Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ye fearful saints

I have a text addiction. I read print compulsively. I am the kind of person who not only reads any and all books, magazines, and instruction manuals lying around, but who ALSO is unable to resist reading, for example, the small print on the back of the toothpaste container. Yes, I know it's boring. I read it anyway.

After about two years' worth of overnight visits to my grandparents', I had read all of my Dad's old history books, my Aunt's Harlequin romance novels, my Grammy's Chicken Soup books, and her cookbooks. My uncle's sports books had, strangely,. no attraction to me whatsoever. So I started reading my Grammy's collection of Guideposts magazine. She had issues she had saved from since before I was born!

I have to confess, I was a very arrogant young person. I sneered at the feel-good, I Believe In Angels, But I Try Not to Actually Think About Anything Too Hard kind of theology that a lot of the Guideposts stories exhibited. I especially sneered at the first verse of the poem "God Moves In A Mysterious Way," which appeared in every issue at the head of a short account of some miraculous cure or something.

Then I grew up, and had Issues, and lost some of my superior attitude, and read the whole poem, and the story behind it, and now it is one of my favourite hymns.

You see, the poet who wrote the words, William Cowper (that's COO-per, not COW-per), was a devoted Christian who wrote the words to many hymns. He also struggled with depression throughout his life. He spent a period in a mental institution (not a happy place to be in the 18th century), and attempted suicide at least once. Throughout his life, Cowper struggled with doubts about his own faith and salvation.

And he wrote this hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take--
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break 
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace--
Behind a frowning Providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow'r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan (interpret) His work in vain.
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Dear Reader, surely this poem is not about the way God can miraculously cure someone suffering from cancer (although I believe He has done so, more than once). This poem offers encouragement to someone who sees no cure in sight. What a beautiful affirmation! What an encouraging reminder of the truth that it is God who saves us. That we may be overcome by our circumstances or feelings, but that God has a good and beautiful plan that He is accomplishing. We can trust Him, even when we cannot trust ourselves, if that makes sense. God can save someone like Cowper. God can use someone with a faith that seems feeble, at times even inadequate, to encourage hundreds of Christians. To bear witness to His goodness and His faithfulness. I may be tempted by despair, but I know that a good God holds my life in His hand. Even the dark bits of it. Not because of my faithfulness, but because of his faithfulness, "all shall be very well."

And if you haven't read my Mom's latest, do so!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Always Avoid Posting

when I am not super happy. But since I don't have any thing enormously positive to share, and I don't want to drop off the face of the earth, it's Recipe Time! This is another one I cobbled together from different recipes. It's really good. You could probably modify it to fit the slow cooker as well ... This smells AMAZING, and it's really pretty too!. As always, spice measurements are approximate!

Serves: 2+
Couple handfuls chickpeas (about 1/2 - 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon fat (from the chicken broth, or vegetable or olive oil)
1 large carrot, scrubbed and sliced into thick chunks
1/2 onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 scant teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups broth -- I used homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup (ish) cooked, chopped chicken (I used leftovers from Saturday's dinner)
If using dried chickpeas, you can quick-soak them by bringing them to a boil in a pot of water, then simmering for an hour or two until they are almost tender. Otherwise, just use canned chickpeas (about 1/2 can, I guess) and skip the soaking part.
When ready to prepare soup, heat oil and saute onion and carrot 5-10 minutes, or till just about tender. Add ginger and spices; cook another minute or so, till fragrant. Stir in tomato paste and broth, then add chickpeas and chicken meat. Reduce heat, cover partway, and let simmer till everything is tender or until time for dinner. If you want more of a stew, use less broth and cook uncovered to thicken.
Really good served over couscous. When I have homemade chicken stock I like to cook the couscous in that instead of in water -- mm!

OK, I changed my mind. I DO have something enormously positive to share. Because even if I am not at a great place right now, God is faithful. We have a sure hope. As my mom says, "All shall be very well."

"How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God--
    Light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
    lest my enemy say "I have prevailed over him,"
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me."
(Psalm 13)

Monday, January 18, 2010

All other love is like the moon:

For your reading pleasure, a late Medieval lyric. Always provided my modernisation of the language is not hopelessly obscure. This is one of my favourites.

All other love is like the moon:
It waxes and wanes, like a meadow flower
That buds, and blooms, and fades full soon,
Like a day that runs swiftly, and ends in rain.

All other love begins with bliss,
But ends in weeping and in woe:
No love can offer perfect solace
But that which rests in heaven's King,

Whose love is daily fresh and green,
And ever full, and never wanes.
His love is sweet, it has no sting,
His love is endless and unfailing.

All other love I leave for thee;
Tell me, tell me, where thou liest?
"Such love may be found, full free
In Mary mild -- but more in Christ."

Christ, I did not find you -- you found me.
Hold me to yourself with all your might,
Give me that my love may be steadfast,
And not turn, again, so soon aside.

Whenever now my heart is sore,
When, indeed, foes spill its blood --
God kens my life, I care no more--
My hope is this: his will is good.

Alas! What may I do at Rome?
But only say, by law of love:
"I were undone by man's just doom,
But he is my Helper, that sits above."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shrimp & Curry Pasta

Here's another "pantry recipe" that is different, healthy, and delicious. It comes together in fewer than 20 minutes, and tastes very light and fresh (despite the fact that all the ingredients come from a can or the freezer!).

Serves: 3 - 4 (depending on size of portions and whether you serve with a side dish)

2 cups (8 oz) penne (regular or whole-wheat)
2 tablespoons butter
1 smallish yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup drained, diced tomatoes (1/2 a 14-oz can)
1 cup frozen green peas
8 oz frozen ready-cooked small shrimp, thawed
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or use 2 tablespoons fresh basil, or add dried herb of choice)

Cook penne till al dente (see directions on package).
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute 5 minutes, or till tender. Stir in spices and salt (if using dried parsley or another dried herb, add with spices) and cook 30 seconds, or till fragrant. Stir in pasta, peas, shrimp, tomatoes, fresh herbs if using, and the other 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook about 5 minutes longer, stirring, or till heated through. Serve at once.

NOTES: This is good with steamed broccoli or fresh green beans. Corn would be a good side dish, too. Frozen shrimp thaws in just a few minutes if you let it sit in cold tap water.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Lot About Austen

A friend invited me over yesterday to watch Sense and Sensibility (the BBC verison, not the Ang Lee). I'll admit it--I love Jane Austen. I've read her novels and watched the film adaptations multiple times, and they never get old! 

My husband, on the other hand, is not a huge fan. Like my brothers--OK, like most males--sees Jane Austen as something to be endured for the sake of "the girls." I remember Movie Night bartering growing up. A war movie was definitely cause for a "girl movie" like Sense and Sensibility the next weekend, but it took a LOT of "boy movies" to equal the six-tape-long Pride and Prejudice!

Although a few men do appreciate Austen's characterization and wit for its own sake (Dad, you are a rare jewel!), I can understand why her novels and the film adaptations appeal mostly to women. Her interest is in the experiences and perspectives of women of her own class, and the expectations and limitations placed on them by society. She writes of domestic concerns, primarily love and marriage.

So, in a way, any Jane Austen is a sort of "chick lit" or "chick flick." One thing that sets her far above the mass of romantic movies and novels aimed at women, though, is the kind of relationship she portrays as desirable. After growing up with Jane Austen, I find it difficult to believe in or care about romances that follow what I'll call the "Disney Formula" -- where True Love is an undeniable, static, often instantaneous Feeling. You know: instant attraction, plot complications, realization that you are Soul Mates, cue violins, Happily Ever After, The End. The focus is on the attraction, that undescribable connection between the principal characters.

In Austen's novels, however, the relationships that follow the Disney pattern usually prove unreliable. The perfect example is Sense and Sensibility's Marianne and Willoughby, who, after only a few days together, feel that they are "one soul in two bodies." Both characters "follow their hearts" instead of being guided by convention or practicality--yet their relationship turns out to be a false one. Instead, the relationship that is validated at the end of the story (by marriage, of course!) pairs Marianne with the more reserved and conventional Colonel Brandon. Although Marianne at first disregards Brandon as old and boring, she learns to feel respect and gratitude for him, and finally to appreciate that his passionate, devoted personality is married to a commitment to virtue and wisdom. By the time she accepts Brandon's offer of marriage, Marianne is deeply in love with him.

I love this about Jane Austen! Her romantic heroes, the ones who "get the girls," are as different as their partners. They may be witty and charming or proud and reserved; older, younger, poorer, richer. But without exception, they are admirable. Austen's heroines are all matched up with men with whom they are deeply, sincerely, and passionately in love. Yet their love is grounded on more than whoosh-and-gush, violin-drenched Feelings. Mr. Darcy, Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, Edmund Bertram, Mr. Knightley--all of them are men whom Austen's heroines can respect and trust.
I think that's a much more realistic picture of love than the Disney model--maybe even a more Biblical picture? To return to Sense and Sensibility--Austen never portrays feelings as bad. Marianne remains Marianne, of deep "sensibility" and strong passions. Yet she finds true happiness not with Willoughby, her romantic other half, but with Brandon, who deserves her true affection and whom she can trust to protect and cherish her "sensible" love for him.

OK, this post has turned into a monster! I've read a couple of frustrating "chick lit" novels over the past week, and watching S and S with Jody set me off, I guess. What do you think?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beans, Beans ...

After a wonderful time of worship and fellowship yesterday morning, I arrived home to discover that the chicken I had planned to cook for dinner was STILL not thawed, despite spending all night in the refrigerator. So instead, I turned to one of my favorite emergency recipes, Picadillo. This recipe is kind of a tradition in my parents' family. It comes together in 30 minutes from ingredients I almost always have on hand, but with the combination of sweet and spicy (not hot), it tastes different and delicious. Plus, it is super cheap and healthy!

Although the recipe calls for serving the picadillo with cornbread (use your favorite recipe -- I like this better over a cornbread with part flour and part cornmeal), it is also good served over brown rice. I like to serve with salad, cooked greens, or fruit salad (although I didn't yesterday, because that horrible chicken FROZE MY LETTUCE, how delightful).

PICADILLO WITH CORNBREAD (4 generous servings)

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced (I use part red, part green, and some chile pepper if I have it)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper (more or less to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 (14-oz) can tomato sauce (more or less as you like; I also often add canned diced tomatoes if I have 'em)
2 cans (15-oz) red kidney beans, undrained
1/2 cup raisins (more or less to taste)

Heat oil and cook onion and peppers till soft. Add garlic and spices, and cook 30 seconds till fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and raisins. Reduce heat and simmer 20 - 30 minutes, till thickened. Serve over wedges of your favorite cornbread recipe.

 One of my mom's "emergency dinners" was Breakfast for Dinner -- I can remember lots of Sunday evenings when we had bacon, eggs, and toast, or maybe pancakes. I'm not a big Breakfast for Breakfast kind of girl, let alone for dinner, so I tend to rely on recipes like Picadillo or spaghetti Amatriciana. Being a disorganised sort of person, however, I can always use more ideas -- what is your go-to meal for those crazy days when The Plan goes out the window?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Small Blessings

Yesterday Dennis and I woke up and discovered that our water had been turned off.

Oh, the joys of living in older housing. It can be an adventure at times!

We were a little grumpy at missing morning showers, etc, but God was taking care of us. There was EXACTLY enough water left in the kitchen pipes to make four cups of coffee. EXACTLY. No more, no less.

If that's not a particular Providence, I don't know what is.

And I still need help with yesterday's question. Please leave a comment if you haven't already!

Friday, January 8, 2010

How Do You Save $ on your Grocery Bill?

So in lieu of making a great big list of New Year's Resolutions that will only bite the dust in February, I'm considering making 2010 the Year of Challenges. Every month, I pick one thing to try, consistently, for a month to see if I can incorporate some changes. If it doesn't happen, OK, but I will at least commit to one solid month of trying hard.

I'm thinking next month will be Frugal February. I am still looking for another job (applied for a secretarial position at DMU -- please keep that in your prayers for the next week or so!), and while we are OK financially, this seems like a good time to exercise my creativity where our grocery bill is concerned. I am still learning how to be a good helpmeet in this area -- I'm used to buying and cooking for a hungry farm family of 10 - 12, so it's an adjustment to plan for just two!

I have already made a few changes. Specifically, I have agreed with myself that I will buy ONE 12-pack of what I am learning to call "pop" a month, and ONLY one. As opposed to my usual 1 1/2 a week. The consumption of that much carbonation, artificial sweetener, and chemical dye can't have been good for my system, AND I'm saving about $5 a week that way. Although I do miss my fizz!

 DH and I spend quite a bit on good cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, and dairy products -- we don't buy a lot of convenience items, but we do like good food. I am thinking that incorporating even more meals based on soup, lentils, beans, and beans + a little bit of meat may be a good idea. Actually, I am going to challenge myself and see if I can go all February without buying any meat except for sandwich meat for Dennis -- I bought 6 lb of pork roast on sale at Hy-Vee, have a whole chicken, a few chicken breasts, and a LOT of deer meat in the freezer (thanks to my brothers, the Mighty Hunters!) -- so we should be in good shape for that challenge.

This is where I would LOVE your input. How do you save on your grocery bill? I would love tips, links to websites, recipe suggestions ... anything and everything! And not just food -- by "grocery" I also mean things like toilet paper, aluminum foil, and cleaning supplies. I am not afraid to buy in bulk, cook new things, or try anything else you can throw at me, so fire away!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Want Gourds and Palm Trees

Another snowstorm today -- outside my window the world is white, the dingy grime of old snowdrifts blanketed by the clean new fall. The sky is so opaque, so pale, that it nearly blends into the fallen snow. It's a beautiful landscape -- all clear lines, blank and pale and very clean looking. Beautiful and bleak.

Last night, DH and I reached I Kings 6 in our reading together. Compared to the blank white in my window, the description of Solomon's temple made a vivid impression on my summer-starved mind. The author spends the whole chapter describing Solomon's construction of the temple in exuberant detail -- the measurements, the materials, and the decorations. This is an astonishing house -- the place where God physically dwells among His people. And the details of that house almost explode with hugeness of the joy of God's presence. Imagine walking into Solomon's temple -- built of costly stone, cedar, and cypress. All over the interior of the house is carved with gorgeous gourds or pomegranates, palm trees, and open flowers. Everything is overlaid with a layer of gleaming gold, and the air is thick with incense.

If we walked into a church and saw what is described in I Kings, we would be shocked at how gaudy it was.  The note in my Bible suggests that the carvings in the temple evoke the Garden of Eden. I was reminded of the rich language of the Song of Songs, the garden images of blooming and ripeness and abundance. Maybe a temple like Solomon's is no longer necessary, or culturally appropriate, but the imagery of the temple still speaks to who He Is. God is with his people like a bridegroom with his bride. In His presence is fullness of joy, an overflowing delight that explodes outward as if in tendrils and green leaves and gorgeous flowers and ripe fruit, filling up the world around it, unfurling into every space.

Solomon's temple reminded me that Christianity is not about my sacrifice or my endurance, although it does include those things. Instead, it is about life and growth where everything was once dead and cold. At the heart of Christianity is an enormous, uncontainable rejoicing in my God and His love.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Trojan Holiday

No, my computer didn't get attacked over Christmas. Instead, we got to spend Christmas with our families after all!

Despite my aversion to new years' resolutions,  there are definitely some things I want to do differently in 2010. Specifically, more deliberately. But first, Dear Reader, a quick visit to December 2009.

Or maybe not so quick. Since concision is not my strong point, either!

As a few of you know, I quit my job at Monster Financial almost a week after my first Iowa blizzard hit. This is still a little painful for me to talk about. It's difficult for me to trust my husband that we will be OK financially until I find more work. Even more difficult is accepting my own inadequacy. Physically and mentally, I just could not handle the work any longer -- including getting-ready and commute time, I was spending from 6:00 am to around 5:30 pm on a job that was both extremely easy and emotionally draining. The prospect of getting up even earlier to handle the winter weather was the proverbial last straw.

So you can pray that God will help me to repent of feeling guilty for not being able to do more (because that is just PRIDE), and help me to humbly embrace the opportunity to do what I CAN ... whatever that is ... without worrying over what I should have been able to do, or what someone else might have been able to do. Right now I'm looking for work closer to home, maybe even something part-time. That, and sleeping A LOT!

After I quit, DH and I were super-excited to be free to visit our families for Christmas! We crammed gifts for our families into DH's tiny car along with the gifts they had already mailed us, and hit the road. During the 11 hours from Iowa to Tennessee we watched the fields outside the windows turn from white ... to dead brown ... to patchy green.

It was such a blessing to spend the holidays with our families. We spent five days at my parents' farm in Troy. Coming from a small family, I don't think DH appreciates how restful it was for me to be in the middle of ten or twelve people's constant noise and busy-ness! Christmas day we travelled to Dennis's parents home, and spent several days enjoying their company as well. I am so grateful that we were able to make the trip down to Tennessee.

Then we s l o w l y drove back from 20-degree weather to negative 20! Seriously -- negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I am still incredulous.

I loved our vacation, but it was wonderful to worship with our church again this week. And today was Dennis's first day back at school--yay!

That wraps up our holiday, and our news. Now it's back to the routine, or some semblance. Although I would like to say that we are having Gulasch for supper, using a recipe from an Italian cookbook Dennis's sister gave us. I substituted the deer meat my brother Nate sent back with us for beef, and threw it in the slow cooker. With all the lemon zest, spices, and cheapo Cabernet Sauvignon, it smells AMAZING.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

February FAIL Syndrome

I don't trust New Year's resolutions.

Whenever January rolls around I remember the harsh smell of chlorine. I can almost hear the muddled roar of yells and splashes echoing over the indoor pool where, as a teenager, I used to practice with a small swim team. Most of us complained about the workouts, the battle to finish just one more grueling butterfly set, the bathwater temperature of the pool and (for the girls, anyway) the way it made our hair take on a greenish tinge. Solemnly, Coach B. would assure us his heart was bleeding in sympathy for our pain. Then he would tell us to swim another 200 fly.

Really, though, most of us loved practice. What we really hated was the annual invasion of Resolutioners who were sure that this year, this year, they were finally going to lose twenty pounds, get six-pack abs, run a five-minute mile. We Flying Fish met at the YMCA every Tuesday, Thursday, and often Saturday to swim for two hours. Many of us cross-trained with the treadmills and weight machines, too, pushing our bodies week after week. And now, in January, suddenly we had to crowd into two tiny lanes of the pool. Getting a decent workout in the weightroom was almost impossible.

Kicking one another, waiting ten minutes for a turn in the pool, was wretched. The only reason we didn't go crazy was that we knew February was only a few weeks away. And then we would have room to breathe again; by March, everything would be back to normal. We would have all the space we wanted, we could go back to complaining about pushups and sprint sets and the other teams.

We just had to wait until February.

Should this cake happen?