Monday, July 25, 2011

My Life As a Book Report: This House of Sky

To put into words exactly why you should read This House of Sky by Ivan Doig is difficult. You just should. You must. You'll love it. Trust me.

This is a "Dan book." He recommended that I read it at least a year ago. I've had it in my possession for several months; long enough that he couldn't remember to whom he loaned it. I finally read it and loved every minute of it.  Maybe it's because I'm living 'in the west' now, so I'm fascinated by 'western life'; maybe because I'm married to a 'shepherd'; maybe because I'm a lover of rural life, simplicity and days gone by; maybe because I'm fascinated by history and relationships. Maybe. Whatever the reason - if you find yourself in any of those categories, you'll love the book.

The setting is rural, western Montana and the time spans the early 20th century through the mid 1970s. The book is a collection of memories from Doig's family journey to Montana from Scotland and their experiences homesteading, ranching, rodeoing and living in the sparse, sometimes harsh landscape of western Montana. He describes the landscape and ranch life with such depth, richness, beauty and clarity.

Please, please, PLEASE read the book. Give it to your parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles. I am. (psst! act surprised when you get the book!)

Now for how it relates to my life...

Doig recounts the passing of a way of life.  Montana's homesteaders found that after years of struggling, 160 acres just didn't cut it. Eventually homesteading places were bought up by larger ranches, and men could take on jobs working for ranches. Raising livestock dictated the pulse of this area. As the book closes, Doig's home area has now become a logging industry.

I love history; I love my family's history; I love pondering about my family's roots and experiences. Growing up, I used to develop stories and imagine life on our land from years before. We had an old barn up the hill in an area where we used to keep hogs. I loved wandering in that barn. It was so dilapidated and filled with dust. Granted, the "flooring" was just dirt - but I always just remember SO. MUCH. DUST. walking through there. There was even ooooooold dusty hay still in the middle of the barn. I just loved going there and living in my day dreams for a few hours. So much of Doig's life was spent living in his imagination, as he grew up an only child in some isolated areas.

Furthermore, I've watched the landscape of rural Iowa change in my own 'short' lifetime. In our small town of Orient, the surrounding areas were full of families who farmed 'small' farms (500 acres or less?) and lived good lives. Today, those families have thinned out. As we graduated high school and college, we've moved on to larger cities and towns. Our already small school now has graduating classes in the lower teens. (Yes, folks, like 14.) The industry that has supported livelihoods for years...isn't. Jobs for those with college degrees are sparse. Men like my dad who have a college degree and came home to farm earn nicknames like 'Professor' - because those who leave and return are a rare commodity. In recent years, there have been some who've left and come back. Those who do, I admire.

Putting into words why you should read this book is very difficult me. You just should. So, whenever you get around to it - you won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Life As A Book Report: Saints Behaving Badly

I've wanted to do this blog series for awhile. The main impetus is that when I read a book, I read books that make me think. For this reason, I don't read a lot. Not because I don't want to think, but I have to want to read and taught. My husband (and many others) enjoy reading - and read a lot. Dan reads every night. He reads a variety of books: sports, political, mysteries, biographies, westerns. He's voracious.

I'm not. I like reading. I'm a good reader. Heck, I got a 35 on the Reading portion of the ACT - which is based on comprehension. I'm a choosy reader - because of that need for thought to be stimulated when I read. I'm not always a ready & willing audience, but when I am - I need to read. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears - and so it is with me and the books that I read.

This lengthy explanation, which has nothing to do with the book I'm about to report on, is simply to say: this won't be a weekly - or even monthly series. (On the other hand, I'm really interested in reading right now, so it might be monthly.) Also, the point is: when I read, I think about what I'm reading and apply it to my life - and I often find correlational themes and messages. It seems that I read for purpose, not pleasure.  (Even though books I choose for pleasure seem to teach me plenty!) My favorites are those which delight and teach me. Those will be the books reported on here.

Without further ado, Saints Behaving Badly by Thomas Craughwell:
Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints
cover courtesy of
I received this book from dear friend Andrea upon my confirmation into the Catholic Church this spring. As a newly minted Catholic, I obviously, needed to know something about the saints - and should have a fondness for them. As a newly minted Catholic, my affection toward them was really more intrigue than fondness - as it is a little hard to shake Protestant skepticism and Evangelical distrust of "anything but Jesus."

My dad, the lovable Gideon that he is saw the book and at once proclaimed, "Ah! It's just a book of testimonies!" Which it is; and which is exactly why the lives of saints should be learned about and venerated - because their stories are the same redemptions by the grace of Christ that our lives are today. (Which is also one of the reasons that I love my dad so; always looking for what binds us.)

Saints Behaving Badly chronicles the lives of twenty-eight holy men and women of the faith - most of them saints. There are some well-known saints in there: Saint Patrick, Saint Augustine, and Saint Francis of Assisi. The others were not known well to me. Each 'chapter' was dedicated to portraying the early life, the sinful life, the transformation, the repentent life and the death of each man and woman.

I was surprised at the time this book spanned - starting with Saint Matthew (one of the twelve apostles) in the first century through Venerable Matt Talbot of the late 1800s. For much of my Christian life, I've had this very small view of the 'communion of the saints'. Mainly, that we had Jesus, the twelve disciples, the new church and then fast-forward to today - and you have me. I know that it is very narrow-minded, but I never really gave much thought to the past twenty centuries of Christians until delving into the Catholic faith. For me, the connection to the past generations of Christians - many of them Catholic - has given me a sense of foundation in the church. This was one of the main reasons that I chose to embrace Catholicism (and Dan - but another story).

I read this book as part of my morning devotions. It was a great complement to my daily Bible readings to learn about a saint a day. It is really eye-opening to read about decisions to choose Christ and the Catholic church amid persecution: from the Romans to the English protestants. In nearly every testimony, their sinful past (ranging from promiscuity, adultery, gambling, lover of blood-sports, playboy, idoltry and devil worshipping) was overcome through strict devotion to prayer, serving others through selfless devotion, living simple, quiet lives - or establishing an order to teach/serve others. Their path to holiness always was marked with humility and great reverance for and submission to Christ and the Church.

My "take-away" lessons from these are many. However, the main one is the challenge to think of myself no more higher than I ought. To embrace my circumstance in life, rather than question it, by looking for ways to serve and love others is my life lesson from the lives of the saints.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Do Good. Be Light.

Two weeks ago, we moved. 

As the member of our household without a job, packing (and cleaning) became my primary responsibility.  I took that on like my job.  When moving day rolled around, Dan and I started bright and early - and kept on going until late in the evening.  To say that I was exhausted by day's end would be an understatement.  The next day started bright and early again with both of us running around to various places.  To top it off, the air conditioner in our new place needed charging, so our house didn't start cooling down until the afternoon of Day 2.

By mid-afternoon, I was tired, cranky, irritable...and unwilling to stop.  I felt this obligation to just keep doing.  This sense of duty to keep doing and going compounded my irritability.  I really just wanted to stop and rest - but felt compelled to keep pushing. 

I know that I am not alone in this sense of obligation and compulsion. As women, I think we derive from this feeling a sense of worthiness, almost.  If I can just keep doing, that will really prove how dedicated, good of a wife, hard-working (fill in the blank) I am.  In fact, I was such a good wife that I couldn't say a nice, edifying thing to my husband. 

I knew by the growing knot in my stomach that I needed to sit and be still before the Lord. The question was, would I do it? Would I overcome that false sense of duty to do - and submit to my obligation to be?

I did.  I picked up my daily devotional and found that Matthew 11:25-30 had been the Gospel reading for Friday.
"Come to me, all you who work hard and who carry heavy burdens and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is good and my burden is light."

This familiar passage spoke new life into my heart.  First I noticed the contrast between myself and my Lord: for I am mean and proud of heart, my yoke is selfish and my burden is to be right.  Yet Jesus is gentle, humble of heart and his work is to do good and be light. Oh, to be like Him! To give up my need for justification and being right and in turn, find rest!

In the translations most familiar to me, Jesus' yoke is described as easy.  This seems to be a major contradiction as walking and living like Jesus is anything but easy! We fight against our nature to be right, to be justified, to win.  What struck me, then, was his description of his yoke.

When a yoke is used - it's used to do work.  What is Jesus' task for us, then, but to do good?  If I contrast His nature with mine, then to do good would be to do what is in the best interest of another - even over myself.  By nature, I am a reactor.  To me, doing good requires one to be proactive - to be on the look-out for ways to elevate another above oneself - in short, to love them through service.

When I think of a burden, it is something that must be carried. Jesus' burden is to carry light.  In other words, to bring light into a darkened place.  How does one carry light? To me, that would be maintaining hope, faith, trust and belief.  How do we maintain such hope and faith?  Through prayer, meditation, time in the word, in fellowship with others, and doing good.  Doing good and being light looks like encouraging and spurring on others to respond in faith, hope, love and trust to each other and their circumstances.

I may be taking artistic license with the word of God, but in this meditation, I found the antidote for myself and the prescription for my marriage & life:  Do Good & Be Light.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The happenings at the casita

Well, God has blessed us with some "pets!"

We thought Maureen was a Mourning Dove, hence her name. Dan the ornithologist thought so, but now isn't so sure. If there are any Tucson ornithologists reading this blog, please enlighten us. She's made her nest in our Palo Verde tree. She's a dutiful mama and unusually tame. We can walk right up to the tree, around it, talk about her and she doesn't move. 

Fernando is the gecko we found last night climbing our screen. Dan is such an animal lover it spills over to reptiles or amphibians (I don't know). 

The other happenings is reaping the bountiful harvests of fruits and vegetables through Bountiful Baskets. My cousin Julie clued me into this program. It is a 100% volunteer organization that seeks to provide high-quality, 'local' fruits and vegetables at a reasonable costs. If you choose to participate, you sign up between Monday and Tuesday - with pick-up on Saturday. It's $15 for a conventional basket; $25 for organic. There are other options to choose as well: bread, cookies, buns, other fruit. I'd love to get some of the bread, but it's $10 for FIVE loaves. We just don't have that kind of freezer space! 

This is the second week that we have participated - and we have quite the bounty! I also chose the 'Oriental Basket' in addition to the conventional. This supplied us with cabbage, bok choy, garlic, ginger, snap peas, and basil. I think I need to go buy some Thai noodles and peanuts and try my hand at recreating 'ma-mat-pad-gai' (my favorite Thai meal!). 

The FRUIT: bananas, pineapple, tomatoes, red pears, plums, apricots and FIGS! (if you've got any good recipes incorporating any of these items, shoot them my way!)

The conventional basket with fruit & vegetables. For veggies we got broccoli, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and spinach. I am excited to make garden vegetable omelets for lunch!

Conventional + Oriental basket. Wow! What selection!
Seriously, if anyone has good Asian recipes, please send them to me!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wedding Shout-Outs: CAKE!

(back story) Dan was the 2000 Michigan FFA President. One of his fellow officers was Attalee Hardy. She also went to Michigan State, and she and Dan became good friends. Attie married Jim Brix; they moved to Iowa when both got jobs in Omaha. She works for ConAgra as a food scientist in research & development.  We met toward the beginning of Dan and I's relationship and became good friends. They are great people with great kids - and well, we wish people like that were our next door neighbors! Anyway...Attie is VERY talented and makes/decorates cakes on the side.

As soon as Dan and I were engaged, I wanted her to make our cake. I found the cake design in The Knot's winter magazine issue (which I got Dan to buy me the day we were engaged because it had a cake I liked and the flower-scheme I wanted). I sent that to Attie. The original design used lilies; since peonies were the flower of the day, Attie learned to make sugar peonies. That is correct, folks, all of those flowers at the base are edible and were made by hand!  I keep encouraging Attie that she needs to go into this full time and call her business, "Attie Cakes." (like patty-cake!) 

Attie works on the base layer.

Setting the cake up on the table!
Our topper was the same topper that Dan's parents used. I really had no plans to have a topper since the model cake didn't use one. However, Dan wanted a topper - and he wanted a bride and groom.  (He's quite the traditionalist - and I love him for that!) While visiting my Gramma Faye, I noticed her topper. It was precious (not Precious Moments) with a little bride and groom that almost resembled Kewpie dolls. It was from the early 40s - and I didn't feel that I could ask to borrow it. I tried searching Ebay, but came up with nothing. Dan asked his parents about theirs and we decided to use it. We did modify it just a little. There was a canopy of white flowers framing the couple. I was not a fan; Dan liked it. As you can see, I won. :) I loved having it as our topper. It was perfect.

(Although one of our younger guests did point out that the bride & groom didn't look anything like us.)

All photos on this post are courtesy of Nicole at Farmgirl Chaos!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Family Friendly Fourth!

Much of our weekend was spent unpacking and arranging the new place. We did get out and enjoy our holiday weekend, though.

On Saturday night, we went downtown to a 'Baja Arizona Freedom-fest.' Well, we didn't really go to it; we planned on it and then took too long getting ready. I had a hard time deciding what to wear! ;-) There are some in Tucson who want Pima County to secede from the state and become 'Baja Arizona,' the fifty-first state. As a new resident, I'm not really keen on all the political happenings and don't really support the petition. BUT, they had live music and my uncle's son was playing in a band and they were going, so we thought, 'why not?' After all, the fourth of July is all about asserting your independence.

Like I said, we didn't end up patronizing Baja Arizona's fest. (We did see the last two songs of Silverbell's set, though, and they are a GREAT band! Definitely worth seeing again!) After that, we enjoyed dinner at 'Club Congress' the restaurant located in Hotel Congress with my aunt, uncle and cousin. The food and drinks were excellent! The conversation was good, too! :)

On Sunday, we headed over to my aunt and uncle's house for a late lunch with them and my great-aunt and uncle. It is a blessing to have some family here! My aunt made a delectable Sunday dinner; we enjoyed great conversation, and ended the day reading the paper and lounging. It was a great Sunday.

On Monday, we unpacked some more - and prepared for our evening festivities. We headed over to our new friends' place for a little cook-out. Nathan and Robin live beyond the Tucson Mountains, out in the 'wild' country. To get to their place, we drove on dirt roads - literally. Think Level B roads in Iowa, but without the deep ruts from mud...just really sandy. They treated us to some steak, corn on the cob and blackberry cobbler! It was quite the treat! After dinner, we packed up and headed into town for the Tucson Padres game. Ryan navigated the traffic well and got us right into the game!

The evening ended with quite the fireworks show. Fireworks have been banned in Pima County this year due to the risk of starting wildfires. Three locations were still allowed to have a show, though. The stadium played a whole background of 'USA'-themed songs - though not the Start Spangled Banner. Personally, I thought that the finale should have gone off at the end of 'God Bless The USA' - but instead we ended with 'Born in the USA.'

This is the view from our seats. We were in the 4th row! I haven't sat so close in years!

The sunset was just beautiful. We are currently in the monsoon season and a storm had blown in around 4:30; that night it sprinkled on us in the 9th inning (later in the evening another storm came in).

Huddle, huddle - looks like trouble!
Happy Fourth of July!

Casita Nueva!

For those of you English-only folks, that means 'new little house.' On Friday, Dan and I moved into our casita with the help of a couple of friends. (Yes, friends!) Dan and I started the moving process about 7:30 that morning with all of the boxes and "little" stuff. Nathan and Ryan came by around 2:30/3 to move the big stuff, while I cleaned the old apartment. It was very successful. Did I mention that it was 110 degrees outside? Yes, those are some good friends!

Here's some pictures of our little adobe abode!

The outside view - complete with a prickly pear (whose fruits are edible) and a space over-run by ventana? where I can plant flowers or vegetables in the fall and spring!

Kitchen: no dishwasher or microwave, but we can handle it. Dan is GREAT at washing dishes.

I'm okay trading a dishwasher for a washer/dryer.

The view into the living room through the front door. It's not a sprawling floor plan, but it works for us!

The living room, complete with a built in "entertainment center." Unfortunately, our TV is just a little too big for that space. After arranging furniture in there, I think our TV is just a little too big for the whole place. (Any takers?) As our friend Ryan said, "You're definitely in the moment (of what is taking place on TV)."

Guest bedroom/office - with a view into the guest bath/kitchen. Yes, Mom & Dad there are two sets of doors. :)

Master Bedroom with a view into the master bathroom.

Walk-in closet with built in shelves!

If you are interested in our new address, shoot us an email. I'd rather not put it out here on the world-wide web!