Monday, December 9, 2013

On Surrender and Renewal

I've been feeling nostalgic the last few days and today I found myself reading my own blog.  It's been a while.  For those of you who don't know, I got divorced last summer.

My word for the year this year is "surrender".  This is a big challenge for a type A over-achieving control freak, but it's also a relief.  As believers, we know this as trusting in the sovereignty of God.  I love this quote on what it means to surrender.

"Surrender is a beautiful movement in which you gracefully, willingly, languidly fall, only to find midway that you have been gathered into some unimaginable embrace.  Surrender is letting go, whether or not you believe the embrace will occur.  It's trust to the hundredth power- not sticking to your idea of the outcome, but letting go in the faith that even the absence of an outcome will be the perfect solution."  Rich Roll quoting Daphne Rose Kingma in his book Finding Ultra

Roll goes on to say, "Sometimes in life we're lucky enough to receive the precious gift of clarity.  I suddenly realized that success wouldn't come if I made today about me.  Rather, success would come only to the extent that I could drop my ego and align myself with something higher and more fundamental."

Of course, we know that something "higher" is God and the "fundamental", His Word.

I have to keep reminding myself, in small things, and big, to surrender my hopes, my dreams, my plans for my kids, all of it to God and His perfect will.  It's hard to let go, but such relief after I do it.  Each and every time.

I was reading the end of Crime and Punishment again and choked up like I always do upon reading Dostoevsky's final words about his unlikely protagonist.  The end of the book finds Raskolnikov in a Siberian prison serving a 7 year sentence for manslaughter.  He has just taken up his copy of the New Testament for the first time.  And while I always cry at the end of this book, as I confess I do at the end of many books, I can't help but think I feel these parting words especially meaningful and appropriate to me in the wake of my divorce.

"He did not know that the new life would not be given him for nothing, that he would have to pay dearly for it, that it would cost him great striving, great suffering.  But that is the beginning of a new story- the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life.  That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended."  Fyodor Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My artistic, indoorsy husband becomes a mighty hunter

My husband is NOT the hunting type.  His hobbies include reading, playing the cello, reading, listening to sermons, reading, gardening, and reading.  He sometimes dreams of building a model train layout or becoming a goat farmer in New Zealand (that's why it's called "dreaming").  He never even owned a gun til he married into my family.  Once, about 14 years ago, a friend of his invited him deer hunting and my husband felt it rude not to accept.  He is NOT a morning person and did NOT have a good time freezing his you-know-what off in a deer blind at zero dark thirty.  I think he may have gone hunting with another friend 10 or so years ago, again so as not to be rude.  This was not his idea of fun, though, until very recently.

Again, it was one of my husband's friends who had been working on him for some time, trying to persuade him that they needed to go hunting.  This particular friend has a new smoker and was really interested in getting some meat.  Finally, he wore my husband down.

I admit to being irritated when he told me he was going hunting that Saturday.  We had a swim meet in a city 2 hrs away and I had been hoping to leave a couple of the little kids with him.  And it never crossed my mind that he would actually get anything.

I came home to this...


I think he was on a bit of a hunter's high or maybe he went deer crazy.  

My husband said to ask him about his beginner's luck.  I did and imagine my surprise when he told me he got two deer and a turkey!  What's really funny, or sad, is that he actually went hunting on our land, but it's leased out to a group of guys for the hunting season.  One of these hunters graciously served as a guide for my husband and his friend that day and as they were driving out to the blind, told my husband that there had been slim pickins this year and they had hardly gotten anything.  Then my husband gets two deer and borrows a different gun to shoot the turkey.

So my husband goes over to his friend's house, or garage actually, and they have what was evidently a meat butchering party.

What happened to my indoorsy, book-loving husband?  

Why is the song "Deliverance" ringing in my ears?
Well, at least I didn't have to SEE the dead animals, or the meat for that matter.

It gets better, or worse.  To be continued...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

More Vanilla Extract!

I think I gave away at least forty 4 oz bottles of vanilla extract this Christmas and ran out, so I decided to make more.

In order to make homemade vanilla extract, you need vanilla beans and vodka.  I ordered Madagascar vanilla beans from Olive Nation at www.olivenation.com.  I have a coupon code for 20% off at Olive Nation that expires in 30 days.  It's 202012.  



I bought 100 proof vodka that is triple distilled, the good stuff.  Make sure your vodka is in a glass bottle, not plastic, unless you plan on transferring your vodka bean mixture to another glass receptacle for incubation.  I decided on 15 beans per 1 L bottle of vodka this time.  You'll find all kinds of bean:vodka ratios out there.  Mine was somewhat arbitrary.  I bought 60 beans and 4 bottles, so...

Gracie is demonstrating how you split the vanilla bean length-wise, leaving an inch or so at the top.  The purpose behind splitting the bean is so the gooey stuff inside (my technical term) more easily leaches into the vodka.







It's important that you incubate your vanilla bean/vodka mixture in a cool dark place.  I chose an abandoned cabinet in our televisionless entertainment armoire.  No one ever gets in there!  The bottles are buried among my old graduate school notebooks and dissertation.  I've read that the vanilla extract can be ready within a few weeks or as long as 6 months.  The variation probably has to do with the initial concentration of vanilla beans and the desired concentration of extract.  You're supposed to invert the bottles every week or so, but I usually forget to do this after the first week.  I'm not planning on bottling this new batch of extract for at least 5 months.


The picture above was taken when I bottled my Christmas extract.  I designed the label myself.  It says, "Not your ordinary plain vanilla extract."  Get it?  

Everyone I gave my vanilla to seemed truly thrilled to get it.  I think people are becoming more aware that what passes for food in the grocery store is largely imitation.  This is an easy way to get the real thing!

Oh, and for you latte aficionados, homemade vanilla extract makes wonderful homemade vanilla syrup for flavoring your fancy coffee drinks.  Have you seen the additives in those commercial syrups?  

I've played around with a few recipes and settled on:  1 c water, 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/4 c white sugar, 2 T homemade vanilla extract.  Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.  Let cool and store in fridge.  Try it and you'll never go back to the artificial stuff!

Making Almond Extract


I can't remember if I blogged about making vanilla extract last year, but I'm about to make it again and will take pictures as I go this time.  A couple of days ago I got the itch to make almond extract.  When I excitedly told my mom what I was doing, she asked the obvious, "What do you do with almond extract?" Let's not get caught up in details, shall we.  Making extract is so much fun and "almond" seemed the natural second flavor to venture into, after "vanilla".  I've read that almond extract is wonderful in baked goods and frosting.  If you have any other ideas, please share.

All you need to make almond extract is vodka and almonds.  Pretty simple.

I used 24 almonds for 750 ml vodka.  I read 12 almonds for 16 ounces and since 750 ml is more like 24 ounces and I thought a few extra almonds couldn't hurt, I went with 24.  Nothing magic about it.  I call it Celee-math.

It's better to use vodka in a glass bottle and go with a higher proof.  This is 80 proof.

First, blanch almonds by pouring boiling water over them for 30 seconds to 1 minute max.  Then you can easily remove the skins.  Chop almonds (I did this the old fashioned way), and put them in the vodka.  You have to pour off a little of the vodka to make room for the almonds.  I poured mine down the sink so as not to repeat the mistake I made last year with my vitamins.  Long story.


Incubate in a cool, dark cabinet for 2 months or longer.  Strain (I used a paper funnel with built-in strainer at the bottom used for straining paint) then bottle in amber bottles.  I like 4 oz bottles.  I'll keep you posted on the finished product.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Update

Most of you know we sent our kids to school this year, so I guess this isn't really a homeschool blog anymore.  I don't know if I'm coming back to blogging for good, or if I just have lots to share right at the moment.  I do want to give a brief update on the kids and then will blog about my recent kitchen projects in future days including making almond milk, almond extract, vanilla extract, Ezekiel bread, venison loin, tahini, hummus, and more.

Our two oldest kids, Kurtis (13) and Gracie (11), went to a local private faith-based prep school this year and are enjoying it and doing well.  Kurtis is an 8th grader and Gracie's a 6th grader.  I can't tell you what a relief it has been to this homeschool mom of 6 years that I didn't mess up my kids!  They are excelling academically and in every way.  They both continue to swim and play the piano.  Gracie also joined student council and orchestra (she and her dad both recently took up the cello).  They continue to bring us joy and make us laugh.  Kurtis remarked recently that if he had Thanksgiving to do all over again, he'd eat a lot more pie.  Gracie thoughtfully informed me the other day, when I asked her and her sister to pick up their dolls for the 5th time, that it was kind of a long-term game.  Earlier today they were messing around on the piano together making beautiful music and I thought what treasured times these are.

Mia (9) and Wyatt (6) went to our local public elementary school for 4th and 1st grades this year.  I had really struggled with Mia academically and was worried she'd flunk out.  I needn't have worried.  She's doing great, though she still prefers climbing trees and playing in the mud to doing homework.  Some of her memorable quotes regarding school are, "Mom, I'd love to make better grades, I just don't know how!" and "Mom, you're going to be so proud of my progress report.  It looks just like Wyatt's, except for one 89."  Of course, Wyatt, the one who doesn't share our gene pool, is the genius of the family!

Lucie (4) and Calvin (2) go to pre-school at a local church two mornings a week and Calvin has a very rigorous therapy schedule with ECI coming into the home for PT, OT, and speech therapy every week and also going to another PT/OT therapist each week.  Lucie keeps us all on our toes and Calvin has made great strides this year.

We moved our family of 8 about 2 miles away into a brand new house.  What a job!  We didn't realize we were hoarders til it came time to go through every drawer, cabinet, and closet.  We still haven't moved our garage or attic over.  Yesterday my husband took a deer to the old house and hung it in the garage.  I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled!  Hopefully we'll get it ready to sell soon.

That's what we've been up to.  I've really missed all my friends in blogdom and am so happy to have found some of you on facebook!  I'm going to be messing around with the blog for a few days so check back.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Twinkle Toes


Our oldest daughter turned 11 last month.  She is artistic, creative, and loves a good project!  She is such a help and joy to me.  She has been planting flowers in our front flower beds and also put together an attractive pot for our front porch.  Yesterday we found out that Twinkle Toes won second place in the entire state of Texas piano composition contest for her age category.  (I'm actually surprised someone beat her, her song is that good.)  She won a cash prize, but we haven't heard how much, yet.  I think she's spent it already : ).  And I think her song will be published.  We are very proud of Twinkle Toes and thankful to God for giving her this musical gift.  We are also thankful to my mom and dad who have paid for all her piano lessons, and my mom even takes her and practices with her!  And her piano teacher really worked with her, teaching her how to compose a piece of music- putting the parts together, etc.  We are very blessed!

In other news, Twinkle Toes has been wanting to go to school.  We told her if she got into the private college preparatory school near our home that we'd let her go.  (Her older brother is also going there next year.)  She took the Iowa Basic Skills Test as part of the admissions process and I'm happy to report she was above grade level on everything!  She is finishing up 5th grade right now, so they were looking to make sure she scored above 5.8 on all subjects.  Her language arts score was 6.5, indicating mid-sixth grade level (I absolutely hate teaching LAs and have worried that my kids were lagging behind.  This was a huge relief to me.)  Her math score was 7.7, so a little beyond mid-seventh grade level, and her reading comprehension score was 9.6!  Yeah!!!  I didn't mess my kids up by homeschooling them!  Seriously, this was such a huge relief to know that my two oldest children, who have been homeschooled 6 and 4 years, respectively, are above grade level on everything!  I have enjoyed my time homeschooling them and it wasn't an academically motivated decision, but I am SO GRATEFUL that they are beyond where they need to be.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Christian Philosophy of Food Giveaway on In a Shoe

 



I have not read The Christian Philosophy of Food by Peter Bringe, but I would like to.  I'm trying to win it over at In a Shoe and you can enter to win, too.  Just go to In a Shoe and follow the rules to enter for a chance to win this interesting sounding book.

You know I've been on a food book binge of late and I think this would be the perfect addition to my food library!

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Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Prov 4:23