Friday, December 24, 2010

And All Men Are At Home

This was one of several poems read by Dr Alan Jacobs as the Christmas Eve service at All Souls Anglican Church, Wheaton, was starting. He read another, which I also loved and will track down, but this one was particularly poignant.

CHRISTMAS POEM by G.K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

Christmas 2010

A friend said to me recently that tears and laughter are the mortar of life. Through the changes of this last year, they are what have held us together and kept us (questionably) sane.

Losing my mother-in-law in December last year turned Christmas 2009 into the “ Christmas.” My husband took our wish lists, pared them down to a reasonable level, and, with a few clicks of the mouse, brown UPS boxes began showing up. Our son thought we should just leave them that way under the tree. I drew the line at that and wrapped the brown boxes. It gave us something to chuckle about as we hung Mom's ornaments on our tree with the tissues nearby.

One hectic work year done and another underway, in January my beloved headed to Bangkok for two weeks of meetings. The people there are great, but it's a long plane ride. Upside: frequent flier miles, which you get a lot of for sitting in a plane for 20-some hours each way. He continues to do genealogical research, and we tramp around the local cemeteries once he's found a great-grandparent or long lost step-great aunt. It's fun to do the detective work. Our kids think we're odd, which is kind of true.

At Spring Break we went to Pensacola Beach. In late March, pre-oil spill, the beaches were beautiful. The water was freezing, however, so we didn't swim much. With the exception of our daughter the Vegetarian, we ate lots of seafood and loved our visit to Joe Patti's fish market in Pensacola. Wow and yum.

In our first major change of the year, our oldest graduated from high school. He was very sad to leave his friends and very excited to go to college. Our summer travel schedule meant he couldn't get a job, so he got to spend the time hanging out with his friends, broke, but totally, lazily happy. Once he had none to do, I realized how much of my time had been spent “asking” him about homework. Twelve years of a topic of conversation, gone in the time it took to walk across a stage on a beautiful May evening.

Shortly after graduation, the kids, my niece and I headed up to Lake Vermilion for a relaxing week of fishing with my folks. I missed VBS for the first time in years, but the family time was sweet.

We celebrated our 25th anniversary by taking a trip to Maui with the kids. We snorkeled a lot and also ascended Haleakala, driving the switchbacks from sea level to 11,000 feet up, way above the clouds. The views were spectacular and neither kid fell off the mountain – certainly thanks to my “nagging,” which they failed to appreciate. We visited a goat farm (again, not appreciated by the kids) and a winery (ditto), and Sean and I decided that next time we are not bringing said, unappreciative kids.

August began a season of leave-takings. My friend Patty moved to London, which I was sad about until we realized that we can video conference on Skype and that visiting in person requires a trip to London. Thanks to my husband's frequent flier miles, my friend Kathy and I are going in February. Tea and crumpets, plays and museums, cottages and castles here we come!

August also saw our leaving us to go to ISU, majoring in teaching Middle School math and science. He absolutely loves it. He has an unlimited meal plan, interesting classes, and a great dorm floor. He did well and finished finals in mid-December. I've enjoyed having my car to myself, but we miss him a lot otherwise. He misses my cheeseburgers.

Thankfully, our daughter still comes back home at the end of the day. She started sophomore year and has her permit. She's playing flute, piccolo, alto recorder and soprano ukulele. Last month we went to hear her favorite group, Project, play and went to a flute workshop by one of the band members the next day. They play beatbox flute, cello and bass. Not only does she now want to learn cello, but the flute player in the group advised the kids that busking on street corners playing flute is a great way to earn money. We are torn by that idea. It would save on college, but what parent wants to tell people their daughter works on a street corner? Her room looks like a music store, but we love listening to her play. She's also joined the French, Art and Drama clubs at school.

September was very hard. My sister-in-law, Karen, and her husband, Tom, moved back to Illinois in July. She'd been battling malignant melanoma for over six years and her health was worsening. During the next couple of months, we had the luxury of time with her, enjoying trips to art galleries, walks, watching movies, or just sitting and talking. She was increasingly tired, but was not in pain until a couple of days before she died. She passed away on September 19th, just a few weeks after celebrating her 55th birthday and their 19th anniversary. She was a gifted teacher and artist. I don't know how to put into words how wonderful she was or how much we miss her.

Also in September, my mom went into the hospital for a scheduled, and long overdue, back surgery. It went very well, and we expected she'd be home in three days. Instead, she returned home almost a month and two more surgeries later, with not only a new device in her back, but also a stent and a pacemaker. I'd say it was three for the price of one, but I'm pretty sure it was three for the price of three. We were blessed that Mom received excellent care. We spent a lot of family time together eating hospital food, “discussing” politics, and solving the world's problems.

November had us celebrating Dad's 75th birthday and spending Thanksgiving with my family. It was a particularly poignant holiday this year. Having a healthy Mom at the table, and having friends and family who prayed for us and carried us through the last few months, gave us a lot to be thankful for.

Cold weather is baking season and I've been baking bread a lot, beginning with crusty French loaves and more recently trying gluten free variations. I've been baking for church events, which lets me bake without eating it myself. My very favorite thing to bake for is my Wednesday night class when I get to sit on little chairs at little tables with a dozen of the wee Souls (my name for kids at All Souls Church), memorizing verses, reading the Bible, coloring, and munching on brownies - it's a glorious thing.

And now we're in Advent, a time of quiet, reflective waiting in the midst of frenetic activity, which ends for us at the beautiful, candlelight Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. We'll spend Christmas morning with my parents and then head to my sister-in-law's home in the afternoon. As always, I hope this finds you all spending Christmas surrounded by those you love and who love you.

Grace and Peace.

Ann and company

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gathering to Give Thanks

Last year at this time, at the end of Monday Morning Bible Study, we sang several Thanksgiving hymns in preparation for heading out, away from each other and into the Thanksgiving business. And while I loved all the hymns we sang, there is one that remains a constant favorite:

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Written in the 1500s as the Dutch came out from under Spanish rule, it went from being a Dutch patriotic song to being a Thanksgiving song over the course of the next three hundred years. It continues to speak to people who have been oppressed or who have struggled. And, in one way or another, that applies to most of us.

Sometimes sermons or Christian music urges us to be active and to never slow down, as if it's all up to us and that God will forsake us if we let up for even a second. This old hymn tells the truth - it is God who ordains and maintains. The battle was won from the beginning, with the knowledge on God's part that we'd be fighting along side Him.

Having lived through the last couple of months of change and sorrow, I've taken comfort from the knowledge that this is not up to me. That I'm just part of a larger picture painted by God. And so when it came time to give thanks before dinner, at a time when we were missing those who'd gone ahead and grateful for those who hadn't, I was overwhelmingly thankful to belong to a God who forgets not His own.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Give Me, Every Day, Some Bread

No, this isn't a post on the Lord's Prayer. It is a post on bread, because I tried a recipe from a cool book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë François.

My dad turned 75 on Sunday and I got him this book I'd read about that promised artisanal breadmaking skills (and bread) in five minutes a day. Trick is to get a big, food grade tub and mix enough dough to make four, 1 lb. loaves, let it rise, and pop it in the fridge. No kneading. So I ordered it for him and an extra book and tub for me. I also got him a sushi-making class (two hours of instruction, along with wine)...which, yeah, I'll go along for also. He gave me half his genes, so the food presents are his fault, I figure.

I grew up making bread. My mom ground her own wheat and we made whole wheat bread in loaf pans every few days. I liked kneading it and watching it rise, but it took time. My brother and I used to cut slices of it and toast it with butter and sugar on it. I also used to melt a big hunk of cheese on a thick slice of it for breakfast (I read the book Heidi and she did that). It was wonderful.

I've got this friend at church who makes brilliant bread. He makes boules and baguettes, not just loaf pan bread. We have soup suppers on Wednesday nights before our various classes for kids and adults, and he always makes the bread. I love the soup, don't get me wrong, but I go for the bread. And for the class I co-teach, of course. I love those kids.

My friend's bread is like what you find in a great bakery, and that's what I wanted to learn how to do. Then along comes this book into my life. I don't even remember how, probably on some food website. A few clicks on and voila! In my fridge is a tub of dough with three loaves worth of bread left in it. Theoretically, it can sit for up to 14 days. You cut off a hunk, shape it, let it sit for 40 minutes and pop it onto a hot stone in your oven for a half an hour and then, just like that, there is a boule cooling on your countertop.

Of course, the book does not describe the fact that, if you're at my house, you spend part of that half hour waving your dishtowel beneath the smoke detector that's going off because your oven needs to be cleaner. Apparently the term "self-cleaning" in "self-cleaning oven" doesn't mean it will actually clean it's ownself.

Tangent aside, there is a crust of bread left on the cutting board. I don't hold out high hopes that it'll last much longer than tomorrow morning. I'm making challah next for the Thanksgiving dressing, and then on to baguettes. Right after, that is, I clean the stupid oven.

I hope Dad likes his present, I really do. Because I love his present ;-) Now I just need to figure out what we...I mean getting for Christmas.

Thanksgiving Plan

This year we're hosting. Current plan (already slightly revised)...



Smoked Salmon w/Goat Cheese
Crudité Platter
Something from my brother
Champagne, Pinot Noir


Roast Turkey
Challah stuffing with apples and celery
Mashed Potatoes with Cider Sage gravy
Sweet Potatoes Anna
Braised Cauliflower
Green Beans - from my brother
Vegetarian Pot Pie with Puff Pastry Crust
Riesling Kabinett, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Sparkling Cider


Pies - Pumpkin, Apple and Mincemeat.
Pies from Dad and Mom. Not me.



Order turkey from Whole Foods - they stopped taking orders yesterday. Oops.

Revised Plan:


Go get 18 lb. turkey so as not to miss getting turkey I didn't order.
Make challah dough for stuffing.
Hang curtains.
Possible guest coming in. College friend of the boy's.
Clean house...for a while. Get caught up in tv, take nap, leave rest.
Map out timing of the cooking for turkey day.

Make challah, cool, cube, set out to get good and stale.
Do rest of shopping.
Continue to clean house, get caught up in a good book, take nap.
Make dinner.

Husband off work, time to look frazzled busy.
Brine turkey, finding some way to store in suddenly microscopic fridge.
Chop and saute vegetables for veggie pot pie for baby girl...who is now driving.
Make cranberry sauce.
Thanksgiving Eve service at All Souls Anglican Church, Wheaton. Favorite one of the year.

Continue to clean, now frantically.
Slice sweet potatoes and soak prunes in port for Sweet Potatoes Anna.
Peel and chop potatoes for mashed potatoes.
Clean and cut up cauliflower.
Make sure wines are chilled. Very important step. Didn't even need to write down.
Set tables.
Order kids around.
Kids go hide in the basement.
Turkey out of brine, aromatics in, and into oven.
Appetizers out.
Family in.
Turkey out to sit, side dishes into oven.
Make gravy.
Eat myself silly.
Nap off turkey coma...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Those Who Live In Glass Houses...

Over the last couple of days I've been sputtering about a blogger who did something rude to a friend of mine and then wrote an even ruder post about it on his blog impugning my friend's knowledge and spiritual maturity, all the while boasting of his own. The fact of the matter is that the only one who actually exhibited maturity during the incident was my friend. When some folks called him to task for the rudeness of his post, he gave replies that told them that they could just stop reading his posts, he wasn't a noble Christian.

I'm speculating that he received a few too many non-supportive replies to his post because he removed it. Or maybe his mom, or his pastor, or someone wiser than he read the post and took him to task. Of course, nothing is ever gone from the net, really. So his lack of charity, recorded by him for posterity, is cached away out there forever. Which is kind of the point of the post. That whole thing about how living in glass houses should keep you from throwing stones, yeah, this is where that applies.

Because the minute you start blogging, you construct glass walls that allow the world to see into your life. And when you say you are a Christian, what you write will be seen as proof one way or the other. What that blogger (who claims Christianity) did was to witness poorly. He passed up a chance to show grace, which is something we should be actively seeking to exhibit.

Which reminds me of what I think of as the cardinal rules of blogging. First, use the delete key more frequently than the "publish post" tab. Second, don't be in such a rush to publish that you fail to seek counsel. And third, ask yourself how you'll be heard - does anyone really need to be lectured by you?

Throughout the last seven years of the Anglican Angst, there have been many times where I've written emails and left the "To" line blank. Or I've run what I'd like to write past close friends and then either hit the delete button or edited heavily. Now and again, though, I confess to having sent something that I shouldn't have. Because frequently what I want to say and what I should say are two vastly different things. And once said, it's out there for ever. Which means it's been seen, and glass houses don't exactly provide a great place to hide.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Required Reading on Veterans' Day

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

--Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I Can Be Found In The Wine Cellar Under The Stairs

Last month I was writing to a friend and somewhat jokingly put my address as The Wine Cellar Under The Stairs. We don't have a wine cellar exactly, we have a wine closet under the stairs in the basement. We looked at putting a wine fridge in there, but realized that the temperature is a pretty constant 59 degrees and we don't buy $500 bottles of wine, so it's good enough. I think I could squeeze a barstool and table in there, but that'd look bad. The joke, however, was only partial. I've said a few times that one more icky piece of news and I'm going to hide under my desk.

Since my last posting in August, my husband's sister, Karen, passed away in September, eleven days after she turned 55. She'd battled skin cancer for over six years (a good year longer than she was initially given)and the cancer spread and finally won.

The day after Karen died, my mom went in for scheduled back surgery and ended up having two heart procedures as well - buy one, get two free. She came out of the hospital with an appliance around her spine (planned), a stent in her heart and a pacemaker in her chest (surprise!). Boy will she set off alarms everywhere she goes. She ended up spending three weeks instead of three days in medical facilities and is now home, merrily disregarding the doctors warnings...but that's a story for another time.

It strikes me that this could end up being a whiny post. All this stuff converging at once, along with some outside unrelated stress - sign me up for the vacation with the padded rooms. But, as I look back over the last couple of months, I see how taken care of I've been in the midst of what's been a lot. And I learned a few things about how to live, and that has kept me out of the wine cellar (if not out of the wine).

My sister-in-law Bonnie and I got to spend time with Karen, taking care of her, before she died. We talked about many things, not the least of which was Jesus, a topic Karen and I had skirted around before as I'm a Bible thumping nut-bag and she was not. We talked about what the Bible says about death and what it says about life. And, while I was not with Karen when she died, nothing was left unsaid, and I'm at peace.

It's not that I don't wish we would have had more time. I wish she gotten to live to old age with her husband, I wish...well many things. But with cancer, you have to take the small victories in a war we ultimately lose. She was lucid and not in any pain until close to the end. Hospice was there when she needed them, but that wasn't until a few days before she died.

During this time, both with Karen and my mom, I've been supported. My Bible Study ladies, our Prayer Chain,and my friends were faithful in prayer. I told Karen that's the joy of a small church. They know your business and they follow up on you. Sometimes it's like being smothered in a blanket (mostly when I'm not behaving well), but mostly it's like having a security blanket with you every where you go.

My girlfriends listened to me, got me a massage, and hugged me a lot. I waded into caring for Karen without training, reading all the books on hospice our library had. My friend Karen, who is a nurse, helped me with information. It could have been scary, but it wasn't.

I told God I was there, inadequate, but there, and asked what He wanted me to do or say. And He gave me enough for every day. Things worked out. Some things fell through the cracks, but most didn't - or at least people were gracious enough not to make a fuss about those things that I missed.

My mom's surgeries went well, and, while I found most things of hers more stressful than anything with Karen, again, God gave me enough strength to get through it day to day. And to laugh about parts of it - like the fact that the "Rush" in Rush Presbyterian Hospital has nothing to do with the speed with which they move and everything to do with the fact that, no matter whether you're released at 10:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m., the paper work will come through and let you out into rush hour traffic around 4:30ish. Great doctors, though. I got to spend time with my dad, working out KenKen puzzles from the NYTimes and talking politics and life.

And along the way there've been joyful things. My niece asked me to be her confirmation mentor, so I get to spend time with her on an ongoing basis and talk to her about Jesus. My husband decided to use almost all his frequent flier miles so my friend Kathy and I can go visit our friend Patty who moved to London. We're counting the days. Our Wednesday night program at church has started up and my co-teacher and I have 11 great kids ages 4-8 who come to class excited to be there every week.

But most of all, I'm successfully applying the main lesson I learned from Karen. She was probably one of the least technologically savvy people I'll ever meet,but she could and did pick up a phone and call to keep up relationships. Each time I walked into their apartment, I put down my phone and left it on ring only. That way, if the school tried to reach me, they could. But emails and texts and tweets all went by the wayside in favor of long conversations and quiet pauses while we sat on the balcony and watched the world go by or took walks.

And that time was precious and that pattern was worth repeating, so when my family are home, the phone goes away and the computer gets put down. I'm not as quick on emails - or on posts - but that's okay, because the time invested in my family results in richer relational life. It is requiring me to overcome years of ADD-ish behavior, but it is good. So thanks, Karen Marie McCarthy Quinn, teacher, for the lesson. Because as tempting as the wine cellar might be, it can really only hold one person, and that's not the best way to live.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


On Wednesday we took our oldest to college for his first year. I spent most of the preceding days studiously avoiding that reality with my nose stuck in a book (BTW House Rules by Jodi Picoult is worth reading). So, I think, did he, given the frantic packing Wednesday morning.

We got him packed into my parents' car, which, being bigger than mine was able to hold the mini-fridge, the suitcases, the backpack, the bedding, the upright string bass, and all four of us. My husband's office had a pool going about how soon I'd lose it. While still in the dorms? On the way out of town?

Okay. It was before we even left the house. We've already worked out that our son's coming home Labor Day weekend for a family party. It's like he's going to camp for two weeks. I can deal with that.

But I keep picturing him like he was when he was little. Never sleeping more than an hour and forty minutes at a time as a baby. His belly laugh. His fixation on the ball toy from Discovery Toys and his obsession with pool tables. Golden curls as a toddler. Endless math problems to keep him quiet during church. How many times did I read The Foot Book? The way he said "oh shit" when he hit his elbow on the door when he was two that told me I had to watch what I said. He said it perfectly in the correct context and everything. Blessedly my mother was nowhere nearby.

And now he's in room 1406, overlooking the library and the bank. On his own. He is only a couple of hours away, and he has a debit card and a cell phone, so he's not completely disconnected from us.

But when I look at the map of our state on the weather report on the news, I now am looking at two different areas on it, because that's where my family is...are... which verb do you use anyway? It's a whole new world.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Loving Marriage

My last post was about chocolate chip cookies, some of which did go off with my boy on his camping trip. This post is about the reason I was baking those cookies in the first place, which was that my husband was after a freshly baked, warm and melty chocolate chip cookie.

In general, my beloved is pretty low maintenance. He wishes the same thing most husbands do, I suppose: that the house were cleaner; that I'd never discovered the internet; that I earned an income so he could live in the lap of luxury and stay home, eating bon bons and watching soap operas and tossing occasional handfuls of $20 bills in the air at the mall - which is what he pictures me doing all day. And, no, he wouldn't really watch soap operas if he were to be at home.

But, having arrived at our 25th anniversary, I am taking a moment to think out loud about marriage and be thankful.

About ten years ago, our couples group had a discussion about the book The Five Love Languages. We did this exercise where we were each given an index card and asked to wrote down what our top two love languages were - i.e. the way we best receive love. We then turned in the cards and Cathy, who was leading that night, read them off and we were to guess whose they were. Out of the entire group, one wife guessed one of her husband's correctly. That was it. The possibilities were, if I remember correctly, physical touch, surprise gifts, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service. Acts of service was one of my husband's. After learning that, I stopped throwing him surprise parties (which, it turns out, he hates), and have tried to do things for him - like the afore-mentioned chocolate chip cookies.

The book exercise, which produced good results, was just one of many steps in our life together that taught us about each other. One of those "journey of discovery" things that all the wedding cards talked about. Cards which we ignored in the blur of presents and checks and getting ready to go off for a week on St. Martin.

Because when you meet and fall in love, it's all about those dreams that include a white dress, and a honeymoon, and the ephemeral "happily ever after" wrapped up in silver bows. And no matter how good the pre-marriage counseling is, you live in a dreamy euphoric state of being in love, fed by romance novels and movies and Hallmark cards, which leads you to believe that, because you are soooo in love, you will magically know everything about your beloved, like having some kind of love ESP, and the sailing off into the sunset will be very smooth.

But then you get home from the honeymoon and it turns into something more complex and more rewarding. In our case, we got home and when I went to pick up my brand new husband from his office on our first day back at work, he'd been laid off and was standing there with his box of stuff.

And that was the beginning of working together and building our life. Learning to live through job loss and weight gain, new homes and plumbing disasters, and budgets big on macaroni and cheese. There were days when we'd have to force ourselves to show up and days when we couldn't wait to see each other. We've navigated Parents' Day Out, pre-school, K-12 for one kid and K - 9 for the other so far, and in a week will send our eldest off to college. We've had one bird, three dogs and four fish. And we've suffered the loss of two parents, three grandmas, two great-aunts, one great-uncle, two aunts and several of our friends, and a couple of our children's friends. Looking back, I can see that the times of greatest struggle for us have happened when we lost sight of the fact that those words we said 25 years ago made us one person, not two any longer, and we (or, really I mostly) act alone.

In that haze of being so in love, I was clueless of what was in store. I didn't know how much I needed to grow and change. Didn't know I wasn't saved, didn't know how much or often or badly I'd fail, I was pretty sure I was doing just fine, thanks. But when I was far off, God provided me with a husband who didn't give up and pushed me to be better, with a church where I found out that I am a sinner and was lead to the Savior, and with children who, as they grow up, continue to delight and challenge us.

Really, what did we know? We were 21 when we got engaged over Papa Del's pizza and Lowenbrau beer. And you know, you can't know - you just think you do. My parents probably thought what all parents think when their kids get married fresh out of college - 'they're babies!' And we were. But we've grown up together. And we are more in love now than we were because we know each other better than we did. Embarrassing to our kids, I'm sure, but it's true.

If God is exceedingly good to us, we'll have another 25 years together. And as we're fielding the teasing questions about what presents will we be giving each other, I know that the real answer is that it doesn't matter if we get each other something from the jewelry store or the Apple Store or not, the truth is that we have already been given the gift.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Of Butter and Blueberries

As you can tell from the title, this is not a weighty post. It would be if I were talking about the kind that has settled around my waist, but, as my blog is kind of hobbit-ty, I feel a responsibility to authentically be gently rounded. Furthermore, anyone can - and indeed many people do -post about weight loss, so I will leave those kind of posts to the folks who actually have some weight loss to write about.

I'm in the middle of my annual blueberry kick. It's almost impossible for me to walk through the fruit aisle and not walk out with a container of them, even though I frequently haven't finished the last one. I have them with my yogurt in the morning, I walk past the box and grab a handful during the day. I swear sometimes I'm going to turn into Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which, if I don't stop the blueberry dessert trip I'm on, is not that far-fetched a possibility).

I made a blueberry crumb cake over the weekend using a recipe out of a cookbook called Baking Unplugged. It was excellent. The cake had great texture, nice flavor, and was made with butter and sour cream - which contributed significantly to said texture and flavor. Lasted two days, barely. So I'll head back to that cookbook for a recipe for a blueberry pie. I'm on a never ending quest to make pies like Grandma Clewett's, which were stunningly good. You could wave a fork over her crust and it would crumble. Her peach pie was my absolute favorite, but right now, I'm looking at blueberry pie because I'm in blueberry mode. I'll go into peach mode in August, when I can get really good Michigan peaches.

Today, however, I turned away from blueberries and made an effort to show my husband how much I love him with a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. My beloved has had a hankering for freshly baked, warm and somewhat gooey chocolate chip cookies. As he's been putting in 15+ hour days, I thought that the absolute least I could do for him would be to bake some. So I found an Alton Brown recipe for puffy chocolate chip cookies. I generally like Alton Brown, as I love food science, and find his recipes to be pretty reliable. This recipe called for butter flavored Crisco in place of butter, and I thought that sounded interesting. The Crisco stuff has no trans fat, which, if you believe the advertising on the side of the package, is better for you than butter. The reviewers liked the cookies, so I went ahead and tried it.

The cookies are, as promised, puffy. But, despite the cup of butter-flavored Crisco, they are not buttery. My husband liked them, which was, after all, the point, and so did our daughter. So my plan is to save some for them and send the rest with our son, who will eat anything not nailed down, on his camping trip tomorrow. The nice thing about disliking the cookies I've made is that I can send them off without a backward glance or even hint of longing. Those left at home are, like the Kraft individually wrapped singles in the cheese drawer, completely safe from me.

As for the claims of the non trans fat thing, I don't know if I buy it, but I don't care, I'm going back to butter (and blueberries). I just don't know what to do with the last cup of "butter"-flavored stuff that is now sitting in my kitchen. Our bedroom door squeaks...hmmm...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mentally Prepping - or Just Being Mental.

I'm starting to think about what we'll be packing next fall for our college-bound boy. When I went, we used to have our van packed to the gills. But now so much of the stuff is so much smaller. Laptop not computer. Printer (smaller). Stereo? Nah - iPod and small speakers. And no typewriter. We just gained about four square feet of car space.

But then that lovely train of thought disappears when I remember that I played piano and they had one at school, so all I had to do was pack music. Our kid plays the upright string bass (fortunately the 3/4 size). It's like six feet tall and somewhat fragile. If he plays in the orchestra or the jazz band, we'll need to bring that down and find a place to store it, and there goes the auto real estate that we'd gained by the advances made in 25 years of technology. Toss in the possibility of bringing down his electric bass and amp, and I don't know that I'll fit in the car.

The big blessing is that he chose a school that is two hours away, so if he forgets something, I can just run it down to him, meet him for lunch at Monical's pizza, and head home. And, let me add, the fact that Monical's pizza is there will always keep me happy to make the two hour trip. For those of you who have not had a Monical's pizza, it's thin crust, herb-y loveliness. There are at least two within 10 minutes of campus, and I've been to both of them.

So, while I'm mentally working out the whole kid going to college thing and preparing myself for the loss, planning visits down there, complete with cheesy goodness, is making it easier on the mommy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spiritual Spackle

I've been painting a lot, with more to do on the horizon. Most recently I've been painting the kitchen. I still have some trim work to do and the more I look at it, the more work I see there is to be done. It is an odd color - Yosemite Sand. It looks utterly different hour to hour, depending upon the light. It will be great as a backdrop for things, and it goes well with our current cabinets and counter tops - which, God willing, will change some day. We're way overdue for a kitchen rehab, but replacing the garage door is first on the list, so for now, a new coat of paint is what our kitchen gets.

In preparing the walls for the paint, I pulled out the Spackle. The house is 20 something years old. It's been through four families and I don't know how many dogs - three of ours anyway. There are scratches, dents, nail pops and settling cracks to be dealt with, which require Spackle, the wonder goop. As I was prepping, I told my husband how much I loved Spackle. I got one of those 'I'm glad you're happy, honey' looks from him before he returned to staining the deck.

I am happy, because I really do love Spackle. I love how you can add water to an old tub of it and it comes back for you to use again. I love the fine powder that comes off of it when you sand it down, but most of all I love how it covers up stuff, as if the dent or crack was never there. And in verbalizing my reasons for loving Spackle (to tell my skeptical husband), I ended up realizing that Jesus is like Spackle. Not to be flip about it, but He is. He comes along and covers you up. Then He spends the rest of your life sanding you down to the point of smoothness, so that you are no longer dented, scratched or cracked. So that you are ready for the new coat of paint, as it were.

He's doing that with me. When I was saved, 18 years ago now, it was like I got covered with a lump of Spackle. As I've gone along, I've gotten smoother. I'm more compassionate, more able to shut up and listen, and less self-absorbed. Lest anyone think for a minute that I'm tooting my own horn, let me say very clearly that I was massively self-absorbed to begin with and am still pretty self-absorbed, as probably anyone who blogs is. But I'm better able to say that what someone else needs or wants is more important that what I need or want and, occasionally, act on it.

There have been all sorts of benefits from this spiritual Spackling. I have better friendships and relationships in general. At the end of the day, I am less filled with regrets over what I've done or said that was wrong, partially because if I shut up, I say fewer things that are wrong, and partially because I'm better able to apologize to whomever I've offended that day. And I can go to God and ask for relief from worries and distresses that would otherwise paralyze me.

The sanding continues, as it has to, and as I actually want it to. I have a long way to go as I still have a hard time sometimes putting aside what I want to do for what is right to do. And just like in my kitchen, there's a lot of trim work to be done. But the job is started and underway, and that, like Spackle, is a very good thing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Rambling Ode to Manual Typewriters

Last month on Twitter, there was a posting from Dr. Jacobs' always enlightening TextPatterns about manual typewriters. I followed the links on his post to an article from The Guardian about how some writers prefer to use manual typewriters instead of word processors. Cormac McCarthy's manual typewriter was being auctioned off for $15,000. Wow.

One of the points made by authors who use typewriters was that they require you to think more prior to writing. Which leads me to conclude that there is much that is written now that would benefit greatly from this approach, and to assume that it would also probably serve to prevent a lot of what is written from coming into being in the first place. Typing on a manual requires so much more deliberative effort, making it more serious somehow.

And the articles lead me to reminisce about typewriters and then to think about how word processors have changed our world for the (mostly) better.

My mom taught me to type on a manual typewriter. I got an electric one later which I lugged off to college. It came with its own case and weighed about 40 pounds. I earned spending money typing and editing (and sometimes rewriting entirely) other students' papers. Living in an engineering dorm brought a steady income stream. I now have my father-in-law's electric which I use for tax forms - always praying that the ink won't run out because I'm pretty sure they don't make those ribbons anymore. My kids find it fascinating - like dinosaur bones. I love the sound it makes when the keys are depressed and the satisfying whirr of the carriage return. Oh, and the clunk of the shift key. The whole sound experience makes me feel very, very productive.

I got my first computer in 1984. The "pre-writing thinking" referred to in the Guardian article was rendered largely unnecessary given the editing capabilities of word processors. And as the speed and capacity of the processors improved, I became used to thinking less prior to writing as I could copy, paste, delete and retrieve pretty much at will. I do love to type, but it takes so much less effort to produce and send things off on a computer.

And no virtually everything that is typed is sent off via email, Twitter, FaceBook and blogs. We fling out little bits of information that require neither structure nor context (which can't be given in 140 characters and a smiley face anyway), and little, if any, thought - which is okay, as they may or may not ever be read. It is coming at little cost; for the price of monthly internet access and a computer, I can type myself silly.

There is a lot that's good about this, as a record of everything I've ever written or researched is handy by when I want to check on something, although sometimes I look back and realize what I typed was either immature, unkind or just plain wrong. For our kids, while plagiarism is easier using copy and paste than it used to be (we had to work for it by typing each word we were copying from the encyclopedia ourselves), there is now a website called that the teenagers in our school district have to turn everything into, which automatically checks for copying. We've sent letters, pictures and music via computers and little by little we're saving the trees. And we can write things and send them immediately, when we realize we've forgotten a birthday or anniversary.

But, to me, the true glory of using a word processor is most evident when you have to do multiple, slightly different versions of something you're sending out to different audiences. For example, when my child was instructed to write the same introspective paper about an event that changed her life for the fifth year in a row. Leaving aside the sheer absurdity of asking a fourth grader to write such a paper based on ten years of life, each year we found that you can just change the name of the teacher at the top of the paper, tweak it a bit, print it off and turn it in. This year, in her more mature state, she ventured that perhaps she should be writing a new paper this year (not that she had anything to add at that point). I said that, while she could, if the education program was disconnected enough to make teachers ask the same question for five years running, then they deserved the same amount of effort from her that it took to make the assignment in the first place. And typing the whole thing all over again, yep, too much effort.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Great Divorce

Currently our small group is reading C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. An allegorical tale of a man who dies and gets on a bus to a large grassy plain. He meets various characters along the way, many of whom get met by emissaries who are sent to help lead these ghosts across the plain, up to the mountains and into perfect love and joy, if only they'll give up the chains that bind them to hell.

It's been a year or so since I've read any Lewis - and I'd forgotten how much I end up wincing as I recognize myself. I have a friend who says that if you read Scripture correctly, it should pinch you. Clive Staples is like that for me; I'm only a little ways into it and am already bruised.

I am listening to the book on CD in the car and am meeting the parade of characters, many of whom I resemble on some level: whining, pride, grudging duty, not accepting help, looking for how I was wronged or what I'm owed. It's terribly annoying and terribly necessary. I have to determinedly resist the temptation to listen and identify these traits in other people I know, rather than seeking to root out my own sin.

Throughout this uncomfortable exercise, however, I get glimpses of the picture, painted so deftly by Lewis, of heaven. One of selfless joy, of complete love and of a far better life. And so I keep listening because, when all is said and done, the chains of sin are really heavy and I don't want to carry them around. I do want to experience, on a more consistent basis, the sheer relief of letting go and letting God.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In the Company of the Stars

Every evening, somewhere about news time, our dog Amy asks to go out. She actually has to take care of "business" about half the time. The other half of the time, despite our imploring her to do something, she stands there and sniffs the air.

So while I wait on the speckled pup, I look up at the stars. Our house faces south and, during the winter, the nightly show includes Orion, the hunter, and his two dogs, Canis Major and Minor. The legend goes that he was a hunter in love with Merope, who does not love him. He dies after stepping on a scorpion (scorned and scorpioned, poor guy). Feeling sorry for the hunter, the gods placed him in the sky with his two dogs, kindly putting the scorpion far away on the other side of the sky so that he'd not be hurt again. For the last few nights, it's been too cloudy to see anything, but tonight there were moving clouds and I got a glimpse of Orion's belt and shoulder.

And took pleasure in the company, both of us out there with a dog.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cross-eyed and deaf

I got new glasses today. I've been waiting for two weeks to get them and am trying to adjust. It's not going so well. The lenses are "progressive," which apparently means I have to cross my eyes to see just right. If I accomplish this cross-eyed thing, things come into startlingly good focus. Which is cool. But, if not, and if I'm not pointing my nose in the direction of what I'm trying to see, things get blurry. So I have to move my head a lot, which I don't do. And I've waited 15 days to be annoyed and I paid for it, too.

Then there's this weird effect that not seeing well has on me. I feel like if I can't see well, then I can't hear well. At which point, I might as well check on out and take a nap. While I love naps, I know I'll wake up no better.

I'm giving these puppies a weekend. If they're not better, I'm going to march right on back in there and...ask very politely for some help.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Monday's Hymn

Yesterday at Bible Study we talked about living in, but not in, modern Babylon. We talked about prophesy and eschatology from the book of Daniel and then we gathered around the piano and sang one of my favorite hymns. Reveling in the sovereignty and protection of God. Once again, Monday was sweet.

Holy, Holy, Holy
by Reginald Heber

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!