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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thankful for the Cross

My dear friends... believe it or not, I started writing this post last week. Its been a really overwhelming time for me. I am struggling to balance it all and sacrificing time with the Lord as well as time to write. Needless to say this has me pretty upset. Nevertheless, I am here and ready to count down my blessings.. so many... if I just look past the human and see with my spiritual eyes!

Last week, on the 14th of September,  the Catholic Church celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is a day when we venerate the cross upon which our Lord died and reflect on His loving sacrifice for us. It also happened to be my birthday. I have often wondered at the 'co-incidence'  (Remember friends, I stopped believing in co-incidences a long time ago!) of my being born on this feast day as well as having grown up in a suburban area called Santa Cruz... spanish for Holy Cross.

The church in which I was confirmed and married is called the Church of the Holy Cross! Hmm.. I wonder if God was preparing me from my early years to be a witness for Him and to carry my burdens for love of Him. Indeed, even as I reflect on 44 years worth of blessings and grace, I see how His hand has always been cradling me. I see how His love has formed and shaped me.

I grieve for those times when I was rebellious or disobedient to Him. I wish that I had loved him the way I ought to from very young. Nevertheless, He never leaves us to our folly. He chases after us and the Cross is a sign of that Love and Faithfulness that He bears.

Today, as I ponder these things, I want to ask you my friends.. do we always carry our burdens for love of Him, who carries ours?

Today, I'm thankful for the Cross.. my debt and yours paid in full.

I'm thankful for the way God never stops loving us and chasing after us. I'm thankful for His presence and influence all my life. I'm thankful for each blessing, big and small...

For grace to get through the tough times
For the strength that only  He can  provide
For HOPE that springs eternal
For the blessing of family
For birthday blessings
For roses from my husband
For a daughter's thoughtfulness
For another daughter's willingness
For blessed memories
For the blessing of friends
For powerful testimonies
For the ways He shows me His awesomeness!
For cuddling with my youngest and savouring some quiet time
For the doors God is opening in my 18 year old's life .. MAY HE BE PRAISED!
For, FINALLY.. getting some time online to write..THANK YOU LORD!
For the knowledge that I have strong shoulders to lean on
For the grace of forgiveness

Our God is awesome and I thank Him that in the midst of this crazy, seriously busy and stressful time of adjustment for me and my youngest daughter, I know that He understands. The burden of the crosses I carry is but a sliver of the one He carries for me.

Be blessed my friends as you count down your own blessings today and always... let us always remember the debt that He has paid!

God's Awesomeness Revealed

I am late for linking up with the Good Morning Girls for Women in the Word Wednesday, but I just HAD to write this post. We are studying the book of 1 John for the Fall Bible Study.

I don’t believe in coincidences. When my friend Kristin posted this article, I had not even cracked open the book of 1 John as yet.  I read her post on Tuesday morning and on Tuesday afternoon, as I was sitting in the car waiting for my daughter’s school to let out, I began reading my bible study.

Amazingly, these words leapt out at me:

Declaring x 2

1 John 1:1 “Something which has existed since the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have touched with our own hands, the Word of Life – this is our theme."  - New Jerusalem Bible

This verse tells us that the God, who has always existed,  was manifested in Jesus… the Word incarnate, that He might be seen and touched and heard.. that we might believe.

Kristin’s testimony had resounded in my heart and it ties in with this study for me. What I’ve learned this week is that we have a responsibility to share these stories with others, to declare the ways in which God has revealed Himself to us, so that others may build their own faith in Him!

1 John 1:2 “That life was made visible, we saw it and are giving our testimony, declaring to you the eternal life, which was present to the Father and has been revealed to us”

The truth is that God uses our faith in Him to work miracles every day. Just as the disciples were witnesses  by their testimonies of all that they saw and heard and touched and felt so that millions of people, through thousands of years, would have faith… so must we testify and make visible to others His presence.

What ways have you experienced the awesomeness of God? 

Were they huge… like Kristin’s? Some of mine were… like seeing my dying father reach out and smile as if some beautiful Heavenly being had come to take him home. There was also the time I had that car accident I mentioned here.

Some were not so huge, but awesome just the same… like laying hands on my ill,  young daughter in the middle of the night and praying for God to stop the awful, wracking cough that was keeping us both up. He was faithful to hear my prayer that night!

1 John 1:3 "We are declaring to you what we have seen and heard so that you too may share in our life. Our life is shared with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ."

God uses testimonies like Kristin’s to build His kingdom. I invite you to hop over to her blog, Ponderings  and see what awesome fruit is being yielded by her obedience to Him. I promise you, you will be blessed!

Would you like to share a story on how you felt God's awesomeness in your own life? I'd be honoured and blessed to hear it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Its Time to Start Thinking of Christmas Again?

When I signed on to take part in this:

it seemed like a really fun thing to do.., something different. I didn't realise how busy a season this was going to be in my life, but I have made a commitment!

Ladies, we are counting down 100 Days until Christmas!

I'm a little bit late in the starting but feel free to click on the link above and check out what the other, more organised, ladies have to offer.. its beautiful! Friday was Day 100, there was a surprise linky party. When I first started writing this on Saturday we were only two days into this countdown. We are now, as of my publishing at Day 95 and you can visit Tricia at Recipe Roundup to see what lovely things were done in between. . Why don't you consider joining in the fun.. there are Christmas recipes, Christmas decor, Christmas craft.. all things Christmas.

You think its too early to start thinking about Christmas? I assure you.. its not. I usually start buying presents around this time to lay up so that it doesn't cost me a lot all at once, plus there are usually sales at this time of year as everyone starts wanting to clear stock for Christmas items.

If you are on a tight budget, like me, you might want to consider making Christmas presents. Some are not all that hard to do if you have the time. Over the years I've put together a few things. Here are just  some ideas to give you a little jumpstart.

Baskets with items that have a theme related to a particular person's interests. For e.g, the lady who loves the kitchen could get some new kitchen towels, apron, oven mitts or recipe cards with some of the ingredients for a recipe or two that she complimented you on. Pretty glass jars that you can, if you have the time and some talent, label by painting or writing on in script.

Of course, there is the whole gamut of gifts that you can put in a jar. Check out some great ideas here .

If you have an artist in the family.. even a budding one.. you could get them to paint a pretty picture of something in a theme you know the recipient would like. My own, almost 15 year old daughter, painted me a picture for my birthday this year. Its a beach scene that I absolutely love.  I framed it and hung it on the wall.. it may be amateur but it was from her heart.. so precious!

For the younger children, there's macaroni art, shell art.. they can simply glue together a frame for a picture. You can also paint plain clay plant  pots and add a packet of seed, some gardener gloves or spade.

A great idea for teachers is to trace your little one's hand on construction paper which you can decorate with the words 'Thank you for helping me to bloom' or something similar. Stick it onto a wooden skewer or chopstick and place in the pot of an inexpensive plant or flower.

If you are handy with a needle (or sewing machine) you can whip up some cloth placemats, napkins or even small throw pillows in a Christmas theme by buying inexpensive plaid or Christmas coloured materials. This tutorial shows how to make placemats with a no-sew method as well. I've sewed up simple squares and stuffed them with batting (I'm not very experienced in the sewing arena yet) and got some pretty acceptable looking throw pillows but you can see a good tutorial here that shows how to add a trim as well.

My daughter has decoupaged unusual looking bottles and filled them with handmade paper flowers to match the colour scheme in a particular room. This can be a nice idea for a family member or close friend. We've used tissue paper, coffee filters and even paper towels which were dyed and even tie-dyed once! Click here for some instructions on how to make some awesome paper flowers. As for decoupage, if you are unfamiliar with it, check this out. You an also decoupage any box or container to make it come alive and fill it with whatever the person you are giving it to might like. An inexpensive glass vase or jar would work just as well.

My daughter recently began braiding friendship bracelets out of embroidery thread. They are beautiful and I've told her they would make great Christmas gifts for her friends. You can see how to do this here. There are so many great ideas on Youtube! My head is spinning, maybe you can figure it out. You an also make these in beads. If you have teenaged daughters they might enjoy making this craft for their friends or cousins.

The gift I give to my neighbours and a few friends is my original Christmas Bread.. the recipe for which I will be sharing as part of the 100 Days to Christmas Countdown. My cousin's wife, who has also been on a restricted budget,  gives out homemade dundee cakes which she decorates beautifully. Most people give cookies as gifts, but you can be more original if you find a recipe that is fairly inexpensive to make but original.
    There are so many great ideas for gift-making and giving out there. These are but a few. I hope you will come back and join us for some more fun in the countdown to Christmas.. I'm sure you'll find something to inspire you.


      Today I link up with Time Warp Wife to share a recipe that is very popular in my country. I would also like to direct you to a friend who is looking for some help with recipes and ideas to bulk up meals on a tiny budget. You can visit April at My Abundant Life. and share any tips you have with her.

      This dish can be made with either chicken or beef. (I've even used pork.)  Traditionally, we use bone-in chicken, usually a whole chicken cut up into small pieces. This recipe is different in each home, handed down to generation after generation who modify it to suit their own tastes.  There are so many variations. My mother never added pumpkin and there were times she would put in chopped carrots and potatoes instead of peas if we didn't have any. The coconut milk is also optional. We cook it in a cast-iron pot with a lid and it is a versatile and filling meal, usually served with a salad or coleslaw and sliced avocado (when in season) or some yummy fried plantain.

      Photo Credit : The Naparima Girls' Cookbook

      4 cups raw white rice
      2 cups coconut milk 
      (most people put equal parts coconut milk to water.. I don't for health reasons)
      6 cups water
      1 large onion, chopped
      2 seasoning  peppers, chopped
      2-3 blades of chadon beni, chopped
      2  sprigs of thyme
      1 cup pumpkin, cut into small pieces
      1 can of pigeon peas or  2 cups cooked
      (if unavailable, you can use any other firm pea or bean)
      chicken or beef cut up into small pieces
      (seasoned with lime, salt, garlic, black pepper to taste and 1 Tbs ketchup)
      2 Tbs brown or white sugar

      Traditionally a heavy iron pot is put to heat up at a moderately high temperature and about  1 Tbs oil is added (I omit the oil to make it a little healthier). When the pot is hot enough, add the sugar, it will begin to caramelize. When it is bubbling, stir it, watching it carefully so it doesn't burn. When it is a nice rich colour add your meat, reserving the marinade. Quickly, using a large spoon with a long handle, better known as a pot spoon here, stir the meat, turning it to coat it in the caramel mixture so the meat gets a nice brown colour. (Don't worry if your spoon gets caramelized sugar on it.. just let it sit in the simmering liquid for a while and it will all slide off, but remember to use a potholder to hold that hot spoon!)

      At this point, I add a little water, the marinade and all of my chopped seasoning, onions, peppers and the pumpkin. I let it come to the boil, turn down the pot and cover it so it can simmer a while to let the meat tenderize and cook a bit. The time this takes will differ according to whether your meat is a tough cut or the chicken is bone-in or boneless. Sometimes I need to keep adding a little water until it tenderizes enough.

      Once you are satisfied that your meat is softened enough or your chicken almost cooked, add the rice, water, coconut milk and peas. Turn up the heat and let it come to a boil and then turn down to low, cover and let simmer until rice is tender and liquid is evaporated. Taste for salt before you cover the pot, this dish tends to take quite a bit. I haven't included a  measure for salt because we put very little due to my husband's hypertension

      Don't go too far, this tends to cook very quickly, this is why I cook the meat partially first. If the liquid dries out too quickly and your rice is not cooked enough, simply add some more water and allow to simmer again for a while. .

      It is traditional to add a whole hot pepper to the top of the mixture before letting it simmer. If you are a pepper lover, you may be fortunate enough to have that pepper burst and distribute its heat and flavour throughout the pot! In my family, there have always been too many children to do this, but the addition of the seasoning/pimento peppers adds the flavour without much of the heat.

      This serves my family of 6 with leftovers. You can, of course cut back on the amount of rice you use and using the recipe of 2 cups liquid for every cup of rice,  you can reduce the amount you cook. but I have to say that leftovers never go to waste around here!

      The beauty in this dish is that you can add as little meat as you want or as much as you want. You can even make it vegetarian 'Rice and Peas' by omitting the meat entirely. I hope that you enjoy this recipe.

      Here are some links to help you understand some of the local ingredients:

      This website will help you to understand what a pigeon pea is.

      Chadon beni is a popular herb here in Trinidad. Here's a small description. You can use cilantro, marjoram or any other herb you prefer.

      Seasoning peppers are found all over the Caribbean and there are many varieties which  can be either hot or mild. I usually taste the seeds before chopping and don't remove them if its mild.

      In the words of Julia Child... BON APETIT!

      Saturday, September 17, 2011

      Five Minute Friday.. Joy

      Hello friends!

      Its a very busy time for me right now, trying to adjust to earlier mornings and getting my youngest to bed earlier too. I have not had time to write.. this makes me sad, of course. Thankfully, there is Five Minute Friday over at the Gypsy Mama's. I got out of bed before everyone else today.. never mind that its Saturday okay! Let's just pretend.. this week's prompt is the word JOY and I want to ask you to click on the button and hop on over to Lisa Jo's place to read her own entry which is so profound.


      What is joy? Is it loud and exuberant.. like cheering on your daughter at a gymnastics event she's aced? Or the burst of happiness radiating from your heart when you see your husband walk out of the doors at the airport and straight into your arms?

      Or is it tender-like, slowly creeping up on you.. that sleepy headed child curled up in her daddy's arms, a Skype call from a college-gone daughter or the butterflies in your tummy when he smiles at you and gives you roses for your birthday?

      JOY.. it fills my heart so it spills over in tears or laughter or silly giggles. My family is my joy, my life's work a joy to do because for me:

      Joy equals Love
      Joy equals giving of myself to my loved ones
      Joy equals contentment and peace in the giving.
      Joy is the strength that I get from my Saviour to keep on doing all that He calls me to do.


      Friends, I want to ask you please to pray for Lisa Jo's friend Sara who has been ill and is dying, that she may have peace and that her friends and family will also have peace and take their strength from God.

      "Do not grieve.. for the joy of the Lord is your strength"

      Monday, September 12, 2011

      Marriage Monday - Communication!

      Reposted to link up with :

      Welcome back to Marriage Monday! I think we're all pretty excited to be back on board after our long sabbatical as e-Mom has spent some time adjusting to her new home environment. Be sure to visit and see what gems of inspiration the Marriage Monday community has produced!

      Our topic today is Communication.

      Communication, dare I say, is for me, the most important tool in maintaining a loving and fulfilling relationship. You can be head over heels in love, full of passion and desire but if you cannot communicate that love your spouse does not ever receive it. Does that sound too harsh for you?

      I happen to believe it to be true. Unfortunately, I've lived it! If any of you have read even parts of Gary Chapman's 'The Five Love Languages', you'd understand what I mean. In fact, do yourself a favour and do the free assessment here to discover your own love language and encourage your husband to do the same. Be sure to compare notes and you may be surprised to discover that the manner in which you have been communicating your love for each other is not the manner in which your spouse or yourself receives love.

      Confusing? Let me explain. In my early marriage I craved physical affection and lots of reassuring words of love. I'm guessing it was because my own father was not very affectionate, both in his words and in his actions. My husband, also not having received this from his family, did not know how to give it or was not comfortable giving it or receiving it for that matter! The more I wanted this for myself, the more I gave it to him and in the process only managed to cause him to feel pressured to give something he thought he couldn't give and myself to feel rejected and hurt.

      Later on, I understood that to him, he believed he was showing his love for me by how he provided for me. He felt that his hard work and the money he brought in proved his love. This was not how I wanted to receive love however.  I guess, as all humans do, we grow and change and our love languages go through a metamorphosis too.  We have both recently discovered that we have almost the same love language now and want to give and receive love in the same way.

      Communicating love is just one aspect of communicating within a relationship. There are other things you MUST communicate:

      • your needs
      • your feelings and desires
      • your dreams and aspirations

      Once upon a time my husband and I had a huge barrier between us.. one that sometimes still threatens to raise up in times of conflict. Essentially, my husband was, sometimes still isn't, a great communicator. For all of his life he has kept things close to his chest rather than share them. It is a difficult habit to break and one we are constantly working on together, but he found it difficult to share his thoughts, feelings or dreams with me.. especially if it would cause conflict.

      Years later, when the doors of communication finally began to open it was as though floodgates were thrown open and I was now hearing almost 20 years worth of things I should have known about. I learned how my words or actions had hurt him.. things I had never realized had made such deep wounds. I was learning his dreams and finally learning his real heart.. it was like I had never really known him before.

      You cannot imagine how I grieved for the lost years and how life could have been for us! If I had known the areas that he had struggled with.. I could have helped in some way. If I had known his true feelings about certain things.. I could have tried to work with him on them, maybe the outcome would have been a lot different. I could have apologized and have the process of healing begin.  If I had known his true needs... I could have tried to supply them. If I had known his dreams.. I could have supported him in them. All these lost years because he had never communicated with me!

      This may be a bit long-winded, but here are my thoughts on communication in a nutshell ;-)

      • You cannot be truly understood or understand your spouse if you are both not sharing your true hearts. This means being honest and forthcoming about your own needs, expectations, what hurts you, what your hopes and dreams are.
      • Humans are continuously growing and changing.. we are not stagnant beings. If we are unwilling to share the areas of growth with our spouses, we will be on divided paths. Our relationships need to grow and change as well.
      • Openness and honesty in communication is essential. I f you cannot be real with the one with whom you are sharing your life, who can you be real with? Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking we can hide our feelings from our spouses, but they do sense them. Many times I have withheld from my husband the true reason for my moodiness or irritability and it has frustrated him as he ended up believing that he was the cause. I've also been on the receiving end of this more times than I can count. All this leads to is more tension than was ever necessary. When I am honest about what is bugging me and he does the same, we can have peace... still working on this area too ;-)
      • We always have to remember that there are proper ways to communicate...especially in times of conflict!  My husband is constantly reminding me, as we also remind our children, that it's not what you say, but how you say it. Body language, sometimes the words we choose..they all convey a different message than the one we might actually want to say because of underlying resentment, anger, bitterness etc.  Its been my own experience that there are times when my husband hears a totally different thing to what I actually said. Its a kind of selective hearing. There are times when, especially in a heated moment, that certain words are not the best ones to use. They are snatched up and the whole message is turned around. These words are 'triggers'. Apart from the usual no-no's like 'always' and 'never' the trigger words will be different in each relationship.  My husband may react to the word 'I' because he thinks I'm focused on myself alone. Yours may react to the word  'you' because he believes you are always accusing him. Can anyone else  relate to this?
      • Communication is possible without words. Sometimes a good companionable silence or hug is all that is necessary. I'm sure that many of you out there have experienced those moments when hubby just wants to cuddle. We women like to talk a lot, we use words to communicate.. I have discovered, in my own experience at least, that my husband communicates without words.. a squeeze of the hand, a certain look, a smile (or lack thereof!), an arm around my shoulder. Though its difficult for me to do, I see the value in giving in kind at times. The adage that silence is golden is pretty true!
      • Sometimes timing is everything. There are times when it is prudent, I have discovered, to give my husband the time and space he needs before I try to discuss anything with him. Sometimes even the little things can become blown out of proportion by the timing of the 'talk'. In addition there are times when, as I said in the point above, he doesn't WANT to talk. My trying to start a conversation or get to the root of the frown on his face just makes him withdraw and me frustrated. As hard as it is for me to do.. I need to learn when to back off and try again later.

        Well, that's my rather long-winded piece on communication. This, as in most things, is a work in progress in my marriage and I'm sure in many of yours. The fact is God made us, man and woman, different yet compatible and communication is really just the secret to that compatibility.. in my humble opinion, that is! ;-)

        Have a blessed week everyone and may you all shine brightly for Jesus!

        Friday, September 9, 2011

        Seven Quick Takes Friday

        7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 142)

        Hello my friends!

        Its been quite a while. I've been on a sabbatical, so to speak... not one I chose for myself, but I believe that God had it so for a purpose. I have so much reading to catch up on.. if I haven't gotten to reading your own blog yet.. its not because I don't want to. There's a lot going on in blogland and so much has happened since I last wrote. I chose to do the 7 Quick Take Fridays which Jennifer at Conversion Diary hosts to update you. Many thanks Jennifer.. its my first time linking up.

        1. My second born daughter returned from Spain and the World Youth Day Celebrations.. she is very excited to share her experience and has promised to guest post here with the details!
        2. We took a lovely vacation at a beach house we shared with my husband's siblings and their families and we really enjoyed the break.. the second such in three weeks. I feel very priviliged to have had the opportunity.. miles of beach to walk, sun and warm seas that felt like silk against the skin. We're all pretty baked by the sun to various shades of brown! (sorry no pics yet)
        3. I am so happy to let you all know that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law are doing well and she's told me they are making slow progress to rebuild their marriage. Please keep them in prayer!
        4. Schools reopened on Monday and my last born (5 years old) just started 'big girl' school. Oh, how much adjustment we've had these past five days! Getting her to bed earlier, waking her earlier, getting out the door by 6:30am, facing 45 minutes of traffic.. its been quite a culture shock for her and a trip down memory lane for me. The first day my heart was broken as she held on to me and bawled for half an hour. Its gotten better, Praise be to God! She actually has walked in on her own these past two days. I have much to be grateful to God for!
        5. I am, as usual, jumping in with both feet ;-)  The Good Morning Girls are having their Fall Bible Study on the book of 1 John. We kick things off on Monday September 19th. If you're interested, you can get the details here. I've done two studies so far and I've learnt so much.. I highly recommend it.. you don't have to be part of a group, I've done mine solo, but of course you can invite friends to join you or visit the GMG to link up with some other people looking for groups. Also, Sonya at Becoming a Strong Woman of God is doing a special Date Your Husband Challenge. It seems like such a fun thing to do.. why don't you check it out? 
        6. I'd like to invite you to visit a special and beautiful friend of mine. Kristin blogs over at Ponderings and at the moment is doing a series on the homeless.. specifically giving them a voice, writing their stories. This is such an inspiring series.. you will never look at the homeless in the same way again. Kristin has such a beautiful and tender heart and I want to ask you to join me in supporting her new ministry with prayers. God is definitely using Kristin to reach the lost sheep. Recently Greg, one of the people she met and befriended was baptized at her church. You can read this amazing testimony here.
        7. I've made it through the first week of school.. phew! All glory goes to God, without Him I could never have survived. I look forward to refreshment and family time this weekend while I recharge my batteries. Come Monday, e-Mom over at Chrysalis is hosting another link up on Marriage Monday. I hope you'll come and visit and see what the Marriage Monday community has to serve up.
         Have a blessed weekend everyone! Its great to be back.. I missed you all and look forward to catching up!