Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Preparations for the New Year and a Cool, New Something

Reality is beginning to creep back into my days. We will start school again on Monday, so I am knee-deep in lesson planning and organizing. Earlier this week, as I'd mentioned, I reorganized my closet - so nice and fresh when I walk in there. I want everything to feel like that clean, little space. I cleaned off my desk in my bedroom yesterday and I have some ideas for the desk in the kitchen. I wish I could do some major rearranging somehow, just for fun and to feel excited as we head into the new year. I don't know if that 's a reality, though; we only have so much room. I'll magage to find little changes I can make to give things a little lift. If I do decide to do something fun, I'll try to remember to take before and after pictures. I always like those.

Tomorrow, as is our annual tradition, we will put our Christmas decorations away. Unlike in years past, however, I will be keeping the nativity scene out for the wise men to arrive on Dec. 6.

I also need to have a kitchen factory day. I made grapefruit juice the other day, but the tangelos are begging to be picked and juiced and I also need to take care of the bag of lemons my mom brought over oh-so-long ago. I'll juice those and freeze the juice for cooking and cleaning.

The garden continues to give regular little treats. The carrots aren't full-grown yet, but I keep adding the thinned ones to sauteed greens and smoothies. Some volunteer tomatoes have popped up. I purposely didn't plant any this year, because I've been so frustrated with them the last couple of years. But I'm certainly not going to pull out perfectly healthy volunteers, so we'll see what happens.

Have you see this?

Better World Books

I heard an interview with the founders of this awsome book selling site yesterday on Sierra Club Radio. This is going to be my first stop for online book shopping from now on!

Here is a brief synopsis of their mission:

Better World Books collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than two million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all our stakeholders.

There is so much cool stuff about this company that you really owe it to yourself to hop over there and have a read. There are a number of easy ways to participate in the good work that they're doing - from donating your used books to purchasing new and used books from their site. They even work through's used books - just look for BetterWorld booksellers. But the best way to help (since Amazon takes a chunk of the profit) and make sure that your dollars are going to a company that really gives back, is to go directly to their site. It's a great idea and is a really postive way to head into 2009.

Have a safe and happy new year, everyone! I'll be back tomorrow with my resolutions and word of the year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking Back

Block Party in March

Now this is quite a treat. I'm sure many of you have been sitting comfortably on your couches typing out your blogposts for any number of years now, but working via a laptop is quite new - and comfortable! - to me.

Those of you who have been visitors here for a longer time may remember that I like new year's resolutions and give a great deal of thought to them every year. A couple of years ago, inspired by Ali Edwards, I began adding a word of the year to these resolutions. I find that the word of the year is a helpful reminder of the direction in which I hope to be headed - something that encapsulates many of the things I hope to achieve, or a way I want to live in the coming year.

Before I surge ahead, though, I have found it profitable and interesting to take just a bit of time looking at the things I wanted to do this year, and the word I had chosen, and see just where it's taken me up to this point and time.

My word for this year has been: imagine.

My resolutions for this year were: 1) practice more charitable giving and possible volunteering, 2) observe the Sabbath, 3) host more gatherings with friends and continue to practice hospitality, and 4) learn more about crochet - especially how to read a pattern.

So, how did I do and what has happened this year?

Well, I did practice some more charitable giving. In addition to the regular, on-going, in-kind donations we make to the nearby church thrift store and Goodwill, I participated in 3 separate charity knitting projects. I volunteered to serve in a number of ways at and through my church and I started a girls' group in my home for my girls and some of their friends through our home school community and church. We call the group G.L.O.W. girls which stands for God Leading Our Way. It is a group formed to inspire girls to make their homes places of ministry and industry.

I confess that I did not follow observing the Sabbath with as much devotion as I have in years past. But I am getting better and at least I don't have the feeling I used to have of using Sunday as another work day and feeling frustrated as I often would. There was one year, in particular, that observing the Sabbath was very important to me and it really helped me to set up personal boundaries regarding what I would and would not be willing to do. Generally, I am in a place where I feel I am living with a greater deal of balance at present, so it hasn't felt as crucial. But, it is something I will likely resolve again this year to do, because - hey - God knew what He was doing and how much we would need one day to just let ourselves rest and enjoy Him and the things He has given us. It's simply a good practice to keep.

The Knit Wits now meet every Monday evening at my home and the invitation extends to crafters of all kinds. It is a kind of "crafting open house." We also, with our neighbors' help, hosted a neighborhood block party in our back yard this past March. I have met and taken goodies and begun relationships with 3 sets of new neighbors in our neighborhood. Kids are always in and out around here and we host different homeschooling functions too. These are some of the ways in which I've been practicing more and more hospitality.

And these photos prove that, yes, indeed, I did learn how to follow a crochet pattern. I love how the girls just cracked up when they opened up the Totoros I made them for Christmas! It made it worth the many hours I spent with achy fingers, making them.

My word for the year was inspired by this quote last Advent season from a writer at the ashram blog (which you can find on my sidebar):

In this final week of Advent, almost upon the inbreaking of Christmas, we conceive of reality in which the Messiah is right here. Imagine the coming of Messaih. Break out of cynicism and pessimism. Challenge yourself and others with the presumption that God is acting and the creation is being drawn into redemption - conceive the re:creation that starts with Jesus and continues with us. Conceive of a love as genuine, as tangible, and as pervasive as the struggle which we more readily perceive. Let that conception be birthed in your actions.

This quote was on the side of my fridge all year and from time to time I would look at it and just think about what I wanted to imagine. The concept of building community - both spiritual and social - has always been important to me, but I had been discouraged over the course of a few years. Making an effort toward the reality I imagined was something I wanted to make - and feel I have made - this year.

It has been rewarding to look back, over the past few days, at some of the ways I have lived with intention in 2008. I was not always on track, but because of the seeds planted back in late December and January, I feel happy to see just how far I've come and am able to see the fruit of some things I really wanted to make happen.

I will be sharing some of my new ideas for the new year in my next post.

In the meantime, do you make resolutions or goals? Have you ever thought of having a word for the year? Consider it for 2009 if you don't. You may find it to be profitable. :)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Patterns Revealed

Today has been a pretty peaceful day. It's nice to have no obligations ~ nothing I must do. I seem to fall in line with th0se end-0f-the-year 0rganizatinal urges and cleaned 0ut my bedr00m cl0set t0day. After the m0nths 0f sneaky knitting and cr0cheting and hiding vari0us gifts in there, it needed a g0ing-thr0ugh f0r my sanity. In typical B0xing Day fashi0n, cl0thes were stacked int0 bags and added t0 0ther d0nati0ns that will be making their way t0 G00dwill 0r the l0cal church thrift st0re.

I als0 always feel a need t0 eat well after a h0liday gathering. I d0n't eat t00 many sweets 0n the wh0le, but never having been a big sweets eater t0 begin with, I have a pretty l0w thresh0ld f0r 0verl0ad. I pulled s0me kale fr0m the garden t0 have al0ng side 0ur "bean bread" lunch. I've adapted a recipe fr0m the M0re With Less C00kb00k and d0 the f0ll0wing:

a slice of bread t0pped with
vegan may0
imitati0n bac0n bits
sauteed 0ni0ns
a t0mat0
and pint0 beans seas0ned with chili, 0ni0n, cumin, and garlic p0wder, salt and even m0re fresh garlic added t0 the c00king p0t f0r g00d measure!

Yummy and filling!

As I'm writing this I am eating "Cheesy" Broccoli and Grits and a bowl of red cabbage. "Cheesy" Broccoli and Grits is a recipe from a vegan cookbook I got from the library over a year ago and is one which, unfortunately, I cannot remember the title! It is the ultimate comfort food for me and is wonderful for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here it is from memory:

2 c water
1/2 c yellow or white corn grits
1 c broccoli florets in little pieces

I put the water in a small pot, add the broccoli and bring to a boil. Once boiling I slowly pour in the grits, stir and reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and cook for about 15 min, stirring about twice.

When done cooking, stir in the following:
2 T nutritional yeast (yuuuummmmm!)
2 t flax seed oil
2 t olive oil (or just use 4 t olive if you don't have flax)
1 t salt

Mmmm... perfect. Makes two servings.

I thought I'd show you a few of the projects I did for my family for Christmas that I couldn't share here previously. The mittens (Tiffany - free on Ravelry)at the top of the post were for my sister. The red baby cape ("Daphne" Cape from Knit Two Together) was for her daughter. The gray hat was for her hubby and the brown (both hats, Jacques Cousteau - also free on Ravelry) was for my brother.

I have a one more pattern to share with you next time, but now I need to get off here and go test out the new laptop we got today! This computer is about 10 years old and is having a harder and harder time keeping up with all that's out there nowadays. Did you notice the letter 'o's at the beginning of my post are actually zeros? My letter 'o' on the keyboard keeps malfunctioning and doesn't always work. At least spellcheck doesn't seem to mind the zeros.

Mom and Jerry gifted us with some money for Christmas. Thanks Mom and Mr. J! That, plus a Christmas bonus means we will finally be up-to-date with the 21st century. :)

Hope you'll have a warm and wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Golf Cart Parade, Anyone?

Horseshoe Cove's annual Christmas Golf Cart Parade was this week and we were invited! Oh, a golf cart parade, you say? Um... how exciting...

First, Horseshoe Cove is a retirement community mobile home park where my mother used to live. She and her beau now have their own home outside of the park, but have many good friends still living at the park and so enjoy many of the events they continue to have there. For the past 3 years, we have enjoyed the golf cart parade and/or caroling with the residents there. The folks there all really love it when I bring the girls, as many of them sorely miss their own grandkids - especially at this time of year.

The parade isn't too long, but the "floats" are truly impressive!

The girls and "Sargent Little" waiting for the parade.

Sure, some just look like dressed up golf carts:

Hey, it's the Cat in the Hat!

But others are hard to recognize as such!

A very Florida Christmas!

Even Santa shows up and whizzes by with his reindeer.

Aren't they impressive?! The whole thing only lasts about 15 minutes, but it's certainly fun and the drivers and passengers of the carts love to throw candy to the kids! It's a happy, little Florida tradition.


Today we made a few cookies to share with our friends who came over to watch "A Christmas Story" with us. It's my FAVORITE movie and it was so much fun to share it with kids who hadn't seen it before. The cookies we made were from an idea we saw in Family Fun magazine and maybe you've seen it before. It's just Nutter Butters, pretzels, chocolate chips (semi-sweet and without milk for us), and red-hots for the nose stuck on with a bit of homemade icing. A yummy, vegan snack and no baking!

Did someone leave a banana on the cutting board? Why yes... yes they did.

I haven't been here as much as I wanted to this holiday season. I was so very busy with top-secret projects that I just didn't have as much time as I wanted to come here. But after Christmas I will share photos of some of those projects as well as goals and resolutions for the new year and the word of the year! That's right, it's time for a new word. Get your thinking caps on and think of one for yourself for 2009.

Until then, have a blessed Christmas everyone! I look forward to seeing how everyone's holidays went. I hope it's wonderful for all of you.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Giving and Hope for Now and the New Year

Well, hello again. :)

How is everyone's holiday season going so far? I must say I fluctuate between stress and peace right now. Happily, I am able, every day, to check something off the list and am down to a very few unfinished presents.

What I am greatly enjoying is the quiet time I am spending in the mornings continuing in the Bible study I started a few weeks ago along with the Advent devotions. As so often happens, the readings tie in well together with other things I am listening to and reading about right now.

Recently I subscribed to the Woodland Hills Church podcast. The church is one that my friends attend in the St. Paul, MN. It is a huge church - probably much bigger than one I would like to attend in person - but Greg Boyd and the other pastors there preach powerful, convicting, relevant messages every Sunday on what it means to daily practice kingdom living. I am enjoying the podcast very, very much.

Two weeks ago, one of the pastors, Sandra Unger, spoke about the generosity of Christians. Some of the things she mentioned really pricked at my conscience and I know I will listen to this sermon again. She shared with the congregation the very funny SNL skit, "Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford," which you should treat yourself t right now if you've never seen it.

After the video, Unger went on to say, "...the kingdom of God goes even beyond the SNL skit and asks the question, 'Even if you have the money, should you buy it?... We are very limited in our ability to step in and meet a need if we are constantly outspending our resources."

Unger also talks about our giving, particularly at Christmas. She does not wish to dismiss the giving that is taking place every year around this time, but she adds a few thoughts to it. She mentions the giving like the shoeboxes we fill to send to less fortunate children, as an example. The gifts, she argues, are important ones, and are valued by the recipients, "but," she says, "my truth is that I did not give sacrificially - the gift cost me 'nothing.' I didn't give the way Jesus calls us to give. And I think that if our giving - and not just at Christmas- doesn't involve sacrifice, then it's not all that it could be. It seems like that there should be things that I cannoot buy and vacations I cannot take and cars I will not drive and houses I cannot build, because my generosity in the kingdom of God makes those things impossible."

She goes on to talk about regularly having money available for giving that we might give happily and generously when we see a need. I am thinking about these things as we come to then end of one and begin a new year. Personally, I do not feel I have a whole lot financially I can give, but I want to be able to think of ways I can give more sacrificially in the coming year.

I know that this new year is going to bring even more trying times for folks. I see this as a great opportunity to be Christ to one another. I know it is easy to get swept up by our culture, but my hope is that Christians all over will be reaching out to others as times get hard. Unger pointed out in her sermon that 76% of Americans call themselves Christian. "Is it possible," she asks, "that some of those people in the crowds at Wal -Mart that crushed that young man to death, call themselves Christians?"

It's powerful stuff and we should be thinking seriously about it.

The theme for the second week in Advent in the little devotional I'm reading was the second candle which symbolized hope. I want to practice being hope in a dark world now and in the coming year. As Christians, Christ is our hope and we are this hope in this dark world. If we are behaving as the world behaves and scrambling furiously over others for stuff we just do not need, how are we different from the rest of the world? How will we represent hope in a struggling economy? How will we be Christ to the world?

William Sloane Coffin said, "Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart's full of hope, you can be persistent when you can't be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I not optimistic, I'm always very hopeful."

I want to be practicing hope as we move out of 2008 and into 2009. And as the new year moves ever closer and I begin to think about goals and resolutions, I want to think about ways I can continue to give and push myself to give more sacrificially as well. Just some things I'm thinking about these days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sigh of Relief

Whew! I feel like I'm crossing a finish line. I made it to Christmas vacation! :) This time of year is almost a bigger relief than getting to the summer break, because there are so many things pressing in on my time. I usually take off the whole of December, but given that it was a 5 week month this year, we had to work into the month in order for us to have our 36 weeks by the end of May.

But I am distracted. I am much worse than the kids who don't have to go to the post office to mail packages or worry about presents yet to be made or others to be sought out and purchased and making sure to have family time and quiet time and just fitting it all in.

So... a sigh of relief. And a day or so to regroup. And then I have more thoughts to share. But just a day or two of no commitments - nothing due... it's too delicious to let slip away. I am ready now to savor this holiday season.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Just One Day

I want to preface this post with a note that this is a "Day in My Life" post. I come across these now and then and sometimes I have time to read them and sometimes I do not. Feel free if you are interested at a peek into our day. Mostly this is here for posterity; a note on how we are now, amidst this season, this challenging financial time, the end of this year, 2008. Paul has a different schedule than we've ever had before and things are different, but the same. I know things will only continue, forever, to change, so this is just a note, just a memory of just one day.

Our Nativity, just waiting for the arrival of Mary and Joseph and the Wise Men.

I woke this morning from a dream, one of the most popular dreams there is to have, and yet I have never had it before this morning. Paul has had it and his mom has had it, but I never have. My teeth were falling out. First two back molars on one side dropped into a sink below me and then another, from the other side as I reached my hand, in alarm, to my mouth. Thank goodness I woke up before much more happened.

According to one website, this popular dream has to do with concern over your appearance and of getting older. :) Aaaahhh, yes. The Christmas family photo we did yesterday. Waaaaay too much scrutiny! I am never a big fan of the portrait, but, like this writing I love the posterity and the looking back at the moment and so, yes, the Christmas family photo.

Out of bed just before seven, I sat down for some Bible study and prayer time. I adore the quiet, reflective season of Advent. And now the house is decorated... fewer things were set out this year. I want to keep the season simple and focused. It's still quite lovely in the morning, though, with the sun just coming up over the pond and I can just enjoy the lights on the tree.

I'd like to say it was all completely peaceful, but when you have five pets, so happy to see you awake and to signal that their day is about to begin, then things are never that calm. Two of the three cats were in serious naughty mode and the third was just trying to stay out of their way and defend herself. The bird squawked for breakfast and dog had to be let out. I made myself a cup of green tea and reminded myself to breathe deeply.

I skipped the Bible study book I was reading this morning after prayer and the Advent devotion, so that I could catch up with a bit of journaling. I'm surprised I'm still in the same journal I've had for just over a year now. I'm still so happy with the method I've developed with images from magazines, thank you or birthday cards received, and other "stuff." It's mostly journal with a little bit of scrapbook and it is the unloading of my brain onto the page. It is good. Very good.

One benefit I get from all the pictures I cut out is simply that I am collecting beautiful things without actually buying or caring for those things. Sometimes we just want things because they are beautiful. And sometimes we want things... like a beautiful pair of shoes... that we know we will never have because a) they are not vegan and b) they cost $328. I can't even find a picture of them to share with you, though I have searched. I did find this though, and it's a close second, except the one I like has a red toe and heel. But it is pink like this and it is a Mary Jane style which is something I love. And it is in this month's edition of Real Simple magazine, which a friend gave to me (and which I shall duly cut to shreds for the journal!) Do I have any shoes like this? No. But just because a girl believes in living a simple life doesn't mean she doesn't appreciate a sweet pair of pumps! And so into the journal it goes and satisfies my soul just a wee little bit.

Time to wake the girls at 8:00.

Dressed and a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast.

It's Monday, so, "bring your whites!" Eve is in charge of those and I will hang them out later.

Bible time and advent devotions are first for us after I have a look at Paul's eye. The Christmas tree bit him, poor guy. He's got a long scratch on his left eye and it's all bloodshot and bugs the heck out of him. :(

The girls go off to their own journal and prayer time while I make a copy of a Spanish word-search puzzle with Christmas words. While at the computer I pop onto Facebook, leave a note about myself and one for my cousin.

I set up Eve with her math test and then talk to Maia about her math assignment for the day.

Then it's outside to hang the whites, iPod in my ears for the chores. I pick the rest of the radishes to give to the neighbors, thin a few of the carrots and grab a couple of bunches of kale for lunch. Then water the garden. (Photo at left of my laundry this past May.)

Inside, it's noon and Eve is rounding me up for a prayer. Maia is talking over a word problem in math with her daddy, so she doesn't join us this time. But this month our church is praying every day at noon for our mean-and-nasty-gives-Ebenezer-Scrooge-a-run-for-his-money-neighbor. We are praying to bless him and ask God to work in his heart a little kindness, for him to quit harassing our neighbors and their children, and to accept the friendship we offer to him. We will be praying for him every day into the new year. Pray for Bob Brown at noon too if you think of it; we'd love to see a miracle! :)

After the prayer, it's time to make lunch: Vegan Goulash, mixed veggies for the girls, sauteed kale with garlic and tamari for Paul and me, and grapes. I have to stop now and then and tell Eve not to start to cry when she gets frustrated over her math test. I have to remind her that it's okay to get some wrong - not to worry and just finish it.

Time for lunch. Today at the table, the talk turns to fungi, because there are mushrooms in the goulash. Maia starts, "Mama, are there other kinds of fungi that we eat?" I tell her I can't really think of any off the top of my head. She already knows fungi are used in antibiotics; she's looking for things we'd eat. Eve asks, "Do you know of any poisonous kinds of mushrooms? Not ones that just make you sick or just make you sick and die, but ones that kill you right away?"


After lunch, Paul gets ready to head to work and the girls and I sit down for art. This year we are using Artistic Pursuits curriculum (again, no image to link to - what's the DEAL?!), which is a drawing program and which we are all enjoying a lot. Today we were learning about Balance within a composition using shape or value. First we talked about American artist Winslow Homer and looked at his painting, New England Country School as an example of balance. The assignments were to, "Draw an experience as you recall it," and "Draw an indoor scene. Place objects in the scene so they balance." We had tea: chai for me, Earl Grey for Maia, and lemon for Eve, while I read Little Town on the Prairie. We all got a little creeped out when the mouse ate Pa's hair in the middle of the night!

After art we were done with our work for the day. We drove out to the library to pick up the Pokemon movie the girls had on hold. They are watching it right now. I should be walking the dog... and yet here I sit. :) Knit Wits are tonight. My mom and her friend are on a cruise, so it'll just be me and my mil. Just two knit wits tonight. I plan to add the finishing touches to one knitted gift and swatch for another. My mil will likely leave around 9:00 when the girls go to bed and I'll get as much knitting done as I can before heading to bed myself. I'm not too tired right now, so I may still be up at midnight when Paul gets home.

So that's the day. Just one day in my life. It's been a good one. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wise Investing

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her."
- Luke 10: 41-42

Don't you love when a familiar passage of Scripture suddenly has new life breathed into it?

I am thoroughly enjoying my new Bible study book that I got at the Goodwill bookstore: A Woman After God's Own Heart by Elizabeth George. This is an older book, published in 1997, but, oh, I was meant to read it right now. I confess, though, that when I got into the first chapter and saw that the featured piece of Scripture was the story of Mary and Martha, I thought to myself, "Oh, that story... again." I really wondered what new could come of it?

Most of the time I have read the story and have had discussions with others about the busyness of Martha. Certainly, that idea is applicable to this season and is one to which I am paying attention. I know that Martha was concerned about the hospitality she was providing and, believe me, I completely understand her frazzled nature! But Jesus' compassionate answer to her, speaks to so much more than that present, momentary setting.

I have been out of a regular practice of quiet time alone with God for a number of months now. It's not that I wasn't reading my Bible, but it was sporadic throughout a week - or completely missing a week. Of course, the girls and I have Bible time first thing every school day and so often I would "count" that. But "count"? Really, now, is that the stuff of relationship? And while I was studying with the girls and discussing with them, I was not having one-on-one time with God, save for chatting with Him throughout the day; sending up little, "popcorn" prayers, as one author I remember put it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and, indeed, I continue to do all these things. But it puts me a bit more in mind of Facebook or even blogging. I get on and read what God's doing at the moment, but then go on with my day-to-day tasks. Sometimes I take a little more time and check out His profile page and I'll send him a comment. Sometimes I'll even have time for a chat. But for as much as we love what this technology provides us, I think we all agree that we appreciate the one-on-one, real-life, conversational time spent with those we love.

All this to say, I was quickly convicted and then re-energized and motivated and hungry to have more - the more that I remember having when I do take time with God. And, of course, it does take time. In fact, right now, it's taking the time I was using to work out and I'm going to need to have to do some rearranging here if I'm going to fit it all in. But I'm happy to say that I've got my priorities back in line now. Because here's the thing: Elizabeth George put it so beautifully - and in light of our current economic crises, I think it is particularly pointed - "... as her Master noted, time spent hearing and worshiping God can never be taken away, for it is time spent in eternal pursuits, time that earns permanent and everlasting dividends."

Are you worried and upset about something today? Are you concerned about the future of your own or your husband's or other loved ones' employment right now? Have you saved and invested for your future, only to have so much of it, yes indeed, taken away? God understands your concern and your fears. I was just marveling today at the number of verses that talk about a person becoming weary. He knows how things are. He understands what it is like to be human. And He says, "only one thing is needed." Take time now to make a real investment in your future and your relationship with God.

You will be so blessed by it and it will not be taken away from you.
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