Monday, December 27, 2010

White Moments



White is the color Christmas should be, at least for a breath of it- that space between the duty or demand and busy rush of the season. It should be quiet like new fallen snow. It should be blank and reflective for a moment, for one living moment.
But it is not. It is louder and brighter. The white moments don't seem to happen ironically, is over.
By Carol Blackwell

Carol wrote this at our last writer's group on December 20th. I asked permission to copy it here, and then after reading Julie's post it seemed appropriate to post it after Christmas. This is how it is for many of us...and yet it is so special that Julie found a way to rise above, thanks to the gift of our loving Savior. Here's wishing you some white moments this week. It's never too late.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Visiting Blogger

Just kidding. I'm supposed to be a regular contributor here. I thought I'd stop by and wave hello since it's been so long since I've posted anything. I love reading my mom's updates and she does a great job, but I guess I should help her out every once in a while since we signed onto this together. :)

I enjoyed a lovely holiday season with my family. It was the best and smoothest we've ever had. The fact that I'm very pregnant probably has something to do with it, but I hope that there are some things that we've learned that will help future Christmas celebrations be as stress-free.

I had to show you the beautiful tower of treats we received in the mail. It was such a surprise. What is received in the mail is pretty predictable these days, so it was delightful. My sister, Joy, picked this out for us.

There were chocolate-covered cherries...

...nuts, chocolates, pears and apples. So much fun!!

My husband gave me one early gift. These three magazines are a collection of some of the best recipes from Cooks Illustrated Magazine. I really do love Cooks Illustrated. I don't get their magazine, but have tried a variety of their recipes. I didn't do a lot of entertaining or baking this year, but I used 5 recipes out of the entertaining book for my own family. Our Christmas dinner came almost exclusively from it. I was looking for something that was easy to do but still delicious and special for the holiday. We did: French Chicken in a Pot (a whole roast chicken cooked in a dutch oven with the lid on), Scoop and Bake Dinner Rolls (no rolling and cutting!), and Ultra-Creamy Mashed Potatoes. Everything was delicious. Only with Cooks Illustrated do I not worry about testing out recipes before an important meal. Their recipes always turn out. Hurray for my early Christmas gift!! It was a huge help.
The last item I'd like to share is just a personal success this year. Really, it is Christ working in me and I'm so thankful for the growth He has wrought. This is the first Christmas I've ever had where the traditions were truly an enhancement to the celebration of the Incarnation. In the past, the traditions have been more an end in themselves instead of means to the end of celebrating Christ's birth. When they are simply a means, then they are expendable. There's no major letdown over the things we couldn't squeeze in or that didn't work out this year. The traditions enhance the celebration, but they aren't the celebration themselves. Rolling out sugar cookies, stringing cranberries, reading Christmas stories, decorating and hanging lights, doing the Advent Calendar, watching some Christmas movies, making homemade gifts for each other and relatives, and sending out Christmas cards are great as long as they actually serve the purpose. I've always known this is how it should be, but this is the first year that it really was that way. It seemed that we were able to transmit that to the children as well. Every Christian parent wants to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas, but it eludes us as to how to make it seem more exciting than the gifts that are coming. This is the first year that it was so real for me that I was able to make it real in all that we did to celebrate. I'm sharing this because as we reached Christmas day this year, I was so GRATEFUL. It was so much more meaningful and the whole season was smooth and stressless. What a victory! This is a little overflow of the gratitude. :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Light

I love the light in winter, especially around Christmas time. Maybe it's because there is so much less of it during the short daylight hours, that the light at night makes up for days' brevity by being both stronger and more delicate. The daytime sunlight is pale, but the night's moonlight is intense, reflecting off a new snowfall. Dusk and evening are my favorite times at the Christmas season. Last night, the full moon shone down on the white snow with a magical beauty.
We tend to bring light into a focal point in our indoor celebrations as well. Logs on the fire, with flames dancing are incomparable for warmth and comfort. Glowing candles are a wonderful part of our decorations. Whether grouped together short and tall, or used individually, candles provide a soft glow of light. The candlelight bounces from each shiny surface; from the ornament balls on the Christmas tree, to the silver teapot on it's tray, to the crystal icicles hanging in the window, to the gilt frame enclosing a precious photo. It lights up and softens loved faces. I once saw an entire town lit with luminaries which are small paper bags with lit tea light candles snuggled in sand inside. It was magical on a Christmas evening.
And last but of most importance is starlight. As far as we know there were no candles on that first Christmas. But the special star and the light it provided were unique. I am so glad God chose a star to provide guidance and light, blessing all in the path of it's radiance. Jesus was born, the bright morning star of mankind.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Peace amidst the bustle

I woke up this morning and some movement caught my eye across the street. The house there is empty and for rent, making a safe haven. We have a whole group of deer that winter in our housing development. But they usually graze about dusk, going down the street and back, and then move on. But with the snowfall yesterday several good sized does had bedded down across the street and a couple of younger, friskier ones moved about eating right through the snow. It reminded again of how peaceful nature can be, and the instincts of the animals to let the storm pass while they rest. There is a message in that for me...and God sent it in the deer.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christ's Birth

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
She yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.
Martin Luther

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happy Birthday!

December, 1993

As we got out of the car I could see Grandma and Aunt Wilma waiting for us through the dusty plate glass window. Joy was unbuckling the baby from her new infant car seat in back, just as Mom and Dad drove up on the gravel and parked behind us. I looked up at the sign that read 'Oasis Cafe' as it sat perched over the blue roof of the long white building, then thought what a strange place it was for such a special moment in life. Joy had come around the car with Kory in her arms, and she looked too young to be a mother. Her blond hair was pulled into a sideways ponytail and it swung as she walked over to the screen door. The town of Juntura was perpetually lonely, only a rest stop on the long drive from somewhere to somewhere else. Both sides of the highway here were bordered by lovely tall cottonwood trees, now December barren and moving restlessly in the lonely winter wind.
John took my hand and pulled open the screen door and pushed open the wooden one to let me enter. The smells of hot food, strong coffee and wood smoke assailed me as a blanket of warm air surrounded me. On this December day it was good to be here. There were a few scattered tables and chairs about, and a few dilapidated booths along the wall under the plate glass window. A handful of customers barely looked around as we came in, and most sat on red topped stools at the gray Formica counter. Grandma and Aunt Wilma were at a corner table big enough to seat the seven of us. I could tell by their exited smiles just how eager they were to meet Grandma's first great-great grandchild.
We threaded our way over to them and chairs scraped as they stood for hugs all around. The next several minutes were spent oohing and aahing over Kory and taking their respective turns holding our tiny dark-haired girl. For those minutes no one existed in the restaurant, indeed in the whole world, except the six of us and our oh-so-special girl.
Finally we settled down in our seats with Kory fastened into her baby carrier. We now turned our attention to the menus on the table, thinking about what each would like for dessert and something hot to drink with it. By the time the older, tired waitress came for our orders we had all decided. We told each other about our trips, Mom, Dad, John, Joy, Kory and I from Bend and Burns, and Grandma and Aunt Wilma from Ontario. We congratulated ourselves on meeting half-way, as if it was our doing that a restaurant had magically sprung up conveniently located at just the half-way spot. As we ate, we told about Kory's birth with all the pride of a brand new mother, and new grandparents still struggling to decide what she would call us. Mom couldn't leave Kory in her carrier, but wanted to hold her while she ate. She made it most of the way through her dessert before Kory let it be known that she wasn't content to be sitting quietly anymore. Grandma got up and walked around the table to take Kory, then walked back and forth with her, patting her back just the way she had done with her mother before her, and her papa before that. Grandma Brown just had a way with babies.
We continued talking excitedly about Grandma's birthday celebration that we had just attended in Ontario for her 100th birthday. Grandma and Kory were 100 years apart in age, and as I watched them together I thought how lucky Kory was to meet her very special great great grandmother.
Soon cameras came out and we re-arranged chairs to accommodate a grouping of five generations. The impact of that hit me with happy tears as I watched the visible blessings of Grandma's years on earth crowd around her. None of us knew how much longer we would have this precious person with us, but for this hour, this moment, we were all here in a happy blend of timelessness.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tales of a Thanksgiving Turkey

As I was growing up, our world would center around a turkey for a whole week before Thanksgiving. Mom was a very particular cook, and most especially particular about her turkeys. From the choosing, thawing, cleaning and finally cooking, all her processes had to 'go by the rules'. When we were small, it was only a grocery store turkey Mom could afford. But it would be the biggest Tom in the bin. Later, she heard hens were juicier, so from that point on we had only smaller, juicier hens. As her food budget grew, Mom graduated to getting her turkeys from a local meat market, selected by herself and the butcher. And the final stage was when she decided that only fresh birds would do. No more frozen, rock-hard hens for her!
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I would stand at the sink and watch as she would unwrap the carcass, remove the giblets, then carefully wash every part. She looked carefully for pinfeathers, and even squeezed out imaginary ones until her very high standards were met. The turkey then went back into the refrigerator until the big day, while the giblets were boiled for the turkey stuffing she would make in the morning.
On Thanksgiving morning, she would put on her 'turkey apron', a red and white affair trimmed with red rickrack, and get to work. The dressing was made first, then stuffed warm into the waiting turkey cavities. They would be stuffed until the skin pooched out with overfull pockets of goodness. Next the trussing tradition was started. Mom had a whole bundle of skewers, clips and miniature spears. She would spear and clip every movable part, then wind thick string around them, circling and wrapping until the turkey was trussed in a perfect coil. A coating of melted butter followed, brushed over every part of the cold, pale skin, followed lastly by a thorough salting. Mom would then load the stuffed, trussed turkey, breast down into the handed-down, very special turkey roaster, which had seen years of duty in producing holiday feasts.
Many stoves were used over the years to roast Mom's turkeys, including the old gas range of her Aunt Minnie, and ending with a modern 'in-the-wall' variety. She would set the oven to 400 degrees, and roast the covered turkey for exactly one hour. My Dad would then be summoned into the inner sanctum to help with the messy ritual of turning the turkey. Mom had learned from Aunt Minnie, that starting the bird breast down would make the juices flow to that part of the meat. But in order to get a perfectly browned, beautiful end product, the turkey would later have to be turned breast up. After that was accomplished, along with a good bit of grumbling, and grease flying, another thick basting of butter was applied and the turkey returned to the oven to finish cooking at the perfect lower temperature.
My job was to set the table with the good china, silver and napkins while Mom completed her cooking of the rest of dinner. I loved this job, and took great pains to see that the table looked as beautiful as Mom's turkey would. The smells wafting from the oven and kitchen, along with the sounds of the football game on TV, made the whole job wonderful.
Mom's turkey never had a pop-up timer to tell when it was finished, as she had her own methods. When it was deemed the perfect moment, it was removed to a special platter, and the trussing un-done, so Dad could spoon out the wonderful dressing. Mom's apron would come off, and the turkey would be carried proudly to the table, for the oohs and aahs that were Mom's reward. As it was carved with the knife, specially sharpened for the occasion, the endless discussions would begin on whether or not this years' turkey was the best, the juiciest ever, which of course was the objective.
For us kids however, we were most thankful for the gravy that came from the turkey, that flowed around our mashed potatoes and stuffing. We would let the adults figure out which turkey was best one, while we cleaned our plates and asked for more.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pork Loin, Recipe of the Week(s)

We haven't posted any recipes for a while, so I thought today would be a good time to post this one. It's snowing outside this morning, and this main meat dish is very tasty on a cold late autumn day. First you buy a nice pork loin, just plain, which has not been marinated. This is usually pretty big, so I take mine and cut it up into four parts, and freeze them until I need them. Each quarter will feed 4-5 people, or 2 with leftovers : ) Then you make your own marinade and place the pork loin in a bag, along with the marinade, and let sit for 24-48 hours in the refrigerator. In the above photo, I was having a good sized group for dinner last week, so used two of my cut up portions.
Then you take the pork loin out of the marinade and put it in a shallow pan on a rack, and discard the remaining marinade.

You place the pan in a very hot oven, which you turn down immediately to seal in the juices, and roast until 160-170 degrees.

Slice and serve to hungry people, and there's not much left!
Pork Loin Recipe
2-3 lb. (or any size) Pork Loin
Marinade: (cut in half if you are only cooking 1/4 of the pork loin)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
1 t. salt
1 t. thyme
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
1/2 t. rosemary
1/2 t. marjoram
1/2-1 t. Italian seasoning
Add all ingredients for marinade in a bowl and mix. Place pork loin in a plastic zip-lock bag and add the marinade. Place in refrigerator and marinate for 24-48 hours. Remove tenderloin from the refrigerator, and place on roasting pan with a rack in place. Put the chopped onion and garlic on the top of the pork loin, then discard the remaining marinade. Put meat into a pre-heated 450 degree oven, then immediately turn the oven down to 350 degrees, and roast until a meat thermometer shows 160-165 degrees. Take the pork loin out of the oven, tent it with foil and let stand 10-15 minutes before slicing, to set and finish cooking to 170 degrees.
This is basically a no-fail dish, and it has become my go-to meal of choice for company. I even roast it on the barbecue in the summers. Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Roaming in the High Desert #2

To continue where I left off on my last post...after our tailgate lunch, we headed west across the high desert. Bethel's grandparents, Joe & Ruth Williams had been early desert ranchers and pioneers. Five years after their marriage in 1891, they bought the property for their Rock Island Ranch, south of Riley. This was one place I had never been to visit, and we decided that it was a good day to try and find it. It is not an easy place to get to. For one thing, there is a lot of surface water out in this part of the high desert, which I found very interesting. Another factor is that this land belongs to the Wildlife Bird Refuge, and no one is allowed in when the birds are nesting and then nurturing young. It seemed like a good day in October to go exploring and try to find the spot. My mother and father-in-law had not been there in many years, but remembered some of the landmarks in the vicinity. We did a lot of driving back and forth and around bodies of water, before finding the area that looked most promising. The photo below shows Iron Mountain in the distance, with a newly mowed wild hay field to the left of our rutted road.

The insurance man decided that this was as close as we could get, to the place we wanted to go by road, so he turned left and we headed out across this hay field.

After a lot of bumping, we got as close as we could, and parked the truck. We thought we needed to climb the ridge at the right and then hike across the field for a ways. I was gun-ho, and the insurance man was pleasantly putting up with me. Dad decided to take a nap while we were gone, and Mom thought she would stay with him.
Mom remembered that there was ridge behind the original house, and on the ridge had been a pile of man-placed stones. We thought we could see that on this ridge, so headed out for it. After we had gone a ways across the field I looked back and saw that Mom was trekking along behind us. She had decided to come look too.

This is Joe and Ruth Williams, at their marriage on May 9, 1891, in Burns.

This is the Rock Island Ranch as it looked at the turn of the century. Joe and Ruth bought the property in 1896, and lived there four years. (If you click on the photo you can see the details much better). There is a long wooden boardwalk running from the house out to the fence, and the family is standing on it. This must have been necessary as the entire valley could fill with water in the spring. The ranch served as a way station for anyone crossing the desert. Joe never charged them for food, a night in the barn or feed for their horses. The ranch adjoined the large Double O Ranch, and Joe contracted out to the Double O each summer to harvest their wild hay. He also had wild hay on his own ranch. He ran a hay crew of about 30, and contracted with many other ranches in this area. Joe also had a herd of cattle, wild horses and 5 or 6 hogs each year. One thing Joe always did was make butter and cream. His daughter Louise remembered: "He would milk the cows, then make butter from the cream and put it in firkins. A firkin was a wooden container made of strips of wood about 3/4" thick, then bound together with iron hoops. He made the firkins himself. One firkin held a number of pounds of butter, that were not made all at once. One batch of butter was put in then tamped down solid and covered with brine. At the next churning time the brine was poured off, more butter added, then it was covered with more brine and so on, until it was full. The brine was made of water and salt, strong enough to float an egg. The butter would keep for a long time in that manner. After several firkins were filled, he would take his butter and cream to towns like Prineville, Riley, Burns or even Baker City, where he found a ready market with hotels, stores or individuals." One reason I put all that in (besides it being interesting) is that the only building left on the property is the milk house that Joe built. Nature has done it's work over the last 100 years in obliterating all traces of man's dwelling there, except for this milk house. Joe decided to build a milk house to keep his dairy products cool, and used hand-shaped sandstone blocks. He formed each one, this put them together with mortar layered between, and made his walls three feet thick.

This is how the milk house looks today. The very sturdy front wall is the only thing left standing.

This is the backside, and the wood that's visible is the collapsed roof.

The insurance man decided to climb the ridge behind the milk house and take a look at the pile of rocks. It's been there a long time, as his Grandma Louise remembered it from her childhood. The rust color of the stones is from the lichen. This afforded a great view of the ranch as Joe and Ruth would have seen it, as well as the milk house.

I decided to take a close-up shot of the milk house wall, to show the stones and mortar and the careful building that Joe did. All that work, and they were only there for four years!

Many people have inscribed their initials into the soft sandstone over the years. This is the oldest one: W.P. Dwyer from N.Y. in 1905, five years after Joe and Ruth left.

The insurance man, as Joe's great-grandson, added his initials on this October day in 2010. And the legacy of this man's achievements in a harsh environment is honored.

Monday, November 8, 2010

High Desert roaming

Several weeks ago, when we were in Burns, we spent Saturday out in the High Desert. We drove to the old Hurlburt ranch, and with permission spent the morning poking around and looking at things. The house was abandoned many years ago due to flooding high waters. There are natural springs all around the house, and large ponds of water even now. This is how the house looks now. We explored all around and in the house. It was sad, as there was evidence of a hasty departure where some things were just left. The pack rats had made a nice mess of things inside. But we could see how it was once a nice home for the family.
This is the old entrance into their 'yard'.

There were a lot of out buildings on the property to explore, but we left everything just the way we found it.
This outbuilding was just Mom's size.

To the right of the house was a very old tree, that was still beautiful although many limbs had grown too heavy and broken, or had been struck by lightening during a storm. They were wreaking havoc with the roof of the house.

Here is the base of the tree, pretty large for the desert!

An old abandoned tractor out front, and Mom tried it out. It hasn't moved in a very long while.

After we finished our exploring, we had a tailgate lunch that Mom had packed. Things always taste so good out of doors! Next post, I'll tell about our afternoon adventures.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Beauty in Football Part II

I just couldn't resist showing the picture Samuel made for us. Now that's beauty in Football!

Beauty in Football??

What a thrill this week to find our mighty Oregon Ducks finally #1 in the polls. It is so much fun this year to watch them play, and have a REALLY good team to cheer for.
I am normally a Washington Huskies fan (and still am) and have enjoyed watching Jake Locker, although wishing he had a better team to back him up. But this year, another favorite team is winning big time, and I am enjoying every minute of it! My grandson Samuel even sent us a wonderful picture he drew for us of Oregon playing the Texas Longhorns.
This enjoyment of football started very early for me. Now you could say that the above football was strategically placed for the photo (by my Dad?).... but the photo below is of me with my two cousins Tom and Bill the next summer.

Now just who is playing with the football? The two boys don't seem much interested in it. Proof positive, it is the game for me. My Dad only wished I had turned out to be a boy, so I could actually play the game. Instead I grew up going to Huskie Stadium with him, as he taught me the game and it was something we could enjoy together.
Now the insurance man and I have enjoyed football season together for almost 40 years. But I think this may be among the most memorable. GO DUCKS!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


We were recently in Burns to celebrate the insurance man's father's 89th birthday. When we got up on Saturday morning my mother-in-law Bethel cheerily announced that we were having 'Aebleskivers' for breakfast. This brought out a burst of curiosity on our parts, and we learned it was a Danish treat, cooked in a special cast iron pan, shown above. Mom had made up the batter ahead, and was busy pouring each little hole full of the batter. *The batter contains: flour, salt, sugar, buttermilk, eggs, soda and butter.
We stood around and watched this interesting process.

She used a little stick (that came with the pan) to slowly turn the balls of batter as they browned on the bottom.

This resulted in balls of cooked, browned batter...

with holes in the middle, and semi-empty in the centers.

Here's our very interesting breakfast treat! I don't have any photos of us eating them, as they disappeared rapidly! She served them with jam, syrup and/or applesauce. She showed us how to break them open, put a little butter in and then the topping of your choice. My favorite turned out to be raspberry jam...yum! We all liked this novelty, and talked about how Julie's children would all think it really fun to have 'balls' for breakfast!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years." Genesis 1:14

We live in a land of extremes, called the High Desert. Not exactly the North or South Pole, but extreme never the less. Last Thursday we ate lunch in our Pergola on a beautiful fall day with temps about 72 degrees. I had my wash hanging outside, and continued my gardening. Over the weekend a winter storm blew in and last night I went to bed with it snowing outside. This morning it had cleared off and left just a little frozen ground with a skiff of snow. Snow on the changing leaves of autumn were beautiful this morning outside my window.
I love that God created seasons and changes, and that we can never really predict the weather, nor control it. Hooray for autumn, and winter coming speedily in her footprints.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Gift of Sight

On Thursday, Oct. 14th I had my first cataract removed from my left eye. It is such a simple procedure, I hardly think it qualifies to be called 'surgery'.
I went to this beautiful building in Redmond for the procedure. I was fortunate enough to get to choose to have a 'crystal lens' placed in my eye, which should restore vision in all three areas of my vision: distance, mid-way and close up. However, it did take several days for my eyes to adjust and focus together with this lens. In the meanwhile it was frightening and scary, and made me realize once again the gift and blessing of sight. The human eye is such an amazing and wonderful creation, and the fastest healing tissue in our bodies.

This is me right after the surgery, with my frozen left eye taped down. I will have the other cataract removed this Thursday, and in about three weeks both eyes will have stabilized and I should be seeing better than I was before cataracts. Truly a miracle, and one I never want to take lightly. I am so very thankful to have my sight restored, and continue to enjoy the beauty all around me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Recipe of the Week

We haven't had much time lately to continue with our recipe of the week, so today I am posting one. It's called Autumn Beef and Vegetables in Red Wine Sauce. This is a crock pot recipe, and I made it yesterday while I caught up on things, from being out of town.

1 to 1 1/2 pounds round steak
2 medium carrots, cut up
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup quartered fresh mushrooms
1/2 onion, cut into chunks
Any veggies left over in the frig that need to be used up
3 T. quick-cooking tapioca
1 can or jar stewed or regular cut up tomatoes
1 cup beef or chicken broth
1/2 cup cooking sherry or red wine
1 t. Italian seasoning
1/2 t. salt
Fresh ground pepper

Layer veggies on the bottom of your crock pot. I used the veggies mentioned in the recipe plus: some small potatoes from our garden, 1/4 head of green cabbage loosely chopped, and 1/2 a yellow bell pepper. Sprinkle the tapioca over the veggies. Cut the round steak into personal size chunks (2-3 inches) and lay on top of veggies. Combine the un-drained tomatoes, broth, wine, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Pour over the meat and veggies. Cover and cook on low-heat for 8 hours. The recipe calls for serving this over hot cooked noodles, but I opted for a soup/stew effect and served it in large bowls. This is relatively easy, and it made a hearty autumn supper. The insurance man loved it!