22 April 2015

Nine Years

Wonderful people surrounded us then and surround us now, rooting us on. 

Mawiage.  Mawaige is what brings us togever today.  Mawiage  - that blessed awangement, that dweam within a dweam.  

A few years ago, I wrote a letter to the children about marriage; I posted it here.   I'd still say all of it, though, with four and half more years has come four and a half more measures of wisdom.  Just eleventy thousand measures left to gain. 

Paul and I have been married nine years today, and we are learning, daily, what it is to be married.  I imagine we'll be learning that until sixty-six years from now, when we've reached our diamond anniversary.  And then we'll die happy and not care anymore about learning how to be married.

He's been making that face at things I've asked him to do for nine whole years now.  

One principle about marriage that has struck me recently is the bravery it requires.  Father Ollie Rencher, who married us those many moons ago, preached our wedding homily on courage and bravery.  Because we were twenty-one years old and courage is an acceptable homily topic, while the stupidity of youth is not.  We were so stupid, though Ollie didn't say it or mean it.

 Marriage is bravery, though.  It is courage.  It is not the bravery and courage of knights or generals.  It is the bravery of the martyrs.

The courage of marriage is a willingness to  die daily.  I married a good man - like a shockingly good man - much better than I, and he dies to self every day.  He loves his church, his children, his cities (both the one we live in and the one for which he works), his friends, his house.  He loves me more though.  And the bravery comes when we'd rather have a different order of priorities. 

I love my children, St. Augustine School, my friends, my church, but I love Paul Forster more.  Or at least I'm called to love him more. 

Bravery is daily arranging the priorities correctly.  Why is this courageous?  Because sometimes we don't deserve that love.  We aren't loveable.  And to love someone is to be vulnerable to him.  And so, every day, whether Paul is awesome or not, loving him is putting him above all else and therefore making myself vulnerable to his non-awesomeness.  And doing that with the joy required, well, makes the knights and generals look a little bit pale and pitiful. 

We said marriage vows nine years ago today, and we meant them.  You know, like children mean promises around Christmas.  But, every day since then, we've had to mean them again.  It is only through an undeserved measure of God's grace that we can enter into the terrifying gap of the permanent reordering of our priorities.  But, it must be done. 

There have been many days in which one or both of us have chickened out.  Many, many days.  But, by and large, we have miraculously,

bravely gone where many men and women have gone before.  New every morning.   And this brave entering has returned to us a measure of happiness that no one deserves. 

Today I give thanks for a homily that rings in my ears, for a husband who looks at me as a partner in all things, and most for a Lord who has chosen to bless the idiocy of a couple of kids. 

Cheers to Paul William, the best husband in the galaxy. 

18 April 2015

Battle Picking

As a young(er)  mother, I often heard the chorus, "You have to pick your battles."  I still hear it all the time.  I say it pretty regularly as well.  I read it on many a facebook status and as the moral of the story in quite a few essays - both in the parenting world and elsewhere. And, I've been noticing something... and thought, why not add to the conversation.  ;)

I have done some etymology hunting, and it's not really clear, but the phrase means what you'd think it means.  To do an effective job, you cannot be stretched too thin.  You have to choose which places to put up a fight, because if you choose them all, you will exhaust your resources and lose the war.  In actual warcraft, these resources are men, weapons, money, food.  In parenting, the resources are primarily emotional. 

If we fight every battle at the same time all day, we will exhaust ourselves emotionally.  We will strain our relationships with our children, and we won't have enough left in us to smile, or love our spouses, or fight the next day's battles. 

19 February 2015


The scene is 2008.  It is fall time, and Ada Brooks is four years old and in a sweet little K4 class at St. Luke's, the sweetest preschool ever there was.  I am a young mother with an old soul.  Paul and Eason are also around.  Collins is an embryo.  This is a picture from that time.  She is *little*. 

Ada Bee gets in the car one day with me and says, "May I go to a Hannah Montana concert?" 

"Probably not." 

"Why not? Kate Donahoe is going to a Hannah Montana concert." 
"Well, I don't know who Hannah Montana is, and if you're going to a concert, it will likely be someone I've heard of, and remember, we don't do everything everyone else does."
"Okay, but Kate Donahoe is cool." 
"I'm glad Kate is cool."  

Two weeks later, she got in the car again.  

"May I have my ears pierced?"
"Why not?  Kate Donahoe has her ears pierced."
"No.  Hush about Kate Donahoe."
"But Kate Donahoe is cool."
"I'm sure she is.  No earrings till you're older." 
"How old?"  

And here, friends, was the fatal mistake. 

"You can get them pierced six weeks before Easter of sixth grade.  That way you can take out your piercing studs and wear pretty, new earrings on Easter morning.  I got mine pierced six weeks before Sixth Grade graduation, but who knows if you'll have sixth grade graduation, so we'll go with Easter." 

"Okay, great.  I'll tell Kate Donahoe." 

"Okay.  Great.  Tell Kate."  

And that was the end of the Kate Donahoe coolness and of the Ears Piercing conversation.  

Fast Forward until 2013. 

"Mama - can I have my ears pierced for my tenth birthday?  Sarah's having hers pierced for her tenth birthday." 

"No.  Not yet, sweetie." 

"Okay,  I guess I'll wait another year and a half. 

"Wait wait - what?" 

"Next spring, I'll be in sixth grade and so I'll have my ears pierced on February 18, 2015."

"What now?" 

"Remember, Mama.  You said, when I was four, that I could have them pierced on Ash Wednesday of Sixth Grade.  That's February 18, 2015." 

And, so I did.  I blame Kate Donahoe's coolness.  I blame my impulsive
naiveté.  I blame Ada Brooks's elephant-never-forgets brain.  But, most of all, I blame reality.  They're going to get big and leave at some point, and apparently, with pierced ears along the way.  There is an artist I like, named Shannon Curfman.  She sings a song called, 'I don't make promises I can't break.'  It's an inappropriate for this situation broken hearted love balad, but...  the sentiment rings true.  I should quit making promises I have to keep.  Lordy. 

(If you enjoy raspy, bluesy rock, you should take a listen anyway.  Shannon probably had her ears pierced when she was very young.  No way she could sing like this if she hadn't.) 

So, yesterday we all five (no Paul) traipsed out to Merle Norman (where I got my ears pierced some number of years ago).  There she sat, on February 18, 2015, and had little holes punched in her little girl earl lobes.  Except they're big girl ear lobes. 
I didn't cry. 
I actually feel myself letting go. 

Now she is this big. 

I'm glad God sent me a baby girl to ease the transition for me. 

In 2026, when Elsa Gray will be in sixth grade, Easter will again be on April 5th.  Ash Wednesday will again be on February 18th. 

And then, I might not be so stoic. 

26 December 2014

2014 Christmas Review

Two thousand fourteen has been an excellent year for the Forsters, though definitely the most hectic we've had as a family.

We are so tired and so full of God's bountiful blessings.

Our biggest change this year was that we moved.  We are still in Jackson, and our new house is just what we've wanted for the children  to spend their main growing up years in.  We have space, but we're cozy, and the kids have an upstairs all to themselves (and, yes, away from us...).  We back up to a slew of undeveloped forest, which I call the Hundred Acre Wood, which satisfies my craving for daily literary allusions.  Delightfully, the name of our little neighborhood is actually Sherwood Forest.  I know I'm mixing genres and time periods, but at least they're both British? Lord willing, we'll be here for the duration. 

06 November 2014

The Hidden Emotions

A photographer friend, LauraJanePhotography, was over for supper and snapped this of the fearless wonder. 

Eason (and his siblings) have been lately playing in a large, empty culvert/drain pipe that empties/opens by our house.  There is a club with some name I cannot remember.  There are flashlights.  They've been reading City of Ember with their father, and there are purposeful parallels being drawn. 

I told him (and them) that that was fine as long as they always let me know where they are (just like the woods behind our house), but that if it ever starts raining they have to get out immediately. It's bone dry 90% of the time, but when it rains, the neighborhood's storm water will come through it, and it won't be safe for playing. 

They all buck us.  They're just not yes men.  That's an understatement.  But, we don't want unquestioning obedience.  We want obedience, respect, and trust, but we've never shut down questions about our reasons (though we try to require a certain tone).  But, though they all buck us, they buck us on different things.

Ada Brooks has always been suspicious about whether we (or anyone can....) actually *know* more than she does.  One famous quote from years back was "Of course God can make a square circle.  That's the silliest thing I've ever heard.  I mean.. I can make a square circle..."    All of those philosophical problems are just idiotic and shortsighted, and if they would ask her, she'd straighten them out.  But, if I tell her to hold a knife a certain way or wear her seatbelt, she's like "okay.  Sure.  I don't want to die." 

And Collins has always been emotionally freakin' determined.  For example, if he's sad, you can kiss his behind before he magically becomes cheerful.  If he's mad, he's mad and you might as well sit on a tack before trying to change his mind.  If he's happy, all is well no matter what you say.  I always talk about controlling one's emotions. Well, I cannot control Collins's, but it seems he can.  Just only in the way he sees fit.  But, like his sister, if i tell him "Hey - that will kill you." He's like "Oh.  Sure.  Well, then I'll stay away."

Eason... not so much.

If you said, "who is your least strong-willed?" I wouldn't hesitate.  Definitely Eason.  He can be talked into most things.  He wants to please.  He wants to conform his behavior to the right, and he wants to find the right in what his betters say is right.  But his stubborn Achilles heel is that he believes himself to be entirely invincible.
And, problematically, his experience continues to affirm this delusion.  As many times as we've run him to the emergency room, he's never had a serious injury - no surgeries, no casts, no overnight stays in the hospital.  Staple his scalp back together, and off he goes.

So, I told him, "You can play in the culvert, but you must be careful.  If there is water, immediately return."

He was all, "I am invincible.  You are crazy to ever be cautionary."
I was all, "People drown. I want you to have fun and be adventurous.  I also want you to be alive." 
He was all, "Whatever. I am still invincible.  You are still a worrier."
I was all, "Promise you hear me and will obey. Now.  Say yes ma'am."
He was all, "Yes ma'am............"  

Complete flippancy.  His siblings nodded and promised and earnestly submitted.  He submitted in word, but you could tell he was patronizingly patting me on the head.

And yet...

Last night, he started wailing from upstairs 45 minutes after being tucked in.  He had worked himself into a complete state over the possibility of being swept away into drowning in the drain pipe.  From a conversation we had three days ago.

His (worry-wort engineer) father was like "My heavens child... that's not going to happen."

"But Mama said..."

"And she was right to say that.  But you're fine.  Just use your head.  Just mind the rules.  Just don't hang out twenty feet into the culvert when it starts raining.  Seriously.  Also, if you're scared, feel free to not go in there.  Lordy."  

His latent, genetic anxiety is so great that despite having had no scary experience, he cannot sleep. 

The other two... entirely unaffected.  Entirely confident. 

The energy it takes to truly know an adult is infinite.  It is the same for children.  And we have four (!) of them. 

If someone could figure out how to motivate him toward safety without giving him panic attacks, I'd be forever grateful. 

The distance from flippant to anxious for my second child is mystifyingly short.  In fact, he seems to be able to be both at the same time. 

I am tired.  
He is wonderful.
 I thank God for protecting him day in and day out. 

02 November 2014

The Ole Miss Rebel Blackbear Landshark Turkeys?

Last night, my dear and wonderful Ole Miss Rebels suffered a devastating loss.

Losing is nothing new - we've been losing all my life.  But, some are harder than others.  And this year we've been good.  Actually good and also sort of psychically good.  And, apparently, defeats are harder when you're good.

And we played our hearts out.  And so did they.  And everyone did well. And rah rah rah.  And at the end of the game, it was close.  And one of our guys had his ankle snapped in half while trying to score the go-ahead touch down. And he fumbled.  And we lost.  And it was awful.

So...all that to say, I needed solace.

I poured myself a glass of port and I got in my bed and I found solace in the easiest, most controlled thing I know to find (fairly superficial) solace in.  I menu planned.

I menu plan every week, but this called for something more stringent. Something dramatic.  Something about which I could feel accomplished.

I planned Thanksgiving.

I do love a Thanksgiving menu plan.

Boy howdy.

This will be our 9th annual Thanksgiving to host and our 6th to post the menu in advance.  It's like a tradition or something.  ;)

Actually, this year, we are going to the beach for Thanksgiving, but the various people involved demanded (me included) that we not forgo the tradition. So, we're having Turkey Day a bit early - the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Which is in less than three weeks!  So, it's almost a good thing that the Rebels lost and I needed therapy. 

The Before

Tomato Feta Crustini - Contributed by my Step Mother.  She's awesome, and so is this. 

Cream of Carrot Soup -  We've become soup people, and Carrots didn't make the sides this year, so I thought I'd put it here. 

The Standards

Turkey:  I cannot decide.  So, I guess I"m not quite finished planning.  But, we will have a Turkey.  I'm thinking of trying it in the oven overnight again.  I did that two years ago and ended up with a Christmas Vacation Hissing Turkey, but I did it for the first 2-3 years we did Turkey Day, and I had excellent results.  I'll either do that or continue with the Spatchcocking and Grilling tradition we've got going.

Dressing - Grandmother's.  Cornbread.  Onions.  Celery.  Perfection. 

Sweet Potatoes - Traditional.  Hotty Toddy written in Marshmallows.  Surrounded by Pecans.  Maybe. We'll see.

The Six Selected Sides

So, Dressing and Sweet Potatoes are sides, yes, but they're non-negotiable sides.  The rest are up for debate, and I love rotating and playing with it.  Six is the number I've settled upon.  Six Forsters. Six Sides.  We're going with it. 

Salad - Crunchy Romaine Toss.  It's a family favorite of ours.  Paul loves it. We all love it.  It's crunchy and buttery and sweet. 

Potato Chive Casserole - This one is new.  We shall see.  It doesn't seem, from its ingredient list and method, that it could possibly be bad.

English Peas Au Gratin - There was this restaurant in Oxford when we were there - called Boure.  It was perfect.  My twenty-first birthday was celebrated there.  I'll mention no more about it, but I will include a picture...  Wait... no...  But, anyway, they had one of those great lists-of-sides -  you know, you could order an entre and it came with two sides.  Most places that have that are kind of mediocre, but not Boure.  Oh no.  It was *perfect*.  And my favorite side of theirs was English Peas Au Gratin.  I still love it.  And it's time again to have it. 

Roasted Winter Squash - Plain Jane.  Maybe I'll mix Butternut and Acorn?  Just salt, olive oil, maybe some Thyme or Cayenne or Both? 

Corn Souffle with Creamed Onion Sauce -  It's in a favorite cookbook - Come On In - and I've been eying it for years.  It's time.

Wild Rice with Roasted Grapes -  What?  I saw it.  I thought "Why not?" It's the exotic option for the year.  Also, my mother in law told me she likes Wild Rice. 

The On-the-Tables

Red Pepper Cranberry Sauce - I've been wanting a bit more nip, and I saw a recipe in the NYTimes, so I'm trying it. 

Gravy - Of course.  My Stepmother's recipe.  For which I must remember to buy brandy.  Must.

Canned Spiced Peaches.  It was a tradition of mine growing up, and now my children ask after them at the first gobble.  This year, Eason saw a pumpkin in Kroger in September and said, "Oh, it's almost Thanksgiving!  That means Canned Spiced Peaches!"

Homemade Sweet Hot Pickles - Always

Bread - Stepmonster in charge.  She's good.  Really good.


Char's Pecan Pie - There is this restaurant in Jackson.  Its pecan pie deserves its own holiday.  I discovered a recipe purporting to be their recipe.  I tried it.  It's pretty darn close.  It's so good.

Pear Pie - Pears are my favorite fruit.  Pie is my favorite dessert.  See? 

Blueberry Pound Cake - My friend has this pound cake.  I always think "nah - I'm not a huge cake person.  And I don't want blueberries in mine." And then I taste it.  And every.single.time, I think "Damn, Gina, that is good." (My friend's name is not Gina.  That's what Martin Lawrence's girlfriend's name was on his show Martin from the 90s that was highly inappropriate but sometimes I watched it late at night when Mama was snoring on the couch and I was drowsy and Ted Koppel had ended...  and Martin said "Daaaaaammmmmmmnnnnnnn Gina" every time he was enthused...) 

Chocolate Pie - Stepmonster again.  It's her signature.

It should be a good year. 

And the Rebels are playing that day.

I trust that we won't experience the kind of tragedy that we did this weekend.  But, if we do, we'll have available the only therapy that trumps menu planning therapy.

Cooking and eating therapy.

Food Policy and Giving Thanks

Food is near and dear to my heart.  It is a hobby of creativity for me, as well as one of the primary areas of service in my life.  I feed my family regularly, but I also have been blessed to be able to feed others.  Friends, church-members, strangers.

I read about food, food policy, cooking, growing, etc.  I (try to) keep up.  I've been aware, for a long time, that we have a problem here in America.  We are overfed and undernourished.  We have a growing population of hungry people. 

I've been becoming more and more aware of the reality of food for a good portion of our citizens.  Our family's experience - and that of our good friends - is not the experience of many Americans. 

Please read this article. 

People are hungry in our country.  A non-living wage very much contributes to this problem.  Another contributing factor is that our government subsidizes foods that are calorie-dense and nutrition-sparse.  This makes us not only hungry but fat.  

I know what our monthly food budget is compared to average family food budgets (quite small), but I also know what I'm able to do with it (fairly big).  The reason is not because I'm somehow awesome.  It is because my mother served me natural foods cooked at home, and it's because I've read many books and articles on food preparation, planning, etc.  I was both childhood-educated and self-educated.   

This is not an education that a government or an institution is going to be good at providing. I read an article recently about having a stay-at-home parent being a new sign of privilege.  I am privileged in a very real way; my family's food dollars go significantly further because my mother was at home cooking.  And now, basically, my middle-class-income family eats like an upper-class family because of the way I was raised. 

So, we educated people tend to look down upon the homeless-shelter mother buying fried fast food gizzards for her children (as in the above article).  The left will say that she needs more food money and that we need early childhood education. The right will say that she should know better and that it's her own damn fault.
They're both missing the mark. 

What we need is wholesome, grassroots, community-based, local education.  It is not something that can be institutionalized.  It's too slow.  It's too personal.  Learning to feed people takes years of calm, daily, regular ritual.  We need families. The reason that a stay at home parent is a privilege is because she (or he) provides an education not attainable in a classroom. 

Should we throw up our hands, then?  Say "Teach your own people to feed themselves and their future families - nothing we can do for anyone else." 


But, increased food stamp benefits are never going to solve the problem when the lobby of agribusiness has made sure that the cheapest calories in the grocery store are also the ones most likely to leave you fat and undernourished.  A living wage is a big step, but it won't solve the problem either because we are now operating on a paucity of knowledge, understanding, and ability.

Right now, the best thing I can do is to work with my four people - to bring them into the kitchen, to teach them what they're doing with food and what they're putting into their bodies.  Regularly, slowly, without ceremony, but with liturgy. 

Michael Pollan tells us to only eat food our great-grandparents would recognize as food, rather than the food-like substances on the shelves these days.  I think it's a great place to start. 

We can also take every opportunity to support service organizations that are locally minded and have long-term relationships as part of their strategy of support.   Find your local food pantry, and ask if they ever do cooking classes or seminars.  If you're capable of teaching one, offer. If not, offer to fund one.  As with all poverty assistance, relationships are exhausting and are time-intensive.  But, that's what it takes; relationships are key.  

Tell your Congresspeople that Food Policy in America must change.  Read Pollan and Joel Salatin for sane looks at food.  I have no idea what the solution is, but the USDA and the FDA and Michelle Obama are all failing us miserably.

Try to eat only whole foods for a month.  Try not to ingest anything that has any ingredient that isn't a whole food in it.  For a whole month.
Or just 3.5 weeks. 
From now until Thanksgiving. 
I dare you. 

Above all else, though, please give thanks.  Please don't make the mistake of being ungrateful for anything put in front of you. When you have control, do the best you can.  But don't let chicken nuggets steal your joy.  And certainly don't let powdered cheese make you ungrateful. Processed food is nutritionally of the devil, yes; but it is also of heaven in a very real sense, because it is food, and for it we should give thanks always. 

Wanting better - whether it be food, theology, or education -  for ourselves and our people should never make us feel like we are better people.  We are all dependent on our Creator for everything under the sun, and each of us is created imago dei, and we are each equally worthwhile and worthless.

And so, while bell peppers are better than canned condensed soup, you are not better for being able to choose them. 

Go, eat, and prepare for Thanksgiving, the ultimate food-and-gratitude holiday.  Receive your gifts with open arms, and give your gifts with glad hands.

And remember that Thanksgiving must (grammatically and logically) have an object to whom it is offered.

Give Thanks?  Give to whom?  

Thanks be to God.