Saturday, May 31, 2014

Half-hearted pictures

I once saw a photo of an open hamburger with ketchup and mustard on a white plate.  It was brilliant.  A thirteen year old took it.  I thought it should have won a contest.  I thought the photographer could have gone on to a career in advertising.

You can tell things about people by their photographs, whether they know how to use light and framing, whether they have a natural but untrained instinct, or whether they work hard to master composition.

I have a broken camera.

Also, my husband asked me to please photo-document the flowers in our yard and blog about them.  I think he thought I'd been getting down and needed an uplifting project.  I wanted to cooperate, and as a result, below, you will see many pictures of flowers from our yard.  Most of the flowers are past their prime.  This is how it goes for me.  You can tell something about a photographer by the condition of her subjects.  Pictures, outdoors, of flowers, should not have been hard.  Flowers do not pull faces, and sunlight does a lot to make up for my broken light meter.

Flowers are second only to food in terms of how easy and satisfying they are to photograph.

To begin my efforts to be cooperative with my husband's efforts to keep me in a positive frame of mind, here is picture of him, he, himself, rototilling up where we later planted tomatoes.  In the foreground, you see the rhubarb my father gave us the last time we visited Minnesota.  I am gratified beyond measure that we finally have the opportunity to grow some transplanted rhubarb from my father's garden.  Everything about this picture makes me happy, happy, happy!

Then there are the peonies.  We have lots and lots of peonies... red, fuchsia, pink, white and even yellow.  The yellow ones were very nice, but too far past their prime to photograph to any advantage whatsoever.

These (above) are by the mailbox, kind of an odd style of peony,
but cheerful and friendly.  The rest are more "normal."
I can almost see the pink ones (next, below) from my kitchen sink,
 if I stand on my tip-toes.
They are (obviously) fading, but they were nice.

We have quite a few irises in various colors and with a nice span of bloom times.

What is this (below)?  Veronica?  Catnip?

I planted some things by the front door.  These (below) are nasturtiums.  
They remind me of lily-pads, and I think they are cheery and fun.

Also by the front door: these (below) are zinnias and I pray that they will bloom.
They remind me of my Grandma Rainbow.
The begonias were distributed at church in honor of Easter.

These purple flowers were distributed at church in honor of Mothers' Day.
I like them but don't know what they are.


And, while I am sharing pictures, here are two of the gluten free pizza I made last night.

The pizza crust was actually good.  It is from cauliflower, and a tremendous amount of work.  The recipe is here.  It is tasty, and a much nicer texture than the hard, flat, gluten-free crusts sold in pizza places.  Shawn, who hates cauliflower, said: "If you have to eat cauliflower, this is a good way to eat it."

No.  There are no pictures of our kitchen.  Why?

1)  It was finished the day we left to get Laura and Jon from college and attend Laura's graduation.  We arrived home with a van full of things that need to be washed, repacked, and organized.  We are in the middle of this.

2)  I went nearly four months without being able to cook.  Now, I am cooking.  Yes, I am cooking.  A kitchen hard at work is not a kitchen that one generally feels comfortable photographing.  Using my kitchen is more important to me than primping it and taking pictures of it.

3)  Our dogs are sick.  Schubert has a chronic rotting gum condition, and Piper has congestive heart disease.  One counter is consumed with dog medications laid out so that I will not forget to administer them.  I do not want to undo the system.  Another un-photo-friendly circumstance.

4)  My camera is broken, and it is well nigh impossible to get a decent indoor shot of a room with windows and lights, and have anything in balance.

So, enjoy the pictures I've given you.  Over time, the new kitchen is sure to show up at least as a background.  Perhaps I will get the camera fixed or replaced before the wedding.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

A lot has been happening.

Lu graduated from college.

We moved Jon and Lu out of their college dorms and drove them 8 hours home.

Lu and I stopped in Ohio on the way home so she could interview for a job.

And yesterday, DJ turned 23, his first birthday away from home.  His friends provided him with steak and pie, which makes me feel better.

Over the course of graduation, moving and job interviews, we were traveling a lot.  It was hard to eat gluten free, so I didn't.  Now I have pain.  There is a very real connection here.

Motivated to get back on the gluten-free wagon, I adapted my Pumpkin Muffin recipe this morning, and it was good.  Dense and moist, but very good.  I ate two.

Let me pre-empt this with a disclaimer.  There is sugar in this recipe.  Half a cup.  You could use organic cane sugar if you wished; personally, I think sugar is sugar and--in moderation--it isn't that big a deal.  But I do realize that gluten is a big deal for me, and sugar is a big deal for some people.  So there is that, and I apologize, but this recipe does contain sugar.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

1/2 cup milk (almond milk if you're allergic)
1/4 cup oil (I used grapeseed, because that is what I had)
1 cup pumpkin (cooked and smashed, canned is fine)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp clove
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup oats (quick cooking oatmeal flakes)

Mix together and set aside.

Sift together:

1/3 cup coconut flour (this really does need sifting)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a muffin tine with 12 paper liners.  Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients and stir well.  Divide evenly between the 12 tins.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.  Makes 12.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Maple seeds

I am beginning to associate maple seeds with losing daughters.

Shortly before we lost Shannon from Sugar Pine Circle, I wrote this:

Shawn and I went for a walk tonight while it got dark. Under the glow of the streetlight, maple seed helicopters shone white and messy across the asphalt road. I picked a perfect one and brought it back to the house. Shannon and I played with it in the open foyer, tossing it from the top of the stairs and watching it spin down. 

Yesterday Laura drove away in our van.

I spent some time thinning my zinnias after she left, and the helicopter seeds spun madly down from the maple tree, buzzing and shining like dragonflies.  One hit me in the head, sharply.  Perhaps they will germinate and give me a big weeding job to do in a week or two.  My shoulders sag and I plod along.

This weekend, Laura will graduate from college, and then, a few weeks later she will get married and move to Ohio, and that will be that.

She has the van so she can begin on her move to Ohio.  It doesn't make sense to schlep her things to Illinois from her Pennsylvania school, and then take them back to Ohio a few weeks later.

When Shawn and I got married, we were still in college, the University of Minnesota, so there was, at least, a buffer year before he got a job in Syracuse, New York.

I remember leaving Minnesota.

My parents are not big on teary good-byes.  They prefer to avoid them, so I do not remember much about leaving my own home.  I do remember leaving Shawn's red house on 40 acres in Cokato.  We stood in the yard, in the hot sun on the south side of the house where the driveway ran down.  Everybody took a turn hugging everybody else, and Shawn's mom had tears in her eyes.

I remember being disconnected from her tears.  Used to my own mother's stoicism, I felt strange, and not particularly sad.  "We will be back," I told her.  "We'll be back in a few years."  She nodded and tried to smile, looking very much as though she did not believe me.  I remember this as though it were yesterday.

My sister and her husband moved to Connecticut.  They lived there for a few years; she even had her first son there.  And then they moved back to Minnesota.  I thought this was how it worked.  You went off to another place, got some work experience and a more advanced degree, and then you moved back.

But not us.  We stayed in New York for twenty-five years, and then we moved not to Minnesota, but to Illinois.

I watch Lulu moving to Ohio, and my heart swells up like a water-balloon into my throat.

She was my buddy, the one who stuck by me.  As a toddler, she followed me around and helped me with the chores.  If I was making beds, she would hold the pillows and fluff them up.  If I was washing the floor, she would take her own little cloth and scrub away at a spot she saw.

I have a way of forgetting what is in my hands and losing it, so I learned to take Lulu shopping with me.  I could hand her the shopping list and be sure that it would not be misplaced, even if we went to a number of stores.  Also, she often remembered things we needed and reminded me, even if they were not on the list.

It seemed that perhaps she was a special gift from God, an angel of helps sent gently to compensate for the fact that I had never had a mother or a sister (or any other kin) nearby to lend me a hand with life.

Lulu was the one who knew how to keep track of upcoming dates, the location of David's homework projects, and whether we had gotten meat out to defrost for dinner.  I depended on her, probably more than what was fair.  But she didn't seem to mind, she seemed to thrive on holding us together, which she did with grace and crazy talent.

She went away to college, and I felt as though my right arm had been cut off.

She drew back and I learned to get along without her.  Not gracefully, not as well as before, but I learned to survive.  I guess she'd figured it was time.  Without her, we misplaced a bunch of stuff, and the house never looked as pretty, but we ate dinner most nights and I cleaned the toilets regularly.

The distance widened, and then we moved to Illinois, and it widened some more.

Now she is marrying, moving to Ohio, looking for a teaching position, because she is a cracker-jack of a teacher.  The inside of my throat stings as I realize: teachers don't transfer districts.

I want to beg her to stay close.  I want to cry out that I have been longing for grandchildren to dandle on my knee, grandchildren to know and to love and to read Go Dog Go. Not grandchildren from Ohio who cry when they are left with me because they do not know me.

I want to beg and plead, but I know that this is wrong.  Wrong.  Yes, it is the way I may feel, and it is okay--maybe even good--to love someone and long to be near her.  But I need to let her go, allow her to be the person God created her to be, and to do the things that God created her to do.

I need to let go, and it hurts because life is painful.  It just is.  Doing the right thing is not often easy, and I am a messy, clumsy person galumping along making awkward attempts.

The image of Shawn's mom, teary, hugging us goodbye before we hopped into Shawn's little Chevy Cavalier and drove off to New York, that image keeps passing through my mind.  I thought the arrangement was temporary, but she knew it was not.

Sometimes I hate interstates.

There are a lot of mangled maple seeds scattered on our front porch and strewn among my zinnia seedlings by the walkway.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sanctification and cathartic ramblings, and a paleo recipe

Sometimes you actually almost hope that the food you ordered will arrive at your table slightly off, because what you really want, more than a meal, is catharsis.

Yesterday I ate six cupcakes, and this (surprisingly) is not why I long for catharsis.  Well, it may be part of the reason, but it is not the entire reason, and I know this because I was longing for catharsis before I ate any cupcakes.

Honestly, I have never eaten six cupcakes in one day before.

They were gluten-free, paleo cupcakes, made with coconut flour and eggs.  I took them to a brunch I attended; I'd signed up to bring a gluten-free, bread-type offering.

Cupcake Number One, I ate at home in the morning, right after I topped it with faux chocolate ganache, to test and see whether they were good enough to take.

Cupcake Number Two, I ate at the brunch, because it was gluten-free and I wanted it.

After the brunch, and the meeting, I drove home in my hot van and the faux chocolate ganache melted down all over the cupcakes, so of course I had to eat Cupcake Number Three, all drizzly, warm and messy, and evaluate what to do about the situation.  I put the rest into the refrigerator to firm up.  Then the dogs needed walking, and I tackled an ancient rose bush that may never have been pruned before.

Hungry and tired after my efforts, I ate Cupcake Number Four "for lunch," and also to see how they tasted chilled (delicious).

Dinner was quinoa spaghetti with meat sauce and salad.  Shawn lifted a third helping of spaghetti from the serving dish, eyed it dangling and said, "Do I really want this?"

"You could have that, " I remarked, "or you could have a cupcake."

He opted for the cupcake.  I had one too.  Cupcake Number Five.

"Shall I put these away?" I asked, gesturing to the (nearly empty) platter.

"No," he said, deep in a FAFSA on the other side of the table.  "They're good."

We both had another: for him, a second... for me, Cupcake Number Six.

I have never done such a thing before.

Six cupcakes in one day, two-months-to-the-day before our daughter's wedding.  What?

Granted, since I went off gluten, I rarely have bread or cake around.  I guess the proximity of "safe" baked goods, following the long estrangement from them, was more than my common sense could handle.

This is not what I meant to write about.  I meant to write about catharsis, the kind I craved before I ate six cupcakes and needed it literally.

God has a way of reaching out and touching us when we need Him most.  Or maybe I should say: God has a way of reaching out and touching me when I need Him most.

One day, shaky and upset, I drove to Bible study full of prayers and supplications.  If I learned anything during my one semester of teaching English, I learned to pray in the car.  On this particular day, I prayed until He spoke to me.  "I love you," He said.  I tried to sing the childhood song, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so... "  My voice quavered and dropped out altogether on the high notes.  I parked and went into the study, late.  Inside, I walked towards the sanctuary, and as I drew near, I heard the voices of nearly 200 women singing, "Jesus Loves Me."

He is in control.  It's all His.

Some of it, He puts in our charge for awhile.  Children.  Homes.  Jobs.  Land.  Bank accounts.  Cars.  Little dogs?  We need to do the best we can in stewarding these things, but ultimately, they all belong to Him and we have to accept that, surrender to His will and His way.  Live faithfully and flexibly, both.

Times when there is the most stuff welling up in my heart, I write here abstrusely.  Months, years later I go back and find these entries, the ones where I danced around what was bugging me and wouldn't name it because somehow the Holy Spirit helped me maintain a modicum of wisdom.  You know what?  When I read the entries of mysterious withheld information, I can't remember the things I was withholding.  I only remember that I was troubled, but God carried me through, and I am no longer in that place.

God is good.

Sometimes it is hard for me to grasp His goodness because His ways are so different from mine.  David says that this is because we are concerned about our comfort, but God is concerned about what is best for us, which often is not comfortable.

Yesterday at the brunch, somebody said that worry is always unbelief, lack of faith in God.  I do not agree.  For me, worry is not primarily that I lack faith, it is that I lack courage.  I believe that God is in control and that He will do what is best.  I just know from experience that I usually don't like or enjoy what is best, and that is why I worry.  I fear the inevitable pain of sanctification.

Growth hurts.  Character development is painful.  Fruit comes from suffering, not from sitting around eating chocolate cake and telling jokes.  Roses grow best when you hack out the deadwood and chop off the superfluous branches.  It's not all seeds, water and fertilizer.  A beautiful garden, like a beautiful life, demands a great deal of weeding and pruning.

But God is good.  He is.

He even has a sense of humor.

The other day I was fretting away over some problem, and I started telling Him, "Well, You could do this, and then You could do that, and then after that, You could do this..."

Suddenly, inside my head, I heard His rich-as-plum-pudding voice start to chuckle at me and He said, "Oh I can, can I, Ruthie?"  Seriously.  As though He were saying, "Ha ha ha ha!  You'd let me do that?"  But all He said was, "Oh I can, can I, Ruthie?"

I found myself, as they say, duly chastened.  I apologized, "I'm sorry, Lord.  Of course You have a better plan than I have, and You will do this Your way."  In those moments, He did not humiliate me.  He spread His feathers over me gently and communicated love to me, maybe even delight.  I felt like He found me humorously endearing, if out-of-bounds.  I felt close to Him in the best possible way.

Shawn and I were on the interstate last weekend, driving home as the sun sank in the western sky.  Majestic white clouds surrounded the sun, but it gilded their edges gold where they touched it, and lower down, streaming through the places where the clouds thinned here and there, beams of light showered the earth with glory.

God is good.  He lifts our faces and turns His face towards us.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

"For You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me."
        ~Psalm 86:17b (NIV)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[oh... in case you want the recipe...]

Coconut flour cupcakes

  • 4 eggs at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla (or more; I am a big believer in vanilla)
  • 1/3 cup honey (don't bother with raw, because you kill everything good in it when you bake it anyway)

Beat eggs.  Beat in the other ingredients.

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour (really, that's all)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Sift together.  Add to egg mixture. Add...

  • 2 Tbsp milk (I use whole)

{Do not forget the milk.  Sometimes I do, and they do not come out as nicely.}
Stir together.  Portion into 8 cupcake cups.  Make exactly 8.  Be sure to line your muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.  This batter is super sticky and will not come out of your muffin tin if you do not use the paper liners.

Bake at 350F for 17-20 minutes.  (Mine have never been done in less than 20)

Faux Chocolate Ganache

Slowly and carefully melt...
  • 2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate a glass measuring cup in the microwave.  Add...
  • 3-4 Tbsp coconut oil
  • sweetener to taste (I used 1/2 tsp powdered Nustevia, and it was still quite bitter so I added 2 tsp sugar, and it was still quite bitter, but also at that point pretty tasty)

Let cool thoroughly (like overnight) and spread on the cupcakes (which also must be completely cool).  This gets hard like candy in the refrigerator, but is very runny at 80 degrees.

I made the recipe twice, rather than doubling it, which was another reason why I probably ate so many... I had to test both batches, of course.