Saturday, October 30, 2010

Honing Hospitality

The tables were set up in the basement and were covered with the longest tablecloth we could find. All of us were there. All 15 of us. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. This was a big deal because it meant that my family had made the trek between two provinces to be at Grandma's house for Christmas. The food was SO good, like always. The chatter around the table was loud and continual. And we all ended the meal significantly more full than we intended. This was good. There was just nothing like my Grandma Mary's turkey, dressing, and gravy.

Nothing like it, except, for my mom's. Her Thanksgivings and Christmases were legendary. Equally long table, at least as many guests, and the flavours and textures just as satifsying as Grandma's. And delicious. And comfortably predictable. My mom would toss the bread crumbs with some of this and some of that, and one more shake of something else until it smelled just like *that*, and I knew that she had reached dressing perfection again for another year. And once, when my grandparents made the inter-provincial trek to our house, my Grandpa gave my mom the best compliment ever: "This is just as good as Mary's". My mom had a couple of tears in her eyes when she told me what Grandpa had said. And now I knew I had two women to match up to. I wanted to cook as well, and host as well, as my Mom and my Grandma. But, boy, was that bar highly raised.

Fast forward to my first year of marriage. There's our one bedroom apartment. There's my squashy little galley kitchen and squashier dining "room" in builder's beige. The table is set just so with all of our pretty wedding gifts and my Mom and Dad are bringing Grandma over to see "Barb and Chris' first home". The budget was pretty slim in those days. What can I serve to these two women who I absolutely adore, and whose opinion of me (and my domestic skills) really, really matters to me? It needs to be something simple, something economical (clearly!), something familiar for Grandma (no Thai or tofu that day), and something that looks fairly foolproof.

I pick the menu. I follow the recipe, and then tweak it so I like it. Main course; side dishes; mom will bring dessert. After ensuring it is all hot at the same time, after making sure there is plenty, after making sure Grandma is comfortable, after making sure we all eat enough, we clear the table, wash the dishes, drink our coffee and have a great visit.

And then.

My Mom and Dad drive Grandma home. As soon as she gets home, Mom calls me. "Honey. I just wanted to tell you what a lovely time we had at your place. You and Chris are doing such a nice job of setting up your home. It was really lovely. But I also want to tell you that Grandma commented on the main course you made. She says she likes how you do it better than how she does it, and could she have your recipe."

I gasp slightly. Before I recover fully, my Mom states the obvious for emphasis, "That's quite the compliment."

Here I was: a young married woman who grew up having dreams of having her own cooking show on TV (really!), and who grew up LOVING the comfy home-life, and appreciating the gift of company, and benefitting from the blessing of hospitality. For me to hear my Grandma ask for my recipe was certainly a great encouragement in the right direction.

Who knew then, mere months into my marriage, that I would be now cooking for 9 people everyday, plus the friends and family that we have the chance to have over on occassion. I thank the Lord for my home, and my family, and for the love of cooking. And for the Mom and Grandma who both set an incredible example, and encouraged me in my pursuit of the same.

It is amazing how one little comment of my Grandma's, likely off the cuff and not intended to be as pivotal as it was, could buoy up my heart and give me such confidence. Sometimes that's all it takes for one moment to direct your story.

The Compassion Blog is inviting you to share your story too. Follow this link to find out all the details. You can also read Shaun Groves' plea for your story, as well as his own story of how a well-time word can change a life. What's your story? Leave a comment below or consider blogging it. If you blog your story please leave a link in the comments here, or on the Compassion Blog, so that we can be encouraged by your tale.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wow-ful Women Wednesdays

Now, if you are looking for up-beat, this is not it. If you are looking for some interesting ways of pronouncing vowels, you've got it. However, you also are about to listen to some insanely brilliant harmonies. I like to remember that this is the very first song I ever sang harmonies to with my sister. We never sang it this slow

There's just something about family voices and those tight Blue Grass harmonies. Love it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Some of my Daughters

Dear precious, lovely girls:

I have a couple of things to say to you today. They've been on my heart for a while but have been more like "groans too deep for words" that only the Spirit can interpret until now. Finally I feel like maybe, just maybe, I know what some of these words on the tip of my tongue are, and how to get them out. Maybe.

First, let me say that of all our girls you are most like me. I know you know that. You hear it all the time from me, from the grandparents, from folks at church. Here's what you may not know: for years I've been praying that you would be nothing like me at all.

I know that sounds backwards. Most moms love to hear that their daughters take after them. "Oh, she has your eyes", we love to hear. But some of the ways you are like me are things about myself that I have prayed against and struggled with for years.

I have prayed earnestly that the Lord would make you take after your father more than after me. I've prayed that you would be spared the frustration I've worked through struggling over specific sin issues that linger decade after decade.

What I want is for you to have an easier time than I've had in certain areas of life. I want for you to not have to take so many thoughts captive in your head as these lies creep in, shaking your faith. I want for you to know that you know that you know that you are loved by Jesus. I want for you to experience less temptation, less fear, less guilt, less laziness, less pride. I want for you to be like Christ right now, not after a life-long, sometimes slow process of sanctification.

But here is what I have just realized:

If the Lord didn't bless you with weakness, you would never look to him for strength.
If the Lord didn't bless you with pain, you would never look to him for comfort.
If the Lord didn't bless you with sorrow, you would never look to him for joy.
If the Lord didn't bless you with guilt, you would never look to him for forgiveness.
If the Lord didn't bless you with sickness, you would never look to him for healing.

The things that I have hated about myself have thrown me to my knees in prayer, and have kept my eyes fixed on Christ. That is what I want for you. So if that means the Lord needs to make you like me in order to turn you to Christ, then so be it. I'll be on my knees beside you.

Praying for you daily,
Your Mom

Friday, October 22, 2010

Foodie Fridays

If you put up with me and my love of squash, perhaps you will tolerate a little affection towards the ever humble Sweet Potato. No? Really?

I know, you probably like Sweet Potato fries, and maybe you will tolerate a mashed thing at Thanksgiving, but how else do you eat Sweet Potato?

I have two little thoughts for you. This will be quick!

Number 1: If you make a mashed Sweet Potato casserole, please tell me you put a topping on it. If you don't, you should. This isn't rocket science, so don't think I'm a Domestic Diva over this recipe. Get some Pecan halves and arranged them in artful rows and columns. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Drizzle melted butter over all. Done. If you put whipped cream on the table beside it people with think it is dessert. Yum!

Number 2: If arranging pecans is not your style, (and really, who has time to peel, chop, and mash sweet potatoes anyway?), then try this: Remember my post on Fan Potatoes? Well the real name for that technique (unless I'm crazy mistaken) is "Hassleback Potatoes" from a name of a town in Sweden. The theory is that you slice your potato in to a fan shape, stick some garlic slices in the cuts, then roll it in butter, crisp them in a cast iron pan on the stove top, then bake them until you are ready to crawl into the oven beside them just to be close to their inherent deliciousness. My version was much more simple, but equally divine.

Now, try doing it with sweet potatoes. Cut them like a fan, coat them in oil(no garlic today) and then bake until soft in the middle and crisping on top. Then, OH THEN, drizzle the tops generously with real maple syrup, and toss some pecans on top if you have them, and bake another 10 minutes to caramelize.

My kids are not Sweet Potato fans. Correction: they weren't Sweet Potato fans until I made these Hassleback Maple Syrup Sweet Potatoes. Try it. You'll like it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wow-ful Women Wednesdays

Some days you are just in the middle of a real sunshiny day and all you can say is "God is so good". Some days you are just in the middle of a real dark, heavy cloud...what do you say then?

God is still good. God is always good. Even when it is hard to see or feel. It is just true. God is good, all the time.

This song is one of my all time favourites. (It is a good one to listen to with out watching the video so that you can picture yourself in the story she sings.)

I have a few people in mind specifically as I listen to this song today. And I'm praying that they would tangibly experience the presence of God today in the middle of their circumstances. Who can you pray this song for today?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Heard At My House

"Hey Mom! I actually just ate ALL my Brussels sprouts...with*out* gagging!"

[Mental Note: We've come a long way from the days when the kids called them "Special Sprouts".}

Friday, October 15, 2010

Foodie Fridays

Oh dear, happy Autumn! How I lovest thou! Thou art so cool and lovely and colourful and gratitudinal and, most importantly, suitable for my prefered wardrobe options.

I do heart the fall. I'm not gonna lie. Is there anything nicer than not having to wear shorts? Is there anything nicer than not having to worry about getting invited to a pool party? Is there anything nicer than not feeling like you are two degrees from meltdown? Sigh. Happy, happy, autumn.

I really like the fall for lots of reasons that are more significant than my silly ones above. The crunch of the leaves under my feet on a good walk; the brisk air that makes me glad I'm wearing a cozy sweater; the need for a blanket and a cup of tea during read-aloud time with the kids: there is nothing like it.

And the food. Oh the glorious food! Don't get me wrong, I really like a good salad and BBQ, but OH for a good pot of soup. Yes! to a big pot of chili bubbling away on the stove. Hurray for using the crockpot because it makes food yummy and not because it is too hot to turn on the oven.

Think about pumpkins and onions and peppers and rutabega and parsnips and carrots....sigh. And squash. Dear, humble squash. Don't you know how great you are? And how varied! Acorn, pepper, spaghetti, butternut....and there are more! But who needs more? These gourds should never be relegated to *only* decoration (although my counter top looks awfully nice right now with 5 of these bad boys artfully arranged on it).

I know, you are thinking you don't like squash. Really? really? I know for those of you who do think you like squash, you are imagining acorn squash heaped with butter and brown sugar (ain't nothin' wrong with that). But I will show you a greater way.

You know I love soup. Now you know I love squash. So guess how much I like today's recipe. Woot! And it is crazy simple. Ready?

Barbara's Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped roughly, seeds discarded (6 cups or 2 pounds-ish) (You can peel it with an actual vegetable peeler or do what I do and just slide a big knife down the length of the squash very close to the surface. Also, look for a thick neck as opposed to a full bottom. The bottom is full of seeds: the neck has the flesh)

Curry Powder to taste
1 Onion, chopped roughly
Water or Chicken Broth (enough to cover the squash in the pot)

Heat some oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Saute the onion and the squash until just starting to brown slightly. Add curry and stir a bit longer (the flavour of curry powder releases in oil better than water so be sure to add the curry first). Then add the water or broth to just cover the squash. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the squash is well-cooked (approx. 25 minutes). Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender, or in a food processor. Salt and Pepper to taste.

That's it! This amount should serve 6-8. I like to double this or more because it is a hit around here, and it does freeze well too. To sweeten the deal for your kids (literally) throw a couple of chopped apples in to the pot too. It is super yummy this way as well! Garnish with a blob of sour cream and chives to be all fancy-fancy.


Please try this. Squash are ridiculously cheap and fresh right now. Give it a go and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wow-ful Women Wednesdays

This Sunday I have the joy of leading the music at our church again. It is such a humbling thing to do. There is nothing better than being surrounded by my musician friends using their gifts to worship the Lord and hearing the Body of Christ singing their worship to the Lord too. If you will allow me a (possibly cheesy) word picture, let me try to explain what it is like to be surrounded by worshippers. When I was a young girl I had a friend who had a large weeping willow tree on her yard. We would push through the hanging tendrils and hide in the sanctum sanctorum of the mighty tree. We were completely enveloped in the shelter of the tree, set apart from the rest of the world. And that is how it feels when I get the privilege of being enveloped on all sides by instruments and voices, all of us singing with one heart, set apart for our great God and King. There's nothing like it.

This Sunday, as I said, we have the joy of doing it all again. This time we have a really pared down band. Piano. Bass. Acoustic Guitar. Three voices. I'm looking forward to filling the church with some good harmonies and simple melodies. Every once in a while I have a moment of worry that the sound will be too thin or the voices too sparse to adequately convey to the Lord our GREAT thanks to him. But I think that fear is unfounded. He knows our hearts. And no "bigness" of sound ever could be enough to adequately praise him anyway.

I've said here before that whenever I sing the Hymn "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" I always assume the hymn writer meant that he wished he had 1000 tongues of his own as if that might give him greater ability to sing his great redeemer's praise. Maybe that's not what he meant, but it sure is in my mind's eye.

So this weekend we will praise God in our big smallness. And I can't wait. And if I needed any confirmation that a small team can make a joyful sound there is this video (which granted, has nothing to do with the God-theme of this post, but does have the same band make up.) :-)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happily See-Through

We teach our kids about the omniscience and omnipresence of our God. That is, we let them know that God knows everything, sees everything, is everywhere, and so on. We can't hide from him. He is always by our side. He is always aware of what is going on with us. And this is a comfort.

That's what we tell them.

That's what I believe.

But since we're all about honesty and fuel for thought around here I figure I better 'fess up a bit about something. There is a verse that we have taught our kids which is meant to be a comfort when they are comparing themselves to others: Man looks at outward appearances but the Lord examines the heart.

So don't worry if kids laugh at what you look like, it is what is on the inside that counts. Don't worry if what you tried to do failed on the outside, the Lord knows what good intentions you had in your heart.


I have always quaked with fear about that. I mean, really, isn't it often so much easier to look good on the outside? To fake a happy heart when inside your heart is throwing a selfish hissy fit? (Someone say amen, please. Don't leave me hanging)

I don't want to be a hypocrite. I don't want to be a "white-washed tomb" looking nice on the outside, but actually being cold, hard and dead on the inside. I want to not shake in my boots when I think about the Lord examining my heart.

And here is the good news: I don't have to quake. I don't have to be afraid of what he'll find. Because when I follow Christ, when I acknowledge his lordship over my life, then it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.

Charles Spurgeon said: "Rejoice then, believer, in this: thou art accepted "in the beloved." Thou lookest within, and thou sayest, "There is nothing acceptable here!" But look at Christ, and see if there is not everything acceptable there. Thy sins trouble thee; but God has cast thy sins behind his back, and thou art accepted in the Righteous One."

When God the Father, the holy judge, looks in at my heart he no longer sees my sin and my selfishness, but rather sees the righteousness, the goodness, the perfection, of his Son poured out over me and in me and through me.

Transparency has never felt so good.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wow-ful Women Wednesdays

Somehow I failed to notice that yesterday was Wednesday. I mean, I know it was but the day evaporated like an apple juice spill on the table that leaves behind a sticky reminder that it had been here but wasn't taken care of very well.

Or something like that.

The point being, another Wednesday came and went with so many repetitive household chores being done. It came and went with the same routine that all Wednesdays hold. It came and went with me cleaning up one mess just so that we were able to make another.

And today will be much the same. We will clean up breakfast and the dining room table so that we can cover the table with school books and pencil shavings. Then we'll clean that up so that we can cover the table with soup spoons and bread crumbs. Then we'll clean that up so that "art" can be made and dinner served and Egyptian Temples built.

In the meantime, I will vacuum the floor so that the clean laundry I unceremoniously dump on the carpet for sorting won't pick up every stray piece of who-knows-what. But then once I clean up all the laundry there will be new lint and dryer sheets to pick up. The re-vacuuming may wait until tomorrow.

Such is life. And I wouldn't have it any other way. There is joy to be found. It sounds simple, but it is really profound. It takes a choice.

I'm choosing joy.