Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lilies of the Field

"...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Matthew 6:29-30

It has been a busy couple of weeks. Last week I was Camping Mom as we prepared for and went camping in Wadi Dana (a future post--more flora pics, of course) and this week I am Baseball Mom raised to the third power with three children playing on three different teams, one son assistant coaching, and dear husband, coaching (loves it) and serving as the Baseball Commissioner. But, as I mentioned here when it is spring in Jordan, there is no time to waste; one must get outside and drink in all the beauty of creation before it takes on its summer form: dry,brown, and hard. So, between phone calls, emails, a trip to the music conservatory, correcting Latin, and trying to prepare for a class, I called to my youngest child to take a brief walk with me; I thought I had spied a few clumps of lilies in a field at the end of our block.

Asphodeline lutea

As we came up over the raised, barren part of the field, the part that could be seen from the road, we were amazed to behold the lower part of the field, filled with beautiful lilies, Asphodelus aestivus and Asphodeline lutea, to be exact.

Asphodeline lutea and Asphodelus aestivus

Though the Asphodels are lilies which are commonly found in fields and in the countryside, I had never seen such a mass of them in the suburbs. Alas, these too will likely eventually be uprooted as new buildings are going up all the time in our neighborhood. Youngest daughter suggested that we dig up some lilies to replant in our garden in an effort to preserve their beauty. Not a bad idea.

Though it was only about 20 minutes, our time in the field, marveling and enjoying the beauty of God's creation was the highlight of our day. We even met a nearly meter long gray grass snake on our visit to the field and just missed stepping on it, which gave youngest daughter an exciting story to tell her brother upon our return home.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tulipa agenensis

Though the Dutch have brought fame to this flower of stately and enigmatic beauty, the tulip is native to the Middle East, not Holland, and takes its name from the Turkish word for turban, an allusion to the tulip’s turban shaped bloom. Tulipa agenensis, the most common of Jordan’s three species of indigenous tulips (though not too common—I’ve only seen a handful) blooms in early spring and hails from Jordan’s northern mountains and forests.

Family~ Liliaceae
Tulipa agenensis

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Most Graceful Flower~

My favorite early spring flower is the wild cyclamen, known in Arabic as “horns of the gazelle” for the petals of the flower which bend back to give the impression of horns. Additionally, the flower of the cyclamen is born on a long, gracefully bent stem, another resemblance to the indigenous gazelle, known for its graceful appearance and movements. (It is also known as “soap of the shepherd”. Not nearly as poetic and I’m not sure why it is so named. )

At home in the shady mountains and forests of northern Jordan, cyclamen is often found growing near rocks, the corms which they grow from secured between the crevices, protecting them from the ever present danger of grazing by sheep and goats. The leaves of this beautiful plant are edible and I have heard that some in the countryside collect them to make “mahshi”, a traditional Arabic dish of vegetables or leaves stuffed with rice and meat.

All the cyclamen I have seen in Jordan, until our trip to Gilead last Sunday, had pink-mauve flowers as in the specimen pictured below:

Cyclamen persicum

However, in the same field I also found a more vibrant pink cyclamen and a near white cyclamen, tipped in bright pink. These were the freshest cyclamen with the most profuse blooms I have ever seen and almost made me suspect they are some sort of hybrid introduced to the area, though I can’t imagine who would have done that.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

We interrupt spring...

To bring you this weird weather update:

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Jordan in Bloom, Part I

When one lives in a land where the rains dimish in March and cease sometime in April, a land in which the late spring landscape is browned by hot dusty winds which blow in from east, one must celebrate the advent of spring with at least a couple trips to the countryside. Must! And thus we did this weekend, driving 40 minutes west to the oak covered hills of Gilead.

My springtime joy is getting out to visit the wildflowers. Yes, visit. They all have names, you know. One serendipitous spring, eight years ago, I had the privledge of taking a plant taxonomy class from Fulbright Professor Lytton Musselman , an enthusiastic botanist who studies and writes on ethnobotany and plants of the Holy Land, while he was teaching at Jordan University. Coinciding with my class was a spring of copious rainfall. The wildflowers bloomed profusely and I was able to create an herbarium of over 100 specimens. For a couple of months I had just about every large book in our flat pressing specimens on the dining room table.

I was surprised to learn that because Jordan is at the crossroads of three continents, it enjoys great biodiversity and, in fact, has some of the most diverse flora of any place in the world. Although nearly 80 percent of the nation is desert, there are more than 2,500 plant species and several distinct ecosystems.

This year I won't be collecting specimens but I will enjoy searching out my wildflower friends--not only do they all have names, they are all members of families-and I will attempt to capture some of their beauty with my camera (Canon Rebel XT, with alas, only the kit lens so far). Our trip to the hills of Gilead provided an opportunity to visit many old friends, and I even made one new one, a lone orchid plant growing under a wild oak tree. This was the first time I had seen this species:

Orchis collina

Stay tuned for more flora pictures...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pumpkin/Sweet Potato Coffee Cake~

One might expect, in this first flush of spring, a recipe for, perhaps, strawberry shortcake. Indeed, the strawberries are in the market. However the the market still had a small basket of last-of-the-season sweet potatoes and I couldn't resist. So, while I really only have recipes for Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin____, around here we substitute mashed sweet potatoes for pumpkin pack with stunning success (canned pumpkin pack being either unavailable or too expensive and fresh pumpkin being too much bother to process). Most recently, this cake was a great addition to a recent afternoon outing to the hills of Gilead.

Pumpkin/Sweet Potato Coffee Cake
(or just great snack cake for hungry teenagers)

This recipe makes enough batter for three 8"x10", or one 9"x13" and one or two 8"x10" cakes. Freezes well.

3 eggs
3 1/2 cups sugar
4 cups mashed sweet potatoes ~or~1 30-ounce can pumpkin pack
1 cup canola oil
5 cups flour
1-2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking soda

Cream together eggs, sugar, sweet potato or pumpkin, and oil. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into greased pans and spring with crumb topping. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 30-40 minutes.

Crumb Topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar (we like dark)
1 cup flour
1/4 pound butter, chilled
chopped pecans or walnuts

In a bowl, mix sugar and flour until blended. Cut the chilled butter into smaller pieces and rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add finely chopped pecans or walnuts to taste. If you have leftover crumb topping, it stores well in the freezer and makes a nice topping for muffins.

Friday, March 09, 2007

God's Word in English

In The Beginning, The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Langauge, and a Culture
Alister McGrath

On William Tyndale's translation of the Bible into English and its influence on and shaping of later English translations:

"Many of the words and phrases used by Tyndale found their way into the English language. Tyndale was a master of the pithy phrase, near to conversational English, but distinct enough to be used like a proverb. In his Bible tranaslations, Tyndale coined such phrases as":

"the powers that be" (Romans 13)
"my brother's keeper" (Genesis 4)
"the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5)
"a law unto themselves" (Romans 2)

Other neologisms developed and invented by Tyndale:

"Jehovah" from the Hebrew tetragrammaton in the Old Testament
"Passover" from the Jewish festival know in Hebrew as Pesah

"It should be noted that 'attonement' was invented by Tyndale to convey the idea of 'reconciliation.' It can be seen immediately that biblical translation thus provided a major stimulus to the development of the English language, not least by creating new English words to accomodate biblical ideas." (p.79)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Spring Reading Challenge

It is with some trepidation that I have decided to sign onto the
Spring Reading Challenge posted by Seasonal Soundings; I've never before participated in a Reading Challenge, however I've decided that I need a little more intentionality (new word?) in my reading. I have small piles of books in just about every room of the house, with the exception of the children's bedrooms, and many of these piles have books in them which are partially read or else I've set them out just because I long to find time to read them. (Active Son loves to move these piles around and/or re-shelve the books so the house doesn't look too cluttered. I'd rather use the adjective "interesting".) And, as I've gleaned some great book recommendations from others' book lists, I'm posting my list as well. The categories:

Great Books--these are books which, barring any mid-term curriculum changes, which I have been known to make, I will read with Active Son and Oldest Daughter as part of our Great Books study:

  • Poetry and Prose of John Donne (selections)
  • Paradise Lost~John Milton
  • Christianity for the Modern Pagans; Pascal's Pensees, Edited, Outlined, and Explained by Peter Kreeft
  • Life and Diary of David Brainerd~Jonathan Edwards
  • Political Writings of John Locke (selections)
  • Essay on Criticism~Alexander Pope
  • The Social Contract (selections)~Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Common Sense~Thomas Paine
  • The Federalist Papers

Digging Deeper
--These three books are currently in proccess. All three discuss ideas that have occupied a lot of my thinking time lately and, ideally, I would like to finish these books, gather my thoughts from the copious underlinings in these books and actually write something. Realistically, this probably won't happen this spring, at least for all three of them. Maybe one or two? Maybe.

  • Above All Earthly Pow'rs, Christ in a Postmodern World~David Wells
  • The Art of Teaching~Gilbert Highet
  • Poetic Knowledge~James Taylor

Read Alouds--Can I count these too? These are books I'm reading to my children:

  • A History of he English Speaking Peoples, Volume I, The Birth of Britain~Winston Churchill
  • Fields of Home~Ralph Moody
  • Carry On Mr. Bowditch~Jean Lee Latham

Devotional--The first book on this list is a daily guide to a year long read-through-the-Bible plan. If the plan is followed (why do I say "if", you ask?) one will read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice during the course of a year. I'm already behind so I will likely be finishing this one in the Spring of 2008, if all goes well.

  • For the Love of God~D.A. Carson
  • When You Pray, Making the Lord's Prayer Your Own~Philip Graham Ryken

Half-Read on the Nightstand:

  • In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture~Alister Mcgrath

Now that I've made my list, I notice a glaring lack of fiction books. I'll have to work on that. And, no time now for convenient links. Maybe I can work on that later. Maybe.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Seaside Getaway

For those of you who felt sorry for me after reading this I hope the following love update will put you at ease. Dear Husband, who grows dearer by the day, whisked me off for a day and a night to the Dead Sea, which is just 40 minutes from home. Oh, those 24 hours passed too quickly! Though it is still sweater/jacket weather up in the city, the Dead Sea exists in a completely different biosphere; the weather was perfect and warm enough for a float in the sea. Sunsets over the sea are always beautiful and though I'm not a great photographer, I believe this photo begins to capture the serenity we experienced.

Instead of waking to the sound of school buses and construction equipment we woke to the sound of singing birds--lovely!

Our final hours were spent back on the beach, where we once again enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the soothing and healing water of the Dead Sea, and a full body Dead Sea mud masque--this is the real fun of a trip down to the beach. Sort of brings back memories of early childhood. And the results are instantly noticable--soft, soft, skin.

A room with a view

And just to show that my grip on vanity is loosening, I'll go ahead and post a picture of us covered with mud--though I will make this photo a little smaller than the rest and I did crop out our bodies. I don't want to shock anyone--especially any early morning readers!