Friday, July 21, 2017

lemony cream cheese frosting

Oh, people, this heat! All week long, I’ve been coping okay, but I don't think I can handle the sticky, oily skin, the wet humidity, the entire-body fatigue for much longer. This afternoon, in the middle of a cooking tornado in which I had the oven cranked to 400 degrees for several consecutive hours (roasted beets, roasted zucchini), I turned the radio on just in time to hear the announcer report that lows would be in the 70s, highs in the 90s, the weather muggy-uggy for the entire weekend, and my soul shriveled. I actually felt it.

Last night one of the writing groups met at our house. I placed two fans at either end of the dining room table. Maybe if the hot air was moving, people wouldn't notice it so much? The blinds over the sink were closed, and I'd left up the ratty blanket that we hang in front of the deck door to block the blistering sun, so in the dim light, the kitchen looked dingy-dirty. But oh well. To hell with appearances—survival was all that mattered.

We sat around the table, our shorts, t-shirts, even our hair and the skin on the back of legs, sticking to the chairs so that every now and then we’d have to lean forward, gingerly peeling fabric and flesh from wood. I served tap water with ice, chilled white wine, and cake, just zucchini bread that I’d baked in a round pan and then stashed in the freezer for moments such as this.

While it was still frozen, I'd iced it with the leftover cream cheese frosting—packed with butter and cream cheese, and spiked with lots of fresh lemon juice, this new favorite of mine tastes cheesier than my standard cream cheese frosting, almost like a cheesecake (!!) but in icing form—from my daughter’s birthday cake, and then popped it in the jelly cupboard while we ate our supper and cleaned up the house. A couple hours later when I pulled it from the cupboard, the glass cakestand was gloriously chilly, beads of cold water clinging sexily to the plate's underside.

Towards the end of the meeting, a breeze picked up so I threw wide the deck door, trying to catch as much fresh, summer night air as possible, and by the time everyone left, the inside temperature had dropped to 84 degrees, only two degrees lower than what it had been when everyone arrived, but still. It felt lovely.

Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Epicurious.

2½ sticks butter
2½ 8-ounce packages of cream cheese
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
3¼ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Beat the butter and cream cheese until creamy, and then beat in the lemon juice, salt, and vanilla. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat until smooth.

This same time, years previous: all practicality, on his own, the quotidian (7.21.14), how to beat the heat, homemade shampoo and conditioner, salvation's chocolate chip cookies.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

sweet sixteen

For this birthday, only the girls were at home (the younger son was at camp and the older one in Peru), but we squirreled away slices of birthday cake for the missing boys and invited the grandparents for dinner and had a jolly good time anyway.

After she finished unwrapping her gifts, I looked at her pile of presents—a mane comb, horse shampoo and conditioner, mosquito repellent, etc—and laughed. “If I’d gotten these gifts when I was your age,” I said, “I would’ve cried. And not from happiness, either.” I don't think the two of us could be more different if we tried.

That evening before supper, she got goats. They weren’t a gift—she was paying for them herself—but she was so excited about them that she worked Velvet in the mid-afternoon blistering heat just to pass the time until my husband got home from work and they could go pick up the goats.

She named the kids Angelica and Peggy (name that play!). Angelica has a bizarre bleat that starts low and then soars way high in an operatic wail, making us laugh and prompting my kids to sing back. It’s quite the racket.

We gave our daughter cow bells—but no collars, oops—for one of her birthday presents. For one of the goats, she fashioned a collar from one of my husband’s old belts, but for now the other goat is still bell-less.

I’m sure she’ll come up with something soon enough.

This same time, years previous: in the kitchen, the quotidian (7.20.15), statements, whole wheat zucchini bread, shrimp with coconut milk, alfredo sauce.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

such a hoot

It’s been nearly six months since Alice joined the family.

I’m not much of a dog person, but Alice is a charmer. I get a kick out of watching her (and then my husband gets a kick out of watching me get a kick out of her). She's easy to anthropomorphize. Like, when I’m stretching after a run, she’ll stretch alongside me, almost like she’s mirroring me, which she's not, of course, but it seems that way. And then she’ll flop down on the ground, her nose one millimeter from my sneaker, her bright eyes rolling around in her head, watching my every move. 

She’s cuddly, too. Even though she's nearly as big (bigger, maybe?) than Francie, she's not as heavy. She loves curling up in laps like a big baby.

She adores water, and she’s passionate about finding cool places. Case in point, the above photo: splashing water everywhere and then lifting the water dish, sticking her head in the mud under the dish, and then lingering in that bizarre position. On hot days, I often find her dozing at the bottom of the cellar stairs, getting as close to the cool basement as possible.

Also, she naps hard, and in any position.

She has her flaws, of course. She likes to roll in horse/steer poo, so my younger daughter is forever having to bathe her. And even though she doesn’t jump up on people, she touches everything with her wet nose. I hate walking outside and getting a (probably poopy, ew) sloppy nose kiss on the leg.

Ghost of a freshly bathed dog.

Also, she camps out in my flowerbeds next to the gate, waiting for us to get back from wherever it was we went. (Which is kinda sweet, really.)

My older daughter is begging to get another dog, but we’ve put our collective foot down. Three dogs is enough, we say (even though a small part of me would enjoy another one, shhh).

This same time, years previous: a tale of two children, all partied up, bacon-wrapped breadsticks, zucchini Parmesan frittata, chit-chat.

Monday, July 17, 2017

the quotidian (7.17.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Compost bouquet.

Chard mountain: and then I steamed it down to nothing.

When writers gather.

Chocolate bread: a baking experiment of his very own. 

We're hooked.

Maintaining his (much-neglected) corn patch.

Washing wool = hours of work.

Reading glasses (my old ones): yet another twist in the downhill spiral to the grave.

Riverside: the moms' spot.
(There was a secret stash of Oreos, too.)

Cotton candy sky.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.18.16), ouch, apricot pie, this new season, the quotidian (7.16.12), roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, Jeni's best ever vanilla ice cream, pasta with roasted tomatoes and summer squash, counting chicks.

Friday, July 14, 2017

four weeks down, three to go

It’s been a month since my older son flew off to South America. At first I thought about him frequently; my curiosity about his goings-on was intense. I still do think about him often (of course!), but the intensity is no longer present. The separation feels normal. Peaceful, almost. We’re here and he’s there. So be it.

Still, whenever he sends an email, Skypes, or calls, we swarm the computer. Most of our contact is via Facebook. Here are a few snapshots of what he sends our way.

June 23, while still traveling with the choir:
Son: Ok, so the drinking age is 17 here and there is a special kind of Peruvian beer here. Are you ok if I have one? You know I don’t like alcohol. It would be for the experience.

Me, what I thought: What the—??!! You're thousands of miles away and we still have to parent you? Aren't we supposed to be getting a break?
Me, what I said: I don’t mind you trying a beer, but you should probably wait until the rest of the group leaves, since that’s probably against program policy and could get the leaders in trouble. And I’m not too keen on you drinking beer alone. So if you DO decide to get a beer, just taste a little and throw the rest out, okay? You don’t want your backpack to walk off while you’re having fun…

June 26, the day the choir left:
Son: Every time I think about the fact that almost everyone I know is almost 4,000 miles away, I get a tingly feeling of excitement and fear!!!! It’s AWESOME!

Me: Two important things! 1. NEVER LEAVE YOUR BAGS UNATTENDED. If you’re staying in hostels and need to leave for a day, get a locker. And be wary of drunk travelers. You may need to sleep WITH your bag. And, 2. Get a haircut.
Son: Thnx mum. I found one of the best hostels.
Me: PS. The haircut: Someone may confuse you with an alpaca and cook you into a burger.

A little later: 
Me: How was your day?
Son: You mustn’t get mad or worried about what I did. I am being perfectly safe and will continue to be.
Me: What’s THAT supposed to mean?

Son: sly smile
Me, what I thought: !!!!!!!, and No. Just NO.
Me, what I said: Papa’s laughing. DID YOU WEAR A HELMET???

And then he went on to tell us how he almost crashed into a cop and the cop yelled at him, and then his tail light fell off and a bus ran over it.

He spent nearly two weeks in the Amazon (on his way there, he messaged us from the bus: I CAN SEE THE FLIPPING JUNGLE!!!!!) living with some people who are building a farm. He planted watermelons (and ate an entire one for a snack one day) and went to church services and played cards with the kids, and the last night there he made homemade pizzas for twenty-one people. (I know that last bit because I fielded a ton of last-minute cooking questions.)

Earlier this week, he left the farm and began the truly solo backpacking leg of his trip: three weeks of winging it. I think about him more (heightened anxiety, perhaps?), but he’ll be fine, I’m (pretty) sure. There’s not much I can do from here anyway.

He’s having a good time, but it’s a solitary venture, traveling alone. Far removed from everything familiar, the isolation can be piercing. We warned him of this ahead of time, so he knew to be prepared. But preparing for it is one thing, going through it is another. He's super (and genuinely) upbeat, but he misses us, too. Us and food, mostly. Occasionally I get requests for food he wants upon his return, like this one: 2 one day old apple pies. Some of that cheese dip. A big glass of real countryside water. Hamburgers with relish and potato chips. And a massive bowl of granola and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with whole milk.

Returning home might be hard, too. A couple weeks ago I realized that we never properly prepared him for reentry—often the hardest part of international travel—so I shot him an email:

Returning home after a trip can be difficult for a number of reasons: no one understand what you've done, and there is a disconnect. This is normal! 
Some things to be aware of (and that will hopefully help you make the adjustment):  
1. No one will really care about your adventures. Aside from us, Grandmommy and Grandaddy, your aunt and uncle, most people won't be that interested. Be prepared to give a 30-second summary (5 minutes, if you're lucky). Anything longer and people will tune out. 
2. Capitalize on talking to the people who really do have interest. You may want to make plans to spend an evening with your grandparents and then another evening with your aunt and uncle. By breaking it up, you'll get more chances to tell your stories which will help you to process them. 
3. Remember that people were living their lives, too, while you were gone. Your experiences are no more important than theirs. More exotic, perhaps, but not more important. Make sure you are intentional about hearing their stories and finding out what's gone on in their lives. Be inquisitive and listen well. 
End of sermon. 

This weekend he’ll be busy floating on the reed islands of Lake Titicaca and spending one night in a five-star hotel. Then lots of bus travel and sand dunes and maybe beaches.

He’s eager to get back to Cusco, though, where a Spanish-speaking family with four young children is ready to host him, should he need a place to go. I think the mom could use my help with the kids, he told me, and they’re doing a construction project, so I might be able to help with that, too.

That kid—can’t stand being idle and needs to be needed. I totally get it.

PS. It sure will be wonderful to see him again!

This same time, years previous: zucchini fritters, the quotidian (7.14.14), Saturday nights, into the woods, zucchini pasta salad, in the pits, beet salad with caramelized onions and feta.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

reflections from Orlando

I spent most of last week in Orlando, being a delegate for our national Mennonite church's convention.

Confession: I don’t like conventions. There’s the dungeonesque nature of the whole place—artic air conditioning, high ceilings, no windows and dim lighting, miles of mottled carpeting, the food, when finally located, so wrapped in plastic that it’s positively mummified, and so on.

Then there’s the emotional and social paradox: surrounded by thousands of people but alone. Convention might be paradise for pastors and academics who get to reconnect with friends from different colleges, seminaries, and churches, but since I’m neither a pastor nor an academic, I had a noticeable dearth of connections to make. Which was fine, truly, but also terribly boring.

 The extent I'll go to care for my mental health: running in the Florida summer heat. 

I hated floating, wafting from one air-conditioned room to another, not doing anything. But then on day three—finally!—meetings started, and from then on, I was fine.

This year’s convention was polar opposite from the last one. Aside from one, four-hour delegate meeting in which we voted on an Israeli-Palestinian resolution (it passed with 97% affirmation, wheeee!), the rest of the time was devoted to the Future Church Summit, a church-wide brainstorming session. Along with the delegates, dozens of other people had been invited, including a fair number of youth through the Step-Up! program. For example, at my table, along with pastors (and the executive director himself), we had a high school student and two college students. Thanks to all the young people, the room had a different vibe, new voices, fresh voices, young people who cared. It was wonderful.

In the opening worship service, the speaker set the tone for the whole convention. There are three stages to ministry, he said: presence, advocacy, and direction. Until we have been fully present, until we are willing to advocate for other people (even our enemies), only then can we provide direction. And if we can’t do those first two things, then we have no business even opening our mouths.

And that, in a nutshell, was the thrust of the Future Church Summit. We were there to be present, to listen. Church leadership wasn’t going to tell us what to do or how to be. Through listening to each other, we got to collectively say how we wanted to be church together. How stunningly simple. How radical.

All the ideas and issues we discussed—and there were a lot: prison reform, power redistribution, diversity, LGBTQ inclusion, climate change, voluntary service, doctrine of discovery, etc, etc.—were great, but it was the process, a process that allowed all voices to participate, even the ones that have been repeatedly silenced, that I found most inspiring.

The Summit went like so:

A Question 
The leader would throw out a question and give directions for how we’d proceed.

Silent Reflection 
We’d spend several minutes in silence, jotting down our thoughts on index cards.

Table Group Discussion 
For 30-40 minutes, we’d discuss what we wrote down and then work together to find common themes.

Idea Submission
Each table had an Ipad and as we landed on ideas, the table-designated recorder (we also had table-designated leaders and time keepers) would type it up and hit send. A few words, or a sentence, and then send. Idea, send. Idea, send.

Theme Team
Up at the front, about 12 people clustered around a big table, busily reading and compiling the submissions. They’d often get well over a thousand submissions per question.

Group Response 
While the theme team continued to work, our leader led the entire group in about thirty minutes of either a spiral process (described in this book) or a Samoan circle, by inviting anyone who wanted to share to come to the front of the room while the rest of us watched on the big screens. Each person had two minutes (and a clock on the floor ticking down the seconds to help them stay focused) and then the next person would speak.

Theme Team Response 
A member from the team would present the findings from the last question.

We repeated this process over and over, the questions growing ever outward, from the internal and personal towards the broader communiy and church, and finally culminating in the big, what-direction-do-we-take-as-a-church questions. The listening, the generation of ideas, the open stance all combined to create a mood of creativity and care. After the anguish of the last convention, this one was a breath of fresh air.

Is it too good to be true? Maybe. Our group left early, so we missed the final gathering. Word on the street is that a number of people stood up and said the conservative voice hadn’t been heard—they didn’t feel that it was a safe place to share; perhaps, I wonder, because they were openly sharing space with the very people they wanted to exclude and didn't feel at liberty to voice their opinions?—so at the last minute the brakes were applied, momentum arrested, and the convention ended on a sour note.

But even wind of a last-minute scramble to rein in things doesn’t much dampen my mood. I mean, I am skeptical and wary—there are no rose-tinted glasses perched on this nose of mine. But for the first time, people in the margins were being given a voice. Listening was at the heart of our time together. So even though it's going to be messy—has church ever not been messy?—change is happening. It's going to happen. Hallelujah.

(Photo credit: Alison Brookins)

For the curious among you, more reading:
A love letter to the scattered pink siblings, from Orlando.
The Mennonite: Future Church Summit Sends Report to Delegates.
Reflection on the Future Church Summit by Melissa Florer-Bixler.
Am I not holy, too?
Following Robert's Rules in a culture of consensus: Reflections on Mennonite process as displayed at Orlando.

This same time, years previous: in which a pit bull bites my butt, the quotidian (7.13.15), what my refrigerator told me, roasted carrot and beet salad with avocado, soft and chewy breadsticks, tempero.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

roasted feta with honey

A little while back, I came across an interesting recipe—roasted feta! honey! fresh herbs!—but I couldn’t justify running the experiment on just my family. We needed guests, but they had to be forgiving ones, people who wouldn’t care if the recipe bombed.

So I invited my parents, a.k.a. the best easy eaters ever: they like nearly everything, eat copious quantities, and are vocal in their affirmations. And then I proceeded to make food that I knew my immediate family might not appreciate but that my parents would: pasta with grilled zucchinis and red onions and lots of lemon. (I forgot the fresh basil, but it was still good). Later we had ice cream cones on the porch (have you tried Edy’s mocha chip? it’s so good), but before the ice cream and before the pasta, was the roasted feta.

I set the plate of cheese, drizzled with even more honey and garnished with sprigs of fresh oregano, on the kitchen table. Also, a bowl of small roasted beets, a jar of olives, and plenty of pita chips to transport the food into our mouths.

In the heat of the oven, the cheese, normally so dry and crumbly, had turned soft, almost creamy. Everyone—even my feta-adverse husband (seriously, the man does not like the stuff)—loved this variation.

In minutes, it was completely gone.

Roasted Feta with Honey
Adapted from The New York Times.

1 block of fresh feta cheese
generous drizzle of olive oil
some sprigs of fresh oregano or thyme
black pepper

Place the feta on a foil-lined pie pan. (I used parchment paper; not a good choice when broiling.) Drizzle olive oil over the top. Bake the feta at 400 degrees for about 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of your cheese. When finished, it should be puffed, and slightly soft and springy to the touch. 

Remove the cheese from the oven, and turn on the oven’s broiler. Drizzle honey all over the top of the cheese—one to two tablespoons, probably. Sprinkle the top with oregano or thyme leaves. Broil the cheese for another couple minutes, watching closely, until the top turns golden brown.

Remove the cheese from the oven and transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with more honey (maybe a quarter cup?) so that it puddles around the cheese. Grind a bunch of black pepper over top, and place a few decorative sprigs of oregano around the edge.

Serve with pita chips, roasted red beets, olives, and more honey, if desired.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.11.16), a tale, er, tail, splash, zucchini skillet with tomatoes and feta, vanilla buttercream frosting, peanut butter cup ice cream, garden with an attitude.

Monday, July 10, 2017

the quotidian (7.10.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Weighing the (neglected, oops) produce. 

Messed-up caramel for popcorn, salvaged.

And to think I used to worry, ha.

Loud noises (in this case, gun shots) turn her cuddly.


Homework for the next project.

He's so bossy.

This same time, years previous: the family reunion of 2016, three things about writing, one weekend only, nose spots, the quotidian (7.7.14), the puppy post, let's revolutionize youth group mission trips! please!, the quotidian (7.8.13), let's talk, the quotidian (7.9.12), red raspberry lemon bars.

Monday, July 3, 2017

the quotidian (7.3.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Making it the Somali way: with raisins and homemade Xawaash spice mix.

It makes everyone happy, always.

I'm canning a second batch this morning.

Hitting all the sweet spots.

A new sleeping spot.

After more than two months, naked and scrawny.

A transitional brace: for the last three weeks.


Stitching it up. 

Judging by her birthday list, you'd think we were celebrating the horse.

Day's end.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.4.16), creamy cauliflower sauce, our 48-hour date, orange julius.