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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