29 July 2006

Joy and pain, sunshine and rain

It is amazing to me that this little creature I nurtured with my body and pushed into this world is able to inspire in me deeper joy than I've ever known and more frustration than I've ever thought possible.
It has become my daily prayer that Annalivia will see Momma responding to the joy more often and more completely than she will ever see me responding to the frustration. And I pray I will seek more and more opportunities to delight in her and allow my failures as a parent to be corrected by my Parent.
Because sometimes parenting is the simplest thing in the world, but, my goodness... sometimes it is awfully darn hard.

28 July 2006

Oh, Jimmy Mack, when are you coming back?

My best friend, Jimmy, has been gone this week chaperoning his ecumenical youth group on their annual mission trip.
Despite knowing that he is excited to be driving around in some sort of rented gas-guzzling behemoth, I've missed talking to him about the minutiae of my life. Why don't people seem to understand that their lives should be scheduled around that which is convenient for me?
Anyway, I'll be excited to hear that he's back and available at the end of a Sprint cellular connection. Come back already, Jimmy Mack.

27 July 2006

Reading while reclining

As I've spent lots of time reclining, I've turned to my old standards and have been re-reading for the billionth time my collection of Madeleine L'Engle. From Meet The Austins, here's one of my favorite quotes.
God is over all things, under all things;
outside all;
within, but not enclosed;
without, but not excluded;
above, but not raised up;
below, but not depressed;
wholly above, presiding;
wholly without, embracing;
wholly within, filling
~Hildevert de Lavardin, 1125

Recipe: Lenders begone

It seems like all my posts are about food lately and I'm not entirely sure why that is, except that I am so tired that most of the time we are home I spend on the couch unless I'm fixing food. Hence the food posts?
Anyway, today's recipe is for wondrous homemade bagels. I LOVE a bagel in the morning, but the kind one can get at the store has corn syrup in them always and corn syrup is murder on my blood sugar level. The store bought kind usually aren't whole wheat, either, but rather mainly white flour with a little wheat thrown in and they're usually pretty big -- far bigger than an actual serving of grains as defined by the FDA.
Anyway, this homemade version is all whole-wheat and all delicious and one can control the size of them. These were much easier than I thought they'd be and though mine were a tad misshapen, they turned out wonderfully and taste SO good. I've had one this morning with green olive cream cheese. Yummmmmm....

Homemade Whole Wheat Bagels

2 cups warm water
1 packet yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil or coconut oil
6 cups whole wheat flour (I used 1/2 pastry and 1/2 a rough stone-ground flour -- next time I'll use almost all soft flour and maybe some ground flaxseeds for crunch)
1 tablespoon salt

Mix water and yeast and honey and let bubble. Then add oil and salt and begin adding flour until you have a stiff dough. Kneed and incorporate more flour if necessary. (Or dump all of this your bread machine after the yeast has bubbled and let it do the work!)
Set dough in a greased bowl and cover and let rise til double (or let bread machine do it). When doubled, punch down and divide into equal parts depending on what size you want your bagels (I made 18 of this recipe. Form each section of dough into a ball, then create a hole in the center with your fingers. (The hole will puff up and close some during boiling, so keep this in mind when making it the desired size). Place on a very well greased light colored cookie sheet and cover and let rest and rise for about 20 minutes.
Sometime during the resting/rising time, bring to boil in a large pot or dutch oven about 6 inches of water with 2 Tablespoons honey added after the boiling has begun. You want this to be rapidly boiling as this will puff up your bagels. When water is rapidly boiling, gently drop in bagels and cook for a minute or two on each side. They will puff slightly and look a little more bagely! Take them out and drain them on paper towels over newspaper. Then place on cookie sheets that have been regreased.
If you'd like, brush a little olive oil on top and sprinkle with kosher salt, garlic, poppyseeds, dried onion, sesame seeds, pepper -- whatever you like. Bake the bagels in a hot (about 400 degrees) oven for about 20 minutes.

Green Olive Cream Cheese
1 package cream cheese (don't get the lowfat stuff- the additives make it less worthy. Really)
3/4 cup or your desired amount green olives without pimentos (I'm not a fan of pimentos -- I suppose you could leave them in, though!)

Chop up olives to desired size -- I like mine in pretty substantial chunks. Soften cream cheese. Mix up. Use now or store covered for up to a week.

26 July 2006

Recipe: Boy oh boy bolognese sauce

I have been craving spaghetti sauce for some reason -- and not the stuff that comes from the jar, nor the stuff that comes from our local pizzerias around here which is delicious, but has been cooked for literally hours in lots of salt and thus is a lot better in cold weather than in warm.
What I've been hungry for is something fresh and summery, not too heavy, but also substantial. Oh, it also needed to be ready in the half-hour before dinner time that it occurs to me that we should eat something in the evening!
So here it is -- incredibly easy and wonderful bolognese sauce. Oh my goodness, is this ever good!
Summer Bolognese Sauce
1 lb sausage or beef (we use sausage)
1 onion chopped
lots o' garlic minced
1 can no-salt organic tomatoes (or use fresh if you have them -- they're not ripe here yet!)
1-2 cups organic broth (I use beef, but veggie or chicken would work, too)
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
about 1/2 cup good red wine (I use Chianti)
Italian seasonings
any other veggies you'd like to hide i.e. carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, chopped, diced, minced or shredded, depending on how well you want to hide it!

Brown the meat and add the onion and garlic toward the end of the browning time. Drain if you have a lot of grease -- we use lower fat sausage so I don't drain it. Add the broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine, if using. Add the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then turn down and let simmer. Taste the mix and see if it is tomato-y enough. Add more paste, if not.
Allow the mix to simmer until reduced to near-desired consistency. Add any extra veggies (note: you can add the tomatoes now instead of earlier, if you like the taste of semi-fresh tomatoes. I, myself, am not a fan). Allow to finish reducing or heat through and enjoy.
Note: This recipe makes a very meaty sauce. You can stretch it a lot by adding more broth and tomato paste or more veggies.

25 July 2006

When it would be particularly helpful to have a Gramps around

The list of things I love about my grandfather is far too long to be posted here. Seriously. Blogger.com would overload and shut down if I began to extol all of my grandfather's virtues. So today, I'll extol just one -- the man will eat, (and appreciate!) anything.
Once when I was in junior high, I decided to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies from scratch -- no recipe, no measuring cups, no guidance from Mom -- this was to be completely totally from scratch. I decided it was possible for me to do this because my mother does this all the time with quite a fair degree of success. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen her make a batch of cookies from a recipe, though I suppose it does happen at Easter, but even then only sort of. She never measures anything, always goes by sight and texture, and sometimes taste, but only before the eggs are added. Consequently, mom never makes the same thing twice, but since she's hardly a person for repetition, this is ok and all of us are learning, some of us more slowly than others, to appreciate it.
ANYWAY, I decided to make these cookies and decided to eyeball the baking soda part of the recipe. So I mixed up my ingredients and when it came time to add the soda, I probably added 2-3 tablespoons to a batch of a dozen and a half cookies.
When they emerged from the oven, they smelled wonderful and looked really quite good, though they were, of course, brown on the bottom. Their appearance was deceptive, to say the least. They were terrible! Baking soda is a lovely background flavor, but should never star in a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Never.
Despite the terror that was these cookies, for some reason I packaged them up and took them to my grandfather. Now, the thing to know about Gramps is that not only does he eat pretty much anything, but he also insists that he likes the burned parts of things ("a little brown," as he says) as well as other things considered inedible by others. I don't know if this has evolved as a coping mechanism (because while my grandmother is now THE BEST cook on the planet, she says it wasn't always that way because she truly HATED to cook when they first married) or if he truly likes the yucky stuff.
These cookies were no exception. My grandfather tried them, proclaimed them quite good and even when I tried to throw them out, insisted on saving them.
The reason I thought about all of this today was because I tried to make cookies from scratch again. These turned out really quite well, but they are a little too soft and fall apart a little too easily. Probably I needed to put more flour in them and although they taste very good, they have whole wheat, whole sugar, oatmeal, walnuts, chocolate and white chocolate chips in them and I know Dennis won't devour them like he would if they were just plain white flour, sugar and chocolate chips.
If Gramps were nearby though, I'd have them taken care of. I'd take some over to his house, present the crumbly parts as possible ice cream topping, and we'd be good to go.
Aside from all the other times it would be nice to spend time with him, this is when it would be particularly helpful to have a Gramps around.

23 July 2006

Five years and counting

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of my ministry at First Christian Church, Rock Falls. When I came here, I thought I'd be here for five years and move on. I had it all planned out in my head how it would work -- how I'd leave here and go to a larger church, earn more money, get more recognition from the poobahs, etc, etc.
Five years, a husband, a daughter and a little nubbin later, I have no idea what's next. God has been good over the last five years despite me. So I am here and trying to do the work to which God is calling me both in the church and in my home. That seems like plenty to hold in my head and heart right now.

19 July 2006

Recipe: In case of a bumper crop

Somehow, even though we didn't plant a garden this year, we have a bumper crop of zucchini, thanks to the generosity of my sister, Lil, and some church members. Today I was facing eight large zucchini on my countertop. And when I say large, I mean, slightly larger than the dog next door.
Anyway, here is a recipe for soup using zucchini. I have modified it because the original, while tasting delicious, had a texture that would have been great during the winter, but not so lovely now. However, this version is grand and supposedly freezes like a dream. So if you had a deep freezer, you could make this stuff for cold weather and you'd be golden.

Red Lentil, Zucchini and Couscous Soup
1 onion
1 stalk celery
olive oil for sauteeing
6 c. broth (I used chicken, but veggie would be great and beef is good in the winter)
1 c. red lentils
1 t. salt
1/2 t ground pepper
6 big leaves fresh basil
2 large zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 large carrots, cut in slightly smaller pieces than zucchini
2/3 c whole wheat couscous
1/2 c grated parmesan (optional)

Dice onion and celery and cook in olive oil til translucent.
Pour in broth and add lentils and seasonings. Allow to boil, then turn down heat and cover, allowing to cook at slow simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Add zucchini and carrots and couscous and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
You may want to stir in the parmesan or add it to bowls or leave it out altogether.
This soup could also take a whole lot of other seasonings, so experiment and enjoy!

18 July 2006

How things could have gone

Yesterday was not a great day for the McStews. However, even as I indulge in complaint, I should note that all of it could have been so much worse. And thus I'm extremely thankful.
On Sunday, while at my neice's birthday party, my tooth began a murderous rampage inside my mouth and I started to get a dull headache. Tylenol did not help tooth nor head and by the time we got home, my head was really sore.
During the night I had dreams that someone was hitting my head from side to side and I woke up with a headache that was pounding with each beat of my heart. It hurt so much I couldn't move without incredible pain. I woke Dennis up and had him take my blood pressure because I was preeclamptic with Annalivia and the pounding with my heartbeat really concerned me. My blood pressure was fine and glucose was fine, so I went back to bed, but the pain was terrible.
On Monday morning, I had an appointment with the oral surgeon about this tooth. The tooth was my back right wisdom tooth and it had a large hole on the side where a filling fell out long ago that was exposing the nerve. The doctor was worried about it breaking off, in which case it was likely that he'd have to cut the gum and since I'm pregnant, Tylenol or perhaps Tylenol with codeine, are the only pain relieving options. The doctor said he'd rather wait to pull it, but thankfully, my beloved OB intervened and said to get the darn thing out since it was probably the instigator of the headache.
So the doctor took out the tooth and as it was coming out, it broke off. I had been praying Psalm 30 "O, Lord, I cried out to you for help and you healed me" all morning. The doctor reached for the knife and then said, "Maybe I can tease it out" and grabbed another tool and the rest of the root of the tooth just popped right out. So -- no cutting. And I came home in less than an hour and laid on the couch while Annalivia played.
On his way home, Dennis got into an accident. It was sort of Dennis' fault since he tried to pass a guy who was turning left on the guy's right. Turned out the guy had the wrong turn signal on and he turned into Dennis instead. The guy didn't have insurance and since our car is driveable and technically Dennis was in the wrong, Dennis didn't get the guy's name either. The Capri is banged up, which the real shame, and Dennis was really ticked off at himself, but all of this leads me to...
  • This headache could have been blood pressure related, which would have been REALLY bad this early in the pregnancy.
  • The doctor could have decided to leave the tooth.
  • The tooth could have broken differently and needed cutting.
  • Annalivia could have been having a very different day that wouldn't have allowed for a sleeping mama.
  • Dennis or another person could have been really seriously hurt.
Like I said, all in all, I'm thankful. Today is a hundred times better and I'm assuming tomorrow will be practically normal.

The birthday girl

On Sunday, we went to Eureka to celebrate my neice Cleya's 3rd birthday. I haven't been able to be at any of Cleya's other birthday parties, so I was really looking forward to it.
Cleya is so sweet and definitely her own little person. She was wearing a little party dress and also struggling with the excitement of it being her birthday and her tendency to be deeply wounded by little things. "I'm feeling really sad," was a frequent refrain, though for no reason obvious to grown-ups or anything that could be articulated by Cleya-bug.
All of it is so sweet to me. My memories of Cleya's mom, Lillia, was of this blithe little spirit who was completely and totally oblivious to anything other than her own joy. Of course, I was 9 at the time Lil was 3 and becoming painfully aware of my own angst, so perhaps all of that is just my memory.
Anyway, it was precious to see a little of this bliss as Cleya opened her presents and it was so sweet to see her get excited by each thing for about 3 seconds before looking for the next opportunity to unwrap something.
After presents, she spent a lot of time guarding her possessions from Annalivia. It was pretty hilarious. Most of the time Annalivia was oblivious to whatever it was Cleya had. She just wanted to be near Cleya. Annalivia would be playing with a balloon in front of Cleya's chair and Cleya would be curled up with her My Little Pony held up over her head just in case Annalivia lunged for it. As the eldest child, I relate strongly to this.
Cleya's getting a little sibling in 7 months. Now THAT will be fun to see.

13 July 2006

A girl and her sistahs

When Annalivia was born, I immediately felt the urge to find her a little sister. I was sitting in the doctor's waiting room three weeks after she was born telling my mother that I was ready to have the next one and that I hoped it would be a little sister for Annalivia. (Again, the euphoria sustained me through my exhaustion.) Dennis and I talked even then about how it just seems as though our next little girl is just waiting to come into our family. It has never been as though it is a variable whether she will appear. The only variable is when she will appear.
This pregnancy, I am praying for a healthy baby, but I will also confess that I have prayed that this one will be the little sister for Annalivia. This may seem blasphemous to some and I know full-well that if this baby ends up being a little boy, we will look at him when he arrives and talk about how we can't imagine him being anyone else. And we will love him for who he is.
But, having said that, there is something about having three little sisters that leads me to hope for a sister for my daughter. From my sisters I have learned so much about patience, intelligence, forgiveness and healing, imagination, and of course, love. As we grow older, and I am able to see them more as individuals and less as an extension of myself, I find myself continually being taught how to be a better sibling, a better friend, and a better person.
There was a recent article in TIME the week before last about how siblings shape us that got me thinking about this more. It is kind of amazing to me that the idea that we are more shaped by siblings than by our parents and our spouses is a new idea. From the time we were incredibly young, my parents were telling us that the closest people to us would be our siblings. I remember vividly my mother explaining that the Marissa's DNA was a lot closer to mine than hers or Dad's. I remember the "conversation" Dad delivered as Marissa and I trudged up a hill at Governor Dodge State Park, wherein he explained that the relationships with our sisters were the most important we would ever have and that those relationships deserved more respect than we were giving them on that vacation.
And it's true. Every subsequent relationship I've developed has been judged by what I've experienced with my sisters. Can I laugh with this person? Am I comfortable with this person? Can we have intense intellectual discussion? Can we agree to disagree with minimal hostility? Are they appropriately insane?
I want Annalivia to have a barometer like this, but also to have someone who brings her more joy, more love, and yes, more frustration, than she ever will think possible and who, God willing, will accompany her through the various stages of life long after her father and I return Home.
So, though we will be more than happy to welcome a little guy into our family, we look forward to and pray for the day when Annalivia will lead her little sister through the peonies, whispering in her ear, and holding hands, playing games that neither Dennis nor I will fully understand.
Though my guess is that I'll understand at least a little.
I should mention for the benefit of any sistahs reading this blog that the fact that this photo is of Rissy and me is solely due to the fact that I do not have non-akward photos of the rest of us in this house. Sorry, Kali.

12 July 2006

Having never been more tired in my life...

(which is really saying something considering that Annalivia didn't sleep through the night until, well, she doesn't now, actually) I haven't posted any of the things that have been rolling about in my head. I've been taking HUGE 3-4 hour naps with Annalivia and still going to bed before 10 each night. I don't remember feeling this tired at all with Annalivia. Perhaps the euphoria sustained me. Of course, I'd also had four years of decent sleep before I became pregnant with her...
Anyway, sorry to be a slacker. More coming soon, perhaps.

07 July 2006

Self-indulgent? self-care

I've been turning over and over these thoughts again and again in my head over the last few weeks, but I'm not sure this is going to come out right...
I've been thinking about the desire for better self-care and wondering if it doesn't perhaps have a tendency to be self-indulgent in a way that is kingdom-irresponsible?
This last month I read again the book Living More with Less which was published by the Mennonite Central Committee several years after the acclaimed More with Less Cookbook. Doris Janzen Longacre authored both books and both are chock-full of information about living responsibly in the world with the resources God has given us. They are not fun to read. I feel my face burning and my gut sinking as I read about the excesses of modern life. I wear a scarlet letter from the first sentences.
Living More with Less reminds the reader that there are a hundred things that we can do every day to be more responsible stewards of our resources from reusing scrap paper and aluminum foil to switching to cloth grocery and lunch bags. There are also less benign suggestions in these books, such as giving up some protein because we have a disproportionately large amount of protein in our diets as first-world citizens or foregoing beauty luxuries because those things aren't available to other people throughout the world.
The idea that part of our role as Christians is to stand in solidarity with victims of injustice appeals to me on a very basic level. I just can't buy into the argument that we here in the first world have all that we have because God has ordained it to be so. It's pretty clear to me that the Bible commands us to worry about and act for justice. And since "justice" is such a laden word, I mean that it is pretty clear to me that God asks us to recognize that the world is not the way that He wants it to be and to work to change it. And the Mennonite assertion is that this begins with each of us and our own actions in how we relate to our families, friends, fellow believers and strangers. Justice is worked out in how I spend my money, drive my car, treat my kids, interact with store clerks, etc. Pretty smart, those Mennonites.
So -- here's my dilemma -- am I being a responsible citizen of the Kingdom in my pursuit for self-care? Is it a good use of my resources to spend money on extra virgin cocount oil or all-natural all-organic face cream? Or is it "worth it" to buy toothpaste without additives that costs twice or three times as much as others or multi-vitamins that cost more than our prescription medicines for a month or essential oils that head us into the hundreds of dollars?
I think, for us, the answer is no. Not right now. Spending the small amounts of expendible cash entirely on us, even if it is in the name of "better health," is not a good use of our resources. And frankly, until we are able to give the amount we wish we could to the places that work actively for justice in the world and still have extra left over every month, I think the answer will be, 'no'. And that's gonna be a while.
There are certain things for which we are going to continue to spend extra money. We're still buying organic milk, though now Annalivia is the only one drinking milk, and we'll continue to get farm eggs from Dennis' aunt because that's helpful to both our family and hers. We're going to continue our recent trend of eating more and more fresh veggies and fruits, but probably only while they are in season, at which time we'll revert to frozen veggies.
And I think we're going to cut back on some things. For example, we're going to be eating less meat (sorry, honey). We're probably not going to go overboard on supplements. The refined coconut oil is not cost-prohibitive and is really good for our skin and cooking, so I'll continue to use that. And I'll continue to take my coral calcium and folic acid while gestating and nursing, but organic/ all-natural shampoo and hair gel and makeup is not in my future, I think, when it costs such a great deal that could be spent elsewhere. Nor is coconut oil as a supplement or any more Perfect Green Foods, at least not during produce season. We're just going to have to do a better getting real nutrition from real foods.
And we're also going to do some things differently. Next summer our goal is to be in a position to house a large freezer someplace in our dwelling. We plan to plant a large garden and live mainly on veggies next summer and freeze away for the fall and winter months. We're also going to be cutting our own intake back a lot and focusing on basic nutrition: vegetables and fruit, carbs and protein in the purest and least expensive form I can find them, which probably means eating a lot of beans and rice in the fall. As you can tell from our photos, we consume way more than our allotted share of this world's resources. Really, that's the first place to start.
In the meantime, I'm going to pray for wisdom in readjusting my attitudes about providing for my family. I am an abundant person and tend to go way overboard with, well, pretty much everything. I like to have the best, though I'm realizing what is best depends on who is doing the judging. I particularly need help in re-evaluating how I see feeding my family. Lots of heavy food has indicated lots of good love to me in the past and I have a tendency to communicate my affection for my beloveds with ridiculously complicated, expensive and calorie-loaded dishes. Longacre's call in Living More with Less to adjust entertaining and hospitality to be more about companionship (and yes, I know the etymological foundations of that word) than cuisine is very much resonating with me.
And finally, though it probably won't make me any more friends, I think I'm going to remind folks very gently that there is a difference between self-care and self-indulgence. And focusing on self, self, self, often leads us down the path of self-destruction, even as we seek self-preservation.
Well, that's enough of my ramblings for now. Bet you're all glad I'm back from vaca, eh?

06 July 2006

Napping made clear

Well, apparently the reason I napped all day was so I could be up all night with a toothache. It's now after 2 and I'm up for the nth time. Guess I'll call the oral surgeon tomorrow and beg for a bump on my appointment. Ugh.

05 July 2006

Vacation from vacation

We came home early last night from Eureka and missed the finale of our July 4 celebration by skipping the fireworks at Eureka Lake. We were tired and I wasn't feeling really great and frankly, the thought of sleeping in our own beds was a stronger pull than seeing sparkly patriotic remembrances, so we headed north.
It was good to celebrate Mama's 60th birthday, good to spend time with the family, good to see the small town parade, good to have a break from being home.
But it's just really good to be home again.
This morning, Dennis woke up with Annalivia and I slept in til 10. Then we worked on cleaning up the back bedroom for friends to come visit on Friday. Then Annalivia and I laid down and we took a big 2 hour nap. Then we sent a slightly disgruntled bug who needed a change of scenery out to visit her grandmother who was suffering from not seeing her for a week and Dennis and I went to a movie and had dinner together to celebrate our anniversary a day late. All of which was lovely.
So today we've had a vacation from vacation. And tomorrow, since I'm technically off-work until Saturday, I'm going to spend the day working at home -- organizing and doing some long-overdue deep-cleaning and taking another nap, probably.
And since it's 9:00, I think I'll go to bed early tonight too. No use ruining the streak.

03 July 2006


You are my one true love,
Today I come to you to be your wife.
All that I am and all that I have,
I will gladly share with you.
I promise to accept you for the person you have been,
love you for the person you are,
and help you to grow into the person God wants you to be.
These things I promise to you now,
and each day, for the rest of our lives. ~4 July 2003

He had no possibilities. His glasses were too thick. His speech too unrefined. His education too simple. His mother too needy.
He was unworthy, I thought. Expendible.
He knew differently.
Within 5 days I realized I could love him forever. Within 12 days I knew I would.
Now I think if there is one who is unworthy, it is not him. He is far more generous, more loving, more giving, more creative, more intelligent, more understanding, more industrious, more clever than I can ever hope to be.
With him there is passion and joy and security and desire and contentment and love and, and, and... deeper than I ever knew possible.
With him, there are possibilities I could never have imagined.
I know differently now, too. This man is exactly the one my heart yearned to love.
And for some crazy reason, he loves me, too.
I love you so much, my love. Happy anniversary.

02 July 2006

River reverie

We've been enjoying hanging out with my dear friend, Annalivia's godfather, Jimmy, at the parsonage in Louisiana, MO. Lovely historic river town, grand homes, wonderful company, fine food, etc. We are enjoying sitting around in the sunshine with feet in kiddie pools, splashing around the marina kiddie pool, and taking lovely drives along the Mississippi. It is just lovely and our first real vacation since May of two years ago. We're long overdue and enjoying most every minute, so more interesting posts will be coming later!