Monday, December 31, 2007

christmas reflections

Christmas is looking into family members' eyes and knowing love.
Christmas is singing praises in the old carols.
Christmas is being thankful for the generosity of others.
Christmas is seeing the enjoyment of your loved ones opening gifts from you.
Christmas is sharing a piece of your history with the ones you love the most.

I'm so thankful for my family. They are funny, generous, loving, genuine, and always great to be around. I got to see my brother Mark and his wife Kathy, my nieces Faith and Nicole, my nephew Nathan and his girlfriend Sarah, and my wonderful parents (of course!). We had Christmas dinner together, then Thursday we went to Chicago to meet Nate and Sarah for a day around town and a Chicago Wolves hockey game. That was a blast! They happen to be the minor league team that feeds into the Thrashers, so we recognized several of the players who've spent time in Atlanta. And Saturday we had everybody over again for Mark's birthday dessert with the immemorial red velvet cake made into mush. Yummm!

This year I also got to get together with several high school friends. I should post pictures of that soon. That was amazing! It was grounding to come back to friends that knew me so well in high school and, even though I feel I've changed so much since then, I could be myself around them and we could still be just as good of friends as ever. I guess fundamentally you never change--that part of yourself God imprinted on you--yet you change and grow and become a better person (hopefully) through life.

Great times. I hope everyone has a blessed season and a great New Year--His mercies are new every morning and every new year! :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Can This Be Christmas?

I've had cookie exchanges, Christmas brunches, and ornament parties. I've put up the tree and lit the lights. And today, I opened all the windows in the apartment after driving home from work with the windows rolled down. Is that right? It's absolutely beautiful weather right now... for May! I'm going to a Christmas party for Andrew's work tomorrow in a knee-length skirt and sleeveless shirt. It is halfway through December, and my family in Illinois is getting snow and lots of white stuff. Yesterday we set a record high in Atlanta at 76 degrees. Hmmm. Global warming?

At least I'll get to see snow in Illinois, hopefully.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dazzling December

I love December because I finally get to put up Christmas decorations. Last Sunday I braved the "storage closet" to get the big box of Christmas decorations out from under everything else. I retrieved our little Charlie Brown tree, the boxes of ornaments, lights, and stockings, and began to spread Christmas cheer about our apartment.

First I put up some icicle lights around our balcony. Then, over those, I hung some evergreen garland that I salvaged from the church's decorations (they were going to throw them away!). I had a random red bow lying around so I decided to put that in the middle of the garland--not in the original plans, but I wanted to use whatever I had.

Then I set up the tree, wrapped the lights around it, undid the lights, tried again, finally got it to look not too obvious that our tree is as sparse as a coat hanger. I added some sparkly garland, and blue, silver, and iridescent ornaments. I had cashed in on last year's after-Christmas deals and got a matching blue and white tree skirt that could probably cover our whole tree if I wanted it to, but it adds pretty color. The colors of our tree this year remind me of snow... Also a little nod to our faith's Hebrew heritage.

Apparently the cats remember that they are former Christmas presents and really enjoy the holiday. Molly thinks the lights make her fur look glamorous.

Yay for Christmas! It is a beautiful season--a festival for the senses.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Foodie website

I have discovered and grown to love a website named Chow. It has boards, videos, tons of recipes, and articles galore. It's a lot of fun to browse around. If you like food and you like to learn about it, look here.

Are you a chowhound?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Leftover Firsts

Even though I roasted a chicken instead of a turkey, we still have a bucket of leftover meat. I also had celery, herbs, onion, fennel stalks, and a partially used carton of chicken broth to use up, so I thought, "I'll have a go at homemade chicken noodle soup." I know, right? I've never made it before! All I've ever had was the Campbell's kind. I was living such a sheltered life. It was so easy to make, and I used up all leftover vegetables and herbs. I used about 2 c. low sodium chicken broth, and while it came to a boil, added chopped celery (about 3 ribs--I had to finish it off!), 1/4 c. chopped onion, a whole peeled clove of garlic, a 14 oz. can of sweet corn drained, a dash of cumin, fresh ground black pepper, some fennel seeds, and 2 leftover fennel stalks. (I kept them whole because I wanted to fish them out later. I don't think you're supposed to eat the stalks.) When it came to a boil, I added about 1 c. shredded/chopped chicken, and 1/2 c. whole wheat spiral pasta, reducing heat to medium, and throwing in a couple leaves of finely chopped sage. Really easy! Especially if you have leftover vegetables--you can almost throw anything in and it would be good. Obviously carrots are a chicken soup standard, I could even see somebody throwing in great northern beans (cannellini) in addition to or instead of the chicken. It would be good with a few chopped red potatoes, or even orzo in place of noodles. Lemongrass and curry could make an Asian rendition of the classic. What I love about cooking is you can try almost anything if you're adventurous, and whatever comes out is like a little piece of you.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Foodie

Even though Andrew and I spent Thanksgiving day sleeping in, reading, and mostly keeping to ourselves, I had the opportunity to try some new tricks in the kitchen. I realized I have never made the same recipe twice just for Andrew and I, so why start with a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal? I roasted a chicken, rubbed with sage and rosemary, and baked in an oven bag. I also roasted green beans with onions and garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme. I made an awesome recipe for mushroom stuffing, finally using old bread heels I'd accumulated in the freezer over the last couple years.

Mushroom and Fennel Bread Pudding


Total: 1 hr 10 mins

Active: 20 mins

Servings: 8 to 10 servings

By Aïda Mollenkamp

Stuffing is essential on the Thanksgiving table, loaded as it is with bread and just enough vegetables to sop up gravy while feigning healthiness. To switch things up, and to offer the noncarnivores a chance at a real meal, turn to this bread pudding. Filled with sautéed mushrooms, fennel, pecorino cheese, and a light custard that holds it all together, it’s sure to be a hit among meat eaters and vegetarians alike.

What to buy: Pecorino is a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy. Here we used Gran Pecorino, an aged cheese that can be found at high-end groceries and cheese stores. Do not use Pecorino Romano for this recipe, as it will be too salty. If you can’t find Gran Pecorino, aged Asiago is a good substitute.

Game plan: Bread pudding can be made 1 day ahead and brought to room temperature or warmed in a 350°F oven prior to serving.

Level of difficulty: Medium.

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped white onion
  • 12 ounces coarsely chopped cremini mushrooms (about 4 cups)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fennel (1 medium bulb)
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped celery (2 medium stalks)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 large eggs
  • 12 ounces ciabatta or other country-style bread, medium dice (about 8 cups)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated aged pecorino (about 3 ounces), such as Gran Pecorino (not Pecorino Romano)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  1. Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium heat until foaming. To prevent overcrowding, cook vegetables in batches: Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then mix in mushrooms, fennel, and celery. Cook until softened and mushroom juices have reduced, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, at least 10 minutes.
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange the rack in the middle. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and set aside. Whisk together cream, chicken broth, and eggs in a medium bowl until well combined.
  3. Add bread, cooled vegetables, cheese, and herbs to cream mixture, and stir until bread is well coated. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then turn into the prepared baking dish. Allow bread to soak until well saturated, at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring about 10 cups water to a simmer over medium-high heat in a large pot.
  4. Once bread has soaked and water is simmering, set the baking dish in a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to reach 2/3 of the way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake until custard is set and top is lightly browned, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I used cremini (or baby portobello) and a mix of shiitake, oyster, and other semi-exotic mushrooms. Yummy!

I made fresh cranberry sauce using the recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray bag, plus I added some whole cloves, allspice, and a cinnamon stick, and a strip of orange peel. It was fun to watch the berries pop! I just had to find all those spices once it was time to eat it. Didn't think about that when I started throwing things in. Finally, I added some mulling spices to apple cider for a spicy, warm, fall drink. More cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and orange peel, plus anise, ginger, and lightly crushed black peppercorns. We enjoyed some Trader Joe's 2-buck Chardonnay, and for dessert, some European sipping chocolate. I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen, but it never feels like work to me. Here's a picture of the bounty.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Who's the Boss?

Is it possible that we've become so censorship-happy as a Christian culture in the United States that we've lost touch with the truth of transformed life in salvation? Have we cut ourselves off from the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit because we take our orders from pastors and evangelical politico-religious leaders? Are we living stunted Christian lives because of rules imposed on us through shame or intimidation or otherwise? "You shouldn't go trick-or-treating; you shouldn't have a Christmas tree; you shouldn't see R-rated movies; you shouldn't drink alcohol; you shouldn't read or see Harry Potter." Where is the Holy Spirit's role then in the life of the individual?

I don't know whether censorship or spiritual zombiness came first, but I believe we even interpret the Bible differently within this type of culture. Rather than truly believing (through attitude and action) that the Christian is a new creation and free from the grip of sin, we treat ourselves and one another like we're the same old person on the inside, just with a veneer of Christ's atonement to cover for our depraved nature. Why else would we tell each other "Don't read this; don't touch that; don't do this"? We see Christian maturity as avoiding a list of 'evils' throughout life and treating those who don't with repugnance or fear. But when we died with Christ at baptism, we were raised a new person, set free from the evil powers of this world, so why would we keep following the rules of this world, made up by the human mind? See Colossians 2:20-22. "You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 'Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!'? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them." In this new life, Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us (3:11).

So let the believer exercise his or her own ability to hear the Holy Spirit; in fact, let's encourage it! No Christian should be outside a community of brothers and sisters, so if they really start acting lost again, there is accountability. But we should not operate our lives under fear of coming under evil or sin, because the Christian is set free--no, more! God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities in the cross. If we are walking with the Holy Spirit, we can approach anything, be it Harry Potter or alcohol, without fear and with a sensitive conscience to whether God wants us to stay away from a particular thing. The individual, then, should be extremely careful about making God's yes or no to them a global rule. There are some universal rights and wrongs, and they all hinge on "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself." And operate in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We do not have a spirit of fear, but power, love, and self-discipline. And lest we forget what kind of power lines up with Christ's kingdom, Paul reminds us that God's power works in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

We then know we are completely remade through the power of God in Christ's resurrection, we have His Holy Spirit living in us to reveal His truth directly to us, and we are no longer subject to sin and the influence of evil (unless we participate in evil, and someone led by the Holy Spirit would not be led to participate in evil). Let us then train children and new believers in the same way. They do not need to fear evil, but listen to the Holy Spirit who can reveal truth and light anywhere.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Yikes--Literary Journals!

Today I'm sending in the short story I wrote for my senior project. It's a big first step for me in the literary world. Even though I don't want to/need to get the original manuscript back, I've had a hard time parting with it. Like the act of sending it puts into motion a dream that I fear I won't be able to live up to. I'm counting on getting rejected--nobody gets published on their first submission. But still, there's such a desire in me to write and create well that it scares me away from working at it. I've never experienced in my life wanting something so badly that I avoid it all together. But maybe facing it down like this, sending in my story, will get me over my psychological pink elephant.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Beginning of My First D.C. Trip

We just arrived safe and sound at our nice little hotel "suite" for the first night of my first ever trip to Washington D.C. We had a lovely 4 hour drive from the ATL. Mostly sun. There was really hard rain for about 10 seconds once we got into North Carolina. I think we went under an angry skinny cloud. We had turkey and cheese sandwiches for dinner in the car and listened to Jamiroquai for my leg of the driving. I would love to tell all the exciting details about our four hours in the car, getting gas, putting air in the tires, etc., but I feel more like doing jumping jacks to get the circulation back into my legs! You probably would rather do jumping jacks than hear all about that, anyway.

Two highlights of the trip: Our oil and transmission fluid stayed full! Yay! And on the way out of Atlanta, we stopped in Duluth and got tickets for the October appearance of the So You Think You Can Dance Tour!!!! I never thought I'd follow a reality show, but I couldn't help falling in love with the contestants--they are so much fun to watch and so talented. Ok, I won't start another rant, but it certainly makes the first day of our trip exciting. Have a good night, y'all.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

public speaking for a writer

I know many people have an aversion to speaking in front of a crowd, but none more than writers, I think. The whole reason we write in the first place is because we express our deepest thoughts best through the written word. We ponder over each word, we bleed onto the page, the letters have our own DNA.

Personally, I have a hard time finding the right word when I'm talking one-on-one to somebody. I pause, I stumble, I embarrass myself. It's that much harder when I speak in front of multiple people. Yet, I did it! Yesterday I gave a short message about discipleship at youth group. It couldn't have been longer than 10 minutes, but I was anxious about it all day. Thankfully, on the way to youth group, the tightness in my stomach left, and I was left with a confidence not in myself but in God's ability to take my delivery and speak to each student what they needed to hear. I still blanked out at one point and had to figure out what I was supposed to talk about next. I still had that compulsive nervous swallow in the middle of a couple sentences. Why does that happen anyway? I should look it up.

Anyway, I had a lot of people praying for me to get me over the hurdle of the first "public speech" since freshman year of college. I know I needed to hear what I talked about, so if nothing else, I learned a lot from doing this. I think I get to speak at youth group again in September. Here we go!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Formula 1 Family

OK, so this is a little belated, but I realized I've never written about our famliy trip to Indy for the Formula 1 races. I don't recall ever being to an Indy car, Nascar, or any other kind of car race, and I'm pretty sure any time they were on TV I said Boring and changed the channel. Well, in June I got the opportunity to experience F1 racing with the only experts I know--my dad and brothers. It was also the first vacation I've been on with my parents, both of my brothers, and their wives. Andrew came too. We had bleacher seats on corner 6, full sun, 90 degree weather, and raving fans all around. I was surprised at the energy among the fans. This was no beer-guzzling, wife-beater-wearing, redneck sport (pardon my french); this was a cross-cultural international experience. (There was definitely beer-guzzling going on, but it was mostly Fosters.) I got chills as the cars made their first lap, despite the clear skies and unobstructed UV rays. The screaming engines, the insane acceleration around the curves, and the sheer technologic engineering creativity--all add up to a surprisingly amazing sport. One of the favorite drivers was Lewis Hamilton, a guy about my age. They did interviews on Friday (this was a whole-weekend thing), and Hamilton had so much poise and eloquence. He didn't seem full of himself, and he sounded like a seasoned celebrity. Anyhow, I was thoroughly wooed to the sport of Formula 1 racing.

It was cool just to experience that with my brothers and their wives, who I don't get to see very often. Spending that time with them, going out to fun restaurants with them, getting birthday goodies from them :) all made the weekend 100% more fun. I don't know if I'll be able to go again, but I'll remember that family vacation forever.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Clouds of Unlearning

Thanks to My Utmost for His Highest for prompting this...

Biblical theophanies (appearances of God) usually swim in a motif of clouds and darkness. His glory is rarely clear and shining. The clouds are symbolic of our life's trials, disappointments, and hurts. God always brings His presence through those circumstances. Here's what bends my mind, though. It is often said God wants to teach us through our cloudy experiences. Actually, Oswald Chambers says, God wants us to unlearn things. The more that is stripped away from our own grasp or supposed power, the more childlike we become. Just our soul with Jesus. Simple. Other people are just shadows. If we hang so much hope and trust on others, we will continue to be let down and disillusioned, and the clouds come rolling in.

Jesus knew what was in humankind, and He did not commit Himself unto them. Yet He was not cynical or bitter. His was a distrust based on the lack of false judgments. He was so confident in the Father's grace for every person that He despaired of no one. If our trust is placed in human beings, we will all the more frequently need those "unlearning" experiences. But when our trust is placed fully on Jesus, all others become shadows and our soul rests with Jesus within the cloud.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

God believes in us

I love days like today. The sky is overcast but not dark, and a moist cool breeze is blowing through my open window. For another couple hours yet, the world will be mostly silent of human noise. The only sound now is the wind through pine needles and the songs of cardinals, mocking birds, and sparrows. The cats and I are laying sleepily by the open window. Andrew is at band practice, and I'm here letting my muse run rampant.

It occurred to me today that when Jesus sent his disciples out in Matthew 10, it wasn't to tell the same "Good News" that we think of today. Their good news was healing, freedom from evil spirits, and endless love and forgiveness. They were to do what they had seen Jesus do, but they didn't understand the full ramifications. Jesus preached the kingdom of heaven--healing, freedom, love and forgiveness--but he had only demostrated the kingdom on this side of death. The kingdom wouldn't be fully inaugurated until Jesus' resurrection, when the divine switch had taken place. When Jesus, perfect and sinless, took the place of humanity in the cosmic execution chamber, and defeated death. The disciples had no idea what they were preaching; it's clear from the gospels that they didn't get Jesus' predictions about his death and resurrection. Jesus knowingly entrusted them with a message they didn't fully understand!

As I try to wrap my mind around this, I am humbled, because I tend to look down on Christian speakers who don't challenge my intellect, or who get some details wrong, or who botch the delivery. I tend to get caught up valuing head knowledge, rather than trusting the Holy Spirit to enlighten whomever He will through whomever He will. God doesn't require his children to go through 6 months of basic training Bible study, followed by 4 years in seminary, in order to share what He's placed in their heart. The truth is, even the most devoted, intelligent, studied disciple of Jesus will misunderstand, miscommunicate, or be misunderstood, no matter how much they know, how close they are to God, or how eloquently they can speak. I know that it is difficult for me to communicate clearly in spoken words, but I still hope that God would use me to share His message of love. The next time I see someone trying to communicate the good news that the kingdom of heaven--a transformed life, community, and world--is here and available through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, I will rejoice and pray for the Holy Spirit to convey His truth through them. He's placed His message in all who believe in Him, and He says to the child, to the disabled, to the single mom, to the burned-out dad, to the high school drop out, "I believe in you; go tell others what I have done in you."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Goodbye Gilmore Girls

Ok, so I have to admit, I have a huge sentimental side. I got it from my Dad. We're the kind who cry over movies, commercials, Hallmark cards; and we're still aware of the fact that we're ridiculous.

So Gilmore Girls, one of my favorite TV shows ever, just ended for good. We recorded the episode and watched it two days later at about 10:00 at night. Combine my sentimental nature with the fact that I was tired, and I pretty much soaked through Andrew's t-shirt. I'd argued that it should have been cut last year due to the fact that the writing just wasn't the same anymore, but now that it's over, I miss Lorelai and Rory and their witty banter. I miss Sookie and her energetic creativity in the kitchen. I miss Taylor Doose and his insane sense of duty as town whatever-he-was. I'm going to miss waking up in the middle of the night thinking, "I should pray for Lorelai and Luke!"

My sad, sentimental side is still sleep deprived and I'm not over my loss of G.G. yet. (Not that my collection of seasons 1-5 on DVD can't give me a G.G. fix whenever I want). But I will be hard pressed to find another show that will make me feel like I know the characters as well as I know Lorelai and Rory.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

lessons in love

Yesterday Jerry Falwell died. I never liked the guy for all the stupid things he said in public, but I learned an important lesson from him. If I can't extend grace to him, and instead slander him, I'm no better than what frustrated me so much about him. On the other hand, and this is not to excuse my attitude but to explain it, I read in the gospels that Jesus constantly held the religious leaders to a higher standard than those who were "sick" (Luke 5:31). In Matthew 12:33-37 He spoke to them directly about the words they spoke. "Whatever is in your heart determines what you say....You must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak." One of Jerry Falwell's most upsetting statements, to me, was that 9/11 was caused in part by the homosexuals, abortionists, etc. He later apologized, saying he didn't mean to say that...Out of the heart the mouth speaks...

I just didn't like how he represented Christ to a watching, wounded, skeptical world. Maybe he did a lot of good things and said a few dumb things, but the world will be impacted by the controversial, offensive things unless you are so consistently humble that you're known for your service (e.g. Mother Theresa). In a poem prophesying Jesus' ministry, Isaiah said, "He will not fight or shout;/ he will not raise his voice in public./ He will not crush those who are weak,/ or quench the smallest hope,/ until he brings full justice with his final victory."

Jerry Falwell was a divisive voice in the Church and between the Church and the world. But I must be careful the words I speak about him to a world hungry for consistent, unconditional love and grace in this society gone mad. I can't preach love and grace toward the world if I cannot live it toward my fellow believers, no matter how widely our philosophies differ. If we believe Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, that is all the common ground we need, right? Even though Jesus railed against the religious leaders, none of his followers did so to that extent.. They were bold, yet respectful. Only Jesus truly knows the state of anyone's heart. Any other person, outside of the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit, risks the sins of judgmentalism and slander.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Safe God?

So, I was reading Exodus 20:21 (NLT): "As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was." I felt electrified. It reminded me of the quote from C.S. Lewis. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy asks the Beavers about Aslan (the Lion). "Is he safe?" "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver... "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

God's glory is ominous, risky, terrifying. But he has picked us to approach him. Like flying an airplane into a black storm cloud, entering God's presence is not for the weak of heart. Actually, Jesus points out it's for the pure of heart... Matthew 5:8--the pure hearts will see God. Like Lucy in C.S. Lewis' Wardrobe--she saw Aslan when no one else could.

Only a heart that's pure can survive a darkness so deep you have no choice but to see inside yourself. Thus I pray King David's prayer in Psalm 51:

"Purify my heart, O God,...
And do not banish me from your presence."

Jesus entered our world and shed his blood so that our hearts may be pure who believe in him.... Think Passover: in the pitch black of midnight, only the blood of a pure lamb on the Jews' doorposts allowed God's people to survive his presence in the land of Egypt. We cannot take for granted that only the blood--not our family name, our charitable service, our Bible studies, not even living separately from the "world"--only Jesus' blood covering our doorposts (our private and public lives) allows us to be saved in God's presence. Allows our hearts to be called pure. So when we enter the dark cloud of God's presence, we have nothing to fear. Our God is not safe; but he is good.