Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Field

Earlier this evening a dear friend prayed for me and I knelt beneath the comfort and assurance of our place before the throne.  I love being there; what an honor it is to lift one another up to the Lord with our thanks-giving and requests.  Within her words of grace, I was made mindful of the fact as she so sweetly put it, "We do not reap in the season we sow."   I am in a challenging season of field work at present, and it is taking all my energies of time and resources to press devotedly into the task before me.

The photo for this post is taken from the wallpaper currently on my computer.  The scripture is John 16:33.

I have told you these things,
So that in Me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble
But take heart!
He tells me....

I looked intently at the field in this picture tonight.  Light and shadows played against one another, the blades of grain separated into individual stalks with pale golden heads and green blades bent delicately, dark ruts and grey pebbles in the nearby road sharpened into focus.  I am here; I am sowing and sweating, and in due time and season the harvest will be reaped.

I have put off setting aside my blog.  It has been such a personal joy, and sometimes its just plain hard to let go of something we love and find fulfilling.  But the field in which I am currently called to work requires my full attention and holds a higher place of priority and so I have peace.  Not just any peace, but His peace.

Thank you for reading.  This has truly blessed me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wedded Bliss

Pardon me my sentimental beginning and brevity.  

Twenty-seven years ago, I married my best friend.  Less than a year later we welcomed our first child.  Last month we saw him wed to one who I am honored to now call daughter.  I am richly blessed.

“He is the half part of a blessed man,
Left to be finished by such as she;
And she a fair divided excellence,
Whose fullness of perfection lies in him. ”

*Taken from the card that my sister Lana gave to me on my wedding day.  
God bless you, Quentin and Meow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Fourteen years ago....

It was our first Christmas in our new home.  The boys were old enough to handle the responsibility.  If we waited too long, they might grow past the time when they could still be selfless enough to appreciate the gift.  We finally owned our own home again.  M and I negotiated and compromised, it could stay inside but would remain in the kitchen. This was the year, I told my husband.  We had to get a dog - now.

With his approval, I began stealth operations of scouring the classifieds and making secretive phone calls out of earshot of our children.  I fit visits to numerous pounds and even a few private homes among my grocery shopping outings to check out prospective pups.  I even put money down on a sweet little beagle (M's choice of breed, I wanted a Lab) out in Union County.  But on the way home, I happened to stop by their animal shelter.  A shy, blond beagle mix caught my attention and I just couldn't shake her sweet face from my memory that night;  the thought that she might meet an untimely end was too much.  So, I pleaded with M that I might apologetically cancel the check on the beagle and return for the mutt.  He relented and the next day I did so in that order, only to find that the little heart-breaker had found a home already.  I rejoiced for her, but now I had only a week to find our puppy.  A few days later, I told my husband, "I'm going back to that pound and either I'll find our dog or there won't be one under the tree this year."

Returning to the shelter, I actually walked by her several times without too much notice.  All the other dogs were desperately clamoring for attention, jumping and barking and whimpering and crying.  I dutifully did my best to try to give them comfort and love before apologetically extricating myself from their paws and pleading.  This one, though, she was different.  She didn't bark.  She didn't jump up and beg.  She watched me quietly with her steady brown gaze, her face divided right down the middle as by an invisible line, black on one side and a splotchy grey on the other.  (Later I learned this is called blue merle.) I read the label outside her cage: Border Collie/Australian Shepherd Mix.  She was a round ball of fluff, standing inside her small space on four stout little legs, sizing me up as I looked her over.  I entered her kennel and she readily allowed me to pet and stroke her soft downy coat, eventually lying down half-way - enough for me to rub her tummy, but not fully on her back.  She wasn't afraid, it was more of an awareness that we really didn't know each other yet, not really.  I was struck by her independent spirit.  "Yes," I said, "you'll do.  You're kind of funny looking in a cute way, but I think you'll fit in just fine."  And she did.  And that's how Misha came to be a part of our family. Like my daughter recently said, "she wasn't just a dog, that doesn't describe her.  She's Misha."

For the past fourteen years we all grew deeply in love with her and she with us. She had her weaknesses, but ones we could live with.  She was so smart, even when she pretended not to be. She was a big believer in the sanctity of personal space balanced by affectionate connection and contact.  She really was one of us, unique and different and loyal and secure in our love.  

Shortly before our oldest two graduated from college, we discovered a lump in the front of her neck.  It turned out to be thyroid cancer and we were told she had six to nine months more or so.  Actually, we were blessed with over three more years, and she never was the wiser as far as we could tell.  She remained sharp and bright, sweet and faithfully dear.  Her hearing started to fade of late, but once you made eye contact you were on a level of full understanding.  Unfortunately, her weight just began dropping in the past year and continued to do so, of course.  My husband and I waited until our son D returned from a trip out of town.  We all recognized where this was heading for her and agreed it was time.  The three of us took her in to the vet's office.  They allowed us plenty of time and privacy to love, love, love on her, sharing funny stories and tears.  At the last, we sat in a circle around her and stroked her gently; she had the comfort and assurance of our devotion and tenderness and I know she felt that.

Whenever my kids would ask me if our pets go to heaven, I always hesitated.  I never wanted to answer simply out of sentimentality, it just wouldn't be honest.  But as time passed I considered this more carefully in light of the Lord.  He will make all things new when He returns, restoring and reconciling all things to Himself.  I never doubted that sparkling rivers and glistening streams would be a part of this re-established earth, or beautiful mountains and shady valleys. And they would be teaming with flickering fish and frolicking animals as well.  So I've come to believe something, not because it brings me comfort, though it does; but I believe it because of my God who is the great Redeemer.  

On August 12th, we sent our good ol' girl on ahead of us.  For now we miss you so much Mish, but heaven is all the sweeter because you will be there to welcome us in joy - hale, healthy, and happier than we can possibly imagine.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our Little Neighbors

One of my most favorite delights are the little unexpected things that pop up among the regular ordinariness of our days.  (No, not those turn of events like my refrigerator dying this week and having to get a new one while we're planning a wedding.  I said unforseen 'delights.')  I'm referring to those prodigious moments that add an extra depth or sparkle to life that you had no idea were around the corner.

Or in the tree.
Or between the pillars.
Or on that branch.

Gardening has brought a depth of living to my life in the growing of our food.  I've just loved watching to see the first green of shoots pushing up through the soil; checking on their progress and maturation each day; picking ripeness of reds, greens, and blues; even snipping fresh blooms and dead-heading old ones.  It has also tucked in little twinkles of the wonderfully unpredictable.

Last year we found there was a frog living in a crack at the base of one of our trees.  As I sprayed my cucumbers with water one day, out he (or someone who looks alot like him) came, jumping up to his front door once more, blinking in his pleasure at the shower I gave.  Here he is:

What was even sweeter was a few weeks later.  I aimed my hose at his doorway and he obligingly greeted my girls and I.  But as we watched, here came another frog just a bit smaller, climbing forward to sit on his head.  And unbelievably, just like in a quaint storybook, there came an even smaller frog to sit on top of his head!  I didn't have my camera with me that day to capture their unassuming pose, but my daughters and I laughed with surprised delight at the gift we were blessed to witness that afternoon.

On another day, I'd sent L out to move some fragments of cement stones out to place around our back garden bed.  She came inside a little while later, all in excitement.  There between two old ornate pillars was resting a small little bunny rabbit.  The girls donned gloves and carefully captured him, cuddling and loving on this little bit of fluff before we released him back into the wilds of our backyard.  We have no neighbors behind our house, so no doubt his real home is hidden within the woods there.  Want to see him?

Last week I was collecting cherry tomatoes.  I was aware that the birds around me seemed to be making a good bit of ruckus rather close by.  Suddenly I gasped as I spied a precious little baby cardinal sitting on a branch right in front of me, not one foot from my face.  What a dapper little 'do he had, growing in a little to one side.

His Mama was trilling away in the tree above me, watching over her wayward one.  We monitored events over the next few days as she fed him and repeatedly demonstrated flying from branch to branch. Eventually he was gone - we're sure he learned his lessons.

What sweet unheralded delights we've been given among our sweat and toil.  Thank You, Lord.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Fighting Poison Ivy

So I'll ask the big question up front: If you have an ecological conscience, what do you do with Poison Ivy?

As I cleared and trimmed within and around my garden this past week, I pulled a bit of delicate vine away from around this little tree near my tomatoes.  There are so many things that come with stickers and prickles from roses to squash to borage.  It's habit for me to come in and wash up to my elbows after every foray out into my yard; but I didn't realize I'd met up with that nasty little creeper, otherwise I'd have done an even more thorough job.  Now I'm looking for it everywhere: "Leaves of three, let it be."

That's no joke.  Here's the worst spot, although we think it's improved a bit.  Little blisters are still popping up here and there on my arms even as of this morning.  I got some on my face and neck in addition to this beauty, but those places haven't been as bad, thank goodness.  Turn away if you're squeamish, kids.

I looked online for all kinds of natural remedies.  I recognized the pretty orange flowers of the jewelweed from our neighborhood path, so L and I went out there to carefully harvest some.  We brought it home and I then cooked it to make a warm poultice which I applied to my bubbling forearm, wrapping it in gauze.  It took away the itching immediately and worked for about 24 hours, then it was no good.  (Later on I read that it must be used fresh.  I guess I should have gone and picked some more since I was still using what I'd cooked up and it must have lost its effectiveness.)  I read that apple cider vinegar stings at first but works great so I gave that a go - it not only stung but seemed to make it all the redder, not a winner for me.  I've applied Anbesol for its numbing quality, then moved to Caladryl which was also helpful.  Benadryl is getting me through the night.  Time is just going to have to do its thing, I'm afraid.

Of course I've also been looking for a natural way of killing this monster.  M wants to spray Round-Up on it, but I hate to even hear the word.  A armed up with long sleeves and gloves and removed the rest of the vine, but it's got this serious hairy stump from which it's growing and there was no budging it, even after a couple days of good hard rain. In fact, the little tree has grown up around it, enveloping it between two stout shoots. The other day I cooked up a boiling pot of vinegar, salt, and soap, dug a hole at the base of the tree and poured my concoction in.  My plan is to do this every week until the witch is dead.  

Now A and L have had itchy spots and stripes popping up as well.  Today we stopped by CVS and I picked up some Zanfel scrub and TecNu spray.  We went straight to the bathroom and used it.  Ahh, sweet relief...

I'm weakening.
I might wind up giving it to Round-Up as well.
Sometimes having such an earth-conscience is really a drag.

Note of warning - be careful not to use to wide a shotgun approach.  Read more here.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Gardening Update #2

As I think back over the on-the-job-training I've received via my little plot of fertile ground, I find myself fingering over the bruises I've gotten during the daunting challenges faced.  They've been the turns that have threatened to be game changers - with me as the loser.  I want to document these for both the sake of other novice gardeners so as to give you a head's up and hopefully be an instrument of preventive care in your lives, as well as having record for myself of the mountains and molehills faced in my maiden foray into floriculture.

Lesson Seven will be positive: Plant borage.

These have been a wonderful addition, attracting busy, buzzing, beneficial bees.  They've grown at least 3 feet tall and sport such pretty blue flowers, just what I wanted.  I used them as a border, but next year I will place them in more of a background position rather than front and center.  They are quite prickly once they have reached relative maturity, and after a while the winds and rain we've received have caused them to topple over, necessitating bamboo stakes for support.  However, I have been absolutely pleased with them.  I've gathered quite a few of their seeds so that I can plant them next year, but I've a feeling that I will have to be on top of it to keep them from popping up on their own - they appear to be willing to reseed themselves quite happily.

I put in three cucumber plants where we have planted tomatoes for the past seven or eight years, expecting the soil to welcome them as a long overdue change.  Something was ready and waiting for a change, and quickly ate my little ones up before they had a fighting chance.

Lesson Eight: Know when you've been beat.  There's no shame in cutting your losses and moving to a new field if one's available.

I planted another three cucumbers in a different plot.  It's not as sunny, but they are doing much better.  I believe the adversary contending for dominance there is the teeny-tiny spider mite, so a 3-in-1 product was applied.  Here's hoping.  As it turned out, I got a volunteer cherry tomato plant that sprouted up in that original bed.  Its fruitful mother of last summer was well-loved and appreciated by us all, and the daughter is coming along grandly.

One day I sat by the window as my own daughters were taking a math test, when what to my wondering eyes appeared but a miniature chipmunk walking along my stone border for all the world like it was his own private sidewalk.  He nibbled on a few borage flowers, and I considered this thoughtfully. "Well, that's ok - but if he encroaches over into the fruit of my sweat-filled brow, it's on."
Guess what?  Two mornings in a row, my cry of delight at a bright red tomato turned to one of outrage as I picked it and stared into a gaping kid-sized bite taken out of their sweet ripeness.

Ah!  I can't believe I almost forgot to include the latest!  This really amped things up.  

Of all the things we've planted, there have been two I have most looked forward to harvesting - sweet potatoes and my various tomatoes.  Last week, A was finally able to rejoin us outside after having her wisdom teeth removed and being tended back to full health.  She hadn't seen our verdant oasis up close for about five days, so with delight she drew my attention to the changes in the sweet potatoes.  All she noticed were the increase in vines.  What I noticed from seven yards away were the little naked stems all along the vines - shorn of almost every one of their beautiful leaves!  I came howling around to the other side of the yard, absolutely incensed by this new violation! 

Lesson Nine: Don't take it lying down. You have to have a strong stomach, steely nerves, and a willingness to engage with "whatever."
Lesson Ten: Lesson Nine Part II - Desperate attacks call for desperate measures. 

So that's when the blood and rat traps were set out.  Feeling a bit like a witch doctor, I hummed a little tune as I sprinkled (purchased) dried blood 'round the perimeter of my garden wall, then moved on to setting a few rat traps out while Luisa whimpered in pity for poor "Alvin." Of course she named him.  Oh, and two squirrel traps too. The next morning, I began my day with no eerie premonitions, just my regular cup of coffee. Heading outside, I quickly spied one squirrel trap flung several feet from where we'd set it up.  I went to look at the other and froze.  Something not a squirrel was inside.  Dark, a rather narrow nose, and what appeared to be a light stripe down the middle of its back.  Once again, I was overtaken by hysterical laughter so that I could scarcely speak by the time I got back inside the house.  What was I going to do with a skunk in a cage??!!!

One call to a wildlife control representative later, and I was left to consider how to explain all of this to my husband.  The rep quoted me over $200 in permit and removal fees.  How sick is that?!  The clock ticked by - over an hour.  Boy, was this guy making me sweat.  Finally, I decided to risk the need for testing that tomato bath theory and headed outside to take a picture of my trapped irritant.  Slowly, slowly, I edged closer... and spied a skinny tail.  Going around to the front of the cage, I snapped a quick photo.

It's an opossum.
I had the girls scurry over the creek to return our intruder back to nature, hopefully freaked out enough not to ever come around here again.  He tried to play dead for a bit and scared us all, 'till I recalled the proverbial phrase, "playing opossum."  Out he went with a little shimmy, and I rushed back into the house to call off the wildlife rep who assured me that I can expect this now-experienced opossum to run amuck throughout my garden on a regular and increased nightly basis. Splendid, just splendid.

I bought some screen netting that I am now anchoring over my naked and shocked sweet potato vines at night, then removing when the sun comes up again.  I'm trying to give them a fighting chance.  It's a pain, but it keeps me busy and feeling like we might pull this out.  So far, no dead chipmunk, but I have been able to pick all my own tomatoes since then all by myself.  After all, it is my garden.

Next installment, I'm sorry to say, will be early blight.  

But let me reassure you, dear reader - I am still having fun!  I guess this just might mean, hands in overall pockets, shoulders hunched, toe digging in the dirt, "I'm kind of a farmer, huh?"

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Gardening Update #1

I thought a little gardening update was in order as it has become such a significant part of my life this year. There is so much to cover, however, that this is clearly going to take two posts.  How enamored am I with my little swatch of farmland?  Well, this past Friday was my 27th Anniversary, and while I did remember it the night before, my first thought when I woke up that morning was to get outside and water the garden's flowers and vegetables before the 104 degree temperatures came to kill them.  My dear husband wandered outside a short time later to find me, bestowing a commemorative reminder kiss upon me as I'd clearly come under the hypnotic early morning thrall of tending to my nursery beds.  I do love you more, honey - I know you know this.  And thank you again for my garden - my Christmas/birthday/Mother's Day/Anniversary present.  Well done, my sweet.

This being my first year, I've had such a roller coaster learning curve of a ride even in these three short months. Let me try to do a little recap.  Our first seedlings were planted in March and everything came up leafy and green and beautiful and all was wonderful.  Gardening gives one a new appreciation for Spring.  And then the velvety cabbage worms came along.

Lesson One: Don't take the Polly Anna approach of simply hoping that all those bugs will not find your garden.  Buy what you will need so that you are prepared to do battle at the first sign of attack.

I went to Garden's Alive and ordered the necessary biological weaponry: Green Step Caterpillar Control.  It arrived a few days before I was leaving to visit my family for two weeks, so I asked somebody to please mix it up and spray it on my collards, cabbage, bok choy, and broccoli while I was gone.  Many wonderful projects were completed in my absence, but the spraying for the eradication of these pests was not.  So I returned home to two surprises.  One was "Jurassic Garden."  Evidently, my plants maintained a moderate pace of growing in my absence until the two days of rainfall just before we flew back in.  They drank it up like steroids.  The girls and I got in pretty late, but I probably woke a few of the neighbors with my hysterical laughter!  My shock over the change was simply overwhelming.  I was worse than the ridiculous auntie who can't believe how much you've grown in the time since she last saw you.  But it was crazy!

Lesson Two: Plants fantastically love and flourish under God's provision of rainfall over our man-made water systems, so make sure to rely as much upon that as you can.

My second curveball was the copious riddling of holes in the leaves all the afore-mentioned brassicas, not to mention the arrival of irritating, harder-to-kill worms turned cabbage moths!  Don't you know I looked like a loon whacking my tennis racket around in attempts to decrease their population (it's what we quasi-hippies do when faced with flying foes, or at least so instructs my internet gurus.) Vain attempts, I might add, as I have absolutely atrocious aim.  But I now have a homestead to protect and cannot concern myself with appearances.  Read: The protection of my public semblance of full sanity dropped a few more notches.  Oh well...

Aphids on my rose bushes were next, as was
Lesson Three: A homemade water and soap spray solution works for these pests, so save your money for more serious threats.
My spray bottle was a weenie, so I wound up pouring it into my palms and hand applying it, but this took care of them overnight.  Boo-yah!

I didn't yet know a new nemesis was about to descend: the Japanese Beetle.  At first these metallic little buggers charmed us, but we quickly came to realize they are voracious devourers and had arrived as they always do - en masse.  They favored my plum tree, borage, roses, and most especially my zinnias.  Initially, this swarm pumped up my blood pressure something awful as I stressed over them off and on throughout the day.  I tried an insecticidal spray first, then others I whipped up via instructional youtube videos, but they weren't tremendously effective. Eventually, I began to relax and have even learned to have a sort of appreciation for these little nitwits.  I mean, all they do is lie around in the sun and mate as much as possible.

Lesson Four: A jar filled with water and a drizzle of soap works wonderfully as a drowning pool for them.

There's a good deal of satisfaction in having an enemy that is so stupid and lazy.  I typically take a stroll out to my garden about three times a day and swipe these green little glints off leaves and petals, dropping them into their watery demise. Proportionally, I realize the score is still probably JB 1,000 / Me 1; but I am appeased.

Lesson Five: Although I was initially tempted to cut the unsightly leaves they created, I've found that they are ridiculous creatures of habit, returning to eat from the same spot again and again.

So leaving the riddled leaves provides me with a ready-made meeting place from which to catch them. Plus, I have another secret weapon I am preparing to pull out.

Lesson Six: Japanese Beetles come from a nasty little grub, and I plan on using a two prong attack against them: Milky Spore in the near future, and beneficial nematodes in the fall.

In addition, Lesson Six: We now love wasps, bees, even yellow jackets, and ugly little guys like assassin bugs. They are our friends, and our enemies are their's as well, so we are co-existing quite peacefully.  Even my girls have learned not to shy away from them!  Well, unless they try to land in our hair or something.

More tomorrow....

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Zucchini Quesadillas

Well I am reaping zucchini big time now, baby!!!

It all started happening so fast.  One day I was doing some serious "distress" research - my zucchini were looking like they were going to be a giant, colossal, prickly, garden-space-hogging failure.  They began just fine, but were ending in a stumpy mess.  However my computer legwork revealed that what was happening was probably squash blossom rot, a sad result of the abundant rainfall we'd recently received.  I just had to sit tight and see if the dry-out time would give them what they needed to recover.  Sure enough, I wound up with what we dubbed "big woman arms of zucchini."

We've had zucchini sauteed in garlic, fried zucchini, zucchini fritters, and zucchini bread.  After giving a few arms away, we shredded up the rest, bagged them in three to four cup increments, and tucked them away in the freezer for winter baking.  Still, the zukes keep coming.  So the other day I decided to tuck them into one of our favorite quick lunch items - quesadillas.  Wow, did this pump up the umph factor!  Snack, nibble, or dine on these tasty tidbits for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whenever.

Zucchini Quesadillas

2 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup onion, shaved in slivers
1 medium zucchini
1/4 cup cut up cilantro
8 flour tortillas
raw cheddar cheese (or whatever cheese your family prefers)

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, toss in the garlic, and stir around for 1 minute.  Add in the onions and saute a minute or two more, till the onion starts softening a bit.  Now add in the zucchini, salting and peppering to taste.  Continue to stir around so that all is evenly cooked.  Toss in the cilantro at the end and stir to distribute.  Place four tortillas on the counter, sprinkle with cheese, then generously divide the zucchini mixture between them, spreading over the surface of each.  Sprinkle a tad more cheese on top to create good sticking power for the top tortilla.
Normally, we cook our quesadillas on a dry surface of a frying pan or comal.  This time, however, I drizzled another fry pan with olive oil, allowed it to heat up, and then placed a ready quesadilla in the pan.  This created a crisp, toasty, fried tortilla.  Your tortilla might begin to rise just a bit as the air pockets within fill with a bit of steam - yummy!  Flipping it over once the first side has achieved golden perfection, I toasted the other side.  Quarter with a sharp knife and serve with salsa and sour cream - and feel good about interjecting some yummy green veggies into your day!

Shared at Works For Me Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursday

Monday, June 25, 2012

Give Me This Mountain

On my quest to becoming a passable gardener, I'd begun to routinely come across a suggestion for how to get a boatload of mulch.  It was advised that I contact tree removal services and ask if they would be willing to stop by my house after a job and give me the ground up trees.  After watching the wonderful Back To Eden video, I was convinced that this was the way to go.  However, seeing as we live way back in a cul-de-sac of an extensive neighborhood, we don't exactly fit the bill as a convenient drop-off spot.  We'd actually had some trees of our own cut down a few months back, before I knew enough to keep what we had and so we missed out big time.  You can believe I kicked myself over that one for quite a while.  I've been determined now to make some calls and see what I could accomplish.

Well, what should show up one morning last week but some handy-dandy fellas in bright orange ready to cut down a neighbor's tree and shred it into a zillion little pieces!  If you've never been out here to NC, when I say "a tree" I'm talking about a timber roughly four stories tall.  So I ran out and put a note under the windshield wiper blade of one of the trucks, politely requesting a truckload of their wood chips.  These gentlemen were quite happy to comply - and I was thrilled!  I looked at it and laughed, "Oh yeah... Yes, give me this mountain!"

The choice of words comes from a passage in the Bible.  Many will be familiar with the story of the twelve Israelites being sent in to spy out the land the Lord was going to give them.  Ten of them were scaredy-cat nay-sayers, but the other two (Joshua and Caleb) urged the people to go forward in faith.  It's quite a story, wonderfully told here.  Well, the forty years of desert wandering followed.  And then we come to the point where the people are all gearing up to give entry into this promised land another go.  Caleb is ready!  He recalls the Lord's promise to him, via Moses: 

"The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly."

Now he requests, "Give me this mountain promised to me that day...."

Well back to our little plot of land in NC... This was our third and final day for my kids to complete their annual standardized tests, so we went back inside and gathered around the dining room table.  They got settled in to start on their last section; I sat down to eat my lunch and check some e-mails in the quiet of test-taking time.  Opening one from a friend, I began reading.  My eyes dragged across words.  My bones turned to water and my stomach began quick, repetitive somersaults.  The trust we'd been building over the past nine months slowly toppled and fell in slow motion with a silent jolt and crash.  Outwardly, I cheerfully started the timer and took a bite of my sandwich, forcing a facade of normalcy to my voice and face.  

Life is like this.  One moment all is normal and right.  With the next phone call, knock on the door, conversation overheard, letter opened, turn taken, decision made - all can be undone and turned topsy-turvy.  We shake and tremble and try to get our bearings as the ground beneath our feet rolls.  And we know - we are not in control.

God is not like this.  He is eternally faithful and reliable, and this is no more important to us than when our own personal world begins to waver and wobble.  He is in control.

My appreciation for the timing of the deliverance of this pile of mulch in my driveway grew to new proportions.  I needed something big and major to occupy my children for a spell so that I could have some time to process and wrestle with this stomach twister.  They alternated shoveling up and rolling back wheelbarrows between the front and back of the house.  Inside, I went to the pages of deep prayer in Valley of Vision and was reminded that my cross is not to be compared to that of Christ's.  At length, I sent the kids inside in to make a simple salad and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner; and I began my own turn at the mountain.  I poured out my anger, feelings of betrayal, outrage, and hurt.  I turned bewildered eyes to Him, not understanding, but trying to.  I petitioned for help; I searched my soul; I returned with confessions; I asked for forgiveness; I returned once again seeking guidance. As I wheeled the shavings and splinters of wood and prayed aloud, I thankfully coined this providential provision "cross therapy."  As the sweat built up, my heart considered others I know who are carrying far greater crosses than my own, bearing serious, serious burdens as well.  This brought perspective to my troubles - not minimizing them, but serving to widen my scope of vision beyond the expanse of my own hardships.

I picked up a piece of the mammoth tree I was shoveling into my wheelbarrow and turned it over, feeling the rough harshness of it.  Not only are the crosses we bear nowhere near approaching the weight and measure of The Cross; they are, quite simply, a small part of His cross.  "My cross" is one of those wood chips, a recognized, fragmentary bit of the whole.

My words earlier in the day had been a somewhat joking reference to Caleb, from Judges 14.  He'd said these same words, referring to a relational promise that the Lord had made at an earlier time.  Caleb had wholly followed the Lord, his God; in response Moses told him, " The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly."  With the Lord's help, his goal was to take the victory for God's glory.  

May I have a faith to rival that of Caleb, for my own sake as well as that of my children, and for God's glory.  Pushing my wheelbarrow of  "mountain" forward, carrying my cross ... with the Lord's help.

Shared with Titus 2sdays

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's Not Easy Being A Blogger

I saw this title via another blog I follow, but when I went to read it... well, have you ever expected to relate to somebody because of a shared experience and when you get to talking you find out that what you feel is nothing like what they feel.  So I'm blogging about this from my own place.

Top 7 Reasons I Find It Hard To Blog

  1. I get off my routine.  I had a good groove going, shooting for Sunday night or Monday morning as my time frame when I could fit in writing a post without feeling that I was taking too much time away from my dear husband and kiddos.  Then I went to Texas for a long overdue visit with my family, came back and had a full week's schedule waiting to be tackled as I hit the ground running, while trying to do the post-trip decompression.  Heck, things have been a bit hectic and off kilter ever since. 
  2. Change of Calendar Season.  I know it's not officially Summer yet, but it's felt like it to me for two months now.  Only thing is, I've been sort of vacillating between the calendar on my wall and the one in my mind.  So I don't have a clear plan formulated for these months "in-between" one school year and the next.  It's desperately lacking and interfering with my ability to blog, among other things.
  3. Inspiration eludes me.  Simple writer's block, old as pictograms and cuneiform.
  4. Too many ideas when there's not enough time.  I jot them down when I can; then I come back later and check on them.  Some are rightful gems; however, more were silly court jesters masquerading as wordy valedictorians.
  5. Illumination and Energy are on different schedules.  I often feel the tickles and tingles of imagination sparkling like fireflies, coming on just around the time dusk begins to settle.  But I'm also entering a season of feeling as tuckered out as a toddler once the sun snuggles down for the night.
  6. Doubt.  I thought this might be a good moment to interject a quote so I looked around online. Funny how around half of the words confessing one's self-hesitancy and misgivings are written by writers.  Point made.
  7. I can't talk about it.  The balance between being open and forthright on the one hand, yet considerate of the privacy of others is ever present before me.  And sometimes the latter area of my life is so tremendously large and consuming, I find it to be rather a dis-service to these weighty issues to attempt blogging about the more modest routines of life that are helping me get by.  
  8. You name it.  I know this is a list of The Top 7, my favorite number, but then this last one knocked and demanded entry.  All too often there's something - another hobby, a particularly trying child, hospitalizations, the freezer konks out and I'm forced to marathon cook for three days, whatever.  Its the unexpected arrival or intrusion of something that squeezes out or necessarily minimizes Life's other activities and obligations.  For the past two weeks its been Japanese Beetles - you know the buggers?
My mojo has been missing for a while now, but just blogging about it has helped.  

Thanks, ya'll.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Chimichurri Tsa Tsa Tsa!

I recently came across a post for chimichurri sauce.  It so tantalized my mental taste buds - as well as gave me something to do with all the parsley I have growing in my garden but haven't a clue as to what to turn it into - I knew I just had to try it.  It did NOT disappoint.  We had this over broiled salmon (the grill, which I'd have preferred to use, is out of gas right now), alongside sweet oven-roasted brussel sprouts and luscious buttery mashed potatoes.  The sauce was the star, hence the zinging "tsa tsa tsa" in my title.  So easy, and what a lively sparkle this will add to any meat you serve.  Roasted chicken will be tonight's main dish graced with this saucy topping.  My family will be thrilled to see it at the table again!

Chimichurri Sauce

1 heaping cup of fresh parsley
1 heaping cup of fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp sea salt
good grinding of pepper
6-8 cloves of garlic
1 healthy lemon squeezed of its juice
1 full lime squeezed of its juice
1 cup olive oil
pinch of cumin and a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like (I forgot them this time)

Stuff all of this, except for the olive oil, in your food processor and pulse a few times.  Then begin drizzling olive oil in as your processor runs, stopping from time to time to scrape down the sides so as to make sure all is getting incorporated.  When it is well blended, dip your finger in to taste.  Allow mouth to water and eyes to roll  in response (like you can stop it) and transfer to serving dish.  Anticipate the oohs and aahs.....

Shared with We Are That Family

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In Five Words...

Have you ever heard of that challenge to describe yourself in five words?  Yesterday I sent out a little text to a few people in my family - "How's life?  In five words..."  It was a small nudge to communicate in a low key sort of way.  Some seemed to find it a bit too formidable - maybe they saw it too much like a bar set low in a "limbo" sort of way.  It's not going to be set in granite, folks.

Hence, no response - you know who you are.  But most sallied forth, gave it a shot, and brought a smile to my face and a little laughter to my day.

This morning I opened all the upstairs windows to clear out the musties.  The warm sunshine of yesterday has morphed into cool, cloudy grays; tomorrow it should reach lukewarm again.  As I changed my sheets, snapping them in the briskness drifting in from outside, I mulled over a five-word communique for the day.  All sorts of competing and contrary words tumbled around in my mind vying, "Pick me! Pick me!"

Laughing out loud, I chose, "April is a fickle girl."  There is so much more to this than meets the eye.

Shared at We Are That Family

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Help, I Need Cover!

Standing in my kitchen, I looked down at the floor, unable to meet my children's eyes.  They waited in silence.  At times like these (for this was not the first), I wonder what they think about me.

"Does she have the slightest clue what to do right now?"
"Why doesn't she just....?" (Fill in the blank, because kids always know what they want you to do.)
"I wish she would just say something."
"Is she even thinking at all?"

Their wills and mine had hit with a resounding clash, and I'd simply called a halt to all our speaking. Arguing, debating, reasoning - whatever you want to call the "discussions" we were locked in, each from opposing sides - they were getting us nowhere.  And the fact is, sometimes I just don't know where to take us from that point.  Everything seems to be flying around like pots and pans swirling through the air with bangs and clatters.  But I do know one thing for certain.  I will be the one to take the lead.  So I looked at the ground and let thought after thought run through my mind, chasing away the craziest ones first.

Two visions stuck out in particular.  One was that of Jesus kneeling on the ground and writing in the sand as the Pharisees waited impatiently for Him to pronounce judgement upon the woman caught in adultery.  The other was an image, I believe it might have been Sarah Edwards, wife of the evangelist Jonathon Edwards.  She would sit at her kitchen table with a towel covered over her head in prayer at moments throughout her day.  The children knew not to disturb her during this time, either handling their disputes that came up in a reasonable way themselves or holding them until Mother was once again available to address them.  These pauses for prayer and consideration in the midst of chaos were just what I needed to remember.  How I wished I had some sort of prayer shawl to pull over my head just then, to hide behind as I sought to meet with my Savior.

I'm not talking burkas or anything here, just a sort of physical means of "time-out" so I can sort through some of this and know where to go from here.  Lacking the fitting accoutrement of such a calming shade behind which to veil myself, I simply brought my hands up to my face and covered it. I lifted up my problem and asked for help, direction, and strength.  Peace descended to clear and cool my racing thoughts.  After a while, I lowered my hands and was able to speak with composed clarity, but more than that my heart was at rest.  So maybe my kids thought I was loco for a few minutes, but I'm pretty sure I'm onto something here.  

Perhaps I ought to begin leaving a shawl in every room from now on.

Shared with Titus Tuesdays, Works for Me Wednesdays, and Simple Lives Thursday

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day-Tripping Daydream

I was walking into Wal-Mart recently when this little caramel and cream beauty stopped me in my tracks with an exclamation of delight.  Its owner was nowhere around as I took a quick snapshot.  (Do people still say snapshot?)  Well, I do.

Can't you just see me puttering my way through narrow streets, pulling over into the local cafe for a cup of creamy espresso and a pastry, sitting and jotting down notes for the latest novel I'm writing.  Then I'm zipping off again to the local market, chatting with the vendors as I make a few purchases of flowers, cheese, and vegetables, fastening them into the exquisitely perfect little basket in back.  I know my kids all think this is quintessential dorkiness, but I don't care.

This little moped was just made for fun!

And see?  I already have the cup (got it for myself for Christmas) ...

Curiosities and Diversions

Although I possess a natural inclination towards simplicity, I also recognize that we are people drawn towards stimulation.  By one means or another, we will seek that which tickles our fancy, plays with our senses, and leads us down paths of exploration.  This natural penchant is the impetus behind all of our questions and should be encouraged and nurtured.  It is also the means by which many have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, bred guilty consciences, or worst of all - become enslaved to that which they once chased with heart-hammering blindness.

As a parent, this is an area to which I believe a good deal of thought and prayer should be devoted.  Our kids will search out that which is made to delight, shock, and titillate; a wise parent will recognize their responsibility to guide their children as they endeavor to look around corners, under rocks, and inside cupboards.  It is a serious task we are given: to do our best at feeding curious delight and brave fortitude, at the same time embedding a healthy discipline to refrain and pass by more foolish enticements.  

It is a challenge - all these things come our way unbidden.  They knock on our doors, soliciting our buy-in to be the newest, latest thing to improve our lives; they buzz across airwaves with light, color, and sound designed to capture our senses; they trickling into conversations with lofty condescension, telling us we will be behind the trend if we don't jump in now; they crash through walls with wild enthusiasm, inviting us to be spirited away on the fun before we have time to think.

But we do have time - no - we must take time to think, and even better, to pray.

How this plays out and the decisions that are arrived at will be different within each family.  I am not the one to whom any of you are answerable.  But here are a few standards which you might find helpful as you navigate this responsibility.

1) What are your own diversions and where do your curiosities lead you?  Your children will recognize hypocrisy when they see it, so be the first to look for it within yourself.  As you look for ways in which you spend your free time, is Christ "your cornerstone, sure and precious", or is He seeming more like "a stumbling block" set between you and temptation? (1 Peter 2)

2) Evaluate your child's motivations both by who you know them to be and by probing conversations. Lead your children by example, asking questions which reflect a desire to hear from them as you seek understanding in making judgements, while teaching them that the final decision will be one that lines up with the Lord's standards.  All things should be viewed in the light of Christ.  What we choose to do with our free time will shape our character as much as anything.  See this as an opportunity to better 'know thyself.'

3) There is a saying that "timing is everything."  I've found it to be quite a fine check to have in place when making decisions.  Many lessons about maturity, delayed gratification, learning how not to follow the pack, and how to be strong when standing apart are all part of what can be gained by choosing the best timing (or not) of doing something.

4) Lastly, be sure to provide worthy choices to fill and satisfy the curiosity He has placed within us. Be proactive in searching out recreation, amusements, and occupations that will feed hearts, minds, and souls.  Healthy deviations from our routines abound, only be purposeful in choosing them.  Vary them from quiet, peaceful times designed to nurture a love and appreciation for reflection, to energetic adventures made for stoking fires of marvel and awe.

May we be mindful that all our time is under His watchful eye, in His loving hands, and bestowed as a generous gift of love.

Linked with Titus Tuesday and Works for Me Wednesday and Simple Lives Thursday

Monday, March 19, 2012

Seeking Jesus' Version of Rich, Blessed, and Generous?

One of my great finds this year has been an English Standard Version online Bible.  It has a wonderful feature where this gentleman reads the passage of scripture aloud to me - and he is an excellent reader.  Oftentimes, I am rather put off by the read-aloud style of others.  As a Mom who has always loved reading aloud to my children, I truly appreciate the skill it takes to do this job well. When God speaks in scripture, this fellow brings a proper inflection and weight to His voice; villains such as Satan or Pharaoh aren't overdone, but you get a definitive waft of evil intent.  This online bible also has a generous side bar for my note-taking, and offers a variety of ways I can mark up this online bible with various colors of highlighting, underlining, emboldening, or italicizing, etc.

Among this morning's scripture readings was James 5.  Sipping on my rich and creamy cup of coffee, I listened as my gentleman friend read verses one through six.  I paused the sound and read it to myself, sitting with it for a few moments.  I had him read it to me again as I considered the words. These are hard words for me.  My notes:

As I read this, I glance over it for myself.  I move on to easy targets, like -----, and wonder if he were to read this how would it strike him?  My mind flits back to myself; after all, I am always telling the children how rich we are by comparison to much of the rest of the world.  We do live in luxury.  We are rather self-indulgent.  
But as I read through this, it doesn't sound like me, like us.  Does it?  Search my heart, oh God, and reveal to me any wickedness to which I am blind.
This area of wealth, personal responsibility, being my brother's keeper, not having a Savior complex while understanding that I am His servant - this is just one area in which I long for resolution while at the same time feeling I might never truly arrive in this lifetime.  I continue with my readings, jotting notes, praying.  This issue links strongly with yesterday's calling-out sermon Pastor Howard breathed over us.  Showering, the mulling continues.  I'd prefer to abandon this and escape to comfort, but I can't; inwardly, I know I shouldn't.

Hours later, in dealing with other more immediate responsibilities, I go looking through old emails for notes I've gotten regarding standardized testing options.  As often happens, you put in a word like "testing" and among the mail which hits the particular nail on the head of what you are looking for, there are a number of others that for some reason or other happen to have a different sort of connection to your word choice.  So it was that I opened a particular email that I'd passed on reading last month.  Money-Saving-Mom had done a book review on this book:
      7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

Bam! Right between the eyes.  7: an experimental mutiny against excess.  I've got to get this book. I'm assured it's non-judgmental, humorous, honest, and challenging, sounds like a lot of hand-holding as we walk in the right direction. I asked the Lord to touch my blindness. Looks like He went straight to the spit-mud paste application.

My heart is beating fast at what I will see.

Shared with Titus 2sday, Works For Me Wednesday, and Simple Lives Thursday

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wool Soap

In my quest for simplicity, I've found one of the basic tenets is 'let nothing be wasted.'  This aim lends itself to a more thoughtful approach and wise use of not only our worldly goods, but our experiences as well, most especially the difficult ones.  In fact, the hardest times often leave the deepest impact upon us, wouldn't you agree?  (If not, you're simply not old enough yet.) ;-)

Although my thoughts are of a philosophical turn today, my intention when I signed on was only to share input on how I've enjoyed my birthday present from last year, so we'll stay with that today.  I love birthdays for the opportunity they are to celebrate life thus far and look forward to the year to come.  This has got to be among those things that define one as an optimist.  A birthday is a day of JOY.

Most years I have five regular requests in my heart for my special day: no fighting or bickering; I hear from each of my children in some form or fashion, wherever they are; I have no cooking to do for the day; if the weather is nice I love to go for a family walk; and although I don't look for much in the way of gifts, I do like to get some one special something.  My summarization of my birthday ideals are reflective of my goals for simplicity: what began as as list of three grew to five.  Ah well, I was being thorough.

Last year, this was my little gift to myself.  It's soap wrapped in wool.  Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."  It was so pretty, so elegant, not quite perfect in shape but special; rather like how the earth looks from space.  I just kept it next to my tub to look at for months, afraid that it would dissolve away once I began using it.  Eventually, I took it out of its package and gave it the initial soaking as described.  I love it.  It has plenty of sudsy lather and a soft scent.  The texture is gently exfoliating, not too soft and not at all rough.

I found an online youtube source providing instructions on making your own via Crunchy Parent.  Although I have a feeling that this little beauty will last me a good long time (I only use it for my evening baths,) I might have to try making our own wool soaps with my girls this summer.  Practical and pleasing, two of my favorite things.

Shared at Works for Me Wednesday and Simple Lives Thursday

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Two Words, Twice a Day

"I'm sorry."

Part of raising children is teaching them to make a sincere apology.  There are two parts to this lesson.  The first is getting them to say it, the second is getting them to mean it.  The first part is usually the easier of the two, because of simple immaturity.  I remember many instances where my parents required me to make confession and express repentance for my offense towards my brother or sister.  No doubt their hope was that I would grow towards a deep and personal desire to do all I could to make amends for my wrongs.  I was far more deviant than they realized.

To this day I find apologizes, well... difficult.

(Aside:  As a happily married woman who enjoys a close and loving relationship with my husband, I maintain a continual mental consciousness of his listening in to my every word, whether he is actually present or not.  He is currently laughing his head off at my previous understatement.)

So I haven't yet arrived at a place where admissions come smoothly to my lips.  (Now the kids are joining in on the chuckling.  I cast them a glance meant to wither.)

Ok, I'm just plain bad at it.  As I've matured, the two parts have flipped so that I find more often I have a desire to apologize, but the harder part is in saying it.  I suppose holiness is experiencing both aspects fully and completely.

BUT it is my goal.  Not because I enjoy it, clearly, but because I am called to it. Forgiveness is the fulcrum whereby guilt and blame can be lifted and flow downward to reparations and restitution.

The world works against our success in this area.  Mistakes happen in life, and an apology goes a long way towards smoothing things over and getting us back on our way to where we mean to be, but eventually we all learn the game of jaded thinking that dominates the field out there.  And we often learn to play it.

You would think that in the public arena of service the benefit of honest acknowledgments might be understood.  However, I have noticed that more often than not, in public transactions a representative seems almost set against saying those two little words.  Recently, our microwave door needed to be replaced.  I won't go into the long drawn-out story, but the short end of it was that an entire month went by and the responsible party not only did not respond to any of our calls, but never even ordered the part.  We eventually got our door, but we never heard a word of apology from them.

Flipping through my insurance police, I see that I am advised not to say it in the event of any altercation.  Any expressions of regret or sorrow at a time of accident could be misused as an admission of guilt and responsibility.  How awful that we must be so on our guard.  I know this sounds Polly-Anna-ish of me, and far from my own personal side-steps away from honest appraisal.  But it all rings so brassy.  We live in a world not of integrity, but of chess.  Always be looking, thinking, and acting two steps before the other guy.

Around the beginning of the year I read a wonderful book titled Margin.  I'd really like to read this book at the beginning of every year from now on.  There is so much wisdom to be gathered from it, I will need to revisit the ideas and suggestions here over and over again.  One of the recommendations made was to seek to apologize twice a day.  This blows my mind.  I concede, this is up there in the farthest, thinnest, airy reaches of the stratosphere for me.  It's difficult to even conceptualize what this would look like, nevermind feel like for me.  BUT, ah, what a vision to contemplate.

My Savior embodies Forgiveness; inasmuch as I am His, let it begin with me between myself and my brother or sister.  May my prayer be 'Twice a day and more'; and may my children find comfort and encouragement in knowing that their mama is still working on the difficult but important lessons I am teaching.

Shared with Titus 2sday, Works For Me Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I've had this rhyme going round in my head lately:

"There Was a Crooked Man,"

There was a crooked man,
Who walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

I think as we grow older, we think we are beyond nursery rhymes, in which many large philosophical truths and challenges can be found.  The poetry and stories learned as little ones are done, aren't they?  Left behind as though we were somehow beyond the bounds of the lessons they were designed to teach, or we suppose we took in their exhortations so well we have no need for reminders.

The Lord references crookedness in His word.  Here are just a few things He has said on the subject:

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,    
from men whose words are perverse, 
who have left the straight paths 
   to walk in dark ways, 
who delight in doing wrong 
   and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, 
whose paths are crooked 
   and who are devious in their ways.
Proverbs 2:12-15

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, 
   but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. 
Proverbs 10:9

And from Isaiah 59:8:  The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace.

Beyond nursery rhymes? I think not.  I've been minded to compose a few additional stanzas of verse for the little ditty running 'round in my head:

He had some crooked children,

Who spoke with crooked smiles,
And from their lips came crooked words, both twisted lies and guile;
He sought to speak unto their hearts, consider what they wrought,
Holding tongues and choosing, to not say what was naught.

And so what once was crooked,
‘came straightened, true and sure.
Words were weighed and measured, determined false or pure;
We too, can learn a lesson to slow down as we ought,
And crooked words can be made right, spoken after thought.

Addendum: I had to post early, as my girls needed my computer; but a friend prompted the writing of the last stanza which I knew was missing.  (Thanks Matt!)

Reflected in my mirror,
I see a crooked man,
Broken heart, mind, soul, and strength in need of God's own plan;
He came to love all sinners, our lame and feeble frames,
Reborn by grace, redeemed for love, He calls us out by name.