Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Changing What I Can

Last Wednesday I had the joy of taking the day off of work & I was just a stay at home wife for the day.  It was wonderful.  And weird.  And a little awkward because we had men at the house installing central air conditioning.  I always feel a little funny when there are strange, albeit nice, men wandering around our house all day.  Am I the only one?

I did really enjoy my day & I did not get nearly as much done as I thought I would, but that is the story of my life & probably always will be.  One major thing I did get done was make a couple of batches of granola bars.  I've been making some peanut butter chocolate chip bars for Mike for a long time so I made some of those.  Then I remembered that I had a bag of dried cranberries in the pantry that were *ahem* six days or so past date & I thought maybe it was time to use them!  So I made just half of a batch with the cranberries, some chopped almonds, white chocolate chips, & every last scraping of honey I could get from the three, four, five mostly empty honey bottles that I had hoarded in the pantry.  Once again, am I the only one??

Anyway, they turned out great!  I'm sure you can tell by the photo below.  

My food photography skills are super impressive, aren't they? 

 And just so they wouldn't feel left out, here's a pic of the 
peanut butter chocolate chip bars.  
Another outstanding photo, eh?

I intended to apologize for the lackluster photos & the fact that I can't really share the granola bar recipe.  But you already know I'm not a photog.  And you know I'm not a true foodie.  This isn't my recipe & I couldn't tell you the source where I got it.  So I'll just keep being me without the photog or foodie label & tell you something else that's a little more important anyway.

When I make these granola bars they never turn out the same way twice.  Good thing Mike isn't picky, huh?  It's mostly because I'm not a good measurer of sticky things like peanut butter & honey.  It's also because I like to fiddle around with recipes to make them a little more of what I have in mind.  But I have been burnt by this drive to tinker.  Sometimes I really screw things up.  I have learned that with cooking there are some things you can change and some things you can't.  With these granola bars I don't usually mess with the honey/butter/oats/rice crispies amounts.  These ingredients are kind of like the foundation & you just can't mess with them too much.  But you can go crazy deciding how you want to flavor things up - peanut butter & chocolate, cranberries & white chocolate & almonds, cinnamon raisin, & whatever else you can dream up.  Some changes are really good & some just aren't.

This whole granola thing got me to thinking about other things I can't change.  Things I can't change & that I regret have been a real roadblock for me lately.  I have so much guilt that I carry around about things I wish I could go back & change with Mom.  Nothing dramatic - she wasn't upset with me & I wasn't upset with her.  I just wish that I had made more time.  That we had taken more opportunities to be together & go places & do things that I know she had wanted to do.  We used to talk about going to Alaska with Mackinaw Island as a Plan B if Alaska didn't work out.  We used to sit & watch silly movies together on Sunday afternoons.  I wish I could go back & help her more, hug her more, talk with her more...  

I know I'm not supposed to dwell on these thoughts.  They are a waste of energy & I just get really sad & yeah, I cry.  I know what Mom would say.  First she would say to quit crying; crying only gets your eyes all red & your nose stuffed up.  And then she would say that if I feel like there was something truly wrong with my behavior I need to confess it, move on & with the Lord's help, try to do better.  Because sometimes just moving on with the Lord's strength to help you is all the change that you can manage to make.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Major Jam Session

This past Friday night I fell into bed feeling a little bit sorry for myself.  It had been a long week; I'm still dealing with a lot of emotional junk.  I had also made up my mind a long time ago that I really wanted to go pick strawberries this year.  I had hoped my sister would go with me but she was in Florida on the longest vacation known to mankind (I only say that because I'm super jealous of the eight days her family spent schlepping around Disney World).  I knew that the strawberry season was drawing to a close so I put out a frantic invite on facebook - please won't somebody go strawberry picking with me tomorrow?  Due to my last minute planning & the fact that I wanted to leave by 8:30 in the morning, I didn't have any takers.  But of course as I was wallowing that night I didn't think through those facts.  I just felt like a loser who wanted to do loser stuff that nobody else wanted to do.  Please tell me I'm not the only one who throws these little fits?  Someday I've got to grow up.
Saturday dawned bright & beautiful so after a quick run at the track (I'm really trying to get back into this habit - even if it kills me!) I decided I was going to go strawberry picking alone.  So I did.  I grabbed my iphone, my earbuds, some cash & I hit the road.  I decided to get the 10 lb. box to fill up & I set off down my row.  

Can I just say that it was such a great time I had with me, myself, & I.  I personally can't look at a food-bearing plant with getting all agog at God's fabulous creation.  The scent of fresh strawberries wafted over me while I crawled around straining every muscle in my lower body.  I managed to cram almost 12 pounds in that 10 pound box & then I headed home.  I wasn't even out of the farm gate when I realized I had some major hives popping out on my arms.  I dug around in the glove box & found some antibacterial wipes to try to put out the fire - YEOW!

 When I got home I popped the green tops off & gave these luscious babies a dunking.  I've read somewhere since then that if you add 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water your berries will last a lot longer.  I'm going to try that next time.

You think maybe those beauties were a teensy tiny bit dirty? 

Look at all that yumminess!
This is when I started wishing for more counter space.

After they dried off for a bit I put them in the fridge because Saturday's To Do List did not allow time for jam making.  I was hoping I could fit it in Sunday afternoon (after I consulted two experts, Joyce & Roxi, for jamming tips!).

Sunday afternoon I pulled the berries out of the fridge & started prepping them.  I lopped the tops & any bruises right off & then put them through an egg slicer into a 9x13 inch pan.

Then I attacked with a potato masher! Hi-YAH!  This part was kinda fun but could get really splatter-y right quick!

I made two rounds of jam.  The first round was for my dad.  He prefers Splenda over regular sugar because he is borderline diabetic & does a really good job of watching his sugar intake (go Dad!).  I also used Ball Freezer Jam Pectin.  I can't remember if that's the exact also said something on the label about reduced sugar or sweetener sweetened jam.  I was sold on the fact that I didn't have to cook the berries.  The second round of jam making I used regular old sugar.  I know, I know...sugar & sweeteners are super bad for you.  But at least there isn't any food coloring & the berries are locally grown.  I'm doing what I can & none of us intend to eat this by the heaping spoonful every least probably we won't...I can't make any promises, I guess.

Anyway, the method is super simple.  You combine the Splenda/sugar/sweetener of your choice with the pectin & you stir it all about.  Then you add your crushed berries & then you stir for three minutes.

I used my Kitchen Aid on the lowest setting because I had LOTS of berries.  I was NOT into the notion of hand stirring for three minutes over & over & over.  I just made one batch at a time because the label cautions that if you double/triple/quadruple the process the pectin might not set up right.  I'm one for erring to the side of caution you know, so I didn't take any risks.

Looks yummy, doesn't it?

Then I used a wide mouth funnel to get the strawberry goodness into the jars.  This is when I made the hugest mess.  I should not be trusted in the kitchen.  It's a wonder I didn't have strawberry jam in my ear or on the ceiling.  Oy.

I even got Mike to help a little bit.  This led to a very enlightening discussion about how he doesn't want a garden.  Ever.  As in, not in his lifetime.  As in, he knows I would expect his help, he wouldn't give it unless under extreme duress, I would pout & fume...the whole balance of our happy home would go down the drain.  It's good to know what he's thinking sometimes.

Voila!  Six jars of Splenda goodness &
eleven jars of sugary goodness!

I popped the lids on the jars & then carted them down to the freezer.  So far we haven't actually tried it.  My dad probably had some with his lunch today (he's a pb&j man through & through!) & we have a jar of store bought jam I feel morally obligated to finish first.  Then we'll have a go on our own jam & see how it is.  I'm kind of excited *grin*

But we have munched on a couple of serving of strawberry shortcake.  It was so good.  I made shortcakes with Bisquick baking mix because they are my favorite.  I think I might go home & make some tonight even though the berries are all gone.  My Bisquick love is a little embarrassing & might even border on obsession but if it's wrong I don't want to be right.
And the berries might be good even this coming weekend.  Anybody wanna go pick some?

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Hello...hello...tap...tap...anybody out there?

I wouldn't be surprised if you weren't.  A three month blogging break is a long one.  And since it wasn't planned & you had no warning, I won't blame you for not being here.  
I've changed a lot since the last time I logged in.  I think my last post was a pep talk to myself about not being discontent with my job & trying to put on an attitude of gratefulness.  It was written on Tuesday, February 21st.  Little did I know that less than 48 hours later my life would be changed forever & my faith would be tried by fire.

My phone rang at about 3:15 in the morning on that Thursday.  I guess you can't really say it rang; it was my parent's house calling & I assigned their number a ringtone that sounds like a barking dog.  I thought it was funny, I suppose.  When the dog started barking at that early hour I was all confused.  Surely it wasn't time to get up yet?  Finally I realized it was the phone & not the alarm & I answered.  My dad was on the other end & his voice was high-pitched, almost a sobbing scream.  Something was wrong with Mom.  In my confusion & shock I didn't really process the phrase "she's cold."  All I really heard was that he couldn't wake her up.  I reasoned that something bad had happened so I dialed 911 & got the ambulance on its way.  We threw on some clothes & ran out the door to drive the two blocks to the house.

I won't give any more details.  Part of me is desperately trying to forget; another part of me wants to remember every detail & I'm not sure why.  It's just one of many questions that I have as I process what happened.  It just all happened so fast.  My dad had just talked to Mom not three hours before he found her.  I had talked to her on the phone just three hours before that.  Mom had been sick with what we thought was the stomach flu or possibly food poisoning.  She got sick in the early morning on Wednesday.  I called & checked on her after work; she wasn't feeling well but she wasn't worried.  I called her on my way home from church that night.  I had missed her; we usually rode together on Wednesday nights.  It was a little difficult for Dad to wake her up so that she could talk on the phone but she brushed that off by saying she had been up sick all night - she needed to sleep!  I was uneasy about it & worried that she hadn't had any medication all day (she had lupus & some related conditions which required prescription medication).  I gave her a warning: if she wasn't better by morning we were going to do something about it.  She agreed & we hung up.  The uneasy feeling persisted but I prayed & asked God to watch over her.

And He did watch over her.  He brought her home to be with Him.  He took her in a way we didn't expect and He took her at a time when we most certainly did not expect it.  Truthfully, even after an autopsy I don't really understand what happened or what really caused her death.  It was just God's time & His choice.  I remind myself of this fact numerous times every day.

Those first few days when we were making arrangements, gathered so close together as a family, & loved on so sweetly by our church family, I literally felt the prayers & God's grace holding me up.  Looking back I know that He strengthened me to endure those days.  Devastated sounds like too nice of a word to describe the state of my emotions.  How could I have done it on my own? 

But those first few days were just the beginning of dealing with the rest of my life without my Mom.  I have been startled by several observations through this grief process - the most startling of which is how physical grief is.  I'm not just talking about the painful lump in your throat when you cry or even the headache you get after a big sobbing session.  I'm talking about the moments when I just couldn't catch my breath.  Or the moments when I got weak in the knees & it felt like I was going to fall.  And the tiredness is unbelievable.  This might sound melodramatic or exaggerated to you.  I hope you never find out for yourself.

At the beginning I also had the comfort of shock.  Shock is like a layer of insulation.  I wasn't so deeply covered by it that I would forget that she had died or that I could deny it happened.  But I didn't feel the full brunt of my emotions until later.  The Lord is good to have created us like that.  My emotions have kind of peeled down, layer by layer.  I've had pervasive sadness.  I've had blistering anger.  I've even had moments of joy as we have remembered Mom.  I've had deep gratitude as I've seen & heard others honor the life that she lived.  I have always known my mom was a fabulous person; it has done my heart good to hear others say the same & show their respect by attending her funeral, sending flowers & cards.

And oh, how I have cried.  I was kind of a cry baby from the very start.  I remember Mom being exasperated with me as a child because of all of the tears (she just was not wired that way).  And crying seems to be a daily thing for me now.  I miss her so much; I miss her pep talks; I miss her hugs.  I remember her softness, try to conjure up her scent, try to remember what her hugs felt like... and I cry, you know?  When I sit down in church & she's not there beside me...or when I call home & she doesn't answer...
I'm sure you know what I mean.  There's a huge, gaping hole in my daily life.  I know it will get easier but I also know I'll never get over it.

But life goes on.

And this is something she would have told me with a direct gaze & maybe even slightly clenched teeth.  My momma was a strong lady, her spine stiffened with the purpose God gave her to get up each day & do her best for Him no matter how she felt.  And I don't want to shame her with my self-pity & moping day to day. Grief is a natural process & has to run its course but I should not wallow in it.  I have much to be thankful for:
*my God who supplies all of my needs, watches over me like a shepherd, is infinitely wise, good, & patient with my struggles & questions
*my sweet gift from God, Michael who has been my rock; his understanding heart & patient love have sustained me & kept me from despair
*the lovely, faithful, godly people in my life who have prayed, texted, called, sent cards, sent food, sent books, given hugs, wiped tears, & supported me & my family.  You know who you are & I pray that your reward is great for the lovingkindness you have shown us
*the college teacher who reached out to me to let me know about a song that ministered greatly to my heart, "It Is Not Death To Die"; I have listened to this wonderful message in song over & over & over again
*my coworkers (remember, all men!) who wisely have kept silent & not made me feel small in the moments when I haven't been able to control my tears & a boss who gives time off without question when I need it
*the lovely plants that have lived on long after the funeral; their presence in my home comforts me
*the deeper, sweeter relationship I have with my dad where we talk, hug, & spend more time together; this gift came at a high price & I intend to cherish it
*my struggle with my faith in God; I'm grateful for this hard thing because it has forced me to be brutally honest with God - about my feelings, about my fears, & about my questions; I know He'll never let me go & I know He'll help me wrestle through this

I just don't want to forget these things. 

But I also have to be careful that my mom's home-going doesn't consume me.  Lately I've been trying to remind myself that life goes on.  I can't be overwhelmed daily so that I am just barely keeping my head above water, letting things slide, living in the mode of just getting by.  My responsibilities have changed because there have been many decisions to make, things that my dad needs help with, different items to put down on the to do list.  But these changes are no excuse for eating anything & everything I want whenever I want...sleeping in until the very last second every morning so that I barely make it to work on time which is only made possible by arriving with sopping wet hair...letting the house get in complete dusty, dirty, cluttery disarray because I just can't deal with it...not running or working out because I am just so tired when I really mean sad...spending money on unnecessary things...trying to escape any way possible (movies, books, trips, & so on)...

Once again, I'm sure you get the picture.  I've gotta make some changes & quit hiding out.

This blog used to be a place I would come to because I had something that I thought would make you laugh or encourage you.  I thought I could make friends & network & reach out to others.  I'm not sure if I can do that anymore but I might try.  Maybe something will come out of the effort.

Sweet Linda, this post is for you.  Thank you for your love, support, & encouragement.  You & David have literally held us up & I'm forever grateful for the way you have faithfully shown God's love to us.  I love you.