September 30, 2010

The return of the slow cooker

Fall is here! Amen and amen. I love autumn. I love chilly weather and fleece jackets, fire pits and leaves crunching under my feet. Most of all, I love my slow cooker. There is almost nothing better than coming home to a bubbly, simmering pot of a delicious smelling home cooked meal.

This morning I woke up early (which is not pleasant when it's still dark outside). When I was tempted to hide under the covered for "just a few more minutes" I pressed on. My motivation: cooking a yummy meal for the ones I love. I know it's a little silly and very 1959, but putting a tasty and beautiful meal on the table is a joy for me. So, while my coffee was brewing I browned chorizo and sauteed onions.

My first slow cooker meal of the season is a variation on WeightWatchers' Slow Cooker Hearty Black Bean Soup Recipe. I have found that I like to use more chorizo (at least double of what's called for) and I'm liberal with my addition of garlic, cumin and lime. Topped with a dollop of sour cream and tons of fresh cilantro, it's a crowd pleaser every time.

This time I'm kicking it up a notch, too. Fresh baked bread from my very own oven. Can't beat that!

Doughnut Decisions

Dough. Icing. Glaze. Cream custard filling. I'm sorry to do this to you, but if I'm craving doughnuts you might as well be, too.

Every morning this week on my drive in to the office I've fought a serious battle of self control. Luckily the doughnut shop near my house only takes cash and I never carry any anymore. I want to call in sick to work and make these. On Tuesday I almost drove 25 minutes out of my way to hit up my favorite doughnut shop in all of St. Louis: the Donut Drive In. Even the doughnuts with sketchy blue icing at the gas station were tempting when I stopped to fill up my tank. Troubling to be sure.

This all got me thinking about self-control (for obvious reasons, I hope). What kept me out of the Krispy Kreme line? Knowing I wouldn't be so happy with doughnuts two hours later. Picturing myself at my brother's wedding in three weeks with an extra two pounds around my middle. (And now the, less-logical, snow ball thoughts.) It's strange where your mind will go when you're making a simple doughnut decision, but I make these choices everyday. Do I want this enough to explain to my spouse someday why I was willing to go into debt to buy it? Little decisions like what I eat and the impulse purchases I make at Target add up.

Self-control and accountability. So important. Thinking things through helps me make choices that I'm not ashamed of and that are the best for me, not just in the moment, but for the long haul.

September 29, 2010

Fresh bread anyone?

Do I want to have fresh bread popping out of my oven in just 5 minutes a day? Um. Yes, please.

A few weeks back I was in the middle of going from bookstore to bookstore searching for a different cookbook and I kept stumbling upon this little gem:
Call me crazy, but I didn't think it was possible. Good bread. Quick. Easy. Sounds too good to be true. I've tried my hand at baking my own bread a few times in the past without much success. Don't even ask me about the weeks we spent trying to start our own starter. It was not pretty. But, I figured it was worth a shot. One request from the library and 6 days later and I was staring down the bread-making barrel. 

The first recipe in the book is a free-form loaf called a Boule. It's so simple that after only two batches of my own I can recite the recipe from memory. I'm still working on my "cloaking" technique and batch number one was a bit too dense, but this recipe really was crazy easy. It takes about 4 hours to get your batch going (only about 10 minutes of active work, the rest just waiting) and then you've got dough for four loaves ready to toss is the oven anytime over the next 14 days. 

September 23, 2010

More Than Even

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
 C.S. Lewis "The Weight of Glory"
I don't know about you but often I am ashamed to claim the promises of God. I am willing to admit I'm broken. I'll say I don't deserve to be saved. I'm a wretched sinner. That's easier because no one can come along and debunk my claim. If they look they will see that I am, in fact, deep down, a messed up, sinning, lying, black-hearted girl.

I'll say this, I've gotten more comfortable with claiming the grace of God by which I have been saved. I know that he sent Jesus to die and raise from the dead, conquering death once and for all that I might not die, but have life eternal with him. It's after that when I get bashful. Sure, I'm saved from hell, but can I proclaim that God not only saved me but desires and provided a way for abundant life for me?

I'm not claiming that I'll lead a hassle-free life. Suffering is part of the Christian deal. I'm saying that God did more than cancel my debt. He put on me the righteousness of Jesus. He is not ambivalent towards me as if I were just a person that didn't owe him anything, when he looks at me he rejoices over me as his daughter. It is so much more than setting things even and I want all that He has to give me.

Where are you too easily pleased?

September 19, 2010

Biting the bullet.

I've been lucky in that for many years I've been surrounded by people that know me very, very well. Sometimes that's wonderful because they know the context of all my stories, they know the characters of my life. Sometimes I have hated it because I can't hide. My face gives me away every time.

Recently, relationships have shifted. There are new characters in the primary plot line of life and some of the regulars are appearing less often. It's change at it's most fundamental. Even though it's been a tough adjustment in some places, I know that it's just as it should be in a lot of ways. 

I have a man in my life that's taking up a good deal of my time and emotional energy. He doesn't know all my stories yet. He doesn't know why one flippant comment from my mother can set me on edge or why seeing a rainbow in the sky completely makes my day. I realized just the other night that it will always be that way unless I start to tell him my stories - big and small. The small ones aren't hard - the time the chipmunk came up the toilet, the time I almost got thrown off a train in Slovakia in the middle of the night. It's the big stories that are hard. The ones that don't easily fit into conversation. The ones that aren't witty. I've been holding back a bit because I was scared to be vulnerable. 

Yesterday I bit the bullet. We sat on a blanket in the park and I told him parts of my hardest story. And you know what, it was ok. He heard me. He didn't run away or laugh at me. Being known may just be worth the risk.

September 16, 2010

What balconies are for.

Yes, it was only 4:45pm. Yes, that's Winking Owl. Yes, I bought it at Aldi's. Yes, it did the trick.

September 15, 2010

I heart Google Docs

Praise the Lord for Google! Is that allowed? I hope so. Google makes my life better. It makes my email awesome, managing my calendar easy-peasy and (best-of-all) dealing with a gazillion (yes, that's a number) documents at work not too bad.

Top 5 Reasons why Google Docs gets two thumbs up from me:

  • Number 5 Anywhere. Anytime. Since Google Docs is hosted online, I have all my stuff at my fingertips anytime I'm online, from any computer, from anywhere. Love it. Need to look up an address on the go - no problem! My 'address book' is a Google spreadsheet I can pull up on my iPhone.
  • Number 4 Oh, folders. They make me so happy. Google Docs lets me organize all my work into folders that I can color-code and share (see #1). 
  • Number 3 Colors! I know, it's silly, but this is me. We know I'm a dork who loves color coding. It's true. It's one of my favorite things on the planet. Whenever I can fit anything into categories and put nice, neat, pretty color coded labels on them if feels like all is right with the world. Google Spreadsheets has one of my favorite excel formulas built right in: Change colors with rules. Love it.
  • Number 2 Forms. Who knew?!?! Google forms are freaking awesome. Gather the info you need in a snap and have it automatically formatted into a beautiful spreadsheet for your sorting pleasure. See how my friend Kara put Google forms to work for her while planning her wedding here.
And....drum roll please.....
  • Number 1 Sharing. We learned about sharing in kindergarten. It's amazing that it's taken the wonderful world of documents this long to catch up, but Google has done it. Sharing makes life happy. No more emailing seventeen different version back and forth all day long with tiny updates. No more loosing the latest version headaches. Sharing. It's tried and true.

September 13, 2010

Road Trip Hangover

Man, a weekend away was just what the doctor ordered. I'll admit I was a little nervous - first trip away with the boyfriend. Swimming suits were involved. A girl can get a little ruffled.

mmm...chocolate chip
I took off work early on Friday to prepare and bake cookies.

Fun in a bag.
I packed a paper sack full of goodies and games for the car...

Great view.
and we hit the road for an undisclosed lake in Arkansas.

I'll tell you more about it later. For now, I need to go take a nap so that I can recover from my vacation.

September 11, 2010

Lectio Divina

I'm reading "The Forgotten Ways" by Alan Hirsch with some ladies at work. There's a very big buzz around the book and discussions about being missional are big at our church at the moment. So, we decided to check it out.

In the chapter we're discussing this week, the topic is discipleship. What is it? How do you make it happen? How do you cultivate an environment that is about becoming more like Jesus and less about a big church service? Why does it even matter? There's good stuff in there. I was bummed that there was no pat answer or definitive check list for me, but I wasn't really surprised. Sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) is rarely that cut and dry.

While discussing discipleship Alan asks "What is the everyday requirement for those who consider themselves Christian?" Dang. Good question. He says we need a "radical minimum standard for discipleship" and that we often "confuse the bare minimum with the extraordinary and keep lowering the bar until we clear it." So true. This really got me thinking. What is the bare minimum required of me? What should my life be made up of without question? I am embarrassed to say that I was mostly stumped and that the responses I came up with felt canned and so very far from genuine.

One thing that Alan suggests as a basic practice is "promoting core spiritual disciplines." Sounds good right? But, what does that look like? Two of the ideas that he expands on are prayer and engagement with scripture - two things I've felt personally challenged on as of late. I was relieved when he mentioned a Catholic tradition of prayer called Lectio Devina that combines the two and I'm excited to give it a try. He outlines how you can use this for a group or on your own in the back of the book. Here's my summary of what he suggestions for personal meditation:
Settle in and slow down. Get comfortable and take a minute just to breathe and clear your head and heart.
Lectio Read over a small portion of scripture and let it seep in. Let yourself linger. 
Meditatio Pick a phrase that stuck out to you and think about why it did. What might God be speaking to you through this scripture in this moment? 
Oratio Talk to God about it. What is he telling you and what is he asking from you? How can you actively respond to his prompting?
Contemplatio Rest. Remember that God is God and you are not (Psalm 46:10). Remember that he's in charge and he loves you. Depend on him. Trust him and take the risk of living the life he's calling you to live. 

September 9, 2010

Songs for the moment.

Music has always been something that I've enjoyed, but never been something that I've taken a lot of time to pursue. I'm the girl who will listen to almost anything. I enjoy twangy country and I've been to a Poison concert. I often sing along to Billy Joel at the top of my lungs while cleaning and enjoy Mozart on my balcony. I'm a girl of varied musical taste. Most of the time, though, I can't tell you who is singing what or when such-and-such a band broke up.

Recently, I've taken greater interest in what I'm listening to. I'm surrounded by self-proclaimed music aficionados who are never shy to recommend something new and quiz me on it later. Here are a few of the new songs hitting my play list on a regular basis.

The first is Alexi Murdoch. I stumbled upon his music in one of my new favorite movies, "Away We Go." His songs have made up the majority of my personal soundtrack these days. He rambley and hopeful. It would be the perfect soundtrack to listen to on a train trip across the countryside.

The second is really one particular song, rather than the entire band. It's called "The Wanting Comes in Waves" by The Decemberists. The female vocals are amazing!

The third is a band called "Mumford & Sons." Apparently, they are all the rage these days. All I know is that I like the way they sound in the background of my office while I'm working. I have fallen in love with one of their songs in particular. It's called "Sigh No More." It's beautiful. It points me to Jesus and how love was meant to be.

Love it will not betray you

Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be 

September 8, 2010

I want to go to there.

Who's seen House Hunters International? If you haven't watched it yet, you can find it on the wonderful It's the perfect show for laying on the couch on a Saturday afternoon with the windows open. Believe me. I've done it.

I heart this show. It makes me want to sell everything that doesn't fit into two small suitcases and hop on a plane. This weekend I watched..ahem...several episodes. They all brought out the daydreamer in me. I was ready to embrace floor to ceiling windows in the United Arab Emirates, eat gelato on my new balcony in Rome and give gardening a try on the coast of Greece. 

Currently, I'm praying that a cottage (read: medium-size stone mansion) surrounded by the ocean and lavender fields in Southern France is in my somewhat-immediate future. Heck, I'll settle for my when-I-retire future. Perhaps, I could be a missionary to the lavender farmers. They need Jesus, too, right?

September 3, 2010

Good-bye Summer

Today I'm working from my balcony and it's one of those perfect days in between summer and autumn. The sun is bright and warm on my face and tonight I'll need a jacket. 

I know that autumn isn't typically the time of new beginnings like January or springtime, but it's still my favorite time of year. I always feel like there is a fresh start to be had. Maybe it goes back to all those first days of school and clean new notebooks. (Let's take a moment to think about the joys of school supplies....)

Still, I can't believe it's time to say good-bye to summer already. Good-bye sweltering hot St. Louis days and never quite cool enough evenings. I'm not sad to see you go. I will, however, miss the barbecue, the fireworks and yoga in the park. This has been one of the better summers on record. I think I'll keep it with me for a while.