Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Nook

 Cold winter evenings provided ample opportunities to settle in with a good book. Second Impressions was written by a woman with a nom-de-plume of Ava Farmer. She is independently wealthy ( after creating, developing and selling a little company called Cisco).  It is a "sequel" to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Austen died at the age of forty-one and didn't write a sequel  herself. This idea of a sequel is a whole genre which many authors have attempted. The back of this book jacket claims that this one, Second Impressions, is the best of them. It was very obvious that the author had the means to devote herself to the task of becoming an expert on all things Austen. She studied at  a museum in England which collects that famous authors letters and manuscripts. She must have traveled extensively in Europe because her book is almost a travel-log of a trip that Mr. Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth take with his maiden sister, Georgianna. The much loved characters from the original book appear with new adventures as they progress through life. I found it to be extremely well written and I enjoyed it. I was able to check this book out of the local library.

Incidentally, I found another book in this same genre with a fancy cover called Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. I began to read it, anxious to compare the two books. I got to page 13 and realized that it was nothing more than smutty junk and I gave it away. Definitely not anything like the other novels mentioned above.

The next novel that I reread recently is called Villette, written by Charlotte Bronte, who also wrote Jane Eyre. The author's sister, Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights! What a family!  This is another extremely well written novel that took me weeks to read because each paragraph is so deep with meaning that there is no way to rush it. It's not hard to understand, just full of images and emotions. It is the story of a young woman, Lucy Snow, who has to support herself in the world. She teaches and lives at boarding school for girls and young women. She has to learn French and teach in that language. She is a stranger in a strange land except for the friendship of some old companions who live in the same town but who are of much higher social rank. This is a great story of hard work, loneliness and of being comfortable with one's self. The characters are very real and interesting.

Proof of Heaven, a Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, is the true story of a near death experience of Dr. Eben Alexander, M.D. This gentleman was a nominal Christian but was mostly a sincere scientist who had an attack of Bacterial Meningitis that put him into a deep coma for seven days. He experienced many things that he felt to be angels, Heaven and God. He now feels like it is his mission to tell people about the Spirituality of a Loving God that he communicated with while in his coma. This was good and I believe what he had to say. I got the impression that he felt that Death is nothing to be afraid of, that the afterlife is actually much more real than this life. He really believes that the prayers of his family and friends all over the country helped him to return to full and complete health. He is a strong believer in God now.

I'm Proud of You, My Friendship with Fred Rogers, was really pretty silly. I felt sorry for the author, Tim Madigan, who came across as extremely needy and oversensitive. He wrote to Mr. Rogers and asked him to be his friend and to tell Mr. Madigan that he, (Fred) was proud of him. Fred Rogers continued a friendship with this gentleman for years which seemed to be mutual. What the author was trying to point out was that Fred Rogers ,the man, was the exact same person as his character on his long running children's show, "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." Apparently, Fred had an unusual capacity for human relationships and was an extremely kind and unselfish guy. He would give unconditional love to almost everyone that he met. He had a great marriage but was also very particular in taking care of himself by swimming every Saturday morning like clockwork. He had routines, like he did on his show, coming through the door and changing into his sweater and sneakers. This book was kind of interesting but very unusual.
I did enjoy Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and Jeff and I used to watch it quite often. I remember that Mr. Rogers made me cry one day when he said " I like you just the way you are." or something like that. It touched me and really hit the spot at that moment. I got the impression that Fred Rogers had some very saintly qualities.

John has been reading like crazy. He loves to read and can read quickly. His new passion has been The Warriors series, written by Erin Hunter. These books are about four clans of cats. The main cats all have names, like Firestar. They have a whole society, many adventures and battles.
In addition to these, he has read three more Redwall books that I can think of.
For class, he has been reading Where the Red Fern Grows. He forgot his book one day and I was surprised that this classic is a book that we don't own. I don't remember reading it myself but he is enjoying it.
Our Read-Aloud has been The One- Eyed Cat , written by Paula Fox. In this story, Ned receives a BB Gun from his uncle and shoots it one time in the dark after everyone has gone to bed, against his father's direct command. He is ate up with guilt over it, especially after he finds a homeless cat with a fresh injury which caused it to loose its eye. He lives with his secret and the responsibility of providing for this cat through a cold winter. We haven't finished this story yet so I can tell you no more! It is quite enjoyable.

The reading of GOOD books can be a wonderful use of time, in moderation, of course and a genuine source of pleasure. It has been a great way to spend time in the living room with the kids on these cold winter evenings.

Heirloom Doilies

After vacuuming and dusting the living room this weekend, I decided to wash these wonderful doilies that my Mother-in-law made for me about twenty years ago. These are 18 inches across and she crocheted them using very thin thread in an off white color. They are extremely intricate and detailed. They were an amazing gift- a gift of time, talent and love. I reflected on the fact that these handmade items are still so fine and useful despite her passing from this life three years ago.
On our wall, we have a quotation from Benjamin Franklin written in Old English: which paraphrased says:
How To Be Remembered
If you would not be forgotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.

These crocheted doilies are just a small sample of the many things this well remembered lady did that are worth the writing!

Too Many Tomatos

I have been receiving the FlyLady's emails daily for a long time. She is a cleaning expert who is very gentle and encouraging and therefore extremely motivating. One of her signature lines is " You are not behind. I want you to jump in right where we are!" Her point being that it didn't take a day or two for the house to get cluttered and it will take awhile to get it under control. However, it CAN be done if we start with "Babysteps."
She recommends working in 15 minute increments at a time using a timer. Her theory is that anyone has 15 minutes to spare and that you would be amazed at what you could accomplish by overcoming inertia and beginning with only a 15 minute commitment. Once started, if you feel like working longer, you can but you don't have to. This is very empowering to me.
 I can rarely, almost never, find a Whole Day to clean my house, but I Do have lots of 15 minute windows throughout the day. I have started, and am seeing big results that make me happy. Success breeds success! These little changes make such a difference! They motivate me to continue to clean up hot spots of clutter and to form new habits.

I have been wanting to organize my pantry for quite awhile. While Tori cleaned and vacuumed the basement, I worked alongside of her emptying my pantry. Taking inventory, I realized that I had 14 cans of tomato products! Apparently, no shopping trip is complete without a can or three! Sauce, paste, crushed, diced and prepared seasoned sauce are now organized by way of product and expiration date! It's time to make some chili!
Sure enough, that pantry organizing which has been on my mind for months took only about an hour to do. I couldn't believe it. It looked so much better that I went upstairs and emptied out my  lazy susan corner cabinet. Not wanting to drive in the snow to get new shelf paper, I relined in newspaper to keep moving forward. This food is now inventoried and organized. See that BIG box of nonfat dried  milk?
It expired in 2007. Whew- that's six years ago! Out it went. Another job, LONG overdo, finished using Babysteps. I recommend Flylady for daily motivation to "Bless" your house. It is a change in attitude from the "WORK" of cleaning to the privilege of Blessing it ( organizing and decluttering) to make it a welcoming home for family and friends. 

Spring Snow!

We are getting used to these snow storms on Sunday nights, which close the schools and our Coop, and give the kids a three day weekend. This has happened two weeks in a row.

Both weeks, the snow has been absolutely beautiful while falling but doesn't hang around long as the temperatures creep upward.

Baby Blanket

One down, a few more to go! The yarn for this  salmon colored crib blanket was actually called "strawberry". When I finished the center, Natalie said that it needed something to make it look "finished". She suggested a brown border. By using the internet, I learned to create a scalloped border (curved) which was a lot of fun to crochet. I agree with her, the brown yarn,  labeled "chocolate" does indeed bring a lot to the party to make this blanket complete! I look forward to giving it to my friend, Audrey, whom I thought of often as I crocheted it for her and her expected baby girl.

March Feast Days

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
Happy Feast of St. Joseph!

Guinea Hog

Juby has her first pet, a Guinea pig named Genius. She really loves him and he is growing like a weed!
Greg brought Handsome over to visit on a day when Patience and the G-man were here. The guinea pig provided Juby a great chance to "show and tell" for the Littles. It was wonderful to drink some coffee with my son while enjoying these "grand " children!

Welcome Home, Soldier

We attended a wonderful luncheon to celebrate the completion of Basic Training Camp by my nephew, who is also my Godson.
The attendance was fantastic! Four generations turned out, about 50 family members in all to welcome this 18 year old soldier home.
Cecilia cooked a feast which included roasted corned beef and cabbage, buffalo chicken dip, a chicken casserole, fruit, cherry cobbler and ice cream cake. She held the luncheon in the church hall which made for a very roomy and comfortable space in which to eat and visit. Jeff and the other men gathered to talk at their own table!
Of course the cousins all had fun seeing each other. The guys went outside to play touch football on the school football field next door.
It was very nice to see the youngest members of the family and how they are growing.
After our terrific lunch, everyone pitched in to help clean up.
Dad chose KP duty and washed most of the dishes!
Many of us went back to the house to visit until dinnertime. It was so nice to chat with everyone.
We brought three ATV's with us to the party and folks wasted no time in getting them out to ride on our cousins' many acres.
The weather was nice enough for the children to go outside to play.
Jasper and Skyler, one a red and the other a blue heeler, are  puppy brothers. They enjoyed their reunion as well. They are each from a recent  litter of Aunt Kathy's momma dog. These little fellows are now members of some close cousins' families and will continue to see each other throughout the years, Please God.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam!

Knowing that Mom would be watching today, I asked her to call me if she saw any of the smoke signals from the Vatican so that I could see it. Early in the day she did call once to say that it had been black smoke  that bellowed. This afternoon, she mentioned that the Cardinals had voted again and that smoke would issue forth shortly. The girls and I were visiting Grandma Dolly and we turned her TV on. Soon, we saw White Smoke pouring forth and heard the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square cheering loudly! What a thrill! I texted the kids so that they wouldn't miss it.
This morning I read that it would take about 50 minutes from the time the smoke rose until the new pope would be introduced and would come out to meet the crowds from the balcony. It was time to take Kit home and when we arrived there, we were invited in by Allison to watch this momentous event.
We watched the evening scene of Rome as they are 5 hours ahead of us and listened to folks speculating on just who new The Vicar of Christ on Earth might be. I had no opinion on the matter but instead had been praying like most Catholics I know that the Holy Spirit would truly guide the Cardinals to choose the right man for the job to guide the church in these difficult times.
When they announced his original name and his chosen name, Francis, the commentators were completely surprised. When he first came out, he was so quiet and reserved and obviously overwhelmed. Then he spoke and smiled and gestured to the crowds. He asked everyone to take a moment to pray for him. The cheering crowds went silent. We, also, joined in praying for this man, who is going to guide our Church.
Then he asked the crowd to join him in thanking and praying for Benedict XVI  by leading us in an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, in Italian, I think. Our eyes were tearing up, in response to the spirituality we were  experiencing. What a great concept to pray together with all the people there and the many millions watching from all over the world. We all agreed that he was on the right track by unabashedly beginning by  praying aloud and inviting us all to join him.
We knelt in the living room to receive his Blessing and were very grateful to God for giving us what seems to be a holy man. Let us continue to pray for our new Pope Francis.
 Lord God, please help him to know your Will and to Do it, serving You in Love and Holiness. Please help him to continue to bring forth the New Evangelization by attracting the young people, and help him to lead each of us to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lord, Have mercy on me, a sinner. ... God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7–8).

Butternut Squash

This is the soft inside of a baked butternut squash. My niece-in-law, Kat has taught me how to cook large  hard-to-cut squashes in a very easy way! I LOVE squash but often hesitate to buy it because it is SO difficult to slice down the middle to cook it, or to peel it when raw to boil it. I was truly afraid that I might slip with the knife when trying to tackle this incredibly rock solid vegetable.
This picture isn't much to look at but it demonstrates the simplicity of roasting whole the squash that Kat taught me. The secret is to use the sharp end of the meat thermometer to poke holes through the skin to the center of the squash. That was surprisingly easy to do. I poked the holes along one side only and placed that side "up" on the cookie sheet. (I didn't cook the meat thermometer)!  I put the squash on the cookie sheet into a 375 oven for a little over an hour. After it rested on the pan and continued to soften inside, I cut it open.
The peel came right off from the cooked vegetable as it was sliced for serving. With butter, salt and pepper this was delicious with a roasted flavor. I had no idea that squash could be cooked this effortlessly and safely ( I am not kidding when I said that I have worried about cutting my hand with a knife trying to wrestle one of these when raw). I look forward to trying this easy cooking method with acorn squash and with spaghetti squash which Kat introduced me to by bringing it on Thanksgiving this year.

Art Teacher

Although I like to teach certain things that I enjoy, I have had an opportunity to teach a subject that I know very little about. Our homeschool CoOp depends upon every mother doing her share to provide an educational experience for our children weekly. I was asked to help teach Art. In spite of being terrified that I wouldn't have a clue, it has turned out to be fun!
The curriculum for each week's project is completely written and well laid out by another Mom who has a background in many subjects including art. All of the supplies have been gathered at the beginning of the year and are stored at our meeting place. Another busy Mom and myself alternate the job of being the lead teacher each week. The following week we are the assistant which requires less preparation and pressure! One of our duties is to drape the entire art room, the floor and the tables, in heavy plastic dropcloths. We have found that these are extremely washable and reusable.
Our job is to teach a weekly Art concept, explain the project and then patiently encourage the students to make their own. They enjoy the process. We have three separate classes that come into our art room for thirty minutes each.  There is a very steep learning curve each week and we improve our methods for actually completing the project by working with our first students of the day.
I have discovered another useful duty and that is to wash the Art Smocks at home after our Coop meeting day. Paper mache and then painting took a toll on these old tee shirts and aprons but now they are clean and ready to be handed out as the students enter our classroom.
You live and you keep learning! This week I realized that the Art Smocks could be divided into Small, Medium and Large sized lots to better fit our age grouped classes of students K-6.

Lenten Supper

In the last few weeks, we have attended and helped to provide food for three Lenten Suppers. Work Camp sponsored this one and the theme was "Potato Bar"
Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes were purchased at the local farmer's market. The Youth washed them, rubbed them with oil, salted them and baked them in time for the parish dinner. Every kind of fixing was made available to put over the potatoes like butter, sour cream, chives, cheese, and brown sugar (for sweet potatoes).
Other menu items were grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs, green salad, potato salad...
and the vegetarian chili that we made. This dish includes three kinds of beans, nine kinds of vegetables and taco seasoning to make it spicy.
The teens have worked together on this and many other projects because they need to raise 15,000 dollars to buy building supplies for Work Camp. They build camaraderie and practice team work while they fund raise and provide labor for parish sponsored activities.
Many parishioners attended this dinner and donated generously. The Youth made 600 dollars on this evening while supplying a wonderful meatless meal on a Friday night in Lent. When folks come to eat in the parish hall, they get to know other members of the parish that they might not have had a chance to talk to. Stations of the Cross follow these dinners and many people stay for that as well.