Giving Thanks in February

Winter Trees, Winter Sky, at the Park

Winter Trees, Winter Sky, at the Park

I am taking up the challenge of counting 1,000 gifts ala Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. Here is my listing for February 2014:

1. THREE GIFTS RED: Hot tea in a red thermos cup; a stock of red tins of peppermint Altoids; red eyes crying for the suffering
2. THREE GIFTS ON PAPER: The Word of God; maps, maps, maps!; words to spur growth, written in books on my bedside table
3. THREE GIFTS FOUND IN WRITING: The Dead Sea Scrolls; the promises of God; a offer to pray from a friend via a text message
4. THREE GIFTS FOUND WHEN BENT DOWN: A sprouting acorn; a wiggly earthworm; green mint sprigs pushing out of the soil anew
5. A GIFT STITCHED, HAMMERED, WOVEN: Three quilt tops pieced; a lovely verse hung on the wall as a reminder; the way a Bible study takes shape as the Spirit brings to memory Scriptures and weaves them together into a cohesive lesson
6. THREE GIFTS FOUND OUTSIDE: The sunshine on the front porch; an orchard prepped for planting across the street from our home; my hens out scratching in our orchard
7. A GIFT AT 11:30, 2:30, 6:30: Reading library books to my daughter;
8. A GIFT BROKEN, FIXED, THRIFTED: A spirit of fear broken; a new set of batteries for a talking book for my daughter to enjoy; a luminous milkglass mixing bowl
9. THREE SURPRISE GIFTS, UNEXPECTED GRACE: A jar of honey from a friend’s first extraction, golden; a chalkboard book for number-writing practice for my girl; a necklace made by a gentle-spirited woman
10. THREE TIMES I HEARD LAUGHTER TODAY: My child’s delight when extracting a long-lost toy car from under the refrigerator; when suddenly seeing my husband’s truck pulling in at lunch time, a rare surprise; when Selah and I were doing spontaneous jumping jacks after sitting for reading time
11. THREE GIFTS IN WORKING: Clean-up progress becoming visible on our forest land; forced time outdoors becoming a pleasant change from being inside; work bringing order to chaos
12. THREE HARD EUCHARISTEOS: (i.e., giving thanks while suffering) Having my grown son and his challenges nearby after so many years of disconnect; that steroid shot that will bring relief from itchy rash of poison oak; the opportunity to home-educate our daughter though progress isn’t earth-shakingly awesome
13. THREE GIFTS BEHIND A DOOR: The food in our refrigerator; the pork in our freezer; the washer and dryer in our garage
14. THREE WAYS I FEEL THE LOVE OF GOD: My supportive and encouraging friend, Kate; the faithfulness of my husband these eighteen years; seeing the beauty of His creation for me to enjoy
15. A GIFT IN LOSING, FINDING, MAKING SOMETHING: The time we had with Grandpa Bruce and for God’s longsuffering patience for Bruce to come around to faith; finding an opportunity to teach God’s Word to women in jail; making plans to get a bridge over our creek
16. THREE GIFTS IN SHADOWS: Psalm 17:8–being in the shadown of His wings; Isaiah 25:4–God is my shade when things get heated; Colossians 2:17–Christ is the fulfillment of the what was but a shadow in the Old Testament propheses
17. THREE GIFTS FOUND GIVING/SERVING: In serving as a homemaker, I do not have to get out into the rat race; in giving kisses, I get kissed back–so sweet!; in serving in jail ministry, I get filled
18. THREE GIFTS ON PAPER: The warmth of an evening fire, kindled with crumpled papers; the inspiration of a magazine article’s creative photos; my daughter’s first drawing of a duck, as she sees it in the number FIVE
19. THREE GIFTS THAT WERE PLAN B: Our daughter’s adoption through relinquishment when Chinese adoption plans halted; the homeless shelter available for a wayward son who can no longer stay with us; moving to Tehama County instead of Trinity County and thereby finding these friends here
20. A GIFT AT BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: Fresh eggs with dark orange yolks; a friend from almost twenty years ago, joining me for brunch at my house; tacos–our favorite
21. THREE GIFTS WHITE: a mortar and pestle for fresh-grinding of cumin seed; a crockpot for making dinner prep less rushed; copier paper in the printer
22. THREE GIFTS THAT CHANGED TODAY: Fair weather in the winter; enough propane to heat the cabin overnight for our spontaneous sleep-over in the woods; friends who offered to teach us a new skill
23. A GIFT OF TIN, GLASS, WOOD: The cans of food in the kitchen cabinets; glass jars of pickled beets; a wooden fruit bowl
24. THREE GIFTS BEFORE 11 a.m.: Full laundry baskets being carried to the washer mean we have lots of clothing; hearing my six-year-old beginning to read from a book about the farmer’s hat; left-over homemade waffles, hot out of the toaster, with real maple syrup
25. A GIFT WORN OUT, NEW, MADE-DO: a pair of jeans in need of patching; my new brown coat, so soft and snugly; a satisfying lunch made with no kitchen facilities–foccacia bread heated in foil over a hot fire and topped with deli turkey
26. THREE GIFTS SEEN AS REFLECTIONS: God, you were with me all through my years, waiting for me to just turn toward You; those clouds in the creek and those tree tops in the creek; my rash, healed
27. THREE UGLY-BEAUTIFUL GIFTS: death, when there is hope of entering the promises; weeping, when it brings healing; disorder in my office, when I realize all the resources represented
28. THREE GIFTS FROM THE PAST THAT HELP ME TRUST THE FUTURE: My husband’s moist eyes when he held my hand over the table and thanked me for being his wife; the fact that we are almost all beekeepers now after our bee club year; the heart locket and peace bracelet left as lost and found in my desk drawer as I finished my first (and only) year of teaching in public school
29. A GIFT DULL, SHIMMERING, CLEANED: tarnished silver earrings; glowing amber bracelet; the new fish tank finally keeping clear water

For these 29 x 3 gifts, gracious Lord, I give thanks to You, the Giver of every good gift!


123IMG_0667IMG_0665IMG_0578My latest experiement in foodstuff was with acorns. Because I happened to notice an overwhelming abundance of acorns this year, right in my orchard, falling from the valley oak along our road, I decided that I would be foolish to let this easy opportunity pass me by. We gathered a 5-gallon bucket-full from within a very small area.
Then, after a few false starts, such as guessing that I should soak the acorns and start them sprouting, I consulted a booklet that I had found online a while back. I spread out some acorns on a metal table with an open grid top to it so that the acorns could dry. The hulls started to split, revealing the yellowish white nutmeats inside. These acorns were long and meaty. I pulled the hulls away and made a stash of nutmeats.
I found that the VitaMix, as usual, worked like a champ to grind the acorns into flour with a bit of water added to the blender. I used the cold water method to draw out the bitter tannins: The acorn mush went into three half-gallon jars topped with cold water and kept refrigerated. I would carefully pour off the darkened water about twice a day and replace it with fresh. After a little more than a week, I was ready to move on in the process.
I read that I should heat the mush over medium heat, stirring constantly for fifteen minutes. It became like pudding, quite thick. I cooled it and then transfered it into freezer bags.
After freezing, I took a bag out and let it defrost at room temperature. Here’s when it really surprised me: I squeezed the water out and then added 1/4 cup to my flour to make biscuits–and the acorn flour actually changed in my hands from a playdough-like substance to a flaky substance. We could not taste the acorn flour in the biscuits but it gave a little brown marbling effect to the white biscuits.
Some friends were over for a birthday party and they noticed my soup pot of leftover acorns on the picnic table. (I had not processed them all.) Asked what they were for, I explained what I had been doing. One other homeschooling mom (Anette) then said that she would like to try processing acorns with her kids, as they have been studying California native Americans. I offered her a bag of acorn flour from my freezer. I was surprised by her call one morning, just days later. They had made a batch of acorn pancakes for breakfast and the kids deemed them the best-tasting pancakes they had ever had! Anette told me that she had modified the recipe and used at least a cup of acorn flour in with some whole wheat pastry flour. The family was then headed down to Sacramento to tour the California State Indian Museum. What a full and fun day for that homeschooling family!
My husband wanted to try the pancakes so that is what I put on our menu for tonight. We all enjoyed the pancakes very much! Really! Mine were made with a combination of white flour and acorn flour. Give it a try!

First Fifty-Five Gifts

“Count your blessings. Name them one by one. Count your blessings. See what God has done.”

So goes a little song I’ve heard. I recently read a book called One Thousand Gifts, about literally taking note of the beauty and blessings around us, and author Ann Voskamp’s challenge to all of us echoes the words of this old hymn. I am jumping in on this challenge of hers to write down my first One Thousand Gifts, as she did, as an exercise in becoming thankful. Seeing what God has done. Seeing reality. Seeing those gifts so often skipped by, unnoticed. Well, enough of my negligence: It is high time I made this change.

So, here goes. I am beginning this on January 8, 2014.

1. long afternoon shadows

2. sunlight through trees

3. the raking of dropped walnuts and blown brown oak leaves

4. that hot, hot shower I just took, definitely grace raining down my chilled body in the cold back bathroom

5. a husband who makes fire for me

6. glowing embers and flickering tongues in the firebox

7. new wool socks with delightful stripes

8. rainfall outside while warm indoors

9. a basket of knitting, ready

10. dishes, washed, all

11. hearing my son tell my daughter that he loves her, too

12. James finding things to give Selah–a white feather, a silvery rock

13. the crackly, frosty film that gets on old bottles

14. tarnished silver

15. having enough

16. hope found in a gaze held on God

17. my daughter deciding to keep me company, singing, while I wash dishes

18. her wobbling little bike-riding circles

19. the possibility of adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail

20. the penetrating, saturated color orange of an orange

21. getting to hug my son today
22. getting to see my husband in town as we ended up driving next to each other on the road; both our hearts beat faster to see each other unexpectedly
23. exchanging recommended books with friend Kate today
24. looking out the kitchen window and seeing a lot of small birds flitting in the front yard and one having very blue wings
25. the welcome sound of rain on the roof as I awaken
26. rich, moistness of pumpkin bread
27. my son sitting beside me in church, throughout the service
28. hens scurrying for scratch thrown from above to fall like manna from heaven
29. strawberry jam lovely as a ruby jewel, a gift from Valerie
30. driving on a newly paved road
31. cinnamon rolls with orange glaze, homemade and warm
32. lavender gates on an aqua blue fence
33. the ability to read well
34. the remnant of beauty God left us to see in this fallen world
35. being able to let my bees clean up a frame on a sunny winter day
36. jail inmates lifting hands in worship
37. the new fish aquarium being enjoyed so much by Selah
38. colorful bee boxes tucked in fields
39. pallets of white beehives waiting along the edges of an orchard, anticipating the nectar of many almond blossoms
40. Rachel, though 16, taking it upon herself to entertain Selah, 6
41. The Buttes, rising out of flat ground, touching the clouds, everything in muted colors
42. the silhouettes of winter trees, revealing bird nests
43. Old Glory, catching the breeze, proud atop a grain silo
44. the chimney, carrying away smoke
45. hardwood floors underfoot, gleaming
46. the floating lightness of maidenhair fern, seen growing out of a hillside along a hiking trail
47. enthusiastic children who are expressing thanks for our time hiking near Shasta Lake, all a-giggle in the backseat on the drive home
48. the gorgeous, glossy green leaves of a California bay laurel tree and their spicy scent
49. warm sun on my face on a mountain plateau with clear winter sky above
50. golden brown sugar creamed with butter in the mixing bowl
51. the joy shining on Eileen’s face though she is within another storm, though her body be damaged and failing her, to see God as her ever-present strength and to hear her relate her blessings and her willingness to serve Him through her illnesses
52. smell of apple pie in oven
53. honeybees out in January on rosemary flowers in town
54. the color and flavor of elderberry syrup taken for a cold
55. three women in a checkout line, strangers drawn together for a moment in sharing trials of taking care of elderly parents, then going their separate ways but feeling not so alone

“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done” (from the hymn, Count Your Blessings by Johnson Oatman, Jr., 1897).

Words to Light My Way

In Psalm 119:11, the psalmist David writes to his God: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against Thee” (KJV). David had composed this psalm as a poem, with each stanza beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The entire piece magnifies the words of God and His statutes. Here, we learn that when we commit God’s Word to memory, thereby hiding it in our heart, it serves us by strengthening us against the temptation to sin. That’s a huge benefit!

In that same wonderfully-crafted poem, David says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (verse 105). Lovely imagery, isn’t it? Even in translation, the poetry shines through! The light that comes from God’s Word is helpful, guiding. We find ourselves stumbling about in this world, confused and lost, but God will guide us if we look to His Word. He will show us the way to walk, the way to live. The first Christians, in fact, were called followers of the Way!

The opening verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (1:1). Here, we learn something astonishing about God’s Word–it is one and the same with God Himself!  John goes on to write that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (1:14). Do you see who this is? It is Jesus! He is God, made flesh. He is the living Word. Wow!

In that same Gospel, it is recorded by John that Jesus called Himself, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Jesus is that light for our path to show us the way, the way that leads to life. He reiterates this when He says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). 

The Greek word used for way, when Jesus calls Himself “the Way” (John 14:6) means also, “journey,” “a course of conduct,” “a manner of thinking, feeling, deciding” (Strong’s G3598). Therefore, since I believe God’s Word to be the Truth, I want His Word hidden in my heart to guide my way. I want Jesus to be my journey, my life more abundant!

I have just finished reading a book that strikes me as revolutionary: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I then decided to look up her website, wanting more of her encouraging words. I found that she is leading a Bible memorization project for 2014, with verses from the Gospel of John. I have decided to participate because I could use the structure she is providing. I am also drawn to it because she has free downloads of printables for each Scripture in the memory project–and they are lovely! I appreciate her sentiment about this. She seems to be saying that God’s Word is beautiful so it should be presented in a beautiful way. This just seems right, doesn’t it?

I’m excited to see more of God in my life in 2014 as I hide His Word in my heart!



Lemon Pie in a Cup or How to Use 14 Eggs

lemon pie in a cup

Got eggs?

I sometimes go to my mom’s house and watch cooking shows with her. She records the shows so we can fast-forward through commercials. Recently, we were watching Ree Drummond make a key lime pie dessert that called for FOURTEEN WHOLE EGGS, and I thought, “At last! A recipe that would use all those excess eggs that are cluttering up my refrigerator!” (If you keep laying hens, you’ll know what I mean!)
I decided to substitute lemon for lime, but otherwise I followed The Pioneer Woman’s recipe. I have to warn you, this is very rich. Serve small portions! It’s a pretty dessert, don’t you think?
But what did I discover? My family does not like this type of dessert. My husband took one bite and handed it back to me, and my daughter only wanted the graham cracker crust and the whipped cream.
And here I thought I was onto something! So, a few days later, I can say, again, “Yes, I got eggs!”


Beet Kvass

beets for pickling

Bright, bulbous beauties, beets are growing in the garden–and growing on me! This is my second season to can spicy pickled beets. I followed the Ball Blue Book recipe. I like having these to bring color and interest to our Thanksgiving spread. I have also found that certain older folks have a sentimental spark for these, so a jar makes a special gift for them. Plus, these are a fun addition to a green salad that needs some zip.

This year, I just had to experiment, too. I am trying a honey-sweetened version. To these, I added only red onion slices–no spices. The onions and beets were from my garden this year, but I did not get to use any honey from my own beehive. Maybe next year! I am hoping that my DH may like these beets in his salad. He is not fond of the spicy pickled beets.

I like to make a pitcher of beet kvass every so often, also. I ended up using every one of my beets in the canning process this year and forgot to save any out to make kvass. I typically buy three organic beets at the grocery store for a batch of kvass. I use the recipe from the book, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This drink is taken in small quantities as a health tonic for the liver and blood. It is a bit salty but I like it.





the “unpretty” calendar as launchpad

My joyful daughter enjoying her map search

My joyful daughter enjoying her map search

I have been seeing that educating my daughter at home is a FLUID PROCESS. There are sudden springboards that appear out of nowhere each day–and off we go, LAUNCHED in an unexpected direction.

I want to share a little thing that we are doing each morning after our Bible reading. I have a calendar from The Voice of the Martyrs ministry that gives a daily prayer suggestion for the Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. (Here, I will ADMIT something. I usually don’t use these calendars. I like ART calendars! Garden calendars! Flower calendars! Pretty things! Shame on me for cringing from the pictures of the “unpretty” reality for untold numbers of my brothers and sisters in Christ.) Being ever-gracious, the good Lord seems to have prompted me with an idea that has helped me to START PRAYING and that has unexpectedly enhanced our learning at home.

My daughter (age 5) has been learing the calendar. She has memorized the months and days. I started this with her this year when she was driving me crazy, in the fall, asking about up-coming holidays and birthdays. I could see she had a need to understand the calendar! So, each day, we take a look at the calendar together. Thus, when 2013 came around and the new VOM calendar arrived in the mail, the idea came to use it–and I mean REALLY use it. We read the prayer suggestion and then pull out the world map (or sometimes the globe). We find the nation that we are to pray for. Suddenly, calendar work has morphed into GEOGRAPHY work which morphs into CHRISTIAN LOVE as we pray for these precious, hurting souls.

Yesterday, we were praying for CHINA. My daughter had earlier thrown her paper airplane onto the top of our biggest bookcase. Standing on a chair to reach the plane, I noticed the dust and decided to do a little cleaning. I had to move the heavy, giant atlas and the American painting book and THE BOOK OF PICTURES OF CHINA that we had bought during our three-year wait while we tried to adopt from China! (Not what God had in mind for us, however. That is another story!) So, then, the calendar time morphed into a walk along the Great Wall, a boat ride down the Yangtze River, a time of rest in a peaceful garden decorated with strange rock formations, and an admiring look at the terra cotta soldiers. We saw mountainsides terraced for farming and talked of the large population of China and how they need all that farming for their food and how so many Chinese had starved to death when there wasn’t enough food grown. We learned that those fierce lion sculptures with the curly manes were symbols of power for the emperors.

This made for a good morning in our home as we snuggled on the couch, oohing and aahing over the book’s glossy, panoramic photos!

Thank you, Lord, for the free VOM calendar and the help it is to us. I pray that you will bless our brothers and sisters around the world who suffer for Your Name’s sake. Meet their needs and fill them with Your presence. Amen.

color me orange

Candied orange peel on the left; orange marmalade, right; and fresh eggs, front and center

Candied orange peel on the left; orange marmalade, right; and fresh eggs, front and center

Ever wonder when it would be beneficial to have a thick skin? We have had some cold nights and that made me fear for the navel orange crop. Though we only have one navel tree, it produces fine, large oranges. Thankfully, those thick skins protected the fruit enough to see them through the tree-ripening process.

In some historical novel, I read of a treat that the pioneers enjoyed: candied citrus. Wait, turning orange peels into a sweet treat? Well, I just had to give it a try! After all, the compost pile does not seem to benefit quickly from citrus peels. I found the online recipes were pretty much the same so I chose one and proceeded to make the delicacy. The results? Hubby won’t touch the stuff–as I suspected. (He discourages me from using ZEST in anything, too.) I found it to taste like, well, ORANGE PEEL covered in sugar. But, still, ORANGE PEEL. When some other homeschooling moms were over, I offered them a sample. Two of the women actually wanted to eat several pieces. So, I guess it is true that people like different things. Though some recipes showed lovely chocolate-covered candied orange peel, at this point, I could not see wasting good chocolate on it!

I also gave a standard orange marmalade recipe from the canning guide a try. The recipe suggested adding cinnamon bark, if desired, so I tried some variations of this, in addition to the ordinary marmalade. It is true that only my mom and I like orange marmalade–but it is made in small batches. I think that I have eight half-pints–some for me and some for Mom.

One day, I feared just too much for the state of the navels, so I dragged the orchard ladder over to the tree and picked them all! We enjoyed fresh juice almost every day for a couple of weeks. The key, I found, with navel orange juice, is to drink it right when it is juiced and juice only what you are going to drink right then and there.

We have been happy with the hens laying again. So, now my refrigerator will be overrun with eggs if I don’t come up with more ways to use eggs! It’s a happy place to be! I thank the good Lord for His blessings to us, for navel oranges and fresh eggs.

From House to Chicken Coop

The now-demolished house from which we salvaged roofing and siding.

The now-demolished house from which we salvaged roofing and siding.

Our new coop taking shape.

Our new coop taking shape.

I have heard of chicken coops that have been converted into little cottages but, here, we have done the opposite (sort of). It all began when we started with chickens for the first time, which was last spring (2013). As the chicks grew, they demanded better housing. We started them in a large trough, meant to water livestock. Later, we put them in a corral. Soon, Mr. and Mrs. Pepper, black and white Wyandottes, began an evening ritual of flying onto the top of the corral and strolling along the rails. What a pair they were! Alas, wings and courage strengthened and we had to move the chickens into a dog kennel with a cover over it to keep them contained so our neighborhood’s wandering dogs would not kill them.

Meanwhile, back at the farm planning headquarters, my husband began searching for coop plans. He went so far as to purchase a set of plans online, at my suggestion. Then, as we were at Home Depot shopping for the supplies, he began to hem and haw over it all. Next thing I knew, he was scrapping those purchased plans and designing his own.

Across the street, a house was slated for demolition. It was once a charming little two-story cottage, I believe. Roses still clung to it, hoping for better days, again. Vandals had desecrated the insides with disturbing graffiti and the owners were required to remove the house when they made a guest quarters elsewhere on their property, due to county zoning ordinances. My husband had received permission to salvage some aluminum roofing panels and wood siding from the house before tear-down. So, we had these old materials on hand and my husband decided to use them on the new coop.

He built the coop during most weekends over a three month period. We have our nine hens in there now and they have begun to happily lay eggs, again, with the longer daylight hours provided with a timed light. We joke about the cost of each of those eggs as we gather them. I will not state the amount of money this coop ended up costing us to build, even with the salvaged roofing and siding–because it is unreasonable. But we also console ourselves with the knowledge that the new coop will outlast any other outbuilding on our property. Someone down the line may appreciate that it was built well–and they won’t have to worry about the cost!

I absolutely loved the look of the old siding on the coop. However, my husband insisted that we paint it afresh to protect the wood. The finished coop is now barn red with white trim. I will be painting a mural on one end and on the two doors, come spring. Also, it was just too cold to finish painting the trim. I found that paint just does not flow well in cold weather. I look forward to my part in this project!