Saturday, September 25, 2010

Busy at Home

Oh, what a beautiful morning! And afternoon! And evening! This has been a simply marvelous day. I didn't have to drive Craig Grayson to his early morning football practice, because Craig did. (*cheesy grin of satisfaction*) I was able to sleep a little bit later. I washed my hair. My eyebrows are plucked. The little things in life really do make a big difference.

Once I finally emerged from my little corner of the world and joined the family downstairs, I was eager to get started on some of the preparation that I've been postponing as we unpack and organize. Of course, I needed the proper fuel to get me going, so I roasted some coffee. This morning's fare was Sumatra Blue Batak Tarbarita Peaberry. I just roasted this a couple of days ago and found that it needed to stay in a little longer, so I went ahead and roasted it longer this time. Mistake. It could have fueled a semi. I still finished it, though, because I don't like to waste.

Craig, in the meantime, was making his Turkish coffee, which he shared with all of the children. I had to direct him to where I had stashed his demitasse cups when Morgan and I unpacked the kitchen. Having cute little serving pieces just enhances the whole experience. I love that Craig shares this appreciation for special things. What a great memory the children will now have of sharing a morning cup of one of their dad's favorites.

Once I had fuel in my veins, I started on today's task list. I'm trying my hand at some homemade cleaners, so I've been filling jars with white vinegar and orange peel for use in several "recipes". I'll give this a trial run, and if I like the results, I plan to "shrink" our grocery expenditures by reducing the amount of cleaning products that I buy. Confession: I'm addicted to bleach and Tide with Downy, so there are some things that won't change. Anyway, check out my little stash that is growing: (I think that I should do a post about the many uses of canning jars.)

Since moving into this (lovely!) house, we've realized that we can't fit all of our (rather large) furniture, so we're getting rid of some things. Actually, a year in southern Africa showed us that we should get rid of a LOT of things. One such item is the TV armoire that was included in the bedroom collection we purchased during my pregnancy with Gabriela over 11 years ago. It's funny how something like the sale of an item on craigslist can start a new friendship. I've so enjoyed corresponding with the sweet lady who wanted to purchase our armoire, and this morning we were privileged to meet her and her husband when they came to pick it up. 

I'm continually reminded that God is in the details and delights in blessing us in unexpected ways. When Jeannie and her husband, Terry, arrived at our door, they presented us with treats from our favorite PA bakery. We only seldom get to enjoy pastries from Kretchmar's Bakery, as it is quite a drive away. Craig's sister understands our deep appreciation for their cakes, so on special extended-family occasions, she usually buys one for us all to enjoy. What a great and pleasant surprise it was to receive these from Jeannie and Terry, who had no idea that we are big fans of the bakery near their home! During their visit, I roasted more coffee for them to sample. This time I chose Rwanda FT (fair trade) Dukunde Kawa Musasa. 

 The word "amazing" doesn't begin to describe the delectable flavor and perfect texture of this almond torte. Superb!

 The children were especially fond of these Steelers cookies. For me, the cookies served as a decoy to redirect the children away from the cake, saving more for me. (I'm not helping my fitness plan At. All.)

 Enough said.

I've been wanting to make my own kefir for a while, but I haven't had the means to do so until now. It's not complicated, but our circumstances weren't conducive to making cultured dairy products before settling into our new home. We recently located a source for raw, unpasteurized milk and cream, and fresh eggs. My wonderful husband, who passes by the farm on his way from work, agreed to visit the farm and purchase these for me. If you've never had fresh milk, find some as soon as you're finished reading this post, then reject hereafter anything sold in the dairy section of the grocery store. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. I made kefir this morning, thanks to Sue, who shared her starter with me a few days ago. I'm hoping to use the rest of the cream for homemade ginger ice cream.

As I was busying myself with the kefir, Morgan was hard at work making granola for us to keep on-hand for breakfast. My plan was to make at least two batches, but in the end, we only ended up with one. Maybe tomorrow... (We shared a little of this with our guests.)

 This yummy recipe comes from Christmas with Southern Living 2008, but we change it up a bit. It's incredible! I'm hoping to try this recipe soon that my precious friend, Lauren, fed us on our recent visit to Indiana. It was equally delicious. So, rather than choose between the two, I want to have both!

I've been wanting to make sprouts for a while, as well, but I've been much too distracted. This morning I finally took the plunge. I don't think it gets any more brainless than this. Really. It's probably the simplest kitchen task in the whole world, but the result is literally a super food. I chose lentils, alfalfa, and wheat. I like to use the wheat grass in my juicer and add it to smoothies. The other sprouts are great in salads or on sandwiches, but I'm hoping to experiment with a couple of other ideas that I discovered recently.

We managed to squeeze in a family walk with Rhodes this afternoon, taking in all the beauty of this neighborhood. It's amazing that this dog has transformed my husband into a man who enjoys taking walks. Rhodes is stealing hearts, for sure. One guy actually backed up his vehicle and got out to admire Rhodes, telling us that his girlfriend forced him to compromise and get a vizsla, rather than a Ridgeback, as he had hoped. Another guy spoke to us through his car window amid the traffic that characterizes this area, remarking about our "gorgeous dog".

After a brief trip to the mall with Craig for a new cell phone plan and some clothes for the children, I returned to assist Morgan in making spinach calzones. Behold:

Now, I'm off to enjoy one of the Oatmeal Scotchies that Morgan made yesterday, along with a piece of Scharffenberger chocolate.


Friday, September 24, 2010

My Fruit Bowl Overfloweth

So far, living near family has some pretty great bonuses. My dad is a serious food shopper. My mom is a serious browser of all things girly. I am the product of both.

We've been in our house for just over two weeks, and there is still so much organizing, planning, scheduling, (sewing!!!), and stocking up to do. I decided that I couldn't possibly postpone our new homeschool year any further, so we started gradually moving into our school work on Monday.

My 96-year-old grandfather is in a nursing home on the opposite side of Pittsburgh, so I try to plan our visits to coincide with my parents' visits. It turned out that Craig Grayson's football game was at a school just up the street from the nursing home, so on Wednesday, we planned our first visit to Grandpap in over three weeks. Being a multi-tasker, I thought we should also squeeze some "special" grocery shopping into this trip.

The Strip is the mother lode of imported and local food and goods. My dad is the perfect tour guide for this place, and we were almost in competition with our purchases. He teased me later when he learned that I hadn't thought to buy Buffalo mozzarella at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (but he had). I did, however, get some other great cheeses while we were there. The lady in the deli kept calling me "Dear Heart" as she helped me with my order. Precious.

I especially enjoyed visiting Labad's Middle Eastern Market. (Labad's also has a restaurant annexed to the store, but that's not how Daddy rolls; so we ended up eating at Smallman Street Deli. Allow me to recommend their filet mignon sandwich. Mmm. Hmm. That's right.) Anyway, I was delighted to find that Labad's carries the Turkish coffee that Craig likes. I'm sure that I could just add cardamom to his coffee at home, but he enjoys the experience. So, I let him have his fun and use his ibrik. By the way, if you are in the 'burgh and decide to visit Labad's, make sure and purchase the special Medjool dates that are sold at the counter for $5.99 per pound. You'll be glad that you opted against the smaller ones that are sold in a container. (Daddy won this one.)

(Here, Mom and I are taking advantage of the 3 for $25 deal on scarves. [What is UP with my side profile?? Look at that cranium!])

 (This place reminded me of the souk. In fact, there was a bag that drew me back three times to the souk in the Old City in Jerusalem, only to decide in the end not to buy it. How funny that the same style of bag is right here in Pittsburgh, PA!)

 (The clerk was so pleasant and hospitable. I love that we can still enjoy an international experience here in the 'burgh.")

 (I'm not sure if our friend, Arun, reads this blog, but this photo is for him. 5 kilos of Nutella. It doesn't get much better. This was taken in Pennsylvania Macaroni Co.)

(And for the occasional "shot", I bought a few of these pocket-sized samples for Craig to carry in his car.)

As we shopped for produce, Daddy and I planned future shared meals. While shopping for peppers, he requested that I invite him over for some of my Abobora and Lentil Stuffed Peppers. I saved the last one for him to sample last week, and he liked it even more than I had expected. I'm trying my best to wean our family off of sausage, and I hadn't yet purchased ground beef; so I used lentils and mixed them with ricotta, roasted butternut ("abobora" in Portuguese), spinach, garlic, and herbs. I can't recall which cheese is over the top. It doesn't matter, really, as long as it's Italian. That's my default: You can't go wrong with Italian. Check it out:

Before leaving The Strip, Morgan and I stopped by the Asian market to pick up a few things for my friend, Sue. We agreed to meet my parents and the other children (minus Craig Grayson, who stayed behind to catch the bus to his game) at the truck. It was at this point that I really learned the link between fitness and homemaking. If it hurts me to carry two bags of groceries a few blocks to the parking lot, it is time to ante up with my upper-body workouts.

(Here's a layout of some of our loot. I was able to stock up on some everyday seasonings from Penzey's Spices.)

(I was happy to find that this jar of artichoke hearts did NOT cost $80, as it would have in Moçambique. However, to my chagrin, I discovered a day later that I could have saved $4 on this very same jar at Sam's Club. Lesson learned: don't get too tickled just because it's sold at the Italian market. [What would Barbara Kingsolver say of my purchase of CA artichokes in Pittsburgh? And how ARE her books distributed to such widespread locations, considering her 100-mile rule?])

Reader survey:
Italian olive oil or Spanish? 

(Since Craig hasn't been traveling to Israel for business, I can't get it from there.) 

Following our city shopping excursion, we headed to see Grandpap, and then on to Craig Grayson's football game. Upon our arrival at the field, a knock-down, drag-out storm swept through the city, postponing the game an hour and a half. Craig was on his way from work to watch the game, but had to turn back. Along the way, he ended up with a cracked windshield on his new car. The radio reported that our neighborhood would receive the brunt of the storm, which we later found to be true.

Just that morning, the children and I sang "All Creatures of Our God & King" as our morning hymn. I had been reflecting on God's sovereignty and all of His creation that points to His Majesty. Even in a storm, He is shown to be in control. As they say, "There are no maverick molecules." The Book of Job and the Psalms have much to say of this Truth. It is by God's Divine Providence that this large limb from one of the colossal trees in our front yard landed on the iron railing that leads down our steps from the street, rather than on our house. Notice the damage to the railing:

(This limb also fell, just feet away from our glass patio table. I was away when the clean-up crew came; but Morgan said that as they were working, yet another limb fell. Fortunately, no one was in its path.) 

Although we were only without electricity for about 12 hours, two days later, part of our neighborhood is still without power. There are many traffic lights that are not working, causing awful congestion, even beyond what is typical for Pittsburgh. 

I have had a hard time getting used to the idea of having an actual "Pittsburgh" mailing address, but I'm liking what the city has to offer. The trees in our neighborhood, though dangerous in storms, give the illusion that we live away from the city. Still, I'm very aware of our proximity to "where it all happens". Today, I experienced the bonus of having a Pittsburgh address when my wheat order was delivered by truck to our doorstep for a mere $3 service charge. I'll save the spike in wheat prices for another post.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Appliance Envy

(Keepin' it real. This photo was taken long before I gained a lovely ten extra pounds from my parents' good cooking, disrupted fitness schedule, and my failure to adjust to the food situation in Moçambique. I'm not a bit too proud to show myself in my pajamas with my hair undone. Is this how you'd expect laundry for seven to look?)

I should really be ashamed of myself for posting this, but I'm just being honest. Before we moved to Moçambique over a year ago, we had been staying with my parents while awaiting the sale of our house in Alabama. The laundry situation was dire with nine people under one roof, and our multiple (large!) loads took a toll on my parents' machines. So, when we left for Moz, we offered our larger, more durable machines to my parents as a peace offering.

In the early years of our marriage, we had virtually no money. We rented our first washer and dryer while stationed at Ft. Ord, CA, in the early nineties. Years later, we received "hand-me-down", mix-and-match machines from my great-grandmother. I was delighted when we made our first purchase of a new machine. I don't recall now whether it was the washer or dryer that was replaced first, but it was followed a couple of years later by its Whirlpool counterpart. These were basic machines, but they were new and they were ours!

As the keeper of a home for seven people, I have logged many, many hours doing laundry. For years, Monday and Thursday have been my laundry days. I don't keep a running stream of laundry going all week, because with five children, it would be too easy for an item to be misplaced. My twice-a-week schedule affords greater accountability of particular items, which means that we are less likely to misplace a favorite shirt or pair of pants.

Laundry is one of those things that I enjoy doing. It's refreshing on all counts. I'm a sorter, by nature, so this job is especially satisfying. I love warm, soft things that smell good, so the end result of laundry gives me "warm fuzzies" inside. I do require the children to do their part, however, and this year they will take an even greater role in doing the laundry. This is simply because they need to learn how to do their own laundry, and it's my job to teach them. (Besides, it affords me more time for things like blogging and sewing.)

Six years ago, when we moved into our house in Alabama, I was blessed to purchase a front-loading washer, and of course, my sweet husband wanted to make sure that I had a matching dryer. I was elated to make that purchase, so I named my machines "Pride" and "Joy"! They have served our family well, and I was very pleased to share them with Mom and Daddy when we went to Moz last year. Our plan was to buy newer models upon returning to the US.

Well, when we arrived back in the US, Daddy had decided that he'd return our machines to us and purchase new ones instead. Although this dashed my hopes of an upgrade, it certainly has helped our bank account not to have to make this immediate purchase. The day when our machines were brought to our new home was a very happy day for me, indeed. Yesterday, however, I visited my parents and had my first look at their machines. Yow! I've had to repeat to myself, "I will not covet my parents' laundry machines... I will not covet..."

Beautiful, eh?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Almost There

Tomorrow is moving day for us, although we won't have our delivery of household goods until the following day. It's a good thing, too, because we have a lot of items to transport from my parents' house. It'll be good to get these things out of the way before the truck arrives.

The children and I have been packing and doing laundry all day, so we rewarded ourselves with a couple of rounds of Farkle at the picnic table. With four of them sitting around me, I had that strange feeling that someone was missing. This time, it was, of course, because someone is really missing.

We enjoyed an opportunity to talk with Caelyn this morning. She joked that she's staying in Alaska forever. Apparently she likes what she sees. However, her daddy would fly there and snatch her away if she were to try to stay beyond the pre-determined date. I'm glad that she's pleased to be there for now, though.

Last night she was awakened by our friends to go outside and see the auroras, which she found to be even more magnificent in person than in photos. I can only imagine how breathtaking a sight they must have been.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands."
Psalm 19:1

It's hard to believe that we'll be moving into our house tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to preparing a haven for our family. What a joy it is to be "busy at home" (Titus 2:5)! In the meantime, I'm soaking in all the goodness that is Grandma & Pap's house, like these tomatoes that were right beside me at the picnic table.

I'm thinking Fried Green Tomatoes, although as a rule, I abstain from eating fried foods. (There's a major exception to that rule: our neighbors in Alabama were from Laos, and they made the absolute best egg rolls ever!)

Gabriela has been helping Pap make doors for his shed beneath the deck where he keeps his tractor and other yard tools. She painted the handles and latch for him, so I wanted to take a photo since Pap put it all together today. I'm glad that it was finished while we're still here.

In God's economy, we know that the "last shall be first", so it's OK that I left this for the end of this post. The photo doesn't do it justice, but this is my mom's Eggplant Parmigiana -- and OH! Was it good!! The tomatoes and eggplant are from my dad's garden, and the sauce is my mom's homemade pizza sauce, also made with Daddy's fresh garden tomatoes. This was one of those times when I didn't mind that our children don't eat eggplant. Usually, I'm offended when they refuse to eat my Baba Ganoush or Verdure al Forno; but this time, I was happy to have more for myself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Growing Pains for Parents

This morning's solemn farewell to Caelyn brought on many tears. When we first began homeschooling back in 1997, I used Psalm 133:1 as the basis for a lesson on the crucial nature of forming strong sibling bonds:

"How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!"

I find it significant that the Psalmist punctuated that statement with an exclamation point. He then compared that unity, in verse 3, to the effect of dew on Mt. Zion and proclaimed,

"For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore."

This is not to be taken lightly. It is an important part of God's message to His people; and we have taken it to heart with our children, reminding them that they are to dwell together in unity -- "harmony" in some translations -- and in so doing, honor the Messiah. Because our children have been each other's first and best friends since birth, it was very difficult for our four younger children to say good-bye to their oldest sister this morning.

It was a quiet ride back to my parents' house as I pondered the fact that we, as parents, experience some growing pains of our own. We recognize, as in Psalm 127, that our children are arrows, which means that they are not meant to adorn the quiver forever. We are to aim them straight, bringing them up in the "training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4), to be released into the will of the God, Who prepared in advance the good works that He has created them in Christ Jesus to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Craig Grayson was very self-controlled as he gave Caelyn one last hug good-bye. He is so tender-hearted, but he maintained his composure well.

Morgan has been pensive for the entire day, no doubt wondering how life will be for these next three months without her best friend.

As I hugged her, I had a desperate feeling, as if I've forgotten to complete some crucial task or that I've failed to prepare her in some way. I kissed her soft cheeks one last time, hoping to recall how it feels until the next opportunity.

I can only imagine how it felt for Craig to escort Caelyn into the terminal. There is a special bond between a father and his daughter, and as far as I'm concerned, words fail to convey the mystery. Many women joke that they wish that their husbands could experience the pain of childbirth. For tender fathers like Craig, I imagine that same pain comes in releasing a daughter into the will of God -- in this case, serving a family in an earlier stage of the process.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Joyful Hearts, Teary Eyes, Full Bellies

*I'm editing to add this photo, which I LOVE! I hope it's OK. I "borrowed" it from our sweet friend.

I've put it off long enough. It's now time to face it: Caelyn leaves in less than twelve hours. My mind has been flooded with many thoughts about this decision that took months to reach, but I've been unable to organize them into a blog post. Really, it would take several blog posts, so I'll just offer the bottom line up front.

While most are still sleeping tomorrow morning (at least, those in the western hemisphere), we will be taking Caelyn to the airport to embark on a new adventure. She'll spend the next three months helping friends of ours in Alaska. Craig and I wrestled with the decision, taking every minute of the time allotted to weigh the idea. In the end, despite the deep sadness we'll feel as we bid her farewell, we've concluded that it is a good decision to allow her to go and serve this young family.

I've tried to imagine what it'll be like to get up every morning and not hear her greeting; to not see her laughing and chatting as she and Morgan prepare lunch each day; to not ask her to drive to the store for me; to not hear her insight during our Bible time; to not see her beautiful face, or consult with her on dinner ideas, or ask her fashion advice, or see her reading on her bed. I simply cannot imagine daily experiencing her absence for three months. Still, we agree that this venture will be mutually beneficial, and we trust God to continue the good work He has begun in each of us during this temporary separation.

Since our sewing machine has finally arrived from Moçambique ("Somebody say, 'Yeeaaaaahhh!'"), I wanted to make something for her to take. Last year when my "little" cousin, Courtney, left for college, I came up with an idea to make a Fledgling Flight Kit. In Courtney's case, this included a laundry bag, journal, Starbucks gift card, and something else that escapes my memory at the moment.

Since Caelyn's "flight" pattern will differ from Courtney's, I just made her a laundry bag. I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't finish it in time for Amy's Sew & Tell, but I'll just link it up next Friday. Anyway, I couldn't remember exactly how I made the last laundry bag, so I did a bit of improv. I'm pleased with the result, and I have to toot my horn for having such a productive morning yesterday. All three girls had spent the night with Craig's parents, so Craig, the boys, and I started our day on the trail with Rhodes. I managed to get in a trail run, shower, wash my hair, sew a laundry bag, and assemble broccoli salad all in time to make it to Craig's family reunion in the afternoon!

Black/White/Red is one of Caelyn's favorite color combinations. Score! (She loved it.)

I wasn't the only one laboring for Caelyn this weekend. Grandma and Pap had their own contribution to the farewell process: Smiles.

Yummy, sweet, chocolate chip smiles

Succulent homemade barbeque smiles

Delectable shrimp/pasta salad smiles (courtesy of Grandma)

Grilled, marinated chicken smiles

Spicey, cheesey, oozey smiles

In addition to yummy food, we had our hearts and minds nourished with some good family discussions on the deck.

Graham was pretty tired, but he listened intently as Dad and the girls talked.

Morgan is going to miss having her best friend around; but I know that she'll do a wonderful job of taking on the role of the oldest child until Caelyn returns.

Part of our discussion time involved listening to an encouraging song by Third Day and looking at photos on the computer.

After our fabulous dinner with Grandma and Pap, we all reminisced of funny stories of the children when they were small. The years have passed too quickly, but I'm grateful for the blessing of being wife to Craig and mother to these amazing children! Please pray for us tomorrow morning if you think of it. We'll be missing Caelyn.