Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wow-ful Women Wednesdays

Everytime I hear the opening strains to this song, I feel like throwing open the windows, dancing in my living room, and singing into a hairbrush. Or going on a road trip. Or studying 18th century British Literature which is what I spent most of my time doing when I listened to this song "back in the day". That fact is what caused me to smile at the lyric, "I spent 4 years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was free." Nice. Except I only spent 3 and 1/2 years and the paper I left with was a marriage complaints over here. I'm a much better housewife than thespian. :-)

So you need to know that I really enjoy this song. However, there is a whole lot of "world view selling" going on here that I can't buy. I've written a few of my thoughts here if you'd like to get my inside scoop on what this song is missing.

But for now, enjoy this great piece of music, with brilliant vocals, fantastic harmonies, and a melody that just puts a smile in my heart.

Closer To Fine -- The Indigo Girls

Closer to Fine

Wow, did you really come over here for my insights into this song? Well then, I'd better step it up and have something smart to say :-)

First off, how's this for a fabulous lyric:

"Well the darkness has a hunger that's insatiable.
And the lightness has a call that's hard to hear.
I wrapped my fear around me like a blanket.
I sailed my ship of safety til I sank it..."

I can relate to that. If you've been here any length of time, you've likely tripped across my posts on my tangle with Post-Partum depression. And you've likely also read about how I am highly driven by fear. I'm not going to get in to all of that again today, because though it was real, it will not define me. What I do want to say is that it is so very true that the darkness has an insatiable hunger, and it may well want to devour you.

However, here's the good news that the ladies in this song miss. They say "There's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line."
I say there may well be many "answers", but there is surely only one truth that speaks to the heart of your confusion and sheds light on your darkness in a way that frees you indeed, fully and completely. His name is Jesus, and no matter what darkness you find yourself in, His is the light and the answer you need. And no, that is not a trite answer. It is a simple truth, with some complex implications.

So you need to know that this is one of my favourite songs of all time, and these ladies are fabulously talented. But they miss the point. There is absolute truth. There is one way. There is someone that answers all the burning questions and makes clear all the messy ideas this world tries to sell. And to say "we looked to the Bible" and to have walked away unchanged means they didn't likely look very long at all. Just this past Sunday my pastor said that in 29 years of pastoring he has yet to find an issue "come across his desk", so to speak, that did not have a resolution in the Word of God.

What questions do you have today? Are you willing to look in the Bible to find the answers? As Easter approaches, are you willing to consider the reality of who Jesus Christ is, and the sacrifice He made, and how that can change everything for you? The lyric says "The less I seek my source for some definitive the closer I am to fine." This just isn't so. The source of our life and our every breath is God the Father who made us and loves us. And so the more we seek him for the answers and purpose of our life, the closer we are to fine, and fulfilled, and content, and at peace.

I know, I know. Pretty deep thoughts for a Wow-ful Women Wednesday, but I didn't want to leave these things unsaid today. Thanks for reading...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Clean Floors

How often do you wash your kitchen floor? I mean, really clean them. Not just run-the-Swiffer-over-them clean, or kind-of-sweep-them clean, but on-your-hands-and-knees-hot-and-soapy-water clean?

Rarely, if I'm being honest. But I would like to tell you about how it came about that I washed my floors like that on Christmas Eve morning.

Faithful readers here may recall that months ago I promised a series of blog posts, one inspirational and one funny. The inspirational one has been posted: today's is the funny one. (That was your prompt and licence to laugh at me with great vigor!).

Imagine with me, if you will, what a typical Christmas Eve morning is like. As I see it, there are two options. It can be an idyllic, quiet, contemplative time around the tree, with hot apple cider in one hand, Bible in the other, and good snacks (post-delicious brunch, of course) always in easy reach. The children are contentedly playing, loving on one another with the compassion of Mother Theresa, the housework and gift-making are caught up, and the Roast Beast is simmering in a red wine flavoured broth preparing for a magical, culinary experience. We are patiently, yet breathlessly awaiting the candle-light service at the church. The children all say, "Santa who?" and instead prepare cards and gifts for the birth of Christ the King. All is right with the world.

That is option one. That was not our reality this year.

Christmas Eve was a Thursday in 2009, as you may recall. That is only significant in that my daughter's flyer route needs to be worked on Thursdays. Only. Period. Wednesday or Friday delivery of flyers constitutes grounds for immediate dismissal. Thursday morning it is.

Plus, this was the year that I jumped back into the world of "Church Drama" and was preparing for the second night of Christmas Plays. Let's just sum that up by saying my brain is not as sharp as it was 7 children and 11 years ago! Hello, Memory? Anyone home? Right. Didn't think so.

Plus, this was the year our church jumped back into the world of "Choir", which is such a highlight for me that I may need to do an entire post on choir someday. This required me to go through an intense period of humbling as I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, hairbrush in hand (to my mouth, of course), repeatedly asking myself if I have any clue how to sing!

Plus, this was the year that I decided to be a mock-athelete and began running for the first time since the boys in the playground were throwing rocks at me.

Plus, this was the year that I thought I should really try to sew some lovely bags for some people I love as gifts. Like my Grandma. Who I would be seeing tomorrow. Whose bag I hadn't started yet. Oops.

And so it was, that I was in a very happy place that Christmas Eve morning doing a lot of things I loved and enjoyed, but found my mind a wee distracted...

The whole gang of us piled in to the van first thing in the morning, and delivered my eldest's 95 flyers, in record time, glad for the nice weather. Then we came home to realize the basement was about to be declared a national emergency site due to the unusually large amount of toys strewn around. So here I am in the kitchen, beginning lunch, barking orders for the basement to be cleaned, kissing my husband who just came home from his morning at the office, putting the baby down for his nap, and thinking the breakfast dishes should be washed, and then thinking I should go and check on the cleaning efforts in the basement.

As I go down to check on the basement overhaul, I realize that my physical presence there with them may be the thing to speed their endeavor, and so I sit and check email. It is in the email that my fate was sealed, I believe. My lovely friend, Kristina who I love, sent me a link to a stunning video of Celtic Woman singing "O Holy Night". Stunning. I sat spell-bound for the 5 minutes of vocal bliss. My bliss was radically, sharply, disasterously ended by my 8 year old's cherubic voice, innocently asking me, "Mommy, what is that water?"

Water? What water? And so I look in to the (praise the Lord) unfinished part of our basement to see water, no sheets of water, falling, pouring, gushing out of my duct work. Did I say gushing? I meant flooding. Rapidly. And spreading fast. Now there is a leak over our freezer. Now it is coming out over the laundry area.

My dear husband is wondering if a pipe froze and burst. "Where is this water coming from?" he cries? "Go make sure everything is off while I shut of the main!"

And my dear oldest daughter says, "Mom! I saw you turn on the kitchen sink!" She flies up the stairs to turn off the kitchen sink, but before she can reach the faucet she falls squarely on her heiny. The water has flooded the counter, and spilled, hot and soapy, all over the kitchen floor. Should I remind the gentle reader here that we have porcelain tiles in our kitchen? Mental note to self: porcelain tiles + hot, soapy water = ice rink.

So as 7 children are screaming "GET MORE TOWELS!!" and "EMPTY THE GARBAGE PAILS TO CATCH THE WATER!!!" I am trying to remember when exactly I turned the sink on. Clearly, somewhere in the "I thought I should wash the breakfast dishes" moment, I actually plugged the sink, squirted in the soap, and turned the tap on full hot.

And now I am sitting on the floor, sopping up water from the inside of my cabinets, and the drawers and the entire kitchen counter, trying really hard not to say out loud any of the names I'm calling myself in my head because there are 14 little eyes and ears watching and listeing to see how mom reacts in a crisis.

At one point, my 8 year old who is notorious for saying the funniest things without trying to be funny, is in a full out fit worrying about how this is going to play out, says with great fervor, "And Mom, this better not become a Facebook Status, because this is *NOT* funny!"

Soon, the basement is dried up, the kitchen is dried up, my husband is reassuring the 8 year old that the house is fine, and sound, and no damage done. I am hiding in the garage, giving full vent to all the pent up rage and self-disgust I previously held inside. I hear my husband's loving voice ask one of the girls, "Where's your mom?" and I get the courage to come in and dry my eyes on his shirt collar. He is half laughing at me, half consoling me. I need both to get through this.

I figured I had ruined Christmas Eve. What happened instead was my kids saw that even "the best mom in the world" makes stupid mistakes, which gives them the freedom to try and fail too. And my kitchen floor got "on-your-hands-and-knees-hot-and-soapy-water clean".

All in all, it was the perfect Christmas Eve morning.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Buying the Lie

My daughter had an appointment with a specialist recently. This doctor is lovely. Truly one of the best physicians I’ve ever had to deal with. She is intelligent, patient, understanding, funny, great with my 3 year old, gentle, encouraging, non-condescending. She has a lot of letters after her name. I won’t even try to understand what they all mean, other than a lot of schooling and a lot of expertise. Along with all of that comes the pay-check, the lifestyle, the wardrobe, the respect, and the pride that accompanies such a career achievement. She is living the dream!


Once when my daughter was in to see her, this doctor asked me how many children I had. I told her we had seven. She asked if I worked out side of the home. I said no. And that we homeschool. And then she said something I will never forget.

Please read the rest of my latest Heart of the Matter article here.

Foodie Fridays

Now, I have to tell you: I love today's meal. I also have to tell you: Some of you will hate it. Really, only about two-thirds of my family like this, which leads me to cook it very rarely. For example, once, my then 4 year old son came to me in the kitchen while I was preparing this and he said, "Mmmm....I always think this looks so yummy....and then I taste it." However, you should know that it takes only 3 ingredients (4 if you want to be fancy), it makes your house smell insanely good, and even the neighbors who walk by and smell the aroma wafting through your windows will ask what you are having for dinner. So.good.

This, my friends, is the simplest, healthiest, yummiest Eggplant Parmasean ever.

(and half of my readers just left!)

Before you give up too, let me give you some interesting facts (thank you, Wikipedia!) about the eggplant that might intrigue you enough to try it for supper this week. First, did you know that the eggplant is a relative of the tomato and potato, and is also a relative of the (wait for it) tobacco plant? (Scandalous! We all have a crazy Uncle or two in our family roots!) Because of the relationship to tobacco, the eggplant was long-thought to be a dangerous plant to be avoided! (but don't tell your kids that, lest they use that against you!) :-) In fact, there is nicotine in Eggplant....mind you, you'd need to eat 20 pounds of it to equal the amount of nicotine in one cigarette! On the positive side, Eggplant is, however, also rich in folic acid and potassium, which is good if you are pregnant, and is a free-radical-production blocker, which is good if you are looking to avoid cancer. Plus, IT IS YUMMY!

It is called "eggplant" because the first fruits discovered by the European explorers were white and goose-egg sized. It is considered a "berry" due to the seeds inside the fruit.

Now, some people will say that eggplant is bitter. It can be. But from my experience it only ever is bitter if it is an older fruit. If you buy one from the store (or better, pick one from your garden), and then cook it within a day or two, you will find that the eggplant is smooth and mild, and yet rich tasting all at once. If you do have an older fruit, or one that you aren't sure how long it has been shipped and stored at the grocery store, remove the bitterness by sprinkling the sliced eggplant with salt, letting it sit for 15 minutes, and then rinsing with cold water. This is called "degorging" apparently. Who knew? Problem solved!

Without further ado: Eggplant Parmasean

You need: (for a 9x13 pan)

2 medium sized Eggplant, sliced lengthwise, and degorged if desired. (do not peel, but do cut off the stem)
1-2 jars/cans pasta sauce, any flavour (homemade or store-bought). Personally, I like roasted garlic, or arrabbiata sauce. Use more or less sauce depending on how saucy you want it to be when you serve it.
Parmasean Cheese (to taste...lots of it!)
(and if you are being fancy) Grated Old Cheddar

Spread some pasta sauce to cover bottom of pan. Arrange a layer of eggplant slices over the sauce to fit snuggly on bottom of pan. Cover with a layer of sauce, sprinkle liberally with parmasean and cheddar if using. Repeat layers of eggplant, sauce, parmasean, and cheddar. Bake in 350F oven for 30-45 minutes or until bubbling and hot through, and until the eggplant feels soft when pierced with a knife. Slice into squares to serve. A 9x13 pan could serve 8-10.

Serve on top of spaghetti, if desired, or just with a salad for a light meal.

For a fancier presentation, slice the eggplant crosswise in to rounds instead, and layer individual rounds as above. Serve 1-2 stacks of rounds per person.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think! Tell your kids this is as close to smoking as you are ever going to let them get! ;-)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Little Visual Reminder of a Spiritual Truth

Around here, Mondays and Thursdays are laundry days. I've said before on this blog that in any given week, I do 20 loads of laundry. That's not including sheets. Clearly, laundry could monopolize my whole life. In order to avoid that, I do laundry 2 days a week so that the other 5 I can think about anything else. It should also be said that I don't actually dislike doing laundry. The machines do most of the work, and my kids do the rest once I have their clothes sorted into piles. I don't typically even fold the older kids' clothes anymore as they can hang, fold, and otherwise manage their belongings on their own. Really, not a bad deal all around.

However, 2 weeks ago, life was different. Monday, the laundry happened as planned. Everything washed and put away. Lovely. But then Thursday, somehow, the schedule got jammed and no laundry was done at all. Neither on Friday. Nor Saturday. Clearly not Sunday....and so came Monday again. And *this* is what I faced. And conquered.

Yes, that is a full sectional covered with piles of washed, dried, sorted, folded, and alphabetized laundry. (well, not really alphabetized. I'm not *that* neurotic). That was some mountain, let me tell you! It is amazing none of us were wandering around in our birthday suits on Monday morning waiting for the first load to come through the system! Yowza. The morning was consumed with the running up and downstairs to exchange the washed and dried items from their respective places, and the afternoon was consumed with the sorting, piling and folding (which I only did for the sake of the photo, if I'm being honest.) And I took the photos to remind myself to not let that happen again. Having a couple of days off in the laundry department seemed like an okay compromise in a busy week until Monday arrived like a hurricane.

Ever feel like that in any area of your life? Just let it slide a little here or there to make the day easier, or to avoid conflict, or to avoid admitting you were wrong, and next thing you know you are facing a mountain of a problem that could have been quickly, and easily usually, solved had you tackled it when it was tiny, or at least new! A friend told me once that the hardest part of a 5 kilometer run would be the first 10 steps. It is true!

What is there in your life today that if you just started it, would be easily accomplished? What chore could you scratch off your to-do list? What relationship could you mend? What sin could you irradicate from your life once and for all?

Lord help me to be diligent in every task at hand, no matter how menial or trivial it seems. Help me to not be a procrastinator. And most of all, help this physical reminder of too much laundry remind me to keep my heart in check, to keep short accounts in my relationships, to deal with secret (or not so secret) sin quickly.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Foodie Fridays

My husband preaches at our church occassionally. I always love hearing him speak. Inevitably he says something that is just so "him" that it makes me smile. Sometimes he slips in a little joke that only I'll get. Sometimes he invites the whole congregation over to our house for supper.

Nope. Not kidding! :-)

And this made me smile too. We love having company over and are constantly making plans for who we can have over next. On Sunday afternoons, the question from the kids is always, "Is anyone coming for supper tonight?" and if we say no, the answer is, "Oh. That's too bad". We love company. And I love cooking. It is a win-win.

Not that everything I cook is Martha-Stewart-esque. Often it is really, really simple. And that works because then I can visit instead of stew in the kitchen. (get it? "Stew" in the kitchen?)

So today, here is a simple salad and a simple main dish that would go nicely together (I think) for a weeknight dinner, or for a casual meal with friends. And they can both be made up ahead so you can just slip it all on the table once you feel like it!

Ginger-Citrus Salad

1 head of green or red leaf lettuce, torn
1 english cucumber, sliced
1 red grapefruit, sectioned (juice reserved)
1 orange, sectioned (juice reserved)
1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
handful of sunflower seeds
dried ginger to taste
pepper to taste
honey to taste

In large bowl, combine lettuce, cucumber, grapefruit and orange, and red onion. Toss gently. Sprinkle seeds on top.

To section the fruit, slice a small round horizontally off the top and bottom of the fruit to make a flat top and bottom. Then, holding your knife at the top horizontal cut, cut downward between the fruit and the white pith all around the fruit. Then, holding the fruit in your hand, wiggle the knife in between each white pith to get the slices separated (this is seriously harder to explain in writing than to do in the kitchen, believe me!)

In a small bowl, collect all juice from fruit (some will be on the cutting board, some more will be able to be squeezed from the remaining pith/peel bits).

Add the ginger, pepper and honey to the juice to taste. The ginger will make for a really good spicyness and the honey will temper the heat to be quite palatable, so don't be afraid to put a bit more ginger and pepper in than you might first think. If you don't think you have enough dressing to cover your whole salad, feel free to add a little white wine vinegar or lime juice to stretch it. Don't toss with the salad until you are ready to serve. Yum. Yum. Yum.

Thai-Inspired Chicken and Rice
Breaded Chicken Breasts (like from M&M Meat Shops...I told you I take short cuts!)
2-3 Green and/or Red Peppers, cut in strips
1 pound green beans (or more depending on how many people you are serving)
2 cans coconut milk
Chile paste (to taste. They give ideas of how much to use on the label...look for it in the international aisle in whichever heat level you like).
A couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter (assuming you aren't allergic!)
Cooked rice (cook ahead of time and reheat, or just keep warm in a crock pot.)

Cook the chicken breasts according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, saute the pepper strips and beans in olive oil, until softening. Stir in the chile paste and peanut butter (if using), and stir until all melty and blended. Slowly stir in the coconut milk until all incorporated together. Now simmer on low until you need it. (within reason. This won't simmer nicely forever!)

Serve hot, cooked rice with chicken and sauce over top. Delicious!

To make this even more make-ahead-ish, you could layer the cooked rice and cooked chicken in your crock pot, pouring the sauce and veggies over all. It can keep warm in your crock pot for a lengthier time that way, but the presentation isn't as nice.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wow-ful Women Wednesdays -- St. Patrick's Day Edition

A little Canadian, Celtic goodness for you today here on St. Patrick's Day. Does that even make sense? Does that tie in? Well, as much as dying your mashed potatoes green makes sense, I suppose (which we AREN'T doing by the way!).

There are about 45,000 videos I could have picked from today for Ms. Natalie MacMaster, and I'm pretty sure I still didn't pick my favourite. She is something else! There are her heart-wrenching balads, and the accompanying she does for other stunning vocalists. Then there are these toe-tapping jigs and the reels with step-dancers. Oh, and then there are the ones where she dances herself sans fiddle, is a girl to choose?

This one a little bit blew my mind. Pretty sure I've never moved any part of my body that fast ever in my whole life. Very impressive! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Foodie Fridays

Today is not a "rocket science" post, but this is one of those tips that made me tap dance with glee when I first found out about it. Definitely falls into the Domestic Diva category. In fact, if you happy dance over this too, please let me know.

This is SO easy and SO yummy! This may make you want to eat pasta with much more frequency, and your family will likely thank you for it.

Want to make a fabulous Alfredo sauce? Want to make a fabulous Blush sauce? Want a Pasta Primavera to go mad for? Well *I* know the secret ingredient. And because I heart you folks so much, I will tell you what it is....

Plain, Low-fat, Cream cheese.

Yes! The recipes today are barely recipes at all. Watch how easy this is...

For a really good blush sauce, take your favourite pasta sauce (canned, jarred, homemade, doesn't matter! I've even used a can or two of stewed tomatoes!) and while it is slowly simmering, waiting for the pasta to cook, melt in some cream cheese. I use one container of "spreadable" cream cheese for a meal around here (which would mean 1 cream cheese to 2 jars of my marinara sauce). Sometimes it is just that simple. Sometimes I add ground beef. Always a liberal sprinkling of parmasean or asiago cheese. Toss with your pasta of whichever shape you prefer and you are done!

Alfredo Sauce? Easy: 1 cup of milk (or more depending on how thin you want it), 1 tub of cream cheese, 1 cup of parmasean cheese, and 2-3 cloves minced garlic (optional). Simmer, until hot through. Toss with fettucine (or seriously ladle it up like soup. This stuff is GOOD!)

Primavera: 1 cup (or so) chicken broth (or veggie broth), 1 tub of cream cheese, a pinch of dried basil (fresh is better) and as many of your favourite veggies as you like chopped in to bite sized pieces. Heat some oil in a deep frying pan. Toss in the veggies to start to soften. Add the cream cheese and basil. As the cheese melts, slowly add in the broth (keep stirring) so that the cheese incorporates into the broth. Heat through and toss with your pasta (I like rotini for this. The Spiral shaped pasta grabs the veggies and sauce nicely). And of course some grated parmasean on top is delicious! I also use this base as my white sauce for a vegetarian lasagna that I make (then I stir in ricotta cheese and...well this is getting too complicated for here!). Easy peasy!

So how about that? Could this be any easier? No fussy white sauces, no strange thickening agents. Just YUM! I could go on here about how I use cream cheese to make the universe's best Cream of Tomato soup, but I'd rather just have you over someday for lunch and show you :-)

Let me know what you think!

An Open Letter

To the Two, Beautiful Teen-Aged Girls I Just Saw at the Store,

You are lovely. Really. You are super cute in your skinny jeans and puffy jackets with your little co-ordinating scarves. You are truly adorable. Your hair is perfect, your make-up is perfect, your smile is perfect, and even your manners, with the cashier and with this strange old woman (me) behind you in line, were perfect.

I think you are probably super nice girls.

But please try to convince me that one of you *really* wanted that small container of pomegranate seeds and a green apple for lunch. And that the other one of you *really* wanted those two hard-boiled eggs for lunch. Period. With nothing else.

Really? I remember being 16, and I'm pretty sure that none of those items were ever on my list of cravings. Pretty sure that none of those items were foods I requested for my birthday party, or grad party, suppers.

I also remember being 16 and "losing" 20 pounds one month by exercising excessively and eating virtually nothing. And then gaining 35 pounds back the next month. It wasn't fun. And the person I was trying to impress didn't even notice.

I know, I know, Pomegranate seeds are very rich in antioxidants. And I enjoy a good, crunchy Granny Smith as much as the next girl, and sure eggs are high in protein and good for energetic people blah blah blah. But do you really think that is enough calories to sustain you? Enough calories to help you remember what you are studying? Enough to make you feel full until supper tonight?

Maybe I'm old and grumpy. Maybe I'm jealous that even when I was 16 I didn't look like you. Maybe I don't know as much about nutrition as I think. But let me sound like your mom for a minute: You are seriously lovely girls from my first impression of you. I would hate to see you hurt yourself in this way over a jean size or two.

Tomorrow could you at least sprinkle those seeds or slice those eggs on top of a salad? This whole thing makes me a little worried for you, though I don't know you, and very careful of what I will try to instill into my girls as they are rapidly approaching your age.

Thanks for listening. I know you probably disagree, and I wish I could convince you, but you really are lovely. And whatever little tiny goal you have? It won't make you happy.

An Old Woman who Noticed.