Labor Day Laundry Weekend

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It’s what I’ve been dreaming about! Labor Day weekend is going to be a true holiday weekend for us — no class on Saturday and no work on Monday. Woo Hoo! What better way to spend the time than working on our laundry room?

My original to-wish list included painfully pealing up the 30 year old linoleum floor, doing a skim layer of concrete and painting the concrete grey. A little organization in our storage room unearthed a box of vinyl wood flooring (left over from our dining room and foyer) over 3 gallons of wall paint (left over from the living room) and the baseboards and quarter round we stashed in there. Score!  All of a sudden, we had nearly everything we needed to do the big parts of our laundry room!

I’ve been steadily working for the past two weeks to get a lot of the little preparation type things done so that we can spend the weekend on the big stuff. Going into the weekend, my to-wish list looks like this:

  • Take down shelves
  • Table for folding clothes
  • Drying Rack above folding table
  • Vinyl Wood Floor
  • Finished baseboards & quarter round
  • Paint walls grey
  • Paint cabinets, door\trim and window trim (white)
  • Curtains just for fun?
  • Repair light fixture \ add ceiling fan?
  • Install pocket door (in my dreams!)
  • Replace light switch and outlets

With my dad’s help, we built the table to fold clothes on. Who are we kidding, my dad built the table and I kept him company. Taking down the shelves\filling holes\sanding down took forever! The drywall anchors they used were a beast. At best they left a half inch hole, at worst…well lets just say it’s a good thing we’re painting. Here’s the laundry room now mid-remodel.

017-001It gets worse before it gets better right?

Right?

Introverts in the Church

I’ve been mulling over this idea since reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking . In the book, Cain discusses what she calls the Extrovert Ideal western countries, especially the United States have– valuing the characteristics of extroverted people above introverts. Her section on the extrovert ideal in religion struck a cord with me.

She recounts her day at Rick Warren’s mega-church campus, Saddleback. After speaking with a pastor, not employed at Saddleback, the author explains how the Evangelical mode of worship can be off putting to an introvert. Mega churches are exhausting to an introvert. Their pastors are motivational-speaker level enthusiastic, praise and worship is loud, bright and terrifying if they’ve got cameras in the audience threatening to put your face on a jumbo-tron for everyone to watch. Even more subdued churches like the one I grew up in can be intimidating.

Having now spent 6 or so years in the Catholo-sphere I can raise similar objections to the modern American Catholic church. Even in the Catholic mass which purports to encourage meditation and quiet reflection is constantly noisy. At the very least there is always a piano playing, often with vocal accompaniment, priests wear microphones so even his silent prayer is broadcasted to the pews in the back.

The pastor Susan Cain interviews is concerned that these outward signs of worship — lifting your hands, speaking in tongues etc — as well as church involvement — spending more nights at church than not, being involved in groups, studies, attending mixers and outreaches — are now seen as benchmarks for holiness. As though, not only fortune, but God himself favors the bold.  It seems, the pastor suggests, that Evangelical churches are embracing this extrovert ideal and associating it, not only with worldly success, but to your holiness and indeed your salvation.

The pastor Cain interviewed was not nearly as jaded as I may make him sound. He is happily working at a church near Saddleback, completely at peace with God and Evangelicalism. He took it upon himself to open venues for introverts in his church — calmer praise and worship, low intensity\small volume Bible studies etc. But his statement that the ideal, holy American Christian is an extrovert, started me thinking: is that true?

Protestantism and especially Evangelicalism emphasizes your personal relationship with God over your actions. Congregations are constantly directed to spend silent time in prayer seeking God and His guidance. How can a church who extols the virtues of an intimate, private relationship with God also value loud, brash, attention seeking extroversion?

To answer this, I thought back on my experience and learning growing up. What does the ideal Christian look like? Who is that person we all ought to inspire to to be like? A few introverted characteristics came to mind — daily prayer and reflection, modest, meek, giving and nurturing. But the answer I couldn’t get away from was: a foreign missionary. Someone who abandons all familial ties, strikes out on their own to an uncharted, pagan land to learn their ways, teach them Christ and win their hearts.

I think Susan Cain would argue that if an introvert believes strongly enough in something, they will act in brash, extroverted ways. But this idea of being a foreign missionary is largely appealing to someone with an extroverted personality. That charismatic, go-getter who finds themselves at ease in most situations and with most people. An introverted person thrives on close relationships, familiar surroundings and respite — not things to be expected living in deepest darkest mission field. But still this seems to be the ideal, what children are raised to aspire to be and adults to give selflessly to support.

Apparently I wasn’t the only person to notice this glorification of the foreign missionaries. Hope Henchey wrote an article titled Youth Ministry’s Family Blind Spot in which she describes the difficulty she and her husband experienced in their young adults youth group. The Henchey’s married and started a family young. They were disheartened to discover their age group being encouraged to actively pursue the foreign mission field rather than support families in their own church.  In her article, Henchey describes how the youth group was geared with the expectation that the members would at some point or another find themselves on the mission field. Indeed they worked to raise money for short trips around the world. What Hope noticed was that at no point was the group taught about the virtues they would need to be married or to be parents. Despite the fact that most of them would end up settled down, married and raising families, the church group educated them as missionaries. It would seem this group also believes that the ideal Christian life is one that is lived on foreign soil and not in the trenches of domestic life.

Why do we believe a good Christian life must be one of excitement and adventure over routine and contemplation? Where is the place for a quiet introvert in our churches? Are we doomed to feel less holy or failures for giving into our desire to remain at home and raise families? Is our life in a Judeo-Christian society so boring that we seek out persecution?  Boring ‘ole Thomas Aquinas is just as much a saint as Ignatius of Antioch.

On a mission trip to Russia — 18 years old

 

Baptizing our third child — 25 years old

Sweet and Sour Chicken

I have been hinting around for a copy of The Chinese Take Out Cookbook but so far Ryan hasn’t taken the bait. Luckily, Diana Kuan has some of her recipes posted on her website. The other night, I made her Sweet and Sour Chicken and heavens to Betsy, it was good and this coming from a Chinese take-out lover.

The chicken was crispy but still moist, the sauce (although maybe a bit thin) was light and sweet. I really don’t have much to add to her recipe because I followed it step for step. Oh minus the ginger-I-thought-was-sitting-on-the-window-sill-but-wasn’t-when-I-started-to-cook.

The chicken is cut into 1 inch cubes, coated with egg whites and cornstarch then deep fried. While they drained I whipped up the sauce, put it in the (wiped out) pan over heat to thicken up. Then in with the pineapples and meat. Delicious! Like I said, the sauce was a bit thin,  but I think that’s mostly because I added some of the pineapple juice in with my pineapple chunks. She didn’t specify, but now I see it made it too thin. She suggests using a wok, but my deep skillet worked perfect for this one-pan dish.

I served the chicken on the side of stir fried veggies (nothing special besides veggies sauteed in the skillet with hot hot oil) and an oven baked egg roll. We can’t be fancy all the time.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Sweet and Sour Chicken

This is the first Asian meal I’ve made since reading Consider the Fork. It was neat to see the principles Bee Wilson explains in action. When discussing Asian cooking and eating, Wilson emphasizes it’s efficiency. The chef takes extra time preparing everything, cutting meat into bite sized pieces, so that the eater can use one hand to pick up each bite — using chopsticks and no knife. Further, meals are planned to be cooked quickly in one dish, namely the wok. Indeed making this sweet and sour chicken, the only extra dishes I needed was one bowl to mix the sauce in and one bowl to separate the egg whites. Really, if I were more confident in my egg separating skills I could have done without that bowl.  And the oil gets so hot to fry the chicken that the pan is still hot enough, even off the heat, to thicken the sauce right after.

It changed my perspective while cutting the chicken. Normally this is an area I’m a bit lazy in. I’ll leave a piece or two a little bit bigger thinking that it can just be cut in two at the table. But the fact of the matter is, the quick cooking time depends on all the pieces of chicken being small and uniform. A larger piece of chicken would not have been cooked all the way through in such a short cook time. Cooking the chicken longer, to ensure it was safely cooked through, would run the risk of making the coating soggy and not tight and crisp. How neat! I guess Asians have been cooking for such a long time they really have worked all the kinks out!

I’ve been anxious to make her General Tso’s Chicken but I’m going to have to wait until I have more time to do it, It doesn’t seem like a quick throw together kind of meal. But after the success of the Sweet and Sour Chicken, I may just have to find time to make General Tso.

Spinach Ricotta Lasagna

I found a recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna that looked delicious!  Lasagna is always a hit at our house, but I like saving it for special occasions (read: it’s a pain to make so I convinced Ryan I should only  make it like twice a year).  But when I saw this idea of using spinach, I was intrigued enough to buy ricotta. I pretty much followed her directions (after converting the measurements) with a few exceptions.

I already had a red sauce with meat and mushrooms made, so I skipped the onions, garlic, white pepper and can of red sauce from her recipe.  I also got to assembling my lasagna and realized I had Swiss cheese not Parmesan, but I was past the point of no return.

My filling, then, was spinach, Ricotta, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses, eggs and seasonings. As the routine goes, I lined the bottom of an 8×8 pan with a little bit of sauce. This keeps the noodles from sticking. I placed two ready bake lasagna noodles on top, then dolloped about half of my spinach filling; I topped again with noddles then the rest of the spinach filling. Two noodles on top, pour on the sauce and top with more shredded cheese and she was ready.  I baked it for about 45 minutes total at 350 degrees. With the no boil noodles, you have to cover the dish for 30 minutes then uncover for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Cooking it covered traps in the moisture for the noodles to soak up and soften, cooking it uncovered for the last 15 minutes warms everything through and melts the cheese all gooey.

This was a hit! Only one piece remained as a leftover and it was eaten within about 12 hours. In fact, we dove into it so quick I forgot to take a picture until the next day when I was eating the very last piece. The spinach had great flavor that goes so well with the creamy white cheese filling. There were a few spots that had that soggy water flavor you sometimes get with cooked spinach, but I think next time I just need to dry the leaves a bit better before adding them in. Next special occasion, it looks like this will be our lasagna of choice. If I used a meatless sauce, this would also be a tasty vegetarian dish. Here are some other things I’ve done with red sauce, including how I make my sauce, and the Squash and Zucchini noodle Spaghetti we had a few weeks ago!

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna
Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

It Doesn’t Have to be This Hard

A friend of mine posted this article recently discussing the cultural differences between industrial nations, primarily the US, and third world countries in regards to postpartum care. The United States has startling higher rates of Postpartum Depression over the rest of the world. Of course with all statistics you have to question a lot, especially comparing nations and cultures. Even so, that the United States has a Postpartum Depression rate of over 50% shows something is obviously wrong. A woman shouldn’t have a 1 in 2 chance of developing depression from having a baby. All possible jokes aside about how depressing having kids is, this is a big problem.

Many of us wear our postpartum difficulties as a badge of honor — “my husband had to go back to work in less than two weeks” “I was completely on my own the first week” “the day after my son was born, my husband drove to New Orleans to spend the day in class”. We do this to make ourselves feel stronger, braver. But shouldn’t statements like these be taken more as cries for help?  I think the problem is a complex one, deeply entrenched in our industrial-everyone-has-to-work-equally society, thus the true solution is equally complex. That it takes a village to raise children, is absolutely true. But what is a family to do if their whole village works Monday through Friday? Your village members live 20 minutes away? You aren’t comfortable enough with your village to call and say “please help!”? Our societal answer is always to hire someone. Hire a babysitter, use a daycare, pay a doula.

Doula is a wonderful profession, especially considering that the traditional labor doula is now expanding to include postpartum doulas to help at home after the baby is born. The article is correct in saying this is an outpouring of how difficult taking care of babies has become. But is this the ultimate solution? Work harder to make more money to hire someone to help after you have a baby until you can go back to work? Shouldn’t our society be such that help for new mothers is built in?

Deconstructing Penguins

My infatuation with Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone continues!

Jumping on the book club bandwagon of the early 1990’s Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone began a reading group for elementary aged children (initially second through fourth graders and later sixth through eighth) and their parents.  The idea was that the child and their parent(s) would read the assigned book then meet for a guided discussion with the Goldstones as moderators.

Deconstructing Penguins is a course guide of sorts. Using the Socratic Method, the authors guide the readers to solving the mystery of “what is the book about?” The Goldstones use excerpts from their discussions to show how they used books such as Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Animal Farm, Charlotte’s Web and The Giver to teach literary principles and critical thinking.

Goodreads link

I consider myself to be a fairly literate person. My natural cynicism pushes me to always ask “what is the author (or director) trying to say?” But this book still had a lot to teach me. I particularly appreciated their definition of protagonist and antagonist — something that always slightly alluded me.

The Goldstones’ is an approach I certainly look forward to employing with my own children as they grow up. Already Evangeline can retell a story with some prompting and we are both excited for her to learn and grow in her reading capacity. This is a great (quick) read for anyone who interacts with children — librarians, parents, teachers or all of the above.

So for those of you keeping track at home, I am open to gift copies of Out of the Flames, Used and Rare and now Deconstructing Penguins all by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. The problem with checking out library books is that when I like the book I regret not buying it in the first place.

Consider the Fork

Goodreads Link

I have considered the fork and it is…interesting enough.  I came across this book in a back issue of Smithsonian magazine and it peaked my interest. The full title of this book is Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat.  Each chapter gives a brief history and cultural differences revolving around an element of eating or cooking — pots, fire, measuring, ice, forks etc.

I found the chapters on pots and measuring to be the most interesting. I consider boiling water such a basic cooking technique, I didn’t realize how much I took it for granted. How do you hold water before you can create clay vessels? Why would you put water over a fire it took you a long time to build? What material can transfer heat without breaking itself or contaminating the liquid inside? Is boiling even a good way to cook? Furthermore, did you know the US is one of the only countries to measure solid foods by volume? Did you know that’s a stupid way to measure solids?

Overall, I found the book to be interesting and well researched. My only complaint was that many of her points were overstated. She filled 30 pages with what could have been said much more succinctly. I’m sorry I don’t have much more to say about this book, I feel rather middle of the road about it.  This material could have been better presented in article form and length. Take for instance the article How the Chicken Conquered the World written by Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler published in The Smithsonian Magazine June 2012, which to this day remains one of the most fascinating things I’ve read.

This book reminded me of Home Cooking in the Global Village by Richard Wilk

Goodreads Link