How I will teach my daughters about Proverbs 31

yarn_675x4001Proverbs 31 is one of those texts that gets whipped out at college bible studies and women’s conferences as an instructive text for women looking to become wives. Verses 10 through 31 describe a woman (a wife, more specifically) of incredible talent and skill – she sews, she cooks, she brings home exotic foods, she invests in real estate. She does it all, effortlessly apparently, and Christian teachers (both male and female) have long taken the text as a template for the ideal Christian wife.

The problem is that if the text is in fact meant to be instructive, all of us church gals are supposed to be Superwoman. Proverbs 31, as it is most commonly taught, creates an impossible standard. And consequently, many of us walk around with a complex for a fair portion of our lives, feeling like failures because we haven’t stayed up late enough, gotten up early enough, accomplished enough with our limited time and energy. Reading Proverbs 31 as instructive to all women is, in short, a deeply destructive practice.

But that isn’t the only way to read it.

In her poignant and humorous book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans digs into the linguistic context of the passage as well as the use of the passage in Jewish rituals. In one of the most eye-opening passages of the book (at least from my perspective), Evans explains that this portion of the Bible is, of all things, a warrior poem. (See January: Valor, p. 75 – 76.) While most English translations read, “she provides food for her family,” the Hebrew is literally “prey” (v. 15). Ditto for “her husband…lacks nothing of value” (Hebrew: “booty”) and “she girds herself with strength” (Hebrew, “girds her loins”).

So first and foremost, this isn’t a retiring, domestic-type woman. She’s a hero, a la Beowulf or Roland. (Or Xena, I suppose. If you must.)

More importantly though, this warrior woman isn’t meant to set a standard to achieve – according to Jewish tradition, she reflects the talents and abilities inherent in all women. Evans’s friend Ahava, an Orthodox Jew, explains:

“Here’s the thing: Christians seem to think because all the Bible is inspired that it all should be taken as literally as possible also. Jews don’t do this.  I get called an Aishet Chayil (virtuous woman, Prov. 31 woman) all the time.  Make your own Challah instead of buying? Aishet Chayil!  Do work to earn extra money for the family? Aishet Chayil!  Make Balloon animals for the kids on a holiday?  Very Aishet Chayil!! You see, even though [Orthodox] Jews take the TORAH very literally (all 613 commandments!) the rest is seen differently, as a way to understand Our Creator, not as literal commands.  Every week at the Shabbat table, my husband sings Aishet Chayil (right after blessing the kids) and it’s special, because I know that no matter what I do or don’t do, he sees everything past the minimum needed to survive as me blessing the family with my energy and creativity.  All women CAN do that, and many do already.”

My dear sisters of all faiths and ages, this is who we are already. Not who we ought to be. This woman is already my grandmother, Norma, who used to sew awesome clothes for the teenaged version of my mother. And my housemates Maya and Dana, who are awesome hostesses. She is my sister-in-law Becky who makes amazing wall art for her kids’ rooms. She is my mother, Sharon, who is opening her home to thirty people this Saturday in celebration of M.L. and my upcoming marriage. She is my soon-to-be mother-in-law, Carol, who carries on the Polish traditions of her parents and visits elderly relatives. She is Stephanie, another sister-in-law, who selflessly lets others bask in the joy of holding her newborn daughter. She is Kate in Houston, who has homeless friends, church friends, and friends around the world. She is Katherine in Buffalo, who skillfully nurses old people, young people, nice people, impatient people, and hurting people. She is every woman pastor and professor I have studied under and every church lady who brings casseroles to potlucks or sings in the choir.

So this is how I will teach my daughters, should they ever exist, about Proverbs 31. Through the books and blogs and lives of the women of valor around them and through all the good things such women work in the world. Maybe I’ll just teach them to shout Aishet Chayil! at every woman in their lives.

Ice Cream Birthday Cake!

I made this ice cream cake for my friend’s birthday party last week and was pleased as punch with how it turned out.

I actually followed a recipe for this one (I’m not usually great at that…), which made the process relatively easy. See the full post (and one very lovely cake) on Julie’s Sweet Shack for recipe and instructions.

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Two layers of yellow cake, black raspberry ice cream filling, and vanilla ice cream frosting. Brilliant.

This is not a wedding blog.

Two posts in one night? Must be a new semester is coming. Maybe if I post often enough now, I can justify orphaning my blog for the next four months….

M.L. and I got ourselves engaged over winter break (enter whooping and hollerin’ family members, popping bottles of champagne, and utterly incoherent squealing on the phone from long-distance friends). It’s going to be a long-ish engagement, so we’re trying not to plan too much yet. Still, it was hard to resist the call of venues, photographers, and quirky DIY projects over the break, so we did some leg work on practical things like…a budget. It was good to begin planning, especially with M.L. teaching twelve time zones away, so we can move things along once he’s home again in the summer.

The happy couple eagerly awaiting Ethiopian food over break. Yes.

That being said, I’ve promised myself (and M.L. and a great number of family and friends who better hold me to it) I will not be consumed by the wedding. I will not let every conversation drift towards bouquets and boutonnieres. I will not neglect relationships, in all their depth, in favor of bridal blogs. And I will not blog about every detail of the wedding. True story. I might post pictures and DIY links and interesting details on occasion, but I really don’t want that to be the focus here. Life is, after all, much, much grander than even the most elegant wedding.

One of the wisdom filled pieces of the internet that’s keeping me in check is 2000 Dollar Budget Wedding. The story is amazing. Instead of starting with the details, Sara and her now-husband Matt sat down and wrote out a beautiful vision for their wedding. (You can read their story here.) They refused to get caught up in what they call the “wedding-industrial complex” (apropos, yes?) and instead opted to focus on their love for one another and their desire to party-hearty with their honored guests. They certainly had some fabulous details – like ‘get to know me’ name tags, a margarita machine, and (yes!) boxed wine – but the little things were never the point.

I want to plan a wedding with as much grace and laughter and calm and love for others as it looks like they did. With as little concern for the details and as much focus on relationships, before, during and after the wedding. Inspiration, indeed.

Two Down…

Only forty-eight high peaks to go.

Last summer’s feat was a grueling hike up the Saddle Trail on Mt. Katahdin with my one and only brother, S.B. Katahdin is the last peak on the Appalachian Trail and, honestly, it’s a wonder anyone ever finishes with a climb like that right at the end of two thousand miles of walking. We left Bangor, ME at 4:30 am, hiked for nine hours, ate what seemed like a box of Clif bars, nearly wore out two pairs of sturdy hiking boots, and endured what must have been the greatest concentration of rain on the face of the earth since God put a megaphone to his lips and said, “Noah. My friend. You’re gonna need to build a really big boat.” I won’t tell you how long my muscles ached after that little stroll. It’s embarrassing.

One hearty brother-sister duo at the top of Maine's highest peak.

This weekend, I climbed High Point, NJ with M.L. (who, to his credit, is a remarkably good sport about mountain climbing), thereby doubling the number of peaks bagged by yours truly.

This is M.L.'s best, "I climbed a mountain," face.

This is mine (sans thumb, of course).

Round two of Heather vs. high peaks was almost disappointingly easy. High Point is a literal mole hill next to a mountain like Katahdin, rising only 1800 feet above sea level to Katahdin’s 5200. (To be fair, Katahdin’s 5200 feet look awfully demure next to Mt. McKinley’s 20,000+.)

Still, how could I resist the seductive charm of pride? The chance to say, “Well now, I’ve climbed not one, but two high peaks on the east coast”? I never have a fighting chance against the potential for bragging rights.

The obelisk, more officially titled "High Point Monument." It's quite impressive, really, and visible from almost anywhere in the park.

So, on a very sunny day in mid-summer, up to the obelisk we went. The climb was incredibly short–only ten minutes to from the trailhead to the summit–but the view was spectacular. High Point boast views of the New York State line and the Delaware River, evergreen forests and New Jersey farmland.

The Delaware River winding away to the north.

The High Point Monument offers the chance for an even better view. For those willing to brave what begins to feel like an infinite number of steps plus a decided temperature spike, the reward is a bird’s-eye view of rolling hills and valleys in all their summer glory. Anyone who thinks New Jersey is void of all natural charms should take a peek from one of the obelisk’s lofty windows.

Hiking it to the top of the monument.

We finished off the day with a slightly longer hike along the ridge connected to High Point. For the most part it was a lovely hike with some steady, but moderate, inclines and some local fauna that differs from New York’s Adirondacks, which are more familiar to me. (Sweet fern in particular abounded on both sides of the trail along with a low shrub akin to the holly bush.)  There was challenging stretch at the end of the trail–a set of rough-hewn stairs to take us back up to the top of the ridge–that made for a satisfying end to the excursion.

With my last two states of residence Maine and New Jersey conquered, I’m setting my sights on the home state next. Mt. Marcy, NY, here I come.

For the Love of Beets

I don’t actually love eating beets. They taste pungent, earthy, and sticky-sweet to me. But they’re beautiful. It’s hard to resist their deep purple hue, their pinkish stems, or the summer-green of their leaves. So when four hearty beets turned up in my CSA share from Alstede Farms this week, I had to give them another shot.

Roasting the beets with asparagus, another co-op treat, and a leftover winter onion mellowed the flavor and allowed me to take advantage of Alstede’s oregano and thyme as well as some dried rosemary I’ve been itching to use. I also sautéed scallions, spinach, and arugula (would you believe all of that was in my little half-share?) just before pulling my veggies out of the oven. I layered the greens, asparagus, onions, and beets over brown rice and served it up with a simple salad, which allowed me to finish off last week’s lettuce and radishes, as well as the carrot my roommate bequeathed to me last month.

Well, hello summer vegetables.

Summer harvest...

Arugula, spinach, and scallions. In hindsight, I might have added in the beet greens as well.

The eating of the greens.

Some resilient rhododendron blooms, care of one Gloversville green thumb.

Gratitude: Not Grousing

My motto for this season of Lent. I’m fasting something, as I usually do, but this year I also want to be disciplined about adding something to life. It’s so easy for me to complain about my finicky car (whose latest trick was to lose its oil cap 90 miles from home), my distance from loved ones (between 300 and 400 miles), and the amount of school work I have to do (three papers and two presentations in two weeks). (See, I told you it was easy.) And I don’t want to dismiss or ignore the parts of life that are difficult. But I do want to recognize what is good about life, and there is plenty. From just this weekend, I am grateful for all of the big things that seem cliché but are the most important parts of life:

Oh Mom...

1.) Family. My mom and grandparents are so wonderful and are always ready to assist me with whatever I need, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. Honestly, their generosity is astounding and it’s hard to keep myself from being simply overwhelmed by their love.

K.C. and me in beautiful Western NY on a summer gallivant.

2.) Friends. Of all sorts and varieties. On the drive back to school yesterday I caught myself complaining (yes, out loud to myself) about how unfair it is that we’re all scattered. I had to check myself by remembering the privilege of attending the birthday party of one now-twenty-three L.J. in Buffalo this weekend and was so thrilled to share in the festivities and conversation that surrounded her day. I also had the chance to eat and talk and pray and laugh and watch movies with the wonderful K.C., who I’d adopt as a sister if there was a way to do it. And then there was the time with M.L., who holds the unique place of much-loved boyfriend in my life. Seriously, time with each of these people was so refreshing; it seems so wretched to complain about not having more time with them instead of being grateful for a whole weekend full of dear people.

Oh yes. Whistles and nudges are appropriate. We're this cute.

3.) A car that runs and traffic jams that end. My housemate rightfully refers good old Hermes as a “death bucket” sometimes. He has a special knack for breaking down and just not handling the longer trips well. But yesterday, I didn’t run out of gas in the middle of stop and go traffic on Route 80, the brakes worked the whole time, I didn’t get run over by an 18-wheeler, and the stop only added twenty-five minutes to my trip. That’s a mundane miracle, if I may use the word so loosely, if ever there was one.

The trusty steed.

4.) For work to do. I get paid to read books, write papers, and talk about things I love. And I still complain? Honestly…

Et tu? What are you grateful for? Or grousing about? Both are valid, I’m just working on a balance during this season of life.

A Winter Pilgrimage

A dear friend of mine came from the slightly more balmy south and west to visit the snowy northeast country for a bit before the New Year.  Aside from hours of quality conversation, a few games of rummy, and some lovely warmed wine in the evenings, we headed out to Seneca Falls for some winter gallivanting.  We poked around the historical society (which was unfortunately closed), the exhibits in the Women’s Rights Museum, and then Cayuga Lake State Park.  (Six inches of ice meant it was thick enough to wander around to our hearts’ content!)  All photo credit to my snaphappy friend over at Litany for the Journey.