Sunday, March 10, 2019

See The Conqueror

Several of you have asked if we have support.

We do. We feel supported in both practical ways and through prayers and encouragement.

I'll give this week as an example. We have revival meetings at our church this week. My family set up a schedule (without me asking) for someone to stay with Ed each evening so the rest of us could attend church.

Several people brought meals this week, in fact, we were given so many meals that some had to be frozen. Since November, my freezer has never run out of meals. For months I have cooked only when I felt like it. If I feel busy or Ed had a appointment, I go to the freezer and decide if I'm hungry for soup, lasagna, or chicken/rice casserole. Meals might be the way that Mennonites show love best. For a  mom going through a stressful time, having meals prepared is a huge blessing.

Sometimes I feel almost guilty. I have friends who are going through difficult times. They need support as much as I do, maybe more. But since their needs are quieter, they are not the getting meals, cards, and gifts of cash that we are.

I'm glad not everyone has bold needs like a husband with brain cancer. But I hope that I can be one who supports others who have pain that no one talks about at prayer meeting.

This week our family's needs felt large. Since Ed has been declining, his doctor decided to push up his MRI. Because of a cancellation, we were able to get his MRI quickly. The MRI showed that Ed's tumor is now growing in a new area of his brain.

I wasn't shocked; Ed's symptoms had to be caused by something. But I had held onto hope that there would be a different cause. Something easily fixable. Now that hope is gone.

This is the third time we've received news of tumor progression. In some ways it gets harder each time since Ed's options for treatment are dwindling. Glioblastoma tends to adapt and morph into new forms. Ed's specific form of GBM is super aggressive. We are so thankful that treatment has given Ed more time than the average, but we sure wish the statistics were not stacked against him.

Which is why I was grateful for the services this week. Revival week is always busy, and because of appointments we were not able to go every night. But each of the services were a blessing. To hear the Word of God, to hear the Truth applied to our everyday lives, and to be reminded of Hope in Jesus is soul strengthening.

I find myself being drawn to hymns that remind me of God's glory. The first night we sang See The Conqueror Mounts in Triumph. These words tell of Christ's power over sin and the grave.

See the Conqueror Mounts In Triumph

By Christopher Wordsworth
Hymns of the Church #260

See, the Conqueror mounts in triumph; See the King in royal state,
Riding on the clouds, His chariot, To His heavenly palace gate.
Hark! the choirs of angel voices Joyful alleluias sing,
And the portals high are lifted To receive their heavenly King.

Who is this that comes in glory, With the trump of jubilee?
Lord of battles, God of armies, He has gained the victory.
He who on the cross did suffer, He who from the grave arose,
He has vanquished sin and Satan, He by death has spoiled His foes.

He has raised our human nature In the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places, There with Him in glory stand:
Jesus reigns, adored by angels; Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in Thine ascension We by faith behold our own.

Glory be to God the Father, glory be to God the Son,
Dying, risen, ascending for us, Who the heavenly realm has won;
Glory to the Holy Spirit, To one God in persons Three;
Glory both in earth and heaven, Glory, endless glory, be.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

No Separation

Despite my fear of sounding cliche, I'll say that I can hardly believe we are in March already. It doesn't feel much like spring with the snow that has been falling the past week. I appreciate the beauty, but I long for daffodils.

Beginning a new month makes me do the math. It will soon be two years since Ed was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. It is almost exactly one year since Ed's second brain surgery and our optimism of new treatment options. Four months have passed since Ed was doing so poorly last November. Our wonderful Christmas is now over two months past. 

Right now, our days are hard. Ed cognitive function continues to decline. Every week he is more tired, more confused, and more unbalanced. Every-day life and Ed's care take more time and energy as we try to keep him safe. 

The children and I try to include Ed in our family life. He can't play a game with the older children, but he can toss a ball to the younger ones. He can't read stories to the children, but he enjoys listening to their schoolwork. He can still enjoy singing and laughing around the table. 

We are asked often why Ed is feeling worse. We don't know. It could be that his tumor is growing and putting pressure on his brain. (I'm dreading his next MRI.)  Maybe he is experiencing side affects from radiation or having affects from his medication changes. His doctors and therapists are trying to figure out ways to help him feel better. 

Even though Ed is doing worse, I'm doing better emotionally than last November. This may be because I've gotten rid of some other life stress, but it also may be that I'm more emotionally prepared and accepting of Ed's health decline. 

Or maybe it is simply that so many of you are praying for us. I feel so humbled by your love when I get an email that one of you woke up at 4 a.m. and prayed for me. You all have sent gifts, casseroles, cards, and so much love. 

Last week this Blessing Box appeared at my door - a whole collection of handmade body products and a packet of verse cards.

I know how easy it is to pray for someone for a while, but when a situation lasts for months and years, other prayer requests push to the front of my mind. Thank you for still remembering us.

Unlike last fall when I could barely concentrate beyond the next minute and meals felt burdensome, I've been flipping through cooking magazines and trying new recipes. It is a joy to awaken this side of me again.

I've also tackled some home projects like repainting our kitchen cabinets. They are badly showing the years of wear. My boys tore out an awkward corner of the cabinets, and my dad helped build a new shelf and doors to make the space more usable. Yesterday my sister spent a couple hours helping clean and paint the doors and already the kitchen looks so much brighter.

I don't usually enjoy podcasts unless they are super-edited since I weary of the conversational pauses. I'd rather just read a well-edited book or skim a blog post for information. But since I have more time on the road, I've started listening to Dana White's podcast  "A Slob Come Clean." My house hasn't looked too bad in the stress of the last months, thanks to habits and my children's help. But I feel like the house is starting to ravel around the edges. Dana White's perspective on de-cluttering and cleaning has been the inspiration I've needed.

But sometimes worry that I'm throwing myself into projects - de-cluttering, new recipes, fun books, editing projects - to avoid thinking. It probably is part of my coping strategy - focus on what I can change since what I want to change, I can't. But I don't want to deny my present circumstances in an unhealthy way.

Sometimes I envy Ed's complete peace. From the very first, he had confidence that whether in life or death, sickness or health, God was caring for us and all would be well. It may be a gift from God that his cognitive decline means that it doesn't bother him that he needs so much help. I'm glad that he just expects life to go on, the taxes to get paid, the children to be cared for, without his input. On the days when the burden feels heavy, I remember verses like these.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 37-39

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Keto Lemon Meringue Custard

I've experimented with a lot of keto recipes. I found that baked recipes such as cake and cookies are difficult to get a good texture. But custards and puddings are very easy to make for a keto diet which is very high in fat and low in carbs.

This recipe has been a favorite. You could pour the custard into a low-carb pie crust for pie, but I just serve it as custard. It is pretty enough to serve to guests.

Keto Lemon Meringue Custard

1/2 tsp stevia (or 1 T Truvia)
1/2 tsp  xanthan gum (optional)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 T lemon juice
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp lemon extract

2 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp stevia
1/8 tsp vanilla

For custard: in saucepan combine stevia, xanthan gum (if using), salt, and lemon juice. Whisk in cream. Combine well. Whisk in egg yolks. Cook on medium heat, stirring often. When mixture simmers, remove from heat and add extract. Pour into four 4-oz ramekins or other oven-safe serving dish. (I use 1-cup Pyrex dishes.)

Immediately prepare meringue. In small bowl, whip egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add stevia and vanilla and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon meringue over each custard pushing to the edge to seal.

Place custards in oven a few inches under broiler and broil at high heat for 30-60 seconds until just beginning to brown on tips of meringue.  Cool. Serve.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Keto Chocolate Custard

Ed isn't strictly following his keto diet anymore. After a year and a half of a radical diet, he wanted a little more flexibility. But I still cook a lot of keto food for him.

This recipe is one of his favorites. I adapted this recipe from my mother-in-law's chocolate pie that we enjoy every New Year's Day. It does contain raw eggs.

Keto Chocolate Custard

1 1/2 T cocoa
2 1/2 T coconut oil
1 T heavy whipping cream
2 eggs, divided
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp pure powered stevia (could use Truvia or other sweetener to taste)

Melt coconut oil and mix cocoa and whipping cream. Stir in egg yolks well. Add vanilla and stevia and mix well. In separate bowl beat egg whites until stiff. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture. Pour into bowl and chill. Serve with whipped cream and cocao nibs.

I place this into two small glass 1-cup bowls. The servings are small but rich.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bookmarks - Black History Biographies Picture Books

February is Black History Month. Here are some beautifully illustrated biographies for elementary students that will introduce them to the dreams and accomplishments of black men and women.

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by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Spending his entire life as a slave in South Carolina, this artist carved poetry into his clay pots. Vivid paintings and strong writing share his story.

by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier
In the years before the Civil War, a young slave led tourists into the tunnels of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. This collage-style picture book imagines what he would tell us if we could visit his tour today.

written and illustrated by Karen Barbour
What was it like to grow up in Louisiana nearly a hundred years ago? Mr. Williams tells the story of his life combined with folk-style paintings.

by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, author, and publisher of the first almanac by a black man, Benjamin Banneker took a stand against slavery by writing a letter to Thomas Jefferson. Woodcuts help tell his remarkable story.

by Lousie Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger, illustrated by Teresa Flavin
Born in rural Texas in 1892, Bessie loved numbers and was determined to succeed. She became the first African-American to earn a pilot's license.

by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
As a boy Arturo asked why is there no black heroes in our history book? That question led him on a lifelong quest to collect books and art on the achievements of the African people. Rich oil paintings tell the story of his quest and discoveries.

by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
When Lewis and Clark set out in their boats to explore the west, a slave traveled with them. This beautifully illustrated story allows York to share his own story of adventure and his dreams of freedom.

by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema
Shaka was just a small boy when he was banished from his Zulu clan. But as he grew, his skill as a warrior and a leader turned him into the general of the strongest army in Africa. Learn about this South African king from the early 1800’s. Note: Includes some violent details.

by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter
Jim Key could read, spell, and do math – and he was a horse. This sickly colt and a patient horse doctor teamed up to stun the world with their amazing demonstration of horse skills. A remarkable true story of a nearly forgotten man and horse.

written and illustrated by Don Tate
Born a slave but determined to read and write, George found creative ways to share his poetry. Like the other books in this list, this is an inspiring tale of determination and talent.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Traveling South but Not Out of God's Care

Last week we braved a trip south. The children have been begging to visit their cousins in North Carolina. I've never driven that far, and Ed has not been doing as well the past weeks. His fatigue and lack of focus are increasing and make every-day life challenging. Ed had always planned our trips, and I went along for the ride. But this is just one more thing that I had to tackle. With the help of the children, the trip went far better than I expected.

On the way to Ed's sister's house, we stopped at the Manasses Battlefield in Virginia. We had just listened to the excellent book, Bull Run by Paul Fleischman. This book tells the story of the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manasses) from the viewpoint of many different characters such as a slave, captain, doctor, fife player, and more. The audio was well-done; each character was read by a different reader which made it more memorable. The book does not glorify war and made our short visit to the battlefield much more profitable.

We spent the rest of the weekend just hanging out at Jean's house. We always have so much fun there. We did craft projects, 

shelled pecans,

cleared brush,

braved a huge rope swing, and spent hours playing games and talking.

Some of you long-time readers have asked how Jean and her family are doing since her husband's death seven years ago. They are all doing very well. Jean and her girls have a bakery business and have fixed up an adorable bus to travel to farmer's markets. Her sons are busy with jobs and school.

Seeing God's care for Jean's family has given me hope for my own family. I watch them and see that the worse can happen and families can go on and learn to live and laugh again.

When my brother Brad found out we were going to North Carolina for the weekend, he asked if we'd consider visiting them before heading home. Brad and his family are planning to spend seven weeks working with Christian Disaster Service (CDS). They are helping rebuild homes that were damaged by Hurricane Florence in September. 

So on Monday morning, while it snowed at home in Pennsylvania, we traveled several hours further south. A large blueberry farm offered their migrant housing to the volunteers. Set in a grove of tall pines on the edge of the blueberry fields, it was pretty setting. The housing was rustic, but we just imagined we were camping.

CDS encourages families to serve together. I loved seeing sons work with their fathers. Of course it was terribly hard to see Ed so tired and listless. In large groups and unfamiliar surroundings, Ed's brain fog is even worse than usual. A year ago he would have loved strapping on a tool belt and jumping into the work. 

But my boys were able to work with their uncle for two days helping to carry trash, tear out old insulation, and put on a new roof. 

The ladies and girls cleaned to prepare for more volunteers arriving next week. 

Busy men and many children also made endless laundry.

My favorite part of our stay was working in the kitchen trailer. We ladies discussed homeschooling, recipes, and church life while making mounds of food and washing dishes.

The children made new friends, 

and played games with cousins. 

Without many toys, the children used creativity. Some of the girls made a pinata.

The boys rolled each other in an old barrel. 

The last evening we were there, the home owners of one of the houses the group was rebuilding shared their story with us. They spoke of God's protection on their lives as they fled the hurricane and thanked God for His blessings even after losing all their earthly belongings. I hope we were able to encourage them as much as they blessed us.

As a mom, I don't expect much relaxation on a vacation, but this trip was perhaps the most relaxed I've been in months, maybe years. My children were happy and busy all day long. I had no responsibilities for meals though I pitched in when I could. We had some rough spots, like the night one of my girls got sick, and I constantly worried about Ed, hoping he wouldn't get confused and wander away or fall.  

Maybe it was because my expectations were so low. Maybe it is a sign that my normal life is stressful. Maybe it was the prayers of friends and family. Whatever the reason, I arrived home feeling refreshed.

We don't deserve God's blessing, we don't always get the blessings we ask for, but we always have blessings to thank God for.

For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. Psalms 100:5

Monday, February 4, 2019

Off the Shelf -Shiloh Series

I'm sure my fellow book-lovers know the joy of finding a whole new-to-you book series.

I picked up the first book in the Shiloh series at a used book store simply because it had the Newberry  Medal sticker on the front. It sat on my shelf for a couple years until I needed another family read-aloud and pulled it off the shelf.

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Last fall we had read a number of books set in different parts of the world (the topic of another post), and when I read the first page of Shiloh I stopped and asked my children, "What do you know about this book setting already." They guessed correctly that Shiloh was narrated by a boy who lived in the country. We soon learn that Marty loves his West Virginia home even if no has ever heard for Friendly, West Virginia.

Shiloh is the first of a four-book series. Named for the dog that Marty finds on his Sunday afternoon walk, Shiloh tells the story of Marty's fight to save this dog from his owner, Judd Travers, who beats and starves his dogs. Marty will do about anything to save Shiloh from Judd.

In the second book, Shiloh Season, Marty now owns Shiloh, but he can't quit worrying that Judd will find a way to take Shiloh. With Judd drinking heavily and hunting season coming, Marty fears that Shiloh isn't safe.

In Saving Shiloh, Marty's parents think that Judd deserves a second chance, but Judd seems to attract trouble and the neighbors are quick to blame Judd for everything from burglary to murder. Is it possible for Judd to become a hero?

The series ends with Shiloh Christmas. We listened to this book on audio, which enhanced our pleasure in the book. I was a little worried about this book since the preacher is depicted in a bad light, but the conclusion wrapped up in a satisfying manner.

All these books are good for family conversation, but, this one, with its discussion on religion which may differ from your view, I think is important to discuss with your children.

I haven't read a series to my children that I've enjoyed quite as much as the Shiloh series. I highly recommend them if you want books that make even adults consider how they relate to others. Though these books are not necessarily "Christian," and I don't always agree with the characters' choices, I found them a valuable discussion starter. Plus they were warm-hearted stories that my children begged for "just one more chapter."

Have you found any great "new-to-you" books recently?


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