Saturday, December 31, 2011

An Illustrated Little Roundup of Things That is Actually Pretty Long. . .

Ah, isn't it cute?!

1. Thrifty. I was at a thrift store with my mom and one of my sisters recently when I spotted this green mug. I held it up in front of the two of them, and they immediately sang out, “Grammy!” Yep. It made us all think of sweet, funny, charming Grammy (we all miss her like crazy). She kept mugs very similar to this one in her kitchen and drank coffee from them every day. So, for 50 cents, I bought the mug, and it is now my new mug of choice when I drink my morning coffee and tea.

Yum. Seriously.
(I cut it in half to show you.) 

2. Tasty. I made the best “raw” and “healthy” treats today! I made my usual chocolate truffle recipe, but today I had the bright idea of forming the truffle balls around a smaller ball of peanut butter (the peanut butter is actually not raw, but the rest of the truffle is). I make 1/3 of a batch of the following recipe: 3 c. dried, unsweetened coconut; 1 ½ c. cocoa powder; 1 c. maple syrup; 1/3 c. coconut butter; 1 T. vanilla; ½ t. salt. Stir everything together. The mixture will be wettish, but add a bit more coconut if is just too wet to handle. Shape into a ball. Make an indentation in it, press in the peanut butter, and reshape the chocolate truffle around the peanut butter. Set in a dish dusted with cocoa powder, and when all truffles are shaped sift more cocoa powder over the top. Cover and keep in fridge (they will firm up in the fridge).

3. Good Reading. I am loving the book I am reading right now. It is called Miriam’s Kitchen (by Elizabeth Ehrlich) and was given to me by my daughter Aimée at Christmas two or three years ago. I’ve started to read the book a few different times, and I’ve liked it, but I've gotten sidetracked on every attempt. The book tells the story about how the cooking and kitchen of the author’s mother-in-law draws her back to her own Jewish roots and faith. I don’t know if it’s because I so very much enjoyed my “Jewish Cultures in America” class last term or what, but the book is just the right thing for me to read right now. It is extremely warm, engaging, and well-written, and the book is full of deep observations and insights.

My favorite college player!
If you follow college football, and you don't know who he is yet,
you will.

4. Coming up. The Rose Bowl. January 2. Oregon vs. Wisconsin. Watch it (and root for Oregon, even if you live in Wisconsin)! I’ll definitely be watching (the game, not you).

Update: Yay! What a crazy game. And my favorite player amazed a lot of people.

A humble, but warm (!), room.
This photo was taken the week I moved in.
The towels have now made way for books and flutes and coffee mugs.

5. Where I hang out the most in my house in winter. The bathroom! It’s so warm in there. Actually, I only retreat to the room now and then throughout the day when it’s extra chilly, but on really cold days, I spend quite a bit of time in there. Sometimes books pile up on that bathroom counter, along with little notebooks and pens. I peruse cookbooks and other books there, play my flute (you didn’t know I played the flute, did you? my playing is nothing to jump up and down about, really, but I’ve been enjoying it again), and I talk on the phone. I take my coffee into the room on extra cold mornings and read my Bible and devotional there. It’s the warmest room in the house by far, and the closest I’ll get in this house to having a woodstove. But, hey—I’m not complaining! I'm thankful to live in this wonderful place.

 Look at me! I stole one of Kim's pictures without permission!
(Kim, if you are mad at me, I will remove this.)
But I wanted you others to see. It's a magical, wintry photo
and it's just one out of about a million nice ones at Kim's blog. (Click.)

6. Good blog. Have I ever mentioned Kim of Starry Sky Ranch here? If not, I don’t know what has taken me so long. I’ve been reading Kim’s blog for years, and she’s been a steady favorite of mine from the very beginning. She’s got a houseful of kids ranging from very little ones to adults (even though she looks about 25-years-old!). She and her family left their Colorado ranch behind and now live in Germany. Kim’s photos are beautiful, her spirit is clear and refreshing, she lives lovely (but wouldn't want me to publicly lavish praise on her), and she has accumulated lot of wisdom over the years that she doesn’t try to foist off on anyone, so just watch and listen, and you’ll glean much from Kim. (No pressure or anything, Kim!)

7. What I ate today. (I used to do these posts occasionally, for some odd reason, so I thought I’d go out with one last food list because I’m sure you care!) Sprouted grain toast with almond butter-miso-honey spread. A whole quart of green smoothie. Three chocolate-peanut butter truffles. Delicious maple-roasted butternut squash (I ate a whole small squash all by myself—there are perks to living alone). Pomegranate seeds. Cashews. Collard leaf wraps with mango-veggie-slaw and peanut sauce (made with raw almond butter). Normally, I eat a big salad, but it didn’t happen today. I got plenty of greens and vegetables, though.

8. Celebrating. It’s New Year’s Eve, after all, but I’m home alone. I suppose I could make some popcorn or eat another chocolate truffle. For sure I’ll relax and read. I think that makes a great celebration. : : : Later, I'm still here--I hear occasional fireworks going off outside, and it's not even close to midnight. I guess I'm celebrating by attaching photos to this post. : : :

Resolutions? I don’t really do them. I just try to start anew whenever I need to. When I realize I’ve gotten off-track (with exercise and health habits, Bible reading and prayer, or anything else), I try to get right back on. When I fall, I just stand back up, dust myself off, deal with any obstacles or hindrances that are tripping me up or blocking my way, and get moving again. I don’t wait for a new day, a new week, a new month, or a new year to do it. God’s mercies are new every morning, but they are also available every minute of every day.

But still, the end of one year and the start of the next naturally lead most of us to reflect and even rethink some things. It’s a good time to remember, appreciate, reflect, pray, and sharpen the vision. And resolutions should be made by all who find them useful! :-)

9. Another good book. The Hidden Power of Kindness by Lawrence G. Lovasick. Becoming truly kind is not a New Year’s resolution, but it’s a lifelong aim or vision that began when I became serious about this book a few weeks ago. I’ve had the book around for years, and when I first got it I liked it fine, but it struck me like one of those old positive-thinking-be-nice-to-everyone-in-order-to-elevate-yourself-or-become-successful books. It seemed to have some good thoughts in it, but I just didn’t get into the book. But when I picked it up again recently, I began to read the book in my normal fashion: I opened it; browsed through it; skipped to the middle, then to the back, then to the front, and all over the place at random, stopping wherever something struck me; looked at the table of contents for the most compelling parts and read those; began to become engrossed in the book; began to be confronted and challenged by it; began to realize the profundity of it; and began to develop a deep desire to live according to its principles (which are really Biblical principles, but expounded wonderfully). I eventually finished the whole thing. This is a deep, powerful, inspiring book, and I realize that being truly kind (loving well) is a serious, challenging discipline that can only happen by the grace of God in person’s life.

Oh, who are those adorable children?!

10. Super fun. Saving the longest part for the end. Christmas at Michelle’s house was fun. She made homemade cinnamon rolls, not only on Christmas morning, but (per unanimous request) she also made them on Tuesday morning. And we ate them with good coffee! (Yay, Michelle! You are awesome!) The kids, as always, cracked me up. Let me tell you just a few little (gripping!) stories of things they said or did.

Let’s start with Liya. We (adults/women) were in the kitchen chatting, as we like to do, and we heard two-year-old Liya gasping and grunting really loudly. We glanced into the living room, and there she was, sitting neck-high in a round basket, and pulling up on the handles with all of her might. She saw us look her way and sputtered, “I can’t pick myself up! I’m too heavy!”

And just a little while later, six-year-old Roman called from the living room, where he was playing legos with Jayden. “Hey, Momma! Is God just playing play with us? Is he controlling us?” Michelle looked at me, puzzled and sort of amused, and I suggested, “Does he mean in the same way he’s playing with his legos?” Michelle asked him if that’s what he meant, and Roman said, “Yeah, is God just playing with us and moving us around?”

And then there was four-year-old Jayden. Just try reading a book straight through with Jayden. It’s not going to happen because the boy is thinking about everything on every page and has a lot to say about it! Aimee and Josiah gave him One Morning in Maine for Christmas, and we read it together a number of times (I don’t mind; I love Robert McCloskey). First, he was tickled pink that Sal (from Blueberries for Sal, our old favorite read-together book) has grown up a bit and is in this new book! We had to talk about that for quite a long time. Then Jayden started noticing things. Like, on one page, when a fish-hawk was flying with a fish in its mouth to a nest high in a snag beside the water, Jayden wanted to know, “Why is the bird flying that way with the fish when the water is over there?” (The bird was flying from the direction of the woods and not the water.) “Good question, JayJay! Why do you think?” And then we talked about the reasons that might have been. And, on another page, when Sal slipped on seaweed on a rock, a loon on the water was said to “laugh.” Jayden said, “Why did the loon laugh at Sal? That was not very nice!” I told him it was okay because Sal was laughing, too, so they were laughing together.

And I suppose I shouldn’t leave out 11-month-old Avery, who thinks she is one of the big kids. She follows them all over and plays what they play. We had to keep an eye on her because she liked to head for the stairs to attempt an ascent, and we meant to keep her safely downstairs. The three older kids were playing “Super Hero,” all in capes and masks. They had created a little fort with a foam sleeping pad, blankets, and pillows. Aimee noticed Avery was suddenly missing and asked where she was. Jayden called out, “We have her in the Batcave,” and Roman announced that they weren’t letting her escape. I peeked over the side of the cave, and there was Avery, happy as could be in her diaper, wearing a red cape with a lightning bolt on the back. The cape was twice as long as Avery.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ 

Okay. Enough of that. I am working on a post to answer all of the questions that came up in the last several days. It's getting pretty long, and I still have a long ways to go, so I think I'm going to try to cut things way back and be concise(ish--relatively. . .) for once, even if it does mean leaving out a lot.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some of us on Christmas. . .

Our Gang (most of us), Christmas 2011.
At Michelle's and Monty's place.
(You can click the photo for a better view, if you want.)
 I love my family! It was so much fun to get together.
Monty was the photographer,
and I was the one who worked to get the attention of the little ones
so that they would look at the camera.
(I'm not sure how I inspired that look on Jayden's face!)
Hope your Christmas was lovely.
And I hope the rest of the holidays will be, too.
I'll be starting winter term classes on January 9,
and I'll probably put up at least another thing or two or three before then.
For those who asked, I will leave all of my blogs up
and open for reading when I end this one.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wishing You a Lovely Christmas. . .

 I'm going out of town in the morning to celebrate Christmas with my children and grandchildren. Yay! But I want to wish any stragglers at my blog a truly lovely Christmas/Advent celebration. I think I'll add the wonderful little poem left for me in comments by Rebecca (thank you Rebecca--and everyone else, too--for the comment(s); I'll get back to those when I return):

"Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
...Eternity shut in a span. Summer in winter. Day in night.
Heaven in earth and God in man! Great little one!
Whose all-embracing birth lifts earth to heaven, Stoops heaven to earth."
(Richard Crenshaw, 1648)

I really do appreciate the thoughtful comments very much. Jennie, if you see this, I'm thinking about your request. I don't know if I can actually finish those speaking notes you referred to, but I might write a thought or two before I go. So sorry you were watching for that and that I didn't finish it. I'm not sure I'll get a chance to add more thoughts, so don't count on it! :-)

Adding to this post Saturday morning: I turned on the quiet music of Arvo Part this morning, wishing I had not run out of coffee (!), and sat on the carpet of my peaceful living room floor to open stocking gifts from my mom and my sister. I thought it would be a nice thing to do before leaving town later this morning. As I unwrapped one gift, strong whiffs of coffee wafted out from the paper (yes!). So, I made a French press pot of coffee and sat at the computer with the  intention of working my way through the recent comments so that I could pointedly and mindfully pray individually for each and every one of you.  And I do pray that God will touch you, bless you and your families, give you wisdom all along your way, direct your steps (even when you don't think you know where you're going--He does!), and fill you with His Love and Light and Hope this Christmas season (and always). I pray you (and I) will increasingly know the Great Joy that is found in Him. Have a beautiful, merry Christmas!

The sun came out today, and, inspired by sunlight coming into the house, I started to snap some photos. I was just getting warmed up when my sister called to see if I wanted to go for a stroll in today's amazing, gorgeous sunshine and blue skies. Of course I was glad to go. So, I had just these few photos, but they will have to do (I'm posting them because thought I'd put up a few "parting shots" in the next post or two before I go away for good):
I think my first photo ever on this blog featured this table in very early
morning light. Oh yeah--there it is up on my header.
This is later-in-the-afternoon light with a
much more cluttered table (it's not always cluttery!)
and more "stuff" on the wall.

I think I took a summer photo from this same angle
when the maple was in full green leaf.
Winter gives a much different look.

 O Tannenbaum!
This is my official Christmas tree.

The hutch in winter afternoon light.

Because everyone is dying to know what is attached to my fridge!
Postcards from friends and family.
Roman's picture.
A verse written on a card by Aimee
that she included in a letter she mailed to me.
Various magnets.
"Susywawoozy Woman"
is what my nephew and niece call me.
Or sometimes they call me "Sushi."
They made me the magnet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Time to Move Along. . .

Well, it’s time to close up shop here. And I don’t really see myself ever blogging again, either. There are a zillion blogs out there. Mine is just putting more noise into the blogosphere, and I’m not inclined to want to do that anymore.

Thank you for being such sweet readers! I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting you through this blog, reading your comments, and visiting your own blogs. It's been a pleasure to "know" you, and when/if I have time, I'll pop in and say hi.

But it's time for me to really jump into the life that God has for me right now.

I don't want to merely pass through this stage. I don't want only to surrender and nod to God’s sovereignty, but I need to dive in, fully embrace each day and each thing as coming from the hand of God, and strive to glorify and honor Him—wholeheartedly and with joy—in all that I do.

When I kept my old High Desert Home blog, I was writing of things I’d been living, thinking about, writing about, speaking about in various groups and organizations, and sharing with both women and men in meetings in my home for years—decades, actually. My writings on that blog were simply a communication of the real life I’d been living for a long time. The posts were easy to write, and it seemed natural to keep a blog.

But then my life turned upside down and everything changed.

At the same time, nothing changed. I still affirm everything I have written on any of my blogs about home and family, creating and learning, relationships and domesticity. I know that no matter how many times I explain the point of my posts about home-life, people are going to misunderstand my meaning, but I can’t worry about that. I can only assert, again, that this is not about being domestic and “home-makey” for its own sake, but it’s about doing what the Bible says a wise woman does: She builds her house.

Home is the most potent force in a child’s life (in all of our lives), and the deep spiritual potential of creating “warm and cozy”—when done with the right vision—is vastly misunderstood and undervalued. Doing this is not an inclination or a hobby—it’s a spiritual calling. But I won’t belabor this point. I’ve done that elsewhere.

As I mentioned, I wrote on that High Desert Home blog about what I had been living for years and years. I had walked through the ups and downs of that life, the trials and challenges, and the heartaches and joys, so my ideas felt tested and somewhat stable. And, while I blogged, I continued to live that same kind of life at home, only now with kids who were grown but were coming home often and bringing their own children along with them.

But my circumstances have changed, and I am now on a path that requires whole-hearted attention and energy. Last summer when I was kicking back and taking things slow and easy, there was room in my life for putting up blog posts at this Summer Notebook blog, but I’ll admit that I never really felt fully engaged in it in spite of regular blog posts. Then summer ended, and I resumed classes at the university. I’ve been back in school for almost two years (and have accumulated so many credits, because of my four years of college back in the 1970s, that my advisor says she is in awe—haha!).

Now my focus is narrowing, and I need to throw of whatever is a distraction or a hindrance to what God is doing in my life. I am walking a new path, and I have no idea where I’m going or what I’ll actually end up doing, but I know that God does, and this is good enough for me! I am exploring uncharted territory, and I’m just beginning to discover a sense of adventure in this.

Plus, I don’t think I need to be writing about what God is doing and teaching me when I’m right in the middle of it. Now is time to settle down, quiet down, and learn from Him. If I am writing about these stories and lessons before I’ve really learned them entirely (though I’m not looking to ever write about them, actually), I disrupt the process. I lose the real, organic flow of the walk.

My one goal right now is not to figure out my life. It is to be faithful. To walk faithfully with God to the end of my days. To walk hand in hand with Him wherever He leads me. To trust. To live quietly. To do whatever little thing He gives me to do. To let Him make me what He wants me to be without trying to figure it out or help Him. I have no designs on doing any big thing or being noticed in my life. Just keep me faithful, dear Lord. Make me a servant. And may my life truly bring honor and glory to You.

P.S. If you have anything you're dying to ask me in the next day or so before I turn out the lights, go right ahead. I'll do my best to answer.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

 Coffee making this morning.
A seventeen year ritual.
(Yikes. That's a long time!)

Wow. Time doesn't fly when there's nothing at all pressing to do. I've done about a million things today, I think, and it's just mid-morning. I like this!

I tried to sleep in this morning, but once my eyes popped open they stayed that way. So, I caught up in my Advent reader, prayed, thanked the Lord for His blessings, read my Bible, and climbed out of bed. By then it was 6:00 a.m.

While I lay in bed thinking and reading and praying and thanking God for His blessings, I thought of something that came up in my Judaism class. We were discussing brachots--the blessings Jews recite daily for just about everything they do. They have specific blessings for their food--for each food, a blessing for a rainbow, a blessing for seeing a friend for the first time in a while, blessings for everything--even the toilet! It is a way of being mindful and thankful. Brachots are reminders that, in busyness and distraction, we are not in control. They can remind us that we are blessed and that God is the giver of gifts. The rabbi who taught our class said more than 100 blessings can be given in a day. Wow. That is commitment. I may not recite 100 specific blessings in a day, but I can certainly lift my heart continually in gratitude to God and speak out blessings to those around me instead of holding my appreciation for them inside my heart.

On the other hand, I've also been thinking of the old Orthodox prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." Like the brachot, this is another thing to be asserted often, at least in my life. When I am fearful or fretting or frustrated, it comes from wanting to control my life. It comes from looking for a sense of security that is derived from my own efforts and abilities. And this fails me every time. So, in the night, when I couldn't quiet my heart, I didn't pray "Lord, help me--please do something about this!" Instead, I prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner," and I meant it, because fear and fretting is anti-faith. Peace does not come from circumstances that are momentarily calm and controlled. It comes from a heart that is yielded entirely to God, and my heart is too often revealed as not yet surrendered and at rest. This is a grace because it continually points me back round to Him. "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." This is the real story of Advent: Jesus Christ came to earth to die for sinners, and now he extends His grace, mercy, and love to us when we call on Him.

"Silence shatters to pieces the mind's armor." 
~Dag Hammarskjold

So, once I was out of bed this morning, I began to clean--the kind of clean that is motivated by eyes that have been opened. Much-to-do can clutter the mind and blind the eye, and this temporary blindness can be a grace when circumstances squeeze me, but when the blessing of ample time is given again, I begin to see the true state of my surroundings, and my heart begins to crave what is truly simple.

"Affected simplicity is refined imposture." 
~La Rochefoucauld

I'm not trying to practice voluntary--or involuntary--simplicity. I'm not determined to declutter. I'm not trying to shed materialism. This isn't about participation in any kind of simplicity movement or statement or conscious lifestyle. I just want simple. The kind that comes from way deep in my heart and I don't need or want to understand what or why. I just want to do it. So, I began to remove things from counters, shelves, and corners and put them in boxes to be given away or in cupboards to store. And now the ambience is becoming roomy and airy, and it feels so good. "All in order, sweet and lovely." (I'll keep quoting Blake on that til the end of my days.)

And then I made coffee in my French press, as I do as often as I can. And I used my favorite old round Polish pottery mug. The mug doesn't make me sad anymore. For a long time I didn't want to drink from it because it seemed connected to so much that was lost in my life. It was just like it was the year I was in a dark depression at Christmastime and someone gave me a CD of beautiful classical guitar music. To this day I cannot listen to that CD because it is so connected to that dark time. But the ache of recent years has faded (thank the Lord!), and the mug seems friendly again.

Yep. There it is in all its crazy, tacky, colorful glory!

 And then I decided to put out a few Christmas things. Not much, though, because I'm not a gung-ho decorator. Or crafter. Point in case: I made a garland today. Sort of. I was putting a few ornaments in a pretty glass display bowl (because I'm not going to have a tree this year except for that ceramic one on my table), and I got the idea to string some of the ornaments on a line for a garland to hang across my kitchen window. All I could find was kitchen string, and I wasn't motivated to look for something better, so I decided to experiment with that string, and if I liked the garland, I'd change the string later to something more transparent or tasteful. So I quickly (that word--quickly--is a key trait to my crafting projects because I really am not Martha; I prefer to enlist my daughters' to make things for me) tied random ornaments (kinda sloppily) to that thick white piece of kitchen string and strung it across the window just to see if I will enjoy the look. Well, there it still hangs, and I'm pretty sure it's going to continue to hang there just as it is until Christmas is over. I'm sure I could look online and find some amazing ornament garland tutorials to follow, but I don't want to know about them. I'll just enjoy my rustic, simple, thrown-together garland. It is cheerful!

And now I will carry on with my day. Happy Saturday to you!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Briefly, A Good Day. . .

Up at 4:30 a.m. Decided not to go over my study notes. Just read my Bible and spent some time in prayer. Bundled up in layers of clothing and tramp to the bus stop in icy-cold early morning darkness. Arrived on campus before daylight. Drawn irresistably to beautiful Lillis Hall, all lit up, warm and cozy in that strange light that comes between night and morning. Sat in that nice ambience with a surprising number of other early risers while drinking coffee and looking over my study guide. Then the unusual experience of an almost pleasant, cozy classroom vibe for my early-morning Judaism final. Everyone happy and friendly before class. All went well. Back home by mid-morning. Crunchy steps across a dry-leaf-carpeted yard. Enjoyed the fact that I can leave them there--that last bit of fall color--because I have a gardener who collects the leaves! Into the house for coffee, brief magazine browsing, and a bit of tidying. A surprise drop-by visit from the sister I see least often. Finally time to drag my tired brain into study-mode for my last final. Can't do it yet. So off to the kitchen for homemade biscuits with peach jam. Time to study; time dwindles. Brain full to bursting, but the end is in sight. No thinking about ideas for this final, thank goodness. Just memorize. By noon tomorrow, my brain is mine again. So. . . Studied. Took a break. Checked email: grades trickling in. So far, so good. Chatted with one of my kids on the phone. Drank a green smoothie. Stood in the bathroom over the heater because it's the warmest room in the house. Memorized. Quizzed myself. Paced. Progressed. Took a break. Snuck in a round or two of Spill 'n Spell. Pounded out these words.

It's a good day. I'm so grateful for so much. God is with me. And with you.

Now back to my study guide!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

There it is! My one decoration so far.
The old ceramic Christmas tree.
All lit up for when my grandkids arrive today.

When I climbed out of bed this morning, I intended to clean the house, put up a few Christmas decorations, exercise, and spend the rest of the day typing out answers to the two really-involved study guides I have for my last two finals.

The house was a bit out of sync and not-so-cosy, so putting it in order before studying seemed like a good plan. I brewed a really good pot of French press coffee and turned up the Christmas carols while I made some headway in the clean-and-cosy department. I managed to put out one Christmas decoration (the old ceramic tree) before I was hit by a blizzard of phone calls and text messages, and now my plan has changed.

Aimee and Avery are driving down from Portland this afternoon to spend the weekend with me, and Michelle and her gang are coming to spend the afternoon and evening here as well. Yay, fun! I'll get to those study guides here and there and in between whatever is happening. Family first!

I really think the celebratory atmosphere and ambience we create in our homes is special and powerful in all of our lives, but especially for our children. We shouldn't underestimate the power of the sense of mystery and magic we nurture in the minds and hearts of our children by the environments we create. I really believe it can help open hearts to the mystery and magic of the meaning of Christmas and to God's love. But it's the intrinsic ambience and spirit of a life and of a home that does this much more than the external decorations we put up or the activities we enjoy, though the external can contribute, too.

I don't really decorate for holidays in a big way. I am certainly no Martha Stewart, and neither do I want to be. I like things to be very simple but sweet. And in these past three years, the celebrations of my family have gotten simpler than ever because they've had to. We didn't give gifts to one another last year--not a single thing. And you know what? There was a sort of freedom in it.

We all love to give and receive gifts, but not one of us wished that last Christmas was any different. We bought small things for the children, and we gathered to make a delicious meal and enjoy being together to give thanks for the one gift that really matters: God sent His Son to Earth to be the Savior of the world. The Savior of me. And you.

We likely won't give gifts again this year, but we will, again, be together, and it will certainly be a happy family time. What we give to each other is time and love. They don't cost anything, and these are the best gifts of all.

I was flipping through the pages of Elspeth's Wonderful Weekend Book, and my bookmark landed in the "winter" section. Elspeth begins her winter notes with these simple words:

"As the evenings draw in, I find real satisfaction in simple pleasures such as lighting a wood fire, making the Christmas cake and inviting friends for tea after a brisk wintry walk."

I love that spirit and attitude. And here's from Gladys Taber:

"The smell of pine and spicy hot cider drifts through the house. The buttered popcorn in the old wire popper adds extra fragrance. Outside, snow falls on the old orchard, the dark pond, and the giant maples towering above the roof. The children come in from sledding spangled with flakes."

Well, that certainly matches some of what my family experienced in the high desert, and I think it's lovely. We so enjoyed those snowy, crisp, magical days when we drank hot chocolate together at the table and watched snow pile up around our house, when we took long walks down a lovely, snowy road, and when snow-frozen hands were warmed by the fire.

The chances of snow and sledding where we live now are almost impossibly slim, but that's not the point. It's not about longing for an idealized atmosphere of the season; it's simply, as both Elspeth and Gladys communicate, making my own kind of atmosphere where I am now--one that is simple and magical even in its simplicity--and sharing it with others. This doesn't need to cost a thing except for time and love, and, again, these are the best gifts I can give.

That's what I'm going to give to my family today. I will study for my finals when I can, but I don't get to see my children and grandchildren everyday, so I'm going to make the most of this day with them. Popcorn doesn't cost much. I can make that. And I can certainly create a clean and warm and cosy environment. And I can read stories and play with my grandchildren. I will give the gifts I can and enjoy the gifts God has given me in this season when we are all focused on celebrating the One gift that really matters.

Wishing you a lovely day!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy, Happy Things for Today. . .

For lack of recent photos to post,
let's go back to my High Desert Home
where it snows in the winter!
Don't know if you can see the bottom
night-time picture (if you click on it you can),
but I loved going out in the snow at night!

In the spirit of my grandson JayJay, I'm thanking God for His good gifts:

1. Whatever is happening, God is always so very, very good!

2. It was wonderful to be with my family for Thanksgiving. I have the four most beautiful, talented children (who all cook some mighty fine food!), the two best sons-in-law imaginable, and the four most adorable, fun grandkids on the planet!

3. Christmas music. Yay. It fills the house with a joyful spirit. I can’t take a whole lot of Josh Groban, but I really love his rendition of Ave Maria (love the children’s choir! but, oh, this link doesn't do justice to the beautiful, rich rendition on my CD). I play the song over two or three times in a row when it comes on. My favorite Christmas CD ever? A really long list of songs hand-picked by Melissa and compiled as a gift for Aaron one year—it’s the best!

4. Simple food. My main dish tonight is pureed lemony-garlicky sweet potatoes and celeriac. (Yum. It’s really good!) I know this is really more of a side dish, and I don’t even know what else I’ll eat, but I’ll fill in the nutritional gaps that are left at the end of the day. I’m pretty good about that. By the way, a checker at the university book store told me today that sweet potatoes are really great for helping the brain focus and attend. Well, then. If that’s true, I should be doing prodigiously well in the “focus” department because I consume a lot of sweet potatoes.

5. 18-year-old fellow students who are just so great to this middle-aged woman. One girl actually changed her course schedule to be in my Spanish class again next term (we sit by each other every day and work on lessons together). This morning, I ran into a young man who was in a class with me last year, and he seemed so happy to see me. We talked for a long time, “caught up” on each others' lives, and said we hoped we’d have a class together again this year. It’s just sweet how nice some of these kids can be.

6. God’s goodness in helping me to “let go” of some of the stress and pressure of maintaining unrealistic standards for myself. It feels a bit like a miracle.

7. Peace and joy in spite of very real challenges in my personal life. Another gift from God; another little miracle.

8. The fact that I have a house (for now) that really feels like home to me.

9. Three truly good sisters. One here who keeps track of me and makes me feel connected to both her and others (I feel cared about, and that’s nice when you live alone). One on the coast who is a kindred spirit and an awesome person. And one up the highway who let me stay at her house over Thanksgiving. It was so much fun to be with her and her husband! And also for a really great brother who texted me on Thanksgiving. And now that I’m rolling through the list of mi familia, I have to mention my wonderful mother who is just always there, always listening, always praying, always loving. I am blessed.

10. The term is almost over. I have one paper to turn in, two finals to take this week, and two finals to take next week. I’ve got a lot of work and studying to do, but the end is in sight (one more term down!), and then my time will be my own and I can work on my top-secret Christmas present for my kids.

Hope your days are happy, happy! God is good. I hope you are celebrating His gifts this Advent season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Slow Down, Grandma Susy". . .

Roman, the unhurried one, last Saturday.

“Grandma Susy, you need to slow down.”

Huh? I was in the kitchen, chatting with Roman as he drew and spelled words on paper at the kitchen table. He sounded each word aloud, slowly writing the letters as he decoded them from the sounds he was making. Roman’s spelling was charming, revealing how he heard commonly spoken words, where “have a cat” became “ava cat.” And he was decidedly unhurried and unpressured in what he was doing.

But me? I had decided to put away some dishes and tidy the kitchen while I chatted with Roman, and as I bustled about, Roman stopped, looked at me, and matter-of-factly spoke those words: “Grandma Susy, you need to slow down.”

It took me aback. I didn’t seem to me that I was moving all that quickly, but when I contrasted my demeanor with Roman’s, I realized that I was. And for what? I thought about my recent life, and I realized that I had begun to think always ahead, always forward, always to what needed to be done and how far behind I was beginning to feel. Lately, I’ve felt a great deal of pressure regarding all that I need, or want, to balance in my life—spiritual life, school, family, home, church, maintaining physical health, etc.

But instead of settling in and focusing on each thing, keeping its importance in perspective, I had moved into a very mild and uncharacteristic form of driven-ness. Not driven-ness in the sense of pressing toward some lofty goal but driven-ness in the sense of simply trying to survive it all, to press to get it all done. Driven-ness to survive? Haha. That seems such a lowly aim (so weak, so inept), but for me—for one who thrives on slowness, or for one whose kryptonite is time-pressure—it really became about this.

So, lately, I have found myself becoming rather tightly wound. Where I have always been able to manage stress well—given enough time to keep broad margins, given that there was always something I could cut from my schedule and had no qualms about doing so, and mostly by much prayer and focus on scripture—I suddenly found myself in a position where there is more to do than I can manage comfortably.

It doesn’t help that when I am a bit swamped, I find myself dawdling away time. Wasting time. Maybe this is an unconscious attempt to avoid that awful feeling of too-much-pressure, but ignoring the too-much-to-do list only increases pressure. Who knows why I do what I do?! It's simply true that the recent equation of my life has not added up to peace and calm! :-)

I must say that I have a very low tolerance for busyness and time-pressure. So, while it might seem to someone else that I am really dealing with very little, to me this is challenging, and, for the first time that I can remember, I have found myself in a state of chronic low-level stress (with some surges of high-stress thrown in). All of the self-talk that I’ve always been so good at (telling myself what the Bible says and what really matters), along with prayer, has not availed much. And why? Does prayer fail? Does God not hear? Of course He does! But maybe I simply need to reorient my life, my aims, and my thinking to align with His thoughts and aims for me.

Slow down? When I don’t seem to have enough time to take care of the business of living a balanced, healthy life? Yes, slow down.

So, what to do? How shall I “slow down” as Roman so naturally, easily, and cheerfully exhorted me last Saturday?

That’s what I’m working on now. Letting go of perfect. (Do I really need to maintain my A+ GPA? Perfectionism is not excellence, it is pride. It is self-absorption, which is the opposite of love.) And learning not to dawdle away time, while at the same time not pressing forward, but moving forward, unhurried, with calm discipline. And learning to settle in to get God’s mind for my life. He does not mean for me to be rushed, to feel tightly wound or stressed, or to be distracted.

God says to the wind and the waves, “Peace, be still.” Jesus didn’t hurry.

For years, in my high desert home, I kept a quote on my fridge by Evelyn Underhill, and I lived by it: “On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgement and effort to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.”

Lately, I’ve been the amateur. But Roman? No, children don’t hurry. They deal calmly with only the task at hand. Children have not learned to take on the cares of the world. They trust that their parents have their back and that they can carry on with their business. They just do it, and they do it with joy. Joy.

The Bible says to be like a child.

I have so much to learn, and the Lord has given me this opportunity to learn it.

Lord, You do have my back! Help me to let go of the self-absorption of worldly perfectionism and aims. Help me to carry on simply, calmly, steadily, consistently, and joyfully. Help me to learn about peace and stillness in the midst of the wind and the waves. Renew my mind so that I will recognize those waves as small things, and direct my steps so that they are aligned with Yours.

Thank You for speaking to me through my grandson, and make me, again, like a child.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Just a Few Things for an Autumn Saturday. . .


It’s autumn, and the trees are just beautiful all over town and the university. I’m the one on campus stopped dead in my tracks, blocking the dense flow of pedestrian traffic as I stand staring up at the trees in wonder. The striking, vibrant color that literally surrounds me is at its showy best against that backdrop of strong blue sky that we've had so often lately, especially in angled early morning or late-afternoon light, and so I stand and stare and soak it in because I know this season, like all seasons, year after year, is but for a moment.

Most striking, I think, are those rare days when volatile, blackened, threatening skies mix with sunlight of an almost eery quality so that the whole outdoors appears to be cast in a neon glow. That’s when autumn colors become otherworldly, and it’s even better when windy bluster swirls the leaves so that they skitter along the path and dance into the sky. So many days I’ve wished I had my camera with me and have vowed to return with it the next day. And yet I never have, and now the most colorful trees are sparsely leafed. The photos above do not come close to exhibiting the reds and oranges and unreal autumn colors I see in other parts of town. But, still, I find them lovely.

 "An image is an impression of the Truth,
which God has allowed us to glimpse with our sightless eyes."
~Andrei Tarkovsky

My son has long been an admirer of Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. He often sends me quotes from Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time, and I always love these quotes, and I love that Aaron thinks to send them to me. Months ago, Aaron told me about a book containing Polaroid photos taken by Tarkovsky. He even sent me a link so that I could see some of the photos, but I forgot about it until I saw the same link on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog recently. And now I have the book in hand, and I think it is stunning. The photos look like paintings. Their subject matter is what is most interesting to me and Tarkovsky shoots my favorite kind of light. The photos are sprinkled with quotes and thoughts by Tarkovsky on the meaning of art and life and spirituality. I will definitely read his book, Sculpting in Time.

Poor picture--but love that boy!
Jayden signed my guestbook.

I don't think he can spell anything beyond his name, and he certainly doesn't know how to use a typewriter, but what does that matter? Typing is fun! And incoherent messages produced by little ones I love are as sweet as any others.

Three of my grandkids (and their parents) visited last Saturday. It was soooo much fun to see everyone! We read stories (the boys were gripped by the suspense of The Bears of Hemlock Mountain). We made smoothies (because that’s something we always do when we get together).

And we turned on the kids used-to-be bedtime lullaby CD. I swear this is the best CD ever for bedtime. When Roman was tiny, if he fussed in the car, Michelle would turn on this CD, and in literally seconds, Roman would be silent, and within a minute or so, he would be asleep. It was like a miracle sleeping potion. When I’d babysit the kids when they were younger, toddler Jayden would come to me when he was sleepy, point to the rocking chair, and say, “Veiss, Susy? Veiss.” This meant that he wanted me to rock him to sleep while I either played "Eidelweiss" from the CD or sang it to him myself while we rocked. So, when I put this CD on the player last Saturday, the boys actually got excited (and even a bit sentimental), told me to sit in the rocking chair, and climbed into my lap. For song after song, they laid their heads against me as we rocked and talked quietly. Jayden almost fell asleep.

And some things never change. . .

The other night I was in the living room, focused on whatever it was I was reading, when I took a break and went to the dark kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. Apparently, I had already thought of making tea earlier and had forgotten. Because I found this (yes I’m still at it, and, now, not only am I turning on the wrong burner, but now I am also forgetting that I turned on any burner at all!). . . Yikes.

It's a pretty day here with pretty light and leaves floating around in the breeze. I hope it's lovely where you are!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Autumn Leaves and Spider Webs. . .

Autumn evening at home.

Autumn out one kitchen window.

Autumn out the other kitchen window.
Impressive work.
Click to see better.

I was standing at the kitchen sink yesterday afternoon watching a spider build a web just outside the window, and I was sort of in awe. The spider's skill is impressive, and his work is tedious. And I have always come along behind him and knocked down his webs with my broom. Poor little spider. (By the way, did you know a spider's web is many times the strength of steel of the same diameter?)

I walked outside to watch more closely. Impressive. Tireless spider. I'm leaving this one alone.

Spiders spend their entire life span capturing and eating other insects (about 2,000 in a year).

He spends his entire lifetime catching insects, via his web, and I keep making him rebuild the thing, which must make it difficult for him to catch his quota of insects. That spider must get pretty hungry sometimes.

Even though spiders do a great deal of good for our environment, spiders are greatly feared by most of the population. Most spiders are killed only because they scare people, not because they are actually dangerous to humans.

Spiders do not attack in herds. Spiders do not lay in wait and attack people. Spiders do not lift the covers at night and crawl into bed to bite people as they are sleeping. Some spiders can jump but they are not intentionally jumping at humans to attack them. A spider generally bites a human because it was scared and bites to defend itself. Spiders generally prefer to live in undisturbed areas such as corners of the house or the eaves or in the garden where they can catch insects in peace.

Well, that's a relief! I think this will be news to my sister, who has an irrational fear of spiders, so I hope she's reading this. (Herds of spiders are not lying in wait to attack you, JoAnne, and that spider running across your floor is as panicked as you are. Haha.)

(Everything in italics above is from the California Poison Control System. I was tempted to do some editing, but kept it "as is.")

Here's a promotion from the UK for "spider love." I'm willing to tolerate spiders, appreciate their contribution to maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and admire their artistry. I'm even willing to co-habitate with a reasonable number of them (unless a brown recluse shows up), but I'm not sure I'm ready to love them:

Spider Love.

All is well! A busy mid-terms week just ended, and I have not expired. God is good in many ways. In every way. I hope your autumn days are as lovely as mine.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Few "Happy-Happy" Things. . .

“When my one-year-old grandson Jayden enjoys something,
however mundane and ordinary,
he does a little dance and chants in sing-song,
"Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy..."
His cheerful enjoyment of the simplest things is an admirable trait,
so I will follow suit and make a point to notice and exude
"happy, happy, happiness" about simple, daily, easily overlooked things.”
~taken from my High Desert Home blog

Happy-happy me today. . .

~Friends who travel the world and bring me the best jasmine green tea from Asia (the highest quality, they say—for diplomats. . . and for me, too, apparently). It’s delicious. And when I run out, ultra-cool J-Tea from Eugene sells a mighty fine jasmine green tea themselves. Morning coffee~after dinner tea. Nice.

~A beautiful, warm, sunshiny afternoon on such a lovely campus. Leaves are turning, the sky is vibrant blue, and the air feels crisp-but-just-warm-enough. I sat outside on a bench between classes, and my nephew (a student at the honors college, like his sister) came by, sat down beside me, and we visited. Love my nephew!

~Fun at the football game with mom and gang. It got loud (and I got almost hoarse because I do my part as a fan!), and Oregon won even though our best player was out for the entire game and our quarterback went out with an injury just after half-time (and we were playing against a ranked team). No problem. We are rife with great backups! It’s super-fun to be in Autzen stadium—one of the most intimidating stadiums in the U.S., they say.

~Feeling immensely grateful to God for being able to afford to eat tasty, healthy food. And for what seems like a miraculous stretching of the grocery budget! Today: two pieces of sprouted grain toast with almond butter-miso spread; a loaded green smoothie (romaine, kale, cucumber, apple, lemon juice, banana); a falafel pita sandwich with lots-o-veggies; some dark chocolate; a healthy “raw” bar to get me through the afternoon; green tea; a giant dinner salad with romaine, pineapple, avocado, red bell pepper, and Asian vinaigrette, with curry-cashews on top; a bit more dark chocolate (see why this is so happy-happy?). You know, I just feel so great when I eat well.

And, finally, because I have five little quizzes to take online by midnight (and I need to do the homework first) and I have lots of reading and some short-answer questions to fill out. . . and still want to get to bed at a decent hour. . . The final happy-happy?

~Hijole! I got an A+ on my Spanish test. How did that happen? If you had told me a month ago that, after being in Spanish class for less than ten days, I’d be writing a two-page essay in Spanish on a test, I would have laughed. But, along with a page of questions we had to answer, that’s what we were asked to do, and I’m just so thankful that it went well. I don’t ever feel in total command of what we’re doing for class (in fact, sometimes I feel half-panicked about it), but maybe that’s just the nature of the process of this language-learning thing. (And maybe it’s also the nature of too-perfectionistic me—something I’m truly trying to overcome!)

But, at any rate, God is good! And I’m thankful my life is full of “happy, happy”! I hope yours is, too! (And for a lot of us, it’s all about the way we choose to look at it, isn't it?)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Learning to Love the Treadmill and Killing Many Birds with One Stone. . .

Not a good picture, sorry.
I took it tonight in bad light.
But there's my study hall!

I have always shunned gyms and workout machines, but it turns out now that I have a little gym of sorts in my own house. My second bedroom. As I’ve mentioned before, I brought my son’s treadmill here to insure that I will get my daily exercise during the school year. I started out jogging on it in the early morning because a treadmill is mind-numblingly boring, and it takes less time to work out at the speed of a jog than at the speed of even a very fast-paced walk. It was jog, jog, jog, stare at the wall, stare at the wall, moving always, but getting nowhere, and time ticks more slowly on a treadmill than anywhere else in the entire world, I’m certain.

And then, to consolidate tasks and provide myself with more free time, I decided to study while working out on the treadmill. But jogging and reading doesn’t work well for me, so I began to walk and study instead. I’d start moderately and gradually build up to a very fast walk, add some steep inclines, level it back out, and walk, walk, walk while I studied. And a funny, wonderful thing happened. Time flew! And I began to remember what I studied better. And all of the endorphins, or whatever they are, from exercise gave me a serious mood lift. And I could feel myself getting in better shape. And stress was released. Wow.

I’m partly a kinesthetic learner, so, of course! This makes total sense. The treadmill is a perfect way for me to study, especially when I am reviewing and memorizing information and ideas. Now I hop on the treadmill more than once each day—sometimes several times--but I don't intend to do exercise overkill. I make sure I get one good workout on the machine, and the other times, I just walk and walk at a pace that feels good and fluid and that allows me to study easily. I can walk and study for an hour, and it seems like time has barely passed. I even really enjoy it. Again, wow.

This is fun. Forget the rocking chair. I have a treadmill!

Here's an article I found when I decided to see if others are doing what I'm doing: