Dancing Little Screens

I’m the only one looking around, seeing trees swaying in the wind, and the play of shadows over rough bark; the way the light streams through twisting leaves.  Even the children, even the littlest ones, their faces still and passive, their squirming ceased, their eyes riveted by the dancing little screens, they miss the squirrel racing around the trunk and chattering.

Their parents stare hard and scroll, scroll, scroll, their thumbs stroking the glass of their miniature portals into otherness; other peoples’ beach photos, rapid-fire recipe videos, artful platings of food, and memes unending.  Now and then they’ll look up, around, at their child, and then, as though there were an invisible elastic from their neck to their wrist, they bend to it, raising their phone-clutching hand, and they leave again.

Grocery lines, stoplights, carpool pick-up lanes, waiting rooms, restaurants; they are no longer experienced anymore…they are only escape spaces to distraction, to otherness.

I love elderly people.  You still see their eyes; their eyes greet you, see you; there is a sense that they’d gladly connect and share life for a moment.  They remember the times before people carried all-engulfing entertainment in their pockets and used them at every opportunity.  They remember courtesy, conversation, presence.

I am alarmed.

Ever-reaching for phones, ever-scrolling, compulsive behavior that is becoming “normal”.  I’ve experienced it myself.  I don’t have a phone, and hopefully never will, but my husband’s smart phone is terribly tempting to reach for on the long drive to church.  I don’t even know what compels me to “check it”; what on earth am I longing for; why not let the passing landscape form my thoughts, rather than absorbing the experiences of others?

In my home my laptop is a severe temptation; always promising a moment’s escape from domestic cares and hollering toddlers.  But again, I have to ask, what am I longing for?  Do I ever feel any sort of fulfillment from “checking in” and “catching up”?  No.  Rather I feel the weight of wasted time and attention.  My childrens’ behavior also changes when I tune out; they are more irritable and uncharitable with each other.  They ignore my words, sensing that I’m not really “there” anyways.  Presence is necessary.  Not just at home but out and about in the world.

I will endeavor to change; to allot a time for online reading and interaction, writing, answering of emails, and ordering supplies for my business.  Lord, help me!  I don’t want to be absorbed by a screen, nor feel myself pulled towards it.  I am mindful of the little eyes that watch how I live; do I need a screen or use a screen?

Please, dear ones, consider.  Leave the phone in your car, don’t let your kids play with one whenever they’re bored or fidgety (it’ll prevent them from growing in imagination and creativity and being present), and don’t teach them that zombie-like staring at screens is how to live.shortstory8

For the Mall Averse; Alternative Christmas Shopping Ideas

It isn’t just the crowds and the fluorescent lighting and the endless racks and piles of goods.  It’s the loudness of breathless materialism writ in bits:  Buy One Get One 40% off!  Stocking Stuffers!  Buy More, Save More!  Gifts Worth Giving!

Everywhere you look the signs scream, plead, and croon about how parting with your cash for this or that will MAKE your Christmas, just absolutely.  The stores are practically doing you a favor!  Huzzah!  Jump on the buying train with your shiny shopping bags bumping heavily in your hands; let’s ride to Christmas-topia!

Let me just let that train go past.  Okay.  I am not anti-presents; I love them, giving and receiving.  But, folks, the way we consume our planet’s resources is out of control.  I’m not saying there isn’t a time to buy something new; underwear for instance is usually wise to purchase new (although just today I bought 10 pairs of boxers for my sons at the thrift store as they were quite immaculate).  But to believe without qualification that the only decent thing to gift is a new product says a lot about our susceptibility to the Christmas-topia train’s siren call.  A price tag does not a good present make.  Given that, there are some good ways to buy new things; things that will last, things that support our local economy!  Okay, looking both ways before crossing the tracks, here’s my ideas for great, responsible, wonderful gift-giving this year!

  • Thrift and consignment shops!  It is amazing to me what you can find for very affordable prices in these places, including sports equipment, lovely shoes and clothes, antiques, home decor, and on and on.  Buy a whole outfit for each kid or assemble baskets along a theme; a real toolbox filled with tools, fishing gear, knitting supplies, mud pie making kit with pie tins and kitchen tools (alternately a play-doh tool set with rolling pin, cookie cutters, you get the idea), old time lady gift (antique purse with vintage hankies, a brooch, gloves, hat pin), a bundle of good records or books tied with a piece of jute, baby doll bundle (doll plus preemie outfits and accessories), or any antique items like vintage pyrex mixing bowls stuffed with homemade cookies!
  • Make it!  Give homemade candies, breads, cookies, knitted or crocheted goods, candles, soaps, lip balms in repurposed tins, herb vinegars, dried apples, homemade jerky, canned goods, dried herbs in decorative bottles, hot chocolate mixes, etc.  Pinterest is your friend here.  Look around your home, in your pantry, in your sewing materials.  Irreparable jeans make AWESOME pot holders that will hold up for years.  If you have woodworking tools, cutting boards, pastry boards, pizza peels, and cheese boards are all possibilities.
  • If you buy new, buy useful!  Don’t buy the play tool set; buy age-appropriate real tools for your kids and let them practice on a piece of scrap wood or stump.  Don’t buy a “play tent”, buy a real one.  Kids find the real stuff super fascinating; it doesn’t need to have a Disney character on it to make it “fun”.  Give the kid with a love of cooking real kitchen ware that is of good quality; that will last them a lifetime, along with cookbooks that they can understand (and coupons for cooking lessons, one-on-one with you!)
  • Buy from local artists, spas, and artisans!  Investing your dollars in your local economy is a boon to your neighbors, and it keeps small businesses in business.
  • Antique Shops!  Not only are you reusing rather than consuming, but your gifts will be unique and clearly time-tested to last.  Ideas:  vintage postcards that you slip into an antique frame, a bundle of old children’s books, pitcher and cup sets, anything Pyrex, old linens, lovely candle holders with a bundle of your own homemade tapers, cast iron pans, copper pans, whimsical salt and pepper shakers, etc.
  • Give experiences!  Museum, aquarium, and gym memberships are great ways to bless a whole family for a year!  Tickets to concerts, plays, operas, spa treatments, sporting events are also well received.  Homemade coupons for “Dinner for Two” dates, “Mommy and Me” outings, etc.

Beyond these ideas, make a habit of “preventative shopping”.  I learned this idea from the blog Miser Mom.  The concept is to go garage sale and thrift store shopping throughout the year, picking up items that will be useful later (shoes and clothes in the next size up for your kids) and gifts for others.  I have put this into practice and am no longer assaulted by the crisis of snow boot and pants and whatnot shortages quite as often.  I also have a “gift box” of sorts of lovely items of good quality for birthdays and holidays.  Spend a wee bit now to avoid spending a whole lot later.  It works.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add to it in the comments section.  Happy gifting!

And Then We Made Soap

soapmaking Just take a moment to absorb the full beauty of our be-goggled faces.  Ha!  My dear friend Andrea Bailey and I began our soap making adventures yesterday on quite possibly the most humid day all summer (thus why we are soaping in the kitchen and not on the porch).  We look happy here, and we were, but mostly we were terrified.  You see, in soap making you need to handle sodium hydroxide, known as lye, which is death itself in powdered form.  The stuff can eat away metal for pete’s sake.  So we were nervous and we had banished all children from the house.

We made eleven pounds of soap that morning.  ELEVEN POUNDS.  (Imagine me bopping about excitedly)  We made a tea tree-goat milk with vitamin E and a honey-oatmeal soap.  We managed not to burn ourselves nor blind ourselves (thank you, handsome goggles!), nor did we explode anything.  We did giggle a lot though, and sigh with contentment as we poured out irresistibly creamy soap into the molds.  We veritably hummed with joy as our dreams worked themselves out into fragrant slabs of beauty.  I think the most common remark that morning was “This is so satisfying.”

And it was and IS, because this morning we cut the soap….

Photo on 9-2-14 at 1.44 PM ..and this is a crappy photo taken by my computer’s camera, BUT LOOK AT ALL THAT GLORIOUS SOAP!!!   And this is just my share of the batches; Andrea has the other half. To the left is the honey-oatmeal, to the right the tea tree-goat milk.  Chuck-full of excellent oils, essential oils, and good-for-the-body stuff.  No synthetic colors nor fragrances, just good soap.

Now we let it cure at least four weeks and it will lighten a bit and become harder.  And I will stare at it in a doting way several times a day.

Our next batch is a citrus shampoo bar and then we are going to be rendering suet to make tallow for a whole bunch of marvelous recipes that we have in mind.  Yes, we’re going all pioneer-women, and it really is ridiculously fun.

So I’m grateful, ever so grateful, for this dream becoming fleshed-out and for these special times with my friend.  And that we didn’t get acid burns.  That too.

The Great Unlikely, Or How I Funded My Soap Making For Free

In the midst of harvesting our gardens and canning, I have been preparing for the adventure which is soap making.  I LOVE good soap, but not good soap prices.  I also love knowing just exactly what chemicals I’m putting on my skin (the less being the better).  I have a budget from selling two antique pieces on craigslist totaling $95.00.  For that amount I needed to be able to buy all the supplies I’d need to set up shop (consumables like fats, essential oils, and lye go on a separate budget as I hope to sell soap and recoup those costs).  When you’re on a tight budget you can either get incredibly frustrated or incredibly invigorated by the challenge.  I chose the latter, with fervor.

I was inspired by this lady, Marsha, who on a YouTube video thoughtfully and simply went through making cold process soap, and most importantly, she pointed out all the ways that you can do it cheaply.  Because it is one of those things that very easily could be done much too expensively.  She showed a wooden mold her husband had made for her.  My husband made one for me the next day out of scrap wood.  Do you know the story “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?”; well, if you give this wife a soap mold, she’s going to want to scour online sales, thrift shops, and discount places for all the other bits needed to make soap making a reality in her life.  And she’ll want to do it without adding weight to the load of the family budget.  So she sells some unnecessary antiques that she acquired off the curb and at a yard sale, and looks at that $95.00 and grits her teeth, and says, “Let’s do this thing”.  And then she stops talking in third person.  Mercy.

So, soap making supplies can be costly.  Like, there’s a beautiful wire soap cutter that slices 12 perfect bars at once for, oh, five hundred dollars.  Or the divided molds with removable sides for eighty.  But, as my obsessive tabulations below show, it doesn’t have to be a break-the-bank proposition.  And this applies to any number of hobbies; don’t let sticker shock keep you from realizing a dream.  Realize that there’s usually another way to do things and get comparable results.  Relish the challenge!

My Soap Supply Budget

Budget:  $95.00

  1. digital scale:  $35.00 (on sale on Amazon)  This was the only precision instrument needed, so I didn’t bother looking for a used/possibly damaged one.
  2. gloves:  $2.00 (Dollar Store)  Needed for working with lye.
  3. spatulas and whisks:  $4.00 (Target)  Would have been more, but they were on sale and I had a five dollar gift card from buying our school supplies there, so saved $12.00!
  4. pitcher:  $2.07 (thrift store)  Soap making requires soap-only vessels as the lye would cross-contaminate my kitchen supplies.
  5. wooden soap mold, 10 X 20 for making 25 bars:  free (scrap wood)  (thank you, handy husband)
  6. safety goggles:  $18.00 (Amazon)  I needed chemical goggles that would prevent lye from splashing up into my eyes, which could cause blindness or severe damage.  Very worth that chunk of the budget!  Don’t skimp here!
  7. measuring spoons:  .75 (thrift store)  Good for measuring essential oils or nutrients like oatmeal or honey.
  8. small and medium liquid measuring cups:  $1.75 (thrift store)  When doing different colors or textures, these allow the batch to be divided.
  9. large pitcher:  $1.00 (thrift store)  For mixing and pouring raw soap.
  10. silicon mold:  $3.00 (thrift store)  Makes twelve decorative soaps, originally designed for baking in, these are ideal for soap making due to being able to pull away from the soap easily.
  11. two knives:  $2.75 (thrift store)  For cutting the bars.
  12. immersion blender:  $14.99 (Ollie’s Discount Store)  These are used in the saponification process to bring the lye and fats into a creamy relationship.
  13. vegetable peeler:  $1.29 (Ollie’s)  Used for trimming up the edges of cut soap bars.
  14. two candy thermometers:  $3.98 (Ollie’s)  To get both the lye and the oils/fats to the same temperature.
  15. long stainless steel spoon:  $1.79 (Ollie’s)  To stir the caustic raw soap.
  16. small batch wooden soap mold:  free (scrap wood)
  17. cutting surface:  free (my father in-law had a scrap piece of Corian countertop)
  18. books on soap making:  free (public library)
  19. stainless steel pots:  free (extras not needed in the kitchen)  These are used for melting solid fats down.

Total spent:  $92.42, under budget by $2.58

Wasn’t that a fun romp through my obsessiveness?   HA!

IMG_2455 Some of the supplies….doesn’t it just make you, I don’t know, want to make soap RIGHT NOW?IMG_2456

So, you see how I roll.  And best of all?  I’ve whirled my friend Andrea into my soaping vortex and we’re attempting our first batch on Monday.  So.  Indescribably.  Excited.

What dream can you work on that you’ve put off?  What could you sell to help you get there?  Trade a good for a better and let me know how it went!

 

It Can All Rage And Yet…

It can all rage ugly and hurt and rending,

And yet,

Here and there, pockets of deep peace,

And glory,

And joy.

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Dipping candles yesterday.  What a peaceful, contemplative craft.  Talk about slowing down.  The barely susceptible progress made with each deliberate dip made me think of spiritual progress; that I should not despair when it looks as though I am not growing spiritually.  If God has promised to complete His work within me, He will do it, He is doing it, though I see the changes only through the lens of years.ImageImage

A morning spent drawing with my son.  Gregorian chants and the fifteenth century choral music wrapping us in beauty as we deliberately sketched and colored, slowly.  A thousand thoughts pinged through my mind, on heresies currently rending the patchwork quilt of our church family, leaving my eyes reddened and my stomach hurting, on Ukraine, the tumult and the suffering and my prayers seeming so small against all that.  But for all that inner noise and clang, I had to apply pencil to paper, and eye the lay of the feathers, and the attention brought a borrowed peace.Image

Playmobile ships, stuffed animals dressed as soccer players, presidents, and babies, riding “the train” (a.k.a. the couch).  All his little conversations and sound effects and stories.  I feel the joy of childhood filling up the room and my grown-up worries have to retreat for a while.Image

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It can all rage and yet the seeds still germinate and the nasturtiums still reach for the sun.  And my God is sovereign and good.  And I’ll praise Him in the pockets of peace and in the turbulent places too.  For Christ is our peace, and Christ is portable.

 

Time Traveler

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It was when I looked out the wavy glass window of Edgar Allen Poe’s home in Philadelphia, in the room where his wife was slowly dying while he spilled out his words in dark tales, as if he could leak all the black out through ink.  The walls were laid bare down to the original plaster, layers of other tenant’s lives stripped away, almost as a plea to peel back time and let us see Edgar at the window with us, an alternatively despairing or maniacally happy man, to ask him questions and see how his words look on his face rather than guess at their conveyance on paper.

It was as I surreptitiously reached out for the doorknobs, the stair rail, the old places where other hands touched and pushed and leaned.

Once in a high school science class we were made to line up and hold hands.  Then the first person would reach out and touch an electric current in a device.  It zinged through our joined hands, the last person receiving the full brunt of the jolt.  I touch those doorknobs, I want to know how they felt in George Washington’s hand, in Poe’s hand, in my hand.  I want to know them through their spaces; I want a jolt of recognition.

It’s as I wait for the tour guides to lead the group through to the next room that I steal a moment of silence in that old space, to hear how the silence sounds there.  What is this longing all about?

ImageFarm kitchen in Colonial Williamsburg. 

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Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg.

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Palace kitchen, Colonial Williamsburg.

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The Braun-Menendez Mansion in Punta Arenas, Chile.  Alone in an exquisite room with all original pieces, looking here into the bureau mirror where the mistress of the home would have seen her own face reflected back.

Is it just intense curiosity?  A passion for history?  Latent anthropological interest?  One further hazard of an overactive imagination?

It is, I know, why I gobble up period movies like a fiend.  The “willing suspension of disbelief”, that’s how our drama teacher put it, what you need to be led into story on a stage or when watching a movie or even when reading a heart-pounding thriller (which is funny, isn’t it, that words on a page can make us all agitated?).  It allows me to time travel in a way.  I especially adore how the new “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed; the camera “looks” around the room as it pans, showing smudges on the walls, crumbs on the table, and all the glory of everyday life in an era I can only touch through doorknobs and imagination.

The attendant in the hall cleared her voice.  I know she was wondering what I was doing in that lovely room, alone with a hefty camera.  People normally come in, see the room, read the placard and move on.  If she’d have asked, could I have really told her, that no, I wasn’t stealing the baubles or peeking in a drawer, that no, I was time traveling?

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