Friday, April 27, 2012

The Storymobile

Wednesday when I delivered that bowl of strawberries to my neighbor, we got to talking about the Mennonite nursery out by the swimming lake. Half of our conversations revolve around the garden, so we quickly agreed to go together.

Thursday I hurried the kids through lunch and we piled in the van with our neighbor. Out toward the mountains we drove, out toward the swimming hole. The sign for the nursery was by the road, a crowd of pansies down below. We followed the drive, curving beside perfectly mowed fields. We passed the cattle trailers, perfectly perpendicular. The cattle chutes were gleaming. The greenhouses were small, but clean, perfectly built and maintained. The plants were nodding, happy, in the April sun. Later, I had to confess to Bryan some serious envy in my heart.

The car ride to the nursery, on the prim Mennonite farm, was all stories. Long ago her great-grandfather had fought with Sam Houston in Texas. When the fighting was done, he made his way back up into this river valley and chose a farm at the foot of the mountains. When the country was up at arms, readying for the Civil War, he declared he couldn't fight against his friends. He set his two slaves free, joined a regiment from Ohio and ended running a Union commissary, where the Methodist church now stands, a ten mile wagon ride from home. A niece had lost a husband, then a boyfriend in the fighting, so with two small children, she moved out to his farm and when the war was over they married and had a whole passel of kids. Aunt Em's house used to be right here, but it's fallen now. The wainscoting was waist high. When World War I ended, and they were the only house out there with a phone, someone called on the party-line at one in the morning with the news. Everyone got out of bed, and at two her mother set out across the fields with a lantern, to tell the next farm over. She worried all the way she'd step on a snake.

That is history.

Ambling between the petunias and begonias, I whispered in Sam's ear, "Wasn't it worth it, just to hear the stories?" When we finished, we hopped back in the storymobile and drove home. And Sam reported to Bryan, "She tells great stories."

In the Civil War there was a man who didn't want to fight. He hid up in the mountains, in a cave, just up there on the cliff. When the men from town came looking for him, he couldn't be found. After the danger had gone, his wife would put out the laundry, white sheets, visible on the valley floor from the cliffs up above, and he would make his way home.

And we rattled along in the storymobile. Cliffs to the right. Nursery ahead. Storyteller beside us in the car.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Grandma's Shortcake

I have funny memories of my Grandma's Wisconsin kitchen. Once the leg fell off my gingerbread man when it was time to pose for the picture; I pouted. My grandma's refusal to wash dishes during summer thunder storms. Seven layer salad was a genuine foreign food to a Californian, vegetarian, hippy child. I'm not sure if I liked it, but I know I loved the bacon. Much to the chagrin of my parents. Her kitchen was long and narrow, meticulously clean, with a window looking out on the back yard, the garden, and the strawberry bed.

After my grandma died there were years I didn't eat shortcake, at least not the way she made it. Then one day I found the recipe hiding in my mom's recipe box. I copied it out on an index card. Now my grandma's shortcake is standard summer fare. Or April fare, if you live in the South where summer hustles in and sticks around with a vengeance.

I warn you, this is not a sweet shortcake. It's more like a biscuit. The berries and ice cream piled on high add all the sweetness (no skimping, make a lot of berries). I once made this for an older friend and with a voice full of the past, she said, "This is the way my mother used to make shortcake." I love the food of memories, cherishing our families, the good and the bad, no perfect people, but looking for love. And sometimes you do have to look for the love, overlook the bitterness, add the sweet to the salty and come out with something good.

All of which is a long aside...the recipe for Shortcake:

2 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt (a little less if you use salted butter)
3 TB sugar
1/2 c. shortening (I use butter)
2/3 c. milk

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together the flour, powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the shortening until the mixture is like oatmeal. If you don't have a pastry blender an easy way to do this is to hand-grate the butter into the flour, using a cheese grater, then crumble it into the dry ingredients with your fingers. (I use the food processor: pulse the dry ingredients a couple times. Cut the butter in one inch pieces, then add it to the dry ingredients and run the processor for a minute.) With a fork (or a quick whir of the machine) add the milk. Mix just until blended. Knead lightly, about 20 seconds. Turn out onto a floured board. Roll to a half inch thick circle. Bake on a greased cookie sheet (or parchment paper) for 20 minutes.

And as for the strawberries, I hope you already know, but just in case...
Slice or mash a bunch of berries. Add a heap of sugar. Taste. Add more sugar if it doesn't taste sickly sweet. Refrigerate for a couple hours, until the berries have released their juices. The juice is critical, if for some reason your berries don't make much, add a small amount of water. Stir it in and let the mixture sit a few more minutes.

Last year's post on freezer jam.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The crew and I picked strawberries today. The ripe berries were few and far between. I feel it in my back tonight. Then we discovered all the best berries were in the area beside the mud puddle. Thankfully, Ally wore her boots.
Home again, we washed and sorted and cut. This afternoon we made one batch of strawberry freezer jam. I carried a bowl of berries over to share with an elderly neighbor. This evening we are having shortcake. We're calling it an End of the Math Book Party, because Ally finished Algebra I today. Or we could call it a First Sign of Summer Party. They are both appropriate.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Count of Monte Cristo

Ally has finished The Count of Monte Cristo. Unabridged. The task took her somewhat less than twenty days. She gushed, over and over, "It's my favorite book." A fourteen year old speaks in italics, most of the time. I sagely nod. It will be her favorite until she has finished her next Dickens novel.

I don't mean to boast. In fact, I wouldn't mention it at all, except I think a word of encouragement is in order.


I taught Ally to read when she was four, the over-eager homeschool mom. I was heedless of the simple fact that she had no interest in reading. No problems other than that she just did not care. I was pulling my hair out, trying to exercise great patience as we sounded out word after word.

Ally was a slow reader. There were books the homeschool catalog labeled as appropriate for her grade level. But they weren't and there was no forcing it. She read other books. We read aloud. We adopted a phonics intensive spelling program. We patiently did what we knew was right. For years.

Three years ago Ally's books of choice were still the Boxcar Children series. I thought we should have been through with them years ago. But she loved them. Breathe deep...patience.

I think that is one big secret of homeschooling. This is not an instant enterprise. This is not a better reader in ten short days. This is not one eighty two and home to you. Homeschooling is more like a marathon, or a slog through the trenches. Whatever your trouble: do your best, and keep on doing your best. Pray. Wait. Don't be discouraged. Patience.

I think my patience has been amply rewarded.

Monday, April 23, 2012

March's Knitting

I completed March's knitting project. I popped it in the post for the new little fellow, the adorable little nephew, whose face I've seen on Facebook. There is, of course, the obvious question: what size is it? Unfortunately, the answer begins with, "Well..." I can only mention that it was meant to be a 0-3 month size, but my knitting is highly  unpredictable and (with a tear in the corner of my eye) we must realize there are no babies here to give my knitting a trial run. I also included a Carter's outfit. Safe. Reliable. Returnable. I just really wanted to make something also. I think handmade is special.

So now I have earned the right to move on to my next craft project: fabric bags for our cash budgeting system. We have been using paper envelopes. Coins and paper do not mix well. You can see the need for an upgrade.

I admit to still feeling cramped by the new one-craft-at-a-time routine. But the satisfaction of finishing the projects I begin is its own reward.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

First Things First

Arden and I hang out while the older kids do math every morning. We usually have an hour. Sometimes we read books. Sometimes we do a little math. Most days we play games. We play Teddy Mix and Match. We play Sorry. We play Rivers Roads and Rails. We play Little Trackers, Three of a Crime, Candyland, and dominos.

Yesterday Arden brought his Bible downstairs. We gave him a Bible for his birthday; large print and in the same version the rest of the family uses. The Bible was a gift that looked forward to the day he would be able to read it himself. He cannot read it yet, but he carries it around  in the box. He brings it to family Bible time. We read to him from its pages every night before bed. Yesterday he carried his Bible downstairs in the morning.

After we finished family Bible time and chores, the older kids cracked open the Saxon math books. Coffee in hand, I asked Arden, "What will we do?"

"Well," said forcefully and so very matter-of-factly, "we have to read the Bible and play Othello." Aha, never mind that an extra chapter of Bible reading isn't in the routine. And which one first? I let Arden pick. "Let's read the Bible first because it's more important."

We read of King David on his death bed, Adonijah's struggle to be king, and Solomon being anointed for the throne. Then we played a hotly contested game of Othello. Then we hung laundry on the line and read Moccasin Trail aloud, with Kara, outside in the sunshine.

But we had done the most important thing first.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Words of My Mouth

Psalm 19:10 describes God's Word as sweet, sweeter than the honeycomb. Jeremiah certainly agreed, "Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart" (Jeremiah 15:16). I concur. God's Word is sweet. My hungering heart comes again and again, greedy for more. His Words delight my soul.

Except when they don't.

I've memorized James 3. I had contemplated it at the kitchen sink or as I folded the clothes. I thought I had licked the honey pot clean. Then last night at Bible study we discussed James 3. Suddenly I felt like John who obeyed the angel's command, "I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter"(Revelation 10:10). John prophesied the judgment of the righteous Christ over the peoples, and kings, and nations of this world. God's Spirit spoke in my heart the judgment of a righteous Christ against my heart rebelling against Him. I have been rebelling, using my tongue to hurt or criticize. Sitting under that righteous condemnation is bitter indeed.

Yet, somehow, this is a bitterness, a sorrow, that I welcome. This is a sorrow leading to repentance. I come back again to the Word of God. I'm willing to taste the bitter or the sweet. This morning I put out my hand once more and took the words which carried me through this day,
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Peter Leithart

In ways Leithart's biography of Dostoyevsky is what I think a good biography ought to be. Leithart is conversant with Dostoyevsky's writings, letters, and his other biographers. This book is carefully documented. The footnotes at times become laborious, yet make a great case for historical reliability. Whether I theologically and morally agree or disagree (and often I did disagree), this was Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

However, on the whole I cannot recommend this book. I found it to be focused on ideas like socialism, nihilism, and Pushkin the "omni-human" poet, rather than strictly a biography of Dostoyevsky's life. The ideas were too large for a book of this size, and too many mundane details were omitted. At one point I thought I could assign this to my ninth grade daughter, who will read Crime and Punishment next year. Then I became increasingly troubled by the rampant adultery portrayed. One particularly vivid scene is without any footnotes, leading me to believe it is a product of Leithart's imagination. I understand its role as a literary device, but the scene is offensive.

I would love a carefully crafted, straight forward, explanatory, true to life biography of Dostoyevsky. I would love one that would lend genuine insight into the literary master, and an understanding of his theology and how it was lived out in his life. This is not that book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the All views are my own.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mary Magdalene: Like To Die For Love of Christ

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb 
while it was still dark...

Mary was the first one there at the tomb, that Resurrection Day. She rose while it was still dark, her heart set on the task ahead. Before the sun rose she walked the roads to the tomb, and in the dim light of dawn made out that the stone had been moved.
So she ran...

She arrived breathless before Peter and John, urging them to come quickly and see, the stone had been moved from the tomb. Peter ran ahead, but stopped short at the door, and bent to look inside. John ran in without stopping and gazed at the empty linen wrappings and the neatly folded face cloth. Then they both went home.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping...

The others had come and gone. Samuel Rutherford, in his 1640 sermon "The Weeping Mary at the Sepulchre" said,
Here is a woman more forward in seeking Christ than all His eleven disciples are. Because she never got her errand that she was seeking, she could not get Christ, and therefore she will not leave, nor give over, but will wait on and seek Him. A soul that is in love with Christ, they never get their errand till they get Christ Himself. Ye that are seeking Christ, never give over seeking till ye meet with Him, for they shall at last meet with Him who lie at His door, seeking as this woman did...
 Mary on the Resurrection Morn, became my example. Have I come seeking Christ? A mere wish is not enough. A check marked task is not enough. A glance at His face in the Word, will never do. In Rutherford's words, I have not got my errand until I have got Christ. I must not leave. I must not give up. I must wait on and seek Him. I must lie at His door until I meet Him.

This is no errand to be made in haste. There ought to be no question of how much is enough or how much is too much. This is a calling to my soul. A calling to quiet tomb-side seeking even in the midst of busy days, fighting kids, a kitchen full of voices, phone calls and math papers. This is no easy errand. This is an errand completed with tears, if necessary. This is love calling to my soul. Rutherford again,
Whom seekest thou? This question is asked at her to make her hunger to be the greater, for the greatest hunger that any has for Christ they may, aye, be more hungry for Him. And so learn to rap out [quickly to throw out] all your desires and affections for Christ, not only love Him,but be sick of love for Him. That is more than ordinary love to be like to die for love of Him.
I want to be sick of love for Christ, like to die for love of Him. These Resurrection Days I ought to stand outside the tomb and never give in, never give up, never walk away. I want to be asking for Him, seeking Him, until He calls be my name and like Mary long ago, I cling to my Risen Savior. I believe that Christ is and is a rewarder of those who seek Him. He rewarded Mary.  Mary, who came in the dark, and waited longer, weeping, asking and seeking her Savior. He rewarded her. She was the first to see the risen Lord.

Scriptures taken from John 20. Also read Samuel Rutherford's sermon, The Weeping Mary at the Sepulchre.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cake Pops

Our church hosted an Easter Brunch. Kara brought cake pops. When she walked in the door with her display board, the eyes of every little person in the room lit up. Cake pops are crazy fun and crazy cute.

Best of all an eight year old can make them independently. True, Kara will not be the author of the next book on the subject; she will not decorate like a Decorator. But Kara can, and did, make a delicious, appealing treat that everyone loved. All by herself.

If you have a little person who needs something to do, or maybe you yourself need something to do, these are oh-so easy to try. The basic cake pops do not require any equipment that is not already in your kitchen. You will only have to buy the consumables: cake mix (naturally), frosting, lollipop sticks, candy coating and some sprinkles. That's all you need to start. I was feeling generous, I promised Kara if she liked making these we could splurge on a candy mold. We could get serious about this. That will be all of three dollars.

I think a cake pop is a wonderful way to encourage her to try something new, something creative, something that makes others happy. These are all the things I love to encourage in my children. And if we don't like it, we move on. The fringe benefit of a cake pop hobby: free samples for the family.

When Kara came home from the brunch on Sunday, there was joy in those crazy blue eyes. I love to encourage joy.

Look for the book Cake Pops by Bakerella. Try the library. Or, try I bet you can find all you need to know to make a batch of cake pops.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

If I were a better blogger I'd have step-by-step photos detailing how to make this soup: chopping the onions, operating the can opener. Let's pretend my reasons for not having any photos have to do with my belief in your intelligence. You know how to use a can opener, even without a photo. It used to be that if you could read, you could cook.

1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 TB olive oil
1/2 TB chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
28 ounces crushed tomatoes (or used diced, if it saves you a trip to the store)
2 C. (or 15 ounce can) chicken broth
1 C. water (I replace this with homemade chicken broth whenever I can)
1 C. frozen corn
1 small can chopped green chilis
15 ounce can black beans, or increase this to two cans if you like beans, drained
1/4 C. chopped fresh cilantro
Top with tortilla chips, chopped avocado and shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a medium stock pot heat oil over low heat. Add onion, cook until soft. Add garlic, and cook for one minute. Stir in chili powder, oregano, tomatoes, broth, and water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Then stir in corn, chills, beans and cilantro. Simmer 10 more minutes, or longer.

This freezes nicely, without the garnishes, of course. I highly recommend doubling the recipe, thereby earning a future night off cooking.

Remember, this is cooking not rocket science. Change it up. Have fun. Last week I dumbfounded my family by adding green beans. I didn't think it was a very daring change. However, they repeatedly inquired, "Why?" I just thought something green would be a nice addition. They dutifully ate their soup, but, I think, were unconvinced.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Conversation with the Chef: Six to Save

Last week was my personal Great Chicken Challenge. Through Money Saving Mom I found this post on stretching a chicken to make six meals. Laura says she cooks one hefty chicken at a cost of $15 and makes six meals. The question was begging to be asked, "What can I do with $15 worth of chicken?"

I began with bone in chicken breasts, which were on sale for $1.49 a pound. I would love natural, fresh, wholesome chicken, but it's not readily available here. I like to joke that if it is not at Walmart, we can't have it. Or we could do it ourselves, but I can't. I just can't. So I began with about $16 of bone in chicken breast. I failed to explain the game to Bryan before he shopped for me. Although the list clearly stated "$15 worth of chicken," there were convoluted reasons why he came home with less. I am at fault. I should have explained the game. If nothing else, Bryan is always ready for a challenge. I made a second trip to the store.

Next I planned six chicken meals. I did not exactly copy Laura's six. Although the Alfredo sauce was good and the Black Bean Taco Salad immediately earned a slot on out long term meal list. The dressing was amazing. I began with her simple principle: make the chicken a smaller part of the meal. Here's what we ate:
  1. Chicken Tortilla Soup with chips, avocado and jack cheese. Come back tomorrow for the recipe.
  2. Chicken Noodle Soup. Unfortunately the night I made this I didn't feel like eating chicken noodle soup and liberally doused my bowl with habanero sauce. Too liberally. But I could not taste the soup. These are the sacrifices I make to save a penny.
  3. Alfredo Noodles with Chicken.
  4. Black Bean Taco Salad. Try her recipe. Add generous portions of avocado. That is, if avocado is on sale. Then I started thinking how easy it would be to substitute an Asian Salad, or a Chef's Salad. Thinking creatively, there is a lot of flexibility.
  5. Chicken and Veggie Quesadillas. I looked at Laura's recipe, then went in the kitchen and cooked up something similar.
  6. White Chili. I make mine with lots of broth and Great Northern Beans.
I began by simmering the chicken with vegetables all day, making that lovely stock which is the basis of so much goodness. Then we shredded the chicken and stored the stock in smaller containers. I tried adding shredded chicken to the Alfredo noodles. You know what happened, don't you? It shredded. It was grainy and lost in the noodles. In the future I decided to take off some breast meat, freeze it in marinade, and broil the chicken for pastas and salads.  We did it that way for the Taco Salad and it was just right. Then I will cook the bones with the meat left on them and use that for soups or chili.

When the week was over all six eaters had eaten all six meals. We had a total of nine servings of leftovers for lunches. I froze ten extra cups of chicken broth for future use. And we had one bonus meal of Chicken Salad sandwiches, because, frankly, there was a lot of chicken. I count 51 servings of chicken.

When the week was over we had eaten too much chicken. Next time, I will not plan more than three chicken meals in a week, even if chicken is a complementary ingredient. Today I noticed chicken breasts on sale at Kroger for 99 cents a pound. I can save even more! But I will freeze it and try again in a couple weeks.

That's what I can do with $15 worth of chicken.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Monday Morn

Ally needed a day off. Just one day off math. I consider it a suitable reward. She will finish every lesson and test in her book by the end of April. She was feeling a little lonely, discouraged, and out of sorts.

I have been spending too much time lately feeling tired, grumpy, and out of sorts. I have spent entirely too much time being the kind of person I do not want to be. I blame motherhood, though if I were a mother without sin I suppose things would be different. The innumerable little things drive a mother to distraction. For example, the conversation drowning sounds of a dying chicken coming up from the back seat of the van. Followed by a gleeful pronouncement, "I'm the prince of poultry." In these situations consistent good cheer and patience are hard to maintain.

We needed a break. We sat down together on Monday morning. We did our nails. The dumpy nail polish that I put on before Christmas came off. It is flip-flop time. We reviewed our memory verses. I listened to her recite what she knows of First John. She listened to me hobble through Colossians 1. We discussed goal setting for the long quiet, easily wasted, summer. Of course, Ally already had goals planned, but I got to hear them.

Just a couple hours off. A couple hours of quiet. Precious time with my girl that left me quiet at heart for the rest of the day. I may be a mama out of sorts, but things are not all bad. They're rather good. Rather good indeed. Very good indeed.