some holy mondays

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Some good friends and I have begun reading Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary together. I started this book because Alex heard about it and bought it on Kindle for me for Valentine’s Day. Someone may think that’s not overly romantic (I beg to differ) but if you do, please know I also received flowers and chocolate. This book–does he know me, or what? I hadn’t finished the first chapter before I knew I didn’t want to read it alone and I didn’t want to read it fast–the diploid test of excellence in inspirational literature.

Warren writes about the fuzzy moments when you first wake up, the space before the day begins when you awake confronted anew with who you essentially are and who your God is. “Each morning in those first tender moments–in simply being God’s smelly, sleepy beloved–I again receive grace, life, and faith as a gift” (Here’s where you would find a page number if Kindle did old-fashioned things like that). Such a good reminder, friends. Simple truth that disintegrates all my wonderings if what I do and how I spend my time and who I am are worthwhile.

Mondays, unshockingly, are not usually among my favorites. The to-do lists seem longer, the children higher-maintenance, and there are all the routines for the week to establish and begin. It’s up early, morning routines and cooking breakfast and running the boys to preschool and in our chairs before 8 for school. We’re homeschooling two of the four at the minute, so this week Monday morning was highly educational, interrupted only to run somebody in to gym class. There was a gap around 11, and I had just enough time to get bagel dough rising in the oven and knead some wheat bread to bake loaves later. Then off to pick up the boys, get lunch on the table, finish with school for the girls, help Walter to the toilet, and get some tea made in time to host a young lady visiting our team for some debrief time. Juggling this opportunity and the children, dinner prep and piano practice, toddlers and chaos.

It’s so…ordinary. It’s all math lessons and toilet training and legos and sandwiches and guests and emails and grocery lists. As a wise mentor once said to me (and I know I’ve written of it before!), “Life is so daily, isn’t it?”

In Warren’s first chapter she quotes Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And how we spend our moments is how we spend our days. So each moment of this Monday is a short sentence in the long story of the life I will live. Being faithful in the small, seemingly insignificant, and mundane is how to be faithful in the life-long.

Perhaps I’m getting a glimmer of what it means to “do everything as unto the Lord”. It is finding–and believing–it worthwhile to serve God in the mundane, thankless, routine and invisible tasks that line up before me. It’s finding it worthwhile to battle for patience,  righteousness, and death-to-self in the tiny incidentals. It’s embracing the job I have, the place I am, and the opportunities I do have.

It brings me back to a long-loved quote by Elisabeth Elliot. A quote that kicks me in the backside every time. “This job has been given me to do. Therefore it is a gift. Therefore it is a privilege. Therefore it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.”

This makes Monday a holy day full of golden opportunities and meaningful work.

Posted in Being Mommy, Keep House and Carry On, Reading | 14 Comments

of christmas, and dawn

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The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light
(from Do You Hear What I Hear)

I think it results from too much early exposure to the song This Little Light of Mine. I remember singing it when holding my chubby finger straight (in order to be a little light) was a challenge. I watch the little gaggle of tots in my Sunday school attempt it now, waving their miniscule fingers about, not hiding them under a bushel but hopefully, dispelling the darkness of the whole neighborhood…

When I think about Jesus as the Light of the World, as he says over and over in John’s Gospel, my mind wants to picture him as a candle. When John writes that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” I see a candle—the flame lessens the dark, the dark can’t cover the flame. But in any room lit by only a candle (as we have frequent reason to note) there are so many shadows. The room is still dark, and, however beautiful, the candle is–inadequate.

Do we see Jesus’ light as weakly beaming out into an otherwise dark space? Creating a little spot of warm light around it that does little more than emphasize the huge shadows in the room? He’s born in a stable with a star shining warmly down like a spotlight—and a dark world all around. Keble College at Oxford houses William Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World”, where Jesus knocks on a door with a glowing lantern suspended in his hand—but he’s surrounded by a dark forest.

When the sparkle, glitter, and glisten of Christmastime begins, and our homes glow with strings of lights, flickering candles, and shiny stars, and we make much of cosy-in-the-midst-of-dark, let us not underestimate the coming of the one true Light into the darkness.

If you, like me, start picturing a candle, remember the powerful prophetic words of Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined.” It doesn’t sound like a candle, does it? My favorite Christmas verse isn’t in Isaiah 9 or even in Luke 2. It comes just before, when John the Baptist’s father, the priest Zechariah, is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies these words, “…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

God’s son does not come into the world like a candle. He rises like the sun.

We wave candles around when we sing the carols, but they describe a much, much greater enlightening. He’s “risen with healing in his wings” (Hark the Herald Angels Sing). Silent Night says the radiant beams from his holy face proclaim a “dawn of redeeming grace.”

This isn’t striking a match. It’s the dawn. The kind of cosmic moment when “The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more…” (O Little Town of Bethlehem).

A thrill of hope,
the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks
a new and glorious morn…
(from O Holy Night)

The night has passed and morning has come at last. The full Day approaches. Hope. Take hope.

Posted in Jesus | 3 Comments

of my knight and mighty deeds

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I cleaned out the car yesterday morning. Oddly I remember writing about cleaning the car once before, also on a day when my husband was away, but please don’t feel like this is a regular thing. That was probably the last time I cleaned it, not being an experience I was eager to repeat.

My boys, now three and five, were a big help in the car-cleaning process. The kind of big help where they ask you seventeen times each in twenty minutes when we are going to clean the outside part, climb in the driver’s seat when your back is turned and push every possible button including the horn, spill your bucket of (now dirty) cleaning water, ask nine times for a snack, and trip you while you’re working so you fall on the old vacuum someone just gave you and crack the plastic. With their assistance I made a twenty-minute job last two hours, so naturally I rewarded them with big sponges and let them help clean the exterior. The girls helped too so the car got very clean, perhaps especially the license plates on which I noticed all four children concentrated their efforts.

It was beautiful when it was done, gleaming inside and out, smelling like lemons and jingling with the sleigh bell ornament I hung from the rearview mirror. But I was not beautiful. I shooed the children inside and came in for a shower, covered with dirt, sweat, and frustration. I made it to the bathroom doorway when the power died. No power means no water. Now that the rains are here to stay this happens really often.

There was still no water and no power when the daily downpour began at lunchtime. As the house got darker I lit all the battery lights I could find and some candles. After two years I finally figured out how to light the oven when the power’s out so I lit that too and made Christmas cookies by the light of a candle. We played Legos by flashlight and everything went fine until around the time I started working on dinner.

What is it about evening that brings insects to life? Right now I am writing this in the dark (yes, the power went out today, too) and I’ve killed three termites and missed a mosquito. Yesterday large cockroaches, perhaps fooled by the long darkness in the house into thinking it was night, began to come. First there was one behind me while I was chopping spinach. My three-year-old yelled from across the room, “Cock-Oach, Mom!”

“No, Batman,” I said (as he prefers to be called). “It’s a lego. I’ve already stepped on three of them.”

“It’s moving, Mom!” said Batman.

I should mention that I still like to ask my hubby to interact with the insect world on my behalf whenever possible. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible–he was out of town.

And my five-year-old, my wild drive-you-crazy little dude, dives head-first across the kitchen floor and smashes a huge roach with his bare fist.

“Don’t worry, Mom, I killed it.”

He was amazing. Six more came looming out in the next fifteen minutes, hard to see in the dim flickering light until they moved. What is it about the dark that makes us feel so vulnerable? I’m not kidding, I’m not even that bothered by bugs anymore and I was completely creeped out. But Hugh rushed to my rescue every time. By the third one, he’d brought a plastic sword from his room. By the fifth, I was exclaiming, “Hugh, you’re amazing!”

“No, I’m like a knight,” he said gravely, before diving under the kitchen table after another one.

It was such a great moment. I loved seeing him step up when I needed him, drawing up his skinny shoulders and stalking about the kitchen with his plastic weapon.

Sometimes this life brings out the best in our children.

 

 

Posted in Keep Calm and Carry On, Little Ones | 8 Comments

how can we do this to the children?

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This was a big question for me before we moved overseas. Truthfully sometimes, in certain seasons, it surfaces again for me. So I have a few thoughts for anyone who might be considering such a move, or a similarly disruptive decision.

Sometimes when a question nags at us like this one does, way down in the deep place where we keep our love for our children and our hopes and fears for the future, it helps to pick at the question a little bit. So let’s ask: do what to our children? Meaning take them away from their home country and culture, cause them to grow up in a new and very different place, perhaps bring hardships into their lives that they may not otherwise have experienced, take them from our families . . . ? The ramifications of all we are doing can be quite intimidating. But trying to put words on our vague apprehensions and to spell out our concerns can help us hold those concerns up in light of our biggest values–and our parenting goals.

The question above assumes two things. One, that we have a responsibility to our children. This is uncontested. And two, somehow this (our decision to serve in a different context) is not in the children’s best interests.

To determine the truth of the second assumption we really have to go back to our values. What do we want most for our children? Or, even better: What is their biggest need? We ask ourselves if whatever losses they will experience outweigh the value of what they stand to gain. (Yes, that’s gain.) This is difficult to assess—not least because, not being able to predict or anticipate future events, we cannot really do a true cost-benefit analysis. We don’t know the full cost, we don’t know the ultimate benefit.

But if we tried: What is the goal of parenting? What are we trying to do for our children? Are we aiming for well-adjusted, responsible adults? Culturally conversant with an (unravelling) home society? Classically educated, piano-playing, healthy-eating, well-mannered, theologically-grounded, church-going, soccer-playing …?

Sometimes we think we want those things. But what we really want is for them to grow up knowing and following Jesus.

What better way to help them do that than to try and do that ourselves? Even if it leads us to make sacrifices for our calling? Or make decisions others don’t understand?

Some of the things we worry about our children giving up are possibly things that are not good for their souls. I have been known to lament that my children won’t have a childhood like my own in some respects. But I grew up without a single friend from another culture. I grew up feeling pretty entitled—let’s face it, we all did. I grew up with little experience with uncomfortable circumstances and therefore low tolerance for them or resilience undergoing them. Perhaps my childhood wasn’t, in some ways, the best preparation to serve others in this changing and challenging world. Could it be that allowing our children to encounter both risk and hardship as they come would be of lasting benefit? Whatever particular challenges may come with life overseas can be put in this category.

Most won’t have to be convinced that giving up our immersion in or knowledge of pop culture is no loss. But some things that the children will miss are true sacrifices. Like family. Don’t say, “at least we’ll see them every [however many] years” or “with Skype we won’t even miss anything.” The simple truth is that they will miss out on a lot—that is part of what we lay down for Jesus, if we feel he’s leading us to move. The children will taste the loss, they will experience laying it down. Can we trust that even that could be used by God in their lives?

Posted in Being Mommy | 1 Comment

in which a question is raised

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We were visiting one of our churches in another country recently and in the post-service swarm we had made it only as far as the lobby. My mind was simultaneously trying to spot several friends I hadn’t seen yet, trying to figure out how to get away long enough to change my toddler, and wondering about the probable location of my disastrously extroverted four-year-old. My oldest daughter was beside me, until she was stopped by an older gentleman and his wife for a greeting. I tuned in just in time to hear him say, “This is all probably very strange to you. I don’t know if you realize it, but you are a [child of overseas workers]. You probably feel that that is pretty hard. I bet you don’t think it’s fair that you have to give things up.” My daughter’s eyes met mine in confusion. She wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about—or how to respond to it.

“Can you believe me that what you are doing is all worth it?” He asked. Pinned between agreement and the back wall of the lobby, she solemnly agreed.

A minute later she asked me, suddenly, “What did he say, Mom? What did I do?”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I think it’s because we live in Indonesia.”

I could tell it still didn’t make sense to her. The thing is, our kids love our life. They take life overseas in their stride in the same childlike spirit with which they accept everything that simply is. I think they’d embrace life on Neptune if we moved there. I remember being told, before we moved, that this might well be the case—that the young ages of our children would help them to accept such a change in their circumstances. But I remember also that I didn’t believe it.

My perspective has changed so much that I have to make an intentional effort to recall the thoughts and feelings that were so heavy before we left. I remember worrying that what we were doing would be bad for the kids. I worried about their health, safety, and happiness being jeopardized. Will some day they resent us for doing this to them? was an oft-recurring thought.

Sometimes we have the opportunty to talk to people who are considering moving their families overseas. After a number of these conversations, I realize that the concerns I experienced about the children before setting off are typical. I just don’t know, they say, if I can do this to my kids.

I think as parents we are all acutely aware that our choices, whatever they are, establish the circumstances of our children’s lives. To a large extent, we make the bed and they lie in it. This is uncomfortable for us, even if it’s the way it’s supposed to be. Before our first child was born, Alex and I read (and were helped by, in some ways) the controversial book Babywise. One thing the authors sought to establish in the early chapters is the concept that the children are not and should not be the center of the family. In fact, the parents are the parents and the children are the children. The parents should not make the children and their development and desires their primary value or focus. Instead, the family stands strong on the stability of the marriage and the children are welcomed into and participate in this stability. We found this insight very helpful—but it does not mean that the children’s wellbeing is not considered or important. If anything, the temptation is probably still to make it the most important thing. (Please don’t think I am saying it is not important at all!)

Regardless of how important we make this question in our families, the question that I really want to raise is this one: need we assume that a life of overseas service is not in the best interest of our children? Can we scratch at that deep question of “how can I do this to my kids” for a minute?

 

Weigh in if you want to, more on this to come…

Posted in Being Mommy | 2 Comments

of my sudden return to writing in this space

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I’ve been meaning to return to this for some time, as underneath all the turmoil of daily life and its activities there remains my desire to write. It just hangs out under there, poking its head up now and again, to pester me. Like always, in the busiest of seasons, when all of my other roles and commitments increase and my margins are so long since infringed upon that I don’t remember what they felt like, I pick it up again. I guess it’s my tactic of creative procrastination. And it is, temporarily, enough to overcome busy, tired, scared, and rusty. (Yes, I am. For example, for the link above I twice typed “procreation” before I got it right. Yes, disastrous. And now you also know why I’m scared.)

Stay tuned for a new series in Being Mommy. If you’re just joining in for Advent, please make free use of the Advent Readings for the Very Young (now with printable PDF), but consider yourself generally welcome. 

 

 

 

Posted in Keep Calm and Carry On, Writing and Stories I Tell | 10 Comments

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Posted in Indonesia | 2 Comments

B is for ant and other uses of time

This post is brought to you by the letter A and the number 1440, which is the number of minutes in a day.

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I’m trying something new right now. I’m really bad at it (shocker) and even when I have tasted small victories in the endeavor no one’s even noticed. But it doesn’t matter because I’m doing it anyways.

I’m letting go of my time. Sometimes, I’m managing to give it away.

I’m trying to stop counting it, saving it, maximizing it, mourning its loss and most of all, fretting over its expenditure.

Was it Horace Mann that wrote the poem about losing two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes? Whoever it was, at the end he wrote something rather profound. “No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” In other words it’s no use crying over spilled minutes, they aren’t coming back again. For some that’s an easy concept–not for us Type-A wanna-be-efficiency-experts. We’re the ones always multi-tasking, always figuring out faster ways to do things, always thrown for a loop by unexpected complications. When people speak we think about how much more quickly or clearly they could have expressed it. When we make a mistake what bothers us most is the loss of time while we do the task over again. We like to check two boxes at once.

In domestic life this is picking up the puzzle that goes in the family room while we’re on our way to answer the phone because we can drop it off on the way. It’s steaming double broccoli because we can use the extra in breakfast. It’s using the same baby wipe to clean baby’s face, then swoop up that little bit of dirt on the floor, then polish the edge of the rubbish bin as we’re throwing it away. It’s brilliant and practical and sometimes completely ridiculous.

It’s also a lot of “Not right now” and “I can’t” and “Later, Darling, I have too much to do.”

Because a minute spent listening to you or two spent texting a picture of the tower you built to Grandma or fifteen spent teaching you to tie your shoe again are My diamond minutes and I have, as always, pre-planned a use for them.

I know I can’t just stop striving, stop making lists and being practical and working hard. That must go on. Regardless of what some may think or assume about the life of an unemployed mommy I can only say there seems to be a fair-to-middling amount of employment. It isn’t all sweatpants and popcorn and trips to the park. Especially the way I’m doing it these days.

Lately I’ve done a bit of an internal rummage and found I’m too obsessed with time. It’s true the last several years of our lives have been full and frequently hectic ones. And, for us, living overseas means that many things consume much more time than they used to. I calculate it used to take me an average of three seconds to choose a jar of pickles and set it in my shopping cart. In the last 48 hours I’ve made two batches of dill pickles, sauerkraut, applesauce, pumpkin puree for pies, two types of cookies, and two attempts at baked zucchini chips–from scratch. That’s not counting two days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Both attempts at zucchini chips were total failures but that is Beside the Point. Still, if you can help me with this problem be sure and comment below.)

It’s like we’ve been sprinting so long I forgot what it is to be still and live a little.

I can’t disciple my children if I don’t have time to sit down and talk with them about what they’re learning. I can’t build relationships with my neighbors if the time I allot them just covers “Hello-I-gotta-get-these-children-to-school” and “Goodbye-Must-start-dinner-now”.

Yesterday morning I chose to spend significant time with Hugh enjoying the letter A. We said it and sung it. We built it with wooden pieces. We traced it and picked it out of a lineup of letters. We made “A is for Ant” paintings by dipping marshmallows in paint. We said “A is for Apple” and made homemade applesauce together. And at dinner, when Daddy asked us what we did today, Hugh announced proudly, “I learned the yetter B!”

He thought we painted ants because B is for ant.

The efficiency expert in me says just wait until he’s five. (Or ten.)

If he watched more T.V. I could do more real ministry. Be better at correspondence. Keep things in order better. Do more. Do. Do.

But the truth is I gave him ninety of my diamond minutes because I love him and he’s my ministry, too. (I can say proudly that that is an estimate. I wasn’t even counting.)

Posted in Being Mommy, Keep Calm and Carry On | 4 Comments

where have all the wise ones gone?

For all of the wise women in my life. And especially for Mom. With love and gratitude.

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When Norah was about a year old we were living in “Merica, that vast land of enormous supermarkets and jumbo shopping carts. I was grocery shopping. Norah was sitting in the top of the cart babbling and I was deeply engaged in ice cream selection when I felt a hand on my arm.

“You need to put some shoes on that baby.”

She was a small, wrinkled woman with a black handbag. I looked at Norah. She was barefoot.

“Yes,” I said.

I was thinking, You don’t know my baby. They haven’t invented the boots this kid can’t remove. I felt like explaining that we’d bought her three pairs of boots in three months. That I’d had to drive thirty minutes out of my way only the day before to return to a store and hunt for one of the latest pair, kicked off and left behind. I wanted to tell her, irrelevantly, that I was a good mother.

At the moment truly I didn’t mind her comment. But later I felt a little defensive, maybe a little judged. Why was she telling me that? We didn’t even know each other!

But the thing was, she was right. It was January in New England (I was wearing a down jacket) and we were shopping in the frozen aisle. The baby was barefoot. I was her mother.

I wasn’t a failure as a mother. I just needed to make a change.

I’d like to run into that lady again. Just to thank her for looking out for my child—and to say I admire her courage. Have you contemplated the courage it takes for an older woman to give advice to a younger one in today’s world? Women who attempt to fulfill the Titus 2 commission* (yes, that says commission) with the younger women in their spheres are not winning any popularity contests these days.

We don’t want their input. Someone has probably written an excellent book on whatever aspect of marriage or parenting or career we’re dealing with, we’d rather look it up for ourselves. Besides, we assume they don’t really understand our situation. Okay, so they have been married for forty years or raised five kids or worked in a high-pressure environment for decades, they weren’t married to my husband and they seriously don’t understand the special, particular mix of giftings and challenges that are presented by my little darlings. What makes them think they do? So we are quick to find them presumptious or judgemental if they offer advice.

Meanwhile we’re ripping our hair out and laboriously reinventing the wheel. We’re making our choices and thinking our thoughts in a vacuum and it gives us nothing back to grow on. We’d rather just read a book about it because a book doesn’t have to know all the mess. Also, then we remain the authority in the situation—if we don’t like what the book says, we can set it aside as an unhelpful book. Sometimes we look around and wonder where our village is. Where is the voice of experience? Raising children is not for the faint of heart, we think. Isn’t it anyone’s job to help me with this momentous task?

How can they teach if we aren’t teachable?

Are we seeking—and listening to—advice?

These women are so precious! They have perspective to help us see clearly, wisdom to help us order rightly, and encouragement for the cloudy days. They should be sharing it–we should be listening to it. And recycling it for the next girl.

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*Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands that the word of God may not be reviled.”

Posted in Being Mommy, Keep Calm and Carry On | 5 Comments

of school lunch and the way we PBJ

 

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I like to cook, people. Really like it–see my alternate life. Which is fortunate because I do a lot of it. But school lunches are my nemesis. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to find healthy lunch options for kids in a hot country (with no refrigeration). There aren’t cold cuts or already-prepared food options in the grocery stores or street markets. Feeding the kids a simple healthy lunch requires loads of preplanning: I have to make homemade soup and heat it up in the morning to be packed in a thermos, or hard-boil eggs and cut up fresh veggies, etc. I have even invented Pizza Lunchables: Indonesia-style. I made homemade pizza sauce and pre-baked a big batch of small pizza crusts.

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Then I froze the crusts and sauce in little bags. All I have to do is throw them in the lunch bag with a little bag of shredded cheese.

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Norah loves that one. Poor kid, she’s still recovering from all the PB & J that fueled her first grade year. (I was in language school and survival mode simultaneously, don’t judge.)

Jam is available here, though not the healthy or natural kind, but the price of a small jar is equivalent to about six dollars. There is also peanut butter–the main one I see is Skippy brand, imported from the States. This also runs between six and eight dollars, and a jar of PB in this house lasts about as long as it would if it was made of ice. Also, we like natural unsweetened peanut butter (it’s a better contrast to all the ice cream and chocolate we like to eat with it).

When we finished language school I started making my own strawberry jam with bags of frozen strawberries. This cuts the price in half, cuts the sugar completely, and tastes a lot better than the stale stuff on the shelf.

I’ve now begun making peanut butter also. I held back for a long time because I was fairly confident I’d wreck the blender. The peanuts that taste the best are the roasted/lightly salted ones in the shell. The kids help me shell about a kilo of these at a time. (Please dispel any sudden images of peaceful family industry that may arise–by “help” I mean, Norah shells twenty or so, Harriet shells two for me and ten for herself, Hugh eats a bunch of the ones we’ve already done or picks out the rotten ones and feeds them to Wally.)

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Then I make a lot of noise with the blender and a spatula and some vegetable oil, and we have a jug of peanut butter–a little grainy, but salty nutty goodness just the same. There’s nothing added and no sugar, it is far less than half the price, and it’s still the go-to for lunches.

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Don’t let all the health talk distract you from the real reason to make peanut butter. Now at last we can have chocolate peanut butter cups.

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Talk about a big hit in school lunches.

 

 

Posted in Being Mommy, Food & Cooking it, Keep House and Carry On | 4 Comments