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Monday, 29 April 2013

Two Grandfathers, One Epitaph

The other day I was reading Psalm 92 and began to reflect on the fact that both my grandfathers had a strong connection to this psalm.  My maternal grandfather has this verse engraved on his tombstone: “Het is goed de Here te loven,” which is translated “It is good to praise the Lord.”  At my paternal grandfather’s funeral, this same verse was given to the pastor in order to give a message of comfort for the family.
   What I find remarkable is that despite the differences in the lives they led, they felt the strong need to praise the Lord in joys and struggles.
    Both of my grandfathers were born in the same decade (1905 and 1903) in the Netherlands and were entrepreneurs.  They both reached the milestone of being married more than 50 years to the wives of their youth.  They raised large families of 10 children and 8 children, respectively and led their households in the area of faith.
   My maternal grandfather held a variety of occupations, from selling pails of hot water and laundry products to the people of his village in Holland to barbering to selling products from a cart door-to-door as was common during that time.  He suffered some business setbacks, including leaving a family partnership to protect the honour of his wife and losing his home and business to a “friendly fire” incident in 1943. (To read more about this click on my post Friendly Fire Close to Home) Towards the end of his life he was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and stayed in a hospital when care at home became too difficult.  He passed away at peace with his Lord in 1982.
   My paternal grandfather was also employed in many areas, including vegetable merchant, market gardener, cheese maker, dairy farmer and raising other livestock. (To read more about this grandfather, you can check out my post Cultivating Integrity) At the age of 51 he quit smoking for a year so that he could pass a medical and be approved to take his household to Canada.  Within three years of immigration he bought a farm and enjoyed the open spaces afforded by this new land.  He and his wife retired to a winterized trailer parked in a secluded part of the farm in order to pass on the homestead to my father and his new bride.  Although he had some dementia my grandmother was able to care for him at home until he died in his sleep just shy of his 90th birthday.
“The only thing that walks back from the tomb with the mourners and refuses to be buried is the character of a man.  What a man is survives him.  It can never be buried.”

--J.R. Miller as quoted in the book Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Surprising Side of Achievement

   Have you ever saved up money for a long period of time to purchase something you wanted and then discovered that actually having it did not satisfy you as much as you thought it would?  Maybe you've worked hard to achieve a diploma, a degree or even finish a course to upgrade your skills, and after it was all said and done you were kind of let down.  Sometimes people find they even need to "recover" after a dream vacation.
   Of course, it doesn't happen all of the time.  It is a gift to be able to enjoy what we have worked for and to truly celebrate achieving a difficult goal.
   This week I was part of three events that marked a type of achievement, three days in a row.  On Wednesday night, my husband and I led the fifth and final session of a class for engaged/newly married couples.  In addition to showing a DVD which was paused at various points for the couples to privately discuss a certain aspect of their relationship, we were able to bring in couples from the congregation to interview for three of the weeks.  This was new for us, but it went very well.  When we received the feedback sheets from the four couples who participated, it was all encouraging.  But that night I felt extra tired!
   On Thursday, I took a group of 10 students to a regional "Battle of the Books" competition.  Since January we had been meeting weekly to review and learn facts and details about eight junior novels in order to compete against teams from other schools who had also read the same eight titles. The students were enthusiastic but there was some disappointment about having to sit out during some rounds, since only 6 students could play at any one time.
   Finally, thirty-two students from Grades 4 and 5 took a math contest on Friday that I had been preparing them for.  They did their best and most enjoyed the experience.  It was wonderful to hand out awards to the top scorers and see how far they had all come in terms of problem solving.
   So, after all these things were complete, I thought I would be feeling really energized.  Although I enjoyed the process as well as the end results, I am experiencing some of that "need to recover" as well.  It can be easy for me to look to the things of this world to bring me fulfillment.  When an achievement comes with a subtle let-down, it reminds me where my focus should always be--the God who loves and saves me whether I achieve or fail.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Litany of Dependence

We humans can be so oblivious to our dependence upon others.  “I am master of my own destiny” and “If you want something done right, do it yourself” are words of a foolish person, unaware of just how much he or she truly relies on others.
   Even with something as simple as sleeping, I am dependent on what others have done:
  • My husband who built the bed frame; the one who harvested and prepared the oak wood so that it could be used
  • Those who gave us a mattress as a wedding gift
  • Those who grew and harvested the cotton in our sheets; the inventors and technicians who made the weaving of cloth more efficient
  • The one who skillfully sewed our “tumbling blocks”quilt  
   When we take this one step further, we can see that behind all of our human doings is the hand of God, who gives the ability to learn, build, harvest, live and breathe.  His creation contains all we need to thrive.  Every good thing is a gift “from His Fatherly hand.”*
   Spiritual giants have helped guide me into the practice of keeping track of God’s gifts and blessings.  Some of these are my two grandmothers, my parents, Rev. Bernard DeJong and, most recently, Ann Voskamp whose book One Thousand Gifts has refreshed me.
   A few of the blessings from God that I have recorded lately include:
  • Telephone technology to talk to people who live far away
  • Chocolate milk in a mug
  • An umbrella for walking in the rain
  • Eyes to see the grass turning green
  • Observing my three children play LEGO without arguing
  • A pair of mallards swimming in a large, temporary puddle near my house.

*From the Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 27.  The entire Q and A is quoted in my March 19, 2012 post entitled “Providence Defined.”

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Simpler Living Tips #4: Food Substitutions

Because I am not quick to run to the store when I don’t have exactly what a recipe might be calling for, I have learned a few things that might be helpful to others.

  • Green vegetables.  In my experience, any (non-salad) recipe requiring spinach can be just as tasty if you use any of the following green vegetables: kale, swiss chard, rapini, broccoli, asparagus, or romaine lettuce.  Just chop into small pieces and increase cooking time slightly for broccoli or asparagus.
  • Beans.  When I make chili or another recipe that calls for kidney beans, I usually use a variety of different beans, such as garbanzos (chick peas), white beans, romano beans, black beans along with kidney beans, based on what I have on hand.  As long as the beans have been fully cooked on their own before adding the tomato ingredients, they will all be tender and not mushy.
  • Shortening.  Many recipes I use list shortening, but I almost never buy shortening.  I’ve found that you can use margarine cup for cup instead of shortening, with one small change.  Since shortening has no salt, I reduce or eliminate the amount of salt called for in the recipe when I switch it to margarine.
  • Flour.  Most baking recipes (muffins, quick breads, biscuits and brownies) suggest using “all purpose white flour.”  Already years ago, I began adjusting recipes to use half white flour and half whole wheat flour.  Once I was completely out of white flour, so I used all whole wheat flour instead.  The result was that nobody noticed.  You cannot do this with birthday cakes and sugar cookies, however.
  • Orange vegetables.  In the More with Less Cookbook it states that pumpkin pie can be made with pureed carrots, sweet potatoes or butternut squash because the spices will pass everything off as pumpkin.  For soups, the same orange vegetables are interchangeable, so just use what you have on hand.
  • Brown Rice.  I use brown rice, even though it takes twice as long to cook as white rice.  Last week I had only ½ cup of brown rice and needed more to make a tomato rice dish.  I was pleased to discover that the barley I had bought for making beef barley soup worked fine to round out the recipe.  It also takes between 40-45 minutes for the kernels to swell to the proper tenderness.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

A Few of My Favourite (Handmade) Things

I'm a big fan of C.S. Lewis' Narnia series of books.  One of the landmarks in this fantasy world is a lantern in the middle of the woods.  For one my birthdays, my husband designed and crafted this lamp for my night table.

A wedding tradition from the Netherlands is that the bride carries a little purse made of the same fabric as her dress.  The silver clasp and chain are often passed down from generation to generation; sister to sister.  That means that after my wedding I could not keep the purse.  However, my mother kindly purchased a clasp and chain for each of us and at Christmas gave me the purse to keep.

My mother-in-law gave me this crocheted scarf she had made.  It shades of green match nicely with my white top and black pants.

The simple necklace with a ceramic charm bears the imprint of my son's running shoe from seventh grade.  A bookmark made by my daughter in Grade 2 still marks my place in the Bible.  

 The dragonfly on terra cotta clay made by my other daughter in Grade 3 hangs in our main floor bathroom.

A Christmas runner quilted by a parent of one of my students is too beautiful to put away for 11 months of the year, so I have hung it on my bedroom door.  She told me it was made with many prayers, so when I wake up each morning and see it, I feel inspired.

Two Tone Brownies

   I’ve figured out a way to make brownies that please everyone in my family.  One of my children does not like chocolate, so I mix up one batch of butterscotch brownies and one batch of chocolate brownies and put them on either side of a 9 X 13 pan.  The baking time and temperature are the same for both recipes! 

Butterscotch Brownies:

Melt ¼ cup margarine in microwave or saucepan.  Add 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, ¾ cup flour, 1 tsp each baking powder and vanilla.  Nuts are optional

Chocolate Brownies:

Combine thoroughly ¾ cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 5 Tbsp cocoa, ½ cup margarine, 1 tsp vanilla and 2 eggs in a mixing bowl.  Again, nuts are optional.

Bake side by side in a greased 9 X 13 pan at 350 F (325 if using a glass pan) for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cut into squares when cooled about 30 minutes.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Simpler Living Tips #3: Less for the Landfill

Whether you want to avoid extra fees for putting out more than your quota of garbage bins each week or simply want to divert waste from the garbage dump, you may find some of these tips helpful.  My family of five produces only one grocery-bag of landfill garbage most weeks, along with a full blue box and a ½ full green bin of organic waste.
  • Think before you throw it out.  When we automatically put everything in the trash, it encourages a mentality of waste.  When you think about what this “waste” is made of or could be good for, you are likely to find a better place for it.
  • Teach your children from a young age to sort waste into organics/compost, recycling for containers, cardboard, paper, and so on.  It’s part of the unwritten curriculum in my Kindergarten classroom!
  • The compost/organic waster collection where I live allows many things to be included such as meat, fat, bones, tissues, paper towels and pet waste that are discouraged for a backyard compost bin (because they may attract pests).  I have tall paper bags in each washroom to collect tissues used for nose blowing so that they can be emptied into the compost.
  • Packaging.  We avoid buying foods that are individually wrapped and packaged. Part of our purchasing decision is what kind of waste will be created when we're done with the product.
  • Styrofoam.  I try to avoid buying things packed in Styrofoam, but when I have to I store it in part of my laundry room.  When I need to go to the Landfill, I deposit it in a special bin so that it gets reprocessed.
  • Batteries.  Keep batteries out of the trash because they are hazardous waste. Those little toys from fast food restaurants that contain batteries should not be put in the trash without first removing the little batteries. Some areas may have a hazardous waste day or depot to unload these.
  • Plastic bags.  We attach empty bread bags to the fridge with a magnet to air them out.  After shaking out the crumbs we reuse some of them to store long vegetables like celery, green onions and leeks in the refrigerator.  The liner bags in cereal boxes are sturdy, so instead of wrapping saran wrap over a plate to go in the fridge, try putting the plate inside the cereal bag and sealing with a twist-tie.
  • Clothing/Towels.  Clothing we have outgrown goes to a thrift store.  If it is too worn to go there, it goes to textile recycling.  Old towels are often welcomed at the humane society/SPCA.
  • Gift Wrap.  Save and reuse it.
  • Broken appliance.  My husband is the brains behind this one. Think like a salvage company and see what is valuable, such as the scrap metal, copper wire in the cord or the experience of taking something apart with your kids.  We save all scrap metal in our shed until we have a substantial amount; then we set it at the end of the driveway the day BEFORE garbage pick-up.  Scrap dealers are driving around looking for this and take it away for us.
  • Bread tags. I save these in a large Ziploc bag until I have enough to pass on to a charity that raises funds by selling them by the pound to a recycler.