Sunday, November 30, 2008

Popping In (Updated)...

Simple Christmas, Clementines, Davy Crockett and His Momma. (This is Aaron's coonskin hat. He wore it almost every second of his waking hours when he was young.)

Hello!

There have been some big challenges that have arisen in our lives in the past week. First, almost out of the blue, my dad had open heart surgery (last Tuesday). A bypass and valve replacement. He remains in critical, but stable, condition due to some post-surgery problems (not having to do with his heart). Dad will definitely be in the hospital for quite a bit longer than was initially expected. All prayers are welcome and very much appreciated!

I don't know if people actually notice updates or additions to blog posts, but rather than making a new post, I want to add this here, and I want to do it this morning since some of you said you'd pray for my father. I do want to thank you so very much for your comments and prayers. My dad passed away last evening. His sudden, very quick downhill turn was a shock, and we're all feeling a bit numb and unbelievably sad. It's not easy to say good-bye to the dearest man on earth. I feel like Aloise Buckley Heath's little daughter, who said after her mother's untimely death, "Nothing will ever be fun again." But, of course, at the same time, God's peace and comfort is very real. So thank you again. ~Susan

One or two other things have suddenly come up that are quite difficult, too, so my attention and focus have been on all of these things, as well as going about my daily business. I was out of town for a few days this past week to be at the hospital with my extended family, and it's quite likely I will be away again for most of this week, so if nothing new shows up here at my blog, well, you'll know why. :-)

Yet... this is real life. Things happen, good and bad, but God remains unchanged. He is not passive or bored, busy or distracted. He is real, and He is very much active in our lives. Even more, He cares. Sovereign, All-Powerful Love-- there cannot possibly be a better combination than that. It's what makes it possible to settle in to the truth of Isaiah 30:15: "...in quietness and trust is your strength."

And, it's a fact that no matter what is going on, there is always much to be thankful for. So, I'm taking the opportunity to count my blessings...

1. Last night, as I hand-carried many loads of firewood from the barn to the back deck, I couldn't help but stop and stare occasionally at the beautiful, clear, moonless, starry sky. I often choose to carry wood after dark because I love the feeling of being bundled up warmly against the frosty night, my face cold, and my breath blowing out in puffs as I walk back and forth. I love watching the sky, both during the day and the night, and last night, as always, it did wonders for my soul. Somehow the night sky always makes God seem extra near and full of love and limitless power.

2. Walking down our country road in crisp, fresh air and abundant sunshine. The weather is decidedly non-Decemberish, and right now, I'm glad. I'm also so thankful that I have the health and strength to enjoy a nice walk.

3. Simpler holidays. Both by choice and because the situation demands it. Our Thanksgiving plan was greatly altered, and my Christmas plans are necessarily getting simpler by the minute. I was already happily slashing back on everything for the holidays this year-- spending, activities, projects, food-- but now even moreso. It's been quite nice to relax and depend more on thought and creativity as I increasingly need to streamline the celebration. Oh, and I'm rereading The Hundred Dollar Christmas by Bill McKibben, which goes right along with what I'm doing.

4. Family. My siblings. My parents. My husband. My children. My nieces and nephews. Everyone! In times of challenge, true colors show, and I have to say that what I'm seeing is pretty lovely. God blessed me with a wonderfully loving extended family, and it was also sweet to have my own little family home for Thanksgiving weekend.

5. Work to do. Work really is a blessing. What's that old Shaker saying? Hands to work, hearts to God? It's true! I know I alluded to this just recently, but I'm saying it again. As I carry loads of wood to the porch in the starry night; as I finally put away the rest of the summery outdoor items (in shirt-sleeve weather in December!); as I clean the house, pack away the autumn things, and start setting up a few simple Christmas decorations, I'm thankful for busy hands and a mind that is free to pray. This sort of prayer-work is restorative.

6. Good food. Abundant food. Healthy food. This is a true blessing and not to be taken for granted. Fresh fruit smoothies. Beet salads on greens. Roasted carrots and squash (with onions or shallots, whole garlic cloves, potatoes). Tasty curries. Yumm! bowls. The abundance of the Thanksgiving table. Clementines. Pomegranates. Coffee. Too many M&Ms, thanks to Mike keeping his M&M "dispenser guy" filled for his grandsons!


As Michelle says, "It's confirmed. He's a nerd." (As if we didn't already know this. And we love it!) Roman found a pair of brown socks and wore them all day, continually stretching them as high as they would go. Then he found a really ugly, diamond-studded pair of reading glasses that someone gave me once when I couldn't find mine, and he wore those around. This is the goofy response I got when I said, "Hold still for a minute and let me take your picture, and I'll give you an M&M." (Must post photos of Jayden next time!)

7. Sweet grandchildren. They bring laughter, exuberance, love, energy, and joy into the house and wherever they go. And not a little bit of eccentricity.

8. A quiet life. God knew I would thrive best this way, and so He led me along this path. There is strength in solitude, rest in quiet. We can hear when we are still. And then we are fit company for others! I, more than most people, I think, need a slow life, and I am blessed to have been able to choose one.

9. Books to read! Light, simple reading-- that's all I have room in my head for right now. Books that are lovely to view. Books that encourage.

~The Country Wife (this is about as light and innocuous as they come, by Dorothy Van Doren, the wife of one of the authors of How to Read a Book)

~3191 (I keep looking through this one because, somehow, it's soothing)

~Gold By Moonlight (Amy Carmichael's deep, comforting wisdom)

~The Hundred Dollar Christmas (a refreshing book about scaling back in order to focus on what matters most)

~My cookbooks. Very pleasant, easy, relaxing reading.

10. The faithful love and goodness of God. It's real.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Food is a language for passing on history that is too precious to travel merely in words."
~from Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table

Today I will go to town to buy the rest of the ingredients I need to create Thursday's Thanksgiving celebration meal, and then I will begin cooking and preparing in earnest. Holidays are special times of family, food, celebration, and faith, and each of these elements has power to affect us all. It matters very little how polished the celebration is, how much money goes into it, or how my table and food compares to my neighbor's. When families and friends come together on an appointed, traditional day to eat and celebrate, something meaningful and unexplainable happens.

In acknowledging the importance of a holiday, love and care and happy spirit is then put into even the smallest details and tasks of preparing for the holiday. Like shopping and chopping vegetables and setting the table and making special place cards (even for only eight people) and all that goes into a creating an atmosphere for celebration. And then joyfully welcoming each person into the home and to the table.

There is gratitude for the opportunity to show love to others and to celebrate together, for the money that purchased the food, for the great blessing of having food to prepare, for the ability to prepare it, for the home where the celebrating will take place, and for each person who sits at the table.

"The ultimate aim of civility and good manners is to please: to please one's guest or to please one's host. To this end one uses the rules laid down by tradition: of welcome, generosity, affability, cheerfulness, and consideration of others. People entertain warmly and joyously. To persuade a friend to stay for lunch is a triumph and a precious honor. To entertain many together is to honour them all mutually. It is equally an honor to be a guest." ~Claudia Roden in A Book of Middle Eastern Food

So, I am eager to get busy with the preparations! With holiday celebrations, food is central. Biblical feasts were amazing, long feats of the best foods and wine, dancing and conviviality. Food is a gift from God, and it can, and should, be enjoyed with gratitude and a spirit of rejoicing.

"Go, eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do." ~Ecclesiastes 9:7

So, what's on your menu this week?

The main things on our menu don't change, but we do leave room to try a few new things, if we want, each year. We don't create long, elaborate menus, but we do make plenty of good food, and we enjoy each bite!

Let's talk dessert first!

We'll be having the Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake pictured above. Melissa and I were in a store last month, and we both saw this magazine cover (Better Homes and Gardens) and said, "Yes! Let's try it!" So, I bought the magazine, and I think it's the only copy of Better Homes and Gardens I've ever purchased besides the 1950's and 1960's ones I bought recently at the antique warehouse. Anyway, this is a cheesecake crazy family. Vanilla cheesecake. Chocolate cheesecake. Vanilla cheesecake with lemon-curd topping. We all love a good cheesecake. And this one looks very promising. But with a pie crust? We might do a more typical, pressed cheesecake crust, though the pie crust does look nice.

Michelle will also make a pumpkin pie because Monty loves pumpkin pie. So does Mike. With a large dollop of whipped cream made from the thick, yellowy cream that rises to the top of our fresh, raw milk.

And now for the other, more trivial, foods...

Maple-Glazed Turkey with Dijon Gravy. This is from the November 2001 issue of Bon Appetit. We've been having it every year since the magazine came out because, yum! The gravy is just delicious.

Yukon Gold potatoes mashed with butter and all-natural, whole milk yogurt. No recipe. It's just how we make mashed potatoes. We like the flavor.

Buttery Pan Rolls. I've been making these for Thanksgiving since the late 1980's. A friend brought dinner to our house once-- rolls and soup, and these were the rolls. I lost the recipe, then later found it again in a Sunset bread book. These are our Thanksgiving rolls. Our Christmas rolls are Grammy's overnight buns (we make half the batch into cinnamon rolls).

Cranberry Chutney. A spicy chutney from Padma Lakshmi's book. I always make cranberry sauce, which is a must for the turkey sandwiches (the sandwiches are always made with leftover buttery pan rolls, and sometimes in the day or two after Thanksgiving, I will make another batch of rolls so we can have more sandwiches). This chutney will be our cranberry sauce this year.

Green Bean Casserole (the enlightened kind).

Roasted Pear and Blue Cheese Salad with Pecans and Cranberry Vinaigrette. We always have a green salad. Either this one or another nice one with apples and an autumn-spice vinaigrette

Deviled Eggs.

Earlier in the day, around lunchtime or whenever, we'll have sandwich stuff available and a fruit-cheese-cracker platter. There will be grapes and apple slices, crackers, sliced smoky cheeses, and a cranberry cheddar cheese ball (from Martha Stewart's current "Holidays" special issue magazine). Oh, and we'll put the deviled eggs out early, too.

Mike arrived home for the Thanksgiving holiday yesterday morning, and the little boys attached themselves to him, not leaving him alone for even a minute. Roman was insistent that he wanted Grandpa Mike to spend the night with him and was extremely heart-broken when it didn't happen.






Aaron and Melissa will be here on Wednesday. Aimee and Josiah will spend Thanksgiving Day with his family and family friends in the Portland area. And Michelle and Monty will come out with their boys. So, there will be only eight of us here this year, but we'll all gather around the table to enjoy each other's company and the foods we look forward to eating each year at Thanksgiving.

And now I need to finish making my list for today's errands and get ready to meet Michelle in town. We're doing one of our twice-weekly Goodwill stops today, and then we'll run all over town together to gather the food and supplies we'll need to make Thursday nice.

I'll be busy this week with family, food, and fun, so I don't know if I'll have time or inclination to think about blogging. We'll see. And I do hope that your Thanksgiving will be full of love, family, gratitude, celebration, and good eating! God is good, and we are blessed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What to Do?

Art print by Alice Dalton Brown.

Yesterday morning I got some worrisome news, something I could do absolutely nothing about but wait for more news and pray... and clean the house. Because you know what I do when I feel irritated, when someone has hurt my feelings, when troublesome news is given to me, when there's much to pray about? I clean house! I get more good cleaning done at these times than at any other, I think.

Cleaning house is fairly mindless work, and it keeps me moving and busy. And somehow, when I'm moving around, tidying and making things shine, those troubling thoughts or worries have far less power to pull me down into melancholy, into worry, into feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. Fretful thoughts turn more easily into prayer when I stay busy about my tasks.

There's a very old saying that makes the rounds often today: "Do ye the next thynge."

George MacDonald, the wonderful old Scottish author, is one who encouraged this:

"Try not to feel good when thou art not good, but cry to Him who is good. He changes not because thou changest. Nay, He has an especial tenderness of love toward thee for that thou art in the dark and hast no light, and His heart is glad when thou doest arise and say, "I will go to my Father." ...Fold the arms of they faith, and wait in the quietness until light goes up in thy darkness. For the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend. Heed not thy feeling: Do thy work."

So, carry on with the routine. It's a gift, and it can change us and our view of things if we will do the next thing with with an attitude of simply leaving it all in God's hands. Doing the kind of routine work I feel compelled to do when I hear news like I heard yesterday morning is an act of defiance against worry and fretting. It is an act of hope, rooted in faith.

Do the next thing, whatever that is. Life goes on. God is in control. We can do our work and pray, and let Him do His work. And as we work and pray, peace grows.

And, in my case, the house gets very clean!
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Some of you may have seen an addition I wrote for this post earlier. I just read it again and think I'd better remove it. It didn't say what I meant for it to say, and it crosses the line into "personal," something I'm trying not to do here. I've got to stick to my blogging guidelines, you know! :-) Let's just say you're all a bunch of very kind and thoughtful ladies, and I appreciate it. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. And all is well. :-)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Enlightened Green Bean Casserole...

A recent typical photo of me, puttering in my kitchen as I like to do.

My guess is that even more ubiquitous to the American holiday home than the lighted ceramic Christmas tree is the green bean casserole, that scary concoction of processed foods-- cream of mushroom soup (one serving surely contains a year's supply of sodium), a tin of crispy French onions, and a can or two of green beans.

I believe this recipe was created in the 1950's, when the ease and speed of putting together meals from processed foods must have seemed like a sweet dream to cute little apron-wearing, high-heeled, be-pearled homemakers across America. And it's been a mainstay of the holiday table ever since. I grew up eating and loving this casserole (those crunchy onions on top-- mmmm!), and my mom still makes it every year. My entire family likes to have this dish on the table for holiday meals, even if the reality of the ingredients is a bit frightening. There's just something tasty and comforting and nouveau-traditional about green bean casserole.

So, imagine my joy two years ago when the Oregonian published an enlightened version of this traditional holiday fare. And the recipe was created, no less, by a wonderful, award-winning chef, who is known for her use of good, fresh, high-quality produce and ingredients.

I happily made this casserole for both Thanksgiving and Christmas the year of the recipe's discovery and for Christmas and Thanksgiving last year. We'll be having it again next Thursday when the family gathers round the Thanksgiving table and for our Christmas dinner, too. There's a bit more preparation and cooking involved in making this new recipe than dumping cans of ingredients into a casserole dish, but the extra effort is rewarded by superior taste, nutrition, and presentation. My entire family greatly prefers this over the original casserole.

I was talking with my mom on the phone a few mornings ago, and she asked what was on our Thanksgiving menu. I started listing what we'd be cooking, saying that tradition rules with an iron fist in our household, so there's not a lot of grace to tweak menus and try new things. And that includes the old green bean casserole, I said. But then I added that I had discovered a "real food" version of it two years ago, and the family loved it, so we've been serving it ever since.

Mom was quite enthused about this and asked for the recipe, so I took the newspaper clipping to the computer and began to type it out for her when I got the idea to google the short article. Hopefully, it was on the internet... Yes! I love Google! And as I was printing Mom's recipe this morning, I thought, "Why not put it up at my blog, too?" Maybe someone out there will be as happy as I was to find this:

Stephanie Kimmel's Green Bean Casserole, Revisted

Oh, yes, and lookee what we have here--
the history of the green bean casserole, courtesy of that wonder of encyclopedias, Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Indoor Signs of Winter...


In my house, one way to tell, without looking outside, that morning temperatures are consistently icy is the little stack of books that starts forming on the bricks around the woodstove. Later in winter, two side by side piles of reading material will likely have accumulated, and maybe even three. Yesterday was the first morning of this cold season that my morning-time books were left in this spot, and it struck me, when I noticed it later, that it is an annual sign of winter in my home.

In the early morning, when I've just built a fire in the woodstove, and the air is still crispy-chilly around the house, I stand (or sit on a stool) between the stove and this brick wall with my coffee and books, mostly books of a devotional variety since that's what I read first thing each day. And I'm so glad for this toasty little corner on cold mornings.

It's funny how, in different seasons of the year, my early morning spot is in different places. In winter, I start out my day here by the stove. In spring, I'm usually in my comfy chair, with a quilt, in the sunny corner. In summer, I either sit at a table outside on the deck or at the table in the house. And, in autumn, I usually end up at the dining room table, near the woodstove, with a quilt wrapped around my legs.

You could make a natural field guide of my morning devotional life! While my location might change with the seasons, common elements year 'round are books, journal, pen, and coffee (and, often, my grandma's quilt).

On winter mornings, this wedge of space between brick and stove is the most vied-for spot in the house (we have actually been known to race for it, such selfless souls we are). Even the animals love to lie here next to the stove. There is no warmer place in the entire house than here. When my kids were still young and at home, mornings would find us all ranged around the woodstove, chatting while we warmed ourselves and waited for the house to heat.

Anyway, on these frosty-cold mornings by the woodstove, when the stove has gotten hot enough that I can't stand still beside it without burning my legs (I end up turning gradually in circles like I'm on a rotisserie), I'll move to the table or the corner chair to settle in with my journal.

See my coffee cup on top of the books? (That cheery round mug is one of my favorites. It was hand-painted in Poland but was purchased at the outdoor flea market across from that cool, old Eastern Market in Washington DC.) Sometimes I'll forget to take my mug into the kitchen when I've finished drinking my coffee, so the next morning there will be two mugs sitting on this little shelf of brick. One empty, day-old mug and one full of fresh, hot coffee. Once I had a lineup of three mugs across the brick, but when it gets to that point, the sheer clutter of it will drive me nutty enough to put things away!

Did you notice the little icon engraving sitting by the books? That's a reproduction icon that Mike bought for me when he was on a trip to Bulgaria. I just love it. He bought me a whole collection of them, actually, including some old ones, in various sizes, of various subjects. They are done by artists who have been specially trained in the old techniques of icon art (most of mine are painted).

And just for those of you who say you crane your neck or strain your eyes* attempting to read the book titles in photos, in this morning's (pictured) book stack are: Will Mrs. Major Go to Hell? (by Aloise Buckley Heath-- hilarious and wonderful if you don't know this book; for some reason I'm always drawn to it at this time of year); my Bible; my journal; Gold by Moonlight (by Aimee Carmichael-- a beautiful, comforting book, and one of my all-time favorites, about dealing with suffering); Joy and Strength (a very old, reprinted devotional-- excellent); and The Book of Common Prayer (I've recently been praying Thanksgiving prayers every morning and will continue this specific focus through Thanksgiving Day).

*As I mentioned in comments in another post, I'm a neck-craner and eye-strainer, too, when it comes to wanting to see book titles in photos. When I browse magazines or catalogs, I'm less interested in the main subject matter than seeing what books are in the pictures! It's even better when the focused subject matter is the books. Other members of my family do this, too, and we've found some good titles this way! Anyone else do this?

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And since I mentioned The Book of Common Prayer, here's a lovely prayer I prayed from it this morning for my family, who are flung here and there, far and wide, doing various things:

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Cookbooks Answers, Plus Yumm Sauce and Other Recipes...

The following is in response to Susan R's questions about five of my favorite cookbooks. Try as I might, I could not seem to keep myself within the bounds of your specific questions, Susie. I hope this will suffice! :-):

Oops. Sorry for the poor picture quality. I'm too lazy at the moment to take another photo.

It's pretty impossible for me to pick just five cookbooks when I could easily choose five cookbooks for each question. I really don't have favorite cookbooks per se. I have many wonderful, beautiful, well-written books. I don't even have books I tend to cook from again and again-- not significantly more than others, that is. I've gotten to the point where I might look in 20 different cookbooks to see how a certain type of food or recipe was prepared, and then I will usually come up with my own way. I do, though, follow recipes exactly when I'm unfamiliar with a thing or when I absolutely love something and don't want it altered a whit.

The above books are not really my favorites, or even the ones I look at most often, necessarily, but I like each of these very much, and they are a good representation of the type of books I like. Each one is an excellent cookbook, and in each case, I have others like them. I'm leaving out some of my favorite cookbooks here, which pains me greatly.

Clockwise, from the upper left corner:

I've written previously about Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I love them. Yes, I do. If I had to choose just one of their beautiful books, I might choose this one-- Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet-- because I love Thai food and cuisine from that whole region. So, this book represents my love of world cuisines, especially spicy food, and it's a beautiful book to view and read, too.

Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This is a great resource. I've learned a lot from this book, and I still use it all the time as a good idea book for using vegetables. Deborah Madison is a great, knowledgeable cook. I have five or six of her books.

Unplugged Kitchen by Viana LaPlace. I enjoy this one because it's relaxing to read about Viana's lovely kitchen philosophy. She's into very simple, hands-on cooking, using high-quality produce and ingredients. The book is an encouragement to slow down and enjoy the process of cooking (something many people don't even want to consider-- shudder). I happen to like this. Fewer machines and a quieter, slower pace in the kitchen can make for a lovely time. I know how it is, though. Really I do. When the baby is crying and toddlers are running and squealing all over and everyone is hungry and the phone is ringing and the kitchen is a mess, cooking doesn't seem remotely relaxing. I understand. But it's worth aiming for this!

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. For a stellar cooking education. This woman knows what she's talking about, and she gives very detailed explanations of how and why she's doing what she's doing. She's very finicky, but this is a very good way to learn. Some of the best "teaching" writing for a cook I've ever read. I should say, though, that for a novice cook, learning from this book is definitely jumping in at the deep end. Some people like to learn that way, though... :-)

Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros. This is such a pretty, pretty book, but not in a too-perfect way. In fact it's quite the opposite. Very down to earth, real, and accessible. This is one that inspires me. I flip through it, and I'm suddenly feeling nostalgic and loving everyone and wanting to go bake a chocolate cake and put pretty violets all over it (just for my family; just because I love them). When I open this book, little beams of warmth and light enter my kitchen. I would love to have Tessa's out-of-print book, Falling Cloudberries.

Here's the list of the five cookbooks that have made their way into my hands most often in recent days. I must admit that most of these books don't feature good old American cosy home-cooking, if that's what you like best. Some of the food is a stretch and some of it isn't. Tamasin's Parmesan, Anchovy, and Chilli Biscuits (crackers), anyone?! (These really are super-delicious and addicting.) Or how about Padma's Red Snapper with Mint-Apple Chutney (it's delicious, too)? Or maybe Claudia Roden's Moroccan chicken tagine buried in vermicelli? Nigel Slater's sticky chicken wings or chocolate brownies should tempt just about anyone. Those five books:

Mangoes and Curry Leave (by Alford and Duguid)
Tamasin's Kitchen Classics (by Tamasin Day-Lewis)
Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet (by Padma Lakshmi)
Arabesque (by Claudia Roden)
The Kitchen Diaries (by Nigel Slater)

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Someone (sorry I can't remember who) asked for the recipe to my Strawberry Kefir Smoothie. To make one serving:

1/4 c. all-natural whole milk yogurt
1/4 c. plain whole milk kefir
1/4 c. frozen strawberries (or a bit more; I think I use almost 1/2 c. berries)
1 T. (or less) pure maple syrup
1/4 t. vanilla, if you like
(1 T. coconut oil to add after initial blending; see instructions)

Whirl the top five ingredients in a blender until it's smooth. Try not to add additional liquid, but if you must (and sometimes I do), pour in as little kefir as possible. When it's completely smooth and blended, with the blender still running, trickle in 1 T. melted unrefined coconut oil. Blend to mix. I add 1 T. dolomite powder to this as a (highly absorbable) calcium/magnesium supplement, but this is optional.

The coconut oil might seem odd, but there's an awful lot of information out there about the health benefits of coconut oil. My favorite resource is Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. Lots of great coconutty info here! They talk about why you want to avoid reduced fat dairy, too, if you consume dairy, that is.

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BessieJoy, I'm finally getting the homemade Yumm sauce recipe posted for you. I found the following recipe online this past summer and emailed it to Laura A after her family visited Oregon (her family likes to eat at Cafe Yumm! when they visit Oregon). Laura's family liked the sauce, but she wasn't entirely sure if it compared well to the real thing. Then my best friend from the Oregon coast sent me the recipe in a letter, and she said that it compares really well to what is served in the cafes, and that's enough verification for me. My friend is a good cook and likes good food.

Original Yumm Sauce:

1/2. c. oil (the person who posted this uses canola)
1/2 c. almonds
1/3 c. nutritional yeast
1/3. c. garbanzo beans, drained (closer to 1/2 c.)
1/4 c. soybeans (this person used 1/2 c. tofu)
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1/2 t. salt
1 t. curry powder


Blend nuts beans, and oil in food processor (I'd add the garlic now, too). Add the rest of the ingredients, one at a time. Puree til smooth.

(Susan speaking again...) The way I construct a Yumm bowl at home is to layer these things in the following order (and it might be slightly different from the cafe way, but this is how I like it best). You can look at the Cafe Yumm! website to see their menu, for ideas. But here's my at-home way:

1. short grain brown rice, cooked (if you're in a hurry, you can use instant brown rice, or you can even use white rice-- Thai jasmine works best for Yumm! bowls, I think)
2. a good serving of Yumm! sauce; just dollop it on
3. beans (I combine black and red-- and sometimes pinto-- drained)
4. toppings (whatever you like-- sour cream or yogurt, grated cheese, avacado, salsa, tomatoes, cilantro, sliced black olives)

My toppings of choice are simply chopped tomatoes mixed with a very small amount of red wine vinegar and salt, avacado, and cilantro. I don't like the other toppings on mine. In the store, I order a vegan Smoky Yumm bowl with extra avacado. And, in my opinion, the Yumm bowls taste much better if you do not stir to combine everything. Leave it in layers, and dig into it. Yumm! :-)

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I do have the catfish curry recipe that was requested, but now that I think about it, I should get permission from Michelle's mother-in-law before posting it. I don't think she'd mind at all, but I need to ask first.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seven Things About My Kitchen...

Shannon tagged me to share seven things I love about my kitchen, and she didn't even have to twist my arm to get me to answer! :-) Thanks for inviting me to do this, Shannon, and sorry I'm so slow to respond! I think there will be no surprises here, as I've probably shown almost all of this before at one time or another, but, still, the kitchen is my favorite place, so this was fun to do...

This picture is a rerun from a couple of days ago. It's the front end of the kitchen. I like the view out the window and the overall cheeriness of the room. I like that the kitchen is open to the rest of the house.

Many of my cookbooks are here. I spend an awful lot of time with these books. :-)

My grandma (Grammy) had this huge tin, filled with flour, in her kitchen from as early as I can remember. Her mother (Nanny) had it before her. And now I (Grandma Susy) have it sitting on top of my refrigerator (I had to move it to shoot a clear photo of it, but it's back in place now!), containing different things at different times. It's special. I'll pass it on to one of my girls.

I bought this colander purely for the sake of nostalgia. My mom had one exactly like it. It's the only colander I ever remember seeing in our house while I was growing up. I wanted one just like Mom's, and when I found it, I hung it on the cupboard where it can be easily pulled down for use, and where I can see it all the time and smile. I know, I know. It's not my mother's colander, but that's okay because it reminds me of that old colander and of my mom.

What would I do without my LeCreuset pans? Things cook "right" in these pans. I have just a few-- red ones and green ones-- and just enough. All were gifts from my husband.

The kids bought me this great cutting board for Christmas one year (and some "Boos Block Mystery Oil" to keep it in fine condition!). Good knives are a must, too. These are the only two I ever use, and the only knife I wouldn't mind adding is a paring knife, but I've lived successfully without it so far.

Shannon, you mentioned that you like the color of my counters. I do, too. They're bright and warm and bring great cheer into the room. They were painted on a whim, and it was a good whim. :-) And I like the sitting area at the end of the counter that is sort of alluded to here by the bar stool. The chairs here are in continual use.

I think I've listed more than seven things, but who's counting?!

I have more kitchen stuff all ready to post, likely tomorrow, in answer to questions and requests for recipes (finally the Yumm! sauce, Renee, plus more).

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Nifty Thrifty Christmas...

(I stole the "nifty thrify" part of my title from a post my daughter, Michelle, wrote on her private family blog recently.)

I thought I'd share some recent Goodwill thrift shopping fun. And then I'll try to quit talking about Goodwill for a while. There are other things I think about and do, after all.

Michelle is my Goodwill shopping buddy (and a fine one she is; she is a blast to do things with and keeps me laughing pretty hard), and on our recent visits, we've mostly focused on looking at the Christmas stuff. I don't know if all Goodwill stores do this or not, but ours saves up all of the Christmas items that are donated throughout the year, and after Halloween, they begin gradually putting it on the shelves-- little by little throughout every day. So, as I mentioned in another post, Michelle and I stop in once a week or so to have a look around. I haven't found a big range of Christmas things in the store, but I have found a few different things that I like.

Above is a small sample of ornaments I've found. I wish the range of colors showed better here because some of them really are beautiful, old colors-- teals, aquas, various shades of pink and blue, several pretty greens. There are ornaments in different shapes and sizes (you can see a few of those on top).

Here are some of the more primary colored ornaments we've found at Goodwill. I have other styles, too, but I don't want to post too many Christmas ornament photos.

I've accumulated a chest full of fun, vintage colored tree ornaments. Mostly they're the "Shiny Brite" brand, which is no longer made. You can tell the ornaments that are old, first, by the box they come in, but new ornaments can be put in old boxes, so you can also, second, look for a certain old patina to them, and there's often a particular type of cracking on the paint, too. (I certainly don't know all that much about this; I'm just going by what I've read!) Some of the ornaments are pretty old, and some of them are not so old, but the tree should be retro-fun this year. I like buying a box of old ornaments for 79 or 99 cents!

(Aimee, email or call me to let me know what ornaments you like. And, yes, Aaron, we will still hang the old, special, traditional family ornaments on the tree. It would be just plain wrong not to.)


A Villeroy and Boch (of Luxembourg) "Holly" porcelain teacup and saucer. I love the feel and look of this cup. Love it. This was a nice find since the line of china is discontinued, and each item of china sells in replacement and vintage stores for more than I'd ever want to pay for them.

This teacup will be my everyday hot drink cup for the holiday season. For coffee, tea, hot chocolate, whatever. While I'm determined not to get too gung-ho with Christmasy stuff since we haven't yet celebrated Thanksgiving, I'll admit that I've been drinking my coffee from the holly cup most mornings while Nat King Cole serenades me with Christmas songs. (I'm just practicing!)



A lighted ceramic Christmas tree. I saw this and walked right by it at first. Then, on the second trip 'round the store, I stopped to actually look at it and was hit with a vague wave of nostalgia. I picked up the tree and looked it over. Yes, it seemed very familiar. Michelle saw the tree and said, "Didn't Gramma Wanda have one of those a long time ago?" Hmmm. I do think that's it!

Well, the ceramic tree is in perfect condition-- like new-- with every little colored bulb intact. I bought the tree, brought it home, set it up, and called my mom. Yes, she had a tree like that ages ago. And her own mother had a similar one. The more I look at this tree, the more I like it. I had it set up and lighted in the dining area for a little bit to try it out, and Roman and Jayden both loved it.

Roman beamed and bounced when he saw it, and said animatedly (while nodding exuberantly, as Roman does), "Oh, Grandma Susy, it's so cute! I just love it. It's pretty.Yes! I like it!"

And Jayden just smiled and pointed and said, over and over again, "Wow!"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Our (Long) Toy Story...


Michelle asked this question in comments:

Here is a completely unrelated question to your post but one we are pondering as Christmas approaches. When your children were young or with your grandchildren, what type of toys did you find most appropriate? Also, we are dealing with storage issues. We like simplicity and unclutteredness but yet want our children to be children. Just wondering what your thoughts are on toys and their storage. Thanks!

I like this question! And while I'm pretty sure you already have really great ideas about this yourself, Michelle, I did think it would be a lot of fun to put down what I think about children and toys, to write a list of toys I think make for healthy childhood play, and to share some of the ways we've dealt with how much should we own and how should we store it. So, Michelle, I realize this goes way beyond the scope of your question! :-)

When I make this kind of list, I'm always sure that I'm leaving out something really big. And, likely, I am, but here's what I came up with as I sat and wrote down what came to mind.

Our General Guidelines for Toy-Buying:

~Think classic and timeless. Classic toys, games, and tools are classic for a reason.

~Quality. Toys should be lovely and well-made. When money is an obstacle, I think it's best to save money for quality toys and to have fewer of them.

~Toys that aren't dependent on batteries or a power-source. We went with non-electric and non-electronic. Exceptions were cases where things were being built or created--like robots or technic legos or lighted cardboard dollhouses, or that sort of thing.

~Toys should encourage active play rather than providing mere passive entertainment.

~Buy open-ended toys (related to above) that encourage focus, attention, creativity, and imaginative play.

~Have few toys, or at least have few toys out at once. Keep things simple. Too many are overstimulating or overwhelming-- they don't get played with as much (or ever) or as well. They do not get the appreciation or respect they deserve. Too many toys make for gigantic, overwhelming messes. (Sometimes even a few toys make for gigantic, overwhelming messes! :-) But that's okay. When there are few things, it all cleans up easily enough!)

Wonderful Toys for Children:

Everyone knows that children are happy with simple things. A paper bag, a piece of Tupperware, a box, a big stick and some dirt or mud to poke it in, a tree to climb, one of Grandpa's hats, cushions and blankets from the couch. Honestly, I think a child could be happy with no toys at all, or very, very few of them. For sure, the imagination would be busy! But childhood toys have been around forever, and a proper number of well-chosen toys can help to make childhood healthy, fun, and full of wonderful possibilities.

These are the types of things both I and my kids played with as children. They're also the sorts of things my grandsons gravitate to so far. Whatever encourages good, focused, creativity and imaginative play is good:

~Books-- lots and lots of them.

~Little cars, trucks, planes, boats, etc.

~Brio trains.

~Constructing toys-- blocks, duplos, legos, Knex, Tinker Toys, erector sets, etc.

~Playmobil sets.

~Play kitchen stuff. Food, dishes, etc.

~Stuffed animals. Get what the kids like. Research show that adults tend to go for what's "cute," while children tend to like what's more realistic. Aaron and Melissa created whole worlds for their stuffed animals. This inspired a lot of really imaginative play (I could easily write a post just on this!).

~Little plastic animals-- dinosaurs, farm animals, jungle animals.

~A fun dressup bin with all sorts of things for both boys and girls. I want to add that I think it's much more magical for a child to create his own costumes from what is at hand rather than to own a head-to-toe, already entirely created, outfit. Some specific items-- like bonnets and hardhats, various types of dresses, etc., etc.-- are good, but there should be space for a child to imaginatively and creatively fill when playing dressup.

~Puzzles.

~Paperdolls (purchased or self-made).

~Age-appropriate, quality art supplies-- paper, pencils, color crayons, scissors, watercolor paints, colored pencils, glue, an unlimited number and variety of things, based on what the kids like to do.

~Quality, classic board games.

~Dolls and their paraphernalia-- doll clothes, blankets, stroller, cradle, etc.

~Trikes and bikes.

~A sturdy wagon.

~Various balls for indoors and out. We liked whiffle ball. Game equipment, if you wish (basketball, baseball, etc.)

~Rope, string, duct tape, cardboard...

~Not essential by any means, but very nice is a child-sized table and chairs. One for indoors. One for out. Children can sit at big tables, of course, but our kids used their tables constantly. I kept one in the kitchen for years, and they'd often choose to draw, color, or play there while I cooked and cleaned. We'd all visit. It was nice. And they loved eating lunch outside on their little plastic picnic table.

~As kids get a bit older, they need real tools and equipment for creating and building things from wood, for sewing, crocheting, knitting, needlework, baking and cooking, and on and on and on. They can use your tools or have their own, quality tools. (Our girls had their own sewing and handwork kits and supplies; Aaron had a Dremel, a soldering iron, and lots of other stuff; and the girls built things from wood, too.)


Storage, Some of Our Rules, and a Few Observations about Toys and Play:

~Keep sets of things in attractive boxes, baskets, or bins. I'd go for a pretty, pleasing aesthetic for storage rather than cutesy. Cutesy gets dated and needs replacing, a classic aesthetic doesn't. It doesn't look as cluttery, either. Neither does it overstimulate. And it looks nice when pulled into the living room. (I did a bit of "cutesy" for a while, so I'm talking from experience, but, of course, it's all a matter of your own taste and desire.)

~We tried always to have shelves set up in the bedrooms for books and toys, but sometimes we used closet space for this.

~When put away, toys and games should be easy to see and identify, easy to reach, and easy to pull out for play. Otherwise they'll be neglected. Out of sight, out of mind. Not at hand, not in hand.

~Too many toys to choose from at once can render a child passive. Keep the selection streamlined (especially for little ones). Box some toys to store temporarily, and swap them out with other toys occasionally, based on what's being ignored. Or just get rid of what is not of really good quality or does not inspire healthy, imaginative play. Fewer, well-loved toys really are better, I think.

~Some stuff was in our living room. Duplos were kept in an antique wooden box on the floor. The Brio trains were in the living room, too (but they went back and forth from there to the bedroom). Art supplies were in a particular cupboard in the living room, and there were rules for using them when the kids were young (a vinyl tablecloth was always on the table when art supplies were out, and the supplies were always used at the table). But they were allowed to be used at almost any time!

~The kids were allowed to bring bins of toys from their bedrooms into the living room (or other areas) of the house at any time. Wherever we were, they were allowed to play there.

~Melissa had (has) a three-story Victorian Playmobil dollhouse. For birthdays or Christmas, we'd often add a room of furniture to her collection. She was required to play with this nicely and to care well for it (this wasn't an issue, actually; by now the kids treated their toys respectfully or they knew they'd be taken away). The dollhouse was always out, on its own table. It was pretty.

~That's another thing. Quality toys are quite attractive. Having them strung around temporarily is not the same as same as having strung about a million little, plasticky cheap things that no one really cares about in the long run.

~Toys should be treated with respect and care or they will be put away for a while (no playing with toys that are mistreated). No throwing.

~While we're at it, no screaming or yelling or overwildness in the house (go outside for that kind of play, yes, even in the rain). But I do believe in kids being able to move and jump and run and bounce and skip and climb and squeal and laugh and sing and shriek occasionally and play boisterously and energetically. They should be able to tear all over the place, to get dirty, to just plain be kids who play hard.

~No touching (ever) the toys or things of others without their permission.

~No dumping everything from all of the bins or baskets. That's not play. But dumping what is being played with is fine.

~Creative play does not mean out of control play, but neither does it mean postcard perfect, sweet and orderly, always clean and quiet, play. Creative play does get messy and energetic. But it should be joyful, not overwrought.

~Mess. Yes. Creative play can get messy. I approved, applauded, encouraged, even joined fort-making in the living room (with blankets and pillows and all kinds of toys); lining up the dining room chairs to play bus; creating hospitals, stores, libraries, etcs; and all sorts of fun and messy kinds of play.

~The mess must be cleaned up, but not too soon. There needs to be time and freedom for healthy play. Childhood is short. It's a really wonderful thing to watch and enjoy the exuberant, joyful, creative and imaginative play of children. And it's so good for them. They'll remember it, too.

~My kids always went to bed with toys put away and rooms clean. But big, unfinished play or construction projects were allowed to remain out. The living areas, though, were always cleaned of all play mess at night. And ongoing or unfinished play projects were simply moved elsewhere when they were temporarily abandoned.

Friday, November 14, 2008

From the Kitchen (and Elsewhere)...

What God gives and what we take,
'Tis a gift for Christ His sake:
Be the meal of beans and pease,
God be thanked for those and these:
Have we flesh, or have we fish,
All are fragments from his dish.
~Robert Herrick

One eats in holiness, and the table becomes an altar.
~Martin Buber, Israel (1878-1965)

Michelle loaned me her camera (thanks a bunch, Michelle!), so I've been messing with it this evening. I've posted photos of the kitchen, or part of the kitchen, several times in the past. Anyone who has looked closely (and I know at least one person who has) will have noticed that almost every time I take a picture in the kitchen, different stuff is out and about. For some reason, I am always and forever changing things around. I go from way scaled back and uncluttered to having more vintagey-- even cute-- stuff about. I get tired of either extreme quickly (especially "cute"), so I end up moving things around again. Oh, well. I like messing about like that. I took after my mom. (These pictures are kinda yellow and glowy, and I know you're supposed to try to avoid doing that, but I sort of like the warm color for fall, so I'll go with it!)

This is what I ate tonight for dinner (wish I'd have captured more of what was in my bowl!)-- Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans from Heidi Swanson's good book, Super Natural Cooking. I love this particular dish, and it's really fast and easy to make. Tonight I was careful to cut the recipe way back so that I won't be eating leftovers for days. If you haven't checked out Swanson's website-- 101cookbooks.com-- you might like it. The food is great, and the website is pretty.

Dinner detritus. I left everything as-was when I snapped the photo. I usually use sea salt, but I do like the way kosher salt makes things taste, so sometimes I use that.

I love to be in the kitchen and to cook, even when I'm just cooking for myself. It can be relaxing if you let it. :-) I made myself a menu and went grocery shopping today. Cooking for one takes some concentration at first! It's hard to make small enough portions to keep from having to eat leftovers for four days, like I did when I made braised red cabbage with apple. I cut that recipe in half, and in spite of the fact that I've eaten some of the cabbage every day, I still have leftovers in the refrigerator.

So I made my shopping list trying to think in terms of very small portions. I bought Cornish game hens that can take the place of whole chickens when I want to have roasted chicken. I bought a small cod fillet to make Bangladeshi coconut milk fish curry. I bought a whole (big) chicken to make chicken broth for the freezer. I bought some prawns because I want to make Thai red curry with prawns (a favorite). And I bought some nuts and parmesan because I need them to go in the filling for stuffed Delicata squash.

I'm cooking lots of winter squash lately because it's fall and that's what's in season. I got six more Delicata squash in my CSA produce last night (I already have some Sunshine squash, a Hakaiddo Blue squash, a Buttercup squash, and another variety or two stored here). But I do love winter squash-- roasted by itself, then smashed with butter and maple or with Moroccan butter; stuffed and roasted; made into soups; made into pasta sauces (even though I rarely eat pasta); and more.

After I picked up my CSA produce, I went straight to Michelle's house to give her at least half of it (I can't possibly eat it all myself), and I fortuitously happened by her house just in time to catch her pulling roasted squash and carrots out of the oven. She'd cooked it exactly the way I like it. Tender with just enough dark-roasty crispiness to the vegetables. She and the boys and I sat at the table and ate (Monty was at school), and, oh, it was delicious!

When I eat so many delicious foods, and I can, for the most part, cook what I want, I feel incredibly grateful. I know that the food I have is a gift. A blessing. And I prepare and eat it with an immensely grateful heart.

I was going to take some photos of my favorite cookbooks to answer Susan R's questions about which ones I liked and why. I only took photos of two books, though, before I realized that it's really, really hard for me to narrow down and isolate favorites. I use sooo many cookbooks all the time, mostly as reference. I'll go ahead and think about this some more and answer Susan's questions (because I love to talk about my cookbooks!), but for now, these are two of my favorite books from two of my favorite authors-- Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

I have five of Alford and Duguid's cookbooks, and they're all gorgeous. The photography is lovely. The information is fascinating. The food is delicious. This couple has traveled for decades in the regions they write about. The books are expensive, but even if you don't cook from them, they make nice coffee table books! I do recommend at least browsing through them if you can get them at a library or peruse them in a bookstore.

Here, I'm just snapping away with that camera to see how it works. I have loads of colored glass that I've picked up at Goodwill. I don't know why these particular two are in the kitchen window unless I was thinking that I liked looking at them for fall, along with the little pumpkins. (?)

Speaking of Goodwill, Michelle and I met there this morning. We do this once or twice a week because we have fun going together. The little boys ride around in our shopping carts while we take our sweet time browsing. When the boys get squirmy, Michelle goes to the children's bookshelves and gets them some books to read, and this expands their willingness to stay in the carts. When we visit the Goodwill store, there are the obvious things that stand out that a person wants to snatch right up, but there are also those things that you notice but don't really see the first time around. That's why you need to circle the store more than once. On another look, you might realize that you've found something worthy! And into the cart it goes. Or maybe not.

Today wasn't an overly successful day. I found a few vintage Christmas ornaments (nothing spectacular, but cute and fun, nonetheless). Sometimes I'll find so many things I like that I can't buy them all (don't want to overbuy and overspend, even at Goodwill-- the whole point is to save lots of money, not to waste it), so I'll have to do some evaluating and choosing.

I'll have to do a Goodwill post soon, maybe focusing on Christmas finds. Michelle and I have found some good things that we really like!

I keep seeing photos of the insides of people's refrigerators and freezers lately, so why not take pictures of mine, especially since I'm trying to get a handle on Michelle's camera?! Everyone is dying to know what I have in there, right? And this post is mostly about the kitchen, after all. Hey, Aimee and Melissa! See that container of Dark Chocolate Coconut Bliss? Mmmm. It's all mine! But I'll share it with you if you come home to visit. :-) And there's my sprouted grain bread and some coffee beans and frozen strawberries for smoothies and Acai pulp and cranberries and a Cornish game hen. There are kaffir lime leaves and more berries in the door, but you can't see that.

Oh, I'll just post the top shelf of my fridge because these pictures aren't really that interesting. I just tidied the refrigerator today (or I probably wouldn't have snapped this photo!). Eggs from local, pastured hens. European style butter. Pyrex dishes holding leftover potatoes, braised red cabbage, and roasted winter squash. Miso, all-natural yogurt, grape kombucha (are you jealous, Melissa?), Yumm! sauce, and raw goat and cow milk.

Once again, I just have to say how immensely grateful to the Lord I am for the food that is in my cupboards, my storage areas, and my refrigerator. I have been blessed so very abundantly. It's wonderful to enjoy, with gratitude and joy, all of God's good gifts. Like my home and my family and, yes, even the food I so enjoy cooking.

10 Things From My Favorite Places "Archives"...

Recently I scrolled all the way through the list of links in my favorite places, and, as I did, it struck me that they serve as something of a history of my past couple of years at the computer. When I add links to my favorite places, they line up chronologically (obviously), so when I scroll through the links, I'm reminded of exactly what was going on in my life at various times.

One whole section of my favorite places is a string of links to wedding planning stuff, another section is a bunch of links to last year's Christmas shopping, here and there are a rash of links to articles and books on particular topics of interest (often things I was only briefly curious about), and throughout the mix are clusters of birthday shopping links for various kids of mine.

There are a large number of Amazon links in my favorites list-- some to books that I ended up purchasing, some to books that I don't want anymore, and a few to books that I'd forgotten about altogether but that are still of interest to me.

Oh, there are all kinds of things in this favorite places lineup, including a vast number of blog links that I picked up here and there, as one can easily do once the blog-reading ball gets rolling.Many of these links are added to my favorite places, supposedly temporarily, with the intention of me looking at them later. But then I forget about them, and there the links remain, forgotten and unread.

Anway, since I acquired almost complete and total computer and blog burnout yesterday from writing that long post with miscellaneous topics and answers to questions (clearly, I do not have great computer stamina!), today I am posting something quick and light and fun (at least for me).

So, here's a semi-random selection of ten simple things, taken from the "archives" of my favorite places:

Amy Butler's house, decorated for Christmas. It's fun and inspiring, at least to my daughters and me. I love the style and the colors. Thanks to finding it yesterday at Kim's, this link owns the distinction of being the one most recently added to my favorite places.

I love looking at the photos on this Finnish blog (and I don't even mind that I can't read the text!) Thanks to Elspeth for leading me to this one.

I'll take this afghan for Christmas, please, in the Spice-Multi color. After being discontinued for a while, it's back in the catalog, thanks to high demand.

A fun, and truly "Hygge," blog that I discovered a long time back when googling the Danish word "hygge."

The very first blog I ever read, by a really great lady I've "known" for years and years.

My mother-of-the-bride dress for Aimee's wedding. Picked out for me by Melissa and approved by Aimee and Michelle because that's how it goes when girls grow up. Or maybe it was more like me saying, "Please, please find me a dress to wear so I don't have to shop!" And for a fascinating bit of trivia, the dress is the one I'm wearing in my profile picture in the sidebar.

The first easy, no-knead, artisanal-style bread I ever heard about (thanks to my real-life friend, Laura A). The bread is amazing and delicious. I've made countless loaves of it.

An article I serendipitously stumbled upon one day that led me to one of my favorite educational books, Educating Children at Home (by Alan Thomas).

I think it was Aaron who found this webpage ages ago, and it just cracked us up! So inventive and creative!

A fun and interesting personality test. I'm guessing most people have taken it somewhere along the line. I've talked about this test on my blog before. I am an INFP-- the highly-coveted (judging by the comments on that old post) Annie Dillard personality.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You Really Need to Read Willa's Post on Writing...

What do books and reading children have to do with writing? Read on.

Immediately after writing this post, where I unintentionally and spontaneously wrote a bit about writing in our homeschool, I started another post about writing, but it wasn't coming along the way I wanted it to. My intention was to explain more about how our family approached writing and to give you a list of some of the creative ways my kids chose to write, but the post just wasn't saying what I wanted it to say. After letting it lie fallow, I thought I might pick it up and try to finish it to post this week, but then I read Willa's wonderful, thoughtful post on writing and decided I'd rather post a link to it instead. Even though I've been reading Willa's blog for ages (if you don't read her posts, you are really missing out on some great wisdom from an experienced mom and homeschooler who has already raised some kids into adulthood), I was surprised at how closely to Willa's my own family approaches and thinks about learning to write.

Read. Think. Converse and discuss (informally). Write. These elements are all connected, but this is not a pattern or a formula. (It's not always linear, either.) It's simply a natural, informal, delightful process that can emerge as we live in a happy learning atmosphere. It starts in babyhood as we enjoy reading picture books together, and it continues into adulthood, growing continuously in its level of sophistication as our families continue to enjoy outstanding literature and conversations about reading and as the intellect matures. But read Willa's post below for a better discussion of this.

There are other things besides reading and conversation that motivate writing (and Willa would agree), and I still might put up a few notes of my own later on (and an actual list of creative ways my kids chose to write), but believe me when I say that, even though I was trying to write something along these lines in my dropped post, this is much better and more helpful than what I would have written:

Too Little, Too Much?

A Whole Bunch of Stuff...

Yikes. This is a messy post with too many topics!

Operation Christmas Child...

If you do this, or want to start, it's time to get those
Operation Christmas Child boxes filled! National Collection Week is November 17-24 (next week). I love that Samaritan's Purse has made it possible to give to children around the world in this way, and I try to fill at least a couple of boxes with gifts for children (at least one box for a boy and one for a girl) every year. You can use either a shoebox or a Rubbermaid bin to hold your gifts, which is nice because the bin is useful for other things, too. If you haven't done this before, the link I gave provides everything you need to know to do this, even where to take your box when it's ready to go.

Last year about this time I received an exuberant phone call from my mom. She said, "Guess what we're doing?!" I have no idea, I replied. And she responded with something like, "We're in the car, listening to Christmas music (and, here, she turns up the music so I can hear, too), on our way to town to buy presents for the Operation Christmas Child project. And we're having so much fun! I just love doing this!" And that was the end of the phone call. My mom is like a child in her hopeful, joyful way, and that is a very good thing.

I have a friend (who reads here sometimes) whose family used to be missionaries in Botswana. She mentioned once that she was present when children received these Operation Christmas Child boxes and that their sheer joy and excitement was precious to behold... and this was before these children even knew there was anything in their boxes! Joyful over getting an empty box.

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A big thank you to two ladies with lovely blogs for each offering me an award. It's almost embarrassing to accept them and to post them here, but the thought was so nice, and I appreciate it so much, that I'll go ahead. (Early on in my blog, I tried to gracefully back out of an award, but I'm afraid I hurt someone's feelings. Yikes. I didn't mean to do that at all.) I am honored that both of these ladies thought of me when handing out these awards. But do I have to choose someone to give them to? I don't think I can. And it's my blog, and I can do what I want, so I won't. :-) Honestly, I've been a bit stunned by all of the wonderful blogs out that I'm seeing out there as I click on the links of the ones who comment here, and that's just a tiny portion of the blogging world. There are so many creative blogs, wise blogs, beautiful blogs, funny blogs, informative and stimulating blogs. Blogs by young ladies with a depth and wisdom beyond their years. Blogs by older women who have great experience, insight, and wisdom. I honestly wouldn't know where to start in handing out awards.

But thank you to Prairie Chick (a kindred spirit for sure!) at
Prairie Prologue-- a blog with wonderful photos and inspiring, hopeful thoughts-- for this:


And to Hill Upon Hill-- such a simple, restful, pretty blog-- for this:

I appreciate your thoughtfulness very much!

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Susan R's questions about cookbooks and Shannon's tag for Seven Things I Love About My Kitchen...

In the comments box,
Susan R asked me the following questions, which I am quite happy to answer:

Susan, do you take questions from your readers? I am wondering about two things:

1) What style, size, brand of journal do you like best and why?

For a while I've been using the plain, brown, thin Moleskine journals. The aesthetic would not appeal to someone who wants a certain kind of beautiful journal, but I actually like the plain, simple aesthetic. I love that this journal lies flat. I love the feel of the paper and the way my pen writes on it. I love the thin rule. They fill up fast, but that doesn't matter to me! One could certainly artfully doctor these journals, but I haven't done that. Plain and simple and straightforward. That's what I like!

2) What are your top five favorite cookbooks? (The one you turn to time and again, the one you turn to for inspiration, the one that surprised you with recipes that have become part of your standard repertoire, the one that is so beautiful you can't resist looking through it often,..Okay, that's four, for the fifth cookbook, you tell me why it's among your favorites :-)

Oh, boy, I love this kind of question, but I'm going to add it to the response I give to
Shannon when I respond to her "tag" of My Seven Favorite Things About My Kitchen. Normally, I wouldn't want to do much in the way of tag posts, but I really like this one (and Shannon knew I would!). Michelle (my daughter) said I could take some photos with her camera, and if I can get that done on the weekend, I'll post those photos, Shannon, and if I can't get new photos, I'll just use what I have in my picture files. And I'll answer Susan's cookbook questions then, too.

And at the same time I post about my kitchen and the cookbooks, I'll respond to the requests for recipes (I've kept a list so as not to forget).

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Michele asked me some questions about journaling...

"You were very instrumental in starting me on the road of journaling. I've noticed that you say you journal first thing in the morning. I guess I'm a bit confused because you have shared that you journal about the weather and things that you did that day. How do you do that at the beginning of the day? Or is the early morning journaling different and more personal or something?"

Oops. Sorry to be confusing, Michele! That seems to be one of my stronger traits! :-) Let me see if I can straighten this out a bit. In this post, as you know, I wrote about journaling:

High Desert Home: Journaling an Ordinary Life...

I said:

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.

I mentioned here that I usually write what I've already done that morning. That's how I do it. And, at the same time, I'll often include some of what I did the day before (if I've not already added it). Because occasionally, I will add more to my journal as the day goes on. Like this, for instance (taken from that journaling post, too):

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.

I often add more (about my day, my reading, my thoughts, stories of things that happened...) to my journal in the evening, but I definitely do not document everything I do in my journal.

Am I making any sense? Because I think I've only made things more confusing!

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Some questions from Hill Upon Hill about living in a cold, snowy place...

I gather then you all travel around with chains in the car? Other emerg items? How do you ensure pipes don't freeze etc?

Yes, we always travel with chains in the car. Law here requires carrying them in the mountain passes. And in 12 years of living in this area, I've never once put on the chains. And we live along notoriously bad roads for sliding and getting stuck. Oh, the stories I could tell of my snowy weather driving experiences, but so far, thank the Lord, I've managed to get through some pretty crazy experiences without having to deal with the chains. We do keep good tires for winter driving on the car. When I'm traveling in the winter, I try to keep bottled water, boots, blankets, hats and gloves, paper towels, and other things in the car. It's not smart not to. Our house is well-insulated and suited to the kind of weather we have here, so our pipes have never frozen. There was one year when something happened in our well-house, and for a short time, the pipes in there would freeze when temperatures dropped below 17 degrees (and that's not very cold). But the neighbor who shares our well (who happens to be a mechanical engineer) rigged something up to keep that from happening again.

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And, thanks, KSHmom for mentioning the bread today. I cannot find a recipe online, and I really don't think it would be helpful for me to try to type out and explain the pages of instructions in Rheinhart's book. It's really quite a process. Not a lot of work, but there's a bit to understand, and several essential steps to grasp. Do you think your library has the book? Or is there a bookstore where you could find it and have a look to see if it's even something you're interested in doing? Thanks for being understanding.

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I do have more questions to answer. I will get to them soon.

And Now For Some Inanity...

Here is my Ode to Lipstick. Yes, that's right, my Ode to Lipstick. (And I can't believe I'm posting it, but I have three posts to put up now, so it will be immediately buried!) I actually wrote this awhile back (maybe a month ago), a very spontaneous stream of consciousness thing, and when I finished, I had to laugh at myself, swearing I would never post it on my blog. Yet here I am, with no camera (temporarily) and no photos except the ones in my files, and one of those photos happens to be this:


Didn't I say recently that I wasn't going to resort to using photos I took of myself in the mirror?!

And this is what I wrote:

Yikes. I normally flee from the front side of the camera. But, today, I took my own picture. I stood right in front of my bedroom mirror and snapped away. I felt foolish-- too foolish to smile. I couldn't even bear to put my whole self in the mirror. It feels practically narcissistic to take my own picture.

It started because I was wanting a new photo for my blog profile. I don't like looking at myself in my mother-of-the-bride dress and corsage every time I open my blog. That's not how I live every day. The quotidian me wears jeans and no makeup except lipstick.

And I must say I do like lipstick. I always have. Growing up, I thought my mom was beautiful in her pretty lipstick. I remember an Alaskan summer, when we were visiting my grandparents, and grandma dressed up to go out with grandpa. She wore a wonderful pleated plaid skirt, a red blouse, high heels, and bright red lipstick. I was in awe and thought she was gorgeous.

I no longer think lipstick alone makes a person lovely, but I wear it much of the time. I just like it. One of my journal entries from this summer made me laugh when I read it recently. In the entry, I-- as I always do-- described what I was wearing at the very moment of writing. In this case, it was my purple nightgown, pink pajama bottoms, fleece slippers, fleece jacket, wild and messy uncombed hair, and lipstick. (What a sight, I'm sure! Melissa says no one looks as eccentric as me in the morning. And it was early morning...) The lipstick was just for me. No one else was going to see me.

Great priorities. Lipstick first. (Not that I do this every day. Really, I don't.) I guess I'm sort of a kindred spirit to Ruth Bell Graham. I read that she once refused to go into an ambulance (when she was about to be rushed to the hospital) until she had applied her lipstick. I have to say I'm not nearly that smitten with lipstick! I pretty much always put on lipstick in the morning, but if it wears off, I don't worry about it. I'm certainly not unwilling to be seen without it. I just like wearing it.

I went somewhere once with friends, and before I got out of the car, I said, "Wait, I want to put on some lipstick." The man said, "Oh, no. You aren't going to wear one of those awful, garish colors, are you?" Knowing he meant anything but clear gloss, I said, "Well, yes I am, and you can just be glad I'm not your wife." (We were joking around, but he really does dislike lipstick, and I really do like it.)

One of my girls called me Earth Mama once, in front of my sister. My sister interjected, "Your mom can't be a hippie because she likes lipstick too much."

A well-known beauty expert once said that red lipstick is classic. The right shade never goes out of style. She said that every woman should have a great red lipstick, but, for some women, deeper pink is their red. That's me. My coloring doesn't look good in true red. I need something softer.

I read somewhere that a person eats a shocking amount of lipstick in their lifetime and that lipstick might be one of the most toxic beauty products of all. Whoa. So, I figure, if I'm going to make lipstick one of my main food groups, I may as well eat the least toxic brand I can find. I haven't run across many non-toxic, all-natural brands of lipstick, though.

The best I've found so far is Gabriel brand. (If you know of a particularly good, all-natural lipstick, let me know!) I do like how Gabriel lipstick goes on, and I like the color I have. I would tell you the name of that color, but my lipstick is in my purse, and my purse is at the Fred Meyer (one-stop shopping center!) customer service desk because I left it in my shopping cart when I was at the store earlier today.

And there is my stream of consciousness Ode to Lipstick. And I have plumbed the very depths of my intellect! :-) And I feel immensely silly...