28 August 2007

Miscellany and minutiae

Right now #2 is sleeping and #1 is playing indoor ball. I have a few minutes, so wanted to update. Since this blog has become THE written record of our lives, I hate missing whole days or series of days of blogging, even if these updates are apoplectically boring to read. Many apologies to all of you out there! I've got all of these posts brewing in my mind that have not come to fruition. Someday perhaps.
  • We've had dodgy internet service all week. It's gotten to the point where I just get online to check email and then get offline again before my session is disrupted by lack of network.
  • Dennis started school last week. He is taking MBA classes three nights a week and drives to the Quad Cities, a little over an hour away. His classes are all at different times, but the earliest he gets home is about 9:30 at night. It makes for three very long days in a row for him, since he gets up a little after 4 a.m. to get ready for work. We are not yet in the groove with this schedule. In fact, we're all a bit adrift.
  • At work, Dennis has been designing this very cool and very huge cutter. This week, this prototype was developed by him. Pretty amazing, eh?
  • Daniel has been running a fever for the last few days for some mysterious reason. There's no infection, apparently, just a fever, and a consequently lathargic little bug.
  • Annalivia has been singing her ABC's constantly, loudly, along with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and The Wheels on the Bus and several other family favorites. So far this is very cute. But less so when she's singing the ABC's at the top of her lungs while Daniel is crying in the car.
  • A couple of days ago, Annalivia was standing on a chair in the dining room checking out her eyeballs in the mirror and turned to me, panicked, to say, "Mommy, look! My eyes are pink!" I showed her my pink eyelids. She felt better.
  • My sistah, Marissa, is getting married this weekend. I'm in charge of inviting folks to communion and pretending, with the rest of the sistahs, that the fact that we are wearing very similar black dresses and matching earrings is totally and completely coincidental and not at all because we somehow want to work ourselves into being bridesmaids. As we've shared with family, if we happen to pick up bouquets and walk down the aisle evenly spaced right before Marissa, so be it. Totally spontaneous. Really.
  • At church, we are going to be doing Sunday School for the first time in three years and I think we have not only found a great, fun, and incredibly hip curriculum, but have also found a way to do it and not burn out teachers all the while providing some consistency to the kids. Of course, all of this remains to be seen, but I'm excited.
  • And finally, I have a date of Sept. 11 for the next wrist surgery . Easy to remember, at least.

Hope all is well with all of you and yours!

27 August 2007

Recipe: Truly deliciously perfect banana bread

We had a glut of overripe bananas here recently because I've been buying huge bunches in hopes of making banana bread. I must have married a monkey, apparently, and then gave birth to a couple because bananas are often scarce around here. Even when I buy extra, they disappear quickly.
So last week I bought at least 25 bananas at different times throughout the week. And today I had a bunch that were sufficiently icky, so I made banana bread again. And today, it was perfect. This weekend I made a batch with much less sugar, and while good, was not great. This recipe is the best, I think. It has developed over trial and error and with enough adaptations that I think I can call it my own. Although if you make it and everyone loves it, you can call it your own, too.

Banana Bread

8-9 ripe bananas
2/3 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar (I've cut it down as low as 1/2 cup, I've also used sucanat, honey, agave nectar, etc. If you use a syrup, just add a bit more flour).
2 eggs
2 T vanilla
2 t baking soda
1/8 t. salt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1-2 cup walnuts, if desired

Mash bananas with potato masher until just small lumps remain. Add oil, sugar, egg and vanilla and mix well. Sprinkle baking soda and salt on the banana mixture and mix well. Add the flour and nuts, if desired (I like putting nuts in one loaf and making one without) and mix just until combined. Do not overmix.
Pour into two greased bread pans. Bake at 325-350 for one hour (if using honey or agave, or if using dark pans, bake at lower temp.)
When done, allow to cool about 15 minutes in pans, then turn out. Try to share with loved ones.

22 August 2007

Little things

I walked into Kroger in Sterling, Illinois the other day and there, hanging off of hook on a large sign that said something like, "Be responsible, moron" was a bunch of reuseable grocery bags for sale.
It was kind of a slap upside the head to me (hence the "moron"). If a grocery store in rural northwestern Illinois is promoting environmental stewardship, the time has long come for me to get on board.
So. I've got canvas. And I've got this pattern. And I think I've got the opportunity to put the kids to bed a little early tonight while Dennis is at school and sew. I think. (Edited to add: I also found this cool pattern and then there's this one for the knitters out there and this uber-simple one that might be put into use here.) (Edited again to add: Check out this cool link about how to fuse plastic bags into a workable "cloth"!)
Also, I was reading this article in Time magazine about the environmental impact of using bottled water. I have heard about this before and also heard a report on Living on Earth a couple of years ago that talked about the level of spring water now underground in relation to the increased demand for bottled spring water. It wasn't a positive report. Every time I think about it, I think that it is time to give up the bottled water crutch. I believe I have been properly convicted thanks to the Time article. Dennis installed a reverse osmosis system in our house last year. The only reason to not carry water with me from home is laziness and, well, that's not a good excuse.
While on this topic, I remind myself -- I have found that it is not too big of a deal to make changes that are more responsible in terms of stewardship of resources. We began recycling a couple of years ago and are doing well with it. In fact, we recycle far more than our bin can handle every week. We have tried to combine trips out and about with other errands. If Dennis can stop and get something on his way home instead of me making a separate trip, we try to be mindful of that. We don't dry most of our clothes and have three lines strung in the basement for that purpose. I'd like to try to get a compost heap constructed this fall and begin using the stuff we send down the garbage disposal for a higher purpose, too.
So... these are not big things, obviously. And though little and really quite painless, they make a difference. And they move us from where we have been one step closer to where we need to be. One little step, but one step nonetheless.

20 August 2007

Today

Today was a fruitful day. In McStew-speak, that means we all got dressed and got out of the house. It's the little things that thrill us here.
This morning, Annalivia, Daniel and I ate breakfast at the table together. That was fun and sort of new for us. We usually eat breakfast in shifts. But I think we're going to try this more often. Daniel and Annalivia do lots of laughing at each other when we are all at the table. And once we firmly establish that Annalivia is not allowed to have Daniel's baby bananas until he is done with them, we're good to go.
We went grocery shopping at several different stores today and Annalivia had great behavior. She had chosen to wear a pale green Sunday dress today and I let her. She also decided to carry around with her a pink stuffed bunny rabbit that was mine when I was little. So lots of people smiled upon her and she responded graciously. Daniel was also in a pretty good mood in his baby pouch which always enthralls strangers. We had lots of people smiling upon all of us today in the stores, actually. That was sort of nice.
In the process of all that, I think I ditched a plumber who was giving the church a quote. I got stuck in traffic on my way back to church and, I think, made an erroneous assumption in my eagerness to get home and not drag children out into the rain. This wouldn't be a big deal, except that I didn't really divulge my part of the mistake to parishioner coordinating the whole effort and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it could have seemed like I tried to swindle the parishioner. The guy is a good guy and very understanding, so I'll explain tomorrow, but it was one of those times when a long and drawn out dawning-realization reveals something negative about one's own actions. Not so much fun.
Anyway, it was good to get home from shopping and upon arriving home, I attempted to unpack groceries. A little while later, it occurred to me that I had not put the package of bacon I had purchased in the refrigerator. Annalivia had been, ahem, standing on it, so I asked her where it was and she said, "maybe in van." No, I assured her, it was not in the van. I asked her if she had taken it somewhere and she ran into her bedroom to show me the bacon chillaxin' with her stuffed animals in her toybox. Odd child.
So, bacon recovered, I proceeded to cook it up for BLT's with the anonymous tomatoes that were waiting on our porch the other day when we returned from some miscellaneous errand or other. We also had German potato salad, since we had bacon fat sitting around. It was all delicious, if I do say so myself. But we did not have enough bacon for lunch tomorrow so we have been forced to cook up another pound this evening. Our lives are hard.
And in other news -- we met with and hired a lawyer this evening to handle our personal injury cases from the accident. We both realized we couldn't possibly figure out our way around the settlement process, so it should feel like a relief, but we're both feeling a little flattened by it all. Not sure why, but we are grateful for the fact that someone else will deal with it from now on. And since we are paying them a lot, we're assuming they'll do a fine job. We hope.
And on that note -- to bed! Hope all is well out there in your worlds, blog friends. Good night.

19 August 2007

Gifts of the weekend

1. Temperatures no higher than 75 degrees

2. A lovely drive through the country, fragrant corn fields, swooping swallows and all, at dusk on Friday night

3. A rainy day declutter of kitchen gadgets on Saturday and NINE boxes of stuff to Goodwill

4. A bouquet of amaranth, lisianthus, sunflowers and zinnia from the farmer's market for $5

5. LOTS of zucchini, processed and frozen

6. A satisfying sermon on Philippians

7. An even more satisfying nap courtesy of my sweet love on this afternoon

8. Pancakes for dinner this evening, per Annalivia's request

9. A reminder that the good life begins, or more accurately, is in process, right now.

17 August 2007

Friday Five: Movies I could see again and again

Follow the Fleet -- Gramps taped this Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film for us off Turner Movie Classics when I was in high school. Roo and I devoured it. The great music, costumes, and sweet story were captivating. You can hear me humming this on random days...We joined the navy to see the world. And what did we see? We saw the sea. We saw the Atlantic and the Pacific, and the Pacific isn't terrific, and the Atlantic isn't what it's cracked up to be.

Green Card -- I don't know why, but I love this movie. Maybe it's the music (I had the cassette of the soundtrack for a long time). Maybe it's the greenhouse. Maybe it's Gerard. It's flawed and McDowell is really not great, but... I love it.

Rushmore -- The beginning of Bill Murray's renaissance, I remember being just delighted when I saw this one in the theater by myself during seminary. It was like discovering a little treasure.

Intolerable Cruelty -- Probably one of my favorite movies of all time, Dennis and I have seen this more times than we can count. Those Coen brothers are just so clever. And George AND Catherine are just gorgeous.

Goldeneye -- I do love me a spy movie and this one is my favorite James Bond, probably because it's got a smart Bond girl, and Judi Dench, to boot. And then there's Pierce running about in post-Soviet Russia AND Sean Bean... lovely.

For the record, I like movies. And there are lots more that I could see again and again. These are just some from a long list.


16 August 2007

Fresh air, baby!


Not the NPR show. The stuff coming through our windows as I type. Because tonight, after a MISERABLE month, it is supposed to be in the 50's in northern Illinois! Hurrah!
Fresh air, baby!!

Recipe: Whole wheat pie crust

Here ya go, Jane-Anne. I haven't had occasion to use it for actual pie, but it works well for other pastry needs. I got this from Ruth, a lady at church, who makes wonderful pies. It is simple to remember because all of the ingredients are halved (1, 1/2, 1/4). For pies and for nostalgic reasons, I will always prefer my grandmother's recipe to this one, but I've yet to master it. This one is easy.

Whole Wheat Pastry Crust
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup butter (original recipe calls for shortening)
1/4 cup cold water
pinch salt
I make it in the food processor. Add cut up butter to flour and salt and process til it is cut into crumbly pieces. Add water slowly while processing til it makes a ball. Roll out on floured pastry cloth.
For double crust, double the recipe!

15 August 2007

Accomplishments

Yesterday, my children took long naps in the middle of the day. Daniel went to sleep about 1 and stayed asleep til 3:30. Annalivia went to bed about 1, to sleep about 2 and then also slept til 3:30.
It was a gift.
I wasn't, however, prepared for it since they have both been taking mini-naps lately. Consequently, I spent most of the time thinking that they were going to be awake at any moment.
Not so today. We got back from running errands about 1, so Daniel was asleep by 1:15. Annalivia was in bed shortly thereafter.
And I got some stuff done!
I wrapped up a present and made a card for friends. I switched a load of laundry for Dennis, the laundry-doer. I got a new swimsuit ordered so that I can go swimming at the Y with my family sometime soon. I called the doctor's office to get an update on when I might have bone ripped out of my hip and placed in my wrist -- no news. I cooked up a whole lotta chicken thighs in the pressure cooker for use tonight and beyond. And I cut up a bunch of squash, zucchini and green beans -- enough for two chicken pot pies -- one tonight and one to freeze. (It's seen here in its winter veg form, beautifully created with two crusts. We'll be using one crust and the seasonal veggies and I can guarantee it won't look as pretty).
As I was typing this, the little ones awakened. Daniel woke up happy, as is his way. Annalivia woke up upset and fragile, as is her way.
But I still got all this stuff done!
What a gift.

Best of all, she's related to me

This morning I was catching up on reading El Blog de Kalin, the blog of my sistah, Kalin. I came upon this hilarious entry and spent 15 minutes laughing so hard that I cried. If you have not perused Kali's blog, do it. I think the humor transcends McClures. And her pictures are great. Go look. It will help your day.

12 August 2007

11 August 2007

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

I have returned home from the alumni board meeting of my alma mater. It is amazing to me that regardless of how much I think I want a little break from my family sometimes, the instant I am more than two miles from them, I long to be with them far more than I long to be away. For the whopping 24 hours I was gone, I was thinking about how soon I could come home.
I'm really thankful that this is the way it is for both Dennis and me. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but lots of folks don't enjoy a desire to spend free time with their families. And there's so much in our culture that promotes a "necessity" to focus on self before others, especially the members of one's family. Sometimes Dennis and I are keenly aware that we are swimming against what seems to be the stream. Sometimes we aren't aware enough.
But anyway, I am home and it was good to put Annalivia to bed and it was good to hold a very fussy and squirmy Daniel before passing him off to the parent without the broken wrist. And it is good to be able to wash dinner dishes. And it's especially good to smooch on my sweetheart.
It's all good. And for that, I'm grateful. Really, really grateful to be home.

10 August 2007

Friday Five: On my mind this morning

  1. Yesterday would have been my grandmother, Ga's, 97th birthday. I thought about her a lot yesterday. Ga was raised in several orphanages as a child and had several families adopt her and then return her before she was permanently adopted by a Methodist minister and his wife when Ga was 10 years old. Ga was 40 when she had my mother, her third and last child. She lived in Eureka and we spent LOTS of time with her in our childhood. Friday night sleepovers at her house were routine for a long while. She died my junior year of college. I will always miss Ga.
  2. I exchanged my cast this week for a removeable splint. This means I can shower with minor effort. Blessed, blessed shower.
  3. Yesterday Daniel and Annalivia and I made a fruitful trip to the Quad Cities. We bought canvas bags at Hobby Lobby to pack with worship activities each week for the kids at church. (It's a "build-it-they-will-come" sort of thing.) And we went to a consignment store there and I was able to get Daniel's entire fall and winter wardrobe of brand name clothes very cheaply. Annalivia already has all the clothes she could possibly ever need for winter.
  4. I am looking forward to the appearance of Daniel's bottom teeth. They are making him, and everyone else in the family, miserable.
  5. Tonight I am leaving my family and going to Springfield for a Eureka College alumni board meeting. In continued revelation of my dorkdom, I'm most looking forward to being able to listen to The Message for six hours.
Anything on YOUR mind? Feel free to link here.

09 August 2007

Phew.

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Brief books of the Bible

I have decided that my new sermon series at church will be called Brief Books of the Bible and each week I will preach a very vague, and probably, theologically unsound for many pastors, sermon on the "overarching" theme of a book.
Last week, I kicked off the series without even realizing I was doing it by preaching on Jonah. I basically retold the story and then made my big point. And it was a lot of fun. I think everyone else liked it, too. But the best part was that several folks told me throughout the week that they went home and actually read or re-read (but probably just read) Jonah. Which was very cool.
I'm thinking, and hoping and praying, that this sermon series will inspire folks to go home and read these brief books over again or, probably, for the first time. I think that would be very, very good for us. As a group we are incredibly, ashamedly Biblically illiterate. I don't know if that is a trait shared among most mainliners or just most Disciples, but it is not a trait of which to be proud. At all.
So I'm challenging my folks to go home and crack open these little books and spend the less-than-an-hour that it will take to read the four or five chapters. And then, at least, they will be able to say that they've read these parts of the Bible. Who knows? It might lead to reading the rest of the books, too.
At least, that's the hope.

All the difference in the world

It is early here, as it is most every day when Annalivia rolls out of bed. The last few days though, I've not been frustrated and angry when she gets up at the crack of dawn forcing me out of my cocoon of slumber. And the only thing that has changed besides making a conscious effort to work on my attitude, is that I've been trying to get to bed around 9:30 at night. I haven't made 9:30 yet, but I'm awfully close. And while this allows for little internet usage and not a whole lot of time to chat Dennis up, so far the a.m. tradeoff has been worth it. I've always been someone who needs more sleep than regular human beings. I feel best with about 10 hours/ night, not 8 and definitely not the 6 hours on which my husband can function pretty well.
So. I'm not around much here on the web. But in my real life, which is where it counts, I'm not only around, but much happier.

05 August 2007

Hilarity ensues again

Yesterday, my sistahs, Lil and Kalin, and I accomplished that which we had every reason to believe we would not be able to accomplish and surprised my sistah, Marissa, with a wedding shower of totally frivolous and fanciful things (read "undergarments").
We had a great time. It ended up being just the women of our family, which was, frankly, probably best, not only for us, but also any other potential guest. So, in attendance were the sistahs, our mater fidelia, grandmere, two aunties (great and lovely), and two cousins. It was perfect. We laughed WAY too hard at the presents given to my sister. And it was just great to be together. Have I ever mentioned how much I ADORE my family? I do.
Towards the end of our long sojourn at Biaggi's, we started to make a list of songs to play at the dance reception after the wedding. There are a number of us in the family, mainly the sisters, the aunties and their offspring, who LOVE to dance, especially if we've been loosened up by a glass of wine or two. In fact, I had a momentary lapse of sanity and wondered aloud to my sistah, Lillia, why we married men who don't like to dance and she told me, "So they can watch our children while WE dance and, somehow, that's the best end of the deal for them!" Well, there's that.
Anyway we are excited, excited, excited about this reception since it will just be the two families and a few close friends. And we get to control all the music. So Dennis and I went through our ridiculously large music library last night and realized that we could furnish about 75 of the 100 dance songs we'd thought of. AND we could singlehandedly furnish all the during-dinner music, too. It's nice that the thousands of dollars spent in cd's in our single/stupid lives is finally going to be put to good use. And that, if ministry and engineering don't work out, we could always have a DJ service.

03 August 2007

Friday Five: Songs for a sultry evening... in the 80's...in Britain...or New Jersey

It's been in the 90's and humid and icky here. These help.
  1. Beyond Belief -- Elvis Costello
  2. Your Latest Trick -- Dire Straits
  3. More Than This -- Roxy Music
  4. In Your Eyes -- Peter Gabriel
  5. Tunnel of Love -- Bruce Springsteen

Back from Bourne

After a week of caring for sick kids, Dennis and I escaped and went on a brief date to go see The Bourne Ultimatum. It was good to be with Dennis. And dang, that whole Bourne franchise is good! Matt Damon +Matt Damon running = Good movie formula.
It is pretty violent, though. For some reason, I can handle quite a bit of violence in spy/ espionage movies. But the previews just about did me in. Oh my goodness -- children being kidnapped, revenge killings, families threatened...on and on ad almost-nauseum. I'd highly recommend skipping the previews, if at all possible.

And on a lighter note



Today is my dear Grampy's birthday. Gramps is OOOOOOLLLLLLLDDDDD!! (just kidding, Gramps -- he reads this blog.)



My grandfather is one of the most honorable, diligent, compassionate, intelligent, disciplined and clever men that there ever was. When I went to seminary, I met a woman who had lived in our hometown when Gramps was the president of the bank. She told me that he had given her a loan when no one else would and when she was desperate. She was so grateful. When I was on college and on a choir tour, a man came up to me and said asked if I was Gramps' granddaughter. He said, "Your grandfather taught me how to pray." Gramps was his Sunday School teacher and was the first one to teach that very successful man how to pray.


Gramps can be very serious in mind and purpose. But he can also be ridiculously silly which is one of the billions of reasons that his grandchildren adore him.



Every moment with my grandfather is a gift. As Gramps is wont to remind us occasionally, usually in jest -- he has a bad heart. Twenty-odd years ago, he had his first heart attack. Ten years ago, we were pretty sure his second bypass surgery would be his last. Three years ago, a brilliant doctor reconstructed part of his heart with surgical mesh and, I maintain, bailing wire and duct tape and chewing gum and whatever else he found around the operating room. A couple of weeks ago, Gramps was up here doing far too much and helping me out post-op.


What a gift he has been and is and continues to be! So, Gramps, happy, happy, happy birthday! The McStews sure are glad you're around and we love you!!

More on modeling

Thank you to all of you who commented on the last post. I want to clarify a bit.

I think sometimes I convey on this blog only the critical thoughts of my heart. And I mean "critical" in all senses of the word. I think these posts are accurate, in that they are a reflection of my thoughts, but they are not necessarily complete.

I'm being master-of-the-obvious, aren't I?

In any case, to further explain the last post -- what I am coming to realize is that I WANT my family to have many wonderful character traits. I WANT us to be kind and compassionate. I WANT us to be disciplined and thoughtful. I WANT us to be grateful and generous. I WANT us to be joyful and forgiving. Most of all, I WANT us to be faithful and loving.
The problem is, that I don't take any real, tangible steps to bring to fruition many of those things. I am undisciplined and have an attitude of ingratitude. I am better at being kind and compassionate, but tick me off, and that flies right out of the window. I tend to forget my temporary moments of joy and forgiveness is something I constantly struggle with.

I wish I could say that I'm doing the best I can. But I'm not.

And, honestly, it's not that I'm being overly-critical. It's that I CAN do better and MUST do better. And this fact has been brought into focus by one of the great loves of my life who, like her mother, gives kisses readily and greets people smilingly and cares a lot about other people, but... also throws temper tantrums and gets angry and frustrated and whines and fusses and on and on...
But the big point of my last post, though this might have been lost, is that I realize that, by myself, I'm just not able to become the things I want to be. It is only in the grace of God that I have a chance, I think.
So, many apologies if my post seemed to be graceless towards you or myself. That's not what I was trying to convey.

02 August 2007

Mirror, mirror

Yesterday, I watched Annalivia throw a fit of frustration after not being able to get two bread pans on her feet to go "skating" on the carpet. She got so angry and made a terrible noise of frustration, tossing aside the pans and throwing herself back onto the floor as she began to weep. It would have been laughable, but it's not. Because I'm pretty sure the person she sees behaving like that is me.
Geesh, if there's ever a way to have one's fault brought quickly, clearly and obviously into focus, raise a couple of children. If I had not the willpower or motivation to modify my behavior before, I certainly do now because if there is one thing I DON'T want for my daughter, it's for her to grow up to be me.
Today I spent some time listening to a sermon on Romans 8 and then looked it up at Crosswalk.com (which is my favorite place to look up texts because you can find a gajillion translations with one click.) What I am realizing, slowly -- slowly, slowly, slowly -- is that I just simply CANNOT be a better mother on my own merits. I just can't. I try and fail. I think I have the answer and then I don't. I preach and don't practice. I lay down law and not enough love.
Ugh -- the fact is, I just stink at parenting this little girl if left to my own devices.
So my constant prayer has been one I should have been praying all along, "God, You change me. You teach me. You lead me. You. You, you, you."
Because I can't change myself. I can't teach myself. I can't lead myself. I just can't do it.
And, God knows, it needs to be done.
So, trusting Romans 8, I am practicing believing that God hears these sighs and groans and will resurrect and redeem the failures and will make me labor in fruitfulness rather than foolishness. I am practicing believing. And it appears I will have lots of opportunities to practice.
And now, little Annalivia is awake from her nap. And I have a chance to practice.

01 August 2007

Mei tei-ing one on

Well, we are getting better around here, slowly but surely. And as we recover, it has occurred to me that I am desperate for a way to carry Daniel around with me while doing work around the house. When Annalivia was his age, I don't think I ever did any work. Now that I have a 2 year old constantly accidentally decorating the carpet with some substance, I need to be able to do stuff. And Daniel is only good for about 15 minutes of being not held.
So. I think I am going to try to make a mei tei which is an asian baby carrier. It should be a good project for me in the evening and I found some cool gender-neutral canvas at Walmart, so I think I'm all set. Now I just need that elusive patience in loads and bucketfuls while I attempt to sew, which is one of my least favorite things to do precisely because it requires the afore-mentioned patience.
I'll let y'all know how it goes.