts, which I normally don't do because they're so hard to push. But today I let him, and he loved driving around the store. At one point he said to me "Mama, I love to be with you". It's so worth it to take the time to really be with our little ones, ones that are growing so quickly.

    The one on one "special time" is bearing good fruit, closer, deeper relationships, and wonderful memories for both the kids and for us. Tonight, we drove under a bridge that is all lit up with red light. The kids always make a wish as we go under it, and this evening was no exception. Raphael, who is a bit new to the concept of wishes, was excitedly telling us all about how he had his wish. When I asked him what he wished for he said "Mama". That was enough to melt my heart. I think your wish really has come true, my dear boy. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Thankful: November 9

Image from and

    I have to admit I've struggled with being thankful today. It's been one of those days where I've been on the verge of tears more than once and all too often have given in to feelings of frustration, discouragement, and resentment. It was a day where one thing after another seemed to go all wrong, or at least didn't work out the way I hoped it would. Circumstances beyond my control threw me off balance, and I wish I could say I recovered gracefully. 

    I start most days with a beautiful prayer; often I pray these words as I awake and before I pull myself out of bed. They are easy to pray and harder to live:
 O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, and You, Yourself pray in me. Amen.   (St. Philaret of Moscow)

    Today I failed to treat all that came to me with peace of soul. Instead I got frustrated and annoyed and emotional. I often remind a child who's had a difficult day that God's mercies are new every morning, that every day is fresh and clean with none of yesterday's mistakes. As I was saying good night, Peregrine reminded me of this. "Mom, God's mercies are new every morning, even every minute!" So as this challenging day comes to a close I breathe in gratitude for new mercies, for fresh starts, for grace. I wonder how many little gifts I missed today because I was focused on myself and my petty troubles. Tomorrow is a new day, and a new opportunity to walk with eyes and heart open.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Thankful: November 8

The waffle in Autumn, topped with butternut pudding, whipped cream, maple syrup and toasted pecans.
    Today I'm thankful for waffles. Shortly after Erik and I got married, we started making waffles for breakfast on Saturday mornings. We talked about how when we had kids it would be a fun tradition, a special breakfast to celebrate Daddy being home with us. The years passed, and we traded our little waffle maker for one that makes four Belgian waffles with big pockets to hold lots of yummy toppings. Our recipe has morphed over the years as well. What began as a standard recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook eventually became gluten free. As I began to learn about the importance of whole grains and neutralizing phytic acid I experimented more until we came up with this incarnation, which we've been happy with for a couple of years now. It uses whole, uncooked brown rice that is ground up in the blender and soaked overnight. While the recipe may appear to have a lot of steps these really go together easily. (Erik even makes them himself!) 

    Beyond waffles, I'm thankful for family gathered around our table enjoying wholesome and delicious food. I'm grateful for the rhythms that make up a good life; everyone knows that on Saturday mornings mama sleeps in and daddy hangs out with the kids and makes coffee. We eat waffles, and bacon and eggs, and listen to hokey old cowboys crooning on the Country Classics show. In the summer we top them with lemon curd and fresh berries; in the fall it's some sort of pumpkin spread. We save Grandma's canned peaches for gray winter mornings when we need a little taste of summer. There's often whipped cream, and always real butter and maple syrup and jam. Yes, it's decadent, but hey, Saturdays only come once a week, right? If you're ever in the neighborhood, come and join us, won't you? We have plenty of waffles to share. 

Saturday Morning Waffles

1 3/4 C Brown Rice
2 C Buttermilk, Sour Milk, or Kefir

2 Eggs, Separated

1/2 t Baking Soda
1/4 t Salt
3 T  Melted Butter or Coconut Oil
1 t Vanilla

In order to neutralize the phytic acid do the first step the night before you want to eat these!

  1. In a blender combine whole, uncooked rice and buttermilk, sour milk or kefir. Blend on high speed until the rice is finely ground. If you find the mixture is too thick, you can add in the melted butter or oil and vanilla. Soak in blender overnight. 
  2. The next morning, separate eggs. Place the whites in a large, clean mixing bowl and put the yolks in the blender with the rice/milk mixture. If you haven't previously added the oil or butter and vanilla, do so now. Blend until combined. 
  3. Plug in your waffle maker so it will be nice and hot!
  4. Add salt to egg whites and beat until stiff. 
  5. With blender on low to medium, add the baking soda to the rice mixture. As it mixes you will see the batter start to rise. Turn off the blender. Gently pour batter into the egg whites and fold in. (I do this with the whisk attachment of my mixer.) 
  6. Follow instructions for your waffle maker. (We spray oil on ours, and set our timer for 4 1/2 minutes, but you'll need to figure out what works for you!
  7. Enjoy!

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

Monday, November 07, 2011

Thankful: November 7

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.  ~Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry,Flight to Arras, 1942

    Today I'm thankful for imagination. I love to see how a spark of an idea in the mind of a child can quickly transform a morning. How a couple of kids playing together are suddenly wearing backpacks and needing trail mix because they're setting off on some grand adventure known only to them. How these little minds envision what they need and set about to create it. How pieces of silk cloth in various colors can turn any outfit into something much more than the sum of its parts. Need a hat, a skirt, a turban, a cape? How about a blanket or a belt? Look no further. I love how these children can completely immerse themselves in the world of imagination and be transported into far away places and stories. I wonder why we lose this as adults, this wonderful God-given ability to see something in the mind's eye and go about making it a reality. Here's to imagination! 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Thankful: November 6

Today I am thankful for books.
Books on shelves,
Books in baskets,
Books on tables.
(And even books all over the floor.)
Books in hands, little and big.
Books to look at, laugh at, learn from.
Books borrowed, books we own.
Books that take you to another time, another place,
That bring the world to you.
Old books with soft, worn pages,
New books, crisp and clean.
Books revisited each season, like old friends.
Board books, picture books, chapter books.
Little voices asking for just one more book.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Thankful: November 4

    Today I'm thankful for growth. Not the kind marked by candles on a cake or measured by feet and inches, although we have our fair share of that going on around here. I'm glad today for the small encouragements I so need in this challenging journey called parenting. We celebrated Peregrine's ninth birthday this week, and there were small things I noticed, things that spoke to me of a maturing that is taking place. (And really, there are days that I'm not so sure it's happening at all!) He thanked everyone for coming to his party. He was truly excited about each of his few gifts, beaming with gratitude for things thoughtfully chosen by people who love him. He said thank you without being prompted or reminded. He ran over and hugged me, face glowing, after opening a gift from Erik and me. 

    My favorite part of a birthday party is the moment we sing; I've always loved watching their face in the glow of candlelight. Part of growing up is learning the sometimes painful lesson that it's not all about you. And then, for one magical moment, it kind of is all about you but in the best way, with so much love and happiness and thanksgiving for this life, all mixed up with memories and hopes and dreams. 

    Erik took this picture, and I love it. It captures Peregrine so well. Poppy wanted to make him a mask for his birthday, and he was thrilled with her gift. He added the silk cape and became a superhero. I love the joy and serenity on his face, absorbing the love that was so present in that moment. I love the crooked candles that Raphael put in the cake. And I love the boy who is growing, in more ways than up. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Thankful: November 3

    Today I'm thankful to look around my home and see beauty. Yes, there are clothes piled up waiting to be folded, and dishes that need to be washed. There are fingerprints and muddy handprints on windows and dirt on the floor. Those things have their own beauty, because they speak of the family who calls this place home. But the beauty I'm talking of is the handmade crafty kind, the kind that celebrates the season we're enjoying right now. 

Peregrine and I crafted this little lantern bunting out of wool felt. (Tutorial here.)

Fall leaves and tissue paper Mod-Podged onto glass jars make lovely seasonal lanterns. 

And of course my heart swells with thankfulness for the little crafters among us!

And the not-so-little crafty boy!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Thankful: November 2


    Why is it so hard to hold onto gratitude, to give thanks for the multitude of gifts that each moment contains? How easily I forget to open my eyes, to look beyond the dirty diapers, muddy floors, squabbling siblings, and interrupted sleep to see the sweetness in these days. I know that one of the keys to the joy I so long for is to cultivate thankfulness, to recognize the grace that is abundant in each moment. Like most habits, it's one that takes discipline and work. Grumbling and becoming irritated seem to come so naturally to me. I have a long way to go, but I want my heart to be overflowing with gratitude, leaving no room for complaint.

    After reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts last winter, I began jotting down in a notebook things I'm thankful for. My goal was to try to write down ten things a day, but I admit I've gone through long weeks where I don't even open my little book. I've found the practice of writing them down really is helpful. I read somewhere that the act of writing heightens awareness; you pay attention to little details that might otherwise go unnoticed. This is true whether you're writing a journal or a story, and it's the same for thankfulness. When I'm in the habit of giving thanks- and recording it- I find more and more things for which to be thankful.
    My friend Rae who lives in India, my sister Alyssa, and another friend, Lisa, have been sharing things they're thankful for and I thought it would be fun to join in. I don't have any aspirations toward posting something every day, but will try to share from time to time. Here are a few I've jotted down in my gratitude journal in the last few days:

  • My mom coming over and making chicken soup for us while I'm not feeling well.
  • The way Pearl blows kisses, little hand flapping at her mouth, so pleased.
  • Misty mornings, sunny afternoons.
  • Hot tea with lemon and honey, soothing and delicious.
  • Reading Peregrine's birthday letter aloud to him, seeing his face beam.
  • Raphael's "hundred kisses" at night and how he says "I'll love you in the morning!"
  • Onesies.
  • Root Vegetables, their earthy sweetness and jeweled colors.
  • Pignoli cookies, fresh from Philadephia.
  • Spider webs shimmering in the cold sun.
  • Late night snuggle and talk with Poppy.
    How do you cultivate thankfulness in your life? How do you help your children develop thankful hearts?