Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review

I am a regular and frequent user of the Fairfax County Library System. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I'm cheap. Unless a book is very inexpensive (or better - free on loan), I refuse to pay full price.  Second, I do not like clutter. So unless a book is worth keeping, it goes out of the house. And third, I have found that there are very few books worth rereading.

However, some of them DO hold up over time. The P.G. Wodehouse books, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series, and P.D. James are good examples. But most books that have been published in the last ten years or so are a one-time read and then "good-bye!"

That's why the book sale our Friends of Reston Regional Library ran is so great. While there, I located an Advanced Reading Copy of Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin and grabbed it. It cost ONE WHOLE DOLLAR!

Having just finished reading it, I can say that it was, hands down, the best book I have read in 2010. And it is worth keeping.

The setting of the book is in Kigali, Rwanda, where people from many different countries have come to help Rwanda on the path to unity and reconciliation after the terrible genocide that occurred in 1994. The central character, Angel, bakes cakes for all kinds of people who are celebrating all kinds of special occasions. Angel and her husband Pius, a university professor, are Tanzanian, and parents to their five grandchildren whose parents are deceased. The way Angel mothers the children, and everyone else who crosses her path, is amazingly compassionate, yet not the least bit over-indulgent.  Rather than judging people who are different from her, Angel personifies love, even as she struggles to understand the differences.

The two non-human characters that shape this book are the 1994 genocide and AIDS. The genocide is a backdrop for the situations Angel's customers and neighbors find themselves in, and "the virus" is the unspoken fear of all who live around them. Both have created "families" out of people often not related and the absurd becomes normal. For example, there are children who live in the communal dumpsters (mayibobo), harvesting any nourishment they can from the scraps of food tossed out. Angel and the other women, understanding that some situations are beyond their capacity to "fix", simply let the mayibobo live there, and feed them as well as they can. The fear of AIDS forms a curtain of untruth which finally must be pushed aside as the people seek to re-establish the basic values of humanity and through Angel's painful acknowledgement of the truth of her daughter's death, we see how the fear no longer triumphs over Angel's life.  Author Gaile Parkin weaves these themes throughout Angel's interactions with her customers and friends, always focusing on the hope.  She does it so beautifully that the blogger had tears in her eyes from laughter, sorrow, and joy.

Part of me wanted to rush to the end to see the outcome, the other part savored each page and tendril of plot development. I would love to see what else Gaile Parkin comes up with -- this will be a difficult book to surpass!

This is not a commercial plug for anything -- just sharing the joy of finding a great read!

License Plate Game Again

It's been a while since I've posted these. But I finally brought the scrap of paper on which I scribble them in from my car, so try them out!  In the comments, you can tell me what you think they are:






(On a Pink Ribbon License Plate!)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Random Dozen

Linda at 2nd Cup asks us serious and silly questions and we answer from whatever perspective we have at that moment. Sometimes the "before coffee" answer is better than the later one for me, so here goes!

1. Have you ever been so lost that you were really afraid?
Only once. I had just moved back to the U.S. from Europe and got lost in the Ward 8 area of Washington, D.C., driving my shiny white BMW 325i. Earlier that summer there had been a random shooting on the freeway so I was a bit . . . concerned!  Never was I so happy as to see the front gate of a military base as Bolling AFB. Later I worked at Bolling and drove that area every day and got a little more perspective on the whole situation.
2. Have you ever been to an island?

Sure, as a kid we lived in Okinawa and Japan, and visited all over the Pacific, where many of the countries are islands. I've also been to the Outer Banks islands off the North Carolina Coast, and to islands in Canada, and  . . . well, you get the idea.
3. Are you more of a thinker or feeler?
Yes. Depends on where I am spiritually.
4. Do you tend to see issues or situations in life as black and white or shades of gray?
I tend towards legalism (big surprise - I'm a lawyer) so I have to fight the urge to see everything starkly. Again, like question #3, it depends on where I am spiritually. If I'm letting God take the lead, I tend to see the other side much more easily.
5. If you were stuck on an island, what book would you hope to have with you (Let's pretend the Bible is already there, so you can't say that.) 

I'm tempted to say my favorite (To Kill a Mockingbird) but I'm afraid if it's the only book I had I would start to hate it. So . . . I'd take the book that Bastian reads in "The Neverending Story." At least I wouldn't be bored.
6. What are you most afraid of?

I don't spend much time being afraid of things because I know fear is not of the Lord. But sometimes I'm afraid that I'm not being a very good living testimony to people who don't know the Lord.
7. Would you rather lose all of your old memories or never be able to make new ones? I have no idea how to answer this question.
8. Pretend I'm looking at a scrapbook page about you. There are three spaces for you to drop in individual pictures. What are those pictures of, and why did you select them?
Kindergarten Princess - the time in my life where everything was uncomplicated

Me with the kids - the time in my life where what I did/do mattered most
Me after the marathon - the time in my life where I knew I could do hard things.
9. If you were re-doing your wedding, what would you do differently? (If you're single, tell me one thing you would do if you were planning a wedding OR huge party.)
We went to Copenhagen and had no family there but us. I'm not sure I'd change that -- I would have liked my mom to be there but that would have meant all the other relatives would have felt slighted.
10. Tell me one thing you know/believe about forgiveness.
Without the power of the Holy Spirit working within me, it is impossible for me to forgive people. I'm just too selfish.
11. You're waiting in a doctor's office. What is your favorite way to pass that time?
Doodle jump on my iTouch. A totally addicting game that my son loaded on for me. Now he checks my scores to make sure he's still ahead...the rat.
12. If there were a clone of you in a parallel universe what is one way you hope she/he would be the same as you and one way you hope she/he would be better?

If she was a clone she'd be exactly the same, so no point in hoping anything different. But, if that were possible, I'd hope that she was more compassionate and less selfish.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Different Perspective

I often get so busy in life I do not see the beauty around me. Oh sure, I noticed the gorgeous sunset this evening as I left the high school after a meeting. I enjoyed the view of the zillions of azaleas that have burst into bloom all around our area. And I chuckled at a cute little boy yesterday.

But last week as I left the library, I saw one of the homeless guys who hangs around there. The homeless shelter is next door to the library so we have our 'regulars'. Some have even helped out moving books for us when we needed some muscle. One of them, M, is an extremely intelligent man who will work for books. No kidding, he doesn't ask for money, he asks for books. And when he does have money, he spends it on books. He is erudite, articulate and . . . homeless. I don't know why, and don't know his back story. He has told several of us different stories, so none of us are quite sure. But because sometimes his stories cross from interesting to extremely fanciful, we tend to not take him very seriously. He reminds me of a lot of my former defense clients. He's basically a good natured guy with a penchant for embroidering the truth -- a bit of a con man, but pretty harmless.

So as I drove away from the library, I saw him lounging down on the corner and waved. He returned the wave and I drove on. I wondered in my mind, 'why does he live that way? He's so smart, I bet he could be doing something different.'

And immediately the Lord gave me the thought.  Forty-some years ago this man was somebody's young boy, with all the promise and hope of youth. No one would have looked at his 4 year old smile and thought this would be his life at age 50. And I suddenly had a mental picture of what he might have looked like . . . and I smiled. Hopefully I'll carry that image with me when I next see him, and will be more patient with him, and less judgmental.

In the next couple of days, as you see young children, see if you can imagine where or who they'll be.  Or, when you see someone grown, imagine what their 4 year old grin looked like. I think it will make you look at people differently, maybe even more compassionately.

What do you think?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Very Sad Moment

We have a big picture window in our kitchen. Every so often, a bird mistakes its reflection for an intruder and flies into the window.  This happens about once every several years. Well, today it happened to a little bird. He bounced off and fell down on the ground outside where he died. He was a beautiful little thing -- olive wings, a white breast with dark spots . . .

I think he was either a little warbler or wren, neither of which are endangered in numbers. Nonetheless, it tore at my heart. I know there are plenty of little birds out there, and since it is spring, there are many more being made, but it was MY window, and MY feeder that drew him, and ... well ... there you are.

But, even in sadness, the truth of Scripture comforts:

Matthew 10:29-31
9Are not two sparrows sold for a penny[a]? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

So, even in the death of this little bird, God was showing me that He loves me and cares about every decision I make, every prayer I lift, and every person I come into contact with each day.

And, for all of you who are going to kindly suggest putting up fake bird silhouettes, etc. I appreciate the suggestions, but the 99.9 percent of birds that visit our feeders outside that window don't fly into it, and the silhouettes would possibly deter the cardinals, thrushes, woodpeckers of all kinds, and LBJ's...

Microfiction Monday

Susan, at Stony River, is kind enough to host this meme.  I hope she is able to continue it once she immigrates to the U.S!  It has become my favorite because it's short and pithy and the illustrations are so inspirational!

The idea is to use an illustration she provides and write a story consisting of 140 characters or fewer. That 140 includes all punctuation and spacing.

Here is this week's inspiration, followed by my story.

You’ve never heard of the Westminster Goat Show? Back in ’63 I won best in show! Now I’m just a stay at home nanny.  Oh, fame is bleating, fleeting.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anachronistic Thought

Yesterday I was sitting at the cashier stand at our Huge Semi Annual Used Book Sale and a pre-teen stopped and asked, "where are the water fountains?" I pointed down the hall and said, "go down the hall, they're right next to the telephones."  Then I looked at Margaret, who was sitting with me (who is older than I) and asked, "do you think she'll even recognize those as phones?"

I pulled out my tiny cell phone and mused about pay phones of the future. If they're going to be as tiny as my cell phone, where will you put the quarters?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Flashback

How old were you (approximately) when you attended your first funeral? Did your parents shield you from death and grief or was it viewed as a natural part of life? Did you experience any significant loss(es) in your growing up years? What were your early impressions of death and dying? And while I do not intend this in any irreverent way, are there any amusing memories associated with a death or funeral? If you have kids, how have you handled this subject with them? Feel free to share as vulnerably or as shallowly as you want!

I did not attend a funeral until I was an adult.  When I was a child we lived far away from close relatives. When my maternal grandmother died, we were stationed in Japan, so only my mother went back for the funeral.

I don't think my parents shielded me, but it wasn't a natural part of our lives either -- the military life was very different. When someone on base died, their body and their families would go somewhere else (back home, usually), so it wasn't really part of our community.

My early impressions were that it was something only grown-ups dealt with. Once I was an adult and started experiencing more loss, it took a while for me to figure out the 'ettiquite' involved - and I'm still not good at it.

When my grandfather died in 2000, it was very difficult. I adored him and he adored my children as well as me.  I had flown out to Arkansas to be with him in the final days but had gone back home when he finally passed away so I did not attend the funeral. I consider myself the lucky one that I got to spend those precious last few days with him, laughing and talking and praying. Much better than standing in a church thinking, "I should have spent more time with him."  The kids were really little then so it didn't really seem significant to them.

With the kids, we've not had losses that were emotionally significant to them. When my husband's father passed away, we were living all the way across the country. We traveled back for the internment of ashes at West Point (that's all the ceremony there was) in the summer, but they were so little they really don't remember much.  I'm a little on tenterhooks about this because they have an over-90 great grandmother, and my husband's mother is in her 80's and not doing very well. So I'm pretty sure we'll be dealing with this in the next year or so.

We lost a very close friend nearly 3 years ago, in a very unexpected and tragic way, so that has been difficult to process for all of us. Yet, his memorial service and funeral were such celebrations of the certainty of life everlasting that I can look back at the happy memories and look forward to the knowledge that I'll see him again.

In some ways, my kids are like I was growing up, in that they've not lost classmates or parents of close friends -- those losses that seem so jarring because they're 'too soon'.  And the grandparents they know well are still kickin' . . . but I'm not sure whether they'll be ready when they do experience loss.

I hope we've taught our children very clearly what Scripture teaches - that death in this temporal plane is nothing to be feared as long as one knows where one is going.  But since they've not lost anyone very emotionally close to them, I'm not sure exactly what they really comprehend...stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Great Hair

I think we have made a break-through in my hair!  You might remember that Tyler convinced me to do something different about 8 weeks ago.  I did, and when even the week before I was scheduled for a cut people were saying "great haircut" I knew we were on to something.

But then tragedy struck. The salon called and said she had left and who would I like to reschedule with.  For you guys, you don't know how traumatic that is to a woman!  I said I was sure she would contact me and I'd be in touch if I needed their services.

See, I KNEW she would get in touch!  I introduced her to her now-husband, so we have HISTORY.  Sure enough, she let me know that she had gone out on her own.

I went to get my first haircut at her new place and it is wonderful.  So if you're in the D.C. area and need an absolutely wonderful stylist who is amazingly gifted with color as well . . .go see Tyler Sue at Elandra Spa.

Her number is 703-255-5003 and she is well worth your time and money...and she is really funny too.

Yes, photos to follow...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Susan, at Stony River, hosts this increasingly popular meme. Susan gives us an illustration to work from, and we have a week to come up with a story in a tweetable 140 characters or fewer. (Not that you have to tweet it - that's just the inspiration for the number).  It's fun to see how people have different perspectives on the same photo.

So, without further ado, here is the illustration:

And here is my story:

With these voluptuous muses, it was no 
wonder Groucho, Chico and Harpo had 
trouble concentrating on their music…or anything else in life.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Smart Cookie Essay

Since her grandfather asked, here's the essay for United States Institute of Peace.  She was to pick two non-violent revolutions, compare them, and discuss why one succeeded and the other failed.

This link should take you to Google Docs where you can read to your heart's content!

For more information on the USIP Contest, click here

For more information on Governor's School for the Humanities, click here. It's the website for Radford University, where the school will occur.

Friday, April 16, 2010

One Smart Cookie

Can I brag a little?  Today we received notice that my daughter was selected for Governor's School this summer. This is a big deal in Virginia. Her area of interest is the Humanities.  To be honest, I wanted her to apply for languages (Latin) because she's been taking it since 3rd grade. But she insisted, and voila - she got in.

Plus, today the United States Institute for Peace announced the winners of their essay contest.  Our daughter was one of 2 Honorable Mentions for the Commonwealth of Virginia (they do one 1st and 2 Hon Ments for each state).

She's a smart cookie. And beautiful. I love her.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Something for the Weekend?

I've mentioned before that I LOVE it when I can 'use up' several left-over bits of kitchen this and that. Today I used up the bananas that even the parakeet turned her beak at, along with the last bit of buttermilk. The result is really yummy. If you make these tomorrow morning early, and your family awakes to them nicely warm out of the oven, I predict your "Honey Do" weekend list will MAY be received much more graciously!

Brown Sugar-Banana Muffins

Prep: 15 min., Bake: 25 min., Cool: 10 min. 
Bananas get softer and sweeter as they ripen. Make sure yours are ripe enough (almost black) for these luscious treats. This recipes makes more cake-like muffins. Yummy without any sugary glaze on top!

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add brown sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

2. Stir together mashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla. Stir together flour and next 3 ingredients; add to butter mixture alternately with banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. (Do not overbeat.) Spoon batter into 12 lightly greased muffin cups, filling two-thirds full..

3. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pans immediately, and cool 10 minutes on wire racks.

NOTE: This morning I was able to fill one tin of regular sized muffins and one tin of mini-muffins. The regulars were "DONE" at 20 minutes, and the minis at 18 minutes.  Know your oven!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Enforced Diligence

I love Thursdays. They are my "ahhhhh" day.  I can do laundry, or not. I can do errands, or not. They are the day I try very hard to NOT schedule anything so I can catch up from the demands of Monday through Wednesday.

Today I went for an hour walk with my friend and her dog. We went around the lake. It is so beautiful right now. Every time there was a little breeze it was like the heavens were raining small flower petals. The cherry blossoms, red buds, and Bradford pears (stinky but beautiful) are shedding. The dogwoods are just coming into their own and while we walked we saw several azaleas starting to show color. Next Thursday I'll take my camera. For today, you'll just have to use your imagination.  My friend told me about a plant she's thinking about installing. It's called "Korean Spice Bush".  It looks beautiful and is supposedly good in shade, so perhaps we'll try it too, although I don't think we'll let it get this big. Ugh. Soil amendment first.

So anyway, after I came home, I baked TWO trays of lemon bars for the Ladies' Tea at our church this Saturday. I can't attend as I'm the facilitator/host for a Friends of the Library Forum, but I said I'd bake something to contribute. So now the kitchen smells yummy.

I think I'd better go bake something else for the teens to come home to. If they smell baking but there's none for them, they might be a bit sad.  I thought I had posted this recipe before, but I can't find it, so here it is:

Lemon Squares

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2.5 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup shredded or flaked coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)
Powdered Sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy.  Add baking soda to flour, then add those to butter and sugar. Combine thoroughly until crumbly.

Pour 3/4 of mix into a 13 x 9 pan. Pat down and smooth until entire bottom is covered.  Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly. Spread lemon curd on baked crust. Do not go all the way to edges.

Mix coconut and almonds (if using) with remaining crumb mixture.  Sprinkle on top of lemon curd. Place back into oven for 20-25 minutes. Watch carefully in the last 5 minutes.

Allow to cool completely before cutting. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.


p.s.  This is not a commercial plug for Dickinson's.  My dad always brings us some when he comes each summer and since it's what I have on hand, it is what I use! You can certainly try this with some other brand - or make the curd yourself.

Three Word Thursday

Thank you Quilly for challenging us with difficult, archaic words. To resurrect a good word is a good thing to do! If you love words, you should join us.

The challenge this week was to use any three words from any of the 3WT words from 2010 (so far).  Here's my attempt. It is a continuation of the story from last week.

Paisley II

Philip found himself on the sidewalk outside the hospital. A man out walking his dog jostled him, “Hey, mister! You’re blocking the sidewalk!” the man growled. The dog growled as well. Philip blinked his eyes and shook his head.  “My apologies,” he said, snapping out of his accidie, “I’m trying to figure out what to do next.” The man with the dog looked at him askance and ventured, “you might try just getting out of the way.” Philip sighed and turned to walk towards Logano South, the part of town he lived in.

Climbing the front steps wearily, he got out his key and reached forward to put it into the lock, and then noticed the door was ajar. The hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle. He debated whether to call the police or investigate on his own. He’d feel a fool if the police showed up and nothing was wrong. But if it was a burglar, the police would want evidence and even better, Philip might catch the thief red-handed. A moment of bravery motivated Philip to nudge the door with his foot. It swung wide.

Philip cautiously stepped into the front hall and then relaxed. The house didn’t “feel” like a stranger was in it and he didn’t see anything immediately out of place. His collection of antique pocket watches, many quite valuable, was still intact in the shadow box hanging on the wall. Convincing himself that he had just failed to close the door completely, he laughed to himself, “here I was going on as if someone was waiting to thropple me!” He closed the door behind him and dropped his keys on the table by the door. A quick run up the stairs reassured him that he was alone in the house. He went back down to the front hall.

He went into the kitchen and put the kettle on to make himself a cup of tea. While it heated, he leafed through the mail. Amidst the usual junk, there was a small envelope addressed by hand. It was the size of a small invitation or thank-you card and had no return address.  He couldn’t think of any occasion that might explain it, but still, it was a handwritten envelope, so he began to open it.  Just then, the kettle began to whistle. Philip tossed the envelope on the kitchen table and brewed his tea. Taking mug in hand, and a couple of cookies, he stepped through to the living room intending to go to his back deck and enjoy his tea while he watched the birds.

As he rounded the sofa to get to the sliding door Philip stopped in his tracks. His eyes rested on a scarf, neatly folded, placed on the center cushion of his sofa.  It was charcoal gray and covered in amoeba shapes. The pattern and colors were exactly the same as the one that the strange woman had been wrapped in, even as she had been transported in the ambulance to the hospital. Philip’s left arm came up and rubbed his neck uncomfortably. “This is incompossible,” he thought. “The scarf cannot be there and here at the same time. And it should not be here. There is no reason for it to be here.” He backed up slowly, moving away from the scarf.

Philip bumped into the doorframe, and suddenly craving human company, he put his mug of tea down on a nearby table, went back to the kitchen and ensured the kettle was off. As he passed the table, he grabbed the small envelope, and stuck it into his pocket. Snagging the keys from the entrance table, Philip left his house. This time he specifically locked the door and checked to make sure it was completely closed. He turned, went down the steps, and this time turned away from the river, heading to the pub at the end of the next block. He had to sit down and think this through.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Random Dozen

Linda at 2nd Cup of Coffee graciously hosts this meme each Wednesday. If you'd like to join us, copy the questions, paste them on your blog on WEDNESDAY, with YOUR answers. Then go back to 2nd Cup, click on Mr. Linky and voila - people will come visit your blog and say nice things!  So here we go:

1. How do you feel about "Gladiator" sandals, also called "Roman" or "Jesus" sandals? A fashion yea or nay?  Nay. I think they look pretty silly. Especially on men.

2. What is your favorite pizza?  Generous George's Mediterranean with Genoa Salami added.

3. There are plans in the works to sell roughly 1,000 items from Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas. This means you could buy Picard's chair for your family room. If not a Star Trek item, what prop, background, set, etc. from what TV or movie would you buy if you could?
[Ex: Hurley's "I Love my Shih tzu" shirt from LOST, the plantation home "Tara" from Gone With the Wind, or Tracy's tambourine from the Partridge Family.]  I'd buy the whole set of the trial used in To Kill a Mockingbird.

4. Name a local food or restaurant that your area is famous for.  It's Washington, D.C. -- there are a lot of great restaurants.   One that is famous is Bullfeathers. It has "Congressional History" but here are also many, many restaurants around this area that are notorious due to congressional history as well (can you say young interns?). Out here in the suburbs we have Glory Days Grill which is a local sports restaurant/bar.  We're still looking for a new favorite Thai restaurant (our favorite closed) and I'd give a free meal to someone who can find me a GREAT Mexican restaurant (not adequate - I want GREAT).  One of the most overrated restaurants around here is L'Auberge Chez Francois.  I'm not posting the link because it really is way overrated.

5. What is your current favorite snack?  Spinach Bars.  Click the link for the recipe.

6. Hypothetical: You are required to be a reality show contestant. Which show would you choose based on your probability of success? (You cannot choose "none.")

A. Dancing with the Stars
B. Biggest Loser
C. Survivor

I don't watch TV so I have no idea what the limits of 'probability' are, but I can tell you I'd never out dance anyone, I only have 10lbs to lose, not enough to even make it on the 2nd show and for Survivor, I'm not going anywhere that I might get stung or bit or poison ivy!

7. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being uninhabitable and 10 being cleanliness that meets the standards of OCD, how clean is your vehicle's interior?  Ha ha! I'm so glad I vacuumed my car last week!  I'd say it's about an 8 right now - largely because I no longer have small children who eat in the car!

8. It doesn't feel like Spring until I can fling open the windows and listen to kids playing.

9. Something that made you laugh really hard recently is Susan's e-mail.  Because she and Thom have this running joke about the planet Uranus, I sent her a link to a science story that was studying caterpillar butts. She wrote back commenting about the name of the sponsoring university -- it was WAY too familiar to her.  Read the story - and if you know Susan, you'll be laughing too.

10. Tell me about a goal you're working toward.  I've decided to be part of the Monkee Revolution and just to try very hard to not be a jerk. It's a day by day purposeful decision, sometimes hour by hour, especially if I'm on the road.  My goal for the summer is to memorize the Book of Romans. Yikes!

11. Share a thought-provoking or inspiring quote this week.  "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

12. Name one thing that you do as a parent that you absolutely know will make your kids happy. If you're not a parent, feel free to substitute "friend" or nomenclature that works for you. I do lots of things that do make my kids happy, but anything I do to "make" them happy is pretty fruitless because being happy is a choice they have to make each day. Even the most beloved rituals and foods have lost their luster on occasion in the glare of teen angst. It's just hormones, but it still has a way of sucking the life out of a potentially happy moment. Fortunately, it doesn't occur all that often!

Whew! These were loaded questions this week! Good job, Lid!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lovely Plant

Is it a bit ironic that some of the loveliest things that occur in nature are also the most lethal or irritating to people? Let's talk about volcanoes.  They're terrifying if you're in their zone. If you haven't seen the before and after photos of Mount St. Helens, you should.

But on a more mundane level is poison ivy. It is a lovely plant, especially when newly seeded in your 'edge of forest' garden.  In fact, you might think it is a harmless weed as you are working hard to pull out the non-native invasive species. You know, the one that NEVER did you ANY HARM personally?

Yep, I've got a good case of poison ivy.  It really is a lovely plant. In the spring the new leaves are such a light green with a delicate look, drooping a little in the heat of the day as if a bit shy of the bright sunshine. In the fall its leaves are golden and red -- seriously one of the more beautiful wild garden plants.

I have it on my arms and just a wee bit on my upper leg (the day I stupidly wore shorts). I didn't even SEE it there because it was so pretty. It just mixed so well with the invaders.

And I think that's my point. I'd rather keep the invaders who don't exude toxins than open up space for the noxious AMERICAN weeds to flourish.

While I consider my approach (long sleeves, long pants, and boots), I'll go get an Aveeno bath.  Itch.  Ouch.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Susan at Stony River is kind enough to oblige us again by offering a photo for Microfiction Monday. She provides the fodder, we tell the story . . . in 140 characters or less (including all spaces and punctuation!).

Here's the photo:

I couldn't make up my mind.  So here are two.  Tell me in the comments which one you prefer.

Damn! If I don't find that contact lens I'll never get to be lead bird on the migration!
I’ve never seen a more stunningly beautiful mass of feathers and elegance. You remind me of someone I’ve seen before.

Amazing Video from Budapest

Linda, at 2nd Cup of Coffee, posted this and it is awesome. To think of Hungary's history of oppression of Christianity and freedom of expression under the Communist years, this is amazing to see.  Look closely at some of the dancers, and many of the watchers. They're old enough to have grown up being told God is dead.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yum Pork Chops

Another great recipe tonight, so thought I'd pass it along.


3 oz bacon (about 3 slices) cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 T unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
vegetable oil
4-6 pork chops, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
ground black pepper
2 medium yellow onions, cut pole to pole and sliced thin
table salt
2 T water
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 t. minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 T minced fresh parsley leaves

1.  Fry bacon in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate, leaving fat in saucepan (you should have 2 T. bacon fat; if not, supplement with vegetable oil).  Reduce heat to medium low and gradually whisk flour into fat until smooth.  Cook, whisking frequently, until mixture is light brown, about the color of peanut butter, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in chicken broth in slow, steady stream; increase heat to medium high and bring to boil, stirring occasionally; cover and set aside off heat.

2.  Heat 1 T. oil in 12 inch skillet over high heat until smoking, about 3 minutes.  Dry pork chops with paper towels and sprinkle with 1/2 t. pepper.  Brown chops in single layer until deep golden on first side, about 3 minutes  Flip chops and cook until browned on second side, about 3 minutes longer.  Transfer chops to large plate and set aside.

3.  Reduce heat to medium and 1 T oil, onions, 1/4 tsp salt and water to now-empty skillet.  Scrape browned bits on pan bottom and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and browned around the edges, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer.  Return chops to skillet, covering chops with onions.  Pour in warm sauce from sauce pan and any juices collected from pork; add bay leaves.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until pork is tender -- about 30 minutes if using boned pork chops, less if boneless.

4.  Transfer chops to warmed serving platter and tent with foil.  Increase heat to medium high and simmer sauce rapidly, stirring frequently, until thickened to gravy like consistency, about 5 minutes.  Discard bay leaves, stir in parsley, and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.  Cover chops with sauce, sprinkle with reserved bacon and serve immediately.

I think the recipe is originally from America's Test Kitchens, but I didn't write it down on the paper, so I'm not positive.  But it's fussy enough in detail that it seems like it.

Now:  HONESTY IN ADVERTISING:  I was running late this evening because I had to be at church for nursery duty.  You can be late for a LOT of things at my church, but nursery duty isn't one of them.  So I got to the end of Step 3 and realized I didn't have enough time to finish it myself, so I had to simplify.  My chops were boneless, so I set the timer for 20 minutes and told my husband that when it went off, he could serve up but be sure to top it with bacon.  So Step 4 wasn't even done -- no parsley, no extra sauce.  Nonetheless when he came to church later he said they were delicious, so I guess it worked.  Also, I didn't have any fresh thyme so that didn't go in either.

You have to really love onions for this kind of dish, but fortunately, I do!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Better Late Than Never

I was in and out of the car so much yesterday it took forever for me to write my 3WT post. And then, by the time I got home, I had only 5 minutes to post it before the router went, here it is, late.  My apologies. I understand from her blog that our 3WT host, Quilly, is under the weather and under the blankie. Hope you feel better soon, Q!

The words:

  • acersecomic, n. — someone whose hair has never been cut
  • uberate, v. — make plentiful or nourish
  • snilch, v. — to eye someone or something
My Story

Pacing nervously up and down the corridor, Philip tried to convince himself that the yelling he was hearing had nothing to do with him. It had nothing to do with the woman he’d brought into the emergency room. The note of urgency in the ER personnel voices must be connected with some other patient. After all, the woman he’d brought in wasn’t bleeding or obviously hurt. She was just . . . different.

He had first noticed her four weeks earlier when he headed out for a morning run. Pursuant to his New Year’s Resolutions that he was finally following through on in March, he began a slow jog.  “I hate this,” he muttered.  As he turned the corner at the end of the street to head for the river he saw a huddled shape in a doorway to his left. The fog was thinning enough that he discerned the shape was a woman, wrapped in a multi-colored scarf. “Not my problem,” he thought, and continued on.

The next day was sunny so he had no trouble at all seeing her in the doorway. The scarf was an interesting pattern of shapes. His ex-wife had called them amoebas, Philip remembered. But true amoebas weren’t a regular shape like these. Philip then mused upon the possible origin of such a pattern. Was it borrowed from Eastern cultures? Did they represent heavenly bodies? Such were the meanderings of his thoughts until the run was finished.

The third day he noticed the background color. It was a smoky charcoal. Leaning into the slight breeze he wondered whether smoky charcoal really was killing the planet. He mused upon the idea that electric cars were more efficient, yet needed to be plugged in to some kind of power generating device that operated by coal burning. From there he considered whether the early charcoal makers discovered its use by chance, and how they might have devised a way to actually create charcoal themselves. These thoughts became so serious that he ran past his front door a few paces before he realized he was home.

On the fourth day, he noticed that the amoebas were different colors. Amber, Umber, Vermilion, Cerulean, Viridian . . . the colors just rolled out of an ancient memory of his brief stint as an artist. They were so fun to say that he chanted them as he ran. Once he reached the river he began to think of famous artists, and the colors they used. Monet, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Vermeer . . . their names were almost as fun as the colors, so he chanted them as well.  The run that morning seemed almost too brief.

A few days more of noticing the woman sent his thoughts further afield. The interesting thing was that each day he noticed something new about her scarf, and the thought it produced kept his mind active while he ran. He hardly noticed that his running had become less labored.

By the second week he began to notice the woman herself. He thought he could see that her hair was an ashy blond. From the way it showed on her forehead, and from the braid he saw sticking out below the scarf, he thought of her as an acersecomic. Like the Nazarenes of old, only female.  The thought of the Nazarenes' strict dietary laws sent him off on another tangent. Just how did this woman uberate herself?

On the fourth day of the second week, she looked up as he went by. Her eyes were a startling turquoise color.  He broke his step and REALLY looked this time. She said nothing and he felt an invisible hand move him forward to continue his run. It wasn’t right to intrude upon her solitude. That thought occupied him throughout the run. Just how much solitude does a person kipping in a doorway want?

On the Sunday of the third week, before he headed out for what had become a morning ritual, he put together some croissants with ham and cheese. He had never seen her teeth and had learned from the newspaper  that many homeless people had teeth problems, so he chose light pastry with thinly shaved ham. He had read that fresh water was also a problem, so he added a full water bottle. As he rounded the corner and looked at her customary station, he saw that she was heads down in the scarf once more. He paused, placed the bag at her feet and went on.

Each of the following four days were the same. Whatever Philip had for breakfast, he made an equal portion for her, and left it for her as he went by. He did not try to speak to her or snilch her in a way that implied intimacy or curiosity. She never commented, never reacted, and never looked at him again as she had the day he had seen those startling eyes.

Philip’s morning routine had completely altered. Instead of the three to four cigarettes, black coffee and stretch on the back balcony, the intrigue provided by this woman had motivated him to change his pattern. He was healthier, his clothes were hanging better, and one of his work colleagues had mentioned that Philip was acting like he was in love because he had become so uncharacteristically pleasant to everyone at the firm.

On the second day of the third week, Philip rounded the corner, glanced at her customary spot, and continued a few feet before the doorway’s emptiness registered on his brain.  He stopped dead. She was not there.  Nonetheless, he walked back to the doorway, and put the breakfast bag down in case she had just stepped away for a minute.

The next day was a repeat of the prior. He rounded the corner, with her breakfast, and she was not there – but neither was the bag from the day before. He put down a fresh bag with breakfast and continued.

The third day of the third week, Philip found himself gazing at the breakfast he was making for her with annoyance. “If she’s not going to be there, I’m wasting my time and effort!” he thought. Immediately shamed, he continued the preparation and included some fresh blueberries as a quiet apology. “Who do I think I am?” he muttered to himself. Couldn’t she move without his permission? Perhaps the police had told her to go somewhere else. Or by chance the owners of the house (Philip had never considered them before) had come out early and told her to shove off.

For two more days, he prepared a breakfast and left it in the empty doorway.

Finally, he could stand it no longer. On the 21st day since he had first seen her, he stopped at the door and pushed the bell.  “RRRRRRRIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNGGGGG!”  The urgent noise seemed to echo through the door and into the building. “RRRRRRRIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNGGGGG!”

Philip was jerked back to reality.  The alarm was in the emergency room area. The fervent voices were several notches higher on the urgency scale.  He tried to look in as the doors opened to admit or spit out specialists and technicians garbed in hospital green.  No one had a word for Philip.  He wasn’t even sure who was on the gurney they were crowded around.  A tall gowned figure stepped back from the table for a moment. At that moment Philip was able to see the figure on the gurney flutter its eyes.

They were turquoise.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sensational Haiku Wednesday

This week Jenn at You Know . . . that Blog? offers her usual haiku challenge. The theme is "Decisions." Thank you Jenn for prompting us to think "concise"!


Many good causes
I am only one person
Show me the best choice.

More Artwork

Here are another couple of pieces by Bettina Bachman-Richman.  Again, pardon the limitations of the photographer.  I had trouble getting into position for these two very large pieces.  The third piece is an 8.5 x 11 photo collage - a new direction she's working in.  Click on it to see more details.

Random Dozen

It's back! Your Wednesday meme of entertainment and inspiration!  Thank you Linda at 2nd Cup of Coffee for hosting this!  If you need to know how to play, go here.

1. Define a great relationship.

One where the first remark out of one’s mouth isn’t the first one out of one’s gut.

2. Why is it called a "drive-through" if you have to stop? (Real question: What was the last food/drink you purchased at a drive-through?)

My kids are always ravenous after fencing class, so unfortunately, McD’s for burgers and shakes…for them.

3. As I type this, the Butler Bulldogs are getting ready to play in the NCAA championship game. Every Hoosier is hysterical about this except me. So in honor of the Bulldogs ... what is your favorite breed of dog? (I tried.)  I don’t have a favorite, but I really don’t like little yappy dogs.  Sorry, Lid!

4. If you had to move to a state besides the one you currently live in, where would you move?  Colorado or New Mexico.  I’ve been to both, but not lived in either.

5. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?  I would have had parents who modeled communication better.

6. Who's the funniest person you know?  Me.  Okay, not really, but sometimes I really crack myself up.  I guess the consistently funniest person I know is A.F. She has a gift for seeing the ludicrous in everything and making it wet-your-pants funny when she retells it. Like the time she was going to give the sermon at church and was really nervous so she went to the bathroom first . . . and dropped her sermon notes in the toilet.

7. Did you get enough sleep last night?  Yes!  We’re back in “school” mode which means the internet router is shut down at 9:30.  Started reading a book and was asleep before 10.

8. What's the first thing you thought about this morning?  The amazing dream I had. We’ve been studying King Hezekiah, and I dreamed I was in Jerusalem with everyone knowing that the Assyrian army was on its way.  I knew I was scared, and yet I knew the end of the story, so I wasn’t.  In my dream I was in a command post type building (think of a war movie with maps and telephones, etc.) and we could hear them outside. One actually looked in, and then just kept moving on. I knew that God had blinded the Assyrian to seeing us.  In reality, the Assyrians didn’t make it as far as Jerusalem, but the dream was really vivid.

9. Grilled or Fried? –HONESTLY  I love fried food. I don’t eat it much, but I love it!

10. Are you afraid of the dark?
No.   For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

11.When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?  An archeologist. I loved collecting rocks.  Then I found out archeology involved being out in the sun a LOT and required a lot of math in college so I lost interest.

12. If you had one word to describe yourself , what would you choose? Blessed

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Promised Paintings

Hooray!  Went to my friend's house yesterday evening and got the computer set up and running! So, step one acomplished.  Before I left she was already asking me how to center text on a page...

For now, YOU are her gallery.  Bettina Bachman-Richman has developed a painting technique over the years which relies heavily on iresdescence to make the paintings come 'alive.' The movement of light during the day gives the painting a new look for every viewer at every time. Please tell me what you think!

Here are two of her paintings - please do not judge them by the poor photography!  The iredescence makes it very difficult to photograph well and my camera isn't the best!

This is called "Moonlings"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Susan, at Stony River, hosts this delightful meme. Using an illustration Susan provides, tell a story in 140 characters or fewer. The 140 includes all punctuation and spaces. Publish on your blog and then link to Susan's. Be kind, and visit your fellow players.  DO NOT have coffee in your mouth when you visit them. You may end up spraying all over your computer laughing. (By the way, Beatrix Potter has a LOT to answer for. I can attest that bunnies and mice are not cute, fuzzy, lovable creatures. They're pests!  And that sweet ivy she uses in her illustrations? It's only nice in someone else's yard...far away from mine!)

This week's illustration:

When I said, “my kingdom for a rabbit”, I was looking for chocolate. It wasn’t an offer to trade!

Amazing Easter Gift!

I forgot to mention that the friends who I'm trying to help (which has taken up a lot of my blog time), came to church yesterday to celebrate Easter!

The gentleman has been losing his sight due to extreme photosensitivity. He believes it was caused by a drug reaction.  Rather than moving as if he is blind and adjusting to that, any light is excruciating so he can only really function well in complete darkness -- which after a lifetime of sight is a real challenge. As you can imagine, the need for darkness is very isolating. But yesterday, they wrapped his eyes well, put on a dark hat, and they came to church.  I was happy to see that many, many people in the congregation spent time talking with him, holding his hand, and expressing how much they've missed seeing him at church. This, of course, blessed his wife as well.

Our current project over there is that a friend and I have cobbled together a computer with printer for her.  She is an artist with paint and words. The computer is so she can get her poetry into an easily  reproduced format. She's not interested in on-line access at this point, needing to learn the most basic ways to move around the computer.  Soon though, I can see her using the public library wi-fi to sell her paintings on Etsy!

I'll ask her when I'm over there this evening if I can take some photos of her work to show you!  Blessings upon all of you and thank you so much for your prayers for my family yesterday. God is faithful ALL THE TIME!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He is Risen, Indeed!

We didn't make it to the National Mall this morning.  Next year!  Rain or shine!

Happy Easter to everyone.  Many religions claim to have a leader who was peaceful, kind, loving and just. Jesus was all of those things.  The difference is that no other religion has eye-witnesses who watched him die, watched him be buried and sealed in a tomb, and then saw him again, alive.  They saw him eat and drink, and touched his flesh.

The door is narrow, but the offer is broad.  He desires that none should perish.

He lives again, indeed.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Feeling Trapped

Our house has a single car carport, and a single lane driveway. The vast majority of the time, since I am home more, I am the one in the carport. When my husband pulls in behind  me with groceries or other things to unload, I'm okay with it. But at other times, the minute he pulls in behind my car and parks, rather than parking at the top of the driveway, I have a visceral response of irritation. I may still be in my pajamas, and not even planning to go anywhere, but I'm immediately irked.  I think the underlying issue is that in order to go anywhere, I now have to ask him to move his car. This feels a lot like having to ask permission to go someplace, something I chafed at as a child and apparently I've not learned much!

It's similar to the feeling I get when our electricity is out. Immediately, I can think only of things we would do if we only had electricity. Noble, worthy things like laundry! (Virtuous insistence, of course)

How about when our internet connection is out? All of a sudden I can think of many GREAT blog ideas.
When the water is shut off for plumbing issues, in addition to feeling virtuous about wanting to do laundry, I add virtuous washing dishes.

The irony is that in the hours and hours that I do have unfettered egress, or electricity or internet, I tend to not use it wisely.

Still, all I want for Mother's Day is a parking space for the other car that isn't directly behind mine. Or a more perfect application of the peace that passes understanding.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sunshine, Shopping and More Ivy

We really made progress on the ivy today!  I got in 45 minutes of pulling and raking before I had to get cleaned up to take the teen girl shopping.  I OWED her after the babysitting this week!  We met one of her friends and had a great time.

Home by 3 and pulled more ivy for about an hour before my left deltoid started objecting.  I was okay with that so after a quick shower put together some dinner.  Husband cooked steak on the grill (did I mention the temperature was up to 80 today?).  We added a salad and I fixed some broccoli.  Tried a new method from America's Test Kitchen.  WORTH doing.  It was great!  Too bad teen son is in West Virginia and missed it!

Better Pan-Roasted Broccoli

1-2 lbs broccoli, florets cut into 1.5 inch pieces, stems trimmed, peeled and cut on bias into 1/4 inch thick slices about 1.5 inches long  (in other words - get pieces that look like the photo above and not just crowns. The slices on the bias are heavenly)
3 Tb water
1/4 tsp table salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tb vegetable oil

1.  Stir water, salt and pepper together in small bowl until salt dissolves; set aside.  In 12 inch skillet with tight fitting lid, heat oil over medium high heat until just beginning to smoke.  Add broccoli STEMS in even layer and cook, without stirring, until browned on bottom, about 2 minutes.  Add florets to skillet and toss to combine; cook, without stirring, until bottoms of florets just begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
2.  Add water mixture and cover skillet; cook until broccoli is bright green but still crisp, about 2 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook until water has evaporated, broccoli stems are tender, and florets are tender crisp, about 2 minutes more.  Set aside in a covered bowl.

4 Tb unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp juice from 1 lemon
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves

Melt butter in skillet over medium high heat and continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until butter is browned and released nutty aroma, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Off heat, add shallot, garlic, salt and pepper and stir until garlic and and shallot are fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in lemon juice and thyme.  Add broccoli to skillet, toss to coat and serve immediately.

NOTE:  I didn't have any shallots, so I finely diced about 1 1/2 Tbs onion.  I also didn't have any fresh thyme so I left it out.  It was yummy anyway.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What a Crazy Day!

The kids are still on Spring Break but today I was REALLY HAPPY for that.  We babysat a friend's four year old.  He's a great kid, but he's 4.  Remember that?  High energy?  And friends, my EARS are tired.  Four is the age where they ask the same questions over and over and then tell you the answers you gave them over and over and over...

BUT my teen daughter was home and totally took over with this little guy.  Took him on 2 bike rides.  Dyed Easter eggs with him (can you say CRACK and SPLASH?).  Played golf on the Wii.  Drove on Mario Cart on the Wii.  We were hoping she'd tire him out.  NOPE - just wound him up more!  But it was a pleasure to be able to bless this other family.  Their littler guy is about 20 months and they're visiting a lot of doctors because he has some neuro-muscular problems the specialists are trying to nail down.  It's emotionally and physically exhausting, so to know their 4 year old is entertained and taken care of is a big relief.  If you think about it, pray for answers for J.G.'s parents!  And by the way, we're paying the teen.  Big shopping day tomorrow!

After they left, I went out in the yard to pull ivy.  Sounds like fun?  Oh my, no.  The Reston Association has decided that English Ivy, as a non-native species, must go.  I've ignored them for a couple of years, but suddenly I look up and the yard is being overtaken, so it must go.  There is great satisfaction in pulling it and pulling it and pulling it.  I'm not stupid though -- I know this is just a lull in the battle.  Ivy is tenacious.  At any rate, I spent nearly 2 hours on about 25 square feet.  And we gotta LOT more yard than that!  So tomorrow, more to come! What I am seeing though is the effect of the big snow storms.  Lots of damage and limbs down. I'm being completely ruthless with most of the plants, cutting WAY back, and figuring if they can come back, they deserve to stay.  A real horticulturist would probably admonish me, but hey, it's all just deer food anyway.

FLASH OF BRILLIANCE -- why can't we train the deer to eat the English Ivy?  Du-UH!