Monday, March 31, 2008

Soup is Good

My Favorite Soup Recipe for Lent: White Bean Soup with Kale

Saute 4 minced garlic cloves and 1 chopped yellow onion in a little bit of water til soft. Add 5 cups of chopped raw kale and saute until wilted, stirring often. Add 3-4 cups of vegetarian vegetable broth (I usually make my own and store it in the freezer, but Swanson's is wonderful too!). Add 2 cans of white beans (navy, northern, canelloni - sometimes I even add chickpeas or lentils) or 2 cups cooked dried beans. Add 3 chopped plum tomatoes, 4 stalks celery chopped, 2 t dried italian herb seasoning (or you can add fresh rosemary and thyme if you have them), and salt and pepper to taste. In food processor, combine 1 can beans and a small amount of vegetable broth (or water). Process until smooth then stir into soup. Simmer for 15 minutes, and garnish with chopped parsley.
This is what I make when it is my turn to cook after Presanctified Liturgy during Lent - it cooks up great in large quantities. The only thing I do differently then, is I wait and saute the kale separately in a large pan and add it at the very end. This prevents the kale from turning that unappetizing dark green color. This soup makes for great leftovers (though the color of the kale is not pretty, it still tastes great!). For a little added kick, put some balsamic vinegar on the table to give a different flavor when serving. Serve with hummus and pita and you have a wonderful and simple meal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Clean Houses and Clean Hearts

We had out of town family company over today, so I have spent the past few days marathon cleaning and trying to get ready, since they have never seen our house and of course got the full tour (including all the little areas you use to throw stuff into when regular company is coming!) So last night, as I once again took stacks of books and papers and piled them up in my laundry room (the one place I will not let anyone see) I was reminded of what my mother used to say. She would come in my room as a teenager to inspect my room. On the surface the room would look nice, organized, nothing in the floor. The first thing mom would do is walk over to my desk and open a drawer. Of course, the drawer was usually so crammed full of "important stuff" that it almost would not open. My mother would look at me and say,

"The state of your closets and drawers is a reflection of the state of your heart and soul."

I don't know where she got that from, but she would always say it with a concerned look on her face. I did not understand what she meant by that then (I mean, come on mom, it's just a messy drawer!), but I think I am beginning to grasp her meaning now. This hit home earlier this year too with another Orthodox tradition. At the first of the year, after Theophany (celebration of the baptism of Christ) and the blessing of the waters the priest makes his rounds to each family in the church to bless their home. I was cleaning the house for his visit and realized there was no where to hide my mess. He enters every space to anoint it for good and holy use. I felt very vulnerable as I prepared for his visit this year. So often we focus our time on the exterior, creating the facade that others will see - whether it be our physical appearance, clothing, the smile on our face, or the perfect cleanliness of our home. We create an image we present to others, which looks good on the outside, but really all the junk and ugliness is not gone, it is just crammed into a drawer or closet (or heart). It brings to mind the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. The one looked and acted as he was supposed to, and yet his heart was not yearning for God. The other was a mess, yet acknowledged the mess and begged for mercy. We can throw our junk into junk drawers and hide it in closets when company comes, but we cannot hide our "junk" from God. We can choose to hold on to it, and hide it from others and pretend He does not see it, or we can pray for mercy and let Him help us clean it up. And if we are willing to pretend that our home is clean, then we are probably willing to pretend that our heart is clean too, rather than endure the pain and effort of striving to clean it. I guess that is where that old phrase "Cleanliness is next to godliness" comes from?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It might be the first week of LENT if ......

... all your best laid plans for the week are shot to h*ll! I spent last week writing a detailed cleaning list for my house - including decluttering, scrubbing baseboards, even cleaning the light switchplates (a part of my home it never occurred to me to clean until I read FLYlady). We attended Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday, which gave me a joyous feeling of release. I got up Monday morning and took all the kids to the grocery store so they could help select the foods for Clean Week, came home and began checking things off the cleaning list. We attended the Canon of St. Andrew last night and sat on the front row (my kids seem to pay attention better when they are up front), and after an admonition from our priest at the start of the service about making sure children are removed if they become too loud (which filled my heart with dread at the thought of being the one to have to drag my child out), breezed through the service with four kids who must have been replaced in the car on the way to the church with angels, because even the 3 year old sang Lord have Mercy about a 1000 times for 2 hours. I beamed with pride (hint: here was probably the start of my downfall) as we drove home from church, tucked everyone into bed and went to bed myself.

Tuesday morning - time to dive back into all that cleaning right? HA, mom wakes up this morning with a stomach that rejects food, aching body parts and a headache that prevents me from thinking straight. No fever, so I don't know if this is flu, the beginnings of mastitis, or just one of the nasty stomach bugs going around.
So now, after hours on the couch fighting chills (I thought you only had chills when you had a fever?) I am trying to remember that glorious feeling I had when I left church Sunday. So, here are my thanksgivings for the day:

1. Thank you God that I had already planned to take off school this week, so we should not fall behind in our studies.

2. Thank you God for showing me that I am not in charge, and that I can only accomplish things if it be your will.

3. Thank you God for reminding me to answer "Yes, God willing" last night when someone asked if we would be at church tonight.

4. Thank you God for reminding me of these things in such a mild way. When I think of all the things that could happen to turn our lives upside down on a weekly basis, I am grateful that today all I have to deal with is some mild physical discomfort.

5. Thank you for giving me an excuse to sit and hold my baby today without the stress of feeling like I should be folding clothes.

There is a running joke in my family, when anything bad happens this time of year, the response is "It must be Lent". Well, it is definitely Lent!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Clean Week

This Sunday marks the beginning of Lent for Orthodox Christians, though we have had weeks of preparation leading up to this week. Clean week means as strict a fast as you are able, many will not eat until evening, and those who do often try to eat only non-cooked foods (nuts, raw vegetables, fruits). Meat, dairy, wine and oil are abstained from for the next six weeks (with a few exceptions for feast days etc). Obviously each family must determine what they are able to do, and young children are not expected to keep a strict fast. This year in preparation, I have planned a weekly menu and grocery list for Lent, and am hoping it will ease the question of what to cook over the next few weeks.

Here are my planned weekly meals:
Sunday - tomato or potato soup
Monday - taco soup
Tuesday - bean chimichangas and Spanish rice
Wednesday - white bean and kale soup
Thursday - shrimp, wild rice and canned vegetables
Friday - tortilla soup or red beans and rice
Saturday - shrimp spring rolls and fried rice
I am also planning to try a few new recipes from the When We Fast blog (see side bar) and will incorporate those in occasionally.

This year we are also starting a new tradition - cleaning for clean week! We will be doing only minimal school (math and Latin), and devoting the week to spring cleaning, and church of course, as there is a service every night next week. I am oddly excited, knowing it is always a challenge, but looking forward to this period of preparation to celebrate the Feast of Feasts, Pascha.

"Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood, perjury. Privation of these is true fasting."
St. Basil the Great

Monday, March 3, 2008

It is with an aching heart that I feel the little rough patches of skin beginning to develop.
Just four months ago she was enveloped in a watery cocoon where her soft sweet skin had never seen the light. So soon, that newness, that "innocence" is fading, and in its place the harsh reality of a fallen world is revealed in the little callouses on her knees and arms.
I remember my shock at seeing the little lip callous that formed with my first baby, and realizing it came from the simple act of nursing. Those soft, tender, sweet lips were already required to work, to suckle for survival.

As I rock number four in the peace of a torrential rain on a tin roof, I treasure so much more the fleeting moments of newness, the joy of just holding a baby, my baby, and ignoring the rest of the world. Let the phone ring, let the world carry on, nothing is more important at this moment. These are the instances not to be missed, not to be wished away in our hurry to ....... just have him sleep through the night.....just get her to sit up......if only he could crawl......can't wait until she learns to walk.....oh, if only he were would be so much easier! No, I realize now it does not get any easier than these brief moments of newness, and I thank God for the chance to experience those moments, and finally learn to appreciate them.

Poetry in our home

I decided to write this because of a post on the Well Trained Mind boards, and because it seems to come up a lot. The poster asked what do you do about poetry. Well, we have established a routine that has become a family tradition. We call it "teatime" and the idea evolved from reading Charlotte Mason and the suggestions on Ambleside Online for how to expose your children to poetry. I try to select 3 poets to cover for the year. Last year we focused on R.L Stevenson and Rossetti, but this year we are doing Blake, Conkling and Teasdale. I have not followed the Ambleside schedule exactly, since we do it as a family not individually with each child. I try to plan teatime two or three times each week, though some weeks it only happens once (or not at all!), but my kids get very vocal if we go too many days without it. I use special china teacups, from a mismatched collection I have acquired from antique shops over the years. In the summer I serve lemonade or chocolate milk, in the winter sweetened hot tea or hot chocolate. I try to have a special snack, some home made bread or cookies. We usually have teatime around 4:00 pm, while baby is napping. While they sip on their special drinks and enjoy a snack, I read poems. I always read several from the poet we are currently featuring (we try to spend about 12 weeks per poet), then I take requests of poems from other poets we have read. We do not recite poetry at this time (that is done in the morning during recitation) this is purely a fun time for them to listen to me read, and it has become a treasured tradition. Even my 9 year old son enjoys listening to poems, and always has special requests to hear some of his favorites. So, get off the computer :), pick a poet, get a book of poems (or print some off the internet) and start reading, just do me a favor and don't try to analyze it! Nothing ruins teatime like quizzing the kids about rhyme, imagery or what do you think the poet meant by that? Just enjoy the experience, familiarize them with fun, beautiful poetry (no Silverstein for us at teatime) and let them ask the questions. Ambleside has lots of wonderful guidance for selecting age appropriate poets who will engage the imagination. Enjoy, I am off to have tea!