Saturday, December 31, 2011

Heartfelt Gratitude

I'm speechless...if that's possible.

This has been a year of thankfulness.

Even though I'd like to think I know myself pretty well, it's amazing how God continues to reveal aspects of inner thinking continually.  Just when I think I have most things figured out...I realize I don't.  One area I've realized He may be working on is the ability to receive graciously.

A few night's ago, as I was driving home from a friend's house, I was thinking on this last year and the generosity of family and friends.  I was overcome with overwhelming gratitude, but also a sense of overwhelming indebtedness!  Tears streamed down my face as I thought on recent gifts we've received.  Christmas may have brought on more emotions than normal, but I realized although I'm so grateful for the gifts, I also have a hard time receiving them.

I spent the last few days since the tearful drive trying to unpack the reservations I have with receiving.  Why is it so hard?  Why do I feel indebtedness along with gratitude?

Here's some of what I came up with:

1)  Receiving is difficult when I feel I didn't earn it.  I have a strong work ethic and value earning what is received.  If I didn't work for it, I have a hard time accepting it.

2)  I love giving. If you're familiar with the 5 Love Languages, giving is one of the ways I show love to others.  I love pouring out on others, but having others pour out on me is difficult.  I honestly feel bad for those giving.  Maybe there's a sense I don't feel worth the gift.  There are a number of stories of times I'm sure my parents could share of loser boyfriends taking advantage of an extravagantly giving girlfriend.  I think I've tried to justify this over the years, but deep down I think I internalized, I wasn't worth giving to.

3)  Keeping it even.  Like most people and family members I tend to keep it even. By keeping the giving even, no one feels left out.  I spend $25, you spend $25. Even! This type of giving allows all recipients to leave on balanced terms.  But, when I give a $25 gift yet receive a $100 gift, I feel awkward, and unbalanced.  The $25 gift, although nice, pales in light of the $100 gift.  When this happens to me I feel like a loser, baby!  Now, if I gave the $100 gift and received the $25 gift, no problem.  This practice is okay in my world.

4)  Payback.  When receiving an extravagant gift I feel like I need to write up an I.O.U.  When my hub and I purchased our first home two family members loaned us some money to complete the purchase.  We both felt so indebted, within the first year we had paid back both parties.  One family member said, in all their years of giving/lending we were the only ones to pay back.  I loved that.  I never want to take advantage of an extravagant giver.

5)  Remember when... Lastly, I think I have a hard time receiving because I never want to have a gift held over my head.  In tough times, I never want someone to say, "Remember when I gave you ____?"  In a sense I don't want to feel owned by someone's giving.  Maybe it's pride?  Who knows?

This whole experience has caused me to once again reflect on salvation- the most amazing, free, no strings attached GIFT of all! When I was 8-years old I accepted Christ.  My world was full of faith and I wanted to have a relationship with Christ, although I did not understand what this meant. Through my teen years and early 20's I ditched much of my faith for the world.  The result was a BIG, tangled mess of a life.

In my mid-twenties my relationship with Christ got back on track.  I recommitted my life and began the slow journey back.  I strongly believe God allows growth at a rate which you can handle.  I had a lot of learning to do and a lot of dealing with my "stuff."

I think the hardest thing I dealt with accepting was grace.  I didn't allow myself much grace and could not imagine a Holy God pouring out grace on such a wretch as me.

A memory from about 20 years ago that is etched in my mind was the night I REALLY understood and embraced this salvation Christ was offering with no strings attached; no expectations in return; nothing to be earned; just a free gift!  I had just finished an evening class at Bible Study Fellowship.  I don't remember what we were studying or what the lecture was even about.  All I remember was going to my car; sitting in the driver's seat; and being hit with the enormity of the gift Christ poured out on me.

I had this vision of Him saying, "Bring it;  all your heartache; all you sin; all your stuff you don't want the world to see or know about;  Bring it!  I will take it.  I willingly take your sin and shortcomings so you can be clean.  I have made the sacrifice.  Release it."

Up to this point, I don't think I truly understood the sacrifice Christ made for me. Yet, in my car I sensed Perfect Jesus so lovingly letting me know He died for my sin so I could be free from the heaviness and the burden of it.  I couldn't imagine how he voluntarily would take on my yucky sins when he was without sin, but He promises to do so.  There was nothing more I could do to earn freedom from this sin.  I could not work my way out of it.  I just needed to receive it!


Ephesians 2:8-9 reads,"For by grace you have been saved through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast."


The Bible tells us salvation is a free gift; not a gift through works.


For a gift giver; who does not receive well; who thinks all gifts must be earned; this is a concept that is really hard to embrace.


Over the years I've accepted God's gift and embraced it with gratitude, but this Christmas I feel like he's wanting me to learn to accept gifts from others.  It's a strange thing and really difficult.


A dear friend, who has been so generous, recently said to me something like, "This is your time to receive the gift."


Although difficult, I am trying.  Breaking the faulty thought processes attached to receiving is hard.


I'm hoping 2012 brings new lessons to learn, but for today I will be filled with gratitude!

Thank you Mikey, Mom, Dad, Gommer P., Gommer Wally, Grandpa Wallace, Jama, Suzie, Denise, Jennifer and John, and my three amazingly giving children!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Vest

I hate The Vest.  There are few things in life I really dislike to the point of using the "H" word, but the vest is one of them.

First off, I should explain The Vest.  Like many Washingtonians, my Grandma has a fleece vest.  I don't even know how many years she's worn the vest.  It's like it's always been.  My Grandma...The Vest.

Being from Washington, fleece is the fashion wear of choice.  It's warm.  It seems to wick the rain.  It's easy to find.  It hides unwanted pounds.  The benefits are countless.

I'll admit, before moving to California I had a red, boxy, unflattering fleece pull-over that was like a security blanket.  No matter what size I was, the fleece covered it.  I could be 40 pounds heavier, wear the fleece and no one knew the difference. The fleece was cozy, and warm, but it was also unflattering, worn and tired. Despite some reservations, I moved it out and surprisingly haven't missed it.

I realize people have favorite clothes they continue to wear despite how they look. I'm sure the What Not To Wear folks would have a heyday in my closet!  There are those favorites that are just so cozy, you can't help but wear at night or when it's cold outside.  I have a pair of awful, yet cozy, black, fleece hammer pant sweats. They are completely unflattering, but on a chilly day, I'll wear them to the gym along with my REI blue mountain socks. I know the combo is a fashion faux pas, but they're comfortable and cozy and nothing else seems to matter.

Like my red fleece pull-over or black hammer pant sweats, my Grandma has a tan, tired, old, worn-out, dingy, boxy, unflattering, did I mention ugly, fleece vest.  She loves this piece of clothing.  She loves that it has "inside" pockets. Inside pockets are the backs of outside pockets that have to have a place to go.  She stashes her phone in her "inside pocket" when she walks with her senior friends.  She wears little angel pins on the collar in memory of family members who have passed away. Along with the vest, she wears a white, long-sleeve, ribbed turtleneck.  She actually owns three identical white turtleneck sweaters.  The white sweaters, along with the fleece vest, a pair of light blue jeans and white Easy Spirits equals "The Uniform."

This photo was taken years ago.  The uniform with a blue ribbed turtleneck.

She's worn this uniform for years and she LOVES it!

Last Christmas when she visited, I took her shopping looking for a replacement vest. We searched high and low from Macy's to Eddie Bauer to JCPenney and beyond, but there was no vest to be found that was roomy enough and met the "inside pocket" criteria.

We did find her a couple new ribbed turtleneck sweaters to offer her some different color options.  I doubt she's ever worn them.  My guess is they are folded beautifully in her drawer along with the MANY other beautifully folded, new sweaters we've tried to introduce into her wardrobe.

Prior to her visit, I called her to let her know I planned to take her to see Andrea Boccelli and Dr. Phil.  We had to discuss wardrobe requirements and ideas. According to the Dr. Phil show guidelines, audience guests were asked not to wear white as it doesn't show up well on camera.  In addition, the fleece vest isn't Andrea Boccelli material, so she needed to bring some more options.

With my mom's help, she packed some very cute dressy clothes.  Thank you mom!  I was secretly hoping "The Vest" wouldn't make the trip down to SoCal, but that was a lot to ask for.

I spoke with my mom the morning of my Grandma's flight.  My mom told me, "She'll be there in her uniform.  She's so excited!"

The Vest was coming back for it's third Christmas in SoCal.

Bummer!

When we picked my Grandma up she was wearing her light blue jeans, white Easy Spirits, white turtleneck and gray coat.

We went out to lunch, stopped by the Goodwill (her favorite place), and then headed home.

She unpacked and settled in.

She then came to me and asked where she had put her vest.

I hadn't seen the vest at this point, and hadn't even missed it.

She searched multiple times through the car and her suitcase, but did not find the beloved vest.

She thought she definitely left the vest hanging in the restroom of the airport.

I called.  No vest.

I didn't want to celebrate the vest's demise, but I strongly feel everything happens for a reason. Just like the time our son spit his pacifier down a flushing toilet and it was bye-bye binky; it was time to break the bond with the vest.  It was meant to be!  The vest was gone.

Sadly, she was torn up about the vest.  A couple times while sitting in the rocker thinking she'd say, "I sure miss my vest."

Poor Grandma, she did love that vest.

When she left I went on a shopping hunt.

I found a PERFECT, new, black, Columbia fleece vest WITH inside pockets.  I took a photo of it; emailed it to my mom.  We had thought we found the PERFECT replacement that my Grandma would love!

I packaged it up and shipped it out.  She would be so surprised!  I was excited!

THEN, I got the call.

My heart sank.

The Seattle airport had found her vest.

RATS!

I guess the super-cute, black fleece vest I got her will sadly join the bowels of her drawers folded neatly alongside the other perfectly folded new clothing we've all bought her over the years.

The Vest is back.

Do you have a favorite piece of clothing like my Grandma's vest that you know you shouldn't wear, but it just feels too good?

Maybe 2012 is a good year to spruce up the wardrobe and move out those pieces that have served their time.  Let them rest.  Find something cute and flattering and say good-bye to tired and worn.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dear Santa...

We live in a Santa culture.  It's the truth.  And as much as I don't care for the over-materialized frenzy December brings, it doesn't appear to be falling out of fashion.

Our kids grow up singing, "You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I'm telling you why...Santa Claus is coming to town."  They watch shows like The Grinch, The Santa Claus, Rudolph and of course, Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  We hang stockings, write wish lists and letters, and set out cookies and milk before bedtime on Christmas Eve.  We visit Kris Kringle better known as Santa Claus at local malls, whisper wishes in his ear and have our photos taken with him.

Our kids with Santa

This year I surprised my Grandma and told her she was also having her photo taken with Santa.
She was a little embarrassed, but also seemed a little excited!

It really is a crazy thing if you think about it, but this is what Christmas American tradition looks like and I'm guessing there are similar themes around the globe. Worldwide, Santa may have a different name, but children still await the magical experience and the gifts.

I love the story of the original Santa, St. Nicholas, and share it with our kids.  The sacrifice he made to help others is admirable.

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Another story often associated with St. Nicolas is this one:

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver. 

So, St. Nicolas, the first true Santa was a gift-giver!  Giving the gift, providing for the dowry of three young women so they could marry and not be sold into slavery.

Thinking on the dowry...although we don't have a necessary dowry requirement in our culture any longer, around the world this tradition continues.  Years ago, I helped raise money for some friends in Uganda to pay a dowry of cows, goats, fruit etc.  A friend of mine is currently helping a young man in Uganda raise his dowry so he may marry.  St. Nicholas would be proud!

The couple we helped now have two beautiful girlies!

Back to Santa...

On the night before Christmas, our daughter set out a plate of cookies and cup of milk.  After setting out the treats, she proceeded to place an important letter she wrote to Santa next to the treats.


Her letter read:

hi Santa i have a question
was there a hole bunch of santa's or just one
check yes or no
and if yes plese say how many and plese wake me up to see you
yes___  no___
how meny?

The letter was genuine and heartfelt.  She anticipated his visit, but even more hoped for a response.

The next morning she rushed downstairs to see if he had responded.

Here's what she found...


Dearest Arabella,

Merry Christmas!

You are such a smart young girl!  That’s what I love about you.  I heard about your big win with the essay contest.  Well Done!

So your question…How many Santa’s are there?  Well, my dear, there is just one yet there are many people in your life who show you love, generosity and joy.  We all work together to make this life magical, exciting and a much better place to live in.

I love your honest questions, childlike faith and heartfelt curiosity.  Hold on to these traits.

I am sorry My Dear, but I can’t visit.  I must be off! Hawaii is waiting for me!

Blessings to you!

And always remember who were celebrating this season- Jesus!  He is the giver of All Good and Perfect Gifts!

You are Loved!

So there was the response.  She was very excited about it and stashed it away in her "box" where all good things are kept.

Parenting can sometimes bring up tough questions.  I don't honestly know how to answer every question that comes up.  There are instances where I'm not sure if we're doing the right thing or not.

Determining how one chooses to handle and/or answer questions surrounding Santa is up to each particular family.  There are absolutes in life and ultimately the truth is the best answer, but I like to preserve wonder and merriment when possible too.

There was a St. Nicholas.  He was a gift giver.  Additionally, there are people in our lives who work to bring about joy in keeping the magic of the season alive. Christmas is a magical season!  We celebrate God coming to earth as a baby born unto a virgin!  WOW!

It is all about Jesus, and it's also about gifts, family, celebration and fun!

Some explanations are best left to be dreamed of and wondered about.  The joy in our child's eyes, her innocent questions, and the hope she has is a surprisingly wonderful gift to us.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Here's an oldie from the early 1970's...


Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Because I Have A Million Other Things To Do... I'll Sit & Reflect On Christmas Music Like a Great Procrastinator

Oh my word!  Has this month just flown by or what? My kids have reminded me once again there are only 2 days until Christmas (really just one since all the festivities are tomorrow).  Unbelievable!  I don't like how quickly the days have passed.  This isn't what I had envisioned for our December.

Every year I hope to EXPERIENCE Christmas in some sort of amazing way.  My vision is to not procrastinate.  In the perfect world I'd have presents wrapped, cookies baked, and cards sent by December 1st.  Every week we'd light an advent candle and focus on why we're celebrating: Christ's birth. Then I'd spend the next 24 days laying under the tree, gazing at the lights, playing games with our kids and listening to Christmas music until we fall asleep.  It all sounds so beautifully romantic.  Love it!

But...

That's not my life at all.

Instead, it's December 23 and I'm behind, or maybe I'm on time (Kim time).  I remind myself, every year there is only one year to plan and prepare, yet I still can't seem to pull it together.  Recently, I read a post about moms who do a whole lot of Crazy Elf on the {Stinkin'} Shelf thing.  I do not know even what this is, but there's no way I could squeeze it into the schedule.  Here's the link to the funny read, minus the *!@#$%^!! words.

http://peopleiwanttopunchinthethroat.blogspot.com/2011/12/over-achieving-elf-on-shelf-mommies.html

In contrast here's my current "To Do" list update:
  • I just got the Christmas cards out yesterday.  Hopefully friends will receive them by the 24th, but there's no guarantee. 
  • Packages were just mailed in the last couple days.  I hope they arrive on time too.  Day after delivery just isn't as exciting as before Christmas delivery.
  • I didn't do much baking. I did make gingerbread cookies twice, and they're cut outs, so I think they count for double points.  I really wanted to give baked goods as gifts to neighbors, milkman, postman and garbage man, but it hasn't happened yet and we won't have garbage day until after Christmas.  Poor garbage man.
  • We never got around to the advent thing.  Our kids know it's about Jesus.  I have to be okay with that.
  • I had hoped to read a book a day to the kids with a Christmas theme. Well, we only read two Christmas picture books, but they were good ones: The Polar Express and Twas the Night Before Christmas.  I realize neither one was about Jesus.  I hope our kids get what this celebration is all about; now that I think on it again.  
  • I really wanted to laugh (since I can turn into a stressed-out-grouchy-Christmas-prep mom) and watch Elf as a family.  It was on the advent calendar.  We received it from Netflix, then we lost it. It's here somewhere, but no one is 'fessin' up to where they stashed it.  
  • And because we can't find Elf to mail back, we aren't able to watch the other Christmas movies in our Queue.  Bummer!  Guess we'll have to watch them in January and pretend it's still the Christmas season.
  • Then there's the crafty gift project I started 3 years ago.  I was going to complete it this year.  It's still in the closet.  RATS!
  • I just sat down to look at the Christmas game/toy catalog.  Perhaps I'll make the online order today and place the invoice in a box for the kids. That's pretty lame, I know.  Merry Christmas!  Your gifts should arrive in 7-10 days.
Since I have so much to do in preparation for Christmas and feel overwhelmed over it, I think I'll procrastinate a bit more and ponder a few of my Top Christmas Songs.

In years past, it seems like there were radio stations dedicated to month-long Christmas music.  It doesn't seem like it's the case anymore.  We've listened to Pandora Holiday Music channels.  It's been nice, but I haven't been playing my fave Christmas tunes, so I thought I'd blog them.  By blogging them I feel like they're getting much deserved attention.

These favorites may not be your favorites, but I like them.  I was raised listening to these tunes and despite some of the crazy lyrics, I LOVE THEM!  Not included are favorites like Michael Buble, Manheim Steamroller, Bing Crosby, etc.  The only songs that made it to the list are the ones I've listened to over 1000 times (I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea).

I'll count down from #10-#1.  #1 being my current favorite.

10.  It's Christmas All Over The World by New Edition

Okay, I know I'll probably get the cheesey award for this one, but I was a big New Edition fan!  The video quality here is pretty crummy, since it's a Solid Gold recording.  Someone must have had it on VHS.  Check out the moves!



9.  All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey

I had to do it!  Mariah & Christmas music from the 90's!  But here's an updated {somewhat creepy} of Mariah and Justin Beiber.  There's a huge part of me that feels despite how fabulous Mariah looks, looking sexy with the Beib singing All I Want For Christmas Is You is just Mary Kay Latourneau-ish creepy.



8.  Christmas Wrap by the Waitresses

This song just may be on the obnoxious Christmas song list for some, but it brings back great 80's memories for me.  It reminds me of high school, turtlenecks, crew neck sweaters and wandering the snowy streets of an extremely small mid-western town.



7.  Rocky Mountain Christmas by John Denver

I have to give #7 to a whole album.  This is one of my all-time favorite albums; probably because I grew up listening to it.  My hub hates it!  I torture him with the songs of Aspenglow and of course Please, Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas. Not sure how that's a Christmas song and I never had a drunk daddy so this song never bothered me.  It was just another track on the album.  John Denver was a favorite at our home when I was growing up and I'm still sad he's no longer here.



6.  Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant

This song is written in Mary's perspective.  I love that!  I desperately want to know what she thought and how she felt to be chosen to carry Jesus.  This video was recorded at the Crystal Cathedral.  I took my Grandma there a couple years ago to see their Christmas program.  We had another great experience!



5.  The Prayer by Celine Dion with Andrea Boccelli

The lyrics to this beautiful song are amazing!  May this always be our prayer!

I pray you'll be our eyes, and watch us where we go
And help ;us to be wise in times when we don't know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
To a place where we'll be safe

I pray we'll find your light, and hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night,
remind us where you are
Let this be our prayer, when shadows fill our day
Help us find a place guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe

A world where pain and sorrow will be ended
And every heart that's broken will be mended
And we'll remember we are all God's children
Reaching out to touch you
Reaching to the sky

We ask that life be kind, and watch us from above
We hope each soul will find another soul to love
Let this be our prayer, just like every child

Who needs to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe
Needs to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe



4.  O Holy Night by Celine Dion

"Fall on Your Knees" Brings me to tears.  If you have a relationship with Christ and really know him, this song has such a special meaning.  I know all heaven and earth celebrated the birth of God's son!  "Let all within us praise His name.  Christ is the LORD!"



3.  Mary Did You Know performed by Greg Otterholt

I think the first time I heard this song Greg was singing it.  We were blessed to get to know he and his wife years ago when I was selling real estate.  He has an amazing voice!

I love this song because the lyrics ask the questions floating around my mind.  I would love to sit down with the heroins of the Bible and soak them up, ask them what it was really like and gain their perspective.



2.  Sleigh Ride by Arthur Fiedler's Philharmonic

This song reminds me of being a kid.  Listening to the clomping noises thrilled me.  AND the best part is the "neigh" at the end!



1.  How Many Kings by Downhere

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this song!  I can't get enough of it!  When I listen to it, tears run down my cheeks.  I'm so honored to have such a King!


Well, back to reality.  Wish me luck as I try to conquer the unfinished in my life. AND....as if I didn't have enough to do I scheduled a mammogram for today!  

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Meet Ivan

Meet Ivan

A number of years ago, God placed "the orphan" so heavily on my heart I could scarcely think of little else.  I read amazing stories of adoption, read blogs concerning orphans, prayed for and helped friends financially who were in the process of adoption and humbly asked God to make adoption a reality in our family.

I meditated on James 1:27

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

At that time, it was estimated that there were 143 million orphans worldwide. There is no way one cannot be astounded by such a number.  (See the rice post if you want to have a visual of 143 million).  I read a couple days ago the number is now hovering around 163 million!!

My heart aches for ALL these children who do not have a family to call their own.

The prayer became, "Lord, use us to reach the orphan."  Making a difference to one or a few of them is what each of is called to do.

Over the years we've met, hosted, sponsored and cared for orphans as God continues to bring them into our lives.

Our first encounter was with a group from Childcare Worldwide in 2006.  If you're not familiar with Childcare Worldwide, definitely check them out.  They're listed with a 5-Star rating from Ministry Watch.com

Childcare Worldwide formed the Ugandan Orphan's Choir to "bring a message of hope to American audiences through the traditional rhythmic dances and songs of Africa."

Back in September of 2006 our church scheduled to have the choir perform.  To defray costs, the choir asks churches to host the chaperones and kids.  I literally JUMPED at the opportunity when our pastor asked for volunteering homes.

After the church service, I walked up to him as a line of other interested families was forming.  I quickly let him know I sensed they were SUPPOSED to be at our home.

He agreed.

All five boys and the male chaperone to the choir were placed with us for a 2-3 day stay.

We cleaned,  readied our home, and welcomed the boys with open arms.



Little did I know, 2 days with these kids ROCKED my world.  My heart's desire to live out James 1:27 was fueled.

These boys arrived with nothing but a backpack, but they exuded JOY like I'd never seen before.  All of them had lost one or both of their parents to the AIDS epidemic. They were delivered from near disaster and placed in a Children's Village where they now received housing, food, clothing, character development and an education.

Prior to being rescued by Childcare, some of these young children (under 13) are found caring for their younger siblings because their parents have died.  Some of these children bury their own parents.  Some are left in the care of older grandparents who do not have the means nor the strength to care for them.  It's heartbreaking!

Childcare Worldwide steps in and offers these children hope for a better future.

One of these boys in particular found a place in our hearts.  His name is Ivan.  We were able to spend Christmas 2006 with Ivan and another boy from the choir, Alex. Both boys are dear to us.

Christmas 2006

With Alex

With Ivan


Alex helped me roll out lefse while the other boys played.  Sadly, we have not heard from Alex since his stay with us.

Alex: "This Chapati?"  Me: "No, this is lefse.  Another flatbread."

Although my husband has not received a heart for adoption as I have, when he met Ivan he said, "He would fit in our family."  Ivan's photo is on a shelf in our family room with other family photos.  We will forever think of him as a special member of our family.

This is the photo we received last year from Ivan.
He has GROWN so much!

Adoption of the kids from the choir is not an option, and adoption from Uganda is difficult to say the least, but we've been blessed to have the opportunity to stay in contact with Ivan and hopefully one day we will meet him again.

We've never learned much about Ivan and his life prior to coming to Childcare. What we do know is he has a genuinely kind disposition and became instant friends with our oldest son.

We got a letter from Ivan this week.  Ivan's now 16 years old and loves to play soccer.  He's doing very well in school.  Childcare Worldwide's goal is to have the children receive quality education and training in a profession so they may not just survive, but succeed!  I think Ivan will break out of the cycle of poverty and succeed in whatever he chooses!

If you feel a tug at your heart when you see kids like Ivan, do something about it. Visit Childcare Worldwide's website.  You never know when you'll get to meet your sponsored child.  We were able to meet our sponsored child, Caleb last year.  That's another story and another post.

Have a blessed day!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20, 2011: 1st Day of Hanukkah- Celebrating with Cake Doughnuts



Today is the first day of Hanukkah.

We're not Jewish, so our kids don't fully understand the significance of the holiday. Introducing Jewish culture, history, and traditions are an integral part of Christian culture and history, so it's important we learn.

We've field tripped at Jewish Cultural centers, studied Jewish history, and we're currently reading the Old Testament in the Catherine Vos's Children's Bible.  I feel like the Old Testament is often forgotten and emphasis on Christian living is often too focused on New Testament living.  Both should be combined in their entirety as God's story is woven through the pages of the whole Bible.

For a couple resources in teaching your children about Hanukkah check out the following links:

http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson040.shtml

http://www.ehow.com/how_5890_teach-children-meaning.html

http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/hanukkah/about.html

http://www.teachervision.fen.com/hanukkah/teacher-resources/6627.html

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/celebrate-hanukkah-israel

http://www.ehow.com/video_4984614_teach-children-meaning-hanukkah.html

Food For Hanukkah

Okay, if you know me or follow this blog, you know I love to teach with FOOD!  We manage to relate most unit studies, books, and lessons to food.  As a result we can't forget FOOD today!

Oil

Food prepared for Hanukkah has a similar theme.  It is fried in oil.  If you don't understand the importance of the oil, see the above links.

In searching for a fun food to prepare in celebration of the first day of Hanukkah I stumbled upon a number of donut recipes at www.chabad.org

We chose to make the Cake Doughnuts.  The recipe was missing a couple key words, so it was a little confusing for the kids.  The recipe I'll post should be clear.  Let me know if there are any questions.

These cake doughnuts are AMAZING!  I think I want to become a doughnut maker now!  Thank you so much www.chabad.org for posting this recipe.

Be careful if preparing these with kids.  Our kids made the dough, and I fried them. I don't allow them to be around hot oil.  It's just too dangerous.

Hot Oil...Danger!


Cake Doughnuts





Ingredients

2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup), melted

Vegetable/Canola Oil for deep frying

In a large mixing bowl beat eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick and smooth.  In another bowl combine dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, spices and salt.  Whisk milk and butter together.

Add flour mixture and milk alternately to egg mixture, in about 3 additions of each. Stir to form a stiff dough.

Roll dough our to about 1/2-inch think.  Using a doughnut cutter or biscuit cutter cut out doughnut shapes.

Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 360 degrees.  Fry doughnuts in batches, turning several times, until golden all over.  Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove doughnuts to drain.  We placed ours on paper towels.

Sprinkle immediately with powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar.

We made a Chocolate Glaze and I dipped our doughnuts in the glaze.

Chocolate Glaze

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (we used chocolate chips)
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar

In a heavy sauce pan or double boiler, melt chocolate with butter.  Whisk in sugar, a little at a time.  Whisk in about 3 tablespoons water to thin to desired consistency. Glaze doughnuts immediately.

We sprinkled powdered sugar on the doughnut holes



Happy Hanukkah!

Grandma and Andrea Boccelli

This is my Grandma.


Someone should write a book of her life.  

It wouldn't be a romantic story of a charmed life.  

It also wouldn't be a woe-is-me story of crappy life events creating a pitiful life saga of a victim.  

Hers would be a story of perseverance, family, hard work and a whole lot of feisty sassiness.  These traits  helped her overcome real-life tragic events making her a strong, resilient, 85-year old mother of four, grandmother of fifteen (at least), and great-grandmother to about eighteen children.

Despite her bent arthritic fingers, my grandma has the most enduring strong work ethic you'll ever encounter.  I truly admire her. She can still clean, weed, garden, and do laundry better than anyone reading this.  It's the TRUTH!

I also admire her sense of family loyalty.  She's the Queen Mama Bear.  It is my heritage!  Don't mess with Mama Bear or Grandma Bear or you may just have a knock-down-drag-out on your hands.

Looking at her tiny frame, yet strong appearance it's hard to imagine the hardships of life she's experienced.   

She was born in Minnesota to Native American parents.  Losing her mother and baby sister to tuberculosis and contracting it herself, she was sent to a sanitarium to live for three years, from ages 5-8.  While at the sanitarium she did not see nor have visits from family or friends.  I can't even begin to imagine the pain of separation she experienced.

She survived tuberculosis, only to return to her reservation to be once again separated from family.  According to government policy of the time, Native American kids were shipped off to government schools.  Life there was challenging and disheartening to say the least.  She was forced to deny her native heritage and forbidden to speak her native language.

Depending on the year, she was at various government and/or Catholic schools until she was 16.  During the school year, she wouldn't see family until summer.  During the summers she would return home to be care-giver to her half-sister's family. Because of her strong work ethic and survival skills, she was more valuable as child-care-provider to the kids than a student.  

Despite being only 16-years old and a flourishing student, during World War II, she was pulled out of school put on a train by herself and sent west to Seattle to become a nanny to her niece.  

I'm told during this experience she was scared and shy.  She was placed on a train filled with soldiers in uniform.

Why did they send her?  

She was told she was ambitious.  She had no choice, but work.

Being ambitious, hard-working, and driven doesn't come from having everything handed to you.  It comes from discipline, doing without, trials, and overcoming them.  I think we have a heritage of determined hard working people.  We're raised this way.  

I'm so proud to be the worker I am because of the blessed heritage I've been given.

Little tidbits of her life come out when you spend time with her.  On her recent visit she told me she had a beautiful sister.  Hollywood came looking for her sister, but she wouldn't leave her home.  Interesting.  

My Grandma did have a first cousin, Floyd Red Crow Westerman who was in the film industry.  He was a country music singer, actor and activist.  She was very sad when he passed away.  I look at photos of him and see a family resemblance.

Floyd Westerman

I was blessed to spend last week with my Grandma.  She flew down to spend seven days with us.  I wanted to do all I could do to make our time special and memorable for her.

She loves watching Andrea Boccelli on PBS.  I thought she'd appreciate seeing him in concert.

He had a scheduled performance in Anaheim at the Honda Center.

I bought tickets and asked her to bring some nice black clothing.  We were going see Andrea Bocelli in person.  After watching him, I realized it was not just a concert; it was an "experience!"

Words cannot describe how cute she was!  She was ready to go at 4:00pm.  The concert started at 7:30.  I told her we didn't need to leave that soon.

We still left early.

Ready to go

She's so cute!

The empty stadium

Entertaining ourselves while waiting for the concert to begin



We shared popcorn while we waited.  

Popcorn and Andrea- what could be better?

The orchestra arrives

Our neighbors took this for us


The music was indescribable!  My sweet grandma had to wipe a tear from her eye a time or two.  When music brings you to tears you know it's beyond special.

My grandma told me she used to love to sing opera when she was young.  She said in school they sang in Latin.  She doesn't remember it now because so many years have passed.

I hope singing along with Andrea made her feel like she felt as a child desiring to become an opera singer.  

Hoping she was able live the dream...in little ways.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies



When my mom heard we were baking gingerbread cookies recently she requested I send some back with my Grandma when she returned home.  The problem for my mom in that is she suffers from Celiac Disease.  After years of health struggles, she was finally diagnosed.

The Celiac Disease Foundation states:

The cause of Celiac Disease (CD), also known as celiac sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy (GSE), is still a mystery. One out of 133 people in the United States is affected with celiac disease. CD occurs in 5-15% of the offspring and siblings of a person with celiac disease. In 70% of identical twin pairs, both twins have the disease. It is strongly suggested that family members be tested, even if asymptomatic. Family members who have an autoimmune disease are at a 25% increased risk of having celiac disease. Celiac Disease is not a food allergy - it is an autoimmune disease. Food allergies, including wheat allergy, are conditions that people can sometimes grow out of. This is not the case with Celiac Disease.

There's a minimal chance I could one day be diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  I limit my intake, not so much in concern with having Celiac, but because I hang out with a paleo-ish crowd.  More and more people seem to be limiting gluten, wheat and rice intake.  I've seen this especially prevalent in the CrossFit world.  Limiting processed foods and eating REAL food is definitely beneficial to the body.  Although this is a bit of a contradiction to the yummy desserts and foods I've been posting lately, we do primarily eat paleo-ish.

Thinking of my mom and her desire to have gingerbread cookies, I wanted to find a recipe for cookies she could enjoy that wouldn't cause her issues.

I found a recipe on noursishingmeals.com that fit the bill.  Granted, many of their recipes have ingredients I do not readily have on hand and I do not want to go out and spend $50 on ingredients to make one batch of cookies.  Consequently, I used what I had and I think the cookies turned out GREAT!  They are soft and chewy and have just a hint of ginger and molasses.  I may increase the ginger a bit next time, but they taste great the way they are.  Appearance wise, they're a bit on the wrinkly side, but I'm a bit on the wrinkly side so, so they pass the test.  


Despite the appearance they are chewy soft goodness!


Nourishing meals recommended using hazelnut flour and provided a link to buy some on Amazon.  I don't have the desire or the inkling to order flour on Amazon so I just used ground almond meal flour found in the grocery store bulk section (Sprouts carries it).  

Also, they recommended using coconut sugar.  I purchased some in the Whole Foods bulk section when I was originally going to make these cookies, but used it for something else.  I ended up using raw turbinado sugar from Whole Foods 365 brand. It's a finer sugar than other raw sugar brands.  I would steer away from using a raw sugar that has granules as large as something like Sugar in the Raw.  The granules don't really break down well in the cookie dough.

I know my mom isn't as crazy about the frosting, so we didn't frost these cookies much.  Unlike my sweetheart and kiddies, I prefer to have cookies unfrosted also. They're much too sweet with the extra sweetness lathered on top.  

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

Dry Ingredients
2 cups ground almond meal flour
1 cup sweet rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Wet Ingredients
1 cup coconut sugar (or raw turbinado sugar- fine granules)
1/2 cup softened butter
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix well.  

In an electric mixer combine wet ingredients.  Mix well.

Add dry ingredients.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for a couple hours.

Roll dough out to 1/4" thickness on surface sprinkled with sweet rice flour.  Using cookie cutters carefully cut out shapes and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet or on Silpat baking mat.  If you don't have a Silpat, add it to your Christmas list.  My mother-in-law gave me one for Christmas a couple years back and I LOVE IT!  Thank you MIL!

Bake 12-15 minutes.  If you bake them closer to the 12 minutes they with be soft and chewy.  If baked closer to the 15 minutes they will be crisper.

Ready for the oven

Our Peeps

Best Dressed!

Glamour Shot

This is a GREAT treat to enjoy with a cup of coffee, or perhaps the Christmas eggnog latte!

Mom, watch your mailbox...we're sending some friends your way!  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cheesiest Homemade Macaroni & Cheese



Last week my grandma was visiting.  Before she headed to the airport to return back to Washington, I wanted to make her a yummy, filling meal to stick to her bones for the flight home.  I had visions of her plane getting stuck on a runway with no extra food in her bag.  So I made sure she had good food in her tummy.  

Like most grandmas, she loves home-cooked comfort food.  I knew she'd love this super cheesy macaroni and cheese.  

This is another great recipe from Martha Stewart.  Martha likes expensive cheese so beware when shopping for her recommendations in the gourmet cheese aisle.  I bought a Trader Joe's New Zealand sharp white cheddar and a white cheddar Gruyere combination cheese.  You can experiment with the cheese varieties to stick within a budget.  The only thing I'd recommend it to use real cheese, no artificial cheeses.  They just don't melt well, and they're artificial.  Go for the REAL stuff!

Also, if you have small baking dishes, serve up individual macaroni and cheese meals.  I think they're adorable!



Ingredients
Serves 12

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (you'll use 2 T. for the bread and then 6 T. for the cheese sauce)
6 slices {good} white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces

5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional (I usually leave it out because some of our kids don't like spicy)
4 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese or 1 1/4 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 pound elbow macaroni, or a similar shaped noodle

Directions

1.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter or spray a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside.  Place small bread pieces in a medium bowl.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in microwave safe dish.  Pour over bread and toss.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk.  Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in large pot.  When butter bubbles, add flour.  Whisk one minute.

3.  While whisking, SLOWLY pour in hot milk.  Don't pour all milk in at one time or you'll have lumpy cheesy sauce.  Not good!  Continue cooking, until mixture bubbles and thickens.  This can take a few minutes.  Be patient.

4.  Remove pan from heat.  Stir in seasonings, 3 cups of the cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups of the Gruyere.  Set aside.

5.  Meanwhile, prepare noodles according to package.  Drain, rinse with cold water.  Drain well.  Stir macaroni into cheese sauce.

6.  Pour mixture into prepared 3-quart dish, or small greased individual baking dishes.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs.  Bake until browned on top, 20  minutes or so.  Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dangerously Tasty Peanut Butter Brownie Trifle



There are some desserts that are not only pretty to look at, but they bring out expressions like "OH MY WORD!"  They are great for a crowd, but dangerous for an individual or even a small family.  Each bite feels like my my jeans are getting tighter and I'll be paying with intense workouts in the coming week. I immensely enjoyed a couple bites and called it good.

This recipe is from How Sweet It Is.  I just recently found this blog on Pinterest. Perusing the fantastic ideas on Pinterest sometimes makes me feel like an underachiever with a poorly designed blog and no fashion sense, so I don't go there all too often.  Occasionally, I'll wind down in bed looking at beautiful decor, food, and clothing combos, but one can get quickly overwhelmed by great ideas.

Last night we hosted the dessert portion of a church middle school progressive dinner.  It was the perfect opportunity to try out this dessert.  Needless to say, with a houseful of teenagers and their leaders, it went quick!

The Trifle.  A whole lot of goodness thrown together in a pretty bowl.  Delicious!

Peanut Butter Brownie Trifle
The Layers:
Brownies
1 batch of boxed brownies made in a 9X13 pan, cooled and cut into small cubes


Chocolate Pudding
1 large box (5-ounce) instant chocolate pudding, prepared and chilled

Peanut Butter Cups
1 bag peanut butter cups, chopped (I opted to not top the trifle with them also.  Too many calories already)



Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream plus 3-4 granulated sugar, beat into whipped cream with stiff high peaks.
Make whipped cream and chill in refrigerator until ready to use.

Peanut Butter Filling
1 cup creamy peanut butter
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature.
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Beat peanut butter and cream cheese until creamy.  Add powdered sugar.  Mix.  Add 2 tablespoons of milk. Fold in 1 cup of the whipped cream from above.  Set aside.


Layering
Layer ingredients in the trifle dish.  Layer brownies, peanut butter filling, peanut butter cups, chocolate filling, then whipped cream.  I did each in thirds, finishing the top with whipped cream and then grated dark chocolate.





Dessert is probably the most important stage of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table.