Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Smoothies and Mom Toys

My recipe for pink smoothies, which I posted w-a-y back in 2006, when I first started blogging, has served us well. I still make smoothies several times a week, an excuse to call the troops together for a break and a few moments of conversation. They are refreshing when the weather is hot, and when winter comes we enjoy them in front of the fire. A couple of things have changed:  4-oz. smoothies are no longer large enough for teens! I buy yogurt by the quart in order to accommodate. The other thing that has changed is that I now have a "Mom toy" for garnishing the smoothies with real whipped cream. The kids bought a whipped cream dispenser for me for Christmas a few years ago and it is fun to use.

Often we think of family traditions as they relate to holidays and birthdays, but the little rituals woven into our daily routines contribute so much color and strength to the fabric of our lives. I treasure the fleeting moments I have with my young adults and find that the time I spend in the kitchen, whether it is to prepare a meal or a smoothie, is one of the best tools in my arsenal for creating an atmosphere of togetherness.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Like the savory smells that linger in the kitchen after Thanksgiving Day, the memory of a lovely Thanksgiving feast leaves a residual glow in the heart. There are many pieces to the mosaic:

  • The sparkle of fine crystal and the patina of well-loved silver
  • Mom's tangy-tart cranberry sauce
  • A pause for praise, offered from honest lips
  • Lighthearted word-play over a game of Apples-to-Apples
  • Grazing on leftovers in the evening, while perusing a fat newspaper
  • A bedtime meditation and prayer

I like best to celebrate Thanksgiving in my own home. Even during the years when we traveled 3 hours to be with family, we rose early to host a Thanksgiving breakfast in our home for the waifs and wanderers who found their way to our table: A Japanese student. A young military man. An aspiring rock star. The elderly widow. A middle aged divorcee...Some guests have faded from memory and others have become "regulars"at our table.

The food on the table might be traditional...or not. This year I carefully roasted the turkey using Cook's Illustrated instructions and I tried a new recipe for fennel stuffing (a keeper!)  But other years we've had quiche, pumpkin soup, stuffed pork loin, or grilled sirloin. No pumpkin pie because I cannot make good pie crust, but a pumpkin cream cheese cake roll or a marbled cheesecake will make a worthy stand-in.

Recalling my Grandmother's feasts, I might try to duplicate her famous spanish rice. Somehow, I can't pass a Thanksgiving holiday without thinking of her! Oh, she took this holiday seriously. There were l-o-n-g tables set up in her basement, enough to accommodate all of my aunts and uncles and cousins. Together we sang the "Doxology" before digging in. Sometimes there would be a goose alongside the platter of turkey--seems that dark meat was more popular back then!

I am grateful that God has blessed me to be able to hang yet one more happy vignette in my museum of memories. What a joy to have such a holiday in our heritage, one that links us to past generations and yet extends outward to enfold orphans, widows, and strangers.

Blest be the tie that binds,
Our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Soul of an Artist

nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes we know a person in just one dimension, and when we learn something new about them we are inspired and enriched. My hairdresser, whom I will call "Naomi", recently invited me to peek inside her art studio (a.k.a. a "kitchen" but that is of secondary importance to her). On the wall, on the easel, everywhere I looked I saw oil paintings of rich depth and complexity: landscapes, people, still lifes.  I marveled at her talent and the story behind it.

Noami had desired to paint all of her life, but with a half-dozen children and a career she didn't have the time to pursue it. It was one of those unfulfilled dreams, and at the age of 56 she figured it wasn't practical to consider starting a new hobby.

Enter a 90-year-old customer, who came in for a haircut and style. This lady was an accomplished artist and she encouraged Naomi to "GO FOR IT!"

"But I am 56 years old! What could I possibly accomplish now? Isn't it too late for me to become proficient as an artist?"

The elderly artist replied, "No. I began when I was 60."

That encouragement started Naomi on the path to a new passion. She bought video lessons and after the beauty shop was swept clean and the doors locked, she painted. She painted 7 to 8 hours, oblivious of the time. "It seemed but a few minutes," she recalls.

Within 90 days, she sold her first oil painting.  By the end of the year, she had sold nearly half of the 80+ works that she created.

It wasn't long before Naomi graduated from video lessons to receiving instruction from master artists. Her way is to learn all she can from a given teacher and then move on. A decade later, she is still reaching higher, pursuing a greater level of artistic achievement.

Her next dream? Remodel that kitchen so as to accommodate her art paraphernalia and to convert it to a bona fide studio. 

Meanwhile, she paints. She makes do with the space she has and dreams of a better studio do not rob her of the joy of painting now.

She paints alone. Sometimes she also enjoys the comfortable camaraderie of other artists when she sets up her easel at a local art studio.

I loved lingering after my hair appointment to see Naomi's studio and to listen to her story. So many of us have secret dreams that lay dormant in the heart. We never know when the conditions might converge to awaken that seed to sprout forth to life. Old age holds no fear to the one who can realize that THIS season may just provide the fertile ground for a new interest to flourish.

C.S. Lewis wisely expressed it this way:

"You are never too old
to set another goal
to dream a new dream."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cheese, Qualified

Free Photo of White Cheddar Cheese. Click Here to Get Free Images at Clipart Guide.com

"...he sat sadly consuming that impassive pale substance known to the English as 'cheese' unqualified (for there are cheeses which go openly by their names, as Stilton, Camembert, Gruyere, Wensleydale or Gorgonzola, but 'cheese' is cheese and everywhere the same)..."
                                           Dorothy Sayers- Whose Body?

I have 10 days left of my summer break, and I am only just now getting the chance to dive into the reading I wanted to do. Oh my, I am enjoying Dorothy Sayers!

Don't you just love this quote about the cheese?  I'm familiar with all of them except the Wensleydale.  I find it interesting that her words were written in the 1920's and the cheeses have maintained their original identities nearly a century later.  Here is a little run-down on the "qualified cheeses" she mentions:

*Stilton- think blue cheese. By law, it must be produced in one of three English counties to earn the name.

*Camembert- a soft French cheese made of cows' milk.  Its name comes from the mold, penicillium camemberti used in the ripening process.

*Gruyere- sweet, a little salty, with a grainy mouth feel. Named for a town in Switzerland, it is the familiar swiss cheese we love to use in quiche and fondues.

*Wensleydale- new to me, but my internet search tells me it is still widely loved and popular. First made by the monks in the Roquefort region of France, it is crumbly, moist, and can be made from the milk of either cows or ewes. "Roquefort" salad dressing is familiar to me and gives a clue that it is a cousin to the Stilton blue cheese.

*Gorgonzola- bearing the name of the Italian town of Gorgonzola, this cheese is often associated with pasta or pizza. Pungent and crumbly, it is another member of the blue cheese family.

My husband and I drove through cheese country (Wisconsin), on our honeymoon. We took the uncharted back roads, happening upon wonderful dairy farms by serendipity. Every day we feasted upon an assortment of cheeses and french bread and 34 years later I can still conjure up the pleasure. I have often wondered if those family operations still exist, or have the big corporations swallowed them all up?

What is your favorite cheese?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Art for Memorial Day

Dodges Ridge by Andrew Wyeth (1947)

Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.

Billy Graham

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Trash 'n' Treasure

I'll be honest and tell you I DO NOT BRAKE FOR GARAGE SALES.  In fact, I dislike them because it all appears to my eye as so much junk, which I need like a hole in the head.

However, today I was a captive audience because all four of my kids were helping with a garage sale to raise funds for a summer trip. OK, I will sheepishly admit I came home with a bag of, ahem, treasures BUT I am pleased to tell you I got rid of more than I gained :)

Would you like to peek into my bag?

  • half a dozen pretty padded clothes hangers
  • a box of flexible drinking straws for smoothies
  • a white Corelle serving bowl
  • hanging shoe organizer
  • a brand new mandoline slicer
  • pretty bows for wrapping packages
  • new shelf lining paper
  • a partridge in a pear tree (naw...just makin' sure you're still listening)
That's quite a lot of treasure for $10.00 !!

Friday, May 06, 2011

My Mother's Day Story

Everyone has a story worth telling. Here is mine. If you know me, you have heard this story. I will never tire of telling it.

The first 8 years of my marriage I was engaged in career and church-planting in partnership with my husband. Starting a family was on the back burner.

But somewhere in that 8th year, the longing for children emerged. Why wasn't it happening?

Medical tests revealed no problems. As we consulted with physicians regarding our options, it became apparent that continuing on the path of medical intervention would require us to center our lives totally around the goal of having a baby. It would demand both our money and our time. It didn't feel right. We decided to stop medical procedures and just wait on God.

We prayed. We relinquished our desires to God. We hoped.

I made the personal decision during those years to live a fruitful life regardless of whether or not God chose to grant my request for a child. But emotions sometimes run counter to the decisions of the will. Before coming to a state of peace and restful acceptance, I would struggle through tears and entreaties. Scripture brought great hope, but the hope seemed to be dashed monthly. Then the emotional cycle would start over.

As time passed, my emotions stabilized and then I would think, "I have conquered this thing." But occasionally the wound would be reopened, like when I visited new mothers in the hospital, or when a circular would arrive in the mail advertising maternity clothes. Then the grief was fresh in me again.

This phase of life lasted about 7 years. Toward the end of that time, we decided to attend a seminar for people wishing to adopt children. As the date of the seminar neared, my husband uncharacteristically changed his mind about going. There was a pressing ministry concern that he felt took precedence. I was crushed and very, very angry.

The same week of the seminar, as I was delivering meals-on-wheels to an elderly client, the woman greeted me with excitement. "I had a dream about you last night!" she said eagerly, "I dreamed you were pregnant!" I was a little taken back by this. I barely knew this woman. She was foul-mouthed and had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. Not anything like the Gabriel that presented Mary with her good news! But like Mary, I pondered these things in my heart.

Another out-of-the-ordinary event happened a little later. We hosted a small gathering of believers in our home to listen to a missions report from Bulgaria. Pretty routine stuff for a ministry couple. But my heart was pierced. As I viewed the pictures of sweet little Bulgarian children attentively listening to the gospel message, I knew I had to go. If I couldn't have my own children, I would go to these and share my love with them.

My husband was in absolute oneness with me on this.. He had the same strong urging to go. We immediately began preparing for our first mission trip: passports, applications, training, videos, etc.

And then the day came for the required medical exam and immunizations. As I answered the routine questions that were a part of the exam, it became apparent that my cycle was askew. Would it be OK if they did a pregnancy test? I explained that I had been infertile for 15 years, but if they needed to do a test, fine.

The test was positive. At the age of 36, after 15 years of marriage, I was going to have a baby.

I laughed all the way home from the clinic; but the minute I walked through my front door into my husband's arms I dissolved into tears. Could such a gift truly be ours? It seemed surreal.

Our God is a super-abundant God. He blessed us with four children in quick succession between the years of 1993 and 1999 .

"He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord." Psalm 113:9

Book Review: Brother Bosch, an Airman's Escape from Germany

 Photographic Print: Robert Hunt

"Brother Bosch", an Airman's Escape from Germany", was a free e-book I downloaded on a whim. My knowledge of WWI is shallow, so shallow in fact that I did not realize that the reference to "Bosch" in the title was a derogatory term used by the British to describe the Germans. "Bosch" or, alternately, "Boche", is a slang word from the French. Loosely translated it means "head" or "cabbage", and so came to be associated with the idea of pig-headedness or stubbornness. Thus, when the Brits desired to put the "kibosh" on the enemy, it meant they desired to stop or squelch them.

I love learning history via first-person accounts, and Gerald Featherstone Knight has an exciting story to tell. He is winsome in the telling, somehow managing to make the adventure a huge romp rather than a grim war story. By turns, he is both humble and proud. Humble, when recounting his own feats relating to his escape from a German prison camp, but proud when speaking of his English heritage. He has a very obvious sense of superiority over the Germans, often expressed humorously:

"..we reached Hanover and were marched off through some of the main streets to an unknown destination. The town is all right; it is the people that spoil it."

"The Germans put an illuminated Christmas tree in the dining hall, but unfortunately counteracted their display of good feeling by decorating the large portraits of the Kaiser and Hindenburg, who stared down at us from the walls and quite spoilt our already nasty food."

As you might ascertain from those quotes, the humour is typically British: subtle sarcasm that "jabs" the enemy. I am quite sure that Mr. Knight's humour just might have been his saving grace, being one of the weapons in his arsenal to keep despair at bay and ultimately deliver him mentally unscathed in spite of harrowing circumstances.

The author's prison camp escape required a long journey, mostly traveling by night and hiding in the daylight. He swam canals, took refuge in hay stacks, endured the elements, and suffered privation. Here he gives the recipe for eating the last of his rations:

"I sat down and dissolved my last Oxo cube in a mug of cold, greenish canal water. The meal is prepared as follows: First suck your middle finger until it tastes clean, then stir the Oxo until it is dissolved (this usually takes about half an hour). Before drinking the concoction it is necessary to remove any dead fishes that may be floating on the surface, and also make certain that none of the Oxo is wasted by remaining underneath the finger nails."

Ultimately, his surreptitious journey and its accompanying miseries ended when he crossed safely into Holland. In the final account, he gives a nod to God's role in his escape, but even God does not escape his humour:

"Of all my escapes this was the most inexplicable. To what was it due? Certainly not to my own initiative alone. Man's extremity is indeed God's opportunity. Supreme in the world of red tape, far above the ken of misguided mortals, lives an omnipotent being--the Censor. In imagination, he sits in a huge armchair, wreathed in tobacco smoke, casually sorting, from piles of manuscript, the sheep from the goats. The former are destined to be smothered in official stamps and coloured inks, while the latter are cast ignominiously into the gigantic waste-paper basket. Though this little sheep, in particular, may have a little of its wool shorn off, I trust that it may eventually avoid the rubbish heap."

I suspect the sensibilities of some modern readers might be offended by Knight's racial superiority, but if you can forgive that fault you are in for a interesting read. This is a short memoir, less than 100 pages. It is a human adventure story that merits the time it takes to read it.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hum or Hurry?

I found myself happily humming aloud the other day as I ambled through the grocery store. It caught me by surprise. I rarely amble through any store, grocery or otherwise--seems I'm always in a rush. Did my laid-back attitude give rise to the music in my heart?

I love to sing and dance in the kitchen (much to the embarrassment of my teenagers).  I'm pretty sure God likes the music I belt out when I'm driving, and I've been known to whistle while I do housework.  But hum?  Not so often.

Humming triggers in me the memory of my Mother-in-law.  The first time I met her, she was humming as she peeled a sink full of potatoes.  She was leisurely carving potato-peel spirals with a sharp paring knife, humming away like crazy as she worked.

We exchanged some niceties, and I asked if I could help her. " Do you use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife?"

"A vegetable peeler, please."

She was the tortoise, I was the hare.  I can peel vegetables at lightning speed, owing to my year of college culinary experience. My pile of potato peels towered over her pretty spirals. Momentarily she stopped to ejaculate, "My!!"

But she was a rock.  My pace affected hers not one iota. She just kept right on leisurely carving pretty spirals and humming.

In retrospect, three elements of that encounter perfectly showcased her personality :  the potato salad--her signature dish, her slow and leisurely pace, and the happy humming which seemed as natural as breathing for her.

My grocery store humming was an epiphany of sorts:  I simply cannot hurry and hum at the same time.  From now on, I'd like to be mindful about leisurely ambling through the supermarket. Maybe I'll even hone the fine art of carving pretty potato-peel spirals with a sharp paring knife, because it would be a very nice thing if someday, I were to be remembered as the lady who hummed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Lost Stradivarius

This was the first book I read on my new e-reader, and the dictionary-at-my-fingertips feature was much used and appreciated. It is written in elegant Victorian -era English. The book is billed as a ghost story or a horror story, but I would categorize it more along the lines of a mystery. Victorian horror stories bear no resemblance to the modern horror genre !

An English gentleman finds a fine Stradivarius violin,  along with the diary of its former owner, hidden in a secret cupboard. He becomes obsessed with duplicating the music and lifestyle of the past owner, even to the point of being snagged into the Neo-Platonistic and pagan philosophies that he practiced. Sadly, this constituted the demise of the new owner, from which he never recovered. There was no "happily ever after" but yet there was a satisfying conclusion that drew meaning from sordid events.

This is a short book, with well drawn characters and a moral point. The point is that music has power over the human spirit, and as such can be an instrument to lead one into temptation.

I had never heard of this book or its author; I downloaded it as a freebie because I liked the evocative title. It was a little gem of a find and I have now scouted out 2 other titles by  this author that I plan to read.

View all my reviews