Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts

~I was asked to share some thoughts at church this morning. Below is what I read during our Thanksgiving service. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you today.~

It’s easy to get caught up in the big things. Big plans. Big changes. Big vacations. Big, big, big. Sometimes, when I am lost in the planning or dreaming of things that are far outside my reach, I miss it. The striving and pushing forward for whatever might come next hides what is happening right now. But not today. I don’t want to miss it today. I need to stand still and look around at the blessings all around me. Blessings that are, not blessings that could be. The wonder of the ordinary right before my eyes.

Here is some of what I see…

I drove my kids to school yesterday in seven year old van that runs. The same van that 10 days ago sounded like a semi coming down our street. This is certainly something to be thankful for! When we got out at school, my children wore warm winter coats and ran through the rain to get inside. A month ago, we were working and saving and preparing for being sure that winter clothes were close at hand. Noah and I walked into school last and he looked at me and said, “I love my school, Mom.” And I smiled and said I did, too. This school that we so love looked fully impossible just 3 months back. I stayed at school yesterday and bopped in and out of their classrooms where students buzzed with excitement about a long holiday weekend and I saw my children singing and praying and laughing and running and soaking it all right up. And for all of this and so much more, I am grateful…

Last night, we had hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls for dinner. All of us home. All of us together. No games, no distraction, no where to be. It was not a gourmet meal but it was relaxing and we enjoyed its simplicity, just what we needed. Just enough. While we ate, Elizabeth wore a necklace made of noodles and Josiah still had pilgrim clothes on from his celebration at school. After dinner, Benjamin curled in a corner reading a book about a boy adopted from Korea and Noah shot baskets in the rain. And for all of this, and so much more, I am grateful.

Before they went to bed, we gathered in the kitchen and the kids cut bread into cubes for stuffing. Our daily bread in a very real way. While Benjamin arranged the cubes perfectly so that they would all dry evenly, Noah learned to pack brown sugar and Josiah and Elizabeth added spices to homemade pumpkin pie. It will not be a catered meal or a fancy meal but it will be something we all did together… something that they learned to do with Mark and I standing right close by. As I watched my family working together, the house smelled like baking and the kids chattered on and even in its simplicity, it normalcy, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment… a sense that all of this is blessing to us… all of this is enough for us… and honestly, right now, we do not need much more… for all of this and so much more, I am grateful.

Working in the kitchen, fingers in mouths tasting Thanksgiving treats. Laughter bubbling forth over a shared inside joke. Family together with no where to be. Completely, wholly, wonderfully ordinary. Sometimes, its good for me to stop chasing, stand still and look around. What about the next big thing? Today I know full well that THIS is the biggest thing. Driving my kids to school to a school they love. Listening to their words laughing and talking and sharing their day. Making dinner in the kitchen with my husband and our kids. For this and so much more, especially today, I am grateful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thinking about Thankfulness

"Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now." ~A.W. Tozer

Blessings on your day!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thinking about Thankfulness

I read this today and wanted to share it with you. In this economy, at this time of tight budgets and potential frustration, reading this helps me find a bit of perspective.

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving."

~H.U. Westermayer

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Connecting to Christmas #2

Several years ago, I spent hours wandering a Christian bookstore hoping to find something to help my children really understand the Biblical story of Christmas. I saw some things that came close to what I was looking for but nothing that did what I hoped to do.

I wanted my kids to get it. I wanted my kids to be able to spend most of December focusing on that which was and is true. I wanted them to understand deeply all the details of the Nativity. That I did not find.

Last year, I decided I would wait no longer and created a devotional set to use with my family that would meet all these goals. I found a Nativity set and wrote a booklet that would help my children sense the waiting that is so much a part of Advent... so much a part of the Christmas story, too.

Every other night during December, we gathered for a time of devotions as a family. In our family, we did this after dinner while we were still all seated at the table. Using the set I created, we would start by reading a short passage that focused on one of the participants in the Nativity. For instance, the reading might be about angels. Then, after we read about them, we put the angel figurine into our Nativity scene. We did not add anything else... just the angel. The next time we gathered to read the next devotion, we would focus on another figurine... maybe the shepherd... and then add just that one piece to our set.

What we found is that proceeding through Advent this way helped our children to really connect to the details of the Christmas story. By the time we added the baby Jesus, each piece had a story. Each piece revealed a lesson that is important to Christmas. They got it. My children understood.

How do you teach your children the story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus? How do you help focus the attention of your children on this most important part of Christmas?

Looking for help? My Christmas devotional set is for sale through my website while supplies last. Check it out at You can order one through there, too.

So, lets share ideas! What works for you?

Blessings on your day!

Connecting to Christmas

There is a commercial playing right now that makes me mad. As it plays, a young boy is telling his momma all the things he wants for Christmas. From the looks of things, he starts telling her this during the day, continues through dinner, bath-time and bedtime. His list is endless. In the voice-over, the mom talks lovingly about wanting to give her children everything they want. This certain super store can make this possible! By the end of the commercial, I am saddened and angry again.

How did it come to be that we are encouraged to allow unbridled commercialism in our children? When did it become okay to ask for toys all day long? Why would parents even WANT to try to meet an endless list of material things requested by their child?

Is this what Christmas is really all about? Is this what we want? Is it best for us, our children, our budgets, our futures?

My friends, we need to take a breath and really reconnect to the truth about Christmas. This holiday is not at all about materialism run rampant. This holiday began in love and selflessness and hope. Where can we find these things in the Christmas the networks are broadcasting today?

This year, let's reign it in. Let's gather our sweet little ones around and tell them a love story like no other. Let's remember the hope we have... the hope that was born in a simple way, in a simple place, to simple, faithful folks.

I will be sharing some ideas to help us do just this and would LOVE to hear some of yours. What will you do this year to connect to Christmas?

This year, I want my children to understand that presents are just one part. This year, I want my children to remember that God so loved them... so DEEPLY loved them... that He gave them a gift they will never outgrow. This year, I want to make memories and spend time with the people I love most in this world. And in the end, they may have a few new toys but the connections they have formed to family and faith will mean more to them than anything else.

Let's talk together. What works for you? I look forward to sharing ideas!

Blessings on your day!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making Applesauce

Last week, my kids got out of school early one day. I had spoken to a MOPs group that morning and I was beat. I had laundry to do and errands to run and found myself surrounded by all four of my children instead. Ever have one of those days when you know you have to regroup? This was that day for me.

Josiah loves apples. He would be fully content if we never processed one of the fresh picked apples from the orchard. Every day, every single day, Josiah eats an apple. (I will tell you that there must be something to be said about apples and health because the boy is rarely sick!) And while the apples we picked were meant to be eaten, I knew we were out of homemade applesauce and that our fresh picked crop needed to be canned.

Have you ever made applesauce with your kids? My friend Kristie taught me to do it about 5 years ago and honestly, I felt silly for not having done it before. It is easy, fun and healthy. Since Kristie showed us how, we have made applesauce every year and often give it as gifts at Christmas. My kids love the process and it has become a fun, family activity that helps save us money and eat more fruit!

Before I share our process, let me just encourage you. Some of you are excellent cooks who do so often. Some of you are totally intimidated by such things and I can totally understand that, too. Somewhere along the way, I found myself wanting to know how to do some home-y things that I somehow never learned to do. I was overwhelmed. I was intimidated. I was clueless! What I have found is that if I tap someone who can share some ideas or instructions with me, most things are really not that hard. Or... maybe I just like to find the easy way to do them! When I first thought about making applesauce, I really thought I would have to peel all those apples. I thought I would have to core all those apples! Just imagining the process exhausted me. Truth be told, you do not have to do either of these things... and making applesauce is easy... and it is SO good. If you have not done it before, this really is something you can do.

On that early dismissal day, I knew I would have all four kids home and we had time when we had nothing else to do. Perfect! I hunted for my canning supplies and hauled the apples in from the garage. Here is what we use for supplies:

1. Three big pots. One of these is a canning pot. You can buy one at Wal-Mart. Before I bought a canning pot, I used a big stock pot that I usually use for soup.

2. Knives for cutting the apples. One knife per person... my little ones use butter knives.

3. A saucer. Usually the box says tomato press. (It can be used to make apple or tomato sauce)You can buy them on-line, at Farm and Fleet, or other kitchen supply stores. It is TOTALLY worth buying this tool. With it, you will not have to peel or core your apples. It clamps to your counter (or has a suction cup... I prefer the clamp) and is the way that cooked apples turn into sauce.

4. Apples... lots of them!

5. Spices. Try cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice or clove... or a wonderful mixture of all of the above.

6. Canning jars, lids and rims. They are cheap and can be found at grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Target, on-line... anywhere!

7. Lots of bowls! : )

So, here is what we do:

We start by washing the apples. Rotten apples get thrown away, bruised apples stay. We toss them into the sink and fill it up with water. Eighty pounds of apples is about three sink fulls.

Next, we set up to cut the apples. I start by showing the kids how we do it. Essentially, we cut each apple into eight pieces. My older kids make the first cut, my younger ones cut the halves, which will not roll away. I help them see how to hold their fingers away from the knives and we focus on safety.

The apples then get thrown into a pot (pot 1) with a bit of water or apple cider. We keep cutting while the apples begin to simmer. The goal is to get the apples soft... the peels, cores, seeds and stems are still completely attached.

While these apples simmer, the kids are still cutting the others into eighths. As their pile of pieces grows, I get out another pot (pot 2) and fill that one, too. If I am able to step away during all of this, I get out the canning pot (pot 3) and fill it with hot water. I put that one of another burner and cover the pot to encourage it to boil. As soon as the water in pot 3 boils, I drop my jars and my lids into the water to heat. I just let this boil away until I need the jars later.

As soon as the apples in pot 1 are softened, I dump them into a bowl to begin to cool. I rinse this pot and then give it back to the kids to fill with more cut apples.

Now, with our saucer set up, I pour the apples into the top and start to turn the crank. All the kids like to have a turn helping with this part! The apples go into the top and then the crank turns them into the saucer. Applesauce falls out of the side of the saucer and all the stems, seeds, peels and cores come out the end. It is an amazing tool!

When we are done with processing the apples from pot 1, I check pot 2 for soft apples. If they are ready, we pour them into a bowl, rinse the pot and fill it with more apples. Pot 1 goes back to heat and we just keep going this way.

When the bowl with the applesauce in it is getting full, we stop what we are doing and add some spices. We use Jonagold and Fuji apples and have never needed to add any sugar at all. After we mix it, it is time to start filling jars. I pull several jars out of the boiling canning pot and use a measuring cup with a handle (two cup, glass measuring cup) to pour the sauce into the jars. I use a funnel to get the sauce in without getting it on the jars. As soon as the sauce is in, I pull a lid from the boiling water and use a rim to keep it on. We keep filling the jars this way.

Once we have processed all our apples and all our jars are full, I tighten all the rims and return them to the boiling water in the canning pot. They need to boil in the water bath for 20 minutes, completely submerged. Depending on how much applesauce you have, you might need to do this in batches.

After the time has elapsed, we pull the jars out and put them on a towel to cool. As they cool, you should hear them pop. When they pop, the canning seal is REALLY sealed. Once they are sealed, they will keep for several years. We normally make some applesauce without seasoning, some with cinnamon and clove and some with our secret ingredient that turns our applesauce pink! The pink is my favorite, by far!

We love the process and I love helping my kids to learn that hard work done together can create something so yummy. We work hard to make it fun and everyone enjoys the process. Every now and then, I will send them off to play while I process some on my own. The breaks help a ton!

We also save some apples for pies and cakes. This year, Josiah and Benjamin used my apple/peeler/corer/slicer to prepare apples for other uses. We find that one apple can make about a cup of sliced apple. My pie recipe calls for 6 cups of sliced apples so we froze sliced, peeled apples in this quantity seasoned with cinnamon and sugar in Ziploc bags. Throughout the next year, I will be able to pull a bag of fresh apples out of my deep freeze and quickly and easily make home-made apple pie.

This year, we have had two apple saucing sessions. Both lasted just a couple of hours and the jars of applesauce will last us over a year. Every time we serve the applesauce, our children talk about the process. They feel a sense of pride about what they have done together and I love to hear them remember that day. I love that we are eating food we picked and processed and is fully without preservatives.

Last week, my kids got out of school early. Though I was tired, I had my kids at home for a bit of extra time and chose to do something together. I needed to regroup. Sometimes, I need to remember that needing to regroup does not always mean spending time alone. No doubt about it, it was work. But in the end, I spent the afternoon listening to my children talk and giggle while we sought to reach a common goal. I taught them something concrete that they will have when I am no longer here. We made some memories together and created a way to remember it again and again... and all of it tasted so very sweet.

Now that is a way to regroup.

Blessings on your day!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Apple Picking!

Several weeks ago, we took the family apple picking. We have made this an annual trip for years and years and our kids, wired to adore tradition, love the trip. Within an hour of our home there is an amazing apple orchard with a huge array of apple types, a bakery to turn out warm apple cider donuts and fresh baked pies, a petting zoo and a corn maze. We have to budget to afford the outing but by the time the children return to school, I know it is time to start setting aside a bit of cash to ensure the family event.

This year, my mom and my uncle were visiting when we planned our trip to the orchard. We loved having them with us and we all had a great time. One of the things I love about doing an activity like this with my family is that it helps my children to learn about the food that they eat. They learn how it grows, where it grows, what it takes to harvest a crop and how that crop turns into other things we eat. I love watching them climb trees to get the juiciest apples. I love watching them carry their bags, heavy with their spoils. I love spending the day outside with my children running and laughing and enjoying one another. And I love knowing that we are set for apples for a good, long while.

At the end of our trip, we put over 80 lbs. of apples in the van. We were tired and happy and the smell of cider donuts filled the air. What did we do with all those apples? I would love to share that with you so stop on back tomorrow!
Blessings on your day!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Simple Pleasures

After several dicey weeks in the Friesen home, I knew we needed a change. Since school began at the end of August, our days are full and our nights seem short. Fatigue can frustrate children and Mark and I had noticed a bit too much bickering, sudden short fuses and impatient, sarcastic tones in responses to siblings. Something needed to change.

We have found, at least with our kids, that there is a direct correlation between the level of fussing between my four and the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. We have found, at least with our kids, that having an activity to do together can lead to greater connection. With emotions running high, it was time to reign in our screen time, provide such an activity to help our children find their way.

As you know, our budget is tight. Three years ago, we moved from a townhouse to a home and our townhouse never sold. It has been difficult. It has been trying. It has been CLARIFYING. As we go from day to day, we do not have the ability to seek big ticket items for ourselves or our children. We have come to believe that this clarification might be a good thing... a very good thing.

So, when we started to seek a solution for the bickering in our home, our bank account dictated limits. Wandering through Wal-Mart, the fix became clear. For under $10.00, I came home with months of quiet, cooperative collaboration. What did I find to fit this bill? A puzzle. One thousand tiny pieces of lakeside beauty that will take ages to put together. It is not that we are a puzzle family. It is something we have done from time to time, but certainly not with any regularity. But, there is something about all those pieces, something about a project that we all play a part in producing, something about that peaceful, non-competitive, side-by-side activity that makes a world of difference.

My kids, like yours, do not like to be forced into anything. So, after unpacking the puzzle, I mentioned to Benjamin that I had found a puzzle that I thought would likely be way too hard. : ) That was all the motivation needed and within minutes three of my four (Noah was at a soccer practice...) had dumped the box into the bay window in our living room and were enthusiastically flipping the pieces to right-side-up. They began sorting to find edges and sorting by color and scrutinizing the box to make a plan.

I stood and watched for a few minutes and then wandered off to make dinner. As I cooked, I could hear their sweet voices talking to one another... not just about the puzzle... but about their day... about the deer wandering our yard... about school. Josiah and Elizabeth (ages 7 and 5 respectively) worked on it for a while and then Josiah grabbed a book to read to EB while Benjamin found some pieces that actually fit together.

The peace that had been missing from our home was found. It was not the puzzle that created this peace. No, instead it was the distraction. It was the shared work. It was the chance to remember that we are in it together. And it was good.

The puzzle has been in my bay window for a little over a week. It is not done but it gets some attention every day. In they wander, work for a while, and off they go onto another activity. Sometimes they place pieces alone and sometimes they work as a group. And as it all happens, I watch and smile and have just a few minutes to see the relationship between my children grow in a good and healthy way. They are forming bonds that will outlast me and for these few minutes, their connection to each other makes them smile and giggle and work together. And that makes me happy.

Yesterday was Sunday. We went to church, made Sunday dinner, baked pumpkin bars, warmed cider, raked and burned leaves and enjoyed a day together. My four babies laughed out loud while wrestling the dog in the backyard. Just after we ate, I walked through the living room and saw Josiah and Elizabeth playing a card game on the floor while Noah and Benjamin worked on the puzzle.

"I found one!" Noah exclaimed. "This part of the picture goes together perfectly!"

Standing there watching my kids play peacefully together as the smell of spiced cider and burning leaves swirled around, I knew he was absolutely right. This part of the the picture is perfect.

Blessings on your day.

Catching Up...

Yes, I know it has been too long. Yes, I know I had been writing more consistently and then suddenly stopped. I know.

Some of you know me well and some of you know me only from this blog. I have a couple of revelations to share with you to help you understand my on-again-off-again blogging ways...

1. When I am thinking through something new or struggling with something happening in our full lives, I tend to go a bit quiet for a while to really process whatever is going on around me. It helps me to write and sometimes I can do that with you... and sometimes my processing is so full of bits and pieces that I know my writing about it will make no sense. As a reminder... I am currently in the midst a huge parenting change since all of my children are in school full time. This is not bad. It's just different. I am still finding my way.

2. Sometimes, life gets busy. Last month, we had two house-guests who came to stay for most of the month. This was a good thing for us and I am always grateful for time that my family gets to spend with my mom and my uncle. We made trips to the city, spent time together as a family and, of course, did all of our regular sporting events. It was full. It was good. But, finding time to write was trickier.

3. And lastly (at least for today), I have four children. : ) We have been swamped with school transition, kindergarten homework backpacks, first grade spelling lists, 5th grade field trips and middle school sports. I am not AT ALL complaining... I love every minute of it. But, it has been consuming as of late and I am only now feeling like we are really getting back into the swing of the school year.

So, now begins November and as I sit here today, I have many ideas about upcoming blogs. We have had a weekend of amazing autumn activities and as I write this post my house smells like spiced cider and my yard of burning leaves. I am preparing my recipes for holiday cooking and my speaking schedule for my Christmas talk. And here, on my blog, I begin again.

Thanks for reading with me... for being patient when my posts drift off... for commenting and contacting me with questions and comments. November starts today. New posts are coming. The journey continues.

Come back soon....

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tasty Tuesday--Bruschetta Pasta

With an abundance of garden fresh tomatoes threatening to go bad before I can use them, we are constantly on the look-out for recipes that incorporate our bumper crop. Making things all the more complicated, our time for cooking is limited and quick recipes are the ones we go to most often.
A couple of years ago, I realized that making bruschetta at home was quick and easy... and such a tasty treat! The ingredients are simple and easily grown. Needing only ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and olive oil, I could quickly pull together a topping for toasted french (or Italian) bread that served as a wonderful appetizer.

A local restaurant serves a bruschetta pasta and I decided to come up with a similar recipe for our family. The amounts needed of each ingredient will vary depending on how many people you are feeding. I cook for 6, two adults and four children. Check it out!

Bruschetta Pasta

6 medium tomatoes
10 leaves fresh basil
4 garlic cloves
1 box whole wheat spaghetti
olive oil
parmigiana-reggiano cheese
salt and pepper

Prepare pasta according to directions, cooking to al dente. While the pasta is cooking, rinse tomatoes and basil. Cut tomatoes into fourths and slice the basil into ribbons. Peel and quarter garlic cloves. Put tomatoes, basil and garlic into a food processor. Add olive oil (about a quarter cup or less) and salt and pepper to taste. (I use kosher salt and fresh, ground pepper.) Pulse these ingredients until they are coarsely chopped... garlic must be ground to "minced" size but you should easily be able to see separate ingredients.

When the pasta is cooked and drained, add the bruschetta mixture and toss. (The tomatoes in my sauce are usually processed smaller than those in the picture.) The sauce is light and will flavor but not coat the pasta. Add parmigiana-reggiano cheese to top. Serve with garlic bread. (I posted this recipe a while back, click to see...)
Easy, light, fresh!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Glimpses of Grace

In the last few weeks, I have become increasingly aware of the power of grace in my life. In reading that, you may imagine huge, sweeping events that have left me awe-struck in their wake. The reality is very different. It is the minute exchanges of unexpected offerings that have left me slack-jawed and wondering. A few to share...

-Yesterday, I woke up, wandered downstairs half awake, and found a pot of hot coffee brewed and waiting. Before Mark left for work, he made me coffee... though he does not drink it himself. I started the day with a smile and one less to-do on my list.

-Having lunch with a friend this week, she took my cup to the pop machine and filled it with Pepsi while we waited for our food to arrive. This small gesture nearly moved me to tears after being the one filling my children's cups for years. Mommas are not always used to being the ones who receive...

-In the middle of dinner last night, Josiah looked up at me and said that it was the BEST dinner EVER and thank you so much for making it. (It was hot beef sandwiches...) After a tortuous dinner the night before when no one happily ate the new chicken casserole I had made, this was a welcome surprise.

-A couple of nights ago, one of my older boys threw his arms around me as I sat on the couch and said, "Momma, I just love to spend time with you..." With a gangly boy in my arms, I relished the fact that, as big as he is, we have been able to remain connected and I am blessed to still hear such words.

If we understand grace to be an unexpected and undeserved selfless gift, all of these examples fit. Each exchange cost the giver nothing and yet, the response in me was deep. In the midst of a life that often moves too fast and days that are too long, these words and acts were a balm to my weary soul. Truth be told, in each of these situations, I wanted to grab hold of the giver and thank them. The offerings were small... but the response in my heart was great.

I have had to think of grace of this week... and have had to notice truths about the core of it that simultaneously make me smile and squirm. There are questions that about it all that have poked at me, like:

If extending grace to another can so easily be done, what keeps us from doing it more often?

Is there someone near me that needs a gift of grace that I can provide?

Another thought came to me, as I processed these glimpses of grace... and it left me humbled and convicted all at once. This morning, when I woke up, I was selflessly given another gift that I do not deserve. The truth is, I receive this gift each day and over time, have come to take it for granted.

This morning, when I woke up, I was showered in love from the God who created everything I see. The One who made the whole wide world took notice of me, sustained me through the night, and offered me one more day. Another day to hold my babies. Another day to pack their lunches. Another day to walk the dog, talk to my husband, clean my messy house. Another day to live in His amazing Grace and extend that gift to those around me. I live today and have hope for tomorrow because of His great love.

Does this glimpse of grace effect me as deeply as a cup of coffee? a selfless act? a gentle word? an affirmation of love? As I feel convicted by being MORE deeply affected by those experiences I shared above, I am suddenly aware that there is a connection here that ties common grace and God's grace into one big box. Could it be that maybe, just maybe, when I am moved to tears by a friend who fills my cup that I am connecting to The One who fills my life to overflowing? And, might it be that when I hear my boy whisper sweet, loving words in my ear, that I am reminded of the God who seeks me, too? In finding myself awash in common grace, I see glimpses of the grace God offers me that saves me and gives me hope... and then the common grace is not so ordinary as I might have thought. Instead, it becomes a way that God can show us, again and again, how very loved we are.

Today, if I let God lead my hands and mind, what will He have me do to extend grace to someone else? What small, undeserved offering can I give to another to remind them (and me) a bit about who He is and how He loves his children here on earth? It's something to think about...

Blessings on your day.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tasty Tuesday--Pumpkin Bread

How I love cooler days! The changing of the seasons, from summer into fall, always brings in me a deep desire to bake. Over the past few months, I have begun to realize that taking time to bake is a good thing... but doubling the recipe and freezing some of that bounty is a VERY good thing! This week, when the mood arose, I pulled out our cookbook and decided it was time for pumpkin bread. I love this easy quick bread because I do not have to wait for fruit-on-hand to ripen. Unlike zucchini and banana bread, the ingredients needed are easily kept in the pantry, ready to go. This recipe is one my children's favorites and it doubles nicely. All told, I was able to quickly bake two full sized loaves and 8 mini-loaves of this perfect-for-the-season, spicy bread.

Pumpkin Bread
3 1/2 cups of flour
3 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can of pumpkin (not pie mix)
2/3 cup of water
1 cup of oil (cut to half, adding half applesauce, if desired)
4 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans

Sift the first five ingredients together and add the remaining ingredients next. Bake in 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
**Optional adds: I often add ground flax seeds for fiber and omegas and up the spices with whatever I have on hand... usually adding pumpkin pie spice, ground cloves and nutmeg. I do not measure these but sprinkle them into the batter.

Another benefit of doubling the recipe is having plenty to share! This afternoon, I hope to drive over to Trinity and bring some fresh baked bread to students who miss home-cooking! Who do you know who would love a home-made gift today?

Blessings on your day!

Monday, September 21, 2009


This weekend we enjoyed a backyard campfire with our children. We have a fire-pit and use it often. We roasted hot dogs and made s'mores and sat with our children on and near us as the sun set slowly. I love those nights. I love watching the fire rise and fall. I love having my children close by. I love eating and laughing and listening together.

As we all sat there, the temperatures cooled and the chatter fell away and we made a point of spending a few minutes being deeply aware of the world around us. A gentle, autumn breeze blew through and the tree frogs sang songs from limb to limb. The smell of herbs, ready for picking, rose from the nearby garden the cheerful chirp of many crickets filled the air.

In the momentary quiet, my mind was brought back to other times when the sound of crickets surrounded me.

I remember being little, maybe 6 or 7, and running through the yards catching lightning bugs. I remember falling onto the grass in our small backyard, looking up at the stars and letting that familiar sound wash over my small self.

I remember working at a Christian camp the summer that I was 20. During a week of younger campers, I sat outside my cabin one night, with my best friend June, talking about how we each saw God. "I think," June mused, "that God is someone you can sit back to back with outside Cabin J..." And when she stopped talking, the crickets took over.

I remember the last August we spent as residence directors at Trinity Christian College. The student leaders had moved back onto campus and the freshmen were going to move in the next day. With the arrival of students, campus always took on a frenetic and full feeling. I remember sitting with colleagues in the lobby of my hall that night. The resident assistants were scattered all over campus praying for the students who were moving in soon. I remember hearing the crickets' song flowing freely through the windows and finding myself acutely aware of the noise and busyness that would arrive with the students, I murmured aloud, " This is the last night we will be able to hear that sound."

And then there was this weekend, temperatures cooling, sleepy children seated close, Josiah's sweet hand rises up touch my arm. Contented sighs. Full bellies. Enchanting flames. And that comforting, familiar chirp.

Sometimes, one small thing can tie all the pieces of my life together in a nice, neat package. One scent, one sight, one sweet sound. Then, all the hardships that may have surrounded that same season fall away and I am left with something I choose to embrace. I wonder what will trigger these memories for my four children. What routines and traditions will bring unity to their life-long stories? The smell of Sunday dinner? The sound of a crackling fire? The feel of a soccer ball hitting their foot? The song of crickets on a cool summer night?

We have no control over what they remember or what will cause those memories to rise and fall in their minds. But, I know what I hope for my kids... I hope that they know what it feels like to be loved. I hope that they know what it means to have parents who choose to be present with them. I hope that when they are grown, a rush of warm memories flow easily back to them in watching a fire rise and fall, feeling the cool breeze brush their faces... and listening to the crickets sing them a song.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stopping Time

Some days call for a bit of quiet. Some days call for a time when all the noise and activity around me falls still and I am left with a minute to look around me and see what is left behind.

My children have a book called The Boy Who Stopped Time. In the story, the boy does not want to go to bed and so he reaches into a clock and stops the pendulum from swinging and then everything around freezes, except the boy. He wanders through his house, his town, examining everything in great detail and eventually returns home desperate for life to move and live and breathe again. He starts the clock and is happy to go off to bed. The story has great draw for my kids... the idea of halting time and landing a later bedtime is a dream come true! I like the book as well... though for very different reasons.

Over the past few weeks, my life has changed dramatically. The end of summer always brings a different rhythm. But this year, the end of summer brought far more than a schedule adjustment. This year, when school started, my life as a mother to my four little ones changed completely. For nearly 13 years, I have spent almost every day with someone by my side. I have had a child on my lap, following behind me, knocking at the bathroom door, for well over a decade. I don't say that as complaint. It was a choice. It was a choice to be here, loving on them, reading to them, disciplining them, snuggling them for all these many years. But, a couple of weeks ago, every, single one of my children strapped on a backpack and headed off to school.

I am not sure how to process all of that. I am so right-in-the-middle of it all that I have struggled to find words to share with all of you. Normally, I try to blog about what I know. What I see. But this... this I do NOT know. And what I see is the backs of my sweet babies as they head on into school. The sight is both wonderful and exciting and deeply sad. Not for them you see... but for me.

Is the sadness from the missing? Maybe so... But in another way, the weight of it comes from the marking of the end of one well-loved season. The end of hands-on, all-day mothering. The end of the constant companionship of a little growing person discovering it all in front of me. The end of having really little ones. The end of what I have known and loved for almost 13 years.

Know this... the sadness is okay. I am not crushed. I am not overwhelmed. I have, instead, made space in my life for reflection during this strange time of adjustment. And making that space has been helpful to me... and leads me to a whole new appreciation of the book The Boy Who Stopped Time.

Sometimes, as mommas, we need to find a way to catch our breath, find some quiet and take a look around. Claiming those seconds to step back and really SEE gives us images to recall when the life we are living is chaotic or filled with change. In my head, I see these images today and in them, I gain comfort and perspective.

I see:

Noah at 15 months holding tightly to the wall, looking at the couch. Suddenly, he releases his grasp and heads 3 steps to the couch... and learns to walk.

Benjamin at two, pushing a red, plastic chair into the center of the living room. I watch as he climbs onto the top of it, carefully placing his feet on the outer edges of the seat. He lifts his left foot and the chair begins to tip. Quickly he slams his foot back down, rights himself and laughs out loud at the thrill of ALMOST falling.

Josiah at 4 months, cuddled in my arms. He has just finished nursing and is gazing and cooing up at me. His blond hair is all fuzz standing straight up on end and his grin is fully toothless. I remember clearly thinking, "I am happy."

Elizabeth, almost one, sitting on the living room floor. We had been home from China roughly two hours. The boys burst into the house and all my children saw each other for the very first time. Within 5 minutes, they were all laying on the floor cracking each other up. Our family was complete.

Over the past several weeks, I have flipped through images of stopped-time again and again. I have looked at them in great detail and have revelled in the fullness and richness of our shared life. I have been reminded of the importance of the ordinary... the memories we make in our day-to-day life... and how they live longer and in brighter color because they are repeated again and again. And I have come to see that all that is important is not in the past.

This week, I see:

Noah, at twelve and a half, running down the soccer field, dressed in a school uniform. He looks at me, smiles wide, and the sun gleams off the braces on his teeth.

Benjamin, nearly 11, making a face at his little brother during dinner and both of them erupting into giggles that fill the dining room and spread quickly to their siblings.

Josiah, newly 7, making a list of the books he has read this week to turn into his teacher at school. The list is then put carefully into a folder and added to his backpack and he smiles to himself at his preparedness.

Elizabeth, five-years-old, gathering snacks to put in her Kai-Lan lunch box, relishing the organization of it all and the deep feeling of inclusion she feels in finally being old enough to actually go to school.

Stopping time is good. But, I don't want to live in a place where all those images remain stopped. I loved those moments. I loved my babies as babies, as toddlers, as preschoolers and I love them now. I soaked up those minutes and I expect to do nothing less in this new season of life. It looks different. It feels different. It really IS different. But memories are being made in real time today. My children are running and smiling and laughing and we have things to store up right now. This new season of parenting may be unfamiliar but this too, is good.

Today, I will let the clock run but make time and find energy to let myself see this in all it's wonder. The endless job of parenting marches on and I don't want to miss a thing.

Blessings on your day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Blog Rewind: How It Happened For Us

Noah was four. Benjamin was almost three. I had MOMs Group that morning and was trying desperately to get ready for the opening meeting of our season. The boys were watching Blue's Clues and I was trying to run a brush through my tangled tresses while answering the phone ringing with requests from freshman college students for keys and ideas and notes about classes. We were living at Trinity then, our family of four, as residence directors of South Hall.
I was later than I should have been and needed to get to church. I almost didn't answer the phone but thinking better of ignoring a call, I grabbed it and ran to the back to find shoes for my day. It was Mark.

"Is the TV on?" he asked.

"The boys are watching Blue's Clues..."

He said, "Nadia, we have been attacked. You have to turn on the news. Something bad is happening."

I don't remember hanging up but I remember turning the channel and looking at my boys... those little blond heads... those bright, wide eyes. I saw it then. So did they. The look on Diane Sawyer's face. The tone of Peter Jennings voice. The buildings. The airplanes. We stood still, the three of us and I suddenly thought that I needed to protect my boys.

I took them by the hands and led them their toys. I turned off the sound on the TV and read through the captions instead. I tried to process it all, tried to think, tried to figure out what you do when this happens. I had no idea.

Working on a college campus is a complicated thing. I had a responsibility that morning to my babies playing with blocks and to the 250 freshmen students who lived in my building. We did not have cable and they were in class. Somehow they would have to be told what had happened to their country and without knowing exactly what to say, I typed a sign that we would hang in the building to help them to know that something had changed... that something had happened... that what we thought we were, where we thought we lived, how safe we felt had all become something incredibly different. I did not save that document on my computer. I wish I would have. I know that I typed something about a terrorist attack in New York. I know that I tried to be calm and clear and follow Peter Jennings lead of giving only the information we actually knew. It suddenly felt like we knew nothing at all.

After posting the signs on every door in South Hall, I left quickly for church and the MOMs Group I run. Our opening morning. The boys were uncharacteristically quiet on the drive and I put the radio on only in the front of our truck. As I drove, a building fell. On the radio, they announced that several other airplanes were still "missing" and that they had no idea what to expect. I called Mark from the truck. He works downtown Chicago in a building that is part of our skyline.

"Come home." I said.

He told me that he was not sure he would be allowed to leave and I pleaded with him explaining that he really might not be safe. He talked about job security. He could not see the TV. He had NO idea what it looked like. The video was very motivating.

"If they fire you for leaving on a day like today, so be it. COME HOME."

He agreed and made plans to leave the city.

By the time I got to MOMs Group, the second building had fallen. Into church came moms, at least three with multiples, juggling their children and questioning the day. We had quads, triplets and twins in the nursery, tired mommas drinking coffee and a ministry to run.

Auto-pilot. Two and a half hours of auto-pilot. Welcome. Pray. Wonder. Chat. Wonder. Worry. Chat. Pray.

My cell phone rang as the moms were leaving. Mark was out of the city. We live 30 minutes from downtown and the commute had taken him nearly three hours. By the time he had gotten to the train to come home there were thousands of people downtown, crammed underground, fleeing Chicago in hopes of getting safely home to their families. He said it was scary seeing so many people in one place... knowing we could be attacked and thinking how they sat, waiting for trains, like sitting ducks.

We met at a restaurant and I don't know if I have ever been so happy to see him. Our city was never hit... but thinking that it might be was overwhelming to me. I could not begin to imagine the loss and heartbreak New York was experiencing... they were people just like me... but I had my husband home. I had him in front of me having a burger and thinking through this experience in discussion and exchanged glances and deep silences filled with words we would never be able to say.

By the time I got back to campus, the students were absorbing the news and were overflowing with questions and worries and feelings none of us knew how to process. The other residence directors and I met together quickly while Mark kept the boys away from any media sources. We had to do something but what do you do? No RD training that we had ever gotten had prepared us for helping the students to understand a terrorist attack on our country. We thought through the possible needs and planned to offer a live feed of the president's address that evening available in the college chapel. We called therapists, pastors and history professors to be on hand that night to meet the students where they were.

After the president spoke, we let the students ask questions and I remember trying to answer them... knowing almost nothing myself. Everything about that day was outside my comfort zone. After the gathering, Mark and I sat in our South Hall apartment while students met with someone who could help them more than we could. Some were in prayer groups. Some were with therapists. Some were with pastors. Some were pondering the historical pieces with professors who could shed light on what this all might mean. I sat stunned. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. She came in.

I knew this young woman well and loved her positive outlook and example to students. It was so early in the year that there were more students we DID NOT know than those we did. But this one, I knew. She rushed into my apartment and sat on the couch. She cried and we waited for feelings to flow to thoughts to flow to words. I cried too.

"I don't know what's wrong with me... " she began, "but I just keep thinking about how sad I am for THEM... for the terrorists who were SO LOST that they would participate in such total evil."

Tears again.

We talked for a while about how she felt bad about feeling bad for them... about how her friends did not understand... about how there is no way to know how we will feel about something like this because we never saw it coming and have no way yet to process it at all.

We cried and prayed and then, with fewer tears, she left the calm of our apartment for the chaos of the residence hall. Mark and I talked about how hard it was for them... for the students who had just graduated from high school, just left for college, just been handed their world, only to find it laying in pieces at their flip-flopped feet.

Over time, the words ran out. The campus quieted. Around midnight, we closed our apartment door. And that was it... the end of the day.

For weeks after that day, I begged Mark to stay home again. I did not know how I would ever trust him to be safe in the city again. If they got New York, they could get Chicago, too. For months I could not go to the city I love so well.... and when I did, I got teary just thinking about the what ifs...

Most people have memories of that time in their lives. We have something more concrete. Because Mark shot video of all campus happenings throughout each school year, we have video taken on campus on September 10. That night we had run a program for roommates to get to know on another better. "Something to Chew On" was a laugh-out-loud list of questions intended to spark conversation between women who were just getting to know each other as friends. The students had come in pajamas and giggled like school girls and eaten cookies with hot chocolate just 12 hours before the whole world changed. It is strange to watch it now... knowing what the morning would bring, knowing what would follow on Mark's videotape next. A presidential address. Prayer groups. Professors discussing. Students embracing. September 11, 2001 in the lower right corner of the shot.

It has been eight years. My boys, now 12.5 and almost 11 still remember that morning. They called it "the day the airplanes knocked over the buildings" for years, though they now know what it all really was. Our lives are different than they were then and I cannot claim they are not. For months following September 11 people said that if we changed anything about our day to day lives, the terrorists won. Such a strange request... to NOT change after having been through such a significant experience. I am changed. Maybe this is their victory but maybe, just maybe, it is mine.

Since September 11:

-I never take my skyline for granted. I love my city deeper and better than ever before and pray for those who lost loved ones in New York every time I drive into Chicago. I am raising my kids to know that we are exceedingly blessed to live where we live and love the city we call home.

-I value my family in a way I never knew to value them before. Finding out that the world can change first thing in the morning on a clear September day gave me perspective that makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer than I might have otherwise done.

-I understand bravery and sacrifice in a way that I never did before. How does a fire fighter rush into a building that will surely fall? How do you help when you know it may cost you everything? Sacrifice no longer means writing a check to help feed the hungry. It means giving it all. Offering it all. And I still stand AMAZED at those who did just that on the morning of 9/11.

-I know now that I cannot shelter my kids in the way I may have thought necessary before. Instead, I have to teach them... to see, to think, to feel, to learn and to build bridges... and yes, to be careful. Sheltering is nice but preparing is essential. I am careful in how this happens but I am also careful to be sure that it does.

Since September 11, truth be told, I am sometimes fearful, sometimes worried, sometimes unsure about what is happening in this world. But, hope is built as I see life go forward, as I watch my children grow up, as I enjoy a clear day in Chicago. We, as a country, were not destroyed. We did not become something dark and sad and broken. We, as a country, as a family, moved on to what was new for us. A new way to live and to love and to trust and to grow. There is hope in that. Can you see it, too?

Eight years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is speaking. We all promise to remember and in doing so, honor the lives of those who were lost on that dark day. And as I sit here now, the faces of so many beloved students flash through my mind... those who walked with us as we found a path we never knew we would need... All of us, the students, MOMs Group, my two blond babies now grown taller, we all are connected in a way that is deeper and more profound than we otherwise would have felt. I am grateful for that because in my confusion and sadness and loss and anger, I did not walk alone. We did not walk alone. And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


***Last Sunday marked the 26th anniversary of the day I became a Christian. That day, in 1983, I made a decision that would change my life. I wanted to share some thoughts about that with you here today. Please read on. ***

I remember the room being hot and crowded. It was evening and we had gathered for a concert to be put on by a Christian college band. I remember there were three people in that group... that they could sing... and that I was seated in the front row with my friends Laura and Lisa.

For months before that night, Laura had seen the need for what would soon occur. I did not. I will always be grateful to her for spending a year talking to me, teaching me, leading me toward truth. As a 16 year old girl, my life was about my boyfriend and whatever fun event we could next attend. Laura lived a different life... nicer, kinder, more closely aligned with that which was good... and slowly, as we became friends, she expected the same from me. I knew there was something different about her life but the details of it were lost on me.

At Christmas, 8 months before the night of the concert, Laura gave me a gift. As I pulled back the holiday wrapping paper, I held in my hands something I had never touched before. The book was black and in the lower right hand corner of the cover, embossed in silver, was my name. It was a Bible. A Bible of my very own.

When Laura invited me to go to camp with her that summer, I really had no idea what to expect. I had never been to camp and certainly never a Christian camp but something in me tugged. Something in me knew I needed to go.

I don't honestly remember most of that week. I know that we went swimming and spent time outside. I know there was a couple of cold days... odd for early August. I know there was singing and chapel and a camp ditty that I remember clear as a bell even today.

"Way down in Crown Point, in Indiana, there is a camp that is the champ of all we know...
It's what we're here for, we're hear to cheer for, the greatest place to learn and play and pray and grow..."

But, I digress...

Yes, there were camp-y things that week. But in the end, those things meant very little because as I sat in that front row, friends on either side, my life was about to change in a way that would alter everything that I would do or think or hope for from that day on.

The concert was good... and the lyrics were significant. Then came one song, by David Meece, that would hit me hard and clarify for me what true need was... clarify for me what I needed. The chorus went something like this...

"Everybody needs a little help to get their life together
(And you're no exception)
Everybody needs another hand that they can hold onto.
Everybody needs a little help to get their life together
And I want to give it to you."

As I sat there listening, all these little pieces of my life came together. I understood something about what made Laura's life different from mine. I could see how badly I needed help to pull my life together into something beautiful... usable. But suddenly, I could see how I was fully unable to do that alone. Fully unable to help myself. Fully unable to save myself. Just plain fully unable.

As I listened to that concert, I did not hear the voices of three college-aged men singing a David Meece song from 1978. I heard God. I heard His very voice saying to me... "It's okay. You're a mess. Everybody needs help. I WANT to help you. I can. Let me."

And then, I started to cry. Now, if you know me at all, you know this is not something I am very comfortable with, crying in public. But, it was not a choice, it was a response. It was an overflowing expression of my deepest need; to know my God and to let Him love me. To love Him back. And so I sat, in the front row at a church camp concert, weeping my 16-year-old heart out and getting it for the first time ever.

I became a Christian on August 9, 1983. On that day, I stood up and accepted a gift that God had given to me centuries before I was even born. I am not sure what day in my life could ever be more important than that because all days before and after August 9th have been effected by my choosing Jesus that night and by His unfailing love for me. My wedding. The birth of my children. Everything. The entire direction of my life changed that day and while it has not, in any way, been easy... it has been right.

I have been on this journey of faith, walking with my God, for 26 years. I am humbled by that length of time... humbled by how badly I have needed Jesus during those years... humbled by how loved and tended to I have felt along the way. When I stood that night, tears on my cheeks, and professed aloud what I was learning to believe, I had no idea the change that would come. But, standing here today, I can tell you that the change of direction and the change of habit in my life are NOTHING in comparison to the change of heart. Knowing the Creator of all that is and calling Jesus my friend has offered a peace in the midst of so many violent storms. I have been given a foundation on which to stand when the world around me shakes. And even more importantly... I have hope. I am not alone in these difficult times and I am not abandoned to these troubles. I have hope, my dear friends, that the One who loves me best is at work in ways I cannot see and He will be next to me throughout the times that are too hard. And when all of this life ceases to be... ahhh, then I will know in a brand new way what hope TRULY is. When my days on this earth are done, you will find me in Heaven, where my faith will become sight.

I have been a Christian for 26 years. It has not been easy. It has not been without doubt. But, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and I would not change a thing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Numbering the Days and Filling them Up!

Good morning, friends. I want to extend a special welcome to all who have wandered over from the Hearts at Home blog! I am glad to see you here.

Can you possibly believe that August has begun? As I listen to my children bump around the kitchen making toast and pouring juice, I can sense the stress climbing as I realize that the number of slow and sleepy mornings like this are numbered. There is a part of me that longs for a minute or two of quiet, but I know all too well, that the fall will bring far more than that. Off they will run into the school we love so well and the quiet that streams behind them will fall heavily on my day.

But, ready or not, August has arrived and I am left making lists of things that I want to do and things that I must do in the next several weeks. It looks like this:

I want to:

-go camping one more time
-take the kids downtown
-spend time at the beach
-take the kids to the Chicago Bears Training Camp
-See the new exhibit at the museum where we are members
-relax! : )

I need to:

-finish (read: start) school supply shopping
-find gym shoes sales
-keep on top of speaking engagement correspondence
-complete my new speaking topic outline
-relax! : )

The end of August is always very full for me. My speaking ministry starts up, my leadership training work is busy and my mind is on my babies. There is an excitement that comes with the change of seasons but there is a sadness, too. With a new school year will come so much change, so much growing up in the lives of the little people into whom I pour so much of myself. While this can be an amazing thing to watch, it also reminds me how far we have come... and how quickly it is all just racing by.

So, the sun is out and there will be plenty of time for wallowing in nostalgia soon. Today, I will hook up the sprinkler, take my kids outside and and relish the feel of the sun on our faces. I will call the museum and check the Bears website and instead of counting down the days we left, I will pour into them fully and mark them well.

I am off to take out the hose!

Blessings on your day!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tasty Tuesday--Baked Spaghetti

You ever have one of those days when you really have no idea what you will be making for dinner? Mix that with the tight economic times we are all experiencing and coming up with a tasty meal that your family will eat and that you can afford becomes highly challenging.

I asked for dinner ideas on my facebook page this morning and had a bunch of amazing ideas come in. I wish I could post them all here! I think several of them will make an appearance on another Tasty Tuesday blog post in the future. For today, I needed to find a recipe that would make the most of whatever supplies I had on hand... which were sadly limited. Some of the recipes that were sent in to me include: Chicken Tortilla Soup, Sauteed Shrimp with Lemon, Mozzarella Crusted Tilapia in Lemon Caper Sauce with Ratatouille, French Dip Sandwiches with Oven Fries and Baked Spaghetti. Hungry yet? Of all these amazing ideas, the one I had the most ingredients for is the winner for tonight: Baked Spaghetti. Well... almost... I had to take the recipe that was given to me (Thanks, Lisa!) and tweak it to match what was already in my pantry and fridge. So... here you go! Lisa's dinner tweaked to work for me!

1 (8 ounce) package whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente
2 tablespoons butter OR margarine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (24 ounce) cottage cheese
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 (25.75 ounce) jar prepared spaghetti sauce
4 cloves garlic
10 leaves fresh basil
1 (8 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine hot cooked spaghetti with butter; stir until butter melts and coats spaghetti. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese; stir to coat. Arrange spaghetti in an even layer in foil-lined pan. Add a small amount of the pasta sauce, right from the jar. Stir gently. Spread cottage cheese over spaghetti. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Chop garlic and basil. Brown sausage, drain; add pasta sauce, garlic and half the basil, heat until bubbly. Spoon over cheeses. Top with mozzarella cheese and remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil cover and continue baking 15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle remaining basil on top. Serve with homemade garlic bread* and fresh veggies or salad.

*Not sure how to make garlic bread? Once you make it yourself, you will NEVER buy it again. I am including the recipe that I use but know this... if you are concerned about eating healthy, make a salad! Garlic bread is not really a healthy food. : ) We have tried making it on whole wheat bread but it is not nearly as good. You can try low-cal spreads...but the truth is it is best made with butter. If you eat the final bread sparingly, and are careful with the rest of your meal, it is fine to enjoy this bread. So... here is what I do.

I keep french bread or sub rolls frozen in my deep freeze. When I want good garlic bread, I take out enough frozen bread... no need to defrost. Then,in my food processor, I put:

1 stick of butter (I cut it up into squares)
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 leaves of basil or about 1/2 t of dried basil
A sprinkle or two of powdered garlic or garlic salt

I turn my food processor on until the butter and garlic begin to combine. If you are using fresh basil, the mixture may turn a little green. When you taste it, you will not care that your garlic bread is green... I promise. As the butter softens, I add in a titch of olive oil just to be sure that the whole shebang will be spreadable.

Next, I cut the loaf of bread length-wise and lay it on a baking sheet. I slather the cut side with butter making sure to leave some for the next step. Put this, buttered side up, into a hot oven...400 degrees. The mixture will melt. Leave in about 7 minutes. Take out and flip the loaves over to the other side. Spread remaining garlic butter on the backside of the bread. Put back in the oven for about 4 minutes. Take it out and turn your oven on to broil. Flip the garlic bread back over the cut side. Slide the whole pan into your broiler. Stand there! It will take all of 2 minutes. Burning the garlic bread now would be a tragedy! Watch for any signs that it is browning slightly on top. Take it out and let it cool long enough to be handle-able. Cut into 3 inch slices and enjoy! I am off to cook. This recipe is quick and easy and my kids enjoy it. I hope you do, too! : )

Monday, July 27, 2009

Internet, Connection and Kingdom

The internet is a funny thing. It has tremendous power to connect or destroy, to build up or demolish. It can help us to accomplish what we feel most called to do... or keep us from that very thing. How we choose to use this tool is the greatest deciding factor in what the outcome will be... an important choice to make.

Over the past year, I have started to read a wide variety of blogs. One thing that has been so interesting to me is following a blog trail... one blog that leads to another that leads to another, and so on... And in doing so, I have landed on a variety of interesting reads.

Perhaps it all began with reading Lysa Terkhurst's blog after hearing her speak at Hearts at Home. Lysa's blog was an extension of her speaking ministry and in that way, I was being encouraged by her written words building on those she'd spoken. I think it was Lysa's blog that led me to Angie's blog. Angie's blog was a new experience for me... raw, painful, faithful and true, I was drawn into the lessons and thoughts she bravely shared after the loss her sweet newborn. Somewhere along the way, I ended up Marla Taviano's blog and was drawn into the day to day living and enthusiasm that she shares regularly. It was Marla's blog that connected me to The Mac's Blog the week that their daughter, Cora, was first diagnosed with cancer. For the first time, I was drawn into someone else's story, not as a memory, but as something currently happening in real time. As I hugged my little ones, they hugged their Cora. As I prayed with my children for dinner, they prayed for healing for their girl. And as I attended a wedding in Nashville, their sweet baby died of cancer only weeks after being diagnosed.

As I read Cora's story, I felt compelled to pray. I prayed for this family, unknown to me personally, as though we were life-long friends. I prayed for healing, for comfort, for peace. I prayed as Cora struggled. I prayed as Cora died. I prayed still today for Cora's parents, Joel and Jess, as they continue to piece together a life that looks nothing like they had expected just 8 months ago.

Blog to blog, connections made. It is all so facinating to me likely because this way of connecting is really pretty new. But, I believe there is value in what is happening this way... value in the world being connected via blogging or facebook or twitter... value in the Kingdom of God being revealed like this. And, at the core, that is what it all feels like to me. A glimpse into the Kingdom that I might not have otherwise seen. A glimpse into the simple, ordinary lives of people just like me... and in willingly taking that glimpse, a bridge is being built. A bridge is being built that helps me to see that Joel and Jess and Lysa and Angie and Marla are an awful lot like me. We have something to share... some ordinary moment, some lesson we have learned, some funny statement or homey recipe or sincere need, that connects us in a way that is very much the way God builds His Kingdom. Because the truth is, I don't know Joel and Jess. I don't know them at all. But, they had a need and I could help. They needed prayer... lots and lots of prayer. They have traveled a road that most of us cannot even begin to imagine and what they need is not another meal or a pat on the back or a sypathetic, spoken cliche. What they need is for someone to cry out for them... pray for them... be WITH them in any way at all... so that they can find strength and be eased from their pain and be comforted by The One who comforts best. I can do that. I want to do that.

I think it was Angie's blog that lead me to MckMama's Blog. Have you heard about it? Oh, my dear friends, there is a family who needs your help. Their baby, Stellan, has an issue with his heart and is very, very ill. With three other children (all very young) at home, MckMama is being airlifted with her husband to a hospital in Boston in hopes of finding some help for their baby Stellan. We cannot make this baby well. But, we know The One who can. Pray with me for this young family and for the doctors who will work with Stellan today.

Every now and then, we can see a little glimpse into what God's Kingdom is coming to be. Every now and then, we look around and see how He has connected us. It may be a new way of connecting and yes, it is very different from meeting over a cup of coffee at Panera... but, it matters. It is why we log onto the internet, why I visit blogs, why you visit here. In some small way, we are sticking out our hands and hoping that someone on the other side reaches out and grabs on tight. In a world that has grown more divided than ever before, the internet can provide a way for us to sit on the porch and wave to our neighbors, though they may be a world away. It's no substitute for java and face-to-face chat, but it does provide a way for us to add on to that. It gives us a way to see something bigger... to meet someone new... to connect in a way that likely could not happen without broadband to tie the knot.

There is something comforting about knowing we are part of something bigger than ourselves. There is something humbling about knowing we can play a part in the life of another. These feelings come from the fact that we are made to be in relationship with one another. We are created to seek connection and to lend a loving hand. Can you see it? If we choose, we can squint our eyes and see a part of the Kingdom we might have missed. It is not more important, or less, than the corner we sit in right now... but it is a part of it nonetheless. As I sit here right now, a baby is being airlifted to Boston. I don't know him at all. But I know his story and I know his need and it is my privilege to pray for Stellan. I hope you will pray with me.

For someone used to sleeping in a dark closet, Stellan sure i... on Twitpic

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Left with Maybe

Yesterday was a long, LONG day in our house. I am not sure what causes these days but I know that they end with children in tears and a momma falling exhausted into bed feeling completely used up.

So much of what happened was little, and standing alone, inconsequential. But, put in a pile, the whole of it was an awful lot. In addition to the general crabbiness that fell on all of us and the impatience that I juggled all day long, I will share some highlights:

-Noah and Benjamin exploded into an argument after a game of INTO (apparently HORSE is too long a word) and Benjamin, nearly 11 years old, stomps off angrily leaving a frustrated Noah behind.

-Shortly thereafter, Benjamin suddenly realizes that it was a swimming lessons day and while he had his suit and his beach towel, he misplaced his goggles. He MUST have his goggles. He searched in absolute vain for goggles that have clearly fallen off the edge of the earth and very nearly made all his siblings late for swimming.

-Elizabeth, having made her sandwich, ignored 3 reminders to clean up her lunch mess and Lexie, our golden doodle, took advantage of the situation and ate an entire package (from Sam's Club) of ham. Three pounds of lunch meat, gone in an instant.

-Josiah, not wanting to complete one of his chores, announces loudly that he doesn't HAVE to do it. He will just not do it. (Mark and I could not have been more surprised to hear this from our most laid-back little one.)

-All the kids spent the afternoon complaining about one thing after another and asking for more screen time. And more snacks. And more activities. And more attention.

-At dinner, a whole glass of sweet tea was spilled everywhere leaving a sticky film across the majority of our dining room.

-At the same dinner, when I asked Mark to please take the children to the library for new books, Josiah announced that daddy should not have to do it since "he does everything".

-In an effort to "help", Elizabeth emptied a tub standing full of water. Hot water. With bubbles in it. The bath I had just poured her.

-There was an insane amount of tattling.

-The children took turns, literally, interrupting my few phone conversations. Each one coming to me individually with different questions, stories, concerns or injuries leaving me fully unable to be on the phone at all.

Ever have a day that leaves you feeling done? A day where it feels like each quarrel, each request, each whine, each complaint literally draws energy out of your very self? Do you ever fall into bed afraid that tomorrow will be more of the same? It happens in our house... does it happen in yours?

This morning, I am weary. But, here is what I know... I woke up this morning and the sun came out. I took a walk with my husband. I heard the birds sing. Josiah woke up and smiled at me. Benjamin and Noah both woke up with books in their hands and stories in their minds. Elizabeth is working hard to start this day differently than yesterday. My children have combed their hair, brushed their teeth and found their shoes. We have eaten waffles and sausage and are ready to start our day. Benjamin has his goggles. No one spilled their orange juice.

Yesterday was not a very good day here. But maybe today will be better. Maybe I will be more patient. Maybe they will bicker less. In that maybe lies a little glimmer of hope. In that maybe I can find a possibility, a chance that today will have more peace and less mess. In that maybe, lies just enough energy for me to pull myself up out of bed and put one foot in front of the other and start. Start today. Start moving. Start parenting. Start loving. Start being.

Sometimes we have a bad day. Maybe today will be better. And the hope tucked inside that 5 letter word is just enough for me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Give Us This Day...

I didn't know what time it was when Josiah touched my face and said, "Momma, let's bake bread." I knew I had been sleeping but being awakened by his sweet disposition has never bothered me a bit. He climbed into bed beside me, his cold toes waking my warm legs. Every time I opened my eyes and grinned at my sweet boy, he was smiling right back at me, waiting for me to wake.

"Momma, can we please bake bread? I want to bake bread. Can we please get up and bake?"

I put my feet on the floor and fumbled for my glasses. He was eager to get started and took my hand to gently pull me forward. We were in the kitchen, bowl on the counter, before I checked the clock. It was 6:15. AM. Seriously.

What to do? By then I was up and the beaming boy by my side was half in the fridge, half out, searching for yeast. I pulled out recipes and we began. The house was quiet and the smell of dough filled the air. It has been unusually cool this week and all the windows stood open allowing us to listen to the birds outside while we mixed milk and yeast and sugar and flour. We chatted in whispers about baking and bread and what we would do with the dough. Josiah pulled out the cinnamon sugar and decided one loaf would be sweet and one would be plain. By the time we had set the dough to rise, Noah rolled down the stairs with a smile and hug. He wanted to help...

The zucchini in our garden had finally started to grow and there were three zukes sitting on the island. I sent Noah on a hunt for other ingredients and we got ready to make zucchini bread for the family. With everything gathered, I put a bowl in front of Josiah and another in front of Noah and we decide to quadruple the recipe. Each boy would mix a double batch. A pinch of cinnamon, a bit of pineapple, grated zucchini... and lots of easy chatter and in no time at all, we had a bunch of batter ready to bake.

When it was all said and done, we had a loaf of white bread, a loaf of cinnamon bread, 5 loaves of zuke bread, 24 mini zuke muffins and 12 full sized muffins of the same. The house smelled like heaven and as the pile of baked goods on the island grew, in wandered our family, now awake, to start the day with something good and warm.

As I worked in the garden later that morning, one thing ran through my head again and again. "Give us this day, our daily bread. Give us this day, our daily bread. Give us this day, our daily bread."

And He did. Can you see? All that we needed... God gave freely and simply. Time with my children. Their voices in my ears. A project shared together... and with others as well. And bread. Bread for today. Bread that satisfies our bellies for now. Bread that fills our hearts for now... and maybe for some time to come.

I didn't know what time it was when Josiah touched my face. I could have checked the clock. I could have said no. I could have slept in. How hungry I would have been.

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs, beaten
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

I add all ingredients except the zuke and pineapple. Mix well, then add the zuke and pinapple last. I cut the oil in half, replacing with homemade (no sugar added) applesauce. You could easily cut the sugar down, or replace with a more natural version. We have toyed with honey, brown sugar or turbinado. I add ground flax seeds as well (likely a titch under a cup per recipe). I also sometimes add wheat germ. Bake in loaf pans for about an hour at 350 degrees.