Friday, November 21, 2014

Gifts of November

 It is seven in the morning as I walk around the perimeter of our beloved Compound, and deceptively noisy. The wind and a light sound of battered leaves surround me. In a matter of hours the leaves will fall from this tree, a skeleton of branches left behind.

With a light frost on the ground, my feet crunch with every step.

Honking, honking everywhere. Geese en route to warmer places fly overhead and take a break at their rest stop in the field.

I don't recall ever noticing that November is so alive.

 At our church's annual Thanksgiving carry in, I am one of five people who were asked to give a brief testimony of gratitude. My first thought was all the obvious blessings- family, friends, food, shelter, health. Especially health. I had a broken ankle and a walker this time last year, so I'm especially mindful of that one. My next thought was that everyone is going to get up and say that they are thankful for those exact things. I wanted something less rote, something more specific and easily hidden, something unique to my life at this point in time right now.

I spent a week being mindful of the lesser blessings, those small but meaningful moments of thanks that get lost in the fold, or perhaps never even make it out of the dryer.

Here are some things I found and sorted.

I am thankful for opportunities to give, and am thankful every time I witness someone who wants to give their time and resources to others in need. This is a good time of year to observe this, as it becomes more abundant with Christmas approaching. I am thankful if someone in need is being fed, clothed, or comforted by any laborer in the field. It happens often, but it's a bonus if I get to see it.

I am thankful every time someone asks about our son, asks about his progress, or just plain asks about his unique diagnosis. Any opportunity to share the joy of his accomplishments or educate someone about Childhood Apraxia of Speech is a personal blessing. To advocate for your children is a special extra-credit assignment.

I am thankful that my husband will be working on Thanksgiving day. It means he has an important job that is in demand. Yes, once in a while we have to reschedule a holiday, but not every holiday. You get used to it when you have a loved one who works in the medical field.

Finally, I'm thankful that I don't shop in any actual stores on the day after Thanksgiving. I can't think of any place I would rather not be than out in the crowds. My Christmas shopping is done, anyway. I guess I can be thankful for that, too.

South bound journey.

What are your unique blessings?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Prayer in a Season of Thankfulness

We're adjusting to a new routine. The Little Mister has started a special preschool program where so far, he is thriving. Even as I blinked back some tears the first time he got on the bus, you can't begin to imagine the depth of my gratitude for this opportunity. So far, he loves it and has adjusted seamlessly in the small classroom of peers. He receives therapy, and so much more. He has two words now: "Yes" and "No". He also has some half words such as yuck, uh-oh, ah-hah, and he is working on "ok."

It has been the answer to a very long prayer journey.

There is a song that says "Someone is praying for you." I always thought it was kind of ridiculous. Who, and why? How or why would they pray for me if they did not know me? How would they even know what they should pray about?

On Little Mister's first day of school I was adjusting to the new routine with my regular Monday trip to the grocery store. When we first were married and moved to this area, I used to sometimes shop at a store on the other side of the county. It was located in a large shopping center and I could do several errands at once. There was a lady I would sometimes see in the grocery store who caught my eye. Perhaps in her fifties, and dressed so flamboyantly that it bordered on a costume, I surmised that she might be self employed in a manner completely off the books and in a very old profession. Her garish clothing caught my attention every time. Once I saw her shopping with a man. She kept rough company. Beneath the flashy and cheap, I could see evidence that she was once very beautiful.

They built a store closer to where we live, and I no longer saw the lady. In fact, I forgot about her.

Until last week.

It was the high spiked heels of her boots and the skirt shorter than her worn out fur coat. Maybe the coat was a Goodwill find, or a gift from long ago. Now, she was pushing a cart through my new store, more creases on her face than even five years ago. How did she get out here? Her cart was far from full, just a few things for a single lady to get by on, pasta sauce and soda. As I encountered her in aisle after aisle, she never once noticed me, the denim skirt mom who was praying that the world would show her some kindness. Winter is coming, will she be warm? Is there anyone to look after her? What about in twenty years?

We ended up in the check out lanes next to one another. She was having a hard time paying. After using the balance on her food stamps, she was scrounging for seventeen dollars and change.

My heart longed to help her. What should I do? Lord, please let her have the money. I don't want her to have to put anything back. Should I help if she needs it?

She leaned over her cart, calmly sifting through her large purse. She was unfazed, and after a while produced something to pay the balance.

We paralleled again on our way out of the store, and I wondered as she pushed her cart through the parking lot. Could she actually have a car? She had too many bags to take on the bus, and she wasn't headed for the bus stop. She confidently strode to a vehicle and began unloading the cart into the back of something. I craned my neck and saw an elderly man helping her. They were putting the bags into the back of his van, while his wife waited in the front passenger seat.

Ah, familiarity. I recognized him as the Deacon from a nearby church, an extremely kind man whose acquaintance I had made a handful of times. So they were looking after her. No doubt doing more than just giving her rides, but maybe also feeding her physically and spiritually.

Thank you.

Someone is praying for her.  

Maybe someone is praying for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Easy Baked Apples

It was before I even heard the first flock of geese fly away for the winter. The unmistakable whirrrrr of a combine started in the field one evening. Can you see its lights? Like a thief in the night, he began taking down the field. My beautiful corn field was being harvested by a green and yellow monster, driven by a friend and neighbor who sits within twenty feet of me every Sunday.

The next day, Little Mister and I went out to wave and watch as the field out front was harvested, the corn was poured into a truck. He bent down and picked up a husk, and peeled it back to nothingness.

"Waaaah!" He expressed his disappointment at the cob that had disappeared.

"No, no, that's GOOD!" I tell him, and then go on to explain how it all works, ending with "...and that's how he makes money." 

I think he understood, but he still seemed suspicious. 

"What a marvelous system God designed to feed us," I tell him. He looks pensive. No way to know if he is actually listening and thinking about what I tell him, or planning his next adventure. 

I often feel like motherhood is just casting some seeds and hoping that somewhere, something good will grow.

I've encountered all of the usual suspects this October: Apples, pumpkins, hayrides, and of course, harvest festivals. Our local apple festival included all kinds of seasonal goodies, like fried candy bars and cookies...


I much preferred these neat gourds that look like enormous green apples. They are about the size of a medium pumpkin and would make unique decorations...

At one farm we took a hayride that turned out to be an apple picking hayride. I kid you not, it was like an abduction where we were forced to do the lightest and most enjoyable farm labor imaginable, all for our own benefit. It was fun to pick a few fresh apples, even though it meant a hearty surplus at our house.

I wanted to do something quick and easy with some tart apples, so I carved out the centers and cores, and filled them with butter, raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, and, just because I had some at the moment, a piece of caramel candy. Sprinkled with cinnamon, I placed them in the slow cooker with a little apple cider, and cooked on high for two hours. They were delicious for dessert, and reminded me of the baked apples we always made on Christmas morning when I was growing up.
It hasn't all been hayrides and apple picking this month. Some of Little Mister's most important services, such as speech therapy, end in just a few weeks and we have been working on securing new avenues for help. I feel awash in paperwork, phone calls and meetings, all on top of some yearly deep cleaning projects that I'm anxious to start. With that in mind, I'm trying to keep life as uncomplicated as possible right now. I hope to share some of my recent simplifying domestic/parenting/life tactics in an upcoming post.

Autumn selfie.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Five Fall Moments

Those green fields are yellowing, the sunflowers have hung their heads in a sorrowful pose. That chill in the air has come too soon and whispers a warning of long, cold months ahead. I know how to make it all go away. Want to know a secret? I will just pull out the cool weather clothes for the seasonal clothing swap, and that will guarantee an eighty degree day. You just wait

The cooler days suited me just fine since I spent a few afternoons with the oven running non-stop in preparation for the bake sale at our church's community outreach day. I was packaging up a few dozen cookies when I saw that I was going to be late picking up Little Mister from a therapy appointment. I quickly grabbed my purse and jumped into the car. About halfway there, I made an awful realization. All of my packaged baked goods, including the previous day's work, were in a laundry basket left out in the open, in close proximity to a mischievous dog.

A dog who devours everything.  

A dog with super scent-tracking capabilities.

All of my hard work. Right there in that basket. The basket I had meant to put away somewhere before leaving, and then was forgotten. There was no time to turn around and run back home to save them, if it wasn't too late already.

I'm sure a tear or two sprang to my eyes. I started praying.

"....and dear Lord please protect the banana bread too..."

Almost a half hour later I pulled in the driveway, my heart heavy in my stomach. Would you believe I found a perfectly untouched basket, with all my goodies neatly wrapped and undisturbed? Buddy laid nearby, completely uninterested.

Exhale. Thankfulness. Laughter. 

Then, on the first official day of Fall, my true love gave to me....

A giant bucket of paw paws. I've never heard of these, and certainly had never tasted one. Years ago, The Mister planted a paw paw tree at his parent's farm and they are just now bearing fruit. In case you have never eaten one, I'll describe it. They are very fragrant with a sweet aroma. They are easy to peel and have a soft yellow texture inside that reminds me of a cross between an avocado and a mango. They are mildly sweet and kind of tropical tasting. Some say they taste a little like a banana. 

The last blooms before winter are the Montauk daisies. They bloom in a big shrub all through September.


It wouldn't be early Fall without applesauce.
Remember our big strawberry harvest? I pulled some berries out of the freezer and did one batch of strawberry applesauce, just for something different this year. It was five pounds of apples to three cups of frozen berries, simmer and sieve. It smelled wonderful cooking on the stove!


Finally, window washing. DO NOT be impressed by our housekeeping. We just happened to have the scaffolding up for a home repair, and I suggested we leave it up so we could clean off the picture window properly. Window washing occurs around here on an as-needed, as-is-convenient basis. It works out to once every other year in which there are fourteen full moons and two months with additional Wednesdays. Or something like that.

Not a bad start to the season. I hope you're enjoying it, too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Small House Living

It happens all the time. I get excited about an article entitled something like "How We do X with a Small House" or "Maximize Your Space in a Small Kitchen". Living small is one of my pet topics. I click on the link. Maybe it has some useful tips.

Then, I see that the house in question has a basement for storage, the small kitchen is three times the size of mine, and the house has two, yes, TWO bathrooms. I get indignant. No, no, you do not have a small house. Get out of here, you can't even play this game, you are unqualified. 

We live in a tiny old tenant farm house which suffered a few random additions over the years, ultimately concluding with less than 1,000 square feet of total space. Far from a micro-home, it probably was closer to average just fifty years ago. We do not have a basement. We do not have a garage. My laundry room is a stacked washer and dryer in a corner of the kitchen. I know people with homes like ours who do it with six times as many children, and I pray they are richly blessed with creative storage solutions.

Do you want to know if your house is small? Here is a quiz I created to find out:

If someone gives you something you would really like to own, do you immediately have to consider where it will be stored in your home and what you may need to get rid of in order to keep it?

When you get chilly, is it viable to heat up a couple rooms by baking something in the oven or putting a load of laundry in the dryer?

Is your food preservation strategy to place an empty jar everywhere you can fit one, in all kinds of crazy places, and then fill as many as you can?

When it comes to family planning, are you concerned about the possible legal implications of a one child per square foot ratio?

If you answered yes to all four, then you are in the big little-house leagues. If you got two or three out of four, you are in the game. If you answered no to all three, then you are a spectator. Enjoy your indoor swimming pool.

No great honor comes with living in tight quarters. I am not more spiritual or virtuous because I live in a smaller than average one-story doll house. There are a few hidden blessings, which I've mentioned here in the past. In general, less cleaning, less clutter, smaller bills.

I also have no magical formula for living small with great ease. 

Well, okay. I've picked up a few reliable tips:

For instance, try to make the most out of storage space underneath large furniture. For instance, here are some things we store under the couch:

Likewise, you should try to utilize overhead space above doors and windows. For example, I hung an organic insect control device on the kitchen ceiling. No one but me has noticed it, and I hope it will help with the late summer fruit fly problem.

Alright. It's a spider, and it moved there on its own. Who can blame it? It must enjoy a cozy habitat where every room smells of a freshly baked pie, a warm fire heats even the farthest nook on the coldest day, and the family living space is always full of life.

Even though we'll likely build a modest addition in the future, I'm choosing contentment for now. You can never have too much of it, and it's a good fit for any home. Sometimes I lose it, grow discontent, and have to find it again. When that happens next time I'll just look under the couch. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Late Summer Love

Have you ever had one of those days where it felt like you got nothing done? It was the most unproductive day, ever. Maybe you had a headache and every time you thought to start a project, calamity broke out, followed by organized chaos and a complete memory loss of what it was you were trying to start ten minutes ago. 

Then, at the end of the day you realized that although you did nothing, someone managed to do two loads of laundry, served three meals, answered the phone, changed the dead batteries in two toys, volunteered for the church bake sale, cleaned up the kitchen, and gave the dog a bath? I guess someone might have done something after all. Sometimes summer feels like that. It flies by and you think it went so fast and didn't get a chance to do it all, but you find that somehow, you did even more.

 I've been blessed with some lovely summer moments these past few weeks. The freezer corn is all in, the last pickle has been picked, and we were able to enjoy a few days in PA visiting and enjoying some family time together. One day I even got to fly solo and do a little shopping. It felt a little decadent to take my time browsing in a bookstore while, all around me, women were pulling wagons of empty jars and peach bushels.

 I adore windmills and don't see them very often anymore. There are other ways of pumping water now, but I hope they don't disappear altogether. 

One of these things is not like the other...

We enjoyed a day with some extended family at one of our favorite antique tractor events in mid-August. Last year, Little Mister fell asleep in his stroller and I dashed out for a quick trip to the fruit farm. No such luck this year! His plan was to start his own parade of power while the others fell asleep at the wheel.

The field corn is starting to brown a little bit on the edges now, but did you know it is still fun to run through and hide while mom chases you and visions of helicopters and search teams dance in her head? True story. Someone save me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recipe: Spaghetti Pie

The Mister actually spotted this recipe while reading one of his farm newspapers. I was skeptical because we've eaten baked spaghetti ten different ways, but this one looked a little different than my other stand-by pizza casserole dishes. I think it's the layer of herbed cream cheese that  makes it extra delicious. As an added bonus, there was plenty left over for a second meal.

I like that anything right now that's easy to put together because, most days, I'm all about just getting some kind of nutritious food on the table. 

It was definitely a winner.

12 oz. cooked spaghetti
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (I just sprinkled)
2 T. butter 

Combine crust ingredients and spread into a 9x13-inch pan. 

Herb layer:
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (Again, I just gave it a few shakes)
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1/3 tsp. pepper
1 cup sour cream

Combine herb layer ingredients and spread over crust.

Meat layer:
1 pound ground beef
24 oz. spaghetti sauce

Brown and drain ground beef and combine with spaghetti sauce; pour over herb layer. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Top with:

Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese (I omitted the extra parm and it was still delicious)

Heat until melted.

Picnic, anyone?    


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