Saturday, March 30, 2019

Growing Up

I remember wondering if this child would make it to adulthood.  Olivia is the one who has given us the most adventure in parentingAnd the most laughter, too.  When we only had three little one running around, we called them "mild" (Sarah), "medium" (Benjamin), and "hot" (Olivia).

We've had many clashes of our wills and parenting fails (like the infamous "I won't eat black beans" fiasco), but once she gave her life to Jesus, the sanctification process became so very obvious and steady in her life.  Earlier this week, Olivia began feeling pretty rotten.  She immediately began the dreaded, but regular, regimen of gargling with apple cider vinegar.  She made wise choices about what to put in her body, how much to rest, and how much to push her mind and body.

I saw so much maturity in the way she handled her sickness, even as she cried and felt rotten.  I don't know if having her two older siblings leave home has been the impetus for Olivia blossoming, or if fifteen has just been the magic age for her.  The ladies in our classes at the gym love her and can't believe she is only fifteen.  Olivia is picking up the mantle of womanhood, and it is such a joy to watch some of the seeds of tough parenting years begin to yield sweet fruit.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Stained glass

"The weakness of pride lies after all in this; that oneself is a window.  It can be a colored window, if you will; but the more thickly you lay on the colors the less of a window it will be.  The two things to be done with a window are to wash it and then forget it.  So the truly pious have always said the two things to do personally are to cleanse and to forget oneself."  
~ G.K. Chesterton

We read this quote in our breakfast Lenten devotional yesterday.  I realize that every analogy breaks down if analyzed too much, but I immediately wanted to find some stained glass.  I searched my favorite antique shop but balked at paying so much money.  Then I remembered that my mom had a panel of stained glass that she found in the house when they purchased the property in 1981.  I immediately called her and asked to borrow it.  When she heard why I wanted stained glass, she carried the analogy even further...this window pane is broken, and so are we.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Prayer Bouquets

"No matter what I do, the habit [of prayer] always interrupts things in the best of ways.  By introducing a new habit, there's a hook in each day, a place where the focus on self is snagged and disrupted.  And I'm reminded that work is not for me but for someone else..."  

I'm seeking to focus on prayer more during Lent and to give my very creative children tactile, innovative prompts to prayer.  As Olivia intones multiple accents from "Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters" (our new favorite read-aloud), Katherine and I are crafting flowers that will soon be inscribed with prayer requests.

It will be easy to pick one or two flowers or to chose to go through the whole bouquet as we pray for the people and needs that the Lord lays on our hearts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday Favorite Five

1)  Candace Cameron Bure has a beautiful new line of clothes and jewelry with scripture on them.  Focusing on kindness, these items help bring my mind back to things that are noble, true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).

2) As Aaron and I find ourselves in our mid-40s, we are working hard to be good stewards of our resources, including our bodies.  This article was a good reminder of some things we can be doing as we seek physical health, in addition to taking care of our spiritual, mental, and emotional health.

3)  I'm falling in love with Edward Elgar's music all over again.  His cello concerto, his Serenade for Strings, and a new one to me, "The Dream of Gerontius", which I think we'll be keeping on repeat during Lent.  Elgar (and his moustache) is a keeper.  He obviously loved cellos.

4)  Watching my kids unleash their creativity.  Even when it means messes are sure to follow.  Being a "yes mama" is something I'm still working on, even on kid #4.

5)  These quick and easy make-ahead breakfast recipes.  Eating a good breakfast together as a family each morning starts our day off right with nourishment for our bodies, souls, and minds.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


For our family, Purim means more than just reading the story of Esther and making noise when we hear the name of Haman.  Purim reminds us that God knows what He is doing.  Purim encourages us to be faithful in the daily little things because we can't see the big picture.  And, especially this week, Purim shouts that God provides (even when our financial support is going backwards instead of forwards).

We invited some special friends to make hamantaschen with us this year.  Abigail and Katherine made one recipe, and Olivia and Adia made the other one.  This combination made the house ring with laughter.

We have our old favorite, the chocolate raspberry version that we feel just can't be beat.  But this year, with the addition of extra hands, we decided to try a different recipe, too.  Both were yummy, but in this house, chocolate always wins.


For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large eggs, beaten
4 Tbsp. orange juice
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature

For the filling:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tsp. jam (any flavor - we used some of the strawberry jam we made last summer)
1/4 cup chopped nuts

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease two cookie sheets.

2.  Using an electric mixer, cream the margarine and sugar together in a large bowl.

3. Add the eggs and orange juice.  Mix well.

4.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the sugar and egg mixture.  Mix together with a large spoon.  If this mixture is too sticky, add a little more flour.  (The dough will be easier to handle if you refrigerate it for an hour or more.)

5.  Since the dough will be soft, sprinkle flour on the rolling pin and on a piece of waxed paper that you use to roll out the dough - so it doesn't stick.  Roll out the dough to 1/8 - 1/4 inch thickness.

6.  Find a round glass, mug or cookie cutter with a rim about 2 1/2 - 3 inches across.  Flour the rim.  Use it to cut the dough into circles.

7.  Mix together the filling ingredients.  Put about 3/4 of a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle.  Shape into triangles by bringing two sides of the circle up to the center and pinching them together.  Then bring up the third side and pinch it to the other two sides.  Be sure to pinch the dough firmly so the pastry will not open during the baking.  Do not close the tops completely, so some filling shows in the center.
8.  Place the hamantashen on the greased cookie sheets, about an inch apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned along the edges.  Cool on wire racks Makes about 5 dozen.

Our library had some sweet books available to enhance our celebration:

On Purim by Cathy Goldberg Fishman

Cakes and Miracles by Barbara Diamond Goldin

Raisel's Riddle by Erica Silverman

Goldie's Purim by Jane Breskin Zalbin

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Historic Washington State Park

We're continuing to hit as many state and national parks as we can, soaking up as much history and beauty as possible.  

We chose to visit this park in conjunction with the Jonquil Festival, so we had no shortage of things to see and do.

An important stop on the Southwest Trail, James Bowie, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett all famously traveled through here.  James Black, a local blacksmith, actually forged the legendary Bowie knife.  From 1863-1865, it served as the Confederate capital of Arkansas."


We're learning more and more about the importance of the Southwest Trail, a route I never encountered until we visited Davidsonville Historic State Park a few weeks ago.

Thankfully the weather for the field trip this time was spectacular instead of frigid!   How did I miss this part of Arkansas' history?!?

According to Wikipedia:  "Little more than a footpath before Arkansas became a territory in 1819, Southwest Trail became a major immigration route in the 1820s. By the 1830s more than 80 percent of the Arkansas territory's population had entered through the Southwest Trail."

What a gorgeous day to enjoy a picnic lunch among all of the daffodils,

to tour the beautifully restored historic houses while learning about their construction,

and to discover the history of Arkansas.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sweet Sabbath

"Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus."  Ephesians 2:4-7

Bulbs always give me hope and remind me of the things Jesus does in our lives.  His work often quietly happens hidden, underneath the surface.  Then the flowering beauty of what He produces comes shining forth when we least expect it.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Week well spent...

"This is the day to fling grace around like glitter, to pass out slices of banana bread, to tell the boys how handsome their ID pictures are, to help each other out and lift each other up.  Let's open our homes and passenger doors.  Let's be sensitive and aware.  In the span of God's wide and rowdy family, we all belong to one another....Take a look around.  Find someone to nurture."  

When I look back at how we spent our week, I see two themes emerge.  The first theme is preparation for the Solomon Islands, and the second one is investment in our community, 
friends, and family.

 We attended a funeral Monday morning, a hard funeral (as if any funeral is easy). I also had a dentist appointment on Monday afternoon (the girls have appointments in a few days).  This will be the last time our teeth are cleaned until we return to America in 2021.  Tuesday, we shared a meal with a family from church and enjoyed playing with their spunky boys.

Wednesday, we drove to Little Rock for our travel shots and typhoid meds.  Starting four of my days without coffee so I can swallow the typhoid pills on an empty stomach and keeping it 
empty for an hour?  Way harder than I thought it would be, but so worth it to be prepared for our return overseas.

The girls didn't have to get any shots for traveling, so it was a strange kind of bonding experience while we got our shots and the girls took pictures.

But when we were finished, we ALL celebrated with Sonic half price shakes!

Thursday, Katherine got her regularly scheduled booster shots, and the girls volunteered at the animal shelter on their normal routine.

But because it was March 14, aka "Pi Day", one of our local pizza places had pizza for $3.14 each, so my parents offered to treat us to supper.

Then we went to cheer on the 8-12 grade orchestras as they presented a concert in preparation for their upcoming assessment.

Friday, our family drove to one of our state parks, Historic Washington, for some living history.  More on that soon!  The roofers have been hard at work in the last few days since we finally have some sunny weather, and today I made them banana bread.  Which reminded me of Shannan Martin's quote above.  Certainly, the week has abounded with opportunities to fling grace around like glitter and to share hospitality with those God has placed in our circle.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Penitential Psalms and Lent

Focusing on the Penitential Psalms during Lent draws Aaron and me to renew our minds with God's Word like a tractor beam pulls in a ship in the Star Wars movies.  This week, we've listened to Psalm 38 in J.S. Bach's "Es ist nichts Gesundes as meinem Leibe" BWV 25 and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, 1st movement (I found the score at a local antique shop!), 

and Psalm 6 in Schutz's "Ach Herr, straf mich nicht" and Desmarets' "Domine ne in furore".  One of my favorites, because of the cello solo at the beginning, is Rutter's "Out of the Deep" based on Psalm 130.  And while cooking supper one night, we listened to Allegri's "Miserere" from Psalm 51.  Olivia immediately began cackling, because she recognized this piece from a hilarious spoof.

Long before Ash Wednesday, our family began talking about ways to observe Lent and make it meaningful.  We were tossing around ideas, and when I mentioned that we could give up our weekly Friday night tradition of picking up a pound of pulled pork from Whole Hog (the only time we eat out), the girls protested loudly.  And that made it official.  We'll be forgoing our Friday night treat and using the money to bless some of the people that serve our community.  It's not a lot of money, but we will definitely feel the loss of "easy" at the end of each week.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I should have known it would happen.  Placing the pot of seeds on the dining room table a week ago reminds me to die to self every single time I walk through that room.  Watching the grass seeds transform daily reminds me that, with God's help, change can happen in our lives, too.

But you'd never know it from the words that have been flung around here lately.  My girls have been bickering more than usual, our marriage has hit some rough spots, and the time change really rocked our world and gave us a huge case of the crankies.  We're fighting back by listening to music that brings our hearts and minds back to the Lord (like Hymns for the Lifegiving Home) and by giving each other grace and by reminding each other to choose to die to self, even when it's hard.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

More sweet gifts from the weekend, celebrating my best friend's birthday.  Spending time with Ann always encourages me.  Even though we only live forty-five minutes away, finding space on the calendar is difficult!  We dropped off our kids at their house and left them to shoot Nerf guns and eat their sandwiches while the adults went out to a rare restaurant treat.

The best part of the evening was the encouragement we received when the waitress told us another table had paid for our meal.  A family we know from church (and the husband happened to be Aaron's 8th grade math teacher!) quietly paid for our birthday celebration and infused us with a sense of wonder and gratitude.

Our family also attended opera scenes at our local university on Saturday night.  We are soaking up every little bit of music we can, knowing that our time in America is growing shorter and our opportunities to enjoy good performances are few.

Monday, March 11, 2019

 I've been back in the orchestra classroom again, subbing while the directors took the high school orchestra to Dallas for a few days.  What a joy to be able to work with these students again.  See that necklace hanging around my neck? 

My orchestra teacher, Jill, gave it to me years and years ago.  It's a lovely crystal string instrument, and it reminds me to create a classroom culture of nurture and support while we're striving for musical excellence.  Friday was cold and dreary and definitely needed a boost in the classroom.  Enter donuts.

It's so much easier to figure out those borrowed chords in music theory if you have a little something in your tummy.  And where would I get my Girl Scout cookie fix if it weren't for those amazing orchestra students?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday

"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds."  John 12:24

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Shrove Tuesday

This year, our family looks very different (just four of us) as I think about preparing for Lent.  We also hope to be moving back to the Solomon Islands in the midst of that thoughtful time.  So, I'm making plans, but holding things loosely, too. As usual, we'll be celebrating with food.  We've already enjoyed Shrove Tuesday with Semlar from "The Great Holiday Baking Book" by Beatrice Ojakangas.

Katherine is quickly stepping up to fill Sarah's absent shoes as star baker in the Choate household.  She helped me make the dough and piped all of the cream for the Semlar.  She also begged to be the one to cut in the butter when we made the dough for the Danish Carnival Buns for breakfast this morning.  All of this yummy celebration will come to a screeching halt tomorrow.

Some new-to-us books we are trying this season:

Lent and Easter Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton

Preparing for Easter:  Fifty Devotional Reading from C.S. Lewis

We will also be listening to various settings of the Penitential Psalms, especially the ones by Orlande de Lassus, to help us focus our hearts and minds on Jesus and the work of the cross.  I'm really showing my music geek self as I compile the lists and texts of these psalms.  From Des Prez all the way to Stravinsky, composers have been searching these psalms to inspire their creativity and to draw hearts into worship.