Monday, November 1, 2010

TRADITION! (tradition!)

Transparent LanguageNovember 1.

Today we have begun our school week with a customary journal entry.  Appropriately entitled "What I'm Thankful For", the resulting work has always been an interesting picture into the minds of my children.  We have, to quote Bing Crosby, "...plenty to be thankful for".  And I suppose we always do, it's just that sometimes we have to be rather Pollyanna about our list of thanks.

There are years when we have to say things like "Thankful that Grandma is with Jesus this year" or "Thankful that Dad didn't impale himself when falling off the roof" or my personal unfavorite "Thankful the cancer was caught in time so we could enjoy time together".  These are, truly, things to be thankful for.  Yet they are simultaneously salt in some very human wounds.  Being thankful is not necessarily an easy exercise.

Journal entries today included the following:

  • Dad has a job!
  • Grandpa is 87.
  • Ethan got better at cross country.
  • Mom is happy.
  • Dad doesn't have to work in the cold this year.
  • A house that is "mostly clean".  (hmmmm)
  • Dogs.
This year's list is very personal.  It didn't include material possessions (unless a "mostly clean house" counts as such) and it really pared down a lot of people.  I think this is a natural happening in life - sometimes people get pared and children are the first to take note in some way.  And that's okay.  And it's honest.  And though like the salt in human wounds, it hurts for a time, in the end there is thanks to be had.

November 1.  Tradition!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oh Count Dracula....swoon....

Transparent LanguageAs a nod to the season, I find myself reading Bram Stoker's Dracula.  I admit that as a child of the not so distant past, the greatest challenge is not putting visions of assorted movie versions in my brain as I read through passages.  The reading is occasionally laborious, but quite entertaining with Stoker's use of language being far favored over Stephen King's.  Should you find yourself wanting a good scare that doesn't make you blush (too much) consider this classic....oft overlooked for more highbrow classic reading, but worthy of the moniker nonetheless.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Changing Necessities

Transparent LanguageI spent all of this summer without a 21st century means of transportation.  Okay - legs have always been around making them 21st and creation means.....and the bicycle...well that's pretty old.....  What I mean to say is we became a one motorized vehicle household for a time.  It was an interesting exercise in frugality, necessity, and patience.  It taught me more than I envisioned learning simply from eliminating a gas-using mobile thing.  It made me appreciate and depreciate a lot in life.  And it, again, made me realize how silly we humans are (and how content my mother must have been).

A recent discussion with someone who has been in and out of my life since about kindergarten brought home the above point when we casually bantered about the high cost of Christian education and the necessity that is a mother working out of the home.  Being an accountant by training, I hesitate to ruminate aloud too much on something that I haven't crunched numbers on, but strictly by observation I have noted a great many things which my generation (and those coming up as well) define as 'necessity'.  A lot has changed in just the time I have moved from the days of Mrs. Woltjer in kindergarten to having my own children.

Take for example:

- vacations......I grew up defining trips to Grandma's as "vacation".  Twice we journeyed to Florida courtesy of my dad's employer.   Never did taking a summer/Spring Break/Columbus Day Break vacation become a necessity.  Or a right.  Or a deprivation.

- clothes......I did not grow up a nudist, but I did learn to tolerate garage sale "finds", tent sale discounts, and the joy that was Roger's basement.  Earl Robson's anyone?  And you know, the most popular girl in my class from K - 9th?  Hand-me-downs.  That's right.  Abercrombie (though not yet popular) did not solidify anything in terms of pecking order.

- vehicles.....and back to my original observation.  We added a second car to our home when I was in late junior high.  Before that it was one vehicle (meaning one gas bill, one insurance bill, one maintenance expense).  A good many families of the 1970s were living the same way.  We survived.  We took dad to work on the days mom needed the car.  We walked.  We rode our bikes.  (Funny - we weren't overweight either....)

All this to say, our definition of "need" adjusts with each passing year.  And learning to adjust those needs is tough.  Nearly impossible in many cases.  Even our family is a case in point as a new-to-us mini van (nicknamed McGyver....fodder for another post) entered our life a couple months ago.  Yet I learned to appreciate the convenience of having this vehicle in my garage.  I also learned to love its new-to-us status....the status that enables me to still be home with my children as time flies by.  It's not a decision made easily or made without occasional reservations.  But today, on a dark and rainy day in Michigan, it's a decision that has me particularly thankful.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hey You! Yes You.....It most certainly is your duty....

Transparent LanguageThis will not be succinct.  It will not flow like poetry or read like a future novel.  Nor will it be something everyone wants to hear.  But here it is.

I'm frustrated.

I'm frustrated mostly by Christians who find it easier to care for people in Haiti than to care for their neighbors.  I'm frustrated by Christians who can write checks to fund a church's building, but treat the members in that building as diseased because they needed help.  I'm frustrated by Christians who act like proper stewards because they espouse the teachings of Dave Ramsey (as opposed to - oh - perhaps - Christ?!?).

Today I received an email from someone screaming and crying in words over the pain and feelings of worthlessness felt over being terminated at a job.  While I hope that I do my best to "weep with those who weep", this pain of job loss, of economic misery....too many still just don't get it. 

They don't get that the family next door - the one who held a job and worked hard and didn't spend in a silly manner - they are deciding today whether to buy milk or bread.  While you decide whether to go with the IPod Touch or the Droid phone....while you decide if it's a Toyota or Honda for your new car....do people really not get that middle class people you know.  People who have worked as hard as you, as long as you...they can't buy new shoes for their child this year.  Their daughter wants to play the flute in band but they can't afford a rental payment.

Truly.  If you don't know people like this then you are choosing not know them.  You don't want to be reminded of your consumption.  Of the vacation you took while another family applied for government assistance.

I'm sickened.  What exactly, Christian, do you believe the Lord requires of you?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The dogs have been given a reprieve....

Transparent LanguageI do believe a new "The dog ate my homework" has emerged, replacing paper eating dachshunds with a more sinister (and harder to prove culprit).  Enter:

I didn't really say it.  My account was hacked.

Yes, welcome 21st century excuse.  Only the naive will believe this more than a couple times, so use the excuse well.  After the second or third usage blaming demonic possession may be the most logical progression.

Friday, September 3, 2010

52 in 52: Kiddie Lit

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Transparent LanguageSome of my favorite thoughts come courtesy of books with children as their target market.  Children..or perhaps pre-teens, sometimes teens...certainly not adults.  Some of these thoughts are perhaps lost on the target marke, and so I think adults would do well to read some of this literature from time-to-time.  Consider these gems the next time you are tempted to read about some gal with a reptile-shaped tattoo or you stumble into yet another book wherein you have figured out the ending by the conclusion of chapter two.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium  Seldom does a recently published book, tied to a relatively recent movie do such wonderful things to a reader's brain.  The commentary on life is lilting, the encouragement called for, and though not shared with any religious direction, telling a child that "Your life is an occasion...rise to it!" is not a bad thing.  In fact, one of my favorite quotes - it's long - comes from the movie.  Here it comes....

"When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He's written "He dies." That's all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is "He dies." It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with "He dies." And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it's only natural to be sad, but not because of the words "He dies." but because of the life we saw prior to the words."


I am thoroughly enamoured with this movie and the book is an equally fun (quick) read. 

Roald Dahl is a bit of an acquired taste.  I remember sitting through James & The Giant Peach while still in grade school, finding the word pictures about as juicy and alive as I envisioned a giant peach could be.  I still recall being instructed to draw pictures as the teacher read and feeling as though this was a foretaste of heaven.  That's just how much I enjoyed the book and the imagination and the illustrative potential.  I think readers envision this author surely as some sort of artistic hippie type.  Yet to read what he says and how he says it (and to take a cursory glance at any bio of his life) is to see a former WWII fighter pilot...of a man who wrote his auto-biography for children and titled it simply, Boy,  of a father whose BFG was dedicated to a daughter who died of measles at the age of seven.  These are books for children with, again, something more to say.

This week, I ventured into Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator, which picks up with Charlie of chocolate factory fame as he takes off in the elevator.  The fun poetry is worth the read, the idea of cramming so much history into a child's book oddly entertaining, the premise as fanciful as its predecessor. 

52 in 52 marches on with two children's books thrown into the mix.  Come September 13th I may even celebrate Roald Dahl Day with a big ol' Wonka chocolate bar.  For life is an occasion and I continue to do my best to rise to it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Attaching Your Name To Something

Transparent LanguageWhen I was in my pre-teens my mom started following various boycotts endorsed by evangelical preachers of the day.  At various times I believe we were avoiding Procter & Gamble (that's hard to do by the way), Meijer, Disney, & McDonald's.  That list isn't exhaustive but it is fairly representational.  I don't know what some of the companies were doing "wrong" just that I suddenly didn't have my favorite brand of something and Mickey Mouse suddenly grew horns and carried a pitch fork.  I also knew that I felt completely persecuted.  Because, really, life was all about me at that point.

What I failed to completely understand at the time was the fact that as a Christian in this world the majority of culture will always be opposed to me and my fellow believers.  This world is "no friend to grace" and therefore a company that makes soap will sponsor adultery on television and an animation studio will promote (by their silence) a lifestyle contrary to the Word of God.  And because so much of the world is opposed to Christianity, we must pick and choose our boycotts - the literal ones and figurative ones - for the reality is we don't have time to make our own soap and sometimes we run through drive-thrus because we're hungry and that's how life goes.  And this is what my mom was doing by choosing select companies to boycott...in her own way she was standing up for the name "Christian".  I just knew that I missed my favorite shampoo.

It does make me realize as an adult living in a sea of perpetual internet transparancy, how very important it is that we are cautious in terms of what we put our name upon.  When the Lever brands company put an ad on a television show that was less than moral, people took note.  Did all of Lever necessarily support what happened in that show?  No.  But their name was on it.  That's all that mattered.  Someone somewhere had taken note of the name attached to the television program and their name was tainted in the minds and hearts of certain believers.

When I studied accounting we learned a great deal about the 'appearance of impropriety'.  Very simply put it meant that while we may be honest in all of our financial dealings, the method of how we go about doing what it is we do is often as important as the result.  If I am counting a drawer of someone's cash I will do so in the presence of another person.  If am reconciling bank accounts I will have an auditor come in on a regular basis...just to avoid the 'appearance of impropriety'.

And as internet Christians we should consider the 'appearance of impropriety'.  What is written in your name, under your name, displayed via your name....it matters.    It doesn't matter who you claim wrote it - it doesn't matter if someone else posted it....if it's under your name, in your name, it is yours to deal with.  As a Christian first and foremost this should be a concern as we will be know by our fruit (Luke 6:44).  Our product, what springs from us directly and from our names, will be used by others as a form of judgment.  Even Aesop in his wisdom warned us that we will be known by the company we keep.  But, you know, as an adult who has been an employee and an employer it matters in practical terms.  Your employer does care if you seem to find vandalism funny - endorse bigotry - find it funny to degrade women.  Teenagers should realize that the babysitting calls will cease if you leave sexually charged material on your Facebook account.  Confessing members of a church should not feign anger because they are called to task because of a statement they post contrary to the known, professed beliefs of their member church.  The ramifications are endless.

We may not like this - it may take work - but what your name is attached to, whether it be as a major, multi-national company, as an employee, or simply as someone who has chosen to place their name on an internet website (say, of the Facebook variety)...it matters.  And it is our personal responsibility to do our best that we never give the 'appearance of impropriety'.  If we can't control this - if it gets away from us - avoiding the source is really the wise and prudent way of preserving our name.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beef Stew Confession

No, really, it is about beef stew.

The heat finally broke - seemingly in droplets of humidity all over the people of the state of Michigan - and in its wake we were left with some phenomenal weather.  Cool enough to make me want to cook.  Meaning it was really really awful before because I rarely get to the point where cooking is a chore....for the past couple of weeks it has been. 

Anyway - found some stew meat in the freezer during a routine look-see and began my stew process before ensuring all ingredients were present.  Like taking a shower before you make sure there's a towel in the bathroom.  I was short broth...of any kind.  What I did have was a single, lonely can of Campbell's Chicken Gumbo Soup.  Random, sure, but broth with some kick and, truly, at this point it was broth or water.  (For a future date - explanation for why I keep this soup in the pantry.)

The result was my best beef stew to date.  Gotta love that processed, sodium-laden soup on occasion!

ConfessionalBeefStew

1.5-2 lb cubed stew meat dredged in
3/4 c white flour
2 T kosher salt
1 T pepper
1 t cumin
1/2 t celery salt

quick heat the above in about 4 capfuls of cooking oil in a nice deep pot...when things thicken up and the floury meat looks a bit less white add....

1 c diced yellow onion
4 cleaned, chopped carrots
4 cleaned, peeled, chopped white potatoes
2 c corn (I used fresh from the cob...frozen otherwise)
1 can Campbell's Chicken Gumbo Soup

As this cooks I added about 3 c water as needed

Saturday, August 14, 2010

When a woman is in charge....

(Never fear.....no feminist rants are forthcoming....)

When a woman is in charge:

  • athletic practice never occurs right in the middle of traditional supper hour
  • anyting that has to be sewn on a child's shirt or kerchief or other such nonsense would not be - sewn - it would be iron on (duh)
  • milk would be located at the front of the grocery store - oh we know why it's not...but we still would put it at the front...with the diapers and formula and cough syrup
  • doctor's offices would come with lysol wipes and spray and would never double book appointments
  • ditto for hair salons
  • golf would only be a sport and count as exercise if walking is involved
  • if there is money for a new cell phone, cable TV, or new vehicles that would naturally mean that there is always money for braces and clothes and shoes and new couches

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

52 in 52: Wherein the procrastinating blogger attempts to catch up

Sometime around the beginning of the year I set up the goal to read "52 in 52"...52 books in 52 weeks.  It was no fair reading "Goodnight Moon" or the newspaper....these had to be books with some form of substance.  A lofty goal but it sure seemed attainable when it was frigid and cold and the Michigan winter blahs had set in with full post-holiday force.  I don't want to know what week I'm in...I could easily google it along with any other tidbit of info I'd like to learn.  But, really, living in denial works for me.

That said, some of this could be more of an issue of not posting all I read to the blog....to that end, a few updates for the reading inclined with ONE WORD reviews.  Yup.  One word.  Okay...maybe two.  But that's it.  Two tops.

Ministries of Mercy:  The Call of the Jericho Road  by Tim Keller........MUST
Self Incrimination by Randy Singer...yuck
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith.....Lovely (classic)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon....middling
The Broker by John Grisham...ExPeCtEd
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout....characters!
Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate  by Jerry Bridges.....basic (okay)

I am currently reading Under The Dome by Stephen King....I will lobby to have it count as at least three books since my back goes out slightly each time I lift it.  King makes me simultaneously cringe over the language and gore he consistently uses and yet I'm constantly amazed at the allegory he weaves.  When I read The Cell I almost said an "amen" at the end.  The Stand is a consistently interesting read with its end of times/good vs evil threads.  And yet the source means with the allegory must come lanuage that makes me wonder if intelligent - even moderately intelligent - folks really enjoy liberally sparsing all they say with vulgarity.  Do intelligent people just naturally say things like "I need some effing milk when you go out"?  I guess I run in a tame crowd.  Anyway....King is my current read until book group comes around and someone leads me in a different direction.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

They say it's my birthday...

Transparent LanguageIt hardly seems possible another year has come and gone.  Sometimes years fly by rapidly.  Why those years of having babies...especially that period of less than two years' span when two babies arrived.  Wow!  Years flew.  I'm fairly certain there were birthdays celebrated in that mix but I'm as certain, fully without reservation, that these days were blurs of diapers and bottles and burps and "OH!  Look...I think he's smiling!"  To be certain those were wondrous years and wonderful birthdays, even if they aren't the stuff of legend.

Other birthdays creep upon a body far more slowly.  I distinctly remember heading from 14 to 15 and feeling as I'd never arrive at point B.  Point B meant driver's ed and because of my summer birthday (surely my parents could have planned better) every other friend had already taken driver's ed....EVERY friend (no exaggeration to be sure...not in my adolescent brain anyway).  The year of mom's death was a birthday I thought would never arrive only because I so dreaded the notion of celebrating my birth without the human reason for the day.  That was not a pretty birthday.  This I recall.

This year's birthday comes after a year of particularly difficult movements in life.  A year in which life had to be singularly focused on a few people much to the chagrin of others.  It was about muddling through and mistakes made and not (truly) forgiven by others.  It was a messy, messy year.  A "year of living dangerously" but with none of the excitement and thrill that can often accompany dangerous living.

The birthday girl in this photo - if I enjoyed photos of myself - would show a few more grey hairs than the girl of previous years.  She would show more creases between her eyes - that area in a woman's forehead that often call for botox rendering her expressionless.  If there was a party, the guest list would have shrunk greatly from previous years - not due to economics, but due to severe pruning.  The photo would show three children who have experienced more this year than I would have desired....a husband who has been bruised and battered in many respects....and just a few select friends who have understood and accepted and exercised patience and the true definition of "doing justice...loving mercy...."

Older me would tell younger me that:
  • girlfriends who are true will never bring up your past mistakes unless those mistakes are male or life-threatening if repeated
  • males who are wise will never love you only when you're pretty
  • Christianity filled with rules is generally man-made
  • Christianity filled with grace that covers acknowledged sin is not man-made
  • in every organization people who have not earned authority will pretend to have it
  • it is up to you to live with these people or move on....having them removed will rarely turn out well
  • in an age of reckless information sharing, anything you put 'out there' will surely come back to haunt you
  • people with little money will make you a meal when you're hungry and spend their last dollar buying you a loaf of bread
  • individuals who are crazy about posting pictures of themselves on the internet are generally crazy about....themselves

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

And When You've Too Much To Say....

Transparent Languageit is often better to say nothing at all.

When someone who types crazy fast and has a mind that often works even more crazily fast becomes unexplicably silent....one begins to wonder is the apocalypse is upon us.  Or could such a typist have crampy fingers?  Heaven forbid it's the mind that's cramping.  Suffice it to say, not typing and not sharing each and every thought that crosses my mind is an exercise in holding my tongue....figuratively.  Literally holding one's tongue is not good manners.

I have spent a good portion of the lazy days of summer directing a little concerto of not-quite-tween girls on the field of dreams.  Only ours is in Kentwood.  And Kevin Costner has yet to swing by.  And the players are young, impressionable (and really good!) females.  I have spent another portion of my summer days becoming weary in doing good.  That's right.  I wore myself out of the ol' spirit of volunteerism (apart from hanging with the aforementioned girls).  I am still ruminating on whether such a time is natural - because all things run their course.  Whether such a time is dreadfully wrong on my behalf.  Or even whether such weariness can truly be blamed in (almost) it's entirety on downer people who truly must spend their summer days aching for business to stick noses in.

While I have found myself with too much to say, it seems a certain social community overflows with such people who are not holding their tongues.  I have learned so much from online community members....
of weddings, of bankruptcies, of idiots masquerading as intelligent folk, of those who work hard, of those who work hard at not working, of the poor souls who must have been highly insecure as children and teens because now they toot an entire sonata when they toot their own horns, of money to burn, of politics worn on sleeves, of faith quoted and not lived (and vice versa).  What a society my children find themselves growing in.  One in which communicating and being social has nothing to do with looking someone in the eye and speaking.  Where texting while in public is normal and excused.  A life where "businesssmen" post things online which - in this old lady's opinion - should make their customers (current & future) second guess the maturity of these men of business.

And I ponder...when did life become so open and transparent that grieving with those who grieve and rejoicing with those who rejoice has been reduced to something posted online?  When did we exchange "gossip" for "information sharing" and make the stigma of being a Gossip go away?  And when did men become so good at gossip and how can we make it stop?

And so I've had too much to say.  And because I'm a generation (okay or two or three) removed from the group of people who emote and 'share' and just plain do stupid things online for all to read (and search for) I have elected to by silent for a time.  And ruminate.  And think.  And become unweary.  And pray that my children will be of a select group of future adults who still can look someone in the eye and converse.  And will form relationships in the tangible world.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

BFF

It is Mother's Day.  I would choose to entirely ignore the day were it not for the blessings of my own personal experience with motherhood.  Three blessings, to be exact.  Because they are (relatively) young I choose to be happy.  I acknowledge happiness as a choice and on this day I have to make a conscious effort to choose it.  It is a choice I make for others, for I would be fine with a more somber observance.

In one week out of the year I commemorate the loss of my mother and the day that celebrates motherhood.  Dayspring cards and assorted self-help types would say "God doesn't give you more than you can handle".  I don't believe that to be true.  I believe we aren't given more - or don't have more taken from us - than He can handle.  And considering the pain and absence from the Father our Christ endured.....well, we don't get anymore than He can handle.  And He can handle it all.

Yet I also believe that though we are to be "Joyful always...." there's a reason that in the same phrasing we are admonitioned to "...pray continually".  You see, to be always filled with joy, one really must be constantly praying.  I pray a lot more during the first week of May. 

And joy is not happiness.  I can have joy and still feel sadness.  This is also something I have come to associate with this first week of May.  I am very prepared for my emotions.  I don't like them.  I may eat too much or not enough.  I will get angry and then cry.  I will have headaches and gut aches.  I may, in the midst of all of this, have a sense of joy.  But I'm still sad.

She was.....
  • not like other peoples moms
  • she had a laugh we openly mocked
  • wise without a college degree
  • blatant in her Christianity
  • aware of my pains and faults and sorrows....and loved me fully & completely anyway
  • a good cook
  • not a good baker
  • the fastest typist I've ever known
  • not a fan of her hair
  • a fan of Christian radio (though not the "bee bop stations"), elevator music, me on the organ
  • able to fit on a tiny love seat with me and fall asleep
  • a supportive wife, a constant mother, a grandmother anyone would want for their children
  • chunky until cancer stole the fat
  • not a good singer but joined the chuch choir anyway
  • loved by all, yet invited to dine with very few
  • my BFF

Saturday, May 8, 2010

R H U B A R B....sauce, strawberry sauce.....just plain cool

Certain constants are important in life and at this time of year, that constant for me becomes my garden.  Rich soil, compost thriving, and certain plants which just don't know how to die....plants that avoid death are a constant all gardeners should invest in...partly because some garden "staples" inevitably are eaten or destroyed in some way or another.

So consider the humble (and oh-so-strong) R H U B A R B.  Rhubarb is just cool. 

  • It was a veggie.  Until the US government decided it was a fruit. 
  • The leaves are poisonous!
  • It's filled with Vitamin K.
  • It could be your favorite diet aid...eat too much & you'll want to know where the bathroom is.

Basic Rhubarb Sauce (it's not pretty, but it's good)
4 c rhubarb
3/4 c white sugar
1/4 c water

Combine all into a nice pot and cook...cook until the rhubarb falls apart.  You will be left with a basic sauce, both tangy and sweet.  Eat warm.  Eat cold.  Freeze it for later.

Mom's Strawberry Rhubarb  (this one's pretty & sweet & a 70s classic)
5 c rhubarb
3 c white sugar
1/2 c water
1 small package Jell-O strawberry jello

Combine rhubarb, sugar, water...cook until rhubarb is cooked down.  Remove from heat and stir in jell-o.  Use warm over ice cream, store in the fridge and serve cold, freeze for later.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Of Faith & Food....Food, Inc.

  • Our bodies are temples (I Corinthians 6:19 -20).
  • "Worries go down better with soup."  (Jewish proverb)
  • Creation is ours for the subduing (Genesis 1:28).
  • "God does not forbid you to drink, as do the Turks; he permits you to drink wine and beer: he does not make a law of it. But do not make a pig of yourself; remain a human being." (Martin Luther)

Food and I have always had a love-hate relationship.  I grew up in a home where Eastern European heartiness met with Dutch sensibilities and I believe my gut has never quite recovered.  I long for fresh food - baked fresh daily, picked fresh daily, prepared fresh daily.  The Dutch girl in me, however, cannot fight the urge to keep leftovers.  And the idea of not consuming the leftovers is akin to heresy.  I really should keep a straight jacket hanging next to my apron in the kitchen.

I find this even more prevalent in the area I call home, where the frugal still strive to pinch a penny until it bleeds and generally find mock-worthy the idea of wrapping raw fish, surrounded by rice, in a lovely piece of seaweed (that's sushi my friends).  We still fill food pantries with processed foods and corn syrup while most men quietly (or even not so quietly) berate their wives for gaining weight and not looking like they did in high school.   It is an odd little corner of the world in which I find myself - a transplant of a certain kind - one who knows a good perogie is not frozen and is not restricted to cheese or potato.  One from a culture where birthing a healthy baby resulted in some lasting girth on baby's mom and we all rejoiced in good health as we passed the meat and potatoes.

Food and faith are forever intertwined.  We celebrate the very death of our risen Savior with - of all things - a meal.  Oh, our version is small to be sure, but it is still a "supper".  We espouse the teachings of theologians and philosophers whose very size (think Martin Luther) bespoke an affection for good beer and good bread, among other things.  And what better way to fellowship with one another, than around one's dinner table whether it be ornate or antique - a card table or TV trays - a meal shared conveys so very much about its partakers and, if lingered over and savored properly, cannot help but result in conversation that feeds the soul as much as the food feeds the body.  And yet those of faith often have a more restrictive relationship with food than they have with their barber.  It's an odd, odd mix - that of faith and food.

My heritage is one of tolerating conditions beyond one's control.  Of a great grandmother who was a hod brick carrier in Austria-Hungary, of a grandmother who worked long hours in Chicago factories but sent out her daughter (my mother) for fresh lunchmeat and bread when company stopped in.  Of meals spent with balance and butter....of sausage and poppy seed cake.  This is a culture which espoused the fresh - the available - the unprocessed....and they didn't even know it at the time.  This is the culture we would do well to emmulate in food-related matters.  Of eating what is available when it should be available for, though I wish it weren't so, watermelon doesn't grow well in Michigan in December and cabbage is best grown when temperatures are cold.  Animals were created to live and graze in fields and fish were meant to swim wild (imagine for a moment explaining a "farm raised" fish to great-grandparents).

Faith has always meant a trust that food will be available.  That if one can eat a good meal, other things will fall into place.  (And perhaps this is why Christians often feel the drive - truly a 'need' - to feed those who won't otherwise be able to find a meal.)  That all things edible were given to God's people as a source of protein, fat, vitamins....and when done in moderation will feed the body as well as the soul.  Our temples were constructed to run on fuel - our fuel is supplied by the very Builder of our temple.  When filled with fuel prepared as close to its original source as possible, these temples will endure - no thrive.  The temples in this case are created for work....not for beauty (lest we become vain) and not first for the pleasure of our significant other (unless that's Significant Other in caps and referring to our Creator)...our Creator doesn't require high school bodies on mothers, or gut-free bellies on men fulfilling their purpose.   Our Creator supplies food and common sense.  He never supplies vanity.

Faith & food....Food & faith....often difficult company.  It has been said that if your great-grandparent wouldn't recognize a particular food item, don't eat it.  This, I believe, is advice that a healthy life can be built upon.

“One of the troubles about vanity is that it grows with what it feeds on. The more you are talked about, the more you will wish to be talked about.”
........................................................................
Though a bit obviously political in certain areas, PBS is beginning a series based upon the movie Food, Inc. this Wednesday.  Check your local stations for times and tune-in.  You may never eat a twinkie or Tyson chicken nugget again.  And that, my friend, your great-grandma would approve of.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

End Breast Cancer By Eating Fried Chicken

In a crazy attempt at altruism KFC is offering up to its customers a bucket of fried or grilled chicken in a lovely pink bucket.  In return they will donate .50 of each sale to the Susan G. Koman for the Cure fund to help stamp out breast cancer.  Before I launch into what KFC must be setting me up to launch into, I wll state that cancer stinks.  It kills.  It ruins lives.  It is more than pink ribbons and "saving ta-tas" and walking to end it.  To sit next to someone dying of the awful disease - in any form - is to be forever altered.  This I know.  Donate for a cure.  Work for a cure. 

Just don't buy fast food chicken for a cure.  Wow.  It's like someone at KFC said "...now what could we do that would be so hilarious that anyone with any sense of humor and intelligence will have to talk about it".    Some breasts for thought....

An Original Recipe Chicken Breast (that's the white meat folks) eaten as served will gift you with 320 calories, 130 of those from fat.  3.5 of those grams are saturated fat.  The sodium content is a whopping 710 mg.

The Grilled Breast eaten as served is 190 calories with 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 550 mg of sodium.  Interestingly, the grilled breast actually is smaller than the original recipe breast weighing in at 123 grams vs. original recipe's 164 grams.

All of this information comes courtesy of KFC.com's nutrition page lest you think that I tested the breasts in my own food lab.  I can assure you I have neither the desire nor equipment to do so.

The legacy of Susan G. Komen has grown to astronomic proportions - a real woman who died of breast cancer in 1980 at the age of 36.  The foundation whose name has adjusted a bit over time was begun by her sister, Nancy Brinker, a former U.S. Ambassador.  Over $1 billion has been raised to help fight breast cancer since its inception.  "Pink" has become the color of breast cancer and almost everything has been turned pink in some form or another. 

One has to wonder what the committee to turn things pink was thinking (or eating) when this offer came across their boardroom table.  What did they turn down until they got to this?  Because I'm thinking Toyota is looking for some corporate goodwill about now, and the former governor of Illinois would I'm sure don a pink tuxedo or something, and if push comes to shove I think Tiger would play with some pink clubs. 


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

52 in 52: Stephen Covey Gets Condensed

Somewhere between a book I intended to read and a book I happened to read, fell the book Everyday Greatness by Stephen R. Covey. Yes, the same Covey…the one who shares his ideas of what elements are common among ‘highly effective people’. And, from the onset, this is important to recall in reading anything from Covey – he is a marketing guru. He’s good at selling ideas. Very good, in fact. He is sort of the motivational speaker’s motivational speaker. In fact, the term “power broker” has been utilized as a descriptor. I guess that’s a good thing, right?


This one from Covey is a Readers Digest edition and comes filled with various anecdotes and stories gleaned from other famous and, sometimes, influential personalities. Wit, wisdom….very similar to the inspirational quotes found in your Grandma’s Readers Digest but with a bit more meat, a bit more length, and sometimes a bit extra oomph.

Perhaps the most important thing to note for anyone who has read something from Covey in the past, is the very fact that this is a patchwork quilt of sorts, not filled with material entirely unique to the assembler of the material, but certainly all along the vein of his usual positive thinking sermons. His emphasis on personal choice is still present in the organization and the vague usefulness in some business or team-building capacity can be found in certain areas. However, is it worth your time? You know, as ‘filler’ it’s not entirely bad. As a good starting point for someone needing some marketing help, needing some work on their life skills, working on a team (and perhaps struggling a bit)? Not so much. Ho-Hum.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Easy, Creamy Potato Soup...Look Ma! No Flour!

I do not like white stuff in my soup.  And by "white stuff" I mean flour.  I, along with the rest of the U.S. population,  really need no help getting enough flour in my diet.  I grew up on a cream of potato soup courtesy of my very Polish grandma and it never called for flour.  Hers was a bit thin and I've since tweeked things here and there to end up with a result which embraces her Polish simplicity but renders a thick soup worthy of repetition.  The version here is the "easy way" in that there is no potato peeling involved.

You will need:

8 lbs red skin potatoes
2-3 T salt
2 T fresh cracked pepper
1/2 yellow onion - diced
6 T butter - go on and use the salted stuff...and use the real stuff...you know you want to
4 c milk
2 chicken boullion cubes diluted in about 2 cups of boiling water OR 2 cups chicken stock

The really easy part.....
Rinse the potatoes and place in a soup pot, covering with water.  Add 1 T salt and the diced onion.  Cook until potatoes are soft.  Truly soft.  Don't cheat...get them soft.

Drain but save the liquid.  Mash your potatoes (yes - by hand....)  Add the rest of your salt, cracked pepper, butter, milk, chicken liquid.

At this point your "soup" probably looks like mushy mashed potatoes.  Slowly add your reserved cooking liquid - ideally use an immersion blender between additions.  At this point add liquid until you get the consistency you prefer.  Less for really thick soup - more for a more traditional soup.  Sorry OCD cooks - no hard and fast measurements for this one.

Continue heating on low heat just to get the flavors meshed together and the entire pot warm again.

I like mine with just some sea salt and cracked pepper before serving.  My son loves his with some shredded cheddar.  Either way it's easy - it's basic - and it's thrifty.  My Polish grandma would approve.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Too Many Planks

There are certain passages of Scripture which even the most ardent non-believer love to quote.  Often a variation on the following is repeated:

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.  (Matthew 7:3-5...NIV)

We love to remind others of their planks when they spend time searching for our specks.  The thing is, often what they are seeing - if we are honest with ourselves - is a plank. 

My weakness is often plank-sized.  In fact, I know I have some weaknesses which are more like large pieces of plywood.  And my plywood is not prime building grade, but more that lonely piece of plywood left by the side of a road somewhere, presumably having fallen from the back of some truck and now mushy and wet and really quite worthless.  So when people see things in me that I'd rather they not see, I will own up to the fact that some of my specks are really not so speck-like.

And so I find this verse and interesting quotation for so many to claim.  When we claim it - when we use it to point out the judgment others are levelling - in a way we just pointed out the plank in our own eye.  To take criticism is a gift.  To take the criticism from someone we may not particularly respect or even like takes courage and back bone and a gracious spirit many do not possess.  I know I am far removed from such wonderful qualities though I also feel the weight of this stupid piece of plywood more often than not.

As I travel past Easter, I pray that though I may be kept from judging when it is not my place to do so, that I may accept the judgment of others knowing that I have fallen so very short and it is only by His gift of grace that my icky, waterlogged (probably full of mold) piece of plywood hanging from every part of my being - filled with every bit of my sinful character - may be removed by the only Carpenter that really knows how to deal with such removal.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Easter Half-Smile


How often are we surprised by beauty amid ashes...of something springing up in the midst of something so horrid.  Of tales told of survival, love found, faith strengthened - all in a sea of uncertainty and darkness.  And how often do we find snippets (or something far more substantial) from a source which renders the find rather shocking.  And sometimes that shock renders the find all the more special.

This is the post I intended for the week before yesterday when I had to 'spout off' a bit....This is the post that is appropriate for this week.  From a source which I have always found fascinating.  We all struggle through our theological movements in life - we grow, we change, we move.  Our God does not.  If you know anything at all of literature, the source may shock you as well.  Or at least make you form one of those little half smiles...the half smile of someone familiar with an author's work....the half smile of someone 'in the know'.

One of my favorites....may you see the light on the other side of the cross more clearly each day....


Seven Stanzas For Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all


it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall.



It was not as the flowers,

each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled

eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as His flesh: ours.



The same hinged thumbs and toes,

the same valved heart

that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then

regathered out of enduring Might

new strength to enclose.



Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

faded credulity of earlier ages:

let us walk through the door.



The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,

not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

the wide light of day.



And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,

opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

spun on a definite loom.



Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.


~ John Updike

Monday, March 29, 2010

Christians & Bankruptcy

Should Christians declare bankruptcy?

Jumping right into the topic - because it has been nagging at me for quite some time - I'm going to say "probably not".  How's that for iron clad?  But I think it's as black & white as I can come down on.  Let me expand...

The Bible speaks often of periods of debt forgiveness.  With Easter looming beautifully just past the shadow of the cross, the concept of forgiveness is timely especially in the Spring.  New birth - green emerging from hardened ground - life beginning anew.  Deuteronomy 15:1-2 is often quoted as a springboard for justification of bankruptcy filing in the 21st century.  A quick perusal of online websites will even land a searcher onto the page of a Christian bankruptcy attorney.  I'm not going to share the link here because, well, I'd hate anyone to thank me later for putting them in touch with this person.

Debt, however, in the 21st century is far removed from the concept in Biblical times.  There are still lendors - there are still debtors.  The debtor is still in bondage to the lendor.  This has not changed.  However, what Christians now incurr debt for is far different than in years past.  Consider that the justification of bankruptcy is being used by those who:

Speculate on land, on stocks...."speculate" is a smart-guy term for gamble.  Filing banktupcy for gambling losses? 

A lavish life is not something reserved for the oh-so-corrupt Hollywood set.  Multiple vehicles, homes far beyond what is necessary, yearly vacations, teenagers with wardrobes which would make some blush.  The list goes on...Christians are not immune for such things.  Justification for bankruptcy?  The spirit of scriptural debt forgiveness?

We seem to think that because we can't pay our debts, forgiveness is deserved.  To equate this with anything Biblical is so far removed from Biblical forgiveness.  Grace assumes the receipient does not deserve the forgiveness but is being given it regardless.  In response to this grace we strive to live a life of thankfulness to the giver of this forgiveness.  There is no sense of this being owed to us in any stretch of the imagination.  The bankruptcy laws of this country provide for something legal, though it can be argued not something Biblical.

I know far too many Christians who are utilizing bankruptcy as a way out of debt....too many Christians playing a system - putting assets in a wife's name, getting paychecks 'under the table', unwilling to live a "lower class" life.  Is this truly what they believe the spirit of Biblical debt forgiveness is found within?  Shame on them.   Before bankruptcy should come stewardship. 

And that's as deep as I can get...a verbal slap on the hand.  Should a Christian declare bankruptcy?  Legally there are no prohibitions.  Scripturally, while financial forgiveness is certainly spoken of, there are so many aspects to the Christian life that should first be shored up:  Justice, Honesty, Truth....When those are dealt with fully a Christian would be hard-pressed to reach a point where declaring this bankruptcy would not compromise other foundations of a God-centered life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

All Kinds of Girls

My favorite female performer is Doris Day.  Doris doesn't really look like a "Doris" to me, but the name alliteration more than makes up for the normally frumpy first name.  Doris is who I want to be.  From the first time I heard her exclaim (as she sang, naturally) "Que Sera, Sera.....Whatever will be...will be....The future's not ours to see....Que Sera, Sera..."  How almost Calvinist of her.  Is it no wonder that she's worthy of my admiration?

When not hanging with Rock Hudson in some campy comedic romance, Ms. Day was often found in a role that rendered her perky with an edge of wit.  Sassy with a mild edge of snarky.  Equally able to traverse the mine fields of children and the boredom of an adult dinner party.  It was cropped pants and flats or lovely dress with stellar heels.  Well-rounded...in every sense of the word.

While Doris would now be a bit too old to be a bosom friend, I do like to think that her movie and TV characters were kindred spirits.  However, those kind of kindred spirits generally only last 105 minutes max...less when it's TV, sometimes more in a movie.  So it seems it's important to find kindred spirits in real life.  And I do believe that Anne (of Green Gables fame) would whole heartedly agree that while Gilbert may have been her one, true romantic love, a 'kindred spirit' must be female.  She must understand poetic longings as much as she comprehends the woes of hair gone wrong.  She must understand "flats" vs. "heels" and truly  realize that the decision can sometimes be daunting.

So today it just feels like a day in which the Gilberts must take a back seat...still there, but waiting patiently.  Today I am really thankful for the kindred spirits in my life.  Not too many - it seems that the idea of kindred spirit is limiting - but just enough.  "Just enough" is a good phrase for most of life.  "Just enough" ice cream.  "Just enough" talking.  "Just enough" together time.  "Just enough" time alone.  "Just enough" girls.

Today I am thankful.  Thankful for Barbies and Horse Women.  For Short Hair & her red-headed offspring.  Strong Southern Belles and little girls with endless long hair.   For the one that is waiting in Heaven.  All kinds of girls.  Kindred spirits.  Just enough.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ode to a Crock Pot...and a recipe...Crock Pot Lasagna

Could it be the beloved crock-pot is experiencing an economic resurrgence?  It seems that old reliable is finding itself on more and more countertops over the past year and I would venture to guess a downturn in our economy is providing this stalwert with all new popularity.  And, really, more power to it and those practical folks bringing food back to the home. 

My crockpot never left and, truth be told, I don't even know its history.  Yet, how I love the little orphan!  I adopted the pot from my mom who, in her own frugal way, adopted the pot from a garage sale some time in the early 1980s.  Based upon its tan body and orange stripes I believe old faithful was born sometime in the 1970s in the years of The Brady Bunch (pre re-run), sandwiched somewhere between the ERA and Ronald Reagan.  This pot gets around.

The Crock-Pot is really a trademarked named and not an all-purpose term.  What you plug in is a slow cooker.  It may or may not be a Crock-Pot (registered trademark and all that legal stuff).  Yet its a term that has grown into being all purpose much like what it represents.  If you have an ancient beast, like mine, there's a good chance it was made in the early 1970s when the Rival company first bought out the idea of an electric slow cooker.  So many good things coming out of the 1970s....

And now in 2010, after years of blushing brides receiving a Crock-Pot as a wedding gift and then storing it in its box until a once a year potluck rendered it necessary, well the little cooker-that-could is becoming more and more beloved.  Perhaps replacing espresso machines because, honestly, you can't feed the kids coffee for breakfast, lunch & dinner even if you can subsist that way yourself.   Soon we'll be crocheting Crock-Pot cozies and swapping recipes.....wait...did you say recipe?  Sure....I'd love to.

CROCK POT LASAGNA
(yes - that's right - no preboiling the noodles!)
1 pound ground round cooked (I cook with 1 clove garlic, 1 t salt, and 1 T oregano)

1 can diced tomatoes with liquid

1 jar sauce

Uncooked lasagna noodles

4 c mozzerella

1 container small curd cottage cheese (taller container)

1/2 c grated Parmesan
Combine cooked ground round, diced tomatoes, sauce...if you have time let it simmer on the stove top but not necessary .

Spread meat/sauce mixture on bottom of ungreased crock pot

Cover with noodles - you'll have to break as needed to cover

Spread meat/sauce mixture

Cover with cottage cheese

Cover that with mozz
Repeat until your ingredients are gone, make sure to end with a layer of meat sauce.

Cover and cook on low 4-5 hours.
IF you don't like tomatoes and want to eliminate the can with liquid make sure to include a cup of water with your sauce...that added liquid seems to be needed to get the noodles nice and soft over time.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Of Texting & Christian Fiction & Those Who Have Written It Best

Sometimes I really wish I had gotten around to writing something and then I find someone else shared my thoughts and seemingly plucked them from my brain.  Often, these writers do so in a style far more eloquent than I have been gifted with.  And I would be remiss if I did not suggest that rather than reading what I have to say, people read what a different writer has to say.  This has happened to me twice this week and I can only suggest that you read what these far more skilled workers of English have to say:

My general dislike of the aberration that is texting and all the assorted social mess associated with such electronic "communication" is best described - from a wonderfully Christian perspective - at Head & Heart.

And the intellectual junk food that is Christian fiction and (most) of what I abhor of the genre is succinctly and thoroughly (and entertainingly) shared at Sand In The Gears.  Make sure you read all three parts...my prayer is you will be convicted in terms of your own reading habits.

Monday, March 8, 2010

52 in 52: I'm late, I'm late...

I already wrote on my adventures with Alice In Wonderland, but I do feel an awful lot like the white rabbit where my reading posts are concerned.  The self-critical portion of my personality is quite upset with the laid-back, artistic portion.  Those portions are constantly warring.  It's really something to imagine what must go on in my head at any given moment.

ANYWAY...see how I was dragging my verbal feet there?  I really am quite caught up with reading and today I shall offer up:

When Character Was King by P. Noonan....a book on the rise of one Ronald Reagan from extremely humble beginnings to a Hollywood experience to politics.  A book written with obvious love for a man who, by most accounts, was quite worthy of the love he seemed to receive from those who were among his fans.  This rise was neither meteoric, nor was it without ramifications, but it was certainly something that anyone of a certain age can recall in part.  The older one is, the more of his Hollywood career is recalled.  Slightly less older and it is his work in California.  Closer to my age, perhaps, and he was a President.

More importantly than a study of politics or rags-to-riches, is the concept of character.  A piece of a human puzzle which seems more and more to be absent in our world at large.  What a wonderful compliment to have it be said, at the end of one's life, that character was paramount to one's life.   And what a goal for parents and grandparents - to ensure that good conduct and good character are cornerstones in the lives of our children.

A read not just for the politically inclined - nor simply for the Republican.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Defense of Kate Gosselin

It is not a misprint, this title of mine, yes I fully feel that Kate Gosselin needs a bit of defending where the public pulse is concerned and so I shall offer a brief piece of that defense pie.  (I'd also offer her a large slice of humble pie but that would be an entirely different post and an entirely different theme.)

Ms. Gosselin finds herself a single mother after a rather messy - extremely public divorce from her heel of a "loser" husband.  None of this is news, nor do I purport to follow their lives to the extent that I can offer much commentary apart from:  It takes one to know one.  Or perhaps even:  Birds of a feather flock together.  These two people found one another and determined that procreation would be their ticket to fame.  (Another piece of fodder for a future post.)

What I do find interesting, however, is the amount of public scrutiny Ms. Gosselin currently finds herself in the midst of thanks to her recent acceptance into the apex of fame, namely the show Dancing With The Stars.  To be certain, any human being attracted to reality television has ego problems.  Both too much ego and a severe chunk of self-esteem missing.  Not to mention the embracing of the idea that being super-duper thin, pretty, handsome, buff.....is somehow equated with success.  Sometimes it just means you got new hair extensions.  Life is funny that way and very unnatural. 

However, Ms. Gosselin also finds herself a single mother which - if this were the non-public "real" world - would mean she has to go out and get a job of some sort.  While it's easy to argue her choice in vocation is less than normal, after using her uterus as a means to public fame crticizing this choice is just funny.  Suddenly Hollywood cares about children being raised by nannies and sitters?  Perhaps going through a laundry list of starlets with offspring and their child-rearing decisions is called for, as it seems Kate is only doing what is acceptable in this silicone world of empty headedness....a world where a uterus can be a meal ticket and an absentee husband/father is as normal as botox and implants.

So should you feel the need to criticize a single mother who finds herself needing to work, pretend instead that Kate is a member of your church and her husband has been seeing a succession of 20-something bimbos devoid of morality.  Pretend she is your sister.  Your daughter.  Your friend.  You don't have to agree with her in the least, but you do have to offer up a more viable suggestion than "she should stay home with her children".  Oh - and "she should go back to her husband" is probably not an option either.  Any other suggestions?

****************

While not worth it's own post, how about instead people attempt to come up with a viable defense of a "Christian" publisher thinking Kate G. has anything to offer Christian women and, therefore, should continue to churn out books.  Does this publisher really think that little of the collective brain power of Christian women?  I don't think we are that stupid.  I hope we aren't that stupid.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Poetry as Hymn/ Hymn as Poetry

It began as a poem.....

Light Shining out of Darkness
by William Cowper

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 ev'ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow'r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Power of a Negative Example

A recent link on my AOL homepage - yes I still use AOL - included a link to a brief article discussing whether or not an adult without children can or should offer advice to parents on child rearing.  The writer nimbly came down in the middle because, well, there are a lot of mediocre writers out there who don't have the nerve to take a solid stance on much of anything.  The accompanying poll, however, bore witness to the fact that most readers certainly are willing to take a stance and that stance is "NO".

Reading this only furthered my own appreciation of negative examples.

While teaching a good lesson to anyone is admirable, how often do we find ourselves actually learning more (or having our own beliefs solidified) by the power of negative examples.  Had I written the article on giving child-rearing advice I would have been that brave writer who dares take a stand and would resoundingly state that those living in glass houses should not throw rocks.  And we parents know that we are never the one in the glass house because we know better.  In our own experiences we have recently received some criticism for decisions made that affect our children.  One self-aggrandizing advice giver has never had children, will never have children, and has never spent enough time with children to offer any advice.  The other should probably consider looking at the parenting results they have experienced before feeling they know best.

I am often struck by the book of Job, and how in the midst of Job's suffering and the beautiful words that we often dwell on direct from the mouth of our Savior, we have the powerful negative examples of Job's friends.  Sometimes they are called "well-meaning".  They are almost always called "friends".  I would suggest that both adjectives may be a bit off their mark.  To read the words of these men is to hear those with flawed theology and very incorrect concepts of who this God is and how He deals with our sin.  To think of them as 'friends' would be to employ a rather loose idea of the term.  In the midst of suffering does a friend offer that "hey - it's all your fault - you brought this on yourself"...or does a friend offer a cup of cold water?  A shoulder?  When a friend has not worked out his own theology in a manner that is Biblical and proper offering the faulty theology is more the working of an enemy.  Job's "friends" provide a powerful negative example for each one of us when we feel that inexplicable surge to offer advice - whether solicited or not.

As Christians we have yet another powerful negative example - that being the workings of those around us for whom Christ is not preeminent.  These people offer up by their lifestyle, by their choices, by their lack of any real devotion to anything or anyone but themselves a powerful negative example as we make decisions each and every day of our lives.   When someone who has rejected our Lord offers us advice it's often best to just figure that the opposite of their advice may be the best avenue for our lives.

The negative example is as much a gift to the Christian as the blessing of positive examples which we each pray for in our lives and which we find in the inerrant, inspired Word of God.  And so we learn to be thankful for each gift....

Friday, February 19, 2010

52 in 52: Playing Catch-Up


Just to be clear, I am playing 'catch-up' on my posting of books read, not on my reading because, well, I'm a geek.  Yes, that's right, I own up to it...I'm a geek.  Not in the 21st century definition....I could barely tell you the 'operating system' of my computer (I'm just happy to be able to type on the thing).  I'm a geek by more old school definition.  I read.  I think too much.  But I AM working really hard on employing my 'edit' button.  Though I do think perhaps 'mute' is a better term for the button I should employ (or grow?)

ANYWAY - just to keep up, a quick listing of the books finished but not yet listed:

Alice In Wonderland.....the classic soon to be a Johnny Depp vehicle of psychological torture for movie viewers.  But, here's the thing, this book is full...full....of such great prose.  The twist of words, the things you read and then re-read to catch the undercurrent.  It's really a masterpiece of word usage.  Lewis Carroll's interesting use of English has made this book a favorite of mine, now cracking the top 100 when, as a child, I don't believe I was ever terribly impressed with the book.  Of course, as a child, I read it for the story, not really appreciating exchanges like this:

"I don't think...." began Alice.
"Then you shouldn't speak," said the Hatter.

The Well-Trained Mind....is, quite honestly, a book generally read only by the homeschooling community.  And within that community, pretty much read only by those who take the educating of their children quite seriously.  Yes, 'tis true, there are a good many within this population group who homeschool for reasons that do not include:  I want to give my child an educational experience superior to what he would find in a traditional school.  The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer is a bit of a Bible for me...I mean 'bible'.  In the sense that it is a guidebook.  A guidebook filled with information and ideas and ideals which I shall never meet but which prod me on to better myself as the (current) co-master of my children's education.  This is all about classical education my friends.  The kind of education the great thinkers of far in the past engaged in.  The kind of education that promotes thinking - learning how to do so in an orderly fashion and then learning how to (bravely) defend, explain, reason, and point out fallacy.  Will the average person want to pick this book up and read it?  Probably not.  Should anyone wondering what their child would/should/could learn consider at least paging through it?  Yeah - fit it in somewhere.

I have four books on my bedside table as I type.  Each in various states of being finished.  A couple will be completed this weekend.  Just to show you how potluck my brain is:

Why We're Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck
The Broker by John Grisham
My Life In Paris by Julia Child
When Character Was King by Peggy Noonan

It can be very hard work being a geek....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Of Phishing & Philosophy

To know our life as a family the past several months is to catch a glimpse of something replete with lessons learned, battles fought, and faith tested.  Sometimes, however, it's best just to sit back and laugh until my belly hurts because laughter may not be the best medicine, but it's often all we have left (and sometimes the only thing actually in the entertainment budget).  It seems, however, that the individual who decided to phish their way into our bank account last week does not know of our recent circumstances for he would not have wasted his time.

That's right, of all the banks in all the world, he had to walk into mine.  And not just electronically walk into my account, but right into my checking account which he promptly emptied.  I'm using 'he' not because I inherently think all men are evil but, truly, who can't help but picture some lazy greasy oaf of a man sitting at his computer hacking into bank accounts?  So this beacon of electronic energy determines that our account should be phished.  Truly.  Could it be the 2010 version of the story of Job?  No boils or destruction of the house my children are partying in, but rather electronic claws sweeping in and taking what little is left of a bank account.

Philosopher John Locke believed, among other things, that the "hoarding up" of money was quite acceptable because it did not spoil or rot.  Locke liked to make such observations while determining not to consider the inequality of those who have plenty hoarded and those for whom hoarding is but a distant, far off concept never dealt with because of the struggle to pay the bills.  John Locke the philosopher never met my new friend the phisher.  It would seem that no matter how much we 'hoard' - or store up - someone in the electronic age can make sure we don't feel too secure in our treasures stored here on earth.

Oh and now you see the spiritual twist to the entire irony that is my life of late.  In all I still believe that God will either avert all evil in my life or turn it to my profit.  And while sometimes it seems that the evil that affects us all is not being averted very often, to see the profit gives me reason to hope.  To hope in a God whose purpose is bigger than my own - bigger than that of my friend the phisher's - more than any hoarded amount which, though it won't spoil, it won't buy the hoarder a bigger crown after death.

So, phisher, while I will not say 'have at it' (and while I relish the fact that you found me at the point in our lives that you did), I hope that someday you too can find the peace that comes in a bank account not quite so full.

Monday, February 1, 2010

52 in 52: Girls in Empire Waist Dresses & First Novels

A first novel.  This means more when the 'first' is from a notable name.  And with a notable name comes more readers.  For example, if it were my first novel it would mean little to most though I would be able to check something off my "To Do" list.  However, when it is a first from someone remarkable - say when it's a first from a lady named Jane....well, "first" becomes interesting reading for reasons beyond topic or plot.  It becomes interesting because it has a large body of work to compare it to.

Enter:  Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

Abbeys and young, thin girls described as readers or something similar.  Dances very foreign to our current culture's definition of such and gentlemen who live up to the moniker.  A romance that may blossom...or may not.  A relationship that is what it seems....or may not be.  An undercurrent of Puritan morality with loosened corsets and high waisted dresses.  So much of Jane's first novel contains threads found in other novels.  Characters which may be identified elsewhere in books to come.

While not her finest hour, it is her first.  As such, it is a worthy endeavor to visit Jane the first especially as an exercise in comparison....perhaps as an exercise in proving that one does improve with practice.    And improve she did....

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Never on Sunday: Observations

This Sabbath brought a laundry list, as sometimes a day can do, with it seems, everything but laundry on the list.  I rarely post on Sunday - the day is full and like all good (partly) Dutch girls I am tired.  (Worthy of study:  Why Sunday requires a literal rest from people who otherwise trudge on sans nap.)

*  Saturday evening included a rather large dog deciding that now would be the perfect time to get sick.  And not just that one dog puke that dog owners loathe but understand.  No, this was what sounded like a smoker's cough beginning around 9pm, including a nice dog puke, and continuing on through the evening and into Sunday morning.  To be certain, it is not as serious as a child getting sick and keeping parents up, but when it's a creature who otherwise communicates so very well to his feeble owners the experience is unnerving at best.  We slept not so soundly last night. 

*  Thanks to cold weather...no, scratch that....thanks to a fall from a roof which resulted in some metal placed in a certain man's elbow....AND thanks to ever-changing Michigan weather....AND in all honesty, thanks to a body that has been beat up just a bit over the years and is now nearing a monumental birthday....Mike didn't sleep so well either.  The pain is ever-present.  Perhaps magnified by life as sometimes situations not directly related to injury can cause pain to be worse?  Whatever the collection of causes, the effect was the same....more pain than he will admit to at night and throughout church and after church and allllllll afternoon. 

*  Being left out stings no matter how old someone is.....do with that observation what you will.

*  Weather changes = Migraines.

*  And as I move through these days - feeling as though I'd like to seep through the cracks I seem to notice more and more in the floor or on my face - I am given moments of clarity.  Moments of knowing that it could be worse.  Moments of knowing it has been worse.  Moments of knowing that there are no promises that it won't be worse again someday.  While the sweet wouldn't be half as sweet without the sour, so it seems our faith would not be truly as strong without the moments when we are brought utterly and completely to our knees....sometimes figuratively, often literally.

*  Finally, an observation that is random but worth sharing (I think):  Not everyone has family.  And sometimes even those with family don't get the 'benefit' from their families for whatever reason.  If you have the opportunity this week, be a brother or sister to someone whether they appear to need a sibling or seem to have an extensive family tree.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

52 in 52: The Help by Karen Stockett

If you have ever had a little help around the house and found yourself cleaning the house before the cleaner actually got there.....this book has nothing to do with you (or me).  For in a world not much more than 40 years prior, life for such help was one of less than minimum wage, work for which no credit was given, and accusations running the gamut from theft to adultery.    While I am not necessarily a fan of all things 1960s (though Mad Men is currently a favorite way to view some television), the importance of understanding the experiences of a people far different (and yet the same) as myself seems an exercise worth embarking upon. 

My life has been one of white girl ease.  I have not known what it is to be assumed to be something based upon the pigment of my skin.  Just the thought of it - just typing that statement - makes prejudice seem so very obviously stupid it's a wonder anyone engages in such a futile endeavor.  As a Christian white girl, I have still found myself removed from much discourse of race relations - this Western Michigan life is insular in so many ways.  To be certain, as the white ladies of the Junior League of the 1960s before me, I have donated to the "poor African orphans"....I have repaired houses in Mississippi....I have shunned the "N-Word" as I shun profanity.  Yet I have had no real reason to think of civil rights beyond a historical exercise.

We are a people of theology in this little cocoon.  We like things status quo...we feel we have embarked on something radical if we attend a (mostly white) art festival in the equally insular downtown.  We send money and pray our neighborhood and school stays untouched by the 'outside'.  Are we really terribly different from the Hillys of The Help?  I pray we are.  I pray I am.

My life won't change drastically because I read a poigniant story told from the perspective of three women in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s.  My circle will admittedly not widen much and the cocoon rarely stretches.  Yet I pray that as I look at other women - not just women of other color, but women different from me in so many ways - that I may notice that, in the end, we truly are just women.  We don't have to include other adjectives of the superficial kind.  Not 'white' or 'black' or 'Asian' or 'single' or 'divorced'.  And while 'Christian' runs deeper than an adjective and my theology is not movable, I pray that in other areas a book such as this will at least open eyes and more distinctly apply the overused "What would Jesus do?"

(Highly recommend in spite of some profanity.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Scott Brown is HOT....and I mean that just how I wrote it....

If you live in a nomadic community in the center of the Sahara you have been far more busy with water gathering than the average American citizen.  Well, if you are an average American citizen you are probably more preoccupied with job searching, Tiger Woods exploits off the greens, or yourself.  However, there is a group of people who read things other than Parade Magazine and even watch the news....these people may have spent a good portion of last week engaged in political conversations centering on the Bay State and how the people of Massachusetts would react to the past year's D.C. administration highlights.

Enter:  Scott Brown.  Scott Brown is not the latest American Idol wannabe (though his daughter was).  Nor is he a television personality (though his wife is).  Scott Brown, we are to believe, is like a fresh breeze off the Cape ushering in a new period in politics.  Scott Brown is the un-Kennedy.

Right now we only know what Brown has wanted us to know.  To be certain, the dirty underbelly of politics and the peons who work within said belly have done their work in attempting to find something about this man...something that would derail his every guy truck.  Nothing has worked.  Scott is currently enjoying the John Edwards effect.....for who didn't look at that litigator and think "something might just be wrong here but he's so boyishly handsome we're going to let it slide..."  It seems now, however, that Edwards has another mouth he's willing to claim on his tax return and even his cancer-stricken wife is under much scrutiny.  The love has moved on....to Brown.

What can Brown do for you?  (Many thanks to UPS for having the foresight to use this line.)

Here's what I know:

I know that if Brown were a woman running for political office, her chances would have been obliterated as soon as her Playboy centerfold was revealed.  Her intelligence would have been questioned and even if she was now 40-something and the assets she once photographed were now sagging, it wouldn't matter.  She would have not only been out of contention, Christians would have derided her and prayed for her salvation.  Brown is the Cosmo teflon centerfold.  It didn't stick.  Not even with Christians.

If the people of Massachusetts didn't already have their own version of healthcare (we'll call it "Romneycare") the vote may have been different.  Brown benefitted from the mess in D.C. to be sure, but he also found himself in a state finally experiencing some economic woes without the fear of lost healthcare.  I really hope he sent a nice 'Thank You' to Mitt Romney.  For while so many conservatives deride healthcare for all, I have yet to meet any deriding the healthcare who have no healthcare themselves.  The voters of Massachusetts have had a 'fall back' in that department for years. 

So what will Brown do for you?  Besides being a visible, daily reminder to the Democrats that all good things come to an end, I'm not sure.  He may end the current healthcare plan in D.C.....he will not end abortion on demand....he will look great in conservative photo ops.  But, really, beyond ushering in the end of the Kennedy Era I'm not sure any of us truly know what Brown will do.......though we know that when pressed for cash he will utilize all of his assets.

Monday, January 18, 2010

52 in 52: Eleanor Everywhere

Though I finished two books the past week I will stick with one per entry because, well, I'm nobody's fool and that 'extra' book finished will come in handy during a week I've been downright lazy.  I fully anticipate Michigan leaving winter behind at some point during 2010 and apart from rainy, stormy days the changing weather often means less reading and more dreaming of the outdoors.

The life of a homeschooling mom often means reading books which coincide with lessons.  We have found ourselves knee-deep in most things Depression and War (and I don't mean a study of current events).  Therefore, a recent read was A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt by C. Coco De Young.  A relatively small book of just barely over 100 pages, the endearing story was enough to keep even this adult reader thoroughly engaged throughout.  While a topic such as the Great Depression (again - of the past) is often difficult to convey to children, and something which in certain situations must be tread upon lightly less all new (or current) fears be magnified, the author did an excellent job of sharing historical fact without increasing fears in my rather sensitive children. 

To be sure, this is not exhaustive history of the economic events which contributed to this bleak period of American history but it is a good, personal, account of one family's experiences and a lovely picture of life 'way back when'....when front porches were meeting places, when neighbors knew one another's business, and when children could play into the evening without (too many) fears of abduction and other crimes against the innocent.  For 2010's children struggling to understand our current situation - and for children who should somehow be given further insight into the domino effect of economics - this is a highly recommend.

On to "adult" fare next time...I promise....