Gray Matters

Not gray matters like whether or not you should wear white after Labor Day, the recording label of Jars of Clay, or even the way that the color gray/colour grey is spelled, but rather the gray stuff that grows out of my head creating a silver halo around the other gray (and white) matter which is my brain. Yes, my hair is turning gray.

But, I think I’m OK with it.

For many years I was highlighting, and then I resorted to “all-over” color, but the upkeep and expense seemed too much and too frequent. And, I really never even paid what some pay for this look. In fact, my husband became quite a pro at the “pull-it-through-the cap” method when I came home with Target’s bargain hair color kit of the day. (He loves me….a lot. I know.)

So, I began taking informal visual surveys of women’s hair color….mostly in shopping malls and airports. What I discovered was that A LOT of women color their hair! (Roots, mismatched eyebrows with hair color, and bright/extreme colors were my main clues.) The other research I was conducting at the time was entitled, “Does gray hair look good or bad, attractive or not?” My conclusion always seemed to be: Looks good on others, but probably not on me. In the last year, though, there seemed to be an abundance of it growing on my head, (and I was tiring of the whole coloring process as mentioned) so I reconsidered. If I think it looks pretty on others, why conclude that it would be hideous on me?

I have not done “all-over” color in almost two years, and my last highlighting job was in November – almost a year ago. I justified this because of an upcoming wedding (yes, Jack and Kelly, YOUR wedding!) and that it would aid the “growing out” process in looking a bit more natural. There are probably a few blonde ends left that will probably be completely gone with my next haircut. Will I still be OK with it then?
What about when I head south in January to the land of blonde?

I think I can do it. And I even got some encouragement in it today….

Today, the kids and I traveled to Connecticut for our Classical Conversations school day. I had noticed a woman there a few weeks back – another mom just like me. It has been difficult to not stare at her, but I could not help noticing her hair. She was obviously a natural blonde at one time, but now that blonde and light brown is perfectly blended with silver and gray. We have a similar haircut, and it would not be a stretch to say that we even closely resemble each other in appearance. More staring on my part….almost like I was looking in a mirror!
(I was pretty sure she was staring at me, too…and probably for the same reason!)

When she walked in this morning, I decided to introduce myself……

Me: Hi. I’m Melanie. I don’t think we’ve met.

Diane: Hi. I’m Diane. Are you the Challenge 1 teacher?

Me: Yes.

Diane: I’ve noticed that we have similar hair. Are you letting yours go gray?

Me: Yes! I have been wondering the same thing about you!

Diane: Yes, I am too. Your hair looks great…a perfect blend of colors…and the gray makes a natural highlight. How did you decide to do it?

Me: Thank you! Well, I just got tired of keeping up with it, and there just started to be SO MUCH gray.

Diane: Me too. Have you received encouragement from others to let it go?

Me: Well…there are some people in my family who probably think I should keep coloring it, but my husband says he likes it.

Diane: Yes, I understand. My husband says he doesn’t care, but friends and family say coloring it will help me look like a younger woman. But you know what? I’m NOT a younger woman anymore!

Me: I’m not either. I can totally relate.

Isn’t that funny? It felt so wonderful to have her just go ahead and discuss the obvious: Hi. I’ve noticed we are older moms with gray hair. How did you make your decision? How are you doing with it?

A spontaneous support group of sorts….So freeing! So healing! So affirming!

I should mention that I, of course, do not think less of those who color their hair. In fact, I still struggle with some vanity and insecurity issues when I’m around others who do color theirs. Thoughts like….

“I have been living in New England way too long.”

“I am letting myself go.”

“She looks so beautiful with that blonde.”

“I have never been one with a gift for fashion or beauty know-how, so I’m probably not making an informed decision.”

“Jennifer Aniston is 40, too.”

and the list goes on…

Both of my sisters and most of my closest friends, all of whom I have great admiration for and think are so beautiful, color their hair. I’m pretty sure they don’t have quite as much gray as I do though.

So, au naturale still seems like the thing to do for this lady. And, of course, I am comforted by these verses from God’s word….

A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.
Proverbs 16:31

The glory of young men is their strength,
gray hair the splendor of the old.
Proverbs 20:29

Meeting “kindred hair spirit”, Diane, was such a nice affirmation!

Gluten Free Friday – A Couple of Quinoa Recipes

In case you haven’t noticed, quinoa is quite the rage lately….one of the top ten “superfoods” of late, as listed in every health and foodie magazine out there. I had only used it in “flour” form until a few weeks ago, but then decided to try it cooked as a whole grain and a side dish. I went searching for recipes and came across this first one on an all quinoa recipe site. It caught my attention, because it involved turmeric and coriander and I have become a huge fan of Indian food recently. I made it for dinner while my in-laws were visiting as well as some Celiac friends who came for dinner. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. Here it is…

Curried Quinoa

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 chili pepper, diced (I used jalapeno)
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 3/4 cup water
1/2 cup peas
salt to taste

Place quinoa in a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Saute onion in oil 5 minutes or until tender. Add ginger, chili, and quinoa to skillet and saute for 2 more minutes. Stir in turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, and salt and saute another minute. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in peas and cook 5 more minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

And then my friend Kim shared with me another quinoa recipe WITH curry dressing – hurray! It’s a Martha Stewart recipe, and you can find it here. I can’t wait to try it….apples, too….perfect for fall, and we just picked a half-bushel!

Life With My Middle Child

This morning I was ready to wring his neck over homeschool work, chores, and general bad attitude….but as usual, by the afternoon he had me smiling. Humor can be so helpful on hard days.

I had to leave him ALONE at home for about 45 minutes this afternoon. He never has to do this, because big brother is usually available to be in charge, but today big brother had to go to football practice, Kayla and I had to go to our farm, and Coop had to wait at home to be picked up for an afternoon playdate….

Me: Coop, you’ll be fine. It’s just for a short while, and I really need to run these errands.

Coop: Mom, I don’t like to stay here by myself.

Me: I’ll have my phone, so if the boogey-man comes, just give me a call.

Coop: No, I’ll just make friends with him.

Me: OK. Great idea. See you later.

After dropping Kory off at the high school – a whole 10 minutes later – I call Cooper to make sure he’s OK…

Coop: Hello, this is Cooper.

Me: This is the boogey-man. Are you home alone?

Coop: Yes, do you want to be my friend?

Me: No, I want to gobble you up. Just kidding….It’s mom. Just wanted to make sure you were OK.

Coop: I’m fine, but I did see a blue jay in our backyard who looked a bit suspicious to me.

Me: Well, maybe that’s the boogey-man’s disguise.

Coop: Yeah….pretty sure it is. That’s the oldest trick in the book for boogey-men…disguising themselves as blue jays.

Me: Well, they do that so that they can sneak into the house through small spaces and then transform into boogey-men once indoors with small children.

Coop: I’ll keep my eye on him.

Me: OK. Well, we dropped Kory off and now we’re headed to the farm.

Coop: OK. Bye.

Kayla and I pick up our weekly veggies, get back into the car and the phone rings…

Me: Hello, is this the boogey-man? Have you gobbled up my son?

Boogey-Man: I was about to, but Cooper said that his parents wouldn’t care. In fact, he said, they wouldn’t pay one red cent for him.

Me: Oh! That’s not true, boogey-man! I would give all the money I had to save Cooper’s life, because he is the most awesome guitar-playing, story writing, artist, tennis player and cuddliest kid I know!

Boogey-Man: Well, that just warms my heart so much that I believe I will let Cooper go.

Me: Oh, thank you , boogey-man! Thank you!

Boogey-Man: Mom, did you leave the oven on for a reason?

Me: Yes, I’m baking apple crisp for dessert. Just leave it and I’ll take it out when I get home.

Boogey-Man: OK. Bye, Mom.

How to know you are not in Texas anymore #101

A few days ago I was talking to my friend Sherri on the phone. Sherri lives in Georgetown, TX. Her husband, Kevin, was my husband’s college roommate at The University of Texas. Their oldest son and ours are the same age, and we were commiserating about having children old enough to be high school freshmen. I mean weren’t WE high school freshmen just last week???

Sherri’s son is playing basketball for his high school. I told her that Kory is playing football for our local high school – even though he is still a homeschooler. She became nostalgic…..

Sherri: Oh, Mel…how fun. You will get to go to Friday night football games again!

Me: Ummm…well yes, but no. Not really. I mean not what your thinking anyway.

You see, in Sherri’s mind the mention of high school football conjures up images of large, full stadiums, enthusiastic cheerleaders, parents wearing their son’s number jersey or a photo button of him on their school colored windbreaker, crowds cheering, dance teams dancing, fabulous marching band halftime shows, baton twirlers, flag wavers, costumed mascots, color commentary, programs that boast tough-looking mug shots and the exaggerated weights of each player, the singing of the National Anthem, the Alma Mater, the school song, and last but not least a prayer for the protection of all of the players and participants given by a student over the loud speaker.

And why was she thinking these things? Well, because she is from Texas, and no matter the size of your school (some being extremely small with graduating classes of say…10) these common elements are hardly ever lacking. In some cases, you may see a uniformed and padded football player playing the tuba, because you can’t NOT have a tuba in the marching band!

Sherri: What? What do you mean?

Me: This is New England, Sherri. We don’t do that sort if thing here.

Sherri: Mel, you must be joking! Are you serious?

Me: Yes, I’m serious. The high school doesn’t even have a real stadium. A couple of sets of bleachers, yes. Bring your own canvas chair, yes. Cheerleaders, no. Marching band, no.

So, Friday night was our local high school’s first Varsity football game. And not only that, but the Homecoming game to boot. Kory had to suit up for the game, but we were pretty sure he wouldn’t play. As a freshman, he’s on the Junior Varsity team, and their games are usually on Monday afternoons. But we all went to the game – even Robert’s parents, visiting from the Motherland went along, and if anyone knows football it is them! Robert’s dad coached Texas high school football for many years.

I have to admit that my main motivation for going was sheer curiosity. If it’s the first game of the year AND Homecoming, surely there will be some sort of fanfare or semblance of how I spent nearly every Friday night each fall of my high school career. In our ten years here I have never actually attended a local game, and had only heard rumors of the underwhelming amount of atmosphere, community support, and overall involvement. I needed to make sure I was giving Sherri accurate information.

Not to worry. The first clue was the semi-empty bleachers and total lack of canvas chairs on the home team side. Oh, there was a small crowd, but it was comprised mostly of unsupervised teenagers who were mostly flirting with each other and not watching the game (a cross-cultural phenomenon, I’m pretty sure), and supporters of the other team who didn’t have the energy to trek across the field to the bleachers intended for their team.

During the first half of the game, we kept wondering if it really was Homecoming as we had heard it was. No music. No alumni-looking folks. No anticipation of the announcement of a homecoming king and queen. No nothing.

Halftime came and it seemed that it would boast absolutely no entertainment, until the announcer came on to introduce a cute little 8th grade girl who would do a baton-twirling routine. Evidently, she had been among 150 national twirlers chosen to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And she was amazingly talented – Kayla and I were completely enthralled, but I couldn’t help but wonder where she found out that there was such a thing as baton twirling. And who coaches her? Surely she spends her summers out-of-state in foreign lands of flag wavers, marching bands, and baton twirlers.

(yours truly, “hanging” on the right, circa 1986)

Cooper, Kayla, and I left at halftime to rent a movie and head home for the evening. They didn’t want to miss our Friday night tradition of pizza and a movie. On the way to Blockbuster I received these text messages from Robert:

Robert: It IS Homecoming. No festivities at the game whatsoever. Maybe you’ve got an old cheer skirt u could pull out.

Me: Yes, I’ll be right over. No Homecoming Queen????

Robert: You’ll always be the queen in my heart.

Me: yeah…yeah. Ok, well maybe I can make it back there in time for my coronation and bouquet of roses. (Mine were snagged 21 years ago.)

(Ok, that last part was a big exaggeration. I was not in the running for Homecoming Queen at my high school. My (still) good friend Kerry was the Homecoming Queen, AND the head cheerleader, AND voted “Best-All-Around” leaving me in the dust at every opportunity, but, as you can tell, I am not and was not at all jealous or bitter.)

So Robert, his parents, and Kory arrived home around 9pm and gave the report that from the first quarter to the last, there was no hint of Homecoming except that the announcer occasionally mentioned that it was Homecoming and a “big weekend for Amherst.”

Maybe they crown the Homecoming King and Queen at the Ultimate Frisbee game? (We are the birthplace of that sport, after all.) Maybe the band plays for the Lacrosse game halftime? Maybe the soccer players come bursting onto the field through a large and intricately painted “break through” banner. I don’t really know, but I am fairly certain that of all high school sports in these parts – and there are many sports and wonderful athletes, football ranks dead last in participation and popularity.

And it’s not like those Texas football traditions are better than others, just different. (Our traditions in these parts are something like lacrosse, hockey, organic farms, and protesting the big box stores) Those traditions are a common thread that draw all sorts of folks together around the schools, the local kids, and the community itself. It may sound lacking in depth and meaning, but I think that may be part of the draw. Pure, social, simple, joyful, fun.

(Unless you are the coach or a player!)

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

And now I’m off to watch some “Friday Night Lights” episodes.

(Just kidding. I’m not THAT in to it. I’ve watched only one episode to date. And, what’s more, my kids only recently found out about this “cheer career” of mine. There are better ways to spend your teen years, I now believe, than wearing a short skirt and dancing in front of the crowd. I did enjoy the gymnastics part of it, though!)

“Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!”

P.S. As you can see, I did get roses, and was crowned Homecoming Queen of the Evening, because that’s just the kind of fun and wonderful husband I have – who, of course, was the Prom King of his high school (there was no Homecoming King – only a Queen), AND Valedictorian, AND “Most Likely to Succeed.”

(Oh..and let us not forget, the illustrious, “Most Conceited.”)

Remembering the Day….Remembering Jessica

Eight years ago today, I was doing the breakfast dishes and watching the Today Show on our small kitchen television when they started to show footage of the World Trade Center on fire. They said it was an airplane that caused the fire. Kory, who was 6 at the time, came running through the kitchen, and I said, “Hey, buddy, look at this big building that just got hit by an airplane!” I simply thought the tower had been side-swiped by a big jetliner. Actually, I was hoping that was all that happened, as I had tickets to see Elton John’s “Aida” in New York City the very next day along with my sister who was flying there from Texas on the 11th. (She was grounded in Houston.) Kory immediately got out some drawing paper and drew a picture of the scene. (If it were not buried away in our attic somewhere, I would have scanned it for you.) Little did I know in those moments that the plane was actually lodged inside that tower and even worse – that a dear friend and former church member was on that plane.Jessica (on the left) had just graduated from the University of Massachusetts and had recently begun work for an accounting firm in Boston. She boarded the plane that day for a business trip. We didn’t find out until the next morning that the tragedy was much closer to home than we thought. Robert and others from our church spoke at her funeral which was covered by many local news stations. It was a beautiful celebration of her life and her faith – exactly as she would have wanted. Her parents requested that all gifts in memory of Jessica be given to our church. For over a year we received checks in the mail – everyone from American Airlines to Jessica’s immediate family and co-workers. That money is how we were able to eventually purchase a building for our church, but that is another story.

Three years ago, Jessica’s parents were pondering a positive way to spend the five year anniversary of her death. They asked that people send in a story or memory about Jessica. I gathered stories and letters from many in our church – and even those who had moved away. They were wonderful, and they blessed her family greatly. Below is what I wrote for her parents and family on that five year anniversary……

(edited a bit for your understanding!)

Jessica was such a presence! I remember meeting her a couple of months after moving here, and learning that she was really the only student to be a part of the beginnings of MERCYhouse. She explained to me that she had talked quite a bit to John Ramirez at the Baptist Convention of New England about getting a church or ministry started at The University of Massachusetts. It was upon this meeting that I first saw her passion and tenacity in her love for the Lord and for ministry.

I remember her being in our home often and that the atmosphere was always one of joy and laughter and joking when she was present. She loved everyone – everyone was her friend! As my friend Shemaiah, who came here from Oklahoma to work with us for just a summer, has often said, “Jessica was my first friend in Massachusetts.” Jessica, who had known Shemaiah for all of about one hour invited her to go home with her that night and watch a movie with some other friends. She was always quick to inquire about how I was doing and was so generous with her hugs and words of comfort. If I was considered “Mom” at MERCYhouse, she was “Mom #2” – always looking out for the needs of others – physical, spiritual and emotional. She considered it her privilege and duty to make sure all those around her were thriving. One Valentine’s Day she gave me and several others a painted terra cotta planter. I still have it. It was such a blessing to me that she had thought of me along with her many other friends.

One of my favorite biblical subjects is that of created masculinity and femininity. When I began leading Bible Studies along these lines for the young women of our church, I began to hear rumblings that Jessica was not necessarily thrilled with this idea. She never told me this directly, but the other girls did. She felt that “submission” was a bad word associated only with doormats! We eventually talked about it, and together came to a place of friendly understanding and even the ability to joke about it from time to time.

Despite these strong feelings regarding the idea of submission, Jessica greatly desired to be married. She came to me on several occasions expressing bittersweet feelings over her friends becoming engaged, and her own struggle with loneliness.

I know that she carried around in her heart a lot of inner turmoil, insecurity, and emotion. And yet when we worshipped together at church through music or prayer, she was fully engaged, seeking the Lord with her whole being. Watching her always brought joy to my own insecure, emotional, and even at times, depressed and lonely heart. She was an example and inspiration to me in her walk with the Lord in this fallen world.

I will leave you with a verse that was found underlined in Jessica’s Bible. In the margin next to the verse she had written, “I like this verse.”

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:18

In Training

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
I Corinthians 9:24-25
Some of you know that Robert and I have been training to run in a half-marathon in October. I don’t know if I ever would have aspired to such an event. I was pretty content with the occasional 5K and 10K. But when Robert joined me in the whole “running thing” this winter, he brought along his competitive spirit. At first I had trouble just running alongside him – he was throwing off my breathing, my usual pace, and my time alone! And then, adding insult to injury, he starts reading Runners World magazine, looking into training schedules, and searching the internet for every local race he can find! The final straw was when he made an appointment to meet with our friend Patrick who just happens to have “Personal Trainer” on his resume’ and was more than eager to create a personalized and “Patrick-ized” training schedule for the two of us to get ready for the October race.

And we’ve been following it – for the most part. Patrick has us doing a lot of “track work” i.e. sprinting 400’s, 800’s, and 1600’s on the track. Robert has been very faithful to do these workouts, but not me. I have done a few, but they are not my favorite because (a.) I do not like running fast (b.) I do not like running in circles, and (c.) It hurts – especially my hips (and my lungs, and….) Our “long runs” are usually on Sundays, and we have now worked our way up to 11 miles. A half-marathon is 13.2 miles, so we are at least fairly confident that we can finish the thing!

I’ve discovered that there are quite a lot of metaphors in the running world – especially the running-with-your-husband world. It’s not always easy to run alongside of someone – especially when you are used to doing it alone and your own way. But it is a good exercise! Look at me. I am now able to run 11 miles and will more than likely complete a half-marathon next month. I am not sure I would have come to this place on my own. He makes me better. He challenges me to good things and to personal growth and I am thankful. And the “freedom” I felt I was giving up really never left. It was all perception, mentality. I can still be alone with my thoughts and breathe at my own pace while running alongside my husband, but I also have the great option of chatting with him about those thoughts or learning from his running styles and strategies…like picking up the pace on hills to conquer them more quickly. Ugh!

And the spiritual metaphors are there in abundance as well. I have never been driven to trust in the Lord more than in this past year. It has been a marathon in a lot of ways, but at a very slow pace. I just finished working through Beth Moore’s Living Beyond Yourself Bible study which surveys the book of Galations and then highlights each of the fruit of the Spirit. (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control) For so many years I seemed to be able to muster much of this fruit in my own strength by an act of my will (or maybe just an “act”)- which I know wouldn’t really be totally possible without the grace of Christ, but still. I was blessed/cursed with an amazingly strong will….shocking, I know. Anyway, that “will” has GREATLY decreased in the last year. Things I used to be able to gear myself up for, I can’t anymore. They require a total dependence on the Holy Spirit even for the act of my will by faith.

So, increasing our “mileage” each week makes me think of the marathon of life. Beth Moore suggests that self-control is the vehicle for ALL of the rest of the fruit. That was quite a revelation to me at the time, but I agree. When I press on for that extra mile He comes through with the strength and breath I need to finish. When I press on into situations that I want to run from these days, He meets me with love, joy, etc. and then I KNOW it is Him.

We are pretty sure we will not “win” the race in October, but I’m learning to be completely satisfied with the imperishable prize which I know for sure is mine already.

And the crunchy winners are…. (and a recipe, too!)

Thanks to everyone who commented on the granola giveaway – it was fun to hear from all of you! And, I even got to “meet” two super-talented and creative gluten-free bloggers – Betsy and Katrina! Be sure to go and visit them when you get a chance!

And now, without further ado, the winner of the gluten free variety is…..

My friend and new neighbor whose house I just happened to be at last night for an amazing gluten free meal: Roasted Chicken and Potatoes, Pasta Salad, Pizza Soup, and to top it off – Apple Pie with Crumble Top! Truly delicious!
Congrats Kim!
And in the full-of-gluten category (actually oats don’t contain gluten, but due to cross contamination issues, you have to be careful) the winner is…..

Fellow granola consumer, veggie lover, and all-around health nut….Ryan M!

Ryan, I know this prize just delights your soul, and that right now you are probably planning an overnight backpacking trip just so that you can take this crunchy-goodness along with you and eat it for breakfast with some freshly gathered berries and homemade yogurt.

Or, you could give it to Amanda.

Believe it or not, her love for granola exceeds your by just a tad, and I know what a generous and sacrificial man you are.

So, the granola deliveries will be made soon! I hope you all enjoy it.

And here’s a recipe that does NOT fall into the health nut category, but is a fun and easy dessert! It’s one that my sister passed along to me years ago that required a boxed yellow cake mix to start with. Well, you can imagine how that recipe card settled into a dark and untouched place in my recipe box. Now, thanks to Betty Crocker and a few other companies that offer boxed gluten free cake mixes, this cake is possible for us again!

Poppy Seed Cake

1 GF yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker)
8 oz sour cream
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 Tbsp poppy seeds (usually less expensive in bulk!)

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased and “floured” bundt pan. Bake at 350* for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

**The one pictured above I made into a lemon-poppy seed version by adding the grated peel of one lemon to the batter. The icing is powdered sugar mixed with lemon juice. Don’t remember the exact measurements, but not too difficult to get it to a “drizzly” consistency!