31 January 2010

Getting ready for Candlemas

One of the things I truly love about the church is the long, rich history of celebrations that stretch back to far before the time of Christ. I love that God created in us a desire to remember and that in remembering, we are given hope for the future. I love that centuries, nay, millenia, of people before us have remembered His goodness and that rituals and rites have been passed down from generation to generation using stories from the Bible to illumine our human condition. And I love that celebrating these rituals and rites in my own family and life connects me to that cloud of witnesses who have gone before.

Candlemas is among the best of these, I think, because it gives Christians an opportunity to look at an oft passed-over story from Jesus' life (i.e. The presentation of Jesus and Mary's purification in the temple and Simeon and Anna's blessing) which then causes us to look back at Jewish tradition (i.e. Levitical commands that the first-born be offered and that women be purified, and the anticipation surrounding the long-awaited Messiah) while looking forward in the Jesus story (i.e. reflecting on Simeon's prophecy was/ is/ will be played out) which can give us hope in our current circumstances (i.e. floundering about in a dark, sun-less, half-frozen tundra-esque environment in the middle of winter. Or is that just me?).

A brief history of Candlemas

Candlemas is celebrated 40 days after the birth of Jesus on Feb. 2. This is the day that Mary would have come to the temple for the ritual of purification. This event is recorded in the Bible in Luke 2: 22-38 when Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus encounter the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna.

Candlemas evolved into a full-blown celebration when Roman Christians encountered pagans who celebrated the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox on Feb. 2 with a festival of light honoring the goddess, Ceres. Christians realized that the words of Simeon's prophecy, "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" spoke to the yearning of all for a true Light to come into the world. Hence the festival became connected with light to reflect the coming of Light. And to this day, Catholics have candles blessed on Candlemas.

Celebrating Candlemas at Home

There are many ways to celebrate Candlemas at home and one can probably make it as simple or complex as one wishes (unless, of course, your tradition dictates that you celebrate in a certain manner.)

Our celebration in the past has been as simple as lighting a candle at dinner and thanking God for sending His Light into the world. Last year, I was tired and pregnant and I thought the older children were sort of limited in understanding at ages 3 and 1, so we managed to have a meal of round foods (to remind us of the sun/ Son with candlelight and say prayers thanking God for His Light.

This year, I'm planning a bit more of a celebration because we've been doing more school-type things, projects, etc. and I've changed my thoughts about whether limited understanding really matters all that much, and, frankly, I'm actually prepared, so the plan is this...

:: Have pancakes for breakfast (a traditional Candlemas food). (Edited to add: We decided to have pancakes for dinner and strawberry cream cheese crepes for breakfast -- another traditional candlemas food and, really, when else can one have pancakes twice in a day?) During breakfast, I'll read the Luke story and we'll talk about the tradition of purification and sacrifice.

:: Our first project will be to roll beeswax candles. I bought a kit from Amazon (that should be here in time) and I think the kids will love this.

:: Our second project will be to line up stuff for our play-acting time later. I have two white doves that we're going to put in a basket or something which we'll use later. We'll find our sacrifice and talk about how Joseph and Mary were very poor and how God chose to be born as a poor child and a little of what that means for us.

:: Our third project will be something of an outreach project, though, honestly, I don't know what it will be yet. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd LOVE to hear them...

:: I found some coloring pages of Anna and Simeon on the internet (here, here and here). Those will be part of our day, too.

:: Our supper will be round foods -- probably our menu from last year (we're having pancakes) and we're hoping to have our beeswax candles lit.

:: After dinner, we are going to stand by our creche (yes, we STILL have it out) and pray and then we're going to light a candle and have Mary (Annalivia) and Joseph (Daniel) travel from the manger scene (in the living room) to the temple (in the dining room) where Simeon (Daddy) and Anna (Mommy) will be waiting to bless the baby Jesus (a doll in Annalivia's arms). Joseph will be holding the sacrifice to present. They will probably be accompanied by their faithful donkey/ dog/ cat (Emmeliese) which Anna may have to hold if said animal gets too rowdy/ distracting.

:: After our play, we'll put away our manger scene.

I love Candlemas. But, all lovely symbolism aside -- I think, if for no other reason, that I would love it because it reminds me that generations of people have stood in solidarity with me in the midst of the bleak midwinter, hoping and praying for some sign that we really ARE, indeed, moving towards the New Life of spring. I don't know if it's as powerful for people who have regularly seen temps above freezing on their themometers. But, for me, it is an opportunity to re-focus on Christ's promise to come into the world again. New life WILL come...

30 January 2010

Moving on...

I talked with my friend whose sister I have referenced in the past few posts about adopting children from Haiti (both are college friends). In our discussion, we talked about how she and her family are dealing with things -- the aftermath of the earthquake, if they've found Wendy and Josiana, how her mother who was in Haiti at the time is coping with things, what the latest news is on the adoption front for the two children who are in Pittsburgh...

During the conversation, my friend said something like, "You know, it's odd. No matter how much you want to stay in the apex of emotion when something like this happens, at some point, your body and mind and spirit simply won't let you. You start to move on, if even involuntarily."

She's right, of course. We move on. The challenge is whether, in our moving on, we hold some wisdom in our hearts from that which we've experienced and thereby move a little closer to where God wants us to be.

I pray my heart is much wiser. I'll share more in the coming days, I think. In the meantime, we are moving on...

21 January 2010

A family united at last

Tonya's sister-in-law Catrina has FINALLY been united with her Haitian adopted daughter in Pittsburgh. See the very cool video here!

20 January 2010

My friends' new children

My friends who have been looking for their Haitian adoptees, are headed to O'Hare tonight to fly to Pittsburgh where they will meet a 12 year old girl and a 9 year old boy sibling pair from Haiti's BRESMA orphanage. These children will be theirs in the near future -- a permanent part of their family that includes my friends' birth children, a 10 year old boy and 7 year old girl.

If Wendy and Josiana are found, they, too, will join my friend's family. I know that even though she never thought of herself as a mother-of-many, she is PRAYING, PRAYING, PRAYING that will be the case.

I am, too.

19 January 2010

Not back to normal

We had dinner at my parent's tonight. I thought about children with no food, incomplete families in mourning, people without shelter. I just do not understand going about business as normal right now. Seriously. If you are someone who has managed to be largely unaffected by this crisis in Haiti, can you please tell me how you've managed that?

In the meantime I want to share some links I've encountered and I'm going to apologize to the Deputy Headmistress for largely plagiarizing her post. Go there if you want to see the links with her eloquent verbage.

First, a blog by a Global Ministries (Disciples of Christ-related) missionaries.

Blog entries from a World Vision employee on the ground.

More info from The Haiti Rescue Center.

A story on Haiti rescues, including the rescue of a three-year old boy.

A missionary family living and serving in Haiti whose home has become a hospital.

A blog by a nutritionist who works with a foundation promoting health in Haiti.

Contact those representatives again PLEASE!!

From the For His Glory website...
We need you all to act again on behalf of all our children. Currently, we have two families from Argentina and one from Canada adopting. Our governments are not cooperating and working together to get all our kids out, they are dragging their feet. We are going to start losing babies due to dehydration if we do not evacuate these children quickly to the U.S. and then process them here. We do not have time for a one by one assessment of the state of their adoption process and issuance of visas prior to evacuation.
Please, begin contacting your governors and continue to pressure your senators and congressmen to get a plan in place, quickly, to evacuate the children to the U.S. The Argentinean and Canadian Governments could then work with the U.S. to bring their children home from the U.S. Time is of the essence. This is not going to look good for the U.S. , the State Department, the other world governments or the United Nations if our children, who survived the earthquake, begin to perish because the governments and agencies would not work together to quickly evacuate all the children in the orphanages.
We have confirmed reports that Governor Ed Rendell form Pennsylvania went to Haiti and has brought back 54 children to Pennsylvania from an orphanage. If this can happen for them, it needs to happen for all the orphans that are suffering in orphanages with little supplies, starting to experience diarrhea and sicknesses due to the conditions.
Thank you,
Kim Harmon,President
If you feel like you can't come up with a letter, here's the one I composed and sent in about a minute and a half. Feel free to use it. PLEASE take the brief amount of time required to do this.

Dear Representative ______,
I am writing to you concerning the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and the humanitarian crisis developing there.
As you probably know, thousands of Haitians are orphans housed in various orphanages throughout the country. Many of these children are in the process of being adopted by families in the US and other countries.
Sir, these children need visas NOW in order to come to the US. The situation is such that the children cannot wait to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. They need medical assistance.
I ask you now to do what you can to grant children temporary visas and bring them to the US, even if it is possible that they will be sent to families in other countries later. Here, they can receive medical treatment and have basic needs met. In Haiti, they simply will not have that chance.
Please act quickly and urgently on behalf of these children.
Thank you,

Joy and heartbreak at the same time

The kids from the BRESMA orphanage have gotten out. God bless the Pennsylvania governor who went and got them. My friends received word that 54 children were on the plane -- everyone but their two.
I continue to pray...

18 January 2010

More on Haiti... and perspective

A friend from college is adopting a sibling set, Wendy and Josiana, from Haiti from the BRESMA orphanage featured on CNN, etc. When the earthquake occurred, the birth parents of Wendy and Josiana, came to the orphanage and took their children because they feared for their lives. These parents are loving parents who gave up their children only when they were certain adoption by others was possible; they love them very, very much. They thought they were helping but they didn't know that help was on the way. Now those parents, with no money, resources, etc. are trying to provide for their children while the orphanage DOES have resources, food, water...
It's a heartbreaking situation.
I've been thinking about Haiti a lot in the last week. Yesterday, at church, I felt the weight of the tragedy throughout the entire service. When I got home, Dennis and I had a very frank discussion about where we are, where we've been, and where we are going as a family.
I have always been one of those people who is fascinated by trends, to a certain extent. I'm going to blame it on growing up during the Coca-cola sweatshirts/ jeans-with-a-triangle-on-the-rear late 80's/ early 90's, but my desire to keep-up-with-the-Jones' is deeper than that. I have found myself too fascinated by Pottery Barn and Anthropologie stores, too enthralled with decorating shows, too taken with the idea of making more visually perfect that which we have...
I'm breaking free from that thinking. We don't have cable tv, so I never watch decorating shows anymore, but I replaced some of that with some blogs that tend to focus on making things more and more pretty. I get that; I do. But when a tragedy like an earthquake that, for all intents and purposes, has debilitated an entire nation occurs and one is reminded that a thousand tragedies, perhaps not of this scope, but of real importance occur every day, well, making a pretty tassel for one's lamp seems so... unimportant.
I am trying not to judge others, though I confess I don't understand how this loss of life cannot be affecting everyone in some significant way. I am judging myself primarily. I think Dennis and I have been realizing over the past few months that we have choices to make in this life, and deliberations to process, and how act on those deliberations will determine how we and our children see this gift of life. We want them to know that while God blesses us with resources that allow us to live a beautiful life, we also have a profound responsibility to His kingdom. The fact is, the resources He's given us can also allow others to live a more beautiful life, sometimes just by the fact that they HAVE life.
I'm curious if others are feeling or have felt a similar nudge in the past few days? Or perhaps at another time?

16 January 2010

Can you tell someone is learning about the Golden Rule at our house?

Today, I asked Annalivia to clean something up repeatedly. Finally, she did her job and which involved bumping into the chair where I was sitting. I started defending my territory by poking her with her brother's foam sword while making sound effects. She told me to stop a couple of times, then finally turned to me and said, "Hey! That's not how I want to be treated; how do you want to be treated?"
I stopped. :)

15 January 2010

Something you CAN do NOW for Haiti

I am reposting an email I received from a friend today. This is something YOU can do that would make a difference for Haiti. Please consider reposting this on your blog or facebook (you can create a note with the info and direct your facebook friends to it in your status update). We really CAN make a difference! Thanks! ~April
A quick recap: My wife Cathy was in Haiti when the earthquake hit. Traveling with a mission group from the Carmelite Community of the Word from the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, they were in a small village about 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince. No one the group was hurt and they are now in the Dominican Republic awaiting a flight this afternoon to Miami. In addition, our daughter and her husband are in the process of adopting two children (Wendy & Josiana--brother and sister) from Haiti. The two children are in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Fortunately, no one in the orphanage was hurt in the earthquake, but now they are threatened with a severe lack of drinking water and food.

Beyond for sending money to one of the relief agencies, there is little we can do as individuals to help. EXCEPT...

Like Wendy and Josiana, there are hundreds of Haitian orphans who are awaiting final approval for adoptions to families in the U.S. The building in Haiti where the adoptions are processed was destroyed in the earthquake. It may be years before the processing can resume.

However, the U.S. can grant temporary visas to all orphans whose adoptions were pending before the earthquake. With the grant of visas the oprhans could then come to the U.S. to live with their adoptive families, but be classified as "foster care" children until the final paperwork is completed. In granting the visas, the evacuation of the hundreds of orphans stuck in this limbo will free space in Haitian orphanages for the thousands of new orphans that have been created by this emergency. Please note that under U.S. rules, any family that applies to adopt a foreign child must first be certified as a foster care family, so there is a safe-guard system in place to insure that these oprhans who would come here under this plan will be safe.

PLEASE, PLEASE. Contact your U.S. Senators asking that they put pressure on the United States Citizenship and Immigrantion Service (USCIS) to grant "temporary visas" to all Haitian orphans now in orphanges awaiting the completion of their adoption process.

This is a real way to help and it will cost nothing. You can send Emails by going to the website for the United States Senate (http://www.senate.gov/) and finding the links to your two senators' websites.

If you have contacts or friends in any agency of the U.S. government who could push this idea with USCIS, please reach out to them to help, too.

Thank all of you for your concerns, good thoughts and most of all prayers for my family these past few days. ~Ed

14 January 2010

On Haiti

Amidst a baby crawling happily after her brother and his crane truck and a big sister still in her nightgown because it's "more like a princess" and a warm, steady house and more food, clothing, water, resources than we really, ever need, my thoughts are consumed by Haiti and the magnitude of need there following the earthquake.
From an article at World's site...
"about 1.2 million of Haiti’s 8.5 million residents are orphans. Only 200,000 of those live in orphanages. The rest live in the streets, and may not be accounted for weeks, or ever."
Here's the list World compiled of organizations who have resources on the ground now and are able to get immediate assistance to Haitians.

American Bible Society
American Red Cross (or text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10)
Children’s Hunger Fund
Christian Aid
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee
Food for the Hungry
Mennonite Central Committee
Operation Blessing International
Samaritan's Purse
World Relief
World Vision
And my lovely friend, Holly, referred readers to Real Hope for Haiti. The blog for their rescue center is here.
Praying, praying, praying...

11 January 2010

My long-time companion bites the dust

Remember this beautiful mug?

It has been with me for a long time, my companion since before I was married, before kids, before old houses with drafty windows. In the winter, it is my daily companion, used literally all day, every day for tea and water and sometimes soup. It fits my hand perfectly, makes exactly enough tea or coffee i.e. some to drink now, some to heat up again...and again...and again to drink later, and it never gets too hot in the microwave or too cold in the fridge.

Now it looks like this.


:( :(:(

I knocked it off the plant stand I'm using as an end table today. It fell and broke with great drama. "Noooooooo! Not my mug!" I said in the most bereft voice I could summon. I almost cried.

Annalivia immediately said, "I know what will make you feel better."

And she sat right down and drew me this.

It did make me feel a little better.

But I still miss my mug. :(

10 January 2010

Sunday triumph

For the first time in a looooooonnnnnng time, we managed to have a very nice Sunday here at our house. I've known that the key to a peaceful a.m. of any day, really, but especially Sunday, is the preparation the night before. But we just kept missing the mark, for some reason. This week was different.
We figured out what all of us were wearing on Saturday night. I had breakfast in mind, and a back-up plan in case I didn't get to Plan A and the table was cleaned off and ready to go. I had also browned a pork roast on Sat. night and stuck it in the fridge ready to be put in the oven. We went to bed late, because we forgot we were supposed to do homework for our Sunday School class, but other than that, our Saturday prep was good.
This morning, we woke up early thanks to our 10-month-old alarm clock. I showered and determined that Plan B (Oatmeal and dried fruit) was going to be breakfast. We prayed and ate together, which was very nice. Then I cut up some potatoes and put them, covered with water and on high heat, in the crockpot, and put the roast in the oven. As we walked out the door, I turned on the crockpot and the oven.
We actually got to Sunday School on time. Emmeliese was ready for a nap during church and so after I took the kids to Children's Church, I took her into an empty classroom and hummed to her and rocked back and forth, and she was out. She slept through the rest of church.
Afterwards, we came home to a house that smelled AMAZING! I drained and mashed the potatoes, skins and all, and took the roast out of the oven, heated up some vegetables in the microwave and we were ready for Sunday lunch less than 15 minutes after we came home. It was so cool.
Now, there's a lot of cleanup to do. Dennis is working on the new house and I'm going to get to work here. Hopefully I can get it all done in the next half-hour in time for Quiet Time. If I can manage to work in a little nap, too, it will be a downright perfect day.

08 January 2010


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Snowman Soup

We had a very snowy day here on Thursday. The schools were closed in town and all was quiet. Main Street, which is usually very busy, was empty save for a lone car just occasionally.
To mark the occasion, Annalivia, Daniel and I made Snowman Soup during Emmeliese's nap.

First I had them draw the recipe. Annalivia did all the drawing, save for a lone potato by Daniel, and Daniel did all the coloring. We got things a little out of order, but their drawing is pretty close to the order of the recipe. Then we did all the steps -- peeling, boiling, draining, and mashing potatoes, adding butter and milk, making croutons -- I had the children do it all. It took FOREVER (I had to hold their hands and peel the potatoes for them), but they were so excited to make the soup and try their creation!
While we waited for the potatoes to boil, we made up a story about a snowman named Henry whose mother made him Snowman Soup. We liked it so much, we decided to make a book. Annalivia drew all the pictures.I especially like this one that occurs after Henry has followed several woodland creatures far from home and realizes he is hungry. Can you see his expression and his tummy growling? (Click on the pic to enlarge). She did all of that herself; I just read her the words that were written.
It was a very nice morning together. And we had a yummy lunch as a bonus! I hope this will become a first-big-snow (or in our case, first-big-snow-unless-that-happens-on-Christmas) tradition for the McStews.

Snowman Soup
5-6 potatoes
1/4 stick butter
3-4 cups milk
2 thick slices wheat or pumpernickel bread
salt and pepper to taste
baby carrots

Peel potatoes and put in pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil, turn down a bit and simmer until potatoes are soft.

While potatoes cook, cut bread into thick cubes. If desired, toss with olive oil and a bit of garlic salt. Then spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until nicely toasted, turn each crouton over, and then bake other side until toasted.

When potatoes are soft, drain and return to pot. Add butter and milk and mash potatoes to desired consistency (I used a stick blender after the kids mashed the potatoes up.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place baby carrots and croutons in serving dishes. Serve the soup in bowls, then let kids add baby carrots (the snowman noses) and croutons (eyes and buttons*). Enjoy the warm soup and be glad that you aren't out in the snow like a snowman!:)

*Crumbled bacon can also be used as eyes and buttons, but a parent should probably do the cooking.
I'm linking to Kimba at A Soft Place to Land's DIY Day.

05 January 2010

On safari

Tonight, after dinner, Annalivia and Daniel climbed onto Daddy's back and he gave them an elephant ride around "the circle" "(the path created by the doorways between the living room, dining room and foyer). Emmeliese followed, crawling right behind them. Dennis kept saying things like, "We're being tracked by some sort of wild animal!" while Annalivia and Daniel laughed hysterically. It was one of the sweetest moments of the day so far.

04 January 2010

Some resolutions

I like the New Year. It's a good time to pause, reflect, and challenge. I also like new year's resolutions. It's nice to think about the new year ahead in positive, sometimes audacious, terms.
So here are some of my thoughts on 1o things I'd like to accomplish during 2010:
  1. Read the Bible every day.
  2. Read through the Bible this year.
  3. Discipline my speech.
  4. Be intentional about teaching the kids.
  5. Get rid of 75% of our stuff. Literally.
  6. Eat better and move more.
  7. Be more fiscally proactive.
  8. Move into the new house.
  9. Make time for creativity.
  10. Sing more.

I think everything here is doable. We'll see.