Monday, August 24, 2009

Black Russian Cake

1 Chocolate Cake Mix
1/2 cup sugar (optional)
1 6.5 oz. box Instant Chocolate Pudding Mix
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup kahlua
3/4 cup cold strong coffee
Pam Cooking spray.

Beat ingredients together about 4 minutes. Pour into greased Bundt pan. Bake 350 degrees, 50-60 minutes


1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup kahlua
1/4 cup dark chocolate syrup

Cool cake for 10 minutes. Invert onto serving plate. Poke holes in cake and pour on glaze. Sprinkle with extra powdered sugar for decoration if desired.

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

It took me all summer to finish N.D. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. It seemed I could never get through more than a few pages without stopping to reflect on it. Hands down, one of the best books I've read in ages. How to describe a books that's been called stream of conciousness? (It's not). That opens its introduction with "What excuses can I possibly make for this book?" Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is intentionally written to be as dizzying as its titular ride. It's a book to be felt--not analyzed. Though it would stand up to analysis. Just as distilling and titrating a bottle of Dom Perignon would give you a certain type of information. But it's not the way it's meant to be consumed. Nor, Wilson shows us, leads us, is God a being to be thought about, or proved, or deconstructed. He is one to be lived with, lived into, imbibed.

Two measures of a good book. One--how likely am I to re-read it? Very--I'm quite sure that it's one of those books that will read differently a number of times depending on what experiences I've accumulated and what I bring to my reading. Two--how many people am I thinking of who I've got to get to read this book? Lots. Regretfully, I cannot loan my single copy to my parents, best friend, music minister, cousin, and my entire book club all at the same time. The review in the current Books and Culture says that Wilson's "God is definitely NOT too small." That's a truth that none of us will ever grow out of growing into--the experience shattering gut-knowledge that God is infinite . . . Wilson demands that we experience more than we can handle, and that we stagger away, drunk and reeling from the spoken Word and the spoken World.

Five stars. Easily.

Not me Monday: Vacation retrospective

It wasn't our family that you saw the other week, taking over the single stall restroom in that diner so we could get the entire family "pottied" before we hit the road again. When our family is road tripping, we always make sure to do our pit stops at places with plenty of stalls. And when my grade school aged daughters need to use a public washroom, I can just lean against the wall and cross my arms while they calmly and quickly take care of their business. It wasn't me you heard threatening, cajoling and bribing my children ("Do you want to have to go on the side of the road?"). It wasn't my kids you heard freaking out over the automatic toilets and begging me to cover the electric eyes. My children are rational and mature for their age and don't get all wrought up over evil toilets that may or may not flush loudly and suddenly under them while I am trying to keep my temper and get them to "just relax and hurry up and pee, okay?"

And my kids most certainly do not still feel the need to strip off everything below the waist in order to use the washroom. They don't take off shoes and socks and shorts and underwear and leave it in a pile on the floor of a public washroom. That would be gross. Those floors aren't sanitary! And if one of my daughters did such a thing, I would never decide that a good solution would be to precariously pile her clothes on the back of the toilet where she could knock her underwear into the water when she was done. I would never take a situation that wasn't going to get any worse on its own and make it potentially disastrous like that. Not me!

It wasn't my daughter that you heard screaming at the top of her lungs from that single washroom in the diner. My children use appropriate, inside voices in public places. Even when their underwear is taking a swim in the toilet bowl, and Mom, for some inexplicable reason, wandered back to the table.

When our family goes on vacation, I plan for contingencies, so my daughter wouldn't find herself without a spare pair of clean underwear in the suitcases in the back of the truck. I wouldn't have to convince my kid to borrow a pair of her older sister's. Nope, not me. And I wouldn't go out of my way to find a different store with an available public washroom in which she could change. Nor would I, a parent who would never bribe her children,* nearly breathe a sigh of relief when my daughter spotted that perfect toy coming out of the washroom in the second hand store. The one she's been wanting and asking for. Nope--not me breathing a prayer of thankfulness that God turned imminent disaster into a perfect coup, and that we could drive away with a happy kindergartner and a steal for a piece of doll furniture. Oh--wait. Maybe that last one was me.

*(no, those are not my children who nearly accost the bakery ladies at the grocery store for free cookies every time we go shopping)

Not Me Monday is a blog carnival created and hosted by MckMama at My Charming Kids.

Friday, August 21, 2009

7 quick takes: volume 090821: coaching string players

This spring, we started our middle daughter on violin lessons and our eldest on cello. And now 10-12 hours of my week are spent supervising practice and lessons, and driving back and forth. It's worth it.

Seven things I'm learning on how to help your grade schooler have a happy and productive intstrument practice

1. At this stage it's all about posture and muscle memory.
I knew somewhat from potty training how difficult it is to teach body awareness and muscle control to a child. Playing a stringed instrument involves learning to use and coordinate many different muscle groups that most of us never think about. My main job as a parent in helping my girls practice is to be an outside set of eyes and help them be aware of what they need to learn to be aware of. To help them build muscle memory.

2. Be endlessly encouraging.
You're doing a great job. I can see you're really working on that. That sounded a lot better this time. Your teacher's going to be really impressed at your next lesson. You're putting in good practice. I'm glad you let me help you. That's really going to help you.

3. But don't let anything by. At all.
Two or three days of a bad habit can take weeks to fix. Or months. Years? Perhaps--but we haven't gotten that far yet. :) Also, if they learn to take correction and improvement as part and parcel of practice then it's not something unusal or something to get upset at. If I can offer correction in a routine, attentive, even bored manner, then they are much better about taking it as what it is--something to HELP them, a positive thing--rather than taking it as negative criticism.

4. Train the ear.
I was a piano player--hit the right key, and you get the right note. Unless the piano is out of tune, and there's nothing you can do about that. It took me a long, long time to begin to listen critically to my own playing. But string players have to learn to listen critically to themselves from the get-go. They need to hear how the notes relate to each other, not just see it on the page. Am I in tune? How's my tone? They only get 4 notes as gimmes . . . not all 88l.

5. Let them enjoy the music
There's always something to work on. If they want to spend an entire practice playing nothing but "Jesus Loves Me," we can do that. And do it a little straighter, a little more musically each time. In retrospect, one of the things I most regret about my own music lessons was how little I was engaged with so much of the music that I was playing. Why couldn't we have skipped many of those exercises that I didn't find interesting? And those ones that I absolutely loved? What if, instead of being told "Oh, that's too easy for you now, that doesn't count," or "That's not part of your lesson," I'd heard, "Oh, you really love that tune? Let's see what else we can do with that."

6. Keep your temper--and theirs
Getting angry isn't going to fix the problem. Getting frustrated isn't going to help them "get it." Making their practice time a time when they get yelled at isn't going to make them want to practice. In addition, their own frustration and convincing of themselves that they'll "never get this!" doesn't help practice. "Give yourself some grace. Give yourself some time." See #2. Remember . . . if it was easy, we wouldn't have to practice it. Helping my girls learn to work hard at something that isn't easy, that isn't natural, that takes discipline is one of the main reasons that we're doing this. After all, discipline and disciple have the same root. It's about training them in the tools that they will need to tackle all sorts of difficult, frustrating things over the course of their lives. It's about learning to disciple my children.

7. Remember that there's no deadline
We can just keep working at it. There's no getting ahead. There's no falling behind. We're not on a schedule here, and I don't need push my kids or make them push themselves. This is just an introduction and a tool for (hopefully) a lifetime's enjoyment of and participation in music.

quick takes are sponsored by jen@conversion diary

Thursday, August 20, 2009

And once more back into the school year

I'm not quite sure how our summer break evaporated so quickly. It just seemed to . . . disappear. Books were read, games were played. We had company multiple weekends and concerts to go to. A friend's wedding out east and a wedding present to make. Laundry to fold and blueberries to pick and summer reading programs to exploit. A basement to organize and summer blockbusters to go see. But none of it coalesced into blogging. It didn't NEED to . . . Sometimes there are seasons in my life when I really feel the need to make sure I'm paying attention to life, to hang words on it. And sometimes, it's better to not step outside myself, not watch myself doing something as I do it, but to just live life and let it pass. I don't need a record of everything. My kids don't need me to analyze all of it. And where could I find the quiet to think about it all anyway, with all three kids home all the time?

But this week, I'm enjoying the quiet of having the kids be back to school. Our preschooler is going three mornings a week this fall. There's time and quiet and space to think, pray, write, again. I like it.