Beautiful Day

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Top Eleven Books of 2011

Year's end has me pondering and reflecting.  It's one of two occasions in the year where I evaluate, plan and dream.  I love the new hope that a new year seems to offer--how should I most wisely invest my time?  What will cause me to grow spiritually?  How do I love my husband and children better?  Where will we possibly vacation this year?  What skills do we want to learn?  What and who should I/we then read?  How should we then live (to borrow the phrase from Francis Schaefer)?

Some wise person has said, "You will be the same person in 5 years, except for the books you read and the people you meet."  So I've been maintaining a reading list for the past few years.  I wish I'd kept such a list for most of my life.  I enjoy looking back at what I read in the course of a year.

Following my friend Carrie's lead, I am focusing presently on my top book reads for the year.  I was going to do my "Top Ten."  But I noticed I really wanted to keep eleven.  And that just seems appropriate for rounding out 2011.  So here we go.  I'm not necessarily ranking them here, but highlighting them in the order I read them.

1.)  "Reforming Marriage" by Douglas Wilson---Theologically deep and inspiring.  I like Wilson's "No-Apologies" kind of writing.  I think he gives some of the best writing out there on the beauty and power of how marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church and what that means for us and those who witness every day!  This one goes to the top of my most highly recommended marriage reads.

2.)  "Across Five Aprils" by Irene Hunt---Since we have some Civil War-savvy children in our home, this was one we wanted to read aloud.  It was moving and well-written and we all enjoyed it very much.

3.)  "Holy Cows and Hog Heaven" by Joel Salatin---I appreciate all that Joel Salatin is doing in this country to reform how food is produced and consumed.  And I was kind of disappointed to miss his local appearance this summer.  This book made me laugh with his all-too-true humor and opened my eyes more to how important it is to support local farmers and those who are truly seeking to make a difference in a nation where food-consumption is becoming all too regulated.  I have a Country Girl who is quite passionate about this too and she would love to live on a farm that operates like Salatin's.

4.)  "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp---This woman's writing really stirs my soul and makes me think deeply (as if I need help doing that!)  I appreciate her honesty and transparency in her writing and how she has caused me to reflect more on gratitude in the smallest of moments and seeing God's hand in even the mundane.  There is one chapter in this book I do not care for, but the rest I find very meaningful and powerful.

5.)  "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois---Yes, it's a cookbook!  And one that has given me a few more tools in my bread-baking-knowledge repertoire.  I love the techniques I've learned from them and how it has both simplified and enhanced some of my bread baking.  Such an easy method that just takes a bit of a learning curve in technique.  I love this!

6.)  "Emma" by Jane Austen---I did manage to read a classic by Austen.  Hurray!  It took me awhile, but I enjoyed every moment.  Especially after having watched (a couple of times) the newest (extremely well-done and true-to-the-book) BBC version of the movie.

7.)  "The Ministry of Motherhood" by Sally Clarkson---This is a re-read for me ( a couple of times over, I am sure).  No year is generally complete for me without at least one Clarkson book.  She has been a mentor -by-book for me for many years and I just need the vision she imparts on a regular basis!

8.)  "Little Men" by Louisa May Alcott---Oh, a second classic on my list!  My Young Warrior requested this one and so I read it aloud to all and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

9.)  "Health for Godly Generations" by Renee DeGroot----I had a blog post in the works for this book alone, but I don't know if I'll get it finished.  I really appreciated this book and its theology regarding food and health choices (Did you know that even food has a theology??  It is true).  This book goes to the top of my recommended reads on the topic of nutrition and health and I like the "whys" discussed, its biblical groundings, and that it gives a bit of practical direction as well.  This book encouraged me to re-evaluate food choices and that is always a good place to revisit each year.

10.) "Reformation Heroes" by Diana Kleyn and Joel Beeke---I took the course of two years during the months of October and November to cover this book with my children.  I learned so much about the Reformers and came away with a much greater appreciation for these men and women of faith!  It's glossy pages and illustrations also make you feel like you are holding something very valuable and almost gives you a sense of reverence just by holding it!  I also learned quite a bit of English history as well.  This is one of those that needs to be revisited every so often and the month of October is a good time to do so.

11.) "Keeping Holiday" by Starr Meade---I held onto this book all year to wait for the Advent Season to read it aloud to the children.  Oh, it was worth it!  It is a clever tale that conveys the Gospel and some Reformed theology woven through the search for "The Real Holiday."  It has hints of Pilgrim's Progress, Narnia, and The Mysterious Benedict Society.  Thus my children would groan every day when we had to stop!  They begged for more of the story and I daresay it was the favorite read of the season.

That's my list of favorites--all eleven of them.  To date, I read 43 books this year, which is turning out to be about the average for me.  Though there's always plenty to read, I am quite content with this amount.  More important than numbers though, are the lessons gleaned and whether they are changing and impacting me so that I continue to live by Semper Reformanda---always reforming.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Candy Cane Pancakes

On a recent walk we were discussing food.  Food is a popular topic this time of year, after all.  Since Christmas Eve would be on a Saturday, we were thinking of creative breakfasts.  Saturday is our usual pancake-or-waffle-type day.  They take various forms and flavors from week-to-week or season-to-season.  And on most Saturdays my Tender Warrior even makes them.  Nowadays he even gets help from Young Warrior.

Our favorite pancake recipe has been in use for over a decade now--ever since I began milling my wheat and storing whole grains, and a like-minded friend in the South shared her recipe with me.  I've since adapted it some.  And I smile as I look in my recipe box and see how I've expanded the recipe to make enough for our growing family as they eat more and more pancakes.

 So I had this thought....what about Candy Cane Pancakes?  How should we make those?  I didn't want them TOO sweet, but I thought some kind of chocolate and peppermint flair was in order.  So of course I did an internet search.  I saw a few kinds of red and white pancakes--even ones in the shape of candy canes.  They really do look striking.  But I am not keen on red dye in my food.  Nor do I generally eat white pancakes.  I love my multigrain pancakes too much and I do prefer to eat something nourishing.  So here's where I landed---pancakes with a chocolate-peppermint syrup and chopped candy cane pieces on top.

This was my plate and it's true that I am usually sparing with the syrup so that it's not too sweet.  These were very tasty and I think they will make it into an annual tradition along with the Gingerbread Pancakes.  You could probably put candy cane bits in the pancakes if you so desire.  I think I would prefer to try them with those Andes Peppermint Chips sometime!

Multigrain Pancakes
Dry Ingredients:
4 cups golden wheat flour
1 cup oat flour or other flour (cornmeal, barley, buckwheat, etc)
4 TBSP Rapadura sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Wet Ingredients:
4 cups buttermilk
up to 1 cup milk, as needed
4 eggs
4 TBSP coconut oil or Spectrum shortening, melted
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together to blend.  In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients.  Stir buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients until well combined.  Cook them on a griddle on medium heat, flipping when the edges look dry and there are bubbles on top.  Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Chocolate-Peppermint Syrup
1 cup water
1/2 cup organic light corn syrup or brown rice syrup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2.6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. peppermint extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, syrup, and cocoa powder.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the bittersweet chocolate and peppermint extract.  Let cool a little to thicken for serving.

Serve pancakes with the syrup and crushed candy canes on top! 

I hope you might enjoy a new Christmas-time treat. It was a fun and productive experiment in our home!  Candy canes and chocolate or not, these pancakes are yummy all year-round!  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Perfect Bookshelf Solution

In the early fall, as school preparations were in full swing, I noticed this grand idea in a few places around the internet.  I tucked it away as something I thought would be perfect for my Princesses' bunk bed.  You see, we are a little bookish around here (rather, A LOT bookish to be sure)!  And as a result, we have this problem.  Books all over the bed, stacked at the foot of the bed.

I also believe in each child having their own spot to display a few of their own things.  So when I saw it, I fell in love with the idea.  What is it, you ask?  A bookshelf made of a vinyl rain gutter!  And if I had the space, I might just line an entire wall with these because I think they display books in such an attractive and winsome manner.  Just like when you go to a library or bookstore and you see the faces of books looking right at you and they beg you to pick them up and open the pages.

But not only do they hold books.  They also hold a few of a child's beloved treasures, like dolls and stuffed animals in our case.  And I love how they hold the books upright.  No more trying to find bookends to hold up the stack of books that wants to keep falling over.

I thought this was a grand way to make the most of the limited space a bunk bed has.  It was a great father-son project for my Warriors.  And it was easy!  Delightful and lovely and my Princesses are happy.  Mama is also happy for organization and no more book piles on the bed.  Maybe I should put some of these next to my bed?  I have a hard time containing my own pile of books!

For a tutorial on how to make these, visit here .

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Crafting----Transparency Stars

Two years ago, I took the children to a local "Winter Light Festival" at the Waldorf School.  It was a lot of fun and we came home with some beautiful handmade projects.  While I do not subscribe to the overall worldview of a Waldorf education, there are many things I find admirable about it.  I love the emphasis on learning through the hands and I love the quality of craftsmanship associated with their projects.  I also keenly appreciate their desire to engage children with the natural world (God's world) and natural materials to make things with.  When we visited the school, I needed a quiet place to change a diaper and lo and behold, found the room of dreams for creative play!  It would have been my childhood dream room to have one so filled with wooden play kitchens, tables, tea sets, dolls and doll beds draped with play silks.  Oh, I think I rather coveted it at the time!

So through the years I have collected materials and made many projects that are Waldorf-oriented----beeswax candles, books to teach children various hand skills, and the wonderful signature cloth dolls.  I think Tasha Tudor herself would have approved of such handiwork.

One of the things we came home with that day was a star made of colored transparency paper that has the appearance of something like stained glass when it hangs in the window.  So I determined to find some of those materials myself.  I've had them sitting around for at least a year and this year it was time to bring them out.

 Little hands needed lots of help with the folding, but they could manage to choose colors and place the glue stick in the appropriate places.  Bigger hands enjoyed creatively arranging designs.

These look lovely in the windows.  And with all of us working, we have them in many windows.  Notice the patterns the folds make on the inside of the stars.

This one is made with foil paper and this is indeed the perfect spot for it.

Now I'm off for today's projects.  As always, so much we want to do.....never enough time!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Crafting---Glitter Cards

We are finally making time to do some of those much-anticipated craft projects .  I treasure these times because, like our read-aloud times, they are moments where EVERYONE wants to join in the fun.  Eager hands come to the table and little ones learn to be patient for their turn to have Mommy's attention for their own project.

What is Christmas without glitter?  Remember the days?  Oh, I loved this stuff when I was a child and my children love it just as much.  Day One was card-making.  Out came the blank cards, glue, and several colors of that magical shiny glitter that transforms everything!

Glitter, glitter everywhere!  Christmas trees, candy canes, Stars of Bethlehem, snowmen, snowflakes, holly and even nativity scenes (this one was a little tricky but Little Princess insisted on Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus on her card so I must oblige to such a scene as this!  With a little help from Tomie dePaola)

Country Girls are a bit more sophisticated in their designs.

When all is done, we have quite a number of cards all over the dining room table.  I think they're beautiful in all their simplicity.

Oh, and at the end of the day, I quickly put together these little guys.

I was a little caught off-guard by how fast St. Nicholas Day came around this year.  Plus I had some sick little ones on that day.  So when I took a little belated visit to St. Nicholas Center I found this idea and adapted it to something I liked better.  I think they're rather cute myself.  And I'm happy to be making them even if I am a little behind.  They will be ready for next Saint Nicholas Day!

I hope you are making time this season for fun projects with your children.  It passes so quickly.  I am about ready for Christmas to last 3 more months just to enjoy the sparkly lights and beautiful decorations throughout the dark days of winter.  And if I had my way, we would probably ONLY make crafts and read every day!  (Okay, we'd bake and eat too).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scenes of Advent and the Hope of the Gospel

With some small ones with colds and coughs and Warrior on drill weekend, we are home this Sunday morning. It is delightful to sit together and sing the songs of the season that worship the newborn King come to save the likes of us. It's even more delightful to sing these songs, gazing into the eyes of my own little babe and wonder what it was like for those who followed the star to Bethlehem to see and for Mary, his mother. 'Tis incomprehensible, I think, even as a mother who tenderly loves her own children, to truly understand the mystery of it all.

I brought down the harp today. Almost nothing so soothing to my heart as the sounds of these strings. I wish I could do the instrument justice and maybe someday that might happen, but the beautiful thing about the harp is that you almost can't make it sound bad. My Young Warrior enjoys playing tunes by ear on it.

We chose a conference message by Pastor John Piper as our sermon for today. I am keenly aware of making my life count for God's glory. I am also keenly aware of the great chasm between the woman that I am and the one I really want to be! So his conference series on the theme of "Don't Waste Your Life" seems wholly appropriate. I think it's my favorite Piper book. Today he spoke on "The Origin of the Unwasted Life." What I didn't anticipate was just how encouraging a message on total depravity and the hope of the Gospel would be! I love his definition of what total depravity is. To paraphrase, it is that we prefer the beauties and pleasures of God's creation to God Himself (Romans 1:23). We prefer His gifts to us over Him. We prefer to be in darkness rather than in the light (John 3:19). We prefer to be comfortable on our cozy couch (his analogy) to preferring another. I appreciate that Piper chooses this definition of depravity over law-breaking. For he says that we can "keep" laws with a begrudging spirit (if you are a parent, you know all about this.....Amen??) So the recognition that we are totally depraved should drive us to the Gospel daily. Without it, we would be utterly hopeless. I am powerless to change myself. I don't especially like to admit that (because I rather like self-sufficiency). Yet this is so liberating.

Having heard these words today, I am left with an appreciation in my spirit even more for the joy and hope that Christmas symbolizes. So I thought I would share some scenes of Advent here.

Our Jesse Tree is a tradition we started 2 years ago. I love that it tells the story of the Gospel each day of the Advent season.

Our Little Princess received this set last Christmas. I so appreciate having nativity sets that can be played with by little hands.

And we still have this set I found at a Playmobil store in Florida on a special trip we took when our Country Girls were small. I think we've lost a few bits here and there (if you know Playmobil, you know this is easy to do). But it remains a highlight of every Christmas for the children.

And I have the "big people set"--the breakable one that sits up high. Alas after about 18 years or so, it does have a couple of small casualties like a donkey's broken ear and a shepherd's broken arm. But I still find it a sweet reminder of a shopping trip with one of my still-kindred-spirit friends in the days of that first AF assignment. We both bought one for our homes. I think of her every time this nativity set emerges from its storage box.

And my favorite picture of peace today....(I can't resist pictures of my little ones asleep).

As today is Sunday we will all gather together this evening at the table, lit by lantern and Advent wreath, talk about our weekend, and read from our Advent devotionals. We try to make a simple tea-time each Sunday, but especially during the Sundays of Advent. There are far too many recipes to try and never enough time to try them, but we rejoice in the bounty of what the Lord has blessed us with. Last week it was two kinds of cranberry bread including my recent favorite cranberry-pecan sourdough artisan bread, homemade eggnog, peppermint crunch chunkies (oh, these are so good!) and always the bowl of popcorn. It's a delightful way to end the Sabbath and begin a new week. Here's to the hope that the power of the Gospel will penetrate my heart in new ways this week and this Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Celebrating Advent---the Book Basket

The celebration of Advent season has a long history in our family---that is to say, long for one generation, as in the length of time WE have been a family. It was on the first Sunday of Advent that my Tender Warrior proposed to me as we sat on a bench overlooking the waters of the Montlake Cut connecting Lake Washington and Lake Union near our college campus, our one candle aflame while we read from a devotional these verses:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[a] his shoulder,
and his name shall be called[b]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

~Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV
On that evening, candle held steady to illuminate the pages, a drop of wax landed on the page. It is still there today--a sweet reminder each time we open its pages.

So it is with such delight that we approach Advent each year. I confess this season makes me want to drop all of the daily responsibilities that are pressing, curl up on the couch with my children to read, read, read. Then pause and do some fun crafting with them. Make cookies. Nestle in in the evenings by the cozy Christmas lights and peruse the Christmas issues of Victoria magazine. Take my time to soak in my Tasha Tudor Christmas books and video (I would have LOVED to visit her home in Vermont and have tea!) Knit soft and cozy hats or sweaters for my loved ones......well, you get the picture. It is true I will do all of these things in some way during this season. Yet I'm still trying to find a balance between simplicity, schooling, and the desire to create.

Last year one of the fun things we did was to wrap children's books---one for each day of Advent. This year I had a notion that I wasn't looking forward to gift wrapping them all and throwing paper away every day. Not to be a Scrooge, but this has been a year I've been trying to make more reusable options for various things around our home.

So, I came up with the idea of these little book jackets! There are so many adorable Christmas fabrics this time of year. Country Girl and I spotted the horse fabric a while back and couldn't think of anything to use it for. So I was delighted to get some for this project. It's just such a beautiful design!

This is essentially like a little pillowcase for books to hide in. I know it might not keep the littlest of children from opening them too early, but that could be fixed by tying a ribbon around it just like a gift-wrapped present. Right now it works perfectly for us. I keep the books, wrapped in their sleeves, in a basket near our Advent tree. Each day one child gets to choose the book (we rotate through the children). The Christmas books return to the basket to be enjoyed throughout the season. When the season is done I have 24 book sleeves (that probably only took me as much time to make as it would to gift wrap each book) to tuck away and pull out for next year, when I can quickly select books to tuck in and assemble my basket.

One simple solution I am rather happy about! I look forward to continuing this tradition for many years. Hopefully it might leave a little extra time for looking over those Christmas books, magazines and cookbooks, or creating other fun projects.


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