Saturday, October 31, 2009

Five First Lines

I can't resist the fun of taking part in this literary meme that has been spreading around. I got it from Deb on the Run, who got it from Elizabeth at The Garden Window. It works this way:

1. Pick 5 of your favorite books.
2. Post the first sentence of each book. (If one sentence seems too short, post two or three!)
3. Let everyone try to guess the titles and authors of your books (in the Comments box).

Here are mine:

1. Dear Mrs. Coney, Are you thinking I am lost, like the Babes in the Wood?

2. "Man is what he eats." With this statement the German materialist philosopher Feuerbach thought he had put an end to all "idealistic" speculations about human nature.

3. Even at the end of March, on the Arctic coast of northern Norway, there is no sign of spring.

4. As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to _____'s cottage, I reflected that no one on the platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit.

5. Farmers see things as others do not.                          

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October Flora

Swiss chard is the most beautiful thing in my garden right now. I did make a tart using it, but the recipe needs work. You can see how crumbly it was, with currants and walnuts falling around.

Also I cooked it too hot, forgetting to reduce the heat, so the crust got too brown. But it was yummy.

I don't seem to have the flowers that bloom this time of year, but that's not because they aren't prolific in some places around here. Like the church garden, where I couldn't take pictures this week because my camera is not working. I found this hollyhock from last October in my files, so I could show something in the light-and-bright category, and leave my last post behind in its Oreo dirt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Worms are Tempting Me

I don't like Halloween, and we never participated in the "festivities" with our kids, but we do usually give out candy if we are home. I hate spending the money for it, too! When I was a trick-or-treating child, many people would give us homemade cookies or candy. I know that's not cool these days.

I think the uncoolness started with evil people giving poisoned cookies, or was it an urban myth? You'd think that would discourage parents from sending kids out, period, but it just means that the homey treats will be thrown out.

Children who carry around pillowcases full of sugary junk can afford to turn up their noses at a mere cookie. BUT I doubt they would find this treat cooked up by Macheesmo boring. I am sorely tempted to get more into the icky Halloween spirit just so I can make them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quote of the Week--St. Ambrose of Optina

Tedium is the granddaughter of despondency, and the daughter of slothfulness. In order to drive it away, labor at your work, and do not be slothful in prayer. The tedium will pass, and zeal will come. And if to this you add patience and humility, then you will be rid of all misfortunes and evils.

-St. Ambrose of Optina

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Little Can Give You the Whole Thing

Today started out with lots of little annoyances, including a tendinitis flare-up in my elbow, from working on my upright freezer to prepare it to be hauled off. And from hacking frost and ice off the food to prepare it to go into the new freezer.

Now I'm waiting for the delivery of the new machine (and what a useful homemakey blessing that is!), and as just about every sort of housework I need to do is irritating this elbow, I sat down to read some poems.

Wendy Cope has written quite a few that I only recently discovered with delight, and here is one about enjoying the little things, and how one's mood can help in that endeavor. It's from an anthology put together by Garrison Keillor, titled Good Poems, which some of my children pooled their resources to buy me for Christmas many years ago. Wasn't that sweet?

As I'm forced to slow down and leave many things undone today, it's the perfect reminder. It seems to me it works both ways: If you stop fretting about the past or the future, enough to see what is around you and notice what or Who is near right now, it can improve your perspective and give you some helpful momentum for noticing more lovely ordinary things.

This poem also carried a couple of specific gratitude pokes for me: the thought of how many gorgeous big oranges I have eaten in my life, picked from my father's trees. And the wonder of having children who would give me a book of poems.

The Orange

by Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange--
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave--
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Costumes of a Cloud of Witnesses

This month of Halloween, I've heard on the blogosphere many comments about how much fun it is to dress up, and when do you ever get to do that, if not on Halloween?

I want to show by some pictures that you can make plenty of opportunities for costume-making and wearing, while pretty much ignoring Halloween.

You can have a costume party, plain and simple, as a young woman I know does yearly. One year several pirates attended.

We had at least one birthday party that was a costume party. I asked the parents not to send the children in Halloween themes, and one came as a witch anyway, but it didn't detract from the fun the other children children had impersonating a bunny or Bo-Peep. The cowgirl was the guest of honor.

Along with a few other homeschooling families, we used to organize International Meals periodically, where each parent and child attending would not only bring a typical dish of his chosen nation, and give a brief report on that country, but would dress in an often makeshift costume.

This brother and sister were representing Scotland.

Our most inspiring costume event, though, was the yearly Cloud of Witnesses Day. This was my invention that expanded on Reformation Day festivities held by some fellow homeschoolers. October 31st happens to be the date that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg door, so dressing up as Reformation characters was a very appropriate and educational activity.

Even then I didn't take to the idea of narrowing our study of our forefathers and mothers in the faith to that particular era and group of Christians, so I devised a celebration of the "cloud of witnesses" mentioned in the Book of Hebrews.

The guests, often other homeschooling families, including the adults, would come in costume of someone from the past, even recent past, who had lived a life of faith. They might be in the Bible or in more modern history. (This is Joseph in his "coat of many colors," a.k.a. his father's childhood bathrobe.)

We enjoyed a simple meal of soup and bread together, while remembering those in prison for their faith. Reports were given on the characters each had chosen. Miriam, pictured here, was able to say, "I am Miriam. I take care of my baby brother Moses." Joseph was excused from having to give a report.

Over the years we had re-enactments of Bible stories in which each member of one family would take a character, as in "The Macedonian call" story. Once a couple of parents took on the characters of Martin and Katharine Luther; Martin expounded on his theology and Katharine on the more practical aspects of their married life. One boy made a wig with cotton balls so he could look more like Johann Sebastian Bach.

I worked symbolism into all the evening's activities, such as milk and honey to remind us of the sweetness of Christ. Justin Martyr, at left, had tea with his cookies instead, at the end of the program.

Everyone held candles ( an unusual treat for our Protestant children) while we sang hymns and songs about the Church and how our lights and strength combined are brighter and more powerful than alone.

It's obvious in hindsight that in all my talk of the theoretical "universal" church, and wanting us to see ourselves as part of the historic family of faith, I was longing for the Orthodox Church and didn't know it. Even so, everyone had a great time learning a little better what the Church is, by having this costume fun together.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What I Will Miss

I'm driving home tomorrow, and look forward to seeing my
dear husband, and cat, and garden. Also joyfully anticipate going to church!

But I will miss:
1) The quiet and understanding presence of my daughter.

2) The soft cheeks of Baby C., the sweet smell of his head, and milk on his breath.

3) The calm and contented feeling that comes when Baby falls asleep in my arms.

4) The deer grazing and ruminating on the lawn front and back. It's their home, and the fawns even take naps out the back door.

5) The forest.

6) Three cats who are different "people" from my cat. The one pictured here is Hannah, who lost an eye to an infection as a shelter kitten.

7) The whistle of the train as it passes several times a day.

Right now I'm just very grateful for the past twelve days. Glory to God for all things!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Quote of the Week--Spurgeon

"... for dear to our hearts is our home, although it be the humblest cottage, or the scantiest garret; and dearer far is our blessed God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It is at home that we feel safe: we shut the world out and dwell in quiet security. So when we are with our God we "fear no evil." He is our shelter and retreat, our abiding refuge. At home, we take our rest; it is there we find repose after the fatigue and toil of the day." ~C.H. Spurgeon

(Thanks to Leslie at Abiding.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Baby Week

During the week that Seventh Grandson was born, I did take quite a few pictures, but I only lately managed to make them available to my blog. I present a sketchy photo journal of my time here with the family so far.

When I arrived in town, walking was the order of the day. Behind the hospital nature paths wind about, surrounded by ponds and trees such as these birches.

I am sleeping in a room with this quilt. A grandma in H's church made this quilt as a wedding present last year. This year she sewed a smaller quilt for Baby.

During the waiting time I sat in a corner of the hospital room and worked on potholder tops. This one uses some scraps from the crib quilt I made earlier.

After a while I did a second free-form design in aqua and purple.

In my sewing basket were two ratty and thin potholders I had basted together already. While H. was in early labor I put a bright spicy new cover on them/it. That item doesn't need to go home with me and get stuffed and backed, so I gave it to her potholder drawer already.

Fast forward to Day 3 or 4, and Baby is wrapped in The Quilt, showing its cozy Minky backing.

I took a video of eight deer on the back lawn, while the fawns were prancing about playing with each other. And this still shot of one of the deer looking into the laundry room window. The deer often study us through the windows when we are watching them.

It was raining the first two days of Baby's life, and when the rain stopped, the leaves had become autumnal.

Some Jonagolds that we got at the apple farm ten days ago went into this pie, which I baked in H's convection oven. Maybe the oven is the reason it came out looking so perfect? It didn't taste perfect, though, because those apples don't have enough complexity in their flavor.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the household cats, and the most curious about this new resident.

She caught her first mouse this week.

When Baby was six days old, H. wrapped him up in a Moby wrap and we three took a walk. We ended up at the back of their property, with its big Ponderosa pines...

and their cones.

The maple tree in the back yard is changing. Baby is changing every day. I wish we lived in clans all together, so I wouldn't have to leave one part of the family to go be with another. It's a reminder that this world, always leaving something longed-for, is not our true home.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I used to read Prevention Magazine when it was about wheat germ and megavitamins, so when I was offered a free subscription last year I said Why not? There might be something useful and inspiring in there.

Wrong. After reading a few pages of the first two issues that arrived in my mailbox, I couldn't get interested, so I started tossing them in the trash as soon as they arrived.

But not before I began to notice a theme to the cover displays. I am not clever enough to come up with a more appropriate name for the periodical, but I'd like to.

Any ideas out there?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ordinary Grace--and Two Books

I should have taken warning from these lines on the third page: "Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous....But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel I am not living."

So writes Anaïs Nin in her Diary from the 1930's. Hers was a name I had often run across, perhaps because she seems to show up a lot in collections of quotes. I didn't know anything about her, so I bought this used paperback book last month. It's yet another that I will stop reading now. Why did I go on as far as I did, to read such lines as, "To be fully alive is to live unconsciously and instinctively in all directions...."? I don't know.

But I know that I find this self-absorption and drama almost laughable, and definitely boring, in its gushing descriptions of feelings. Her prose is good; it's the content that is lacking in concreteness and a certain avoidance of reality; even the erotica she is known for is infused with her self-psychoanalysis and psychobabble.

Then there are the dreaded "ordinary" activities. If Nin can't find her "state of grace" in the concrete here and now of Everyday, in nature and housework, I would give her condition a different name.

I should start doing a little more research on authors before I take time and/or money to learn about them the old-fashioned way. Wikipedia is easy. I could have found several reasons not to read her.

Annie Dillard is the opposite of Nin in some ways. She finds God, or at least looks for Him, in every rock and cloud and human she meets. When I threw For the Time Being into my sewing basket to take to the hospital for the waiting and laboring, I didn't know that scenes from the hospital OB ward figure heavily in the book. I read a few passages to H. before her labor got very laborious.

"These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other. Who can bear to hear this? Or who will consider it?" Dillard asks, as she, like Nin, considers the ordinary, but as a member of the human community, struggling with many questions that concern us all and sharing her ruminations with the reader.

She includes categories and section headers with labels such as Now, China, Sand, and Clouds, and cycles back to the topics again and again through the book. I skipped around and read a few of the Birth paragraphs aloud, and I haven't yet read from the beginning to see how the author ties all these parts together, but I know from her other writings that she sees the philosophical interrelatedness of everything.

I recall words from G.K. Chesterton about how it is really the common everyday occurrences such as the sun rising or the train running on time that should astound us. But the best version of his thought I can find at the moment is: "The whole order of things is as outrageous as any miracle which could presume to violate it." This is how Dillard thinks.

Of the OB ward, she writes, "There might well be a rough angel guarding this ward, or a dragon, or an upwelling current that dashes boats on rocks. There might well be an old stone cairn in the hall by the elevators, or a well, or a ruined shrine wall where people still hear bells. Should we not remove our shoes, drink potions, take baths? For this is surely the wildest deep-sea vent on earth. This is where the people come out."

Her appreciation of the Numinous pervading our existence brings to mind another quote from Chesterton that will be my wrap-up: "There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blanket Love

My lifelong greediness for blankets might have had its beginning when I was a young girl in a small town where a house burned down. Someone in the community was taking up a collection of household items for the victims, and my father and mother, not ever known for almsgiving, collaborated on taking blankets from the household supply to donate to the family in need.

From this event I learned something, that blankets were not a given for everyone, and the new knowledge was strongly impressed on my young mind. For years it was merely an appreciation for the blessing of being warm under the covers in an intact house, but as an adult responsible for making up my own children's beds, the formative thankfulness has combined with my sinful tendency to hoard, so that I have collected many more blankets than I need.

Many of them are hand-me-downs, even electric blankets from which I pulled the wires and sometimes even sewed up the holes. Some veteran wool military blankets were so thin I had to retire them, but even then I didn't throw them away, but lacking linen closets I stored them between mattresses and box springs until such time as I could use them for quilt batting.

Most of these thrifty blanket plans I never carried out. My blanket love was fed by passing through the bedding department at Macy's or Target. More sinful impulses rose up in those places.

This week, I sit here at the computer and use the mouse in my right hand to browse web pages displaying gorgeous works of love and art in fabric. My left arm cradles my sleeping grandbaby wrapped in his own cozy layers of love demonstrated through time and creativity. I feel a wealth of blankets in the world.

One particular story on the Quilt Festival site was of another house that burned down, and a woman who took her own recently completed wall-hanging Christmas quilt to the suddenly homeless and blanketless as a gift. It was many years ago, but the sacrificial act goes on warming and strengthening the original recipients and many more of us who need to get a proper perspective on making a house a home.

Lately I've been lightening my hoard, as pieces devolve into moving pads or cat beds, or go to my children who are setting up their own households. With the increasing mental and physical space I hope to better exercise my homemaking skills. I might even make a new blanket!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Seventh Grandson Quilt-for Quilt Festival

I just now heard about the virtual Fall Quilt Festival at Amy's blog. Convenient, since I recently made my first quilt in more than 25 years, and the first for one of my grandchildren, now numbering nine. This blog post is my entry into the festival fun, and will be redundant to many readers of my blog. But even they might like to hop over to Amy's and join in, if only to browse the many, many wonderful quilts and their stories.

When I decided to make this gift, we didn't know the sex of the child. The parents love the outdoors and live in the forest, so I decided to do a farm or woodsy theme. When I visited a quilting store, these fabrics were the only ones that seemed to fit my vague imaginings.

The quilt was finished in time for the pre-birth baby shower, where a total of four handmade quilts were given, mine definitely the homeliest. Also the largest; it is approximately "crib sized." It was tied with six strands of embroidery floss, and designed following the ultra-simple pattern I used for the other two baby quilts I made long ago. I backed it in yellow popcorn Minky.

At completion I wrote a long blog post with many photos of the process, which you can visit if you want to see just how rough my work was!

The Child came into the world just two days ago, and as I type, my daughter is holding him nearby, wrapped in the very blanket!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Boy Has Arrived and is Looking Around

I was cheating a little bit, or declaring in faith, I will let the reader choose, when I recently put on my Blogger profile that I am grandmother of nine. Number Nine arrived today, on his due date. He is the seventh boy. Each grandboy who is the oldest of his siblings--and in all three families of my married children the oldest child is a boy--has a name that begins with C.

But these patterns are not so engaging as was this slippery child as he emerged into daylight and his mother's arms. I was impressed at how the staff at this small-town hospital encouraged all the practices our generation had to fight for. Baby was birthed and instantly put on his mom's chest, and no one wanted to disturb him for a very long time. Eventually he was swaddled, and while his mom ate supper I rocked my grandbaby and sang lullabies. It's been quite a few years since my last opportunity, but I still remember the songs about colors of ponies, Daddies gone hunting, and the Wind of the Western Sea.

A newborn baby has a way of startling us oldsters--and all of us are old and dried-out by comparison--into catching a glimpse of the mystery and wonder of life. What else on earth but a freshly-born human is so fascinating in that he is clearly one of our kind, but out-of-this world new and different. No wonder I like to think that they fall out of Heaven, or that storks bring them.

Waiting-and Ropas Viejas

I'm at my daughter's in the north country, waiting on Baby to arrive. And I brought the recipe with me for the spicy shredded beef the Mexicans call Ropas Viejas. Several people said they would like that recipe after I mentioned having made it in my last post. I got this recipe from Sunset Magazine a long time ago.
This is just a photo copied from my first post about this place, because it's a shame not to have a picture, it is so lovely up here. As soon as I arrived I glimpsed another part of the deer clan that call it home as well, Crazy Doe and her fawn, and Split Ear (young buck). Maybe I will get some more deer pictures while I am here.

Ropas Viejas

2# boneless beef chuck, trimmed of most of the fat
Place in a 5-6-quart pan with 1/4 cup of water. (I always use cast iron, but I don't think it's necessary.) Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook until liquid boils away and meat is well-browned; turn as needed.

Lift out meat. To pan, add 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar; scrape to loosen browned bits. Stir in 1 1/2 cups beef broth, 2 tablespoons chili powder, and 1 teaspoon ground cumin.

Return meat to the pan, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over medium heat until meat is very tender and easily pulled apart, about 2 hours.

Let meat cool, then tear into shreds. Mix with remaining pan juices. Use to fill enchiladas or burritos.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Korean Kale Salad

The washer repairman didn't call, didn't come, so I was "stuck" at home all day. As I got busy cooking up lots of stuff in the fridge, and harvesting from the garden, and then cooking that, I remembered why I love getting stuck at home. So much gets done, when I get some momentum.

1) I made Ropas Viejas from beef chuck, for filling burritos. This means "old clothes" in Spanish, and is shredded, seasoned meat. We'll have burritos tomorrow and use that, and I'll have some to freeze.
2) I made a soup stock from some lamb bones, and took the meat off to add back to the soup.
3) I picked about 20 pimientos and for the first time tried roasting them under the broiler and my, did the skins come off easily. A few pieces I nibbled on like candy, and they were that sweet, and most of them I froze.
4) I made Red Pepper Butter by mixing two of the roasted peppers with sweet butter in the food processor; then I froze it in a jar for something...later.
5) I cut yams lengthwise and brushed them with olive oil, then sprinkled on salt, pepper and fresh rosemary (which I'd just picked from the back yard) and roasted them for dinner.

Then, after dinner, I got around to the kale that I bought a few days ago, and made Korean Kale Salad. This recipe I adapted from one in Sunset Magazine some years back. For number of ingredients, and simplicity of preparation, it is easy. I haven't run across anyone who doesn't like this salad. I had the nerve to serve it for Thanksgiving dinner the first time, and the guests were thrilled to have a tasty green vegetable that wasn't cooked to death.

You start with 12 ounces of curly kale, which should be about a bunch. I haven't weighed mine before, but I suspect that the bunches are getting smaller, because the salad seemed to get saltier every time I made it. So I reduced the salt in the recipe. If you find that it is not salty enough, you know what to do.

Tear your kale into bite-sized pieces, throwing out the tougher stems and veins. Wash it in a big bowl or the sink. Boil water in a pot and throw the raw kale in. Push it down with a spoon and keep it under the water until it is wilted. The original recipe said 4 minutes but I call that cooked. I blanch mine for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Dump it into a colander and let it drain. I have a huge colander, so don't let my photos scare you. I doubled the recipe because I have the equipment, and because I can eat a lot of this salad. By the way, a bunch is said to make 6 servings.

When the wilted kale is cool enough, grab it by bunches and squeeze all the water you can out of it.

I ended up with 9 or 10 little wads of squeezed-dry kale.

Make the dressing, which has evolved under my culinary direction to consist of 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil and 1 tablespoon soy sauce.

It's a good idea to whisk the two together in a cup.

Put the kale in a bowl and toss it for a while to open up the leaves again. Sometimes I have to use my hands again at this point, or a couple of forks.

Pour on the dressing and toss another while. It does take some time to get the dressing evenly spread around.

It looks nice if you toast some sesame seeds and sprinkle them on top.

I had so much fun today, it left me with not enough time to post pictures of all the other stuff I made. The repairman finally did come, and my washer had healed itself temporarily, so tomorrow I'll do laundry.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Quote of the Week 5--Weil

The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it. --Simone Weil

(Scott Cairns quotes Weil at the beginning of his book The End of Suffering, which I hope to read soon.)

Belonging to the Whole Thing

I could not stop watching slide shows of the arrival of the Kursk-root icon in Russia, and the procession with it a few days later.

The icon was originally found near Kursk several centuries ago. It belongs to the Russian church abroad, and its home is currently in the U.S.A.

Why? Who cares? some people asked me. What have I got to do with Russians making an incredible fuss over this antique, as it seems? You can see from the pictures here, a very few of the riveting images on the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia website, that thousands did go to extreme effort to honor it and be near it.

I wanted to write something very illuminating for those of you who might ask these questions. But in making the attempt, I realized how much a beginner and a child I am; I am still learning the answers to these questions myself. But I am learning by belonging and growing up here, in the Church, which is also there in Kursk. Those are my people.

I don't stare at the faces and the churches because I am trying to figure out the answers, but out of love for my Church and Church family, and extreme thankfulness that I belong to Christ and His Church, where we are taught to love His mother. Not a theoretical church of individuals who argue theology, but a living and present people who are learning theology by worshiping together. A great force, the army of God's love, the throng of needy souls who have found the Source of everything.

It's good to be home.