Saturday, May 31, 2008

More on Domestic Benevolence: Radical Hospitality...

"When we create a life surrounded by people just like ourselves, it is a very narrow life. We will not be challenged by such a life. We cave in on ourselves; our minds and spirits shrink to the pea-size of our world. A spirituality centered in such a life will drift into laziness and complacency." ~from Radical Hospitality

As I was working this morning, cleaning, sorting, filling garbage bags for the dump and boxes for Goodwill, I kept thinking that the work of cleaning and decluttering would be impossibly uninspiring to me if there were not an eternal point to it. We keep house because order is the very nature of God. We keep house for ourselves, so that we can live in a peaceful, relaxed, stimulating home. We keep house for others, so that we have a welcoming place for them to be. Home is a place where we rest and grow and develop, and it is also a place to share our lives with others. But it does not have to be just so before we open our homes. A humble, open, embracing heart is the key to hospitality.

I have three favorite books on hospitality:
Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains; Real Love for Real Life by Andi Ashworth and Radical Hospitality by Father Daniel Homan, OSB, and Lonni Collins Pratt. It is this last one, Radical Hospitality that I've been picking up often lately (and it is very marked up in pencil).

It was in a little stack of books that I was putting away this morning, and I began flipping through it. Do you have books that tend to continually "speak" to you? Books that inspire you? Motivate you? Comfort you? I do. And this is one of those books that helps keep my mind and priorities on the right track. It makes me want to think less about myself and more about others. It makes me want to care. And it makes me want to seek God more because I know that the kind of hospitality described in this little book is impossible without His grace.

Something in particular from the book that crosses my mind again and again is a particular story about true radical hospitality. When I am sometimes tired and feel reclusive and have no sense of hospitality, even to myself or to my family, when I forget what love and caring and hospitality is really all about, I read this story again because doing so rearranges my priorities and makes me want to be a deeper, more caring person:

A friend of Lonni's (one of the authors) told us a story about the day her husband called to tell her he wanted to bring home a guest, a woman from South Africa. She told him no, don't even think about it, buster. It could not have been a worse day, she explained.

The washing machine had busted and she was out of diapers, so the babies had dishtowels pinned to their bottoms (they were the parents of boys, two sets of twins, aged two and five). There were no clean towels and the beds were stripped and all she had were soggy sheets. She explained that she planned to serve boxed macaroni and cheese and hot dogs on paper plates for dinner. She told him that she had not had time for a shower and did not see any break in her schedule for that particular luxury before midnight.

What's more, when the dishtowels on the babies' bottoms became soiled she would be stripping them down to naked.

"No," I told him, "do not bring this woman home, not today."' He begged. He said we were exactly what she wanted to see, a normal American family. I pointed out that not many American families had a lunatic for a mother, and two sets of twins, and he just laughed. He said she would love hot dogs and the twins and the paper plates and even little lunatic me. I gave in.

That night over paper plates and boxed macaroni the woman, her husband, and their four sons heard the story of apartheid. The mother knew the youngest two would not remember them, but she determined, before the meal was over, she would tell the stories to her sons again and again. She would not let them forget. The guest had once had her own sons, two of them. They had both been killed in the violence.

The guest helped clean up, she helped put the children to bed, and then she sat on their front porch steps and cried while she smoked one cigarette after another.

"She was a child of God who had lost her way," said Lonni's friend. "She didn't know if she would ever go home again. She told me weeks later, she opened her heart to a white woman for the first time in years. She wasn't the only one who was changed that night, though. I learned the stranger comes to me with the message of an angel, a gift to give me that will change my life."

Friday, May 30, 2008

"How My 13-Year-Old Son Learns Science"...

(I'll add a photo or two to this later today.)

As I've been working through my house, cleaning room by room, cupboard by cupboard, shelf by shelf, box by box, I've been reading through a lot of journals and notebooks and papers and things I've written in the past 10 or 15 years. I've enjoyed this, and I thought I'd share some of it here, now and then, because it pertains to making a home, living a beautiful life, loving God, homeschooling, family life, and lots more. Basically, it all reflects what was, and still is, important to me.

I'm sure this will seem random, coming out of nowhere, but one of the things I enjoyed reading this morning was a little paper I called "How My 13-Year-Old Son Learns Science." (I think I was asked to write this for someone's webpage.) Well, my son is now 22 and is in college. He continued to love studying, reading, and exploring science throughout his years at home, and he very much enjoyed his college science courses as well. But he is not working toward a degree in science. He's majoring in Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies.

I want to share this because I think it shows how a natural sort of learning can occur when the home environment allows and provides for it, when there isn't much to distract from it, and when there is plenty of free time to pursue it. We didn't use science curriculums in our homeschool (some texts were used, partially, in high school), and there were never any science assignments, either. We did occasionally (not often enough) do nature notebook pages (I'll share some of that later, too, and why I think this is a good thing to do). Mostly science was learned through play, exploration, and nature, and the pursuit was very different for each of my four children. A child might focus on many things or on one or two things (but, trust me, one things stretches into many). This type of learning really can't be pushed or cajoled or directed. It starts in wonder and delight, and it can only be encouraged and nurtured. I'm convinced that God has put a love for His world and a desire to explore and learn about it in children. I think it's the perfect early science curriculum for the homeschooler!

What this isn't, is a model or a pattern for learning. It's not something that can be contrived. This is a very natural sort of learning, and I think it can happen, in different ways, in the lives of all children. My girls also learned in this natural way, but their science education looks quite different. One or two of them never came close to exploring the natural world like Aaron did, but they all had their own areas of interest and pursuit.

I'm also not saying you should drop your curriculum or assignments. There are wonderful tools and interesting things for study out there, and it won't hurt children to have short assignments. Many families greatly enjoy their studies together-- science or otherwise. Making nature studies a scheduled part of your curriculum can be a very good thing. But I would encourage you to also allow plenty of time for free play and exploration where a natural sort of learning occurs. The main and most important part of learning starts in wonder, in a child's own heart, and making room for this to grow will bring much joy to a child and a family.

I used to call Aaron "The Barefoot Boy" after the boy in
John Greenleaf Whittier's wonderful poem by that name. Aaron just delighted in exploring and learning, and he was a fount of information. As I read the few nature pages I have saved of the girls', it makes me laugh how often Aaron figures into them. He was always telling them the names of things, how different creatures behaved, why things were the way they were, where the biggest ant hill was, and on and on. He was, apparently, the official family field guide for nature.

And here is what I wrote about Aaron at age 13 (it's long, even though I'm cutting some of it). This is just how a particular child went about learning "science":

My thirteen-year-old son has always been interested in mechanical things. Even when he was a baby and a toddler, he would carefully examine his toys to see how they worked. When pushing a race car across the floor, he would stop to flip it over and examine the turning of the wheels. He loved to see the inside of things, and as he grew older, he began taking things apart to see how they worked. Then he'd put them back together again. When he was nine, I went into his bedroom to ask why he wasn't vacuuming his room, something I had asked him to do. There he was, on the floor, with the vacuum cleaner disassembled, examining it to see how it worked. He became our vacuum cleaner repairman after that (seriously). One Saturday, my children were visiting their great-grandparents, and my son, then age ten, noticed that Grampy's recliner wasn't working properly. He bent down to look beneath the chair, and after a bit, he asked Grammy for some tools, announcing that he would fix the recliner. Grammy told me that Grampy had already tried to fix it and couldn't, but she decided to humor my son and gave him the tools. In just a few minutes, the recliner was working perfectly.

We saw this inclination in our son to observe and understand the way things work, so we encouraged it as much as possible. We bought many books like The Way Things Work. We bought regular legos, technic legos, capsela, erector sets, and kits and tools of all kinds. We provided batteries, wires, light bulbs, a soldering iron (when he was old enough to use it safely), balsa wood, tape, and anything that he might be able to use for his "play." We let him salvage fans, motors, nuts and bolts, and other parts from things that were being discarded. Whatever made our son's eyes light up with its possiblities, no matter how silly or useless it appeared to us, was not thrown in the trash, but given to him.

We ordered subscriptions to his favorite magazines-- Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Sail, RC Car Action, Model Railroader, and others. We also provided him with catalogs like Edmund Scientific, Tower Hobbies, and others, according to his interests. These magazines and catalogs have a wealth of information in them that is informative, educational, and inspiring. We saw all of this as our son's science curriculum. We let him take things apart, tinker, and invent. At age eleven, we bought him the basic college text, Conceptual Physics, to use if and how he desired. He loves that book! He does not work through the book page by page, chapter by chapter, but skips all over it to what currently interests him. He especially enjoys the practical application questions at the end of the chapters that deal, not with recalling facts, but with applying what has been learned. He often goes straight to these questions before reading the chapter, and it's been amazing how much he already knows based on the play and reading that has caused his knowledge and understanding to pile up gradually, little by little. For a thirteen-year-old who has never had a science assignment in his life and who has never used a textbook or a program of any kind, our son has a nice grasp of physics concepts.

When my son was young and would wash the dishes, he would experiment with buoyancy and water displacement. I'd see him at the sink, ruler in hand, floating dishes on the water, bent over in observation, taking measurements, playing around, pouring and dumping water, and experimenting with different variables. Typical. Once he came out of the bathroom, where he was sailing a lego boat in the bathtub and announced that if just the red heat lamp was on and no other light, you could see the exact pattern of the flow of water as an object moved through it.He began testing all of his boats, even building new ones from legos or balsa wood, to see which designs were the most "hydro-dynamic."

After reading the Swallows and Amazons books, he began making sailboats (crude), and experimenting with various sail designs. He and his friend played for hours at the lake in front of our house with their sailboats, experimenting with sails they made from saran wrap, cloth, plastic grocery bags, and other materials. They read about sails and sailing, too. My son read stories of famous sailing races, sailing adventures like the Kon Tiki, and others. He read non-fiction books and articles to research the physical aspects of sailing, boat design, sail design, etc. He wrote stories about sailing. He drew his own boat designs and tried to build them from balsa wood.

In a similiar way, my son delved into the subject of flight and flying. He has read many, many books about fighter planes, combat, the history of flight, famous flights and pilots, aerodynamics, and anything related to airplanes. He has experimented with paper airplanes, changing designs and flaps to see how flight is affected. We bought him paper airplane books and kits, some containing quite sophisticated information. My son still experiments with paper airplanes. He will sit with me to illustrate and explain principles of flight and aerodynamics and how various airfoils work. He draws his own designs and explains why they are designed they way they are. This study of aerodynamics, airplanes, and flight started very simply at age six or seven and has progressed little by little, in a very natural way over the years, until now he can thoroughly understand the concepts in adults books and can converse nicely with my husband, who flew in F-111s in the Air Force.

(Skipping some stuff about model rocketry.)

There are many other electronic and science areas my son has pursued over the years. All of his science knowledge has been accumulating literally since birth. He was the type of child who played with an observing eye, his curious mind fully engaged. His play has been full of contemplation. Since he was very young, he has always run in to tell me what he's just noticed about movement or mechanics-- while pulling a wagon, bouncing a ball, hitting a ball with a bat, the way a swing moves, levers work, etc. We would be driving down the road when he was young, and he would make a pronouncement like, "That machine uses pneumatics." Then he would proceed to tell us how pneumatics work. I never knew where he learned these things, but just having resources available opens up the way for children to learn.

My son has keenly observed the behaviour and habits of birds and wild animals. He studied animal tracks and found nests, beehives, ant hills, and homes burrowed into trees or on the ground. He was the type that would discover and understand the water cycle just by seeing how boiling water created steam, which condensed on the pan lid, then dripped back into the water when the lid was lifted and the water cooled.

All I've listed is just a small part of my son's love of science. God made him this way. I couldn't have instilled this innate interest no matter how hard I tried. His science education has been a very natural thing that cannot possibly be divided into categories. It's all been related. Every learning pursuit has literally been inspired by, or branched off of, another pursuit. They have strong connections, and my son continually flows from one to the next, and back and forth, realizing that the principles of one area often applies to the others.

(This doesn't even mention my son's absolute love for the remote control monster truck and sailboat he built, which was going on close to this age-- maybe a bit later-- and all that went along with that. This kind of thing makes for wonderful, surprisingly rich and deep learning experiences.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Must-Have (and Other) Items in My Kitchen...

Since you asked, Stacy, I can certainly list what I consider essential in my kitchen, which, of course, will be different from what others consider essential in theirs.

I don't need, or want, a kitchen full of gadgets and gizmos and specialty items, but there are many things that are nice to have if you like to cook. I like to streamline what I own, but I'm not about being a cheapskate. I try to buy good quality kitchen tools, especially for the most essential things. They last longer, they're more attractive, and they really do make a noticeable difference in the way the food turns out. For example, when my daughter and her husband moved in with us for a few months, she was using my LeCreuset Dutch oven to make the Bengali curries her mother-in-law taught her to make. When Michelle's family moved into their own apartment and started using her old pans again, she and her husband were both struck by how much inferior the curries tasted. They finally bought a heavy, enameled cast-iron pan, and the curries improved considerably again.

But we also have to live within our means (I've only owned some of my favorite items for a year or two because I've had to gradually acquire them), and we often don't need what we think we need or what looks like fun in the cooking catalogs. Obviously, people have been cooking for centuries with much less equipment than we have today and, they developed low-tech, timeless techniques that resulted in amazing cuisines.

For instance, a rustic mortar and pestle gives results that are as good as, or better, than a food processor, and the aromas that rise from it are so nice. (I use one sometimes just for the enjoyment of it, but I'm also glad to have my processor.) And there are certainly ways to make do without fancy, expensive equipment. If we want to, we can use a hand whisk or a wooden spoon instead of a mixer or blender (and I often do). We can make our own double boiler by putting a metal or pyrex bowl on top of a pan with simmering water (this is what I do). Or even use a jar instead of a rolling pin (which I don't)!

It's the same with many things in the kitchen. You don't need a garlic press; in fact, many chefs refuse to use them. Chopping garlic is quick and easy. I've even read of someone who uses a garlic "rock". This is an actual, palm-sized rock that is used to crush and peel the garlic. I've been meaning to go out and find a rock to use myself. So often, a more manual process yields much richer results, so if you have time to do things by hand, it's often worth the effort.

Still, modern equipment is nice to have around, and I use mine often. Here are some things I would hate to do without:

1. Good knives. I have two, and both are made by J.A. Henckels. An 8" chef's knife and a 5" utility knife. I use both of these every day. The only other knife I sometimes use is a bread knife. A little paring knife would be good to have, but I'm getting along without it.

2. A big, solid cutting board. Mine is a
Boos Block. I love this. It's extremely sturdy. The bigger the better.

3. Good, heavyweight pans. Mine are
LeCreuset. I love these, too. I picked up a few at an outlet store many years ago, and my husband added to my set later on Christmas, birthdays, etc. Good-quality, heavy-weight pans make a *huge* difference in cooking. I actually only use a couple pans all the time, at least on a day to day basis.

4. My little line-up of countertop appliances. I'll llump them together because they seem like a family or a team, the way I have them standing stand side by side in an out of the way place on my counter. I use these all the time. If I had to list these in order of what gets the most use, it would go this way:

Food processor. I have a Kitchenaid. Many chefs use the Cuisinart because, for a long time, it was considered much superior, but many are now of the opinion that Kitchenaid's quality has pretty much caught up. I use this for cutting butter into scone or biscuit doughs, for making pesto, for grinding nuts, for lots of things. People lived without them for years, and I sometimes work by hand rather than using the processor, but I love having this.

b). Blender. I use mine daily for smoothies and, often, for mixing salad dressings. I wouldn't mind having a Vitamix blender some day (it's really helpful for raw food stuff). For now I have one of those chrome "beehive" looking Osterizers.

c.) Juicer. I have a fairly basic
Breville. It's not my optimum choice for a juicer, but it works perfectly fine, and I couldn't drink green lemonade without it.

Stand mixer. Kitchenaid again. I've had mine for 15 or 16 years, using it constantly (less now than before, for some reason), and it still runs great. Comes with a regular flat beater, a dough hook, and a wire whip. Not *essential* but very, very nice to have.

5. Spice grinder or a
mortar and pestle. I use a coffee grinder that is dedicated to grinding spices only. I buy spices in bulk from Penzeys or Frontier, and I like to grind my own, either by hand or in the electric grinder, because fresh-ground spices have a much nicer, more vivid taste.

6. Citrus Trio.
Microplane zester. Little wooden citrus reamer. Nigella's blue citrus hand-juicer that strains seeds. My daughter teases that my cooking is all about lemon. It's true that I do like to use a lot of citrus, so these tools are used all the time. I could do with just the first two and skip the third, but that little seed strainer in Nigella's juicer is pretty nice when juicing lemons.

Baking stone. I always keep it in the oven, even when I don't use it directly. It keeps the oven temperature more stable in my really cheapo stove. I cook scones and breads and pizzas on this, too.

8. Nice wooden spoons and spatulas. I love the slightly flexible
LeCreuset spoon spatulas (for scraping the sides of bowls, pans, etc., as well as for serving). They work much better than basic brands. A wooden spoon/spatula with a flat bottom is really nice to have.

Parchment paper (unbleached). I"ve always used this, but it recently moved way up on my list. I line pans with it when cooking messy, sticky things (makes clean up a snap). I use it like I used to use plastic wrap or baggies-- I wrap sandwiches and snacks in it, I wrap cheeses in it to store in the fridge, etc.

French coffee press and a coffee grinder. This is a must in my kitchen! The fresh-ground beans are essential (the taste better, and anyway, coffee for a French press requires a coarser ground than for regular coffee makers).

Stacy, I would like to own a mandoline, too, because you're right, for raw "cooking" this would be a big help.

There are many other kitchen tools I own and use often:

Gridded cooling racks. Colanders and sieves. Salad spinner. Hand blender. A pepper mill (I like Peugot). Instant read thermometer. Pastry scraper. Measuring cups and spoons. Vegetable steaming basket. Vegetable peeler. A little, round Cuisinart waffle iron. All sorts of pans for baking things. Cheesecloth. Kitchen string.

I also like to cook ethnic cuisines sometimes, and I have things for that. A wok (which I use for non-Asian cooking, too). A wooden wok spatula. A sticky rice steaming pot and basket (inexpensive, and sticky rice is fun!). A tortilla press and warming container for tortillas.

Some people couldn't live without their breadmaker. Some people insist on having a deep fat fryer or a pressure cooker. Others use a rice maker every day. What is essential in a kitchen is dependent on what, and how, a person likes to cook.

Does anyone have anything not on this list that you consider absolutely essential? Or something you like better?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

True Simplicity...

"True simplicity consists not in the use of particular forms, but in foregoing over-indulgence, in maintaining humility of spirit, and in keeping the material surroundings of our lives directly serviceable to necessary ends, even though these surroundings may be properly characterized by grace, symmetry, and beauty."
~Book of Discipline of the Religious Society of Friends, Adopted by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1927

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Family and Food...

"Life is just too short to waste on a bad meal." ~Marie Simmons
The weekend is over, and family members have gone back to their homes in other parts of Oregon. The weather was rainy while everyone was here, so we stayed indoors, but it was fun and nice to be together. The girls went through the stacks of things I had set aside to give away, and they took most of it. The rest will go to Goodwill.

On request, we had lemon-chocolate chip scones and coffee every single morning. Josiah said that they are the best scones he has ever eaten in his entire life (thank you, Josiah). :-) Even Aaron kept wanting to eat them, maybe because I made them with all-white flour and white (organic) sugar rather than our usual healthier, more rustic version made using whole grain flour and rapadura.

(This is our version of the scones made with whole grains and rapadura. The all-white version is lighter and rises higher-- it looks more picturesque, but I don't have a photo to post. Even the rustic-looking one pictured here is very tasty, though.)

The scones really are good, and I have Tonia to thank for this recipe. I've made a few alterations to the recipe, but I haven't changed any of the ingredients or the ratio of ingredients to one another, so the taste is the same as Tonia's. I cut the recipe in half. Tonia's family adds chocolate chips, and I, similarly, chop a bar of Green & Black's 70% dark chocolate and add the whole thing to the scones with half of the lemon zest before adding the buttermilk. I mix the other half of the lemon zest with organic sugar for the top of the scones. When it's mixed, I press the entire batch of dough into an inch-high (or so) disk and cut it in six wedges. I brush milk or cream on each piece and top it with the sugary lemon zest. Then I place the scones separately, spaced a bit apart, on a hot baking stone in the preheated oven. My whole grain version of the scones bakes for 18 minutes, but the all-white version takes 15 or 16 minutes.

We had a really good Mexican food dinner on Saturday evening. Before we started prepping and cooking dinner, Aimee made a small bowl of delicious guacamole, loosely following one of Deborah Madison's recipes, and put it on the counter with some tortilla chips for anyone who wanted a light before-dinner bite to eat. And then we got to work.

My daughters, Aimee, Michelle, and Melissa, and I all shared in preparing and cooking the meal, with various ones chopping things, others sauteeing vegetables and stirring sauces, someone running the food processor to puree the ingredients for the tomatillo sauce, another one peeling and deveining shrimp, and always someone stepping in to clean up along the way. I really enjoyed being in the kitchen with my girls while my grandsons and everyone else were in and out and about.

We ate two things, both from Rick Bayless' book, Everyday Mexican, and both delicious: Seafood Salad Tacos with Tomato, Radish, and Jalapeno ~and~
Tomatillo Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushroom (and Chicken). The shrimp tacos were really light and fresh-tasting and just right. We had those first, and then we cleaned off the plates and served the enchiladas, which are a lot more delicious than they might sound. I made some of the enchiladas without chicken to serve to Josiah and Aimee, who don't eat meat (except for seafood, occasionally).

Rick Bayless is a respected chef (winner of last year's James Beard award for Best Chef in America), and when I read these recipes and looked at the pictures in Bayless' cookbook, I knew the food would be very good, but I didn't expect it to be as delicious as it was. It was light and fresh-tasting (the kind of eating I like best) and not heavy with cheese or too-creaminess. I highly recommend this book, Everyday Mexican. The flavors of everything I've made from this book have exceeded my expecations. It's key, though, to use really good ingredients.

It was nice to sit and eat and visit with the family. And when the meal was over, and we'd all pitched in to clean up the dinner mess, a few rounds of Telephone Pictionary were played while I brewed and served Mexican Coffee. I topped the coffee with a little bit of fresh whipped cream and a tiny sprinkling of grated Mexican chocolate, and everyone enjoyed it. It was a nice finish to a truly yummy dinner.

I just discovered Mexican Coffee last week, thanks to my son, Aaron. He phoned me and told me that he'd seen Rick Bayless on OPB making "Cafe de Olla" in a French press. He began describing the process and listing ingredients, and it sounded delicious. When we hung up the phone, I went right online to see if I could find a recipe. Indeed I did, but it was an old one by Bayless and was slightly different from the method Aaron described to me. I printed the recipe and gave Aaron a call. He filled me in on the details that were missing from my online recipe, and I made a pot almost immediately. I loved it!

Traditionally, in Mexico, this coffee would be made in a clay pot, and it would actually be kind of fun to try, but I'll go with my French press. It works. Just today, I found a link to
Rick Bayless' French press recipe for Cafe de Olla. I have been making about half this amount of coffee, and I don't make a syrup (so my version is easier, and it tastes good), plus I add whipped cream to mine, which is not part of Rick's more authentic recipe. Here's how I make it:

Put 5 T. fresh-ground, dark roast coffee in the bottom of the press.
Add the zest of about 1/4-1/2 of an orange.
Add two to four inches of cinnamon stick (I chop into one-inch lengths).
Add 1/4-1/2 t. whole cloves.
Add a little less than 1/4 cup rapadura (piloncillo would be more authentic, or use brown sugar with some molasses)
Pour 15-16 oz. hot water (just off a boil) to the pot and stir.
Put in plunger, but don't let it touch the brewing coffee.
After four minutes, press down the plunger and serve.
I made whipped cream and dolloped some on top of the coffee.
Then I grated some Mexican chocolate and sprinkled it on top of the whipped cream (for a garnish).

Good Riddance to My Magazines...

"We have been brainwashed to believe that bigger houses, more prosperous business, more luxurious gadgets, are worthy goals in life. As a result, we are caught in an absurd, materialistic spiral. The more we make, the more we think we need in order to live decently and respectably. Somehow we have to break this cycle because it makes us sin against our needy brothers and sisters and, therefore, against our Lord. And it also destroys us. Sharing with others is the way to real joy." (Ron Sider in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger)

Years ago, I bought a copy of a newly published magazine, Real Simple. It was printed on rough, nonglossy paper, as if to make its case. I thought those early issues had a few ideas that were good. There were features on real people, living unextravagant lives, doing real things. The recipes were often really tasty. The magazine was sort of interesting to me, at first. It didn't take long, though, to be increasingly struck by the fact that Real Simple wasn't simple. It was a magazine full of things a person could buy to "simplify" their wardrobes, their kitchens, their homes, their lives. It should have been called Real Marketing.

Over the years, I have accumulated too many magazines. I subscribed to Bon Appetit and loved looking through it, but I rarely cooked anything from it. I got a free subscription to Sunset magazine (the magazine of western living), and I like reading about interesting places in the west. I live here-- it's my home, and I'm proud of it. I like looking at the homes, the food, the ideas in Sunset. But what am I really getting from this except an urge to go somewhere, to make changes, to update my home, to spend money? And Martha Stewart. Why in the world do I have some of her magazines?! I am not even the kind of woman who does crafts. I like the look of Martha's food and recipes, but I haven't made more than two of them over the years. And Martha's style is much more refined than mine. Then there's Cottage Living. I like the casual feel of a cottage home, and it was fun to tour some of the homes in this magazine's pages. But, again, what's the point, really?

When I think about it, all I've gotten from the magazines is a sort of restlessness, a germinating discontent, an urge to buy things. Styles change so quickly now, and the magazines are here to let me know that it's not yellows and greens and reds any more that we want in our homes (not in the same old shades anyway... and didn't I know that orange is the new red?!), but brown and blue (or is that passe now?), or all-white or all-neutral with a few spots of color thrown in, or whatever it is that is the color trend in homes this week.

I don't need this or want this. So, yesterday, I made bundles of magazines, tied with string, and put them in the car to take to the "give-away" table at the library. It makes me happy to have them out of my sight. And I am giving my magazine baskets to Goodwill. I don't intend to buy magazines any more. They clutter my mind, my time, and my home. They make me feel discontent and give me an urge to buy more stuff and make unnecessary changes. And, for heaven's sake, I've never even really liked them all that much!

If I want to read a magazine, I can check it out of the library, but I think I'll mostly avoid the home magazines for now. I think the one magazine I'll miss having is Saveur, and our library doesn't carry it. But I was thinking that I can give a gift subscription for Saveur to the library, and then I, and many others, can check it out and read it. And it won't clutter up my home.

Not everyone wants or needs to take the steps I'm taking in decluttering my home, and I'm not at all saying they should. It's just that, although I've always lived a fairly simple, streamlined, uncluttered life, I'm finding increasing freedom in cutting more of what-- for me-- is excess. I want to be free from things that unnecessarily take up my time, tempt me to unnecessarily spend money, clutter my life and home, or point me in a direction I don't want to go. And with that freedom, I want to be more available to follow the call God has on my life.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works."
(Ephesians 2:10)


I'm adding this later to quote Aimee (not my daughter) from the comment box because I like what she said. I mentioned in comments that I had hoped this post wouldn't offend anyone and that people would understand where I'm coming from. Here's what Aimee had to say:

"I totally know where you are coming from and am not offended :) I love my Better Homes and Gardens and find the beauty and ideas stimulating and's a nice front porch escape for me with some Southern Sweet Tea :) And I love Country Living magazine too...both inspire me and give me fresh ideas for adding simple touches to my home that aren't costly. I often have to give up reading homeschooling books/magazines, b/c they stir up discontent in my heart about where the Lord has me personally right now and where He has my children. I feel like I will not have true family life or joy unless we follow a certain educational lifestyle. We all just need to rid ourselves of that which doesn't inspire and encourage towards Phil. 4:8...and for each one of us it is something different. "

Aimee, I hope you don't mind me adding this to the main page. Truly, whatever doesn't lead us toward what is good needs to go, and, yes, for different ones of us, this is different.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Busy at Home...

"It is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant-- and therefore beautiful. A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky. A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side... Even small and casual things take on significance if they are washed in space." ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I was up at 4:30 this morning because that's when Melissa got up to prepare to leave the house at 5:15 for work. I actually like waking and rising as early as 4:30, but I wouldn't want to do this every day. 5:30 is about my ideal get-up time.

I stripped the sheets from my bed, put some Bach on the Bose, set the kettle on to boil for coffee, and started laundry. The I sat down at the table with my mug of coffee, my journal, my Bible, and my devotional reading (still Alexander Schmemann's journals). This is definitely not one of those lovely mornings for being outside, as it was still, hours later, 33 degrees and drizzly.

After my quiet time, I mentally went over the list of things I plan to do today, and then I began to clean house. I haven't finished my decluttering tasks, but I'm pleased with my progress so far. I've been making a large pile of things to share with my children or to donate to Goodwill. Most of this is nice stuff. I really like a lot of what is leaving the house, but I don't need it or use it, and it has no meaningful place in my life, so why keep it?

This includes some antiques and collectibles, along with gadgets and things I'll never use. A few of the antique/vintage stuff in the pile includes: a vintage wooden, pig-shaped cutting board; an old glass candy jar (still with the label) from an English candy shop; an Italian Mamma Ro wood kitchen storage box with four drawers made from Mamma Ro pottery; an antique scale; a cool hat box from the early 1930's (still with the receipt and tissue paper inside); a vintage glass cake plate with a shiny metal lid; and more. And there are things that are not so old, but are mostly nice: lots of dishes and glassware; small kitchen appliances; different creamer and sugar sets; cake carriers; old books; sports stuff; and various and sundry things.

One nice surprise is that I've accumulated less than I thought over the last year. Most of what is going out the door are things I've owned for a long time. I've never been a cluttery person, but I still want to have less in my home to deal with. Less to think about, less that I have to clean, less to care for. I don't want to make it seem, though, that my house is Shaker-like in its simplicity. I am still surrounded by what I love, what I use, and what has special meaning. I simply want to have more space around these things.

Everyone has their own tolerance level for clutter and mess. Mine is low. If I can't put something away easily because I have to juggle things around to make room for it, then something needs to go. Everything should have a place. I do not like things piled and crowded. If I'm spending too much time cleaning and caring for "things," then I consider how much of this I want to keep. If something has been sitting, stored or unused, for months or even years, then, no matter how much I like it, it goes.

If things aren't truly useful, beautiful (to us), or meaningful, or why would we want them? It's very freeing to be rid of excess!

And mixed in with my decluttering today, is getting the house ready for company. That means, doing routine house cleaning, readying beds, making things fresh and nice, cleaning and stocking the fridge with the food we'll eat, and thinking ahead far enough that I will have very little work to do while company is here. I don't think of this as "entertaining," but, simply as making a welcoming home for friends and family.

As I've been busy today, I keep thinking of a little laminated card I made years ago and put on the refrigator. It has a picture of a simple, clean kitchen and these words by Evelyn Underhill: "On every level of life from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure signs of the amateur." I don't want to rush. I want to move deliberately, with a happy spirit. And if there is anything (or many things) I don't get done before people stop by or come for a weekend, well, mostly likely no one will ever notice or know. :-)


Is anyone else in the process of doing major cleaning or decluttering? I know
Laurel mentioned (in comments, at least) doing this recently. And Andrea has talked about living with less and having a place for everything.

Willa is decluttering and cleaning, too. I like what she wrote about working more deliberately and thoughtfully in this post from her House and Hold blog. Be sure to check out the link she posted to the Pleasant View Schoolhouse post, Lessons from Vintage Fiction. At the end of every day, I visit Pleasant View Schoolhouse because Anna almost always, like clockwork, has a new post up then. It's one of my favorite blogs to visit.

And while I'm posting links, I don't think I've yet mentioned my friend,
Laura A's blog. Laura is a very good friend in real life, and she writes interesting, thoughtful posts. I like reading about her life in Manhattan, her thoughts on homeschooling, and her commentary on the books she reads. Today Laura posted some really nice food photos (she's an artist, and it shows). Have a look.

Recipe for Tangy Sweet Potato Salad...

I'm sharing this recipe because of a request in the comments below...
This salad is one of those things that came together sort of by itself one day, at lunchtime, when we had leftover sweet potatoes, pickled onions, and cilantro in the fridge. The finished salad looked pretty, and it became a family favorite, so we've made it many times since to eat for lunch or with dinner.

This serves about 4, I think.

2 sweet potatoes, baked til done but not at all mushy (then cooled to room temperature or refrigerated)
1 red onion (for making pickled onions)
distilled white or rice wine vinegar (enough to cover onions for pickling)
sugar (a generous pinch or two or three for pickled onions-- even more if you want them on the sweet side)

1/2 t. dijon mustard
2 T. lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4-1/2 t. salt
3 T. canola oil
honey or agave, optional (to sweeten the vinaigrette)
3-4 T. cilantro, coarsely chopped

Make the pickled onions: You can make as much of this as you want and reserve what you don't use, but you'll need to use at least 1/4 of an onion in the salad. I cut the onion in half, lay the cut side down, and slice the onion fairly thinly. Place onion in bowl, separating pieces. Cover completely with vinegar. Sprinkle in sugar, and mix. Let sit on counter for at least 15 minutes or until onions turn bright pink. These can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Peel (or don't) and cut cooked, cooled sweet potatoes into smallish, bite-size chunks. Place in medium-size bowl. (I often bake extra sweet potatoes when we're having them for dinner so I can use them for salad the next day, or I bake them in the morning on the day I want to make salad, and then I refrigerate them til ready to use later.)

Coarsely chop the pickled onions and place them in the bowl with the sweet potatoes. I'm not sure exactly how much onion goes into this. (Just so it looks close to the photo, or whatever you want.) It's fine to have the pickled onions dripping with juice when you add them to the bowl with the potatoes. Sprinkle the cilantro over this.

Mix the vinaigrette: Using a fork, dip out about 1/2 t. dijon mustard from its jar. Put the mustard in a small bowl. Add lime juice and garlic, and whisk with the fork. Drizzle in the canola oil while continuing to whisk. Season with salt. (At this point you can sweeten the vinaigrette with honey, or preferably agave, if you'd like, depending on how much tang you like in a salad.) :-) The sweet potatoes themselves add a good amount of sweetness to the salad, but you might want more. Sometimes I sweeten the vinaigrette and sometimes I don't.)

Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and mix well, but gently, so as not to mash the potatoes any more than is necessary. Now it's ready to eat!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

List of 10 Things I Ate Today...

I'm taking a break from my house-organization project. A lot has been done so far today, and I hope to accomplish much more before stopping for the evening. Because I'm busy today, I've eaten whatever is leftover in the fridge or is easy to grab or fix. Today's diet is short on greens/salads so far, but, oh well.

So, for today, what I've been eating:

1. A humble piece of buttered sprouted grain toast.

2. Fage yogurt topped with raw honey, cinnamon, and crisped, chopped walnuts.

3. Leftover Tangy-Sweet Potato Salad

Yikes. I should have done some food styling before the photo was snapped! The cilantro and onions are usually chopped smaller, and the cilantro is not so clumpy. :-)

4. Fresh Carrot-Apple-Lemon juice.

5. Roasted Potatoes with Lemon and Thyme.

6. A
chocolate-banana-kefir shake.

7. Sliced Apples with Willamette Valley Cheese Co.'s delicious Smoked Gouda Cheese.

8. A bit of Green & Black's organic 70% dark chocolate.

Green Lemonade (to come a bit before dinner).

10. And for dinner (also to come), I'll use the roasted lemon potatoes that are leftover from my lunch and have them with blackened roasted salmon and bok choy ~OR~ I'll use them in a frittata with smoked salmon and herbs (and a salad or greens on the side). I'm leaning toward the second because it's quicker, and maybe I'll make blackened salmon tacos for dinner tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

List of 10 Happy Things...

1. Pretty, wild purple lupines along the roadside as I take my daily walk. (And lupines in a jar on the windowsill.)

2. Grown kids who call almost daily with all sorts of interesting things to say.

3. Fage yogurt. Laura A mentioned it here once, and I found it in a local store. The best Greek-style yogurt I've ever tasted!

4. My 15-year-old niece's interesting, newsy postcards mailed during her travels in Europe, arriving almost daily in our mailbox. Yesterday's was mailed from the Eiffel Tower.

5. A cool evening breeze after a hot day.

6. My grandson's size 2 shorts hanging on the clothesline after getting wet in the wading pool. (It's been a long time since I've hung toddler clothes up to dry!)

7. A growing abundance of lovely seasonal produce in the markets. "April is the cruelest month" in the garden.

8. Making progress in my house decluttering and reorganization goals. I did everything on my list yesterday, but haven't finished emptying the laundry room. I'll keep on.

9. Cod liver oil. (Heh.) It's a miracle potion! I'm serious.

10. Looking forward to having the whole family here this weekend.

An Inspiring Home for Learning, #7

#7. A Loving, Attentive, Encouraging Parent is Essential to a Healthy Learning Environment

"It is not merely that the child is to be the possessor of a marked and distinctive individuality and that therefore he is to be honored for his possibilities in that direction; but that he already is the possessor of such an individuality and that he is worthy of honor for that which he has and is at the present time." ~H. Clay Trumbull, grandfather of Elisabeth Elliot, in Hints on Child Training
Children are born persons, says Charlotte Mason.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote about this and echoed the words of H. Clay Trumbull (above), in her wonderful book, For the Children's Sake:

"Try a simple experiment. Take a small child on your knee. Respect him. Do not see him as something to prune, form, or mold. This is an individual who thinks, acts, and feels. He is a separate human being whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become."

"Many adults now 'have' a child in the same way that they 'have' a washing machine or a collie dog. We must answer: No. You are holding a person on your knee. And that is wonderful."

"Look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love him and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours."

Before we can help our child develop as an individual along the path that God has made for him, we must see and respect him as a person, created in the image of God. We must respect his mind and intelligence. We must be attentive, attuned, and responsive to our child in order to help him thrive and learn in the way that is best for him.

We need to take this seriously, making a point not to get overly busy or distracted. A mother should certainly have some breathing room and time for so-called "mother culture," but a higher priority, during the years of motherhood, is providing for the needs of the child. (This is a different thing altogether than catering to his demands, disrespect, or impulsiveness, which, of course, we should not do.)

So, know when you need to turn away from the computer screen, put down the book, turn off the television, hang up the phone, push back the sewing machine, stay home, or let the laundry wait. Stop. Listen to your child. Smile at him. Go with him to see what he wants you to see. Be interested. Delight with him. He is a human being whose life and growth-- for good or bad-- are very sensitive to the atmosphere that is you.

A parent can set a tone in the home that inclines a child to be a delighted learner. A child starts asking questions, by pointing, even before he can speak. We answer those questions by telling the child the name of the thing at which he's pointing. And we answer with enthusiasm because we are delighted in our small child's curiosity. We talk with our child often, and by doing so, the child learns to talk, and we are so pleased at every word he speaks!

Along the way, as children become more fluent, the questions they ask become more numerous-- often much more numerous-- and at some point, if we aren't careful, we may stop delighting in those questions. We may even become tired of them. With our growing families, we might become busy and focused on all of the tasks we need to complete (ironically, this includes homeschooling). We might rush our child when he is talking to us. We might stop bending down with a smile, stop looking into his eyes to listen, and stop responding with patient warmth. Certainly I did this sometimes, but I always tried to catch myself and go back to the child to re-engage with him.

If we could just recognize the very important role we play in the development of our child's spiritual health and his attitude toward learning, we would take great pains to listen and respond to him as well as possible. (It's also okay not to have answers for everything, but sometimes just to wonder together.) When we remain warm and responsive to our child as he talks to us and asks questions, his curiosity is being reinforced and encouraged. Learning remains lovely, and more questions arise.

So, be attuned to your child. Encourage him in the good things you see in his life. And let him speak freely about his honest fears, struggles, thoughts, and concerns, simply listening to him without feeling a need to instruct or confront at every opportunity. If you will stay warm and attentive and encouraging, you will have the trust and respect of your child. He will feel safe to share his secrets and his deepest questions with you because he will have confidence that you won't ignore him, brush him off, lecture him, or laugh at his cuteness. You will have gained great ground in your child's heart and mind.

Paying attention also includes watching the child with a discerning eye. We notice how he behaves, whether or not he is settled and content, how he deals with down time, how he treats his siblings, whether or not he is tired or hungry or needs a hug. When we pay attention to the child so that we are providing well for his daily needs, we are making room for leisure, so that he can grow in a happy, carefree manner. The child is not over-protected, but is sheltered from what should be adult concerns.

You will also, if you are paying close attention, gain insight into who your child is, how he is inclined, what is currently sparking his curiosity, where his talents lie, and what is deeply interesting and engaging to him. These are things you can encourage both verbally and by providing resources or opportunities for that interest to grow. This can be the beginning of a very individual and delight-led education for your child, the kind of education that will grow and expand as your child grows older and will continue for a lifetime. Your warm attentiveness and encouragement are keys to the healthy development of your child-- spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.

Monday, May 19, 2008

There's Lots to Do Around Here...

"Thank God for the things I do not own." ~St. Teresa of Avila

I have the next "Inspiring Home for Learning" post almost ready. I'll probably post that tomorrow because today I am going to be very busy around home.

Every spring, I do a thorough and ruthless decluttering of the house. I harden my heart to sentimentality and toss things out like crazy (big things, little things, nice things, things I like, anything that is too much). This year, I started much later than usual, and I've gone way too slowly. Actually, I've been sort of puttering through a job that requires serious action. If I don't hurry, I'll still be working on this year's decluttering next spring when it's time to start again! So, everything comes out of the laundry/storage room today, and I will go through every single box, getting rid of as much stuff as I can. Then, when there's lots of space on the storage room shelves and the laundry room is spiffy and clean, I'll move on to other rooms-- every single drawer, cupboard, cabinet, closet. I go through it all, making space where things somehow became cluttered over the past year.

(I don't own this book, but I love the sentiment.)

I'll start a gigantic Goodwill pile and let my kids look through it before I drop it off. The entire family might be here next weekend, so they can take what they want, and Goodwill can have the rest. I'm finally highly motivated to get this job done! It always feels so good to have the house clean and orderly, with lots of breathing room, doesn't it?

And there's the outdoor work. Yikes, I'm so behind there, too! Thankfully, our growing season in the high desert is very short, so I'm not even late yet. It's foolish to plant anything here before the first of June because it will likely be killed or damaged by frost. We can have frost any day of the year, though, so once we plant, we always have plastic covers ready to use on nights when frost is forecast. As I look at a few blogs out there, so many people are showing pictures of their beautiful flowering gardens, and there's nothing remotely resembling a flower here yet. The perennials are growing, but nary a bud is showing.

Anyway, my herb garden looks like a jungle, moreso than ever before. It looks hopelessly lost to weeds and wildness (and I like it so neat and tidy!). My planter boxes need repair. The lemon balm has taken over, covering even the pathways around the boxes (I can't believe I was foolish enough to plant this invasive stuff right in my main herb beds!) Thankfully, working at things slowly, but steadily, gets a lot accomplished. So, little by little over the next week or so, I'll see what I can do...

The fact that my family may all come home next weekend (yippee!) motivates me to get things done now, too. I don't want to be busy with this when they're here. We're talking about having a Mexican food party on the weekend (since it's been in the conversation lately), choosing recipes from Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy's books. This could be fun! Oh, and I'll have to tell you about my Mexican Coffee later (made in a French press). My son, Aaron, told me about this one. (Aimee, did you try it?)

I just wish I could get my hands on a really good croquet set before Friday (ours is broken down and worn out)! We play killer croquet here all summer, and with the entire family home and the weather nice, well, it would sure be fun to have it set up. If you think of croquet as a mild, polite game, you might not want to pick up a mallet and play here. Thankfully, I tend to be always behind in the game, so there's usually no one knocking my croquet ball down the road into the neighbor's property.

And now a list. George Grant has a new blog called Eleventary where his posts are limited to either 11 words or lists of 11 things. I like it. He's got lots of pictures up of his library and gardens, and those of you who like this kind of thing should go have a look. Lovely.

I am a Master List Maker, so I like the idea of posting lists. Here's my list of 10 Things to Do Today. Gee, ten things doesn't sound nearly as cool as "Eleventary." I'll have to come up with my own cool number later.

1. Wash all laundry and hang on clothesline.
2. Take everything out of laundry-storage room and begin sorting, cleaning, etc.
3. Start a gigantic Goodwill pile in the corner of the family room.
4. Mow big side yard (and then water).
5. Clean up one flower bed.
6. Take dog for a long walk.
7. Return my sister's phone call.
8. Email Laura.
9. Go to Jill's to pick up eggs.
10. Make raw milk yogurt or cheese.

With all of the interruptions that will occur today, I might not get everything on that list done. If not, I'll just move it to tomorrow's list!

So, off I go now. Time to get busy!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Domestic Benevolence...

"Two middle-aged ladies were sitting at the table behind me that day, the only other customers of the meal. They had come, they said, because when the Americans liberated Paris, a young American lieutenant had slept in their house. He had brought coffee, soap, food, butter when all Paris hungered at the mention of them. When he moved off with his company they asked him what they could do to repay him. He said there was nothing they could do for him, but if, someday, they ever got the chance to visit Omaha beach and the cemetery that was going to be built there, would they put some flowers on the graves of a few friends he had left behind. They said they would, and so, seven years later, they took a bus from Paris to put flowers on American graves, not because they remembered history and the Liberation, but because they remembered coffee, food, and human kindness."

~Theodore H. White, as quoted in The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour

I'm strongly drawn to passages like this. They stay in my head, and I think about them often. In this story, I'm struck that a young man cared enough to bless a couple of ladies, not with things that were necessary for survival, but with things that were meaningful in an everyday way. I'm sure that the Liberation was thrilling beyond my ability to comprehend, but these once-ordinary domestic things mattered very much, too, as shown in this story. Life was moving toward normal again for Parisians after WWII, and they must have really missed the little things that made their former days enjoyable. And one young man (many actually) cared enough and went outside of himself enough to realize what these people really needed and to give it to them. It was a small, but potent, bit of domestic benevolence.

And it was not an organization, but an individual, who brought these women a little bit of joy and touched their lives. Sometimes we think that we're just one person, and what kind of difference can we make. But we are one person touching one person, and that simple, small influence matters. Goethe said that if every man swept in front of his own house, the whole world would be clean. And if we will all touch the lives of those God puts in front of us, the whole world will be a better place.

To do this requires an everyday, simple, but thoughtful, kind of hospitality or domesticity. This should always begin in our own homes, with our own families and move outward from there. It's bending down to look our children in the eye, to really listen to them, smile at them, hug them. It might mean taking our husbands a sandwich or a cup of coffee when they're hard at work. It means providing an orderly enough, well-enough run, happy enough, good enough home for our families. And it's the kind of everyday hospitality that welcomes visitors into that same home, not to entertain or impress them, but because we care. It's the kind of simple hospitality that smiles and gives a wave to a neighbor passing by on the road (and maybe takes time to chat for a few minutes). It's the kind of everyday caring that meets a friend for coffee. That pours a glass of water for someone who is thirsty. That is simply there when being there is all that's needed (like when my mom sat quietly in the corner of my sister's hospital room, hour after hour, while my sister recovered from cancer surgery). It's the kind of thoughtfulness that surprises with small gifts (maybe a few flowers from the garden in a jar, or maybe some fresh homemade jam, or a loaf of homemade bread, or maybe a small book the person might enjoy) as a good friend of mine has a way of doing. It's feeding the neighbor's animals or watering their garden when they are away. Or taking a meal to the ill, the weary, the grieving, or happy, but busy, new parents. It's the sort of thoughtfulness that shares food from the garden (but never zucchini!)with a friend or neighbor. :-) That welcomes the little neighbor girl (again!) when all we want is time to ourselves and a chance to think our own thoughts. It's the sort of kind, gentle heart that notices when someone needs encouragement. That listens. That prays. That cares.

There are endless simple, everyday opportunities to care about and share our lives with others, and there can be great joy and fulfilmment in doing this. The important thing, first, is to pay attention to whether or not we are slowed down enough to even notice the opportunities God places right in front of us and then to make sure we have enough margin in our lives to respond. (And beyond that, do we care enough to act?) When we give someone something that is truly needed, even when it seems small and insignificant, whether for body or for spirit, we are living in the spirit of what Jesus meant when he said that giving a cup of water to the thirsty or clothes to the naked or food to the hungry is like doing it for Him. Food, clothes, water-- all domestic, everyday needs. God has blessed many women with the tremendous opportunity to live a domestic life, and it is good to remember that even the smallest acts of everyday domestic kindness can profoundly-- even eternally-- affect the lives of others.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Looking Through Cookbooks Over the Phone With Aimee...

Aimee called this afternoon just to chat. (For those who don't know, Aimee is my oldest daughter, married to Josiah.) Eventually, as it often does, our conversation turned to food and cooking. Aimee said that lately she's loving the flavors of Mexican food and often craves it. She wants to buy a Mexican cookbook. I suggested that she might want to look at books by either Rick Bayless or Diana Kennedy, and Aimee told me that that is exactly what she already intended to do.

While we talked, I scanned my cookbook shelves and mentioned that I have a good, uncomplicated sort of cookbook by Rick Bayless called Everyday Mexican. I took the book from the shelf and began flipping through it, reading recipe titles to Aimee over the phone. Now I was craving Mexican food, too! "Ooh, I love his avacado-mango salad with blue cheese, bacon, and toasted pumpkin seeds!" "Yum-- the chipotle shrimp!" "And the seafood salad tacos are tasty." "Oh, and I want to try his Swiss Chard Tacos with Carmelized Onion, Feta Cheese, and Red Chile!"

We continuted to talk about cookbooks and recipes, and pretty soon, I had three open cookbooks spread across the counter-- the Rick Bayless book, Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison's Kitchen, and Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson (of Aimee owns the latter two, but we mostly flipped through Deborah Madison's book together over the phone, comparing notes as to which recipes we've already tried and which ones we intend to make in the future: "The grilled vegetable sandwiches with chipotle mayonnaise are delicious," I told Aimee, "and you have to try the yummy spinach quesadillas. They taste better than they sound." We have both made and love the yellow peppers stuffed with quinoa, corn, and feta cheese. And Aimee says I need to try the fideos with pasilla chiles, avacado, and crema.

On we went talking about recipes, ingredients, flavors, and cookbooks. (I'm sure some people can't begin to imagine this being fun!) Aimee calls herself a "fishetarian" because she eats some seafood, which makes her not quite a full-blown vegetarian, and since she was craving Mexican flavors, I told her about a quick and easy supper I pulled together one night: Chipotle Shrimp Tacos with Avacado and Pickled Red Onion. It's a nice, light, fresh-tasting thing to eat. Aimee told me to email her the instructions, so I did, and since I have it typed out, I'll post it here, too:

(It's easy. It's quick. It's light. And it tastes good. I'm guessing this serves 4 to 6.)

You'll need:

1 red onion
1 or 2 avacadoes
Tortillas (corn, flour, or sprouted grain)
Ingredients for chipotle shrimp (below)

Make the chipotle shrimp.

(The following recipe is an adapted version of Chipotle Shrimp Scampi from Sara Foster's book, Casual Cooking. I either use this or Rick Bayless' Chipotle Shrimp recipe. This one cooks more quickly.)

2 T. olive oil
2 lbs. large, raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo (2 if you like it spicier), minced
1/2 c. dry white wine (you can use chicken broth)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Heat 1 T. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it's hot. Add half the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and saute for about 30 seconds per side, until they just begin to turn pink. Add half the garlic and half of the chipotle chile and cook and stir about 1 minute more. Remove shrimp to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm. Repeat, heating the remaining oil and cooking the shrimp, garlic, and chipotle in the same way. Remove the second batch of shrimp to the plate.

Add the wine (or broth) to the skillet you cooked the shrimp in and simmer over medium heat for about 1 minute to reduce slightly. Return the shrimp and juices collected on the plate they were resting on to the skillet. Add the lemon zest and juice and cook and stir for about 1 minute to combine the ingredients and coat the shrimp with the sauce. Remove from the heat, stir in the cilantro, and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired.


To make pickled red onions, cut the onion in halves or fourths, and slice very thinly. Place in a bowl and cover with white distilled vinegar or brown rice vinegar (the distilled makes a cleaner tasting pickled onion). Sprinkle with a few good pinches of sugar and stir to dissolve. Let sit 15 minutes or until red onions have turned a very bright pink. You can make these ahead and keep in the fridge.


To assemble:

Coarsely chop fresh cilantro to make about 1/4 c.
Slice avacado(es) or cut them in chunks.

We use sprouted grain tortillas, but you can use whatever you like. It's good to warm the tortillas. Place some (how much? I don't know! whatever seems to be a serving...) shrimp with a little sauce down the center of the tortilla, but make sure to save some sauce for the rest of the tacos. Top the shirmp with avacado slices or chunks and pickled red onion (it can drip some). Use whatever amount seems right to you! (Sorry that I don' t have specific amounts.) Sprinkle with cilantro. And eat.

Mornings Outside...

"The sun has not caught me in bed in fifty years." (Thomas Jefferson)

(Breakfast Under the Big Birch, Carl Larsson)

I sat in the sun at my little table on the deck this morning. Doing this is part of my usual summer routine, but this morning was the first time this year that it's been warm enough in the early morning to sit outside (it gets cold at night in the high desert, with freezing nights occuring sometimes even in mid-summer).

I made a pot of French press coffee in honor of going outside, and I carried the coffee, my Bible, and my journal to the table. The sun was so warm that I almost immediately removed my polar fleece jacket. I sat at the table for a long time and was so invigorated by the sunshine and the beautiful morning, that I didn't want to get up to go back inside. So I alternately wrote in my journal and sat quietly. I thought, prayed, drank my coffee, and enjoyed the morning. Now that my kids are grown and my schedule is much more open to whim than ever before, I can usually stay outside as long as I want. And I did.

I love all mornings. My bedroom window faces east, and I don't cover it with curtains because I like to rise with the sun. In the morning, the air is still and seems fresher and cleaner. The light seems purer and colors more vivid. The sky is always clearer and bluer in the morning-- a striking, vivid blue. Coffee tastes better in the morning. The birds sing joyously in that big morning chorus (even the birds know that morning is best). I have more energy in the morning, but I'm also more settled and quiet. I feel full of joy and hope, maybe because His mercies are new every morning.

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22,23)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Belated Mother's Day Tribute to My Mother...

(Okay. This scanned scratchier than I expected. Mom and Dad. I'm on Mom's lap on the left and two of my sisters are on the right.)

I was away from home and computer on Mother's Day, but how can I not say something about my beautiful mother? (I had a nice photo to scan of Mom when she was younger, sitting with Dad and we three oldest kids, but the picture seems to have gone missing from my desk.)

God blessed me with the most wonderful mother on earth. She wasn't a perfect mother (who is?!), but she was affectionate, loving, and committed to her children. Mom was a positive, happy (even exuberant) soul and made our home, in spite of its struggles and problems and imperfections, the best place in the world to be.

Mom did not grow up in a Christian home (her parents became Christians in older age), but she says her Christian grandmother's warm influence was what opened her to the gospel. My mom adored her grandmother and loved staying with her at her big white farmhouse. Mom would stick to her grandmother's side as she worked, helping her and enjoying her company and conversation. They'd bake together in Great Grandma Goldie's warm and happy kitchen. And Grandma Goldie would take my mother to church. These were the things that drew my mother first to her grandmother, and second to the Lord.

"The wise woman builds her house..."

Mom has always been a homemaker, a home builder, a wise woman. She didn't develop a grand plan or strategy for this, she simply loved us honestly and well. Mom made everything special. Warmth emanated from her. There are so many little, seemingly insignificant things my mom did that delighted me as a child, and it was these very things that built in me the knowledge that I was loved. Without a doubt, it was the honest, everyday love of my mother in our home that introduced me, and opened my heart, to the Love of God. It is why I am a Christian today.

I could make a list of profound things my mom said or did. I could say that she read books to us (she did). I could tell how she made the spiritual life of our home special. I could list many things that are obviously or pointedly spiritual in nature. I could explain in detail how my mother's example of living the Christian life, faithfully and joyfully, influenced me greatly as a child and how it continues to influence me today. But, instead, I want to list some ordinary, seemingly nonspiritual things my mom did routinely that, I think, had just as much spiritual impact on me as the pointedly spiritual stuff. These were a large part of what prepared my heart to receive Truth and Love.

And this is how it is. It's good to remember that ordinary, everyday things have great power to influence the spiritual life of a child. As parents, we'll slip and fall and falter and fail (a lot), but love covers a multitude of sins. If love is our aim as we live with our children, the atmosphere we produce for them will nurture Life.

Here are some of the things I love remembering about my own mother:

~Every morning, I awoke to a cheerful mother and a happy spirit in the home. We were not allowed to be grumpy in the morning. Ever. My siblings and I remember mom saying, "There is no excuse for being grumpy in the morning!" And she meant it. And my siblings and I all laugh that we ended up being pretty cheery morning people.

~Before school we always sat together for breakfast. Even when we had something as simple as toast with jam or a bowl of cold cereal, we always sat down together. And, while we ate, mom would read the Bible to us first and then a selection or two from an old, old book called Touching Incidents and Remarkable Answers to Prayer (I loved those stories!) We'd take prayer slips from a little basket (for some reason I always liked getting the slip that said to pray for the president), and we'd pray aloud.

~I was allowed to freely play, long and hard, both inside the house and out. Mom, a great athlete, taught us to play volleyball and other sports and games. She also let us tear all over, on roller skates, at high speed, inside the house. And neighbor kids would knock on the door and ask if my mom could go outside to play.

~I always loved the surprise of warm cookies that had just emerged from the oven. It felt so nice to me, to come into the house to fresh-baked cookies after running, climbing, cycling, fort-building, playing hard in the outdoor air. Mom's cookie smelled and tasted so good.

~Mom was always throwing little parties for her children, both planned and impromptu-- Sunday afternoons watching Ma and Pa Kettle, always with popcorn. Sunday evenings watching Disney with friends after church, always with some special to eat (root beer floats, ice cream sundaes, or those fresh-baked cookies). Sudden surprise trips to Dairy Queen for no particular reason, and maybe we'd stop by the beach on the way home.

~Mom always made the house festive for holidays, and she'd decorate when we kids were at school. At the end of the day, the bus would stop in front of our house, and we could see that decorations were up for the latest holiday. We'd run inside where the house would be extra clean, the fire would be burning warmly in the wood stove, and Mom would hug us and welcome us home. It all felt magical.

~We had a wringer washing machine when I was a child, and we hung our clothes on a line. Sometimes Mom would let me help her put clothes through the wringer, and I felt entirely grown up and trusted.

~I remember an extra pretty, sunny morning when I was a young child, and I walked into the kitchen to find Mom smashing a boiled egg in a bowl with a fork. She added butter and salt and asked me if I'd like one, too. Yes! The back door was open, and we sat on the steps in the sunshine eating our eggs and talking. This might seem small, but the image of that warm moment remains clear, and it made me adore my mom even more than I did before.

~Mom always fixed my hair, and this mattered to me. She'd put it in pin curls or rollers at night (Dippity Do!) and style it in the morning. We would stand in front of the wood stove, and mom would take the comb to my hair and fix it in some style with rubber bands, barettes, or head bands, and then I'd go look in the mirror to see how I liked it. Of course I always loved it.

~At bedtime, every single night, Mom would make the rounds, rubbing backs and chatting cheerfully with each one of us before we went to sleep. We were told we were loved, and we knew it was true.

~Mom took us on picnics. We'd go swimming. We'd go to the beach often. We'd go on drives just for fun. We'd go berry picking. We'd eat meals in the back yard. There was so much.

These things truly and deeply mattered. Every day felt special around mom while we were growing up, and it's still this way! Mom makes me want to be a better wife, a better mother, a better person. Her love and her example continue to make me want to know God more and to love and serve Him better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Little Blue Table...

Here it is, Aimee, because I told you I'd post a photo. I don't know if you can see the little writing table behind the adorable two-year-old, but it's kinda cute, too, and I think it was worth the $20 I paid for it. The blue shade is nicer than it looks in the photo, and I'm going to leave the paint as it is, beat up edges and all. All the table needs now is just the right knob for the drawer.

I thought you might enjoy seeing your nephew. He put himself in the picture, and since I'd rather have a picture of my grandson than of a table, I wasn't about to tell him to move.

And he's properly grubby like all busy two-year-old boys should be at the end of a hard day's play.

Our Short Trip to Washington D.C....

(Photos in this post are randomly placed.)

We're home again after a short visit to Washington D.C., where my husband currently works. (Wish you could have come Aimee and Josiah!)

(We walked along the Smithsonian mall on Saturday.)

We arrived in Washington at 7 a.m.Saturday after an overnight flight from Portland to Las Vegas to D.C. I didn't sleep a wink on the flights, but I decided not to nap away the morning because we were only going to have two days to explore. We visited just a few museums on this trip, spending a long time in the Holocaust Museum (never having seen this one before) and a not-long-enough time in my favorite Smithsonian museum, the National Gallery of Art.
(This is a room in the Holocaust Museum, full of lovely family and individual portraits taken in a Russian Jewish village before the war. Looking at these made me cry.)

In the art gallery, I went straight to the Vermeer paintings and looked at them for a long time. I love Vermeer and get almost the same feeling from his paintings as I get from listening to Bach. Actually, I like many Dutch paintings. We wandered that wing of the museum, looking for favorite paintings (and enjoying not so familiar ones, too), and we ran across some by another artist I like, Chardin. Aaron really wanted to see a particular Turner painting, but that section of the museum is under construction, so he missed it.

(Woman Holding a Balance, Johannes Vermeer, 1664.)

After tramping through museums and the area around the Smithsonian, we over-tired people needed coffee (my legs were wobbly and my head was buzzing from fatigue). Starbucks will do in a pinch, so we stopped in at the one in the cute little wedge-shaped building across from the Archives metro station. Last time I was in this city, I serendipitously discovered Murky Coffee, a place that would seem right at home out west with so many other great coffee shops! :-) The coffee is so good at Murky Coffee that, even before we left Oregon, I was looking forward to drinking one of their beautiful cappucinos (so few places make them correctly). But the Murky Coffee shop on Capitol Hill by the old Eastern Market is now closed. I checked the yellow pages and found a Murky Coffee in Arlington, which wasn't far from us, but we didn't make it there. Drat!

(A nice cappucino from Murky Coffee in Washington DC.)

On Sunday, we were finally able to visit the National Archives building after finding it closed on past visits to the Capitol. We walked through parts of it, mostly wanting to visit the Rotunda to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and some other documents. Wow. The Declaration is almost entirely nonvisible. It's completely worn and faded so that it's almost impossible to make out any of it. I hadn't known this before. Still, it was interesting to see the documents. We stopped by the Archives shop, and I bought a book that looked good, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour.

And then there was a Sunday evening outdoor concert in stormy weather (our seats were under high overhead cover, but open on all sides to the weather). My husband had bought tickets for the four of us to go to a Radiohead concert (this is a secular band for those who don't know). The kids teased that it was my Mother's Day gift, but I didn't mind. The band definitely has abundant talent. Anyway, we drove a rental car to the Nissan Pavilion (the concert venue), and by the time we got there it was absolutely pouring rain. We got to park in the special lot for those who had carpooled with four or more in their car! We had rain slickers over our coats, but we got drenched none-the-less. (Is there a stronger word than drenched? Because we were that.) Water was literally running hard, and increasingly deep, on the ground, even on the pavement surrounding the pavilion. We sloshed through water and by the time we reached our seats, our jeans were saturated up past the knees. We took off our socks and wrung out a shocking amount of water before putting them back on our feet. It poured rain, without letting up, throughout the entire concert. Some area roads flooded. We were cold, but we had fun. Twenty-some songs later, when we walked back to the car, the water was running even deeper and faster than before.

(The Attentive Nurse, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, 1738.)

Monday morning, with the weather still stormy, it was time to leave for home. We arrived at the airport to find that our hop to Philadelphia was indefinitely postponed because of the bad weather. So, we sat and waited, sat and waited, for several hours. Finally, we boarded the plane, even though the tower in Philadelphia refused to approve our landing there. After sitting on the plane for a while, we were suddenly cleared to go, and we had a very bumpy, up-and-down-roller-coasterish-while-rolling-right-and-left, flight to Philadelphia. It was not my favorite flight ever.

Now we were on an indefinite wait in Philadelphia (one of the least cool airports I've been in) with crowds of others who were stuck there. We went on a hunt for coffee, but there was nary a coffee shop in the terminal. What?! In the northwest there are coffee shops everywhere! Out of desperation we tried Dunkin' Donuts coffee because I'd read (skeptically) once that it rated better than Starbucks in a taste test, and since there was a Dunkin' Donuts in the airport, we tried that. No way. This was bad coffee.

(Girl With a Flute, Johannes Vermeer. Face to face with this painting, I was surprised at the very green color on the lower face and neck. An art expert, I am not, so I need to look this up!)

Finally we boarded the plane for Portland. After a long flight, we landed sometime around midnight. As we walked down the terminal to the baggage area, we passed coffee shop after coffee shop and a Powell's book shop, and we knew we were home! :-) But our luggage wasn't, so our next wait was in line at the baggage claims office (with many other people) to fill out forms.

Aaron had to give a presentation in class the next morning, so instead of spending the night in a hotel, we spent the next two hours driving. (We'd adjusted to DC time, so it ended up feeling like another all-nighter.) We arrived at Aaron's apartment and plopped ourselves wherever we could make ourselves comfortable enough to sleep. Having no suitcases meant that we had to sleep in the clothes we were already wearing.

When Melissa and I got up in the morning, we were already dressed! After a trip to the store to buy food for Aaron's barren cupboards and refrigerator, we said goodbye to him and headed home across the mountains.

The trip was short but a lot of fun. And being home again feels nice.