November 9, 2015

Pumpkin Pomegranate Cake

I made this for date night on Sunday, loosely based off this recipe but also inspired by this one -- both of which I found after googling "what to do with one cup of pumpkin purée". I slaughtered two pie pumpkins a week or two ago, and had a cup left over unfrozen after making some other things (there is a lot more in the freezer!). I had also bought pomegranates (oh, be still my heart) with our last grocery shop, and things just came together.

The result is a pleasingly moist and light coffee cake. It's not too sweet, and the pomegranate seeds give it a little extra oompf in the fun-to-eat department. I'd make it again.

Ingredients:

- 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- seeds of 1 large pomegranate, about 1 cup
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1. Combine flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium mixing bowl.

2. Add pomegranate seeds, eggs, and butter/margarine and mix well.

3. Pour into greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350F until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

October 18, 2015

Chocolate Rice Pudding (Dairy-Free, Stovetop)

This chocolate rice pudding whips up quickly and is the perfect fall dessert -- especially when served warm! The chocolate flavour is mild; add more cocoa powder if you'd like more of a punch. I am particularly fond of the combination of cinnamon with chocolate, but feel free to leave it out if you're not a fan.

Ingredients:

- 1.5-2 cups cooked rice (mine was Chinese takeout leftovers)
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder
- a pinch salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups almond milk
- optional: raisins, nuts, etc.

1. Put the rice into a large pot and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla.

3. While mixing, add the almond milk about 1/2 cup at a time, until combined.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the rice. Add raisins, nuts, etc. if desired. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for 6-10 minutes until it reaches the desired thickness.

Serve warm. Or allow to cool and serve cold;it's your kitchen.

August 4, 2015

Things I read about: health, the internet, children, marriage, and... asparagus water

A round-up of interesting blog entries and articles that have crossed my way lately:

Toxic Shock: Why This Woman Is Suing a Tampon Company After Losing Her Leg -- ugh, tampons are terrible (and not just because they can kill you).

Whole Foods' $6 Asparagus Water Is Just Water With Three Stalks of Asparagus in It [Updated] -- there's not much more to the article than the title will tell you, but the picture is funny.

The Web We Have to Save -- there are some interesting ideas here, if you can get past the first 1/3-1/2 of the piece, which smacks strongly of "I used to be important on the internet and now I'm not, therefore the internet is now bad".

25 Ways to Stay Married for 25 Years -- short post; solid advice.

The Third Secret to Destruction-Proofing Your Marriage -- this is a challenging read, but a good one; the comments section is equally worthwhile (I read every one). I'm not sure that I agree with everything she posits, but it is definitely food for thought.

Is Depression a kind of Allergic Reaction? -- very interesting link between depression and inflammation.

Meaning is Healthier than Happiness -- speaking of health, how about epigenetics? Super, super interesting stuff.

July 21, 2015

This is why I didn't like your status update


A few weeks back I ran across these two articles:

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here's What it Did to Me.

I Quit Liking Things on Facebook for Two Weeks. Here's how it Changed My View of Humanity.

(Please excuse the click-bait titles. I'll give you the TL;DR although I do recommend reading them both -- liking everything on facebook turns your newsfeed into an insane and highly polarized confluence of mostly advertisements; not liking anything on facebook means that you have to actually write comments and be social, and it's nice.)

Both of these articles struck a chord with me. I'm a long-time facebook user -- my timeline goes back to 2005, and facebook was pretty new then. I remember having to have a university email address to register, and I remember the furor when they removed that restriction and facebook was invaded first by thirteen-year-olds, and then by our parents and grandparents. I use it to keep in touch with many friends and family who live far away, and I'm not likely to quit any time soon.

The fact that I'm probably a permanent facebook user, however, (whatever "permanent" means in the internet age) doesn't/shouldn't mean that I keep using it mindlessly. I do have concerns about facebook's advertising algorithms, about privacy, and about the fact that it being a free service means that I am the product. And of course there's the old dead horse about facebook's inherent superficiality and the false sense of community that it (may) provide. I had already decided to stop engaging in facebook debates -- much like how I try not to read the comment section underneath news articles -- for the sake of my sanity. And I am ruthless about unfollowing annoying people and blocking just about every app or meme-generating page that crosses my newsfeed. But what about taking Elan Morgan's line and actually quitting the 'like'?

Unlike Morgan, I didn't announce that I wouldn't 'like' things any more -- I just stopped doing it. Either I liked a status enough to comment on it, or I scrolled on by: no more easy middle ground. And since I did that, I do actually find that I enjoy facebook a lot more. Needing to actually comment or not (and needing to decide which option to take) has brought back a degree of mindfulness that I had been missing. Leaving comments has fostered conversations, and it's nice to engage with people a bit more than I had been. And being made to actually stop and think has curtailed my natural inclination to open it up a aimlessly scroll down for more time than I care to admit. It's helping me to actually see what people are posting. I don't think I'll go back.

July 13, 2015

Beautiful and useful

As Stan and I prepare to enter our senior year of our degrees, the fact that we're going to be done in less than a year has started to be a bit loomy. And yes, we think/fret/pray about things like getting jobs after -- but more on my mind these days is the fact that we'll be moving again. In ten months or so we'll be putting all of our worldly goods on a truck and driving off to parts unknown. When we moved here we filled a 14-foot u-haul pretty much all the way.... and of course, we've been accumulating things since then. This is the longest I've lived in one place since I moved out of my parents house and so I haven't had to declutter as regularly as I have in the past.

I do not want to be driving a 17-foot truck if we can help it... never mind anything larger! And as we've watched some friends of ours prepare to move to the Arctic (sea lift and all) I have been hit by a major decluttering bug. Out, possessions! Out, out, out! This morning the VVA came by and picked up two bags and one box of sundry goods -- at least half of which were baby blankets -- as well as a large and horrifying toy box. The itch to divest myself of stuff was at least momentarily scratched -- though I'm already looking around to see what else can go out with the next pickup.

This sort of thing was not always so easy for me. I am a packrat by nature, and I come from a long and distinguished line of packrats. Those of you who know me may also know that I tend to anthropomorphize objects. When putting clean dishes away I always put the clean ones on the bottom, so that everything gets used evenly and nobody's feelings get hurt. Truth. And my mother will recall the bitter tears shed when we got rid of the toothbruth holder that I had known and loved all of the (ten) years of my life. I'm sentimental. This is just my baseline; and I'm definitely not against owning things. We're not minimalists -- just look at our bookshelves.

But I think where things have shifted for me is that I'm tired of owning things I don't like. Or don't use. Or wouldn't have in my house at all except for the fact that it carries some sort of sentimental connotation or psychic debt. (Like the wedding present it took me four tries to get rid of, because I love the person who gave it to me, even though the present itself was something I didn't like and would never use.) I am finally starting to be ruthless with my possessions.

Now, I finally agree with William Morris: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

We're not there yet. But we're getting closer. Today we went to see said Arctic-moving friends, who are selling off everything they weren't able to put on the sea lift. We got a few books (ie, useful objects), but we also got a painting. A big painting! A big, impractical, lovely, happy-making painting that I know to be beautiful. And it is useful, too, taking our living room focal point from this:

Generic Ikea print left over from Stan's bachelor days (now in exile on floor in hallway)
to this:

Beautiful seascape, plus bonus accidental shadow from my hand
Le sigh. Le prrrr. I would like to have fewer things in my house, true -- but those that are left, I would like to be beautiful and/or (preferably and) useful. Today was a win in that regard.

July 11, 2015

Recipe: Summer Salad

I got asked to bring a salad to a dinner yesterday night, and decided that I would like to do something watermelon-based, since they're in season right now (so delicious and so cheap!). I browsed a few recipes online and then, from general principles, came up with my own:

Yesterday's leftovers, aka today's lunch.
Ingredients:

- 1/2 medium seedless watermelon, cubed
- 2 english cucumbers, diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 red onion, finely diced
- 1.5 cups or so matchstick-cut carrots
- 1/2 to 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- lime vinaigrette: juice of ~2 limes, olive oil, honey, sea salt, black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large serving bowl and refrigerate until needed. Toss with vinaigrette just before serving. Serves ~10.

July 10, 2015

In which we 'ferberize' the baby

Anselm has sort of an odd sleep history. From newborn to about three months he slept very well (or at least as well as newborns do): I could easily nurse or bounce him down to sleep, and then he would sleep wherever he was put -- generally in the bassinet.

The bassinet was great, until it wasn't. At three months, we hit teething and a cold and a growth spurt all at once, and he became very hard to get to sleep -- so we brought him into our bed. He lay beside me and I could nurse him when he needed it without having to wake up much myself. And it was reassuring to the baby to have us right there (and vice-versa). We all got more sleep.

Co-sleeping was great, until it wasn't. Anselm got bigger; he started kicking and rolling. He started crawling on top of us when he woke up in the morning. And our queen bed got progressively smaller and smaller as he forced us out to the edges. So about a month ago we transitioned him to a crib mattress beside our bed. It was easy for me to get in and out of his bed to nurse him. It was a bigger space for him to sleep.

Sleeping beside our bed was great, until it wasn't. I hadn't realised when we were co-sleeping how often he was waking up in the night to nurse -- much, much more than he needed to. My back was starting to hurt every morning from lying on his mattress to feed him. And nursing him to sleep was getting progressively more difficult -- he was canny to the fact that I would eventually sneak away, and started trying to keep himself awake to prevent it. Some nights I would accidentally fall asleep in his bed instead of my own for a couple of hours.

Something had to give. I wasn't sleeping, he wasn't sleeping -- things just were not working out.

Enter Dr. Richard Ferber, and Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. "Ferberizing" is probably the most controversial sleep-training method out there -- and by "controversial" I mean "vilified" -- but honestly, if you actually read the book and not random internet posts for/against it, what he says makes a lot of sense. We were able to quickly identify the source of Anselm's sleep problems: he had a sleep association with nursing to sleep, he was (naturally) upset to fall asleep beside me and wake up with me gone, and he was eating way too much at night. So I read all the relevant chapters, we decided on a plan, and sleep-training started last night -- after a mass text to all my pray-ers!

We decided to go whole-hog and address everything at once, instead of by piecemeal -- reasoning that if it was too hard on the baby we could always scale back. But our goal for last night was that Anselm would sleep (a) in his crib, (b) in the nursery, (c) without nursing to sleep, and (d) without nursing in the night. It was a tall order: all of those things were new. But we were pretty sure that with our support, he could do it.

It went... shockingly, amazingly well. We pushed his bedtime back until he was truly sleepy, and then moved to our new bedtime routine. I gave him a bath, Stan read him some stories, I nursed him in the rocking chair, and then I put him in his crib. He cried, of course -- we followed the plan to check him first after one minute of crying, then after three, then five, then seven, and then at ten minute intervals if he wasn't asleep yet. We would reassure and comfort him but would not pick him up out of the crib. After about thirteen minutes of crying, he fell fast asleep and stayed that way for about six hours. He cried then for less than five minutes before falling asleep again. He roused about two hours later and fussed for less than a minute before going back to sleep until morning.

And now we're thinking: why didn't we do this a month ago?

I know that this was only the first night and that we may still run into all sorts of snags -- like we have no idea how naps are going to go today (which we are also going to have him do in the crib, alone in his room, etc. etc.) But it's so encouraging how well he did last night. Better sleep is well in sight for all of us.

And to those who worry about the crying: well, babies cry. It's not fun for them (or to put them through it) but... babies cry. I'm not worried that we're going to give him some sort of lasting psychological harm: after all, being better rested ourselves means that he's going to get more consistent daytime attention and affection. And frankly, I was so tired that some days I was afraid to drive. I'll take some sadness and anger from the baby in exchange for not accidentally running off the road. You know how it is.

July 6, 2015

Recipe: Twice-Baked Baby Teething Biscuits

Anselm has been teething for... let's see... going on four months now (with nary a tooth in sight, I might add) and I thought I would make him some teething biscuits to chomp on. I found this site for a bunch of base recipes; the below is my modification.

Ingredients:

- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup dry baby cereal
- 1 4-oz jar baby fruit puree
- 3 Tbsp oil
- ice water

1. Stir together flour and cereal. (You can use white, whole-wheat, or half-and-half for the flour -- and similarly, plain or flavoured infant cereal. I used 1/2 cup oats and 1/2 cup rice.)

2. Add puree and oil, and mix in.

3. Slowly add ice water, until dough pulls away from the bowl and starts to form ball.

4. Spoon dough into piping bag (or ziplock bag -- seal it as airtightly as possible and then clip off one corner). Pipe dough into baby-graspable logs on parchment paper.

5. Bake at 425F for 12 minutes until biscuits are puffy and lightly browned.

6. Remove from oven and let cool approximately five minutes. Keep your oven on!

7. Flip biscuits. Return to oven and bake an additional 6-8 minutes until hard. (Er... harder. They don't really get hard; further tweaking might be necessary here.)

And there you have it! As always, use the sense God gave you. Cool completely before handing to baby. Do not allow baby to consume biscuits unsupervised or while lying down. Et cetera, et cetera.

June 29, 2015

A few further thoughts on suffering

A few days ago I posted on the question of whether God is ever glorified in our suffering -- a response to a facebook friend whose own post asserted, in essence, that (a) God wants to heal everybody from everything, (b) the Christian life is supposed to look different than pagan lives and that means that we should not accept illness or suffering as our lot in life, and that (c) God is not glorified in our suffering. One thing that I meant to touch on in my response, but forgot, was the question of the Biblical and historical/traditional Christian understandings of suffering, illness, and death. R comes from a faith tradition that is fairly ahistorical -- you know, "Jesus, the early church, ~1500 years of darkness/nothing, and then the Pentecostals" -- and I believe that a look at the church's historic witness would be illuminating here.

First off, I would ask whether the view that Christians should never succumb to illness is one that lines up with the witness of Scripture. I firmly believe that the answer is "no". As I mentioned previously, everyone born on this earth either has died or will do so -- and some of those deaths will be caused by illness. Death is our lot in life and something has to kill us. To assert that we should expect to be healed of every single disease is to try to paint over the fact of our mortality. It's simply nonsensical.

But what, one may ask, of suffering that does not lead to death? The most obvious biblical example is that of Job -- who loses first his property, and then his children, and then his health, at God's allowance if not at his pleasure. Job and his wife discuss the proper response to Job's suffering:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10)
Shall we receive good, and not evil? The implication is that to demand only good as our lot in life is foolish at the very least, and perhaps sinful. And although the context is different, this passage reminds me of Jesus' words in the sermon on the mount -- that God makes the sun to rise for both the evil and the good, and sends rain on both the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). There are some things that are simply part of the human condition. The weather takes no notice of our righteousness or lack thereof. Neither do natural disasters. Why should disease, a natural disaster of a different nature?

At this point certain Christians might object to the example of Job, who, after all, lived pre-Christ. I believe that the Old Testament speaks to Christians just as much as the New -- but for those who may not, let us turn to the new covenant and see what it says about suffering. There are a few passages which I think it is helpful to examine.

1. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
There are a few things to note here:

(a) We remember that Christ himself suffered, suffered greatly, suffered even unto death. If God himself in human form suffered, is it reasonable to expect that we mere mortals will not?

(b) We see that when a Christian suffers, in some spiritual/mystical (but real) fashion he or she is sharing in the suffering of Christ. Suffering has the power to further unite us to our Lord. This is not insignificant.

(c) the prevailing assumption of the passage is not that God will deliver us from suffering, but that he will comfort us in our suffering. Those are two very different things, although one may at times encompass the other. Note also that sharing in Christ's suffering enables believers to both share in each other's suffering and facilitate each other's comfort.

2. Philippians 3:8-11
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
We see a similar theme here of joining in the sufferings of Christ. An interesting variation, of course, is that Paul wishes to become like Christ in his death so that he might be sure of attaining the righteousness that comes through faith and the resurrection from the dead. In some respects, suffering is (or can be, if we allow it to be) good for our souls.

3. Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Again, we see that suffering has a purpose: it is a refiner and a character-builder. It is well and right to pray that God will heal us of our afflictions. But we should not be focused so exclusively on that longed-for healing that we miss what God is doing with us and in us, in and through our suffering. Romans 8:28 assures us that God causes things to work for our good, and that he can bring good out of evil. Sometimes this will mean relieving us of our suffering. Sometimes it won't. We are assured that God is working for our benefit and his own glory in both of those cases.

4. In general, the New Testament is replete with instructions on how Christians are to behave and believe when they are enduring suffering and affliction. The presence of these instructions presupposes that Christians will encounter suffering and affliction; again, these things are part of the human existence.

~~~

An understanding that Christians should not suffer -- and that God is never glorified in our suffering -- is not only contrary to the biblical witness but is completely ahistorical. Christians have always suffered. Read any hagiography; I'll bet you double-or-nothing that the saint in question suffered, perhaps greatly. I will also bet that along with their suffering there is a testimony as to its value.

Let us consider the following testimony from our spiritual forebears:

St. Vincent de Paul:
If we only knew the precious treasure hidden in infirmities, we would receive them with the same joy with which we receive the greatest benefits, and we would bear them without ever complaining or showing signs of weariness.
St. Madeline Sophie Barat:
As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have. 
St. Ignatius Loyola:
If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint. 
St. John of the Cross:
The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.
St. Teresa of Avila:
Suffering is a great favor. Remember that everything soon comes to an end ... and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal. 
St. John of Avila:
Dear brothers and sisters, I pray God may open your eyes and let you see what hidden treasures he bestows on us in the trials from which the world thinks only to flee. Shame turns into honor when we seek God's glory. Present affliction become the source of heavenly glory. To those who suffer wounds in fighting his battles God opens his arms in loving, tender friendship. That is why he (Christ) tells us that if we want to join him, we shall travel the way he took. It is surely not right that the Son of God should go his way on the path of shame while the sons of men walk the way of worldly honor: "The disciple is not above his teacher, nor the servant greater than his master." 
To accept suffering with joy is difficult; to dismiss it as spiritually worthless is foolish. We are commanded to pray for healing; we are commanded to suffer with grace and in hope. Christian suffering is not an anomaly; rather, it is often the very means by which we are brought closer to God, and in which we give him all the glory.

June 27, 2015

Road trip with an infant: achievement unlocked

As I write this, the baby is upstairs asleep, Stan is watching the Canada-England soccer match, and the rain is falling steadily as it has done all day. We are all various degrees of exhausted, but also pleased with our accomplishment: three days and two nights in a hotel, just a few hours away, with fair success and no disasters. We're even unpacked.

This mini-roadtrip was the perfect practice for a longer trip we'll be taking this summer (and one that's probably going to be even longer sometime in the fall) -- so special thanks to my cousins A and K for getting married. Anselm coped with the hotel / disturbed nap schedule / extended family hoopla / etc. a lot better than we had anticipated, which is encouraging.

Some things for me to remember for next time (because I need to write them down somewhere ... and I can't lose a blog post):

1. Hotel rooms are cold. Bring socks for the baby!

2. Our car gets about five, five-and-a-half hours' of highway driving on a half tank of gas.

3. Sleeping: at home, Anselm sleeps on a mattress next to our bed. We didn't bring it with us because the hotel would provide a crib & we figured on using that mattress. We did so; but it was small and hard, and next time it might be easier to just bring the crib mattress. Bringing Anselm's sheet so that his bed smelled the same was probably helpful.

4. Next time, more snack food. Always more snack food.

5. I'm pretty sure it's true what they say: Ohio drivers are just the worst.

6. The best time to leave looks like immediately after breakfast. Pack as much as possible the night before, get up, shower and eat, feed the baby, nurse the baby, and go. He should sleep for a good hour or two if you get on the road soon enough. Otherwise he'll only fall asleep in the ten minutes before the next rest stop, leading to the eternal conundrum: wake the baby or pee one's pants? Both terrible options.

7. Don't forget to update the GPS. And be thankful for friendly park rangers.

8. You will feel bad because your baby cries in the night and hotel walls are thin. But then your bed will start shaking in sync with your next door neighbour's... athletic... activities, and you will shrug and call it even. In hotel living, nobody wins.

June 24, 2015

Is God ever glorified in our suffering?

An acquaintance of mine posted this on her facebook feed this morning:

The fact of the matter is we have come to accept sickness and illness as a normal part of life. The truth is Jesus Christ took every sickness and disease on His body so that yours could be whole....ALL DISEASE... That includes, colds, flus, allergies, arthritis, MS, cancer, measles, mumps, asthma, lupus... ALL. No exceptions, no exclusions. God wants you whole. Suffering with illness does not glorify God, equally, dying suffering does not bring glory to God or have people lining up to be a Christian. The Christian life must look different every way to the world. Time to get your current reality to line up with God's truth....By His stripes you were healed.

I was tempted -- sorely -- to reply on facebook itself, but I've recently given that up. It's just a bad venue for serious conversation, and I had a feeling that my response was going to be a lot longer than would have been reasonable for a comment. Good thing I have a blog.

Dear R,

I saw your post this morning about God's desire that we should be whole and healed. I love how passionate you are about praying for healing for the sick (and I thank you for praying for me as you have done in the past). I love your desire to encourage the body of Christ to seek God's healing. Those are wonderful things.

Your post also left me with some nagging questions. I offer the following points for discussion:

1) I agree with you on principle that God desires our healing and wholeness. I firmly believe that God will heal his people. But I don't believe that all of that healing will happen in this life -- in fact, most of it won't. Our final (physical / mental / emotional / spiritual / psychological) healing will not take place until we are united with Christ after our deaths (*and/or his return, should that happen first). In the holy city God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4) ... but those things have not passed away yet. Christians live -- somewhat uncomfortably -- in what we call "the already-but-not-yet". The victory is won, but the mop-up battles continue. The kingdom is here, but it's not here fully. I acknowledge that there is a serious tension here! But to deny the "not yet" is as bad as denying the "already" -- to leave out either half is to deny the reality in which we live. How do we deal with the fact that some  of our healing is already, but some of it is not yet?

2) If God promises healing with "no exemptions, no exclusions" what do you say to those (many) who are not healed? I am exceedingly leery of a theology that proclaims, for example, that some are not healed because of a defect in their faith. Shall we tell our brothers and sisters who suffer with cancer or MS or what-have-you that they are simply not working hard enough? believing enough? praying enough? What will make them good enough to be healed? When Jesus was on earth he healed many, but he by no means healed all -- consider John 5, the account of the healing at the pool at Bethesda. The Gospel account tells us that there was "a multitude of invalids [there]—blind, lame, and paralyzed" (John 5:3). Christ saw the multitude, and he healed... one. Was this one so worthy, or the others so unworthy? Or are the plans and purposes of God simply more inscrutable than we wish they were? Does saying "no exemptions, no exclusions" make our healing a matter of Law, rather than Grace?

3) You quote Isaiah 53:5 at the end of your post: "by his stripes we are healed". Are we sure that this text refers to physical healing? Here is the verse in context, with some emphasis of my own:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
 we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
 so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
 he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
 he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
I see a lot in there about our unrighteousness. I do not see anything about our physical healing. The context of 53:5 shows that the healing bought by Jesus' stripes is spiritual. (Again, I have no quarrel with the premise that God heals; I just don't think that this is the verse on which to hang your hat.)

4) One day, something is going to kill me. Ideally, I would like to die from simply being too old to live, expiring gracefully and peacefully in a well-appointed bedroom while a soft lavender-scented breeze blows through the window and my thirty-seven grandchildren sing Abide With Me in five-part harmony. That sounds pretty good (and pretty unlikely). More realistically, I might die quickly: have a heart attack, or get hit by a bus. Or I might die slowly: skin cancer, maybe, or Alzheimer's. I don't know what it will be (nor do I want to), but someday, somehow, I am going to shuffle off this mortal coil, and there is nothing -- save Christ's return -- that can prevent that. Christians die. Christians die suddenly and too young. Christians die by inches for years. Sin has broken us, the universe is entropic, and it's going to happen. Does a proclamation that all diseases and illnesses will be healed square with the reality and inevitability of death?

5) It's true that the Christian life is supposed to look different. But that difference is not found in the fact that we don't suffer, but in what we choose to do with that suffering -- and in that, absolutely, God is glorified. I will give you an example: This past winter, a (faithful, believing, Christian) professor at our school died of leukaemia. It was quick, as these things go: there was only about a year between her diagnosis and her death. And she absolutely glorified Christ in both her suffering and her death. Her steadfast faith -- even in and through her very real suffering -- was a testimony to her doctors and nurses, as well as to the many who knew her before her illness struck. Her life and death proclaimed that God is faithful to us in the midst of trial; that though trouble may come we are never abandoned. She praised God until the end, and reposed to be with him in glory. This is what it means to die with dignity. This is what it means for our suffering and death to glorify God. This is what it means for the Christian life to look different in every respect. To deny such a witness would be the grossest of errors. Can we really look at the Christians we know who have died, and died well, and say that there was nothing there? No redemption, no grace? Is there really no way for our suffering to bring glory to God?

R, I am so glad that you have known Jesus' healing power in your own life and that you are so eager to share that with others. I would suggest, however, that the issue of our earthly healing is more nuanced than your facebook post would suggest. I hope that this post will bring an opportunity for further reflection on healing, and not offence.

Yours,

Christine

[also see follow-up post here]

June 19, 2015

What is the writer's function in society?

And then all the stuff about the writer's function in society! That kind of thing can only be dealt with from some angle which is not personal; but the whole questionnaire starts with this twaddling emphasis on the personal, and, dear Lord God! what is any honest craftsman to make of the appalling bit of blah presented at the end as a formula on which one is asked to comment? A general answer to all this stuff about standing for this and aiming at that is simply "as the man so is the work". If the work is sincere it will reflect both the maker’s opinions and his character with a ruthless fidelity; but if he self-consciously tries to make it reflect the opinions for which he thinks "Art" ought to "stand", then it will reflect nothing but his own self-consciousness and insincerity. It does not matter to any soul alive what my personal aims or satisfactions are. If I am required to tell people what in general the writer's duty is I could put the thing into very few words: don't write unless you have something to say; construct your piece of work soundly; write English.
-- Dorothy L. Sayers, letter to Dr. E. V. Rieu, 21 April 1944.

June 16, 2015

Thinking about habits

Something or other in my online reading (what? by whom? I don't recall) has lately gotten me thinking a lot about habits, and led me to both Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit and Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before. Both books are very good, but they work especially well as a pair: Duhigg tackles more of the brain-science of habit (like the cue-habit-reward cycle) and Rubin focuses more on the social/personal factors of habit formation and change (like her "four tendencies" of personality, which determine how we respond to both internal and external expectations). Together they paint a broad picture of how we form habits and how habits form us. I was intrigued by Duhigg's more technical approach, but I appreciate Better Than Before's practicality, as well as the emphasis on knowing yourself -- since people tend to respond to the making and breaking of habits in predictable but different ways.

For example, Rubin broadly divides people into four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Take the quiz here). I'm an Obliger; I find it much easier to live up to other people's expectations than my own. It's hard for me to form a habit without some sort of external accountability; I don't like to let people down, but can (too) easily shirk a habit if I'm the only one who knows or cares. It doesn't necessarily mean that I do everything for which I'm externally accountable ungrudgingly, of course -- witness most of last semester's homework -- but I still do it. (In terms of school work, I think this is why I struggle with courses that use contract grading; I don't feel driven to try the same way I would if I really had to earn a grade, rather than just meeting a minimum requirement of work done.) There are many other categories Rubin looks at; one that stuck out to me was the Opener/Finisher divide. I'm a Finisher; I get a bigger charge and sense of accomplishment over finishing something (a project, a jar of peanut butter, a blog post) than out of starting a new one. I like looking at something and being able to say "It's done!". By the same measure, I get stressed out when I have so many things on the go that I'm not finishing any of them, and it's hard to stay motivated when I have a long-term project that won't be finished any time soon.

This strikes me as really useful data. This summer I've started working on my thesis, which I'll have to submit and defend next April. But since I don't (have to) check in with my advisor particularly often, I'm not working with a lot of external accountability here -- and the long deadline doesn't help, because it will be many months before I can look at my thesis and say "It's done!". So how do I make sure that I keep working on it?

Right now, like this:



As it turns out, a sticker chart is pretty much ideal for me. Here's why I think it works:

1. I do love stickers. That's not enough on its own, but it surely helps.

2. The chart keeps me accountable. I'm not keeping track of whether I work on my thesis privately; I'm keeping track right there on my dining room wall, where my husband and friends can see it. Even though they're not checking up on me, they still know what's going on. Having my chart visible turns it into an external motivator.

3. I can easily see what I've accomplished. I put on a star sticker when I do thesis reading, and a happy face when I do writing. At the end of the week, if I have at least one sticker on at least six days, I get a big sticker. My Finisher tendencies motivate me to earn a sticker every day, and to keep the big sticker chain unbroken. Even though my thesis won't be finished for a long time, every day I get to "finish" a small step.

4. It's low-key: I don't have minimums for earning stickers. If I read anything at all -- even if it's just one paragraph -- I get a sticker for that day. If I write anything at all -- even if it's just one sentence -- I get a sticker for that day. For some people this might not be helpful since it could be a tacit encouragement to make a minimal effort. But for me, it's more important to establish the habit of working on my thesis every day (or nearly) than to worry about exactly how much work I'm doing. Some days I get quite a lot done; others, I don't. But I'm working on it regularly and that's what's going to make the difference in the long run. Slow and steady, etc. etc. (And since starting my chart I've read upwards of 800 pages and written one complete chapter and smaller chunks of others, so clearly something is working.)

Rubin also tackles the convenience factor in habit formation: if we want to establish a good habit, we need to make it convenient. And if we want to kill a bad habit, we need to make it inconvenient for ourselves (which could be something as simple as, say, storing the cookies in a lidded opaque jar instead of a clear unlidded one). This rings true for me. What finally got me flossing every night was moving the floss from inside the bathroom cupboard to a spot on the counter -- it's visible, so I see it and am reminded to floss, and it's right there so it's totally convenient. And now I floss! Who knew it could be so easy? (Gretchen Rubin might have known.)

This all has intrigued me greatly. I'm pretty sure that I'll be thinking about habits for many days to come.

June 2, 2015

Things I have said to my son this morning

Hey, bud. Good morning! I love you!

Let go of Mama's hair. Let go. Let go, please. Let go. Let go of Mama's hair.

Do you want to nurse? Here you go.

Stop picking Mama's nose.

May 24, 2015

Six months: a snapshot

I don't know that anyone ever sets out to be a "mom blogger" on purpose -- I didn't -- but it seems to happen to most once the little ones alive -- might as well embrace it, eh? 

Anselm turned six months old recently -- I've been meaning to write down a few things about how life is right now -- the blog will do until I can get things down somewhere more permanent (which is to say, on paper).

At six months old, Anselm's favourite toys are his own feet (especially now that he can suck his toes!), the tin lid of one of my jewellery boxes, Mr. Blue Bun, and Sophie Giraffe (who is requisite and necessary, as well for the hands as for the gums). His favourite activities include rolling from his back to his front, and then to his back, and then to his front, and then to his back... He is also into hair pulling and grabbing Mama's glasses (we are working hard on dissuading him from these activities). He is very close to crawling and likes to stand up with support. He likes music and people. Nobody can make him laugh like Daddy can, especially when playing with Crazy Horse (now that he's outgrown being scared of it). When he gets excited -- which happens often -- he kicks his legs and flails his arms, often punching himself in the face.

Anselm goes to bed at around 7 pm (+/- 30 minutes) and sleeps until 6-7 am, with a few feedings in between. He is a haphazard napper. He still nurses well but is highly distractable, so if we're going out he'll drink expressed milk from a sippy cup, with some assistance. His favourite people are Mama, Daddy, and his little buddy E, whom we babysit once a week. For some unfathomable reason, he is also completely and utterly enamoured with the curtain that hangs in our stairwell -- but only when he's being carried up the stairs.

In the past week or so we have also introduced solids! He was fairly bamboozled at the beginning but seems to be getting the hang of it, and eats about 1 oz. at a meal. So far he likes applesauce, and sweet potato with spinach, but is not keen on banana. He prefers to hold the spoon himself, which is why I generally use three -- one for each of his hands, and one for me. Anselm has not suffered for the lack of solids up to this point, and weighs 21 lbs... or likely rather more, since it's been about a month since we last measured. He loves "ups" in our baby carriers (a wrap, a mei-tai, and a ring sling) and can usually be bounced to sleep while being worn.

We feel very blessed that he is an easy baby -- he has a very sweet inner nature and we hope that it will not grow jaded as he gets older. Though there are moments when he's an absolute turd -- as all babies sometimes are -- by and large he is very easy-going, and doesn't get upset without reason. He is quite sociable, and will turn his mouth up towards us when we cue him with "kiss-kiss". At church he likes to look at other children and at the stained glass, and is always happily surprised by the sanctus bells.

His latest trick is to do a little fake cough in order to fart (gotta engage those abs somehow, I guess!). What a little weirdo. We love him to bits.

May 17, 2015

Week of finals and firsts

It's Sunday, which means that we have officially made it through finals week -- all exams taken, all papers both written and submitted, commencement attended (Stan marhsalled and I did childcare) -- and our second year of seminary is done. Done! It's not been long enough that we feel done... probably that won't happen until we graduate, since we'll both still be doing school through the summer, but it's a milestone nonetheless.

Speaking of milestones:

1. Stan and I had an oral exam on Tuesday, which meant that Anselm got left with a babysitter for the first time. The baby did great; I was a little weepy, but rallied for the exam. We left him with another family whose son I've been watching one afternoon a week through the semester -- the boys get a kick out of each other, which helps a lot. We're hoping to work out some sort of child-sharing arrangement through the summer (each of us taking both boys for one afternoon a week, or similar) so that we can get some guaranteed free time / couple time / nap time / whatever on a regular basis.

2. And speaking of leaving the baby, he's now going to bed at a relatively reliable hour and staying asleep for a good long chunk afterwards -- and so one night last week I put him to bed and then went out! with my friends! without the baby! for... yup, the first time as far as I can recall. I was so excited I was pretty much vibrating (yes: there was some teasing). We went out to the new pub in town -- it's quite nice, and gets a million bonus points for being the only non-smoking bar around these parts (since the last one, ah, burned down) -- and confirmed our drinking status as moms and other lightweights. Fortunately someone's husband showed up after his shift ended to finish all our beers for us. Ha.

3. We've been trying the baby on solids, since he's old enough to start and is showing a lot of interest in food. I'm not sure that he's actually swallowed anything we've offered yet, but the faces he makes are pretty amazing.

One thing that does feel summery -- now that we've finished and can turn our attention to other things -- is the start of summer projects. First on the list is completing our librarything catalogue; both Stan and I are book-buyers and our to-be-catalogued piles were taking over the office. We crested 1,000 books catalogued yesterday -- with still a good chunk left to go! After that's done, my next project is probably going to be finishing making Anselm's Christmas stocking, which has been on the hooks since last November. Ah, well, some you win...

May 13, 2015

Stir-Fry Salmon with Gnocchi

I've been watching a lot of Chopped recently. It's nice because it's formulaic enough that I can throw it on while I'm washing dishes or whatever and be able to track with it without having to watch the screen the whole time. It's also inspiring, in a way: if these chefs can make decent, creative meals out of zany ingredients, surely I can make decent, creative meals out of the normal food in my cupboards, right?

So here's one I came up with, which handily used up the last two salmon fillets that had been hanging around forever, and a package of gnocchi (spellcheck suggestion: chignon), ditto. Now gnocchi is, of course, Italian, and I did asian-esque seasonings on the fish... but hey, look, it's fusion... or whatever.

STIR-FRY SALMON WITH GNOCCI -- serves 2

Gnocci:
1. Buy a package of gnocchi and cook according to directions. Bam.

Salmon Stir-Fry:
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 fillets salmon, cut into stir-fry sized strips
- spices: sea salt, black pepper, chili powder, ginger (fresh or dried)
- a good squeeze of lime juice

1. Combine oil and soy sauce in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is beginning to get transluscent
3. Add salmon to skillet
4. Season liberally with salt, pepper, chili powder, and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until salmon is done.
5. Remove from heat and give it a squeeze of lime.
6. Serve warm, over gnocchi.

We also made this with cod the other day -- that was good, too, but the salmon was better. Serve with a green side salad.

May 4, 2015

The first third of 2015: what I read

One of the habits I've successfully integrated into my life is to keep a reading log. It's extremely simple (as I find less data means more likelihood of keeping up with it): every month I write out a numbered list of what I've read, just the title and author(s). Once a year I gather up some statistics for my own interest, namely, number of books read, how many were fiction or non-fiction, how many were new reads or re-reads, and my monthly average. I keep a notebook in my dining room for this purpose, and have so far recorded every book* I've read since January 2013.

Back when I was blogging more-or-less exclusively about books, I'd try to do a reading round-up post about every month. That's a little much for me now, though -- so here's what I read during the first third of this year.

January: My annually-in-December reading of The Lord of the Rings bled significantly into January this year, for I believe the first time ever. Well. I had a newborn, what do you want from me?

1. The Two Towers (J.R.R. Tolkein)
2. The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkein
3. A Voice in the Wind (Francine Rivers)
4. Echo in the Darkness (Francine Rivers)
5. As Sure as the Dawn (Francine Rivers)
6.The Tales of Beedle the Bard (J.K. Rowling)

February: Not a lot of reading in February -- a lot of schoolwork was done instead, which is probably a good thing.

7. The Tower of Geburah (John White)
8. A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)
9. Devices and Desires (P.D. James)
10. The Practice of the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence)

March: When I look at this list I'm a bit surprised that I read eight books, because in my memory I was reading Martin Chuzzlewit approximately forever. Apparently not. It helps, of course, that March is a long month.

11. Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster)
12. Martin Chuzzlewit (Charles Dickens)
13. The Rebel Angels (Robertson Davies)
14. What's Bred in the Bone (Robertson Davies)
15. The Lyre of Orpheus (Robertson Davies)
16. As You Wish (Cary Elwes)
17. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
18. Decline and Fall (Evelyn Waugh)

April: The bulk of my reading in April was taken up, by far, by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell -- which is brilliant, and also huge. Devotional Classics is a textbook that I had been reading throughout the semester and finally finished.

19. Dad is Fat (Jim Gaffigan)
20. A Circle of Quiet (Madeleine L'Engle)
21. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
22. Devotional Classics (Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith)
23. These Strange Ashes (Elisabeth Elliot)

I'm pretty happy with these numbers, although I have to remind myself not to compare them too much with other times of my life. In undergrad I was averaging about 18 books/month, but I was also doing a literature degree and so my school reading contributed heavily. There was also one summer in highschool where I wasn't working, so I was reading two novels a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Two novels a day. Can you imagine?

Well, I'm not in the position to read two novels a day, any more, or even two novels a week (at least until summer!). But I feel like I'm reading at a good pace right now, which doesn't take up too much of my [school/family/etc.] time but still gets me through enough books that I feel as if I'm making progress. We'll see what the next few months bring. (My prediction: the numbers will go way up June-August, and then drop down again when the new semester starts. Really going out on a limb here...)

* Every book except for one in August 2014. There's a number for it, I know I read something, but I had a pretty big case of pregnancy-brain at the time and I'm afraid it is lost forever.

May 1, 2015

On reading and not reading

I mentioned in a post the other day that the first book I chose from our town's new little free library was The Thirteenth Tale, which I had read and reviewed some years ago but did not remember well (save that I enjoyed it). Not wanting to spoil things for myself I didn't actually read my review -- not that I tended to give spoilers away (much) but because I didn't want to trigger any memories of the book's plot at all. It's rare that I forget a book's contents so completely, and so I wanted to come at it fresh. A second first reading, if you will.

The verdict, this time around? 

I couldn't even finish it.

In fact, I couldn't even finish the first third. 

The writing, you guys. The writing is so bad. It's got the most overblown, purple prose, and I just couldn't do it this time around. A glance over my review from back in 2009 shows that I thought that the prose was bad then, too, but had been sufficiently captivated by the plot to declare, in effect, that I loved it and would read it over and over again forever. 

So much for that. 

This did get me thinking, though, about the nature of literary taste and how it changes (or doesn't) over time. I think that one of the reasons that I decided to put down The Thirteenth Tale is that over the last six years I have learned to read with more discrimination. I have less patience for bad writing (whether objectively bad or simply not to my taste) and I am much more willing to simply stop reading something if I'm not enjoying it. Part of this is certainly related to how busy life is right now: I'm doing a master's degree and I have an infant, and since my for-pleasure reading time is constrained, I want to make sure that I'm using it on things that are actually pleasurable. I think that I also have less stomach for the unpleasant. It's not far into The Thirteenth Tale that we are into the region of incest, sadism, and sexual assault. I don't think that I'm afraid or upset to read about such things, but again, I'd rather be reading things I'm more likely to enjoy. If the writing were better, perhaps I would have lasted it out; like love, good prose covers a multitude of sins. 

At the same time, I find that I apply these standards somewhat arbitrarily: I judge books that are new to me much more harshly than books I've read and enjoyed before. (At least as far as the books that I remember reading, that is!) If a book was a favourite in my childhood or adolescence, chances are that it will remain a favourite despite the very real flaws that it might have. Likewise, there are some books I own that do not have, perhaps, the most literary merit, but that are light enough that they get read and re-read when I need some brain candy. 

The issue of timing also comes into play. Sometimes we read, or try to read, books when it's just not the right time for them. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I thought it was boring and didn't finish. A few years later I read it again, and it became and remains one of my all-time favourites. The first time I read Wuthering Heights I thought it was garbage. A few years later I had to read it for a class -- and while I will never count it as a favourite, I did come to appreciate it in many ways. That year I think I read it three or four times, and I wrote two papers on it. Perhaps I would have had more patience with The Thirteenth Tale if it weren't coming at the not-quite-end of a very stressful semester.

Of course, books can either suffer or shine depending on what books they're following. A book that's kind of run-of-the-mill will appear stellar if it follows a couple of flops, or like a pretty bad book if it follows a few that were brilliant. Some books are just tough acts to follow. 

Will I try reading The Thirteenth Tale again? I might. Evidently I loved it the first time around, and while I don't always agree with my past self's opinions, I'm still willing to hear them. What doesn't work at the end of the school year might work a month later on vacation or at the pool. Time will tell.

April 29, 2015

Justifiably delicious

This post is a rescuee from my drafts folder. It was written but not published in late 2011 or early 2012, when Stan and I were engaged. Please note that I fully stand behind the sentiments expressed herein.  

In a way, I love being sick. Being sick is like being handed a license to indulge yourself; it's amazing how many things suddenly become justifiable once you've got the sniffles. Stay in bed and watch an entire half-season of Dr Who? Why not? Call your financé to ask why he hasn't been calling to check up on you? Sure! Everything goes when you're sick.

And then there's the matter of dinner.

It goes something like this:
  1. Hmm, my throat is really sore. What's good for sore throats? Honey is good for sore throats.
  2. I'll eat this spoonful of honey. Nom nom nom... Ooh, look, there's still leftover honey cake!
  3. Honey cake = honey (good for sore throats!), plus eggs (protein!) and flour (grain!) and things (nutrition, ahoy!). Maybe I'll eat some honey cake.
  4. Hmm. This is really crumbly. I'll put it in a bowl.
  5. I wonder if this would be good with milk?
  6. Wow, I'm eating cake cereal for dinner.
Don't look at me like that. It's probably still healthier than Lucky Charms.

April 23, 2015

Little library, big font

It was with great delight that I read an acquaintance's facebook post last night, announcing that our little town now has its very own Little Free Library. She had driven past the unveiling ceremony on her way home; the library box is set up in the nearest park, in between the post office and a mechanic's.

As much as I love the idea of little free libraries in and of themselves, I'm especially glad to see one in this town. We're in the rust belt, the industry around which the town was built died off several decades ago, and things are both depressed and depressing. From a height of 20,000+, the population has fallen to about 7,000. There is a lot of negative thinking from long-term residents, and many attempts to open new businesses or otherwise improve things are met with gloomy prophecies of failure.

Now, I understand that I'm a newcomer -- and transient -- and that I can't personally compare things now with the town's heyday (c. 1960s-70s). But actually, things don't seem that bad to me. We like it here. The town has some problems, but where doesn't? We love that there is still a front-porch culture here. We love how friendly people are on the street. Overall this is a pleasant place to live and we've enjoyed seeing little hints of how it can become something more: a new ice cream shop, a fantastic hyper-local news site, a hotel, etc. Things are happening.

The little free library box, to me, is a sign of hope for this little town. It's a sweet little something that says hey, we're here, and we're a community. Anselm and I went over to see it before lunch today; I picked up one book and dropped off two others, and I suspect that we will make many trips over the next year.

(What did I pick? The Thirteenth Tale, which I have read before but don't remember at all except for the fact that I liked it. Unfortunately I did not notice that, annoyingly, this copy happens to be a large-print edition, so it will definitely be going back to the library box once finished, because I won't own this sort of book until I have to.)

See? Isn't that annoying? I don't like reading large-print books because it's hard to get a good flow going; the size of the print constantly draws my attention out of the story. On the other hand, I will admit that it's hard not to feel like the Queen of Reading when you're turning the page every 23 seconds. So, trade-offs.

At any rate, the thought of our new little library makes me quite cheerful, and I do hope that people embrace it. Onward and upward, little town, onward and upward.


April 20, 2015

Please tell me she's not one of them

Anselm has some neck issues -- either from a birth injury or from just the way he was positioned while growing in utero -- and so he gets physical therapy once a week. It's a great program, actually. The county we're in runs free early intervention services for qualifying children. The baby passed his initial screening, and so now we have a therapist come to our house once a week to do stretches and strengthening exercises with him. Her name is Michelle and we like her a lot.

Michelle has a son who's about two weeks younger than Anselm, so it's been fun to compare notes. She also has a daughter, who turned four in December. That means she was born in (count with me here) 2010.

Now, let's try and remember what happened in 2010:

  • Haiti gets hit by a brutal earthquake
  • The Vancouver Olympics happen and all of Canada screams in unison (We love you, Sidney Crosby)
  • Eyjafjallajokull (which I did not know how to pronounce then and do not know how to pronounce now)  erupts
  • BP Oil runs into some trouble off the Louisiana coast
  • Spain wins the World Cup
  • The Chilean miners get trapped, and then rescued
And, what was it? -- oh yes,
  • The Twilight series, featuring Bella, the twittiest twit in all of literature, hits the peak of its popularity. 
.....

Guess what Michelle's daughter is named? 

(It may be coincidence, of course... but I'm glad that I decided I liked her before I found out her child's name.)

April 10, 2015

7QT: I'm screaming in the rain, just screaming in the rain

Linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes this Friday.

1. The other day I had to run over to the school to take care of something relatively urgent, but Anselm was napping upstairs and Stan wasn't home. So I called a neighbour of ours and she came over with her son, who's a month older than Anselm. I got home about ten minutes later and as soon as I got in the door all I could hear was screaming (in stereo, even, since the baby monitor was still on downstairs). Upstairs I go: R was in our bedroom trying to calm Anselm while her son lost his mind in the bouncy chair in the office. Anselm had woken up from his nap screaming -- terrible habit -- and had set off BabyJ, who set off Anselm, who set off BabyJ... a perfect feedback loop. We took both babies downstairs but there was no chance of a visit since whenever they laid eyes on each other the terrified screaming began again. Sometimes I am less than enchanted with babies' empathic responses.

2. On the other hand, sometimes the empathy thing comes in handy. Once a week Anselm and I spend the afternoon at anther friend's house, babysitting their son E while both parents are in class. E is about thirteen months old, and yesterday he slept so long that I had to wake him, which ensued in a lot of distressed... well, whining, really. But when I took him downstairs -- "Let's go see baby Anselm! What's he doing? Baby Anselm is sleeping!" -- things cheered up considerably, especially after Anselm woke up. He thinks that E is just about the best thing going; it's hard to stay whiny when another baby is staring at you with the love-light in his eyes.

3. I am finally reading Susanna Clark's brilliant novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, only ten years after everyone else did. I'm halfway through but I know that this is one that I'll be reading over and over again -- for the footnotes if nothing else. It's a mystery why, but few things tickle my fancy like a footnoted novel (see also my feelings for Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy).

4. It appears that winter is finally over; instead we have entered the drowning time spring, which so far has chiefly manifested itself in significant amounts of rain. And thunder. And rain. And lightning. And rain. I don't know why this surprises me since spring happens every year.

5. Speaking of things that happen every year, hey, Easter! It was a very quiet Easter for us this year -- pretty much every Holy Week service happened either at naptime or bedtime, so I didn't get to go to any of them except Sunday morning. But Anselm had his four-month vaccinations on Good Friday morning, so rest assured that there was still much reflection on pain, suffering, and travail going on in our house. I don't know if vaccinations really count as part of the cruciform life, but I'm willing to make a case for it.

6. Anyone else on Reddit being driving crazy by The Button? To press or not to press? And if to press -- to press when? I am spending way, way too much time thinking about this.

7. Meanwhile, as I've been reading novels and pondering a stupid button that does nothing, the baby has achieved mobility. Danger! Doom! He can't crawl yet, but he can roll from his tummy to his back, and now from his back to his tummy, and he can certainly squirm. I haven't fully integrated the fact that he's mobile into my brain, though, so the days are frequently punctuated by exclamations of "How did you get there?" Time to start babyproofing, I guess. Also we should probably sweep the carpet.

April 8, 2015

Black Bean Brownies (GF/DF)

Being suddenly dairy-free (thanks, little Anselm!) means that I've been unable to indulge my sweet tooth with my usual post-Communion doughnuts and similar treats. In fact, the other day we were out walking and stopped in at the town bakery, and then I realised that there was literally nothing there I could eat. So I just smelled the air for a while and departed, glumly.

Anyway! For the two very good reasons of 1) wanting to convince myself that there are still many delicious things I can eat and 2) wanting brownies, I made me some dairy-free black bean brownies. The post title probably told you that was coming.

The original recipe is here but I messed around with it significantly (as one does). The recipe with my variations is below.

The verdict?They're... okay. Good but not great. The texture is sort of fudgey-cakey-quichelike, and I would probably add more chocolate. You can definitely taste the beans. It needs more tweaking but it has potential... this is not likely to become a family favourite but I will keep it in my back pocket for entertaining gluten-free / dairy-free friends.

BLACK BEAN BROWNIES

Ingredients:

1 can black beans (15 oz)
3 eggs
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 'glug' maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar

Rinse and drain beans.

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350F until top is dry and edges pull away from the pan, about 30 minutes.

April 6, 2015

TL;DR 2013/14

Oh, right, I haven't posted in like a year and a half. Let's catch up, shall we?

In 2013 and 2014, I retired a major debt, left my jobs, moved to small-town America, took up ukulele, dressed up as a Settlers of Catan wheat tile for Hallowe'en, drove to St. Louis for American Thanksgiving, drove back to Ontario for Christmas, started a master's degree program, got pregnant, finished the semester, drove to Ohio for a family reunion, spent a month cat/house sitting in the fancy town up the road, made half a rag rug, painted three rooms, drove back to Ontario for a family visit, made curtains and generally nested, started the fall semester, figured I'd be pregnant forever, finally had the baby (41+6 weeks gestation), finished the semester, hosted family for Christmas for the first time, and read 354 books.

That about covers it.

April 4, 2015

Apple Date Almond Squares

A few weeks ago we were having our Bishop over for dinner, so naturally my thoughts turned to dessert. My default on these occasions is usually chocolate chip cookies, but a recent switch to dairy-free living meant that I had to tweak the recipe a bit. Chocolate chips were out; almonds and dates were in. Butter was out; applesauce was in. Then when I had the dough all together, it occurred to me that the anticipated butter -> applesauce texture change might work better as a square than a cookie. So into the pan it all went, and the results were highly satisfactory: sweet but not too sweet, moist, and chewy. Plus the nuts and dates tip the balance from "I'm eating way too much dessert" to "Hey, at least it's kind of healthy, right? Fibre! Protein! Pass the pan."

I would have taken a picture if I hadn't eaten all the leftovers. With gusto.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped dates

Mix together applesauce, sugars, egg, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Add flour, baking soda, salt, almonds, and dates, and mix well.

Pour into greased 8x8 pan.

Bake at 325 for about 30 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.