Monday, June 30, 2008

Neglected Graves

"Neglected graves are a shameful thing," according to Martha Corinne Walton. I must agree.

When I was a little girl, Memorial Day was far more than just a day off from school. It was an exciting and very special day indeed, greatly anticipated in the days preceding it. For on Memorial Day, my grandparents would help me cut flowers off the big bush in their front yard, and the whole family would head to the local cemeteries to place the flowers on the various family graves.

"Don't waste your money on flowers for me," my grandfather would say. "Just pick me some flowers out of the yard, that's all I want."

This tradition has endured for generations in our family. My grandmother told me that when she was a little girl, she too celebrated Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, by going with her grandmother up to the family cemetery on the hillside behind their farmhouse to decorate the graves. It's a tradition we continue to pass on to the next generation, as well. Little Girl is now the one cutting the flowers off that very same bush that I once did, and true to my grandfather's wishes, she decorates his grave with them each Memorial Day.

My grandmother left the family farm when she was married and moved to the city several hours' drive away. In the next few years, the rest of her family moved out and the farm was sold. But those family members continued to return to the old farm to care for the family cemetery on the hill. I went several times with my grandparents when I was little to mow and trim the cemetery. Several members of my grandmother's family took turns so that each of them only had to go out a couple times a year to mow, but through the decades, the cemetery was always well-maintained.

My grandmother is the only surviving member of her family now, and at 85 years of age, hasn't been able to make the trip to the family cemetery in years. This weekend, we decided to take her, and most of the family went along to see the old farm that most of us hadn't seen in many years.

When we arrived, we were in for quite a shock. The owners of the property hadn't kept the cemetery cleaned off at all. Weeds grew 4-5 feet in height, filling the entire cemetery. I understand that the present owners don't know anyone in the cemetery; it isn't their family. But I would be ashamed to have a cemetery on my property and allow it to look like that. It's disrespectful, and it wouldn't be that much effort just to use a weedeater 2 or 3 times a summer to keep it from getting out of hand.

My grandmother didn't say anything. I can't even imagine what must have been going through her mind to see the cemetery she spent so many decades returning to care for in the shape it was currently in. To be brought up within a family who emphasized the importance in caring for the family graves, to teach her own children and grandchildren and now great-grandchildren to keep flowers on the graves, and then to come back to her family cemetery after all these years and see the graves of her beloved grandparents, her brother, a niece and two nephews in such condition. It was heartbreaking to even think about it.

Orange lilies sprinkled amongst the weeds at least added a bit of color and beauty to the mess. My grandmother said that her grandmother always kept flowers growing around the cemetery -- and those were the very kind of flowers she planted. How interesting to think that the flowers she planted close to a hundred years ago bloom on her own grave today. Despite the lack of care given to the cemetery, she ensured that flowers would grow on the family graves for many years to come.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Global Food Crisis Hits Closer to Home

As a Compassion blogger, I was supposed to post something yesterday concerning the global food crisis. However, I really didn't have a thing to say. I knew any post I tried to write would seem forced, because it would be... But today I have something to say.

I've been hearing more about this crisis recently. While rising food costs may put a small crimp in our style (to be honest, I hadn't even noticed an increase so I wasn't feeling the pinch at all), to people in Third World countries who barely made enough money to survive as it was, the increases in food costs are devastating... even deadly. I've read this, understand this, and feel badly for these people, but there's only so much one can write on the topic and so many others have covered it so much better.

But this afternoon, my phone rang. A mother of one of the children I worked with told me that she had no food for her son, and could I help her?

I have never ever had a family ask me for food before. It has happened where I've discovered that a child has been without food, and of my own accord, I've delivered some, but the family didn't ask me to do it! I was really taken aback by the request, and while I don't mind helping the family, I knew I needed to be cautious, too.

I first went through all the resources I was aware of.

"Have you called Community Action?" "Yes, they don't have any food right now." Ouch.

"He gets WIC, right?" "Yes, but I've already used all his coupons for the month..."

"Do you get food stamps?" "Yes, but I'm out. Food costs so much now that the food stamps just aren't making it to the end of the month anymore."

That's when it struck me. The "global food crisis" isn't just having a severe effect on children in Third World countries. It's hurting children right here in my own town. Children that I work with don't have enough to eat anymore because of it. If this family is completely out of resources, how many others are, as well?

The mother asked for elbow macaroni and some 99 cent Chef Boyardee meals for the child. I told her I'd check around and see what I could do. She said, "They're only 99 cents each! But I'm flat broke." Sigh. To have literally no money, no food for your child, and several days left before the month is over and more resources and money becomes available -- how desperate this mother must be. No wonder she's calling me and begging for food. And how can I not buy it, despite the possible consequences (such as setting the family up to repeat the request on an ongoing basis or to become dependent on my help), when to not to do so means a toddler has nothing to eat for the next four days?

So I encourage you to look around with eyes open to the crisis, and recognize that a GLOBAL food crisis includes your town as well as the impoverished countries of the world. Maybe someone you know is significantly impacted by the crisis. And you can help.

Tying into this, I've also joined the 40 Day Fast. Check my sidebar for links to the other bloggers participating each day -- you'll discover lots more ways you can help with the needs of the world.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Almanzo Made Me Do It!

I have never eaten a tv dinner. No, never in my life. When I was a kid, I didn't even know they existed. We certainly never had them. When I was a preteen, my mother started buying them. Those little Kid Cuisines came out and my brother and sister ate them constantly, but I was never interested. I was going through a phase where I ate nothing but mashed potatoes. Man may not be able to live on bread alone, but I am living proof that one can survive on potatoes. :)

I eat more than potatoes now (though I must admit that it's rare to have a day without some form of potato as part of a meal) but I'm so full of food oddities that something so conventional as a tv dinner has simply never been something I've even considered eating. For one thing, I like to know where my food is coming from, and what it's been through. In other words, I avoid foods with ingredient lists a mile long with items that sound far more like chemicals than any food I ever heard of. If it doesn't have the word "organic" or "grain-fed" or "no hormones or antibiotics" plastered somewhere on it, it's probably not going in my mouth.

And yet, unlike the typical "natural foodie", I hate to cook. I have to be one of the laziest people alive when it comes to food preparation. My rule of thumb is, if it takes more than 5 minutes to prepare (not including cooking time as long as it can be unattended), forget it. I'll extend that to 15-20 minutes preparation time only if it's something that will make several meals, like a stew or a roast. The crockpot? It's my friend.

But tonight, I was reading Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is well-known for its focus on food. The amount of food Almanzo puts away each meal is positively staggering to me. I swear he eats more food in each meal than I eat in a week. But the point is, the book made me hungry. And hungrier. And hungrier.

So I raided the kitchen. But I haven't done any grocery shopping yet this week so my cupboards were rather bare, and nothing I did have looked good. Not in comparison to Mother Wilder's heaping plates of everything under the sun. So in desperation, I headed to the freezer.

I don't have much in the freezer. It's for stocking-up purposes, and it simply isn't stocked right now. Awhile back, however, the grocery store had a huge sale on Hungry-Man dinners. Now while I have never eaten a tv dinner, the same cannot be said of the hungry man in the house... the typical tv dinner isn't satisfying enough for him, but Hungry-Man makes these huge one pound meals that he loves. So I stocked up. The entire full-sized freezer was filled top to bottom with stacks of these dinners by the time the sale was over. :)

So bit by bit the stack has dwindled until now it's almost as bare bones as the cabinets upstairs. However, when I opened the freezer door, my eyes fell upon one of these meals. "Hmmm," I pondered. "I wonder..."

Fried chicken. Mashed potatoes. Corn. And a brownie. I was sold.

I headed upstairs with this thing, and shook my head in disbelief at myself looking at the "1 Lb of Food" emblazoned across the box. Am I crazy for even fixing this thing? There is no way I can eat a pound of food. But I proceeded nonetheless with the great experiment: my first tv dinner.
I looked carefully at the instructions. "Remove plastic cover from chicken, potatoes and brownie. Poke holes in plastic over corn."

Ehh... not pleased that the plastic is going to be left on over the corn... I'm very careful not to let my food and drink touch anything plastic when at all possible. All those chemicals leeching out and all, you know... but I wanted to follow the instructions so I proceeded. I also realized that the entire tray was made of plastic, so the meal was doomed anyway. :)

It might be a little easier to remove the plastic from all but the corn if the plastic were sealed to the rim all the way around the corn instead of being just one big piece loosely laying over the entire top of the meal. How exactly are you supposed to leave only the corn covered? I managed, using scissors to cut the plastic around the corn... it laid there loosely but it was covered. I poked the holes obediently, then looked at the next step.

After carefully plucking twenty pieces of corn out of my brownie, I continued with the instructions.

"Place tray on baking sheet. Cook 40 minutes."

FORTY MINUTES? I thought these things were supposed to be FAST. I refrain from using the microwave as much as possible -- you guessed it, all that radiation in the food makes me more than slightly leery -- but I figured if I'm eating a terribly unhealthy meal anyway, how much worse can it be to do it in the microwave? So I switched to the microwave instructions and placed it in for 4 1/2 minutes.

When the timer went off, I looked at the next step. "Remove brownie with fork and set aside. Stir potatoes. Microwave 3 minutes."

I attempted to remove the brownie with a fork, but I'd like to know just exactly how that is supposed to be done when it all falls apart into bits? I ended up just EATING the brownie right out of the tray. Yes, I ate my dessert before my meal. Tsk, tsk... but what else could I do?

So after eating the brownie -- which was okay but not as delectable as something so naughty as a brownie should be (because of course I refrain from such sugary treats except for special occasions... but my first tv dinner, that's a special occasion, right? But boy, when I do eat those kinds of treats, I want them to be worth it... and this simply wasn't) -- I stirred the cold lumpy potatoes and put the tray back into the microwave.

I must admit, I didn't have great hopes for this meal at this point. If even the brownie was just so-so, how on earth could the rest of the food be a success? And the consistency of those potatoes was not promising. I felt like tossing the whole thing and peeling some real potatoes, despite the extra work. I'm quite used to potato peeling, after all, as you can imagine. :)

But I mustn't give up before I've even given it a try, right? So I let the meal finish radiating in the microwave. And then it was time to eat.

The potatoes were okay. Not great, but not bad either. They actually had some flavor to them, and the consistency was better with the additonal cooking time it had received.

The corn? I didn't have high hopes for the corn. I was prepared for what I call buffet corn. Have you ever noticed when you go to a buffet, the corn is almost never very good? It's either chewy and rubbery with no flavor, or soft and soggy with no flavor. I have no idea why that is. So I was pleasantly surprised with both the consistency and the flavor of the corn. Quite tolerable!

The chicken? Well, I ate a couple bites of it, but it was just too rich or something for me. It's been so long since I've had a fried food, my tongue just has no taste for it anymore, I think. Besides, I'd already had chicken for lunch... my nice healthy antibiotic and hormone-free chicken prepared in the slow cooker for ultimate juiciness and tenderness. Sorry, but this processed breaded fried chemically-laden stuff just doesn't cut it in comparison. I couldn't eat it.

So here I sit contentedly crunching away on a healthy organic apple instead, just as glad that I didn't fall in love with this meal, as now I shall never again be tempted to eat one.

Mother Wilder just may inspire me to cook a meal from scratch before this book is done!

(Not likely. :) )

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Favorite Authors

Stole this meme from Kiwiria. :)

1. Who's your all-time favourite author and why?

Hands down, no hesitation needed, it's Laura Ingalls Wilder. Why? Although I love to read, I'm not a big rereader. If I really enjoyed a book, I may reread it a few years later. There are only a handful of books that I've read more than 2 or 3 times in my life. But the "Little House" books? Rereads must number over a hundred at least. I never ever tire of reading them. They bring the Ingalls family to life, and make them dear friends. Pa's fiddle never fails to move me to dance with joy or to wipe away tears of nostalgia. I rely on their wisdom in sticky situations, their patience in tribulation, their laughter in hard times, their love of family for comfort and a sense of belonging. These books, and their author, have shaped my life in numerous ways, including bringing me some of my dearest friends, who share a love of Laura. :)

2. Who was your first favourite author and why?

It may have been Laura. :) However, I will have to go with H.A. Rey, because I am reported to have wanted nothing else for my third Christmas than Curious George books. Which, at that time, my mother had great difficulty locating. But she searched every store in town and finally found them, so it was a merry Christmas for me and George. :)

3. Who's your most recent addition to your most favourite authors and why?

Francine Rivers. Why? Because on the recommendation of a friend, I read Redeeming Love about a year ago, and absolutely could not put it down. It's been awhile since I've found a book THAT good, outside of Harry Potter. I went on to read her other novels and found each of them to be the same -- compelling living stories that keep you eager to learn what happens next.

4. If someone asked you who your favorite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you'd add on a moment further reflection?

First ones that always come to mind are Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, and Louisa May Alcott. When I stop to think about it, I add Corrie ten Boom, Karen Kingsbury, Francine Rivers, J.K. Rowling, Beverly Lewis, and Janette Oke. Really, I'd best add William Anderson to the list too. :)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"A time to mourn and a time to dance."

A time to mourn: The deer mentioned in my last post? It died.

A time to dance:

So a year ago, I said Little Girl was in her first and last dance recital. (See post here.) Shortly afterward, I commented on the lovely job done by the little girls at our church who have access to a Christian dance studio here, and mourned the fact that there was no such thing for Little Girl where she lives.

God heard, and He answered! Late last summer, my sister saw a poster on the bulletin board at church about a Christian dance studio opening up in the area, and she signed Little Girl up for ballet. Just before Christmas, an "open house" of sorts was held, where families could go in during class and take pictures and/or video. I went then and was so pleased at what I saw. They were learning the fundamentals of ballet, as I'm sure goes on at any beginning ballet class, but they finished off with a dance using different colored streamers, each color representing some aspect of the gospel story. The dance instructor reviewed the meanings with the girls as she gave each one their streamer, and they knew them all! She prayed with the girls too before dismissing class.

So I was looking forward to seeing how different this year's recital would be from last year's fiasco, and I was not disappointed. The little girls actually looked like little girls, dressed in beautiful ballet dresses, no makeup. Oh, and no curly hair to fight through this year either, though it did have to be pulled back. There wasn't a Jon Benet in the group, they all looked like happy healthy normal little girls. And the song they danced to? It was about God's light shining in them. Much much better. Once again, Little Girl knows every word to the song, but this year, we don't mind a bit.

So praise God for Christian dancers! I just love how God can use any talent for His glory.