Wednesday, April 30, 2014

As If Spring Were a Feast


In the last fifteen days, we have had twelve days of rain.
This is getting ridiculous.
We haven't gone anywhere since Sunday, and the baby is the most stir-crazy of us all.
Today is going to be exciting.
We're going to the home-improvement store to look for new kitchen faucets.
I haven't bought anything new for my kitchen in ages. In fact, this week our dishwasher broke. We thought we'd have to buy a new one, but my handyman (for real, he's a handyman) husband found a part to fix the old one, which is not that old, and I am delighted.
"Planned obsolescence" is at the tippy-top of my list of pet peeves.
As far as I'm concerned, things should last for years, roughly forever.         
     

The irises are poking through the cold, leaf-covered garden beds.
Oh irises, how I love you.
One of the best poets around wrote about you, and I will let his poem do the talking here:

Mother

Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass and the dusty, fading black  
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.

You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.

The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,

for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened

and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever. 


Well I've gotta fly. Malachi just ran into the bathroom and fell headlong into the edge of the toilet (he's fine, but now we're both crying. He because of the toilet, and me because of that poem).

If you plant pansies, try under planting them with pansy seeds. Just about the time the greenhouse flowers start to get leggy, the new pansies will be coming into their own.
Because that's how gardening, and life, works.
Something is always growing.
Even during this doggone rain.

Welcome spring, indeed.

Hills of England by Ben Kyle, a perfect song for this week.

Monday, April 28, 2014

These Busy, Boring Years


If a perfect weekend around here includes time with our older kids, lovely weather, good music, and some fun and frolic thrown in for good measure, then no.  
This was not a perfect weekend.
It started strong. On Thursday night, Anna Kate and I went to a Gospel concert. One of my  friends sings in the only all-female Southern Gospel quartet in the nation. Based right here in Minnesota. What a delight to hear their rich voices lifted up in praise. I'm already starting a song list of requests for their next album.
To add to the excitement of going to a concert, a real concert - the first I've gone to since Josh Garrels was here a year ago - my husband watched the baby all by himself. He balked at the idea. He wanted Anna Kate here for back-up, he knew he'd have a long night of it. He got pep-talk texts from my friend Vicki, who is so kind and gentle. "Tell him I know he can on the dad sitting! He's done much harder things in his life I would think! He can do it!"
Me: "He doesn't want to be stuck here."
Vicki: "Tell him it's good character building for him. It will be real handy down the road for something! Good male bonding time with son too!"

Yep. They stayed, they played, they bonded.

But after the concert, things devolved.
Meaning, my comfort was compromised.
Meaning, I was bored and busy at the same time.

On Saturday, I would have liked to tackle the perennial beds, but instead I played basketball with Malachi. This is how we play: he chases down the six basketballs, judiciously going from ball to ball in turn. As he brings them to me, I lift him as high as I can, which is not high enough. Then I hoist the basketball and try to make a basket, while struggling to keep a grip on my 32-pound boy. Then I set him down, he trundles off for the next ball, and we do it again. And again. There is no limit to the fun he has. He could do this all. day. long.

As for me, the fun  has a limit. On the low side. Maybe after about five baskets, I'm ready to move on. 



Here are Caleb and Malachi on Resurrection Sunday. You betcha, I miss my big kids. They are fantastic with the baby, they know how to talk, they can reach the hoop. You would think I'd be over the moon that Caleb is in med school. Sure, it's great, it's an answer to prayer, he's going to be an excellent doctor. But when I see this picture, I am just so grateful that I raised a young man who can play basketball, all by himself.  


Oh this face, this adorable face. These years are as fleeting as those pretty flowers he's smelling. 
And you know, there are days when I want to freeze time. When it's all so wonderful and beautiful that I want this moment, this exact little slice of time, the one that whoops! just passed me by, to last forever.

When we're all together and Malachi hears us laughing, and he does whatever he's doing again and again, thinking we were laughing at him.(and now, we are).

When his sturdy little body is napping next to me, and I can smell his soft clean baby smell.

When he strangles my neck by draping across me as I try to do Pilates. Oh wait. That's the part I don't actually want to freeze. It's painful (though kinda funny). It means that another thing on my list is not going to get done today.


It's almost embarrassing, how much I want to make my life comfortable and easy. Even after five kids, I wrestle with letting go of my schedule, my desires, my avenues of amusement. I feel like this life is a long exercise in loosening my grip. The Lord is continually prying my fingers off the things that I hold so tightly. (Yah, now you're singing "Let it Go" from Frozen. Nope, I'm not gonna give you that song. I'm leaving you with one from my friend's quartet, Sweetwater Revival).

Here's to the week ahead, my friends. To what we get done, and to what gets done in us.

"Our Lord Jesus did the will of His Father with delight. He hated the iniquity which so often tries to dominate us -- selfishness, surrender to the easy, and so on. Therefore He was the gladdest of all the sons of men. The same law applies to His followers. Who among us can be counted on for happiness? It is those who never take self into consideration at all. They are the happy ones of a family." (Amy Carmichael)

And now for some Southern Gospel: here is "Blessed Assurance," sung by  Sweetwater Revival.
 
video









Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April Musings


Easter morning. Julia had put a golf ball in his shirt pocket.

We had a beautiful Resurrection Sunday. At church, the light from the big windows fell right across our row, flooding us with light so bright that I had to shield my eyes in order to see anything. I wish they would leave those windows open all the time.

I can't remember what songs we sang, but I do remember the song during the offering. It was "Man of Sorrows," and it was lovely. At home and during the day, I sang "Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Hallelujah," and "Up From the Grave He Arose!" Oh how I love the old hymns of resurrection.

Yesterday we drove three hours for a toothbrush. Honestly. Nate had tracked down a dentist who is specially trained in a method called "air ablation," and we hoped he could fix Malachi's cavities this way. But when he got a gander into our baby's mouth, he said the cavities (especially one of them) were so deep that they would need a pulpotomy and filling and crowns. He did not charge us anything for the consult, which was kind, and his assistant gave Malachi a new toothbrush. Our little guy now has toothbrushes all over the house. He has an appointment for a filling with a pediatric dentist. It will involve what they call a papoose, which sounds to me like a strait-jacket. If that proves too traumatic, we'll schedule his other fillings at the hospital with anesthesia.

I'm thankful that we drove so far yesterday for one reason: the dentist assured me the the cavities are not our fault, but that Malachi's teeth have deep crevices which make them all but impossible to clean thoroughly. Have you brushed a baby's teeth lately? It's so difficult. And it turns out that we eat all the time, we are constantly munching on food around here. So brushing after every  meal means brushing about eight times a day.

Today I needed to get much work done, so for the first time, I set Malachi to watching "VeggieTales" while I paid bills, helped Anna Kate with grammar, did laundry, and caught up on some cleaning.  He lasted for about five minutes. If anyone out there wants to know how we raised an engineer and a doctor (well he's not a doctor yet, but that's the goal), I assure you, that budding engineer and doctor (and later, their little sisters) watched TV. A lot of TV. They remember watching TV for hours and hours. This was how I kept my sanity and Got Things Done. I adore Getting Things Done. But we also spent many hours reading and playing. And our kids say now that their Dad always talked above them, rattling on about things they knew not of. Eventually, when they were about ten, it all started to make sense. So in short, I recommend television, books, Legos, and sophisticated vocabulary as the method for raising achievers.

The reason today was so busy is that I've been lost in a good book. It's one I've read at least twice before, Christy by Catherine Marshall. Anna Kate just finished it, and she also fell into it as though into a chasm. I knew how it ended and still I could not put it down. It's important to read old favorites again and again. As we grow up into Christ (the only way to grow up), words and truths land on us afresh.

The book is about a young woman who decides, on impulse, to teach school in Appalachia. The descriptions of poverty and filth are disturbing. I got to thinking about my soft clean bed, covered every week with freshly washed sheets (always white). I was reading late into the night, and the squalor of the mountain cabins seemed close. I could almost smell the pigs and sweat and unwashed hair, as I climbed into my perfect bed. My husband just bought a memory-foam topper, although I protested that we didn't need it and we should at the least wait for it to go on sale. But this memory foam, it is a wonder. My tired body, which aches all the time, falls into the mattress as if into a deep dream. It's so comfortable that I almost can't roll over. The aches and pains are going away.

I couldn't read Christy without thinking of the native people of Peru, living in jungle shacks, with pigs scraping under their floors. They sleep on pona, which is a springy bark, cut off the tree and unrolled. It splits easily. It's not comfortable, but it's the best they can do. They place it on platforms, and they sleep in family beds. Which is just how we're sleeping. I do often think of the Chayahuita people that I lived with as a child, and I pray for them to continue to grow in the Lord.  I would like to visit those villages again. I would like to bring my children there, to the remote Amazon jungle of Peru, so they could see the best piece of my childhood.
     

It's a strange world we live in, with countries that are chock-full of dentists and excellent mattresses, and other countries where people can't imagine a dentist, or a soft clean bed, or running water. For all my days, I will feel bonded to that other world. It's not so far away. It's close enough to pray for, and close enough to carry in my heart. This planet is a cozy place, my friends.







Friday, April 18, 2014

Hush



We're having a quiet day at home.
Tonight we'll go to the Good Friday service, and it will be somber.
At the end, we will file out slowly,
participating in a kind of death.

Something has to die for life to come.

Any reminder will do.
For me, silence is a reminder of what He did for me.
But it's hard for a mama to be entirely silent for two nights and a day.
We'll see how this goes.

Here is an old song I had never heard until this year. Sit still and comfortable, and take it into your heart. 



Monday, April 14, 2014

Decorating for Easter (mismatched beautiful)


I dearly love to set a table.
Even with mismatched dishes (how is it that I don't have nine matching bowls?)
and Malachi's determination to help,
this table got mostly set.
Several months ago, we moved our small group (it's like church with close friends) to our house,
since our baby was so destructive at our friends' house that I spent the entire time chasing him.     


It's lovely to gather with friends. 
 

As I was setting the table, placing the chairs, plopping the daffodils in their glass beakers, 
I thought of Jesus preparing the feast for us.
After the work he did, he so wants us to come to the table.
I thought of how hard I was working, making everything beautiful (in a mismatched fashion),
while keeping my little guy out of trouble. 
I would have been so sad, so very disappointed,
if our friends had not shown up.   


It's all about the people, people.
And by the way, I didn't use eggs on this table.
I decorated with flowers and rocks.
A rock is a good symbol for the Resurrection.
        

Before I found and washed the rocks,
before I gathered the missing goblets,
and placed loaves in the basket,
and ladled hot stew into the bowls,
and before this table was surrounded by people I love,

Expectancy was in the air.    



I was reminded of a story. 
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)


It's going to be a crazy party, guys.  
And in this upside-down kingdom, 
where one little old mama who is exhausted by her toddler can be welcomed 
(all the better if I'm feeling poor and crippled, right?)
and can be seated, and fed, and heard, 
until I am deeply rested and restored,

in this kingdom,  
everything will be even more beautiful
(mismatched beautiful)
than I can dream or imagine.

 


Happy Easter week, friends.    

(You still have time to start your grass. It takes four or five days to grow to this height).

Links:
Vintage springs can be found here.
Mexican Posole Stew recipe is here.







Friday, April 11, 2014

Planting Time


Now is the time
(in the week before Good Friday)
to scatter the wheat berries
onto dark, fragrant potting soil,
sprinkle them with water,

and wait.

In just a few days,
little green shoots will appear.



Every year I do this.
Even this year, with a baby who toddled along behind me and ate the seeds. 

    
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit." (John 12:24)

(I get my wheat berries at the Anoka health-food store, where they are sold in bulk).





Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chocolate Pound Cake (Two Ways)


Cupcakes on a platter,
just looking cute
     

This was Julia's birthday cake.
You can't go wrong when you fill a platter with homemade chocolate cupcakes topped with pink frosting.
I used to use cake mix for cupcakes, but the awful list of ingredients on those boxes made me feel like I was feeding poison to my family.

I started out by following the recipe from How to Bake by Nick Malgieri, but I quickly modified it to make it a bit more healthy.  Now I have two versions.

Chocolate Pound Cake
(Very, very good, but quite bad for you)

Based on the recipe from How to Bake

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 oz. dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Prepare a loaf pan (I line a Pyrex pan with parchment paper), or a cupcake pan (for 12 cupcakes).

In a batter bowl, combine half the sugar and all the cocoa powder and stir firmly with a spoon or a rubber scraper, until all the lumps are out of the cocoa. Add remaining dry ingredients, stir to combine.

Melt the chocolate using your preferred method. A bain marie over hot water is recommended, but I always microwave the chocolate. You just have to check it every 20 seconds or so or it will burn.

In a mixing bowl (such as a KitchenAid bowl), beat butter till it is fluffy, add eggs, remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, and vanilla, and continue to beat for about two minutes. Slowly add the melted chocolate, spoonful by spoonful, as you continue to beat. Scrape sides of bowl as needed. Add sour cream and mix till combined.

With a rubber spatula, stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture till well combined.

Scrape batter into your pan, or scoop it into your cupcake papers (I use the Pampered Chef Large Scoop for this).

Smooth the top of the cake. Batter is quite thick and it will bake the way it looks now, more or less.

Bake cake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick emerges clean.
For cupcakes, check after 20 minutes.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.

I usually skip icing or glaze, and just serve this with ice-cream and maybe some fresh berries.
It might be the best cake you've ever had.


Now for the recipe I make most of the time:

Chocolate Pound Cake
(Quite good for you, but a bit dry and crumbly. And it will taste strongly of coconut)

3 oz. dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup coconut oil (this solidifies at room temp. so you'll have to scrape it out of the jar in small increments)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 or 3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unflavored yogurt

1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole-wheat flour, or a gluten-free substitute if you're feeling brave
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Using the same methods as in the first recipe, combine all ingredients.
The main difference is that the coconut oil might be difficult to incorporate. You can melt it if you wish, but I don't, and a few little chunks of coconut oil don't bother me.

I have to admit, this cake isn't nearly as delicious as the first recipe. But it's still very, very good. The problem is that the first recipe is possibly the Most Delicious Cake in the World, and hence, it's not supposed to get a makeover.

But we can eat many of the coconut-oil cupcakes, relatively guilt-free.
And Julia loved them.
And that is all that matters.

Happy baking!

p.s. If you're wondering about the frosting - I didn't use a recipe. It was roughly 1/2 stick of butter, 8 oz. of cream cheese, and vanilla, whipped to smithereens. Then I added about 2 cups of powdered sugar, I didn't measure so just take it easy with the powdered sugar till your frosting is of the desired consistency. I like it malleable so it pipes more easily.

 



Monday, April 7, 2014

Lists and Dreams


If you had asked me five years ago where our family would be today,
I could not have told you.
I might have made a wild, hopeful guess that included gainful employment,
health all around, and a vague continuation of education for our children.

If you had showed me this picture, of a sugar-sand beach with my feet and a baby's feet,
and told me that the baby was mine, I'd have laughed you off (with a note of hysteria in my voice).

I believe that God knows our deepest dreams.
All of us have a dim picture in our minds of how we hope things will turn out.

One of our sons has the excellent habit of writing down his goals every year.
One year I saw his list. It was so specific.
It included "Work out four times a week,"
and "Read the Bible every day."

It made me realize that I have never done this.
I have never vocalized my goals, never written out my dreams.
The days and years have unfolded before me with very little planning.
I am constantly surprised by my own life.

Some of the surprises have been lovely.
By the grace of God, I married a kind person when we were only 21 and 22.
And guys, we are so not perfect.
Yet we've been able to stumble through marriage, parenting, years of plenty, years of want,
stretches of good health and mires of illness.

Though we often felt like we were staggering along,
none too gracefully, just pretending to be adults,
we generally made forward motion,
and we were hand in hand.
This is a blessing I do not take for granted.

I'm not going to catalog the surprises that undid me, disappointed me,
filled my mouth with the bitter taste of regret.
But there have been a few of those, too.
If you've lived to a certain age, say 12, you know what I'm talking about.
On various cloudy, cursed days, we want to hide from our own lives.
We say,
"This is not what I thought it would be like.
This is too hard."

"This was not on my list."

Well okay, I can't say that.
I was too lazy to write a list.

But I want to remind you of something.
This one precious life of yours is not random, scattered or haphazard.
It is planned.
And although you may have set detours or potholes in the path,
and sin makes everything hard,
and on bad days you want a different life, somebody else's life,
this is your real life, and it is beautiful.

You may think you are too tattered and bruised to retain any value.
(I have felt this way).
But there is One who loves you so much,
loves me so much,
and He can do anything.
What He does is not usually what is on our list
(if we've had the foresight to write a list).
It will often include a surprise or two.
You'll survey your life one day and say,
"Well would you look at that.
Not what I expected. Not what I asked for.
Not what I planned."


Nope.
It might look more strangely beautiful
than anything you could have dreamed.  

God is amazing that way.

"God is always working to make His children aware of a dream that remains alive beneath the rubble of every shattered dream, a new dream that when realized will release a new song, sung with tears, till God wipes them away and we sing with nothing but joy in our hearts." (Larry Crabb)

   






Friday, April 4, 2014

Birds


All the real birds have burrowed in to find refuge from this fresh snowfall.
We have about eight inches, clinging softly to branches and rooftops.
It's supposed to melt soon, very soon.

From now till spring, I'm going to need daffodils from Trader Joe's every week.

What's happening around here: 

~We toured the big expensive houses on the Rum River and got some good ideas for our not-so-big house.
~We visited my great-aunt and beheld her new washing machine. Her old one was 45 years old. We asked for it, because it looks promising as a possible desk. The spin canister will make a fine garbage can. Nate thinks it might make an interesting chandelier, but we'll start with garbage can and go from there. Photos soon, I promise.
~Julia turned 19. Like all of us, she is a work in progress, but like Mary Poppins, she is practically perfect in every way (yes, I know I'm her mom, but she's been wonderful ever since she got out of the Terrible Twos). I am so thankful for her. For the first time in her whole life, I did not get to see and hug my daughter on her birthday. But she's coming home today, so we'll get lots of hugs then. 
~Malachi was diagnosed with two cavities. None of my other babies had cavities. We're figuring out treatment options. We don't want him traumatized by the (strapped-down) in-office procedure, but neither do we want the $3500 hospital bill from an anesthetized out-patient treatment.
~The real birds have been enjoying our neighbor's crab-apple trees. Even at the end of winter, some fruit still remains. As the clusters of birds whirled and swooped upon the trees, Malachi looked out the window and exclaimed, "Oooh! Oooh!" Daddy came along and said, "Oh look. I think those are Cedar Waxwings." Makes me laugh.    

Blessings on your weekend, and (of course!) here's a song for you. Ben Kyle is a very good local musician, catch a concert if you can. He's from Belfast and you will enjoy both song and story.