Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve at Home

An easy party menu for a quartet of people who include a vegan, a gluten-free person, a low-glycemic-index person and a carbophile.  My criteria: no cooking, and low prep.

*chipotle-lime guacamole
*black bean chips
*slices of havarti and green onion cheeses
*club crackers
*Wasa crackers
*an array of vegetables
*deviled eggs 

We ate our party supper by candlelight--very merry!--with the playlist that included so many favorites: Coldplay, Andrew Peterson, Harrod & Funck, U2, Sufjan Stevens.....We talked about the highlights of 2015 (the beach for the children....the Biltmore for all of us...and of course Alabama Chanin for me) and our dreams and goals in 2016 (Finn: "go camping"; Annie: "have a party" with our neighbors.....)
Then we played Sorry! and I won.  I'm not sorry. 

I've been reading Wendell Berry and drinking hazelnut decaf with cream and a little peppermint schnapps--just enough to make it medicinal--and waiting for the ball to drop.  It's my first NY's eve at home as an adult, and it's so peaceful! We coaxed Annie into bed, but Finn is up for the long haul.......

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Reading List

Nancy Kelly at Sage Parnassus posts an annual reading list each year, which I enjoy looking over; this year for the first time I attempted to keep a comprehensive list of my own.  Of course this doesn't include the seemingly vast quantities of books we read for school......and I didn't include any poetry here, but I'll try to remember to do that next year (I was reading a lot of Blake this fall....)

My full list is at the bottom of the page, and my top recommendations from the list are:

Under the Tuscan Sun--For a long time I was turned off by this book because the cover of my thrift-store copy was so Hollywood (it featured a shot from the movie).  I have to say that Frances Mayes' book is excellent in its own right: cerebral, witty and well-written.  I loved the intersection of food, history and culture. If you've seen the movie and did not enjoy it, give the book a shot: it's completely different.  I gave away the thrift store copy and plan to buy a pretty copy for my personal library!

Hannah Coulter (Wendell Berry): I was blown away by the beauty of this book. It broke my heart in all the right places.  There were moments I just had to stop reading and hold the book to my heart and let the tears fall. I'd never read any of Berry's fiction before.....but I will now.

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families (John and Linda Friels)-I read this on my kindle as the first book of the year, at my father's suggestion (he read it back in the 1980s).  Truly useful discussions on codependency, addictions (not limited to substance abuse), healthy boundaries, etc.  Great for reflecting on the past and pondering the future.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Kondo).  This goes without saying--I am obsessed, and on track to Kondo my entire house (with the exception of the garage/man-cave) by spring. Marie Kondo is *in fact* a genius.

Hold onto Your Kids (Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate)-I've read my fair share of parenting books, but this is my favorite. It's a book on attachment parenting, and how a child's desire to bond with the parent is the foundation of a healthy relationship. Attachment parenting books seem to focus on the baby/toddler years, but this book's focus is more on older children and teenagers, which I appreciate! I also think it's practical and realistic.

Peace Like a River (Leif Enger): Leif Enger can write.   The book is vivid and luminous, beautiful and moving.

I have a feeling that Fierce Convictions will make this top list, too.  I'm only a few chapters in, but can already tell that I'll like it.

The complete list:

1. Under the Tuscan Sun-Frances Mayes
2. Own Your Life-Sally Clarkson
3. The Abolition of Man--CS Lewis
4. Love Does-Bob Goff*
5. A Hunger for God--John Piper
6. Eat and Run--Scott Jurek
7. Between Walden and the Whirlwind-Jean Fleming
8. Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families-John and Linda Friel 
9. Rome Sweet Rome-Scott and Kimberly Hahn
10. Walking through Fiery Trials--Mary Pat Jones
11. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency-Alexander McCall Smith
12. Waking up in Heaven-Crystal McVea
13. Hannah Coulter--Wendell Berry
14. The Hardest Peace-Kara Tippets
15. Fierce Convictions--Karen Swallow Prior (in progress)
16. Hold On To Your Kids-Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate
17. The Substitute Guest-Grace Livingston Hill
18. Seven-Jen Hatmaker (skimmed it)
19. A Mother's Rule of Life-Holly Pierlot 
20. Peace Like a River-Leif Enger 
21. Parenting with Presence-Susan Stiffleman 
22. The Orchard-Adele Crockett (in progress) 
23. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up-Marie Kondo
24. Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing Patterns-Natalie Chanin (does this count? I did read it cover-to-cover, and delighted in it!)

Now time to tackle the 2016 list--which is already long! My husband gave me Pioneer Girl and Go Set a Watchman for Christmas, so I'm ready to read!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Snippets of the Surprise Trip: Charleston Peninsula

Rows of palmettos. 

Live oaks.

Lush window boxes.

Old facades.


Flags...more than once we saw Charleston flying the French flag.  Fort Sumter was flying it!



Iron gates hiding gardens.

That certain slant of light. 

For only the third time in my adult life, we are not spending New Year's in Charleston, so I'm feeling a little sentimental!  The first time was when we rang in 2000--my father was required to work in case all the computers, security systems and such shut down resulting in a major public safety crisis.....but nothing happened! The second time I was expecting Annie and couldn't travel because the holidays were so close to her due date. 

I will miss her this year, but we loved being there in November and we have sweet NY's eve plans at home!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Soul Felt Its Worth

Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Holiest of nights!  So grateful for this day-for my father and stepmother arriving safely, for our beautiful dinner, for a two-hour nap (still getting over this chest cold), for happy children, for their matching gingerbread-people pajamas, for a tray of Christmas cookies, for Finn and Annie reciting "The Night Before Christmas" in its entirety, for the lit tree, and most of all for Emmanuel.  God with us!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Thinking about Christmas Food

This morning I am thinking about Christmas food--but only thinking, because I'm down with a chest cold.  I plan to rest up today and be in fine form for cooking tomorrow!

My father and stepmother are spending Christmas with us this year, so I am expanding our menu beyond feeding just the four of us.  I needed to have something easy, in case I still don't feel well, and something hearty enough to eat at 5:30 so carry us through our Christmas Eve church service.

 Christmas Eve we plan to have:

*mixed green salad with pear and bleu cheese 
*shepherd's pie (get it? shepherds? I wasn't trying to be funny when I decided to make it....but it works....)
*roasted brussels sprouts
*steamed broccoli

Then after church we will come back to a tray of various Christmas goodies and fresh, local eggnog for my father (the only person who likes it).   

Christmas morning, after stockings and before presents, we like to have the same thing each year:

*Christmas morning casserole
*Fresh-squeezed orange juice
*Chocolately gingerbread with whipped cream
*Cocoa for the children

My husband and father always have summer sausage, too--don't ask!  I don't understand the tradition.  But this year my husband got homemade (!) summer sausage from a colleague. 

And Christmas night is always this.

On Boxing Day this year we will go to my in-laws' house for dinner--plenty of leftovers, and because there will be football, I'll make a couple of junky dips (ranch.....cheesecake dip....)

And finally, on Sunday, we are going out for dinner with my cousin and her husband, who will be passing through town.  My husband and I are in a performance at 3:00 that day, so I opted out of cooking anything and we'll let a restaurant do the work!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Day of Celebration and Preparation

Today we celebrated Christmas with my sister (she has to work on Christmas Day, unfortunately), complete with fresh gingerbread, whipped cream, fruit, and breakfast casserole....and coffee and tea....and eggnog for the *one* person who will drink it (my sister!).  She loved her gifts from us and our children especially loved their gifts from her, so it was a pleasant and sweet morning.

After the festivities were done I went to work and haven't stopped since.  I tidied up, sewed a billy goat beard for Finn's costume tomorrow, packed a suitcase full of costumes, programs, shoes and other needed items for tomorrow's marathon day at church, had my annual Fruitcake Baking Day, washed a lot of dishes, Kondo'ed the craft and art supplies, totally reorganized the pantry (including printing labels!), practiced playing duets with Finn on the piano in preparation for the church prelude tomorrow, wrapped the fruitcakes in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and aluminum foil and then placed them in an airtight bin, baked a batch of oatmeal cookies and made rice krispie goodies (both for tomorrow's church marathon), read lines for tomorrow's church play with my husband, cooked chicken soup for tomorrow night's dinner, and cleaned the kitchen again.  And, it seems, again.  How many times today have I run up and down the stairs? A zillion. 

I was going to chalk paint a desk, but I ran out of time. I am just too tired to contemplate it, so I'll do it Monday! Instead I think I'm going to take a hot Epsom salts bath with a glass of water and lemon juice, and then go to bed.

Some days I feel I've earned my Sabbath rest.  Today is one of those days!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

At Christmas

"I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.  Take Heaven.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.  Take Peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy.  Take Joy.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away."

                   -Fra Giovanni (1513)

Friday, December 11, 2015

On Christian Parenting: My Own Paradigm

A child is created in the image of God.  This is *the* foundation of parenting.  The person who makes messes, cries over a scraped knee, wakes up in the night, talks back, gives you kisses, eats what seems like 30,000 calories a day, and generates all that laundry is made in the image of God.  The repercussions of this realization are enormous.  Every single parent should internalize this truth.

"Try a simple experiment.  Take a small child on your knee. Respect him.  Do not see him as something to prune, form, or old.  This is an individual who thinks, acts, and feels.  He is a separate human being whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become.....We are told by many in our generation that a child is a cog in a machine, or even that he is a possession, like a pet animal. Many adults now 'have' a child, in the same way that they 'have' a washing machine or a collie dog.  We must answer: No.  You are holding a person on your knee.  And that is wonderful."  (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children's Sake

"Discipline" is related to "disciple." These words both have the same root--to instruct. Most people think of "discipline" as punishment.   But to discipline is to teach, to bring into order.  We should discipline our children every day under this definition--to guide, to instruct.  A disciple is a person who is being instructed and guided by a teacher, trying to follow that teacher's teachings and principles. 

How did Jesus relate to His disciples?  He consistently, gently, and reasonably built a relationship with them.  He admonished.  He chastised at times. He always drew them nearer to Him.

Obviously Jesus was dealing with grown men who weren't going to run out in traffic or play with matches.  Children, who are immature, do need to know exactly what behavior is acceptable and what is not.  As parents we cannot assume that they know what to do and why--but it's easy for us to sometimes assume this!  We must establish clear standards, expectations, and boundaries and then train them consistently and patiently to meet those standards.  We must take the long view, but build on it every single day.  And we should do it from a place of love. (My favorite book on this is Hints on Child Training, by Henry Clay Trumbell.)

And, best of all, Jesus told stories. The power of the parable cannot be understated.  Our pastor calls a parable "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." Jesus used parables brilliantly to illustrate truths.  The Bible is full of other wonderful stories that help illustrate theology to us in an understandable way.

I think this is also where excellent literature comes into play in family life.  Hearing an engaging story triggers a child's moral imagination.  A child learns the value of courage, honor, familial love, service...using the most painless route of all, because reading aloud is *fun!*

Do not grow weary in doing good......

God uses broken vessels called parents to raise children.  We are going to make mistakes. I have seen my own clearly, but I always try to learn from them.  But I believe that these basic principles can bear fruit over the years, even if implemented imperfectly from time to time.

Seeing a child as made in His image, understanding that "discipline" means guiding a child every day, being relational and grace-filled, and telling stories....this is my scaffolding!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Peaceful Week

I am thrilled to report that the Crazy Busy First Week of December is over and things look much calmer from here on out, in terms of obligations, places to be, meetings, etc.

In the midst of it, at some point, I made myself a big pot of tea and had a couple of squares of chocolate.  

The pause, as they say, that refreshes. 

See the cardinal?  Our neighbor gave a set to us--salt and pepper shakers. At first I was underwhelmed, but Annie loves them. She added them to our Advent candles-greenery-makeshift-wreath.  Now I am enjoying their presence!

Tonight Finn had his piano recital. He played "Jingle Bells" and we played a duet on "Oh Come All Ye Faithful."  He did a wonderful job! My husband and I narrated our first of four Christmas Cantatas last night (the first is always the trickiest...will the costumes be okay? will the microphones work? But it went great!).  

So now we begin a more peaceful week, and I'm so very grateful for that.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Late Autumn Birthday Dinner

My sister turns 33 in a few days so this past Saturday we celebrated. The menu tells me we are deep into the cold weather now, although it's still officially autumn, the evenings are dark and in the morning the deck is slick with frost. Winter is on his way!

*Mashed potatoes 
*Roasted brussels sprouts
*Butternut squash-kale gratin (because she didn't get any at Thanksgiving!)
*Flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream 
*Eggnog from the local creamery; if you are into eggnog (I'm not), this is the platinum version 

The entire menu was gluten-free to accommodate three-fifths of us.

We had an extraordinarily strenuous week--unusual for our household. The dust has now started to settle!