Friday, December 28, 2012

A Little Announcement

Taken along my apartment driveway a few weeks ago. :-)
Just to have a photo! Kind of bleak, isn't it?
It was taken while the leaves were still falling and the days were shortening.
But now we've turned the corner.
The leaves have fallen, the days are lengthening,
and before we know it, there will be new life budding on those trees.

Well, really, this is kind of a biggish announcement. Very soon I’m going to hide from view all three of my existing blogs (High Desert Home, Gathering Up My Comforts, and My Summer Notebook), and I will start a new one. The new one will likely seem quite different from these old ones, so be ready to delete me from your reader or feed! :-)

You are welcome to copy any of my learning posts if you would like, but please do not put them up online elsewhere.

You may have gathered that I don’t seem like myself on this blog lately. That’s partly correct, but it’s also partly not. I still think about and write about the same old things that have always mattered to me, and I’ve written a number of typical posts in recent weeks, but for some reason I haven’t been able to bring myself to publish the majority of those posts.  I’m not entirely sure why. They just don't seem right for now.

You may wonder why I don't just leave my old blogs up and start a new one. I don't want to post a long explanation, but there are reasons why I think it's important to do so.

I want to continue to maintain a little online journal space, but I want and need to change my approach. I have some ideas for what I want to do in the future, but I haven’t finished thinking through those ideas, so I won’t say anything about that now. Someday soon, I will post a link and you can have a look and see if it’s something that might interest you.

I’ll say more soon,


December has flown by! Here are just a few, random highlights of the past few weeks. . .

1. Spending two weeks with my mother on the coast. More every year, my mother is my silent mentor. She doesn’t preach or dispense unsolicited advice, but I watch her, and I want to be more like her. She is an amazing, praying, loving, vibrant, Godly woman. And she’s so just dang adorable! I went to a Bible study with Mom, led by a longtime family friend who is now 86-years-old but is very young in spirit and appearance. She inspires me, too. I was blessed to grow up around some pretty amazing people.

2. Trips to the beach with my mom and my sisters. Because of very heavy, gusty rains, sometimes we simply looked out at the waves from the protection of our car at an overlook beside the jetty. Sometimes, in moments of mild weather, we walked along the sand at the ocean’s edge. And at times, we stood on the cliffs to watch the crashing waves after a storm. No matter how or from where we gazed at the ocean, it had the same affect on us that it always has—it brought a sense of awe and wonder, of God’s power and control, and of peace. My mom took us to the beach often when we were children, and we all love to go there still.

Roman made that look in about half of the photos.
On purpose. He thinks he's funny.
(That's my mother on the left.)

3. The Christmas lights at Shore Acres State Park with my family. The lights are artistically strung throughout the botanical gardens on the grounds of an old “mansion” that once stood on the adjacent seaside cliff. The Shore Acres Christmas lights have been featured in national magazines, and they get more plentiful and colorful—even gaudy—every year. It’s always fun to walk along the paths of the park; to discover new displays of lights; to step into the old, decorated gardener’s cottage for hot chocolate, cider, and cookies; all while carolers sing out news of Jesus’ love and birth from the gazebo. Before we drive away from the lights, there’s a walk to the oceanside cliffs to peer at the surf and crashing waves in the black night. The stormy sea never seems so fierce, ominous, and scary as in the dark.

4. A whole day with my good friends Laurie and Dave. There was, as always, really good coffee, great food, and spiritual encouragement. Laurie and I went for a walk in a nearby park then made a short trip to the beach to check on the waves after the previous night’s storm. The beach wind was icy, and the surf was wild.  After dinner and a bit more visiting, Laurie and Dave drove me home in a rare coastal snowfall. Laurie can’t seem to leave me empty-handed, this time sending me home with a box containing her famous applesauce; homemade raspberry jam and fudge sauce; some magazines and a wonderful, old book of stories to read; and some of the hard Christmas candy she’s been making for longer than I’ve known her. It was a great day with truly special friends.

Liya's spontaneous Christmas cheer!

The boys wanted bow ties, so Aimee made the green ones out of felt!
They wore them all evening long.

5. Christmas with my whole family at Michelle’s apartment. Michelle made the holidays very sweet and wonderful for us all: her decorations and the welcoming, festive ambience in her home; the delicious treats and food prepared for us; the pretty, well-stocked tea and hot drink tray; the generous hospitality; and so much more, added up to a wonderful time for our family. As always, I had a blast with my four grandkids. As they grow older, they get ever-smarter, funnier, and more creative. Being around them means endless stories, fun conversations, pretending (I was assigned the role of lion and monkey and a whole lot more), laughter, and hugs. And I love seeing the wonderful mothers my girls have become!

And now I am home for the first time in weeks. Aaron, Aimee, and Avery are here with me, and we have had a very nice, relaxing last two days together. Aimee and I have a lot of fun together in the kitchen, and Aaron likes benefitting from our fun! Avery (who will be two in January) is extremely verbal and very sweet and hilarious. She loves to take part in everything. Aimee brews Avery a light mug of herbal tea for babies, and she loves it. When she finishes, she holds out her cup: "More coffee please, Aimee!" Josiah will join us on New Year's Eve, so we are planning food and a little party.

I feel extremely blessed and grateful for God's gifts. The birth of Jesus, our Saviour. The sweetness and joy of a loving family. The peace of knowing that He holds us in His hands.

I hope your days have been lovely.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Stand Up!

Maybe you should read this standing up.

I think I’ve posted more than once about being a mover. I think better when I move. I don’t like to sit. I have a lot of energy, and I’ll admit I can be a bit ADD when I have to sit. When I was in elementary school, I had little rhythmic games I played with my fingers to keep me from spinning out of my little desk chair like an overwound toy. And, at the start of each recess, I went on a mad tear through every play structure on the playground and then sprinted around the entire school to vent all of my pent-up energy before I could settle down and play (like normal children) with my friends.

Now, as you know, I’m back in school. And guess how I study? Standing up. I lay my papers out on the table and counter, and when I study, I stand at the counter, shifting my weight back and forth between my legs, or else I walk around. When I’m at the computer, I sometimes use a chair, but my computer most frequently sits on the kitchen counter, and I stand in front of it.. Earlier today, I read a whole book, and I read it while I was standing. And even now, as I type this, I am standing at the kitchen counter. This is just the way it is with me. I’m not much of a sitter.

I read once about the rising popularity of treadmill desks for office workers. Because research reveals a lot of problems with being sedentary, people were looking for ways to be a bit more active while actually working. So, these office employees bought special treadmills where they could spread their work out in front of them while they walked very slowly.

I’m not arguing that I stand and therefore you should, too. But maybe standing is good for us! I ran across the following graphic earlier today. I thought it was interesting, and it made me glad that I stand up so much. I think it speaks for itself:

Sitting Is Killing You
Learn about infographics software.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday Morning Notebook

This early morning. . .

I was up early, but I didn’t make my bed like I usually do first thing every single morning because I’m going to wash my sheets today. I came into the kitchen/living room and turned on the heater and the lights of the little fake Christmas tree. It’s just a little, kitschy ceramic tree with plastic bulbs, but it does a great, cheery job, and I like it. I pulled my Stumptown coffee beans out of the cupboard, ground them fresh, and brewed a cup of coffee using a Melitta filter. Then I took my coffee into the living room for my morning quiet time.

I sat on the rocking chair in front of the heater to read my Bible. I love verse 3 on this page:

". . .nor did their right arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them." Seriously sweet.

Right now I am. . .

(Besides typing.) Sitting in the kitchen at my little green table, looking into the living room and wishing I was standing over there by the warm heater. I am sipping the last of my cold-ish coffee. I am wearing red and white Scandinavian-looking slippers, blue jeans, a super-soft grey cardigan with tiny white dots, wildly messy hair, and my reading glasses.

I am hearing. . .

The heater at work. The ticking of a clock. The fast, rhythmic tapping of keys on the keyboard. A car in the distance. Mostly, it’s pretty silent, and I that’s how I like my mornings.

In the kitchen. . .

Well, today I will be eating this for dinner. I posted about it at my HDH blog:

And I will be making this for fun (my niece and I are planning to watch another episode of Sherlock together this evening, and I can contribute treats!):

Chickpeas are soaking on the counter, where they sat overnight. I’ll cook them this morning. I use a lot of chickpeas, and I love home-cooked chickpeas so much better than canned—there’s really no comparison!

I’ve been making a quick and easy form of coconut milk. I don’t like to buy cans of coconut milk anymore because I always waste some of it, and coconut milk is expensive. I do like to use it, though, and since I had a big ziplock bag full of coconut flakes my sister gave me, I decided to make my own coconut milk. I followed a recipe from the website of a great local business, Mountain Rose herbs. The milk isn’t as thick as the canned version, but I like it. It can be used just as regular milk would be used in any recipe.

I’ve been eating a lot of cauliflower for some reason. I prefer it roasted. Roasting works magic on cauliflower, turning it into a super-delicious treat. My favorite way of roasting it is to cut thin slabs all the way across the cauliflower (whole or halved), then I rub oil on both sides and salt it. I roast it til it's nice and roasty-colored, turning the cauliflower in the middle of cooking. (Okay--on the second thought--I probably like roasted florets as well as I like the "slabs".)

I try to have dark greens and some kind of orange vegetable daily or close to it, plus I add plenty of other vegetables to my diet. And fruit. And yogurt.

For example :-), I cooked a whole gob of arugula last night:

Because I ate this for dinner from the cookbook, Plenty:

I am Reading. . . 

The other night I was online doing something for a class, and on a page I was reading, this article from the Harvard Crimson popped up. I think it feel into my lap it within moments of its being put online, and I found it really interesting. It’s a brief, light student-written opinion piece that fairly well aligns with what I think about school and elitism and a lot of things, though I would say it differently.

Oh, and of course I am reading cookbooks. Which ones? Well, here is a snapshot of what books happened to be sitting on my couch this morning:

The three cookbooks? Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, Twenty by Michael Ruhlman, and Arabesque by Claudia Roden. The other book, the non-cookbook on the pile? The Craftsman by Richard Sennett.

I started to read some Wendell Berry but the content was too akin to a class I just finished (and liked very well), and my tired brain rejected the reading. I’ll pick him up later.

Healthy life. . .

Lots of fresh air and walking.

The dark green and orange vegetables, etc., that I mentioned above.

Sleep. I’m every-so-slightly sleep-deprived, but not badly at all, and I don’t feel tired. It’s just that sleep is a very important matter to me, as I am convinced it was one of the keys to getting back my health when it was deteriorating inexplicably years ago. I’ve been trying to take brief naps whenever I can. Naps are really good for you! They correlate with better cognition, longer life, and a number of other benefits.

My plans for the day. . .

One of the lava tube caves at Lava Beds National Monument,
just across the southcentral Oregon border in California.
This is natural lighting. The caves are diverse and interesting.

I will write a paper about this place for my geology of the national parks class. It’s a place where you can explore lava tube caves that were created by flows of basaltic lava from the Medicine Lake shield volcano not far away.

The park has an interesting, tragic history. It was the scene of a war between the Modoc Indians and the United States army. The native Americans created a stronghold in the caves because they knew how to survive there, and the terrain is extremely tricky to navigate:

The unique geology of the lava bed and the Modocs' understanding of how to survive in and use that terrain were the foremost reasons the Modocs were so successful. Bleak and forbidding, the jagged, sharp lava rocks became the allies of the Modocs, who used the land against their enemy in the truest sense of guerrilla warfare.

NPS Photo. Area near Lava Beds.
Amazing and wonderful middle of nowhere.

My family lived not too far away from the Lava Beds, and we occasionally went caving there. I have fun memories of exploring the area with my really good, real-life friend, Laura, and her family. When they visited once, I wanted to take them to see the caves and the surrounding terrain because southern Oregon and northern Caliornia on the east side of the Cascade Mountains is very different from the Oregon most people imagine. It is a desert and the region where I lived is extremely barren, wide open, and sparsely populated. I truly loved that feeling of living on what felt like on the edge of nowhere. In fact, on a stop on the way to the Lava Beds with Laura’s family, Bob said something about just that—about being in the middle of nowhere—and  he added, “I’ve never seen so much nowhere in my life!”

Plans for the weekend. . .

I get to see some of my family! Michelle, Monty, and gang, and Melissa, are coming down for a day. Yay! Visiting, playing, food, fun, being together. I adore my family.

And now I’d better get to making my rice krispie treats, starting my laundry, and writing my paper. It’s the last thing I have to do this term, and then I will be freeeeeee!

Happy day to you!

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Transformative Act

A spicy sweet potato dish that I love to make.
I'd share it with you if you were here!

Well, a few of you brought up some food books you have recently read, are reading, or want to read soon, and I got all motivated to write a post because this is one of my favorite topics.

I love reading cookbooks and food books. I read food memoirs; books about global and local food issues; books about growing food; books about chefs and restaurants; books about the history of a particular food; books about fermenting and preserving foods.

Those of you who have been around me through the last few crazy years and various moves and kitchens I’ve inhabited know that, through it all, I’ve loved my cookbooks, my food, and my cooking. I used to have tall book shelves burgeoning with cookbooks, but it’s narrowed down now to three and half sad shelves. I needed to get rid of those books, but I truly miss some of them. Like old friends. That may sound a bit overstated to you, but not to me.

I think if I had to narrow down my hobbies and pick just one, it would come down to food. I have a blast reading about food and cooking and the whole world that revolves around it. I love learning about how cooking works, planning what I want to cook, and then actually doing it.

When I feel tired and drained, and I can’t read another word in a text or spend another moment in front of the computer screen, I will likely grab a cookbook and sit down to read through it. I’m not there to look at recipes only; I’m there to be transported to other places—other countries, other regions, other kitchens. And in that book, I spend time with someone else who loves doing what I love doing: knowing about food, knowing about cooking, and then doing it. And they love it so much that they had to share that love with me.

Food is one of our most fundamental needs, and it is one of our most beautiful, creative gifts. It is a gift from God to us and a gift we give to others. It brings families and friends together. Eating together routinely has such power that it keeps families closer, makes children better students and makes it far less likely that they will get into trouble or have a sense of being unmoored. Conversation over a meal is something that has many levels of impact for a lifetime, and when the meal is prepared with care and love, convivial alchemy seems to occur.

Do you think it is by happy accident that God made eating one of our fundamental needs and then gave it tremendous social and spiritual power? Have we not caught on to what God is doing when He brings us together at the table again and again? He didn’t command us to eat together with our families every night so that we will be blessed, but there is an intuitive wisdom in it, carried down through centuries and cultures of food and hospitality. Look at how the people of Israel were instructed to live regarding hospitality toward others. Sharing food is a fundamental act of love and compassion and goodwill. It is a profoundly spiritual act. We’ve lost our vision for what eating together can and should mean, in our homes and among our friends. It matters.

I’ve talked about it before, but I’ll say it again. My family (when my children were young) was part of a Friday night Bible study group. And every single Friday night, we had a potluck—a very low-key, relaxed potluck. We never made a food plan. People just brought what they wanted to bring (if they could), and we let it all fall together however things were, gave thanks, and had a memorable time of visiting and laughing over food before the study began.

We all believed that eating together created a spirit of friendship and openness, and we wanted to do that together routinely. We also knew that planning, meal themes, and assignments for what each one should bring added pressure to the affair, and we didn’t want that hanging over anyone. It wouldn’t be light and fun to have a food assignment every week.

Well, one night, my family showed up, and the teenagers were waiting on the front deck. “What did you bring?!” I laughed and said, “A little quiche?” They laughed back, “Everyone else brought dessert!” My family’s tiny quiche was the only main dish. So some of us joined together in the kitchen, laughing and joking heartily while we made tuna fish and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There were leftovers in the fridge that got heated, and we pulled together this and that. But mostly, it was a dessert potluck. It was really funny and really fun. And unforgettable.

It doesn’t matter what you have except that you have a warm, generous spirit, and a sense of humor. Food can be too serious nowadays. Too perfectionistic. We are awed by the Marthas of the world and a bit intimidated by those who emulate her well. Oh, I love a well-cooked meal, but there’s absolutely nothing better than family or a group of friends who love each other and sit together to share whatever they have, even if it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I guess that’s what I get from the type of cookbooks that are my favorites. Besides the instructions on how to cook a certain type of cuisine or food really, really well, there’s another spirit that reigns over that one. And that is to drop the perfectionism and enjoy sharing food with others. It is such a fundamental act, and it can be truly transformative. God’s gifts are like that.

(Can you tell that this post started out going one direction and took on a life of its own, going entirely somewhere else? I just went with my stream of thoughts because the topic is important to me. And I'll talk about specific favorite food/cookbooks soon!)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I'm a Pro

Above: my tree!
Below: Snowflakes in the window.
My grandma made some of them.

I’ve done it before. Locked myself out of my apartment, that is. I walked down to the natural foods store this afternoon, bought myself a few needed food items, and tramped back home in the rain, juggling two heavy bags and an umbrella. I arrived home, set the groceries on the doorstep, and reached into my bag for my keys. They weren’t there. Sigh. But I knew the routine.

I jogged over to the dumpster, grabbed the plastic recycling box meant to hold glass items, and wheeled the huge blue rolling bin behind me to the back of the apartment building. I set the big rolling bin down into the space between the sidewalk and building, turned the blue glass recycling box upside down and set it on the rolling bin. I climbed up on top, which brought me to just the right height for reaching my window.

I popped the screen out of the window with my bare hands like a pro, slid the window aside (which I strategically leave open for times like this), lifted myself up until my stomach was touching the window ledge, then flipped myself forward like a gymnast performing on the uneven parallel bars. I executed a tight, controlled, perfect, and graceful somersault onto my bed, sticking the landing (which isn’t hard to do when you land flat on your back). Whee! My finely-honed routine would have scored a 10.0 in the Olympics. (On the old scoring scale that is.)

I went back outside, put up the screen, returned the recycling bins to their proper place, and went back inside my apartment. It took me less than five minutes to do this. Like I said, I’m a pro, except that no one pays me for this routine. (They should make an action figure  of me!)

Note, added Monday a.m.--Haha! You guys are looking out for me! (in comments). Don't worry. I had the same thought as I typed yesterday. My window looks tightly shut, and only I know it isn't latched. Also, someone would have to use a ladder to reach it (or stack garbage cans). But, still, I decided to latch the thing from now on. So, thanks for your concerns. It's nice to be looked after! :-)

And now I’ll get back to work on my study guide for tomorrow’s final. Suddenly I’m really glad I bought that chocolatey thing at the store this afternoon. The house is clean and cosy, and I’m going to brew myself a nice, hot, dark cup of coffee (Stumptown Roasters Hair Bender Blend, FYI), sit down, and settle in to focus. These last days of the term are feeling somewhat relaxed, even though they’re demanding. When I can have a day at home with space to create a study rhythm, I get an awful lot done in a way that feels pleasant. Usually the days are cut up with back and forth to class, and it’s always hard for me to get on a roll then.

Oh, and, as I’ve said before, I read round and round the Bible, in order (with occasional diversions). I happen to be in Ecclesiastes right now, and I couldn’t help but smile at this verse: “Of making many books, there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” This resonated more than usual after last night, when I worked quickly back through each of five books I read for just one class. Haha.

Have a beautiful rest of your Sunday.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

But It's Like This Now

I don't really have the time to toodle around at my blog,
but I can't stand to leave the messy picture
below at the top of the page.
This isn't a particularly fetching photo,
but it does show a cleaner house!
I cleaned my kitchen that very afternoon,
and now my house looks like this again.
I was sitting in my rocking chair,
taking a break and listening to Nat King Cole
(can you tell he's my favorite?),
and the camera was beside me,
so I snapped a photo of my cleanish little abode.

Oh, hey. See that book on the couch?
I am eating my words.
Recently I said here that I think I prefer
Elizabeth David to MFK Fisher.
Well, I now retract that statement.
Instead, I’ll say that I like them both very well,
for different reasons.
David writes nice prose,
which is what makes a cookbook nice, I think,
but her focus is mainly on the act of cooking
and how to use different foods in the Mediterranean way.
Her books are nice to read.

But I randomly grabbed Fisher's Bold Knife and Fork
off the shelf today,
opened the book to an essay about eggs
(which happened to be coincidental
with what I have been thinking lately
about why I am willing to spend $6
on a dozen truly free range, truly organic eggs).
And MFK Fisher's writing won me over again.
Her books are the reverse David’s.
Fisher writes light-hearted,
philosophical contemplations about food,
but she also offers recipes,
and I can’t say I prefer any food writing more than this!
So Bold Knife and Fork goes back on my nightstand once again.

Other good cookery writers?
Laurie Colwin, Nigel Slater, Alford and Duguid,
and a bunch of others.
Do you read cookbooks for fun, too?

Be back soon--I'm in the throes of finals!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The True State of Things

There's my beat-up old kitchen 
in all of its messy glory. Yikes, huh?
I don't think I've ever made such a big mess!
Oh, and a happy little note:
My photo-teacher told me to stop by
her office today, and she handed me the camera
that I turned in yesterday and told me to
enjoy it over the holiday!

In the early days of blogs and internet fun,
the Flylady used to say, “Make your sink shine!”
That was how she got us to jump-start
the domino effect of order
that would theoretically take over the house.
I thought of the Flylady today when I gave my messy kitchen a glance.
Wow! What happened in there?!
I usually keep a tidy place and feel unsettled in a mess,
but when I get super-focused on stuff that must be done,
I go blind to what is around me,
and I hardly notice that chaos is mounting.
But now I can see again,
and remembering Flylady’s nudgings from the past,
if I can find my sink when I return home from my next class,
I will make it shine!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What's the Hurry?

Taken yesterday.
You can't tell very well, but the lamp was on
in the middle of the afternoon on that dark part of campus.
(Click and you can tell. And photos are always better when you click ya know!)
I have to turn this camera in tomorrow
(it was given me to use for Geological Photography class).
My old one is broken, so I don't know what I'll do now.
It's no fun blogging without pictures.
So, maybe I'll recycle some or look through files
for photos I haven't yet used. (There are a lot of recent ones.)

I had to do a lot of walking today. A lot.
A mile to here. A mile to there.
Then back over here. Then home.
Then another mile to this place.
Yet another mile to class.
Then home to stay at last.
That’s how it went today.
And all of that walking takes a lot of time.

At one point in the day, I thought,
“I have two finals to study for!
I don’t have time for all of this walking today.”
And I started ripping down the street
with steely-minded focus on my next destination.
Then I decided that this is no way to live my life
(life is made up of its minutes, after all, even if
those minutes take place walking to get somewhere).

So, I slowed down and looked around.
I got thankful, and to steal that old, tired cliché—
I focused on the journey and not the destination.
Like this:

I really do live in a pleasant neighborhood.
I’m getting lots of exercise!
It’s lovely walking across our picturesque campus.
The damp-sharp, crisp air feels lovely, too,
when bundled up warmly and walking briskly.

While walking, I occasionally see
one of those sweet late-autumn trees—
those little trees that are entirely barren
except for just a handful of earnest, colorful leaves
spaced evenly around their branches.
The leaves might cling, and I appreciate them,
but it’s inevitable—their life-season is ending.
And that’s the way it goes, right?
But while we’re in the space God put us,
we really should do our thing with all of our colorful might.
Like those bright little leaves.

Just had to remove something that was here
when I originally posted.
Some of you already read it.
But it just seemed too braggy!
Which is not okay. :-))
But it ended with this:
Encourage someone today. Every day!
You really don’t know how much they might need it.

And now, it's time to study for tomorrow morning's final!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunny, Chilly Day

Here are some pictures I took this afternoon.
I wrote a bit of text down below.
So scroll on down if you want.

It’s almost December, and even when the sun shines, the air is not warm. When I walked to class this morning, the sharp chill penetrated even my down jacket.

After class, lunch with my nephew, lab, a meeting with a student about a presentation, and a visit to a professor’s office, I walked home slowly, enjoying the blue sky, sunshine, and crisp air.

As usual, I walked through the cemetery, and it was so lovely and peaceful there that I decided to drop my books at home and return for a slow stroll.

I grabbed my camera on the way out the door, and I walked back to the cemetery on campus. I didn’t take many pictures. Mostly, I just sauntered around, happy to be outside, and happy to let my brain have a rest from its work.

Except for a few students rushing through on their way to class or back home, I had the place to myself. A lot of people sit there in warm months, but not now.

Many of the trees on campus are bare, leaves disappearing into the ground. Other trees are just beginning to color. But it’s beautiful everywhere, especially when the sun shines.

I’m back at my messy house now, listening to Christmas music as I type. I’m going to do some cleaning and heat up my leftover coconut curry butternut squash and eat it with rice. Yay for leftovers!

And then more studying.

I’m thankful today for sunshine, chocolate, and leftovers. I’m thankful for autumn colors and crisp air. I’m thankful for a warm jacket. I’m thankful for my nephew who is so much fun to visit. I’m thankful for nice people in my classes. I’m thankful for beauty and peace. I’m thankful that God loves me and knows the plans He has for me.

And I'm thankful for every one of you who reads here. Have a lovely rest of your day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Looking for Jesus

There were years when I read The Hundred Dollar Christmas to remind myself to focus on what matters: Less commercialism, more love. Less spending, more making. Less rushing, more time with family. A shorter gift list, a shorter to-do list, a shorter list of activities. More Jesus.

There’s something almost romantic about having much but choosing to spend little so that we can focus on the real meaning of the season and give away our excess. But sometimes, a far-less-than-hundred-dollar-Christmas might be the reality of our current means. Now, a simple Christmas is not something we romantically choose to do, but it is something that is required of us.

I was talking with my son recently about something, and he said, “You just have to do the best you can with what you have, Mom, just like you always say.”

Yes, I do always say that. And yes it is true. “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2). What has God given me today? This is what I have to use and to give.

I pull out the two or three small boxes of Christmas things that are stacked in the back of my closet. I’ve only saved a fraction of what I had before, and as I unwrap it all, I’m glad to see that I kept what is most meaningful to me: Some special things the kids made. A couple of ornaments that belonged to my grandmother. A too-big vintage table cloth. And some other things, but not much else.

Nothing I have is beautiful for others to see when they walk in my door. As I set things out and tack things up, I’m struck how ugly the walls are and how harshly the natural winter light falls into my apartment. Everything I’m setting out looks tinny to me, the placement contrived. It’s going to be hard to create “magic,” I think.

Wait. What are you going for, I ask myself? Now is the time to remember that a beautiful life and a beautiful celebration can’t be bought. It is not a matter of decorations; it is a matter of the spirit.

I think of Christmases when I was a young girl. My family was not well-off, but my mother created a special ambience in our home, and the magic was always centered on the gift of Jesus at Christmas. Mom did the decorations well, too, but thinking back, it wasn’t the stuff of magazines. Everything was festive and homey and utterly charming, but Mom created our environment with what was in her hand, and it wasn’t always much.

And not much felt more magical than going to Grammy and Grampy’s house on Christmas morning. The wood stove rumbled heat cozily through the house, women bustled in the kitchen, a small lighted tree sat on a living room side table, decorated with Grammy’s same old ornaments year after year. A dish of hard, old-fashioned Christmas candy was in a dish beside the tree. And there were stockings on the mantle and a few gifts waiting to be opened.

What was wonderful about those Christmases past was the tradition—the family together, the laughter, the games, that sense of wonder that comes so naturally to children. The celebration was the same every single year. The focus was not gifts or decorations. In fact, Grammy was not much of a decorator at all. But there was a spirit of love, welcome, warmth, joy, and anticipation that permeated the house, and to a child, that feels like magic.

Isn’t that what Christmas is about? Anticipation? Anticipating the birth of our Saviour? The celebration we set up is a tangible reminder of that. The advent readings and calender, the decorations, the waiting, the wonder of the gifts and the giving, and the meal—it can all help us to focus our hearts and minds on how wonderful is the coming of our Savior. 

So, where is my heart? Am I going to be distracted by the ugly natural lighting and walls of my living room and my quirky, decidedly unbeautiful decorations? Or will I let my heart fill with a sense of the anticipation and joy of the season?

I turn on the living room lamps and start the Christmas music. Singing along with Nat King Cole, "Oh night divine, when Christ was born. .  . ," I tidy the room. I hang up a few of the Christmas calenders Lissy made me year after year during her childhood—all open to the December page. I find a little bag of paper snowflakes my children cut to hang in the windows of our high desert home, and I tack a few of them to the mirror. This is not a beautiful decoration, but it is so sweet to my heart. I am eager to resume work on the homemade gift I have in mind for my children. It won’t be impressive, but it will be made with love. I pull out my advent reader and set it with my Bible.

I begin to look for Jesus. And suddenly everything looks different.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Family Thanksgiving!

We're all here at Michelle's house,
except for Melissa (miss you, Lissy!).
And this (the scene in the photo) is the norm for Aaron.
He is a kid-magnet,
and always has been since he was a kid himself.
He sat himself on the floor,
and this happened spontaneously.
So I took a picture.
Aimee is making cornbread-sausage stuffing
in the kitchen, chatting with Michelle
as Michelle putters around keeping order.
It's a happy family day, and I am thankful.
With Josiah and Monty here, too,
there's lots of nice conversation and fun.
We've read stories, read about birds
and watched them off the back deck,
and we're eating lots of really good food!
I hope your day will be special as you acknowledge
God's blessings and His loving care in your life.
Happy Thanksgiving!

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good,
His love endures forever."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We are so very blessed

It doesn't seem a fitting picture, does it?
But I used this conglomerate-photo in a Spanish project last year, so it was on hand.
And these are some of the things I'm most thankful for.
Me climbing a mountain: my health and strength and enjoyment of nature.
One of our high desert home dinners: blackened salmon tacos. So very thankful for food.
Grandma Me with 2-hour-old Liya and proud big brother: I am so blessed.
(And every baby should be adored and well-fed.)

I cried in class today. I couldn’t help it, and I was the only one, too. We were watching a film called Hungry for Profit, made in 1985, about agri-business. We saw images of the rich of Brazil—their cars, their yachts, their leisure activities—in the cities contrasted with Brazilian babies in hospital beds, some crying, some too weak to cry, all of them malnourished to the point of death. I so badly wanted to be there so that I could, in turn, pick up each baby and let them feel human warmth, touch, love. And do that all day every day. (And I would cry my eyes out all day every day.)

A doctor in the film picked up a baby, very machine-like (I suppose one might have to develop a thick skin? Or maybe she was simply trying to be business-like in front of the camera.) and began to describe the baby’s condition. The skin was hanging on the arms. The face was gaunt, but the baby was precious. And, we were told, the baby died four days later. My son was a newborn baby that year. I watched mothers hold starving babies they couldn’t feed, and my heart hurt. I tried so hard to hold back the tears, but I couldn’t. Silently, they rolled down my contorted face. My young student friends looked at me warmly. Typing this makes me cry again.

More than 20,000 children around the world died today of hunger-related causes. And almost a billion people are hungry, some of them in my community. Whatever you believe about the politics of movies like Hungry for Profit or social justice or anything else, hunger is our problem.

The children are on my mind. If I lived across the street from the hospital where those babies were dying and I didn’t respond or change my behavior in whatever way I could, if I didn’t do what was in my power to do, it would be criminal and shameful. But that is essentially what I am doing as I sit here day after day, too much focus on my own little life, and studying and snacking and eating too much and debating whether or not I should bake cookies—the deciding factor being whether or not I need to eat them. I am not condemning eating and making home and having fun, but I am praying about what God wants from me. No excuses. No explanations.

I’m not trying to pluck at your heartstrings or make you feel guilty, either. Not at all. You know what God has put on your heart. Do that thing. I’m just sharing my own heart today. While I eat my Thanksgiving feast this week, I will rejoice and thank the Lord. I will enjoy my family and count my many blessings! But, inside, I will also be thinking about this. And praying about what I can do now, while I am where I am.

Happy, blessed Thanksgiving, friends!
I'm thankful for each of you who read here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy, Happy

Awhile back, I was out walking with my umbrella.
Fall colors were beautiful, even in the rain.
I had my camera, so I snapped some pictures with one hand
while holding the umbrella with the other.
Hence, the wonky photos
and the visible edge of the umbrella at the top of the photo.

In the spirit of JayJay, my now 5-year-old grandson:

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.
(From my High Desert Home Blog, when JayJay was littler.)

1. Blustery, blustery day. Inside out umbrella day. Warm and wet. I love this weather. It reminds me of my childhood, growing up on the coast, with wild winter winds and rains and everything cosy in my family’s home with the woodstove going. I grew up with a mother who loves a raging storm—the more raging, the better—and on the coast there are usually a number of them every winter. If the power went off during one of those storms, my mom made a party of it. With the wood stove we were never cold, and we could always make hot chocolate! And we did. We lived by candlelight when there was no electricity, which is magical to a child. My mother’s exuberance about rainstorms rubbed off on all of her children. To this day, not much seems cosier to me than being inside while the wind howls and rain lashes at the windows. Or even when it’s just grey and blustery and a little bit wet like today.

2. Second cup of coffee. When it’s grey and windy outside, and it’s so dark inside that you need to turn on the lights, and it’s time to sit and study and write, a second cup of coffee is just the thing. Really lovely.

3. The writing of cookbook author Elizabeth David. I’ll take her over MFK Fisher! There’s something warm, clear, good, and unpretentious about David, and the way she writes about Mediterranean cooking inspires me.

Okay, not the greatest photo (!), but oh well.
Elizabeth David and The Olive and the Caper on top.

4. More cuisine. I like basic Greek food. I eat very simply and frugally, but I make sure to eat certain things daily or routinely. Yogurt with applesauce (usually fresh-made raw) or honey and cinnamon, dark greens, yellow/orange vegetables, legumes, etc., and I realized that some of the things I cook are traditional Greek dishes. So I pulled out my old cookbook, The Olive and the Caper, and I’ve really been enjoying reading through it and modifying recipes. Last night I made horta from the book and ate it with my sweet potato puree. It was super delicious together—the edgy dark greens with salty kalamata and tangy lemon juice with garlicky sweet potato puree.

5. This just goes right along with my Mediterranean/Greek kick. I love this article in the New York Times. The diet stuff is really interesting, but it’s the lifestyle I love most. Their values are mine. As much as possible, I avoid being tyrannized by clock time, and I refuse to rush and get busy. See how they value true community (and not simply networks or gathering at scheduled times with groups we are part of) much, much more than any other part of life? This is so very important!

6. Dark chocolate. I don’t always have it around, but today there’s Green & Black’s 85%. If I buy it that dark, I’m not tempted to eat more than I should all at once.

Just a random picture since I mentioned "students" in item #7.
I had to walk through this building the other day
to get to a vantage point to take a photo for a class.
(This was not the photo I took. I just liked the view so snapped it.)
I like this place. It has interesting light and architecture.
It's the physics building.

7. Some of the young students I know. They are just really sweet, quality kids. There’s an awful lot of silliness at the university—students, teachers, courses, homework—but there is the other side, too, with all of those elements. Some students amaze me with their maturity and kindness, their openness and friendliness, and their really fascinating interests and hobbies. I seem to connect with the ones who love nature and the outdoors. I just adore some of these kids.

8. Music coming through my wall. A grad student lives next door, and her boyfriend is a violist. He practices at her apartment sometimes, and his music is soooo beautiful. I just sit here at the table beside our common wall, stop typing, and just listen and enjoy.

Just sticking this in here to show you
what Michelle made for Liya.
Sweet quilt, sweet girl, sweet Mama!

9. My mother. She’s awesome. She never fails to make the cut. November 13th ould have been the 58th wedding anniversary of my mom and dad, but four years ago (at the end of November), my dad died unexpectedly. It’s still hard. I wrote something recently about my mom and dad and their relationship. I think I will post it here soon, but I am trying to get a little video of them (when they were first married) set up to add to the post (they were adorable!) first. Praying for my mom today and during all of these now-bittersweet end of the year celebrations and milestones.

10. Homemade Gravenstein applesauce on plain yogurt. Oh, my goodness. This is so delicious. My really long-time, special friend, Laurie, makes the best applesauce in the world. It is perfection. (Everything she makes is perfection, actually.) I served yogurt with this applesauce to my grandkids last Saturday, and it’s all they wanted to eat for the rest of the day. Roman told me, “Grandma Susy, tell your friend that her applesauce is soooooo good! I love it.”

Liya draws. They all love to draw.

Jayden drew me this lion and tiger when he was here.
they are hanging on my fridge.
Love them!

Jayjay eats. They all love to eat.

Roman in his "Oregon"clothes.
Too bad about Saturday's game.
No longer #1 in the nation.

11. Holidays! Yippee! Last class is over tomorrow at 3:20, and then I’m headed north to Michelle’s and Monty’s, where our family will gather for Thanksgiving. Four or five days with my children and grandchildren, and my wonderful sons-in-law! (Too bad I have to write a paper and study for a big exam, too. . . )

Thankful! God is good!
And now back to writing my paper that is due tomorrow. . . 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Day of Small Things

A recent rainy walk in my neighborhood.
The leaves are starting to really drop now.

I was just looking through my Word files for something that might help me with a paper I have to write, and I stumbled across this little piece of writing. It's a rough draft for something that I ended up not using. Reading this, I was struck by how really foundational and sweet this very situation was in my life in those early years with children and how fundamental it remains even now. It was, and is, the way I aim to live my days and my life.

“Who despises the day of small things?”
Zechariah 4: 10

My eyes were heavy, and I would have loved more sleep, but I couldn’t help but smile when I awoke to Michelle’s usual happy chatter.  She beamed at me as I lifted her from her crib, and I beamed back, kissing her cheek. But I carried her downstairs half-distracted, my heart stirring over middle of the night thoughts that had kept me awake.

A growing awareness of the blessings and profound responsibilities of motherhood had me praying fervently for my girls, and I asked God to give me clear mothering vision. As I prayed that night, my thoughts returned again and again to the importance of small daily acts—those little things that sometimes seem insignificant but eventually make up a life.

I strapped Michelle into her high chair that autumn morning in our English kitchen, and she chatted at me amiably. I returned her chatter while continuing to think and pray. Did my intense middle-of-the-night thoughts really reflect God’s mind for me as a mother? Was it true that the ordinary things I did every day—diaper changing, housekeeping, story-reading—were charged with unrealized meaning and power when they were done with love? Would God really transform my meager efforts into something beautiful in the hearts of my children? Could He use my imperfect offerings of love to reveal His perfect love to my girls? Could the ordinary, mundane work of motherhood really be this eternally profound?

Sunlight streamed through the kitchen window and spilled across the stove. I stirred our breakfast porridge and remembered 16th century monk, Brother Lawrence. His daily work was kitchen work, but he considered it his spiritual work. He said he didn't need big things to do—he turned his little omelet in the pan for the love of God. It was an act of worship.

My own quotidian routines could be worship, too. So, that morning, I cooked porridge for the love of Michelle and for the love of the Lord. I believed that He really would make even this fleeting earthly act something that mattered for eternity in my child’s heart. And also in mine.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Family Day

This morning.
Quiet. Clean. Peaceful. Alone.

This afternoon.
Noisy. Messy. Exuberant. Together.
(Both are a blessing, but guess which I prefer?)