Monday, November 29, 2010

Coughing up some Gratitude

Gratitude does not come naturally to some of us, and indeed I've met precious few people to whom it does. If you think that you could be one of those people who are naturally thankful under all circumstances, then I can almost guarantee you that a challenge will arise that leaves you wondering whether such a thing could ever be true.

I spent the week of Thanksgiving inhaling decongestants, coughing into tissues, and in the final twist of irony, with little appetite. We ran out of juice, ate easy slow cooker meals, all while I lived in my housecoat. It was not an easy week, and it's not over yet. A lingering cough has been impossible to beat. At our Bible study group last night, I couldn't get more than a sentence out without falling into cough convulsions which sent every woman digging through purse and pockets to dispense more cough drops. It brought back a memory of the time I had a coughing fit to end all fits, right on some stranger's doorstep. I was about 19, and had been working continuously despite being being sick, probably due to financial issues. Anyway, it was an extremely cold winter and I was traveling back to Indiana to my aunt and uncle's home, when the sky became ominously gray. I called home to find out the forecast and was advised to stop traveling and to take cover at the home of distant family friends, The Martin's, who lived about twenty miles away from the I-80 exit I had called from in NW Pennsylvania. This sounded like a fine idea, though I was nervous about meeting this family and staying in their unfamiliar home. It would have been even worse had I known that the message of my pending arrival never reached Mr. & Mrs. Martin. They had no idea that a guest was on the way. It was around suppertime when I appeared on their doorstep, and Mr. Martin opened the door. As I opened my mouth to croak out an introduction, I launched into a coughing fit so intense and long, that it was about fifteen minutes and a glass of water later when, comfortably seated on their couch, I was finally able to surprise them by telling them who I was and relay the news to them that I was spending the night! It was terribly embarrassing when I realized they had no idea who I was or what I was doing there, but the Martin's were gracious and warm hosts, who welcomed me and nursed me back to health through a bitter winter storm. Years later, I can actually laugh about their confused faces when they opened the door to be confronted by a young woman with a suitcase whose only means of communicating was coughing and pointing!

When I woke up this morning with a small infection on the finger of my left hand, shock and paranoia mixed with a round of oh-no-not-again propelled me to the phone to finally make a doctor's appointment. As I perused written notes seemingly everywhere this past week expressing thankfulness for all the usual suspects (health, family, etc.) it left me seeking thankfulness in the less obvious places. That dark corners of the gratitude kingdom, if you will. I pushed away cobwebs to give thanks for the little things. A trouble-free car providing reliable transportation to the store for cough syrup, the friend who voices my thoughts exactly before I can say them ―the gift of not being lonely in your thoughts because others share and understand them. And of course, small moments of grace from strangers in the time of need. There is so much more to explore in the less obvious places when we seek to be thankful, I can barely do justice to them all.

These past few days I wanted something quick and warm to make for breakfast, that took little preparation but would make a big impact on my comfort level. Baked oatmeal worked perfectly. Once in a while, someone will ask me if I know how to make this, and relay a story of having it at a Lancaster buffet or bed and breakfast. I grew up thinking that everybody ate baked oatmeal, but am now learning that it is probably a regional dish. Enjoy!

Baked Oatmeal

1 1/2 quick cooking oats
1/2 cup sugar (you can cut this down to 1/4 cup and it doesn't hurt a thing)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Spread evenly in a greased rectangular baking dish or pan. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Immediately spoon into bowls; add warm milk. Top with fruit and/or brown sugar. 6 servings.

I enjoy it with brown sugar and peaches.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Home Matters

There is a recurring dream that has been haunting me lately. In it, I'm traveling back to the small house that I lived in for about ten years during my childhood. For some unknown purpose, I am driving down familiar roads and looking to make the final few turns that will take me to the circular court where we used to live. It occurs to me that the house is likely to be empty, with no furniture, and no one I know will be living there, but there is a urgent sense of needing to return. This dream is particularly baffling to me since this home no longer resembles my childhood memories. Years ago I drove past and saw that the abandoned farm acreage that surrounded us is now an industrial park. The trees we climbed, the fields where we picked flowers, and the woods that all of us children felt we owned, are now gone. But in my dream, I can't get back to what it was like during my childhood fast enough. Another peculiarity is that this home was only one of many. We moved around a few times, always in some fringe outreach church or seeking more bang for our buck as my parent's economic status shifted. Even now, when people ask me the dreaded question
where are you from? I can either bore them with a list of places I've lived or simply tell them where I live right now, which is the town we reside in, but is not where I am from. Because I don't know where I am from, but I think it must have something to do with that house I'm desperately trying to get back to in my dream. That was home, and now it's gone, and the quest for home is still a journey that I am in the middle of. My whole life so far has been one long attempt to arrive home, wherever that may lead me.

Don't worry- this is not turning into a home-is-where-the-heart is post, because that would be a little too trite. But the dream incites my fascination with how we perceive time and place, and how we remember things to be a certain way, and how they change. For instance, when I went back to our old home as an adult, I was amazed how small everything looked. Small front steps, small shrubs under small windows, I remembered it all to be so much bigger. Oh how my childish perception made our small, simple home so grand!

My perception also did this to my grandmother's house, where all of our Thanksgiving meals took place. There were so many people arriving for the meal that it must have been a mansion in order to accommodate everyone. Wrong again. It's an average home, size wise. But what it lacked in square footage it more than made up for by being filled with love, warmth, and good memories. In order to hold them all, it was nothing short of a castle.

May you be giving thanks this year in a castle of your own, overflowing with gratitude, and moments that time will magnify with goodness.

My Favorite Granola
I've been experimenting with granola recipes for the past few years, looking for one that has more depth, taste, and nutrition than what you can find in stores. It also has to have ingredients that are accessible, and be enjoyed best in a cup with milk for a fast breakfast. This is the recipe that I keep coming back to, adapting it somewhat to ingredients that I have on hand. It's fun to make granola, and very easy. If you have found some of the recipes that I've posted before to be more of a challenge, try this one.

6 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

3 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup whole hazelnuts (optional)

1 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)

3 tsp. cinnamon

1 and 1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup honey or 3/4 cup maple syrup

1 cup whole almonds

1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, combine oats with cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together oil, honey/maple syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until combined. Pour the honey mixture over the oats and use your hands t o combine, gathering some oats in clumps. Repeat until all oats are coated with the mixture. Pour onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper, spreading evenly. Bake for ten minutes, then remove and flip granola over with a spatula. Sprinkle almonds over granola, and bake for five minutes. Remove, and flip granola again. Sprinkle hazelnuts over granola, and return to oven for ten minutes. Remove from oven, and cool completely. Sprinkle with raisins and cherries. Store in quart jars on the shelf. This makes 4-5 quarts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Seasonal Sewing Project

One thing I love about this time of year is the return to sewing. I feel so guilty watching my fabric stash grow during the months when I'm busy weeding, growing, and preserving. Is it just me or does fabric expand like the universe? Anyway, it's my goal to make some headway, as usual.

When I was in a particular quilt shop in Ohio, I saw dozens upon dozens of these beautiful quilted table toppers that the shop was selling. They reminded me of large sunflowers or Dresden Plates, which is a somewhat demanding quilt pattern that I have not yet attempted to piece. The color combinations were beautiful, and all the fabrics were high quality. I toyed with the idea of actually buying one, and as my fingers sorted through the stacked piles of table toppers, a lady appeared at my elbow and asked me if I wanted to buy the pattern. You mean I could make these myself? Over and over again? Sure! (I was in quilt country and had pattern fever.) So I bought the pattern, and a few fat quarters from their fine selection of materials. These items have since sat in a sewing cabinet for the past fifteen months, which is an accurate depiction of what my sewing backlog is like, time-wise. But I still thought about the project, and during the year I sifted through the remnants bin at JoAnn's for unwanted and returned yardage in Christmas colors and pulled together a seasonal color scheme for very little money. Then, I went at it and gave myself plenty of time in advance to complete the table topper, and was delighted to find that it was ridiculously easy and mercifully quick to piece and quilt. From first cut to final press, I'd say about seven hours. And that includes a break for a leisurely lunch. Now that I've made it once, I would say that cutting that time in half would be a realistic scenario. Of course, I washed and pressed the fabric first, which isn't counted in the construction time.
This one is actually a gift, and I'm pleased with how it turned out. The recipient was pleased too, but she's biased because she's my mother. The lace trim around the circle made things a little tricky, but you can omit the lace. I could definitely see making more of these as gifts, so that pattern turned out to be real economy. With patterns as simple and accurate as this one, then I would highly recommend Gramma Fannie's Quilt Barn (formerly run by Gramma Lydi Anne, who has just retired, and is now run by daughter Rose). It's not every day that something in the sewing room works out this well, so it's worth mentioning when it does!

Another project I've been working on falls under sowing rather than sewing. I would like to spread the word about a blog my friend Hope Anne has set up to chronicle her family's journey to adopt a special needs child from overseas. For anyone who has ever been curious about adoption, or would like to help this family who has already helped so many orphaned children through their medical mission ministry, this blog is well worth your time. Our prayers are with their family, and with all the children who long for a forever-home.

Giveaway Winners

And the winners are...

For prize #1: the Pretty Pantry Gift set, congratulations to Stephanie!

Prize #2: The New Testament for Women, congratulations to Becka! *Becka, I don't have an e-mail for you. Please contact me at themennobrarian at gmail*

and prize #3: The Gooseberry Patch Coupon Keeper, congrats to Taylor!

Winners will be notified today, and thank you to all who entered. I wish I could give you all a prize because you are all prized by me!

New post up soon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blog Anniversary and Giveaway *CLOSED*

*This giveaway is now closed*

Can you believe that three years ago on November 13 I began blogging as The Mennobrarian? My first post was actually a brief essay on what it was like to be a Christian working in a public library setting, and it was written in response to a question posed to me by my friend's teen daughter, Katie. Just as Katie has grown up (uh.. I mean
Kate, because you know, she has grown up now), my blog has matured too. I've made so many wonderful friends through it, met so many people both online and off. What a blessing it has turned out to be! There's not a single one of you whom I wouldn't cross the street to meet. Some of you I've gotten to know so well, I wouldn't just stay for supper at your house. I'd stay for the week.

One thing that doesn't escape me is that I only started blogging, and then kept at it, as a way of keeping and improving what writing skills I had. When I graduated from college for the final time, my writing skills were so stiff and academic, I could hardly write a birthday card without including footnotes and a bibliography. Thankfully, once I was free to write about the quiet rhythms of my daily life, a more casual and sincere voice emerged. Now, three years later, I feel like I'm just chatting with old friends.

To celebrate this anniversary, I'm giving away three prizes to three lucky winners (one winner per prize). To enter, leave a comment below (with a way for me to get in touch with you if you do not have a blog) telling me which prize you would like to win. You can also say "any". For one additional entry, post a link on your blog and let me know in the comments section. I'll draw numbers from the random number generator on Friday, November 19.

For this giveaway, you must have a U.S. mailing address.

Prize #1

The Pretty Pantry Gifts Set

Everything you need to make embellished gifts in a jar, perfect for the upcoming holidays. There is a recipe booklet with 15 recipes for jams, sauces, and pickles, 24 sheets of stickers, 20 gift tags with elastic string, 10 fabric toppers, and 10 cellophane bags. Fun to use, or it would make a wonderful gift.

Prize #2

Finding God for Women, A New Testament with commentary (NIV)

I love this NT that speaks to so many of the issues that we as women struggle with. This version is filled with commentary that speaks directly to our hearts on issues such as comparing ourselves with others, the temptation to judge, and growing in our Christian lives. There is also an excellent Q&A section in the front on many questions about our faith. I like this so much that I after getting one for myself, I bought one for a friend, and she loved it, too.

Prize #3 Gooseberry Patch Coupon Keeper
16 pockets, including one for receipts, in a spiral bound book format. There is also a blank page in front for notes. This would also make a nice gift.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: Why I Left the Amish by Saloma Miller Furlong

Let me just start by saying that there is no mystery to why Saloma left the Amish. She simply was not committed to the Amish culture or belief system. She was born Amish, but just wasn't Amish, if you know what I mean. I can think of no better reason to leave than that. Just as someone's spiritual journey may lead them to an Amish church, her journey did not. But I don't mean to diminish the complexity of her decision to leave, because nothing about the plain and simple life, is ever really simple.

Two things struck me right away about this memoir. It is painfully, honestly written. Saloma leaves no stone unturned, and shows a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the definition of a memoir. Nothing is romanticized. There are no unanswered questions here, and Saloma does not hide details, nor her emotions, nor the memories that led to her painful decision to leave. She shares openly and freely. The other feeling that the book gave me is one of great care. Her story is retold so thoughtfully, with great tenderness.

I know I wasn't the easiest child to raise. I am also sorry for the guilt you and Mem have shouldered all these years for the choices that I, as your grown daughter, made in leaving the Amish. I made the best choice for me, and I don't feel you and Mem should feel guilty for that.
[excerpt from letter written to author's father]

The memoir is told in the alternating narratives that recount both her return to the community after her father's death, and her years growing up into adulthood with a mentally ill father and cruel brother, in a community indifferent to the needs of the neediest among them. Yet, her family's dysfunction and parent's shortcomings are overridden with a wave of love. In every descriptive nuance, I could feel Saloma's love and respect for her Mem and Daed in all their imperfection. If an Amish parent's wish would be to raise children filled with love and forgiveness, Saloma's parents would have succeeded. Sadly, the wish of many Amish parents is to raise Amish children who "join church", a goal that is often seen as more important than addressing the character struggles of their children. Yet, the story is not told in a way that conveys revenge or vindictiveness. The events are retold with a tone that is matter-of-fact. There is no agenda, only the author's own thoughts and feelings on the impact of past happenings. The writing style is clean and descriptive, and this may be the first ever professionally edited and published memoir on the topic of leaving the Amish. But with interest in the Amish riding high, it won't be the last.

Saloma notes that she would have needed an entirely different personality in order to fit in with the Amish culture, her home community. Indeed, her questioning nature and intellectual curiosity would never have served her well, attributes that her Mem recognized. Oh Saloma, you make it so hard on yourself by asking questions, she lamented.

In the last fifty pages of the book, the desperation intensifies as Saloma's home life becomes unbearable, her community continuously apathetic, and I keenly felt the suffocation of needing to leave a situation in which there is no easy way out. Gasping for breathe as she makes her exit, a satisfying ending finds Saloma finally fitting in. Arriving in a new community of academics, she finds peace and acceptance. There, the learning she so hungrily craved is finally satiated in a world of books, discussions, and ideas. At the end of the book, Saloma is finally home.

Note: Why I Left the Amish by Saloma Miller Furlong (Michigan State University Press) will be released on January 11, 2011. Visit Saloma's website for more information. Also, check out her recipe for oatmeal bread here, which is exceptional, and produced the closest thing to professional quality bread ever to come out of my oven. Her finely detailed and accurate recipe is easy to follow, and well worth the effort.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Open House at CAM

This past weekend we were able to make it to an open house for Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) for the first time ever. The CAM folks cleverly scheduled it on the night that the clocks fell back, so we could stay late and still come out an hour ahead after arriving home. For those who don't know or have never heard of CAM, it is a mostly volunteer-run non-profit relief effort which provides everything from food, clothes, building projects, and spiritual help throughout much of the world. It is run and supported by Amish, Mennonite, and conservative Anabaptist churches. I've long admired CAM's relief work in places like Haiti, Liberia, Eastern Europe, and here in the US among many other places. And I love that over 99% of their donations go directly towards aid work, making them one of the leanest charities around.

We arrived at the CAM warehouse in Ephrata, PA in time for the slide show presentation and heard first hand accounts of how CAM workers help people in dire need around the world. It was especially sobering to see pictures of people in Romania standing next to meager piles of firewood intended to warm their one-room homes, piles that will surely run out before the harsh winter ends. Something I often think about is, who am I to have so much? I was born into a loving family where we ate three meals a day and never had to worry about where we would sleep at night. I have done NOTHING to deserve this. It makes you acutely aware that to whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48) Will I ever be able to meet all that is required of me in this lifetime?

The response to the event looked impressive. A glance at the guest books showed that visitors came from as far away as Canada, and there were many people from out of state. I wondered how we might get to where we wanted to go with hundreds of people milling about. If someone decided they wanted to stop moving and talk to someone nearby, the crowd would come to a standstill and you would have to devise a new route out of the masses. Thankfully most people were sensitive to this, and didn't have their reunions in the middle of the warehouse floor.

The slide show was informative, but I really looked forward to stretching my legs and touring the warehouse and cannery. The warehouse was packed with boxes filled with medicine, hygiene kits, food, and of course those famous comforters that so many church sewing circles lovingly create. No parts of the warehouse were "off limits" so you were allowed to look in every corner. And nobody had a problem with taking pictures. In fact, there was at least one official photographer taking lots of pictures.

Children enjoyed leaning over the enormous canners and peering down into their dark depths. The canners were a dark well of at least 10-15 feet deep so they can process a lot of beef and chicken parts at once. I can't imagine how hot that room must get when both the industrial canners are running at full capacity.

The most crowded section of the event was definitely the book selling tables. A wide selection of books were available, all at a discounted price. The lines of people that surrounded the book tables were four bodies deep! You definitely needed some patience to view the selection, but it was worth it. I showed restraint by buying only one book to add to my winter stock pile of reading material.

Speaking of books, MaryAnn at A Joyful Chaos is having a book giveaway. The book is called His Protecting Hand and you can find out how to enter by visiting her blog.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn Moments

Jackson's Mill Bridge, Bart Twp., PA

“November is usually such a disagreeable month … as if the year had suddenly found out she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it. Anne of Avonlea

Although not a big fan of cold weather, I do love and value living seasonally. The change of pace that each new time of the year brings, the changes in routine that give our lives greater variety, and the traditions we celebrate at those certain times. What a blessing to be able to live in harmony with the seasons, just as generations before us did. Although people with agricultural roots never stopped living this way, so many more people who have lost that connection have been striving in recent years to regain that natural rhythm. Some of my favorite ways to enjoy this time of year include taking walks to enjoy the pretty colors (and I like to make the most of my time outside because soon I'll be banished to nights by the stove to keep warm!) and driving through the countryside to observe the changing landscape. All the corn stalks are gone, cut down to brown sticks, and a few fields of squash and pumpkins dot the roadsides. The fields behind our property are dotted with tiny blades of green winter wheat, giving off a false appearance of spring. All of my favorite roadside stands are down to potatoes, cauliflower, pumpkins and gourds. Fresh spinach and lettuce grows in the garden, and the smell of leaves permeates the air.

You can see the changes in the horse and buggy community in Lancaster, where we frequently visit and shop. The stores on a weekday afternoon are busy with both wives and husbands shopping together, as field work for many of the men comes to an end. The Amish taxis are lined up outside each store. Are last minute gifts still being sought for the current wedding season, now in full swing?

This weekend we put our garden to bed. As you may recall, we used a thick layer of straw mulch this year to help with the weed situation after I got sick last June. This not only helped to keep weeds manageable, but it helped with keeping in moisture. It was a tremendous help. But there were two downsides to the straw mulch:

1. It attracted pests. And while we are certainly no strangers to pests, being as we are surrounded by farm land and used to mice looking for shelter in the winter, we experienced a very early and intensive rodent attack. While taking out the garden, we could see it was full of holes where pests had burrowed under the straw.
2. Before the garden could be tilled so we could plant our cover crop, all of the straw had to be raked up, adding to the intensive labor of taking out the garden. Raking up a layer of wet, decomposing straw after tearing out the last fifty or so tomato plants was not easy.

So will we use straw mulch again? Yes, but differently. Next year I would like to add some just around the base of the plants to help seal in moisture, but I won't use it as an all-over weed control tactic.
You've heard of "first fruits". Can you spot the last fruits in the picture?

Of course, seasonal cooking ingredients are always a treat. Soups, casseroles, and pumpkin rolls...isn't it funny how our cravings for food change with the seasons?

Pumpkin roll is a lot like making a jelly roll, but filled with pumpkin spices and cream cheese filling, it deserves a mention of its own.

Pumpkin Roll
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
1 tsp. lemon juice
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or 2 tsp. cinnamon + 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 tsp. butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Beat eggs well (3-5 minutes) and gradually add sugar. Add pumpkin and lemon juice. Stir together dry ingredients and fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread on to jelly roll pan lined with wax paper. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Promptly remove from oven and turn pan over on to a clean dish towel sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. Peel of wax paper, and roll up in towel from the long end. Allow to cool completely. Mix filling ingredients until smooth. When cake is cool, unroll and spread icing, and then roll without the towel. Let it chill in the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.


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