June 28, 2011

the lady I met at the park today

I love people.  So varied, with so many stories to tell.  Especially, I suppose it goes without saying, older people (more years, hence, more stories to tell).

Today, my mom drove down to my house to watch my children while I ran some errands and took some much-needed time off my job (but you other mommies know all about that).  In the morning I took Nice, my youngest daughter, to a great bulk-foods store that's out of our usual path, so that I haven't gone but once since Lil' Snip's birth a year ago.  We had a lovely time, the highlight for Nice being the dried pineapple ring she got to eat on the way home, I think.

In the afternoon, I free-styled.

First I went to the discount grocery in search of dark chocolate (success!  Newman's Own organic espresso dark chocolate!!) and then hit the library to pick up the books they regularly import from other libraries for insatiable, grateful me.

[plug:  I LOVE the library!!  all the books a person could want, free for the borrowing, nice people with whom to chat and swap book recommendations, and air conditioned comfort for temporarily escaping the responsibilities of home life.]


Then I was off in search of a restful place to read and daydream (people-watching optional).

The park was loaded with large children on the loose for the summer and rather lacked the serenity I sought.  I drove on.

I remembered a smaller park a friend had showed me, hidden in the center of a residential area, and began threading my way up and down streets and alleys till I found it.  There were two other parties there - a mom with two young daughters in matching dresses, and an anonymous driver napping in an SUV.

I parked and found a bench in partial shade.  When my legs fell asleep, I moved to the grassy hillside, and read till it was almost time to go home.  On my way out, I noticed an older lady weeding one of the flowerbeds and stopped to express my appreciation of the park's well-kept appearance.

As we chatted, she wondered if she had heard me laugh over my book, and what I was reading.  We traded favorite authors-of-the-moment (Alexander McCall Smith and Richard Paul Evans), and talked about the best spots to plant hydrangea (partial shade, wettish soil) and why our rosebushes' blooms looked "crippled" this year (too much rain?).

She recommended the parks' summer concerts to me and took me to her house across the way to give me her program.  I admired the green glass bottles on the windowsill (I collect blue).  We chatted our way back to the park and she said she'd look for me at the next concert.

It is so easy to find new friends.  It takes so little effort - a smile and a compliment - and yields such satisfying results.  Behind every unknown face is a story waiting to be told, similarities waiting to be unearthed.

I want to remember to ask, more often.

June 24, 2011

in praise of boredom

Ahhh, boredom!  That delicious restlessness that comes upon a body and mind so fully rested as to absolutely demand fresh activity!!

(To this mother of four, such a sensation has been entirely novel for years).

A child who is privileged to experience boredom (and who has learned through experience that nothing interesting happens when she whines about it), is ushered into that most exciting and satisfying realm of childhood:  invention.

The world lies at her feet.  What shall she do?

Read a book?  Lie in the sunshine with a kitten?  Ride her bike?  Look for flowers?  Pick raspberries for extra spending money?  Rummage through the recycling bin for "building" materials?  Swing on a hammock?  Shoot baskets?  Draw with chalk wherever chalk will "stick"?

Or make something inside .... a Lego house, say, or a fort with sofa cushions?  Maybe write a letter, or sew something from her own personal stash of fabrics?  Bead a necklace?  Set up a tea party with her sister?

Or, hmmmm .... swing?  Do a little imaginary "cooking" with grasses, leaves, and dried flower bits in her recycling-bin pots and pans?  Explore the barn?  Lie in the cool shade and invent kinder worlds than this one?  Maybe make a "treehouse" in the Japanese maple tree, or fashion crosses from sticks tied with grass, or build a village of wigwams with whatever nature can supply.  Or make "gardens" in the dirt between the ancient roots of the pecan tree.

How could I ever deprive my children of the opportunity to create such intriguing play?  How could I ever come up with such interesting things on my own for them to do?  And even if I could, how dull it would seem to them to do "Mommy's play."

No, the TV will remain high up out of reach.  The videos will be limited to rainy days in such succession as to exhaust the supply of indoor play.  The computer?  It has not yet occurred to them to find it interesting (I can only accept blame for this, as I must appear pitiable to them as I sit slouched in front of it).

And the only ideas I will have when mine are requested will be for patios swept, little brother watched, beds made up, trash taken out, laundry folded, flowerbeds weeded, sinks scrubbed, rugs shaken out........

I think that will be sufficient to keep from being asked too often, don't you?

June 21, 2011

Frozen Maple Cream

I would be a poor friend indeed if I kept this recipe to myself. I cannot imagine anyone disliking this delightful concoction for any reason, but I especially recommend it to you if you are a fan of maple syrup. Real maple syrup, that is – the kind in the tall plastic beige jugs (or the slim glass flasks that suggest you might want to keep one in your jacket pocket for surreptitious swigs now and then) – not the ones labeled “pancake syrup” and “made with real maple flavor."

I found this recipe in Mary Emma Showalter's Mennonite Community Cookbook, a time-honored classic of my mother's day. I confess to preferring The Joy of Cooking (Irma S. Rombauer), the Frugal Gourmet, Extending the Table, and my Betty Crocker, partly for the fact that they tend toward more flavorful (not to mention more colorful!) recipes, and partly because I have never, in any of them, found ingredients listed which were then mysteriously excluded from the directions (or vice versa – ingredients not mentioned in the ingredient list which are then mysteriously called for in the directions, amounts unspecified). I guess I just don't like that much mystery in my cooking (although this might surprise my husband, who encourages me, from time to time, to actually follow the recipe if I am using it for the first time). But I suppose that's just part of the charm of recipes handed down, and down, and down, and down......

I do want to give credit to Mary Emma for including this recipe in her cookbook, giving the original credit to a Mrs. John Danford of Dayton, OH. Thank you, Mrs. John Danford, for sharing this exquisite dessert with the world, and you will forgive me, I hope, for adding some of my own directions to the original, as we no longer use “freezing trays” in our refrigerators, and as whipping fresh cream was not as intuitive to me as it evidently was to you. (I also changed the name)

Without any further ado, I present to you.......

Frozen Maple Cream

1 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
¼ cup cold water
½ cup boiling maple syrup
1 cup whipping cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt

Chill 6-cup bowl (glass or metal) and mixing beaters in freezer. Sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let soften five minutes. Meanwhile, heat the maple syrup to boiling and slowly stir it into the gelatin. Stir until gelatin is fully dissolved. Cool in the fridge while you whip* the cream, being watchful that the maple syrup doesn't gel prematurely. Pour cream into the chilled bowl and beat with the chilled beaters on medium-low until it starts to thicken. Reduce speed to low, and beat until soft peaks form. Add the chilled (but not set!) maple gelatin to the cream gradually, beating as you pour, along with the vanilla and salt. Cover bowl and set in freezer. Beat or whisk every 30-60 minutes until the dessert is too thick to whisk.

Be sure to share with the rest of the household!  (although it is considered marginally acceptable to “test” it to make sure it has frozen and is safe to eat).

[* a few notes on whipping cream....it calls for a cup of whipping cream, which you then whip.  If you just buy whipping cream at the grocery store, I imagine it's a pretty straightforward process, but where would the fun be in that?  I get my milk raw, and have to skim the cream, so here is what I learned through trial and error:

Let the milk set for 24 hours.  Skim the cream.  Age the cream (3 days is okay, 6 days is too old).  Follow the recipe's directions for beating the cream, being careful not to beat it too long and inadvertently make butter, especially on a warmer day.]

There.  Now you know everything that I do about making Frozen Maple Cream!

caught napping

I just want to say that I love naps.  If you are having any kind of difficulty today, may I recommend one?

You never outgrow them, no matter what you think when you're five, or twenty-five, for that matter.  At five you want to put them behind you as things suitable only for the lisping babies.  At twenty-five maybe you're taking a hiatus from naps for some years (depending, perhaps, on whether or not you've started a family of your own yet).

Things that seemed impossible before your nap look easy when you wake up.  Chores that loomed onerously become mere child's play.  People whose conversation you could barely tolerate an hour before take on the glow of the beloved.

Ahhhh, naps!  Nicest snatched on a sofa with a neglected job or two in the background, most delicious when most desperately needed, there is nothing like a nap for restoring the world to its proper perspective.

(can you tell I got one today?!)

June 15, 2011

little house on the farm


Well, I think it's time you met my people.

Lil' Snip chewing on his lion toy
 Let's do Lil' Snip first, since he's the cutest and if we save him for last, everyone else will fade in your memory. Lil' Snip is so full of life that if he's not trotting around, he often has to wiggle to let out extra joy. His toy of the minute is a dolly stroller that he can push and - far more importantly - shake! He also likes to "play" piano and put his head into a box (any box will do, as long as it's big enough) and take toys out of whatever container they're in. (No, I haven't taught him to put them back in yet. Feel free to offer lessons.) He loves trucks and tractors and loud noises and all music (but especially Daddy's piano and banjo music). He laughs at funny faces and rough-housing and tickles.  I am having fun wowing him with my lightswitch magic - on!  off!  on!  off!  Mommy is so amazing!!




Everything Nice, posing with her snowman
Next up, age-wise, is Everything Nice. You've heard the expression "still waters run deep"? That's Nice. She keeps mum about a lot of things (the first one we've had to encourage to "use your words.") but comes up with some doozies sometimes that let you know she's got a lot going on in that pretty little head. When she's not "still", she has an intuitive flair for drama.  Her favorite things are cutting with scissors, writing, and playing with kitties, water and Lil' Snip. She hops, sings, hums, and otherwise be-bops to her own internal, never-stopping rhythm. Food passions include popcorn, pasta, and lentil sprouts. We credit Nice with getting us Lil' Snip – she used to pray at night, “Jesus, you give me a baby boy?”, pause, then tell us, “He says not yet.” A little over a year later God sent us Lil' Snip! Nice has always been a baby-lover, and at last she has one of her own to dote upon (although that “baby” is picking up speed daily....!).




Spice, tickled with an oyster mushroom find
And then there's Spice. Spice is nothing if not spicy. Taking after one of her parents (you may guess which one), Spice doesn't feel things by halves.

“There once was a girl,
who had a little curl
right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
she was very, very good,
and when she was bad, she was horrid!”

Except for the curl, that's Spice – saucy, sweet, tender, terrible, bright, furious and full of potential! Spice loves her cats and understands them like no one else. Ever since she succumbed to reading, she has made many friends in books. Spice is a natural teacher, and Nice has benefited many a time from her patient tutelage. When I give Spice a job to do, I can be sure that she will do it with excellence. Her standards are high, and she is not often satisfied with her efforts to meet them. Spice, Spice, life is never dull when you're around! We're glad you're ours!




Sugar, with a bear she made for an orphan
Ah, Sugar. Sugar, our first-born, is an eldest's eldest. She is organized, mature, capable, and neat.  She is also beginning to develop some inherited tendencies towards practical joking.  I believe April Fool's Day ranks right up there with Christmas and her birthday with Sugar!  Her memory puts mine to shame (and I put hers to use remembering things for me!) and she likes to know what is coming. While her siblings do not always appreciate her “leadership abilities”, we see her tempering them more and more often with kindness and humility. When Sugar puts her mind to a task, she does it briskly and efficiently. Sugar is an excellent helper around the house and with her adored Lil' Snip. She is a sponge for learning and her mind seems to be particularly tuned to the natural sciences and the Bible. A wonderful mix!  





my Farmer, playing piano with Lil' Snip
And what can I say about my Farmer? He is constant, he is funny, he is wise. He works hard, laughs easily, forgives quickly, advises gently, accepts always. He is my friend, my companion, my encourager. He amazes me with his memory for obscure facts, his courage for risk, his capacity for vision and hope, and his ability to learn, and learn, and learn some more. I think I know him, his limits, and he re-invents himself again. I could live with him a hundred years and he would never grow old to me. 

 He is or has been: a history buff, a sharpshooter, a jazz trombonist, an English teacher to foreigners, a bow-fisherman, a car salesman, a gourmet home-chef, a landscaper, a loving but authoritative father, a gardener, a manager of mentally and physically challenged workers, a Sunday School teacher, an expert on grafting and a grower of tropical fruit, an improv pianist, a manager of an organic community vegetable farm, a butcher, a capable amateur plumber / electrician / carpenter, a banjo plucker, a greenhouse nurseryman, a hobby mycologist. How can I help loving this remarkable man who inexplicably chooses me?


My family:  I am so glad God put us together!!

me & my Farmer at Chincoteague a few years ago



Spice and Nice stirring the granola



my Farmer, doing what needs to be done



my happy Lil' Snip!



my Farmer teaching Lil' Snip to identify mushrooms



Lil' Snip discovering clover


Sugar with her favorite baby boy



(back to front) Sugar, Spice, & Everything Nice

June 12, 2011

bittersweet

I got all my babies back tonight, after a whole weekend - Friday morning till late Sunday afternoon - of just me and my Farmer.  I feel a little yanked around inside....

It was so good to see them, Lil' Snip of course, grew taller and cannier in his lengthy absence (Grandma reports that he knows some new words!).  Sugar was eager to go out and ride her bike, Spice wanted to see how the youngest litter of kittens survived the storm (they were just fine), and Everything Nice confided in me that she had hopped a lot at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  She also said she felt like hopping right now - and singing!!  Did I think that would be okay?!  I assured her that I would love for her to hop and sing, just as soon as I finished fixing her ponytails.

And then my Farmer put Lil' Snip to bed and took his daughters to hear a musical family perform at our church.    And I am again without my babies.

I want to cry.  (maybe I will - after all, they're gone and no one will be the wiser....)

We had a fabulous weekend, my Farmer and I.  We slept in.  We ate according to our hunger rather than the clock.  We ran errands without watching the time to be sure we'd be home "in time."  We listened to silence.  We listened to music!  We talked without interruptions.  We watched movies (two!!).  We stayed up late - and talked in audible voices while getting ready for bed, just because we could!  We napped in the hammock (the birds cooperated nicely).  We visited a different church.  We walked around my Farmer's farm, hand in hand, admiring the harvests to come, and picked berries (and swatted at gnats...).

I can't honestly say I missed my children while they were gone.  I thought about them a bit, especially at bedtime.  I worried about them (briefly - I'm getting better about that), but it was nice to have a break from being Mommy & Daddy, nice to rediscover our Husband & Wife selves.

They're gone ... they're back ... they're gone .....

Someone said that to be a mother is to have your heart divided into pieces and watch them walking around outside of your body.  I miss my pieces now.

June 10, 2011

Superwoman blasphemy

I was reading a great parenting book (well, “great” in that I learned some new tricks, not “great” in that I agreed with everything I read) by John Rosemond called Parent Power. Along with stage-by-stage general advice and some spot-on reminders of what life looks like from three feet tall, he addresses various “reader questions.” One of these is from a mom driving herself crazy worrying about a schooling decision for her four children. In his answer, he never actually addresses the schooling question, but he tells her that she has given herself the assignment of “Perfect Mom” and that that approaches blasphemy.

His statement jolted me. I thought we moms were supposed to aim for perfection – especially in anything having to do with our children!! I mean, I know, I know – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) - but c'mon, how about “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)?!

Hmmm..... so I've been chewing on that......and wondering how pervasive that "Perfect Mom" syndrome is in other areas of my life ….. say, blogging.....

I started my life: in short because I enjoy having a written record of my life (and, honestly, because so many of my facebook statuses exceed the 420-character limit). But after a few entries, I stop. Why?

It wasn't for a lack of ideas.

It was for a lack of polished ideas. I would have been okay writing daily to the faceless void of the internet whatever popped into my head …. except that I went and checked to see if anyone was reading it – and you were!! Scared, I popped back into my hole and only peeped out to check if the interest had died down yet.

In the meantime, I read Mike Yaconelli's book, Dangerous Wonder, and started on Brennan Manning's book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. Safety, both these men claim, is over-rated. Dare, they urge. Risk. Jump! God loves you.  He's got your back.

So I'm jumping.

Big deal, you say. It's just a blog. Everyone blogs. Well, okay. So my neuroses are as unique as the rest of me. I'm still having problems writing, knowing that people who know me might read it. (My husband, Farmer in the Dell, I think I'll call him, would tell me “simple – stop checking the stats page to see if anyone has read it.” Life is easy like that when you're my husband.)

Alright, catharsis finished for today. Off to check if the sheets on the line are dry, drop off a pack of night-time diapers for my son, Li'l Snip (who, with my three daughters, Sugar, Spice, & Everything Nice, is staying with my excellent in-laws this weekend!), and see if the discount grocery store has any dark chocolate to go with the surf-n-turf I promised my Farmer tonight. Anyone want to advise this chicken how to cook steak? (and no, we don't grill)..
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