Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Friendship Afar

Friendship Afar
Have you ever felt a bit lonely? The Lady of the House has. When her children were small, during a string of household relocations as long as your arm - when families will set about visiting new churches and feel like outsiders until they are eventually grafted in somewhere – if ever they are grafted in – her prayers of supplication were uttered with deep longing. 

She longed to be connected with a like-minded homemaker or two. During the day, during the week, the neighborhoods seemed deserted. 

With the spring thaw the Man-of-the-House saw to it that the mailbox was given a new post and rooted back in the ground. In autumn the mailbox was vandalized. It was broken at its base and left for dead. There it lay until the snow covered it. 

The foolhardy vandals of course, didn’t stop to consider what a meaningful symbol the mailbox is to the Lady-of-the-House. It has been, for most of her life, her primary means of parley over the garden fence.

Her courtship with the Man-of-the-House was a long-distance courtship through letters and the telephone. It is possible to fall in love and then be in love through letters. For married couples little notes on the pillow are a way to stay in love.

“Friends are there when your hopes are raveled and your nerves are knotted, talking about nothing in particular, you can feel the tangles untwist.” Pam Brown

Passing a multi-generational farmhouse that sits back from the road, she has spied – more than once - an old Amish woman walking slowly down her long drive to the mailbox. “It must be her only source of connection to the world mid-week,” sympathized the Lady-of-the-House. Although it is the very small world of an Amish community – it is community. 

The old woman’s mailbox was vandalized, too. The Lady-of-the-House saw her son (or grandson) with hammer in hand, setting it to rights. 

To find an envelope in her mailbox with her name handwritten on it is always pure delight to the Lady-of-the-House. Most of her friends are long distance friends – partly because of moving so often – and partly because she has been writing and reaching out with her message of homeschool hope for more than twenty years. 

She no longer has the same bouts of loneliness she once had.

( Painting by Frederick Goodall, 1822-1904,
  "Letter from Papa" )

“A friend’s writing on an envelope lifts the heart on the rainiest morning.” Charlotte Gray

Although paper letters are far fewer in this century than the last, an envelope on the windowsill is often part of the décor – whether it is a letter received or one just written. 

The nice thing about a letter received (although it does require self-control) is that it can be placed invitingly on a windowsill or near an easy chair – until it can be read with leisure - something to look forward to and savor after a string of time sensitive chores are completed. It is a similar pleasure to “loose oneself” in a reply.

A sense of community touches the lives of those who discriminatingly visit blogs now and again. It is remarkable what a few minutes of like-mindedness can do to lift the spirits. The Lady-of-the-House had only visited a few blogs when she started hers. They were needlework blogs. How exciting it was - the first week she posted on “Moments with Mother Culture” - to know that someone had visited and felt welcome.

“Giving encouragement to others is a most welcome gift, for the results of it are lifted spirits, increased self-worth, and a hopeful future.” Florence Littauer

She remembers the twinge of nervousness she felt when she attempted to pluck up courage to leave her first comment on a stranger’s blog. How concise should the note be? Do I address a stranger by her first name? I must be careful not to sound like a know-it-all with my opinion. The fact that she noticed afterward that she irrevocably misspelled a word didn’t help matters. “Never mind,” she told herself, “It’s the thought that counts.” Now she is relaxed enough to enjoy leaving a comment and a bit more emboldened.

Flattery isn’t the essence of the comments she reads, or occasionally sends or receives. Rather, within her circle of on-line friends she perceives a sense of appreciation, and community – a genuine desire to encourage. Similar joys are shared, similar concerns and aspirations, similar tears are shed, similar efforts made, similar interests enjoyed. 

Because she believes that guidelines are important when it comes to screen-time the Lady-of-the-House has days when she makes it a point not to be on-line. Media can unintentionally be a wedge in developing person-to-person relationships (including the family circle) when people connect each to their own worlds for long hours (which mysteriously never seem long while absorbed). Technology is a good thing but caution is needed.

A Story About Friendship
Reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (published in 1853) was formidable the first time round. The Lady-of-the-House remembers tottering her way through it a few years ago – a sort of three pages forward, one page back. One reason for the difficulty may have been that she was introduced to the story through the British film. The book seemed “topsy-turvy” in comparison  (to borrow a phrase of Mr. Holbrook’s). Over the winter she picked it up again. Magically the story unfolded with greater ease of comprehension. Miss Charlotte Mason is right.

 “Having read the best books once we have only breakfasted.”

The book meanders its way through a somewhat backward English town of the mid-19th century. It is a less complicated plot than the film, has no bright red blood, and fewer characters. The kind of things that loom large on the hearts and minds of a soiree of single and widowed ladies, women who occasionally wear silks to an evening party (though independent of fashion) and who keep a servant to make the tea – are what make the story.

Mrs. Gaskell paints a sometimes bizarre but touching story of friendship. The ladies have their eccentricities “pretty strongly developed . . . but somehow good-will reigns among them to a considerable degree, with only an occasional little quarrel.”

This soiree of ladies is observed through the eyes of the young lady, Miss Anne Smith. She narrates the story with her best attention given to her closest friend of Cranford, the older-in-years Miss Matilda Jenkins. Their friendship turns especially tender when hardship enters Miss Matty’s life, circumstances that “necessitate many careful economies and many pieces of self-denial.” But the story has a happy ending, the result of Miss Smith sticking her nose (and pen) caringly into Miss Matty’s business and doing so in a delicate and discrete manner.  

The Lady-of-the-House feels richer for knowing the ladies of Cranford – fictional friends though they are. She even picked up on Miss Smith’s subtle humor this time round. To close the book at the last page was a sentimental wave good-bye.

The Friendliest Action of All
The loneliest experience in all of history was also the friendliest act of all. While our Lord Jesus hung on the cross His Father turned His face away. The Son cried out in unfathomable loneliness. He gave His life unreservedly to ransom our souls out of love and obedience to the Father. Now we, who were once enemies, can be His friends – forever. 

Is it a wonder that the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus” is a favorite of so many Christians?

Happy Easter,
Karen Andreola

Post Script

Explanation of Photographs
Stitching a pin keep for a friendship afar
The Andreola mailbox
Neighborhood Amish farm
Letter on the landing
An Edith Holden illustrated address book 
Thank-you note on the refrigerator from two darling little girls who live in Texas
The cover of Cranford with actress Dame Judi Dench as Miss Matty
(The surgery in "Cranford" the film, makes it rather intense for children.)
The Lady-of-the-House picking daffodils for her pewter mug.
Daffodils on the fireplace mantel with antique chocolate bunny mold.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Knitting Squares, Knitting Tales

Knitting Squares, Knitting Tales 

My mother is a stickler for matching everything in a room with choice colors. She sews her own curtains, cushions, pillows and keeps to the color scheme with her coverlets, too. Every bed, chair and sofa in her bungalow has its own knitted throw or coverlet. There is no point in allowing oneself to be chilly, she believes.  

If you’ve read last year’s post “Mommy’s Mittens” you know that I learned to knit from my mother. It is only recently that I thought to ask who taught her. “The Brownies,” she said. “ Working back and forth on our rows – we learned to knit and purl - to make squares for the war effort. The squares were sewn together to make blankets for the WW II soldiers.”

In my copy of For the Love of Knitting compiled by Kari Cornell, is an old photograph of some girls of Brownie age knitting on a front porch.

It helped me picture my mother doing the same during a similar time period.

The next knitting experience found my mother sitting on a New Jersey beach in the summer sunshine knitting argyle socks keeping the contrasting colors neatly on bobbins behind her work. 

“That’s a big step,” I noted. “How old were you then?”

“I was fourteen. My cousin brought her knitting on the beach and she showed me how. I made argyle socks for my father,” she remembered with clarity. 

“Some years later I made an argyle tie for my boyfriend. He was in his first year of college.” That boyfriend has been her husband for 56 years. Here is my father in 1953 wearing his knitted tie. Doesn’t he look smart?

One of my mother’s favorite coverlets is a sampler of individual squares in solid cream. “What made it so interesting, she said, “is that each square has a different design to it of hearts, flowers, a windmill, a quilter’s star, etc. and uses some different stitches.”

She has always liked the color yellow probably because she savors the sunshine of summer – a much sought-after season of the year for her. 

As a matter of fact, the first blanket she ever knit was yellow. It was crafted in ardent anticipation of her firstborn baby. 

Here is a faded photograph of my mother and that chubby baby, yours truly, born in 1959. I was doted upon with yarn and a mother’s love.

Repeated washing has made the blanket a bit fuzzy but it survives in my possession today.  

 A True Tale
When my mother was in the hospital with kidney stones (she is an avid English tea drinker) she lay in bed next to a weak and infirmed lady. Having a friendly nature she struck up a conversation. It was soon revealed that she and the lady had knitting in common. Although my mother was dealing with her own pain she managed to get out of bed to help her roommate who was having trouble eating. The lady was grateful and felt a kinship with my mother. She felt safe to share a secret. She told my mother what she had stored in the bottom drawers of her dresser. There she kept the knitted layette sets for the grandchildren that were sure to come one day. But all four of her children, in their 30s, were not keen on getting married and starting families. "I’m counting on them changing their minds,” the lady said with hopefulness.

This continued for a week. My mother fed, talked knitting and to distract them from their pain the ladies also shared secrets. 

Fully recovered and home from the hospital my mother received a telephone call. It was from the daughter of her hospital roommate. “My mother didn’t make it but before she died she told me how kind you were to her. We very much would like you to come to her service.”

Even though she hardly knew the lady she and my father attended the memorial service an hour away. Few persons were in attendance. How startling it was for my mother to hear herself being named in the daughter’s speech and referred to as “Joan . . . the best friend of . . .”

Afterward the daughter pulled her aside and confided in her, “Joan, do you know what we found when we were sorting through my mother’s things? We found a dresser full of knitted baby clothes and blankets all in coordinated colors? They’re beautiful.”

“I think that is the sweetest thing,” my mother said acting surprised.

As a great-grandmother my mother is not as mobile as she’d like to be but she still enjoys knitting for babies and people of all ages. Above is the pastel blanket she knit for Baby Joseph.

In the bath rests some knitted washcloths (cotton squares). Sophia (below) presented them to me at Christmastime confessing that it took two years to make the set. You can guess the connection I made. 

Post Script

My grandchildren will be here this coming weekend. I’ll get to see Baby crawl for the first time in person not just by email attachment.

Thank you for notifying me that the October 2010 post “Serendipity Decorating” has strangely disappeared. How odd. I will look into it. I’m always glad to hear from you by comment or email.

Until Next Time,
Karen Andreola

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Kaleidoscope of Vegetables

A Kaleidoscope of Vegetables

Mr. Fortesque was once again the only guest at our supper table. “This is the most wholesome nourishment I’ve eaten all week. Such a kaleidoscope of vegetables in this soup,” Mr. Fortesque praised. Lessons at Blackberry Inn

The daughter of the Lady-of-the-House made a purple potato salad for her son’s birthday party. It is a reminder to us to eat our colors. Are you in need of a restorative? The Lady-of-the-House knows how admirably her readers love and serve, love and serve some more. Meanwhile her friends are recovering from surgery. Some are nursing a baby. Others are living with various ailments and chronic pain. The Lady-of-the-House can empathize and in this post takes on the role of big sister (naturally bossy) and mother hen (provokingly protective).

“The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet and Doctor Merryman.” Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) satirist, author of Gulliver’s Travels.

Lifting vegetables and fruit up to a higher status than it is given in the standard American diet is the urging of the Lady-of-the-House. The benefits of eating vegetables are numerous. The fact that they prevent cancer reveals their astonishing power to keep us well. 

When eaten in abundance – rather than being tacked on to a meal as an afterthought - they help lessen pain as they contain anti-inflammatory properties. They are a soothing aid to digestion. Eaten in place of processed carbohydrates they politely balance weight without the impertinence of calorie counting. The benefits of a palette of colors (eaten raw or lightly cooked when possible) are attracting the attention of more and more women who have decided to use their kitchens for supporting the health of those they love and serve. And themselves.

Because they seem to be the most tender, the Lady-of-the-House keeps an eye out for the smallest spaghetti squash. It is cut in half, seeded, baked skin-up at breakfast time. Most mornings you can find her doing some sort of vegetable preparation. Spaghetti squash can be fluffed with a fork, gently seasoned, and served at lunchtime in its own skin. 

While a pot of oatmeal is simmering the Lady-of-the-House may be simultaneously steaming broccoli. This super food takes five minutes to peel and cut (peeling the stalks makes them more edible) and five minutes to steam bright green. Cooled and set aside makes it handy for adding to a green salad, a pasta or rice dish or blending it into a creamy coconut milk soup. It is almost hidden to the eye when chopped (or minced) but will add one of the biggest boosts of vitamins on your table. 

Butternut squash baked at breakfast makes it ready for a lunchtime side dish or a light but nutritious dinner desert served individually with a few drops of honey and a pinch of pumpkin pie spice. 

Romaine lettuce cleaned, cut and spun at breakfast can be used in a green smoothie. The Man-of-the-House started this custom. His wife followed suit. They also place dandelion greens or beet greens and orange beets into a Vita Mix smoothie. Orange beets do not stain the hands during preparation but the Lady-of-the-House doesn’t mind red beets when a few frozen strawberries are tossed in the Mix. It makes a pretty pink smoothie. 

Red peppers are a super food. Peeling the skin makes them more digestible and only takes minutes.

Peppers can be diced and added to bean soup or a quick 30-minute simmering soup of red lentils near the end of cooking.

Petite-diced vegetables and grated carrot make a refreshing addition to a bowl of protein-rich quinoa sprouts.

Sprouting jars of quinoa, lentil and mung beans were taken out of the dark pantry and placed on the windowsill to be photographed. You can see how the Lady-of-the-House got carried away. She over filled her jars. This living food takes up more room than might be anticipated as spoonfuls quickly turn into cupfuls.

“There are ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is ripe to eat.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unlike the ever-ready apple a pear is stubbornly precise about when it can be eaten. The day the Lady-of-the-House came across the above quote she smiled and immediately related it to the avocado. Since that day she started keeping these two temperamental fruits in the same “waiting” bowl. The avocado is a super food that makes a wonderful baby food.

Brussels sprouts lightly coated with olive oil and a drizzle of Italian dressing can be roasted in the oven until fork tender. This is the preferred way the Lady-of-the-House cooks them. Still, the Man-of-the-House and his son will not be cajoled into eating cabbage no matter how she prepares it. “That’s okay, it just leaves more for me,” she tells them with her nose just a bit in the air. And the next day the leftover Brussels sprouts are mixed into pasta that is tossed with juicy roasted red pepper, Greek olives, grape tomatoes halved, with oregano and thyme (or pesto) – fabulous.

Is there any plant food you don’t like, you might ask the Lady-of-the-House? She admits to once repressing a gag over tofu. But when marinated and heated in the sweet and sour glaze out of Terry Walters’ Clean Start cookbook, she has even acquired a taste for it. This sauce flavors vegetables, too and is liked by her menfolk.

Bok choy cut into bite-sized pieces takes five minutes to steam. The Lady-of-the-House combines bok choy with green beans and broccoli. The sauce is pungent enough to turn a patter of vegetables into a flavorful dish for a family four to six. 

In a custard cup have ready:
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl grated ginger root

Wisk together in a bowl:
2 Tbl tamari
2 Tbl real maple syrup
2 Tbl lime juice

Heat grated ginger in olive oil in a wide pan for 1 minute. Add steamed vegetables to the pan to heat and mix with ginger. Pour sauce over vegetables. Mix to coat. Serve on a platter.

There are many ways to serve vegetables, many ways to eat a kaleidoscope of colors – some simple - some fussy -with new sauces, salads and soups to try. 

This grace in First Prayers is reprinted from The New England Primer. It makes a fitting finish.

Bless me, O Lord,
And let my food strengthen me to serve Thee,
For Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen

Discussion is invited.

Post Script
Snowdrops along the shady wooded roadside were spied on a recent walk. Being one of the Lady-of-the-House’s most appreciated blooms the Man-of-the-House took a photograph for her when a sliver of late afternoon sun had shone through the trees. 

To Your Good Health,
Karen Andreola