Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Importance of Hospitality from a Biblical Perspective

Nancy Wilson, on her blog Femina, reminds us why hopitality is so important. Though hospitality was listed as a "spiritual gift" in a study in which I recently participated, I'm think we are ALL called to practice hospitality in some way as Christians.

Nancy seems to agree, and here is why, in her words:

I believe, first of all, that hospitality is good for us because it is hands-on, real-life, experiential Christianity. When you are a host or hostess, you are assuming a role of servant. You are waiting on people, and it is a load of work. Just in case you have forgotten how much work it is, consider this: First you plan a menu and clean the house. You set the table, shop for the groceries, do the cooking, pour the wine, serve the meal, look after everyone before, during, and after the meal, and then you clean up all the mess. And meanwhile, as you are doing all the above things, you are making conversation and getting to know your guests better. So what’s the big deal with that, I ask?

I think that the answer is that hospitality requires self-sacrifice, and we all need lots of practice with that. Self-sacrifice does not come naturally to us. It must be a work of grace or it will result in a spectacular belly flop. If it did not require so much, we would not be tempted to grumble about it. So God wants us doing it a lot so that we will get good at living for others and quit fussing about the work and the mess involved. In other words, hospitality is a means God can use to make us more like Him and less like us.

You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Curious George Birthday Party

As proof that this blog is only mostly dead, I'm going to attempt to resurrect Very Merry Events by posting here whenever I feel like it, whenever I have time, and as often as I like. I cannot promise any regularity, but I can promise some great ideas and inspirations!

Our oldest son turned 2 years old over the weekend, and here are some highlights from his Curious George-themed birthday party.

Though I did hire out the activities portion to a nearby kids' gymnastics center, I managed to home-make a variety of things to go along with the theme. The party place provided plenty of fun activities led by someone other than me, brightly-colored paper goods, juice for the kids, and, of course, plenty of space for our guests (our apartment is woefully inadequate for more than 4 people and the Clubhouse at our apartment is no fun for 2-year olds).

Here's what I contributed to the brouhaha:

I made the invitations to look like a Curious George book cover:
(If this is an actual Curious George title, I couldn't find it, so I made it up. I drew the letters, scanned them in, and added the image from one of the books we own.)

I shamelessly stole the easel image below from a card on this wonderful Curious George resource site, but I will have you know I added a disclaimer on the back of each invitation.

I also put together some party favors, which included a Curious George book (of course!), play-doh and bubbles, which are all three of Jacob's favorite things. I printed out more of the "book covers" to decorate the bags, and included a thank-you message.

And, finally, I made and decorated my very first cookie cake (thanks for the recipe, JL, it was yummy!). Jacob isn't really a fan of regular birthday cake, but he seems to tolerate icing and LOVES chocolate chip cookies, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

Though I love the original George, I think the PBS version is cuter, so I used a mask from this PBS Curious George website as a rough template and freehanded the cookie dough into the shape of his face before baking it.

I did not plan very well, so I did a lot of improvisation with the decorating portion of the cake. The eyes are white chocolate bark, which I had on hand from an ill-fated attempt at making holiday cookies. I used J's shape sorter to make them into ovals, but ended up carving them down to size anyway.

Some other things I learned about making cookie cakes:
1. A large round pizza pan works great for baking the cookie. (Thank you, Angelika, for giving this to me as a wedding present. It has been useful in so many ways!) I probably could've used the pizza stone, too, but I'm not sure how that would've turned out.

2. Watch your oven and don't leave the cookie unattended. We took the cookie out about 5 minutes early, but it still wasn't early enough. It didn't have that soft, chewy texture I like so much. And don't forget that they will continue baking if you leave them on the pan to cool.

3. Decorator's icing might have worked well for this, but seeing as I didn't have any cream of tartar or egg white powder, I went with some other recipes I found on the "pretty internets," as Mary says. I used a version of buttercream icing for the brown, which tasted great. I think I should've used buttercream for everything. Mmmmm.

4.For the outlines and detail work, I used a version of a shiny cookie decorating icing using corn syrup and made it chocolatey and dark by adding cocoa powder. It was the right color and consistency, but I think I should've used a bigger tip so the outlines would show up better. But, it was my first time decorating a cookie, and I didn't have many choices of tips to work with, so I think it turned out okay. Except for the non-existent nose!

5. Chocolate-chip cookie cake portions left undecorated make George look like he has smallpox.

6. If you are making a cookie cake for a large crowd, you might want to consider making one this size and then making another, plain cookie cake in a different pan. We served about twenty folks (5 toddlers included) and only had one tiny piece left at the end. Of course, we probably should've cut smaller slices... :)

(Illustrations by H.A. Rey © Houghton Mifflin. Company Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Company and used under license. Licensed by Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. All rights reserved.)

Cake idea and all pictures © Allison Redd. Please do not use these images without permission and give credit where it is due. I try to do the same!