Archives for July 2010

Sixteen summers ago

Sixteen summers ago, my sister in law and I were pregnant at the same time. Due the very same day, actually, August 15th. It was my 4th and her first. Her baby seemed anxious to arrive first — she was on bed rest beginning in mid-pregnancy.

In mid-June I also began having signs of preterm labor, and got quarantined to the couch with my own prescription for anti-labor medicine. I jokingly attributed my early labor to the stress of teaching vacation bible school. More likely it was the rocks I was pulling on a sled around our property as I worked on landscaping around our new home. (I know. Yikes.)

July rolled in and we were both looking forward to the end of the month, when our due date would be only 3 weeks away and we could quit the medicine. I took my last terbutaline on a Sunday. Two days later, on Tuesday afternoon my water broke and I started having contractions, wimpy ones. After a few hours John and I met my mom at the birthing center to see what was up.

Not much. I was 3 centimeters dilated, and the contractions had gotten stronger. But I had to walk to keep them going, because they quit if I stopped moving. Late in the evening I’d gotten only to 4, and was getting tired of this wimpy but uncomfy labor pattern. The doctor suggested a pill to stimulate better contractions so we could get this show on the road. I was given that a little after 11. By 11:30 I was having gang-buster contractions. Such good contractions, in fact, that our sweet Daniel was born 46 minutes later, at 12:16 AM on July 27th.

He weighed 8 pounds 1-1/2 ounces. I can’t imagine how big he’d have been if he’d not been born til mid-August! Three days later my sister in law gave birth to her baby, also a boy, who also didn’t seem to have needed any more growing time– he weighed 8-4!

Over the years we’ve really enjoyed having kids the same age, and they’ve enjoyed each other as well. So this week to celebrate their 16th birthday, we had a joint party in their honor. Happy birthday, you two!

Salad heaven

When you pick 15 cabbages in one morning, it’s a pretty sure bet there’s all manner of salad in your future. Recently I made a great Thai Pasta Salad that was inspired by the recipe here on Casual Kitchen, one of my very favorite cooking blogs.  The salad is perfect on a hot day, and is even tastier once it has been refrigerated overnight.  (It’ll easily last in the fridge for 3-4 days).

Thai Pasta Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 lb box of dried linguine
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 cups finely chopped green cabbage
  • 2 carrots, cut julienne-style
  • 1 zucchini, cut julienne-style
  • 1 white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • sesame seeds, optional

Directions:
1) Season the chicken pieces with cayenne and/or black pepper. Heat oil in a large non-stick pan and then sear the chicken on high heat for a few minutes.  Cook it through, but try not to overcook. Set aside.

2) While chicken cooks, mix up ingredients for the dressing, below.  Add 1/4 cup of the dressing mixture to the cooked chicken and stir to evenly coat chicken.  Let sit a few minutes, to allow the dressing and chicken flavors to combine.

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)

3)  Cook linguine according to directions. While water is boiling/pasta is cooking, chop all the veggies. Combine pasta with the chopped veggies and the rest of the dressing mixture. Add the chicken and stir well.  Top with sesame seeds if desired.  Can be served warm or cool.

book reviews: world changing

I got two books in the mail on the same day a few weeks ago, which was an interesting coincidence, because I think the authors would find a lot of common ground.

Palmer Chinchen wrote True Religion: Taking Pieces of Heaven to Places of Hell on Earth.  He challenges Christians to be part of the solution to the problems in terrible places in the world.  Seeing the need in poor countries is life-changing, purpose-giving, and he maintains we need to act boldly instead of assuming we as individuals can’t make a difference.  He focuses a lot on the needs in third world countries.  And in a way I see his point.  Going to the neediest of the needy makes sense in a practical triage-nurse sort of way. I won’t soon forget the needy ones I met in Ethiopia, and I am proud of my sister Sophie and her decision to do medical mission work in Africa.   The tone of True Religion is perhaps too prescriptive.  Not everyone’s life work is in a 3rd world country, after all.  Nonetheless, the message is thought-provoking.

Julie Ferwerda wrote One Million Arrows: Raising Your Children to Change the World.   This book focuses on truly purposeful parenting:  building strong relationships and modeling right priorities so kids can grow up as ‘arrows’, strong and well-equipped to reach others for Jesus.  Just what are we teaching our kids by our choices, both small and large?   I want my kids to do more than play video games all day.  I want them to grow up loved and loving others, using their time wisely, noticing needs, and finding joy in serving God.  I want them to grow up embracing the knowledge that their lives have great value, that they were put here for a purpose, and that God will reveal that purpose in His time and in His way.  This book renewed  my own vision for my family, and I am blessed to have gotten the chance to read it.

~~~

(I was given both of these books by the authors. The opinions expressed about them are my own.)

Since my hubby has already started giving them to neighbors…

It’s begun already. Earlier it seems than most years. I’m awash in zucchini. I vowed to pick them tiny, I really did. It’s so much easier to pick/eat/give away 6-inch zucchinis than 18-inch monsters.  But then we went camping and came back to plants that had gone berserk in our absence.   John and I picked 10 zucchini on Monday alone, mostly big ones.  John gave one away to a neighbor driving by on his tractor.  You could tell it is still early in zucchini season because the neighbor took it with pleasure.  A month from now he’ll be running from us.

Here are Tuesday’s zucchini, along with plums, raspberries and the first of the green beans.  At least I caught a few at the desired 6-inch size instead of the bully-big-brother size. But what to do with the abundance that is now overflowing our fridge?  Monday I used two huge ones– about 8 cups of cubed zucchini –in hamburger zucchini stir-fry.  Today there’s zucchini bread on the agenda.  And I’ve got a few new recipes to try.  There are these nice looking zucchini fries from Dinner, A Love Story.  Maybe lunch?  Smitten Kitchen has a gorgeous zucchini and ricotta galette.  Maybe dinner? And, the most pre-emptive zucchini strike of all:  Edible Squash Flowers from Wise Bread.  Those recipes, along with my plan to pick zukes TINY should help my current zucchini crisis.  What about you?  Anybody begged you to take a zucchini off their hands lately?

Christmas in July? Really?

I got an email earlier this week from Jessica at Life As Mom.  She is doing Christmas in July this week, talking smart about budgeting, avoiding debt and other important ways to plan wisely for a meaningful, debt free Christmas.  Go check it out–looks like good stuff, and there are some good giveaways too.  Speaking of giveaways, one of the things that I do to prepare for Christmas is to squirrel away unexpected freebies and yard sale goodies when I am blessed with them.

This month one such goodie was the Pop on Pals Amusement Park set. This toy looks like fun for the 2-4 year old age group.   The various rides: ferris wheel, roller coaster, etc–  have different sound effects which little kids will love. I was surprised it came with only one character.  Yes, the single character comes with different costumes,  and you can buy more characters separately.  But when my kids are playing, they like to have multiple characters so that they can interact with each other.   If I was paying $34 for a toy set, I personally would expect more than one character.

All in all, this looks like a decent toy.  However, I’m not convinced it would have the staying power of our Lego Duplos.  This zoo set was a gift from grandma years ago,  has been a favorite with many of our kids over the years, and is still going strong.  A true classic.  Want classic toys for less than new prices?  Check yard sales.  And keep an eye on Craigslist.  A quick search for ‘lego duplo’ in my area produced 2 listings.  I might not offer used toys to other people’s kids for Christmas.   But I’d have no qualms about cleaning them up and adding them to my own kids’ collection.

just around the river bend

Fishing to some people involves a dock and a lawn chair, or a boat out on the lake.   But to us and to our kids, fishing means putting on water shoes and  ‘getting wet’ clothes, and hiking a winding river whose banks look different every year.

Much of the river meanders shallow.  You can walk along the edges, in scrub willows and long grass, or wade the round-rocked riverbed with water no higher than your knees.  But always you’re scanning for holes, deep bits of water.  The ones under overhanging riverbanks or downed dead trees are best.   Because that’s where the trout like to hide.

The first steps into the mountain water in the morning are always a little breath-taking.   Even in July, snow can be seen on the mountain tops above us, and the melting snow coming down into our river is cold.  But this July weekend the mix was perfect.   Enough sun to keep our wet legs from being chilled.  Enough cool water below and around us to keep the sun from feeling too hot.

Dad helps kids get poles set up. This is not ‘drop the worm in and wait an hour’ passive fishing.  We fish with spinners, hooks with shiny ‘wings’ that spin as we reel in.   We’re always casting, reeling, and casting again, keeping the spinners active and appealing to the trout.

The best places to cast are usually the most perilous.  Straight towards the hook-eating tree snags, where big trout hide in the shade.  With each cast towards logs, we take the risk of getting hooks caught in snags.  When a  hook gets caught, dad or an older kid is summoned to wade deep, untangle, rescue the $3 lure.

Kids play at fishing as soon as they’re too big to be carried in a backpack, usually by the time they’re three.  They start with ‘bobber-only’ poles –no hooks til they’re decent at casting.  At first they’re too little to even notice they don’t have a hook, and by the time they notice they’ve already gotten better at casting.

When they’ve graduated to a pole with a hook, they start with a single hook.  Single hooks are easier and less painful than trebles to get out if a cast gets wild.  This year our five year old and I shared a pole, with people standing well back from her as she cast.  This is her third year fishing, and she’s getting a decent cast. 

This year we had five poles for 9 people, with people taking turns fishing and playing. Sometimes there was chatter and splashing.  Some sun-bathing.

But when dad pulled a fish out of a big hole, the mood got more serious.  Mom called ‘shhhhh’, and the waders and the dog came out of the water to sit on the bank and watch.  The fish were biting.  No chasing them away.

Kids grinned as fish came flashing in.

Dad helped kids get fish off hooks, sometimes getting bit as a wild trout thrashed a hook into his palm.  But he ended up with the catch of the day himself, a 17 inch trout.

I alternated between fishing pole and camera, uncertain which toy I liked better.  My final tally?  600+ pictures and one small fish, who leaped obligingly back into the river as I touched his slick body to toss him back.

Whether we’re catching fish or not, I’m content.  No, more than content.  I walk along, humming, and think that these are some of the very best moments in my life. The.best. These are memories I will hang onto when I am a little old lady, memories of walking in the sun and the water with my family around me.

Evening is for gathering quiet, with hot dogs and marshmallows on a camp fire at the riverbank. 

Kids cook food over smoky fire with willow sticks so fresh and green that the stick slips in your hand.

The fruit of their effort is sticky and sweet.  They smile as they sit on benches to eat.

Sun comes low and turns river water golden.  A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

Sunday

I’ve been listening in all the wrong places
Am I alone?
Am I missing every word You’re saying
I don’t know the sound of Your voice anymore
Anymore, anymore

Speak to me, please speak to me
I’m in between and I can’t hear You
Whisper, shout it
Give me something
I need it now, need Your voice, need a sound
Speak to me

Is it ’cause of all the times I failed You
Am I too far
Did you wonder how long I’d wait for You
When I can’t hear the sound of Your voice anymore
Anymore, anymore

Speak to me, please speak to me
I’m in between and I can’t hear You
Whisper, shout it
Give me something
I need it now, need Your voice, need a sound
Speak to me

Tell me something
Tell me anything
I am waiting for You
Won’t You speak to me

———-

Psalm 17: 6 I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer.

harvest

This afternoon I sat in my shady corner of the deck next to our pool, and watched my kids splash into the water one by one.  With only one child in the water, waves were small.   But as more kids splashed and leaped their way in, the water got choppier, the waves bigger, the decibel level higher. That’s life in a family.  The more people in the family, the choppier the waves.

As a mom I can sometimes feel overwhelmed by so many waves roiling in different directions. There are days where I barely go five minutes without dealing with issues.  If I’m not reminding someone for the gazillionth time not to use that biting tone with a sibling, I’m asking that a job be redone correctly, or requiring a redo of a reply to me that was way too sassy.   Always, issues.  With no guarantee I’m making any headway.

But this evening I was gifted with a glimpse, a moment of sun sparkling down into my forest of ‘issues’.   I’d assigned my 12 year old daughter the week’s cookie-baking, a mere 10 dozen or so.  I’ve given her this job almost every week for the past year, and every week she greets this request with sighs and eye-rolling.  (I’m still working on that issue.)

The cookie project started as my sneaky way of giving her more reading practice. She came home from Ethiopia 3 years ago knowing 20 words of English.  Early on, this job would have been impossible.  Two years in, it was still a difficult task.  She despised it at first.  Didn’t understand so many things.  No surprise.   There’s so. much. to learn when coming to a whole new world. “What is ‘Nestle Toll House Morsel’, Mom?”

But gradually, slowly, she has come to master cookie baking.  This afternoon I caught a look of pure peaceful absorption on her face as she leaned over her cookie sheet, neatly, precisely laying balls of cookie dough down.  And this is a child who doesn’t find peace easily.  She’s gone from hating the task to really owning it, to caring about the outcome.

A few minutes later when I asked her to run help a sibling find a shoe, she counseled me to set the timer for nine minutes exactly.  Not eight. Not ten. She knew exactly how she wanted those cookies, and she wanted to make sure I’d finish them properly.  Whether she cares to admit it or not, she’s come to take pride in knowing how to make cookies well.

If I’d caved in to her complaints, given up and reassigned the job during those early months of cranky cookie baking, she wouldn’t be at this stage of mastery right now.  She wouldn’t get to experience the satisfaction of being truly good at this.  And I’d have missed  the pleasure of seeing her absorbed and engaged in doing something so well.

Glory hallelujah, perseverance really does pay off.

Yes, as with all things in life, I need to remember balance.  Every day I remind myself to not over-expect, to model contentment with now, to praise the good that’s there.   But it is wonderful to have these brief shining moments where I see fruit of effort with perfect clarity.   Where the end of the difficult path is illuminated, and I see there really is hope for the future.  My kids are learning, benefiting from my dogged persistence, my insistence that they work on things that are not easy or convenient.

And in teaching them, I am learning and relearning the very same lesson.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

And sometimes that harvest looks like perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Totally fun links

  • 30-Second skirt — all this takes is an old t-shirt and a few seconds (OK, maybe 5 minutes) of sewing.  And it has POCKETS.   I’m totally totally trying this.  Maybe even 3 or 7 times.
  • Easy kids weaving craft — all this takes is a paper plate, a big needle, and some yarn.  CUTE.  My little girls are totally doing this.  Maybe today.
  • Yummy 3-ingredient raspberry gratin — Sour cream, raspberries, brown sugar.  Oh my gracious this sounds yummy.  I’m totally trying it.
  • Homeschool momma panic — I’ve already tried this.  I’m over it.  But I totally respect your right to go there.   🙂

Lemon Curd Cake with Raspberry Sauce

OK, here’s another recipe I tried from The Berry Bible.  If you already have berries, this is very affordable. It is elegantly delicious, and it comes together really quickly.  I modified it just a bit.  Most notably, I didn’t have fresh lemons, so I used bottled lemon juice and orange zest.  I rounded half-tablespoon measures of butter up to whole tablespoons to simplify measuring (ie: 7-1/2 T became 8 T. and 3-1/2 T. became 4 T.).  And my raspberries were quite tart, so I added sugar to the raspberry puree.  I think this would work equally well with strawberries.  If you don’t happen to have berries, the cake would also be delicious topped simply with powdered sugar and whipped cream.

Lemon Curd Cake

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups Lemon Curd  (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries, rinsed, drained and pureed with 1/2 cup sugar, plus a handful of berries set aside for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Grease an  8- inch square pan and line it with parchment paper. (I actually doubled this recipe and made it in a 10×13 pan. )  Put flour, sugar, and butter into a food processor and pulse until mixture looks like bread crumbs.  Add eggs and process until it forms a soft dough.

Press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the pan.  Spread with lemon curd  and then crumble the remaining dough over the curd layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown.  Let cool in pan.

To serve, ladle some raspberry puree into the center of a dessert plate.  Set a piece of the cake on top and garnish with raspberries.  You may also add a sprinkle of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream if you like.

LEMON CURD

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

  • zest of one orange or two lemons
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice  (bottled, or about 2 lemons worth of juice)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large eggs, beaten in a medium sized bowl

Finely grate the lemon or orange zest and combine it with the lemon juice in a saucepan.  Add sugar and butter and warm until the butter has just melted.  Remove from heat and very slowly pour half of the lemon juice mixture  into the beaten eggs.  Whisk briskly as you pour so that the eggs do not begin to cook.  Once the juice is well mixed into the eggs, add remaining juice and whisk again. Return to the saucepan on the stove over low heat, and heat 2-3 minutes, stirring  constantly, until mixture thickens.