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Sunday, January 27, 2019

A "Garden Party" Themed Baby Shower

"Baby fever" is the only thing I can call this phenomenon, but I swear, everyone I know is expecting, or just had a baby! At our church, there were (at least) 5 of us pregnant at the same time - with all of us due only weeks apart.  It was crazy!
One of the lovely side-effects of all of this new life is the ability to celebrate with baby showers!

Baby showers are a mostly American tradition, but ladies all over are starting to do them more and more.
I was very touched when a group of my friends from our church here in Ljubljana hosted a baby shower for Jocelyn and I.  It was so nice to feel loved and supported, especially since we had recently moved here.
When one of the sweet mamas who threw the baby shower for us found out she was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to return the favor.  This particular mama isn't in love with the color pink - but is expecting a girl, so I knew I needed to find a tasteful way to make it feminine.  We settled on a "Garden Party" theme, and it turned out just lovely.


For center pieces, we bought potted flowers, and put them in terra-cotta pots.  I loved how naturally beautiful it looked!  I was able to then use them as door prizes at the end - perfect!


This was the "activity" table.  We had a guestbook, where each guest left a thumb print and their name on a bare tree.  Then, I had clothespins out, to play the "baby" game (where you can't say the word baby), and little cards to fill out with "prayers for baby".  I punched holes in the corner, and then had a ring to string them on.





For food, we had cucumber sandwiches, sugar cookies, melon and blueberry "flowers" (melon, cut with a cookie cutter into flowers, then placed on a kebab stick, with a blueberry on top), breadsticks, and Danish lagkage - the recipe for which you can find here.







We also had a really fun gardening station - I bought some dirt, five different seed packets, terra-cotta pots, and also the kind you can plant all in one - the ladies then to planted some seeds to take home; the perfect party favor!





For dishes, I actually used these beautiful dishes my mom recently gave me - they were hers, but she didn't use them, and graciously passed them on.  They're not my style for everyday dishes, but are perfect for something like this.  I also used my great-grandmother's silver, which I adore.  I put the cutlery in a terra-cotta pot, to continue with the theme.  I used garden markers to label the food, and drinks.



I set up a welcome table, with a bucket for cards.  I also set out the board book, The Secret Garden, but sadly didn't get a picture of it.



And of course, a "throne' for the mama-to-be.  I love our apartment, but was especially thankful for the open floor plan.  We flipped the couch around, pulled the benches out from around the dinner table, and changed up the sofa chairs, and it worked out great!



Everyone seemed to have a lovely time, the food all turned out delicious, and I was thrilled with how it all looked!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Danish Lagkage - Light and Airy Berry Cake

I have shared a Danish lagkage recipe on my blog before, but the pictures weren't great, and my baking skills have grown exponentially since then, so I thought it was high time to share it again! :)
My husband lived in Denmark for a year before we met.  Once of his favorite things from when he lived there were the birthday cakes - lagkage - which literally translates to layer cake.
He loved it, because it was airy, light, not too sweet and of course tasty.
I've only ever made it for him, but I was hosting a baby shower a week ago, and it just felt like the perfect addition!


Tools:
- Stand or hand-held mixer (for stand mixer, it really helps to have two compatible mixing bowls)  I'm going to write my recipe for a stand mixer, because that's what I have. :)  
- whisk attachment
- paddle attachment 
- 9 inch round spring cake pan
- parchment paper
- covered cake stand, or other means to store it airtight
- non-stick spray
- ladle


Ingredients:

Cakes (makes 3 layers):
6 eggs - separated (if you're not sure how to do that, here's a great, quick tutorial)
4 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

*by the way, 1/2 tablespoon is 1 1/2 teaspoons

It really helps me to measure out everything beforehand.


Filling:
Homemade whipped cream (2 tbs sugar for every 1 cup of heavy whipping cream - I used about 3 cups of cream)
4 cups of fresh fruit (I used berries, but you could use any "soft" fruit


Directions:


1. Preheat oven to 425 °F/ 218 °C (400 °F/ 204 °C for convection oven.)

2. Beat the egg yolks.



3. Pour beaten egg yolks, water and sugar into mixing bowl.  Secure in stand mixer base.  Connect paddle attachment.  Mix for 2 minutes.



4. In a separate bowl mix together dry ingredients - flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. 

5. Turn mixer to a low-medium speed, and slowly add flour mixture.


6. Pour egg whites into second mixer-compatible bowl, fasten whisk attachment - and whisk until it forms stiff peaks.




7. Fold egg whites into egg yolk mixture, until completely combined.


8. Grease and flour cake pan.  Ladle out about 2 and a half "ladle's worth" (yes, that's an exact measurement, lol) of batter into the cake pan.  Shake, and hit side of pan until it distributes evenly in pan.

9. Place in oven, and bake for 8-10 minutes - until golden brown, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  If you find that it's getting brown on top, but not cooked through, place a piece if aluminum foil over the top.



10. Allow cake to cool some, then turn out onto baking sheet to completely cool.  Repeat twice.

Bonus tip: make sure you grease AND flour your pan.  Here is the difference between just greasing, and doing both.

 


11.  If making for that day, continue by making filling.  If making for the next day (it's great for that, by the way), place parchment paper between each layer, and store in an airtight container, to be assembled the next day.


Filling, and assembly:

1. Wash and pat dry your fruit.  I used raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. I cut the strawberries into slices.



2.  Using a whisk attachment, whip together cream and sugar, until peaks form.  Don't over whip, or it'll fall, and become unusable.  Sadly, I made that mistake with my first batch.  I read that using cold instruments (bowl and whisk), it works even better.

3. Start to assemble cake on the plate you plan to serve it on.  Start with a layer of cake, then add a generous amount of whipped cream (placing it it the middle of the cake, and working it out towards the edge).  Place some fruit on top of the whipped cream.  I made some fruit "stick out" a bit to give it a rustic look.  Leave the majority of the fruit for the top.


4.  Continue until you reach the top.  Mix together remaining fruit and carefully spoon onto the top.  Store in fridge or on cold balcony - lol, until ready to serve.  If there's any left over, keep it in the fridge for up to 2 days. The cake and fruit will get mushier, of course, the longer it sits, and it won't be as good.  But the next day it should still be pretty tasty.

And here is the final, beautiful result!



Tips and ideas:
1. I LOVE this batter!  It behaves beautifully - pulls away from the side of the pan, and stays flat on top, so there's no need to level it out for layering.  It is also light and delicious!  One of my more discerning friends said that it was one of the best cakes she'd ever had!

2. You could "frost" the edges too, but for this cake, I really prefer the "naked cake" look.  (Hilary Duff's wedding cake was the first naked cake I'd ever seen, and I've loved the look ever since!)

3. You can use anything you like between the layers - Nutella, jam, chocolate whipped cream! I initially was planning on making a raspberry whipped cream, but it fell, and I didn't have enough raspberries to make it again - which actually worked out, because I way preferred the crisp white cream look.

4. Get creative with the fruit!  You could do peaches, mango, papayas, blackberries... just make sure they're soft.

5. Powdered sugar or drizzled honey on top would be great, too!

And, so... let them eat cake!


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How Living Cross-Culturally Made Me A Better Mom

I feel like it's important to be vulnerable - it allows us to grow, and hopefully help others in their growing process, too.  
So, here goes:

One of the hardest things about being a missionary is the itineration portion.  For us, that means going back to the States every few years, to travel to churches, telling them what we do, or what we have been doing, in the hopes that they will partner with us in prayer and financial support.

3 years ago when we were doing this, it was our first time "heading out".  Pastors didn't know us yet, we didn't have an established ministry in Slovenia we were going to - all we had was ourselves, and our testimony.
Every Sunday (and most Wednesdays) we met new people, told them about ourselves, and hoped they liked us.  That seems very basic, but it's true.  If people/churches/pastors like you, they are more likely to support you.  You have to be "on" the entire time.  You have to be chatty, engaging, and most importantly...
your children need to be well-behaved.

Can you imagine (totally hypothetically, of course), if a pastor took out two families with kids to lunch - the kids in one family are polite, talkative, cute and eat all their lunch.  The kids in the other family are tired, grumpy, shy and only want to eat goldfish.  Let's say this pastor now has to choose one family to financially support... you get the picture.

That is a LOT of pressure to put on small children - and their mom. Because it's usually mom who has to corral kids, encourage them to take one more bite, greet the pastor, and smile at all the strangers.  
And when it comes down to it, whether or not someone "connects" with you, makes or breaks your ability to get to the field - oof.

This causes stress.  HUGE amounts of stress.  You're constantly trying to make sure your poor little 2-year-old remembers to say thank you, doesn't hit the pastor's kid in the nursery, is polite and courteous, while also trying to protect them if they are feeling shy and timid.


When we got to Slovenia, it had been nearly 2 years of parenting in a fish bowl.  It left me tired, stressed and overwhelmed.
On top of that, we were dealing with a situation that was completely out of our control, that was causing great anxiety.  Added to all of that was a very angry 3-year-old, and potty training regression.  For the first couple months in Slovenia, Aidan was just very angry about all the change and newness.  He had always been very verbal, and was struggling with the fact that no one understood him.  I was on edge, worried about how we would be received, his inability to communicate, and his overall behavior.  He was doing okay at school, but his teachers said that every time he got upset, he would simply scream.  He wasn't being very nice to the kids at church, and I was frustrated on every level I could think of.  I was very impatient.  I was a mess.

There was an incident at church, where I came across as overly concerned with his behavior, to which someone said - "it's okay, they're just kids.  We all understand."  And that awakened a change in me.

Slovenes parent differently.  No parenting method is perfect, but I have adopted a few new habits that have been very healthy for our family, and I'd like to share them with you.

1. Kids are kids
No one that I've met here expects children to act any way, except how children behave - loud, goofy, energetic, etc.  No one is phased by crying in church, or a toddler having a "moment".  I've never seen a parent give another parent side-eye.  If two kids get into it, there is a general understanding that they will work it out.  There never seems to be ill-will between the parents.  It is understood that parents cannot control every little thing kids do. 




2. Let Them Do It For Themselves
We "got in trouble" with Aidan's preschool teachers, because we had been doing too many things for him.  I realized that it was my way of controlling a situation.  Making sure he always looked just so, or getting out of the house quickly.  Slovene parents are encouraged to take a step back, and let their children figure it out and be independent.  Oftentimes you'll see kids walking way out ahead of their parents.  Coming from the land of "hold my hand or else you never know what might happen", this was a huge shock - and a release.




3. "Village" Mentality
Everyone looks out for each other's kids.  




4. Some Things You Just Have To Let Go Of
I feel like Slovene parents in general are good at learning to choose their battles.  This was an important lesson for me.  I cannot get bogged down on every little thing - it is stealing my joy.


So.  I have slowly, over the past year come more to terms with the fact that some behavior isn't bad - it's just being a kid.  And that is okay.  We still address behavior that is disrespectful or dangerous of course, but try to be more understanding and lenient if it's just rowdy or noisy.  He adores his kindergarten! According to his teachers, he is now practically fluent in Slovene.  He has many friends, and hates missing a day.  He also loves church and his friends there.



I have been hearing and reading a lot about being a non-anxious presence.  Before, I was not that.  I was NOT teaching Aidan healthy coping skills by getting angry quickly, and then frustrated when he did the same.  I am SOOOO much more patient than I was!  It's a marked difference.  I am learning to let things go, not be such a perfectionist, and answer from a place of understanding and love.



Aidan can tell the difference, too.  When he makes a mess, knocks things over, or spills something, he looks at my face to see my reaction.  When he sees that I'm still calm, or hears me say, "that's okay, accidents happen", it immediately alleviates his stress too, and he's able to move forward. 

I am sorry for the times that that hasn't been my response.  I am thankful that he and I are in a much healthier place.  There is more joy in our home, tempers don't run high, and there is understanding.

With the birth of our daughter, thankfully this has only grown.  I'm not sure how, but somehow I've had more patience since she was born.  Maybe I'm learning that some things I thought were important weren't really that important after all.  I think I'm learning to let things go.



So, this is a very long post, with not much except a personal journey, but it's been an important one.
I am endlessly thankful for the reset button I found, and the child-friendly culture we live in.



Friday, January 11, 2019

A Father's Lavish Love

One of the sorrows of my adult life, has been the inability to find the Anne of Green Gables movies on digital download.  Just recently I found them on Gazebo TV.  They have an Apple TV app, which is great!  They're still in beta phase, so it's a little clunky (you have to purchase them on the website, and type in a code in the app), but nonetheless, there they are, and my life is complete.


Jocie (my three-month-old) and I were holding hands on the couch, watching Anne of Green Gables, and it was one of the sweetest moments of my life, one that I've been dreaming of.  And then, we got to one of my favorite parts of the story - books included.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, Anne is an orphan girl with a wild imagination, who is taken in by a brother and sister - Matthew and Marilla.  Marilla is stern and fair, yet loving in her own way.  She doesn't always understand Anne's fanciful ways, and gets frustrated when Anne gets herself into scrapes.  She grows in patience and understanding towards Anne, and is as proud of her as any mom could be.  
Matthew though... Matthew is a man of very few words.  He is a simple man, who never married.  He is a hard-working farmer, with no frills in his life.  Enter Anne.  Anne captivates his heart from the very first moment.  She is the love and joy his life was missing.  And he is the calm and steadfast love she needs.
In the story, there is a party that Anne is invited to.  She desperately wants a dress with puffed sleeves, but sensible Marilla will have none of that nonsense.  Matthew goes into town and buys the frilliest, puffiest sleeved dress - probably the most frivolous purchase he's ever made.  When Anne sees it, she can't contain her joy, and his eyes are the happiest we've seen them.  
It was the gesture of a father's lavish love.

Another one of my favorite stories within a story is one from Little House on the Prairie.  Laura is attending school, where all of the little girls have sparkling metal little lunch pails to take to school.  They are the repurposed bucket the lard comes in at the general store.  The Ingalls have no need to buy lard, they have their own.  But Pa buys a bucket of it anyway (a huge expense for a pioneer family), so that his little girl can have her heart's desire.  Lavish love.


When I was 12, there were these shoes I wanted more than anything!!  They were turquoise fake snakeskin platform sandals - basically the tackiest, ugliest shoe - but they were just THE COOLEST, and I wanted them desperately!  We had just gone back-to-school shoe shopping with my mom, and I had already bought what fit into the budget.  
When we got home I couldn't stop thinking about, or talking about the shoes.  A couple days later when I came home from school, my dad sat me down on the couch, and said he had a surprise for me.  He reached behind the cushion and pulled out a shoe box.  
Inside, there were the sandals!! 
That was probably the single most wonderful gift of my preteen years - maybe more!  I was so excited, and wore them everywhere!  They were gaudy, bright and obnoxious - but they were beautiful as far as I was considered, and they were the only thing my heart wanted!  And my daddy got them for me.  This is the same man who stopped at a Walmart on the way to an itineration Sunday morning service because one of my glue-on nails had fallen off, and I needed a replacement.  (13 year-old Abigail had disastrous style.)  And the man who found the prettiest birthday cake every year.   
Lavish love.


Now, I'm not saying that dads need to always get their children everything that they want.  In fact, if they do that, the specialness of it is lost.  But it's these grand gestures of generosity and love that stand out in my childhood.  It's not about the money spent.  It's about the thought put into it, and the fact that they didn't "have" to do any of it.  It's the fact that, if it's important to me, it's important to him.















And that's the kind of lavish love our Heavenly Father has for us!  He cares about the things that matter to us.  
Matthew 7:9-11 says,
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

God desires to give us good gifts.  Not in a prosperity Gospel kind of way (big house, fancy car), but in a deep-desires-of-our-heart way.  God's love is lavish - He literally sent His only son to die and rise again, so that He could have a relationship with us.
I think God gives us dreams, and He finds pleasure in us pursuing them.  1 John 5:14 says, 
"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us."

The God of the universe hears you, and wants to give you good gifts.  So, take your deepest-held desires, and give them to Him in confidence.

And to any daddies reading this - don't be afraid to make a big gesture!  If your kid has been talking about something, surprise them by spending time together doing it, or making it happen.  You don't have to spend money, that's not the point.  Children want to be heard, and feel like they matter.  Because they do.