Friday, December 19, 2014

The Christmas rush, 7QT style...

Christmas is less than a week away and what am I doing and what am I not doing? Lemme tell you.

1. I am super bad about the Christmas rush but probably not the way you think. I really do not get that panicky sense that other people get because, I mean, really. Christmas lasts for twelve days, people, it only starts on Christmas! It is not the twelve days before Christmas. There is time, people! So if you get my stuff late. Yeah. It is not accidentally late. Actually, it is usually on purpose. In many Latin American countries, gifts are not exchanged until Epiphany or Theophany, the 6th of January, which almost perfectly coincides with old calendar Orthodox Christmas, anyway. My in-laws used make gentle reminders but I think they have given up on that. I am pretty sure that I have not heard anything about in at least a decade. I take this as a sign that either I am making headway in broadening the appreciation of the twelve days a sign that people are just giving up on me as a hopeless case. I am okay with that.

2. So while I will patiently wait for the twelve days, I am hoping super hard that you will, too. Imma ordering more stuff from our amazing monks (see their online store HERE) so our moms and sisters and my best friend's family need to know that the monks are super busy. I told them that it is cool with me that our stuff can be the very last in line because, twelve days y'all. Twelve. Days. The cool thing about the monks right now is that they are expanding their candy making room and gift shop area. This is very good because on busy days in the summer, people line up out the door and down the highway which is uber not safe. Having a larger area for people to shop and wait in line is a good thing! Also, Father Ephrem hand makes all the glorious truffles that come from the shop and demand is high and he needs more space. More expansion on the kitchen means that the monks will be able to shrink their production time which in turn gives them more time to be, well, monks. More time for prayer and services is the goal and they really could use the support just make sure that you let them know that you are totally cool with the twelve days so that you do not stress out my monks or I will have to lay down the bidness, peepo.

3. But what I am totally not cool with waiting on is for the oldest to come home from college. Today was the last day of finals but traveling craziness being what it is, he will not be here until Monday. The wait is agonizing. Really. I wish I had like a sci-fi laser beam travel device so that Joseph was here tonight, reading the girls favorite bedtimes stories. Sophia is four now and she wants her brother to see how high she can count and how many letters she knows. She is really sweating it! I have no idea why. It is not like those two are not thick as thieves already and there is pretty much nothing she can do to lose the shine. I am thrilled for all my other mom friends who's kids are home from school right now but I would be lying if I did not tell you that it did not make me a little sad. Laser beam travel, why can you not be very real right now?

4. That cool photo at the top of the post is my son, Raymond, all decked out for working outside and holding the most awesome ice lance of all time. The wood burning boiler out back gets these awesome icicles on it sunny days when the snow melts off and the freezes in the frigid overnight lows. We went from a three day stretch of glorious high temps in the low 40s and then back into the teens. The sun was shining and the snow was melting and we were desperately soaking up some sweet, sweet vitamin D. So Raymond pulled off this ice lance and asked me to photograph it. That is one lethal looking icicle but no worries, it stretched to the ground and could not have fallen and stabbed anyone. Raymond has some mad skills, buy the way. He can run the tractor and blower and clear snow like a stone cold pro which makes me super grateful because it snows here and we need to get out sometimes. Ever read The Shining? Yeah. Me, too.

5. I have new project for next year. I am working on a full length cookbook with photography. I am writing a book about family friendly Eastern Christian fasting and how to do it affordably and without pulling out your hair. I am planning on having a whole chapter devoted to kids who hate beans because, yeah, your life is way too hard already. There are no shortage of good vegan cookbooks out there but often, they have recipes designed for a one or two and are short on sack lunch ideas and planning ideas. Families, particularly large families, have real needs that are just not being met out there and I see it when people frantically ask me for recipes and tips. I did not start out wanting to write this book. I had all kinds of ideas about the things that I wanted to write instead! Yet, time after time people suggested it and when someone who is quite possibly world's most awesome Byzantine nun suggested not just once or twice but three times, I started to listen. So here I am embarking on a big real book and not like my smaller eBooks of before. It is scary, but a good scary. I think this is what I am supposed to be doing.

6. I need to order some science dissection specimens this week. Another home schooling family is going to come over and we are going to do a dissection day with several different kinds of specimens and all of our kids. It should be fun! Joseph will be home from college so there will at least one other big people around to balance out all these little people because I am honestly concerned about the ratios. I mean, a lot can go wrong with 13 kids in the house and a mess of scalpels. I am planning on employing a series of baby gates and the electronic babysitter, you know what I a saying? I know you do!

7. In case you have not noticed, "peepo" is pretty much my new favorite word. I use it constantly because it makes me happy. It is a corruption of the word "people" as so eloquently spoken by the tiny daughter of a crazy talented and insanely beautiful woman in my photography constructive criticism group. The group has been very good for photog skillz because these women throw down but less so for confidence in my appearance because we did a self portrait challenge and there are some freaking gorgeous women in my group. For real. I am very ordinary in all ways. They are not. But, in the end I stay because they are also awesome and I need to learn from their magic and mastery but probably because they are also awesome. Like way awesome. Anyway, I use "peepo" in any sentence I can get away using it. It will become a trend, I am telling you. I am throwing it out on Instagram and Facebook all the time and you know at some point some trend setter is gonna see it and take it for their very own. Just remember you heard it here second and from Amy's daughter first. Let's be honest about this, peepo.



I have decided to make a more regular habit of hanging out at Seven Quick Takes and you can, too. Just pop over HERE and see what all the action is about.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gaining some perspective...

Sometimes I show you a place in one season and then contrast it to another. I don't do this just for you. I do it for myself as well. This is such a schizophrenic place and it is so easy to forget what this place is like in the other seasons of the year.

I live by the beach. When we go down to play in the water in the summer, we can look out on the large bay with arms made of trees and rock that stretch out into the water on both sides. There is often no one or nothing out there. Sometimes on the hottest days, there are a few other families, but we can always walk just a few more feet down the sand to find our own spot. People who live on by those super crowded beaches on the east or the west coast cannot imagine having a beach to yourself. Sometimes, I wonder why we are so alone, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Oh, now I remember. Because for a large part of the year that same section of beach looks like that.

It makes people think twice about coming up here, even in the summer time. The beach is still beautiful, just a different kind of beautiful. Walking out onto the frozen lake and going closer and closer to the horizon that I watch from the beach all summer long is oddly satisfying. It is not the same thing though because as the winter progresses, we will be able to stand at the very edge of the ice lifts and look down on the ice below. Right now it has not been cold enough for that but it soon will be. Last winter we took some amazing photos of our oldest standing on the ice looking out on a 20 foot drop. He could have been in Antarctica. He is in finals right now so I am not going to bother him, but afterwards I sooo have to ask if he will let me share that photo with you. He is a young adult now and freaks out a little seeing his picture pop up on Google images when somebody Googles me.it  It makes sense and I respect that. Sometimes it gets to me a little, too.

There is a middle ground. We get a proper fall here. A really gorgeous fall. Fall is nothing like this in Colorado. Back home the temperatures swing wide and the leaves never stick around long enough to turn. We plunged into desperate cold and heavy and wet snow one day only to climb back into the 60s two days later. In Colorado, there is definitely winter and there is definitely summer and then there is a muddy middle ground where it could really be either. That is nothing like the Keweenaw. Here there are definitely four seasons though they are not the four seasons you think of: summer, fall, winter, and mud. Mud is a season here. When twenty-eight feet of snow melts, it turns into mud. The ground is soft and loose and will suck your boots down into it so you had best walk around with clenched toes and hold onto those muck boots.

I think all this change is good. We never become overly comfortable or take for granted anything. This is the season with no fruit. This is the season with no felling trees. This is the season with no hunting. This is the season with no maple tapping. This is the season of heating with wood and of moving and piling snow as far and high as we can to make room for what else comes. This is the season of waiting. In school, they always talked about the pioneers as having nothing to do during the winters.

They could not have been more wrong. Staying alive in winter is definitely something to do during winter. I have a different perspective on it now. We have it pretty easy. We have electricity, propane, and even the internet. Granted we are out here pretty far and need to be fairly self sufficient but electricity makes all those things easier. I am not boiling water in my kitchen to wash diapers and you know what? Amazon delivers here. There is no Walgreen's or Starbucks or GAP or any of those things that people in populated areas have but Amazon still comes here. That makes things so much easier for us.

Sitting in my house drinking tea I watched my oldest boy at  home pull out the tractor and clear snow while younger brothers used shovels and snow scoops to try to keep things cleared. We were listening to music and the baby was running around without socks. We were warm and cosy. I realized that people only think that we occupy a farmhouse on the old family homestead but what really occupy is a middle ground, a transition between old and new. There is a little bit of the Little House in here and a whole lot of trappings of suburban life. We don't have an off-grid homestead nor do we have the so called advantages of the city but that is okay. We have what we need, and what we do not have we do not need. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The first bite of cheese....

Saturday morning, I got up and started breakfast for the kids before I went down to the beach to look at the lake freeze. Lake Superior is the largest body of fresh water on the planet and it is something like being in a coastal town, in fact some people call it the third coast. The lake freezes in the shallows first and then the ice moves outward to the deeper water. As the waves splash up at the edge of the ice, it creates lifts and there will be a cliff that we can climb up and look out before it levels out to flat ice. In the deep winter, people like to ride deep snow machines out on the lake and they will go around the peninsula. We have had something of a winter heat wave with temperatures around 40F and bright sun shining and this means a shocking amount of melt in the last couple of days. This shot was taken as I walked out on the frozen lake as far as we felt comfortable walking. It is not to last, we are expecting a twenty degree shift in temperatures and something on the order of 6-8 inches in the coming storm. It is a reminder than January and February are coming and I am looking forward to the brutal cold for one reason: walking out (snowshoeing) to the edge of the lifts and looking out at the ice flows as far as I can see.


I am ready for real winter, probably because I am really reading for Christmas. Those of you who struggle to find a way to make Advent meaningful and distinct from Christmas, I got yo' answer. Parties during Advent? Gift exchanges? The answer is to give up on eating. We are getting close to the end of the Nativity Fast. No meat, no poultry, no fish, no eggs, no dairy, and no olive oil or wine except on weekends. It means that we bring our food everywhere we go. It means that there is the part of our joy we are keeping back for later. Any event that we attend at this time is less than celebratory; it becomes anticipatory. It is the little bright sadness as we wait for Christmas with bated breath with mingled joy and anticipation but mostly the anticipation. I am dreaming of cheese and coffee with cream and bacon and eggs for breakfast. No matter how bright and wonderful the season is, it is not Christmas yet. There is something missing. That something is bacon.

When Christmas comes, we will have mozzarella and prosciutto and Italian sodas and sparkling wine. We will shuffle home from services and eat without taking off our coats. In that first moment of Christmas, in those hungry bites, we will know deep in our bellies that it is truly Christmas. Christ is truly born! Fasting is a trial, it is so, so difficult but I wish I could share with you the inexplicable joy that a small bite of cheese can bring! You can't know it unless you fasted with us. As odd as it sounds, I wish you fasting during this season of preparation. I wish you to know deprivation now so that when Christmas morning comes, you can truly know blessing and feels its warmth in your belly. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

7Qt about pudding cups, burning suns and why the UP is so dang cold...

1. First things first. What is with trolls? They are like puppies with a Barbie doll they should not have.  They just run around and around and won't stop! I am lately being plagued by someone with way too much to complain about and somehow they want me to know about it. This person is singling out individual churches and pastors around the country and calling them out in my comments. News for you troll: I am just not that famous. Nobody is going to read all my comment to see what you have to say about random churches. Really. Just stop. I hate seeing that you are leaving comments because I just have to dump them in my spam folder and I would really just not have to worry about you. Did you notice I have eleven kids? Did you notice that I home school? There are a lot of things I would like to be doing during the day and dealing with your emotional baggage is just not on that list. You might want to consider taking up a hobby like macrame or something. You know, something productive.

2. This has been a pretty good week weather wise. Today it was 28F out there! And not much snow in the last few days. That is pretty cool. We started out December with highs in like, no degrees, so I am super happy about this. We have also had a surprising amount of sun which is great because the Happy Light I bought at Costco died pretty much the day after we opened it. I am going to email the company and ask them just what they can do about it. It is kind of outside the real of possibilities to make a 600 mile round trip to return it and as soon as it was plugged in and working Raymond burned the box with the burnable garbage. So. Yeah. I have never bought something at Costco that they didn't stand behind but I am kinda far from them now so I am not sure what they will do. Whatever it is, I need me a Happy Light. It is so dark here in the winter that we need to leave the lights on during the day and if we can start the morning off with some light, it pretty much makes the morning not suck.

3. Kinda related to number two, but roll with me here. I must remember to take Captain Awesome (my camera's new nickname) everywhere with me. Lately, we have a had freezing fog and it sticks to the trees and glazes them with the most amazing chunky frost. They look like the most amazing white aluminum Christmas trees. This afternoon I went grocery shopping and I wanted to pull over and photograph it but I had left the good Cap't at home. Insert sad face here. So, tomorrow I need to rush out and get photos of it for you. And my mom. Because I guess I am just not terrifying her with enough snow photos. So, while it has been warm and sunny, clearly not above freezing, which is good because I need that shot!

4. Now for something yucky. We think that our pressure tank for the well might be broken. This would require repair. Dang. At the end of April, the pump died in the well and we were without water. So not fun. It was all too Little House in here. If you missed that post, you can read it HERE. So the thought of doing more well work, has me, well, worked up. I am seriously hoping for the best but Ben is pretty much convinced. The water is sloshing in the pressure tank and sputters as it comes out. He has been keeping an eye on it lately while I have been pretending it is all normal. Ben thinks it is the bladder in it because of reasons that involve thinking about it, which I admittedly do not do. Since everything in the house was fixed all at once, it makes sense that it will all start to fail all at once. Yeah.
My name is Melissa and I call Ice Planet Hoth my home.
5. We had a dinner and game night with a local family and it was so much fun! I think I need to get our own Settlers of Catan game. Everybody loved it. The live about 14 miles away, which is really not all that far, only twice as far as it is the the state highway. This is totally doable. While we were working out plans, I told the mom that I might double up on trips and do the fresh food grocery run on the same day. She literally flinched, "Oohh! What if your things freeze! Bring a cooler!" Yes. Because here, we bring coolers to protect our food from freezing. How crazy? By the way, the kids had bananas for a snack and they got left in the van and froze solid. You could have used them a nightstick. But that's cool. You can just pop those suckers in the freezer and pull them out later to thaw for banana bread and banana pudding. Say, whaaaat? You need some recipes. Yo, I hear you. First up, my fast friendly vegan banana bread ; then you simply must try my raw banana pudding.

6. Now for an admission: I freaking hate Facebook recipes. Whew. Now that it is out in the open, I feel better. They are all too often crappy combos of processed food with completely baldfaced lie names like "Two Ingredient Coffee Creamer" which is true if by two, you mean two hundred because have you even flipping looked at the ingredients in vanilla instant pudding?!? Really? Really? Or the darling of my local area, two ingredient truffles made with Oreo cookies and cream cheese. Please stop. Please. Now. Maybe it is me, but who finds this appealing? I just cannot. I will only eat that nonsense if forced. We were at a potluck event recently and someone brought eclairs. She said eclair, what she meant was alternating pile of graham crackers and vanilla instant pudding with bottled chocolate sauce over the top. I said that I was good, that I didn't need any. The first thing somebody asked was if I am dieting. Well. No. Look at me? Do I look like I diet? I know I am going to catch heat for this but I never eat that stuff. Come on over. Look in my cupboards and freezer. No Jello. No canned soup. No instant soup mixes. No canned veggies. No pudding mixes. No frozen pie crusts. No non-dairy instant topping. I (kind of but not really) live in the mid-west now and I have come to the conclusion that there are just some regions that should not be allowed to produce food for human consumption except by permit. I am totally gonna catch heat for this. But I stand by it. So please, do not share these to my page unless it is to be funny. If you think I will make these foods, you and I need to talk. Now. Outside. I will get my shovel.

The oldest will be home from college on the 22nd! Commence count down!
7. My insistence that things are not food has totally gotten in me in trouble before. I went shopping after a c-section once and brought my oldest son along as my sherpa. He likes to eat on (a near constant) occasion so he really should not have come but he did. It was that or starve. I have been known to horrify a complete stranger a time or two so this was not my first time at the rodeo, by the way. If you have not been privy to the embarrassment that is knowing me, check this out HERE. Anywho. We were standing in line and I was talking to him about the importance of learning how to actually cook, that it is not necessarily more time intensive or expensive (boil in the bag brown rice takes the SAME AMOUNT OF TIME, and oh, costs TWICE AS MUCH AS ORGANIC REGULAR) and that I value his health. I also value my children developing refined palates and don't want them to crave pudding cups. Anyway, I talked about the failing that is the American grocery store and it's stock pile of canned soups, canned "wham" biscuits, and frozen hashbrown products. I proceeded to tell him that I have standards, standards I tell you. I will not even accept contracts to develop recipes for crap like cream o'barf. After everything was on the conveyor belt, I could feel the power of someone boring holes into my head with eyes which held the power of a thousand burning suns. I knew then. I knew before I turned around. When I finally took that deep breath and looked, she had a cart piled as high as could be with canned soup, wham biscuits, frozen hash browns, and pudding cups. The hate that poor woman has for me is hanging in space and blocking the warmth of the sun over me to this day. Don't stand too close. She might miss me and get you instead.

Did I say seven QUICK takes? Hmm. Appears I have lied. Are you
horrified? Get in line! But first stop over at the rest of the link up HERE!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The moon and the stars...

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite fairy tales was about a princess who asked her doting father to give her the moon. She was not trying to be greedy, but it was so beautiful, she just wanted to hold it in her hands. Her father loved her desperately, so he waited for the new moon and then gave her a beautiful medallion shaped like the moon and quietly dreaded the return of the moon. When it did come back, as it always would, he tried to explain. She told him not to worry, that the moon must be something like a fingernail growing out. When my husband and I were dating, my baby sister was still pretty young and she and I used to talk about fairy tales a great deal. My soon-to-be-husband was listening.

Then came the Christmas right before we were married. We were knee-deep in the stressful throws of planning a wedding with family far flung and he a recent convert whose family was still very confused about what he was doing now and what a wedding would look like in his new religion. It was all so difficult and there were a more than a few arguments over what each family deeply wanted. I halfheartedly joked about just running away before the big day and getting married somewhere without any of the drama. Ben suggested we go downtown and walk the mall. There were all kinds of cute shops and we didn't have a dime to spend (we were very young and in school) but it doesn't cost anything to just walk the 16th Street Mall in Denver and absorb the sights and sounds. We stopped at a cute little pop-up Christmas shop that was there every season. I stopped and looked at the gorgeous ornaments that were so costly. I dreamed of beautiful Christmas trees draped with all these expensive, tasteful ornaments feeling a bit sad that we could not have these kinds of things. I think that I was really sad about the stress of the wedding nonsense but it was being misdirected.

There was a beautiful mother of pearl tree star, it was not terribly expensive, but it glowed like it was full of diamonds because of a strand of tree lights inside. I could not take my eyes off it. I wanted that star. I did not say it because we had agreed not to spend anything but I wanted it so much. Ben looked at the star and took it down.

"We should buy this star. We should buy it right now. This can be our first Christmas decoration." He looked at me with that sweet, boyish look that melts my heart to this day. My heart jumped, I wanted it terribly, but we should not buy it. It was not responsible.

I looked at him, "No. We agreed to not to buy anything."

He smiled again, "I have just enough in my pocket, if we don't get coffee on the way back. We should get this. I can't give you the moon but I can give you this star. Someday, you can tell our children that before we were married, I gave you a star." That smile is and was dangerous.

He did buy the star and it is my most prized possession. Every Christmas we carefully unwrap it and all the kids gasp and oooh and ahhh over it. They all know that the Christmas before we were married, their Daddy gave me a star and it made their Momma cry. They tell other people about our mother of pearl Christmas star and when we bought it. It is simple, plain almost, but it carries inside it so much love and so many Christmases of children huddled under the tree playing with plastic Nativity Scene figures. We were once two very young people in love and now we are a family of thirteen. He bought the star that day for that young couple so it could belong to that comfortably older couple with all those children. He gave me more than the moon. He gave me a mother of pearl Christmas tree star.
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