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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Believing the Mystery

"Saint Bernard declared there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this child; that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of the three."
(From Martin Luther's Christmas Book, collected in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie, page 26)
The last is not the least. Belief in the impossible must itself be the greatest miracle. And it is one that we can witness in ourselves this Advent.

May God's grace be on us, that we may believe the Mystery, that we might be a miracle.

This Sunday is the first Advent Sunday. We'll be lighting a purple candle, reading Scriptures, and singing carols to begin our focus on the month-long anticipation of Christmas, the great celebration of the Incarnation.

As the days of Advent pass, we'll be filling up our Jesse Tree with ornaments and meditating on a Jesse Tree devotion. How are you meditating on the Mystery this Advent?

"There is such richness and goodness in this nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy." (Ibid)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On the Trail of the Santa Fe Trail

We spent the Monday of Thanksgiving week in Council Grove, Kansas tracking down the Santa Fe trail. We did this four years ago, the last time we studied the 19th century. In the intervening years our growing children have leafed through the album of that trip so many times that they have begged to return to the humble Kansas town. It doesn't take much to amuse us, I'm sure, for there isn't much to recommend about Council Grove, but we had the best of time retracing our memories.

Lunch at Hayes House. Climbing around the Western-themed playground. Rolling down the hill on the bank of the Neosho River. Pitching seed pods at tree trunks. Taking pictures at trail markers and special, albeit dead, tree trunks. Running around an old stone barn dating to the 1850s. Peering hopefully into a field of dry grass, hoping to see the swales of the trail.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cooking Day

When my friend T first asked me to consider freezer cooking for a month with her, I almost dismissed it without another thought. I'm glad I didn't, though, and we set a date.

Armed with the advice of several bloggers, T. helped get us organized. We started gathering recipes and entering them into a shared spreadsheet, multiplying quantities times six, since we hoped to get three entrees per family, per recipe. It seemed ambitious, but we thought that if we went to all the trouble, we wanted it to be worth it. Our families are similar in size, so we thought we could easily split everything 50-50.

We gathered 12 recipes, about half with ground beef, half with chicken--a few meatless--and then had a planning meeting to come up with our shopping and cooking strategy. We planned to buy a case of chicken breasts from Sam's Club and some 10-pound packages of ground beef in addition to using some of the venison that I already had in my freezer.

Twelve recipes. Three per family. That would give us each 36 entrees. If I used four per week, this would last nine weeks. This was a big motivator! 

We categorized our ingredient list into the three stores we planned to buy from, then met again on Shopping Day. It took us about three hours to hit three stores. She took home about half the meat and I took home the other half plus most of the pantry items since we would be using my kitchen. Here's a picture of most of our non-refrigerated purchases (minus the boxes of soda). Shopping lesson learned? Cheese is as expensive as meat.

Prep. The night before our Cooking Day, we cooked the chicken breasts in 18-quart electric roasters. This was wonderfully easy. The cooked chicken fell apart as we chopped or shredded it up in preparation for Cooking Day. We reserved the liquid for chicken stock, which we needed for several recipes. Because our ground meats (beef, venison, and some Italian recipes called for pork sausage) needed to be browned with or without onions, we saved this task for Cooking Day.

Some of our recipes called for cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup. Rather than buying these soups, we opted to try a homemade recipe mix that used dry milk and bouillon. I mixed this up the night before. Meanwhile, T figured that our case of chicken had a little more than our recipes needed, so she took the extra chicken and filled two bags per family of uncooked chicken breasts in a marinade, ready to thaw and bake or grill. That gave us two bonus entrees. Lesson learned? I think we did the right things for preparation.

Cooking Day arrived. T. and her daughter Joanna arrived around 7:15 a.m. and we quickly got to work. Joanna and my daughters Hope and Sydney started chopping about 30 onions. We were all teary over that process as the odor wafted through the house! Lesson learned? It is worth it to use a food processor for this task. Chopping onions is very time consuming. If we didn't have our girls to help, this would have been better to do ahead.

The day progressed and we worked through ground meat recipes first. We worked well as a team and our daughters were an invaluable help. They made the manicotti filling, piped it into about 100 manicotti shells, and also made nearly 200 meatballs. Although we roughly planned to work on meat recipes before chicken, we didn't have a strict order planned in advance. This was our first attempt and it was hard to imagine ahead of time what the day would be like and what would be best.

We quickly discovered that our pots and pans and bowls were not big enough. However, we had two 18-quart electric roasters and while we didn't think ahead of time that we would need them on Cooking Day, we ended up using them all day long! We made the chilis, enchilada sauce, sloppy joes, lasagne meat sauce, and soup in the roaster pan, using the heat for a few of the recipes that needed simmering. (Remember that roasters do not work for browning ground meat. This must be done on the stove top.) We used the second roaster pan as a giant mixing bowl for the manicotti filling and the chicken enchilada casserole. Lesson learned? We would have been lost without those big pans.

T and I had no idea how long the day would take us, but I thought we might finish around three in the afternoon. Instead, it took until about 6:30 that night. We worked nearly eleven hours straight and this included three very capable daughters helping us most of that time. Without them we could never have achieved nearly 40 entrees per family and probably would have had to scale back ambitions as the day wore on. You might think it would discourage us that it took so long, but we learned so much throughout the day that we both feel confident that next time will be easier. What did we learn? We had too many recipes that had multiple steps, such as lasagne and manicotti, and several that required bringing sauces up to boiling, which takes time when you are making large quantities. Our next Cooking Day will include more recipes, like chicken enchilada casserole, that simply need to be assembled. I'm very glad, however, that we did some more complicated recipes because we both admitted that we never bother to make them usually because our lives are so busy.

The entire day was worth all the effort after we proudly posted our Freezer Inventory List. After all the clean-up was done, I just kept going back to that list congratulating myself.

About 40 entrees! Made for about $7 per entree. That's a fantastic average for feeding a family of seven. Best of all, I'll be able to spend more of my kitchen time in December baking and enjoying Christmas cooking. Thank you so much, T, for inviting me to join you!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Divided Attention

I feel that the pie that is my brain is being divided into ever-smaller slices. It feels as if my attention has never been so divided. There are so many events, ideas, books, movies, and projects tugging at me in this weekend before Thanksgiving. If you think I am getting batty, here's why:

I've had a fun couple of weeks leading my sixth graders through a study of Charles Dickens and an abridged version of David Copperfield. Meanwhile, my kindergartner has been requesting his favorite picture-book version of A Christmas Carol, which is putting us all in a Christmas mood. All of the kids read a collection of Dickens stories presented in comic-book style (this wonderful Marcia Williams book), and Oliver Twist was a particular favorite, so we've been squeezing in a bit of Oliver! over the last two weeks, a little at a time. The David Copperfield movie is next. I'm holding the line and waiting to play our audiobook of the full Christmas Carol until after Thanksgiving.

If only I had a few days to read some of the Dickens books I loaded on the Kindle. I've never actually read David Copperfield. Cricket on the Hearth would be fun. And after our recent study of the French Revolution, I'm sure I'd appreciate A Tale of Two Cities quite differently than I did has a teenager. Which reminds me that I'm convinced the best way to enjoy literature is to study it alongside history.

But I don't have time to read Dickens. After all, I didn't even get far in Les Miserables, which I started reading a few weeks back, hoping to finish by the end of the year. We're a big fan of the musical Les Miserables (I know, who isn't?), so when Lane was assigned an abridged children's version of that novel, all the kids read it, some several times. I was pretty thrilled when, last week as we read about the Three-Day Revolution in France, Sydney said, "Mom, this is the revolution in Les Mis. You know, the barricades?" 

The girls are loving their study of Queen Victoria and the Victorian age and are particularly interested in the changing fashions of the period. Which has me happily collecting images from Pinterest for their display board on the topic. If I had the time, I'd study more on 19th century fashion and costumes. One of my daughters could spend hours studying period dresses. Maybe she'll design dresses someday....

Speaking of Pinterest, aren't there so many tempting projects to be found there? I roped some friends into making ornament wreaths last weekend, and now I have my eye on sewing stuffed-songbirds for Christmas ornaments. Not to mention the crochet projects I'd like to get done. I wish I could sit down for several hours with the girls and crochet with them. They've been learning the craft with a group of friends and are working on all sort of projects.

There hasn't been much time for crocheting this week, though. A friend invited me to try freezer cooking with her and this weekend is our big Cooking Day. Yes, that needs capitals. We've got big ambitions for tomorrow and spent the week planning for the big event. More on that later.

We're happily taking Thanksgiving week off from our school routine. After a day trip to Council Grove (I forgot to mention that Toby and I have been reading Holling's Tree in the Trail), I want to get the kids working on making Jesse Tree ornaments. We've done all sorts of Advent devotions and activities, but this is our first year to do a Jesse Tree. I've been scouring the internet for manageable ornament projects that we can actually do. We'll see. I've got some other Advent plans in the back of my mind that I'd like to pursue. 

Our favorite Thanksgiving picture books are on the coffee table to remind me that I need to read them to my younger kids. I can't forget that! It is a great sorrow to me that I've lately had to out-source most of the picture book reading for Toby and Lydia. It has been hard to let my older kids have the pleasure of reading Old Hat, New Hat repeatedly to Lydia when I'd like to be the one doing it. It is so cute when she says, "Wait!" I'd really like to read Toby the beautiful library book I found about a little girl who came to America from Ireland during the Irish potato famine, but I think Hope or Sydney will get to do that instead. They read to him every day when I teach Lane grammar.

Hope and Sydney are starting in on MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin this week. I'm hoping to read it myself during our Thanksgiving break. The girls were supposed to read to chapter eight this week, but Hope just told me, "Mom, I accidently read to chapter 17." MacDonald was a significant inspiration to C. S. Lewis. Wouldn't it be great to spend a few weeks reading through MacDonald's books? I wish I could. They will be spending four weeks studying the book for their Tapestry studies. I'm really looking forward to discussing it. Speaking of goblins...

I have abstained from Harry Potter all these years, but after the final book was released and I heard talk of the Christian imagery, I decided to check it out for myself. I don't really have time to read it right now, but it was on the library shelf when I walked the children's fiction "R" section. I impulsively threw it in our library box, because when I looked for it over a month ago, it was checked out. I suppose Harry Potter ought to be read straight through, but I'm reading it about five pages at a time. I'm usually asleep by the sixth page.

It is anything but boring around here. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November Thanksgivings

I love that more and more people are spending the whole month of November intentionally giving thanks. Advent is coming, but let us not surrender November to Christmas celebration, but let it be Christmas preparation by remaining a month of thanksgiving, capped off with the wonderful feast-day of the Thanksgiving holiday itself, which then turns our eyes toward Advent.

With thanksgiving on my mind, it seems that every word of thanks that appears in my daily Bible reading seems to jump off the page at me. And I'm noticing something.

Biblical thanksgiving always flows from the observation of the works of the LORD.

"I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, . . .
Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them. . .

The works of his hands are faithful and just
all his precepts are trustworthy." (Psalm 111:1,2, 7)

"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

With Christ, giving thanks is an act of worship, of praise, of submission to the Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

Without Him, it could be a list of self-congratulation. A Pollyanna glad-game. A band-aid over the wound of life's search for meaning.

With Christ, a month of studying His works and giving Him thanks for them prepares us to celebrate the greatest work of all, the hinge-point of history that is Christmas. God with us.

For those without Him, perhaps a month of giving thanks will prepare hearts to unwrap the gift of Hope and Peace with God this Christmas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Whole Duty

I'm getting back to basics with my kids, giving myself a pep rally about expecting prompt obedience. Charlotte Mason calls it the "whole duty of a child," and even "the whole duty of man."
"The Whole Duty of a Child--First and infinitely the most important, is the habit of obedience. Indeed, obedience is the whole duty of the child, and for this reason--every other duty of the child is fulfilled as a matter of obedience to his parents. Not only so: obedience is the whole duty of man; obedience to conscience, to law, to Divine direction." (Page 111, Kindle edition)

"It is in little matters that the mother is worsted. 'Bedtime, Willie!' 'Oh, mamma, just let me finish this'; and the mother yields, forgetting that the case in point is of no consequence; the thing that matters is that the child should be daily confirming a habit of obedience by the unbroken repetition of acts of obedience." (Page 113, Kindle edition)
I really like Charlotte Mason's ideas and her influence on modern home schooling culture, but sometimes I'm run down by the enormity of giving five children all that they need and striving for my ideal and feel discouraged. Why can't I be more like Charlotte?

Then, I noticed this in Home Education:
"But they should have the best of their mother, her freshest, brightest hours; while, at the same time, she is careful to choose her nurses wisely, train them carefully, and keep a vigilant eye upon all that goes on in the nursery." (Page 24, Kindle edition)

If I had a staff of household help that I could choose wisely and watch vigilantly, I might be able to present only my best, freshest, and brightest self to my children. Instead, they get all of me, the best, the worst, and the mediocre.

I'll keep aiming for my ideal, but I'm thankful for the grace of God which reminds me that really, He is the shepherd of my children and through His sovereignty He is using even my worst to mold and shape the character of my children and reveal Himself to them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gentle Exhortations

The tyranny of the urgent. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Fire-fighting. Tail wagging the dog. Whatever the metaphor, it seems that events and circumstances of every day--or hour--pull me along, leaving me little time to consider if I'm going in the right direction.

And what direction should that be? I want to mother with gentleness, being affectionately desirous of my children, ready to share not just the Gospel of Christ with them, but also myself, because they are so dear to me. I want my own conduct to be holy, righteous, blameless, and infused with a constant spirit of thankfulness. I want to exhort each one of my children, and encourage each one, and charge each one to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls them into His own kingdom and glory.*

I want to be praying, hard, that each one of my children would accept the word of God not as the word of men, but as it really is, the word of God, which is at work among us.*

And not only do I pray that by God's grace I might mother this way, but that my ministry at church and in my community would also be guided in this same way. 

This is not my reality, but it is my prayer, and while I am completely incapable of attaining this, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able.

*You might recognize that this prayer is based upon I Thessalonians 2:7-13

Friday, November 4, 2011

October 31, 2011

We keep our Halloween celebrations pretty low-key, but here are the kids in the costumes they put together. From left to right, John Wayne, Davy Crockett, and two ladies ready for the ball.

Just for fun we pulled an old Dorothy dress out of the dress-up basket for Lydia, but she wasn't happy about posing for the camera!

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