Sunday, July 31, 2011

When the Bible is Spot on... (which is always)

"He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."  Psalm 40:2 (NIV, '84)

This past week (Wednesday through Friday) our church held an event for students entering sixth grade through 12th grade.  It was called Teen Madness.  Now, I don't know about you, but when I was a kid my youth group included sitting in someone's living room discussing the Bible.  I'm sure they never even thought about putting the words 'teen' and 'madness' together to title an event.  Times sure have changed.  Teen Madness is one reason I love our church.  They try to make the event as great as it can possibly be to encourage kids who don't normally come to church want to come for these events.  Once they get there, we feed them pizza.  They then head to the worship center for some LOUD music (all Christian, of course) and bouncing around as much as possible.  They then sit and listen to a message for about 20 minutes.  This year's speaker, Clay, was amazing!  He spoke in such a way that the students would be totally interested in what he had to say, and he shared a message that, I think, resonated with most of the students there.

The festivities began on Wednesday night with Blow-Up Night.  I am pretty sure it wasn't called that, but I can't remember the formal name this night was given.  However, 90% of the activities were giant blow-up sets the students could play on.  Inside the church they had a giant blow-up obstacle course the kids could go through and something else which I wasn't quite sure what it was.  They had someone making snow cones and someone making cotton candy.  They also had popcorn.  Everything growing boys and girls need, right?

Thursday night was a concert night.  I didn't attend this night but, judging by the attitudes of my two boys who attended, it was a success.

Friday night was the culmination of the week.  It is the favorite night for most who attend Teen Madness.  Early in the day, the lower grounds of the church are transformed into a slimy, muddy pit.

Fire trucks show up and make the ground even wetter and spray the kids from above while the slime and mud below makes them as dirty as can be.  Before they enter the mud and slime, however, they form teams and paint each other with a designated color of paint, from head to toe.

You can see one of the students hugging me.  She was on the green team.  :-)  I was a volunteer and mainly escorted students to first aid when they had so much slime and mud on their face that they couldn't open their eyes.  I decided before the night began that I wasn't purposely going to stay clean.  The kids think it's fun to chase you if you don't want hugged by them, but I let them hug me; and I got dirty.  That slime was gross, especially when I couldn't even hang onto the arm of someone I'd escort to first aid because there was so much slime on their arm my hand kept slipping, but I was glad to get in and get dirty with the students so they'd know they could count on me to not shy away from them but stick it out no matter how slimy and dirty things get.  Hopefully they'll understand the analogy now that Muckfest is over.

After most of the paint and slime was washed off by the fire hose

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Purpose of Parenting

I don't usually sit and ponder the purpose of parenting.  I just do it. There's not a lot a time in the midst of it for great reflection. Sometimes, though, something will occur that forces me to think about it. That thing this week was my completely empty and quiet house.  I had been Facebook posting with a friend about the fact that neither one of us had gotten enough letters from our kids while they were at camp despite providing them with an ample supply of self-addressed stamped envelopes.  (I got one letter but had three kids at camp.  She didn't get anything from her daughter.)

The quiet is probably what caused me to reflect most.  Since I did not have three other people I had to take care of this week, I was left with a little bit of time to myself.  "So," I thought, "what is the purpose of being a parent?  What am I doing here?"  I know there are people who think it all through before becoming pregnant.  There are some who don't think about it all. John and I were somewhere in the middle. I suppose your philosophy in life can have a lot to do with why you become a parent.  For most, probably, it is just a natural next step in life, especially after marriage.  Isn't that just what most people do?

So, you've had a kid or two or eight (yes, I do know some with 7 and 8).  What do you do with them now?  Why has God given you these children?  What are you supposed to do with them now that you have them?  Sure, we feed them, and we keep them clean.  We teach them their colors and their ABCs.  For some, they are sent them off to school to learn the rest.  Others teach them at home to learn the rest.  Is that where it ends?  Of course not!  There is so much more to life than teaching the academics.  They need to learn how to function in this world that is full of other people.  What does it mean to be a contributing member of society?  How will they have meaningful, lasting relationships?  What is proper etiquette in various situations?  How do they figure out what God's purpose is for them in life?

Do we raise them so they stay home with us for the rest of their lives?  NO!  We raise them and hold them close while they're little so that eventually we can let them go.  We raise them to hopefully be able to be independent in their own lives.  I know as I reflected this week on my role as a parent I was struck by the incredible task I've been given.  I've got five years and then I will send my oldest out into the world.  I hope that I am instilling in him a love for the Lord Jesus so much so that it dominates every aspect of his life, especially when he's on his own, when his dad and I aren't around to keep him safe and help him reason through a situation.  He needs to be able to figure out what God's purpose is for his life.  I don't want any of my kids to be so dependent on me that they cannot function in society, that they cannot "cut the cord" so to speak and figure out who they are and what their life should look like.

Perhaps all this talk about our kids finding out what their purpose is in life has caused you to wonder what your purpose is.  I mean, isn't that why our parents raised us?  They hopefully taught us enough to go out into the world and live independently, fulfilling that God-given purpose for our lives.  Well, if you are a parent, that is your purpose whether you planned it or not.  I know there are so many other things in our lives besides being a parent.  I've got the burners on at least 5 stoves filled myself.  But is there anything more important than raising honest, trustworthy, kind, generous...children, children who have more going on for them than just being a really good book learner?  They may make a lot of money if they are good book learners, but they will impact others and the rest of the world more if they are "trained up" in the "way they should go." (Proverbs 22:6)

Take parenting seriously.  Think about the future.  People used to say to me when I'd hit hard times with my kids "This too shall pass."  It does, but don't let their childhood pass without you instilling in them values which they can then pass onto their children who will impact the next generation and so on and so on.

God's Blessing to You!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Privilege of Teaching

After we dropped our kids off at camp on Sunday, my husband and I stopped at Barnes and Noble so he could find a book that would help him improve his leadership skills.  While there, I perused the bargain book section.  I don't think I ever look at any other section in that store to be honest with you.  As I walked from aisle to aisle, I noticed a photography book for $9.98.  It was a guide to learning about photography.  It was a thick book with a lot of pictures, but it also had a lot of instruction in it.  It talked about types of cameras, the parts of a camera, and every subject related to taking pictures you can think of.

I realized that I hadn't formally decided what we were going to do for art class this year.  Last year we studied architecture; the year before we studied modern artists like Mondrian and Chagall.  We touched on Ansel Adams but didn't talk in detail about photography.  I decided to buy the book and use it for our "curriculum."

On the way home, I was reminded of the incredible privilege I have been given to teach my kids and to teach friends' children at our co-op and at 4H.  There are countless topics in every subject to teach on.  I sometimes try to find topics that haven't been discussed by me or anyone else yet such as architecture or cheesecake baking, etc.  I like the idea of exposing kids to new things, things they wouldn't have thought of learning about or things perhaps their parents don't want to teach.  It provides the opportunity for them to find something they love to learn about or do with their hands.  I would be honored beyond belief if just one child came to me when they got older and said, "Remember when you taught that class years ago?  That's what I want to go to college to learn how to do."  It may never happen, but I know I am doing what God wants me to do simply due to the shear pleasure I get from teaching.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Week Ahead

All three kids go to camp in two days.  They will be gone Sunday through Friday.  Things will be very quiet here during the day.  I find myself daydreaming about all the things I could get done.  I have a book to write.  I have an entire house to paint.  I could watch some movies, or I could finish reading my book.  I have to have surgery on Monday, and I have to work all week (bleh).  I'm hoping to work all my daily hours in the morning/afternoon so that all my evenings are free.  We'll see how that goes.

I would love to relax a little, maybe get rid of some of this stress I've got that displays itself at night while I'm sleeping and clenching my teeth.  Maybe having all my evenings free would enable my body to relax for a change.  If it works, what will I do when the kids come back?  Do we do school in the evening?  I wonder if any homeschool families do this, have school in the evening while mom/dad work in the morning?  It would be interesting to say the least.

We started school on July 5th, but it has been very disorganized despite my efforts at being organized.  I told John yesterday that I feel like I'm living in an antipasto salad.  Everything is just thrown into a bowl and mixed up.  There are big chunks of meat like work and teaching my kids mixed in with other things that don't take up as much time but are no less important to the flavor of the salad.  There are a lot of little extras in my salad like  writing my book or reading, getting things done around the house, etc.  Hopefully, while the kids are away, I'll be able to organize school a bit better for when they get back.  We'll see.

I think I'll put so many different things on my plate that I won't want to even get started.  Again, we'll see how it goes.  I'll be amazed if I accomplish half of what I set out to do in the one short week I've got.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Blueberry Raspberry Cheesecake

 For a wedding present for some friends, I gave them a certificate to the "Cheesecake of the Month" club.  Every month I make them cheesecake.  I love making cheesecakes.  It is cathartic for me.  Many people complain that it is too difficult, but it really isn't.  I find it quite enjoyable.

For a while now, I have wanted to blog about a cheesecake I have made so that you can follow the directions in order to make your own.  This last one I made was my own creation of a patriotic cheesecake made with blueberry and raspberry jam.  It wasn't quite as red, white, and blue as I would have liked.  Food coloring would probably need to be added if you wanted a bright blue and red.

Anyway, here is the recipe and a description of the process including pictures.

1 cup crushed Nilla wafers
1/4 cup melted butter
3 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup blueberry preserves
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
3 tablespoons flour, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Crush Nilla wafers to equal one cup and mix with the melted butter in a bowl.  Press cookie crumbs into bottom of a 9" springform pan and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Remove from oven.

In a large mixer bowl, put in your 3 softened blocks of cream cheese.  Most recipes will say mix cream cheese and sugar together, but I like to smooth the cream cheese first before I add the sugar.

So, then add the sugar and mix until smooth.  It'll look like the above picture.  Now, it's time to add the eggs. I crack them one at a time and place them into a clear glass bowl, just to be sure I don't have any shells.  I then add the eggs one at a time to the cream cheese, mixing each egg in before adding the next egg.

Now, add the 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla.  Mix until combined.  Be sure to scrape the extra cream cheese off the sides so it all gets incorporated and give it a last spin or two to mix it up.

Now, separate the mixture into thirds (roughly 1-1/2 cups each), placing each third into a separate bowl (you can leave one third in the mixer bowl).

Take 1/3 cup blueberry preserves and mix it in a smaller bowl with 1-1/2 tablespoons flour.  Do the same with the 1/3 cup raspberry preserves.  

Add each fruit mixture to one third of the cream cheese and stir well.  At this point, if you wanted brighter blue and red, add blue food coloring to the blueberry and red food coloring to the raspberry.

Pour the blueberry/cream cheese mixture on top of the cookie crust.  The next layer will be the plain cream cheese mixture.  Slowly and gently drop dollops on top of blueberry mixture.  When you've used all of the plain mixture, very slowly and gently spread it around, being careful to not mix it with the blueberry.  Repeat this process with the raspberry layer.

Now, put your cheesecake in the oven at 350 degrees F (the oven should still be on) for one hour.  You know your cheesecake is done when the center of it still jiggles slightly.  It should not be liquidy, and it should not be stiff like a flour cake.  It should jiggle like Jell-O.  Take it out of the oven and place it on a cooling rack.  I run a sharp knife around the inside of the pan to release the edges of the cake from the pan to help prevent cracking.  I will then take a piece of aluminum foil and wrap it around the pan like a tent, allowing heat to escape out the back.  One reason why cheesecakes crack is because of the cooler air that flows around them.  The draft can cause your cake to crack.

Let it cool for about one-half hour and then place it in the refrigerator.  I usually put it in as is, cooling rack, tent, and all.  Allow it to chill for at least 3-4 hours before removing it from the pan.

When you are ready to slice it, remove the sides of the springform pan.  Fill a tall cup or bowl with VERY hot water and dip a very sharp knife into the hot water, allowing the blade to become hot.  Wipe the water off and then slice the cheesecake in half.  Do this for each new slice you make.  Wipe the excess cheesecake off, dip the knife in water, and then cut a new slice.  This will give you nearly perfect slices and won't cause the cheesecake to glob up on your knife.  You can put some of the leftover blueberry preserves and raspberry jam on top of your cheesecake to sweeten it up (as if it needs it).  Enjoy!! 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reading about a Rebellion

I'm reading a great book about a rebellion.  So many things that are said in this book could easily relate to our country today.  The main characters are lawyers and politicians, doctors and farmers, and small businessmen.  There are also trained soldiers and a king.  There is so much pride on the part of the king.  He thinks he can squash the rebellion.  He believes his soldiers are so much better equipped in war than the people they are fighting.  He doesn't understand that when people unite for a common cause, especially when God goes before them, they can accomplish anything.  When we are fighting for something that is right, when we use our voice, when we take action, we can succeed.  This book I am reading is called, Rise to Rebellion, by Jeff Shaara.

Shaara is a master in the history of the American Revolution and in imagery as he writes.  You feel like you are there in each scene he portrays, like when Ben Franklin is pacing around in his room to get much needed exercise or when the Boston Massacre takes place.  He details things so vividly you can't help but get totally engrossed in this book.

If you enjoying reading about history and haven't read this one yet, I HIGHLY recommend it.  I have a friend who got the audio book of it and loved it.  He's now reading The Glorious Cause, also by Shaara.

I can't help but be thankful, during this July 4th weekend, for those who fought so valiantly for our independence over 200 years ago and for those who have fought in all wars between then and now and who continue to protect us as a country and fight to keep us free.  THANK YOU.

Here's a link to the book on Amazon IF you are interested.