Monday, December 2, 2013

The Big Yellow Bowl

When I was growing up, my mother always made cornbread dressing (or stuffing, if you call it that) for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I am telling you right now, this stuff is one of my favorite things in the entire world.  I had some time to reminisce over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend about all the preparations for making it, and especially about the big yellow Pyrex bowl she always mixed it in.

The key to Peg's Cornbread Dressing is starting it early in the day and letting the flavors blend.  You bake a pan of cornbread (a box of Jiffy is all of 60 cents, I think) (1 egg plus 1/3 milk, 400 degree for 20 minutes!) and cut it into little squares.  Then you add the white bread (my mother would add Roman Meal or "Hollywood" bread, with the sesame seeds, which I don't think they even make any more), the celery, the onion (cry a little), the spices, and especially the sage.  Lots and lots of sage.  And then melted butter.  And you let it sit on the counter for at least a couple of hours.

My mother (Peg) has those nesting Pyrex bowls from the 1950s - the big one is yellow, the next smallest is green, the next smallest one is red, and the smallest one is blue (she made egg salad in the blue one, Waldorf salad [blech] in the red one, and mixed cookies and cakes in the green one).  The big yellow bowl was designated for the dressing.

So - here we are - all the dressing ingredients are in The Big Yellow Bowl, and all the spices are chatting, getting acquainted, merging.  It is AMAZING.  Part of the recipe includes the notation "Sniff the big yellow bowl every now and then and adjust the sage as necessary."  I have actually done that at my parents' house - we would sniff, and I'd say, "Yep - needs more sage."  And Mom would add more.

About an hour before the turkey is going to be done (my mom's turkey was always dry because she cooked it FOREVER, which apparently was the trend before someone who didn't like gravy complained about the turkey always being dry), you douse the dressing with a bunch of chicken stock to make it stick together.  Naturally, you are still sniffing all the while, tasting, adding salt, adding pepper, sometimes adding sage if your daughter hasn't urged you to do so earlier in the day.  Then you put it in a buttered casserole dish and bake it.  It comes out nice and browned on the top, and nice and moist inside.

I have nesting bowls, too.  I will inherit my mother's eventually (which will be awesome!) but for now, I have plastic ones that my husband bought at Costco.  What is magical is this:  THE BIG ONE IS YELLOW!!!  It's a holiday miracle!

So - yes, you guessed it - part of the holiday tradition at our house now is making Peg's Cornbread Dressing in The Big Yellow Bowl.  The cornbread, the white bread, the celery, the massive Spanish onion, and the sage, oh, the sage! all go in the bowl.  I use Earth Balance instead of butter, but that's the one and only difference.  And - of course - it sits on the counter and I walk by and sniff it every so often.  This year, it sat there for four hours, at least.  The smell of it was heavenly, and I did add just a smidge more sage over and above the 2 tablespoons I had already put in.  I baked it in a big round Pyrex casserole (which I think used to be my mother's, since it comes with a serving basket typical of the 1970s) and it came out perfectly.

My husband asked why I don't add sausage, or apples, or dark bread....all of which sound great, but then it wouldn't be Peg's Cornbread Dressing - it will be some iteration of Alma's (my mother-in-law's) dressing.  Maybe next year I will double the recipe and put some sausage and apples in half of it.

But that will have to go into another color bowl.  I'll be mixing up The Original Recipe in The Big Yellow Bowl.

P.S.  I have just one question:  Why do I only make this for Thanksgiving and Christmas?!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Today I am rejecting the notion that life is all about finding the "perfect Little Black Dress."

I'm not doing this to be cranky - honestly I'm not.  I adore beautiful clothes, probably too much, and I like to own nice things.  I don't like to shop, but that's not what this is about either.

The holidays are coming, and if you were an alien coming to Earth the first time, you would think that all American women care about is analyzing their bodies, finding their "flaws," and then finding the perfect black cocktail dress that hides those flaws while making them appear younger, thinner, happier, wealthier....  And then you can check "Find the Perfect LBD" off your to do list.

I confess that when we lived in Denver, I had a wonderful black dress - good length, long sleeves, neckline that looked great with a necklace.  But I remember the exact moment when I wore it to a company Christmas party, looked at myself in a full length mirror and noticed my formerly-model's-legs had gotten bigger (hello – lump bigger legs in with the "I've had two kids" tummy and "I hate to exercise" flabby arms).  I never wore that dress again, and until this year, didn't wear short skirts anymore either.

Some of the blogs I read for fun are about fashion and/or style.  And I get so easily sucked into thinking that knowing how to tie a scarf 40 different ways, dressing for my body type, and the "when you find something you like, buy it in every color" wardrobe theory is totally where it's at.  I do covet a Hermes bag like Grace Kelly made famous...I admit it! 

But my life HAS to be about more than that (or less, depending on how you look at it).  It has to be!!!  When I pare down my life to breathing in the smell of snow, patting my dog's head, smiling at someone in the Walmart checkout line just because they're standing there being a person, doing laundry so I at least have something clean to wear to work (admittedly, I have the kind of job where I could wear the same thing every day and no one would even notice), tell my husband I love him or ask him about his day....all the simple things of my life now, I am happier, more peaceful, and less worried.  Isn't that what we want?  Often we make our lives more complicated and stressful than they have to be.  Sometimes stuff happens that's out of our control, but I think we have to admit that there are choices that entangle, and there are choices that bring freedom.  I want to make decisions that make me more free.  And searching even five stores for that perfect little black dress doesn't sound very free to me.

And if I do get invited to a holiday party, I want my fancy clothes to be like they are in Narnia - my most comfortable clothes!  My 20-year-old black velvet skirt has an elastic waist, for instance - that will come in handy!!!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"I Embrace You With All My Heart"

Below is a letter that the author Albert Camus wrote to his favorite teacher soon after he, Camus, won the Nobel Prize for Literature:

19 November 1957
Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.

I don't make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

(Thank you, Kristi, for posting this on Facebook!)

I remember having to read Camus' The Stranger in French class, IN FRENCH, in high school, but I admit I don't remember much about it.  But in the years since then, I have learned different things about Camus and wish I had paid better attention when I was 16.  Or read him in English!  Obviously, I still can...think I will add that to my Reading To Do List right now!

But relevant to what I have to say today are those seven words at the end of his note:  "I embrace you with all my heart." Many of you know that I have lived in a bunch of different places – indeed, I think we are on our 13th place to live since we've been married (30 years).  I have made wonderful friends in all those places, and because I do not have a close relationship with my parents, my friends have become my family.  I pray for my friends often, but I do get frustrated that I seldom get to see any of them.  I am here, and most of them are hundreds of miles away.  I start thinking that maybe they've stopped being my friends (!), or they've forgotten me, or I haven't been grateful "enough" for what they mean to me .... etc. etc. etc.  

But my HEART and my SOUL are able, through the Spirit, to embrace and acknowledge and adore these people, these relationships, these memories and epiphanies and confrontations, the love and the delight.  What an astounding thing!  I can trust that God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit keeps our hearts close, brings my friends to my mind and brings me to my friends' minds, and that IT'S ALL RIGHT.  These are people I'm going to spend eternity with – surely I can wait a little while until the forever comes.

So to all the women and men whom I loved instantly or have grown to love so deeply over the decades, I say this:  "I embrace you with all my heart!"  What a lovely, lovely thing to say to someone and to feel about someone!  I want to have as generous a love for all of you as you have had for me.  That welcoming spirit, that acceptance, that gentle advice-giving, that listening heart, and the hugs when they're possible, the freedom and the trust and the vulnerability – to me, that is pure, simple Christian friendship.

"Everything will be all right in the end.  If it isn't all right, it isn't yet the end."  ~Anonymous

Monday, November 4, 2013

I was reading Psalm 90 this morning and this phrase jumped off the page:  "May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands."  I have read this many times, and indeed, the tune of the Northumbria meditative song for Midday Prayer, set to parts of this psalm, went through my mind.  So beautiful!  But what does "the work of our hands" mean?

In my Bible I wrote (in pencil, haha!), "my kids, my marriage, my talents, my friendships, my home."  Then I looked at those words for awhile.  I thought about the things that God works for me, and through me, things I really have nothing to do with.  Would my kids qualify as one of those things?, I asked myself.  Well, our kids were both wanted, very much wanted.  One was planned almost down to the minute, and one was a surprise, at least timing-wise.  But still, welcomed and wanted.  I believe that God wanted THOSE particular kids, at THOSE particular times, to come into the world, to come into being.  Obviously, my husband and I participated.  And the work of raising them was also in partnership with the Father-Son-Spirit God, in prayer, in diligence, in discipline, in compassion and understanding, and sometimes in letting go.  Sometimes I failed my kids - and God took care of that, too, and is still taking care of it, I trust.

The other things I listed - my marriage, my talents, my friendships, my home - I have also worked in partnership with God to make them what they are today.  God gave them all to me, in grace, but I have to work to maintain them, build them, enhance them, grow them.  Not only should I not take any of them for granted, but I should always remember where they came from in the first place.  And then, I do believe I'm allowed to appreciate the part I've played in making them better.

At the top of my prayer list is this verse, one of my favorites:  "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands." 1 Thess. 4:11.  This fits perfectly into my "fine & strong & simple" framework, doesn't it?  And there is that phrase again, involving "work" and "hands."  I do love to work with my hands - doing graphic design, raking leaves, petting my dog, folding laundry, typing, making dinner.  My hands are getting arthritic, though, and the day may come when I cannot do my favorite "works of my hands" without pain.  So then the prayer "establish the work of our hands" will come into play even more!

I am grateful for the simple, yet complicated, blessings God has given me, and that I've been able to work with him to make them fine and strong.  May we never demand more than what he has for us, and may we continue to be faithful to care for the simple things of our lives.

"Physical things are falling apart at a terrific rate; people, on the other hand, put things together.  People build bridges and cities and roads; they write music and novels and constitutions; they have ideas.  That is why people are here."  From Earth and Altar by Eugene H. Peterson

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The name of this blog comes from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: “(Mole) was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.” It's always been one of my favorite quotes because it speaks to me of a life – and the things of that life – that are spare and good and un-fancy but still incredibly beautiful and life-giving, things that shore you up and provide a bedrock and help you put one foot in front of the other.

Ordinary, daily Christian faithfulness: put simply, that's what this blog is about. I can't believe I'm the only person in the world who wants not just to survive each day, but to be faithful and content and joyful deep down inside and for that to be enough. What is cool, and what we don't often acknowledge, is that all of our “enough” is always always always met with the generous lavishness of a God who meets us where we are and then goes beyond with us. God is not just “enough” for us – he's more than we'll ever need.  That's encouraging to me – I hope it is to you, too.

I really do believe the everyday Christian life, lived quietly and plainly, stripped of denominations and interpretations and word studies and programs, can be fine and strong and simple, and that we, as believers in the Father-Son-Spirit God (who is always on our side and never forsakes us), can also be fine and strong and simple. Maybe we're not all supposed to make a big splash for God – maybe he likes us to just be his people in the world.

Photo credit for the beautiful picture of bare tree limbs against a twilight sky goes to Miguel Vieira (, taken in Hartshorne Woods Park in New Jersey. Used with permission.