Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not Just With the Turkey

I may be in and out of blogging over the next couple of weeks because, as it often is in the world of editing, I've got several big deadlines all at the same time. I've also got all the regular stuff going on, like swim practice, and the fact that both the girls and I needed haircuts in the worst way--we look like those afghan hounds in 101 Dalmations, and also the fact that Lucy has to do a report on a constellation (read: I have to do the report). She got assigned Vulpecula, or The Fox. Now I never even heard of the Fox, so I must say I learned something during my research. One thing I learned is that it is not comprised of any bright stars, so it's not easy to find, which is kind of a relief to know since I've never even been able to figure out which one is the Big Dipper.

In the midst of all that, I've been secretly doing a new year's resolution, and it has actually lasted all 27 days of January so I figured I can write about it now. A few months ago, I read a great blog post by James Macdonald. You can read the whole thing here (and it's well worth reading), but I'll excerpt my favorite part below:

Am I choosing thankfulness over complaining moment by moment?

Am I choosing thankfulness over complaining? Because it’s at a moment. It’s like freeze-frame! Am I choosing thankfulness right now? Am I? Remember, attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time.

Find a 3” x 5” card, but don’t write on it. What you want to do is to take it and put it on a photocopier and make three hundred sixty-five of them. Then put it by your night-stand. Now I’m telling you, in Jesus’ name, you fill out that card every night before you go to bed. Big things. Little things. Something good today. Things you’re thankful for.

You lay your head down to sleep with that on your mind. You get up in the morning and you read that before you begin your day. That will change your life—that will absolutely change your life. You say you want to live in the Promised Land? Do you want to know the fullness and the fulfillment that only God can bring? That card right there—that was worth the price of admission of this morning. Guaranteed.

Now I'll tell you if I had 365 3 x 5 cards floating around my house that would completely rock my world and not in a good way. I'm trying to get rid of all the spare paper in this place, while Elaine follows me around, practicing her new-found scissor skills and scattering confetti in her wake.

What I did do was buy a nice journal, and I write my thankful entries in there every day. Sometimes they're weighty, such as "I'm thankful for a God who deals in matters of the heart--who prizes righteousness over rightness and reconciliation over winning." Sometimes they're physical, such as, "I'm thankful for free vaccines and kind nurses for my children." Sometimes they're completely simple, such as, "I'm thankful for chenille blankets" (granted, I was sick that day). But each day, I've got one or more entries in there.

I will tell you, this process has made a great difference in me this year so far. It's not a matter of putting on rose-colored glasses and pretending things aren't going wrong. It's about choosing to be grateful for things, for everything, rather than complaining about stuff.

In the front of my journal, I wrote out Romans 1:21 "For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

I don't know about you, but I don't want that to happen to me.

A couple weeks ago, Elaine came home from Sunday School with a styrofoam cup of dirt. I can't tell you how many times my girls have come home from places with styrofoam cups of dirt, and pretty much every time nothing happens. But in good faith and at her pleading, I put it up on the kitchen windowsill.

So today, I am thankful for this--Grass! Grass is growing in January!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Speech Meet

Before I talk about Lucy's speech meet (also, each time I type the word "speech"? It looks weirder and weirder), I have to talk about how I opened up a website yesterday, and there was a big banner across the top that said, "My kid was completely healthy. The next day he was dead. Find out what you need to know about meningitis." Now I was in full-blown freakout mode because who gets not one, but two, random library books about kids who die from meningitis and now this? So of course I start googling "signs of meningitis." Then I saw that not only is it quite rare, but we've been vaccinated for it, which is not surprising since, not only is that standard, but I'm so pro-vaccine that every time I take the girls to the pediatrician--even if it's not time for them to get a shot--I ask if they've got anything back there that they can at least get a booster for.

OK, we've dealt with that, and I'm sure you're relieved. On to the speech meet, which was yesterday. The night before Lucy wanted me to put curlers in her hair, and then I even ironed her uniform--something I haven't done since the first week of school--made sure she had the right pair of clean tights, etc. etc.

We practiced her verses again, but she knows them so well that she didn't falter at all. We practiced saying her name, standing still with her hands at her side, and speaking loudly and clearly. In the morning we prayed together before school that she would not be nervous and would do a good job. The judges pick four children from each class, two from each of the categories: poetry and Scripture. The winners go on to a regional speech meet that's in March.

Now, I am not a competitive person at all and never have been. I prefer to float down the river of life in my inner tube, chatting with my friends and sipping iced tea along the way. But something about having kids--other parents, are you with me? I want everyone to recognize that certainly, mine are the sweetest, brightest, smartest little shining stars that their dad and I already know they are. When I saw Lucy all ready for the day in her crisp little uniform and her curly hair with the butterfly clip in it...well, she should win just for adorableness alone.

Oh and I have to add this: the classes have their speech meets on different days, so already we've found out that Lucy's two friends from school who are also on the swim team with her won in their respective categories, and Lucy's best friend who's in second grade won for poetry.

Throughout the day, I kept praying for her, and I couldn't wait to pick her up from school to hear about her glorious performance and sure-to-be win. She came running out, holding her teacher's hand, with a huge smile on her face: "I did it, Mommy, I did it!" she yelled. As I was getting so excited for her, her teacher leaned in the car and said, "She did a great job. There were so many kids who did Bible verses this year--that's unusual--so she didn't win. But she still did such a good job."

I wasn't disappointed for myself, but I figured I better handle this gingerly...she seemed so excited, was she under the impression that she'd won too?

"Wow, awesome job, Lucy; I am so proud of you for getting up there and saying your verses!" I enthused.

"I DID IT!" she said again, "and you know what's sooooooo great? I DIDN'T WIN! Isn't that cool? When I said, ' glory' at the end I knew I was done. If you win, you have to get up in front of everyone and do it AGAIN; no way!" High five me, Mom! I didn't win! Fist bump!"

Um, OK. I can go with that, no problem. I certainly know the feeling. And really--I just wanted her to do her best, which she did, and now she's got the ultimate value of having four verses from Colossians hidden in her heart

And so...looks like we have another inner tube rider in the world. Fist bump.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Library Day

In keeping with my new year's resolution of writing down all the books I read this year, I'll also try to review a bunch of them, at least in mini-reviews. I usually have one or both of the girls with me at the library so my process of selecting books is grab something off the shelf, see if it looks remotely interesting, toss it in the library bag. And sometimes one of the girls will pull a book down and say, "Read this one, Mom." So there you are with my scientific process.

Here are this week's books:

In A Good Place by Rachel Johnson

Apparently Rachel Johnson (according to the blurb on the back of the book) is one of the most high profile and popular female journalists in the UK. The Guardian and The Times call her "the Nancy Mitford of Notting Hill" and "Notting Hill's Jane Austen." That's some pretty awesome billing, so I was excited to start. Meh. First off, it listed the characters in the front of the book and there are, let me run and count, 58 of them, all with some sort of precious description, such as "Virginie Lacoste: stone-cold French superfox and children's culotte magnate who never regrettes rien." Ugh. The book kept switching around from various characters' viewpoints, which normally I like, with the exception that I didn't like any of these characters. Then it teased the reader that one of the characters had a big! secret! that turned out that she's pregnant. There. I told you. Plus the book tried to be funny with all sorts of hip, faux cool, name-dropping references, which I didn't get (despite being pretty well-versed in UK names/places/slang) and finally was overcome with a big wave of "I don't care." So, thumbs down for this book and a word
to the wise: just 'cause it's British doesn't automatically make it klassy.

The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

The cover and title of this book are somewhat deceptive. There's a comfy chair, a bit of knitting, and a pot of tea, so you think it might be some cozy tale with recipes thrown in. You would think wrong. The Knitting Circle is about a woman whose 5-year-old daughter has recently died unexpectedly from meningitis. It chronicles the first two years after the death and how a grieving mother pours her sorrow into the mind-freeing, healing activity of creating something with her hands. She comes together with a circle of other knitters--all who have turned to the hobby as therapy from tragedy. Each of their stories eventually comes out. It could all be kind of cliche except for the fact that it is somewhat autobiographical: the author herself lost her 5-year-old daughter to meningitis and comforted herself by knitting, so while some of the scenarios are improbable, the emotions behind them are quite real. I'd give this one a guarded thumbs up.

The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne

I'll say straight up that I loved this one. It's the story of two adult sisters who have widely varying memories of their growing up together: one wants to remember it as lovely and the other remembers it as a nightmare. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. They get together for the Thanksgiving weekend because the one sister wants to stage a reconciliation between the other and their father. In between this family drama are interwoven vignettes of Mark Twain and the fractured relationship he had with his wife and daughters (one of the sisters is an author of sanitized historical fiction, but she loves to know all the dirty details). There's some great writing in here, such as: "I understood perfectly well what Frances wanted from me: the tale of Mark Twain's daughters and their pleasantly eventful childhood. She wanted what everyone wants--what even I wanted--a good story with a reasonable ending. But she'd gotten carried away, as she always did, with the decor. With the kittens and the cherubs and the Christmas letters. And so I was forced to brandish the sorrows of Mark Twain's daughters to keep Frances from snatching them up, to save them from becoming bric-a-brac and bedposts." Thumbs up.

Haunting Rachel by Kay Hooper

I won't waste much time on this one. I was moderately taken in by the title, but I could tell by the typeface on the cover that it wasn't going to deliver (you know what I'm talkin' about). It's about some woman whose fiance died mysteriously, and now 15 years later his dead ringer is back in her life and she can't figure out who he is or if he's good or evil. Kay Hooper is billed on the cover as a "master storyteller" and the book as a thriller. Neither was true. It was more like a Lifetime movie in book form and wasn't thrilling at all. Also, as my girls would say, it was kind of trashy. Thumbs down.

Margaret's Peace by Linda Hunt

This is another book where the heroine's 5-year-old daughter has just died of meningitis. How odd, and now I'm paranoid and keep checking my own daughters for signs of it. She returns to her old family home in Maine for a rest, but she gets caught up in finding out what really happened to her sister. Twenty-five years earlier, she pitched off the widow's walk of their house and died. Was it an accident? Suicide? Murder? I could pretty much easily figure out what had happened and why, but the book still held my interest well enough though the characterization was a little cardboard cutout. Thumbs sideways.

So, there you go. I'm ready for another library trip today...we'll see what I come up with next week.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sometimes I Catch a Glimpse, Part I

When I was little, I used to sit for hours in the dark in front of our Christmas tree. I would keep my eyes open, looking at the lights, then slowly shut them until they were almost closed but not quite--so all I could see was the blur of bright light, and I thought I could almost see that sky in Bethlehem all lit up from the multitude of the heavenly host (I loved that King James language too..."heavenly host" sounded so awe-inspiring and other-worldly.)

A couple of weeks before this Christmas, I went in one night to check on the girls while they were sleeping. Lucy was still awake though, and she whispered, "Will you rock me, Mom?" So we got in the glider rocker together--where I've rocked her ever since we brought her home from the hospital--and we talked together. It had snowed that day, and she told me, "I love winter so much! I love winter a lot more than summer."

"Oh, Lucy," I said playfully, "We can't be related if you like winter more than summer. Yuck! Summer is way better. You can go on picnics in the summer!"

Then she said softly, "I love picnics. I love when Manga took care of us, and she would make our lunch and put down a blanket in the backyard so we could have a picnic together." Then she began to cry. "I don't want Manga to die, Mama!"

It had been a long, tiring day of shouldering the adult world for me and, while I let her child-like pain soak into me, I began to cry too. "I know," I told her. "I don't want her to die either. My heart can't bear it. I'm going to miss her so much. I can't figure out how to have a life without her."

Lucy said through her tears, "I'm going to miss everything about her. She takes such tender loving care of me. She is the right grandma for me. I just can't let go of her!"

I held her close and told her I understood. Then I said, "Lucy, there's an awesome verse in the Bible. It says that one day Jesus is going to come back for us. We're going to hear a great shout, and we'll know it's Him because we know His voice already. And there will be a trumpet too. And when all the people have died hear Jesus calling and any of us who are still alive hear Him calling, we'll be caught up into the air TOGETHER. Just think of it! When we hear that shout, we'll all be gathered together again, and you'll see Manga right away!"

She still cried and said, "I hope she doesn't look young though so I don't recognize her. I want her to still have her same curly hair and her cute glasses. And will she know it's me?"

"Of course she will," I reassured her. "She'll say, 'Lucy LuLu! I've been waiting for you!' and you'll never be separated again. This time, we'll be together always and forever. Jesus promised us. And He always keeps His promises."

We rocked for awhile longer, and she quieted down and went back to bed.

We moved through the holiday season and then back to school. In January is the school-wide speech meet. Each child from 1st through 8th grade has to memorize (according to grade-appropriateness) a poem, a fable, or a Scripture passage. Lucy was adamant that she wanted to memorize some Bible verses, so we have been working diligently together on that.

On January 13, I was working around in the kitchen after school, and Lucy was puttering around by me. All of a sudden she said, "We learned about Nicodemus at school today. He talked to Jesus and he found out that he had to be born twice, not just once. And I know I love Jesus and want Him to be in my heart, but I don't think I've ever asked Him to, have I? Can I talk to you about it, Mom?"

I dropped everything I was doing and drew her onto my lap. I asked her if she understood what that meant. She did, but I explained it to her again. I told her that Daddy and I have already observed how much she loves Jesus and wants to live for Him, but that this was an important decision because it meant going to God directly and telling Him that.

We prayed together, first me, then her. She thanked Jesus for coming to Earth and dying on the cross for her sins. She thanked Him for rising from the dead. And she told Him how she wanted to live for Him while she's here and would He please take her to heaven when it's time. When we were done I said, "Did you know that the Bible says that right now, all the angels are up in heaven, having a big party just for YOU?" Her eyes widened with delight. "You know what else? Your name: LUCY, is written down in God's Book of Life. No one can ever erase it, and no one can ever take you out of Jesus' hand."

I told her the story of Maria Chapman and played her this song (I hope you can hear the whole thing--if not, the lyrics are here).

Today was a holiday from school so I took both the girls to see my mom. Her condition is rapidly deteriorating now, and Lucy hasn't seen her since New Year's Day. Before we left, she had a special picture she wanted to draw for her Manga. She did her best work, and I bought her a frame to put it in.

When we got there, they had a private conversation together. Lucy told my mom that she had asked Jesus into her heart last week, and she gave her the picture she had drawn: of clouds; of God and Jesus on thrones; on streets of gold; and of a curly-haired lady labeled "You" and a little girl labeled "Me." Then she recited her verses that she's memorized for the speech meet:

Colossians 3: 1-4 "Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above--where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also shall appear with Him in glory."

I've always found it challenging to keep walking by faith. I want the sight so bad, and I want it now. I want to be able to tell a grieving little girl that I know heaven is real because I've seen it with my own eyes, but I can't. I can only tell her what I believe.

Fortunately, she believes too.

And as I sit here in the dark, squinting my eyes at the images, I can get a little glimpse of glory.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Awaiting Help

Of course we all want to help those in Haiti, but maybe we're unsure how.

Compassion International is an organization we have partnered with for many years. We have written letters back and forth between the little girl we sponsor in Ecuador (who is now a big girl, actually) and her parents. The money we have donated has gone directly to her--her physical and spiritual needs, her education.

Compassion is reputable, and the money goes where they say it's going. They have a list on their website of needs and dollar amounts in Haiti if you are looking for a place to donate. You can access it here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Flowers from a Book

I got some really great gifts this year, but by far the best was from my friend Alysa. She is creative and artistic and incredibly gifted. A week or two before Christmas, we bundled up our littlest children and met mid-way between our houses. She gave me two scrapbooks, one each for Lucy and Elaine, that she had made from the pictures Julie Kittredge took earlier this fall. She had asked me earlier for some verses for each girl, which she put in the books, but she found perfect quotes of her own as well and also wrote them a letter.

Here is what she wrote:

Dear Lucy and Elaine,

Your Manga is one of the most beautiful women I know. She is courageous and strong and gentle and kind. She is selfless and grace-filled. She is the Hands and Feet of Jesus. She loves her Lord Jesus more than life itself. And she loves you deeply, sweet little ones. I am confident that you will carry on, in both your Manga and your mother's footsteps, as a daughter of the King, living solely to please Him.

This quote, from Manga's favorite book besides the Bible sums up who she is:

"Suppose, then, you content yourself for the present with doing in a faithful, quiet, persistent way all the little, homely tasks that return with each returning day, each one as unto God, and perhaps by and by you will thus have gained strength for a more heroic life."

--Stepping Heavenward, by Elizabeth Prentiss

Your Manga has lived a heroic life, and I will always remind you of that. While her life here on earth is coming to a close, a large part of who you are is because of who she is. Her legacy will live on in you, sweet Lucy and Elaine.

If you ever want to know stories about your Manga and your mommy, you just let me know and I'll tell you all sorts of wonderful ways in which they have deeply touched my life.

I love you, sweet Lucy and Elaine.

Love, Auntie Alysa

Here are some of the pages she did--I didn't include all of them, just some so you can get a sampling. The caption for this page reads "Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever":

This one has 3 John 1:4 "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."

This one has a quote from Stepping Heavenward that I absolutely love: "Mothers occasionally know more than their daughters do."

This one has the caption: "My mother had a slender, small body, but a large heart--a heart so large that everybody's joys found welcome in it, and hospitable accommodation"--Mark Twain.

This one has one of Lucy's verses; her middle name is "Nan," which means "grace": "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Acts 20:32

Elaine's middle name is "Frances," which means "freedom." Her verse is: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

In each book, Alysa left a blank piece of stationery on which my mom could write a letter.

Here is her letter to Elaine:

Dear Little Sweet Pea (my mom's special name for her):

Wasn't that fun--the day we walked in the Japanese Gardens, enjoying the last of a lovely summer?

It was October, remember? You and Lucy were wearing your new crocheted hats and your ponchos, and looked just like you walked out of a picture book! Oh, what a happy time I had with Mom, Dad, you girls, and God's beautiful world all around us.

Walk close to Jesus, my Precious. He makes every day beautiful.

All My Love,


Here is her letter to Lucy:

Dearest Sugar Plum:

I've never been in a lovelier garden, have you? I will always remember this day and your happy excitement in showing me your favorite spots. We found the frog and the turtle, and I watched you and Elaine feed the fish. How blessed you are to have this little spot of Heaven so near your home.

It reminds me of the Garden of Eden, where God walked with Adam and Eve. God's Word is like a garden with treasures hidden all through it.

Always love Jesus and walk and talk with Him every day. That is the Road to Heaven, Lovey. Keep on it always.

With all the love in I have,


At the end of each book is our family verse: "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way: walk in it.'" Isaiah 30:21

I don't have words for how much these books mean to me. My girls already love looking at them, but I know they will be treasures of the heart as they get older. Their clear memories of my mom will fade with time, but they will have these tangible evidences of love and family to hold onto.

I know I still have the crumbling piece of Moody Bible Institute stationery that my grandma wrote her last note to me on, while she was in the hospital, dying of cancer:


My darling Alice:

I'm here in bed, looking at those pretty flowers you sent me. They make me very happy. Thank you so much.

I miss seeing you so much. Maybe pretty soon I'll be out of here and you can come to see me. Don't ever forget that Grandpa and I love you so very much.

Do you know what I've been doing today while here? I've prayed especially for you and Chuck. You're growing up so fast. We hope you'll always love the Lord Jesus and do what He wants you to do and be a real worker for Him. Even now you can show other children that you love the Lord Jesus.

You'll never forget that we love you, will you? Very, very much love to you.


As a quote from John Steinbeck says, "How will our children know who they are if they don't know where they come from?"

Alysa, I'll never be able to thank you enough for these books--not only chronicling this time, but doing it with such breathtaking beauty. Thank you for helping to give my girls their legacy.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Golden Apples

I had this speech teacher in college who was phenomenal (shout out, Dr. Kragel! not sure where he is now--Cedarville?) Anyway, I was so terrified of public speaking that I took the class at night so I wouldn't run into any of my friends or various boys I had crushes on and humiliate myself in front of them with my terrible speeches, and I ended up taking it with all sorts of cool, older people (older than 18) from around Chicago. It was great. Dr. Kragel would randomly toss in bon mots, great little pieces of advice he called "golden apples." The most important one I still remember: "Focus on the message, not on yourself."

I find that parenting is kind of like that--in between the feeding and clothing and chauffeuring and basic needs fulfillment, you're always trying to slip in a good word to your children--so that they'll know what's important in life. You figure they're probably not listening, but you do it anyway.

Then comes the sweet, sweet pay-off day when you realize they actually have been absorbing some of what you tell them.

Here is Elaine's example. She got a dollar one day in the Advent calendar, and I told her, "We can go to the dollar spot at Target and you can get something with that. You could pick yourself out a treat." She answered, "I would NOT get a treat with this dollar. I will buy lipstick."

Joy flooded my soul. Lipstick, more important than candy! (Of course I don't let her wear lipstick. She means chapstick. But the seed is there, people, the seed is there.)

And here is Lucy's example. Apropos of nothing, she made this announcement from the backseat.

"Mom, if it doesn't work out that I marry Daniel, then I'm going to marry Andrew. Because he loves God, and I love God. He's funny, and you know I'm funny," (she added unnecessarily). "And don't worry, Mom, we're both going to get jobs, and we'll work very hard together."

Hold onto that thought, little girl (for at least 20 years).

Maybe they haven't been listening all the times I've said, "Ladies don't eat like pigs at the trough," or "Flies and bees! Flies and bees!" (which is what I yell whenever they leave the patio door open, approximately 852 times a day). But the "don't-go-out-without-your-lipstick" and the "loves-God-and-has-a-job are requirements for a life partner" lectures stuck.

So, keep dropping those golden apples...they really do pick some of them up.

Monday, January 04, 2010

This is what can be done when you stay off the Internet

One of my goals for this year is to stop wasting so much time online. I check my email (both of them), read the paper, read my blog list, then check facebook, then read some other blogs, then look at, then read some theological blogs--where most of the people who comment (men) are rude, and arrogant, and argumentative and keep fighting about who signed or didn't sign the Manhattan Declaration (which I kept calling the Manhattan Project for the longest, until my cousin reminded me that was that World War II nuclear deal), and that's depressing for me and by then it's 10:30 a.m., and I've just frittered away a bunch of time and have nothing to show for it. It's a terrible habit. No more. I'm limiting my time as of today.

Instead, I got up and took Lucy to school. Then I came back and did some laundry. Visible accomplishment of a task I usually procrastinate. Then I got out Elaine's new game and played with her. That was so worth it right there because as we were putting it together, she was all excited and said, "I just can't wait to play this with you, Mama!" What have I been missing all this time?

We had a blast, playing together. Then she and I bundled up and went to the grocery store and to Borders. I needed to buy a new journal and a new calendar. Here's a little tip: always buy those things a couple days into January. They're 50% off. Look, just LOOK at my new calendar:

Is that not the coolest thing you've ever seen? Every week is a different piece of cover art from a Nancy Drew book, like this:

...and they even have my favorite one:

Then I decided to try something I've never, ever done before. Yesterday I had seen a recipe (on the Internet, natch) for bread that takes five minutes to make and you don't have to knead it. Now, my mom always made bread, every single week--multiple loaves--that she mixed and kneaded and baked, and our house always smelled fantastic. The whole prospect was really daunting to me, so I always just buy multi-grain bread enriched with extra fiber and feel very virtuous doing so. But I also buy this delicious rosemary-olive oil bread, which costs way too much, and I'm lookin' at this recipe and thinking I could try it.

I was still daunted because it's on Catherine Newman's site, called Dalai Mama Dishes, and she just seems fearless and like the kind of person who grows her own produce and mills her own wheat flour or whatever and I am like the kind of person who so does not do those things. But she promised that it was ultra-easy, plus she has nice, funny instructions, such as " The dough's texture may seem all wrong: too loose, too shaggy, too sticky. This is fine." or " Turn the dough in your hands to stretch its surface, pulling it under to create a taut, rounded top and a gathered-up bottom (imagine that you're giving the dough a firming face lift and tucking all that baggy, extra skin underneath)."

Now her recipe is for some sort of ultra-grain artisan-type bread, but I thought that not only could I try this amazing feat I had never done before, but also I could mix it up a little and add ingredients not called for because if my life's motto is not "Break All Rules with Abandon," it's nothing. (Actually, my life's motto is "Always Have a Back-Up Plan," which in this case is the grocery store where I could buy the bread if I failed.)

I got Elaine to help me, and we used white flour and added olive oil and chopped rosemary instead of using all the fancy flours and stone-ground stuff and flaxseed that Catherine Newman does. She seems really cool-hippy and groovy while you know, I'm more, well, 80s. Evidenced by the fact that we played Erasure's Top 20 Hits, and Elaine danced around to "A Little Respect" and yelled, "I'm a good cooker, aren't I, Mom?"

OK, here's the mixed dough that we've set to rest for 2 hours (after the 5 minutes of putting it together, which really took longer than 5 minutes but that's because I'm brand new at this and also had a 4-year-old assisting).

Hey, look! Here it is, 2 hours later, all risen up! I couldn't believe it! It worked! I guess it's that yeast stuff I sprinkled in.

Then I cut off a third of the dough (all of it makes three loaves) and shaped it. Here it is, shaped:

Then you're supposed to hide it under a tea towel for 40 minutes so it can rest some more.

Then I forgot to take to take a picture of the loaf all ready in its pan, which is disappointing seeing as I was supposed to take you through this whole odyssey, including a dumb shot of bread under a tea towel. But, oh well. Then I baked it, and it was wonderful, just like my house when I was growing up, and that brought the happiness that only the smell of fresh-baked bread can bring.

Here is my very first loaf of homemade bread from scratch:

A side view, with my helper, coloring in the background. Is that a beautiful loaf of bread or what?

Here it is, sliced and ready to go with some olive oil and grated parmesan:

I served it for supper with this (which I also made today. You can get a LOT done when you're not on your computer.)

When I served dinner, I asked the girls shamelessly, "Is this bread the absolute best thing you have ever put in your mouth?"

"Yes," said Lucy. "It's almost just like the store kind."

"The crust is yucky," Elaine added.

I never liked her much.

For dessert, I served these. This picture does not do the color justice. They're actually made with strawberry marshmallows, so they're hot pink. I can't really tell the difference from regular ones, other than that they're a little sweeter. And you know what you really need from Rice Krispie treats is that they be a little sweeter.

Anyway, they're pink, and as you ought to know by now from this blog, you never have to pray about pink.

After that, my girls nominated me for Mother of the Year for my amazing cooking skills (despite Elaine's opinion of bread crust), and it is only January FOUR, people.

Don't worry, other mothers. There's still plenty of time for me to screw it up. I'm sure I'll manage that by tomorrow.

Oh, and if you want the recipe, here it is. Try it, and tell me if you follow the recipe or do your own thing.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Things That Are Not

I love new beginnings and fresh starts. My favorite time is spring, when everything is new. I also love when the new school year begins. And even though I hate winter, I love turning the (new) calendar page to January--when I can tear down all the decorations, pitch the tree to the curb, throw out the stale cookies, put the new clothes we got for Christmas in the closet, and start afresh. See? I love to change my blog background, and I got a little thrill putting up a new quote and starting a brand new booklist for 2010.

I'm not sad to say goodbye to 2009. That was one rough year, and not just for me. I have friends who miscarried, whose marriages broke up, who lost loved ones to suicide, who lost loved ones to heart attacks and cancer. There's always a little part of me (the control part) that would like to know the future. Mostly though, I'm glad I don't. Like Jesus said, I've got enough worry just for today.

I've got a dear friend who starts the new year with a word: something that she holds in her heart and sets her goals by--maybe "self-control," or "joy" or "follow through." I think that's such a great idea: having a fresh start, a blank page, a word to center around and work toward.

I have to say, I honestly can't think of one for me this year. I've been dreading 2010. I can catch a glimpse into this future, and I know that death is crouching at the door of our family. Our world is going to change. There's going to be one empty space at the table, and you know what? There could be more. I just don't know. None of us could have predicted the bad things that happened in 2009.

Oh, I've got some words for 2010: "dread" "sleepless" "hopeless," but I'm not wanting to center my life around those.

I figure I need a verse, something for me to hang onto, to memorize--that will carry me through both what I sort of know and what I don't know is coming up ahead for me. Can I tell everyone on the Internet a little secret while I'm at it? I've got some Psalms memorized that I love: the 23rd of course, Psalm 91, Psalm 121, Psalm 4:8. But whenever I just open up the book, desperate for some comfort--I can't ever find just what I'm looking for. I know! Nobody else is like that. I always seem to find the really happy, praise ones or the ones about smiting enemies or something, I don't know. Maybe I need to take a Psalms class (again).

Then I found this verse in Romans: (Rom. 4:17) "As it is written: 'I have made you a father of many nations.' He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were."

The first part is talking about Abraham; it's the second part that really got to me "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were."

So, all the things that I can see around me that not, God calls them as though they were. I say "hopeless," and God says, "hope for the future." I say, "perplexed," He says, "not in despair." I say, "lonely;" He says, "never abandoned." I say, "by sight;" He says, "by faith." I say, "broken;" He says, "redeemable." I say, "bedridden;" He says, "dancing with joy." I say, "dead, death, dying," and He says, "Resurrection!"

I don't have super high hopes for 2010. I love being with my family and doing work I enjoy. That's huge, and it's a comfort for me. Jesus promises that He'll never leave or forsake me and that He stays the same--yesterday, today, and forever. I've got more than I need and far more than I deserve in that alone. And I've got a God who gives life to the dead and call things that are not as though they were.

It's beyond what I could ask or think. I'm looking forward to seeing what He will do in 2010!