Peanut butter and dragon wings

Confession: My son caught me crouching in the pantry with a large spoonful of peanut butter and honey halfway to my mouth.

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??!!?? he said.

The spoon made it the rest of the way, hastily.

Regan, I said firmly, I am gathering shthrength to care for my children. Now go play.

*

Three weeks of intense coughing by Mrs. Zook developed into 100% of her kiddos sick, including foster-baby-for-at-least-the-weekend who turned into foster-baby-for-at-least-two-weeks and then began upchucking violently. The washing machine stopped working and several inches of water pooled in the basement from all the rain. My mother got her first chemo treatment and my sister arrived from Israel, but I stayed away for the sake of all those germs.

A great weight loss program, all told; I highly recommend it. There is so little time to actually eat.

That is why I was crouching in the pantry fortifying myself with a chunk of peanut butter. I figured it was better than eating the entire bag of York mints.

And it was within reach, too.

But things are looking up. My man hotwired the washing machine and drained the basement. My friends sent food and comforting text messages, despite sickness in their own troops. I made it to the doctor, and the baby stopped puking (and oh, she is sweet), and the coughing bug caught the final child. We are fresh out of children for this bug to catch. Unless it starts catching them over again, which—heaven forbid.

*

My friend Anita owned the one piece of clothing in the world that I coveted, a webbed scarf knitted in a dragon’s wing pattern, deep turquoise with flecks of all colors woven through it. Her mother made it for her; not the kind of thing you can go buy at Walmart.

The week after Christmas I got a surprise package from my friend Heidi in Canada. I unwrapped a beautiful light turquoise store-bought scarf with flecks of color all through it. Hey, my son said. That looks kind of like the dragon’s wing.

I laughed in delight, and wrapped it around my shoulders. I wore it in season and out of season, matching and not matching, shelter me in the shadow of your wing. His provision is not a sparrow’s wing, as I always imagined, but something akin to a dragon’s wing. I wore it on the night the baby came and on the nights I sat up with her and I wrapped it around everyone I rocked to sleep.

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I think He sent it on purpose, right before my crazy time. I wore it till I could feel it around me whether I was wearing it or not. I’m wearing it now.

I debated and debated about the color, Heidi said. I thought you liked blue.

*

I had to fill another spoonful of peanut butter and honey for the sake of a photograph, but I didn’t mind. Neither did Regan, who stayed home sick today from school. He got to eat this one.

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In praise of the soybean

My dad grew edamame before it was cool. We called it by another name back then.

In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. How many were there? We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other.

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When I was an adult, I went to a posh restaurant and was surprised to find edamame on the menu; the waiter grinned when I pronounced it correctly (“Very nice. Usually nobody knows what that is”), but I was raised on it in the wilds of Minnesota and when it arrived on my plate I found they hadn’t even bothered to pinch it out of the pods, but oh it was good, packed and popping with goodness, and since then I have found it at my supermarket shelled or not; an easy choice for this girl who remembers how

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The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other. We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. How many were there? Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood.

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We called it by another name back then. My dad grew edamame before it was cool.

 

What to buy our husbands

Confession: After I wrote about kids’ gifts, Claudia commented “Now what to buy our husbands…..?”

Truly.

So I made a flowchart to tackle that conundrum. Sorry I’m not more help. Click to view full size.

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To all of you, a merry Christmas Adam, which is what Kelly calls the day before Christmas Eve…

And a Merry Christmas, from our family to yours.

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Love,
Shari

Call back later

Confession: When my phone rang at 5:44 Monday morning, I thought it was the alarm, and groggily I punched around on its face a few times until it finally stopped.

That is how I sent a text template to Faith Builders Christian School (calling to inform parents of a two-hour delay), saying Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

After I stopped blushing, I wished I could’ve used that response on several more of the unexpected events December brought me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the third person in my immediate family to face the c-word, not to mention my sister-in-law, my aunt, and my late grandma. Sorry cancer, we’re busy. Call back later. Mom is brave and calm, trusting Jesus to take care of her through chemo, hair loss, and a lumpectomy. But oh, we dread to walk this path again.

My baby got hand-foot-and-mouth disease and spent a miserable week with it. We missed a Christmas party or two. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

And then (all three of these events occurred in the same week), my six-year-old daughter developed acute stomach pain at school one lunchtime, moving from a pained face to tears to sobbing to screaming in less than an hour.* We thought appendicitis, but when they did the CT scan in the emergency room, they said “If it is her appendix, it’s already ruptured. There’s a mass in there. We can’t tell for sure.” And they transferred us to Children’s Hospital. Sorry, my daughter is busy. Pain, pain, go away. Please, please.

*(This is how my friend Anna described it, and she was there.)

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Hours crawled past us.

“There’s a mass of tissue, not fluid. Probably an ovarian cyst,” the surgeons told us after the senior radiologist’s report. “We don’t know what to expect until we remove it. They’re usually benign, but we may need to take her ovary as well. Please sign here.”

I will sign if you will help my daughter. Please, please.

In surgery, the doctors found and corrected an ovarian torsion, the “mass” nothing but her own body tissue, swollen but healthy. Nothing to remove? Really? Oh Jesus, really? And because it was all laparoscopic, she had very little recovery time, no stitches, no scars. The path felt interminable as we walked, but in retrospect I could measure it—from the onset of the pain to the first apple juice post-surgery was exactly 24 hours. Two days after her operation, she returned to school for the dress rehearsal of her Christmas program. On the third day she was her own sassy self, having to be reminded not to run.

Our resurrection story, just in time for Christmas. Thank you, thank you Jesus! We felt his miraculous healing in the skill of the surgeons, the kindness of the staff, the gift of living in 2016.

I spoke with another woman I love. She was cutting vegetables at my sink. She said, “I know it’s supposed to be such a season of joy, but it’s hard. It’s always been a little hard for me.” I know, I know. There are so many things we cannot say.

Sometimes I think that if we really knew what was involved, we’d say no to everything. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later. Picnics and marriage and doorways and friendship and babies—and it hurts worst when everyone around seems so happy.

(Didn’t you know they each carry their own sorrows?)

But if we said no, we would never have the answers, the miracles, the resurrection stories, love. Sometimes I think if we really knew the joy on the far side, we’d say yes, yes, yes! Pain is the unexpected ring of the telephone, the bad news. Jesus is the one who shows up at the door at the same moment, with a loaf of warm bread and a stiff drink. His body and blood. God with us.

He is not afraid of sorrow, a man intimately acquainted with grief. We don’t have to make ourselves rollicking and carefree to celebrate Christmas properly. We just have to watch for him, answer when he calls, pick up the pain and say hello.

He said it will be all right.

Seafood chowder

There’s a soup I must introduce you to, for tasting on these nippy nights.

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I invented it last fall, when I was hungry for a fish chowder, but it took me a whole year to make it again because my husband (who in all other ways has impeccable taste, of course) was not crazy over it. He’s not a big seafood person.

When I made it again, it was even better than I remembered and all the kids loved it, so I grabbed my courage in both hands and clicked publish. At least, by the time you read this I will have clicked publish. I think.

(Just in case you are falling for that yarn: if this post were the one that took the most courage I’d be in clover. FYI.)

You can use whatever seafood you want. I picked three kinds for a variety of flavor and texture. And one disclaimer: it’s not the low-fat version. I often keep bacon drippings in my fridge, the fat left after frying bacon. It adds quick flavor to soups and veggies. You may skip that ingredient if you prefer, or add more of it (wink), or prepare real bacon bits to stir in.

Serve with good bread or toast, and a fresh green salad.

Seafood Chowder

Meat:
½ pound fish, cut in 1 inch cubes
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ pound scallops

Sauté in butter with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic salt, and a generous shake of Old Bay seasoning. Do not drain.

Veggies:
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery
2 Tbsp. bacon drippings (opt)
½ tsp. seasoned salt
2 cups chicken broth

Boil 5-10 minutes till tender. Do not drain.

Base:
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
1 cup cream or half and half
½ tsp. salt
Additional pepper and Old Bay seasoning to taste
Parsley and thyme (fresh or dried) to taste

Melt butter; stir in flour. Gradually add milk and remaining ingredients to make a white sauce, stirring till smooth and thickened.

Stir all three mixtures together. Heat and serve.

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It’s a good soup to eat on the eve of a holiday, when all the family is gathering for the next day’s celebration.

What kind of soup do you like? My sister says this Red Lentil is awesome. Link a recipe here for me to try, or share it in your comment if you’re willing. I’d love to find a new favorite. Share the joy, pass the soup.