Not so Simple

One more mess to clean up and one more cookie to make.

I’m a pitiful blogger.

And right now there is SO much to blog about!  The Olympics have started.  School is coming up (though that means nothing to me).  We’re getting ready to fly on an airplane. Me… alone… with the Pickle… in my lap.  You see how much good stuff I could be writing about?

Yet, here I am.  Lost for words.

Which I guess leads me to the fact that even attempting to live the most simple life… is not really all that simple.  Life, no matter how you divide up your time, is always one playdate or laundry date or movie date or fill-in-the-blank date after another.  And somehow time always slips away from you.

This weekend we had two events to attend on Saturday, after which I came home more exhausted than my child who spent the majority of one event in a swimming pool.  Sunday morning I sang in the kids worship at church, then babysat my sobbing toddler the rest of the service.  But that was all ok, because I got to go on a sweet date with my husband to see The Dark Knight Rises.

I did not, however, get my necessary weekend stuff done.  None of it.  Nada.  Mayo. (that’s Chinese for none)

I didn’t blog.  I didn’t read the weekend part of my devotional Bible.  I didn’t do my laundry.  Or my husband’s.  Or the Pickle’s.  I didn’t clean the sink, or wash the dishes, or pick up the living room.  I ran away from home all weekend and when we returned Sunday night I was, to say the least, overwhelmed.

Because my husband needs clean clothes.  My child needs clean diapers (that’s another blog).  My kitchen needs clean dishes.  And my sanity needs a picked up living room.  So I did it all.  In about 2 hours I did a day’s worth of housework.  My husband kept wanting me to come in, sit down, watch the Olympics with him, eat, relax.

But I just couldn’t.  I had to get it done so I could relax, you know?  If it’s not done, relaxing isn’t relaxing at all because you’re constantly thinking about everything you have to do!

So what’s simple about that?

As I buzzed around the house like a released wind-up toy on linoleum, I thought back to my grandma’s day and I began to wonder if there was anything truly simple about it.

No, they didn’t have as many choices on the grocery store shelves as we do, but they didn’t have as many restaurants either.  So they had to cook every night.  And boy can I tell you how NOT simple cooking is.

They didn’t have dryers.  At one time they didn’t even having washing machines!

Haha.  When I lived in Taiwan I had a washing machine that only had, what I call, a swisher and a spinner.  I would drag a hose from the sink to the ‘machine.’  (75% of the time the hose would come unhooked from the faucet and I would flood my kitchen)  Fill it up with clothes, soap and water.   Let it swish around.  Empty it through a pipe into a drain in the floor (which also would flood).  Wring out the clothes.  Refill it, this time omitting the soap.  Turn it on again.  Drain.  Wring.  Repeat.  Drain.  Wring.  Repeat.  Until the soap was all out of the clothes or I was sick of the process.  THEN I would stick it in the separate spinner which I never got loaded evenly.  So it would knock and bang around loudly for ten minutes or so, followed by a day (or two or three) outside my window on a clothes line in the tropical humidity.  It didn’t take me long to locate the nearest laundry lady, and she got my loyal business for the next three and a half years!

Let me tell you.

There was nothing simple about what humans had to do before washers and dryers.

But in spite of all that I am still convinced that there was a simplicity to the predictability of my grandma’s life.  Why?

I guess when I think about it, the mundane tasks were for loved ones.  The day’s work that only ended when your head hit the pillow and started all over again the next day was meaningful and brought peace to the lives of those you were serving.  What she did wasn’t for her.  It was for everyone else.  To delight her children with cherry pies.  To bless her neighbors with baskets of fresh picked vegetables.  To give a hard-working husband less to worry about, a warm meal, a clean house and a place of peace to come home to…  Aha!

That’s it!  That’s what it was.  That’s why it seemed so simple.

It was a time of serving others.

When you do something with a joyful heart of giving (as opposed to a greedy heart wondering when you are going to GET what you want- a break, some help, a maid, etc) there is a built in feeling of accomplishement.  Purpose.  And peace.

When I am running around trying to get everything done in one night with Monday looming darkly overhead I tend to turn inward.  And I mutter.  Anyone else mutter?  And it’s usually not nice.  And if I keep muttering, I become bitter and spiteful and downright angry.

But when I remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.  When I remember whom I am doing it for… then I whistle.  Or sing.  Or have imaginary conversations with my grown-up daughter.  Telling her that life will not always look simple or feel simple and it will probably never be simple again.

But no matter what we’re doing and where we’re going… we can make it simple.  By simply serving.

And skipping a day or two of blogging to do more important things.

Grandma: Playing the Grandma Card

I got to use it yesterday.  The line.  The one that makes everything ok and justifies whatever I’m doing.  I pulled the Grandma card.

“My Grandma did it, so I can do it!”

Now, granted, this is not a foolproof card.  And there are many cases where it will not and should not apply.  Like, if I were to go get a perm, that card would not help.  If I were to start wearing polyester slacks with the big crease down the front.  Or if I were to start driving 50 on the highway.

But there are some situations where the card works beautifully and I can take snippets of my Grandma’s life and enjoy them in the comfort of my own 21st century home.

You see, Grandma cooked.  Boy she could cook.  Good country-style Kansas cooking. Cherry pies.  She always knew they were my oldest cousin’s favorite, but I don’t know if I ever told her they were mine too!  Fried chicken.  Mashed potatoes.  Chicken and noodles.  Chili.  And I know that BLTs are a dime a dozen, but I swear… she made the best BLTs on the planet.  It probably had something to do with the fact that she pulled the tomatoes out of her huge garden in the backyard.  And she didn’t mind using really greasy bacon and lots of mayonnaise.  Have you ever noticed that?  People of their day were never worried about fat and calories and organic and whole foods.  Because everything was organic!  Everything was whole food!  What’s not whole about a chicken you raised yourself?  What’s not organic about an ear of sweet corn you pulled off the stalk yourself?  (don’t argue with me… I don’t know the official definition of “organic.”  My point is, it was really fresh and had no pesticides.  Moving on…)

Grandma was a woman of her day, though.  She always used a mixer and had a microwave and when it was too cold outside to hang her laundry she’d use the dryer.  And lucky her, while we were forced to change the channel in the living room from Nickelodeon to a Western when grandpa came home for lunch, she had her own private black and white TV in the kitchen.  It was only for ‘her shows’: Guiding Light, The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives.  We were never allowed to touch that one, and it was always on.  And Grandma watched it while she cooked.

So yesterday when my husband came home I was standing in a darkened kitchen chopping up onions for dinner.  My Kindle Fire was propped up on the counter and an old episode of Flashforward was playing.  He came in, kissed me, put his stuff down, was telling me about his day and soon noticed that I was all but ignoring him.  Then he saw what was happening.

“Are you watching Flashforward and cooking at the same time?”

“Yup.”

“You can’t do that.”

To which I curtly responded, “My Grandma got to watch TV while she cooked, so I can too!”

End of story.

The Choices We Make

I am not a psychologist.  I am not an activist.  I am not babywise or Freudian.  I am not nature or nurture.  I am a human.  And I have an opinion.  And I have a child.

When the Pickle was born I immediately turned into a mother.  If you’ve done it, you know what I’m talking about.  Something very human in you kicks in and you just figure out how to hold a baby, how to understand her cries, how to change a diaper, how to hold the bottle just right so she’s comfortable (or whatever form of nourishment you’re using).  You just know… at least within a couple weeks, anyways.  And apart from a small number of people out there, most mothers look at that child and think they are beautiful and perfect and precious.  They think, I want this child.  I love this child.  This child is special.

Not long into my journey through motherhood I stumbled upon a deep and terrifying thought.  And to put it bluntly, this is what it was:

Hitler was a baby once. Continue reading

Popcorn and Playdough: Part II

Did I mention we don’t have a microwave?

Why? 

It has nothing to do with being green (because unlike our last name implies, we are not really very green and we’re ok with that).  It has nothing to do with money (because our parents- both sets -have offered to buy us one and we’ve refused every time).  It has a little to do with space (because we have a TINY kitchen and I’d rather have counter space).  It has EVERYthing to do with our year in Thailand.  Where we discoverd that we

just

don’t

need it.

They are one of these modern conveniences.  Grandma had one, of course.  A big dinosaur one that, surprisingly, is still in working condition!  But we learned that we could definitely live without it.  We’ve learned to warm stuff up on the stove or in the oven.  We think that tastes better, anyways!  We’ve learned that the majority of frozen entrees (if absolutely necessary) have oven instructions.  But most of all and most importantly, we’ve agreed that making popcorn on the stove is a much MUCH tastier alternative.

If you have never made popcorn on the stove, then you need to throw out those bags of stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth-fake-butter microwave stuff and purchase a 99 cent bag of real popcorn kernels.  And I know that you are out there.  If I grew up in a microwave popcorn generation then some of you DEFINITELY did!  In fact, I’ll bet a great number of you don’t even know how long to cook popcorn for in the microwave, do you?  Because you have a “popcorn” button!?  Admit it!

And it burns or leaves tons of unpopped kernels every time, doesn’t it?  Well, burn no more. 

Go grab your kids or your grandpa or your cat and make some HOMESTYLE POPCORN, please!

1.  Pour some oil in the bottom of a medium saucepan on med/high heat.  Maybe a tablespoon or two.  We use coconut oil!  YUM! 

2.  Pour in 1/4 – 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels. I’d say that serves about two (or one popcorn lover like me)  Shake them around in the oil to coat.  Put the lid on.  (if you need more, use a bigger pan!)

***Leave the lid on the entire time!  MUST STAY ON to keep the heat in all around the kernels to make them POP!

3. Standby.  Shaking the pot occasionally to keep the kernels from burning on one side.  After a few minutes, if you have a clear glass lid, you can see them start popping!

4. While it pops, which takes about a minute or two for them all to pop, shake the pot continually.  Again, this keeps the bottoms from sticking or burning.  Shake, shake, shake until you hear that the pops are getting fewer and farther between.  Keep shaking or the popped guys on bottom will burn!

NOTE: 1/4 cup of kernels will fill a medium saucepan perfectly.  1/3 cup will start to overflow it.  If that’s the case, remove from heat and raise the lid slowly while the last kernels pop and start pushing up and over the side.  It might get messy, but it’s fun. (:

Transfer to a BIG bowl and season as desired! 

We’re traditional salt and butter people.  While it’s popping, we have a small pan of butter melting on another burner.  In Thailand I would throw the butter in the empty pot while it was still hot and swish it around until it melted.  MMm!

In college I’d take popcorn seasoned with parmesan cheese to class.  Yummy!  And in Taiwan I had chili seasoned popcorn.  I’m sure there are a billion other creative toppings out there.

Now, go get popping!

Popcorn and Playdough: Part I

There is something special about going to a relative’s house when you’re a kid, isn’t there?  Be it a grandparent or an aunt or uncle.  Moreso than just a person who loves you, spoils you and sends you home, it’s a change of scenery.  A change of pace.  A new adventure, if you will. 

I loved going to people’s houses when I was little.  And this one thing you can be certain of- when going to a home without kids, you know where the toys are (or at least the items of interest).  Do you still remember where the toys were?

At Grandma and Grandpa’s, it was the closet in the sewing room.  Or the cupboard in the kitchen with all the games. 

At my other Grandma and Grandpa’s old Victorian house on the corner, they had a little closet under the stairs FULL of toys!

My Great Aunt’s was a favorite as well, because hidden in one of the octagon-shaped end tables next to her couch was the big plastic baggie full of Legos!  No relative ever went wrong hiding Legos in the house.

Why is it that those little, simple memories are the ones that stick the best? 

When my mom was a little girl, she remembers going over to this same Great Aunt’s house (her Aunt, of course) and getting a special treat that they never got at home- a small glass of Coke! 

And I must ask:  Are we trying too hard to make big impressions on our kids when really the things that will last in their hearts are the little, simple things?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

That said, the sweetest, simplest, most wonderful memory of going over to my Grandma’s house was when she would make playdough.  I don’t think she ever had a single yellow tub of that storebought stuff.  She had a tried and true recipe, some food coloring (my cousin and I took turns choosing the color) and a bag full of toys.  That was all we needed.

A few weeks ago we were stuck inside on a hot day (or maybe it was raining) trying to think of things to do and this memory came back to me.  So I decided that the Pickle and I were going to make playdough.  I let her help me pour in the ingredients and she even chose the color!  Blue.  Then she watched in wonder as I pulled a new toy out of my pot-o-wonders.

That first playdough experience was magical… and lasted at least half an hour.  Now, kept sealed in a plastic bag next to her crayons, it is something she asks for and enjoys playing with, just like I did when I was little.  And I confess, I do a lot of playing with it, too.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Never made your own playdough (or forgot how)?  Please enjoy my Grandma’s recipe and share it with a small person you know.

Play Dough
1c. flour
½ c. salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
Put in sauce pan.  Add:
1 c. water
1T cooking oil
Flavoring (optional)
Food coloring (optional)
 
Cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until mixture pulls from side of pan.  Knead immediately.  Store in an airtight container for several weeks.
 
 
I only make half a batch at a time.  It’s enough for one set of little hands.  Multiple hands may need more!
 
 

I Spoke Too Soon

Not long ago when I started this blog I bragged that I still had 5 living grandparents.

Sadly, I spoke too soon.

Two days ago, my beloved Grandpa (my dad’s step-dad) passed away quietly and painlessly in his home surrounded by family.  A few years ago, while we were in Thailand, he had a stroke and we returned to find a great, gentle, funny man quite altered.  He hasn’t been the same since.  And as with so many who suffer strokes, it was one difficult challenge after another, until finally this week he decided to throw in the towel.  We couldn’t blame him, but it is always so hard for those left behind.

I spoke to my Grandma yesterday on the phone.  She said that she told him “Whenever the Lord wants to take you, He will take you.  That’s ok.  But I would really like to go with you.”  Then she said with a laugh, “I guess the Lord wanted me to stay here.”

I couldn’t imagine.

My husband reminds me of my Grandpa a great deal, actually.  They are both rather quiet people.  Not loud and obnoxious like the rest of us in the family!  They don’t really care what people think or what people say about them. They know who they are and where they are going and don’t feel the need to spout on and on about it. 

Grandpa was always this solid rock sitting at the head head of the dinner table- presiding, if you will.  We were busy laughing, carrying on, even dancing on the chairs and he would just sit back with a big grin on his face.  As if absorbing all the love in the room full of his precious family. 

He and my husband both would be content to sit quietly and watch a football game or look out the window and think.  But boy, when they speak up.  You want to hear what they’re saying! 

See, I fell in love with my husband for many reasons.  And one of them was he made me laugh.  Not in an obnoxious way, but he is just clever and funny and has good timing.  And if I would be quiet long enough, he also speaks wisdom and passion from his heart.   Too many people miss the depth of people like my husband and as a result, they miss how funny he is too.

So was my grandpa.  I loved that so much about him!  He would be sitting there solemnly, looking at his cards or playing quietly.  Chuckling at our jokes and antics.  But then, out of nowhere, his mouth would open and the most hilarious stuff would come out.  Perfectly timed.  Immensly clever and funny.  Delivered in such a serious tone that you weren’t expecting it and soon we’d all be rolling on the floor. 

I also love these men because when I am with them they emulate something.  I can’t describe it.  In their solemnity and seriousness there is a peace about them that transcends words.  I wrote a letter to my Grandma trying to explain this feeling.  But in plain words, my Grandpa was a man of strong, unwavering Faith.  And as far back as I can remember (note that he is the only man I have ever seen my Grandma with, so he was really a full-fledged third Grandpa to me my entire life! so blessed!) he has been a solid rock of faith in my family.

Maybe it was the fact that he prayed passionately before every meal we had at their house.  Maybe it was the matter-of-fact way he spoke about God.  Maybe it was his love and concern for his church and their friends.  Perhaps it was his sweet face singing a deep bass line in the Easter Cantata.  Whatever it was, I have always known that my Grandpa knew God and loved God with all of his heart.

Which makes this a very bittersweet week.  While we have lost a great man in so many ways, I know that he has gained what his heart has always desired.  I know without a doubt that he is home and with his Lord.

You don’t have to agree with me.  You don’t have to believe me.  But I know what I know and I am convinced of this.  It is not some vision I have conjured up to make me feel better about my Grandpa dying.  It is a truth deep in my soul that I have been certain of since he bounced me on his knee at Christmas in the old Victorian farmhouse on the corner. 

And I can only pray that one day our grandchildren will feel this same peace from us.  That they will know our hearts.  That they will see where our lives are planted.  And may they find safety and security and overwhelming love in our presence simply because of the God we serve.

In My Free Time: I Read.

Having a child, I’ve learned to make lots of hard choices.  Like, do I eat chicken and peas with her or do I feed her the chicken and I grab a piece of cold pizza?  Pool or splash pad?  Kix or cheerios?

But by far one of the most difficult choices I’ve had to make is what I do with my free time.  Back when the Pickle was tiny and round she hardly napped at all.  I would get so frustrated.  About the time I’d start doing something during her nap, she’d start crying and I felt like I had NO peace at all. 

Now, I’m proud to say, she is an expert napper.  Sleeps a LONG time at night and takes two during the day.  I hardly know what to do with myself! 

Inevitably, I often want to choose me-time things to do.  Laundry and cleaning will always be there, but that cute idea on Pinterest may get lost in the digital filing cabinet and I MUST see it now!

But seriously, some days I choose a good old-fashioned read.

Just as I am a closet gamer, I am also a closet reader.  In fact, reading is on my lose-control-trigger list.  When I was young I would get in SO much trouble for always having my “nose in a book.”  Looking back, I realize that I could have had my nose in a lot worse, so I wouldn’t really mind if Pickle became an avid reader as she grows up.  I’ve already started letting her ‘read’ (aka. have a book) in her crib before naps and bedtime.  We’ll see if it sticks!

Anyways, this topic leads me to my all-time favorite book list.  I will go into detail on these books in later posts, i’m sure.  And I’ll add more here and there as I think of them.  But for now this is a run-down of some of my most life-changing (or addictive) books and why you should read them.  In no particular order.

Let Me Be A Woman (Elizabeth Elliott) – I. Love. This. Book.  It’s a collection of letters that she wrote to her daughter after she got engaged about what it means to be a Godly wife, woman and mother.  Keep in mind that Elizabeth grew up and was all of these things during an earlier time.  She touts ideas like wifely submission, Biblical discipline, and (God forbid) abstinence and modesty.  She is probably the reason for many of my old-fashioned ideas on homemaking, but there is something about this book that grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let me go.  I try to read it at least once a year… that is until I left in on a bus in China.  Now maybe some Chinese woman is reading it once a year!

Captivating (John and Stacy Eldridge) – Are you sensing a theme here?  This book also happens to be about being a woman, but is a little more modern take on the beauty and strength and adventure that it is.  Again, it’s probably a once-a-year read for me, and might be more often now that I have a little girl who will need to know that she is captivating!

Parenting By The Book (John Rosemond) –  There will be a full book review on this one coming soon.  When we learned we were pregnant, some friends of ours in Thailand recommended this book.  Their exact words were: “we wish this had been the ONLY parenting book we ever read”.  With that ringing in my ears (and me in nearly full agreement) I have found myself going back to it time and time again.  Not because John Rosemond is oh so wise, but because he puts Biblical child-rearing down on paper in a way that makes complete sense to me.  And I probably will not bother reading another parenting book.  This is a twice a year or as-needed book (for example, the Pickle made that awful discovery of her freewill the other day in Power Struggles…  I immediately got this book out again!)

What?  Did you think I’d actually give you fiction? 

Hmm.. what are the best fiction novels I’ve ever read?  What do I read and re-read over and over?  Oh!  Duh.. Lord of the Rings.  All of them.  All at once.  With lots of coffee.  Sometimes you just need a marathon… and the big picture.

Little Women.  I read it for the first time in 4th grade and thought I was all-that reading such a big book.  Now I just love the way she writes and the sweet, touching way that the story unfolds. 

Recently: I wouldn’t say it was my favorite book ever, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a pretty intriguing, can’t-put-it-down kinda book. 

The Help was wonderful, of course.  I love seeing history fleshed out. 

And I actually found a random book in the free bin at the used book store that was really, really interesting!  It was called The True Story of Hansel and Gretel.  Very intriguing view on how the holocaust impacted children.  Fiction, but it really cuts you to the heart.  It’s a little depressing at times, though, so watch out!  Read it on a sunny day!