Look Up

June brought in warm evenings like summer's heralding banner, and the rich woolly sky blanketed the sleepy house where some friends and I were cuddled up for a late night.  My phone suddenly buzzed at me with a message from my mama, but not the one I was expecting: "Go look outside!"

"Girls--listen to this!" I cried, and we all jumped up, heavy eyelids instantly opened in wonder.

We leapt outside in our bare feet, spiraling in circles with our arms outstretched and our eyes heavenward, trying to spot Jupiter and Venus converging into one visual spectacular.  Desperate to beat the expiration of a perhaps once-in-a lifetime sight, we ran down to the golf course, but trees shut us in on every side.

We charged back up to the main road and sprinted down the asphalt, past dark houses that scowled at our wakefulness at such an hour.  When I rounded the last bend in the road, coming to where it sprouted off from a busy street, the sky unrolled across the horizon above a treeless field, and there the great conjunction of the two planets shone in a star-of-Bethlehem-like brilliance.

The two planets danced so closely together that their brightness was mesmerizing to anyone who laid eyes on the sight.  And we were no exception.  The four of us made a rock our arm chair, and I sat in awe with my hands clasped around my legs.

There was no clock to fetter the flitting moments down.
There was no rhythm ticking an impending deadline besides the unison beating of our hearts.

So we watched in reverent silence, our backs masked by the darkness, but our faces lit by the light of the star.  With such a sight glittering in our eyes, we couldn't help but sing hymns of praise to the Morning Star, and there was something special about that worship by the roadside that I won't ever forget.

Time lapsed...cars streaked by...but the star, my friends, and I remained.

It struck me as we sat how odd we must have looked to the passersby.  But when a busy, harried soul drove by and saw four women with their eyes rapturously fixed on the sky, I wondered if he would follow our gaze and look up, even if just out of curiosity.

In that moment on that warm June evening a chill went down my back.  For through my wondering I found a rich nugget that I've carried with me these past six months.

Shouldn't my eyes perpetually be fixed with equally rapturous delight on Jesus the Morning Star?

And shouldn't I be so enthralled by and illuminated with His light that all who pass me can't help but follow my gaze and stare, not at me, but at Who I am looking to?

Yes and yes.

And if at the end of my days it is said that the best analogy for the thrust of my life was that beautiful, worshipful evening of looking up, I will be satisfied.  If it is said of my life that all who looked at me couldn't help but look to Jesus because of me, my mission will be complete. 

“We Choose to See Vol. 002,” © 2013 AMRenault, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/.


Lauren Hearts Lavender Chocolate Cupcakes!

You may have noticed that the cupcake department has been somewhat quiet around here lately.  No, we are not throwing in the towel on our grand scheme of filling the year with cupcakes, but "busy" doesn't quite do justice to the last two months: running a half marathon in California, running 5ks in Washington in California-worthy weather, setting off fireworks, helping run a week long music camp, eagerly anticipating a niece or nephew's imminent arrival, enjoying time with Mikaela and Joel while they were here on a visit, finishing good books, teaching, and trying to get my life organized.  You know how it goes.

But Sunday afternoon found me in the kitchen once again, with another grand slam of a cupcake!  This one is so good that it is rivaled only by my very first foray into the world of cupcakes--my double peanut butter chocolate cupcakes.  If you observe the coincidence that both of my top favorite cupcakes involve chocolate, then you have noticed a very important trait of mine: I LOVE chocolate!

My love for chocolate is only equaled by my love for all things floral, which is why Sarah, Mikaela, and I knew we had to have an entire category dedicated to floral cupcakes.  And let me tell you what, these lavender cupcakes taste like a big mug of frothy lavender hot chocolate in cupcake form.  What could be better?
I started off with a basic gluten free chocolate cupcake recipe featuring coconut flour 
and farm-fresh eggs!

Sarah inspired me to use my favorite measuring cup set--why don't all measuring cups come in the form of a nesting matroyshka doll?  They range in size from a cup to a pinch, and I'm sure they contributed to the tastiness of this recipe!

 Olive oil and honey make these cupcakes moist and delicious! 

I added just one drop of Mama's Young Living Lavender essential oil, and it gave the perfect hint of lavender flavor to the cupcakes. 

Fresh out of the oven, and begging to be stuffed in my mouth!  This is the point at which I begin to doubt the necessity of frosting, but I stayed strong.

If you remember Mikaela's rave reviews of the German Buttercream frosting she made in April, you know why I decided I had to try that frosting for myself!  I started with dried lavender...the best flavoring in the world!

Simmer the lavender with milk, and let it steep for ten minutes, then inhale the lavender deliciousness.

Next comes the sunny yellow yolks, sugar, vanilla, and lots of stirring and butter.  And I'm afraid I have to agree with Mikaela: this is the best stuff in the world!  I found it thickened more quickly than hers did (perhaps because I had my burner on medium low, or perhaps because I only made one recipe.)  In any case, the ratio of difficulty to deliciousness was quite good!  

Now...get ready, set, frost! {And I promise, the frosting is more purple in person!}

Not a crumb was left behind from this beauty!

Let me know if you make these cupcakes, and what your opinion is on floral flavors in general!

Chocolate Lavender Cupcakes 
with Lavender German Buttercream Frosting
{Adapted from Elana Amsterdam's Gluten Free Cupcakes}
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1/4 olive oil or grapeseed oil
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
1 drop food grade lavender essential oil

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line 9 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, honey, and essential oil.  Blend the wet ingredients into the coconut flour mixture with a handheld mixer until thoroughly combined.
Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into each prepared muffin cup.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.  Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 1 hour, then frost and serve.

Lavender German Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from The Tough Cookie

150ml milk 
1 teaspoon dried lavender
50g (or ¼ cup) granulated sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon cornstarch 
3 egg yolks 
50g (or ¼ cup) granulated sugar 
200g (or ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

 1.  Mix milk with lavender in a medium saucepan and heat just to a simmer.  Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon taste, and then strain the lavender from the milk.

2.  Make a simple custard. In a small saucepan, combine the milk, 50g of sugar and the vanilla. In a heatproof bowl, combine the cornstarch with a little splash of the milk mixture. Stir to a smooth paste. Add another splash of milk an stir to incorporate. Whisk in the egg yolks and sugar until frothy and well combined; set aside. Gently heat milk/sugar/vanilla mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally. Once the milk mixture has reached boiling point and bubbles start to appear around the edges of the pan, slowly drizzle the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Once all the milk has been added, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat over low heat. Whisking continuously, wait until the first bubbles appear and the mixture has thickened. Pour into a clean heatproof bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Allow to cool to body temperature (set bowl in cold water to hasten cooling process). 

3.  Once the custard has cooled sufficiently, mix in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each tablespoon of butter is incorporated before adding the next. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until needed. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week or for up to 2 months in the freezer in a freeze­proof container or bag.

4. To use buttercream that has been refrigerated, allow to come to room temperature (this takes about 3 hours in a warm kitchen) or microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each interval, until it's soft. Then mix through until it's spreadable again. Thaw frozen buttercream in the fridge overnight, then allow to come to room temperature before use and, once at room temperature, mix briefly until smooth. 

5.  Serve at room temperature. If you've assembled a cake or decorated cupcakes, allow cake or cupcakes to come to room temperature before serving (about 3 hours in a warm kitchen). 

Cupcake Party: Chocolate Edition

Lauren's Double Peanut Butter Chocolate
Sarah's Chocolate Chunk Lava Fudge
Mikaela's Hazelnut Mocha

Cupcake Party: Savory Edition

Lauren's Spinach Feta
Mikaela's Cupcakes & Croutons 
Sarah's Carrot Ginger Coconut Muffins 


Married to a Traitor

Benedict Arnold, the most infamous traitor in American history, did not act alone.

thEiR diFferENceS

For in his charming, young, well-connected, and Loyalist wife, Margaret "Peggy" Shippen, he had his co-conspirator. Passionate Tory she was, but that is not the whole story. However much we'd like to convict her of some grand conspiracy to trap a colonial general with her wiles, marry him, and then lead him into treachery, the story may very well be a less sinister one: man and woman fall in love, marry, and woman influences man. Regardless of motive, this we do know: Peggy's influence—unconscious or deliberate—helped to change a Patriot war hero into a Loyalist traitor.

"He had, let it be remembered, no domestic security for doing right - no fireside guardianship to protect him from the tempter. Rejecting, as we do utterly, the theory that his wife was the instigator of his crime - all common principles of human action being opposed to it - we still believe that there was nothing in her influence or associations to countervail the persuasions to which he ultimately yielded. She was young, gay and frivolous; fond of display and admiration, and used to luxury; she was utterly unfitted for the duties and privations of a poor man's wife. A loyalist's daughter, she had been taught to mourn over even the poor pageantry of colonial rank and authority, and to recollect with pleasure the pomp of those brief days of enjoyment, when military men of noble station were her admirers. Arnold had no counselor on his pillow to urge him to the imitation of homely republican virtue, to stimulate him to follow the rugged path of a Revolutionary patriot. He fell, and though his wife did not tempt or counsel him to ruin, there is no reason to think she ever uttered a word or made a sign to deter him [1]."

The story is really not a new one. It's the same one that played out in Eve with Adam and Sarah with Abraham. Those women of old, and countless women since then, sabotaged the course of their own lives, the lives of their husbands, and the lives of innumerable others through one small choice or suggestion. And while Adam, Abraham, and Benedict all clearly bear the responsibility for their sin, the role of their wives in their sin is unmistakable.

I may never deliberately manipulate my husband. I may never consciously encourage him to sin. But the fact remains that I have the chief influence in my husband's life, and if I act or speak out of fear, selfishness, or pride, I could very well aid my husband in sin.

"If Benedict Arnold had died in his greatest achievement on the battlefield, he would have died a hero’s death....But in following his greatest achievements with the greatest of betrayals, he lived and died only one thing in the minds of all Americans: a traitor of reprehensible proportions (from Lauren's excellent post The Traitor Within)."

Even ascribing the best of intentions to Benedict Arnold's wife and recognizing the responsibility Benedict bears for his own choices, Peggy likely could have been the difference that made her husband a hero instead of a persona non grata. I'm painfully green at this wife business, and history is just another reminder to me of how considerable my influence is in my husband's life. How desperately I desire for his heart to safely trust in me, with him knowing that my influence is for good and not evil! (Proverbs 31:11-12)

[1] Griswold, Rufus W., William Gilmore Simms, and Edward D. Ingraham. "Major-General Benedict Arnold." Washington and the Generals of the American Revolution. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1848. 264-65. Google, 2 July 2007. Web. 23 June 2015.

Photo Credit
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13.1 Miles in a Tutu

This story began, as most good stories do, with an idea.  It was over a year ago when Sarah started planting the seed of an idea that she and I should run a Disney half marathon together.  It was several more months before that seed sprouted, and we actually signed up to run the Tinkerbell Half Marathon in Disneyland.  The most I had ever run before was a 12k race, so the growing process quickly began!

The obstacles seemed enormous (You can read more about the beginning training process here.)  The first time I ran, let's just say I didn't feel so great.  Three months into my training, I experienced shooting pains in my knee that were so terrible I limped for weeks after a long run.  I was forced to take a several month break right when my training should have been ramping up, and prayed that I would even be able to run the Tinkerbell.

This story is an entire blog post in itself, but suffice it to say that God was mighty to save, and the week before the race I ran 14 miles feeling blessed to be able to run 14 miles rather than blessed to be done with them!  I wasn't experiencing any pain, and my knee was good as new!
May 7th, Sarah and I loaded our paraphernalia up--convincing ourselves that we were justified in over-packing because it was a road trip and we had all that car space, so why not fill it up?  We zipped through Oregon with the sun in our faces, a pit stop for daisy-chain-making, and the suspenseful words of Agatha Christie to fill the miles of I-5 roadside.  

When we finally made it to our first destination--Redding, CA--we were overjoyed to get to spend time with our friend Charae who was living there at the time.  We had so much fun going shopping at the mall, catching up, and talking with her grandparents! Of course, we also had to make time for the California-famous In-N-Out Burger!  Delish!

The next morning, Charae made us an amazing breakfast, and thus fortified, we set out for our next destination: Disneyland or bust!  It was with great apprehension that we headed Los Angeles-ward, and we stopped in Sacramento for an extended lunch in order to make sure we avoided LA rush hour.  After touring old town Sacramento, we got back on the road, and when the time came to enter Los Angeles, Sarah gripped the wheel, we said a prayer, and dove in!

Amazingly, we made it out alive with nary a horror story to share!  God blessed us with fairly smooth sailing. (Although there was that time that the lanes seemed to multiply from everywhere, and Sarah asked desperately: "How many lanes are there?!" Only 8 lanes going each direction...no biggie.)

We were two tired girls that night!

The next day, our mission was to pick up our race packets, which was easy as pie.  After that, we were doing some shopping in Downtown Disney when we came across a curious hubbub.  Across from a theater in Downtown Disney was spread a long blue carpet, with fences on either side and people already milling around.  When we asked a worker what all the fuss was about, she informed us that the world premier of the movie Tomorrowland was to be held there that evening and if we wanted to see famous people, we could wander back over at 4:30. 

Well, wander we did, and as you can see by the photographic evidence above, we saw George Clooney, and also Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, not to mention the scores of celebrities who elicited shrieks from the fans and blank shrugs from us.  (-;

That evening, early to bed was our goal, for the race started at 5:30 am!  We rolled out of bed, swallowed some water, and loaded up our race gear.  As soon as we walked outside our hotel into the cool, crisp, California morning, we were joined by hundreds of other women heading the same direction.  Everyone was decked out with various nods to the Tinkerbell theme: Sarah and I donned tutus, tiara headbands from Mama, and shirts that said, "I don't sweat, I sparkle!"

We waited in the dark dawn while fireworks exploded overhead and the National Anthem played.
We sprinted forward along with 16,000 other people when the starting gun went off.
We raced through the Sleeping Beauty Castle with huge grins and faces upturned to the rapturous morning sky.
We wove through Disneyland, dashing around the teacup ride, past the horse stables behind the scenes, and around Paradise Pier in California Adventureland.

Inspiring anthems in the background kept us paced, and the onlookers that packed the sidelines kept us inspired.

Past the block full of Red Hat ladies, into the city of Anaheim, with the sun now warm above us we ran.  And while each mile had its own challenges, each mile had its own delights: the Chinese coach who yelled at all of us to keep going, and the woman in the wheelchair who would not stop wheeling even though all her comrades had disappeared in the distance.

When I rounded the corner and saw the finish line, I sprinted for all I was worth, and the finishing was indeed worth every mile of training and every ounce of pain.  The official stats are that I came in at 2 hours, 10 minutes, 77th in my division.  It was the most amazing race I have ever participated in.

For the rest of the day, as you can imagine, we limped around like old grannies, but the camaraderie of the other thousands of women limping around was special in its own right! 

We started and ended the day with fireworks, and the evening fireworks over the Sleeping Beauty Castle were especially breathtaking.

But we still had two more days in the "Happiest Place on Earth" in which we...
...Collected adorable stuffed animals!  We started the trip with only Sarah's panda, and ended it Hello Kitty and the adorable menagerie of Tsum Tsums (the mini Disney characters) to fill any nooks left in the car!

...took pictures with Disney characters!

 ...rode the teacup ride at night, and both agreed it was the best way to ride it!

...rode California Screamin' twice, and screamed loudly, and Tower of Terror twice, and were delightfully terrified.

...took a lot of sunlit selfies.

...observed part of a proposal (at one of those portrait booths, the artist was painting the couple with the man down on one knee, ring in hand! At the reveal of the portrait, the guy would enact it, pulling out the ring and going down to one knee.). And we also got to watch a snippet of Tomorrowland.

...found Flynn Rider himself. (They just can't get his nose right, sadly.)

...and when we weren't busy with other things, we ate.  Clouds of Cotton Candy and the most gigantic turkey leg you have ever seen in your life gave us a very balanced diet!

The World of Color show was the fitting finale to both of our other two nights in Disneyland. The second time we saw it was our last night, and as the last fountain fell back into the water, and the last light turned out, we said good-bye to Disneyland and walked back to our hotel full of happy memories.

The next day, we drove by the Hollywood sign and up to Santa Barbara where we ate a picnic lunch and enjoyed the feeling of being beach bums for one blissful hour!

Then we made it up to Sarah's Grandma Nancy and Papa Jack's house, where we were welcomed even late at night by her energetic and young-at-heart Grandma.  She is definitely a kindred spirit!

The next day brought new wonderful adventures: It was Sarah's birthday, and since her grandparents were busy in the morning, we headed over the Golden Gate bridge and into San Francisco for a few hours.
There we discovered piano stairs.  Piano Stairs, people!  And they played notes as you stepped up them!  Of course, we were nerds and walked up in thirds, 'cause that's just what you do!

I scouted out a Victorian tea room that I had seen the last time I was in San Francisco, and was thrilled to find it was still in business!  Of course we had to visit the "Crown and Crumpet", and reveled in the pink girliness of it all!  (Notice also our matching Minnie shirts from Disneyland!)

Sarah with her Grandma Nancy at her birthday dinner!

Papa Jack, Sarah, and Grandma Nancy, with the beautiful bay behind them.

The following morning brought the bittersweet moment of the trip: the final day, and the hours seemed to be slipping through our fingers too quickly.  We packed up our suitcases, lovingly stowed our souvenirs, and wistfully said goodby to Grandma Nancy and Papa Jack.  Thank you for letting us stay with you!  

We attacked the 10 hour drive that loomed over us.  The route was familiar now, but the tale of To Kill a Mockingbird now occupied the hours, alternated with Korean soundtracks and balanced with good conversation.
Our "fast food" dinner!

As we crossed the border into Oregon we felt instantly back in the Northwest when we drove into a cloud and rain (that we hadn't seen in 10 days) descended on our homecoming.  As home drew closer, we itched to hug our families and regale them with all of our adventures.  But when the moment finally came to say good-bye, it was hard to believe the road trip to remember was now over.  I fell asleep that night to the memories of the road bumping under the tires, the sun warming my face, and the smile of an amazing friend, knowing I made memories for a lifetime.

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