Posted in family life

how we celebrated palm sunday

We started with leftover pancakes and stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. The boys got so excited by the stories that we built Jericho from couch cushions, marched around it seven times, yelled as loud as we could, and watched the walls fall down! We all took turns being inside Jericho and being the Israelites marching outside. (The Jesus Storybook Bible, oddly enough, omits the story of Palm Sunday, as does the Children of God Storybook Bible, so we read other stories this morning instead – most of Holy Week and several from the OT).

I really wanted to take the kids to church but we were all exhausted and slightly sick so that didn’t happen. We did sing together though! From somewhere in the far reaches of my brain I recalled some simple, happy praise songs and in the spirit of the day we sang Ho-ho-ho-hosanna and Praise Ye the Lord several times each.

For the same reasons that church didn’t happen, I knew that naps had to happen, so I told the boys that if they stayed in bed for quiet time until their lullaby CD was finished, we would make Palm Sunday cookies together (the CD is long enough that they usually fall asleep before it’s over). Rondel is extremely bribable these days, especially by sugar… I don’t want to make it part of our regular routine, but I needed them to rest so I could help the sick baby be comfortable and rest as well.

And then we made the promised cookies!

I’m not sure if the boys had used cookie cutters before, but they got the hang of it fairly quickly and only had a few mishaps even with the crumbly shortbread dough! Rondel helped me roll it out once also, and did a pretty good job considering how young he is and how infrequently he’s used a rolling pin. And whenever something didn’t work perfectly I just said, we can fix it! or, we can roll it out another time and try again! So we were able to get all the cookies made with minimal stress on anyone’s part, although I did have to strictly enforce access to the unrolled dough to prevent them from eating it all as fast as humanly possible.

During dinner I found our Bible Animal Stories book and read the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of a donkey (we have a lot of kids’ Bibles floating around our house…). It captured the excitement of the event really well, how everyone would have been so caught up in the enthusiasm and carried away in the emotion. It always amazes me how just a few days later those same people would be caught up in the storm of accusation against him.

I hope you all had a wonderful Palm Sunday! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – easter 2016

Christmas is a relatively easy holiday to explain to small children, because it involves the birth of a baby, and little kids immediately relate to that and get excited about that. Easter, with its requisite understanding of death, is a bit harder. I didn’t try to heavy-handedly force the story down my kids’ throats this year; I just introduced the people and the events, and began to populate Holy Week with church and family traditions that will hopefully give them a sense of the importance of the holiday even when they can’t really understand it yet.

So on Good Friday we made our hot cross buns, read together, and went to the service that evening. On Saturday we made Easter cookies (much easier to handle with two little boys than Easter egg coloring, and tastier in the end since none of us really care for hard boiled eggs) and had a low-key meal with my parents; I don’t know if it carried over for the kids, but for me the day was filled with a sense of hushed anticipation that I really hadn’t felt on this Saturday in the past. And on Easter I tried to fill every part of the day with a specialness, an excitement, a celebration! We went to church in the morning of course, after letting the boys enjoy some Easter treats at home, and then drove up to my in laws’ house to celebrate with the extended family.

{pretty} and {happy}

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My FIL set up an Easter egg hunt for all the little cousins in their backyard, and it was quite a success 🙂 Honestly, I think my boys would have been excited to find just one egg and discover it to be full of chocolate or goldfish crackers – finding 4 or 5 each was extraordinary happiness. They didn’t quite have the knack for spotting and collecting the eggs that their cousins did, but they took such delight in each egg that they didn’t even notice, much less care, that they’d found fewer eggs overall. It made me wonder how many times I’ve lost my enjoyment in something completely gratuitous and fun, like these eggs, just because someone else did “better” than me… I hope that in future I can have the same innocent joy in the experience that my boys showed me here.

{happy}

This has to be one of the best simple “grandma’s house” kind of toys out there:

Both boys climbed on it over and over again. Rondel figured out how to go up one side and down the other; Limerick managed to get up to the top but then would come back down the same way he went up. He ended up finding out he could slide down in between two of the rungs, which was apparently fun, but then he would be stuck and cry for someone to pull him back up and out of the ladder. And then he would climb back and do it all again…

{funny}

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This is Limerick’s suspicious look (with a mouth full of crackers) as he eyes my in-laws’ dog, who had been sneaking goldfish whenever Limerick looked away. I don’t think he really grasped what was happening, but he knew something was up… we eventually persuaded him to move his eggs off the ground so the dog wouldn’t be able to steal it so easily.

{real}

I didn’t really get a picture of this, but the reality of the day was that the boys didn’t get good naps, and were worn out by the excitement and lack of routine. Something I’ve learned in the past couple years, with Rondel, is that all the best plans and fun activities are pointless if I don’t factor in enough time to let my kids acclimate to the changes of the holiday and process all the different stimuli coming at them. With this in mind, we had planned to arrive at my in-laws house early so that the boys could nap there before the rest of the family arrived, and be comfortable in the environment before it was filled with people – but when we got there, we discovered that they had changed the locks and forgotten to give us a copy of the new key. Not the best thing to find with two tired boys who were very much looking forward to going inside their grandparents’ house…

I think it was by God’s grace that I was able to stay calm and help the boys (Rondel especially) adjust and relax, and it wasn’t too long before they were able to enjoy the time and the family despite their tiredness and the challenges of the day. Knowing my own propensity towards anxiety and worst-case-scenario thinking, I really am thankful that we were able to have a great time celebrating the Resurrection together as a family and overcome the logistical issues along the way.

Head on over to the link-up at Like Mother, Like Daughter and share your Easter as well!

Posted in family life, recipes

hot cross buns: the Good Friday story and a recipe

One of my challenges this Easter was explaining the story of Jesus’s death to my toddlers. Death isn’t really a concept that they understand, and violent, painful death isn’t exactly something I want to describe to them in detail. I’d like them to retain their innocence until life demands otherwise!

We read some of the stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, but they were honestly still a few years beyond Rondel, and I could tell that though he was listening, the words weren’t making much sense to him. So I ended up making it pretty short and simple, just saying that Jesus was hurt and died on a cross so that He could rescue us and make us able to know and love God.

And my best teaching tool ended up being these:

Throughout the day-long process of mixing, rising, shaping, baking, and glazing the hot cross buns, Rondel would keep asking me, in his toddler vernacular, what we would be drawing on top of the buns (answer: a cross) and what Jesus did for us on the cross (answer: see above). It gave him an interest in the story and something tangible to latch on to in the midst of a lot of things he didn’t quite understand.

So maybe that is part of the reason why these buns, which have always felt distinctly non-fasting to me, are a traditional Good Friday food – they help to teach the story to the youngest of us, and remind the rest of us of the truths we either lose sight of or over-complicate.

Bread making is something I do as much by feel as by measurements, but here’s the basic recipe I use for these buns, adapted from America’s Bread Book by Mary Gubser, if you want to make them next year. They are consistently one of my favorite sweet yeast breads.

First, you’ll need to make a sponge. This lets your yeast get active and happy, and if you’re using some whole wheat flour (as I normally do – I was totally out this year though), it gives the flour additional time to absorb the liquid and soften into the dough, allowing the gluten to develop while blunting some of the wheat’s sharp edges that can damage the gluten strands. It also means that your dough will rise a bit faster later on, since the yeast will already have had a chance to feed and multiply.

For a single batch, about 32-36 comfortably large buns, I start with 2 cups warm milk, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 tablespoons of yeast, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 cups whole wheat flour. (My general rule of thumb for a sponge is equal volumes of liquid and flour. If you’re doubling the recipe, you shouldn’t need to double the yeast as well, although I would still increase it to 3 tablespoons.) This gets all stirred up and then gets to sit, loosely covered, in a warmish, non-drafty place for about 30-60 minutes. Really, 30 minutes is as much as you need, but it can go quite a bit longer if you get distracted with your kids while it’s sponging 🙂

To the lovely, bubbly, slightly risen sponge (releasing that most wonderful yeasty scent into the air), you’ll need to add an egg and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Both of these things can inhibit the development of the yeast, so I like to let the yeast get a good headstart with the sponge before adding them!

At this point you have a good basic sweet bread starter that you could take in a variety of directions. For hot cross buns, I add a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon and about 3/4 teaspoons each of cloves and nutmeg. My additions to the buns vary slightly from year to year depending on what I have on hand, but basically you’ll need something citrusy and some sort of dried fruit. You could use 1/2-3/4 cup diced candied lemon or orange rind or the zest and juice of two oranges for the citrus, and 3/4-1 cup currants, raisins, or golden raisins (or a mix) for the dried fruit, and I’m pretty sure any combination of the above would be excellent. I do like the added texture of the larger golden raisins vs. the currants, and of the candied rind vs. the zest and juice, but if you want a smoother roll without those extra juicy bites, both zest and currants will melt into the batter and give you flavor without changing the texture. This year I used half currants and half golden raisins, and the zest and juice option for my citrus – it was what I had, and it was good.

Once the spices and fruits are added in, you’ll want to add white (unbleached, of course) flour to the dough, slowly, until the dough is workable but still soft and definitely not dry. You don’t want it as wet as a baguette dough, for example, because you’ll need to shape it into little rolls and it’ll have to hold that shape, but you don’t want it so dry that the end result is also dry and dense. This is the part of bread making that is hard to precisely describe without showing you in person! And to give you an idea of how variable it can be, the recipe I’ve adapted calls for about 2 cups more flour than I’m ever able to add to my dough – I live in a really dry climate, and it affects my yeast bread significantly, since most recipes have been tested and created in more humid places.

Anyway, when you’ve gotten the dough to your liking, you’ll want to knead it until it starts to look smooth and elastic, and stretches when you pull on it instead of breaking away in chunks. I have a mixer with a dough hook that I let do the kneading for me, typically, because it gives me more consistent results in less time, but there is something very satisfying and cathartic about doing it by hand from time to time, so don’t let the absence of a mixer stop you! This kneaded dough will then need to rise in a large bowl, coated with either melted butter or oil to keep the dough from sticking. Just like for the sponge, this bowl will need to be covered loosely and allowed to rest somewhere cozy until it has about doubled in size, which will probably be about an hour but will depend a lot on the health and happiness of your yeast.

Finally, at this point, you get to shape your little buns! I like a roll about the size of a typical dinner roll or average muffin, a piece of dough that comfortably fits in the palm of my hand and is easy to shape; this gets me about 32-36 rolls. Mary Gubser recommends making them with pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, resulting in 84 or so tiny little two-bite rolls, but I honestly quiver at the though of drawing crosses over that many tiny buns. Also, I never really want fewer than one hot cross bun anyway, so I’d end up eating 3 or 4 little ones at once…

These newly shaped rolls should sit on parchment paper or a buttered baking sheet, under a light towel, for about 45 minutes to let them rise one more time before baking, during which time you can preheat the oven to 375 F. The rolls will only take about 12-15 minutes to bake, even at the larger size, and should be golden on both top and bottom, light to the touch but not too squishy.

To cross them, after they’ve cooled, make a basic glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar to get to a spreadable consistency, pipe with a pastry bag/ziploc bag with the corner cut off, and let sit to harden. I usually only cross part of the batch because they’re easier to store unglazed, and I can glaze the rest of the buns the next day if I need to or just eat them unadorned, which is still very tasty if not quite as edifying and delicious.

Enjoy!

Posted in musings

new life through a crown of thorns

Through the crown of thorns comes beauty and new life.

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(I found this at the park this morning – it was like a reminder from God, on this day of waiting and held breath between the crucifixion and resurrection, of both the pain and the beauty bound together in Christ’s sacrifice.)

Posted in musings

Holy Week in the midst of everyday life

Holy Week.

When the profound realities of the liturgical year – the past that comes again, ever new, with each turn of the calendar – should be coming alive in our hearts and minds.

When the passion and suffering of our Lord should be the meditation of our hearts and the prayer on our lips.

When we remember the gift of His body and blood, in the once-for-all-time sacrifice of Friday’s cross and in the ceremonial establishment of the Eucharist at Thursday’s Passover meal.

When the truths that fade away from us so easily – the forgiveness God offers, the love He extends, the high cost of His grace, the mercy that seasons His justice, and the pathway to unity that He creates – should be standing out to us in sharp relief.

And yet, in Holy Week, the world still keeps spinning and life still keeps going on as it always does.

In Arizona, we held presidential primaries on the Tuesday of Holy Week this year, distracting ourselves from the King of the Universe in our quest to choose a new president to lead us to greatness. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the crowds acclaiming Jesus on Palm Sunday, sure that He would be the Messiah to rescue them from Roman oppression, only to turn on Him a few days later when they realized that His was a heavenly kingdom. A heavenly kingdom doesn’t fix our problems here and now, like Trump and Sanders and Cruz and Clinton all promise to do in their various personal styles – so the heavenly kingdom can wait, right, while we focus on cleaning up the issues we’ve got going on right now? (Well, no, actually, that heavenly kingdom should always come first, and should inform our approach to the temporal problems we’re facing.)

In Brussels, another terrorist attack left the city (and Europe) reeling and devastated, unsure of the best way to respond to danger without losing freedom and integrity. With friends and family killed or injured, people are dealing with a sea of sorrow and, most likely, anger and a desire for justice. Does God offer that justice and revenge this week? We see Jesus’s grace and forgiveness extended even to those who murdered Him, and we cringe because such an act is too great for us, in the raw pain of our grief and outrage. He says, watch, I have suffered for you, and I suffer with you – and we say, go somewhere else with Your presence and Your comfort, and let me find another who will promise me the security and vengeance my heart craves.

People still go to work, performing the same tasks and interacting with the same coworkers as on every other day of the year. Families still deal with bedtime battles, dirty diapers, potty learning, sicknesses, homework, friendship drama, housecleaning, and marital stress. The daily commute, the daily chores, the daily routines are all the same.

And into the middle of everyday, normal life, Christ comes.

With the power of His sorrowful passion, He comes. The details of Jesus’s suffering on the cross make us uncomfortable and uneasy, but in Holy Week we are almost forced to think about them.

Let these daily routines be baptized in Me, He says. Let your great worries and great sufferings find solace in Me; come drink of peace and rest. My suffering has purchased for you redemption – that all the banalities and all the piercing sorrows of life, alike, might be worked into new life, and beauty, and purpose.