Friday, January 29, 2010

Caring for Words

"Language is the means by which our rationality and our relationality are enabled simultaneously." Ken Myers, creator and host of Mars Hill Audio Journal, captured my attention and inspired my imagination when he made this statement while introducing his conversation with professor, poet, and author, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I love Meyers' introductions and often find them as enlightening and thought stimulating as the conversations themselves, however in these case his proposition was but a foreshadowing of a thought provoking dialogue about to begin.

With four teenagers at home (for one more day) we had recently been discussing the twists and turns our use of language has taken over the years, individually, communally, and culturally. (Hmm, I wonder who instigated these discussions...) Thus, the observations made by Meyers and McEntyre served to confirm some of my own reflections and to bring some of my intuitions into the realm of ideas by furnishing them with words.

I quickly ordered McEntyre's new book and after reading one chapter decided that she is an author of whom I would like to read more~she's also written three books of poetry on the art of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gough and I enjoyed perusing her website.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

I haven't yet finished this book, so this isn't a proper book review, but rather an ejaculation of enthusiasm for McEntyre's ideas and the gracious and loving way in which she expresses them. The first chapter, Why Worry about Words, elicited copious underlining:

She effectively employs an environmental metaphor in her discussion of language:

"Like any other life-sustaining resource, language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded, and filled with artificial stimulates. Like any other resource, it needs the protection of those who recognize its value and commit themselves to good stewardship."

"Caring for language is a moral issue. Caring for one another is not entirely separable from caring for words."

"As unable words are lost, experience becomes cruder and less communicable. And with the loss of subtlety, clarity, and reliability of language, we become more vulnerable to crude exercises of power."

On Conversation:
"to converse was to foster community, to commune with, to dwell in a place with others. Conversation was understood to be a life-sustaining practice, a blessing ,and a craft to be cultivated for the common good."

And all this from just the first six pages.

One final quote of a quote, and perhaps this is only back-patting--I always find it encouraging to enunciate a thought or idea only to read it elsewhere in more elegant language by someone much smarter than myself. Dear husband and I were discussing the the relationship between morality and language and I proposed that a deterioration of language portended a deterioration of the understanding of truth, and ultimately, morality: "So our language goes, so go we." Dear husband countered that the opposite was true. Soon after I read this claim by George Orwell, quoted by McEntyre:

"[The English Language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible."

It's always nice when we can both be right.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Diario dell Cucina~Risotto alla Zucca

One of the lasting memories I have from my visit to my brother and his family who live in lovely Tuscan village overlooking Florence, is the food. That inspirational memory is due in large part to the culinary proficiency of my sister-in-law, Shandra. I was in awe of what she could whip up in her typically small European kitchen--if I remember correctly you can't open the dishwasher and the refrigerator at the same time--or something like that!

Shandra says that cooking traditional Italian food has for her been a window into the culture and she once shared a story with me which illustrated the the care and concern Italians show for the quality of their food: she was summoned to the primary school which her boys attended for a very important parents' meeting. The topic under discussion and even debate: the quality of the pasta the children were receiving for school lunch.

I've requested recipes from my sister-in-law in the past so I was very pleased when she began posting her kitchen notes on Facebook, and then her recipes at Diario della Cucina. Last week, thanks to Shandra's risotto tutorial, I made my first risotto, Risotto alla Zucca (Pumpkin). I had long wanted to try making risotto, but had heard that it was a fussy dish, easily ruined. Shandra's About Risotto post primed the pump and and when she posted her Pumpkin Risotto recipe, I went shopping.

With the cost of imported foods in Jordan, risotto will not become everyday fare, but it was a delicious treat. Per Shandra's instructions, I made sure to release all my stress before begining so that it wouldn't be absorbed by the risotto. (I think it's like pie crusts sensing hesitancy and fear.) I even made Artist Son stop practicing his drums ("The risotto absorbs the stress? What??) and turned on some YoYo Ma for stirring to.

Risotto alla Zucca
(served in a bowl I purchased with the help of my sis-in-law in a Florentine market)

Making the risotto was not difficult and the results were delicious. My children had never before eaten risotto but they all liked it, especially my Carbo Kid (Active Son) and Tayta; "This is better than mac and cheese!" I made my brodo, or chicken stock, to be used in making the risotto, early in the day and then I roasted the already boiled chicken in the oven to serve with the risotto, first topping it with an impromptu tomato-leftover-handful-of-fresh-basil-clove-of-garlic sauce I made in the blender. I also drizzled the chicken with olive oil and sprinkled it with a little sea salt.

nota bene: quantites for butter and parmesan cheese: 3 T butter and 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (though I used Grand Padano as it is more readily available to me).

Next up: Tuscan Beans and Ribollita

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Four Teenagers Picture

January 2010 is the Month of Four Teenagers: Tayta turned 13 on Christmas Eve, and Oldest Daughter will celebrate her 20th birthday at the end of the week; sorta wish I could freeze this moment in time, at least for a few more weeks.

The Four Teenagers

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy 13th Birthday, Tayta

Tayta, my youngest child, turned 13 on Christmas Eve (I'm back blogged from December) and for one blessed month I have four teenagers at home (Oldest daughter, home for her January term will be 20 at the end of this month). With a perception of others' needs beyond her years, Tayta is the second mother in our family; God has blessed us, her family, and many more besides with her gracious heart of caring service.

Small children and babies delight her to no end and she is a favorite babysitter to many of her little friends.

Tayta and Friends

This summer, when she wasn't nurturing children she delighted in helping our garden cat raise five kittens...

or creating fantastically yummy deserts for us.

Tayta's Pink Peppermint and Chocolate Pie

Tayta's empathetic nature shone through when I recently lost my voice: I could only whisper. The older kids chuckled and snickered when I whispered at them but Tayta, she whispered back. We had conducted half a conversation when I whispered to Tatya that she didn't have to whisper back to me. Looking surprised and smiling she replied, "I didn't know I was whispering."

What a beautiful young woman you are becoming Tayta, and may the coming year be one in which you continue to grow in the beauty and grace of God.

Where shall we see a better daughter, or kinder sister, or a truer friend?
~Jane Austen

Friday, January 15, 2010

Imitating to Learn

In the modern world of education it may be counter-intuitive that submission to a fixed literary structure could encourage elegant, creative writing, but writing by this method of imitation was, in fact, the process by which masters such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton learned to write. When I read The Writer's Workshop, by Gregory Roper, I knew that I wanted to use this book with my two high-school boys; writing was certainly not their favorite activity and I was looking for a way to make the learning process pleasant and profitable for all of us.

Shortly after I decided to use Roper's book, Cindy Marsch of Writing Assessment Services began offering an Apprentice Workshop, using this very book. Active Son was enrolled post haste and Artist Son just completed Part I and is heading into Part II. The combination of this book and Cindy's tutorial services has been the perfect mix of theory, prompts, and helpful feedback for both sons to begin discovering their own writing voices by imitating the voices of others.

Below is short essay on creativty written by Artist Son, and published on Cindy's writing blog.
The assignment which prompted this essay was from the chapter, "Voices of Definition", and asks the student to take a definition developed in a previous assignment and express it in the voice of Sojourner Truth, former slave and abolitionist, in her speech, "And Ain't I a Woman?"

It is certain that in today’s fallen world creativity is greatly admired. It is generally celebrated in the artwork of modern artists who grab any passing thought and put it on canvas. They are considered “creative” for their splashes of paint and bold strokes of the brush which politely skip over meaning and evoke emotional responses from the viewers. But is that the essence of creativity?

Some say that creativity is free, easy, and merry; that it soars through the clear skies with nothing to clasp it and bring it down. They say that it touches ideas and then dances on with as much reliability as the wind. I’ve tried to integrate these ideas into my own artwork. I’ve tried to chase after my own fantasies. I’ve tried to abandon reality completely. I’ve tried to become enveloped with giddy illusions. I expected a change in my works and assuredly it did come, but I find no real beauty in them now. All I find is confused ideas, so unclear and distant that they are not even distinguishable from one another. And am I not creative?

Others say that creativity is “getting in touch” with one’s inner self, and unleashing it. We all possess a fantastically creative side but it is found within the deep recesses of one's being. I have searched. Nearly every possible aspect of my soul have I brought into the light and examined. When confronted with a blank piece of paper I have closed my eyes and sat in the quiet, seeing, searching, probing within. I did not find it. And am I not creative? Still others say creativity encompasses not only the good, but also the evil, the unproductive and oft destructive. They view dark and morbid intent as a subject of creativity, a thing to dwell in and be moved by. The good, the right, the true; they are forsaken for the pursuit of the wicked, the disparaging, and even the indolent. I also have dipped my fingers in that foul water to test it. What I felt was not the cool refreshing creativity as they called it, but a vile mere that tried to suck me in. I withdrew my hand. And am I not creative?

Even after surfing the wave of fantasies and dreams, and “getting in touch” with my inner self, and languidly waiting for creativity to show up at my door, I found it eluded me. So then, what is creativity and where does it hide? But first: why does creativity exist at all? Is not all our creativity a reflection of God’s creation which he made to be perfectly ordered, and perfectly good? Did not God give us our creativity? True creativity is found in Christ, the original creator, not in any other. Because our inconsequential creative efforts exist only as reflections of Christ’s perfect creativity, we can be creative only if we rightly create as he did: in truth, in beauty, and in goodness.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Books Received

A couple weeks ago I mentioned this site:

Free delivery worldwide on all our books

and their seemingly "too good to be true" offer. But it is true and two weeks after placing my order I have received both books, shipping free. Happy day! And, happy reading.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Fish with Preserved Lemons and Tomatoes

The fish I prepared using this recipe from Cooking Light, and found online at was so delicious, it would be worth preserving lemons to make this dish and this dish alone.

Cooking light has called the recipe Fish Tagine with Lemons and Tomatoes, probably because of the dish's traditional Moroccan flavors, however it isn't cooked in a traditional clay pot, or tagine, nor is is a slow-cooked stew.

I've reproduced the recipe below; I followed this recipe almost exactly with the following exceptions:

~I used more lemon (1/2 a preserved lemon) .
~I used regular paprika.
~I used blacks which tasted somewhat like Kalamata olives.
~I used catfish fillets. I bought these on accident but was very pleased with their consistency and flavor; no fishy taste at all.

Note: this recipe requires a 30 minute marinating time.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 6 ounces fish, 3/4 cup vegetable mixture, and about 1 tablespoon sauce)


  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped whole lemon
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 pitted green olives, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds mahimahi (or another firm white fish)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onion (about 1)
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped seeded tomato (about 2 pounds)
  • Cilantro leaves (optional)


Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add lemon, 1 tablespoon water, 1/2 teaspoon oil, and sugar; cook 3 minutes or until water evaporates and mixture just begins to brown, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Place remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons oil in a small microwave-safe bowl, and microwave at high for 10 seconds at a time just until oil is heated. Stir in saffron; let stand 10 minutes.

Combine lemon mixture, saffron mixture, chopped parsley, and next 7 ingredients (through garlic) in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add fish to bag, and seal. Marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Layer 1 cup onion slices and 2 cups tomato on the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Remove fish from bag, reserving marinade. Top tomato with fish; pour remaining marinade from bag over fish. Cover with remaining 2 cups tomato and remaining 1 cup onion. Cover with foil. Bake at 400° for 40 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from oven.

Transfer fish and vegetables to a serving platter. Drizzle remaining liquid over fish. Garnish with cilantro leaves, if desired. Serve immediately.

I've served this with rice and with couscous. This makes a lovely company meal. Delicious! (note the "outstanding" rating on

Thursday, January 07, 2010

'Twas the Season take a break from the routine of daily life, emerge from our piles of books and everyday meals, and celebrate the advent of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the life that he gives us. Though we began our advent celebration four weeks before Christmas by reading, singing, meditating, and discussing the Promise fulfilled, we didn't break for our physical preparation and celebration until a week before Christmas.

Tayta digging out the wall

Our first day of Christmas break, a day which should have found me baking and wrapping presents, I declared a field trip to the nearby Jordan Valley; I was unable to pass up the amazing opportunity to join real archaeologists as they excavated the largest Middle Bronze Age fortification discovered (five meters thick!) at a site they believe to be the Biblical Sodom. Eschewing the baking in favor of the dig turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made in a long time; this was a wonderful experience which I hope to write more about someday soon.

We nervously watched the US weather situation turn from bad to worse, grounding our beloved Oldest Daughter for three extra days and we rejoiced upon her return. So nice has it been to have her helping me in the kitchen or just sitting and debriefing her semester over a cup of coffee.

Tayta and Artist Son undertook their annual creative building project. My sole contribution was finding the rainbow Twizzlers at the supermarket.

2009 Rainbow Gingerbread House

We feasted on festive food,

and enjoyed the company of good friends whom we just don't see enough of during the year.

We laughed heartily as our grown-up sons (and friends) got down and shook it up.

We delighted in a traditional New Year's jaunt through one of Jordan's remaining pine forests

and, the first wildflower sighting of the new year.

The sublime Cyclamen persicum

And now our noses are back in the books, I am shunning sugar, and Active Son and I are striving to get those college applications and essays finished this weekend; and all that with a bad head cold. The celebration was grand while it lasted.

Thankfully, Emmanuel, God with us, is a reality we can celebrate all the year long.