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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nutrition Notebook #4

Had my monthly check up with the nutritionist to get the stats and see if this approach (see earlier posts) is paying off. I'm glad to say, yes indeedy. My cholesterol went from 201 to 178 in one month, people! My HDL and LDL numbers also went down, as did my TSH.

IDK what that means, but LOL, I'm told it's good...

Apparently it pays to eat LOADS of vegetables. And no meat or cheese. Fish and nuts are cool though.

So I have said goodbye to the food of youth ministry, perhaps forever. I will admit that I am not sure I can ever give up french fries, but perhaps I'm willing to scale back.

The plan is for month #2 to be like month #1. As I said in my first post on November 25 about it, I'll continue to be "a leafy green vegetable-eating squirrel -- tooting along due to a slight increase in bean intake." I get to actually increase my nut intake. So that's exciting. Well, maybe not exciting...

Final stat: I've lost 6 pounds. Hoping for, oh, a whole lot more of that, but who's counting?

Free piece o' advice: I must say that I would NOT recommend starting an entire revision of the way you eat the day before Thanksgiving, carrying on through the Christmas season. Just a thought. I'm not whining though.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Light in the Darkness

I appreciated this quote very much. It speaks to some very real things going on in my life this week.
Light in the Darkness

We walk in a "ravine as dark as death" (Psalm 23:4), and still we have nothing to fear because God is at our side: God's staff and crook are there to soothe us (see Psalm 23:4). This is not just a consoling idea. It is an experience of the heart that we can trust.

Our lives are full of suffering, pain, disillusions, losses and grief, but they are also marked by visions of the coming of the Son of Man "like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into west" (Matthew 24:27). These moments in which we see clearly, hear loudly, and feel deeply that God is with us on the journey make us shine as a light into the darkness. Jesus says, "You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Musings on Christmas

I read this today and felt like I was finally reading something new about the "quandary of Christmas." Tell me what you think.
I have this running quandary about Christmas. I get upset about it, because I feel that we American Christians make too much of it, and too little. Too little of it, because we pile all sorts of other things onto it, including some that have only the feeblest connection with the Event it is supposed to commemorate. If God did become a man, in any real sense, it is the most important thing that ever happened. Surely we, who believe it, could well devote one day a year to uninterrupted contemplation of the fact, and let Saturnalia fall on the winter solstice, where it belongs.

On the other hand, we make so much of the actual birth, and forget the things that make it more than just the birth of a baby (though even that is, in Walt Whitman's phrase, "miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels"*)--more, even, than the birth of the greatest man who ever lived. We forget the promise to Eve of a descendant who will solve the problem of Evil; the promise to Abraham of one by whom all mankind will be blessed; the promise to Moses of a greater prophet than he, to arise from his people; and the promise to David of a Son who would be his Master. We forget about the eternal Purpose behind it all: it's like telling a story and leaving out the point. Yes, it is true that God gave us His Son, and so maybe we ought also to give gifts--but what, and to whom? It is also true that God gave us Himself, and the only sensible response to that is to give ourselves to Him. There is nothing else that He wants from us, or, if there is something, He can take it. Only I, my ego, my heart, is truly mine to give or to withhold--and is therefore the appropriate gift to Him.

... Robert MacColl Adams (1913-1985), letter, 1982

* Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Song of Myself, in Leaves of Grass

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Books - Part 3 (and final... for now!)

I've taken my sweet time listing my favorite, life-changing books, in response to a recent interview I heard on NPR (see Books - Part 1 and Part 2 for the books I've listed so far). Today's final few will round out the biggies for me. Thanks to those who have added their own life-changing books, or chimed in with comments. I welcome it all. Building on my list of ten books from the first entry, and five cooking/food/sustainable living books from the second entry... and in no particular chronological or preferential order (I can make my lists the way I want them, right?!):
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Perhaps this just feels too predictable ("wait, don't tell me, Catcher in the Rye is coming next...") but I can't help it, it's true. I had to read this book in AP English in high school, and I liked it. I thought I sort of "got it," too. THEN I read it in college for one of my Modern American Fiction classes... and then... ah... the Great American Novel! The beauty of literature (and heck, all art and creativity) is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And this one hit me between the eyes as the The Perfect Novel. It was the first novel I really loved. Tight imagery, well-crafted dialogue, pitch-perfect portrayal of the Roaring Twenties with those crazy flappers and shallow men living out the vagaries of the Jazz Age. Perhaps it all seems a bit obvious and heavy-handed now for our oh-so-sophisticated postmodern tastes, but I thought the giant eyeglasses of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg were a spectacular metaphor. I was impressed.
  • Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. I really loved this book. Honestly, I'm not at all a fan of Steinbeck's fiction. It is painfully dark, to the point where I am just flat out miserable when I'm reading. No thanks. But his narrative non-fiction is a banquet for me. Great stories, lots of adventures, interesting characters, telling confessions. The Log from the Sea of Cortez could be on this list as well. Steinbeck is a person from history with whom I wish I could have a cup of coffee. I have many questions for him. He insisted throughout all of his writing that life has no meaning -- it just happens. Yet so much of his imagery and dialogue takes on a deeply philosophical and even biblical tone. I was so intrigued I even wrote an article about him. I also learned a lot about writing from him, and try to take those lessons to heart. Steinbeck was a good writer, but it wasn't just a natural gift. He worked hard at it nearly every day, and it gave his life meaning. As he was once quoted, "a man’s a writer because there’s a craving inside him that makes him write. A man writes to get at the bottom of some basic fact of life."
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride. This book has stayed with me because it is the first memoir I really remember. Certainly, I had read plenty of biographies, and perhaps several autobiographies, by the time I read this book. Maybe I'm just being hoity-toity in separating the two... but a memoir isn't just a fancy word to me. A memoir is deeper and richer, more reflective. A chronology of events is told, but I oscillate between feeling like I'm reading about someone's life, and eating up a fantastic novel. McBride's book was like that for me. His description of his mother's life was spellbinding. I remember nearly eating this book whole. I read it when I ate, I read it at stoplights, I read it when I got up and when I went to bed. As one blogger writes, "let me tell you that reading McBride’s writing will be like listening to cool jazz – and there might very well be a connection there. In addition to writing, McBride has made his living as a journalist and a jazz musician. It is obvious that this combination has made him a writer of very lyrical lines." I probably also liked it because his mother is Jewish, and so is my dad; plus his mother's name is Ruth, and I have two important Ruth's in my own life. Anyway, this book caused me to now always browse in the memoir section of whatever bookstore I wander through.
  • Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner. This book is a jewel. I plan on reading it once a year, and I have given it as a gift several times. I even flew to Seattle just to hear Lauren Winner speak after reading this book. This book fed my soul. It took me to deeper places in my relationship with God. It explores the spiritual practices of Judaism, and pushes Christians to learn from them. It certainly taught me. Its chapter on mourning held the hands of all of us when we lost our dear friend Matt in 2006 -- I made a slew of copies of that chapter and we all held ourselves a little bit more together by sharing its vocabulary with one another. The chapter on candle-lighting is a wonderful little spiritual hors d'oeuvre too. Great, great book.
  • Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. I better be careful. I don't want to go into superlative overdrive on this one. This is one of those books where I would be reading and all of sudden I thought I heard a gong. Other than the Bible, I am not sure any other book felt more like God speaking directly to me. I have no idea who else this book was written for, because in my heart and mind it was only written for me! It inspired the title of this blog, and the quote below the title came from this book. Let Your Life Speak walked me into my sabbatical last year and gave me some footsteps to follow as I was stumbling along. I am utterly, deeply grateful for this book.
  • Serve God, Save the Planet by Matthew Sleeth. Several of the green/sustainable living books that I listed in Books - Part 2 were all part of my decisions related to the way I eat now. But this book pulled it all together. It solidified my sense that my faith and my habits of environmental stewardship were inextricably entwined. I learn more about God as I care for his creation, stepping into the job he created me for; but God also teaches me more and more all the time about ways to live more simply, selflessly, carefully. This book got me to buy energy-saving bulbs, hang my clothes on a clothesline, wash my clothes in cold water, and take the bus occasionally. All fun stuff. But perhaps most significant to me personally, Sleeth connected the dots for me between poverty reduction through environmental stewardship, which really caused me to dive in with Eden Reforestation Projects. I am not just a chic little recycling/reusable bag using/scooter-driving/organic eating American; I am a believer who knows that billions in this world teeter on the edge of total catastrophe in large part because of what we as the human race are doing to our planet. It is of dire importance that we recognize how much each of us needs to get involved in serving God by saving the planet. 'Nuff said.
Thanks for listening. Don't forget -- share your own.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nutrition Notebook #3

I haven’t updated my gigantic fanbase (thanks, all three of you…) with the latest on this new self-improvement project.... This all started on November 25 with a visit to the nutritionist to get some help in my gluten-free status. She decided that my cholesterol and thyroid needed a gigantic kick in the pants as well.

So I'm on a rigorous, how-low-can-you-go nutrition plan in terms of establishing a baseline for my cholesterol. Folks, we are not messing around. Nutrition Lady is taking me down to the studs -- no meat, no dairy, no sweets, no soda (Diet Coke, I miss you!), no pasta, no bread, no crackers. (The last 3 are not difficult -- don't be forgettin' I've been gluten-free since late May).

Yes, I'm essentially living on twigs and branches, with an occasional nut for fun. KIDDING. I'm doing just fine. Granted, I'm reaching new levels of vegetable intake unbeknownst to humankind, but I'm not suffering, even in this Christmas season of peanut-butter balls waiting to pounce around every corner.

I won't bore you with every detail, but here's a generic framework, at least till end of this month, when I will get bloodwork done to assess my numbers:
  • Trader Joe's "Essential Greens" first thing in the morning. Not as bad as it could be, but not Yippee, Time for Essential Greens! either.
  • Followed by hot cereal (gluten-free, yes there are options) with lots of fruit, topped with nuts, or eggs with lots of vegetables (mushrooms, onion, spinach, whatever I want). Yes, I still get one, count 'em, ONE cup of coffee.
  • Lunch is a gigantic salad with protein - fish, nuts or beans
  • Dinner is a hoot: a salad, ONE POUND of cooked vegetables, and an entree: fish, beans, 1 lb. of potatoes or polenta or 1/2 cup (dry) of brown rice.
  • Snacks are veggies, fruit, hummus, air-popped popcorn.
After some radical ups and downs that first week or 10 days as my body went into shock and let me know it was noticing I was up to something, I settled in to it comfortably. I'm not gonna lie: eating out is pretty tricky, and I spend more time cooking than I ever have. I'm trying not to panic about how I'm going to make this work when I'm at Urbana Dec 26-Jan 1. But I feel GREAT, and there have been two side bonuses:
  1. I’ve lost 5 pounds (honestly, how could I not??!)
  2. I had a student blurt out in class this week at Providence Hall, “Hey Kelly, you look younger!” He has no idea about this change I’ve been working on, so I haven't the foggiest sense of where this comment came from. Sadly, I had no witty comeback for him.
Here's one new favorite treat that I can have for a snack occasionally - it's sort of a mind-blower.

Almond Bread - I usually make it in half batches
1 lb almond flour (you can buy it at Lassen's, Lazy Acres or Whole Foods)
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tb olive oil
3/4 c water, carbonated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour flour into bowl, add remaining ingredients. Pour into olive-oiled bread pan and bake 1 hour (for my half batch, I only bake it for 35 minutes...). Can stay fresh for over a week in an airtight container in refrigerator.

Major disclaimer -- I would NOT try this nutrition plan unsupervised. Remember, this is geared for me due to my various needs and issues. But it's quite a ride, and I'm interested to see where it takes me. It is most definitely worth making a visit to a nutritionist recommended by your own doctor though. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sustainable Stocking Stuffers from Eden Reforestation Projects!

I bet you're just starting to think about what to get everyone for Christmas. I won't go on a rant about how much money is spent on mindless gifts. You know all that rot already. Instead, I'll just share a sustainable, tax-deductible, life-giving gift option for you.

For each $5 you give to Eden Reforestation Projects, you can then take the graphics on this post, right click or save 'em or whatever and print them up on cardstock in your printer and hand them out to friends, family, co-workers, your paper boy, your mailman, whoever!

This is so easy, but so life-changing. Five dollars plants fifty trees in Haiti, Ethiopia or Madagascar. These trees provide jobs, shelter, renewed soil and groundwater and most importantly, HOPE.

If you would like to personalize your cards, or increase the amounts listed on your cards, just contact me by email at kelly.soifer@gmail.com, and I can send you the MS Word doc for you to make an insertions or adjustments.

  1. Go to Eden Reforestation Project's donation page.
  2. If you want to just send in a check for your stocking stuffers donation, send it to the address listed in Azusa. Please write "stocking stuffers" on the envelope in the left corner.
  3. If you would rather pay by credit card or PayPal, scroll down and select the gold "Donate" button. Fill in the TOTAL amount you want to donate based on how many stocking stuffers you want to send. For example, if you want to give 12 stocking stuffers for $5/each, that will total a gift to Eden Projects of $60. (Which plants 600 trees!!)
  4. Please add the note "stocking stuffers" in the "Add special instructions for Merchant" box.
Thank you so much. We planted over 4.6 million trees this year, and our plans are to plant at least 8 million in 2010. Your gifts will give us a great jumpstart as we try to keep up with the many opportunities coming to us on the ground in Africa and Haiti.

Two more sustainable gift options through Eden Reforestation:
  • Match the amount you spent on your Christmas tree with a gift to Eden. Just think -- if you spent $50 on a tree, a matching gift would plant 500 trees. (When you send your gift to us, put "matching Christmas tree" in the instructions box.)
  • Donate $1 to Eden for every Christmas card or photo you send out. Along the bottom include in tiny print, "I donated $1 to www.edenprojects.org for every card I sent this season as a way of offsetting all the trees I killed in sending these cards :) " If you send out 100 cards, you would plant 1000 trees. That would put you well on your way to giving an entire forest to a village. (When you send your gift to us, put "holiday card offset" in the instructions box.)
P.S. Duplicate the impact of your gift by SPREADING THE WORD about this to your friends and social networks. Just send an email with a link to this post, or load up the info on your status updates on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Books - Part 2

This week I ran into two different stories that prompt today's entry. First of all, earlier this week I snuggled in bed (as I do most nights) with one of my issues of The New Yorker, and I enjoyed an article by Adam Gopnik entitled What's the Recipe? Our hunger for cookbooks. I wish I could give you the link, but the New Yorker is rather stingy with their content. A wise move in terms of preserving fidelity to their printed product, but I wish I could share it.

There is no way to summarize it quickly. Fortunately, the other story I stumbled on helps to know. Mr. Gopnik was interviewed on NPR's Talk of the Nation this week about this article. The essence of the article is summarized as "cookbooks and why do you read them?"

His article created two nearly concurrent feelings in me. On one level I felt a bit deflated -- I thought my own experience with cookbooks and cooking in the last year was sort of... "mine." It was a happy place where I went, often at night. For example, the other night I put The New Yorker aside and read my favorite Indian food cookbook before bed. Now I come to discover that not only do others do things like that, but a LOT of people do. That makes me feel trendy and well, common. Hmmph.

On the other hand, it was fun to realize that I'm not crazy. I'm participating in a large-scale mass delusion... that is actually rather harmless, and certainly enjoyable a lot of the time. Of course, this is why Julie & Julia was so popular.

What exactly am I talking about? It is that strange conception that owning a cookbook, tearing a recipe out of magazine, or googling three ingredients from your kitchen and finding something online, makes you think you can actually make that. And that feeling is nearly enough. For delightful little windows of time, I believe that I am a cook. As Gopnik is quoted as saying in the radio interview, The act of wanting ends up mattering more than the act of getting.

So to build on my post from earlier this week, I want to share a few food-related books have been life-changers for me. Not earth-shattering, existential life change, but pleasant shifts in thinking and experience. Enough for me. P.S. This is a rather short list. I'm new to this whole nesting-at-home-and-trying-to-cook thing. But I am looking forward to years of more acquisitions!
  1. An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey. I got this book as a white elephant gift at a Christmas party a few years ago -- it was printed in 1975. It looks like the kind of book you see spilling over into messy, neglected piles at used bookstores, where you think, Where does all this junk come from? I didn't look at it for a year or two. I cannot even remember why I finally picked it up; but I found a wealth of treasures when I did. It deserves first place on my list because to me it is the pinnacle of why this crazy trend in cookbooks happens. This is not a simple book of recipes, one after another -- it is full of delightful stories: Jaffrey describes immigrating to the US and being disappointed in the lack of good Indian restaurants and good supplies to make Indian food; she shares about writing to her mother still in India for recipes from home; she teaches the origins of the word "curry" and what it really is. And then the stories segue seamlessly into recipes. This is a travelogue as much as a cookbook; I am transported when I read it. I adore her sample menus, and picture a leisurely evening around a table of good friends, lazily grazing through each course. Best of all, I love her pre-heart-disease-fearing amounts of cooking oil. My absolute favorite recipe in this book, "Cauliflower with ginger & Chinese parsley," calls for eight tablespoons of oil! This book introduced me to the wonder and enchanting flavors of Indian cooking, which I now make at least once a week. It also gave me the courage to try.
  2. 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate. Another Indian food cookbook that I purchased after I'd gained some confidence in Indian cooking. I wanted some updated recipes from the 8-tablespoons-of-cooking-oil years. This one doesn't have many stories, but it is beautifully photographed. This is the cookbook I took to bed the other night. It is visual comfort food, formatted perfectly with lots of burnt orange, dark yellow, beet red, cinnamon brown, khaki tan, with a few bursts of green for kicks. I made the Sauteed Beets with Mustard and Lemon Juice from this cookbook the other night, and I'll be honest -- it was stunning. Extremely simple and so flavorful. Indian food has made me fall in love with vegetables, and THAT, folks, is a life-changer.
  3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. I could name a couple of other books in this vein -- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith & J.B. Mackinnon. I read these books in quick succession, and they just took me to a whole new plane. After reading them, I realized how much I wanted to eat sustainably by eating locally, seasonally and organically. I go ON AND ON about this on this blog, so I'll save my breath on this. But one example sums up what I enjoy about this life change: I really love red peppers. I could eat them every day. They are like candy to me. I love the way they crunch. I love their subtle sweetness. I love slathering them with hummus. I love throwing them in salads, in omelettes, in sandwiches... but I also realized that when I was eating them off-season that I was eating peppers from South America or from high-energy hothouses, all of which consume fantastic amounts of energy to produce them just so I may indulge my first-world belief that if I want it I should have it. So despite my profound enjoyment of red peppers, I only allow myself to have them when I can buy them here in Santa Barbara from a local farmer when he grows them. This has taught me surprising amounts about discipline, anticipation, and appreciation of the moment. Which um, overflows into other parts of my life, funny thing.
  4. My Life in France by the Great Lady Herself, Julia Child. I bought this book when I heard the movie was coming out so I could read it before I saw the film. This was one of those rare experiences of utter bliss. I simply could not put the book down. The stories, the photos, the funny way of writing, the love story between Julia and Paul, the phenomenal work she put into her cookbooks ... all of it was enchanting. I'm sure part of the enjoyment had to do with the fond memories I had of watching The French Chef as a child. I have no distinct sense of understanding it or doing anything with it. But we were a hearty public television family, so it was just ON. I can hear her shrill Bon Appetit! as I type this. This book makes me enjoy sharp knives, stainless steel cookware, kosher salt and fresh ingredients. And in a perfect world, I would have a kitchen like hers.
  5. Los Angeles Times Food Section. Not a book. Got it. But honestly, over the years this is my #1 go-to in terms of reliable recipes, especially for seasonal needs. For example, it had a great section on how to prepare the turkey for Thanksgiving. But I have gotten some fabulous standards from them over the years too -- I have saved my recipes for Chiles Rellenos and "Hurry Curry" from this, for example. The restaurant reviews bore me (and I always think they are too rigorous -- it feels like nothing would ever be good enough), but other than that, this section is a fun 2-minute vacation when I need a break from emails, and a serendipitous source of "Huh, I have never tried making that."
Honorable mention: Vegetarian Times magazine. This is fun and stimulating. Some of the recipes do not interest me at all. But winners like Polenta Pizza and Three-Herb Pesto keep me coming back for more.

What cookbooks do YOU like? And why?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Books - Part 1

Yesterday morning at church I had a delightful conversation with someone in between services. We were talking about possible Christmas presents, and she shared how her husband has been "threatening" that he'll get her a Kindle, knowing full well of her deep love for books, and how that gizmo would be anathema to her. I had one of those "me too!" moments, and we chattered on top of each other about how we love all things bookish... owning books, reading books, arranging books, writing in books, shopping for books (used ones, of course). I decided to be an English major in college for that very reason. I had no aspirations of writing The Great American Novel. I simply shook at the realization that if I majored in English it would be my job to read books. It seemed too good to be true!

Also, earlier this week I heard a podcast on NPR titled Books That Changed America. In it an author named Jay Parini was interviewed about books he felt had changed the course of our country. I don't have a lot to argue with in terms of list. You can hear the interview yourself and decide. But the whole idea got me thinking on a smaller scale. What books have changed my life?

Once I started thinking about it, it was easy for me to quickly come up with my list. I invite you to do the same. Here are mine as they came to me. I am also not listing in the order I read them.

In fact, once I got going I realized that I better split this list up into two entries. Waaayyy too much reading at one sitting.

My Books, Part 1:
  1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. One of the few books I can read over and over. It is always satisfying. Her understated but spot-on descriptions, her delightful understanding of women and the ways we work internally and externally, and her own real story, all keep me coming back. I took a senior seminar in college with a syllabus that simply required us to read everything she'd ever written. It was so easy to be an English major -- it didn't feel like work!
  2. The Spirit, The Church & the World by John Stott. I have probably read every book Stott has written. In a Time magazine poll, Billy Graham listed him as the most influential evangelical of the 20th century. His prose is clear but not dry, his logic is precise yet also passionate, and his approach is methodical and accessible. I have truly been tutored by Stott throughout my years of vocational ministry. This book listed here was the first big A-HA! book that I read in seminary. It's a commentary on the Book of Acts, and I remember thinking as I read it, This is fascinating, I can't wait to read more, and oh my goodness, I GET it!
  3. Mere Christianity / The Great Divorce / The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The summer after my freshman year of college I got a job at the U.S. Geological Survey's western headquarters, where I literally typed for 8 hours a day in a windowless room. I knew no one else at these offices, so I decided to spend each lunch break reading these C.S. Lewis books. Up to the point I read them, I would say my faith was pretty simplistic and immature. I decided to follow Christ at age 15 for a bunch of 15-year old reasons that were all valid, but they held little weight as I got older. When I read these books by Lewis, I was launched on a whole new trajectory. It sounds like a cliche, but I was never the same. Lewis put some meat on the bones of my faith, and I grew up.
  4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Enchanting. It's one of the few books I've read that literally makes me laugh out loud at times. It's the most entertaining how-to book you'll ever read. It's often rather crass, but not gratuitously so. Lamott's voice is always authentic. Her combination of writerly insight and spiritual honesty is totally winsome. This book also made me believe I could actually write. I had been so paralyzed by the I'm-not-sure-anyone-would-ever-want-to-read-what-I-write fears that I never had the guts to start. Lamott made me realize I could write because I just had to -- it was dying to come out of me.
  5. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This book unlocked the world of imagination for me. It was read to us in our 2nd grade class by my teacher, whose name was Mrs. Woolwine (is that a great name or what?!) I received the book as a gift that year as well, and loved picturing Veruca Salt and August Gloop and the golden ticket and the chocolate river. Glorious. Movies have attempted to capture this movie, but I like the version in my head much better.
  6. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. This is a can't-put-it-down account of the Lewis & Clark expedition. I read it during a long camping vacation in a national park, which made it all the more interesting. This book hooked me on travel and "extreme" narratives -- I went on to read Into Thin Air, Endurance, Into the Wild, My First Summer in the Sierras, among others.
  7. An American Childhood by Annie Dillard. This is a writer of uncommon gifts. Like Anne Lamott, her writing sometimes causes me to laugh out loud. But where Lamott's writing is like comfort food, Dillard's writing for me is more like listening to a symphony. It's got so many layers. It is so precise. Her language is stunning. I often have to read sentences twice. She makes me pause at times because her imagery is so powerful, and her thoughts even more breathtaking. She is philosophical and lyrical and spiritual and a remarkable storyteller. I want to grow up and be Annie Dillard. P.S. Another of her books, The Writing Life, could easily be on this list.
  8. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. How I wish this book didn't speak to me so much. I have walked through terminal illness with more than one beloved friend. This book is a slow start, and I found their beginning love story a bit mushy and over the top. But as Vanauken describes their growing relationship with Christ and his wife's battle with cancer, I was completely drawn in. Tears poured down my face as I got near the end. I'm seeing a pattern here -- when a book elicits genuine emotional response, and not just the warm enjoyment of a good read, I can't forget it.
  9. The New Yorker magazine. Sure sure, not a book, I know. But oh, the writing is so glorious. Their reviews of books, films and general culture have also prompted me to read stuff I never would have looked at. The New Yorker is classy, creative and funny, and the topics covered are expansive. There is solid journalism and extensive coverage. I don't always agree with the perspective of the writers, but I'm nearly always challenged to quantify my own by the discussion. I especially love their articles on the environment, and their interviews of writers. The gauge I use when reading a New Yorker article of some breadth and depth is not Do I care about this enough to read it? but instead, Does this article make me care enough about it to keep reading? Rarely am I disappointed.
  10. The Bible by God. I did not grow up reading the Bible. When I was 15, I asked my mom to buy me one, and she was less than excited. She bought me a Living New Testament from Gemco, most likely from one of those racks near the checkout, where they also have self-help and "Dummies" books. A less than auspicious start for me in the Good Book department. When I received it, I just opened the cover and started reading -- and the content grabbed me. By the sixth chapter of the Book of Matthew I was sold. Yes, I got very confused along the way (I really did not get how the "plot" kept repeating itself through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John...) but sought out guidance with my questions. Thirty-three years later, I still read it nearly every day. That's something.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nutrition Notebook #2

I promise, my current food plan will not be the only thing I talk about here... but I appreciate how many friends have written emails with encouragement, questions, recipes, mockery... I love all of it. Yeah yeah, even the mockery.

Just so we're clear, I'm not necessarily turning pure vegetarian or vegan. I haven't bought a Vitamix. I'm not living off the land. Don't get me wrong, I am open to much (some?) of it -- but I'm also not planting my flag anywhere quite yet. This is a month-to-month process to establish a baseline for my cholesterol, and then go from there to figure out how I can manage my nutrition, blood chemistry and hormone levels. I also need to kickstart my metabolism, which appears to have been suppressed by one of my long-term medications. And daily soy lattes... (*sigh*)

The no-no's list is not pretty - for this month I'm not eating:
  • poultry
  • red meat
  • diet soda
  • sweeteners
  • soy
  • dairy
  • bread
  • crackers
  • cookies
And only 1 cuppa joe per day. After a month we'll measure my cholesterol, and go from there.

I'm not suffering. I am full to bursting after dinner especially. That could be because I have to eat a POUND of cooked vegetables. Hmm. Protein comes from nuts, beans and fish. Here's a list below of some of the things I've eaten these last few days...

2 Eggs
1 medium sized chopped onion
1 small sized chopped tomato
2 chopped green chili (or just a little hot sauce)
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
A pinch of curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp olive oil

  • Beat the eggs thoroughly in a bowl.
  • Add the onions, tomatoes and the green chillies. mix thoroughly.
  • Add the garam masala powder, curry powder and salt. mix well.
  • Heat the oil in a non stick pan and add the cumin seeds.
  • Fry for a few seconds over a medium flame.
  • Pour the egg mixture and cook on both sides till light brown in colour. (reduce the flame) serve hot.
1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (I had to leave this part out...)
3 tablespoons sliced black olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  • Place spaghetti squash cut sides down on the prepared baking sheet, and bake 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a sharp knife can be inserted with only a little resistance. Remove squash from oven, and set aside to cool enough to be easily handled.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion in oil until tender. Add garlic, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, and cook only until tomatoes are warm.
  • Use a large spoon to scoop the stringy pulp from the squash, and place in a medium bowl.
  • Toss with the sauteed vegetables, feta cheese, olives, and basil. Serve warm.
Lunch is a BIG BIG salad each day, so I found this dressing. Poured it over butter lettuce, pomegranate seeds, diced olives, 1/2 avocado, 1 oz pistachios, diced green onion, 6 mushrooms. See, I'm not suffering!


2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey, more if desired (I used 2 tsp agave nectar -- not completely following my rules...)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, more if desired
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more if desired
1/4 teaspoon pepper (freshly ground if available), more if desired

  • Place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast just until they begin to take on some color and become fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Roughly grind the seeds using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, or in a mixing bowl using the bottom of a measuring cup.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk in the oil, honey and lime with the cumin seeds until all of the ingredients are emulsified. Whisk in the salt and pepper, then taste and adjust the seasoning and flavoring if desired.
  • This makes a generous three-fourths cup dressing, which will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nutrition Notebook #1

(Skip this if you're not super interested in lots of talk about having to change the way one eats. It's my entire life at the moment. Boring, I know.)

Well well, I made a big step yesterday. Still sort of spinning from it. Two years ago my doctor advised me to visit a nutritionist to think through my "issues" -- cholesterol (100% affected by what I eat - SHOOT), digestion (a nice word for a not-so-nice situation at times), weight, acid reflux. Not to mention being a woman of a certain age... ahem. Rhymes with "shmoremones."

So yeah, didn't do that. Tried to just push through "it," ignore "it," though I wasn't sure what "it" was.

Of late however, I have become more aware of needing to figure "it" out. Perhaps this is awareness is coming from my recent trend of being a grown up when it comes to my health... For the last year I have learned how to eat my vegetables. I play well with others (most of the time). I exercise and get plenty of rest. And for the last 6 months I have been gluten-free to help with my "digestion" concerns, and that has worked very well in that arena. Not only are my bowels happy, but my acid reflux has disappeared. And before I completely sound like an infomercial, I will say that my allergies have diminished greatly as well.

So what's the problem? Is "it" still there?

I realized that once a day I was having an "oh-my-gosh-if-I-don't-eat-something-right-now-I-might-hurt-someone" moment. I'd never experienced that before. And that started after going off of gluten, which was otherwise an utterly helpful change. But when I went for my annual physical, my bloodwork was good. Outstanding, actually. Not that I'm bragging. But my internal pom-poms had a little party.

We could also mention that I am sturdy and low to the ground. I am not a delicate flower.

So I went back to my usual approach of pushing through "it." Yet last week I thought, Hmm, perhaps I could just this once admit that I'm a little lost here when it comes to eating and such. Perhaps the internet doesn't know everything.... perhaps "it" needs to be named.

I pulled out the referral from the doctor, sighed, and made the call. Yesterday I was told that:
  • I have really good kidney, gall bladder, liver function. Blood sugar is great.
  • blood pressure - outstanding. Exercise works.
  • my cholesterol is 200. My good cholesterol is 65. I don't really know what that means, but we need to pay attention to the first one.
  • certain meds I'm taking might be supressing my thyroid, though my levels look good
  • soy milk isn't a smart idea, for several reasons (but my tum tum can't really do milk. I feel so high maintenance)
  • chicken is more of a lower-cholesterol food than actually low-cholesterol (WHAT??)
  • the best source of protein is raw nuts
  • cheese is not my friend. Nor is Diet Coke.
  • coffee has to be limited to once a day. Not that I'm a big guzzler, but it's more than that at times.
Those last few were not enjoyable things to hear. I already eat lots of vegetables. And now I am going to eat MORE. And nuts nuts nuts are entering my life.

So I'm basically going to become a leafy green vegetable-eating squirrel -- tooting along due to a slight increase in bean intake too. Yeah yeah, I'll be eating fruit too. This month is going to be rough as we establish a new baseline from which to work. Then we will slowly build back up and see what works in terms of cholesterol, metabolism, etc.

Thus the graphic: I'm HAPPY I'm doing this, because I believe certain things that need to improve will improve. I'm SAD because good night nurse, it's the day before Thanksgiving, and I'm entering the holidays, where I essentially am not supposed to eat anything that is holiday-ish. I will miss cheese and chicken. At least for awhile. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Do not forget our friends in China

I receive a weekly update on how brothers & sisters in Christ are suffering around the world. Today's post especially hit me:


Not only has US President Obama's visit to China thrown the spotlight on the authoritarian state's human rights record, it has also highlighted the degree to which China is ascendant. As the US desperately needs Chinese co-operation on climate change, trade, global economics and nuclear proliferation, it will not risk irritating Chinese leaders by criticising China's human rights record. Christian leaders who had been hoping for progress on religious freedom have been disappointed. Large unregistered churches (i.e. not controlled by the Communist Party) in Shanghai and Beijing were targeted with repressive measures leading up to President Obama's visits there. China has the upper hand -- and knows it. Persecution is thus likely to escalate as the regime does whatever it takes to ensure its survival in the face of rising social disaffection. Please pray.

Look for more specifics here. Harrowing and humbling, as I consider my own comfort and peace. May we not forget them.

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Heart is Squishy for Squash

I must be a grown up now. I not only like most vegetables... I LOVE them. I crave them. I look forward to eating them. Heavens, what's happened to me?! I was the kid who hated carrots passionately (ok, so... I still do hate raw or cooked carrots by themselves) and successfully lived my entire childhood never ever having eaten brussel sprouts, eggplant, kale, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes, any squash other than zucchini... the list goes on and on. We basically grew up on Birdseye frozen peas, corn and beans. Didn't everyone?

The two crispers in my fridge can barely close each week now with all my blessed vegetables. The other night I made this stew. I got the recipe from Fairview Gardens... who apparently got it from Bon Appetit magazine... who perhaps got it from Epicurious? I wonder if there are any truly original recipes anymore.

All I know is that this was DELICIOUS. Insanely so.

Winter Squash & Chicken Stew with Indian Spices (Bon Appétit | November 1995)

Yield: Serves 6


2 teaspoons olive oil
6 chicken thighs, skin removed (I used 2 cage free chicken breasts -- but if you don’t eat meat, feel free to omit)
1 1/3 cups chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (I like a little more curry and something spicy…)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (this is the key ingredient, in my opinion)
4 cups 1-inch pieces peeled butternut or acorn squash (I roasted an acorn squash for 45 minutes before putting it in... cut in half, brush with olive oil and bake at 350)
2 cups 1-inch pieces peeled russet potatoes (I nuked these in the microwave for 3 minutes beforehand)
1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth (veggie broth is okay too)
1 14 1/2- to 16-ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro


Heat 1 teaspoon oil in Dutch oven (or large soup pot) over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add to Dutch oven; sauté until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in same pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until golden, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder, cumin, and cinnamon; stir 1 minute. Return chicken to pot. Add squash, potatoes, broth and tomatoes. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until chicken and potatoes are cooked through and liquid is slightly reduced, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro. (I liked it topped with cashews and yogurt)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Vote on this Quote

Read this today. Agree or disagree? Why or why not?
The word of God has been so thoroughly tamed that as peddled in the churches there is nothing scandalous, strenuous, or revolutionary about it. It is not even difficult. It is easier to join a Christian church than it is to join Rotary. Whereas in some eras of its history, Christianity was threatened by persecution, in our own American culture, it faces an opposite threat which lies in its very success. Christianity is dying, not of persecution or neglect, but of respectability.
... W. Waldo Beach (1916-2000), The Christian Life

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fall Checklist ... and a New Use for Butternut Squash

I've had a fun and eventful fall already... knockin' down lots o' stuff:
  • Returned to Providence Hall -- check
  • Worked on consulting projects in So Cal, Illinois, and Washington -- check
  • Used video conferencing nearly every day (Skype, iChat, GChat, iCarrier Pigeon, you name it) -- check
  • Had a perfect vacation on a lake in Olympic National Park -- check
  • Went to U2 Concert at Rose Bowl -- check
  • Met Rick Warren -- check
  • Annual flu shot -- ouch & check
  • Helped the Smelleys move into their new, post-Tea Fire home -- super double extra check
  • H1N1 flu shot -- check (oink oink)
  • Have been eating lots of pomegranates because it's fall and they are pretty but Lord they are messy -- check
  • Registered for Urbana 09 -- check
  • Became an exhibitor at Urbana 09 for Eden Reforestation Projects -- check
  • Started leading a Bible study for new believers for Free Methodist Santa Barbara -- check
I'm grateful for new experiences and relationships, variety, risk, even challenges.

Meanwhile, the ol' standards continue... bike riding, soy lattes in the morning, reading every free moment, NPR podcasts, and my new love since my sabbatical last year - cooking! I test drove another recipe tonight... tasty tasty! I got the recipe from Bicycling magazine, of all places! If you need a new spin on butternut squash, go crazy. It was comfort food tonight.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas
1 large butternut squash
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons diced roasted chili peppers
1 tablespoon green onion, sliced
1 tablespoon cilantro (wish I'd put in more)
Pinch of salt
Four 6-inch corn tortillas
1 cup enchilada sauce
1/2 cup shredded
Monterey Jack cheese

Halve the squash lengthwise and remove seeds. Bake at 350 degrees until soft, about one hour. Cool. Scrape out the flesh and drain in a colander, using a few plates on top to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. In a bowl, mix squash with cream cheese, cumin, chili powder, roasted chili peppers, green onion, cilantro and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Scoop the filling onto the tortillas and roll them up. Place them seam-side down on an oiled pan. Cover with enchilada sauce and top with cheese. Make sure the tortillas are completely covered with sauce so they don't dry out. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until the cheese melts and turns brown and the filling is hot, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Serves four.

Calories per serving 276
Fat 8 grams
Carbs 48g
Protein 7g

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Night Time Radio

Often, as I’m getting ready for bed, I turn on the radio. In a world of iPods, plasma screens, laptops and SurroundSound, it feels a little quaint and old-fashioned to do so. Perhaps that’s why I do it. It feels simple and quiet. It makes the world feel subdued and settled somehow. I hear the news of the day from the authoritative, level radio voices, and it helps me turn my mind off from my own day. Strange, I suppose.

I have faint memories from growing up of hearing the radio on in my parents’ room as I walked upstairs to bed. My dad listened to talk radio at night sometimes, or sports.

This past Sunday night, I caught a few minutes of Bob Edwards’ Weekend on NPR. Near the end of his shows he plays old recordings from a series that was on in the fifties. You might have heard of it. It was called “This I Believe.”

This particular episode really hit me. It was like I had my own personal radio station, and no one could possibly be hearing this broadcast except me. The words were, to steal C.S. Lewis’ phrase, like “God’s megaphone.” They really got my attention. Rather than do my get-ready-for-bed puttering, I leaned against my bed and just gave my entire attention to it. Tell me if you hear something as well.

But before you jump there, do this. Fight the temptation to read the script on the website; rather, just listen. Hit the play button, then close your eyes.

It is incredibly moving, fantastically poignant and lean. Sit close and hear his voice – you'll hear the slight catches at times, the pauses, the marvelous East Coast accent.

There were so many arresting sentences and phrases:
I was born to see and experience the love of God…

What if I do start through habit and finish in a half dream?

I believe there is nothing passive yielding my will to God’s.

It keeps me very busy … using the faith He gave me to pass up self-satisfaction for doing something I want to do anyway.

I noticed something: you may notice something quite wonderful in most everybody you meet, even in those who annoy you or frighten you. But each, in his way, is truth–neither to be rejected nor run from.

If you believe “Thy will be done,” there is less temptation to run away from yourself. You can’t escape, anyway.
What a dramatically different world we live in now. Nothing like this would be on the radio or primetime TV today. Each sentence is so dense. It will take me a long time to wade through it. I am left wondering so much about what he is saying... and not saying.

And oh, what a name: Robbins Milbank. It sounds more like a character from a Faulkner novel rather than a real person. We know so little about him. But I hear the grief and years of life in his voice. It gives me pause. It honors my own suffering of these past years, and the suffering of those close to me whom I love. Life is hard. I am so glad I am not alone.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fried Food on Fridays in the Fall...

I'm in a bit of a food coma right now.... I just fried up 7 chiles rellenos (I'm linking my recipe) and I had some batter left, so I fried up some zucchini as well! These are not my photos, but they are accurate representations of what the finished product looked like... I'm already starting to dream up what else I could fry up in the egg batter of chiles rellenos: mushrooms, butternut squash, sweet potato, onion, potato, eggplant, polenta... Fried Food Fridays might need to be a tradition!

Other fall favorites for me right now, in no particular order:
  • acorn & butternut squash
  • crisp air
  • jackets & sweaters I haven't worn in months, so they feel like new
  • scarves
  • the smell of baking bread (I found a gluten-free bread machine mix at Lazy Acres that tastes great....)
  • using a blanket on my bed
  • NBA season is back!
  • UCSB soccer games
  • coffee brewing in the morning (OK, I like coffee in the summer, winter and spring...)
  • pumpkins
  • candles
  • a cat in my lap
What are your favorites?? Let me know.

Monday, October 26, 2009

U2? Me2?

I think that personal stories on big arena concerts often smack of "nyah nyah, I got to go and you didn't..." so I'm going to do my best to avoid that. As my friend told me today, "I'm seeing all the traffic on Facebook today about U2 and it sort of disgusts me..." I get it.

BUT I have to tell you a couple of funny things that happened... not on the way to the Forum, but at least at the Rose Bowl. (Corny... sorry....)

So, me and 96,000 of my BFF's went to The Concert. It wasn't Woodstock, but oh baby, it was pretty great. Stupendous, actually. All the hype about the staging and how it makes the crowd feel like they are each having their own intimate concert experience with the band... well, it's true. My last arena concert experience was, um, before you were probably born -- I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd, Peter Frampton and Santana at the Oakland Coliseum at a "Day on the Green" concert in 1977.

(My friend and I were most likely the only sober people there that day. Crazy time but unforgettable concert. Freebird for half an hour, Oye Como Va when it wasn't old school, Peter Frampton making his guitar talk.... ah, the seventies....)

Given that I hadn't seen a huge concert for over 30 years, I was easy to impress, right? Sure, you could say that, but oh my goodness, the whole night was impressive. Admittedly, I sat for much of the Black-Eyed Peas. I knew they'd play Let's Get It Started. Wut wut bomb diggety. Fergie does her little sexy dance moves thing and I was very ho hum about it, as were most around me.

But I'm not gonna lie to you -- when they brought out Slash and sang Guns 'n Roses' Sweet Child of Mine, I was standing and singing loud with everyone else. It was a rush. Flat out entertaining and fun.

But nothing beat U2. I run out of superlatives. Just a couple of funny observations...
  • I found it odd and hilarious that the U2 360 was presented by Blackberry, and um, there was no cell coverage the whole night, and limited texting. Granted, with jillions of people there, all devoted cell phone users, that must have maxed out all the little antennas in the greater LA basin. But Blackberry was not terribly impressive as a result. They handed out freebies and told every Blackberry user (me being one of them) that I could download the entire new U2 album onto my phone. So what, if I can't even make a phone call for 10 hours, let alone check email or find my other friends at the concert.

  • The night was Celebrity Central - no surprise. We're in LA. Duh. Cindy Crawford walked down our row and did the "excuse me excuse me" thing past us to get to the floor. That was a trip, mostly because of the reaction that created in every man within 10 seats of us. Ridiculous. But it gets crazier.... not only did we have stellar seats (thank you Ruth!!) four rows from the floor, we managed to sit next to (yes, I really mean, NEXT TO) the one tunnel of the 38 Rose Bowl tunnels through which all the celebs would use to enter the concert after they had a little personal meeting with the band. So right before the show starts, David Beckham passed about 10 yards away from us. Then Barbra Streisand. Then Rick Warren! My friend Ruth yells out, "Hey Rick! Thanks for all that you do!" He smiles at us, says thanks and waves. And not two minutes later, he walks up the steps (our seats are at the top of these 10 or so steps) and asks, "What section is this? I'm trying to find my seats." He was with his son. We tell him, then Ruth says, "Hey, we both love Jesus and we heard you speak at the last Urbana." I'm just nodding my head like an idiot. Overly starstruck at this point by the parade that has just passed us. Rick cracks a big smile and says, "Then let's take a picture!!" We both had our cameras out -- his son says, "I'll take 'em!" They were incredibly fun and nice about it. So yes... I did not meet Rick Warren at a pastors' conference, or any such spiritual thing. I met Rick at U2....
  • My favorite line of his was after we took the photo he said, "Just think... I hugged Bono 4 minutes ago, and now you're hugging me. Ain't that great!?"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Listen... again

If your every human plan and calculation has miscarried, if, one by one, human props have been knocked out, and doors have shut in your face, take heart. God is trying to get a message through to you, and the message is: "Stop depending on inadequate human resources. Let me handle the matter."

... Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), Adventures in Prayer

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rainy Days

I'm still up in Seattle through Friday. Yes, most days it has rained. Last night I finished up a youth ministry consulting project that was yet another great time of learning and listening.

Today through Friday I am meeting with various people about Eden Reforestation Projects, speaking for fifteen minutes on Thursday with a couple hundred pastors and church leaders about ways for them to partner with us. Tomorrow I am going to meet with a camp to see if we can dream up some ways to creatively work together as well -- that as people get away in the forest above Seattle, that they would also consider rebuilding a forest for the poorest of the poor in Africa.

Today during a walk along the water in a park in SW Seattle (no rain today!), I found myself still reflecting on this paragraph from a collection of letters of C.S. Lewis that I read last week holed up in the cabin during my vacation -- I took the photo of the lake one of the days we were there, from the back porch:
I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1) To make sure that, wherever else they might be placed, the main prayers should not be put 'last thing at night.' (2) To avoid introspection in prayers - I mean, not to watch one's own mind to see if it is in the right frame, but always try to turn the attention outwards to God. (3) Never, never to try to generate an emotion by will power. (4) To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par.
Each one stuck in my mind for different reasons. Which one stands out to you?

Friday, October 9, 2009

To Infinity & Beyond!

Tomorrow I head off for several adventures. I'm ecstatic and exhausted and ready to go, all at once. First of all, I will be gone for two weeks, and I haven't been gone that long in quite awhile... to try to get everything gathered up into some sort of pretend "there, I'm finished" sort of order is giving me fits! As the White Rabbit says in Alice in Wonderland, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!"

However, my day got a little brighter when I received an unexpected present in the mail from Colleen Shallenberger in Denver, CO. The photo to the right shows my new prized possession -- a Swedish Fish cap! How great is that?? Thank you so much, Mike & Colleen. I will wear it loud and proud on this trip and ever after.

Where am I off to?
  • A week of much-needed vacation in Olympic National Park. Renting a cabin on a lake and looking forward to sleeping, reading, hiking, reading, eating, touristing. In no particular order. Since I excel at all of these endeavors, I am quite giddy about it.
  • Directly afterward, I am heading into a youth ministry consulting project for 3 days in the Seattle area through Youth Ministry Architects. I'm stoked to meet yet another group of great people who want to serve their young people as best as possible. This week I also received confirmations from two other churches who want to be coached. When it rains, it pours.
  • Following the consultation, I'm taking another 3 days to work with the Free Methodist conference in the Pacific Northwest. I'll be meeting with some pastors who are already advocates for Eden Reforestation Projects, and then speak on a larger scale with all the pastors in that particular conference on Oct. 22 about Eden. This conference of over 45 churches wants to commit to supporting Africans in restoring their environment and breaking cycles of despair. Good for them.
Speaking of Eden (do you like that següe?), I was stoked to hear today that we have planted 11,802 trees so far through our recent partnership with Simple Shoes. We have one more week (till Oct 17) to spread the word on this. Go to this link and watch a 1 minute video on how to let as many of your friends as possible know how a few mouse clicks on their computers can plant at least ten trees in Africa.

We also received approval this week from our board to go to Urbana International Missions Conference as an exhibitor. This will be my fifth Urbana, but my first as an exhibitor. I am already praying we can connect with so many others to join us in this.

I will miss my cats, CA weather, Fairview vegetables, my bike and my big comfy bed... but I'm grateful for the doors opening up in these next two weeks. I read 2 Corinthians 9 with a group of high school student leaders at breakfast this week, and these verses express this week perfectly for me:

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
I am blessed beyond measure... today I had lunch with a young student who is chomping at the bit to raise up a worship band who can lead and serve their peers -- yet he knows he still has so much to learn. Yesterday I had lunch with another former student from nearly 25 years ago who is now running a youth group of 40 students. Earlier in the week I had coffee with yet another former student who is now a pastor. I am speechless at the privilege of getting to see "the rest of the story" in the lives of others I have known and worked with. I have received so much, and am ready to keep being a cheerful giver.

So I rejoice in the past and also run toward the present. Thanks for running alongside.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Providence Hall retreat

Last week I went to the Providence Hall annual retreat. Granted, I had secretly hoped when I rotated out of the role of youth pastor that I would be DONE with camp. I went to camp at least four times a year since 1984... yes, even my basic math skills tell me that I went to camp over 100 times... geesh. I've paid my dues, right?!

Regardless, last week I somehow found myself driving up San Marcos Pass in my 1997 dirty Subaru wagon with the bumper sticker "Junky Car Club" on the rear window, packed full with 4 students and all their luggage. After a stop at Cantwell's for Swedish Fish (naturally), we headed off. Despite temps hitting at least 90 degrees, we had to drive with the windows rolled down and the AC off because poor little Subie can't get up the hill with all that weight if the AC is on. Some things never change.

Yes, I still hate sleeping on a twin-sized bed with a plastic mattress and yes, a cabin full of girls swearing to me "we're gonna stay up all night talking!" is sort of torturous, but the conversations with them, the laughter, the time and space to really talk and listen and be with God is still awfully great. I am grudgingly grateful that God insists, on a regular basis, that I go past my self-imposed lines in the sand. This is what faith and selflessness and service and surprise is all about.

I won't ramble on with lots of stories... but these photos do a good job of capturing our time together. I am inordinately blessed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Must See

I just spent a half hour enjoying the preview to a new Ken Burns series starting tomorrow on PBS: The National Parks: America's Best Idea. You can download the preview for free from Amazon (actually, PC owners can download it; as a faithful Mac owner, I only got to watch it. Whatever.)

I have known about this upcoming series for months and had it marked on my calendar. Complete nerd -- and proud of it. I am beyond excited that it's finally here. I have visited a national park every year since 1999. I am so grateful that I stumbled into this decision. I plan on continuing this habit for the rest of my life. I have gotten to go Yosemite, Sequoia, Olympic, Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Acadia, Rocky Mountain, Mt. Rainier... and one unique adventure into the Canadian National Park in Banff. Each one defines the word "breathtaking" in its own unique way.

Even better, I have stunning memories that escape description. Where do I start? I can still picture and feel these moments...

An early morning with a cup of coffee in Glacier, watching a beaver build a dam.

A lunch break on a long hike to Gunsight Pass, where a mountain goat tried to steal my sandwich.

A night during a backpacking trip where the winds blew so hard down the mountain that our tent was uprooted and we were nearly blown into the lake off of a cliff.

A climb with over 70 switchbacks up Upper Yosemite Falls, where I felt like I'd climbed Everest -- only to find a man at the top with a full backpack AND a mountain bike strapped to the backpack, boulder hopping!

Hiking on perfectly flat ground for 9 miles along a river in a rainforest in Olympic National Park. And camping for the night on a gravel bar to the sound of rushing water on either side.

A piping hot meal of tortellini alfredo after hiking all day.

On the trail for hours with no need to talk.

S'mores at night.

Ranger talks. Kids with flashlights. Junior Ranger badges.

Staring at the fire, then up at the stars.

The altitude taking my breath away at the summit of the Trail Ridge Road -- 12,000' in elevation -- at Rocky Mountain National Park.

The peaks. The peaks. The peaks.

The feeling of a hot shower after backpacking.

The silence.

It amazes and thrills me that we can have such easy access to pristine scenery, time and time again, for so little cost. I know I sound like a commercial. But it blows me away that we have the National Parks. Yes there is traffic and yes there are ridiculous RV'ers with satellite dishes and generators and yes there are loads of tourists taking photos of squirrels... deal with it. Push through it all and just enjoy the privilege.

Enjoy the series on PBS. Then plan on going - year round, they are incredible.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Listen for God's Whisper

I spent all day on the couch today with a horrendous sore throat, earache, swollen glands, no energy, the whole nine yards. I was flattened with some sort of crud last night and spent all night not sleeping because my throat hurt so much. Thankfully, I was able to get into the doc this morning. He took a strep culture, ruled that out but also said I definitely had something and put me on antibiotics. I sure am thankful for easy access to medicine. Goodness gracious, how I wish all people could have that.

ANYWAY... in between a couple of naps and brainless TV, I was able to do email for about an hour. I read a surprise announcement from Saddleback Church, that their long-term youth pastor, Doug Fields, has resigned. I've always appreciated Doug's work -- in the funky and extremely small niche of youth ministry, he's a celebrity. His books are quality resources, and his articles always feel genuine.

I would recommend reading his entire resignation letter, but one paragraph in particular really stuck out, because I am amazed at how similar his experience sounds to my own exit this past February:
What am I going to do? Well, there's not another specific job that I'm departing to, but I am leaving staff to pursue some incredible opportunities to express my writing and teaching gifts. What I'm really doing is what I've taught you to do -- listen for God's whisper and obey it! Several people have said, 'You're crazy to leave a secure Saddleback Church job during this unstable market.' Humanly speaking, they're right... following God doesn't always make sense, but I know I need to do the right thing: listen and obey.
Looking back on these past several months, I can definitely say that I still have so much to learn. I have learned to love stepping out into the unknown. I have been humbled by not being able to find my identity in a title or job. I am grateful beyond words for how God has insisted, over and over, that I must learn to truly listen. Closely. Consistently. Quietly. God is talking to us all the time. How sad that we so rarely stop to truly have conversation.
11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1Kings 19)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sept 09 Update on This 'n That ~ Part Deux

Things keep rolling along and there are fun things to update:

Eden Reforestation Projects - lots of cool stuff going on:
  • This year we were able to put 1.6 million seedlings into the ground. Our collective survival rate is about 85% which is really high for reforestation work. The total in Madagascar is 2.15 million -- so our global total is 3.8 million and will likely hit 4 million. This is especially thrilling because our goal was 3 million trees planted.
  • We just lined up a sponsor partnership with Simple Shoes -- until October 17 if people go to the website and select "click here to plant trees" then Eden will receive a dollar for each person who submits their email address. We're hoping people will spread this through their own social networks (hint, hint), but that will greatly broaden Eden visibility.
  • I spoke last week for Eden in Long Beach at the National Superintendents' meeting for the Free Methodist Church, and am headed up to Seattle in October to speak at the Pastors' Day for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the Free Methodist church.
Youth Ministry Architects:
  • I just got back last night from a 3-day project in the western suburbs of Chicago, which was a follow up from another trip in June. This one was a "visioning retreat," where we worked with a good group of folks from the church to pull together a 3-year plan for their youth ministry. I love helping people lay solid foundations for youth ministry!
  • I am still working with churches in Nebraska and Arizona, and am picking up a new church in Seattle next month. I am gaining great experience in learning how to equip others in youth ministry from a broad spectrum of location and experience.
Providence Hall High School:
  • I'm happy to report that our first parenting seminar, "Providence Presents," came off successfully. Someone who attended counted 112 people in attendance Our next one is scheduled for Oct. 28.
  • We have our student retreat next week - I thought I was done with going to camp. But apparently not.... thankfully, I LOVE these students, so that will make it worth it. Camp #101, here I come!
I'm grateful for several youth ministry-related blogs running my articles, and Youthworker Journal is publishing another one of mine in the November/December issue on local service. The pay is next to nothing -- but at least I'm in print, right?!

Final thoughts... yes, I love sharing the work stuff with each of you. I'm enjoying this time of unknowns (yes, I'm really saying that), creativity, exploration and risk. But ultimately, where I am the most deeply moved is in how my faith is growing from so much challenge and change.

I read this today from Henri Nouwen, and it resonated:
Keeping Close to the Word of Jesus

The words of Jesus can keep us erect and confident in the midst of the turmoil of the end-time. They can support us, encourage us, and give us life even when everything around us speaks of death. Jesus' words are food for eternal life. They do much more than give us ideas and inspiration. They lead us into the eternal life while we are still being clothed in mortal flesh.

When we keep close to the word of Jesus, reflecting on it, "chewing" on it, eating it as food for the soul, we will enter even more deeply into the everlasting love of God.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I am One of Them

This seems a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from
this fair garden, under the shadow of these vines. But if I
climbed some great mountain and looked out over the wide lands,
you know very well what I would see--brigands on the high
roads, pirates on the seas; in the amphitheaters men murdered
to please applauding crowds; under all roofs misery and

It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly

bad world. Yet in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy
people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times
better than any pleasures of this sinful life. They are
despised and persecuted, but they care not. They have overcome
the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians--and I am
one of them.
... St. Cyprian (?-258), a letter in A Treasury of Sermon
Illustrations, Charles Langworthy Wallis, ed.,
Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950, p. 59

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pan-Roasted Corn & Tomato Salsa - Say No to the Death of Summer!

I can take absolutely no credit for this recipe, but it is REMARKABLE. It is full of texture and individual flavors that somehow stand out on their own but also blend together into a party in your mouth.

Live in denial -- summer is not over yet as long as you can make this recipe. I got it from Jen Corey and her Fairview Gardens weekly email.

Pan-Roasted Corn and Tomato Salad

(from Mark Bittman's column in The New York Times August 19, 2009)

1/4 pound bacon, chopped (aka 4 slices of bacon)

1 small red onion or shallot, chopped

4 to 6 ears corn, stripped of their kernels (2 to 3 cups)

Juice of 1 lime, or more to taste

2 cups cored and chopped tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes - glorious)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped

2 fresh small chilies, like Thai, seeded and minced (optional)

Salt and black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, more or less.

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to render fat; add onion and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes, then add corn. Continue cooking, stirring or shaking pan occasionally, until corn begins to brown a bit, about 5 more minutes; remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Drain fat if you wish. It will be difficult to hold back from eating it at this point -- be strong and patient
  2. Put lime juice in a large bowl and add bacon-corn mixture; then toss with remaining ingredients. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 servings.

P.S. I served this on warm corn tortillas.... eat slowly and savor every bite.