Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

Christian Vocation vs. Globalism

I have been reading some of Walter Mosley's non-fiction. In Life out of Context, Mosely, who is
African American, soliloquizes on how he came to find deeper meaning in his life by helping Black people world-wide to find freedom from oppression.

I have not finished the book, but it got me thinking about several things, one being how the Biblical concept of vocation differs from the current societal trend toward globalism. Globalism says we have to think big. We must see ourselves as part of a bigger societal, economic, ecological structure.

When followed to it's natural conclusion, that idea leads toward less freedom and more socialism. We are taught to think of our place in the world and how everything we do effects the entire world. What a burden to put on people!

Kind of like your mom telling you to eat your dinner because the kids are starving in China. As if our eating it will somehow help the starving masses.

But Biblically speaking, we are exhorted to firstly care for our own spiritual needs. Hear God's Word and partake of His Holy Sacraments.

Next we are to care for our familial needs. Then the needs of our neighbors (anyone with whom we come in contact). And then at the tail end of that is our care for world needs.

Is that selfish? God gives everyone different lives. Different situations. Different interests and abilities. God uses us to further His purposes in whatever "spot" he has placed us. This is our Christian vocation. Using our place in this world and the person God has created us to be to further His work in the world. Both temporal work and spiritual labors.

If we focus on and worry about "great things" to the extent that we neglect the local part of His plan for us, we will add needless stress to our lives. God will take care of results when we faithfully perform daily the things He puts before us.

Sometimes these are big world influencing occupations. But those occupations that involve feeding our kids and keeping them clean and clothed; or putting on a coverall and working on Cars; or assembly line work; or whatever various jobs God may ask each of us to do each day; These are truly great and noble deeds.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Stella Antic

I guess kids learn what they see. Stella is my two year old. I hope that she learned the following from my nearing adolescent daughters and not from me. Not that I want my daughters to react like this, but I know it happens; and I really don't like to think that I may act this same way. Keep in mind that Stella can not say her "f" sound so it comes out like an "h" instead.

Stella had been trying to set the table for breakfast and chose to put paper plates around. I had gathered them up and put them away on the closet shelf. She persisted in telling me we needed them until I showed her the cereal bowls and said, "How about these?" Stella gave a big resigned kind of sigh and said, "Oohhh, hine."

Clara, my almost eight year old, and I just looked at each other and cracked up. Probably not the best reaction either, but Stella's big sigh combined with her two year old pronunciation just ticked our fancy, I guess.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Author's Voice

I have been reading a book by bestselling author, Janet Evanovich, How I Write. She says in the preface that the book is written for a duel audience, both aspiring authors and the fans of her Stephanie Plum books. I think if you are willing to put up with the Stephanie Plum fan club "Yoo, Rah, Rah!," stuff it is a great resource for anyone who wants to improve their own writing. There is tons of good information, tossed out in Evanovich's colorful style.

Which brings me to the point of this post, an author's style or voice. Evanovich had a section in the book in which she discusses an author's personal writing style, which she calls "voice." Now first off, it's difficult for me to use the term, voice, in that way because I think of voice as referring to active or passive. But apparently in the world of writing it means something else.

When Evanovich discusses this topic, she asserts that a good writer will, with practice, get to a point in their writing in which he or she will find a voice that suits them. A style, tone, personality that comes out in their writing.

Now I know from my own reading and the high school and college lit classes I took that many authors do have a certain style. Jane Austin, for example. Yes, her many books are much the same. I have read all of them, and can say this first hand. Are they still enjoyable? Yes. Did they have the staying power to last through the ages? So far, yes. No signs of being consigned to the trash heap of forgotten literature.

William Faulkner. Yeah, he also has a style. I mostly think of his with regard to those books that are all set in that MO county. I am going to expose the holes in my own education here, so bear with me. I can't even remember the name of the county. Prof. Morton Schroeder would not be happy. But I can say that at least that set of Faulkner's books are much the same stylistically. But they are kind of a series, so they don't really count. I don't know whether Faulkner wrote other things that fit the same mold.

Ernest Hemingway? I recently read For Whom the Bell Tolls. I also read one for a class at some point and only remember that it was a downer. I can't even remember which one it was. I think Farewell to Arms. But from what I do remember, I would go out on a limb and say that they are both books written by someone without hope. They are both sad, but compelling. But I am currently reading a book by a MN author, The Legacy by Mark Munger. There have been several times when I have wondered whether he was being intentionally Hemmingway-esque. So there must be something in that makes a Hemingway novel a Hemingway.

I have read all the Stephanie Plum books. Because I enjoyed them, I read a few other Evanovich books. OK, most of the other Evanovich books. (I read hardly any contemporary adult novels, so this has been kind of a different thing for me. I usually read classics and non-fiction interspersed with my kids' school assigned novels for my lazy reading. There is lots and lots of great junior and young adult literature out there.)

Anyway, Evanovich has a new series, so far two are out, I don't know if she will do more. The first is Metro Girl, which is followed by Motor Mouth. But the thing that struck me about these books is that they seemed to be Stephanie Plum dressed up in new characters and a new setting. Otherwise the books are boring. As a reader, I don't enjoy it when an author seems to be always the same.

Think of Tom Cruise compared to Daniel Day-Lewis. Who's the better actor? Tom Cruise is perhaps a more prolific entertainer. He can entertain and has drawn big bucks at the box office. He is always in the spotlight. But his roles are mostly the same. Especially his earlier years. During my late high school and college years, I don't think he ever played a new character.

But Daniel Day-Lewis is different in every role he does. Whether it is Cecil Vyse in A Room with a View, or Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, or yet another of his many roles, he is new. And so he is the better actor. He has the ability to pretend to be many different things.

And so with an author. And author ought not to become too comfortable with a successful style. readers will get tired of the sameness.

Now, perhaps, just as Tom Cruise has more notoriety and probably has made more money from his films than Daniel Day-Lewis, if an author is after only notoriety and money, one ought to find a voice. But if one wants to truly write well, each new book needs to have a new voice. Or at least more than just new characters and setting.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

I am currently reading Angela's Ashes. It is the first part of Frank McCourt's memoir of growing up poor in Ireland during the 30s. The story continues in 'Tis.

I am not going to enter the entire section I want to share with you, because it goes for several pages. But it is worth reading in its entirety, if you ever get a chance.

McCourt's father is a drunkard. The family lives on a combination of Government Aid and St. Vincent De Paul charity. The father routinely "drinks the dole money" and then comes home late and makes his sons get out of bed and promise to "die for Ireland" when called upon to do so.

McCourt is telling the reader about his complex relationship with his father. He spends a page or so telling about the time they spend together in the morning. His father gets him up early enough before school to fix young Frank's breakfast and read the paper and talk to his son about the world's news. MCCourt's father teaches him about Hitler and Mussolini and Franco; about the problems in Ireland with the English; about the hedge schools the Catholics held in secret during the days of English oppression; and so on.

McCourt then spends around a page telling the reader about the time spent with his father at bedtime. His father is a great story teller, regaling his sons with tales of the Irish folk hero, Cuchulain; with fantasy stories of polar bears in Australia and Zulus and motor cars and upside down worlds. The father taught his sons to kneel down at their bedside and pray all the necessary Catholic daily prayers.

Then he finishes off with this.

I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland.

I feel sad over the bad thing but I can't back away from him because the one in the morning is my real father and if I were in America I could say, I love you, Dad, the way they do in films, but you can't say that in Limerick for fear you might be laughed at. You're allowed to say you love God and babies and horses that win but anything else is a softness in the head.
This is a poignant reminder to me of the difficulties faced routinely by those affected by loved one's addiction .

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Livin' off the Land

There was a time when I liked to imagine living off the land. I read stories of America's early settlers. I admire their courage and fortitude. Part of me is drawn to the simplicity of their lifestyle. Not simple, as in easy work; but uncluttered by outside influences.

Families stuck together. They had to! Children learned to work hard because even their young efforts effected how much food the family would have during the coming winter. The family's schedule centered around home, not sports and lessons and jobs and committees and so on.

Church was important, first of all because when a persons very life was so dependent upon God's grace, it was much easier to remember His providence. It is much more difficult now, when all one needs is a paycheck and a grocery store.

And secondly church was the social center of the community. When a family had to choose just one time a week to leave home, church was it. I wonder what kind of choices Americans would make today, if given that choice. "You can only leave your property once all week. What's it going to be?"

There are many things about those times that appeal to me. But I no longer glamorize them. I can't even get a garden to grow, let alone provide vegetables for an entire year for my family!

Used to hang all my clothes to dry. I had indoor and outdoor clotheslines; I used cloth diapers for my first four children and and some of the time with my fifth. Now I have a clothesline that stands empty most of the year and I am really thankful for disposable diapers.

And I have found out that the older I get the less brave I am about trying new foods. When some of the older folks around here talk about blood sausage and head cheese, tongue and so on, I smile and am thankful I live during a time when we can choose our foods. What a blessing! To have the luxury to make food choices.

Since we moved to this home six years ago, I have gotten used to eating venison and lamb. I have also eaten and not gotten used to goose. But if I was hungry enough, that goose would probably taste really good.

And right now, even as I write, I have two jack rabbits in the crock pot. So tonight I will have rabbit for supper. I am not sure how I feel about that. But I will put on a brave face and maybe even say, "Mmmm," if necessary to set a good example for my children.

The rabbits were shot by Matthew, 13, and Louisa, 11. I now have the comfort of knowing that if something happens to Joe, my children can provide jack rabbits for our dining pleasure.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Potatoe Gnocchi, GF and otherwise

Here's a recipe that turned out great. Gnocchi are Italian dumplings. I will give the original recipe, then a good guess for a Gluten Free conversion, and finally I will tell you what I really did. Since I cook for 8-10 people every meal, I can't be fussy. I rarely follow a recipe as written. Especially since I now must cook GF, I never know how anything will turn out until it is done.

Original recipe from The Joy of Pasta by Joe Famularo and Louise Imperiale
Potato Gnocchi makes enough for 3-4 servings
5 Idaho Potatoes
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 c grated parmesan
1 1/2 c all purpose flour

Bake the potatoes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Peel and put them through a food mill or mash them.

In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks, salt, nutmeg, and grated cheese; mix well. Add the mashed potatoes, then add flour until a dough forms and holds together. The dough should be soft but firm enough to roll.

On a floured board, roll small amounts of dough into small cylinders about 1 1/2 inches in diameter; cut each into 1/2 inch pieces. Take each piece and press it (and roll it) against a cheese grater. This gives the gnocchi a nice design and texture.

Drop the gnocchi into 4 quarts of boiling salted water, and cook for 5 minutes. Drain, and top the gnocchi with the desired sauce.

Approx. GF conversions
Start with a cup of favorite GF mix. Add 1 tsp xanthan gum with the flour. Add extra flour mix until the dough holds together and can be shaped. If they tend to fall apart after cooking, try adding 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum next time.

May have to cook longer. Try them after 5 minutes and then add minutes accordingly.

With Fontina
After draining gnocchi place in oven proof dish.

Pre-heat the broiler. In a skillet or small saucepan, heat 6 tbsp butter until slightly brown and pour over gnocchis. Sprinkle 1/2 c freshly grated parmesan, romano, or locatelli cheese over. Add 1/4 lb fontina cheese sliced thin, arranging slices over everything.

Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until the fontina is melted and begins to brown. Serve with tomato sauce on the side.

What I did
I had about 6 c of left over mashed potatoes in the fridge; Joe had made these, so they were already fancied up. Besides milk and butter, they probably had cream and grated cheddar cheese and various seasonings. So I omitted the salt and nutmeg. But to the potatoes I added 4 egg yolks and about 4 cups of GF mix. Enough flour until the dough held together.

I generously sprinkled white rice flour on my work surface, placed the lump of dough on the floured surface, generously sprinkled the dough and then gently patted it down to about an inch thick. Then I rolled it until it was 1/2 inch thick. After that I took a pizza roller and cut a grid about 1/2 inch by 1 inch. I was able to scoop these squares up with a pancake turner.

I had to boil my gnocchis about 15 minutes. I don't know if it was the GF variant or using pre-mashed potatoes or what, but they took much longer than the original recipe.

We found they kind of clumped together in the colander, so we scooped them out of the water with a slotted spoon and then laid them separately on a cookie sheet until mostly cool. Then we transfered them to a baking dish.

After they were all boiled, I poured about 1 1/2 c cream and 1/2 c half and half over them (I would have used all cream if I had enough; you want to be able see the cream creeping up around the edges of the gnocchis). I sprinkled them with salt, basil and minced dried garlic. Then I put under the broiler until golden, tossed them gently, and repeated this two more times until the cream was starting to thicken.

They turned out very good. It made enough to fill a 9x13 cake pan about 3/4 full.

Now I don't claim to be a Gnocchi expert. I made them a few times in the past, but not often and only from following a recipe. I don't know how they are supposed to taste, so don't know how this GF version compares. I have no Italian grandma from whom to solicit advice. But if you really want to know, I found a video of the process you can consult.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Spiced Bananas or Rotten Potatoes?

I grabbed a twelve pack of beer in town the other night. I was in a hurry, but I wanted something different than the usual MGD or Killians Red or Amber Boch. I saw this cool looking box. I noticed it was Samuel Adams and since I like several of their beers, I just grabbed it. It said something like Winter Selection on the outside.

After I got home I realized it was a variety pack.

Joe asked what I wanted and, well, I don't know. So many choices. (Since Joe has Celiac Disease, he does not have that trouble. But he is glad that he can at least get New Grist sorghum beer around here now.)

After some hemming and hawing, I settled on a Cranberry Lambic. Now I am not very educated in the art of beer drinking. I don't know an ale from a lager or a lambic from a weiss. Maybe those aren't even mutually exclusive pairs, I just don't know.

But getting back to the lambic. EEEUUUWW! Yuck! That's some nasty stuff. I was trying to sort out the flavors in order to give Joe an idea of why I did not like it. The closest thing I could get was rotten potatoes. You know that smell emanating from the potato bag in the corner; you know that you're going to have to stick your hand in there to get the good potatoes out; You know that the longer you wait, the more icky ones there will be. Yup, that's the flavor of the Cranberry Lambic.

So just out of curiosity, I went to the Samuel Adams web site. Now, the first thing I find out is this web site is one of those totally annoying ones that move around and do all sorts of fancy things before you can get to the information. You have to choose the beer styles link and than catch the beer bottle you want to know more about as it flies around the screen. All the while this pinging is coming through the speakers as the cursor passes the flying twirling objects.

The second thing I found out is that what I called spoiled potatoes, they called "a flavor rich in fruitiness and reminiscent of cranberries and bananas, cloves and nutmeg."

I guess they can call it what they want; I won't be buying any more Cranberry Lambic. I probably still have a couple in the variety pack. Let me know if you want one. Perhaps a more mature beer drinker would agree with the banana and spice thing. I'm sticking with spoiled potatoes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Setting Realistic Goals and Finding Pleasure in Baby Steps

When I first started to home school my oldest son I felt overwhelmed with the enormity of task I had undertaken. I sought advice and wisdom from the glut of home school advice books available. One bit of advice really hit home for me. Like all other human wisdom, I had to make it my own. But all said and done, that advice in its various stages of evolution, is one of the most important things I had to accomplish in order to successfully home school.

Really, it is a simple concept that one hears in many different genres of self-help books. The author recommended setting long term, medium term and short term goals. I think the author recommended including not only academic goals, but character goals and spiritual goals for the children. And to this I added the prioritizing of the articulated goals.

The reason for doing this is to help a home educator to keep perspective. Not every day will we fulfill daily goals. Sometimes for months or more at a time we will seem to be wallowing. At times a medical situation or family move or the birth of a new child demand we set our plans aside temporarily. Sometimes we have to shift gears and come up with an entirely new plan. What worked for one kids may not work for another. And so on.

But if we have our goals clearly articulated and prioritized, we have something to fall back upon. We can mentally refer to them and let things slide accordingly. We can easily tweek the schedule when necessary. We can still experience success, even when our daily or weekly or monthly plan goes out the window.

I think first of the long term spiritual goals for my children, which I consider the top priority. If we spent time in God's Word together, or time working on memory work or discussing spiritual issues or training in God's Word, that is a successful day. Period.

Now, I realize that it takes more than that to function as a productive member of society, especially as a citizen of a government that allows participation in various forms as ours does. Our children will need a livelihood, they will need communication skills, and character traits like personal responsibility, fidelity, honesty, and so on.

And that is where the structured, articulated, prioritized long term goals come in handy. As we go about our daily tasks, and as one thing or another comes up to derail our daily plans, we can make decisions based on that formulated set of goals.

Almost any day contains interactions and experiences that count toward long term goals. And with that in mind, every day can be a success.

The Ideal Kitchen

Again from the Stephanie Plum books. This one is from Lean Mean Thirteen.
I went to the stove and stirred the extra sauce cooking in the pan. I love being in my mother's kitchen. It is always warm and steamy and filled with activity. In my mind, I have a kitchen like this. The cabinets are filled with dishes that actually get used. The pots sit out on the stove, waiting for the day's sauces and soups and stews. The cookbook on the counter is dog-eared and splattered with grease and gravy and icing smudges.

This is a fantasy kitchen, of course. My actual kitchen has dishes, but I eat standing over the sink, paper towel in hand. I have a single pot that is only used for tea when I have a cold. And I don't own a cookbook.
We all go into adulthood with the ideal kitchen tucked somewhere in our sub-conscious. Sometimes even in our conscious mind we know what we want for our home "when we grow up." But sometimes real life comes along with different ideas.

As I grew into womanhood, I also carried with me a version of the ideal kitchen, the ideal home, and the ideal homemaker I wished to become. These ideals were a medley made up of bits and pieces of the lives of various important women God put into my life. And, like the fictional Stephanie Plum, I have had to admit that these are fantasies. Fantasy kitchen, fantasy home, fantasy homemaker.

In real life, I had to learn to cook. I had to learn to keep house and I had to learn to make a home. None of us can do these things instinctively. Even with the training we receive while growing up we still need to figure it out for our own lives and our own homes. From the earliest memories of helping Mama while standing on a chair at the counter, or dusting a coffee table while Mama vacuums to eventually preparing entire meals or keeping up a certain domestic task independently, these are still part of our childhood home.

Some women make that transition to their own home seemingly effortlessly. For others, that transition can be more difficult. For me, it took about 7 years of struggle and guilt to finally let go of the ideal home and focus on the real one. And strangely, I was able to keep a much better home when I gave up trying to be perfect.

As any of my friends will attest, I am not a perfect homemaker. I struggle to get three good meals on each day and to keep up with the laundry. But God is gracious. He gives me the strength and wisdom to get through each day, one day at a time. He allows me to give my children what they most need. To focus on the basics.

The rest will get done eventually. And even amongst my bumbling, my kids will leave home with some sense of the ideal kitchen. It will include bits of mine and bits from other homes they spend time in. And they, too, will have to let go of the ideals and make a real home.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Another colorful excerpt

This is from Bad Boy Brawly Brown by Walter Mosley.
Pfennig's copper-colored hair came out of a wash basin and she probably had been ugly even when she was a child, which was more than forty years earlier. Her long nose had gone awry, like a sapling grown under heavy shade, wavering this way and that in search for the light. Her eyes were a translucent gray. Her skin was gray also, but lusterless and drab.
I love the whole paragraph, but the description of poor Ms Pfeninig's nose is priceless. I have never before thought of someone's nose as "going awry," but now that I have been handed that image, I can think of a few people to whom I might apply it.

I stumbled upon this book in a reduced cart in the aisle of the local grocery store. I noticed it was a detective fiction, which I like; and that it was cheap, which I also like. After getting it home I realized it was by an author I had recently read in an anthology of crime short stories.

Mosley's style kind of reminds me of William Faulkner. Now I chuckle as I say this, because it has been years since I read any Faulkner. And in fact, although I remember enjoying the book we were assigned in my freshman lit class in college, my attempts to read him since have been unfruitful. So I in no way consider myself a Faulkner scholar.

But there is something about the terse and somewhat fragmented style Mosley uses; combined with lots of dialog and a feeling that I better stay alert as a reader or I might find myself in a different place or time from paragraph to paragraph. Somehow this all reminds me of Faulkner. But I don't have to struggle to figure Mosley's writing out. Just stay on my toes a bit.

This book is interesting to me because it is set in the Watts neighborhood of LA in the early 60s, in the flux of the the civil rights era. It paints a picture of what life might have been like for urban African American during this time. I like to read books that can help me understand the experiences of different peoples and this book successfully depicts a culture with which I have very little knowledge.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

GF Donut Cake

This recipe makes a heavy, moist cake similar in consistency to an old fashioned cake donut but more moist. Similar to pound cake. It is definitely not a low-fat recipe, but very yummy. Holds together well. Has a somewhat crusty, flaky top, so it may not frost well. I usually serve it with fruit or sauce and whipped cream.

GF Donut Cake Makes 2 8" round pans or 2 9x5x3" loaf pans.
1 1/2 c butter (softened)
8 oz cream cheese (softened)
6 eggs
2 tsp vanilla powder (yes, this is what the original recipe called for. It is so concentrated, I usually use 1 tsp)
3 c rice flour (or your favorite GF mix)
1/2 tsp salt

Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and whip for 4 minutes.

Add eggs, vanilla, salt and flour. Beat on low until smooth.

Pour into greased pans and bake until toothpick comes out clean. 25-30 min for round pans; about 40-50 minutes for loaf pans.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Recently Aquired Interest

I am not a gun nut. I do, however, strongly support our Second Amendment.

I did not grow up around guns. I lived in urban areas and I think my dad had a pellet rifle to shoot stray animals, but that is about it.

I currently live in a rural area. We keep a few weapons in the house to use against pesky beasts. In the time we have lived here we have had skunks and mangy foxes in the yard where my children play. We have a .22 to use on small varmints if necessary. Also in the area we have coyotes, timber wolves, linx, cougar and bear. Some of these animals we or others have seen on or adjacent to our property; others we see within a few miles. We have a shotgun to use against these if necessary.

My kids are of an age to learn to hunt. Two of them have taken firearms training and my 13 year old, Matt, has purchased his own shotgun and was given one by his great-grandfather. If my children are handling weapons, I want to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of what they are doing.

So I have decided to learn about guns. This is something I have wanted to do for as long as we have lived here, but never knew where to start.

But thanks to the fictional Stephanie Plum and company I now have a starting point. In these humorous books that are set in Trenton, NJ, everyone carries. All the old ladies in the beauty salon haul out their guns to compare what they are carrying. The various other characters' guns are mentioned. But when I began reading these books last spring, things like semi-auto, .38 special, .9mm, .40cal. and .44magnum, meant nothing to me. Smith and Wesson, Glock, and other company names were just names.

But one thing I like to do while reading, that is so easy with internet access, is to check up on those things about which I am in ignorance. I started looking up each gun that was mentioned.

And lo and behold, pretty soon I had an adequate base from which to branch out. I have found a few web sites that are especially helpful for someone who is totally green with regard to weapon stuff. My favorite is Cornered Cat. It is put together by a woman who has many of the same thoughts I have. She addresses concerns regarding weapons safety in a family home and how to raise kids with guns. These are things with which I have no experience .

Soon we are going to purchase handguns. Both Joe and I have our permits to purchase. We have done our homework and gone to lots of gun stores handled many guns. We have spoken to handgun users. We have talked to friends and acquaintances with military and law enforcement experience. We are ready.

It is fun to start a new hobby.

But since beginning the research on this new topic I have become more aware of how guns are portrayed in the popular media. I will periodically post on something I've read. I feel like I should start with something from the Stephanie Plum books, but I don't have the books here for either of my favorite quote. They will have to wait.

Instead, here is a much different quote from the book, Final Jeopardy, by Linda Fairstein.
I never had a gun when I was in Hollywood. I always had gofers to handle my drug transactions. I never carried. But I moved to Maine when I detoxed--it was easier for me to stay dry in a new environment. Now I live on one of those primitive little islands off the coast--no highways, no airports, no police department. Just beautiful vistas and lots of wild animals. The island is crawling with moose and deer and woodchucks and skunks. I started hunting with the guys who live around me--not for sport, but when the animals got destructive or like the time a rabid woodchuck attacked my golden retriever.
I had to chuckle when I read this, because the kind of gun use the speaker engages in would hardly be called hunting in my book. It would fall under pest control or even self-defense depending on the situation.

And the other thing that got my attention was the contrast alluded to between this pest control thing that is viewed as acceptable, and all other hunting which is apparently merely for sport. I guess if you killing wildlife to eat is ethically inferior to killing a an animal that is bugging you.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Can I please see some ID?

Remember when it used to feel like an insult to be carded when purchasing adult beverages? About five years ago I stopped getting carded. It happened quite suddenly. I always kind of felt like saying, "Do you need to see some ID? Really, I don't mind."

Yesterday I picked up some Killian's Red in Wal-Mart. I was busy filling in my check and the check-out lady asked me something. I kind of tuned in just as she said, "...27 years old." Really, I just didn't hear what she said, so I looked at her a minute trying to recall what she might have been saying. But I must have had a dazed expression on my face because she said, "Nevermind," and that by the look on my face she could tell that her question surprised me.

Joe proceeded to clarify for me that she had said that she needed to see my ID since she didn't know whether I was over 27. (I don't know if this is the Wal-Mart policy or a state or national law, but apparently they must card anyone who looks younger than 27.)

Tasha, a gal who grew up near here, was behind us in line. We were all laughing by that time. Tasha commented to the Wal-Mart employee something about my nine children. I added that I have recently passed my 40th birthday.

The poor woman seemed very embarrassed, but I told her she made my day. It's been a long time since I was carded.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I am Artistically Challenged

I am married to a very artistic man. In lots of ways. He had two or three years of piano lessons and plays beautifully. I, on the other hand, had about 12 years of piano lessons and struggle to play the hymns for the Sunday School.

Joe had an art scholarship for college. He can draw, paint, carve, and mold; and the things he makes look how they are supposed to. I can not do this.

My kids have all inherited Joe's artistic talent. Some to a greater, some to a lesser extent. When they were young, I did my best to draw little pictures for them and it was good enough. As they have grown older, my artistic inability has been the source of many good laughs.

Sometimes the younger ones still want me to draw something for them. More often than not I send them to one of my more talented children. But occasionally I make the attempt. Often someone more artistic than I will come in, and "catch" me in the act. Which inevitable ends up with my work of art becoming the brunt of hoots and hollers and scathing criticisms. But, since I am well aware of my lack of talent, I just laugh along with them. The things I draw are usually pretty funny.

Today, the kids were playing playdough. In accordance with their varying talents, they were fashioning cookies and pizzas, snakes with forked tongues, a couch complete with a male and female couple sitting comfortable upon it, and many other realistic and fun things.

At one point in the afternoon, my two year old, Stella, needed a distraction from some mischief. Since she was carrying around a ball of playdough, I asked my very artistically inclined son, Matt, to make a dolly for her with the dough.

After shaping the clay a for a few minutes, he asserted that the dough was not the correct consistency to make a dolly. Instead, he had made the head of the Green Goblin of Spiderman fame. Yes, it was a very good replica of the Green Goblin.

Now Stella wanted her clay in a dolly, not the Green Goblin. So Matt handed the clay to me upon which to work my magic. Hehe.

OK. A ball for a head, an oval for the torso, and little tubes for arms and legs. I can do this. No problem. And I did. I really thought, "This is pretty good. This time no one is going to laugh at me." I handed Stella her "dolly" and had her show Matt. She proceeded to show him my work of art. As she handed it to him she said in her little two year old voice, "Here Matt. My monster."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

GF Banana bread

My husband has celiac disease. For info see http://www.celiac.org/cd-main.php What this means, practically speaking, is that I must cook gluten free meals and snacks if I wish him to eat with the rest of us. I will periodically share GF recipe successes here for anyone else who has need.

My oldest daughter, Louisa, has been in a baking mood. It is sometimes hard for me to let my kids cook. I have to be either a) pregnant and feeling crummy enough so that I don't care what happens in my kitchen and am just glad to have food on the table; or b) feeling on top of things enough that I can handle any potential disasters. Yesterday I let Louisa bake. It must had been the latter contingency, because is sure as heck is not the former!

I had a whole mess of bananas that needed to be used. I suggested Louisa do a GF Banana Bread for us to use with breakfast this morning. I also said she could have the younger kids help if she wanted. Then I left for a walk. That is another thing I have discovered. If I leave or am otherwise incapacitated, the kids do a better job in the kitchen. I tend to micromanage their attempts and they are more likely to leave me with the mess afterwards.

I returned from my walk to find the bread in the oven and countertops cleaned off. Excellent job Louisa and other girls! And the bread turned out great. I will include the recipe below. It is basically just the Better Homes and Gardens (Red Plaid) Cook Book recipe substituting GF mix flour and additional xanthan gum. We use the stand mixer.

GF Banana Bread Makes 2 8x4x2" loaves. Bake at 350 for 55-60 min.

3 1/2 c GF flour mix*
1 1/3 c sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 c mashed bananas
2/3 c shortening or butter
1/4 c milk
4 eggs
1/2 c nuts (optional)

Mix dry ingredients on low. Add wet ingredients and mix on low until combined and then on high for 2 minutes. Add nuts if desired.

Pour batter into greased bread pans. Bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans. When nearly cooled wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

*For my GF mix I use roughly
3 parts white rice flour
3 parts sorghum flour
2 parts brown rice flour
2 parts potato starch flour
1 part tapioca flour

I think I was out of the potato starch flour last time I mixed it up, but it still seemed to work just fine. I suppose some recipes are fussy, but the ones I generally use for pancakes or muffins or quick breads are not.

Monday, November 12, 2007

When you die...

Remember the movie, The Three Amigos? Well, we had it from the library a few months ago and some of my kids have also seen it while visiting the Grandparents Abrahamson. The movie must have made an impression on John, our four year old. He plays with the toy revolver we have around here, an imitation of one of the fancy schmancy Spanish cowboy ones, and calls it his Three Amigos gun. Various other references to the movie come out of his little mouth.

Matthew, my thirteen year old, related this recent incident to me.
The other day our Schwan's man, Chris, was here. As I had gone to get my checkbook, John apparently had asked Chris, "Can I have your watch when you die?" Quite shocking. Especially if you don't recognize it as a quote from The Three Amigos.

As Chris did not.

Fortunately Matt was there and could explain the reference to him. And they had a good laugh.

So if John has said anything similarly questionable to any of you, please assume he is quoting some movie. Of course he may not be, but at least we can pretend, right?

What we teach our daughters about marriage

Yes, once again a quote from the Stephanie Plum books. Actually two quotes. These are from Hot Six. The context of the first quote is Stephanie and Grandma Mazur eating their pie before their meatballs. Grandma is widowed, experiencing kind of a second adolescence. As we see in the quote Stephanie seems to attribute the "new " Grandma to her being widowed and therefore finally free to do what she wants.
When I was a little girl I'd never thought of my grandmother as the sort of person to eat her pie first. Her house had always been neat and clean. The furniture was dark wood and the upholstered peices were comfortable but unmemorable. Meals were traditional Burg meals, ready at noon and at six o'clock. Stuffed cabbage, pot roast, roast chicken, an occasional ham or pork roast. My grandfather wouldn't have had it any other way. He'd worked in a steel mill all his life. He had strong opinions, and he dwarfed the rooms of their row house. Truth is, the top of my grandmother's head comes to the tip of my chin, and my grandfather wasn't much taller. But then I guess stature doesn't have much to do with inches.
Lately I've been wondering who my grandmother would have been if she hadn't married my grandfather. I wonder if she would have eaten her dessert first a lot sooner.
And the second quote takes place the next day when Stephanie is visiting her mother.
"Do you ever eat dessert first?" I asked my mother.
She looked at me dumbfounded. As if I'd asked whether she ritually sacrificed cats every Wednesday at the stroke of midnight.
"Suppose you were home alone," I said, "and there was a strawberry shortcake in the refrigerator and a meatloaf in the oven. Which would you eat first?"
My mother thought about it for a minute, her eyes wide. "I can't remember ever eating dinner alone. I can't even imagine it."
In these novels, the main character, Stephanie, thinks she is in love. She is, however, unwilling to commit to her boyfriend. These quotes do a good job showing what part of her fear is. She is afraid she will lose her own personality if she gets married.

Does that happen in real life? Do we lose our own personality when we marry? I guess to an certain extent it does. But it does not have to be a bad thing. It is easy to become overwhelmed with family life. There are many demands on a mother's time and even her personality. As sinful human beings we don't always want to do what's right, but having little ones around us is motivation to try to do so. For me, being married to a pastor is additional motivation to "be good." And sometimes, I must admit, I just want to do something naughty. I just want to eat my dessert first.

For many of us, our marriages no longer include eating every meal with our spouse, as Stephanie's mother's experience reflects. But it is still easy to teach our daughters only the "law" side of marriage. As a Christian mother, I teach my daughters chastity and faithfulness and (try to) teach them submission to my husband. I try to care for them all. And, albeit bumblingly, I try to serve them with clean clothes and healthy, tasty meals. It would be easy for them to think of that being all there is to marriage. I don't spend much time talking about how fun their Dad is and how he enriches my life. Or what a good man he is and how much he does for us and how much he loves us.

Maybe it's important to find ways to "eat dessert first" on a regular basis. Maybe this would help our daughters see the fun side of marriage. The spontaneous side. I would never want any of my daughters to leave home thinking of marriage as a trap into which she wouldn't want to fall.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Beauty of the Blog

I know why this blog thing has caught on as it has. It gives some of us "windy" people a chance to just spout about whatever. It doesn't matter if no one reads it or if no one cares. I can write here for as long as I like and if the reader doesn't like it, he or she will just move elsewhere.

And from the reader's point of view, I have always found reading blogs to be a somewhat voyeuristic pursuit. I can read about complete strangers and all their hopes and dreams and opinions. And never have to identify myself or engage in any kind of interaction. It is like peeking into a stranger's life.


On Exercise

I used to be able to engage in physical pursuits. Athletic competitions. Active hobbies.

During high school, each year come spring, I went out for track. It is such a forgiving sport because one competes individually. Even when a person does not place, he or she always has a personal best time or distance to try to better.

Later I was on the cross country team when I was a freshman in college. I found it exhilarating to see myself able to run increasingly further and to continually better my time on the shorter runs.

I also did aerobics on and off during those years. I remember once being so pumped up during a work out that I was grinning ear to ear, as I imagined that I would never, ever stop exercising regularly. "It is just so much fun and so healthful. I don't understand how people allow themselves to get lazy."

Ah, those were the days, I guess. I have now reached the grand old age of forty. I have had nine babies. I have been either pregnant or nursing a baby for the last 15 years. I manage a household, albeit ever so haphazardly; and I home school my children.

I guess I have to admit that I have allowed myself to get lazy. At least regarding actual exercise. I am fairly active around the house.

Oh, one more memory. I remember at the time I was trying to decide on a career path, the biggest obstacle I kept running up against was, "How active can I be at this career?" I just never could imagine a job I had to be inside all day or sit still for any length of time. So I guess God led me to motherhood and it is a good fit as far as those qualifications go. I am busy all day long and often end up outside for chunks of the day.

But I find myself making a variety of excuses not to exercise. It is too cold. Too windy. I don't like indoor exercise. I don't want to change into exercise clothes. It's hunting season; someone might shoot me...And so it goes.

I have started (once again) walking and doing pilates. See, I have to tell people this to give myself some accountability.

I live in a very rural area. Very flat. One of the excuses I have used since I have lived here is, "It is soooo boring to just walk half a mile one way and then return."

So now I have a new goal. I would like to get to the point at which I can once again run four miles. Then I could have four choices, just thinking of the four directions I can go around a block (square mile) from here. And I could vary it more by some days going two miles one direction or the other and then return. Or I could go a mile in either direction and then turn either direction for a mile and then reverse my path.

And so I begin to get a whole lot of variety just by increasing my distance to four miles. But it has got to be at a pretty good clip. I just can't afford the time to pamper myself with a four mile walk very frequently.

And once a person can run four miles, it is easier to vary the distance also. So it is conceivable that I could even go further periodically for even more variation.

I guess it is a goal. Something to work toward.

Monday, November 5, 2007

For the sake of (pop-)cultural literacy

Those readers who know us know that we don't have TV. We only recently (maybe 2 years ago) got a computer with a DVD drive. What this means is that now we sit around as a family and view parentally approved DVD selections. But as you can imagine, this does not lend itself to much knowledge of pop culture.

A few years ago someone gave us a box of hand-me-downs "...for the boys or the dad. Just look through them and take what you want." You know. Typical hand-me-down admonition.

When I went through this box I found several black T-shirts; obviously of the celebrity variety. The kids and I were looking at them, very puzzled. One was this big ugly drooling bull. Two or three had the face of a very muscular guy with sun glasses and one eye-brow raised. Phrases like "Layin' the smack down," and "Those who are truly unafraid will never know fear." One of them said something about "The Rock." I was totally clueless. I just told the kids maybe he was a singer or something. We could ask their dad when he got home.

Well, Joe is much more tuned into pop culture than am I; although how he carries it off with our limited exposure is beyond me. But he knew that this "The Rock" guy was part of the WWE (otherwise known as professional wrestling). And Joe liked the shirts and still wears them. I have however warned him not to wear the big ugly drooling bull one when he goes to town. I think there might be some people who would be bothered seeing their pastor in such a hideous looking shirt. I mean this bull is pretty scary looking.

For a long time that was the extent of my knowledge of The Rock. At some point I looked him up on line and now know that he is also a movie actor, but I don't think I have ever seen any of the movies he has been in. And he comes from a three generational family of professional wrestlers.

The other day I stumbled upon his book, The Rock Says, in our local used book store. I jokingly showed Joe and he said we should pick it up for a friend who I will let remain nameless since he has not yet received this, uh..., keepsake. So I put it in our stack and we brought it home with our other finds.

But I can't let a book sit around not being read. That just isn't done. So I have spent my leisure moments this last few days reading The Rock Says.

Let's just say I learned a few things. I have added several interesting words and phrases to my vocabulary. I learned way more about professional wrestling than I ever imagined I would know when as kids we used to hoot over the Hulk Hogan commercials. After reading this book a person can't help but admire the multifaceted skills these showmen have to develop. I am only reading the descriptions of the various feats and am in awe of the athletic prowess they must have. And they need stage presence and other acting skills. These men and women must have immense charisma and stamina to do this night after night. Wow.

Now, in the name of cultural literacy, I kind of feel like I have to actually see some professional wrestling. My curiosity has been piqued. I first checked the DVDs available through our local library system. Not anything there that I could find. I then broadened my search to the entire MN library system. Again nothing.

So then I checked Netflix. Now I don't have Netflix, but have periodically considered getting it. For a variety of reasons. But have so far I not succumbed. There are a few WWE titles I found through Netflix. But not necessarily the ones that sounded the best after reading The Rock Says.

My next step was to check Amazon. Well I found a great plenty there, both new and used. WrestleMania XV was the one that sounded good after reading The Rock Says. That one starts at $14.62 used and $39.88 new. But after reading the customer reviews, it seems that the only good match was the final one with The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin. Well, I am not going to pay $14 for one match.

As I read some more reviews of the different matches, I learned that most hard core professional wrestling fans consider WrestleMania X-Seven to be the best. But that one starts at $36.90 used and $62.72 new. Hmm.

I guess my horizons will have to wait to continue to broaden in this regard. When the opportunity arises, I may just sit down and watch a contest or episode or match or whatever I am supposed to call it.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Easy Recipe

Any recipe that is easy appeals to me. But here's one I really like. And when I remember to prep it in time I use it quite a bit.

Crock Pot Refried Beans (I use my 5 qt crock pot)

6 c dried beans, sorted and rinsed
12 c water
One large onion, finely diced
2 pkgs taco seasoning mix

Put in crock pot on low overnight. Continue to cook throughout the next day, stirring occasionally. Add water if they seem dry. About mid-afternoon mash with a potato masher. They are now ready to serve. I usually turn them off at this time since they retain a lot of heat. If they are too runny prop up the lid of the crock pot and continue cooking until desired consistency.

This recipe makes enough for our family of eleven to eat for at least three meals. I usually use them for one meal and then freeze the rest in two in large cool whip containers. Sometimes there is a bit more left for current use. I would guess it makes maybe maybe about 8 -10 of the regular sized cans.

We wrap this in tortillas with cheese for burritos. You can make these ahead of time and freeze them. We eat the beans with tacos. We use them for chip dip. I put them in hotdish. And as a dinner time side dish.

Cheap and tasty.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Excellent Writing

I am a reader. I read lots. Way more than any respectable homemaker/homeschool mom/mother of nine ought to read. There are many things I would like to accomplish, but don't. Instead I choose to read. It is my downtime. My emotional day off.

That said, here is a snippet from a recent read that is an example of such excellent writing that I just had to share it with you. It is from Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum book, Twelve Sharp. (A little caveat. These books are not prim and proper. There is blood and guts, coarse language, and a paragraph or two or occasionally even a page of "smut." More than I like to see. But throughout, they are filled with wonderful humor and with jewels of colorful prose.)
We moved onto I-95 south, and I tightened my seat belt. Driving out of D.C. into northern Virginia is like NASCAR on a flat straight track, racing bumper-to-bumper six wide, twenty miles deep. And attached to that is another identical race going six wide in the opposite direction. Two-story-high sound barriers rise out of the breakdown lanes and form a cement canyon filled with wall-to-wall noise and insanity. We hurtled forward to the appropriate exit, catapulted ourselves down the chute, and peeled off toward Springfield.

Isn't that great. I love the image it conjures. Notice the details in the first several sentences. She just puts the reader right on that stretch of highway. Then the use of "hurtled," "catapulted," and "peeled" in the final sentence is the icing on the cake. Few things in writing bug me more than colorful writing that tries too hard. But Evanovich makes it work.

I haven't read much contemporary fiction. A simple mystery once in a while for candy reading. I like Lillian Jackson Braun's Jim Kwilleran and the Mrs. Pollifax mysteries. And although not contemporary authors, I have read most of Agatha Kristi's books several times and the same with Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. My nine year old, Elsie, is hooked on Sherlock Holmes and it is fun to converse with her about our favorites.

Generally I prefer to read classics and non-fiction. I also really like to read historical fiction, but preferably if it is recommended by a source I trust. I guess I feel like the time I spend reading is like a vacation. And I want to either learn something from it or really enjoy it. It is too much of a risk when I don't know anything about a book first. If a book has not stood the test of time or been recommended, it is too easy to get one that is worthless or cheesy or just way to much smut. But my friend, Kristi, put me on to these Stephanie Plum books and, sorry to say, I am hooked.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Through the eyes of children

There is a farm near my house through which the road meanders. It is not the main road, but a back road. I don't drive it much because I always feel like I am invading this little farm. It must be several families or various extended family living on the same site. The road takes three or four quick turns back and forth and there are farm buildings and houses all along, some right up near the road. In a few sections there are windbreak trees, mostly poplars and spruce, right along the road.

Yesterday on the way into Oklee, I was running ahead of schedule so took the extra time needed to go to town the back way. As we passed this particular farm place the wind was scattering the golden poplar leaves in our path. The road was strewn with them. The sun was sparkling on them.

My seven year old, Clara, pointed out, "Oh, how beautiful. It looks like glitter!" And it did.

Another anecdote:

This morning our four year old, John, came hollering up the stairs, "I found Sophie's ten dollar bill." Now Sophie is five and all of her money is supposed to be put away so he had my attention. As far as I know none of us is rich enough to leave ten dollar bills lying around the play room. But I had to laugh when he came into the room, repeating the phrase again, "Mama, I found Sophie's ten dollar bill," and holding out a coin. As he got nearer, I could see a bit of copper showing between his fingers from the penny he had in his grasp.

A Good Day

Today was a good day. Although every day is a blessing and therefore good, some feel better than others. And today I was given a day that felt good.

As I am sure every housewife, mother, home school mom knows, sometimes days like this can be few and far between. We learn to mark success on a different ruler than "average" people. Maybe that is the big challenge of motherhood. Figuring out for oneself what the ruler is that means success.

I have made it a tradition to revamp the kids' chore schedule each fall when school starts. Everyone gets a change and there are always additional responsibilities added on to reflect a news year's worth of age and maturity. This year I was late with it, so we just started the new schedule this week.

At the advice of my good friend, Julie, I am trying something new. Instead of dividing up the various household jobs among the various children, I am dividing the rooms up by day. Each day has a certain room or area assigned and we all work together. Of course those rooms that are too small for a group are still assigned individually, so there are still a few chores for everyone to work on independently.

In the past I have also divided up the table/mealtime chores by child. Sometimes rotating daily or weekly, sometimes having the assignment for an entire year or a segment of a year. These are also now shared.

I am hoping that this new arrangement will allow me to more closely work with the kids to train them well how to accomplish the various responsibilities. I have always managed to assign the chores, but the actual training and checking has not always happened. I can't be in three or more rooms all at once, right?

Well, three days into things, we are doing well. My house is cleaner than it has been in several months. It is still nowhere near perfect but progress is being made.

Also, our school day was good. After we tackled the morning chores, I had a period of time during which the older three kids were working independently and the younger four were doing puzzles of various difficulties and otherwise playing/working nicely together. And the baby was asleep.

I made hot breakfast today and we had two good meals besides. No wandering around the kitchen wondering what to make.

So that is a successful day.

Introducing Me and Mine

Hi, I'm Mary.

I don't really know why I am starting this, but I guess I just want to try something new. I am a stay at home mom and sometimes just want to say something "adult." And I guess I want to have a place to talk about my great family.

I am first and foremost a Christian woman. More specifically, I am a Confessional Lutheran. People sometimes ask what that means. I guess to me it means that not only do I attend a Lutheran church, but I also subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions as the true interpretation of God's Holy Word.

I remember promising to adhere to the Lutheran Confessions as a 13 year old confirmand. But with the exception of Luther's Small Catechism, I really did not know what the Confessions say. I am trying to learn more all the time and the more I learn, the more I see that those old guys who wrote the Confessions really were on to something. The more I learn the more it all seems to hold together.

Secondly, I am the wife for 18 years of my wonderful husband, Joe. He is a Lutheran pastor of four smallish congregations in NW Minnesota. Joe is also a Hebrew scholar and at one time was a third degree tae kwon do blackbelt. He still dabbles in self-defense things and we share a mutual interest in survival type stuff. One never knows when the grid will fail, right?

And last but not least, I am a mom of nine wonderful kids ranging in age from 3 months up to 14. I home school all but my oldest. Jeremy is attending a charter school in SW Minnesota and so is currently living with his paternal grandparents. He is in 9th grade.

I will not give a child by child intro at this point, but will introduce them a bit at a time as they engage in something amazing or embarrassing.

My 3 month old needs me now.