Thursday, November 4, 2010

Green Tomato Pickles

If you can't give them away, and they don't ripen, and you've eaten all the fried green tomatoes you care to, what else is there to do but pickle the green tomatoes?

So I Googled 'pickled green tomatoes' and made a jar based on the following recipe.  Similar to the refrigerator dill pickles I've made for several years, these were easy and surprisingly tasty.  And they don't have that green tomato taste that I really don't care for!  They just taste like - pickles!

Pickled Green Tomatoes

2 pounds green tomatoes, about 4 or 5, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno chile, stems removed, cut in half lengthwise
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon dill seed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon canning salt

2 wide-mouth pint jars or 1 wide mouth quart jar, sterilized

Evenly distribute the sliced green tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, cumin seeds, peppercorns, celery seed, dill seed and garlic in jars. In a saucepan, bring to a boil, the vinegar, water and salt. Pour the boiling vinegar mixture into the jars leaving a bit of headspace. Cover with lid and fasten with rings. Allow to cool and refrigerate. They will be ready after 4 hours and will last for 1 month in the refrigerator.

Alternatively, you can place the covered jars in a canning pot or stockpot, cover the jars with water, bring to a boil and then cook on high for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and then allow to cool. These jars will not require refrigeration until after opening.

After the success of the first jar, I decided to can some for more long term preservation.  A successful venture, except that the half pint jars really only used one small tomato each - not much help in the quest to deal with the bounty.  Many of the others have actually ripened, so I made still another batch of tomato sauce for the freezer last weekend.  A few tomatoes succumbed to decay and were tossed into the compost bucket.  We're down to one tray of green tomatoes. I'm almost finished with the garden for this season - ready to turn to the blessing of indoor domestic pursuits for the cold weather. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

They’re not my favorite vegetable, but when you have three large trays full of green tomatoes, picked in fear of a frost, and it’s the end of the season, and you hate to waste the food you’ve so carefully grown, you consider them a blessing. I posted a note about the green veggies on Facebook and one coworker offered to take some off my hands – once I took some to her, a couple others wanted some too. Then I really went to town on the vines, pulling them down off the fence to discard for the winter, and found another large bowl full. So I pretty much still have three trays of green tomatoes even though I made my brother take some too.

My hope is that many of them will ripen, and that the coworkers might want a few more (bags). The rest will likely end up in the compost pile. It’s been a good year for tomatoes I guess – my six plants grew well over my head – I needed to use a step ladder to tie them up to the fence and then reversed the process when I cleaned things up on Saturday. I wish I could remember what variety they were as they were so productive – somehow in my gardening efforts of spring I failed to either hang onto the tag or record the genus and species!

I have some strong memories of helping Mom can tomatoes grown in the backyard on Standart Avenue. Apparently, there used to be chickens back there, and the garden was quite productive. I was frequently sentenced, or so it seemed at the time, to weed a row or two of green beans. One of my all time favorite vegetables, I remember taking the colander out to pick the beans, or cut Swiss Chard for dinner. At the end of summer, the extra tomatoes lined the glassed in back porch, ripening on the windowsills. We dipped the tomatoes into hot water and then plunged them into cold water to get the skins to loosen – we felt really fortunate to have a garbage disposal, as that made the slippery, messy job of cleaning up so much easier.  There's nothing more satisfying than hearing the jar lids seal after boiling them in the canner.

My Dad read my Facebook posting (I still find it hard to believe he friended me - but he’s always been a somewhat early adopter of all things technological) and responded with the following about green tomatoes:
As a child; Don’t you remember having fried green ‘maters at home?
Dipped in egg, flour, salt and pepper, fried in hot grease until golden brown – favorite of your Grandfather Peck and mine.
On Grant Ave; We had some how gotten a whole bunch of green tomatoes at the end of the season. We wrapped individual tomatoes in newspaper and put them up in the attic and they ripened…. Didn’t taste like fresh but we enjoyed for quite a long time.
I imagine the tomatoes ripening in the attic on Grant Ave. were a great blessing to my folks at the time. We had only recently moved here and they were on a strict enough budget that we didn’t have a telephone, relying on the pay phone down at the corner, or the landlord’s phone for important incoming calls. Our family lived on a policy of “Eat what’s on your plate,” and Dad was known to say, more than a few times, “It’s not what you like in this world that makes you fat, it’s what you get.” A pragmatic approach to food and life.

Guess I’ll go fry some more green tomatoes - yesterday's blessing, and tomorrow's and the next day's!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Free on the Inside

Brother Victor died last Tuesday night, apparently after suffering a seizure. He was a gentle, somewhat quiet man who had been at the Fully Alive Bible Study at the Auburn Correctional Facility as long as I have been attending. The thing I most remember about him was his faithful service as the person who got water in a pitcher and poured it for each guest and man in the chapel. It was a much needed relief in the often hot, humid worship space. The heat in the chapel during the summer has been nearly unbearable at times - and even occasionally in winter, extraordinarily overheated and warm.

What a sad place to end your life – in prison. Yet what a joyous welcome Victor must have had coming into the presence of Jesus our Savior and friend!

I often think of the distribution of water as one of the ways the men can minister to us, rather than always being on the receiving end of our presence for prayer, praise and study. Sometimes we've seen a more mature Christian man directing a newer one in this act of service.

So last night and this evening, when I have another scrapbook project I want to be working on, I'm creating a scrapbooked scripture card to add to my collection that sits beside my prayer chair.  I've used songs and pictures and occassional stories to illustrate the meaning certain scripture has for me.  Interestingly, several have been created in response to experiences worshiping and studying with the men in the prison chapel.  It's holy ground for me, and I've learned so much from these incarcerated men, about how they have found freedom on the inside with Jesus Christ.

The scripture I'm using is Matthew 25:37&40.  There's lots of good stuff in that chapter but these verses speak to me of Victor's service -

"Lord, when did we see you...thirsty and give you something to drink?"  The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of hte least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What do You do With a Bathtub Full of Water?

I feel a little like I imagine the Gulf Coast residents feel after preparations for a hurricane that doesn’t materialize.

The city had a major leak in a 90 year old water pipe that required repair. They issued warnings that water service would be disrupted overnight and if the simple fix didn’t work it would require shutting off the water entirely and then a boil water advisory for a couple of days. “Stock up on bottled water and fill your bathtub with water for toilet flushing.” I used our camping jug to collect 3 gallons of drinking water in the kitchen and filled the tub at lunchtime. When I got home from work, I was surprised to find the tub empty – obviously the drain stopper wasn’t working, so I called Paul who bought a new one on his way home from work and we repeated the ‘fill the tub’ process. We made sure to run the dishwasher, set up the coffee pot, and took showers before we went to bed.

This morning, I checked online (amazing what you can find on the internet!) and learned from a 3:30 am press release the repair was successful – not only could I flush the toilet, I could also safely drink the water. Yesterday at work my coworkers were a mix of half those who hadn’t a clue about the situation, and half who were panicking and freaked out, buying up cases of water and fretting about possibly not taking a shower before work. (I can identify with the shower issue, though I’ll happily do a sponge bath as long as I can wash my hair each morning. I once washed it in a frigid lake – oblivious to the hazards of discharging all that soap into the environment – and have used more than a couple mop sinks in church basements while on weekend retreats.)

One of my earliest blogs was The Blessing of Running Water – October 9, 2009. I’ve cheerfully paid my water bill ever since then, often taking the chance to tell the clerk or the ladies staffing the Help Desk at City Hall about my experience carrying water in the Dominican Republic.

In the wake of the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, for which a lot of New Orleans residents didn’t evacuate but later wished they had, I wonder just how many times you get warned about something like a hurricane or potential water shut off, and then simply ignore it. It didn’t take all that long to prepare for our water situation (an extra trip to the store, and a bit of planning on our part before bedtime.) We are so blessed with basic necessities like plenty of running water and we take it so much for granted until it might not be there.

Now what am I going to do with a tub full of water? Seems a waste to just pull the plug!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Zinnias are a blessing that keep turning up in my life. My most profound memory of them is years ago, the first time I served on a team to lead a three day retreat inside the prison. One of the guys, Ronald, reached over and gently touched the scarlet zinnia in the vase at the table. He looked at me and asked, “Are these real?” I wondered how long it had been since this man, incarcerate within high stone walls, had seen a fresh flower. We just held the retreat again a couple weeks ago, and another man seemed especially appreciative of the flowers. For years, a farmer friend of one of our team members has grown fields of zinnias and offers us all we want for the retreat. A bit of sacrificial love, shown to prisoners he’ll never meet.
Last summer, while helping to build a house in the Dominican Republic for a family, I saw some beautiful tropical flowers, but was most amazed at the zinnias growing near “our” house – along a rusting barbed wire fence. In a haunting way, they were beautiful with the shadow of barbed wire against the stucco house, .

Early this spring when I decided to start some seeds indoors for my garden – something I had never done before – among the seeds I chose were zinnias. Much to my amazement, they sprouted and I transplanted the plants near the fronts of two of the raised beds. They’ve done extraordinarily well – I’ve cut numerous bunches, which only encourages branching and more flowers. I expect to have zinnias until the frost unless the deer eat them.  Some of the plants are protected with a chicken wire cage, but the other bunch, in front of the tomatoes which have grown over my head against the back fence, are not covered.  I guess if I had a choice I'd tell the deer to eat those zinnias and leave my veggies alone!

My mother-in-law (see the “Gordon, Stop the Car!” entry on 6/21/10) has been painting flowers for weeks, in preparation for a sale at church. We made packaged sets of flower notecards, and my brother-in-law matted some of the paintings for sale. Paul helped set up a canopy tent and sat with her during the sale, which was quite successful. Apparently she’s turning in more than $200 to support her church. I bought one of her paintings – of zinnias!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Man on the Floor!

Today's blessing has been eavesdropping on the alumni of the Houghton College.  Because I acquired my degree by taking part in the college's adult degree completion program, I did not have the typical Houghton experience.  I didn't live on campus and did not attend traditional classes.  I do believe I have an equivalent degree - our courses were taught by Houghton professors, and while they were kind to us as non-traditional students, they demanded a high level of participation and learning, nonetheless.

So back to eavesdropping.  I have heard, more times than I can count, comments about men being in the dorms.  It started last night when an older man walked by the room, glanced in our open door and struck up a conversation.  After he left, Heather looked at me and said, "I half expected him to announce, 'Man on the floor!' " 

The college has always maintained separate housing for men and women, and although I don't know what the policy was when the class of 1960 was here (they are celebrating their 50th reunion!), when Heather was a student ten years ago, there were strict rules against men being in the women's dorms, except on moving in day and during scheduled "open house" hours.  (When the doors remained open, and I think I heard you had to have at least one foot on the floor at all times or some such restriction as to position with one's male guest.)  As the parent of a freshman woman, I was decidedly pleased that my daughter was not going to a place where men and women were suite mates - some separation is healthy, I believe.

I remember always being amused when our young teenage son Jason would fling open the door and announce in his pre adolescent voice, "Man on the floor!" when going to pick up his sister for breaks.  He was just a little brother!  No co-ed dashing to the shower would want to be seen, even by a little brother, I suppose.

But today, I've heard numerous comments about the propriety of men being in the women's dorm buildings from the other alumni gathered here, even if they are sharing a room with their wives! Old habits die hard, they say, and Houghton grads are enjoying their reunions, recalling life as a student and remarking on differences as returning alumni.

It Is Well With My Soul

Last night I had a little God bumps moment with my daughter and other alumni of Houghton College.  We are attending Alumni Weekend - she graduated in 2000, and I graduated in 2005 through the college's adult degree completion program.  We were at the village church at a hymn sing which was accompanied most grandly on the piano by an alumnus of the college, with selections by a brass group, which was organized by another alumnus - and many members of his family.  (I did wonder what would happen in that family if one were interested in woodwinds - they had multiple trumpets, trombones, and horns!) 

We sang along through numerous hymns - and it was lovely.  Then we got to the phrase "The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend."  Tears welled up in my eyes as I pictured the glorious time when all the saints will be reunited in heaven with our Lord. I reached over to hug Heather's shoulders, and saw that she, too, was wiping tears from her eyes.

Only at alumni weekend at a place like Houghton College could so many graduates be singing hymns and be so happy about it!  It surely wouldn't occur at many other institutions.  What a blessing Houghton was to our daughter, and then to me!

Over the years, hymns and praise songs have often prompted tears.  I remember singing "Here I Am, Lord" at church when Heather was a freshman at Houghton, and it happened to me that Sunday morning.  That was the title of her high school English class autobiography project - I had typed it for her, and each chapter was titled by a different hymn.  She had used it as an example of her best writing for application to the college's inaugural First Year Honors Program, and now she's been reunited with two of the young women with whom she studied in London during the spring of her freshman year. 

During the closing of a Walk to Emmaus weekend where my mother was serving on team, I stood beside my father, singing "Because He Lives," I cried so hard then that he had to give me his hankie to mop up.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gordon, Stop the Car!

"Gordon, stop the car!"  I was traveling with Paul's family to their camp in the edge of the Adirondack Mountains, and was startled when Barbara demanded that his father pull over.  My future mother-in-law (though I didn't know it at the time) was so insistent that I thought someone was sick or there was some other emergency.  All she wanted was for him to pick some flowers she saw growing along the roadside so she could paint them later.  I was a little surprised that he accomodated the request!

Fast forward 35 plus years and yesterday, I asked (demanded?) Paul to steer the canoe a little closer to the edge of the waterway so  I could take pictures of some pretty iris-like flowers.  I sounded a little like my mother-in-law, only I don't paint - I scrapbook!  Nearly every time we go canoeing, I take the camera and probably spend more time than he thinks is necessary, taking pictures of wildflowers and wildlife.  I'm still trying to get a close up of a Great Blue Heron.

Yesterday's blessing was our first canoe outing of the year - we're a little late carving out the time this year to take to the water.  We travelled near Tully to Labrador Pond  - a picturesque pond nestled between two steep hillsides that create quite the wind tunnel.  Each time we go there, it seems we fight at least some breeze as we're heading north.  It's always a relief to turn south, and just drift back to the launch area. 

I like this canoe spot - it meets my two main criteria for canoeing:
  • We can drive the car nearly to the water's edge so I don't need to help carry the boat very far to launch it.  At 4'10", it's about all I can manage to get it out of the garage and on top of the Subaru and get it off without dropping it, keeping in mind we need to reverse the process after canoeing.  I don't want to over do the exercise aspect of canoeing by needing to portage the thing from the car to the water!
  • Labrador Pond has a defined area for canoing - I like rivers that meander or small ponds like this one.  My most dreaded canoe place is the middle of one of the Finger Lakes - not much to see (maybe it's that there's not much to photograph!) and if a wind picks up, I have to battle too hard to help move the boat.  Admitedly, Paul does most of the work on these outings, but I try to do my part. 
Partway through our trip yesterday, I leaned out over the bow, trying to capture the yellow water lilies as we drift by. I've attached the camera to a retractable cord on my life jacket so if it goes for a swim I can fish it out and hopefully save the memory card.  The lilies have a peculiar red shape inside the yellow petals - like flowers you'd see on the Wizard of Oz!  I don't quite get the centers on the camera this trip - so next time we go, Paul had better be prepared to hear me ask him to steer the canoe a little closer to them one more time. 

I sound like my mother-in-law, and he's accomodating like his father.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Smuckers, Move Over!

I made strawberry jam this week, and I don't think there are many sounds more satisfying than the "doink" of jar lids popping after you've canned something.  It didn't happen immediately - I was washing things up and finally heard one.  All the rest were sealed by bedtime except one, which did its thing by morning - so we didn't have to eat that jar right away.  The extra that wouldn't fit in the jars is in a bowl in the refrigerator - delicious on my morning toast!

I can't remember the last time we made strawberry jam - we did some blueberry a couple years ago.  I had forgotten how much effort it seems to be for 8- 8 ounce jars.  Or how much it costs!  This home cooking project is not saving money - berries seem pricey this year at 2 quarts for $4.50, pectin for $2.79, and 7 cups of sugar - I don't know how much a bag costs, so can't factor that in.  But the aroma of strawberries bubbling on the stove, like a lot of things done from scratch, is priceless. 

We enjoyed a new pizza this week using Swiss Chard from the garden - I'm studying gardening blogs and will add this recipe to the repertoire.  I'm not sure how much just plain steamed Swiss Chard I'd want to consume this summer - and the four foot long row seems prepared to keep us in greens all season. 

The Farmer's Market has started up and I've purchased scallions, asparagus, strawberries and green beans.  I quite happily walked right on by the lettuce the other day - selling for $2 a bunch.  We're eating lettuce frequently in salads and Paul puts it on his sandwich every day.  I 've lost count of the number of bags I've given away, though when I offered some to our neighbor he smiled, and said, "I'm no rabbit!"  Even so, I've saved multiple two dollars's already this summer!  It's a blessing how God can take a tiny seed, add water and sunshine and make things grow.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Who Has Time to Blog - I've Been Gardening!

Well, the lettuce is by far my greatest gardening success - ever!  I gave away three bags Tuesday morning to my breakfast friends - and that was after eating salad Monday evening and saving some leaves for Paul's sandwiches this week.  My brother dashed over this noon to get lettuce for BLT's, we ate salad for dinner, and I sent him home with a bagful after that.  There's still more - and I planted a lettuce mix in another raised bed this week, expecting the current crop to bolt any day, and leave me lettuce-less for a while.  While I don't think the lettuce has paid for the entire gardening project, it's certainly redeeming the expenditures.   And I'm already planning to grow more in the cold frame in the fall and next winter. 

We made two more raised beds, bringing my gardening space to 64 square feet.  The zinnias, collards, dill, chives and cilantro I started from seed survived the transplanting, but the sunflowers look pathetic, so I think I"ll have to buy a few of them to add to the tomato and zucchini plants I got at the nursery. 

I planted okra which sprouted quickly - but it looks kind of straggly.  Since I've never ever seen it growing I don't know quite what to expect, but I don't think this is it.  But hey, how much okra can a couple of Yankees eat, anyway!  The collards seem prolific - I'll have to figure out how Miss Idella Rawls, from the Baptist Church in Pearlington, Mississippi fixed them for the meal she served to volunteers and neighbors alike when we were there a year ago.  I probably can't even comprehend how much grease it took to make them so yummy. But we like them sauted them with a little olive oil and garlic, and I have a meatloaf recipe that uses the leaves as a wrapper like pigs in the blanket and cooks in the crockpot.  So I should be able to keep up with the collard greens. 

My brother brought over a barrel, went to the hardware store for the plumbing fixtures needed, and even drilled the hole and installed the spigot for a rain barrel by the back of our house.  A couple days later, it started to rain and I hurried home at lunch time to look in the barrel - it was nearly full!  I almost emptied it onto my plants and seeds by the time it rained again on Monday, filling it to overflowingn once again.  God is an on-time God! 

Are we saving any money?  Doubtful - but the satisfaction of digging in the dirt and even playing in the water from the rain barrel are great blessings to me these days.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The $64 Tomato, or the $138 Bowl of Lettuce

We had a small garden last year for the first time in quite a while. I had a pretty good harvest of snow peas, some leaf lettuce, tomatoes and basil, and I even managed to grow some zucchini (I seemed to be the only person I know who failed to produce zucchini in previous years)  I had a lot of trouble growing anything in one area by the driveway and attributed that to the nearby Black Walnut tree.  So I persuaded Paul to build me a few raised beds, and we got started in the fall so I'd be ready to go come spring.

I dug out a couple old books from my stash - The Victory Garden, and Square Foot Gardening, and even  borrowed a few others from the library, including a great garden read titled, The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.  That gem tells of a man's numerous expenditures - buying loads of dirt (I did that too), fencing to keep out the rabbits (I did that too) and hiring a backhoe (I didn't do that!) to create a garden.  He calculated the cost per tomato at $64.  His conclusion was, that despite the cost, the value and satisfaction of picking a perfect tomato was incalculable. 

I can say that about the lettuce I ate for dinner tonight - surely my blessing for today.  In addition to raised beds, Paul made me a cold frame, and in the fall, I sowed lettuce seeds, eagerly anticipating harvesting lettuce all winter.  Since it was right by the driveway - I planned to shovel right over to it, lift off the glass, and pick a bowl of lettuce whenever I wanted.  Well, it sprouted slowly, and the last time I looked at it was Christmas - I was hoping to treat my daughter, home from Mississippi, to fresh lettuce for dinner.  At that point it looked like very small lettuce plants, so I was excited about that, but was fairly sure they were frozen - and would turn to green slime the minute I picked them and brought them into the house.  So I left it alone for the rest of the winter. 

In March, right after the last snow melted, I wandered over, and peeked into the cold frame - I was ecstatic - there was lettuce growing!  It hadn't frozen after all.  So I harvested a few of the lower leaves and topped off the spring greens I'd purchased at the store with my own fresh lettuce!  A week later, I did it again, and we've now had lettuce several times.  Tonight I didn't need the store greens and even had some leftover for tomorrow.  Seeds I've planted seeds in another area of the cold frame have sprouted so when these plants die off, I can continue my salad harvest.

Since the fall, I have spent $138 for boards for the raised beds, dirt and cow manure (seems I ought to be able to find that for free somewhere!) fencing to keep out rabbits and the neighbr cats, who think the nice raised beds are lovely litter boxes.  I could buy a lot of lettuce for $138 but my price per bowl will continue to decline - and I won't need to buy the boards or fence again.  (May even find a source for free manure!)

I feel like the Master Card commercial, when the tag line says, "The satisfacton of eating your own home grown lettuce in March and April - priceless!"

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snow Day(s)

Snow days - not for me - but the local schools were closed Thursday and Friday.  Thursday's closing seemed unnecessary, but that's in retrospect - glad I don't have to make the decisions.  My Bible Study was cancelled because by evening it was snowing more heavily and they predicted lots of wind - which never really materialized.  I did a little scrapbooking - a page on My Faith Heritage - does that count for Bible Study??  Maybe not, but I did reflect on being baptized and never again darkening the doors of that church.  God put his mark on me that day in 1956, though, and drew me ever closer to him in subsequent years as my parents started regular church attendance. 

Friday morning it felt like the winters of my childhood. Snow was piled everywhere and streets were barely plowed - single lane in places, evena couple days later.  People who had parked on the street seemed stunned that the snow plows had nearly buried their cars.  Paul got out the snowblower and tackled the driveway and sidewalk, while I shoveled steps and out to the cars to sweep them off.  Even with the push broom, it was hard work getting it off the car roofs. I had to shovel just to open my car door and get the scraper out.  At work, by 10:30 I was ravenous - my usual bowl of Cheerioes had worn off.  I guess I should do a little more regular exercise!  People in my building chipped in to buy pizza for lunch, (hoping the delivery guy could make it as it was still snowing!) and we had a lot of fun eating and laughing together at noon.  Even though we worked, it felt a little like a snow day.  My coworker said her 4 year old son told her he was jumping in "snow puddles." 

When I arrived home, Paul's car was on the street - the plow had heavily filled in the end of the driveway - we used shovels for a few minutes, but Paul retrieved the snowblower to finish the job - heavy wet snow is not fun!  I was out this morning for a while, and when I came back, found it again plowed full!  This time the neighbor was out and cleared our driveway with his snowblower. 

Hope the robins I saw last week found a protected place!  Maybe spring's not quite here - but it's coming!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Blessing of Spring Coming

Move aside Punxsutawney Phil, I saw three robins yesterday, and that's MY predictor of spring!

I went down to Aurora to drop something off for Jason at Wells College.  It was one of those beautiful blue sky afternoons, with a few puffy clouds in the sky.  A couple students were gamely trying to sled down the hill from the Athletic Center, one on a tube, and the other on a sled.  It seemed slow going on the soft snow, but they were laughing. 

On my way back up the hilly country road, I saw that  on some of the windswept lawns and under pine trees, the snow has melted down to bare grass.  Suddenly I saw two robins bouncing along, searching for worms, I guess.  A bit later, I saw one more.  It's almost spring!

A year ago Paul and I went on a get away weekend and saw numerous robins in the still snow-filled landscaping around the hotel property.  It seemed somehow wrong to see them in the middle of the snow, but they didn't seem to mind.  By the time I found my camera they were gone.  The promise of spring - a memory only in my mind.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Wildfire of the Gospel or a Sewing Project

Martin Luther King Jr Day, was a holiday from work for me. I had planned to spend the whole day scrapbooking - and this time, in contrast to other scrapbooking projects whose subjects were mission trips or a memory page for a retiring pastor, I would be the subject. I'm following a weekly challenge this year to create a scrapbook telling My Lifetime Story. By the time of the earthquake I was already two weeks behind, with the third topic to appear on Wednesday. Monday would give me a full day to complete the title page and the pages about my birth, and maybe learn how to use Photoshop Elements, a new program to me, to edit, crop and resize scanned copies of old pictures.

God had other plans for Monday. THAT plan started last year when we had a presentation at church about a project to support an orphan at a school, which our Sunday School has taken on. At the same time, there was information about Dress our People, a project to make simple shift dresses for the girls and tank tops and shorts for the boys. I ordered a set of patterns and put them on the shelf because they were partial patterns in multiple sizes - you had to cut apart the bodice, add length depending on the size, and repeat for small, medium, large and extra large. All on brown paper or they suggested wrapping paper. A good idea for some day when I was bored or otherwise inspired.

Through an email newsletter I learned that some ladies from the Cazenovia United Methodist Church were gathering to do a sewing blitz for Dress our People on MLK Day, and I knew I had to set aside my scrapbooking plans. With a local volunteer traveling regularly to a Haitian orphanage carrying the simple clothing, this church and others, have provided numerous articles of clothing to the impoverished Haitian children. Sunday, I pulled out my patterns, cut apart a dozen Wegmans paper bags (they like to contribute to good causes - I'll get more for my garbage can next time I go shopping) and started making the patterns. It took a LONG time and I was glad I had sewing experience. A couple of the dress lengths didn't match up with the instructions, so I left them unfinished, planning to get advice from the experts at Cazenovia. With floral fabric I got from WalMart, telling the clerk about the project, I quickly stitched up a small dress for a sample at church.

Mom's old Singer sewing machine in the back of the Subaru, I set out Monday and arrived to see 6 sewing machines whirring, complete with a iron and padded table for pressing in one corner. In another area of the room, tables were set up for cutting - a volunteer grabbed a length of fabric from a large stash, picked up a pattern, cut out the garment, and added it to the pile for the sewers. Two of the cutters were retired men - happily accepting the challenge to fit as many garments as they could out of each length. I met Jeanne, the organizer who told me they've made over a thousand garments in the two years since they've been doing this. She showed me that they use interfacing instead of paper for their patterns - it's easier to handle, and in most cases, sticks to the fabric well enough that little or no pinning is needed - a real time saver. They have two sets, which keep cutters busy. She helped me fix the problem patterns I brought along, and then I joined in by cutting out a few garments, then set up the sewing machine to sew a couple dresses.

On my way home I bought interfacing using a JoAnn Fabrics coupon, telling THAT store clerk about Dress our People. I cut out a second set of patterns, loaned the original to a church member who had called, and later promised to get a set of patterns to a pastor friend whose church members have fabric and a desire to help - back to JoAnn's with another coupon, and I have a set to hand off to the pastor when I see her at Tuesday Bible Study. In the meantime another church member called, so I have the original patterns ready to give to her at church.

The mission to make clothing is spreading like wildfire. A coworker dug some thread, fabric and bias tape out of an old dresser - things her mother had that that she's willing to donate to the project. (At Cazenovia, one package of bias tape was marked 19 cents - it was clearly brought out of a stash of notions someone's grandmother had handed down!)

I am reminded of the Gospel. The news of salvation is so compelling, that each person tells another - or a few others, and it spreads like wildfire. I've had numerous people ask if I'm going to Haiti now, and have responded, "probably not." I should reframe my answer and say that if God calls me to go to Haiti, I'll have to respond. I copied a quote that reads, "If you find yourself in a place you never thought you'd be and doing things you never thought you'd do, you can be sure that it's God's will." My will for Monday was scrapbooking. God had other plans, and I need to start telling people my motivation for these acts of service instead of simply telling about the project.

Who has time to blog?

I intended to take a picture of the cute dress and post this in January. It’s close to a month later, and I still haven’t gotten the pictures off my camera, but my oh my, the sewing project is exciting! Eleven of us gathered at church last Thursday night, and while we didn’t totally finish very many clothes, there was lots of activity! Several people traced patterns – two of them to return to their rural church nearby. One person finished tracing so a set could be sent to a church member’s sister in Massachusetts. Two of our sewers were novices – a thirteen year old girl and her ten year old friend.  We had some things cut out for the planned Saturday sewing session, and a few finished or nearly finished garments as well.

I wasn’t able to be there on Saturday for the sewing session, but when I went to church on Sunday, I wept. A pile of seventeen finished garments – frog printed shorts, pockets added to some garments, dresses with dainty lace around the neckline – covered a table, with a huge stack of cut out items on the chair. My heart was bursting with joy at the results of this effort by people in my church. One older woman glowed as she described the roomful of people, and the pinning, the cutting, and the sewing.  Apparently among the room full of women (plus the two girls from the previous gathering) an adult male member of the church came, as did a teenaged boy. They took my plea that you could help no matter your experience, your age or your gender!

This project is spreading like wildfire and my scrapbook has been set aside for now. The pictures will always be there, but there are hurting people in Haiti right now. I'm so glad people in my church and some of my other aquaintances want to help. We can’t go to Haiti ourselves but prayers are being acted out as people take on a tangible project like sewing clothing for kids so deeply affect by poverty and the tragedy of the earthquake. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stop Dithering

I feel in a dither.  The news of the earthquake in Haiti reminds me of the friends I now have on the other side of that island in the Dominican Republic.  I'm learning that the more connections I make with disenfranchised people, the more I care, deeply. Having walked the streets of Los Alcarizzos, DR, I can picture the poverty which the Haitians already endure, made all the more harsh with the loss of their country's pathetic infrastructure.  Having helped build a concrete block house there last summer, I can picture the kinds of homes the Haitian people have seen shaken to the ground. 

In the midst of this, my most profound blessing is hearing from Christian friends of immediate responses that are being made. 

My dear husband asked the guys at our prison Bible Study to pray Tuesday night - just an hour or so after the earthquake.  We prayed for a collapsed hospital - the first of the sound bites he heard on the radio news.  If only it were JUST a single hospital that was lost.

My pastor posted a link to UMCOR - the United Methodist Church's mission organization.  She's much more computer savvy than I am - I searched for too long for a mailing adress to send a check, and posted my frustration on Facebook.  She responded with a link, saying it was easy.  I STILL couldn't get it, but eventually navigated my way to UMCOR, PO Box 9068 New York, NY 10087.

Another friend, Sandi, who got me started in the whole Gulf Coast relief effort, posted information about her Syracuse Presbyterian Church's effort to make health kits to be distributed.  Now that's something I can get  involved in - I've made a few flood buckets myself, in response to floods in June 2006 in the southern tier of NYS  - I sent Paul on a mission to find free 5 gallon pails (pickle buckets from a deli filled our garage at one point.)  Years ago an ecumencial youth effort in Auburn prompted a bunch of adults to get the teens including my son Jason involved in sewing (yes sewing!) kits and filling them.  We had kids all over the social room cutting, sewing and filling more than a hundred school bags.  I may spend a few bucks this weekend making a couple kits, and urging others to join me.

Information about kits:
Health Kit
• One hand towel measuring approximately 16" x 28"  (no fingertip or bath towels)
• One washcloth
• One wide-tooth comb
• One nail clipper  (no metal files or emery boards)
• One bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)
• One toothbrush (in original packaging)
• Six Band-Aids®

Please do not add toothpaste to the Hygiene Kit. Toothpaste that has an extended expiration date will be added to Hygiene Kit shipments just prior to shipment. Seal all items in a one-gallon plastic bag with a zipper closure.

School Kits
• 1 pair blunt scissors (rounded tip)

• 3 pads (or loose leaf) of 8 1/2" x 11" ruled paper
• 1 30-centimeter ruler
• 1 hand held pencil sharpener
• 6 unsharpened pencils with erasers
• 1 eraser, 2 1/2"
• 1 box of 24 crayons (only 24)

Prepare a 14" x 16" (finished size) cloth bag with handles and an optional closure (Velcro®, snap or button) and place items in the bag.  (I'd make a bag if anyone wanted to buy supplies)

And finally, Henry, an aquaintance from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's Gulf Coast response has posted a desire to help on his blog,  Looks like he's dithering too.  But having met this gentle but determined man when we were in Mississippi last year, I just know he will find productive ways to serve in Haiti.

Time to stop dithering.  Gotta keep praying, write my check, collect a few supplies, and listen for other ways God's calling in the midst of this disaster.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Like Goldilocks - Just Right!

Earlier this week, I put my skis in the back of the car, planning that I would ski after work.  Today I carried my ski clothes into the office, in preparation for going straight to the nature trail on my way home.  Unlike our pre Christmas skiing, this evening was perfect - not too little snow, and not too much snow as was the case Sunday when I went out, but just right! 

Several people before me had skied, and no one had come along with snow shoes to mess up the tracks.  There was lots of nicely packed powder snow.  I was all alone in the small woods, and there was just enough light in the sky to show the path.  The wind blew fiercely as I crossed the open space alongside the middle school field - my face hurt from the cold!  But as I went into the woods, it was sheltered, and was just about perfect.

I am reminded of being a kid and going sledding - dragging sleds from our house to Pierce's hill to play all afternoon before treading back home - feet numb, and mittens caked with snow.  Or walking the block from home with the guards on my ice skates to Lincoln School, where the ball field was flooded to make an ice rink.  Once, I skated with my hands in my pockets, tripped, and banged up my chin - it was sore and scabbed for days!  I guess I'm glad my parents urged us outdoors even on wintery days.

I debated making a second loop around the nature trail and decided to just do it!  Am I glad I did - as I rounded one corner on the far side, three deer stood alongside the path.  I came within 20 feet of one of them before it took off into the woods.  As I turned the next corner, I saw two more - they froze in place - did they really think I couldn't see them?  I continued on, up a slight hill into the trees, and them down a nice incline - makes me feel like a real skier!  The blessing of today was a ski trip that was just right!