1.4.20

let's bake Rugelach!

Rugelach is a delicious Jewish pastry and very easy to make at home! I first learned in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, but have since made several modifications so thought it was time to post my version here. Where we live we have many Jewish bakeries, which is probably why I've rarely ventured to bake my own Jewish delicacies. The thought being, why bother making my own if theirs are so good? For that reason as well, you'll never catch me baking my own bagels. I live way too chose to Saint Viateur Bagels for that! (Technically closer to Fairmont Bagel, but if you know Montreal, you know we're split down the middle about which bagel joint is the true best). But back to rugelach.


Rugelach, pronounced roo-guh-lack, is sometimes filled with chocolate, but I always choose fruity-filled sweets over chocolate. Am I weird? The dough is a mixture of cream cheese and butter, which makes it incredibly easy to roll out. This recipe makes two balls of dough, which roll out to make 12 rugelach each. Once your dough comes together, separate into two balls and roll each ball into a large circle. Once rolled thin, spread your favourite jam all over the top of the circle in a thin layer. Too thick of a jam layer will make your rugelach unravel in the oven and just explode with jam, so as tempting as it is, limit the jam layer to two tablespoons! 


Slice your jammed circle from top to bottom, left to right, and then twice more in equal portions in each quarter. This is hard to explain without a picture, I admit, but essentially, you're cutting to reveal 12 individual triangles. You'll then roll the triangles inward from the outer edge of the circle. They'll look like little croissants filled with jam and taste even better!


Rugelach

Dough

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
pinch salt
  • Cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until well incorporated
  • Then add the flour and salt until a large ball of dough forms. 
  • Flatten each dough ball into a disc shape. Cut in two and individually wrap each dough disc for one hour or up to two days.

    You could also freeze the dough discs to use another day - just thaw them at room temperature when you're ready to bake your rugelach.
Filling

Whatever jam you like most! We used raspberry but my favourite is rhubarb or peach

Glaze

Whisk an egg and glaze each rugelach. This won't use the entire egg, but I suggest save it in a small jar in your fridge for the next baked good, because all pastries are best topped with an egg glaze! Especially scones, but I digress...

Top

Lastly, top with some raw sugar for an added crunch which is the best pairing with the super soft dough!

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, let fully cool, and enjoy!

27.3.20

Meal Kit Deliveries to Recommend for Covid-19 Isolation (+ Big Savings!)

We've heard it everywhere and most of us are heading the expert's advice: STAY HOME. Don't see your friends, except on Zoom. Don't leave your home, except for essentials. And if you can have the essentials delivered, all the better.



Since Oli's Covid-19 scare, we've been in complete isolation. While we're now in the clear, we're more vigilant than ever and won't be doing any shopping that can't be done online and isn't essential. As in other hectic times, we're relying on meal kits. These aren't something I order ever week because they are expensive (incredibly convenient services typically are!) but right now they're a life saver. 

I wanted to share three with you today that I've tried and loved. I'm currently a client of all three meal kit services, though I order from them each only very occasionally. With the pandemic though, I've been ordering one box or two recipes every week. One week it will be Goodfood, the next Hello Fresh, and the next Cook It. Some weeks I'll order a family plan (two recipes, each one serving four) but most of the time it will just be for Brad and I to enjoy (three recipes, each meal serving two). They're all essentially the same in how they work (recipes and all the necessary ingredients are delivered to your door) but the pricing is a bit different. Cook It is the best price and is local to Montreal, so they're my top choice every time. The ingredients travel less to get to our plates and we're supporting a local business, plus it's the most budget friendly. Hello Fresh is the most expensive, but probably the best recipes and quality. They're an international company. Goodfood is a Canadian company with reliably good recipes and almost as affordable as Cook It.



Price for three meals/week for two (6 meals): $65
Price for three meals/week for four (12 meals): $112
Discount: 50% off your first order by entering EMILYT196 when you register


Price for three meals/week for two (6 meals): $79.99 
Price for three meals/week for four (12 meals): $129.99
Discount: $50 off your first order with THIS CODE.


Price for three meals/week for two (6 meals): $66.95
Price for three meals/week for four (12 meals): $118.45
Discount: $40 off your first order with THIS CODE

I hope these discount codes are helpful as you juggle working from home, homeschooling, and staying home as our communities require us to do for the greater good! 

26.3.20

Two Weeks In: Testing Oli for Covid-19, Quarantine, and the Goodness of God

What a week we've had! For the world, of course, it's been a week. But in our little nest, too.

On Saturday March 21, Oli developed a little dry cough. It was intermittent and didn't wake him at night, so we didn't think much of it. By afternoon the following day, his cough was constant and a fever developed. I called our province's COVID-19 line (18776444545  in case you need it!) and were advised to have him tested for Covid-19. 

A test was scheduled for later in the week and in the meantime Oli would need to be quarantined in our home to protect the rest of our family. Of course, we'd already been exposed to his virus, if it was Covid-19, as we've learned someone may be contagious for days before they present symptoms, but contagion increases once symptoms present, so he was more contagious now that he was sick. So, to protect ourselves and our girls (especially Chloe who had suffered pneumonia just last month), we made the impossible choice to section him off in our bedroom until further notice. The rest of us would be under strict quarantine, not leaving the house until test results came through.

We delivered his meals wearing masks, we passed him notes under the door, we wore gloves to take his temperature, we washed the door knob and our hands dozens of times a day, and we desperately missed our boy. Meanwhile, Oli was sick and suffering all alone. It was the most counter-intuitive thing, keeping such distance from our boy when he needed us the most. Absolutely heartbreaking leaving him alone when all I wanted to do was hug him, stroke his hair, rub his back.

The next day (Monday), we learned of a walk-in testing clinic that had just opened downtown with absolutely enormous capacity. Run by 300 nurses, the clinic could test up to 3,000 people a day and they would test anyone presenting symptoms or who had travelled. I drove down with Oli and we were seen and tested all within thirty minutes. Quick, clean, efficient, and free. I know other provinces in Canada are only testing people who have travelled internationally and there's a severe shortage of tests in the USA and other countries, so we felt incredibly lucky. We were promised results in 24-72 hours, and headed back to our quarantined home hopeful.

Oli was often up in the night with coughing fits this week, and since Brad was sleeping on the couch, he was closest to him and spent some truly special moments with him in the wee hours. Donning his mask, Brad would go in to offer Oli some Tylenol, honey for his throat, and prayer and at one point Oli even said to Brad that he felt so close to God as he was suffering. He said he'd never prayed so much in his entire life! Being all alone had driven him to God. As a parent, I felt I was doing the very worst thing, even as I understood it best for the rest of the family, and yet even in that, God was doing a good work in Oli's heart. God was teaching Oli of his comfort, his presence, and his friendship when we couldn't give ours.

On Wednesday morning we still had no results, but thankfully a friend who works in healthcare was able to look up Oli's information and read his test results for us - negative. Negative! Our sick boy does not have Covid-19, but even if he did, God is good. 

Oli is still sick, but no longer in strict isolation. Brad and I can move back into our bedroom (hallelujah!) and the girls have their brother back. We've just been on the phone with Oli's pediatrician and a prescription for antibiotics has been sent to our pharmacy to treat probable bronchitis.  Our strict quarantine is over, and if needed, Brad or I can go to the store to get supplies or go on a run for fresh air. Glorious! What freedoms we'd taken for granted just a week ago!

We will still be intensely social-distancing, now more than ever, after this scare, but we aren't prisoners in our own home. We won't be seeing any other people except a meter apart, and only if necessary. We won't be allowing the kids outside except in a nature-context like hiking in Bois de Liesse (more on that soon!) and we'll continue catching up with friends and family on Whatsapp and Zoom. The pandemic is just ramping up in most parts of the world and it's far from over here in Canada, but this personal crisis is thankfully over.

Thank you everyone for your concern, prayers, thoughts, and porch deliveries this past week! Let's continue to take care of one another. 

One Week In: Social-Isolation, Home-school, Home-church and Life in a Covid-19 World

It's only been a week of officially homeschooling and two Sundays of worshiping with our church family via Youtube, and I've already felt the gamut of emotions; some holy, most utterly depraved. My motto, as March 12, when the schools officially announced their closure to prevent the spread of Covid-19, has been "these are hard days, and sweet moments", and indeed, they have been.



After the announcement of the school closure, Brad and the elders at our church had a scrappy 48 hours to make the decision to likewise cancel church and move it online. That weekend was slightly overwhelming but also kind of exciting. I love change (weird, maybe) so I saw this all as a fun challenge and one I was eager to adapt to. That enthusiasm lasted all of three days before I was yelling at my kids, weeping "I'm not a teacher and I don't want to be!", fearing the very worst for our finances, our health, our kid's education, the longevity of our church, and the security of our nation. I told you I ran the gamut!

I'm not proud of how I've reacted at times. Of my temper towards my unwilling students/kids, of my lack of faith as if God were not still on the throne, of my clear excessive love of material goods, vacations, etc., only visible when they're taken away. And yet, this has drawn me closer to God, who never asked for perfection in his followers. Jesus said, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick", and this pandemic is revealing new layers of sickness in me that I didn't know existed. My deep love of control, my self-reliance, my lack of trust in Him. 

I've also seen this pandemic bring out beauty that I would have missed. The things we have taken for granted all of our lives are now precious. Visiting grandparents, healthy kids, fresh groceries, Whatsapp, the Psalms. Receiving news from a friend, or visiting grandparents in isolation through the window, our favourite local cafe delivering milk to our porch, or the hope in Psalm 91... they're almost too beautiful to be true. 

Oh, how I crave a pint at the local pub with my friends, or a long walk with my family in the neighbourhood, stopping every few steps to greet neighbours with hugs and lively chat. Oh how I'd love to hug my relatives, especially the older ones. I think with tears in my eyes about how glorious it would be to stand and sing with our congregation at Eglise du Plateau and listen to sound teaching shoulder to shoulder with the church I love - and instead we can only connect online through videos, words and pictures (though we are still under sound teaching and joyful worship, I must add, simply via Youtube). 

And yes, I long for my kids to be back at their excellent public school instead of in my constant pedagogy and care. Sure, we're doing fine with homeschooling, but I'm not a teacher, nor have I been trained as one. Not to mention, our kids attend an all-French school and my French is nowhere near their Francophone teachers. Imagine me, an Anglophone who has learned French only by ear, struggling through teaching my six year old to read in French. I, myself, have never learned to read in French. I am able, but it's not a strength of mine, and certainly not to the point of teaching another, but here we are. Lily is writing thousand word English book reports, Oli is learning multiplication ahead of his grade-level and teaching himself Arabic on Youtube, and by Jove, Chloe is reading in French! It's not a disaster, God is gracious and kind, and we are afloat. 

Through this week I've seen my heart attach to temporal, fleeting things and am reminded regularly why those things make terrible gods. Control, comfort, money. I'm grateful to believe in a God who is worthy of my respect and my worship and my trust, especially in times of great peril and fear. As Christians, we don't believe terror will never befall us - Jesus was the most moral, perfect being who ever lived and look at how hard his life was - ending in a brutal death! But we believe that in it all, God is good and with us, and one day, a perfect life does await us if we trust in him. 

I guess you could say that this week I re-learned the gospel, so thank you Covid-19.

19.3.20

Redeeming the Time: 20 Things to do While Social Distancing

We're into our first week of homeschooling and social distancing and I have to be honest - I don't hate it
These are very frightening times to be sure, yet the increased and even mandated time at home with those we love is one heck of a silver lining. 



Certainly not everyone has the ability to work from home and hunker down in the way I'm describing - especially health care and essential service workers who are absolute heroes - but for those who are restricted to a work-from-home or simple be home capacity, my hope is we'll spend the time well. One day this will be over (hopefully soon!), and we'll look back on how we spent these days. I really hope to look back on them with fondness, knowing that I followed expert's advice in staying inside, but also that I used the time wisely and fruitfully. 

Here's a simple list of 20 things to do while you're social distancing. For many of us, the time at home is not optional, but the way we spend it is completely in our hands. 

  1. Sleep more - even if you're working from home, you'll likely work somewhat reduced hours and choose your hours unlike the typical 9-5. Kids aren't rushing off to school so why not catch up on an hour or two per night? 1 in 3 adults aren't getting enough sleep, but now is likely the best chance you'll get to allow yourself to sleep a full 8 hours (or more!).
  2. Master a new skill - I suggest you perfect my sour dough-ish bread recipe! But other ideas are to try out a new instrument or start knitting. 
  3. Read the entire New Testament - I have the David Suchet NIV audio version on Scribd and it's 20 hours. Thanks to social distancing you have 20 hours. This is well worth your while! Here's a link for your first two months free on Scribd, fyi!
  4. Learn a new language - As someone living in her second language, I assure you it's worth the time to invest in language learning! Oli is trying to learn a third language (Arabic!) on Youtube during the time off school, too.
  5. Clean out your closet - I did this to my upcoming summer wardrobe and the kid's too and it was so satisfying. I sell my quality kid's pieces to Boutique Mini-Cycle and give the rest away to charity. 
  6. Wash weird things and places - Now, if ever, is the time to deep clean. Not only are you going to be home (and it's much more preferable to be in a clean home, no?), but you also have the time. Today we washed the walls and baseboards. Seriously. It was oddly satisfying.
  7. Do facials and hair masks and all the things - self-care alert! Those time-consuming and totally optional beauty activities are really fun when there's nothing else to do.
  8. Learn to cook new things - Social distancing means we aren't rushing to the store every time we're out of one ingredient, so use up everything you have first and along the way, stretch yourself with cooking. I plan to explore some of my lesser-used cookbooks and focus on my pantry ingredients.
  9. Get back to family dinners - I know my family has a lot of evening work and engagements normally so we are loving the chance to all be home for 6pm supper each night. I light a candle and dust off my secondhand English china and it feels very Norman Rockwell in the best way. 
  10. For the married couples out there: have sex every day! Seriously, why not? Didn't see that suggestion coming, did ya? ;-)
  11. Read good books - You will eventually get tired of Netflix, and if you don't, well, trust me, it's good to take a break. Favourites I've read in the past year include Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Educated by Tara Westover, Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Simonson, Women and God by Kathleen Nielson, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
  12. Don't wear makeup! You're not going out anyway, give your skin a break!
  13. Workout at home - Even a simple workout like 10 burpees followed by 10 pushups x 3 will get your heart pumping and muscles awakened
  14. Ask questions - of your roomates, spouse, kids, anyone you're stuck inside with, or even friends elsewhere online. Get to know people. 
  15. Help a health-care professional - these people are truly on the front lines and we ought to do our best to serve them in any way right now. For my part, I've offered to make lunches for a nurse friend. Anything you can do to ease their stress, give them a bit of respite, and say "thank you".
  16. Shop online - I usually love browsing thrift stores and I miss it already, but I've done my shopping online and plan to continue to. My favourite online shop for secondhand and quality clothes is Boutique Mini-Cycle, which satisfies my desire to thrift a bit! I've also bought books from Indigo for the kids, and a new kettle from Canadian Tire. There's no need to be in stores right now!
  17. Clean out all of the kitchen drawers - toss that utensil or small appliance you never use, wash the drawers and cupboards, because wow they got disgusting over the years! It's a task you'd probably never do under normal circumstances but feels great to have done.
  18. Order takeout - restaurants are being hit very hard financially right now so why not order takeout from your favourite local place? Most restaurants are running at a reduced capacity to comply with the new limits for people gathering in one space but almost every restaurant offers takeaway.
  19. Watch your film bucket list - this is the time to re-watch your very favourites (BBC Pride & Prejudice, The Holiday, Count of Monte Cristo), to introduce your kids to the classics (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter), and to lessen those screen rules. I'm preaching to myself here!
  20. Keep calm and carry on - this too shall pass, and God is still on the throne.

17.3.20

Why we always choose vacation rentals over hotels + a glimpse at The Prince Edward County Church Airbnb

From following our many travels over the years, you already know by now that we're typically Airbnb users. Before Airbnb, we rented vacation homes on other platforms or directly from owners, but we've always loved the freedom and flexibility that renting our own space brought over the constrictions and cost of hotels, especially in this season of life with three young kids.


With the current COVID-19 pandemic, I'm aware that writing on tourism of any kind may appear insensitive. I want to be very careful as I share these travel tips because I know many reading have had to cancel long awaited vacations, and that sting may remain for some time. As I write about vacation rentals over hotel stays, know that I'm speaking from past experience and in most cases, local travels. Many of the Airbnb stays we have enjoyed as a family have been in Quebec and Ontario, just short car journeys from home. Over the March Break we were invited to stay in the Prince Edward County Church, under four hours drive from Montreal and we had a really incredible time. For anyone re-thinking international travel in the upcoming months, I can't recommend vacation rentals in our own country enough, and the Prince Edward County Church in particular. Read on for why we love renting and a few pictures of the fabulous former church that hosted our family.


We have stayed at hotels as a family before, notably the Chateau Frontenac for Christmas when our kids were all age three and under and this past summer for a few days during the Bulgaria leg of our stay. If we've stayed in hotels in the past, we either had no other option for accommodation (as was the case in Bulgaria) or found a once-in-a-lifetime price and wanted the experience while it was temporarily in our budget (as was the case with the Chateau Frontenac, as they were undergoing some renovations and slashed their prices for a very short while). Renting homes has always been good to our family and I'd love to share why, nine times out of ten, we'll choose renting over a hotel. I also want to take a minute to share our recent March Break stay at the Prince Edward County Church, an Airbnb property that we were lucky enough to stay at for a few days. 


WHY WE RENT HOMES INSTEAD OF BOOKING HOTEL ROOMS
  1. The space

    As a family of five, hotel rooms are way too cramped for us. We live in an urban condo all year round, so we're not looking for a massive family home by any means, but we do want more space than essentially a large bedroom. Rental homes come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but I've yet to stay in one that was smaller than a basic hotel room! I like having a place to go before my family wakes or after the kids are down at the end of the day. That Christmas that we stayed in a hotel in Quebec City, Brad and I literally hung out in the closet so not to wake our sleeping babies! At the Prince Edward County Church we had so much space to ourselves - it was glorious. As a former Methodist church, you can imagine how unique the architecture was. One of the larger homes we've ever rented, it provided little nooks, balconies, and two living rooms.

     
  2. A fully functioning kitchen

    I love to cook and when travelling we still eat many of our meals at our rental space. Cooking your own meals is budget-friendly and provides comfort and routine for your kids, which is essential. It's also something nearly impossible to do when staying in a hotel. We love renting homes for the cooking possibility, and the Prince Edward County Church had such a great kitchen (including a Soda Stream, french press, tons of cookware, beautiful serve ware, etc). I ordered a Goodfood box ahead of time to be delivered to our Airbnb, which was so convenient! For anyone interested, I here's a code for $40 off your first order. I also brought some baked goods, easy snacks, and fun treats for the daytime. It's always worth asking your Airbnb host about what their kitchen does and does not have. Some rental homes have very little and others are really well stocked. Our March Break rental fell into the latter category, happily, but I have stayed in Airbnbs that didn't have can openers, cutting boards, or sharp knives, which made things tricky. Even if you're just using the kitchen for breakfast and snacks, rental space kitchens are preferable to a hotel's minibar.

     
  3. Separate bedrooms

    Unless you're splurging for a several suite hotel room, most hotel stays also mean sharing a bedroom with your kids. No thank you! I love how renting homes gives us all more privacy and comfort. The Prince Edward County Church actually had three bedrooms so my kids didn't all have to share, as they do at home, which was a major perk for them! Brad and I also had a king sized bed which we don't have at home, so everyone was spoiled :)

  4. Finances

    I've already mentioned this point so I won't drag it out any further. By and large, Airbnb rentals cost less than hotels stays and you get so much more. Plain and simple!
    Also, as an added incentive, book any Airbnb with this link and receive $60 off! (new users only)
  5. Getting the local experience

    Even if finances weren't in the equation, I think I'd always opt for renting a local home over a hotel for this exact reason. We love renting in small communities, off the tourist path, and really getting a feel for what life would be like living in that town/city/country. We love finding a local grocery store, markets and shops and moving right in, so to speak. Aside from renting a home, I'd recommend staying in fewer places and for longer to get this experience. I've seen European tours that boast covering five countries in five days and that's just not for me. We'd rather see fewer countries or cities but get to know the ones we do see really well
We have already planned an international trip this June which may or may not come to fruition. We'll be following the expert's advice and international laws when the time comes, but for now it's too early to tell if we'll need to cancel our trip or not. If we do cancel, we'll likely look at the Maritimes or Northern Quebec and definitely rent a home instead of booking a hotel. Staycations can still be adventurous and restful, so I'm not worried!

If any of you are looking at Prince Edward County, which is just over an hour from Toronto and under four hours from Montreal, you really must check out the Church. It's absolutely stunning and filled with history and unique touches around every corner. We were hosted by The Prince Edward County Church and did not pay for our stay, but I had been wanting to stay there for ages before the collaboration materialized and I know a few friends who have stayed there are raved about it. I can say with all honesty that their raving was well founded and our stay was something I'll never forget.

HELPFUL LINKS:

15.3.20

Pandemic Ponderings

In an effort to process these unprecedented times and hopefully process well, I thought I'd share a collection of my own thoughts and those I've found helpful in the recent days. Please share how you're processing too! There's been great discussion on my Instagram posts related to COVID-19 and I wanted to save them in a more permanent place, so here we are.   

On Friday, March 13 I wrote the following:
The world, or those who are able I should say, are hunkering down and hoping to ride out Coronavirus, which has been made considerably easier given that schools are now closed and many employees are being asked to stay home. Our Prime Minister's wife has just tested positive for it, which, for some reason, brought it all home for me.
Our living room is about to become our school room, gym, church, and work place. Part of me sees thrill in these changes and relishes an opportunity to stay home and hibernate and my family; like Christmas holidays Part II. 
But part of me is overwhelmed by the global panic, by the empty shelves I saw yesterday at a major grocery chain (just the toilet paper section, but what's next?), by the younger and younger people being diagnosed with a novel virus that we were told only affected elderly compromised immune systems, by all of it, really. I'm worried for my friends who work in healthcare and are on the front lines. I'm worried about the many times I've taken public transit this past week. I'm worried about those in our community who will run out of essentials. I'm worried about what social distancing will do for those with mental health concerns and for our economy. 
My church is studying Ecclesiastes right now and the timeliness is striking. This sermon series was planned eight months ago but lo, and behold, Coronavirus arrives at just the time were turning to God's word to remember that material things will not satisfy, that our earthly successes will not bring lasting joy, and that much of the things we turn to in this world for comfort are but a vapour. Smoke. Stockpiling toilet paper is smoke. The stock market rising and falling is smoke. That cancelled vacation is smoke. I don't say this lightly - we, too have lost savings in the market crash, and we may very well need to cancel our June trip.  But I need to remember that these things are not lasting joys. Maybe you need that reminder too?
Practically speaking, please don't forget to love your neighbour in this. Share instead of stockpile. Check in on those who are alone and vulnerable. And remember, perfect love casts out fear ♡
Today, Sunday, March 15, our church worshiped apart but together via a life-feed of our worship pastor leading praise and Brad expounding on Psalm 91. We were encouraged to watch the live fed service in small groups, so the kids and I tuned in with three others who live very close by. Afterwards, Brad led a Facebook live event and did Q&A for his sermon. As we watched dear soul after dear soul check in to the live event we were also treated to pictures of the dozens of other small groups worshiping alongside the live feed in their homes. It was truly so touching. When the event was over, my group opted for a few more songs a capella, just us seven. These are scary times, yet such sweet moments.



Below are other words that bolstered me this week in the unknown and anxious times. I hope they're as good to you as they were to me. 

Psalms or Headlines? That's the question and the choice laid out by Sarah Clarkson, a woman I've come to admire greatly. In this post she writes about picking up the pieces after a home invasion during the already overwhelming time of Coronavirus. She chooses the Psalms and we ought to as well.

I often turn to this newsletter by Matt Civico when I want to challenge myself and go deeper in thought. Matt writes about daily things that we all encounter but with such incredible insight and maturity. Of course, his gleanings on the global pandemic were helpful and beautiful. (log in to read)

Brad shared this Martin Luther quote with our church this week and I thought it was perfect.
" I will ask God out of mercy to protect us. Then I'm going to smoke, to help cleanse the air, give medicine and take them. I will avoid places, and people, where my presence is not necessary to not be contaminated and also inflict and affect others, not to cause their death as a result of my neglect. If God wants to take me, he will surely find me and I will have done what he expected of me, without being responsible neither for my own death nor for the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, I will not avoid any place or anyone, but I will go freely as mentioned above. See, it is such a faith that fears God because it is neither daring nor reckless and does not try God." 
Source: Works by Luther Volume 43 p. 132 the letter "May we escape from a deadly plague" written to the Rev. Dr. John Hess.
This excellent resource for taking to children about COVID-19 was really helpful.

This playlist will bring a lot of comfort to anxious souls.

I appreciate this articicle, which pointed to some incredibly wise words penned 70 years ago that could well be applied today in our Coronavirus time. C S Lewis, writing in 1948 said this:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
 This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

26.2.20

Let's talk Lent.

Today marks the first day of Lent, the 40 day season preceding Easter Sunday. A completely optional exercise that was never commanded in Scripture, isn't practiced in most Evangelical churches, and won't at all make you a better Christian if you take part - and I love it. The liturgical calendar is something I've become reacquainted with in recent years and has been a great encouragement to my faith and the way I disciple my children. 


I want to make one thing excruciatingly clear as I have great fear of this post creating a burden or obligation among you, dear readers. It is that God won't love you more or less if you participate in Lent or abstain from Lent or any "church calendar" activities. With that said, would you permit me to share why I've grown to love these liturgical seasons so much? I'll start at the beginning.

I didn't grow up celebrating Lent. In high school I heard about people giving up chocolate or TV for Lent, but it was more of a fun exercise in will power than anything spiritual. As a new Christian I began to see Christmas and Easter with completely different eyes; eyes of worship, expectation and deeper beauty than a bunny or gift-laden tree could ever conjure, yet still the holidays snuck up on me year after year. In university I was writing exams until right before both major Christian holidays and once I had children life felt so full that I never seemed to arrive "ready" to celebrate with a full heart the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If you ever feel that tension when the holidays roll around, where you're glad for the four day weekend and time with family but your heart isn't quite prepared to worship then you understand exactly how I've felt in years past. Celebrating Advent and Lent have essentially freed me from those experiences and prepared my heart to celebrate in spirit and in truth. I've written a lot about Advent, so here I'll focus on Lent.

Lent gives Christians a concentrated season for grieving our sin and reflecting on the brokenness in our world that necessitated the cross. Life is hard and we are all sinners and sinned against. I believe taking the time to focus on this, to grieve and mourn what we've done and what has been done to us is incredibly meaningful and healthy. Lent is by nature a heavy season. If Advent stirs our hearts for an upcoming birth, Lent grieves our hearts for an approaching death - one that we played a role in causing - and it's right and good to feel sadness, regret, and grief. But we know our grief will end in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, so there's always a limit to our grief that allows us to grieve with hope and not give in to despair. Some people choose to give up something during this season to share in the sufferings of Christ, to fast or challenge themselves in some way. I don't typically give up something for Lent, because I'm wary of my tendency to be legalistic (Enneagram 1 over here!), but I strongly encourage anyone who is giving up something for Lent to be sure to also add something in it's place that will fill up your affections for Jesus. Example: If you're giving up social media, add reading Scripture. The way I choose to practice Lent is not simply depriving myself of any one thing but truly orienting my heart towards Jesus and the Gospel. 

How are we practicing Lent this year? 

Pancake Tuesday + Explaining Lent

This is the first year I'm walking my kids through Lent though I've done it myself in recent years. We started last night with a big pancake supper feast which made our hearts merry, and then we transitioned into a time of reflection and confession. On the way home from school we had talked about the difference between Advent and Lent - Advent being an anticipatory celebration of an upcoming birth and Lent being a grieving season of an approaching death, lined with the precious hope of Resurrection Sunday. 

Confession + Forgiveness

After explaining the differences and answering any of their questions, I lead us in a time of confession. Simply admitting some of my sins from the day to my family. After each person repented of something, the family would respond, "your sins are forgiven!" It was such a sweet time. I don't know that we'll do this every day of Lent, but it represents the theme of Lent and how we'll be aiming to observe it. Grieving the wrong we've done and the wrong done to us, thanking Jesus for his forgiveness, and encouraging one another that all of those sins were nailed to the cross. The kids also wrote out or drew some of their sins which we put in a jar and lit the jar on fire (don't worry, we quickly moved the jar out onto our balcony - we were safe!)  The kids absolutely loved this and encouraged one another that "it feels so good to repent!" 

Scripture + Song

Like Advent, I'd like to be extra intentional this Lent about reading scripture daily with the kids and singing a hymn each night. We always have morning devotions and often sing praise songs in the car, but for Lent the songs and scripture will be focused on Good Friday and Easter Sunday particularly. Our hymn list includes Jesus Paid it All, There is a Fountain, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Hallelujah! What a Saviour! and on the last week of Lent, Christ the Lord is Risen Today

For scripture reading I'd recommend some Old Testament prophecies of Jesus death (Isaiah 53 being a beautiful example), the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death (Mark 15 being my favourite), or any part of the Bible you find pointing you to Jesus paying the price for sin. I may change halfway through Lent this year, but we'll start out with Romans 5:12-15

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[a] because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent. With the ashes we made in burning up our confessions last night, we had a fresh jar of ashes with which to put small crosses on our hands this morning at breakfast. I got this idea from Asheritah Ciuciu on Monica Swanson's Boy Mom Podcast. The kids found it really moving  - honestly at ages 6, 8, and 9, they were absolutely able to understand that those ashes were a symbol of forgiven sin. I wish I'd started this years ago with them! Kids really are able to understand so much more than we often give them credit for, and symbolic activities like this help them learn and understand. I know some people put an ash cross on their forehead, so this is a version of that. Traditionally the ashes come from burned up palm branches used from the previous year's Palm Sunday, but ash from burned up confessions to sins we know are forgiven felt pretty beautiful too. 



Objections to Lent 

There is good reason why many Evangelicals do not practice the liturgical calendar, and I understand those objections. One common objection is that the Bible doesn't teach Advent or Lent, and the first recorded occurrences of these is usually between 300 and 600 AD, meaning even the very early church didn't practice Lent, so why should we? I absolutely agree that it's not necessary or required for Christians, but that doesn't mean there isn't wisdom in it. Lent uses common, everyday aspects of the Christian life (repentance, confession, reading scripture, fasting, prayer, song) in a simple, repetitive way leading up to the most important days in our calendar year and allows us to approach Easter prepared, in heart and mind to worship the risen Lord. Not at all necessary, but absolutely helpful for many people. 

Another objection is that fasting (giving up something) for Lent can create legalism and I totally agree with this! You know your heart - are you prone to legalism and spiritual performance? Maybe avoid fasting and focus on feasting on the gospel. Are you in a season of life where you're making bad decisions that are leading you away from Jesus and you need more self control? Then maybe regular fasting from all manner of things would be good for you! The purpose is to create grief around our sin and hope and joy in the resurrection, not to tick off any spiritual boxes. 

Where I am, in Quebec, Lent is seen very much as a Catholic practice, and if you know any of the history of our province, you'll know that there is a great degree of mistrust and bitterness towards the Catholic church for past abuses of power as recent as the 1960's when virtually all of Quebec was Catholic. Here it's rare to find a Protestant who wants anything to do with the liturgical calendar because there's a great desire to distance themselves from Catholicism, but many Protestant denominations have historically observed the "church calendar" including Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Lutherns, and regardless of your affiliation, you may find it a helpful practice. 

Simple + Meaningful

As I've said over and over again for Advent, Lent can be simple and meaningful. I know you're busy - me too. Our life is full and I'm not necessarily looking for things to add to our schedule, but done simply, Lent doesn't need to take much planning or time to be meaningful. Take your eyes off of perfection and onto a few easy practices that you can guide your family through to prepare your hearts for Easter. It can be singing one Easter-themed hymn each day. Reciting the same cross-centred Bible verse every night before bed. Creating an environment of confession and repentance in your home by humbling leading by example. Asheritah Ciuciu has a lot of great activities and crafts on her website and in her book, if you're looking for more ideas. 

I hope this was helpful, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments or over on Instagram. 

24.2.20

what I read Fall '19 and Winter '20


I'm woefully behind on a book roundup so I'm just going to throw them all at you at once. Not just a tad behind, we're talking this post will span two years and decades, my friends! I do want to get back into the monthly updates because I find it so much easier to gather my thoughts when the books I read are in my recent memory and not months back, but this time we'll have to do with a compilation of everything I've read (that I can remember!) from October, November, December of 2019 and onto January and February of 2020. Hope you're up to it!

Educated by Tara Westover

This was a more recent book from 2020 but I'm starting the non-chronological list with it because it was hands down my favourite book I've read in months. Absolutely spellbinding, deeply sad and frustating, but also a great David and Goliath underdog story that happens to be true. The author described her stranger than fiction life growing up in a hyper-conservative, far-right, doomsday-preparing Morman family. In short, she is an abuse survivor both of physical abuse from her pseudo-sadist older brother, emotional abuse from her mentally unstable parents, and general neglect, never being allowed medical care or an education. Through unimaginable effort on her part, the author passes a GED test, having taught herself algebra from a secondhand text book and gains admission to university. She goes on to study at Cambridge and Harvard and very slowly begins to heal from her abusive childhood. You cry and cringe and cheer your way through her story, which she writes in such beautiful prose. Can't recommend enough!

The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, The Rosie Result, all by Graeme Simsion.

These were fun, light reads that brought along a good heap of empathy and moral conviction for how we respond to difficult people, particularly those on the Autism spectrum. I listened to the audiobook version for two of these and read the paper copy for another and while I always enjoy both, the audio version really was entertaining as the books take place in Australia and the varied Aussie accents were such a treat. Don Tillman, the protagonist (who falls for a girl so opposite of himself, named Rosie) is excellently written and portrayed, but I have to say Rosie wasn't as well written at all. It's rare that men write romantic comedies and I wonder if it has to do with men not having an easy time writing female characters. Don was a star, Rosie was a dud, so the writing was fun but not ground breaking.

The Boy Mom by Monica Swanson

I've mentioned this book and the author's podcast in my Top Parenting Resources blog post, so I won't repeat much. I'll just say that I absolutely love Monica Swanson's approach to parenting, her wisdom, and the way she writes with a grand vision for parenting but also a ton of very practical help. Some parenting books are all help and no heart, others offer a lot of theological framework but nothing very practical or specific, but The Boy Mom is one of those rare Christian parenting books that delivers both. I read this book over Christmas and have already referred back to it several times. I'm also giving away a copy next week on my Instagram!

Triggers: Exchanging Parents' Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake

I first heard about this book when Wendy Speake was a guest on the Boy Mom Podcast and I knew I had to read it. The glimpses of Speake's wisdom on the episode were nothing compared to the depths I'd find in her book, Triggers. If you've ever struggled with anger in your parenting (and who hasn't!?) you need to read this book! The audiobook is narrated by the author, which I love. Truly, this book is such a blessing. Some chapters didn't apply to my stage of life as my kids are past the toddler years, but there was plenty for my stage and the ones to come! This book helps identify what triggers your children and you towards anger and gives wise advice on how to diffuse and defeat it.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

This author is also a writer for the PBS series by the same name and as I'm a fan of the show, I recognizes many of the historical events and the way they were perceived and written. Even though I didn't learn anything new about the great Queen, I loved this book for light reading. The book follows a young Queen Victoria ascending to the throne, falling in love with Albert, and the earliest months of their marriage; essentially season one of Victoria on PBS.

The Crown Companion Series Part I and Part II by Robert Lacey

You must know by now how much I love The Crown miniseries, so these books were a must for me. They are written by a bonafide royal historian who takes you episode by episode and tells you what The Crown got right, what was embellished or straight up created with artistic license, and what happened in a different sequence of time. It's fascinating! Both Part I and Part II were temporarily available on Scribd so I listened to them there for free, but I think they've been taken down. Worth checking, and if not, find them elsewhere or buy the paper copies because they are such a treat for any history geek or royal watcher (hi, I'm both!) The best part about the audio is that they're narrated by Alex Jennings who plays David, Elizabeth II's runaway would-be King uncle in The Crown.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This was a book club read and not one any of us really loved. It's a WWII historical fiction which is usually a guarenteed win for me, but I couldn't get excited about one of the two protagonists. The book follows two leading ladies, one young and looking for answers after WWII and the other a retired and embittered spy from WWI's famous Alice Network of female spies. Eve, the elder protagonist had a story that really drew me in (she was a spy after all, so you know she's seen some horrible things) but Charlie, the young girl looking for her missing cousin fell flat to me. I just didn't care enough about her character, so her victories didn't boon me and her searching didn't interest me.

Open Book: A Memoir by Jessica Simpson

I have to admit, in late high school and early university I was a closet Jessica Simpson fan. Never cared for her music, but I was really drawn to her persona. I was also a young Christian and was fascinated by a celebrity who also professed faith and remained a virgin until her wedding night (albeit to a non-Christian which soon after ended in divorce, etc, etc). I wouldn't say I saw her as a role model, but I just found her lovable and interesting. I probably hadn't thought of her in a decade when I read some press about her new book, and I was intrigued. Honestly, it's a great read (even better listen, as it's narrated by her) as her story is quite something. She shares about childhood sexual abuse, her longtime battle with body image, her faith (and at times, lack thereof), and gets pretty personal about the many people who have let her down (including all of her ex's and her parents). It's intimate and brave and funny and I'm glad I read it even if I'm not a current celebrity watcher or Jessica Simpson fan.

The Life-Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson

I read this for the second (or maybe third?) time this month and still found myself underlining new parts and taking new notes from Sally Clarkson's bottomless well of wisdom. I have always found her writing encouraging and the unique way she looks at everything as an opportunity to bless others and tell a story. I love her thoughts on beauty, hospitality, simplicity, and homemaking. She co-authors this book with her adult daughter Sarah and they each take turns writing chapters. Sarah writes more poetically than Sally, which was beautiful to read. Both women have such a huge vision for what the home can be and they walk you through a year, each chapter being another month, of how they invest in others by way of their space. It's not a book that champions materialism or tells you how to be the perfect hostess - far from it! It's a book that invites us to see how we can communicate love and welcome and faith and rest to those who cross our thresholds, and shares practical ideas for ways to try. This book has influenced the daily tea times I have with my kids after school, the sourdough-ish bread I make every week, and our practice of Advent and Lent. I will likely re-read it every few years because it's that inspiring and helpful!

I'm sure there were more books that I listened to or read in the last couple of months but that's all I can seem to remember for now. If more come to me, I'll add them to the list!





12.12.19

Our Nest Ready for Christmas 2019!

Every year I decorate a bit different from the year before, even though we use all the same decorations, so I figured I'd share another Christmas Home Tour! I really loved our home last Christmas and was planning to do everything the exact same but a few things changed my plan.


First of all, this year we got our first real Christmas tree! We have had years with no tree and years with a tiny Charlie Brown-style fake tree, but never a real tree. Our tiny tree always fit well in our little living room but finding a real tree in the exact size and shape would be tricky and I was already secretly dreaming of a real tree. We visited Jean-Talon market a few weeks ago and I saw the tree lots and was seriously coveting those gorgeous scented trees! They smell amazing and I love the uniqueness of a real tree (fake trees are too perfect!) So we went for it this year and gave our little fake tree to our church, who will use it every year for Christmas decor. 


 We named our real tree Trevor the Tree and the kids have already planned next year's to be named Thea (always using a T name, obviously!) haha! Trevor is a bit larger so couldn't fit in our living room but I love him tucked in the usually-dark corner of our dining nook. The mirror reflects him into the kitchen and our bedroom and we can see his lights from the whole house.

With the tree elsewhere I used the extra space in our living room for our growing Christmas book collection which is at 25 books! I've only ever bought them secondhand and patiently added to our collection for years and our kids love seeing them again every year. 


The overall look is wood, white, with pops of green and red. The red is mainly from our poinsettia which was a gift from our friends from the girl's school. I love it so much I'll have to buy one every December from now on! I love our eclectic bunch of candles on the mantle and our thrifted wooden nutcrackers with the Ikea garland. 


 Every year I love choosing my favourite carol lyrics for our quote board and this year I went with O Holy Night which I've learned this year was actually originally written in French! Minuit, Chretiens is a famous French Christmas carol and was translated to O Holy Night in the late 1800's. In celebrating Advent every December we're preparing our hearts to really grasp the Christmas message, so we sing songs and read scripture and pray prayers to that end every night, or as many nights as we're able. O Holy Night's lyrics capture that desire and anticipation so beautifully,

"Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, 'til he appeared and the soul felt it's worth"


 Decorating a home for five people in 1,000 square feet is definitely a challenge every year! After just a few weeks the added decor can feel like clutter so this year I cut back on decorating a lot. I didn't buy anything new, aside from a few ornaments for the tree, but I gave away a lot to really streamline my style and our possessions. We have a small countdown board in the kitchen and our dining table is Advent-central with our Advent cards from She Reads Truth, our candles (the brass holder was thrifted and I just love it!) and our basket of all of our French and English Bibles which stays there year round. There are some meaningful additions but not a ton.


 Decorating our home for Christmas has become a favourite ritual. I've had years with way more decorations and years without even a tree. My conscience has shifted on the matter but the basic desire to make this season meaningful and Christ-centred has never changed. I find these decorations warm my heart and help add the anticipation I already feel, but you don't need decorations for that! They're merry and bright, but Christ coming to save us is plenty enough to lift our spirits!