Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving with a Side of Bittersweet Pie

I have always adored hosting friends and family for everything.  Truly, it is my favorite thing. I've made a bit of a hobby out of collecting serving dishes, trays, platters, tea pots, cute dippers, special knives for cheese, as well as crystal glasses for every conceivable adult beverage.

That said, Thanksgiving has long been one of my two favorite days of the year (the other is our Christian version of Passover).  I host the Thanksgiving dinner at my house annually -- or at least I have for the last ten years, or so, since we've lived in the House on the Hill.  All the local family come, along with whatever random friends and acquaintances they bring.  We've had people from Laos, people from Colombia, along with an interesting array of local yokels, and yesterday, a wonderful gentleman from China. The whole extended family has made a concerted effort to make sure everyone in our circles has a place to go. I try to make it fancy and festive, creating many family traditions, in hope of giving my kids some warm memories -- like using the same recipes and always having some child make a cranberry necklace for the turkey to be displayed in.  After dinner, we hang out together while the tryptophan works its magic, and then play games.  We often play into the wee hours. 

All that said, we are not the family Norman Rockwell would have painted at Thanksgiving!  

Although, who really knows what that poor woman had to go through to get to the point of serving a beautifully roasted turkey in a spanking clean apron to a table full of people dressed to the nines?

Mentally, if not physically, my hair is always standing on end by the time dinner is served.  I can handle the cooking, which I largely do the day before, but I really like to have a clean house by the time guests arrive. And since the normal state of our house is to be covered in dirty socks, Legos, and dog hair, that is no small feat.  It is actually very stressful for a mom with a very busy husband and three boy-children; of which the oldest two actually and literally hide in their room for fear of being put to work.  Although, to be fair, I have to say that my youngest (age 8) just embraces it with a series of cheerful inquiries:  "What next, Captain Mommy?!" 
To me, the process of delousing and expunging has always been well worth it when the first guests arrive and ooh and ahh at my lovely, cat-hair-free tablecloths and settings.  But, as I approach the half-century point, I'm realizing that what makes me happy just doesn't do a thing for all the men-folk around me.  Cranking at one another is not how anyone wants or needs to spend the morning of Thanksgiving.  That time should be preserved for Twilight Zone re-runs on Netflix, or the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on HGTV. Why, you ask, did this take me 21+ years of marriage and 18 years of parenting to learn?  Well, I guess I should change my name to the Queen of Denial on the Hill. 

So, with some mixed feelings, I have declared yesterday my last to host Thanksgiving.  At least for a few years.  The next year will bring many transitions for my family, as we shuffle some of the details of our lives in hopes of bringing more simplicity, more sustainability, and more peace.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost/Feast of Weeks

Because every blog about faith should have shiny, happy music in the background, this is my selection for Pentecost.  This YouTube video is perfect for this joyous, completely optimistic day!  

Read on, if you like:

Today is Pentecost.  I know that not every church observes this day, but ours does, and we observe all of the other holy days of Leviticus 23.  This is because of their rich dual meaning, in almost every case pointing to something that happened in the past and something in the future.  As they say, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it!  And I would add the corollary that those who have something to look forward to find it easier to stay on track.  Last, but not least, we observe these holy days because God actually calls them "His Feasts."

Lev 23:2  Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. 

They are the "Feasts of the Lord," not "Feasts for the Jews alone."  And actually, if you look up the word translated as "Feasts," it looks more like "appointments."  I like that concept.  I feel that I'm accepting an invitation from God when I circle these days on my calendar and make a point to spend that day with the Lord.

Pentecost (actually a Greek word for "fiftieth" used in the New Testament for the observance), was built around the wheat harvest. It was called Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament (Hebrew), based on the instructions for calculating its date (7 weeks + 1 day).  It is also sometimes called "Feast of First Fruits."

Exo 34:22  And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end. 

Specifically, it is counted from the first Sabbath to fall within the Days of Unleavened Bread. Thus, it is by design 50 days from the first Sabbath that falls after Passover:

Lev 23:15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 
:16  Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. 

Yes, I know numbers can be boring.  But the fact that it needs calculated at all is really interesting.  Every single other holy day is on a fixed date.  It makes you wonder what you were meant to contemplate in that intervening time between Days of Unleavened Bread, when you are supposed to be putting sin out of your life, and the day God baptized His people with the holy spirit.

The most famous Pentecost, of course, was the one which followed the death and resurrection of Jesus:

Act 2:1  And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 
:2  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 
:3  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 
:4  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

How cool is that?

It is sometimes overlooked that the people were actually gathered there to keep the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost when the holy spirit fell upon them.  They weren't just hanging out at the coffee house, playing mini-golf or even attending Sunday School (although it was the first day of the week).  Read the first verse once again:

Act 2:1  And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 

They were there, specifically observing the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost.  Jesus' followers were in the right place at the right time keeping their appointments with God when God set their church on fire in such a delightful way. So rumors that this was the first Pentecost are somewhat exaggerated.  There had been something in the neighborhood of 1,500 other Pentecosts by this point in time, a point that may be obscured by the switcheroo from the Hebrew to the Greek name for the event.

Just before His ascension, 40 days after his resurrection and 10 days before the coming Feast of Weeks/Pentecost observance, Jesus had actually told His followers to remain in Jerusalem for this special occasion:

Act 1:4  And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 
:5  For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. 

It sure pays to be where Jesus tells you to be, especially when He tells you to keep that appointment with God!  I'd have hated to have heard about this event later around the water cooler.  These days, someone would've surely caught it on Instagram, but back then, you'd have just been out of luck.

Fun fact:  3,000 were baptized that day.  Wow!  I'd love to have heard that sermon.

Reaching farther back into the history of Pentecost, a whole lot of people believe that Pentecost is, in fact, the day that God gave the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Most of Judaism, in fact. But there's some controversy about whether all the travel to Sinai from Egypt could have been accomplished within that 50 days from that Sabbath following Passover.  I don't have a position on that.  I suspect it to be so, but I can't prove it and it really doesn't matter to me.

There is so much more to be said about Pentecost.  About how awesome it would be to open your mouth and speak and be understood in the language of all the disparate people around you.  About why the loaves of bread waved by the Priests were leavened. (Because we are yet sinful, but are made holy before the Lord.) What it means that Jesus was the first fruit and what it means that we are meant to follow Him.  But I will end it there, with a very enthusiastic wish for a Happy Pentecost!

1 Cor 15:20  But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 
:21  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 
:22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 
:23  But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. 

James 1:18  Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Transition to Homeschool Mom of Two... plus One Adult

 For months -- and I'm ashamed to say just how many -- I've been just "getting by," due to the stress and strain of all that goes into getting a homeschooled senior through that last year of high school and into college.  I've become that mother I once looked down on.  You know the one.  The one who is late everywhere, or missing entirely because she forgot the meeting, or didn't hear there was a meeting, or who has to ask three times for the location of said meeting, or who has lost that paper vital to whatever the meeting is about... Yep.  That's me.  Let's not even discuss what That Mom's hair and make-up look like.  It is hard to believe I was once considered a Type A personality and an overachieving marketing manager at the managerial level in a globally significant accounting firm.  I was known for working small miracles, and with partners who were considered hopeless.  My consulting rate (last time I consulted) was $xxx an hour.  But throw three school-aged kids at me and I'm a babbling fool.

In technical terms, what really happened in my brain is that the static of a constant To Do list running through my head finally zapped my Random Access Memory and disabled my Operating System.  True story.

What happened in my heart was that I was so fearful of screwing stuff up that I succumbed to Analysis Paralysis.  Check your Merck Manual.  It's a real thing. What that looks like is a lot of hands waving in the air (and not in praise!), a lot of empty threats about what will happen if this paper doesn't get turned in by such-and-such time or if errant teen doesn't text "safe" or "here" upon arrival, plus a whole lot of repeating myself, a dollop of hair standing on end, and a whole lot of frustration -- on all sides.  In my case, it was exacerbated by the fact that there was really noone else actively involved and I felt like it all fell on me.  I did ask for help sometimes and sometimes, I did receive it. So maybe that feeling wasn't entirely accurate.

How did I arrive at a place so far from my nature?

I can only guess that "fear" is the answer. I hovered, annoyingly and ineffectively.  I nagged.  (Yeah, again, annoyingly and ineffectively.)  I gnashed my teeth.  I lost sleep.  I cried.  I gained weight.  LOTS of weight.  I neglected my other children and my parents.  I didn't garden.  I didn't clean my house.  I didn't do my One Year Bible Readings that I so wanted to do.

I learned to say no.  Which was probably the only positive thing that came out of the entire school year.  And with my newly established identity as "Loser Mom," my nos were very convincing.  (Who wants to put the person who loses everything in charge of anything?  I should have thought of that before.)

 I simply and sincerely felt like I had no time physically, emotionally, and spiritually to do anything until the details of the boy's graduation and pathway to college were established.

Well, now those things are done.  That first boy baby I cuddled in my arms and danced with all night, singing "You're Mommy's Special Baby" to over and over is now a high school graduate, as of June 6, 2014.  He is an 18-year old with a car and a job and an acceptance letter to a great college.  I really haven't fully digested that.

But there are other important things I would like to say about my boy.

1.  When he bumps into me in town, he immediately comes and hugs me, no matter who is watching.
2.  Part of his college decision was based around his desire not to be too far from his grandparents, as they enter their 80s in the next few months and he doesn't want to miss important time with them and he feels he can be useful to them.
3.  He thinks his slightly younger brother walks on water.  He honestly thinks he is just such a good person, and he goes to bat for him every chance he gets -- even on dumb things, like his desire to avoid a haircut. ;-)
4.  He would walk barefoot across fire to help a friend.  Seriously.
5.  He insists that we ask the blessing at meals, even if I forget.
6.  He still comes and sits on my lap sometimes.  Not because he needs it, but because he knows that is who I am and that I need it.

Probably, I could've come up with a good solid ten, but those are the things that were in the forefront of my battered and bruised heart.  Or maybe I should say "battered and bruised pride," because Pride, regrettably, often dictates what I do.  I say pride because I hate that I didn't perform on a higher plane this year.  I really do.  But parenting, thankfully, is not the same as other careers.  As a mom looking at the end of an 18-year job contract, these outcomes are pretty doggone terrific, in spite of myself.  I raised an individual who will make choices for himself.  I will not love all of those choices, but I will love the heart that made them.  For it is truly a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jun. 11, 2007: Tuesday Travel Memories - Santorini, Greece

My vote for the "Place I Traveled that was Hardest to Leave" is the Greek island of Santorini.  [Click here to play the Greek National Anthem while you're reading this -- you need to get in the spirit of things!]

I will have to say that all of Greece is utterly breathtaking, but Santorini was absolute perfection.  We went there after spending about 10 days touring in and around Athensand we really meant to use the ferry system and travel to several other islands, as well.  Every day that we were there, we dutifully packed up our bags to leave, checked out of the hotel, ate breakfast, and then re-checked in.  It wasn't a fancy hotel back then.  It wasn't the cleanest hotel.  It didn't even have a great view.  But it was perfect for us.  Sure, it is the tourist's duty to see as much as possible, right?  But why shuffle on to another island when we had already found "the bomb" as they say.  There simply was no room for improvement. 

The year was 1994.  Our everyday lives back in Pasadena, California, were filled with long commutes (mine to the heart of downtown Los Angeles, the King to Disney inBurbank), stressful jobs, and no kids.  Our careers, along with the King's pursuit of his Master's degree consumed every molecule of our energy.  By the time we reached Santorini, we had unwound significantly already.  Something about the sun in Greece, or the unbelievable gem-colored blue of the sea that is so different than what you find in the Caribbean, yet every bit as gorgeous.  And the light colored building materials or whitewash that reflect all that fabulous white and blue (Greece's national colors).  Okay, and maybe it was a little about them serving oenos at every single meal save breakfast.  The coffee they served at breakfast was equally yummy, I must say. 

But in October, Santorini is truly hotter than the mythical fires of Hades.  Our solution?  Obviously, you spend the heat of the day flying around the island on your rented motorcycle to stay cool.  If you jump off the motorcycle, make sure you're just about to get in the water.  And things are so laid back there; the only thing we *ever* needed to be on time for was the sunset over the caldera.  This is beyond a shadow of a doubt the most beautiful sunset anywhere in the world.  You see, Santorini is essentially one side of the rim of a huge volcano that is mostly underwater.  It is like the tip of an iceberg, only you are sitting on one side of the volcano and looking out over a bay that is the inside of the volcano -- at the much shorter rim on the other side.  The town of Fira is actually built down the side of that rim, but the main street runs right along the top of the "ridge".  And the sunset just fills the sky. 

Something happened to me during my stay in Santorini/Greece.  Having experienced an incomparable joie de vivre there, after my return to reality (if you can call Los Angeles "reality) I never again could care about my career to the degree that I once had.  Sure, I hung in there another year and a half, but I didn't lie awake at night stressing about that job.  My fingers had touched the brass ring of happiness and I never wanted to be that far from it again.  I kept my Greek music CDs handy in the event I needed a refresher course!  And of course, I never take off this big honking gold ring I bought in the Plaka while there.  When I look at it, I'm transported to a world of bright blue doors, spontaneous dance, and endless bartering sessions.

To sum it up, Santorini has a beautiful black sand beach, a regular beach, a rocky beach (all with clothing more or less optional), boat rides to hike around inside a smaller, active volcano, a dream-like "traditional" town called Oia, fresh roasted pistachio venders, and a dry climate that promises good hair days for the duration of your stay.  Can it get any better than that?

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jun. 17, 2007: Tuesday Travel Memories: Food Poisoning

Because I'm traveling on Tuesday this week, I'm posting Tuesday Travel Memories on Sunday.  Today's continuation of the series showcases my pick for the Worst Case of Food Poisoning Ever

I struggled to choose between two very memorable occasions in making this selection.  In the end, though, the illness procured from excessive olive intake in a Nile-side restaurant in Aswan, Egypt, and experienced on an overnight train to Cairo via Luxor, beat out that disgusting Chinese Restaurant in Bangkok which made my brief trip to Hong Kong a very unpleasant blur.  And I have to say that, as a result, the best part of the King Tut exhibit at the museum in Cairo was that I got a seat on a bench.  It was that bad. 

So my advice to anyone traveling to areas of the world that may not have our North American or European standards of cleanliness is as follows:

1.  Avoid all ice.  Everyone knows to avoid water, so I won't bother too much with that one -- but don't forget:  no ice in your drink, no popsicles or Italian ice, etc.  Carbonated water is safer than flat water, germ-wise -- because you know it really came from a bottle and wasn't a used bottle refilled in the restaurant's kitchen sink.  

2.  If offered tea or coffee in a "furrin" country, make sure it has been boiled for long enough to kill the bugs.  (According to the CDC, this would be a rolling boil for 1 minute.)

3.  My fatal mistake in Aswan was that the olives in the middle east/mediterranean are preserved in oil and not brine.  Not sure that carries with it the same anti-bug feature.  This was an outdoor restaurant and they had likely been standing in the sun for who-knows-how-long.

4.  Do not eat fruit or veggies that cannot be peeled or are hard to wash -- like salad.  Make sure you peel stuff yourself, too.  

5.  Take over the counter medicine with you -- you're probably going to get sick no matter what you do.  Interestingly, we all got QUITE the opposite problem when travelingback to relatively clean countries like Israel and the US.  After a year in Jordan, our bodies were just stumped by the lack of bugs with laxative qualities in the West Bank.  One of my friends actually contracted Typhoid while on a dig in Syria and was just ever so whiney on our Israeli tour.  We didn't miss a chance to tell him so, either.  We all felt really, really badly when we learned he was really sick instead of just being a baby. 

This all sounds scary, I know, but the experience of taking the road less traveled by is totally worth it. 

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jul. 11, 2007: Ahhhhhhhhh... rejuvenated at last!

Sometimes, with our frenetic schedules, the heavy responsibility of homeschooling and motherhood in general, it pays to be reminded of who WE really are.  Starting maybe with who we were before we were Mommy. 
Each year, I get that chance.  The King and I get together with about 30 of our closest, oldest friends (the number depends on how many can make it in a given year) and up to 15 or so of our offspring for the better part of a week.  We've been doing this for closing in on 10 years now, and before that, got together every Tuesday night for about 4 years in Pasadena, California, where we all lived.  Most of us met in college and kept up with one another in our Single days, our Newlywed days, our DINK days, right on through the starting of our various families.  We've stuck together through thick and thin.  Slowly but surely, we made the reverse pilgrimage east and spread ourselves pretty evenly across the regions of the US and for one family, various other points of the world (there have been supplementary gatherings in Mexico, Cypress, and Kenya). So now our get togethers are only annual instead of weekly, but they are even more special.  We've met in Maryville, TN, Phoenix, St. Louis, Chicago, Denver, Charlottsville, VA, and now Raleigh.  Next year, we're back in St. Louis and then we aspire to do a cruise together so someone else can do the cooking.

Most of the attendees stay in the house of the host family, which can be a little stressful, but is always fun, too.  Especially for the kids.  Beforehand, we determine which family will be responsible for which meals (Brunch and Supper are served daily).  That family submits a menu and a shopping list.  The host family buys all the stuff for the meals before we even get there.  The goal is always to provide the most gourmet meal plan possible and from scratch.  Virtually every brunch this year included some spin on the common Mimosa and some type of quiche or souffle -- one had whole grilled beef tenderloin.  Yum.  The dinners were magnificent, too. This year, the host family added the feature of primarily organic ingredients and as much local produce as possible.   At the end of each of these affairs, we add up all the receipts and divide it by size of family.  It is a screaming deal!  And there's such magic in the sheer number of hands to get any job or dish done in record time.  It is a study in the value of cooperation.    

It is always so very reassuring to see those people who are so similar to me on the inside and who knew me when I was so horribly young and silly, but loved me anyway.  Some of you would have laughed at the conversations -- we played a game one night to see who had traveled the most and I'm pretty sure I was close to the bottom of the list.  (I could count maybe 27 countries, but the winner had been to 44 countries -- the next runner up to 43 and then 42 and so on...)  They had me feeling like quite the homebody. 

The couple who hosted this year had a lovely and mercifully large (for all those people!) manor-style home with a European garden in the back -- tons of roses, pea gravel, a heart-shaped grassy area.  The roses gave birth to a fabulous activity for the many children (all boys, save one):  for every Japanese Beetle plucked from a bush, you got 1 penny.  I was tempted to participate myself!!  My oldest son won the championship, with some 633 Japanese Beetles whom he helped launch into another world, as he likes to say.  He's enjoying his $6.33.   This kept them busy for literally hours over the 5 days or so that we were there.  Between this gentle, unscheduled time with plenty of chatter, reminiscing, confiding, learning from each other and the 3 days we spent at the beach the weekend before, I came home refreshed and completely ready to face my world. 

I hope this will inspire you to call someone who knew you "when" and who still loves you anyway -- through thick and thin. 

P.S.  Here's one recipe I used for the brunch the King and I planned.  It was sublime, even though we had to triple it.  Make sure YOUR chilis are mild:

Egg and Chili Souffle

Oven temp 400 for 15 min. then turn down to 350.

5 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 T melted butter
1 - 4 oz. can mild green chiles, chopped
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
2 cups grated pepper jack cheese

Grease and flour 9 x 9" pan.  Beat eggs well until frothy.  Stir in next three ingredients and add melted butter.   Next, add cottage cheese and grated pepper jack cheese.

Pour into pan and bake 15 minutes at 400 then turn oven down and bake about 35 minutes at 350 or until slightly golden brown.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 10, 2007: Oops! I did it again...

Well, at least I didn't do it again the Britney Spears way, but still, it was bad with a capital "B."

My big boys wanted to make Jello tonight.  They followed all the steps and then, as Oldest Son was putting it in the fridge (in the pan, with the handle sticking out, without moving any existing objects from the spot he was placing it in, or minding the trajectory of the door), it went everywhere.  All over the inside of the fridge, the island, the wood floor, Oldest Son's clothing, and then it got worse.  As I'm shrilly and insensitively barking orders like a fishwife on exactly how the clean-up must commence, Middle Son comes along, realizes what has happened and starts bawling loudly.  I mean like a baby.  I said nothing to him, preferring to pretend his heart wasn't broken because the fruits of his labor were now all over the floor.  I just kept haranguing Oldest Son about all the spots he was missing and then I really hit the roof when baby started wading through it gaily and tracking the now glue-like substance across the room.  Oldest Son was very ashamed and disappointed and truly upset at his mistake.  So why did I heap it on further? 

Five hours probably passed before I came to my senses.  OS and MS had been asleep for nearly 3 hours when I thought back on what had happened (while doing dishes) and realized what a monster I was.  I could have taken that situation and turned it into a happy experience for them.  I could have made them clean up the mess, sure -- but quietly.  And then I could have simply found them another box of Jello and permitted them to try it over again.  What did they learn from that whole exercise, as I left it? 

I've always thought we get a good part of our vision of how God is from how our parents are.  And tonight, I taught my boys that God is merciless and unforgiving.  I robbed them of the chance to try again, to learn from their mistake, and to receive redemption in the form of a wiggly snack.

In shame and tears, I woke my boys up and apologized to them for my behavior and told them how sorry I was that their Jello spilled and that I knew how sad and disappointed that had made them.  I asked their forgiveness and received it in surprised, sleepy little voices.  I kissed them and told them I loved them.  I have now made a stack of  all the Jello boxes I could find and will let them make the stuff tomorrow to their hearts' content.  They will undoubtedly be very careful and will ask for help when it is needed. 

I hope that next time I have a chance like the one I blew tonight, I will teach them that God loves them unconditionally, is patient and kind, and that grace is a gift extended to us even if we accidentally leave litle patches of sticky yuck on the floor when cleaning up the messes we make in our lives.