...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Grandma's Apron

This morning, my family ate brunch at a diner where the following was photocopied, folded and stuck in the napkin rack.  I found it again online and thought I'd share it.  I've been waiting for an apron to present itself to me, ever since I read someone describe it as the minister's stole of the kitchen cook. 
Now I want it all the more!

Grandma’s Apron

I don’t think our kids know what an apron is.

The principal use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath, because she only had a few. It was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material, but along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears…

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables.

After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men-folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that ‘old-time apron’ that served so many purposes.

(Original poem attributed to Tina Trivett; this version is slightly different and its author is unknown.)

Found at:

Another plus to following the link:  It includes this picture of a 25 cent apron pattern back in the day when size 14-16 was called a medium.  My kind of world!

Friday, December 16, 2011

If I Lived in a Compost Bin...

(I wrote this before Christmas but didn't get it posted.  Bringing it along today.)
 Life has scraps, and they're not just in the kitchen.  Today, I gathered a mess of left-over yarn from various projects and considered what to do with it.  None of it is in sufficient quantities to make even a humble pot holder...and I sighed because life today feels like just so many useless scraps.  Excess that outlasts former uses but is insufficient for crafting anything new. 
Today that is me as I look backward and try to think forward. 

Then I read a quote:  Live out of your imagination, not out of your past.
Imagination I still have in plentiful supplies. 
So even though my "real" view out the front door is a drooping Snoopy Santa whose companion, Charlie Brown, is flat on his face, invisible just beyond the dead mums, I can pretend I see something else.  I can pretend I haven't been out there three times already resetting the pair, anchoring them again and again.  (This time, they'll be tied to the lamp post.)
 I can turn on my television where this beautiful winter wonderland showcase is displayed, and I can pretend I see that out my window instead of the grass that doesn't understand this warm winter and is conflicted over whether it should or shouldn't try to grow.
And, I'll take those gumball-sized yarn scraps and knit from a pattern I found for a stole that runs one strand at a time, like ribbons of color and texture that offer something lovely, intricate, and diverse in their common purpose.

Then something mysterious and large comes to my mind as I think how this scarf will be quite a memorable thing as each strand reminds me of something else--a pair of socks, my first hat of hand-spun yarn, my family's favorite crocheted afghan...
This will remind me of them all.
Tidings of comfort and joy to lay across my shoulders.  I can surely imagine that!

Rules for Writing Blog Posts

Losing your holiday joy in a whirl of busy-ness and December life clutter yet?  Finding yourself staring catatonically at an ornament while the kids wonder what's wrong with you?

I saw this on a friend's Facebook page and with it found my holiday jollies again.  (Thank you, Mona!) I'm sure I've broken just about every one of these, but that's ok.  Actually, I'm just proud to have understood them all.  Cheers!

1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat)

6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

7. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.

12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

14. One should NEVER generalize.

15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

19. The passive voice is to be ignored.

20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

25. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.

26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

29. Who needs rhetorical questions?

30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

And the last one...

31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Keep It Simple Gifting

Who says that neighbor/small group leader/school bus driver/etc. needs a gift that is complicated, time consuming and a stressor to your life?  In the past, I've sometimes failed to recognize this larger circle in the concentric circles of my Christmas gifting target.  Not enough money, not enough time, sometimes simply not enough creative energy to come up with a gift for them--these were my excuses for utterly ignoring all but my tight circle of family gifts. 
Until I got this book (Gifts from the Christmas Kitchen)
wherein I found this recipe for simple homemade cocoa. 
 Easy Cocoa Mix:
In a large bowl, mix
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa
3/4 C nondairy creamer
1 C sugar
2 C dry milk

To serve:  pour 3/4 C of boiling water over 1/4 C of cocoa mix in a cup or mug.  Add marshmallows or whipped cream and chocolate shavings if desired.

Now how easy is that?  The book gave me the recipe.  The cheap and easy gift presentation came from a website.  I put the mix in quart-sized bags (which easily held 12 servings) and put the plastic bag in a lunch-sized brown paper bag. I used a publisher program to create postcard-sized directions for serving and taped the cards on the bags. 
You have a table full of gifts ready for delivery before the early-setting sun drops below the windowsill. 
Full confession time.  For me, the progression over the last couple of decades of life has been:  give gifty things that are far too expensive but (hopefully) impressive, then pay painfully for a year; next, gift nothing as the realization hits that this gifting thing is more than I can consistently climb over; and finally...gift simply because it really is the thought that counts.

Happy gifting!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Week 1 Flashback: Advent's First Announcers

(I didn't get started sharing Advent devotions until week two, so here's a recap of week one.)

Advent begins with prophets.  The candle in the cupboard. The seed in the seed pouch.
Before the song is even figured, it is heard in the heart.
Before anything is realized, it is revealed.
Such is God's way with men.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,  "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word;  for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel."

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."  

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phan'u-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Luke 2:25-38

"... a sign that is spoken against, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." 
We call him many names. Beautiful names.  Reassuring names.
Rarely do we call him the Revealer of Secret Hearts.
The exposer not simply of deeds--the Law alone is enough to measure a man's deeds--
But the Exposer of Motivations.
The Annunciation of the Why for every heart.
The Hope of all whose hearts long to touch the key to the glorious city.
The Even So that is pure and sure.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen.  Rev. 22:20-21

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Week 3: On Being Mary of the Cluster

Advent's third-candle focus.
She is surely more than a figurine who yearly visits our windowsill.
More than a face on a card.
But how shall she be recognized by us
--to do her honor through the way we live our lives?
Catholic or Protestant,
all hear Jesus say of her to John, "...here is your mother."
And if we be brothers with John--as fellow disciples,
is she not also our mother?
How shall we honor her as sons and daughters?

The first clue is not at the manger.
It is long before that.
It is in the mouth of her aunt.
It is words that prime the pump for the Magnificat:
And blessed [is] she that believed:
for there shall be a performance of those things
which were told her from the Lord.

It is surely noble work.
Vital work.
Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
Jesus answered and said unto them,
This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Mary's work...a pure, unadulterated expression
of one doing the works of God.

But what of us?
Is all structural believing work finished?
And our work nothing but trimwork?  Embellishment?
How tempting to be lazy if such were true.

But Isaiah gives us this picture:
Thus saith the LORD,
As the new wine is found in the cluster,
and [one] saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing [is] in it:
so will I do for my servants' sakes,
that I may not destroy them all.

It is work to see the new wine
--the wine of the Son--
the blessing even yet in the cluster.
Now as always
It is work to imagine good springing from places most unlikely.
It is work to ache for vengeance and justice;
to watch the spread of brutal power,
all the while knowing you serve a God
who could pinch out the evil like a candle's flame,
and yet...
to grasp that arm of divine power,
and say, "Wait.  Do not destroy.
I see a blessing in it even yet."

Today more than ever,
We inherit the work
of Mary.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Is It Worth It?

...all that work in the hot sun,
kneeling in the dirt, sweating,
competing with bugs and fungus
all for that basket of produce, whisked
straight to the garage freezer
or into a pantry jar
or a basement box of sand;
for the herbs hung to dry and then packed into jars. 
Is it worth it? 

Ask the cook come winter.
Ask while she prepares a crock
for a chicken to roast on a bed of herbs and vegetables. 

Or don't ask.
Watch her smile as she opens the bag of frozen broccoli or brussel sprouts,
--the month and year of their "putting up"
Sharpie-written on the side.
Watch her close her eyes as she breathes
faintly scented thyme and basil.
She crumbles them over the vegetables,
her hands graced already with the scent of garlic,
cut from a braid she wove
Ask her what she sees
with her eyes so closed and she'll tell you:
she remembers the bees,
busily hovering
there in the basil blossoms and the little lemon balm flowers.
The ones she let bloom away
--though the herb leaf grew less sweet for their blooming,
as she knew it would--
for she'd dried enough to fill a winter,
and she knew all creatures have some work to do
With the sweeter things of life.

She whispers this as she stirs a wooden paddle
round and round in the crock.
Then the chicken will go on top,
and she will turn to other things;
but if you are listening.
You'll know your question's answer.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

 So what do you do?  You've made so much applesauce this season that you finally got a little TOO creative with a recipe and adapted a batch right out of the edible zone.  Tooooo sweet.  Maybe if you'd left out the honey, or skipped the red hots...Whatever the culprit, in the end the sauce was make-me-shudder sweet, and no one would eat it.  Oh, they would taste it, but the taste was quickly followed by a surprised (but it's usually so good!) smile and a quick return to the mashed potatoes and gravy. 

So does the leftover applesauce bowl sit lonely in the refrigerator until that film of mold shows that at least IT doesn't play favorites?  Not necessarily.  Not for the creative cook.  If they won't eat applesauce, then let them eat cake.

My baseline recipe for applesauce cake came from my old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  (Surely by now you've figured out the "you" who made the syrupy sauce is me.)  This was the recipe:  1/2 C butter and 2 C sugar creamed together.  Here is the only part of the recipe I adapted.  Plenty of sweetness waited to be added with that applesauce, so I only used 1 C of sugar.  The rest was straightforward.
Add 2 eggs, beating well after each. 
Sift together 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp allspice (I used cloves instead.  OK, I also stirred with a spoon rather than sifting, but not because I'm a sifter snob.  If I ever get a crank sifter I think I'd happily use it.  It looks to be much fun!)
Add dry ingredients alternately with 1 1/2 C applesauce to the creamed mixture.  Add 1/2 C raisins and/or1/2 C chopped pecans if desired.  Bake in 9x13 pan for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Of course, I needed to sample it myself before subjecting anyone else to it just in case I'd failed again.  My assessment:  it turned out beautifully, just right for a mid-afternoon snack when drizzled with a little honey and served up with a cup of Joe.  A great accompaniment to my Christmas card reading break.

Morale of the story:  don't be quick to call a failure a failure...maybe it's just a pitstop on the way to something great!
Happy resurrecting!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On Being Advent's First Responders

 This blog's last entry mentioned advent traditions, complete with a photo of our family's advent wreath centerpiece.  Tonight we will light the second candle, the candle of peace; but also--in older church traditions--the candle of the shepherds.  Not all farm animals are happy to remain quietly in the barn, nor should they.  They need fresh field grass and time for frolicking. 
So the shepherds tend them.  Keep them safe from harm.  Now shepherds did not enjoy a particularly high rung on the career ladder of their day, but they were nevertheless vitally important.  To these were given the first glad tidings of the wondrous event.  Interesting.  What other laborers could say they'd been visited by a "multitude" of angels while on the job?  Certainly the priests and levites would have expected to be such recipients, but instead it was given to a band of rag-tag shepherds--and the third-shift crew at that!  Just who are these guys who get an advent candle all for themselves?

I saw a curious bit of holiday yard art yesterday:  4 shepherds as if in a Nativity display, except for the rest of the primary characters.  All others were missing.  What's more, these shepherds had their backs to the road, as if they were headed around the house, most likely to a stable back there.  

Passers-by were the least of their concerns. 

I thought this display rather curious, but then it struck me:  maybe these homeowners were being playful with their outdoor docorating:  making an advent yard show for anyone who "got" it.  They featured the shepherds because this is the week of the shepherds...in Advent celebrations.  Maybe I should look again at the story of these first responders, I thought.  When I did, it struck me:


  • "There were in the same country, shepherds..." which reminds me that Jesus claimed this "career" for himself, too.  It was "his country," too.  His mother regarded well this first of all visits: field hands lumbering--probably rough and dirty--to the manger side.  She treasured it in her heart.  Later her son would call himself a shepherd.  Surely he sat on her knee as a boy and He obviously regarded it well, too.
  • "Keeping watch over their flocks by night."  Alert. Watching over their lambs.  Jesus loved his disciples, but did he maybe ache just a bit for a few shepherds that night in Gethsemane?  Keeping the night watch.  Protecting in the dark.  It is an honorable calling, more than many know.
  • "And this shall be a sign unto you.  The babe shall be wrapped in swaddling clothing and lying in a manger."  How often are we willing to accept that the  humble, embarrassing moments of life might be the circumstances that serve as the very sign of God to another creature?  Or, who would receive such a strange and humble sign as being from God...except maybe a true shepherd?
  • They "made haste" to see him, and then boldly "made known abroad" the news, doing it well enough that others marvelled rather than ridiculed their strange story. Finally, "the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."  As it was told unto them.  Joy at being given a wondrous but mysterious message and spreading that news well and with integrity before returning to "normal" life with no grand expectations for further elevated station.  All told, their part of the story is the essence of pure ministry.  No wonder theirs is the week to rejoice in the gifts of peace.
May we all be shepherds such as these.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Martin Luther's Answer to St. Nick

Let me begin with a disclaimer: these facts are not necessarily facts.  In other words, they're taken from Wikipedia.  But rumor has it that Martin Luther, in the nativity of the Protestant Church, promoted changing the culture's focus from St. Nicholas as the early winter gift-bringer to Christkindl, or the Christ Child.  Along with giver, the gift-giving date also changed: from December 6 to--appropriately--Christmas Eve.  Some of that new tradition spread beyond the Lutheran sphere.

"A gift-bringer familiar to German children, the Christkind bears little resemblance to the infant of Bethlehem.[2] The Christkind was adopted in Catholic areas during the 19th century, while it began to be, in a rather surprising turnabout, gradually replaced by a more or less secularized version of Saint Nicholas, the Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas, Santa Claus) in Protestant regions..."  This from   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christkind

In Scandanavian countries, this morphing of traditional gifting linked itself to St. Lucia's Day.
"In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, Lucy (called Lucia) is venerated on December 13 in a ceremony where a girl is elected to portray Lucia. Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucia's life when she was sentenced to be burned..."
This from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lucy's_Day

So much mystery, so much legend. 
By 1908, "...the oldest daughter brings coffee and St. Lucia buns to her parents while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. Other daughters may help, dressed in the same kind of white robe and carrying a candle in one hand, but only the oldest daughter wears the candle-wreath."  And, "today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year. Schools elect a Lucia and her maids among the students and a national Lucia is elected on national television from regional winners. The regional Lucias will visit shopping malls, old people's homes and churches, singing and handing out pepparkakor (gingerbread)."  Ibid. 

So much tradition, yet so unfamiliar to most well-rooted, modern Americans.  All I really knew of this festival as a school child in the US came from the occasional song shared in a music class, with the music's illustration showing the girl in white. But she gets much more attention in other places, even today.  One great opportunity for grooming humility:  visit other cultures' long-held traditions for this holiday.

Remember our Wikipedia disclaimer?  Well, whether these legends really are factual is of little import when weighing whether or not they are true. Truth can be found in them for the looking and the listening.  The wreath of candles alone offers truth.  Candles, the bringers of peaceful, lasting light in the darkest of days:  they require many dips in the wax if they are to form well.  There is no rushing the making of a candle.  This is a truth you can mull like fine cider if you don't get stuck in the muck of questioning whether the flames really refused to take St. Lucia.

We have both the luxury and the curse of leisure.  We have too much time for thinking, and not enought for relating meaning to actual tasks, I often think.  We forget what a "chore" it was, those days when our ancestors took up the task of chandling, because now we can simply stock the candle drawer whenever the local hobby shop offers a 50% off sale.

Still, we hold these candles as treasured elements in our holiday festivities.  How much richer might those traditions be if we allow something as humble as a candle to carry a larger meaning, one that honors the traditions of our neighbors or of our ancestors?
It can be a profound thing:  like a wreath of Advent candles; a centerpiece for purposeful devotions; ones that include a discussion of the ancient saints and prophets, who are themselves luminaries this time of year. 
Or, it might involve a humbler table, a less formal ceremony.  December 13th might include the serving of St. Lucia buns and coffee, the opening of ONE small gift and the singing of a carol or two. 
Whatever is on the holiday calendar, I challenge you to be intentional about taking some element of this holiday month and celebrate the mystery of secret graces.  Make Christmas fresh.  Make it new again.  Make it filled with wonder.

Happy candle-lighting!
P.S. If you should like to make those Lucia Buns, here's a recipe for you.
P.P.S. If you know how to find saffron easily, let me know about it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Honoring Your Craft

The following article excerpt is taken from Sally Melville's knitting series Book 2: The Pearl Stitch/Becoming Intuitive.  Seeing that I'm knitting gift socks (this pair for instance is for my mother-in-law's birthday.  Shhh, don't tell her you've already seen them) and seeing that the prospect of offering handmade gifts--whether knitted or otherwise--swirls around in many folks' heads this time of year, I figured it an appropriate time to share her words of wisdom:

A survey done on Canadian radio posed the question, "What is the most dreaded Christmas present?" 
The answer was not the heavy-as-a-brick fruit cake...It was a handknit sweater!
I'm not sure what this says about our craft. Perhaps it harkens back to a childhood in which one desperately wanted a Red Ryder BB gun but was given a brown and orange, ill-fitting but practical handknit sweater.
Whatever this was about, we can all make it our personal mission to override such a dreadful stereotype...by learning all that we can to be the best knitters we can and by raising public consciousness about the knitting community.  Here are my suggestions:

  • Knit in public. (You'll answer questions, meet other knitters, learn a trick or two, and perhaps even teach a new knitter.)
  • Access your knitting community.(...visit shops, bookstores, Web sites...to which you can connect and from which you can learn.)
  • When you knit for others, make sure it works for them! (This may mean knitting something you don't like--in a style you don't like, in a stitch pattern you don't like, in a color you don't like.  It may also mean ripping and re-knitting to make it fit.  But they get what they want--which does much for knitting--and you'll learn from the experience.)
  • When you find yourself excusing a mistake ("a blind man on a galloping horse will never see it"), you need to fix it...or repeat it.  If done three or more times, it becomes a design feature.
  • Notice--and compliment--the knitting you see. (If I see someone wearing what I think is a handknit sweater, I ask, "Is that a handknit sweater?"  If the answer is "Yes," I then ask, "Did you make it yourself?" If the answer is again "Yes," we start a conversation and perhaps bond for life.  If the answer is "No," I then say, "Someone loves you very much.")
 Happy gifting!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Small Business Saturday Goes Holiday Green

Black Friday--Cyber Monday.  Between them falls Small Business Saturday.  What do you do with that?
Not that many years ago, the "norm" of what we patronized as "business" was indeed local and small.  More than likely we knew the owner or at least his son. Putting attention to it seemed irrelevant.  Not so these days.  Now people are intentional about putting pennies where their neighbors' next Thanksgiving dinner gets funded. 
Our own nod to the local economy this year has very much been related to the farm life around us.  We shopped farmer's markets all summer, bought our apples and cider and winter squash from farm goods stores this fall.  Now we take that support to the local tree farm.

If you've never decked a live Christmas tree, or if you've only bought one from the parking lot of your favorite grocery store, you might want to consider merging your intentionality about supporting the local economy with your objectives for exploring family tradition and heritage by searching out a local Christmas tree farm.

This year, the day after Thanksgiving was a beautiful day, warm and bright and perfect for choosing a tree. 
The tree selection at the nursery near our home was excellent.
"Even if I weren't buying, I'd come here just to walk and breathe the air!" They say olfactory memory is the strongest sort of memory. What a great way to trigger the spirit of Christmas, even before you open the totes and bags of decorations!

What's more there's that entertainment value found in watching the nursery staff work with your chosen tree.
Watching the tree on the tree shaker is certainly good for a few giggles.

Then as they prep your tree for loading...
 ...you can browse the nursery's gift shop.

While the shop is busy, still the pace is not frenzied;
nor is it overwhelming as are many holiday displays in department stores.

You still get ideas for decking that new tree...

...or the mantle...

...and the hot cider is often complimentary.

After a just a little shopping, the tree is ready to load and make its way to your home.

So while the tree farm's fields may look too pristine from the road to warrant cutting, still...riding the hay wagon to the field, choosing the tree, flipping the tassel on your Santa hat out of your eyes as you take a saw to the base--all these bring with them a greater holiday reality than you'll find digging plastic branches out of a box under the stairwell.

Some people use a live potted tree destined to be planted after the holiday, but those who decorate with a tree cut from its native forest gain a "foolish" sort of wisdom that will anchor hidden roots into their collective family soul.  For sure, a new tree will be planted by the farm's staff; but this tree's sap has pulled its last from the soil.   The sacrifice of life--even plant life with its sweet aroma wafting from the cut branch, this cost points to a deeper, more distant mystery: one that Christmas Advent barely broadcasts, one hidden well enough that young joy isn't jarred by the sight of it in the doorway. 

Many use the ash from palm fronds to celebrate Ash Wednesday, that church holiday lodged in the dark and cold of winter.  Not us, though...our family devotions will hopefully use the ash from this blessed tree, and we will receive its final gift for celebrating its and our Creator.

Happy holidays!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Gardener...by Robert Louis Stevenson

Lest we forget as we move from a season of much doing into a season of reflecting:
play with the children!
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sabbath Rest like Brother Lawrence

 Brother Lawrence is that monk who carried the message that finding God in everyday events brought the pilgrim the added gift of finding His presence everywhere.

Most recently, I found Him while knitting, more specifically while making a pair of socks.  Praying while knitting is not a novel idea, many have done it before me--but I'm not thinking of breath prayers or thematic prayers right now...I'm thinking of listening-prayers, not so much of speaking-prayers.  Oh, I spoke for a while, but then I asked God if He had something to say to me, and immediately the thought came to mind:  slow down.

I rolled that thought around in my brain as I continued to knit.  It could mean so many things--that slow down.  I used to think such an answer too vague; but as our relationship grew I realized, Your words always come with many threads of potential, those threads that weave the balance between divine speech and human free will, threads that preserve the integrity of both in the pattern of a life.  Slow down.
I was working on a pair of socks; seaming the toe of one--an awkward business with two two knitting needles, a tapestry needle and yarn that seems to have no good place to hang.  The seaming happens backstage of the primary cast:  the needles and stitches-in-waiting.  I heard You again.  Slow down.  Does it seem like nothing is happening?  Allow that plenty is happening--needful seaming in places out of sight.  And this will mean something soon...something that has nothing to do with making socks.

Then after the toes were seamed, I tried a new thing:  reinforcing the heel and toe.  I experimented with this sock pair, trying different methods of reinforcing.  Herein, the Message burrowed deeper into my soul because I learned that I could not make an invisible reinforcement while working on the side of the fabric normally hidden--the back side, even though this was the prescribed method.  This method--in my hands, at least--left jagged scars on the front of the fabric.  But if I worked from the front side, the "show" side, and made delicate reinforcing stitches hidden just under the surface, well then the sock remained beautiful and  became strong.  And this will mean something, too.  All I need do is store it up in my heart.

For who hath despised the day of small things?...the eyes of the LORD run to and fro through the whole earth.  --Zechariah 4:10

My God, you are always close to me.  In obedience to you, I must now apply myself to outward things.  Yet, as I do, I pray that you will give me the grace of your presence.  And to this end I ask that you will assist my work, receive its fruits as an offering to you, and all the while direct all my affections to you.  Amen.  --Brother Lawrence, The Harper Collins Book of Prayers

God's blessing on all your work.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pie in the Sky...

...is a more probable find than a pie bearing a beautifully fluted crust if it were coming from my oven.  See?

Obviously, my pie crust skills are woefully underdeveloped.  But that doesn't mean I have no ambition.  I'm willing to learn.  So, in an effort to achieve a pie crust worthy of holiday display, not to mention flakiness and flavor worth eating, I'm looking for a mentor in the easiest place to find one these days:  online.

I think this article gave me a few pointers that will offer some measure of--if not success, at least improvement.  And if not, I'm comforted in the knowledge that I have other friends in the same boat with me, ones who figure their pie crusts find their best use after dinner, but not as dessert: more as big pucks in the after dinner hockey game.

Happy improvements!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sabbath Rest with St. Francis

How much do you know about St. Francis of Assisi, beyond his love for animals, captured in statuary so frequently?  Here's a snippet about his life, if any life can be so captured:
"The son of a wealthy merchant, as a young man he served as a soldier, renowned for both bravery and high living.  After his conversion at the age of twenty-three he embraced a life of poverty, in imitation of Jesus...In 1208 he set out on foot, to preach the gospel.  He was soon joined by others, who were inspired by his gentle love and radiant joy, and they eventually formed themselves into a religious order."  One of his more famous prayers--Brother Sun, Sister Moon--fits the blog so beautifully I thought I'd share some of it, along with a few more "human" photos, as part of a giving thanks series here near that holiday solely dedicated to thankfulness:

...praise be to you, my Lord, for all your creatures, above all Brother Sun, who gives us the light of day.  He is beautiful and radiant with great splendour, and so is like you most high God.  Praise be to you, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and the stars.  In heaven, you fashioned them, clear and precious and beautiful.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for Brother Wind, and for every kind of weather, cloudy or fair, stormy or serene, by which you cherish all that you have made.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for Sister Water, which is useful and humble and precious and pure.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for Brother Fire, by whom you lighten the night, for he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for our Sister Earth, who sustains and governs us, and produces varied fruits and coloured flowers and herbs...

Praise and bless my Lord, giving thanks and serving him with great humility. 
--from Robert Van de Weyer's Book of Prayers