Ponder Anew What the Almighty Will Do

Life rolls in stages.  I write a lot about my past on this blog, mostly because I had a very happy youth and I like sharing it with people.  That happiness was due in great measure to the fact that I was a child, and didn’t register that things weren’t always perfect.  But even with that blindness, there were times in the life of my family that truly were happier than others- long stretches of sunny weather with hardly a cloud in the sky.

I haven’t written much about my present, other than my feeble attempts to start a business, because it has been a stormier season of life.  I have four healthy boys, and a wonderful husband.  We live in a comfortable, albeit tiny, house, and we have plenty of food on the table. We have lots of good friends and are members of a great church.  I write that list easily because I run it like a litany through my head every time I get discouraged about the circumstances of my own and my larger family.

The past five years have been no picnic.  The house we were renovating and hoping to move into before my third boy was born fell prey to the economic crisis.  We still own it, but it is sitting empty, a roost for pigeons and an easy target for anyone looking to tear the wiring out of the walls.

My dad was diagnosed with dementia, and we are now witnessing the gradual disappearance of his memory and functionality.  I say witnessing, but for us it only hearing, because we live far from the rest of my family, and that is a trial in itself.

My husband lost his job two years ago, and we have been trying to get back on our feet ever since.

We have dealt with mental illness, and the sudden loss of my brother-in-law a year ago. We have walked with my sister in her grief as she moved here to start a new life.  But she is moving on again, leaving us this week.

When she first told us she was moving on, I felt like it was the last straw.  It has been so wonderful having a sister in town.  It felt like the beginning of better times.  Now that was going to be gone too.  It was time to resign myself to the fact that things would never be sunny again, and let pessimism reign.

But now there is a fresh wind blowing.  A sudden and unexpected gust that has me trembling with hope and a joy I haven’t felt in years.  I am seeing that God can tear down our walls without warning and build them up again just as quickly.  I can’t spell things out yet, and I don’t really know what is going on. But  I can share with you my favorite hymn, the words of which have been bursting out of me with tears of joy, startling my children and no doubt making them think mommy is crazy.

Praise to the Lord, who with marvelous wisdom hath made thee,

Decked thee with health and with loving hand guided and stayed thee!

How oft in grief, hath not he brought thee relief,

Spreading his wings to o’er shade thee.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper they work and defend thee!

Surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;

Ponder anew what the Almighty will do,

If with his love he befriend thee.

Catherine Winkworth

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Crumbles and Cobblers and Crisps, Oh My!

Let’s go back in history again today.  About 18 years ago I guess.  It was the day of the church picnic, and there was a pie contest going on.  I had gotten up in the pearly dawn, skipped down the street to the nearest of the wild blackberry bushes, and filled up my bucket.  After a quick rinse, I tossed the berries in sugar, cinnamon and a little flour. I had made the crust the night before, and soon my blackberry pie, beautifully latticed, egg washed and sprinkled with glistening sugar, was ready to compete.

My mom was entering her famous potato salad in the side dish category, and what with getting eight people ready and in the car, we were in a rush.  We had to make a few stops on the way, including a quick run to the the church to spruce things up.  (we did some janitorial work at the time.)  I set my pie carefully down on the seat of the van, careful to level it because the filling looked a little runny, and sped off to do my work.  I needed to make sure my pie was at the judges table in time.

We were soon finished, and as I headed back to the van, I noticed my little sister was already sitting in the back.  As I neared my seat, a terrible sight met my eyes.  My glorious, hopefully blue ribbon pie was, for lack of a better term, squished into oblivion. I looked at my little sister as the rest of my family came up to survey the damage, and asked her as calmly as I could what had happened.  She was carefully avoiding my eye, stuttering and muttering implausible scenarios, when I caught the words

“I’m not sure, but I might have sat on your pie.”

There was no use crying about it, and we were late as it was, so we continued on our way.  I entered my poor, flattened pie in the contest anyway, and much to my surprise it still won! The judges said they were judging on taste, not looks when I tried to protest, but I have always had my suspicions that someone had told them  the story and they gave me the prize out of pity.  Either way, the story lives on in our family, and whenever anyone doesn’t want to admit to something, they pull out the now classic line-

“I might have sat on your pie.”

I could say that that experience put me off making pies forever, but it wouldn’t be true.  I still make the occasional pie, but what I make a whole lot more often is Crisps. I looked up the difference between Crisps, Crumbles and Cobblers, and the recipe I would like to share here is a Crisp because it doesn’t have oats in the topping like a crumble, or biscuits dropped on top like a Cobbler.  Now you know.  I make Crisps rather than pies for the simple reason that they are easier and I can make them in a bigger pan.  We had a barbecue yesterday and I made a big one. Some people asked me for the recipe, so here it is.

This dish is all about versatility.  I use all different kinds of fruit in it- berries, peaches, a mix of both, or because apples were on sale this week, apples.  Image

The hubby and I can’t agree on the best apple for a pie or crisp.  I prefer a nice sour granny smith, he likes a very sweet jonagold, so I used a mildly tart golden delicious this time, about ten of them.  This is for a big pan- an 11×14, but it will fit in a 9×13 as well.  I pulled out my old apple-peeler-corer-slicer for this since I had so many apples.  I don’t always use it since it tends to spray apple juice all over the kitchen, but it’s handy for big pies, and the kids love it!  So go ahead and peel your apples any way you like.Image

 I have always struggled with pie and crisp fillings being too runny, so I have tweaked a few things, and the result is pretty fool proof for any fruit.  In a bowl, combine-

1 cup of brown sugar,

4 T of butter

1 tsp cinnamon

2 T of tapioca

a grating of fresh nutmeg, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon

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Pop this in the microwave until the butter is melted, then stir together until smooth.  The thing I have found that really holds the filling together, other than tapioca, is an egg, so go ahead and throw one in now and keep mixing.Image

Now pour this over your fruit.

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And now for the crumble.  Oh wait, pardon me, no oats here.

And now for the crisp.  The hubby always want more crisp, so I made a big batch.

In another bowl, combine

1 1/2 cups of flour

1 Stick of butter

1/2 cup of brown sugar

Cinnamon to taste

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Crumble it (or should I say crisp it? ) with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it looks like this.

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Then layer it on top.

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Bake it at 350 for about forty-five minutes.  I can always tell it’s done when the crisp is nicely browned and the fruit is bubbling underneath. It also should be smelling pretty stellar by now.

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Here is what you want in a good crisp- a cookie-esque topping with a nice syrupy edge.  My boys, big and little, fight for the edge pieces around here.

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And there you have it.  I am new to posting recipes, so let me know if anything is unclear, or if you have any other questions.  Be sure to serve this with some form of sweetened cream if you can.

A crazy day

So I have talked about my favorite designer, Natalie Chanin, a time or two on this blog. I think I also mentioned she was coming to town this weekend for a trunk show and open house dinner. We have had such a busy schedule that I missed the open house last night and wasn’t sure I was going to make it downtown to the show today, but I really wanted to at least see her new line. And maybe, just maybe, get to meet her.

The hubby was running around all morning with the van and he had some errands to do in the afternoon. During his lunch break he hurried home and grabbed the three oldest boys to run errands with him. The baby and I jumped in the other car and headed downtown. Just for fun, I wore some of the clothes I had made for myself from her designs, and arrived all hot and sweaty with a baby in tow.

I had no idea what it was going to be like, and I was a little disappointed. There weren’t a lot of people, and there was no sign of Natalie Chanin. It was held in a lovely boutique, and there were several racks of her clothing on display, along with books full of her swatches like this.

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I asked if I could take some pictures, but they weren’t very keen on the idea, so I just looked and looked. I chatted with a few ladies about her books until another woman came in. After a few minutes she came up and started asking me about my skirt. She wanted to know if I had made it, and how. So I started explaining about how I had come to be interested in Alabama Chanin designs and the whole business. She was the friendliest lady, admiring my work and my baby and declaring she was going to try to make some of her own clothing “Now that I had inspired her.”

I was flattered of course, but it was really time for me to be going, so I started to say my goodbyes when she grabbed my arm and told me to hang on a minute while she went to find her friend. So I waited, slightly puzzled, and she came around the corner with Natalie Chanin!

She brought her straight over to me and introduced me, and I was all giddy and nervous while I shook her hand. We had a long chat, and she asked me what other stuff I had made. I hadn’t really thought that I would have a chance to show anyone my work, but I had brought a few items along anyways. A girl can dream right?

So then all the shopkeepers and other shoppers came over to look at my little baby dresses, and Natalie, ( I call her Natalie now, you know) told me they were looking for new sewers for their company. (Is there a better term than sewer? Seamstress I guess?)

Well, then I was flattered all over again, but the problem is, she runs a cottage industry in Florence, Alabama and because of certain labor laws, she can’t ship the garments to me to be sewn. I would have to come pick them up- a three hours drive away. So she gave me her information, I thanked her and she even took a picture with me. The baby was more than ready to be leaving at this point, so we said goodbye, and I headed out the door, all of a flutter.

I am not sure what I will do with what happened today. I will probably just inquire as to what working for her company would entail, other than the three hour drive. But even if all I get out of it is a picture,(and not a very good one at that) it was a pretty neat experience, and it has encouraged me to keep plugging away, even though I’m not sure where I am headed.

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Black and White

A lot of people have told me that it would help my little business if I could find a way to model my clothes in some way. I have thought about ways I could do this, but chasing down babies and children of all different sizes and ages every time I finish an item and trying to do photo-shoots with an ipad camera is hardly feasible right now. They do sell children’s dress forms online, so I am saving my pennies for a few different sizes of those, and will just have to make do with what I have for now.

These next few items are actually an ensemble. They have taken me awhile because I am trying to design my own patterns, and getting the sizing right is tricky. I made it 18-24 month so I could use my son as a model. He wasn’t very happy with me, and began to start running every time I approached him with the measuring tape. They could be sold separately, but they are kind of fun together. I laid them out on a table to photograph at first.

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Then I decided I really needed a model to see what it all looked like together. Just pretend you don’t know I only have sons around here, or perhaps imagine that I have a niece visiting from out of town….

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Any thoughts? I really do appreciate input. I’m a rookie here.

Clothing as a spiritual metaphor

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I said before that sometimes I feel as if I were born in the wrong century. More often, I feel like I was born in the wrong country. Pardon me while I ramble for a bit. I am trying to unravel some thoughts.

Late one night, when I was about eight, I sneaked a flashlight under my covers to finish the last book in a series I had been devouring. When I finished the book I closed the cover, and crawled out of bed. I went to the kitchen to find my mom, forgetting that there was a group of adults over for the evening, all laughing and playing Monopoly. They stopped and turned to stare at me as I stood there in my pajamas, feeling totally embarrassed. I finally found my mom’s eye and could contain myself no longer. I burst into tears declaring, “Oh mom, I want to live in Narnia!” I don’t remember what happened after that- probably some amusement and some confusion. I think my mother thought I was crazy as she hurried me, sobbing, out of the room.

The book I had been reading was of course The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Many children have been affected in the same way by the Chronicles of Narnia, some even going so far as to take a hatchet to the back of their parents wardrobe, hoping to get into that magical land. The Last Battle gripped me hard as a child, and still does today because the majority of the book is a nightmare of a story. Nothing goes right- all the plans to save Narnia end in disaster. And just when you want to slam the book in despair, you see that the upheaval suddenly rights itself and all that was dark has become light. It is I think, the most compelling view of heaven I have ever read.

Many of you know that years ago we suffered the loss of our only daughter, Hosanna. She would be seven years old this month if she had lived, and I always think of her at this time of the year. We never got to see her alive, and after she was born, the nurse brought her back to us, dressed in a tiny handmade dress and a little knit hat that someone out there had lovingly made and donated to the hospital for cases such as ours. I had never thought to prepare anything for her. I was so grateful that someone had. I have been asking myself lately, as I work on dainty little dresses, why I feel compelled to do this kind of work. Am I trying to fill some kind of void? Why spend so much time and energy on mere clothing that will be stained and torn and outgrown in a few short months? Is clothing really important in the big scheme of things?

I remember sighing audibly at a church baby shower for a little girl just a few months after Hosanna died. I looked at the piles of pink and ruffled frocks and tried not to imagine how my own little girl would have looked in them. A sweet friend sitting next to me noticed my dejection and gently suggested that I try to imagine what glorious clothing my baby was wearing now. I have thought of her comment often since then, wondering what kind of clothing we will wear in heaven, and why, when Adam and Eve were perfect and naked in the garden, we will need clothing at all in the afterlife. The scriptures certainly mention our being clothed in heaven. And they are full of other clothing imagery as well- the taking off of the old life, and the putting on of the new. As a metaphor at the very least, clothing seems important.

But coming back around to Narnia, we see that Lewis takes that imagery and runs with it. We read as four children must pass through a wardrobe and clothe themselves in furs (a bit too big for them yet, but put on nonetheless) in order to enter Narnia. We watch as Narnia shakes off it’s winter robes at the coming of Aslan. Edmund significantly leaves his furs behind when he goes to betray the others. Aslan’s glorious mane is shorn off at death, only to return in resurrection, scattering beams of light. In a later book, Eustace must have his dragon’s hide torn off by Aslan, because all his clumsy attempts have been useless. But Aslan does not leave Eustace naked- he gives him new clothing. It is not enough to be stripped of your sin. You must put on Christ and his righteousness as a garment. Narnia helped me to understand this.

The fact is, I was born in the wrong country. I was not made for this world, or Narnia for that matter. All these longings to be conformed to the image of God, these desires to be in that ‘other place’, to change beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for the spirit of grief- even an eight year old girl feels that pull. My daughter went straight from this life to her true home. She never had to read the allegory of Narnia to help her understand what God is trying to prepare us for in eternity. She never had to ask to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness. But we must take the longer road. We enter through the wardrobe, put on those heavy furs, and push on through the snow, looking for Aslan, waiting for springtime.

La Cuisine

I am still not sure what this blog is going to turn into, but I don’t think I want to focus exclusively on sewing, since my life doesn’t focus exclusively on sewing. I mean, apart from my stitching, I am a mom, I homeschool my kids, I love to cook, and occasionally I sing. I might blog a bit about all those things. Let’s just say this will not be a blog about organization and keeping things clean…..

Blogging about food is an intimidating thing. There are some serious foodies out there publishing whole books about just food photography. And there are so many cooking blogs doing a better job than I would, so perhaps I will just tell you a little story about one of our favorite breakfasts. The aebleskiver.

And what is an aebleskiver, you ask? It’s a glorified pancake really, with Danish origins. I have a cousin who is half Danish, and she taught me to make them when I went to visit her many moons ago. (In California, not Denmark!)  I don’t even know how to pronounce it, but around here we just call them bouncy ball pancakes. I must admit they have occasionally been used as such. Have I mentioned I have boys?

I still have the recipe my cousin gave me, scrawled in this crusty, food stained notebook.

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This notebook has been with me for a long time.  I created it to bring with me to France  in ’98, when I studied abroad with a couple of friends. I put in it all my favorite recipes, since I knew we would be doing a lot of our own cooking.

It cracks me up for two reasons. First- did I ever actually consider packing my mom’s cast iron aebleskiver skillet in my luggage? And second- why on earth did I bother bringing my piddly little book of recipes when I knew I was traveling to the cuisine capital of the world? If I had been thinking at all, I would have spent every spare minute picking the brains of the French people surrounding me for their own recipes. Thankfully, I ended up bringing a Frenchman home with me, so I have been able to pick his brain ever since.

 I never did make Aebleskivers in France, but we make them all the time now.

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Sometimes I put berries in the middle.  This morning it was chocolate chips.

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Flipping them is the tricky part. My cousin flips them the traditional way- with a knitting needle.

I am no knitter, so I use a fondue skewer.

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I don’t know the Danish word for voila, but anyways, this is the only way I get a few minutes of silence in my house of a morning.

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Happy Saturday!