Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crockpot Yogurt

Dear friends,

I just finished eating a lovely glass of yogurt -- that I made for myself in my crockpot! 

Last October, I was reading Julie Druck's Life in Skunk Hollow blog and saw her link to a recipe for crockpot yogurt. (Julie's post is here: Yogurt Making 101 and the post she linked is here: You Can Make Yogurt in Your  CrockPot! ) It looked easy enough, so I gave it a try!  I've made it several times since then, and it's always a big hit with my kids. 

I have adjusted the recipe to suit my tastes, and this last batch is the best of all.   Using vanilla yogurt and flavored gelatins instead of the plain versions is all the sweetener that is needed.  I buy all of my ingredients at Aldi, which makes it more cost effective.  This is much less expensive than eating pre-packaged yogurt.  I spent less than $5 on my ingredients for about 1 gallon of yogurt.  That's about 21 six ounce servings, which would cost at least $10 if I purchased them in the little cups and about $8 if I bought it by the pint container.

Here is how I make it, with pictures below.  You may wish to experiment with a smaller batch at first.

  1. Pour 1 gallon of whole milk into the crockpot.  You can also experiment with low fat milk, but it tends to turn out more of a liquid consistency.
  2. Turn on low for at least 4 hours (about 2 1/2 hours if  you are doing only a half gallon).
  3. Turn off the crockpot and unplug it.
  4. Add 1 pint vanilla lowfat yogurt and mix well.  (You could add as little as 1 cup, according to the original recipe.)  This is the "starter" for the process so that it can ferment.  If you like, you can save some of your homemade yogurt (before adding the gelatin) as the starter for the next batch.
  5. Put the lid back on the crockpot and cover with a towel to keep the warmth in.
  6. Leave for 8 hours or overnight.
  7. Skim off any liquid from the top and discard.  You may have to press down on the surface and at the edges to see if any more bubbles up.  I removed over a pint from my last batch as pictured below.  The more you can remove, the firmer your yogurt will set.
  8. Mix in 2 or 3 small boxes of gelatin, your choice of flavors.  For firmer yogurt, add more gelatin.  You can use Knox unflavored gelatin if you don't want the added sugar. 
  9. Optional: add in fresh or frozen fruit, such as berries, mango, etc.  If you need more sweetener, honey and powdered sugar both blend in easily.
  10. Chill in the refrigerator until set.
  11. Enjoy!

Here are a few pictures of the process for you visual learners...

Skimmed liquid

Yogurt after skimming

Mixing in the gelatin

A stack of two large bowls of lemon-orange yogurt
ready to be chilled

This batch set up very well! 
My little trivet says, along the right hand side,
"Happiness is homemade." 
Actually, happiness is a gift from God,
but homemade is a good part of that!
The "Live Laugh Love" at the bottom
 is sure sweet, too!  Enjoy!

Why I am showing you this picture again at the end of the post?  It's because I went back for thirds after I finished writing this!  Yum!

Virginia Knowles

P.S. If you are new to my blog, WELCOME!  I imagine that some of you got here by doing a web search on yogurt!   Feel free to poke around for inspiration, or pop over to one of my other blogs on home schooling or motherhood listed in the left hand sidebar.  I also have a Recipe index page on this blog, so take a peek!  I cook for a huge family (9 kids still at home), so I tend toward developing or adapting recipes that are thrifty and easy, but with a bit of flare.

P.P.S. I invite you to join the Food on Fridays carnival at Ann Kroeker's blog.   I've been linking in new recipes from my blog each week, so far Honey Apricot Chicken and Pineapple Pie.  It's fun looking at all the recipes others have linked from their own blogs, too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Come, Oh Redeemer Come (How to Carry Advent into the New Year)

Dear friends,

Christmas is over, but of course we should carry Advent (the coming of Jesus) in our hearts all year long! 

We learned a new song this year that has really touched me, so I would like to share it with you.   It is a very sweet and reverent prayer that echoes in my heart.

"Come, Oh Redeemer Come"
Words and Music by Fernando Ortega

Father enthroned on high, Holy, holy

Ancient, eternal Light, Hear our prayer.
     Come, oh Redeemer, come, Grant us mercy.
     Come, oh redeemer, come, Grant us peace.

Lord, save us from the dark of our striving,
Faithless and troubled hearts, weighed down.
     Come, oh Redeemer, come, Grant us mercy.

     Come, oh redeemer, come, Grant us peace.

Look now upon our need, Lord be with us.
Heal us and make us free from our sin.
     Come, oh Redeemer, come, Grant us mercy.

     Come, oh redeemer, come, Grant us peace.

1996 Metro Music
Josh Bales, the worship leader at Lake Baldwin Church, recorded it for us to listen and learn since we sang it as a congregation for a few weeks during Advent.  I downloaded it to my iPod and taught it to my children.  What a blessing to hear one of my daughter's pick it out by ear on the piano, too.

Click to listen or download Josh Bales's rendition.
Virginia Knowles

P.S. If you're reading this in a blog reader or via Facebook, come check out the new template and layout on the actual blog!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Little Creativity & Joy: Honey Apricot Chicken, Snowman Pillows & Inspiration

Dear friends,

I am not a Suzy Homemaker sort of mom.  I am somewhat artistic, but don't have the time or patience for complicated crafts or gourmet cooking.  But once in a while I dabble!  Maybe the fact that it's Christmas time got my creative juices going.

I ordered apricot chicken at Olive Garden last weekend and figured I could make it at home. I fileted 6 huge boneless skinless chicken breasts into smaller pieces, dipped them in flour, and sauteed them in a little oil. When they were somewhat browned, I cooked them some more in a mixture of 18 oz apricot preserves, 2 TBS honey, 2 TBS balsamic vinegar and a little bit of water (maybe 1/4 cup?). I added some cooked baby carrots to coat with the sauce too, and them served over rice.  Everyone loved it (a rare feat!), so I'm planning to make it as one of the main entrees for Christmas dinner.

I also finally got around to making Christmas pillows with two of my kids.  I had four existing throw pillows with autumn leaves so I just sewed new covers. I bought the snowman and penguin fabric (with small squares) a while ago at Walmart and discovered yesterday I didn't have enough for the last pillow.  After Naomi (9) and Micah (11) and I sewed the first three, I went back to Walmart to find more fabric, but they were out of it. However, they did have a coordinating print with larger panels.  Though the panel pattern was too small for the pillow, I managed to piece the pillow together using parts of both fabrics. I will take the covers off when it is time to use them for another season. Maybe I'll make spring covers, too. Since we finished the pillows, the kids have been using the scraps to make little pouches.  I made a hair scrunchy for Melody, too.  (I also had four larger throw pillows that matched my couch, but the batting was all lumpy after years of use.  Several weeks ago, I bought four identical new pillows at Goodwill for $1.99 each, inserted them into the old covers, and sewed them up.  They look so much fresher!)

This brings up the question: What can we use that we already have like this?  I bought a message center at a yard sale a while back and had it stashed in my closet.  I found it while looking for something else and decided to hang it up in the dining room.  I may find some sort of Christmas decoration to adorn it for the next few weeks.  But for now, I just decided to write on it!   Pastor Dave Abney at Lake Baldwin Church had just preached an excellent Advent sermon on Mary and the Magnificat, so I jotted down the three main points for us to remember how she lived with joy while facing the unique challenge of an unplanned (but quite divine) pregnancy. 

I love the concept of living in the larger story, of playing our own significant part in the Grand Plan.  I have thought a lot about that in recent years, and I'm writing an article called "In the Middle of the Story" which I hope will be done next month.  In the meantime, you might like to read my related poem, "Between the Seed and the Tree" which is, coincidentally, also based on a sermon by Dave Abney.  After I wrote it, my friend Gary Thomas suggested that I break up the lines to make the reader pause and reflect.  Creativity can benefit from critique by friends!

I also gain a lot of creative inspiration from other bloggers, even if they do make me envious of how gifted they are not only in their writing, but in how they live in the larger story: in the beauty they create and in the compassion and nurture they extend in their own homes and around the world.  A few of my recent favorite posts:   
Be blessed!

Virginia Knowles

Thursday, December 9, 2010

War and Peace

Dear friends,

I turned the computer on this morning and took a long look at the background picture my son had downloaded a few days ago, a full Revolutionary War scene, in keeping with the American history unit study that we just finished. (I used the "snipping tool" to upload just a portion of it for you to see.  There is more.) At first, it seemed incongruous for the Christmas season, when we celebrate "peace on Earth, good will to men."  

Yet it struck me that Jesus, even lying as a baby in the manger or nestled in Mary's arms, did not come to be a wimp or even a total pacifist.  He came to make war.

Huh?  War?  Yes, he came to make war on the enemies of sin and death to bring us peace and life and liberty.  By his own birth into human flesh, his perfect life, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his resurrection from the grave, he battled our mortal enemy to win the victory.  A bloody battle, to be sure.  His weapons?  Love and justice!

Did he really win?  It might not seem like it.  People still die.  People still sin.  There is still war and conflict all over the globe.  Yet those who trust in him have the hope of eternal life and of inward peace.  Our bodies will die, but this earthly life is just a blink of an eye compared to everlasting and perfect life in his presence in Heaven.  And his Holy Spirit can indwell our hearts to bring us progressive victory over sin as we trust in his power and not our own efforts.  That is true liberty.  Since he has suffered the punishment for our sins, we can now, by faith, have peace with God instead of the wrath we deserved.  And as we practice living like Jesus did, we learn to make peace and do justice with those around us.  He is the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor who guides us in life.  That is amazing grace!

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."  Isaiah 9:6-7
He came once as a baby.  That's what we celebrate during the Christmas season -- his Advent, his coming.  But someday he will return as mighty and glorious King of Kings who vanquishes the enemy forever.   For those who have followed him by faith, there will be no more sin, death, sickness, pain or despair.  Not the least little hint!  Instead, there will be complete peace, purity, hope, joy, beauty, life, light, and love.

"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean." Revelation 19:11-14
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children." Revelation 21:1-7
How can we claim these promises for ourselves? It is a matter of repenting (confessing and turning away from our sin), trusting completely in him to forgive and save us, and giving our hearts to him so he can bring them from spiritual death to life, fill us with all good  things, and lead us in his ways.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, n order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:1-10 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:1-11 
Thank you, Jesus, for making war on my sin so I could have peace with you!  Thank you for coming to Earth in human form to be "God with us"!  Thank you for your love and grace, that you pursue us even as we are running away from you, to reconcile us forever.

Christmas love, joy and peace to you and yours,
Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Beating the Holiday Blues and Stress

Angel Watching Over the Christmas Village

Beating the Holiday Blues and Stress

Dear friends,

It's that jolly time of year again when many good people are down and blue -- and feeling extra guilty that they can't get into the swing of the holiday cheer like everyone else. How many smiles that we see are really masking depression and stress?

When it seems the odds are stacked against enjoying a merry Christmas season, there are some things we can do to ease our troubles. I know most of these are common sense, but I find myself needing a reminder too, so I'm really just talking to myself! (Yes, I've spent some time in tears this month already, getting frazzled and discouraged!)

Stop and think. Try to pinpoint what is bothering you most. 
Now, what two or three small things can you do to alleviate this frustration? Ask God for wisdom. He sometimes speaks in a very still and quiet voice in your heart, so listen up!

Overwhelmed or depressed?  Ask for help and prayer. Don't isolate yourself. Call a trusted friend or family member and be honest about your struggles.  If they can't help, try someone else.  If you can't seem to shake the blues, you might want to meet with a professional counselor or pastor to help you.  Also consider hormonal issues like thyroid function (is it time for a medical checkup?) or even just PMS, which unfortunately doesn't take a vacation in December.   Be gentle with yourself! 

Lonely? You might feel disappointed that no one has called you to get together. They just might be waiting for someone else to do the same for them! You be the one to start. You just might make their day -- or their month! Get together for coffee or whatever other cozy treat lifts your spirits. I'm a hot chocolate with whipped cream lady, and its easy enough to make at home. See here: Hot Chocolate for a Crowd.  If you want to avoid the busy Starbucks but still get out of the house with a friend, take a thermos of your favorite hot drink and a container of goodies to a park on a sunny afternoon.  And if you don't have a babysitter to watch your kids, take them along and let them loose on the playground while you chat.  Not perfect, but probably better than nothing!

Financial worries?  Communicate with your family members about your budget. This is a major source of family stress during the holidays. Don't forget to specify amounts for gift giving within your household, gifts to relatives and friends (if you do this), decorations, hospitality, activities, baking, crafts, extra food on Christmas day. Stick to it as closely as you can, and rework the plan if necessary. This could be the year for cutting back on holiday spending. One thing that helps in our house is that our kids don't buy gifts for all of their other siblings. They pick a name and pick one decent gift. Less money. Less clutter. Less time spent shopping. It works! To save time, you can also shop on-line. Check out my other tips here: Christmas Gift Tips from Shopping to Shipping. diet. 

Exhausted or sluggish? Get your sleep! Don't try to burn the midnight oil getting everything done. An afternoon nap can work wonders. One of my favorite strategies is to lie down for a little bit after the dinner rush to get my second wind for a few things I can do after the kids go to bed, like doing an small organizing project or reading quietly. Later in the month, this might be wrapping presents! (But don't use that as an excuse for staying up too late!)   Also, watch your diet.  Too much sugar, caffeine and/or alcohol can do a number on your energy level, even if it gives you a momentary boost. Stock the house with healthy snacks. Find nutritious alternatives to holiday favorites or substitute whole grains and reduced fat ingredients. Bring a festive green and red fruit or veggie tray to a potluck meal.

Out of focus about "the reason for the season"?  Work a simple Advent remembrance into your daily schedule. For us, this is singing carols, doing a Scripture reading from a weekly list in our church bulletin, and reading our favorite Christmas books. We do this each weekday morning in December in place of regular school, which keeps them more "on track and out of trouble" so they aren't too much at loose ends. Routine is good. Remembering the joy of Jesus is even better.  You can also put some favorite inspirational Christmas music on. If you don't feel like listening to bouncy stuff right now, find something contemplative and relaxing, like quiet instrumentals. Or, if you don't feel like Christmas music at all, just put on any music you really like. Be aware of what music helps to lift you moods and helps you remember God.   Jesus is still the reason for the season, so settle your soul and drink of his grace.  Read: An Invitation to Stillness.

Kids going wild? Taking time off school for the holidays is a break for all of us, but if the schedule is too loose, they sometimes get rowdy or start acting up out of boredom or lack of motherly attention.  In addition to the Advent activities I described in the previous paragraph, you can easily find ways to keep your children busy with a variety of activities, such as making presents or cards, going to the playground, inviting a young friend to visit, writing out Christmas dinner menus or invitations, reading for pleasure, making up skits, watching Christmas videos, working on household organization projects with you, cleaning out old toys in their closets to give away, etc. More ideas here: Advent Adventure Unit Study and Great Gifts Kids Can Make for Others.  You can also have a friendly discussion with them if they are really driving you nuts.  Sometimes they just need a quiet reminder.  (OK, so that doesn't always work, but it's worth a try!)  I wrote an Advent poem last year for this blog, and in the commentary, I talk some about handling frustrations with children.  You can find it here: Grace Will Lead Me Home
Too busy? Adjust your expectations of what you need to do. Write out your "to do" list for the month, then break it down week by week or day by day so it's manageable. You have the right to say "no" if something doesn't fit your priorities and abilities right now. If you can't cut something out of your schedule, can you minimize its impact by simplifying it or asking for help? Big tasks are more fun when we do them together! If a friend helps you with a project, maybe you can help her with one, too!   Just remember the scheduling rule: Simplify Your Christmas!

Bored?  Try something new, such as a carol, craft, or holiday recipe. Start a new tradition. Buy a new Christmas book each year. Find a new holiday outing to enjoy, such as a free concert or living nativity at a church.  Go for a drive with the family and look at holiday lights. Try to remember the best neighborhoods from year to year. Bring your camera! This is one of our favorite family traditions that we never miss.

Spazzed about decorating? Don't feel like you have to decorate everything at once, and don't be compelled to put out every single decoration you own if you don't like them (Read the Nester's blog about this topic: Master of Your Domain)  Little by little. Group like items that go together visually. Put fragile or valuable items out of reach of curious little ones or rowdy older ones. (We've already broken two glass ornaments this year, but at least they weren't heirlooms. I did cut myself on one, though!)

Too many messes? Try to keep your house in order -- not perfect but reasonable. It's hard to enjoy holiday decorations if other clutter distracts the eye. Review "a place for everything" and give your kids some basic training in tidy time. Set the timer and see how much you can get done in 15 minutes. Or have everyone go into the messiest room and put away 10 things each. If you are taking off time from regular school work, use some of it for homemaking instruction. Make sure that baking cookies is part of your home ec class, too! Too blue to clean house? You can do it! My sister-in-law sent this link: 6 Ways to Clean House When You're Depressed

Discontented? Ask yourself whether or not you are focusing too much on your own desires and expectations for the season. Christmas is not about getting, whether it is gifts or invitations or other forms of attention. I find the best way to shake holiday me-ism is too look for ways to serve others. This might take the form of a care package for someone in need or someone who is just plain lonely. It might mean a phone call or a handwritten note. It might mean a family service project. It might be inviting someone for Christmas dinner, perhaps a friend or new acquaintance who has no family in the area, or an international student who is far from home. (This is a joy! It is no sacrifice when you catch the spirit of it. It helps kids practice hospitality, too!) It might just be noticing the subtle pain in a friend's eyes or voice and asking how they are doing. (That means really listening, too, and actually following through if there is something you can do about it.) The picture book An Alcott Family Christmas by Alexandra Wallner, recounts how Louisa May Alcott's family once gave away their own Christmas goose feast (which they had scrimped and labored for) to a poor, and then made themselves another dinner of bread, potatoes, and apples. J-O-Y! Jesus, Others, Yourself.

At odds about holiday plans? People have different ideas about what makes a merry Christmas season, whether it is about how much time to spend on activities, whether to travel to see relatives, how you decorate, how to allocate Christmas money, and what kinds of food to eat.  We need to be prepared to cooperate and make reasonable accommodations without totally neglecting our way of doing things.  You may also wish to evaluate what kinds of demands -- spoken or implied -- that you are placing on others or that they are placing on you.  Talk about them and work it out!  While we should value togetherness, we don't have to do everything with the whole family.  You could plan activities with your children or friends that your husband might not prefer to do.  If you have adult children who have families or friendships of their own, be careful about setting expectations on them for joining family activities.  Our policy is, we are delighted if they can make it home for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but if not, we aren't offended. We'll catch them some other time.  This year we had Thanksgiving dinner a day late because my husband and I were out of town celebrating our 25th anniversary.  I imagine that in future years, we might just plan on a regular Friday Thanksgiving meal so that we don't run competition with our kids' in-laws. After all, we have 10 kids and could disrupt an awful lot of other family plans if we insisted on everyone being with us on the exact day!  Last year, my daughter and son-in-law went to Puerto Rico with friends for Christmas, so we had our big family meal a few days ahead of time.  It really doesn't matter to me which day!  Flexibility is a huge buffer against stress and conflict.

In conflict? People will let you down and fail to meet your needs, but you can't base your life and moods on that. As much as possible, cut them some slack, have a heart to heart chat, let it go, move on. When you get frustrated about something stupid that happened, try to laugh instead of yelling. We all need a lot of grace, and an outburst is only going to make it worse.  Read: Stop, Drop and Roll (How to Deal with a Conflict!)   If you have on-going conflicts, try to resolve them as peacefully as possible. This does require some humility, but don't get sucked in to false guilt other. You may need confidence to gently confront, too. Read: Handling Family Issues and Visits During the Holidays.

Grieving? Find a way to commemorate a deceased loved one, such as giving a charitable gift to an organization he or she would have appreciated, or participating in a favorite activity you did together, or looking at photo albums or family videos.  Don't try to bury your grief.  You are allowed to cry.  More here:  A Bittersweet Advent.  

Frazzled?  Make ample time for quiet reflection, especially when you are feeling stressed. Get out a journal and start writing whatever comes to mind. You do not have to organize this or worry about grammar. Just let it flow! Scribble pictures if that helps. Many of your buried thoughts just might bubble up to the surface to you can understand yourself better. Read here: The Dance of Hope and a Note on Journaling.      Savor the little moments, the small joys. Count your blessings and see how they add up! Start a gratitude list, like my friend Debbie's: A Fragrant Aroma: 100 Joys – Week 1

Finally, let me leave you with a Christmas carol that you may have never heard before.  It's one we've been singing at church and at home this month, and it speaks directly to those who are discouraged with life.  You can listen to it  here to learn the tune: Lake Baldwin Church Advent Music

"Arise the Kingdom is at Hand"
Johann Rist, 1651 in German
Translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1858

Arise, the kingdom is at hand,

The King is drawing nigh;
Arise with joy, thou faithful band,
To meet the Lord most high!
Look up, ye souls, weighed down with care,
The Sovereign is not far;
Look up, faint hearts, from your despair,
Behold the Morning Star!

Look up, ye drooping hearts, today,
The King is very near;
O cast your griefs and fears away,
For, lo, your help is here!
Hope on, ye broken hearts, at last
The King comes in His might;
He loved us in the ages past
When we lay wrapped in night.

Look up, ye souls weighed down with care,
The Sovereign is not far!
Look up, faint hearts, from your despair,
Behold the Morning Star!
The Lord is with us now, who shall
The sinking spirit feed
With strength and comfort at its need
To Whom e’en death shall bow.

Hope, O ye broken hearts, at last!
The King comes on in might,
He loved us in the ages past
When we sat wrapped in night;
Now are our sorrows o’er, and fear
And wrath to joy give place,
Since God hath made us in His grace
His children evermore.

O rich the gifts Thou bringest us,
Thyself made poor and weak;
O love beyond compare that thus
Can foes and sinners seek!
For this we raise a gladsome voice
On high to Thee alone,
And evermore with thanks rejoice
Before Thy glorious throne.

Drop me a line if you need to talk!

Joy and peace to you and yours,
Virginia Knowles
Merry Christmas, friends!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jacob's First Chanukkah

Dear friends,

This post is by my oldest daughter, Mary. 

First Chanukkah

by Mary 

Two blue candles stand stoically in the menorah, like guards of the night--the Shamash (servant) candle in the middle, and the one on the far right end. (We won't laugh too hard thinking of how Daddy almost lit the carpet on fire with a wayward match.) You gaze at their flickering flames, transfixed by their warm glow.

You are five months old, ensconced in warm fleece pajamas embroidered with a tractor and pine trees. You are wearing one fuzzy striped sock--the other you must have pulled off in your sleep.

Freshly home from work, Daddy reads the first blessing from his Siddur in a low voice.  
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam Asher Kiddeshanu Be-mitsvotav Ve-tsivanu Lehadlik Ner Shel khanuka
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

Beginning to stir from the deep calm you slipped into while nursing moments ago, you start to tug on the remaining sock.
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-asa Nissim La-avoteynu Ba-yyamim Ha-hem Ba-zzman Ha-zze

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

A cool breeze enters through the kitchen door. Your round cheeks appear like a sculpture in the light. Your eyes move ever so slightly up and down to survey the scene. You are taking it all in.  
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-hekheyanu Ve-kiymanu Ve-higgi'anu La-zzman Ha-zze

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Daddy and I have lived another year, moved to another home, celebrated another year of marriage. And this year, you are with us. Next year you will be walking, talking, calling me Mama. This year, you sit cuddled in my lap, turning into my chest for security. I squeeze you tightly.

Far past midnight, the moments dwindle. It is late and early. It is the beginning of many years to come. You will learn about the brave men and women who fought for the right to worship the Father and witnessed the miracle at the temple re-dedication. But for now, we soak up the warmth of the candles, basking in their glow.

Chag Chanukkah Sameach. Happy Chanukkah, Jacob.

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Invitation to Stillness

Invitation to Stillness

Advent Poem 2010
by Virginia Knowles

Quiet your soul to ponder, wonder, and worship the Amazing One.
In these still and focused moments, embrace his everlasting love for you.
Savor his sacrifice: Heaven to Earth, an infinite journey of grace
When he came to rescue, release, and renew you.

In sacred response, draw near with a whole heart, a deepening communion.
Be still in his presence, be filled with his presence
Father, Son, Holy Spirit: God with us.
Day after day, time with him is your most precious treasure.

Be the fruitful branch abiding in the Vine.
Be the little lamb in the Good Shepherd’s tender care.
Be the beautiful Beloved in the Lover’s embrace.
Ask, and he will surely show you how.

I have a hard time just sitting quietly to pray or read the Bible, meditating on God's goodness and listening to what he is trying to tell me. Part of this is because I'm a busy mother of 10, but I can't use this as an excuse. I think sometimes I just avoid it. Maybe I just don't want to face myself in the light of his face because I'm too proud to humble myself and admit I've done wrong. Maybe I don't trust him and I'm afraid of what he'll tell me to do or that he will reject me. Maybe I have forgotten how very good and kind he is, that his plans for me are so much better than any that I could concoct. Whatever the reason, there is always a way back to his open arms. If he came this far to save us, don't you think he'll go to the same great efforts to draw us back when we've wandered? And when I do sit still to wonder and worship, I wonder why I waited so long! Do you need help learning how to quiet down and listen to God? Read here: Busy, Dizzy & In a Tizzy?

I wrote this new poem last night, so imagine my delight to find that this prayer by Henri Nouwen was part of a responsive reading at Lake Baldwin Church this morning for the start of Advent:

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" Amen

Virginia Knowles

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Ball


Many years ago, my daughter Mary and I went to a "Homes for Christmas" event sponsored by the ladies' ministry at our church, and one recipe we sampled was so delicious that Mary made it to take to a friend's surprise birthday party. It's not exactly the healthiest recipe in the world, but yummy! To cut down on calories, you can try a reduced fat cream cheese like Neuchatel. This recipe came from Charity Bianchi.

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Ball


1 package (8 ounces) softened cream cheese
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter (no substitute)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
graham crackers

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars; beat just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Place cream cheese mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap and shape into a ball. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll cheese ball in pecans just before serving. Serve with graham crackers (chocolate and/or honey flavored).

Yield: 1 cheese ball

Christmas Memories

Dear friends,

Since tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent this year, I thought I would start gleaning my archives for holiday goodies. 

Here's a little one!

by Virginia Knowles

Taking a trip through old photo albums evokes childhood Christmas memories for me. One year, when we lived in the Midwest, we traveled to Grandma and Grandpa Hess’ Pennsylvania homestead. We all had the chicken pox, but we had so much fun playing with our many cousins in the teepee that the grownups had constructed in the living room. In the guest room with pull-down Murphy beds, Grandma always kept a drawer full of toys for our visits. I can just smell the wood furnace, taste the fresh peas from Grandpa’s garden that we would shell on the porch, hear the cuckoo clock, and feel the leaves crackling under my feet as I tromped through the woods out to the smooth boulder where I received the gift of the Savior in 1976.

Christmas 1968 holds the memory of the little red wagon Mom and Dad gave me. I must have been in the “pretty princess” stage of childhood, because I instantly rejected it as being “for a boy.” My Mom, perennial fount of wisdom, merely smiled and responded that she would be glad to have my red wagon. She piled her own Christmas presents into it, climbed aboard in her short plaid skirt, and scooted into the kitchen. Oh, how that kindled my desire to have it back! And of course she gave it to me.

Another fond memory is of the year my Grandpa Quarrier gave Dancerina Dolls to my sister Barb and me.  You would push down on her tiara and she would spin around on her pointed toe.

Whatever fond Christmas memories you cherish, this year I ask God to bless you with close relationships, a heart of service, and the thrill of discovering anew, with a child’s heart, the Reason for the Season.

If you would like to see some ideas for celebrating the birth of Christ with your family over a period of four weeks, click here: Family Advent Night Ideas.

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