Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sisters and Brothers

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

...I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character...

...I have a dream that one day...little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

The line about sisters and brothers always gives me pause, as it's literal reality in my house. Truly living as sisters and brothers sometimes looks like this:

These were taken Saturday. How sweet they were together, holding hands, giggling, conspiring to run straight back to the ride entrance for a second ride, a big brother protectively ushering his little sister onto a ride that would be far too scary to do alone, a sister, for no apparent reason at all, putting her arm around her brother while riding the flying elephants ...

And sometimes truly living as sisters and brothers looks like... well, if you have siblings or you have kids, you know! Living in community, large or small, brings misunderstanding and differences of opinion, after all.

Not judging by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, politics, record and experience, I simply cannot vote for the current Democratic candidate for President.

Yet in principle I am beyond thrilled for the fact of his candidacy as a man of African descent. Injustice and racism of all kinds are not gone from our country and world, and never will be 'this side of heaven. What a joy, nonetheless, to have such a visible symbol of progress. I rejoice in and am so thankful for the movement in the hearts of people that has allowed this possibility to become reality in our country.

These are interesting times.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Warm, With Butter

Since I haven't really been posting lately, have no themes going and no blog "brand" to speak of, there's really no reason I can't just post a random recipe right now, is there? I think not.

As part of a little social studies unit we're doing about New England, I wanted to make something approximating Boston Brown Bread. More concerned with simplicity than authenticity, I chose to pull out a nearly forgotten recipe for Steamed Molasses Bread from my file instead of searching further, and made it today. It's been feeling downright fall-ish around here in the coolest August I can remember, so the homey smell of baked goods was well-suited to the day.

Oh, folks, it was delicious. Served warm with butter. Mmmmm.

Of course almost anything sounds delicious "served warm, with butter." It's a powerful phrase.

Try "Octopus, served warm with butter." Wait. Some of you may actually enjoy octopus to begin with. It's possible.

"Tree bark, served warm with butter." See? You at least considered it, didn't you?

"Earthworm, served warm with butter..." Ok, the phrase has its limits.

In any case, perhaps you might like to try this recipe, too. It's sweeter than a typical whole wheat bread, but not nearly as sweet as a typical pumpkin or banana bread. It's... different. And delicious.

The bread is made in a slow cooker, and requires some sort of pan or container that will fit in your slow cooker and hold about 8 cups. There are molds made specifically for steam baking in a crock pot, but I've never had one. A small coffee can is the mold traditionally used by many people, but anything that fits will do. (I have a square Pyrex dish that happens to fit.) This needs to be set upon some sort of metal rack, trivet or, as I've even done, a couple of spoons, in the bottom of the crock pot just to keep it off of the direct heat and allow steam to surround it. Get creative; you have something in your kitchen that will do the trick.

So then.

Steamed Molasses Bread

2 cups All-Bran cereal
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins (these can be optional for the raisin-haters)
1 egg
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (or add 1 1/2 T. vinegar to regular milk and let stand 5 minutes)
1/2 cup molasses

Place a metal rack or trivet in a slow cooker. Grease and flour an 8-cup mold.

In a medium bowl, combine cereal, wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and raisins.

In a large bowl, beat egg. Add milk and molasses, and stir to combine. Stir in dry ingredients, without overbeating.

Pour into greased mold, and cover with foil. Pour 2 cups hot water into slow cooker. Place mold on rack in slow cooker. Cover and cook on high 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Remove from pot and cool 5 minutes. Loosen edges with spatula and turn out on plate.

And don't forget: Serve warm, with butter.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Few Thousand Words

Does this blog look abandoned to you? Cast aside and forgotten?

It may be neglected, but it has not been abandoned, despite appearances.

I simply have been lacking the time and physical and emotional wherewithall to write anything. I could flesh out that last statement with details, but that would require writing, wouldn't it? This almost could have been written by me. Almost. Far too many coherent sentences.

I've been popping in to visit blogs here and there, and look forward to writing here when I can. But for now, just to show that I'm still alive, posting a few summer pictures would count for something, wouldn't it?

They're worth-- what?-- around a thousand words apiece?

A Girly Girl with three brothers looks like this...

The Class of 2021 looks like this...

A brand new nine year-old & a mom sorely in need of a hair cut look like this...
A picture that really needs of a post of its very own might just look like this...



Saturday, July 19, 2008

Go, Children! Run into the street!

Today, against every parental sensibility, we encouraged our children to run with abandon into the street. We do this every year, just after noon on the Saturday of the weekend that comes two weeks after Independence Day.

Today was the Borough Days parade, kicking off our local two-day festival. The parade is… oh, some might say rinky-dink. It features clowns, local politicians, a very small marching band, a couple of kids’ drumming and baton twirling troupes, a dance group (that somehow never seems to be, you know, dancing when it passes us, even though the route is less than a half-mile long?), and fez bedecked Shriners joyriding on their snazzy ATV’s, the kind equipped with an extra wheel in the back for popping wheelies. And, of course, the backbone of the parade: fire trucks and rescue vehicles of every size, shape, and color of the rainbow, all with horns blasting and sirens wailing. (Ok, so there are no violet fire trucks, but let me tell you that powder blue does make a fire truck look almost pretty.) And the best part! Many of the paraders throw candy in the direction of eager kids along the route. Hence the encouragement to my kids that feels so very strange coming out of my mouth. My kids react as if we never, ever, ever allow them to have candy except on this day.

Rinky-dink or not, we faithfully attend the parade every year. We kind of don’t have much choice. It passes right in front of our house. The arrangement actually has its advantages for those among us whose sensibilities are most offended by the rowdy vehicles, and tend to prefer watching the parade like this...

... and may want to move up to watch from the front porch. Or maybe from inside the house, near the window. Or perhaps may even prefer to retreat to the far interior of the house with their hands placed staunchly over their ears in attempted denial of the whole traumatic event. It’s good to have options.

The parade progresses to the end of the street, where the festival commences. Again, it’s nothing spectacular, but a nice something-to-do. There will be a talent show this year, along with a band playing each night, booths selling food or running games to benefit local groups, and crafters selling (?) their wares. Somehow these wares usually are comprised largely of anything that can be made from crocheted doilies or plastic grids stitched with yarn. I had no idea that there was a market for such things. While walking past them, I usually nudge my husband and hint that July is not too early to begin his Christmas shopping for me. Then I make triple sure that he knows I’m kidding.

The grand finale will be the fireworks in the park tomorrow night. I could watch them from a blanket in the park. I have a feeling, though, that I’ll be watching them over the trees, from an upstairs window, inside the house. Or perhaps I’ll even prefer to just read Fancy Nancy in the back room and try to forget about the whole booming thing. I'm sure Girly Girl will let me know what I prefer.

It’s good to have options.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Have you met Katherine, who writes on her blog, Raising Five?

The name of my blog was loosely inspired by Katherine one day. She was asking her readers to let her know what kinds of things they were interested in, and what they would like to read about on her blog. In thinking about what really draws me to Raising Five, I realized that it wasn't in the subject matter exactly-- she writes mainly about her family life-- but in what is often plainly visible through it: grace. So many times when she describes how she responded (or should have responded--she keeps it real!) to an everyday interaction, I see it. That soul-expanding, life-giving , hopeful, heart-takes-flight release of God's grace, right there in the midst of everyday life. There it is! THAT's what it looks like, flowing outward, reaching into the mundane, touching others and drawing them in. (She's been at it again, simply and quietly inspiring me, with a couple of her posts this week.)

As I responded to her and typed the phrase "in real life," my brain simultaneously translated it to "IRL" in Typespeak, the native tongue of all hip modern keyboarders. ( That whole lexicon of text, e-mail and internet language deserves its own name, doesn't it? What should it be? And who gets to name it? Um, back to the post.) GRACE in real life-- "GIRL". Yeah, that's what this girl is after.

The grace and mercy that God offers, from ultimate salvation to the countless mercies bestowed upon us in love each day, are amazing. But his grace is also meant to flow through us, splashing refreshment, and inviting others to see and know God . What does that look like? What sometimes blocks both its reception and flow through me? What does it look like in perfect balance with discipline and justice? In parenting? In marriage? How do I receive and release grace in the midst of the roller coaster ride that is MY life? Ultimately it is God's spirit that produces and teaches me this, but he's long been in the practice of using object lessons, including ones sometimes found in others' blog posts. I recognize his teaching in the midst of them.

Beyond that, what drew me to the merging of "grace in real life" and the word "girl" is something I can't even articulate very well for myself. It has to do with the life journey I've been on. It's deep and meaningful, I tell you! But unraveling all of that might require a major online therapy session and far too many run-on sentences, even for me. I'll spare you, and stick with the half-baked explanation, ok?

So, GIRL. Grace in Real Life. Now, MY blog, instead of exhibiting the grace of God in full flow as Katherine's does, may be more likely to reveal God's merciful grace, as in, "If God can extend mercy and grace to THAT train wreck, surely He'll persevere with me."

Either way. May it be real and somehow show the real Him.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What in the world?

So... something has been bubbling in my mind and spirit in recent months. Despite a busy time and other plans for blogging when I did finally find the time, these past few days I have felt strongly compelled that I need to write what I'm hearing from the Lord. I have prayed, lost sleep, and resisted, but tonight I finally sat down to wrestle it all into words. I've never spent such time, thought, and effort on a post. After three (!) hours of work, with a conclusion finally in sight, something suddenly went "ding," and the whole post draft disappeared from the window.

Does this happen regularly on Blogger? Did I hit some mystery key I've never seen before or do something dumb? Is it ever retrievable?

Can someone more experienced in blogging please explain to me what may have just happened here on a technical front? On a spiritual front, I know you're not the ones to ask!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

WFMW: Out of the Kitchen in Five Ingredients or Less

It's Wednesday already? Time flies!

Speaking of time, one place I do not like to spend much time in the summer is the kitchen. This week's edition of "Works For Me Wednesday", hosted by Rocks In My Dryer, tells me that I'm not alone in that. We've been asked to share recipes with five ingredients or less. Finding one that actually has five ingredients or less was tough... unless you count cereal, which none of YOU would ever serve for dinner, right? Or fruit smoothies, or eggs, or leftovers...

One easy thing I do: Throw some boneless, skinless chicken breasts into a crock pot with pre-made barbecue sauce in the morning. If you have an extra moment, browning the chicken with a bit of flour first can help the chicken to stay moist and flavorful. Serve on buns as chicken sandwiches with fruit, salad, chips, or whatever you have on hand.

But I'll bet you've thought of that one already.

Here's one we fall back on a lot, year-round. There are technically seven ingredients, but I promise that it's easy because it's a recipe for which measuring is totally optional. It's forgiving.

Lasagna Soup

The name comes from the pasta used: mafalda, found in the dried pasta section of most grocery stores. It looks like mini lasagna noodles. It’s not crucial to have that exact shape of pasta, but, of course, the name of the recipe won’t make sense without them!

One recipe is not enough for the 6 of us if I serve it as dinner by itself, but it is fine if served with bread, salad, etc. I generally double these days-- those boys are growing!

For just one recipe:

–Brown a pound of ground beef.

–Sprinkle generously with some form of quick onions (onion powder, dried minced onions, whatever you have) and a quick shake of salt.

– Throw in a little dried basil, maybe 1/2 teaspoon.

– Add a can (14.5 oz size) of *Italian seasoned* diced tomatoes.

– Add somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 cups of beef broth.

– Add mafalda. You choose how much. If you add a smaller amount of the pasta, it will truly be soup. If you add a lot of pasta, it will absorb much of the broth and be more of a noodle dish.

–Boil about 10 minutes, until pasta is cooked.

– Serve with a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese (for those not casein free at our house!).

It's very quick. Like many pasta dishes, it's even betterthe next day, too!

Everyone likes this at my house, which is a miracle. I don’t feel the need to serve anything else with this if it's "one of those days" and I don’t have the energy. Ya got yer' vegetable (They say that tomatoes are a fruit, but they seem quite vegetable-y to me.) meat, starch, and dairy. By the old food group guidelines, you’re covered in one bowl!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

If You Give a Mom a Cabinet

Have you ever noticed how remodeling, organizing, and cleaning projects rarely stay neatly within their own borders? One thing often leads to another.

Re-organize one area, displace some items which need to go somewhere else, re-organize that someplace else, displace more items...

Tackle a cleaning job , notice the dirty area under it, clean it and discover major grime in the area next to that...

Attempt to remodel one thing and suddenly realize that the things surrounding it no longer match or look very worn by comparison. And one room flows into another, you know...

These projects can have a way of flowing and spreading until you're engulfed by an ocean that you never even saw on the map! That's where I've been lately. I've been paddling furiously on a raft in the middle of an ocean of all three project varieties. S.O.S.!

If I ever reach shore, I'd love to share with you the very special story of our adoption. Amazingly, I've never written it down in its entirety. It is something that I have promised myself I will do before becoming totally embroiled in planning and launching the new school year, so you'll either soon read the story, or read of my arrest for child neglect. Stay tuned!

That is all.

Unless you are further interested in my project ocean. If you are not, please, I beg of you, read no further. Save yourself!

Our house does not have the best physical arrangement for our family or homeschooling, and it's added some extra stress to the daily mix. You name it, I've tried it. This spring, the situation deteriorated sharply when Boy #2's full drum kit moved in, displacing homeschool materials from the third floor into a gigantic heap in my dining room. I wracked my brain for an inexpensive, creative, still attractive solution for school, and came up with nothing. (I'm kind of known for creative organization, so that's saying something.)

Meanwhile, like every other area in our 108 year old house, our little kitchen has its own issues. One is that there has never been enough room in the kitchen to actually store the dishes. They've been living around the corner in the dining room. There's a space under the kitchen counter with two bar stools for my four children, also not exactly fulfilling our needs. So why not purchase a cabinet for that area under the counter, finally bring the dishes into their rightful kitchen homeland, and then organize those homeschool materials in the dining room cabinet? We'll do it! Hooray! I'll soon be down to the business of organizing and planning life and school. A little expensive, but very practical, quick and easy, right?

No, no, nooo...

Because the configuration of the cabinet means that this will fit best here, and that there, and now where should those go, and that really needs to be re-organized, too...

Because we can't relocate things into dirty cabinets, in a dirty kitchen, in a dirty house...

And because I'll need to pick up some handles for the new cabinet! And why would we search out shiny gold tone handles to match the 1980's knobs we have in the rest of the kitchen, when we like fashionable antique bronze?! Of course we'll have to replace the rest of the kitchen knobs, but knobs are a simple, inexpensive little update, right? It IS probably a good time to replace those breaking door knobs, too-- antique bronze, of course. Which will really make the shiny gold switch plates look out of place... And, well, hey, while we're at it, let's get rid of those tacky gold light fixtures, too... Oooh my, how those new lights really illuminate how badly the kitchen ceiling needs to be refinished! And I'm not even going to mention how that doorknob shows on exterior of the house, too, where there's a shiny gold kick plate and a boatload of interdependent work to be done, from tarnished light fixtures, to siding, to... to where?

I do believe that if time and money were no object, the logical endpoint of this might not be found until we had replaced our house entirely... with a brand new one... in Hawaii... with new cabinets... which will need handles...

Somebody. Please. Save me from myself.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bless a Boy

Recently I shared the story of our One Hit Wonder on the baseball field. Please read the story if you haven't already. (I mean now. Spoiler ahead!)

Read it yet?

Last warning. I'm going to totally spoil it now, and assume you know what I'm talking about.

OK, so after those boys flooded onto the baseball field, the coach said that he didn't think he could have stemmed the tide if he wanted to! Their joyful reaction was sponataneous and sincere. They were simply thrilled for their teammate's success, regardless of the fact that it didn't advance the score one bit. I have to give a lot of credit for this to the coaches' focused efforts to build a loving atmosphere of respect on the team. With just a few weeks of practices and games, just look at what was wrought! It was not just my son who benefitted in that situation, either. Practice in compassion and getting along with different people always reaps benefit, don't you think?

Last month another adult made the news for the way she used her power to shape the minds and character of young people in her charge, only this time they were impressionable kindergarteners... and the power was not used well. Kindergarten teacher Wendy Portillo was frustrated with Alex Barton, a child in her class who was in the process of being diagnosed with autism*. This is what she thought would be helpful: She encouraged each student to tell 5-year-old Alex what they did not like about him, and then led them to "vote" Alex out of class. Not only am I heartbroken for what happened to Alex in this atmosphere, but also for the children in his class. What a horrible lesson has been foisted upon them.

You can read more about Alex at Mommy Life, where Barbara has followed his story. Just search his name in her archives for more. More importantly, though, would you consider taking part in the "Alex is Special" effort she has organized to send love to this child? People from all over the world have showered this boy with cards affirming him. I'm a bit late to the party in spreading the word, but still did not want to neglect the opportunity. Barbara is collecting mail for Alex and forwarding it to him. She has been posting pictures of Alex opening his cards with updates from his mom.

While we're on the topic, think about the environments your children spend time in. What lessons are they learning about how to perceive and treat people who are different from them in ability, appearance or behaviors?

UPDATED TO ADD: Barbara has already sent her last care package to Alex. There will probably be more news of this case, though, as they are taking it to federal court.

* It's not my intent to discuss classroom inclusion here and now, but please do note that this child was only in the process of diagnosis. It does not sound likely that appropriate supports were in place.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Just the Girls

Little man #3's life got even better yesterday. The camp my big boys are attending also has a separate, concurrent camp at the end of the week, in which kids ages 5 - 7 can come to camp for two nights with a parent, just to give it a try.

He's just old enough this year, and he was very excited to be signed up. "Very excited" doesn't even begin to cover it, really. In a Mommy mental lapse, I forgot about how slowly time moves when you're five, and I told him the moment I registered him... in April. Yes, I did. Someone may need to take away my parenting license, because that wait was torture for him!

By Tuesday, with the big boys already gone, he was so desperate for his camp day to come that he begged me to just MAKE it Thursday already. Today. I said no-can-do, of course, but I did negotiate it down to me making it happen the day after tomorrow. I kept my word on the deal, and yesterday was indeed Thursday. Off he went proudly with just his Daddy, with pomp and circumstance fit for a king embarking on a great journey. Not to mention six bazillion kisses and hugs. And his blankie, tucked into the suitcase, just in case.

So that leaves just us, the two girls. Girl time! I've been striving this week to squeeze in some spring cleaning (I know, I know... It's summer already...), but I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to take some special time with just my little girl. At her request, yesterday we painted her toenails pink and went out to eat. A local 99-cent kids' meal special made her a cheap date! Today, we snuggled in bed, then decorated and fancied up the whole house. Her whole doll house, that is.

Through the generous cooperation of grandparents, she received a giant Ryan's Room doll house for Christmas a couple of years ago. It's made of unstained, sturdy wood. A blank canvas for the imagination, at least in the estimation of we adults who buy such things. She has enjoyed it very much. It has not escaped her fancy soul's notice, however, that there are other doll houses in existence with considerably more fancy, girly, fairy princess purple-and-pinkaliciousness going for them. She has never made a big fuss about acquiring such a fine model for herself, but she has obviously taken wistful note.

One day I casually threw out the idea that perhaps we could fancy-up her doll house a bit with some paint, paper and "accessories" (an understood nod toward her current literary hero, Fancy Nancy). Buried longings tapped, that little girl flew to me with such speed and force that she nearly knocked me over. She seized both of my shoulders, looked directly into my eyes, and said with solemn, yet fiery earnestness, "Yes. Yes, I want to do that! Can we do it NOW?!?" No, not now. "TODAY?!?" No, not today. I don't even have the accessories yet. Let's do it when all of your brothers are at camp. "Is that TODAY?!" No...

Chalk up another Mommy mental lapse. I caused her no small amount of mental anguish by sharing such a thrilling idea a bit too soon. But after today's flurry of "wallpapering" with scrapbooking paper, cutting new little bedspreads, towels, rugs and placemats from fabric, and even letting her paint her own paper rug, this...

...has made her very, very happy.

Which makes me very, very happy.

So glad to be in your world, sweetie girl.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Sometimes it isn't easy being Boy Number Three.

My third little guy has overheard the words, "And who is this?" asked regarding himself more times than I can even recall.

It can be commonly observed that when a woman is expecting her first baby, folks are generally excited about and quite interested in both the pregnancy and the baby. It's big news-- not to mention the perfect opportunity to offer all of one's wise advice! When number two comes along, it's still an exciting, noteworthy event for the general public, though with a little less luster than the first time such news broke. It is, after all, the expected thing in the course of forming the standard American family with 2.2 children.

This completed, however, the general appetite for baby news is sated and the pregnancy attention span takes a sudden dive. When number three comes along, especially of the same gender and appearance as the first two, let's just say that the public splash isn't quite so large. Mental Rolodexes for families seem to come with two official slots for children, and those are already filled. Number three's name may or may not get written on a post-it note to be pasted in. But, then! "An adopted child? From Ethiopia, you say? With such a poignant story, too-- have you heard? And a GIRL!" Middle-child sandwich.

Even beyond their grand entrances into the world, he jockeys for position: Boy #1 is not only #1, but he also has special needs. Boy #2 is busy excelling in many areas, and the Sister is just very busy being so notably girly and distinct in her other ways. He wants to hang with the big boys, yet he's just 18 months older than the baby, and gets grouped as a little one. When he does hang with the big boys, it's not always so easy to keep up. (Hence, the motto of little brothers everywhere: "If you can't join'em, beat'em-- or at least trash their stuff!")

He does well... but, poor guy! The effect is exacerbated by the fact that he looks so much like Boy #2. Sometimes people will see him apart from his brother, and assume he IS #2. Then they'll see him with all of the kids together, and out it comes: "Hi, girly Girl! Hi, Boy #1!" Pause for a double-take.... "Hey, what's up, Boy #2? And who is THIS?"

But this week! This week the big brothers have been away at camp. And so THIS? THIS is the big brother! The one who reads the little sister her bedtime story. The biggest boy in the house. The only one awake with mom during nap time. The one who gets to make a cool pirate ship model with all of mom's attention for himself. The snuggler, the sweet encourager, the helper, the voracious reader, the budding musician, the jokester... center stage, my little guy.

I love you, precious boy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Drunken Slugs

For this edition of Works For Me Wednesday, I'm sharing an oldie but a goodie.

If there is something wreaking havoc in your flower garden, it just might be slugs. Slugs often aren't easy to find, but one thing will bring them out of hiding readily: Beer. They like a good time.

Here's what you do:

1. Buy some beer. We don't drink it ourselves, so it requires a special trip to get it. Though we have debated whether slugs prefer lite beer vs. regular, or one brand vs. another, the slugs themselves have indicated no preference. Therefore, we have scientifically concluded that the very best kind of beer for attracting and pleasing slugs is Cheapest Brand in the Case.

2. Place a small, low saucer filled with beer in the garden. That's it. In the morning, you will find drunken little slugs. They will be dead drunken little slugs, but they will have died happily.

3. Repeat a few times, as often as you deem necessary.

It's all-natural.

The best thing about this method is that, once a year or so, someone in your house may utter a sentence like, "We need to buy some beer for our slugs," and that is mightily funny. You can also then go to your local beverage store and explain to the clerk that you are buying beer for your slugs. If you have a few extra minutes on your hands, you can also try to engage said poor clerk in discussion about which variety of beer today's slugs like best. This will give him something to talk about with his co-workers later, bringing them closer together. It's a win-win-win solution, and it works for me.

For more tips and ideas, click over to Rocks in My Dryer.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Here it is. About twelve quarts of strawberry jam, ready to be eaten. (Less now, actually. We got started on it right away.)

Have you ever made freezer jam?

Until four years ago, I hadn't. Somehow I'd never even heard of it. I thought that to make jam, you had to do canning. Canning is scary to me. Granted, I enjoy the results. Mostly, though, it's associated with childhood memories I have of my mom's friend in her hot, steamy kitchen, on hot, steamy summer days, surrounded by boiling cauldrons, strange wire contraptions, and vast quantites of tomatoes. (I think raw tomatoes are scary, too.) It looked complicated, very uncomfortable, and even a little bit suspicious to me back then. I also suspected that, to do canning, you had to have your homesteading papers or at least be born before 1950. (That was before I met Mary at Owlhaven, of course. She has dispelled my myths. But I'm still not canning.)

Anyway, when I came across a recipe for strawberry jam that involved no unfamiliar contraptions or jars with parts, I just had to try it as soon as the next berry season came along. After making that first batch, my reaction was, "Wow! This is SOOO good!! And I cannot BELIEVE how easy it was! Why did I wait so long in life to try this? Why did no one tell me about this?!" I have since learned that this exact series of statements is the official, universal reaction of every first-time freezer jam maker.

Every year --until this one, I hope!--we have run out of jam before the next year's berry crop. It is a royal bummer felt 'round the household to have to go back to the store-bought stuff, with it's unnatural color and stale taste.

Just to emphasize how easy it is and how, yes, you, too, can do it: the very first year I made it, I picked berries with my 7 year old, 4 year old and crawling baby, went home, and then was able to make up a batch within the hour. And I'm not even close to supermom status. (Then I did laundry. 'Turned out they had watered the strawberry field just before we got there that year. It was muddy. Did I mention that my baby was a crawler at the time?)

You don't want to go through your whole life among the uninitiated, do you? That would be sad. You can make jam with other fruits and berries,too, and even get all gourmet with it, adding ingredients like crystallized ginger, grated lemon peel, or vermouth. There are recipes everywhere. So please, if you haven't ever tried it, be brave, find some fresh, ripe fruit, copy this recipe if it suits you, and go at it!

30-Minute Freezer Jam

Makes 6 cups

1 quart fully ripe strawberries
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 box Sure-Jell fruit pectin (available in most American grocery stores)
6 1-cup plastic containers (or whatever you have that's on the small side)

(Yes, 4 cups is a lot of sugar. That's how jam is. If you want to try the low-sugar jam, look for a special version of Sure Gel, and follow directions on the box. I'd like to try it next year.)

1. Rinse clean plastic containers with boiling water; dry thoroughly.

2. Wash strawberries and remove stems.

3. Crush strawberries thoroughly, one layer at a time. (I just stick'em in the blender.)

4. Measure exactly 2 cups of the crushed strawberries into a large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Mix water and fruit pectin in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling and stirring for one minute. (This whole step only takes a few minutes.)

6. Stir pectin mixture into fruit mixture. Stir constantly for a couple of minutes until sugar is thoroughly dissolved.

7. Quickly fill your containers to about 1/2 inch from the top. Wipe any drips off of the rims, and cover with lids right away.

8. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours, and it is ready to use. You can store it in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, or in the freezer for up to a year.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Christ, Crosses, Community

Several months ago I began reading Jennifer's blog, "Et Tu?" The Diary of a Former Atheist. Wow. A relatively recent convert to Jesus Christ, Jennifer thinks deeply about her faith and its applications to life in her world.

Whether you are a believer or not, whether you're new in faith or "old", browse the archives at "Et Tu?" for just a few minutes, and, no doubt, you will find something that intrigues, engages, challenges, or inspires you....

(Jennifer writes from a Catholic perspective, by the way. If you are accustomed to a Protestant style of worship, a few of her references may feel unfamiliar to you. You'll get over it. You'll be fine with just a few minor adjustments. The quotes and thoughts she uses from the writings of Saints who have walked with God before us? Think of them as quotes and thoughts from the writings of respected saints who have walked with God before us. See? Not so hard.)

Intentionally or not, with several of her more recent posts, she has explored and now wonderfully woven together ideas like hospitality, carrying your cross (the one that is already right in front of you) , embracing suffering and valuing life, and the nature and challenge of building modern community. She's totally onto something. I probably wouldn't do it justice if I attempted to summarize and synthesize it all here. I encourage you to visit, think, and participate if it interests you.

I do so admire the way Jennifer is continuing right onward toward maturity with the honest exploration and questioning that helped lead her to faith. For example, one of her recent posts was from her "Half-Baked Thoughts" file. (Let me say here that, if these were "half-baked", the thoughts that typically reside in my brain haven't even hit the bowl yet!) She discussed this statement:

"A culture that respects human life must have a joyful acceptance of human suffering."

The post was left open-ended with a list of questions for readers to discuss:

1. Why is it that fear of suffering leads to decreased respect for human life?

2. How does the fact that people increasingly deny the existence of a real, personal, evil force (Satan) factor into all this, if at all?

3.What about fearing other people's suffering (or potential suffering) on their behalf -- how can we be deeply compassionate and helpful without falling into the dangerous "your life isn't worth living" territory?

4.If there is a connection, what can we do? How does rethinking suffering factor into working towards turning around the trend of decreasing respect for the dignity of human life in the world today?

See what I mean? There's a whole lot of' thinking going on over there, "while {she's} folding laundry." I started with my answer to the first question, and ran out of time before even starting on the others.

Here's my take on the first one:

The more we fear suffering, the more we worship its rivals, Comfort and Convenience. Messy human lives can get mightily in the way of those twin gods, and so they are readily sacrificed on their alter.

In so many ways, by worshipping those gods instead of worshipping God and embracing our crosses, we end up devaluing human life. To keep ourselves from having to confront the suffering we fear and acknowledge its uncontrollable power over us. To stay comfortable and on our own terms, avoiding expense of either time or money...

Fear of suffering and worship of Comfort and Convenience make it easy for abortion or "euthanasia" in any form to seem like the right choice. It makes it seem acceptable to be rude to anyone who is in our way. And, ok, let's bring it down: worshipping comfort and convenience instead of embracing the cross right in front of us can lead a mom to act inhospitably to a "bothersome" neighbor child or lash out harshly at her kids when they interrupt her--again-- with problems.


But can you begin to see the outline of connection between all of those topics listed above, and the key to building community? No? Clear as mud? Do you see things differently?

If you'd like, head over to "Et tu?", think about it, pray about these things in your life, and add your thoughts to the discussion!

Feed Fix

Dear Internet/modern technology in general,

I THINK that you have redeemed yourself in my eyes. I THINK that a site feed is working now. It's set at http://feeds.feedburner.com/blogspot/CdOX but http://greenkneesocks.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss seems to be the one that's working. This is for Bloglines only. Google still does not like me.

You know that I have a love/hate relationship with you already. Yes, what with the way you purport to make my life simple and save me oodles of time, and then cost me untold hours and hours to figure you out, fix your "bugs", and handle your mood swings. With the way you promise to connect me to other people, and then prevent me from interacting with a single soul in public, as they chat on their cell phones, tap on their keyboards, and text.

Nevertheless, you came through this time. And I do truly love all of the wonderful people you introduce me to, bringing them right into my own dining room to chat, share, discuss, inspire, encourage, and sometimes enrage, but often in a good way.

So, thank you.

But don't do it again.

With Advil,


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oh, how many feet you meet!

Some women have pretty feet. Small, slender, smooth, pedicured, free of bumpy blue varicose veins that were the special gift of her gestating third child but she doesn't hold it against him... you know, pretty feet.

I do not have pretty feet. In this season of full foot revelation, mine really do require the colorful flourish of a little polish on the toes to Keep America Beautiful, or at least a Little Less Horrifying. It's mid-June already, and I have not yet taken time to complete this act of public service!

So tonight, instead of blogging, I'm going to finally break out the callous scraper thingie and my bottle of Cover Girl "Megawatt Mauve". (Tomorrow I'll post pictures of the whole process... Kidding! Kidding!! Please, come back!) After that I'll use all of the strawberries I picked yesterday to make freezer jam, a product which also makes the world a more wonderful place.

So, to be clear, what you are seeing here is NOT a blog post (A whole post about painting my toenails? Goodness, no. How vapid!) I will not be posting today. I might as well let you know at this point, Internet, that I will not be a post-a-day kind of girl. It may happen sometimes, but, over the long haul, my guess is that I'm more likely to be the kind of blogger Bloglines was made for.

I've been surprised by how many people still are not familiar with feed-readers like Bloglines and Google. They are such a convenient tool for keeping up with posted material, and I can't imagine online life without them! A few of my favorite blogging people only emerge from daily life once a week or less to post something, and it's so nice to pick up with them without missing a beat. I admire them for finding the blogging balance that works for them. I don't know what mine will be yet.

I humbly invite you, Internet friends, if you'd ever like to keep up with me and let me get to know you better, to subscribe here with one of the buttons. Subscibing does not mean that you are converting to my worldview or agreeing to come babysit my kids every Friday night (though that would be very nice and most welcome). I've been known to subscribe in places that I've been made aware of and intend to try, but haven't yet read even once!

Anyway, back to priorities. Toes first? Or jam-making? Hmm... Jam, I think. I'll smudge the toes if they're not done last.

(See? With such scintillating material here, how could you NOT want to visit again?)

p.s. Debbie, this non-post is dedicated to you, feet and all! Please come visit sometime with the kids. You can check out my polish job in person.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kumon, try them!

My first "Works for Me Wednesday"! For a couple of years now I've been gleaning from the helpful ideas offered by women all over the blogosphere via this carnival, hosted by Shannon at Rocks In My Dryer. It's high time that I ante up and share something, too.

I'll tell you what's working for me-- working right this very minute, in fact, enabling me to take a few minutes to write a quick blog post. My Book of Pasting Jigsaw Puzzles (for ages 4 -6), and Let's Cut Paper! (ages 2 and up) , both from Kumon.

I've walked by these books in the past and thought, "Good grief. Aren't parents creative enough to give their children paper and a glue stick anymore?" I've always let my little ones practice cutting and pasting with the basics, drawing zigzags and curves for them to cut, or just working free form. It's been fine, and I'm still all for it. Sometimes we get little sticky works of art, and sometimes we just get lots of paper all over the floor, with lots of glue everywhere else. At their ages, they can lose direction and interest, though, if I'm not right there with them, participating.

But these books have been great, even for more independent play! I really like how the puzzle book has purpose, direction and interest built right in. A kid can cut out the puzzle pieces (in increasingly challenging shapes), have a defined place to paste them in the book after solving the puzzle, and have a finished product that is easy to appreciate. The Let's Cut Paper! book adds color, fun and purpose for even the littlest snippers, also increasing in difficulty through the book.

If you could use a little spice in your young ones' repetoire, these books may be a nice addition. They work for me!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Consider the Peonies

Do you have peonies blooming where you live? Do they look anything like this?

This is what they looked like all over town today, after last night's rainstorm. I'd say their time is done.

Peonies have always struck me as a rather tragic lot.

No, seriously.

They burst forth in the early summer with big, bright, bold blossoms, full of promise and beauty, ready to glorify their creator with all of their splendor. Then, with the very first shower of rain, they bend and droop down low, unable to lift their heavy heads again under the weight of the little drops of water left upon them. Even with moderate support, they droop. Though they grow together as a bush, it seems that only vigilant care and individual staking of each flower could prevent this from happening.

The sad thing is that they never really recover from this. Even after the rain passes and the water dries, they just can't seem to lift their heads. They just spend the rest of the brief time they have to bloom upon the earth in this sad state, a big, brilliant array of petals facing downward, until they finally wither and fall off in the later storms.

After the first rain, I always cut and gather a few, gently shaking off the droplets of water, so that instead of following the path of the others outside, they can live out their days doing this in my kitchen:

Looking at them today, it occured to me that peonies kind of remind me of... myself.

How easily I take on lies, allowing them to sit on my petals instead of shaking them off! They come as little droplets from the constant shower of whispered thoughts that rush through my head. With an accumulation of surprisingly few drops, I'm soon hanging my sorry head, looking nothing like the blooming creation I was designed to be. Even with other blooms and low stakes supporting me loosely, sometimes I cannot seem to recover.

I do not want to spend my vapor of a life defeated, falling apart, and not living up to the beautiful promise that has been placed within me by God's mercy! I need to be aware of the showers and the power of just a few drops. I need to shake off each little drop when it lands. I need firm staking supporting me, and to wholly cling to it when I become burdened with lies.

Jenni, at One Thing, wrote about this battle of the mind and spirit just the other day, punctuating it with a stunning video. I encourage you to take a few moments to watch it. As she mentions, these church dramatizations can sometimes be a little schmaltzy, yet the striking visual image has such a powerful effect. I have BEEN that young woman in the presentation. I could feel the emotions vividly with her-- the pain of realizing that you have been slowly lulled, deceived and trapped in a pit deeper than you ever imagined was there, being yanked and pulled and mocked, desperately wanting to get back, yet ultimately powerless to do so on your own... I don't ever want to be her again.

I am so grateful that there is a loving gardener who mercifully cuts me from my bowing stem and gently shakes off the clinging droplets, who will provide me with the water and sunshine I so desperately need to live and bloom, and who graciously allows me a place in his house where I might again have the opportunity to bring glory and pleasure to him, the one who valued and rescued me.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wardrobe Malfunction

Lately I've been finding a lot of my 3 year old daughter's underwear strewn around. It turns out that she has been having a little problem.

No, it's not what you think. They're dry and clean. Just colorful little trails of fresh Doras, Elmos, Kitties, Monkeys or Plain Pinks between her room and the hallway mirror where she now prefers to dress and check her look.

Today I found out what's been going on. Apparently she started to notice that sometimes, when she puts her underwear on, it's backwards. Being smart like she is, she easily figured out the obvious solution to this matter: she must find and put on a pair that is NOT backwards. Back to the drawer she would go, in search of a forwards pair of underwear. Unfortunately, sometimes those pairs turned out to be the backwards kind, too.

Don't you just hate it when you reach into your drawer for a pair of undies and all that's left are the backwards kind?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Boy of Summer

Something special happened last week. It was both overwhelmingly joyous and overwhelmingly sad for this Mommy, so if you sense the splash of my tears on the keyboard, just know it’s one of those. Happy... or sad... or probably both together. This story actually has many facets, and there are larger, related issues that will surely propel me into other posts, so... so... in a burst of creative brilliance, I’ll just weave all of that introduction together and call this...

Part One

As I mentioned yesterday, my eldest son has some disabilities. This spring, seemingly out of nowhere, he had the desire to play baseball on a team. This sudden interest in baseball was an eyebrow-raiser, met internally with cautious skepticism and mixed emotions, but he was so enthusiastic and eager to try it that we just had to consent.

He’s on a team of 11 and 12 year old boys, one of the three teams fielded as an outreach of an urban ministry here. A majority of the kids in this ministry’s programs live in the inner city. Many come from some tough situations at home, and some can be a little rough around the edges. (My older boys have spent the past two summers at day camp through this ministry, giving them the invaluable experience of being daily in an environment where they are the extreme minority race, but that’s a post for another day.)

Now, you might not think that this particular group of competitive 11 to 12 year-old boys would be prime soil for inclusion of a kid with significant differences in physical ability. The primary goals in this baseball program are a little different than most, though. They aim to create a loving atmosphere, in which respect for teammates, coaches, other teams, umpires and equipment is placed far above winning games in importance. They accept and support my son, valuing him for the things he does bring to the team, without begrudging him the one or two outs he adds to the tally each game.

Every player is guaranteed to get at least one turn per game at bat and out in the field. As the team hasn’t been doing so well, he often gets two or more turns. Seeing his differences (a coach steps up with him, for one), most opposing coaches opt to signal their pitchers to slow down. The resulting high lobs can actually be harder to hit than straight pitches -- Imagine yourself swinging at a ball a good foot above your head... There. See what I mean? -- but he’s not likely to get out of the way of any errant fast pitches, so we’re not protesting to change this anytime soon! In any case, as of last week, he hadn’t gotten a hit all season. Not even close.

At last week’s game, the team was having their best game of the season by far. It was going to be a one-turn night for my boy. As he got up to bat, we were narrowly hanging onto a lead, there were two runners on base, and two outs already. “Oh, no, Lord. I wish he wasn’t in this particular position...” I thought. “Wouldn’t it be amazing for him to experience getting a hit, even just once this year?” my heart added.

To be continued...

One Hit Wonder

**This is part two of a story I began yesterday, here. You'll need to read it first!**

A new pitcher came on, and we waited as he warmed up some powerful pitches. Obviously he got the signal from his coach, though, because he settled into some alternative pitching when my son took the plate.

One high lob, with a swing and a miss. Another pitch sailed over the plate. A third pitch... and a hit. A HIT! Not a hard one—the ball got about two thirds of the way to the pitcher--- but he hit that thing squarely!

It took him a while to figure out that he needed to run, and he was easily out at first base, bringing the team's inning to a close. By the time he even reached the base, though, he was mobbed. The bench had emptied as every single player on his team spontaneously flooded onto the field in excitement to congratulate him! At some point while his teammates were stampeding first base, I somehow managed to turn on my camera’s video switch, then continued to watch it unfold in disbelief, too stunned to let the tears roll. With the swarm of jubilant boys behind and around him, he just continued running, away from first base, around the sideline fence, and behind the bleacher where I sat.

People in our bleachers were clapping, cheering, and even crying as they saw that hit and watched that bench empty of every last player. If the kids had been larger, you might have almost expected them to lift him up on their shoulders! It seemed the kind of glorious moment that comes at the end of a sappy underdog-hero movie. And it was. And it wasn’t.

His face seemed to bear the grin of a kid in the midst of a fun spectacle as he rounded the corner. In an instant, though, he turned toward the parking lot, and took off for the car, sobbing.

One thing common in kids on the spectrum is some difficulty in interpreting social cues, those unspoken signals in interaction that most people gather and understand without a thought. Talk about a social cue! You hit the ball, get confused about running, get an out at your base, and then turn around to see a mob of teammates rushing at you. Yes, I guess that would be pretty confusing! Whether it was a positive response or a negative one, he had certainly never seen anyone else given this much attention. He also has sensitivities regarding body space and light touch, and profoundly prefers not to be where he perceives to be “in the middle,” which undoubtedly came into play in the scene as well.

He was overwhelmed, embarrassed, and not even quite sure how to interpret it all, yet the truth of what the boys were communicating was clear to everyone else watching: pure, overwhelming, enthusiastic joy for their teammate's success! (At the next game, one of the boys even brought him a bakery cupcake in honor of his hit. The coach gave him the game ball.)

Out in the parking lot, the coaches tried for a few moments to help him calm down, and then I came over to do my part. I hugged him and congratulated him on his awesome hit, affirming that he had done well and done the right things out there, and I spoke the truth about the boys' motives and reaction. There would be need and time later for much more processing and delicate framing of reality. Crucial celebration and talk of the "Amazing! Awesome!" hit, for the wide-eyed little boy searching so desperately for genuine success, belonging, distinction and admiration. And simultaneously, for the pre-adolescent who is very intelligent beneath the layers, is aware, and must live in reality, talk of how, no, people weren't necessarily cheering because the hit was objectively "amazing", but because they recognize that he is different and that it's hard for him, and that people respect those who accomplish what is hard for them.

But all of that work would continue later. For right then, I helped him verbalize his feelings ("Yes, that WAS too much! Next time you get a great hit, they'll have to control themselves better, huh?" Wink.) and get himself together so that he could play it cool in front of his peers.

"Get back to your bench, Bud! You always encourage your teammates and keep them cheerful on the bench, " I said. "They need you."

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Girl Has To Start Somewhere

So how about a little introduction before I jump in with other posts?

Ok, well... Oh, dear. Now how to sum up my entire existence? Hmmm...

How 'bout I just "share ten things about myself" instead, okay ? Thanks. That takes the pressure off for a detail-oriented, shades-of-gray person like me.

1. I live in Pennsylvania, though my growing-up years were spent all over the Midwest, with a stint in southern Virginia for my college years. Those years were enough to solidify “y’all” as a permanent part of my vocabulary, by the way, so don't be surprised if it pops out. After all, our language does lack a plural form of "you". The gap was ripe for filling, and "y'all" just slid right in there. I sometimes get the, "Where're you from, anyway?" look when it slips out up here in the North, but I can't help it. I'm just glad the linguistic vacancy was taken before moving to this region, where the local plural "you" is --are you ready for this? -- "y'unz." Yes, really.

2. I live in the city right now. Well, technically, we’re a few blocks outside of city limits. But our house is 48 inches from our neighbor on the left, and just 28 inches from the one on the right, with a city bus stop just a few steps from our front door. I still think that’s living “in the city”, don’t you?

3. I am a Christian. Amazingly, I am loved, forgiven and called to a full life that cooperates in the purposes of God Himself in this world. All of this only by the mercy, power and grace of God through Jesus. If you want to see just how gracious God is, and how tough a nutcase He will patiently work with, look no further. I am Exhibit A.

4. Speaking of patient grace extended to me... I’ve been married to my husband, Dan, for nearly 15 years.

5. I’m the mother of four children, 3 boys and 1 girl, aged threeandaHALF through elevenandaHALF (If you’re a parent, you know how important those halves can be to a kid.)

6. I’ve been given the awesome task of parenting a child with special needs, which include high functioning autism.

7. I have the amazing privilege of being a trans-racial adoptive parent to a child born of a different mother, in Ethiopia, yet rooted deeply and forever in my heart as my own.

8. I am homeschooling my children. This has not always been the case, but we were propelled into it by circumstance and the special needs in our family right now.

9. Though I've officially been a "SAHM" for as long as I've had children, I was a birth doula for several of those years. The realities of life without a live-in nanny (or any child care), with a child for whom focus on attachment was a primary need, and while homeschooling, have meant that the 24/7 on-call status of a doula is just no longer doable for me. For now. I loved working with birthing women and their families, but for now I'm just a good listening ear for anyone whose birth stories and musings have worn out their welcome elsewhere. We birth junkies are good for that, at least.

10. I am befuddled by the question, "What kind of music do you like?" My best answer is, "GOOD music! Whatever the genre." That's a little too egocentric to actually say, of course. But my taste in music is eclectic, to say the least, often to my husband's amusement. He never knows if he'll find me rockin' out, weeping to opera, steppin' to the hip-hop, dancing rumba with Juan Luis Guerra, getting all contemplative, praising God gospel-style, feelin' the drums, bopping to oldies, going about my business to an Irish jig, feelin' Froggy, blues-y or classical, or getting sappy with Delilah. The infinite variety in human creativity is amazing. One of many things I can't wait to experience in Heaven is the MUSIC! Can you imagine?!

That's it! That's ten. That wasn't so bad.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Testing 1, 2... Testing...

Hello? Hello? Um... is this thing on?

It is? Oh, wow. I thought this blog might have just died peacefully in its sleep by now. After all, it was set up a full year ago, and I have yet to post a single sentence.

Since then, apparently, 169 folks have clicked on my name in Blogger, no doubt hoping to find out something about who on earth is stalking their blog and leaving mile-long comments, only to be rewarded with nothing more interesting than my name and state. Well, except for the first few months, when “Afghanistan” was listed as my residence after I'd unwittingly scrolled to it in profile set–up. (I’m technologically brilliant, I tell you. And observant.) At least "Afghanistan" was interesting. Not true, but interesting.

Anyway, to all of you who have stopped by, unrewarded, I am sorry. You are long gone and will never see this apology, but I offer it, nonetheless, into the airwaves. Or satellite waves. Or whatever we’re surfing here. (As I said, I’m technologically brilliant. Be dazzled by my brilliance.) It may very well be that I have been amused, enlightened and generally blessed by the writing and glimpses of life that you’ve offered on your own blog, and for that I thank you. It’s wonderful to share a little bit of life with you through this modern mode of community.

I’ve wanted to participate in the blogging community more fully for a long time. There are stories I want to both write down for myself and share with others. There are ideas and issues I would love to discuss with you. There are probably even cute pictures of my kids that you need to see, but you just never knew it. Life circumstances in the past few years have taken every last bit of me, though. Until now I’ve sensed that, for me, stealing time and energy for blogging was just wrong.

Last week, one of those eminently bloggable stories happened in my life. “I HAVE to blog about this!” I immediately thought. “Wait. I don’t blog,” was the thought that occurred next. And so on. This little conversation with myself has happened on a few occasions. With the easing of responsibilities that comes with summer’s beginning, though, blogging in the wee hours feels almost feasible. The convergence of a bloggable story and a month-long summer break is just too much temptation for a girl to stand... so, here I am.

Can you stand the excitement?

Anyone...? Anyone...?

In any case, I’ll be back soon!