Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Conversation With the Chef: Kitchen Organization

Three years ago when we moved in my mom recommended I create a "baking center." Everything I use for baking in one cupboard. I ignored her. For three years. Then the other day it suddenly seemed like a good idea. Measuring cups, the mixer and key ingredients straight ahead. Bowls to the right. Flour and sugar down below. I only have to walk over to the fridge. 

I didn't walk far before, our kitchen is long, but narrow. Three steps over, three steps back. Three over, three back. Three over, three back. But I guess three steps here and there adds up to more time than I realized. Baking seems much quicker with this new system. Now I am a model of motion efficiency.

I should have listened to my mom.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Conversation With the Chef: Up and Coming

Ally is cooking dinner this week. Every night. She is the up and coming chef. At thirteen she can easily follow recipes and cook a good meal. But we know (don't we?) that putting dinner on the table every night requires more than just being able to read a recipe. So I asked Ally to cook for a week to provide her with an opportunity to practice being the Chef. Here are a few of the items from her learning curve, and if you cook you know these problems too:
  • The difficulty of getting every ingredient from your recipes onto your shopping list. Kale Quesadillas without the kale just aren't the same.
  • The complicated process of checking your shopping list against the food in the pantry. Can you save money by using cheese from the freezer? Only if you remember it's there. (That's me - all the time) Do you always have cocoa powder in the cupboard? This week you're out? Yup, it happens.
  • The sheer will power required to cook at the end of a long, tiring day, and being wise enough to plan a simple meal ahead of time.
  • The art of having the main dish and the sides all ready at the same time. No one likes cold food or mushy veggies but timing is tricky indeed.
Ally made Sweet Potato Burritos with cooked broccoli tonight and everything was perfect. And for just one week I am happy to be relegated to the role of dishwasher.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another Opportunity to Praise

When Joshua and the Israelites conquered Jericho, Achan's heart lusted for the treasures of the city. Contrary to God's command he took a few, but knowing his transgression, he hid them. They were not hid from God, who can abide no sin, and when the Israelite army attacked Ai easy victory turned to quick defeat. Joshua fell on his face before the Lord, crying out and asking why God would bring them into the land of their enemies and so quickly abandon His people. Then Joshua asks, "And what will You do for Your great name?" (Joshua 7:9)

God, more than any man, more than Joshua, is vigilant for the honor of His name. God is so vigilant for the honor of His name that He requires a holy people, a people in whom there is no sin. And so, by the luck of the draw - guided by a Divine hand - Achan is found among the Israelites. What struck me when I read this the other day were the first words from Joshua's mouth:
"My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done." (Joshua 7:19)
Your hidden sin is laid bare for all to see? Give glory to the LORD and praise Him. Here at our house we deal with a lot of sin. Six sinful hearts trying to keep our sins a secret, but there are no secrets from God and not many you can keep from your family. One of our children lied to us, and lied to us again and again, a regular pattern of deceit. When Bryan and I realized what had happened, glory to God and praise were not the first words from my mouth. My end of the conversation went something like this, "How can this have happened (wail)...what if...what if...what if all of the worst spiritual consequences I can imagine fall on this child? What will we do?" Bryan was far more calm and level headed, but I admit, he wasn't glorifying and praising God.

But maybe we should. Maybe our first response to the raw ugliness of sin should be glory and praise. Glory to a God so holy He cannot stand sin. Praise because when sin is laid bare confession can follow, and God promises forgiveness and cleansing. (I John 1:9)

I think this cuts deepest when I apply it to my own heart. I'd like the world to think I'm perfect, I like my sins in the darkness and when the light shines I'm more likely to be angry and humiliated than anything else.

Give glory and praise to the LORD. I think we will have ample opportunity.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Home of the Noble Woman

 This is a lengthy quote, but challenging to the laziness and apathy creeping into my days, so I beg you to bear with it.
 "The man`s power is active, progressive, defensive. He is eminently the doer, the creator, the discoverer, the defender. His intellect is for speculation and invention; his energy for adventure, for war, and for conquest, wherever war is just, wherever conquest necessary.
But the woman`s power is for rule, not for battle, - and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision. She sees the qualities of things, their claims, and their places. Her great function is Praise: she enters into no contest, but infallibly judges the crown of contest. By her office, and place, she is protected from all danger and temptation. The man, in his rough work in open world, must encounter all peril and trial: to him, therefore, must be the failure, the offense, the inevitable error: often he must be wounded, or subdued; often misled; and always hardened. But he guards the woman from all this; within his house, as ruled by her, unless she herself has sought it, need enter no danger, no temptation, no cause of error or offense.
 This is the true nature of home - it is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from all injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division. In so far as it is not this, it is not home: so far as the anxieties of the outer life penetrate into it, and the inconsistently-minded, unknown, unloved, or hostile society of the outer world is allowed by either husband or wife to cross the threshold, it ceases to be home; it is then only a part of that outer world which you have roofed over, and lighted fire in....
And wherever a true wife comes, this home is always round her. The stars only may be over her head; the glowworm in the night cold grass may be the only fire at her foot: but home is yet wherever she is; and for a noble woman it stretches far round her, better than ceiled with cedar, or painted with vermilion, shedding its quiet light far, for those who else were homeless."
                                  - John Ruskin, Sesame and Lillies
 I am to rule my home, not allow my flesh to rule me, though time on the computer is so fun and the couch is so comfortable. I ask myself, am I applying my intellect to the sweet ordering of my home? That would actually require thought. My great function is praise. Who did I praise today? Oooh...must work on that one. Am I inviting danger and temptations to enter our home, would I set them in the path of my children or before my own feet? Is my home a place of peace and shelter?

Am I roofing over the world and lighting a fire and calling it home?

We light our lamps, in this house built by the Lord (Psalm 127:1), and its quiet light shines in the darkness for those who else were homeless. My own family would be homeless without my work, but my work, done well, makes room for more. This reminds me of Isaiah 54:2-3, "lengthen the cords, strengthen the pegs." I strive to be a noble woman who stretches home far around her.

Read Chapter 5 of Sesame and Lillies here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Prayers With a Good Aim

One facet of the internet I appreciate is that sometimes you follow a new link and find an unexpected story you love, like this one:

I am inspired by Scott Smiley's resiliency, perseverance, and "no quit in him" attitude. I loved this couple's commitment to each other. I rejoice in their evident joy. Above all, I was inspired by his wife who prayed for her husband. Tiffany had the wisdom to stop praying about her husband's disability, his blindness, and pray for the single most important thing - his heart. I remember the words of Thomas Watson, from Saturday's post on prayer,  "Prayers which lack a good aim, lack a good answer." God has given her a good answer to her prayers.

I want to be a wife and mother who prays in the same way, with a good aim and a good answer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Squirrel's Nest

Here's a lemons to lemonade life moment. Our sewing machines were down in the ugly room until the water disaster. Ally took all her supplies and created herself a sewing space in the upstairs hall. We are agreed, we love it.

Ally opened her own Etsy shop this week, Simplysquirrel. Naming an Etsy shop is surprisingly difficult; all of our first ten choices were taken and this is what we came up with during an on the spot brainstorming session. We called Ally "Squirrel" when she was eight and her preferred storage method was stashing everything under her bed. Thankfully, she's grown up. Ally is spending her summer afternoons busy, and delighted to be busy, in her "office." This may not make her rich, but she will be productive and I love to see time well used.

I'd offer you all a giveaway, but most of my readers are family. Hello all! My brother, who reads my blog on the bus on the way home from work, has little use for an owl bag, and wouldn't even appreciate a giveaway.

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's Ugly

For a month I've been giving thoughtful consideration to beauty in our home. I've planned some small changes. I've planned some blog posts. I spent last week catching up on homekeeping basics, so that this week I could turn my eyes to look for and create beauty. Then on Saturday the pipes of the upstairs tub began to leak. We noticed the brown spots on the ceiling downstairs. This is how it looks today:

We've called this room "The Ugly Room" ever since we moved in to this house. The room gets no natural light. The walls were dark, dark wood paneling. The floor still is a linoleum with a print that looks something like rocks, by which I don't mean granite, I mean stones and pebbles on a brown background. And now it is an ugly room indeed. Saturday night we moved all of this year's history books out, they were organized chronologically. No longer. Now they're stacked in the upstairs hall. The printer is out, and the sewing table is out. Junk is stacked in the front hall.

Aside from the ceiling nothing was damaged. It is, truly, a short term inconvenience. The plumber fixed the leak today. The electrician comes tomorrow. There's some scary wiring hiding behind that drywall. We'll patch and fix and paint. All is well. But beauty...well, beauty moved down the priority list. The time for that will come, in it's time, or rather God's time, and not my own.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Prayer Whisper's in God's Ear

Yesterday a friend sat at our table sketching, pencil on blank paper. She began with the eyes, the windows of the soul, glancing up at the photo on her computer screen, analyzing their shape and their lashes. The lonely eyes looked awkward to me, as if the final product would be somewhat clumsy, but competent. Hours passed and she still put pencil to paper, fingers rubbing, shading the shadows. A steady hand drew the jaw line. Our friend used the computer to zoom in on the tee shirt decal and replicate it, exactly. Exactly. What appeared before our eyes was lifelike, a photo in gray and black and white, sketched by hand. At our table the awkward, clumsy almond shaped eyes became the focal point of a face that breathed. There was his soul, in his eyes. I suspect it is the face of one who is loved.

I am now reading The Godly Man's Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil by Thomas Watson, first published in 1666. I want to share a few quotes from the section entitled, "A Godly Man is a Praying Man." I want to share the entire section, but you, the reader, would find it too wordy for the computer screen. You would leave before you were done, and so I will limit myself.

Confession: if the sole measure of my godliness is prayer, I rank among the ungodly. On this subject Watson's words spoke conviction to my heart. I share these not because this is who I am, but who I long to be. When condemnation rushes like the flood, I need solace from God's Word. Last night I fell asleep repeating Psalm 138:8, "The Lord will accomplish what concerns me."

The pencil of God begins to trace His Son on my soul. Taken alone the eyes may seem clumsy and awkward. Or perhaps the forehead seems too large. But God continues sketching with a steady hand, strokes long and short, dark or so faint they can barely be seen. In the end all is right, my soul breathes life, God looks on the face of one loved. I will pray, I will learn prayer, I will press on.

As soon as grace is poured in, prayer is poured out: "but I give myself unto prayer" (Psalm 109:4). In the Hebrew it is, "but I prayer." Prayer and I are all one. 
Prayer is the soul's traffic with heaven.
Prayer whispers in God's ear.
 A man cannot live unless he takes his breath, nor can the soul, unless it breathes forth its desires to God.
So, though you do not flourish with those gifts and expressions like others, yet if you can weep forth tears from a contrite heart, these are exceedingly precious to God, and he will put them in his bottle.
Prayers which lack a good aim lack a good answer. A godly man has spiritual goals in prayer. He sends out his prayer as a merchant sends out his ship, so that he may have large returns of spiritual blessings. His design in prayer is that his heart may be more holy and that he may have more communion with God. A godly man engages in the trade of prayer so that he may increase his stock of grace.
Let us be importunate suitors, and resolve with St. Bernard that we will not come away from God without God.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Conversation with the Chef: Summer Soup


The colors shout summer and who wouldn't love food that comes in colors like these? True, the youngest among us skipped the soup and made a supper of his blueberry muffin. I love this Summer Squash Soup. I love the color and the texture and the flavor. Using homemade broth from the freezer, squash from the roadside stand, basics from the pantry, and two willing helpers it is a frugal, easy dinner. Frugal except for the mint pistou, which I adore. But I can't grow mint in my yard (why?! it's a weed!) and standing before the $3 package of mint in the produce department, I couldn't bring myself to spend that much on pistou. I do have basil, and more basil, so why not something like a pesto, sans nuts? Oh, so good; only next time I need to double the soup.

He took his own picture of his masterpiece.
Just as I was finishing the blueberry muffins, there was a knocking on the back door. Outside was the youngest chef, mud-pie-in-a-frisbee in hand. He tried to angle around me, mentioning that it just needed to be baked in the oven. Can you imagine? I diverted him to a sunny spot on the back patio and considering the heat, I'm sure that pie will be cooked solid in no time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Scholar of a Different Sort

Home at last. After traveling by plane and car, here we are. There is a mountain of laundry and shopping to be done, in between a Women's World Cup game or two. Our day is full, as I hope yours is also. I'm excited to work past these basics, to get back to my summer goals, and to turn my thoughts toward home. Today I'll share an interview I found online while I was away.

Homeschooling is growing up. I now meet homeschool graduates, aside from my own siblings, in many different contexts. This summer we have a pastoral intern, just graduated from seminary, serving our church. Both he and his wife are homeschool grads and have duly impressed our family. They have a sweet baby they gladly share; my kids are smitten. And they excitedly discuss the future of their own little family.

After reading The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook by the Moores, I did a little Google searching for some of the homeschoolers they wrote about, it is an older book and those kids are now grown. An article on Barnaby Marsh impressed me above all the others. After eight years of homeschooling (if I were to calculate it per year/per child I come in at 16 years of homeschooling, but that always seems a somewhat artificial way to measure our time) I am stretching my ideas of education. I'm thinking beyond ready made curriculum, which we have always been very relaxed about anyway. I'm thinking about learning and not doing school right out of the box, but I always worry we will compromise excellence. Barnaby Marsh inspires me, he has all the right academic credentials of excellence. The credentials certainly aren't the only measure of true success, but as an outsider it is one of the few measures I have. Bryan and I laughed together that, at Harvard, he found written tests too limiting and sought out dialogue...and challenge.

Will our family move to Alaska? Not likely. Would I wish for an Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica? I might. Maybe excellence doesn't always come right out of the box, mass produced for 100,000 other homeschoolers, delivered to our door, tape split with a kitchen knife and add four kids. I am challenged.

I highly recommend Barnaby Marsh's own words in this interview, How Rhodes Scholars Think.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pursue the Prize

A short reflection from Thomas Watson's book The Godly Man's Picture: Drawn with a Scripture Pencil.
I would prize Christ. I should not complain of any pains, any discipline, any time spent seeking Him. I should never wonder how much time I need to spend seeking. "My soul follows hard after God." (Psalm 63:8) If Christ is truly precious to me I will never rest until I have Him and know His fullness. Follow hard. Do I say I love Christ?
"If Christ would drop as a ripe fig into their mouth, they would be content to have him, but they will not put themselves to any trouble to get him." (p. 51)
Do I want to sit back and simply open wide my mouth, then, yes, I would be glad to have Him? Do I expect to know all of His goodness after stinted times in His Word and lackluster prayers? I think I do. I want to prize Christ more, to find Him worth any, every, effort I put forth. He is indeed a Pearl of Great price; pursue the prize. He calls me, follow hard.

Friday, July 1, 2011

From Seattle

I hug my babes and kiss my man. I board the plane to Seattle, to my brother and his wife and their little one.

I walk the trail my brother runs and watch the clouds. This place is new, all new to me, and yet this place feels like a homecoming to the soul.

A sense of place sends deep roots into the heart. I remember childhood and the breeze of the San Francisco Bay. I remember trails by the lake in the park; trees in mountain campgrounds. And here, today, I find the Puzzle Grass my fingers puzzled when I was seven. I feel at home, like I belong in places like these.

Then God's Spirit blows in my heart. Even here I don't belong. My soul has a true home.

If I feel forever out of place while I walk this life, it is only to remind me that I am...out of place.

The wind blows my pilgrim feet on, pressing on after the One my soul loves. I'm walking home.