Monday, April 30, 2012

"Let the people renew their strength"

I knew it was coming, those final four weeks before Artist Son graduates, and we prepare to transition our family to the States for the summer months. I knew it would get busy--we've walked (run!) this road before-- but the reality is always a little more real than the expectation. This reading from Charles Spurgeon was a perfect reminder of a command with a promise.

"Let the people renew their strength. " Isaiah 41:1

All things on earth need to be renewed. No created thing continueth by itself. "Thou renewest the face of the year." was the Psalmists's utterance. Even the trees, which wear not themselves with care, nor shorten their lives with labor, must drink of the rain of heaven and suck from the hidden treasures of the soil. The cedars of Lebanon, which God has planted, only live because day by day they are full of sap fresh drawn from the earth. Neither can man's life be sustained without renewal from God.  As it is necessary to repair the wast of the body by the frequent meal, so we must repair the wast of the soul a by feeding upon the Book of God, or by listening to the preached Word, or by the soul-fattening table of the ordinances. How depressed are our graces when means are neglected! What poor starvelings some saints are who live without the diligent use of the Word of God, and secret prayer! If our piety can live without God, itis not the of divine creating; it is but a dream; for if God had begotten it, it would wait upon Him as the flowers wait upon the dew. Without constant restoration we are not ready for the perpetual assaults of hell, or the stern afflictions of heaven, or even for the strifes within. When the whirlwind shall be loosed, woe to the tree that hath not sucked up fresh sap, and grasped the rock with many intertwisted roots. When tempests arise, woe to the mariners that have not strengthened their mast, nor cast their anchor, nor sought the haven it we suffer the good to grow weaker, the evil will surely gather strength and struggle desperately for the mastery over us; and so, mayhap, a painful desolation, and a lamentable disgrace may follow. Let us draw near to the footstool of divine mercy in humble entreaty, and we shall realize the fulfillment of the promise, "They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sweet Friendship

To be sure, celebrating birthdays--this time, mine-- is a great way to bring friends together for a much needed visit, but this group of ladies is so much more than a birthday club. Over tea and coffee and enJOYing each others company, we added up our combined years in Jordan: 117! Together, we have raised 20 children, many of them born in Jordan. We have supported and prayed for each other through troubled times, including serious illnesses, visa denials, struggling children, and rejoiced with each other over marriages, births of children, then grandchildren, and opportunities for each woman to be used by God to bring life to others.

My anticipation of spending time with these dear women was punctuated by my delight in each one of them, so different from myself, and yet each a soul-mate in her own way, a beautiful snapshot of the body of Christ in my life. How I value and admire the gifts and talents with which God has blessed each one.

"Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life." C.H. Spurgeon

My "oldest" friend, Julia, actually the youngest of our group but the one I've know the longest, shared this passage with us from C.S. Lewis , "The Problem of Pain." It come from the chapter entitled "Heaven" :

Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it--tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest--if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself--you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say 'Here at last is the thing I was made for.' We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the things we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.”  

Perhaps I am not fully understanding Lewis--there is certainly a good chance of that--but I find that as we grow old(er), these things we desired and will still desire on our deathbed, these things we've been looking for even before we knew were were looking for them, things we have seen mere shadows of, are communicable. We are women, after all! What a blessing God has made each of these women in my life, as we journey toward this Promise to be fulfilled, bearing both the uniqueness and the unity which God has given us.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spring Birthdays are Best

I've always thought April a fine month for a birthday. Maybe it's because it just seems like a good time of year to celebrate life, being spring and all, and as a child I thought it very special when my birthday once fell on the same day as Easter.

Now, I am happy that my birthday coincides with the peak blooming season of Jordan's beautiful wildflowers. A few years ago, my family took me out wildflower spotting on my birthday, and I was thrilled to come upon a small hill of black irises, Jordan's national flower.

This week, Dear Husband asked me where I would like to go wildflower spotting for my birthday. I choose the nature reserve in Ajloun, an hour+ west of Mafraq, and at a higher elevation; lots of clay soil, limestone, native pine and oak forests. I had heard that the wild orchids bloom in April, and I hoped that I might spot some as I'd only ever seen one orchid in the wild, and that about five years ago.

Dear Husband, who, when behind the wheel, doesn't like to stop for much of anything, robes himself in patient forbearance for my birthday expeditions, and pulls over whenever I think I've spotted a promising specimen. Our first find was a beautiful Rock Rose, taken from below with my telephoto lens as it was positioned high up on a steep rocky bank.

Cistus salvifolius
White Rock Rose

Once we arrived at the reserve, we asked if the orchids were blooming and the reserve attendant suggested we might see some about halfway along the 2 km trail. Walking just ahead of me, Dear Husband was the first to spot them sparsely growing here and there among the craggy limestone.

Orchis tridentata
Toothed Orchid

A little farther down the trail we spotted another species:

Orchis anatolica
Anatolian Orchid

We also came upon a small grove of Strawberry Trees, named for their striking smooth, red bark. They reminded me of something from a fairy story; with their twists and turns I can imagine them coming to life as do the trees in Spenser's Faerie Queene or Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Arbutus andranchne

This lovely Salvia reminded of a large bird about to take flight...

Genus Salvia

...and the Silene was perfectly pink.

Silene damascena
Damascus Catchfly

Dear Husband and I arrived home to wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen, where Tayta was busily preparing my birthday dinner: lemon chicken piccata with pasta, roasted vegetables, broiled tomatoes with Parmesan and basil, and a strawberry cake for dessert. Yes, spring birthdays are best!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Knock-Your-Socks-Off Banana Date Walnut Granola

I didn't give my granola recipe this name--Dear Husband did. If I had to name it, I would call it Redemption Granola for it is the recipe which has redeemed me in the eyes of my family and vanquished my status of I'm-Not-a-Morning-Person-and so-I-(almost)-Never-Make-Breakfast-for-My-Family; that is unless you count toast from homemade bread.

For some reason, I assumed I couldn't make granola as whole oats are unavailable in Jordan, and the available "quick oats" are never called for in granola recipes. I can't believe that I had so little culinary imagination after all these years of making due. A good friend gave me her recipe, in which she substituted quick oats, and off I went.

This recipe has evolved over two years of tinkering with it, and it is one of the few recipes I can truly call my own. The last phase of modification had to do with processing, so as to make it, hopefully, healthier. It takes a little time and preparation, so I make a big batch.

Beginning the night before: I "soak" the oats. Soaking grains optimizes their nutritional value making them easier to digest and by allowing the grain's nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies. You can read more about that here. My cyber-friend, Tina, shared her oats-for-granola soaking technique with me. It's not difficult, but requires a little planning ahead.

The night before: Soak 12 cups of oats (I use quick) in 1 1/2 cups yogurt.

I begin with mixing the yogurt in with a large spoon, and then switch to using my hands, making sure all the oats are covered. It will have a moist crumb consistency when the yogurt is completely mixed in and should look something like this:

I cover this mixture with a clean cloth and let it sit on the counter overnight (at least).

Now for the rest of the recipe:

Banana Date Walnut Granola
12 cups quick oats, soaked overnight in 1 1/2 cups yogurt
1/2 cup ground flax seed
3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, (pre-soaked and crisped using this technique)
3 bananas (ripe is better)
1- 1.5 cup pitted dates
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Mix the oats, flax seed, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts, in a very large bowl.

2. Combine the bananas, dates, and hot water in a blender and blend to make a sauce about the consistency of applesauce. You should have 3 cups of puree. If not, adjust fruit quantity, i.e. add another banana. I am spoiled in that I can buy pure date paste in 2 lb blocks for a very good price. I just cut off a piece that looks like it will be about a cup, and put it in the blender.

2. Pour the fruit puree over the dry ingredients and mix well, breaking up clumps as much as possible.

3. Spread the mixture evenly onto two pans. I use my indispensable jelly-roll pans and two are just the right size for this recipe.

4. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove, stir granola, return to oven and bake another 30 minutes.

5. Remove the granola from the oven, let cool and transfer it back to the mixing bowl. Combine the honey, olive oil, and vanilla and then pour it over the cooled granola. Mix thoroughly and return the granola to the baking pans. Bake a final 20 minutes.

If the granola is still very moist, you may need to cook it another 10 minutes, but watch carefully so that it doesn't burn. After the final bake, my granola looks like this:

6. Cool thoroughly and store in a covered container. Other things may be added to this granola, such as raisins, dried fruits, and other nuts, but this is the way we like it.

Plain yogurt, fruit or fruit sauce, and granola is now the preferred breakfast by everyone in our family. One day last week, there wasn't enough granola for everyone so I actually made a pancake breakfast for the kids--on a weekday! I don't think I've ever done that before. Guess what Artist Son had for lunch: the yogurt and granola that he missed for breakfast.

Our favorite winter combination, served with pomegranate seeds (and a little added sweetener)

In the spring we often eat it with strawberries, but the rest of the year, we eat it with fruit puree, plum or apricot. I think we've gone through a few gallons since last fall!

This recipe can be made with un-soaked oats and walnuts--that's the way I'd been making it until a couple months ago--however the baking time should be adjusted: 20 minutes for the first two bakes and 15-20 for the last one.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Spring Color

Just when I thought there could be nothing lovelier than the first narcissus of spring...

...the ranunculus appear and steal the show.

Both Artist Son and Tayta proclaimed that I should "plant more!" next year, prompting a search which led here, to Eden Blooms. Their prices are great, and ranunculus rhizomes are so small and light, I'll be able to pack some in my suitcase when we return to Jordan at the end of the summer.

Edit: another good site with many helpful tips for growing ranunculus

Friday, April 06, 2012


~George Herbert

RISE heart ; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise :
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long :
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied ;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way ;
I got me boughs off many a tree :
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume ;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour ?
We count three hundred, but we misse :
There is but one, and that one ever.

Wishing a blessed celebration of Jesus' Resurrection to my friends celebrating in the west. Christians in Jordan, who celebrate according to the eastern calendar, will celebrate next Sunday.