Thursday, September 29, 2011
As most of you know, it’s been a rough year and I’ve had what I think may be a somewhat atypical pregnancy experience. People always say, “every pregnancy is different”, but I’m not sure anyone believes that often repeated phrase. Friends have asked about “cravings” and “nesting” and other urges that have been non-existent for me. Few people have heard of the pelvic dysfunction that forced me to stop working earlier than planned (I’m 1 in 300) or can understand that I’ve had hyper-olfactory issues and food aversion this entire time, and not just for the first trimester that many women suffer through before it magically disappears. So, the journey thus far has been somewhat lonely. It’s been made better by my knowledgeable and understanding doctor whose seen it all before. He celebrates every passed test with me, and has let me know that no matter how lousy I’ve felt this entire time, this pregnancy has been relatively uncomplicated. I’m in overall good health and our baby appears to be both healthy and very active, despite my pain and discomfort. Since the only thing I’ve really prayed for this entire time is for the baby to be okay, I’m extremely happy that our little boy is doing so well, even if it’s at mama’s expense.
This experience has also been made better by caring friends and family members, who have been understanding about my limited ability to participate in things these past 8-9 months. Both church and family members have helped out by bringing meals for months now, and I can’t begin to tell you how grateful we are for their help. My favorite activities are sleeping, watching dvd’s on the laptop in bed, and once in a while, going out for a meal. Pretty much in that order!
I had intended to work at the library right up until the very end, but it was not to be. There were days where I was too sick to get out of bed, had difficulty standing on my own, and I was always falling asleep on the job. It was a relief that I could leave early and use the limited energy that I had in more productive ways, like getting to my doctor appointments.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions in e-mail over and over, so I’ll answer them here as well, for anyone else who was wondering these same things...
Did you have a garden this year? No. We knew almost immediately we would not because I was so sick and unable to tend to it.
Did you miss gardening, canning, etc.? No. I’ve been so very sick that the only thing I miss is sleep when I don’t get enough.
Have you been sewing for the baby? I wish, but no. Early on my immune system was compromised by the pregnancy and later, my pelvic dysfunction limited my physical abilities.
When are you due? Mid-October, and we’re having a boy.
What have you been reading? Other than a few baby/pregnancy books, not much. I can barely read 2 or 3 pages of anything before nodding off into dreamland, so reading has been low on the priority list.
Are you going to blog again? I don’t know. I love to write, but feel like it would be tempting to turn this into a mommy-blog, and I’ve always found mommy-blogs to be a bit oblivious and repetitive. They just don’t hold a lot of interest for me. It doesn’t feel like something that would challenge my writing skills. So at this point, we’ll just have to wait and see.
So until next time...we’ll wait and see.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Oh, and I have a fractured ankle. A slip and fall on some wet grass one morning has added a new layer of complications and inconvenience to these difficult months.
I hesitated to post an update since I don’t want to give the impression that I’ll be returning to blogging anytime soon. We have a beloved baby who will be arriving in just 3 and a half months, and there is still much to do around our home. Rooms are still being built. Floors still need to be finished. Items are being boxed up and moved to make room for our newest family member. Furniture needs to be purchased. If we thought we were busy before, well!
But I still concede that summer is my favorite season, and when people exclaim to me how difficult it must be to pregnant during the summer all I can think is that they must not know how much I truly hate winter. In the summer, it’s hot whether you are pregnant or not. But in the winter, I can never get warm enough! I hope all of you are enjoying your summer and that you are able to experience the blessings that this season has to offer.
Friday, May 6, 2011
These past few months I have been knee-deep in nausea, inundated with fatigue, and of course, joyfully secretive until we were ready to make the announcement. It feels like so much has changed so fast, and it is with a greater sense of urgency that we prioritize and take care of things before our new family member arrives. But mainly, I’ve been sicker than I ever imagined I could be, far sicker even than when I was hospitalized with that awful staph infection last summer. I’ve been sick in ways I never knew a person could be, and my life has been turned upside down. Although I am not what they call a “high-risk pregnancy” and all tests show that I am healthy, it seems I’ve gotten more than my share of sickness and even a few rare and extremely miserable symptoms that only a small portion of the population gets. It has been very, very hard.
So for now I’m leaving my blog, leaving it here and up, but inactive. Perhaps I can return in the future, after the baby is born, after I’m back to my old self.
Meanwhile, you can always e-mail me if you’d like an update or just to say hello. Thank you all for hanging in there and being such loyal friends and readers. You’ve all become very special to me.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Hello friends, I’m Beth from The imPerfect Housewife and while Monica is busy getting her house and garden and pets and husband and library and countryside ready for the beautiful spring weather, she has asked me to come and do a guest post on her blog. Excited? UH, YES!! I think her blog was one of the first that I started “following” when I learned what that was and how blogging worked.
If they say “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, then I hope that Monica is well flattered because I am so inspired when I visit her blog and always want to try new things and get creative. Well, I can’t say ALWAYS because I still eat canned fruits and vegetables and that would probably throw her into a tailspin but MOST of the time. I’m going to share just a few of things that I’ve done after visiting her blog and being inspired… (she is probably rolling her eyes at this point and not wanting this post to be about HER, so I want to reassure her that it’s not, it’s about things I’ve done…because of her)… J
#1 CANNING! I took my first ever canning class about a week ago. Last year she did a post about canning some peppers and honestly that’s something I’d never thought about before. Then she’d mention here and there about things on her shelves from past gardens, etc. and it was like the light suddenly went on – I can do that! I’ve made her whoopie pie recipe, I can pretty much conquer the world. My husband works for a grocery chain here in the Midwest and they have what’s called “Evening with the Experts” every so often, and it just so happened that there was going to be a canning class with a representative from the Ball Co. Since I don’t work for the grocery chain, my husband had to go along also but that’s fine, we both learned! That will come in very handy when I’m stressed out from looking at too many tomatoes and sweating and want to call out for pizza – he can finish up. It’s all good.
I didn’t know canning supplies were cute now. That makes it more fun. And did you know they have labels now that dissolve in water so you don’t have to scrape them off the jars? I know, right!? What next, a man on the moon?
#2 CUTE BREAD! I’ve actually made this bread twice now (including last night) and both times, my son has said, “This is the best bread,” and besides it’s easy and looks impressive. I added my own spin to it by using a bread machine, but before you go thinking that’s cheating, that only covers the mixing and rising. I still had to braid it and sprinkle the seeds on. And bake it. And drink a Diet Pepsi.
#3 GARDENING! I think most things should be started out slowly, like growing your own food. I do think, however, if Monica can have a garden then so can I. I’m taking baby steps with this one because I think gardens involve a lot of time outdoors (not a big fan) and sweating (again, nuh uh) but there’s no reason why when Target has cute herb starters for a dollar that I shouldn’t jump in feet first and get that herb party started. They’ll probably grow better when I open the packets and add a bit of water.
#2 CUTE BREAD! I’ve actually made this bread twice now (including last night) and both times, my son has said, “This is the best bread,” and besides it’s easy and looks impressive. I added my own spin to it by using a bread machine, but before you go thinking that’s cheating, that only covers the mixing and rising. I still had to braid it and sprinkle the seeds on. And bake it. And drink a Diet Pepsi.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Rest assured, I have some posts in planning, including a special guest post which I'll publish in the next day or so. Meanwhile, thank you for your prayers and your patience. ~Monica
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Generally, bulk food stores sell both basic ingredients (flour, sugar, dry milk) and common food items (pudding mix, chocolate chips, drink mixes) packaged in plain clear plastic containers at a discounted price. The price is usually determined by weight and size. In the area where I shop, most of the bulk food stores have an inventory made up of about half bulk food items, and half bent-n-dent overstock items. But I’m only going to discuss bulk food buying strategies here.
I find these stores to be a nice alternative to warehouse buyer’s club stores. Bulk food stores are a manageable size with greater variety in items and sizes. Personally, I don’t need a pallet of pasta sauce or one gallon containers of commercially processed salsa. Maybe if I was running a restaurant...but I’m not. One of the perks here is that you can find the right size of something for your family. There is less waste as you can shop for as little or as much of what you need. Items like baking cocoa, flour, oats, wheat germ, and noodles are far less expensive than the retail price. Whether you need a small amount of something for less than a dollar, or 25 cups of it for a few dollars, this where you can find it. The packaging is almost always recyclable, and the variety of items available never fails to amaze me.
So, here are my ideas for getting started at a bulk food store:
Assess your family’s needs. What does your family use repeatedly that you find yourself buying no matter what? Cereals? Snacks? Rice and Pasta? Beans? Baking ingredients? Start making a list of the essentials.
Look at some of your favorite recipes and weeknight meals. Is there any way to save on the ingredients? Instead of buying a box of rice every week, could you buy a larger bag at half the price to last for a month?
What can you make from scratch? These stores are designed for women who feed large families using basic ingredients. If you ever wanted to experiment with bread making, granola, or homemade cereal, now is the time. These stores are also a bread makers dream...there is a wide variety of flours available (some I’ve never even heard of!) and an excellent selection of less common bread making ingredients such as lecithin and gluten.
Plan your trip. Most bulk food stores are located in areas with dense Mennonite/Amish populations. However, some supermarkets have caught on to the popularity and are also creating and stocking bulk food aisles in their stores. Some of the best selections of dried fruit and nuts sold in bulk seem to be stocked in grocery stores. Health food stores are also recognizing the value of stocking wholesome raw ingredients, so it’s likely that no matter where you live, a bulk buying opportunity is not too far.
And remember, no Sunday sales at many stores.
Do you use a bulk food store? Any ideas to share?
Thursday, March 10, 2011
The Mister did not grow up with fasnachts as a tradition, but a fast emptying box attested to their airy sweet goodness.
Another sign of the season are lambs everywhere. Aren’t they adorable? The ones pictured here did not appreciate my gawking and quickly ran off to find mama!
Don’t forget that the fundraising giveaway to benefit the Dueck family’s adoption ends this Monday on March 14. But you still have time to enter! One lucky person will win this quilted wall hanging/table topper. There is a $5 donation per entry ($10 equals two entries, etc.) through the Reese’s Rainbow link here, but PLEASE remember to leave a comment so we know to check with RR to make sure you are entered into the drawing.
International Readers outside the US may donate to win, but must be willing to fund their own postage.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Spring is in the air, as fresh and clean as a drop of dew landing on a crocus in full bloom. Blue skies two days in a row forecast change on the horizon. Nieces and nephews clamor for their wooden swing sets, built by strong capable hands, that seem just a little smaller after a season of growth. Yes, I love the promise of spring, a promise which is about hope.
My optimistic ideas about completing winter sewing projects are still very much alive, even as I fill seed trays with starter soil and rake up dead leaves that threaten to smother my spring bulbs. Oh, the possibilities.
Here is a glimpse into my vegetable garden plans this year:
Clemson spineless Okra (Growing okra is new for me...but last year I added okra to my canned vegetable soup and loved it!)
Big Beef Tomatoes (An extra-beefy early producer for slicing)
Amish Paste Tomatoes (my old stand by for canning)
Blue Lakes Bush Green Beans (we liked Burpee’s “Tenderpod” last season, but my seed source talked this one up pretty high)
Hot Peppers- Garden Salsa. A new variety for us, a hot red pepper just right for salsa.
Lettuce- Buttercrunch and Salad Bowl
Sweet corn- Incredible, new for me, and supposedly one of the best selling super-sweet varieties. This is for eating fresh, not canning of course!
As soon as the ground is worked I can’t wait to put in some spinach. And who knows what else I’ll decide at the last minute. There’s always room for more.
I’m also adding more raspberries, and replacing the strawberry patch that bit the dust last summer when I was recovering and unable to tend to it properly. But since the strawberries took up a lot of room, and the weeding is always more than I bargain for, I’m going to experiment with container planting and see if that has any benefits.
What aren’t we doing this year? Peas are still up in the air, and we’ve only got a little time left to decide. Last year we had trouble getting the trellis and irrigation going in time to have a decent planting. We haven’t done pole limas in a couple years, although I have the seeds for them. Generally, I’m lousy at picking them and can’t tell by feeling the pod whether they are the right size or not. I always pick them too big, and the Mister is far too busy to pick them when the harvest is ripe. Carrots are a possibility only if I can get pelleted seed. The problem with carrots is always the same: As you are thinning them out, the carrot flies smell it for miles around and head right to your house so they can eat your carrots. I’d like to avoid thinning as much as possible.
Of course, I haven’t even planned my herb garden yet, but you can be sure there will be one. The True Lavender germinating in my mini-greenhouse right now attests to it. Oh, the possibilities!
What new possibilities do you see in your garden this year?
Sunday, February 27, 2011
These are the specs: Finished project is 34” wide by 32 inches. It is machine quilted with light blue thread, yo-yo flower accents on the white inner border, and white backing with hanging sleeve. All fabrics are new. The last picture shows it on a table because even in if you are not in the market for a wall hanging, it would make a nice table topper or decorative accent piece, too. The pattern is a traditional 8-point star.
Like I said, I did not piece the center star pattern, just turned it into something more complete!
It is completely homemade, and as such there are a few unique quirks with it. Maybe you won’t notice...maybe I’ve just been looking at it too long. It definitely has a homespun quality to it.
How to win: You must submit an entry by making a minimum donation of five dollars to the Dueck family’s adoption fund. You can do this by going to their site and clicking on the link on the right hand side for REECE’S RAINBOW and making the donation through Paypal. Once you have donated, and we can confirm this, you are entered! Please leave us a comment so we can confirm with RR that you are entered to win.
You will also gain additional entries for donations of more than five dollars. A five dollar donation will buy you one entry, but $10 will give you two, $15 will give you three, etc. One entry for each confirmed $5.00 donation.
For additional entries, you can also spread the word about this on your blog and provide a link to your post in the comment section.
You can share about this fundraising giveaway on Facebook and let us know.
Unfortunately, I have to limit entries to the United States on this one, since I am also donating the postage. Hope you understand!
A winner will be chosen at random in two weeks on Monday, March 14.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
If you are serious about saving money and making the most of your shopping trips, claiming good stewardship of your time and resources, menu planning is the ONLY way to go. It stops you from buying stuff that looks good at the time but sits around in your cabinet forever, stops you from making impulse buys, and in the long run makes your life easier. Who doesn't want life to be easier? Last year I shared my tips for making the most out of seasonal visits to farm markets, but this time I thought, what about meal planning?
Here are some initial points to get started:
Plan for one week at a time. Look at your calender and decide how many meals you’ll be eating at home, and what days might demand quick and easy suppers.
Start with your supermarket circulars if you use them and see what's on sale. Pay special attention to the front and back pages because those are you best bargains. The items that stores are losing money on go on the front and back pages. Start planning. Don't forget to plan for leftovers, snacks, and lunches to take to work. If possible, make extra food at supper so you can have it for lunch the next day.
Make sure you plan your menu right up to the day when you know you will be able to make it back to the store. You need to know when your NEXT trip to the store will be after this one, so you don't over-buy or under-buy.
In case life happens and you can't get to the store next time when you thought that you could, keep an "emergency meal" on hand. Maybe even two. These should be meals that are made from frozen and pantry items that won't go bad, so it doesn't matter how long you have them stored, within reason. These are your safety nets in case you can't get to the store, or in case you thought there would be leftovers when there is not.
Don't forget to plan for dessert, too. And breakfast!
I used to menu-plan for 2 weeks ahead. It really didn't work for me because I found that there was always the inevitable SOMETHING that I would run out of and have to go to the store for anyway. Also, if you cook with a lot of fresh ingredients like I do, things would go bad before I could use them. I find that I can get away with planning for about ten days. Just something to think about.
Common menu-planning mistakes to avoid:
1) Finding a recipe, putting it on the menu, getting to the store and discovering that the ingredients are expensive or out-of-season. Or else it involves a small amount of an expensive ingredient that you will only use once.
2) Putting something on the menu without checking to see which of the ingredients you already have and do not need to buy again. Make sure you "inventory your stock" before going to the store. Don't assume you have something-check!
3) Buying out-of-season ingredients when they are at their most expensive. (Example- this is a good time to buy potatoes, not blueberries.)
These are things that work for me, but everyone has different schedules and family sizes.
So readers, help me out. What would your advice be to the young lady who first asked me?
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Another burden I cannot carry is the luxury of worrying what people think of my home at this stage. “Thank you Lord for relieving me of caring what other people think.” Now there is a motto you won’t see splashed across a wall in trendy vinyl letters any time soon, no matter how true it is. Another truth is that when you are confronted with a half-finished home with piles of construction materials in the driveway, and a dog standing on top of a mountain of stones that still wait to be spread out over the driveway, you really don’t notice the errant weeds, or smudged windows. It would be like realizing your shoelace is untied as a bomb is dropped overhead. How’s that for gratitude?
Finally, my unfinished home relieves me of long house-cleaning sessions and affords me the luxury of not being pestered by the occasional muddy shoe that finds its way inside, and saves me from expending a sigh if a little grape juice gets spilled on the floor. As my grandfather used to say, “A hundred years from now it won’t make a difference.” I think this was his spin on the familiar phrase Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. Again, a lot of truth in that.
There are of course some serious aspects to living in a state of chaos (hospitality is at an all-time low, and you could dust hourly here if you had it in you) but pondering the minutiae over and over again will not see you through. Learning to laugh along the way and appreciating the things you don’t have will certainly help just as much as appreciating what you do.
Let me just say to the rest of you with fully finished homes that need tending, AND children who need mending, I don’t know how you do it! (But I’d like to try my hand at it someday, too.)
This is a delicious and EASY crustless quiche I made the last time we had breakfast for supper. I would usually serve this with pancakes or french toast. The Mister likes it with a little maple syrup. I call it “fast and fancy”.
3 cups chopped broccoli (boiled for one minute if using fresh-boil the head of broccoli whole, then chop)
½ cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar
salt, pepper, nutmeg
optional: I had about a cup of fried crumbled sausage left over from pizza night which went into this also.
Other options might include chopped red pepper, fresh tomato, diced ham, or sliced mushrooms.
Butter a 9-inch pie plate. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, ¼ teaspoon pepper, ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, and ½ tsp. salt. Stir in broccoli and cheese, and pour into pie dish. Bake for 35 minutes, until edges are slightly brown.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Over the past few years, readers sometime e-mail to ask how I met my husband, known on this blog as The Mister. Instead of retelling the story over and over again, I thought it might be fun to write it once and post it here to share, and what better time to share this than Valentine’s Day?
I had moved back home to my mother’s house so that I could return to school one final time in order to get the necessary degree to become a librarian. After moving back in and getting settled, I started to look for a church. My choices were somewhat limited, geographically. There were only a handful of Mennonite churches within reasonable driving distance. There were two that I was interested in becoming a part of, and began visiting. The first one was a fellowship that a good friend was a lifelong member of, and she was eager for me to join. The second, was one in which I knew no one, but felt warmly welcomed. It was a tough decision to make and required a lot of prayer. One morning, as I stood in the second church, I heard God’s small, still voice telling me that this was the “right” church for me at that time. I couldn’t help but wonder why God made that decision and why He wanted me there, but I knew without a doubt that He did and so I followed.
Months went by as I finished up library school and settled in to my new church family. There was a constant round of dinner invitations on Sundays from families in the church. Everyone was eager to get to know me, and was generous with their hospitality. One thing that I liked about this church was that I was not the only single person in the congregation. While by and large, most of the members were happily married and had been for years, there was a handful of us thirty-somethings who had spent our lives thus far working, going to school, and doing various mission and ministry projects. It was comforting to have others to speak with for whom the Lord had plans outside of what seems like the norm. There was even a childless couple who enjoyed having the older singles over on Sundays and hearing about our jobs, interests, and walk with the Lord. The diversity of experiences among the people in my new church won me over almost as much as the hospitality.
One afternoon at church, after I had been attending for about six months (and had made application for membership), someone asked me if I had met the-future-mister* yet? (name changed to protect The Mister). They introduced me to a man about my age who didn’t initiate eye contact, and didn’t seem particularly excited to meet me. Even better, he rolled his eyes at me when I asked him where he worked. I had once thought that I saw him noticing me after church some weeks before, but now I saw how wrong I was! This man could not care less about making my acquaintance.
Life went on.
A couple months later I was having lunch one Sunday with the other singles at the home of our unofficial “Advanced Youth Group” sponsors when the wife said a curious thing to me. She told me how irritated the-future-mister was to find out that I would be coming over that day since he had other plans and could not be there. How odd, I thought, What difference would it make?
“He even asked me why we couldn’t have invited everyone over next week since we knew he had plans, and he was so upset because he really wanted to meet you,” said the wife.
Really? The guy who rolled his eyes at me wants to meet me? I took it with a grain of salt. But I was completely surprised when, towards the end of my visit late in the afternoon, the-future-mister cut short his plans and stopped by for a visit. Only this time, he was polite, conversational, and definitely making eye contact.
I didn’t know what to think.
There would be many more Sundays as we visited and got to know each other better, becoming friends before anything else. If the-future-mister was interested, he was slower than molasses. (Later I found out that his mother always said he was as slow as “cold tar”. Meanwhile, my boyhood Mister always wondered just who Mr. Cole Tarr was and how he would know him.)
Finally, on a week night in early December, we had our first date. This was a big step as once you announce your courtship and have your first date, it’s like announcing an engagement. We were discreet for as long as we could be, but of course could not hide our growing affection. All eyes on were on us, or so I felt! We both discovered we liked to travel, and had many dates that were interesting day trips. We even took a trip to Tennessee together. That raised some eyebrows! People probably felt better once they knew that we would be visiting The Mister’s aunt and uncle.
One year to the day of our first date in December, we announced our official engagement and plans for a Spring wedding. It was announced in church by our minister, during the morning announcements. Unexpectedly, people clapped and cheered, and I just about could have died from embarrassment, even though I knew they were happy for us. I remember one older lady coming up to me after the service and reaching for my hand saying, “You are the answer to our prayers!” At that moment it dawned on me that long before I even joined that church, people were praying for the-future-mister and the Lord’s will in his life, and many people had likely prayed for us along the way. It helped make the day special.
We soon began the mandated pre-marital counseling with our Minister. Basically, that was just a series of discussions to make sure we were all on the same page as far as our beliefs, the church doctrine, and to make sure there were no red flags for problems. We were married five months later, in a small wedding in early May. It was a perfect day, sunny with a mild breeze. I won’t go into all the details, because it would be worthy of its own post, maybe someday.
Let me just say for the record that The Mister has always maintained that he has no recollection of that first meeting in church, and certainly did not intend to roll his eyes at me. He believes that if he did roll his eyes, it was not at my question but at the thought of the company he was working for at that time. And now that I’m married to him and experience his incredibly short memory on a weekly basis, let me just clarify that I believe him!
What’s your sweetheart story?
Monday, February 7, 2011
The bad news was announced grimly, by The Mister, who just came in from the backyard where he witnessed it firsthand. Our septic system is broken and un-fixable. Oh no! How can that be? What do you think happened? What will we do? When you are mid-construction on your home, you have little time to deal with the things that go wrong along the way. You are far too busy building new infrastructure while having to keep up with substantial maintenance, too. But even if your home is completely finished and every last bit of trim is set in place, you would never want to hear the words “broken” and “septic system” in the same sentence. There is never a good time and never enough money to fix anything that can go wrong with a rural plumbing system. Never.
Only hours before we had sang “Standing on the Promises of God” and so soon after, it felt like we were standing on something, but it wasn’t very promising.
Of course, it could be worse. Couldn’t it always? We plan to start conserving water until work can begin on this important subterranean project. And of course, praying for patience and wisdom along the way.
People who live in cities and suburbs often express to me a desire to live in a more rural setting on a farm or farmette, or at least in a place where the can have a large garden and animals. I admit, I like this, too, and am adverse to dense populations, traffic, and many other aspects of metropolitan living. But when I start to discuss the self-sufficient mentality that is prevalent in rural communities, eyes begin to glaze over when they hear about well-water and hauling your own trash. Oh, and when it snows? Forget it. If you have ever found yourself as one of those country living admirers, I’d encourage you to incorporate the best of what that experience has to offer while enjoying the conveniences of fewer power outtages and plowed roads. After all, we’re all just doing what we can to make our lives healthier and wholesome on various levels in whatever ways we can, no matter where we live!
Now might be a good time to take a joy inventory and remind myself what I DO love about our home...
Wide open spaces...
Room to grow...
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
My friend Martha and I were watching some children being pulled in a horse-drawn sled on an off day from school, after we had received a reasonable 4 inches of white powdery stuff. This was on top of whatever was already on the ground, as it seem this is the first winter in a long time where snow is a constant, unmelting presence. Martha, who is in the grandmother phase of life, began to tell me how when she was a young school girl an Amish man would come to her school after a snow fall and bring the children home in his sleigh, much like the scene we watched. The sleigh even had bells. “You couldn’t do that today,” she said indignantly, “Someone would get sued or have to sign a paper or something!” Yes, point taken. And Martha’s school was torn down to build an outlet mall, so it couldn’t even be recreated under the best of circumstances.
During these bleak snow-scaped days I remind myself that in just five months I’ll be walking around the Kutztown festival with a homemade root beer in my hand while mumbling about the heat. Such thoughts offer me just the right amount of comfort in my chilly moments.
This past week I’ve been putting together my seed order while simultaneously reading canning recipes. The latter may seem woefully out of season until I tell you my strategy. The strategy is to work backwards on this one: Find out what I want/need to can this summer and then if at all possible, grow it. Of course, this is what I do to some extent every year, but there have also been times when I’ve been dazzled by pictures of plump, green, and even exotic varieties of vegetables only to grow them and have to figure out quickly how to use and store them. I love organizing, and I think planning is one of the things I like best about the whole garden/grow/preserve cycle. You get to devise and execute a whole three-phase project that will feed you for the coming year. You couldn’t learn these management skills in a business school! But of course there is room for creativity, too, and a little folly. It’s a lot like painting a picture where you never know what it will really look like until it’s complete.
However. I’ve discovered that many of the items we will really need to be preserving this summer are things we don’t grow (some fruits, for instance) so that means more space for experimenting and trying new things. How exciting!
I think a snowy winter day is a good day for cinnamon rolls. Wait, could there ever be a bad for these fresh-out-of-the-oven treats?
Cinnamon Rolls with a dollop of Cream Cheese Icing
Makes 2 pans of rolls
½ cup milk
1 ½ t. salt
½ cup sugar
¼ cup shortening (or butter)
1 packet yeast (2 ¼ tsp.)
½ cup warm water
2 t. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups all purpose flour
Heat the milk until it’s just at the boiling point, and then turn off the heat and add salt, sugar, and shortening. While the milk mixture cools to lukewarm, add the yeast to the ½ cup of warm water. We want the water to be between 90-110 degrees. Also add in 2 tsp. of sugar. Let the yeast mixture stand 10-15 minutes before adding it to the milk. Pour everything in a large mixing bowl and add the beaten eggs. While mixing on a low speed, add in 4 cups of flour. When flour is worked in, cover the bowl and let it rise until it doubles. Divide dough in two and use a rolling pin to roll each half out into a rectangle. At this point you can either brush with melted butter OR dot the dough with thin slices of butter. Either way works fine. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll up the rectangle from the long side, so you have what looks like a jelly roll. I use scissors to cut slices off and place in greased pie pans. Cover, and let rise again. When the rolls are just about touching each other in the pan, bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.
Cream cheese icing:
4 oz. (half a block) of cream cheese, softened
4 T butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream the cream cheese and butter in the mixer. Add vanilla and then sugar about ½ cup at a time until you reach the desired sweetness. Keep mixing until you achieve a creamy consistency. It doesn’t have to be perfect- this easy and forgiving icing will melt on top of your warm cinnamon buns to form the perfect topping.
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Is this the first Amish man to be caught unaware by Google's cameras? Better him than me!
Thursday, January 27, 2011
As you may know, I love memoirs. Especially ones that can recount some sort of struggle that can be overcome.
When Rebecca Nichols was a baby, her family moved to a small unincorporated village in North Carolina so her father could become pastor at a holiness church which had been floundering under lack of leadership. Her father, with his natural evangelistic style that could reach both those who had long stopped coming to church and those who never started, soon set the church on course to become a vibrant Christian congregation. It would have been the ideal setting for a young family in ministry if not for the ominous figure in the back pew.
For years, a man who was not actually a member of the church but who attended every Sunday and was politically well-connected in the good old boy network of the south had been allowed limited control in the congregation. For years, he continued to manipulate the brethren to the despair and eventual decline of the church. A young vibrant pastor setting up accountability and expanding the church ministry could never figure into the plans of Mr. Horry Watts, who wasn’t used to not having his way.
Rebecca spent her childhood living in fear as Watts launched one terrorist campaign after another on her family, ultimately taking everything they had. All the while, her parents advocated for and maintained the practice of loving their enemies. While their home was repeatedly bombed (yes, you read that right) the Nichols family never retaliated outside the boundaries of the law. There is one surreal moment in the book when a man with inside knowledge of the harassment approaches Rebecca’s father and makes an offer to do what the authorities (local, state, and federal) had been unable to do up to that point; stop the violence and harassment once and for all. It would be permanent, kept quiet, and likely accomplished by use of murder. The pastor never even weighs the offer and kindly explains “it’s not our way.”
You would think that this book is about survival, but here is the real theme: Forgiveness. Even after Watts’ crimes stole her closest family from her, she forgave him. In the final chapters of this book, Nichols explores the reasons why, as she puts it, we have no choice but to forgive our enemies. The alternatives to forgiveness simply aren’t worth the risk in our own spiritual lives. For myself, it was difficult to read of the devastation done to an innocent family and not feel anger and resentment at the perpetrators. I cannot imagine that it was easy to forgive the man who terrorized their family, but I can believe that forgiveness is always the best course of action, and in our best interest. Truly one of the more worthwhile stories I’ve read on this theme. There are many Scriptural references throughout the book that the author uses to show why her parents chose to make the decisions that they did along the way. Rebecca never lost her faith, and her story deserves a lot more publicity than it has gotten!
Part true crime, part memoir, and wholly inspirational, this is a story you won’t soon forget.And thanks to my friend Hope for drawing my attention to such a good book!
Monday, January 24, 2011
This season I've made Sundays our soup-n-bread dinner day. It's nice because a big pot of soup will provide leftovers during the week, and same for the bread. I don't always get to the bread part, depending on how busy I've been, but it's nice when it happens. A few months ago I made this recipe for "Everything Bread" which I found in Taste of Home magazine. Not only did it turn out delicious, but it was deceptively easy to make. The only thing I ended up adjusting was the amount of loaves, because 1 loaf made from this recipe makes a whopping 25 slices! While this would be fine if we were having guests over after church for dinner, I prefer to make two smaller loaves rather than one large loaf, and to freeze the other one.
Here's what you need:
1 pkg. (1/4 oz.) yeast
3/4 cup warm water (between 90-110 degrees)
1 cup warm milk- I used 2% (also between 90-110 degrees)
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 Tbs. sugar
1 egg yolk
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I like to use bread flour, but all purpose works fine)
1 egg white (saved from your egg yolk!)
2 tsp. water
coarse sea salt, dried minced onion, poppy seeds, sesame seeds.
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add milk, butter, egg yolk, salt, and 2 cups flour. Mix for a few minutes on medium speed and add another 2 cups of flour until it forms a firm dough.
Turn on to a well floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. It takes less than 10 minutes. You'll end up with a lump of dough like this:
Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. I used olive oil for the "grease".
Cover, and let rise until doubled, which takes about an hour.
Warning: Do not set this to rise on top of your wood stove and then walk away to do something else for an hour without checking on it, or else the bread will start to bake in the bowl. Do you hear me?
Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface; divide dough in half. Here is where you can have your choice about what type of loaf you want. You can take one of the dough halves and divide into thirds, shaping each into a 7-9 inch rope. Place the ropes on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or well greased) and braid, tucking the ends under the loaf.
You can do the same with the other dough half, or else you can simply shape it in a long french loaf style on the baking sheet. Finally, add your 2 tsp. water to the egg white and brush both loaves. Sprinkle with sea salt, onion, poppy, and sesame seeds. Bake at 375 for 22-28 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Watch it disappear when your husband starts on it!
Note: Two kitchen items that will make life easier for you on this one: A dough scraper, which is just a small flat tool made out of plastic that will help you scrape the dough out of the bowl (and off of your counter!) and a cooking thermometer for getting your water temperature just right. You want your water temperature to activate the yeast; too cold and it won't, too hot and it will kill it.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
It is hard to believe that I was ever as hot as I was one morning last summer when I finally turned the hose on myself in the garden and felt relief for, oh, all of two minutes before doing it again! Now, deep in January, I shiver so much that it practically qualifies as exercise. The months of January and February may be my least favorite time of the year. Hardly any work gets done on our house construction as we battle ice, snow, and wind, not to mention the insulation that barely keeps up with the frosty nights. Someone told me it feels like "liquid ice" outside, and I think that's a good description. If I could climb into a fluffy bed and hibernate with books until spring, you wouldn't hear from me until the crocuses were in bloom.
By the end of next month my hands will be itching for the trowel, and I'll be deep in garden dreams. Gardeners, like farmers, always live in the magical land of "next year" when your optimism is refreshed, as well as your strategies.
I am knee deep in winter reading...especially seed catalogs. That reminds me. Many people find my blog through the popular Amish Reading List, and I have updated it with some recent titles and also added a few titles for children (scroll down on the page). I've been meaning to update this for a while as new books pop up in catalogs and surface in Amish-run bookstores. It's such a challenge to remember to do so, and I long to do better at keeping up the "books" portion of my blog.
Another project keeping me busy is this special sewing project, which you will hear more about in the future. I can't give details yet, but you may be able to own it. :)
And finally, a giveaway!
Michigan State University Press has provided me with a copy of my friend Saloma's book "Why I Left the Amish" which I previously reviewed. If you'd like to win it, just leave a comment on this post. For one additional entry, share this post on Facebook or your own blog, and then comment again to let me know! The winner will be picked on January 20th, so hurry and enter!
Sunday, January 9, 2011
One recurring question that came up in comments when I posted on Amish and Mennonites is that people want to join Amish churches or, at least adopt Amish philosophies (an extreme) because the Mennonites aren't "extreme" enough. In other words, people believe that Mennonites are too much like everyone else. We're too modern, too mainstream. We don't offer the experience of "getting away from it all" that people imagine the Amish can offer them. Several of you asked me to write about Mennonite beliefs, which is like asking someone to write a brief summary on the history of mankind. In short, that's a topic you can go long and deep with, and still never touch bottom. Also, I'm in no position to be a spokesperson for anyone's beliefs other than my own. So probably what would make a lot more sense to my readers is to compare the similarities and differences between the Amish and Mennonites, which will hopefully give you a clearer picture.
While I can see where this idea that Mennonites are not "different enough" come from, it is also an arbitrary argument. You see, having been educated in (and now working in) a secular environment, I can easily identify a huge disconnect between my own values, the values of my church, and the values that appear dominant in the mainstream American culture. There even seems to be a difference between Mennonite values and the ones of many other Christian churches. The hallmark of an Anabaptist faith is that Jesus is the center, and making Jesus the center of your belief system does not strike me as a very popular lifestyle choice. And that's just the beginning.
The first thing that people use as an example of how similar Mennonites are to everyone else is that we drive cars. It's true, except for Team Mennonites, the majority of us drive sedans, mini-vans, pick-ups, and SUV's. This differentiates us from the Amish who are forbidden to own cars, but certainly use vehicles and hire drivers to take them places. The fact that people point out the car issue first tells me one thing: People care an awful lot about appearances and external factors. But another real and highly visible difference between Amish and Mennonites is that the Mennonites are all over the globe doing missionary work (Matthew 28:16-20). It's unlikely you will find any Old Order Amish handing out Bibles in Uganda, or or taking up outreach efforts. Also, we do welcome people from different backgrounds to our churches to worship with us and explore membership. Our church doors are wide open on Sunday morning, and there is usually a sign out front that tells you what time to show up. Our churches are not hidden away in an ever-revolving rotation of member's private homes, we are open to everyone. (And this is not a slight to people who have cell churches or worship in homes, it's just the observation that a real building with a sign out front makes it easier to find us.)
People are also quick to point out that Mennonites use technology, while the Amish have limits. This statement also has its weaknesses. It's based on the belief that the Amish don't have access to technology, or reject it outright. While many Menno churches allow a computer with internet in the home (some Mennonite churches do not, or only allow computer with e-mail access), the Amish church has drawn the line so that their church members cannot have a computer in their home. However, there are many Amish who access the internet at public libraries and through their mobile phones (which are allowed). Although I have a degree in Information Science, I never felt as unsophisticated as I did while standing in line behind an young Amish woman on her blackberry at a grocery market in Walnut Creek. Like the Amish, many Mennonite churches are walking the fine line on technology. I like to think we analyze what technology serves us best, versus which types might we end up serving.
Mennonites do use electricity. While the Amish do not use electricity, they do use other forms of energy (air, gas, propane, etc.) and do not lack for power. We use different ways that accomplish the same goal.
Another visible difference is how we dress, and I say this tongue-in-cheek because many people have told me that they cannot tell the difference between the more conservative Mennonites and Amish people. The issue of how we look confuses people because there is more than one way to identify as Mennonite, and even within groups that convey a conservative appearance, there can still be differences that aren't easily noticed by people who are not familiar with our churches. These differences can make us seem ambiguous, and people aren't attracted to ambiguity. Dress is decided the same way in Mennonite churches as it is in Amish churches. It is a community decision that focuses on modesty, and sometimes but not always, a uniform or non-conforming appearance. It can be decided on a church-by-church basis, or a decision made amongst a group of like-minded churches. Anyone interested in this topic can further explore it in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 3:3.
Finally, most (but not all) Mennonites are far more tolerant of educational advancement than the Amish. Despite the differences in various Mennonite churches, I think if you were to walk into one on a Sunday morning, you would find a similar sense of certainty and purpose. You would find people who know what they believe and why they believe it, have deep cultural traditions, practices that are Bible-based, and a church body that stresses accountability for our choices. We have distinct practices on baptism and communion, and a wonderful tradition of acapella singing. You would also find a devotion to world-wide relief work, missions and church-planting, and church activities that feed on fellowship and mutual aid. It's likely you would even be invited over someone's house for dinner after church.
Yes, we are just like everyone else, breathing the same air in and out, having the same problems and struggles, just like the Amish. But I cannot deny that we also have some unique characteristics and practices that set us apart. That people come to our churches, visit, sometimes join, and quite often leave saying that they just don't feel like they ever "fit in" tells me that while we are just like anyone else, we also are not like everyone else. A radical and vibrant discipleship of Christ is something that will never be in danger of being too mainstream.
As always, you can always e-mail me if you would have specific questions, and you may want to visit this site for plenty of good information.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Right, it's a Mennonite buggy. Old Order Mennonite. You've heard of them right? You may have even seen some, but you thought they were Amish. Because at the end of the day, you really can't tell the difference. Although there are some differences. For starters, this boxy, squarish, black buggy is specific to Old Order Mennonites, and though you will find Amish in buggies, you won't find one driving this one.
So. Why do people gravitate towards the Amish and not Mennonites? I'll admit that I get a lot of interest in the Amish here on my blog. People love to read my remembrances of when I lived with my extended Old Order Amish family, and I get e-mail requests from people looking for Amish pen-pals and looking for an Amish family to go live with. (By the way- you are out of luck on both counts.) But the question that does grab my attention is this: Why do people want to immerse themselves in the Amish and not the Mennonites? Why not the Brethren, or even Hutterites?
Here is my theory. It combines three factors. We are at a time when people feel overwhelmed by the abundant choices and options that they have the freedom to make. There is actually a book that studies this phenomenon (The Paradox of Choice: The Problem of Excessive Choices in Modern Western Affluent Society, by Barry Schwartz) and when people feel overwhelmed they look for something they perceive to be simpler. Notice I said "perceive". A perception is not always a reality.
At the same time, people like instant answers. We are becoming accustomed to having things happen immediately, and on demand. When you have the cultural habit of wanting and getting things right now paired with a feeling of overload, you make hasty choices. You quickly look for a safety raft that looks like it might hold you. The raft has a well-known brand name, and it looks familiar. You don't know all the details about the raft. How long is it? Does it really float? Is there a hole in it? You are just grasping for the raft because it looks like a raft and so it must be the safety you seek. For many people, the raft is the Amish. An easily identifiable brand that has a reputation for conveying simplicity and old fashioned norms to many people.
The third factor that comes into play is a prevailing sense of the loss of community. Community looks different to everyone, but the idea of a support network consisting of people who all share the same values, ideology, and morals as you sounds very appealing. Since we are at a place and time in western society where people have abundant lifestyle choices, a cohesive set of standard values no longer exists. So people seek out something that looks persistent and uniform. Again, the Amish look this way, and so the final criteria is met.
For a while I thought maybe this interest in the Amish had something to do with them being a mystery to most people. But I had to nix that when I saw that the abundant amount of information out there available on the Amish was not quenching the thirst of the public. If it wasn't mere curiosity then it had to be something more. And frankly, if it was just their peculiar aloofness that was the draw, well, there are even more aloof and mysterious plain groups you could be interested in than the Amish. At least the Amish will take in a convert here and there. The Old Order Mennonites? No chance. If you wanted to join them, they would dissuade you from it. And they don't call people "English" or "Yankees" but instead call them "Outsiders." How's that for exclusive? (Kraybill & Hurd 2006)
But I don't think people really want to join a plain group, anyway. Not most people. People searching for a simpler, less complicated life would find a horse and buggy community to be full of finely nuanced cultural rules and traditions with little meaning to the outside seeker. And those who ask why things are done a certain way or why a rule exists might just be met with the tried and true answer that it is so because that is way it has always been so. Also, people value complete autonomy over their choices, as well as a high level of privacy. You will find neither of those things in most Old Order communities. What I think most people are looking for is some way to integrate their notion of the beauty of the Amish culture into their everyday lives. People want to take the good parts and seamlessly apply it to their modern world, like fitting a jigsaw puzzle piece into a crossword puzzle.
If it's beauty and a God fearing way of life that you seek, read your Bible. Discover and develop your convictions and beliefs. Find a church that also believes these things and that will love and support you in times of need. I don't advise finding a church and then trying to fit yourself into their mold unless you share strong convictions with that church. Conforming externally without inner transformation is an empty act of faith. Putting on Amish clothes will not change your heart. If you are interested in visiting a Mennonite church, e-mail me and I can help, or else answer questions. Meanwhile, why not begin to simplify your life on your own? Wear what YOU feel is comfortable and modest. Question new technology before it enters your home. Spend an evening playing a board game with your family, or visiting someone who lives alone. And stop thinking about denominational labels, and start thinking about living a Christian life that presents a faithful witness to the world.
After all, that's the real message anyway.