Adventure in the Forest Across the Street

A few weeks ago, I explained how we appreciate the little forests within our city.  During our Thanksgiving trip, Nicholas (almost seven years old) and I found a much larger forest to explore–in a place where we never knew there was a forest.

Cousin Mike hosts Thanksgiving in his home near Albany, New York.  I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years.  It’s in a very suburban area, on a loop of roads lined with houses about 20 years old; the loop connects to a highway that leads to many similar residential developments and some businesses, but typically you have to drive several miles to do any errand.  His house is far enough from the highway that you can’t hear traffic.  Vehicles pass by only rarely.  There are no streetlights or curbs.  It feels rather remote to us city mice–but on the other hand, from every window of Mike’s house you can see at least one other house, so it is an obviously human-settled area.

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Raisin Bran Bread, Revised Recipe

Two years ago, I developed a recipe for Raisin Bran Bread to use up a bulk purchase of raisin bran cereal whose flakes were so big and hard and rough that it was painful to eat!  We love the bread, so I actually bought more of that aggressive raisin bran whenever Costco issued a coupon, so that I could make more Raisin Bran Bread.

After a while, though, I began questioning whether it really made sense to buy a processed product as an ingredient when I could instead be using the main ingredients from which raisin bran cereal is made, leaving out the preservatives and such.  It probably would be less expensive, too, given the low price of bulk wheat bran at our food co-op.

So, I once again mustered my nengkan, guessed at the proportions of ingredients to use, threw in some extra nutritiousness, tweaked it a bit more when it seemed too wet . . . and produced three yummalicious loaves!  I think it’s even better than my earlier recipe.  I have been eating at least two slices a day all week, and I’m not tired of it yet! Read more…

The Element Bearer

My son Nicholas is almost seven years old and is growing up in an Episcopal parish that has very few children or teenagers at the moment.  I’ve been going there for 15 years.  When we had more kids, during each service a teenager served as crucifer (carrying the cross to lead the procession of worship leaders and choir into and out of the church) and two children about 8-12 years old served as torchbearers (each carrying a candle on a tall candlestick in the procession).  Now, our few teens happen to enjoy caring for the babies and toddlers in the nursery during the service, and our two kids of torchbearing size are very shy and don’t like the idea of people looking at them . . . so adults take turns serving as crucifer, and we don’t have torchbearers anymore; the candles stay next to the altar.

Nicholas loves ceremonies and likes to be included in what people are doing.  But I thought he was too young to serve in church. Read more…

Instant hummus and falafels!

Meatless MondayMy mostly-vegetarian family likes to eat hummus (garbanzo bean and sesame seed dip) and falafels (garbanzo bean and pea fritters) but both of these foods take a while to make from scratch.  Practically every grocery store sells ready-to-serve hummus these days, but it is pricey and gets moldy quickly.  A few stores and restaurants sell pre-made falafels to heat up at home, but they’re expensive and not all that good.

Luckily, Fantastic Foods makes dry mixes for making both hummus and falafels.  I can’t call the falafels instant because you still have to cook them, but there is a quick and easy way to do that, too.  Neither the convenience nor the cooking method makes either food less healthy than if made from scratch!  Read more…

How a silly Website brought me a great book

I have been a fan of for some time now.  It’s one of those sites that perfectly utilizes the Internet’s awesome power to collect silly things seen around the world.  It almost always can make me laugh in that wonderfully sudden way that really dispels stress.

Last summer, I saw a note posted there (unfortunately, I can’t find it again now to link to it!) taped in the window of a Border’s bookstore that had closed.  Like the rest of the chain, and many other bookstores in the past decade, it had languished because so many customers went into the store to browse and read but purchased nothing, preferring to do their book-buying online.  The sign said something like this:

Try using the bathrooms

I thought it was clever and funny, but I also was zinged with guilt–just as I had been when reading about the demise of bookstores–for the times when I browsed without buying or used the restrooms or drinking fountain at the Barnes & Noble that used to be in my neighborhood.  Read more…

I didn’t know that was a forest!

When my son was two to five years old, he attended a preschool/childcare center on the ground floor of a nine-story apartment tower a few blocks from my office.  We commuted together by public transit and then walked from the bus stop across the parking lot that separated the building from the street.  I find parking lots very ugly, unpleasant places to be, and this one was particularly disheartening: frost-heaved asphalt with puddles of gunk, crooked and crumbling parking bumpers, lots of hostile you-will-be-towed signs (the lot is shared by several businesses), a smelly dumpster, and in the center a few pathetic hostas attempting to grow in a scatter of hideous orange wood chips and discarded fast-food packaging.  It was a daily struggle for me to walk through that space without feeling like I was taking my child someplace terrible.

One day in our first year there, as we left the school in the evening we saw a rabbit dart across the parking lot.  Nicholas said, “Oh!  A rabbit!  It ran into the forest!”  We looked through an empty parking space at the rabbit crouching under a bush on the steep hillside at the edge of the parking lot. Read more…

Stewardship Talk

My church has a tradition of Stewardship Talks in the autumn, for a few weeks before parishioners turn in our pledges for next year, in which a different person each week attempts to inspire everyone to improve our contributions to the church.  I did mine this past Sunday.  A lot of people told me how much they liked it, and the people who counted the offering this week told me they saw an unusually high number of $20 bills . . . so I guess it was effective!

This speech could be adapted to raise funds for just about any organization.  The idea that money is scarce and personal financial needs are difficult to meet is very widespread these days, so any audience can use a nudge to remember what riches they really have and to reconsider whether they can part with more money. Read more…