Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Quaker Connection

 It was cold and rainy on the day of the funeral. It always is, for me. I have never stood graveside without a coat or umbrella. Besides the awful weather, the clocks had been set back, making for a long and dark morning. The Mister did not wake up with the sun like he does most days, but with the clouds and an hour late. We scrambled to get out the door for the funeral of the Mister's great-aunt, who came from a branch of his family tree that I never met and who, it turned out, are Quaker.

 This distant aunt had spent the last ten years of her life in a haze of confusion. She did not recognize people, and often asked for those who had died long ago. It will warm the hearts of mothers of sons to know that she had been lovingly cared for in the last the last decade of her life by her son, in the home she always knew, right there on the farm.

 In survival mode, I pulled myself together and dressed Little Mister in his good shirt. We ate breakfast in the car on the way, giving me anxiety as little boy hands picked the chocolate off of a chocolate peanut butter protein bar, the closest thing to a travel-friendly breakfast I could provide under duress. When he decide that was too tedious, he unearthed a bag of chips from the back seat. I also noticed that we forgot his coat, and quietly gave thanks that he was wearing shoes.

 We arrived a few minutes late, as I always do when someone needs to be buried or married before noon.

 I saw a man with a long beard in bib overalls. He wasn't the only one. The service was reverent, but informal. People stood up to speak their heartfelt memories of a woman who I now wished I had been able to know in this life. There were many mentions of a life filled with honesty, integrity, and service. Also, cinnamon rolls, fourteen day pickles, and something called fruit cocktail cake. There were no admonishments, or the type of "As I am now, so shall you be!" warnings to repent. The message lay in the examples of her life, Scripture applications, and the demonstration of a quiet faith strengthened by serving others. "She taught me how to work," said a large, burly man wearing his best Carhart overalls. Quite a compliment, I imagined.

 The flowers were few. We placed single spring blooms on the casket in the cemetery at the Quaker Meeting house, a small group of mourners such as you would expect when the deceased has outlived all others. 

 The experience was beautiful in its unabashed simplicity.

 Over the next two weeks we searched diligently for signs of new life. Snow encrusted daffodils don't count. Little Mister and I have taken to evening walks in the field where we examine deer tracks and construct make-believe campfires from old remnants of corn stalks. I'm reminded that we don't walk alone. As new life is breathed into our surroundings, we reflect on the joy of serving a risen Savior. He lives!

This old irrigation pump still works. 

 As the sun drops in the sky, we take our treasures of sticks, flowers, and a deer antler home for preservation. Negotiations for bath time and late night snacks will give way to a crescent moon and bedtime stories. Or maybe spilled milk and a forgotten laundry load. I'll remind myself again. I am not alone. 

And neither are you.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Homemaking Encouragement from the Farmhouse

 Driving home along the fields as the work season begins, I rejoiced in the new warmth and light. During this time of refreshment and renewal, the things I learn from others during my own personal season of busy family life fall like new rain on a dry garden. It's my prayer that these three memories will encourage you as we journey together. 

 Memory: It was an old style farmhouse, multi-story and planned for production, not aesthetic design. The front door opened into the living room which was tiny by today's standards. A third of it was dominated by a staircase, the rest of it cramped with furniture, laundry, and an old upright piano. Behind it was the kitchen, where the real living took place. Indeed, the couch was there and that made sense. It also held the dining set, and cluttered counters full of dishes and produce. It was summer, and the kitchen table was lovingly set with plates of tomato slices, watermelon, applesauce, bread and cheese. Because it was summer, the busiest time of the year, food splatters and preservation paraphernalia were bountiful. So were barefoot children with hard, blackened feet dressed in otherwise clean and tidy clothing. Among the domestic calamity there were excited chatter and smiles.

 That's where I learned that the best homemakers are not always the best housekeepers.

 Memory: It was a remodeled farmhouse, with a spacious new kitchen that doubled as the laundry room. Outside of the back door was a mountain of rag-tag children's bicycles in all sizes and colors. Just inside the back door, a large towel on the floor held a landscape of muddy boots and shoes. The footprint of the shoe pile was so large you could see it from space. Generic root beer sat on the counter awaiting a birthday party scheduled for later on the same day, and stainless steel bowls filled with fresh picked green beans sat on the table the kitchen table. It was suggested the oldest daughter put down her book and go outside to supervise the younger children, who were climbing a step ladder on top of a John Deere Gator for who knows what goal. She quietly set her book down and went outside, although I felt her lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. The mothers sat inside and enjoyed tea and conversation. We were too busy for this, but not too busy for one another. 

 That was how I learned that hospitality didn't have to be a perfectly clean house for a Sunday visit, but hat hospitality was a spirit, not always a distinct form.
 Memory: The swing set and trampoline just outside the back door were alive with laughter. Inside, the living room floor was strewn with toys, some of which were so old that the first children to enjoy them many very well be grandparents now.I was helping to pick them up when the screen door slammed and in a blur someone grabbed a banana off of the kitchen counter. "No, you can't ride the scooter down the slide!" The children's grandmother was sweeping up an upset houseplant, collateral damage from the fun. A bumped head and an escaped goat caused a moment of excitement before all was well again. As mothers arrived to collect their respective folds, a calm settled over the house. The vocal mirth gave way to the chirping of birds and the hum of a tractor in the distance. Grandma quietly exhaled and smiled as she sat down in an easy chair and took out a scrapbook page that she had been working on, and that was when I knew it won't always be like this. 

 We made these delicious peanut butter cup cookies one night as a special treat. They are baked in a muffin tin which makes them all the perfect size. At one point I had to leave the kitchen and the bag of candy was left unattended.
"Mom. Mom. I ate a few of these," came the guilty confession.

 Oh, that's okay. Most of us would have wiped out half the bag and blamed someone else. 

Peanut Butter Cup Temptations

1 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 package peanut butter cups

 Cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Add eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking powder. Gradually blend in flour. Form dough into one-inch balls and place in tart or muffin pans. 

 Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and place 1 peanut butter cup in each center, pressing gently into the cookie. Cool for a couple minutes and remove from tins. Finish cooling on wire rack.


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