Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Woman of Liveliness and Humor—Mothers in Literature

Everyone knows the movie The Sound of Music, or is at least familiar with some of the songs. But if you haven't read the book that recounts the true story of the Trapp Family, then you are really missing out! Warmly written and not without humor, Maria Augusta Trapp tells The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, and it's quite a story. It may be just another delightful "family story" but it's amazing and inspiring to read of how God cared for them and guided them and used them throughout their eventful lives.

The book starts at the same point the movie does: when Maria leaves the convent to teach the children of Baron von Trapp. But as it continues it is funnier, more charming, and of course truer than the movie. Best of all, it continues beyond the escape from the Nazis. The Trapp family goes on to America and we get to read of their adaptation to a new culture, of their war efforts, of the perfect home they buy (complete with a family of skunks living under the kitchen floor), and of the old army camp they transform into a music camp. They are true entrepreneurs, using any talent, resources, and opportunities they have to create businesses or ministries or both. We know of the Trapp Family Singers and some have heard of the Trapp Family Music Camp, but this enterprising family also headed up the Trapp Family Maple Syrup, the Trapp Family Austria Relief Effort, and many other varied ventures.

What's special about the book, though, is their wholehearted faith in God. Maria writes in the Chapter Before the First, " astonished, amazed, almost overwhelmed me to see how much love—genuine, real love—was stored up in one short lifetime: first God's love for us His children, the leading, guiding, protecting love of a Father; and as every real love calls forth love in return, it couldn't be any different here." This may be a book full of anecdotes both touching and amusing, but at its heart it is the story of God's love for a family worked out in their lives.

While the real Maria is not quite the flibbety-gibbet described in the famous song, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria," she definitely has some spirit. One of my favorite chapters in the book demonstrates this.

Shortly after her marriage into the Trapp family, Maria had an operation to remove 19 kidney stones along with a bunch of gravel and sand. Not having much talent for being sick or keeping still, she found it extremely difficult to lie motionless during her recovery. For her amusement, her husband brought her a small turtle. Now, the nurse who was caring for Maria was a patient woman with only one fault: in her childlike innocence she believed every word Maria said, however silly her stories might be. An urge was stirred in mischievous Maria to find out to what depths her trustfulness would go.

Sister Agrosia had never seen a turtle before so she asked what it was. Suddenly all of Maria's evil instincts were at work. "A turtle," said Maria, thinking she would finally reach the limits of the good sister's credulity, "is an animal which feeds on the toes of newborn babies." She was wrong.

"Oh, oh!" said the sister in horror. "But we'll have to be very careful and keep the door shut." Maria's room was in the middle of the maternity ward.

Maria continued, looking straight into her eyes, "That won't help any, Sister, because a turtle can make itself flat like a sheet of paper, crawl under a door and blow itself up outside again."

Sadly, Maria was not a bit ashamed of herself at the moment, nor was she next morning when she heard from eyewitnesses that Sister Agrosia had been sitting on a chair outside her door with stick in hand while the little turtle slept peacefully on her chest. Over the next days she tried to break the spell, but at last she realized that she had met boundless gullibility.

I hope I can face my life with the same liveliness and humor that Maria had, though such wit must be balanced with a good measure of wisdom as well.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit Kind of Day—Mothers in Literature

Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit has three little kittens named Mittens, Moppet, and Tom Kitten who tumble about the doorstep and play in the dust. She is an anxious parent who loses her kittens continually and when they are lost, they are always in mischief!

Sometimes she shuts them up in a cupboard so she can get some baking done. But since the cupboard is not locked, those troublesome little kittens come out and play with the dough that is rising by the fire.

Sometimes she turns them out in the garden so she can get ready for company. "Now keep your frocks clean, children!" she says.

Any mother of little children could have told her how that would turn out.

"What a thing it is to have such an unruly family!" says Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit.

There are days when I feel a lot like Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit. Sometimes it seems that every time I turn my back my impish little children get into some kind of mischief! On those days I'm tempted to turn them outside or shut them up in cupboards. Once I did buckle them into the stroller. We get through periods like that one predicament at a time and I take comfort in knowing that I'm not the only mother who has Tabitha Twitchit days!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Woman of Faith and Love and Service—Mothers in Literature

In Papa's Wife, Thyra Ferre Bjorn tells a touching story inspired by her own family, her own father, and especially her own mother. Papa was an upright, old-fashioned, principled pastor of a small church in northern Sweden, handsome and eloquent, but resolutely a bachelor. His dream was to have a large bank account. Mama was the maid who cleaned his house and secretly dreamed of marrying him. Eventually, Mama got her way (as she always did). Their life together was happy and rich with the kinds of treasures that really matter, though Papa had days when he could not quite forgive this spirited, determined woman for coming into his peaceful life and making him ten instead of one.

The book is the story of a family. It tells of the amusing antics and humorous scrapes of children and the things they must learn about life as they grow up. It tells of their immigration from the mountains of Sweden to small-town America and contains humorous anecdotes about their attempts to learn a new language and new customs. At it's heart, though, it is the story of a woman: a wife and a mother who pours her love, her prayers, and herself into her husband and her children.

Every page of this book either warms my heart or makes me laugh or brings tears to my eyes, but the part that I remember most is a chapter that describes each child through his or her shoes. Every Saturday night, after spending all day baking and cleaning in preparation for the Lord's Day, Mama sends her children to bed and then polishes all their shoes. She prays over each child and dreams about the future that each busy pair of feet will travel. From Nim's shoes, strong and sturdy and never in a hurry to Vickey's, long, narrow and queen-like all the way down to the baby's, which won't stay so small for very long, she shines and rubs as her heart swells with happiness and love.
Now seven pairs of shiny shoes stood in a row on the kitchen floor. Mama knelt reverently, folded her hands and bowed her head. Aloud she prayed a little prayer that she had made up once while shining the shoes—a special prayer for a special night.
"God bless the step each foot will take
Of each dear child a staunch soul make
Help them to grow to do thy will
And with Thy love my children fill.

Maria Franzon inspires me to live to the fullest for my family—to create a beautiful, bountiful, peaceful home for them and to hope and dream for them. May my trust in God be as strong as hers and may I pray as faithfully over my family as she did over hers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In the Eyes of My Children—Mothers in Literature

Where's Our Mama, by Diane Goode
This sweet picture book describes a mother through the eyes of her children. The story starts with a gust of wind which blows the hat right off of mama's head in the middle of a busy Paris train station. Instructing her little boy and girl to stay put, she takes the baby and runs after it.
"When mama still did not return, we began to cry. A genarme nearby heard us. 'We have lost our mother,' we sobbed.
'What is her name? he asked.
'What does your mama look like?'
'Our mama is the most beautiful woman in the world!'
'Dry your eyes, children, and we will find her.'"
The search that follows takes them all over the city as the children give one vague description after another and the gendarme tries his best to find the right woman. First he finds a beautiful woman, but she needs a whole troop of valets to carry her things. "Our mama is very strong. Mama can carry her own parcels." Then he finds a woman delivering a large bundle of newspapers. But mama doesn't read the newspaper—she reads millions of books. The librarian is too silent. The opera singer is too fat. ("Mama is very slim. But Mama cooks the best food in the world.") Mama wears prettier hats than the chef. Mama is very brave, but also very smart. People listen when mama speaks. Suddenly the children remember that Mama told them to wait at the station. They hurry back and find her at last: the best mama in the whole world!

I love the admiring people looking on.
I love this story because the mama isn't perfect. Her clothes are not the most stylish and she's not really all that slim. Her hair is a bit wispy, her hat is quite rumpled, and she's rather scatterbrained. But in the eyes of her children, not another woman in the city of Paris measures up to her. I hope I can be that kind of mother to my children!

Probably best known for illustrating When I Was Young in the Mountains, Diane Goode has illustrated dozens of books for children. She has an unmistakable style that is charming and whimsical. Each one of her characters is full of personality with pointy chins, funny noses, and smiling eyes. Unfortunately, Where's Our Mama? is out of print. I just happened upon our lovely hardcover in a used bookstore and immediately put it in the to-take-home stack. If you can find it anywhere, you should definitely snap it up!

Mothers in Literature

In honor of Mother's Day I am going to do a series on the mothers in literature that inspire me or that I relate to. This is also the theme for the next Exodus newsletter, so if you aren't a subscriber yet, you should be!

Here are the books I will be referencing. Be sure to check the Exodus Facebook page for some giveaways in the month of May!

Friday, April 22, 2011


They often don't want to help when I need them and they usually want to be involved when it would be easier to just do it myself, but either way they're pretty cute!

Lucy and Joshua in the spring of 2009
I'm not very good at taking the time to teach the kids. I don't like them underfoot and I'd really rather do things myself. I know that I should invest in the future, but it just takes them so long to learn! Plus Joshua (my dear little absent-minded professor) is especially slow. Funny story: I gave him a cloth diaper to put in the diaper pail. Later I went to the bathroom and, happening to glance down, I saw it sitting in the garbage! Yeah, I will definitely be talking to his future wife someday...

What happened to my baby?

Now he can unbuckle himself (sometimes he remembers to unbuckle the girls too!), set the table, mostly get dressed and undressed, and in many other ways make himself useful. Though he will usually stop in the middle of his task to tell a story or tell me what movie he's watching in his head.

Today Joshua was industriously unloading the dishwasher (lovin' that thing!) while I cleared the table and wiped down counters. But I kept having to stop to tell him where things went. Suddenly I had the brilliant idea to label the drawers and cupboards! The kids thought that was cool and went around opening each one to see what it contained. And I enjoyed saying, with clarity and directness, "That Tupperware lid goes in cupboard #6. Those spoons go in drawer H." Plus then the kids will get extra number and letter practice, right? I think Eli will appreciate no longer having to translate, "Put that thing over there." And the labels will come in handy for any additional helpers I get after the baby's born.

Friday, April 15, 2011

On Zoos and the End Times

At the zoo watching the lions lay around.
When I was young I never really liked going to the zoo. My feet always hurt after all the walking around, the animals that were actually visible never did anything interesting, and the snow cones always looked so yummy but Mom never got us any. Plus every sign loaded with evolutionary propaganda bothered Mom. When she rolled her eyes, we did too.

What? Is that animal actually doing something???
On Monday we took the kids to the zoo for the second time. It was a fun enough outing. My feet still hurt, but the sea lions performed water ballet, the orangutan climbed and swung, and the penguins were their usual frisky selves. The evolutionary posters have mostly been replaced with environmental ones but the kids can't read so we didn't let them bother us. We did eat elephant ears—sugary, deep-fried and delicious!

May I be as friendly as the penguins...
When I visit the zoo, all the animals just seem bored to me. I know that zoos are much better nowadays than they used to be, but the critters still don't have anything to do. Sure they're safe, but survival is pretty much all they live for. In their cages there is no food to catch, no predators to run from, nothing to do but wait for another meal and another check up from the vet. They either sit around staring vacantly, wander back and forth aimlessly, or sleep. Maybe animals don't get bored. Maybe they sit when tiredness in their limbs tells them to and then pace when the weariness disappears.

What should I do today?
Oh yeah, nothing.
I'm not really into pets or animals. I have enough poop to deal with already, thankyouverymuch. But I do think that humans have responsibility towards the animal kingdom—not to restore it to it's natural state, but to take Kingdom domion over it. The people who put animals in zoos are trying merely to keep them alive and they would like it if we humans would get out of the way on the earth so animals could be free. Free from pollution, free from hunters, away from people. This comes from their belief that humans are a recent (unfortunate) addition to the global ecosystem.

These guys really look like they're enjoying a good life.
When God created the world, He placed man in a garden and gave him dominion over the animals. There was no killing then, no fear. (I always wonder what kind of teeth lions had.) Then came the fall and the first animal was sacrificed to cover man's nakedness. After the flood the fear and dread of man was put into every beast of the earth, bird of the air, and fish of the sea and all of them were given to us for food. But in the end, when all things are made right again, the lion will lie down with the lamb and they will let even a little child lead them. For then the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

People, meet monkey.
Monkey, meet people.
In God's perfectly designed the world man is at the pinacle. No, we shouldn't use our power and our technology to wipe out forests or contaminate oceans. We shouldn't run over manatees with our motor boats. But neither should we abandon our cars and our skyscrapers, take off our shoes and live in caves eating only nuts and berries. At the end of the world we won't just have dogs and cats as pets—we'll have wolves and lions in the backyard playing with our babies. Cities won't spew forth smog—they will be teeming with life and growth. Animals won't wander in the wilderness, afraid of man and afraid of each other. The whole earth will be a garden and birds and fish and beasts and humans will dwell in peace and harmony.

The lorikeets were quite friendly!
That's the vision I want to see plastered on posters and plaques all over the zoo!

"Did you drink my sugar water?"

Joshua gazes at the elephants.

This cat was pacing like he knew the vet was gonna give him a shot of something.

Esther watching the hippos.
Nothing happened.

And one more because she's just so cute!

A mongoose! It's like Rikki Tikki Tavi!
According to Rudyard Kipling, the mongoose is very curious.
This one (of the dwarf variety) looked like he wanted to crawl on our shoulders and sniff our ears.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Beans—the Easy Way

"Beans, beans, the magical fruit..." I won't finish that little ditty for you, but you know the reputation beans have and I bet you could use your imagination to come up with what rhymes with "fruit." Or you could Google it; there a whole Wikipedia article on it.

I never used to cook with beans. I bought a few pounds when I first stocked my pantry because they were so cheap and we were also just setting up our budget. I think I finally used up those beans. Most of them anyway... I had many excuses for not cooking with beans then: I always forgot to soak them the night before, I didn't have a good recipe, I never knew what the water-to-bean ratio should be, they turned out mushy and bland, Eli didn't really enjoy eating them...

Well, now I finally have a good method and since we have added three children to the family and no more money to the budget, I am finally cooking with beans and enjoying it! So here's my easy-peasy method as well as three reasons why you too might want to add a few beans into your meal rotation.

  1. Beans are cheap! For pennys (okay, quarters, pennys can't get you anything anymore) you can buy pounds of dried beans which will turn into pots of warm, hearty soup.
  2. Beans and rice (or any grain) make a complete protein. So your even though your husband will probably still go looking in the frige, in the stove, under the tablecloth for the meat that must be part of the meal somewhere! you can tell him that the beans and cornbread on his plate really will fill him up.
  3. Beans are a soluble fiber that will bind to the fatty acids in our digestive system so that they will be eliminated instead of recycled. The liver produces bile to digest fats and the more fats we eat, the more bile we will produce. Bile is also used to process out expended hormones (which are fat soluble) from our bloodstream. But as all this fatty bile goes through the digestive tract, some of it will be reabsorbed only to have to be re-processed out. It creates a vicious cycle where junk goes from bloodstream to liver to intestines to liver to intestines... Enter beans! Soluble fiber can not be reabsorbed so when it sticks to the debris-carrying fats everything will be cleaned out—kind of like my house after I finished "Project Simplify." Read this article for more information about how beans can cure morning sickness!
Bonus #4: If you regularly eat beans your body will begin to produce the right digestive enzymes and they will no longer cause that annoying side effect.

Convinced? If so, I will now show how you can take those dry beans rattling around in a jar on your pantry shelf to savory, steaming pot in time for dinner.

In the morning, as you are doing the breakfast dishes and thinking about what to make for dinner (life is pretty much one meal after another, right?) remember that neglected jar of beans. When you are done washing the oatmeal pot, put it back on the stove and measure in some beans. I've been using black beans because I love Mexican food and I serve them with taco stuff. For our size family we use about one cup per meal, but I usually make three cups at a time. They heat up just fine and freeze really well too, so you might as well make extra. Cover them with two or three times as much water—as they soak for the next few hours they will expand so leave plenty of room. (You could skip the soaking step, but traditionally it's supposed to make them healthier than the quick soak method.) Put the lid on and let them sit. Now go make lunch.

After nap time, when there's still a few hours till dinner, dump off the water, rinse the beans, and add some water back. This time they won't be expanding so only cover them enough that they will all be submerged, even as they simmer and some evaporates off. If you put in too little water, they won't cook evenly, but if you put in too much they will be too thin and, well, watery. Put the (lidded) pot on a burner and crank up the heat.

While they are coming to a boil, create the flavor of this pot of beans. Heat some oil in a skillet and saute a chopped onion. Once that's good and browned I add garlic, pepper and chili powder. Add whatever spices you like (depending on your taste and the type of bean) but remember that whatever you use will taste fuller if you saute it until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

When the skillet is one big mess of tastiness, dump some of the simmering bean liquid into it. This will release a cloud of steam and will make sure every yummy browned bit will come off the bottom of the skillet and end up in your beans. Turn off the heat, stir it around for a minute to let the liquid reduce and then dump it back into the pot.

Now turn down the heat under the beans (you may have already had to do this) and let the beans meet and get acquainted with the flavor you just introduced them to. As the pot simmers for the next hour or so with the lid on the beans will finish softening and they will become one with the flavor. Stir occasionally.

You may want to change the consistency towards the end of the cooking time by adding water if it looks too dry or by removing the lid and letting some of it boil away if it looks too thin. Don't forget to add salt to taste. Salt can inhibit softening, so I like to wait till the end.

Serve with rice, cornbread, tortillas, tortilla chips or whatever your heart desires. Include some taco meat in the menu if it will make your husband happy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In Which Some City Kids Visit A Farm

On Friday I took the kids and my sister-in-law, Gilma, out to our friends' farm. We were supposed to see some lambs, but it turns out that the Cones' shipment of chicks had just arrived so we got to see those as well!

Just in time for Easter!

Yellow, fluffy, and soft, they looked as edible as marshmallow peeps! But I think these ones will taste better if they have a few months to grow and then I'll wait till they're butchered, de-feathered, and roasted or fried or barbecued.

Holding some pre-hatched ones.

Later (after some corralling—of sheep, not kids) we were able to see this two-week-old lamb. There was a smaller, softer one, but he was so tiny he just jumped through the fence to get away from the eager arms of his visitors.

Yes, he really was that snuggly!

The lamb would only bear with us for so long, but this sheep—bottle-fed when he was a lamb years ago—stayed around as long as there was any hope of getting anything out of that white bucket.

Thank you, Sara, for a lovely day and thank you, God, for smiling down on us with sunshine! Now I should go wash sheep poop off our shoes.