December 30, 2011

shampoo update

So .... the homemade hair soap smells heavenly.  Lavender and rosemary in perfect balance.  The soap is soft and sudses nicely ....

.... but then it does something funky in our crazyhard water and makes my hair feel like a greasy helmet.

Looks like that bar is destined to fill the linen closet with delectable fragrance.  Oh well.  I still appreciate the kind gesture.

: :

p.s.  I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why we eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day....

December 29, 2011

people riches

I feel rich, today.  People rich.

(family)  This morning while Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice painted plaster dogs and cats from Christmas, their cousins dropped in on their way out to Pittsburgh to give final hugs and good-byes.

(community)   As I ran errands later in the morning, I stopped by a nursery/farm stand where the Amish owner knows my husband.  I wanted some sauerkraut for that New Year's Day meal of mysterious origin (anyone?), and we were low on honey, too.  I asked how their homemade soaps work in crazyhard water - and he gave me one to try, gratis, along with his personal testimony to how nice it feels!  (I'll have to let you know).

Next stop was an organic farm where we had bought raw milk for over a year before we discovered a more convenient source.  Despite my lack of loyalty, I was greeted warmly and asked about my Christmas holiday.

At the grocery store I got smiles returned from cashiers, baggers, a worker in the produce dept, and the butcher, all of whom recognize me after more than 10 years of shopping there.

It is nice to be known, nice to do business with folks who know how many children you have.

(friends)  Today, it was a friend of my Farmer's who I'd heard much of but never met.  He came over to help work on a home improvement project, and brought his two daughters, the same ages as Sugar and Spice.  After awkward parent-facilitated name exchanges, the four girls disappeared outside to be seen running to and fro in companionable little pairs (and threesomes, once Nice joined them).  By suppertime they were exchanging confidences and using nicknames.

There is a wealth in personal interchange - eye contact, laughter, a live-spoken comment and response, a relaxed pose or an active stride - for which there is no technological substitute.

My day was full of people whose lives touched mine, and I am richer for it.

In the end, facebook is only a partial disclosure of who I am.  Blogging is only an electronic journal to be indulged in as time allows.  Even the telephone lacks the dimension of sight - posture, eye contact.  Communication can only ever be complete in person.  Anything less cheats us of being known, and knowing.

(and on a lighter note, maybe you can communicate to me - technologically or otherwise - why we eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day.  Is that a local custom?  Who started it?)

December 27, 2011

a day in the life ....

Snapshot for today:

Around my neck today is a red scarf I crocheted, white snowflakes on the ends.  Feels festive and lifts my spirits.

My Farmer just put Lil' Snip to bed after a day of much fussing.  We love that little guy, but we were glad to see his bedtime arrive.  May his night be long and refreshing, and may he wake up in a better temper than we've seen for days.

Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice are playing dress-up.  I've heard Spice referred to as the "Asian princess".  I'm not sure about the identities of the other two.  There is a lot of dancing that I suspect is a novel accompaniment to Handel's Messiah (which is still playing two days after Christmas and which I have no intention of removing from the stereo in the near future).

The laptop is currently (temporarily?) residing in a dark corner of the kitchen near the door to the backyard - a door which my Farmer, incidentally, freed a few years ago while I was away for the weekend.  It had been boarded over for decades and its unearthing makes seven doors in the kitchen, as well as adding a window, and giving us a quicker route to the garden, chicken yard, and (more importantly) the hammock.  But oh yeah, the reason why the laptop (and I) are back here is that we have upgraded from dialup internet (I'll give you a second to get up from your faint) to a wireless 4G connection.  But.  Since we are in the sticks, coverage is spotty and works best from this dark (and peaceful, now that Lil' Snip's in bed) corner of the kitchen.

My Farmer, having tucked Lil' Snip into his crib with bear and "night-night" (that's "blanket" for you big people), is now plucking randomly at his banjo, making music and airing his soul at the same time.

The potato chowder we had for supper is tucked away in the fridge for a repeat session later in the week.  I always make too big a pot ... probably because I don't use a recipe and often only remember key ingredients as I go along (i.e. "oh that's right, I usually put ham/hard-boiled eggs/celery/garlic in here...").   That's okay, it turned out well and will save me from having to come up with a menu some night.

I figured out how to read while using the elliptical, and have finished reading Dorothy Canfield's The Home-maker.  I don't know when I've read a more viscerally shocking book.  What was that one on the high school reading list?  The Catcher in the Rye?  This one (published in 1924) wasn't as crude, but I have a feeling that Dorothy was one strong woman.  I'm not sure we would have been friends.  Her book gave me plenty to think about, although I much preferred her children's novel, Understood Betsy.

And now the daughters are wrapping things up for the night ... early bedtimes started way back when they were all babies and we've learned to enjoy our couple of quiet hours to wind down from the day after they all go to bed.  It'll be another hour yet till everything is quiet, but it's in sight.

And that's it for today .... another day in the life of our family.  Thanks for peeking in.  What was your day like?

December 22, 2011

a big, big, house

I've got some new wheels turning in my head and I wanted to share them with you.  I haven't done anything about them yet, and it's always a danger with me to think exciting new thoughts and then, satisfied with just the thoughts, leave the accompanying actions languishing on the mental back burner .... indefinitely.

Here goes.

This morning our moms' group met.  We'd each brought an anonymous gift for an exchange, and while we sat around them in a circle of metal chairs, we had a time of sharing and prayer:  first things first.

One mom shared about a cousin, homeless, coming with her young daughter to stay with them till she gets back on her feet.  I mentally raised my eyebrows and thought "wow, didn't this mom let some other friends stay with her till they got back on their feet?!  She must have the patience of Job!"  I pictured the chaos, loss of privacy, and interrupted routine, and shook my head at the thought of doing what she had courage to do.

And then I remembered my aunt, who, having raised her own multitude and fostering many others, has recently taken in a family of nine (9!) children on a "temporary" basis.  Two months later, their lives turned inside out with loving nine extra souls, they are still giving.  And giving.  And giving.

The home of a woman I know (whose decorating skills and budget have often tempted me to envy) flashed through my mind, flawlessly decorated room by flawlessly decorated room, and I wondered what the houses of my friend and my aunt look like while they provide a home for the homeless.

I realized that I have equated beauty with success.  I thought that that was my purpose in my home.  That order and cleanliness were the goals.  A sort of visual peace is what I have sought after - in direct conflict, sometimes, with the living that necessarily goes on, since I share "my" home with five others.

But that's not the point at all, is it?

The point of a home is to be a place of belonging for people.  Somewhere to come to, out of the storm.  Somewhere that, as they say, "if you go there, they have to take you in."

A place of love.

I am broken, again.  "You are not your own; you are bought with a price."  The very air I breathe is on loan from above.  There is nothing, nothing, I can truly call my own.

Not even my house, "my" sanctuary.

True sanctuary is within, in the meeting with my Lord and my God in the inner places of my heart.  To arrange my home to feel peaceful can be a gift to those who dwell within its walls.  But to house in my very being a peace which passes all understanding is a far greater gift, and can be given whether the floors are clean and the knick-knacks dusted, or not.

Now, those are my thoughts.  Who are you going to send, Lord, to give me a chance to live them out?

[and in case you're thinking, but my house is too small for even the family that lives in it!!  here's a link to a related article, on small-house hospitality]

December 21, 2011

fuel up

Ever feel kind of empty this time of year?

I don't mean your stomach - if your house is like most, there are plenty of cookies around to take care of that.

I mean your soul.

It's Christmas:   "Joy to the world, peace on earth, goodwill toward men" and all that.  But if reading that leaves you feeling more hungry than happy, if it brings a bitter retort to your lips about
               family feuds
                        and low checkbook balances
                                 and ungrateful children
                                           and harried servicepeople
                                                    and other impediments to peace, joy, and love ....

.....then lay down your credit card and your grievances and hear this:

"Come,  all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
                and you who have no money,
                                              come, buy and eat!
                       Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

"Why spend money on what is not bread,
                             and your labor on what does not satisfy?

"Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
                             and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
                                 Give ear and come to me;
                                      hear me, that your soul may live. ..."
Isaiah 55:1-3, 6

"whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst."  
John 4:14

"Come to me, 
all you who are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you rest.  
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, 
for I am gentle and humble in heart, 
and you will find rest for your souls.  
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  

Matthew 11:28-30

December 17, 2011

love goes on

It's cold outside.  The road looks wet from my window, when cars go by.  My Farmer is out there in a field somewhere, playing a shepherd.

Earlier today I was angry with him.  Very.  Angry.  Big stuff angry.  If you had told me, then, that six hours later I would be wondering if he's warm enough, I probably would have laughed - you know, that bitter bark that passes for a laugh when you're angry.

But I am.  I hope his feet aren't too cold, and I wonder if his nose is running, and whether his caps are covering his ears and if one layer of long underwear was enough and if anyone brought them hot coffee in between showings.

We didn't have time to work things out this afternoon.  In fact, it could take days.  But I've been waking up beside this man for thirteen years and tomorrow morning will be no different.

On our wedding day, that glorious warm evening in September so many memories ago, I recited my vows to this man, ones I'd written myself, fashioned after a much-memorized portion of Scripture.

Love is patient 
[an argument can wait]
love is kind 
[even in between "discussions"].  

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  

It is not rude [even when hurt]
it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.  

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  

It always protects
always trusts
always hopes
always perseveres.  

Love never fails.

I Corinthians 13:4-8

How'm I doing?  Living up to my promises?

Not nearly so well as I'd like.  We both know that I've fallen again and again.

But love never fails.

Love picks me up, sets me on my feet, and I go at it again, trying to love him even through the storm.

When he comes home tonight, cold and wet, I'll get him dry socks and make him hot tea and do what I can.  My Farmer needs me; the argument can wait.

December 16, 2011

lessons learned from children's lit

A couple of weeks ago I worried five pounds off my body.

While the weight loss was satisfying (although not a method I'd recommend), the worrying was wearying.  Confessing my sin began the grace process of being cleansed from it, and along the way, my gracious God sent me a book to help me see myself a little more clearly.

Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield, is the story of a nine-year-old orphan girl raised by a spinster aunt whose worrying makes mine look meager.  Merely by worrying aloud about her niece's poor appetite, the dangers of doggies one meets on the streets, the frights certain to be found in the schoolyard, the aunt managed to create a coddled, fearful, weak child.

A few turns of events later, the poor child finds herself out from under the protective wing of her aunt and transferred to the libertarian care of another set of relatives (of whom she has heard horror stories from the cradle upwards).

Thrust into the confident bosom of a family uneducated about her fears and inabilities, the orphan girl is unsurpassingly astonished to discover that she is capable of remarkable feats:  caring for a kitten, dressing herself, rising without being called, walking alone to school, helping with household chores, and even .... thinking for herself!!

As I read the chapters aloud to my own little flock, it's gratifying to watch the orphan girl unfurl her wings and learn to fly.  I see my cautiousness in their upbringing from a new angle, and am determined to change.

It's not meant (I suppose) to be a manual on childrearing ... but Understood Betsy is challenging me to let go of my worries and quit hovering, to let my children begin to soar.

The best books always do leave us standing taller.

December 13, 2011

winter wonder

The fire has gone out.  My fingers are cold.

But you know what?  I am a grateful woman.

There are bags of pellets for the pellet stove out in the garage.  The sun is streaming through my (supposedly) energy-efficient window in my (relatively) warm house.  My pantry is stocked with nutritious food, and if it weren't, it would be a matter of minutes for me to go buy what I need at my choice of nearby variety-laden supermarkets - and with cash, I might add, that my able-bodied husband earns honestly at his fairly-compensated and steady long-term job.

My children are warmly clothed.

My to-do list centers on maintenance rather than on survival.

I'm more likely to need to vacuum my carpets than patch a leaky roof.

We ration Christmas cookies to curtail greed ....
  .... some are rationing the last of the rice, to keep starvation at bay.

A World Vision Catalog came to our door a week ago, and as we pored over the photos of foreign children holding ducks and goats, suddenly the wish lists we'd laboriously thought up for the children in our lives seemed awfully petty.

                             When we could give food....

Heifer International

What are you grateful for today?

                            How could you show it?

December 9, 2011

git 'er done

I did it - that terribly little thing - and now I'm free!

                                                               [and so, perhaps, is a child]

fleshing out faith

I've always been a pragmatist.  An optimistic realist, I'd say.  Love the lofty, absolutely, but if it doesn't work, out it goes.

I would say I believed in prayer, believed in a healing God, a God who hears and loves to answer.  When I prayed and got an immediate answer, I was thrilled.  My faith, I thought, was bolstered and increased.

When I prayed and nothing happened, I'd chalk it up to some mistake I'd made in praying or in hearing God, and forget about it.

Rarely did I persevere in prayer.  Somehow I figured that if God wanted to grant my request, he'd do it right then. ...  I wonder how many answers I've missed seeing because I'd lost sight of the prayer I prayed?

Then the other day I got a shock.

I read in Hebrews chapter 11 about people who believed God and clung to faith even though they never saw fulfillment of the promises they were given.  I've read it before, of course, but it never really struck me:  they died, believing without seeing.  A whole lifetime of faith, passed down to children:  "What our God has said, He will surely do."

Nothing happened, but "nothing" didn't shake them.

They believed anyway.

Suddenly my faith looks tiny.  Microscopic.  Nonexistent?

I rejoice in stories of God's faithful provision for others, but when he asks me  to step out in faith and do something that makes me vulnerable and completely dependent on him .... I hesitate.  "Did I really hear you, God?  But that doesn't make sense.  What if ....?"

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.  Proverbs 3:5-6

 I want to pray for boldness, courage, an increase of faith ... but I hear him ask me to trust him with what I have, now.  Trust him through my fear - obey without comprehension.

It's no more than what I ask of my own children.  And I, the far-from-perfect parent, frustrate myself with wondering why they disobey, why they hesitate, why they don't trust.

Oh, humanity!  Oh, the patient mercy of our God!

He is perfect.  He is loving.  He is trustworthy.  His plans for me are not to harm me, but to prosper me, to give me a future and a hope  (Jeremiah 29:11).

If I can't trust God, who can I trust?  

And if I trust no one but myself .... my record does not recommend itself, frankly.  Do I really want to forge my own way?  Depend on my own frailty for sustenance?  And if I don't trust him, why should he uphold me?

I am at an impasse.  Will I listen to fear?  

Or to love?

[and oh, if you only knew the tiny thing he asks of me ... !]

December 4, 2011

He gives more grace

He really does.

My ears had heard all they could hear.  The older children were happy-loud, and I was thankful for their health, but they had recovered not just their health but some of their bad habits as well, and I was too tired to do anything about it.  (I know, I know, I'm not supposed to admit that.  It was, however, the unfortunate truth.)

So I put earplugs in.  And issued a 10-minute whispers-only break-for-mama's-ears.  And prayed for strength to minister to the tiniest one, so grouchy from no sleep, wanting to be independent but wanting the comfort of mama more.

I showed him books.  I played trucks.  I played puzzles.  I tried and tried to understand his pidgin English.  So frustrated, he was, when mama didn't understand those almost-words.

I loved him.

I didn't have it in me.

To my utmost gratitude, God did.  And in His love and mercy, once more He provided, loaning some from His bottomless well of love and mercy to bereft me.

: : :

The little one's in bed now, and my earplugs are out.  Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice are playing Memory on the kitchen table (at Daddy's "suggestion" after the rough-housing in the livingroom turned nasty).  They are mostly kind to each other.

Forgiveness is a valuable skill, too.  And tomorrow is another day.

: : :

[the list I didn't make, last week while I worried ... ]

# 533 - 543
           His faithfulness to forgive my sin

           His power, when I ask

           the warming wintry sun

           courtesy of a hunter, a stranger to us

           the deermeat he offered - God bless him for his generosity!!

           a child's prayer for success, answered

           a friend from long ago, buying my pottery with smiles

           all those teddy bears, even unsold

           rescue of one of God's precious children


           my Farmer, humbled to serve us

           a true power nap on my favorite "pillow"

November 28, 2011

diamond in the rough

Did you ever have a day when you needed a little shot of victory, even if it was someone else's?  Well, today was like that for me, and if you read on, it may be your lucky day, too.

I want to introduce you to a family who lives near me.  They have accomplished much just in raising their own family with love, but recently they took on something much, much larger - so large that God alone could bring success.

And He did.

They adopted a precious, desperately mal-nourished and under-developed little girl with Down's syndrome from another country, which was a miraculous journey in and of itself.  They are now trying to love her back to health.  I watch eagerly as the story unfolds, and this child of God is enfolded in the arms of God Himself through the loving care of this family.

Katerina is nine and a half.  Years, not months.  And this family has already, in a short, short time, loved her from this:

to this:

I hope their story blesses you as it has me.

Click here for Katerina's Story...

November 22, 2011

rainy day thanks

When it's sunny and the children are cheerful and the husband is home and the floors are clean and time lasts longer than the to-do list, it's easy to be thankful, it flows effortless as springwaters after rainfall.

But it doesn't bless me like being thankful does when the rains have been scarce and the spring has dried up to a trickle.

Today, with tight schedule made tighter by bowing to Lil' Snip's needs, with heart heavy from one sister's careless cruel words to another, with eyes aching from sleep I didn't get, with dark skies out my window instead of sunshine ... today it blesses me to be thankful.

I will be thankful ...

... for my Farmer, willing to do the uncomfortable thing because it benefits someone else, the hard thing because it's right.

... that a nap is helping Lil' Snip's enormous grouchiness, even though it complicates my plans for the day.

... that my family defied my expectations and liked those chicken hearts, actually preferred them to maple syrup on their waffles!!

... for that look of love he gives me, still.

... for a daughter's rush of remorse over her unkindness.

... for hard pretzels and leftover cheese fondue.

... for hard cider, so sweet & uncomplicated

... that when the sewing machine wouldn't, it wasn't for a necessary project.

... for the longday ache and knowing that bedtime is coming.

... for a really good garlic dill pickle.

... for a choice to not be offended.

And I thank my Creator, who does all things well, that in his generous wisdom he commands me to be thankful in everything, knowing that the thanking will bless me even more than the blessings themselves.

November 14, 2011

Rosemary-Garlic Focaccia

I have another winner to pass along to you!  This one had Lil' Snip giving me conspiratorial giggles when I laid pinches of it on his highchair tray.  When your children think they've gotten away with something you know the food is good!

My slightly aged recipe card says "Mother Earth News" on it so I'll trust that that information is correct, and although I can't vouch for volume, issue, or page number, I can vouch for the yumminess factor.  Since I used the "wrong" cheese, and since it's the cheese that carries this, I'm also going to take credit for the yumminess factor.  (and now you know what kind of magazines I read...)

* p.s. this recipe also makes great breadsticks.  When you get to the asterisk in the recipe, just form into breadsticks about half the thickness you like, any length, and bake at 425 F till they're browned.  I brushed them with the extra infused oil.  Yum!

Rosemary-Garlic Focaccia

3 T olive oil
1 tsp. rosemary (dried)
3 large garlic cloves, quartered

Heat oil with rosemary and garlic until garlic begins to sizzle.  Set aside.

1 cup warm water
1 T dry yeast
1 T honey

Sprinkle yeast over warm water and honey in large bowl.  Add:

1 cup unbleached flour

Whisk well, cover and let set 30 minutes to rise.  Remove rosemary and garlic from oil.  Mince garlic and set aside for topping.  Add half the oil to the yeast sponge, stir, and add, stirring well:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt* (see above note on making breadsticks)

Cover and let rise 45 minutes.  Oil hands with remaining oil and place dough on oiled cookie sheet.  Press into 10x12" oval.  Sprinkle with:

1/2 lb sharp Swiss cheese (I used an Emmental which, having gotten it at our local dent and bent, I'm pretty sure was well-aged)
the minced garlic
extra rosemary or oregano (my children found the extra dose of rosemary too strong, but tolerated the oregano just fine).

Let rise 30 minutes.  Bake at 400 degrees F till lightly browned (10-15 minutes).  Cut into wedges with a pizza wheel and serve!  Yum!  (we had it with beef stew)

November 11, 2011


If you were to peek into our lives over the last few weeks, 
here is what you might have seen ....

Grandma not only gave Mommy the day off, she set the girls to making applesauce while she was there!  They made and canned 13 quarts, all finished before Mommy came home.

We spent a day baking and decorating cookies for Sugar and Spice to sell 
at church to raise money for Bibles for India.

For five lovely days we played at a cabin in the mountains, 
part of the time with extended family.  

Teepees that grow more elaborate with each year that we go.  
This year they made "natural museums" complete with little mossy displays.

Lil' Snip loves his corners!

My Farmer was thrilled to find over a dozen different (and new to him) forms of fungus.

And everyday adventures.....

Dressing Lil' Snip up in a Honduran vest that Daddy wore when he was little:

Bounty of colorful carrots from my Farmer's fields:

Tasting agar (!?) from an extra petri dish my Farmer filled for propagating mushrooms:

Tea party surprise one day after Quiet Time:

Sunshine transforming the ordinary:

Our "Farmers' Breakfast":  kale and onions, toast, egg on ham with broiled cheese & tomatoes, coffee, and two squares of dark chocolate to finish it off.

November 8, 2011

Feta Avocado Salsa

Served this tonight with our usual black beans and rice (which, remind me sometime, I want to include in the recipe box eventually since for some reason my family swoons over black beans and rice - the girls have been known to request it for their birthday dinners).  This salsa ... words fail me.  May I just say, we don't bother with chips.  Even Lil' Snip, all of 18 months old currently, gets demanding after the first taste.  And that's with raw onions in it, folks.

[Actually, to be perfectly honest, my daughters are not the ones scarfing this up.  The Farmer, Lil' Snip, and I take sole responsibility for the salsa consumption.  But - where I've served it to other adults, the accompanying chips appear to be of secondary, or possibly tertiary, interest.]

This is one recipe I have not tinkered with.  I originally got it from my sister and consider it just one more proof of the good taste I've always known her to have.

Feta Avocado Salsa

1 cup chopped tomatoes
1-2 ripe avocado(s) chopped
1/4 cup finely diced red onion (Vidalia types work well, too)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T chopped cilantro
1 T olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T lime juice
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Chop what needs to be chopped, then mix it up with the liquids - use an easy hand and kind of fold it together, though, so it doesn't turn into mush (although I can vouch for it's being tasty that way, as well).  Last of all turn the crumbled feta into the salsa, and chill that puppy as long as you can resist its siren song (but not longer than, say, overnight).  [We have noticed no ill effects resulting from immediate consumption.]

November 7, 2011

5 minutes on remembering

Linking up with the Gypsy Mama this morning, a few days late, to keep the writing part of my brain from getting rusty.  Every week she cues us with a subject, to write unedited for five minutes flat, to "just write" without worrying about whether or not it's "just right."

(If you're thinking about sharpening your skills again, join us some Friday ... or any day ... )

This week's cueword:  remembering ...


I'm remembering, alright, but I'm remembering anew.

When I was 18 months old (my mother told me later, dating it by how pregnant she remembers being with my brother), I was dropped off in a basement childcare arrangement while my mother worshipped with some neighbors up above.  There were toys and kind ladies, I remember.  But what haunted me for decades was the stairs.

I remember climbing those stairs, crying (loudly, my mother said) in the dark, hearing my mother's voice soaring with the others, unreachable.

The stairs went on and on; I never reached the top.  I suppose one of the kind ladies took me in hand.  All I remember is the climbing and the crying.  For years, all I knew was that I wanted Mommy and she wouldn't come.

Rejection.  Abandonment.

I wrote about it in college for an "earliest memory" assignment.  I got an A.

Later, much later, I asked my mom about it.  I could have saved myself so much hurt by asking sooner.  She'd heard me and ached with me.  She'd tried, sometimes, to have me with her, but I was wiggly and restless.

Her love for me spoke volumes.  I heard it in her eyes, her voice.  The hurts were healed.

So now, when I remember, I see more than just the stairs.  I see my mother hearing me, distracted from the singing, wondering what to do with that beloved child, what's best ....


p.s.  Mom, I love you.  And now that I've got "one of those" I understand, better.  Thanks for being patient with me while you waited.  You're still doing a great job.

November 6, 2011

thanking in the week ...

Some days the thanking comes harder than others.  Some days I don't even want to thank.  There is something sinful in me that wants to wallow, sometimes, something that shrinks whining from the light of the freedom that gratitude brings, and wants only to peer into the dark.

I'm on my fourth child.  Many have borne more than me, in quantity and "quality", if you know what I mean.  I wouldn't dare to try to claim that I've the heaviest load to bear.  But for me, for now, this load is some days all that I can carry - more than I can carry.  And I forget, sometimes, Him on whose shoulders the government rests, who offers to bear the load with me, to share the yoke, to catch my tossed-on-him cares, to care for me and give me rest for my soul.

I forget.

It was one of those days today.  The fourth child is birthing his own fourth, an eyetooth.  Stubbornly sensitive, lingering, that pearly little gem will not emerge.  The tender bud that will be gets in the way of everything he wants to chew: toast, beloved apples, even cheese.  Understandably, he resents that.  Unfortunately, he resents it loudly.  Unrelentingly.  Even in the middle of the night.

I don't know how many times we heard him last night.  At first, forgetting how it works with him, we went to him, all sympathy and warm comfort.  He hushed to our caresses ... until we laid him down.  How he wailed.  No one had e're been wronged like he had.  To be left alone!  In flannel-sheeted crib with special plush blanket!  (Compared to Mama's arms, it was a hardship).

By morning we were wearied, equally from his whining wails as from lack of sleep.  Some "extra" hour we'd had.

But gamely we pulled ourselves together and went to church.  All teary-prone, my "fine" fooled no one, and a few listened with sympathy to tales of teething, and remembered.

Later, when I had rested, I flipped some pages in my notebook and pen in hand began to think.  In all my weariness and utter, pathetic lack, what is there to be thankful for?

God's always good:  there's always something (usually more).  Here's what I found, today, bleary-eyed (and wanting only what I couldn't have: cease of pain):

391 - sympathetic ears

392 - hope for a new day tomorrow (and a better night tonight!)

393 - teachings of truth

394 - their delight in braided loaf, with butter and cheese

395 - long afternoon of quiet

396 - wealth of persimmons, overflowing baskets despite the birds

397 - the good-humored chuckle amidst all that whining

398 - wooden puzzles

399 - pampas grass swaying, shining silken in the sun

400 - sunlit life

401 - smart-alecky husband (but you're right, dear, I wouldn't want you any other way!)

402 - wool sweaters and afternoon coffee

403 - an outside for them to play in!

404 - "this too shall pass"

(my own refrain of praise, from #1 till now ....)

November 3, 2011

what's in a name?

Last night I sat at a pottery wheel and spun some clay.  I picked up tools and dug in pots to make designs.  I drew.  I cut.  I smoothed out seams with fingers.  I pulled a handle and fastened it to make a mug, a pitcher.  I used the pictures in my head and in my sketchbook.

I am an amateur, unprofessional, a hobbyist.  I am a mother with a BA in English and a TESL minor, raising children, and throwing pots for fun.  I pay for the privilege of instruction.  I sit under people who earn (at least part of) their living from their art.  Any dreams I have of making pottery "for a living" are very faint indeed, dimmed by my very real and present duties of cooking and cleaning and loving, and pulled out only on weekend retreats.

My classmates, fellow hopefuls who have tried their hands at this for years, complimented everything I did last night, ooh-ing and ahh-ing with abandon.

Feeling dishonest with my "thank-you's", my discomfort reached a tipping point when one of them spied my sketchbook left open, full of chicken scratch, attempts to capture beauty with a pen to help my memory.  More exclamations, and then,

"Are you an artist?"

I thought how I should answer.  "I am a mom," I said.  "I have an English major and I like to make pottery - a lot.  Does that  make me an artist?"

She looked back in my book.  "You're an artist."  Her voice was firm, authoritative from her decades of teaching school.

What's in a name?  What separates the amateur from the artist?  As much as I'd like to believe her, and as much as I appreciate the encouragement, I think she's wrong.  The admiration of amateurs does not determine art, but the acceptance of those who have already gained acceptance from those who have already gained acceptance from .... the public.  Hmmm.  Perhaps I have created a circular argument.

Either that or my brain is just limp with listening to Nice playing with Lil' Snip, talking nonstop in that piercing voice reserved for the hard-of-hearing, foreigners, and small children.

But feel free to point me in the right direction, someone - what is  the criteria for defining art?

(I'll come back in an hour; my brain will be more receptive when they're all enjoying "Quiet Time" ...!)

November 1, 2011

crab soup, Maryland-style

I first had this soup for lunch with a friend in a very busy and crowded restaurant (which I think is the best endorsement you can give an eatery) in Northeast, MD, en route to Chincoteague, VA for a camping weekend, if I remember correctly (good grief, that was nearly 20 years ago!!).  Our tent (and, more importantly, our sleeping bags) got soaked in a deluge and I got pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (at 10 in the morning and 18 years old, needless to say, the only influence I was under was excitement ... although I admit that driving with my left foot out the window may not have been the savviest move).

But that's a story for another time.  Back to the crab soup, which was so good that as soon as I got my hands on some crabmeat, I tried to recreate the experience.  Unfortunately, that wasn't until five years later, in small-town coastal Japan, but my tastebuds have a better memory than the rest of my senses, and I think I came pretty close.  Here's the recipe I'm serving tonight, with cheddar-garlic biscuits adapted from Betty Crocker's cookbook:

Maryland-style Crab Soup

1/2 lb shrimp - steam and shell, set aside
1/2 lb crabmeat (I use the real deal, in a one pound refrigerated can - the other half pound goes for crab dip, another crowd-pleaser.  Maybe I'll post that recipe another day)

4 potatoes, cubed and cooked (I add the potato water to the soup, too)
corn / carrots / green beans (optional - about 1-2 cups total, depending on how thick you want the soup)

While the potatoes (and vegetables) are cooking, use butter to saute:
red bell pepper
celery (in a pinch, celery seed will do)

To the potatoes and sauteed vegetables add:
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 cups each chicken broth and shrimp broth (I use the water I cooked/steamed the shrimp in, or just more chicken broth - and see here for how to make the best chicken broth you've ever eaten)
1 bay leaf
splash of Worchestershire
pinch each of clove and cayenne (more than a pinch of the hot stuff if you like it spicy)
a few grinds of black pepper

When all vegetables are tender, add the shrimp and crab.  You're just heating them through.  Don't boil them or they'll get tough (although I've done that by accident and the flavor is still fabulous).  In fact this soup is great made the day before and just heated up at mealtime to serve.  Garnish with cilantro, and prepare yourself to hear raves from your family or guests......


October 31, 2011

fire and ice

Four and a half hours after leaving my house, I turned into the half-mile lane we came to first eight years ago.  Three friends and I unloaded bags and boxes, ducking under the pine boughs to reach the porchlit door. I knocked.

Come in!” she called, and in we came to warmth and cozy lamplight, rooms full of whimsy and books, steeped in love. We were home, again.

Hugs and shortquick studies of each other and we burdened the kitchen island with our treats, sustenance for a weekend away: lemon bars, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, Chex mix, almonds, dried apricots, guava paste and Maria cookies. We pulled up chairs around the gas flames and warmed our souls.

I gathered up the gifts those two long full days we spent away, arms full, and squirreled them away like nuts to lunch on through the winter of ordinary home-demands. All the long drive home, I handled them like strings of pearls, to keep their luster bright in my mind:

# 329 – hot air balloons on a grey day
# 330 – Rose's miracle armchair
# 331 – welcoming warmth of a home
# 332 – those warm wooden walls again
# 333 – sound of rain on tin, a nighttime lullaby
# 334 – heavy white flakes, so slowly descending
# 335 – brisk walk in a white bracing wind
# 336 – pulling the needle in and out, to make a bear
# 337 – our eight-year tradition

# 338 – coziness of lamplight, rocking chairs, gas fireplace
# 339 – beautiful music and the sound of turning pages
# 340 – all the house quiet in afternoon sleep
# 341 – a word fitly spoken
# 342 – the smell of soup, prepared by another's hand
# 343 – sunshine on snow: gold on white, fire on ice
# 344 – brilliant drops of liquid light on ends of twigs
# 345 – lungfuls of outdoors
# 346 – a horizon, for the health of my eyes

# 347 – keeping some thoughts to myself
# 348 – scarlet sugar maple against October sky
# 349 – clumps of snow clinging high to leaves
# 350 – morning nap in sunshine
# 351 – liquid drumbeat: melting snow meets roof
# 352 – patterns, everywhere (potential pots!)
# 353 – inspiration for a bowl
# 354 – lead-seamed glass lampshades like exotic flowers
# 355 – miles of thoughtful silence along winding creek, in flickering light, by spacious river
# 356 – flaming pink sun melting into mountain

So many gifts, pearls stringing out to the horizon ... 

October 28, 2011

squeaky clean

Okay, I can finally (now that a solution is in sight) admit it:  I hardly ever mop my kitchen floor.

Until now, that is.  I sweep it regularly (okay, actually Sugar does that now) and spot wipe when something spills, but it only sees (used to see) water a couple of times a year, if that.  *blush*

Why?  Well, for one the floor is enormous and convoluted - the linoleum branches out every which way, into the (tiny, cramped) bathroom, into the stairway, back into multitudinous corners in the heavily-used (read:  the floor is unavailable under miscellaneous abandoned flotsam) "back kitchen" ... and trying to figure out where to start with the bucket so that I don't mop myself into a corner has just somehow proven insurmountable.

Until now.

About a year ago, I pitched my ancient sponge mop and bought (no, not a landfill-filling Swiffer) a swivel mop head, three heavy washable terrycloth covers, and some super-duper cleaning solution from The Clean Team.  I used it right away to mop my kitchen floor.  I loved it because the large mop head covers so much ground.

But ... my supplies languished in my laundry room .... for months .... because I still had not solved the bucket problem.  In fact, it was even worse, because it wasn't a matter of dipping my mop in a bucket that I drag along behind me - now I was supposed to work from the kitchen sink, removing the mop cover and partially wringing it out every time I need more moisture/cleaner.  Yuck.

Now, my solution is so simple that I really should have thought of it long ago, and lots of people smarter than me have probably been doing this for generations, but for me it is truly is earth-shattering.  Remember those "peri-bottles" they give you when you have a baby, to rinse off "down there"?  Well, I put a squirt of my cleaning concentrate in one of those (leaving the other three for bathtub toys), fill 'er up with water, and then .... carry that with me, instead of dragging a bucket.  I start wherever I want to with a damp mop cover, squirt solution on the floor, mop it up, move on, squirt, mop, repeat.

Pure magic.

And I may, for the first time in my life, have a kitchen floor we could eat off of.  (Not that it's stopped the toddlers among us for all these years ..... )

October 19, 2011

repeatable pleasures

[dug from the depths of the unpublished, forgotten archives, just for today, another overcast soporific day, great for napping....]

I'm still groggy.

That's right, I had such a crazy deep nap on such a crazy perfect napping day that I woke up with absolutely no idea what day it was.  I love that.

When Sugar came down from quiet time and asked to snuggle with me, I realized that I had just spent the better part of two hours unconscious of my surroundings.

It's overcast and drippy without actually (to my somnolent knowledge, anyway) raining.  It's the first really cold day of fall.  Add that to two nights out with the family and a serious need for sleep catchup and you have the ideal conditions for a knock-em-dead middle-of-the-day nap.

I'm so grateful for variety.  If every day were sunny, when would I nap?  If every day were cloudy, when would I click into gear and get productive?  (of course, the two are sometimes reversed....)

: :

other pleasures, from my refrain of praise....

# 265 - that little indomitable fellow, heart of my heart

# 269 - grey-green caterpillar, a find

# 270 - another walk through Big

# 271 - another sweeping sky

# 273 - shrunken sweater stitched into smiling bear

# 274 - a neighborly chat in a farm lane

# 275 - tucking persimmons into trespassing stranger's cupholder

# 277 - reconnecting, a thin thread

# 280 - stacks & shelves of books, for the reading

# 282 - pendant raindrops on crepe myrtle seed pods

October 18, 2011

borrowed words, Part Seven (& last)

Here's the last installment of my quote collection, circa post-high-school and beyond.  

I remember reading Alexander Pope to while away empty hours at my desk in Japan, "teaching" English.  (Cheers, fellow JETs!). Kahlil Gibran, though, came before Pope, I thought - I read him ensconced in the philosophy nook of the commune library, that summer in Georgia.  

I still enjoy the poem my collection ends on.  Reminds me of another quote, from Solon of ancient Greece:  "Each man of you, individually, walketh with the tread of a fox, but collectively ye are geese."

One science only will one genius fit,
So vast is Art, so narrow human wit.
~Alexander Pope

A little learning is a dangerous thing. ~Alexander Pope

Poets, like painters, thus unskilled to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
~Alexander Pope

All looks infected that the infected spy,
As all looks jaundiced to the jaundiced eye.
~Alexander Pope

And she who scorns a man must die a maid. ~Alexander Pope

Fear not the anger of the wise to raise;
Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise.
~Alexander Pope

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
~Alexander Pope

Is not the dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable? ~Kahlil Gibran

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. ~Kahlil Gibran

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral. ~Kahlil Gibran

…even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also. ~Kahlil Gibran

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; and when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime. … For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly. ~Kahlil Gibran

“The Wishes of an Elderly Man at a Garden Party, June 1914”

I wish I loved the human race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I like the way it talks.
And when I'm introduced to one,
I wish I thought “what jolly fun.”

So, after typing all this … I find I still cannot throw the old notebook away. I still like quotes, and there are pages left, empty .....

[If you missed Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six, click and be happy!]

October 10, 2011

my very own brownies

These are indeed my very own brownies, but I do want to give credit where credit's due:  I started out using Irma Rombauer's "Brownies Cockaigne" recipe in The Joy of Cooking.

But you know me, I had to substitute cocoa and butter for the baking chocolate, because that's what I usually have on hand, and then I had to mess around with the flour a little to get a consistency I liked, and then I experimented with different brands of cocoa and started using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose because why not make it "healthy" since you can't even taste the whole wheat under all that chocolate!  Oh yeah, and the peanut butter chips and optional Wilbur buds are the finishing touch.

So here they are, made so often I don't even have to look it up (yay, me):

My Very Own Brownies

Grease (I use butter wrappers saved for this express purpose) a 9x13" pan.  I use glass but I assume that is not a crucial point.  You can also set your oven for 350 degrees if you like to preheat.

3/4 cup butter (need I say, not margarine?)
3/4 cup Wilbur brand cocoa (it really does make a difference, trust me)

Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa.  Set aside, off the heat.

4 eggs, room temp
1/4 tsp. salt

Beat the eggs & salt until "lemon-colored and frothy" (courtesy of Irma)

2 cups raw sugar (a.k.a. demerara sugar)
1 tsp vanilla

Keep beating, and slowing add the sugar and vanilla till so that it gets smooth.  (I hope you're using an electric mixer for this.  I do.)

Now, abandon the electric mixer and fold in the cocoa/butter mixture, which has partially cooled by now.  Then, before that's entirely incorporated, also fold in:

1 cup whole wheat flour (King Arthur's is what I tend to have around for bread-making)
1 cup Reese's brand peanut butter chips (no imitation comes close)
[optional:  a handful of Wilbur buds / Hershey kisses stuck in upside-down, pre-baking, one per brownie]

Once all the goodies are folded in, coax it out of the bowl into your prepared pan and slip it into the oven to fill your home with intoxicating aroma.  Check it around 25 minutes but it may take as long as 30 - it's done when it's dry to the touch in the middle and has begun to pull away a bit at the edges - but before the edges shrivel and turn hard.

Take it out and let the pan cool on a rack.  (The stovetop always worked well for me until the day I turned the wrong burner on.  Let's just say we did not have to use the fire extinguisher, but there are scorch marks on my vinyl flooring and I am now short a glass cake pan.)

Now, from personal experience, I happen to know that you can actually eat these right out of the pan, but it's a lot less messy after they've cooled.


Sunday best

I rose from a much-needed nap, chilled after being too warm.  Spotting sunbeams, I opened the back porch door and soaked in the shine, dazed by the brightness and still groggy.

It warmed me as it woke me:  slowly.

I took in the view, familiar, and always fresh.  Drenched in golden beams of afternoon, it all looked haloed.  The grass, so green it glowed, was not just lawn to mow, but jewel-toned food for eyes.  All the leaves and trunks of trees were edged in brilliance.

The night before a daughter asked a Daddy why we wear our Sunday best to church.  I didn't catch the answer, but looked around me now, engulfed in golden warmth, and saw a Sunday best that's not just saved for Sunday, but daily on display to feed my soul with beauty.

And the gifts just keep coming, heedless of season (outside or in my heart), pouring into my lap like love ....

: :

# 225 - that my Farmer bathes the crying one now
# 226 - his sacrificial love for me
# 227 - ethnic food, most 'specially (today) flan and Tanzanian chicken curry
# 228 - sun-warmed skin
# 229 - a needed nap
# 230 - a golden evening
# 231 - an extra minute with my Farmer over breakfast
# 232 - a new kitten - serendipitous!

October 7, 2011

5 minutes on ordinary


[Linking up with the gypsy mama today for a little writing exercise again.  Today's topic:  ordinary.  Here goes - five minutes of uncut writing, right or not.....]

Ordinary?  I've got 5 minutes, and ordinary is all around me.

The sunshine pouring in the window is an ordinary blessing.  The children quiet for now - that's ordinary enough.  But this morning, when all was chaos and that was ordinary too, it was ordinary love that carried us through.  Imperfect, fighting and fearful, but ordinary enough that the fear passes and the fight's forgiven and we walk on, together still, loving anyway.

Ordinary refreshes, in its own way - although I usually think of solitude and silence and beauty and philosophy and prayer when I think of refreshing.  But the everyday is what links it all together, beads strung on a wire, all random and messy and beautiful just the same.  The whiny teething toddler, the call to a friend, the anticipation of a night at the pottery studio, creating, the sisters with their claws out, the sisters loving and kind, the husband holding gentle, the rainbow glints from a diamond promise, the easy click of keys, the flowers opening, the bulbs buried hopeful, the sheets on a line smelling faintly of stinkbug ....

One bonny bead after another, ordinary, everyday, the stuff of life; its bread.

[time's up]

October 5, 2011

the secret to amazing soup

The secret to amazing soup is amazing broth.  And the secret to amazing broth is to make your own.

This is on my mind right now because I have a beautiful pot of amazing soup on the stove as I type.  It is so tastebud-defyingly delicious that I would feel guilty not telling you how to do it yourself.  Tonight's particular soup is potato soup, but this will be true of any soup you make using your amazing broth.  It's so simple you will kick yourself for not having known it before - but don't!  Save that energy and make some soup!!  Okay, here goes (and don't be deceived by the length of this post - it really is simple; I just get wordy when I'm excited!):

Buy a roasting chicken.  The brand does not matter, although of course if we are being all idealistic, it will be one that was raised in the sunshine under fruit trees, eating its pick of weeds, seeds, bugs and select kitchen garbage, happily husbanded by a fine rooster, the way ours are here.  But let's be real:  there aren't enough of those, and it's not much fun to butcher anyway.  So go ahead and get the Shurfine chicken at your favorite grocery store (I can actually vouch for that brand being a good one!).

Roast it.  Just follow the directions on the back of the bag.  (Only, if you want really succulent white meat, turn that chicken breast-side-down.  I know it says breast-side-up.  They're wrong.)  Or, if you actually got a pastured chicken somewhere, set your oven for 350 degrees and pop that hen right in - two and a half hours for a 6-8lb bird.  Use a meat thermometer if you like precision in the kitchen; otherwise just wait till the meat starts to sag off the bones in submission.  Baste (that is, as juices cook out of the bird, pour them right back over it to keep it moist) frequently after the first hour.

(By the way, I like roast chicken so much that I never do anything to it seasoning-wise.  It just gets in the way - kind of like almonds in chocolate.)

Eat the chicken, picking all the meat off of the bones.  Save the skin if you can resist eating it - this is where all the flavor is (as is usually true of fats!) and will take your broth to untold heights.

Now.  Here is where the good part comes in.  Instead of throwing all those bones (& skin, remember?) into the trashcan .....

..... dump it all in your crockpot, cover with water, set on low, and forget about it for a day or so.  If you want to get fancy, plop an onion in, too.  But trust me, if your chicken was at all tasty (and especially if threw the skin in like I told you to), that broth is going to have you calling your friends and spreading the news.

At your leisure, when the liquid in your crockpot is nice and dark, turn it off and let it cool a smidge.  Get your largest bowl (mine holds four quarts), line it with fine cheesecloth or clean woven cotton, and ladle all that rich yumminess into the bowl.

Bring the four corners of the cloth together (gingerly, if it's still steaming), and then throw all that away (or if you have carnivorous pets, give it to them for a treat).  Look at your bowl.  Lean in close and take a whiff.  Good, huh?  Box that up in plastic boxes in your freezer and you've got liquid gold on hand for your next soup.  Or if you can't wait that long, go ahead - make some right away!!

October 3, 2011

perspective for a Monday

I walked along a riverside park today, newly healed from flooding.

I passed a tree, tipped over on its side, roots to the air and trailing branches in the current. It would not die: all along its trunk it sported sprouts, green hope that willed itself to live.

Where waters rushed the grass the ground was rough. My shoes would stick. I walked more slowly there, the grandeur round me lost for sake of footing; my eyes were down, saw mud and barely-clinging grasses new with spunk. The arching oaks above I did not see – till roughness past, I raised my eyes once more and knew my state. So like life I laughed – how roughness narrows vision, and all I see is churned-up soil, roiling and stumbledy with rocks. To see the beauty, then, I have to stop. I can't look up if I keep on, when I'm on tumbledy ground. I have to stop, or stumble on unseeing.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God."  Hebrews 12:2

But then! to look above the roughness and see far for once! A sense of smallness I didn't know I sought comes rushing in, a comfort. The trees are tall, have been here since before my eyes saw light. The rivers' banks will still be here when I'm no more. The water came from far and does not notice me before it passes by for parts unseen. It never hurries.

Some geese, distraught at my approach, honked their distress. Not wanting enmity, I found a bench to put their minds at ease (& mine). I watched the river, saw raindrops twinkling at the edge. The image given back was smeared, impressionistic. No bankside tree was clear in all those raindrops. A single drop would alter it but little; the multitude obscured the whole reflection.

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a [bronze] mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  I Corinthians 13:12

Again, like life. The kitchen floor, the dishes, all the laundry piling up, the crying kid, the supper not yet planned – heap up like teardrops in my vision, keeping me from seeing clear the simple truth: they need my love.

Just love.

Just stop on stumbledly ground; look up into his Face and feel my smallness. The universe is on His shoulders, not on mine. I'm His and He will carry me. He was, and is, and always will be Here and Now: I AM's his name. Let God be God and I'll just be His child. Look up, and faith (my hand in His) will keep my feet for sure.

[adding to my refrain of praise....]

# 186 - a day off, and its potential
# 187 - (nostalgia)  the smell of fall's first heat:  hot dust
# 188 - chill air (again!)
# 189 - a friend who skips, and listens
# 190 - raindrops twinkling rivers' edge
# 191 - the maples, bit with color
# 192 - that whorl in bark, and wrinkling down to roots
# 193 - the sound of raindrops on my roof

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