Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our Fave Chocolate Cake

   I suppose chocolate cake is one of those things that, barring an allergy or something, everyone craves now and then.  Around this house, Handsome requests it infrequently because it is so very, very rich.  When he does, though, it is with much insistence.  And it is a request that can only be filled with one recipe.  Never a boxed mix, and never with any deviations.  We had it this weekend to kick off his birthday week celebrations, and it was a grand success.  : )

   In addition to my man's great appreciation of this recipe, which is enough to get me fixing it any time, we discovered early in our marriage that each of our families had been preparing it for generations!  This particular chocolate cake is one of the precious things that we held in common between our unique childhoods. That makes it double special.  Triple special.  Quadruple special.  

   My Momma got it from my Grandma, who I think received it from her mother in law.  Handsome's Grandma Goldie made it all throughout his childhood, some say using cooked brown beans, a trick I have GOT to figure out, and I can only imagine how many generations back her cooking traditions stretch.  She was a beloved woman and famed home cook.

Here it is.

First, if you don't have buttermilk, make some.  To one tablespoon of either vinegar or lemon juice, add enough whole milk to make a cup, and do try to measure better than I did.  Let it sit while you do other awesome kitchen stuff, so it will thicken up.  Presto, pretend buttermilk.  You're ready for the rest.

Batter:  Make this in three parts. 

Whisk together 2 cups each of flour and sugar.  

In a saucepan, boil together these things:
   2 sticks butter
   3 1/2 Tablespoons cocoa 
   1 cup water

Then add that to the dry mixture and also add these things:
   1/2 cup buttermilk
   2 whole eggs
   1 teaspoon baking soda
   1 teaspoon vanilla 

Stir it with a wooden spoon till really really really smooth and satiny and gorgeous.

Pour this chocolaty blend into a buttered 9 x 13 baking dish.  Bake it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

About ten minutes in, which is also ten minutes before the cake comes out, because ten is halfway between zero and twenty, prepare the fudge topping:

Sift a pound of confectioner's sugar, which is about 4 cups.  Mom pointed out that sifting is key because otherwise you might have a hard time getting the final fudge mixture smooth enough.  She's right.  Thanks Mom!  xoxo

Using the same pan as earlier, no need to wash it, cook these things:
   1 stick butter
   3 Tablespoons cocoa
   6 Tablespoons milk

Cook the fudge just to the boiling point.  Then remove from heat and add to a heat proof bowl of sifted powdered sugar.  Stir it like there's no tomorrow and do not count the number of times that you absolutely must lick your fingers.

Now pour the hot, sugary fudge over the hot cake, tilt or spread it gently around, and let it relax at room temperature.  

   The final product should present a beautiful, shiny skin that is almost juicy when you sink your teeth into it.  This incomparable cake is super served with french vanilla ice cream and also incredible served cold.   Not too shabby when nibbled on the sly in the middle of the night, just walking by.

   How good does your house smell now?  You are welcome, and see you at the gym, baby.

Happy Birthday Week to Handsome!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Joy Pockets #2

The past seven days have been emotional and busy on every front,
and midweek I thought I would just skip Joy Pockets
altogether because it would just feel phony.
Thankfully, mercifully, legitimate joy
burned through that fog pretty quickly.

1.  Drive In:  Going to the old-fashioned triple-feature drive in movies with Handsome and seeing a comet at dusk.  The flicks showing that night were all really good, too, and I stayed awake through to the end.  First time ever in my life.

2.  Naptime:  Falling asleep outside in the sunshine and waking up to our biggest horse nuzzling my bare feet with his whiskery, velvety face.  He sniffed my calves and looked at me super cute, probably wondering if I was dead.  That happened twice this week, and it was downright magical.  It gave me the feeling of cuddling with a baby.  A 1200-pound baby, but still.

3.  Lake Fun:  Playing at the lake with two cool and awesome friends last Saturday afternoon.  Eating too big of a hamburger at the dockside restaurant but then burning it off just by laughing like a crazy person.  Riding the wave runner until we were out of gas on the water.  Literally.  And then the girl half of those friends taking multiple photos of together, sensing my apprehension, and her having mercy by N-O-T putting them on Facebook, because she is very pretty and I take very weird posed face pictures for some reason.

4.  Affection:  Hearing a beloved young nephew call us by name using also our titles, "Aunt" and "Uncle."  For some reason, this gesture in his sweet little boy voice melted my heart.

5.  Victory Over Myself:  Returning a very tall stack of borrowed books to the library E-X-A-C-T-L-Y on time and retrieving a reserved book there, which is now in danger of premature completion.  This never happens, folks, not the timely return thing.  I felt like a total celebrity walking in and out of the library with nary a dime of a fine.  Why wasn't there confetti?  Handsome is worried my lack of fines contribution may lead to downsizing.  He asked if the main librarian is having to send her car back to the dealership.

6.  Surprise:  Learning that my Dad reads my silly blog.

7.  Avoidance:  Delaying a dreaded dentist appointment.  Again.  I am joyful over this.

8.  Birthday Week:  Firming up R-E-A-L-L-Y  F-U-N plans for Handsome's birthday which is in exactly two days.  We do full birthday weeks around here, so we have much celebration pending.  He is a great guy who deserves great things, more than I can provide.  He is my dream come true, and I wish him the happiest, funnest, most relaxing and exciting birthday week ever!

   Big *Thank You* to Bohemian Twilight for having this in place.
Knowing the Friday link-up was fast approaching had to have helped with the fog.
Happy Weekend Everyone!

joy pockets

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stieg Larsson (book review)

   The posthumous if scandalous fame of this recently deceased author certainly contributes to his books' appeal, but even without that added glamour, his two breakout novels (I have yet to read the third of this trilogy but fully intend to) are impressive.  They are not for children, though; nor are they for the easily offended; and they are not even for the squeamish.

   But at this stage of life I am grateful to no longer fall into any of those categories and so thoroughly enjoyed every single page.


   Except for the difficult to pronounce Swedish names and general vocab, difficult even in silent, inward monologue, these two thick volumes provided me lots of gratifying hours of voracious, adrenaline-pumping diversion.  And in contrast to our book club's spiritual foray this summer, it was a guilty pleasure.  Not complaining, ladies, I just need a balanced diet.  We all do, eh?

   Lots of people, me included, have commented on how the first novel suffers the reader with a bit of a cold, slow start, but rest assured that Larsson more than makes up for it later and in book two.

   I fell head over heels for the off-putting and strangely upstanding heroine, Lisbeth Salander.   Part of me is determined to believe she is a real live person, lurking the world with her mad math skills, deficient social skills, and dark attitude.  Righting wrongs and amassing riches.  I am collaborating with a girlfriend to be Salander for Halloween this year.  Like Batman, only a girl.  And scary, but completely defensible.  Beware.

   Slanader's male counterpart Mikael Blomkvist was also a gripping character, and N-O-T just because I happen to know that Daniel Craig is playing him in the American production.  Well, that didn't hurt exactly.  Y-E-S- I mentally pictured Craig delivering some of the best lines and besting the bad guys, etc, etc, and Y-E-S there are love scenes written that can only be made better with a decent visual...

  These books are pure entertainment, trashy and heavy and politically seasoned just enough to make you feel like you've thought hard and smart for that day.  Oh, and if you have ever been accused of drinking too much coffee, just check out the Swedes.  They will relieve you of that guilt rapidly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Potatoes A La Pinterest

   I was admittedly in a baked potato rut.  Since disovering the microwave method, seriously, there is nothing easier.  It's nutritious, delicious, and easy.  And fast.

   But like I said, rut.  Then I was browsing my fave new eye candy site and discovered a brand new possibility.

   The visual got me first, becuase all things neatly fanned and buttered are on my culinary bucket list.  What about you?  Then the method convinced me to try it, and I am soooooo doing it again.  Here's a proper online recipe, because I don't groove writing such things.

   Personal advice:  In lieu of using the called-for butter pats and garlic cloves, I melted a whole stick of butter and seasoned that with some stuff I like (garlic salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper).  I poured the melted, seasoned butter over the prepped potatoes and had PLENTY left over to use on some yellow squash that needed some yummy lovin and was destined for the grill.

   Almost Failed:  Accustomed to quicker (lazier) techniques, I did not budget quite enough time to achieve the advertised crispy outside-tender inside just using the oven.  So I had to zap the still too firm spuds in the microwave just as our steaks were finishing on the grill.

   Handsome's Verdict:  He liked it.  I don't think he loved it, but he liked it, and he is no longer in the business of bluffing me out on recipes to keep from hurting my feelings.  This means we'll have it again, but not necessarily on extremely special days.

When my Grandpa Dunaway was alive,
he used to talk about growing potatoes.

He said the harvest it was so exciting. 
Sometimes they would be quarter-sized,
sometimes nickle-sized spuds. 
The rest were just small potatoes.

Now my Dad repeats this family legend,
and I crack up every time I think of it.
Love you Dad. 

Autumn Changes Things Again


   The water was boiling. 

   She had been standing there in a daze, halfway waiting like a timid little girl for the universe to intervene on her behalf, halfway simmering in anger as hot as the water now steaming and hissing in the tea kettle.  None of this should be happening, she thought bitterly and helplessly.  Tears welled up in her throat but choked her, refusing to bloom in her eyes.

   Still mostly numb, she poured the steaming water into a pitcher with dry tea bags waiting at the bottom.  She turned the burner off, returned the empty kettle to a cool corner of the glass cook top, and wiped her hands dry on the red towel with yellow and gold owls on it.  These few motions seemed to cost her all the energy remaining in her limbs, so without a choice she leaned backward against the counter top and slowly crumpled to the floor.

   She sat on the shiny tiles reviewing the words in her mind, letting every syllable repeat again and again, hoping to gain some understanding that had so far escaped her.  Nothing would take hold.  The facts were cold and stubborn and two-dimensional, unyielding to pain and deaf to reason. 

   They are not coming home, and according to the phone call it was their free and final choice.

  She spent the next few hours just going through the motions of her routine, mechanically and with a hollowness that made her mind way too vulnerable to dark thinking.  Every task had happy memories attached to it; every square foot of the property was still vibrating with the colors and fragrances of family life.

   While in the barn raking hay, she heard a few tentative drops of rain ping against the tin roof, startling the cats and causing her to gasp and shake her vision loose for a moment.  Maybe this is temporary.  Maybe if I handle this wisely and with enough love they will feel the solidarity they need, the peace they deserve, and everything will right itself soon.

   She finished making the rounds outside, taking note of the quietness and mournfulness of the early autumn weather.  How was it possible that every animal seemed to know what was happening?  They all looked at her cautiously, as though a breeze might shatter everything.  
   By the time she reached the edge of the pond, the rain had advanced from a gentle sprinkle to a heavy, slanted downpour.  The midday sky was dark now and the air had turned cold.  Thunder boomed and echoed in the valley.  The horses had retreated to their loafing shed, perhaps to escape the rain, perhaps to grieve.  The rain slashed into the surface of the pond with increasing ferocity, finally drawing out of her the wild, primal tears she needed to cry.  She screamed and sobbed and the surface of the pond jumped and kicked against the news.

   The water was boiling.

Mama’s Losin’ It

This post inspired suddenly and unflinchingly by Mama Kat's prompt:
"Write a story that begins and ends with the same sentence."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

   I haven't written much this week because I cut my ankle shaving.  I cut it deep.  Blood was gushing out, thin and hot, mixing into the sudsy shower water and draining in a downward spiral like I was Janet Leigh in Psycho or something.  It was the kind of cut you don't even feel for another five minutes, or until a minuscule drop of soap falls onto the open wound.  I may or may not have been using a hunting knife instead of a disposable razor, and I may or may not have had the lights out to conserve electricity because I showered during peak time. 

   Long story short, I developed a ferocious staph infection and had to be hospitalized three states away from here, where they have excellent doctors.  More excellent than ours, they say.  But they don't have Internet there, or coffee, so I could do no writing.  None whatsoever.

   Instead, I sat there and pondered the universe while my slashed-open ankle healed.  You know how at hospitals they never leave you alone?  Every few hours, here comes another nurse to change my band-aid and refill my little plastic yellow mug with diluted sweet iced tea.  And every time, I was reminded of all the incredible, insightful, significant things other people were reading and writing, all the ideas and truths that were being passed around without me.  Sigh.

   So in the middle of the night I crept out of the blue and white hospital room, wrapped in a papery gown and shod in those rubber-flecked booties.  So comfy.  I stole exactly two extra band-aids for my journey home (just in case) and guzzled one last throat full of weak, diluted sweet tea that was sitting at the empty nurse's station. 

   I walked home without delay.  It was no biggie since I was all tanked up on great writing ideas, all motivated to rejoin the conversations.  My staph infection had burned out purely from literary frustration, and my ankle was almost fully healed too.  The only real obstacle that night was not getting skunked on the dark roads after exiting the Interstate.

   So here I am, brimming with incomplete sentences and anxious to read what has been written during my historic grooming incident-slash- recovery.

   What didn't kill me has made me, well, sillier. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Second Chance Garden

   Around Mother's Day this spring Handsome took me on a veggie and seeds shopping spree.  He sneakily drove me to a hardware store about fifteen miles away, wheeled a cart up to me and said, "Go for it!  Grow me somethin, woman!" 

   I took a deep breath.  My eyes were big and glassy as we cruised the aisles of tiny green promises.  He helped me choose the leafiest, strongest looking tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, sweet potato, and watermelon plants.  And zucchini and squash.  And hot peppers. 

   Then we went inside and scooped up several million packets of seeds for summer flowers, herbs, and a few late lettuces.  The earth at home was plenty warm enough by May, and I had been composting all winter.  Most luxuriously, Handsome had already tilled the majority of my garden plot, so I was not fazed by this gargantuan purchase. 

   We were ready, baby, MORE than ready.  And the clock was a tickin'.

   Within a few days every single seedling was tucked neatly into the soil.  Admittedly, it wasn't the most shapely or creative layout I'd ever planted, but it was full to bursting with edible potential.  I felt that what it lacked in design could be compensated for by volume.  The Lazy W Garden 2011 had the potential to be my most prolific yet, and  I.  Was.  Happy.

   Fast foward about a month.  The mild spring weather turned suddenly and unpleasantly to a record setting Oklahoma summer.  After growing for just a few safe weeks, my green babies were dying a fearsome death.

   The previously lush pumpkin and squash vines were rotting in the sun.  The sweet potato leaves were turning a lovely but dangerous shade of bronze.  The pepper plants were emaciated almost beyond recognition.   I can barely stand to talk about the basil and clematis.

   I tried mulching and watering and sort of weeding, but the truth is that in the midst of the heat wave I had far more pressing issues at hand than the out-of-the-way veggie garden.  I had to keep the animals cooled and watered twice a day, and I needed to work on my tan before our big anniversary vacation.  You know, important stuff.

   So as we packed for that trip in mid July, I silently resigned to the likelihood of returning home to a cemetary of vitamin ambitions.  There were more than a few tears.  Acknowledging this big of a failure is painful, but I did have a pretty respectable base tan.  So there's that.


   Everything you might imagine about how a garden suffers in more than fifty consecutive days of one hundred-degree-plus heat, and a drought with the power to shrink lakes, all those horrible things are true.  And I feel terrible about it.  But there are lessons to share and hope to celebrate.

     Here is what I have learned:  In addition to being realistic in your garden planning (ahem), it seems to be really important to make your garden at least inviting enough to draw you there and tempt you to stay.  It doesn't have to be English knot garden perfect, but when I planted after Mother's Day, I did so hurriedly.  With precious little shape or pattern, all mess and zero fractals.

   A certain amount of chaos is exciting, but vast expanses of weeds and constant formlessness can drain the gardener's spirit.  It made me feel like no amount of work I could possibly do there would help.  I never wanted friends, family, or especially even Handsome to see it, that is fo' sho'.  That's not an excuse, just an acknowledgement of my human nature.  Beauty matters.  Even if it's truly wild beauty, we all crave it deep down on a cellular level, and where it is lacking we tend to want to escape.  Agreed? 

   That is the philisophical lesson from this summer.  I pinky-promised myself to do better next season.

   The pratical lesson is that planting things too far apart (like I did) can be painfully challenging for the plants.  It's actaully groovy to plant pretty closely together.  The plants shade each other and help each other retain soil and moisture, too.  And if you plant stategically you can naturally eliminate lots of pests.  MARIGOLDS.


   So where are my few survivors?  They are in Veggie Triage.  It's a three-step healing process consisting of reduction (of both overall population and individual plant size), relocation, and rejuvenation. 

   I have moved the surviving plants from the remote garden up to the flower beds on the east and south sides of the house.  The rationale is that the attractiveness of the flower bed will encourage me to spend more time tending the edibles.  The flower beds had space to fill anyway, so here again we have symbiosis in nature.

   I have already seen marked improvements in every single little baby, and I feel confident that in the coming weeks we can add seed plants like lettuce and spinach, then later on some broccoli, cilantro, etc, to really fill in the blanks.

   Green thumbs up, friends.  I do NOT want to give up completely on Lazy W Garden 2011.  With a little luck and the logic and magic of these two lessons learned, we might be frying green tomatoes by Labor Day.


Pockets of Joy #1

   A few days ago I stumbled on a lovely and complex blog called  Bohemian Twilight    Soooo worth a steady gaze, especially if you are in need of the creative person's equivalent of a B-12 shot in your upper arm.  Check it out and see for yourself.  I found her through some luscious home interior photos on Pinterest (she has a Tumblr slide show), so you can bet I am already planning on how to gypsify the farm.  PLEASE don't anybody warn Handsome.  Okay?  Okay.  Deal.

Credit for both amazing photographs:
You are welcome for directing you there.

   In addition to the visual feast, this blogger has a lot of wisdom and insight to offer.  Read  her post on anger and the full moon.  Enlightening!

   On Fridays she graciously hosts a link-up where you can share your "Pockets of Joy" for that week.  I groove this.  I warmly welcome the intervalled practice of expressing gratitude and joy for the beauty in a person's life.  We have so much!  And  sometimes intending to just maintain an "attitude of gratitude" can be rather thin and quiet, at least for me.  Sometimes it's nice to share those feelings of bounty.

   So without further ado, my fledgling entry:

1.  Rituals.  Piping hot, strong and rich coffee very early every morning, sweetened with real sugar and real cream.  This (especially the cream) is a luxury item that starts the day off wonderfully.  Showering in the afternoon, right before Handsome arrives home.  Cleaning the kitchen just at sunset.  Locking up the animals as the moon reveals herself.  Braiding my legs together with his while we watch some History channel.  Daily rituals are joyful in their regularity.  They help us keep the pace of home.

2.  Weather.  Oklahoma's extended drought and extreme heat wave have finally come to a close.  At least for now.  This week we have joyfully worked and played in mid-nineties, shade, and even the occassional rain shower.  This is a wonderful refreshment, one we cannot help but celebrate.

3.  Feeding the chickens.  I love delivering kitchen leftovers outside to the chickens and watching them jump and scurry for the best stuff.  I love the way their little talons sound on the gravel paths, the way they skeedaddle and sprint this way and that in feathery bursts of energy.  I have said it before and will say it again:  Letting the chickens go free range in the mornings is the best animal decision we have ever made on this farm.  This week the chickens are enjoying the cooler temps and have been especially joyful.

4.  Speaking of birds, the geese...  They are getting bolder and bolder, waddling up from the pond several times a day now.  I love to be busy indoors doing housework or writing and hear that strange but happy chorus of honking outside the south door.  One goose in particular, Mia, craves human touch all day.  He (Yep, it's a he named Mia; I will have to tell that story soon.) honks until I am seated in the grass then curves his long neck in an inverted bass clef shape and whines while I pet him gently.  Geese are hilarious and affectionate and joyful creatures!

5.  Blogland.  Meeting people through blogging whom I would never have met otherwise, like Keda from South Africa.  Hello there!  Staying warm?  Check out her blog too.  Thorough, sensitive writing, beautiful lifestyle.  Truly.

6.  Health.  This week I am keenly aware of how good our health is and that we should be grateful for that.  We ate lightly, slept well, stayed really active, and enjoyed the myriad benefits of this practice.

7.  Music.  I rediscovered a Carla Bruni album and listened to it three and a half times while plowing through my overflowing ironing basket.  Something about her effervescent sound and her poetry got me thinking about bubbles, circles, fractals, and mandalas, so I detoured from ironing long enough to get these words out of my head.

Whether or not you participate in the Pockets link-up,
I would sure like to hear about your joys this week.
May they be genuine, multiplied, and ever changing.

joy pockets

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


   Fractal:  To my memory this is not a word I had ever heard, for SURE not a word I had ever used, before reading William Young's Christian fiction novel The Shack.  You can read this disturbed girl's review of the book here.
   For now I'd love to concentrate on this mentioned concept that is both mathematical and artistic and delve a bit into what the author might have been getting at by comparing our human spirit to a wild garden, which itself is a fractal.

Webster's definition: 
frac-tal   \'frac-tel\  (noun) 
"any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes
for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape
to a given larger or smaller part
when magnified or reduced to the same size."

   Still with me?  We're basically groovin' on patterns here.  Complex but rhythmic, easily analyzed patterns.  Self-repeating patterns that sort of defy traditional geometry.

Fractal Art Wallpaper

   William Young spent the better part of a chapter trying to relay the image, sans illustrations, of a garden that at first glance seemed wildly unkempt, messy, even failed.  But as his characters conversed, it became increasingly apparent that the garden was right on track, growing at just the exact rate and with just the perfect amount of craziness that the gardener intended.  The gardener delighted in the messiness and refused to label it as imperfect or flawed, just beautiful.

Wild Garden - October, 2009


     Being personally and unashamedly obsessed with gardens of every variety, this naturally caught my attention.  This type of metaphor serves well in many settings, and to think of my soul, my non- physical self, being understood as a wild but beautiful place is, well, it is really enticing.

   In the book, it was only when viewed from above (heaven?) that the boundless chaos of that garden fell into a recognizable system of shapes and images, of texture and color.
   The whole picture could be taken in view and seen as beautiful, and then the patterned components could be enjoyed as well.


   Like my own Oklahoma gardens, which even on their best days are a bit on the wild side, my spirit is probably less orderly than most.  Even at 37 I mean 25 I am still brimming with confusion and questions, still wandering a bit more than I would like some days.

   About a thousand years ago when I was a retail banker, I had a customer who was an artist.  We became acquainted enough for me to hear one day her theory that everything in nature mimics something else in nature.  For example, examine the shapes in a spray of ocean coral.  it is so similar to the patterns in our own blood capillaries!  And these, together with the dead trees of winter, are so reminiscent of nerve endings.  The comparisons go on and on.  It is dizzying to think of how much rhythm and repetition, combined with riotous, endless creativity, is abounding in nature.  And it is humbling to see how much can be traced back to the human form.
   Whatever your proclaimed faith, I would bet my morning coffee you can sit in awe of the beauty of nature.

   Have you ever seen Mandala art?  It is sometimes used as a form of meditation in the Hindu and Buddhist cultures.  Not worship, just a physical activity, guided enough to be focused but certainly freeing enough to allow for all manner of expression and intepretation. 
   I used to have a Mandala coloring book when my girls were very small, then knowing nothing about the religious implications, just intuitively relishing in the circles, the repetition, the blankness that begged for filling.

   In reading more about fractals I remembered the mandala and cannot help but sense the common ground here.  Maybe there is a cosmic message to be found regarding circular motion, patterns, and following that inarticulate voice.

   And how interesting that a Christian writer used this global mainstay to help his readers visualize the human spirit.  I think it is a beautiful use of imagination.

   We are all some combination of rigid and loose; we all have the capacity for both discipline and creativity.  In fact, I believe these two rely upon the other to really thrive.  Give some thought to the state of your spirit, your soul, your garden.  Acknowledge the Gardener and find beauty where before you loathed your perceived shortcomings.

   You are complex and amazing. 
You are loved more than you know. 
You have a ways to go.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Instant Gratification

   I am totally in favor of maintaining and chipping away at a list of long-term goals.  These are generally the accomplishments in life that are closest to the heart and therefore most deeply satisfying .  Keeping LTG lists, it's just the grown up thing to do.  I personally have multiples.  I have multiples of these in every room of my house and every pocket of all my worn out jeans. 

   Which means that I also have a chronic and nasty case of dissatisfaction with how much I am accomplishing at any given time.  On days when I feel like going to bed in utter despair just one more time might be enough to push me over the edge, I try to regroup and spend some energy on short term goals.  You know, the things that when finished (quickly) give you that sublime sense of Instant Gratification.

   Here are some things I know will scratch the urgency itch for me.  What I find particularly miraculous about this stuff is that every single item here on the STG list corresponds to something on one of my LTG lists.  Even these baby steps, satisfying in and of themselves, all build toward a larger, more beautiful end product.  That is just how AWESOME life can be sometimes.

  • Stop everything and go get an incredible work out!  Sweat and burn for twice as long as you normally do, then stretch until you want to fall asleep.  You will feel better instantly, and it will be worth every minute.

  • Mow the front lawn, weed JUST the flower bed, sweep the sidewalk (for me this includes scooping horse poop), and then water everything.  It takes less time than you think, and it makes the whole front of the house look pretty incredible.

  • Paint something.  Anything.  Preferably with either red or turquoise paint.  Or chalkboard paint.  

  • Make exactly one phone call that you have been dreading.

  • Empty and scrub every single trash can in the house then cut one fresh flower bouquet for every floor of the house.  Light candles in every bathroom.

  • Skip one meal and instead make yourself a fruit-yogurt-honey smoothie and follow it with some ice cold water with lemons.  Let the inside of your body rest for a few hours.  Use the time you would have spent cooking and cleaning up doing something you've been really, really, really wanting to do.

  • Groom exactly one of the animals moseying around the farm.  Groom him or her from head to toe.  Pour your tender lovin' care all over that beloved pet as if it is both the first and last day you have together. 

  • Choose exactly one project on Pinterest that is within reach today.  Do that thing.

  • Good grief, take a remodeling shower already and give yourself an at-home mani-pedi.  Lotion up.  Fix your hair.  Wear some perfume.  WHEW that's better, and check it out...  You can still work and be productive!

  • Gloss up the house, make something wonderful to sip, and sit down to write an inventory of both your blessings and your answered prayers.  Allow your focus to shift from problems to comforts.

  • Clean the floors mercilessly.  Like a shining clean sink, clean floors are contagious.  So are dirty floors.

  • Make contact with the people who are always on your mind.  Show some love.

  • Bake something incredible for Handsome, even though he INSISTS he doesn't want any more sweets, because when you DON'T bake he might think you don't love him so much anymore.

  • Lay in the sun and read about fifty pages of something that loosens up your mind.

  • Repot a living plant or reframe a beautiful photograph or some artwork.

  • Choose and prepare fabrics for one sewing project.  Cut the pieces and package them together with the pattern.  If you have time to sew it, go ahead!  But if not, that's cool.  You are half way there for next time.

  • While doing laundry in the garage or starting a meal in the kitchen, STAY PUT.  Stop multi-tasking and just stay in the room where the big action is.  See what you can accomplish there during the waiting times.  Pretend there is a force field at the doorway.  Resist every urge to wander off and layer in other activities.  Organize, clean, or decorate exactly one room at a time.  Seriously, girl, focus.  F-O-C-U-S.

  • Do a good deed that you are pretty sure cannot be found out.  Help someone in secret then walk like an Egyptian.

   One final note, I see a common thread amongst all of these actionable ideas:  NONE of them requires a list to be written or a plan to be made.  They just invite me to get really Nike about it and soak up the sense of accomplishment in a short amount of time.  That can dispell the nagging sense of "I can't get it all done" in just a few hours.  Bueno.  Muy bueno.

What do you do for Instant Gratification?
What place does quickness have in your daily life?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Longest Walk

   When we go to the lake, my job is simple but important.  After the watercraft is lowered into the murky but joyful Oklahoma shallows, I am responsible for driving the truck and trailer up and out of the water and then parking it over in a nearby parking lot.  Then I just have to descend the concrete ramps to the dock, where Handsome is waiting dutifully for me to join him. 

   Sounds simple, eh?

   Never mind how fraught with danger the drive itself might be, what with the pivoting trailer axle and all; what vexes me is the quarter-mile walk after parking.

   I walk plenty o' miles every day on the farm, but not really FAST.  If I was a race car, I could cover that quarter mile in like eight to ten seconds.  And I might be driven by Vin Diesel.  But that is totally different...

   But I am NOT a ten-second car living life a quarter mile at a time.  I am just a girl.  Just a girl in flip flops.  Just a girl in flip flops and a bulky life jacket battling the elements.  Trying to walk not only slowly but also toe-to-heel in order to reduce jiggle. 

   Supposedly this works, giving the illusion of walking on properly girlish high heels.  But the truth is that doing so greatly diminishes your pedestrian dexterity.  What you might gain in "firmness" you definitely lose in grace.

   And an already mossy concrete ramp is a terrible place to be not graceful.  I promise you that being caught in this situation while in lake attire is humbling. 

   So the short walk from truck to dock turns into a desperate evaluation of my fitness plan.  And suddenly, between dodging those concerned glances from other boat loading Okies, I am thinking a lot less about zooming over the choppy water with Handsome and more about how to improve my situation before our next lake jaunt.   Pitiful.  Waste of sunshine.

   Happily, the water racing is so dang much fun that the Longest Walk is quickly forgotten.  Within minutes I am aboard, screaming and guffawing while we chase other people's wakes and make plenty of our own.  I have at least a few days to make the next Longest Walk a little shorter.

The End.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

We Had Them for Breakfast

   Half of our Couch Surfers (the Romeo half)
is breezing through town tonight
and staying for the THIRD time at the farm,
so I am reminded that we never really wrapped up that story. 
Shall we?

   When last we spoke, I believe Pacino had attempted but failed to ruin a good night's sleep for all four of us.  Despite his best bird efforts, we managed to sleep through the night, comfortably twined up in happiness and exhaustion.  I did not dream.


   My eyes popped open at precisely 6:09 the next morning, as if they were spring-loaded.  Apparently my hostess-slash-new-friends nerves were still awake from the night before.  This should be interesting I thought to myself.  Then I ignored myself and rolled my eyes.

   I found a tank top and some yoga pants, scrunched my hair into a halfway normal ponytail (because nobody, not even a globe trotting couchsurfer, wants blonde-hair quiche for breakfast), and tiptoed downstairs.  No Hot Tub Summit today; today we have guests.

   Thanks to a timer, the strong, steaming coffee was already forcing its way through to the glass carafe, hissing and bubbling, filling the downstairs with that glorious Good Morning fragrance.  So far the doors to the Green Room (where Josh and Megan slept) were closed.  Pacino was thankfully still imitating a tiny blue flamingo, head bowed and eyes pinned shut.  I tiptoed across the wood floors and began opening curtains as quietly as possible.  I poured myself some coffee, trying to keep the kitchen clinking down to a minimum, and surveyed our options.

   Seriously, we struck gold with our
innaugural Couch Surfing experience. 
Josh & Megan were soooo nice,
so interesting, and such easy-peasy guests
that Handsome and I are actually nervous
to have other murdering strangers people here,
because they cannot possibly be as wonderful.

   Some of the details escape me now, but I can tell you that it was a beautiful morning in every way.  Handsome had to eventually trudge off to the office, but he found a way to linger with us for a couple of extra hours.  While he showered and dressed for work, I started some food, and at some point pretty early in that process, Josh appeared in the kitchen.

   Our conversation picked up right about where it had left off, me greedily pressing Josh for details about their travels and him politely accommodating me, lots of smiling and laughing, lots of free flowing stories.  He could not know then that I was secretly trying to memorize his faint accent to add to my Garmin-like collection.  Megan's is even better; she is a Canadian transplanted to Florida, with a little back note of southern drawl.  Hers are enviable inflections, all natural.
   Josh also helped cook, which was so much fun.  I had been told that Megan likes to sleep a bit later, so we tried to not be too loud.  

   The mix of sounds, smells, and mood reminded me of being a little girl and overhearing grown ups sharing the earliest morning hours together, happy and calm, safe from the inevitable chaos of the day.  I used to stay in my room and just listen, not so much to the words, but to the muffled, echoing peace that came from the house before five million children were filling it. 


   Don't get me wrong,  But you know as well as I do that a house has a different vibe in the hours surrounding dawn.  And adult voices still creaky and hoarse from sleep are just flat out interesting.

   The table was gradually filled with cinnamon rolls, bowls of chopped tomatoes and mushrooms, sliced fruits, shredded cheese, and sweet, tasty jams and jellies for toast.  We prepared eggs for everyone, poured juice, and made more coffee.  When Handsome descended all spiffy in his office attire (growwwl) he offered to make his famous hashbrowns.  YUM.  So within half an hour the downstairs was overflowing with delicious food fragrances, and we had enough breakfast to nourish the occupants of at least five additional couches.  Megan joined us and made the conversation absolutely sparkle!

   When I fiinally sat down to eat, I was dreading that everyone would be in a rush to leave.  I knew that both the office and the interstate beckoned and so gave serious thought to hiding everyone's car keys.  But apparently I wasn't the only person having a great time! 

Walking Like an Egyptian... 
That's how I celebrate.

   An early breakfast stretched into a liesurely brunch, interrupted here and there for someone to take a shower or walk outside and get photos with the animals.  Having arrived on a late-winter evening, Josh & Megan had driven up to an already dark farm, and visually things are a lot different in the morning.

   Over the course of our brief time together, we learned that Josh and Megan had finished their Master's degrees a semester early and decided to spend their free springtime travelling the country via, you guessed it, Couch Surfing.  They had already amassed quite a fascinating collection of stories from all over the place, some fully justifying my murderous tension.  But most of their stays had been exceedingly pleasant and actually very life-affirming. 

   All of this serves to remind me that life is meant to be lived
and that there are many ways to go about it successfully and happily. 
Just because one person or one couple finds a click and a formula that works
does not necessarily rule out a very different click and formula for someone else. 
And why not share?  Birds of a feather may flock together,
but then they also tend to blend in.


   The men pored over a paper map of Oklahoma, identifying spots along Route 66 that might be worth a look-see.  Megan and I chatted more about the meaning of life and good smelling shampoo.  I learned that she wants to keep chickens someday.  I told her it is one of my very favorite parts of the farm, which is a fact. 

   As the time to part ways eventaully crept up on us, I did my best to not be annoying by begging everyone to stay a little longer.  Handsome shook hands, hugged, and warmly invited them to return soon, then he drove off to the coal mines. 

He doesn't really work in the coal mines, but sometimes that how it feels.

   Josh and Megan found their shoes, packed up their car, cleaned their room, and accepted some bags of food for the road.  Maps in hand, they drove down the gravel driveway and out through the open gate. 

    As per his norm, Pacino sang, "Buh-byyye!!!" for three or four minutes.
    After the house was empty and quiet again, I walked around absorbing all of the amazing vibrations.  I found our guest room book where lots of fine people have written a speck of Lazy W history.  Inside was Megan's handwriting.  If I could find that book right now, I would share a photo with you of what she wrote.  Alas...


   A few months later, they visited us again.  This time they were on the brink of parting ways themselves, though just circumstantially.  They have both found good jobs, Josh in New Mexico and Megan in Ohio. 


   They now share a puppy, Ben.  He.  Is.  Cute.  And Megan's Canadian-Floridian-southern drawl voice kicks into high gear when she says, "Guuud boooiii Baaiin..."  It is the sweetest thing you ever heard.

   We urged them to consider using the farm as a meeting spot as they navigate a long-distance relationship.  We've kept in touch a little via email since then, delighting in stories about romantic sky diving trips, for example, and gaining the blogging identity green light.  But tonight will be the first time we've seen hide or hair of our new friends since that second visit.  We'll really miss Megan but can't wait to see Josh!
   I feel so fortunate to have met Romeo and Juliet and to have shared life stories with each other.  It's fun to find common ground with people who are following such a different life path.  I wish them well in my heart.  What a great couple! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Exfoliate My Soul (book review of The Shack)

   Our most excellent little Oklahoma book club recently tackled a piece of fiction that served up a heckuva lot more than this girl bargained for.  At our previous dinner, we agreed on William P. Young's The Shack.  Have you heard of it yet?  I had not heard of it prior to the night we discussed what to read next, but apparently the buzz is widespread and I live beneath a rock.  Typical.

It bears mentioning that although for book club I checked out my copy
 from the library and am painfully challenged by it, I plan to by a copy now. 
I need to have more time with it and possibly read it again in a year or so.

   Anyhoo, let's chat about this.  I would not characterize it as Christian fiction exactly, although it certainly has a spiritual message and is unapologetically bent toward Christ.  It is also not all mystery, although there is a mystery that needs clearing up.  It was, however, absolutely written by someone who loves words.  For better or for worse, you decide.

   Overall this was a difficult read for me.  It was beefy and mentally profitable, so I do suggest that thinking people check it out, but it was an uphill belly crawl toward completion.  If you choose to read The Shack, please do so without the expectation of being fully entertained.  Crack it open in a quiet room.  Keep your Bible handy for referencing and maybe also a blank journal.  I suspect it will draw out of you a flood of thought and emotion that will need somewhere to crash land.  Plan on crying and possibly raging.

   Or maybe that's just me?  It just wore me out from head to toe, scrubbing my head and my heart mercilessly.  Especially since I had been reading it alternately with a completely frivolous Stieg Larsson book, my hours with The Shack were EXHAUSTING by comparison.

   Without spoiling the story itself, here are some themes that come to the surface of this book:

  • Trusting God's goodness when you don't really trust Him anymore
  • Senseless tragedy and how people cope with it
  • Hating God (and repenting of that)
  • Reconciling genuine spirituality with indoctrinated religion
  • Relating personally to God
  • Abandoning judgemental tendencies
  • Forgiving those who have wronged you
  • Accepting your own forgiveness
  • Believing you are loved
  • When should grief expire?
   Our group that night was twice the size we normally have, partially because the book already had an audience that was happy to gather and share.  Once everyone was fed (we eat WELL, remember?) and comfy in the living room, we cautiously dipped our toes into a proper conversational review.

   I would say that over half of the group really liked The Shack.  Loved it, in fact.  The inspirational quality of the story was admittedly powerful and certainly enough to bond people together over a mutual love for God, among other beautiful sentiments.

   I feel a little bad being in this particular minority, and I am having trouble putting my finger on why I feel bad about it.  The book just scrubbed me so dang hard.  It HURT.  It challenged my unnatural hard heartedness, and it articulated religious issues I have been wanting to address for years.  It forced me to acknowledge how far I have drifted in my own grief, how attached I am to it, and how much I have allowed it to separate me from God.
 This is all very serious business, you guys,
and I really just wanted to read about dragon tattoos 'n stuff.

      A few passages resonated for me in ways that I am able to enjoy apart from the tricky doctrine.  I had to resist whipping out my trusty highlighter since I was reading a borrowed volume.  Among them:

"...So to live as if you are are unloved is a limitation.
Living unloved is like clipping a bird's wings
and removing its ability to fly."

   I have to admit that despite all difficulty with heavy message, thick prose, etc, the singular result of my reading this was a renewed craving for my old prayer life.  If nothing else, Mr. Young convinced me to reconsider trading my calloused heart for calloused knees, and that cannot be all bad.

   So no, I do not flat out LOVE every book I read.  But even the tough reads can have a lot to offer.  And I sure don't have all of my spiritual ducks in a row right now, evidenced by my extreme discomfort in having my soul exfoliated like that; but I do appreciate being led back through pain and then arriving at a completely believable sense of peace afterward.

   Overall, I am happy to have read The Shack and expect to read it again in the near future.  If you have some words of review, please share!
   Also, please read  this brilliant girl's  review of the same book.  She is one of our newest book club members and drove many hours to the farm to be part of this weekend!  We mulled over the intricacies of the stuff for hours.  Enjoy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

That's Not Funny...LOL

   Shamefully, against my will, and much to the chagrin of my friends and family members, I am definitely suscestible to bouts of inappropriate laughter.  Lots of terrible, serious things make me grin, and no matter how old I grow I remain powerless against this weird force of nature.

It's just laughter, though, so how harmful can that be?!?!?! 

   If an old person fall down, well good grief, apparently just thinking about it is making me laugh!  I don't want anyone to get hurt, but that is FUNNY STUFF.  And obviously I am a bad person.

   If a small animal, but especially a cat, makes any kind of offensive maneuver against a human, that is giggling gold to me.

   If I hear a man scream in fear like a little girl, no matter the mortal danger, it is hilarious.  I crave to hear a squeaky, panicky voice shred a grown man's face against his will.  And if either this or the cat-human thing happens on television, you can bet your angry scowl I will be rewinding and watching that bad boy for an hour and a half.

   This next one is bad.  It could cause you to stop reading my blog forever and shake your head slowly in disgust, breathing dramatically as you click the X button in the upper right hand corner of your monitor.  Ready?
   When my husband or one of our children or maybe one of my parents or siblings has suffered a M-I-N-O-R injury, maybe something that just causes some momentary stress or requires little more than a dab of N-n-n-neo...  Sporin... and a bandage, well, it is embarrassing, but I do laugh.  Out loud.  It has caused a few fights, rest assured. 
   I like to think that it's part of my maternal instincts, actually.  You know, maybe the annoying (and potentially infuriating) giggles from your should-be caregiver can distract you from your pain.  That kind of thing.

   Today Handsome was mad at me for something.  Something kind of big.  And I had to cover my face with both hands and pull on the skin beneath my eyes to try and settle down.  Because the madder he got the funnier it was to me.   I COUDLN'T HELP IT!!!  It was uncontrollable!  Try as I might, I could not wipe that stupid grin off of my guilty face, and of course that fueled his anger fire a bit.
   He broke for a just moment, chortling at me with adorable mercy.  But then to compensate for this breach in strategy he dove into further explanation of why he was so mad at me, and GOD HELP ME it was funny!!!

   I think maybe I am allergic to crisis and laughter is how the allergy manifests itself.  Lots of things make it worse and nothing really makes it better except to just laugh it out.
   If you are ever the unhappy victim of my inappropriate laughter, just let the goofy flame burn itself out.  Don't bother trying to reason with me at all.  FOR SURE do not say, "I am serious!!!"

   Oh man, anyone who is serious is instantly hilarious to me, that's just how it goes. 

   Thank you, MamaKat, for prompting me to admit this terrible truth.  I feel better, sort of.  At lots of other people's expense.


   Today our youngest daughter is celebrating her FOURTEENTH birthday!  She is the sweetest, smilinest, song-singinest, hug-givinest girl you will ever meet, and I am just floored that another year has already passed. 

 Just for fun I would really groove on sharing some essential truths about this beautiful human being whom I am blessed enough to call Daughter.  Who is fourteen years old now.  Which hardly seems possible.  Because time flies.  It is slipping slipping slipping, into the future, right at this moment.

At an animal refuge in Tuttle,. OK, Februrary 2007

   Carrying her in pregnancy was easy and comfortable, and carrying her as an infant was just delicious.  She loved to cuddle then as much as she does now.

   She greatly prefers sour candy to chocolate and delights in challenging family members to see how much sour they can tolerate.

   Given a choice, she'll always pick bowtie pasta over spaghetti noodles and marinara sauce over alfredo.

    She loves long showers and can often be heard singing in them.

   She is a talented writer and voracious reader, despite some difficulty getting started in the reading department years ago.  There is no adult in my life whose conversation about books I prefer to hers.  She is insightful and sensitive far beyond her fourteen years.

   For most of those fourteen years, orange has been her favorite color.


Spreading her very happy eagle wings at Martin Nature Park, OKC, eight 1/2 years old

   She laughs musically.  And regarding smiles that light up a room, there is no comparison to hers.

   She can COOK.  I mean, not just pretend to cook like some kids, which is adorable, this girl can COOK.  She is trustworthy in the kitchen and a true asset to the family meal.

       She can identify wild tomato plants just by sniffing their fruitless stems, and she understands that lemon and basil are nature's perfume.
       She has impeccable telephone manners. 
       She is an avid rope jumper.  She used to practice jumping rope while her older sister practiced with the basketball team, and I would count for her.  One day she jumped a consecutive 694 times!  No break, no joke.  She was rightfully amazed.
       She is as tireless on the trampoline as she is with a jump rope.
    She is gentle with animals, endlessly affectionate, and has a calming nature about her. 
    Her pet rooster named Rocky knows he is her favorite and has made her his.
   She is loyal to a fault, defending her siblings and her close friends against all pain and all opposition.

   She knows how to pray; she knows that God heals; and she will share her faith with people, but gently.

She would swim 24 hours a day if we let her but never compains when it's time to dry off. 
Handsome and I gave her this boat for her twelfth birthday, late at night,
and she was so excited that she filled it with pillows and blankets and slept there. 
The next morning she was on the water before breakfast.

   Once upon a time our girl was elected Chaplain of her Sunday School class, and while she held that office she took the job very seriously.  I used to love hearing the scriptures she selected each week and then her personal comments on them.  She displayed the best poise, the greatest respect for the Bible, and the strongest sense of teamwork I have ever seen in a child at church.  Noone was prouder than Handsome and me.

   She has always become deeply attached to her teachers at school.  And her teachers have always had lovely things to say about her, constantly praising her passion, discplined efforts, and sweetness-without-borders in the classroom.

   She loves to fall asleep having her back tickled and her hair stroked, listening to Raindrops on Roses or made up stories about the Pine Forest.

   She likes cranberry-orange juice in the morning and warm milk with honey at night.

   She endured brain surgery twice as a toddler and recovered miraculously both times.  The details and memories are seared into my heart, and the resulting gratefulness for her survival and healing keeps bitterness over other things sort of mild.  God has surprised us over and over again.

   It seems like nearly every friend of hers has claimed her as "BEST friend."  Because she really is. 

   When she turned thirteen last summer, she had just moved into the upstairs "Apartment."  We'd installed brand new carpet, very soft and exactly the color she wanted, and one of her wishes was a vacuum sweeeper all to herself.  We bought her a smallish, bright pink one, and she swept the entire floor I think every day for two weeks.  She would then empty the canister and survey the contents, evaluating whether people might have been walking in her room with dirty shoes. 
   While it is fun to receive gifts you really, really, really want, it is even more fun to give those gifts to your children.  The sillier the beter.  She isn't here now, but every time I see this pink sweeper I giggle.

Kinda looks to me like Picachu knows exactly what's coming.  Yikes.

   She is a MAJOR fan of pinatas.  Looking back through her birthday party pictures over the years, I found only three that did NOT include a tissue-covered, candy-filled object of pretend childhood wrath.  She is tiny but quite strong.  And every year that Handsome strung up a pinata for her and her friends to bash, she did so with ferocity and laughter that would frighten Katniss Everdeen.

   In addition to being super clean, she is a born nester.  Once, I discovered she had applied personalized wall vinyls to her bed nook without any help, and she has always enjoyed rearranging her bedroom, fluffing pillows, changing doll clothes, organizing her book shelves, etc.  I cannot wait to see her own adult home in the future!

   She values modesty, even in her new adolescent beauty.  Which is enormous, by the way.  She is one of those true ladylike beauties, needing no embellishment but knowing how to use it tastefully.

   Like any parent, I could write non stop for days and days about my child.  She and her sister are the light of my heart, the sheer amazement of life.  

   My words cannot do justice to her beauty or her spirit, so I can only close in saying, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHICKEN!!!  You are the picture of softness and sweetness and vulnerability.  You have been given treasures of femininity and love that not many women enjoy.  You have a heart for the Lord.  You are the sort of friend everyone needs in life.  You have a voice that fills empty spaces and drives out shadows.  Your tanned, skinny arms are strong enough to squeeze the breath out of a grown adult, and I miss them.  Be happy, be healthy, take it slow, and enjoy every day.  I love you forever, no matter what, no matter where we are, no matter how long!  Love, Momma."


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