31 Days to De-stressed Living: Days 1-4

I’ve hNaBloPoMo_011614_465x287_pressure_1eard that it takes 30 days to make a habit. Thirty days of doing the same thing, every day (or, if you’re trying to kick a habit, thirty days of not doing something).

It’s like Lent, but shorter.

My blogging theme for January, thanks to BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo, will be “Stress” (whenever I’m not writing about books or road trips). No sweat — I’m an expert on stress. But then, who wants to read someone rant about all the stressors in her life for an extended period of time?

monster momNobody, that’s who. And so …

January will be about 30 ways to BEAT the stressors in your life. A kind of 30 day challenge. (Feel free to chime in.)

And so, it being January 4th and all, without further ado I give you FOUR of my favorite ways to combat stress. Ready?

January 1: Restoring order. Having been on the road for 10 days, I could feel the stress coming out my ears. So, I started unpacking. Sent the boys into the basement to work on laundry. Daughter up the stairs to put away toiletries. Me, I tackled the kitchen, where I could sneak a truffle and pour myself a glass of wine. Then I went to bed with a migraine. (Okay, these home remedies don’t always work.) But the next day, I felt MUCH better!

January 2: Don’t pressure others, either. One of my children has reached the “moody” stage that is part-and-parcel of adolescent angst. The other day I discovered that sometimes, if I don’t bug them relentlessly about why they are moody, the kind of self-adjust. Good to know.

January 3: Cook something special. When we married, I promised my husband that if he watched only two football games a year, I would make sure he celebrated in style. This year I made crab-stuffed mushrooms, fried calamari, and sausage squares (sausage and peppers stuffed in little wonton wrappers). Then key lime pie. Beer for him, something fruity for me. Yum.

January 4: Arrange to see a friend. Tomorrow I’m going to celebrate “Rose Sunday” a little late. In honor of the “Downton Abbey” premiere, I’m having tea with a few friends from Ascension Press (my former workplace). Just the thought of a little girl time … It’s positively relaxing!

What do YOU do to de-stress?

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Advent Cake … Good Anytime!

This evening the contributors of AnnArbor.com will be gathering for a potluck, and I’ve decided to bring out a special recipe I make each year for my annual Rose Sunday Advent Tea. For several years I hosted one at my house, last year I made it for the tea at church. It takes a bit of time, but totally worth the results! It is a slightly modified version of a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com.

One of the things I like best about this recipe is the fact that it makes 4-5 cupcakes in addition to the cake. That way the family can “taste test” without ruining the picture-perfect company treat! The picture is my special “Advent cake plate” the day after I make my Advent Cake. Enjoy!

You will need …
3 C flour (all-purpose)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, soft
3 C white sugar (it’s once a year, so live it up!)
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites, beaten stiff
1-1/2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 tsp Amaretto (almond flavored liquor)
cinnamon sugar for dusting the pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 inch tube pan, and dust it generously with cinnamon sugar. Shake out excess. Line 4-5 muffin/cupcake holes with liners, set aside.

Sift together dry ingredients, and set aside. Add flavorings to measured milk, and set aside.

Cream shortening and butter in an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mixture should be light yellow and light.

Alternate dry ingredients and milk, stirring well to combine. Gently fold in beaten egg whites, mixing just until no streaks remain. Fill bundt pan to 1″ from the top, pour remaining batter into muffin tin.

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. (Cupcakes come out after 30 minutes.) Rest in pan 10 minutes before inverting on to cake plate. Glaze while still warm. Serves 14 or so.

GLAZE:

5 Tbls cocoa
2 Tbls vegetable oil
4 Tbls butter
3 C powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tbls Amaretto
boiling water

In small saucepan over low heat, combine cocoa, oil and butter. Stir until melted and smooth, remove from hea. Stir in powdered sugar and Amaretto, adding water 1 Tbls at a time and beat until smooth and “glazy.” Dip your cupcakes in first, then pour the rest over warm cake. Sets with a nice sheen almost instantly. Now try to resist cleaning out the pan with your finger. I dare you.

Weekend Ponderings: “Your name will never be … blotted out.”

As we enter the third week of Advent, the somber purple of the penitential season turns rosy. In years past, I’ve hosted a tea for a small group of girlfriends, so we can catch up on each other’s lives. Sadly, I had to let this go this year — at times even the best traditions need to take a back seat to more immediate concerns. 

This week at school, several families are struggling with serious illness. One parent died unexpectedly, another parent — a good friend — is fighting for her life.  As a community, we’re taking up collections and doing what we can for the families … but there’s something vaguely unsettling about it all. It makes you take stock, re-evaluate. Consider what things are of eternal consequence. Happy Advent!

This week I’ve also been in a couple of exchanges about a topic that resurfaces from time to time (primarily because my own POV on birth records doesn’t overlap neatly with views expressed on many other adoption sites).  For me, the subject of birth records is not one in which I have any real personal investment;  my own children know their birth parents already. However, I DO understand why others are so passionate about the subject: The names on the original birth certificate represent a missing link to the past, without which they cannot imagine a “happily ever after.”

And so, when the trail runs cold, it hurts the one member of the adoptive triad that least deserves to suffer. It forces the child to bear the painful consequences of his parents’ actions, addictions, or flaws. With adoption, the child loses his first parents, who tapped into the gift of procreation without the ability to parent a child together. And whenever this happens, the child suffers far more than the parents. Sometimes that child is raised without a parent. Sometimes he suffers abuse or neglect. Many, many times he pays with his life through abortion or child abuse. And sometimes … he is loses his original parents through adoption. No matter what form it takes, the pain is real … and it has far-reaching effects that can be measured not just in years, but in generations.

I’ve said it many times: Adoption is never God’s first choice. And yet, adoption does reflect the kind of divine love God showed to us when he brought us through adoption into his family, through the atoning death of Christ. And in that sense, families that are formed through adoption get to experience in a unique way the redemptive love of God.

Friday’s first reading offers a reassuring message for those who are struggling with their sense of self, whose identity — personal, spiritual, familial, cultural, or in any other sense — has not yet fully formed.  

“If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence.”

That name we seek … that primal connection … is not one that we can ever hope to find in this life. We were created, first and foremost, to be called children of God.

Wee Cook Wednesday: Rose Sunday Tea Cake

In just a few  more days — right after Thanksgiving — we will be entering the season of Advent. These four weeks before Christmas are about more than buying presents and baking cookies … They are about getting our hearts soft and warm with thanksgiving, ready to receive the Newborn King!

Every year on the third Sunday of Advent, I host a special tea party at my house for a group of truly extraordinary friends. We met when we were all still single … a dozen years later, three of us are married, and three have become adoptive parents. One hosts an exchange student every year.

Each of us makes a signature dish. Mine is a rich chocolate pound cake I make just once a year, especially for the tea (unless my husband is able to wheedle it out of me for his birthday). This year the cake is going to be a show stopper! Over the summer I was at a craft fair, and found these beautiful hand-painted cake plates. Here’s a picture of the one I got!

Rose Sunday Tea Cake

1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, softened
3 C sugar
5 eggs, separated
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1-1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or sugar) a 10 inch tube pan.  Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Beating well on medium speed, add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients. Pour extracts into milk. Add flour and milk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour, mixing just until blended after each addition.

In a clean glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold carefully, just until no white streaks remain, into the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove from pan, and let cool comploetely on a wire rack. Serve with chocolate sauce.

Devastating Fudge Sauce

2/3 C cocoa
2 C sugar
1/4 C Karo syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 C butter

Bring cocoa, sugar, syrup, and milk to a boil. Add remaining ingredients, and boil 5 minutes longer. Serve hot.