The Making of a Guacamole Snob

49759018_10157329399733352_5595100230606389248_oIt is a gift and a curse.  Giving you this recipe for the most delicious guacamole will both enable you to make it on demand, endlessly, but too, it will render you incapable of lazily enjoying some at most restaurants, for you shall know what guacamole can truly be, rather than the sad, under-salted mash set before you.  I have been known to request a slice of lemon at table so that I could “fix” the guacamole.

  1. Get a shallow dish, like a pie pan, and mash 2-3 avocados with a fork.
  2. Cut a plump lemon in half, juice it in your palm, straining out the seeds with your fingers, directly onto the avocado mash.
  3. Wash a bunch of cilantro; on average I’d say pinch off 1/4 of the bunch and mince it fine; you’ll have perhaps 1/4 c.  Add in.
  4. Finely chop a nice red tomato or two and add in.
  5. Take 2-3 jalapeños or Hungarian wax peppers, de-seed and mince finely.  Add in.
  6. IMPORTANT STEP:  Take one yellow onion, mince finely and place in a separate bowl.  Take a spoon of sugar or salt and add to the onion and squeeze it in your hand to fully incorporate it.  Let it sit a minute.  Pour hot water over it and let it sit a few minutes more.  Pour the contents into a strainer and rinse with cold water.  (This step removes the strong sulfuric taste of the fresh onion, allowing it to contribute to the other flavors without overshadowing them).  Add to the rest.
  7. Stir all that goodness together.  Generously season with salt.  Taste with a chip so you can factor in the final saltiness of them together.  If the flavor is dull, add salt and lemon juice until it sings in your mouth.

Don’t like cilantro?  You can leave it out, but you should question your life choices.  The guacamole, however, will still be worth eating.

Happy feasting!

 

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CrushedMess at Christmas

We held each other’s hands in the quiet of the house; the Christmas-charged children had finally settled down; it was like the moment after a parade, when the workers come out to sweep up the confetti.

We had just prayed, and we had warbled a broken “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.  Tears slipped down my cheeks, and there was some constancy to that, like perhaps my eyes would never stop pouring forth.  “This has been the worst, the hardest Christmas I’ve ever had”, he said, rubbing his hand over his face, the way he does when he’s stressed and sad.  I nodded.

We’ve invested in rental properties, and a tenant kept falling farther and farther behind on rent, running into one disaster after another with his addictions, and resultant loss of jobs.  We rented to him, fresh out of jail, his girlfriend expecting their baby any moment. For a few months it looked like maybe this small family could make life work.  The baby loved her mama, her drug-addicted mama, and it hurts my soul to speak of this.  He called us from prison, we bailed him out.  We did not have money for this, but we knew he needed to be able to work or they’d lose their daughter.  Please, can there be some redemption?

The baby was taken into foster care.  Sweet baby, how you will bear this?  I am glad she is safe and cared for, and I am heartbroken too, for she loved her mama, her mama who also loved drugs.  We served them eviction papers and gave them time to relocate their things.  They broke back into the house and sublet space to other people, not giving us any rent.  We called the prison when our calls to them weren’t answered, and discovered they were both back in jail.  Unpaid rent was up to $5,000 now.  School taxes were due.  We had to clear out the house and get it ready for another renter.

There is great sadness in all of it.  My husband has been so stressed and saddened by it all that he hardly sleeps at night.  He shakes with stress, and he apologizes for not being able to provide for us all, for the lack of rent income, plus the mortgage, and impending taxes have put us firmly in the red.  That’s a sobering thing for a family of eight in the middle stage of life.

“We are vulnerable…one car breakdown, an appliance failing, a medical need…”  We let the silence extend.  I put a load in the washer, dropped to the cold tile floor, and wept.  A crushed mess at Christmas.

That is the load on our backs, weighing heavy.  Now let me speak of the beautiful.

A high school friend gifted us two bins full of Legos, many of them Star Wars sets.  These became the Christmas gift for our two older sons, who were overcome with wonder and joy.  They’ve been joyfully playing with them constantly ever since.

A friend here passed along her kids train track set and wooden castle set; my two middle sons received them with joy for their Christmas gift.  The baby was pleased with his thrifted wooden toys, and my daughter quite happy with the clearance bin goods we got for her.

Our families gave beautiful gifts to us; there was merriment as the children opened things they’ve dearly wished for.  We were gifted a Christmas tree, because our family helped unload a flatbed full of them at a friend’s business.

On Christmas day a package arrived for me.  A book I’ve wanted for three years!!  A friend somehow found out and ordered it.  I held it to my chest and smiled.

We made cookies with the help of the neighborhood kids, whose own stories are difficult and pain-filled, and I gave up the rolling pin and cutters and let them have at it, mess and all.

…………………………………….

We held hands in the quiet.

“Do you know what makes me so happy though?” my husband asked.  “Our kids.  They are so cute and funny and I love watching their faces as they open gifts; just that expression of joy and surprise.”  I nodded.

So much pain, so much stress, so much uncertainty, but oh so much beauty, so much joy, so much life.IMG_2861

Run of the Pepper Mill

Olive wood is attractive….I wouldn’t want stainless steel; it’s too cold and sterile.  Is a ceramic grinder important?  Would it last longer than these plastic ones?  Warmth….copper?  Olive wood.  Definitely those ones, but I like the copper and glass pair with the mill at the top to avoid crumbing up the table and counter.  Plus you can see that you need to refill.  Wait….$170?!?!?  No.

I looked up from my laptop.  What sort of consumeristic wormhole had I fallen into?  I closed the computer and laid it aside.  It was revelatory; how easy and simple it is to create necessities out of luxuries; to talks oneself into the pepper mill that defines you.

I am perfectly capable of grinding pepper in the mortar and pestle in my kitchen.  I have a pepper mill, though it works quite poorly.  What led to this silly journey through page after page of perfect pepper mills?  Shopping.

I make nearly all of the gifts for my loved ones, but there are always some things that lay outside of my expertise, but would be just the thing for particular people, obliging me to brave the wild frontier of retail shoppes.  My daughter was thrilled to go along with me; she has no hangups whatsoever about buying new things, and she fairly pranced along the aisles heaped with goods.

Maybe it’s the lighting that gives me headaches, or the crowds, or the ecological impact of so much packaging waste and overproduction of silly junk.  On my way to purchase the gift of two stainless steel travel mugs I passed by a table laden with gleaming, tasteful kitchen goods.  Ah, salt and pepper mill sets.

I remembered my sluggish and slow pepper mill, how its plastic grinder parts were wearing down and grinding unevenly, and how it made me feel less like a chef and more like a pepper wrangler.  I picked up the sets and examined them, the rectangular florescent lights above me making constellations across their smooth, shiny curves.  I put them down, and I bought what I had come for; gifts for others.

But didn’t it just nag at me then?  The idea of it?  Useful, beautiful, long-lasting, artisan crafted salt and pepper mills?  They’d be on our table for the rest of our lives, a continuing testament to our good taste in quality craftsmanship.  Through all the seasons they would season!  I basically need them!

Except that I don’t, but I thought to check online…maybe there’d be a suitable set for around twenty dollars and I could save for it, and and and…

No.

Just…no.

I don’t want to be defined by my pepper mill.  I want to be Christ’s simple child, learning His love, seeing His way, and orienting my life around dwelling in His Presence, and bringing His warmth and joy to others who need “a timely word, seasoned with salt”.

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I Didn’t Know THAT Was Going To Happen

I was a pretty proficient funeral director as a child.  The small mammals of our house were always laid to rest with soft tissues lining their checkbook box caskets.  I wept over them, sang my dirges, and laid flowers over their backyard graves.  I’d visit their plots, I’d agonize over them being in the cold, dark earth, all alone.

All of my love had nowhere to go, no furry heart to land on.  There was Murphy the Gerbil, Lougee the Mouse, and Blueberry the Hamster, plus a neighborhood bird with a broken wing.  If love could cure, they’d have lived forever.

I’ve read a new book, “Piggy In Heaven” by Melinda Johnson which gently and joyfully tells of a beloved guinea pig’s first day in Heaven.  He rolls in the grass, munches, and hops about, sans cage, and his new pig friends gradually reveal where he is and why.  When they’ve ever so tenderly explained to him that he died he responds, “I didn’t know that was going to happen!”  Isn’t that just the bewilderment that children experience when their pet dies?  How I wish I’d had this book as a grieving child!  It would have revealed to me that God too loves his creatures; that I was not alone in my love, nor my grief; that the end of earthly life means a beginning of eternal life.

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What is perhaps most beautiful to me personally is the reminder that love is never wasted.  We do not need to hold back our fullest and deepest love in order that we might be less vulnerable to eventual losses.  We can live full-heartedly, and hope in God’s wonderful mercy that the ones we love might just be waiting for us on the other side.

So, if the little ones in your life are mourning the loss of a pet, consider this beautiful, hope-filled book, and if you’re crafty I’ve included a pattern I made with the help of my dear friend Kristina Wenger (Plush-Maker Extraordinaire!) for making a stuffed Piggy to go with it!

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Materials needed:

  1. minky fabric, 1/4 yard in the color you like (you can make several piggies with this!)
  2. a small bit of felt, I chose light brown
  3. pink embroidery thread or a stuffed animal nose or button
  4. black beads or stuffed animal eyes on posts
  5. fiberfill
  6. needle and heavyweight thread
  7. Piggy Pattern printed (say that five times fast!)

 

To make, trace out the pattern pieces on minky fabric, or any other furry material that delights you, being aware that the fluffier it is, the harder it will be make the eyes and nose findable!  Make sure you flip the body pattern piece when you cut the second one so that you have the fur right side out on both sides.

I recommend cutting out the furry parts outside as you will indeed be covered in foof, and the pieces can be shook out to disperse the fluff out of doors rather than on your floors.  Also, you will now look like you’ve taken up another job at a pet grooming shop.IMG_8157

Cut out the ears from felt and pinch together and hand stitch to make a curved shape.

Clip open the ear slot and either machine or hand stitch the ear in place.  If using stuffed animal eyes, insert them now too.  If using beads as eyes you’ll attach them later.

Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew one side to the tummy panel (right sides facing) beginning and ending at the dots A and B on the pattern.  Sew the opposite side to the tummy panel as well.  Sew shut the back, leaving a 1.5″ gap for turning it right side out.  Double check all seams to make sure there are no holes.

It may be tricky to work the presser foot around the eye posts, so hand sewing that area may be necessary

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Turn right  side out and if using a post nose, snip a tiny hole at the front and insert and secure from inside the piggy.

IMG_8177Stuff with desired fiber fill, hand stitch the hole shut.  For beaded eyes use heavy thread, doubled, and a long needle.  Position the needle and pull the thread through the face to the other side making sure the eyes will be even.  Add a bead and plunge back through, adding the other bead, and go back and forth until the eyes are quite secure.  Pull the thread slightly so that the eyes sink inward, forming the face shape  guinea pig style.  Double knot and snip threads close to the surface.  The same looping-pull is done if you used eye posts to give it a nice shape.  If you didn’t add a nose yet, use embroidery thread to add a pink triangle nose.

 

Have the eyes disappeared on you?  Time for fur-scaping!  Using sharp, small scissors trim away the surrounding fluff so that the eyes stand a chance of peering out at the world.

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You are done!  Snuggle at will.

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The Wilderness Journal

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It was startlingly intimate.  Like sitting in a solitary place, with a familiar book, and suddenly a stranger has approached and spoken softly, without preamble, “And this is how it is with me, with this,” pointing to the text in question, “Here is what my soul felt.”

I’ve spent four years with the Philokalia, my battered copy of the first volume has been the book I packed everywhere, from the beach to a hiking trail.  It is a collection, an ancient one ranging from 300-1400 A.D. of texts written by spiritual masters, by saints and recluses, monks and priests.  Philokalia is best translated as “the love of the beautiful”, and a more apt name I cannot imagine.  In an age of delusion, illusion, artifice, and dissipation, I find nothing as beautiful as truth; it is precise medicine, and when delivered by ones whose hearts have been conquered by Love, healing follows.

I was used to reading the words alone.  Indeed, I didn’t know anyone else personally who was also meditating on it, so my journey was a rather solitary affair.  When I saw that this book by Angela Doll Carlson was available I was overjoyed; a fellow pilgrim!  How did it strike her?  What thoughts had it stirred within her?

“Be vigilant in prayer and avoid all rancor.  Let the teachings of the Holy Spirit be always with you, and use the virtues as your hands to knock at the door of Scripture.”

-Evagrios the Solitary

So I heard her voice, her unpretentious voice, and again, I was surprised; here was no small talk, no wide gulf of academic apologetics to separate writer from reader; here she was, vulnerable, open.

“When my kids would complain about getting up for school, I would say, ‘I know it’s hard.  Do it anyway.’  On the mornings when it is most difficult to get up, I remind myself of this blurry-eyed advice.  Exercising control, leaning into prayer, knocking on the doors of Scripture become a tow rope to pull me from being left to my own devices.  The evidence of our need is clear when the struggle pushes in on us before we’re even out of bed.”                                -The Wilderness Journal, Day 38

Yes.

Reading this work has been something of a book club with a new friend.  I nod empathetically, I see the texts in a new light by how they’ve illuminated her.  In a strange way, I can know Evagrios the Solitary a bit better because of how he is understood by Carlson.  As C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, on his chapter on Friendship:  “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.”

The stranger that spoke so intimately gradually became a familiar voice and a regular companion as I read.  We were joined intermittently by guides who introduced the authors of the texts, giving flesh and history and place to the words which however ancient and removed from our times as they may be, have the same direct relevance to our lives, to our souls.  One does not have to be a monk in the desert to apply the spiritual teachings; the Enemy of our souls has not changed over the millennia, and he afflicts both the ascetic and the waitress, the bishop and the accountant.

I am certainly in favor of reading primary sources, but reading in community, even if one can only truly be a passive observer of how a text affects another, is a gift.  Somehow it seems that there are few book clubs that pop up ready to study ancient teachings of recluses and monks, so it is a blessing to have another voice, a fellow pilgrim’s thoughts weighing in on these marvelous texts.

 

 

Sorrow and Papermaking

38638483_10156965956833352_5371637849609207808_nPaper pulp has a gelatinous feel to it.  I stir it with my hand, dip a small plastic tray in and pull it slowly up through the cloudy water, a fine layer of pulp settling across the inset screen.  I lay a piece of screen on top and press the excess water out with a simple tool.  I peel off the mesh and blot the new paper with dry linen and take it out into the sun to dry.  I do this over a hundred times, while my weeds remained rooted in the garden and supper is left unprepared.

I am grieving, and grief for me needs a task; some blank stretch of mindless handiwork that will accommodate the billows of pain that have me awash inside.  When I had a miscarriage years ago I tore out our dining room floor to expose the 100+ year old wood floors beneath, removing tile, wood planks, sub flooring, and thousands of nails, one by one.  I sweated, I cried, I wrenched nails, and heaved chunks of plywood and boxes of broken tile.  I don’t know why it helps me.

38667153_10156965952828352_2152906791535509504_o I have a coal bucket that serves as my trash can at my work table.  It was full to the brim with paper trimmings from wrapping soaps and cutting labels.  I was taking it to my paper recycling bin, and my grief whispered, “We can use this.”

 

…………………..

There was a couch we couldn’t get out of.  It was blue and outdated and deliciously soft and enveloping.  Andrea and I were marooned within it, our pregnant bellies anchoring us firmly.  I remember our husbands laughing as they pulled us up and out of there.  We were all on the cusp of a new adventure; beginning our families.  I rested my hand on her belly, and she on mine; we felt those babies moving about as we melted in Pennsylvania’s late summer heat.

I hugged that baby tonight; he who now towers over me at nearly fifteen years old.  I hugged his five younger siblings one by one, and tears choked my voice, and ran down my cheeks, and dripped on these ones who feel like my own children.  I hugged my dear friend and sobbed, there under a late summer night’s sky, with our many children saying their own goodbyes, crying their own tears.

What an enormous thing love is.  What a precious thing is friendship.  I thank God for all of the goodness of it; I hold onto Him as these dear ones move away, far away.

 

……………………

Can something of beauty, of use, come from a waste can of scraps?  From old newspaper, paper flour bags, junk mail, envelopes from bills, and used notebook pages?  Is there redemption here?

I tore it all into bits.  I soaked it overnight.  My grief waited patiently.

……………………….

 

We’re all a mess, this little community of ours.  We are knit together, and this separation has us frayed, torn.  It is pain, thorough, inescapable pain.

I walked through their home, through rooms nearly emptied, and every space had stories that I could see and hear and nearly touch; the past recalled in the space where the memory was formed feels ever so present.  I’ll never be in that house again; I won’t live those memories in that space again.  I could barely look at my friend, at my dear friend.

I have said goodbye, under that late summer night sky, and hours later here I sit; me and a hundred sheets of beautiful paper.

 

 

 

 

On Raining and Pouring

It’s hard to pour from a pitcher filled to the brim, and words don’t come easily when life, with its torrents of sorrows and joys, has filled in my legs, my gut, my lungs, up each arm, and it sits, like a tightly-focused tiger, in my throat, peering out, ready to lunge.  I will try though; even if I choke on fur.

I find I weep easily now.  I’m very glad of that; glad that it is the weeping from deep and raw feelings, not the weeping for slights or stains or such.  I was serving once in Mexico City and during a time of morning instruction I accidentally backed up against a lovely pottery mug that was sitting on a ledge.  It pitched forward and shattered across the concrete floor.  Coffee, shards of lovely blue and white designs; I remember that.  The owner of the mug, a missionary in charge of us awkward teenagers, completely lost himself.  He was unable to recover from the loss of his mug.  I remember him trying to make us understand why this small thing was an enormous loss; he’d had it specially made to replace another one that had broken.  His composure was as helplessly shattered as his mug.  I felt so guilty, and worse, I felt embarrassed for him.  In Chile my friend’s home slid down with a mud slide in the middle of the night, leaving her family homeless.  She was shaken, but she held together; she could see tomorrow’s tomorrow.  It is one thing for the electric to go out in a violent storm, it’s another for it to go out because a breeze stirred the tree tops.

Some of you know me; you’ve seen me in my habitat; you have a working knowledge of my flaws and what makes me laugh and how little I care for the presentation of my hair, but how I can be deeply embarrassed by dirty floors.

Some know me not at all beyond what black type on white, said just this way, by one voice, can say.  I cannot begin to know you either, but our words speak a bit; I feel the air move when a stranger passes and that is all, and words, they move our hearts that way, we sense the nearness and movement of another, a sacred other.

It is raining, and it is pouring.  Dear friends are moving away; my closest confidante, my fellow pilgrim in becoming Orthodox, my business partner; we’ve raised a combined 12 children together, all good friends themselves, all with treasured inside jokes, memories, and ways of being.  A tenant is $2,500 behind.  Taxes are due.  Glasses need replaced.  Teeth need cleaning.  A business that was a lot of work for four hands will now need managed by two, my two hands.  It seems the transmission is slipping on our 300,000+ mile Suburban.

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Also though, there’s zinnias blooming.  There’s the baby reaching for my face and smiling.  There’s my brand new foster niece, smelling of heaven, pink and tiny, a whole world in her almond-shaped eyes.  There’s the bread I just pulled from the oven, the heat curling my eyelashes back; crust crackling as it hit the cool air.

Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea. ~Elder Sophrony of Essex