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.

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