Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So touching

During an emotional interview at his Statehouse office with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Sanford said Chapur is his soul mate but he's trying to fall back in love with his wife.

He should take a hike, you know?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kitchen re-new

The traffic pattern in our old kitchen is convoluted, congested. Stand anywhere while I cook, in a matter of seconds I’ll need to gently move you. It’d cost thousands to remodel to current standards featuring the Occasional cook who demands a Wolf range and walk-in cooler but mostly orders takeout or eats in on Jenny Craig. Not that I judge. The question we asked (mostly of me since it’s my area mostly) is what could we do that would make it more attractive to a buyer, and yet fall within our budget and my quirky tastes in case we live here til I die or can’t walk.

We painted first. That was last summer. We uncovered the chimney bricks, chose a warmish gray color so that with the radiator and pipes exposed on the ceiling we had a kind of faux industrial look. The new lighting above window over the sink casts a sunny glow that warms the space. I love this on cold dreary days.

For years I intensely disliked our Formica boomerang-patterned, coral-colored countertops until the style came round again. Mine weren’t just retro, they were authentic. It’s humbling to learn you’re a complete relativist when it comes to fashion. Even though Formica lasts about a hundred years, this was getting too worn. Picking new made me anxious. Denis was, whatever you want is okay with me. I finally chose maple butcher block. I wanted something natural, organic, warm, and easy on the dishes I regularly shatter. Couldn’t find much info anywhere on care or upkeep since everyone goes for laminate, granite or concrete these days. Laminate is the cheapest, the cost for a wood is higher, but less than stone.

After the counter was installed I was told to give it a coat of mineral oil. So I did, thinking along lines of polishing furniture. You know. A shot of dusting spray and a bit of a rub down. But the oil totally disappeared, as if I’d done nothing at all. It took several days to figure it out that I needed to dump a cup or more of oil at a time, spread it with my palm, working it in until the surface felt warm to the touch, then let it sit for a few hours, wipe off the excess and do it again and again. The scent of the wood and the rhythm of circling and spreading made things slow down, hold still. I could appreciate the color and pattern of the grain and a sense that I was preserving this beauty not just for myself but for others who might someday use it. I eventually applied three and a half pints of mineral oil.

The extra care needed to wipe up standing water especially around the sink and to not set the red wine bottle directly on the surface is okay with me. I’m still obsessive about not cutting on it and keep the old boards handy so one isn’t quite so tempted to forget. Over time it will develop a patina, the grain will smooth out more and there will be dings and stains that give it character. I like this.

A new countertop isn’t newsworthy, but most of daily life isn't. It only sounds a small note - part of a larger symphony – a desire to live well and gratefully as God’s creatures in the ordinary chores of life.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Organic Vegetables

I just got back from the market with this. Most of it is from Joe and Becca's stand. Fresh eggs, butterhead lettuce, baby bok choy, a head of broccoli, scallions, sugar snap peas, beets and greens, strawberries, pea vines, spinach, and radishes. Should keep us in vitamin K for the week, no? I think I'll make a spinach and strawberry salad later today when Denis gets home from the CIVA conference. (he's giving a workshop on beauty found in ugliness) Although I don't have strawberry vinegar I think I have raspberry. That should do.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"The solace of asparagus"

Today I was forgetting that I write. Or that I could write. One of those I’m- such-a-wreck-days. I’d forgotten this was due out. I’m grateful, humbled at being a constant recipient of God’s inexorable love and mercy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Use Protection

Often I am to blame for trouble in marriage, friendships, failures of measuring up, the practice of patience or any you-name-it virtue, I know this. But I forget that Satan also has a sniffing devouring interest in tearing us away from security in our Brother and Protector.

We cannot claim with certainty that every one of our sufferings and hardships is the devil’s work, for there are many sources of troubles in this world: our own sins, the sins of others, the hostility of the world, the brokenness of our universe because of the curse, the Lord’s discipline. But even though we cannot with confidence accuse the devil of being the source of all our troubles, we can be sure no matter what the source that Satan will be actively using our sorrows to discourage us and to undermine our faith. He is always going around like a lion to devour us. He is always lying, accusing, and murdering. This is his nature, and his purpose is to seek to tear us away from our security in Christ. Therefore, we must always pray against him, no matter what the source of our particular sorrows.
- The Heart of Prayer by Jerram Barrs

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Writing toward the end

John Irving, author of such books as Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp, talks about the process of writing in an interview with the NYT. I’m not that fond of his books but I respect his work. Does that make sense? His willingness to admit the time it takes from the moment he discovers the final sentence of a project and from there the years of effort that bring it to completion – it’s an encouraging reminder that creative work often takes far more time than our culture allows. In fact, slowness, incremental growth, anything that plods along is pretty counter cultural – whether it’s writing, painting, eating, or loving.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Romancing the garden

Last week we took a supper out to the garden for Joe, Becca, and their interns Sarah and Nathan. It was a beautiful day and they’d spent it on their knees transplanting lettuces peppers and fennel. Denis and I drove down a lane along side part of the garden, pulled a card table out of the trunk and set up for a simple meal - my hearty version of taco salad (made with their fresh greens and spinach) country French bread I picked up at a good bakery, butter sun tea and lemon bars. As we mixed the salad into a huge bowl, dumping the warm chile and beans from the Dutch oven, Joe came over a low rise saying he knew we had arrived because he could smell the food. Either he was really hungry, has a keen sense of smell, or the garlic and onions were extra powerful. Maybe all three. They had time for about a twenty minute break and then went back to working until dark.

Nathan and Sarah at the "table."

Denis and I wandered around the beds and through the greenhouses where all was quiet except for the swish of water through the hoses and the evening birdsongs. The sun was low but its light still filtered across benches of cucumber vines rising along strings and staked tomatoes setting small fruits - ripening evidence of weeks of work through the cold months of February, March and April.

Outside, small fields, bordered by fruit trees swathed in grasses, were already filled with curving, orderly rows of young green vegetables. Chard, spinach, peas, all the varieties of lettuce, radishes of many kinds, herbs, fennel. On and on they went, the fields rounding toward the fence where the lama stood on a little hillock staring us down amid chickens who scratched at his feet.

I know on this day only an idiot would miss the beauty and potential bounty of this garden. Even I captured a tiny bit with my camera. But knowing the people who work it, I also know the ache knees and suffering that is bound to our earthly existence. In so many ways, we long for the permanence of everything that is healthy and healing. Until then we weed scratch and water hoping in Christ who will one day restore life to what it was intended to be.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gone to the dog

Breaking new ground with the team.

We were sad to hear about Joe and Becca’s chickens the other day. The previous week when they returned from their other gardens late in the day and Joe went out to shut in the chickens, (They divide their work between their farm and Joe’s dad’s acreage where the soil is organic and has been farmed in vegetables for years. Most of their own land needs to rest and be organically rebuilt from years of corn and soybean crops that require boatloads of chemicals.) he noticed a neighbor’s dog running away from the yard with a chicken in its mouth. He chased it down and returned it to the owner before knowing the extent of the damage. Back at the chicken house he found carnage. Blood and dead chickens everywhere. A count of the survivors showed the dog must have been on rampage for hours as he killed 95 of the little pre-teen hens. Their babies!! For days they were finding carcasses hidden or buried in the yard. The neighbor’s insurance will cover the cost of the chicks, but not the loss of income that would have come from three years of laying eggs. Here is, “Crooked Beak” one of the survivors. She has learned to eat despite a handicap.

They’ve been using Carla and Kayla to prepare some of the ground to plant potatoes and corn. Joe was very excited about finding a horse-pulled potato planter. (He’s pretty enraptured about all that horse-drawn equipment that’s been rusting for a century in remote pastures around the county.) No surprise that it takes some repair and practice to get it working properly. Recently, Anita, our housemate, was out to the farm for a day to help them plant. While Joe drove up front, she rode on the back of the machine, which with one pass dug a furrow, turned a hopper that dropped a potato, and then covered it with dirt every 18 inches or so. A very pleasing machine. Almost a work of art? She was to make sure the potatoes loaded and dropped at the right intervals. She was to tell Joe when things got jammed up, so at first it was comic and frantic as she kept yelling WHOA, WHOA and the well-trained team kept stopping at her command and getting more confused by the cacophony of voices rising behind them. Joe finally decided Becca and Anita must not talk and laugh so much and Anita must say “Stop” not “Whoa.” Apparently the Amish, from whom the horses were purchased, are pretty much all business as they quietly follow their teams in the field. Who can blame them? This is not a hobby. For Joe and Becca either.

Joe's single bottom horse-drawn plow.

One of Joe’s genius and endearing qualities is how he grasps and warehouses numbers. He knows how much, how long, how far, how many of anything. Thus: 14,000 onion and leeks have been set out in rows. 45 bunches of radish sold by 10 a.m. When I asked him how much potatoes did you plant? he replied, “Well, let’s see, 35 rows at 300 feet each….that’s 1.988 miles of potatoes. Or this: 95 chickens killed out of 172. Down from the original 185, although a few kicked the bucket for other reasons – like eating bits of plastic used to bind hay bales. It was mixed in the straw that originally covered the floor of the barn. They wouldn’t have known except for an autopsy on several that looked healthy one day and keeled over the next. Strings were found wrapped around and warping their little guts. Oww.

Their days are growing longer. Becca might be out in the greenhouse by 6 am with a four gallon spray pack on her back letting the leaf hoppers have it with some kind of “organic” solution. Joe might be out in the field with the girls plowing up more ground for late plantings of corn or cultivating rows of potatoes which are poking through. Often their work lasts until 9 p.m. when the light fades. Just typing that exhausts me. It sure punches a hole in a romantic view of what it takes to run a farm.

You might think, wow, all that great green food right in front of you. Man, think of the salads! How they must eat! Truth is, they’re often too busy to prepare much and might only grab some bread and butter with cheese. That’s where we can occasionally help a little. Last week we took supper out to them.

Becca left some fresh greens, shitake and morel mushrooms, asparagus, and a gallon of jersey milk in her refrigerator for us to add to what we brought. When they arrived home about 7:15, I had made Greek chicken and potatoes; it comes out of the oven browned and crisp when you coat it with olive oil, salt, and oregano. Mmmm. Anita had concocted a wine shitake sauce for the steamed asparagus, and sautéed the morels with mild spices to go atop goat cheese and crackers. I tossed a large green salad with about a million different lettuces and spinach, making a simple balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and honey dressing, and crumbling feta cheese over the top. We had a warm rhubarb crisp with cream skimmed off the top of the milk for dessert. Don’t often get to cook for people who have worked so hard they can afford maybe a hundred times the calories of my body. We all sat around beaming. It made me really happy.

Kayla heads for the barn.