Category Archives: Friendships

I traveled to Portland…

My friend Kathy told me I need to write more.  So, I comply.

Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role…  I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.

I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly.  I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.

Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.

This, however:  Worthwhile.  To me, at least.

I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before:  gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband.  Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married.  For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends.  I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year…  But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends.  He’s a good man.

So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days.  Mountains!  The beach!  Gardens!  Farmer’s market!  City!  Country!  We packed a great deal into a short period of time.

One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.

This time is a treasure to me.  I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing.  It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us.  We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere.  There are far too many attachments here in the desert:  our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)….  So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success:  I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather…  Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment.  It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it.  I won’t.

So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.

In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.

at Salmon Creek

At Salmon Creek — on a little hike shortly after my arrival.  The only imperfection was that I forgot my binoculars at home, and there were many birds calling out to me, reminding me of my poor eyesight and forgetfulness.

IMG_20150627_165611

Mt. St. Helens — beautifully stark, profound in its impact, awesome in the recovery of the land.

We four:  Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

We four: Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

IMG_20150628_115445

At Oregon Garden in Silverton. I was quite amazed that, in its original state, Oregon had many hardwood timber forests. This particular oak was over 400 years old. The whole garden is very worthwhile, with both sculpted vistas, extensive veggie gardens, and acres of more wild, native greenery.

Upper Ape Cave.  This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lava tube.  Otherwordly and a priceless experience.  This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the cave.

Upper Ape Cave. This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lightless lava tube. Otherwordly and a priceless experience. This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the otherwise COMPLETELY DARK cave.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon.  What a gorgeous beach -- with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools.  I *think* I saw a puffin.  I also realized that this sweater I dearly love makes me look pregnant.  Love/not-love.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon. What a gorgeous beach — with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools. I *think* I saw a puffin. I’m holding sand dollars.  I also realized that this sweater which I previously really liked makes me look pregnant. Love/not-love.

My other favorite times:

  • Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons.  The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property.  We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
  • Eating.  Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f.  We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
  • Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard.  As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard.  Blueberry bushes.  In her back yard.
  • Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values…  I feel rich in the blessings of friendship.  And we laughed a lot.  And exclaimed over the same things.  We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
  • On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud.  We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us…  And we listened to the Housefires.  Time flew.  And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop.  This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction.  We were so grateful.  (Much laughter.)

I must return.  We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.

Go ahead: Bite off more than you can chew.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I'm using as bun here.  I'm enormously pleased with this burger-hack.  Most people with whom I share the idea?  Not so much.  But, seriously, you should try it!!  Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I’m using as bun here. I’m enormously pleased with this burger-hack. Most people with whom I share the idea? Not so much. But, seriously, you should try it!! Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

I am still — STILL!! — working on converting an area approximately 21′ x 45′ from invasive, hard-to-kill Bermuda grass lawn into a vegetable garden.  It has occurred to me, time and again, why raised beds are so popular.  They’re a heckuva lot easier!  However, I’m looking for long-term sustainability as well as decreasing water use, and to those ends, a sunken bed is the way to go in the desert.  I already know that water drains off our property toward the to-be-garden corner.  It takes less water to hydrate sunken beds, water doesn’t evaporate as quickly, and the soil temp stays cooler when the top of the garden bed is at or below ground-level.

But, Lordy! is it ever hard work.

A couple of weeks ago, on my blog Facebook page, I posted:

Crap. I have just discovered that a giant section of our yard (about 15′ x 40′) is actually a stinkin’ CONCRETE SLAB, which was covered by about 4″ layer of dirt mixed with -1/4″ (“quarter minus”) granite gravel, which was topped with another 4″ or so of sod. A section of this takes up about a THIRD of my planned garden, right in the middle. This is going to take a jack hammer or a backhoe to remedy. Can you feel my disappointment? Ugh. Such a setback.

My friend Erin commented:

I love that you say “jackhammer or backhoe” instead of “smaller garden.” That’s the Karen I know and love!

This gave me much pause for thought.

She is totally right:  Downsizing due to difficulty was not an option.  This is mostly because, if I’m going to do this, it’s probably my ONE chance!  At least, it’s my one chance right now.  And, I want to do it right, if I’m going to do it at all — a maxim that was repeated ad nauseum during my childhood.  Secondly, if there is a giant chunk of concrete just below the surface of our yard, it probably shouldn’t just stay there;  it would only cause further difficulty down the line, and eventually need to be removed, anyway.  So, why not remove it now?

Note:  The bad news is, it’s still not removed.  The good news is that it is only a footer — about 18″ wide, a good, solid two feet deep, and about eight feet long.  More good news:  My husband has taken on removal of the concrete footer as his own personal mission.  More bad news:  this mission is subject to myriad other missions, currently being tackled by my husband.

But, back to my “pause for thought”:

It occurs to me that I typically bite off more than I can chew.  As a matter of course, I take on projects that are too big for myself.  I dream and plan into existence opportunities that end up being WAY more complex and time-consuming than I had envisioned.

At first, I started to chastise myself for this.

But, upon further reflection, I’ve decided that I like this God-given part of my personality, and here’s why:

I get loads more accomplished by biting off more than I can chew, than I would if I took life in reasonable mouthfuls.

I find that, as I’m in the throes of panic, feeling overwhelmed at all that’s on my plate, any number of things happen:

  1. I am compelled to study, research, and learn, to fill in the gaps of my knowledge.
  2. I am compelled to the feet of Jesus for His comfort, wisdom, and guidance.
  3. I am compelled to lean on my husband (and in increasing measure, my sons who are young men).
  4. I am compelled to ask the Body of Christ —  my local church — for help.

I don’t think that anyone would see a problem with the first item on my list.  For items #2-4, I must note that this is a good thing for me, as I tend to too much independence.  I believe that God created us to function interdependently, within our families, our communities, our churches…  We need each other.  I contribute my strength and abilities, you contribute yours, and we both end up further down the road, than had we been alone.

I could add a number of other benefits to the list above:

  • Hard work is good for you — body and soul.
  • Being productive is good for everyone around you.
  • Being able to genuinely and completely rest after a job well-done is a glorious feeling.

I’m sure there are more.  Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments, if you’d like!!

So, go ahead:  Bite off more than you can chew.  Sure, you’ll have moments of feeling overwhelmed, moments of panic.  But you’ll do more, go further, and just plain ol’ bear more fruit than if you live a more reasonable life.

More birth pics of Baby Jean… correcting my memory

My friend Stephanie was at the birth of Jean Marjorie Joy, born on June 25.  She had her camera, and I knew she took a few pics.  But I didn’t know just how many until today, Jean’s six-week “birth day.”  Right after the birth, Steph went on vacation and was then busy with a number of other things.  She gave me a flash drive with her pics on it, a week and a half ago.  I don’t know why it took me so long to view the pictures…  Mixed emotions, I guess.  However, when I did, I cried good tears…  Collectively, they tell a tale of love, and of a day that shouldn’t be forgotten.  There are a whole bunch of pictures immediately post-birth, for a space of about sixteen minutes that I somehow forgot:  I just somehow absolutely didn’t recall those minutes, at all.  But, seeing the pictures, it all came back to me, even how it felt, to have baby Jean up on my swollen belly, only a minute post-birth.  “Oh… yes… I do remember that!  I remember it now!”  (You can read the original birth story, here.)

3718

My dear husband, Martin.

3719

He’s so attentive to me.

3721

Wouldn’t YOU love a man who held your face like that?? I would.

3722

Martin, and sweet Fiala, too. I look pretty relaxed in this picture, but believe me, I felt like I was dying.

3727

My brown-eyed girl, Audrey.

3730

I ❤ him.

3739

This was three minutes before Jean emerged. Note Fi’s hands over her ears!! And she’s watching the action quite closely!! I thought the girls left the room well before Jean was born, but I guess they were slow-motion minutes… Fi hung in there a good long time.

3743

I ripped my hair elastic out. Or someone did it for me. LAST push.

Like my friend Daja, who had her baby boy, Tegshee Walker, only a couple of weeks ago, there are some awesome crowning and baby emerging photos… But I can’t publish those.

3746

I can’t really show you the picture where Martin caught baby Jean, either. But this pic was taken only one minute after her birth. He must have handed her right off to me. Until I saw this picture, I absolutely did not remember this moment.

3749

Again, one minute post-birth. I remember now, feeling vast relief, feeling extremely shaky, not quite believing that this was my baby, but at the same time KNOWING she was, indeed, my dear baby.

3751

Alicia’s blonde head on the left, my midwife Pam on the right. Me in wonder.

3759

They were rubbing her down, helping her to pink up. I had previously remembered people doing that, but the bizarre thing was that I hadn’t remembered that baby Jean was IN MY ARMS when they were doing that.

3763

The best Daddy in the world. He loves her so.

3767

Only three minutes post-birth.

3769

I love her.

3771

First kiss as a family of eight. 🙂

3772

Jean has Martin’s brow.

3778

Audrey decides to come back in.

3804

Martin’s hand over mine, on our baby’s chubby, fuzzy back. And MARTIN is the one who put her little hat on. Again, while she was in my arms. But I hadn’t remembered that.

3816

Miss Squishy, 23 minutes post-birth.

3817

Daddy, Mommy, baby, love.

Tongue-tie update and a couple of other things, including ice cream…

Darling Fiala, a couple of hours post-birth, holding her new baby sister.

Darling Fiala, a couple of hours post-birth, holding her new baby sister.

So, the above pic has nothing to do with this post, really.  I just wanted to publish it.

I saw baby Jean’s nurse practitioner again today, since the pediatrician is visiting his parents in India until next week.  I really like the CNP, Penny.  We did a weight check and a few other things.  Baby Jean had only gained three ounces since last Tuesday, which is just below the normal threshold of 0.5 – 1.0 oz daily at this point in development.  And that is with her nursing for a good hour at a time every 2-3 hours.  Little Jean now weighs 10 lbs 6 oz, still not quite her birth weight.

We confirmed that, yes, she does have a fairly significant tongue tie and a very significant upper-lip tie.  And, since it is affecting both her ability to nurse efficiently and is still causing me pain during nursing, we are going to have at least her tongue clipped.  However, today counted as the “consult”, rather than the actual event.  So, we talked about it pretty extensively, and I watched a (quite informative) 15 minute Power Point about the procedure… And scheduled the frenectomy for Monday.

The plan is to give that a week to heal and to see if it results in a decrease of pain for me and an increase of weight for Jean.  If both of those happen, we’ll leave the lip-tie alone.  But, if one or the other (or both) are still happening, we’ll schedule the upper lip to be done as well.

Personally, I think the lip is more of a problem, since she can’t flange it out.  But, since correcting the tongue tie is less invasive, that’s what the pediatrician wants to start with.  I’m OK with that.

I’m NOT OK with him requiring a Vitamin K injection for infants to receive the frenectomy.  The nurse practitioner is e-mailing the pediatrician to see if we can waive that requirement.  If not, there is a local midwife who is certified in the procedure, and we may pay her the $50 cash (rather than the $30 co-pay) to have it done.  My own midwife suggested that I request a blood test to confirm adequate blood levels of Vitamin K, rather than just giving her an injection.  I think that is a good idea, but that certainly seems like it would take longer… yet one more week…  I’d just as soon have this over and done.

In unrelated news…

About a week ago, I joked on my personal Facebook page about still looking five months pregnant.  I think I caused concern in some, who gently cautioned me about trying to “get my figure back” too quickly.  HONESTLY, this is the LEAST I have ever been concerned about that.  I have been devoted to really taking it easy on myself, physically.  For the first week, I did virtually nothing, and my family waited on me hand and foot.  This last week, I haven’t done much more.  It is now my goal to, every day:

  1. Do some laundry:  Start the load and hang it on the line.
  2. Make dinner:  This is made easier by the fact that I have a number of dinners half- or three quarters-made in the freezer.
  3. Take care of baby Jean Marjorie Joy.

That’s it.

I remember being horrified by my mushy tummy after my firstborn and starting ridiculously early on a sit-up regimen.  I am absolutely NOT doing that.

I have worn a… slimming undergarment a couple of times but that tends to make my ankles swell, as well as just being uncomfortable.  I find myself less motivated by my appearance and more motivated by comfort these days…  However, I tend to feel better when I feel like I look better, even if I don’t actually look better (follow that?).  I guess what I’d prefer is to look effortlessly put-together, but I guess that is not going to happen.  At the age of 40, after having six children, I actually have to put some effort into looking nice.  🙂

I have also been alternately horrified and amused by what has been the Lots o’ Carbs Festival at our home these last couple of weeks.  Part of that is because a number of kind friends gave us gift cards to “safe” restaurants (we’re hard to cook for), post-birth, and there are always more carbs in a store-bought meal.  (One friend homemade us an AMAZING dinner — totally gluten-free and dairy-free — including brownies.)  On top of that, not only did I have the pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra that I’d been saving for after the birth, but a dear friend remembered that that ice cream was my favorite and brought by THREE pints.  Those, I shared with my husband, Martin.  And then my hubby bought another pint for me a few days ago…  That one, I ate by myself.  Ice cream begets ice cream.  Once the floodgates are open, it’s hard to say no!!  However, in spite of the fact that I’ve eaten more carbs in the last two weeks than I have in any one span in probably the last 3-4 YEARS, I am still losing weight.  In fact, I’ve lost 23 of the 35 I gained, six of those in the last week, as I’ve been feasting on ice cream.  Only 12 pounds to go.  And obviously, I’m not even trying to lose weight!!

I know I will return to eating more healthily…  But right now, pass me another pint.  🙂

Things around my home (NOT baby-related — mostly) this last week.

  • When I roast beets, I don’t trim them quite as much as the linked-to instructions. I trim the roots just a bit, and leave 1/2″ of the tops on. I put about 1/2″ water in the dish, and cover tightly with aluminum foil, then roast at 425 degrees for 30-45 minutes, and leave in the oven for about another hour. Then, I cool them at room temperature, and slip the skins off under running tap water.

    When I make a dish for the family to eat, it’s always my hope that EVERYONE will like it.  Something that all seven people at the dinner table will adore has proven rather elusive, however.  I now see this as a good thing, mostly.  For instance:  I made sauerkraut earlier this week, and it is done fermenting today.  My 13-year-old son has been highly anticipating its readiness, and is already preparing his sandwich in his mind.  He mentioned that he wishes we had ham, but we don’t.  So, he’ll have turkey, mustard, and sauerkraut.  Not everyone else is so excited.  🙂 But, other family members are expectant of different foods.  I am roasting six bunches of small beets right now.  My three youngest children are REALLY excited about that.  I have received beets a number of times these last few months from our CSA and only ONCE have the beets actually made it into a dish.  The rest of the time, after I roast the beets, peeling them becomes somewhat of a party, with everyone popping cooled, newly-peeled baby beets into their mouths, just like candy.  I can’t say that I’m disappointed that not everyone feels this way about beets.  My husband can’t stand them.  My older two boys are rather ambivalent.  The rest of us ADORE beets.

  • Martin in the insulation suitOur new home is an older one, and it is an endless project.  We knew it needed more insulation, as some of it was missing in wide swaths, some was thin and compacted, and some of it had shrunk away from ceiling joists and the outer walls.  When we got our electricity bill for the time spanning from mid-April to mid-May, and the stinkin’ thing was north of $350 (and that is with our air conditioner thermostat set at 80-81°), that was a wake-up call.  Last weekend, my husband Martin, after quite a bit of research (wet-blown cellulose?  dry-blown fiberglass?  fiberglass batts?  do-it-yourself?  or hire it out??) he decided to do dry-blown fiberglass, which requires a big machine.  The blowing machine is rentable from Home Depot, or free with the purchase of enough packages of insulation.  It was quite an undertaking.  He purchased a head-to-toe coverall, and with goggles, mask, and gloves, ventured up into the attic.  Actually, we have two attics, as part of our home is single-level, and part of it has two stories.  It was hours of work.  Our oldest son, Ethan, stayed at the ladder and fed the tube up into the attic as needed, and relayed hollered messages to our next-oldest son, Grant, who was feeding the batts into the blowing machine and turning it off and on as needed.  At Home Depot, they supplied a cardboard measurement stick, telling us how deeply the insulation needed to be to supply a certain R-value.  “How deep does it need to be again to reach R-38?” he asked Grant.  “Thirteen inches,” Grant replied.  “Good.  We have about R-100 in most places,” Martin announced with satisfaction.
  • The one we have is the 2011 model of this same washer — very similar. We purchased it in July 2012 at a place which sells “new-old stock” and I’m *REALLY* pleased that we decided to purchase from there, as it came with the manufacturer’s warranty, rather than the scratch-and-dent place we’d been considering, which was less expensive, but with no warranty.

    In the above pic, you can see a bit of the washing machine, with which I have a love-hate relationship.  It is an LG, and when it works, it works WONDERFULLY.  However, yesterday, we had the LG repairman out for the SEVENTH TIME in less than a year.  Seven times.  Granted, his visit on Friday was a follow-up from Tuesday’s assessment, and he was installing the parts that he had ordered on Tuesday.  And two of the previous visits were — umm… — due to user error, as a quarter coin had slipped into the wash undetected, and had lodged in such a way that it was keeping the drum from agitating.  BUT, this washing machine was the most expensive purchase my husband and I had ever made, barring cars and houses, in our 18 years of marriage, and frankly, I didn’t expect the thing to be a lemon.  Or, I don’t know if it’s a lemon, exactly, but it just doesn’t seem that such a high-tech and expensive item should continually require repairs.  So now, we are considering purchasing an extended warranty.  I have kind of a moral objection to extended warranties.  My thoughts are, “BUILD IT RIGHT IN THE FIRST PLACE, AND AN EXTENDED WARRANTY ISN’T NECESSARY!!!”  And yes, this is said while shouting.  I’m also kind of upset, because, before purchasing this unit, I did a lot of research to find the right product for our lots-o’-laundry family.  This washer had glowing reviews and was universally touted as a heavy-duty, GIANT-capacity washer with few problems, certainly less problematic than a front-loader.  However, the LG guy has been refreshingly honest with some information that I wish I had access to before I purchased.  He has mentioned that, while the unit is power- and water-efficient, it actually runs better on the cycles which use more water (mostly the “Bulky/Bedding” setting).  Also, the heating element in the washing machine, which allows the water to heat up super-hot (in the “Sanitary” cycle) especially for whites and cloth diapers, isn’t particularly powerful, and it takes a LONG time to actually heat the water.  In the meantime, as I had observed, the washer just slowly spins, waiting and waiting and waiting for the water to heat, automatically adding MORE time to a cycle that is already THREE HOURS long.  I guess I’m not the only LG customer who feels rather crabby about this, because just last night, I saw an ad for a new LG washer that heats up super-hot, but has an incredibly short cycle time.  Hmph.

  • Another thing I had wanted to add to our home is a clothesline.  In our last home, the HOA forbade them.  Even in the back yard.  This house has no HOA and plenty of space.  However, my husband wants to do the clothesline “right”, on its own separate poles, sunk in concrete, on the side of the yard, out of sight.  But… that has been added to the very long list of to-dos, here in the house, and we have now been here ten months with no clothesline.  So, last weekend, I procured four eye bolts and screwed them right into two trees in our back yard, and strung up some perfect nylon rope, handily left in the shed by the previous occupants.  Voila!  Clothesline.  So, for a little more than a week now, I have been hanging up about 95% of our family’s laundry — everything except my husband’s clothes and the bath towels.  Our handy new LG dryer (with which we have had no problems) has a great moisture sensor, and the few items from each load that go into the dryer are completed in about 20-25 minutes, instead of the 50-60 minutes each load was previously taking.  A friend on Facebook (well, she’s a friend in real life, but she mentioned this on Facebook) said that she finds hanging clothes to be “meditative.”  I didn’t quite understand her at the time, but now I do.  I bring out a glass of ice water, put my basket of wet clothes on a chair, and actually enjoy the quiet efficiency of hanging clothes.  I’m outside (which I love anyway); the sun is shining on me; it’s a gentle form of manual labor; I feel like I’m…. benefiting our family by saving money on power that would otherwise be spent on the electric dryer; it feels satisfying to provide my family with freshly sun-warmed and sanitized laundry; and it just feels RIGHT to be using the plentiful solar energy here in the desert to dry my clothes.  Even when the day is hot (though I typically hang the clothes in the morning or evening), I have my ice water, and when I stand between the lines of damp clothes, the breeze cools and refreshes me…  It is, indeed, a meditative activity.

    My clothesline

     

  • This week's produce.  We had a selection of summer squash, Armenian cucumber, red potatoes, Swiss chard, arugula, baby sweet onions, heirloom tomatoes, and beets!

    This week’s produce. We had a selection of summer squash, Armenian cucumber, red potatoes, Swiss chard, arugula, baby sweet onions, heirloom tomatoes, and beets!

    With the Crooked Sky Farms CSA I host, I feel like we have a good plan for what’s going to happen when the baby comes.  The sixth week of the summer season is on Wednesday, June 26, and the baby is due on the 27th.  And… the baby could come at any time, really.  I’ve been anywhere from 11 days early (twice!) to eight days past my estimated due date.  While there have been a number of people offer to help, the most promising person is, ironically, a woman with seven kids.  She hosts a raw milk pick-up (where I am a customer), so she is rather familiar with the ordeal of people coming to her house over the course of an afternoon and picking stuff up.  🙂  Also, she’s a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom whose oldest is 16.  Just like me!  She said that she would be happy to either come to my home and host the CSA for a day, or to even have it at her house.  So, the plan is that, if I have the baby on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, she will have the CSA in her home.  If I have the baby Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, I’ll probably just tuck myself upstairs with the baby and she will stay here for the afternoon, with my kids helping her.  If I have the baby on a Sunday, it could go either way.  That’s at least the plan.  Another woman, who participated in the spring CSA season, sent me an e-mail yesterday saying that she would like to help around the time the baby comes, if need be.  I was quite touched by her thoughtfulness.  She isn’t participating during the summer because she has her own garden which is being very productive right now — no need to pay $20 for organic veggies if you grow an abundance of your own!  I sent her a reply sketching out the basic plan, and asked if she’d like to be back-up, or perhaps be the host (as her home is much closer to mine, and would be less of a deviation from the regular plan for the other CSA members).  Anyway.  It just feels nice to know that things are taken care of, and that people are kindly offering to help out.  🙂  I feel surrounded by wonderful folks.

  • We’re almost done with school.  Kind of.  Three of my kids will be finished on June 7th, in less than a week!  My oldest, who is a sophomore, won’t be done.  He got himself behind and will likely be playing catch-up until the end of June.  I’m rather displeased with that because, as a homeschooling mom, if he isn’t done, that means that I am not done!  But, as he is a sophomore, we can’t just say, “Ah, well.  We’ll come back ’round to it in the fall.”  There aren’t really any do-overs once you’re in high school.  So, he’ll keep working until he’s finished with the year’s curriculum…  I will admit that I am very ready for summertime, and I’m very ready to focus on the baby.  Two weeks ago, I told my middle boys (8th grade and 6th grade) that they will finish the last three weeks of school primarily on their own.  Normally, I do about 60% of their work with them — reading to them, discussing assignments in depth, having conversations about the topics at hand, reviewing their work, etc.  But, in order to help me be able to have time to prep for the baby, I was straight-up with them:  “Listen, I know and you know that you learn better when we do school together.  Having an actual teacher helps you glean so much more out of the material than if you just cover it yourself.  However, you will be doing virtually all your remaining work for the year on your own, reading to yourself or reading to each other, because it’s either that or nothing.”  That is one of the benefits of homeschooling:  You can make it be flexible when you need to.  They would learn more if I was more highly involved, so I feel kind of badly.  But, three weeks of independent work within a 35-week school year won’t kill ’em, I guess.  It’s better than just stopping school.  That sounds like I’m setting the bar rather low.  Perhaps I am…  But, that’s what is necessary for these last few weeks of school.  🙂

A guitar, a crib, a dashboard, and a book club (reflections on a year in a small, weekly home group)

The school year is winding down.

Among other things, that means the small group I’ve attended for the last 9 months or so will come to a close, too*.

A few reflections on “my” group this year:

  1. As a worship leader, I don’t get to pick my group.  Each August, I hear chatter between friends, “Whose group are you thinking about going to this year?  What night is it?  Whose house is it at?  Who is the leader?  Wanna go together??”  That sort of thing.  I don’t get to participate in those conversations.  I go where I’m assigned.  That’s good news and bad news.  If there is someone who goes to a group who is a particular friend of mine, it’s totally by coincidence.  I’m often assigned to groups that I wouldn’t have personally chosen, for one reason or another.  BUT… that also means that, each year, I get to grow closer to a bunch of people who, even if I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself, God has chosen them for me!!  He knows what I need, even when I don’t.  It seems that, usually, God uses that year’s group to challenge me…  God knows that I need stretching and growth in a particular area, and proclaims to me, “Here is your opportunity!  And you can’t escape it!  Hahahaha!”  Yes, I envision God laughing at me like that.  He has a funny sense of humor.  However, this year, the group I’ve been in has been such… comfort to my heart.  Such comfort.  It is filled with thoughtful, caring, tender people, whose hearts overflow with love.  Usually, during ministry time, toward the end of our time together, I am playing my guitar, covering the environment, praying or singing over the interactions taking place in front of me.  In all my past groups, I’d rarely be the recipient of prayer.  I’m totally OK with that.  But, it has blessed me to tears that virtually every week, someone will come over and lay their hand on my shoulder and quietly speak a prayer of blessing and encouragement over me…  I feel un-forgotten.
  2. A family in my group this year has gone through something I can’t even imagine.  It has rent my heart.  For the past three years, they have fostered a baby since he was only a few weeks old.  Initially, they thought (due to the proclamations of the mother) that they were blood-related to this baby.  They didn’t find out until the baby was two, I believe, that he was actually of no blood relation.  However, they have loved and cared for him and cherished him as the son of their heart.  This past year, a distant blood relation of the child decided that they wanted the boy.  And, in what was a blow to all of us, the courts decided in favor of the distant blood relative, rather than in favor of the parents this baby has had for literally his entire life.  The mother approached me a few weeks ago…  “When he goes to live with his new family, I’d like you to have his crib for your new baby, if you want it.”  That killed me.  My heart has been so knit to this family through their struggle to keep their little boy…  And the crib is REALLY NICE.  Really nice.  I’m sure they could sell it on Craigslist and recoup some of the money spent.  But, they’d rather I have it.  They said they’d be honored.  Oh, my Lord.  *I* am honored.  The day their son went to live with his new, permanent family, about a week and a half ago, they brought the crib to my home.  So very, very bittersweet.  ~sigh~  But that crib will now be a reminder to me of that little boy who, in my estimation, should still be with the parents who raised him for more than three years.  It will be a physical reminder to pray for him, far away now…  And to pray for the parents whose hearts have been broken and broken and broken over this.
  3. On a few occasions, our group takes the opportunity to bring food and ministry to various families in need in our local area.  The last time was almost two weeks ago.  I was with a group of four others.  Usually, we have names and addresses and specific people expecting to receive us.  This past time, though, we were just sent out with bags of groceries and instructed to just pray about where to go.  The group I was in went to an apartment complex.  However, after walking around (up and down stairs) for about 30 minutes, I started having contractions and I could feel my ankles swell rapidly.  So, a man in the group and I went back to someone’s car to sit while the others finished.  This man had had a stroke five years ago and doesn’t walk well, himself.  So, we sat in the car and chatted.  I asked him all sorts of questions about his past, his stroke, his recovery, his relationships…  I kept asking and he kept talking.  It was a lovely evening, with cool breezes wafting through the open windows of the vehicle.  I kept thinking, “This is such a treasure.”  It’s hard to explain, but I had the thought, “Would I normally have 30 minutes to sit down and chat with a 60-something man?  No.  Would we ever go out to coffee together?  No.  But is this so valuable, such a blessing to the both of us??  Yes.”  Once again, it was like God saying, “I know what you need, I know what he needs, and I’m going to use this little opportunity that wouldn’t arise any other way to knit your hearts together.”  And I just kept thinking, “THIS is what being the Body of Christ is about.  THIS IS IT.  This is Church life.  This is what God does.”  He brings us into deeper and more sincere relationship, often with people we would not have chosen for ourselves to be our “buddies” but in the end, it turns out to be JUST what we needed.  God is smart like that.  🙂
  4. Lastly, I have been part of a small book club for… five years I think it has been.  Our group started out with eight women, all from “my” church.  As time has progressed, about half of us no longer go to the same church, but the group has persisted.  However, a couple of women have moved out of state, and one more is heading imminently in that direction, and on Saturday, those who remain had a little discussion:  “Whom should we invite to join us?”  And I was delighted to suggest a woman who is in my small group.  I just know she’ll be a good fit for our small group of diverse, thoughtful women who meet every other month to discuss a book which has (as is our goal) “Good Art + Good Message.”  We’ve read a great range of fiction and non-fiction, contemporary works and classics, poetry, memoirs, novels, and more.  The thing is this:  This particular woman whom I offered as a potential member, up to the other ladies…  Well, I NEVER would have known her, if it hadn’t been for small group.  We’re of much different ages, we don’t typically relate in the same circles of people…  We’re just in different walks of life.  But, after going to small group with her on Thursday nights, I know she is insightful, humorous, kind, and thinks deeply.  I very, very likely wouldn’t have discovered that, had it not been for small group.  And I look forward to getting to know her better through the book club.  And it’s good for HER, too.  We all want to be known.  We all want to be wanted.  We all need friendship.  We all long to be noticed and appreciated…

So, once again, I find myself thankful for my God, who knows what I need — and even what I want — well before I do.  And He is kind enough to set me up to “discover” it for myself.  He gives me those things, like gifts…  And I am sincerely thankful for His care over me.

————————

*My church has small home groups that meet throughout the school year, and then summers typically see a variety of special classes or Bible studies that last 2-8 weeks

Why it was good for me to drag my tired hind-end to small group last night… What I could have missed.

Small update to yesterday’s complain-y post.

The leader of my small group chose to teach/discuss passion for Jesus, and how His love for us stirs our hearts to love Him, and what that looks like, and how we live that out…

I got to share a story from this past week, where I had and opportunity to show love to someone when I didn’t feel like it.  I know that sounds minor, sounds insignificant.  But, to me, it was extremely challenging under the circumstances yet I knew it was something God was calling me to do.  And the results, the fruit of that, have been wonderful, beyond my hopes.

Later, we worshiped — which is toward the end, and which was really wonderful.  And I was grinning during part of worship, as I sang, if nothing else because two of the four songs I chose were so very fitting.  I love it when that happens.  Occasionally, people will ask the leader and me if we planned out the teaching to match with the worship or vice versa, and we say, “No… that’s the Holy Spirit.”

So, the first song was Sing, Sing, Sing by Chris Tomlin.

What’s not to love about You
Heaven and earth adore You…
You are the love that frees us
You are the light that leads us…

But even more fitting was Consuming Fire by Tim Hughes.

Consuming fire, fan into flame
A passion for Your name
Spirit of God, fall in this place
Lord, have Your way
Lord, have Your way with us…
Stir it up in our hearts, Lord
A passion for Your name!

Maybe that doesn’t mean much to y’all…  But it was like God saying to me, “See?  It’s good of you to be here.  And, see??  You hear from me, even when you’re not particularly trying to.”

After “official” worship is over, I continued to play guitar, as I always do, in what my husband calls “covering the environment”.  There were small clusters of people, praying for each other.  Often, during that time each week, I’ll just strum a chord progression, building it up, then bringing it down…  About half of the time, I’ll sing prophetically, usually fairly quietly over the group:  Just what I feel is in God’s heart to those gathered, in first person, His voice to His beloved…  Among other things, it helps me feel connected with what is going on during ministry time.  Since I’m the worship leader, there isn’t usually opportunity for me to pray for others, and only occasionally do others pray for me during that time.  I’m totally OK with that.  But, if I’m singing over the people, I’m still connected, and that’s good.  Last night, I had a prayer rising up in my heart.  Honestly, I don’t often vocalize what I call “prayer songs” — things that are on MY heart to God’s.  But, not only was it welling up in me to sing, I sang quite loudly, which I don’t usually do.  I usually stay in the background, not wanting to make it difficult for one person to hear another’s prayer…  I would glance up every few minutes, and all those present were just soaking it in, eyes closed, hands open, receiving, listening, participating in their own hearts, voices occasionally harmonizing with what I sang.  It just seemed that what was on my heart was on everyone else’s, too.  It was really beautiful.

After the group was over, while most everyone was snacking, I got to talk with a woman…  Well, she started to come to “my” small group only a few weeks ago.  I could tell she was unsure about the whole thing…  I had remembered — from some conversation long ago — that she was from farming country in Illinois.  So, when she came to the small group for the first time, I rekindled that conversation and discovered that her son lives in the tiny town — population 1,785 — where my paternal grandmother is living (in a skilled nursing facility, about ten miles from the home of her birth).  Again, perhaps that seems inconsequential, but it was another whisper from the heart of God to me, and more importantly, to this other lady, that she is CONNECTED to the Body of Christ, to this particular body of believers…  Belonging to His family is important to God.  So, I joked with her, “I waved to your son when I went to visit my grandma.”  And we talked again about loving the land, and family farms, and being married to men who love the desert.  It was good.

Later, after everyone had left, a mom who lives in the multi-generational home where our small group meets…  Well, she and her husband have been fostering a child for THREE YEARS.  Three years, since the child was only a few weeks old.  And now the birth mother’s extended family have finally “won” and this darling child will be going to live with the stranger-family (strangers, though related by blood) permanently in a couple of weeks.  HEART-WRENCHING.  The whole thing has very much shaken me.  But, I hung out with her afterward and we talked about the whole thing, which we do almost every week…  And I felt God saying to me, “See?  It’s good of you to be here.  She needs this.  You need this.”  And on top of that, she wants to give me the little one’s crib for our new baby.  A couple of months ago, a sweet friend re-gifted a different crib to me, that had been given to her, but it’s in dire need of new paint, and has been sitting in my storage room, waiting for me to get motivated.  This “new” crib is gorgeous, dark wood, and in excellent condition.  I felt both honored that she would give the crib to me… and having it will be a reminder to pray for that family.

And another woman…  the matriarch of the home, had earlier overheard the conversation I’d had about the farm and said, “Sit down here.  I want to read something to you that I read this morning” and she proceeded to read the whole of Psalm 65 in a translation I’d never heard:  The Voice.  It was achingly lovely.

You spend time on the good earth,
watering and nourishing the networks of the living.
God’s river is full of water!
By preparing the land,
You have provided us grain for nourishment.
10 You are the gentle equalizer: soaking the furrows,
smoothing soil’s ridges,
Softening sun-baked earth with generous showers,
blessing the fruit of the ground.
11 You crown the year with a fruitful harvest;
the paths are worn down by carts overflowing with unstoppable growth.
12 Barren desert pastures yield fruit;
craggy hills are now dressed for celebration.
13 Meadows are clothed with frolicking flocks of lambs;
valleys are covered with a carpet of autumn-harvest grain;
the land shouts and sings in joyous celebration.

She sent me a text this morning, early:  “Karen dear… there are songs for you to write in Ps 65 (the Voice).  I have the strongest urge to convey that to you I can’t even wait for a polite time to call you.”  That made me cry.  It was just one more whisper from God’s heart to mine.  One more sweet ribbon, tying me to His heart and to His people…  And I would have missed that, had I not gone to small group last night!!!

And then, to top the whole thing off, as I got into the car to drive the short distance home, I turned on the Diamondbacks game, and it was the bottom of the ninth, and J.J. Putz was closing it out…  We were leading.  I got home in time to see that last out being made, on TV.  🙂

And then I pulled out my book and read until I was drowsy, and then went to bed, very satisfied with the day, my heart full to overflowing, deeply content.  I felt like God had redeemed the day:  turned something that could have been an exhausting drag into something glorious.

To each her own opinion of herbs…

I’ve been newly employed this year as a coordinator for a CSA — a farm share program.  For the last four weeks, folks have picked up their locally-farmed, organic produce at my home every Wednesday afternoon.  It has been more work than I had anticipated, mostly in managing everyone’s quirks and preferences and keeping everyone happy.  I’m not very good at that, in my own nature, but I’m trying and I’m learning.

Something that I am coming to understand is that, no matter what, some people are just thankful and pleased, and others are just grumpy.  Blessedly, I have many more of the “thankful and pleased” sort of folks:  I have received many genuine thanks, both spoken and in e-mail, from our now-24 members for the efforts that I’m making on their behalf.  That’s endlessly encouraging.

Beautiful Red Russian kale

I participated for a couple of years in a different CSA and this particular one — through single-farmer-owned Crooked Sky Farms — is excellent.  They wash and portion-out everyone’s share.  There have been a few missteps, but generally communication has been excellent.  There’s a weekly trade basket, so if you don’t want Red Russian Kale, for example, you can trade it in and pick out three navel oranges instead.  The farm — including one particular employee, who rather runs the place — works diligently to satisfy everyone’s needs, as best as she can.  For instance:  Even though every week’s share is eight portions of in-season produce, the most that any one particular thing has been repeated is once;  the farm is mindful of trying to provide as much variety as possible.  So, in our four weeks, 32 portions total now, the most we’ve seen any one thing is twice.

On my end, too, I do my very best to take care of everyone’s needs:  Letting them come early, letting them pick up late, using my personal share to supplement theirs if something runs short, making note of what they like or don’t, compiling weekly documents that contain info and recipes for the produce that might be less familiar, communicating regularly via e-mail, etc.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back too hard, but I think both the farm and myself are doing a good job.

Yesterday, though, one woman was fairly incensed about something and freely expressed her dissatisfaction to me.  “What??  Dill again??  I didn’t even use nearly all my dill last time and I think that’s kind of like cheating when a small bunch of herbs is included as part of our share.  It’s so small, and you can hardly use it.  That’s why I stopped participating in the CSA last time, because they kept giving us too many herbs.”

I just listened to her, and then suggested that she trade it in.  However, as she was one of the last people picking up, the trade basket only had curly mustard greens and arugula in it, in addition to more dill, and she didn’t want those, either.  She just puffed her disappointment and left.

I tried to let her words roll off.  “Not gonna make everyone happy…” I thought.  It was only the second time in four weeks that we’d received dill and only one of the eight things weekly have been herbs;  I don’t think that’s excessive.  But I do understand her sentiment;  I’d probably rather have a big bunch of carrots than a bunch of dill, even if the portion of dill is generous — and it is;  it’s probably 4-5 times what would be in those little plastic packs of fresh organic herbs which you can find in the grocery store produce department.

Still, though… After she left, I felt a little emotionally bruised.

Then, the next person came in to pick up her produce.  She had started a little late in the season;  this was only her second time picking up produce.  “Oooh, is that dill?” she asked, eyes wide, pinching a leaf and sampling it, “It is!  I love dill.  I could smell it before I even tasted it.”  She clutched the dill to her chest.  “To me, dill smells of home and my mother…”  She went on to tell me that her mother — now sadly deceased — used to regularly make homemade bread using fresh dill, and it was one of her favorite memories and favorite smells.  She firmly stated she would be making some fresh dill bread the next day….

She seemed close to tears.

I thought of that woman’s own daughter, and how this bit of herbs in her hand would be the vehicle to pass on a treasured childhood memory to the next generation.

I was then close to tears.

That interaction erased the negative words of the previous CSA member.  It felt… powerful and perfect.

She sent me a follow-up message later in the evening:

I was serious about the smell of dill…it is home and momma and love and snuggles on a cold winter night to me…made me cry actually and now relishing all the sweet memories it brings…cant wait to make that dill bread tomorrow… csa is more than veggies, for sure.

If anyone else complains about dill, it will be water off a duck’s back, for certain.  It’s all worth it, grumpy customers included.

Do you make your own babyfood?

I do.

Here’s part of a message I wrote to a friend, who has an 11 month-old with NO teeth, and is trying to figure out some non-milk ways to add protein to his diet.

For little ones, this sounds a little crazy, but I like serving beans. Of course, too much beans will make anyone gassy… But a small amount is a great source of protein. Garbanzo beans are the least gassy of all beans and have a very mild flavor that is appealing to most babies.

If you can find them, old-fashioned metal ice cube trays that feature a little loosening bar/contraption work even better.

Also, you can use a blender or mini food processor to mash up beans and even meat. It’s really easy, actually, to make your own baby food. Put some cooked brown rice, some cooked beef (stewed works well), some cooked garbanzo beans, and some spinach — raw or cooked — into the blender (or some other healthy combination you think he’ll like — cooked squash, chicken, oatmeal is another idea, or plain yogurt*, blueberries, and oatmeal) and blend to process. Put it in an ice cube tray, and when frozen, pop out and put the cubes in a Ziploc. Then you’ll have quick little portions. I’ve even saved store-bought babyfood jars, and in the a.m., put 2-3 cubes in the jar in the a.m., and by lunch time, they’re thawed and ready to eat.

When I make babyfood, I will often just set aside an unseasoned portion of whatever I’m making for the family either to grind up for baby’s dinner that night OR I’ll save brown rice one night, beef the next, squash the next, etc. and then when I have small bowls in the fridge of a good babyfood combo, I will put them in the blender and make the babyfood.

I do that, though, because I’m cheap + healthy. Gerber and Beechnut typically have so many crappy additives, especially in the stage 2 & 3 meals, but the organic baby food is SUPER expensive. And once you get in the habit, it literally is about five minutes extra of your time to make and freeze babyfood cubes.

For babies younger than 11 months, it’s even simpler, as you should only use one food at a time — steamed carrots, baked squash, etc.  When your baby is around 7-8 months, they can usually tolerate a simple combination of two foods at a time.  The older they grow, the better able they are, typically, to digest more complex food.

Making your own babyfood is more trendy than when I started to do it, nearly  15 years ago.  Responding to consumers, the are now a number of babyfood cookbooks, “kits”, and other supplies… Although I love cookbooks and kitchen gadgets, I find most of that stuff to be kind of a waste of money.  Just take plain versions of what YOU eat — provided that you eat healthy, whole foods — and prepare it as babyfood.  Voila!  No cookbook needed.  And if you have a blender or a mini-prep food processor and some ice cube trays, you don’t need any special gadgets.

————————

*And, yes, I know I just said “non-milk” and there was a reference to yogurt in there.  It appears that her little one MIGHT have a sensitivity to milk — but milk sensitivities can be tricky.  Is it just lactose?  Lactose is milk sugar.  In honest, fully cultured yogurt, there is virtually no lactose;  the yogurt cultures “eat” the milk sugar, and the resulting fully cultured yogurt has no lactose.  Same with hard, aged cheeses — like cheddar.  The process eliminates lactose.  But, if a child has a sensitivity to casein or whey or another milk protein, you’re up a creek, and even yogurt won’t help;  you have to quit all milk products altogether.

 

I read a romance novel over the weekend…

…It was kind of on accident.

Beyond some classics — Austen, Brontë — I don’t think I’ve purposely read a romance since I was in junior high, 25 years ago.

I rather disagree with the whole premise of romance novels.  I tend to think that it’s unhealthy for women to live in the fantasy world of The Perfect Relationship;  it sets them up for disappointment with reality.

I feel the same about most chick flicks — “relationship” movies.  I see almost none of them, on purpose.

Strangely enough, this was a decision I came to WHILE I was in junior high.  A very odd thing was the catalyst for my decision:  the movie Romancing the Stone.

In the movie, Kathleen Turner plays a romance novelist who becomes caught up in an adventure.  The movie opens with her, alone in her apartment, crying over her typewriter, sipping wine, and talking to her cat.  As a 13-year-old or so, this made an impression:  “I’ll bet that’s what it’s really like.”  It dawned on my pubescent self that the people writing those books and movies weren’t relationship experts — just relationship dreamers.  And I swore them off.

Now…  I know that a number of friends read romance novels and some of my readers even WRITE them.  I’m sorry if my stance is offensive.  I’m sure any number of people can come up with good reasons to read romances, and exceptions to my stereotypes.  But, I stand firm.  I just don’t think romances are a generally healthy read.

So, imagine me:  standing eagerly at the library counter, waiting for the librarian to fetch my reserved copy of the latest Charles Todd novel:  Charles Todd who reliably writes mystery novels.  Picture my surprise when I see that, on the book in her hand, the “R♥MANCE” label is slapped on the spine.  I was literally, physically startled.

Charles Todd, how could you do this to me???

I have always enjoyed mysteries;  since I read my first Hardy Boys book,  borrowed from my brother, while I was in 2nd grade, I have been hooked.  And, for the last couple of years, I have been immersed in the World War I era.

It’s hard to find compelling, literate mysteries, that aren’t trashy — full of sex, bad language, and violence, masquerading as “intrigue”.  And when you add my caveat of setting it in WWI, the list is even smaller.

  • Yes, I’ve read almost all of Laurie R. King’s books — I’m tired of her.  She seems too  impressed with her own cleverness, and her books have devolved into farce.  I put The Pirate King down, midway through — something I virtually never do! — and swore her off, too.
  • And I’ve read all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ works;  she’s the queen, the original, and Peter Wimsey is a classic.  But, she’s not writing anything new… 😉
  • And I’ve read all of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series.  I like them all right.  Winspear, though, liberally injects her books with her personal philosophy, with which I generally disagree.  I do like the story lines, though.
  • And I’ve read Anne Perry’s World War I four-book series, which starts with No Graves Yet.  They were all right only.  The first and fourth books were the best.  Clean:  Yes.  Compelling story line:  Mostly.  Interesting, believable-but-inspiring-yet-flawed characters:  Mostly.  Literate:  No.  Perry has written a whole lot of other books;  I don’t believe I will read any of them.
  • And, I’ve read a bunch of stand-alone novels set in the 1910-1930 era;  I prefer series, though.

So, really… the ONLY author of whom I know who fits my extremely niche current interest, plus my long list of requirements:  Charles Todd.  The author is really a mother-and-son team.  They have written the 14-book series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, who suffers from PTSD in the aftermath of his service in the war.  I love Inspector Rutledge!!  They have also written the newer four-book series featuring World War I nurse, Bess Crawford, all set during the war years.  I’ve loved all those books.  Their first novel — The Murder Stone — I must admit that I didn’t like.  It was an absolute maze of characters for whom I cared nothing, and I put it down after the first 100 pages or so.

Overall, though, I do love the Todds’ work.  They’re my favorite current fiction authors.  Last spring, two friends and I even traveled to the Prescott Public Library to see the authors!!  It was a glorious day trip — the best of company, with two friends who are also fans of the Charles Todd books.

Karen with a cheesy smile with the Todds.

Karen with a cheesy smile with the Todds.

So, having a track record of 18 “loves” and one “dislike”, I always look forward to any new Charles Todd novel!  When The Walnut Tree came out, even though it is (kind of) stand-alone, rather than part of the Crawford or Rutledge series, I really anticipated reading it.  However, I have done very little reading the last few months;  it’s just been an insanely busy season, and when I had time for reading, it was not typically books for pleasure.  So, even though the book was published late last fall, I just now got around to reading it.

So, again… imagine my surprise when I saw that offending sticker on the back…

Ugh.

Under partial internal protest, I read it.

And, I liked it!

I had to get past the “this is a romance” thoughts.  And I had to get past my internal editor, who was highly annoyed that there are a TON — and I mean hundreds — of incomplete sentences in the book.  I finally rationalized that by saying, “Well, the book is in first person, in which Todd generally does not write… and when we think, we often think in incomplete sentences…  The protagonist is narrating her thoughts…  Oh, well.”

I liked the story line;  I found it very compelling.  The book was very readable, though “lighter” than I typically prefer.  And, I got a kick out of the fact that the protagonist is actually tied to the Bess Crawford series, so there were some character references and interplay that I really enjoyed….

I used to voraciously consume books.  Now that I’m a mother of five with responsibilities, I tend to read in a more self-controlled manner, finding ten-to-20-minute snippets of time in which to indulge my reading compulsion:  In a doctor’s waiting room, while a little one is in the tub, waiting in the car to pick up a child who is finishing an event, that sort of thing.  But, I (perhaps unwisely) stayed up late into the night on Friday and Saturday nights, long after everyone else was in bed, to read…  And I finished it on Sunday afternoon, in less than 48 hours.  (I typically take 1-3 weeks to complete a book, using my stop-start technique.)

And, when finished, I found myself hoping that The Walnut Tree would be the first in a new series by the Todds.

%d bloggers like this: