Dreams

We have a dream. Yes, I have my own dreams, and he has his. But we also have a dream together. If you are a married couple and don't have a dream together, you really ought to run right out and get one. Having a shared dream to talk about, plan for, work towards and see grow....it's something very special.

Buying our first home brought us together in a sense of responsible adulthood. Having our children joined us as parents, a united front trying to make sure that we were always one jump ahead of the little guys. Losing loved ones brought us together in yet another way. Shared pain has a way of doing that. Sickness added another measure of bond, showing us for the first time how much we needed each other.

Having a common dream adds a whole new level to that marital bond. For one thing, we ALWAYS have something to talk about! Let me caution you, though....if you're both passionate about the dream, those talks can get a little warm sometimes. But weather the storm...it's worth it. If you fight about money, start working on that dream. It helps to put all your spending into perspective.

You will learn to compromise at a whole new level. Clearly, you will both have somewhat different visions of that dream. Finding a way to incorporate both visions into the whole is an excellent exercise in giving and taking. And creatively compromising, at that.

Young couples, pay attention! Talk about your dreams. Find one that the two of you can share. Nurture it, talk about it and work towards. You'll never be sorry.

Painting My Nails Red

One of my colleagues has a lot of fruit trees. She was kind enough to let my family pick the plums and peaches--she lives alone and isn't going to use them.

Four grocery bags of each plums and peaches later... I spent a good part of my weekend making jam, plum butter, and freezing the rest. Oh, I also made a plum pie: something I've never tried before. It was pretty good!

I've made a lot of apple butter in my years, but this was my first crack at plum butter. It took longer to cook down than the apples do, but I didn't have to run it through a mill. The plum skins just kind of disappear. The finished product is very much like apple butter, but more tart.

I don't know what variety of plums these are. Their skins are green, but the flesh is a lovely red. The peaches are wonderful: big freestone peaches that were easy to process. Since peach pie is a favorite with my guys, all the peaches were frozen to that end.

Working on that kind of thing makes me very happy. I might be a professional in my work life, but my heart is really at home. I love to bake and cook. Having a dozen jars of jam, and freezer full is something that warms my heart. I miss the days of a big garden and making pickles and....all that good stuff. The fall hunts are coming up, so the freezer will be full of a good variety. We have Montana huckleberries, peaches and plums, deer and elk, a little fish from Mexico, and some breadcrumbs from homemade bread. We're a happy family.

One thing I don't love is the new stove. When we bought the house, it came with one of those smooth-top electric stoves. Never again. I think those must be for people who don't really cook, or else don't mind how their stove top looks. It isn't for me. If I were going to do any canning, I would have to hook up the gas cooker outside. No way would my new stove hold a canning kettle.

I want one of those ranges that has five gas burners and double ovens, but still fits in a regular space. They make them with the smooth top, too. A range is one of the next things we need for our cabin and I was seriously looking at the double-oven smooth top. Wow am I happy I had a chance to try that out before I committed so much money to one! I would have been kicking myself for years. I would have been doing the canning on the old wood cookstove: a hot proposition this time of year.

If you have ever spent very much time processing apples, peaches, or pears you will understand: I am wearing bright red nail polish. It was the only color I had that was bright enough to cover the brown stain on my nails. I like that. It's a like a little badge of honor.

An Unexpected Outcome

When my mother was a girl in Rotterdam, the Nazis occupied Holland. It was a very bad time for all the Dutch people but especially so for the city people. Rotterdam was and is one of the busiest ports in the world. This, of course, was of great strategic interest to the Nazi leaders.

As the noose tightened around the Dutch people, things got more and more difficult. The people in Rotterdam were hungry. Some of them were actually starving, and my mother was one of these. She was the same age as Anne Frank, if that helps you place the picture in your mind. She was at the age when she should have been growing long, coltish legs and becoming taller than all the boys. But she was starving. My grandparents had to have her smuggled out of the city to live with a farm family--strangers--who had food to share.

So why am I telling you this? Well, something extraordinary came as a result of those tragic days of the war.

My mother never told us to clean our plates. We never heard about starving children in China or Africa or wherever. I don't know if mom turned away from such ideas with a will, or if it just worked out that way. However it happened, mom never made a big issue out of food.

This is pretty profound when you stop and think about it. I would have expect someone who nearly died of starvation to be very strict about food with her children. The only thing mom was strict about was that we were not permitted to say we were starving: "What's for dinner? I'm starving." We could say we were hungry, but mom knew the meaning of 'starving' in a very tangible way. That was a word we didn't get to use.

Mom allowed us to have a few foods we did not like and did not have to eat. We didn't get to abuse the privilege, of course. Considering her experiences, wouldn't you expect her to tell us to eat and be happy with it.

I think my mom turned away from starvation and from the idea of food as an issue, with determination. She must have been very happy that her children didn't have to go through what she did and was just glad she had any choices about food.

Whatever it was, it worked. All of her children have a healthy relationship with food. None of us are overweight. None of us use food as a substitute for other things. We appreciate what we eat, enjoy our food, and go on to other things. We don't use food as a comfort or a drug.

My mom paid a heavy price for her starving time in later years. It interfered with her development and health in some ways that would not be revealed until much later. Her time away from her family in those trying days left a mark on her, too. I am sure that her worry for her family left behind must have been wrenching.

Of course, the story has a happy ending. My mother lived. She was reunited with her family. They lived through the war, scars and all, and came to America. They never faced hunger again. And they went on to instill health, contentment and balance into the next generation.

Monday Morning

There's a promise of autumn in the early morning air. Oh, I know it isn't even the end of August yet, but I feel the autumn sneaking up. There is a touch of fresh coolness in the air in the morning, and an encouraging slant to the sunlight in the afternoon.

Autumn in this part of the Southwest is lovely. We don't enjoy a lot of color change except for trees we landscape with. We do get lots of yellow wildflowers, and an exciting change of temperature. After the long weeks of summer, the cool of the fall air is pure delight. We also get apples ripening, shorter days and soon, the bugles of rutting bull elk.

Pumpkins in our gardens are coloring up nicely now. It's time to pick the peaches and apricots that survived a late-spring cold snap. When I get out of bed in the morning, my fuzzy robe is starting to tempt me. It's still much too warm for a fuzzy robe, but it won't be long now.

I always look forward to sleeping under heavy blankets, my face cool and my body warm. I sleep much better with the weight of a blanket. Sitting out on the porch, wrapped in a warm robe and a blanket, too, with my morning coffee is something else I anticipate happily. Our porch faces west, so the afternoon sun warms it beautifully in the fall.

The cooler autumn temperatures make baking a joy again, and making hot soups and hearty stews becomes a pleasure. After the summer of light salads, I love eating "real food" again. I feel brighter and more energetic and anxious for my time at home.

All of that was promised to me this morning when I went outside and felt a kiss of autumn in the air.

The Fine Art of Giving

I have a dear friend who really knows how to give. Don't get me wrong, she isn't a wealthy philanthropist....she just knows how to give. She makes me think about what it means to be a giving person.

My beloved Dad taught us certain things about giving. An act of charity must not wound the pride of the recipient, for one thing. To do it right, we must find a way to help a person without taking away their dignity. Also, when we do some charitable thing, shut up about it! To go around and crow about something we did is to take away the goodness of the act. And if there is no effort in the giving, then the reward is also going to be small. If giving doesn't require some quality of effort or difficulty, then it is a small gift.

My friend knows all of these and takes it to heart. She throws all of herself into what she does, gives with humility and compassion, and then looks for someone else who needs help instead of announcing to the world what she just did. I admire this very much.

I go to her house and she makes me feel as welcome as the sunrise. She comes to my house and offers her help in such a way as to make me feel like I'm doing HER the favor.

Some people are fine artists, others can sing. Some people set world records in sports and some people have the midas touch. But my friend has what may be the greatest gift of all: she knows how to give.

Grandmas are forever

An email buddy said it made her a little sad to see her granddaughters growing up. She was afraid they'd grow up and not need Grandma anymore. I said "Baloney!" We always need our Grandmas! My own Grandmothers are waiting for me on the other side, now, but I think of them every day. The lessons they taught me were the lessons only a grandmother could give. I cherish their memories. They taught me:

You're never too old to be cool and you're never too young to be wise.

How to cook smelts. Yep. Not everyone can cook smelts, but I can. Thanks, Grandma!

We don't always see the ones we love with clear eyes.

You can be graceful under pressure, sweet when you're in pain, and you can exercise patience, even when you're in a hurry.

Children are beautiful, simply by virtue of being children. Knowing a child is a way to experience the wonder, all over again, through another's eyes.

Be grateful for all that we have. It may not be much by our society's standards, but compared to 99% of the world, we live in the lap of luxury. And be grateful, too, because it can all be gone in a blink.

Keep learning. Keep laughing. That's what will keep you young, no matter how old you get.

Love knows no boundaries. Distance, disappointment and death make no difference.

Thinking about the task ahead can be scarier than just jumping in and doing it.

Rock music isn't all that bad.

Listen to other people. Listen to your own heart. The wisdom of the ages lies somewhere between these two.

God judges us on our actions and our intentions. Shout "I'm a Christian" all you want, but if God can't see it in your heart or in your hands, you're just making wind.

Music from another time

I found an internet radio station that plays, among other things, music from the Civil War era. Isn't it interesting how much is conveyed in music? I can almost feel transported to that other time, to hear the plaintive notes of a violin, so filled with pain and sadness it makes me think of crying. Bright brass bands, playing "Bonnie Blue Flag" brings to mind shining young men, thinking they are going off to an adventure.

That kind of music is about so much more, though. The graceful strings are rich with emotion; love, longing, sadness and loss. I have always loved the strings best. There's a sweetness there that no other instrument can quite touch. The others have their charm, of course. I suppose every heart is reached by something different.

My two sons have vastly different taste in music. I would have expected them, only four years apart, to like the same music. Not so! The older one likes heavy metal...the kind of thing that makes me want to bang my head in the oven door. He will not listen to anything else. The younger son has a wide variety of musical likes. Old rock, new rock, even some classical pieces interest him. He doesn't like Patsy Cline, which concerns me some. I mean, how can you not love Patsy? :-) But he is open to listen to almost anything...at least once.

In a nutshell, that is a perfect description of my two sons. One is strong in his own ways, convinced of the rightness of his own choices and unwilling to consider another path. Usually, he will not have even glanced down another path before choosing. This is a good quality, since he chose an honorable path. I never worried that peer pressure would steer him wrong. He is unsteerable. If he doesn't like something or someone, no glacier could move him. Right or wrong, his choices are his own and he stands up to them that way. I admire that in him.

The younger son is also his own man, so to speak. But, unlike his brother, he wants to know about things before he makes up his mind. He is no follower, and he doesn't give a darn if anyone follows him. He is more of a seeker. He wants to know what something is all about, to sample it and think about it, before he makes a choice. And he can compromise, finding a happy balance between one road and another. I admire that in him.

I like the convictions of one son, the open-mindedness in the other. Strange how two opposing qualities can both be appealing to me. I guess it isn't very different than really liking the music from both ZZ Top and the Civil War?

Mom's Chicken Stock

Our oldest son is home on leave. It is his intention to eat up all the home-cooking foods he loves before he has to go back to army chow. Tied for first place in his list is Chicken and Dumplings and Chicken Tetrazzini. I discovered last night that, in teaching him how to make those, I had failed to teach him my basic chicken stock. I learned it from my Mom, who is an awesome cook, and it is different than the ones in my cookbooks. Thought I'd share. :-)

In a large dutch oven, brown on one side: a cut up whole chicken, thighs or quarters in a little olive oil. Brown it well...you want that carmelized skin on one side. Remove the pieces, now brown a quartered onion (washed but not peeled) on one side. Add 4 or 5 stalks of celery (include leaves), 4 or 5 carrots (washed but not peeled) and several cloves of garlic. Saute all together until you start getting brown edges on the veggies.

Return the chicken to the pot and fill the pot to within a couple inches of full with cold water. Use cold! Simmer until the chicken nearly falls off the bones. It's important to leave the veggies unpeeled and to brown only one side. Brown both sides and it will taste more like gravy. Peel the veggies and you'll have a mild, clear broth, not a good solid STOCK.

On Being Better

I want to be better. Better than myself as I am at this moment. Certainly, better than I have been for the last 40+ years.

It’s a strange thing, and I believe it’s a thing that comes with age, for women. I don’t know about men. Twenty years ago, I looked in the mirror and all I saw was my flaws. “Oh, your nose is too big, your hair is too flat, look at all those zits…” I wasn’t very nice to me.

Now, I look in the mirror and I’m fine with I see on the outside. What happens now is that I am looking more into my heart and soul, and seeing flaws.

I want to be braver. Less judgmental. Less cynical. More loving. I want to be less over-sensitive to anything that sounds like a personal criticism (especially when it comes from my husband.) I want to be more giving, less selfish. More understanding. I should pray more and swear less.

How can I teach myself to be less afraid to be creative? I want to embrace my creative side and not be a scolding mother to myself, telling myself I am wasting time with all this nonsense. Come to think of it, I want to stop being a scolding mother to myself entirely (which would make this post a moot point).

I want to be nicer to the me that feels different, disapproved of, discouraged. I want to convince me that my differences are special, not problematic.

I want to be better at thinking before I speak. I spend entirely too much time with my foot in my mouth. And I want to let myself do nothing once in a while, without guilt.

Voices in a choir

I took a walk the other day, just down the driveway of our vacation home. It's about half a mile that meanders through tall pines, firs, larch and aspens. I was walking with the wife of a good friend. We've known him for many years; his wife is new to us.

We strolled along in the late afternoon. Bracken ferns cover the ground alongside the driveway, shaded by the tall trees. As the breeze moves through the treetops, you can hear the different voices in the choir. The firs have a whispery voice, thanks to their many short needles. Ponderosa pines, tall and long-needled, have more of a swishing voice. Best of all (in my view) are the aspens, whose roundish flat leaves sound almost like they belong in the percussion section of an orchestra.

I mentioned that I liked the different note that aspens add to that music when Mrs. Wife looked at me like I'd lost my mind. She's a city girl. What can I say? Then she listened for a while and realized that the many trees have different sounds, and that it was beautiful to be walking along a quite little path, under a choir of trees.

Vacations Versus Real Life

I just spent two beautiful weeks in my own personal paradise. What a blessing! I live in a lovely little town, with tall trees and beautiful views. But our vacation home....now that's heaven! Gorgeous weather, amazing views, tons of wildlife. And water. Yes, here in the Southwest, we might call it a river, but that doesn't mean it contains water. It only means that it did in the past, and may on occasion, contain water.

But in the Inland Northwest, they have this blue, cool, wet stuff in ALL of the creeks, rivers and lakes. It's amazing. You know what else is amazing? If you leave a bag of bread open for half an hour, it is still bread and not melba toast. But if you leave a bag of chips open, you don't have chips anymore.

Laugh if you want to, but this is an absolute phenomena to anyone who has lived all or most of their life in arid country. Ginger snaps don't snap anymore. Huh. Who knew? My skin looked better and younger, and the curl in my hair started to show again. It wasn't humid where we were, but neither was it dry. The wonders of a little moisture in the air.

The slower pace and relaxed life of the little town near our vacation home is deeply appealing to me. Now that our cabin is nearly finished, the pull to move there is even stronger. I love the beauty of the place, and the serenity of it. Sitting on my own porch, overlooking the lake and waiting for deer to walk by is what dreams are made of.