Gratitude Journal

1 Chronicles 29:13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

161. Thank you for the amazing gifts of Christmas!

162. Thank you for Your gift of grace, life and salvation through the first Christmas.

163. Thank you for the quiet family time together

164. Thank you for the beauty of a children’s Christmas play

165. Thank you for unexpected moments of joy

166. Thank you for time spent watching children play

167. Thank you for beautiful little traditions

168. Thank you for the fact that some of the most treasured gifts were handmade with love

169. Thank you for family who manage to be here with us, even when they are miles away

170. Thank you for amazing friends

171. Thank you for a church family who care for us as brothers and sisters

172. Thank you for the beauty of winter

173. Thank you for the way ice does unexpected things

174. Thank you for little bits of beauty that are there when you look

175. Thank you for reminders of what Christmas is really about.


This Week’s Gluten Free Menu (It’s Back!)

Monday: I’m pretty tired of holiday food…so we’re having Spaghetti with meatballs and (for those who can have it) leftover gluten pizza. We’ll use Tinkayna rice pasta (which is pretty close to regular pasta) and homemade sauce, I make it with 2 large cans of tomato sauce, lots of garlic, sea salt, oregano and basil plus a minced onion. Let it simmer all day long on the stove or in a crock pot. You can add a pound of ground beef or sausage (Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage is GF, I buy mine from the meat department at our supermarket, having checked the gluten content with them first). The meatballs are made with ground beef, cooked rice or gluten free bread crumbs, an egg, and the same spices I put in the sauce. I roll them into 2 inch balls and then bake on a roasting pan until they reach 160 degrees. I’ll serve it with a big green salad, and some Kraft salad dressing. Not all Kraft dressings are GF, but the labels are very clear if there’s any wheat, barley or rye in them.

Tuesday: Chicken green salad. Salad greens, a can of drained and rinsed dark red kidney beans, hard boiled eggs, red onion, cucumber, crumbled goat cheese, and sliced cooked chicken breast. Toss with either Ranch (Hidden Valley powdered packages are GF, just add your own safe mayo etc.) or with oil and vinegar. I make my dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a bit of prepared mustard, garlic powder (or fresh garlic) and some Italian seasoning. A fun (and yummy) garnish can be made with grated Parmesan cheese….just sprinkle a layer in a hot pan and let it toast until it’s crispy, then carefully remove it with a spatula and let harden. It makes a sort of all-cheese cracker with a nice, lacy look.

Wednesday: New Years Eve! We’re lucky enough to be spending that evening with good friends, and are doing an hours d’ourve party. I’ll make gluten free stuffed mushrooms, and baked potato skins and maybe some hummus. The baked potato skins are easy, too…just bake some smallish potatoes, let them cool a bit and cut them in half lengthwise. Then, scoop out the insides and mash them with some butter and sour cream and a bunch of green onions. Pack some of the mashed potato back into the skins (a little less than halfway full), then add crumbled bacon and grated cheddar cheese. Bake again until the cheese is melted and the tops are slightly browned. Serve with sour cream mixed with more chopped green onion. The hummus just two cans of garbanzo beans, drained and washed. Add two cloves of fresh garlic and a bit of garlic powder, plus some sea salt or Real Salt. Pulse in a food processor several times, then add olive oil while the processor is on until you have the desired consistency. Serve with carrots, celery, and Mission corn chips.

Thursday: Turkey Rolls Delicious. This is a wonderful recipe with a really stupid name….it comes from the “Spices of the World” cookbook, which both my mother and Hubby’s mother used when we were little. I’ve adapted it so it’s quite different from the original, but it’s something the kids really look forward to when we have leftover turkey. Make a lot of gluten free crumbs….I use leftover gf bread, mixed with Rice Chex cereal. Process this in a food processor with some salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning…make about 4 or 5 cups and keep them in a zip lock bag, you can use a little at a time and if you have some left put them in the freezer for later. Then, melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan, then add 1/4 cup rice flour, 1/8 tsp. onion salt, 1/8 tsp. Mace and 1/8 tsp Cayenne (adjust this if you don’t like things spicy) and 1/4 tsp. Poultry Seasoning. Cook until bubbly. Then, add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (Pacific brand is good, or make it with McCormick chicken bullion concentrate). Cook until thickened. Mince leftover turkey in the food processor…I use about 4 or 5 cups, this is a good opportunity to pick all the turkey off the bones and use up whatever didn’t get eaten in sandwiches. Add a 4 ounce can of drained mushrooms and mince again. Transfer to a large bowl, and add about a cup of gluten free bread crumbs (or gf cracker crumbs, or pulverized Rice Chex cereal) and 2 beaten eggs. The mixture should be the consistancy of cookie dough. Then, form the turkey mixture into 4 inch long tubes (about the size and shape of a hot dog). Dip them into beaten egg, then roll in the “bread” crumbs, then wrap each piece with a strip of gluten free bacon (Hormel is good). Bake until they are 165 degrees at the center. They’re labor intensive, but boy are they good!!! Serve with steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes, with a little chicken gravy.

Friday: We’re celebrating Christmas again, with my friend Dawn and her family! The kids will open gifts and play, and we’ll have “Christmas” dinner. I’m thinking baked ham (on sale right now…but check the gluten content! Honey Baked is NOT gluten free, at least not last time I checked). We’ll have Au Gratin potatoes and vegetables (maybe cooked carrots with butter and brown sugar and some steamed broccoli). We’ll have some egg nog and something for dessert…haven’t thought of what quiet yet, I’m still overdosed with gluten free sugar cookies and nothing sounds good yet. By the way, Silk soy nog is egg, soy, gluten and dairy free!

Saturday: Leftovers! There should be a great selection of leftovers to choose from. I’ll spread them out, buffet style, and let everyone choose what they want. There will be a big green salad with beans and hard boiled egg to go along. Before going to bed, I’ll put some dry small red beans, black beans, navy beans, pinto beans and butter beans in a large bowl and cover them with water to soak for tomorrow’s dinner.

Sunday: Ham and Bean soup. I’ll boil the ham hock, and add the beans that have soaked overnight. Add some chicken stock to make the broth extra rich, a couple of diced onions, plenty of garlic and maybe some rosemary and thyme and boil on low all day. I may throw some lentils or split peas in halfway through, to make it a little thicker. Serve with a salad and maybe some homemade gluten free bread or biscuits, if I have time to make them.

Enjoy! As always, leave a comment if you want more details on a recipe.

Poetry Friday (Random Acts of Poetry)

This babe,
so new
so helpless
lying in the straw

can you see
in his tiny face
the change he
brings us

can you see
one day
because of him
the blind will see

can you see
the deaf will hear
the lost
will find grace

can you see
the curtain
of the temple rend
and open the way

the only thing
that stands
between us now
is our own pride

Prepare the Way…

What happened, that night…those many years ago?

Here, in a moment’s time. Heaven cleaves, yet loses nothing. He Who Is becomes one of us, takes up the burden of some seven pound of infant flesh. Yahweh, the Creator of all, He who made the heavens and the earth…El Shaddai, God himself.

He takes a breath.

How could this be? Oh, Abba…you came down for us. You gathered up all You are, and folded it into this child–this tiny baby. Did all of Heaven hold its breath, knowing what You were taking up that day? Did you weep, Father, to know the fullness of this plan and yet still let it go, still take up this burden and come to us?

How the earth must have trembled as He drew His first breath.

He opens his eyes for the first time. How did it look? Oh, the narrow vision that first moment must have revealed. So darkly we see here, shadows in the mirror-image of what He could see so clearly from the vantage point of Creator. Such a small window to look out, so hazy when compared to the light of perfection above. How the smallness must have weighed at times, bore down on His shoulders like the weight of the world.

The weight of the world, shouldered on this newborn babe.

All that He is, made human…like trying to contain the greatest ocean in a thimble. And yet, in Him, all things are possible. His Ocean, in the thimble of a human child.

His plan, made complete. His plan, and as Mary and Joseph touched His tiny face, wondered at His perfect fingers…could they have known what changes this baby would bring? Could they have known the significance of every moment of His time here on earth? The greatness, the majesty, the power, the grace, the glory. He humbled Himself and was born a poor and simple baby among us, poured his Glory into a human mold, took up our pain and burdens and sin and sorrow. Knew laughter and tears and the helplessness that is mankind.

What happened that night? I cannot even begin to comprehend…it’s like being a thimble in the greatest ocean. And yet, in Him all things are possible. My thimble, in His Ocean…known and loved so completely that He is willing to sacrifice it all, for me. Willing to come.

Oh, Jesus! Little baby there in Mary’s arms…fill us with your Light tonight and always. Gather us to you, ’round the manger, under brightest star.

Requiem for a pet mouse

Yesterday was a hard day for Eldest.

He ran upstairs, just before bed. Got into his pajamas. Arranged his pillows. Then, he turned to his dresser to feed his pet mouse, Tailor. Part of his nightly routine, his habit was to take a moment each night and feed her, hold her, play with her a moment before going to bed.

Last night, she didn’t greet him at the side of the cage. After two years of life, Tailor’s time here on earth was over.

My Eldest is a boy who feels things deeply, no part of life’s poignant, bittersweet nature escapes him. When he was six, he had a pet tadpole who died. I will never forget the thoughts and feelings that he went through that week….so raw and profound was his grief, his realization that life is unpredictable, shocking, unavoidably tragic at times.

“Mommy, I just feel so trapped!” He sobbed, nearly half his lifetime ago. “Everything we love here on earth is going to die some day. Every single thing!” I held him on my lap, rocked him like I did when he was a baby, wiped away his tears. “We don’t ask to be born,” he cried. “We don’t ask to come here and we’re just stuck here…and all we know for sure is that everything we love is going to die some day! And the only way out is that we die, too”.

Oh! My heart broke into a thousand pieces, hearing this little child’s words. It astounded me how the death of a tadpole, a pet he had loved for only a few short weeks, could bring up such existential thoughts in so young a mind. It was more than just a loss to him, it was a betrayal…a realization that the world that seemed so benign harbours a hundred thousand ways to break your heart, a million partings, shocks to the soul that cannot be predicted or avoided.

What do you say? What can you do? We muddled through. God is good, life is both beautiful and painful and that is just the way of things. We buried the tadpole, we prayed, we talked about the beauty that God created when he made frogs so unique among all creatures. We talked about God’s plan, how there is a reason for everything that happens and He uses even the hardest times for good in ways we don’t always understand. We talked…a lot…about heaven.

And the storm passed, growth and at least the beginnings of understanding came from the experience.

I have, at times, questioned the wisdom of letting children keep pets. These little animals bring so much joy, and yet they also take so much work. The feeding, the care, the cleaning up of the mess. The worry and vet bills, the reminders to scrub the cage, change the wood shavings, put away the bag of food. The knowledge that at best, a mouse’s life is very short. The waiting, knowing that one day it’s inevitable that this beloved little creature is going to be found dead, the hoping that you will be the one to find her that way, and not the child who loved her so.

Keeping pets reminds us that the joy of life is tinged with the knowledge that to love means to be venerable, to open your heart means to accept the risk that it will be broken. As painful as this lesson is, it does give a child something valuable, something even more important than the practice and responsibility of caring for an animal. It provides a chance to see life’s complete cycle, beginning and end. To think about the nature of love, to learn about the beauty of life and the tragedy of it and how, in the end, the risk that is Love is always worth taking.

Eldest is taking this well, considering. No boy ever loved a mouse more, or cared for it more attentively. It’s going to be awhile before he feels like thinking about another pet, but I am sure that we will get one. Today, we’ll have tears and sadness but also the joy of knowing…once, there was a little mouse who was greatly loved and cherished. We learned from her, and she gave us joy. It was worth the pain.

Poetry Friday…Oasis


I dream of
that sun-drenched land
of sand and pomegranates
the date palms,
the olive trees
bent and twisted with age

I long for
the solace, the heat
of desert sun
bending over quiet waters
the running, rushing
healing waters
relief in this
dry and weary land

I miss
the waters of En Gedi
oasis, soul-spring
where David and
a thousand men
before and after
sought their reprieve

Is it strange
to long for a home
I’ve never seen?

Links…Random Acts of Poetry: Ache of Advent at The High Calling Blogs (thanks, L.L.), Joelle’s Knitting, My Advent Gift at Sweet Corn and Cairo, Six Christmas Poems at Goodword Editing.

Prepare the Way…

Part four of an advent series…

Was there anything different about that day, that would have given them cause to think the evening would bring such amazing events? The shepherds must have started that day off like any other. Must have followed their flocks, chased away potential predators, nudged straying lambs back into place like they did every other day. Perhaps that evening, they sat down around the fire to cook their evening meal. Talked of home, life, nothing special in particular. The sun begin to set, they sat and eased their cold and weary hands by fire’s warm glow, quietly gazed at the horizon. The sheep settled, folding down one by one in the gathering dusk.

The dark fell, closed in around them. One by one, pinprick starts winked their way into the darkening sky. Embers rose from the fire, danced up into the night, waning and expiring the higher they rose. A stillness surrounded these shepherds, velvet like the night sky, a soft and heavy mantle of growing stillness.

And then, on the horizon, a light.

Like no other light the shepherds had seen, these men who knew only the sun, the moon, the evening fire and the soft glow of an oil lamp. This light was otherworldly, a piercing glow on the horizon that spread outward from a white-gold sunburst, stretching across the blue-black vault of the heavens and ripping the night sky in twain…like cloth rent in two. Out of the tear poured forth the most glorious celebration of light, so awe-inspiring that at first the shepherds wondered if they could see at all. Was this real? What was happening?

Men stood, awestruck and terrified. Nothing like this existed in their sense of the possible, nothing this bright, nothing this sudden. What disaster, what act of Yahweh himself could this blinding light signify? They trembled, fell to their knees. Their eyes were locked on the sky, the terrible and beautiful and overwhelming light that poured forth, intensifying with each passing moment until the felt that they could bear it no more.

Then…suddenly there before them stood the most glorious being. An angle, a creature more real and terrifying, more beautiful and breathtaking than any they had ever imagined. They heard…not with just their ears but with their whole being as well, the angle speak. They heard it with their ears, with their hearts, they heard the voice around them and within them and from the depths of the earth itself. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

These words echoed around them, through them, bouncing like peals of thunder from mountain range to mountain range. And before they faded, their echoes were joined by a chorus of voices…so heavenly and beautiful that the shepherds felt their hearts were breaking, felt they could inhale and keep inhaling and never be full, felt they could take no more and yet could not bear the thought of the sound ever stopping. A chorus of angles, praising God. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

And then, after who knows how long, they found themselves there. Standing together, faces raised to heaven, the dark sky restored above them. All was quiet. The velvet night wrapped around them once again.

What was left, then, but to pack their meager belongings, gather their sheep, turn towards Bethlehem. What thoughts went through their minds, as they made their way? Did they speak among themselves of what they had just seen, just heard? Could they put it into words? In their hearts, they must have felt so awake on that journey. The veil had been lifted, for a moment a glory had been reveled that they could only previously have imagined.

This was real. This was true. The messiah, God’s son, come at last! Their eyes were opened, their minds awake. Each step took them closer…

Prepare the way for the Lord! Make straight the path. Allow this glory to touch you for a moment and then fold it up, tuck it close to your heart. Take the promise of it down the road with you, the road that leads to Bethlehem.

A little teaser…

My friend Robert Hruzek over at Middle Zone Musings has come up with a great idea…so great, in fact, that I’m keeping it a secret for a little while. Robert does a monthly group writing project called “What I Learned From….”, where bloggers weigh in with a different theme each month like: What I learned from….travel, odd jobs, people, work, transportation, stress (and many more). The responses are always varied, interesting, thought provoking and frequently include at least a few hilarious posts that keep me laughing all day long. Check out some of the entries over at his site, you’ll find a lot of great writing there and some ideas that will give you food for thought. This upcoming project isn’t exactly the same as the classic “What I Learned From” project, though…it’s much bigger in scope and it’s going to be a lot of fun!

There, are you teased yet? Sorry to do that to you, I guess we all need a little suspense in our lives, right?!?

Poetry Friday…Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block

Words sit
like marbles in
a mason jar
on my desktop

I reach for one
the jar tips
they scatter,
clattering across
blond oak

like windblown leaves
they take flight,
roll off the desk
bounce on the floor
and disperse
to the far ends of the earth

I listen to the sound
of their clicking, clacking
chattering escape
watch them roll
just beyond my reach
and sit at the keyboard,
empty jar in hand.

Poetry this Friday…..nine year old Sonia, daughter of L.L. Barkat’s “To the Lake, to the Ribbon Red”, L.L.’s poetry gathered from her outdoor journal
My good friend Dawn wrote a poem about…ME! Thanks, Dawn…what would I do without you? What a blessing is a sister in Christ.

Prepare the Way…

Part three of a series….

He is often overlooked. An afterthought in the drama of the nativity, a fill-in plaster figure bent at the shoulders peering down at the Christ-child in wonder, distinguishable from the shepherds only in his lack of shepherd’s crook. Joseph.

And yet…this man, adoptive father of Jesus, this obedient servant of God, this protector and husband, is one of the most shining examples of strength of character you can find in the Bible. He shows us where real strength lies, where in human weakness God’s alchemy yields most profound strength.

It must have been hard to be Joseph. Mary was beautiful and pure and sweet, and he must have been looking very forward to their marriage. What a shock, then, to find that she was pregnant! And no matter how much he knew of her character, he must have at first thought the worst…Mary had been shockingly unfaithful. What was this about angels, about a pure and innocent conception, about the Messiah? Not only must it have sound contrived, but also bordering on blasphemic.

In Joseph’s time, marriage was so different. Their betrothal, rather than a promise of future union, was really a first stage of marriage. The second…the completion of the promise, where the two would come together as one and finally live together in the same home…would also be celebrated with traditions different from the ones we know today. Joseph’s marriage would have been a family affair, his parents would have been the ones to decide…now is the time to bring Mary home. In the meantime, the bridegroom waited.

And built. A carpenter, Joseph would have taken particular pride in the preparations. Although we can’t know for sure if this was the case for Joseph, many families in that time lived together, adding rooms to the house as children married and had families of their own. When his family was ready, Joseph would begin to build a space for the two of them, to prepare the way. Perhaps his father worked alongside him, the two swinging hammers and laughing, sweating in the hot sun of Galilee. Perhaps they talked of marriage, of parenting, of the future to come. He knew Mary would have already prepared her wedding dress, sewing her hopes and dreams into the fabric with each stitch. The dress would have been made ready early on, would have been set aside and hung carefully, waiting for the day of their marriage.

The day of their marriage…not a date on a calender, for Mary. It was up to Joseph’s family to decide when that day would be, the wedding and the joyful feasting afterwards. It would be a surprise to Mary…what disgrace she would have felt if the day came and the dress had not been finished! So it must have been there, waiting. I can see Mary going to it when she had a quiet moment, fingering the embroidery on the sleeves, thinking of the wedding to come and wondering….will it be soon? And Joseph, mallet in hand, working on their rooms in all the free hours he could find. I see him pause, lost in thoughts of their future together…wipe his brow, gaze toward the horizon.

How his heart must have sank.

How could he take Mary as a wife, knowing she was pregnant? The shame of it must have been enormous, the betrayal crushing. Did his family know? How did they react? Joseph showed the first of his strength then, when he decided to quietly divorce Mary rather than publicly humiliate her, even have her stoned. But how his heart must have ached, thinking of those rooms, that dress, the wedding that wouldn’t happen. How the neighbors would have talked, if they knew.

And then…the angel spoke to Joseph as well. He understood. And took Mary as his wife.

This is where I see an example in Joseph that we need so much today. Despite what it looked like, despite the fact that the truth would be unbelievable to so many people both then and now….Joseph believed. He obeyed. He put his pride aside, and showed the world that strength of character comes in acceptance, in doing what is right despite what others think of you. That in putting pride aside you make room for God’s work to be completed.

What was their wedding like? Did Mary get to wear her dress, did they have the week of feasting and celebrating that they had planned? Were the horns sounded, were voices lifted in song? Or did they slip quietly away, marry quickly and begin life together in the shadow of the doubts and judgement of others? How ironic, that the parents of the only human ever fit to judge humainty may have began their journey with the dog of judgement nipping at their heels.

Joseph stood firm. He did the right thing, regardless of what others may have thought or said. He stood strong against the storm. He placed his hope in Yahweh, not in man.

And so doing he raised…in love and acceptance… the Son of God.