April 25, 2012

on trying

"We read," as one of C.S. Lewis' students quoted his father in Shadowlands, "to know we're not alone."  And sometimes as we read, we discover our own fears put into words by another.

excerpted from Jan Karon's Home to Holly Springs
"He realized as he cowered by the fence that he had struggled for years to get it right - struggled to experience the joy, the peace, the sense of oneness with the One who was born for him, gave himself for him, and in so doing offered Timothy Kavanaugh the supernatural gift of eternal life.
"He genuinely believed in this One, had even been ordained as a priest in his service, and yet, in all the long years of his faith since childhood, he had never deeply, viscerally known the warmth and protection of the divinely unconditional, even tender love about which he had heard and read so much.  He had trembled to think he was a fraud."

I, too, want to get it right.  Sometimes it almost seems I might be getting close.  Sometimes it seems I never will.  Mostly it feels like I'm missing something.

I am tired.

The words "mid-life crisis" left my lips recently, and I was startled to find out that a few of my friends have had the same thought.  In my head I still feel about 23 (and on bad days, fourteen), but something has happened since then.  Well, fifteen somethings.  I guess I got old.

[Ugh.  So dramatic, I know.  I think as I write this of positive, energetic 60-somethings I know and I feel ashamed.  Pity party?  Maybe.  Or maybe just unvarnished disclosure.]

I want it all to count for something.  For Someone.  I don't want to have failed, but I'm not seeing success.  And frankly, I'm tired of trying.

Somewhere in here is grace, and the power of the One who raised Christ and who, inexplicably, lives in me.  Somehow I know I will find a way through, because He is my Shepherd and He guides me in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake.  If there have been green pastures or quiet waters lately, they've been (or they've felt, which I know are two very different things) few and far between.

Somewhere in here is rest.  And maybe, just maybe, it takes being tired to learn to rest.

April 17, 2012

choosing to see

I must have sneezed dozens of times today, violently, and used dozens of tissues.  The insides of my elbows and knees now boast an itchy rash to match the one on my neck.  Since I'm waking up with red, seeping eyes, my contacts are on vacation until further notice, and my glasses, while far more attractive than the 17-year-old fossils they replaced, are rubbing my head where my head is not used to being rubbed.  My throat is raw from what isn't dripping out my nose, and of course no drippy nose would be complete without congestion to go with it.  The thinner skin on my face reacts to all the pollen by becoming puffy, sensitive, itchy, or all three.  Last night's sleep was interrupted not only by my various allergy-related ailments, but also by a terrific episode of RLS (restless legs syndrome:  if you've never heard of it before, be grateful).

In short, I am miserable.

But ... I am choosing my focus, again.

Here's what I saw, today:

tomatoes, ripening

that precious little face

old books, good books

Ginger the cat, and her new kittens

fragrance of paradise:  lemon blossom

farm boots and comfy crocs

sisters, sometimes friends

fresh duck eggs

Spice and her butterfly collection

Spice's nest and egg collection

terrarium made by Sugar

Carolina wren chicks, hatched in our greenhouse, in a bag of peat moss

"Open wide your mouth and I will fill it ... 
... you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."
Psalm 81:10, 16

The beauty is there, and even my tortured eyes can choose to see.  The gifts go on . . .

April 16, 2012

beloved enemy

"Eyes!"  declares Lil' Snip with a grin, pointing.  "Hide!  Gasses!!"

My eyes are indeed hiding behind glasses these days as the pollen flies thick and my contacts betray me by delivering the miniscule bits straight to my eyeballs, grinding like sand, regardless of whether I'm inside or out.  I who have weathered many a miserable spring due to increasingly severe allergies should despise this season violently, but how can I?

The crabapple blossoms float down in the breeze like fragrant snowflakes, layering their round pink petals over porch, walks, and grass like so many cloaks spread for a triumphal entry.  We walk on pale pink, happy for such fairy litter, and sweep away the withered ones only to make room for fresh.

Spice wants to start a log book of flowers in bloom, by month, and was about to give it up, discouraged that so many had already opened - crocus, daffodil, bluebell, star magnolia, hyacinth, primrose, bleeding heart, tulip, crabapple - when I remind her of all the flowers yet to come:  dogwood, columbine, lilac, lavender, iris, daylily, rose, daisy, peony, crepe myrtle, gladiola, hosta, and so many more.  She smiles and heads out to document her favorites.

Walking alongside her mother, a neighbor child picks a bouquet for me, dandelions and some small white wildflower.  I plop it in a pint milkbottle leftover from the dairy days here, and the roadside posy disarms me with its charm.

Even the trees offer blooms - not just the crabapple and the flowering almond, the dogwood and the orchard trees, but the maples, too, have their contribution.  "It smells like a perfumer's shop down there under the silver maple," Spice tells me, rapturous.

Among so many beauties, how could I let mere physical symptoms get me down?  I can choose which I will see, and today, at least, I will see spring instead of sneezes.

April 11, 2012

potato chowder comfort

On a chilly wind-lashed day in spring, after a winter of temptingly mild days, we need comfort for supper tonight.  And to a descendant of good Swiss-German stock, nothing spells comfort like potato chowder.  This one has a  velvety-thick, cheese-laced base of milk and broth blanketing chunks of potato (cooked long enough that the edges are rounded), cubes of ham (or sausage rounds) and hard-boiled egg, seasoned with onion, garlic, and celery.

I often embark on potato-chowder-making with only my sieve of a memory on hand instead of a recipe, and since tonight's rendition smells particularly promising, I decided to write down the process for you, me, and posterity (case in point:  after making the soup, writing this post, and eating the soup, I remembered that I usually also put in corn).  Sorry, amounts are estimated.  We're making basically a dutch oven's worth of chowder.  (What is that, 4-6 quarts??)

First, peel the potatoes (no, I don't scrub them first since I'll be peeling all that scrubbed skin off).  Rinse (see, I'm not a total culinary heathen) and cut into cubes.  I used maybe six fist-sized potatoes tonight.  Pop them into a pan with an inch of water and about a teaspoon of salt and cook them (boil, then simmer) about 10 minutes.

While the potatoes cook, make your ambrosia, I mean white sauce.  Melt 3/4 stick of butter, throw in some diced onion (I used a half an onion tonight) and maybe a 1/3 cup of flour (this is not the time to substitute whole wheat).  Let it bubble a smidge for the flour to lose its raw flavor, then pour in 2 cups of milk (if you happen to use raw milk, slightly soured is even better) and stir constantly (or give the job to an eager youngster nearby) until it bubbles again.  Keep stirring, counting a minute.  By then it should be mouth-wateringly thick.  Now you just toss in all the goodies.

Tonight, that included:
3 hard-boiled eggs
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cheddar sausages, sliced into half-rounds
the top third of four stalks of celery, minced (including the leaves)
maybe a cup or so of grated cheddar/monterey jack cheese
[and the afore-mentioned, forgotten 2-3 cups of corn]
2 cups of chicken broth
and, of course, the cubed, cooked potatoes and their water

[no, there is nothing magic about the threes ... just how it fell out tonight]

Stir every so often until everything is heated through.  Do NOT boil or even simmer after the white sauce is thickened.  I forget why (it clumps? separates?) but I think it is dire.  If you're curious, try it and let me know what happens.

Now, I know this is not exactly a vegetable-laden stew, but I do not serve it with any additional vegetables.  The virtuous among you may enhance the nutrition of the menu with a tossed salad.  I, however, am going for comfort with this soup, and I serve saltines or toast.

Enjoy!  I know we will ....

[p.s. I know some people put cooked carrots in their potato soup.  Go ahead if you like that - it adds great color, but I personally think it completely ruins the flavor.  Too vegetable-ly.]

April 9, 2012

on "missing out"

I've always had problems with vacations.  Life is interesting to me, and, well, I'm greedy:  I don't want to miss any of it.

"Regular" life is soothing in its monotony.  During the week I have no trouble (well, almost no trouble) taking a nap when I'm tired or skipping some housework that doesn't absolutely need to get done this week (those of you who know me will recognize that as code for "pretty much anything except the white laundry").  But send me off for a few days with friends, and suddenly life is its own caffeine.  I stay up way past my usual stick-in-the-mud bedtime, spend way more time with people than is normally comfortable for me (alone time = processing time for me, and I do need to process), and basically burn the candle at both ends until there is nothing left but a singed wick stub.

I don't want to miss any of it - the conversations, the laughter, the chance to make memories....  and then I go home, spent and exhausted.

I just got back on facebook after deactivating my account for almost four weeks.  It would make an interesting post to say that my life was radically different while I was off, but it would be an exaggeration.  The first day or two I noticed that I was doing things with my children when I might have gotten online and checked out my friends' lives, but after that I guess I formed other routines.  I stopped noticing facebook or its absence in my life.

But today, back on facebook, I began to notice a difference.  I wanted to know what was going on.  Who shared something about their day?  Who's happy today?  Who's sad?  And why?  How could I encourage, cheer on my friends?  What could I share?

I didn't want to miss anything.

The last time I was away with friends for a few days, I learned something.  It's okay to leave the group and take a break, alone with my thoughts.  I come back refreshed, ready to really be with them again, ready to really listen, laugh, cry.  It's okay to be the first one to go to bed, even though all the "good" conversations so often happen late at night.  (Actually, we might be getting old:  the "good" conversations tend to happen on walks in broad daylight, now, or in groups of two or three sitting on the porch.  The late night conversations seem to have longer pauses and more yawns in them every year.)  If I missed anything, I didn't notice.  I think I rather gained, instead.

Back on facebook today, when Nice came to tell me about her drawing, I closed the laptop so that I could look in her eyes and really hear her - even though I hadn't finished typing my comment.

I asked my Farmer if life was any different around here the last four weeks.  He said well, it did seem like you were a little more here, somehow.  A little more available to us.

They are my family.  They come first:  my Farmer, Sugar, Spice, Nice, and Lil' Snip.  I want them to know that not just because I tell them, but because I am here for them, I have time for them.  I look into their eyes when they talk to me instead of murmuring "mm-hmm" while clicking keys.

I don't want to miss anything here.

April 4, 2012

sometimes, love

Sometimes, at our house, we snap and shove and use mean outside voices.  Sometimes, we are irritated and selfish and resentful.  Sometimes we scheme and exclude and brush each other off.  Sometimes brows are furrowed in discouragement and books are closed too firmly and pencils are sharpened longer than necessary. Sometimes we frown when we could smile, and don't make eye contact, when we could.  Sometimes we cry, and love is hard to see.


Sometimes, though, I hear a toddler call his sister sweetly, and she leaps up gladly to run to him.

Sometimes the two warring ones sit with heads together, reading fairy poems or "making" cat food.

Sometimes, unexpected, a sister offers to take her cranky brother outside so my Farmer and I can have a whine-less chat.

Sometimes, my eyes are opened, if only for a moment, to see the eternal reality at work in my family.  Training lasts only for a season; love endures forever.

[note to older mothers:  if I am deluded, somehow, please allow me my momentary delusion.  I need it today.]

April 1, 2012

the tiniest Unroe

Not to overwhelm you with fundraisers to save orphans or anything, but today is the first day of a week-long online auction called Hidden Treasures.  They are auctioning off everything from baby blankets to iPads, and every dollar donated goes to the Unroe family to bring home 5-year-old Keith in Bulgaria, who weighs a frighteningly small 12 lbs.

(I just got permission to add 5yo Keith's picture)

Please help if you can (for those of you who are understandably worried about scams, fear not:  I know this is legit because my friend and neighbor adopted a tiny daughter from the same orphanage earlier this year).

For auction instructions, click here.

If you've ever admired the beadwork on my necklaces, you might be interested in placing a bid on one of these (click on the necklace to go to its bidding page, or visit the auction here):



Thank you for helping to bring tiny Keith home to his family.  God bless!

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