Monday, January 31, 2011

More Weekend Gratitude, This Time in Pictures with a Recipe for Bread Pudding

Dear friends,

Our weekend in pictures,
January 29-30, 2011
(plus a recipe for bread pudding at the bottom)

                                        For freshly potted
                          pansies and snapdragons

For freshly cleaned back porches,
Father we thank Thee!

                              For an interesting bug,

And for a sketch by a creative son,
Father, we thank Thee!

For a going away party before
a Grand Adventure to Italy
for Rachel and Joanna,


For send off prayers by a big sister and parents and friends,
Father, we thank Thee!

                             For Sunday morning cirrus clouds

                         And Sunday morning worship
                  with a church meeting in a school building
                             Father, we thank Thee!

               For a small family reunion at our house

With sisters-in-law and nieces

and aunt and uncle
and cousins on couches

For chocolate cake, bread pudding,
oatmeal cookies with Milk Duds on top
grapes, apples, oranges, & bananas,
lemon blueberry muffins
cheese and crackers
and broccoli with dip
and even more
Father, we thank Thee!

              For a birthday girl to blow out candles
                            (a week early, #20)
                       and my silly daughters who will
                  teach English in Chiavari, Italy 
                for three months starting this week

           For a grandson to cuddle and learn to crawl,
                              Father, we thank Thee!

                              For a sunset sky,
                         and all that is lovely in life,
                            Father, we thank Thee!

(And with thanks to whomever wrote the original poem
"Father, We Thank Thee"
which is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.)

And now for the bread pudding recipe...

Thad's cousin Debbie Knispel brought
a delicious bread pudding,
which everyone raves about.
She gave me the recipe from memory -
easy to do since she's made it for years!

Bread Pudding

Blend together:
4 eggs beat until lemon colored
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks of butter, melted
1tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1tsp cinnamon

Mix in:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
(or 1 pint half & half instead of the milk and cream)

6 cups cubes of any kind of bread (day old is fine!)
Optional: raisins, nuts, etc.

in greased loaf pan at 325 for 35 minutes
then raise to 425 and bake for 15 more minutes

for 15 minutes,
then loosen and invert on plate to slice and serve.


Virginia Knowles

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekend Gratitude

Dear friends,
Many of my blogging cyberfriends (like Ann Voskamp and Sherry Graham and more) keep Gratitude Journals and post lists of things they are thankful for every so often. (Ann Voskamp even turned her list into an amazing book, One Thousand Gifts, which made it to Amazon's Top 10 list!) I figured I would join them at least once with a list of things for which I am grateful from this past weekend. 
I'm afraid my list is a bit more wordy than the usual pithy poet format my friends use, but that's OK.  It's my list, not theirs.  The big event this weekend was the 4th annual Books & Beyond conference, so my first several entries are related to that. 
  1. I'm grateful first for my dear friend Cheryl Bastian, who organized this conference again even though she is 8 months pregnant with her 7th baby.  She is my hero!
  2. At Books & Beyond, I loved Debbie Strayer's encouragement to moms, Jim Weiss's sessions on story telling and historical heroes, and Tina Farewell's practical advice for wives.
  3. My Saturday morning workshop session, "With Literature and Justice for All" went better than I had hoped.  It sounded really bumpy while I was rehearsing, but I was able to adjust my notes and print them out in much larger font to make them easier to read. So I was able to relax and let it flow naturally and only went a few minutes overtime.  (Usually, I run out of time long before I run out of material!)  
  4. A teen helper, Christina Mitchell, recorded most of my session with the video camera my daughters gave us for Christmas.  I hope to figure out how to upload it to one of my blogs soon, along with my handouts.  It's in MP4 format, so I might need to download a file converter to edit it in Windows Movie Maker.  Any ideas here, folks?
  5. I loved talking to all the sweet folks who stopped my book table in the vendor hall, and I sold more of my books (The Real Life Home School Mom and Common Sense Excellence) than I expected -- more than enough to pay my printing bill!  I still have a few copies left over for when I speak at NearHim Home Educators support group meeting in March.
  6. Thad "held the fort" at home very well while I was gone, despite not feeling well from a lingering cold.  
  7. Lydia was already fixing spicy black bean soup for dinner by the time I got home.
  8. I had a productive evening helping one of my children organize a bedroom.  I will spare you the identifying details, and I will most certainly not post a "before" picture.  :-)
  9. Naomi and Micah designed their own board game on Saturday.  I promised I would play it with them today. I love it when my kids are creative and work together!
  10. Sunday morning, Thad made oatmeal with chunks of apples.  Yummy and warm on a cold morning!
  11. I loved worshipping and learning at Lake Baldwin Church with eight of my kids. The music was great (a mix of hymns and contemporary), Mike Tilley's encouragement on "Rhythms of Grace: Community" (on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26) was excellent, and I enjoyed meeting some more of the lovely people there as well as chatting with some I've already met since we arrived in September.  Yes, I'm very grateful for this little church that has made me feel at home and appreciate God's amazing grace freshly. 
  12. My kids had a great time in Sunday School, as they always do.  So I am thankful for the wonderful people who love kids enough to volunteer to teach them each week!
  13. Thad had stayed home sick, but had lunch (French bread pizza) almost ready when we got home.  Then he took the kids to Kewanee Park for a couple of hours so I could take a nap since I was exhausted (as I usually am on Sunday afternoons).  What a guy!
  14. Then Thad made delicious tacos and enchiladas for dinner.  Are you seeing a pattern here?  I did not cook a single meal on Saturday or Sunday, except for microwaving some chocolate chip pancakes Saturday morning and chopping up some fresh veggies for a salad for Sunday lunch.  Yeah!  Now it's back to cooking five nights in a row.  (I've relieved Joanna and Rachel from cooking duties until they come back from Italy.)
  15. The boys were going to youth group last night, so Thad and I were going to use the remainder of our Panera gift card while they were there, rather than make two round trips to the church office.  Unfortunately, Panera closed at 6 PM!  Huh?  Oh well!  I had noticed a sign at Arby's about $1 chocolate turnovers, so that's where we ended up. 
  16. The boys had a blast at youth group, not only with the fun activities, but with discussing how God should be our top priority.  So, besides Sunday school teachers, I'm thankful for youth workers, too!  I know middle school can be a really challenging age group (though it is personally my favorite to teach) so kudos to them!
  17. At Arby's, Thad and I had a great chance to chat and pray about the coming week, and he said it's OK for me to start checking out flight schedules to go visit my family in Maryland next month for my sister Barb's 50th birthday. (Someone else is paying for the plane ticket, but it means he's "holding the fort" again for a few days while I'm gone.  No easy deal when you have a bunch of kids!)  Barb is planning her birthday trip to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which I love!  I haven't been there in forever, at least not since we moved back to Florida almost 18 years ago.  I'm psyched!  Even more importantly, I love spending time with my big sister, as well as the rest of my family. I hope it actually works out.
  18. When we got home, I read some stories to the three younger kids -- an Uncle Arthur story, one from the Golden Book Treasury, and another picture book.  After being at a literature conference this weekend, it only seemed fitting to come home and read to my kids!
  19. I'm really glad that I didn't have to prepare a complete set of weekly lesson plans since I had done them ahead of time. Actually, I did something totally different than my regular lesson plans last week, so I just saved them for this week.  It worked.  We've started in with some great literature and history this morning, it's independent learning time right now,  and then we're off to the YMCA home school P.E. classes just after lunch. 
  20. As I was finishing up typing this (most of which I wrote last night), nine year old Naomi was writing a paragraph about our trip to the Orlando Science Center last week, and asking me to spell words like hurricane for her.  Then our kindgartener Melody got into the act and copied from Naomi's paper.  Yes, this is kosher - at least in this context.  Look at what she did!  (See below, along with a picture of Naomi in the hurricane tube with the wind about 70 mph!)
  21. Thad and the kids have really blessed me with their affection. They keep me well supplied with hugs and kisses and back rubs.
  22. Most of all I am thankful for God's grace and strength to keep moving forward, doing the things I love to do -- along  with plenty of things I do just because they need to be done.  It's all good.


Think! What are you grateful for?  Are you ready to start your own list?  To get you started, why don't you post just one thing in my comment section?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fruit-Filled Memories: Fresh Citrus Juice, Blackberry Leather, Fancy Fruit Salad, and Raspberry Cookies

Dear friends,

A couple of days ago, my sons came in with oranges picked from the neighbor’s tree that hangs over our back fence.

One of them decided to juice them, and fueled by that small success, they decided to go pick some grapefruits from Sharlee’s tree and a huge lemon from Marianne’s to add to the pitcher.  Our kind neighbors have given us permission to glean from their citrus trees whenever we want.  (Micah took the picture of Ben climbing a grapefruit tree at left.)

The boys made a citrus juice cocktail of sorts. Micah used our electric citrus juicer to extract the juice, added water and little sugar, and voila – a tasty beverage to serve with dinner and a fun memory of being resourceful!
For me, the tang of the juice also brings a pang as I remember that when we moved to our house, we had three fruitful orange trees of our own. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the proper research in how to care for them, and after several years they had to be removed. I still feel the loss. We used to pick dozens of oranges at a time to juice, eat, or give away. One year, we picked about a hundred, washed them, decorated them with Christmas rubber stamps, and delivered them to a homeless mission downtown. Well, we may have lost the trees, but we haven’t lost our community. It’s so sweet that our neighbors will share with us. And we still try to share what we have, too. My daughter Julia has been organizing an extra collection drive for when she goes down to Lake Eola with a local organization to help feed the homeless this weekend. Since she’s going down anyway, she’s gathering blankets, sleeping bags, jackets, other clothing, toiletries and food items. Many of our friends are pitching in. One even brought a bag of oranges! What a memory that brings back!  Maybe the experience of preparing oranges for the shelter so many years ago made a deeper impression than I thought.

Food evokes powerful memories for most of us. Many of my happy childhood recollections are about fruit.


When we lived in San Carlos, California in the 1970’s, we had thick blackberry bushes brambling up our back fence. We had to wear long sleeves when we ventured in to harvest the juicy fruit because the vines were so prickly. I remember making fruit leather with the berries, as well as with the plums from the tree next to our front sidewalk. Mom would puree the fruit with sugar, and then we would spread it on wax paper on a cookie sheet, cover it with cheese cloth to keep the bugs out, and set it out on the back patio in the sun to dry. Now we just buy it in a box at the store, but nothing compares to the homemade version.  You can find out how to make it here:  Eventually, we pulled down the blackberry vines to make more room for a flower and vegetable garden.  

When I was a teenager, we moved to Baltimore and had grape vines hanging off our deck. One year, Mom and Dad made a big jug of wine from it, but I didn't try more than a sip.  I never did develop a taste for wine or any other alcohol.  Maybe that's because I still remember accidentally taking a sip of beer once when I thought I was picking up my soda glass from a restaurant table.  Blech!  I can't stand that taste!  Oh, now that brings back another "orange juice" memory.  It was around Eastertime when I reached into the fridge for the orange juice pitcher, poured a bit and took a swig.  Yuck!  It was liquefied egg!  We used to dye Easter eggs by poking a little hole with a needle in each end, then blowing really hard through one end so the egg would stream out the other end.  Then we had hollow eggs and could keep the dyed eggs as long as we wished.  Dad didn't want to waste the egg innards, hence the pitcher.  Things aren't always what they seem.  I'm always very careful what I drink. I never know what I'll find in a pitcher in my fridge!  (Oh, one more memory of when one of the boys tried making fresh limeade a few years ago!   I confess, it was my fault what happened next, but at least we got an apple-cherry cake out of the deal! You can read that story, along with a few other humorous ones, right here: Mommy Brain!)

Hmmm.  I've got to get back to the sweet tasting stuff again!
Another vivid memory from our San Carlos days is that we sometimes drove up to "the City" (San Francisco) and dined at the Cliff House, a restaurant overlooking a spectacular view of the bay. I always ordered their fruit plate for my main course. It was a huge platter of lovely fruits cut up into fancy shapes.  It reminds me of the fruit bouquet, pictured at left, that someone ordered from for my daughter Mary's bridal shower years ago.  I also thought of that yesterday when my mom and niece were about to arrive from Maryland.  I know my mom likes fruit salad and often serves it when we visit her, so I decided to make a big one for dinner, to go along with our baked potato buffet and turkey scrapple.  I bought bananas, watermelon, canteloupe, star fruit, mango, grapes, a pineapple, and a frozen bag of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to add to the usual apples and oranges we had at home.  We all worked together to prepare our fruity feast, serving some of it in hollowed out watermelon and cantelope rinds.  That's my beautiful mother, Mary, on the right, and my cutie daughter Naomi on the left.

When my children were much younger and we were visiting Grandma in Maryland, she and my sister Barb would take us out to pick strawberries or apples, depending on whether our trip was in spring or autumn. We also tried growing strawberries in the front yard. One year, several new plants started from the runners, but we never had much success on subsequent years. In 2008, my daughter Joanna went strawberry picking with friends here in Florida and brought home 6 quarts. We made almost 10 pints of freezer jam with some of it. You can read about that here: We're Jamming with the Berries.

Now Joanna, 18, and her older sister Rachel, nearly 20, are preparing to go to Italy for three months on a mission trip.  They've been hosting fundraising dinners at our home.   At the first one, they served a purchased cheesecake for dessert, but this last time they made raspberry cookies.  (Picture at left is from,)  They were just as yummy and not as fattening or expensive, so I think it was a very fruitful switch!  They are making them again for the final dinner tomorrow night.  The cookies were "easier than pie" to make.  Rachel bought some sugar cookie mix and prepared the dough according to the directions.  Then she formed small balls on the cookie sheet and made an indentation in each one.  She spooned a nice dab of raspberry preserves in the middle of each one and baked!  Besides being delicioso, they were really festive.  Another memory made, because now I'll think of their Italy trip every time I taste raspberries! 

I could go on and on about fruit memories, but instead, I'll just direct you to my stories and recipes for pineapple pie, cranberry sauce, wassail, orange sesame chicken, and ginger apricot chicken  ~ part of creating our own family heritage!  They're all listed on my recipe page!

Virginia Knowles

P.S. Oh, you know me!  I can't resist relating everything my life to the beautiful grace and truth I find in the Bible.  Here goes!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.” 
Galatians 5:22-23

“Sow for yourselves righteousness,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the LORD,
until he comes and showers righteousness on you.”
Hosea 10:12-13

“The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be
quietness and confidence forever.”
Isaiah 32:17

“I am the vine; you are the branches.
If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
John 15:5, 7-8

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Goals, Plans and Books for 2011 ~ Bring It On!

Dear friends,

“Trying to write down goals and plans for the year little by little, one area at a time. My life is rather complicated! Self-discipline is the key to much of it.”

That’s what I posted as my Facebook status last night, and my Canadian friend Natalie asked if I cared to elaborate. Yes, I guess I will! I was already plotting a blog post in the back of my head anyway.

I’m not much of one for making New Year’s resolutions of things I will do or else! But January is a fitting time of year for new starts and waxing at least a little bit philosophical about how life is going: where I’ve come from this past year and where I want to go in the next 365 days. Or should I say 359 days since it is already January 6th? Actually, the decisions we make on any day of the year in some way set the trajectory for all the rest of life, eternity included. My, that’s getting a little weighty for me.  This year may be an extra crucial one since I already know it is filled with continued major transitions for my whole family.

With this in mind, several areas of my life (such as it is) need the focus of goals and plans: 

  • Personal: Spiritual ~ Mental ~ Emotional
  • Family: Husband ~ Kids ~ Extended Family
  • Home Schooling
  • Homemaking & Creativity
  • Ministry: Writing ~ Speaking ~ Practical
  • Social
  • Physical: Nutrition ~ Exercise ~ Health & Dental Care
I think that about covers it for me. I can pretty much tuck any smaller concerns within those headings. For each of these areas, I set up a page in my notebook with three sections: 
  • Goals: the end result I want to accomplish
  • Plans: specifically how I am going to get there
  • Books to read: I can’t help it. I’ve got to get the reading in there somewhere, and if it can help me reach my goals, well, more power to me!
I’m not going to share all of my goals with you for two reasons. No, three! First, many of them are private! Second, I haven’t come up with all of them yet. I don’t like to rush the process. Like I said, “Little by little, one area at a time.” Third, you need to work through your own goals, not copy mine. I am me. You are you. Profound, I know. I will share a little bit, along with one of my book lists at the end, and maybe in a later post I’ll write about a few homemaking goals.

I have gone through this Goal & Plan process before, but it’s been years. I should dig through my old ones (I think they were written on yellow paper, and they are somewhere in one of my archive notebooks) and see whether I actually accomplished much of what I dreamed. Yes, I know I did. I mean, I survived all the toddler years of 10 kids, and my teenagers and adult children live pretty productive lives and still like me most of the time. If that isn’t a worthy feat, I don’t know what is!

Speaking of notebooks… Yes, I have a wonderful little iPod touch that helps me turn my life from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) to ADO (Attention Deficit ORDER). When I got this lovely little digital friend, I abandoned my old paper To Do lists in my notebook and transferred them to an electronic app that sorts and prioritizes and beeps at the schedule time and makes it easy to procrastinate (er… readjust the schedule) by tapping the “Put Off Till tomorrow” button. Anyway, back to notebooks. I still love mine and use it as a mega-journal-extra-brain-of-sorts. I stash all sorts of goodies in my notebook, which is a full 3-ring model with a sturdy blue canvas cover. Lots of reflections on life, personal Bible study & sermon notes, letters from loved ones, articles I find intriguing, outlines of projects, rough drafts of poems, and copies of whatever I have written for public consumption. Right now, I have a hefty section set aside for my goals and plans. Later on, I’ll type them in and e-mail them to the iPod for instant handy access. And maybe a few well-timed beeps.  I have other notebooks, too, but I'll save that tale for another day.

Now, since you have read along so patiently, I will share a tiny bit of my spiritual plans (the only ones I've written out so far) as well as my book list for that area. I hope it will be worth your eyeball-to-brain time.

First, I have really been lagging in systematic Bible study, so I want to commit to finishing up my study of the four gospels, in which I am reading similar passages from each on the same day and comparing them. I wrote a list of the next 16 sets of verses, figuring I can complete one of them every 3 days or so. Time to read, time to reflect, time to respond. Maybe I’ll even print out some Read ~ Reflect ~ Respond Scripture note pages for this endeavor. (That brings to mind Dave Abney’s sermon at Lake Baldwin Church on the habit of meditation from last Sunday. “The life that abounds is centered on the story of redemption.” Scripture is a mirror of our souls, a window into God’s heart, a gateway to prayer, a path to obedience.) I also want to take the plunge and memorize Scripture again, since that is such an aid to meditation. (If you can remember it, you can dwell on it even when the page isn’t in front of you. It seeps into you and becomes part of you, shaping who you are and what you do.) Ann Voskamp, one of my favorite bloggers, is recommending the whole book of Colossians as a 2011 goal, and even provides links to a booklet to help us along the way. (See here: Colossians in a Year: 2 Verses a Week.) I’ll bite. I guess that’s one way we actually can borrow someone else’s goal. I memorized it over 2 decades ago and I’m still quite familiar with the general outline, wording and concepts, even though I can’t quote large chunks of it anymore.

“Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-2
That much I can type “by heart” since my younger children and I often sing it into our souls, memorization and meditation by melody. Those words themselves capture the spirit of why I want to saturate my mind with Scripture. I just downloaded a free NIV Bible app to my iPod to make it easier to find the verses I am going to memorize. (I already have the ESV on it.)

Oh, the book list! I’m not to going to give you all of it because some of the books I’m thinking of reading I need to investigate a bit more closely before I even mention them in public. But here is enough to keep you busy for a long time, especially if you’re not a fast reader.

When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a DifferenceWhen Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference by Carolyn Custis James ~ a stirring call for Christian women to become able theologians. Along the way, she recounts the life of Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus), who sat at Rabbi Jesus’ feet to learn even though she was criticized, and later had to put her knowledge to the test and into practice during challenging times. I’m glad I’m reading this book. A friend (I can’t remember who) quoted this book on Facebook and even that little sound bite resonated with me so much that I asked Thad to get it for me for Christmas. He did, and I’m about half way through it.

Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian BeliefKnow the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief  by Bruce Milne ~ a book of systematic theology for normal people like me, and a means to carrying out the above call. We’ve had it for a while, but I need to dust it off, crack the spine, and let the words spill out into me. It’s so easy to make assumptions about theology based on what we hear and feel, but how well are we thinking it through? How Biblical are our beliefs anyway? How skewed have we allowed them to get, even in our churches, not to mention culture at large? Can we “Be Bereans” and search it out with our minds fully engaged? For more theology, I also might dabble in my vintage 1918 copy of A History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker. I have found that if I try to look up some curious sect or belief, I invariably have to keep paging backwards, farther backwards to set the stage on the page. It’s all a thread, often tangled, but somehow still woven into a tapestry we won’t see the beauty or even the sense of until eternity. Nearly a hundred years later, I recognize that my life story is part of it, too. Thus my desire to live well, with worthy goals and plans.) 

Your God Is Too SafeSpiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your SoulYour God is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control and Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul by Mark Buchanan. I already read his book The Holy Wild nearly three years ago (my review and quotes here: The Holy Wild)  Thad saw Your God is Too Safe at Brightlight, my favorite used bookstore, and snapped it up for me. Yes! I’ll get Spiritual Rhythm at CBD soon.  Ann Voskamp  recommended it in her blog post Weekends Are for Curling Up with Good Books: I confess, many books keep me a dabbler, but Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul kept me right to the end, the one book I reached for each evening after the children were tucked in bed. All of his books on my shelves, Buchanan is one of my absolute favorite writers: classic writing by a current contemporary, deep and thoughtful theology, lyrical yet muscular prose that sweeps you away — transforms you."  Based on reading The Holy Wild, I would agree! 

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You AreOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. The print version is not due for release until later this month, but you can already get the Kindle e-book. And yes, this is the third time I have mentioned Ann in this blog post! That’s because I love her writing, which is poetic even when she is attempting prose. Always profound. Always setting my mind on things above, and then putting my hands busy to serve “here below” in light of that. See for yourself:  (Just like me, Ann is also a home school mom of a large family, but quite unlike me she's also a Canadian farm wife.  The farming I shall never emulate.)

Do you catch the recurring theme in these book titles? Living fully in Jesus. Not settling for dry dust or rigid resolutions, but being open to the “impossible” but ultimately wonderful things that God loves to pour out into my life. Bring on my Grand Adventure, 2011!

Joy and peace and LIFE to you this year and always,
Virginia Knowles
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