Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My house smells amazing. Yours could, too!

It's almost been a century since I last blogged. I extend many deepest apologies and a delicious crockpot apple butter recipe to my three loyal readers.

I always have big plans with my blog that I can never live up to but maybe when I'm an empty-nester I will become an avid blogger and then, theoretically, I will also have wisdom and life experience to bring to my writing. Bonus! Right now it's hard to balance all the things I want to do and learn and be and sync them with my schedule--three kids, third trimester pregnancy, husband in law school, etc. Excuses, excuses, I know.

I have, like usual, bitten off more than I can chew or rather, picked more than I can chew. I have pounds of peaches and apples. I actually just finished making raisins and fruit juice concentrate from Concord grapes. The bounty of summer is too irresistable, especially when it comes in the form of free picking. I am thankful for so many friends who have fruit bearing trees, or have the green thumb in the garden that I lack (also on the list of things to learn). Since I picked more than I can chew before the fruit flies devour it, I decided to can. I mean, why not? I have nothing else going on...oh wait, see life responsibilities mentioned above. I think I may need psychological help for my endless plate piling ways but since that will never happen, a friend and I tackled apple pie filling yesterday and I came home with 6 quarts. Yum.

But, I've still got a load of peaches and apples left. Don't worry, I 've got plans for them. I'm following a recipe for the canned peaches and pie filling and then freezing the rest for smoothies. If I can get the stinking peels off the peaches, I'll also try to make peach honey just for kicks and giggles. Apple butter is currently stewing in my crockpot from a family recipe which I'm happily sharing below because it's delicious and easy and makes your house smell so divine.  Here's the icing on the cake--the jars seal themselves without a waterbath and in my un-air conditioned basement, with summer still lingering, and my little butternut squash sized incubator keeping my temperature 10 degrees higher than everyone elses, that is a match made in heaven.

Speaking of heaven, here's the impossibly easy apple butter recipe. The most time consuming part is chopping the apples which I'm not even peeling this time. So there.

I suggest you sit down with a friend while you chop (makes it more fun) and make the summer last a little into Fall or usher Fall in a little early with this scrumptiously spicy apple butter--whatever you need. It's just about perfect for anything--on biscuits, toast, in a PBJ, mixed into cake or any other idea that crosses your mind.

Mama's Slow Cooked Apple Butter 
Makes 3-4 pint jars but it depends on how exact you are with your apples!

4 quarts apples, peeled and chopped (golden and gala are suggested but use whatever you have or picked from your friend's tree!)
2 3/4 cups brown sugar
2 3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt

Pour prepared apples into slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients. Drizzle over apples.

Cover and cook on high for 3 hours, stirring well with a large spoon once every hour or so. Or, just when you think of it. Reduce heat to low, and cook 10-12 hours until butter becomes thick and dark in color.  Stir occasionally with strong wire wisk for smooth butter. Pour into hot, sterilized jars (you can keep your jars hot in the oven), wipe off jar rims with clean cloth, apply lids and rings and cover with a towel. The heat from the apple butter will seal the jars as they cool. Yessssss! (You'll know they've sealed when you touch the top and find it's flat and doesn't give at all when you push down on it. If some don't seal, just refrigerate and eat soon! Darn...)

**If you want a smoother apple butter, puree in your blender, food process or use a hand immersion blender if you're lucky to have one of those (I want one!). You will need to pour back in the crockpot to thicken further, and heat back up for the proper seal.  Then, open and eat and share at will.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Life is so....

....fragile: delicate, beautiful, tender and easily broken.

It comes and goes faster than lash touches lash. 

There's nothing like the death of a life to remind us of it's beautiful delicacy. We look back to treasure what we took for granted when it was displayed, almost forgotten, in it's glass case. 

Recently, another little one has left this world before it ever left it's mother's womb and I am reminded of the aftermath of loss. Having been there, I know, at least for me, what it was like. The numbness, the pain, the questions, the lids full of tears and the heart torn in two.

Miscarriage. The word alone seems to insinuate fault in the carrier. But we all know, that little life, it's not in our hands. So, when your friend, sister or acquaintance loses their baby early, what do you do? How can you help them heal? I have been thinking on this post for a while and here's my list of what was helpful to me as I was blessed with amazing friends and family who swooped in to love on me in my time of tragedy.

1. Pray for them. Never underestimate the blessing of this unseen task.  Pray for healing on multiple levels, grace to keep hoping in the midst of unexplainable tragedy, surreal joy and thanksgiving even in this kind of circumstance.

2. Bring an iron-rich meal.  It's possible there was significant blood loss for the mom. Making an iron-rich meal for them to help with energy and to build back up their iron stores. Iron washed down with Vitamin C makes for the perfect absorption. Spaghetti with meat sauce is easy, comforting and brimming with iron and vitamin C,  especially if you throw some sauteed greens in the mix.

3. Offer to care for her children. Pick them up and bring them home. Feed as needed. 

4. Share your story, if you have one. So often miscarriage is kept mute. We all know burdens are lightened when shared. I was so surprised to learn how many women around me had experienced the early loss of a child. Their empathy and words of wisdom about what the coming days held was invaluable to me.

5. Do their laundry. The grind doesn't pause in loss and if there are other children in the family, you can be sure the load of laundry is building. Pick up the laundry and bring it back---clean and folded. Bliss for any mom at any time, right?!?!

6. Be in touch. Call, email or send them a note. They may not respond but it helps to know that others are thinking of you and mourning with you. It confirms that there was a real loss,  and a real reason to grieve.

How do you help your sister ('cause we're all sisters, whether by blood or not...) in their time of need?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Ode to January & a Welcome to the New Year

Why, hello there, January. You arrived typically as you always do--right after the tornado of the Christmas season. Thanks for being predictable and undemanding. There's comfort in those qualities.

I'll be honest, 2011 was a challenging year. I'm more than happy to welcome in 2012. There's just something about the change of the year that offers so much hope for other things. You're right. It's just a culturally ingrained phenomena but all the same...

....there's change a 'comin'.

For me. For you. For all us.

And...(shocking statement coming; I mean, you might want to sit down) I've got plans.

I plan to be a more attentive, intentional and joyful mother.

I plan to be a more prayerful and supportive wife.

I plan to blog more. (pray for me!)

I plan to be on my computer less. (this is a challenging when you consider my 'blog more plan'...)

I plan to listen better.

I plan to call my mom and dad more regularly. (love you guys!)

I plan to fail and keep going.

How do you handle the New Year?

Happy February's Eve,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Thankful Fall

All over town, the streets are on fire with my favorite colors: golden-yellow, rusty pumpkin-orange, and deep, velvety red. It seems to happen overnight. One day you're enjoying perfect picnic temperatures and the next morning, you awake to cooler days highlighted by breathtaking new hues.

Fall Leaves
Photo: Nico Potgieter

Someone chose to create the seasons and to color the world with beauty in the midst of death. As the leaves die, they shine forth in their most brilliant state. It's a finale, an encore, to the life they lived. I am reminded of God as a masterful creator as the season switches and I let loose awe-inspired thanks.

Fall Leaves

That same masterful designer also created this world with sugar. And spice. And others things nice. Namely, cakey pumpkin cookies with pumpkin-maple-spice frosting. Be thankful in EVERY circumstance. Check!

Pumpkin Cookies

Pumpkin Spice Cookies
Note: Adapted from a recipe proudly found by husband in the Houston Chronicle.

Makes about 24.

For the cookies:
2 cups flour (white whole wheat works beautifully if you desire to avoid refined white flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I always prefer a little more spice in my baking!)
1/2 cup of butter/coconut oil (I tend to use coconut oil)
1 cup brown sugar (no apologies)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the icing:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp of pumpkin puree
1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp vanilla
About 4 cups of powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.
In a second bowl, combine butter/coconut oil & brown sugar. Use an electric mixer to beat until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla; mix until well combined.

Add half dry ingredients and mix well. Add other half and mix again.

Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets in 1 tbsp mounds, arranging them two inches apart. Bake for 14 minutes or until lightly browned at the edges. Midway through baking, rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back.

While the cookies bake, in a medium bowl combine the butter and maple syrup. Use an electric mixer to beat until smooth. Add pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla. Mix well.

Add powdered sugar and mix well. Set aside.

Once the cookies have baked, cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, frost and decorate as desired.

Refrigerate cookies in an airtight container and allow them to come to room temp before serving.

For us, Fall is made complete with these cookies. I make them every year and that means something for this always-baking-something-new cook. By special request, I am making this crowd and family-pleasing treat available to whoever reads. So, go, whip up this healthier (depending on the flours and fats you use) scrumptious sweet in celebration of the One who created Fall.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Baby Adam

We're expecting a new friend to enter the world today. I announced to my kids at breakfast that our dear friend Julie is about to lose her belly and gain a sweet bundle for her arms. We are all SO excited to share their joy!

And, then, shortly after breakfast, while Ethan and Meira were drawing at the table, Ethan alerted me to his artistry. It was a momma-sized hand with a palm-sized creature whose body was without much form but it had little limbs with fingers and toes. It had a small eye and the very beginnings of a mouth. He asked, "Momma, what was the name of the little boy you were going to have?" With grief swelling in my throat and eyelids ready to pour out saltiness, I managed to breathe out "Adam." It wasn't the official name. We never actually gave him one. We talked about it. I'd always loved the spanish name Adan which is is translated as Adam in English. Adam means "of the earth." It seemed fitting. 

Jolted out of my flashback, Ethan asks innocently "How do you spell that?" He wants to write it down, by the picture he drew of his little brother. He wants a name for his brother. That's what we do---name life. 

And, in naming we give him a place in our life and a way to remember. So, today, when new life miraculously bursts forth for a friend, we remember our Adam and give thanks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another grey day

It's another grey day in Denver today. Outside my door and inside my heart.

However, if I am honest, it's not just the cloud cover causing a gloominess. I've been feeling it everyday since the help left (both lovely parents and my sister! came to bring comfort, and helping hands).

The greying of my day happens at about the same times. Morning and night.

Dropping off my oldest two kids at school triggers the grief to well up in my chest and tears stream slowly down my cheeks as I drive away. It's just so quiet. And, the quiet is what kills me. Instead of my usual busyness...

My thoughts wander and...

I feel listless and lost. 

I start thinking.

I start feeling the loss. Then, the sadness and guilt and pain swirl all together in a mess of grief. 

It also happens at night. My mind flashes back to remember scenes that I both want to move on from and never forget. It's the quiet, the stillness that brings me to remember...

The spots on the cold tile where I fainted from blood loss after the baby was born.

Gazing at him after I rescued him from the commode where he first encountered life outside my womb.

The cold, dark ground dug out for his earthly home. It feels so wrong for him to be in the cold ground instead of my warm arms.

And questions plague my mind.

How can a mother bury a child? 

What if I breathed in an essential oil that sent me into preterm labor?

What if he couldn't get enough oxygen because I was too high in the sky on my way to and from Europe?

How can so much grief come from knowing so short a life? 

What if I had taken prenatal pills?

And, then, it all falls to pieces as I remember that every single, tiny, invisible hair on his nickel sized head was numbered. 

None of the loss, or the trauma happened outside the providence of good God who loves me. His love is not a saccharin coated pill where life becomes all butterflies in green, blooming fields. It's a love wrought in pain, and manifesting beauty. Beauty that a way has been made for man to know God. And the knowing Him in His sufferings results in conforming to His image for His glory and man's good. 

And, my little man is already experiencing the glories of God in a way I haven't. He has no tears, no pain, and no imperfections. He is not in the ground. He's in the best arms there are--the Everlasting ones.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Today, on this grayish day, I miss all the little things I never got to go through with you, my little one.

"Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency."
Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are)

I miss feeling your first tiny kicks and wondering if it was you or my latte. 

I miss wondering about what a fourth combination of Arbuckle-ness might look like.

I miss watching the rounding of my swelling middle.

I miss smiling as Daddy whispers sweetness through my belly to your little ears.

I miss just knowing that I am carrying a mighty miracle inside my own body. 

Mostly, I miss your little face, which I had the gift, the pleasure of knowing ever so briefly.

"Christian hands never clasp and He doesn't give gifts for gain because a gift can never stop being a gift - it is always meant to be given."

Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are)