Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of the Year Wrap Up

With a few more months to go until spring, I'm already searching for mercy in the cold, dark days of winter. The gray skyline and stark branches of trees provide little comfort for man or beast during these frosty days. I am all "baked out" after Christmas and have tins full of treats to last for a month. Now I am spending the end of the year comforting my sad mama hen friends with grown children who are flying back to their independent lives, perusing the lovely gardening/canning book that I received for Christmas, and thinking about my next round of sewing projects. In other words, I'm making due until sunnier days.

Oh, and that doll dress I made for a friend of a friend? It went over like a charm, and fit perfectly. I was so relieved to hear that. It felt good to bless a stranger.

This was the cake I baked for our Christmas Eve get-together with my side of the family.
Usually I make a traditional English trifle which has gone over well with most people, but this year someone wanted a cake. So, to please everyone, this is actually my trifle in cake form. A yellow sponge cake, elderberry jelly filling, whipped cream frosting, fresh raspberries and toasted almonds. Very easy, too. The hardest part was getting it down our icy driveway in the cake carrier without it sliding around!

A view from between the rows- dried corn stalks across the road.

Wishing you all many blessings in the New Year!

"Behold, I make all things new."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Time to Give

zealous of good works.”(Tit.2:14)

A sign along our road admonishes drivers passing by to be zealous of good works. For me, good works often means giving, and nothing incites the zealotry of giving in me quite like Christmas does. I know neighbors may drive by our work-in-progress home and see piles of construction debris and cars that are humble (but paid in full) and may think of us as those poor people. But what others can't see is that we have so much more than many other people do, and we are actually so rich that my heart aches to hear of others who have a need or have nothing. So, without any advanced planning, I embarked on my own personal twelve days of zealotry. Each day for the past ten days or so I have tried to give charitably or do a good work with the idea of giving for the sake of giving. It started out very easily. After all, this time of year there are an abundance of organizations collecting food, clothes, toys...it was practically impossible not to give something! Our mail box regularly overflows with donation requests from various ministries we have supported, and it seems so overwhelming, the needs that exist in this world. Some days the only thing you can do is pray about it and ask God to use us to meet those needs. It doesn't make the burden of wanting to help go away, but it does ease it.

One day, the only thing I could give was the simple gift of helping a woman find a few books at the library. She was so excited when I showed her where they were on the shelf that she grabbed my hands and thanked me so profusely it was almost embarrassing. "You've made my Christmas!" she said. And then she apologized to have bothered me to begin with. "You're not bothering me, it's my job!" I told her. It was a reminder that I often have a chance to give to someone just by doing my daily routine, though I admit it often does not come easily to me, and I am not always a cheerful giver or do-er.

But I have found my days of intentional giving to be an enormous blessing, and a contagious one, too. The more I give, the more I want to give more. And the more I see others give, the more I want to follow in their steps.

Around the Home: We have had two feet of snow dumped on us, and the wind was so cold it was even hard to keep our food on the table warm. We have enjoyed "decorating" for the season as we usually do, by tacking Christmas cards to our bare studded walls. I love seeing those Christmas messages from far away friends. On our snow day, I accomplished all of my Christmas cookie baking, making dozens of gingerbread men and my own personal favorite: oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and cranberries. Oh, delicious!



Some months ago, someone asked me as a favor whether I could make a doll dress for a friend of theirs. The catch was that there was not a pattern or even measurements of the doll, they just gave me an old dress to copy that was so worn that the fabric was discolored and the elastic spent. I gave it my best try...

I think it turned out sweet. Hopefully it fits, or that doll will have to go on a diet!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scenes from the Season

Why yes, it is a very busy time. You too? Oh, I'm so glad I'm not alone. Allow me to introduce scenes from the pre-holiday:

It started with a cough from The Mister, and is ending with perpetual sneezing sessions from me. I could only duck his cold for so long. I find a sympathetic ear in my friend Lois, who, a
fter I get done expounding on the unfairness of always catching your spouses cold and explaining how I expect to be bed-ridden any minute, asks good-naturedly "Are you coming Christmas caroling with us?" Hmm, with my nasal passages clogged and my voice unrecognizable between coughs, I think not.

I'm on the phone (yes, the dreaded phone) with my sister-in-law and we're making plans for Christmas day. She puts my three-year-old niece on the phone.
"You coming our house for my birthday?" she asks.
Oh dear, it seems that every time she observes plans being made and family converges on her home, my little niece Katie figures that it must be her birthday!I hope she doesn't get the wrong idea about the meaning of Christmas.

And of course it would not be complete without bickering over food, this time, with my mother:
"(Picky-family-member) suggested that you bring a cake for dessert."
A cake? Why? What kind of cake?
"Something light."
How is a cake ever light?
"And it should have fruit."
There isn't a lot of fruit in season right now.
"But not a fruit cake."
I give up.

This is a favorite winter side dish. Squash and apple slices baked until tender with a hint of brown sugar. A winner!

Baked Squash and Apples

2 pounds butternut squash (peeled seeded and fibers removed, cut into 1/2 inch slices)
-arrange in an ungreased baking dish

2-3 baking apples (cored and cut into 1/2 inch slices)
arrange on top of squash

1/3 cup brown sugar
3 Tb butter
1 Tb flour
1 ts salt
1/4 tsp ground mace (optional)
-combine in a small bowl then sprinkle on top of apples and squash. Cover and bake at 350F until squash is tender (about 45 minutes).

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Christmas Letter


Once, in my youth, a brave family member sent us a Christmas letter on special themed paper filled with family news and success stories. It was ridiculed at our house as vain and prideful, and my parents would no sooner have penned a Christmas letter than rented a billboard to tell of our family news. Of course, things to brag about in those days were in short supply, but you get the point. Imagine my surprise when I married a man who not only expected me to write a Christmas letter, but came from a family where nearly everyone sent them. It was my own private culture shock. But I fell into writing it with ease, and even enjoyed it. But I can't bring myself to report on the slow news day that has been the past year.

This weekend I suggested to The Mister that we not send out a Christmas letter this year. It just wasn't that exciting a year. Compared to our friends who welcomed new babies and finished their home renovations, there is not enough on our end that would fill more than a paragraph. We pretty much carried out our year engrossed in the daily labor of working on our own property, and all the seasonal tasks we usually accomplish. We did not have any tragedies (praise the Lord!), nor did we have any major changes for better or worse. Those close to us, who would be interested, already know who our visitors were, where we took trips to, and the status of our home renovation. They don't know the gritty secrets, such as our future plans- where we want to relocate, when I plan to stop working, and other secret things. And we aren't going to tell them, and certainly not in a Christmas letter.

Although we are thankful, we are not going to expound on the mundane. That my husband enjoys steady and fruitful employment at his job, that I still attempt to create some good in the world through the library, and that our house remains a work in progress. Our family is well, there were no deaths, and we acquired no new pets or properties. I could probably write a few sentences about my neck problems and repeated chiropractor visits and the pain-management doctor, and how it was getting worse and not better until some people started praying about it. Could probably, but would not.

We don't have any funny anecdotes to share, or perhaps writing them down would not do them justice. An annual letter can't convey the mixed feeling of dark humor that comes every time another 75-year-old termite eaten board is pulled out of our floor, created by insects who lived before we were born. It also can't accurately communicate how it felt like a joke was played on us to discover that our simple, mixed breed dog Buddy, a former stray, was actually an exotic middle-eastern breed, proving our family motto that good dogs are often free.

We had no great adventures, nor phenomenal revelations. We had a simple year of hard work and quietly served the Lord the best we could. It was a good year, and I think I have just written a brief Christmas letter right here, in a round about way.

Menu Plan Monday? There were a few reasons I stopped participating in Menu Plan Monday, the main one being that it was just too boring for me to write the same meals we eat over and over, week after week. Then you would have to link it back to the site that sponsors MPM, and I might have gotten a little lazy about that. So now I just post an occasional recipe that is maybe new or interesting. But if there is enough demand, I might start participating again. So what do you think?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Attempt at Rug Making

Some of you might remember that a few months ago I treated myself to a class on how to make floor rugs from your old scraps of fabric. These are also called toothbrush rugs, because you use a small plastic stick with a hole in it that looks like a toothbrush handle to make them. At the time it seemed like such a good idea- and a great way to use up all those old, fading scraps in my fabric bin. And how economical! Anyway, it turned out to be more than I bargained for, and definitely no bargain.

First, learning to do this turned out to be even harder than I thought. We were told to read the pattern before taking the class, which I did, but I couldn't seem to grasp even the basic fundamentals of joining strips of fabric together in a weave-like fashion. It was mildly satisfying that only one of the eight women in my class was able to get the hang of it, and the one who did find it easy had a background in knitting and crochet. The instructor, a gruff woman who travels the country in an RV going around to quilt shops teaching this class, kept insisting it was easy. She would espouse its easiness between reprimanding her small dog which was wearing a sequined dress. Yes, really. She kept asking us "Isn't this easy?" and I wanted to say, "No, making clothes and quilting is easy, but this is really hard!" But I was really thankful when, after mentioning that I am dyslexic, the instructor saw that I really couldn't get the hang of it and helped me out by doing the first several rows of my rug for me. Without her doing those base rows, there is no way that I would have ever been able to finish it. After purchasing the pattern, materials, and putting out money for a four hour class, I quickly saw the rug as false economy- you could buy one for less than I spent learning to make it. You would have to make several rugs in order to get your money out of this experience. I had really hoped that I would not only become good at making these rugs, but really enjoy it as well. Unfortunately, after making just one of these, I know that scrap rug making isn't for me. At its worst, it was hard. At its best, it was redundant. But at least I finished what I started:

It's not pretty, but it's pretty useful!

Around the Home: I've never been one of those ladies who are so good at couponing that I can display a bounty of brand-name goods and announce that I paid some ridiculous price for them, like less than a dollar. Although I make some good deals here and there, we never seem to use the things that are on triple sale and would be virtually free, if only we used them. That 's why I felt like SUCH the smart shopper this weekend when I scored 3 free boxes of tissue, a free sour cream, and a can of soup for 9 cents. That just never happens.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Wishes

Every good and perfect gift is from above...(James 1:17) 



Turkeys at the Landis Valley Museum, PA.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Notes Between the Stacks


  • Last evening found me in an unusual place, one of those big-box book stores that I almost never visit for several reasons. First, as a librarian, I can pretty much read everything in that store for free. Secondly, many items I really want to read aren't in that store, and finally, I can never find things in those huge stores that don't seem to place things in any logical order. But having procured a 25% off-any-item coupon that my thrifty heart just could not let go to waste, there I was fully confused and lost between aisles of books that were shelved in no particular order and tables of novelty gifts in time for Christmas. The cookbooks were next to business books which were across from a table of literary classics, and I started to wonder if the marketing strategy of mass confusion was intended to make someone wonder around as much as possible so they will encounter lots of other items to buy in addition to whatever they came for. I was looking for a certain popular reference book on the nutritional values of food that I really want to own, but that meant scouring tons of tables with book displays since publishers pay hefty prices for book stores to display their books on a table instead of shelved. This does no favors for the person who is actually looking for a specific book. Although it was amusing to see some things I would have never imagined (such as the Grow Your Own Crop Circle! kit) I couldn't help but admit a fondness for books that are organized and placed together in a meaningful way, such as alphabetically. Amazingly, I found the book only to have my attention diverted by the Christian book display. What I found interesting about the display is how closely it followed the trends of secular books. For instance, someone publishes a book which turns out to be a runaway Best Seller. Of course, the publisher wants more of this, so they immediately set on republishing the book in three other formats: There will be a "More Secrets of the Original Bestseller" book, and then an interactive Journal, and then a condensed version such as "Bestseller in a Minute for Busy People." Finally, just when you think they can't squeeze anymore out of a single book, they come up with a special "Gift Edition" with a fancy cover. And then, if people are still gullible enough to be buying this over-merchandised title, then they can get the page-a-day calender. It all seems a bit disingenuous and, well, greedy. Perhaps I am expecting too much from Christian publishing houses, since they are also in the money making business. I just wish that faith didn't have to be diluted by merchandising and cheapened this way.
  • My cousin told me the best encouraging story today about how God unexpectedly met her needs. First, she was told that she needed $500 for some much needed work on her home. As she was wondering how she was going to come up with that sum since losing her job, an item she had at a consignment shop sold and they called her to have her come in and get her share, $500. Then, she was at the market buying roll butter, and as the man behind the counter was weighing it, they got to talking about the economy. She was telling the man how the company that she had been working for part time closed with only a day's notice, and how concerned she was for a woman she had worked with, a young single mother with a baby. My cousin E. did not even mention her own concerns about being without work. Well, the circumstances worked on this man's heart because he gave her a pound of butter and would not take E's money, explaining that as a Christian, he wants to help people when he can. E was terribly embarrassed and told him that she did not tell him this in order to get something for free. He put her money back in her hand. She left with tears in her eyes and took this act of receiving as a lesson in humility. After that she went to the drug store and the song playing over the speakers in there said "I am watching you from above and taking care of you". All I could say was WOW.
  • In other inspiring news, some of you might remember that I'm excited about supporting a mission group called "Little Loaves and Fishes" (LLF) who are praying about an overseas trip early next year to bring comfort and joy and medical care to babies and small children in the many orphanages that exist in this world. Hope Anne is selling some cute and gently used items on her blog (mostly children's clothing) as she tries to raise money for this blessed venture, so won't you have a peak? Of course, donations are accepted, too.
  • Finally, Beth is having a giveaway and the prize must be the greatest invention I've ever seen: Ground chocolate that you can make into a hot beverage like coffee. But it's not coffee, its chocolate. It all sounds so delicious, so what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Traditions

One can't help but notice that the word "tradition" seems to come up frequently during this time of year. After hearing the word about ten times in five minutes this morning while listening to a cooking show on the radio, it got me thinking about all of the family traditions that we, frankly, haven't started yet. And what a tradition is, and what it should be, and what it should not.

The Mister and I are the "young marrieds" of our family, so we aren't exactly on the forefront of starting family traditions. And the slightly longer-marrieds among us are far too busy caring for young children to even think about such things, and I don't blame them one bit. Although the traditions I heard about this morning had more to do with food rather than family rituals, it's not easy to separate the two. I will forever associate baked apples full of raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar with breakfast on Christmas morning, a special treat. But what it really got me thinking about are the traditions, rituals, and habits that have been passed down through generations. A strong work ethic, compassion for God's creation, and a love of books are some of the traditions handed down in our family that are far more valuable to me than any apple.

Here is what I think good traditions do best. They nurture, they bring people together, they diminish differences and highlight commonalities. And they should have a beauty all of their own. It sounds like a tall order until you actually measure some of your favorite traditions against this criteria, and then you delightfully find that they measure up every time. I am saddened by those who seemingly toss traditions aside decrying them to be no longer "relevant" for today. There is such a thing as a timeless tradition. And there are many new things that are developed "for today" that may be relevant, but certainly won't prove timeless. Yes, I try to be a defender of good rituals, and an admonish-er of the worthless ones because I believe tradition has value. It has been said that traditions are the "We always" of a family. We always take a walk at the park on Sunday afternoons.

But what do you do when, within a family or group, there are disagreements over the value of certain traditions?

We always do it this way.
We're not doing it that way anymore.
Why not?
Because we're doing something new and we only did it that way because...
But it was that way for so long and it was fine. If you want to change something, let's get rid of x, y and z...
Oh no, that has to stay.

Dissent is never an easy pill to swallow, but somehow, we get through.

One summer before we were married, the Mister and I were in Tennessee visiting his aunt and uncle. We were attending a public event in the Baptist-heavy south, and stumbled on an acappella hymn sing being led by a beautifully harmonized quartet of four men. They called their singing "new-found tradition" and I found this fascinating, since I had only ever thought of this type of singing as an enduring tradition. But in that instant, I found comfort in another new idea- that you can also rediscover and revitalize lost traditions. And it also made me grateful for those who stand firm in maintaining the traditions that nurture, fulfill, and draw us closer. The ones that have nourished us from the beginning and continue to provide a sense of security and a feeling of we always that draw us closer together.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thankful Thoughts


It's been a busy end-of-the harvest season here, but our hands are slowly finding moments of rest. Our garden has been pulled and tilled under, the wood stove is burning with warmth, and Christmas suddenly seems like a real possibility instead of some distant date. We're so grateful for all that the milder temperatures have allowed us to accomplish (until today since we are now being pounded by rain and wind). Although not a cold weather person by any stretch of the imagination, I do value the rest that this time of year gives us and look forward to the nights spent in warmth catching up on reading, stitching, and letter writing. Even in the darkest months of the year I need to remind myself that there is much to be thankful for. And that leads me to the notebook. A friend gave me this beautiful autumn-themed notebook that has a fatal flaw- it's too pretty to be written in! I had thought of using it as a journal to record things that I am thankful for, but couldn't bring myself to actually write in that pristine pad. So today I am hopping on the thankfulness band wagon and listing some here, instead.

  • For all the hysteria of flu season, we have experienced none of that illness and remain in good health. This is a double blessing because in this month of late season construction we need all of our stamina and energy to finish some important projects besides something drastic happens. Like snow.
  • That God is in control. No man, no government, nothing can challenge Him. What a relief! We can't control everything, and I'm glad. Who has the time?
  • That I don't have to judge. Isn't that the most freeing thought, to know that we do not need to monitor and judge what other people are doing? Only God is judge, so he has relieved us from exercising our imperfect ability to do that. 
  • Family and friends. What would I do with out you? This includes my handy and patient husband.
  • A table full of warm, nutritious food and people to share it with.
  • The people in our Bible study group, who share their wisdom, caring, and even provide comic relief.
  • Our jobs. For all of the midweek griping that they sometimes induce, they are a gift that enables us to help others while providing for our needs. And since I have a few family members who are completely without work right now, I am extra thankful for this one. We've been so blessed.
  • The future. Lord willing, it's wide open and full of endless possibilities and opportunities that can't be predicted. And full of hope.


And please feel free to add your own!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Early Morning Autumn Blessings

Being more of a night owl than an early bird, there are quite a few things that I never get to see, such as, oh, say, the sunrise. It's not that I don't like to get up early, it's really more that I just can't. Even after having gone through several phases where I desperately wanted to be an early riser, and would set the clock for some optimistic time only to hit the snooze button so many times that I would inevitably get up even later than if the experiment had not been tried at all! Early mornings are just not how I'm programmed.

The Mister, on the other hand, is a natural early riser. He bounds out of bed with big plans in his head and taunts me with the phrase "Time to milk the cows!"
We don't have cows, and I'm SO grateful for that. Unless we could get them used to a midnight milking, we will never be a dairy family. You are more likely to find me at midnight with a book in hand or even a spatula, because I am lively after dark. It always seems a bit inconvenient

But since we've changed the clocks back, and the early morning light is suddenly filtering through our windows at a time that makes it seem later than it actually is, I've had the opportunity to not exactly get up with the roosters, but wake up early and see some rare autumn morning blessings. For instance, I was startled to see this lone (and thawing) dandelion puff standing prominently against some early morning patchy frost. It was the only one left, and maybe the last one for the year.




And then there was the early morning moon which was setting on one side as the sun came up on the other. I only see the moon at night, so this was a novelty. Such a lovely blue sky, too.



This is another fall treat cooling on the window. By the way, you may notice the pole in the foreground of this picture, which is an interesting topic in itself. We have many Orthodox Jewish neighbors, and these poles are scattered around their property and have some religious significance. I believe it's called an eruv and it is a symbolic fence that allows observant Jews to carry things on the Sabbath. We didn't know what it was when we first moved here, and actually used to use it to tether our dog when we were working outside! (We don't do that any more.)

Pumpkin Pecan Pie
1 cup pumpkin
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup chopped pecans
3 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Beat together with mixer. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 for 50 minutes, until middle is set.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On the Telephone

Here is my confession. I dislike telephones. No, not just mobile ones, all of them. This is a terrible affliction to have in modern society. Really, it would be more acceptable to most people if I were to adopt some odd and suspect behavior such as pipe-smoking rather than publicly admit to telephone rejection. This is, after all, a day and age when people not only carry phones with them at all times, but are mighty close to having them implanted into their heads. And had you known me during my teen years, that is exactly the fate you would have predicted for me- a cranial phone implant. But somewhere along the line, I lost it. That is, I lost the pleasurable sensation of lengthy phone calls and the curiosity that makes one rush to the phone when it rings. It just flew out the window one day and never came back. The invention of e-mail (of which I was a late adapter) may have played a role in this loss. Or it may be that since I routinely spend about 15 hours of the week helping to answer the phone at the library, I'm just too tired to deal with a ringing phone in my own home. Really, since I have often answered our home phone by saying "Reference desk, can I help you?" much to the startled surprise of the caller, this may be a viable theory.

It's practically a social disease in itself to dislike phones. Family and friends who do not have e-mail are more likely to receive a hand written letter from me, but in these busy days, they sometimes don't hear from me at all. Yes, it's is regrettable and sad. People are somewhat mystified when I don't freely rattle off my cell phone number so they can
interrupt call me anytime.
"You do have one, don't you?"
"Well yes, it's just that I don't use it regularly, it's just for emergencies."
They look at me uncomprehendingly. Once a year I check the voice mail on it and delete ancient messages left from strangers who mistakenly called my phone and left a message in my abyss of unchecked voice mails. More people dialing the wrong number call that phone than people calling intentionally. This is a phenomena that extends to our home phone too, where voice mail messages hang in limbo for days until the Mister asks if I have checked for them lately. My husband then spends ten minutes or so collecting messages which he than relays to me, somewhat aware that I would rather bury my head in the sand than call anyone back.
"You really need to try to remember to check for messages" he told me during the time of his grandfather's sickness. And during that time, I did. If it's important, it's easy to remember, but when that phone rings these days it's rarely important. Case in point:

First, it only rings when I'm doing something delicate, like trying to precariously place a liquid pie in the oven. Then, if I can get to the ringing phone in time, it's almost never a call from friends or family. It is almost always a call from someone seeking donations or an automated political message. In the past two days I have received automated calls from both former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Steve Forbes. We would have rather they came for a visit. ;-)

Once, I lobbied the Mister to get rid of the phone. That went nowhere, and rightly so. That disruptive ring isn't always pleasant, but it's necessary.

At the root of my disdain for the telephone, I can only account for it by my preference for quiet, concentration, and the written word just slightly more than instant communication. Don't get me wrong, the phone has its purpose. But it will never replace the e-mails that brighten my day, or cards in the mail that get taped to the wall, or the undisturbed quiet of a Sunday afternoon. Somehow, these things ring louder.

In the Kitchen: The stories I had heard about making crackers always sounded intimidating. Then, I found a homemade cracker recipe that looked fool proof. With optimistic visions of filling up the cracker tin, I set out to mix up my own batch. Well, the first batch of dough came out so poorly it was discarded. The second batch was fine, but the process of cutting these paper thin pieces of dough and then transferring them to a baking sheet was excruciating. So what I ended up with were these oddly shaped cookie-like things that sort of taste like crackers. File these under "R" for rustic.

Around the Home: I'm really loving lock and lock storage containers after receiving some as a gift. In fact, everything in my pantry that is not in a tin or canister is getting transferred to these containers. They are transparent and so high quality. As always, shop around for the best price.

PS: It turns out that saffron is used not in the making of the noodles, but a pinch or two is added when cooking the noodles along with the browned butter you usually put on them, to give them just a little bit of an interesting flavor. And this is purely a regional Pennsylvania thing, which explains why there is a whole lot of people who have never heard of this.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Great Escape

It was late last Thursday night when I was driving home from the store. The road that connects our street to the highway is a long, dark country road with many shabby homes. There is constant foot traffic at all hours of the day and night, a dearth of irresponsible pet owners, and wild turkey and deer crossings at any time. In short, a collision course. I had already evaded a dog, a cat, and a man dressed all in black (flawlessly blending into the darkness- has he not heard of safety orange?) as I carefully navigated the road, high beams on. But I saw the deer too late, and all I could think as my car skidded towards the surprised animal was Please don't hit the windshield. I felt a thud as my car came to a stop, and the smell of burnt rubber from the tires filled the air. The acappella music coming from the cd player suddenly seemed annoying and more like a soundtrack to something awful. The deer was gone. Please don't let it be a blown tire. I hit the eject button and got out of the car to check the damage. The tire looked okay, but it was too dark to tell for certain. My front turn signal was obliterated, but the front headlight was fine. The animal probably wasn't hurt much at all, for which I was grateful. I recalled once when the Mister found a hit deer by the side of the road that was still alive, yet close to death, and him having to run home and retrieve a gun to put the poor animal out of misery.

I hope the groceries in the trunk are okay. Back at home, I was able to view the car better once our outside lights were on. The minimal damage to the car was something to be grateful for, but a feeling that something was trying to stop me from taking a planned road trip the next day nagged at me a little. Already I had postponed my trek the week before when it rained heavily, and now I had a broken front turn signal. Well, it was merely the calamity of the day, and I was going to make it anyway. It turned out to be the right decision.

The next afternoon I wound my way through Pennsylvania's country roads to breathe in the colorful display of red and gold leaves. Dried brown corn stalks still stood proudly, and pumpkin patches peppered the roadside.


Filled clotheslines without an inch of space to spare waved in the breeze, and women working in their yards seemed to wag a finger at me, as that is a chore that still awaits my own neglected yard. A few light errands to run, visits to make, and the luxury of having all afternoon to do it provided the intangible gift of room to breathe. I always slightly envy the people who come into the library just to chat with the librarians. Don't they have a busy schedule like mine? Someplace to be at every hour of the day and a to-do list a mile long that needs completing before dark? In most circumstances, it would be unimaginable for me to have a day that consists of something as spontaneous as walking into a public place and chatting with strangers (let's forget for a moment that I'm pitiful at making small talk with cashiers, desk clerks, and other people I don't know). So I was a little hesitant to ask the clerk at the book store what was in the glass vials for sale by the register. But curiosity won.
"Saffron," he said.
"Yes, but why? What is the significance?"
"They say a lot of people around here use it for making noodles. Makes them yellow. A local woman grows it, and since we've been selling it, people have been calling us about it and wanting to buy some. It's seven times that price on the internet."

He asked if I had ever heard of making saffron noodles and I had to admit that it escaped me. Perhaps my grandmother would know something about it. Past memories of noodle making sessions kept running through my head, but saffron just wasn't in the picture. I paid for my purchase and thanked him, just pleased for once to be one of these people, if for only an afternoon, who have time for leisurely chat. But there is rarely rest for those who are passionate about learning, and now I'm on to investigating this odd connection between saffron and homemade noodles.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Balancing Two Worlds

As mentioned previously, I spent last week solidly at home, in an effort to get some important things done that there is no time for otherwise. There was a to-do list a mile long that was carefully chipped away at, until all that could be done was complete, and the rest was rained out. It was a joy to walk among the foliage at the nearby park, have supper with the Mister every night (who also stayed home to work on our house) and not have to worry about being anywhere at an appointed time. And yet, it was a fully productive week that provided much rest and did wonders for my chronic neck pain.

It often feels like I live two separate and incongruous lives. There is my primary life as wife and homemaker. It's the one most of my readers probably have a more complete picture of in their mind. Yes, that's me picking beans, taking something out of the oven, and pressing a shirt. It's writing letters to friends, Bible study group, visiting family, planning supper, and canning a season. It's my "real" life. The life where the needs of my loved ones matter even more than my own, and the seasons dictate the activities. But then there is a sizable part of my week that looks very different. It's the part where I fill my commuter mug with hot coffee and drive a lengthy spell to the library where I become part of a second family of lovely cohorts who unite for a day's labor amid the book stacks and computers. We diverse women from different places, in between answering phones and conducting research, discuss what matters most: Our struggles, our families, our friends, our histories, and our achievements no matter how minor. It's real community, the kind where we need each other because nothing in a professional career is ever a solo achievement. It's the community I dream of leaving some day for horizons anew, and yet the same one that makes me wonder what would I ever do without these smart, talented women that have become friends? The stories we share, all while serving the public, are better stories than the most well-crafted novel on the shelves around us. Our personalities and experiences, far better than any movie. It's real, living non-fiction. But it's not the life that speaks to my heart. My heart for all of its curious wanderings always comes home.

The warm drink by the wood stove, dogs underfoot, thoughts of domestic bliss- this is the world I prefer. It is the life that quenches my thirst for real achievement. A well-planned garden or newly sewn dress provides more satisfaction for me than a tough question answered. At least, it always seems that way until some opportunity to have a paper published or speak at a conference emerges, and then my academic lion swallows my domestic lamb whole. But those achievements come and go, they are short lived, and relegated to archives. At the end of the day, the most fulfillment will always come from serving those within the world that I call home.

For now, I settle for the balance that my two worlds give, in all their imperfect disharmony.

In the Kitchen: The pumpkin finally emerged from the pantry last week to make a winter favorite- pumpkin pancakes. They were such a delicious treat that it was hard not to consider them as dessert. Once in a while, since my Mister doesn't eat breakfast and I rarely have more than a cup of yogurt in the morning, I like to make a big breakfast meal for supper. Mom used to do this also, and as a child it felt like such a novelty to have eggs and bacon for an early evening meal. I could never eat a big breakfast first thing in the morning anyway, but it sure does make a hearty meal in cold weather.

Around the Home: Patchy bits of frost are on the ground in the morning, making me think of all the work that will take place next month when I clear out our gardens. Feeling grateful for all I was able to preserve for the winter.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Notes on a busy week and Recipe

It's true, I haven't been posting as much as I like, but have mercy as I try to accomplish all of my winter sewing in a few days time. Even though my schedule says "vacation" my to-do list often feels like more work than a day at the library. And of course, life still goes on, the laundry never ceases, meals need to be made, etc. Today I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to insert an "invisible zipper" which was highly visible by the time I was done with it. It was likely such a disaster as I have no practice in sewing zippers, and always omit them from patterns that call for them. It goes back to my childhood and how much I detested that feeling of a zipper going up the back of my dress- so confining! It gives me the shivers to just recall it. Zippers are good for some things, but they're not good for me.

On my first full day home I tore out our spent tomato vines and long dead sunflowers. So many flowers are still thriving in the garden, although we've long stopped watering. The temperature has been growing colder with each day, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the evenings under a warm blanket with a good book.

As a treat to celebrate my time off, I tried something new and made Lemon Curd. Spreadable, sweet, and so delicious, it can be used for so much more than just cake filling. Here's how it went:

Lemon Curd
3 eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons) do not use bottled lemon juice
1 T finely shredded lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
4 T unsalted butter (room temperature and cut into small pieces)

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First I made my lemon juice. Room temperature lemons offer more juice. Next, I grated my lemon zest.

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In a double boiler (or a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water) whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice. Cook, and stir until thickened.

Immediately remove from heat and put through a strainer to remove lumps. I placed the strainer over another small pot, and pushed the curd through the strainer with a spatula. Next, whisk the small pieces of butter into the mixture until they have melted. Finally, add the lemon zest and let cool. Makes 1 and 1/2 cups.

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It's best to put it in containers right away and place in the fridge. It can also be frozen.


lemon curd treat
It's best to eat it, too. How about on top of vanilla yogurt and top with toasted coconut? Works for me.

Do you all ever get tired of seeing my kitchen counter? Just wondering. I do!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

An Opportunity for Praise

O God, I will tell the wonders of your ways...

The line from the song "Praise, I Will Praise You Lord" stayed in my head long after I heard it. Do I really tell others the wonders of His ways, or is this something I am not doing enough of? I do want to tell of Him, but as someone who is naturally reserved, careful to speak, and a lousy promoter of anything, it was no wonder this line stuck in my head. It stuck not only in my head, but in my heart.

When I think of the wonders that God has worked in my own life, they are often intensely personal and would be too awkward to share unless you've had similar circumstances of your own that could compare. But it's always been my belief that God works wonders in the common, everyday ways too. The little things that mean so much, not only the massive miracles. Like how he protected us for months after we unknowingly bought a house with very unsafe electrical wiring which took forever to rewire. And all the while, we were safe. So ever since that line got stuck in my head, I've been keen to witness God's work in a common and yet phenomenal way. And then it happened.

This morning while sitting at my desk at the library, I was reading a message from a woman whose ministry I had been praying for. This woman has been building a ministry from scratch where she organizes trips to Russian orphanages, with doctors in tow, to treat children who often have a range of maladies that require osteopathic treatment and therapy. Some of the children have very basic learning disabilities or minor physical ailments for which they receive no help. Some have never seen a doctor. It's so exciting to see how the Lord has answered prayers in order for these mission trips to take place. As I was sitting here trying to read the latest report on the most recent trip, several people bumbled into the office causing a commotion with large bags and loud voices, disrupting my concentration. The bags they were carrying are full of squares knitted by volunteers, which more volunteers assemble into blankets. The library freely gives them out to those who need them. It's an enormous year round project, and at any moment of the day my equilibrium is thrown off by veteran crochet ladies bursting into the office with bulky blankets and yarn. So, as I tried to refocus on what I was reading, what do you think I read next? This lady's plea for washable blankets to take along and give out on her next trip to Russia. In an instant, I knew where our next batch of blankets were meant to go- Russia! Of course, I messaged her right away and assured her that our volunteers could easily fill a suitcase for those children, and we could send baby hats, too. And that moment had nothing to do with volunteers or blankets or me sitting at my desk at the right time but it had everything to do with the wonder of His ways. So I just wanted to tell of it.

In the Kitchen: So many delicious apples now for eating or baking. I love the honey crisp for a snack, and the less conventional ones for baking. It's surprising how much we've missed our favorite soups and casseroles, too. I'm still putting away beans and hot peppers, probably until first frost.

Around the Home: Piles of lovely fabric await the beginning of my winter sewing tasks. There's so much to catch up on.

In the Garden: A pink morning glory vine that has ended up blooming and thriving in the compost pile, either because I weeded it so thoroughly that it was transplanted there, or because I just threw some of its vines with seed pods still attached on the pile. Either way, it sure makes our pile of garden debris more pleasant to look at!



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Dyslexia

It's like this. You walk into church on Sunday morning a little late. The parking lot is at full capacity because it's a special day and there are many visitors in from out of town. The pews are packed. Your husband goes on in ahead while you bring your pasta salad down to the basement kitchen. When you come upstairs, you look  in the direction of your usual seat to find visitors sitting there. It looks like every seat is filled. You know there is a seat for you- it's right by your husband if only you can "see" him. But you can't see him at all, you can only look out into a sea of people, none of whom are him, even though he is looking directly at you, trying to catch your attention. You start to panic. No matter how hard you try to "see" your husband, you can't. Your eye is repeatedly drawn back to your regular seat which repeatedly confirms that it is taken. Why can't you see your husband who is no more than twelve feet away? People must think you're crazy.

Or...you're sewing the sleeve on a dress. Everything is going fine. You finish and discover that you sewed the sleeve on perfectly...inside out. It looked fine all along. You can't imagine how you did this.

Or you can't read a map.

Or you leave the stove burner on and leave the house, because you can't "see" the flame.

This is dyslexia.

October is dyslexia awareness month, and as someone who has a form of this unique disability, I like to do my part and spend one post out of the year educating others about it. The form of the disability that I have is called dyscalculia or "number dyslexia", and affects mostly how I view and process numbers. It is mainstream dyslexia's cousin. My learning disability was not caught for many, many years. No teacher or college professor could explain why I excelled at english, writing, spelling, and foreign languages, but could not advance my math skills beyond a very basic elementary level. In fact, some people probably just thought I was lazy or even worse, was not "applying" myself. Nothing could have been further from the truth. No sooner could you show me how to conquer a math problem, than the instructions would leave my head and the numbers would transpose. It was terribly frustrating. It frustrates me even more when I meet math teachers who have never heard of dyscalculia. This is a learning disability that as many as 1 in 20 children have. And although it is a recognized learning diability, awareness of it lags far behind when compared to more mainstream disabilities.

For those of us with forms of dyslexia, it affects far more than those years in the classroom. It follows us everywhere in life as we create innovative and terribly clever work-arounds for our disability in an effort to become clever and able.

So. If someone you love suffers from a learning disability, or you suspect that a child does, please take time to educate yourself about this and have it properly diagnosed as early as possible. There is a wealth of information online, and I recommend starting here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Falling into Autumn

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post about childhood. I appreciated your kind words and thoughts on that post!

You may have heard me let out a sigh as the lid on the final quart of applesauce pinged last weekend, and so my canning season is done. Anything preserved from here on out will just be done for joy, but not for need. As predicted, my hopes for a Fall garden were eclipsed by my canning efforts. The stove is still in need of a final scrub down after some hard use. We've had some crisp nights recently, and a slight chill that has reawakened my interest in winter sewing. I dove into it with enthusiasm as I began tearing pieces of fabric in preparation for a rag rug I hope to make during the cooler months. This is a new project for me, so we'll see how it goes. There are usually more optimistic ideas for potential projects than I can accomplish in a single winter.

Looking at the calender reminded me that I pretty much snoozed on putting together a Fall giveaway this year. There has always been a problem with my giveaways, and that is, when I see all the people who enter, I feel badly that there are so many people competing for one prize. It's hard when you want everyone to win something, but that is not possible of course. So I do want to have a Fall giveaway, but what I would like to do is offer more than one prize so that more than one person will have a chance to win. This giveaway will be announced on Saturday, September 26, so stay tuned for details. It will run for a week, as always, so everyone will have time to enter.

Around the Home: Nothing beats a good Fall cleaning. Things that fall by the wayside during the busy Summer months are attacked with vigor in the knowledge that you will be spending more time indoors the next several months. A good time to think about organizing, airing out blankets, and putting away lighter clothes.

In the Garden: We are still getting some beans and the odd tomato. Oh, and hot peppers. Lots of them!

In the Kitchen: I used up some fresh, late season peaches with this recipe. You could also use canned slices with no problem. Also, if you don't have pancake mix, I'm sure most any kind of baking mix would work.

Peach Dumplings

5 cups sliced peaches
1 cup sugar
2 T lemon juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pancake mix
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
2 T melted butter

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In a large saucepan, combine peaches, 2 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil.

Combine the remaining ingredients, stirring lightly.

Using a spoon, drop into peach hot mixture. Reduce heat. Cook covered for 15 minutes without lifting cover. (This part is very hard for me, because I like to check on things!) But it works:

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Serve warm with cream or ice cream. As if I needed to tell you!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Recapturing the Magic of Childhood



The older I get, the more I look back and appreciate the wonders of being a child. It's not the experience of being a little girl that I long for, but the intangible moments in time that made up those precious years. It seemed like there were endless blue skies over the back acres where I grew up. We did not live on a farm (my father did engine repair and my mother had a seasonal pie business) but our small rental was on the edge of a lovely field, forest, and meadow. And if you walked back through the woods far enough, you came to an abandoned orchard where many forgotten and horribly imperfect apples were picked and found their ways into our pies. It was the perfect backdrop for a childhood. The sunny days of running barefoot, braids undone and breathing heavily with the excitement of finding kittens. The forest teaming with children as we built tree forts and found our way to unexplored knolls. I can still smell the cherry blossom tree on the edge of the meadow, and the wild honeysuckle that bordered the woods. You never went home for a snack (you weren't hungry and you didn't care) and only grudgingly made your way home for supper. Do children still live this way? I honestly wonder. Everything seemed hopeful, possible, and free. So when I think of how zeit lang I get for those carefree days, there is a part of me that wants to recreate that time and place. Of course, that is impossible since the time has gone and those lovely fields and forests by my childhood home are now an industrial park. And when I last visited that small home we had, I could hardly believe it was the same place. The porch had seemed so much bigger to my little girl eyes, indeed, the whole building had seemed much larger. Funny how our perception of scale is altered so greatly by adulthood.

Jesus said that unless we become as children, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Many of us are able to see a precious glimpse of a child-like world through the eyes of our own children, or the children in our lives. But there is something to be said for humbling ourselves and seeing the small pleasures on our own that we were able to view so effortlessly as children. This is something I seek more and more as I grow weary with the demands of my own life. Small moments of child-like pleasure do so much to boost my spirit. It could be something as simple as making a discovery of wildflowers in the corner of our property, or spending time sharing precious memories with a loved one. Even the words of a song repeating through my head as I go about a simple task can help me shake off the worries of the day if only for a few minutes. One day as I was sweeping our front steps I looked across the road to the corn field and an urge came over me that I should run into it and find some of my cousins playing hide and seek. Just like we did as children, and it was sweet reminder of days gone by and made me feel blessed to have that memory. Memories are temporal things too, that can leave over time. Of course, I didn't run into the field. My cousins are all grown now and living afar, and they would probably be concerned if word got out that I was found wandering around a cornfield. But I liked having that unrestrained thought, that feeling for a moment of what could be, if not for me than perhaps for some other little girl with a lovely childhood of her own. 

If you can recall anything of your younger years that brings a smile to your face, I'd love to compare notes. 

On the Table: The pie in the picture. Oh, and I don't know what will happen when we can no longer grill outdoors. It has made a summer of easy meals!

In the Kitchen: The last pints of salsa are sealed and apples are on order.

Around the Home: Hoping our living room floor will be rebuilt quickly. It is currently a large dirt pit, right down to the foundation. Unsightly and inconvenient!

In the Garden: Pole beans are being picked little by little.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is your refrigerator running?

A friend often makes the casual observation that our house is cursed. While the Mister and I tend not to be superstitious, I do admit that in the short time we have lived here (not quite 2 and a half years) we have suffered some discouraging episodes. In fact, when the lightning struck and took out our phone lines a few weeks ago, I was more than a little surprised that it actually did not strike the roof and just plain set the house on fire. Yes, it's been a trying experience. We've suffered a number of crazy incidents, including discoveries of terribly unsafe electrical wiring, phone outtages when it so much as drizzles rain, and a number of precarious situations that were difficult to explain even to our family. Every appliance in our house, which were all purchased new in the past couple years and were all highly rated by Consumer Reports, has required service by repairmen for odd problems. All but our refrigerator, which has done remarkably well and has performed like the nearly new machine that it is. Until this week.

Can you imagine coming home to start supper, opening your refrigerator door, and finding that not only are the refrigerator contents not chilled, but are actually hot? We're talking so hot that the industrial glue that holds your temperature device to the ceiling of the fridge has actually melted, and your control panel has fallen off. The fridge was filled with a terrible odor from the glue, and I immediately started pulling out spoiled food. Miraculously, the freezer was working just fine. I immediately called the customer service number which is conveniently located on a sticker inside the door panel and they agreed that a service repairman would need to come out. And yes, it's still under warranty. They gave me a number to call, and I left a message on an answering machine while my husband made an ice run. We put what we could fit in a cooler. Thankfully, there wasn't too much waste, or too much that we could not eat for supper or freeze. I never saw anything like a crazy refrigerator that suddenly went hot, and the whole time my friend's words rang through my head..."You know that house is cursed."

This morning the repair service called us back to let us know that they have not serviced our brand of refrigerator for years, so we called back the company and they gave us a new number to call. Which was an answering machine. Of course. And no one has called us back either. Maybe because they don't want to come out to a house that is cursed to repair anything.

Oh, and at some point the refrigerator did start working again, which is even worse. Because now we don't trust it. 

In the Kitchen: Half pints of yellow tomato preserves spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and quarts of tomato sauce. I rarely do well with tomato sauce, so each year it's a new experiment. This week I'll start pricing apples for sauce and pie filling. And is it too late to get some peaches done? Last week in the kitchen while I was trying to simultaneously stir a pot and wash jars, I had an "I need a daughter" moment.


In the Garden: With the cooler temperatures we've been having, production is slowing down in the garden. It makes me sad to see the first leaves fall so early, where is this global warming they've been promising us? The final tomatoes are almost certainly around the corner.


Around the Home: Cleaning out my "pantry" which is really just an old bookcase shoved into a corner. Still, I could not believe the forgotten goods on those three little shelves- the things I've been buying when there was extra hidden right in front of me. Oh, and grudgingly refusing to pull out the quilts before summer is officially over. 

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reaping the Rewards of the Season and Recipe


A few things found in the garden one recent morning. 
A hint of crispness in the air and sunsets arriving increasingly early are some of the things that have been on my mind, and to be honest, filling me with panic. I dread the loss of sunlight and the chill in the air, and yet, it is exactly why we garden and preserve food, so that it will last through the cold, dark months. But for now, there is still plenty of summer to still be found in warm afternoons, barbecued meals, and flowering blossoms, and I intend to soak in every available minute of it. It is gratifying to see the shelves fill up with jars, the freezer packed, and the fruits of our labor.
I can remember my mom making jelly rolls when I was young girl. She often made chocolate ones with ice cream inside. It always seemed like such a big production, what with all the wax paper and rolling and unrolling an re-rolling. Now, with my own cupboards becoming increasingly stocked with jams and jellies and preserves of all sorts, it seemed like the perfect time to make one. I used a recipe from Country Extra as my guide. It was noted to be "prize-winning" and turned out delicious.
Ingredients: 
 
6 eggs, separated
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Confectioners' sugar
1 jar (12 ounces)  jelly

Start with two large bowls. Place egg whites in one large bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Line a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with waxed paper; grease the paper and set aside. 

    In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and water on high speed for 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar. Stir in extracts. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together twice; gradually add to yolk mixture and mix well (batter will be very thick):




    In a large bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, on high until stiff peaks form. Gradually fold into batter. Spread evenly into prepared pan:



    Bake at 350° for 15/18 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool for 5 minutes:


Invert onto a kitchen towel dusted with confectioners' sugar:

Gently peel off waxed paper. Roll up cake in the towel jelly-roll style, starting with a short side. Cool completely on a wire rack:


Unroll cake; spread evenly with jelly. Roll up; dust with confectioners' sugar. Yield: 8-10 servings.

Monday, August 31, 2009

My Birthday Surprise

Thank you for those who dropped by or e-mailed me to wish me a happy birthday. It was not just a wonderful day, but a wonderful weekend. In an earlier post, I had mentioned how my husband was unwilling to field gift ideas from me since he claimed that my gift was already taken care of. This of course, was a real surprise, since I had not so much as hinted at anything recently. So. We went out for a lovely meal at a Mexican restaurant that we used to dine at when we were still courting. That in itself was a wonderful treat. And back at home when the Mister gave me a beautiful card and a book that he picked out all by himself, that was more than enough for me. But there was one more thing! Hidden in our backyard under some tarps (that I would have never looked under in a hundred years because we have tarps covering all manner of construction nonsense out there) was a brand new shiny red gang reel push mower. Now in order for this gift to make sense, you would have had to eavesdrop on many previous conversations in which I point out the benefits of having such a mower. Benefits such as its lack of noise (I detest loud noise) and how it doesn't spit tons of grass dust in the air as you are mowing, causing the allergy-prone among us to struggle for days with an itchy throat and watery eyes. And best of all, how it never runs out of gas and there is no complicated starting mechanism which I don't have the strength to start. Yes, just fast, easy, and perfect for quickly tidying up the grass around the gardens in between the major mowing sessions (which will still be managed by the Mister with a gas mower.) But for my purposes, it suits. And it cuts grass like a knife through soft butter. I love it. Even better was the story of how the Mister had to procure it by running out to Lancaster one day while I was at work so he could shop for it. Then, how he just made it back home in time to throw on his work clothes and make it look like he had been there all day about fifteen minutes before I walked through the door. Who would have thought that a man who once gave me a hammer and screwdriver set as a gift (he really did think I would find it handy) could actually come through with something so, so...wanted? Even better, it is tangible proof that once in a while he actually does listen to me. Oh, and my birthday cake was a completely delicious Boston Cream cake of my own choosing. And although it was still not as good as my mother's homemade Boston Cream pie, it was good enough to be memorable.

In the Garden
:
Pole limas are coming in now. Although our tomatoes have not been great, I'm not going to complain since hearing that Brenda up in Maine did not get a single one this year. Also, I've at least canned the same amount as last year, maybe more, so what is there to complain about? I'm already thinking about the Fall garden- peas, lettuce, spinach. Someone recently asked me how we keep the animals out of our garden. All I can say is, we don't. We don't have a fence or any complicated wiring, and there are at least two rabbits that live in our yard. If those rabbits do any damage at all, it's minimal and I don't notice it. The only advice that is fit to offer on this subject is to strive for balance in your garden by planting diverse crops, and hope it will attract diverse critters that are both predator and prey.

In the Kitchen: Canning tomatoes, freezing peppers, and thinking about using the watermelon jelly I made in a jelly roll.

Books I'm Reading:
The Amish-Jewish Cult series by Patricia Hochstetler (Riveting and almost hard to believe) and Home Life on the Prairie by Susan Hochstetler (some hard living in Oklahoma!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Cultured Family

The other morning when I was out in the garden trimming back the tomatoes and trying to get the green ones off the ground, I was thinking back to a conversation that I had with my Aunt E- some years ago regarding an incident that had happened in her childhood. It seems that when she was around the age of eleven or so, she was sent off to live with a far-off aunt and uncle for a year, without any say-so on her part. Her mother's sister had just had her second baby and needed some help, and so my aunt's mother packed her off and sent her away. This horrified me, and must have had a deep impact on my aunt in order for her to recall it and still speak of it some fifty years later.

"What must you have thought?" I asked.
"Well I didn't think anything," she told me pointedly. "It was just how things were done then." But she admitted that often, alone in her room, she would cry sometimes.
My mind wandered. You could best believe I would have had many thoughts had it been me. Like, why me? And don't my parent's love me? And are they ever coming back for me? It got me thinking about how, in our family and in all families, there exists a culture of how things are done. And you don't question how things are done because as part of the family you just know these things and go along with them without question, and these things are impossible to explain to other people outside your family. I was never more aware of this when as a new bride, I was able to both observe the family culture of my in-laws, and found myself having to explain or make excuses for how things are done in my own family. For me, it was deeply interesting to observe how in my husband's family, words serve only one purpose: to exchange information. You would never catch my husband's family talking about feelings, making compliments, and certainly not expressing any form of vanity. You can talk about the weather, small engine repair, or what neighbor died, but you won't ask something like "How does that make you feel?" Chances are, it hasn't occurred to anyone to think about something as so besides the point like how they might feel. All I can say on that front, is thank you Lord for giving us sister-in-laws, who love to latch on and share the meaningful stuff after everyone else has gone home from the picnic!

Equally amusing to my husband is the ongoing dialogs that take place between three generations of complicated women in my own family. For instance, the yearly negotiation for what type of birthday cake I will have. One would think that since it's my birthday, that I could have whatever type or flavor that I might like, but nothing would ever be that simple in our neck of the woods. The negotiation is always started very casually...
"Have you thought about what type of cake you are having?" someone will ask.
"No, not really. Maybe an ice cream cake like last year."
"Do you remember the cake you had with the raspberries? G--- really liked it."

Me having no memory of this cake (probably because it was just okay but not really great), can realize that it is a ploy to have some sort of fruity cake on my birthday, which is the last thing I want. But the negotiations are just beginning. And why does everything is this family end up being about food, anyway? Must be our culture.

By the way, my poor Aunt E- who was sent away? She always makes this fruit pudding when we visit. I made it here with fresh cherries, but you can use any fruit.


Cherry Pudding
3 cups flour
9 T butter
9 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups pitted cherries or canned equivalent
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
2 T flour
Blend the first five ingredients together with a pastry cutter or your fingers to make a crumb consistency, then add milk and vanilla. Stir this mixture with a fork until a soft dough is formed. In a pot, boil together the remaining ingredients. If you are using canned fruit, skip the full amount of sugar. Pour the mixture in an 8x8 pan. Spread the dough on top. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes to an hour. Serve warm with milk or ice cream.

Here's what it will look like going in...

 
And here it is coming out...(It smells especially good out of the oven.)

 I wish you could smell it. You just know that smelling capabilities will be one of the features of Web 4.0 some day.


In the Garden: This enormous Brandywine tomato almost scared me when I saw it hanging on a low vine. This one tomato, cut up, made a large serving of fresh salsa.

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