Thursday, September 18, 2014

Every Dog Will Have His Day

subtitled: Why I didn't call you back, Dad.

I used to say I wasn't an animal person.  It was a family trait.  When my brother Sam (the one with the decorating advice) was in a elementary music class, an effervescent teacher asked him to name his favorite animal.

"I don't like animals," he said blankly.

I didn't like animals too much either.  I had an imaginary horse (because I was once a tween girl) that I would exercise around the yard, and I had a barn cat I called Boots; but in general none of us were animal people.

When I fell for an animal enthusiast named Matthew, I pretended to like animals.

Then this happened:

"Are they all yours?"

Be careful what you say when you're in the purely hormonal stage of love.  You might find yourself bottle feeding a lamb at 2 am or putting Neosporin on duck feet with a cotton swab.

Last night after work, I got a phone call from my Dad.  I was having a nice chat with him and my mom, but I had to run into Trader Joe's, so I asked if I could call him back.  We were in desperate need of groceries.  It was to the point where Matt would say, "Do we have..." and I'd just say "No" without looking up because we had nothing.  We had some mustard, pickles and three gallons of apple cider.  That is about it.

Loaded up at Trader Joe's, I texted Matt that I was heading home to make potato soup.

I was driving along, thinking about stuffing figs with goat cheese and getting ready to call my dad back, when I saw a little beagle walking down the side of the road.

Now, two weeks ago, my neighbor Kris called to tell me that someone was going door to door looking for their lost beagle.  I had seen a beagle the day before she called.  I immediately felt guilty for not having worked harder to coax that beagle into my car.  The owners were looking for him, and he was probably gone forever.

That thought is the only explanation for what happened next.

I pulled over next to the beagle.  He spun around, and began to head in the opposite direction.  I pulled a three-point turn and pulled in front of him again. He changed directions again.  I changed directions again.

This time I got lucky.  He ran into a bush and hunched down.  I jumped out of the car, and surveyed my groceries.  I passed over the figs and goat cheese and pulled out some Genoa salami.  Crouching down in front of the beagle, I waved the salami in the air and tried to ignore the cars flying past my car which was now parked facing the wrong direction.

Recalling my brief stint at Petsmart dog training with Henry, I cooed "Come here, boy.  Come get some salami."

I tore off a piece and ate it in front of him.

It must have worked, because he wiggled out and ate the remaining salami.  As he licked his lips, I scooped him up and put him in my car.

I was now a hero.  Forgotten was the negligence of not picking up the beagle last time.  I would return him to his anxious family.

I called Kris to tell her the good news.

"I usually write down the name and number, but I didn't this time," she said.  "I don't remember who it was."

Well, that put a little hitch in my giddy-up, but if the owners were going door to door down the street, then surely someone else would know who he belonged to.  Kris thought that the people two houses down from us had a beagle and agreed to meet me there.  As I was pulling in, Matt called.

"I just got home.  Where are you?"

"Well, I found this beagle, and I'm taking him to the yellow house next door to return him.  Do you want to meet me here?"

"Uh, ok?" he said.

I went up to the front door and knocked.  A woman about my age came to the door, but didn't open the screen.  She did have a beagle.  Literally.  She had her beagle, and it hadn't ever gone missing. I was telling her my story, when  Matt pulled in behind me.

"Who's that?"  She asked wide-eyed.

"Oh that's just my husband." I waved my hand dismissively.  "Do you know anyone else with beagles?"

Kris's silver SUV pulled in behind Matt.  She stuck her head out and yelled, "Is it hers?"

"Who is that?" Beagle neighbor asked, her eyes even wider.

"That's Kris.  She lives between us."  She should have known that, I think.

She assured me she didn't know any other beagle owners and disappeared back into her house.

Kris said she was going home to eat dinner, and then she'd help me canvas.

I walked over to Matt's car where he was giving me his signature "how do you get me into these situations" look.

"Meet me at home," he said.  "And you and I will canvas now."

It wasn't until I moved the beagle into Matt's car, that I noticed the dog was missing a leg. I was starting to get the uneasy feeling that this wasn't the same beagle that was originally missing two weeks ago.

There are only three houses on about forty acres between us and the road where I found the beagle.  It was about time we met them all anyway.

At the first house I met J.  She is widowed and lives with her widowed sister.  Her sister gardens and J manages the hummingbird feeders.   She didn't know who the beagle belonged to.

At the second house, E answered the door and said "Come in," before I had a chance to say anything.  Inside her cool living room, she gestured to the couch and said "Sit down."  She had a Bible in her hand.  I decided I had either accidentally wandered into a Bible study or she thought I was a Jehovah's Witness.  She didn't seem at all surprised when I told her why I was there.

She thought she did know who the beagle belonged to.  I'm sure there was nothing wrong with her directions, but I'm terrible with following directions, and the descriptors of "past the cows" and "not the one off the road but the one near the road" where really throwing me.

Setting down her Bible, she said "I'd better just go with you."

She walked out with me to the car.

"Do you need to tell your husband where you're going?" I asked.

"Oh he won't miss me," she laughed.

I tried to laugh too while imagining explaining this to a policeman.

Matt's face was a mask of politeness as this frail woman got into the front seat.

There was no one home at the house E took us too.  One the way back, we swung by the third house on the street.

I knocked on the door and heard "There's someone in the yard...mumble mumble mumble."  I hoped that the mumbling wasn't "Quick get the gun."  After a while, I thought maybe it had been "Hurry and hide."  But based on the appearance of the man who came to the door it was "Pull on some clothes."  He didn't know who the beagle belonged to either.

Matt and I took E home and looked at each other.

"I don't think this is the same beagle," I admitted.  "Maybe we should take him back."

Matt agreed with me, and he headed down the road.  "Just let me know when we get to where you found him."

Three miles later I told him to pull over.

"Elizabeth," he said.  "You found a dog three miles from home and assumed that he was the same one that was lost?  You do realize that you might have even taken him off the property he belongs on."

That had occurred to me by now, yes.

I pulled the beagle out and put him back exactly where I'd found him.  We drove off.

Matt summed it up: "Here I am, pulling in the driveway, imagining that you are inside making potato soup.  You aren't home.  I call you and  you tell me 'I'm at a strangers house with a three-legged beagle.'"  He sighed.  "Life with you is never boring."

It's what he gets for trying to make me an animal person.

(And, Dad, I'm sorry I never called you back.  Things took a little longer than I thought).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sports Aficionados We Are Not

As I was checking out in Lowe's last weekend, my chatty self started up a conversation with the cashier about the weather.  She mentioned that it was supposed to be 70 on Sunday, and said "And you know all these southerners are going to be like 'it's cold!'  But they don't know what cold feels like."

(In the southeast's defense, after a week of 95 degrees, 70 feels downright brisk).

She mentioned she was from Wisconsin.

"Oh where at?" I asked.  "I was born in Milwaukee."

"Are you a Green Bay Packers fan?" she asked.

"Of course," I replied easily as I ran my credit card through the little machine.

As far as sports go, I do like the Packers.  More accurately I actually know who the Packer are. My dad and brothers are dyed-in-the-wool fans who have donned foam cheese hats and sat freezing on those steel seats at Lambeau field.

"I'm in a Green Bay Packers club," she said.  "We meet for every game at a local sports bar.  You should come.  You don't have to be a member to watch the game with us."

"Oooooh," I started to realize I may have gotten in over my head.  "Thank you so much!"

I told Matt about it in the car.

"No," he said.  "Do you even know who plays for the Packers?'

"Yes.  Quarterbacks."

He laughed.  "Not quarterbacks.  One quarterback."

"Are you serious?  Is there really only quarterback?"


"I'm not sure," he said.

Go, Pack! Go!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Do Your Thinking In a Rocking Chair

A friend at work recently helped her parents downsize from a house to a condo.  It was probably to their advantage that four of her coworkers had bought new houses in the past two years.  She brought in price lists with pictures, and the four of us fought over furniture with the well-bred aggressiveness that befits a professional environment.  Being an especially thoughtful friend, she knew I had been eyeing her parents' rocking chairs on the online house listing, and she set them aside for me.

I recruited my father-in-law to drive them over in his truck, and $40 later, I was the proud owner of two brightly-colored, ladder back rocking chairs.

"Aren't they great?"  I asked my FIL as he carried them inside.

"Hmm," he said.

Charis told me, "That generation can't figure out why our generation wants to buy all their old stuff."

The lime green and white motif had looked great in a sun room, but clashed with our taupe siding.  I had a gallon of Behr exterior glossy paint/primer in antique white that we had picked up at the Home Depot Memorial Day Sale for the trim on our chicken coop.  The associate accidentally mixed a gallon instead of a quart, so we'd gotten the gallon for 50% off.

It only took me one month and the help of my sister Margaret, but I finally got those rocking chairs cleaned, sanded, and painted with two coats of paint.

In retrospect, spray paint would have been a faster option.  I became quite familiar with the slats on the seats.  But I couldn't beat using paint I already had, and I'm thrilled with the color.  Also, I've read that it's a good idea to let painted furniture cure for at least 1 week before use.  My neighbor sunk into one when he was over the next day.  So there's that.  This is basically the opposite of a furniture painting tutorial.

The reward for completing the painting was picking out seat cushions.  My brother Sam went with me to Home Depot.  He's twenty-year-old and just started a PhD program in mathematics.  As we were browsing the outdoor furniture area, I found out that he has some strong opinions on decorating.

On beds: Every bed should have only five pillows - two in the same fabric as the sheets, two in the same fabric as the duvet, and one accent pillow.

On outdoor cushions: Solid colors are best.  If you must have a pattern, go for monochromatic.

He said if he was going to get a little crazy, he'd get these:


I ended up leaving with something more colorful.  Sam said that they are a too bold for his tastes, but they were OK for me.  Makes sense seeing as how I have nine pillows on my bed.

Oh, the frivolity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Canning for a New Generation

This recommendation is a little late in coming, but it is sincere and heartfelt.  I had Liana Krissoff's Canning For a New Generation on my Amazon wishlist for almost a year before I finally broke down and bought it.   Matt was enthusiastic about our garden, and kept telling me "we should can stuff!"  I finally broke down and bought the book in an effort to appease him without actually canning.  But this year Matt's enthusiasm and our garden doubled in size, and I dubiously tried my hand at preserving.

Every recipe I've tried has exceeded my expectations.  If you preserve or are interested in preserving, this book is worth every cent.

So far I've made:
Strawberry lemon jam
Strawberry jam with Thai herbs
Chamomile scented strawberry syrup
Spiced strawberry butter
Plum cardamom jam
Honeyed bread and butter pickles
Hot pickled okra
Pickled peppers
Peach Preserves
Green Apple Applesauce

And they've all been so, so good.

In addition to the wonderful, surprising recipes, the book is a fun read. Krissof includes personal anecdotes and helpful information on preserving food.  Oh, and everything is either high sugar or high acid - so no pressure cooker needed.  Just be sure to be stocked up on sugar and vinegar before you crack the book open.

The most surprising for me was the strawberry chamomile syrup and the spiced strawberry butter (imagine apple butter, but strawberries instead).  Krissoff suggests spreading the strawberry butter between the layers of a cake.  I've done it twice and both times different people told me it was the best cake they'd ever had.

The strawberry syrup is delicious and pretty fun to have around.  You can make it with any flavor tea you like.  I put it in sparkling water, but recently I've taken to making strawberry ice cream sodas.  I don't have any pictures of this because I do it late at night (when pictures of food die), and because I drink them too fast.

She doesn't use fruit pectin, but instead uses the natural pectin found in green apples.  Again, I was dubious, but I quartered my green apples, threw them in with my peaches this weekend and watched it all gel together.  Not using pectin means none of your liquid is being absorbed and the flavors should stay more pure.  I don't know if this is exactly true, but I will say it was the peachiest flavored peach preserves I've had.  I'm looking for any excuse to eat it (biscuits, sourdough bread, toast).  Plus she gives instructions on how to preserve the apple puree and bake it up in a cake later.  You have to respect a woman with so many ways to use canned goods in cake.

The book is divided into seasons.  So even if your garden is dying like mine, there's still fall (applesauce!) and winter to go.

(This is not an affiliate post or an affiliate link.  I just really liked this book.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Happy Families

Tolstoy summed it up best at the beginning of Anna Karenina.  "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

I was quite indignant with that when I first attempted Tolstoy in ninth grade (I went through a sincere Russophilia stage in high school).  My family was happy.  Idyllic even.  And we were not like the other happy families we knew.

Seventeen years and seven wedding anniversaries later, I'm finally able to wrap my head around the Anna Karenina principle: what makes a family happy is universally the same, but a family can be unhappy in an infinite number of ways.

In fairness to my angst-filled young self, happy families are complicated.  What makes Tolstoy's line resonate century after century, is that it is really all that can be written about happy families.

Marriage is impossibly intricate. My dad once said "there's a reason so many stories end with 'and they lived happily ever after.'"   I think there is something to that.  It's not that life ends after the wedding, it's just that life after the wedding is too complicated for fairy tales.

My marriage is complicated.  I have lived happily, and I pray that continues ever after.  Yet so many cliches come to mind: we've had our ups and downs, its not perfect, it's not without its challenges.  They are all inadequate at describing the tremendous difficulty, pain, joy, healing and growth of being joined with another human being as flawed as I am.

This weekend, a friend sent me a link from Pinterest of 30 text message suggestions for spouses.  She wrote: "I laughed through them so much I was almost crying.  Mainly because I was envisioning myself sending them to [my husband], or the other way around." Reading them, I too choked back laughter imagining myself texting Matt, "no one wears a suit like you do."  The authors of the affectionate, affirming texts are sincere.  I have no doubt that these texts work in their marriage like the building blocks they are meant to be.

But what builds up one marriage, can be useless or even detrimental in another.  And I've finally learned: there is nothing wrong with that.

Two months after we got married, I went away overnight to a woman's conference with our church.  Before I left, I bought heart shaped sticky notes, covered them with my impassioned, heartfelt sentiments, and left them throughout the house for Matthew to find.  When I got back, I asked him "Did you find my sticky notes?'

He said absently, "It took me almost ten minutes to clean all those up."

I wasn't crushed or surprised.  It's not like I had married a complete stranger.  But what I did (and sometimes still) find discouraging, was how little I relate to perfectly summed up blog advice.  Or Pins with heart balloon graphics giving me 50 date ideas.

Date ideas and affectionate text messages are important.  But I worry that they're often Band-Aides for a gunshot wound.  No one can hurt my husband like I can; and I do more often than I ever thought I would.  The only way to be restored is for me to see my own sins (usually a stinging cocktail of selfishness, anger, and pride) and to love him sacrificially.  This means giving up things I want to do to clean the house - rather than littering the house with sticky notes.  It means asking him what he wants to do and actually listening  - even if our "dates" wouldn't appear charming on the world wide web.

Real marriages struggle.  And happy marriages struggle and restore and struggle and heal.  In this way, all happy families are alike.

But healthy relationships that struggle and heal do not fit tidily in a pin.

By all means, use the internet for inspiration!  But if you, like me, fail to find yourself, your husband and your relationship reflected in "5 things to always say" or "10 things I stopped saying" or "100 ways to fold napkins for your husband's lunchbox" remember that we are to find our reflection in Christ's relationship with the church: a searing example of sacrifice, love and redemption.

* because no blog post on relationships is complete without some kind of chalk writing and a bird graphic *

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Good Morning

Good morning.

Matt is at work, so I have fallen into the my usual lonesome weekend habits: Dutch baby pancake, coffee, and musicals blasting from the speakers.  My parents are coming Tuesday, and I have big plans to clean the attic and the fridge later.  A couple times a year my parents descend from the north (usually for a long-distance race of some kind) and visit their older children in a sweeping motion across the east coast.  There is a lot of cleaning going on the week before that so that my parents will "think we're responsible" (as one sibling puts it).

Honestly, though, it's an illusion.  The last time my parents visited, there were baby chicks in the laundry room.

Baby chicks in the laundry room might sound cute.  Charming even.  But they are not.  For one thing, chicks are noisy.  They are loudest when they are unhappy, and our first time around, we didn't know a lot about keeping them happy.  Secondly, they smell.  Any enjoyment from their fluffy, golf ball-shaped bodies evaporates in the distinct stink of baby chick.  Thirdly, about 5% of them die in the first two days.

Agricultural life is gruesome.  By the time my parents came, the death toll had evened out, but chicks were still cheeping, eating and pooping right under the loft where my parents were sleeping.

"I bet you never imagined that this would happen one day," I said to my mom.

"Trust me."  She shrugged.  "This isn't even on my radar of strange."

This year there are no chicks.  I'm already ahead.

I've been debating whether it is necessary to address my long absence from writing here.  Those of you who keep up with me in this forum, probably already know me well enough to know that my focus has been diverted.

These past few months have been incredibly difficult for me.  Perhaps the hardest I have ever lived through.  In the wake of a devastating loss, I have painfully sorted through pieces of myself.  We've all been there - examining the fault lines we never noticed or ignored.  I have been shifting through guilt, remorse, shame, and grief piecing together the truth of who I am in the grace of God.  It was difficult for me to see my way to anything creative when I was so shaky in what was true.

I've heard an account of a Russian woman who said, "Of course there is a God.  I have a thumb!"  The perfection of her dexterity was proof of a perfect Creator.

My proof of God these past six month has been the perfection of His chastisement.  I have no words to describe how He has disciplined me and saved me all so completely.  There are days when the grief has literally brought me to my knees.  But on my knees I find mercy and forgiveness.  There has been grace in my life.  I know that it must have always been there - God's hand mercifully saving me from myself - but I see it more clearly these days.

Today, in the quite house, glory and grace shine through in the mundane - it is in the smell of butter browning in a cast-iron skillet, the feeling of Henry's silky ears brushing against my leg.  The iPod switches to the next song.  Almost exactly thirteen years ago, my dad caught my mom up in his arms and twirled her around the kitchen to this song.  My brothers and sisters and I watched them rapt, basking in the glow of their love for each other.  Now, those memories are carried over to me on the swell of the chorus.

This is a different kind of pain.  There is an ache in my chest that comes from the beauty and mystery of it all.  It too is enough to make sink to my knees.  So I thank God and ask for more mornings like this.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stitch Fix 1

"The rumors of my death have been exaggerated."  Mark Twain

I'm still alive.  My zucchini, however, is not.  Greenville has been hit with a ton of rain, and it killed our squash.  I did manage to get in one more zucchini dish before then that I'll share with you soon.  Right around the same time as my zucchini dying, I took on some new responsibilities at work.  I've been busy learning a new job and adjusting to a more demanding schedule.  But, obviously, a new job means new clothes!

A friend at work put me on to Stitch Fix.  For a $20 styling fee, a stylist sends you a box of 5 items based on an comprehensive clothing profile. You have three days to try things on and decide what you want to keep.  The styling fee goes towards anything you purchase.  If you purchase all 5 items, Stitch Fix takes 25% off the total.

I'm not good at thinking outside the box, and thought this might be a good way to get myself to try new things.  And it's every bit as fun as it sounds!

Look what was waiting for me when I got home!

I could not wait to open it.  But first I had to make the bed so that my pictures would be internet-ready.

Seriously, everything about the packaging is adorable.

Every item comes with a cute styling card that shows how to dress the item up or down.

There's a lot of attention to detail in that little box.  Here's what I got from top to bottom:

Portland Ikat Keyhole Back Belted Dress 

No.  Just no.  I don't care for ikat in general, and this pattern didn't change my mind.  Also the top was about 2 times too big on me.

Matt's reaction: Uh, no.

Verdict: Going back.

Calafia Jersey Wrap Dress 

I was very on the fence with this one.  The color is great - not too purple, not too burgundy.  And the fit was perfect too.  Not only is it incredibly comfortable, it has pockets!  But I just bought a wrap dress from Banana Republic, and I was considering ordering that in another color.  In the end it was the cap sleeves that did it.  I always have problem with things looking fitted on my narrow shoulders, and the absence of sleeves solves that.  Plus it will be nice to have another piece that will work for the office or the weekend.

Verdict: Keeping it.

Alan Cowl Neck Asymmetrical Jacket 

I've been on the lookout for a grey cardigan for a long time, so I was very excited to see this in the box. I had put on my personality profile that I wear sweaters all year long (our office is set to Klondike). Sadly, the zipper didn't do nice things for me, and the fabric was just a teeny bit itchy.  I wanted to love it, and almost kept it.  But if I'm going to spend that much on a cardigan, it's going to be one that I have no questions about.

Verdict: a reluctant goodbye.

Jacy Hooded Knit Jacket 

So many things to like about this: the long cuff, the grey lining, the wide belt, the fact that it was like wearing a  giant blanket.  But I couldn't wear the hood to work, and I'm not spending that kind of money on something I can't wear to work.  Plus, Matt said it was a little drab looking.

Verdict: going back

Hammered Geometric Strand Necklace 

I'm terrible at picking out and buying jewelry, but this is wonderful.  My wedding bands are yellow gold, so I'm thrilled to have some new yellow gold jewelry.  An added convenience of Stitch Fix is that I could try everything on with all my clothes at home.  I tried this necklace on with about four different things, and I loved it with everything.

Verdict: Keeping.

I promised myself there would be no awkward mirror selfies, but it seems it's impossible to go through a Stitch Fix box without one.  Here I am rocking my new necklace.

I've already signed up to receive my next Stitch for my birthday in a couple months.  This was some of the most fun I've ever had shopping!

If you're interested in signing up, would you mind using this referral link?  Stitch Fix will give me a $25 credit, and Matt will be very grateful.

Sign up here

(This is in no way funded by Stitch Fix.  Until I placed this order, they had no idea I exist.)

What do you think?  Do you want to see an awkward mirror selfie of the wrap dress?  What do you think about ikat? If you're curious about the prices, message me.  I'm happy to pass them along to give you an idea of the price range.
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