Sunday, December 30, 2007

Apple pie!!!!!

Shannon said, "Hey Mom! Let's do something FUN!" So we made an apple pie together. She peeled the apples and sliced them. I made the crust and mixed the suger and spices. Laura, who would ordinarily be a lot of help, was painting six inch vertical stripes in yellow and white on her bedroom walls.
Look at that beautiful, sugar encrusted pie crust. Here are some pie tips:
  1. I ordinarly refuse to eat shortening in any way shape or form, but it is necessary for a good pie crust, unless you have lard. My grandma kept a bucket next to her stove and poured off the fat from beef into it, so she always had lard. Once I had lard left from a roast beef and I made a pie crust with it. It was the best crust I ever ate. But in the absence of lard, use Crisco.
  2. Sprinkle some flour into the bottom of the pie plate before laying in the bottom crust. Just do it.
  3. Never bake a fruit pie at 400 for however long they say. Bake it at 350 for an hour, and then start to check it every 10 minutes until the juices start to bubble out.
  4. If you are married to my husband (which, I am glad to say, you are not, but maybe your husband feels the same way...) always sprinkle the top crust with sugar before baking.
  5. Always, always, always remember to dot the fruit GENEROUSLY with butter (REAL butter) before putting on the top crust. Use at least 1/4 cup (1/8 lb.)

Enough already. Here's a piece of pie. Doesn't it look good? I ate that piece of pie, thank you very much.
But before I ate it, I took a picture to remember it by.

Here is my pie, Shawn's pie and Jonathan's pie. Note the flaky crust, the apples swimming in buttery sauce speckled with cinnamon and nutmeg, the dreamy ice cream. Laura was painting her room and Shannon was in there with her, reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen aloud to keep her entertained whilst she worked. DJ was at church, because he is better than the rest of us. Not really, I'm just on a guilt trip--tonight I ate apple pie AND skipped church.

Food pics

I am experimenting with taking pictures of food with my new camera. Shannon and Laura made these cookies. Don't they look luscious?

Here is a bowl of fruit. There are apples under the oranges, but I didn't think to pull one out so you could see it. None of it will last long. Apples, oranges and bananas go as fast as cookies around here, sometimes faster. And is it any wonder? Just look at them!

Here is a Yule Log, also known as a Buche de Noel. This is a traditional Christmas dessert for our family. It is a chocolate jellyroll rolled up with whipped cream. It is surprisingly easy to make. Julia Child used to decorate these with meringue "mushrooms". I don't.

Here is Jonno enjoying his yule log. Actually he is cracking up because he had been making disturbing faces and I yelled at him.

This is not a picture of food. This is a picture of my handsome husband. He likes this picture because he looks swarthy in it. Swarthy is one of his favorite words but, being Swedish, he has never been very successful at attaining the swarthy look (I go for the clean cut look myself, so it really isn't a problem). Still, Shawn was quite taken with the swarthiness we achieved through lighting, F-stops and stuff like that, and photo editing afterwards.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Our girls are so strong!

Our girls are so strong! Look at them playing with their dad!

They swing him UP. . .

They swing him DOWN. . .

And then. . . they DROP HIM!

Poor Dad. But he's still smiling. Actually he has a bigger smile than some of these girls with sore backs.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I haven't been blogging much lately.  Maybe that's because David says blogging is of the devil, which intimidates me into staying away from it--at least when he is home.

I never even wrote about how Shannon, Jonathan and I went and cut down a Christmas tree.  I'm not sure what day that was, or how it worked out.  It was not the weekend; I think it was a Friday, and for some reason Shannon and Jonathan were not at school.  Everybody else was busy and the days were getting down to the wire, so Shannon and Jon and I got in the van and drove to Mexico, NY.  We were the only people at Grangers' Tree Farm.  They loaned us a sharp saw, and we hiked into the woods, and Jon picked out a tree and cut it down, all by himself.  Shan and I carried it out of the woods.  It turned out to be a GREAT tree--really tall and not too fat.  It fills up the vault in the family room ceiling without covering up the fireplace like last year's tree.

I got a camera for Christmas, so maybe I can start posting some pictures pretty soon.  We didn't take any pictures until after Christmas, but that's OK.

We didn't buy as much this year, and it was a really nice thing.  We decided there was no need to go all out, because the kids weren't even asking for anything.  We are content--we have everything we need and most everything we can even think of to want.  How blessed we are, and we don't even stop to think about it very often.  With less gifts, the mess after gift opening was so much smaller!  And in the ensuing days, it wasn't such a squeeze to fit our new acquisitions into the house.  Such beautiful peace!  I gave each child a family game so we could enjoy playing games together over the school vacation.  Last night we played Balderdash, which was fun.  I love having a family of six.  It is just perfect for family game nights.

The kids all bought gifts for each other, with their own money, and they are big enough to drive one another out to stores without us, so it was just great!  It was such a blessing to see them get excited and enjoy the pleasure of giving... something they never had the opportunity to do back when I did all their Christmas shopping for them.  I love having older kids.  I just love it.

We didn't make all that many Christmas cookies this year, either.  We made my original recipe of Spiced Christmas Cut-Outs (a.k.a. "Little Brown Boy Cookies"), and that is just about (not quite) all we did.  I did not mind having less sweets around--besides it made my birthday cake on 12-22 that much more appealing, and for once it was all consumed before it was dried out and nasty.

We had a relaxing family Christmas, and we enjoyed it.  These days, it is such a rare treat just to be able to be together at home and relax.  We visited the O'Briens for Christmas dinner, and Frisbies were there, and after dinner about 12-14 teenagers came (at various times).  At one point, a young man came in the front door saying, "Merry Christmas!" and as he went off to the basement to join the other kids, Debbie O'Brien looked at me and said, "Do you know who that is?  I don't!"  We have been doing Christmas with the O'Briens for six years or more now, and this has never happened, so I wonder if it is because the Frisbies are very popular with teenagers that we had all these extra people.  Strange--the Frisbies' two kids were the only ones who were NOT in the basement.  (?)  Amber wasn't feeling well--she had a bad cold.

So all in all it was a very satisfying and pleasant Christmas, and it was a joy to see how much fun and contentment there can be with less gifts.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


MP stands for maternal-paternal, meaning the paternal side of the maternal side, which is my father's family.

I am thinking about family and roots and heritage, because it is Christmas time and, after shopping, the economy and massive giftage, family is what the world focuses on in the midst of holiday festivities.

My dad's family is English. They have been in America just about since it began. I was always told that we are related to George Washington's mother. This always seemed strange to me until I grew up and read a book about George Washington, and in reading I learned that George Washington never had any children of his own. He married a young widow who had two children whom he adopted, but he never personally reproduced. So I guess being related to Washington's mother is about as close to being related to Washington as you can be.

The family name is Rainbow. I understand from the family lore that some of the English Rainbows were notorious. Of three Rainbow brothers, one was a criminal and was sent to Australia, one came to America, and one stayed in England.

There are actually some Rainbows of English heritage here in Syracuse, NY, but I have never been gutsy enough to contact them and ask if there is any connection.

My grandma and grandpa met in Iowa. Grandma's father was a schoolteacher. Grandpa's father was a gentleman farmer. They were quite well off... until the depression.

Living in New York, I get the sense that easterners were not as affected by the depression as midwesterners. The Great Depression was totally traumatic for my father's family. His dad was a hard worker and a responsible person, but there just wasn't enough. My dad grew up in a family of seven children, he had a sister and two brothers ahead of him, and a sister and two brothers after him. It went like this: Virginia, Jack (really John Corbin), Bud (really William Clark), my dad--Jim (James Robert), Marilyn, Douglas and Donald.

Dad has great stories about growing up, some happy and some sad. He used to tell me stories at night before I went to sleep, and then he would sing me hymns. He told me about how he and Jack and Bud and Marilyn would run around in the country in Iowa and try to jump over puddles without getting a "wet foot." He told me about how once when Marilyn was very little and just learning to use the toilet, she fell in.  He came along at the opportune moment and... flushed it.  I believe he got in pretty big trouble for trying to dispose of his little sister like that.  He told me about how his mother used to work in a grocery store in Iowa. This store was owned by a man who had an insane sister. She used to wear a dress and pantyhose into the store.  She would walk among the aisles and when nobody was looking she would lift up her dress and drop cans of food into her pantyhose until she was dragging heavy-laden stockings with cans hanging all around her ankles. The store owner had instructed my grandma just to leave her alone. My dad said my grandma wished she could have had some of that food to feed her family.

My dad says he and his siblings only got a half a glass of milk per day. He loved his milk and always wished for more. I think I heard a lot about this because I hated milk and refused to drink it at all. One of my dad's favorite childhood meals was lima beans, which his mother would cook and serve in a "gravy" over slices of bread. My mother surmises that he liked this meal so well because it was one of the only meals they ate that was plentiful enough to fill him up. My dad adored canned peaches, which were a rare treat. As a child, he promised himself that one day he would grow up and work hard and make so much money that he would be able to eat a bowl of canned peaches every day. For as long as I lived at home, my dad always ate the same breakfast: a tall glass of skim milk, a medium glass of orange juice, two slices of home baked white bread (toasted and buttered) and a bowl of canned peaches.  Now he eats Cheerios so he can stay off Lipitor; his cholesterol is under 200.  He still eats a bowl of fruit, and it usually has a base of peaches.

When my dad was about ten, he had a paper route. He says that Jack got the clothes when they were new, Bud got them when they were worn out, and by the time he got them, they were in shreds. I suppose he wanted the paper route largely so he could buy himself some clothes. Minnesota winters are cruelly cold. That is one thing I truly do not miss about living in Minnesota, even though we now live in Syracuse where winter is no stranger and we get record snowfalls. But unless you have lived in Minnesota, I don't think you can understand the depth of the cold, how it freezes down and doesn't thaw until spring, how the snow that falls in November doesn't melt until May, how minus 20 degrees feels on your eyeballs when you blink on an average winter morning, waiting for the schoolbus.

So anyway, my dad, at ten, was out trying to deliver newspapers in a coat that had been worn by Jack and worn out by Bud, and he was cold. One day he was walking downtown and saw the warm lights of Colburn-Hilliard's menswear store. He went in and smelled the rich scents of leather and wool, saw the racks of thick, warm, beautifully made men's clothing. He walked over to a rack of warm, woolen jackets and reached out to touch one, feeling the thick wool and heavy lining and dreaming about what it would be like to deliver papers in such a jacket.  It was 1942 and the coat cost $4. The store owner came over and said hello, and my dad had a thought. He said, "Sir, this is a very nice jacket. I would like to buy it from you, but I don't have the money yet. I have a paper route, though, and I will bring you a quarter every week when I get paid, if you will just keep this jacket for me and not sell it to anybody else until I can pay you for it." The man looked my dad over and sized up his worn out shoes and the holes in his elbows and the patches on his knees. "I'll tell you what, son," he said, "You just give me what you can right now, and you can take the jacket with you. I trust you to pay me every week."

My dad's family was an anomaly. They were poor, but they had class. They read poetry and spoke proper English. Manners and aesthetics were very important to them. They worked hard and dreamed big, and when the depression was over, they rose from the ashes. Grandma taught me to cut up apples and section oranges, then use the pieces to create circle designs on a plate, a beautiful visual fruit salad. At Grandma's house everything was special, everything had its own little ceremony. She read me poems and played records for me to listen to. She introduced art projects, cooking projects, even gardening projects, and she had a way of making each one so special and precious. She let me pop popcorn in her fireplace.  Of course, by the time I came around, they weren't poor anymore. But in plenty or in want, Grandma had a way of sitting down and looking at you and listening to you, asking you all the right questions to touch your heart and stimulate your creativity.

I was astonished to learn, much, much later, that Grandma had been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown when my dad was little. He remembers driving to the hospital, and how he and his siblings would sit out in the car and wait for their dad while he went in and visited her. My grandma was the most kind, gracious, amazing person I ever met, so learning that she was overwhelmed and overcome back in the days when all her kids were little gives me great hope for myself. I didn't learn about this until after my kids were past the most difficult stages, when I really thought I was losing my mind, and I kind of wish I had known earlier. But just the same, it gives me hope for my own future.

Rainbows are cheerful, generally. They are tender hearted and have a good sense of humor. Their eyes tend to twinkle, and they have a knack for catching beauty and laughter and priceless moments. One day I was visiting my Aunt Marilyn when Shannon, David and Laura were very small. Aunt Marilyn has lived in absolutely stunning homes, so I was a little nervous about the children and their behavior. David was about two, maybe three. As Aunt Marilyn and I chatted, she at one point gestured quietly toward David. I looked and saw that he was picking up a candlestick off her end table. I moved to stop him, but she silently motioned me to wait and watch. David set the candlestick on the floor, backed up, ran towards it and jumped. Marilyn burst into a huge grin, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick!” she reminded me.

Rainbows have a rare appreciation for beauty and for the unusual and eccentric, which is probably why two of them (Jack and my dad) married Herbold women. We’ll talk about that next time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rat race

The rat race can stop anytime now.  Really.

I mailed the packages--only three this year because I wimped out and sent gift cards to most the relatives.

The family shopping is mostly done.  Mine is, anyway.

I look forward to family breakfasts and games played by the fire in the family room, hot cocoa and Christmas music in the background.  I don't care about gifts and stuff like that.  Pajamas beat party clothes.  I just want the frantic schedule to stop.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A poem

There was a cold woman
Who lived in a house,
She always wore her coat
But the cold still made her grouse.
She turned on the fire
And sat on the floor
Soaking heat from the hearth
Far away from the door.

Do you know that whenever something has to be recycled, I try to hand it to another family member because I so dread opening the door to the garage and feeling the icy blast that hits whomever is throwing something into the recycling bin?  I am very thankful whenever another family member recycles something for me.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Out of the closet

We have a closet in our front hall. I suppose it is supposed to be where we put the coats of our guests when they come over, but to do so would generally be a serious health hazard. At least, that was true until last Thursday.

This closet has old dress coats from when the girls were little, current family coats, and a lot of miscellaneous stuff, not the least of which is all of our non-Christmas wrapping supply. Every time I buy wrapping paper to wrap a gift, the leftovers are stowed in this closet. When we receive a gift in a gift bag, after extracting said gift, I pop the gift bag into the closet, and the tissue paper, which I fold and tuck into a box with my opened and half-used packages of new tissue paper. Especially pretty bows go in there, too, and nice baskets filled with raffia.

On Thursday, I cleaned out the closet. It was at the point where you didn't dare to open the door for fear of what would fall on you. Since I do tend to keep coats that we wear in there, this was quite inconvenient. The wrapping supplies needed to be taken in hand. When you can't use things, there is no use in saving them. The point of saving something is to someday be able to find it, access it, and use it.

I emptied the closet into the foyer. Wow. Let’s just say I did a lot of sneezing. I had no idea how much stuff I had, and how randomly it was stored. It seemed to multiply as it came out, until I drafted a very large, tattered gift bag to hold garbage, and then later a few very large boxes. I also did a lot of vacuuming. I had to change the vacuum bag mid-project and clean the vacuum filter. I was very productive.

Do you know what I found?! I found the original box where I used to store the things the kids made when they were tiny. I thought that was long gone. I know that if I go through that box I will find the original papers on which Shannon and DJ first wrote their names. Shannon was only two when she first wrote hers. We had read a story about somebody who needed to be able to write his name so he could get a library card. I closed the book and set it down, and Shannon leaped out of my lap, proclaiming, “I write my name!” She ran to her highchair, where she usually colored, and climbed up. I gave her a piece of paper and a crayon. I wrote her name in big, block letters, and she laboriously copied it over. I’m pretty sure the S and at least one of the N’s were backwards.

The thing I remember about David first writing his name is that he did it backwards. I am clueless about left and right, but people had been telling me he was left handed ever since he was about six months old. He grasped the pencil in his left hand and made a perfect, fairly small, capital D. Then he moved his hand to the left. I tried to guide him to move to the right, but he shook me off. He moved to the left and made a perfect I. Then left again, and a V. As I watched, he spelled out his name perfectly in small, neat capital letters, DAVID, and when he finished you never would have guessed that he had done it backwards. I found the box that has the paper in it that DJ did this on! How amazing is that?

I also found a box that is full of old notebooks and folders of my “creative writing” from long ago. Was I ever unorganized. But somehow, I don’t want to part with it. I have faith (maybe false faith) that someday I will organize it all and be inspired to write the novel. It’s just one unassuming box, not too big.

I went through loads and loads of gift wrap, threw away a lot, and organized the remainder into accessible containers of tissue paper, wrapping paper, bows and neatly folded gift bags. In order to do this, I had to go through numerous gift bags and empty them. Some held empty packages from toys. Some produced candy wrappers, buttons, Easter grass, old cards, and paperclips. There was a lot of dust. At one point I found something that indicated that I had not cleaned this closet for seven years (wish I could remember what it was—it’s a blur). Somebody should fire me from this housewife gig.

At the bottom of a particularly classy bag, I found a giant Symphony bar—you know, Hershey’s milk chocolate with almonds and toffee—my favorite. I remembered it, it was from Valentine’s Day, 2006. I was happy to find it. It was well wrapped—even had a couple layers of tissue around its own intact wrapper.

It’s just fine; I already ate a square. The best thing is—no competition. When I told the kids it was from 2-14-06, they said, “Eeewwwww.” It’s all mine, people, it’s all mine.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My Christmas list

These are the things I would be tickled to receive for Christmas and/or my birthday:

1)  (the long shot)  Plane tickets for the whole family to go to Minnesota over Christmas break.
2) A leather coat, black or very dark brown (because I shed, and I am tired of trying to pick all the hairs off my wool coat).
3) A nice digital camera and someone who can teach me how to post pictures here, on this site.
4) A new showerhead for our bathroom, one that comes off the wall and sprays where you want it to spray (e.g. when you are cleaning the tile).
5) Something pretty--probably a necklace.  Not too big, not too funky.  Good colors for stones would be red, black or dark brown.
6)  Rubber scrapers
7)  Pot holders
8)  BBC movies of British books (David Copperfield?  Middlemarch?  James Herriot?)
9)  Our Mutual Friend, the book by Dickens.
10)  A pair of really beefy kitchen shears, the kind you can use to cut through poultry joints.

I could use some clothes, too, but I probably need to pick them out myself.  Ugh.

By the way, please forgive me for being so self-centered.  But I can't list what I plan to get for other people, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


So many Americans are overweight. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of books, theories, over the counter pills, surgeries, therapies and motivational speakers that all claim to help people lose weight. Yet the average American continues to get fatter every year. Even children are obese. What to do?

The first thing is that we have to come to terms with a fact that nobody likes: When it comes to nature, you can't beat the system. Any attempt to trick nature will inevitably backfire on you. I believe that this is because God created nature, and any human attempt to "improve" upon it is destined to ill fate. Whatever you believe, the evidence is there, it doesn't work to try to get around the natural order of things. As the old saying used to go, "It's not nice to trick Mother Nature."

I believe that the incredible increase in obesity in America is due to the fact that instead of learning the system and working within it, the mindset is always to find a way to get around it, to seem to be having more when you are really having less. It just doesn't work, folks.

My family is not overweight. And guess what? We use real butter, real olive oil, real sugar and real meat. We sit down to meals together and enjoy them. We have dessert, for goodness sake! Artificial sweeteners are taboo in this house, not only because I get wicked migraines from them, but also because I believe that they make you fat.

Artificial sweeteners make you fat? Yes, I believe they do. Your body was designed to take in a certain amount of sugar, to maintain a certain blood sugar level. Your taste buds were designed to help you do that, appropriately. When you eat or drink something that tastes sweet but does not deliver the expected blood sugar, your body is cheated. Something happens, and the body begins to crave more sweets. The more it is cheated, the more sweets it craves. In the end, artificial sweeteners stimulate the body to consume more calories (particularly sweet ones) than ever, because of distorted appetite.

The Bible says, "My soul will be satisfied, as with the richest of foods," (Psalm 63:5). Of course, this is talking about how God Himself is truly the answer to our deepest longings, and we must not lose sight of that. But there is also an implicit understanding here that people see mot have forgotten in the present age: Rich foods are satisfying, and it is good to be satisfied. It is also good to know when you are satisfied, and to stop consuming and just enjoy the feeling of being satisfied.

There are three principles that I think would help most people in America lose weight if they followed them.

(1) Learn how to cook well, and then eat delicious, satisfying, home-made food. These days it is cheaper to buy Little Caesar’s pizza or burgers off the “value” menu at Wendy’s or MacDonalds than to cook a nutritious meal at home. But it is still worth it to cook at home. The wholesome ingredients and the satisfaction of sitting down to a family dinner can not be duplicated with $5 of fast food. You know that. It’s obvious. So learn how to cook—GOOD food. Master roast chicken, beef pot roast, lasagna, chili, homemade macaroni and cheese from scratch, meatloaf, tuna noodle casserole, beef stew, homemade chicken soup, the list goes on. Don’t just decide that nobody likes it because all you have ever eaten was burgers, pizza and tacos with the lettuce and tomatoes left off. If you didn’t like your mother’s recipes, find new ones. Learn to puree your butternut squash and eat it with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Steam your green beans with little pieces of bacon. Pour heavy cream on your Brussels sprouts. Butter and salt your corn. Peel up some apples and bake an apple crisp. Fix your food with love, make it taste good, and then sit down and eat a nice, satisfying meal.

(2) Do not eat indiscriminately between meals. There are times when a snack is appropriate. At our house, we used to have a snack just before 4 p.m. This was mainly because, in my childbearing years, if I didn’t eat shortly before 4 p.m. I would descend into a downward spiral of nausea that lasted a l-o-n-g time. It was also because Shawn comes home from work late, and dinner is never before 7 p.m., so the little ones had to have something to tide them over to dinner after their naps. Now the afternoon snack is simply upon arrival home from school. It involves sandwiches, leftovers from dinner the night before, fruit, any baked goods that might be around, bowls of cold cereal, crackers, cheese and often chocolate milk. The other night we had a lovely snack comprised of homemade hot cocoa, Amish friendship bread, corn chips and salsa, apples and almonds. It was a Sunday, and the snack took the place of dinner on a hectic weekend. So if you need a snack, schedule it in. But do not, I repeat, DO NOT eat constantly all day long. It is very important, if you are to maintain a healthy weight, to be able to discern when you are hungry and when you are full. If you eat out of habit, because you are bored, or just simply because something looks tasty, whether you are hungry or not, you are sure to be heavier than you ought to be. Eating is not like breathing… you don’t do it all the time. Eating is much more like going to the bathroom (same system, you know). You do it at intervals, and between intervals, you feel fine and think about other things (unless you are sick, but that’s different). When your body signals you that you need to do it again, you arrange to do so, and afterwards you again go off and do other things.

(3) Let yourself get hungry. I cannot tell you how many parents I have watched feed their children every minute of the day—a dish of dry cereal, a cup of juice, a cookie, a cracker, some chips, more cereal, more cookies—snacks by their side while they are playing with their toys, while they watch TV, even when they go outside with friends, they take a snack along. Then at dinnertime, the family sits down to the meal and the children pick at their food and only put down the tastiest parts. The poor kids aren’t hungry. Nothing appeals to them. Of course they only want dessert. Let your kids get hungry. Let yourself get hungry. It is a good thing to get hungry. Foods taste so much better when you have a true appetite

Other things that help with weight—do not confuse hunger with thirst, and learn to drink water. In fact, if you think your body is confused on this point, make a rule to yourself to always counter your first urge to eat by drinking a glass of water. You may be surprised how much this satisfies. Of course, if you are truly hungry, the water won’t help, but it won’t distort your appetite, either, and having water in your stomach when you sit down to eat may help you to feel full faster and thus eat less at the meal.

Do not make food your main focus. Enjoy it at the proper time, and thank God for it. If you are sad or angry, do not turn to food for comfort. It will always make you feel worse, if not immediately, a few days later when you see the pounds you’ve put on. For physical hunger, go to food, eat and be satisfied. For emotional hunger, pray, read a good book, do a good deed, talk to a friend, or, if all else fails, sleep. Never eat to fill an emotional void.

Don’t eat gross things that are loaded with artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, refined sugar and corn syrup sweeteners. Tear off their trendy, slick disguises and see them for what they are—junk food. And do not eat them. I mean really, what do you want? A blue sour-patch something or other with crystallized something or other all over it, or a homemade brownie with pecans and fudge frosting (real butter, no trans fats)? Or would you rather have some Bugles or a serving of beef tenderloin? Recognize what is gross, and never eat it.

It isn’t that hard. It just requires some retraining. If you have terrible eating habits, talk to your doctor, but I would recommend fasting for a day, and then slowly adding back foods, drinking lots of water, until you are getting hungry and satisfying your hunger with regularly scheduled meals at least 3 hours apart. Try it; you might like it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Two in one day

They say it never rains, it only pours. Today it is blizzarding and I almost had a fatal car crash whilst attempting to pick up my dog, Schubert, after he was surgically altered (neutered). I slid past the vet's office and fishtailed around in the turning lane between two crazy lanes of rush-hour-during-a-blizzard coming from opposite directions on each side of me.

Of course I prayed, like crazy, and God was merciful (see previous entry). The irony was that I had to turn around in the parking lot of the psychic who lives on the far side of the vet. How mortifying it is to sit in the turn lane of a busy road during a blizzard and look like you are taking your life into your own hands in order to get a psychic reading.

We have been having issues lately. Safety issues. Car issues. You name it.

This past weekend was the New York State School Music Association All-State Conference (NYSSMA) in Rochester, NY. DJ went with his saxophone. He didn't make the All-State jazz band, but we went over to Rochester on Saturday night to hear the NYSSMA jazz band play. It was pretty good, but it was kind of like when you put together an all-star basketball team to play in the Olympics--everybody was trying to take the shot (or the solo, as the case may be). There is so much competition and jealousy among musicians, sometimes I honestly wonder why we devote so much time, energy and money to music in this family.

I was glad that DJ was not in the NYSSMA jazz band. Totally and unreservedly glad. And not because of anything I just mentioned. I was glad because of this: If you had been there, you might have noticed that it was held in a smallish, clubby-feeling auditorium. The first six rows of seats were on the main floor. Then there was a section that inclined at about 45 degrees. Above that, in the uppermost section, the seats rose at an angle of about 60 degrees. In the 45 degree section, there were wooden banisters. In the 60 degree section, there was a sort of metal loop on only one side of the aisle, about one every three seats or so.

When we arrived, the auditorium was already mostly full. We entered on the left side and climbed all the way to the top without finding three seats together (it was Shawn, Jonathan, and me). Jonathan spied three seats together over on the right side of the auditorium, but you had to descend to ground level, walk across and then climb up again on the other side. He took off like a mountain goat. I struggled to follow him… and tripped. Mind you, I was in the section where the seats inclined at a 60 degree angle, where the hand rails were so few and far between as to be virtually non-existent. Had there been anything to grab, I would have been able to save myself. But I fell, in slow motion like a bad dream, down five or six incredibly steep stairs.

I finally landed in the back of the shoulder of a poor unfortunate man. I apologized profusely and asked him if he was okay. He was nice, genteel in fact, and didn’t yell at me or call me a stupid clumsy fool to my face, for which I will be forever grateful. I probably gave him wicked whiplash, but he said, “I’m fine, it’s YOU I’m worried about.” I could tell I’d hit my knee pretty hard on something, but I choked back tears of pain and shame and said, “I’m fine,” and took off trying to catch up with Jonathan as fast as I possibly could.

So that is why I was glad DJ wasn’t there. He would have been so ashamed, probably nearly as ashamed as I was.

We got home late that night and Laura had plans to sleep over at a friend’s house because she needed to be at church the next day, and the rest of us were going back to Rochester to hear DJ play in the All-State Symphonic Band. Shannon was going to take her over to her friend’s house, and I decided to go along because I needed a few things from the grocery store. We got about a quarter of a mile from home, and Shannon made a careful right turn with a green light, followed by two careful lane changes for which she signaled responsibly. Just then we saw those dreaded lights behind us.

Yes, we were pulled over. After sitting and waiting with sweaty palms and shaky knees for about 10 minutes, we learned from a harsh-faced trooper that we had a headlight out. He gave Shannon a ticket. Ugh.

The next morning we drove to Rochester again, in a blizzard. The concert was really good, and on the way home we enjoyed a van-picnic made from groceries I had purchased the previous night after getting a ticket.

It was overcast on the way home. Shawn turned on the lights for safety (I hope it is obvious that we had not had a chance to fix our headlight between 11 p.m. on Saturday night and 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, which is when we had to leave for Rochester). But anyway, on the way home, about half a mile from our thruway exit, we drove past a trooper who was parked off to the side of the road. Sure enough, he pulled out behind us and pulled us over again for driving with only one headlight. At 2:38 in the afternoon, if you can imagine. This trooper, however, was nicer than the one the night before, and he gave us a form that we could send in to prove to the court that we had fixed the light (which Shawn did immediately upon arriving home).

All-State Band, being pulled over by a policeman (twice), getting my dog neutered, almost perishing in an accident, and on top of that, Laura’s ballet class (the one she teaches) had a recital Sunday afternoon right when we got home. That’s enough to put me under. It’s hard to face a busy week when you get no rest on the weekend. I am HOPING for a snow day tomorrow so we can all sleep in.

It never rains, it only pours, except when it snows.

Justice and mercy

The human condition is to desire that justice be brought to everyone except oneself--one desires mercy for oneself.

The American condition is to assume that mercy is an entitlement.  Of course that is an oxymoron, because mercy, by definition, cannot be an entitlement.  Mercy is when something bad is supposed to happen to you, but out of random benevolence, someone (or Someone) finds a solution so that you do not have to suffer the pain that you have coming.

Loopholes are not an entitlement, either.

Try telling that to the American Bar Association.

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.