Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Plan for the New Year

After a day of hiking in Muir Woods, admiring God's handiwork displayed in the redwood forests, and a short visit to Muir Beach, to let the kids get their feet wet in the chilly Pacific water, I was tired and sleepy. A home brewed latte and a book in the sunshine used up all my remaining energy. And in this quiet afternoon I hid away from the crowd and finished the last few chapters of 2 Chronicles and Revelation. I finished my Bible reading plan for the year.

Whether you are resolute or a goal setter, or neither, reading God's word through once a year (even if you don't start in January) is one thing I can guarantee is a worthwhile pursuit. The pursuit of God is always worthwhile. So here are the two plans I have used in the past:

The M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan is the one I will use again this year. The plan has you read every day of the month, but also has you read the New Testament through twice. Twice is nice.

Or try the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan available through John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist Church website. This one is handy because only 25 days of the month are scheduled, leaving a few days every month for the flesh. Or, if you're a better person than I am, extra Bible study.

I'm also planning to read Proverbs through once a month all year. I last tried that in college and loved the familiarity I had with Proverbs at the end of the year. And I'm hoping to make a little space in my schedule to linger slow and long over chosen sections of the Bible, beginning with the book of Hebrews.

This month as I read 2 Chronicles 27:6 I was struck by these words and have made them part of my prayers. I want to be spiritually mighty because I have ordered my ways before the Lord.

So Jotham became mighty because he ordered his ways before the LORD his God.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books for the New Year

As promised, here is the reading plan for 2012. I allotted 52 books, and the slots filled fast. Crazy fast.

I'm of the opinion that it is dreadfully dull to plan my reading for the year, but I will read better books. And in the end, when you multiply 52 books per year by, say, 50 more years, it's really not very many books to read. I don't have time to waste on inferior books. Right? Maybe. Next December I'll give you my final opinion on a year of planned versus unplanned reading.

Theological/ Christian Living/ Etc.: 
1-2. Puritan books from last year
3. Scots Worthies
4. Augustine's Confessions
5. City of God
6. Calvin's Institutes
7. Imitation of Christ - Thomas a Kempis
8. Desiring God - Piper
9. The Great Divorce - Lewis
10. Shaping of a Christian Family -Elizabeth Elliot
11. A Call to Spiritual Reformation - D.A. Carson

12. Daniel Deronda - George Eliot
13. Jane Austen Book
14. Three Musketeers
15. Plutarch's Lives
16-25. Horatio Hornblower Series

26-28. Shelby Foote's Civil War books
29-31. Shaara's WWII Trilogy
32. Becoming Dickens
33. Biography of Dostoevsky - Leithart
34. One other book review book
35-38. Kids school books I want to read

That leaves me with a little, a very little, room for fun and pleasure. Who do I like to read for fun and pleasure? Charles Todd, Ellis Peters, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Wodehouse. Notice a dominant theme? I love a murder mystery with a clean, well-written story line. And my brother has recommended Manalive by Chesterton, so I'm already filling one of the few remaining spots.

Whew! I can't wait to start reading. But that's true, with or without a list.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books: The Year in Review 2011

Last year I shared the five best of the year; my five favorite books. Here, again, the end of another year, another five best of the year. I finally met my goal of 52 books, or I will have met it at the end of this week. Too bad it can't be an ever increasing challenge. I am just about maxed out at 52, at least while I have kids under foot.

I am sorry to say that the books I chose this year were unremarkable. I chose too many at random off the library shelves. Picking five great books was easy; there was no overwhelming list of excellent titles. There were, of course, the books I read by Puritans. My goal was 12. I finished six. They were all good, but several were great, so I will list my favorites. But when I looked to other categories for favorites I was dismayed to realize I had enjoyed so few books.

What I need is a remedy. What I need is a carefully chosen book list. A good book list. I hate planning. I love living moment by moment, wandering library stacks day by day. But that didn't serve me well this year. I'm making a list and I'll share that tomorrow.

The book reckoning this year, in no order whatsoever:

1. Horatio Hornblower by C.S. Forester is one of Sam's school books. I'd like to read all my kids' school books, but that's not possible. Keep in mind: if your kids' school books are so boring you don't want to read them, your kids feel the same way. Hornblower was so fun I plan to order, and read, the entire series.

2. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. There came a point in this book at which I couldn't put it down. I won't spoil it for you. I'll only point out even a lone Navy Seal can't survive alone. We need each other. Black Hawk Down was also excellent. I'm not especially interested in Mogadishu, but this is the book referenced by every other military book I've read, and I wasn't disappointed.

3. Adam Bede by George Eliot. Years ago I purposed to read every Eliot book. Then I realized how long her books are and what that entails. I'm now aiming for one book a year. This is my favorite of her books, so far. Next up will be Daniel Deronda. Austen's Persuasion ranks high, but if I counted Austen books I re-read they'd make the list every year. Jane Austen rises above the five best of the year.

4. Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel was one long learning adventure.

5. My two favorite Puritan titles were The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and The Godly Man's Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil by Thomas Watson (which I loved as soon as I read the title). I highly recommend both of these. They are well worth a slow and thoughtful reading.

George Grant, at Grantian Florilegium, has an excellent post on the Literary Life. He quotes C.S. Lewis, who wrote:

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.  We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend.  He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world.  In it, we should be suffocated.  The man who is contented to be only himself, is in a prison.  My own eyes are not enough for me.  I will see through those of others.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On Christmas

It was a white Christmas in Colorado. In the afternoon we trooped outside. The kids filled the quiet air with shrieks of delight as their sleds flew down the sledding hill. Even Dad joined in the sledding fun, although he paid for the fun he had with a sore and aching body. I made my own path through the snowy river bank and found a quiet, sunny tree trunk, and read a few words from the Bible. A few words spoken by the Christ whose birth we celebrate and seek to honor every day. The Christ I rejoice to know, or rather: rejoice because He knows me, as Paul says in Galatians. I rejoice because He knows me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Love is a Gift

Love is a gift. Love is a present with a bow on top. Love is a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day. Love is a surprise on Wednesday. Love is a gift from a far away city at the end of a trip. Love is bringing Starbucks home on a cold night. My heart strings are untied when I unwrap the gift. They bind every package I give away.
But that’s just me. Years ago Bryan and I read the Five Love Languages. The book did not transform our marriage; it gave me a translation guide. Gift giving or receiving, doesn’t speak love to Bryan. When he wants every Christmas gift to be something practical and useful, with long term benefits (like a microwave) it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. When he politely declines all gifts on his birthday, he’s not sacrificing joy, he’s content.
It’s easy to see how we might fail to understand each other.
God is a great gift Giver. I know the gift of life he’s given in Jesus Christ. The love He’s lavished on us; He’s no stingy Giver. I know every good and perfect gift comes down from Him. I know He gives the gift of the Spirit. Not everything I ask for, but everything I need; and promises every gift I need to rightly love  Christ. All of this I know, I have known.
We listened to a sermon on Sunday in the car, and in those words God gave me a gift. I untied the bowstrings, my heart strings, and peeked inside. He gives all His goodness to woo me to Christ. And I thought more carefully about God as the Great Gift Giver, speaking my “love language.”
God doesn’t just give presents on the expected occasions. He surprises. He says in Ephesians 3 He is “able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think.” I haven’t asked for it. I haven’t even thought about it. Do you know what that is? It’s a surprise.
God surprises on Wednesdays, and every other day besides.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Road Trip

We load the kids. We travel the miles. We sing our silly songs. We do our silly dances. We count license plates. We eat snack food. The kids fight in the back seat. Dad jokes about needing a special kiddy seat that the Long Arm of the Law can reach while he drives. The mature crowd laughs to P.G. Wodehouse's Two Left Feet from Librivox.

"He disguised himself by changing the color of his necktie."

I love Wodehouse. His books aren't fine literature. They're not high culture. They're not actually instructive in any manner. But they're fun. They are vacation books.

Hope you have an equally fun vacation with time for the superfluous, like Wodehouse.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Grandma's Stollen

We've been busy here, preparing for the holidays and flying into a packing and cleaning frenzy. We've been doing a little celebrating too. Yesterday we had our "Class Christmas Party." The whole school was invited, even the Principal (that's Dad in homeschool lingo).

I make my Grandma's stollen once a year, at Christmas, though I love it far more than the frequency indicates. Sometimes though, you love something more if it really is a rare treat. But stollen isn't hard. Try it!

Years ago I suppose this was an authentic recipe. In my Grandma's day, her family had recently come over from the Old Country. I do notice my grandma lists margarine as an option, and that wasn't a traditional German ingredient. Just a guess. I've made a few changes. Surprise. I omitted candied fruits (even if they are the colors of Christmas); added dried fruit. Bryan calls this fruitcake for modern taste buds. And, of course, because of the nut allergy we nixed the almonds. I'll put my grandma's ingredients in parenthesis; try them if you dare. But try the recipe. It is a far cry different from the loaf of stollen you pick up at the grocery store. I don't touch that stuff!

My helper started out rolling so fast he was a blur - even to the naked eye.

My Grandma's German Stollen

3/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. dried fruits: craisins, blueberries, diced apricots (or candied fruits and orange peels)
1/4 c. currants
4-4.5 c. all purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast (I use instant yeast; if you use it, you know how to adjust)
1 c. milk
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c.  sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (almond extract)
2 TB grated orange peel
1 TB grated lemon peel
(optional: 1/2. c. chopped blanched almonds)

Soak raisins, fruit and currants in 1/4 c. hot water. In bowl combine 1.5 c. flour and yeast. In a saucepan heat milk, butter, sugar, and salt til warm and butter is melted, stirring constantly. Add to dry mixture, then add eggs, vanilla, orange peel and lemon peel. With mixer beat on low speed for 1/2 minute, scraping the bowl. Beat 3 minutes on high speed. Stir in fruit, (nuts), and remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a floured surface til smooth; 8-10 minutes.

Shape into ball. Place in a greased bowl, then turn over once to coat surface. Cover and let rise until double, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Then punch down and divide in half. Cover. Let rest 10 minutes.

Roll each half to a 10x17 inch oval. Fold long side of oval over to within 1/2 inch of opposite side. Seal edge. Place on greased baking sheets. Cover. Let rise until double, about 45 minutes.

Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. While warm glaze with icing. (Garnish with candied fruits if desired.)

Confectioner's Icing
1.5-2 TB milk or cream
1/2-1 tsp. vanilla
1-2 c. powdered (or confectioner's) sugar

As you can see, these amounts are less than precise. That means you don't really need to measure. Just eyeball it. Mix it all until smooth. My Grandma's notes say a "thick spreading consistency." In the photos, my icing was thin enough to drizzle it over the stollen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Here Today

I began the day stitching in the sunshine at the dining room table. I decided on lavender sachets for one "difficult" person on my list. How can you go wrong with a gift that is meant to be tossed in a drawer?

Then we toodled off to the library. Then along to the antique store. Sam lingered long at the display of old cameras. I cast my longing gaze on two bedside tables, which were out of my price range. Since my price range is about $5, pretty much everything was out of my price range. But looking is always free, as long as nobody breaks anything. We always move at a good pace through the fine, breakable section.

After lunch we headed out for the creek. Just to play. A college student who wanted a bike trail made one, right in the middle of town. It's not advertised; we happened upon it one day. We've walked for an hour back there by the creek. It's not especially lovely, but it's practically in our backyard. Since we have friends who really do have these things in their backyards, we have to take advantage of these little opportunities.

The older kids were jealous of Arden's rain boots and the freedom he had to roam in the creek. However, being five he roamed too freely and in the end we were dumping water out of those much envied boots.

What did I do at the creek? Nothing. I rarely take time to look: I looked today. I played with my camera. I fingered bark. I collected leaves. I turned over rocks in the creek, but it's too cold for anything else that's alive to be hanging out in the water. I thought I'd identified a tree. I checked my suspicions online tonight. I had done no such thing. That's typical of most of my nature ID attempts. Futile.

When it was dark we read books on the couch. We read An Orange for Frankie by Polacco, which is my favorite Christmas book we don't own. I always marvel that there was a time when an orange was a rare treasure, and in a family with nine kids they each ate just one. Just one. Next up was Boxes for Katje by Fleming. There was also a time when people went years without tasting chocolate. Unbelievable. If you've read both of these, you might see a theme. We finished with The Money We'll Save which was pure silliness, but we laughed. The unpredictable turkey bears an uncanny resemblance to a few money saving ventures around here. Except my ventures have all been sanitary. Except once when the pepperoni went bad.

Hope you have a quiet day of rest.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lovely, Lovelier, Loveliest

Kara and I spent  part of this afternoon on the couch, admiring other people's houses especially Megan's at Life Made Lovely. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking one of two things. Either I was coveting and feeling sorry for myself because my life isn't lovely (which is totally false). Or I was busy working myself into a frenzy over all the crafty ideas that would make my home lovely. Lovelier.

I worked myself into quite a state. I'm good at that. Leave me alone with my thoughts and I can go ballistic.

I had to breathe peace this afternoon. The objects of beauty in this home are our hearts, beating with love for this Christmas babe, the Lord Jesus Christ. Tonight I am sneaking away to bed early, with a cuppa and my Bible. I need to reorient my heart; I'm seeking those lovely things which the Lord considers the most glorious of all. Psalm 96:9 says, "Worship the LORD in holy attire." Or it could say, "Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness." Or, as the Book of Psalms for Singing says, "In beautiful and holy robes bring worship to the LORD." Or from the Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1650:

 Give ye the glory to the Lord
         that to his name is due;
      Come ye into his courts, and bring
         an offering with you.
     In beauty of his holiness,
         O do the Lord adore;
      Likewise let all the earth throughout
         tremble his face before.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Productivity Lecture

Let's say one of the kids is lying on the kitchen floor making noises like a sick duck. "Why don't you do something productive," I ask.

Alternatively, imagine a stuffed animal tied by a string around its neck whirling wildly through the air, accidentally smacking an unsuspecting sister on the back of the head. (Purely hypothetical, right?) Guess what I say? "Why don't you do something productive."

They used to ask me what I meant by "productive." No longer. This is a phenomenon related to the question they used to ask about the origin of last names, which launched the Patronym Lecture. The Productivity Lecture consists of a list of activities involving books, crafts, the outdoors, and siblings. If you are a parent I bet you've given a similar lecture yourself.

On Saturday I felt a glowing pride that I had won the point, if only for a day.

Sam came in from the backyard. He'd already eaten breakfast and been playing with his brother. He looked pointedly at the clock. "Yes!" His arms were in the air, celebrating. "It's 8:28 and I haven't done anything productive. It's going to be a great day!"

Did I mention to him how many people were probably still in bed? Or the value of what he had already been doing with his time? Not a chance. We were both rejoicing in life, life lived at 8:28 in the morning.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Preparing Their Thanks

I set the three younger kids up to mass produce thank you notes for soon-to-be-coming-much-anticipated Christmas gifts. I volunteered to print out labels on colorful paper, "Thank You," in five different fonts. They gladly started in, generously applying stickers for maximum impact.

While I was in the other room, computer hooked to the printer, little Arden was painstakingly sounding out "thank you," with the help of Kara the Super Speller. He was insistent he would hand write the words on all his cards, at least until he realized there would be eight of them. Suddenly one was good enough. I hustled back in the room, papers in hand, frantic to stay one step ahead of the kids. I'd love to tell you their creative passion propelled them, but I suspect they just wanted to finish the task.

I looked at Arden's card. "You need to sound that out."

"I did. S-A-N-K Y-O-U."

"TH-ank you, watch my tongue against my teeth, THHHHH-ank you."

"Yeah, sank you."

He's pleased. I sighed, and put off the task of teaching the TH phonogram until another day. It remains a thank you note that reads, Sank You.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Sewing

Playing with color: how can so many combinations be wrong?

There is a lot of living that happens at this table.

And paper chaos beside me. Once you're crafting, the more the merrier.

The grateful recipient of more than one paper Christmas gift.

Since it is already December and I'm wanting to sew something, my internet searches today all centered around quilting projects like potholders, trivets, and table runners. Projects that were small and quick, using fabric scraps and bits of batting so I wouldn't have to run to the store. Oh my, there is plenty of inspiration for my last few gifts. And so many, many talented people out there I should hide under a rock. But I did have fun.

So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite patterns, all quick and suitable for my girls to sew along with me.

Mug Rugs: These are super cute. Not super useful, but super cute. I'm thinking Ally will enjoy making these.
Placemats: I would have to buy more fabric to make these, and I'm trying to avoid that, but maybe you could pull it off. I'm tucking the idea away for spring.
Kitchen Gift Set: I'm not sure how to link right to it; scroll down and find the tutorial on the right. What a fun towel! Her quilt portfolio is amazing, not all to my taste, but amazing.
Pot Holders: This is a free pattern from the book Patchwork Style. I like this one because there is just enough information and lots of room for imagination.

We'll be doing a bit of stitching here. Just for fun. We still have plenty of time before Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Stockings Hung With Love

The nativity set my grandma made for me when I was a girl.

At eight I thought there was nothing cuter than these sheep.

As I promised, here are the photos of the living room and dining room hutch. I notice in all these pictures how scuffed and worn the wood furniture and floors are. The furniture is hand me down. The house is old. We live here, day in, day out, with four children. No pristine antiques or carefully polished floors here. Just a lot of living and we wouldn't have it any other way.

The stockings are hung, but there's no chimney there. No hopes of St. Nicholas either. We don't do Santa; it's well known, mom stocks the stockings. If you're wondering why we have stockings with no chimney and no Santa, there's an easy answer. I adore Christmas stockings. I stitched all six, as the babies were born, and to each one added a bear. Every year, without fail, I find a place to hang the stockings.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend attending to your home (whether it be scrubbing the toilet or hanging a wreath) and caring for your family. Your love will show, in spite of scratched furniture and sticky faces.

Let all that you do be done in love.
I Corinthians 16:14