Monday, May 21, 2018

Though the Fig Tree

After a tense weekend of waiting, we got the call at 8:30 this morning: the PET scan showed cancer. The doctor wanted us in his office for a biopsy at 3:00 (the biopsy confirms cancer, to be sure the PET scan didn't give a false positive). We talked for a long time, and then he performed the biopsy.

We'll get those results back sometime this week, and we go back to the doctor in a week for further discussion and probably for a needle lymph node biopsy because the PET scan lit up not just in my husband's mouth but also on his neck.  And we can, in fact, feel a mass on his neck.

This is such a surreal time.  In the elevator today I told my husband "I never thought I'd come here again."  When we left the surgeon's office in February I figured I was done with him; we all anticipated that. His surgeon is surprised.  We're all just stunned.  After a six-hour surgery with clean margins, a perfectly healthy 42 year old man with no risk factors comes back into the office 3 months later with cancer on his tongue again *and* in the lymph nodes?!  

Earlier this month I was looking at June, July, and August as an idyllic era of drifting between the garden and the swimming pool. Suddenly it is looking like radiation and chemotherapy.  This cancer appears more aggressive and tenacious than anticipated.  But I have news for it: my husband is the most tenacious human I know! He ran a 4:30 mile in high school, he ran Division 1 track and cross-country in college, he's no stranger to tackling challenges, and he's smart and determined.  

So today I was thinking about how we respond to disappointments, and the phrase "though the fig tree" kept surfacing in my mind.


"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights."

--Habakkuk 3:17-19



I will be joyful in God my Savior. Yes. I will. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Easy Hospitality Supper, Key Lime Pie Cheesecake Recipe & A Prayer Request

I'm just wrapping up "peak week" of May in our household.  This month is extremely busy, and this week saw the perfect storm of nearly everything: from the normal (piano, violin, co-op, art, ballet, Bible study) to the less common (haircut, ballet rehearsal, attending a play, houseguests).  

Annie's ballet recital is this afternoon and her costume is enchanting: ice blue over a pinkish-beige, with a pinkish-beige flower in her hair, and blue fairy wings.  She is nervous and excited.  Three-fourths of the grandparents will be in attendance, and I'm about to go pick flowers for her bouquet.  I could have ordered roses from the ballet school, but the coral bells and peonies and lilacs are peppering my flower beds right now! And they're free! 

Tonight we're hosting grandparents after the show, so here's my Easy Hospitality Menu:

*roasted Yukon gold potatoes
*steamed broccoli
*key lime pie cheesecake 

It's simple, healthy (I mean, minus the pie), and easy. This morning I'm prepping the chicken and bacon, cutting the broccoli, and making the pie.  So this evening all I'll need to do is cut and roast the potatoes (easy), steam the broccoli, and cook the chicken!

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The key lime pie cheesecake recipe is a standby here and one of my signature desserts, so I'd love to share it:

*Two-Layer Key Lime Pie Cheesecake*

Acquire or make a graham cracker crust. 

Set out an 8-oz package of cream cheese to soften. 

For the baked layer: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together a can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup key lime juice (I sometimes just use regular lime juice) and 3 large egg yolks. Pour into the crust and bake until set--about 8-9 minutes in my oven. Let cool.

Once the baked layer is cool, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese with 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk  (yes, more of that!), 1/4 cup of lime juice, and a little dash of vanilla. Beat until smooth, then pour over cooled baked layer, and smooth the top.  

Cover and chill until firm--at least four hours or so. If you want, pipe whipped cream around the edges before serving, but I never do it!

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And finally, if you feel led, please join me in praying for my husband.  His routine 3-month checkup with the surgeon on Wednesday revealed some anomaly that may be scar tissue from his surgery in January or it may be a recurrence of cancer. He will go in next Friday the 18th for a PET scan.  We always want to pray that God's will be done, but I'm also praying that God's will is that this is merely scar tissue.  I spent a little while in agony over the "what ifs", which are scary to consider, given this particular type of cancer, and now we're just waiting.  God very clearly gave me this Bible verse on Thursday morning: 

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. 
-Psalm 27:13-14

And so we do. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

My Daily Dozen: Prioritizing Ideas

I am continuing my blog posts on my "daily dozen": the twelve habits that I use as the scaffolding or my life during this season.

The first four habits I use as the scaffolding for my days in this season of life are physical: resteating wellexercise, and fresh air.  

Now I'm talking about prioritizing relationships. I wrote about Bible reading and prayer, spending time with my children, and prioritizing my marriage.  

The fourth relationship I prioritize is my relationship with ideas.

What?  Ideas? 

Now we're getting a little metaphysical!

Leave it to a student of philosophy to put ideas up there with a husband and children.  But our ideas matter.  What we read matters.  What we think matters.  The things upon which we reflect, the narratives we allow to play in our mind, the way we view our life and problems, and the worldview to which we subscribe all matter with (I believe) a life-or-death urgency.  So yes, prioritizing ideas is essential to me.

Ideas shape us.  Our ideas will ultimately lead to how to live our life.  So much depends on this: do we wallow in self-pity or do we get on with things?  Do we believe in positive change or get stuck in a destructive mindset?  Do we believe in forgiveness or do we entertain bitterness?  And so on.

Ideas matter, so I spend time each day on ideas.  However, I usually don't have hours to spend on ideas, because each day I stay busy with homeschooling, housekeeping, exercise, laundry, cooking, music practice, taking care of my children, et cetera.  So in this season of life I find pockets of time for engaging with ideas by:

Reading 

Of course I try to prioritize Bible reading time. I also love to read other books. Right now I primarily read non-fiction books, and I generally read after my children are in bed at night. In some seasons I read a lot more than others.  For instance, right now I'm barely reading much at all because our spring schedule is quite full and I am working so hard, but when summer comes and we start going to the pool, I'll read during daylight hours for at least an hour or so every day!

Books are a huge subject--sometime I will do a blog post on the books that have influenced me the most in recent years. There's no room here for that--but stay tuned.

Listening 

I like to listen to sermons online, or to interviews between interesting people on YouTube.  Sometimes I will watch/listen to a Youtube video while I fold laundry or cook dinner. Sometimes I'll find a podcast and listen to it via my laptop, because my low-budget phone doesn't handle things like that.  When I was painting the beadboard in our laundry room I remember listening to hours of sermons. I don't listen to anything regularly, but a few things I've enjoyed are:

*The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast (I've listened to a few of these, my favorite is probably Sarah Clarkson)
*The Daily Connoisseur on YouTube (I've been following Jennifer since before she became a bestselling author, and I feel we are kindred spirits, particularly in the realm of prioritizing home life)
*Any talk or interview with Rosaria Butterfield--she's so grounded and has a fascinating story (Google her or search on YouTube for more information)
*Revive our Hearts Radio (a handful of these each year, but I enjoy them)
*Bravewriter on YouTube (every so often, for homeschooling inspiration)
*NT Wright talks on YouTube (I heard him speak years and years ago in person and I really enjoy his lectures)
*Lydia Sherman on YouTube (I love her focus on domesticity--inspiring)
*Socrates in the City (fascinating talks and interviews)
*John Piper sermons and talks
*Tim Keller sermons and talks

It probably goes without saying, but I don't agree with every single thing every person says on these channels!  Engaging with ideas also means being smart enough to reject what you believe is untrue or off-base. :)  That's my disclaimer.

What do I avoid?  I will listen to people with whom I disagree, but I will not listen to anyone who uses foul language or is crude, insulting, or demoralizing.  (Remember Philippians 4:8!)

Occasionally Reviewing the News

I barely pay attention to the news.  In general I don't think dwelling on the news--which changes constantly, is often negative, frequently involves fear-mongering--is healthy. Some of the unhappiest and/or most anxious people I know are the ones who watch the news all day long. We are saturated with news right now in a way that is unprecedented in the history of humanity, and I don't think this is a good thing.

 In any case, I'll just say that it's not for me.  What I do is scan the national and local headlines a couple of times a week online, read our local weekly newspaper each week, and listen to NPR on occasion in the car. If an election is coming up I do pay closer attention to the news and my husband and I talk about the candidates because I think it's so important to vote intelligently. 

Intermittent Online Reading 

Last but not least, I do like to read some non-news sites, like blogs.  I tend to focus on sites that inspire me in the life I am leading right now: that is, a life of taking care of my family and my home. I don't have time to read blogs every day and sometimes I go weeks without reading them, but I do have a handful of favorites! I will try to do a separate blog post on those sometime in the coming weeks.

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These are the primary ways I prioritize engagement with ideas at this stage of my life: reading books, listening to inspiring talks and sermons, judicious engagement with the news, and some occasional online blog reading.  I love to learn and think, and although I could happily while my days away in a university library somewhere, that's not practical for me as a wife and mother, so I engage with ideas in little bits and pieces of time here and there throughout the day, and it works very well for me in this season of life. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

My Daily Dozen: Prioritizing Marriage

The first four habits I use as the scaffolding for my days in this season of life are physical: rest, eating well, exercise, and fresh air.  

Now I'm talking about prioritizing relationships. I wrote about Bible reading and prayer, and last week I wrote about spending time with my children.  Today I want to write about spending time with my husband.


(If you have seen my Instagram you will know that this was Easter Sunday, and my husband apologized to me that day for not having time to shave [Easter is crazy for us with church services, family dinner, etc!].  So this is his mountain man look..but there was no need to apologize.  This guy had cancer earlier this year...do you really think I care if he shaves?!  Let's remember what Really Matters in life!)

As a married person I believe that prioritizing my husband is important.  After all, we were married for years before we had children (nearly eight, in our case!) and, God willing, will be married for years after our children leave the nest.  During this busy season of life it's not easy to make time for each other, but I try to keep this at the forefront of my mind and heart.  What it looks like differs from person to person and couple to couple, and I don't think there's a "right" way to do it. 

I've read that married couples must have weekly "date nights" in order to keep their relationship strong.  We have never managed this or even tried to do this, and it hasn't negatively impacted us at all. I think that's because we just invest in our marriage every day in tiny ways.  But every couple is different, and perhaps for some people a weekly date night is essential. 

Some couples also spend time together each evening after their children are in bed.  But we don't usually, at least not on weeknights!  Our children go to bed around 9-9:30, and I get up around 6:30, and my husband is often up by 4:30. By the time everyone is tucked in and the house is quiet, my husband is fast asleep (he's almost always asleep before the children) and I'm on my way to a hot bath and bed as well.  So we don't hang out after the children are in bed, watching TV, like so many of my friends and their husbands do. In fact, I can't remember the last time my husband and I sat and watched TV together.....

So, we don't really follow a lot of the common "rules" for maintaining a good marriage!  But we have a wonderful relationship that I thank God for nearly every day because it's the happy, solid cornerstone of our family life. My husband is my best friend and I admire him immensely.   

Here are a few things that I do to prioritize my marriage, especially during this busy season:

1. Touch base during the workday.  My husband doesn't use a cell phone and isn't interested in chit-chat.  (He's an engineer, and if you know an engineer, you'll know they tend to be efficient with communication!) But once a day or so I'll send a quick email to check in or ask a question and I always try to say something nice. I'm not artificial or mechanical about it--I just add whatever kind comment is on my heart, any encouraging word I think he might like to hear...that sort of thing.  I don't call him and try to talk unless I have a specific question, because we're too busy for phone conversations during the day.   But a quick email works perfectly. 

2.  We try to talk for a few minutes each day without children and without screens.  Sometimes this extends into a nice long talk while the children play outside or while we wash dishes together. Sometimes it just means touching base for a few quiet minutes.  But it's conversation without a cell phone, laptop, or TV screen distracting us.  

3. We laugh a lot.  We find the humor in life. Sometimes my husband will show me funny things he has seen on YouTube and we have a massive store of "inside jokes" that we've amassed over the last 18 years of marriage. After my husband's surgery we sat in his doctor's office at the follow-up appointment giggling about something and when his doctor walked in, he remarked that healing would probably happen quickly because we were laughing and happy...and it did! Laughter is one of those things we share every day. 

4.  On the weekends, we do spend more time together, but we're not rigid about what this looks like, and we don't keep a set schedule for our time together.  We just live life together and enjoy each other's company.  That sometimes means yard work, or a hike in the woods, or whatever, and nearly always our children are nearby, but it's still time together and we still appreciate it. 

5. We keep a shared vision of life and do not jockey for importance or power in our relationship.  I think intimacy is damaged by power struggles and we simply do not engage in that. I know couples who do, and I'm not trying to be prescriptive, necessarily, but simply to describe what I believe is healthy and good for us: remembering what's Really Important (so many things aren't!), respecting each other's interests and gifts, and not trying to control each other.  

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My marriage is one of the great, surprising joys of my life. My parents divorced when I was about six years old, and although they were friendly with each other, I did not have the experience of living in a home with married parents.  Growing up I always dreamed of marriage but never figured it would happen so soon to me or so successfully.  So I don't take it for granted that this man is devoted to me, and I try to prioritize our relationship on a daily basis! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lovely, Simple Granola

Granola is one of those foods that is often very expensive to purchase but is quite easy and inexpensive to make.  Here's the recipe I use, which we love!

Ingredients:

4 c. rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sliced almonds or whole pecans 
1 T. cinnamon 
2 T. ground flax seeds
1/3 c. coconut oil (or any other oil you'd like to try--but coconut gives a nice flavor)
2/3 c. honey (I use a raw honey that I buy in bulk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients together. I use my KitchenAid mixer to mix at the lowest setting, with the paddle attachment, for a minute or so.  Bake on parchment paper at 300 degrees for 10 minutes, then stir and bake another 10 minutes, but be very careful not to burn!  My oven runs hot so I typically do 300 for about 10 minutes, then stir, then another 5 minutes, then I cut the oven off and let it sit for a few more minutes because I really like to dry it out.

After baking and cooling, you can add in other goodies, such as dark chocolate chips, bits of dried cherry, etc.  During baking you can stir in some coconut, just take care not to burn it--so I'd put it in near the end.

My husband loves this granola, which helps fuel all those long runs he does.  I like a tablespoon sprinkled on my Greek yogurt sometimes. (But I don't run up and down mountains, so portion control is essential for me.)

Annie likes this mixed with a sugar-free compote of summer berries. 

And for most of her life she has called it "granana," which is, of course, so endearing.  Finn is the only one who doesn't like "granana," but that's alright: more for the rest of us!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Spring Rush

This was me a few Easters ago, taking photos of my children.  My niece took this picture!


The photo doesn't have to do with my post; I just like it and haven't transferred any photos to my laptop lately, so I don't have any photos to post here, although I feel that I take loads of pictures.

Here's my Intagram feed where I share occasional photos. 

What's happening here lately?

First of all, I'm blindingly busy.  I haven't lost my cool over this for two reasons: first, everything winds down by the end of May (I'm so glad!); and second, it is never far from my mind that instead of dashing my children to soccer, piano, co-op, art, scouting, and ballet, I could be driving my husband to daily radiation treatments in the city.  Remembering that puts it all into perspective for me. 

Even so, I'm looking forward to summer.  This summer we may do swim lessons, but that is it!  We are intentionally carving out a summer that is as free of obligations as we can get.  (And next school year I am already intentionally re-scheduling our days to avoid this busy-ness again...I hope.)

Second of all, even when I'm home, I'm hopping.  Between exercise, taking care of meals, staying on top of the laundry, trying  to keep the house manageable, practicing violin, and (oh yeah) homeschooling the children, I rarely stand still. I try to take a little time each day to relax either with a walk on our farm or a few quiet moments with a book.  

Third, as always, I'm working on trying to balance my own goals (exercise, music, gardening, cooking, housekeeping) with the needs of my children (read-alouds, talking, playing, school)...it's the hardest thing for me.  I constantly have to check myself to be sure I'm not pushing my own agenda too hard....and most of the time I believe I am. Of course all of my own tasks need to be done, but I want to be sure I'm not doing them at the expense of my children.  Such a delicate balance!

I plan to keep writing about my Daily Dozen habits.  I'm not faithful to write a post every week, but I'm enjoying writing posts in my head as I drive around town and wash the dishes, and it's only a matter of time before I'm able to sit and type them!

Life is extraordinarily busy but also extraordinarily good.   

Monday, April 9, 2018

My Daily Dozen: Spending Time with my Children

Today I want to continue with the theme of the habits I try to use as the scaffolding for my life. The first habits I wrote about (resteating wellexercisefresh air) are all focused on gaining and maintaining physical health.

Now I'm moving into some habits that are important because they help maintain healthy relationships.  Healthy relationships are vital!  Have you watched this Ted Talk?  I was fascinated by it!  In essence, relationships are even more important than exercise!  I recently read The Blue Zone,  a book that probably deserves a whole post of its own, and it reaches a similar conclusion on the importance of relationships. 

So first I wrote about the habit of daily Bible reading and prayer, which cultivates the relationship with God.  Today I want to write about fostering relationships with my children. 

My own situation is that my children still live at home with me, so I (happily!) get to see them every day.  It's important to me, as someone who spends so much time with my children, to make sure I'm not taking it too much for granted.  I know that the years fly by quickly. So here are a few basic things I try to do each day:

*Give a kind greeting in the morning: snuggles, kisses, hugs, happy words. I want my children to begin every day knowing that I'm happy to see them!  Fortunately my children sleep until about 7:30-8:00 each day, so I have ample time to get up, exercise, and drink a little coffee so I'm awake enough to be cheerful. But even on rarer occasions when I sleep in and someone crawls into bed with me I try to be sleepily kind and happy to see them!

*Read aloud each day.  Reading aloud my be my parenting "love language," if such a thing exists.  There are few things I love more than sitting together in a cozy place and sharing books with my children.  This is one of those sticking points that seems to keep me away from traditional "schooling" at home: I want to be sure we have enough time to read together each day.  My ideal is Bible at breakfast, something at lunch (today it was history and Aesop's fables), a novel in the afternoon (we just finished Charlotte's Web for the millionth time and are about to finish The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the second time. If we spend too much time diagramming sentences, for instance, there's less time for reading aloud.  And reading aloud means so much to me.

*Give them my undivided attention for a period of time each day.  This is not easy in the course of a busy life, but it makes a world of difference from the child's perspective. "Look at this!" or "look at me!" or "see what I can do!".....these are things that matter to the child.  I try to be mindful about pausing to make eye contact, genuinely listen to a story, answer questions thoughtfully, and so on. Annie craves someone to play with, and it means the world to her when I spend half an hour just playing with her!  Finn wants someone to talk to, to listen to his ideas, and answer his crazy inquisitive questions, and it means so much to him when I do this.  They both love for me to play soccer with them or act silly with them or do a craft with them.  It's hard for me to pause my to-do list and do these things because I love to Get Things Done, but these "invisible" things are among the most important things of all.

*Bless them with a kind tuck-in at night.  This is the hardest one of all for me. I am usually so very tired by the end of the day that I just want a quiet house and a warm bed!  But it's important for my children to feel loved, secure, and happy as they fall asleep, so I take the time to pray over each of them, give kisses, and sometimes answer Deep Questions or discuss issues that have arisen during the day.  Half the time I'm ready to bolt for a hot bath and a book but I do try to be patient and kind and make bedtime pleasant.

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Finn turns 11 (!!!) this summer, and Annie just tuned 7. As my father likes to say "time nor tide waits for no man".....so it's important to spend the time wisely.  My best friend has told me that she doesn't regret the years her daughter (now in her mid-twenties) was little because Allison genuinely tried to *be* with her daughter and take full advantage of those years.  I love this and am inspired by it.

So those four acts are the basic daily things I try to do to make sure I'm fostering a loving relationship with my children.  There are loads of other things we do, too, and homeschooling provides constant access to each other.  It's just so easy to become too distracted! So for me a sweet wake-up, a read-aloud session (or three), some undivided attention, and a kind tuck-in at night are all habits that reorient me away from the distractions and back to investing in the hearts and minds of our children.  They need that, and so do I.