Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Farewell Pumpkins

I've held out longer than most. The Facebook community has made it abundantly clear that everyone except for us is now basking in Christmas cheer. 

Here's the thing. I like fall better than winter. I'll take gourds over evergreens any day. So apart from the severe peer pressure all around me, I'd be happy to continue scooping up colorful leaves, reading books about squirrels and corn and pilgrims and sipping hot cider for several more weeks.

Still, the rest of the crew is getting antsy. My older girl has resorted to smuggling in Christmas CD's from the downstairs closet this past week. She's working hard to woo the littlest into admiring these somewhat unfamiliar tunes. As of this evening littlest remains partial to nursery rhymes. 

So before I turn the page entirely (there are two more glorious November hours), I wanted to pass along a simple fall tradition that has fast become a favorite in our home.  

As we traipse through one of the pumpkin patches we visit each year, I ask the girls to find six or seven sugar pumpkins. They're always more than happy to comply. It feels so excessive to them - in the best eating double dessert sort of way. 

We then load them up, drive them home and place them in a line right down the center of our dining room table. And there they sit - adding bits of orange pleasure for nearly two months. 

Truly, sugar pumpkins are the most low-maintenance decoration ever. They don't need water or any further adornment - their plump orange presence is entirely enough. They require no electricity and never drop their needles like those green guys do in December. 

And their most appealing attribute? 

When the season wraps up, there's no need to store them away for next year. Truly clutter free! Instead, we bake, puree, freeze and eat them in all sorts of fabulous forms for months to come. 

* This year I discovered that baby food storage containers are the perfect size (1/4 cup)  for freezing pumpkin puree. This makes things easy on the back end when you're trying to figure out how much puree to pull out of the freezer for a particular recipe. 

Here are just a few of our favorite recipes that we've enjoyed. And I promise...come tomorrow morning I will rise with every intention of embracing all that December has to offer. Pumpkins anyone?

Pumpkin Pancakes with Honey-Raspberry Syrup

Morning Pumpkin Coffee Cake

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

Farmer John's Pumpkin Soup

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Act of Waiting

The past few weeks have felt a bit uphill on this side of life. Nothing terribly dramatic. Still, more trouble than I'm used to. 

These moments have interrupted me, humbled me, worried me, frustrated me and left me feeling more cranky than I'd like to admit on this Day of Thanks.

I'm still in the middle of one of these situations. It is taking longer than I thought. It hurts worse than expected and it doesn't seem to value predictability nearly as much as I do. 

As the hours pass and the questions stir, I fail to lean in - to depend. Instead I watch myself strive - completing, overcoming or simply crossing things off the list. 

When Hannah was ill last week - the kind of ill that leads you to formulate alternative plans for next time - I spent more time cleaning closets (three in one day) than I did on my knees. 

When I found myself wondering about my own test results, I climbed this.

I climbed it to remind myself that I was strong - that I can do things on my own. I told myself that there was little use in sitting around and waiting - that sweat, effort and momentum would make me feel better. And they can! They really can and that only adds to the confusion of it all from where I'm standing. 

To sit and to wait makes me crazy. It feels so useless and unproductive. It lacks a plan - tangible indicators. 

Somehow I've managed to lump waiting and prayer into the same dreadful category and secretly fear that neither prove especially fruitful. 

Author Henri Nouwen has words for me and my present confusion.

"How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means to suffer. Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God's glorious coming."

So in moments like today - when I'm unable or finally unwilling to take on one more closet. When I know that the very best physical option for me is to sit, the question then becomes, will I dare to pray and to wait within this space? 

May I find the courage to believe that patience and prayer are active, breathing, living, empowering practices that produce growth well beyond what my human striving ever will.  


Saturday, November 19, 2011


I'm a total sucker for book lists. This is no exception. Kate managed to pull together a wide selection of titles that will accommodate lots of different types of little book listeners. I identified at least two Christmas presents within the mix.

It's something I've thought a lot about. I never want to be mistaken as a paparazzi by my own children or have them feel as though their every move will be captured online in some regard. The potential exist if I'm not careful. 

Jon Acuff's posts displays just how much the littlest among us pick up on our somewhat complex relationship with social media.

From where I stand this is an extreme approach to the whole eating issue.  Author Renee does not mess around in this department and it sounds as though her family has benefited greatly from her mindfulness. 

I suppose I see this piece as an exercise in swinging the pendulum far to one side in hopes of gleaning some new insight along the way. In our case it amounted to revising snack time by excluding crackers and in its place adding nuts, olive oil popped corn and fruits and veges. The toddler's mealtimes have improved dramatically as a result.

I made these cookies for homegroup this week to finish off our Lentil Sloppy Joe dinner. They were amazing and frankly everything on sounds equally incredible. I've felt like a kid in the candy shop this week perusing this site; there are so many delicious looking, healthy recipes! 

Heidi just released a cookbook too - Super Natural Every Day - which would make a great Christmas gift for the cooks in your life. 

I know that many of you are already familiar with Tsh over at Simple Mom. Right now she's leading us through steps to simplify our holiday season. I've written a fair amount on this subject for various outlets. 

Still, it was news to me that you can order stamps online here and they'll arrive the next day in your mailbox with a mere dollar processing fee (no shipping). I received 200 today without stepping foot in the post office. 


Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Sacred Journey

"To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do - to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst- is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still." 

With that, Buechner had my full attention. What he went on to add continues to haunt me.

"The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed  by the holy power that life itself comes from. 

You can survive on your own. 
You can grow strong on your own. 
You can even prevail on your own. 
But you cannot become human on your own. 

Surely that is why, in Jesus' sad joke, the rich man has as hard a time getting into Paradise as the camel through the needle's eye because with his credit card in his pocket, the rich man is so effective at getting for himself everything he needs that he does not see that what he needs more than anything else in the world can be had only as a gift." 

- Frederick Buechner 


Monday, November 7, 2011

What Apples?

A few weeks ago we headed north to go apple picking. There's a valley not far from us that feels just different enough to add a bit of country to our otherwise coastal existence. 

This particular farm is a small organic family-run operation. When we arrived we were greeted by an older woman and her husband - the owners we presumed. The woman stood while the man reclined comfortably in his brown smudged rocker. Both found shade within a red wooden stand whose splintered sides and quaint imperfections felt reminiscent of a child's lemonade stand. 

Granny Smiths were the order of the day. $1.25 a pound. The trees were full of them. The woman pointed us to the south end of the orchard without a care in the world for how we went about our picking. 

We approached the task with relative ease. A gentle twist followed with a slight tug ... and we'd procured our first quarter pound! Just like that. 

Hailey helped pace our endeavor. Littlest (who is not known for her broad palate) becomes ravenous whenever food is available straight from its original source. Apples were no exception.  

Our harvesting wrapped up fairly quickly. Unlike blueberry picking (which you could do for hours and not break the bank) apple picking requires a bit more restraint.

Back at the stand, the man rose stiffly out of his rocker and weighed our sacks. Thirty pounds of fall goodness. Since then we've eaten lots of apple crisp, vegan apple strudel, cinnamon apples, apple sauce, apple pie, etc. I think we've been a happier household because of this.

Throughout our warm afternoon on the orchard, I couldn't help but notice something. Everywhere you turned there were apples on the ground - lots and lots of apples. 

I struggled with this on several levels. The crazy cleaner in me wanted to pick up the orchard. The empathetic side felt bad for the owners. From the looks of things, this was more land than they could keep up with. The frugal part of me pondered doubling back and striking a deal with the man and his wife on this seemingly forgotten fruit. I imagined developing a cottage industry around apple sauce.

Ultimately curiosity got the best of me and I just asked the question. 

Do you mind me asking what you do with all of the apples on the ground? 

With an almost sheepish grin, the woman wiped the droplets of sweat off her forehead, surveyed the land and replied, 

What apples? I don't see any apples on the ground. 

Not the answer I was expecting.  

And that was that. I waited for her to turn the corner on her seemingly ridiculous statement. She didn't, really. She only shrugged her shoulders and explained that she certainly couldn't clean up every night. She's found a worm farm that can utilize some of the fallen fruit. But in the end, the bulk of this produce is simply folded back into the soil to hopefully enrich next year's crop. 

In the weeks following our afternoon on the farm, I've thought a lot about this lady and her apples. I'm still slightly bothered by the predicament these folks are facing. It's a lot of fallen fruit. 

Here's the irony. Truly I think that I've lost more sleep over the situation than they have. If pressed on the subject I am not at all convinced that they'd even classify their situation as a predicament

Could  it be that there is rich wisdom in deciding to not see the fallen fruit in our lives? 

Might our lives prove richer if we embrace our limitations and relax into the notion that not every opportunity or predicament requires our engagement?   

I don't know, to be honest. I'm not entirely convinced. What I do know is that there was a peace - a hot, sweaty, fulfilled, imperfect sort of peace - tucked within that red wooden stand in the valley.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Biggest Homeschooling Mistake (thus far)

Simple Homeschool has been featuring a series on the biggest mistakes their contributors have made in the area of home education. Insightful, to say the least. Editor Jamie Martin has invited the rest of us to join in the conversation. So, in the name of steering at least one kind soul clear of my own foibles, here goes.  

If you've known me for more than a day or so you'll quickly realize what you're dealing with. While the adjectives may vary (organized, detailed, controlling) the bottom line is that I'm a Type-A freak who derives an embarrassingly large amount of satisfaction out of planning my life and the lives of those around me. There, I said it. 

As with most traits there's both good and bad to be found within the mix. My ability to plan has certainly provided momentum for our somewhat new venture in the land of homeschooling. I have reviewed countless volumes of curriculum, collected lists upon lists of the best of children's literature and even calendared every flag day for the coming school year. 

If the truth be known, I've also figured out how to synchronize history curriculum for my two girls when they're twelve and six (presently they're two and eight) and weighed the pros and cons of enrolling my eldest in junior college courses while she is still in high school. In case you're wondering, my girls are slated to studyAncient History in 2017. 

And that's where things get a bit dicey. While I think that most of us can see the value in mapping a course, there's equal merit in sitting within the moment - trusting that time and experience will gift you with the necessary insights to plan your next move. 

Too often, I'm afraid, I miss the moment in the name of planning ahead. 

And the moments which make up these young years are precious and fleeting. Will it matter more that I know when my girls will take Algebra or that I sat beside my littlest as she counted the first three apples she picked off the tree? Should I continue my pursuit of procuring the best reading list for eight year-old's or actually curl up next to my real life child with the story that's before us...even if it hasn't earned a Newbery Medal. 

Of course there is a time to plan. Our school house benefits from this practice. So how do I keep my Type-A self in check?

1. Stay Focused
Teaching your kids at home is no easy thing. I've found a direct correlation between my stress level and the energy I put toward planning my girls' high school baccalaureates. The more overwhelmed I feel in the moment, the more I tend to leap into the future. 

Understanding this, my job in those moments becomes reeling myself back in to the day at hand. I essentially put myself on planning restriction until I find myself in a more rational place. 

2. Embrace Myself
I will never not be a planner. It is who I am and to deny this would only bring large amounts of angst to me and those I love. Instead my responsibility becomes harnessing this energy for the tasks set before me in the near future (i.e. not seventh grade history). 

Have I planned meals for the week? What section of math will we be covering this next month? Those are the types of questions that can tap into my planning skills and produce valuable results.

3. Find a Balance
Not everyone in the world (or even in my own circle) has a love relationship with planning. That said, there's room for synergy as I encountered other parents who bring different skills (even idiosyncrasies) to the mix. 

For example, the more laid back ladies often provide me with a much needed deep breath and reminder that kids learn in all sorts of ways and that this learning is not entirely dependent on lesson plans. Likewise, I'm able to offer insight and perspective to these friends when they find themselves stumped as to how to organize their school supplies or locate a children's book pertaining to a certain topic.

4. Keep it Real
At the end of the day, the week or even at the end of our child's entire school career we have to remember that there is only so much we can do. Plans are just that - plans. Yes, they have their place. And yes, they will be interrupted, revised and all together thrown aside at moments. 

Still entirely more critical to the equation is your real life, fidgeting, discovering, complaining, excelling, wandering, engaging child. Plan to love them well - that's more than any Day-Timer can offer.