Friday, April 23, 2010

Touching Hearts, Changing Lives.

Last night was the closing program for HeartLIFE, not just for the year, but in addition the program is coming to an end (in its current form, anyway).   It was a bittersweet evening!  I've been working with HeartLIFE for seven years and it has been a joy and delight, and a growing experience in so many ways.

HeartLIFE is a mentoring program for girls which was developed and written by my friend Denise.  Its purpose is to help girls grow to be Godly women, teaching them spiritual lessons and many life skills along the way.  A typical evening would consist of one-on-one time with teachers, a spiritual lesson, and a skill time. 

In the spiritual lessons, girls were taught truth from the Bible, encouraged to begin a relationship with Christ or grow stronger in Christ if they already know Him.  Often teachers would help girls develop Bible reading and study plans, and encourage them to memorize verses and keep journals - all in the interest of making their relationship with God something vibrant and growing.  

Various crafts and skills are taught throughout the year, not just for the sake of the craft, but to lay a foundation and then build on it.  An effort is made to teach some of the arts which are somewhat dying out, as well as helping them develop their skills in more 'popular' crafts; for example girls learn how to knit, crochet, and weave a basket, but they also get an opportunity scrapbook, paint,  cook and bake.  Some classes would put on a Tea or Shower, for another class or for mothers or for a pregnant teacher. In doing this, they learned how to inexpensively and creatively decorate and set tables, how to plan a menu and prepare the food, and how to serve their guests.

When a girl reached 11th grade, she had the option of becoming a Titus Teen, which means she was a helper in a class.  This gave her an opportunity to put into practice what she had been learning herself, as she worked with the girls, got to know them, taught them and loved them.

I love that in HeartLIFE a girl learns that it's okay for her to want to be a girl, growing into a woman.  So much of what our daughters hear from the culture around them is that girls and boys are not really different, and that they should prefer the same things that boys prefer. Nothing could be further from the truth.  God specifically created girls and boys with different interests and strengths, and in HeartLIFE we celebrate the difference and encourage girls to develop womanly skills which will benefit her all through her life.

One of the aspects of HeartLIFE that I have loved is that in practice, it has not just been about women mentoring girls.  Rather, the women themselves have been mentored and encouraged by each other and, at times, ministered to by the love and concern of the girls in their classes.  Relationships were built that were rewarding and meaningful.  I believe that the teachers will miss the monthly Leaders' meetings as well as the weekly meetings with the girls...I know I will!

HeartLIFE was not an easy ministry to carry out.   It required much commitment and time from the coordinator(s), teachers and helpers ... but it was the most worthwhile ministry with which I've ever been involved.  I'm so thankful for my friend's  obedient spirit and servant heart in following the Lord's leading in developing and overseeing this ministry for so many years.  Through it, she and many others have indeed been "touching hearts, changing lives".

Thursday, April 22, 2010

About Language Learning

I've been learning Italian.

It started when Jacob was in the 9th grade, because I told him he had to learn a foreign language.  His first choice was Danish (at the time his life's goal was still to work for the Lego company, which is headquartered in Denmark). I told him I wasn't all that interested in learning Danish and so he chose Italian, which was fine with me because I had been wanting to learn it anyway.

We studied it for about a year and a half, and then he asked if we could switch to German; his reasoning was that if he was going to have to learn a foreign language, he'd prefer it to be a Germanic language, since he already knows a Germanic language (English).  I informed him that if he was going to learn a Germanic language it would be Dutch, because that would make my life infinitely less complicated! I used to speak German fairly well but that was a long time ago.

So this year he's been studying Dutch and the Italian books have been sitting, unused, unloved, on the bookcase.  But a couple of months  ago I decided I really did want to continue to learn some of that language and so I dusted them off and started up again.  I recently read a book called How To Learn Any Language by Barry Farber, which was encouraging on two fronts: a) I've been doing some things RIGHT in my approach to teaching Jacob language, and b) it had some good suggestions in it.

So I'm spending some time every day with my Italian book and my vocabulary cards.  Since I'm hanging around the house for Jacob's sake but not really needed by him for much of the day, it's a good use of my time and I'm having a lot of fun with it!  I suspect it's also a good mental exercise for my Failing Brain.

Oh, and I highly recommend Pimsleur language CD's.  They are great.  The library has a number of them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Strawberries and Chocolate

Strawberries were very cheap this week, so I bought three pounds...and I decided to do something with them sooner rather than later, thereby reducing the chances that I'd end up with some really gunky-looking strawberries.  Sadly, I have been known to be that delinquent on occasion.  And what goes better with strawberries than chocolate?  Furthermore, the only thing that complements chocolate better, I would argue, would be raspberries!  But alas, raspberries are barely affordable right now so this is a pointless discussion.  Let's stick to strawberries.

So I googled "strawberry chocolate recipes" and I found the following.  I ended up adapting it because I had no whipped cream (my family would argue I adapted it because I'm fundamentally incapable of following a recipe to the letter), so I'm including both the original recipe and my adaptation of it.

Strawberry Chocolate Meringue

3 egg whites
1/4 t cream of tartar
1 t vanilla
1 c sugar

It is best to separate the eggs and then let the whites sit until they are at room temperature (they will whip up to more volume) but if you don't have time, please don't let that little detail prevent you from forging ahead anyway.  And be sure to put those yolks in a little bowl in the refrigerator and use them to make a yellow cake, or some really great scrambled eggs (throw in a whole one with the yolks), or use them in cookies, or pancakes, get the idea.

Preheat oven to 300.

Add the cream of tartar and vanilla to the whites and beat till they are foamy. Add sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, and beat well, till mixture is stiff and glossy and the sugar is no longer grainy (rub a bit of meringue between your fingers to determine this).

Spread meringue on a cookie sheet that has a piece of parchment paper on it, and shape it into a nine-inch circle, building up the sides a bit so you have a nice, shallow bowl shape.

Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes.  Turn off oven and let meringue rest there for another hour.  Remove and cool (in freezer, if you need it to happen quick).

Here is the recipe on-line:
3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c cocoa
2 T milk
1/2 t vanilla
1 c whipping cream, whipped
Blend cheese, sugar, cocoa, milk and vanilla.  Fold in whipped cream and spread this mixture on the meringue.

Here is what I did:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c cocoa
2-3 T yogurt
1/2 t vanilla
Blend all ingredients and spread on meringue.  I only ended up using about half of this mixture.

Next, chop up some strawberries, you will need about 2 cups.  Spread them across the chocolate mixture.

In a small saucepan, combine
1/3 c chocolate chips
1 t shortening
over low heat, melt till smooth (stir all the while).  Drizzle over the strawberries and the edges of the meringue.

Here is the finished product: was this good!  It was so popular that I decided to make more today, seeing as how I still had half of that chocolate mixture left over, plenty of eggs, and lots of strawberries.  This time I made individual meringues, about 11 of them.  They take less time to bake - maybe 20 minutes or so, but other than that, proceed just as for the large meringue.  Here is what they look like:

You need to make this soon.  Trust me.  And if you live near a Meijer store, strawberries are only a dollar a pound this week.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Growing Through Tragedy

The last few weeks have been difficult ones for our family.  A week before Good Friday, Terry's 30-year-old nephew was killed in a car accident.  Terry flew to California the following Monday to be with his family for six days while I kept the home front going.

As I grieved during that week,  particularly for Terry's sister and mother, I was so blessed by the surety of God's presence and working in all of our lives.  I was amazed at how frequently, during my morning Bible Study and my evening Bible Reading, the Scriptures I "happened" to be reading gave specific comfort for the rough times we were enduring.  I read verses like these:

You number my wanderings, 
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?
Ps. 56:8

The righteous cry out and the Lord hears
Ad delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart.
Ps. 34:17-18

In God (I will praise His Word)
In the Lord (I will praise His Word)
In God I have put my trust.
I will not be afraid. 
What can man do to me?
Ps 56:10-11

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens and Your truth to the clouds.
Be exalted above the Heavens, O God, 
Let Your glory be above the earth.
Ps. 57:9-11

That last one was a good reminder to me that even in our deepest griefs, we need to remember that God is STILL God.  We can't possibly begin to imagine what could be the "good" in this tragedy...but we aren't God.  It is hard, right now, for us to see how God can bring anything good out of it...but we aren't God.  It seems totally unfair to us and makes us downright mad...but we aren't God.  He is the Creator; we the created.  It is for us to thank Him in all situations (perhaps not FOR all situations, but IN them) and to praise and exalt Him, regardless.

It has been a difficult, devastating time and I hate that this is now part of our family history.  But I'm so thankful that we do have our faith in God to help us make any sense of it, to give us strength, and to give us HOPE...we will see Dale again, and what a glorious meeting that will be!

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home