Lent a Hand

The approach of Lent is everywhere, hints in the flora outside; Lenten roses ready to unfold their majestic petals, the pussy willow whips full of emerging puffs, peeking out under brown husks.  The faithful are eating meat with a certain urgency, and the pre-Lenten Sundays tick by, marking the approach to the “bright sadness”.

It reminds me of my rowing days.  In the weeks preceding a regatta I’d be an absolute bundle of nerves, all that tension settling in my stomach in a hard, twisty knot.  As a catechumen, I feel the same way as Lent approaches.  Will I make it?  Can I fast well, pray more, give more, attend more services, and grow spiritually…and not lose my ever-loving mind?  My thoughts are full of logistics and bean recipes and, honestly, a bit of panic.  It’s not just my journey, but my whole family’s; how can I help my kids connect to the beautiful, difficult season of Lent?  How can I make sure we don’t miss it?Tending the Garden of Our Hearts FINAL COVER

Last year we huddled around our aging laptop and listened to “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts”, a Lenten podcast on Ancient Faith Radio by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger.  It was such an unmitigated blessing to have a spiritual meditation at the end of each day that wove in the strands we’d otherwise miss in our fatigue and busyness.  Stories of the saints mingled with the history behind the services we were attending, helping to anchor what we were seeing in a deeper understanding.  We were all challenged by the holy lives we read about.  This was a catalyst for great conversations with our toddlers, all the way up to our teenagers.

I’m thrilled that the podcast has been adapted into a book, and as I read through it again this month, I’m blessed anew by the thoughtful meditations that will again lead my family through Lent, one living room gathering at a time.  Being a visual person, I decided to make a calendar of sorts to further anchor the stories we read and the lessons we learned in our hearts.  I’ve included it here for your use as well, if it would be helpful for you!

The book is available on ancientfaith.com.  I pray you enjoy it as much as we do!

Tending the Garden of Our Hearts- Lenten Heart Calendar

Materials:

  • 12×12 piece of scrapbook paper for heart
  • scissors
  • thin ribbon, baker’s twine, or yarn
  • small safety pin
  • printable ornaments:  Page 1, and Page 2
  • color pencils
  • hole punch
  • marker

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Fold the piece of scrapbook paper in half, draw half of a heart and cut out.  While still folded, punch 25 holes along the edge.  Unfold and press flat.

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Each day, after the meditation, color in the ornament of the day.  The littlest children may enjoy the word ornaments where they can color quite freely, while the older ones may prefer the more intricate illustrations.  Cut out the ornament.

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Cut a length of your string or thin ribbon that is roughly two times as long as the perimeter of your heart.  Tie one end to the first hole, and the other to a small safety pin for a “needle”.
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Go up from underneath, looping each ornament into place each day, allowing the string to hang for the next addition.FullSizeRender-97

May your Lent be blessed!

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A Little Brave

Photo on 2-25-15 at 9.42 AM I don’t know where the change begins.  But there was, the other day, a very vigorous inner monologue that ran: “I am an artist, and I’d better start living as one”.  So, of course I cut my bangs.  I very imperfectly gave them the shape that I’ve admired on countless others rather than spending one more day without them.

After watching a YouTube tutorial I took our hair scissors in hand and looked into my reflection’s eyes in the splattered mirror and breathed.  And cut, and fixed, and trimmed and near laughed.  They turned out fine (to my taste I should say).  Imperfect and cute and endearingly quirky.  YouTube had also taught me how to do a sock bun and I made a perfectly coifed high bun to go along with my quirky imperfect bangs.  I smiled; it’s a good thing when you’ve wrested even the smallest of victories out of a weekday morning.

Photo on 2-25-15 at 9.41 AMThen it was time to get braver, a little.  I shopped my attic for my oil paintings; those that I could not bear to paint over nor throw out.  Many had met their end covered in white, a blank stretch for some future perfection to cover over.  Others have gone into the trash; sometimes our imperfection can be that painful.

Armed with a screw gun, I started a gallery wall and FOUR of my own works are RIGHT THERE on my wall.  Right on the wall that people visiting our home will see first.  In outright defiance of fear and the pride that hides all but the best, most marketable skills we have.  It was my version of taking a selfie without make-up.

On Facebook I wrote:

My great-grandmother Nora, whom I am named after, was a brave woman. During the Great Depression she had the nickname “Mrs. Got-Rocks” because even though times were hard and lean, she’d go out dressed to the nines with all her sparkly costume jewelry on. She learned to paint in her eighties, producing hundreds of works in oil and watercolor. She wasn’t afraid to try new things and she rejoiced in beauty. I thought of her today as I hung up three of my oil paintings which have been hiding in the attic. I often respond to my art with a mix of shame, fear, and joy; joy that something of what was in my heart was translated into color and pattern and form, shame and fear in dreading what label or impression another set of eyes will give it, have from it. I hung a small oil painting of hers, “Violets”, right above one of my works “Pears on the Horizon”, and just diagonally from them I hung an unfinished still life that I bought secondhand. It’s a smudged charcoal sketch of an apple and a pear; the pear’s stem rubbed out and begun again numerous times. There is in-progress-beauty all over it and also the frankness of being unfinished. How fitting a reminder for me, that God is always working on my heart, but that there IS present beauty, and I do not need to be afraid to display it.

And that’s where I am.  A little braver.  A bit more of an artist.  A bit more honest.

 

Quieted

There was nothing to say, but plenty for the hands to do.  I cut vintage fabric, lace, and paper into long strips and wrapped them around rough-cut bars of soap, finishing with jute or sea grass tied in a simple bow, the ends dangling over the side.  I cut the craft paper labels and affixed those.  Piles and piles of “dressed” soaps, tucked into paper bundles, swaddled in bubble wrap, and sent to all over the United States.

And just like that the weeks passed with the smell of hot glue and essential oils, with the continual littering below my drafting table of paper and fabric bits.  With the baby continually sniffing at the soaps, crinkling his nose with delight.  And my soap shelves grew bare and sparse and I marveled at it all; this unexpected provision from a hobby gone madhouse.

image1-6 image2-3 IMG_2728 Though we were unable to establish an online shop yet, the email orders came flooding in.  It was good timing; I’ve been ordered to rest and all but my hands have obeyed.  I sat at my drafting table and worked and worked without tiring out my heavily pregnant body.  And it’s been a good distraction from counting down the weeks until baby’s arrival.

It’s quiet and fulfilling work and it feels like a gift.  There’s flexibility and variety and creativity, and remarkably, a profit margin.  Usually my work in this world brings every good thing except a paycheck.

I was surprised as the days passed that I had no words for here; I had my quiet work and a quiet heart.  The snow is falling outside, the children playing there turning it all into a magical blank canvas upon which to create.  The baby sleeps deep and the turkey bakes with the smell of orange zest and rosemary.  And my words are few, but come from a grateful, quieted heart.

 

And From the Kitchen…

Oh, how I love a plate of good food.  The catch is that, the better you become at cooking, the less fun going out to eat at most places is.  I thought of this as I proceeded to “fix” the bland guacamole at one restaurant, even going so far as to ask the waiter for some fresh lemon wedges.  A bit of salt, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce later, there was a decent guacamole before me, but still not so near as good as homemade.  Not.  Near.

Make some:

Mash avocados.  Douse with fresh lemon juice (don’t even think of the plastic lemon full of bitter juice, just don’t), maybe one lemon for every three avocados.  Mince white onion, mix a spoonful of sugar into it and squeeze the mass with your hands (extracts the excess sulfur).  Pour hot water over the onions and let it sit for a bit.  Rinse thoroughly with cold water, pat dry, and add to the bowl (this is a latin american trick I learned living in Chile and it really lets the onions showcase their taste without overwhelming other flavors).  Mince 1 jalapeño and 1 tomato for every avocado used and add those too.  Mince cilantro, at least a 1/4 c. per avocado and add that.  Mix all that deliciousness together.  Now the salt…don’t skimp on the salt, you want to bring those flavors out into full bloom.  Test with a tortilla chip, to take it’s own salty quotient into the equation.  Taste, eyes rolling back and an involuntary groan of pleasure escaping.

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Now going to authentic ethnic restaurants is rarely disappointing and most usually my reactions to what is set before me are downright comical.  I simply cannot stop sighing and exclaiming and groaning with delight.  I am Bob from “What About Bob?”.  I can’t help it.  When a tikka masala is creamy and spicy and exquisitely complex, when the jasmine rice is al dente and fragrant, when the naan is hot from the oven, and when the cucumber sauce on the gyro dribbles it’s dilly goodness down my throat, I am undone.  Can’t.  Contain.  The.  Joy.

But I am no thorough food snob.  McDonald’s french fries, when they’re piping hot and salty, are heavenly.  And there is something about spicy nacho Doritos inserted inside a turkey sandwich on a hot summer’s day that is just rockin’.  Don’t get me started the simple pleasure of Dr. Pepper in a glass with ice alongside pizza.  Or Butterfingers.  Mercy.

And now I give you my favorite salad, which is painless to make and is made nearly daily in our home to add zing to the meal:

Cut up some lettuce and/or spinach, cabbage, avocados, tomatoes, shredded carrots, julienned celery, whatever you have on hand, and throw it all in a bowl.  Chop up some green onions or garlic chives and add to the bowl.  Mince some parsley or cilantro or both and sprinkle that in.  Juice a lemon into a separate bowl and stir an equal quantity of a mild oil to the juice (safflower, sunflower, or light olive work great).  Stir about a 1/4 tsp salt in and get it emulsified with a mini whisk or fork.  Pour over the salad.  Test for saltiness; add more if the flavors aren’t zinging, or more lemon.  This zingy salad pairs so well with creamy, heavy, or cheesy dishes, awakening your palate every few bites with it’s zest and freshness.  My children fight over the seconds.  This pleases me much.  I’m so addicted to these flavors that I will order salads at restaurants with a side of lemon wedges so that I can make this (more or less) with the oil and salt at the table.

The downside to all this culinary happiness and productivity is that my children cannot be tempted by the offer of Hey kids, how about cereal for dinner? or Why don’t we just have some ice cream instead of making a big meal?  No, they will give me a withering look and ask plainly for real food.  So here’s the desperate quick fixes for those tired evenings when the palate is still annoyingly expectant:

Parmesan Pleasure-  Boil pasta just to al dente; nothing worse than a floppy noodle mushing about in your mouth (shudder).  Top with grated fresh parmesan, chopped tomatoes, salt, and a splash of greek dressing.  Comfort food for sure.

Pizza-tilla-  Spread pizza sauce on tortillas or english muffin halves, or crackers, top with cheese and whatever toppings you have on hand.  Bake until crispy and bubbly.  A bit of minced onion, diced ham, and pineapple on top amps the flavor Caribbean-style.

Tabla Supper-  Cut up leftover meats, chicken, cheese, sausages, and serve alongside chopped chunks of cheese, pickles, and crackers.  Mix honey and mustard together, get out some horseradish and honey and jams and lay out everything on a big wooden board and taste the night away.

Burrito Rapido-  Mix a can of refried beans together with a can of chopped chilies and get it heating in a skillet.  Stir in shredded cheddar and some canned salsa.  Slap that savory filling into tortillas and serve with sour cream galore and more salsa.  Yum.

And so, here’s a glimpse from my kitchen, from my life as a groaning gourmand.  May your day be tasty.

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The Work Of Our Hands

pomanderYesterday marked the beginning of the end of dignified walking.  I awoke to a sharp pain in my pelvis as I swung my legs out of bed.  It’s known in the pregnancy world as pelvic separation and is caused by a hormone known as “relaxin” (aptly named) which makes the ligaments in the pelvic girdle all loosey-goosey.  It means that when my legs aren’t moved in symmetry (which is, unfortunately, most always), there is sharp pain from the instability in the pelvis.  Hello, waddle.  Or even funnier, if I scoot sideways like I’m country line dancing there is great relief.  Feel free to laugh at that image.

I’d love to be attending to my gardens, but I simply can’t.  I need to prepare a blueberry bed by digging-in white pine needles to raise the acidity.  I need to dig up my elephant ear bulbs before first frost.  I need to prune my nectarine and apple trees.  I need to dig out a tree sapling that pretended to be part of the grapevine.  I need to prune back the raspberry and blackberry vines that fruited this year.  There are potatoes to dig, there are weeds to pull, and there is an unstable pelvis saying “no”.

So, I ordered a pelvic support belt yesterday morning while chair-bound.  Yes, I am going to be actually manually pulling myself together.  Until that blessed relief arrives, my creative endeavors are limited to what can be accomplished sitting.

I had to wonder last evening, as I lay in bed with my pregnant belly covered in bits and pieces of whole cloves, how many husbands go to sleep with their wives beside them making pomanders.  Round and round the orange the cloves marched in staid procession, each puncture releasing a waft of orange scent.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while; making these early American fragrant Christmas decorations, but had never gotten around to it.

“It’s amazing how strong that smells,” said my dear husband as I poked cloves into the orange.

“Yeah, and it’s supposed to still be fragrant for years if it dries nicely.  I’ve wanted to make these for a long time”.  I poked in more cloves and the thought came quick:  there are so many things I want to make.  I looked at my husband.  “What do you want to make?”

He looked puzzled.  “You know, like Tom really wants to make a wood canoe?”

“Yeah…I just don’t really have anything I want to make.”

How very different we are.  I have a list a mile long:  paper kites, red ware pottery, tinctures of all sorts, hundreds of soaps, handmade papers, chair caning, basket weaving, mosaics, etc.  I want to learn how to do everything.  Which is why I was poking an orange with cloves at ten at night while he enjoyed some peaceful, well-deserved, rest

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.” -Psalm 90:17

peppermint mochaI find great satisfaction in making things, whether it be pie dough massing between my hands or cutting thick bars of soap or stringing a batch of words together.  It all brings me joy; the disparate parts becoming a new whole, a useful thing, a thing of beauty.

While not everyone has this impulse, or, ahem, compulsion, to create, I hope that each does have that deep satisfaction in their work.  For my husband it is taking boxes of fittings and lengths of pipe and with them providing clean drinking water and waste removal to countless homes and businesses.  Ever thought of how much of a blessing it is to be able to flush away waste?  To be able to shower in fresh water to your precise temperature preference?

I imagine the particular joy of an accountant, having all the numbers tabulated, filed, and organized.  I picture the satisfaction of a surgeon, having implanted a new organ in the place of a failing one and seeing it come to life.  And the farmer seeing his hay stacked high in the barn and the nanny soothing the baby to sleep in her arms and the grocery bagger slipping the last tidily filled bag into a cart.  Do we see our work as a blessing, as a joy?

I hope you do.

Even if you have to walk sideways or endure any other number of impediments or hardships.  I hope this day that you can feel the satisfaction of work done well.