Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hot Chocolate for a Crowd

Dear friends,

I made a huge pot of hot chocolate this morning for the family.  It's been really chilly here in Orlando: so cold that I wore double layers (still no coat, though) when I went walking for an hour with my friend Tonya.  We're not much of coffee or tea drinkers here, so hot chocolate really hit the spot. I'm not sure if this is any cheaper than buying the pre-mixed packets that we usually use; I guess it depends on how much you pay for the cocoa powder.  (The Aldi discount grocery chain has it for less than name brands.)  I adapted a recipe that I found on the web for less sugar and less fat.   If you're making cocoa for a whole crowd, this might be a good one to try.  If you want to make a dry master mix to keep in the cupboard or for a gift-in-a-jar, you might try the one from Family Fun magazine instead.

Without further ado, here's mine:

Hot Chocolate for a Crowd
(serves 10-12 depending on mug size)
  • 5 cups boiling water
  • 5 cups milk (I used skim and some made from powdered milk)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 TBS vanilla (I used artificially flavored)
  • mini-marshmallows (optional topping when served)
Mix the ingredients in a large pot and continue heating until it is the right temperature for drinking.  Make sure it doesn't scorch. 


Monday, December 28, 2009

Parenting & Peacemaking Articles on Come Weary Moms blog

Dear friends,

I have posted three parenting/peacemaking articles (all written quite a while back) on one of my other blogs, Come Weary Moms.  Check them out as you plan for the New Year with your family!

The Thessalonians Prescription (to evaluate if you are being an effective parent)

Stop, Drop and Roll! (How to Deal with a Conflict)

Setting Sensible Standards


Monday, December 21, 2009

An Early Christmas Celebration

Our new family photo!

Front row: Julia, Naomi, Ben, Micah, Rachel

Back row: Andrew, Lydia, Thad, Melody, Virginia, Joanna, Mary & Ryan Tindall

Last night, we enjoyed an early Christmas celebration with my daughter Mary and her husband Ryan.  They'll be out of town on Friday, so we're catching it when we can!

My husband Thad worked hard to create a safe firepit in the backyard so we could roast marshmallows and make s'mores.

The kids like to torture our guests...

The mighty muscle men

A sister moment with Melody and Julia

Jolly Ben!

The kids draw names for giving each other Christmas presents.  Joanna picked Mary's name!  What's in the package?

One of Joanna's photos, plus some pottery from Valencia Community College's art sale.

Mary bought the game Catch Phrase for all of us,
so we played three rounds last night.

I hope you 've enjoyed our pictures!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Sunday of Advent: "What Sweeter Music" with Paintings by Giotto

Dear friends,

My fellow blogger Karen Campbell posted this music on her blog this morning.

"What Sweeter Music"

King’s College Choir, Cambridge

John Reutter, music and arrangement

What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honor to this day,
That sees December turned to May.

Why does the chilling winter’s morn
Smile, like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like a meadow newly-shorn,
Thus, on the sudden? Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
‘Tis He is born, whose quickening birth

Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To heaven, and the under-earth.

We see him come, and know him ours,
Who, with his sunshine and his showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart.

Which we will give him; and bequeath
This holly, and this ivy wreath,
To do him honour, who’s our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

"The Birth of Jesus" and "Adoration of the Magi" by Giotto (1267-1337) are just part of the series of frescoes found in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. We first saw them in the book The Glorious Impossible by Madeline L'Engle, but I then found them on-line at

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grace Will Lead Me Home (Advent Poem 2009)

"Grace Will Lead Me Home"

by Virginia Knowles
Advent 2009

Grace will lead me home
Like a pillar of fire for a pilgrim in the wilderness
Like a shimmering star hovering over new Glory and Peace on earth
That wise ones still seek and follow.

Grace leads me home
When the way is dark and wayward voices call
I listen for the Shepherd's steady voice
When my soul cries for thirst
He leads me to the oasis
To the crystal fountain whence the healing stream flows

Grace leads me home
Because God is with me:
Jesus full of grace and truth
Grace upon grace dwelling in the tabernacle of my heart
My Messiah abides in me and I in him, my hope of glory

Grace leads me home
Because the Holy Spirit is my Comforter,
My Counselor to guide me in truth
Because I cry "Abba, Father! I am your child!"
I am more than a conqueror
Nothing can separate me from your love
And You will lead me home.

Each year I write an Advent poem.  Each year I wait for just the right inspiration.  Until it comes, there is no sense in even picking up my pen.  In recent months, God's grace has come to me in fresh ways as I am learned to live from a sense of who I am in Christ and to to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit rather than my own efforts.  I knew my poem this year would reflect his work in my heart.
On Sunday, Mike Nash preached on the wonder of God's grace.   Toward the end of his sermon, he mentioned John Newton's classic hymn "Amazing Grace".   (Another story here: The Amazingly Graced Life of John Newton: His was a tale of two lives, with God at the pivot point.)  Newton had owned a slave ship in the late 1700's before God reached down and plucked him out of darkness into the kingdom of light.  As we sang his hymn moments later, the line "and grace will lead me home" leapt out of the third verse.  I knew that was the start of my poem.  The other 18th century hymn that found its way into my own verses (pillar of fire, pilgrim, crystal fountain, healing stream) is "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" which I sometimes sing with my children.   You can listen to it in the original Welsh with the video below.

The poem is also inspired by John 15:1-8 and Romans 8.

I pray that "Grace Will Lead Me Home" it will bring hope to your heart this Christmas season.  I encourage you to think of people you know who might need fresh faith in the middle of trying times.  So many are hurting and lonely, which is extra hard when the pressure is on to be merry and jolly for the holidays.   Let's take the time to notice, to listen, and to serve.

As I walked with my friend Tonya this morning, we were talking about how sometimes what our own children need most is time to talk and just be with us.  So many unpleasant discipline situations could be avoided if we learned to communicate in a wholesome, affectionate and interested way.  We need to be proactive in training them in the good life rather than just waiting until they mess up and then taking even longer to correct them for poor choices.  A warm and nurturing relationship is the best way to raise children.   It takes time!  Likewise, I am seeing that God wants time with me, too.  He is Abba.  That means Daddy!  He is never too busy for me!   As I listen to him, he lovingly leads me on a positive path.   The stronger and closer my relationship with God is, and the more I am walking in grace, the less he needs to correct me.  I will want to please him with my whole heart, not grieve him!   And as my children see my intimacy with God and a growing desire to live for him and in him, this will help their hearts to turn in the same direction.   Love, joy, and peace are powerful magnets!  And grace will lead us home!


We're done with our Providence home school co-op classes for the semester. On Monday afternoon, we put on a Christmas program with each class singing one or two carols for the rest of us. The 5th-6th graders got brave and did theres in Spanish and sign language. My middle school English class sang the first known Christmas carol, "Of the Father's Love Begotten", which was written in Latin by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius in the 4th century and translated into English by John Mason Neale in the 1800's. The week before our performance, my students worked on memorizing it, learning about the meaning of the words, reading related Scriptures, and studying the Nicene Creed, which was written in the same time period. Their next assignment, to be completed before classes start again in January, is to read Luke 1 and 2, answer some questions, watch parts of Handel's Messiah, and then write either a short Christmas memories story, a Christmas poem, or a description of their favorite Christmas story or carol. I have posted the Handel's Messiah video clips on-line, along with some nativity-themed fine art from the National Gallery, here: Handel's Messiah & National Gallery of Art.

Since we only have a week's worth of Providence assignments this month, sometimes it's a bit of an extra challenge keeping the kids doing happy things and not aggravating each other. The five younger kids and I try to start each day with singing Christmas carols, reading a little few verses from Luke 2, and then enjoying one of our favorite Christmas books. I also want to read them some poetry, such as "A Christmas Carol" by Josiah Gilbert Holland. "O Little Town of Bethlehem", one of the carols we have been singing in the mornings, is such a familiar one to most of you, but I recently discovered a delightful little verse I had never seen:

Where children pure and happy pray to the bless├Ęd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
My prayer for the Christmas break is that in our family, charity will stand watching so that faith can open wide the door when we see a need or an opportunity to bless someone. We had a day earlier this week where it seemed we were all irritable with one another, just wandering aimlessly and selfishly. "Misery cries out to Thee" describes my plea to God about this. I didn't want to continue with that pattern all month. I'd much rather have "pure and happy" children. That's when I got serious about starting the morning with singing and decided to print out a dozen carols for our song notebooks. The next morning, after singing our carols, we talked about how we are celebrating Jesus' birthday this month and that we can give him a special present of worshiping him in faith, and then loving one another in response to that. (Naomi reminded me that JOY is thinking of Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself after that.) I really want to break the bickering habit and replace it with sweet speech. I asked the kids to make a special effort to stop calling names, mimicking, or telling each other to shut up. And if they offend or hurt someone, they need to apologize, even if it was an accident. But that's not enough! We need to replace the negatives with something positive. I suggested that each day, each of us will look for a small opportunity to bless each of the others. This could be reading a story to four year old Melody, offering someone a mug of hot chocolate, cleaning up a pile of construction paper scraps after craft time, running to bring someone a roll of toilet paper when it's out, or letting someone else go first on the computer. Honestly, it hasn't been perfect since then, but there has been a huge improvement and they seem to be responding to the gentle reminders to be pleasant and do the right thing. The dark night wakes, the glory breaks... We can do this after all, with God's help.

If you or someone you know are struggling through this Christmas season, whether from busyness, weariness, or life crises, please check out these articles that I wrote in years past: A Simplified Christmas and A Bittersweet Advent.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Handel's Messiah & National Gallery of Art

Dear friends,

My English students will be watching these video clips this week, and I thought you might enjoy them as well. I've added some fine art at the end. Our family went to see Handel's Messiah live at the Bob Carr auditorium a couple of weeks ago.

"For Unto Us a Child is Born" is a chorus in Handel's Messiah. It comes from Isaiah 9:6.

"The Hallelujah Chorus" is the best known section of Handel's Messiah. The audience always stands when this is sung, because the King of England did this when he attended a performance, and he set the precedent. This words to this song are from Revelation 19:6, Revelation 11:15, and Revelation 19:16.

Christmas pictures from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

"The Adoration of the Shepherds" by Giorgione, 1505-1510

"The Adoration of the Magi" by Benvenuto di Giovanni in 1470-1475

"Madonna and Child" by Circle of Giovanni di Turino 1430, painted and gilded terracotta

"The Flight into Egypt" by Vittore Carpaccio, 1515

You can find more art here: Biblical Art from the National Gallery of Art.
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