Sunday, January 26, 2014

Salchipapas (Sunday Supper)

My memories of Lima House, where we stayed on our way out to the jungle and on our way back to the States, are mostly about the food. Every morning, the dining room was set for breakfast and a perfect orange half was placed at each setting.
I remember hard rolls and cold toast. I remember the fresh, cool air (so different from the jungle humidity) and the bougainvillea growing in the garden. I remember telling my best friend Tacy, when we were just four and a half, that I knew the way to the beach. We managed to collect our pails and shovels, and we left the gated House behind us. Eventually our absence was discovered. Our parents found us a few blocks away, sitting in a stranger's car. I got a spanking; Tacy did not.

Of the many suppers we ate at Lima House, the only menu I can recall is Salchipapas. I think even as a child, I was amazed that something so simple could taste so good.

Salchichas are sausages, and papas are potatoes. That's all this is. Fried sausages and potatoes. If you don't like to cook on Sundays (I don't), then this is a good way to keep people happy without working very hard.

This goes faster if you use frozen french fries. However, I like to use real potatoes. I often start with carmelized onions, just to add a bit of flavor and make the dish more healthy. The legit Peruvian recipe is just sausage and potatoes.


Slice your favorite sausages (about one per person) diagonally
If you decide to microwave the potatoes first, do that now. Scrub, pierce,
and microwave whole potatoes till done
Slice potatoes (about two per person) into wedges, set aside

Fry sausages till browned on both sides
Scoot sausages to edge of pan, and place potato wedges in the oil left by the sausages

Fry potatoes on both sides till crispy and brown
Combine sausages and potatoes

Serve with ketchup

I know, I the States, this is called "hash." But "Salchipapas" is much more fun to say. And you can tell people you made a real Peruvian dish. Remember - it's the best food in the world. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Long Winter

On a cold winter morning, my daughter and her cousin tried to play outside in their Little House outfits.
It did not go so well.
The dresses are calico cotton, and because the girls were trying to look authentic, they skipped snow pants and warm hats. Instead, they wore my Grampa Ericson's old coat (the brown suede one) and my black wool coat. They topped their braids with wraps. 
They looked pretty cute, and Malachi was all for joining them, but they were back inside within minutes.

What grows, when the weather is this cold?
Inside our warm house, the ivy from Grampa Murphy's casket spray is growing beautifully.

This December, my daughters decided that the old mantel display had to go.
I was in complete agreement, but somehow, lethargy had set in.
I could not figure out what to do with the big urns on either end of the mantel.
My girls decided to start fresh, and the urns, with the horribly dusty ivy inside them, went bye-bye.
In their place we now have this vintage barn block, a mirrored metal piece from Junk Market, an antler, and Grampa's ivy.
On the other end of the mantel is a potted tree from my friend Vicki. She found it at IKEA for fifty cents, and gave it to me with apologies for its near-death appearance.
It's one of the best gifts I've ever been given.

Every spring, this little tree is covered with pink blossoms.

Next up: painting the mantel.
I'll show you the reveal as soon as Nate allows us to paint.
Apparently, it's quite a project.

The stark contrast between my warm house, where children and plants are growing,
and the dangerously cold outdoors, where nothing at all appears to thrive,
astounds me every year.

The truth is that at all times, something is growing.
Whether we see it or not, change is taking place.
Thank you Jesus, for the way you make something beautiful
out of what looks like death and loss.

(Watching Anna Kate and Naomi struggle through the deep snow reminded me of these verses from Isaiah).

 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters, 
 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. 
 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,    
the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise."
 (Isaiah 43:16-21)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Scary Years

Here is the knife drawer that Malachi can reach.     

Here is the new home for our knives, an oval platter placed well back on the counter.  

Here is our adorable toddler, busily marching back and forth from the knife drawer to the dining room, placing objects on the chair.
You can see some of my favorite kitchen tools: a Swedish cheese slicer (no wire slicers here, thanks to my friend Gretchen. We've used this one for over 15 years and it still slices beautifully); a flat cheese grater (perfect for block parmesan); a small cookie scoop.

I would love to tell you about my other fave kitchen tools, but I have no time, because my days are filled with chasing this baby boy. Keeping him safe and alive has become my main task. I haven't had a little boy in the house for many years. They are different than girls. Girls are talkative and can be active, but Malachi has a yearning to reach and conquer and figure things out mechanically, that our daughters didn't have. In this way he reminds us of Isaac, our oldest, who is a freshly minted engineer.    

We are trying to remember that these frantic years do not last forever, that we successfully kept four other toddlers alive, and that all this energy can be corralled into something that benefits society.

In the mean time, watching him want things that are terrible for him is a fantastic spiritual lesson.

"So, since we're out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we're free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you've let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you've started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!" (from Romans 6, The Message)

Here's to following the ways of God, asking for strength for each day, and encouraging each other along the way.

If you have any tips or advice on keeping toddlers safe, I'm all ears!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


(If you want to hear the sounds of the Conservatory - running water and trilling birds - click here first).

"Greenhoused and sung to
I pray light will
Leak from our pockets
We'll be drenched, overcome"
(Michelle Garrels, "Jacaranda")

We went to the Conservatory.
I wanted to go the day before, but no one else was on board.
On this bright and icy Monday, we actually got out the door in good time and made the easy drive to Minnesota's nearest jungle.

One hundred years ago, local leaders were using their heads.
They hired a German landscape artist named Frederick Nussbaumer to design a 60,000 square foot glass and wood building, modeled after Kew Gardens in England.
All this beauty, all this watery air, a wealth of palms and ferns and familiar fruiting trees (mango, coconut, cacao, avocado), all of it, free.     

 The Conservatory, banked in snow

Today Malachi is having a busy day. He can reach every knife in the knife drawer. So this post will be almost all pictures. Enjoy, and if you live within spitting distance of St. Paul, take your weary winter self to the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.   

The Sunken Garden

Palms inside the dome.

White roses in the Sunken Garden.

Trying to get Mick to look at the camera

Sometimes, if we only have a couple of kids with us,
we like to pretend we're on a date.   
Walking on the paths, no coats!
Oh for joy.  

This was the part of the conservatory with all the trees from my childhood.
I was especially thrilled to see the mango tree with its long, deep green leaves.

Texture, color, light and childhood memories.

"In difficult times
carry something beautiful
in your heart."
(Blaise Pascal)

Monday, January 13, 2014

January Days

Hello again! Two of our big kids have been home since Christmas, and Nate hasn't had much work, so I've had to share the computer with many people. Yesterday Julia went back to college, and Isaac back to his apartment near the University, and now it's just the four of us again. I had high hopes of getting everyone together for a jaunt to the Como Conservatory. But as the afternoon wore away, it became apparent that I was the only person who wanted to go. I am still a bit out-of-sorts about that.

We found this yellow primula at Trader Joe's. It will have to do for now. 

We survived the deep freeze (it had a name: The Polar Vortex), and during those frigid days I was simply grateful for a warm house and the pleasant set of humans that make up my family.

I was also grateful for caramels.
I made these as the absolute last batch of the season.
They are nestled in salt that came from Norway.

As you can see, the box says "Havsaltflak."
But when I opened it, I didn't see the words, and I thought it was fake snow.
I sent a text to my friend thanking her for the lovely snow.   
She quickly texted back, "It's not snow! It's salt! You're supposed to eat it!"
Whew. It is so delicious on these caramels. And beautiful, too. Actually, reminiscent of snow.
We ate all these, bit by bit, and so yesterday I had to make another last batch of caramels,
since they are the Christmas gift for this friend who gave the Norwegian salt.
Here is the recipe if you want to make these for Valentine's Day.   

Having my big kids home changed the rhythm of our days. I still got up early and made my coffee, unloading the dishwasher and scrubbing my sinks before the household woke up. I still tried to read at night, after the baby was asleep. We went to see "Frozen" together, and found out that the baby can make it through a movie as long as it's his naptime.  My daughters watched the entire Season 4 of Downton Abbey, during which time they became quite grumpy if Malachi and I tried to join them.

These are quiet winter days, not to be wasted or wished away, but to be spent carefully, just like any day in any season. I am currently reading Phantastes by George MacDonald, a book about wonder and the sacramental  found in ordinary living. Isaac is reading Pensees by Blaise Pascal. At night, on the few evenings when Malachi stayed asleep and I was able to read and chat with Isaac, we discussed our books. It's a delight to talk books with my son. He explained that Pascal's central theme is that man is bent towards either  pride or wretchedness, but the right attitude is to keep the mind on God.

 I keep circling back to this truth. It sounds like the secret of life. It reminds me of the verse from Hebrews 12, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Fix our eyes on Jesus. Sometimes this is so hard to do. And yet if I don't do it, I find myself wrestling with the dual miseries of pride and wretchedness. Pascal lived (only for 39 years) and wrote during the middle part of the seventeenth century. He was one of those who saw things clearly, despite the fog.  

I'll end with a quote by Pascal, not the one I was looking for, but good words to remember when we don't want to accept the gift of a deep, dark winter.

"We never keep to the present. We recall the past, we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is the present usually hurts."
(B.P. 1623-1662)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Shine a Light (My Christmas Presents)

Somehow, in the midst of the deepest freeze we've seen in two decades, we've been blessed with bright sunny days. It's so strange to see the sun pouring through windows necklaced with frost. I welcome the light.

This new dining room chandelier was inspired by one we saw on the East Coast Creative blog.. I would have been happy with big globe lights like Monica's, but my husband wanted to be innovative.

He spent half a day at the home improvement store, and came home with copper tubing, plastic pvc pipe caps, galvanized pipe, floor flanges, wire nuts, light sockets and socket sleeves. Then he got to work. 

I wasn't sure about the copper (and I was super-nervous about the white plastic). But he promised to distress the copper and paint the plastic, so the light would jive with our vintage/fresh aesthetic.            

Since Junk Bonanza 2012, we've been wondering what to do with this big wire tree basket. I knew it would make a great light fixture, but even Nate couldn't figure out how to make it work. Until this year.    

The light was so bright with 40-watt bulbs, we ended up using mostly 15-watt. The upper four bulbs are still 40-watt.

The chandelier has 12 lights on it.
It's almost finished. It just needs the verdigris aged finish on the copper tubing.   

But that's not all. While he shopped and thought and figured things out at the store, he decided to make a new light over the center island, too.    

He used outdoor cage lights, spray-painted with a hammered-pewter color.
He built the wooden box out of my parents' old fence.   

This photo shows how cool the aged copper looks.  
Nate sprayed the copper with a water'vinegar/salt mixture, then wrapped it in plastic wrap.
It only took a few hours to achieve this verdigris, which is pretty close to what we wanted. 

If you happened to lie down on our center island and look straight up, this is what you would see! 
The vintage-style light bulbs (terribly spendy at about $8 each) take it to the next level.  

Malachi and me in our kitchen.
He is sporting his "Bill Cosby" sweater, which he wears on bitterly cold days.    

The girls, dancing in unison.  

I think my new lights are just about perfect. 
I may not get another gift this good for many, many years.

These are days to hunker down, cuddle with the ones you love, drink something hot, and be thankful for good warm houses, where sunshine pours in and makes things grow.  

(I thought of this poem when we were distressing the copper)  

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things--
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow,
     For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
     With swift, slow; sweet, sour;  adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                                                        Praise him

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Springs of Life (a Reading List)

 Our oldest and youngest, reading their new books.

Happy New Year to all my friends. 2013 was a good year for our family. We didn't have the health struggles that robbed us of joy in previous years. We had regular employment (for Nate) and busy, productive days. Some days were difficult, but they were of an ordinary difficulty. They didn't feel impossible. Even the loss of Nate's dad was a reminder of the Lord's faithfulness. We wish we had more good years with him, but we are thankful for the time we were given.

But I know that gratitude for the last year is not true for everyone. I know that some people struggled mightily, with illness and sadness and loneliness and loss. We have been there (and knowing the nature of life, we'll cycle through some valleys again). I've been thinking about the sorrow of this time of year. About darkness. About what helped me most when the future seemed bleak and scary. 

What worked for me won't work for everyone. But for what it's worth, here's what I did (or on some days, vaguely attempted to do. You who are in it, understand):

Start the day with a song
For me this means singing out loud, usually an old praise song. Some of my favorites are "Praise the Savior," which no one seems to know anymore, and "You Can Have This Whole World, Give Me Jesus." I often sing hymns. Find what works for you, what you love to sing, and start to sing the minute your feet hit the floor. Praise banishes darkness.  

Find friends who know how to listen
Or, find a good counselor who is paid to listen.

When my mind swirled with confusion, and it didn't feel like God was answering any of our prayers, I kept going to the gym at the beginning of the day (about four days a week). God made our bodies to move. You can't buy endorphins, you have to earn them. And they're worth every bit of pain and any inconvenience. Now I don't go to the gym, because I'm home with two kids. I try to do bit of the Tracy Anderson workout and some Pilates. But they aren't the same. What works best is a good old-fashioned work-out.  

Guard your heart.
Proverbs 4:23 (ESV) says, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life."
And yet we do so little to guard our heart, to keep it with all vigilance. We feast on bread that does not satisfy, and we wonder why we are left hungry and desperate. These last nineteen month with a nursing baby, I've spent countless hours in front of the television. It's a waste of time. But some stations are more of a waste than others. I keep that remote handy, I try to practice vigilance, and if I can't find anything worth watching, I turn off the tv and lean my head back and rest. And pray.

So on the topic of guarding your heart, I'm including our family's current reading list. It's so cold this week. Yesterday never even reached zero degrees. But with the fireplace burning, and the cream puffs baking golden in the oven, and the baby running around, and all of my big kids burrowing into their books, it felt warm. It felt nurturing and peaceful. I only wish I could join them. My reading is done in fits and starts, usually very late at night and in the wee hours of the morning. 

Malachi is reading Barnyard Dance, Jorge el Curioso, Mr. Brown Can Moo!, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear. He especially loves the Brown Bear book because each corner "swipes" to reveal the next animal.

Anna Kate just read Katherine Patterson's Jacob Have I Loved. Next up: either a Narnia book, or a Betsy-Tacy. I will choose, and she probably won't be happy about it. 

Julia just finished How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. I think it's one of my top five faves, but my sister, an English teacher, doesn't love it as much as I do.

Caleb does not have time to read. However, the books he got for Christmas include Manalive, Heretics, and Orthodoxy by Chesterton, The Checklist Manifesto by Gawande, and The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis.

Isaac just finished Phantases by George MacDonald, a book he's read twice before and enjoys so much that we gave it as a gift this year. Now he's reading Pensees by Blaise Pascal, which Caleb gave him. 

I am reading The Wind in the Willows for the first time. It was a gift from Isaac. I like it very much, and it's high time we owned it.

Nate is reading a book from Isaac called Beyond Band of Brothers. I think he's liking it.

What are you reading this year? I'd love to know.

(lyrics to Praise the Savior)

Praise the Savior, ye who know him,
Who can tell how much we owe him?
Gladly let us render to him
All we are and have.

Jesus is the Name that charms us
He for conflict fits and arms us
Nothing moves and nothing harms us
While we trust in him.

Trust in him ye saints forever
He is faithful, changing never
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those he loves from him.

Keep us Lord, oh keep us cleaving
To thyself and still believing
Till the hour of our receiving
Our eternal home.

Then we shall be what we would be
Then we shall be what we should be
Things that are not now but could be
Soon shall be our own.

(hope that's right - it's from a faulty memory)

And here's a promise for 2014: Neither force nor guile can sever those he loves from him.