Grotesque

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Six months ago I made a new friend, and now it is almost time to say goodbye.  My art teacher had asked me to make a selection of several different photographs for her to choose from for me to copy in charcoal.  After considering, she chose my least favorite, the photograph of the toad.  I had, thoughtlessly, thrown him in only because my original selection had seemed scanty, now I regretted the impulse.  Still, my teacher was so confident it would turn out well, and so complimentary when she heard that my sister had taken the photo, that I did not complain, secretly resolving to get through the project as quickly as possible.  Six months ago.

He has a knowing look, does my toad, and even as I write, he seems to be laughing at me from his makeshift easel across the room.  A dry, brittle, sort of laughter, which can only be discerned through the set crookedness of his large mouth, and the quiet scrutiny of his squinting eyes.  Yes, he is laughing, laughing at the way I procrastinated through distaste for him, and at the sudden way I fell in love with him.  For I now wish there was more of him to draw.

But the laughter is not all on his side.  He makes me laugh, and that is the root of my delight in him.  He is incongruous; a thing without grace, and yet a delight to look at.  There is a fascination is his clumsy shape, blotched and bumpy skin, and protruding eyes, which no longer leads me to repulsion, but to a quiet, squint-eyed, smile that echoes his own.  He is like a wry joke which has come alive.

I have found a word to describe him: grotesque.  Something whimsical, extravagant, ludicrous, and antic.  When I look at him I see, both in him and through his eyes, the ludicrosity of my own behavior.  I am able, then, to laugh at myself, without bitterness, or even the faintest tinge of regret, but with a strange pleasure in seeing myself as harmlessly laughable.   I am sometimes like a toad.

This is not the first time I have changed my mind about something I thought was ugly.  The first I can remember were spiders.  I decided, one morning when I was ten, That I was going to like spiders.  I had been frightened of them, hated the mere sight of them, but I did not enjoy being frightened, so I decided that spiders were beautiful.  Oddly enough, I found that they were.  Next came snakes, and then, as I grew older, the subtle taste of cucumbers.  And so, over the years, I have come to realize, that the world must be full of beautiful things to which we are habitually blind.  God is not the author of the flower only, but also of the spider and toad.

But now I must say goodbye.  Just a few more hours work and my picture will be finished.  Soon it will no longer belong to me and will hang on someone else’s wall.  Even so, I will have something I did not have six months ago.  I will love toads, whether I find them in a garden bed or in myself.  I will laugh at the wry joke that is in us and the world.

What will be next?

~Jane

Seriously?

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I know; I know. This doesn’t seem like a very serious topic. But cookies are a very serious thing around our house. Dad is always complaining that we don’t have any cookies and he keeps asking when I will be making some. After exhausting all of the varieties in the grocery store, I finally broke down the other day and baked cookies. But I didn’t want the standard overly sweet cookie, and I wanted something a little different in flavor. So I did something new: I created my own cookie recipe. And they were very good (if I do say so myself – the other people in my house agreed). A good blend of crunchy and chewy, they were not too sweet and not too savory with a good twist of flavor for an element of different. Not the best dessert cookie, but certainly delightful for a snack (or breakfast)!

Without further ado, I present to you the Almond Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie!

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Almond Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

3/4 cup coconut sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup almond butter

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. Celtic sea salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup – 1 cup shredded coconut

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*. Soften butter to room temperature, then in medium large bowl whip butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in almond butter, combining well. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Combine flour mixture with wet ingredients mixing 1/3 of the flour mixture in at a time. Switch from beaters to a wooden spoon and stir in walnuts, coconut, and chocolate chips.

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Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and form about tablespoon size cookies. Flatten the dough on the sheet, spacing about an inch apart. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1 minute before moving to a cookie rack to cool completely. Enjoy while warm or once completely cooled!

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~Jo

Abridgment

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There is a bridge in our garden with which I have a complicated relationship.  It is a charming, rustic, bridge which gives our garden a romantic air, but it is treacherous.  In winter it becomes slick with invisible ice, and even in summer, rain can make it slippery.  Last winter that I gave up using the bridge and forded the stream as a safer alternative. Happily my dad took the time this spring to add a railing, not a beautiful railing, to be sure, but at least I can now use the bridge as a bridge.

We have discovered over the past three years that this impractical aestheticism is a recurring theme in our house.  For instance: we have a well.  We know we have a well because we get water from it.  But it is so carefully hidden, that we have no clue where it is.  All we really know is that we have a well, and it is not where the former owner said it was.  Then there is the electrical wiring!  Well, let’s not open that can of worms, I’ll just say that we own a lovely house (balconies, tall windows, stone fire places) which by all probabilities ought to have burned to the ground years ago.  Despite the nuisance, this trend says something about those who built the house.  It says that they cared a great deal about beauty, but had little respect for safety or convenience.

I like to think that books are similar to our house.  They may be difficult to read, poorly written, boring, or just plain bad, but they always tell a story about the person who wrote them.  It is, arguably, the greatest gift of books that they transcend a particular culture, time, or even, personal taste.  To read a book, even a contemporary book, is to be given a window into another person’s mind, a chance to interact with thoughts that are not your own.  We may not like what we see there, it may even be dangerous (like screwy electrical wiring) but we can still learn from it.

This is why I despise abridgment.  It hampers our chance of interacting with strange ideas, ideas that are foreign to us and might change us for the better or teach us something to avoid which we had never seen before.  Sadly it is often the older books, the ones most likely (ironically) to teach us something new, which are abridged.  But new books, also, will one day be old.  So in my opinion, no book, old or new, good or bad, should be abridged.  After all, is it the editor’s taste we want to experience or the author’s?  Each word in a book, whether consciously or not, is a reflection of the author’s personality, ideals, or purpose.  Thus to cut something out is as drastic a change as to stick something in; it changes the overall message of the book.  Of course, I am not saying the the editor cannot have better taste than the author.  It is quite possible the editor could write the story twice as well as the author, simply let the editor become an author first and I will have no reason to complain.

So why do we read abridged books?   We look at Les Miserables or Moby Dick and despair at the length, especially the long digressions.  Or we join a book club and they choose a book we don’t like.  Or we know we really ought to read Robinson Crusoe but, who has the time?

It all boils down to, do we read books purely for entertainment?  Or from a feeling that we have to be able to say that we have read that particular book in order to consider ourselves well-read?  Or just to get it over with?  If you read for any of those reasons, then by all means, don’t waste your time, read an abridged version.  But please believe me, you are missing something beautiful and worthwhile.  The slippery bridge may be dangerous, but the bridge with planks missing is both dangerous and ugly.

~Jane

 

Mad As A Hatter

IMG_7259If there is one fashion accessory I really love, it has to be hats – especially vintage hats. I enjoy discovering hats in antique stores and collecting the vintage styles that blend well with my wardrobe. Wearing them serves a practical purpose, but it also adds a flair of excitement to my everyday style. When I was younger, I used to pile all of my hats upon my head at once and waltz around the house looking very much like the mad hatter.

Mad as a hatter; how did we come by such a saying? Well, during the 1700-1800s, mercury was used to make felt for the hats that were popular at the time, and prolonged exposure to the mercury would cause neurological damage. The neurological damage caused extreme mood swings, tremors, and slurred speech, which in that age was identified merely as “madness”. People who exhibited such behaviors would have been outside of acceptable society. As time went on, those hatters would become a by-word for any who exhibited crazy, eccentric, or abnormal behaviors; leaving many to be labeled “mad as a hatter”. We now know that the cause behind a hatter’s madness was over-exposure to mercury leading to mercury-poisoning and neurological damage. We also know that mercury is a very harmful substance to our bodies, and we strive to avoid it today. But at that time, such things were not yet known.

Today, we no longer make felt for hats with mercury; and hats of those fashions are no longer common accessories. We consciously strive to eliminate mercury from our diets, glass, water, dishes, cosmetics, and other every day items. Yet there are other things in our lives today that can still make us mad as a hatter – for instance, stress. Stress triggers several hormone chemicals in our bodies that, after long periods of exposure, can drive us into a type of madness.

One stress-related hormone is cortisol. Normally, our bodies produce cortisol throughout the day at regular intervals, increasing during the morning to get us going and decreasing in the afternoon and evening to help us wind-down and sleep. However, when we are stressed, we produce higher levels of cortisol, more commonly at night, in order to prepare us for the “impending danger”. We have a heightened alertness/awakeness and have difficulty falling asleep. Ever notice how when you’re stressed, you get a second wind of energy in the late afternoon/evening? This is your cortisol kicking back into high gear. If your body continues to do this for long periods of time, you will experience impaired cognitive function (you will have trouble thinking, making decisions, and reacting), as well as other health issues such as a lowered immunity and unhealthy weight gain. Even if you force yourself to sleep, your sleep will not be restful, and your brain will not be able to properly re-set and process, which can cause us to feel and act mad.

So, what can we do? We’ve all probably read the self-help articles on how to deal with stress, and their suggestions can range from practical to weird to unattainable: go to the gym says one; yell at your boss and get it off your chest recommends another (don’t – it’s a bad idea); go on a cruise and get away suggests a third. Whatever the suggestion is, they all share a common factor: focus on you – make yourself feel better by an external element.

I’d like to offer a slightly different approach. Find a quiet place and bare your soul. Get to the root of the stress. Find what is really triggering that reaction, and learn how to not just cope but conquer. We need to learn to condition our bodies to not be consistently reacting to stressors. In order to do that, we must deal with the root and not merely treat the symptoms.

We all find quiet in different places. Sometimes it might be in the car by ourselves or in a crowded store where we don’t know anyone and are able to retreat into the farthest recesses of our mind. Or maybe it’s on the porch at twilight or in the barn next to the horses. Or maybe it’s on top of a mountain watching the sunset or on the seashore with a sunrise or at noonday in a tree. Or maybe it’s in a closet or in the bath or in your favorite chair with a cup of tea. Wherever it is; go there for a half an hour or an hour and let your head stop spinning and let your thoughts get quiet. And while the world will still be spinning wildly around you, let out a deep breath and bring your mind to a standstill. Relish the nothingness for a few moments (I know, this can be really hard for girls, but seriously, try it). Then as your mind has finally gotten quiet, and there is only you and God, bare your soul. Pull out all the emotions, circumstances, worries, and frustrations. Lay them out on the table, and one by one, talk about each one. Label them. Analyze them. Be inquisitive about them – ask questions, but not in a demanding tone. Shed tears if necessary. Then sit quietly and wait for a reply. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Scripture tells us that Jesus would go into the wilderness to pray. Christ teaches us to go and pray in our closets away from the eyes of men. And in Psalms, we are commanded to be still. We all need to take time to be still and quiet and lay our burdens down before Jehovah. Otherwise, we will be as mad as hatters.

“Be still and know that I am God:” Psalm 46:10

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exhalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

~Jo