Thursday, August 28, 2008

One Fun Thing for the End of August . . .

Now that the kids are back in school and summer seems to be considering her exit strategy, my natural inclination is to take a look at my surroundings. There is something about this time of year that makes me want to freshen things up, cook something delicious, even clean!
Not knowing how long this nesting instinct will last, I don't want to waste it; those freshening, cooking, cleaning impulses usually come under “discipline” so it's nice when they seem like just the things I want to do.
I found a website to encourage me: Blissfully Domestic -- Everything You Need to Make Family Life Easier. And they're not kidding! Today there's a feature on mismatched chairs, as well as one about health myths. And if you scroll down you'll find a great recipe for pumpkin dip as well as ideas for box lunches -- this is a fun site to explore!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rainy Days and Music

Rainy days are so cozy -- as long as there aren't too many of them in a row.
It's been rainy today; spritzy this morning as I walked our canine house-guests, then pouring early this evening as my dinner partner put the pork chops on the grill.
In between, though, it's just been rainy, off and on, enough to make the grass go green again and the humidity go up. The house darkens down a little as the clouds gather. I turn on the little lamp on the sideboard, then the rain rains itself out and the sun peeks out. An hour later it's darkening down again.
I just figured out how to use the media player on my computer to stream music (I know, techno-challenged and pathetically slow.) I found Sunday Baroque on NPR so on this rainy day while I worked online, I listened to Bach, Handel, Purcell, Vivaldi, and other artists whose names I didn't know but whose music I loved.
What do you do on a rainy day?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Learning and Persevering

We've been enjoying an air show in the back yard lately.
A small hawk family has been taking flight practice, giving the crows who gather here every few nights second thoughts about perching in our trees.
We think there are two, perhaps three young hawks; two adults hover nearby watching, occasionally intervening when the crows get too bold.
While the crows will pick on one hawk, they tend to fly away fast when there's more than one.
Somehow, there's a lesson on bullying there, I suspect.


Speaking of bullies, what's with Russia “punishing” Georgia?


As the Olympics finish up, I thought it would be somehow less interesting with Michael Phelps done swimming. I was wrong.
It was a huge thrill to watch the swimmers -- men and women -- but other events have been compelling, too. The women's marathon just about wore me out!
Watching the perseverance of runners near the 26-mile mark of their race, putting one foot in front of the other over and over, is like watching Paul's words come to life: to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. How will I ever read those words again without picturing those runners wearily, steadfastly running up into the Bird's Nest?
Sometimes it really is a matter of just putting one foot in front of the other and keep on keeping on.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Answers in a Field of Corn

Speaking of glory, Ann Voskamp writes about ripening corn fields and the way they reveal the reality, the glory of God, here on her blog, A Holy Experience. I've been reading Ann's work a while now, and recommend it highly. Treat yourself to a reminder of God's presence in your life.

Such a Thing as Glory

Driving east last night the sunset glimmered rose and peach in the rearview mirror. The moon rose glowing in the west, round and full. Flashing past on each side of the highway, fields of corn, beans, cattle; small towns every few miles, lights winking in windows as families tuck in for the night.
Rich Mullins' music filling the car, reminding me “There's such a thing as glory . . . “

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Desiring . . .

This week I've been listening to Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and I've been listening to what passes for silence around here.
I say “passes for silence” because the silence isn't always very quiet.
There are crickets, trucks, a little song sparrow who has made her home close to ours, various neighborhood construction projects, kids wringing the last fun from summer -- the silence I think I'm getting when I turn off all the appliances and noisemakers in our house is filled up by the noises of the neighborhood.
Those lively noises don't bother me; they have a quality of sharing life about them that is usually pleasing.
And sometimes I've invited Bach into the “silence.” For some reason I've wanted to hear Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring over and over again.
Perhaps it's the good memories associated with that piece of music -- weddings, holidays, quiet mornings with a second cup of coffee. Or it could just be the sheer loveliness of the music. I seem to hear something new each time I listen.
Maybe it's the sense of calm assurance the music seems to hold. This is not intrusive music. It's more like an invitation.
As Kathleen Norris's student said, “Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.”
And sometimes, so does music.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Medal Stand in My Future?

Like so many others, we've been enjoying this month's Olympic coverage.
The extra features on life in China have been interesting, the competitions exciting. When Michael Phelps threw those goggles off onto the side of the pool and rubbed his eyes we just knew something was wrong, even though he'd won the race.
My favorite part of the whole thing, though, is the medal ceremonies. It's fun to watch all the winners, but I must admit I get tingly every time The Star Spangled Banner is played, and feel thrilled for our American medal winners. I love how the camera pans around American fans as they mouth the words, or just stand there, hands on hearts, grinning, crying.
I just know that all across the country, there are people like me, people who could never win that kind of medal, singing along.
And I think to myself that, while I'm no athlete, there are some things I can do well, and I'm inspired to do those things better. I can try harder, invest more of myself in practicing to do those things well.
There might not be a medal stand in my future, but that doesn't mean there can't be excellence.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Invitation

In case you don't know, I write another blog about life as a grandma: Grandma on Board. I wanted to explore ways grandparents matter, and how to be a better grandma. You can scroll through older posts from 2007 and read the first post at Grandma on Board.

Hope to meet you there!

A Cooking Lesson . . . Foot Sandwich

Do you ever get in trouble because of things you've said?
I do. Sometimes I think my diet is mainly composed of foot-sandwich.
I've had to learn to think before I speak, but more importantly, to think about who it is I'm talking with when I choose how to say what I'm thinking. You can read more about the process in a blog entry I wrote on the Hearts at Home website.

It's no surprise that Scripture encourages us to be careful about what we say as well as how we say it. James is blunt: “the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” (James 3:5)
But Scripture also encourages us to remember that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver,” (Proverbs 25:11) and that “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
How we choose the words we use makes a difference in whether or not a situation is “set ablaze” or not; our words can help to “turn away wrath” as beautifully as “apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
I think this applies to situations as diverse as talking with a toddler or dealing with a clerk who is rude to us. How we respond verbally sets the tone for that interaction -- and it reveals a lot about us and how seriously we practice the faith we claim.
James points out in his letter that we should “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) In an indirect way, he's trying to get us to understand the importance of thinking before we speak, considering who it is we are talking to, and letting our words reflect our faith. Then -- we need to act on what we've said: it's not enough to murmur gracious words if there's no gracious action to follow!
I want my words to reflect my faith, to be seasoned with the salt of the gospel, to be gracious, nutritious and delicious.
I think that would be much tastier than foot-sandwich!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pick-Me-Ups and Refreshing Surprises

Last week, while out doing errands, I decided I needed a pick-me-up, so I stopped in at our local Barnes & Noble bookstore, conveniently located next to my favorite Schnucks grocery store.
It seemed like a good time to try Starbucks' new Vivanno smoothie, advertised as a “nourishing blend” of a proprietary protein and fiber powder, real fruit or fruit juices, and milk. It comes in two flavors, banana chocolate or orange-mango banana and sounds refreshing.
I tried one.
The orange-mango banana smoothie was delicious -- rich and filling, and after finishing it I really did have more energy, although that could have just been the experience of sitting down quietly for a few minutes.
While I sat there sipping my Vivanno, I took the opportunity to look at a book I've been eyeing for some time -- Sarah Addison Allen's book The Sugar Queen. I took time to look through the first chapter and was so intrigued I bought the book and brought it home.
I wasn't disappointed.
I'd recently finished -- and loved -- Allen's book Garden Spells, so I expected The Sugar Queen to be similar. It was, but it wasn't. Both books hint at a bit of magic, both books have quirky, interesting characters, both books have relationship-driven plots.
But each book is original in the way those relationships are resolved, and satisfying.
The writing is bright and fun. These are two books I highly recommend!


Another book I've read recently is A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. This mannerly mystery solves the question of whether a maid's death is suicide or murder, and the hero, Charles Lenox, is just the kind of neighbor one would want if one lived in London in 1865.
This is a quiet book without gratuitous violence or even unnecessary roughness, but the mystery is absorbing and beautifully written, with a few twists and surprises tucked in.
I'm anxious to see if our local library has a copy of The September Society, Finch's next book, published just last week.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Beetles and Roses

I went out to pick a red rose this evening at twilight, and as I carried it, fragrant and lovely, into the house I saw something moving in the bloom. I stepped under the light by the back door, and realized the something was a Japanese beetle enjoying an evening snack.
I took the tip of my garden scissors and tried to disengage the beetle from the rose, only to see another beetle and then, another.
By the time I finished cleaning beetles from the rose there had been six or seven of them (which I stepped on as they fell to the ground) and the rose had lost most of its outer petals to our wrestling match.
I know I'm not anywhere near the first person to think this, but those beetles reminded me of sin, eating away at the heart of something beautiful, which, if left alone, would destroy it utterly.
They were completely hidden when I clipped the rose from the stem. The rose looked perfect from a distance, on the outside. It was only when I held it up close to smell it that I caught a glimpse of the beetles within.
I was so glad I hadn't gotten the rose into the house!
As it was, I left it out on the picnic table in an outside vase.
Sometimes we think sin is hidden away, doing little or no damage. But eventually either the sin is found out, or the damage becomes obvious, or both.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Slowly, Subtly . . .

I love the twilight this time of year -- the way the light picks out first this corner of the yard, then the big tree, then the daylilies in the back, spotlighting them for just a few moments, then moving on to something else.
I'm fascinated with the way light reminds us of the nature of God, the way it moves, shimmers, shines through clouds and sometimes seems to disappear, only to show up brightly again later.
I wrote about light -- first light, that first light of an early summer morning -- and you can read it here on Notes From Home (just scroll down to June 6, 2007.) The first light of morning promises possibilities.
Twilight is more settled, more soothing. Instead of song sparrows, twilight is ccompanied by the whirring of locusts and the sounds of kids playing in the neighborhood -- nothing too quiet, until the sun has dipped into the horizon a little more, like a child laying its head down onto a pillow.
Even on the darkest or stormiest days, there is light somewhere.


Days are getting shorter, bit by bit. First light comes later, and twilight comes earlier. The sun is still strong at mid-day, though, and warms us up beyond what we're comfortable with.
Queen Anne's lace -- and is it tall blue phlox? -- grows along every ditch and roadway. I've noticed a squirrel or two beginning to dig their winter supplies into the yard.
Slowly, subtly the season begins to turn.


I spent a few weeks of one fall helping my grandmother while my grandfather recovered from a heart attack. She was sad as she noticed the days getting shorter. She was not looking forward to shorter days, darker mornings and afternoons, being cooped up in her house during the winter. I was taken aback. Normally she was a cheerful woman who made the best of whatever happened, and it was hard to see her even a little quiet and sad.
There were few things that upset her, at least that she let us see. One day after the mailman came, she came into the kitchen and clanged a few pots and pans around -- not her usual behavior at all! I asked her what was wrong.
“Letters,” she said. “I write them to everyone, but no one answers me.”
She did write letters. At the time I received them I underestimated their value. She wrote about what she cooked for lunch, who had called, and what her friend Letha had worn to their Ladies Aid Society at church. I was always glad to get a letter from grandma; she always asked how I was doing, and was interested in what was going on in my life, but I didn't appreciate the real value of her letters. I tried to answer her letters, but honestly -- I didn't know what to say most of the time. Then when I was a young wife and mother my grandma died suddenly.
We had a flood in our basement a few years ago, the kind that soaks into boxes of keepsakes. Some of the things we were able to save (thanks to the kindness of friends who helped in a hurry to get things out of the water) included some of my grandmother's letters tucked in with some other things. I hadn't saved them on purpose, but when I held them, re-read them, I felt as if I held a long-buried treasure.
It was a different kind of light that dawned that day, the light of understanding. Each one of her simple letters was nothing more -- or less -- than her reaching out to remind the recipient that she loved us. It was a hug in an envelope, a reminder that she cared how we were doing, and was willing to share her life with us.
Going through those damp boxes, I learned that love doesn't die just because the people who love us die, just like light doesn't die just because the sun goes down.
The sun will come up again; the light will come back.
And love always has the power to warm our hearts.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Changes . . .

We were talking in our adult Sunday School class this past Sunday about the changes God calls us to make in our lives. One couple -- parents of three girls under the age of 10 -- mentioned that they have pretty much quit watching television.
Even sports? we asked.
Even sports, they said, adding that what they've gained is greater than what they've given up.
What have you gained? someone asked.
Without hesitation they answered: family time. A sense of peace and contentment. A measure of control over what their girls were taking into their minds and souls.
That's the key to being willing to change, I think -- recognizing that what we gain is greater than what we give up when we act in response to something God asks of us.
It's hard to think of doing something like giving up television. Most of us can think up all kinds of reasons why it would be too hard, why it really isn't all that bad (I really only watch public television . . . ) -- but it isn't called the plug-in drug for nothing!
Over this summer we've watched less and less television, and we're surprised at how little we actually miss it. We are looking forward to watching Olympic coverage, more for glimpses of China than for most of the sports events themselves, but once the Olympics are over, I suspect we'll leave the television off more than on, because over this summer we've learned, too, that what we've gained in time to read, to talk, and to do other things we like to do is worth more than what we've given up.


News over the week-end about the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a reminder of how much the world has changed.
His books illuminated the inhumanities of communism, and served as a reminder of the reality of sin, as well as the resilience of the human spirit. His courage as a man and as a writer inspired so many readers -- I began reading his work just after high school, and his experiences and stories shaped the way I saw the world.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Green Beans, Sweet Corn and Tomatoes

It's green bean, sweet corn and tomato season, and that means hard work, a steamy, fragrant kitchen and laughter.
Because my husband watched as a wide-eyed little boy the day his mom's pressure cooker exploded (a malfunctioning safety valve) we've never canned much. No one was hurt that day, but he tells me frozen vegetables taste better anyway.
When our kids -- now all grown -- lived at home, we had lots of help when it was time to put up green beans, corn and tomatoes. Now that they all live on their own we don't need quite so much in the freezer, but we still freeze corn, tomato sauce, and green beans because it's such a pleasure, in the middle of winter, to pull out those frozen packets of summer's goodness.
The kids used to try to hide when it was time to shuck corn or snap beans, but we tracked them down and persuaded them back to the kitchen to help. These days, they still come to help when they can -- voluntarily. They come to give us a hand, to snag some of those frozen packages of vegetables for their own freezers, and to share in the fun.
Yesterday, though, it was just my husband and me. He shucked the corn and I blanched it. Together we cut the corn off the cob and bagged it for the freezer. Our golden lab scouted the floor for kernels of corn we dropped -- making her a real corn-dog.
It's hard work but we didn't mind. The whole time we worked we talked and laughed; the table covered in corn silk and cobs, just enjoying the rhythm of the work and each other's company.
Later this summer I'll freeze tomato sauce; this coming winter that sauce will be delicious for spaghetti, or soup or lasagna. At least some of the green beans and corn will show up on our Thanksgiving table. We'll be nourished twice: once by the actual vegetables themselves, and once again by the memory of the fun we had doing all that hard work.

A Framework of Limitation

What do limits have to do with creativity?
That old cliche “Necessity is the mother of invention” is part of the answer, I think. When we need to make do, we have to be creative.
When we think about managing our day to day lives, our households, our budgets, we think of it as resourceful management. The Hearts at Home website is currently posting a column I wrote for them for The Pantagraph on this topic. You can read it here.
But our households aren't the only aspects of our lives where we experience limitations that require us to choose creative responses.
Parents who are limited by their responsibilities to their children must come up with creative ways to fill their lives with contentment, stimulation, a sense of freedom -- even when they feel least free. It isn't easy but it is possible, and yields the satisfaction of having fulfilled their duty to their family without losing themselves in the process.
The limitation becomes a kind of “laying down your own life” for the sake of someone else, and it's important to realize that the limitation is real. There is a real “giving up” when you accept a limitation.
It is when we “choose to look for -- and celebrate -- life in the midst of what feels like death” that we begin to understand the art of living creatively.
Our limitations become the framework for our art.

Book Bonus

One of the nicest things friends do is to fill our lives with smiles. Friends hang in. Even if they can't get there or be there in the moment, they come when they can.
So it is for my friend Peg. She's a busy executive with multiple responsibilities, and she's written about what she's reading this summer. Peg says, “We read Sea Glass . . . I enjoyed the novel and reading about that time in history. I've been on the road quite a bit and heave been listening to a book that I have realized is based on a true story. The Innocent Man by John Grisham -- to tell you the truth I could not finish the book, it was very disconcerting. I have listened to my first book by David Rosenfelt and love his style of writing. Open and Shut was the book and I plan on reading/listening to more.”
Peg also read Three Cups of Tea:One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations, by David Mortenson. It was, she reports, “very interesting.” Peg also commented that she has “not read Pillars of the Earth yet, but this has peaked my interest.”
It's interesting how many “readers” are actually “listeners” who take in a book however they can. Technology gives us so many new options!
I must admit I'm tempted by the Kindle -- the price is still too much for me to indulge in one but it's tempting to be able to carry so many books in such a small package.
No matter what the options are, the important thing is the story, the information. No matter how it's delivered, a book is a good thing.