Friday, December 31, 2010

Sauteed Polenta for Breakfast

New Year’s eve day. The skies are gray and heavy. The last day of the year does not inspire me much, but I did decide after morning prayers and readings to make a late breakfast – one to cheer and comfort us.

At Toad Hall, we are each scheduled to accomplish a bit before the evening celebration at Kosmo’s (a friend) begins. Anita, our assistant and housemate, is researching fibers for a L’Abri workshop she and Denis are doing in February. Denis is putting the finishing touches on a piece for ArtHouse America and I am reviewing the past year and preparing for our annual board meeting which will be in Phoenix next week. As I told Denis, I’m thinking of highly inflating the amount and importance of all we’ve done, spinning it to look brilliant and whopping great. It’s a little tempting to make myself look better than I am. I mean, what, after all, are clothes about? For eg. (Okay. Right. Rephrase that to apply to those about my age.) However, when people know you as well as our board knows us they won’t be fooled.

There’s a verse in the Psalms that says “My heart is not proud, O LORD … I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”  (Ps. 131:1)

That’s my cue, today I’m sticking with breakfast. I can do that. So could any of you, whether you’re a nobody or a big somebody who wouldn’t want to be seen with me.

 If you cook up some polenta (and, hey, I know there are folks, especially south of here who know all about this) and put it in a small loaf pan and let it firm up while you go take a shower, when you come back it will be set up enough that you can thump it onto the counter, slice it in ½ inch pieces, dredge them in a bit of corn meal and saute in a cast iron skillet so that they get a little crisp and browned on each side. Then if you pop them on a plate, pour pure maple syrup on top, accompanied by a fried, free-range egg with a bright sunny yolk, a clementine and a cup of French press coffee - you are going to spread some serious good spirit. And really, that’s not a small matter, is it?

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pilgrim Food 2011

Going slow the last two weeks. Not a convenient time to be sick or diminished. You know, at Christmas when you want to take care of everyone? Feed them, love them, give them brilliant gifts.

I have a lot of scraps stuck in my Bible; yesterday one I hadn’t read in a long time fell out.
Pensees from a NYC church bulletin:

I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
While traveling through this world of woe.
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I’m going there to see my Father;
I’m going there no more to roam.
   I’m only going over Jordan,
   I’m only going over home.
                  - folk spiritual
Everyone is on one sort of journey or another: failure to recognize this is to fail to be human and to suffer great deprivation. Walker Percy, the late novelist and metaphysician, once said in conversation, “I have learned that the most important difference between people is between those for whom life is a quest and those for whom it is not.” The vision of a quest confers meaning on our lives. It enables us to see all that happens as moving us closer to or further from our goal, and to make distinctions between what helps and hinders us in our journey.
                 -  Diogenes Allen Spiritual Theology

Christ has planted his Table like an oasis along our pathway, in order that when we become weary with travel, weak and hungry in our souls, discouraged and wounded because of our false steps, stumbling and failing, we may then enter there and be refreshed with the living Bread of Life.
                  -  Carl Olof Rosenius (1816-1868). A Lutheran lay preacher on the Eucharist as the viaticum, the pilgrim’s food

In joy, in adversity, in this new year may you be nourished and blessed by God's good hand. Thinking of many of you I know who stop here for a minute or two. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Love, after all

I received a few responses for a recent post “The ritual of small things.” Thank you. I know there are lots of us who find after the fact, after the grandparents have died, that we are indelibly linked. 

Here they are:

“I still remember the first time my Mother decided I didn't need an Easter basket at College. I was so disappointed. It is the small rituals that do show love and caring and remembering from year to year.” - Sandy O.

 “Just wanted to say that my grandmother gave me a Christmas ornament every year for the 23 years that I was blessed to have her. I appreciated the tradition then -- to varying degrees, more so as I got older -- but I treasure the results of it now. Even if your grandkids are less sentimental than I am, it's a good tradition!”  - Nikki J

“I love the grace of small things, Margie. Please keep giving your grandchildren ornaments...they are stories and links to you as well as memories of you and Denis many years from now. Do you date them and sign them? It will help them remember someday. My mom bought ornaments for us and then for her grandchildren up to her passing…” – Alice

“Our advent ritual is to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. We have a Dutch background and we celebrate by putting shoes out the night of the 5th or 6th of December. The date varies for St. Nicholas depending on whether I have my act together or not and buy gifts on time. The gifts usually involved chocolate and some small things. Our daughter is 17 and about to leave home. We don't live in America right now. But this ritual is important for us to keep as part of our Advent.”  - “Walkingtochina”

I agree now that I’ve moved thoroughly into being a grandparent – I’ve observed quite a number of young people who have fond memories of grandparents playing important roles in their lives. Enough to commemorate them with a tattoo. Yes.

Yesterday I was talking to my brother, the sheriff. He told me about one of his step-grandsons, a teenager who has not had anyone to love him spontaneously, unconditionally. He’s an abandoned quiet boy, not used to hard work or the kind of play they have up where my family lives in northern Minnesota. Last summer my brother had him working in the garden, caring for the horses, grading the driveway, right beside him and when work was done on a hot day in the evening they’d ride the 4-wheeler up to the beach for a swim in Lake of the Woods, light off firecrackers, sit around a fire as it grew dark. My brother, who’s a big man, but tender, said this quiet boy one day sat on his lap and said, “I love you, Grandpa.” Now from far away in Florida, he’s coming back for Christmas. He’d like to… “please, can I move up there so I can live with you, you wouldn’t even know I was here, I’d be so good, so quiet…”

So…the traditions. The small loves we give in the ordinariness of everyday life may be that sacred thing that will one day say, you are not lost in the cosmos. There is a bigger, better someone who loves you.

My favorite ornament given to me, ever: Baby Jesus in a nest. (Thanks, Judi Fong.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christmas Story

This will make your day, if not your entire Advent Season. I promise. A friend of ours, Hannah Kirkbride helped put this together.

The Christmas Story - SPANK Dec 2010 from St Paul's on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The ritual of small things

In a phone conversation with one of my seven-year-old twin grandson’s last night, I learned that yesterday they got to open the Christmas gift from their mom and dad – “we got it early because we needed them! [I could tell he was excited about this rule infraction, and little hands and ears do get cold even in Chattanooga.] A warm hat and a pair of gloves! Mine is blue and Elisha’s is gray, and I don’t remember Mason’s or Isobel’s, but Manessah got a black coat! …and, White-Haired-Grandma? Will you be sending us a Christmas ornament like you do every year?” Oops, I’d forgotten. Sort of. Last year I failed to pick them up on sale after the holidays. Even when I do remember, getting past the stained Santas and the broken snowmen to find just one worthy next Christmas, well, it’s a crapshoot. But I was delighted when he reminded me. I’m a trial to myself and this was another reminder of how easily I talk myself out of responsibilities. Some time back November I had wondered if the grandchildren even cared about the tradition of giving them an ornament each year and decided, eh, they probably don’t notice, and I choose to forget it.
That conversation prompted a trip to Herberger’s today where I got these, even though it was miserable outside with icy sleet falling on top of snow and the wind blowing straight off the Arctic. They weren’t too bad of a deal even with the faked and ubiquitous 60% off.

Denis and I reminded each other of how children love rituals, especially ones that have to do with celebrations, and of how good and human it is to keep ordinary small ones. Although it’s hard to be far from the children we love so much, I’m happy, after all, to be mindful of the grace of not-so-big things.

If there’s a small ritual your heart loves observing during Advent, let me know and I’ll post them as a separate blog.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Work

I just learned of On Work, a site begun by Nancy Nordenstrom, who writes:
"You’re invited to submit text or a photo, quote, link, or video on the topic of work to be posted on this site... My goal is to explore work, particularly the intersection of spirituality and work."

The topic touches my heart for a lot of reasons. Among them: watching, praying with and for people I know and love (not only them, but the many we see via the media, or whatever) and the difficulties of finding a meaningful calling - a way to support themselves and their families that uses their gifts and abilities. And if this doesn't happen? Or what if it does - wildly and beyond our dreams? Either way,  how to still faithfully love and serve God? How can we do this without the help and encouragement of one another? I think this site will give some inspiration.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vitamin D

The past year I’ve been nagging friends and family to take lots of Vitamin D. Whatever is good for me is good for all of you. I was feeling affirmed because the medical establishment has finally discovered, oh, hey, beriberi and scurvy aren’t the only inconveniences linked to vitamin deficiencies and body-breakdown. It made me happy to not hide (well, lie) to my doctor about the daily snarfing of 10,000 supplements to fend off terminal napping and limping like Captain Ahab.

I have some chronic health issues (very boring) that my doctor monitors. She’s knowledgeable and kind. Bonus. Last year she tested Vitamin D levels and found them low enough to prescribe 40,000 IUs a week until I could level off to 2,000-3,000 a day. It can be subjective, for sure, but it seems to help me feel better. And, of course, since no drug company owns Vitamin D it’s a cheap fix.

On Monday of this week I could name four or five people in just the last few days, people, whose lives, I told them, would be smarter better richer for taking Vitamin D. From bone health to depression Vitamin D helps bodies maintain better working order. Find out for yourself. Just google a reliable source and read the literature.

However. Warning. Not that you believe all sources. We need to be very, very careful. Because on this very past Monday (see above) Denis sent me an article from the NYT. Now, I have an emotionally volatile relationship with the NYT just like everything else in my life. If it agrees with me and makes me happy, well and good, I love it. But if not. Then I am flying to New York to find the idiot editor who signed off on this or that ridiculous opinion or who possibly wrote the piece himself/herself and force feed him/her lutefisk until he/she pukes. At the least.

In the case of “Report Questions Need for 2 Diet Supplements” I was upset. I felt chagrined and confused after so much indiscriminate honking about the benefits because it attacked my cherished vitamin D. Really? And calcium. You mean I don’t need to be taking all those calcium horse pills? Who are these “experts?”

I contacted my own favorite expert, who used to be the chairman of a department of internal medicine at Rochester Mayo Clinic and is now at Mayo in Scottsdale where he practices what’s called Consultative Medicine, to ask if I was crazy or what. He’s also a killer (wordchoice) diagnostician – according to others more worthy than myself. I sent him this email:

Hi Larry,
I’ve been telling people they need to take a lot more vitamin D.
Why do I do this? (Rhetorical. Please don’t answer.)
Who to trust? I tend to be cynical about some of the experts wondering if it’s partly because Vit D is easily available and not expensive.
You can comment if you have chance or time. If not, I’ll make up a quote from you. jk.
Luckily, he replied:

Hi Margie,
My cynicism is for expert panels that find supplements not helpful but prescription medications are. My favorite is a study several years ago published in Journal of the American Medical Association saying St Johns Wort is not helpful for depression. It was a big deal at the time and made headlines in newspapers. However if one read more than the title of the article they would find out it did not work for people with major depression but the part of the study which got no press was that the control group received sertraline (Zoloft) and it did not work either for major depression. Also, no good herbalist would ever consider using St Johns Wort for major depression anyway.

The pharmaceutical industry would like nothing better than to have all supplements banned since they are direct competition for them and articles like these only help them. The pharmaceutical industry heavily sponsors studies and advertises in the major medical journals.  Both journals and researchers need research funding so what do you think they would rather publish?

Take your vitamin D, 1000 units daily because you live in Minnesota and when was the last time you went out to lay in the sun? In fact, when was the last time you even saw the sun? (I know what it is like in Rochester!) If your have a big dairy intake with 4 glasses of milk or equivalent you don’t need calcium supplements but how many use this much dairy? Despite the increase in calcium supplementation these past few years, there has not been an increase in kidney stones.

A recent study said high calcium supplementation may cause a tiny increased risk of heart attacks but did not make a comparison to how many people will fall down and break a hip and die from osteoporosis if calcium supplementation stops.

Exercise, Nutrition, Stress reduction, the key to health. Supplements are supplements to diet so if one has a good diet, few supplements are ever needed.

How is life otherwise? I hope articles about Vit D and Calcium are the biggest stressor in your life during this joyous season!

Thanks much. (I know he gets about a billion emails a day.) Okay. Am feeling mollified. Perhaps even a little joyful, after all it’s Advent Season and I live in Minnesota where it’s NOT 120 degrees 300 days of the year, Larry.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

The husband was in a celebratory mood. Maybe cuz it was sunny and cold outside and we’d had cheese omelets made with happy eggs and scallions. That combination always makes him happy. I was fairly un-moody myself and had a huge batch of granola going which always makes the house smell crisp and cinamonny when it’s baking. I had also decided it was time for biscotti, when Denis wandered into the kitchen to suggest we needed a special dinner tonight and me, being me did not say make it yourself, but that could have been what I wanted to say. I try to be careful and pure in heart. When I said an elongated whiny wellllll. Anita, being the sensitive discerning person she is suggested takeout, explaining I’m sure you weren’t really planning on being in the kitchen all day. I wasn’t. I timidly offered that rather than takeout today might be a good time for Denis to expand his cooking repertoire from waffles to waffles plus one other thing. He’s a very smart person and could do this if he put his mind to it. Imagine my delight when he grabbed the Mediterranean Cook book and found Ground Meat and Rice Balls in Lemon Sauce! The blessing of it! He even had to go to the store to get fresh mint and parsley. The smell of garlic and lemons wafting out of the kitchen is pretty enticing, but I’ll need to wait to find out for sure. He’s a pretty great guy even though right now he is also searching for a pasta recipe he once made years ago and I don’t know why he wants that. He thinks I threw it away because it is made entirely of butter, butter, butter and a few breadcrumbs and ground pecans. Maybe I did throw it out. I don’t remember.

I did make the following biscotti recipe which is a change from the usual almond chocolate whatever. They are a really wonderful treat, especially if you like concrete dipped in coffee. Pistachios cost the earth but they’re a little cheaper when you shell them yourself. Otoh, you have to factor in that whoever shells them may also eat a cup while doing the job.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

¼ cup light olive oil
¾ cup sugar
2 t. vanilla
2 eggs
1 ¾ cup flour
¼ t. salt
1 t. baking powder
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup pistachios

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Mix oil and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and gradually add to egg mixture. Work in cranberries and pistachios. Roll into two logs 2x12 inches. Dough will be sticky. Wet hands with cool water to handle more easily. Place on cookie sheet on parchment paper if you have it. Or lightly oil the pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until logs are light brown. Cool for 10 minutes. Cut diagonally into ¾ inch thick slices. Place back on the cookie sheet and back again for 10 minutes. I like them pretty rock-hard, so I turn them all over put them back in the oven for about another 10 – 15 minutes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Beaver’s miscalculation

My grandfather, Pete Frolander, was a carpenter, who built wooden boats, log cabins, and the kind of furniture you might find today in faux-rustic condos. With a dusting of sawdust on his cap and a pencil behind his ear, he smelled good to me – like pine trees and lake water. While he worked and I was a little girl underfoot and not interested in dolls, he allowed me to hammer nails into scrap lumber. When I was done he proudly displayed them in a corner of his shop the same way I now tape my grandchildren’s colored works of art on my refrigerator. My hours of pounding, bending nails, dinging up the board, no rhythm or pattern – just spikey works of juvenile miscalculation and effort.

I’m not sure why finding a large poplar tree felled toward the shore of Pike Fish Lake in Superior National Forest reminded me of him. Until I walked over to it, I assumed the wind had taken it down. As I examined it, I had a smack-the-forehead moment. There were incisor marks on the stump and piles of chips all around it. This was the work of a beaver. After looking at it I realized this rodent woodcutter had neglected to stand back and see that a picnic table was going to be very much in the way of his project. Still, I was impressed; it was almost a work of art.

I guess that’s when I thought of Grandpa who often said “Measure twice cut once.” There’ve been countless times when I thought I had everything measured and under control and pressed send or pulled the trigger only to learn, no, it wasn’t quite right. It all landed on the picnic table not in the water. But he also said to be a good carpenter you can’t be a perfectionist. You always need to be fudging, repurposing, working the angles, and saving this or that up as extra for another day. No longer being a child did not necessarily reduced the number of mistakes I made, which could be a downer until, and even to this day, I go ahead and remind myself that most of them are not cause for panic and they might even have an upside such as an increase in patience with both myself and my environment. More on this later. (I’ve been on vacation.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Yesterday was first full day of vacation at cabin on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Last night’s supper menu: Half a smoked whitefish. Rice crackers. Carrot sticks. I think I can top that tonight without too much strain.

All day I did nothing, unless absolutely necessary, like going to the bathroom. Didn’t make the bed or cook or wash a single dish all day. Denis did – not the cooking; the other stuff.  I did manage to fling the head with its sunken eyes, skins and fins attached down to the rocks at the water’s edge. We timed it to see how long before the gulls found it. They love carrion, you know. There wasn’t a single one in sight. 12 minutes. Five of them showed. today. Trying not to hurry much. Or at all. This morning saw a big buck lying in the woods just outside. His antlers were framed by bracken and tall grass. A bald eagle flew past the window. Nice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Apple Puff Pancake

All night the wind rattled our windows and we could hear the last of the leaves ticking against the screens and whirling up the street. Hopefully the north wind will take them to another part of town. It was still chilly and blustery this morning. Just right for making an Apple Puff Pancake with some of the apples that have been languishing on the counter. Before I even dressed I peeled the apples and tossed them in a cast iron skillet with butter and brown sugar. Leaving the temp on low and the oven turned up, I ran upstairs to shower. When I came back they were starting to caramelize, but not fall apart. It only took about two minutes to mix the batter and pour over the apples. Another 20 minutes while I made a grocery list, put away dishes, and it was ready to pull out of the oven, crusty brown around the edges, little poofed hills and valleys across the center. It’s supposed to be two servings, but I divided it into thirds, (Denis, Anita and I)  we thanked God and ate it all. Great way to start the day. Hope renewed for all mankind. Okay. For here. For the moment.

Apple Puff Pancake in Cast Iron
(Serves 2-3)
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Melt 3 T. butter in cast iron skillet (I use my smaller 9 inch Dutch oven) Make sure the sides are oiled, too.
3 apples, peeled, sliced
¼ c. brown sugar
½ t. cinnamon
Stir together and cook on medium to low heat for 10-12 minutes or until the apples begin to soften and caramelize.
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
½ t. salt
1 T. sugar
¾ c. flour
Whisk eggs and milk. Add flour, sugar and salt and whisk just until smooth. Pour over apples and bake for 15-20 minutes or until top is puffy and edges are browned. If it doesn’t puff, it’s still yummy. Drizzle with a little maple syrup. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Take this body

Today I had an hour between appointments so I stopped home before I went to 12th Street Dental Clinic. It seemed a good idea when I set them up one after the other. Go to the surgeon get a few basal cells removed, no problem, then get over to the dentist. It wasn’t like I was getting a mastectomy, but the incision was a little larger than I expected. And having loaded needles stuck in your nose is not the little “pinch” they promise. Then came the yanking and hitting a squirter followed by the  smell of grilled flesh and what with the lidocaine not being quite enough, I left feeling more disheveled than usual. It wasn’t a big deal, of course, but it was starting to smart. I wanted to call my dentist and say I need to cancel, because I just had a basil cell carcinoma removed from my outside left nostril which would be like saying the dog ate my homework. The thought of the hygienist resting her vacuum pumps and tooth polishers on my face made me want to throw up. However, I can imagine dental people teaching you a lesson the next time you do show up, clinking their tools on your nerves and popping the drill under your tongue, so I actually drove over to the office to cancel. Luckily the stitches were still oozing and I hoped they would add credibility to my story. I’ll bet they think I’m a piece of work.

The stitches hitched up my left nostril so I look a little like Jack Nicholson with a sneer. Hoping it’s not permanent.

This timing of this is Providential, really. Possibly a tiny joke God has sent me. This weekend Denis and I will be at Zion Church in Lincoln, NB where we will each be speaking. My topic is body image and living with disfigurement, which is a serious matter. Offering my/our “our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) is a daily effort and grows more interesting by the year. That God desires not only our hearts and minds, but our bodies, too, is a compelling argument for accepting them as they are with all their imperfections and corruptions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Toilets and apple tarts

Yesterday afternoon the dripping of the valve behind the toilet finally became serious enough for my husband to tackle it with tools and new parts. We’ve been placing plastic food containers and towels beneath the pipe coming out of the wall to catch the flow and they were no longer a match. Denis can tolerate a good deal of dripping, but when I asked if we needed to set the alarm to empty it during the night, it caused a flurry of twisting and pushing at the spigot. Magically, it quit only to resume in the morning. Denis is very gifted for explaining theology conundrums, mysterious doctrines of faith, you know, that sort of thing, including movie plots and camera angles. So as things go, plumbing problems and mechanical failures are not the happy friends they are to some.

When he called me in to help, he was on his knees, pads on, reaching under the base with a pliers and a wrench. There was a new part in the tank and I was supposed to hold it in place as he bolted it down from the outside. It kept slipping from my grasp and his, too. He was grunting and saying things under his breath a little. I think he was trying to hold the vocab down so that I wouldn’t point out this was character building or he should have read his Bible today. I kept that thought to myself. Good call, right? Instead, I decided right then I’d needed to make the apple tart recipe he’d seen in the latest Food & Wine and thrust in my face last night when we were in bed and I was trying to work a Sudoku. After a good deal of effort it seems like the toilet finally got fixed. Though we can’t be sure. He says we might be sitting on a bomb that will geyser up any second. I was thinking I’ve always wanted a bidet, but I believe it’s aiming the wrong direction. I didn’t mention that either. So we’ll see.

I did go down to the kitchen to use the Honey Golds that have been sitting on the counter for a few days. They turned out to be just right for this recipe. They are sweet, crisp and hold their shape when baked. The crust was supposed to chill in the fridge for at least an hour, but this was a pressing need, so I skipped that part. It took a little longer for me to make than a pie because you need to take the time to arrange the apple slices in concentric circles, and I’m not used to such preciseness. When complete with the edges folding casually over the top it looked quite beautiful. I hoped the result would be good. I kept checking on it, turned the oven down a bit because it looked like it was getting pretty brown on the bottom and I was anxious because there was a lot of liquid in the center from the apple juice, I left it in the oven longer. Gradually it thickened and by the time it came out and set for awhile, it was moist, but not sloppy. The crust was buttery and thick and flaky and crunchy. Denis happily munched his piece and said he’d like it again sometime. But I was the one swooning. I liked it so well that this morning I made a quick trip to the coffee shop to deliver two pieces to our favorite barista. To my dismay there were three people working, but Darcy said, oh, that’s okay, I’ll eat them both myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Yes ma'am

Pour a glass of wine and call the kids in to help you make supper and turn on the music. Elizabeth Mitchell has just released a new album for children: Sunny Day. I’ve often given earlier cds as baby gifts this one will be no exception. The acoustic simplicity and inclusion of little voices make it more than appealing - even for adults. Perfect! Go here where the Smithsonian has posted a free track and take a look at the music video  "John, The Rabbit."  (I can’t get it to load here.) Yes, ma’am.  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Please go here

I’m often thankless and miserly in faith forgetting where Christ dwells – with the poorest and most afflicted among us. I am pierced by this child, Asher. Reminded of God’s great love and presence with “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.” And by inference, his dwelling with each child who wants him, even me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wild Jelly

I’ve been thinking about wild grape jelly – remembering past years when I foraged along the river, looking for the telltale vines that twine ash trees and young elms, spying dark clusters of grapes. Denis finally pushed me from imagining to doing. He thinks there’s nothing like the intensity of wild grapey-ness made into jelly and spread on a toasted bagel. I understand; the flavor tastes original. As if the sweet tang and shining deep purple hearken back to how God made grape jelly when the world began. Kraft and Welchs can’t compare.

I thought it might be too late in the season, but last Saturday Anita and I picked enough to make one batch of jelly. Along the Zumbro River on the Mayowood Trail we nearly missed them. We craned our necks, searching, pulling the high vines toward us, grasping for hidden bunches of tiny sour grapes. They’re so diminutive and sparse that unless you knew, you’d think they were no more edible than bb gun ammo. Jelly is not difficult to make. We used one packet of Certo (which we probably didn’t need at all because there is so much fruit pectin in wild grapes) and the recipe for cooked jelly which comes in the box. After we washed and picked through the grapes, removing dead leaves and insects, we threw them in a stainless steel stock pot – grapes, seeds, stems and all. I added half cup of water to get them going, brought it to a boil, mushed them up with a potato masher to break out the juice and cooked them about 15 minutes. We poured everything through a pasta strainer to get out the major debris. Then the fun part – putting it in a bag (made long ago from an old cotton pillow case), hanging it from a cabinet handle and letting the juice drain out. When it became a slow drip, I used gloves to squeeze the rest. That gave us the juice and from there we followed the recipe. Just sugar and Certo. After a raging boil, the hot liquid was poured into sterilized glass, lidded and capped. Seven small jars.

The searching, gathering, cooking, pouring. As many times as I’ve witnessed from bitterness to jewel colors and sweet results, it surprises me. A satisfying pleasure. How can it be, why should it be ours? Another mysterious transformation waiting for the right combination, the right time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

That’s not FAIR!

From Sunday’s prayer of confession:
 …we have coveted blessings you wisely and righteously gave to others.

I recall a friend handing out M&Ms to her children and mine.
All six of them stood around their little hands cupped and lifted as she dumped a few into each one from a big bag. As soon as they landed in her son’s palms he counted them and looked furiously at the others’ estimating they had more. He began whining about how unfair and without missing a beat his mother took them all away and said, next time don’t count. He didn’t,  but I saw him stealing glances.

Margie needs to stop counting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

You knew this would happen

This back door needed a new coat and I like a little raspberry with “Scandinavian Sky” (who gets hired to name paint colors?) the blue-gray color of our house, but perhaps I should stick to writing. Much easier to delete accidents.

Also noteworthy: scooping up spilled paint with a slotted pancake turner is not efficient. Or smart.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Getting Home

Life’s a voyage that’s homeward bound. – Herman Melville novelist, sailor. (1819 – 1891)

Recently I was asked to be part of an interesting (well, interesting to me) series on pilgrimage at Highcallingblogs. Mine was the last in the series and it appeared today. Thinking about home, how to get there, and how to stay there, is not so unusual for me, so of course, rather than writing about going somewhere I ended up thinking about what Denis and I have hoped to make and give in living here together. I was anxious about how it would fit in with the rest, but then plowed ahead anyway. I quoted from one of my still-top-ten-favorite movies Garden State. There’s something about that danged ark at the edge of an enormous dark hole, Paul Simon singing “The Only Living Boy in New York,” the rain and three young friends screaming into the abyss that makes me want to stay here and keep the lights on for a while longer. Etc, etc.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sail me

The most recent issue of Image magazine had an image (hey, hey) on the cover that made me quit multi-tasking – which for me would be 1)  walking and, 2) carrying - a handful of mail to the kitchen counter where I sort it. I thought what is that?! It looked like a sail rising from a glassy sea. 

It was a surprise to learn it was a parish church specially commissioned and built by the Vatican in the year 2000 - a year of jubilee. They put out a contest, and an American architect, Richard Meier, won it. I’m attracted to this church and can hardly say why and wish like anything that I could see it in real life as it stands or sails past the edge of Rome. The author of the article in Image, takes us there attempting to give us the scale and setting of the building itself and its relationship to the surrounding community.

I was fascinated that the architect, about whom I know nothing, said he envisioned a fishing boat, something familiar to Christ’s early disciples. Not icebergs, as some have thought, but “the triune God, in the form of three nested sails of white concrete, which billow above the congregation, guiding, protecting Peter and the people of the church on their voyage of faith as they sail on into the twenty-first century.”

The author writes: “Much of the church form has this quality of inviting understanding while resisting thorough explanation, of presenting rigorous order but only taking it so far.”  That makes sense to me. Or not sense exactly? But the way it is? I find that on Sundays as I participate in our church services and as I take communion, prayerfully inviting Christ to be one with all that I am – to belong fully, to be thankful in adoration of his body and blood, I also want to anchor somewhere visually, really. It eludes me. Partially because for all our efforts to anchor our thoughts and to know God in our places of worship – there will always remain mystery in God’s presence with us.

Representing Trinity with these three sails opens a vast sea of joyful longing and possibility - for me. Although we believe God can be worshipped anywhere, anytime I think here, I would be viscerally reminded of how much I want, no, make that need him to sail me through each day to the end of life.

If you Google images of Jubilee church Rome, many more will come up that give a better context of its place and size. They also give a better idea of its organic human dimensions and placement within the neighborhood.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wasted Time

This just out according to a recent survey: male drivers average 276 miles of driving while lost per year. This is because they don’t like to ask for directions or can’t admit they’re lost. Over a life time that costs something like $3,000 in gas money.

I don’t get this.
But it would explain why when we can’t find El Carumbas, I, not my husband, am the one to jump out of the car to ask directions from a pedestrian or insist we pull through a drive-up and buy fries (to make it legitimate) so I can ask directions. I don’t know why it is so difficult to say: “I’m lost. Can you help me?” As opposed to driving around aimlessly?

I also learned from experience that people under 25 usually know the way to the nearest coffee shop, but have no idea how to get back on the interstate. I’m quite sure that the money we spent on McD’s hash browns (purchased to sos not to make them hate me) saved us to justify the GPS we now own.

And if you think of the savings in terms of other items and services you’ll no longer need like maps and marriage counseling, Serena, (our GPS) was worth far more than what we paid for her.
So if you’re headed out of town on this holiday weekend, I think you still have time to run out and purchase a GPS before the stores close. It’ll be worth it and you’ll thank me.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Falling Down

                                            Denis and our youngest granddaughter, Ava.

Two nights ago Denis fell down. I don’t remember the last time he fell down. The problem with being married to me is that it’s now public. When it happened he says he lay there a minute calling, but I didn’t hear because I was running the kitchen faucet. When he stumbled in with blood running down his face, scrapes on his palms and knees, he looked deathly. If I had ran out seen him pitched face down on the sidewalk, his computer sliding to the steps, there might have been two casualties.

My first cry, WHAT HAPPENED, followed by WHAT were you doing outside in the dark with your computer? Silence. (My first clue that he was going to stonewall, but I niggled it out.) He’d forgotten to send an email and internet was down, (Again!) but if we walk to the end of our driveway we can pick up a signal from a hotel a block away. That’s what he was doing, even tho it coulda waited until morning. On the way back to the porch he twisted his ankle when he accidentally stepped off  the sidewalk and rather than save himself he tried to protect his computer. It was mostly painful scrapes and a very bruised hand. (Didn’t prevent awesome scratches to his computer which now makes mine look nearly invisible.) But HUGE scare. Good grief. Our first thoughts were what if he couldn’t get to St. Louis where he is defending his capstone project this afternoon.

It’s happening in a few minutes because we’re here and he’s mostly okay, tho a little nervous. His computer survived the fall so powerpoint still works. His eye is swollen and his right hand is twice normal size and hurts, so he can’t shake hands. If he did he’d fall to his knees, which for some profs somewhere, might misinterpret, but not here, they're a humble bunch. So they’ll probably hug him.

His topic is ordinary Christians being faithful in an alien and increasingly pluralistic society. Grossly oversimplified, but very much his calling and emphasis since I’ve first known him. So he's here, today, being faithful himself, even though a lot of life is about falling down. I fall down enough (literally and otherwise) and why does that make me feel stupid and old? It shouldn't, but it’s kind of nice to have my spouse down here with me. I look forward to celebrating this event tonight when it’s all over.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chewed by Squirrels

Last night we slept with the window open. The unconditioned air was soft and cool, pooling and rippling across the bed. This morning’s temp was 47 degrees. Pancakes and sweater weather.

 That makes up a little - us needing to come back from a week off. The Kaufman’s cabin, so picturesque and inviting was a restful gift to us and our family. Sometimes the lake water felt warmer than the air and you could float through surface layers that made you lazily dangle your feet until you hit gasping pockets of ice way below where fish monsters dwell. We never tire of watching loons dive and call, reading in the sun, playing Snorta with the children, eating grilled slabs of meat. Favorite comment: “Could this please not be a winning game?”  Paige, 5.

This week our wireless has constantly been dropping. We’re certain squirrels have chewed through the wires out there at the utility pole. They’ve done it before, but getting Charter to actually check it is like getting Heidi Klum to be nice. The tech comes out and we learn our modem is on the fritz after all. He also discovers the old cable coming up through the floor was stapled and dry-walled into the basement ceiling, circa 1989, is completely unreachable (and WHO did THAT?) and it’s so old it’s first generation cable wire and with the wireless we are paying for, it is like attaching a garden hose to a fire hydrant. He’s been here and gone, service is still rotten.

My computer is also unhappy, spiking a temperature, rising to 99 degrees C with only a few programs running. A thermal sensor gone bad, my Mac mentor thinks. I’ll need to take it to the Apple Store, and he coaches me on how to talk to the geniuses there. They’re not likely to listen to me. And WHY is THAT? So he says call him in Tallahassee and he will pick up even if he’s teaching class. That’s love, huh?

These don’t seem like trials, not compared to what could be happening or what is happening to so many elsewhere. I know that and I apologize. So leave it here: work is a challenge to everyone. And so are other things.

But I’m listening to Paul. He says: “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope.” (I Thess. 1:3) I need all of this - the linking process laid out clearly. I want it sopped up, festooned on my dull heart and head - especially: Your endurance inspired by hope. Kiss my pathology good-bye. It is Christ I love and work for and hope in. Everything else gets chewed by the squirrels.

Monday, August 16, 2010


When it’s hot and humid I don’t willingly turn on the oven. Our kitchen is hotter these days what with the boulevard trees gone. Makes my sweat glands spurt just to walk in there. Still, friends and visitors gather – we need one another in the midst of celebrations, collapses or just in the ordinary waves of heat. So we planned a simple, cool menu. Anita helped execute – not the same as killed. This freed me up to go to my office to lick ice cubes and google the latest pandemic. Sorry no photos.

The chicken rice salad we made looks gorgeous when mounded on a platter and garnished liberally with alternating slices of tomato, avocado and lemon wedges around the edge. People love it. Nothing more needed than a nice bread. Rounded out with Margie’s pretty low-class sangria: red wine, frozen cranberry juice concentrate, sliced limes and Ginger Ale. (Amounts are dump as you go and taste liberally to adjust flavor.) Dessert: fresh blueberries and limoncello (gift from Peggy who made it) spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Dinner was ready when everyone arrived. It’s been awhile since we saw Ann, who is fond of surprise visits, dropping in from wherever the State Dept. posts her and her husband, Rusty. Latest is Amman, Jordan. She used to be on our board of directors, but we had to kick her off because she was always off to Turkey or Cuba. This time I knew she was coming.

She walked in, arms loaded, not wasting a moment, began with, “And I brought some fresh peaches picked just yesterday in Michigan. I’ll just slice some into wine glasses here and then we’ll pour this great white wine over them. And here’s some mango peach chutney I made, we can eat that now with this brie (she pulls a large round of it out of the bag, rummages in my drawers for plate and knife) and some crackers!” She quickly loads one dripping with cheese and chutney and thrusts it in my mouth. I’m laughing because WHO does that unless you’re just SO comfortable with yourself and so assured people will love what you love as much as you do? And we hadn’t seen her for two years? Her aplomb is delicious.

Chicken Rice Salad

1 c. diced or pulled chicken (if really lazy or hot buy a rotisserie chicken at market)
3 c. cooked rice
¼ c. sliced celery
¼ c. sliced stuffed olives
¼ c. chopped green pepper
¼ c. chopped pimento or red pepper
¼ minced onion
¼ t. salt, pepper.
½ c. mayonnaise
Mix. Chill. To serve mound on a platter and surround with garnish of sliced avacado, lemon wedges and tomato. Serves 3. (Easy to ramp up amounts for more servings. This is great leftover the next day, too.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Making Coffee

After I made a mess of my blog header the other day and was waiting for help (it was coming, but life can get out of hand like maybe Mathew’s kids or backed up sewers, I don’t know… - he’s our managing editor, and a good one), anyway Jeremy Huggins took pity. I didn’t even ask. Not that he doesn’t owe me a case of bottled cokes and chocolate milk. I probably have to let that go now because he tweaked until I really like it. I hope you do too, but that sort of feels like I’m asking if I look fat in this. Before he signed off tonight he asked me about fonts and I had to tell him fonts make me really nervous. I don’t know what to choose; they make me feel like I’m in Walmart wearing a pair of pajama bottoms and a tank top pulled tight over my belly, because I DON’T know it looks bad. It’s not as though I’m the new editor of W magazinewho has pulled in a new font for their cover. (New editors seem to need to do this like Tomcats mark territory, but again, I shouldn’t be saying.) He says, “…and then it is a new logo,…in a new typeface [called] Benton. It’s kind of skinny, it’s very vertical. It’s very elegant and it is italic, with a sense of movement, evolution.” Yes, well, it would be wouldn’t it? But that does leave me, oh, feeling inadequate and confused like I did about two weeks ago when I was trying to decide on a new font for Notes From Toad Hall. I finally ended up choosing a Garamond, not because Bonnie badgered me to death she didn’t, she just said, and this was after trying dozens of them: “I still stand by Garamond for you. It looks good.” I did read somewhere that it has smooth curves and simple serifs and could be said to portray an easy-going beauty. I hope for that and more. Tomorrow Jeremy will advise.

He should, I mean he could, because he’s just launched a new website. For all your editing and writing needs or just for fun check out REWORDSMITH. It’s elegant and quirky and although he is very opinionated about commas, he is kind about your abuse of them. I totally, prayerfully wish him the best.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who Did That?

Okay, if you visit here in the next day or so. You will be able to tell from the header mess up top that something is wrong. No, I haven’t been hacked. I’d like to pretend that huge cup of coffee was spilled across the top by some ruthless idiot. Let’s admit it was Haacked. By me. I suddenly became enthused by change and rather than wait for our web master to help; Look, Mommy! I did it myself. As soon as he gets a chance he’ll fix it, but meantime, I’m, well, I’m… look, we each have to live with ourselves, however embarrassing. Like you, Denis. You eat Durkee French Fried Onion Rings from the CAN. (You know the brown turdy things on top of green bean casserole, so famous in Minnesota? He sneaks them from the pantry shelf. I swear I don’t know how they get there.) There. I feel much better about that header up there.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sleeping in the litter

Saturday: in which I gather neglected thoughts and projects, and wonder if I should find the surface of my desk one of these days. Nawwww. Everyone has departed – Sandy returned to New Zealand yesterday morning having been here since the 4th of July. Anna Dahl has gone home to Iowa for the weekend – she’ll be back Sunday night to do her shifts as a nurse at St. Mary’s. Anita went to Madison to meet Marsena and see an outdoor Shakespeare play in the evening and hang out for the weekend. We are bunny-sitting and eating Farmer’s Market Golden Baby Tomatoes by the handful.

Honeysuckle is Anita’s angora rabbit who shares, nay, rules our screened-in back porch. She personifies the moniker “Dumb Bunny” but we appreciate her dumbness as after all, God’s made her that way. Unlike many of us, she is comfortable in her creaturely-ness. She sleeps in her litter box with no apology, nibbles Denis’ slippers, (he lets her for heaven’s sake), hops up on the shelf to eat a bowl of chips, gnaws the siding off the house (we put a stop to that!) and steadfastly refuses to acknowledge my presence unless I have a blueberry or a grape.

I never quite get it. At the same time I don’t mind the reminder – it’s the small parts of life, the insignificant, the common that become the holy parts – the places where God waters and feeds us.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Full with your love

      …as we watch the Gulf enfolded, blanketed, blotted with the black energy we all use and can’t entirely escape. I read in Psalm 119 this morning: “The earth is filled with your love, O Lord; teach me your decrees.”

     Have also been reading a little book by Frederick Buechner: Speak What We Feel: Not What We Ought to Say. Found these two quotes that reach beyond the time in which they were written.

“The present era of incredible rottenness is not Democratic, it is not Republican, it is national.”   - Mark Twain.

“The depravity of the business classes of our country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater.” - Walt Whitman.

     Corruption has been with us since the beginning. I can’t say I’m innocent or haven’t contributed. It’s a challenge to maintain calmness and trust (as opposed to anger and ranting) and the intention to do right as creation groans with the weight of our footprints: God has not forgotten the earth. Despite the bleakness of parts and the worsening, deepening of its groaning, it will be made whole again one day. Meanwhile, I still hear wrens sing and see bumble bees drink from the dianthus in our back yard… and that’s more fullness than I deserve this day…Thanks, O Lord.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Too much of everything

A few days ago I tried to get my fill of the five grandchildren who live in Chattanooga. It didn’t happen. I mean, I didn’t get enough. Minnesota is just too far away.

Mason turns six next week so I asked him what he’d like for his birthday. He’s a little taller than his older twin brothers, has a raspy husky voice and is extremely suspicious of green food, but he has a sweetness about him that sometimes makes him almost vulnerable. Makes you want to take him in your arms and shelter him from Evil. I figured he’d probably want some sort of computer game, a fast bike, something big and costly that grandkids think their grandparents are good for. I was wrong. He wanted a stuffed shark that he could sleep with and a jump rope. He demonstrated how he could jump forward and backward – one awkward hop at a time. Later that day we were at Old Navy strolling his little sister and him around as Manessah looked for blue jeans. Him mom plopped a hat on his head that he wore until we checked out and he looked so longingly at it and asked if only he could have it and she said no, not today. But I saw it, and I knew it should be part of his birthday present.

Next day Denis and I found a soft, vicious-looking shark with a jaw full of tender teeth. Though I didn’t find a jump rope, we gave the rest to him as an early birthday present.

The gift of watching him open them with shrieks of joy and genuine surprise made me want to cry with delight myself. Too often, I’m bored, worn and world-weary. Sometimes I have too much of everything and it is the role of suffering or deprivation that makes gifts of ordinary life come alive again when they arrive on my doorstep.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sorry, God

We can live with it. But we miss it. Storms took down the huge tree across the street. As it fell our way, it flattened a car sitting on the street right outside the kitchen window and damaged the trees on our side of the boulevard. The top brushed the side of our house. Our largest tree probably saved us but now it looks sort of like a palm tree with all its branches stripped to the trunk. It’s been “condemned,” and soon the city will remove it. The other two were damaged and may also be cut down.

The sun now bakes the west side of Toad Hall and the light reveals peeling paint, dirty windows and a missing screen. Birds visiting my feeder on the second floor just outside my office left poop on the siding. I never noticed. Not charming. The inside feels hot, dark and gloomy in the afternoon. No more filtered green light. I often thank God for things I don’t want to take for granted just because I’m American and drive a Ford. Clean sheets, fresh vegetables, warm socks. Jesus.

Now add the trees that filled our gutters with seeds, dropped sticks and leaves on the lawn, pushed feeder roots into the sewer and swarmed with insects and birds. I never knew how much I preferred them to our neighbor’s crumbling foundation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Strawberry Freezer Jam

It's time for me to be a locavore again. This is the time of year – at least in the mid-west when local strawberries ripen. They began appearing at the Farmer’s Market last week. They’re a little late this year cuz of cool temps and lots of rain which also makes the berries smaller. But the flavor is still intensely, authentically strawberry. Have you noticed that local berries are always bright red to the core, unlike the supermarket varieties which are all like unwrapping a truffle and finding it hollow?

Last Saturday I made a double batch of freezer jam. Honest, you should try it yourself. Nothing else captures summer like the flavor of fresh strawberries. All winter, if you’re not such a pig you devour it in days rather than months – you can take small jars out of the freezer and spoon it on yogurt, toast, ice cream, pancakes. Anything is better with fresh strawberry jam. Best of all it’s easy. Anyone, even a kitchen idiot can make this. And if you’re into this: it impresses the heck out of everyone else. People think I’m really talented and clever and I’m not even going to charge you for this secret.

First, you need jars. Go to the store and buy a box with a dozen small Mason jars – half-pint size (or so).  Or if you’ve been saving, for who knows why, small glass jars – especially the kind with a built-in seal in the cap, like ones that come on artichoke hearts – recycle them now.

For one double-batch of jam you will need:
Ten-pound bag of sugar. (shut-up. It’s for a good cause.)
2-3 lemons
Box of Certo (brand) liquid fruit pectin
3 quarts fresh strawberries from a local food source!

When everything is gathered. Just follow the recipe that comes in the box for easy freezer jam.

Do you think I could get the slide show posted here? On this post? Never, speaking of idiots. So look at previous post. I don't know what's with the turquoise thumb, didn't think of it at the time. At least one inaccuracy: I said what, I can't even remember! I think I said you need four quarts of strawberries but three will do, if that.