Friday, February 27, 2009

A Yummy Raw Muesli Recipe...

I spent a big chunk of today driving back and forth between here and there to pick up Melissa and bring her back to the coast. We'll leave from here in the morning to drive to our home across the mountains to see Michelle and her family. Yippee! (Hopefully, I'll be able to post some pictures while I'm there.)

While I was in Eugene, I stopped at my sister's house for a few minutes. JoAnne pulled something from her fridge and told me I had to taste it because it's delicious. I looked into the bowl and could tell right away that, whatever it was, it was raw, so I was extra happy to try a bite. Raw muesli with apple-- yum! Guess what I'll be eating for breakfast in the morning? Thanks, JoAnne!

I haven't made this myself yet, but I've tasted it, and Melissa has, too. She liked it as well as I did, so I thought I'd share the recipe here for anyone who is already eating raw, aspires to eat raw, or simply thinks the muesli sounds good.

The recipe, featured in Sunset magazine, is from Rancho LaPuerta, a resort and spa in Baja California, Mexico. There are two options given for making this, and I'll post option two because it suggests soaking the oats ahead of time. In Nourishing Traditions, one is encouraged to soak oatmeal overnight in water and something acidic like whey, all-natural yogurt (my choice), or lemon, and it's perfectly easy to do this with the muesli recipe:

1 c. old fashioned rolled oats
3 T. fresh lemon juice
2 firm tart apples, such as Granny Smith
1/4 c. toasted or raw sliced almonds (a raw foodist would use raw or dehydrated nuts)
3 T. agave syrup, maple syrup, or raw honey (JoAnne used maple)
1/4 c. toasted or raw unsweetened shredded coconut, or dried currants (JoAnne used the coconut)
1 c. plain low-fat (I would only use whole fat and all-natural!) yogurt

1. In a medium bowl, combine oats with 1 1/2 c. water and 2 T. yogurt, whey, or lemon juice. Let sit on the counter overnight.

In the morning:

2. Put lemon juice in another bowl. Peel 1 apple, then cut out 8 very thinly slices. Turn slices in lemon juice and lift out; set aside. Peel and coarsely shred remaining apples into lemon juice; mix immediately.

3. Stir apples, nuts, syrup, and coconut into oats. Divide among 4 bowls. Serve with yogurt if you like (JoAnne says she much prefers it with the yogurt); garnish with apple slices.

I have this recipe posted at my kitchen notes blog, along with my daughter, Aimee's, food log for today. If you're interested in that,
head on over there and have a look!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bookish...

Books I recently browsed, scouted for future reading, and returned to the library. I will likely, eventually, read all four in that stack of novels by Pym and Taylor.

I'm always reading something. Lately, as the melancholy that's plagued me off and on in recent months seems to have mostly dissipated, and I'm starting to feel back on my feet again, I'm not so much willing myself to do the things that make my days nice as I am eager to get at them.

Reading is one of these hobbies. I love books, and I'm always reading something, whether melancholy hangs round or not, but, recently, I've noticed that I seem to have made my way back to the reading rhythms and habits I have always enjoyed.

I tend to usually have four main types of reading going at once:

1. Some kind of journal, diary, or narrative of a person's life or experience.


Currently, the book of this sort that I'm reading is The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year by Susan Hill (a book that was recommended to me in the comments on my blog many months ago). I truly love this book as it stirs something deep within me. I so warmly relate to the way the author thinks and feels about her country life, solitude, community, nature, making a home, and pretty much everything else, that this feels like my book. The author describes her country life with charm and appeal, but she doesn't oversentimentalize it. The book is cosy and cheering, but it is also honest about the fact that country living presents challenges that not everyone would want to embrace. I am taking my time reading The Magic Apple Tree so that I can enjoy each line because the writing, as well as the sentiments, are lovely. This one will be read many times over, I'm sure.

2. A book of fiction.


Currently, the one I'm reading is Alice in Wonderland, which I fell asleep with last night. I awoke at 4 a.m., with my glasses crushed beneath me (all of my reading glasses are bent and sit quite crookedly on my nose-- usually tipping way up to the left-- because I have fallen asleep wearing them) and my book placed carefully to the side of the bed. Alice in Wonderland is a book my son has wanted me to read since he was a boy, and being a bad mother, I haven't. So he gave it to me for Christmas. Now, I'm reading Alice (and, finally, I'm making steady progress) and very much enjoying it.

During busy times or times when things are "off," I tend to set aside my fiction reading because I have not yet mastered myself well enough to know when to put a book down. I obsess with fiction once I get going! (I won't talk about the time I read Jane Eyre and neglected my children and made them fix cereal and toast for themselves all day long... but they did live, and they don't seem to be the worse for it.)

In the fiction stack to be read soon: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, The Brothers Karamazov (finally), and either a novel by Barbara Pym or Elizabeth Taylor.

3. A non-fiction book, usually informational.


The book in this category that I'm reading now is Living More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. I've read through this book countless times. It's one of those that challenges me to rethink the daily habits I've gotten into and to evaluate where I am in a quest for living simply and with compassion. (I seem to be on a steep and endless uphill climb with this-- or I'm going in circles-- but I'm not discouraged. I've definitely made progress, and the point is to keep walking and to enjoy the hike.) Making a conscious effort to systematically work through this process of self-evaluation is good for me.

4. Whatever strikes my fancy.


Books I read at whim or browse just because. The stacks of books on my bedside table, on the tables beside my chairs, on the floor, on shelves and tables everywhere, simply make me happy. One book lying somewhere is nice, but a stack of books is brilliant! These are the books that suit my current needs or fancy, the ones that are there to satisfy my curiosity about something, the books that are there to tell me something or to answer my questions. These are ever-shifting, ever-changing piles of books. Some are read in snatches, some are merely browsed, some are read back to front or every which way, and some are eventually read through, which moves them to Category 3 in this list (above).

These are books of essays, fiction, information, art, architecture, beauty and inspiration, poems (I want to read more poems), and interest. They are cookbooks, gardening books, housekeeping books, simple living books. Books on hiking and nature and weather and geology and trivia of all kinds.

Magazines fit into these stacks, too. The ones that currently tempt me (because I've narrowed down and simplified my magazine reading for now) are Outside magazine (great writing, and I like outdoorsy stuff), Saveur (also good writing, about cooking authentic cuisines from around the world), and the British Country Living (I don't much care for most American home magazines, but I really do love this one. It's just that I can rarely get my hands on a copy...).

These ubiquitous stacks of books can be a distraction (a delightful one) from my other reading if I let them, and this is one of my new aims-- not to let them... not too much, that is, because they're a whole lot of fun!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Home Again? At Least for a Visit...

Home. Taken last summer... because I don't have any new photos of home to post!

I left my house in a hurry on December 1, and I haven't been home since. But, unless the winter weather turns severe in the mountains, I'll be going there for a visit next week. I hope to stay for at least several days before returning to Mom's. Maybe it's time to start going back and forth between here and there, gradually working my way back into to my own home. However long that process takes, and it really might take a while, I'm looking forward to the visit.

My daughter, Michelle, and her family, are currently moving into my home as they prepare to move away from our high desert area in early May. Michelle has called daily to update me on the state of my house. The first call went something like this:

"Mom, it was almost creepy when I walked in here. It's dead cold and silent and the curtains are drawn. There's no one moving about-- not even a cat. And the house is decorated for Christmas!"

Oh, and Michelle let me know that the pipes under the sink had cracked in spite of the fact that we had carefully drained everything and had turned off the water completely. But, really, it's not surprising there was a problem with the pipes. The only source of heat for our home is our wood stove, and with no heaters to leave set on low, it was impossible to keep the abandoned house from freezing to its very bones. And the house happens to have been unoccupied in the most frigid parts of winter when temperatures can drop below zero degrees at night and occasionally barely rise above it during the day.

But Michelle is my sharp and undaunted one who can pretty much do anything she decides to do, including plumbing in a pinch, it seems. Michelle has now replaced much of the plumbing under the kitchen sink, and while she's been at it, she has also identified a potential problem with some bathroom pipes. She says she just might go ahead and replace those, too, before they really do become problematic.

(Thanks, Michelle! I'm so glad I let you tinker with everything you wanted to tinker with when you were growing up! Oh, and feel free to put away the Christmas stuff and to decorate for spring if you want. Yippee-- spring is coming!)

So now, the plumbing works, the wood stove warms the house to cheeriness once again, the curtains are pulled back to allow sunlight to fall warmly into the rooms, fire wood has been stacked on the back porch, and when Michelle phones, I can hear my little grandboys chattering and laughing as they play in the background.

It will be very nice to walk into a warm and lively home when I return for a visit. I'd like to stand at my kitchen sink, my hands in warm, soapy dishwater, and stare out the window. It sounds nice to rise early in the morning and sit in my green chair across from the woodstove with my morning coffee and journal. I look forward to perusing my bookshelves and getting my hands on some of the books that I've wished I had with me here at Mom's. Maybe I'll get to watch the sun set below those familiar western hills in the evening. And perhaps I'll take a long walk down our country road if it's not too muddy.

It will be especially nice to see Michelle, Monty, Roman, and Jayden again after these months away. I can't wait to see how much those boys have grown, to give them a big hug, to read aloud some stories, to sing some songs, and to chatter and play and laugh with them once again.

If all goes well, Lord willing, and I'm able to make it home as planned-- even if it is just for a short time-- it will be nice to be there.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

13 Things That Improved My Health...

Mom gave me these flowers on Valentine's Day.

This is mostly for Joanna and "
Hill," who asked about my health and what kinds of things I did to improve it. Hill, I appreciate your sensitivity in not wanting to pry, but I don't mind answering your questions. I'd already written this post before I read your comment, so let me know if there's something more specific I can say, okay?

I actually prefer not to focus on the ups and downs and ins and outs of my old health problems (thank you for understanding that!). Sure, I felt a whole long list of rotten sometimes. I'd hurt all over, and my brain was foggy, and I was fatigued beyond belief, but, even when I was going through it wasn't helpful or encouraging for me to discuss it.

So. How did I start getting better?

I think there were lots of factors. I thought about how I might improve my health, and I worked really hard at it. I thought about modern life and how unnatural much of it is, and it made sense to me that to live as naturally as possible couldn't hurt, so I aimed to do that.

I'm not prescribing anything I've chosen to do as a remedy for what ails anyone else. I just knew that I needed to make changes, and I figured the ones I was choosing to make couldn't hurt. I honestly think that each of the following made a definite difference in my actual physical health, but the choices were not only about physical health. They were about living a life that felt coherent, whole, and healthy in every way.

I also don't make any judgments about these points. It's just the path I chose to walk in my search for good health. Some of my friends and family do almost none of the following, which is perfectly fine by me. I don't even tell most people my feelings about this stuff because I don't want to put anyone on the defensive or make them think I'm judging them if they don't do likewise.

I realize that a lot of the lists I post on my blog overlap in many ways, but here it is...

1. Morning quiet time. Prayer, Bible reading, meditation, contemplation, journaling, and, yes, coffee. Coffee that is made in a French press. A dark roast. Poured into a pretty mug.

2. Widen margins and eliminate stress. This was serious business for me. Most of us are blessed with the power to choose. I chose to live slowly, with broad margins around everything, and it has been a huge help, healthwise, and a big part of reducing and eliminating stress.

3. Simplify, declutter, and streamline everything. Daily life. Homeschooling. Routines. The schedule. Involvements. Possessions. Work.

4. Attitude is everything. First, be positive. I have always told my kids to avoid negative people-- to choose friends with a positive, cheerful, encouraging, and strengthening spirit. I don't let people drain me or cling to me. And I aim to be cheerful, grateful, hopeful, and positive. Don't dwell on troubles. Do not dwell on them. Pray and cry and deal with them. Then leave it all with the Lord. Choose to have a good day, no matter how you feel, and most often you will. I aim to enjoy my days and my life and my relationships, even when difficulties try their best to knock me down. Do I do this perfectly well? Absolutely not, but it is still my aim.

5. Enjoy beauty every day. It's there for us. Nature. Literature. Music. Art. Whatever is beautiful to you, enjoy it. Beauty soothes and heals. And don't forget to make beauty, too, with whatever creative inclinations and gifts God has given you.

6. Nature. God's world refreshes when we learn to slow down enough to see, to hear, to smell, to notice, to wonder, to be quiet.

7. Make my atmosphere nurturing and refreshing. Both my home and my self. They both should be lovely, inviting, warm, and good. Joy should characterize an atmosphere. As should Faith. Hope. Love.

8. Do something I love to do OR love something I already do.

9. Get lots of fresh air and sunshine. I'm a "swing open the windows and doors" kind of person. Even in the most severe cold, I keep my bedroom window open a crack at night. I want my air to be fresh (yes, I know-- outside air isn't fresh everywhere!). I know this has helped me. And sunshine is an amazing gift. Don't be afraid of it. Go outside all year long. Full spectrum bulbs in winter lift the spirits of those suffering from S.A.D., and lifted spirits mean better health.

10. Which reminds me. Laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. Some people can see humor in just about anything. Be one of them. (I am blessed to have a family like this.) My mom told me about an Olympic athlete who went through some awful health struggles, to the point that she was bed-ridden. She said she meant to take seriously the verse that laughter is like medicine, so she bought herself the entire set of I Love Lucy videos, and laughter helped her along the way to good health. She went on to win another gold medal.

11. Non-toxic everything. Cleaning supplies. Soap, lotions, lipstick. Dish soap and laundry soap. I don't take over-the-counter medicines for anything, ever (it's been at least a few years since I've had a cold, anyway). I don't use sunscreen or insect spray (though I have on hand non-toxic insect spray). I don't use antibacterials. A home and all that goes in it can be pretty toxic nowadays, and I still have a long, long ways to go to sort out what kinds of things I want to own and use.

12. Good Nourishment. Eat real food as God made it to be eaten. I like mine fresh, without chemicals, additives, or antibiotics. If He put fat in food, I leave it there. No skim-anything or light-anything for me! I eat organic as much as I can. My eating style is a mix of Nourishing Traditions and "raw" or "living" foods, currently leaning more toward the raw side of the spectrum. There's a lot of overlap between these two ways of thinking, but there are differences as well. The way I eat has played a critical role in the improvement of my health, but I'm not sure that the same way of eating works the same way for everyone. Oh, and this is important for me-- I don't like to overanalyze or overthink my daily eating, my daily food log on my kitchen blog notwithstanding! I just want to enjoy my food and my increasing good health.

13. Exercise. It's essential. As much as I can, I try to exercise outdoors, and I try to do something that I enjoy. Mostly, I think it's important to keep moving, however much, and however vigorously, I can.
(I'm coming on just after posting this to my blog to add number 14. I actually meant to write something about this, but I seem to have left it off. I'll make this quick):

14. Move my focus away from myself. Do something for others to make them happy. Love them. Serve them. Surprise them. Care for them. Enjoy them. This is extremely important.

That's 13 items in the list. (Well, now it's fourteen!) Thirteen is a good number. It is the number I wore when I played high school sports. :-)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Exercise (Answering Michelle's Question)...

Because a nourishing diet + exercise = good health.

Okay, I need to write quickly because I didn't get a chance to sit in front of the computer to write this earlier today, and it's past bedtime now. :-) I started to answer your specific question about how to find time to exercise with children at home, Michelle, but then I decided to write a very brief overview of my history of exercise and fitness in case anyone else of another age or situation might be reading. So here's much more than I'm sure you could have imagined me writing (and I hope somewhere in this is something helpful!)...

First, I'll say that exercise has always been very, very important to me. I was raised in an athletic family, starting with Dad and Mom, and running all the way down through the five kids. We played school sports, and we played hard outside all the time as a family. We were in good shape without really thinking about being, or getting, in good shape.

I played sports on scholarship in college for my first two years, and after that I kept busy playing racquetball, tennis, running, biking, intramural volleyball and basketball, and whatever else anyone wanted to do that would keep me moving. I did something most every day, and I loved it.

When I was first married, with no kids, I kept doing the things I'd done before. I wasn't the type to go to a gym or use workout equipment (I'm still not). I'd much rather be moving and playing a bit more naturally.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I took up walking (the kind that gives a workout) and I also did my own aerobics program throughout my pregnancy. After Aimee was born, I kept walking for exercise, but now I was carrying a baby in a pack. I discovered the 20 Minute Workout at this time, and I did it while Aimee napped.

When I was pregnant with my second child, Michelle, I continued with the walking and aerobics. And then she was born, and I carried her in a front carrier while I pushed Aimee in the stroller.

And then I was pregnant for the third time. I still did aerobics and fast walking (Michelle was now carried in a backpack and Aimee rode in the stroller). And when the third child, Aaron, was born, I pushed Michelle in the stroller, had Aimee standing on a bar on the back of the stroller and hanging onto the sidebars while I walked (she loved doing this!), and carried Aaron in the front pack.

When I was pregnant with the fourth, I still walked hard, all the way through the 9th month, and you should have seen me! I pushed Michelle in the stroller, Aimee continued to ride on the bar behind the stroller seat, and Aaron was carried on my back in a pack. And I was sticking out nine months pregnant in front. We all had great fun walking through the streets of our British town like this! :-)

And then Melissa was born, and not long afterward, we moved back to the US. And I took my walks on Mike's lunch hour or after he returned from work, pushing Melissa in the stroller when I went. Sometimes I went for a run instead of a walk. And sometimes I'd do aerobics in the morning (the kids were well-behaved and kept themselves busy). The aerobic workout was only 20 minutes long...

(All of that stuff about where different kids sat or stood or were carried is a bit convoluted and probably confusing, but just know that I was determined to go on my walk! :-) )

And then we moved again, and Mike had his own home-based business. He was also the kind of dad who never, ever minded watching the kids, so I was able to go for a walk whenever I wanted. That was easy.

And then I had some health problems. There were days I couldn't even walk to the mailbox let alone go for an exercise walk. The health problems continued for several years, waxing and waning in intensity. Off and on, there were short periods of time when I could exercise, but never more than moderately.

Four years later, my husband was no longer self-employed (thank goodness!), and by now, my oldest was old enough to be in charge if I wanted to go out for a walk. I was still struggling with health issues, though. And then we moved again (to our high desert home). And I began working hard at getting well without a doctor or medications.

And I did get better. (This is why I'm sooo picky about what I eat, and why I use all non-toxic products, and why I do some other things... but that's another story.) Now I could exercise regularly, with increasing vigor. By now, my kids were older, so figuring out what to do with them when I exercised was not a concern.

Walking was, and is, the thing I chose to do for exercise. I walk. I hike (sometimes very long, steep hike/climbs in the mountains). I am now healthy and can push hard when I exercise, so I can get really fit again! Yay! It feels wonderful, and I'm thankful for the blessing of good health every single day.

Michelle, does your husband have the kind of schedule where he can give you some free time for walking? Even a very fast short walk is hugely beneficial. And, further, even sporadic exercise is better than no exercise at all.


Just so you know, the following is not aimed at you, Michelle. It's just my exhortation (for all of us) to move, however often, however much. Even a little bit is better than nothing!.

If I walked only 2 miles, two times a week, that's 16 miles a month and almost 200 miles a year, much better than nothing. Even one mile, two times a week, is better than nothing (it's almost 100 miles a year)! I say that we should all just do what we can, and we shouldn't quit altogether just because we aren't consistent. A little here, a little there is much better than nothing at all. Even dancing all around the house or jumping rope or doing anything that gets us moving is great. Just move! I think it should be a priority for everyone.

And we can, and should, do things as a family. Bike rides. Whiffle ball games. Swimming. Hikes on pretty trails. All sorts of games and play and exploration. This is beneficial in many ways. We live in a culture that is not active. We sit around, then we go to the gym and work out violently to get in shape. It's much better for kids and parents to consistently move and play hard outdoors.

I think it's really important to make fitness a priority for many reasons:

1. Life expectancy goes up.

2. Happy hormones are released.

3. One has a better sense of well-being.

4. Exercise reduces stress.

5. Good muscle tone is good for health.

6. A person feels stronger and much more energetic.

7. Motivation increases.

8. Self-discipline grows.

9. Confidence increases.

10. Appearance improves.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air...

"The art of abundance is the art of awareness. It is a way to count our blessings and practice mindfulness in our daily living. Becoming aware of the small, the little, and the least offers us an opportunity to open our heartrs to a larger perspective. We learn to value the tastes, textures, scents, sounds, and sights of our lives as they present themselves to us moment by moment.

"Children practice the art of abundance naturally, but often as adults we lose the ability to explore and experience wonder. By choosing to be aware of the gifts life brings, we become lovers instead of critics, believers instead of doubters, and childlike mystics instead of world-weary critics."

~Candy Paull in The Art of Abundance.

The forecast for today was rain, but, instead, it turned out to be another beautiful, sunshiny day. Mom wasn't able go to the beach, but it would have been just plain wrong for someone not to go on a day like this, so I took Penny, our sweet, old, funny-looking, crookedy-walking dog. The beach was wind-free and warm enough to walk along without a jacket. Occasionally, I just sat in the sand and looked all around.

I also walked down the beach, and I think I found the sand dollar mother lode today. I filled my pockets with 15 whole, unbroken sand dollars, and that was without even looking really hard. That has never happened to me before. There were so many shells washing up in the surf that they tinkled like windchimes as they clinked against each other.

I meant to go on a vigorous walk down the beach with Penny, but I decided that not every day is meant for business. I had a good, hilly walk yesterday, and today just seemed like a perfect day for ambling, exploring, and beachcombing, not for power walking. So, that's what I did. I ambled and looked around and explored and sat in the sand and watched the birds and boats and the beach walkers and surfers.

I thought I'd only be at the beach for a short time, but I ended up staying for at least a couple of hours, and it felt like a gift. Fresh air, sunshine, nature, warmth, quiet. I love going to the beach with Mom, and we hope to go together tomorrow since the weather is supposed to be lovely again, but the alone time today was pleasant and refreshing.

This beach is a popular surfing spot, and the surfers catch waves right here alongside the jetty. There's a fishing boat out off the jetty (don't know if you can see it in this shrunken photo).

Here's that boat, headed toward the jetty and home.

These are oyster beds in the triangle between jetties. (I seem to have had trouble keeping my camera level today!)

Here's the fishing boat that was aiming for the jetty in the photo above. It's almost home. Home is the fishing village harbor in the photo at the top of the page.

And here a couple of helpful signs seen on the roads near the beach:


(Clicking photos should enlarge them.)

"Cherish the Natural Order..."

"Does it nurture people?" and "Does it protect our environment" are the conformed-to-God's-image questions." ~Doris Janzen Longacre in the chapter, "Cherish the Natural Order," from her book, Living More With Less

"Who wants to take the scenic route?!"

When my kids were young and we'd all pile into the car to go somewhere, I'd often ask that question. That meant we'd take the back roads or go out of our way to see something interesting along the way to wherever we were going. It always meant by-passing the main highways that shot us straight into town like through a chute.

And, without fail, the kids always answered my question about taking the scenic route with an enthusiastic, "Me!"

We weren't in a hurry. We enjoyed ourselves. The roads meandered prettily and gracefully through the countryside. Roads tended to curve, so the pace was slower than on the highway, but we didn't seem to lose much time (what makes time "lost" anyway?), and there was always more of a grace and beauty and enjoyment to our "scenic" drives. We seemed to have more of a natural mindfulness that is absent on a fast and busy, super-efficient freeway or highway.

Why are people in such a hurry anyway? In the end, I think, no matter what our circumstances, it comes down to choice, and most of us are currently blessed enough in our situations to be able to make those choices if we'd like.

On family trips when I was growing up, my dad was the sort of traveler who would stop at general stores for candy or ice cream. He'd stop at parks and beaches so we could play and eat our lunch and play catch with a softball or frisbee. We took our time, but it was such a nice pace and so much fun. We took the metaphorical scenic route (and, most often, the literal scenic route as well).

On my in-town walks, I like to look at the old houses and the new developments. On a recent walk, I was looking at some huge mansion-like homes high on a hill with a stunning view of the city and the valley below. These homes were behind fences (usually with an obvious, and, I'm sure, necessary, security system). I've seen the trucks, equipment, and workers of gardening companies at these homes (their presence is continual in the summer), but I've never once seen an actual occupant of any of these homes. They do not seem to work in their own yards or even stay home much. The landscaping of these yards is on a grand scale, requiring much work and maintenance. The homes strike me as meaning to impose and impress, though, of course, really nice people probably live in them. Rather than looking inviting, these huge homes seem to isolate the owners and bar true community from occurring.

In the same area, I've walked and driven by a small eco-development. Melissa and I went by there yesterday, in fact. This appeals to me. The homes are small and quite charming. Garages did not impose like they do in so many developments. Landscaping is completely natural. The houses are close together, but not all lined up in a row, and there doesn't seem to be a feeling of being too-crowded or invaded upon so much as being part of a nice community. The feeling I get from this place is lovely, appealing, and inviting. I would want to live here.

Then I got to thinking about what I would want ideally in a home (which will likely never happen, but I can work in as many factors as possible into any place I do live). As I've written these items down, I realize that I want them to fit within the questions asked at the top of this post in the quote from Living More With Less: "Does it nurture people?" "Does it protect our environment?" In other words, does it cherish the natural order? We are, after all, stewards of this world, and our main business should be people. Relationships.

1. I want a small, simple, charming home, made according to my favorite patterns in A Pattern Language. A simply, prettily designed home doesn't need much in the way of decor to make it attractive or cosy. The cosiness can largely be inherent in the design. I would be willing to move into an existing house that I could make into my ideal home, or I would build one. I would want the interior, exterior, and placement in the landscape to be conducive to relationships and community.

2. I want it to be a green home. This is really important to me, but I have an awful lot to learn in this area. I've done quite a lot of reading over the years, and I want to do more:

-- made of natural materials
-- everything non-toxic (inside and out)
-- eco-heating (I love radiant floor heating)
-- sustainable construction and daily living
-- healthy
-- solar or other alternative sources of power
-- made of high-quality materials and construction (which is more affordable in a small home)

3. I want to have natural landscaping. I'm not against designed and planned gardens (I love places like the Japanese botanical gardens in Portland or some of the large, orderly gardens I saw in England), but my personal aesthetic leans toward natural:

-- a xeriscape or close to it
-- use of native plants and flowers (lots of pretty, colorful native wildflowers and perennials make gorgeous gardens)
-- leave as much nature in the surroundings as possible
-- grow a simple, efficient, organic fruit, vegetable, and herb garden for produce
-- I never want to use chemicals or anything toxic in my gardens or landscaping
-- nature (birds and other creatures) friendly

4. I want my home to be simple (I'm repeating myself!):

-- really attractive and inviting
-- cosy and appealing to the human spirit (which is really a repeat or an underscoring of the item just above this one)
-- scaled back (way scaled back) possessions-- few things, but attractive, interesting, well-made, quality things
-- bookshelves are a must
-- a fire I can see (maybe a very eco-efficient woodstove)
-- I like a fairly open floor plan that is relaxed, casual, and allows people to be in proximity to each other.
-- a simple kitchen with open shelves and room for a table; this can be a large room because, in my opinion, the kitchen really is the heart of the home

As I write, I realize that I could go on and on. I certainly have ideas about what I'd like my home to look like, what it's purpose would be (a place for rest, growth, sustenance, and relationship), etc., but this post is not so much about itemizing what I want in my ideal home as to say that, even in the way I build and live in my home, I want to cherish the natural order. I don't think this is always done very well.

It seems there was a time when, generally speaking, man-made things didn't seem disruptive to the natural order. They even seemed to enhance it in some ways. Think of a beautiful, well-made old barn, gracing a country hillside. Or an old general store along a country road. The homes were often charming. The roads were scenic and pretty. Places of work were often well-designed and people-friendly. There was a naturalness and beauty to them, for the most part. This was not just a country thing-- even some of the old places of business in towns or cities often had something appealing about them (of course there were also the polluting, dehumanizing factories that came along, too, as well as other bits of ugliness, all coming with "progress"). People at leisure really seemed to be at leisure once, where now, it can seem that leisure is an exhausting affair.

And now, with progress and the busyness and hurry and desire for speed and efficiency that come with it, there seems to be so much ugliness. When I take photos, occasionally I have to struggle to avoid getting power lines in the shot, or the ATV tracks on the beach (we tend to avoid the beaches where they can be ridden), cell towers, and other bits of obtrusive ugliness. But this isn't about not liking what messes up my photos; it's more about me suddenly noticing how very unnatural or unattractive the order of our surroundings and way of life has gotten. Modern progress doesn't often seem to have a pretty face. And what, if anything, does this do to the human spirit?

I don't know about anyone else, but I want to keep things slow and simple. I want to strive for, and cherish, the natural order and I want to take the scenic route.

Monday, February 16, 2009

While We Were Gone...

We saw two of my favorite people in all of the world-- Aaron and Melissa, my youngest two.

My niece, Nicky, playing one of my favorite Bach pieces (I knew it first from YoYo Ma's CD of unaccompanied Bach cello suites).

We went to stay with my sister this past weekend to see my 17-year-old nephew's soccer game (which I ended up missing, and in which he sprained his ankle) and to see my niece, Nicole, and my nephew Conner play in a strings recital. Nicole, 11, is a fine violist, and Conner, 8, is doing very well on the violin. He's adaptable, too. He walked on stage to play his recital piece, and the pianist started playing a different piece altogether. Conner knew this music, too, so he said he thought, "Well, I guess I'll play this instead." He played beautifully, but he wasn't entirely able to suppress a hint of a smile and an occasional amused smirk.

I discovered a yummy "raw" snack yesterday at a natural foods store near my sister's house-- a lime and cilantro seasoned pack of nuts. The thing about these nuts is that they are soaked and dehydrated, giving them a roasted sort of taste without the high heat of actual roasting, which kills the enzymes in the nuts. This was a really delicious snack (the store cashier told me he's addicted to this particular flavor), but the nuts are expensive! So now I have one more reason to buy a dehydrator-- so that I can soak nuts and fool around with lots of different flavors for dehydrating them!

My sister, Nancy, who has a dehydrator. :-) I don't think I've ever put her picture on my blog, so here she is. She's my older sister! By 15 months.

I've been wanting an Excalibur dehydrator ever since I started looking into raw foods. My sister, Nancy, has one, and she uses it all the time. I love what she does with her dehydrator (for one thing, she makes the best dried apples ever-- even better than the ones our Grampy used to make!). So, next on my list of bigger purchases... a nine-tray Excalibur dehydrator.

Oregon is celebrating her 150th birthday, and lots of museums had free admission on Saturday, so we visited the University of Oregon art museum. Both Melissa and I said our favorite piece of art was probably "Wreck of the Old 97" by Thomas Hart Benton (above).
~:~:~:~:~

And, finally, because I'm too lazy to go over to my kitchen blog to post today's food log, I'm just going to add it to this post. Listing what I'm eating helps to keep me in line!

JoAnne made farina for breakfast. I ate mine with butter and maple syrup.

Then JoAnne and I drank some French pressed Sumatra coffee.

A banana.

A Gopal raw snack made from macadamia nuts, coconut, goji berries, and agave. Not bad!

Passionberry Kombucha. Not bad, either, but grape is still my favorite.

Some Green & Black's dark chocolate. Plus I tried a piece of Chocolove 70% chocolate. I can't help but adore this chocolate because there's a love poem on the inside of every wrapper.

A fresh-juiced orange.

A large green salad topped with homemade "Parma!".

A roasted sweet potato, smashed with butter and salt and pepper.

A tall glass of green lemonade.

Chocolate of the Gods Mousse (the "raw" chocolate mousse made with avacado).

Exercise... Mom, JoAnne, and I walked up and down the hills (some of them long and steep) and streets of JoAnne's neighborhood, probably logging around three miles. It was a great walk.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Appreciating...

How could I not miss these two precious boys?!

"The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions-- the little soon-forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling." ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I'm still reading Living More With Less, and I'll definitely be posting more on that next week, but here's something quick and light for this evening. Some things I thought about, did, and appreciated today:

Simplicity...

This is something I've been thinking about since I was in college (a long time ago). And, as life has a stealthy way of complicating itself if we don't keep an eye on it, I'm recognizing (once again) a need to re-simplify, and to further simplify, my life. Doing this doesn't make me feel deprived; it makes me feel freer and lighter. Less entangled and encumbered. More coherent and at peace. More available and attentive. It's good.

Also, in honor of Heather, who, in her comments below about what number 10 might/should be on Alice's list of guidelines for eating wonderfully, made this suggestion: "Keep Cooking Appliances and Utensils to a Favorite Multi-Functional Few." Yes! I know what she means, and it sort of reminds me of something I posted once, and since most people don't see my sporadic kitchen blog, I thought I'd mention it here.

Simple Kitchen

Movement...

The walking in nature kind of movement, that is. And this time Mom and I didn't walk along a sandy beach or drive to town to walk the hills. We stepped out the front door and headed down the road, taking one of the dogs with us. The air this afternoon was breezy and invigoratingly chilly.

I walk down this road with the dogs every day, but I can't walk far before the busy, nearby highway runs interference. Today, though, Mom and I dodged traffic, crossed the highway, and headed up into the hills. The first thing I thought as we walked those forested roads was that, no matter where we seem to go, it's so pretty around here!

We stopped for a bit to talk to a new neighbor who has moved in just down the road from Mom. And, somewhere along the way, Mom and I both expressed gratitude to the Lord for health and strength and endurance. Mom is kind of like the Eveready Bunny. It just amazes me how she can go and go and go.

Mindstuff...

Or should I say "lifestyle stuff"? It's not like I'm reading anything intellectually intense, but it's what I'm thinking about.
Because it's on my mind, I went to the library today and checked out six books on the topic of simplicity. Some of the books are light and breezy in tone; others are intense, challenging, and even extreme; some are spiritual in nature; and some are very informative and practical. All of them, though, are interesting, and most should be inspirational or helpful.

I am also packing around a stack of books about eating "raw" or "living" foods. It probably seems that I'm obsessing about this, but that's sort of what I do when I'm interested in a topic or working at making changes in my life. I'll read and read and read and try to get hold of anything that might inform, challenge, or inspire me on the subject.

Amazon delivered a new book to our doorstep today-- ex-super model Carol Alt's book, Eating in the Raw (a fairly basic book, probably geared to inquiring minds or beginning raw foodists). I think I like her! Alt, like me, has no problem with the idea of eating raw dairy or meat or even a little bit of cooked food.

Hurrah for libraries and Amazon.com!

Nourishment...

What we're eating lately really does seem to be making both Mom and me feel better (even though I really wasn't eating poorly before). I feel stronger. Brighter. Clearer. Less tired. More eager and energetic. But I'll try not to be preachy.

This evening we had a cooked, but healthy, meal-- homemade Yumm! bowls-- for dinner. This consisted of a layer of brown rice, a layer of Yumm! sauce, and a layer of black beans. This is topped with avacado, cilantro, and tomatoes. Lots of people like a dollop of sour cream or yogurt on their Yumm! bowls and possibly some cheese and olives. I prefer to leave these off, but I do like some salsa on top of the beans before adding the other toppings.

And then I had Coconut Bliss ice cream with cacao nibs. And, later, we drank green lemonade.

I'm deeply thankful for good, healthy food to eat. Every day.

Sweetness...

What could be sweeter than a phone call from my three-year-old grandson, Roman, who repeatedly said to me, "I love you, Grandma Susy." And, "When are you going to be at your house? You should go there right now." "You can come to my house and eat pizza, if you want. Okay." And in the back ground, I could hear almost-two-year-old Jayden chanting in his sweet voice, "Grandma Susy. Grandma Susy. Grandma Susy..."

I'm so thankful for precious grandchildren who love me (and I love them), and for their Mom-- my daughter-- who lets them call me. And for the new baby that will join Roman and Jayden's family this September. Yay!

And you know what else always strikes me as sweet? Well, first let me tell you that I read the blogs of those of you who comment here, and I enjoy them all, but since I'm talking about "sweetness," and since when I read Beth's blog I'm always struck with a sense of sweetness, I'm going to single her out today! I really enjoy swinging by Beth's blog when I'm online, and if you haven't done so, you might enjoy it, too.

Bethgem

Going...

We're off to the valley tomorrow to visit my two youngest kids, to watch my nephew's soccer game, and to watch a viola performance by my niece and a violin performance by my nephew. And we might just visit an art museum, too. And, almost for sure, we'll take a nice long walk or hike.

To me, family, walking/hiking, and the arts sounds like an equation for a nice weekend. I hope your weekend will be lovely as well.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Alice's Fundamental Guidelines for Eating Wonderfully...

"The fact is that it takes more than ingredients and techniques to cook a good meal. A good cook puts something of himself into the preparation-- he cooks with enjoyment, anticipation, spontaneity, and he is willing to experiment." ~ Pearl Bailey

I was browsing through some of my cookbooks yesterday evening, looking for ideas and just enjoying myself, when I ran across something written by the almost-legendary American food revolutionary, Alice Waters, in her good cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. It's her list of fundamental guidelines for eating wonderfully. I always enjoy this kind of thing, so here's Alice's list and a few quickly written comments by me on each point:

1. Eat locally and sustainably.

I really do work at this. I'm on the Oregon coast right now, as anyone who has read my blog in recent weeks knows, and, thanks to relatives who love to catch and grow their own food, I've recently enjoyed fresh-caught fish, crab, and clams. I also sometimes stop by a fish shop in a little fishing village for salmon or some kind of white fish (I like snapper). I've gotten the best smoked (in house) tuna there-- oh, yum! But I don't eat loads of meat, so I mostly shop for food at the local natural foods co-op. I buy lots of organic produce! Also, I enjoy berries and peaches from my mom's freezer-- all from not-too-far-away in Oregon (the northwest is something of a fruit and berry heaven), picked ripe, organic, and in season. The Berry Bible was written by a someone from Portland (Oregon). Need I say more? :-)

2. Eat seasonally.

Oh, yes. I'm eating lots of oranges and citrus and consuming what should be, before long, a waning supply of root vegetables and winter squash. I do try to eat mostly seasonally. I certainly don't buy fresh strawberries or peaches in early February. I wait until spring to consume asparagus. I prefer not to touch anything larger than a cherry tomato in the winter. It's worth waiting for those wonderful heirloom tomatoes to show up in farmers' markets in August. Seasonal foods taste better, they're more nutritious, and they cost less. It just makes sense to eat this way, doesn't it?

3. Shop at farmers' markets.

As soon as they open, I'm there! I love farmers' markets. And I love the CSA program I've taken part every year it's been available in my home town. We don't live in an area with year-round farmers' markets, so I buy my produce in local natural foods co-ops. Sometimes I'll buy something in a larger grocery store, but I do like to support local, small businesses, and, since I'm able, I'm willing to pay more for what I buy at the co-op. The quality is much, much better anyway.

4. Plant a garden.

I haven't had a vegetable garden in a while (that's always been my husband's thing), but I've been growing herbs for a lot of years, and I do love snipping fresh herbs to use in my cooking. My herb garden is plain and simple-- a small fenced garden with three raised beds-- but I really enjoy it.

5. Conserve, compost, and recycle.

At home, I do all three. I try to be frugal in my food spending, but I also spend enough money to eat in a way that I think is healthy. I have no doubt that my way of eating has significantly improved my health, so I consider the food I buy to be something of an investment. At the same time, I'm currently trying to conserve in every way, including my food spending. I'm trying to eat less and to eat more frugally, yet to eat very well. I'm also trying not to waste a single thing, an area where I am improving but have not yet completely succeeded. I used to almost make a game of seeing how little I could put into my garbage cans each week. I do what I can here at Mom's house, and when I return home, I'll resume my own particular focus on this.

6. Cook simply.

I do. I love to cook. I love good, fresh, vibrant-tasting foods, and I don't want the preparation to be complicated or time-consuming.

"In cooking, as in all arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." ~Curnonsky

7. Cook together.

Nothing is more fun than sharing the kitchen with others who love to cook, especially when their food philosophy is the same as mine. So, when I'm at my sisters' homes, I always enjoy cooking with them. We talk all about food and eating as we cook. We split tasks-- "Here, you make the salad, and mix some kind of vinaigrette while I chop these vegetables for roasting." "What shall we put in the salad?" "Shall we do something with this winter squash?" "What else shall we make?"

My girls are really fun to share the kitchen with, too. They eat like me, and they are all excellent cooks who inspire me. Aaron is quite a good cook, too, but he tends to go solo. We all talk about food, cookbooks, cooking supplies, health and nutrition, restaurants, ingredients, and good eating over the phone.

8. Eat together.

Yes! At home we always, always do, even if there are just two of us. We sit and eat and talk and talk. In winter, I usually put candles on the table, no matter how casual our meal. Food is nourishment, but it is also a very communal thing, so I believe in lingering round the table. People open up around food. An old Bible study group of mine had a potluck every week before our study, and, without a doubt, it improved the dynamics of the group and made the study better.

9. Remember food is precious.

I do remember this, and every single day I send up thanks to the Lord for His blessings. I realize how very rich I am not only to have food on my table, but to be able to eat essentially whatever I want. It is a gift. And wherever we live, there is something special that grows there. And the closer to the source you purchase your food, the better it usually tastes, so enjoy!. It's very good to appreciate and those particular gifts. Are you well acquainted with your local and regional foods?

10. Alice didn't have a number 10 on her list.

She stopped at nine. Doesn't Alice realize that all lists must have ten points or they don't count?! What should number ten be...?

Simple Steps Toward Doing Justice...

From a recent trip to the beach.

We've been out of town, so I've been away from the computer for several days. This could easily be a pattern for as long as I'm on the coast (I don't know), but I'll just post when I'm around and when I have time and inclination.

I'm currently reading a book I've read many times over the years, Living More With Less, a Mennonite book published in the 1970's (link to this book is in the sidebar list of my current reading). I have a strong desire to live a simple, compassionate life, and this is a book that inspires me in that direction. Some ideas in the book seem a bit dated (but surprisingly, considering the age of the book, not much), some of it will never work for me, and some of the ideas seem too extreme for now, but much of it is helpful or at least thought-provoking and challenging. Sometimes I get complacent and lazy about "doing justice"-- caring well for the world and its people-- so a bit of this kind of challenge is good for me (I seem to need it again and again).

Five themes in the book are:

Do Justice.
Learn from the World Community.
Nurture People.
Cherish the Natural Order.
Noncomform Freely.


This morning, I spent some time thinking about this first point, Do Justice. I don't have anything deep to share here. In fact, I purposely want to keep my thoughts (as I read and think through this), simple, focused, and practical because I aim to live what I learn.

Excerpts from this morning's reading:

"'Do justice' must become the first standard for living by which Christians make choices. Our knowledge of others' needs and our guilt must resolve itself into a lasting attentiveness.

"To make 'do justice' a standard is to live by both reason and compassion.

"All of us should walk more, save hot water, use less aluminum foil. These are small ideas, small acts. But they offer a realistic place to start.

"Certainly your influence is small. But whether you conserve or waste, it is real. Many people using or not using affects things in a big way. Gathering up the fragments of our waste-- recycling, conserving, sharing-- is a logical and authentic beginning. Such actions are the first-fruits of the harvest of justice. They are the promise of more to come."


I like the idea of starting in simple steps rather than feeling like I need to take care of the entire world-- singlehandedly!-- all at once. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the enormity of the world's problems, but it helps to think that I can take small steps, beginning right where I am.

I need to start right in my own kitchen, yard, neighborhood, and community, possibly focusing on acts as simple as using less foil or plastic (which I have been doing for quite some time). Composting. Organic gardening. Buying and eating as locally as I can. Driving less and walking more. Consuming less. Sharing with others. Finding ways to work together and help each other. Finding new uses for things. Whittling down the amount of garbage in my can as far as I can. Making or buying non-toxic cleaners. Using less power.

There are no rights and wrongs here. No one-plan-fits-all. This is simply a matter of walking according to my conscience, in a way that is consistent with what I believe to be true, needed, and important. And this is not meant to take away the things that make me happy or to sacrifice quality. In fact, appreciation for what I have increases greatly as I begin to narrow things down and simplify my life.


There is great pleasure and joy in creating enough space in our lives and among our possessions to more deeply appreciate the beauty of each individual thing. We then have time to manage and care well for our possessions and even the world, as well as time to give real attention to our relationships and the human needs that are all around us.

There are so many things we can do-- "small ideas, small acts"-- and I like how even these small acts matter. As we do them, we make a real, difference, however small. If many people do them, the difference increases exponentially. And these are just the "first-fuits," the promise of more to come, because, as we do these things, our awareness, attentiveness, compassion, and desire to do even more increases.

So, today, once again, I'm focusing on simple beginnings. What is needed close at hand, in my own daily life? I've been making lists in my little notebook of these beginnings. Most of them seem too simple and insignificant to mention, but I've listed them anyway because they demand my attention. The following sample list merely reflects what is currently needed in my life right now; it is not a list of things I think everyone needs to do.

I'm focusing on things like eliminating between meal snacking; simplifying my wardrobe; simplifying my eating; reducing grocery costs without sacrificing nutrition and enjoyment; drinking less coffee; doing things by hand; using the back sides of all papers in my notebooks; not using the printer; buying cheaper cod liver oil; driving less; making less garbage; being more vigilant about using cloth shopping bags; not buying cappucinos every day I'm out of town (I'm out of town often lately!); being more vigilant about recycling everything I can; etc.

Simple, ordinary things for sure, but they are a start. And I don't intend to stop there.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" ~Micah 6:8

Thursday, February 5, 2009

10 Good Things for Daily Balance...

"Freshness trembles beneath the surface of every day, a joy perpetual to all who catch its opal lights beneath a dust of habit."

~Freya Stark

I wrote this awhile back, first just for me in my own notebooks, then I began to turn it into a blog post, then I changed my mind and left it sitting in my files. I think now that I'll pull it out, dust it off and update it a bit, and post it. I'll have to leave it a bit rough around the edges, though, because company is coming any minute (my sister and Melissa, and later on, two of my nieces), and I need to move along.

I don't know how long I'll be here at my mom's house and away from my own, but, for now, this is where I am. Since I temporarily have no home of my own to "make," I'm sort of out of my element, so I sat down one day to think about what things really help to have as part of my daily routine. What things will help to keep me focused on what matters and what will help me to keep a pleasant, orderly, meaningful routine?

Not all that surprisingly, I suppose, I realize that the things that keep me feeling grounded, steady, and cheerful in my high desert home are basically the same things that I need to be doing here on the coast. In addition to the things I'm posting here, I could list others, like cooking and healthy eating, but here are 10 basic things I aim to make a place for most every day:

1. Quiet time and morning coffee. As I said recently, both are pleasant, and both are needed. Bible reading, prayer, and coffee in the morning are essential. I could surely live without the coffee, but why should I?! It's a really nice part of the morning, and just smelling the stuff brewing perks me up a bit and gets me moving in a good mode.

2. Journaling. I've
written about this before, too. I've kept journals, written in notebooks, and scribbled notes on random scraps of paper for years and years. It's enjoyable, and it's also very therapeutic. Journaling through my muddled thoughts often helps me to get my mind clear. So, I sit with my journal each morning, along with my morning coffee. And I write in my notebooks each day, too, detailing my plans and making lists, both utilitarian and esoteric, both serious and fun. I keep little notebooks in my purse, and, wherever I am, I'll stop to jot down notes, comments, or phrases, if I think about something and want to remember it. I write this and that, here and there and everywhere, with no thought of anyone ever reading it. I just seem compelled to write things down!

3. Solitude. Which is not to be confused with quiet time. Some of us have a need for lots of space and elbow room amidst the busyness of our days. We have a need to draw away so that we can quiet our overstimulated minds and think coherent thoughts. We have a need to sit and be still, to pull away from it all for a time here and there in the day just to get our bearings so that we can walk with balance. The time doesn't necessarily need to be long, but if I don't do this, I start to feel edgy and a bit stumbly and bumbly.

Aimee (my daughter) and I were talking about the need both of us have for solitude. Everyone needs it of course, but some of us get out of kilter more quickly than others without it. Aimee was saying that solitude is essential for clearing our heads, for really dealing with life and situations and our inner selves well instead merely identifying what is going on and carrying on without letting our revelation or insight soak into us and begin to direct and change us.

When things are difficult, it is often in solitude that we can be strengthened and changed. It is also in solitude that we are made ready for people-- for community-- and one without the other (solitude or community) is unhealthy.

When things are good, it is in quiet solitude that we have the time and focus to fully acknowledge that God is the giver of all good gifts. We can more easily build a life that is based on gratitude when we take time to sit before Him to recognize and enumerate His blessings and all of the ways He cares for us.

Again, solitude does not have to be long, and if absolutely needed, we can do like Catherine of Siena and make a little chamber of solitude in our minds and hearts. That takes discipline and focus for sure, but it's better than no solitude at all.

4. Make a life of beauty and interest. I try to deeply appreciate and enjoy beauty wherever it is found, and I also aim to make beauty wherever I can. The beauty I make may not be at all impressive, but we are each created in the image of God, and we have the capacity to make things beautiful in some way, even if it's a small thing that only we will appreciate.

Even though I am not presently keeping or making my own home, I am always making a life. And I do have a nice place to lay my head and space to keep my things and a lovely environment where I spend my days. I am blessed. I can aim to surround myself with what strikes me as beautiful or interesting. I can do all things well and make them as cheerful as possible-- even the most mundane, simple things, like the way I make my bed or place things on the little table beside it. Or in the way I set up at the kitchen table for my morning quiet routine. I can choose to do the most ordinary, routine things with great care and enjoyment.

There are endless ways to make a life of beauty and interest. One very simple thing I've been doing since I've been here is collecting treasures at the beach. Every time I walk down the beach, I collect at least one thing to bring home with me. Sometimes I bring several items. I have many of these things on the table by my bed-- some pretty, tiny shells; a small, interesting piece of driftwood; a variety of interesting stones that I found in the surf; and some other things. I'll see how many whole sand dollars I can find before I leave the coast. There are plans to go agate hunting soon at a particular beach with some friends (I'm signed on to take coffee and scones). And who knows what will wash up on the beach? It's fun to explore and gather pretty or interesting things.

And I try to keep learning and thinking. I want to stay curious. I want to retain forever a sense of wonder and delight in God's world. I try, every day to read something challenging, to think hard, to pay attention and stretch and grow. I try to be interested in whatever is around me, wherever I am. I try to listen to people and the stories of their work and lives. And I aim to pursue my own gifts and interests and abilities.

5. Meaningful work to do and routines to keep. Having a good, working rhythm to the day and work to do helps to keep acedia at bay. It's a good discipline. It honors God. It is healthy-- even essential-- to a person's well-being. I must admit that housekeeping in a home that is not really yours takes a bit more willful effort than cleaning your own house (but once you get in and do it, there's something really nice and satisfying about it). There's a certain joy I get in keeping my own home clean and cosy, in moving things around, in putting things out to celebrate various seasons and special days and events. It's my home, and I have my pleasant routines for keeping it. Here, my days are different. My routines are not the same. But rhythmic work is essential, so I'm gradually finding a good, but flexible, pattern for my mornings.

6. Nature. Both looking at it and moving in it. This is God's world, and being in it and watching it, makes me want to draw closer to Him. Here, I am blessed. I've loved the rain, and we get out in it even when it pours. We simply wear waterproof coats with hoods or carry umbrellas. We've gone to the beach in hard rainstorms. We've taken morning walks in the rain.

Lately, we've been blessed with a long stretch of very warm, sunny weather, during which we've been to the beach almost every day, and it has been incredibly beautiful there. There has been absolutely no wind, which, along with the sunny warmth, makes it more perfect than any summer day when the seaside wind often blows with a good amount of force, sometimes to the point of blasting so much sand into your face that you can do nothing but huddle near the jetty (and that is nice, too). The rains will come again soon, but this period of lovely beach weather has been glorious, and we've enjoyed it. Also outdoors, I've been kayaking with my friend, Laurie. I've hiked beautiful trails with family members. I've walked and explored and breathed the freshest air imaginable.

7. Relationships. Family, friends, church, neighbors. We weren't created to live in isolation. We were created for "community," for relationship, and our lives cannot be healthy and whole without it. It's been nice here to connect again with old friends. Here on the coast, I've been going to the church my family has attended for 50 years, and it's been wonderful to have a chance to visit with some of those souls from my past! So many of them have had an enormous influence on my life, both by their words and by their examples. Especially by their examples.

It's been lovely to be around my mom and some of my siblings again. And nieces and nephews. One of my nephews is the one who has gotten the recent family crab feeds and bonfires going . {Oh, and I should add that this same nephew recently ran a family football pool for the NFL playoffs and Superbowl, and while I was in the basement (tied for last place) at first (a "dud" is what he called me then-- ahem!), I made a great comeback and surged upward into a tie for second place. I am feeling victorious. Wahoo!} Anyway. While I absolutely miss seeing Michelle and Monty and my two grandsons almost every day, it's been very, very nice to be able to spend time with my family here on the coast.

8. Reading. For me, it's important to continue to read, think, and learn. I can't be without reading material. I'm always reading something, even if it comes down to having to read the back of the shampoo bottle in the bathroom! For someone who loves books, there's something secure and stabilizing about having them around. Plus, reading is just a whole bunch of fun! I brought more books with me to the coast than anything else, and there are still so many of my favorite books that I miss. I wish I could have brought them all with me! :-)

My kids gave me books for Christmas (we all give each other books for Christmas-- our favorite gift to receive!). :-) And I've bought a new book or two since I've arrived here (notably Kathleen Norris's book dealing with acedia, which I'm finding very interesting). I reread A Gift From the Sea last week. I've been reading through some of Ruth Graham's books again. And contemplating my way, once again, through Amy Carmichael's If. I've enjoyed reading back and forth and all over in Elspeth Thompson's cosy book, The Wonderful Weekend Book, quite a lot. And, as I always have, I've been reading some of my cookbooks because a well-written, prosey cookbook is a reading treat for one who loves to cook.

I've reestablished myself at our favorite local library-- the same one the kids and I visited at least once a week when they were young. I went into that library to sign up for a new card, and, lo and behold, I was still in the system. My account from all of those years back was still valid. That was kinda cool. When we were the library, Aaron, Melissa, and I spent quite a while looking over the familiar shelves of the children's section. Aaron and Melissa reminisced as they picked up old copies of favorite books: "This is the very copy I first read of this book!" A children's librarian (who worked there there when the kids were young but didn't recognize them so many years later), watched them and smiled.

9. Involvement. Everywhere I've lived, I've been involved, in some way, with other people. Joining or starting Bible studies. Leading large, community homeschooling groups. Starting a homeschooling support group in my home. Starting meetings for the purpose of talking about living healthy, whole lives. Participating in a MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. Then speaking at MOPs groups or junior high girls camp, retreats or brunches. Then mentoring a MOPS group. Leading an Awana group. Serving soup and bread. Lots of things.

Mostly, in recent years, my involvement has been leading different kinds of groups and meetings in my own home or having people over for coffee, brunch, lunch, or dinner. When I am not involved with others in some way, either formally or informally, I begin to feel that my life is too centered on me. Too ingrown. So, I was wondering how I could plug in or connect in some way here on the coast. Then Mom asked if I wanted to join a church "mentoring" group (which is sort of a Bible/book study) with her. Sure! So, we're working through the study with several other ladies on Wednesday evenings. I enjoy it. Then Mom let one of the church kitchen ladies know that we'd love to sign on to help. They work so hard and do so much and have such fun doing it. Some of those same ladies were working in the kitchen when I was young, and they continue to do it so cheerfully. They inspire me.

10. Something creative (no matter how amateurish). I just need to be doing something that stretches my creative muscles. It's soothing, somehow, and satisfying, too. I don't pretend to be a writer or a photographer, but ever since I've been little I've been keeping diaries and writing things in notebooks and on scraps of paper everywhere. I just need to do this. And maybe that's why I continue to enjoy keeping a blog when it probably makes sense to take a break.

I also enjoy taking photos. And nowadays everyone is a photographer! (I think it's nice that so many people enjoy taking photos now that digital cameras make it so easy to play around with pictures.) I make no pretense at knowing what I'm doing. So far, I've shot every picture on "auto," but am starting to fiddle around and stretch and try new things. Mostly, I just point and shoot and play around, and, for some reason, I really like doing it. One of the things I'm doing while I'm here on the coast is taking photos everywhere we go. Hopefully, I'll end up with a photo album that will nicely represent the time I'm spending in this place-- the beaches, the geology, a bit of history, my family, my friends, my activities.

***

There's a bit of redundancy or overlap in those items, but there it is. If I do these things (and eat well), my days are nice and feel fairly in balance. And there's no reason that I can't do all of this no matter where I go. In that case I could say, I suppose, that I may wander but I'm not lost.
(Photo above was taken this morning, as Emma, my dad's cat, joined me for "Psalms and Morning Coffee.")

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

God's Good Gifts...

Today. Mom and JoAnne arriving at the ocean after hiking across the dunes.

With all of the posts I've been putting up of our recent outdoor adventures at the beach, on the dunes, and along pretty hiking trails, my sister says it's like Mom and I are on vacation. And it really does feel like it! The weather has been crazy-warm and wind-free, and-- ahhh-- it's been blissful! It's common to have a few of these days on the coast every January or February, but not for weeks on end like this year. It's been summery, only nicer because there's not that cold, hard summer wind blowing on the beach.

The weather has been a gift-- unbelievably pleasant and strengthening. For some people, dark winter days can seem long and endless, and lack of plentiful sunshine can be dispiriting at times. This effect is even stronger in times of difficulty or grief. So, truly, this amazing weather feels like a mercy. A gift just for us.

Someone asked how long I'll be here at my mom's house. Will I move here permanently? That is such a nice thought, but I don't know how long I'll be here, and, no I won't be moving here permanently, unless, of course, the Lord has other plans. As it stands now, I have a husband who is trying to leave Washington DC ( but things beyond his control are keeping him there). And we have our own home across the mountains in the desert. Only God knows how long I'll be here at Mom's. For now, I just carry on, one day at a time, and I count it a huge blessing to be here.

I have to say, though, that I do miss home. I miss the everyday domestic rhythms of homemaking. I miss the busy daily puttering and making things pleasant about the house. I miss decorating for the seasons and going to Goodwill with Michelle. I miss the work of home-- the cleaning, carrying wood to the porch, shoveling the walks (though it's been unseasonably warm there this winter, too), building morning fires, daily walks down our country road. I miss messing about in my own kitchen and being hospitable. I miss the neighbors and my friends. I miss seeing my daughter, her husband, and my two grandsons almost every day (I miss them all terribly). I miss a lot of things.

Mom has made being here just about as easy and ideal for me as it could possibly be. I feel at home. She gives me total space and freedom to do what I want around here and to do it my own way. She is amazingly easy to be around. I love being able to spend so much time with Mom and the family. I love being here on the coast again; I'm so enjoying the beauty and the longtime friendships I have here.

But, again, no matter how nice it is for me to be here now (and it really, really is), I'm still away from my home. I'm 50-years-old, and I've had my own home for a long time. When it's all said and done, I'm really a visitor here, in both very lovely and very difficult circumstances.

There are the daily reminders of Dad. My bed is in his office, so all around me are mementos of his life and his days. It's sweet and bitter all at once. Mostly, it's been nice to look around and see his gifts and interests and abilities and character traits, all clearly communicated in his books and pictures, in the quotes he has around on his desk and around the room, and in the amazing organization and arrangement of his things. I love seeing all of this.

And Mom grieves, of course. I see it as nothing short of heroic how she deals with her situation every day. She smiles and presses forward with amazing cheer. She is thinking of others all the time. She is positive and aims to learn and grow, both in her faith and in her character, through struggles and difficulties. I am sort of in awe as I watch her choose how she will proceed each day. But, of course, she also weeps. It's next to impossible to come to terms with the end of a beautiful, truly loving and happy marriage that lasted 54 years. Nothing can ever be the same, really.

And that is part of the reason for our "vacation."

Mom has always found a peace and rest in being near the ocean. When we were young, whenever things were stressful or Mom was exhausted, she'd load us in the car and take us to the beach. She'd sit there in the sand and watch the steady, rhythmic waves and sense the reality of God's love and presence and care while we kids ran and dug in the sand and splashed in the water. We were a family who spent much of our time at the beach, and not only in times of pressure, but just because we loved it, too.

Years later, even though Mom and Dad lived just a few miles from the ocean, Dad would take Mom up the coast to a place where they could stay in a room for a few days with large windows overlooking the beach. He knew this was the most relaxing, refreshing thing in the world to Mom-- to stare at the ocean-- so he was giving her the best gift he could. Mom could either sit inside at the table by the windows or walk out the door and hike up the beach, and she loved nothing more than these little vacations.

No doubt Mom's love of the ocean started when she was a little girl. Her father was a tugboat operator for an Oregon coast lumber company. He loved the water, had his own small boat, and regularly took Mom out in the water, down the river, and across the bar to sea. She says this was what she loved doing more than anything else as a child. She loved the rolling and breaking of the waves and being with her father. She felt safe and happy.

As we were driving in the car recently, Mom told me that she was trying to live by something her father used to tell her about going through rough seas in the boat. He said that you have to go straight into the waves. Don't turn sideways or try to outrun them, or you'll be swamped or capsize. Go straight into them. And that's what Mom is doing now, every day. She doesn't want to sidestep things or run away from them. She's trying to go straight into the waves and deal with things as they come. She's taking, head-on, the many new responsibilities that have now become hers. With God's help, she wants to face things directly and deal with them.

Another thing that Mom said has helped her is remembering something my Grammy (my dad's mom) told her once. When my dad was a boy, Grammy lost her little four-year-old girl. She said the death of her little daughter was unbearable, and the only thing that helped her to survive it was to walk. So she did. She said she walked and walked and walked, and it was the way she got through it.

Mom is also a walker, and she has been since I can remember. She still loves walking. And so she walks. She walks up and down the road. She walks on the treadmill. She walks down the beach. She walks the hills with me in town. We walk and walk together because I need it, too. And Mom says it really does help her. Plus, we just plain enjoy the invigorating fresh air and the exercise. It strengthens both body and spirit.

Isak Dinesen said, "The cure for anything is saltwater; sweat, tears, or the sea."

I think that Isak Dinesen was onto something. Mom is onto it, too. (And I hope I am as well.) The "salt" of the beautiful, powerful sea; the sweat of hard work in the yard and around the house, along with all of the walking; the tears that give release and bring some relief; they are each healing and consoling and strengthening. They are, truly and powerfully, good gifts from God.

And the weather, too. I really see it as a mercy and another of God's gift. It's given us a chance to have this little "vacation."


God is good to us all.

Today's Dunes to Beach Hike...

We drove up the coast a ways today to another trailhead on the sand dunes. This time the trail would take us across the dunes all the way to the beach. The temperature was in the 60's today, and there was a very slight breeze. Some of us started out wearing sweatshirts or jackets, but we spent most of the day in t-shirts or tank tops and jeans or shorts.

Here's JoAnne at the overlook at the start of the trail.

Mom and JoAnne walking across the dunes.

Nicole, Alia, Conner. We've hiked across the sand dunes, taken a short, pretty walk through brush and trees, and are back out in the open in the dune grass near the beach.

And there is the Pacific ocean.

Conner, running from the waves. Alia stands in the water.

Zane beachcombing.

And what did we see at the beach today?

Shorebirds. These birds were adorable, running en masse and in formation-- their little legs churning hilariously fast-- toward the surf, then suddenly turning and fleeing en masse just as quickly when the water approached them...

A fishing boat. A common sight at the beach...

And a snowplow??? (Okay, Aaron, I know. It's a bulldozer, but it looks like a snowplow, so I'm calling it one!) This one had us laughing. There is no road that we know of near this beach. One hikes across the dunes to get here and then walks along the beach in a fair amount of privacy and isolation. To see this machine come churning down the beach was a surprising and strange sight, but there it was...