Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I LOVE being a Nana!

I might have mentioned a time or forty-seven that I love being a grandmother. I'd been hearing about it for years from friends who arrived at the position before me, and I'd smile and agree, but I didn't really get it. It wasn't until I saw my baby holding her baby that it hit me. Your heart just melts into a big ol' puddle of mushy mush.

[Rabbit trail: There's a women's clothing store in town called Mushi Mush. Why? It has no meaning in Spanish, and it makes me wonder what they do think it means!]

Anyway, it happened again with the birth of Adalyn. I mean what mother could possibly look at a photo of her son holding his little girl, and not get majorly sentimental?!
He is completely smitten with little Adalyn Faith, as are the rest of us. He says she likes sitting propped against his knees, looking at them.
Don't you ever wonder what's going through their little minds? I imagine conversations like this:
"Hmmm, that face doesn't really go with the voice I got to know while I was inside. I thought he'd be shorter and have more hair." 
or maybe this:
"I wonder if I look like him or her? I like her eyes. His smile is nice. They seem pretty happy. I think I like it here."

I know for a fact that Simon likes it here! He takes such obvious joy in everything he does, and we get a kick out of his smiles and giggles. Last weekend there was a circus in town, and he liked that too!
When they're out and about, he's usually in his stroller or being carried around but at home he has the run of the house. At 8 months old, he's quite mobile! Last week Tina posted this photo with the caption: "I think this best represents what he's been up to this week. He has mastered going from sitting to crawling (still army crawling). Before he would get "stuck" in the sitting position and eventually fuss because he was tired of being in one spot. Not no more!"
Watch him go!

He's especially fascinated with machines that make noise, like the dish washer and washing machine. Funny kid will just sit for a long time and watch the window on the front loader while it swishes water and clothes around.

And me? I could just sit for a long time and look at photos and videos of him and Adalyn. Doesn't matter what they're doing (even sleeping!), I find them the ultimate entertainment.

Yes, you could say I get it now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Applesauce Bran Muffins

In the two years since we last had internet, I've found some "keeper" recipes that I'll be sharing. Since I made these applesauce bran muffins last night, it reminded me that this was one of those recipes. I first made them a while back when I had some leftover homemade applesauce and googled "applesauce muffins". It's from the Canadian Living website.

One of the things I like is that they don't have a lot of sugar. In fact, the recipe only calls for 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup molasses and that's not bad for 18 muffins! They're sweet but not overly so. They have a dense texture, so don't expect a cake-like muffin. I think they're great for breakfast, along with cheesy scrambled eggs, but they also make a nice afternoon snack all by themselves.

I do have to tell you about the first time I made them: I used raisins from the health food store (which is the only place I can find them here) and they had seeds in them! Which we didn't find out until we were eating the muffins -- and spitting out the seeds :) Thankfully I've now found a source of seedless raisins.

Now that y'all are heading into fall in the U.S., this is a good recipe for those cooler mornings. After a week of unseasonably warm weather here (high 80s), the temperature dropped on Saturday night and we're back to "normal" (30s/40s at night and into the 60s during the day). It felt good to turn the oven on to make these muffins, because it warmed up the kitchen space a little. Probably be doing more baking in the next few weeks since we still have almost a month of winter left.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

(makes 18 muffins)
1 egg
1 cup applesauce
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup wheat bran
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins 

Preheat oven to 375.
Combine first 7 ingredients (egg through vanilla). Add bran, stir well and allow to sit for five minutes.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Pour wet ingredients over top, and sprinkle with raisins
Mix until combined and no streaks of flour remain.
Fill muffin cups to top with batter.
Bake 25 minutes. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Life out of pans onto racks and let cool.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On The Bookshelf

I love to read. Always have, always will. My mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten and signed me up for a book club at the same time (a new book came in the mail every month). My allowance more often went to buy books than anything else (although there were periods when other hobbies edged out the books, like when I received a microscope for Christmas and bought slides to look at, or when I was into roller skating and saved my allowance for skates and a cool skate case, or that autumn I spent every Saturday riding horses...).

Mostly I bought books through the Scholastic program at school. Remember that? We ordered as a class, and what a thrill the day the books came in! But I also hit thrift stores, which is where I discovered some older books no longer in print. And then there was the library. Ahhhh, the library! I'll be honest, it is one of the things I miss most about living overseas. Anyway, not sure why, but we'd usually go to the library on Saturday and I'd always lug home at least a dozen books. That continued through grade school, high school, and beyond. Even now, whenever we're in the states and I go to the library, I'll lug home a big bag full. 

My first 'job' was as a library aide at school (6th grade), and my mom kept the resumé I created to apply for the job -- complete with a school picture glued in the upper right hand corner. Becoming a librarian was a goal for many years. That or working in a bookstore. Just as long as I could be around books.

My mom used to joke and say that a bomb would have to fall and score a direct hit, knocking the book out of my hands, before I'd notice. She wasn't far off. It was one of the things that drove Ivan nuts in the beginning, that his new wife could completely ignore him when she was reading.

Anyway, all that to say, I love to read!

I'm not sure why I've rarely shared favorite books here on the blog, but I've decided that I'm going to start. Life is too short and I want to read GOOD books and I think others want the same thing. Gone are the days when I'd read clear through to the end of a book simply because I had to know how it ended. If a book doesn't grab me in the first two chapters, I move on. I've discovered some great books and authors via other bloggers, so I'm jumping on the band wagon and will start to share when I come across a really good book.  Let's all share the book love!

In the past month or so I've come across some real gems. I read a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction, sometimes re-reading old familiar friends and sometimes discovering new ones, and I'll talk about the ones that I think are worthwhile.

Forgiveness: The Power & The Puzzles by Wendell Miller
This is a book that's been on our bookshelves for a long time but I just got around to reading it. Mr. Miller, who happens to be a member at one of our supporting churches, has spent a good many years as a Christian counselor, and I think this book shows why he's such an effective one. He writes in a clear, readable style (rather redundant at times, but he wants to make sure you get it). I was surprised at how much I learned, and would highly recommend it. Not just for those in full-time ministry either. It's a practical book that would help anyone with difficult relationships (and who of us doesn't have those?!).

Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
Such.A.Good.Book. It spoke to how we view ministry: not as a series of programs and events, but as a life filled with relationships. 'Ministry' isn't something we set aside time to do. It should be ALL we do: intentionally, relationally, personally. Whether it's shopping at the corner market, getting our oil changed, taking half of that zucchini bread to the neighbor, offering to babysit so a young mom can take a nap, letting the neighbor ride along when you go to the library... Every interaction, every action, should be infused with why we are here: to glorify God. And we do that by living our lives in such a way as to glorify Him. Cannot recommend this book highly enough. Read it! Right now! Okay, you can finish this blog post first.

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I've read the Anne of Green Gables series at least half a dozen times. I love them all but this is one of my favorites. There is a reason this series is considered classic. Even though they were written a century ago, they continue to speak to us today. 'Silly Rilla' as she's sometimes called grows up in this book, in ways that are hard and painful, and she does it with grace. Set in a time period I was not familiar with (World War 1), I found it fascinating to learn more, especially from the perspective of a small Canadian community. I know most have read "Anne of Green Gables" but if you haven't read the rest of the series, you should! Who cares that they are considered Young Adult literature. Good literature is good literature, period.

Remains of Innocence by J. A. Jance
Jance is one of my favorite authors, and of her three series I am most fond of the one featuring Sheriff Joanna Brady. The latest installment (#16) came out last month, and I could not have been more excited. It also helped that I didn't have to pay for it -- I was able to use a credit that I received due to a lawsuit against price fixing by a group of publishers. I'll be honest, I thought it was a scam email to begin with, but when I went and checked my amazon account, sure enough, I had a credit! And it was enough to pay for this book, which I pre-ordered.
Back to the book... When you get into a series, you feel like you get to know the characters, as if they are real friends. At least that's what it's like for me. I've enjoyed seeing Joanna grow as a woman in a position most often held by men, and as a mom, daughter, friend... She's not a one-dimensional character at all, and neither are any of the others. Even those who just show up in one book are fully fleshed out. 
Jance has a way with dialogue, and moving a story along, so you get sucked right into the story. So much so that I find it hard to put one of her books down! Even ones I've read before ;)
If you like mysteries and a strong female protagonist, do yourself a favor and read this series! Start with the first one, because this is definitely a series you'll want to read chronologically.
I hate to give away too much of the plot of "Remains of Innocence" (it wouldn't be a mystery then) so I think it's safer to share the blurb the publisher provided:
An old woman, a hoarder, is dying of emphysema in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In cleaning out her house, her daughter, Liza Machett, discovers a fortune in hundred dollar bills hidden in the tall stacks of books and magazines that crowd every corner.
Tracing the money’s origins will take Liza on a journey that will end in Cochise County, where Sheriff Joanna Brady is embroiled in a personal mystery of her own. A man she considers a family friend is found dead at the bottom of a hole in a limestone cavern near Bisbee. And now there is the mystery of Liza and the money. Are the two disparate cases connected? It’s up to Joanna to find out.
And while I'm talking about J. A. Jance, I'll go ahead and recommend a couple of her $1.99 novellas that recently became available. One ties in with the Joanna Brady series and the other with the J. P. Beaumont series (which is also excellent and I highly recommend).

Home to Holly Springs
In the Company of Others
Talk about feeling like characters have become friends, Jan Karon's books make me want to move to her fictional Mitford! I was sooooooo sad when I heard she was done with the Mitford series, but then she decided to write a bit more about Father Tim. Yahoo! This is one author Ivan and I both really enjoy. Ivan's not one to read fiction. In fact, he only reads two authors who write fiction: Jan Karon and Alexander McCall Smith (author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series featuring a female detective in Botswana).
So why did I wait so long to read her latest two books?!?! I have no idea, especially considering they've been on my bookshelf since they were published. Blame it on building, on moving, on life... Whatever the reason, my bad!
But I did finally read them, and they are, Oh! So! Good!
"Home to Holly Springs" had me laughing out loud, crying real tears, and suddenly looking up from the book and saying to Ivan, "Oh my goodness, you're not going to believe what just happened!" And then I wouldn't tell him. haha  I told him he'd have to read it for himself.
Father Tim returns to his hometown after decades away, and in the process discovers things about himself and others that he never knew, or didn't fully understand while growing up. He makes new friends, renews old friendships, and embraces all those God has brought into his life. 
As Karon herself says, her books are character driven. And she is a master at developing real, honest-to-goodness characters!
"In The Company of Others" I sort of figured out the plot early on, but it was still an absolute joy to see how Karon pulled all the strings together.  With her books, the cliché "there is joy in the journey" certainly rings true. Father Tim and Cynthia's plan to vacation in Ireland goes sadly and hilariously awry and the ensuing drama will keep you turning the pages right until the end.
I seriously finish each and every one of her books with a deep sigh, sad to say goodbye to my friends, and anxious to get my hands the following book so I see what happens to them next!

I recently downloaded two new books to my Kindle and if they turn out to be as good as I hope, I'll be sharing those with you soon. I started "The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal" by David McCullough, and it reads like a political thriller thus far. Absolutely fascinating! I'm a bit of a history geek, and I know everyone isn't, but McCullough writes in such a way that if you didn't know better, you'd think you were reading a novel.

The other is a novel, although it has an historical setting. Elizabeth Street takes place in New York City in the early 1900s. I'm really looking forward to digging into that next.

What have you been reading? Any books you want to share? Without access to a library, or even books in English except via the Kindle, I am always on the lookout for those that friends can recommend. With an almost non-existent book budget, I have to be very careful choosing; I want my money to go toward books that are worth it. So if you've read a book you absolutely loved, let me know! I'm pretty eclectic in my taste, except I'm not a big fan of science fiction, fantasy or romance. (Well, romance is okay if there's more to it, but if that's all it is, then I'll just pass.) Mysteries are my favorite genre.

And I'd love to hear about any cute/funny/silly/sad stories you have about your own reading history.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

cultural adjustment is a forever endeavor

Read a great post on culture shock over at Velvet Ashes, and this quote really resonated with me: "Culture shock is a part of cultural adjustment, and that is a forever endeavor." Sometimes I have a hard time articulating how I feel and think, and it's always refreshing to find someone who gets it.

And I certainly agree that this cultural adjustment is a "forever endeavor". Six years in and I'm still occasionally surprised by what I call a "cultural whammy". Something pops up that I haven't encountered before, and it throws me for a loop.

One of the first things to bother me was the way people litter. Rather than walk five feet to toss something in a trash can, they just throw it on the ground. Rude! Then I found out that this is because people want to ensure that those who are paid to clean up the streets and parks will continue to have a job. In theory I get it. Unfortunately, in practice what happens is that they pick up the bigger pieces of trash, but walk right by lots of little pieces. Then those who mow run right over the small debris, shredding and whipping the now thousands of tiny bits all over.

As our circle of acquaintances grew and we began to socialize more, I ran into another cultural wall. Not everyone, but quite a few, will tell you what they think you want to hear, whether they mean it or not. For instance, you invite someone over for dinner. "Sure!" they say, "We'll be there!" Only they never show. In my mind, it would have been kinder to say no up front, before I bought and prepared all that food. In their mind it was kinder to agree to my face, thus making me feel good in that moment, even though they had no intention of coming. Huh?!

There have been many other instances of culture shock, and often, even when I understand the "why", I still find myself scratching my head. Rather than let it get to me, I've adopted the attitude "Es lo que hay" which roughly translates "It is what it is". It's not right or wrong, it's just different.

It also helps to think about some of the crazy cultural aspects of my home country :)

And I appreciate that my friends here have accepted me, graciously overlooking my many mistakes and cultural faux pas, laughing with me rather than at me. After all, isn't that what we want in any culture?