Friday, November 30, 2007


"I'll be home for Christmas..."
"Oh there's no place like home for the holidays..."

For twenty years, these songs have pained me throughout the holiday season.

It used to be because we couldn't afford to go home for the holidays. But now Minnesota, where I grew up, no longer feels like home. My grandparents have all passed away. My parents still live in the house they've had since my mom was expecting me, but they have remodeled; the neighborhood is different; the town has changed. Stores have closed and different ones have opened. There are new roads, and there is a lot more traffic than there was when I lived in the Minneapolis area. Besides, it is really, really cold there at Christmas time.

I no longer want to move "home" because what used to be home doesn't feel like home anymore.

The sad thing is, Syracuse has never felt like home, either. I used to absolutely despise Syracuse and everything about it. The first seven years we lived here were the most miserable years of my life. I hated the weather, the gray skies, the unending humidity (your woodwork is always sticky and your towels never dry), the fact that there are only Italian restaurants, the scrubby downtowns, the malls with 60% of the stores boarded up, the neighborhoods with no curbs or sidewalks. To me, Syracuse seemed dingy, dirty and depressing all the time. We lived in a house I hated, in a neighborhood I hated, in a city I hated, in a state I hated.

After living in Syracuse for 6-7 years, we bought the house we live in now. It was unquestionably a gift from God. It was outside our price range at the time, but God miraculously worked out the details so that we were able to buy it easily, no financial stretch. At the time we bought this house, I still did not like Syracuse. What I said then was, "I want a house that will keep us until we move out of Syracuse. I do not want to have to move again until we can get out of here."

In truth, I have been happier here. The neighborhood does not depress me. Our house is very pleasant. I love to curl up on the sectional in the family room with the gas fireplace on and read a book or watch a movie with the family. I love the piano in the livingroom, and the way it sounds when the kids are practicing. I am continually thankful for the basement we were able to finish and the bright, cheery colors down there, and my spacious laundry room. We remodeled the kitchen in 2002 (I think that was the year), and I have loved my kitchen since then. I have things I didn't grow up with--a pool and a deck and a master bathroom off my bedroom. All these things I am thankful for. I have seen God provide exceedingly abundantly.

But my heart is still not at home in Syracuse.

Sometimes you don't get your heart's desire. One thing I always wanted, I guess I always assumed I would eventually get, is a baby shower at the church where I grew up. I think I assumed that I would move back to Minnesota and have my last baby, and there would be great rejoicing , and I would celebrate with a huge baby shower at First Baptist Church of Anoka. Well, I had my last baby over 12 years ago, and we did not live in Minnesota, and I did not have a shower. Life goes on. You have to die to some of these things. My kids are healthy and decently dressed. They do not know the difference, whether they had nice church baby showers or not. It doesn't matter.

Sometimes you get things "too late." Like our van. When the kids were little, I had Laura in a car seat, David on one hip, and Shannon holding my hand (which hand? maybe it was the hem of my shirt she was holding), every time we went out to shop for anything. Of course, 75% of the time it was also raining or snowing. And with all this going on, I had to fumble with car keys. By the time I got a car with a key fob and automatic locks, the kids were all self-sufficient (even Jon, who came later), and I had my hands free. I thought, "Why do I need automatic locks now?" I guess my attitude helped me relax when the automatic locks stopped working reliably.

But my topic today is home. I have a pit of homesickness in my guts that I can rarely lose, but as the years go on, it becomes less and less clear what "home" is, what I am longing for.

We could actually use a new house. The boys share a room, and it isn't going well. Also, when we moved in there were mostly empty lots around us, but the area has since built up, and we would feel a little more free with a little more space around us. There is a very real possibility that we will not get a new house, though. Shawn says we WILL move eventually, but the kids are settled here; this is where they have grown up. Do we want to build a house somewhere on a different side of Syracuse, in the country, in a new school district, where there are no memories? We could pack up and leave as soon as the kids are done with high school, but something about that really bothers me. I don't particularly care for Syracuse, but we have a few roots and memories here now. Suppose we pick up and move to, say, Kentucky. If we do it after the kids are grown, what will we have? A more fractured family, it seems to me. A beautiful house in a beautiful country setting, with no memories, and where will we be in relation to our children's families?

If we get a new house at all, it will be too late, like the automatic van door locks. We won't need the extra bedroom, or the music practice studio, or homework nooks. We will be done with this season of life. We are already at the tail end of it.

I wish I could stop feeling sad about this. Micheal Card had a song once, where the voice of God sang to His people,

Though you are homeless
Though you're alone
I will be your home

Whatever's the matter

Whatever's been done
I will be your home

I will be your home

I will be your home
In this fearful fallen place
I will be your home

When time reaches fullness

When I move my hand
I will bring you home

Home to your own place

In a beautiful land
I will bring you home

I will bring you home

I will bring you home
From this fearful fallen place
I will bring you home
I will bring you home

Someday I will know, in my heart and my feelings, that God is my home and that wherever I go He is with me and that is enough, especially because in the end I will be in heaven and none of this stupid stuff will matter, and I will truly be home, and there will be effortless joy. Effortless joy. Doesn't that sound good?

Please bear with me. November and December are very difficult months for me. I usually cheer up in January--there is such a tremendous relief each time I realize that I've survived another holiday season. I hope someone, somewhere, will pray that my children can find joy in Christmas, that God will guard them from my low spirits and me from ruining everything.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The tale of the turkey

Well, I successfully brined a turkey. The brine was a solution of water, salt, sugar, allspice, thyme, bay leaves, pepper and apple cider. Next time I plan to use only water, salt and sugar, as the other flavors were not apparent in the turkey, as far as I could tell.

Some directions said absolutely do not brine in any bag except a food-safe bag, others said a clean, new trash bag was fine. I decided to risk it, and put the turkey and brine into two clean, white trash bags, doubled together. This then went into the cooler with ice on top to keep it cold, and it brined for 14 hours, from 10 p.m. Monday to 12 noon on Tuesday.

I had a lot of trouble ascertaining how long to roast the turkey. All the sources said to cook it until it was 165 degrees, which is fine, but how do you plan your mealtime and your side dishes around that? I finally decided to roast it for four hours and hope for the best.

At noon, I took the turkey out of the brine, rinsed it thoroughly, dried it with paper towels and set it in the roasting pan. I let it sit and dry (and warm up a little) until 1 p.m. which would probably have all the food safety experts in a panic, but we all ate quite a bit of it later on, and not one of us has been ill from it. At 1:00, I smeared butter all over the turkey, put a piece of heavy duty foil over it (particularly over the breast) and poured 1 cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan.

I roasted it at 350. At 3:30, I planned to remove the foil so the turkey could brown up. However, I was taking DJ and Lu to piano and then journeying on to the saxophone repair shop to get DJ's horn fixed up. From the parking lot of the repair shop, I called Jonno and asked him to take off the foil. He did this, and also poured another cup of water in the bottom of the pan, as it was looking dry.

I thought I would get home by 4:30 to neatly and efficiently finish things up. However, there was a ridiculous accident on one of the roads home. I actually had to do a U turn and go home by an alternate route. By the time all this had taken place, we did not arrive at home until nearly 5 p.m.

The turkey, when I arrived, was very brown, and the pop-up timer had popped up. I feared that I had burned it. Still, I had squash, beans, mashed potatoes and gravy that still needed making and (in some cases) baking. I turned the oven down to 300 and whipped up praline squash (from butternut squash pureed the previous day) and green bean casserole as fast as I could. Did I cover the turkey again with the foil? I might have.

I took the turkey out of the oven and set it atop the stove so the praline squash and green bean casserole could bake (and upped the temp to 350 or 375--it's all a blur now). The stuffing was in the crockpot, and the potatoes were over high heat, trying to come to a boil and cook until mashable.

I got out my meat thermometer. First I stuck it into the thigh, which read 196 degrees. My heart sank. I was certain then that I had overcooked the bird and it would be tough and dry. I removed the probe from the thigh and stuck it into the breast. The internal temperature soon read 176 degrees. In my prior research, I had read that to be safe, a turkey must reach 165 degrees, and that this has been recently lowered from the previously required safety temperature of 180 degrees. Given these parameters, I was hopeful that 176 degree breast meat might be okay.

When we sat down to eat we had:
giblet stuffing
mashed potatoes
gravy from the drippings
praline squash (my FAVORITE--this is my total downfall)
green bean casserole
pumpkin pie

And guess what... the turkey was very moist and juicy and tender. It was so moist and juicy and tender that I wondered if I had undercooked it. Shawn even mentioned that the next time we do it, we could give the turkey more roasting time with no ill effects (I have a really hard time interpreting that--did he think it was underdone? Anyway, he ate it--he ate a lot).

I asked whether the family thought brining was worth doing, or if we should just go back to our old method of using oven roasting bags. I think they said that we should brine again, but it was not resounding as in, "This is SO MUCH BETTER than our old turkeys."

So I might brine a turkey again someday. Maybe.

Anyway, the praline squash was delicious. You cook brown sugar and butter and pecans together, and the sugar and butter make a sort of crisp, delicious, candylike substance. You spread this over the top of pureed squash (add a couple of beaten eggs and a dash of clove to the squash), and you bake it. In the end it is amazing, absolutely amazing, and even Shawn, who hates squash, is known to take a number of (very) shallow scoops.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What to do?

I am officially all caught up on the laundry.  Well, except for a few "lie flat to dry" items which are, well, lying flat to dry.  This never happens.  I hardly know what to do with myself.

I am making a turkey dinner today.  I guess I just missed cooking for Thanksgiving so much that now I have to do it.  Plus, I wanted to try brining a turkey.  It is brining in the cooler right now as I type and two pumpkin pies are baking in the oven, so you see, I shall need to write fast today.  I hope I did the brine right--there were so many different recipes that I decided it wasn't all that fussy.  Now I'm not so sure...

I have a fantasy that some dear old friend will randomly arrive in Syracuse and call us up today, and I will be able to say, "I just prepared a turkey dinner!  Please come over and enjoy it with us!"  Things like that never happen.  

When I cook a planned company dinner, either I mess everything up because I am so nervous, or I do the cooking fine, but I am so tired and stressed out by the time I am done, I can hardly lift my fork, let alone taste anything.  When I cook just for the family, it is often absolutely delicious (often--not always--but often is pretty good).  So we sit and feast and have a gajillion leftovers and nobody to share any of it with us.

I wish I were a different kind of person.  I wish I were outgoing and carefree and popular.  Instead, I am nervous and shy and I have a complex about people not liking me.  I know in my head that I need to be kind and reach out to others--that others are as hungry for meaningful friendships as I am and somebody just has to take the risk and make the first move (and get the blessing of being a blessing to someone).  But in real life, it seems more complicated than that.  Some days I do better than I expect, other days I am a dismal failure.

What a blessing it was to come home from our Thanksgiving trip and be greeted by precious ladies who count me as a friend at my church.  Most of them will never know how much it means to me to receive a greeting and a smile, to be told that I was missed, to hear that they prayed for me.  God is so good.

The timer says it's time to test the pies for doneness.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving travel

Travel is something that sounds good when you talk about it, looks good in travel magazines and can be exciting to plan.

Rarely does travel turn out to be very pleasurable.

We drove from Syracuse, NY to Springfield, IL to have Thanksgiving with the relatives.  Mapquest routed us across 90, through Chicago and down 55.  We opted to forgo Chicago traffic on Thanksgiving Eve at rush hour.  We just thought it would be better, somehow.  So we turned left in Cleveland and went through Columbus and Indianapolis on our way west.  This route is generally very low key (read: easy to drive), but on Thanksgiving Eve it was filled with heavy traffic.  We had intended to let Shannon and DJ practice driving on this trip, but Shawn kept the wheel the whole way, dodging trucks, coordinating moves with impatient cars and improvising a detour through Indy to avoid a jam caused by an accident on 465.

After you drive for 14 hours straight, it takes awhile to get your land legs.  You arrive at your destination, ears ringing, legs quivering, and try to make polite conversation with relations you haven't seen for maybe four years, but all you really want to do is rinse off your face and stretch out flat on a bed in a dark room.

Thanksgiving was a blessing.  The turkey was presented quietly with no fuss, no hustle, no bustle, like a miracle, from somewhere unseen.  Being Scandinavians, the relatives have a habit of standing in front of a meal, all laid out in pretty dishes, warm from wherever it was secretly and quietly whisked, and... waiting.  They stand there while the food cools, and wait and look on, and then, very quietly, someone says, "Mom should go first," and Mom quietly remonstrates, "No, really I couldn't, I think Dad looks really hungry," and Dad says, "I thinks the kids should go first, " and they actually sort of try to quietly get in line, because they really are very hungry. But then one of their parents pulls them back, and the quiet resistance continues for about a half an hour until the food is very nicely cooled off and there is absolutely no danger of anyone getting burned on anything, and then people finally start to go through the line one at a time, nobody starting to fill his plate until the previous person is completely finished (and no wonder nobody wants to go first, because one feels quite awkward serving oneself while everybody else watches, silently, hungrily, patiently).

If you are not Scandinavian, marrying into a Scandinavian family can be an adjustment that takes a long time.  Scandinavians are very quiet.  It is rude to talk in a full voice.  It is considered shouting.  I have learned this.  As a child, I was taught that it is impolite to whisper, but I have learned that the reverse is true at a Scandinavian family reunion.

Between meals, at a Scandinavian family reunion, you sleep a lot.  I think perhaps you are supposed to be conversing on the pillowy furniture in the great room, but because the conversation is spoken in such very low tones, one has trouble hearing, and one tends to sink back into the cushiony softness (so much more comfortable that the van one arrived in), and drift off.

When it was time to drive home, we reluctantly got back into the van.  Two days had not been quite enough time to recover from the original trauma.  We wore our scrubbiest clothes--plaid pajama pants, hoodies (that didn't match), undone hair and make-up-less faces.  Our legs ached with just the thought of being cooped up in that small space for another 14 hours, six of us, and most of us over 6 feet tall.

To save time, we grabbed a quick lunch at Wendy's, to go.  But by 7 p.m., after about 9 hours of driving, Shawn needed a rest and he just wanted to sit down and eat without a steering wheel in his face.  We stopped at a Bob Evans somewhere southeast of Cleveland.  I looked around at the family and said, "Do we dare go into a sit down place looking like this?"  They told me, "We're in the middle of Ohio.  We will never see any of these people ever again."

So we went in and sat down.  We ordered, used the bathrooms, ate.  The people at the table across from us looked like very decent and upstanding citizens, neatly dressed, with nicely behaved children.  As they stood up to leave the woman stopped over at our table and said to Shannon, "Do you go to SU?  My son noticed your hoodie..."  Shannon was wearing a SUNY-ESF hoodie.  Nobody knows about SUNY-ESF, even people who actually go to Syracuse University, but this woman apparently had a sister who went to SUNY-ESF.  Not only that, but they found out that we were from the Syracuse area, so they asked where and it turned out that they are also from Syracuse, from Fabius Pompey, and my husband is a great friend of the man who is chorus director at the Fabius-Pompey high school.  So we had this common friend, and we exchanged names and said, "See you around," and I thought to myself, here is a lesson:

If you go into a restaurant, far from home, looking like a family of vagabonds sorely in need of a shower and a trip to the mall, expecting not to see anyone you know... do not wear a hoodie with an identifying logo on it.  Just don't.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Nerves and Hormones

Life would be pretty great if it weren't for nerves and hormones.

Some Christian people say you should just be good, do the right thing, act graciously, no matter what happens with your nerves and hormones.

Obviously, they have never been afflicted with abnormal nerves and hormones.

You pray, you cry, you condemn yourself, you wonder what is WRONG with you. You get up in the morning determined to be nice to everyone, to hold it together, to rest in the Lord. But on those days, it just doesn't matter. You WILL find yourself crying over what the kids said or the mess on the kitchen counter or the overwhelming pile of mail... unless you take to your bed, in which case you will find yourself crying for being lazy and worthless.

And somebody will say, "If you would just exercise more," or "If you would just take Paxil," or "If you would just calm yourself down." And that just isn't helpful.

Sometimes you feel like God has abandoned you. You know that He is supposedly your strength, and you can't figure out why it isn't working. You read the Psalms and resonate with the one that says, "How long, O Lord?"

You understand why your mother did some of the crazy things she did, and you feel sorry for her.

Life would be just about perfect without nerves and hormones. I think there will be no nerves or hormones in Heaven.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Figuring this out

I posted the experiment (see previous).

Now I am trying to figure out how to add posts.   

I really need to do laundry, shop, cook and clean for Thanksgiving.  How did I get tied up in this this morning?

Discipline, Ruthie, discipline.

If this works, I'm signing off.

I need to write my password stuff down somewhere or I will forget it by the time I get back here after Thanksgiving.

A new blog?

I am trying to experiment with setting up a new blog.

This is only an experiment.

I will try to post it and see what happens.