Monday, June 25, 2012

On the Way to Ten

We had an exhausting but wonderful weekend. The sweet girl is swiftly approaching the epic double-digit birthday, and we had her party yesterday, a few days early. We were blessed by a visit from my next-oldest sister and her two youngest girls (now 9 and 15) so it was a wonderful day filled with aunt and cousin love as well as regular birthday festivities. They even got to worship with us in church and meet some of our church family. It doesn't get much better than that!

My sister's visit was almost "coincidental" (if I believed in such a thing). They were traveling back from vacation time spent in Virginia and Maryland. It just happened that they could be in our neck of the woods in time for the tenth birthday party. How good of God to bless us in just that way! We have been famished for family. Hugging my sister yesterday was literally good for my soul...and so was laughing with her. I really cut loose and laugh with my siblings in a way I do with hardly anyone else. They are kindred spirits.

The whole weekend was filled with festivities. One of the sweet girl's very best friends, who happens to be exactly one week older than she is, had his birthday celebration on Friday evening. They always share in each other's celebrations in one way or another, and that's become a definite mark of another year passing. Then another friend (this one an adult friend) had a 40th birthday celebration on Saturday. I missed that one, home baking and cleaning for Sunday, but the sweet girl and her dad were there most of the afternoon. So they had three parties in three days!

Given the breathless, tiring pace of the rest of our summer, having a couple of days just to unwind and celebrate with friends and family felt very good -- and far more "summery" than anything else this season has held so far.

Although we've already had the party, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that S is turning 10. Perhaps it will hit me full-force on Wednesday. Should be a regular day of camp and busy-ness, but we've saved out a couple of presents, and we plan to go out to dinner. Chipotle. Her choice.

I wonder if the next ten years will go by as quickly as these ten have...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Arts Camp, Week One

Well, we've reached the end of our first week of arts camp. You may have thought I'd fallen off the planet, but in truth, I have just been running up and down three flights of stairs in between doing art with fifteen-twenty 4-11 year olds.(Technically camp is for 6-14 year olds, but we've not been pulling in older kids, and we've been allowing a few younger siblings to come with older ones if the older ones are responsible and mature enough to help their younger sib out.)

My husband is the director of the camp for the third year, and while in previous years I have helped out occasionally (and mostly behind the scenes) this year a lack of volunteers has meant I am in the thick of things. That would be in the thick of excited, wiggling, yelling, laughing, joking, mostly fairly attentive kids who have varying degrees of interest in art, but who are mostly just happy to be there. It's been fun to welcome them -- a lot of them returnees -- and to watch their creativity blossom.

We've been doing art projects inspired by different world cultures each day. Turkey, Morocco, the Vikings, Mexico, and China were this week's cultures. We've done projects with paint, paper, yarn, clay, cardboard, beads, pen and ink. Some of the kids have produced some pretty cool things.

A few observations I've made this week -- in no particular order.

Ministries need prayer. If we weren't steeped in prayer, things would probably have been a lot crazier than they have been, especially with not enough staff. We're on a real shoestring in all kinds of ways this year, and I've been enjoying seeing the ways God is at work -- sometimes before we ask. My favorite prayer instance this week came yesterday. We had just found out that the pizza place that normally donates free pizza for our park event with the campers and their families each week could not do that this year. They cut us a deal for half-off, which we appreciated, but we had no $ for pizza in the budget. We decided to announce the park event anyway, and before the end of the day, a local family/friends of the camp had donated what we needed to cover this week and next. When I got home and checked my email, I found a message my husband had sent me in the morning (but which I hadn't seen) informing me of the need and asking me to pray for God's provision. I found myself very grateful that God doesn't need to check his email (but even if he did, he'd stay on top of it).

Ministries need people. Heads, hearts, hands, and feet. There is a lot of work to be done in a ministry like this, most of it not glamorous. Carrying things up and down the stairs, setting up and cleaning up messy art stations, handing out snacks, making sure the kids wash their hands and don't poke each other in the eye or drive each other completely nuts with teasing (or screaming). Ministries with kids need people who can be really patient and who can encourage kids who are timid and nervous and think they can't do something as well as help calm down kids who feel a need to be running things and in other kids' faces. We've been blessed with the help of one family who is very good at all those things -- the unglamorous work that has to be done and the ministry of encouragement.

Ministries need money. I know, I know, it's obvious, but boy, is it true.

Kids need encouragement of different sorts (see above) depending on the situation and the kid. And wow, is it ever true that age makes a huge difference in how a child approaches a learning situation. One of the things that's fascinated me this week is watching the difference in the very youngest campers (the four, five, and six year olds) who tend to throw themselves into things with rather joyful abandon, heedless of the mess or the results. This versus the seven-eight-nines, who often want you to repeat instructions and who are more concerned about making mistakes, and even more differently are the ten-elevens who either a) work painstakingly and with great attention or b) give up quickly if they think they "can't" do something and ask if they can do something else instead. I know a lot depends on a child's temperament and learning style too, but age is still a very important factor as we contemplate how to teach.

I think one of my favorite moments this week was seeing the very youngest camper -- a four year old with sparkling eyes -- gamely hold up her wooden disk. The kids were making Viking shields, and some of them did rather intricate designs. This little girl had covered the whole thing in layers of paint, front and back, and her hands were covered in layers of paint too! But oh the delight on her face as she grinned in triumph! (And yes, I took her to wash her hands, though I first helped her out of her smock, an oversized shirt which was so long it looked like a floor-length dress.)

An exhausting week in many ways, but a good one...connecting kids with creativity and reminding them that creativity is a loving gift of their Creator.

One week down. Five to go.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Recipes: Spaghetti Primavera With Basil (Or "Green Saute")

The other day I got my taste up for a pasta primavera. I had one in mind that I ate at a restaurant years ago, but when I went looking for recipes online, I decided I'd better try to find something simple, family-friendly, and with ingredients I could easily have on hand. What I found was this recipe for "Spaghetti Primavera with Basil" at

You can click on the link if interested in proportions and cooking directions, but it basically calls for sauteing a number of green vegetables in olive oil and garlic and tossing them with spaghetti and a bit of salt and pepper. The recipe called for broccoli florets, bell pepper, zucchini, and fresh basil. Alas, I had no fresh basil -- we didn't get our windowsill pot started in the spring as we usually do, and our garden basil is still a recently planted seedling from the farmer's market. I substituted with dry basil (because I love the flavor of basil) but there is no doubt in my mind this recipe would be ten times better with fresh. I make a zucchini/fresh basil pesto in the summer that our whole family loves.

I cook with green bell peppers often, but I wasn't sure they were the very best complement for this dish. The zucchini and broccoli might go better with asparagus, green beans, or sugar snap peas (a few of the "optional" additions listed at the bottom, which I didn't see when I first found the recipe).

I also was out of spaghetti -- believe it or not! -- and had to substitute angel hair, which always seems to get a bit clumpy/sticky. Spaghetti would definitely be a better choice, or perhaps rotini, which would soak up the olive oil/garlic nicely in all its curly pasta crevices. 

What I did like was the lovely green color that permeated the meal. The bright greens of the veggies looked lovely stirred into the pasta and I served it on the table in a clear glass bowl.

It didn't satisfy my craving for the pasta primavera I remembered (which I think had a cream based sauce) but it was a nice, light summer dish -- one I wouldn't mind tweaking and trying again. My family seemed to enjoy it, and my nine year old ate it well.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Visual Book (for my Work-in-Progress)

I read a wonderful idea the other day that has me very inspired. The suggestion I spotted online, from a fellow writer, was to create a "visual book" on the fictional world of your current work-in-progress.

Now the fun thing about this idea is that I've been doing it for ages without really realizing I was doing it. And not just with the current WIP. I remember many, many years ago now (about 25 of them) working on a novel and finding myself drawn to the look of a girl whose photograph I saw in a catalog. She looked the way I imagined my main character looked, so I cut the picture out and tucked it inside my writing folder.

It seems even more crucial when you're creating a fictional world and characters that look noticeably different than your own. My current story, a mid-grade fairy-tale, is set in a fictional land and in a setting I call "roughly medieval." I have some mental time guidelines I'm seeking to follow, in terms of what centuries I'm drawing inspiration from, but since it is a fictional place and I'm not setting it in a very specific year, I'm not sweating tiny inconsistencies regarding language and fashion. Still, I have some very decided opinions about what my characters look like and what kind of landscape they're adventuring in.

A few months ago, when I was in a sort of writing fever on this particular story, I spent about a week working my way through an enormous library book I got on hold. It was a book of castles and it was almost big enough to be one. I could have happily crawled inside and lived there anyway! I went through pages and pages of photographs before I finally found "my" castle. And when I found it, I knew I'd found it. That simply was it -- where my four princesses and their mother lived.

The terrific thing about the world wide web is how easy it is to find other photos once you've got a baseline one to work with. Armed with the name and location of the castle, I was able to find more photographs of it -- in different seasons, from different angles. It is still a castle one can visit today and I found a site with pictures of some of the inner rooms. I got a feel for the spiral stairway and the stonework. It has truly helped me to understand how the characters would walk through these spaces and how living in such a place might make you feel.

I've also collected a photo of a dress that I'm sure Princess Serenity wears to an important event in the story. And I've drawn Queen Harmony -- partly based on a figure in The Chronicles of Western Fashion (a book that has helped me think through clothes).

So I've been playing with this idea for months really -- saving photos to individual computer files within the larger file folder that contains my actual story drafts (and back story matter, lists of names, etc.) What had never occurred to me is the wonderfully simple idea that I could pull it all together into a "visual book." That's what I'm planning to do now -- print these things out and put them in a binder, one I can flip through when I need visual inspiration or just a reminder of the physical spaces my characters are walking through or the weight and drape and color of their clothing.

And now that I've cottoned onto the whole idea, I just can't stop. I've started looking for other images related to my story. Una, Princess Winifred's white horse, is important -- and I've had a real sense in my mind of what she would look like. So I've begun hunting down images of white horses online.

It's a delightful exercise -- and I suspect will be a very helpful one.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Out of Sorts

So I was up really, really late last night reading and marking a student paper (just a couple more to go). In between reading and marking, I was trying to advance my way, slowly, through the Pottermore site. It's a beautiful, creative site, but my ancient computer, which has connectivity/page load problems, was not happy. I would often have to begin loading things, skip off the site, work for a while, then go back when the page had fully loaded.

With one thing and another, I didn't hit the "sorting ceremony" until 1:30 am.

A word to the wise. Do not let yourself be sorted in your Hogwarts house at 1:30 am.

Another word to the wise. Go with your first gut instinct on responses. Do not second-guess yourself and try to be whimsical (which relates to "do not do this at 1:30 in the morning").

And a final word to the wise: don't take the sorting hat quiz when you've been reading Martin Luther. I know, I know, I'm probably the only person on the planet who would mix these two activities...but still. I mean, Luther was wonderful, but he did have that "sin boldly" thing going on, which may account for the fact that the darn website put me into...


Are you through laughing?

Me neither.

This is just such a riot. I am so not Slytherin. And I don't say it just because all the baddies came from there. There is nothing about the Slytherin temperament, even its stronger, more positive aspects, that feels remotely like me.

I am not ambitious.

I view power very cautiously (believing that in the human realm, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely...and loving that in the kingdom realm, God the all powerful shows us his power by being freely willing to give it up).

I do not feel tempted by the dark arts. They make me angry. They repel me. When I am feeling especially full of spiritual health and vigor, I am most tempted to laugh at them because I recognize how pitiful and derivative they are.

And my view of "greatness" (since Slytherin is all about seeing "greatness" in its students)? Well, my favorite picture of greatness is Jesus picking up the basin and towel.

So tell did I end up being chosen for Slytherin? Perhaps it's my deep love for the colors green and silver (for real...I do love those colors...but of course colors weren't part of the quiz, so I don't think that could really be it).

Or maybe it's all that poetry I wrote about Snape seeping back through my consciousness.Or perhaps it's that answering irrevocable questions at 1:30 in the morning thing.

If you've not been sorted into Pottermore yet, take my advice -- go into it fresh as a daisy and answer with your first instincts. Because now I'll never know if I'm really a Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Gryffindor, and I know I'm one of the three. I've always suspected Hufflepuff (not intelligent enough for R, not brave enough for G, and deeply, truly prize faithfuless and behind the scenes perseverance).

Monday, June 04, 2012

Summer Recipes: Peach Vanilla Smoothie

I love seasonal cooking. Summer and autumn are my favorite times of year to cook, mostly because they both yield such wonderful vegetables and fruits. As much as I love autumn/winter veggies though, I must say that summer reigns as produce queen. There's such a plethora of inexpensive fresh fruits and veggies at the grocery and farmer's market right now, it's almost an embarrassment of riches.

I'm determined to experiment more with meals and snacks this summer, to use more fresh fruits and veggies in a variety of different, simple ways. I say simple partly because my family (perhaps especially my nine year old, but me too) has simple tastes in food, and also because I love simple cooking. You don't have to add tons of things to fresh produce to make it taste good or look good -- it already does.

I'm going to try to keep track of some of my recipe experiments here on the blog, even the very simplest ones. In that spirit, I kick things off with the Peach Vanilla Smoothie that the sweet girl and I have had at breakfast twice in the past week. It's a keeper.

I based this on a recipe I found in a cereal box a couple of years ago -- admittedly not the place where I usually get my recipes! But I'm always on the lookout for tasty looking smoothie recipes, no matter where I happen to find them. I tweaked this one a bit and I think it could be tweaked still further if you wanted to "health it up" more.

But here's what we've been doing:

Orange Juice (a cup and a half or so)
Fresh peaches (about two, peeled and chunked)
About six dollops of french vanilla yogurt
Ice Cubes (about four)

The original recipe called for frozen peaches, which would be a fine substitute in the off-season, but with peaches fresh, cheap and plentiful at market right now, why do anything else?  The fresh peach juice really comes through when you blend this.

I do like smoothies ice cold, which is why we added the ice (since we weren't doing frozen fruit). The recipe called for more yogurt too, but we've found a half dozen spoonfuls sufficient -- it adds a creamy texture and a nice hint of vanilla without overpowering the peach/orange. The whole thing has a bit of a creamsicle taste.

We've been using Yoplait french vanilla yogurt, which is sweetened. You could health this up by using plain yogurt (a good kind like Stonyfield Farms) or plain greek yogurt and then adding honey or agave nectar if you wanted a more natural sweetener.

I suspect this would also be good (though different) with other flavored yogurts like raspberry.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

"I'm a Doctor, Not a..."

It's been Trek time at our house lately, and it's been so much fun. I've been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember, but this is the first time we've ever shown episodes to the sweet girl. We're starting with the original series for her -- geeky purists that we are -- and she's fallen in love with them all, especially Mr. Spock.

She's also cracking up over some of the corny lines. They're there in spades, spouted by many of the characters, but I'd almost forgotten just how wonderfully funny DeForest Kelly is as Dr. McCoy. His crusty, curmudgeonly personality is set off brilliantly in the trio of Kirk/Spock/McCoy. I also love the way the writers gave him standard lines. Is there an episode where he doesn't announce: "he's dead..." in dramatic tones? And then, of course, the iconic, "I'm a doctor, not a..." lines, which always make the sweet girl giggle madly. Our favorite so far came in the second season episode "Friday's Child," when McCoy is trying to pull a struggling pregnant woman up a hill (they're being chased by baddies, of course). Spock tries to help and the woman resists, only wanting the doctor's help, whereupon McCoy snaps: "I'm a doctor, not an escalator!"

Which begs the question, what will escalators be like in the 23rd century anyway?