Imperfect. Still blessed.

Six kids doesn’t feel like a lot.

And our home feels empty when anyone is missing, even just for the afternoon.

I’m not a super-mom; it helps tremendously that my oldest two are so responsible and helpful.

I get all sorts of comments – not usually negative ones – from folks who wonder “how do you do it?” and it must just be the grace of God, because although there are certainly challenges, they feel no more challenging than back when I had only Ethan. In fact, mentally and emotionally, I feel/am much more capable than I was when I was 24 years old and the mother of one child.

I certainly don’t want to whitewash anything and make it sound like EVERYTHING is FABULOUS ALL of the time! It’s not, and I cry just like any other mom, over hurts or disappointments.  My bedroom is a wreck, there are mountains of laundry to be done, I made my 8-year-old cry yesterday by confessing that I didn’t get the plans in order for her birthday party and we’d have to delay it for two weeks… In other words, not perfect.  But, overall, I feel very blessed and very thankful that God has appointed me to be the mother of six. Not many have that opportunity (though I probably have a higher-than-average count of friends who are ‘moms of many’).

But I guess what my revelation has been is this: Things don’t have to be PERFECT for me to feel and be BLESSED.

Imperfect. Downright blemished in places. But still, overwhelmingly and beautifully blessed.

From this morning.  Wesley was holding baby Jean and said, "Take a picture, Mom!" then Audrey and Fiala appeared to be a part of the picture-taking.

From this morning. Wesley was holding baby Jean and said, “Take a picture, Mom!” then Audrey and Fiala appeared to be a part of the picture-taking.

Gardeny things! — “Wilson”, barrel potatoes, and a native desert flower garden

1.  I am happy to have a neighbor with whom I can chat about gardeny things.  Our interests and our knowledge overlap enough to give us things about which to talk, but we have enough difference that we can learn from each other.  Me from him, mostly.  I get flashbacks to Home Improvement, with Tim ever talking with his neighbor, over the fence.  We chatted this afternoon about starts vs. seeds, squash bugs, beet tops vs. rhubarb chard, and asparagus.  It made me happy.

2.

You can buy Red La Soda potatoes from the link; I got mine from Crooked Sky Farms as part of the CSA I host.

It rained on Saturday, the first time since mid-December.  To the southwest of my home, an official weather station recorded about 1 1/3″.  To my northeast, one recorded 1.81″.  So, we likely received somewhere in there.  Between outbursts, I was turning my (sadly neglected) compost.  Just as I returned my pitchfork to the shed, an all-out downpour let loose.  In a metal-roofed shed, that storm was LOUD!!!!!  I had my ears covered, and looked up to see my husband, standing under the eaves, holding baby Jean, who had awoken while I was outside.  I couldn’t believe he was there, holding her!  He was about 15 feet away, yet I couldn’t year a word he was shouting.  He disappeared and then reappeared, sans baby, holding a mostly-broken Hello Kitty umbrella, which he tossed to me.  You know you’re a desert-dweller if the best umbrella in the house (actually, the ONLY umbrella!) is a nominally functional undersized one, owned by your seven-year-old daughter.  After most of the storms had passed, I followed a simple tutorial to plant my first barrel of potatoes.  It seems that folks have varying success with growing potatoes in a barrel, but I figured I had little to lose.  I had purchased a $17.99 half-barrel planter from Costco and used an organic potato (Red La Soda) that had already sprouted eyes — which, I learned this weekend, is referred to as having been “chitted“.  I used homemade compost.  The whole project took me about 15 minutes, and that includes wheeling the compost over to the barrel.  All I have to do is keep adding compost as the plant grows.  Next time, though, I think I’ll add vermiculite to the compost, to make it lighter…

3.  I’m trying to purge my inner Perfectionist Gardener, and just PLANT THINGS.  Of course, planting in the right month, with the right seeds for one’s climate, purchased from the right place, with the right soil and amendments, at the right orientation to receive optimal sunlight — all are good.  However, I am finding that the more I learn about gardening, the LESS bold I am, the less risky.  I rediscovered some old seed packs that I had purchased locally from an organization called Wild Seed which, charmingly and frustratingly, doesn’t have a website.  (You can call them for a catalog, though — (602) 276-3536.)  The packets are years old — four or five, at least.  However, I figured that even if only a few germinate, it would be worth the effort of actually putting them in the ground, rather than have them languish for another couple of years in a drawer.  So, with the ground soft — soggy, even — from Saturday’s rain, I hoed and weeded a bed created by a former owner of this house.  The bed is NOT in the optimal location;  it’s against a south fence, facing north.  It hardly gets any sun, except in the middle of summer.  But, it’s a bed, a garden bed, already created, yet not in use.  I scattered the seeds in a rough drift pattern and raked them in.  We’ll see what happens!  I saved a couple of packets for bare places, given the haphazard planting and the age of the seeds…  One thing I do have going for me:  they’re all native desert flowers — some native to California, but most native to the Sonoran Desert.  By nature — literally — many seeds are dormant for YEARS until there is enough rain at the right time.  I’m hoping to a) put to use seeds I’ve been saving for who-knows-what;  b) beautify an ugly wall;  c) attract butterflies, birds, and honeybees.  Here’s hopin’!!  I planted:

Desert Chia – Salvia columbariae

Summer Poppy – Kallstroemia grandiflora

 

Purple Owl’s Clover — Castilleja exserta

 

Cream Cups — Platystemon californicus (I’m most excited about this one. I’ve seen it only a few times in real life and it is so very lovely.)

 

Desert Verbena — Abronia villosa

 

Purple Desert Sand Verbena — Abronia angustifolia Greene

 

Scarlet Sage — Salvia coccinea Gorgeous flower… I’m not certain it will grow in the Phoenix area, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in (organic!) kimchi

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Audrey and her pet Daikon radish

On Saturday, my seven-year-old daughter, Audrey, picked a Really Big daikon radish from the fields at Crooked Sky Farms during CSA Member Day.

My husband Martin asked me, doubtingly, “What are you going to do with that?”

I replied, “I’m pretty sure you can make kimchi out of daikon.”

Martin gave me one of those looks and said, “I hope you don’t expect me to eat that.”

I think the grand count is now up to six or seven things I’ve made in our nearly-20 years of marriage that he doesn’t like.  Maybe eight.  I think his presupposition that he won’t like radish kimchi is based solely upon reputation, and report of friends who have gone to South Korea on ministry trips.

I found a recipe, and I’m making it right now — waiting for 30 minutes while the cubed radish “sweats”.

I’m really happy with all the ingredients.  Nearly all of them are organic:  the daikon, of course;  the green onion;  the dried red chile;  the sugar — all from Crooked Sky Farms, save the sugar.  I’ve also used sea salt, fresh garlic, and gluten-free soy sauce, simply because I’m out of fish sauce.

Radish kimchi (kkakdugi) veggies!

Radish kimchi (kkakdugi) veggies!

I just realized that I do not have fresh ginger, so my kimchi will be ginger-less.

And that big daikon only made one quart plus about 1½ cups of kimchi.  I’m only fermenting the quart container.  The end result didn’t seem as “wet” as the recipe suggested, so I ended up pouring all the “radish juice” back into the mixture.  From other fermented items I’ve made, the veggies must all be submerged in the liquid, and it took adding it all back in to bring the liquid to the top of the quart jar.

Anyway.

I had the thought, “I wonder if slightly adventurous cooks in Korea get a hold of, say, tomatoes, and determine that they will make ketchup, that ubiquitous and widely eaten American condiment.”  And their spouses look askance and wonder if they have to eat it.

The author of the recipe suggests that kkakdugi pairs well with a simple bone-broth soup.  Sounds good to me;  I have bone broth in the fridge right now!  I wonder which of my family will eat Korean Ox-Bone Soup accompanied by Kkakdugi…  I’ll try to remember to report back.

On a tangential note, there is a lady in the weekly small group Bible study I attend, and one of her daughters is a health-nut.  Nearly every week, my friend will report to me of the inedible culinary disasters her daughter has created in the name of health.  When I make a dish, I simply cannot make it in the name of health alone;  it must actually TASTE GOOD.  What’s the point of cooking your asparagus in coconut oil if no one enjoys the flavor, and it ends up in the trash?  (Personally, I think coconut oil is over-used.  However, that is a tangent to my tangent.)  I’ve only brought snacks twice in the last number of months, and both times, she asked repeatedly, while eating with gusto, “This is gluten free??  It’s healthy??”  To which I usually reply, “Well, it’s not healthy, as it has way more sugar than anyone should be eating.  But, it’s gluten-free and it’s nearly all organic.”  She just can’t believe that homemade goods can be better-for-you AND tasty.  I believe that they should be tasty.  I don’t believe in eating something solely because it’s good for you;  food should be enjoyed.

Leadership, caliche, gardens, hearing from God, and finding Jesus in the Old Testament

This past weekend was amazing, as the last weekend in January for the last 17 years has always been for me.

My church has a leadership retreat every January.

That sounds run-of-the-mill, but it’s not.

We attend about 48 hours of meaty, practical, inspiring teaching sessions and have powerful worship and ministry.  It’s a time when the ministers are ministered to.

Additionally, many leaders and pastors attend from around the world, each who have close ties to my church.  This year, there were folk from Northern Ireland, Zambia, Mexico, and South Korea.  Thus, we call it the Leadership Summit.

I have no words to explain how powerful and amazing and NEEDED this event is.

So, I won’t try.

But…  a couple of things I will say:

  1. I have no great love for the desert.  How I deal with this, in my heart, ebbs and flows.  Sometimes, I do better than others, adjusting to the fact that my husband is a native of Phoenix, our greatly beloved church is here, and my husband’s amazing job is here, as well.  This past year, I struggled a lot, though.  There are a variety of reasons for that, but let’s just leave it there:  I struggled.  I have been sad.  At the Summit, with tears, I realized that I needed to… adjust my heart.  This is where I am.  This is, for my husband and perhaps even for myself, the land of our anointing, in spite of the brown, the hot, the dry, the dusty, the lifeless, burnt desert.  This is where our Father God has us.  It just is.  I don’t know why He has put a yearning in my heart for green, for rain, for humus instead of caliche, while placing me in its opposite.  Yet, He has.  And, I realized that I just had to accept His sovereignty and find my sufficiency in Him.  On Thursday night, I prayed in my heart, “Father, You are my garden.  You are my brook.  You are my green, rolling hills.  You are my rain.”  That was hard, but it was good.  The next night, I was standing there, while the worship team played and sang, just soaking it in with my palms up, receiving.  A young man from Northern Ireland came over and started praying and speaking prophetically over me.  “I see you in the Father’s orchard.  There is fruit there.  A lot of low-hanging fruit.”  He proceeded to encourage me about my life being fruitful.  And then he said, “And the Father is walking with you, in the cool of the evening.”  !!!   Those words are from the description of the time in the Garden of Eden.  I laughed.  I couldn’t help it.  God is so good, and He is so faithful to make sure I REALLY GET IT when He speaks to me.  He is my garden.

    Caliche, or what passes for “soil” in the Sonoran Desert.

  2. I went to the Summit in hopes of hearing from God for… distilling… sorting out… prioritizing… refocusing.  Instead, I felt the Father call me to become “determined to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”  I have debated whether or not to post about this on here.  I want to know Jesus in… obscurity.  Just know Him.  Learn more about Him.  Hear His heart.  But, I thought it also might be an encouragement to some reading this:  rather than seeking what Jesus HAS FOR ME, I’m just seeking Jesus.  Everything else for which I look — direction, maturity, a “job” in the Kingdom of God, a future and a hope — is secondary, a byproduct.  So, I committing a certain amount of time, really an extravagant amount of time, daily, to reading Scripture and hearing from God.  I’ve started in Genesis, and am planning to read fairly quickly through the Bible, and be looking for Jesus among the pages.  Yes, I know He doesn’t appear until the book of Matthew.   But, really, everything in even the Old Testament points to Jesus’ appearance here on earth.  I felt God tell me that, in spite of spending time that I, frankly, don’t have, He will continue to provide time.  He’ll provide efficiency, focus, and clarity of thought as I go through my day.  Everything that needs to get done will get done, even as I attempt to delve into the Word of God for several hours daily.

Why this mom of six is hardly blogging.

When I started blogging nearly eight years ago, I “only” had three children.  Along the way, it has always been possible to squeeze out a number of blogs per month, often 3-4 per week!  But, starting with baby Jean’s birth in June, these have been been my slowest months ever.  Here’s why:

  1. Time and priorities.  I love writing.  But, I also love reading.  I love keeping up with my friends and family on Facebook.  I have other responsibilities, besides homeschooling my children and running my home — I still lead worship weekly at a homegroup, and I essentially have a part-time job as a host and coordinator for a CSA (weekly, local farm-share).  I just can’t do everything, sadly.  Most days, just doing school, laundry, and making meals about taps me out.  I could drop any one of these things and have time for blogging, but I don’t want to.  So… it’s just a busy season that precludes blogging.  I have very often started drafts and by the time I finish, they’re just no longer relevant or pressing.  So, slowly nibbling away at drafts doesn’t seem to work for me, either.
  2. The current culture of blogging.  When I started blogging, most people hadn’t even heard the term “blog”.  I wrote with the abandon of one who was pretty certain that no one was reading.  In many ways, I was flippant and too-disclosing.  I wasn’t careful at all.  I could just dash off some thoughts without considering possible repercussion.  I’ve become wiser over the years, and have realized that people ARE reading, and therefore, I need to measure my words.  In addition, if I want to make a statement about health, science, Scripture, pretty much anything, the only responsible way to do that is to provide supporting links, which is the blogging form of end notes.  However, gathering and inserting appropriate links is time-consuming.  And THEN, you add Pinterest.  If someone wants to post something on Pinterest, you really need a picture.  So, I either hunt for a pic online with no copyright protection OR I hunt for a pic to upload and insert from my own.  Both of those add snippets of time to an already labor-intensive process.
  3. My mind is blank.  JUST KIDDING.  Actually, there are more things than ever that I want to share…  Inside my brain, my blog is crazy-active!!

Here, though, are a few small things happening around here:

  • We are still slowly remodeling our home and redecorating.  Both my husband and I are frugal, and our tastes overlap, but aren’t identical.  That’s why the process is slow:  if ONE of us didn’t care, we could get things done a lot faster.  But, we both care.   Here’s a shot (not a great one) of our living room.  It’s a mix of new and vintage/Craigslist purchases.  Living Room
  • We finally had to buy our first new piece of baby equipment.  Virtually everything on Jean’s body and which she uses here in our home is a hand-me-down, a gift, or purchased second-hand.  Oh, wait!  I did purchase a jogging stroller for about 1/4 the price of a new one, at a true outlet — a store that handles all the returns and overstock from Costco, Home Depot, and Rite-Aid.  It was new in the box…  So, I guess that counts as a new purchase.  So, purchase #2:  a highchair.  I can’t wait until it arrives;  baby Jean is six months and eating (limited) table food, but up until now, she has just been perched on my lap.  That is becoming increasingly messy.  I searched on Craigslist for the last month, looking for a chair that had some sort of modern appeal (to at least partially fit in with our updated decor), was well-reviewed, wasn’t too bulky, that both my husband and I like, and wasn’t too expensive.  I struck out.  So, this highchair is being shipped, as I type this.   
  • Just last week, I finished my favorite book of the last… year or so.  I have a few current authors that I follow;  I read everything they write.  Those tend to be dependable authors;  I like their craft of storytelling.  However, they’re not necessarily books that, upon closing, I reflect, “That was so very worthwhile.  I am enriched by having read that.”  Not that they’re trash;  they’re just entertainment, and not necessarily profound.  The book I recently finished?  Profound.  I had read quite a few (nonfiction) essays by Wendell Berry, as well as a number of his poems.  But, I hadn’t read any of his fiction.  Following the families in a community in rural Kentucky?  Sounded campy, à la Mitford (which I’ve never read, so, yes, I’m passing judgement based upon incomplete information).  But, my oldest son, a junior, read Fidelity as part of his homeschool curriculum.  When he finished, he handed it to me.  “That was one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I think you’d like it.”  Which made me love him all the more…  And he was right;  I did like it.  I plan on reading more in the series, after I get through the next two books on my list (Leaving Everything Most Loved — I like Jacqueline Winspear’s storytelling.  However, as her works progress, each book seems more like “Zen Buddhist with an agenda, who is telling a mystery story on the side.”  It’s rather annoying.  I’m a Christian and I don’t even like it when CHRISTIAN authors try to proselytize via fiction.  I like it even less when the author’s beliefs don’t parallel mine.  And, An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch.  I found Charles Finch, whose stories are set in Victorian England, when I had exhausted the surprisingly large genre of literary mystery serials set in WWI-era England.)
  • And…  This little sweetie.  How I adore her.  She is perfect, except she doesn’t like to sleep.  Really, she doesn’t like to sleep at all.  You can try your suggestions, but I’ve probably tried them all, short of letting her cry long enough to give up and feel abandoned.  She is a darling baby, an absolute delight to our whole family.  Everyone is smitten, still.  She is beautiful and chubby, cheerful and funny, and loves to snuggle.  So, so perfect.  Except the sleep thing.  I’m tired.   baby Jean, in arms

Trendsetter and other good news

Fiala was the flowergirl in the wedding of some dear friends in November. I made her dress.

My days aren’t always wonderful.  But, today has been smashing and I don’t want to forget it.

First, our mourning has been turned into dancing.  Earlier this week, we discovered that the awful scraping sound emanating from my Land Barge’s engine was its last, dying gasp.  It needed a new engine — to the tune of $3,500 or so.  This morning, someone called to tell us that, essentially, he is going to pay for it.  This “someone” is returning a favor for house plans that my husband designed for him.  I must confess that I have groused somewhat about what I feel is people taking advantage of my husband’s generosity with his home-designing skills, which he frequently does for free, or very nearly so, on the side*.  It seems to me that folks don’t comprehend the time, effort, skill, and flat-out genius that goes behind their remodel, or whatever.  I have strongly suggested that he charge what he’s worth.  He refuses.  I pout and feel self-righteous about at least internally defending my husband.  However, I will never breathe a word of complaint again.  Even enters my mind I will remind myself that GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL and HE WILL ALWAYS TAKE CARE OF US and no kindness is wasted in God’s economy.  I will give all future unkindly thoughts** a kick to the curb and not let them enter into the dwelling place of my ponderings.  Seriously.  My mind is changed FOREVER.  My paradigm is permanently shifted.

Secondly, something over the last week or so, of which we didn’t hear until today:

  1. Last week at our dentist’s office, as always, my five year old daughter Fiala was unfailingly kind and encouraging. She told the dental assistant, Shawn, that she looked beautiful, and gave her a hug and a kiss.
  2. Shawn went home, and when asked about her day by her elementary-school-aged son, she said that a little girl made her day, describing the incident with Fi… They talked about the name “Fiala”.
  3. The son’s teacher is pregnant with a little girl and (bravely!) told the students that she would let one of them name the baby. She set up a suggestion box in the back. Shawn’s son wrote down “Fiala”.
  4. The teacher announced yesterday (I think) that her new baby would be named Fiala.
  5. Buh-bam! Darling girl is a trend-setter, spreading her sweet spunkiness and genuine affection, getting babies named after her.

1486886_10202004272002507_167237079_n———–

*He is also paid to design houses in his full-time job.  :)
**At least on this topic.  ;)

Butternut Squash with Apples and Cranberries (GFCF recipe)

I’ll admit it:  In this age of expert home food stylists and Pinterest beauty, I’m hesitant to post new recipes.  I snapped a pic of this with my phone, not my Nikon SLR (I don’t own a Nikon SLR or any other fancy camera).  It’s not gorgeous.  But, it is SO VERY delicious that I had to share.  And, it’s just in time for Thanksgiving.  Hopefully, it will become a wintertime staple in your home, as my family has proclaimed it must be in mine.

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This recipe calls for a 2½ lb butternut squash, but you can use any orange-fleshed winter squash:  baking/pie pumpkin;  Hubbard;  Delicata;  Kabocha; Red Kuri, and others.  Personally, I wouldn’t use acorn squash or spaghetti squash.  But, just about any other variety would do wonderfully.  You can even substitute yam.  You may also use MORE than 2½ lb.  You could use up to four pounds of squash without tampering with any of the other ingredients.

I implore you not to substitute any other ingredients.  This perhaps may seem like an odd mishmash of ingredients, but when it comes together, it’s perfect:  savory, sweet, a bit spicy, warm, bright, FRESH.  However, if you do find any subs that work beautifully, do return and comment here!

Also, recent research has shown that it’s more important than ever to buy organic winter squash!

Winter squash is a vegetable that might be especially important for us to purchase organic. Recent agricultural trials have shown that winter squash can be an effective intercrop for use in remediation of contaminated soils. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including pyrene, fluoranthene, chrysene, benzo(a)anthracene and benzo(a)pyrene are unwanted contaminants. PAHs are among the contaminants that can be effectively pulled up out of the soil by winter squash plants. When winter squash is planted as a food crop (as opposed to a non-food crop that is being planted between food crop seasons to help improve soil quality), the farmer’s goal is definitely not to transfer soil contaminants like PAHs up into the food. But some of that transfer seems likely to happen, given the effectiveness of winter squash in mobilizing contaminants like PAHs from the soil. For this reason, you may want to make a special point of purchasing certified organic winter squash. Soils used for the growing of in certified organic foods are far less likely to containundesirable levels of contaminants like PAHs.  ~from The World’s Healthiest Foods

In other words, squash does an excellent job of decontaminating the soil:  It pulls contaminants from the soil as it grows.  However, where do those contaminants go??  Very likely INTO the food you’re eating.  You can wash the outside of a conventional squash, or peel it.  But, you can’t wash the flesh of the pesticides and other contaminants that the growing plant has pulled from the ground.

Click here for a simplified, printable PDF version of this recipe.

Butternut Squash with Apples and Cranberries
makes 12 servings

  • 12 oz nitrate-free bacon, chopped
  • 3 oz shallots, sliced thinly (about two large cloves)
  • 2½ lb organic butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and diced into ¾” cubes
  • 4 small Granny Smith apples (or other tart apple), cored, peeled, and diced small
  • 1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries (you can use unsweetened just as well)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh sage (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1½ tsp ground allspice
  • zest of one lime
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat, cook chopped bacon and sliced shallots, stirring often, until bacon is crisp.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Do not drain.
  3. In a large, heat-proof bowl (such as a glass or ceramic bowl), toss together the diced squash, diced apples, dried cranberries, minced fresh sage, sea salt, allspice, lime zest, and white pepper.
  4. Scrape the bacon, shallots, and rendered bacon fat over the squash mixture and toss to mix well.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a large baking dish (or two medium-sized ones), and spread evenly.
  6. Cover tightly and bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring once, or until the squash is tender.
  7. Garnish with additional chopped sage (or Italian parsley, cilantro, or other pretty green).
  8. Serve hot.

 

“Here I stand…”***

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My husband Martin holds baby Jean to the sky. We’re at Saddle View Point, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

My husband and I are nearing 19 years of marriage.  I have been reflecting on our history recently.

That is partly because my own parents divorced after they had “celebrated” their own 19th anniversary, and I have had to say, “SHUT UP!!” to the enemy keep my thoughts captive regarding this particular milestone, and have been purposefully dwelling on the successes of our time together as a family.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
Psalm 137:3-5 (NLT)*

It’s a pretty common understanding in the Christian culture that children are a blessing.

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My family: 12-year-old Wesley, 7yo Audrey, 14yo Grant, myself holding baby Jean, almost-five-year-old Fiala, Martin, and 16yo Ethan.

Confession:  For a long, long time, I did not feel that blessing.  I felt overwhelmed, not up to the massive task appointed to me.  I saw my every flaw replicated and magnified in my children.  I felt like I was endlessly disciplining, when I really didn’t WANT to discipline;  I wanted to snuggle on the couch and have everyone love each other, and everyone respect each other, everyone defend each other, everyone exuding kindness and loyalty…

I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore, and though I do see my flaws in my children, I am less horrified these days.  Instead, I see that as the provision of God to accent my need for His holiness and his character, in both myself and my children;  it shows me what I need to work on.  However, I still feel, oftentimes, like that last sentence in the paragraph above.  There is not enough kindness and love in our home.  There is not enough of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  There is not enough of His peace.  His patience is frequently far from manifest in the lives and hearts of every member of our family.

HOWEVER.

I am still starting to get a picture, a revelation, of how much BLESSING I live in.

It is dawning on me from a number of different horizons.

To wit:

  • A mother came up to me after worship on Sunday and told me how she had seen my 14 year old son, Grant, enter right into exuberant worship and praise — nothing rote — and he urged a friend to do the same.
  • I am meeting more women — it’s my age, I guess — who do not have the family they envisioned for themselves, earlier in their lives.  They don’t have as many children, or none at all, or they don’t have a healthy marriage, or none at all…  It’s not that my marriage is flawless, but I do have a good marriage.  And I have six children, which feels… complete for the first time in my motherhood.  It doesn’t feel as if anyone is missing.  I am realizing how easily what I presently have could have never been.
  • I do long for more loyalty and kindness in particular between my children;  every time a child throws a sibling under the bus, so to speak, by tattling, my stomach hurts and my heart aches.  But, there IS a lot of love present in our home.  I am trying to treasure all these things in my heart — to remember the loving, tender moments.
  • People whose perspectives and opinions I trust are increasingly encouraging me, pointing out the good fruit in our home.  A maternal uncle visited this past weekend.  He left a note for my husband and I to read.  Part of it said, “You have accepted the challenge of raising a Christian family at a time in history when our culture, society, and even our government fights you.  Good job.  Keep going.  You are being watched by people you don’t even know, and they do so with a yen for what you have.”**
  • At my step dad’s memorial service last Saturday, many people came up to me to congratulate me on the good behavior of my children, and extended their blessings to our family.
  • Baby Jean seems to have brought a new level of tenderness in our family — especially in my two other girls.  My pastor’s wife keeps noting it to me.  It has opened my eyes to the reality of the Father God blessing our family, specifically through this chubby, sweet-smiling three-month-old infant.
  • Just in general…  People keep encouraging me, especially about my motherhood and my children.  I should keep notes and read on a day when I’m discouraged.  :)

I’ve always kept with the notion that those who compare themselves among themselves are not wise.  Therefore, I often take lightly the compliments of others, regarding my children.  I see the best in my children, but I also see the worst, and I can’t help but often think, “If you only knew...” when someone says something flattering about one of my children.

But, I’ve decided this:  It would be more repugnant to live in the blessing and not realize it.  I think my perfectionist self rather disqualifies my motherhood, disqualifies my children, even, from receiving compliments and blessings.  This makes me sad.  I want to believe it!  I should believe it!  I want to embrace a life of blessing.  I want to ENJOY being blessed!  I think it would score one for the enemy if I really did live a blessed life, but didn’t have the revelation of it.  What a waste that would be!

I’m feeling an increased longing for more of God’s presence in our home.  In short, I’m longing for His blessing, His hand on our lives and in our hearts.  I’ve always wanted this… but it seems like God is bringing me to a place of urgency in prayer and in seeking Him for this, and I have, a number of times in the last month or so, been brought to tears with HOW MUCH I LONG FOR this, long for Him.

So, that’s my new goal:  To enjoy the Father’s blessing, which, indeed, includes my precious children, and to look for and acknowledge His blessing.  I am a blessed woman, indeed, to have six children and a loving husband.  Perfection is a long, long, long, long ways off.  But I am still very blessed, and I want to have an increasing revelation of that, and live in its peace.

———–

*For the curious, our family is not “quiverfull“.
** I was telling my pastor about how I was basking in this blessing from my uncle, and then, I looked over and saw my seven-year-old daughter, Audrey, CHEWING on the note.  CHEWING IT.  She explained, “I’m pretending to be a puppy!”  My pastor said with a laugh, “And then reality set in!”
***There is an old worship song by John Barnett called “In the Blessing.”  Its words are:  “Here I stand/In the blessing of the Father’s love/Washed in blood/Sweet forgiveness for a life undone… Knowing that Your love is all I need/To get by/Knowing that Your hand is over me/All my life/My Father, I love you…”  I couldn’t find a recording of this song — which has often brought me to tears — to add to this post.

IMG_20130920_071925_668

Lovely Audrey holds baby Jean, who doesn’t look too pleased here. But, really, Jean *ADORES* her siblings.

Why I hardly ever eat broccoli any more (or, “A Paean to Seasonal Eating”)

Romanesco is the broccoli for math heads. “Romanesco broccoli resembles a cauliflower, but is of a light green colour and the inflorescence (the bud) has an approximate self-similar character, with the branched meristems making a logarithmic spiral. In this sense the broccoli’s shape approximates a natural fractal; each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in yet another logarithmic spiral.”

I used to eat broccoli a lot.  It was THE go-to veggie for my family.  I’d purchase, at a minimum, enough for two dinners’ worth, and prepared it in innumerable ways, but most often, just steamed.  We hardly ever eat broccoli any more.  I like broccoli.  I just usually can’t bring myself to buy it.

Here’s why:

“…the United States is a net importer of broccoli overall. In 2010, the United States imported 524.5 million pounds of frozen broccoli valued at $243 million. The majority of the frozen broccoli came from Mexico (72%), followed by Guatemala (15%) and Ecuador (8%) (Vegetable and Melon Data, ERS 2011).”

To be clear, if you are eating FROZEN broccoli, it is almost certainly from another country;  producing broccoli florets is labor-intensive, and since labor costs are higher here than in other countries.  If you eat fresh broccoli, there is a better chance that it came from the United States, most likely California.  If you eat organic, fresh broccoli, chances are even GREATER that the broccoli came from the U.S.  But, still…

I live in the desert, here in the Phoenix area.  I know that broccoli is harvested here for a very limited time of the year, usually in March.

And how do I know that?  Because a majority of my family’s veggies are from a local farm, Crooked Sky Farms, in a year ’round CSA.  Before 2013, our veggies came — for 20 weeks out of the year — from a different CSA.  The window for local, fresh, organic broccoli is very small.

So, when I’m shopping in the heat of summer, and that broccoli is looking mighty fine for a stir-fry, I ponder and think, “It’s August.  It’s stinkin’ 120° out there.  I know, Grocery Store Broccoli, that you did not come from any place even remotely close to here.”  And I usually pass on by…  I might cave if it’s from an organic producer in California;  that’s not too very far.  But usually, I just pass, and choose a summer veggie.  Or, I just live off of what the CSA provides.

I purchase very few veggies any more.  Year ’round, I do purchase mushrooms, lettuces (when not from the CSA), celery, and red bell peppers (when the CSA doesn’t provide other bell peppers).

Islander Bell Peppers — we received these purple bell peppers last week.

Sand Piper ivory-colored bell peppers, which were also in last week’s CSA share.

And… I think that’s about it.  Oh!  Potatoes I purchase year ’round, though they are available from the CSA for a good portion of the year.  I also purchase frozen organic sweet corn and frozen organic green beans, both from Costco.  Again, both green beans and corn are available for a time from the CSA.  And, I froze as much corn as I could this year, but we’ve already eaten it all.  :)

That sounds like a lot of purchased veggies.  But, really, it’s not, compared to how many veggies our family eats.

And when I finally have my garden up and going, it will be even fewer, but that’s another story.

I sent this to my CSA members this morning:

Hello, everyone!

 

I just wanted to send out a note of encouragement to each of you. I’ve heard from several who are growing really weary of eating the same things from week to week. Well, it hasn’t been exactly the same thing, but there have been several items — especially okra and cucumbers — that folks seem to be tiring of. I do understand! I intended to turn a batch of lemon cukes into pickles this past week, and with two different sets of houseguests, I didn’t get that done. I also decided to give away a bunch of okra, rather than freeze it. So, I do understand the weariness.

I do, however, want to remind each of you that eating seasonally is much healthier for YOU and for the planet. Studies have shown that produce that is grown seasonally (instead of imported, or grown locally in forced, non-natural environments) to be much higher in nutrient content.

Eating seasonally is a true return to ancestral ways of eating. Our ancestors ate what they could grow in their own environment, according to the season. They would eat a glut of what was fresh, and preserve what wouldn’t keep. We’re simply not accustomed to that. We live in America, which is, in many ways, a tremendously blessed country. Each of us very likely lives less than a mile or two from a supermarket. In that supermarket, we can buy broccoli year ’round. However, broccoli bought in the deserts of Phoenix in October likely grew in Mexico or South America, and traveled thousands of miles to get here. (The U.S. does grow broccoli in California, but we import more than we export. Most of the broccoli eaten in the U.S. comes from Mexico, Guatemala, or Ecuador.)

I’m not trying to guilt-trip you out of buying broccoli on your next trip to the grocery store, I promise! And in some ways, I do realize that I’m preaching to the choir; most of us don’t have to be convinced of the benefits of eating locally, seasonally, and organically.

For another perspective:

“Better nutritional content and overall health – Most grocery stores and food chains jazz up their fruits and vegetables to keep them looking attractive and inviting when they’re out of season. This naturally compromises the nutrition level of the food. Non-seasonal foods require bending of nature’s rules in order for them to survive the improper season in which they are brought into the world. Therefore, these foods are often full of pesticides, waxes, preservatives and other chemicals that are used in order to make them look fresher than they are.

By eating freshly harvested produce, you will be rotating your foods, thereby keeping your body from developing intolerances to certain foods and reaping the health benefits of a diet that is diverse and naturally detoxifying. Seasonal foods also have a much higher antioxidant content than non-seasonal foods.

Sustainable and environmental benefits – By eating seasonally, you will also be supporting the local farmers and local markets, which, in turn, works well for the sustainability of the entire economy. Seasonal eating helps the environment by reducing the number of food miles your food has to make before it reaches your table. The more local you eat, the less chances exist that you are consuming food that has been flown in from half way across the world, in effect consuming that much more fuel.”

(From: http://www.naturalnews.com/035575_seasonal_food_diet_health.html#)

And here’s another article: http://life.gaiam.com/article/benefits-eating-what-s-season

And another: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=28

ALSO, when farmers (and gardeners) plant the things that grow best in our rather extreme environment, and they don’t try to FORCE things to grow here that shouldn’t be growing in the desert, that helps to eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides, etc.

So… if you can find the time, DO pickle those cucumbers — refrigerator pickles are easy and don’t require pressure canning. Okra is easily freezable:  Cut off the stem end and pop them whole into a freezer bag. Similarly, you can freeze summer squash without doing anything special: wash, trim the ends, and dice them. Then, just put them into freezer bags. Store your onions and potatoes in the fridge, and they will last for MONTHS.

I’m still enjoying greens that I froze this past spring, and summer squash from my freezer as well.

Preserving helps you maximize the value of the CSA, as well. I know I feel GREAT when I pull out some dried basil from the cabinet or diced rutabaga from my freezer, long after the season has ended. I feel like I’m being an excellent steward of what has been provided to me!

That said… cooler weather crops will very soon be available! I don’t have an exact timeline, but I did receive this message from the farm:

“Good day Glendale CSA. Thank you so much for participating in supporting your local farmer. Eating seasonal takes that ancestor heart that brings us back to eating the way nature intended. This is the best way to ensure your family is putting chemical free produce in their bodies. Farmer Frank always says “we fight GMO’s with our actions, not just our words.” While your taste buds are craving autumn, sweeten your palate with winter squash like butternut squash, spaghetti squash, baking pumpkins and more. Also look forward to soooo many greens, such as swiss chard, spinach, kale. Lets not forget our root crops. This year we plan to wow you with colored carrots, watermelon radishes and more! Jazz up your plates with Romanesco, graffiti cauliflower (purple), lettuces and rare onions. We are just beginning to scratch the surface. Thank you for your patience and commitment. We delight in serving you with many treasures.”

“Naturally Grown, Naturally Yours”, the Crooked Sky family

Again, NONE of this is said to guilt anyone into doing anything. I also understand about being on a budget, and the continual pull between eating more healthily, and being wise with my family’s resources. That’s actually the main reason I started hosting!! I primarily get paid in veggies. ;) It’s a huge benefit to my large family to be “given” about $40 worth of organic veggies every week. But, before I hosted, I participated in CSAs for several years, in addition to growing my own garden…

I do understand that you have to do what works for your family… I truly do.

And I THANK YOU, all of you, for participating, whether you’ve been with me from the beginning and are absolutely committed, *OR* if this whole CSA thing is new to you — or eating healthy is new to you — and you’re just trying it out. Everyone is on a different point in their journey to health and wellness, and I’m so very, very pleased to assist any of you at any point in your journey.

 

~sigh~

The short version of this very long post is that it is an EFFORT to eat well.  It requires something of you.  Time, money, effort, convenience…  All of those, or a combination.But the result is worth it, I do believe.

 

 

An odd testament to love

My stepdad, Joe, passed away last Thursday.

It was a shock.

I visited him with Audrey and Fiala the night previous, as we’d gotten word that he had taken a turn for the worse.  He was mostly out of it, on pain meds, but we had some now-memorable exchanges… One was me asking him if he wanted music in his room — he LOVED music — and he did.  I made a mental plan to follow up on that the next day.  A sick man should have music.  He taught my children all sorts of silly songs over the years — he and my mom started dating when my 16 year-old was an infant;  they were married days after he turned one — and I asked him if he might have a silly song for my girls.  He replied, “Not at the moment.”  When the girls and I were about to leave, I told him I needed to go back home to nurse baby Jean.  “Do you remember baby Jean?” I asked, not sure how connected he was with what I was saying.  “Oh, yes!” he said, and his face lit up.  The girls and I prayed for him, I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me, too, and we left.

We got back home, and I told my husband, “He looks bad, but he doesn’t look like he’s on death’s door.”

I was wrong.

He died early the next morning.

Perhaps this seems odd, but I think his passing might be a testament to how much he loved my mother, and that makes me feel a little bit better.

It had been a hard, hard year with Joe.  Well, hard ten months.  My mother passed on October 18, 2012, and for the month or so following, things were good with Joe, although he was terribly — understandably — heartbroken.

And then things deteriorated.

Much of the deterioration revolved around my mom’s will and the way estate law works in Arizona.

The short version is that he didn’t think that myself or my three siblings should inherit anything from my mother.  He genuinely felt entitled to everything she owned and saved, and felt that we weren’t taking care of him by signing our inheritances over to him.

My sibs and I couldn’t agree to his desires.  My mom appropriated some things to her children…  The bulk of the estate went to Joe.  There was much that estate law would allow us to keep, or claim — property which wasn’t exactly specified in the will — which we didn’t.  We siblings were trying our best to err on the side of generosity, to keep all fighting to an absolute minimum, to find common ground…  We simply were not successful, and Joe remained upset at us.  Angry, really.  He was angry with us.

So.

It had been a very, very hard time, a difficult year.

—————–

I had long said that Joe was the most involved grandparent that my children had.

And, it was true for 15 years.

And then, not true for 10 months.

There were a few, encouraging steps forward… and those would invariably be followed by some giant sliding backward.

I’m not angry at Joe.  The issue of inheritance was a very difficult thing that was only resolved about a month ago.  But, even when estate matters were resolved, things were still not good, relationship-wise, with Joe.  While he was in the hospital, my brother-in-law suggested to Joe, “Can we call a truce?  And then, when you’re feeling better, you can be angry again.”  Joe thought that was hilarious — my brother-in-law is quite witty, and I think it was the perfect thing to say.  And, Joe agreed, at least in spirit…

While my family was on vacation earlier this month, Joe — who had for months been complaining of an ‘upset stomach’ — was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  And, less than two weeks after his diagnosis, he was gone.

I wrote to some friends:

Everyone handles grief so differently. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “He just could NOT move on,” and that fits with something else I was going to say: he has always tended towards bitterness and suspicion and hoarding… and we didn’t realize how much my mom kept that in check. In so many ways, she must have compelled him to move on, to get past “it”, whatever “it” was. And with her gone, there was no one who could speak that into him, and he just spiraled out of control. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but it seems like a testament to how much he loved my mom, how much influence she had in his life, what a difference she made in his outlook and approach to life… it makes me feel better. And even with his cancer diagnosis. I think he just might have given up. I think if she had been alive, he would have fought.

When my mom was hospitalized, my siblings and I frequently discussed how much my mom loved Joe, but how foreign to us were his ways of expressing love to her.  I found myself rather desperately hoping that my mom was loved as deeply as she…  well, I hate the word “deserve”…  Needed?  Should have had?  I’m not sure of the right word there.  I just wanted her to be loved by her husband.  That was really, really, really important to me.  And there were times when I found myself wondering.

Yet, this last week, I have been, indeed, struck with just how much he much have loved her… She made his life worth living.  She compelled him to go on.  She called out in him the things that were noble, and helped the ignoble to be manageable, far less noticeable.

I’m a mishmash of thoughts and emotions.

Such regret that relationship wasn’t restored by the time of Joe’s passing.

So sad…  Sad for my children.  Sad for Joe.  Sad for myself.

But, strangely comforted about my mother, whose absence is a deepening hole in my life.

I’m comforted that he loved her.

Mom and Joe

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