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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

25 Years of Marriage!

Dear friends,

Thad and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary today!  We're going to a bed & breakfast a couple of hours away, and spending tomorrow at Silver Springs, where we went on the first day of our honeymoon.  We love strolling among flowers, animals, and glass-bottomed boats!  By happy coincidence, they are also running a Buy-1-Get-1-Free ticket special, so both of us can get in for a total of $30. 

I'm also delighted that I finally decided to get my engagement ring enlarged so I can wear it again after several years.  (Having 10 babies in 18 years does something to your fingers!)  

I don't have more time to write today because we're getting ready for our special celebration, but I wanted to share a favorite wedding photo and a link to a Facebook album with more family pictures.

You can also read a blog post I wrote last year to share several things I appreciate about Thad: I Met a VIP 25 Years Ago... Then I Married Him!

Have a lovely day!  I know I will -- with my sweet hubby by my side!  He's even a lot more handsome now!

With All My Heart...

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Icing, Plus Redstone Cornbread with Maple Butter

Dear friends,  

I love hosting Thanksgiving at my home in Florida for my family and friends, but I sure miss being "up home" in Maryland for the feast with my parents, grandmother, siblings and their families -- especially since my sister-in-law Dana is an extraordinarily talented chef.  She is fixing everything except for the turkeys!  She jokes, "You might be going overboard with the holiday baking if you're actually wondering whether 20 pounds of flour is enough!"  Since I can't be there with them, I asked Dana to share some of her favorite holiday recipes.  

My daughter Lydia is making the carrot cake for Thanksgiving. (Update on November 26: Absolutely delicious!) Fortunately, Thad brought home some real maple syrup from his trip to New England last month! Enjoy!

Our menu for last year's Thanksgiving is here with several recipes linked to it.

Virginia Knowles

Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Icing


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups grated peeled carrots
  • 1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped pecans
  • 2 Tbs minced peeled ginger
  • Nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and other spices as desired
  • 10 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 5 Tbs butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups 10X powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • Pecans for garnish

  1. Preheat to 350°F.
  2. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans.
  3. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper.
  4. Butter and flour paper; tap out excess flour.
  5. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in medium bowl to blend.
  6. Whisk sugar and oil in large bowl until well blended.
  7. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time.
  8. Add flour mixture and stir until blended.
  9. Stir in carrots, walnuts, ginger and other spices.
  10. Divide batter between prepared pans.
  11. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  12. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes.
  13. Turn out onto racks.
  14. Peel off waxed paper; cool cakes completely.
  1. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.
  2. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended.
  3. Beat in maple syrup.
  4. Chill until just firm enough to spread, 30 minutes.

Redstone Cornbread with Maple Butter


  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 7 oz creamed corn
  • ½ cup butter

Maple Butter: 
  • 1 lb butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup maple syrup


  1. Preheat to 400.
  2. Combine dry ingredients and add wet ingredients.
  3. Pour into greased 8” or 9” iron skillet or a square baking pan. Bake 35 minutes.
Maple Butter:
  1. Whip butter.
  2. Slowly drizzle maple syrup into mixture until well blended.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Between the Seed and the Tree

Between the Seed and the Tree

by Virginia Knowles

A seed so small
A mere breath might scatter it
Never to be seen again
Lost on a barren path
Yet by some miracle planted with purpose
Dry shell softens
Releasing a pale root into welcoming soil
Down growth
Up growth
Green stem
What will it be?
A tree?
From this tiny seed?

The seedling grows
Straight up
Skyward bound
Up and up
Empowered by life within
A tree to be, and already a tree
Defying doubt
This slender sapling
Shall someday become a solid trunk
With lush canopy of branches and leaves
A fruitful, sheltering garden blessing.

Though lost and fragile
Once found by Love
We took root and grew
Now between the grace and the glory
Still in the middle of the story
By faith
With hope
Skyward bound
Springing forth from the first promise toward the full reality
Our destiny unfurls in slow motion
Between the seed and the tree.


Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:16-20

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." Colossians 2:6-7

The title and concept for this poem came to me as I listened to Dave Abney, a pastor at Lake Baldwin Church, talk about the parable of the mustard seed in his October 3 sermon.  He reminded us of the apparent tension between what God has ultimately promised for the future and what we experience right now in our lives.  It all starts so small and we grow into it, sort of like how Jesus seemed to have such a quiet, localized personal ministry, but it has grown to be a huge force all over the world.  Someday, we shall see the fullness and magnificence of his Kingdom with the eternal glory of Heaven.  Nothing we know on earth can even begin to compare to that!  We just trust that it's coming, and that gives us hope for the here and now.  The gospel of Jesus is simple, enduring, and beautiful.   We are like seeds planted to become strong trees, his life within ours.  We long to be like Jesus : loving, bold, servant-hearted, free, and yet sometimes the progress seems so slow.   I've often thought of this as living "between the now and the not yet."  But we are comforted to know that he is still at work in us, and his love is not dependent on our progress but on his grace.
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2

Back to the poem a moment: When I was working on the early drafts of this poem, I sent a raw version to several friends who are all fellow writers/teachers in various venues, asking for their comments.    Dan Christensen and Cheryl Bastian helped me prune the words and adjust the flow in the middle of the "critique and tweak" phase. 
Dan's advice: "Here's an exercise: Go through the poem. Set aside form, rhythm and rhyme. Take out any word or phrase that isn't missed if it's gone. These often include our favorite gems--in everyone's writing! Being brutal pays off because you start to see the poem's essence and you get comfortable with making judgments that propel the essence. You save
the reader from having to sort through. Fewer filters means the message is more apt to get through."

(I hope you got the message!) 

Later, my friend Gary Thomas wrote: "It gets even better with the 3rd or 4th reading.  I think it's one that needs to be read slowly, Virginia, so I wonder if you want to work the structure to encourage that--shorter lines, more breaks, slow the reader down.  In a way, that kind of structure would play into the theme of slow growth.  I think you've got the language down marvelously, but on my first reading, I think in part because of the longer lines, I read it too quickly, and that undercut the message.  You've got some really nice language here, so a slower structure would be sort of like (keeping with the season) slowing people down to 15 mph so they can see the Christmas lights on the houses instead of just speeding by."  

Gary suggested some specific line breaks, so what you see above is the new version, revised after the initial blog post.  Another critiquing friend, Doug Vardell, liked an even earlier (but never published on-line) raw version because he felt the choppier rhythm had more emotional impact and offered a slight grammatical change which I have just incorporated.  I'm thinking this new structure may bring some of that back.   In free verse there is no metered rhythm, which can either mean liberty to do it however, or a challenge to figure out what is best without a rule to tell me.   So I want more feedback! What about it, folks? Do you like the stanzas to each have six longer lines, or more but shorter lines?  I can go either way reading it myself, but it helps to know how it speaks to others.  Let me know what you think! 

Here is the first published version of the first stanza...
A seed so small a mere breath might scatter it

Never to be seen again, lost on a barren path
Yet by some miracle, planted with purpose
Dry shell softens, releasing a pale root into welcoming soil
Down growth, up growth, green stem, leaves
What will it be? A tree? From this tiny seed?
Here are the same words in Gary's suggested structure again...  

A seed so small

A mere breath might scatter it
Never to be seen again
Lost on a barren path
Yet by some miracle planted with purpose
Dry shell softens
Releasing a pale root
Into welcoming soil
Down growth
Up growth
Green stem
What will it be?
A tree?
From this tiny seed?
So even a poem is a "work in progress" -- sometimes even after I think it is done. Leave any comment you want about the poem below! 

Between the seed and the tree,
Virginia Knowles

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