Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the year

So it is the last day of the year.

I guess it was a better year than last year, in most regards.

Shannon has successfully matriculated into graduate school and is doing well living on her own.

David is getting healthier.

Jonathan is more interested in his schoolwork.

The situation at Shawn's company is now stable; the end of our vacation was not ruined this year by company issues.

My dad had a heart attack, but he is doing well, and it got me an extra trip out to see him.

We found a new church where we will probably stay. We will stay at least until Jonathan graduates from high school, barring something odd and unexpected.

We still haven't done anything with our land except pay taxes on it. At this point, I am in favor of selling it and putting the proceeds into college tuition. I am sick of dreaming of a dream house. I think it makes me edgy, discontented. We have a very nice house. I don't need a dream house. However, I would like some nasty carpet replaced. And I would like to replace the chandeliers that I have always disliked, because if I am staying here, I don't think it is so bad to put up some lights that I like instead of these ones I have never been able to embrace. Maybe I'm tired of trying to be a good sport. Maybe there are those who would say I never was a good sport.

I'd like to earn some money, (1) so I could hire a bit of help with the housekeeping and (2) so I could help out with college tuition. Somehow, though, it doesn't seem to make sense to go to work at Wegman's, checking groceries, just so I can pay somebody to help me clean. I'm thinking of starting a new blog and monetizing it, but I doubt if that would net me more than $20-$25 per month, if that, based on the popularity I am experiencing as a writer here.

I feel a little down today. Bet that's a shocking surprise. My girls will be leaving soon; it's been dark and gray all day; and I've been itching like crazy all over my body for about three or four days straight. Also junk I can't mention.

God is good, but there are days when I just fail to feel it. There are so many days when I want to be comfortable and creative, to experience beauty and warmth and whatever... love, kindness, cooperation, likemindedness, success, joy, accomplishment. And God just doesn't see fit to grant all that stuff just because I want it, or want it for my family members. I have to struggle like the butterfly coming out of the chrysalis, and I hate this, this struggle, discomfort, disappointment.

And I get sick of trying. And I think I might go read a book, and not the Bible just right now, either. Just a plain old entertaining book to escape into, where I can think about somebody else's life that isn't mine.

I feel like the new year is coming while I hold my hands over my eyes and huddle in a fetal position.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holidays and celebrations

This morning, feeling the effects of too much sugar, too much butter and too much food, I thought a sort of cleansing diet would be helpful... nothing sweet, nothing with empty calories.

I began with a kefir-spinach-flaxseed smoothie which also had strawberries, peaches and stevia, and wasn't half-bad (although the kefir was pretty sour, as I've been getting a bit behind with the production process).

I also started boiling some eggs at the outset. I decided just to go for hard-boiled, as I've been having tremendous issues with the act of boiling eggs lately.

Green tea with a small wedge of lemon was just the ticket. After finishing my smoothie, I sat down with my tea to chat with Shawn. He was trying out some coffee beans that he and Jon roasted yesterday as a special Christmas project. In the middle of our chat, the timer rang for my hard boiled eggs. I went and got two, rinsed them under cold, running water, and sat down to peel them.

Upon being knocked gently on a napkin on the table, the first egg leaked liquid egg white. How can this be? Even now, as I sit here typing away, I cannot for the life of me figure out how, for days, every time we tried to cook soft boiled eggs for 3 minutes, they came out hard, but here I had cooked eggs for 15 minutes in an effort to produce hard-boiled, and they were not even to the point of a good soft-boiled egg.

I can cook. Really, I can. Although, clearly, I cannot boil eggs.

I quickly melted some butter in the frying pan and added what was left of the undercooked, cracked egg to finish cooking. I returned the other egg to the saucepan with the other eggs I thought I had already hard-boiled, and turned the flame back on to try to finish boiling them.

Then I puttered around and took a picture of the messy boxes in our living room in honor of Boxing Day.

And then I got intrigued and began to download all the holiday photos off my camera, which was a fun project until DJ walked into the kitchen and exclaimed, "Mom! What in the world is in this frying pan???"

As a punishment to myself, I ate it. It had a very crispy bottom.

Here are a few of the pictures that had distracted me:


This is from the night we decorated the Christmas tree (12-21-11).

Each of our kids has an ornament collection... we have a tradition of giving them an ornament every year from birth until high school graduation. By now it is very nostalgic to get out their collections and hang them on the tree. I wouldn't trade our memories of past Christmases for all the designer trees on HGTV.


I just like this picture of Shannon and Shawn sharing a moment during the tree-decorating. By now there are too many ornaments to all fit on the tree, so the kids unpack and look at all their ornaments, then take turns hanging them one-by-one (favorites first) until the tree is full. This was taken during somebody else's turn to hang.



My birthday.

I'd asked for "Blogging For Dummies," so maybe I can figure out what I'm doing here.



Me getting the vegetable brush I'd asked for (more birthday). Now we can start having celery again!


My cake.

I said I wanted one with my name on it.



The cake with candles.

The way they arranged the candles, it looks like I am 55, but I am really 46. Either way it makes 10 candles. They went for artistry and symmetry. But really, I am only 46, not 55.


I got them all.



Christmas morning.

Jon's stocking after he had emptied it and then stuffed some things (including his Nordic ski cap) back into it. We have brassy and tasteless stockings, and I embrace them. They make the morning fun.


The tree on Christmas morning.

Isn't it an odd custom to put gifts under the tree? I wonder where that idea ever arose? It reminds me of eggs under a chicken. (I guess I have eggs on my brain these days.)


Our little family room tree.

I got a fake one this year, which was not as nice as the miniature real tree we had last year, but it made me really happy anyway. Strange, how much I like having two Christmas trees. I kept the dogs toys under this one, because I have a sense of humor that way (just saying).



The kids, ready and waiting to open gifts.



Jon sporting a new sweater.



Laura going to town... those fingers are flying.



What's in there, David??




You know she's all grown up if she gets this happy about a set of flannel sheets.




Of course, Shawn has his coffee.



Unwrapping a joint gift together.



Shawn.

For some reason, this picture makes me want to say, "Happy Christmas, Harry!" with my best British accent. I don't know why.

Well, it was a good one. I'd better go clean.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It takes a chemist

I've been having a little trouble with my stomach lately.

The other day, DJ was fixing his breakfast and he asked if I would like him to make me some eggs. Being in a "delicate" condition, I wasn't up for the standard over-easy or scrambled.

"I would like a soft-boiled egg," I told him. He needed an explanation, so I elaborated: "You put the egg into a saucepan, as though you were going to hard-boil it. But then, when it comes to a boil, you only cook it 2-3 minutes instead of 15-20."

DJ proceeded to bring some eggs to a boil. We weren't quite sure exactly when they started to boil, but when he heard them start to jangle in the pan and saw them rolling around in the bubbling water, he turned off the heat, put on the lid and set the timer for 2 minutes.

Upon cracking the eggs over our toast, we found that the yolks were completely solid and rather light-colored, quite like hard-boiled eggs.

A day or two later, Shawn offered to cook me an egg.

"I would like soft-boiled, please," I said, "And we need to watch very carefully, because it is easy to overcook them."

Shawn watched very carefully, but he was not exactly sure what we meant by "boiling," so once more the eggs made it to a rolling boil. Upon being served a couple minutes later, they were again, for all practical purposes, hard-boiled. (It's a good thing we like hot hard-boiled eggs.)

This morning, I tried my own hand at making a soft boiled egg. I watched the pot meticulously (can you watch a pot meticulously?). Anyway, as soon as small bubbles began to rise, I turned off the gas flame, covered the pot, and set the timer for three minutes. Then I went to work on something else. Suddenly the timer went off, and I realized that I had forgotten to make the toast! I let out a cry of despair and Shawn came running from his computer where he had been beginning the day's work. "What's the matter? What happened?" he exclaimed.

"It's nothing. Just eggs," DJ told him. "I'm very sorry it disturbed you."

We put the eggs into a bowl of cool water in an effort to halt the cooking process, and I hurriedly made the toast.

Hard-boiled again.

DJ was a good sport and said his were the best yet, not really completely hard-boiled. I, however, got the top egg, the one that never made it down into the cool water in the bowl. It was very firm.

Then Shannon (who is home for the holidays) decided to try her hand at soft-boiling. After implementing the process as we described it to her, she brought her eggs to the table and cracked one over her toast. The yolk came out soft and warm, and she proceeded to use her knife to remove the firm-yet-pliable white onto her toast as well. Her eggs were perfect.

As I sat there sipping my tea from a teacup and wishing I could have a delicious soft-boiled egg someday, Shawn remarked, "I guess it just takes an accomplished chemist to make a good soft-boiled egg. Here is a young woman who understands where a boiling point is."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the season

I always have visions of a “perfect” Christmas season.

This would entail mysterious packages wrapped in brown paper tied with colored cotton string, and hand-stamped with red sleigh-bells and white snowflakes that I myself had skillfully carved from a raw potato. There would be a colossal, crooked, fragrant fir tree bedecked with white lights, candy canes, homemade frosted gingerbread men and hand-strung cranberries and popcorn.

Sprigs of fresh holly, boughs of pine, pine-cones and white beeswax candles would adorn every room. All plastic items, contraptions powered by batteries, and ribbons of synthetic-flocked-velvet would be thrust into outer darkness. Also, there would be no junk mail, no school papers, no homeless items anywhere. A place for everything and everything in its place.

We would do daily advent devotions by candlelight whilst wearing coordinating clothing of natural fabrics crafted in a style best described as “contemporary Victorian.”

The house would smell of pumpkin pie, spiced cider and nut breads. The sounds of instrumental Christmas carols would play endlessly in the background: oboe, violin, harp and wooden flute tootling softly through the hymnal.

Everyone would be happy, and full of secrets. There would be whispering and laughter and hustled tidying each time someone entered a room. One evening, we would pack up large cookie trays and song books, don long woolen coats, and go door to door through the neighborhood, singing of Christmas in four parts and delivering delicious baked goods up and down the street.

There would always be a fire in the fireplace and cardinals would flutter festively outside our windows, nibbling at homemade bird-feeders we would have hung from the beautiful bare trees.

At the end of each day
I would take a clove-scented bath
in a tub surrounded by candles
while listening to “Ave Maria.”

That is the vision.

Reality
is busy schedules, cheap pizza, hectic shopping trips to overcrowded malls... or worse (and even more likely): Wal-Mart. Reality is chintzy wrapping paper, hastily taped over boxes at 1 a.m. Christmas Eve (if we can find boxes; sometimes the wrapping paper is taped directly to the gift). Reality is messy life, lack of time, and fallible humans who sometimes rub each other the wrong way despite the best of intentions. Reality is snacking on wheat crackers and spreadable cheese from Aldi when there wasn’t time to make supper.

But hey. Aldi has delicious wheat crackers and very decent spreadable cheese. And if we are together at the table, perhaps with one of our favorite family games, and the gas fireplace is humming away while the lights glisten on a kitchy but lovable Christmas tree, it is still a good Christmas.

When Jesus takes us to heaven, we will experience perfection. For now, we can just enjoy what we have, all the imperfections and short-cuts and even the sour notes. Because this is life, and the asymmetry of it leads us to Jesus, and that is something to celebrate.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Something I like

I like going to bed at night before our outside Christmas lights have been turned off. Shawn hung white icicle lights along the roof line across the front of our house. I lie in my bed with the bedroom lights off, looking out my second story window at the white Christmas bulbs dangling in the dark, all twinkly and quiet. I like this. I like it best when the shades are up, but it is even nice to watch the twinkles shine around the edges of drawn shades.

There was a time when I hated Christmas lights, but I am over it. I like that our front entryway looks like a neon gingerbread house with the red and white tube lights that Shawn wound like candy-cane stripes around the front posts. I like the glowing multi-colored balls that line the peak of the little roof over our front step.

In the absence of any reflective snow, it is nearly as dark here as it must have been in Egypt during the plague of darkness. The winter solstice is upon us, and right now we need good cheer more than we need good taste. Light up the night!

Monday, December 5, 2011

post aborted

Well, I am actually sick.

After days and days of feeling tired, achy, listless, lethargic and just a general malaise (the other day I had to stop in the middle of peeling an orange and rest and take deep breaths -- even for a lazy lout like me, this is not normal), I now have real symptoms.

So I guess I feel a little less lazy, and I have hope that what I thought was depression was actually a physical thing that will pass with this illness.

I spent a lot of time in bed today, dozing, reading Revelation and running to the bathroom.

There was going to be a point to this post, but Jon is playing some sort of rousing band song on youtube on my computer downstairs, and my poor fragile thoughts are shattered by it. I totally forgot what I was going to write about.

So today will be stream of consciousness or nothing. Probably safer to go with nothing and end here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Depression and Thankfulness

I was going to write a post about all the things I am thankful for.

And then I got depressed.

Depression is a bit like a cold. Some depressions are like mild colds, and some are like bad colds. You get through them. It helps when you realize what they are.

I think.

Sort of.

Sometimes.

Being depressed is like having to fight like crazy not to have a bad attitude about everything and everyone. You feel envious of people who are happy, energetic, focused and in possession of goals. But you know you should not be jealous, and this makes you miserable, which increases your sense of depression, compounding it with guilt.

If you didn't realize that you should not be jealous, you would not feel the guilt, but then you would sink even deeper into bitter jealously, so ultimately it's a lose-lose situation. Although I suppose God can --at some point-- use the guilt to motivate you towards a productive action.

You look at the carpet that you have been trying to get replaced in your house for the past five years or so (give or take), and you go back to bed with a lump in your throat. When you get up again, you are even farther behind and that also makes you feel worse.

You are thankful. You are.

At least, I am.

I am thankful that I have great kids and a faithful husband with a steady job.

I am thankful that I live in a relatively nice, safe neighborhood in a house with a decent roof and insulation, in a home where I find consistent shelter from the outside world.

I am thankful that we have enough good food, cars that work, money for gas, and clothing to wear. Also, I am thankful for nubby socks--particularly the ones without holes.

I am thankful for my dishwasher, my washing machine, my vacuum and especially my hot water heater.

I am delightedly thankful for our gas fireplace, hot showers, cozy blankets, my cobalt blue tea kettle and my white teapot with the blue flowers.



I am thankful for my new church and new friends there. I am thankful for old friends, too. I am usually thankful for my dogs.

I am thankful for beautiful music, flowers, sunshine and newborn babies.

I should be overwhelmedly thankful for Jesus and the fact that He came to earth and died for my sins, rose again and is planning a glorious eternal future for me in heaven. I would be more thankful for that if I could wrap my mind around it better.

I have no real reason to be depressed.

It's just kind of like having a cold, and it will pass.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday -- ha


(Thanksgiving flowers)

Shawn says Black Friday doesn't exist in his world.

DJ says that Black Friday means we pull the shades and sleep until noon in the dark.

DJ also pointed out the irony that Americans supposedly spend all day Thursday giving thanks for the great abundance they are blessed with, and then roll up their sleeves to hit the malls on Friday, willing to draw blood and mow down their neighbors in their to-the-death competition to procure more stuff.

After cooking and cleaning up the turkey feast, I can't imagine who has energy to shop after Thanksgiving. Maybe it is the people who eat their dinner at a restaurant and thus (after receiving the bill) are desperate to save money on their Christmas gifts? I was exhausted last night, but blessedly able to sleep. I woke up at 8 and still felt like it was about 3 a.m. -- except for the bright sun streaming in around the edges of my window shades. I went back to bed.

We didn't sleep until noon, only about 10:00. I breakfasted on tea, leftover turkey, leftover pie, and citrus fruit.

It was a good Thanksgiving. We had the same menu as always, but we ate off the every-day dishes instead of the china. The turkey and praline squash were better than last year, and the Waldorf salad was not quite as good.


(pies, and me making praline squash in the background)

Speaking of the turkey... that was thirty pounds of deliciousness. Actually, I thought it was 29.88 lbs, so I've been happily calling it a 30 lb. turkey without any remorse. But I noticed on the label yesterday that it was actually 28.99 pounds, so I guess I was exaggerating more than I thought in my number-rounding process. But it was a gargantuan turkey.

A friend offered to loan me a turkey roaster. I don't think we could have done this project without that roaster. The turkey was technically too big, but I lined the sides with buttered aluminum foil where the turkey was plastered against them. The lid went on, and that was what mattered.


(topped the roaster with a towel to insulate)

I read up on roasting in a roaster, and applied a melange of the advice I found.

(1) I rinsed the turkey, rubbed it with olive oil, and sprinkled it with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, plenty of sage, and a bit of thyme and rosemary. I put plenty of the seasonings into the cavity.

(2) I coarsely chopped and/or quartered some onions, celery, a granny-smith apple and a lemon and stuffed them into the cavity as well.

(3) We put about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the roasting pan. Sources differ as to whether they recommend this step, but I wanted to be sure to have something for gravy.

(4) We placed the turkey in the roaster with the buttered foil along the sides.

(5) We turned the roaster up to nearly the highest setting and "seared" the turkey for 30 minutes.

(6) We roasted the turkey for 2 hours at 325, and then 4.5 more hours at 350, never lifting the lid once to check until seven hours had been completed.

Upon opening the roaster, the first thing I noticed was the leg meat falling from the leg bones. I thought perhaps it would be overcooked and dried out. But it was a the tenderest, moistest, most flavorful turkey I've ever had, except perhaps when I've brined them.



The first few bites were so delicious. Unfortunately, I got full practically before I even tasted some of everything. But you know, "there's always tomorrow..."


(DJ after eating his fill)

So I guess this post is more about Thanksgiving than it is about Black Friday. And I am glad, because I think that's the way it ought to be.


(The guys raked the rest of the leaves...)


(...and watched football.)


Lulu took pictures.


We ate our first meal in the dining room since we repainted this past summer. That is sparkling cider, non-alcoholic, and it was a delicious complement to the meal.


It was nice.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

All's well

My kids are all at home.

Last night, it felt so good to go to bed knowing that every bedroom was occupied. Every person was present and accounted for. Six sets of DNA-sharing lungs would be breathing the air in this very house, all night long.

I fell asleep listening to them bantering out in the hall about whose turn it was in the bathroom. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Today we had a family photo shoot with a family friend who is a wonderful photographer. We walked around on this perfect fall day amongst crunchy leaves, brick buildings, metal bridges, park benches and grassy banks on the side of a canal. Our photographer took tons of pictures, and we laughed, climbed, and leaned against one another.

At the end we were chilly, so we warmed up with some fancy coffee drinks in a trendy little coffee shop, and we were just so together, so completely and totally all there. Jon smiled, DJ was nonchalant, Laura wondered how long it takes to get into NYC from Shannon's apartment, and Shannon talked to Shawn about visiting her when he goes east on business, and how she knows a place where they can get all-you-can-eat sushi for $20.

Now they are all at the phone store because Jon gets his first phone today, and the rest all want upgrades.

And I'd better come up with a dinner plan...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Holiday season

The longest gaps in my posts are when there is the most going on in real life. Shannon is home now, and we're praying that Lulu-belle will arrive home safe tonight.

It's kind of weird how one's blog is quiet when one's life is full, but it makes sense.

Wegman's has turkeys for 48 cents per pound with a $25 purchase. I've been hitting Wegman's more lately, so each time I go I can get a turkey. I believe I've bought four turkeys so far! I'd like to get one more, and then I can roast one per month until spring. How is that for a fun way to pass the winter months?

The other day I took Jon with me on my turkey run. (I call it a turkey run when I go out to spend $25 and get a cheap turkey--and I don't feel guilty, because Wegman's is getting a lot of business out of me through this offer, business that otherwise would be going to Aldi.)

So Jon and I were walking toward the freezer case that holds the turkeys, and I said, "Do you want to get a medium one, or a big one?"

Of course he said he wanted a big one. I saw a 20 pounder and said, "How about that?" He considered it and told me, "Well, the one underneath it is a whole lot bigger." He dug out the really big one, and it was very nearly 30 pounds. I tried to talk him out of it. I don't know if my oven is even big enough to roast a bird that big. Oven roasting bags only hold turkeys up to 24 pounds. I was very dubious of this scheme.

He won. There is a 30 pound turkey thawing in the bottom of my refrigerator.

I hope the plastic wrapper doesn't leak.

I borrowed a turkey roaster from a friend. If the turkey doesn't fit in this contraption, we're up a creek.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Song lyrics

I've written a number of times about my concerns regarding the lack of theological substance, correctness and completeness in many Contemporary Christian Music choruses.

There are some good modern songs, though. Here are links to a few of the ones that touch my heart meaningfully:

How Deep the Father's Love

In Christ Alone

The Gospel Song

All I Have is Christ

Blessings



It is not about when a song was written, whether it is a new song or an old song. It is about:

(1) What kind of truth do the lyrics of the song proclaim about the Lord?

(2) Does the form of the song (the way it sounds and feels) support the meaning that it is trying to communicate?

In other words, the song needs to have good, solid truth in it, to begin with. And then, the melody and the rhythm need to underscore and spotlight this truth, rather than distracting attention away from the lyrics. Even a really good song can be ruined by a distracting drumbeat, although I recognize that this statement drifts dangerously close to matters of personal taste. Still, it is something to beware.

Aside: I was once in a choir that sang a song with lyrics that proclaimed,
It was a great thing that He did for me!
It was a great thing that He did for me!
Jesus died on Calvary,
for the whole wide world to see!
It was a great thing that He did for me!


Now, this is all absolutely true and good and right. However, the song was sung to a loud, catchy, swinging country gospel tune. I'd say it was rollicking. If the song had been about the resurrection, it might have been appropriate. But singing in such a sing-song, hee-haw, kick-up-your-heels-and-dance style about the crucifixion of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ... well, it always made me cringe. Quite a bit.

Lyrics are important. Words are important. If Jesus is the Word of God, made flesh to dwell among us (John 1), then words are important. People who say, "You just think too much," are copping out, and the Emperor has no clothes.

I just wanted to write about this today because there is an old hymn that I have never liked, since I was a child, and this morning I thought of an analogy for why I do not like it.

I do not like the song, "The Old Rugged Cross." Here are the lyrics in particular that I do not like:

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.


It has a nice, heartfelt hymn melody, so in these days when hymns are sung somewhat rarely, especially if it comes up in the middle of a head-banging set of contemporary music, I can get lulled into a sense of well-being by the melody before I realize that I do not like the words.

But really? "I'll cherish the old rugged cross..."? How about if I cherish JESUS, who died a horrible death on the old rugged cross? The cross itself was a terrible thing, the thing I'd have had to experience if Jesus had not sacrificed Himself for me on it.

The analogy I thought of: Imagine a young man who has to work for a living in a terrible machine factory. In this factory, his bosses beat him and insult him daily, working him to the bone. Day after day, in the ear-splitting din of crashing metal parts, he lifts and carries large, awkward, heavy, sharp-edged metal pieces from one end of the factory to the other. He has no hope. He is miserable, and he can't afford to quit, or he will starve.

Then, suppose his mother learns of his predicament. She moves across the country to live with him, and she goes to work in the factory for him, enduring all the harsh treatment and excruciating labor to earn money for her son, which she gives to him so he can go to college and earn a degree and get a better job.

At the end of it all, when the young man has received his college degree, paid his college bills, and begun a new job, does he say... "I love the old machine factory!"

I think not.

And neither do I love "the old cross." I love Jesus. I am grateful that He died for my sins. I appreciate with all my heart what Jesus did for me on the cross. But I do not love the cross. It is almost like saying that you love Hell, because Jesus saved you from it. That would just be ridiculous.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Identifying the problem

I am trying to clean, and it is totally stressing me out.

I had to take a break.

Part of the problem, I think, is that in order for me to make things look nice, I have to take apart and hide all our haphazard systems for living and paying bills and cooking and studying. When it is aesthetically pleasing around here, it is entirely non-functional. Both of these scenarios (living in squalor vs. living in an aesthetic but non-functioning environment) cause me no end of stress, but the clean-to-dysfunction is killing me right now. It could be months before we find some of the things I am squirreling out of sight today, even though I am trying very hard to do this logically.

(side note: When things get lost, Shawn plays a game where he says, "Hmmmm. I'm Ruth. Now, where would I put the [--insert name of missing object--] if I were trying to store it in a logical place?" I can never find things this way, but he often does, which is uncanny, but I have been telling him for nearly 25 years that it is his job to read my mind, and I guess he has learned how in certain instances.)

I long for a house that is both aesthetic and functional... where I have real places to keep (not hide) the things I am working on, and I can find things readily without just piling all the important stuff in one very obvious and unaesthetic place, and bills do not get lost and I don't forget to return my library books before they are overdue.

*sigh*

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Remembering to say thank you

I wrote about my varicose vein surgery back when it happened.

But in so doing, I neglected to mention the most amazing part.

I did mention that I was afraid of the anesthesia, but I did not explain how afraid I was.

I was so afraid that I did not sleep for a week before the procedure. This no doubt was part of my excuse for going to pieces and weeping during my admission process. I was exhausted.

During the week before the surgery, the week when I was not sleeping, I had to do a little marching band fund-raising for Jonathan. I don't know if I have ever mentioned how much I hate and despise fund-raising. But I do. And there I was, an exhausted, frightened woman, looking down the pike at vein surgery, trying to focus on the day-to-day, and the day-to-day was fund raising. Ugh.

One of my tasks was to try to sell a print ad to a local jewelry store. This ad would appear in the program for the band show that our school was hosting. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about trying to sell an ad to a jewelry store.

It was October, so I decided, "I will go into the store and buy something for one of my girls, for a birthday gift. And after I have made the purchase, I will ask if they will buy an ad."

So I went into the store and looked at jewelry pieces, and a nice woman helped me. She was medium height, medium build, short brown hair (more stylish than mine) and nicely dressed (as you would expect of an employee in a jewelry store). She was just a really nice person.

At some point a dam broke and I gushed out my life's story, about how tired I was because I was not sleeping because I had surgery coming up and I was so, so scared. Even as I spilled my guts, I was embarrassed and ashamed. But she looked at me sympathetically and said, "What is your name? I would like to pray for you. I'll pray for you, that God will help you get through this."

Just like that.

I didn't even know what to say, so I just said, "Ruth." I didn't tell her that I was a sister in Christ, or that God had certainly put her in my path that day because He knew I needed a touch from Him, or that my heart was overflowing with gratitude. I just told her my name was Ruth, and I bought a necklace for Shannon, and I halfheartedly offered to sell her an ad but waved it away in relief when she apologetically told me that the store owner wasn't buying many ads in the present economy.

I walked out to my car full of wonder.

And then, on the day of the surgery, when I had been admitted and had stripped down to a hospital gown and was getting prepped by my nurse, the nurse pulled out a big questionnaire. As she went down through the questions, she hit one that asked, "Do you have a particular religious affiliation?"

I scrunched up my face and asked, "What do you mean by that?"

She was of medium height, medium build, short brown hair. Her hair was sandy textured, and she had a few freckles, I think, and a cute little nose that turned up just a tad. In her pale surgical-green scrubs, she looked full of kindness.

I don't even remember what I said, but all of a sudden we were having this great chat, and she was a Baptist, too, with a brother who is a pastor in the Adirondacks or Albany or somewhere. She said, "We're all born-again here!" And even though I was so afraid of the procedure, she assured me that God would be with me and that it would be OK. It was so amazing and surreal, I can't even remember the particulars, just this incredible sense of relief and astonishment that God would reach out to me like that, at a time like that, and let me know how near He was.

And then I never even told anybody about these things. I don't even know why. But I am telling now, because God deserves to be bragged on.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

wonderful weekend

I knew my daughters were coming home this past weekend, so I bought some flowers. They were gorgeous.

However, the roses opened too fast, and were nearly spent by the time the girls arrived...

So we replaced them with some carnations to extend the life of the bouquet. It reminds me of fluffy peppermint candies.

Every year for about two weeks, my three older kids have stair-step ages. The first year, they were 0, 1 and 2. Now, that was a challenge. This year (and in this picture) they are 19, 20 and 21. Actually, 21, 20 and 19, if you want to get technical. This was taken one day before Shannon turned 22.

While the girls were home, the boys got Lu to shave their heads. Here she is scalping DJ in the garage. It was too cold and rainy to do it outdoors. Sadly, through the whole weekend, we did not get a single picture of Jon. He, however, was the one who swept up the hair in the garage, and also the one who grilled steaks for the joint birthday dinner held on October 21.


Here is Shannon in the garage, bonding with her Schu while she watches Lu wield the electric razor.


Ahhh... the birthday cake. This is a triple-layer chocolate-mocha cake from Taste of Home. It has a chocolate-mocha cream cheese frosting, and it is delicious.



We put on 41 candles, because Lu turned 19 on October 8, and Shannon was turning 22 on the 23rd. 19 + 22 = 41. Hence, 41 candles.


It took awhile to light them all. Jonathan helped.


The sight of the cake all ablaze was quite remarkable. We took our time singing, as much as we dared, so we could enjoy the effect.



...and when they blew out the candles, there was a great cloud of smoke. We opened the slider to the deck to air it out, and averted an issue with the fire alarm.


I'm not gonna lie, that was one mouthwatering, magnificent, momentous birthday cake.



The next day, Shannon and Shawn and I went apple picking. The apples are disappearing fast. When Shawn learned that Granny Smith apples were prolific right now, and that they are only good for baking, not for eating, he was all for picking "...just a few more of these!" We enjoyed a great, big, fresh, apple crisp to eat that very evening.


That night we all bundled up and went to see Jonathan play in a marching band show. Even though we didn't take any pictures, I will try to get a generic marching band picture of Jon on here, but I'm having some trouble right now. Just imagine a very tall, dark eyed trumpet player who marches sharply and in perfect step, blowing sweet high tones through his horn into the crisp fall starlight of central New York... It was a great night, and we weren't even too cold.

AHA! I got it! Kind of a formal band uniform mugshot, but even so, you can see how handsome my boy is.


And there went another fall weekend where the pool did not get closed. Poor old pool, full of leaves and raindrops. Poor old us, that will be one cold, wet job now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dreams I wish I'd stop having

Last night I dreamed we were in the Homeland Road house again.

The six years we lived there were probably the most unhappy years of my entire existence, which is really sad to think about, because three of my children were born there. It is ironic that the years I spent on "Homeland" were the years I felt less at home than any other time in my life.

I was so happy, so relieved, so beside myself with contentment when we finally got out of there.

And now I keep dreaming that we are going back.

Last night I dreamed that a realtor let us in and we spent the night there. In the morning, we had to run along a sidewalk next to a rough embankment to get back to this house so we could pick up socks and coffee. Shawn stayed here with the coffee, but I ran back to Homeland alone where I found that the old neighbors who used to live across the street had moved into our old house, and they were remodeling it. It was the grandma and her grandchildren. They remembered our kids and tried to be civil. Still, they were quite perturbed that we were there, as they were getting ready for company. The grandma asked me to please get my stuff out of the house as quickly as possible.

There was also a lot of stainless steel--weird 1950's style stainless steel kitchen counters that assembled and dissembled to perform different functions--and a giant steel mixer mounted to the kitchen floor. I have seen that same mixer in other dreams, in silhouette, and thought it was an animal in the kitchen until the light increased and I could see that it was a machine.

These Homeland Road house dreams are not terrifying, but I do not usually like them.

There is another recurring dream I have that I really hate. It stemmed from those dreams about being in college and not having been to class. Those particular dreams abated at one point when I dreamt that I was in a flat, ranch-style house with green carpet, chasing my toddlers around and trying to get to class. Someone came to the door to get a paper from me, and suddenly I stopped and cried out, "No! This is not real! I am not a student, I am a mother of three!" A sucking, suffocating, pulling sensation ensued and I landed in my bed, awake and shaking, but very relieved.

Since then, those dreams have morphed into a dream about being in a high school and needing to go to the bathroom. I hunt and hunt, and finally find the bathroom on a remote floor in a remote corner, but it is always unusable. There are usually many, many toilets, laid out in circular patterns, and I desperately seek for one in a stall, because it galls me to use one out in the open. There are always people in the bathroom--sometimes hoards of them, and sometimes just a few--but it is never private. The people are not nice, either. They are what one remembers from high school as "mean girls." There are also a few smokers, which is annoying and slightly threatening, but they do not produce the same sensation that one gets from the mean girls.

Eventually I will find a stall or two, but they are always full, or out of order. Sometimes I try to wait in a line. Eventually I always end up going back to the exposed toilets in circles (facing out, with a dirty ledge running behind them), because I need to go to the bathroom so very badly. People (females) are sitting on some of these toilets, but the open ones are always full of putrid feces and I gag and put my hands over my nose. I cannot bring myself to go to the bathroom on top of someone else's putrid feces, next to a stranger in an open room. I don't want to touch anything, and I cannot find soap and water.

Finally I wake up and have the privilege of going to the bathroom all by myself in my very own private bathroom, washing my hands with nice smelling soap, drying them on a clean towel and going back to bed.

I feel so weird for having written about these dreams. I haven't ever talked about the bathroom dream before. Maybe by exposing it, I can stop having it, or at least identify it concretely in my mind as a dream so the next time I have it I can wake myself up earlier. I hope so.

Coming soon... pictures of our wonderful weekend with the WHOLE FAMILY AT HOME!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Obfuscation

Yesterday I found myself at the intersection of Soule and 57. A blue truck sat in front of me, an ordinary blue truck, not particularly old or worn or even rusty.

The light turned green and the truck took off, simultaneously emanating a thick cloud of inky black smoke. The cloud grew expansive, hovered and finally dispersed. I decelerated and waited, holding my breath, feeling as though I were under water and an octopus or a squid had just made a grand escape. The only thing was, I felt more like the prey. Trucks are far more predatory than DJ's eleven-year-old Corolla, which I was driving.

Also, I have been dreaming about our old Homeland Road house a lot lately. In my dreams, it always has huge wings we'd never discovered, long hallways filled with bedrooms and bathrooms, even lobbies. In past dreams, these newly discovered spaces have been in bad shape, requiring a lot of fixing up, particularly plumbing. A few times, I've even encountered dysfunctional jacuzzis. But lately the expanded spaces have been livable. Last night I dreamed Shawn and I were in a very large bedroom, similar to but different from our bedroom on Homeland. The blue painted walls and wallpaper border were the same, but the border was peeling near the ceiling.

Then I woke up in my four poster bed and wondered why, why do I keep dreaming myself there?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Very Strange

I wrote a post today, but it got posted to 10/10/11. Bizarre.

Click the hyperlink if you want to read it. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coming soon...

I have a couple of posts rolling around in my head, but I can't quite catch the right opportunity to get them written.

Until then, I have been fairly faithful about updating my other blog lately, so if you want something to read, you could take an amble over there.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Musing on home and other things

When Shawn and I moved from our married-student-housing apartment at the University of Minnesota to our first apartment in central New York, and then from that apartment to our first house, it was surprising how the continuity of "stuff" created a sense of home. Constant through all these moves was an old basement sofa my parents had donated to us when we first married. Olive tweed, long, sturdy, it lasted through my mother's married life and much of mine. Currently it sits in our garage, awaiting a ride to the dump. The upholstery is shot, but it is still as sturdy and well constructed as ever. I wish I knew how to reupholster. Every time I open the garage door to put something into a recycling bin, I see that old sofa and I feel a pang. Memories are hard for me to dump.

There were a few things... certain wall hangings we received as wedding gifts, that sofa, the WWII army footlocker that we used as a coffee table for so many years. We'd get to a new place, and we'd unpack these things, and suddenly it seemed familiar, "ours."

Shannon's new apartment is like that, somehow. Her room at home is different now, but with her bookshelf and her desk in place, her apartment feels homey. We also took her the dresser she used when she was a little girl. Someone had donated it to us, and Shawn and I stripped it, stained it and replaced the hardware. It was one of our projects, back in the day. At a certain point we replaced it, but I kept it in the basement and filled it up with craft supplies. In honor of Shannon, I cleaned out the drawers and packed it along to her new place. It's a little piece of the olden days, standing in the corner of her bedroom.



It felt good to be at Shannon's a week and a half ago. It felt like home, like another home, another place in the world where I actually belong. I think feeling at home has something to do with being allowed into a refrigerator. You are not truly at home unless you can open up the refrigerator and get out the makings of breakfast or lunch.

Recently, Shannon wrote, "I catch myself calling two different places home, now. It's kind of odd - almost like a mental break. I still have home programmed into my GPS as New York, and I can't bring myself to change that. What do you do when going home means two different things? I think it's just out of convenience that I refer to this apartment as home. It's faster than saying 'I'm going back to my apartment.' People seem to understand."

That resonated with me, caught as I am in New York while never having stopped feeling that Minnesota was my home. In today's world, "home" becomes so fragmented, a splintering concept that disperses in all directions as family members move farther and farther from one another.

When Shawn and I arrived at our first apartment here in CNY, it was July and we didn't have much more than a shower curtain. A day later, the moving truck pulled up and we arranged our stuff, made it home, and settled in.

I remembered our first NY apartment while we were at Shannon's, because they have not turned on the heat on in her building. This reminded me that they didn't turn the heat on in our first apartment building until (I think) October 1. Maybe it was November 1. We froze.

Shannon had been freezing in her apartment, too. It was about 57 degrees (inside) the evening we arrived. Her apartment handbook says, "The heat will be turned on in the early fall and off again in the late spring." I'm not sure what constitutes "early fall" but I suppose they are purposefully vague. We piled on the blankets that night and awoke to a nippy morning which we combated with hot tea, hot coffee and hot baths. Oddly, the pipe to the shower-head doesn't seem to pull much hot water, so you are better off bathing...it's a fantastic, giant, cast-iron tub. Shannon has the blue checkered shower curtain that graced the kids' bathroom upstairs until we remodeled this past year. Another shout-out to familiarity... I love familiar things.

Later, Shawn and I left Shannon studying for her organometallic chemistry exam and went for a walk. The day had warmed up to about 80, and I found myself shedding layers as we clipped along.

We decided we'd better tell Shannon to open some windows and let the warmth in, so we headed back up the hill. In front of a large gray house with curving concrete steps, a gray squirrel busied himself ravishing an oak tree. There were so many acorn treasures, he was quite overcome with joy. He leapt along with a huge tuft of oak leaf sprouting from his mouth; curling green foliage sprigged up one side, and a nutty brown cluster of acorns hung down the other.

Back in the apartment building, icy air hit us like a blast of air conditioning. We helped Shannon open up the windows. By then the afternoon sun was shining in too, so before long we warmed up luxuriously.

We walked to our favorite burger place for dinner. To get there, one must cross a town square. Through the center lies a grassy village green, and along the west side (or maybe the north side?) three churches stand in a row -- modern, liberal, main-line churches. Along the road, buses continually pull up in front of the churches to pick up and drop off riders. The many park benches, presumably placed for the convenience of bus riders, overflow with tired, sad, economically-depressed people. Some people get on and off the buses, while others huddle together beneath newspapers, trying to find some comfort in a wearisome world. Belligerent, grammatically and vocabularily challenged youths cavort on skateboards and do their best to block foot traffic. And just beyond all this, a pricey wedding spilled out of one of the churches. Formal black tuxedos, posh golden bridesmaids' dresses and white, feathered flower arrangements, a bride and a flower girl adorned with the latest and greatest NYC fashions, all posed for photos among distinguished family members and friends. The party was beautiful, and so were the church and the park. I am sure that the photographer strategically aimed her shots away from the buses and the street people. I thought how different the photos would look from the view we got as we walked down the sidewalk. A photo frame is a powerful thing.

In the restaurant, business was hopping. Since every table was full, the host invited us to sit in three chairs around the corner of the bar. Of course, this infuriated the bartender, as we had no intention of buying drinks. But he sucked it up pretty well and let us have water and Coke while we watched Notre Dame kill the Air Force Academy and waited for our food. A solitary lady next to me spread out her reading material and picked at her plate, a colorful melange of lettuce, tomato and other unidentifiable but eye-catching substances. She approached her glass of beer with infinitesimal sips. Her elbow crowded me, and I wished she would hurry up, finish her dinner and leave. But then I realized that it was a Saturday night, and she was all alone in the middle of that loud, crowded place, all alone dragging out her meal while pretending to read newsprint. When the bartender took away her not-nearly-empty-but-stagnating plate, she folded up her reading material and got out her phone, proceeding to read through old text messages and emails until she couldn't make the beer last any longer. And then I felt sorry for her. I was so happy to be with Shannon and Shawn, laughing, catching up, trading stories.

The next day we went to church, and then we did some shopping. Back once more, our arms loaded with packages from the store, we approached the steps to the apartment building only to see two squirrels cavorting in the sunshine. One was a normal looking squirrel, big and bushy. The other one was tiny. Are there baby squirrels around in October? The big squirrel ducked into the shrubbery as we approached, but the little one stood on the step, quivering, nervous, hopeful. I have never been so close to a squirrel before. His face was as wistful as Schubert's. Shannon thought he must want some food and sent Shawn in to get a piece of bread. The little guy peered up at us, as cute as a puppet or a cartoon drawing (and if you know anything about my hatred of rodents, you know that this one was excessively cute if even I thought so). We could see the varied colors in his facial hair--brown, gray, white--his small black eyes, and his upside-down Y of a mouth. His feet and hands were huge in relation to his body, with long fingers and finger-like toes. But they weren't icky the way DJ says the rat paws are in the lab where he works. They were innocent and almost duck-like, maybe because they were just so huge in proportion to his little body. Anyway, now I understand how squirrels climb across power lines. Our little guy couldn't quite decide what to do. He seemed frightened but not terrified, shaking, hopping towards us a half-a-hop and then finally darting away into the shrubbery after his companion. Shawn said that perhaps someone else has been feeding him and taming him. I hope there are no cats around those apartments, or he'll be a goner very soon.

So that was our visit to Shannon. We left DJ and Jon alone and Jon got locked out of the house for the better part of Sunday, but I am not going to write about it. It ended OK, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

I felt at home at Shannon's. She has a black futon rather than our old tweed sofa (the one that awaits its demise in our garage), but the futon makes a much more hospitable resting place for Shawn and me. It folds down into a very comfortable bed. And home is also a place where you can get a good night's sleep.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Visiting Shannon

Shawn and I are visiting Shannon while the boys and the dogs hold down the fort at home.

This is a new thing.

I guess it is what we are aiming for when we begin to raise a child. We hope that the child will grow up to be a self-supporting, productive member of society.

So here we are at Shannon's, eating her waffles and her cookies and her soup and sandwiches and guacamole. I used her soap this morning, and Shawn borrowed her hair gel. Now we are all contentedly pecking away at our respective computers. She is studying for an exam on the organo-metallic chemistry of transition metals, which she has to take on Tuesday. Shawn is catching up on things for his work. And I am writing a blog post. This is family togetherness in 2011.

Of course, there is a part of me that wishes she had just gotten married, bought the house up the street, and settled down to provide me with grandchildren. But really, it is so amazing that God has allowed her these opportunities to grow and expand. She spent the summer working with a professor who was recognized recently for discovering a way to chemically synthesize a new and ground-breaking medicine that treats ovarian cancer. Who knows what God might have in store for Shannon?

It was really cold last night, and they have not yet turned on the heat in this apartment building. In addition to eating Shannon's food, we drank a lot of her tea. This morning we opened the blinds of these huge, airy windows and looked out on a sunny, blue-skied courtyard. There is a tree in the center, a tree whose leaves are still green. A deep residual cold lingered in the apartment, but outside the day is warm and wonderful. We discovered this on a short walk, after which we returned to open the windows, let in the fresh warm air, and listen to the birds in the bushes.

It's funny how things come out. I love how Shannon has organized her little kitchen. It simply delights me. I wonder if there is anything I taught her that contributed to her logical sense of order. Maybe? My life recently has been a train-wreck, as is my house, but there have been times when I have been on top of things. Maybe that's why I love it here so much. It reminds me of seasons in my own life when I have been on top of things.

Well, we are only going to be here for a short time. I don't want to waste too much of it blogging...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Theophonics

My husband is in a singing group called "Theophonics." They are an all-male a cappella group, and you can listen to a few of their songs here. Don't miss the "Praise Ye the Lord" one... it's my favorite!




The guys.




The guys again. They'd been trying to induce Schubert to pose with them.


They have real jobs and wives and children, but they love to sing together when they can. I've been lucky enough to have them practicing at my house for the past month or so. It's so nice to listen to them... especially when they've pretty much got the music under their belts and are fine tuning it. They travel around to area churches to sing, and just take a love offering to help cover their travel expenses and to help them afford to buy sound and recording equipment. They sing locally and have gone as far as PA.




Because this is my blog, I am shamelessly putting my husband first. He usually sings the very top parts. If you read my blog, you know all about our family, so I do not need to belabor his bio.


This is Ron. Ron is really the guy who started the whole thing. He organizes practices, arranges music, dreams big and keeps everybody excited. In real life, he is a music teacher at a school in the area, and he also directs a really wonderful homeschool choir. Like my husband, he is a high tenor. He and his wife have a two-year-old daughter and an infant son. The group used to practice at his place, but the noise interfered with bedtime. So I got them! And I'm glad I did!




This is Brian. He is also a chorus teacher in a local school district, and he directs the school's plays (at least, the musicals). He and his wife have three children, two teenage daughters and a soon-to-be teen son. Brian has a beautiful gift for writing and arranging music and often lends his skills to the group. Brian is a baritone, and it's a good thing he is, because this group is heavy on tenors, as you will see.



Here we have Mr. Jim. He does the vocal percussion for the group, but he also sings lead sometimes. He has a wonderful, folksy, slightly-higher-than-baritone voice. Jim and his wife have a son in elementary school and a daughter in junior high.



This is the "other" Bryan. He is the newest member of the group, and what a fantastic addition he has been! He has a stunningly gorgeous high tenor voice, classically trained at Eastman School of Music. He and his wife have a preschool age daughter, a one-year-old son and a new baby due on November 17. So Theophonics will not be booking in November. Sorry, but families come first!



This is another Shawn. I will not call him the "other" Shawn, because he is great friends with Ron, and they started the group together, and he was probably the person who actually invited my Shawn to join. This Shawn is a tremendous team player with a second tenor voice. He's willing to sing whatever part is needed, which usually ends up being something super-difficult in the middle, so it's a good thing that he's a good music reader! He never complains, and he's always on time, always agreeable, always doing whatever it takes to pull things together. He and his wife have a newly potty trained daughter!

So, that's Theophonics. If God wills, maybe you will hear them sing in person some day. We'd all like that.