Thursday, December 19, 2013

Down the Bayou Theology

Wow!  Ol' Phil Robertson really started some hoopla with his comments to GQ magazine.  You can read about his interview with GQ HERE.  I doubt that Phil is surprised at the reactions or the consequences.  Phil is not a fool, and he's not a coward either.  I might wish that his remarks had been less crass, but for the most part Phil and I are simpatico - although I am not a fan of long, unkept beards, but that's another story.

Phil has got me to thinking about the reality of sin - all kinds of sin, not just sexual sins.  Sin is a reality in spite of the politically correct decree that it doesn't exist.  The law of gravity would exist even if the PC crowd railed against, and so it is with sin.

It's our sins that separate us from God.  It seems to me that there are two broad categories of sin.  There's the wilful, premeditated, planned-ahead-for sin.   And there's the accidental, "I honest to goodness did not mean to do that" kind of sin.

I think there are three ways that we can react to our own sinning, and here they are.

We can keep on sinning, as secretly as possible so we can pretend to be something in public that we know we're not in private.  This method is called hypocricy.  Hypocrisy is bad, and I don't mean to white wash it.  But if we practice hypocrisy because we would be ashamed to be found out, it's an indication that we have some standards although we're not living up to them.  

The second method is to boldly declare that our sin is not sin, it's simply a different way of living.  We can defend our position by declaring that anyone who doesn't agree with us is a bigot.  This method is called decadence.  Hypocrisy is bad, but decadence is worse, even if they did name a popular perfume "Decadence."   Decadence means we've shamelessly tossed the standards.

The third method is repentance.  We can admit we have sinned and throw ourselves on the mercy of God.  While we're about it, we can admit that we are frail, weak human beings and will continue to sin if we don't get some divine assistance.  And divine assistance is always available through faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Repentance may lead some people to a steady ascent to sainthood, but that hasn't been my experience.  For me repentance has meant that I'm slowly moving in the right direction, but sometimes it's three steps forward and two back.  But progress in the right direction, albeit slow, is infinitely better than progress in the wrong direction.  And I don't think there's any such thing as standing still.  We're always progressing in one direction or the other.

The most difficult of these three methods is repentance.  Good things never come easy, and repentance is good because it's the only one of these three methods that leads to happiness.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This and That

 And you thought Alice's White Rabbit was late . . .
     I mentioned this stuffed rabbit project in my last post.  It may have taken 21 years to finish Miss Bunny, but she's a cute little thing!  Who says I don't follow through?

     Bending over a table to cut out fabric is hard on the back.   I've tried cutting out on the bar in the kitchen, but find that it's a little too high -
especially if I'm using a rotary cutter.  The table in my craft room is 29.5 inches.  The bar is 36 inches.  Obviously, I needed something in between, and this got me to wondering.  I'm about 5 ft. 5 in. tall. What is the ideal work table or
counter height for me?  According to ergonomic experts on the internet, ideal counter height is three to four inches below your elbow.  No kidding!  Who knew?   This means my ideal counter height is 33 to 34 inches.  After looking around on the internet, I found this set of furniture feet, and my enterprising hubby attached them to the table legs.  Now my table is 33.5 inches high, and what a difference it makes to my temperamental back!  Someday I'll get around to painting the feet to match the table legs; but I've got too many projects going right now, and I need the table.  (Yes, I know my craft room is a mess.  It's even worse than this sometimes.)

Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin
     I've been re-watching the Nero Wolfe DVDs that Charmain gave me for Christmas several years ago.  I'll paraphrase an interesting conversation between Nero, the detective, and Archie, his assistant.  This calm exchange came after a heated argument between the two of them.

Nero:  It can't be helped, Archie.  It's just the way we are.  You are hot-headed and impulsive while I am . . . (he pauses to think) . . . magisterial.  We are bound to clash.  It's a miracle that we get along at all.
Archie:  (on his way out the door) . . . Yeah, well, I've got errands to run, and I need a break from the "miracle."

Don't we all have a few "miracle" relationships like this in our lives?  And don't we all need a break from them sometimes?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Creativity and Order (or How I've Been Pulled Apart by a Rabbit)

There are times - even in the best of marriages - when you can hardly live with each other, but you know your life would be empty and meaningless if you were apart.  Creativity and Order are married, and that's pretty much how they feel about each other.  

For the sake of personification, I'm going to refer to Creativity as "she" and Order as "he" - probably because my father was a meticulously organized man; and although my mother was pretty well organized, she was willing to put up with a certain amount of mess for the sake of progress on a creative project.  But if you want to think of Creativity as masculine and Order as feminine, go right ahead.

As individuals, I think we all have a creative side and an orderly side.  Creativity in some people is dominant, and they don't pay much attention to Order.  They are happy creating in the middle of a perpetual mess.  In other people, Order is dominant, and Creativity is squelched.  These Order dominant people are happy in their pristine, uncluttered, highly organized environment where very little, if anything, is ever created.  The Creativity dominant person and the Order dominant person live very different lives, but they are both content with their circumstances.

But then there's the hybrid - and I'm one of these - in whom Creativity and Order are pretty well balanced.  Hybrids often suffer from inner turmoil.  After all, Creativity just wants to create.  She's got a kajillion ideas running around in her head, and she wants to implement them.  She feels like time spent organizing is taking away from the time she could spend on her numerous projects.  On the other hand, Order likes things to be tidy - really tidy.  He tries to talk Creativity into neatness by telling her she will be able to find her tools and other supplies easier if things are organized.  She knows this is true, but she suspects that Order doesn't really care if any projects get done or not as long as everything has its place and stays there.  Needless to say, their relationship is rocky.

A few days ago, my own inner Order got the upper hand, and I started doing some straightening up in my sewing closet.  I came across a plastic bag on a high shelf.  In it was a naked stuffed bunny with very long ears and a cute embroidered face.  Included in the bag was the pattern I had used to make the bunny as well as patterns for the bunny's clothes.  The clothes - pantaloons, dress, and apron - were cut out of coordinating fabric and neatly organized with the instructions.  I had written the date on the pattern - November 10, 1992. I don't remember exactly why this project got put on the back burner; but when I found it, Order was soooooo proud of how well organized everything was!  Creativity was downright mad!  Who in the world takes 21 years to finish a simple stuffed bunny project?!  Creativity is now busy at the sewing machine and will have the upper hand until that naked bunny's clothes are finished.

Friday, September 13, 2013

American Exceptionalism (or Who Do You Think You Are, Mr. Putin?)

Who says America is not exceptional? Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, for one. He said so yesterday in an opinion article he wrote - an article that the New York Times thought was worthy of publication. Maybe you would have to be my age to see the irony in this.
My generation grew up during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was our arch enemy.  The Cold War was the back drop of our childhood years.  We had drills at school so we would know what to do if the Soviets (Russians) bombed us during school hours.  Every little town in America had meetings about how to prepare your family in case of a Russian attack.  A lot of people had bomb shelters built in their back  yards.  My parents considered doing this, although they never quite got around to it.  I remember that they went to a meeting once to learn how a bomb shelter should be constructed.

I remember the cranky Russian leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who liked to bang his shoe on the table to be sure he had everybody's attention.  In 1956, at a meeting in Moscow with Western diplomats, he shouted, "We will bury you!" - meaning America.  Now it's said that this statement was mistranslated, and that what Khrushchev really said was, "We will show you!" or "We will outlast you!"  Whatever.  He was mad when he said it, and it came across as a thinly veiled threat.  That's when the bomb shelter business started to boom.

Needless to say, I never thought I'd live to see the day when a Communist Russian leader could get an article, critical of the United States of America, published in the New York Times.  But this is 2013, and President Obama has had a great deal of success in "fundamently transforming America."  Read Comrade Putin's entire article here.

I'm not going to say that there's no truth in Putin's article.  Even the devil has been known to speak the truth when it suits his purposes.  But don't be deceived by Putin's saying that Americans should not think of their country as "exceptional" - that it's even dangerous for us to think we're exceptional.

What does "American Exceptionalism" mean anyway?  President Obama has put his own erroneous spin on this phrase.  In his recent speech about Syria, here, he said this:

" . . . when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional."

When you put it that way, Mr. President, who can argue with the goodness, the rightness, the virtue of keeping children from being gassed?  But alas!  That's not what is meant by "American Exceptionalism."  I begin to think there is at least as much truth in Putin's article as there is in Obama's speech.

We have to review history to understand why America is exceptional.  Since the beginning of recorded history, far more people - the vast majority of people - have lived under monarchs, dictators, or tyrants.  Whatever rights they had were given to them by the monarch, dictator, or tyrant to whom they were subject.

But God created human beings, and the rights they have come from God himself, not from any earthly ruler.  Throughout history human beings have instinctively known this and have made various attempts to assert their God-given rights.  Some attempts have been more successful than others.

In 1215, on a summer's day, a group of feudal barons met at Runnymeade, about 20 miles west of London, England; and here the Magna Carta (Great Charter) was born.  This document was a milestone in human history because it limited the king's powers and guaranteed the baron's rights.  An ancestor of mine, named Fitzwaren, is said to have attended the meeting at Runnymeade, but he refused to sign the Magna Carta.  He didn't think it was strong enough to accomplish what he and the other barons wanted to accomplish - securing their God given rights.  He may have missed out on the fame of having history record him as a signer of the Magna Carta, but history proved him right.  As time passed, most of the clauses of the Magna Carta were repealed. Today the United Kingdom has a lot in common with a socialist state where individual rights are more restricted than they are here in the United States.

The French were a bit more strident in their efforts to get out from under the rule of Royalty.  They beheaded as many members of the aristocracy as they could get their hands on during the French Revolution (1789-1799).  What they ended up with after the revolution wasn't exactly freedom - it was Napoleon Bonaparte who declared himself Emperor.  By 1814 the French had had enough of Napoleon, and so they ousted him.  There were a few royals left who still had their heads, so Louis XVIII was installed on the French throne.  Today France, like England, is socialist in nature.

And then there's Russia, Mr. Putin's country.  The Russian Revolution began in 1917.  The Russians forced Czar Nicholas to abdicate.  Later they executed Nicholas, his wife, his son, his four daughters, the family doctor, a maid servant, and the cook - and maybe the family dog, too.  I don't know.  At any rate, I guess the Russians thought they had been thorough enough that freedom would surely reign for the common people.  But what did they get?  Communism and tyrants far more ruthless than the Czar and his family.

It's worth noting that both the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution were atheistic in nature.  Napoleon went so far as to come up with his own calendar that had nothing to do with Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Success in the Russian Soviet Union required publically professing atheism and avoiding religious activities.

After discussing failed attempts to lay hold of God given rights, let's talk about a successful attempt - The American Revolution, wherein we won our independence from Great Britain and King George.  The aftermath of the American Revolution saw the creation of a political system that had never been seen in the world before - a system of laws to protect its citizens, and - at the same time - a system of rights that gave the individual an opportunity to flourish whether that individual's origins were humble or great.  When we compare this to the rest of the world's history, how can anybody say that the United States of American is not exceptional?

Why was the American experiment so successful in spite of its internal squabbles and flaws?  Because we were not founded on atheism.  We were founded on a belief in God Almighty.  All those who were instrumental in the founding of this country believed in God, and most were professing Christians.  God blessed us with success.

And now - a cautionary note.  Just because we have been and are exceptional does not mean we always will be.  We're skating on thin ice now as we let atheistic forces have undue influence, and as we allow truth to be sacrificed on a daily basis on the altar of political correctness.  May we see the error of our ways!

But in the meantime, don't let Mr. Putin tell you we're not exceptional, and don't let Mr. Obama change the definition of American Exceptionalism to some watered-down politically correct idea.  The history of the world is evidence of American Exceptionalism, and so is the fact that millions of people all over the world are striving to come here.  God bless America!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Needles Galore!

I took a twenty year hiatus from sewing.  I didn't plan to be away from my sewing machine that long, but that's how it turned out.  Now that I'm back to sewing, I'm amazed at how many different sewing machine needles there are now.

Years ago, I seldom changed the needle in my machine.  When I did, it was usually because I tried to zigzag with the wrong foot and broke a needle.  If I was mending jeans, I knew I needed a bigger needle than when I was sewing lightweight cotton.  At any rate, needle changes were not frequent.

But wow!  Things have changed!  In addition to regular sewing machine needles in various sizes (sometimes called universal needles) there are ball point needles (sometimes called jersey needles), special needles for topstitching, and twin needles (sometimes called double needles).  Since many of the new sewing machines do embroidery, there are special embroidery needles.  All these special needles come in various sizes, too.  (And to complicate things even more, sergers have their own array of needles, but that's another story.)

Needles usually come in little plastic cases - anywhere from four to six per case.  Some cases come with an assortment of sizes.  Once I've used a needle, I don't like to put it back in the case with the new, unused needles.  Needles get dull after so many hours of use, so I like to keep new and used separated.  But once a needle has been out of its case for a while, a question arises.  What kind of needle is this, and what size is it?

Size is usually etched on the shank of the needle, and twenty years ago I could read these tiny numbers.  Not now.  I have a jeweler's loupe that I bought to read information on fountain pen nibs.  I have to use it to see the numbers on needles these days.  But even if I can read a needle's size, I still have to determine what kind it is.  Fortunately, embroidery needles have a red mark at the base of the shank.  Both embroidery and topstitching needles have long eyes.  If a needle has a long eye, but no red mark, I assume it's a topstitching needle.  I don't know how to tell the difference in a regular and a jersey needle.

To try to bring some order to the confusing world of needles, I've made a needle "book" out of felt with different pages for various sizes and types of needles.  I place a special pin (with a blue head) to mark a place for the needle that is currently in my machine.  If - after a few days away from my machine - I forget what needle is in it, this saves me from having to take the needle out just to identify it.  

To make my little book, I cut four pieces of felt with pinking sheers - each one approximately 6 x 8 inches.  I folded each of these in half, making them 4 x 6 inches.  I punched three holes along the folded sides.  A regular paper punch won't work.  I used a hole punch and hammer from my MakingMemories Tool Kit.  I love it when paper crafting and sewing can use some of the same tools.  I cut a 4 x 6 inch piece of chip board, punched matching holes in it, and placed it on the bottom - under the pages - for some stability.  I bound the felt pages and chip board together with ribbon.  I used an alphabet font on my machine to do the lettering.  So there you have it!  Organized needles!  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Blogging on the Go

Here I am with my iPad on my lap, making a blog post - thanks to a recently purchased iPad app called BlogTouch.  Before BlogTouch, I had to be at my computer to make a blog post; and I'm not parked in front of the computer much since the iPad entered my world.   But with BlogTouch I don't have to be anywhere near my computer.  I can blog in the car - not while driving, of course.  I can blog while waiting on the Dow train between here and Baton Rouge.  I can blog at the doctor's office, the beauty shop, or while waiting in line at the store.   The result of having BlogTouch should be more frequent blog posts.  Time will tell.  We'll see.

Although I have an external keyboard that I can hook up to my iPad, it's a little cumbersome when you're on the go.  It has taken a lot of practice, but I'm fairly proficient at typing on the on-screen keyboard.  It was maddening at first!  A slick screen is nothing like a real keyboard.  I had never thought about how much "feel" has to do with typing.  Since there's nothing to feel on the screen, I have to look at the keys as I type.  At first I thought that on-screen typing would ruin me on a real keyboard, but it hasn't.  My brain seems to have accepted that these are two different skills.

As much as I love technology, it has occurred to me that it has a tendency to multiply and devalue things.  Think about it.  In the early days of photography, photographs were rare and highly prized.  A lot of people probably didn't have more than a half dozen pictures taken of themselves in a lifetime, so descendants often fought over photographs long after great-grandpa was gone.  Fast forward to modern digital photography.  Photographs have multiplied like rabbits!  We take hundreds - maybe thousands of them in a year's time.  I'm trying hard not to think of them as a nuisance.  They take up space on all my gadgets.  They have to be constantly sorted and organized if they're ever to be of any use.  And who needs 345 pictures of the cat, chasing a ball even if it was cute to see at the time?  You see what I mean?  Pictures just aren't as valuable as they were when they were rare.

And I fear that the same thing is true of the written word.  Once upon a time books and written documents - where people babbled on about experiences or opinions - were rare and highly prized.  Now modern technology and the internet have multiplied the written word to astronomical proportions.  Anybody can write anything and publish it instantaneously.  So . . . will the world be a better place because the BlogTouch app makes it easy for me to make frequent blog posts?  Nah, not really.  But all bloggers love to drone on, and if the readers get bored, a mere click will take them somewhere else.  Or, better still, they can set up their own blog. 

(The cute red car above is courtesy of

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"The Entombment of Christ" by Caravaggio

The New Orleans World's Fair was a big deal in 1984.  We saved our pennies, put the kids in the car, and went.  There was a lot to see, and we didn't see it all by any means. 

Most of my memories of the exhibits at the Fair have been blotted out by that one memory from the Treasures of the Vatican exhibit.  We entered the Vatican Pavilion and wandered through exhibits of interesting artifacts, intricately carved sarcophagi, sculptures, and other works of art. 

The smaller exhibit rooms opened into a large room - a gallery where  pictures lined the walls.  And then I saw it - "The Entombment of Christ" by Michelangelo Caravaggio, and I've never been quite the same since.

I've always loved art, but having no formal education in art history, I couldn't identify this painting.  Fortunately, there was a plaque there that gave the name of the painting and the artist's name.  Before leaving the Vatican Pavilion, we went to the gift shop where I bought a very small print of  "The Entombment of Christ" which, by the way, is also called "The Deposition."  I still have it.

Since then I've learned a few facts about this painting.  Michelangelo Caravaggio painted it in 1602 for St. Maria in Vallicella, a chapel in Rome.  Today a copy hangs in this chapel, and the original painting resides in the Vatican.

I like realism in art, and Caravaggio was a leader in the realist trend of the seventeenth century.  He arrived in Rome when he was in his early twenties.  He didn't lack for work.  Huge new churches were being built, and Caravaggio did his part to meet the demand for paintings to fill these churches.

There are three women in "The Entombment of Christ."  Mary, the wife of Clopas, raises her hands to heaven as if to ask why this thing has happened.  Mary Magdalene looks on with bowed head and a look of resigned grief.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, spreads her arms wide over her son's body as mothers often do in their efforts to protect their children.  I can almost hear her say, "Careful.  Don't drop him." 

Jesus is portrayed as a muscular man - a realistic interpretation, I think, since after all, he was a carpenter and had spent his adult life lifting and fashioning wood into useful objects or dwellings. 

It is Nicodemus whose arms are circled around and under Jesus' knees.  There seems to be some confusion about who Caravaggio was portraying in the shadowy figure who supports the upper part of Jesus' body.  Some art experts say it is the disciple John, and others suggest that it may have been Joseph of Arimathea in whose tomb Jesus was buried. 

It's an understatement to say that this is a large painting.  It's 6.5 feet wide and 10 feet high.  It is bigger than life.  In the gallery at the New Orleans World's Fair, it was hung fairly low to the floor.  I felt like I could almost step into the scene.  And indeed Nicodemus looked straight out at me and said, "For you.  He died for you."  It was quite an experience.  I didn't hear an audible voice that people around me could hear, but I heard it nonetheless. 

Until that moment, I thought he had done it for other people - people who were more righteous that I was.  Sometimes I was more hopeful and thought that he died for humanity in general, and maybe - just maybe - by the skin of my teeth I could be accepted as a member of that human sea. 

But Caravaggio's masterpiece brought me an epiphany - the knowledge that Christ sacrificed himself for me - the individual person, me!  - as he also sacrificed himself for the individual person, you!  Thanks be to God.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ninja Notes - the Oven Setting

I'm continuing to give the Ninja Cooker a work out since posting my last Ninja Notes here.  I've done three things in the Ninja on the "Oven" setting - beer bread, a flan (custard), and pork roast.

For beer bread I used the recipe found here.  The cooker's instruction book says that there's no need to preheat; but if I understand correctly, you should never use the cooker on the oven setting without having water in it.  The purpose of the Ninja's oven feature is to do "steam infused" baking or roasting.  I put four or five cups of water in the cooking vessel, placed the rack in the water, and the loaf pan with batter in it on the rack.   The water level was just below the pan - not touching it.

The Ninja's lid has a vent hole that measures almost three-eighths of an inch - pretty large for a vent hole.  An incredible amount of stem pours out of this hole when on the oven setting.  I admit it - I thought about plugging the hole, but my more responsible genes kicked in and I decided to read the instruction book - yet again.  Plugging the hole is a big no-no, and I think I see why.   If the vent hole was plugged, the water would probably boil right out of the pot and flow into the heating unit that the cooking vessel sits in which would probably ruin the Ninja, electrocute any by-standers, and burn the house down - maybe even the whole neighborhood.  Perhaps I'm exaggerating the possible outcome, but don't plug the hole!

However, I'm using the Ninja almost daily, and all my kitchen counters have wall cabinets above them.  I don't like the idea of all that steam going up under the wall cabinets.  If I was building a new house, I'd design the kitchen so that there would be a few feet of free counter space with a vent fan over it just for the Ninja and all the other small electric appliances that put out steam and heat.  But the only vent fan I have is over the stove, so I put a cutting board on the stove burner grates and set the Ninja on it.  You can see all that steam going up to the vent exhaust fan. 

I have to tell you that this is a no-no, too, according to the instruction book.  It says not to put your Ninja anywhere near the stove or anything that is hot.  Ok, I get what they're talking about.  But my stove is not hot when I put the Ninja on it.  I won't try to use the stove and the Ninja at the same time.  Of course, this might not be a good idea if you have children or loony adults at your house who might come along and turn the stove on while the Ninja is in residence.  And it's really a no-no if you have an old gas stove with pilot lights.  But since we don't have children or pilot lights and neither Jerry or I are loony - yet, I think it's ok. 

Before the broiler

After the broiler
Now, back to the beer bread - after baking for an hour, the beer bread was done, but not brown at all - not very appetizing as you can see in the picture.  As far as I am concerned, bread that is sickly pale just will not do!  I put it in my regular gas oven  under the broiler - after moving the Ninja off the stove, of course. I kept a vigil because usually bread will burn after two or three minutes under the broiler.  It took seven minutes to get this bread to brown!

By now you might be wondering how the bread turned out.  I've baked beer bread in the regular gas oven before, and Ninja "steam infused" beer bread is - well, different.  On the positive side, the texture is very fine.  Once the bread cools you can get nice slices that don't crumble.  Beer bread baked in a regular gas (or electric) oven has a coarse texture and tends to be a little bit crumbly when sliced.  But the regular oven produces much better tasting beer bread.  The Ninja bread didn't taste bad, it was just sort of blah.  I just don't think infusing steam into bread is a good idea - it makes a fine textured, heavy, relatively tasteless bread.

To be fair to the Ninja people, they didn't tell me to bake beer bread in my Ninja.  I just thought I'd give it a try.  But from now on I'll be baking my beer bread in the conventional oven.  I'm inclined to think any kind of bread will be better in the conventional oven.

The beer bread may have been disappointing, but the flan and the pork roast were big successes.  But this post is already too long, so I'll save them for the next Ninja Notes.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Morning Update

It's cloudy and 80 degrees.  I'm looking out on our maple tree.  It has clothed itself with fresh new leaves.  Even the pecans trees are putting out new foliage, so spring is here in earnest.

I've written a post card to a new Fountain Pen Network friend.  She lives in Ynys Mon, Wales - the Isle of Anglesey.  I've been "visiting" there via the internet.  It's an intriguing place! 

Last month I received the First Day of Issue Cover that I ordered from the Royal Mail.  It has the new United Kingdom stamps commemorating Jane Austen and the six novels she wrote. A First Day of Issue Cover is an envelope with newly released postage stamps affixed and post marked on the first day the stamps are authorized for use.  I have a First Day of Issue Cover from 1956 with stamps commemorating Grace Kelley's marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.  I was a serious stamp collector when I was a child.  I still have my collection, but have only recently started to add to it.

I've had to turn the TV off.  It's so frustrating to hear about all the suffering brought on by the bombings in Boston and know that you are helpless to do anything about it.  Pray.  That's all I can do.  Pray for all those who are injured and the families of those who have died.  It's heartbreaking.

I'm off my housekeeping schedule.  The laundry should have been done Monday, but I'm doing today.  While the new washer is making all its strange sounds, I'm upstairs - in the Far Corner - my refuge from the activity of downstairs.

But now it's time for me to go back downstairs and check on the corned beef brisket that simmering on the stove - and get butternut squash ready to go in the Ninja Cooker.  More later . . .

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ninja Notes

Is there no end to small kitchen appliances?  No, apparently not.  Jerry and I both are fascinated by them.   I have to confess that we've been known to buy these gizmos and not use them much after the new wears off.  When was the last time we used the Showtime Rotisserie?  Don't ask.

Jerry has been interested in the Ninja Cooker for a while now.  I did everything I could to discourage him, thinking that it was pretty much like the two slow cookers we've already got.  And I figured if it wasn't like them, surely it was a clone to the three West Bend cookers that I've had for at least 25 years.  (One of these West Bend cookers was inherited from my mother.)  I like the West Bends and use them fairly often.

So I asked myself - Why do we need a Ninja Cooker?  At $159.00, it's got to be more than a cool-looking appliance with a cool-sounding name.  What does it do?  After doing some internet research, I found that it really is a different animal from the other appliances in our kitchen collection.

I read the fine print on my 20% off Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon and saw that Ninja Cookers were not listed in the exclusions.  So off I went to Baton Rouge.  I came home with a Ninja Cooker from BB&B and a nice little enameled cast iron Dutch oven from Walmart - but that's another story.  When I went to bed that night, the Ninja was unpacked, washed, and ready to go the next morning.

What sets the Ninja apart from our other appliances is that it has both Stovetop and Slow Cooker settings.  The Stovetop settings (high, medium, and low) make it like cooking on top of the stove.  It gets hot enough to brown meat or sauté vegetables.  The Slow Cooker settings (high and low) turn it into a slow cooker.  There is also a Buffet setting which keeps food warm after it's done.  And if all this is not enough, there's an Oven setting - more about that later. 

I had not been grocery shopping for ingredients to make one of the recipes in the little book that comes with the Ninja.  Besides, I wanted to see if I could fix my old favorite recipes in this critter.  It was 8:00 a.m. when I got out a frozen block of ground meat and put it in the Ninja on the low Stovetop setting.  About thirty-five minutes later, the meat was completely defrosted.

I could have probably defrosted this meat in a skillet on top of the stove in fifteen or twenty minutes, but I would have had to stand over it, scrapping layers of meat off as it defrosted, and watching to be sure it didn't burn.  In the thirty-five minutes that the Ninja took to do this job I made the beds, straightened up my bathroom, and did a few other chores.

I turned the Ninja to the Stovetop high setting and browned the ground beef - it sizzled, just like on top of the stove.  Then I added chopped onion and bell pepper, turned it to Stovetop medium, and let that cook a few more minutes.  The plan was to continue on and make my homemade spaghetti sauce.

But about that time, it came to my attention that the CPA needed a piece of paperwork from us before he could file our taxes.  Since this was the Friday before taxes were due, I had to race off to Baton Rouge to deliver the needed document.

I started to turn the Ninja off and forget about cooking until I got back, but then I remembered it's a slow cooker as well as a stovetop.  I gave up on my homemade sauce recipe since I knew it would be lunch time by the time I got back home.  I dumped a jar of ready-to-use spaghetti sauce in with the ground beef and vegetables, stirred, turned the Ninja to Slow Cooker high, put the lid on and headed for Baton Rouge. 

When I got home two hours later, the sauce was perfect!  I think I'm going to like the Ninja.  It takes interruptions in stride, and interruptions are all too common around this place.  Cleaning the non-stick, lightweight cooking pot was quick and easy.  There's more to tell about the Ninja.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Git Along, Little Dogies!

They say you learn something new everyday.  Once in a while you learn something new that's really extraordinary.  And that's exactly what happened recently.  Last month Stella Tanoos, our friend and local historian, gave a presentation at the Island Country Club about Louisiana cattle drives.

Now go ahead and admit it.  You thought - just like I did - that Texas had a monopoly on big cattle drives.  Wasn't every cattle drive movie we ever saw about Texas?  And, not to take away from Texas, there was a lot of cattle driving going on there between 1866 and 1890.

But did you know that cattle drives started in Louisiana in 1765 when a fellow named Jean Antoine Bernard Dauterive contracted to supply the newly-arrived Acadians with cattle and land to graze them on? 

Louisiana cattlemen used several routes to get their cattle to New Orleans to market.  Plaquemine was on one of these routes, and large cattle drives followed along the bayou. 

As I type this, I'm looking out the window at Bayou Plaquemine.  We've lived on the bayou since 1970.  I knew that a railroad once ran across our property.  Now I'm thinking that a lot of hooves may have pounded the earth here before the railroad came and went. 

By 1881 the cattle drives were pretty much over.  By that time cattle were being shipped by train and steamboat.  But Louisiana cattle drives spanned over a hundred years (1765-1881) and moved over two million cattle! 

Thanks, Stella, for all your research!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gray Days

Today is another gray day. So far, 2013 has been rainy and cloudy, occasionally punctuated by a much appreciated sunny day. I'm fixing French Onion Soup - Rachael Ray's recipehere- for lunch. Gray days always call for soup, stew, or gumbo. Jerry cooked a delicious chicken-sausage gumbo out in the barn a few days ago when our kids and grandkids were here. We had enough left to put in the freezer. We'll bring it out on another gray day, but today it's onion soup. I don't have any Gruyere cheese, but I do have some Seaside Cheddar that ought to do just fine. I never met a cheese that I didn't like.

I ran errands in Baton Rouge yesterday and made my usual pilgrimage to Whole Foods for apples. If I'm going to eat an apple, it's got to be a good one - very crisp and sweet, but not too sweet. Lately I've been buying Honeycrisp apples - crisp, juicy, just right! The only down side is the blow to my wallet at the cash register. I noticed a bin of Kiku apples - a dollar a pound cheaper than Honeycrisps - and decided to buy just one to try. Apples have to audition and pass muster before I buy more than one. The lone Kiku passed with flying colors! They're a little smaller than Honeycrisps, but just as good.

Season Three of Downton Abbey ended on a depressing note which, of course, makes all Downton Abbey addicts eager for Season Four. But that is no doubt at least a year away. We Downton people have to cultivate patience. In the meantime, I plan to break out the Season One DVD on Sunday evenings and start the saga over.

Two of my favorites have combined - Jane Austen and postage stamps. The United Kingdom has issued six new postage stamps representing Miss Austen's novels. And did you know that you can order stamps directly from The Royal Mail onlinehere ? Very convenient for those in the US who like to collect British commorative stamps.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Happy Candlemas Day!

I learned about Candlemas years ago from reading English novels, and everybody knows about Groundhog Day. But so help me, I never made the connection between the two until I read about it in Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach.

Candlemas dates back to the middle ages when candles were blessed at church and sent home with those who attended the Candlemas service. The candles symbolized the Divine Light. But as with most spiritual things, there was a very practical side. By the beginning of February, the household candle supply was waning and might need a boost to get to springtime when the daylight hours increased and candles were not in such high demand. Women were known to take a candle inventory before they headed off to church.

At some point the idea caught on - I have no idea how - that the weather on Candlemas was an indication of how long winter was going to last. An old English proverb goes like this:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
If on Candlemas Day it be shower and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.

The Scots put it this way:

If Candlemas is bright and clear
There'll be two winters in the year.

What does all this have to do with groundhogs? I'm not sure what the official explanation is - or if there even is one, but it seems obvious to me what happened. Children, being inquisitive little characters, probably began to ask some legitimate questions. What if it's cloudy on Candlemas morning, but the sun comes out in the afternoon? What if the reverse is true? What if Candlemas is like a lot of other winter days where sun and clouds are intermittent all day? Parents were flummoxed as they often are when their children start with the questions.

Here's when the groundhog was called into service. Parents decided to deal with the pesky questions by saying that it all depended on whether or not the groundhog saw his shadow when he emerged from his burrow on Candlemas. Silly adults! They thought that would satisfy their curious offspring! But the children were perplexed as to how we would know the length of winter unless someone observed the groundhog seeing or not seeing his shadow. And this accounts for otherwise mature adults - some in very cold climates - bundling up on February 2nd to watch a groundhog emerge from a hole in the ground. Leave it to humans to go from the sublime to the ridiculous by linking an observance of the Divine Light to a groundhog. But it's all good fun, and I've no doubt that God holds groundhogs in high esteem since he created them.

I confess that I did not get up early for a rendezvous with a groundhog, but I'm looking out on a bright sunny day here in southern Louisiana. I won't be packing the winter jackets away just yet in spite of what Punxsutawney Phil did not see this morning up in Pennsylvania.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Gratitude Journal

When I was young, gratitude journals used to intimidate me. I thought the only things worthy of being listed were the really big important things - like my health and my family. To list trivial things was to equate them with the big things, and that somehow seemed ungrateful - or so I thought. But listing the same big important things every day got to be boring, so I never kept a gratitude journal for very long.

I'm happy to say that I've acquired a little bit of sense as I've grown older. I've learned not to eschew the small things. G. K. Chesterton said he was grateful for "stars and street faces and wine and the great sea." I decided if Chesterton could be grateful for wine and the faces of strangers on the street, I could learn to appreciate the small things in my daily round.

Now I list in my gratitude journal all the little things that make me glad in a day's time. I'm finding that taking note of what delights me or satisfies me or gives me a sense of accomplishment is an excellent way to get to know myself better. Lately, I've been grateful for sunshine, crisp apples, and Bailey's Irish Cream. Sometimes I'm surprised at what delights me - a fresh clean dish towel or the act of lighting a candle or looking out the window by my desk as the evening fades into night.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, "To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to keep your soul alive." I think he's right.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Listen to Your Mother - Make Your Bed!

In my younger days making the bed in the morning was not a top priority for me - much to my mother's chagrin, I'm sure. She was a regular bed maker. But I felt like other tasks were more important - tasks that will be infinitely harder to do tomorrow if you don't do them today. Dirty dishes and dirty clothes multiply. If you don't take care of them today, there will be a lot more of them tomorrow. If bathrooms don't get a little bit of your attention today, they will be far worse tomorrow.

But the bed - that's another story. If you don't make the bed today, there won't be two of them to make tomorrow. The bed doesn't multiply. And besides that, I used to think, once I leave my bedroom in the morning, I don't go back until night time. It's not like I have to look at an unmade bed all day. This is not to say that I never made the bed, but it was not a regular occurrence.

Back then I was prone to think - how can making the bed be so important when there are kids to be supervised, fed, dressed, and transported to school and all their other activities? Is the bed really that important when there's grocery shopping to be done, bills to be paid, piano students to teach?

This order of priorities continued after the kids were grown and gone. It was working pretty well for me until I stumbled on an internet article that made the subversive suggestion that people who make their beds every morning are generally more successful in life. I was offended! What rubbish! After all, my life has been reasonably successful without the daily ritual of bed making. The very idea that the simple act of making your bed can make you more successful! Honestly, where do people get these ideas? I made up my mind to dismiss this silly bit of nonsense.

But I couldn't just dismiss it. The offending article would pop into my mind often. I started to wonder if it was true. Finally I decided to give it a try and see if making the bed every morning would cause ripples of organization, order, and success in the rest of my life. I found out that it only takes three minutes to make the bed, and I can do it when I'm half asleep - before I've had the first cup of coffee. What ever made me think I didn't have time to make the bed?

After making the bed several days in a row, I found I couldn't tolerate things like a wadded up tissue on my night stand or a pair of socks on the floor. The bed looked so neat, I couldn't stand any untidiness detracting from it. After making the bed, I found myself straightening up the bedroom.

To make a long story short - since I started making the bed, I've cleared out my closet and gone through numerous drawers and cabinets, tidying up and weeding out. I've even managed to recruit Jerry in this effort. With both of us working together, the bedrooms and closets are in pretty good shape. And now we're organizing our books.

Would all of this clearing out and organizing be taking place if I hadn't started making the bed early every morning? Maybe. I've had organizing fits in the past, even as a non-bed-maker. But I have to admit that creating order as soon as my feet hit the floor is an inspiring and exhilarating act. Maybe there's something to the idea that regular bed making creates more success. Just think - if I had started this bed making habit earlier, I might be President.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Resolutions 101

It's January 11th and I'm still revising my list of New Year's resolutions. No point in hastily jotting down a bunch of resolutions and then feeling like a failure when I can't keep them. There are guidelines for everything these days, so I've come up with three guidelines for making resolutions. These things may be obvious to you, Dear Reader, but I’ve had to learn them. Here they are:

1.  Be realistic in the number of resolutions you make. Don't resolve to do more than any human can accomplish in sixteen waking hours.

2. Be realistic in the kind of resolutions you make. If you're afraid to get on an airplane, don't resolve to spend your vacation on the other side of the Atlantic. If you're on a tight budget, don't resolve to have a closet full of designer clothes. You get the idea.

3. Don't resolve to do something if you can't bear the thought of failing at it, because you will fail - sometime, somewhere, under some set of circumstances. Everybody has an inner saboteur who loves to say, "See! You can't do this!" the minute you miss doing doing something you resolved to do. Make up your mind to ignore the inner saboteur. When you fall down, for crying out loud, get up! If you know in your heart that you're going to give up instead of get up the first time you fail at a resolution, then it's not a resolution. It's a wish. You can keep it on your wish list, but don't try to make it a resolution.

Now then - I'm back to the proverbial drawing board to do some whittling on my long list of prospective resolutions. Ah! I do believe I see a thing or two that needs to be moved to the wish list . . .

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

And Winter Came

Another rainy, dreary winter day.  I've been listening to Enya's Christmas album called And Winter Came.  Every one of the twelve songs on this album is priceless.  Some have Enya's familiar other-worldly beauty, but others - like "One Toy Soldier" and "My! My! Time Flies!" are a little more traditional than Enya's usual fare.  "One Toy Soldier" has an engaging tune and a steady martial beat - good music for getting things done.

There are five more Christmas cards on my desk to be answered.  I didn't send Christmas cards this year.  What can I say?  It was a "fly by the seat of your pants" Christmas, and there just wasn't time for the usual card sending.  But we did receive a few cards that I want to acknowledge, so I'm answering one a day.

The book of Christmas piano music that I ordered last week came in today - not that I didn't already have Christmas piano music, but these are new arrangements.  I'm looking forward to playing all my Christmas favorites - something I never have time to do before Christmas.

I took the Christmas wreaths off the front and side doors today.  Why did I do this in light of the fact that I've decided to keep all the indoor Christmas decorations until Valentine's Day?    Is it that I don't want to advertise my Christmas eccentricity to the world?  Maybe I did it out of kindness to those who say they don't like Christmas and are always glad when it's over.  Anyway - the wreaths are packed and ready to go in the attic until next Christmas.

Tuesday is house cleaning day around here.  I just finished mopping the kitchen and living room floors.  I hate mopping - and not because it makes my back ache.  I hate it because no matter how meticulous you are about sweeping and/or vacuuming, when you begin to mop you'll encounter little bits of debris that you missed.  There are tiny unidentifiable bits of "stuff" in addition to the occasional piece of hay that made its way in from the barn.  There is always a little more vacuuming to do after the floor dries.

We couldn't watch the opening episode of the third season of Downton Abbey on Sunday night, so we recorded it and watched it last night.  It felt like a visit with long lost relatives.  I got attached to all these Downton characters during the last two seasons.  At one point in this opening episode, Robert Crawley (Lord Grantham) said he felt like a wild animal whose habitat is being encroached upon.  I know what he means.  Sometimes the culture that surrounds you changes so fast that it's impossible to change along with it.   We give in to the new cultural changes when we must or when we honestly think they are changes for the better.  But who can happily give in to changes that do violence to what you hold dear?  As some wise person once said, "I can only go so far on the fashion train."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

It's Christmas Until Valentine's

Winter is here.  Seriously.  I'm not kidding.  It's bleak right here in southern Louisiana.  It's cold, rainy, and sunless.  All the sugar cane has been harvested, and the fields are brown and bare.  The pasture is a muddy mess with very little green grass.  The horses have the winter blues.  Don't ask me how I know.  I can just tell.
The dismal weather and the long winter nights are good reasons to keep Christmas a little bit longer.  When it's dark at 5:30 p.m., I enjoy all the little white lights on the Christmas tree.  I like seeing the tiny lights around the nativity scene in the dining room. I like the lights with the Santas in my kitchen window, and the ones draped around the Magi on the mantle.  All this cheers me up during the long, dark evenings.
I'm still listening to Christmas music, too.  The weeks leading up to Christmas are so busy, it's hard to find time to fully appreciate the music.  Now that all the preparations are past and it's quiet, I can listen to the music instead of just hearing it as background noise.
So --- Christmas is staying at Bywater Farm until Valentine's Day - on purpose, not just because I'm too lazy to pick it all up.  The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, keeps Christmas all year, so I can surely keep it until Valentine's.  I'm not even going to apologize or explain.  When people stop by and say, "Oh, your tree is still up!" I plan to smile and say, "Yes, it is!"

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year to All!

Have you made your New Year's Resolutions?  I've made mine - sort of.  I am so good at making resolutions!  I can make resolutions enough for myself and a dozen other people.  I can make resolutions enough to require forty-eight hour days to fulfill them. 
I've finally figured out - when it comes to resolutions - I'm my own worst enemy.  I habitually over resolve which leads to under performance.  I set myself up for failure, or at the very least, a low success rate.  My success rate in recent years has averaged - I'll venture a guess - about ten per cent. 
I'm changing tactics this year.  I've made a long list of prospective resolutions.  The next step is to eliminate ninety per cent of these.  We'll see if I can actually succeed with what's left.  Even if I only accomplish ten per cent of the ten per cent that makes the cut, I'll be doing as well as I've done in the past.