Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Boys are Gross, Except When They Bring You Flowers

Yesterday I was quite convinced that Martha Stewart and Mr. Clean couldn't rescue me from this pit.  Do you need a visual?? Well, I think that parts of this reality might be a bit too graphic (the bathrooms) for the neat freaks and obsessive compulsive scrubbers out there, so I'll just give you this G-Rated peek:
Keep in mind, this was the 7th time I had swept the floor for the day, and the time of duty was 9:59 p.m.  Multiply the pile by 7 and there you have a ridiculous amount of crunch being brushed from between my toes at any given time during the day. Where does it all the dirt and random pieces of crap come from?? Have I been cursed by the filth fairy?? Sometimes, I wonder.....The pic doesn't do justice to the amount of dirt that is actually mixed up in all that mess.  On white tile it would be darn near scandalous.  Seriously, if SRS knew they would come and take my kids.  Anyway, back to yesterday...

By 9:00 a.m., I had already put some serious traction on my pink sequined slippers stomping around the house trying to clear a path through our mini-habitiat (which recently feels like it's shrinking to the size of a hut) just so we could start school in a somewhat sane fashion.  Finally, exasperated, I decided to whip out the famous "fall in line, boys" command, a call my husband uses when he wants to get the boys attention, to get things done.

They lined up disheveled. They stared at me.  They stared at each-other. During the 5.7 seconds of silence I allowed myself to get a grip, they squirmed with discomfort and confusion. So far, the drill sergeant method was working.  I proceeded to lecture about hygiene and order until George raised his hand and asked if he could go hunting when I was done preaching.  Typical.

After I carefully laid out my expectations, hopes and dreams for the future of our estate, we all went into clean mode.  Things soon improved, one Clorox wipe and fluffy duster at a time. Though I felt somewhat relieved, I didn't feel great about the method it took to produce the results.

That evening, I went to a girlie gathering that I was invited to, and on the way home tried to come up with a better way, a better plan of management for handling the duties of the home, the messes, the responsibilities that the kids need to attend to without making them feel like punishment.  Feeling renewed in my intentions to bring peace and order to the home, I was ready to take on tomorrow. As I came in the door, I was greeted with hugs from all of the boys who were excited to bless me with a lovely bouquet of flowers that they had purchased in town with daddy.
My inner drill sergeant has been silenced by these blooms ~ the freshest thing in the house.  [Thank you, Lord.}  Times like this with the boys make me sentimental, so I wrote a really bad poem in honor of my testosterhome and those who dwelleth innith:

Boys are stinky.
Boys are gross.
Boys are loud,
And need help the most.

They make a mess in 2 seconds flat.
I find myself screaming, "what is that?"
Please flush and don't pick,
Sometimes your toots make me sick.

I wish you were clean and neat and tidy.
Our house is too small for all of you five-y.
It's crowded, it's small, dust bunnies are getting tall.
With a little help and some wine and I could conquer it all.

After I've yelled, and huffed and ranted,
You still look confused at the wish I want granted.
A little order, a bit less mess
The scent of fresh in your room would be the best!

No more Legos assaulting my feet,
No more bathroom puddles of pee.
No more moldy snacks hidden under the bed,
No more piles of laundry towering over my head.

Deep down I know, we won't live here forever.
Yes, maybe more square footage will make everything better.
Despite all of the behaviors I cannot understand,
I do know for sure that your each "my little man."

So, please be patient when I'm not,
Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me a lot.
I treasure you more than a house that shines.
It's who you are that I love, courageous and kind.

I want your childhood memories to be that in our work and in our play,
The relationships we build together are what will last, what will stay.
The house is secondary, clutter and dirt are really no big deal.
When you say, "I love you mommy" that's what matters, that's what's real!

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Self-Esteem and Self-Forgiveness

I wrote this post last Spring, and intended to re-post it here at Sole Searching on the Faith page, but I feel compelled to keep it here on the home page.  While my perspective with this element of parenting is seen in relation to my Faith, I hope that my non-faith readers will not feel excluded and will be able to find something worthwhile in it as well....
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
There are five precious little men who dwell under my roof and deep in my heart.  Each with their own distinct gifts, personalities and dispositions.  Today, there is one, in particular who is occupying my thoughts...

Oh, how this one loves, loves, loves others.  But, there are times when I can see that he struggles to love himself.

And, the ache I feel for him in this particular struggle is indescribable.  I know that you understand what I'm saying if you are a parent and are reading this.

For me, one of the most humbling responsibilities of parenting is correcting our children.  How terribly necessary it is to take seriously the formation of a child's conscience.  For without doing so, they may indeed walk through the terrors of the world without having one to exercise.

And yet, how fragile the duty is, how easily a spirit can be broken.  Broken under the weight of constant criticism, correction, expression of disappointment, lack of or loss of patience. Oh, my, the lack of patience - I'm terribly guilty of this.

Finer than fine is that balance between living the letter of the law, the letter of life and the spirit of the law, the spirit of life.  Of taking the job seriously because we love our children and want to help them do their best and be their best, because deep down we know that there is freedom in living a virtuous life.  But, take the job too seriously and it's easy to lose perspective.  Their mistakes become our mistakes they must be failing because we are failing. And what if there is truth in the reality that often times it is our mistakes that become their mistakes....our very own personal sins become visible in them?

Stops me dead in my tracks every time.  No, no, no, Lord! These are my problems, not theirs! Why is sin generational - why, why, why?? How is it that my baggage has become their baggage. They carry it around, unaware, on their petite little shoulders. I don't want them to struggle with such things. I want them to be free and good and happy and perfect. Yep, perfect.  Easier for them.....and yes, for me too. 

I can recall with great clarity the interior feeling of desire that I had to be good as a child.  Partially because I wanted to be like my older sister. In my eyes no one was better than her.  The other part was to please my parents.  So many good feelings came with pleasing those around me, and being recognized and praised for it. But, falling short of the mark brought the opposite emotions. Personal mistakes and failures were then (and at times still are) nearly overwhelming for me.  To say that I felt consumed by feelings of failure and worthlessness would not be an exaggeration.  That is a lonely place to be, as a child and as an adult.

When I see that a child of my own may at times experience those same feelings, I cannot express the depth of my desire to rescue him from such a place.  I wanted so much to be like "those other kids" who could brush things off so easily and just move on with life, full of confidence, seemingly carefree and unaffected by their faults and failures.  Maybe it was all appearances, smoke and mirrors, I didn't care, I still wanted to be like them.  I wanted, "It's no big deal" to be my motto too.

Now you know that I wasn't like those other kids then and I'm not like them now.  And, I have a son who might just feel the same way.  Intellectually I know that if I scrub and scour every Christian parenting and child psychology book I will find some answers, some approaches to all of this (and I have - The Optimistic Child and several works by Dr. Conrad Baars have helped tremendously).

Yet, deep down I know that this is the one small truth that sits deep in the heart of the matter:
Our desire to be good and to do good must come FIRST and PRIMARILY as an act and expression of LOVE for God the Father.  He who first loved us, who will never stop loving us, who will help us to love ourselves, is our perfect parent.  Longing to please those closest to us, caring too much about what others think, and frankly caring too much about what I think of myself - as if one day I expect to wake up and be happy because I can say, "Yes, I am good now!" - will never bear any fruit in my own life nor in the lives of my children.

Nurturing a life of love for our Lord in our children not only helps them to set their hearts upon something (Someone) everlasting, but it gives them a point of reference called RELATIONALITY.  The child's desire to do good and to be good becomes a connection, a relation between themselves and the Lord. This connection is not an end in and of itself, it extends into the lives of others.  We love because he first loved us.  We love others, and we love ourselves because of Him.  In this way, when the children's minds and hearts are set upon particular achievements in life, including interior spiritual achievements, they are motivated by Love and not prideful or self-centered reasons.

How tempting it is to choose the pathway of permissiveness as a parent.  To let everything slide, to ignore the wrongdoings, to make excuses for poor behavior is the easy approach.  While we think that they simply cannot handle being "caught and taught" because they are too fragile, or we don't want them to be unhappy or dislike us, we are simply taking a pass for ourselves on parenting, either because we don't want to face the fact that we might be correcting our children for a sin that we too struggle with and fear being called a hypocrite, or else we are delusional, thinking that sins are simply phases of life and will pass.  In the end, no one wins with that approach and no one is happy.

Happiness, by and large, is not the greatest goal for our children.  Yes, we want them to be happy, but better yet, we should want them to be free.  Free to forgive themselves and others, free to love and free to live a life that is directed toward something greater than themselves.

What I have learned and am still learning about relating to and guiding a child whose temperament can tend toward being overly self-critical and self-doubting, who struggles (at times) with low self-esteem is this:

1.  Example is the best teacher.  Their eyes are upon us.  While none of us are perfect parents, we have to be aware of the impression we make upon our children by our own example.  "Do as I say, not as I do" just isn't going to fly.  Modeling the behavior we desire to see in our children isn't easy, we must ask for their forgiveness when we fall, receive their forgiveness cheerfully and begin again.

2.  When the child is in need of correction, it is important that the firmness is always followed by affection and encouragement. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut with discipline and feel weary of constantly correcting, try something new. Create an opportunity for quality one-on-one time with your child. Finding that time isn't always easy, but may be just what your child needs to gain a little self-confidence, and the assurance that you love them and truly are here to help them with their struggles.  Think of it as time for connection instead of correction.

3.  I believe that it helps children to know that as parents we, too, are working on our own defects.  For example, I have expressed to the children that I struggle with a lack of patience, and that I want to become a more patient person for the good of the family, for my own well-being and because it pleases the Lord.  We cannot demand a particular behavior/virtue from our children and follow it with the phrase, "do it because I said so!"  Sharing a purposeful explanation with the child will appeal to their sensitive nature and provide a reasonable motivation for them as well.

4.  In the evenings we help our children examine their consciences.  We pause to consider the good things we did for the day as well as the bad.  This provides us as parents the opportunity to praise our children for their specific good behavior, to ask for forgiveness for any wrong-doing, and to pray for the grace to press on toward the good.  It's amazing how loved children feel when you pray with them.

6.  Help your children see their struggles in light of temptation.  For example, I shared these thoughts with my sensitive one: When you make a mistake and are corrected, you might be tempted to be angry with yourself for such a period of time that it leads to internal frustration and withdrawal from others because you feel so upset with yourself.  The devil wants you to react in this way, because when you feel hopeless and do not trust in God's mercy and grace to do better next time you cannot be a light for Christ in the world.  Satan is real, and he wants to take you out of the game.  When all you can see and think about is yourself, you take your eyes off of Christ, and Satan wins.

7.  At the end of the day, the very best that we can give our kids is a dedicated time of prayer for them.  I am just learning about praying very specifically for each of my children in a way that is especially personal and specific to their needs, their future and their present lives at this time.  The desire to pray in such a way has always been in my heart, but finding depth in the prayer has not been easy. I have discovered that using a specific outline can be very helpful. You can find an example of it here.

This is #10 from the list of 
31 Ways to Pray For Your Children:
"Lord, help my children develop a strong self-esteem that is rooted in the realization that they are God's workmanship created in Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 2:10)

How do you address issues of low self-confidence or self-forgiveness with your children?? 
I welcome your thoughts...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blogger Tag Game - Apparently I'm "It"


If you haven't signed up for our Berry Sleepy giveaway, please do so!! The winner will be announced on Monday, February 25th!!

Angie from Hays House.....Misadventures in Parenting was playing cyber tag last week, and she decided to drag a few fellow bloggers into the game with her.  I say drag, because while I LOVE writing about my kids and food and faith and wine and running, writing about myself isn't so comfy.  But, because I think she's super-cool, and because I know you will feel the same way after you visit her, I'm going to accept her invitation to join the game!  So whether you want to know all of this stuff or not, I'm dishing it out to ya anyway (with love, of course)! Here goes!...

1. Where you born? I was born in the small but mighty town of Belleville, Kansas America.  Proudly known as the home to the Midget Nationals, hosted on the fastest 1/2 mile dirt race track in the world. You might need to know that if you're on Jeopardy some day.

2. Were you named after someone? Can't say that I am. But, I was destined to have an "S" name since I followed my brother, Steve, and my sister, Sara.  Now that I really think about it I could have ben a Sasha or Savannah or Sabrina or Selena....

3. If you have children, how many do you have? Steve and I have 5 boys.  I mean 5 BOYS!!!  Benedict, Andrew, George, Henry and Charles.  They all have 2 middle names. We did that so that when we are mad at them, we can yell 3 names instead of the usual 2, and they know we mean business.  "GEORGE PATRICK THOMAS!! Why is there another dead rabbit on the porch??" (Explanation here.)

4. How many pets do I have? We have two beautiful Golden Retrievers named Stella and Rose.  We have also raised bucket calves for 4-H and hatched a few chicks for a school project, but they mysteriously "disappeared."  Stella and Rose are my girls.  I need them in order to survive living out in the middle of nowhere with 6 males who have been known to make farting a competitive event.

5. What was your worst injury? Having my heart broken in 2nd grade by the boy of my dreams?? Just kidding!! In high-school I tore ligaments in both of my ankles playing volleyball.  But, I'm thankful, because the injuries motivated me to work on strengthening my ankles for basketball, so I started running - and I still enjoy it so much today!

6. Do I have a special talent? I'm pretty good at ignoring whining, drama and tantrums, and I can hang a spoon from my nose, which will come in handy some day.  I'm also pretty decent in the kitchen - I can bake a mean pie, and my husband thinks my pot roast puts Pioneer Woman's to shame (but those are his words, not mine, I'm just quoting here).
7. What's your favorite thing to bake? Pies, I love to bake pies.  One time when I was in college I baked 6 pies and took them up to a nearby Monastery to share with the monks.  I never saw a group of men eat so fast in my life!  Bread would have to be #2.  Is there anything better than a thick slice of fresh baked bread slathered in butter??

8. What's your favorite fastfood? Ooooo, give me some Chick-Fil-A, please!  We used to live close to one before moving to the farm.  I really miss it!  Have you ever seen Tim Hawkin's sing about Chick-Fil-A?? H.I.L.A.R.I.O.U.S.!! 

9. Would I bungee jump? NEVER!!! Unless of course I had to do it to, a. save a life or b. win a million dollars for a charity or c. well, there is no c. You may safely assume that my answer is a big fat, "NOPE!"

10. What is the first thing you notice about people? I'm borrowing Angie's answer on this one: Their eyes. Do they have kind eyes or cray cray eyes? Eyes truly tell it all.

11. When was the last time I cried? I cried last week when I was putting up some curtains and the rod slipped out of my hand and clocked me in the forehead.  That was kind of random, though.  I am a bit of a tender heart - beauty really makes me cry - sunsets, kindness, babies, sacrifice, romance....pass the tissues, please. 

12. Any current worries? Oh, honey.  You really don't want to open that bag of worms.  I'm just going to keep all those between me and Jesus and our bottle of wine.

13. Name three drinks you drink regularly. Coffee.  Every day.  Must-have-coffee!!  During the day I'm pretty much a water gal.  And, on the weekends I like to partake in a little activity called "Cook & Cocktails."  I take my time whipping up something yummy while enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail.  Gin and tonics are my fave, but I'll only drink Hendricks.  Hendricks rules.

14. What is your favorite book? Oooooo, that's a toughy.  I love to read, so choosing one is difficult.  I love classic literature - some of my tops are A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, Les Mis, To Kill a Mockingbird, All Quiet on the Western hubby and I also have a great library of theological and philosophical works that we enjoy.

15. Would you like to be a pirate? Blimey.  Who wrote this question?? 

16. What are your favorite smells? Freshly washed sheets drying on the clothesline in the summer, old gymnasiums, bread baking in the oven, my baby after a bath, the outdoors after a much needed rain...

17. Why do you blog? Blogging is my cyber scrap-book, it's my collection of memories of the boys and Steve.  I blog to remind myself that I have other gifts besides folding laundry and scraping play-dough off of the floor, and that someday I will share those gifts with others when the time is right.  Blogging is a gift to my family - there's something wonderful about seeing the boys scroll through past posts and remember happy memories and funny stories.  It's a joy to have that, especially during difficult times when it seems as though nothing in life is right, and yet so much really is....praise God.

18. What song do you want played at your funeral? Wow, well let's just go right ahead and dive into the deep why don't we! Actually, I'm a little nervous about the fact that I have a quick answer for this one. I have to say our family song, which we often sing together at the end of family prayer.  It's called " O God Beyond All Praising."  It's beautiful.  I cannot listen to it without crying.

19. What is your least favorite thing about yourself? I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator.

20. What is your favorite hobby? I really love gardening and landscaping.  If I could go back to college I would study horticulture.  This spring I'm going to make a first attempt at starting all of my veggies from seed.  The heirloom varieties are  particularly interesting!

21. What do you look for in a friend? The older I get the more I believe in the truth that your acquaintances should be many and your friends few.  I have a hard time trusting people, so sincerity, honesty and integrity rank high in my books.  

22. Name something you have done you never thought you would do.  Marry a farmer, drive a tractor and give birth to 5 boys.  That's actually 3 things, but they all just kind of mesh together in my mind.

23. What are your favorite things to do? Spending time with family is definitely tops.  Uninterrupted quality time where we are doing something fun together, laughing, and really appreciating one another is precious time.  I also love to run, read, watch movies with my hubby, garden and make useful things out of junk or thrift shop finds.

24. Any pet peeves? I really struggle with immodest dress among young women and men.  It's very sad to see them treat themselves and others with such little respect.

25. What's the last thing that made you laugh? Everyday our son, Henry, says or does something so funny that we all laugh uncontrollably. For example, he loves to be mommy's little helper.  Often times after we run errands, I ask him to help me put away the groceries or other items.  I really have to watch him on this because we have found lunch meat in the laundry basket and Wranglers in the refrigerator!

Okay, game over!! Whew!! Are you still here?? If so, part of the game is that I have to now tag in 10 other bloggers.  So, let's see if they will accept the challenge!  Here's my list of picks:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

It's Giveaway Time!! Say Good-Bye to Sleepless Nights & Say Hello to Berry Sleepy!!

How many times have you had a friend, a family member, a neighbor or even a complete stranger tell you about how wonderful a certain product is, and then insist that you try it, only to find that it just didn't quite live up to all of the boasting?? It has happened to me, and I'm sure that it has happened to you, too.

Until now, there were only two products I would shamelessly promote:
1.  A good bottle of wine
2.  A great pair of running shoes
But, now, I have to add a new favorite to my list, and it's called Berry Sleepy!  
Why do I recommend it?? Because, it works!!  How many of you wouldn't love to enjoy restful, refreshing sleep each and every night?? Sleeping through the night was never a problem for me until I had children. Then, I became such a restless sleeper, waking up 4-5 times every night.  My husband has the same struggles that I do, and we both often wake up feeling very tired, just hoping that the other has already put on a pot of coffee!
The founders of Berry Sleepy, Greg and Adrienne, and their beautiful family!

When I first heard about Berry Sleepy, I knew that we had to try it! I am very selective when it comes to quality and purity of natural products, and was pleased to hear from the founder of the company that:
"The manufacturer (of Berry Sleepy) is a member of the natural products association which is the gold standard in the industry for honesty and quality."

From my experience with Juice Plus, I know that having a "gold standard" stamp on your product means that it has been tested for purity and quality, which is extremely important in the market of natural products!

Here are just a few of the benefits that users of Berry Sleepy can experience:
- Fall asleep quickly, but gently.
- Wake up refreshed, with no "sleep-aid hangover."
- Use without fear of addiction, since Berry Sleepy is simply nutritious fruit.  
- Enjoy peaceful sleep with peace of mind.
- Read about more benefits here.

I am happy to report that Berry Sleepy has been helping me (and Steve) enjoy a more restful night's sleep!  I decided to share Berry Sleepy with my mother-in-law, who recently re-ordered two more bottles, and couldn't be more pleased with her results:

"Over the past few months, I have been waking between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., often unable to go back to sleep at all.  The medications that I take for my breast cancer therapy make it very difficult to sleep through the night.  When I take Berry Sleepy just before bedtime, I am able to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer.  For me, it's simply a life-saver!"

If you are interested in trying Berry Sleepy,
I have some fantastic news for you! 

First, the founders of Berry Sleepy are offering my readers a $5.00 discount on their first order!! Just use the promo code: sole searching.

Second,  I am giving away a bottle of Berry Sleepy for one lucky winner to try!!  The winner will also receive an Herbal Ease Neck Pillow from Tara Spa Therapy!! {Even if you personally do not have a need for these products, surely you know of someone who does, so enter to win for them!!} 

To enter the giveaway, just sign up below.  The more options you complete, the greater chance you have of winning!!

Would you like to learn more about Berry Sleepy?
Check out their latest blog post, 3 Sleep Tips for New Parents!  
View their CBS news interview!
There's more press here!
Also, be sure to check out Berry Sleepy on Facebook,  Twitter and Pinterest.

Friday, February 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes: 7 Sweet Sayings From Yesterday

While in many ways yesterday was just an ordinary day in our home - school, sports practices, orchestra, chores etc., etc., we did make time to squeeze in a few Valentines Day activities.  This included baking, reading a story about St. Valentine, making cards and Henry asking me all day, "Did you get me a Balentine?? Followed by, "It's okay if you didn't get me one Mom, I'll just take a toy, like some Hot Wheels or sumpin' like that, kay?...kay, Mom??.....Mom, Mom, Mom......{sigh}"
One of my favorite school projects we worked on was inspired by a creative idea that I found on Calicos and Cupcakes.  There, I found a simple fill in the blank poem about love.  Since we homeschool, the writing project was easily incorporated into our lessons as we reviewed the five senses, and also similes and metaphors. At first I thought that I might need to guide them a little bit through the activity, but to my surprise, they whisked the papers out of my hands and dove right in.
I highly recommend sharing this idea with your kids - their answers will either leave you in stitches or in tears.  I experienced both - and today I'm sharing my favorites.  Each poem contained five lines beginning with a phrase that they had to finish:
Love looks like:
Love smells like:
Love tastes like:
Love feels like:
Love sounds like:

These are my 7 favorite responses:

1.  Love looks like:  My brother Henry when he is giving (George). When does he do this? I mean, absolutely!

2.  Love looks like: Rain on a dry day. (Andrew) That's a farm boy!

3.  Love smells like: Bacon. (Henry)  And, that is why I love you, my child!

4.  Love tastes like: Warm hot chocolate on a cold day. (Ben and Andrew)

5.  Love feels like: A hug when you want one. (Andrew) Unlimited supply, right here, baby!

6.  Love sounds like: A symphony. (Ben) You and I, we bond over a little Beethoven!

7. Love sounds like: My Mom. (George)  Melt. My. Heart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fuel Your {Running} Passion With Chocolate

Several months ago, when I realized that choosing a gluten-free diet was going to be a permenant way of life for me, I began scouring the internet for recipes.  I love to bake, and whole-heartedly accepted the challenge to continue my baking pursuits in this new way.  I'll admit, it hasn't been easy.  And, it hasn't all been delicious. My boys, who much prefer gluten-based recipes, have let me know, loud and clear, when my gluten-free concoctions completely bonk!
Last week, I found a recipe in an old issue of Runner's World, that caught my eye.  The recipe was created by pastry chef, Gesine Bullock Prado, who is also a distance runner, so I knew I had to try it! Another bonus: it's chocolate - my favorite!! Verdict?? AH-MAZING!! It even passed the family test.  The cakes were so delicious, I would even serve them to guests (that's the true mark of a great recipe for me!).  I would however, dress the cakes up a bit for company, and below, I'll show you three different ways to do that.  These cakes are also delicious served plain with a scoop of your favorite ice cream and a hot cup of coffee.

Another bonus: they are low-fat, high in protein, and because they are sweetened with agave nectar, they score lower on the glycemic index than most baked goodies!

NOTE: While the original recipe is fine as it is, I did add in a few "extras" that I think made the texture and flavor of the cake even better. Those additions have a (*) beside them.  
{GF} Chocolate Passion Mini-Cakes
1 cup organic applesauce
1 15.5 can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups organic, gluten free oat flour
1 cup cocoa powder (use a high quality brand, if you can)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon*
4 tablespoons flax seed oil* (optional)
1 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup strong coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla (Mexican vanilla is my favorite!)
Preheat oven oven to 350 degrees.  In a food processor, blend the applesauce and beans.  In a bowl, whisk the oat flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, set aside. In another bowl, with an electric mixer, whisk the agave syrup, flax oil and eggs until light and foamy.  Reduce mixer speed to medium slow and pour in coffee; mix until combined.  Add bean/applesauce mixture and vanilla to the egg mixture.  Beat until combined.  Add oat/cocoa mixture all at once.  Beat on low until just moist, then increase speed and beat until smooth, about 30 seconds.  
Divide batter among 12 greased mini-loaves (fill to about 3/4 full).  (You could use cupcake pans, but will need to adjust the baking time accordingly.) Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cake springs back when poked.  Makes 12 loaves.
Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package organic cream cheese ("light" works also)
1/2 cup (or more) powdered sugar, or 4-5 Stevia in the Raw packets 

¼ cup organic, natural-style, creamy peanut butter
Pinch of salt 

Beat all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Thin to preferred consistency with milk (almond or soy can also be used).
Chocolate Ganache: from Savory Sweet Life
12 ounces good chocolate (I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet)
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons flavored liqueur, optional 

Place chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Heat heavy cream on medium high until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and immediately pour cream over chocolate and stir until completely mixed and glossy. Allow ganache to cool before pouring over cakes as a glaze. The longer you allow the ganache to cool, the thicker it will set. 

Sweetened Whipped Cream & Berries
1 cup whipping cream
1 (or more) tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream until stiff peaks are just about to form, then add sugar and vanilla.  Do not over-beat or you will end up with a bowl of butter!

~ Enjoy!! ~

Sunday, February 10, 2013

15 Ways to Experience a More Meaningful Lent

"I’m participating in the Keeping LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013, hosted by
Raising (& Teaching) Little SaintsTruly Rich Mom and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeds, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of link-up entries.”
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How beautiful it is to give up this life for the life!
~ St. JoseMaria Escriva 

Let's just go ahead and admit it - nobody likes Lent. Just say the word Lent out loud and you'll find that it is almost always followed by a sigh of discomfort.  Kind of like the word exercise to those who hate to sweat or babysit to those who find children annoying. 

For me, Lent always conjures up flashbacks of my childhood.  No sweets, no TV, no anything fun.  Just church, lots of church, ashes on the forehead, and weird fish dishes, and quiet and gloom. All my siblings and I could do is countdown to Easter Sunday. (My parents were great teachers and always set a very pious example for me. I was, most likely, focused on other, less important things as a child.)

Despite all of the negativity attached to Lent, it really does have a deep and beautiful purpose. It's not just a season in the church's liturgical calendar that you have to "get through" in order to have chocolate again. The Christian isn't forced to do any of these things - giving up meat, fasting, mortifications, ashes on the forehead.  The church doesn't hold a hammer over our head and say, "Do it, or else." Participating in the sacrificial preparations for Easter are intended to be freeing, not binding. 
I am deeply humbled by the truth that Christ willingly died for us, for our sins.  He gave himself up to be crucified.  The power of perfect sacrifice is ever stronger than that which He could have exuded if he had chosen to wield His power over everyone and every situation.  In the same way, God doesn't control us, he has given each of us a free will, and it is through our willingness to unite our sacrifices to Christ, no matter how big or small, that we participate in His life, death and resurrection.
In my mind, there is but one purposes to the Lenten season:
Unity with Christ.

This season of contemplation, examination and preparation wakes up the soul, and invigorates our fervor as Christians to walk with Christ and to desire Heaven more deeply. 
Experiencing Lent as a family can be challenging.  We are all busy with activities, school, sports, meetings and appointments.  But, coming together for any amount of time each day can bear beautiful fruit in your family.
Need a few ideas?  Here is our list of favorites:
1.  A couple of years ago, I found this idea for a crown of thorns made out of salt dough.  Toothpicks are placed in the dough to represent the thorns.  When the children do an act of sacrifice or a good deed, they can take out one toothpick and place it in the "thorn" jar that is kept in the center of the crown.  
2. The crown of thorns is a painful and sometimes difficult image (especially for little ones) to grasp.  Here is an extended lesson to the crown of thorns project that will help children see that Christ's crown of suffering was bore out of a deep love that led Him to an eternal crown, a glorified crown, a heavenly crown: For every toothpick they remove from the thorny crown, allow them to place a jewel into the "jewel" jar.  Then, on Easter, the children can use the jewels to decorate a beautiful crown for Jesus.  You can find a king's crown printable template here.  Print it out on quality card stock and cut them out ahead of time so that they are ready for the children to decorate on Easter.
3. Choose a story to read aloud together.  This doesn't necessarily have to be a Catholic/Christian book.  Perhaps it could be one where the characters demonstrate heroic virtue by way of sacrifice. Our older kids (3rd grade and up) have really enjoyed Redwall by Brian Jacques.  There are also many short stories in the Children's Book of Virtues.  We like to keep a book basket in our living area during special seasons in the church.  This is very handy if you are giving up television/video games during Lent.
4.  Consider adopting a child that you can support as a family with financial resources, prayers and letters. Sometimes being mindful of the needs and sufferings of others can put our own struggles into perspective.  We have adopted two boys, Patrick and Juan Diego, through CFCA. You can find more information here.

5.  Pray together.  I know it seems so simple, but often the greatest sacrifice that we can make on a weekly basis is the sacrifice of our time.  Praying with your children, even for a short amount of time each day, is unifying for the family.  Maybe you will learn a new prayer, or perhaps choose a bible verse that you would like to memorize together.  

6.  Pick a service project to do together.  Consider shoveling snow for a neighbor, volunteering at the local food bank or soup kitchen, visiting the elderly, or delivering a meal to someone home-bound.  Let the kids help decide what you will do.  If you are giving up Saturday morning cartoons or a day of shopping at the mall for Lent, it helps to put something sacrificial in it's place, or else you might find yourself looking for another source of comfort or entertainment to replace whatever it is that you gave up. 
7. To  build upon the idea of growing in the virtue of generosity, now is a great time to introduce your children to the beauty of almsgiving, an act of religious virtue where one offers help in some way to the poor, above and beyond their weekly tithe.

8.  Get to know Christ through the Word.  For families on the go, an easy way to do this is to listen to an audio version of the daily readings. You can find them here (just click on audio version and select the corresponding date). 
9.  The Stations of the Cross is a traditional form of prayer that Catholics often pray together on Fridays at their local parish.  If you find it difficult to make the trip to church, you can still pray this beautiful prayer as a family at home.  I found this amazing idea from Joyfilled Family. They use candles with a printable picture to mark each station. Our family truly looks forward to lighting the candles and praying these beautiful prayers during Lent.
10.  If you have little ones in the home, crafts can sometimes be a perfect way to make something as difficult as the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection simpler for them to take part in.  I love the website Catholic Icing.  There are oodles of great ideas there! 

11.  We are all, by our natures, comfort seeking creatures. That part of our nature is in some cases necessary for survival.  So, encouraging children to embrace the idea of sacrificial giving isn't easy.  I decided this year to offer the boys a way of seeing their sacrifices "bloom" into something beautiful.  Because, as Christians, we believe that each person's personal sacrifices have merit, and when offered to Christ, He will give our sacrifices life. 
To begin the activity, I created this quote: 
These tiny seeds lie deep asleep.  But, when planted in the soil of sacrifice, they will awake and bloom as resurrected flowers of love! 

Below the quote, I scattered a few illustrated seeds that the boys can cut out.  Each time during the week that a child offers some small sacrifice, he/she can cut out a seed and put it in their specific pot. About half-way through Lent, have the child count his/her seeds and replace them with real seeds.  Those seeds will then be planted in their pot and cared for throughout the remainder of Lent. By Easter, the plants should be sprouted and can then be enjoyed indoors or transplanted outside when the weather warms up.  We chose Morning Glories, because they are symbolic of the Resurrection. To encourage the little ones with this project, it might be helpful to create a list of sacrifices that they can choose from.  They can even help you make the list.  Some of ours include:
- Picking up toys for a sibling.
- Making bed without being asked.
- Give up playing with a toy or game so that another may use it.
- Clean up room without being asked.
- Serve another family member at supper time.
- Pray for a family member.
12.  Have each child select a quiet space that he/she can go to every day for twenty minutes in the home to have quiet time with Our Lord.  Older ones may read the bible, recite their favorite prayers, journal or simply be still and listen. For little ones (3-6 years old) they might just read or look at story books about Jesus or their Children's Bible, or color pictures for Jesus.  Need some story ideas? Check out this list.  Another resource is Holy Heroes.  These are fantastic audio stories of saints.  A coloring book can be purchased to accompany the stories.  Our kids love these, and often listen to them in the afternoon during my personal prayer time.
13. If your kids are giving up something such as toys and video games for Lent, make a sacrifice box. Also, help them to think beyond just giving something up.  Sometimes adding a task or offering to their daily routine can also be sacrificial. For example, picking up their room without being asked, saying a prayer each day for someone in the family, doing a chore for someone else, etc.  Also, giving up something, doesn't just have to mean something physical.  How about giving up a bad habit such a whining, complaining, name calling, a negative attitude, not responding promptly to parents etc.? 

14.  We all love to countdown to exciting and joyful events.  Make a calendar for your children and hang it on the fridge.  I like this one from Catholic Icing:
15.  Finally, since I haven't yet mentioned anything about giving up candy, pop, or other special treats for Lent, I will say that these types of fasting are always a good idea. May I suggest doing it together as a family (our family gives up sweets)? And, if the children want to partake in more of their own "giving up" sacrifices, do not discourage them!  To help the kids get through those long 40 days of no sweets or treats, remind them that the church does not discourage celebrating feasts of distinction during Lent, such as St. Joseph's feast day (March 19),  or St. Patrick's feast day (March 17).  It is appropriate to enjoy special foods on these days, and your kiddos will enjoy having those feasts to look forward to, and perhaps even help plan and prepare for!

How does your family celebrate Lent? Do you have any special traditions or memories from your childhood? Please share in the comments!!
Check out the Lent reflections participating in the Keep LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013! We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeds, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE.  Discover new Catholic blogs to follow!