Pick-up Lines and Literature

This week something very sad happened ….. I finished reading a book series. As a bookworm, this is a frequent occurrence. While I’m reading there’s always an internal struggle between devouring the book as fast as I can and trying to slow down and make it last longer. Usually, speed wins out over savoring, and after a whirlwind of plot and sub-plot, crisis and conclusion, I’m finished and left thinking, “Now what?”

Since I couldn’t decide what I wanted to read next, I started re-reading The Hobbit. Yes, I’ve already read it multiple times. But, 1) it’s been several years, 2) the movie is coming out in a few months, and 3) JD bought a beautiful new copy with Alan Lee illustrations. So, last night I opened the fresh new copy, listening to the spine crackle and breathing in the new book scent (what? is that weird?) and was greeted by this opening sentence:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Okay, that’s two sentences. But those two sentences set an amazing tone for the rest of the novel. In just a few words Tolkien gives us a setting, a main character, and even a foreshadowing of the tension of the story. (If a hobbit-hole means comfort, then a hobbit is a creature who loves comfort; thus, leaving his hobbit-hole is the height of discomfort and the great challenge he faces.)

I LOVE a good opening line. There’s nothing better than reading the first sentence and knowing that you’re in for an excellent read. Opening sentences are the pick-up lines of literature. A great opening sentence makes me want to pick up the book and read it cover to cover. Speaking of books I read cover to cover, here’s another of my favorite opening lines from Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Oh, the sarcasm! The social commentary! And again, the theme of the book foreshadowed in a single sentence.

Larry McMurtry, one of my favorite authors, may not reveal any themes or theses in his opening lines, but he sure knows how to “pick up” a reader. In Lonesome Dove he writes:

When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake — not a very big one.

If that opening line doesn’t peak your interest, I don’t know what will. It raises so many questions: Are the pigs really blue? Why does it matter how big the rattlesnake is? (Isn’t a snake a snake?) And most of all, what kind of mother would name her baby Augustus?

As a bookworm, I get very excited about a good opening line. And I’m even more thrilled when the book lives up to its first sentence (as all three of these do.) What about you? Read any good pick-up lines lately?

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Last Friday night we went to see the Huntsville Stars play the Birmingham Barons. The weather was perfect, Piper was on her best behavior, and fun was had by all!

Piper pointed out every letter and number that she recognized. Numbers on jerseys, letters on signs, numbers on the seats…

She’s learned to say “cheese”, and this is her “cheese” face.

JD enjoys keeping score at baseball games, so he was trying out a new score-keeping app on his phone.

Miss Independent wanted to sit in her own seat.

She was paying attention to the game and I was trying to explain what was going on until she got a phone call.

Piper, don’t be rude. Tell them you’ll call them back later.

Twenty-four inches of sugar water and red dye #5? Don’t mind if we do.

In the sixth inning Piper looked at us and said, “Go? Go home?” We didn’t know she knew how to say that!

Piper really enjoyed the game and the popsicle, but her favorite part of the night was playing in the sand in front of the stadium. It’s the small things, right?

The Salary Package of a Stay-at-Home Mom

Confession: I’m just not that into Twitter. Think what you will, but it’s about my fourth favorite social media outlet. I halfheartedly read my twitter feed, rarely tweet, and almost never open a twitpic or link. But on a rare occasion I’ll see a headline that grabs my attention and I just have to know more. Like this one that I read last week: “@drudgereport: Germany debates plan to pay stay at home moms.” What?! (Well played, Drudge Report. You actually got me to read an article instead of just the headline.)

I didn’t regret opening and reading the article, either. I learned that most childcare in Germany is government-funded, but the government childcare programs cannot keep up with demand. Next year there will be a childcare shortage of 150,000+ places. What’s the government to do? The conservative coalition wants to pay moms to stay at home with their children under 3 years old to free up spaces in the childcare system. The moms would be paid the equivalent of $190 per month. Of course this is very controversial. “[…] critics fume that it takes an antiquated view of women’s role in society, betting that women would prefer to stay home rather than keep a career if there were some money to facilitate that choice.” Antiquated? Really? Then there’s this: “‘The childcare allowance is contrary to modern family politics,’ says Ms. Dörner of the Green Party.” Well, maybe my family values are antiquated after all! Nevertheless, as a stay-at-home mom this is very interesting to me, and I’ll be watching to see how this issue is resolved in the next few months. After I read this article and returned to casually skimming my twitter feed, the thing I kept thinking about was “$190 per month.” Who came up with that number? How did they decide that amount? Is that what a stay-at-home mom is worth? Only $190 per month?

As I was thinking about this, I recalled another article that I had read a few months ago. Every year Salary.com calculates what it would cost to replace a stay-at-home mom. In 2012, that figure is $112,962 a year for 94.7 hours of work per week. “If a stay-at-home mom was ever handed a pink slip, dad would have to hire a nanny, a driver, a cook, a janitor, a psychologist, a laundry-machine operator, and a myriad of other professionals for the odd jobs moms do on a daily basis.” Working moms put in 57.9 extra hours of work a week, valued at $66,979 above their salaries. If that’s not a reason to have a good life insurance policy, I don’t know what is!

I much prefer to think that my value as a stay-at-home mom is $112,962 per year than $190 per month. It’s a more flattering figure and makes me feel better about not contributing to my family’s income. But here’s the truth: No one is going to cut me a check. The government isn’t going to put me on a payroll (and I don’t want them to.) As a mom, I have to learn to find my value in something other than a number on a paycheck or a balance in a 401K. But in our status-driven society, that’s not an easy task. I think many moms struggle with feelings of worthlessness because we can’t define our value with a number.

Thankfully, God has something to say about this. In Proverbs 31:10, He tells us what a good wife (and mother) is worth: “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.” I’m not worth $190 per month. My value is not $112,962 per year. If I’m seeking God and godly character as I serve my husband and my children, my worth is far above jewels. And while I may not have the satisfaction of seeing that value spelled out in a salary package, it’s no less real. As a stay-at-home mom, I am valuable to my family. But most of all, I am valuable to my God. And that, more than a number on a check, is what matters.

Simple Sourdough Bread

When I was ten, my family moved across town. Since we weren’t moving far, my parents decided to forgo a moving truck in lieu of a caravan of pick-ups driven by helpful friends and family. One of my uncles and my dad’s best friend (who only met each other that morning) found themselves together in a truck hauling our refrigerator. As the story goes, a few minutes into the drive they began to smell something …. yeasty. Alcoholic. Each began to suspect the other of drinking on the job. The closer they got to our new house, the stronger the smell got. I can just imagine what they were thinking: “Seriously? It’s only 11am! How many have you knocked back already?” “I can’t believe my brother is friends with this loser!” “What kind of guy gets drunk while he’s supposed to be helping his best friend move?” “I hope he’s sober enough to help me unload this refrigerator!” When they arrived at the house and began to unload the refrigerator, (casting dirty looks at each other all the while,) the smell just kept getting stronger. Almost too strong. “Wait, what’s that leaking from the refrigerator?”

As it turns out, my mom didn’t completely clean out the refrigerator. Since we were just moving a few miles, she and my dad stuffed a comforter into the fridge and tied it closed with bungee cords. Surely the comforter would keep everything from spilling, right? Wrong. My mom’s sourdough bread starter had spilled, filling the fridge with it’s strong, yeasty smell. My uncle and my dad’s best friend had a good laugh about the whole situation, but my mom was just upset about losing her bread starter.

This bread is that good. It’s good enough to cry over spilled starter. Before the moving incident, my mom would make bread from her starter once a week. I vividly remember opening my lunchbox and smelling that yummy, yeasty smell. My ham and cheese sandwiches were moist and a little sweet, and I probably ate one every day for several years. Until the starter spilled.

My mom never made sourdough bread again. But, lucky for us, she kept her recipe. Over the years I’ve made starter and started making bread several times. For different reasons, I didn’t keep it up. But about a month ago I decided it was time to get serious about it. Because if there’s anything I can get serious about, it’s bread.

For this recipe, you make a starter out of yeast, warm water, sugar, and potato flakes. It goes into a bowl with holes in the lid so it can breathe and grow. The starter spends most of its time in the refrigerator, but it needs feeding about once a week. What does sourdough starter eat, you may ask? Sugar and potato flakes. Who doesn’t like sugar and potatoes? Making the starter is easy, feeding it is easy, and mixing up and baking bread is easy. It just requires a few minutes of effort a few times a week. And the best thing about  this recipe? The longer the starter ages, the better the bread tastes. (This is why the loss of my mom’s starter was such a tragedy.) Every week the bread gets lighter, fluffier, and tastier. My starter is still a baby – only about a month old. But the bread it yields is so good. And I know it’s only going to get better and better. Try it. I promise you won’t regret it!

Simple Sourdough Bread

Starter:  Dissolve 1 package of yeast into 1/2 cup of warm water. Combine the yeast mixture with 1 cup or warm water, 3/4 cup of sugar, and 3 Tablespoons of instant potatoes. Store this mixture in a plastic bowl with holes in the lid. Leave the starter out on the counter for 8-12 hours, then put it in the refrigerator for 5-7 days until it’s time to feed it.

To feed the starter:  Take the starter that has been in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. In a separate bowl, mix together 3/4 cup of sugar, 3 Tablespoons of instant potatoes, and 1 cup of warm water. Add this to the starter and stir it all together. After feeding, let the starter stand on the counter for 8-12 hours. Then stir the mixture and measure out 1 cup to make bread. (If you don’t want to make bread every time you feed your starter, you can throw out 1 cup of the starter or give it to a friend.) Feed the starter every 5-7 days.

To make bread:  Mix 6 cups of bread flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 T salt, 1 cup of starter, 1/2 cup of corn oil, and 1 1/2 cups of warm water in a large bowl. (I use my stand mixer with the dough hook and it works beautifully.) Pat the top of the dough with oil, cover it lightly with foil, and let it rise for 8-12 hours. Push it down and knead it just a little, and divide the dough into 2 or 3 parts. (The dough is very sticky at this point, so I use quite a bit of flour as I knead and divide it.) After dividing the dough, knead each part a few times and place it in a greased 9×5 loaf pan. Brush the tops with oil, then cover them with oiled wax paper. Let the dough rise in the pans for 8-12 hours. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Remove from the pans, brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter, and let them cool on a rack.

If all of that sounds overwhelming, here’s how I schedule it:

Monday night – feed the starter and let it sit out overnight. Tuesday morning – mix up the bread and return the remaining starter to the fridge. Let the bread rise in the bowl all day. Tuesday night – knead and divide the bread, and let it rise in loaf pans overnight. Wednesday morning – bake the bread and enjoy!

I love this bread, and I think you will too. It’s great for sandwiches, or eaten with butter and some Caramel Pear Preserves. Try it and let me know how it turns out!

The Emancipation of Domesticity

This morning Piper slept in. Really slept in. I got up, had breakfast, worked on my Bible study, and still didn’t hear a peep from her. I decided that if she was still sleeping at 10, I would wake her up. (I know – how lucky am I that my child sleeps that late?) A few minutes before 10 as I was putting laundry away, I walked by her closed door and heard her little voice say, “Hi, Mommy!” When I opened the door, she was sitting there smiling at me, and repeated, “Hi, Mommy!” It’s moments like this that make me love my job as a stay-at-home mom. Moments when she runs up to me and hugs me, moments when I see her learn something new, and moments when she just wants to be near me make it all worthwhile.

But, if I’m honest, in a normal day there are more difficult moments than sweet moments. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. It’s hard because toddlers are busy, grumpy, fussy, hyper, cuddly, clingy, needy, energetic, and demanding. And sometimes they experience all of those moods within the span of a few minutes. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard because I lack adult company and conversation. And when I am around other adults, all I have to offer in conversation is what I learned watching Nick Jr. this week. But, most of all, being a stay-at-home mom is hard because I live in a society that looks down on stay-at-home moms.

No, no one openly berates or belittles me. It’s more subtle. It’s the commercials where all moms do with their time is shop. (I mean, come on Kohl’s. Give us a little more credit!) It’s the television shows that portray working mothers as smarter and more fulfilled and stay-at-home moms as more depressed and “desperate.” It’s the teachers and professors who discourage girls from wasting their talent and intellect by staying at home and serving their families. It’s the job market that discounts the work experience of a woman who has stayed at home to raise her children. It’s the strangers who subtly take on a defensive or superior attitude when I tell them I choose to stay at home. It’s the comments of acquaintances who say, “I wish I could stay at home and relax all day instead of working.”

Usually, because I know that staying at home instead of pursuing a career is the right decision for my family, these things don’t get to me. But sometimes I see a facebook post about a friend’s promotion or academic success, and a small voice says, “Corrie, you’re getting behind. They’re all beating you. Look – she’s in grad school. And she’s just gotten her dream job. Your friends are winning! People are going to think those women are smarter than you. You’re never going to be able to catch up.” And I start to second guess everything. Because I am smart. I am driven. And I’m so selfish. Because for me and my family, to go back to school or back to work right now would be selfish. I would be doing it for me, not for them.

When I start to feel discouraged or looked down upon in my position as a stay-at-home mom, I need help to regain a proper perspective. Over the past months that help has come from various books, sermons, and articles. Last week my help came through a passage written by G.K. Chesterton that I just happened to run across.

Chesterton was a writer and theologian, and wrote about the position of a homemaker and mother a century ago when women were just beginning to feel the pressure to have a career and success outside of the home. This article, The Emancipation of Domesticity is an excerpt from his book What’s Wrong with the World. He begins by explaining that our career-minded culture centers around specialization. We find a field and become the best we can be in one specific area. This specialization, however, runs contrary to the traditional role of wife and mother.

“The woman is expected to cook: not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better than her husband who is earning the coke by lecturing on botany or breaking stones. […] The woman is expected to tell tales to the children, not original and artistic tales, but tales–better tales than would probably be told by a first-class cook. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school mistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress; a house-decorator but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests.”

Before we 21st century women get offended, he’s not telling us our place is in the kitchen. Chesterton is saying that the wife and mother’s skills are broad, not deep. I’m a cook for my family. No, I haven’t been to culinary school, but with every recipe I learn and improve a little more. I’m a nurse. No, I don’t have a degree from nursing school, but I bandage scraped knees and administer medicine to sick babies. I’m a teacher. (Wait! I actually have a degree in this area!) I’m not teaching Latin or Social Studies, though. I’m teaching the alphabet, how to eat with a fork, and manners. I’m a decorator, an organizer, a maid, a gardener, a photographer, a librarian, and a zookeeper. I’m not as good a decorator as a professional with a design degree, but I’m better than someone who spends all their time cooking professionally. I’m not as good a nurse as an RN with a degree, but I’m a better nurse than a professional decorator has time to learn to be. You see? As a full-time wife and mother, I’m developing MANY broad skills instead of ONE deep skill.

“Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad.”

“To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

My job is big. My job is important. I am not less talented, less enlightened, or less qualified as a woman because I choose to stay at home. And I need to be reminded of this regularly. Thank you, Mr. Chesterton, that I can learn from and be encouraged by your words a century after they were written.

(You can read the full Chesterton article here.)

(Disclaimer: I am not saying that it is wrong for a mother to work outside the home. I am not judging women who choose to do so. I am simply trying to explain my position and perspective on what is right for me and my family.)

A Long Day at the World’s Longest Yard Sale

Last Friday, my sister, Ellen, and I decided to get up very early and shop the World’s Longest Yard Sale. The “WLYS” stretches from Gadsden, AL to somewhere in Michigan. Can you even imagine how many miles of tables, tents, and camp chairs that is? Or how many cubic tons of junk were sitting there, ready and waiting for the right picker? I get excited just thinking about it!

Ellen and I decided to start in Mentone, AL. Fueled by biscuits and cherry coke, we braved the early morning traffic and arrived on the yard sale route around 8:30. Waiting there for us was a wonderland of junk!

We quickly learned to focus on spots where multiple vendors were set up together. If we just saw a few tables in someone’s yard, we kept driving. Especially if those tables looked to be full of clothes. To each his own, but we just weren’t interested in yard sale clothes. We were looking for treasures. Like this beauty:

What is it? Well, I’m not really sure. It looks like a good place to hang your hunting jacket. Then again, the spade shape might make it a charming addition to your game room. But seriously, what room wouldn’t benefit from deer hoof art that is functional as well as decorative?

And what classy Southern lady doesn’t need a fur stole? I’m not exactly sure what animals these were, but Ellen wore them well.

Or maybe you prefer your animals alive? These turkeys and guineas are just the thing. And no, they’re not noisy at all! Too bad these guys were sold already (at 9 am). I guess the early bird gets the worm, and the early shopper gets the bird!

Along with unique finds, we met some unique people. Some were pickin’ and grinnin’; some were selling treasures; and some were on the hunt like us. More than once we were called “young-uns,” which made us smile. We happened to meet the most unique people of the day, however, when we followed this sign:

What?! There was no way we were skipping this one! After a prompt U-turn and a short drive onto the property, we found a HUGE castle still under construction.

And guess what? It’s for sale! For the low price of $4.9 million, this castle could be yours! I bet it would qualify for the biggest sale in World’s Longest Yard Sale history! You can check out the real estate listing here; and make sure to scroll to the bottom of the page and read the story of the castle. It’s quite amusing enlightening.

After that medieval adventure, we needed a bathroom break.

Just kidding!

We were still hunting treasures and finding some great (and only slightly creepy) things.

(Don’t you love that the turtle on the right is wearing a watch? I bet he’s running late. Hey-oh!)

Our last real stop of the day was in Chattanooga, where we contemplated hang gliding. Can you imagine just running and jumping off this cliff?

Okay, so maybe we didn’t really consider hang gliding. But that was because of the expense, not because we were scared! (Or so we told ourselves.)

While we had a busy, adventurous day, we didn’t buy that much. We both found some old piano sheet music. Ellen got a glass bottle and a light fixture, and I got a few mounted butterflies in frames. But you better believe we’ll be going back next year (if for no other reason than to see the crazy things some people try to sell!)

A Meditation in Green

“I want a holiday with a scene of green, green and green.”

“A summer of green grass, a landscape of green trees, a view full of green vegetables.”

“The colour green is a beauty that must be seen! From a moving vehicle’s screen.”

“So for green, green and green, I will travel continents across and in-between.”

“And also to any place that I have never been, I will make it routine…”

“…just to see green, green and green.”

from “Green, green and green” by Sylvia Chidi