Sunday, December 8, 2013

Annual Report: State of the Harvest

     It was a half hour before sunset and we were standing in the back forty behind our house. It was soybeans again this year, but it could have been anything. In the distance I saw a gaggle of geese circling the sky, moving closer to where we were standing. In no particular formation they veered of to the north, then west, followed by an attempt at east. Finally, they assembled in that familiar arrow shape they make for their winter migration and pointed south with great purpose. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I thought, or at least a parable of something. At least once in our lives, I think we all can identify with their strategy.

     Last spring, when I was in over my head with little Mister, I told myself that we would have a garden this year but a modest one. Just some essentials like corn, beans, and tomatoes. I didn't know how, or if, I would be able to keep it up. It seemed really unlikely that it would be a fruitful canning year. So I opened up my little blue notebook where I record important things to-do and made a wish list, where I wrote down a few things I would like to get put away should some miracle happen. In no time, my list runneth over and I reminded myself that it was merely a wish list. No pressure. If I only did freezer jam, well, at least that would be something and there would be one item crossed off the list.

The wish list, mid-action
     Slowly, and without my noticing, a miracle did happen. After carefully crowding the last of the jars into the nooks at the end of the season, I was left with a list that had only two or three items that remained uncrossed. One was barbecue sauce, which we don't really need, while the other was the sweet cherries I never found at a good price. Also, when I added up the numbers, I was amazed to find that I put away just as much food as I had in 2010, which was my last big canning year. Never was a harvest more joyfully celebrated! Our needs were met abundantly. 

     In October, we spent a few days celebrating the harvest in PA, while trying to make up for a previously shortened trip that didn't go off as planned this past summer. It seems suitable to post them now as we give thanks for the unexpected blessings of 2013. 

 Here's an old tractor powering a cider press. The Mister says you actually need an antique tractor to do this because the newer ones don't have some pulley wheel or something that would attach to the belt. Sounds like a good excuse to own an old tractor to me.
 Fresh pressed cider.
Old stone house and garden. Landis Valley, Lancaster, PA.
 View from inside a historic farmhouse.

Apple butter kettle.  I told everyone I was sure you could make this in a slow cooker, but it turned out they were doing it this way on purpose.

Forget the sand box, how about a dried corn box? Kids were having a blast in this enormous pile of dried corn and it was giving me ideas. Unfortunately, The Mister says it would cause a huge uninvited pest problem in our yard.

I was thankful that it occupied little hands for a good long while.

How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
Psalm 31:19 (NIV)


Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Chow Chow Bee

Someone, please stop me from beginning this post by lamenting what a failure I've been on meeting my personal goal of posting twice a month. I have lots of really good excuses, but today I'm going to expound on my favorite one. October was my mad rush to get every bit of the last harvest in for the year, and then it turns out I needed a month to recuperate. Seriously, I am all at once invigorated and worn out, a feeling that lingers after the last dead stem is pulled from the garden and the soil is put to rest. 

I hope to catch up on my blog now, because I am grounded with an ankle injury from a playground accident. Don't you think someone in my age group should be done with playground accidents? Me too. 

This year, a few friends and I decided to pool our resources together and can several kettles   of chow chow. For those who have never heard of chow chow, or have heard of it but are not sure what it is, here is a simple definition. It is basically chopped vegetables pickled in a vinegar and sugar solution with some spices. When I visit out west, they seem to call it "mixed pickle" or something like that. It makes good use of the last of the garden goodies; carrots, beans, cabbage, cucumbers, and sometimes green tomatoes. It's a lot of chopping, and a lot of work because you have to cook each vegetable separately before mixing them together for a brief simmer, so it's a blessing when you can get some help and make it a group effort. 

I wouldn't have bothered with it this year without help, because like I said, it's a lot of work. 

Vegetable soup for lunch
 I like hearing old family stories about how everyone would get together for chow chow day and cut vegetables, and then since you have everything all prepared, it only made sense to get some beef and have soup for lunch. So we did.
One of the kettles simmering.

This is aunt Martha managing the hectic kitchen.
Another tradition I like is a game of "Guess how many quarts?" The person who guesses the closest to the correct number of quarts that are ultimately canned wins some small prize. No one guessed the exact number, so we all ate cookies.

Some jars awaiting.

      I don't recall the exact number of jars that we processed, but once divided among us it was a plentiful amount. Now that I am off my feet and not able to cook, we are extra thankful for every item lining our shelf this winter.

Everything should work out that well.

Friday, October 11, 2013

In All Things Be

     Our Little Mister, now nearing the age of two, hasn't spoken yet. Well, that's not entirely true. Last spring he said the word "necklace" and then clammed up for months. A couple weeks ago, as his therapist was counting the numbers "Six, seven, eight..." he yelled out "NINE!" and then wouldn't say nine anymore. That's how it goes with him. I've heard all the stories of children who don't speak until they are three years old and then it comes out in sentences, or kids whose first word is "octopus". I've heard it all, and I'm fine with our son taking his time. There's a proverb that says An empty barrel makes a lot of noise. I have found this to be true. No empty barrels here. My boy's barrel runneth over. 

As I write this, we're getting ready to attend a harvest festival. A celebration, an expression of thanks. Wouldn't you know, that leading up to this, it was the worst week ever? The Little Mister caught the sniffles, who then passed it on to The Mister. The washing machine broke down. There was not one iota of peace for yours truly. A new domestic calamity every day right up until the time we embark on a public display of gratitude and satisfaction. Surely, there's a message in there, meant for someone like myself who does not easily grasp subtle leadings. 

Here are a few simple places I've found satisfaction lately.

 One early evening, the sky turned pink and furious. October is a lady of vivid color. I grabbed my camera and followed her trail into the sunset...


This is the second year I entered a picture of our Little Mister in the annual photo contest for our local farm newspaper. I like that the photo submissions are boldly printed next to the weather. In a farm paper, that's prime real estate for placement.

  I happily rediscovered my favorite fall recipe, Stuffed Acorn Squash, in my recipe file. It's the perfect meal this time of year. Easy to make, wholesome, and delicious.  

Sausage-Stuffed Acorn Squash

2 medium acorn squash, halved with seeds scooped out
1 pound bulk spicy sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup fresh baby spinach or broccoli finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Place squash cut side down in a microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave for 10-12 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, crumble sausage into a large skillet (I added a tablespoon of oil to the pan) and add onion. Cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. In a large bowl combine sausage, spinach, cranberries, and a sprinkling of bread crumbs.Turn squash cut side up and stuff with sausage mixture. Cover and microwave for 2-3 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
 I'll file my next report after the harvest weekend. A much needed change of scenery will refresh my fingers on the keyboard.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Of Pigs and Peaches

This is a story about pigs, and peaches, and what happens when you're not paying attention. 

There's a farmer in a neighboring town who gets paid to haul away lesser quality produce, which then gets dumped in a big pile on the family farm. A phone tree is activated, and you may get a phone call telling you that pears and mangoes just arrived, come and get some. The first year we lived here, I got such a call but couldn't come right away. I got down there one or two days later to find an enormous mountain of rotting fruit with two enormous hogs laying in the pile. I'm sure I thought something along the lines of Oh no, never this! Get me out of here. The farmer's dad shooed the pork away and started to help me scavenge the bruised fruit for a few pieces that still maintained some qualities of being edible. I think I went home empty handed. Calls would still come in every few weeks, but I could never drop what I was doing and come right away before the fruit went bad beyond all hope, and besides...PIGS!

Oh thank you, but I just bought a box of apples, uh huh, yes, and we're concerned about a possible guava allergy. Maybe next time. 

Now let me say here that I'm first in line for a bushel of tomatoes that are seconds, and am really not a terrible snob about these things. However, food quality is near and dear to my heart. In general, I'm okay with food that has been laying on the ground, but not for several days after being picked and left to ferment or get rained on.

I stayed one step ahead and eventually the calls came less and less. Yes, the fruit was free, but it felt like I was beating the game by not having to scavenge around for bad fruit amidst the swine. It was better than free.

Then, last weekend I was at a family reunion and stopped off at a fruit farm to buy a box of beautiful canning peaches at an excellent price. I had to laugh when we arrived home to find a two day old message about a truck load of rejected peaches. Ugh! Those thing were probably sun ripened to mush by now.

About a week later, my friend Miriam stopped by to drop something off. She's an older lady in our community, a widow with all of her chicks having flown the coop but one single daughter who dislikes gardening and canning, but loves children. I offered to come over and help with canning if her daughter would watch Little Mister, and a mutually accommodating deal was struck. One Monday morning I donned my apron, gathered my tomatoes and jars in a big tub and arrived for a productive day. We worked splendidly, knocking out my tomatoes and then tackling bushels of peaches and apples that Miriam had picked from the mountain of rejected fruit on that farm. Some of the peaches were in such bad condition that as you peeled them, they dissolved right in your hands. The fruit flies were in worshipful awe. I was surprised when Miriam told me that some of the jarred quarts of peaches would be donated to a benefit auction where they go for around $30 a jar. Well, that's fine for some worthy cause, I guess. Also, pork prices are up, so the hogs have been sold and at least the fruit is now pig-free.

Things went quite smoothly with our canning session, and we got to talking about getting one other person for a possible chow chow day. That would really be helpful, as chow chow is on my preserving wish list this year. I did a wish list instead of a to-do list, since I didn't know how how I would balance the needs of Little Mister with lengthy food projects that are planned, pickled, and executed solely by me. Maybe when this season is all over, I'll do a follow up report on how it all went with my list.

As I was about to leave, we noted that a few of the jars had some undissolved sugar in the bottom. It seemed to really bother Miriam, so I told her I would take them if she didn't want them. "Oh, I plan to give you all the peaches, but for a few for the auction," she told me. 

Sigh. Those rotting peaches I just peeled were coming to my house to live. For so long I beat the free fruit game. But you really can't beat free.  

This calls for a fast and easy Peach Crisp. One and a half quarts of canned peaches in a 2 quart dish, topped with a mixture of 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon mixed with 1/4 cup butter to make it crumbly. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

That Kind of Friend

You know those friends you hardly ever get to see, but the moment you do, it's like not a single second has passed since you last spoke to one another? Time may pass in enormous blocks, months go by, and then a chance meeting erupts into a reunion where everything you say to one another is fascinating and important. It's not just the catching up on the current happenings in your lives, but the parts where you can really go deep with that person.

I have a friend like that. Probably more than one. Actually, quite a few close friends fall into this category. I just had an unplanned visit with a favorite friend who I rarely see, but whose absence is very present. When we meet, we can pick up exactly where we left off without missing a beat. We tell each other things in honest but gentle ways.

We met up at the park. She was watching a friend's daughters and so had at least half a dozen children to look after. I had one that felt like half a dozen.

 She says she can tell I'm a new mom. No one has ever told me that. Not even in the hospital when I was the newest of new moms. People usually think I have ten kids. But she knows me and gets me, this lady who lives two miles down the road and really ought to visit more frequently.

She tells me she doesn't like to garden but feels like she has to, you know, "because of the culture we choose to live in." I tell her how some days I feel like God put my family in a dark corner, and tell her of my struggles with Little Mister. She extends no shock or negativity at this confession, just the warm extended hand of love. We talk of babies, and husbands, and growing corn. We speak of faith, and sorrow, and smile knowingly at the fortune we gained the day we crossed paths.

I tell her her I'm going to visit her soon, and she will make tea and I will bring treats. You don't have time to make treats, she tells me. She's right, and I can't fool her, but I'm going to do it anyway. 

A week later, I was someplace else and saw these two boys playing together. I figured they knew each other real well because they played so nicely together, making an obstacle course that involved climbing on roof tops. Little Mister played alongside, though he's far from the big boys league. 

 After a while, I heard one say to the other, "Hey! What's your name?" 

I hope they become lifelong friends who can meet up at the playground someday with their own children. When they do, I hope they talk as if no time has passed at all.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Just Humor Me

     I'm hoping that in a couple months I'll have a wonderful story of garden redemption for you, where in the midst of a summer that has felt like an inhospitable rain forest a large harvest was gathered and preserved, in a timely manner, too.

     So far this season, our garden is dismal. While it seems like the world is canning billions of quarts of green beans, our beans don't amount to a hill of beans. The peppers we rely on are missing in inaction. We had a decent berry harvest, and there can still be a turn around with the corn and tomatoes, but overall it's been a little frightening. You see, we rely on what we grow to feed us throughout the year, especially during the lean months of late winter. While growing anything is never a guarantee of a bountiful harvest, I still feel like digging a hole with my pitchfork and climbing into it. The main thing stopping me is the heat and exertion it would take to dig a hole at this point. Oh, and the humidity. I should have planted mango trees and bananas.

      I've been thinking a lot about the cost of growing versus buying and preserving. Would it be cheaper in the long run next year to buy boxes of vegetables? I already do this with some things anyway, like peaches and apples. Admittedly, I would miss the free gym membership that gardening provides, and instant access to a perfect ripening tomato. It's a hard call to make right now. I just hate waste, especially wasted efforts.

      For some reason, waste has always been a bigger sin to me than plenty of other equal wrongs. When I was a child, my mother clipped a picture out of the newspaper of a poor, blind little girl and kept it at the table. Whenever I didn't want to finish my meal or eat, she would threatened to send my food to this child in the picture. I kid you not. Had she actually followed through, that would have suited me fine. At least someone would have finished the meal. Maybe the blind girl actually liked pork and cabbage, whereas I was just humoring everybody.

     Thirty years later, a man gave me a tour of an enormous garden he shared with his son. Quite a patch, with a dazzling array of vegetables. It could have fed twenty people all year but it was only meant for five. I asked how he went about preserving all his goods, and who did the canning, etc.? "We don't bother with that," he said.
"What we don't eat just gets plowed under." I still wonder what my face looked like at that moment, and did he notice? He could have at least had the decency to mention a freezer. Just humor me, I thought.

     One day I spilled some bird seed in the backyard, and felt bad about it. Not long after, I noticed a sunflower growing in that same spot, which I carefully dug up moved to my flower garden.  It bloomed and is so far nicer than the decorative sunflowers I am intentionally growing with quality seed.

       Like I said, I don't like to waste anything.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Promise of the Rain

It was the day before the rain hit, a good soaking rain that went on all day and all night, for days. While the men were building arks, ladies were stocking the ark pantry.  

Lavender farm just up the road.

 She called my name softly from behind, emerging from the bulk food section at the farmer's market. I was facing the cheese case, Ohio Swiss in hand, enjoying the din of the busy noon market. My friend was toting her baby and toddler, and I immediately felt sheepish in her presence because I had been meaning to call her, but couldn't reach out. She greeted Little Mister. He's getting so big. She asked how I was, and explained that she couldn't chat because her daughter needed to find the bathroom, and it crossed my mind that someday I'd be hauling a child with a small bladder who needs to use the public restrooms, and oh, I don't look forward to that.

As she left, I thought, Did I even say anything? A "How are you?" or "Good to see you?" I couldn't recall because these days my mind had been preoccupied with something my mouth did not have words for and couldn't yet say. 

For weeks I had fumbled with our beat up old irrigation system in the garden, and in the process I was sprayed down more than the plants. Plus there were two rows of corn coming up funny, some beans that didn't look good at all, and a few peppers and tomatoes that were casualties of a toddler toddling. Where was the rain when you need it?

 I lived in fear of them not being able to understand the daily chaos of having a son who has some special needs right now, and all that it entails. The doctor visits, the referrals, the phone calls, the episodes. I longed to talk about it, but didn't want to talk about it to the wrong people. What I really wanted most was relief to rain down on us. 

I certainly didn't want to talk about it at the market and not here on my blog, either. This space is my one happy corner of the world, my place where I can post thanks and praise. I like to write about things I love, and to share joy. It is not a place for the hard stuff, it's a place for sunshine, not rain. 

Then, it started raining. Hard. The corn leaned over on its side and I ran out every day to straighten it.

I started talking about it, to friends, and friends of friends and just anyone and someone. People I barely knew or whom I thought of as my friend because we had other mutual interests reached back. They told me about their children with Aspberger's, undiagnosed boys with limitations, kids who got occupational therapy. We're with you, they said. You are not alone, and your son will amaze you. It was a shower of love and hope brought forth by distant clouds when I thought the sky was clear. They talked about kids who grew up to be really smart, and high functioning, and perfectly fine. They just needed longer to ripen.

The therapy coordinator told us we qualify for respite. It would mean I could do something important for myself like take a shower. Ah, rain again.

The plans for an ark were abandoned when the rain gave way to sun one morning, and I dutifully set out to straighten the corn on a clear day. For weeks I had struggled with our ill-working irrigation system, and now it was watered for free far better than I could have done it. 

 The rain can't stay forever. It arrives, replenishes, makes us grow, and leaves a promise. 


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tiny Touches of Beauty

Who else is busy with the growing season right now? Notice I said growing season, not gardening season. Yes, I am busy in the garden, but aren't we all busy growing our lives right now? This time of year always invigorates me with new ideas. Sowing and reaping takes all forms.

A few years ago I wrote about my rhubarb man, an old man who sold me a huge order of rhubarb  every May for a very good price. It would be canned, and frozen, and made into jam, and last all year, sometimes two. The last time I saw him he was quite frail and his wife was complaining about how hard the rhubarb growing business was on him, and the next year I drove by and saw the tell tale signs of his passing. The yard sale, his wife's new car, and I never saw the rhubarb-for-sale sign ever again.

We put in a patch this year, so in the future we'll have our own. For now, I was stuck paying an outrageous price for a couple lovely stalks at the farmer's market. It gave me a scant quart for the freezer. It left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Kind of like rhubarb.

This year we had a true spring. Unlike in recent years where it would be winter one day and summer the very next, it's been a long cool spring punctuated by rain showers and sweater weather.

   Many of my favorite spring flowers are delicate buds of violets, buttercups, wild flowers, and clover. They stuck around longer than usual. I love how they make a nice bouquet in a baby food jar which fits perfectly on the window rail. I made tiny jar bouquets for all of our windows and they are so light and secure that they don't even move when I forget about them and suddenly fling open the window. It's a tiny touch of beauty.  

Can you spot the lucky clover?

Right now it's a demanding time, so I'm searching for tiny touches of beauty in life. Mile markers of goodness. Discreet flags of hope placed purposefully to cheer me on in the race. This time of year always brings so much work...joyful, but time consuming work. The cyclone of the Little Mister, for as I said previously- he has long outgrown the duckling phase, spins in constant motion blurring the big picture. Boys surround you, I read somewhere, once.

I had been thinking about small bits of loveliness and making a mental list of the ones I've encountered when a gift arrived from a friend...

TeenyTiny Gardening by Emma Hardy

   Get out of my head! How did she know?? The eggshell garden on the cover grabbed me right away and pulled me into a world of herb buckets, fairy gardens, and all kinds of delightful growing projects. Each one is a piece of eye candy. I could look at the pictures all day. It's perfect reading for this time of year, light and inspirational. I can't wait to try the edible kid's garden.

Meanwhile, I'll keep looking for tiny bits of charm that grow amongst the weeds, for there are bound to be some.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Late Bloomers


 *Twila, you were the first to comment and you won the book giveaway. Does that ever happen? Well, it did!*

 I love to see nature wake up in the spring. Tiny buds and shoots, seedlings and dew. New life springing from slumber.

Speaking of slumber, have you heard about the "early wake up" movement? There's an enterprise afoot in the domestic blog world aimed at motivating the mom-masses to add more value to their day by getting up before the rest of the household. This is so you can, ostensibly, get more things done and maybe have some quality time to yourself. I think this is a great idea if you are a naturally inclined morning person, but for us night owls it just won't work. It's merely chopping one end of the blanket off and sewing it back on the other end. If I'm getting up at 5 in the morning, it better be to milk a cow or run from a house fire. Also, if your family is like mine, then getting up at 6 means everyone is up and following you around by 6:05.

Oh, I know some unfortunate souls have husbands who leave for work at dawn and school start times that are alarmingly early so they have to do this. But I don't. I can be a moonflower.

Not to point fingers, but it reminds me of many of the one-size-fits-all solutions floating around in the domestisphere. I once read an article that promised to help you, as a busy mother, find more time to write. It made me anxious for a second because I was hoping she found a loophole in the universe and, aided by a time machine, was going to tell me how to get more hours out of my day. That is the only way I could find more time to write, and frankly the extra time probably wouldn't go towards writing. It would go towards flossing my teeth or eating chocolate or something else important.

After reading half a dozen tips which are already part of my routine, it came down to the big one: The writer has her husband watch the kids for four hours one night a week, while she takes the laptop and absconds into the cloistered security of a Starbucks. And that, THAT, was really how she found time to write. Four uninterrupted hours of quiet, courtesy of her spouse.

I imagined what the conversation would look like if I informed The Mister that I needed a few hours of alone time in the evening at a coffee shop. Well, I tried to imagine, but such a conversation would require just a little too much imagination.

"Would you mind being me for a few hours while I hole up in a cafe with the computer? It's important. I need to write a blog post. A dozen people are counting on me. No, really. I'll be back by ten. Thanks."

I'd like to propose a counter-movement which is synced harmoniously to the natural rhythms of us late night bloomers. One where we shamelessly stay up late after everyone has gone to bed and do whatever we want to get more out of our day. Mop the floor. Read the news headlines. Play solitaire. Embrace the pervasive and soothing quiet of a word at sleep.

From time to time I'll issue a cheer. "Who woke up to perfectly clean floors this morning? Who went to sleep when the clock said a.m.? Who is going to need an espresso as big as their head to get going today?" That's my movement. Those are my people. We'll bloom where we're planted, and when it suits us.

A ranunculus from my garden. An early spring bloomer.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: The Scent of Water: Grace for Every Kind of Broken

This book is over due. Way over due. This book was one of only two non-baby books I read during my pregnancy in 2011. It was a gift from the publisher in exchange for a review, and I quickly plowed through it, mesmerized, then promptly got too sick to write the review. But I never forgot the book, because it was magnificent. An engaging and important work of non-fiction. Allow me to make amends.

You are transported to a world where some form of enslavement exists in myriad ways, vivid and awful, a landscape of abused young women. Naomi Zacharias takes you on a harsh journey of redemption as she tells the story of women surviving violence, imprisonment, and prostitution. Her dark portrayals of at-risk women and children are also hopeful because of the international initiative she helps run which is aimed at helping these vulnerable victims. You can't help but cheer these women on, all of them. The ones in ministry visiting run down orphanages, the women trying to escape human trafficking, the ones who fail and the ones who actually do make it and change their lives. Admiringly, it's not always about fixing people either. Zacharias writes:

I came to offer something, to fix something. Instead, a woman I had just met accepted me into her country and her life, kneeled down, and washed my feet.

The places in the book were very interesting to me. Iraq, Pakistan, India, the Netherlands, and places I'd never heard of before because who ever hears about the red light district of Mumbai? In every place the reader meets women and young victims, survivors and sisters. The story of Annie, a prostitute in Holland was most thought provoking to me as she was trafficked into a situation where, because of the legality of the sex trade, she was permanently enslaved. A stark reminder that just because something is legal, doesn't mean it is right or without horrifying repercussions. In fact, it sometimes makes it worse.

The book has relatable moments for every woman: The responsibility of each woman is to find the particularity of her calling...In this way, every life is ultimately an individual adventure of finding her place in God's plan. To surrender that is to surrender who you are.

I have a copy of this book to give away. Leave a comment if you would like to entered and I will draw a name in one week.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Little Things That Matter

There was this family that the Deacon's wife felt sorry for, she of the discerning eye and generous heart. Their broken fence reminded her of the old unheated farm house that she grew up in, and how everything always seemed to be in ill repair as her poor family struggled under a father who could never provide adequately for his many children. Mrs. Deacon remembered all too well what it was like to sleep on the floor in front of the stove on the coldest nights, huddled together with her siblings. It seemed like such a little thing at the time.

On days when Mrs. Deacon worked her job at a market stand, she would often bring leftover food that had gone unsold to the Grateful family, hoping to be a small blessing where so much must be needed. Mrs. Grateful would meet her at the door with her three preschoolers, and thank Mrs. Deacon for thinking of them. It's the little things, she thought with satisfaction. She remembered what it was like to be a busy young mother, and how there was never enough hands or hours in the day to get everything done.

 It came to be known in the church that there was a great need among the brotherhood. A man in the community had become suddenly ill, and required expensive medication. Their savings exhausted, and prognosis poor, a special collection would be taken to help see this man and his wife through the storm. The Deacon would be visiting each family who could make a contribution. That afternoon at dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Grateful discussed the need. Mr. Grateful said he would check their books and see what could be done for the ailing man. After all, they had been putting away a little here and there.

Two weeks later, Mr. Deacon sat at his desk having just counted out a substantial donation from his fellow church members. Mrs. Deacon was in the kitchen preparing supper, and saw her husband resting in the chair.

"Was there a good collection?" she inquired.
"Yes, very good. I think this will really help with the medication cost, and maybe pay a few doctor bills, too."

Mr. Deacon sat contemplating his next words, uncertain how much to share with his wife about such a private church matter. He decided to tell Mrs. Deacon the surprising news that over half of the money in the collection came from one family. The Grateful's. That was no little thing.

Three miles away, Mrs. Grateful was home cleaning out the refrigerator.

"We have so much food in here." Mrs. Grateful felt guilty about any waste, but consoled herself with the knowledge that at least they had plenty to eat, a warm house, and few worries. Sure, there were a few things that needed done about the place, but that wasn't as important right now as spending time with her children and helping others, like that poor neighborhood man with the many doctor bills. Mrs. Grateful thought for a moment that perhaps the next time Mrs. Deacon dropped by with some leftovers from the market, she could redirect them to the sick man and his wife. She could even add a couple loaves of her own bread. Every little bit helps.

 I watched these little acts of faith unfold at a place I'll call Anonymous Valley Mennonite Church, but little things can make a difference anywhere. A wise man once said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Changing Skies and Fresh Coats

It's all Martha Stewart's fault.

Or maybe just inspired by her.

Let me start at the beginning.

When we first purchased The Compound, back in its mini-pound stage with creaky floors and crooked walls, we knew a remodel would be in our immediate future. Not quite the tear-down and rebuild-while-living-in-it job it turned out to be, but that it was going to need some attention. It's most redeeming features were largely external; some nice trees, and brand new shutters in a colonial blue color that was a perfect compliment to the flat horizon and enormous blue sky that enveloped us on all sides.

We thought about how we wanted to shape the house, how it should look. It was, and is, tiny. I couldn't understand why God gave us such a tiny house until the baby arrived to show me. That sounds strange, but now that our Duckling has grown into an active Little Mister, with his mini tool belt full of plastic wrenches and hammers, I couldn't keep up with one more square foot. It would just be one more dirty square foot that I would agonize about never having time to clean. Like that dirty spot behind the sofa you know about, even though no one else does. You think about it and it grates. What, it doesn't? Well good for you, you're one up on me.

I had picked out the perfect pallete of colors to paint our walls and trim. Something from a special Martha Stewart collection of paint colors. We bought one gallon of something called "Cake stand blue" to experiment with, and promptly lost it in storage as walls were torn down and the weeks turned into years. Can you imagine a more perfect name for a color? Oh, I'll find that paint can someday, you wait.

Now, when the time came to really paint, I pulled out the swatch and drove to the Big Box Hardware store to make the buy, only to discover a lot has changed in five years. Martha is a fickle franchise, and she left that store years ago and her colors were permanently retired. Now what? Days were spent taking my aged Martha Stewart color card to different stores in order to come up with the best possible match. This is what life had come to, driving around holding up a paper with an inch of color on it, trying to capture what I loved most about being here, trying to capture all the light and goodness with just the barest,  hint of a delicate blue. I examined colors called "Daylight" and "Robin's Egg" and "Snowcap" and of course, "Sky".

 A lot has changed in five years. I feel growth on the horizon and have been thinking about changing the name of my blog. Not only am I no longer working as a librarian, I can't even get to the library. Much to my shame, I don't even get much reading done. It feels time for a fresh coat of paint around here. So, I'm considering a name change for my blog, and am open to suggestions.

Meanwhile, there are still walls to paint, and cabinets being built, toy screwdrivers in the laundry, and pies to bake. It's our own color swatch, and it can't be matched.


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