29 August 2014

Family snippets

"Why do I have a little girl sitting on my head?"
-Jared grapples with the reality of fatherhood

"Aww, are you just a big ball of hormones?"
-Jared is a compassionate husband

I feel just as weepy-waily as I did last pregnancy around this point . . . everything is sad, terrifying, or otherwise disastrous.

Oh wait, it's not all disastrous. Jellybean is a girl!!! We just found out this week. And that is happy. I can't wait for Ellie to meet her sister.

The summer has been uneventful overall, apart from baby-growing and garden-tending. I canned nearly two dozen quarts of peaches a couple weekends ago, and the tomatoes are coming on, possibly providing fodder for more canning. Last week we visited my grandma in Ohio, a long trip for a little girl (survived with the help of bunny crackers and raisins). We went to the fair while we were out there, which was fun, especially for animal-loving Ellie.

26 August 2014

crunchy dill pickles

halfway through: still fresh and green

For about a month in the middle of the summer, cucumbers invaded my garden. And kitchen counter. And refrigerator. They were "Solly Beiler" cukes, especially bred for making pickles, and they were remarkably fruitful. (I ordered the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.) Next year I will plant them again, but only two-thirds the number, so as not to be utterly overrun.

finished: not as green, but more delicious

Of course this invasion meant plenty of pickling. Here is the recipe I used: it's based on one I found in More With Less, an old Mennonite cookbook, and dressed up with a few more spices. Pickles are much easier than I suspected. In fact, canning is much easier than I suspected. It involves a lot of hot water and slicing, but I always thought it was rocket science that required five thermometers and a calculator. As it turns out, it's just cooking on a large scale, with more than usual attention paid to the timer.


Dill Pickles
(given quantities are enough for 8-9 quarts)

fresh unpeeled cucumbers
fresh dill
peeled garlic cloves
mustard seeds
black peppercorns
red pepper flakes
optional but recommended: Ball Pickle Crisp

12 cups water
6 cups white vinegar
1 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar

1) To prepare: thoroughly wash and rinse eight quart jars in hot water, and let airdry in clean area. Place lids in shallow pan of water, bring to boil, and let simmer for a few minutes. Fill large pot or canner halfway full of water and bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium and cover pot.
2) Pack each clean jar full of scrubbed cucumbers (whole or sliced), two stems of dill, one garlic clove, a pinch each of mustard seeds, peppercorns, and red pepper flakes, and a rounded 1/4 teaspoons of Pickle Crisp. Fill jars up to the shoulder.
3) Meanwhile, dissolve water, vinegar, salt, and sugar together in large pot and bring to boil. Let cool slightly, then pour over packed jars until liquid reaches the top of the shoulder with an inch of headspace. (If you have enough liquid for more than eight quarts, go ahead and fill more jars with cucumbers!)
4) Place sterilized lids on prepared jars and screw on rings. Lower gently into hot water and return to boil. Process in boiling water for 5 minutes, then remove from water and re-tighten lids. I can fit three to four jars in my large stockpot, so it takes a few go-rounds to process them all.
 5) Let jars cool on counter; lids should seal as the pickles cool. If any fail to seal, just stick them in the fridge and enjoy them over the next few days. Store sealed pickles in a cool, dark place and let sit for at least two weeks before eating.

22 August 2014

Weekend linkage

"You gotta start them from seedlings."
-Jared explains how babies are made


NYT obit for Tom Tierney, who revolutionized paper dolls and "made them into an art form." (What, you don't think paper dolls are interesting? Sorry.)


A British soldier's military kit through the centuries.


Funnies: "I'm Getting Really Tired of Living In This Quaint English Village."
The shipwrecked foreign soldiers I understand. They had no choice to wash up here, and Lord knows we need something for our suspiciously young horde of rich widows with mysterious pasts to do with their time. I suppose all those babies that turn up on the church’s doorstep help with the numbers. It would be nice if they left some identifying papers or medical histories along with the child, rather than broken lockets, faded portraits, or scuffed ancient rings set with moonstone.

"Hello, Stranger On the Street, Could You Please Tell Me How to Take Care of My Baby?"
Oh nice lady, you are probably right! I should definitely cover his face always so he doesn’t get sun on it. If he is exposed to the sun for even one moment, even as I am simply walking from the mechanic to a coffee shop where I have to unexpectedly stop to feed him because my car broke down, he will probably immediately get sun disease or burst into flames.

Kids Rate Fall Fashion Campaigns. ("She’s wearing feathers because she’s a bird werewolf howling at the moon.")


"Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt."
In terms of parenting, marriage, home, clothes – I will not be a slave to the Tyranny of Trend any longer. I am almost 40 years old and no catalog is the Boss of Me anymore. I am free. I am not bound to spend my precious days on Earth trying to keep up with the Joneses- because the Joneses are really just a bunch of folks in conference rooms changing “trends” rapidly to create fake monthly emergencies for us.

This is a really excellent post from Tim Challies: "Character Is King." It is primarily about the Mark Driscoll thing-- but even if you don't know or care about that (I don't), still a good word in a culture obsessed with youth, glamour, and edginess.
When the Bible lays out qualifications to ministry, it is character that rules every time. The Bible says little about skill and less still about results. It heralds character. 

15 August 2014

Family snippets

happy birthday mama! can I have cake now?

Ellie's language skills are expanding bit by bit. She shouts "hi" regularly and often says "da-tee" when she sees Jared. Thanks to her Eric Carle and Priddy books, she also has an arsenal of animal noises: kittens meow, snakes hiss, chicks peep, piggies snort, bees buzz, lions and tigers roar. Oh, and penguins shake their heads. From Head to Toe says so.

She loves to imitate me, whether I am stretching on my yoga mat, folding laundry, or mopping the floor. She'll grab her little broom and dustpan and toddle around industriously, "cleaning" just like me. She can put away her toys and has started to try to throw away trash, which is adorable but dangerous (I keep wondering if she's tossed in a Duplo or two). Sometimes she quietly stands and looks out the window. Sometimes she runs helter-skelter through the house, shrieking for the sheer fun of it. And this week she discovered ballet dancing: we turn up the classical music and spin all over the living room.

I think she's pretty amazing.

Her miniature sibling grows apace. I can often sense it moving, and if I lie on my back, both Jared and I can feel its hard head pushing against my skin. Soon we'll get to see it on a screen: an ultrasound is scheduled for the 26th and after that, we will know if the jellybean is pink or blue. :)

13 August 2014

no frigate like a book #4

Linked up with Five Favorites.


Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic

This is a pithy book written by a Christian mother to five young ones, offering short bites of encouragement and gentle prodding specifically for moms during "the little years." I enjoyed it very much and will return to it in the future. It would be a great gift for a new mama: that is how it came to me, in fact.
"You may have known families who seemed to have it all together. Everyone to his own military bunk. Dinner from the crockpot at 6:00 pm on the dot. Family worship in the living room. Children quietly doing the dishes afterwards. Then, as the children hit their teen years, you start to see that alongside all that organization was some serious neglect and hurt. It is possible to organize your children right out of the church. So while your children are little, cultivate an attitude of sacrifice. Sacrifice your peace fro their fun, your clean kitchen floor for their help cracking eggs, your quiet moment for their long retelling of a dream that a friend of theirs allegedly had. Prioritize your children far and away above the other work you need to get done. They are the only part of your work that really matters."

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin

I have quoted from this before but I never actually wrote a review. I read it again this month, and it was just as great as the first time around. To sum up, this hilarious book is about the insane Prince of Wales (Freddy), his vapid wife (Fredericka), and their quest to reconquer the United States of America, during which they discover that they are neither insane nor vapid, but instead marvelous human beings who love each other-- and America-- beyond all reason. It's always hard to sum up Helprin but that's the best I can do.

A representative passage:
". . . automobiles are the river of life in this country. When you get one, even this one, you're back in the game, but as soon as you lose one, you're in trouble. Haven't you noticed that? In America, the car is the second chance. They lift you from your troubles and set you into the heartbeat of the country."
"And what is the heartbeat of the country?" Fredericka asked sceptically.

"Being nowhere, on the way to somewhere, with music, on the open road," Freddy told her. "All the rest is the baggage of Europe, sometimes well developed and extended, sometimes not. But this motion, this ongoingness, this rolling, these hypnotic wheels, this particular glory, is exclusively American-- their transcendence."

"Freddy, shut up!"
And one more:
He dreamt of her and she of him. She became his world, and he hers. He found in her, in her body, in her laugh, in the way she moved, in what she said, more than he ever had thought he could find. And she found in him the same.

They had a forbidding lake and supernatural winds. They had night, cold, and the exhaustion of work. And they had the stainless steel vat and their warm bed. One evening, as they stared into the kerosene fire, he said, "We're like poor people, who have nothing but each other, and are happy. What is it called when two people have such a passion only for one another?"
(I actually think Helprin should have shortened Freddy and Fredericka by twenty-five percent. At one point far too much time is spent on a set of secondary characters, causing the Prince and Princess to fall by the wayside, and the story drags. Once we get back to the main storyline, everything vastly improves.)


In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

This was a book club selection, one I never would have picked up otherwise. It's semi-autobiographical. We agreed, in our discussion, that its defining characteristic was beauty: though her novel covers the horrendous events of the Khmer Rouge regime during the late 1970s, Ratner manages to leave a lasting impression of lovely things and people. The protagonist, Rami, is supposed to be seven years old but has a deeper, more philosophical understanding of the world than any seven-year-old I know.


Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunally

Oh man. This is good. After having this Norwegian trilogy ceaselessly recommended to me for about a year, I finally read it, and found it immensely satisfying.

The characters: Kristin and her strong, sad parents, Erlend with his dangerous charm, Gunnulf and Brynhild and the many others who populate this vivid world. The setting: I knew nothing about medieval Norway beforehand, but thanks to Undset's careful research (and some helpful forewords) I fell straight into it. The fullness: I tend to like long books because they actually finish telling the story, rather than squashing a truncated version into a slim-spined paperback. With the ten-pound doorstops beloved of my heart-- The Lord of the Rings, A Soldier of the Great War, The Count of Monte Cristo-- I can stay in a fictional world long enough to get to know it.

One thing I found especially interesting was the portrayal of women in Kristin's society. On one hand, they were subject to some of the classic prejudices you might think of: many were excluded from political affairs on grounds of a weak intellect, they usually received a second-rate education, and their sexual indiscretions were far more harshly judged than those of a man. On the other hand, a married woman exerted a great deal of authority over her husband's household-- in practice even if not officially-- including land management, servants, finances, and so forth. One of Erlend's first actions as a husband is to fasten a large ring of keys to Kristin's belt, signifying her high place on his estate. It was also illegal to marry girls off against their will, and for those who entered a convent (not always their choice) there awaited a life quite independent of "male control," apart from the spiritual authority of bishops and popes.

One thing I found especially annoying was the names. Kristin is the daughter of Lavrans Bjorgulfsson, hence Lavransdatter as her surname. Erlend is the son of Nikulaus Munanson, and so his surname is Nikulauss√łn. Meanwhile, Kristin and Erlend's sons bear the surname Erlendsson, and any daughters would have been Erlendsdatter. Basically, families don't share consistent surnames and it drove me crazy trying to figure out who was related to whom!


1491 by Charles C. Mann

Jared is probably glad that I finished this book, because I talked his ear off while I was making my way through it. As Mann says, it is about "the Western Hemisphere before 1492," which was
. . . a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conquerer nor conquered knew that this world had existed. Now, though, it is returning to view. It seems incumbent on us to take a look.
Two main points stick in my memory: first, the fickleness of "settled science." I've thought about this in relation to other topics, mainly medicine and diet, but it was confirmed clearly here. Mann repeatedly shows how scientists allow their reputations, ideologies, and even political agendas to interfere with objective research or reporting. History is supposedly settled by a particular archeological dig, and textbooks for decades afterwards teach, say, that mankind came to America via a shortlived land bridge-- had a relatively small population-- and led a nomadic, hunter-gatherer type of life. When evidence turns up flatly contradicting that original narrative, the original archeologists throw a fit instead of revising their ideas. As a result, students keep learning an outdated model of history instead of being able to appreciate a more full (and interesting) story.

Second, the enormous scope of humanity. One of Mann's main points is that the Indians were not a passive people, floating in a state of suspended animation and childlike "union with Mother Earth" for millennia. That is the popular image today, one that purports to be respectful but is in reality rather degrading. After all, it is absurd to think that people would live generation after generation in the same manner, failing to grow in any appreciable way. Everywhere else in the world, people philosophized, built civilizations, and shaped their environments. How silly to assume that the Indians did not do the same thing.

As Mann points out, there is abundant evidence to show that-- just like everybody else on planet Earth-- Indians in both North and South America were incredibly numerous before Columbus arrived, that they wrote poetry and engineered sophisticated cities, and that they shaped Nature to fit their own ends. We are rediscovering what they must have achieved, from terracing mile-high slopes of the Andes to turning the Amazon basin into an artificial orchard, and it's pretty fantastic.

I love this, because instead of asking us to "respect the poor Indians" out of guilt, or trying to make us admire their primitive "simplicity," Mann demonstrates that they were normal humans, with just as much dignity and creativity as the rest of us. Too many portrayals of Native Americans paint them as a separate race, either as the noble savage or the uncivilized terror. What about seeing them as people?