Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Staff of Life

This started out as a response to a comment left by a new blogger that I am having a lot of fun reading, Happy Housewife. I noticed that it was getting a little long for the comments section, so I decided to put it here for you all to read!

HH writes:
"Ooo.. It is lovely to see that people still make jams and jellies at home - yes, from scratch. You know, I-Mom :P, the USA is such a delightful spring of surprises for me! For one, not everyplace is New York or California or Texas. For another, not everyone buys 'freezer-microwave-dishwasher' type food!

I was almost coming to the conclusion that no one prepares home-made food in this country and prefers to eat upsized meals at Burger King. Never could understand how BK could pass off for dailyfare (all those calories and such boring stuff!)... but apparently, there are still people who make food at home. And find it normal! :-)

Here's a 'toast' to your healthful jam! :-))

Btw, do you also bake your own breads? I'd love to try. In my culture, we don't use a lot of bread - ours is a rice&wheat based cuisine - so I don't have a clue of even how to start! However, hubby&I love the varieties of bread you can buy here.

I'd love to try and bake something at home. Been using the oven for a month now and I am comfortable with it. Now I am ready to experiment with European/Western cuisine. Can you suggest a simple, but nice recipe?

I'd have tried the internet, but you can never tell if those are 'workable' - some of those turn out to be disasters! I don't want to risk my first attempt. Do you have any ideas?"

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Ahh, HH, I do love to cook at home. Sometimes I feel too hurried to enjoy the pleasure of it, but I am slowly learning that my time is what I make it. I try my best to fall into the natural rhythms of the day, and not "punch a time clock" now that I am at home with my daughter.

I love to make jams and jellies! I live in a part of the country where it is still very common, amongst the older generations, to preserve your garden produce by canning. I had the good sense to learn this skill while young (although none of my brothers and sisters will can anything!), and I get to feel that giddy pride at the end of the growing season, when I look across my shelves to see rows of shining jars lined up.

As far as bread goes, I do bake my own bread, but I must confess that I usually use my bread maker. Not quite the same. I am reading a great book now though, brought to my attention by my lovely friend, thicketdweller, called "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book". I must say that this is the best book that I have ever read on baking bread. It was published in 1985, but there is an updated version that just came out that has an added chapter on bread machines. Both are available online, but I just borrowed a copy from my local library. The first recipe in the book is called "The Learning Loaf", and it is a great place to start. I highly recommend it!

By the way, where do you live in the US? I'm here in the beautiful farm country of Ohio. This country is such an interesting place precisely because we have so many different types and cultures of people living here. We get a little of everything!
Feel free to e-mail me privately, (you'll find my address in my profile) if you have any other questions!

And if you are not HH, scoot right over to her blog and leave your bread suggestions. :)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Strawberry Goodness

I just finished the smallest batch of jam that I have ever made. Three half-pints. I hope this winter isn't a long one, or were in trouble!

Actually, I was making sugar-free jam and I always make it in small batches. The only one in our house who can eat it is my hubby. I try not to give Peanut artificial sweeteners and I myself am allergic to them. Believe it or not, we will only keep one jar and give the rest away. We always have such an abundance of sugar-free and Amish no-sugar-added spreads around. I wouldn't have bothered, except that I had to do something with our surplus of strawberries and sometimes I enjoy the challenge of Diabetic cooking, especially when it comes to "traditional" foods that have to be altered. Sadly, most of the time I am not up to the challenge! lol!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

J-E-L-L-O

I just wanted to give a quick post about America's (statistically) favorite dessert.

I mentioned a few days ago that Jello and most gelatin products in the world are bovine-based. Yes, Jello is made from the hooves, bones, and other parts of the cow left over after slaughter. I am not a vegetarian, but when ever I see that jiggling mass of lime-green dessert, I can't help thinking that not so long ago, it was sloshing around in the muck of a pasture.

Gelatin dishes have been around for a long time, but in the old days, you had to pick a calf, kill it, cut off it's legs, boil them for a few hours (hooves and all) to remove the collagen, cool and skim the water, and then you could get started on the actual cooking. Is it any wonder that housewives went crazy when the neat little packets of powdered Jello appeared around the turn of the century?

"Hmmm, let's see. I could do a day and a half of nasty work or tear open a paper packet and add boiling water. Jello, here I come!"

But I have found that gelatin is not your only option. The Asian cultures have come up with some very nice substitutes using fish and sea plants. The only downside is the slight "fishy" taste that occurs when cooked. That's why I love MJ's chill over powder. I'll admit that it is a little pricier than it's jiggly counterpart, but it is much more versatile. You can make it in any flavor that you can imagine. (to date, I have made a chocolate dessert, a yummy honey and nut mold, and Jigglers from orange juice for Peanut) I have found all of MJ's food to be worth it.

So, at the risk of sounding like an ad, I'll tell you to go and give Mary Jane a look. If you are lucky enough to have a sizable Asian market near by, take a trip and see what you can find. Most of all, become responsible and be aware of what you are eating. Those flashy boxes and bags may contain more than you want!

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Great Outdoors

This weekend we took Peanut on her very first camping trip. She did so well and I am very pleased. She slept through the night, without freezing to death. She ate unfamiliar foods with a grin and a gulp. She picked up every spider and bug that crossed our path and said "woof woof" to every dog we saw. The weather was just on the cool side of completely perfect (exactly how I like it!), and the nights were clear and beautiful with a million stars. It was such a good weekend!

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Peanut helping her Daddy with our tent
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Hiking along the river


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The neato-keen fire grate that my husband designed and fabricated.
We had no less than 20 people walk over to our campsite and ask
how he made it. I have such a handy husband!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Mary Jane's Farm

I've been meaning to post about this for weeks but it keeps slipping my mind.

One of my favorite inspiring people, Mary Jane Butters, has just published a book, and oh what a book it is. "Mary Jane's ideabook-cookbook-lifebook" is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. It's a wonderfully fat tome of info "for the farm girl in all of us". You can read about MJ's background and struggles, get recipes, learn how to garden and woodwork, start your own small business and learn to sew. This book has everything! (there is even a small section on the best way to "do your business" in the woods as a anatomy-challenged female, lol.) I must say that I have picked it up at least once a day since my copy came in the mail.

Mary Jane runs a farm in Idaho called Paradise Farm and puts out a "storefront magazine" called 'Mary Jane's Farm'. I'm sure that I've mentioned her before, because I tend to tell everyone I know about the magazine. I love everything about her issues (no ads, glorious photos, interesting articles) and I have even ordered some of her instant organic food. My favorite so far is the chill-over powder; basically jello made from plants instead of cow hooves. It's very versatile and fun to work with, plus it will gel at room temperature, which makes it great for camping!

Do your spirit a favor and check out this book or one of the issues of her magazine. You will find it soothing and refreshing at the same time!

Camping

Last weekend, my hubby and I went camping, without the Peanut. It was the first time that I had left her for more than a few hours. My family just finds this ridiculous. "Peanut is almost two and you have never left her. She will become too attached to you."

Good!

Can a 19 month old be too attached? Isn't the idea to raise my child myself, and to teach her that home is a safe and stable place to be? Just because most of the country packs their babies off to day care at six weeks doesn't mean it's normal or right. When at all possible (and I think that it is more often possible than most parents will admit) your child should be with you and your spouse. You are her best teachers and caregivers. There is no one who will love her and keep her like you.

And to prove my point, Sydney was as good as gold. She slept well, ate well, and played well. She didn't cry for us or throw fits. In fact, she hardly noticed that we were gone, because Grandma and Papa had her so busy running around Amish Country. So much for the "too attached" theory!

Our camping trip was fun, but oh so hot. It was a off-roading trip for my husband, but little old car-sickie me just sat at the camp all day and read. I finished four books* in three days, including my perennial camping book, "The Gate to Women's Country" by Sherri Tepper. I don't know why, but I have read this book on the first camping trip of the year, every year since I was 18. It is a novel written in the 80's about a post-apocalyptic society, that smacks of a little feminism, but I still find insightful at times about the nature of women and men. My library has it shelved in the science fiction section, but I don't really think it falls into that category.

This weekend, we are taking Peanut on her first camping trip! It's my husband's Boy Scout Explorer Post reunion. All of the guys are getting together and bringing their families, and we are just going to hang out all weekend. I'm excited to see some of our old friends from school and to chat with their wives (which I don't do often enough), and see how big everyone's kids are. Brian and I went to the same small school, so even though I wasn't an Explorer, I know everyone who will be there. Thankfully, the weather is supposed to be much milder than it was for us last weekend.

Peanut is so excited that she keeps getting into our supplies, digging out the bag of marshmallows, and toting it around the house like a baby doll! I hope she will have fun and it's not too hot or too cold for her. I think we will all enjoy ourselves!


* For anyone who is mildly interested, the other three books were, "Searching for Jane Austen" by Emily Auerbach ( I will never look at Austen's work the same again!), "Stone Angel" by Carol O'Connel (If you have never read any of her "Mallory" series and you like detective novels, do yourself a favor and check them out), and "Rebels on the Backlot" by Sharon Waxman (it delves into the processes and methods of some of Hollywood's "indie" directors. I guess you can take the girl out of the video store, but you can never take the video store out of the girl!)

Monday, June 6, 2005

Inspiration

Wow, I sat down tonight to read some of my favorite blogs and I found inspiration everywhere. Visit Miz Booshay here and Ann at Holy Experience here if you want to have your heart and mind lifted!

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Brighter

I'm feeling much, much better in my soul. Things are feeling familiar and fun again. I want to thank you all for sitting through my catharsis on this blog and I apologize for worrying anyone too much or otherwise freaking you out. :)

I've had lots of personal time to think and heal and pray. Having a place to get all of my thoughts out in the open really helps. Summer is already upon us and everything beautiful outside is helping my attitude inside. Our warm weather plans are in full swing and Peanut is having so much fun running wild.

But I did read something that irked me today. Apparently the top "oldies" radio station in the country, WCBS-FM, changed it's format Friday after more than thirty years. They gave their listeners no notice, and at 5 PM they switched from Frank Sinatra to The Beastie Boys.

I like oldies music, but the fact that a radio station in New York changed it's format really has no impact on my life. What has me so upset is a quote that was given by one Tom Taylor, editor of a radio trade magazine, when commenting on the switch.

"Youth must be served," Taylor said about the changes. "If you look at a lot of media, older Americans aren't important unless you're selling Craftmatic beds."


I am not yet thirty, but I will admit that I am of a conservative bent, so I tend to shy away from "pop culture". This is one thing that really gets me steamed. Why must youth be served at the cost of anything traditional? There are so many wise things that are thrown to the wayside and forgotten in the name of anything new and novel. Our "older Americans" have a lot of things to teach us and vital roles to play in our families and communities, but it seems that eventually things are going to progress to the point that you have to die at 30 or be killed. Remember "Logan's Run"* anyone?


The media that spouts this nonsense is training the minds of the majority of our families. No matter if you don't allow this influence in your own household, you still are surrounded by millions of people who do. I wish that we could see the damage we are doing ourselves in the name of "young entertainment" and make a change for the better. It's definitely something to remember when you are in a rush and stuck behind an elderly driver or shopper.

Its not lost on me that the oldies music that this station formerly played was the "youth revolution" of it's time, but it's the pervasive "young is best" attitude that we are constantly fed that really upsets me. I guess it's a sign of getting older! :)
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There's my two cents for the day! :) Hope everyone is enjoying their June!



*By the way, this movie came out the year I was born and in my opinion, was abysmally awful. I had very young parents who liked to go to (and later rent) a lot of movies. So I was exposed to much "pop culture" in my early years and I went on to work for the nation's largest movie rental company until I became a mother. I've seen my share of bad movies and therefore, I am full of silly references like this one. :)

Friday, June 3, 2005

One Foot In Front Of The Other

Things are going well. My hormones are starting to level out and I don't break into tears very often anymore. It's a relief because I was beginning to feel as if I would never be able to hold a normal conversation again. All of our family and friends are so kind and considerate, but inevitably the question of "So, how are you doing?", voiced in that low respectful tone, comes up. And with every kind thought and question I feel myself holding back tears and trying to voice an answer. Somehow, "I'm doing good" just doesn't hold water when you are standing there in tears.

My thoughts have been going on bizarre tracks also. For the first few days, almost anything could and would set me off. The strangest though, was a rare steak. My husband took us to the lake for a day last weekend, just for a little getaway. He grilled steaks for our lunch and he is a very good outdoor cook, but my steak was a little more rare than I usually like it. As I cut into my steak and saw that small pinkish pool on the plate, I lost control of my tears. Seeing that little bit of blood reminded me of all of the blood I had been seeing lately and I just had to get up and walk away. I never thought I would see the day when a steak made me cry.

But all craziness aside, I really am doing better. I had to have an emergency D/C because I had begun to hemorrhage, so my recovery time was a little longer. The pain on top of the loss was very scary. I didn't know what to think when they rushed me to the ER. I had all of these horrible fears of something going wrong and waking up to a hysterectomy or worse, not waking at all and leaving my husband and little girl all alone. I really knew very little about miscarriages and for me, uninformed is unprepared and scared stiff, so my little brain began filling in the gaps with my overactive imagination. That old childhood defense of "expect the worst and prepare" definitely took over my mind.

The truth is, I was surrounded by a very kind and caring staff at the hospital. My anesthesiologist was a big boisterous guy with a loud voice and kind eyes, doing everything he could to put me at ease. My nurses were actual angels treating me with the most kindness and consideration. I wasn't even left to some random ER doctor. My OB came straight to the hospital, leaving her own family on her only afternoon off, to do my procedure; and she was the first face that I saw when I awoke. I have never been "honey"-ed, "baby"-ed, and "sweetheart"-ed so much in my life.

I have always wanted a "big family". From the time that I knew I was going to be a wife, I started planning my "big family". And then, when we had so much trouble conceiving the first time, my heart began to ache for that "big family" even more. Peanut is such a wonderful blessing and she confirmed that my idea of a "big family" was a good one. But I must say that after the last few weeks, the idea of a "big family" scares me.

I don't know if I have the courage to get pregnant again.

My wise doctor persuaded me away from my request of birth control today. She told me to wait a month and see if my feelings change. I know in my heart that she is right, but the thought of making another little life so vulnerable terrifies me. I feel the heavy weight of responsibility and I just can't let go of that fear.

But I also know, deep down in my soul, that I was never really in control of the situation, no matter how much I pretend otherwise. I know that God's hand is on me even now. Why do I find it so hard to let go of the reins and let him drive? The fact that as a woman, I get the chance to create and nurture new life is purely his gift. Why can't I just say "Lord do what you will with my body and my life." and be at peace about it? My mind is torn by what my heart knows to be the truth.

I guess that my only option is to continue on and hope for the future. Sometimes, just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward is the hardest thing to manage. I'm lucky to have a good husband and a blessing of a daughter to sustain my soul and remind me of the gifts of love and mercy from God.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Reminders

Today has been a reminder day for me. I was finally able to get up and return to the job of caring for my family. I have felt fine for a few days, but my loving husband is also a very protective one, and he insisted I follow the doctors orders to the letter and the minute. The return to our normal routines has been good for everyone.

As I went around straightening and returning things to order, it seemed that everything in my sightline was a reminder of the little life that was lost to us last week. The baby name book on my nightstand. Free samples of diapers and formula that had arrived in the mail. Statements from the insurance company on the costs of my pre-natal testing. A little hat that I had begun to knit. The new truck we had just bought to give us enough room to travel with two car seats. My vitamins on the bathroom counter with their smiling little baby on the label. The little ultrasound photo on the fridge.

It seemed that my own home was mocking my feelings of loss. I headed outside to work in my garden and indulge in a little self-pity. Peanut was ecstatic to be outside. I sat crying into my tomatoes and she ran around in circles just for the pure joy of running.

Suddenly, my beautiful little daughter ran up to me and gave me her first unsolicited kiss. This little child who usually needs to be held down and begged before you can get a kiss or a hug just came right up and planted a big sloppy toddler kiss on my lips. She turned and ran off to her play and I sat in shock. And then I knew.

This was God's reminder to me.

He was reminding me that I was not forgotten. He knows how much my heart hurts. He was telling me that I am not alone. That even though I feel empty and sore, I am very rich in love and the caring of others. That even if there are never any other babies, I have such a good life and no reason to be sad for long. He was reminding me that he has planned my life and nothing that happens is arbitrary. My loss has a purpose and a reason. Most of all, it was a tangible reminder of his love for me.

I wish that I could say that I jumped up from the vegetables and sang a hymn of thanksgiving, and then shook off my dark thoughts and sadness. I didn't, but I did say a small quiet prayer of thanks for his reminder and I have held the memory of that little kiss close all day.

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I just wanted to say a big thanks to all of you who read my blog, for sending your kind thoughts and prayers our way. I wanted to say thank you to my family who has been coming in and taking care of things that we could not. Mostly, I want to thank my husband for being so great. He has been caring for the house and the Peanut, working full time, and taking care of me. All the while dealing with his own grief.
Thank you Brian, you are a treasure and a blessing.