December 15, 2017

Tiny Discoveries

In the quiet of the morning, before anyone else had emerged from their beds, I cracked open the wooden shutter doors to our outdoor patio space. Immediately, I knew today was going to be a gorgeously hot day. The dampness from the dewy morning still hung in the air. A few songbirds flitted from the branches of the nearby raffia tree.

Barefooted, I padded down onto the cool stones, which makes up our patio deck. I poked around different potted plants; an orchid, stevia, and sweet pea. Peering down into a small potted rose, I saw him. A tiny praying mantis, perched on a small branch within the roses. No doubt, enjoying the protection of his secret hiding place.

By this time the kids were definitely up and looking for breakfast. I grabbed my camera and called them to see this amazing little sight.



This tiny discovery brought a smile to each of the children's faces. They inspected the mantis' tiny legs and cute triangular face.

I'm reminded that if I'm not paying close attention, things go unnoticed so easily. Not just things, but treasures, small blessings. The message of God's grace in our everyday events: a cool breeze on a hot day, a smile from someone I love, the birds singing their marvellous song, a new concept mastered by a frustrated child, fresh baked bread. Sometimes the big circumstances or situations can swallow up that still small voice. The One who declares He's the same yesterday, today and forever. He loves us. He wants to be with us. He wants our praise. If He made this tiny mantis just to receive glory and praise on this warm December morning.... He succeeded again!


December 9, 2017

Nanaimo Bars


Christmas time in our household means Nanaimo Bars! These are one of my favourite squares to make, and they are reserved for Christmas: 1, because they are so rich, and 2 (and more importantly) it was a tradition in my house growing up as well. Therefore, I'm carrying it on for my family.

My recipe is adapted from www.joyofbaking.com/NanaimoBars.html where there's a helpful youtube tutorial as well. I say adapted, because we can't exactly get graham crackers here, so I substitute milk or butter cookie crumbs.

And if you're interested in the history of the Nanaimo Bar, check out this website.

Seeings how I was born and raised in this beautiful Harbor City, I'm pretty proud of this delicious dessert.


The Nanaimo Bar

Grease a 9x9 inch pan with butter. I also drape a piece of wax paper over the sides and inside the bottom of the pan to make it easier to lift the bar out at the end.

Bottom Layer: In a saucepan on low heat, melt 1/2 cup (113g) of butter.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup (50g) sugar and 1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder. Return the pan to low heat and gradually whisk in a beaten egg. Stir constantly, cook on low until slightly thickened. (1-2 minutes). Remove from the heat and and stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 2 cups (200g) cookie crumbs, 1/2 cup (50g) chopped pecans, 1 cup (65g) flaked or shredded coconut.


Press firmly into the pan and let set in the fridge for about an hour, until firm.

Middle Layer: In a mixer, beat 1/4 cup (65g) softened butter, until smooth and creamy. Add 2 cups (230g) powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 2-3 Tablespoons milk, 2 Tablespoons custard powder. Once this icing has come together you will spread it onto the set crumb layer. Once you have spread evenly over the cookie layer, return to the fridge for another 30 minutes or until firm.



Top Layer: Melt 4 ounces (120g) semisweet chocolate with 1 Tablespoon (14g) butter. Spread evenly over the icing layer. Let set in fridge for 10 minutes and then cut into 25 squares.

Store squares cut, rather than the whole pan uncut.  I find if I let the chocolate set too firm before cutting, the chocolate cracks and just slides off the top of the bar.

December 1, 2017

Temptation - Finding Contentment - Living in the Battle

It's a funny thing, keeping a journal, or making a summary of the past week. The thing that strikes me the most is that life continues to be an up and down roller coaster ride of fantastic days, hard days, and just average ones. And here, in this small space online, I'm trying to capture the fact that life isn't all flowers and sunshine, nor is it gloom and disappointment, each and every day.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12b-13
I'm not going to say I've actually mastered all of this. By far, to be sure. This is a real struggle: finding contentment in every and any situation.

Temptation is real to me. The sins of grumbling and complaining are still in my heart - spilling over onto my lips. But with this temptation of discontentment, to seek after "happiness" in the sense of personal comfort or selfish pleasure, is fought back with true promises.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Phil. 4:13
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:7 
 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Col. 1:13-14
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
A few weeks ago I read an article on www.desiringgod.org, explaining how all temptations are simply false promises. We may believe them for a moment, or perhaps years, or maybe even a lifetime. God has made provision for these, with His Word. True promises that we can take a stand against these empty promises.
Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Eph. 6:11
We have not been left to fight our battles alone. There is a battle plan. We have effective weapons. We can fight these false promises with the True Word of God. The same way Jesus fought against Satan in the wilderness - he countered every empty promise from the devil with the Word of God. I guess the question I ask myself is, is this my default response to temptation raging within me? I don't need the devil hiding in every corner promising me things. My own sinful heart is an expert deceiver itself.
The heart is deceitful above all things. Jer. 17:9
The very fact that God has made provision for me, a sinner---hopeless left to my own faulty resources to save myself, or to find true happiness, is grace. Is love.
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1Cor. 10:3b
 

On My Side Table


     

November 25, 2017

Back-Up in the Homeschool

This week has been a week chock full of situations testing my patience and our reasons for what we do. Namely, homeschooling. I have asked "Why am I homeschooling?" Yes, it has been one of those. These days or weeks happen, and if you don't anticipate them, let me just warn you now. No matter how thought-through your decision, no matter how much effort you've exerted in choosing the perfect curriculum, no matter the time and effort spent on child-training.... no matter what regime you employ, there will be days that leave you questioning it all.

Now that's a bit of an exaggeration, since I wasn't exactly "questioning it all." However, feeling discouraged, being brought to tears, raising my voice, and being generally deflated certainly played their parts.

This is where the back-up comes in. The key in-the-background player must take his role in supporting the whole operation. In our home, dad isn't hands-on as far as homeschooling goes. He doesn't research material. He doesn't teach any of the lessons. He has left this responsibility in my hands, to make decisions with his input if I ask for it. If he sees me drowning, he tactfully questions how things are being handled. I can't imagine our homeschool lasting with any meaningful longevity if I didn't know he was behind it 100%. Even though he isn't actively involved in the teaching side, he is my support when it comes to accountability and authority. He is the "big guns" that I pull out when extra back up is required. Somehow when Dad is brought into the picture, everybody pulls up their socks and begins to take things seriously again.

For a season, he will be taking a more active role in keeping one of our students more accountable. This student knows that Dad will be checking the work at the end of the day. I don't expect this will have to last very long, perhaps only a couple of weeks. But we believe it's the right amount of pressure and accountability this one needs for now. Once we get back on track, Dad won't have to double check everything.

I have had a few conversations with different people about the dad's involvement in the homeschool. I know it works differently for every family, but the main things I would keep in mind:

You need your husband's full support:

The support he gives is encouragement and cheerleading when Mom is starting to second-guess things. When I'm making verbal threats about sending kids to school, his support is paramount. He brings good perspective. He is the voice of reason when emotions are flying high.

If my husband wasn't completely on board with homeschooling, I don't know if we would still be doing it. There are many obstacles and challenges to contend with, and if he was in this half-heartedly, he probably would have looked at me by now and said something like, "Why are you killing yourself over this?"   "Seriously, put them in school already."   "I don't know why you're doing this."  These are not phrases you want to hear when you're deep in the trenches needing someone to pull you up.

He is the one the children know will back up Mom 100 percent. If she gives him a bad report about something, he gets involved with the consequences or solution.

What his support isn't:

Having my husband's support in this journey of homeschooling doesn't mean that he shares the load when it comes to giving our kids an education. He works a full time job outside of the home. My full time job is in the home. I do not expect him to come home from a full day's work and do lessons with the children. I do not expect him to spend time researching and choosing curriculum. He has entrusted this to me. Would he have a conversation with me and discuss options? Definitely. However, honestly, because I have spend hours researching methods, curriculum, options, etc... and he has not, he isn't aware of what's all available. For me to put this expectation on him is unrealistic and kind of unfair.

Now as far as extra-curriculars are concerned: shop skills, woodworking, carpentry, mechanics.... will he be involved? Certainly. If we are parents, we are teachers. But when it comes to the 3 Rs, that's Mom's arena for now.

What I Understand As a Homeschool Grad Myself

I can appreciate my Mom's famous words as I was growing up better now that I am homeschooling msyelf. I heard them a few time. "This is the toughest thing I've ever done, but I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Truly the thought of sending my kids away for the day, every day, makes me so sad. Perhaps it's not the homeschooling that makes some days so tough. Perhaps it's the challenge of being together ALL THE TIME. Although, I'm trying to think to myself that normal families who go to school also experience relationship challenges within the home.. right?  :) We are just forced to work things out quickly, otherwise spend a very bad day together.

Being together literally ALL THE TIME can feel claustrophobic at times, but I'm trusting the Lord with this. I'm praying my children grow up to become adults who remember the days they spent together as siblings. Appreciating that short season of their life when they built memories together. No one else... just them. 

I believe this is a gift.

November 18, 2017

Getting Inspired

Sketching & Watercolor

My kids are all in this wonderful drawing phase. Coloring is still a passion of theirs, but they all get inspired to draw, sketch, and paint if given some ideas here and there. Over the last couple of years I have found treasures on YouTube--wonderful art tutorial videos to follow, using minimal supplies. Normally I'm not overly keen on arts and crafts projects. They're up there with science experiments.... messy, sticky, tedious..... chaotic when many little ones are involved....Normally I hide science experiment equipment and chuckle identifying with my dear friend who explains to me that she even hides the books for science experiments, lest her girls get any ideas! :)  haha

However, coloring, cutting, and scotch tape have always been acceptable activities to me. We have an unlimited supply of computer paper, the kids have free access to the internet and can print off coloring pages to their hearts' content. A great read aloud activity.

Last week we found ourselves outside sketching plants and filling them in with watercolors. The results were so much fun. I found some inexpensive frames to hold their artwork, and my son proudly showcased his in his room on his Lego table.

As well, my older daughter helped her younger sister get started on a simple cross stitch pattern. Adorable! I love seeing older siblings teach a younger. My heart melts.



Links

Some tutorials that we've made use of over the years:

Shayda Campbell (fellow Canadian in P.E.I) - specializes in hand-lettering, watercolor, and illustrating  
Hodgepodge - Great chalk pastel tutorials that are simple and have fun results
Art Projects for Kids - really nice how-to-draw printables, and some nice age-appropriate projects

November 10, 2017

By Faith....

In a couple of weeks I will lead a bit of a homeschool workshop for Malagasy families in the city. This is a new thing for me, and I'm nervous. Feeling extremely intimidated, humbled, and under-qualified.

Often I feel kind of blind going through this mommy/homeschool life. I'm taking each step by faith, literally, not sure what tomorrow will hold, or if what we're doing now will make an impact later. I don't have much credibility to be speaking about homeschooling. I, myself, haven't been doing this that long either!

It's like planting seeds, however. We plant seeds in the soil, cover them up, and leave them there. Patiently watering them, making sure they stay moist. Weeds, competing for any nutrients, we pluck out as best we can. Even though nothing looks like it's happening for a really long time, we have faith that the seeds will sprout, a plant will come up, and eventually we'll be able to behold beautiful flowers or sink our teeth into a juicy piece of fruit.

I would never call myself a gardener... but I suppose, I do know that it takes patience, watchfulness, and dedication to see a plant grow in my garden. In the same way, I would never call myself an expert on homeschooling or parenting. Far from it. But I do know it takes patience, watchfulness, and dedication (and more) to see our babies grow and mature.

Despite all of this "blindness" and uncertainty I feel in myself and in my abilities, I have the confidence God's Word gives me.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. But in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. (Prov. 3:6) 
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. (Phil. 4:6) 
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
And without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) 
Your statues are my delight; they are my counselors. (Psalm 119:24)
God wants me to be dependant on Him. And in these moments of feeling intimidated, under-qualified, and like there must be a better person for this.... I'm reminded God wants me to get my strength from Him, only.


This image came across my Facebook newsfeed this week, and it really spoke to me. This is truly one of the reasons I'm keeping my children close to me in these early years of their lives. I feel there's so much noise in the world. There are so many messages to sift through, to weigh and wonder where it all fits in the priorities of life. Homeschooling gives our family many more chances for our children to witness our values. Our family culture doesn't have to compete that hard yet. We are laying some "normals" down for the children: things our family does. And I pray that it is a beautiful melding of the truth of God's Word, the unique personalities He's given each of us, and our individual interests and abilities. Once again, by faith.

On My Side Table



From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a great little read. I finished it in 2 days because it was so enjoyable. :) A wonderful tale of a young on a journey of self discovery---wanting to return to real life changed, different.

I am reading Trusting God in between other books on the go, and I'm finding it so encouraging. This book is full of Scripture revealing God's goodness, and the truth that man cannot fathom God's ways. We cannot understand Him; but we can trust Him to be perfectly just, perfectly righteous, and to be working all things out for His glory. And also amazing is the fact that He wants us to be involved in this "working out." As I'm highlighting sections I want to take note of or remember, I could easily highlight the whole book!

I am still reading through A Momentary Marriage by John Piper. As I'm going along, many sections could be highlighted! A biblical perspective on marriage and singleness.

Just another fun book. For our read aloud, I gave the kids the choice between two books: Om-Kas-Toe and Mister Max The Book of Lost Things.

They chose Om-Kas-Toe. Actually, I'm happy they did, because it goes along with our history studies better than the alternative. But I still wanted to read this one for my own enjoyment. Why haven't I read Cynthia Voigt before? So fun!

November 3, 2017

Life

Today the children and I went grocery shopping together. They were eager to spend some allowance money, and I try and get my weekly shopping done once during the week. Sadly, the credit card machine was broken, so we had to leave our cart full of groceries there, but I'm thankful that it isn't because our credit card is maxed out or anything like that. I know we will be able to purchase what we need tomorrow or the next day, it just means an unplanned trip. Humanly speaking it was frustrating to be sure! But I can say Thank You Lord. He provides for our needs, and I can drive to the store just as easily another day as I did today. I will pray the machine works next time. :) I don't normally pray for the machine... but when this happens, I am reminded to pray for it each subsequent time I shop. And then things work as per normal, and I begin to take it for granted, and then I stop praying about it. I will praise the Lord for this experience as a gentle reminder to me of Philippians 4.
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again--rejoice! [...] Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 
--Philippians 4:4a, 6-7 NLT
Sadly, I didn't have this Scripture close enough to my heart in the moment. I kept calm in the store, but my afternoon kind of spiralled down into thinking critically about things and people around me, some harsh words, and frustrating thoughts. Oh, I keep doing what I don't want to do and don't do what I know I want to do.

Of course this is a small crisis in the grand scheme of life. Perhaps it should not even be mentioned. But I find, it's these small seemingly insignificant problems that tend to bring out heart issues. The nitty-gritty of the daily grind reveal much! Giant problems in life aren't necessary to reveal the sin that remains inside of me. This smaller thing came on the heals of a bigger one a couple of weeks ago, where I was driving in town with my window down and my cell phone was snatched out of my car. Gone. New cell phone recently purchased in Canada... stolen. Maybe a story for another time. But I'm thinking God wants my attention in the big and the little. In the tough and even the not-so-tough. I forget so quickly that I must be praying on all occasions. My dialogue with the Lord mustn't cease. I must not try and "go at it alone," on my own strength.

School

At the beginning of the school year, I created this timetable for myself: My responsibilities listed on the left, and the kids' on the right. I've discovered that my brain can feel pretty overwhelmed with all of the "To-Do's" if I leave it all up there in my head. But if I can write lists, schedules, or a calendar, prioritizing tasks can happen. And I can see that there is time to get the essentials covered. The non-essentials are labelled as such, and we can re-evaluate later on.

This timetable helps keep me on track with the kids who tend to doddle on certain subjects, thus keeping me busy longer than I can really spend on school work. There are tasks where the kids need me, and then there's more independent work they can do. During the first part of the day, we work on all of the subjects they need my direct involvement on. If the kids are taking longer than a reasonable amount of time on a task, I have no problem asking them to put it aside while I work on an assignment with them where they need me. Work they aren't able to complete during the first half of the day is saved for after lunch during the homework time slot. This is really only necessary if there's been an excessive amount of procrastination, or if we've had an unforeseen interruption in our morning, or if we've agreed to change that day's schedule around a bit.

Having our day written out like this isn't the law, but it does help serve me as a framework to help me know there's an end to our workday. The really important things aren't going to be forgotten. And there's room for play and leisure.

In My Garden