Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grimmle Boi

Lest you think I'd forgotten, the recipe for Grimmle Boi (Crumb Pie) is now posted at Part 2.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Big Weekend - Four Small Posts...Part 4

I just learned that my mother-in-law is reading the blog and since part 4 was meant to reveal Christmas secrets, I'm just posting to say.... I'm not posting.

Update later. Like around December 26.

Update 1/16/12: SIL Sarah and I worked together on this. Our Christmas busywork was getting the kids together for photos for my MIL's Christmas. Last year we took some photographs of the kids together and some of each child individually. They've all grown so much over the last year, that we thought updated photos would be appropriate to refill her frames. I'll just share a couple of my kids.
She is growing up!
Had to take Brooks' shot from a group pic. I cropped Sophia out of the print, but couldn't figure it out on the blog. I think Brooks looks handsome here, though.
Ava - my baby. I cannot explain the passage of time.

One Big Weekend - Four Small Posts... Part 3

All the Trimmings

My children are still in school for another week, right up to Christmas eve. It lulls me into a false sense of complacency, believing that it's actually ages until I need to be ready for the holiday.

I did manage to get some Christmas decorations up last weekend. I'll share with you a couple of highlights. A few years ago I went to an estate sale in my neighborhood and bought a box of odds and ends including this handful of vintage Christmas light bulbs. I don't have those kinds of light strings, but I think they are just beautiful, so I threw them in a candy dish and put them in the piano room.

Similarly, I'm displaying some vintage ornaments in a bowl as a centerpiece on my dining room table. I've been collecting the ornaments over the years, imagining I'll have enough to one day decorate a whole tree. But lately, I've been putting the tree in the foyer, which has a tile floor, not known for being kind to dropped glass objects. I fear for their preservation, so I put them in a bowl this year and sort of dig it.

Sophie's choir has a Secret Santa situation as they build up to their mega-Christmas-Concert-Weekend. It's difficult to think of small gifts to give that aren't candy or junk. Sophia's Secret Santa did a good job of gifting small, fun items that were creative and wholesome. This garland was made from a kit they gave her on night three. We made it together and I think it looks pleasant hanging on the mantle in the piano room.

There is still much to be done before I can say I'm anything close to ready, but what is done pleases me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

One Big Weekend - Four Small Posts...Part 2

The Amish Relatives

One joy of family hardship is the coming together of all the relatives. My husband was never Amish, his parents were never Amish, but beyond that, all bets are off.

After the funeral, the local tradition is for the church to provide a meal for the family and anyone else they wish to have as guests. It's a nice way to allow more time for visiting and a chance to maybe get cheerful again after the goodbye in the church. About 20-30 Amish relatives stayed for this (as well as the 50-75 non-Amish) and my husband made a beeline for them as soon as he did his fatherly duty by eating with this household. He thinks they are fun and sassy and "good people." I agree.

At his grandmother's funeral dinner several years ago, Michael trotted some of these ladies over to me saying I wanted to ask questions about why Amish women did the things they did. Indeed, I had been asking a lot of questions during our years of driving through the Amish countryside in the area where we live. These women seemed reluctant and a bit suspicious, not hankering to answer a bunch of ignorant questions from a worldly English girl. (I don't have ancestors from England... English is just what the Amish call the non-Amish.) But my husband had forced the issue. I furrowed my brow intelligently and leaned in to ask, "Why are your gardens in the front yard?"

They looked at one another and shouted their laughter at me. One howled, "Well I'm not about to put it in the back where the horses poop!"

[Not long ago, an Amish relative passed away who had been close enough to my immediate in-law family that we all went to the funeral. My formerly-Amish friends advised me not to take the kids - Amish funerals are long, uncomfortable and not in English. But I decided that cultural issues were not valid reasons for not paying respects which you would ordinarily offer, so I put my kids in their starched collars and drove them to the farm where the funeral was held.

The service was held in the family's pole barn/shop where an open space was cleared for rows of backless, wooden benches for the bereaved. We sat on those benches and, yes, the service was long and, yes, impossible to follow for a non-Pennsylvania Dutch speaker. But what a rich experience for me and my kids - who were PERFECTLY behaved as I recall - to have. Without being too detached and academic over the sad loss of a close family's beloved, I certainly watched the proceedings with interest as well as compassion, wanting to commit it all to memory.]

Anyway, our interaction at Aunt Bonnie's funeral dinner was lighthearted with those fun Amish relatives, to whom we refer by long, geneology-informed descriptive names (Elmer T.'s Larry Mary) and who know all our relatives, too, even the ones we didn't know we had. When Michael and I were first married and I was a substitute teacher in the school system out in the country, an Amish boy approached me in the hall to say he had read the paper and seen our wedding announcement and that we were now cousins.

This time Michael had called us over because our formerly Amish friend, Dean, had told me that his mother's best dish was was "grimmle boi," (Margo, do you know what I mean?) a phrase which has subsequently become a catch-all in our home because it is fun to say. It's now used as an all-purpose swear word, a replacement for forgotten song lyrics, whatever the situation requires. The Amish wanted to hear us say "grimmle boi" and laugh at our accents and discuss their own recipes for "bois" of all types.

Ooh, how I want to hang out in their kitchens, rummage through their pantries, remove their bonnets and inspect their hairpin configurations!

I'll post the recipe after you've have a chance to wonder and Margo a chance to answer!

Updated 12/22

Grimmle Boi (or Crumb Pie)
In a saucepan, combine:
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 T flour
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1 c. hot water
1 t. vanilla

I mixed this before turning on the heat so that the lumps were removed from the flour. I brought it to an easy boil, stirring constantly, until I was sure the sugar was dissolved.

Pour mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Cover with crumbs.

1 c. flour
1/2 t. soda
1/2 t. cream of tartar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. butter

Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.

One Big Weekend - Four Small Posts... Part 1

This weekend we were sad to lay to rest Mike's kindly Aunt Bonnie, with the apple cheeks and great skin and the most expressive eyebrows I have ever seen. She loved her family and books and all children. We have lots of children's books in our collection which she purchased and inscribed for our kids at every gift-giving occasion. She had wonderful taste.

Throughout the weekend, we gathered with the extended family at the funeral home for the visitation, cried with the family at the funeral and shivered with the family at the burial. My schedule demanded that I go to the visitation at a time when I only had Ava with me. She was reluctant to go. I asked her if she'd ever been to a "viewing" before - I couldn't remember. She said she hadn't. I told her that there would be a line of Aunt Bonnie's children, siblings, mother and husband and that we would speak to them all. And at the end of the line, Bonnie's body would be in a casket, since some people would like to see her one last time before she is buried. ("And you can look, if you want, or not." "I won't!")

Ava watched the recieving line for awhile and asked, "So, all those people? They're saying they're sorry?"

"Yeah," I said. "They are probably saying things like, 'I'm sorry you've lost your mom,' or 'what a terrible shock.' But they are also saying, by being here, 'You are important to me. I'm here for you. You can count on my support in the bad times.'"

"Oh." I was proud that she was noticing and that she focused on the family and their loss instead of the fact that she didn't want to be there. And she was so GOOD at the social interaction with the adults. The only child at the funeral home at the time, all those inclined zeroed in on her to exclaim over her habit of growing, or who she favored in her face and build. Everyone she met, she hugged! Whoa, does she do comfort and grief great!

Everyone's loss experience is their own, but I often see them falling into two categories: Complete Shock by an unexpected death, or - like with my mother - Thank Goodness the Sickness is Over, which often comes with an extended illness. Aunt Bonnie had battled cancer twice, so I'm sure her family had spent time processing her mortality, but she actually died of a sudden, massive heart attack, which caught us all completely off guard.

Today, Uncle Carlyle's children all leave his home, returning to their own homes across the state. Uncle Carlyle, who looked down into the hole in the cemetary and said, "I love you, Sweetheart," before sprinkling his shovelful of dirt, is now going to have to figure out what The New Normal looks like in his life, where nothing is normal at all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Festival of Carols

Brooks is thoroughly enjoying the wonderful music department which our high school offers. He is a freshman this year and has successfully infiltrated every corner of it as we add band, choir and orchestra concerts to the calendar this month. I believe the next step is clearly total world domination.

This is a busy weekend for us. Let me give you the run-down, for my organizational benefit as well as your entertainment. (Every time I talk to my devoted mother-in-law this week, she wants to do the run-down, too. "Now what's going on this weekend?" "Have I given you enough money for the tickets?" "Where is that concert located?" We did that conversation today. We did it last week. We'll do it again the next time we speak. She just doesn't want to miss an opportunity to support the kids.) Wed.: Tech rehearsal for Sophia's choir concert. Thurs.: Dress rehearsal for choir concert, middle school orchestra concert. Friday: First of three days of choir concerts. Sat.: All day chess tournament and second of the choir concerts. Sun.: Final choir concert, which conflicts with the high school orchestra concert. Immediately afterwards, we'll go to the church Christmas open house, hosted by the pastors.

These three days of choir concerts have become a meaningful part of my Decembers. Our local college puts on a Festival of Carols which involves all the music groups on campus and the children's choir which my children have been involved in. We first went when Brooks was a part of the choir and now, he's moved on and Sophia has joined the ensemble.

It takes place in the college's state-of-the-art performance facility, which offers gorgeous ambience and acoustics. The choirs and orchestras offer special pieces interspersed with traditional carols in which the audience is invited to participate. A large percentage of the audience is culturally Mennonite, and rich in choral ability, so the carols sound straight from the Herald Angels. I am in my element.

Here's what the Mennonites are not rich in: Sentimental Weepiness. From the third verse of the opening hymn, I am pressing my hankie to my mouth, trying to stifle the sobs and the Mennonites to my right and left look at me out of the corners of their eyes. Sobbing - It's just not a very German thing to do.

This wrecks me every, EVERY time, sung by the children's choir:

"And through all His wondrous childhood, He would honour and obey.
Love and watch the lowly maiden, in whose gentle arms He lay.
Christian children, all must be:
Mild obedient, good as He."

And then, children's and college choirs together (to me symbolizing the in-the-blink-of-an-eye "day by day" growth - whether or not the symbolism was intended):

"For He is our childhood's pattern
Day by day, like us He grew.
He was little, weak and helpless
Tears and smiles, like us He knew.
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness."

I mean, shut up.

I have tried to explain how obviously touching those words are to others, but my sobs always interrupt. And when I manage to convey the message of the text, the listener always just blinks at me. I don't know if they are touching to anyone else.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Meet Vintage Country Girl

My girlfriend Lorie has a nice blog about her life on her little hobby farm. She has a fun vibe for home decor and manages to recreate some costly looks with found objects and bargain purchases. She's having a giveaway to celebrate one hundred followers to her blog. Congratulations, Lorie! I cannot imagine. Why, you're practically famous. Check out the giveaway. I kinda want that stuff. And by kinda, I mean, really. A lot.

I think I'm going to sign off from my computer for the night and try this project of Lorie's. I find myself totally into scarves right now and this seems cute and the jersey from a ratty old t-shirt would feel blissful right up by my face.

Turkey Hangover

We had a thankful day yesterday. Our family stuff is later, so I planned to make a feast for just us. I learned that some friends of ours had no plans so they accepted my happy invitation to join us.

I used the brine recipe that I used last year, with some tweaking. I didn't do any special shopping for the recipe.... I used the cider that I had on hand, but I was still a cup and a half short. Since it called for the citrus flavors of orange peel, I decided that the grapefruit juice in my fridge would be just the thing to round out the rest of the liquid. I also increased the amount of garlic in the brine. I'm telling you, the bird tasted better than last year's. The flavor permeated the meat better, which was my desire.

I suppose I did some overeating, but I didn't go crazy. Today, however, I am so sluggish. I guess that kind of food, even in moderate amounts, really isn't great for us.

Today, Sophia, with no plans on the agenda (which drives her crazy) offered to make supper out of the leftovers. She made barbequed turkey sandwiches - delish! - and potato pancakes - better than I've ever turned out.

And the thankfulness continued.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Piano Recital

My students did a very nice job at their recital on Sunday. There were some wonderful performances, some brave perseverance through nerves and some delightfully awkward bows.

Followed by Snickerdoodles in the church foyer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Latest Obsession

Let me introduce you to my new boyfriends and my latest obsession. The obsession is the NBC show, The Sing-Off, hosted by Nick Lachey. It's a game show, essentially, in which a cappella singing groups prepare a number or two, based on the theme of the week. One group is eliminated every show with the last group standing getting a record deal, I guess.

My new sweethearts are the Dartmouth Aires, Dartmouth College's oldest a cappella singing group. Lawd, these guys are good. And such personality! I just adore them. The performance above was done on Rock Legend Night. Each group was assigned a different Rock Legend (I use that term loosely, as Brittney Spears was one of the "legends") and had to prepare and perform a medley of that superstar. For me, it didn't hurt that they were doing Queen. I was the victim of a near-lynching last week on Facebook when I suggested that Freddie Mercury was more talented than Michael Jackson. Too soon, I guess.

Click on the above link now, thank me later. And tune in tonight for R and B night. Swoon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My City Half Marathon

Two Saturdays ago, my SIL Sarah and I participated in my town's half marathon walk. We are lucky enough to have some extensive trails around town, some of them in picturesque locations. This year was the 3rd annual half marathon walk.

Sarah and I were so proud of ourselves! Sarah is the type of person who, once she commits to something like an athletic event, googles training programs for such a thing. The programs all said that you would be able to complete a half marathon walk without training, but regular walks as exercise would be a smart thing to do.

She and I spent the late summer and early fall walking as often as we could get away together, but couldn't seem to put aside large enough blocks of time for really long walks. Finally, the week before the event, we managed an eight mile walk, which just about killed us.

To say we fretted over the additional 5.1 miles we would be walking the next Saturday was an understatement.

But the Saturday of the walk rolled around and in the cool October morning air we found the distance more manageable. We were proud of our pace and even did the second half a half-hour quicker than the first half. We felt better after ten miles than we had after eight the previous week. In fact, we felt so good around ten miles that we jogged for a little bit. (After three hours of a brisk walk, we were feeling the effects of the repetition in our hips and in the whispers of the start of blisters on our feet. Jogging had us move the strain to other parts for a short amount of time.)

The last two and a half miles or so were tough, though. We finished in 3.5 hours, well under our expected finish time.

Yay, us!

(These photos were taken by the photographer on the staff of the city's downtown organization.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fall Back

Whomever invented Daylight Savings Time was certainly not a mother, who expects her children to go to bed on time and who sees the necessity of a full night's sleep in order to have a pleasing, smoothly-running home. When we move the clocks in the spring I grumble and know that we will all pay for it for days.

But tonight I move the clocks back and hum.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I WAS Going to Write a Little Rant...

about a student family that does not see any need to meet the expectations of my studio. A student who will probably be asked to find another teacher at the end of the semester. It's ultimately not good for business to be known as the studio where the rules don't matter.

And then I thought better of it.

Last year, we carved our pumpkin on the front stoop of the house. This summer, I found THIS in the landscaping.

Apparently one little seed found it's way from the Gunk Bowl to the earth, took root and produced another little pumpkin to adorn our doorstep this year.

A more cheerful story.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chicken Fricassee

The kids and I returned home on Monday evening from a quick and wonderful trip. I'll not say precisely where I went because I did get the chance to visit with, and interview, two homemakers that I admire. Those interviews will appear here at some point, and once I bring them into the picture, I think it's important that I make them feel safe by protecting their privacy as much as possible. Thanks for letting me into your homes, girls.

Our little trip coincided with the ending of Brooks' football season. Literally, we waited until he had turned in his equipment, and then left town. The season was good in the way it kept him active and involved with his peers, but it was havok for our family meals. Michael would delay leaving work until it was time to pick Brooks up after practice, which also delayed our dinner time for an hour. Because Michael wasn't home, I was overseeing the girls' homework and activities on my own. I hadn't realized how much I relied on my good husband for that.

What with one thing and another, my meal preparation has dwindled to sandwiches and semi-homemade kinds of things. My goal for feeding my family became Lack of Starvation instead of beautiful, tasty, lovingly prepared food. Having seen the end of football season, and the homes and tables of some inspiring homemakers, I rushed off the interstate and into my kitchen.

Last night we had fricassee de poulet a l'ancienne, or, more familiarly, Chicken Fricassee. From Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Prepared in this way:

1 chicken, cut up for frying
1 sliced onion
2 diced carrots
2 stalks of celery, diced
4 T butter
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. white pepper
3 T flour
3 c. chicken stock
1 c. white wine or 3/4 c. vermouth
bouquet of parsley sprigs, bay leaf, thyme, tied up in clean cheesecloth

Cook the carrots, celery and onion in the butter in a medium hot skillet for about five minutes, or until they are almost tender but not browned. After, push the vegetables aside and add the chicken. Turn them every couple of minutes. They will get firmer, but not browned. Cover the pan, lower the heat and continue to cook for 10 minutes more, turning now and then.

Meanwhile, in another pan, simmer together the chicken stock and vermouth and herb bouquet. I have started to really love the taste of meat cooked in wine and this is the broth that will do it for you. Taste this stock for seasoning and add some salt if you think it's necessary.

After the ten minutes of covered cooking, use the salt, pepper and flour to coat the chicken. Cover and continue cooking for another 4 minutes, with another turn in the middle.

Pour the simmering stock mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Bring it all to a simmer. Cover and maintain for 25-30 minutes or so. You know, until the chicken is done. Stab a big piece and look for clear juices if you're not sure. Remove the chicken to a waiting dish.

Onion and Mushroom Garniture

Julia wanted me to use 16-20 tiny white onions, which I didn't have, so I just used another medium yellow one, as I had for the vegetables in the chicken. Also, 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, stewed in butter, lemon juice and water. Add the leftover stewing juices to the chicken in the next step.

From the chicken mixture, skim the fat, then raise the heat and boil rapidly, stirring often. The sauce will reduce and thicken. You will want about 2 1/2 c. for the sauce. (At this point, I spooned some of this into the risotto I was cooking as a go-with. I also reserved some for my chicken stock for a later meal.)

The sauce

2 egg yolks
1/2 c. whipping cream

Blend egg yolks and cream in a mixing bowl with a wire whip. Continue beating and add the hot sauce by tablespoonfuls until about a cupful has gone in, then you can add the rest and beat thoroughly.

Pour the sauce back into the casserole. Set over a medium high heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Boil for one minute.

Correct seasoning, adding drops of lemon juice, salt, pepper, even a pinch of nutmeg if you like.

Arrange the chicken and mushroom/onion garniture and pour the sauce over all. Serve immediately.

French cooking is a little time consuming and fiddly. Though American food can be tasty, it is usually prepared quicker and more efficiently, thus missing the deeper flavors provided by all these endless steps. Let me know if you try it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

You Know the World...

I'm on a little road trip with my kids. They are on a brief break from school and the opportunity presented itself to go visit some friends. (Look for some more interviews coming!)

A scrapbooking friend of mine has asked me a few times if I thought scrapbooking would get me and my girls through some tough days of adolescence ahead. She noticed her own pre-teen daughter wanting to sit down next to her mom whenever the scrapbooking supplies were out. They would work on their projects together and the daughter would get chatty. I didn't really see the same thing happening with my girls, though they like to craft, too.

No, I think travel seems a more likely "refresh button" for my relationships with my kids. We get trapped together without so many of our usual distractions. We talk and laugh, rest and play. If I can afford it, I hope their remaining growing up years will include lots of little getaways with me and their dad.

I've been thinking of a quote from Haven Kimmel's "She Got Up Off the Couch." I'm on the road now without my copy of the book... I tried Googling the quote and couldn't find it. Pre-teen Zippy was taken by her mother to see a highbrow play on the campus of the big university - a very strange and stretching experience for such a young and uncivilized girl. Later, Zippy realized that her mom was trying to give her new experiences and make her world bigger than just their hometown of 300.

We love OUR little small town, but I think we improve it when it's colored by the rich experiences of it's inhabitants. I think it looks sweeter when we can see it's contrast against other settings. Our citizens seem less homogenized when we recognize the dynamic personalities that were trees lost in the forest of intimacy.

And when I bump the horizons a little further east or west, I say to my children, as Zippy's mom said to her, "Why, it's just the world. You know the world.'

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pickled Beets

As Dad and I planned our garden this spring he asked eagerly, "Should we do beets?"

"We can do beets if YOU want them, but I don't care for them."

So beets we planted and beets we grew. And, when we had time to set aside, beets we pickled. All my siblings remember that Dad has always put up with the beets so that he could have those pink pickled eggs from the brine after the beets are eaten. Whether we are rewriting history or he is, he now says, "Oh no, I love beets."

It was interesting to spend this day in the kitchen with my dad. I remember always have pickled beets around, but I never remember making them with Mom. Being late garden season, of course we had other things to can besides the beets. On this day, we did tomato juice, pickle relish and beets.

Here is her recipe:

Pickled Beets

1 gallon beets
2 c. water
2 c. sugar
2 c. vinegar
1 sliced lemon
1 T cinnamon
1 t. cloves
1 t. allspice

Boil the beets until you can slip the skins off. Rinse them in cold water and the skins should peel off easily as you rub them with your thumbs. Slice them as desired and place them in jars.

In a stockpot, combine the water, sugar, vinegar and lemon.

Into a cheesecloth bag measure cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Tie the bag shut and float in the brine. Bring to a boil.

Pour brine over sliced beets leaving one inch headroom.

Process jars 15 minutes to seal.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Sigh. I started thinking about how important community is during Sunday School today. Our group was discussing a willingness to drop everything to serve where we are called. In the book we were reading, there were lots of references to people leaving their local lives to go live someplace desperate - "doing God's work."

A young guy in our midst - someone who is artistic and passionate by nature - who is single and can't decide on a college major so is working two jobs for which he is overqualified - said he was feeling really convicted. He works 'round the clock and "doesn't really DO anything." Never mind that he led worship that morning, chose music for the service and executed it fantastically. Never mind that he is home next to his mother who is battling cancer or that he is standing next to his dad who is strained and afraid.

I felt mad.

What is it about modern culture that trains us to despise our roots? That teaches us that if we've stayed in the county in which we were born, we haven't ACCOMPLISHED anything? Screw that. So if there is any hint of the Arrogance of Youth - thinking we're too big for this small town - I will not listen passively. I tried pointing out what he does for so many so that he would take seriously the ministry he already offers, but I fear it just came across as a way to let oneself off the hook from a true "calling."

Now, I believe that people CAN be called away from the familiar. I've told my kids that we would be happy for them and encourage them in whatever path they might be called to. But I've also let them know that they should not feel pressured to believe that their responsibility is to get as far from home as possible in order to feel successful. I've let them know that it can be a smart person's faithful choice to serve mightily in the home, community and family which made them who they are.

I stewed on this topic on the five minute drive home. I stewed about it while I cut up the butternut squash for our lunch's soup. The squash and I stewed alongside each other while I cruised Facebook and pieced together the story just unfolding of a family in my town reeling from a violent incident that occurred during the night.

A couple was waiting up for their two high school aged children to come home from a school trip. Their home was invaded and both husband and wife were attacked. The wife was able to call the police but by the time they arrived, her husband was dead. He had been a respected employee of a beloved institution in our town. His wife attends a prayer group that I'm in. She was also Sophia's chess club leader in elementary school and their son is a classmate of Brooks'. We are by no means close friends, but this is a small town and they have been in our lives. I still feel stricken and heavy with the news.

That prayer group had our regularly scheduled meeting this morning. Our leader had arranged for a pastor from the host church to meet with us and help us pray. We pieced together some more information about our friend's injuries and the surgery she had the previous morning. We learned who was caring for the kids and nodded knowingly as someone mentioned how tightly-knit their neighborhood is. We all expressed the lame but very intense desire to leap to our feet and bake casseroles for them.

I wait to discern how I can best support these people appropriately. I anticipate this man's memorial service, which I know will be flooded with the people of the community, who know how to come together in a crisis. I'm eager to hear from Brooks when he gets home from his day's activities how the school acknowledged the grief in its midst.

I know I can't articulate this quite right, but maybe you can absorb my meaning when I say that this episode of violence - leading to loss and grief and a season of healing - makes me all the more stubborn on this topic. I better hear no one say that the needs Here, the community Here and what I have to offer Here, isn't important.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Mouths of Babes

An acquaintance of mine inspired me recently. Last spring break, her older daughter went on a school marine biology trip to Florida. She took her younger daughter - Brooks' age - for a few days in New York City. Just mother and daughter. I loved the idea.

Since Michael doesn't care to visit NYC, I thought it might be nice to do shorter trips with individual kids over the years. I'm planning Brooks' trip for during some break in this school year.

Ava has been asking questions about why it might be desireable to go to such a big city. Finally, she asked, "But isn't it, you know, DANGEROUS there?" What did she mean by dangerous, you might ask? I DID ask and was told that that particular city has gangsters and mobs.

I feel 90% humored and 10% saddened by this.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What Did She Mean By That?

I spent the weekend away from home.

My personal trainer said, "Welcome home, Mommy. You have one hour to nap, then you get on the treadmill."

Wasn't expecting that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

They are so Impractical! I can wear them with Nothing!

I adore them.

(Allegria Poloma Mary Janes. In Midnight Garden!)

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Revelation Through the Haze

My mother always said that I'd be a coffee drinker by my second semester of college. Not so. I probably started drinking more Pepsi at that time of my life. I always enjoyed the smell of freshly brewed coffee, but it just tasted like oven scrapings to me.

No, it wasn't all nighters in college that made me a coffee drinker, it was my third child.

It was Brooks' first year in school full-time. Sophia was just turning four and Ava had just gotten mobile. I needed to clean the house from top to bottom for Sophie's little birthday party with the family. I thought it would be nice to offer coffee for the grandparents to drink with their cake and I remembered a bag of Blue Mountain coffee that I had had in our freezer since our trip to Jamaica a couple of years prior. After the birthday party, I just continued to make coffee for myself most mornings until the bag was gone. And then I required more.

The Pioneer Woman, a blog I read, is giving up sugar for a month. She just means sugar, not carbs. She will still eat a baked potato or drink a glass of wine. I thought I would join her in giving up sugar. Since I drink my coffee very much on the Sweet and Light side, I'm disgusted that giving up sugar also means giving up coffee, but it's only a month, right?

Yesterday was a day that should have been very productive. My schedule allowed me to be home alone for most of the day and there was plenty to do. Instead, I sat down at the computer between loads of laundry. I took two (!) naps. I commented to a friend that I couldn't figure out why I was so sleepy and useless. And then...

Ah, yes. Day five of no sugar and no coffee.

Guess what I'm doing on Day 6? Substituting for elementary school music. May God have mercy on my soul.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Color in the Music Room

Before: White walls. There was plenty of natural light, which gave it a very good vibe. I think some rooms "want" to be bright and airy and some rooms "want" to be cozy. It never turns out well if you try to make a room something it's not. I worried that adding a color would take away the appeal of all the light from those windows.

I thought I would put Butter Yellow on the walls here, unsure of anything else that would work with the red furniture and still allow the room to be so cheerful. At the VERY last minute I went instead with gray. Choosing the right color was a harrowing experience. I eyed the gray color samples, chose one card that seemed as good as any other, and picked a shade that seemed the right balance of light and dark. After collecting my gallon, I took it home, opened it up (it was gray), poured it in the paint tray (it was gray), and put a coat on the wall. Suddenly, it was blue.

I returned to the paint store three times before we finally got it tweaked to the right sensible hue. I think the salesman and I were good and sick of each other by the time we got it right, but I'm really happy with the result. I'm not sure this is the right picture to show it off. It was taken at a different time of day from the before and it doesn't wow. I really like the way the framing underneath the chair rail pops with color around it.

I had a stash of antique sheet music which I framed and displayed above the couch. I gave myself permission to cut into the pieces that were falling apart. I'm pleased with the variety of frame sizes which that allowed.

My students sauntered through as piano lessons resumed this week, and folks were very complimentary.

It's a good room.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Yes, Dear Readers, I am planning to post pictures of my newly colorful rooms. My intention was not to leave you hanging. In fact, I was planning to post them the day after my previous post. Now, nearly a week later, I'm still fussing with the Technological Beast.

I took the giant memory card over to my mother-in-law's. Her computer is always up to date and seamlessly functioning. It couldn't read my card either. In fact, suddenly it couldn't read her own memory card.

Strike one.

Then I had Michael spend some time at our computer to see if he could figure it out. He is better at such things than I. He spent an hour and a half tirelessly attacking the computer's brain with vacuum and canned air. He went through the memory and deleted and reloaded. He called his tech-y brother and picked his brain...

Strike two.

Today I went to the supermarket which has a photo kiosk and transferred all the photos from the memory card to a cd, thereby emptying the faulty card. The day was already not going as planned. My Sophia had one of her migraines and I kept her at home. My son forgot his laptop, which he needed for school, and I got in the van to drop it off for him. (I certainly had the discussion in my head about how he might learn to be more responsible if he spent a day without it, but helpfulness won out today. Never fear; I am inconsistent - he can learn that lesson later.) Since I was on that end of town, I decided to swing by the store to get this photo situation resolved. Maybe I would even have time to stop in at my husband's office and load them on a new blog post for the three of you clamoring to see. I can switch back to my card with the tiny memory after this and all should be well.

After doing the transfer at the kiosk, I scanned my bar code to begin the cd burning and to tell me how long until pick up. I should be out of here and back with my girl in five minutes, I thought. Instead, the message screen told me my order would be ready in 13 minutes. Ouch. This is turning into a long time away from my unwell child. I told the photo assistant that I wasn't sure I could stay this long.

"Well," she said archly, "I can TRY to keep an eye on it and grab it when it spits the cd out, but I can't make any guarantees."

I knew the right thing was to leave and get back to Sophie, but I lingered long enough to make the decision that my nephew's terrific wife, Mandi, came down the aisle and struck up a conversation. It was great to chat with her and the topic of our conversation was one I'd like to visit here - Foreign Exchange Students. I'm sure we talked for five minutes at least. I thought I'd check the ETA of the cd one more time. Maybe more time had elapsed than I thought.

"Your order should be ready in TWELVE minutes." !!! As far as the kiosk was concerned, one minute had passed since I placed my order. I told the disapproving attendant that I couldn't stay. I hope it'll be there when I can get back but for now...

Strike three.

But still swinging. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Color and Highlights

Five years ago we moved into our current house. We chose it mindfully, planning for it to be the house we were carried out of feet first. Could I care for an elderly parent here? Could the kids all come home for Christmas, grandchildren in tow? Can my knees and hips go bad and still get to the laundry room? All the answers were "yes."

The house was built in 1976 and when we bought it from the elderly original owner, most everything in the house was in its original state. When the old house sells, we said, we will enjoy the updating process. Until then, all shall remain "as is."

It is too angering to get into the details of it all, but with the recession, the bottom falling out of the housing market, dishonest potential buyers - turned slovenly renters - turned bankrupt evictees, we still own "the old house." And I still have Coppertone appliances in my kitchen.

I don't choose to focus on the negative in this post. We still wish we owned only one property and are reluctant landlords, but the renters we have now are reliable and hard-working. It pleases me to see them taking pride in the house to which I once brought home my newborn babies.

While I can't put in the hardwood flooring and new bathtubs that I long for, I tweak little things as I can. There were two rooms that still had white walls. Since I disapprove of white walls, I planned from the start to repaint them in some inspired color. And for five years, inspiration refused to strike.

The rooms in question were the music room and the kitchen. The music room (which I mostly only enter to give lessons) had a pretty good vibe to it already and I spent most of the five years parylized that I would irreperably mess things up by choosing a wrong color.

The kitchen lacks much natural light. Everyone has a kitchen window, right? Not so. My kitchen is, strangely, an inner room and I have to rely on light bulbs to wake it up. I worried that adding a color would diminish the already meager lightness in that part of the house.

Last week I took the plunge. My brilliant grown-up niece (my brother's step-daughter) has done the painting and I'm very happy with the results. The kitchen is finished and I'm hanging up some pretties. The music room will be touched up tomorrow.

I can't wait to post pictures.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Grow Watermelon

1. Go to a garden nursery in May. Buy a 4-pack of watermelon plants.
2. Put plants in the ground.
3. Neglect. Allow the weeds to infest and tower.
4. Come back in September. Watermelons will be plentiful, enormous and sweet.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflecting on the Blog

Struggling with the blog. Struggling with life a bit, actually. Not at all in a Woe Is Me kind of way. But in a determined way. My kids have been back in school for a couple of weeks and my piano studio resumes it's lessons on Monday. This time with the kids out of the house and my wishes as top priority have vanished in the blink of an eye. I *thought* I would purge the clutter in my house with a garage sale the first weekend of the school year. However I totally underestimated how much time the garden, and the produce preservation, would require. In my desire to Do It Right, I postponed the garage sale twice and finally completed it this past weekend. I had such a plan to touch everything in my house and laugh as I listened to it plead for a stay of execution. I touched a lot. And I laughed at a lot of the pleas, but I know I could have another sale next year.

Why do I let my plans grind to a halt because I feel I won't do it well enough? Too much devotion to Planning and too little to Doing is what I'm experiencing. Whether it's the garage sale, the housework or the blog, Life interferes and robs me of my nerve and gumption. Here's where the motivation comes in. I need to conquer this ogre Procrastination and become someone who Does and not just Dreams.

Now to the blog. Life is hectic at times and I have failed at the discipline of regular writing, which was one of my goals. What can I do to Do My Blog Well? Feeling that the photos are what draws ME into blogs that I enjoy, I purchased a snazzy Nikon camera. No more Point and Shoots for me. They make cruddy pictures. I'm pleased with my camera and becoming more pleased with the photos it is producing. However, the big memory stick I purchased to put in the camera is apparently too big for my computer to recognize. Sigh. Another obstacle. I took the stick to the supermarket to put the camera's images on a cd to sidestep around this newest hurdle. I gave it to Tech Support (Brooks) this morning to have him put certain images on the computer so that I can write my post about canning beets with my dad.

"But I think our disk drive is broken," said he. "Yeah, I've put it in and the computer doesn't recognize that there's a disk in there."

Are you kidding me?

Next is my new delight in the blog Pleasant View Schoolhouse. BFF Rebecca has recommended it several times over the years. I honestly only became a blog-reader at the same time I began blogging - about a year and a half ago. So I'd check it now and then, when I thought about it. But just in the last week has it so captured my fancy that it's all I want to think about or talk about. Anna, the writer of that blog has a lovely asthetic that prettys all the aspects of the life that she blogs about. There are plenty of recipes, but her life, like all our lives, is about other meaningful things besides kitchen work. My blog started wanting to be like hers when it grows up.

I started the blog thinking that so many of my contemporaries viewed me as a marvel because I cooked like their mothers, in process, quantity and confidence. So many of them were not comfortable in the kitchen because they hadn't grown up in that room as I suppose I had and they didn't feel qualified to cook for their families as their mothers had cooked for them. I intended my blog to be an encouragement to them and a record for my children, should they ever be interested.

But I think I have things to say on topics other than kitchen work. There's more than one way to Feed a Family. I tend to their brains, their souls, their compliance, their rebellion. Expect to see plenty of kitchen work remain a focal point.

And still many memories of days gone by.

But my life is richer than just the square footage in the kitchen. I have meaningful work with kids who are mastering the piano.

And I'm pretty proud of myself at play, too.

I want to journal it all.