Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hymnology 102: Backstories

If the collective history of hymnology is the history of Christianity, then the backstories of each hymn is the history of Christians and their God. The backstories are the author's stories. The hymns share their experiences of God and/or their desire for others to be brought closer to God.

The backstories explain why these hymns resonate with us. They were written in times of deep anguish and suffering or in times of great joy and celebration or even from every day, normal reflections.

As we take time to learn the hymns and their backstories and sing these hymns, the fabric of their history becomes woven with the fabric of our history. Our history becomes part of the collective story of the hymn. The tapestry becomes more colorful and rich and fantastic with each addition of our accounts of worship and comfort.

There are so many great hymn backstories. The story of Joachin Neander and his hymn, Praise to the Lord. The story of William Spafford and the deep trials he went through before penning It Is Well with My Soul.

I think of a relatively new hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness. Written is 1923, but not gaining in popularity until the Billy Graham crusades. But, still the author's testimony to the great faithfulness of God-whether well known or not. And what a comfort to so many of us as we negotiate deep trials.

I think of this hymn that we often sing at Thanksgiving. Now Thank We all Our God...

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices
who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.
who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love and still is our today.

We know our bounteous God, will all our life be near us
with ever joyful hearts, his blessed peace will cheer us
He keeps us by His grace, and guides us when perplexed
He frees us from all ills, in this world and the next. 

All praise and thanks to God, the father now be given
the Son, who rose and lives, and sits in highest heaven
Our God eternal is, whom heaven and earth adore
Now we by grace are his, and shall be evermore.

We sing this song at Thanksgiving, and we would assume it is a hymn written in a time of great blessing and prosperity. The true story is considerably more depressing.

Now Thank We All Our God was written by a man named Martin Rinkhart in the year 1636. Mr. Rinkhart lived in the little walled town of Eilenburg during the 30 Year War. The 30 Year War was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, starting as a war between Protestants and Catholics, but ending up far more political. Over 8 million lives were lost, including civilians.

Mr. Rinkhart penned this hymn almost 20 years into the 30 Year War. Eilenburg had been overrun with displaced refugees. They sought protection in its walls. But Eilenburg was ill equipped to deal with the influx of people. Famine and plague resulted. In the year 1637, over 8000 people died in that town alone. There weren't graves enough to bury the dead. Many people were buried in trenches. It was horrific.

Mr. Rinkhart was not just a citizen of Eilenburg, he was a clergyman. One of six. He ended up becoming the primary clergyman in Eilenberg when four of the other clergymen died of disease and the fifth fled the city and it's woes. The burden of pastoring fell wholly on him.

During the year 1637, Mr. Rinkhart held over 4450 burial services, one of which was for his own wife.

Death. Disease. Famine. Siege. Destruction. Immeasurable loss.

This hymn was written out of these calamities.

Who wondrous things has done...

Who from our mother's arms has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.

He keeps us by His grace, and guides us when perplexed, He frees us from all ills, in this world and the next. 

Grace. Blessing. Gifts. Bounteous.


What a perspective! What faith!

We sing this song steeped in a month long recollection of the positive blessings for which we are thankful. Our health, and family, conveniences and houses... And we should sing it reflecting on all these gifts we have been given.

And, like Martin Rinkhart, we should also sing it when wading through deep waters. When we know God is faithful, but we are having a hard time seeing it. When we know that He is the giver of every good and perfect gift but we feel overwhelmed with not such good gifts.

In either course, our story becomes part of that story. It words of comfort, faith and encouragement become part of our story.

And maybe some day in heaven, we will meet up with Mr. Rinkhart and we will be able to tell him how his hymn inspired, encouraged, challenged, and comforted us.

And that's the rest of the story...

What's your favorite hymn story?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hymnology 101: Our Hymn Heritage

O give thanks unto the Lord, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the people; sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him, talk ye of all His wondrous works. (Psalm 105:1-2)

(for the purpose of this series, I am going to use the term hymns to refer to Christian music)

Music has always been a very polarizing subject between Christians of different generations worshipping simultaneously. The young people think the older generation's music is too traditional, old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy. The older folks think the younger generation's music is too worldly, progressive and radical.

Well, I'm here to say that there is good old music and really bad old Christian music. And there is good new Christian music and really bad new music. Good and bad both in terms of sing-ability and doctrine.

I'm also here to say that there is no merit in discarding the old simply for the fact that it is old. Nor is there any merit in rejecting the new out of hand simply because it is new.

The fact of the matter is, whether your age is "old" or "young" or whether you prefer new hymns or old hymns, all hymns are part of our combined Christian history. Hymns are an integral part of our Judeo-christian heritage.

If you take the time to trace the history of Christianity, you will begin to see swells of spiritual revival accompanied by surges in hymn writing. Over and over and over again.

The history of hymnology (in the big picture sense), is the history of Christianity.

Let me show you...

PreReformation there was no congregational singing. Performers sang the Psalms to the congregation during church services. This dates all the way back to David's time. He appointed the courses of singers and musicians to lead the temple musical worship. A lot of the Psalms have "to the chief musician" in their title. There was very little congregational singing.

The first big revival we think of is the Reformation which took place in the 1500s. The prominent doctrine of that period was salvation by grace through faith (not by works).

John Calvin has come to be known as the Father of the Reformation. He believed the entire congregation should participate in praising God during the worship service. In his Institutes of Christian Religion (1536), he wrote,

“…it is a thing most expedient for the edification of the church to sing some psalms in the form of public prayers by which one prays to God or sings His praises so that the hearts of all may be roused and stimulated to make similar prayers and to render similar praises and thanks to God.”

“…in this form these Biblical texts would become more easily accessible to the people.”

It was the joint reason of Scriptures coming to be known by the general (illiterate) population as well as the collective worshipping of God and praying to God.

For these reasons, John Calvin compiled the Genevan Psalter (1539), which is a versification of the Psalms. The Psalms were put into a contemporarily singable form. One hymn that is still widely sung from this hymnal is the Doxology.

Almost simultaneously-Martin Luther compiled a German versification of the Psalms.

So, during the Reformation we went from no congregational singing to singing the Psalms.

The next major revival after the Reformation was the Great Awakening (1730-1755/1790-1840), which took place in North America and England. The doctrines that were prevalent in this revival was conviction of sin, repentance, redemption, as characterized by Jonathan Edwards famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Other preachers of this period were David Brainard, George Whitfield, and the Wesley brothers.

As these doctrines were taught and people believed and obeyed them, a new era of hymn writing began. It was spear headed in large degree by Isaac Watts.

Isaac Watts is called the Father of English Hymnology. He wrote over 750 hymns. He was a radical. Talk about old generation/new generation-he rocked the music boat!

Isaac Watts introduced new poetry for the Christian experience. Like I stated before, both Calvin and Luther versified the Psalms. But, what Isaac Watts realized was that the Psalms don't cover Christian theology. When David and Asaph wrote about the Messiah, they were writing prophetically. They could not write of the love of God sending His son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the forgiveness of sin and redemption of sinners. They didn't know those doctrines yet.

Isaac Watts realized that we were seriously limiting our repertoire by limiting ourselves to the Psalms. He straddled the two genres by writing powerful new hymns like Join all the Glorious Names and When I survey the Wondrous Cross. But he also revised the Psalms to include the Christian experience, penning such favorites as O God our Help in Ages Past (Psalm 90) and I Sing the Mighty Power of God. 

The Great Awakening hymn writing surge was joined and bolstered by Charles Wesley, Samuel Medley, Count Zinzendorf, William Cowper, John Newton and many, many other godly men. They wrote hymns that are characterized by worshipful thoughts of our God. The songs are full of God's attributes. A majority of the hymns from this time period will be found in the worship/praise section of your hymnal.

The next period of revival we come to in history is what I refer to as the DL Moody Revivals (1850-WWI). This is the time of huge gospel meetings. Tents and halls filled to the brim with people listening to the gospel. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people were saved.

DL Moody (and others) preached, and his friends wrote hymns and led singing. They were gospel hymns. These hymns reiterate the fact that we are sinners and Jesus Christ is the Savior. They emphasize the importance of choice and choosing now.

Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby, PP Bliss and many, many others contributed to the hymns of this period. You will find the these hymns grouped in the gospel section of your hymnal.

Also, as you look at this time period in hymn writing history, you start to see woman's names pooping up as authors and composers. Why? As a product of the Enlightenment, women started receiving educations. More women learned to read and write, and thus to compose poems and hymns and write books.

History plods on, through WWI and WWII, when a new preacher takes the scene. Billy Graham  and his Gospel Crusades (1947 to 2005). Billy Graham travelled all over the globe, preaching a clear gospel. Again, many were saved. And again, he brought musicians with him. The music and hymn writing of early in this time period was very folksy. Think George Beverly Shae and the Gaither Vocal Band and John W. Peterson. There was some good lyrics and tunes written by these folks, but some of it was rather shallow. It sounded nice, but wasn't much deeper than a puddle. And a shallow one at that.

Simultaneously, during this almost 60 years Billy Graham period, there was other music movements based out of other revivals happening.

There was the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s that spawned the CCM movement. Contemporary Christian Music was written by hippies that had become Christians. They were the rock and roll generation and they wanted their Christian music to reflect that other music that they grew up with and loved. Let's just say that their CCM didn't go over very well with the older crowd.

Anyway, the Hippies had sung about peace and love. The Jesus hippies cant about peace and love and God. It was a lot of touchy-feely music. Keith Green, Amy Grant, Michael Card, and all the other familiar artists and their music defined the next 20-30 years of Christian music-up through the turn of the century.

The term crossover music was first applied to the music of CCM. A crossover piece is one that could equally be sung about your boyfriend/girlfriend or about Jesus.

There was also another genre of Christian music that flourished in this time period-that of Maranatha music and Hillsong by the Charismatics. Lots of praise choruses.

Which, in many ways brings us to today, and the music of the past 10-15 years. This is the time of the Emergent church movement. It is the generation of the Millennials. This generation wants a Christianity of substance. Their clarion call is for transparency. Missional living is a key idea. This generation is very socially conscious. They have a renewed love of the old, though they don't want to be seen as old. Liturgy has found a resurgence with them. They want deep and meaning.

And there has been a correspondent surge in deep hymns. Hymns by Keith and Kristen Getty, Stewart Townend, Steve and Vicki Cook, Matt Maur, Matthew Redman, Chris Tomlin. These men and women have written hymns that cover deep theology. They are really good new hymns, and this genre has actually been termed New Hymns. Hymns, not just Christian music.

Rewritten hymns are also a characteristic of hymns now. Putting a more contemporary tune to old words. Amazing Grace, One Day, Complete in Thee, Amazing Love. These old lyrics have been given new life. The music has been rewritten for praise bands, as opposed to organs. Some of the new tunes are actually more singable than the old tunes. It's great.

Lecrea is also impacting the hymn scene with his rap music. It is still rap, but this guy explains deep Biblical truth in his pieces. It not exactly church music or hymns, but it is very typical of what we are experiencing in hymn writing these days.

Ironically enough, we have almost come full circle in one respect. Our praise bands of today often are walking a fine line between leading in worship (where the congregation sings) and performing (where the congregation has no idea what is going on. They don't know the songs and they aren't singing).

Regardless, I hope you can see from this (somewhat lengthy) overview, that believers wrote hymns as they heard the Word of God, and let it's truths change their lives through the Holy Spirit. They wrote hymns as they learned new (to them) doctrine and as they learned more of the greatness of Almighty God. As they dug down into Scripture, their lives were changed. Many lives were changed. And they wrote about it.

They wrote about it in the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1900s and 2000s. Believers wrote good hymns throughout these centuries. They bucked tradition and rocked the boat, and added threads to this tapestry that is the history of Christianity.

Our history.

So tell me, what are your thoughts of older and newer hymns? Do your thoughts directly correspond with your age?

Friday, September 26, 2014

What to Feed the People Who Can't Eat Anything

To those of us who don't have any food allergies, it sometimes feels like people with allergies can't eat anything. When in fact, they just can't eat everything.

Gone are the days of making peanut butter, jelly and bread available to the picky eaters at camp. That would send gluten and peanut allergy kids into shock.

The challenge of food allergies has made it very difficult at times to practice hospitality or to bring a meal to a family who could use it.

What do you bring that won't make an allergy sufferer terribly ill? Today I am sharing 13 recipes in several different allergy categories. So, if you would like to bless someone with a meal, you can. Without killing them.

These 13 recipes are for the most part made from scratch. Omitting pre-prepared ingredients is a safe way to cook for people with allergies. Gluten and nuts and other craziness tends to creep into store bought stuff. Round out all the meals with fresh fruit or a nice lettuce salad. Perfect!

(GF=gluten free, DF=dairy free, P=Paleo, V=vegetarian) (recipe names are links)

1. Chicken Satay Lettuce Wraps (GF, DF)

2. Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos (GF, DF) Freezes well! You can serve the filling on corn tortillas, or on lettuce leaves, or just eat it. Sour ream and cheese are great toppings, but are not necessary if you are trying to stick to the gluten/dairy free diet.

3. Tuscan Chicken Skillet (GF, DF)

4. Beef and Mushroom Ragu (GF, DF) To make GF/DF, omit the parmesan cheese, and serve in bowls instead of over noodles.

5. Cherry Tomato Chicken (GF, DF, P) (no photo-but a delicious recipe...)
A similar recipe that is also Paleo, GF and DF is

Sausage and Tomatoes
4-12 high quality sausages (plan anywhere from 1 to 2 links per person)
2 (16 ounce) containers cherry tomatoes
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
thyme or oregano

-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
-Lightly coat the bottom of a 9x13 pan with olive oil.
-Peel and thinly slice the onion into rings.
-Mince garlic.
-Combine garlic, onion, tomatoes in the pan.
-Drizzle balsamic vinegar over all. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme or oregano. Toss all to coat.
-Lay sausages on top.
-Bake for 60 minutes in a 375 degree oven, occasionally shaking the pan to “stir”.

6. Sweet Potato Nachos (GF, P, & can be adapted to Vegetarian-leave out sausage)

7. Slow Cooker Latin Chicken (GF, DF) Also great for people who can't eat regular potatoes!

8. Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (Vegetarian)

9. BYO Alfredo (V) 

10. Chicken Mole (GF, DF)

12. Zucchini Skillet (vegetarian)

13. Roasted Red Pepper Pesto (V, can be served over GF pasta which makes it GF)

I hope you find these recipes helpful as you open your home to others or bring food to others. For more great allergy conscious recipes (and grocery lists to go with them!) sign up for a Fit & Healthy menu subscription plan from She Plans Dinner. At $5 per month, it is a great deal, and will provide you with lots more recipe inspiration!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

An Investment Piece

I'm sure we are all familiar with the term investment piece. Investments pieces are usually clothe or furniture items that you pay more up front for because you know they are built to last. They won't go out of style. They will be passed down to your kids.

I think of my friend Ann, who is wearing some of her mother in law's designer dresses from several decades ago. They are classy, well made pieces that will always be in style. Even when retro isn't.

We have bought a few investment furniture pieces, and we have inherited a few more. The buffet in our living room was from Mr. Hippie's aunt. I think it came to her from her dad. We have also invested in three pieces (my corner hutch, glider rocking chair and ottoman) of Amish furniture. Gorgeous, sturdy oak pieces, that should last forever. They were all expensive, but they will never have to be replaced. Which definitely makes them worth it.

We also bought a used John Widdicomb chest of drawers. John Widdicomb's furniture line was all very well made, and often cost thousands of dollars new. I balked a bit at spending a couple hundred dollars for a used anything, but this is the nicest dresser we own. The drawers slide out smoothly. It is all real wood. It is gorgeous. And it has already outlasted the several other dressers we bought that weren't as good quality.

Investment pieces are worth the investment. They prove worthy-time and again.

We also have a more intangible investment piece. It has cost us much, but it is worth the investment. It is our marriage.

The question is: are you investing in your marriage? Are we?

Are you putting forth the time, effort, resources and even money required to invest in your marriage? Investing in your marriage on the front end will save you a whole lot of headache and heartache on the back end.

Your investment might look like counseling-premarital and marriage counseling. Counseling shouldn't only happen when things are in an emergency state. Good counsel is desirable as maintenance.

Your investment might look like date nights and weekends away. It might look like date nights at home after shuffling the kids off to bed.

Your investment might look like marriage enrichment classes. I'd highly recommend this series by Chip Ingram. It is good, Biblically based teaching that is very practical.

Your investment might look like time spent together. Watching movies, talking, drinking your beverage of choice, laughing, running, biking.

Your investment might look like a new piece of lingerie and some candles. Or flowers or chocolate or a card.

Your investment might look like your love languages lived out.

For us Barefoot Hippies, our current marriage investment looks like getting our rears in gear at 4:45 on Monday mornings to go for a swim and then for a bagel date. It looks like praying together. It looks like playing together. It looks like going to marriage enrichment class and facing the hard questions. It looks like not giving up ever-no matter the pain or work involved. It looks like admitting we have problems, and working together for solutions.

However you are investing in your marriage, it is vitally important that you are investing. It will cost you. But if you don't invest in your marriage, it will end up costing you more. Much more.

The investment will be worth it. Because your marriage will last. It will stand the tests of time. It will pass down a good heritage to your children.

How are you investing in your marriage this week?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Little Changes, Big Payoff

And now for a much lighter, much more practical, much less angst filled post than yesterday...

Have you ever noticed that small changes can pay big dividends? Things like going to bed 5 minutes earlier, or getting up 5 minutes earlier, or flossing your teeth, or saving a dollar a day.

Well, our family has made 3 changes that have smoothed some troubled waters in our day to day life.

1. Leaving for grocery shopping at 2:30 rather than 3:00. It's a small change. A difference of only 30 minutes. But, it adds up to more than 30 minutes saved on the other end, plus a whole lot less stress.

By leaving for my bi-weekly shopping trip at 2:30, I miss after school/work commuting traffic. Roads are clearer-which saves time.

By leaving at 2:30, I also miss the last minute dinner shoppers. And I am maximizing the sweet spot of school pick up. Most moms are in the school pick up lane, not at the grocery store, for the hour and a half it takes me to get my shopping done.

Also, by leaving at 2:30, I am back right after 4:00. This gives me 1 hour and 45 minutes to get my groceries put away and dinner made, rather than just an hour (or less). Dinner is earlier on Monday nights in order to get us to Bible study on time. But, this leaves a nice window of time to get everything done and not be rushed.

I used to enjoy grocery shopping and then I started not liking it. I realized that that it was stressing me out because I don't like busy stores or waiting in line or shopping with all my kids. By changing my shopping time by 30 minutes I eliminated to of these stress factors. And, I also leave 3 of my 4 kids at home. It is their quiet time, and then they watch a movie. And it works way better. So, if you are facing these challenges too, maybe changing your shopping time or day would help you out too.

To summarize-the big payoff is less busy stores and roads, and back in plenty of time to leisurely prepare dinner and put away groceries. No more running around like a deranged crazy woman.

2. Traditional school 4 days a week (5 lessons in 4 days) and fun school on Fridays.
This has been a great change for our family. By Friday, everyone is done with the concept of school. We are all ready for a break. It was hard to pound the textbooks.

Plus, we were facing the challenge of working in history, science and art Mondays through Thursdays. They were getting far more licks and promises than completed lessons.

This is the 3rd year we have followed this format, and we all love it. We do spelling tests, history lectures, history reading, art and science on Fridays. We are usually done by 1:00, which gives us the remainder of the day to relax and do other things. Like baking.

I have found that I do way better when I can schedule some down time in my schedule while still accomplishing what I need to accomplish. No guilt plus time to recoup.

Big payoff-strong finish each week, plus covering all the extra subjects that we need to cover.

3. Continental breakfast on Sunday mornings. So, this one wouldn't seem as life changing, but it really has been. We used to serve a streamlined breakfast of oatmeal on Sundays. But the oatmeal still needed cooked. And it just made the Sunday mornings busier. Not as busy as making pancakes or eggs, but still busier. And, getting 6 people out the door by 9:00 in the morning does not need to be any more complicated than it already is.

Plus, Meres hardly wakes up until the 11th hour on Sunday mornings (figuratively, not really), and oatmeal is not the most car friendly, portable breakfast.

Now we do toast or muffins or coffee cake and fruit and cheese. It is simple. Everyone can help themselves. The mess is at a minimum. And it is a special breakfast. Muffins and cheese?! Oh Yeah!

Big payoff-less stress on an already often stressful morning. And Meres gets to eat.

Have you made any changes in your day to day life that have made a major difference?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Trying to See My Way Clear

Grey areas are so grey, you know?

Nuances. Personal preferences. Traditions for the sake of tradition. Deference. Convictions.

I am not against traditions. I'm not even necessarily against doing something because its the way it has always been done. I am against thinking that something is better only on the merits that it has always been done that way.

Old doesn't always equal good. New doesn't always equal bad. And the reverse is true for both also.

It does grate me when someone sights the fact that something has always been done this way. Because I am too black and white. To historically in-tune to go for that. If you want to get down to the nitty gritty, something that has always been done this way, can usually be traced to a pretty specific starting point. Which, incidentally, is not at Creation, aka, the beginning of time. The beginning of our measurable "always."

No, if you want to be completely honest, a tradition may be a hundred or even hundreds of years old. But that is really all. A very few traditions may be thousands of years old, but that still doesn't account for the rest of the time this tradition didn't happen.

And whatever its longevity, tradition does not necessarily equal Biblical grounds.

Ideas of dress and modesty. Music. Politics. Worship.

There are some pretty clear guidelines about these subjects in the Bible. People did die for messing up in some of these areas, so they are important. But, often all that is written is a framework then the rest is left up to personal interpretation and preference and common sense.

If it isn't spelled out then it falls into the very grey area of preference. And what each individual feels is the way God wants them to live out a particular topic. How will God be most glorified by my actions in this area?

But, what ends up happening is that we make rules for the grey areas. Issues become much more murky by adding traditions and not giving offense and deference and nuance and everything else.

There is the relevant rule of love. Loving our neighbor the way God loves us. Sacrificially. Unselfishly. Let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own needs, but every man also on the needs of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...(Philippians 2)

And so we are weighing glorifying God, putting our brother first, and being true to the person God created us to be. In all of those personality nuances and quirks. And it gets so overwhelming this tight rope walk of...of...

We start to judge in our hearts and then with our mouths.

Who art you that judges another man's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteems one day above another: another esteems all days alike. Let every man be persuaded in his own mind. (Romans 14: 4-5)

How? How do you not judge? How can you be fully persuaded in your own mind? How do you live at peace? How do you do all at once?

Maybe I need to get a thicker skin, but I am tired of people inferring that I need to conform to someone else's ideas that they are not supporting by Scripture.

I am tired of feeling like I give and give and give and try so hard to please people. I try to not offend people. And yet, some people are always offended, never grateful, never pleased.

I am tired of feeling like I can defer, so I should. I can be the bigger person, so just be the bigger person. Such and such is not a life and death issue to me, so I can let it go.

I am tired of people being offended but never wondering how they might be offending me.

Does that sound selfish? Self-focused? I'm sure it is.

But, here is what I am trying to do. I am trying to walk a line. And figure out boundaries. And sift through how much bull and bullying God expects me to put myself through. Because just because God uses everything for good does not mean it was good. The end result does not excuse bad behavior.

I am trying to wade through the issue of why, since these things are preferences and traditions, not Biblical mandates, one person's preference takes precedence over another's. Is it blatant favoritism or just that the squeaky wheel gets the grease?

Sometimes the things people do make me mad. I get annoyed, and annoyance is what it is. I think my annoyance reveals something I need to work on or let go. Sometimes people do things that make me cry. And those are the things that really reveal where I am vulnerable.

Sometimes I'd like people to realize that though I am a very strong woman, I still need a hug on occasion.

I don't know what the answer is. I am sure it is in growing a thicker skin. I am sure it is in developing a much more humble spirit. I am sure it is in following the example of Christ.

It is in praying, "Lord, refine me. Make my heart like Your heart."

It may even occasionally be in writing rambling angst filled blogs posts that show my struggles. And how I have not even sort of arrived. Because I might not struggle with keeping my house cleaned-but my heart, well, that is another matter.

Just so it's all clear-clear as mud.=)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Decadence on a Plate: Reese's Cheesecake Brownies

Today marks the first time in weeks-if not months-that I have written each day, Monday through Thursday. Not posted-written.

This is a big deal. And hopefully it means that life is settling into a good rhythm. School in the mornings. Writing in the afternoons. Chores in both morning and afternoon moments. Bike rides occasionally, when I can fit them in. Which is not nearly enough, but it is what it is.

I still have yet to figure out when I am going to learn Spanish. But, I have got the kids doing their lessons on various days. Each lesson takes almost 2 hours to complete, and each of the three oldest kids need to do the lessons. Meres is just along for the ride. She is picking up a bit. Though I don't think she knows what she is saying. Anyway, I decided to have BMV do the lesson first and then supervise Freckles and LC as they go through the lesson. This will reinforce the language in his mind, and will free me up a bit. But, I still need to get moving on it, because I don't want to be the quintessential dumb mom in the new culture.

Btw, Meres has been having nightmares about dragons. (thanks to How to Train Your Dragon.) Thankfully for her, she has a dad who slayed the dragon, Draggy, in her dream. Yay for dad! Ironically enough, I didn't make an appearance in her dream. She had a different mom. Humph! Who snuggled with her, and gave up an 11 mile run, so that she would go back to sleep and not dream of dragons? Not the dragon slaying dad. Just saying.

Dragon slaying (or way too early mornings 4:41), is definitely more feasible when accompanied by chocolate. And, do I ever have a chocolate recipe for you!

Thick layers of brownie and cheesecake topped with a decadent layer of ganache, sprinkled with Reese's peanut butter cups. Oh yeah!

They look amazing, and they taste even better. Let me warn the adventurous amongst us...these are VERY, VERY rich. The temptation lies in wanting to have a huge chunk because it is so fantastically delicious, but resistance is vital. Less is more. I would say that you can cut the pan into 20 squares and 20 sweet tooth's would be quite satiated.

Serve with a tall glass of cold milk or a hot cup of espresso. Perfect pairing.

Reese's Cheesecake Brownies
1 (9x13") fudge brownie mix (and anything it calls for)
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (12 oz) package of Reese's Pieces
1/2 (12 oz) package of chocolate chips (1 cup)
1/2 cup whipping cream
12 large Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, chopped

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13" pan.
-Prepare the brownie batter according to package directions and pour into the greased pan. Set aside.
-In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk, and beat until smooth. Stir in the Reese's Pieces. Spoon cheesecake over batter evenly.
-Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until the cheesecake layer is set and the sides are golden.
-Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, and then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the whipping cream and chocolate chips. Stir and heat just until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Pour and spread evenly over the top of the brownies.
-Chop the 12 peanut butter cups, and sprinkle over the top of the brownies. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Next week Thursday I am taking a food photography class. I am really excited. I feel my pictures have definitely improved, but I know they can be much better.

Have a magnificent fall weekend!