Friday, September 30, 2011

Proverbs 31: Overview & a Realization

   After deciding to spend the month of October studying, exploring, and displaying the book of Proverbs 31, my mind sort of exploded.  But I liked it.  My heart swelled and my thoughts gained momentum in a really exciting, dangerous way.  There are so many writing possibilities here, so much potential learning to do!  Can I please have more than one month?

   Here are just a few of the very meaty topics 
that are begging to be covered:

  • Have you ever noticed that this thirty-first chapter of Proverbs also has thirty one verses?  Is there any significance to that?
  • Who are the speakers and what is the context?  What was going on in history at this time?
  • What is the difference between a proverb and a fable?
  • Did you know that some theologians argue that this book, though traditionally understood to be instructive to women, might actually bend toward instruction to the church?  This is at least consistent with the New Testament analogy of Christ's bride.  Hmm.
  • Fascinating advice on dealing with the poor, defenseless, and underprivileged.
  • I have never owned a ruby.  What ARE they worth?  
  • How can the modern woman translate the resourcefulness of the Proverbs 31 woman?  I mean, we don't really have flax to work.  Wait, what is flax again?
  • Food management and nutrition in an extreme couponing, fast food culture:  How do we strike the balance and please God?
  • Real Estate.  Hmm.
  • Strength of body versus vanity in an image-obsessed but wildly healthless culture.  (Has there ever before been such a paradox for women?)
  • Charity.
  • Household preparedness:.  Winter is Coming.
  • Significance of the colors scarlet & purple, of silk & tapestries.
  • Husband's reputation.
  • Contributions to the family/ marriage by way of her skills.
  • Bread of Idleness:  REALLY interesting how this interacts with the Biblical importance of leavening, both Old and New Testaments.  
  • Excellence:  WOW.
  • Favor & beauty:  Some people call these evil, but is that what is actually says?
  • The ways of Her Household:  Mind Yer Beeswax.


   What I can say with certainty is that this book is a timeless source of inspiration for women across the centuries, in every walk of life and every "religion."  Writers have always had a lot to say about these few dozen sentences, so I guess I am I just late to an awesome party.

   So..... regardless of how much or how little I manage to accomplish with this October study, the obvious fact remains that it will be insufficient.  This can only be a springboard study, but it can still be nourishing.
   I hope that whatever your path is right now, you give Proverbs 31 a glance, at least a philosophical one, and share your thoughts, you reactions, your personal  experiences.  I think Truth grooves this kind of networking.  Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments.  I would love to spark an exchange and really make some spiritual progress here!

     This month of study will be well spent.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Before the Fortune Tellers Arrive, One More Kiss

   In one of the most sensuous cities on earth, at one of the most delicate times of day, I watched him.  The streetlamps were still glowing, reflecting off of the moist, foggy brick and wrought iron.  The only movement on the narrow streets was a garbage truck grumbling around the corner and a handful of old bicycles, pedaled and driven by beatnik poets, some of them wearing long aprons, hurrying towards their early morning shifts at New Orleans breakfast cafes.

   No tourists were out this early, and the street performers still slept soundly in whatever safe dark caves they could find.

   We had agreed to meet at Jackson Square, between the St. Louis cathedral and the entry to Place d'Armes, before breakfast.  Before the fortune tellers had time to set up their card tables and hand painted signs, promising answers.  We didn't need their predictions,. after all; we only wanted one final quiet morning together.

   The preceding three nights had been filled with romance and surprises, and today we would part ways.  I slept in my hotel bed at The Frenchman for only a couple of hours, rose before dawn to take a hot shower in the minuscule but ornate bathroom there, and dressed in my last remaining clean sweater and a skirt with warm tights and boots.  It was too early even for the hotel's parlor breakfast of coffee, croissants, and bacon, so I wrapped up in a long, soft scarf and made my way through those magical streets.  

   I walked alone to our agreed upon spot, taking mental snapshots of every tantalizing storefront, every window box garden, and every white-on-black printed street sign.  If this incredible place could somehow be home, would the awe gradually diminish?  Would I slowly lose focus on the sparkle, the hum, the glow of the French Quarter?

   He was already there waiting for me.  He was, as usual, standing tall and straight, broad shoulders square against the gray morning light, hands in his pockets.  He was leaning just slightly back, tilted to view the impressive church that has loomed over the square for nearly three centuries.  He has such an appreciation for grand architecture, so much knowledge, so much wordless passion.

   I stop my boots from clacking and just stand still to watch him for a moment.  Gazing at him like this through the fog, I can almost smell his cologne.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Advice for Removing Sunflowers

   Allergies are raging right now at the farm.  Parrot dander, horse hair, hay dust from the barn, wildflowers, ragweed, you name it.  And Handsome is the chief sufferer. Since permanent or even seasonal relocation to the desert or a salty beach is not at present in our cards, we have some changes to make.  
   Yesterday I started by yanking out of the dry, cracked earth a trash bin full of ragweed to donate to the landfill and then an equally full pile of sunflowers for the chickens to eat.  I learned a few things while doing this yesterday.  So today I have some unsolicited advice for you, just in case this is a chore on your list anytime soon..

   I L-O-V-E unsolicited advice, don't you?

   So you are welcome.

   A Few Tips for Removing Sunflower Groves:

   1.  Before tackling the stalks, cut back as many of the flowers stems as possible. This will reduce the ferocity of the bee swarms that are likely to attack your face while yanking at the tree trunk-thick middles.  

These tiny pumpkins are the fruit of volunteer vines 
that sprang up from last year's carving party 
with my youngest daughter and her step brother.

    I am enjoying one final summer bouquet with some of the cut flowers, mixed with a few stems of purple Rose of Sharon.  Pretty, eh?  But also deathly to allergy sufferers like Handsome.  One of the cruel jokes of a happy marriage.

   2.  Be brave agaisnt the swarming bees.  They will buzz your ears and hum in your face and try to intimidate you, but stay the course.  You are on a mission.   A mission of love.  And yes, it's true that you are destroying the bees' habitat, but humans rule the world, right?

    3.  Run a water hose at the base of the flowering grove while you work on flower cutting or hauling, or while you run screaming from the bees.  Pretty soon the roots will relax enough to be heaved free of the vise like grip of the earth.  

   While the water soaks is also a good time 
to text honey badger jokes to people.

   4.  When the time finally comes for pulling loose the remaining naked stalks, use your legs.  Bend your knees and pull with your legs, not your back.  Removing sunflowers is not the same thing as cutting roses or zinnias, folks.  It is not even the same thing as pulling crabgrass.  It is a tug of war with Mother Nature herself.

Exactly one sunflower bud remains in the south garden.  
So tightly wrapped up in itself, so hopeful as its baby face follows the sun,
so doomed for loneliness and certain death.

Apparently this sunflower is out of Nair.  
Better I just put her out of her Velcro misery.

   Keep in mind that sunflowers are among the few plants that have survived the 2011 Oklahoma drought and heat wave, so Mother Nature is going to be understandably protective over this sturdy  treasure.  Pull smart and pull hard.  If you fall backwards when the battle is finally won, don't worry.  Just hope you don't land on a bee.  Then spring up like the ninja that you are and get back to work.

   5.  Wear gloves.  Not the pretty little cotton gloves they sell to women at the dollar store; REAL GLOVES  Work gloves   Boy gloves.  Seriously, I am soooo done buying women's "gardening" gloves for working outside, no matter how much I like the red calico print or lime green stretchy wrist band and no matter how cheap they are.  $8 for one pair of men's thick, suede-like gloves that LASTS is a lot cheaper than forty pairs of women's cotton gloves from the $1 bin, gloves that are quickly reduced to thin, pathetic shreds AND that attract all manner of stickers and thorns in the mean time.  Disposable.  I don't know about you, but my gardening money is not disposable.

Sorry, Babe.  This glove, along with so many T-shirts, is now mine.

   Back to the original story.

   6.  Do not make eye contact with the monarch butterflies as you remove the sunflowers.  I cried real tears for a moment yesterday as a beautiful winged creature hovered in front of me.  Her little insect chin quivered.  She seemed to be asking me, "But what will my children eat tonight?"  If you don't look at them, they're not really there, right?  Gulp.  Stay focused and cold hearted.

Here we have "Speckle" the hen.  I know, it's a cryptic name.
On day one of the grove removal, she and her feathery cohorts 
were inexplicably terrified of the sunflower carnage.
Day two found her pecking, tromping, and clucking her way through the dried up stuff.
I can only hope that she found lots of fresh, juicy bugs to eat.
Wait, I can only hope that the butterflies and bees and squash bugs and caterpillars escaped.
Wait, who are we rooting for again?

   7.  Should you indeed find yourself trapped by a confused monarch butterfly or bumblebee, do your best to offer assurances that the sunflowers are just being relocated, not removed entirely.  Promise them that their pollen and nourishment is being walked around the corner to the chicken yard, just a short flight away.  Do not tell them how hungry the chickens and geese are and that now they, the juiciest poultry food source, will be much closer to ground level while collecting pollen.  It could be the insects' last meal, after all, so why ruin it?  Lie.  Lie like broccoli.

   So there you have it.  Seven steps to successful sunflower removal.  Glad I could help.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Summer 2011 Goals Recap

   Since this weekend we officially welcomed Fall 2011, I decided to grab a few minutes to review the goals and best intentions I set forth for myself at the onset of Summer 2011 and see how well things went.  

   Even before walking through the list and analyzing things, though, I feel like it was a pretty good season, all things considered.  Filled with lots of hard work and invigoration, tempered with romance, friendship, and a renewed spiritual appetite.  Yep.  I groove this summer.


   Item #1, Sun Protection:  Yes, I was in the sun a lot this summer, and in fact it was kind of hard for any breathing, moving person to avoid the hot sun in Oklahoma considering our freaky heat wave, but I was a good girl and wore SPF 15, 30, 45, and sometimes even 50.  Every day.  Even though it gave me weird skin.  And even hats and sunglasses.  Not a single dad-gum pink or red sunburn, and that says a lot for someone who falls asleep reading outside.  Regularly.  Success.  10/10 points

   Item #2, Carpe Diem:  Every week was different from the others.  Every day within those weeks was different from its peers.  I have to look back on my calendar, our extensive photo files, or this blog to really absorb all that happened between the end of May and right now, so I know that the summer was filled with variety.  And I am deliciously free of that horrible feeling of frustration that a person gets when the flow has not been went with, so Diems were most likely definitely Carpeied.  10/10 points

Here is our gorgeous youngest nephew visiting the farm in late June.
This was exactly his first taste in his whole life of watermelon.
Look at his clear blue eyes, gazing at nothing while he studies this new flavor.
His smooth pink skin, absorbing every vitamin from that sweet, crispy, mushy fruit.
Please note that Nephew, too, grooves sun protection.
Or at least his awesome mom does.
The glorious, mysterious tasting moment could not have been planned, 
and I am so grateful to have been there when it happened.
Carpe Diem.

   Item #3, Contact with My Chickens, Sans Pressure or Bitterness:  I could have done much better here.  I am deeply happy and grateful for every minute we shared in the flesh, over the phone, and electronically (texting with your teens is an unexpected pleasure).  I was able to reign in my plaguing questions and maternal expectations, leaving room (I think) for easier conversation and affectionate moments.  That much I can definitely celebrate.  And I have a stack of crafty mementos and a long list of memories from this summer with each of the girls that can fuel Handsome and me for a long time with out them.  I can only hope they feel as good or better.
   Where I could have done better (much better) was with gifts and spontaneity.  I know, I know, that sounds shallow on one hand, but it's not.  Something quiet and persistent is reminding me that it's just part of the teenager's language, especially when we're not under the same roof for those daily shows of love to pervade the atmosphere.
   I need to learn how to overcome my fear of buying the wrong styles or sizes, etc, and just try.  If the gifts are wrong, then at least I have tried.  More importantly, at least they know I have tried.  If anyone has experience in this weird arena, it is one area of life where I am happy to listen to suggestions.
   Perhaps the best news here is that my bitterness is beginning to fade.  A renewed spiritual appetite is bringing to the surface lots of forgotten lessons, old wisdom, and timeless strength.  I feel hope.  5//10 points

   Item #4, Family Not Taken for Granted:  I am broken hearted and ashamed to admit that I allowed the summer stay too busy and too farm-centered to go visiting far-flung family as much as I would have liked.  There were a few "reasons," of course. but in the hot light of honesty they boil down to excuses.  And compared to the intense love I feel for those I didn't see enough, the reasons and excuses are pitiful.  I hope to make up for this in the coming cooler months.  Cozy up our hearts with treasured family members.  Cozy up theirs with appreciation for their love and patience.   1/10 points.

My results for Item #3 and Item #4 have me singing 
that Harry Chapin song, Cat's in the Cradle.

   Item #5, Entertain Lushly Without Gaining Weight:  Umm, more or less...  I stayed the course.  I did not make any progress, which is weird considering how much time I spend on the elliptical machine and doing Pilates videos, but the farm was full full full of friends and loved ones nearly every week and weekend throughout the summer.  This means lots and lots and lots of amazing recipes and then indulgent leftovers for lunch several times a week.  Plus I kind of temporarily got myself hooked on heavy cream in my coffee instead of milk, so to end summer on a strong and healthy note is more than a small success.  9/10 points

From left to right, a fraction of one party's spread:
Melissa's Coconut-Lime Cake 
(under the plastic dome in this shot, which is a pity because it is BEAUTIFUL)
Tabbouleh Salad (addictive) and Tina's Mexican Casserole (WOW).

   Item #6, Tenth Wedding Anniversary:  It was amazing.  Just lovely, both in terms of worldly adventure and emotional, intimate celebration.  Handsome and I have weathered a lot of storms in our time as a couple, some of our own making and others definitely not, and I expect there will be many more in the future.  That's life.  But this milestone anniversary was one for the record books, and I was ready for our trip early.  EARLY.  I had the house clean, my bags packed, my phone calls made, and my hair washed and combed BEFORE time to go.  I was even wearing deodorant.  He nearly fainted from the shock.  10/10 points

You are so welcome, groom of mine, 
for beckoning that Mariachi band over to our seaside table
and then urging you with my eyebrows to tip him 
generously for their anniversary serenade,
knowing you had no small bills in your wallet.
And knowing how much you loathe Mariachi bands.
I love you so.

   Item #7, Writing Regularly:  If you are a writer of anything and you too feel the physical need to write, then you can identify with the cleansing sensation you enjoy when you abide that craving.  You can also appreciate the clogginess that comes from NOT writing.  I am happy to report that this summer I spent more time churning out words than I have in years.  The funny thing is that by writing I felt motvated to do everything else in life better and more passionately.  My mind was more alert; I had better ideas (some would call them GENIUS), and I could focus and spend time more joyfully,  having already satisfied that weird itch.  10/10 points

   Item #8, Farm Contributions:  This one is tricky to evaluate, but I am going to go with " marginal success" because of one very particular afternoon in July when Handsome got down-to-brass-tacks-confetti-worthy A-N-G-R-Y at me for lifting a truck bed full of horse grain into the feed bins.  It is NOT a difficult job; it sounds a lot harder than it actually is.  But let's just say that I could have done that one job and no other work all summer long and he STILL would have been chagrined.  9/10 points

For the record, Chunk-Hi and I are the only farm residents 
who fully appreciate the random joy of confetti.
It's always a party, but it's a quiet party.
Just the two of us, crusted in paper bits and enjoying life.

   Item #9, Not Cheating at Book Club:  Despite the fact that last-page glimpsing is a healthy life practice, I did not cheat and pre-read the end of any of our books.  Not even once.  I read them all in the normal front-to-back fashion, with the excepotion of The Shack, which I didn't finish at all.  
   The day of that particular Book Club discussion dinner, I was trying to skim and cram in the remaining pages as the ladies were arriving, setting out their beautiful sweets and savories and colorful bottled drinks.  But the material proved to be too rocky for me then.  Oh well.  Book Club is fantastic, and I am so glad to have these women and this practice in my life right now!  More on that soon!  8/10 points

   Item #10, Self Loathing:  UGH.  It's been a learning curve.  My life is amazing.  Truly.  Even the hardest parts are brimming with learning opportunities, mercy, and happy surprises.  I do not deserve all of these blessings, but I am working on making the most of it all and trying not to mess everything up.  Wish me some luck.  10/10 points

   So, overall, I am 82% to goal for Summer 2011.  
Funny, because my heart feels a lot better 
than just eighty-two percent full.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rainy Day Bliss

   We woke up this morning to particularly dark skies and the low, exciting growl of thunder.  Having left the windows open all night, in fact all week, to enjoy the lower temperatures, we also woke up to the sweet, clean fragrance of rain.

   I don't know about you, but to me rain mixed with perfectly fresh (thanks to a timer), quite strong coffee is one of the most magnificent aroma combinations in the world.  Next to Handsome's cologne mixed with his sweat, obviously.

   Normally by the time we're releasing chickens and geese from their nighttime pen for breakfast foraging, the sun is pressing above the eastern pasture, sending a kaleidoscope of pink, orange, and gold through the trees.  This morning it was stubbornly gray and purple, almost black in places.  Very little light was reflecting off of anything, so errant bolts of lightning had the privilege of showing us how low the clouds really were.  Only one other time this summer did we see the Oklahoma sky like this.  

   It has been a long, hot, dry season, certainly one for the record books.  But, like all things do, this too is passing.  And today I enjoyed every moment.

   For the first forty minutes of my work day, even the roosters stayed asleep.  The rain was so heavy that all of the large animals found refuge beneath a shelter, lulled back into dreaming by the heavy atmosphere.  I had a hard time moving quickly myself, the combination of color, fragrance, and natural music was so intoxicating.

   I indulged in a quiet half hour or so of Bible study and reading, caught up on some excellent writing and reflections by friends, and polished off the morning coffee.  I noticed by then that the cold rain was still falling consistently, but the light outside was changing.  Roosters finally began crowing, oblivious to how far past dawn they were, and the buffalo answered with his rib-rattling baritone chuffs.  Then one by one the horses joined the chorus, and within minutes the farm was wide awake.  The geese were screaming, honking for freedom.  The crows reminded me to decorate for autumn.  The cats were mewing at the kitchen door, making themselves skinny beneath the eaves to stay as dry as possible.

   Anytime the scenery of life changes so dramatically, especially if I know it is a temporary change, I feel a deep seated urgency to do something different myself.  To soak up the details of the day and expend my energy in a way that is equally special.  It always feels like a built in holiday, an invitation from the universe to indulge in a departure from routine and refresh myself.  

   So today I stripped the curtains off of our windows and washed them.  I scrubbed the windows, walls, artwork, and moldings, with that lusciously scented Murphy's soap oil, and traded summer's green ivy and sea shells for gourds, acorns, and pine cones.  I realize I am way behind the curve on this stuff, ladies, but I had a hard time doing anything fallish while still wearing shorts and tank tops to work outside.  Today was perfect for the switch.  Today was the first day I reached for a sweatshirt to feed and hay the animals.  And it felt divine.

   The rain had rinsed the wild sunflowers free of ants, so after feeding was done I cut a bouquet for indoors and narrowly escaped attack from a thick, fuzzy bumble bee.  Why he wanted to land on the flower I had just cut when upwards of three hundred were still available, unprotected, is beyond me.  But everything worked out alright.

   Mid morning, the horses celebrated the shift in weather in their standard fashion, by stampeding.  Daphne started it, as is usual.  She is the only mare here and pretty much sets the tone for the boys' lives, including Chunk-Hi the buffalo.  She dug down low to the ground, ran and kicked and bucked, splashing through the wet pasture and splattering mud all over her velvety black underbelly.  Then Chanta, her field mate, started running, and he really puts on a show.  He can kick higher and with more power than any horse I have ever seen.  And he has a way of looking like the happiest creature alive while he does it.  The front fielders, Dusty and Chunk, ran too, though with a little less urgency because they were fairly enrapt with the show being put on across the gravel driveway.

Chunk-Hi sporting a muddy beard and a flattop 
as he dries off in the afternoon sun.

   The commotion sent the geese fly-running in a panic down to the pond, and Clark the turkey sort of hopped away into the barn.  He needed the shelter anyway.  Sometimes he forgets how to navigate three-wire fences, and the rain was making things extra difficult for him this morning.  Better he hangs out with the cats.

After the unusual morning, 
Mia was even more affectionate than normal.
I did not know this was possible.

   Speaking of the pond, this hours-long downpour has already made a visible difference there.  We are still several feet low, of course, and will be for a long time if the dry forecast is correct, but today we are grateful.      The runoff is watering the middle field for us, and the pond is not only higher but prettier.  The dead algae is dispersing and clearing up already.

   And a dry but cool forecast is better than a dry and blazing hot forecast, so we'll continue to count our blessings.  Maybe we'll get enough precipitation for our own pastures to lush up a bit and for nearby farmers to cut hay once more before winter.  That would be a blessing to every variety of household in Oklahoma.

The Second Chance tomato garden 
is making good use of the rain.

   How likely is it that today's rain brought with it a dose of optimism?  Or is the word faith?  Maybe that is just the anatomy of relief, that what plagued us so heavily a moment ago, in this case the heat and the extreme dryness of everything, is suddenly and gently washed away.  The world as we knew it yesterday is no longer how we see it today, and our tense, worrying muscles can begin to relax.

   Maybe this is a sign of good things to come.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Introducing 31 Days of Proverbs 31

   A group of eight well established and supremely inspirational bloggers is embarking on a thirty-one day surge of focused writing, each selecting her own topic for the month of October.  For every single day next month, including weekends, each woman will offer up a blog post related to her topic of choice.  Lots of the writing topics are domestically focused, and I am very excited.  I am looking forward to 31 days of organizing, 31 days of entertaining, 31 days of fitness, etc.

   October is such a great time to actively switch gears and delve into a fresh perspective, a different routine, a new season.  I am super excited.  Super Duper.  Excited.  Ready for inspiration and specifics.  Thirsty for input.  Ravenous for stimuli and encouragement.  Sometimes hearing how one person finds success is all it takes to finally dive into something new and challenging yourself.

   Another yummy gimmick!  I am powerless to resist.

   SOOOO in addition to normal writing I am going to participate in this.  Write about what, you ask?  The Bible book of Proverbs 31 has been speaking to me for years, sometimes more clearly and purposefully than others, and I need the refreshment.  I am also in the midst of a calmer Bible study with friends right now, so this feels just perfect.

  And hello?  31 days?  
Proverbs Chapter 31?  
Kind of a no brainer.
I feel like it was meant to be.

.  So this October I will try to explore this book more deeply than before.  I will try to offer some history, common interpretations, daily life applications,  questions, artwork, etc.  

   Previewing some of the other planned writing bonanzas, the month of October can potentially drench us in ideas and inspiration for the coming winter and help us focus on lots of worthwhile topics.  

Happy Autumn Everyone!
I would not upset of you wished me luck.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cobra Dream Comes True Early

   We dream many dreams in life.  Some of them are based on relationships or legacy; others revolve around ambitions; and still others are aimed at material acquisitions.  The dreamer feels the dream first; then he decides what is worth his continued dreaming.  Finally, he decides whether and how to go about making his dreams come true.

   Since he was a little boy, Handsome has been a car guy.  He developed an appreciation for all sorts of motorized vehicles and established his opinions on aesthetics and mechanics at a pretty early age.  Looking back over the years on his constantly rotating collection of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and watercraft, you can see his life change and witness his personality evolve.  You can see him experiment with style, rebel against authority, protect young children, go lunching with white collar colleagues, flirt with speed and danger, bond with his dad, and even fall in love.

   If you know him personally then you know I am not exaggerating one bit to say that his car collection represents much more than transportation; it is satisfaction on many levels and self expression in the truest sense for him. 

   Though many of his selections have come and gone, keeping that "visiting" spot in the garage pretty warm and filled with mystery, a couple of cars will always hold a place in his heart.

    One of them is the Shelby Cobra.

    He started loving this car in 1981 when he was six years old.  His specific memory of a date perked up my ears.  I asked him, "What happened?  Was it a significant event?  Where were you?  What was the weather like that day?  Were you hungry?"

    He said, "I saw one."  Simple as that, I suppose.  Love at first sight.

    Someone gave Handsome a poster early in his Cobra love affair, and it hangs today in his car shop, barely tattered considering its age.

   He had a toy car model that represented his ultimate Cobra package:  Blue, white rally stripes, white pipes, single roll bar.  He keeps it in his office.

Here is a painting our oldest daughter made for him when she was about ten years old.  
That was almost six years ago, before we lived here at the farm, 
before Handsome's career took such an unexpected and incredible turn, 
before a lot of family changes frankly.
She captured the blue paint, white rally stripes, and single roll bar.
It was a spontaneous work of love and gift for him, and we will treasure it forever.
Side note:  At that age, her dream car was a pick up truck, painted sparkly purple.

   He never expected to own it until after retirement.  But thanks to a slightly depressed car market, incredible long term financial discipline, and very, very, very patient searching, my dream guy was able to buy his dream car a bit early.  

One of the truly beautiful cars we considered and ultimately declined.

   When we shopped, we shopped for a long time and looked at a wide variety of cars all across the region, understanding that the unexpected and limited opportunity to buy might limit the colors available, motors, etc.  He considered a yellow paint job, an aqua blue one, and a black body with red pinstripes.  All of those cars were gorgeous and any of them might have been fine, but none of them was his dream.

    Fate intervened.

Unloading the Cobra was almost surreal that night.

   He gritted his teeth, waited, and got exactly the car he wanted.  It matches his model car almost perfectly but also needs just the right amount of tinkering to make it his.  He has big plans for his Cobra, knowing it will be a lifetime investment and treasure.  

      So far he has had it for about nine months, 
and we expect to enjoy it together for many decades.

   How I wish the girls could be under his wing for this chapter of their lives!  He has so much to teach and offer, so many lessons and resources, so much talent to share.  Maybe in the future.

One of favorite things at car shows has always been watching 
what keeps the attention of little children too young to be attached 
to commonplace labels or commercial popularity.
I wonder if we have a couple of collectors here.
I just love their faces!

   So to anyone still dreaming of your ultimate car, keep the flame alive.  In the back of your heart, in the margins of your thoughts, remember that dreams come true, even those dreams on wheels.

The Chicken Bowl & Conservation

   Anyone who visits the farm knows that we keep at least one "Chicken Bowl" going in the kitchen at all times.  This is not a bowl OF chicken but rather a bowl FOR the chickens.  

   We have a flock of about twenty-three hens and roosters, plus one turkey, six guinea fowl, and five geese who delight in leftovers of every variety.  They are hungry, baby.  Voracious.  Short and skinny but hollow legs, these birds.  We feed them proper poultry scratch and protein pellets, of course, but in their minds nothing seems to compare to the sweet and savory slop that emerges from the kitchen up to twice a day.  

   This purposeful use of leftover food bits and scraps means that we never have organic matter rotting in the trash can or crowding the fridge.  (Handsome is not a big fan of encore meal appearances, anyway.)  It also means that our yard birds are extremely well fed and also extra responsive to human approach.  The Pavlovian theory is in full effect here, folks.  Just try carrying a bowl anywhere near that little feathery corner of the farm and see how quickly you are surrounded by running, fluttering, screaming birds.  It's a lot of fun!

   The chickens thank us for the constant feasting by keeping us fully supplied with eggs.  We always have more than we can eat or use and plenty still to share.  They are big, heavy, colorful, densely nutritious eggs.  Sometimes a double-yolker appears, too, which is always cause for a little dance.  I collect up to eleven huevos per day and rarely less than four.  

   Our Chicken Bowl practice is just an example of what lots of people do to maximize the abundance of life.  We are so richly blessed, so steeped in resources, that most of us have more than enough to share something with others and still live very comfortably.  

   This also has me thinking of conservation.  Energy conservation is a big topic in our household because of Handsome's work with utility companies.  This summer we participated in a sort of experimental program whereby we paid different rates per kilowatt hour based on time of day, grid demand, etc.  We knew ahead of time what the costs would be each day and learned how to tailor our household activities to save energy.

   I haven't done laundry or used the oven in three months.  It's my little contribution to the cause.  I'm a giver.

   Anyway, the results have been amazing.  With minor adjustments in our routines and nearly unnoticeable sacrifices in creature comforts, we saved a few hundred dollars in electricity costs!  And this is in one of the hottest summers in Oklahoma history.  The idea has been to use less of the premium energy.  Simple as that.

  • Don't let anything go to waste; there is a wonderful purpose for everything.
  • Share your blessings with others.
  • Use less of what is not in abundance and enjoy the benefits.

   I am letting all of this serve as my springboard to the coming season of blessings inventory and giving.  

Wishing you abundance where you need it,
discipline where it counts,
and more fresh eggs than there are recipes for quiche.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gently Exiting the Roller Coaster

   I have had a bit of a roller coaster relationship with "church" in my lifetime and am at present in a valley.  A dark, dangerous valley that is possibly coated in slippery green goose poop.  And filled with dead ends and infuriating detours.  
   If I wanted to, I could easily write for days about why this has been my spiritual station for so long, and maybe sometime in the future that will feel profitable; but for now one simple, uncluttered truth is ringing clearly in my heart:  

Church is not the same as faith.  
My religion is not the same 
as my relationship with God.

   My goal is absolutely not to debase any worldly religion or to proclaim a separation from any church; in fact, quite the opposite is true.  Rather than leave church altogether (which is exactly the brink on which I have been teetering for months), I am banking on the notion that feeding myself throughout the week will prepare the soil of my heart for Sunday morning so that those services are nourishing to me again and so that maybe I can be helpful to someone else eventually.  
   Let's just say it's been a while since I had anything to offer at church or much of anything good to say about it.  That disconnect bleeds into every other area of life, too, and that is just not how I want things to continue.

   Ever a fan of gardening metaphors, I can't help but recount that a dry, hardened plot of earth will receive neither water nor seed, no matter how much it wants to.  No matter how much it needs the life giving stuff.  So I have some tilling to do in my heart, some weeding, some fertilizing, and some soil amending.  Better a late harvest than none at all, I hope.

   One addition to the farm routine, then, has been weekday morning Bible studies.  A handful of women in my life have accepted the invitation to study and pray along with me (thank you!!), and for starters we're going to follow along with Courtney, specifically the Good Morning Girls.  Yes, of course we can all study and pray independently and should do so on a regular basis, but remember how I like gimmicks?  This is a a nice, simple boost.  And I am gladly accepting it.

   The last of this morning's scriptures could not have been more encouraging:

"And these things write I unto you, 
that your joy may be full."
-I John 1:4

   Our spiritual journeys should not to be cookie cutter experiences.  God does not intend for us to be miserable with Him.  I am relieved to be reminded of the joy that can be found in Truth, that it is not all judgment and bad news and endurance (although that is all very real).  

    How refreshing, as early autumn breezes send the curtains billowing into the living room, to finally begin a calmer leg of my journey, a less panicky attempt this time at rekindling my relationship with my Creator.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunset Behind the Sunflowers

Autumn is beginning to reveal herself in Oklahoma, 
and the farm is transforming in gentle, powerful ways. 
What once looked like weeds is now a small grove 
of brilliant wild sunflowers. 
What was just a few weeks ago a hot, miserable time of day 
now invites us to linger longer and soak up the marmalade sunsets.  

There is so much inspiration here, I cannot keep it to myself.
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Imperfectionists (book review)

   This book had a lot going for it way before I cracked open the library's laminated cover protector.   First, it was recommended to me by my lil' sis Gen and her West coast Derby buddy Julia.  They are both fabulously smart and interesting women, steeped in good books and oozing good taste, so I do not take their banner flying lightly.  Second, I will read almost anything with title font this delicious.  Seriously, it can only mean good things.  And the cover art?  Yum.  Can't you smell the paper and don't you want to brew some coffee?

   First of all, the book is written in a slightly unusual format which, once deciphered, was completely enjoyable.  Rachman weaves the story pretty much by characterizing people over and over again, and quite well.  The reader is served insights into human nature and motivation, parental relationships, the strength of romantic passion (or lack thereof), and even the fallout of the loss of a child. 

   Even those personalities who make only brief appearances in the book are knowable and believable and left me craving more.  This was not a story told from any one perspective; it was instead told from all perspectives.  And it could have been deepened at any point by choosing a favorite character and indulging, roulette style.

   As an aside, anyone who is interested in any of the varied possible careers in print journalism might get a serious kick out of reading this book.  The author offers us juicy glimpses into the daily grind of reporting, editing, proofing, publishing, inheriting, owning, abandoning, and outliving a print newspaper.  Fascinating stuff this is, especially considering the time span chosen.  Rachman writes in one chapter from the 1950s, in another from 2007, them back to the 1970s, again in 2007, and so forth. 

   He has constructed a patchwork story, on one page describing with painful scrutiny the details of a character then leaping, without warning, past an anticipated scene change and boldly into fresh cold wordy waters.  So you know sort of what to expect, it’s the indirect and incomplete history of a daily newspaper in Rome over a span of three generations and opposite sides of the globe.

   If it sounds a bit wonky, let me assure you that it works.  By the end of the book I found myself thinking there was no other way to tell such a story.  Well done Tom Rachman.

   On a philosophical note, isn’t that how we tend to interpret the world at large?  
Through the human experience, first of all, but also through a random and untimed series of encounters, 
a que of unorchestrated revelations?  Not one of us enjoys the clarity of authoritative narration 
in the background or theme music to illustrate the truth behind a life event.  
We just see things and do things and reflect on them.  

Even those among us with the most vivid ambition kind of amble around the globe 
in patterns or apart from them, eventually weaving ourselves into history, 
even if we never get to fully understand that history ourselves.  
Some people call these the “filters” through which we see the world.  
I find it perfectly accurate.

   How often do we ever know the whole story about someone’s life, even a loved one?
 How well could one person possibly understand the motives and passions of an ancestor 
who is two generations and a continent apart from us?  
Or of our companion in the next room?

   Off of my soapbox now, back to the book re view. 

  I highly recommend these 269 pages but with the warning that it is less action packed and more introspective than a lot of popular fiction.  It even lacks social commentary, with the exception of touching on what the internet has done to print media.

Okay, best wishes.  Hope you like it too!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Neglected Chef Foibles: Part Two

  Caleb picked at his stitches, trying to chase away the itchiness by scratching only the outer edges of raw, swollen flesh.  That never works for more than three seconds.  The palm of his hand was puffy and a bit tight, almost hard right at the wound.  Ugly black nylon stitches jutted angrily out of his hand like stiff whiskers of a scurvy pirate. 

   What a dull turn this story had taken.  He swallowed another antibiotic pill with the remains of his glass of warm, flat Sprite, shoveled some Dorito crumbs into his mouth, and settled back into the couch for some channel surfing.

   Last week his Mom had attended a Pampered Chef party.  She was only gone for a few hours, but that was long enough to leave the family at home dependent on pizza delivery for dinner.  Afterwards he had overheard her describing to Dad all of the elaborate sales tactics used by the demonstrator.  Together they had ridiculed the way people try to frighten each other into making unnecessary purchases.  If you don’t order this, something terrible will surely happen.  If you don’t order that, you will be wasting your time using traditional cooking methods.  If you don’t host a party, you may as well resign yourself to financial destruction, etc, etc.

   In particular, Mom had commented on the strong push being heaved behind a can opener that was supposed to leave smooth edges on your cans and lids.  The importance of such a product had completely eluded his shopper-savvy mother, despite the dramatic finger-swiping demonstrations at the party. 
   “It’s not like they’re walking on red hot coals or a pile of broken glass!”  Caleb's parents had chortled together like playground bullies.

   “Sheep,” they were fond of muttering in such conversations, adult eyes rolling in cool condescension.

   Sitting on the couch now, watching Nickelodeon reruns and feasting on remnants of pantry junk food instead of skateboarding with his friends, Caleb reflected on the cruel sense of humor being displayed by the universe. 

   Exactly one day after the Pampered Chef party, his Mom had spent an entire afternoon in the kitchen making Hello Dolly cookie bars.  A gathering of culinary friends always put her in the mood to whip up something yummy and old fashioned.  For this recipe she needed lots of special ingredients, including a can of sweetened, condensed milk, which she had opened with her old, hand crank steel can opener. 

   This would become a fated decision.

   She surely would have disposed of the can and its now free hanging, rough edged lid in the trash can.  Nothing unusual about this, of course, but it’s funny how the otherwise mundane details of a fated event become overly sharp and focused in retrospect.

   Like always, at the end of the evening Caleb’s job was to take the kitchen trash to the blue bin outside.  He often needed prodding, and this night was no exception.  Mom was finishing up the day’s dishes, hands submerged almost up to her elbows in sudsy water, when she called him into the kitchen.

   He dragged himself stubbornly away from the computer and limped like Frankenstein's monster into the kitchen.

   Before tending to the garbage, he peeled away one more warm, gooey Hello Dolly from the glass pan.  (Also not a Pampered Chef product, it bears mentioning.)  Still washing dishes, Mom playfully scolded him for this theft and demanded a kiss on her cheek as payment.  He leaned in and sort of kissed her limply, sort of groaned at the silliness, and swallowed the sweet treat whole.

   Then he turned his attention to the trash can.

   It glowed with strange color, almost pulsing, an eery light of doom and warning.

   He did his best to shake off the bad feeling, silently wondering if it’s true that he watches too many scary movies.

   Caleb took three steps to the lidded silver trash can and felt doom course cold and fast through his veins.  He removed the lid, gathered up the edges of the plastic liner, and heaved it out of the can.  Everything seemed to be normal so he just let the stinky burden of garbage spin in the air, thereby twisting the bag shut and earnign him one more scolding from Mom.

   “That stinks!  Stop playing with that and get it outside!”  Despite the barking words, she smiled.

    Rolling his eyes just as he had learned from his parents, the teenaged boy slumped his way out of the kitchen and into the night.  He made his way towards the blue trash bin where his plastic delivery was destined to land.  Upon lifting it to drop it, something swiped his opposite hand sharp and swift.

   “OUUWWWCH!!!  What the…?!”  He dropped the vanilla-scented trash bag, and the contents spilled out chaotically onto the brick pathway.  He strained in the dark to see what had happened.  The palm of his hand felt an incredible stinging pain immediately, and in the moonlight he could see that a long, curved line of blood was beginning to seep through his white flesh.

   He howled and screamed for his Mom, who was already running outside, drying her hands on a cotton tea towel.  "Caleb, oh my God, what happened?"

   "Something cut me!  I'm bleeding!"

   "Let me see, are you alright?"  She grabbed his forearm and inspected his hand with a mix of a mother's love and a physician's expertise.  "What cut you?  You're bleeding!"

    More eye rolling.

   She was about to lead her son, already three inches taller than her at the age of fourteen, back into the house for first aid attention and possibly a hand transplant right there in the dining room.  But something caught her eye and froze her in her steps.

   A gleaming disk of steel had been kicked free from the garbage pile and now shimmered in the silver light and spun its way to a resting spot on the brick path before them.  Cicadas and owls stopped their night songs to listen to the metallic noise.

   It was the lid from her sweetened condensed milk.  All color drained from her face as the string of relevant events flashed in her mind like a taunting slideshow of maternal failure.  I didn't buy the smooth edge can opener.  I made fun of the woman for trying to entice me.  I baked that dessert with pride, not love.  I scold my son too much.  My thighs are touching.  Now Caleb will need stitches and maybe a hand transplant because of me.  Am I out of Scentsy?  He's gonna need a tetanus shot for sure.

   "Mom!  This really hurts!"  Her son's panicky voice snapped her out of the downward spiraling reverie, and she  sprinted to action.

   The rest of the night had been spent at the emergency room, evaluating and cleaning the wound, getting a tetanus shot, and enduring stitches from a nurse who clearly did not want to be at work.  Caleb was prescribed antibiotics and sent home with instructions to keep his hand clean, leave the stitches alone, and return in a week for further evaluation.  

   So far a transplant was not in order.  But as he fumbled through getting himself ready for bed that night, Caleb had overheard his mother placing a telephone order for a Pampered Chef smooth edge can opener.

   She had never been a woman to make the same mistake twice.

   I wonder what's on HBO today.


In Praise of Gimmicks

   I am an admitted sucker for neatly packaged, pre-organized, easily translatable remnants of knowledge that some people might call gimmicks.  Especially if they rhyme.  Not that full bodies of information or complete works of literature are lost on me; I just have a subterranean appetite for smaller doses of wisdom that can be absorbed and digested in a flash.  

   Same goes for quotes, especially when they are credited to people who have already earned my admiration. Like Albert Einstein.  I do try to make note people who have been quoted and seem worth a revisit then try to measure their full spectrum of opinion or experience against sturdier belief systems already in place.

   Why such a sucker?  Because life gets busy, baby, and my mind gets distracted.  And I cannot afford to waste even a little bit of my limited brain power by NOT learning something or motivating myself to do something.  I also get bored easily in my relative isolation, so shaking things up with fresh perspectives and newer incarnations of the same good stuff just does my soul a favor.

   My love affair with gimmicks started young.  I would never have learned where is east and where is west without once being taught that you EAT with your EAST hand (assuming you are right handed, I suppose).  And the notes on a treble clef?  The spaces are, from the bottom, F-A-C-E and, for the lines, Every Good Boy Does Fine.  (Or Fart, depending on whether my piano teacher was within earshot.)

  For a more recent example, cardio.  There will always be running and elliptical machines and jump ropes and trampolines, but I saw on Pinterest the neatest little poster outlining a 20-minute cardio routine I just had to try.  My fancy was tickled.  Anything can be endured for twenty minutes, right?  And this workout could be done in a hotel room sans equipment, sans judgmental audience, and sans push ups, which are from the devil.

    For the record, I did actually try this both yesterday and today.  Well, I completed almost two thirds of this both times, repeating the cycle not quite thrice.  It is more difficult in the flesh than it is on the computer screen, but that's a good thing, right?  It got my heart pumping wildly in a very short period of time, and I didn't have to leave the security and privacy of my hotel room.  I jumped immediately into the shower and called it a day.

   Another excellent find is always anything that will boil down my thoughts and get me to focus.  Are you like me, prone to melancholy over old hurts or losses, unsolvable problems, or possible future catastrophes?  That stuff is paralyzing, man.  And wasteful of our abundance in the present moment.  Shake it off and admit what you're doing to yourself.

I personally found this on Pinterest then looked and looked for the original source,
but the best I could find was that it was on an unidentified Tumblr slideshow.  
Kudos and sincere thanks to the original writer!  You got my attention.

   With regard to actual literature, the sources of inspiration are endless.  I have my online reading lists and my friends' lists; my sister's friend Julia who is also now my friend, who works as a literary publicist and feeds me titles like they were solid gold sunflower kernels; and my fellow book clubbers.  (Our Oklahoma book club has grown from four to eighteen women, all filled with excellent ideas about what to devour next)  Feeding off of the recommendations of trustworthy, vastly interesting women has become a beloved source of inspiration for me.  Yes, some of this is a bit gimmicky, but who cares?  Not me.
   This week at the zoo I saw a series of small, wooden signs bearing the same quote over and over again, and the message has been echoing in my heart in a very genuine, movement-begging way.  Here it is paraphrased, because I failed to snap a photo and I cannot find it on the internet:

"No one makes a greater mistake
than he who does nothing only because
he thinks he can do very little."

   I believe the context there was animal conservancy, but of course we can choose to apply it at will to any situation where action is needed.  Even though the delivery was gimmicky (about two dozen matching wooden signs strewn along a landscaped pathway), the effect is real.

   I guess all I'm saying today is that if you are drawn to appetizers of knowledge now and then, don't feel guilty about it; let it fuel you!  And let it prompt a healthy intellectual menu.  Use the thinky calories and nutrients you scrape up from all over this beautiful world to improve your life and deepen and enrich your experiences.  As long as gimmicky snippets are only part of your nourishment, not the whole of what you ingest, I bet you're okay.   You have nothing to regret in surfing and collecting and reading and observing.

What gimmicky wisdom have you enjoyed lately?
Where do you look for quick inspiration?



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