Thursday, July 31, 2008

Simple Pleasures...

These "Simple Pleasures" posts are motivated by Aimee over at Living, Learning, and Loving Simply. Others are joining, too (like Shannon at Simpy Mangerchine). And my friend, Tonia, at Study in Brown. Kim at Not My Own... says she wants to join, too. (Hope I didn't put on the pressure, Kim!) Click on over to Aimee's and read comments to see who's participating. It's not too late to start!

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Just the tiniest bit of effort makes things more cheerful.

The other day I posted a photo of my table on the back deck, where I sat and enjoyed a pleasant, beautiful morning. When I saw the photo, the scene struck me as ugly, but I posted it anyway, in the name of reality. I hadn't paid much attention to the unattractiveness of my table area before I saw the picture. And when I did see it, at first I thought, "Who cares? I'm happy. I like my mornings outside. What does it matter?" It seemed trivial. But something about really not caring, because "it's just for me, after all," bothered me.

So the next day I did something like this...

The only things added to the regular morning scene at the table are a little tablecloth and the flowers (they were already in the house; I just brought them out with me). I've been doing this ever since. It's not particularly beautiful or artful. I'm not trying to create a magazine-worthy scene. It's simple and fairly plain, but a little bit more cheerful, more caring. And I was reminded that spiritually-minded women like Edith Schaeffer, Amy Carmichael, Biddy Chambers, and others took care in the little things like this. It matters.

Eventually I would like to have a charming, rustic (or "shabby"), old, wooden table for the deck (part of the deck is covered like a porch), with mismatched old wooden chairs. And I'll put a pretty pot of flowers in the middle, and I can sit out there in the morning, and we can eat meals on it...

But I don't have that table, and I may never have it. I have this table, and I need to make the best of what I have. Really, the point, for me, is about taking care and making effort. It's also about creating a pleasant space, even when it's just for me. Even when no one else will see it. And it's not a lot of bother since it takes less than 2 minutes to set up.

It's a simple thing, and it really is much nicer now. More pleasant.

God makes the flowers to grow even where no man ever walks. His beauty reaches into the hidden places that no man ever sees. He delights in His creation. He actively cares about the little things, the unseen things. He makes all things lovely. For the Lord, it's never "a pain to bother." I want to be like Him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Simple Pleasures Gone Wrong?


They make me think of the pastel Fischer-Price toy kitchen dishes my kids
used to play with in the late 80's and early 90's!


It seemed like a great idea. 1950's colorful Melmac dishes for camping. How fun!

I'd been thinking recently about camping supplies. Our set of dishes has somehow ended up scattered here and there, mostly going missing, so last year when we went camping, we ended up taking the everyday dishes from our kitchen cupboards. That's fine, but they can break, and it's nice to have something meant specifically for camping and picnicking.

Then I got the idea to look in the antique warehouse for old 1950's unbreakable Melmac dishes. I was hoping to find a variety of colors, and I thought I'd start picking up cups, plates, and bowls as I could. I had no idea how much this would cost. Maybe it would be affordable, and maybe it wouldn't.

So, we stopped by the antique warehouse when we were in the neighborhood, and I headed straight back to the big room that has Pyrex, Melmac, and all sorts of other things. There were plenty of Melmac dishes there, but alot of them were sold in sets of four or eight, all of the same color. I did the best I could, picking up the smaller sets in different colors to give me something of a variety.

My grand total for five plates, four bowls, and eight cups was $17, costing me an average of $1 per item. That seemed great to me. They're fun. They're vintage. They're unbreakable. They're cheap!

And then I came home to see how much they cost online. A quick search showed some internet discussion on the possible dangers of these dishes, more specifically of the melamine in the dishes that contributes to their name-- Melmac. Kuwait has banished them! =:-O So far, they're the only country to do this, but still... Will I be contributing to our slow deaths by melamine poisoning if we eat off these dishes when we go camping or picnicking? :-)

Or should I shrug this off (me-- the all-natural, don't-use-plastic-or-toxic-anything person!) and just have fun camping? I mean we won't be eating off of the dishes that often! And they are kinda cute and fun.

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The scene of the crime took place in this very patch of clover.

Remember the sweet bunnies I mentioned in this post that recalled Beatrix Potter to me?

Well.

On Sunday, I was sitting outdoors on the deck, doing nothing because it was Sunday. I was just sitting there. Thinking, looking, listening, enjoying the peace and quiet. As always, I felt blessed to be surrounded with such rejuvenating natural beauty. I was thinking of the lovely world God made. Simple pleasures, to be sure.

And as I sat there, I was suddenly startled by a very loud hissing and screeching just off to my right. I turned, and not 20 feet away, two of the "sweet little bunnies" were fighting fiercely. On hind legs, darting and jumping, dodging and attacking. Surprisingly ferocious. And then suddenly, off they ran in different directions.

And I thought of Annie Dillard at Tinker Creek and both the beauty and startling violence of nature. The "flawed nature of perfection," she says. Nature is lovely. It's a gift. But even creation is fallen and "waits in eager expectation... (to be) liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into... glorious freedom." (Romans 8)

Just like us. :-)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Simple Pleasures...

Some of today's CSA produce.
Simple pleasures. God's lavish goodness.

"As I set a bowl of fresh raspberries in front of my guest, I remarked, 'I feel so rich with all of this wonderful fruit fresh from my garden.' My guest from Colombia gently reminded me, 'Anyone who has enough food is rich.'" ~Mary Beth Lind in Simply in Season

Every Tuesday evening, I pick up my CSA produce. My portion today: a
pretty bouquet of flowers, 3 lbs.heirloom tomatoes, green and yellow beans, everbearing strawberries, golden raspberries, 2 bags salad mix, beets, red carrots, kale, garlic, basil, shallots.

And, afterward, I picked up 1 gallon of raw cow's milk at the farm.

"Blessed art Thou,
O Lord our God,
king of the world,
who bringest forth bread from the earth."


~Ancient Jewish Blessing

Monday, July 28, 2008

Simple Pleasures...

Aimee (Not-the-Aimee-Who-is-My-Daughter) over at Living, Learning, and Loving Simply, is having a simple pleasures celebration. And since I'm all about simple pleasures-- being a simple woman and oh-so-easily-tickled-pink-- this is a no-brainer for me. So, I'm joining the party. (If you decide to take part, be sure to make it known.)

I'm getting a late start, but here's my first Simple Pleasure:

Okay. We're talking really simple here.

When I spotted the stack of these three bowls at my local Goodwill, I made a beeline for them and snatched them right up. Why so special? Well, does anyone remember me saying in a post last week, when referring to the colander that looks just like my mom's, "And at age 50, my decor is all about meaning and joy!"? Well, I meant it.

My grandmother had a set of these dishes. There were other colors besides green in the set, too. Yellow, I think, and pink, and a bluish color (probably aqua). My mom still has a few of these pieces. I remember eating from these dishes when I was a very, very young girl, and just seeing them in the Goodwill that day flooded me with warm memories.

And now I eat cereal from these bowls and ice cream and berries and whatever else goes into a bowl. And when I do, I smile. And I think of my sweet grandmother. And my mother. And my grandfather, who bought these dishes for Grandma in a jewelry store many, many years ago. And I think how blessed I've been to have had such a wonderful family.

And I have not tucked them away, hidden from sight, in a cupboard, but I've put them on a little wall shelf along with some colorful glassware that I also bought at Goodwill because they, too, made me think of my childhood. Yay for Goodwill!

These bowls do indeed bring me pleasure. Sweet and simple.

Journaling an Ordinary Life...

I'm borrowing this photo from an early blog post. It's Saturday-- scone day--
with my mug of coffee and my journal right at hand.

Last night in the stack of books I carried off with me to bed was one I haven't perused for awhile-- Time and the Art of Living by Robert Grudin. I bought the book years ago from that wonderful, now defunct, book catalog, The Common Reader (we miss getting that in the mail every month).

As I was flipping through the pages of Time and the Art of Living last night, I ran across this (I had penciled a little checkmark beside it):

In writing your journal give primary attention to detail; for it is detail which organizes and preserves experience for your future self or some other reader. General statements like "We had a wonderful time" or "It was a dismal morning" make a mockery of the whole procedure, for they evaluate experience without recreating it. I kept long jurnals from ages ten to twenty-two, chronicling events and describing emotional states, but again and again missing they physical immediacy of experience, the tiny hooks by which experience could have been caught and held. I failed to record how we looked, what we saw, the minor eccentricities of circumstance which gave special character to a day. I ignored these elements not only through lack of training but through misplaced priorities. I mistakenly assumed that one could discuss the heart of things without discussing the surface of things. And now, twenty to thirty years later, 600 pages of journal seem to have been written by some ghost, a voice dogmatic in its exuberance but wholly disembodied from time.

By all means, describe in detail a single day, especially an average day. In the mountains of literature and data concerning the past, we have very little which conveys accurately the minute-by-minute progress of life. Had we more of these modest historical commentaries, we could better sense the background against which more important events occurred. Had we such dispatches from our earlier selves, we could better understand the decisions, or lack of decisions, which mystify us in the present.


Well. I had to smile at this because my journal has this in spades! I'm not sure, though, that Grudin means the kind of endless inanity that can be read in the pages of my notebooks. :-)

Every single day, when I write in my journal, I have a routine. Across the top line, I write the date, the exact time to the minute, and the precise morning low temperature, along with a description of the current weather. And then I proceed to tell where I'm sitting, what I'm wearing, what I have around me, and usually what I'm seeing or hearing. I'll usually comment about what I've already done that morning, and I'll probably make note of the day's plan.

It's always struck me as sort of silly that I do this over and over, every day, with many days just like the one before it, but now, thanks to Grudin, I can see these "modest historical commentaries" as giving a sense of "the background against which more important events occurred."

Well, anyway...

I climbed out of bed and went to a drawer where I have a little stack of filled journals and grabbed the top one. I opened it randomly to see what I had written on that page. Sure enough, I had fulfilled the journal writing recommendations of Grudin. For your extreme reading pleasure :-), to show you what I mean, here's the top part of that random journal page:

Top line: August 10, 2007. 7:48 a.m. 35 degrees-- all sunshine (and I drew an actual picture of a full sun).

Text (I don't try to write literature in my journals! I sometimes just jot notes and thoughts, even in partial sentences; I don't do one of those cool, artsy-picturesque ones, either-- my only artwork is my tiny weather drawings!):

"It's quite chilly. I'm at the dining table wearing my pink nightgown, jeans, socks, and a brown sweatshirt-hoody. I'm wrapped in a colorful quilt, drinking a nice, hot cup of Tazo chai tea with honey and milk. No coffee this morning. I just put a heater beside me and turned it on for some additional warmth, which seems silly and ironic since I will probably want to turn on an air conditioner later today. But I'll just take the chill out of the air and warm my toes and fingers..."

Or there's this entry:

August 3, 2007. Somewhere between 6:45 a.m. (my clock) and 7:20 a.m. (Nicky's watch). Temperature: just right; coolish. "I'm wrapped in a fleece blanket at a picnic table in our campsite (space #158) at Castle Crags campground. Today we'll hike to the crags..."

Or August 6, 2007. 7:35 a.m. 37 degrees this clear, bright a.m. "It's a lovely, bright, cool morning. The sky is vivid blue and the sun is brightening the western hills. I'm sitting at the kitchen counter in my usual way, with coffee press, a mug full of coffee, Bible, and books next to me. This morning I'm using my "Mrs. Incredible" mug. It was given to me by the "M's," and it's a fun mug, big and red and stretched off at an angle to one side. I love how quiet it is in the morning. Dead silent except for the fridge and dripping water... ??? (what's that?!) And I like drinking my coffee in the quiet..."

August 12, 2007. 8:16 a.m. 35 degrees again. "Mmmm. My coffee tastes extra good today. I'm drinking it in my round hand-painted Polish mug. I have such a strange mug quirk-- I really have to use certain mugs on certain days and I dont know which it will be til I'm ready to use it..."

And on and on it goes, every single day. Somehow over the years, it became a habit to open my journal entries the exact same way. And often I'll carry on about the evening before and how I slept and lots of other fascinating details. And sometimes I'll do what I call a "Freeze Frame" or "Right Now" or "This Instant," simply listing, just for fun, exactly what is happening in one instant (I copied this idea from one of my kids). I did at least one of these in that journal:

This Instant. August 10, 2007. 2:24 p.m.: Melissa showering. Water rumbling in the teakettle as it heats for coffee. Freshly ground coffee bean scent wafting on the soft breeze coming through the open kitchen window. Aaron sitting at his computer. Bright blue sky with a few, small, fluffy white clouds. Pleasant temperature. Screen door open. Two sandhill cranes ambling around out in the meadow. Me at the counter reading Ranch Under the Rimrock (fun book). Georgie (dog) staring out the sliding door.

As I flipped through this journal, I did note that the little, seemingly inane, details are what keep me rereading. I particularly enjoy the parts of my journals that talk about things like getting up in the middle of the night to watch the Perseid Meteor Showers all by myself, and loving it, but being scared back into the house by the blackness of the night and the rustling sounds all around me.

And I like the little descriptions of funny things my kids did or said. And the ordinary conversations. These are woven all throughout the journals.

I like reading about what I did each day, down to the details of what happened at the farmers' market, what the weather was, who I saw and what we chatted about, what I bought, what I want to cook with it, etc.

I like knowing what books I was reading on a particular day and maybe seeing a short passage from that book with a brief comment by me.

I like how I'll be writing about sitting for morning coffee in my chair or on the deck, then, in the next entry, I'm suddenly writing (always with morning coffee!) from a campground somewhere or from my parents house on the lake at the coast. And I like the details of what we've been doing at each place, down to what we made for breakfast or how cold it was in the tent the night before or the silly camp names we gave to each other.


I have a lot of spiritual thoughts written in these pages-- notes from my Bible reading, my thoughts about what I've read, how it applies to me, further musings, and my prayers. I might quote from my devotional reading and comment on that. I might journal my deepest thoughts and emotions, turning them into prayers.

As I read through the journals, I see God's love and faithfulness woven into our days. I see His strength and encouragement lifting me above situations that would dispirit me. I see clearly that He is a real, present part of the ordinary minutes of my life and home.

Over the years, I've often thought that I should keep separate journals for separate topics. That I should keep my spiritual ponderings and prayers separate from the journals of daily life. I've actually attempted to do that on occasion, but it never works. And as I read through this journal last night, I'm so glad it didn't. My journals reflects the reality my spiritual and daily life, the fact that they are interwoven and can't be separated into neat categories. They shouldn't be separated because it's all sacred.

So, I don't know about my journals giving important context to bigger historical events. That's pretty funny, actually, but I do know that the mishmash of details and topics, the mix of sacred and "secular," paint a picture of a real life where everything is spiritual, everything is lovely, everything matters.

Somehow it's all encouraging. It makes me thankful. And it's a whole lot of fun to read!

Do you keep journals? If not, I highly recommend making it a disciplined part of your daily routine. It's very rewarding! And if you do journal, what are yours like?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Journal List of Today's Ordinary Blessings...

I know I already posted a photo of these flowers, but I'm playing around
with the camera (even though it's only on "auto")
to see what happens in different light. I liked this one.

"This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it."

I'm up later than usual today at 6:30 a.m. and struggling to drag myself out of bed at that. I like to get up early because morning is my favorite time of day. Ah, well. There's still a lot of morning left, and it's a lovely one today.

I eat a bowl of
almond sprouted grain cereal for breakfast with coconut sprinkles and fresh, raw cow's milk (just picked it up yesterday). I'm so thankful for simple, healthy, fresh, tasty food. Real food.

And now for some coffee. This morning it's
Stumptown Roasters' Hair Bender Blend, brewed, as usual, in my beloved French press. And off to the table on the deck with my pile of books, Bible, journal, and notebook. It's so nice to be able to take my time and sit for my quiet time like this. I'm blessed to be able to be home every day.

I have a piece of two or chocolate and eat them with a small bit of
cacao nibs, my latest addiction. Mmm. I could eat this all day. But I won't.

I pour a half gallon jar of raw goat's milk into a pan and stir it with some vinegar over low heat to make fresh goat milk cheese, and while it gently heats, I settle in at the sink to wash the dishes, staring, as usual out the front window to see what's going on in our natural surroundings. I am so blessed to have lovely things to see out my window.

Ooh. There are lots more jack rabbits out there eating in the front yard this morning. I haven't mowed the grass for awhile, so it's much longer than usual. Are they eating the clover or the grass? The clover I think, but I get out the binoculars to have a closer look. I watch a rabbit nibble away. Yes, it's the clover. And the rabbits are all so happy out there with plenty to eat. The rabbit I'm staring at through the binoculars, glances up at me for a few seconds, so I tell him not to worry, to eat to his heart's content, that I won't mow away his food today.

I didn't snap this photo, but I did try to capture one
of the rabbits on film. Maybe tomorrow morning.

I remember once reading about clover being good for soil, so I get out the gardening book I own that is most likely to talk about reasons to keep clover in the grass rather than poisoning it away--
Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards-- and I begin to see such a list of benefits of having clover in the grass that I am thinking of becoming a back-to-nature yard activist. :-) Clover in the grass helps to build healthy soil. It contributes to a strong, natural ecosystem. And look at those nice rabbits out there, all happy and fed! You can't grow up reading and loving Beatrix Potter without caring about bunnies.

I walk across the property to
dump the contents of my compost pail into Mike's compost heap, and on my way back I notice the towels that have been hanging on the line for several days and decide that it's time for them to come down! They're probably pretty dry by now. Ah, yes, nice and, uh, extra-crunchy. But they do smell sweeter than anything could possibly smell coming out of the dryer. And now I have room to hang my sheets and another load of towels.

I create a salad for lunch with some of my wonderful seasonal produce-- an heirloom tomato-corn salad with three kinds of heirloom tomatoes, slivered basil, sweet white corn just cut from the cob, fresh lemon juice, chopped kalamata olives, and some of that fresh goat cheese I just made this morning. A bit of sea salt for seasoning, and boy was it good!

Eating fresh food in season is a true blessing, a gift from God: "These all look to thee, to give them their food in due season. When thou gives to them, they gather it up; when thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good things." (Ps. 104:27-28)

I do some housecleaning, wash a couple loads of laundry and hang them on the line, water a few spots in the yard that are excessively dry, and do some weeding in the front flower beds. There aren't many weeds there because it's well mulched. But there sure are a lot of bees buzzing around.
I've used this photo before, but I wanted another one for this post,
and this will do nicely. :-)

It's hot with the sun beating down on me. Why did I wait until mid-afternoon to do this weeding? Ah, well. It's good for me. I'm tempted to wimp out and finish tomorrow, but there's not much weeding to do, and I've been working on following through and finishing things well. And now it's finished.

Today, Thursday, is my day to pick up eggs and raw goat's milk at a friend's house, five miles or so down the road. We get to chatting, and she tells me that she's been making neufchatel cheese with the milk and that it's turning out really well. Oh! I'm going to try that. It's a completely raw cheese. Jill tries to give me some rennet to make the cheese, but since I'm pretty sure I'll make it often, I tell her that I'll just buy some rennet next time I'm in town. She says that a half gallon of milk makes a lot of cheese, so, yay, I can share some with Michelle.

Dinnertime. I make slow-roasted salmon with a lemon butter sauce, very slightly steamed white corn (we've eaten lots of corn lately), and a Mediterranean-style roasted eggplant salad. At every meal, I feel extremely blessed and thankful to have plenty of good food to eat.

And, again, while doing dishes, I enjoy the view out the window, this time of the light cast by the lowering sun. It makes the Ponderosa pine trees and the long, red-tipped grass in the meadows glimmer beautifully. The light on the distant hills is lovely. Evening, like morning, is a peaceful time.

I hear Georgie, the Cocker Spaniel barking in the family room/computer room. He never barks in the house, so what's up? I walk in, and there against the wall, is a snake. How in the world did that get in here?! It's a baby bull snake, and thank goodness it's a baby because the adult snakes get huge. Even still, I'm intimidated. I hate snakes worse than Indiana Jones hates snakes! So, Melissa bravely captures it and puts it outside.

And now we're closing in on bedtime. Time to wind things down, to put the outside dog in the kennel, to clean any messes that are left around the house, to chat with Melissa, to make a list of things to do tomorrow, and to settle in for the night with a book or two.

It's been a quieter than usual, yet ordinary, day, and also a blessed and beautiful day.
(And if you've read to the end of this post, I think you deserve an award.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Flowers in the Home...

Today's CSA dahlias in the late afternoon sun.

"I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck." ~Emma Goldman

When we lived in England, we loved taking drives to discover charming villages tucked away off the main roads. Wherever we went, the flowers and gardens were beautiful. Everyone in England grew flowers, it seemed, and buckets of fresh-cut daffodils or tulips, or whatever was blooming, were for sale in front of shops everywhere. I made a habit of buying a pretty bouquet for our dining table or windowsill every time I walked into town.

Emerson said that earth laughs in flowers, and, it's true; God has made our world beautiful with them. One of the things I love about walking and hiking is seeing the often stunning display of colorful wildflowers that are everywhere outdoors, and I really enjoy having some of that color and loveliness in the house, too. I don't have extensive gardens for cutting flowers or a great ability to arrange bouquets, but flowers are so beautiful on their own, what does it matter? Even a solitary bloom, plunked into the most humble container, looks lovely, which is a lucky thing for me.

One nice thing about living in the country is that I can take a long walk and come home with a spray of wildflowers. I always buy flowers at the farmers' market if they're available, and this year, I purchased a CSA flower share to go along with my weekly produce. We got our first little bunch today-- all dahlias.

Flowers, or something else from nature, add much to the charm and beauty of a home. In some parts of the world, having fresh flowers in the house is considered essential. Edith Schaeffer wrote about this in The Hidden Art of Homemaking:

"In Holland fresh cut flowers are generally considered a necessity. We are told that even the very poor people in Holland put aside a guilder or two for flowers every week. Dutch homes are characterized by enormously wide windows at the front. As you walk down a street in Holland you are very conscious of flowers-- flowers from front to back, in the rooms and beyond in the gardens. When someone comes for dinner, or to spend the day, or to celebrate a birthday or greet a visitor from a far country, whatever the occasion, if you are Dutch, you come with a handful of flowers, bought in the stalls beside the canals, in the town square, or in a florist shop. When I am in Holland I often remember the daily admonition recited to us in the Newburgh Free Academy in New York State... Dr. Doughty, the principal, always started the daily assembly by reciting, 'If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily!' The students often used to giggle or smirk, or make sarcastic little whispers in reply, but it is not a bad idea! The bread becomes a different thing when eaten at a table with the lily in the centre."

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Like Flowers at the Foot of the Cross"...

Wildflowers spring up in Oregon's high desert. The hillside
with the wildflowers looks exactly like the terrain and plants of our
own little country road in the high desert (but we have some trees).
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I'm rereading Frances de Sale's Introduction to the Devout Life for my quiet time reading, and before starting it again, I browsed through, looking at my old underlinings and margin notes. I ran across a favorite passage from the book-- sweet in its simplicity-- and I wanted to post it here:

"...practice those little, humble virtues which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visitng the sick, and taking care of your family, with all the tasks that go with such things and with all that useful diligence which will not let you stand idle...

"Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves but little ones are frequent. Whoever will be 'faithful over a few things' will be placed 'over many' says the Savior. 'Do all things in the name of God,' and you will do all things well. Provided you know how to fulfill your duties properly, then 'whether you eat or drink,' whether you sleep or take recreation or turn the spit, you will profit greatly in God's sight by doing all these things because God wishes you to do them."


Something else I really want to share was written by one of my favorite bloggers, Elizabeth Foss, at Real Learning. (She is the author of the down-to-earth, Charlotte Mason-style book called Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home.) Elizabeth is a seasoned homeschooler and a wise woman, and her message in this post (link below) is challenging and very important. It's actually something I've thought about a lot over the years, and I don't think it's at all unrelated to the de Sale's passage above:

I Was a Better Mother Before the Internet

Much prayer will help us to discern if we are "fulfilling our duties properly." Then, whether we eat or sleep or take recreation or turn the spit or go on the internet, we can have peace and joy that we are living a life of glory to God and practicing virtues that will "grow like flowers at the foot of the cross."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer Days, Nostalgia, and Some Things I Love...

"Summer is so brief, so packed with living.
I hate to see each day end."
~Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow Daybook

But wait! It's going too fast! I haven't tasted a really great peach yet. I haven't gone blueberry picking. Local growers haven't appeared with their heirloom tomatoes or those wonderful little Sungolds. I haven't eaten enough watermelon. There hasn't been enough hiking and no camping at all. I haven't been to the coast to hang out with Mom and Dad at their house on the lake. There's lots of summer living left to do!

I love summer days, with doors and windows thrown open to fill the house with fresh air and sunshine. I love the abundance of delicious, sweet, juicy fruit. The early morning sun makes me feel cheerful, and I make a point to watch the late evening sunsets. I love the endless birdsong of summer. And I adore the chubby legs of my grandsons as they run around barefoot in their shorts.

I love a long, leisurely breakfast and coffee at the table on the sunny deck (a cool breeze is a nice accessory for these mornings) with a pile of books, my journal and notebook, my Bible, and a few small pieces of chocolate on a tiny plate (pushed off to a shady place til the chocolate is gone). And I make Swiss mocha like Molly Katzen described it once-- put a piece of chocolate on your tongue, take a sip of hot, dark coffee, let the chocolate melt, and enjoy your faux mocha. Katzen says it's a Swiss tradition. :-)

I was tempted to alter this arrangement, to add some color, to make it look more
artistic, but this is reality-- how it really was as I sat outside this morning.
I didn't want to mess with that. :-)

I love old books where women journaled about the positive aspects of their daily lives. (There are two or three of them on the table above.) For some reason, the ones I like are usually stories of country life. They are light and innocuous, but full of more simple, unaffected, practical wisdom than their detractors could imagine. I find these books lovely, enjoyable, and inspiring. And they remind me that the hours, the days, the seasons, the years pass quickly, and we should savor them.

I love old things that remind me of Mom or my grandparents or my childhood. They have an aura of happy warmth just because of the nice memories they bring back. Most of my Goodwill or thrift shop purchases are motivated by this.

That's what made me pick up these early 1960's white oval platters and dishes with a blue design when I saw them at Goodwill. My childhood took place in the 1960s, and, while no one I know had these dishes, that color of blue rings many bells of memory. (Aaron thinks I've committed some kind of sacrilege by placing them on the old English pine china dresser in place of the Brambly Hedge tea set, but the cool blue and white is airy and soothing for summer.)

Pure nostalgia is also what made me buy a colander exactly like the one my mom used in the kitchen while I grew up. She still has that colander, and now I have one like it. Seeing it hang from a nail on the side of my kitchen cupboard might strike most people as ugly, but it makes me smile. And at age 50, my decor is all about meaning and joy!

And I do love how God takes the dirty, smoky sky and makes a lovely, rosy sunset. But that's the way He works, isn't it?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Inside, Outside...

Inside, we're having lots of fun using our CSA produce. Here are some pretty red carrots (they're yellow on the inside), tossed in olive oil, sea salt, and cumin, all prepped and ready to roast. We ate them yesterday evening for dinner, and they were delicious. I loved those crispy, thin tips, and I wish I'd have left the green ends longer because they roast so nice and tasty!

And this was a yummy beet and apple salad with orange-ginger vinaigrette on greens.

Outside, the flowers are finally all in bloom. Here's just a small view of part of the front flower beds. All of the plants I have growing this year are native perennials that require very, very little water, even in our arid climate. I water them maybe twice a week unless it's extra hot and windy.


Yesterday morning I when I was online, I clicked on the weather to see what was forecast. It said: Current Temperature: 67 degrees. Conditions: Smoke. Yes, it's been smoky every day for quite a while now, a common summer occurence, in the dry regions of the western states especially. Currently, there are many fires burning in Washington and California, so the sky in parts of the west is pretty hazy. This is nothing like the year of Oregon's Biscuit fire, though, when almost 1/2 a million acres of forest land burned. It was really smoky that year. Aaron and I both felt ill most of the time that summer (allergic to the smoke?), and we were forced to remain indoors much more than we wanted to.

Thankfully, this year, the smoke isn't heavy enough to keep us inside. It's nice to go outside for a long walk, to putter around in the flowers, to sit in the morning sun with a cup of coffee. I even hung towels on the line to dry this morning for the first time in several days. They might end up with a faint smell of smoke, but if they do, we'll just pretend we're camping!

Are you enjoying summer's wonderful produce and your yard and gardens?

Simple Beauty at Home...

"One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few." ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From the Sea

I want my home to have a sense of space and peace and the beauty of fewer things. But I am not aiming for the kind of sterile cleanliness that shows up on a Real Simple magazine cover. Have you ever been in a house that was so very spare, clean, and perfect that you couldn't relax, you couldn't imagine ever feeling at home there? Indeed, maybe there was no evidence at all in the surroundings to give clues to who lived in that place and what they were like. There may have been a sort of prettiness to it, but where was the life? That doesn't seem like home to me, and I think it misses the whole point of being simple.

A home, no matter how simple, should be warm and inviting. There should be life and energy, laughter and fun, creativity and joy there. While there should be that peace that comes from order, it is dispiriting to think we need to maintain perfect order. My aim is to live simply enough that disorder or caring for too many things won't tyrannize my peace of mind or pleasant rhythms or steal the hours away from my relationships.

In streamlining one's life and possessions, beauty and style are not being rejected. Rather, the "beauty of the few," as Anne Morrow Lindbergh described it, is being embraced. She also wrote that an object is beautiful when it is framed in space, and I do think that there's a good amount of truth to that. In your mind, picture what is, to you, a peaceful room. Is it cluttered and messy? Most people would probably say no, but maybe some people do like that sort of space. Maybe they feel more creative and happy and cosy with lots of cheerful piles and creative tools about. I'm not about to say there's anything wrong with that.

Actually, I think that a bit of "disorder" (so to speak) mixed with order makes for relaxed living. We can't keep things up perfectly, and it would be exhausting to try. I certainly don't want my entire day to be ruled by cleaning and striving for perpetual, perfect order. Nature is orderly, but it's also beautifully wild. Creative, thriving human beings make messes, but there's a difference between a light, happy mess and a mess that is out of control and oppressive. When life is simple and scaled back to what is truly needed and useful and beautiful, then the messes stay happy messes. Order can be restored easily. In a home like this, peace and order are snugly wrapped in coziness.

In any case, beauty matters. In Living More With Less, where the purpose of the book is to encourage people to greatly simplify their lives, beauty is stressed as being important. The title of the book says alot, really. We can focus on the "living more" and recognize that the aim of simplifying is abundance instead of focusing negatively on the "with less" part and think of a simple life as austere.

In fact, the author of Living More With Less, Doris Longacre, wrote in her forward (quoting from her earlier book, The More With Less Cookbook): "Put dismal thoughts aside... because this book is not about cutting back. This book is about living joyfully, richly, and creatively." And that is the aim of many of us who strive for simplicity.

We would not want our homes to be seen in the way that Edith Schaeffer described in The Hidden Art of Homemaking: "There were some Africans who were with us a couple of years ago, who sat in our bedroom talking to my husband before they left. Each of them had been in some sort of mission school and now were in European universities on scholarships. Each of them had observed various things during their boyhood. They each made a similar comment which impressed me deeply. Each of them said that the thing which had turned them away from Christianity was the lack of beauty in the missionaries' homes-- and they were speaking of physical beauty."

"Is it Pretty?" is one of the guiding questions asked in the chapter on "Homekeeping" in Living More With Less. The author writes, "An attractive home buoys my spirits... Everywhere in the world, people arrange for some beauty, some expression of the ability to invent interesting subjects for their eyes and fingertips. Cooks across Asia encourage their charcoal fires with attractively woven fans. People in Belgium spend 2 percent of the national income on fresh flowers." Beauty is important to the human spirit.

And there's no one way to describe what is a beautiful home. A home with a modern design can be beautiful. A Victorian farmhouse can be beautiful. A spacious vintage bungalow can beautiful. So can a basic, rustic cabin. Or a hut in an African village. Or anywhere, really. We can create beauty and an atmosphere of loveliness in the most impoverished, drab, or uninspiring places with a bit of creativity and mindfulness. To veer from the point a bit, real beauty is found when a person fills his home with a light, joyful, contented, welcoming spirit.

If you read my posts about simplifying and decluttering my home, don't imagine me making my place spare in the way of a hospital waiting room or some other drab, drearily quiet place. That's not what I want at all. I simply want fewer towels crammed into the small linen cupboard, fewer dishes stacked crazily in my cupboards, fewer objects to dust or repair, fewer things stored in boxes, fewer unnecessary things that require care and maintenance and time.

In many areas of my life and home, I've already found this space, but I've got a ways to go in other areas. I want way less stuff across the board because that "beauty of the few" appeals greatly to me! How much do I really need?


Photo at top courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Melissa and I Eat...

Me, Lissy, on a very windy Mount St. Helens recently.
Where'd that backpack go?! There's always a dark chocolate candy bar in there.

Sometimes the house feels lonely without all six of us bouncing around in it anymore. The years the four kids grew up here, playing hard, with the whole family chatting endlessly with each other about the things that we've been doing, reading, writing, making, exploring, collecting, discovering, and thinking, surely made for good times and good memories!

Now, with the oldest three kids out of the house and Mike working temporarily far away, it gets pretty quiet here sometimes. Michelle often comes out with the boys to visit, which adds a lot of energy and noise and fun to the house, and sometimes friends or neighbors are here, but, often enough, it's just Melissa and me.

We have an awful lot of nice conversations ourselves, though, and since I'm all about counting my blessings rather than saying, "I wish it were still this way..." I'll tell you one nice thing that happens when Melissa and I are here alone...

We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want!

And we both like the same kinds of foods, so that's a whole bunch of fun! We eat loads of greens and vegetables, prepared lots of different ways. And melons, cherries, berries, mangoes (can't wait for ripe peaches!). We like to try different cheeses. We both like dark chocolate. We both enjoy drinking fruit smoothies. And we consider buying grape kombucha a treat! :-)

If we feel like it, we can choose to have a simple salad of greens with vinaigrette and a healthy strawberry tart for dinner and nothing more! And there's no one here to wonder when we're really going to eat or to ask how a strawberry tart counts as dinner.

We can eat whatever we want, like we did this evening.

I had made whole grain ciabatta from Peter Reinhart's award winning book, Whole Grain Breads, starting the dough last night and baking the bread late this morning. It turned out very well. We ate a little bit of the bread earlier today, and then in the afternoon, we went to town because on Tuesdays, we pick up raw cow's milk and my CSA produce.

While we were in town, we stopped in at a "gourmet" store for a small chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and sitting on the counter was a small platter of bread, with dip and spread samples beside it. The artichoke-romano dip was pretty tasty, so we bought a jar, thinking it would be good with the ciabatta.

By the time we arrived back home it was after 7 p.m. We were hungry, so we started eating pieces of ciabatta with the artichoke-romano dip. Not bad. While we were at it, we finished off a leftover Greek salad we had. Since the olives were all eaten out of the salad, I pulled out two jars-- kalamata and green olives-- to go along with the bread. (I like olives. Melissa doesn't so much.)

Melissa suggested that we have just the food we were eating for our meal, and nothing else. It sounded like a good plan to me, and since there was no one here to be horrified at making a spontaneous dinner out of all of this, we went ahead. In our CSA bag were some sweet, ripe, red strawberries, so we had a perfect fruit treat for after dinner.

I'm guessing that tonight, Melissa and I will share the little bit of Dark Chocolate Coconut Bliss ice cream that is left in the carton. I'll top mine with cacao nibs for sure.

I like eating with Melissa!

(P.S. Aimee and Michelle, you'd like the food we're eating! Josiah might, too. Aaron would hunger for something "steak-y." And Monty would be famished for sure. Mike, you might enjoy this-- I don't know... Roman would say, "Oh, that's delicious!" even if he hated it. And Jayden will eat anything any time.)

Simple Steps...

I don't know why, but lately I keep wanting to whittle down the clutter and excess in my life more and more and more. No matter how much I simplify and discard, it doesn't seem like enough. I still have more stuff than I want to deal with, and there's much of it that I don't even like all that well, but I keep it because someone gave it to me, or "maybe I'll need it."

I sometimes think that if our house burned down and we lost everything, it wouldn't really be that horrible. I'd miss the family heirlooms and journals and photos, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. In fact, I think, in some ways, I would feel a sense of relief, with a chance to start fresh, an opportunity to simplify without getting rid of some "special" thing. (Not that I, at all, want a disaster like a fire to happen...)

And then I think, if we really were put in a position to start from scratch, how would I want to approach setting up a new home? Without a doubt, I'd want to keep everything simple and lovely and useful. I'd want a smaller scale home and yard to begin with, and then I'd want to buy quality items, waiting patiently for each new thing until we could get what we really want. I wouldn't want much around me. Lots of light and space. Coziness is important to me, but coziness doesn't require clutter. It's more about personal taste and making a place real.

I wonder if there is a way to sort of start over, to re-establish something near to that basic simplicity? Why should disaster have to strike for me to find the basic, simple, uncluttered space that so appeals to me?


"When you bring in something new, throw out something old."
(Elaine St. James in Living the Simple Life)

Which means, if I'm serious about this (and I am), when I drop by Goodwill today, I need to think hard before I buy any vintage stuff, even if I think it's fun or cute or pretty or of good quality or would really come in handy because anything I buy today means that something else in my home has to go! :-)

I've been journaling about my new project, listing my thoughts, ideas, and questions on categories such as dishes, kitchen stuff, decorations, books, clothing, cleaning systems and supplies, yard and garden supplies, technology, cars and traveling, etc. This is actually turning into quite a philosophical exercise!

I'm still thinking through all of this, but my plans and ideas are beginning to take shape, and I'll start working at this today.

Monday, July 14, 2008

When I Want to Shirk My Work...

"For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." ~I Corinthians 14:33

That verse is my motivation for cleaning my home today. Order brings peace. It is the nature of God to create order and loveliness out of little messes and decay. And God cleans into the corners.

I thought about that, of God cleaning into the corners, this morning when nothing but laziness made me want to skip cleaning the wood floor in the corner behind my reading chair. And when I began to rationalize why I really should clean the bathrooms tomorrow instead of today. They needed doing today, and I had plenty of time to clean them.

I don't always feel like cleaning. Today I'm feeling distractable. The Sirens call to me-- books, cooking, another cup of coffee... anything but doing what I know needs doing. Yesterday was a day of rest. Today, work needs to be done. So, like Odysseus lashed himself to the mast, I shall lash myself to my broom and turn away from the call of the Sirens. (Heh heh.) And I will do my work.

Laundry. Scrubbing. Mopping. Dusting. Cheese-making (before the milk spoils). Bread making. Fridge cleaning. Bathrooms. And also freshening and fluffing and picking some flowers to set out. "All in order, sweet and lovely..."

"Our participation in labor is a tool in God's hand by which we are created, by which we help create... We do very ordinary things, and God breathes life into the act. God breathes life into us." ~Father Daniel Homan, OSB

Work is good for me. It is good for my home. It is good for my family. And it does bring peace and rest and lightness of heart. An atmosphere of faith, hope, and love are created-- an atmosphere that reflects the Creator. And this has eternal influence on all who inhabit this place.

"As we are faithful to our work, we are faithful to all the lives we touch, and we are faithful to a vivid holy vision of ourselves. Work joins us to the substance of creation. Work graces us with dignity. Work joins us to God." ~ Father Daniel again

Suddenly the sirens don't sing so loudly any more.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dear Aaron...

Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge less than two weeks ago.

If I could only have one son (and I do), I would want him to be exactly like you (and you are). :-)

When I think of you, I think of how you:

Didn't always play with your toys in the typical way, but closely examined them to see how they worked.

Took apart everything around the house and put it back together again.

Had a huge amount of happy energy, like Tigger with a brain.

Loved wearing your fur Daniel Boone coonskin cap everywhere, all the time.

Rode your bike at breakneck speed to fly off homemade jumps.

Sailed your experimental homemade boats on the lake in front of our home.

Had great fun experimenting with paper airplane designs, changing them often to see how they'd fly. And I recall being struck in the head by a paper plane more than once when walking through your flight space (which could be anywhere!).

Entered a room by bounding. I'll never forget the sight of feet first, and then the whooshing of your entire self skimming over my head, Ninja style, as I sat reading in my chair. "Aaron!" (I'll grant that you never so much as nicked me when flying by.)

Examined and experimented with everything.

Befriended the little wild critters around our home. Knew all of the animal tracks and homes and the animals' characteristics and behaviour.

Brought home great piles of books from the library and delightedly read straight through them all, week after week after week. I don't know anyone who has loved reading more than you.

Brought great vision and enthusiasm to your every endeavour.

Became a writer through blood, sweat, and tears.

Had literally about 16 nicknames. I won't list them, but just remember the Chinese proverb: Many nicknames means much love.

Built up a nice layer of sawdust in your room by using your Dremel in there.

Rode your bike in the snow in bare feet.

Spent long happy hours making medieval swords and armour out of wood and cardboard.

Came near me to pace round and round in wide circles when you were hungry, eventually stopping to look up at me and muse, "I wonder if anybody's hungry."

Were once found (by me) lying (eyes closed, cross-armed, as if dead) on the kitchen floor with a note safety-pinned to your chest: "Susan. You starved this boy. Yes, I said YOU!"

Read the Lord of the Rings trilogy more than 20 times.

Would go outside by yourself very late at night to sit in a chair and look silently at the night sky.

Love to sit and drink tea British style, with sugar and cream, especially when the tea is accompanied by McVities Milk Chocolate Digestives.

Loved to philosophize, conversing for hours about a wide range of things from Winnie-the-Pooh to Dostoevsky to the theory of relativity to cozy homes to the meaning of life (and the universe and everything, which, of course, is 42)-- all so interesting and insightful. I was proud of the way you thought. I still am.

You have been a delight and a joy, Aaron, ever since you came into the world in Lakenheath, England at a whopping 10 lbs. 6 oz. You are smart and funny, thoughtful and sensitive, deep and real. I love your unique creativity and personality.

I thank God for giving me such a wonderful son. I love you, Aaron.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Just 10 Highlights of our Recent Trip...

"Let me show you my postcards; indeed no, it is no trouble at all..."
~Rose Macaulay in Personal Pleasures

I could have easily made this list twice as long as it is! These are just some of the places we went and things we did. We hiked and ate good food and did plenty of sightseeing, but there were also times when we relaxed and talked and had a good time hanging around visiting. Laura's family is just plain fun to be around.

I struggled to find good photos to post because, in order to respect the privacy of those who don't want photos of them put online, I had to leave out many of the best pictures of the trip. In some cases, I didn't have any images to post at all, so I went to Wikimedia Commons to use what I could find there.

Anyway, here's the brief story of part of the trip our family took with Laura A's family:

1.
Oregon Coast

We were only on the Oregon coast for a short time, and although it was mostly shrouded in fog, there was a nice little break of clearing in the morning. I always love the picturesque drive along the rocky cliffs beside the Pacific Ocean. We stopped for a short time at a little cove to wade in the water, skip rocks, and enjoy a look at the beautiful Heceta Head Lighthouse.

This is the Heceta Head Lighthouse, north of Florence, Oregon. The little
cove where we waded was just down and to the left.

2. Hood River, OR in the Columbia River Gorge

Our bedroom in the bed and breakfast in Hood River had a stunning view out the window, down the hill toward the Gorge, across the Columbia River to where the Salmon River enters the Columbia, and to the 12,000+ foot Mount Adams looming straight behind that. We walked around the charming and picturesque town of Hood River in the evenings after hiking. We ate some good food (including the salmon meal we made for ourselves one night in our ill-equipped B&B kitchenettes), and stopped in at "Mike's" ice cream shop-- a very popular, busy, evening destination. Good coffee at a shop before leaving town.

Mike's was a busy, busy place at night. We sat outside in brightly colored
chairs, eating ice cream and telling stories.

3. The Eagle Creek hiking trail in the Gorge

A 13 mile waterfall hike in the Gorge (if you include the distance from parking lot to trail head). It was a hot day, but the trail was mostly shaded by the forest canopy. There were numerous beautiful waterfalls, wildflowers and other plant life, and interesting rock formations all along the trail. The entire hike was lovely, but the biggest reward was the 100 foot Tunnel Falls waterfall at the end of the hike (you could walk behind it). The trail just past the tunnel on the other side of the falls was quite narrow, actually chiseled by hand into the rock wall. There was a handrail attached to the wall to keep one from plunging off the rock.

This is Tunnel Falls. Through that apparently dark and cavernous
opening is actually a short tunnel behind the falls to the other side.

4. An amazing view of the Mount St. Helens blast zone from Johnston Ridge Observatory

I lived near Portland when the mountain erupted in May 1980. We sat with friends on a hilltop that day watching the ash blow tens of thousands of feet into the air. I'd never been to the north side of the mountain or seen the blast zone before except for in the ubiquitous news reports and pictures of the mountain during and after the blast. Photos, though, don't come close to giving the whole picture of what it's like to see Mount St. Helens. Being there is humbling and a bit awe-inspiring.

5. Hiking the Boundary Trail from the Johnston Ridge Observatory to the Hummocks area, 2,000 feet down the mountain

What a lovely, lovely hike on a sometimes narrow, narrow trail that occasionally seemed to be barely chipped into the mountainside. It was awesome to see the destructive power of the blast and the beauty that is returning to the ashes-- flowers, trees, birds, wildlife. This is one of my all-time favorite hikes.

Once completely desolate for miles, new life is springing up
in the area all around Mount St. Helens. (Early on the Boundary Trail.)

Early on the trail, grasses are growing and wildflowers are beginning
to bloom everywhere in the ash.

More wildflowers, and green is beginning to grow on the hummocks below.

Toward the end of the Boundary Trail, life has returned to the St. Helens area,
with running water, trees, birds and all kinds of animal life, flowers, and more.
Laura and I picked out a lovely homesite somewhere in the middle of this! :-)

6. Eugene, OR-- hanging out with my wonderful family and good friends; the 10K Butte to Butte run and 4.5 mile walk; the exciting US Track and Field Olympic Trials

My parents, my sisters, my brother-in-law, my nieces and nephews, my kids, Laura's family; all staying in one house-- busy, crowded, and fun! Some of us ran the Butte to Butte 10K race on the morning of the 4th of July, and the rest of us (including me) did the walk. That afternoon we had a barbecue at my sister's house-- Blueberry Bison Burgers! And that evening, we had an exciting time at the US Track and Field Olympic Trials, where we watched a crowd-favorite, young, local long distance runner place second in the 10,000 meters, earning a spot on the US Olympic team. More than 20,000 fans
screamed and clapped for him and for everyone else-- Eugene, OR isn't called Track Town USA for nothing!

7. Coffee and pastries at
Pearl Bakery (best cappucino of the trip, not to mention fantastic breads and pastries)

Some of the world class breads sold at Pearl Bakery in Portland.

Aimee, Josiah, Aaron, Melissa, and I met Laura A's family here on Sunday morning. We sat together, visiting and semi-planning the day. This is where I had the best cappucino of the entire trip. Bread and coffee are done right in this bakery. We ate various pastries (a delicious berry Danish for me and a chocolate panini to go). We stop here every time we're in Portland.

Outside the bakery was a little toy pony chained to the sidewalk. Not particularly surprising or odd for Oregon, but amusing nonetheless! I looked into this on the internet, and
here's what I found...

And right up the street from the bakery is...

8.
Powell's book store

Really, what could top a fantastic multi-level book store that covers an entire city block? In an heroic show of self-control, I left Powell's with only one book!

9. Portland Japanese Gardens

I love this place. Every time I come here, I find myself relaxing as I walk through the beautifully and carefully manicured gardens. Every single thing in the gardens has meaning and significance, and there is great care taken in the smallest details. When I visit this place, I'm always inspired to take more care in the things I do. Maybe to do fewer things and to do them with excellence. I enjoyed sitting for a long time with Laura in the "
natural garden," my favorite part of the Japanese gardens. I think I could stay in this place all day.

In the natural garden of the Portland Japanese Gardens.

10. Paley's Place

Named best restaurant in Portland last year or the year before.The focus here is on local, seasonal, sustainable, delicious food. The chef has won a coveted "Best Chef Pacific Northwest" James Beard award. Great food. Nice company.

And afterward we all said goodbye, with Laura's family heading back to NY the next morning, and the rest of us returning to our respective homes in Oregon, both near and far away.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Crispy Lemon-Herb Potatoes and a Good Carrot Recipe...

"My hope is that (eventually) you will be able to conjure up a meal with a Mediterranean flavor without feeling bound to a recipe. And when you sit down to eat do so in a happy and relaxed mood. It should be a ceremony and a celebration. The Mediterraneans have a reputation for easy-going joie de vivre and the table is the best place for you to start cultivating one." ~Claudia Roden in Mediterranean Cookery

One morning at the bed and breakfast we visited near Mount St. Helens, the cook made some pretty tasty rosemary potatoes. I like potatoes in general, I like herbs, and I liked these particular potatoes, but I thought (and so did my kids) that the rosemary potatoes we've been making at home lately are even better than these. Actually, that's not really all that surprising since the recipe is from Judy Rodgers' wonderful Zuni Cafe Cookbook. This is my favorite cookbook for helping me learn to cook (beyond basics). A person looking for a book full of everyday recipes might be disappointed in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, but for someone who loves to read cookbooks to glean as many how's and why's and wherefore's about cooking as possible, there's much to learn in this one. Plus, Judy Rodgers is a terrific writer, so the reading is nice.

I made Judy's potatoes exactly according to the recipe in her book, smashing the rosemary in my mortar and pestle before adding it to the boiled potato chunks along with the olive oil. And when the potatoes came out of the hot oven, they were delicious. Because we have loads of oregano in the herb garden, I decided to use that instead of rosemary the next time I made the potatoes. I also squeezed in some lemon juice when I added the olive oil to give it an additional Greek oregano twist. I'm not sure Judy Rodgers would approve of my changes, but I really liked how these potatoes turned out, and Aaron said he actually preferred them to the original recipe (I'm sure this has more to do with the herbs one likes than anything else).

So, here's are the potatoes with our Greek oregano-lemon spin, adapted from Judy Rodgers recipe. We love these potatoes, and they're really easy to make:

For 3 to 4 servings:

About 1-1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into irregular 1 to 1 1/2 inch chunks
Salt
A leafy sprig or two of Greek oregano
About 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2-1 lemon

Place the potatoes in a 4 qt. saucepan and add cold water to cover by a few inches. Salt liberally, stir to dissolve, and taste-- it should be well-seasoned (use a scant 1 1/2 t. sea salt per quart water). Bring to a simmer over high heat and stir again, then reduce the heat just to hold the simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft on the edges and tender inside, 6 to 12 minutes, depending on the variety of the potato and the exact size of the chunks. Drain well. Taste. The potatoes should be perfectly seasoned and delicious already. Place in a bowl while still warm.

Chop the oregano leaves. Add them to the bowl of potatoes and drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice to coat liberally. The slightly overcooked potatoes will both soak up and shed into the fat. Some of the edges or smaller pieces may even crumble, which will provide crunchy bits and pieces everyone will reach for.

Transfer the potatoes, clad in their potato-laden oil, to a wide shallow roasting pan. (If roasting potatoes for a crowd, use more than one pan, rather than pile the potatoes.) Roast til golden, rotating the pan as needed so they color evenly, 20 to 25 minutes. Because they were so moist, the potatoes may stick to the roasting pan in spots-- use a metal spatula to loosen them.

Once golden, the potatoes hold well, or even improve from holding in a 275 degree oven. To best preserve their crunchy mantle, don't stack or pile them; leave them on their roasting pan.

(To make the recipe Judy Rodgers' way-- and you should definitely try it-- omit the oregano and the lemon juice. Instead of oregano, strip a leafy sprig of fresh rosemary of its leaves, then smash and bruise them with the back of a knife (or with a mortar and pestle) before adding them to the potatoes in place of the oregano. Carry on.)

~:~:~:~:~

This afternoon, I kind of threw something together for a healthy bite to eat. It took just a few minutes to make from start to finish, and I thought it was really tasty, so I'll post this along with the potato recipe. Sorry I'm not more specific with the details that follow, but I wasn't really measuring when I cooked. Actually, I'm guessing that there are recipes out there that are pretty identical to the one I made, but since I haven't seen or made those recipes before, and since I put this one together with the ingredients that were hanging around, I'll claim to have invented it myself! Nothing's new under the sun, right? :-)

I love kalamata olives, and since I had some carrots on hand from yesterday's CSA pickup, an already partially squeezed lemon half, and some leftover ground cumin, I decided to make something out of these ingredients.

So, I heated some olive oil in a pan (about 2 T.) and sauteed two minced cloves of garlic and the cumin (oh, about 1/2 t.) in the oil for 30 seconds or so. Then I tossed in two large, grated carrots (grated on the biggest holes of a grater and patted dry-ish with paper towels), sprinkled some sea salt over the carrots, and sauteed them til they were tender. This didn't take long. Then I added a small handful of kalamata olives that I'd sliced in advance. When the olives were heated through, I took the pan off the heat, and squeezed in some lemon juice (about 1/4 lemon).

I ate every morsel of this, scraping my bowl and the pan because I thought it was delicious, but then, I love every ingredient in this "dish." I'm sure I'll make it often. This could serve two, but not with me around!

~:~:~:~:~

Out of curiosity, I just now flipped through some cookbooks to see if I could find a carrot recipe like the one I made, and I found almost the exact thing (minus the olives, which I really liked) in Claudia Roden's wonderful book,
Arabesque. (Hey-- maybe I'm getting closer to the kind of cooking Roden hopes for in the quote at the top of this post.) I was thinking that the "recipe" I made would be kind of Moroccan, and I was right. Roden's recipe was slightly more complicated than mine, taking longer to cook because she julienned and boiled the carrots before sautéing them, but other than that, ingredients, proportions, and cooking methods were pretty much the same.

I'll stick with my way, though, because it's simpler and faster. I can live with that. I actually really liked the carrots grated. And I'll leave the olives in the dish as well because I thought it was a tasty addition.

As I increasingly simplify my cooking, many of my favorite ingredients seem to be boiling down to what is used all the way around the Mediterranean, so maybe now that my kids are grown and gone, I'll fly the coop and head to the Mediterranean. I'll take my time, see the sights, soak up the sun, and eat my way round and round the perimeter.

Nah. I'd miss my grandkids too much (and everyone else in the family, of course!).


P.S. I made the carrots for dinner tonight so Melissa could try them, too, and her response was a quick, "Mmmmm!" :-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, and Back to the Daily Routine...

"Are you endeavoring to make your home a place of friendliness, refreshment, and peace, where God becomes more real to all who dwell there and those who visit it?"
~An old Quaker query

Our vacation with Laura A's family was a blast (more on that tomorrow or the next day), and I really hated for it to end, but at the same time, it's always nice to come back home and settle into a normal, orderly routine.

We arrived home Monday evening to actual summer heat (it's consistently in the 90's now); a quiet, peaceful house; practically-dead grass (no automatic sprinklers here, but that's okay, the grass will revive); dogs and a cat that were happy to see us; an empty fridge; weeds here and there in the gardens; plants that have grown and are now blooming. It felt nice to walk in the door.

And we came home with strawberries we'd gotten at a field in the Willamette Valley before crossing the mountains to the high desert. Oregon strawberries pretty much stay fresh for just one day, and these berries definitely needed something done to them before I went to bed last night. So, jumping right back into doing kitchen stuff, I cleaned and smashed them for freezer jam and put them in the fridge til I could pick up some low-sugar pectin and small canning jars today (I freeze my jam in glass jars).

When I went to bed last night, I began contemplating the creation of a simple, slow-paced, daily summer routine. Years ago, I deliberately chose to live a life with wide margins, and just like I mindfully declutter my home, I mindfully keep my schedule uncluttered. There is sort of busyness and much work to do for sure, but this is different than crazy-busy, out-of-control days with not much peace or order and no time to truly relax.

A simple, but disciplined, daily routine is a nice scaffolding for keeping all of the work and activity of my days relaxed, pleasant, and orderly-enough. And since I tend toward overstimulation, distraction, and maybe even a bit of laziness, this is important for me. When I stray too far from my routines (these are not strict schedules), I increasingly seem to flounder in the areas that matter most-- personal spirituality and life in community.

My summer routines are different than those of winter, spring, and fall, and with only Melissa and me at home for now (and she's only here part-time), my routine needed tweaking from past years when the whole family shared the work of home. So, I made a quick list of things I want to focus on and accomplish. Here's part of that quickly written list of aims and plans and things to remember for summer:

Spiritual. My morning quiet time routine has lately gotten off track. My Bible reading and prayer time has been here and there and everywhere, sometimes in spurts, sometimes much too quick and short, sometimes, sad to say, not at all. Of course, the entire day and all that we do can be a time for prayer and contemplation and listening, but the set-aside time in the morning always puts my focus right. So, back to the routine of sitting with coffee, journal, Bible, and devotional reading in the early morning. This is quite pleasant, actually, and it really does keep me more mentally, emotionally, and spiritually coherent. I need it.

Work. The weather is hot now, so early morning is for housecleaning. Laundry. Taking a walk. Deck and porch sweeping. Weeding the gardens. Watering the grass. Vacuuming and sweeping and mopping the house. Scrubbing bathrooms. All cleaning and tidying. I'll putter and read and cook and plan and make phone calls and run errands and write letters and do computer and people stuff during the hotter part of the day.

Keeping the house cool. Opening all doors and windows very early the morning. Turning on overhead fans. Taking pains to avoid using the little AC window unit in the family room. I do love the early morning air and light coming into the house. Later in the day, I'll have to close curtains wherever the sun shines into the house. Since high desert evenings and nights are cool, we can open everything back up sometime after dinner and bring in fresh, cool air again.

Food. Simpler. Less use of oven and stove top. Lots of fresh, wonderful summer produce. Salads. Smoothies. Simply cooked meats like fish (occasionally). Morning coffee on the deck. Dinners outside. More grilling. On vacation I, at first, missed and craved all of the greens and fresh produce I'm used to consuming. By the end of vacation, I didn't give it much thought, and I even found myself purchasing and happily consuming too many bready (white), sweet things (pastries). It all started at those bed and breakfasts! Boy, do they love to serve sweet, starchy things for breakfast. It was all quite tasty and something of a treat, but that was for vacation. Already, it feels so nice to be moving back on track. And today I'll resume my CSA and raw milk pickups.

Exercise. For me, this is always walking, and it will need to take place earlier in the day now, too, so I can avoid the heat.

Reading. It's been hard to find extended reading time lately, but I'm determined to make it happen. It shouldn't be difficult now that I'm looking at a long stretch of time at home without a lot of extra stuff happening. I just can't get into a book unless I have blocks of time for reading. I can pick up and put down non-fiction, but I can't do that with fiction, and I want to read more of that. I can't wait to whittle away at the big stacks of books waiting to be read!

Blogging. Once it was nice to putter at blogging very in the early morning, but I'm not sure it will work to do this in the morning for now. So I need to figure out when and how I can work blogging nicely into my summer life. I kind of liked putting something on the blog early in the day and then leaving it alone til the next morning. Maybe I'll keep posts simpler now (but somehow I doubt it!).