December 25, 2014

journey to Bethlehem

Every year we spend the day before Christmas "journeying" to Bethlehem.  I play "Mary," my Farmer plays "Joseph," and the children play our nieces and nephew, travelling in the same caravan en route to our ancestral city of Bethlehem, for the census.

It all started quite simply, about a decade ago when Sugar was a toddler, and we used the figures of our nativity scene to act out the Bible story for her.  As Mary & Joseph made their long trip to Bethlehem, they stopped along the way to eat.  (We "stopped" with them, sharing raisins to ensure Sugar's rapt attention).

Each year it's gotten a little more elaborate, until it has blossomed into an annual theatrical production - at least for mealtimes.

We spread the blanket on the floor and lay out the food in the center.  We sit around the food in a circle, sharing from the common bowls (handmade pottery, or wood, if possible).  Sometimes Joseph (or, more rarely, Mary, who has also been known to fake pregnancy with a pillow) wears a plaid bathrobe to really get into character.  Conveniently, the children all have biblical names and it's only "Mommy" and "Daddy" which are discarded in favor of stage names.

Our "simple peasant" fare has gotten a bit more substantial over the years as the children have gotten larger and hungrier.  From the initial almonds, raisins, and bread, the menu has grown quite a bit.  I offer it here, in case anyone else wants a spark of an idea to ignite their own tradition.

Journey Menus
breakfast:  bread, curds (cottage cheese), dried or preserved fruit, and almonds.

lunch:  fish (tilapia or swai are inexpensive, and are tasty baked simply with a pat of butter), barley loaves, honey yogurt, olives, pistachios and grapes.

supper:  lentil stew, tortillas, plain yogurt, goat cheese [I also made risotto this year, since growing children cannot live on tortillas alone, and not everyone at this house has developed a taste for lentil stew yet.  Let's just call it poetic license, shall we?]

There are many possibilities for substitutions, and our menus vary a bit from year to year.  Dried fruits that could have come from that region of the world include raisins, dates*, and figs.  Fresh fruits include grapes and pomegranates.  Nuts could be almonds, hazelnuts, or pistachios.  Dairy products of all kinds would have been common.  Come up with something else?  I'd love to hear about it!

Christmas Day Feast
Breakfast is supplied in the stockings - granola bars and juice boxes and craisins and such - and lunch is normal fare.  But for our supper we pull out the stops with a Moroccan dish called Lamb Tagine with Dates (adapted from Betty Crocker's New International Cookbook).  We've made this dish with lamb, beef, chicken, and venison, and it's always delicious.  I've followed the directions to the letter, from browning the meat to adding the dates in at the end, and I've thrown it all into a crockpot at the same time, and it's still always a hit.  I think this recipe is one of those rare ones that you just can't mess up.  Here's the all-at-the-same-time version:

Put into a crockpot:

3 lbs meat (lamb, venison, beef, or chicken all work just fine)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. saffron
2 cups water
1 T honey
1 cup pitted dates*, chopped (don't use your yummy varieties here; deglet noors will do nicely)

Cook on high 4-6 hours, or on low 8-10 hours.  Or whatever.  Crockpots are wonderfully flexible.  This year I put the meat in frozen around 11 a.m. and am hoping it will be done (on high) by 5pm. (I'll let you know if it's not!)

Serve with naan and millet if you're having an energetic year.  If not (like me, this year) then plain rice and a vegetable will do fine.  I have some olives left over from yesterday that I'll put out, and we'll have pomegranates and clementines and dates* (the yummy ones!) for dessert, along with some completely inauthentic Christmas cookies that my industrious children made with my mother one lovely day while I was out.

Merry Christmas, and may God bless us, every one!

* a word on dates:  Your health food store may have medjools (which are a lot tastier than the deglet noor variety usually sold for baking), and other varieties if you're lucky.  Otherwise, is a reliable and cost-effective choice for barhi, jumbo medjool, khadrawy, and halawi varieties.  They also have great customer service and a delightful sense of fun.

December 10, 2014

days 2-7 of 90

I thought as I went through the 90-day Bible challenge I would jot down some verses that jumped out at me ... but it turns out that just reading each day's chapters takes a good chunk of my time.


I did take some notes, so I'll share them, albeit a bit after-the-fact.  I'd welcome your responses to my many, many queries!  Here goes:

day 2 of 90  [Genesis 17:1 - 28:19]

God, wanting to confide in his friend:  "Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am about to do?" (18:17).  Or something else?

Lot's reluctance to leave Sodom (19:16, 18) - ?!?  What on earth was so dear to him there that he hesitated to leave despite angelic visitors warning him of destruction and urging him to evacuate?

"Invoked the Lord by name" (21:33, 4:26) - ??  I'm using the Revised English Bible that my Farmer got during his study-abroad semester in Great Britain.  Other versions use "called on" or "worshiped."  The International Standard Version (with which I am not familiar) uses "profaned."

Rebecca, seeking guidance of the Lord about her pregnancy, and receiving prophetic words (25:22,23).  This does not quite jive with the Biblical (Pauline) image of women I grew up with (1 Corinthians 14:35)....

Jacob - from whom came Jesus - grasping from birth at what was Esau's (25:26, 31; 27:19).

Isaac, telling the same old "my wife's my sister" deception as his father (and to the same king, too! 26:7).

The first Rehoboth, a well named because "the Lord has given us room" (26:22)  [well, okay, the very first one was Nimrod's city, Rehoboth-Ir].  Wonder what's behind the beach town of the same name?

More invoking of the Lord by name (26:25).

That God would honor a blessing given because of a deceit!!  (27:23, 28-29)

day 3 of 90  [Genesis 28:20 - 40:11]

Second tithe: Jacob, to God (if God protect him & provide food & clothing, and bring him back in safety: 28:20-22)  [first tithe:  Abraham to Melchizadek 14:20]

Poor, poor Leah - unlovely, unloved (29:17,25, 30).  But God saw, and it was from Leah's womb that Jesus' lineage came.

"you have striven with God ... and prevailed."  (32:28) - !!!  Who strives with GOD and comes out on top?!  What on earth does this mean?

Joseph "told tales" about his big brothers to their father.  (37:2)

day 4 of 90  [Genesis 40:12 - 50:26]

Joseph, sending his brothers back with good news to their father, warning them not to quarrel on the way - ?? (45:24)  About what, I wonder, did he think they would quarrel, and why was it his place to so admonish them?

And the double-ness of the entire Egypt story: Joseph sent on ahead to provide for them during the famine (45:5, 7), yes - but also to move the entire Israelite family to Egypt to be there 400 years as slaves.  A friend was just telling me the other day that sin must serve some purpose, else God would never have allowed it to enter the earth.  And this on the tail of my own thoughts that morning - why Satan?  Why the initial fall of an angel from perfect harmony with God?

Why the centuries of slavery for God's "chosen" people?  Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, wondering if it was truly a blessing to be so "chosen."

Hmmm, but in chapter 47 Joseph effectively turns the entire nation of Egypt (and parts of Canaan?) into slaves for Pharaoh, after collecting all their money & all their livestock & all their land in payment for the food (which he had collected from them in the first place (41:34, 48).  So he enslaves them, and his descendants become enslaved by them.  Interesting.

day 5 of 90  [Exodus 1:1 - 15:18]

day 6 of 90  [Exodus 15:19 - 28:43]

day 7 of 90  [Exodus 29:1 - 40:38]

All that blood on the priests gorgeous vestments!  (Ex 29:21)

"Soothing aroma" (Noah's sacrifice and now) 29:25 & 41 - the smell soothes God?

"Cleanliness is next to godliness" (30:18-21) - Aaron & priests must wash before entering Tent of Meeting.

Ohhh, the anointing oil and the incense!  The temptation to make our own, to smell that aroma concocted by God Himself for His pleasure!!

Craftsmanship is from God:  31:3-6 - "I have filled him with the spirit of God, making him skillful and ingenious, expert in every craft, and a master of design, whether in gold, silver, copper, or cutting precious stones for setting, or carving wood, for workmanship of every kind.  Further, ... I have endowed every skilled craftsman with the skill which he has.  They are to make everything that I have commanded you."

The seriousness of the Sabbath - penalty of death for working! (31:13, 15; 35:2-3)

How God disowns the Israelites when they sin, like a disgusted parent, to Moses:  "...your people, the people you have brought up from Egypt, have committed a monstrous act" (32:7) and how Moses turns it back: "...your people, whom you brought out of Egypt ..." (32:11)

I love that the effect of spending time with God Almighty was a luminous face! (34:29)

On building projects:  when the Israelites built their Sanctuary, so many people gave voluntarily that they had to be told to please stop giving, because there was already more than enough.  (36:6-7)

So what a cherubim was was common knowledge??  There is exquisite detail on how to make the flowering almond candlestand, but the instruction to make cherubim (gold ones over the Ark's cover, and embroidered ones on the curtain) is just casually tossed in there, in a sort of "well everyone knows what they are" kind of way.  Huh?!

Well, that was helter-skelter.

Have you any insight on these passages to offer me?

December 1, 2014

Day 1 of 90

Today is the first day of the Advent season.

Sugar had remembered, and gotten down the two Advent calendars yesterday, so today at breakfast Lil' Snip got to open the flap with a "1" on it while Spice read to us from Luke about the angel Gabriel coming to Mary.

I printed out Ann Voskamp's beautiful Jesse Tree ornaments, and copied some devotional readings to go along with the ornaments.

And somewhere in the evening hours, after a deliciously unseasonable day of t-shirts and raking leaves and making angels out of discarded hymnals, a challenge came my way from a distant young cousin of my Farmer - to read the Bible in 90 days.

Intrigued (and yes, convicted by her mention of time spent on facebook!), I printed out the plan and said I'm in.  I showed it to my oldest girls, Sugar (who loves to compete) and Spice (who loves a challenge).  They thought they'd like to try, too.

Starting now.

It took surprisingly little time to read the first day's chapters, once I'd re-mastered the trick of sticking to a single task (which was surprisingly hard).

Here's a few of the gems that stood out to me:

~  The order of creation (Genesis 1):  light (but not sun or stars yet), sky (got its own whole day!), division of water and earth, plants, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, birds, animals, man.  [although Genesis 2 has God creating a man first and afterward planting a garden and forming animals and birds, and then woman].

~  God, bitterly regretting that he had made man (Genesis 6:6).

~  That it was Abram's father Terah who first struck out toward Canaan (11:31) but stopped short and settled in Harran.  [also, was the land of Canaan named after Ham's son Canaan, who Noah cursed?]

Care to join me and my girls, anyone?  A three-month journey through God's story to us, to rediscover, perhaps, who He is, and why He so deeply loves us . . . ?  (And beautifully timed to coincide with Advent, the season of waiting for a Redeemer)

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