Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Food for Thought

It's that time of year when the cooking and baking seem to be nonstop. I like it, and it seems the kids like it, too. Mostly they like the result of all that kitchen activity, but they enjoy being involved in the process as well. Olivia is my trusty sous-chef, but some of the boys are becoming more reliable. Some are still better at licking and tasting, or just observing, but Andrew is a powerhouse clean-up guy. It can be hard not to take advantage of this!

Yesterday the kids made our traditional cranberry sauce without my involvement while I made the dough for gingerbread cookies to freeze for next week. The turkey has been washed and dried, seasoned, and is now waiting for the next steps in my recipe tomorrow. After trying quite a few recipes and methods for roasting a turkey, I've landed on Ina Garten's "Make-Ahead Roast Turkey" after last year's success. The turkey and gravy base are prepared in advance; the turkey is roasted as usual on the day of Thanksgiving, but the method allows for plenty of time after it's done to use the oven for other dishes. This is especially helpful if you don't have a double oven, plus it takes away some of the crazy. I like to measure and prep, chop and blanch, and lay out platters and serving utensils with labels in advance.  Doing as much as possible is a sanity saver for me.

Last year was awesome, but I hope never to repeat it! Ha! I was so incredibly anemic (I'd just received my first infusion, but it was too early for the effects to kick in). With the exception of one delicious appetizer (and maybe one dessert?), I made everything: turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with strudel, green beans, fall salad and vinaigrette, dinner rolls, honey butter, pumpkin spice cake with orange cream cheese frosting, lemon tart (or was it raspberry?), and I assisted with Olivia's blueberry pie. All homemade. No cans or packages of frozen this or that. No, actually I did use a couple boxes of Trader Joe's cornbread stuffing mix, but I added lots of extras. I don't know why I insist on making it so complicated! We had prepared for a total of 16 people which we invited from church, but by the morning of Thanksgiving our list had grown by a few more. Then during our meal another 5 people came.

It was wonderful! I was so satisfied by the end of it~ a happy wreck indeed! Afterward, however, I determined that in the future I need to make sure to invite at least one other person who could contribute a few dishes!

This year I was planning on hosting again. I invited many families and singles who don't live close to relatives (or whose family situations are difficult), but I was so happy to discover that most had already made arrangements with others from church. I think this is such a lovely picture of Christian love. So while I am still roasting a turkey and making several other of our favorites, a last minute change means I am not even hosting as originally planned. Although I enjoy being the one who does the welcoming and serving, it will be nice to be on the receiving end this year.


Food. It's not always come easy for me, nor has hosting. I am still very much in the process of learning, but I am determined to become more skilled. It's important to me.

Health and nutrition have always been a topic of interest to me, and food is vital to health both now and in the future. So I consider it my duty to be well informed and skilled for the sake of our family.

But food is more than nourishment for the body. It bring people together, it communicates care and, at times, comfort. It provides an excuse for the building of relationships, and it helps me serve my husband as he seeks to minister to others. Also, good food helps me to create an environment where my kids enjoy having their friends over (but the benefits of having our home as a center for their friendships is a topic for another day!). I hope that tasty food and the resulting aroma that fills my home will be associated with happy memories.

In short, learning to prepare delicious food is important to me, and acquiring the skills needed to do so are definitely worth the continuous effort.

Last week I was introduced to this ugly thing: celery root. It made some nice celery root mashed potatoes.

The bottle of vanilla extract that we started a few years ago fell out of the pantry and crashed all over the tile floor. I was able save the beans (which can be scraped into a recipe), but we've started a new bottle. It smells wonderful already!


Thanksgiving is a good time to be especially aware of the Lord's goodness toward us, and to be particularly thankful for his abundant provisions. It struck me yesterday that I've severely exchanged an attitude of thankfulness with one of worry and angst. There are major changes in our horizon, financial issues, home repairs undone, a husband that has been working 7 days per week for months now... and the list goes on.

You know how it is. We all have our own set of issues, our own set of excuses for worry.

But when my heart is preoccupied with worry, it cannot also return thanks to the Lord. Neither can it joyful. Quite simply, worry is sinful and thankfulness is commanded by God. Isn't that helpful to be reminded of? I was gratefully relieved when God helped me to see how I have strayed!

I have to learn and relearn the same old things all the time. I am slow of learning, but the Lord is infinitely patient and kind. Didn't I just recently write something about "fretting?" And didn't I just memorize Matthew 6:25-34 with Jacob and Andrew?

I tell the kids that our obedience to God will sometimes go against how we feel. For instance, we worship/sing/pray even if we don't feel like it. We serve even if there's something else we prefer to be doing. And we give thanks even when we don't feel thankful. This is not hypocritical, it is just the reality of being human. We must repent of our sour or selfish feelings, and ask God to work in us even as we take the first steps of obedience. Our feelings are not outside of God's sanctifying power; God can change every hidden part of us!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name!

"It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night." Ps. 92:1-2

"Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving..." Ps. 50: 14

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" Ps. 100:4

"I will sing to the lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord." Ps. 104:33-34

"Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" Ps. 106:1

"Give thanks in ALL circumstances." 1 Thes. 5:18


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Real Life Post #3

I'm not sure how much time I'll have to jot down a few thoughts here this morning. It's my guess I'll have to find little bits of time here and there throughout the day before this post is clicked into existence.

Some days just hit me with the reality of sweetness all around. It's cold here today (and hopefully Jon will be able to connect the heater vents under the house soon so that we can have a little heat in the morning!), but the atmosphere of our home is warm. Olivia said she got dressed under her blankets this morning because it was so cold; the boys are finally starting to realize that it's getting too cold for shorts and T's. I made some hot cocoa at breakfast and we reviewed our little study from the book of James.

Jon and Olivia just left for the day. Jon will drop her off at school on his way in to the office, and I've got the boys here for a day of school and an orthodontist appointment. Jon kissed me good-bye twice. The boys shouted out, "I love you!" and, "Have a good day!" to their dad and sister from various parts of the house; Jack ran to the door for hugs. I handed Olivia her lunch bag and mentioned that she styled her hair nicely. She is wearing my military green jacket again today... we are sharing more and more of our clothes with each other.

After they left I climbed the stairs to find Andrew working at the school table and Michael on the floor studying for a science test. Andrew looked up at me with a big, satisfied sigh and said, "I love this family."

Yes, I agree. My heart is full.


It's more than a day later now, and no surprise this little post is still open on my computer, unpublished. I just read over what I wrote yesterday morning and it seems like a "Real Life Post" worth completing....

Today was similar, only tonight I have a couple hours to myself. I turned on a short play list to race against in the kitchen, trying to finish the cleaning before the songs ended. I cleaned dishes to "Riptide" then finished wiping down all the surfaces only 30 seconds or so after the last of the songs ended. The music won, I guess, but the work got done quickly nonetheless. So it's more like win/win!

It was another sweet day, with most details just like the last. Our days could so easily blend one day into the next, so I force myself to record specifics because the details are what make memories rich. 

Details in plants have always captured my attention...
...and the way light shimmers and glows for the one who looks.

Michael reading by morning light

Pomegranate jewels, and fern from the yard

Simple fern on the breakfast table for a Saturday meeting, and dappled light dancing.

Andrew, Jacob, and I planted lots of strawberry plants and kale this afternoon. {Maman et Melissa~ Si vous venez au printemps, on espère d'avoir des belles fraises!} When it came time to get Olivia from school, the three boys insisted on coming along. If I got a dollar for every time I heard the words "I love you" spoken today, well, we'd be a little richer. Then again, the riches of a loving home is priceless and I wouldn't trade a thing.

A few days ago, as I was moving about in the kitchen, Jon came down from his office and caught me by the waist as I was passing by. We leaned into each other, my forehead perfectly nestled where his shoulder meets his neck, and his arms wrapped snugly around me. "Mmmm," I said. "You should do that more often."

"Well, it might be a little easier if you weren't always bustling around like you do!"

True. I move quickly. It's the way I operate. And I multitask and think about several things all at once. I don't mean to, but sometimes I communicate something like, "Catch me if you can," while I think to myself, "If only he would catch me..."

I am reminded again how important it is to communicate how we need to be loved... and also to be available! Not only that, but in all our relationships it's so important to simply communicate the most important things. It's easier not to say,  "I love you," or, "I messed up... forgive me," or, "Thank you." It's easy just to assume the other person will automatically know it, and it's easier not to be intentional.

If we neglect the details within our relationships, time will quickly erode intimacy. I think that's why so many relationships end up resembling a mere operative bond of obligation.

I am learning not only to see detail around me, but details within my relationships. Details matter.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Napoleon and Co.

Napoleon Dynamite. What can I say?

Costumes and dress-up have always been a favorite with our kids. I'm not sure when it started... Maybe after Olivia was a flower girl at Jon's sister's wedding? She started wearing her dress as a Mary Poppins outfit, along with a pink umbrella and white satin gloves. She would sing "A Spoonful of Sugar" while extending two fingers to an imaginary robin. Michael then started wearing some funny gold slippers that were part of another costume. They were his "Step in Time" gold slippers and they caused Jon to stress out that his son's masculine identity would get messed up. He would dance and dance like Burt on the roof top, his chubby white legs flinging about. He wore those slippers on most days until the gold was entirely gone. He must have been barely three years old.

Even now, any opportunity for a costume is welcomed! Olivia was mainly responsible to putting this all together. Napoleon, Kip, Deb, and Pedro...

The lines/impersonations are even better. It's non-stop nowadays. Oh, I should mention the boys wanted me to be "LaFawndah!"


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Changing Seasons

Just like that, the season turned. Going from an uncomfortable, record-breaking, blazing hot fall, our weather has finally changed to match our expectations for this time of year. Fall weather is here. Last night the kids and I bundled up in our sweaters, jeans, and hats (I use the term "bundle" loosely) and took a walk by the ocean in the dark. It was just right.

I've got a ton of pictures I've taken over the last couple months before the weather changed-- probably more than I should post at one time. The fall months are the best over here by the Pacific because the water is much warmer than during the summer months, and the crowds have returned home. The sea water gave us relief from the heat, even if our beach trips were short escapades between the duties of life.

My first time ever taking them for morning donuts. Funny that they are not all smiling! 

From the shoppe to the beach

Little friend

Random shot just for fun... he wore it nearly the whole day.

On this day, it was just me and my younger boys. The choice was either insanity in a sweltering house, or the beach. Naturally, we chose the beach. 

A perfect, egg-shaped rock

Being crabs

Little helper

Another short beach trip. Most times I'd chase the kids along the shore, my camera to my face and the hem of my skirt getting wetter with each wave. When I did join them, they taught me the games they've made up with the funny wave patterns we were getting. 

I know you're not supposed to shoot at the sun, but the next picture is my favorite from the fall.

Michael. He is a twelve year old boy, but as his younger brothers say in lament, "He's becoming a teenager!" He acts all cool most of the time, until suddenly he reverts back to this. He said he lost his clothes in the waves, and had no choice but to cover up with these. 

Now that the weather is cooling off, the hills and trees are calling out to me! 

Acting silly

This is the same spot I took these pictures. I'm not sure if cactus is normal at this spot in November, but it seems quite clear we are in need of an extended rainy season.

Fall is for football, too. Jacob's team came in first for their division, Andrew's came in second. Jacob's team won their playoff game tonight, and so they move on to more games next week. Andrew's team won their first game, but lost the second. It was a close game the whole way through with our team leading by just a few points, until the opposing team intercepted and scored a touchdown at the end of the 4th quarter. The trophy we brought home helped to ease the disappointment of their loss. It's unfortunate that Jon didn't get to see the season finale. He is an awesome coach. I kept him updated by text, which was strange considering he is on the other side of the globe, 12 hours ahead.


Changing seasons. I feel like I'm in the midst of one myself. For so long I had my heart set on adoption, waiting with the expectation of welcoming young children into our lives. Because of that, I never fully closed that chapter of life, that stage of parenting younger kids. But now here I am, doors have closed, and I must look forward to the reality of where we are and where we are going. My home is going to quickly fill up with teenagers. Chronologically, my second-born is on the verge of entering those years (though practically speaking, I already classify him as a teen), and my eldest is already in high school. I need to be fully engaged, in the zone, alert and ready.

I am thankful to be here, amazed that God has taken us this far. At times I think that the younger years was parenting warm-up for the teenage years, but that might imply a negative perspective on parenting teens. No, I just hope that the wisdom and skill I've learned in the earlier years have prepared me for this new season. I think all seasons of life will have their unique challenges, but each will build on the foundation of the last. The principles of investment, of sowing and reaping, are just as valid now as they were during the pre-school years. The teen years are certainly not hands-off-and-hope-for-the-best years.

So I've set myself to learning what I can now for what lies ahead tomorrow. I want to move forward with joy and confidence. I've found wonderful resources of books and messages that I've begun to learn from, and I am gleaning a great deal from the lives and experiences of others. I am thankful to live in a time when so many wonderful helps are readily available.

And yet, one thought remains: God will be my source of help and wisdom, and his Word will be our ultimate guide for life and godliness. He doesn't give a precise formula, but he calls us into relationship with him. All of life is about relationship: The greatest commandment is to love God fully, the second is to love others. This is relationship, fellowship with God and others.

Somehow I think that is the nutshell of what I need to know, what I need to strive for, and what I need to teach and model.

The simplicity of it is exciting to me.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Real Life Post #2

Real life includes plans that fail-- big plans and small plans. Fortunately, this was just a small plan!

My plan was to snap real life pictures throughout the day, but I only made it as far as breakfast time. After that, the day just rushed on full speed ahead and there was little time for extras. This was already over a week ago and I'm just now getting to these few little snapshots. (The funny thing is that I have a ton of pictures I take of us out and about, enjoying life. My days are very compartmentalized, I guess, with focused time of work and focused time of play!)

Looking around in the morning, these are a few of the things that I found...

Little notes distributed to everyone from Jack

 From one brother to another
(Do you know how happy this makes me?)

More for me. I've been finding them everywhere!

Diligent boy. Up and ready, doing on his schoolwork before breakfast because he knows Fridays are extra full.

I wanted to take pictures of us doing our normal thing, so I discretely set my camera on the piano. I like how the images are framed up.

Jon was out of town on this particular day, but this is typically the time he comes down and kisses me good-bye. No breakfast for him, just in and out of the kitchen with a kiss.

Jacob was stirring the pot of oatmeal while I added the spices, and Andrew was pulling things out to set up a little toppings bar. This is one of his favorite meals.

This was when Andrew said, "Hey! Do you guys hear a camera?"

Then with the big kids...
Oatmeal is one of Olivia's least favorite things to eat, but she tolerates it without complaint!
Fact of life: You can't please all of the people all of the time.

During breakfast I asked the kids if they mind me posting pictures of them on my blog, as I do periodically. So far the answer has always been positive, but this time Michael made a small comment that was honest and true. I don't remember his words precisely, but essentially he said that my blog doesn't show the real picture. He said it doesn't show us fighting!

And he is right, so I acknowledged his statement and questioned him further to see what he was really thinking.

The truth is, who we are behind the closed doors of our home is a much better representation of our true self than who we are with our friends, at church, in the grocery store, on the practice field, or as depicted in our social media of choice. Of course everyone knows that the human struggle with sin is common to all, but we are so prone to cover up our own deficiencies and/or to compare ourselves with others.

Not that I need to be taking pictures of us fighting, or writing about the content of our disagreements, but let it be known that we are very far from perfect here! We argue. We are selfish and we fight.

My hope is that we are also grieved by this, that we learn repentance and forgiveness, and that, but the grace of God, we are always moving toward greater sanctification.

We are going to struggle on this side of eternity; I'd like for our struggle to be against sin (within ourselves as individuals, and within our home as parents), rather than the struggle that results as a consequence to sin.

My desire, though, is that the general tone and atmosphere of our home is one of peace. It may be worth noting that the struggle against sin doesn't always seem peaceful at the time (even if it does eventually bear fruits of peace). However, if the general atmosphere of our home is not peaceful, then we as parents are responsible.

Michael's comment has left me with a few things to think about...

It's also interesting that on this particular day, I read this from Psalm 37: 8-

"Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil."

How often are we simply fretting about this and about that, which then leads to contention within our relationships at home? How often do I make a big issue out of small things, or act as if my desires and preferences are the rules of life? Or do my worries about how I will be perceived by others lead to misplace (and sinful) pressures on others for outward performance?

Yes, I've got things to think about AND be on guard against...