Monday, October 29, 2007

Simple Living . . .

There seems to be some question about whether or not our economy is headed for a recession. I don't know about that, but I do know that Jackie Wellwood is on the right track, for more than one reason.
In her book The Busy Mom's Guide to Simple Living, Wellwood talks about simple living as if it were, well, simple. In one sense it is, but it's also hard.
Take doing things for yourself, for instance.
You have to know how to do things for yourself before you can save the money she refers to, and in the meantime, learning can be expensive.
Cooking is a good example. Convenience foods are usually, well, convenient (except for hauling them in from the car) but they are also expensive and often, nutritionally deficient. That doesn't mean we don't use them around here, but we try to keep it to a minimum.
As a young wife I knew how to cook, sort of. My cooking consisted of an awful lot of opening cans and jars and boxes. The idea of making anything besides chocolate chip cookies from scratch intimidated me into a good nap.
Our family grew faster than our income, though, and pretty soon I figured out that if I could trim our grocery budget it would help us have money for things like, oh, the electric bill. So I went to work, learning to cook inexpensively – which meant those lovely cans, jars, and boxes became scarce in our kitchen, while whole chickens, raw potatoes, and bags of flour and sugar became staples.
It took time and it wasn't simple or pretty for awhile, but I learned! I can do all kinds of things for myself in the kitchen now that I used to expect would be already done for me – scratch cakes and pies; homemade mashed potatoes; spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes . . . and it all seems to taste better, and the house smells cozy and warm – but it wasn't simple!
There are all kinds of things we can learn to do that eventually result in saving money, and once we learn to do them are actually fun. Sewing, for instance, and mending. Changing the oil on our vehicles. Gardening for food and pleasure. Those things enrich our lives and eventually, our bank accounts.
Simplicity lies in being able to do those things for our own selves, without relying on someone else to do them for us; we gain a certain pride in self-sufficiency, as well as comfort in knowing how things are done.
Simple, not always easy, but worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Unforgettable Summer Read . . .

One of the most compelling books I've read this past summer is A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.

The story of Mariam, Laila, and Rasheed, the husband they shared, offers a glimpse of another culture, another way of ordering life, that illuminates both the things we have in common and the things that separate us.

We share a deep desire to love and to be loved; we share a fierce commitment to nurture and protect our children, even at our own expense.

We share a yearning for order, beauty, peace.

Yet the differences are profound. The structure of Afghan society creates built-in injustices, difficulties that war intensifies. Simple human cruelty becomes something monstrous under that stress.

This isn't an easy book to read; the story stays with me. It makes me realize how easy it is for me to live, to love. It makes me sad, and angry; it makes me want to know more, to understand more about the culture that shapes people's lives in these ways.

It's a story I won't forget.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Summer's Last Hurrah?

Last Sunday was a warm day. One of our daughters and some of our granddaughters were here, and we played outside: Red Rover, and Simon Says, and my personal favorite, Mother, May I? We went for a walk, scuffling through dry leaves on the edge of the street; one of the girls got out a bike and rode through them, crunching and rustling.

In the back yard, along the ravine, the trees seem to be afire, orange and red and gold, throwing off sparks every time the wind blows leaves down. Even the weeds seem to be lit from within. Rosebushes are covered with buds and fragrance, and the cosmos and zinnias bloom brightly, as if they know the stingy sun will withhold its warmth soon.

It stays dark in the morning now, til well past the time we usually get up, and gets dark earlier in the evening, now. We are just sitting down to dinner as the first stars begin to shine.

The temperature drops into the 50s, and we pull jackets from the closet. Mourning summer, it's hard to remember autumn's cozy consolations. Yet no matter how carefully we keep our calendars, watch our clocks, count the minutes, time passes, and so does summer.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Finding the News . . .

Our local newspapers seem to be getting thinner. Recently several papers in our region were bought out by a company that, until then, mostly published local shoppers – those small papers consisting of local ads with a little bit of wire-service content.

There is now more “local content” - that is, whatever photographs or stories readers send in. This makes these papers less professional, often less insightful. Excellence is now hit or miss. I miss a variety of thoughtful editorial comment. That space, more and more, is given over to internet commenters, many of whom seem to be the same people, many of whom have favorite complaining refrains.

I miss in-depth reporting of national and international news, even if some of it comes from the wire services. The busier I get the more I want to have access to that news, altogether, at the beginning of my day, in a quiet newspaper. Radio – that is, National Public Radio – is my other best option. Unlike the television or radio, though, the only noise my newspaper makes is the rustle of the pages as I turn them. It's a more gracious way to start the day!

And I'm tired of hearing about Brittney Spears and Lindsey Lohan on television news. We have dial-up internet, which makes it frustrating to get news on the 'net.

How about you? Do you still enjoy reading a newspaper? Or are you content with network news, NPR, or the 'net?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Advance Planning . . .

Bill Bryson's book, Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right, is one of those books I like to dip into.
When I found his note about "advance planning" it got me thinking. I don't have much trouble with planning for things at all. It's actually doing the things I planned that I get stuck on.
Sometimes it's procrastination. Sometimes I've planned so much that I could never get it all done. Sometimes I plan something that sounds good but it isn't really something I want to do.
Cleaning is a good example.
I plan my cleaning. I have a schedule that makes sense. Does the cleaning all get done just like I plan?
OK. Once in awhile.
Every other decade or so.
In the meantime, there are guests to talk with. Flowers to plant, weed, or water. Cookies to bake. Books to read. Walks to take. Dinner to fix - or eat out.
With all those other things, when do I have time to clean?
And don't get me started on laundry!
Coaches are fond of saying things like "plan your work and work your plan." This makes a lot of sense when things like footballs are involved. It's harder to do when small children and dogs are added to the mix - when's the last time you saw a toddler or a golden retriever on the football field?
I think Bryson has it just right - all planning has to be done in advance. It gives me time to think up reasons for why my plans aren't working.

Friday, October 19, 2007

But First, Thanksgiving . . .

Christmas notwithstanding, we cooked out last night.

Or rather, our son and his wife did, and they brought their 16-month old along with them.

The 16-month old didn't help with the cooking, although he was free with his opinions about the food: he especially liked the bun and the sweet potato, and the fresh pineapple made his eyes shine and his mouth water.

It was a warm afternoon, with the possibility of storms. The yard had a good supply of sticks, thanks to a windy storm the night before, and the 16-month old had fun picking the longest sticks up, balancing them in his hands, throwing them into the creek, even as his daddy's hands were hooked firmly into the back of his pants so he wouldn't go swimming, too.

The sky was that bright brittle blue of autumn, and every now and then fluffy white clouds, framed by heavy grey ones, would go skidding across the sky.

We took a walk around the yard. We picked up sycamore leaves big enough to be hats, and visited with a neighbor from across the street. We checked out a pile of dirt where a squirrel had been trying to bury a nut.

The hamburgers and brats were juicy and tasty, and the grilled sweet potatoes toasty and delicious. We were out of catsup, so someone made a quick trip to the grocery store – what good is a hamburger without catsup?

Some days are so busy I hardly notice the color of the sky or clouds. I take little note of whether or not there is water in the creek. I really couldn't tell you much about whether or not the squirrels are busy burying nuts in the front yard.

And some days, like yesterday, are for savoring. When Thanksgiving comes, those are the days I'm thinking especially about.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Christmas is A Coming . . .

If the catalogs in our mailbox can be believed, Christmas is coming, and soon.
Everything from toys to Christmas ham is available with just a phone call or the tap of a cursor, and I'll never have to leave home – but what fun would that be?

It's not just the catalogs. The other day I was riding the escalator at our local Macy's when I glanced over to see a fully decorated Christmas tree standing on the landing between floors
I'm torn between the convenience of having all this Christmas merchandise available now while the weather is pleasant, and the fun of frosty shopping trips, with a hot cocoa reward. Somehow, I'm not sure this is what it means to “keep Christmas all year round . . . “

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yada Yada . . .

I just finished the last book of Neta Jackson's Yada Yada Prayer Group series, The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Decked Out. This novel ties up some loose ends in the character's lives, and includes recipes and celebration suggestions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year celebrations.
What I've enjoyed most about this series is the way Jackson invites us into the lives of the Yada Yada “sistahs” - women who remind me of the women I know. They take faith seriously, but the situations they deal with are familiar: family problems, work situations, church challenges, difficult volunteer dilemmas. The writing is straightforward and honest. Jackson has created believable characters, living in a real time and place that I can identify with.
These seven novels are “fast reads” but each has left me wanting to do better, to be better. They provide another example of how to pray, and make me want to pray more, and more effectively. And they're fun – I care about the characters, and I want to know what else happens in their lives.

Jackson writes in an afterword that this is the last novel of this series, but that some of the characters will reappear in a new series she is working on, due for publication in spring 2009.

I'm already looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Autumn Leaves . . .

In our back yard, the leaves on the great leaning mulberry tree are still mostly green. The black gum in the front yard started to turn red last month, turning at the very top of the tree, but then all those bright leaves drifted to the ground, and the rest of the leaves have stayed green. They are dry now, and look as if they could fall off at any moment.

Last night we had a bit of rain – a quiet, gentle rain – and this morning the ground is littered with leaves, front and back. So are the gutters.

It's been a dry, unusual autumn. The harvest here has kept farmers busy. Corn is piled on the ground at local elevators, even as huge machines move from one field to another, lumbering along country roads.

Autumn colors are subtle, although grasses along the roadsides glow golden. We've had warm days, and a few cool nights, the kind where you pile extra blankets on the bed because suddenly, temperatures that will seem warm next spring, seem chilly right now.

Every autumn moves at its own pace, moves right along to the day when the temperature doesn't get above freezing, when we draw the curtains against the cold and the dark, when we settle the soup kettle on the back burner. Every autumn brings its own burnished beauty, its own fragrance of dusty leaves and dried grass, its own melody of squirrels scurrying to bury just one more nut in the back yard.

Every autumn leads to winter, one lovely day at a time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Understanding our Culture . . .

On the recommendation of my friend Megan, I've been reading Mary DeMuth's book Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture.(Harvest House, 2007)

I've enjoyed other books Mary has written, especially Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God, a book of devotional essays, but somehow I'd neglected this book. Even as a grandparent, though, this book speaks to my desire to parent and grandparent well, by talking about ways our culture has changed, and what that means to my children who are trying to parent their children well, and to my grandchildren, who are growing up in a culture that differs significantly both from the culture in which I grew up, and from the culture in which we raised our children.

That was a mouthful! But I appreciate Mary's clear discussion of what “postmodernity” is, especially compared to “modernity.” She articulates changes and trends – the paradigm shift - and makes the point that “Parenting in a postmodern world means contextualizing our parenting in that world with our heart constantly bent toward Jesus.”

She goes on to discuss the ways she and her family practice that contextualizing, reminding us that “Modernity and postmodernity are simply worldviews. Both have positives and negatives for Christians.”

As she shares her family's experiences, it's hard not to get excited about the possibilities and opportunities we have in this time and in this culture to share Christ, and to keep growing in faith.

It's a good read – challenging, energizing, encouraging. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Afternoons . . .

Is anything better than a quiet Sunday afternoon with lots of newspapers and books, with maybe a nap tucked in there somewhere? Not much that I can think of, except maybe a big family dinner, with good food, good conversation, and dessert . . .

Once in awhile I need to do some errand, or shop on a Sunday; it seems to start the week off in a rush. I never enjoy those Sundays as much as the ones filled with family, friends, or peace and quiet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reading Matthew

It seems as if everyone is reading the gospel of Matthew this month!
Starting out as it does, with that genealogy, Matthew seems just a little intimidating! How do we figure out all those names, and why do they matter?
Whenever I see the genealogies in Scripture, they always remind me of a cousin who knows all the family history, and can recite it whenever anyone asks her a family-history related question. She knows who everyone is, and how they fit together. Her stories are always interesting, because they touch our lives as we wonder how all these people who came before us affect the people we are today.
Same thing with Matthew, I think . . . the genealogy is nothing more or less than our “family history” in the faith. All those people Matthew lists and names have had some effect on us as people of faith.
The trick is figuring out what that effect is – and that's why we read on!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Not yet . . .

The colors say fall; the temperatures say summer.
I'm not quite to the point of longing for cool, cozy nights. I'm still enjoying having the bedroom window open at night so I can hear the tiny wrens twittering their morning news, and watch the breeze flutter the curtains. I'm still enjoying the sun warming the kitchen through the morning, and I'm still enjoying going outside without a jacket.
Still, leaves dance slowly down, lazily carpet the yard in orange, yellow, red.
Morning breezes cool and chill; squirrels struggle to bury nuts in a yard hardened by summer's heat. Hostas, geraniums, and even the rosemary look tired and worn; only the live-forever sedum seems pleased by these subtle changes in weather and mood.
We have to take a long view to enjoy change, and sooner or later, I'll be happy for cool, cozy nights. I'll take interest in creating savory soups and baking bread; I'll enjoy filling the house with good smells and warm light against winter's dark days.
But not yet.