Beautiful Day

Saturday, May 26, 2012

In Which I Have a Little Fascination with England

There are some noteworthy events this year that have a British association.  First, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking and second, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee as the reigning monarch.  Titanic studies are always fascinating to me.   The most exquisite dress I own is the Titanic one I made.  I just enjoy the Edwardian era, in general.  But I find that my knowledge of English and European history is rather lacking.  I was never made to memorize lists of kings and queens.  Not that I think it is entirely necessary...but I DO think it is essential to understand such history in terms of how it has been God's story woven over time.  I have learned a great deal about how the Reformation and the Scottish Covenanters influenced the foundations of this country!  So I am taking the opportunity afforded from these commemmorations to have a bit of a British focus here at home.

I have never been to England, though I have been to a few other European countries.  Some day I am still hopeful to get to England, particularly the countryside.  I dream of spending some time in Beatrix Potter's Lake District, or Jane Austen's Chawton and Bath.  It would be necessary to see Pemberly of course, and perhaps Emma's Box Hill.  I'd like to stroll through Oxford University.  I really think I could have fit in well with the scholarly life of Oxford.  That would have meant a whole lot of different things in my life, so no, I wouldn't change a thing!  God knew better (MUCH better!).  Now I think I'd add Highclere Castle to the list of sights.  Don't know where that is?  Maybe you will by the end of this post.  I'd like to see places of the great British hymn writers and at least say I've been to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the great London Museum, but honestly London would wear on me really fast.  I don't enjoy big cities for too long.  I much prefer quiet places with room to think, dream and smell the roses!  The English gardens would be calling my name!  (Along with a quiet bench or tree swing, quaintly situated within such gardens).  The country estates would be where I lingered.  Reminds me of my affection for the Biltmore Estate......oh, how I LOVED that place (and miss it dearly)!

So, on my nightstand (or any level surface in my house near a place to read) are a few titles to spur my appreciation for England:

Elizabeth, the Queen is quite a big biography for me to read.  It may or may not be important to you that this is not an "authorized" biography.  As I understand the life of the monarchy, it seems that an "official" biographer is chosen upon the death of a monarch.  Nevertheless, the author has done a great deal of research and interviews countless associates of Queen Elizabeth II.  I find her story interesting because she is of my grandparents generation and so it helps me relate to the events of their lives in history.  I have known next to nothing about her.  I couldn't even keep straight how each of the royal family was related to each other.  And I don't really have one of those huge fascinations with the royal family, other than the beautiful regalia that surrounds things like royal weddings or events.  I find I have a great appreciation for the burden of the role she was born into.  And great sympathy, for I would not yearn for such a role as hers.  I think it must have been incredibly difficult for her to raise a family while having to please the country and fulfill her role.  Many times I felt this lump in my throat.  For example, when she would often have to leave Prince Charles and Princess Anne and would even be away from them at Christmas.  I also cannot help but be reminded that she possibly came into this role at such an early age because her uncle abdicated the throne--a reminder of the consequences when men do not fulfill their role as leaders.  All this to say, I think she is quite an interesting person to understand more about.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon is a book I found on a historical "Downton Abbey" reading list.  Now I must say, I am amazed to find that "Downton Abbey" has such a huge following!  At one of my local libraries, I would be number 9 in the queue to read this title!  Fortunately I have another library I can use where I was number 1 in the queue.  First, my little note about "Downton Abbey."  I do not wholeheartedly endorse it!  There are character issues, integrity issues, and occasional scenes to call into question.  In fact, after the first season I was convinced it was a soap-opera-period-drama.  The story was compelling and the mix of characters very interesting--some to like and some to very much dislike!  I wasn't going to see any more of it.  But a trusted friend started the first episode of Season 2 and had good things to say about the changes since Season 1.  So I decided to try it out and was pleasantly surprised.  Still, there's issues and still there's integrity flaws, but the character development particularly in Lady Mary drew me in.  And, of course, the whole "Mary and Matthew" romance.  Though I really grew to like Lavinia too.  That, and the added element of World War I--one of my favorite time periods in history to study.

This book tells the story of one of the women behind Highclere Castle--the wife of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon.  Yes, there it is!  Highclere Castle is the setting for "Downton Abbey."  And there are remarkable similarities in the main story.  She was like Lady Cora in some respects.  And the castle WAS used as a convalescent hospital in World War I.  Intriguing history.

And then there's this title:

Tender Warrior and I started watching this series together as our little "date nights" once a week when the children are in bed.  Again, it was suggested by my dear same trusted friend.  I really LOVE this series.  It's not without a few faults (especially in Season 1), but the script writer is amazing!  We appreciate how the theme is woven through several characters throughout the whole episode.  The cast of characters is fascinating and somehow this series manages to make you feel very much a part of each one's life and story.  I also like the small village life and the countryside (there it is again).  So I am most eager to read "Lark Rise to Candleford" but I just know I will likely not finish it before it has to go back to the library.  One thing about the library and holds--sometimes they come all at once!!

And, what would be England without tea!  Tea, wonderful tea!  I just love these ones for special occasions.

I admit...sometimes I buy them just for the pretty tins!  Like this one, for the Titanic anniversary.

I heard about the Royal Wedding Tea last year in my Victoria magazine.    A white tea with almonds, coconut, vanilla and pink rosebuds!  What could be more lovely?  It does taste a bit...royal :)

And, I just noticed they created this one!  They must have done it after I placed my order....sigh.

Is this quite enough about England?  Oh well, I am enjoying taking a stroll through history and an imaginary jaunt through the countryside.  It is always fun to learn alongside my children.  Life is never dull when there is so much to learn!  We are reading some books together on England this next month as well.  Here's one that is really interesting in time for Memorial Day weekend:

This book is a very well done visual journey through World War I.  We attend a local Memorial Day remembrance every year and they always read "In Flanders Field"--a famous poem from World War I. Now, I finally have some real perspective on where that came from!  And trench warfare sounds absolutely, positively horrible!  It makes me appreciate the sacrifices of soldiers EVEN more!

May this weekend inspire you to know more of God's story in history and the heritage that has come from it all....whatever your particular historical inspiration might be!  And do take some time to remember why it is called "Memorial Day."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Inheritance and Integrity

Photo credit

Last week I was reading a devotional by Jerry Bridges.  It spoke of inheritance and how we do not comprehend the riches of our inheritance in Christ.

"To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."
~Ephesians 3:8, NKJV

"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,..."
~Ephesians 3:16, NKJV

He is speaking of the riches of the gospel--that we are now heirs with Christ to all His unsearchable riches.  But we know it not.  It is as though we had received an inheritance of $100,000 but relegate ourselves to begging for bread.

THIS is how I am starting to view media as well.  That doesn't mean I'm on a crusade to end all media consumption and demand that others do so too.  Yet I see a challenge before me.  God has truly given me a grand inheritance--in many ways and forms.  One of the most beautiful and precious treasures is my family.  And I am only beginning to comprehend just how fast the years fly by and how fleeting is the time I have to invest in loved ones.  I do not wish to squander the inheritance I have been given!  And I see, that in our culture (and I am not exempt), there is this tremendous pull into virtuality.  And virtuality is a poor substitute for reality, especially where meaningful relationships are concerned.

I write this as one who does not spend all day on Facebook.  In fact, I am resisting Facebook.  Nor do I watch much of any videos.  I have my select ones I enjoy watching--special times with my husband once a week, and a family movie night once a week.  We do try to carefully select and monitor.  And yes, we can even have disagreements under our own roof about it.  I don't say any of this to puff myself up as some grand example.  For I am not.  I write it to give you perspective of just how much pull media can have even for one who really tries to draw strong boundaries around it.  So when I consider its impact on me and my loved ones, I write as one who knows what that pull feels like and who has to constantly evaluate what I allow in my life and use of time.

Email and even social media has its positive qualities.  Some are even very positive.  I treasure that I can keep up conversations with people I am genuinely connected to on email and blogs.  In fact, my closest friends who do use the computer to communicate (I have several who do not) are like me, I think.  We either can't stand or have no time for the phone, but for rare occasions.  So we keep up with each other by email and/or blog.  My point is a tool.  I do view it that way.  But like everything, we must exercise caution.  This tool has power.  And so much of its power seems to be wrapped up in either a.) escape and amusement (read...wasting time!) or b.) the fact that we are all narcissistic and want to feel that we are "liked" and belong and feel we have something valuable to contribute.  Belonging IS important.  But again, virtuality is a poor substitute for real relationships.  Media needs to enhance real relationships, not replace them.

I am sensing for me, that it's really a matter of integrity.  What do I want to do with the time God has given me?  How do I want to invest in the lives of those entrusted to me?  I want to display a true integrity to my children when it comes to the use of media.  And I don't want my hours to suddenly be vacuumed up behind a screen!  No matter how important my research might seem (and I can get lost in researching, because I enjoy it so much).   I can't have that time back.

We are still in the midst of watching and processing the film, "Captivated."  How much it is challenging me.  I keep thinking about a passing comment in talking with a friend.  Most of her children are older.  And they have never watched a lot of television, though they do like movies.  She said recently that she wishes they had watched even less because she thought the time could have been better spent.  Here are a couple of points from the film that I am thinking about:

1.)   "What the brain does a lot of, it gets good at."--  I think this was spoken of in terms of distractions and even attention deficit.  I think I have "trained myself" to be easily distracted over the years.  I think it's an easy thing to do in the midst of managing a busy household.  Multi-tasking is a valued trait in our society.  But I am starting to think there really is no such thing as multi-tasking.  I cannot give focused attention to more than one thing at a time.  Did you know that a contributing factor to the Titanic tragedy was that the passengers were enamored with a new technology called the telegraph and they all wanted to use it while on board?  The telegraph officer silenced a neighboring ship's warnings about icebergs because he was too busy sending "important" telegraphs!  You can read more about it here. 

2.) "A man may be judged by his standard of entertainment as easily as by the standard of his work."--I have always believed this, but find it a good principle to be reminded of.  We are easily taken captive "through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8, NKJV)  We must always evaluate our choices and hold them up to Scripture.  We always have to ask ourselves the proverbial, "Does a fish know it's wet?" question because we live in this world and cannot always see its influence on us.  Do you know that Christians are just as guilty of supporting Hollywood in all its forms, as the general population?  And it's really not only about the content in terms of language, violence, or sex.  Today's animated movies are just a kid-friendly guise for slipping in all of the above in a non-discerning parent-approved form.  It's really about the worldview being everything!  Those other categories are just reflections of that.

These are just a few succint thoughts mulling about that really have their root in this:  I have an amazing inheritance through Christ!  But I can be as Esau---trading the tremendous gifts that are my birthright for a measly pot of beans.  I want to live with true integrity in how I spend my days.  And I don't want screens to keep me from what truly matters.

***For some more wonderful thoughts on "Personal Integrity" by Sally Clarkson, visit here

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Instead of Serious Thoughts....Serious Cookies!

I've still been mulling over my thoughts related to the conference and other things I have been thinking of lately that all seem to center on using time wisely with my family and relationships that I value.  It takes me awhile to process and sometimes I just don't have the time (and it isn't the priority to blog...because though I enjoy processing thoughts here, it isn't the critical place for me to do so).  But I really am working on a post that I hope will be done in time for Mother's Day that is of a more contemplative nature.  Today I'm interrupting the serious thought processes to bring you.....COOKIES!  (And I don't mean those tracking things on your computer!  Why did they have to give those such a nice name anyway?)  I wish I had taken a picture of my first batch of cookies because they were the large ones and looked "prettier."  The ones above were a smaller batch, so they would stretch farther as many of them were shared with National Guard members (because everyone knows that two smaller cookies are more than one larger one, right?)

I mentioned that we shared lunches with dear friends during the conference. Julianne provided the sandwiches and yummy accompaniments.  I brought apples and some cookies the first  day.  These aren't just any cookies. ( I just finished eating one as I sat down to write this).  I digress to another story first....

Recently, the children and I took a trip to a local Farmer's Market.  My Country Girls were eager to go and find more inspiration and it was their reward for completing their piano syllabus exams earlier in the morning.  We had a very early breakfast that morning to get to the recital on time, so we were getting rather hungry while strolling through the Market.  We passed a farm stand with some baked goods that truly looked both delicious and healthy.  I indulged and bought us some cookies to split several ways.  Oh, we liked them very much!  And immediately my mind went to work.  You see, I have this DIY-nature about me.  It means that I will almost always find something I like and try to replicate it.  Or I'll balk at the price of a loaf of bread (or delicious cookies) and think to myself, "I can CERTAINLY make something like this at home!"  It's one of my favorite challenges to undertake.

So I came upon these cookies, which seemed more like a glorified granola bar to me.  They were loaded with seeds, fruits, and a little bit of chocolate to top it off.  All encompassed in an oatmeal cookie.  So I came right home and soon I was in the "test kitchen."  I decided they would be the perfect thing to take on our trip.  I made a big batch to share with friends and family through the several days we were gone.  And they were a hit with everyone who tried them.  I had several people ask me for more.

Here's the recipe.  Because someone dear requested it.  It makes a big batch as it is designed to make big cookies (like the sizes of those ones they sell at our Farmer's Market).  It also is a perfect size when you have many people who enjoy them.  If you desire a smaller recipe or smaller cookies, you may cut the recipe in half.  If you have a smaller mixer you may need to cut it in half.  This recipe fills my professional-grade Kitchen Aid to capacity!

The Everything-Oatmeal Cookie

2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped (I used pecans)
1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
(you could also add or try:  dried cherries, dried apricots, raisins or just about any other dried fruit or nut you might wish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Toast nuts by chopping them and placing them on a baking sheet.  Bake for 5-10 minutes, watching carefully so they do not burn.  They are toasted when they are lightly browned and fragrant.  Let cool.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy and smooth.  Add the eggs and vanilla extract to combine.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and whisk together.  Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat together.  Carefully stir in the nuts, oats, seeds, dried fruits, and chocolate chips until blended.

For large cookies, measure out 1/4 cup batter--an ice cream scoop works well.  Drop them onto cookie sheet and space cookies about 2 inches apart.  Gently shape outer edges of cookie dough to make a nice round and flatten with your fingers to 1/2"-thickness.  Bake the cookies for about 12-15 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges but soft in the center.  It might take a little practice to find just the right point at which to remove them.  Ideally you want them not to be overbaked and crispy, but a softer texture.  Remove from oven and let the cookies cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before you transfer them to a wire rack to cool.  Store in an airtight container when fully cooled. 

**As a little note, if you have very little ones who might be sampling these cookies you might want to pay attention to the pumpkin seeds, which are a bit larger to chew up**

Makes approximately 40-48 large cookies.

Now that the cookies are done, you I can go back to more serious thinking.  I'm just sure these give my brain more energy for such work!  These will be a staple in our cookie-making repertoire.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Challenged, Inspired, and Blessed

We recently had opportunity to travel to our favorite conference of the year.  It's always a highlight to pack up our clan and take this mini-vacation.  Some years we actually piggyback a family vacation on the heels of the conference.  I love that because it's not a busy time of year for vacationing, thus the places we go are quiet.  And quiet makes for lots of thinking time and lots of nature exploration.  It's just a winner for us all.  But this year we have different plans, so we just went for the conference.  As usual, we were not disappointed.

The children had time with Grandma and an aunt and uncle.  This aunt and uncle moved to a new house last fall.  It has a gorgeous garden area to sit and walk in (when it isn't windy) and I would be out in it every nice day if I lived there.  The cherry blossoms and azaleas were particularly striking this time around.  Across the street is a field to play soccer in and then there are woods to hike in, which made for fun excursions for the children.

Warrior and I were challenged and inspired by timely messages from Dr. Voddie Baucham and a man we had never heard before--Philip Telfer of MediaTalk101.  As part of a Family Night presentation we were treated not only to amazing musical talent (we are ready for music camp!) and a dramatic interpretation about Titanic, but also to a preview of the film "Captivated."  It is a documentary all about the influence of media on our lives and learning to think critically about its influence.  Just the short film version was completely engaging.  The "thinker" in me was very engrossed.

Among my favorite messages of the conference were Voddie Baucham's exhortations regarding our marriages and "Education and Worldview."  Philip Telfer's "Understanding Worship in an Age of American Idol(atry)" was very much not what I expected, but very much exactly what I needed! (and for the record, no, I don't watch "American Idol" and that's not what the heart of this message was about).  I am going to have to write a whole post on that one because I sincerely want those lessons to stick.  I also greatly appreciated his message on "Regaining Focus in an Age of Digital Distractions."  Boy, do I need this!  I am forever in need of regaining focus.  There are indeed too many distractions and many of those can be related to this screen on my desk!! (And I don't even do social media except this blog).  I appreciated how Mr. Telfer purposely chose not to use any PowerPoint slides or any other media for this message to help make his point!  Very clever.

And on a very practical level, I was so inspired and blessed by a workshop given by Susan Bradrick, Emily Hageman, and Betsy Bloomfield.  My, oh, my these ladies are amazing!  I wish I could be a fly on their walls or something (I've wanted to do just that in the Bradrick's home for years!).  Their love for Scripture just pours out of them!  A dear friend and I both attended this workshop, which was actually geared toward beginning home educators.  We are both seasoned ones.  I went both because I wanted to hear these particular ladies speak (two of them are cousins of a very dear friend) and because I was hoping for some renewed vision in teaching my littles.   I was not at all disappointed and I was so thankful to be reminded of recapturing the purpose behind what we do---to fill these little minds with the Word of God and everything that is true, noble, right, pure, excellent and praiseworthy. And how much this needs to live in me first!  The enthusiasm of these ladies was so contagious!

The icing on the cake was to get to enjoy sweet little reunions with friends we usually see only at this event each year.  It was a delight to get to know some of them better and to share life together, if even for only a brief two days (and far too brief it was, indeed!)  Julianne is amazingly organized and hospitable and we were the blessed recipients of her well-planned lunch set-ups.

I will be taking some time in the days ahead to re-evaluate how I spend time with my husband and children, how to keep the media monster at bay (even for one who isn't a big media fan, but who IS a big information fan), how to spend time on what really matters and how to persevere with a heart of sola reformanda.

Soli Deo Gloria!


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