Monday, April 30, 2012

2012 Spring Piano Recital

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. ~Victor Hugo

I am pleased to truthfully announce that we all survived the piano recital! I was not sure we would. Last week I was designing and formatting recital programs, getting to and from the recital rehearsal, frantically searching stores for cream-colored shoes to match the chosen recital dress, and so on. I cannot believe it has been seven years of lessons! The Princess did not perform the second piece as well as she did for her adjudication, but we heard a soft "wow!" from the people sitting behind us, so the girl has still got it.

Etude in A Minor, Op. 47, No. 3.....Stephen Heller
Musette, BWV Anhang 126.................J.S. Bach

~ Thank you, my Lord, for hearing my prayers when I ask that my child be gifted in piano and learn music. It is truly a source of delight for me. ~

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Should...Maybe I Should Not

Taking 'naps' sounds so childish...I prefer to call them 'horizontal life pauses.' ~Unknown

My aunt often tells me about how she used to nap when she was a young child. My grandmother would tell her it was time to nap, but my aunt would just keep doing whatever it was she was doing until she was so tired she could barely stand up. Then she would run to the couch and as soon as her head hit the pillow, she was sound asleep.

As an adult, my aunt would nap on Sunday afternoons now and then, but for the most part she has always been the kind of woman who could out work most anyone and keep going until she practically falls flat in complete exhaustion. Of course, now she may seem to be making up time and would prefer to nap most days, but then she is approaching 80 years of age.

Oddly, I seem to be changing to become more like her in the last few years. I did not really notice it. The change was kind of subtle as the Princess and I started working with the horses, but in the last few days as I have been gardening, I realize that I am doing more physical labor now than I have for years and I just keep pushing, perhaps because I have not yet fallen flat. Yet, just a little break can make me keenly aware of how close I might be to that point though.

Yesterday evening it began to rain. This meant all my gardening plans for today would be postponed. It rained throughout the night and this morning too, so I awoke with resolve to switch gears, doing more work inside, even a full day of lessons. I knew I was overly tired the last few days, but I just kept on going until the rain began. Then I began to really realize how tired I have been and also how little patience I have for a child who is only putting a half effort into her chores and lessons today.

I should get more done today, but my fatigued body in response to the damp, cool air is pleading for me to wrap up in a warm comforter and lie down for a just a half an hour or so, with emphasis on the "or so."

I usually fight such rare urges as I am not one to nap much, but I think I will just give in to this one today. Ah, yes, I need to just run to the couch and catch a few winks....zzzz. (Did I make it?)

~ My Lord, thank you for times of rest. There is nothing so satisfying as getting some rest when I need it most. ~

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gardening to Restore, Senses

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses. ~Hanna Rion

Let me describe for you my five restored senses.

Smell: I love the smell of my rosemary bush as I brushed against it in preparing the southern most garden bed we now call the blueberry garden. The soil was very dry as I worked it, so instead of that freshly turned soil smell, I just got dust up my nose. Then bunny manure was added, not exactly a pleasant smell. Strange how something that smells bad makes things grow and smell good. Thankfully, my jasmine is just beginning to bloom so I can smell it on the north side of the house as I go through the gate to the backyard, but I am too busy on the other side to venture there much.

Sight: I have seen too much wrong with my gardens from several years of neglect, between droughts and lack of funds...and perhaps lack of desire to work them too. Now I am trying to make them more lovely to my eyes...when I get the dust back out of them, that is. So far, I have cleared and placed mulch around the Floribunda pink rose bushes and the azaleas in upper front garden. I finished the blueberry garden today, splitting apart variegated liriope to make a border all the way around and planting water melon seeds in the wide spaces between the young blueberry bushes. It looks so much better, so the neighbors tell me as they stop by while walking dogs. Sigh, I keep seeing those baby oak trees everywhere, though!

Hearing: I hear the occasional calls of red shouldered hawks, geese, an numerous birds of which are nameless to me. So many warnings noises from the birds and squirrels; they seem to have much to say when the mitten kittens are in the gardens with me. I hear my cats purring as they try to distract me from my tasks. I hear my newspapers I planned to use as a mat to keep down weeds persuaded by the wind to run off with him instead, but I expected as much for newspapers are fickled.

Taste: I taste salty sweat and dust mostly as I work, washed down with an occasional cooling iced tea. I crave chocolate as I usually do when doing so much physical labor...something I have been doing nearly every day in the last week--more than a week actually!

Feeling: Oh, I definitely have restored my feeling! I feel the grit of earth in my shoes and on my arms. I feel tired down to my bones, with aches and pains that thankfully diminish as I rest at night, which is a surprise to me! I awake a bit stiff with reluctant muscles but as soon as I am back in the garden, I think only on completing the job. I feel tired every night by 8:00 PM, and I feel that 5:30 AM comes too soon and I am so sleepy that spending ten minutes sitting is all my body needs as permission to fall asleep. I feel mosquito bites and itchy rashes from unknown sources, perhaps poison ivy from the kittens playing in the wooded areas. I feel time goes faster in the gardens and I feel it will never be done.

Still, if I had not else to do all the day, I should enjoy gardening more.

~ My Lord, I would have loved to live in Your garden of Eden! Oh, yes, indeed! ~

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Comparing Organic Butters

He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. ~Judges 5:25

Mmmmm! I love butter...real butter...made from the cream of pasture-fed cows. No hydrogenated oils. Higher in Omega 3 oils. No chemicals. No denaturing processing. In the last few decades, people have been warned about health issues associated with butter, but statistically there is more heart disease since the marketing of butter substitutes. I truly believe real butter is far healthier than any alternative available. (You can read some info on why here.) A recent phone conversation with a friend reminded me that I have not only preferences for butter but between butters as well.

The first time I began to realize the difference in the butters, I made two batches of Snowballs cookies, which actually go by other names like Pecan Sandies, Russian Tea Cookies, Mexican Wedding Cookies, and several others. The first batch came out light colored and held the shape beautifully, but the second one was dark and flattened somewhat. All the ingredients were the same, the oven was the same setting, the cookie pan was the same, and it was placed in the same position in the oven. I had used butter for both batches but different brands. What happened reminded me of the time my mother and I were making these cookies and we planned to double the recipe, but my mother had doubled the butter and none of the other ingredients so the dough flatten quickly in the oven. We rescued that batch by taking out the warm dough and doubling the other ingredients. From that I learned that softer butters required a bit more flour to produce the desired result, but with the right butter, there was no guess work involved.

There are three main companies for organic butters available in my area. They are Horizon, Organic Valley, and Woodstock Farms. The latter two I can purchase from my favorite health food store, but the first is not carried there and I have found it at Kroger. I would rather buy my butter from the local health food store, but there are two reasons that I buy Horizon organic butter from Kroger more than the others.

First is that Horizon butter is the best of the three for baking. As a table butter, it has good flavor and is a bit harder to cut, but this is what makes it an excellent butter for baking. I am against using anything with hydrogenated oils and I do not fear saturated fats. (Actually, I wrote an article on this a few months ago that there is no study able to support the medical mainstream hype that saturated fats are bad. Actually, studies have shown quite the opposite.) My favorite cookies, biscuits, and pie crusts are butter rich, so it does make a huge difference which butter I use!

The other reason I buy Horizon at Kroger is because the store nearest to me usually orders in larger quantities than will be sold before the expiration date. Kroger has a policy to mark down foods three days before the "sell by" date. If I watch the dates, I can buy the butter on a "Manager's Special" at about half off the regular price. I once bought $75 of butter ($150 worth), which was 25 pounds. That may sound crazy to some, but I have two large freezers so I place the butter in freezer bags in one of them and use it as needed--and frozen butter is perfect for making pie crusts! The next expiration date for the salted butter is May 5th at the nearest Kroger, so I will be making a point to shop there on the 2nd or 3rd of May.

Although, Horizon is my favorite overall, Organic Valley is my preference for table butter. It is a softer butter making it easy to cut, it melts at a lower temperature making it easier to spread, and it is a bit sweeter than the others. It has a wonderful melt in your mouth feel too. However, it is also the most expensive of the three, which means I rarely buy it unless on sale and there is a coupon for it at the same time. That has not happened in a very long time.

Woodstock Farms' butter is something in between the two. It is not a good for baking as the Horizon, but better than Organic Valley. It is not as flavorful as Organic Valley for serving at the table either, but easier to cut than Horizon. It also costs less than either one at the suggested retail price, if none are on sale, but I rarely buy butter unless it is on sale.

Organic butters tend to go on sale a few times a year, particularly in November at the beginning of the holiday baking season, but that is not really a factor for me if I have bought bulk quantities of butter at marked down prices. I mean, I just never see butter at half price during a sale, although when combined with a coupon, it could be close and I do like the best butter presented at a holiday feast with my multi-seed whole wheat rolls and flaky biscuits.

~ My Lord, I ask your blessing on the organic farmers who have chosen to use more laborious and time-consuming and more expensive methods of farming while shunning the use of synthetic chemicals. ~

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Planner: Keeping It Simple

It is very hard to be simple enough to be good.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have dragged out an old 5.5 x 8 inch personal planner that I thought I might want to use again someday. I guess that day has come. I have downloaded several software planners, but I have come to realize that this is were I part with technology. I prefer something I can physically write on rather than type, because typing to-do lists tends to make me more anxious for some odd reason, although I would also prefer something slimmer to carry around. I have been eying my husband's recently acquired iPad and the special stylus pen so it can be used to write notes. (Yes, I could just use my finger, but I doubt it would satisfy my desire to write.) I think an iPad could be the compromise that might work for me. Besides replacing my current planner, I could see me using it for reading eBooks, connecting to the Internet, jotting down notes anywhere, and....well, there is so much one can do with an iPad, if one has the money to get one and I do not, so I will do with what I have.

Remember my chore index cards? I have been doing very well with this system. I added a printed morning chore list as I had mentioned previously. I thought about printing more but I like the flexibility with having space to write in the rest of the day's chores, errands, thoughts, and whatnot.

I suppose I could get fancier adding colors or background, but I like bring frugal and the simplicity works well for now. Right now my planner has sections for my prayer list, homeschool, books, and garden. My prayer list grows and grows. The homeschool section has a reminder to-do list to prep for lessons and where I organize history lessons and write down resources I would like to get. Books is for writing down thoughts and quotes from books I am reading so I will do better review of them. The garden section is for planning and list of seeds, so I will not buy any more packets for what I already have (and yes, I have some duplicates and even some triplicates).

My daughter has gotten into the act too. She been telling me to cross out "little" in the listing of "Do a little gardening" and to write in "lot of" because for the last four days we definitely have been doing a lot of gardening. Oddly, I do not have even one sore muscle, which I chalk up to working at the horse barn, but I do feel physically exhausted overall. Doing lessons today, my fasting day, has been challenging in that way and another--she is turning eleven at the end of the month and has a recital on the same day, need I say much more? Today, I just want to sit and read or nap, my preference being whichever wins control over my mind at any given moment.

~ My Lord, thank you that we have made a good change in our home that not only is workable but that is being worked well. ~

Monday, April 9, 2012

Blueberries, Baby Oaks, and Beets

Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration. ~Lou Erickson

I never should bring my husband with me to a nursery. I planned to get a few organic herbs and tomato plants on Saturday, but he eyed the blueberry bushes. The greenhouse employee assured us that blueberries need at least three bushes with at least one being a different variety. If we had not read some on blueberries previously, it could have sounded like a lame sales pitch. After spending over twice what I had planned, we now have a three blueberries bushes all of differing variety. Today my husband had to take out two large woody bushes and move a scotch broom to place the blueberry bushes in the best setting for he has paid for them in labor. With a daughter who loves blueberries in her morning smoothie and the price of organic blueberries being so high, I suppose those bushes could pay for themselves within the year, but that depends on how many the birds leave us.

Which brings up the subject of the baby oaks. Not only are our outdoor cats, the mitten kittens, doing a wonderful job catching mice, but they also are doing a very good job of keeping the squirrels at bay--too very good a job and when I write they, I mean mostly Sharii, the tom. I have watched, with fascination, Sharii wind his way up a tree mirroring a squirrel, who worked hard at staying on the opposite side of the trunk, wondering just how high the cat would go after his prize. Because of his prowess, acorns from autumn and winter were not cleaned up by the squirrels, so we have baby oak trees all over our yard and in the gardens. Most of the garden soil is loose, so they come up pretty easily, but the yard is more work. I have been plucking out baby oaks all week, particularly the last three days as we are preparing our front gardens. The good news is that I am fairly confident that my feline tuxedo twins will also keep squirrels from the peach tree, so we may actually get peaches this year. I am hoping they will do the same for the blueberry bushes with the birds.

As to the beets, I had some vegetables actually mature during the winter because it was so mild. We had a few hard freezes but they did not last long and I did not pull out all the root vegetables last fall, because some did not do well in the warmer autumn. After my daughter, pestered me about pulling some of the beets, my husband cooked them up for dinner. She was not as enthusiastic about the taste, but they were actually quite good.

You may remember that my husband was in the UK last week. He came home Friday and was given Monday and Tuesday off this week. We went to a sunrise Resurrection Day service with two other small churches, one Lutheran and the other Seventh Day Baptist, and also had breakfast at the Lutheran church. Later we went on to our own church to have our service and a dedication of the three crosses that are now permanently erected in front of our church in hopes that people passing will now recognize the house as a church.

We did not color eggs, hunt eggs, or do anything "Easter," except have some candy. (Chocolate is a necessity that does not require a holiday to be enjoyed though.) The Princess did not even ask if we would do those things this year. The boy next door thought it was awful, but she is growing up, becoming more aware of spiritual matters, and I think she is ready to completely shun the pagan-based traditions. Next year I am hoping we will try to have the Passover Seder.

Tomorrow we have the horse barn and a 4-H meeting in the evening. My husband was going with us, but he decided that he needs to burn all oak leaves and acorns we cleared from the gardens. He also needs to get more mulch...lots more mulch.

~ My Lord, as tired as I am, I am so very thankful that we did so much today. There was a time I thought I would not be able to do such laborious work as gardening with my back and yet I have had no back pain at all these last few days. Thank you so much, my Lord ~

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Back to Plan A

Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan. ~Margaret Thatcher

You probably did not even know I had a Plan A. Neither did I until I tried to think of a title for this post! However, when the farmers' market opportunity was propsed, I had to think seriously about what I really want to do in the next few years and if it was a means to get there. I was unsure about it, but suspected the farmers' market could be a distraction rather than a God-sent offer. For one, it is not something for which I prayed or particularly desired, just something that passed through my mind previously with more obvious door closings at the time.

I had been very disturbed since the farmers' market offer. There is another event on April 14th that will cause many people to have to walk through the market area and the manager was really hoping to have things in place, so there was this urgency. Also he has buyers for sourdough, not potential buyers but people going there especially to buy sourdough bread. Very tempting and I felt very rushed in making a decision. Then it has been difficult to talk to my husband, who is in the UK this week. We have Skyped twice, but the day I really needed to talk with him was the day he lay down to take a nap, which continued to the next morning. Time changes are the hard part of traveling. Since the UK is five hours ahead of us, it makes for odd times for both of us to connect also.

Yesterday the Princess and I had a bad day with lessons. She took all morning on math and I was making bread, testing a basic white sourdough bread that the market buyers would want and seeing how it would all go. Homeschooling is one of my highest priorities and I kept wondering how much her studies might suffered or how stressful it would be for both of us, if I added this new time obligation into our lives. By the late afternoon when my husband Skyped, I was ready to just cry on his two dimensional, cyber shoulder, but I did not want him worrying about me. We discussed my dilemma without tears and I finally came to the conclusion that I should not do anything with the farmers' market at this time.

Then I felt at peace for the first time since it all began.

I have this hope that the Princess and I will one day be doing art shows with both her art and mine. That is where I need to place our priority, I believe. For now I feel I should concentrate on working my gardens and getting my house in order so I feel good about doing artwork. Somehow I do not have guilty feelings and relax better when I am drawing and painting if my house looks nice. I suppose I feel that doing art is truly self-indulgent, but my daughter does art all the time and she is pulling me back into it with a different perspective. Lately, she has been doing comic strips with a girl and a tiger that look very different but are somewhat similar to Calvin and Hobbs. For years she has been doing stick people in all kinds of positions; my favorites are the ones doing acrobatics holding onto ropes or falling from them. I need to post some pictures soon.

The interesting part is since I began thinking of selling at the farmers' market, my plans have now solidified and do not look so overwhelming as they did before. (A change of perspective is an amazing thing!) I have enough to do especially with a traveling husband who works 60-90 hours a week even when he is in town, but these are the things I really want to do, that I enjoy and perhaps just exactly what God wishes for me to do at this time. I am thankful to the Lord that I have done or am doing just about everything I really wanted during my life. I still want to make my own soap for us, to give as presents, and maybe sell to friends, all of which I really would like to begin this year, and I want to sell my artwork along with the Princess at shows in the near future.

All of this is Plan A and for now, it seems I need to work on this plan, because it gives me peace, suggesting to me that it really is God's will.

~ My Lord, I did not hear You on this and I felt lost as to what to do, but You still gave me the sign I needed. ~

Monday, April 2, 2012

To Bread or Not To Bread

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. ~C. S. Lewis

It is funny the things I want--that is, think I want--that will no doubt lead me into complicating my life more. I was driving past a farmers' market at a park one afternoon last year and the Princess asked, "What is a farmers' market?" I then said that maybe it as a good day for her to see for herself. She has enjoyed going every since. She and I both began thinking about what we could sell at one immediately and she has been trying to get me to sell my bread for years.

There are three farmers' markets in the area. The market manager of one to which we were going is a homemade bread vendor. I talked with her about what kinds of foods and crafts were allowed and the state requirements for foods like baked goods. She gave me a lot of information, but I was certain she did not want any other bread vendors at that market. There also was a homemade soap vendor, which is the other thing I would prefer to sell, if I were going to sell at a farmers' market.

One phone call on Saturday from the mother of a former next door neighbor and suddenly I have this opportunity to sell bread or even soap at the oldest of the three farmers' markets. It seems the previous vendors are not returning this year and they would like someone to offer sourdough bread and the lady thought of me as she knew I made sourdough bread because I had given her a starter some time ago.

Ever since that call I have been churning it all over in my head. The time commitment being the biggest issue: not only does it take up all Saturday morning to be at the farmers' market, which is a big thing with a husband who travels so much during the week, but I would have to make dough, knead, and bake throughout the week as well, or at least on Wednesday and Friday. I just got our home education program planned and arranged so that I do not feel distressed while we work with horses and have our errand day. I just started feeling better about my home with this new morning chore schedule. I am just not sure I can add several loaves of bread on a weekly basis...or that I would want to do so!

As I have had a few days to think this out, I was thinking that ideally I would prefer to make soap, just soap, and to do face painting too. Can you see this combination? First I paint the face of their children and then I give them a sample bar of soap to wash it off! That would be something different and I would really enjoy doing some artwork every weekend.

The problem is that I have not yet made any soap. I have read about it for years and I want to do it, but I just keep putting it off--and this is the ironic part--because I just cannot seem to fit it in. However, I think that soapmaking would be far less time consuming than sourdough breadmaking!

But I do know how to make bread...although my last loaves were pitiful. There is a science to sourdough bread making but the creation of it is still an art and I had to leave unexpectedly, letting it to rise too long. I kneaded it again, but it did not rise much even though I added flour to feed the yeast. So, even if I am not actively doing something with the bread, I have to keep my eyes on it.

Another potential problem is that when I talked to the other market manager about face painting, she was not interested in it at all. I have yet to talk to the managers of this one. I am hoping to do that some time today.

I also have some questions about licensing and such. I think I do not have to be as long as the market is a non-profit organization. I am thinking way too much, spending time thinking more than praying, which is flipped the wrong way so I am likely to make the wrong decision.

~ My Lord, I do not want to take on even one thing without Your blessing, but I do not want to pass over an opportunity which You have provided either. Make it very clear to me what You wish for me to do. ~