Thursday, May 26, 2011

His Banner Over Her

On Sunday I got the call I'd been waiting a couple of weeks for: my friend Laura's husband Ray called and said she was able to have company. "Oh God, thank you," was my first thought. My second was, "How will I know what to say, and when to be silent?"

Even in the midst of all my prayers, I'd worked myself into an anxiety attack by the time I was driving to her house. The rain and lightning only added to my unease. "Don't be anxious about anything... pray about everything," I reminded myself over and over. But my chest was tight, and I could feel my heart racing.

As the darkness lifted and the rain slowed to an occasional splatter, I looked to my left at a most peculiar sunset. The sky was split in two: on the left was a wall of black clouds, and on the right were the muted colors of the sunset, though the sun was not visible. It looked like God was pulling back a curtain and giving me a glimpse of His beauty.

"Thank you," I whispered, taking in a few deep, calming breaths. And then I looked to my right and saw a rainbow--right in the middle of all the dark clouds! It was magnificent, so bright against the dark canvas.It was only half a bow, but the tallest I'd ever seen.

A Different Rainbow... But Similar

I kept watching the rainbow all the way to Laura's house. Just before I arrived, it transformed into something I'd never seen before. On the left side was the rainbow, still only half a bow and almost completely vertical. To the right extended a triangle of golden, orange light. I wondered where that light could be coming from since the surrounding clouds were still almost black. I concluded that it must have been a reflection off the sunset on the opposite horizon.

It's like a pennant, a banner, I thought. Immediately a verse went through my mind: "His banner over me is love." (Song of Solomon 2:4) And then I realized that, from my perspective, that banner was unfurled over Laura's house! When I glanced at the clock and saw 8:11 a thrill passed through me. (You may recall that 11 is her special number, that she finds comfort somehow in 11s.)

Climbing out of the car into the light rain, I realized that my anxiety had completely evaporated. In its place was an excitement to share this experience with Laura. Like me, she sees signs everywhere, and I knew this would encourage her.

Ray led me up the stairs to her room, where her parents, aunts, sister, and cousin had gathered around her bed. I glanced at the people, mostly strangers, and then shut them all out of my mind as I wrapped my arms around Laura and delivered my message.

I described the rainbow and the banner of light. I heard her sharp intake of breath when I mentioned seeing the 11. "It's like there's a banner of God's love right over your house," I concluded. "Laura, He loves you so much."

She thanked me for telling her the story. "I can see it, just as you described," she said. "I needed to hear that."

Recent Picture of Laura

And then we all laid a hand on her and prayed together, over the sound of  the heavy rain that now beat against the roof. I thanked God for the assurance of his love right in the middle of this storm. And I prayed Psalm 23 over her. Even though that is not one of the passages I have committed to memory, the words just flowed off my tongue. "We thank you that you are Laura's shepherd. She shall not want for anything.... Even in the valley of the shadow of death, she will fear no evil, for you are with her.... You anoint Laura's head with oil. Her cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow her all the days of her life, and she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

When we said amen, I looked around and found that many of us were crying. But they were happy tears. I wish I could describe the way it felt, the way God's love was palpable in that room, binding us all together. I watched as her aunts and cousin took their leave, holding her close and whispering encouraging words that I couldn't understand because I don't speak Spanish.

"I don't know what you were saying," I told her cousin, "but I could understand the love you have for her. It's beautiful."

I'm so thankful God gave me this gift. It's like He pulled back the curtain and let us all glimpse his beauty for a moment.

Please continue to pray for Laura and her family.  I know that with God, all things are possible. I pray that she overflows with hope through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Love in the Air... And Poop on the Deck

When I drug myself to the breakfast table at 7:05 yesterday morning, Bill was already grumbling. "I think a bunch of birds have been hanging out by the pool," he said.

I smiled, picturing birds sprawled on lawn chairs, drinking lemonade out of tiny cups with teeny umbrellas.

"And they're pooping all over the deck," he continued. My smile fizzled.

He peered through the screen door. "Hey, guys! Looks like two birds are mating out there now." He stepped onto the porch.

Ethan didn't budge, just continued staring at his plate, but I jumped up and raced out the door behind Bill. I'd never seen birds mating--or any other animals, for that matter--and I was curious.

By the time I caught up to him, he had pushed through the iron gate and was trying shoo two birds that resembled doves. They now sat about an inch apart on the trellis next to the jasmine vine.

"How'd you know they were mating?" I asked.

He cast a sideways glance at me, raising his brows. "Because one of them was on top of the other?"

"Oh," I said, crestfallen to have missed the show.

Bill turned his attention back to breaking up the lovers. "Get!" he yelled. One bird fluttered to the back wall of the pool, the other just behind it. Bill walked out on the ledge, waving his arms. "Go on, get out!"

Reluctant to end their tryst, the couple flew just a few feet farther and perched side by side on the fence.

"Get out!" Bill repeated, advancing along the ledge. "All the way out."

The Love Nest

"Aw, you interrupted their romantic moment," I said.

"I don't care. Not in our backyard. They need to get a room," he said. I snickered.

Lola, who had followed us into the enclosure, danced around Bill's feet. "And you!" Bill scolded, shaking a finger at her. "You need to do your job and take care of all these birds." Lola gazed up at him with adoring eyes and wagged her tail.

Lola, the Lackadaisical Watchdog

I puckered my lips for a good morning smooch, and Bill cracked his first smile of the day.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Fishie Funeral

For about ten days, Allyson's three fish lived like celebrities. She watched them constantly, reporting on every amazing thing they did in their tiny bowl. She kept them entertained by playing "videos" for them, and Billy Joel songs:

The Fish, Surrounded by Still Photos and Our Digital Picture Frame

She fed them twice a day, just a pinch, and she usually washed her hands first. They seemed to be thriving; we imagined that we could see them growing already.

So I was shocked last night when Bill whispered, just after we'd tucked Allyson in, "One of the fish is dead."



"Does Allyson know?"

"Not yet."

"Tell me it wasn't Spot."

Bill wasn't sure, so I raced down the stairs to check. Whew, it was Stripe. Still, I was sure she'd be very disappointed, might even cry.

I wasn't prepared for her actual response. When I climbed out of the shower this morning, Allyson raced into the bathroom. "Guess what? One of my fish is dead. It was Stripe. Daddy put it in a baggie in the fridgerator! Wanna see it?"

"Um, maybe later."

"We're gonna bury it, but Daddy says we have to wait till after church."

Well, at least she wasn't crying.

After church, Bill made a tiny cross out of toothpicks, and we headed to the backyard for the funeral. Allyson agonized over the spot for a good five minutes before choosing her sunflowers' bed. Bill dug a shallow hole with a trowel, and she plucked the tiny fish from the baggie and dropped it in the hole.
Allyson's Holding the Body Bag

See the Tiny Cross, Left of the Pink Flowers?

"Would you like to say a prayer?" I asked.

"You say it, Mommy."

I thanked God for our brief time with Stripe, and the fun he had swimming in his bowl with Golden and Spot, and then I asked God to help him grow big in heaven, and to let him have lots of fun swimming up there.

Allyson laughed. "Fish can't swim in heaven!"

"Sure they can," I argued. "I bet Stripe is swimming right now in a beautiful lake."

Later in the day, she seemed to have a bit of delayed grieving. She kept asking us to pray for Stripe, to ask God to help him be happy in heaven.

So I did. I'm also praying that the other two fish will be healthy and stay with us for awhile.

Speaking of Sunflowers
Look how big Allyson's sunflowers have grown!

I can't believe she just planted them at the end of March. That's also when Bill transplanted her little pinto seedlings, which she had planted all on her own, haphazardly dropping a few dried pinto beans from our pantry. Yesterday, she harvested her first crop.

"They're not quite ripe," she said. "But see, they're starting to get their spots." (Is that how you tell??)

They seem a bit small still, but pretty soon they'll be ready to eat. With all those pods, I bet we might have 23 beans to cook up. Yum!

Allyson couldn't be prouder. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Guess What??

No, I'm not pregnant. But I did finish my novel yesterday! That is to say, I finished the (very) rough draft. There's still much to be done, but I'm so thankful to have reached this milestone. Ecstatic, actually, because I wanted to give up so many times but God and my friends and family wouldn't let me.

The idea came to me last January during a bout of insomnia, but I didn't actually put my fingers to the keyboard until March 8, 2010. I wrote the first five chapters, about 60,000 words (way too long!), on my computer, and then I switched over to writing in a notebook.

I filled up one large notebook, a pretty one that I made at MOPS (Mothers Of Preschoolers) a couple years ago. I like to think it's like the journals used by one of my main characters,  Rachel.

 I then moved to the purple journal on the left, which I filled about a third of the way. The spiral bound journal on top is where I put the plot outline and character details, and the little flip-top book with the "B" is where I wrote ideas that came to me throughout the day, even when I was driving. (I waited for a stoplight to fish it out of my purse!)

The Sharpie pen is the third one that I completely spent. I prayed yesterday that God would let the ink keep flowing until I finished it; I didn't have another one like it, and it is such a pleasure to write with that type of pen. My first two Sharpie pens were a gift from my friend Jenny, who has been a big encouragement to me through this project.

Writing in a notebook took me back to my childhood, when I had ink-stained fingers from all the stories I wrote in my school spirals. I was able to be more creative after making this switch because it was much harder to "tinker," and my mind had to slow down a bit to let my hands catch up. But I did manage to do quite a lot of rearranging, as you can see from the random sample below.

I did most of the writing in small bits, like at ballet and soccer practice and the hair salon (under the dryer). But I did take a couple of days off work at the end of 2010 to work on my writing. I also went to a scrapbooking retreat where I did nothing but write for a whole weekend. That was awesome. I was able to get lost in the characters' stories and to stop the constant editing.

I was able to finish yesterday due to some help from my friend Christina, who has prayed for me faithfully through over a year of writing. She's been gracious about my leaving her hanging after reading the first five chapters, and she's anxious to see the rest once I get it typed up. Anyway, she let Allyson come over for a playdate while I went to Starbucks to work on the manuscript. (Leslie, you'll be interested to know that I had an iced chai latte. It was good, but not as good as yours!)

I couldn't believe how many people were there at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. There were gabbing young women, a couple of ladies having some sort of political powwow, a screaming newborn, and two men endlessly smoking cigars. I was able to block all of that out until some kids about Allyson's age started racing around the tables shrieking. That's when I moved inside for my last 30 minutes.

I came so close, but had one more scene left to write. I finished it when Bill went to his 11:00 hockey game. I usually write at the dining room table downstairs, but last night I wanted to go to my Secret Place, my prayer closet where I've spent a lot of time praying over this book. It felt so good kneeling on the floor and penning those last few pages.

What Next? 
Now I need to type up the rest of the manuscript, break it into chapters, figure out all the dates on Rachel's journal entries, and do a bit of revising. I estimate that I'll need to chop about a third of what I've written! After that, I'll set it aside for eight weeks and work on other things or just have some fun reading. After that break, I'll pick up the book and try to read it as an outsider, not as the author. I'll see where I need more detail, less detail, more emotion, etc. And I'll see where I called a character by the wrong name or gave him two different colors of hair (I hope, anyway).

And then I'll send it out to my focus readers, including Christina, and get their feedback. Would anyone else like to volunteer as a focus reader? I promise not to leave you hanging like I did Christina A., Angela, Diana, and Christina W.

As for the rest of you, I hope you'll read the finished product in a year or two. And please keep me in your prayers. Thank you for all your support, and simply for being such faithful readers. It was you who gave me the courage to dream and the confidence to turn my dream into reality.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Golden, Stripe, and Spot

For a few weeks, Allyson was begging for a goldfish. I guess she'd finally worn Bill down by this past weekend because they came home from Walmart with a little fishbowl and some colorful pebbles. They filled the bowl together and let it sit for a few days to get ready for some fish.

Every day, Allyson's first waking thought was whether we could get a goldfish. She asked us morning, noon, and night. "Not yet," Bill kept saying. "Ask your daddy," was my standard reply.

On Tuesday night, Bill told her that Wednesday was the day. So of course she was following him around begging to go to the pet store the moment he walked in the door last night. "Honey, we're going to church tonight," I said apologetically. "I think it will have to wait until tomorrow."

"Can't we go after church?" she asked. Bill said we'd see.

And that's how we ended up at PetSmart last night at 8:38 PM. That gave us 22 minutes to select our fish and check out.

A very personable young woman, who bore a mild resemblance to Natalie Portman, assisted us. There were four tanks of goldfish in varying sizes, ranging in price from $.13 to $23.99.

"You can pick whatever kind you want," Bill said.

Allyson pointed to the big, round one, the 24 dollar one.

"Except that one," I said. "It's way too... big."

"Yes, your bowl is little," Bill said. "You need to pick a little fish. If you get the smallest ones, maybe you can get two."

"Can I get three?" she asked.

We looked at Natalie Portman.

"I think three would do quite nicely," she said. "They're community fish, so they like having company."

Allyson peered at the swirling mass of orange goldfish, probably 500 or so. "I want that one," she said. "And that one with the stripes."

"Honey, it's probably hard to catch a specific one," Bill warned.

Natalie swished the net around. "Got it!" she said. "And this one?"

Allyson nodded vigorously.

In no time we had three one-inch fish. I was surprised to see how different they were. Allyson named the solid one Golden, the striped one Stripe, and the spotted one Spot. "Spot is my very, very favorite," she said.

While Natalie was transferring the fish from their bucket into their traveling bag, Golden tumbled onto the table and started flopping. Natalie gently and meticulously grabbed him, dropping him safely into the bag. I thought she looked a bit freaked out about touching a fish, but maybe I was just projecting.

"Oh my!" I couldn't help exclaiming.

"I'm so sorry!" she said.

"It'll be fine," Bill assured her.

Next, the bag sprang a leak. Natalie and a coworker quickly filled another bag and netted the three fish out of their draining bag.

"These fish seem rather unlucky," I fretted.

"Oh, they'll be fine," Bill repeated.

Next, we picked out some fish food. "Now these fish get only a tiny bit of fish food every day," Bill said firmly. "Just ask Auntie Lisa what happens if you feed them too much."

"What do you mean?" Allyson asked.

"Oh, she killed my first goldfish when she was about your age," he said.

While they checked out--$2.40!--Ethan showed me what he hopes will be his next pet: a little rat that I had to admit was a little bit cute. Um, nah. 

On the way home, I got to hold the bag. The fish nudged my hand and then my belly, and I cringed. "They're touching me," I complained.

Allyson convinced us to let her hold them. "They're tickling my belly!" she shrieked.

Their Lives Were In Her Hands

Back at home, Bill poured some of the water from the fishbowl into a plastic leftover container and transferred the fish into that bowl. After just a few minutes, he poured them into the fish bowl.
That's Spot in the Front (Allyson's Favorite)

Death By Blueberry Muffins--Not a Bad Way to Go
"Let's call Auntie Lisa," he said. "And Allyson, you have have to say, 'What happens when you feed a blueberry muffin to a goldfish?'"


"Just ask her," he said, already dialing.

"I'll be embarrassed," Allyson said, covering her mouth.

"Do it!" he said, handing her the phone.  "It's a joke. She'll laugh."

She took the phone reluctantly. "Um, hi Katie. Can I talk to your mommy?... Auntie Lisa, Daddy says, 'What happens if you feed a fish blueberry muffins?'"

I couldn't hear Lisa laughing over Bill's snickering. But Allyson laughed, so I think she was amused.

After we each said hello, everyone sat around and watched the goldfish eat their pinch of fish food.

Who Knew Goldfish Could Be So Entertaining?

At bedtime, Allyson and I prayed that Golden, Stripe, and Spot would not be too stressed out by their move and that they would be healthy and grow big--but not too big, Allyson reminded me. (Bill says that if the fish outgrow their bowl, they'll go over to his friend Troy's house to live in his pond.)

I reminded Allyson of how God had taken care of the little bird that fell out of its nest behind our pool last week. We'd been sure it would die, but its mother was always hovering nearby (and Lola was locked on the other side of the fence). The mother must have been feeding it. On the fourth day, it was gone.
It Looked Much Smaller in Person

As of this evening, all three fish seem as happy as goldfish can be. But Allyson is already planning her next fish purchase. "When they die, I want a betta fish," she said.

"You just got these goldfish," Bill said, frowning.

"Yes, but you said goldfish don't live very long. When they die, I want a betta."

I'm hoping the goldfish live a nice long while. As long as Bill takes care of changing their water.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Adventures in Baking

You're not going to believe this... I've had my Nutrimill Grain Mill for THREE weeks now without posting anything about it.
After all those months of saving, it's even more fabulous than I expected. You just drop the whole grains in the top, turn the dial, and lovely soft flour drifts into the bowl. It's about as loud as a vacuum cleaner, but you only have to listen to it for a couple of minutes at a time.

I've ground hard red winter wheat berries for bread...

and popcorn for fresh cornmeal (which makes the most incredible cornbread imaginable)...

I've ground brown rice and even garbanzo beans...

Yes, that garbanzo bean is on my floor. I was weighing out the dried beans on my kitchen scale and somehow bumped the bowl. Garbanzo beans went flying all over the kitchen and even into the dining room.

Allyson came in and helped me pick up all those beans, which I hoped to salvage since I'd just mopped the floor that day. I rinsed them in very hot water and set them in a sieve on the counter top, covered with a clean plate to keep away the flies that are already invading our kitchen--no more, I hope, since Bill just hung one of those old-fashioned screen doors that slams itself every time you open it. I had scarcely finished grinding the rest of my rather expensive beans when Bill "tidied" up by setting the sieve in the sink and proceeded to pour soapy water over the beans. Sigh... You know how I hate wasting food!

Rising to New Heights
There was lots more food to be wasted that evening. I combined my freshly ground rice flour, garbanzo flour, xanthan gum, and corn starch and whipped up some of Gentle's gluten-free bread. Here it was before it went in the oven:

It was rising way too quickly, and my oven takes a good 15-20 minutes to heat up. By the time I put it in, it was already over the top of the pan and still rising... and rising. Here's how it looked when I took it out:

I kept taking it out, testing the temperature, and putting it back in. After an hour and a half, it still hadn't reached 190 degrees, and the probe kept coming out gummy. I finally gave up. I let it cool and then tried to slice it. Here's what it looked like after it fell:

Full of Hot Air
Turns out, it was completely hollow inside! All the batter had fallen into a gooey mess on the bottom inch of the pan:

I guess I'll wait a couple more weeks and then give it one more try. I think the main problem was that my pan was too small. Bill later bought me an actual 9 X 5 loaf pan for my birthday, and my old pan could fit right inside it. There had been so much dough that I put some of it into a mini loaf pan, and that loaf came out almost as delicious as Gentle's. I gave two tiny slices to Allyson and polished off the rest of the loaf myself.

A Little Toaster Mishap
When there was just one slice left, I had an uncontrollable craving for gluten-free toast. I gingerly dropped the tiny slice into the toaster slot. When it popped up, naturally it fell through the grate and got stuck in the crumb tray. I unplugged the toaster and turned it upside down, shaking it violently. No luck. So I inserted a knife down the side and gradually worked piece by crumbly piece back through the metal cage and into my mouth. (Yes, I ate that toast! And it was yummy.)

But it left a residue on the heating element, and when I turned the toaster back on to see if I'd wrecked the coils, it made two tiny fires! I waved the smoke away and prayed the smoke alarm wouldn't go off and wake Allyson. It took a few days, but finally the toaster stopped smoking, and it's no crappier than it was to begin with. 

After wasting a whole evening on my gluten-free experiment, I was feeling pretty downcast. Luckily, the new pan came through for me; my next loaf, made from freshly ground wheat, turned out gorgeous. It looked like it had come from a bakery, and tasted even better. I also made some dinner rolls which we served at Easter, and those were pretty darn tasty.

And I made these hamburger buns on Thursday:

This was my fourth attempt at hamburger buns--at last, sweet success! Previously my buns had looked more like hockey pucks, though they tasted pretty decent.

All in all, I've been extremely pleased with my grain mill. We're savoring the taste of the fresh flour, and reaping the health benefits of all that wholesome wheat germ and bran. And since I can now buy my grain in bulk (25 to 50 pound bags!), the mill should pay for itself in no time. I aspire to bake all my family's bread as soon as I find the perfect, easy recipe or get a better bread machine. Currently I'm kneading the dough in my Kitchen-Aid mixer and shaping it by hand.

I wish you could all come and eat bread with me!


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