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....