Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sweet Sabbath

“Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”  

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Physical Education

For the fall semester, we focused on PE with both of the girls to give Olivia the credit she needed for high school, but using books like Home School Family Fitness and Food and Nutrition for Every Kid ended up being way more fun than any of us anticipated.

Olivia found she loves going to the gym with me, she keeps lifting more and more weight and challenging me to stay ahead of her!  We discovered Food - Delicious Science on PBS and dusted off our copy of "The Science of Good Cooking".  I love all of the charts and practical science included in this book!  I think we're going to continue through the rest of the school year, just because we are having such a good time learning.

I haven't asked the girls to read the chapters in order, and this week, Olivia chose Concept #50:  "Cocoa Powder Delivers Big Flavor".  "If you simply add cocoa powder to the dry ingredients (as is often the case in cake recipes that call for cocoa powder), you don't get much flavor.  The secret to using cocoa powder is to bloom the flavors by pouring hot water over the cocoa.  Stirring the cocoa in hot water caused these flavor molecules, which would otherwise remain imprisoned, to burst forth, amplifying overall flavor."

Chewy Brownies
from "The Science of Good Cooking"
Makes 24 brownies

1/3 cup (1 ounce) Dutch - processed cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons instant expresso powder (optional)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (17 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1)  Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Make foil sling by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so that they are as wide as 13 by 9 inch baking pan (one 13 inch sheet and one 9 inch sheet).  Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to one another, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan.  Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan.  Grease foil and set aside.

2)  Whisk cocoa, espresso powder, if using, and boiling water together in large owl until smooth.  Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted.  Whisk in oil and melted butter. (Mixture may look curdled.)  Add eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous.  Whisk in sugar until fully incorporated.  Whisk together flour and salt in small bowl and then mix into batter with rubber spatula until combined.  Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces.

3)  Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface.  Bake until toothpick inserted in center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan half through baking Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 1 1/2 hours (if you can stand it that long).

4)  Remove brownies from pan using foil.  Return brownies to wire ack and let cool completely, about 1 hour.  Cut brownies into 2 inch squares and serve.  (Brownies can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Arkansas Symphony Youth Ensembles

 Thirty-one years ago, my Saturday routine included a 1976 red Dodge Dart.  Every Saturday morning, my dad and I would pile into this vehicle with no air conditioner, drive through McDonalds for coffee and a sausage biscuit, and make the drive to Little Rock where I had a morning cello lesson.  

When I finished my lesson, Daddy drove me over to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for a 2 1/2 hour rehearsal with the youth orchestra.  As one of the youngest members, playing with this ensemble was a huge kick in the pants for me.  I have a way of finding places that are desperate for cellists.  Or for orchestra teachers.

For the last semester, Katherine has been the one starting her Saturday with her daddy driving her to rehearsal in Little Rock, and another one of her favorite guys conducting her orchestra.  The Arkansas Symphony Youth Ensembles have expanded from two orchestras to four.  This opportunity is sweet and brief, but Katherine's goal is to keep gaining ground on her cello even while we are back in the Solomon Islands, so she can jump right back into a higher orchestra when we return.

If you'll look closely, you'll see a shiny head in the viola section.  Aaron got to play the claves for the last piece.  Who knew that his debut as an alum would be in percussion?!?

Monday, January 21, 2019

In his writing to the Colossians, Paul mentions Epaphras, a colleague who was "always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured" (4:12).  Many of us in leadership roles and positions overemphasize the power of our public work of teaching, planning, preaching, organizing, counseling, and so on, and we underemphasize the power of our quiet work of simply praying.  I'm not so much talking about circumstantial prayers where we ask God to somehow change something in our situation or in others', but about soul prayers where we focus our attention on what's happening in a person's heart, or what's happening in his or her relationship with Jesus and with others.  ~Alan Fadling

These four.  We anticipate them being spread across three continents soon.  They are growing and making good choices, and I'm so proud of them.  My leadership role right now only influences a small sphere:  my home.  But it does include the more public work of teaching, planning organizing, counseling, and "so on".  The foundational work of quietly praying for the treasures that God has given us moves forward, even when all four are no longer underneath our roof.   As Aaron and I launch them into the world, we echo Paul's words that our children may "stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured."  I've recently looked for some new resources to revive my prayers.  

With three teenagers, "10 Ways to Pray for Your Teenagers" certainly fits my stage of life right now (and iMom always has meaningful and beautiful printables for every age and stage).  Another good option is "12 Powerful Verses to Pray and Pour Over Our Children" from Club 31 Woman (you can't go wrong with "a passion for husband, home, and family").  And if you like a little bit more structure, "A Parent's Daily Prayer Guide" will help provide the scaffolding.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

National Popcorn Day

Maybe it's because we eat a ton of popcorn when we are in the village, but we haven't celebrated National Popcorn Day in way too long.  Three years ago, we were in midst of packing to go back to the Solomons on National Popcorn Day, and I find it a little funny that Aaron and I are sorting and packing in the frigid attic today in hopes of heading back overseas.

While the unexpected and beautiful snow flew outside, inside we were warm and cozy making popcorn cake.

1 (16 oz.) bag of marshmallows
1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter
2/3 cup raw popcorn, popped
1 (16 oz.) bag of plain M&Ms (we used peanut butter M&Ms this time, just because we can do that sort of thing in America)
1 (16 oz.) container of roasted peanuts

Melt butter and marshmallows over low heat.  Pour over popped popcorn (our family prefers the taste of popcorn made with coconut oil), M&Ms, and peanuts in a large bowl.  Stir quickly to coat.  Press into buttered bundt pan.  Set 1 1/2 hours in the fridge.

The girls danced and played and reveled in the snow.  Nothing is sticking because the ground is way too warm, but huge, wet flakes have been falling for hours.  For girls raised in the tropics (and for this mama raised in Arkansas), snow is a treat to be enjoyed.

It's a good time to make some hot chocolate or some coffee and raid the book basket while we eat our yummy popcorn cake.  I don't have affiliate links, so click away and enjoy adding to your book stash!

The Popcorn Dragon by Jane Thayer
The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell (with beautiful illustrations)
Popcorn - poems by James Stevenson
Popcorn! by Elaine Landau (very punny nonfiction) 
Sing a Song of Popcorn:  Every Child's Book of Poems (beautifully illustrated by nine Caldecott Medal artists)

Arrival of the Popcorn Astronauts

The daring popcorn astronauts
are brave beyond compare --
they scramble into puffy suits
and hurtle through the air.

And when they land, we say hooray
and crowd around the spot 
to salt the little astronauts
and eat them while they're hot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Love. True Love.

"...we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done."  Psalm 78:4b

There is something about read favorite books and telling stories over and over again, especially true stories of God's faithfulness, that build a strong foundation into our kids' lives.  Our crew is very familiar with the way God has worked our love story, and we all look forward to January 13, our "proposal-versary" because it means rocky road ice cream.

For Christmas this year, Aaron asked for money to pay for a cabin at a state park, anticipating the opportunity to celebrate twenty-two years of wearing his diamond on my finger.  Our moms financed our mini-marriage retreat (including finishing up with lunch at a restaurant after we ate leftovers in the cabin!), and we're so grateful.

 We always want to be intentional about how we spend our time away, and this year we chose to read "What Did You Expect:  Redeeming the Realities of Marriage" and to watch the accompanying video series.  So practical and lots of fodder for conversation between us.  We highly recommend this material, no matter if you are only beginning to think about dating or if you have been married for fifty years.

Most likely, we won't have cold weather or a romantic cabin next year when January 13 rolls around, but that's okay, we're used to sweating and smooching as we pass each other in the hall.  We know that circumstances change, but God doesn't.

To be "filled with the Spirit", then is to live a life of joy, sometimes quiet, sometimes towering.  Truths about God's glory and Jesus's saving work are not just believed with the mind but create inner music (Ephesians 5:19) and an inner relish in the soul....And because the object of this song is not favorable life circumstances (which can change) but rather the truth and grace of Jesus (which cannot), this heart song does not weaken in times of difficulty.
~Tim Keller, "The Meaning of Marriage"

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Snowy Day

I just discovered a lovely book perfect for this time of year!  Andrea Davis Pinkney is one of our favorite authors, and she wrote "A Poem for Peter", a picture book history of Ezra Jack Keat's "The Snowy Day".  And what better snack to accompany those books than snowflake shortbread?!?

Snowflake Shortbread
(from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook 1989)
serves 16

1 1/4 all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a mixing bowl combine flour and sugar.  Cut in butter till mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling.  Stir pecans into the mixture, then sprinkle with vanilla and mix again.  Press dough into shortbread pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until firm and lightly brown. Let cool slightly, then invert pan on a cutting board and bang hard until it comes out.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Fighting for Joy

"The fight for joy in God, through every bright and dismal circumstance of life, is the essential key in my mission for a life of authentic holiness, and fruitful perseverance, where God gets the glory."  ~John Piper

Almost eleven years ago, early in my blogging journey, I posted Piper's list of ways to fight for joy.  I find myself going back to this list over and over, not because of guilt, but because it is a practical list of ways to be healthy and whole and fight for God's joy in our lives.

Stepping outside to enjoy the sunrise in my own backyard and to marvel at God's creation is a conduit to joy.  Spending time with "God-saturated people" (even if it's only to borrow a science book that I can't find on my own shelf) is a pathway to joy.  Going for a bike ride with my husband is yet another channel to funnel joy into my life.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, you faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So don't try to get out of anything prematurely.  Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."  James 1:2-4 (MSG)

Let's be people who fight for joy, who also encourage each other not to "try to get out of anything prematurely" but to persevere and to endure and to thrive as God does His work in our lives.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Favorite Five

Cue the music!  This arrangement of "Nearer, My God, to Thee" never fails to draw my heart upward and "set my mind on things above".

1)  Sarah's new blog.  She's journaling her thoughts and experiences while studying abroad in Uganda this semester, and I'm loving seeing the world through her mature eyes.  It's lovely to watch my kids blossom.

2)  This very fun article on coffee and sports.  Two things that bring smiles into my life and give me a forum to connect with others.

3)  My mop with a washable head.  I use this tool almost every day, and I think I'm going to buy one to take back to the village with me.

4)  We don't talk much about "living in the middle", but I'm thankful for other mamas who can put words to how it feels to live and work overseas.  Stephie write about how it feels to have people go through your trash (been there) and choosing to bring home worn out underwear in your suitcase so nobody sees you throw it away (haven't done that. yet.):

"We live in the “Middle”; in between two worlds which contrast themselves in a million different ways.  To Americans, we are the missionaries who are always in need and the ones who gave up so much. To many people in our host country, we are the wealthy; the glowing answers to meeting their needs and who just need to give more."

5)  An exciting book list to look forward to reading in 2019.  I'm always on the lookout for books to lug back to share with my SITAG family!

Happy Friday!  What are some of your favorite things going into the weekend?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Animal Shelter

Our girls always look forward to Thursdays, because it's the day they volunteer at the local animal shelter.  Nothing like helping out by doing something you love to do!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Epiphany this year was quiet and more hidden.  I think that might be our theme for the upcoming year.  We've already returned all of our library books about the Wise Men and Stars.  

Without Sarah here, we chose a simple lemon ginger poundcake (one of our old favorites).  Olivia found baby Jesus in her slice.  As we think about the magi and the gifts they presented, we are grateful for the gifts of playing together as a family and for pound cake and most of all for Jesus.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Mustard greens are in season right now, and WOW are they yummy!  We used Martha Stewart's simple recipe, and the veggies disappeared quickly.

Saturday, January 5, 2019


The anthropologist Ashley Montagu coined the word "psychosclerosis": the hardening of the attitudes.  What a perfect description!  As I get older, I feel this crustiness more easily begin to encroach on my heart. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott have some suggestions for avoiding this dreaded disease in marriage:

1)  Look for the positive
2)  Refuse to be a victim
3) Give up grudges
4)  Give yourself and your marriage some grace

I would like to add "play together" to this list.  I found these mugs which describe us perfectly AND made us smile.  Having fun together, even planning to play, quickly gets lost in grocery shopping and bill paying and replacing the AC unit and all of the other things that life throws at us.  And that's when "psychosclerosis" sets in most easily.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."  Proverbs 17:22

Friday, January 4, 2019

These are a few of my favorite things...

Working together as "Team Choate" is one of my favorite things.  During the Christmas break, we tackled more of removing Johnny Appleseed from our kitchen walls.  Instead of plain ship lap, we unexpectedly found green paint!  We are definitely NOT home renovators, but something will have to change in this old kitchen before renters will be willing to live here while we are back in the Solomon Islands. 

We also found fragments of the very fragile original ivy covered wall paper from when the house was built in 1939.  One of the kids said it felt like watching the History Channel (which we've never had access to, so I'm not sure how our kids would know!) to peel off the layers.

We work together really well because our strengths and weaknesses complement each other, but we play together well, too!  Now that my college kids have been gone a few days, I'm extra grateful for the laughter we shared as a family of six.

Seafarers of Catan was a Christmas present from my mom, and we played it several times over Christmas break.

But by far my favorite thing to do as a family is sing.  One of the sweetest memories I have is listening to all four of our kids sing out of Sarah's Christmas carol book she copied in Marulaon Village.  Song after song in Lavukaleve spilled from their lips.  I know we are music nerds, but another favorite thing we did was to sight read our way through a new-to-us hymnbook that we are borrowing.  On New Year's Eve we sang this one together:

"Great God, we sing that mighty hand
By which supported still we stand;
The opening year thy mercy shows,
That mercy crowns it till it close."

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Yarnell Christmas

You can tell this crew is related.  Aaron's mom has left her beautiful mark on each of her grandkids (especially her granddaughters).  I'm so thankful that our families are willing to be flexible and celebrate before, during, and after Christmas so we can maximize our time with all of the people we love.

With Aaron's nephew home on leave from the military, and Aaron's uncle (whom I hadn't seen for years), this smaller side of the family had an even dozen to fill the house with laughter and banter as we caught up on each other's lives.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Choate Family Christmas

This last Christmas as a family of six looked a little bit different than usual.  Fewer gifts, more time together.  More soaking up each other's company knowing that this is it.  Sarah is in Uganda studying abroad this semester, and Benjamin is on his way back to JBU already.  So time was the best gift.  And time together helped us to really focus on the sweet gift of Jesus.

On Christmas Day, we realized that the whipping cream I had bought to top our traditional gingerbread waffles had accidentally all gone into Benjamin's birthday gingerbread ice cream.  So we ate leftover ice cream on top of our waffles.  Delicious!  The day was unusually sunny and warm, so we tackled the easy trails at Cadron Settlement Park on the beautiful Arkansas River to make a new family tradition.

Advent Sunday
by Christina Rossetti

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet him in a rapture with a shout.

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,
Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

It may be at the crowing of the cock
Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His side.

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing, 
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

His Eyes are as a Dove's, and she's Dove-eyed;
He knows his lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

He speaks with Dove voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh:  go we out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet him in a rapture with a shout.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Williams Christmas

"God knows intimately the shape of our own family tree, the crooked bends in our very own branches, and so He sends us a rescuer from a gnarled and mighty tree of His own design."  ~Kris Camealy, "Come Lord Jesus"

 I love having a large extended family, even when everybody can't come "home" for Christmas.

I love crazy aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and siblings 

all rolled up into a big, chaotic bundle of joy.

Four generations of gifts and games

food and fun.

"At the epicenter of our foolishness is a street-level denial of God -- not philosophical atheism, 

but a denial of our need for God and a belief that we can live life on our own."  

I'm so grateful I don't have to live life on my own and that God provides some pretty amazing people to share life with me.