How big are a Dutchman’s Britches?

Tomorrow we’re having a St. Nicholas celebration with our family.
But St. Nicholas Day was December 6, you say?
You are so right.

But in our family, there is no such thing as a firm date. They’re more like suggestions.
Baby due dates? We laugh at those.
Birthday cards? Why not spread the cheer over several days—or weeks—once we remember the actual birthdate.
IRS requirements? Except for that brief, exhilarating “merry extension to all and to all a good pandemic” of 2020, this agency has actually not demonstrated a sense of humor over fluid deadlines.

Anyway, we’re celebrating tomorrow. With potato soup the website swears is actually Dutch.

I could make Soup-n-Brigh (not how it’s spelled in Dutch but generally how it is pronounced). A mix of bread and buttermilk cooked in an open pot until the entire house smells like a men’s locker room with two weeks of unwashed laundry. Or maybe Bluepop. Barley and grape juice and raisins. Cooked in an open pot ’til the raisins swell to the size and texture of turkey gizzards.

So even though the potato soup isn’t a traditional food handed down from my ancestors, it sounds edible.

What I really go for are the sweets. I will be breaking my grandchildren’s tender little hearts because there will be no Dutch letters in their wooden shoes because with shipping, those little first initials of their names doubled in price. My thrifty forebearers would have rolled over in their graves.

But, we will have almond bars and stroopwafels and my forever favorite: Jan Hagel cookies. I always thought this translated as “John Hail” because the topping—rock sugar in the Netherlands, chopped nuts on this side of the Atlantic—look like hail. (If you squint, this side of the Atlantic.) Turns out, it probably came a slang term for sailors, and came to be associated with the riffraff or common people, and unruly mobs. That last one describes my tribe when we’re high on sugar.

Speaking of being Dutch: on the way to church Sunday we were scanning the skies. After approximately 200 years without seeing the sun, the weather forecast was calling for clearing skies. 
“HA!” I pointed out the car window to a cloud-free area. “My mom always said, ‘If you see a patch of blue big enough to make a Dutchman’s britches, it means the sun will come out.”

And sure enough. After several hit and miss hours, the sun did make a brief appearance. But I’ll tell you from years of experience, it is not always a proven axiom.
Or is it?
How big a Dutchman? How big are his britches? Maybe when the cloud/clear sky ratio hits a certain point, inevitably the sun will come out.
Has anyone researched this? Or is it one of those instinctive things you just learn through generational imprint and experience. I bet those unruly janhagel Dutch sailors would know.

Whether you celebrate St, Nick Day early, late or never, I wish you great blessings of health, strength, safety and faith.
And may all your Dutchmen in the sky have just the right sized britches.

Grinch Green or Sugar Plum Fairy Pink?

About ten, maybe twelve years ago I went through a Christmas nostalgia phase that coincided with a flurry of merchandise designed to appeal to those of us who spent our childhood in the 1960s. With no thought of budgetary restrictions I bought piles of textiles whose predominant colors were bright red and Grinch green. By New Year’s Day that year I was ready to donate all those tablecloths, napkins, and tea towels to a local landfill.

Something about the combination of colors didn’t appeal to me after that first blush of loving association with a kinder, gentler era. I didn’t dump the unpleasant kitchen accoutrements but did frown at them often and only put them on display when no company was expected.

Not long ago my college roommate met me in downtown Chicago and we enjoyed high tea at a lovely hotel. They have pink-predominant trees in the lobby and tea room. See?

It is quite lovely and festive and tasteful. But I’m uncertain if I’m ready to associate pink with Christmas. However. I don’t fancy only the traditional Santa Suit reds and Christmas-tree greens all the time either.

Pastels aren’t my first love. Or second. Washed out colors seem depressing. Monochrome makes an impact but can eventually become …repetitive. Maybe I enjoy richer colors. Deep blues and reds and golds and greens.

The only constant is light. Lots of Christmas lights. White, golden-glow, colored. They light the long hours of darkness in the northern hemisphere. They remind us of the Light of the World. They make electric companies everywhere rub their hands in glee. Yes, lights are my requirement.

Anyone have any favorite Christmas color combos? Anything unusual, new, unexpected? What makes you happy? (And I’m curious if anyone loves browns and/or grays for their Christmas decorations?)

Life after Lawry’s (and its inherent complexities)

The Big Three:
Lawry’s Season Salt

Who could ask for anything more?

They fulfilled all my cooking needs—with occasional forays into oregano and paprika—for years. But life as a vegan seems to require more.
Italian Seasoning? Got it.
Herbs de Provence? The mix that, when I say it in my head, sounds like a delightful blend of Leslie Caron and Hercule Poirot, on my tongue comes out with distinct flavor of Homer Simpson. Can’t do the name justice, but I cook with it.

So now that I’ve dipped a foot into Spices of the World, I’m ready for more. Last night I took my little light-up-tutu clad granddaughter to dance class, and we stopped at the grocery store on the way home. She took notes as we made swift and efficient progress.
Until the spice aisle.
And a paralyzing case of Spice Indecision.

While I dithered over the endless choices involved in “buy two, get one free” offerings, my granddaughter continued to take notes.
Thyme? I have the ground stuff, but need the leaves.
The aforementioned Herbs de Provence? Don’t I have plenty left? Doesn’t it lose its flavor if it sits too long?
And if I buy two spices at the $3.79 price do I get one from the $5.49 category? Or do I have to remain in the parameters of the designated price? Do I need 3 spices from the $3.79, $4.99 or $5.49 groupings?
Thyme leaves. I need those.

While I dithered, my little granddaughter continued to write notes.
“I’m being patient.” She repeated this as I considered the smoked paprika and the Greek seasoning.
“I’m being very patient.” She reiterated as I squatted in front of the rosemary (cracked) the turmeric, and the wasabi blend.
“Still patient,” as she added an ominous-looking line to her notebook.

Not certain what this says, but I doubt it is complimentary

Outside the spice aisle, the World Cup progressed, nation made war against nation, and families everywhere sat down to partake of perfectly-seasoned meals. Time stood still in front of the cayenne, the endless dill options, the Jamaican Jerk. The little signs displaying the various sale prices started to swim before my eyes and my granddaughter’s light-up tutu began to dim. I could not, for love or money, decide which 3 spices from which sale bracket to purchase. I admitted defeat and we made our way to the checkout. My granddaughter closed the notebook but kept a patient finger in her place. Just in case.

We packaged, paid, and loaded into the Jeep. I delivered her safely into the arms of her waiting family. Went home. Unpacked groceries,
And found 2 jars of dried thyme leaves, From the $5.49 section.

Spices Photo by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash

The Mist and All

My favorite season is fall. My favorite anthology/collection is “One Thousand Beautiful Things” that my dad passed on to me.

And my favorite poem in the book is “The Mist and All.” I’m sure I’ve shared it on my blogs before but here it is again because today is a misty November day and this poem washes it in loveliness.

The Mist and All

by Dixie Willson

I like the fall
The mist and all
I like the night owl’s lonely call
And wailing sound
Of wind around

I like the gray
November day
And bare, dead boughs that coldly sway
Against my pane
I like the rain

I like to sit
And laugh at it
And tend my cozy fire a bit
I like the fall
The mist and all

My first love: We Gather Together

The one that started my love of Thanksgiving carols. Way back in high school.

It was written in the 16th century by Dutch Protestants (of which I am one, although I don’t go quite that far “way back”) to celebrate the Netherlands liberation from Spain. Until the defeat of the Spanish forces, the church had been forbidden to gather for worship.

Pretty sure we sang this at almost every Thanksgiving Day church service. Yep—those Dutch Reformed sorts had worship services Reformation Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Then we gave our poor pastors a break until Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost… . Go ahead and ask me if I ever saw the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade growing up.

The point is—gathering to worship and rejoice and eat and give thanks is such a wonderful gift, and we don’t realize it until the gift is withdrawn. May you gather this Thanksgiving, whether it is with family, friends, or strangers. And be blessed!

Everybody eats when they come to my house

This “everybody eats” dictum applies to my extended family gatherings any time of year, but nowhere is our innate desire to feed loved ones on display more than Thanksgiving.

Listen to the song and be warned. Come to my house and I WILL feed you.

While this isn’t technically a Thanksgiving carol, honestly, what is? The definition is fluid.

Enjoy the great blessing of food and the gathering together to partake of it!

Enjoy the great blessing of food and the gathering together to partake of it!

Heap High the Farmer’s Wintry Hoard

I’ve been listening to this song for well over a decade without fully understanding all the lyrics. Finally last year I looked it up. Still the only song on my Thanksgiving playlist that I haven’t memorized. But do I belt out that first line! (Before subsiding to a sort of mumbling hum for the rest.)

Heap High the Farmer’s Wintry Hoard (John Greenleaf Whittier)

Heap High the Farmer’s Wintry Hoard (John Greenleaf Whittier
1 Heap high the farmer's wintry hoard!
Heap high the golden corn!
No richer gift has autumn poured
from out her lavish horn!
Through vales of grass and meads of flowers
our plows their furrows made,
While on the hills the sun and showers
of changeful April played.

2 We dropped the seed over hill and plain
beneath the sun of May,
And frightened from our sprouting grain
the robber crows away.
All through the long, bright days of June
its leaves grew green and fair, 
And waved in hot midsummer's noon
its soft and yellow hair.

3 And now with autumn's moonlit eyes,
It's harvest-time has come,
We pluck away the frosted leaves,
and bear the treasure home.
Oh let the good old crop adorn
the hills our fathers (forbears) trod;
Still let us, for his (this) golden corn,
send up our thanks to God!

Let All Things Now Living

It’s November and I love November and Thanksgiving songs and atmospheric late autumn photos.

Today is also election day and some of us might be stressing. “So why,” my efficient self asks my rather slothful self, “not post a Thanksgiving song that you love and a photo you like, and emphasize the absolute wonder and delight of creation along with a reminder that ultimately this stuff isn’t under our control?” And my slothful self replies, “Let’s do it! It means I don’t have to get creative and write something original!”

So here is a photo:

And the lyrics to a song:

Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God our Creator triumphantly raise,
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
By guiding us on to the end of our days.
God’s banners are o’er us, Pure light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night,
Til shadows have vanished, all fearfulness banished,
As forward we travel from light into light.

By law God enforces. The stars in their courses,
The sun in its orbit, obediently shine;
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
The deeps of the ocean proclaim God divine,
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing,
With glad adoration a song let us raise,
Till all things now living unite in thanksgiving
To God in the highest, hosanna and praise.

And a link to the song:

And a happy November 8/Election Day/Thanksgiving month to you.

you say tomato, I say tomato

At a recent church get together, somehow the conversation turned to—I can’t remember what. But I seized the opportunity to drag myself into it.
Once upon a time, I told my politely listening friends, back when I was single and very involved in children’s ministry at my church, I bought a new Sunday dress.
At the time my hair was dark dark brown. I had a bit of a tan and thought a red dress would look nice.
It was a shirt dress. It fit well. It was comfortable. I paid decent money for it.
But I didn’t particularly like it, or feel pretty in it.
The color was a sort of tomato-red as opposed to any other red in the known universe that would have been more flattering.
Maybe that was it.
I wore it. About every third or fourth week.

One Sunday I and my tomato red dress popped into the Sunday school room.
I greeted my littles.
One of my little ones, in the sort of tone one might use facing tuna noodle casserole for the fourth night in a row, greeted me back with, “Oh. You’re wearing that dress again.”
The tomato dress went to the thrift shop the next morning.

I’d like to say the moral of the story is to trust your instincts. Never wear clothing you don’t feel pretty in. Or that makes small children sad.

But my next story demonstrates what makes this post a cautionary tale. Instincts aren’t always reliable.

Years back a church lady, talking about Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha, observed, “Mary might have chosen the better way, but I’d rather be on committees with Martha.”

That stuck with me, especially since I’ve fought a lifelong battle against being the sluggard in Proverbs. The one who’s supposed to go to the ant for instruction on hard work.

My instincts tell me to work harder, do more, serve better. Because no one likes sluggards, and most hard-working women aren’t even that fond of Mary types.
So when we hosted a retired missionary and his wife for dinner, I worked like crazy to make certain the house was clean and cozy, our meal the right balance of nourishing and attractive and tasty, and the beverages stayed filled.

But, meals for guests being what they are, the potatoes didn’t cook as fast as the veggies and the meat looked underdone and the serving platter had water spots and apparently the slotted spoon ran away with the dish.
Once my sweating self got everyone fed it was time to clear away, get the coffee going, provide tea for non-coffee drinkers, cut the dessert and polish more water spots off the forks.
My instincts kept prodding me. “No sluggards allowed. Make the Marthas of the world proud. Keep moving and provide for every possible need of your guests.”

At one point the missionary’s dear wife caught at my arm as I bustled my busy way back into the kitchen for the umpteenth time. “Anita, we’re fine. Just sit down and talk to me!”
But those blasted instincts keep pushing and I chugged to and fro, Martha personified, giving the guests everything but what they wanted.

They left that afternoon and I never made the time to sit and chat, and I never saw that dear woman again. She’s in heaven now, sitting at Jesus’ feet with Mary. AND Martha.

I am left with regrets.
And justified suspicion of my instincts. They were right about Tomato Dress. Wrong about the Importance of Being Martha.

I’ll probably never sort them out.
In the meantime I avoid clothing that makes small children sad, work hard at working hard and harder at investing in relationships. When I get it wrong, as I often will, I’ll rest assured that, ultimately, it will come out right in the wash.

(Ephesians 5:26)

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay

Foretaste of Glory

This is my youngest son at age 5.
It’s a self portrait.

Here he is last month.

Preparing to be a groom.

We had an adventurous quarter century between these two depictions. There were losses: three grandparents, friendships, soccer/basketball/baseball games galore, hair.

He had challenges along the way, which meant his family did too. For years he chafed against being the youngest, and his family had the rash to prove it. Then there was the very very scary bout with pneumonia, the questioning of his faith, the strain of deciding what he wanted to be when he grew up, which led him from Italy to LA, from Iceland to Chicago to Machu Picchu in search of meaning, identity, and clarity.

But goodness and gain clamber up the backs of challenge and loss and wave wildly so that those blessings are where our memories go first.
-His initial but increasingly grateful acknowledgement that God truly never abandoned him during his spiritually dry period.
-The self-recognition that yes, he’s a nifty world traveler, decent actor and poet, and surprisingly gifted house painter. But he’s really really good at teaching. English. To high schoolers. A career that can make strong men shudder and turn pale.
-He’s gained and retained a plethora of friends and mentors from childhood, college, summer jobs, and church family.
-The brothers, whose lives from his toddlerhood till he graduated elementary school he determined to saturate in misery, are now two of the people he’s closest to on earth
-Blessing upon blessing—his brothers chose wisely and well who to marry, and he gained the best sisters along with a bounty of adoring nieces and nephews.

Then, last month, he gained the title ‘husband’ when he married the woman I’ve been praying for, most likely since before she was born.
She is a delight, a perfect and practical foil for his introspective, over-thinking and charismatic personality. She is beautiful. She is wise and hard-working and enjoys being with our noisy crew.
And she loves her Savior even more than she loves my son.

The wedding was a glorious mix of solemn vows and beautiful music and food and wine and family and friends old and new. And praises to God and overflowing celebration.
As one of my dear friends said, “It was a foretaste of glory.”

Indeed. God gives us these little glimpses of what eternity will be like. We experience them at worship, work, fellowship.
Nothing about heaven will be dull.
Instead we’ll get to enjoy the best food, the best drink, the best music, the best people and praises. None of it will end and none of it will get old or stale and not a minute of it will be separate from the Bridegroom.

We’re still basking in the afterglow of Wedding Weekend and now, more than ever, anticipating the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Wedding photos: azuregphotography