The Happiest Weekend

The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

Eden Ahbez

On the Thursday before Easter, I boarded a plane in early-morning twilight and sneakily arrived in Maryland. I crept around downtown Frederick and covertly visited my in-laws and best friend, terrified that my presence would be discovered. And on Friday, on a sunny mountain by the railroad tracks, Jordan David Starin proposed to the love of his life, my sweet, beautiful, not-so-little sister Christene Marie. He knocked her socks off. She was floored. She said yes, and he swept her off to his sister-in-law's house where I showered her with confetti and her socks came off again (she thought I was in Texas, camping). I dressed her up in a starry lavender outfit and her soon-to-be husband whisked her off to a gourmet celebration dinner. It was a Good Friday, indeed.

There are just too many things to say about this dazzling, wonderful girl. She is bright and an extremely gifted actress, yet after she graduated from high school she chose to spend her time working with youth in local public schools. She ministers to hundreds of kids and has made an incredible impact on their lives. She is a godly and mature servant who I look up to in so many ways. And, at the ripe young age of 19 she finds herself engaged to a man she loves with all of her heart. I don't know Jordan very well yet, but my sister chose him which makes him pretty dang amazing. 

These two. I can't even.

pcs: Bethany Starin

Jordan and Christene have modeled such an admirable relationship. He first noticed her on the front lines of serving - pouring herself out for others without even a thought of "catching a man." He was hooked; here was a Proverbs 31 woman if he'd ever seen one! (not to mention the fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous.) Jordan was several hours away at school, so he and Christene wrote letters for months while seeking God to see if they were supposed to be together. In November Jordan asked Christene to be his girlfriend. In March he asked her to be his wife. Some would call it a whirlwind romance, but no couple has sought God and His will more than they have. What a joy to be home and see Him lavish them with blessing. They embody Psalm 37:4 - "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." I could not be happier for them!!

Saturday was our girls' day. Mom, the littles and I took Stene dress shopping (she killed every one of them) and to high tea. It was such a lovely time.

Saturday evening the Starin and Hoffman clans all got together for feasting and much rejoicing. I was in charge of decorations and desserts, and there was such a general flurry that I forgot to get any pictures. Thankfully Leah snapped a few shots of the desserts - they were quite a hit and I highly recommend these recipes!

Strawberry Colada Cupcakes

Moccachino Cupcakes* (Recipe is below from my mother-in-law. They are divine!)

Jordan has quite a thing for donuts. I bought the sweetest milk bottles and striped straws from Shop Sweet Lulu. It was my first time attempting Baked Donuts, but they turned out wonderfully! (Note: these were made in a mini donut pan. I piped the batter with an icing tip and there was no mess. Follow the pastry chef's adaptions in the reviews! Chocolate glaze recipe is here.)

pcs: Leah Starin

I got to spend Easter with my family for the first time in three years. We had a lovely, relaxing day at home, and Jared only got a little crazy. 

I have the most amazing family in the world. Welcome, Jordan! :)

*Mochaccino Cupcakes

(adapted by Beth Farlow)

1 box of Duncan Hines Devil’s food cake mix, baked with the following two substitutions.

½ c. unsweetened applesauce instead of the oil

1c. strong brewed hazelnut coffee instead of water 

Bake the cupcakes as directed on the box and use muffin tin liners of your choice.  Let them cool while you are making the icing.

Buttercream Icing  

1 stick of butter

3 c. powdered sugar

1 ½ t. vanilla

~4 T. strong brewed hazelnut coffee, cooled

Pirouette cookies

Allow butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add 1 c. powdered sugar, beating well. Beat in the brewed coffee and the vanilla. Gradually beat in the remaining powdered sugar. If necessary, beat in additional brewed coffee until buttercream reaches spreading consistency.  Right before serving, insert 1/3 of a Pepperidge Farm Pirouette cookie. The cookies will get soft if placed sooner.

Surviving Lent with a Rebellious Sweet Tooth

Confessions of a sugarholic, featuring handy steps to lessen the cravings:

Step 1: Pray. Pray without ceasing. Ask God to curb this withdrawal that is making life miserable for another 16 days.

Step 2: Eat frozen fruit with abandon. Grapes are a personal favorite.

Step 3: Drink gallons of tea with lots of milk and a spot of honey, just this once. I highly recommend Chai. A pretty teacup is an absolute necessity - it makes everything taste better.

Step 4: Find friends who will join you in cultivating a savory tooth. Enjoy cooking and movie nights featuring dishes like Cape Cod chowderRed Lobster cheddar biscuits and buttery homemade popcorn.

Step 5: Pick specific things to pray about instead of eating sweets. Intercede for those things while at birthday parties, surrounded by ice cream and cupcakes.

Step 6: Adapt favorite dishes for a sugarless alternative. Top decadent, impossibly fluffy Belgian waffles with a strawberry sauce made from reduced berries, vanilla and the tiniest smidgen of sugar to draw all the juice from the berries. Result? Better than syrup.

Step 7: Do strenuous physical activity to take your mind off your cravings. Train for a half marathon, and relish the weightless feeling of a sugar-free body.

Step 8: Repeat sugar fasts as needed throughout the year. They're no fun, but invaluable in practicing self-control and cultivating a healthy lifestyle.

Now, go eat a cookie. For my sake.

An Update, in Pictures

I can't believe it's been over two months since I last wrote. So much has changed that it feels like a lifetime ago. Some snippets of our life lately:

In August we led the first youth retreat at our church's new campus. Our kids are the best in the world. We had a blast!

I got to go home over Labor Day - I hadn't been since Christmas and it was SO good to see everyone. 

I reunited with some of my dearest friends on earth...

Got a new hairstyle...

And stayed in a cabin deep in the woods with my family. 

I was in charge of dinner every night. We went all out. 

Sue, my littlest, took her first plane ride to come back with me and visit. She turned 13 while she was here! I feel old.

Birthday Girl!

Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream cake per her special request :)

Tigger had the worst withdrawal when she left...

What a little beauty :)

 The Endeavor made its last flight over Nasa Space Center - and my balcony!

Our youth group keeps growing...

And getting closer.

(Also, WE MOVED!! Check out the before and afters above)

I discovered my new favorite cake recipe...

And a fall soup that is out of this world. More on that later.

I met my hero last week, and she was everything I dreamed of: warm, sweet, funny and so complimentary. Pioneer Woman, I love thee. 

I've been on a serious bread baking kick lately. I discovered a no-knead, three-ingredient basic recipe that has endless add-in possibilities. I learned the hard way how NOT to remove the lid from a 450-degree Dutch oven, and bear the scars today. But this crusty deliciousness is so worth it. 

Lemon, rosemary and cheddar

Cranberry, orange and almond. Slay me.

Changes on a broader note: 

I quit work at the library in September when I was offered a job at  a local pregnancy center, where I've volunteered weekly since January. I now work part-time as the Office Manager and a spiritual counselor. Not a day goes by when I'm not praying for clients, reading Scripture with them, telling them about God and helping them find God's purpose in whatever crisis they're facing. I could not ask for a better job and I am SO grateful. 

Nathan now commutes almost an hour each way to an extremely demanding job, and he's studying non-stop for the GMAT. His dream is to get an MBA from a top business school. I have found such joy in picking up all the extra responsibilities around the house so he can be free to work and study. Every day I learn anew that God's grace is sufficient, and He is more than enough! 

What our life will look like a year from now still remains very much up in the air. I miss my family more every day. I want to be closer to home, but more than that I want God's will for Nathan and me. Any place that God has not called us to would be miserable indeed. I am learning to embrace with joy every season that I'm in, and live every day to the fullest - not missing out on a single bit that God has for me here, and now. With the election I am reminded of the uncertainty of the future. It is enough to simply pray every day, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done." No matter how our circumstances change, I want to be nowhere else but in the center of God's will.