Thursday, June 30, 2011

That Beeping Alarm Clock, and other Stories

That Beeping Alarm Clock
Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog probably remembers me describing on an occasion or two how my bedroom is the catch-all of catch-alls for all kinds of stuff.  All the boxes of hand-me-downs I don't have time to sort; all the stacks of clean bedding which is hard to put away, so I don't; all the miscellaneous toys I take away from the kids when they are fighting about them; all the absolutely whatever that ends up without an "official" home in our already overly full household.  Everything gets stacked and stashed in my room, sometimes to the point that I have only little footprint sized holes among the stuff by way of which I cautiously navigate in and out of the bed each night. That's the exact point at which my room is currently.

Yesterday, I woke up with a headache, so I went back to bed after making Matt's lunch and getting him off to work.  After I returned to bed, when I was almost into a healthful sleep stage, I heard an alarm clock going off.  It sounded like one of Joe's and my battery operated ones that we use as back-up during times of rough weather and potential power outages.  But this particular clock was only beeping sporadically, and it was with very muted beeps.  So I thought to myself, in my haze of sleep, that I was just not going to worry about it.  It was probably just a weak battery gasping its final breaths.   The beeping soon quieted and I fell into a restful slumber.

Fast forward now to last night at bed time.  Joe had gone down to his church office to work on the VBS materials for next weeks program.  After the kids were in bed, I went to bed, too, planning to read awhile before sleeping.  As anyone who tries this regularly can probably imagine, that reading thing,... well,... it didn't really happen.  A page, maybe two, then I was re-reading the same lines over and over again.  I put the book down and fell instantly to sleep. 

After a time I heard the familiar pad, pad, pad of small feet that I suspected foretold of a night time visitor.  And yes, there was soon a quiet voice asking for a drink, or some such thing.  Then a short time after that, just as I was once again falling asleep, I heard another pad, pad, pad and another small voice asking for something.  Truthfully, I was so deeply asleep that I don't even know which child it was or what they wanted.  When yet another time had passed, somebody small climbed in bed with me.  And then another somebody small.  I don't really even remember these.  But when I awoke, there they were.  One on one side of me with her feet toward the head of the bed and another on the other side with her feet crosswise over Joe's entire side.  When I was finally ready to go back to bed, I went to Clara's bed since she's at Bible camp this week.

But I ought to perhaps tell about my waking up.  While I was enjoying as peaceful a slumber as possible with so much human traffic in and out of my obstacle course of a room, I heard the beep, beep, beep of that stupid neurotic alarm clock again.  And this time, it was engaged in full attack mode. None of the the sporadic muted tones of the morning.   It persisted with its standard beep, which starts out slowly and quietly and then increases in volume and speed.   That noise was not going to stop unless I found the beeping clock and put it out of its beeping misery.  I crawled out of bed, over the assorted sleeping bodies and with my sleep-addled consciousness I attempted to find it.

At first I thought it might be in the bin of swimming suits the kids had dug through on our one nice and warm day a few weeks ago.  But no.  No clock could I find there.  After that, I searched the cardboard box immediately below the first bin.  That box is, don't laugh, from my last thrift store shopping adventure back in March.  I just don't know where to put all the good deals I get.  (And yes, I have had reason to dig through it several times since then.  Voila!  a quick excavation and there it is, a new phone or mixer or whatever.  So it's really not just stuff taking up space.  I really do use the treasures I bring home.  Really.)

But last night I was not thinking so kindly about my second hand purchasing habit.  There were perhaps some untoward words working their way to my lips as I rutted around in that stupid box that shouldn't even be there, if I would ever get my stupid act together and take care of the stupid stuff. 

After several fruitless moments of digging through the box, I decided the noise was coming from under the bed.

Oh, shoot!  Not under the bed!  Please not that!

I have several boxes of packed-away books under my side of the bed and they are kind of hard to pull out even when there is room to pull them out.  But as I've mentioned, there really is no room right now to pull anything out from under anywhere.  Those little foot prints I use to navigate into bed each night...definitly no room there to pull boxes out.  So, still in my sleep addled state, I wedged myself into one of those little footprints.  I wiggled and shoved until I could fit between the piles and the bed.  I shoved a bit more until I had room for a box of books.  And after a little grunting and tugging and perhaps a few choice words mumbled under my breath, out came the box.  Now all I had to do was reach under and around it to find the beeping clock. But guess what?  No clock.

I hoisted that first book box up to the top of the surrounding piles and reached under for the next one.  More tugging and grunting and mumbling.  And still, no beeping clock. 

It was at this point I remembered having seen one of Joe's cool flashlights on his side of the bed earlier, so I rummaged around until I felt its shape among the bedclothes.  Turned it on, wiggled a bit more to fit my whole head down under the bed.  And still no sign of the clock.

I was ready to throw in the towel.  I shoved the book boxes back beneath the bed.  I squeezed and wiggled myself out from under and among the piles of junk.  And just as I was about to stand up, I saw that the clock was just beneath the edge of the bed, further toward the foot of the bed than I had been looking.  It was actually right next to my legs as I was kneeling down digging.  But because of the piles and heaps I could only look in one direction, and so I had missed it. 

I was ever so glad to finally shut the beeping thing off.

Sweet Little Bike Ride (aka Sweet Little Bike Awryd)
Yesterday morning I laced up my shoes and headed out for a short walk.  None of my walking/talking ladies could make it, so I was going solo.  On my way out to the road, I stopped to dead head a few of the flowers in the beds along my way.  As I was plucking the seedpods from the columbine, I heard a commotion.  Inge and John had apparently gotten into some sort of difficulty.  A bike was down.  Two children were down.  And one was crying. 

I just watched for a bit before running to aid and abet.  I like to see if they will work it out on their own.  But the cry on this one sounded a bit intense, so I kept a close eye on the extraction process.  Inge's crying increrased and John was hopping around as though he was freaked out by her position.  Which of course freaked me out, so I hustled on down to the end of the driveway to check things out.

It didn't take much sluething to realize that Inge had gotten her foot in the spokes of the bike.  I asked John how it had happened and (poor little man) he said, "I was just giving her a sweet little bike ride."  He felt pretty bad about the whole thing. 

Inge probably felt worse.  Her lower left leg and foot had spoke shaped scuff marks all around.  There was one abrasion on the outside ankle bump thing (is that the end of the fibula?).  On the inside of the lower leg, there was a quite large swelling.  And that seemed to be the area of the most pain.

I hoped it was just a bruise, and figured Inge just needed some Mama time.  After a bit, she started complaining about the abrasion on the other side, so we put a bandaid on that, even though it barely needed it.  But she still did not perk up.  She just hung on me with her arms and sat limply with her lower body.  I tried to find ways to encourage her to go play, and she seemed eager to do so, until I would make moves to put her down.  Then she would have none of it.

About about half an hour, I moved with Inge outside to my front porch so we could enjoy the sunshine and watch the other kids.  Gradually I tried to interest her in what was going on around us.  Eventually, I set her down to see what she would do.  She seemed to have difficulty finding her balance, and then she leaned to take all weight off the sore leg and started crying again.

That's when I got uneasy.  I started imagining all sorts of growth plate injuries and that she'd end up with a permanenet limp and not be able to run and jump like the other kids.  Yes, I do realize that it would not be the end of the world.  That even with a permanent limp, she could still have a full life.  But it's our sinful nature to want physical perfection in our kids.  Yes, it is vanity.

What I ought to have done is pull out the Emily Rule.  The Emily Rule states that if you are still wondering whether or not to take your child in, it's probably not time yet.  When it's time, you will know.  But in my panic I forgot the Emily Rule.  It didn't help that we had a full day of obligations and I knew the clinic could see her at 11:00.  The Oklee clinic is very small and I'm never sure of its hours.  I didn't want to be caught having to run her into Fosston where we doctor if we couldn't get into Oklee later by the time I was sure

Joe chose the Oklee trip, since it was less driving.  But for that very reason, he had to load up all the kids.  He had the shortest trip to make, so he got the least economical vehicle.  And the van had the car seats for all the other kids. 

I hopped into the car to get Jeremy from Driver's Ed in Thief River Falls.  My trip was uneventful.

Joe's was also blessedly so.  He said that by the time he got Inge out of the car in Oklee, she was ready to put a little weight on her foot.  The nurse practitioner who was staffing the clinic yesterday palpated and articulated her ankle and foot.  Just a bruise!  No x-ray even needed.  What a blessing!  We were all very happy both for our Inge and for our budget.

Bitter Woes
Although much of the time I can ignore the disaster my homemaking is, there are some things that remind me more than others of my abject failure on that score.  And one of them is gathering the library books when it's time for our weekly trip.  I get all ornery and start hollering and complaining about how the books never get put away and we can nver find them when they are due.  I pull up the library web site and go through the list and on a good day, I might find 80% of the ones that are due. 

Yesterday was not a good day.  Yesterday I didn't have a clue where the vast majority of the books were.  Not a clue.  And I can't really blame the kids. 

I could say (and believe me, I do), "Put them back in the book box when you're done." 

But then they might say, "Where is the book box?" 

To which I might reply, "Who knows?  I saw it somewhere."

And then somebody might point out that the book box if full of other stuff that isn't put away correctly.  And then I might add that I think I saw the books in a different box somewhere.  And so it goes. 

I have a disaster for a house and when I try to gather books to return to the library, all my parental and home making inadequacies come crashing down around me.  I have no control over my kids.  I have no control over our books, toys, laundry, etc.  I don't know where anything is.  My entire life is a guessing game. 

"Where is the juice pitcher (or grater, or thermal coffee mug or can opener, or ...)?"

"It's supposed to be...."

"But it's not."

"Well, make a guess.  That's all I'd be able to do."

And it's the same with clothes or shoes or toothbrushes for the little ones.   There are too many little fingers taking things apart; and too many big fingers trying to put things away.  But each of us with big fingers has a different idea of how to define "away".  I'm not complaining.  I'm glad my kids help.  But it's a simple fact of my life that I'm no good at orchestrating this many different bodies.  But still I do it.  This is my vocation.  It's the life God has given me.  So no matter how disordered things are, He thinks it's OK.  He will not give me more than I can handle.  This is just the season of life throuh which I'm sailing.

And library day has a way of pointing it out to me big time.

Losing My Bearings
Eventually I got off to the library yesterday and had my agitation suitably soothed by a quick visit with my friend Laura, who is the Red Lake Falls librarian.  From there I had to make a quick stop at her home to drop off and pick up a few things.  Her daughter Clara was just heading out to milk their family cows, so we tried not to take up too much of her time.  But even the few minutes we had were a needed balm after my earlier stress.  Clara is a beautiful girl in every sense of the word, and her pleasant disposition always brings a smile to my face.

When I got home, Joe met me at the door, "I have good news and I have bad news, He said to me.  "The good news is you get a new washer.  The bad news is the bearings went out on the old one again."

By that time of the day, all I could do was cheer my fortune at the thought of getting a new washer.  Hurray!  The cup is half full!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Augsburg Confession Day

On this day in 1530, the Augsburg Confession was read before The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, by Dr. Christian Beyer (Baier).  Confessional Lutherans can esteem this day as foundational for our visible church body.  But Dr. Beyer, along with the others who stood with him in the face of political and civic risk, was not articulating anything new.  He was quantifying Scriptural Christianity as handed down by God in the Holy Scripture throughout the Old and New Testament eras; and as confessed by the church fathers throughout the history of Christianity.  The message was one of Sin and Grace, of Justification by Grace alone, and of Submission to Scripture as the Only Source of Truth.

I'm friends with Pius X Traditional Catholics, mainstream Catholics, Confessional Lutherans, non-confessional Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelical Free Christians, etc.  And no, unfortunately, we are not all the same.  A truth of sinful nature is that there will always be division.  I consider myself a Confessional Lutheran.  I hold to the Lutheran Confessions as the true representation of Biblical Truth.  But what does that mean?

I've had some who claim to be Confessional Lutherans accuse me of holding the Confessions above God's Word, which is not accurate.  I honor the Lutheran Confessions as a humanly written synopsis of Christian Doctrine, affirmed by both the writings of previous and subsequent church fathers, in accordance with the Holy Bible.  But although, in my human wisdom I accept them in their entirety as Biblical Truth, they are not the inspired Word of God, as is the Canonical Scripture.

In all honesty, although at the time of my confirmation I promised to accept these writings and hold to them, I've not read them all.  It seems to me a strange thing to ask a child to make such a promise, and it seemed so even at that time.  I remember that I considered asking not to be confirmed, because I felt like a hypocrite making such a promise.  It seemed to me to be taking an unnecessary oath, one of the things God exhorts us not to do.  But since I was often accused of asking too many questions and so being intentionally difficult, I decided not to make waves.

I understand now that the confirmation training I received had taught me the truth of the Confessional writings, and that although I hadn't read them, I did believe their content.  But I am still not altogether comfortable with the fact that I've never read the Lutheran Confessions in their entirety.

And so I started a week or so ago to read them.  It's not the first attempt I've made.  The business of life sometimes tempts me away from academic studies, even those academic studies of religious nature.

Shortly after Concordia Publishing house first came out with their recent Concordia, A Readers Edition of the Book of Concord, I ordered myself a copy and started to follow the included schedule for reading it in a year.  But I don't believe I followed the schedule for more than a handful of months.

This time, I'm not following the schedule.  I'm starting at the beginning, and continuing to the end (kind of, but more on that later).  I'm reading each morning for as long as my cup of coffee lasts.  Some mornings I read aggressively.  Other times I sit and watch the birds doing their morning dances, listening to them sing to each other and to the wind soughing in the trees, and watching my flowers bloom and grow.  (It may sound from that description that I ought to be reading Thoreau instead of Luther, Melanchthon and company.  But really I am Lutheran.  I may love the outdoors, but I'm Lutheran to the bone.)

Besides reading front to back, I'm also reading the historical summaries that are included with each document; doing a little extra research on google and by quizzing my husband; and also reading the sections from the other confessional documents that are referenced with each section.  So for instance, with Augsburg Confession Article I, I'm also reading Article I of both the Apology to the Augsburg Confession and the Smallcald Articles, because the editors of Concordia have referenced those as related articles.

I love the history!  It's been really fun to get a feel for the characters who played their roles in Reformation era history and the various pressures against which the early Lutherans stood fast.

But more importantly, I'm refreshing for myself those things I learned during my confirmation training years ago.  I'm digging deeper and understanding more fully the tenets of Lutheran Doctrine.  I'm strengthening in my mind the Scriptural foundations for the things I believe.  And as with any academic discipline, the more one takes into oneself on a matter, the more able one is to communicate that knowledge with others.  I want to be able to articulate, when called upon, how and why what I believe is Biblical; and why I believe what I believe.  In order to do that in a more faithful manner, I have to know the material myself.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Going Back to the Dark Ages? An Update on Life and Computer Fails

The kitchen computer and the network hub in the basement  (bringing internet to the parsonage from the network connection at the church) have been funky for awhile.  Then to add to the mix, the church connection thing got taken out in a lightning strike the other night.  We've been pretty much without internet or with only sporadic internet for several days.  And oh, how much has happened and how much I have to tell you all.  The church connection is good to go, but our house computer and connection still has issues.

I'm sneaking a few minutes on Joe's office computer this morning before church to do this post.  I did ask him if it was all right, but it still feels like sneaking!

We've had so much happiness and sadness around here.  Firstly, we lost a dear neighbor in a tragic car accident the other day.  I will miss Linda's sweet smile and her kind and gentle ways. 

My Clara is heartbroken, crying herself to sleep the last two nights.  Clara had gotten to be buddies with Linda a few years back, over some extra kitties Linda had.  Clara is an animal lover.  And Linda, having a soft spot for the kitties who were living in her garage, was scared she'd back over them one day.  So although we really didn't need them, Clara and Linda conspired against Joe to have them moved to our yard.  Through that feline transaction, the Clara and Linda developed a special friendship.

To Linda's family, I love you all and am so saddened for your tremendous loss.  God bless you with peace and healing, and may Linda's memory be blessed.

Together with the sadness, we had a another wedding here at church.  Isn't that sometimes how it is?  A birth with a death; or a wedding at a time of loss? 

We rejoice with Brett and Amanda who were married yesterday; as well as with Chris and Stephanie who were wed two weeks ago.  It's so wonderful to have young couples at a rural church.  In all too many cases, rural churches struggle as the kids grow up and leave home.  But here we have a thriving multi-generational community with many young families.  Thanks be to God!

We've finally had some spring and summer weather here.  The gardens are mostly planted.  The birds sing and the flowers bloom.  The seedlings pop out of the earth.  The turkey is losing it's baby feathers and looking more like a turkey.

The half-grown chicks are starting to try to fly.  I looked out my bathroom window this morning, as I often do on my way past, just taking a moment to check out the morning and think about what the day has in store.  This morning, the sheep were still sleeping in the shelter of our young spruces.  But the chickens were up wandering all over the fenced area.  As if on cue, several of them fluttered their wings and jumped forward a few feet, getting two feet or so off the ground.  They all just kept up this routine for several minutes, one ofter the other, or sometimes up to four or five at a time.  I'm not sure if it is part of their morning stretch, or if it's a new skill they are learning and showing off for each other.  Either way, their antics made me smile.

The morning today was a bit damp and cool, but a relief after yesterday's heat and humidity.  It was strange weather yesterday.  Outside was not uncomfortable.  By afternoon, it was beautiful sunshine with only a hint of humidity.  But inside, the house was stuffy and hot and I couldn't get any air moving through.  Yuck.  Last night I opened all the windows wide and made the kids keep their bedroom doors open to get the cool night air moving through.  The breeze held light and steady most of the night to freshen everything up inside. 

I wrapped in a blanket this morning and took my coffee and book outside to my favorite porch chair.  The fog came and went as I sat; I even felt a bit of mist now and then on my exposed hands.  But it was wonderful just the same. 

I love the sound of the roosters crowing in each new day.  But when they stand and crow at their reflections in the basement windows for minutes on end, I have to agree with the kids that it gets a little tiresome.  The kids who sleep in those basement rooms certainly do have a  point when they complain about the morning serenade.  When my inlaws were here a couple of weeks ago, the roosters pulled this stunt outside our guest bedroom window.  My father-in-law got up and started directing their choral attempts.  I didn't ask him if the harmonies improved with his help.

This morning, the highlight of my front porch time was when I was a little visit from a small yellow and black feathered friend.  As I was reading, I caught out the corner of my eye a little fluttering motion at the front edge of the porch.  I looked again and over the edge of the porch floor popped a goldfinch.  Since I struggle enough to remember to feed my family, I don't attempt to feed birds.  So we don't get as many of these cute fellows around as other yards might.  It is always a treat to see one. 

This little guy hopped right up onto the edge of the deck and sat there looking out over the yard, his little head turning

Shortly after that, a robin started singing from a nearby tree, welcoming in the day.  He was just singing as if his heart would burst. 

What a serene start to what will be a busy day!

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Very Funny, "Naughty Stella," Story

I really try not to talk about all my children's naughtinesses.  Primarily, I think it's unkind.  But also, sadly, there are not enough hours in the day to get it all down.  There are times, however, that something is so funny I just have write about it. 

My kids don't drink much pop.  It's very much a treat in our household.  I needed some a few weeks ago for a Jello salad I made for a church dinner, so I bought a 12-pack of a Seven-up knock-off.  I used two cans and the rest is supposed to be sitting under my bed, but it's instead just kind of stacked up in the heaps of stuff in my room waiting to be put away.  It's been sitting there at eye level for the little ones, tempting them to sneak. I have so far only found one empty can squirreled away, but I really need to get the pop put in a more secure location.

I also have a 2 liter bottle of Raspberry Ginger Ale left over from the punch for Jeremy's graduation open houses.   That bottle had been in a tote bag in the hallway; and yes, like so many other things in my life, it was waiting to be put away.  Two or three days ago, I moved it into my bedroom for "safe keeping." 

Let me explain here a little bit about our house design.  Because the planners of the parsonage wanted to include a handicapped accessible shower in the main bathroom, the only tub in our home is in the master bedroom.  Any time a little one needs a bath, he or she must wend his or her way through The Labyrinth of Mom's Disorder.  And directly along this route is where I put the left over bottle of Ginger Ale.  Alas for Stella!

Joe was in the kitchen yesterday and heard from the open doorway of our room the familiar sound of a 2 liter bottle being opened.  He got up to investigate, and was met by Stella, coming quickly from our room, looking all intentionlly innocent.  You know the look: the hands behind the back, eyes upward, just strolling along, usually accompanied by a nonchalant hum or whistle. 

But Stella did the act one better.  Instead of the nonchalant hum or whistle, she added a periodic, "Chhhht," sound, in attempted imitation of the familiar sound of a 2 liter bottle being opened. 

"What's up, Stella?"  Joe asked.

"Nothing, Dad.  I'm just walking around saying, "Chhhht."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How theMom is Indulged

Yesterday was my birthday and it started out as a blustery, cold, and gray day.  I know one ought not to let the weather effect one's mood, but I was sorely tempted yesterday toward a slightly brooding mood.  I read my book all morning.  It was a pretty good book, but really, Mary, all morning

I wasn't paying much attention to the kids, but the middle aged kids seemed to be somewhat absent all morning.  They have a little garden space behind our willows, so I assumed they had been busy out there.

After we ate our dinner, I rallied the troops to get the kitchen cleaned up quickly, while the little ones were in quiet time, then I went out and wandered around my yard, looking at the bushes, trees and other new plantings.  I noticed that there were some cars at church, but since there periodically are people in and out, I didn't really think anything of it.

As I approached the end of the yard nearest the church, one of the neighbors, Shirley, came out to visit me a few minutes.  This also is not unusual.  I often wander down to church to visit whoever is there, or if they see me out and about they come up and visit with me.

After we visited a few minutes, Shirley asked me if I was ready for my party.  Party?  She suggested I get my shoes on and come down to church.  I was just in my grubbies, so I hurried in and changed quickly, and I even took time to run a brush through my hair and brush my teeth.  Then I hustled down to church to see what awaited me.

My kids and a couple of the neighbor ladies had arranged a little surprise party for me.  It all started, I'm told, on Saturday when Clara and Sophie worked for Connie for a little while, picking up sticks in her yard.  That is when the plotting began.  Connie's husband, Kelly, has a birthday the day before mine, so she often thinks of me on my birthday, and brings over a cake or a little something.  But apparently she and my girls went whole hog this time.

Connie, Annabelle, Muriel, Shirley, Lori, and Lana, along with my kids and a couple of Lana's grandkids, and Joe came to celebrate my birthday.  They had coffee and lemonade, angelfood cake with strawberries and whipped cream, dougnuts, and some leftover cake from the church confirmation celebration.  The ladies had cards and gifts for me.  My girls had made a banner with birthday wishes, and a guest book with space for comments.  I felt very spoiled and loved.

Last night, Joe and Clara had to run off by 5:00 or a little after, for the final class of the current session of fire arms safety training.  Joe teaches for up to three sessions a year.  Apparently the DNR is moving toward on-line training only, with a range day being the only time the kids actually handle a weapon around the instructors.  (Joe is not in favor of this, even though it will be less time commitment for the instructors.)  Thankfully, Clara got in on a classroom rendition of the class, before they become obsolete. 

So our evening here was quiet yesterday.  I did some work outside and then on the computer; most of the kids watched a movie.  Louisa made a nice fried rice supper for us. 

Today, I walked with my girlfriends, worked in my flower beds, and helped Joe fix the church swingset.  I lifted sod off another 4x6 foot area for the new flower bed I'm making.  Then I had space to plant the dahlias that Lana gave me.  I've never planted Dahlias before.  I tend to not do things that have to be dug in the fall.  But since Lana has so many, she said to just take them and enjoy them for this year, and if I didn't dig them up, it was no great loss.  Schwoo!  I'm off the hook for that, I guess.  So I got the sod moved; Joe moved the last three rolls for me.  And I got the dahlias tucked in nicely.  I hope the kids leave that nice black dirt alone long enough for the plants to come up.

Louisa planned a special birthday dinner for me tonight, when we could all be home for supper.   She made two chocolate cheesecakes this morning.  This afternoon, she made garlic Parmesan bread.  And for supper she made a sundried tomato pasta and a fancy salad.  It all turned out wonderfully, especially considering that all the items were gluten free, which takes a little more thought and effort than traditional baking. 

It was a treat!  About halfway through supper, Louisa said we should have a fancy wine with it.  I think she was just kind of joking, but it reminded me that we had one more bottle of wine our friend, Jaime, had made.  Joe got it out and gave everyone a little bit.  The bigger the child, the bigger the "little bit."  It made everything seem all the more festive.  We all came up with toasts to various things we like or are thankful for about each other.  It was great fun.

And we didn't forget to toast the chef, Louisa, for her excellent fare.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It Feels Like Arbor Day

We had a big planting day around here yesterday.  Joe and I planted three currents, a disease resistant elm, a Juneberry, a lilac, and three grape vines; and we moved an apricot windbreak shrub that was looking sickly.  Then I quickly poked in the rest of my annual flowers as it was beginning to sprinkle.

When we moved into our house almost ten years ago, the parsonage was only three and a half years old.  The church was built in the seventies, so the trees near the church were mature.  There are flowering crabs and spruce and a dwindling honeysuckle hedge on the north side of the church. 

But around the new parsonage were only baby trees.  There were baby poplars and spruce and willow on the north side; and between the church and the parsonage there were ash and maple and spruce. The poplars were only about five or six feet and the spruce and ash were very small, maybe only three or four feet.  There was also what was left of some windbreak shrubs on the south side.  I think there may have been nine that made it through our first winter here, scattered around what used to be two rows.  These were mostly still in what I call the "stick" stage, the single upright stick or two with a few leaves or tiny branches.

Since then, the poplars have grown very tall, as poplars will; the spruce and willows are all over my head; most of the ash and maple are probably twenty feet tall; we combined the scattered remains of the two rows of sticks on the south side and have added to it each year.  It is now complete and starting to fill in the spaces between the shrubs.  We're ready to begin a second row next year. 

Our first summer here, someone had given money, specifically for some shrubbery for the parsonage.  So we got three arborvitae, a bridal wreath spirea, a burning bush, a lilac, a double flowering plum, and a clump birch.  These were all planted up around or near the house, so immediately added a bit of green hominess to the place. 

We've continued to add each year, planting a few more bushes, at least one tree a year, and perennials.  We've planted strawberries, raspberries, jostaberries and currents; apple and plum trees, and now grape vines; and we have choke cherries, high bush cranberries, buffalo berries and Juneberries in the windbreak hedge on the south side.

Each spring, we watch impatiently to see which things make it and begin to put out their little leaves; and which things show nothing but dead brown branches after our hard winters.  We try to replace the things that die, but sometimes we have to admit that a certain variety may not fit well with our climate and soil conditions. 

Since we live in a parsonage, there's always a bit of tip-toeing to figure out which things that we try are OK with everyone.  It's a basic fact of parsonage life that we can't do whatever we want; out of respect for those church and parish members who own the property, we try to take into account the opinions of those who provide such a nice home for us.  And in order to help us feel at home here, the parishioners allow us as much freedom as they can to do our own thing.

That said, there are probably as many opinions among the members as there are members.  We cannot please everyone.  I hope we've never bothered anyone too terribly with all of our plantings.  Some people want a nice big open yard, and others say to shade the yard with several trees.  Some people say to leave the south side open.  Some have advised that fruiting trees are too much maintenance or make too much of a mess in the yard.  Some think a certain tree is pretty and others think it's ugly. 

And so comes the tip-toeing.  We plant what we like, and some that we don't, but that are very popular otherwise (arborvitae, for instance, although I will say that I am getting used to them; the green in the winter is definitely nice).  We try to plant reasonably, thinking of the families who will follow us.  We try to plant usefully, hence the fruiting varieties.  Not everyone who may follow us here will want to use the fruit, but the bushes and trees will still provide shelter and windbreak, shade and visual appeal.

And so gradually the parsonage grounds are becoming greener.  Or dare I say, the glebe is more verdant?

It's Just Yesterday's Run

Yesterday morning, I dragged myself to an early Couch to 5K run/walk before church.

First off, a few of the highlights from yesterday's run:
  • I followed a killdeer who appeared to be trying to lead me away from his nest.
  • A bittern swooped round and round over me, squawking repetitively.
  • Heather C.'s miniature horses followed me curiously as I ran along side their pasture.
  • And I escaped, without being pooped on, the swirl of swallows who were swooping and gliding and diving above me for their morning breakfast as I neared the Clearwater River bridge. There are probably over a thousand swallows that make their nests under that bridge. When they are flying about en masse above your bare head, it's a bit unnerving.
I did day one of Week 5 for my yesterday's workout. Most of the Couch to 5K weeks recommend the same workout for all three days of each week. But the workouts for Weeks 5 and 6 are graduated, each day of those weeks having a higher proportion of running to walking than the day before.

So yesterday, after my five minute warm-up walk, I alternated three intervals of 1/2 mile run with a 1/4 mile walk, then finished up with the five minutes cool-down.

The Couch to 5K program includes both distance and time recommendations for the workouts. When I was using the treadmill, minutes were easier to keep track of than distance. And through Week 4, with it's 1/8 and 1/4 mile intervals, I used the time recommendations outside, too. But I found it kind of difficult to accurately determine, while in a bouncing jog, where the minute and especially second hands on my watch were, so my times were always a bit of an estimate.

But with the start of Week 5, the interval distances have reached the level at which it's pretty easy, out here in the hinterlands of rural Red Lake County, to judge a half mile and even a quarter mile. Just count the power poles. Joe has always claimed that power poles are placed 100 yards apart. He also has said, I think, that there are 16 power poles per mile. But that does not add up. There are approximately 1600 meters in a mile, and 1720 yards. A quick google search does not seem to yield any concrete information.

According to my best estimate there are 17 or 18 poles per mile. The variance is from several factors. The primary one,... don't laugh,... is that it's really hard to not lose count while walking or jogging.  Around here where there is nothing to look at except the farm a mile or two down the road, one tends to fixate a bit on the things that do change, such as the distance to the next power pole. And trust me, even that does not change nearly fast enough. By the time I pass each pole, my thinking goes something like this, "Was that five or six? Or is it only four and I was looking ahead to the next one for five? Or..." counting power poles has the same hazards as counting scoops of flour in a recipe. I start to second guess myself until finally I just dump it all back into the flour bin and start over.  Believe me, I'm not about to go back to the beginning of the mile and start over if I lose count.  Uh-uh, no way.

Getting back to the point, I can manage, usually, to keep track long enough to count the 4 1/2 poles I figure for my 1/4 mile interval. And along the route I travel, the 1/2 mile mark is usually pretty obvious by a change in crops or fencing style.

Next time I get out to do the Couch to 5K, I'll be expected to do only two jogging intervals of 3/4 mile each, alternating with a half mile walk.  We shall see.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Yes, I'm ready

Since it's not Joe's birthday or our anniversary, and even Father's Day is more than a week away, I guess there's just no real reason to gush about how much I love my husband.  And it's really a bit out of character for me anyway.  I'm not much of a public gusher.

But I just have to tell you about an incident that perfectly portrays one of the richest blessings Joe has brought to our life together and to me personally.  He has taught me to laugh.  I used to be of a somewhat somber disposition.  Grumpy, even.  Really.  I used to get hollered at for pouting when I was just being normal.  OK, probably some of the time I was pouting.  But not every time, and that's my point.  I was somber.  And I still tend to be that way if left to myself. 

When Joe and I were dating and newlyweds, before I had learned to laugh, I would get very frustrated with him and some of my girlfriends.  I'd get a little jealous even at times.  And the source of most of that angst was humor.  He and especially my friend, Lisa, would get laughing about some totally silly thing.  I either just didn't get it, or if I did, it never seemed to me to be nearly as funny as Joe and Lisa made it out to be.  They would go on and on, until I often felt on the periphery of their fun and games.  I even told Joe once I thought he liked Lisa better than me.  "What would make you think that, Mary?"  "Because you have more fun with her."

I think a person cannot live long with another person of silly temperament without some of it rubbing off.  And oh, how much richer life is when it does!

Last night, after getting home kind of late from our Bergeson Nursery outing, we knew we'd have to rush to get supper on at a decent hour.  Joe had some work to do in his office, so I went in to get started on supper.  But, alas!  The breakfast chores my kids were supposed to have done were not completed, and in fact they were barely started.  There was a huge mess in the kitchen.  I immediately got the bigger kids started with that, took care of a few little child matters, and then I dug in with the bigger kids on the kitchen chores. 

When we were mostly done, Joe came home and asked what I had planned for supper.  I said I had some chicken breasts thawing, but that I hadn't thought beyond that.  I mentioned some left-over rice that I might heat up.  But Joe, Mr. Connoisseur Cook, decided to take up the supper prep task.  He made us a nice fried rice with vegetables, a minced brat for a little pork flavor, and pine nuts.  On the side was broasted chicken breasts cooked with bacon.

It was all much fancier and nicer than I would have chosen.

But besides the fanciness, there was another bonus.  We let the kids go, and I finished the clean-up chores while he cooked, so Joe and I got some good time together, just visiting and listening to the kids play, and doing our mutual tasks.

At one point, one of the kids called to another, "Are you ready?"  and the second child replied, "Yes. I'm ready."

At this point, as often happens with us, we started in singing Barbara Mason's are you ready, complete with ooh-ooh-oohs and two part harmony. We sounded very fine. Then my Joe, always having to go one better, starts in with a dialogue featuring the voices of Bob and Larry and Pa Grape, of Veggie Tales fame.

"Hey Larry, why are we singing this silly song."

"I don't know, Bob, because we're silly?"

"Because that's what we do best.  We sing silly songs."

It was so funny and fit exactly perfectly with the setting.

And that, my friends, besides a few other reasons, is why I love my husband.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guilty Pleasure Films on MPR's Midday

While I was running errands last Friday, I tuned in to public radio and was treated to some very fun radio fare. Minnesota Public Radio's Movie Maven, Stephanie Curtis, joined the show to talk about Guilty Pleasure Films.  She defined those as films we love to watch, so much so we'd drop almost anything to do it; we could watch them any number of times and never tire of them; and they are the kind of film we might be embarrassed to admit we love.

It's worth your time while doing dishes or laundry, or whatever, to give the show a listen using the above link.  (One of the great things about public radio is that many of their shows are available to listen to on-line, so you can do fact-checking later, or finish a show you only heard part of, or re-listen to something that was especially good.)

Ms Curtis's five favorite Guilty Pleasure Films: The Spanish Main, Footloose, Enough, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and Urban Cowboy.

Besides Ms Curtis's choices, listeners shared their Guilty Pleasures Films, and the Movie Maven and show host Gary Eichten commented on the various films mentioned.  I had heard of relatively few of them, but really enjoyed the descriptions and the comments.  I found myself laughing out loud at some spots.  Good thing I was driving along typically unoccupied stretches of highway, or other drivers may have thought me a bit touched.
What are your Guilty Pleasure Films?

I'll confess my Guilty Pleasure Film.  But first a little statement insurance.  I'm not a really big move watcher, so I don't have too extensive a repertoire.  And probably my ideas of guilty or embarrassing might differ from the general populace.  But I have to say that When Harry Met Sally is one of my all time favorite films.  I love it for the humor, Harry's and Sally's growth as the movie progresses, the sweetness, and I even totally get the underlying idea that it's difficult (impossible?) for men and women to be friends.

So why the guilt or embarrassment?  At the end, when they..., well..., you know... When I can't whole heartedly share a favorite film with my kids, I have to consider it guilty.  Is this overly sensitive?  Or common sense?  I did finally check it out at the library a few months ago.  I hadn't seen it for years, and was kind of craving seeing it again.   I still really enjoyed it.  Maybe even more than before.  And I could even almost justify the pleasure by saying, "Yes, they may have..., well..., you know..., but they suffered for it; it nearly ruined their friendship.  It shows that the well..., you know..., is not something to be used to ease pain or to be taken lightly."  I could probably have made a life lesson out of it.  But I didn't.  I watched it alone.  It was my late night treat one evening while waiting to pick Matt up after a track meet.

To bring the post back around to the MPR show, by the time it was over, I had accumulated quite an extensive list of films to request from the library.  Since the library was the second stop on my  day's junket, I made a mental note regarding a few of the movies, hopeful I'd remember enough to find them in the library catalogue.  Of course by the time I got there, most of my mental notes had hidden away in the dark recesses of my mind.  Not to worry, however.  Google is a wonderful thing.  I remembered just enough to search for, "documentary, Kennedy, garden, sisters," and found Grey Gardens, a documentary film about two reclusive relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, that sounds very fun.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Grey Gardens was available at several of the libraries in our regional catalogue system.  I see now, with a quick check to my online account that it is in transit from Moorhead, and should be available for me to pick up in Red Lake Falls on Thursday, my library day.  Can you tell I love libraries, too?

Now all I have to do is find time before Thursday to finish watching Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, which my librarian has kindly renewed for me about five times.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Oh, my goodnes!

When I was growing up, Mom always had elaborate entertainments.  She was good at it, and the linen tablecloths and crystal and china were lovely.  There was a group of families at our church who often got together for meals, maybe once a month, or at least once every two months.  Since we had the biggest house and the biggest family, these get together were generally at our house. 

I'm not good at entertaining.  I'm too scatterbrained and dingy to plan well, and I don't keep a clean enough house to be able to host things without a huge amount of prep.

For graduations and confirmation, in my memory, we generally had an open house with cake, mints, nuts, punch, coffee.  Maybe cold cuts, but I don't really remember.  There were a few occasions for which Mom made chocolate covered strawberries; and she often made homemade mints.  But I recall that graduation and confirmation open houses were prim and proper and fancy doings.

In the midwest, a graduation (and even confirmation, sometimes) is a big deal in a different way.  There is usually a "little lunch," which in Minnesota on a regular day means a bar and coffee.  But on a festive day means a full meal.  Salads and meat and buns and desserts or bars.  Tables have a center piece with some sort of snacky thing.  There is often beer and pop in coolers.  Balloons, childhood pictures, yearbooks, mementoes for school days.

My oldest son just graduated last week.  I really didn't know what to plan and how big to make it.  But with the fact in mind that I'm not really one of those nearly professional hostesses, I decided to go small. 

I baked bars and served a fruit tray with dip.  I offered nuts and mints.  I made a really easy punch and coffee.  I had two picture boards and a few of Jeremy's high school items.

And best of all, I used the church, so I didn't need to have my house in tip-top condition.  (Which was probably very obvious to any of the kids who came in with my kids while I was down at church.  My kids are not supposed to bring friends up to the house during a function at church.  Naughty pastors' kids!  My humble apologies to any youth who were traumatized by my mess...)

But the long story is that I did it!  Hurray.  It wasn't even all that hard.  Thanks to those who offered to make bars: Connie, Amanda, and Sharol.  Thanks to Sharon who came early and helped me set up, and to Shirley who stayed after to finish cleaning up.  And thanks to Alison who washed up some dishes for me in the middle of it all.

But also, I ought to thank Jeremy for graduating, the teachers at ECHO for putting up with him, and Joe's parents for raising him during these last four years.  And thank you also to the many friends and relations who showed up at both the Belview open house and the one up here, to help Jeremy celebrate and to show him your support. 

I want to add one more little thing here, not to play favorites or anything, but our nearest ELS church is about 35 minutes away.  The pastor there, Shawn Stafford, and his wife Amy, along with their kids, Solvieg, Jonah, and Anju, have been our good friends during our almost 10 years here.  They helped support us when Joe was new to parish ministry and they set an example for us when we needed advice on what might be proper or improper in a pastor's family and life.  Pastor Stafford has recently accepted a call to the Harford/Manchester parish in southern Minnesota.  They will be leaving in eight days.  We will miss them very much.

But the point here is that even in the midst of the rush of getting everything packed and ready for a major move, they took time to come celebrate with Jeremy, and sit and visit with us.  Thank you.  I know you must be half crazy with stress; and have more than enough to keep you busy right now.  So thank you, thank you.  I know several of the members here are glad to have had one more chance to visit with you, also.

The Passing of an American Hero, June 5, 2004

"And whatever else history 
may say about me when I'm gone, 
I hope it will record that I appealed 
to your best hopes, 
not your worst fears, 
to your confidence rather than your doubts. 

My dream is that you will travel 
the road ahead 
with liberty's lamp guiding your steps 
and opportunity's arm steadying your way. 

My fondest hope for each one of you 
-- and especially for young people -- 
is that you will love your country, 
not for her power or wealth, 
but for her selflessness and her idealism. 
May each of you have the heart to conceive, 
the understanding to direct, 
and the hand to execute 
works that will make the world a little better 
for your having been here. 

May all of you as Americans 
never forget your heroic origins, 
never fail to seek divine guidance, 
and never lose your natural, God-given optimism. 
And finally, my fellow Americans, 
may every dawn 
be a great new beginning for America 
and every evening 
bring us closer to that shining city upon a hill." 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Two Varieties of Gluten Free Bars

Merry Mix Up Bars (L) and Scandinavian Tosca Bars (R)
I am baking this week for a graduation open house.  I'm not really into the big sit down meal, Minnesota lunch type party.  I'm having comparably skimpy fare at Jeremy's open house tomorrow.

I'll be serving fruit with cardamom dip, bars, mints and nuts, punch and coffee.

I baked four varieties of regular bars using all-purpose flour.  Since I don't bake much, and when I do, it's things like banana bread or muffins, even doing the regular bars felt foreign to me.  But I got through it and I think they are all edible.  I'm pretty sure they are.  I've been sampling a little bit...I mean, the kids have been sampling a little bit.  Right, the kids.  That's right.

I have friends who have offered to bring another four varieties.  And I thought I ought to provide something for Joe and any other guests who might need a Gluten Free selection. (There are five members of our church who eat gluten free and another neighbor who attends some functions.)

For the Gluten free flour, I kind of used Peter and Kelli Bronski's Artisanal Gluten Free Flour.  I'll include their recipe at the bottom, along with my variation.  I never seem to have all the correct flours at the right time to mix it properly.

First I tried Scandinavian Tosca Bars.  I used Emily Sander's recipe from the Rock Dell Lutheran Church cookbook (Belview, MN).  I believe this book came out in conjunction with Rock Dell's 125th anniversary in 1997.  Incidentally, Emily was Joe's dad's cousin.  She was a kind and zippy lady who always had a ready smile.  She also had celiac disease in the days when not much was known about it and there were not many choices out there for those who struggled with gluten issues.  Scandinavian Tosca Bars are a par-baked cookie crust with a sugar, butter and almond candy syrup poured over and then baked again.  My gluten free version were a bit crumbly but very tasty.

The second recipe I tried was Merry Mix Up Bars.  I used the recipe from Oak Park/ Clearwater Lutheran Parish's Hello Neighbor cookbook.  The recipe was submitted by Gunda Syrtveit.  I think Merry Mix up Bars must be quite similar to what I have heard called Seven Layer Bars in other locales.  By either name, they are a luscious chocolate, coconut, and pecan confection.

I pretty much followed the recipes as is, with the substitution of a gluten free flour blend and the addition of 1/4 tsp zanthan gum per cup of flour.  Since my GF mix has a small amount of xanthan gum included in it, I factored only for the whole cups in the recipes.

Scandinavian Tosca Bars

1 c butter, softened
2 1/4 c GF flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 c sugar, divided
1/4 c cream
6 Tbs butter
1 c slivered almonds
1/8 c GF flour
1/2 tsp almond extract

Cream together butter with 1 c of sugar.  Blend in flour and xanthan gum.  (The original recipe says to blend until particles are fine.  With the GF substitutions, it was thick and sticky like cookie dough, not crumbly like a crumb crust.)  Press into the bottom of an ungreased jelly roll pan.    Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until a light golden brown.

Combine remaining 1 c sugar with the rest of ingredients in a sauce pan.  Heat slowly until butter is melted, then over med high heat until the mixture boils.  Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour this over the partially baked crust.  (I waited until the mixture was at a full rolling boil before I started timing it.  When I poured it over the crust, it cooled to a semi-hard mixture right away and was difficult to spread around.  Perhaps I ought to have started timing at a less aggressive boil.)  Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown.

The recipe also does not indicate at what point one ought to cut these, warm or completely cool.  Mine were completely cool and broke apart quite bit while I was cutting them   Had I cut them when still a bit warm, perhaps it would not have been such a problem.

Merry Mix Up Bars

3/4 c sugar
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c chocolate chips
2 1/3 c coconut (7 oz package)
1/2 c chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1 1/3 c sweetened condensed milk (15 oz can)

Combine the sugar, flour, xanthan gum, and baking powder; and then cut in butter until crumbly.  Place evenly into 9x13 baking pan.  (I'm not sure what the recipe meant by evenly, but I patted it into an smooth layer.  I also greased the pan.)

Sprinkle over the crust, the chocolate chips, then coconut, then nuts.  Pour the sweetened condensed milk slowly over, so that it makes a fairly complete layer.  Don't try to spread it around with a spatula, or you will mess up your other layers.  Trust me, I know these things.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.  Cool completely, then cut.

These turned out just perfect, by the way.  They held together well and were soft and chewy.

Artisanal Gluten Free Flour Blend
5 c brown rice flour
3 c sorghum flour
2 2/3 c cornstarch
1 c potato starch
1/4 c plus 4 tsp potato flour
1 Tbs plus 1 tsp xanthan gum

When I mixed this, I doubled it, because of the volume I generally use.  I had the 10 c brown rice and the 6 c sorghum already mixed together when I remembered I had used the last of my cornstarch a few days before.  Oh, it was maddening!  Usually I might be low on potato starch or potato flour or even occasionally one of the primary GF flours, brown rice or sorghum.  But to be out of something as basic as corn starch!   But with 16 cups of flours already half mixed up, what was I to do?  I continued on, but substituted tapioca starch for the corn starch.  It has worked well for most things, but I really am looking forward to trying the "real" Artisanal Gluten Free Flour Blend.

The Bronskis are a great source of GF information, both at their blog (linked at the top of the page) and the cookbook.  They have a new cupcake cookbook coming out soon.  I have an "in" with the Red Lake Falls librarian, and she had ordered both books for that branch.  She was glad to do it, since she didn't have any GF cookbooks in the holdings.  So if anyone local wants to take a peak before purchasing, they will be available in Red Lake Falls within the next few months.  But I bet you'll want to order your own copy once you preview it.

Couch to 5K update

As I predicted, with the onset of the long-awaited spring weather, I'm mostly walking.  Most weeks I walk for about an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with three girlfriends, Connie, Lana, and Jan.  Since I like their company more than I care about keeping my Couch to 5K routine, those walks are my primary exercise.  But when time and weather (mostly wind) allow, I try to sneak in a Couch to 5K on the alternate days.

Today, being a sunny Saturday with only a 12-15 mph wind from the WNW, I summoned the gumption to do my Couch to 5K.  Another motivation, I must admit, is competition.  Another friend has started doing the couch to 5K and she has her husband doing it with her as a drill sargent.  I think I"d probably shoot my husband if he was my drill sargent, but for Alison it seems to work well.  But she's on the cusp of passing me up. 

So, Alison, I'm using you.  I'm using your success to motivate myself to keep up better!  Thanks for the help.  And if it helps you, you can use me to motivate you during these two weeks Jona's gone. 

Here's to a little friendly competition.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Walking With My Little Ones on a Misty Morning

Last weekend, when we were at Joe's parents' house, I had an absolutely satisfactory walk with my youngest four kids.  It was Saturday morning.  Joe and his mom had left early to pick up the last minute supplies for Jeremy's open house: cake, ham, buns, etc.  The big kids and Joe's dad were still sleeping; I was dozing, but not fully asleep.

I heard the little ones start to stir, and gradually, one by one, sneak downstairs to see what was going on at Grandma's house in the morning.  When they found out that nothing was yet going on, they came creeping back upstairs to the room they share with Joe and I when we visit there.

I had gotten up and dressed by that time, since I didn't want them unattended at Grandma's.  We all trooped back downstairs and continued outside, to keep the noise level inside to a minimum.

The morning was green and misty.  The green was intensified to our eyes, because it is about two weeks further into spring there than it is here.  While not exactly misting, the dew was very heavy on the grass and the air had a hazy appearance, as though at any moment a true mist might start in.  The morning sun was seeping through the filtering cloud cover.  The world was fresh and new.

Joe's mom's spring flowers were in full bloom.  As I stepped out into the yard, I immediately was treated to a view of allium, columbine, iris, coral bells, hostas in all shades of green, and the last of the year's tulips.

Joe's parents have a large grassy area between all the various buildings and in the middle are two big maples.  To the north and east, they have an old grove of what's left of the elms that did not succumb to Dutch elm disease, along with ash and buckthorn; this is the area where all the treasures are hidden amidst the undergrowth.  Beyond the old grove on the north, is the new grove that was put in about 30 years ago.  It's two rows of spruce, then three rows of poplar, then two rows of honeysuckle.

When I started across the grass with my little ones that morning, the trees to the north and east were full of chattering birds.   We followed the grass around to the south end of the old grove at the east edge of the home site.  Joe's parents keep a mowed grassy area around the east side of those trees, along which the kids raced ahead.  I caught up with Inge fairly soon, before we even left the main grassy area.

Inge and I continued on around the bend in the morning haze, and soon found Donna, whom John and Stella, in their excitement, had left behind.  The three of us got to the north end of the grove and we found John and Stella busy exploring.  This corner of the property has the kids' "playhouse."  Grandpa has, throughout the years, provided the kids with all sorts of goodies to use in this area, and the size of the playhouse has grown along with the number of "home furnishings."

I didn't really let the kids explore much at the playhouse, because the big girls were not along, and they are the ones who have worked so hard throughout the years to get everything set up, just so.   But also, the "carpeted hallway" leading up to the main rooms (a trail of asphalt shingles, amid the bushes), was heavy with dew.  Our shoes were already quite wet, and I didn't want to have any more wet clothes than necessary when we got back to the house.

After we left the playhouse area, John and Stella found the tunnel between the two rows of mature spruce trees.  John thought that would be the best direction in which to continue our walk, but I called him back.  I certainly wasn't going in there, with the cobwebs, dew and potential for poison ivy or worse yet, a skunk or two.  And I really wanted to walk with my kids.  As the number of my kids has grown, I have taken gradually less and less time just being with them.  Along with the morning dew, I was soaking in the time together, and saving it up for the days when I don't really get any good kid time.

So we walked among the poplars.  These trees are tall and full, and the grass is kept mown beneath them.  It's just like a walk in the park.  We saw a bird's nest and a leaning tree, and talked about all kinds of potential adventures one might have in that woodland hideaway.

When we got back to the west end, we cut through the cedars that make up the western grove.  This is an old, old little woods that Joe's dad has been cleaning up during his retirement years.  It's nice now, with a thickly needled floor and little shade plants growing along the way.  Stella found an old brown bottle that she thought ought to go into the playhouse.

All too soon, we got back to the driveway and civilization.  Stella and John once more ran ahead, past the house and toward some of the equipment Joe's dad has parked between the buildings.  By the time Donna, and Inge, with their shorter legs, and I had come up to the equipment, Stella and John were around the south side of the property.  I saw only their heads above the grasses and undergrowth that separated us.  I asked them if there was a path, or if they were among the weeds.  They assured me they were in the path.

What Stella and John did not mention was that the path was only a little bit grass covered, but mostly soft, squishy mud. By the time Donna and Inge and I were along it, and starting to sink, Stella and John's shoes were thick with the goop.  I debated whether to continue on or go back, but either way was about equal, so on we went.  When we finally cut through back to the mowed area around the garden, we all had about an inch of muck clinging around the edges of our shoes.

"We'll have to walk through the grove again to wash off our shoes, I guess, "  I suggested.

So around we went again.  Stella dropped off her brown bottle at the playhouse and we all walked sideways on our shoes to get the sides good and clean in the thick, wet grass.  By the time we got back, we were well exercised and the little ones were even a little tired.  I had to carry Inge a bit on the second loop.

It was a beautiful walk, with pretty flowers and trees along the way, and the chorus of the morning birds filling the air.  But most of all, it was filled with precious moments with my little ones.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

OK, I feel a rant coming on...or maybe two...

I was e-mailed this little thing the other day.  Generally I don't even open these, but this one from someone who rarely sends this sort of thing, so I thought I'd see what kinds of things she does send.
The Green Thing
In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

That’s right, they didn’t have the green thing in her day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, Coke bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, using the same bottles over and over.  So they actually were "recycled."

But they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she’s right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power did the drying. Kids often got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right, they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a pizza dish, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for them. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used wadded up newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right, they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty, instead of using a plastic bottle or cup every time they had a drink of water. They refilled pens with ink, instead of buying new pens, and they replaced the blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus, instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from a satellite 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But they didn't have the green thing back then!
OK, maybe I'm not going to rant.  I changed my mind.  I love this anecdote, even if it is fiction.  We don't have to contrive various ways to "be green" and spout about them all the time.  It doesn't make us somehow more righteous to use cloth diapers or ride a bike to work.  These are choices each person might make.  And the ways to "be green" are so much more varied than the popular ideas being crammed down our societal throats non-stop. 

How about shoe repair?  Do you know how hard it is to find a cobbler?  And it's also more expensive these days to get a good shoe repaired than to buy cheapo shoes and just replace them.  But I do it because it makes more sense to me. 

How about mending clothes? 

Or buying parts for appliances?  Oh, that one really torks me.  They make these totally cheapo appliances that are made to break down.  And the parts are nearly as expensive as buying a new one.  My Mother-in-law just replaces the stove she had for forty-some years.  Why? Not because it needed to be replaced.  But because she could no longer find parts for it.  And she had to get a cheapo piece of junk that will last her maybe fifteen.  Maybe.  And only because she's not cooking for a family anymore.  They wear out much faster in that case.  Trust me, I know.  But our society is not geared toward those common sense practices that used to be common.  Because a certain segment of our population wants new things all the time, producers don't make things that last.  We have to invent ways to "be green" since common sense has flown the coop.

Ok, I guess I did rant.  And I think I just might a second time.

As long as I'm on the subject of environmentalism, I am going to spout just a little about something that really irritates me about the elementary school my kids attend.  I might even rant.  This is just a pet peeve thing, really, not anything important, just really, really irritating.  Officially, the kids are not allowed to bring homemade treats to school.  I had planned to approach the school board about getting this rule changed, but now I've heard it's become a state law in Minnesota!  

I think this is ridiculous on a number of levels, but the two that I might draw upon to convince the "super, hyper, protect everyone from everything crowd" that makes rules like this is such a law's health and environmental impact.  How so, you might ask?

I can make food that's way, way healthier than what I can buy pre-processed at the grocery store.  Really.  I don't feed my own kids store bought treats except on rare occasions (a road trip, for instance, might warrant a package of vanilla wafers to be split ten ways), because I don't believe in giving them junk.  I don't even bake much because I don't think kids need to develop a sweet tooth.  When I do, I generally cut back the sugar, or use raisins, dates, honey, or molassses for part of the sweetening.  I tweak all recipes to make them healthier.  I don't use dyes or preservatives or additives or fillers.  Just regular wholesome ingredients.

On the environmental front, how many packages in the course of a year is this going to add to our landfills with all the store bought stuff?  If I were to make something to send to school, I'd send it in Tupperware.  Which could be sent home, washed and re-used.  But the store bought stuff has at very least, a plastic wrap to toss.  It might have a plastic wrap and a cardboard box.  It might have styrofoam.  It's even likely the treats would be individually wrapped.  Yikes!  I bought fruit snacks for our recent road trip for the way home (only six kids along) and the wrappers are still driving me nuts.  I found one floating around the grass when I mowed today.  I thought I had them all contained, but sure enough there went one under the mower.  Good grief!

So, in these days of health and environmental consciousness, even a protectionist should be able to see that this is a stupid law.  And it's not like the food supply is safe anyway.  I'd like to see a comparison of how many people get sick from bake sale items compared to the allegedly tested and approved things they are constantly recalling because somebody or some group of somebodies has gotten sick from something that has passed the inspections. 

Ok.  I'm done now.  I feel better.

On Serial Writing

Perhaps like me, some of you enjoy the writings of Alexander McCall Smith.  He is probably best known for his Ladies' #1 Detective Agency series.  I tried the first book of that series once, but didn't get into it.  I see with a little googling HBO now produces a show based on these books.

I've also read Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and enjoyed its quirkiness; but I've not yet read any of the others in that series.

I really like his Isabel Dalhousie books.  I appreciate how Mr. McCall Smith is able to bring his vast life experience into a learning experience for his readers.  He was born in Africa, in what was then Rhodesia, of Scottish parents; studied law and medical ethics, among other things; plays the bassoon, and has an interest in the poetry and art of Scotland. I learn something new in every one of his books.  

McCall Smith seems able to portray people who hold views different than his own in an honest, multi-faceted way.  I totally groove on his turns of phrase.  They are creative and contrived, but somehow, they work for me, making me chuckle at or ponder or visualize a situation, conversation, or individual. 

I recently checked out 44 Scotland Street from the library.  When I picked it up, I started with the preface.  I was interested to find out that it was written in serial form, for The Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper.  At this point, there are six novels in this series.  It appears that each one was published in daily instalments for the first six months of consecutive years, starting in 2004.

In the preface to 44 Scotland Street, McCall Smith explains that this book has its origins in a conversation he had at a party in California, at the home of author, Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club and Bonesetter's Daughter).  He heard author Armistead Maupin talk about, Tales of the City, originally published in serial form in the San Francisco Chronicle.  This conversation got him thinking about serial writing. And when he wrote an article for The Herald (Glasgow's daily) about his trip to California, he mentioned the above conversation.  Editors at The Scotsman read the article and asked McCall Smith to try one for their newspaper.  The series is still going strong today

I wrote awhile back about the idea of serial writing.  I even started another blog to try my hand at it.  I was hoping to spur others on to try, so that we might have a collection of serials going at one time, but although several people have expressed an interest, so far I have only one other author who has posted anything.  But I, myself, have not been consistent either, allowing other writing projects to take precedence.  And I find that writing has, in common with reading, the difficulty of getting back to a story I have set down for a period of time.  The momentum is gone and it gets progressively more difficult to pick the work up again, the longer I let it go.

But I was pleased to see from this book, that I'm not alone in my interest in the idea of serial writing.  It strikes me as a creative way for struggling newspapers to interest and hold on to readers.  And the act of writing serially produces a different sort of novel than one that is planned and finished prior to publication. 

Perhaps I'll be motivated to work more on Tilda and the Gangster.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Big Weekend

I have many things to write about with regard to the past weekend.  In summary, we had Jeremy's graduation in Echo from ECHO on Friday night.  We got there on time, which after a 5-6 hour trip with nine children, is a feat in itself.

On Saturday, Joe's mom hosted a wonderful open house for Jeremy at the Belview Community Center.  Thanks, so much, Mom, for all your planning and work.  Thanks also to Aunts Nyla and Laurie, and cousin Chris for the things you brought and the help you and your families offered.  It was so great to see you all.

Sunday was another busy day.  I got to sit with my husband in church, a rare treat.  And we heard a good law and gospel sermon by Pastor Dan Faugstad.  Of course, I only heard it in snippets, being busy with little ones, but the parts I heard were wonderfully insightful.  I hope to ask him to mail me a hard copy, if he uses one, so I can get the context for all those nuggets I heard.

After church we went to Morton for a bitter sweet afternoon with Joe's mom's entire family.  Grandpa K is in a nursing home and Grandma K has been living in an assisted living facility.  It's not an easy transition for them, especially having to be separated.  But after the kids (Joe's parents generation) kept up the empty home through the last winter, Grandpa and Grandma have had to make the difficult decision to sell their home.  Since everyone was around for the weekend, they took that opportunity to sort through Grandma and Grandpa's many things.  Grandma and Grandpa were both there, too.  What a hard thing for them!  Although they both know they "can't take it with them," it's still so hard to see all their lifetime of things being divided up and packed away!

On Monday morning, we got up and got Jeremy's stuff all loaded into the van, along with a few of the things we got from Grandma and Grandpa's and headed home.  We left our four older girls with Joe's parents, so it seemed like a quiet ride home with only four littles and two bigs of our ten children.

We came home to cold, damp and windy weather, with even a tornado watch late Monday night.

To end on a humorous note, the young chickens had all gotten out of their pen while we were gone, so they were free-ranging in the church playground when we got home.  (Sorry to our memeber if they were there on Sunday morning.  Really, really sorry.)

I had Matt drop me off to get the mail and as I walked past the church on the way up to the house, the chickens started following me.  So I continued to the back yard instead of the front and they followed along like the Brothers Grimm's children of Hamlin followed the piper.  When I got the chicks all back into the pen, they were all present and accounted for, so that's a blessing.  They were hungry, though, so I dumped a bunch of feed in for them and continued inside to work on the human food.