Friday, November 22, 2013

Saying Grace

Saying Grace

Faith is like a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark.
Scandinavian proverb

     In Pennsylvania, a November morning looks like nighttime. The Lady-of-the-House awoke early. The first thing to greet her consciousness was a bird singing . . . in the dark. One bird, braving the frosty night air was perched in a tree somewhere close by. The high note of its modest little tweet rang clear, resounding through a tightly closed window. The Lady-of-the-House parted the curtains. But it was too dim to see even a bright red cardinal, the bird she suspected it to be.

Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.

     This child’s grace at table, echoed in the mind of the Lady-of-the-House. She felt it. She thought about it. The simplicity of this grace taught in childhood is like a proverb, a “drop of ink . . . to make us think.” It sets the mind on higher thoughts. Such drops of ink - when heeded - are a blessing in the life of a teacher whose attitude, and gentle but firm underlining authority, are felt by the children she guides.

     The verse also brought a twinge of conviction to the Lady-of-the-House. It shed a soft light on her lack of everyday thankfulness. She wants to be faithful and have a heart that sings.

“Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine?”

     “Alas, how often we are among the nine, the poor, pitiful souls who received everything and gave nothing, not even a word of thanks,” says Miss Charlotte Mason. We become dull to our blessings, are rushed on to do the next urgent thing, or are preoccupied with some fret of the minute, she tells us. She invites us to make thankfulness one of the habits of life – part of the atmosphere of our lives. See what many exclamations she uses on page 192 of Ourselves Vol. II. It is so unlike her. Miss Mason is not given to exaggeration.

     "How good is life, how joyous it is to go out of doors, even in the streets of a city! Surely a pleasant thing it is to see the sun! How good is health, even the small share of it allotted to the invalid! How good and congenial all the pleasant ways of home life, all family love and neighborly kindness, and the love of friends! How good it is to belong to a great country and share in all her interests and concerns! How good to belong to the world of men, aware that whatever concerns men, concerns us! How good are books and pictures and music! How delightful is knowledge! How good is the food we eat! How pleasant are the clothes we wear! How sweet is sleep, and how joyful is awaking!      Even an occasional thanksgiving . . . sweetens the rest of life for us. . .  We say grace for a kind look, or a beautiful poem, or a delightful book, quite as truly as for a good dinner – more so, indeed; for it is true of us also that man doth not live by bread alone."

Miss Mason continues further down the page:

     "Perhaps most of us fall on our knees and give thanks for special mercies that we have begged of our Father’s providing care – the restored health of one beloved, the removal of some cause of anxiety, the opening up of some opportunity that we have longed for. Such graces as these we give ungrudging thanks, and we do well; but the continual habit of thanksgiving is more:

Thou that has given so much to me,
Give one thing more – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be,
Thy praise. *1          
                                George Herbert ”

*1 The Lady-of-the-House found and filled out the rest of the verse referenced on page 193

Explanation of Photographs

Feeding the Birds – by Johan Mari Henri ten Kate (1831-1910 Dutch painter)
Punched paper motto stitched for a married daughter in 2008, posing for the photograph on a bale of straw beside a yo-yo mat in autumn novelty prints – borrowed for this post.
Back of yo-yos up close.
Picket fence at Landis Valley.
Pieces of a cabled pullover in size 4 being knit in a November-brown color for a grandson.
Knitting a sleeve in-the-round is the way the Lady-of-the-House prefers to do it. It is her only change to a tried & true, traditional-style pattern of which she has gotten much practical use over the years (by Yankee Knitter Designs #22).  

From my house to yours,
Karen Andreola

Post Script
If you'd like to send a gift-wrapped Mother Culture CD to a friend in time for Christmas the order should be received here by December 14th. The friend's address can be placed in a note with your Pay Pal order or check to the PO Box. Thank you, Ladies. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Are You Crying Over Spilt Milk?

Are you crying over spilt milk? 
Encouragement for girls and grown-ups

     The petty conflicts and disappointments in a girl’s day can turn her peevish. It is best to learn before entering womanhood, not to be dramatic and cry over spilt milk. I do remember, however, a day of early motherhood, when I cried over spilt apple juice.

     The kitchen floor was shinny and clean. I stood with hands on hips surveying it with satisfaction. As I put the mop and bucket away a wave of fatigue swept over me. I knew it shouldn’t be ignored. My two-week-old baby was sleeping soundly. The little girls were decorating a cardboard box “house” with magic-markers. Around the corner was a small pile of laundered whites on the bed. I could get these folded and out of the way in no time, I thought. Then, I could take a brief mid-afternoon rest. The girls could fend for themselves for ten minutes. 

My little girls in the blue house on Battle Ave. Franklin, TN 1987 - 88

     And they did – almost. Very soon one sister with concern on her brow entered the bedroom reporting, “Mommy, the juice fell.”
     “I’m coming,” I said, warily. Standing in the same spot where I had only moments ago surveyed my nice clean floor, I was taken aback. The plastic bottle lay on its side in the middle of a widening puddle. Little stocking feet had distributed the juice to all corners of the room. I surmised that the full bottle had been too heavy for even the “big” sister to maneuver. 
     I put the mop back to work although I was beginning to feel wobbly. This time, buckets of extra rinses were required to set the sticky room to rights. With fatigue as my enemy I was emotionally frazzled. I dropped my head into my hands and cried. My little girls stared in surprise.
     Then the baby woke up. “Mommy, let’s play,” the girls urged, thinking, from their point-of-view, that the idea would cheer me up.
     “Okay,” I relented, not wishing to nip a kind gesture so fresh in the bud. “After I nurse the baby. Okay?”

     It did cheer me up, unexpectedly. I lay on the sofa, dressed and redressed a doll, making it talk to the delight of the children. That’s all it took. Well, not quite all – for I had made a mental note that we would have sandwiches, pickles and apples for supper.

“Sometimes, one of the greatest secrets to joyful homemaking is knowing when to quit.” Mrs. Sharon White, For the Love of Christian Homemaking

     Reading good fiction forms a sort of friendship. Perhaps this is because we are put in company with others, not too unlike ourselves, who live with conflict. Others have lived through spilt milk and worse, and have persevered. It helps to know that real girls have come through real conflict. The stories in the Daughters of the Faith Series by Wendy Lawton are based on the lives of real girls. Although meant for younger readers than myself (ages 9-13) these stories have been feeding my soul in a gentle way.

     At the start of Wendy Lawton’s chapters I was made familiar with the personality of her main character for whom I very soon found myself caring. Each teen-age girl lives in quite a different setting, yet each contributed spiritual encouragement to my life.
     Anita Dittman, who survives the Holocaust in Germany; blind Mary Bunyan who is a help to her father John Bunyan, a prisoner in England; and Pocahontas, a friend to John Smith in Jamestown, all placed a sparkle of hope in my heart. Yes deeds of faith - and the courage that comes by faith - do exist. Throughout history girls have stepped out of their comfort zones in their desire to please God and persevere. 

     My recent read is based on the life of 13-year-old Mary Chilton of the Mayflower. At the beginning of Almost Home Mary and her family are non-conformist immigrants living in Holland. Like the other English, they feel out-of-place and are put down for their beliefs. Mary helps her mother with daily chores and by sewing. Her delicate stitches contribute to the financial resources. Snatching an opportunity, it is all arranged for the family to quietly step onto the Mayflower in the autumn of 1620 to journey to the New World. Consequently, Mary feels displaced. She longs for a sense of belonging. An odd combination of pilgrims and sailors must get along aboard ship. The journey is a struggle in more ways than one. Patience, courage and physical stamina are required. On the Mayflower there is more spilt than milk.

Can you see what caught my eye in Historic Strasburg?

     Hours of research must have gone into each book. I am impressed at how seamlessly events are woven into a plot that carries the reader along. The reading level and topics are suitable for fifth grade up – or a fourth grader who devours books. In my judgment  - backed by our years of experience - these stories would lend themselves to the method of narration. No teacher’s guide is necessary but the school-minded will be happy to spy a glossary of terms.

     In most instances the events in Daughters of the Faith Series are true, although no one knows the actual words spoken by the main characters. An Epilogue supplies additional facts about each girl. In the story of young Harriet Tubman, for example, Harriet wonders about the Underground Railroad. Little did she know at the age she is in the story, that she would later make nineteen dangerous trips back to the south to lead more than 300 slaves to freedom.

Protect and Prepare

     What you will not find in this modern series is: peer-prominent pop-culture, thrilling boy-girl romance, vampires and other dark themes - all too readily available and targeted for the youngest of teens. Yikes. Rather, the stories in Daughters of the Faith Series, in a non-preachy way, support the guidance found on the pages of Beautiful Girlhood.
     Protect and Prepare – was a motto we followed while bringing up our daughters. They would have found encouragement in these stories when they were young. (I would have, too.) Am I the only one who has cried over spilt milk?

Keep up your Mother Culture,
Karen Andreola

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Best Cook in the Whole World

The Best Cook in the Whole World

     One pair of grandparents I was blessed to have, lived in the Italian neighborhood. Aunts, uncles, cousins lived up and down the street in walking distance to St. Mary’s Church. Some of the cousins still do. My grandmother was a little girl when she voyaged to America. Born in Naples, in the shadow of the Vesuvius, she was used to peasant food; what was grown in the garden, fished from the sea, or scavenged from the wild. Certain dishes aren’t anything you’d find on a restaurant menu but it is authentic Italian food, nonetheless.
Landis Valley

      A couple times a year my brother, sister and I would sleepover in the Italian neighborhood. Our parents dropped us off for the weekend. My grandmother fed us well. Some of the food she and my grandfather ate was different than what they served us. For instance, a shallow pan covered with snail shells baked in the oven after the chicken and potatoes were done. I remember spying something different on the kitchen counter. It was also something kept off the table. Curious, I got up to have a closer look and saw a rustic pie crust filled with oily onions. I asked, “Nanny, what’s this.”

  “Oh, you won’t like it,” she said with a wave of her hand – the same hand that seemed never to be without the limp ma-peen (little mop or dish cloth).

     “I want to try it.” I spoke up, privately giving myself credit for being so brave – although not brave enough to touch the subject of snails.  

     “Alright,” she said with a wink in her eye. She expected it would gross-me-out. It wasn’t company food, nor did it resemble anything normal like her mouth-watering spaghetti and meatballs.


     My grandmother cut me a slice. Just then, the odor of garlic wafted my way like a sort of warning of things to come. I ate cautiously, making sure I didn’t make a face. The texture was greasy, the flavor, pungent. It might have been the first time I had tasted anchovies. My grandmother sat and watched me eat. She was entertained and laughed. But she never asked what I thought of the pie. Therefore, I didn’t have to answer. I volunteered anyway. “Mmm, not bad,” I said. It may have sounded like a white lie but it wasn’t.   

slow food

     Peasant food was handed down to my grandmother from her mother, who was known in the neighborhood for keeping the largest vegetable garden – planted on the town’s vacant lot – a block away from the house. It was she who made my father trudge heavy buckets up to the large lot to water her long rows of asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, spinach, escarole, eggplant, onions, etc. It required many trips, back and forth. 

autumn vegetable garden in Pennsylvania
Autumn Vegetable Garden

     He was ordered to weed it, too, with his cousins, no matter how hot the sun was. Great-Grandma was bossy but she was also the most affectionate person my father knew. She did as much work in a day herself, as could be done in two. From her summer basement kitchen, she fed not only her own family, but all those who walked through the door besides, while regularly caring for the sick and aging of the parish, leaving meals from her garden’s bounty on back doorsteps.

primitive kitchen
Primitive Kitchen
     My father’s favorite dish of his grandmother’s was her layers of pan-fried eggplant baked in a casserole. He also ate bowls of pasta with beans and lentil soup with rib-sticking satisfaction. It was simple wholesome peasant food that was dirt-cheap but my father thought his grandmother was the best cook in the whole world.

slow food - mushroom egg pie with green onion
Filling the Pie

     Sometimes, I enter the kitchen and “brace myself.” I know I’ll be in there for some hours. I might cook double for sharing at a backdoor.  Or I’ll cook double to freeze for a rainy day. A popular egg-pie is quiche. Like most pies it freezes well. It’s a way to incorporate healthy vegetables. It’s a handsome dish, tasty enough for company, that can be made well ahead. And it even tastes better the next day. My version of peasant pie uses a generous portion of green onions and mushrooms pre-cooked in olive oil.

slow food
Out of the Oven

     While making this pie for a weekend breakfast, my mind wandered. Would any of my children or grandchildren tell tales about the home-cooked meals they ate in my kitchen – something normal like my spaghetti and meatballs? Perhaps one day I’ll hear, “Grandma, you’re the best cook in the whole world.” 

You know the moral of the story.

young dogwood tree in autumn


    I thought you could use a bit of encouragement, as November is the month when the enormous work of planning, cooking, serving and washing up after “that meal” rolls around again. 

     The Lord be with you, in the big things and in all the little things,
     Karen Andreola

orange autumn fabric yo-yos
There's a yo-yo for every season.