Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Change in the Making

I had a rough day today, so I wanted to share some words of hope in the form of this song by the Christian band Addison Road. The song's called A Change in the Making. Here's the YouTube video I like, and here are the lyrics:

There's a better version of me
That I can't quite see
But things are gonna change
Right now I'm a total mess and
Right now I'm completely incomplete
But things are gonna change
Cause you're not through with me yet

This is redemption's story
With every step that I'm taking
Every day, you're chipping away
What I don't need
This is me under construction
This is my pride being broken
And every day I'm closer to who I'm meant to be
I'm a change in the making

Wish I could live more patiently
Wish I could give a little more of me
Without stopping to think twice
Wish I had faith like a little child
Wish I could walk a single mile
Without tripping on my own feet
But you're not through with me yet

And this is redemption's story
With every step that I'm taking
And every day, you're chipping away
What I don't need
This is me under construction
This is my pride being broken
Every day I'm closer to who I'm meant to be

From the dawn of history
You make new and you redeem
From a broken world to a broken heart
You finish what you start in everything
Like a river rolls into the sea
We're not who we're going to be
But things are going to change

I'm living redemption's story
With every step that I'm taking
And every day, you're chipping away
What I don't need
And this is me under construction
This is my pride being broken
And every day I'm closer to who I'm meant to be
I'm a change in the making

I'm not who I'm gonna be
Moving closer to your glory

Praise God for the glory revealed in the baby born in Bethlehem! This is the God-man who chips away at our hard hearts to make us new. If you're having a hard time in any way, I pray that you'll be able to sing this song with gusto, knowing that both the good and the bad give shape and form to the Redemption Story whose chief author is an infinitely good God.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Imperfect Christmas

On the Colbert women's retreat a couple weeks ago, one of the speakers confessed the tension caused when she wishes for a perfect Christmas. She wants the house to be perfectly clean, all the shopping done, cookies baked for each of her four children, and the list goes on. She deftly exposed the stark paradox of contemporary American Christmas. A holiday with the humblest of origins has become a rat race for who can have the biggest, the best, the most expensive, and the most together Christmas.
Perhaps this is why A Charlie Brown Christmas is so endearing to us. It presents imperfection candidly. This is also why I love the book The Best Christmas Pagent Ever by Barbara Robinson (please, please read it if you haven't!). What turns out in both movie and book to be nearly disastrous is actually the source of the most poignant Christmas truths. Who can forget Linus' recitation of the Christmas story? Who can overlook the tears of Imogene Herdman as she holds baby Jesus?
At Christmas, I love sorting through the boxes of ornaments my parents, sister, and I have collected over the years. Each one carries a memory of a beloved friend or family member. Over Thanksgiving, I picked out a four-foot tree from my grandpa's Christmas Tree Farm and drove it back to Spokane with a box full of my ornaments. One ornament in particular was destined for the prime spot on my small, Charlie-Brownish tree:    
As I was shopping at Target between Thanksgiving and now, I saw lots of gaudy Christmas-tree toppers, and I disliked them all. My grandpa, the Christmas tree farm owner, made me this rough, wood-hewn star and spray-painted it this bronzy-gold color. Its hook is fashioned from a piece of spare wire that came from my grandpa's shop. Besides the fact that my grandpa made this ornament for me, I love it because it's imperfect. It's just wood. It's not shiny or flashy. It reminds me of the manger and the scared parents and the cold night and the smelly animals. My star is perfect even with its imperfections.
It reminds me that Jesus' birth was perfect even with its imperfections, too. And with the reality of God Incarnate, who is free from sin, we're forced to embrace humility and imperfection while clinging to the fact that the only imperfection Jesus embraces is ours.   
On Sunday, I joined a group of adults and kids from Colbert on a Christmas caroling trip. We visited a number of homebound seniors from our church community. There were lots of imperfections about our caroling trip. We tracked in mud on a white carpet. The 10-year-old violin player was squeaky. We were several keys above our normal singing range. The bodies of the people we visited are failing.
But somehow our ragtag group still proclaimed the Christmas message. And perhaps proclaimed it better because we joined the legions of stories, experiences, hymns, and Gospel truths that tell of the real reason Christmas is best with a little imperfection. I believe Charles Wesley says it best: "Hark! The Herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn king! Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled."
May this Christmas be one in which you embrace the perfect love of a God who chooses to embrace our fumbling imperfections, bronzy gold paint, rough edges, squeaky voices, and all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Cooking Hiatus

You may not believe this, but I've had little or no creative energy to cook in the past couple weeks. I've been eating an inordinate number of easy meals (grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, etc.). This is not my usual self (as you well know). I have ideas for what to cook, but no energy to implement them.

Honestly, I think I'm still getting used to working full time. Not the work itself--I'm used to that--but rather the limitations that working full time puts on my free time. There's simply no way to fit everything I want to do into the free time I have. And yet sometimes, I feel paralyzed. There's so much I could do, I'm not sure what I should do. I've talked about this before on the blog. So you can see that it continues to be a struggle for me.

However, I didn't intend to write a blog about this topic. I mostly set out to write a blog to process what I've been feeling and experiencing recently. Writing has always helped me process my life. Tonight, I mostly want to write about some lovely meals I've had in the past couple days that were provided for me.

On Friday and Saturday, I was at a women's retreat for my church at Camp Spaulding, which is a Presbyterian camp and retreat center north of Spokane. On Friday afternoon, my friend Margaret and I drove the 45 minutes north to camp. It was snowy at camp in contrast to wet and rainy Spokane. The lodge is a beautiful place with four-person rooms that include bathrooms. (This is my kind of roughing it!) There were about 45 women from Colbert at the retreat, which tells me that time for seeking Christ in fellowship with other women is a deeply felt need. I'm now praying that God would be faithful to bring about new and deeper relationships amongst the women who were there.

We got to enjoy dinner on Friday and breakfast and lunch on Saturday at the lodge. The food was wonderful. On Friday night, we had stuffed chicken breasts, a big salad, rolls, fresh fruit, and, for dessert, German Chocolate cake. The breakfast was rather atypical for a camp meal, but it was delicious. Pumpkin scones with pumpkin butter, parfaits with yogurt, frozen raspberries, and granola, and bacon. I had so much at breakfast, I was hardly hungry for lunch. I did find a little corner of room in my stomach and boy am I glad I did! Lunch was a pureed squash soup with pumpkin seeds on top, artichoke dip with fresh slices of bread, and a big salad with lots of good ingredients. Dessert, a necessity on a retreat, was big, soft ginger cookies.

I decided to write about the meals with such detail because of the detail that was put into each meal in the first place. I think it's a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God to serve meals with such thoughtfulness, generosity, and creativity. I also loved the time of fellowship around the table. There's something so satisfying and unifing about eating a good meal with friends around a table.

The other meal I want to write about is my Monday night dinner with the Colbert Children's Ministry committee. We were at one committee member's house, and she prepared a feast: tortellini with pesto, spaghetti with clam sauce, rotini with tomato sauce, turkey meatballs, white rolls, and a salad with romaine, black olives, sliced cucumber, and an Italian dressing. For dessert, we had brownies with either peppermint or vanilla ice cream, hot fudge or caramel, and spiced nuts. This meal particularly brings out the creativity. I would never have thought to add spiced nuts to your basic brownie/ice cream combo or turkey meatballs with a pesto pasta.

Perhaps some of my unenthusiasm recently is that I only cook for myself. I am definitely more motivated to cook when I'm making food for other people. I'm praying that in the coming couple weeks, I can be creative with my meals, but still allow myself some grace when all I feel like eating is peanut butter and jam on toast.

But whether it's toast or stuffed chicken breasts for dinner, I'm praying that we can all be thoughtful, generous, and creative in our approach to the Christian life and our relationships with others. May food be just the start!

P.S. Thanks to my housemate for the fresh, gooey brownie I just ate. Yum. Not healthy, maybe, but certainly generous and thoughtful. :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This is the Day that the Lord has Made!

My housemate, Pam, had a wonderful idea. Each of my five housemates wrote a note to the other four housemates and put our notes, along with a small chocolate, into an Advent calendar that Pam owns. So about every five days, each of us gets to open the little red wooden door and pull out an encouraging piece of chocolate and an even more encouraging note. I have read two of my notes so far, and it was a great blessing to write down things I appreciate about my housemates, too.

The picture above was made for me by my housemate Katie, and I love it! The detail is so lovely. I have it at my desk at work and it brings me joy and encouragement throughout the day. I pray that seeing this picture encourages you this day, as well, because, after all, this is the day that the LORD has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Christmas Cookie Recipe (with a dash of History)

At work tomorrow, we're having a Christmas party with a decorating competition, Christmas cookies, Christmas music, ugly Christmas sweaters, etc. As the events planning head, I created the sign-up sheet for people to bring Christmas cookies and put my name at the top of the list. I knew immediately which Christmas cookie recipe I would make: Twists. My mom, sister, and I have made twists at Christmas for as long as I can remember and my grandma made them for as long as my mom can remember.
I called my mom up to get some history about the recipe. The recipe is from the Eighth Grand National Pillsbury Best baking competition cookbook from 1957, my mother's birth year. I did a little sleuthing around the internet and found out that the competition is still going strong, except now you win $1 million instead of the $50,000 at the 1949 start of the competition.
Here's a quote from the cookbook: "Get out your pie pans, your cake pans, your cookie sheets, your casserole-and, of course, that bag of Pillsbury's Best flour...and good baking-good eating to you!" The original name of the cookie was/is Starlight Sugar Crisps. My mom wasn't exactly sure how the cookies came to be christened "twists" apart from their shape. But they are delicious in every way and fun to make. Here's a little step-by-step twist tutorial with pictures. 
I recommend making the dough the day before because it has to chill for at least two hours. When you're ready to bake, split the dough in half and mix two bowls of sugar with vanilla. 
Roll the dough out with 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar mixture underneath and then fold it into three parts after sprinkling a tablespoon of sugar on the top of the rolled-out dough. Roll it out again and repeat the same folding and sprinkling process.

After rolling the dough out for the third time, use a pizza cutter to cut strips. Feel free to make them more even than mine.

Then twist each strip and lay on an ungreased cookie tray. See all those lovely layers in the picture? All of that rolling and folding creates thin layers of dough with vanilla sugar between each crispy, sweet layer.

Put the cookie sheet in a hot oven and you'll get these...

Golden, crispy, sweet twists.

Here's a photocopy of the original recipe. It's faint, but you can see my grandma's handwriting to the side where she made notes on the recipe.

And after several batches into and out of the oven, you'll get this, a glorious stack of twists!

As Julia would say, "Bon Appetit!"
Starlight Sugar Crisps (Twists)
Bake 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
Soften......Soften one package of yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water.
Sift together......3 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt into a mixing bowl.
Cut in......1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup Crisco into flour mixture until particles are the size of small peas.
Blend in......2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Cover; chill at least two hours or for up to four days.
Combine......1 1/2 cups sugar and 2 tsp. vanilla.
Roll out......half of chilled dough on a pastry cloth or board which has been sprinkled with about 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar. Roll out to a 16x8-inch rectangle. Sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon more vanilla sugar. end of dough over the center. Fold other end over to make three layers. Turn 1/4 way around and repeat rolling and folding twice, sprinkling board with additional vanilla sugar as needed.
Cut......into 4x1-inch strinps. Twist each strip 2 or 3 times. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
Repeat......entire process with remaining dough and vanilla sugar. 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until light golden brown (watch carefully...they get dark quickly!)

Monday, November 19, 2012


Root us in a place, Lord, that we might find our home in you.
Lord, to be rooted in place takes commitment to land, to people, to friends and family, to transients in our community, and to the plight of our neighborhoods. Being rooted is no easy task, but you demonstrated such rootedness in your incarnation. Give us courage to take up the hard task of knowing you while standing in place. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Year of Plenty, Part 5: Living La Vida Local

In last week's Year of Plenty discussion, we talked about eating local meat. The chapters we read were about chicken dignity (from the Goodwins' experience raising chickens) and being "green" as Christians, so technically the topic of local meat fell under both chapters.

Eating local meat in Spokane is expensive; there's no getting around it. I suspect this is the case for other cities, too, but I don't know for sure. I've had several forays into local and organic meat, including buying ground beef and sausages from a local farmer this summer and organic whole chickens from Costco, but neither of these methods seem sustainable. The farmer's market where I got the beef and sausage is closed for the season. And while Costco is always easily accessible, I honestly would rather buy Costco's $4.99 rotisserie chickens because they're cheap, tasty, and thrifty. I can get four main dish meals from one chicken. In fact, I just used 2 cups of leftover cubed chicken meat for two meals: hummus/chicken/spinach wraps and a pot of chicken noodle soup.

However, our conversation on Sunday renewed my conviction that the way most American meat is grown, processed, and transported is a violation of the basic dignity of the animals God has created. Don't get me wrong, I'm no vegetarian or vegan. I fully believe that God allows and intends for us to eat animals, but I want eating animals to be consistent with my Christian beliefs.

Two disclaimers: 1) I don't think buying meat from a chain store is morally wrong. If it's a question of feeding needy people vs. caring for the dignity of animals, feed people. As I said, eating local meat is expensive, so I'll only be buying one or two meat items a month. 2) I don't know a lot about this subject, so bear with me on this road of discovery. If you have helpful insights, thoughts, or corrections, don't hesitate to speak up!

In an attempt to explore this local meat-eating thing, I scheduled another foodie foray for Saturday. The destination: Egger's Meats. When I told my housemate who grew up near Spokane where I was headed, she said her grandma always bought meat from Egger's. Perfect. Local and historic.  

When I walked into Egger's, I immediately saw an employee in a red apron and hat. He asked if he could help me with anything. I told him it was my first time and that I was just looking. And look I did. I studied everything. The prices, the kinds of beef cuts, the kinds of sausage. I asked about ham with and without the bone and how much they both weighed on average. I'm sure they thought I was really weird. Who is this young person who cares so much about meat and is so weirdly excited about it?

I tried a sample of Egger's own bacon and a little piece of ham. Both samples were delicious. As I was standing by the case of sausages, I struck up a short conversation with an older man named Floyd. He was buying a pound of ground beef to share with his dog. I told him I was going to buy a pound of deli ham. My lunch plan this week is ham, Gouda, and tomato sandwiches with mayo and whole-grain mustard.

With my pound of ham in hand, I signed up for a monthly mailing list, grabbed another sample (homemade sausage stuffing!), and booked it out of there before I bought anything else. As I drove off, I was so excited that I turned in the wrong direction. :)

I didn't have the guts to ask where Egger's sources its meat, but I will definitely be asking that question on a future trip. As I back-tracked from my initial wrong turn, I decided I would purchase as much of my meat there as possible. Even if the meat isn't strictly local, Egger's is local. I figure it's a good place to start and, if the clientele was any indication, it'll be a good place to stick around, too.


I had another locavore adventure today. My dad asked for another box of McIntosh apples from Green Bluff, so after church, I drove up to the bluff. I'd never been up in November. The fields and trees were covered with snow and the landscape had that lonely, fallow feel of winter. I stopped at Siemer's and tentatively poked my head into the barn. I didn't see anyone. I walked back into a storage/work room and saw a huge orange cat and heard someone working. I retreated and an older man presently came out. He looked surprised that I was there, but asked me pleasantly what I wanted. The onions were tempting, so I ended up with a 10-pound bag for $2.95. As I was about to pick up my bag to leave, Mr. Siemer (for that's surely who he was) picked up a buttercup squash and asked: "Have you cooked with this?"

I shook my head. He said, "These squash are just so good. Cook 'em like an acorn squash, and you'll love it." He put the squash in my bag. "On the house," he said.

I didn't tell him I already had about 10 squash of various varieties at home. You don't mess with a farmer's generosity. I ended up talking with him for 15 minutes after that and heard a taste of the farmer's life. He reminded me of my grandpa...skinny, tall, and with a nose that gotten bigger and redder with continual exposure to sun. As he talked on, it occurred to me that most of the time, a farm is a lonely place. The crowds of harvest in September and October are the exception rather than the norm.

As I drove back down to the valley, I realized that Craig Goodwin's journey also started with piles of winter squash in Mr. Siemer's barn. We're set to finish Year of Plenty next Sunday and it seems I've come both to the end of the book and back to its beginning. But surely I'm really just beginning.


End Note about the Title: I was discussing with my housemate what the title of Ricky Martin's song "Living La Vida Loca" means, and we roughly translated it to "living a crazy life." Sometimes, the local life is a crazy life (though crazy in a good way), so I think the title of the song fits, even without my slight alteration. Thanks for going along with it. :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How Merciful You Are, Lord

How merciful you are, Lord, that you forgive us our sins, all our sins.
Teach us the merciful art of public and private confession,
not for our shame but for the cleansing of our sins
and the fallowing of our rough hearts.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Adventures

This morning, I came upstairs to fry some sausages for a Bible study breakfast and gasped. Snow. Pure white, cold snow covered the back deck and traced the image of the trees in the early morning sky. Good thing I was planning to get my snow tires on today. Fortunately, the roads weren't slippery. I made it to Bible Study and then to work.

After work, I jetted over to Les Schwab to get my regular tires traded out for my snow tires. I told the woman at the desk my mission. She told me candidly: "The wait will be nine hours." Nine hours!!

"You could come back at 7 tomorrow morning or try another time. First come, first serve," she said. "Or you could wait."

Smell that strange tire-y, rubber-y smell until midnight, six hours after they closed? I pictured myself locked in a dark Les Schwab with only popcorn for sustenance. No, thank you.

"I'll come back another day."

I walked to my car, my plans for the afternoon dashed. I hopped in my car and figured I might as well make my Costco run now, as it's two blocks down the road. As I walked into Costco, I was still shocked at the wait time, so I just wandered around aimlessly until I came across a lady with warm cinnamon roll samples.

"These came from the package right over there," she said.

I hovered. "Wow," I said. "These are really good; and they're warm."

"I warm them in my oven here," the lady said, looking at me like I'd just crawled out from under a rock. Not even Costco can sell pre-warmed muffins to the general consumer.

I next collected a rosemary cracker with Brie, a Breton cracker with blue cheese, and a Dixie cup with vanilla ice cream. For a sweet tooth, I really lucked out. Les Schwab can always take the backseat to warm cinnamon roll samples. Realizing my weakness, I grabbed my toilet paper and Life cereal and booked it out of there. Despite their gooey deliciousness, I did not want to come home with a pan of cinnamon rolls for dinner. (I had already had a piece of peanut butter pie for lunch.)

After a stop at the library, I drove to my mentor's house where I had a garden this summer and pulled up the last of my harvest: globe carrots. I pulled them up fast and shoved the dirty, cold carrots with snowy tops into a plastic grocery bag.

Then I drove home, and I ate a carrot. It was great. I love Friday nights. The weekend is my oyster.

And that's the end of my story. Sorry for the anticlimactic ending. I'm afraid the good part of the story is in the middle with the cinnamon rolls. :) But I will leave you with a couple pictures and well wishes for a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Foodie Pilgrimage to Trader Joe's

It may be wrong to equate Trader Joe's with a pilgrimage, but I mean it in a foodie, not a religious, sense. There are number of places in Spokane where a person can go on such a trek, so I chose a Saturday morning jaunt to Trader Joe's and the Great Harvest Bread Company. Unfortunately, most of the foodie sites I like to visit are on the South Hill, which is a half hour from my house, but that could actually be a blessing in disguise. :)

I was at Trader Joe's for a full hour, just looking. I didn't put anything in my basket for half an hour. Weird, I know, but, I was finally able to narrow the vast selection down to a few choice items.

Here's what I bought today:

Let me explain my choices.

1. I bought the hand-tossed whole wheat flour tortillas because I've been wanting to make breakfast burritos and wraps for lunch. The Mediterranean hummus goes with the tortillas for the wraps. The Oregonian taste-tested store-bought hummuses (hummi?) and chose this Trader Joe's hummus as the winner, so it was hard to pass up. I also bought a bag of spinach for the wraps, which you can't see in this picture.

2. I was intrigued by these bacon ends and pieces. It looked like good, thick bacon, so I decided to buy this package to throw in the freezer until I come up with a good use for it.

3. My housemate Katie got me a gift card to the Great Harvest Bread Company for my birthday. I used the last of it on this loaf of Honey Whole Wheat bread. I like the size of the slices because they're small enough to be a complement to a meal rather than the whole meal itself.

4. I love looking at the Trader Joe's cheese selection. They have wonderful foreign cheese that are (bonus!) reasonably priced. Two families I visited this summer--the Miedemas in Colorado and the Leonardis in Coeur d'Alene--had Gouda cheese that I loved, so this was the obvious choice.

5. I love almond butter on apple slices, English muffins, toast, etc. I bought a big thing of almond butter from Costco because it was twice the size of Trader Joe's almond butter and the same price, but I didn't like it at all. Sometimes it's worth it to pay a little more.

6. I use coconut milk in curries, but I'm also thinking of making a Cream of Mushroom soup from scratch with coconut milk in the coming weeks. Plus, it's always nice to have a can of coconut milk on hand.

7. Last but not least, the lemon curd! My favorite cooking show, River Cottage, has a recipe for muffins with a big dollop of lemon curd in the center of each muffin. Can't wait to make them!

So there's what I bought on my Trader Joe's/Great Harvest pilgrimage. It was very satisfying. I was proud of myself for choosing carefully; it's easy to overbuy there. But I felt I chose only what I was going to use within the next week or so. And I can always go back. :)

What's your favorite place to shop for groceries?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fun Halloween/Fall Pictures

Here are some photos from the last week or so, a celebration of fall and Halloween. :) This picture below is a stream at the Finch Arboretum where the Compost Fair was held last Saturday.
Here's a loaf of bread I made to go with the soup below it, which is Potato Broccoli Cheddar soup. I've been eating both on and off all week (the bread toasted with plenty of butter) and it's been great. A delicious fall meal. 

Here is my housemate Heidi and I enjoying fresh-made soup and fresh-made bread on Sunday night in our dining room. The bread was delicious right out of the oven. We each ate a buttered piece with gusto. :)

Here are the pumpkins that my housemates Jo, Pam, and Katie carved. Amazing, right? They definitely elevated pumpkin carving to the next level. I only ever carved the traditional Jack O' Lantern, except I'd accidentally knock the teeth out. So I didn't opt to carve a pumpkin this time. Rather, I separated pumpkin goo from seeds and read cookbooks. :)

My friend Megan brought me this lovely little pumpkin ghost cupcake at work yesterday. It was delicious!

I hope your Halloween was blessed. We had 35 trick or treaters and lots of leftover candy, so I would say that's blessed! My housemates and I also had fun dancing, handing out candy, and eating homemade fudge.
What did you do for Halloween? What are you enjoying most about fall so far? 
Happy November 1st!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Year of Plenty Part 4: The Material v. the Spiritual and My Struggle With It

I've been working on another blog post for the better part of a week and still haven't posted it. It's about a great topic, but I was having trouble narrowing it down. So I'm going to keep working on it and will post this instead.

I always start off the weekend days with a grand plan for how I'll spend them and what I'll accomplish. In Sunday School today, we talked about how Year of Plenty author Craig Goodwin struggles with the dualistic divide in the Christian faith between the spiritual and material in which the spiritual choice is seen as the better option, i.e. joining a monastery instead of apprenticing with the local blacksmith (a random medieval example, but it works.) The physical/spiritual dualism isn't as much a struggle for me as it is for Craig, but I do struggle with another kind of dualism: what I should accomplish and what I actually accomplish.

For instance, I got a free compost bin at the Spokane Solid Waste Fair yesterday. I had planned to set it up in my backyard yesterday afternoon, but when I went out to set it up, I ran into one problem after another. The bin is basically a sheet of rolled-up, stiff black plastic that you're supposed to be able to arrange in a neat 3x3 square, but it had been rolled up so tightly that it didn't want to unroll. I had to jump on top of it to make it stay flat and put spider-webby bricks on all corners. I also realized that to actually put it together, it needed stakes, which I didn't have.

Basically, I realized in dismay that I do not have the brain for mechanics or tactile creativity. Putting this compost bin together was far beyond my ken. Instead, I planted 12 daffodil bulbs, swept a ton of pine needles off the back porch and thought about how I had spent way longer on the compost bin than I intended and still accomplished very little. And my Sunday sped by with little care for my carefully crafted weekend to-do list of which I crossed off exactly two things.

The problem that the compost bin revealed is that I have trouble concentrating on reading or writing when material things are left undone. The contemplative tasks get pushed aside for the tyranny of the urgent. Reading my newest creative nonfiction book can wait, but if that pan sits there another minute with a film of potato soup, it will be a nightmare to clean.

In A Year of Plenty,Craig's year of eating and buying locally required intentionality and contemplation. The Christian life should require intentional choices for every aspect of life. The end goal is that these God-honoring choices become second nature. But for Craig at this point in the book, he still has to think hard about nearly every decision he makes. In an attempt to honor God with my time, I think hard about how to spend my time after work. However, unlike Craig, whose thinking inspires him to action, I often respond to the choices of how to spend my time with paralyzed non-action, hence the dualism between what I want to accomplish and what I actually do accomplish.

And ironically, this dualism gives way to the very dualism that Craig struggles with. (And here I thought I had escaped it.) What is a better way to spend one's time? It depends, of course. There's a place for both the material tasks and spiritual tasks, and God can be glorified in both. But when it comes to the nitty gritty details of how I spend my time, I get mired in the material at the expense of the spiritual. Though both are good, is it possible that one is still better? (I'm thinking of Mary v. Martha.)

I continue to wrestle with this issue and really don't have a good answer to give. How do you see the material v. spiritual playing out in your life? Is there tension between the two? How do you deal with the tension? I'd love to hear from you in the comments. (Maybe you can help me sort this all out!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Year of Plenty: Part 2, Sort Of

We had a great discussion in Sunday School about Year of Plenty. My parents, visiting from Portland, OR, were a delightful addition to our group. However, I'm not going to write about our discussion this week. Lame, I know, but for some reason, I'm really tired. It might as well be spring with only some wrinkled potatoes rolling around in my metaphorical root cellar; I'm at the end of my energy store. 
I always have recipes I want to try buzzing around in my head like busy bees. With the change of seasons, I'm starting to think about all the wonderful ways to use pumpkin, winter squash, and root vegetables. Waking up to the beauty of fall and winter's humble vegetables has been delightful. I'm thinking of making a chicken curry with apples and squash and a roasted root vegetable soup soon. 
Have you noticed all the pumpkin and apple-themed drinks and pastries in coffee shops recently? I was at Petit Chat Bakery this morning, and I asked what flavor one particular scone was. One person said Maple Walnut; another said (more definitively) that it was Pumpkin White Chocolate. Anything with chocolate is sure to earn my allegiance, so I ordered the scone and found it was actually Pumpkin Walnut! There was also a round loaf of fresh Pumpkin Walnut bread that I bought after thinking about French toast and PB&J with peanut butter and pear butter. I love that this bakery has fresh, local bread at a decent price with quality ingredients. On Sunday, all the week's leftover bread is half off, so I often make a pilgrimage there before church. This Sunday, I snagged a loaf of Whole Wheat and a loaf of Dill Chive Garlic (and my parents paid for it!).
Last Thursday, I made meatballs for the first time with lots of local ingredients: Darigold milk, local ground beef, Green Bluff onions, a slice of Petit Chat sourdough bread, and a local duck egg. The ingredients that weren't local are the parsley and the Feta cheese you can almost see in the picture. Pretty good all around! I cooked them up with tomato sauce and whole wheat pasta for my parents on Friday.

I thought I'd include a couple other pictures of my time with my parents. The first is my dad and me at Eleven Acres Farm at Green Bluff with boxes of winter squash around us. The second picture is our Friday night dessert: baked apples stuffed with brown sugar, dried cherries, and walnuts. Yum!


The second-to-last thing I want to say is that I got a newsletter from the Spokane Country Library district with fun events happening at different library branches. It reminded me that there are so many fun things going on in Spokane in October. Trips to the Fall Festival at Green Bluff, a Firefighters v/ Librarians Chili Cook-Off at the North Spokane library on Oct. 20, a lecture by Shane Claiborne at Whitworth next week, concerts at the Spokane Symphony and at Whitworth, a Compost Fair at the end of the month, and live 40s dancing music at different libraries throughout the month. How cool is all that?! If you're in Spokane, check out some of these events. If you're not in Spokane, I encourage you to find out what's happening locally in your own community.

And finally, a beautiful poem to leave you with. Find it here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Autumn is here. I went on a walk/run after work today and it was cold enough to need a sweatshirt and warm enough to wear shorts and sandals. I've noticed that Spokane fall air smells dry and sweet, as if the golden autumn sun could impart a scent. The world takes on new depth and perspective.

In my long walks, when my thoughts are free and untethered, I connect the seasons to different life stages. Perhaps because fall is the transition from summer to winter, I connect it to a person moving from one life stage to the next. Like transitions in life, leaving summer behind is bittersweet. But fall, like a transition, is also lovely in its own right. Though we leave good things behind, the transition itself is worthwhile, too. With God's grace, I come to a better knowledge of myself in times of transition.

Women from my church meet once a month on a Tuesday evening to enjoy two hours together. Last night, we met for a wonderful dinner and time of sharing. The discussion leader read a list of words aloud, and we each took five minutes to share which word we identified with most at the present time. Most people identified with one of two words: loss and belonging.

The word I chose was transition, but as I reflected, I realized that the word "transition" for me encompasses both loss and belonging. On my walk today, I headed up the hill behind my house to Whitworth's campus. Two years ago, I belonged here. I lived, worked, ate, and played with friends here. I walked, talked, and struggled here. I marveled and anticipated here. But though the campus is still familiar, I don't belong there in the same way anymore. I belong to the tenuous world of adulthood. Tenuous because I'm still trying to figure out how it works.

There is sometimes a sense of loss, too. But only sometimes. Not because I'm not happy with life now, but rather because I can never go back to being an undergraduate student. A chapter in my life has closed and though it can be revisited in memory, it can never be re-lived.

Several of the women last night visited states over the summer where they had previously lived. Each one saw family members and old friends and felt that the visit had renewed the abiding, albeit long-distance, connections. One woman reflected, "When I was in Colorado, I realized that though I still belong with my friends and family there, I no longer belong to the place. It was a freeing feeling."

Her comment resonated with others in the room, and now that I think back on it, that's exactly how I feel about Whitworth. Though I belong with the people who are still at Whitworth, I no longer belong to Whitworth as a place. My daily life doesn't revolve around the school. And honestly, that's a freeing feeling. On Sunday, someone asked me if I missed being a student. My honest answer was, "No." There are things I miss about being a student, but overall, I'm savoring this time of transition between being a child and being an adult. With God's grace in this time of transition, I am coming to a better knowledge of myself.

Fall inspires me to think about these things. My life takes on new depth and perspective in the fall. Does yours? How?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Year of Plenty Part 1: Proper Complexity

**This series is rooted in my weekly Sunday School class at Colbert Presbyterian Church in which we are studying the book A Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in the Pursuit of Christian Living. Our classes have been rich with discussion, so I wanted to continue some of the discussion here in order that we might all think more deeply about how our spending and eating choices affect both our spiritual and temporal lives.**

I was partially leading discussion yesterday, so I admit that I wasn't listening as well as normal. I was often focused on how to formulate my next question and when I should move the discussion along instead of attending to the discussion at hand. But I did glean some that I'd like to share.

First, a little back story. Craig Goodwin, the author, is a Spokane-area pastor. One Christmas, he and his wife Nancy realized how exhausted they were from the consumerist rush of the holidays. In a rock-bottom moment, Craig and Nancy decided that the year 2008 would be an experimental year in living locally. The Goodwin family was guided by four rules for the year: everything they bought had to be local, used, homegrown, or homemade. Local is defined as roughly the Eastern Washington and North Idaho area. As pastors, Craig and Nancy are also very interested in how all this applies to the Christian life. As you can see, it's a perfect book to be discussing in our particular location (and at this time of year). It's also a topic that's close to my heart.

My classmates are varied, thus it's quickly become apparent that no one person is going to approach this issue from the same background or come out with the same resolutions. We have avid canners and gardeners rubbing shoulders with those who shop mostly at Costco. The question I posed to my classmates yesterday arose from a chapter in which Craig creates a homemade pinata for his daughter's eighth birthday. After the experience, Craig writes: "We were discovering the importance of proper complexity."

My question is what is proper complexity?

It's more complex for me to make and can 14 quarts of applesauce. It took a considerable amount of time to pick the apples, chop and core them, fill jars, and process them in the canner. Each jar of homemade applesauce came to $2. It would take maybe 20 minutes max for me to drive to Fred Meyer to buy a jar of applesauce. Which is better? I think the answer is "It depends."

Which is why I think it's really important to ask this follow-up question: What is gained and what is lost by ____ (fill in the blank)?

In my example, what is gained by making my own applesauce? One easy answer: relationships. I purchased the apples from farmers who attend my church. While making the applesauce, I spent time by myself, praying and thinking and being present to the task and the process. With the extra applesauce, I fed my co-workers. With six of the jars, I'm able to share with my parents.

What was lost in making applesauce? Money and time I could have spent doing other things.

To be attentive to the two great commandments that Jesus reiterates in Mark 12:28-31 means the answers to many questions may never be the same two times in a row. It's more important to have the love of God and people as our overarching rules than to follow Craig and Nancy's local, used, homegrown, and homemade guidelines. However, it's very possible that to love God, the world he's created, and the people who bear his image, following Craig and Nancy's rules may provide an excellent framework for a proper and rooted-in-love complexity. Whether or not we like it, the world is complex, and we face choices every day that demand tough-love decisions from we who embody both the brokenness of this world and the beauty of the Kingdom to come.


How do you see this idea of proper complexity playing out in your own life? What decisions are easy to make? What decisions do you struggle with?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

To Nourish My Beloved

I don't know what the deal is, but I've been on a food high recently. Maybe it's from preserving the apples, plums, and tomatoes of mid-September. Maybe it's having all these delicious fruits and veg (as the British say) on hand, the tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, corn, peaches, plums, and apples of Green Bluff bounty. Whatever it is, I just LOVE food. My parents wonder who in the world Elizabeth Brink really is...did my mom really give birth to this crazy foodie?

But really, at the heart of my love for food is something intrinsically related to how God loves us. Food can be bland and stingy and unexciting. But the kind of food I'm trying to prepare, the kind of food I watch being prepared on the British TV show River Cottage, the kind of food I read about on various food blogs is incredibly like God's character. It bursts with generosity and goodness and hospitality. It's rooted in love. Love of the earth, sure, but most of all a deep love of the people who carry the Imago Dei.

Here's a quote I found thought-provoking. It was at the front of the cookbook The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."    ~M.K. Fisher

There are a number of things I love about this quote. But I'll start first with where it falls short. Mary Fisher mentions the brain and the hands creating meals to nourish, but she doesn't mention the heart. To me, cooking, and the rest of her quote, hinges on the heart. It's the love from our hearts that we pour into making food and giving it away, not just the cerebral knowledge or the muscle memory. That said, the rest of the quote is fabulous. We nourish people not just with a concocted stew, but with stories. Human beings are nourished by relationships, which happen over food and through stories.

The next part of the quote that I find so great is this: we nourish not just with rarities like perfectly cooked steaks and New York cheesecake, but also with plain dishes...with Kraft Mac and Cheese and home-canned peaches, after-a-long-day-of-work scrambled eggs and hasty blueberry muffins. We are nourished by the ordinary, every day stuff through which our lives of faith are built. Consistent and sacrificial decisions to be generous and to open the blocked caves of our hearts to the light and life of God's love that drives us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves.

So I invite you to join this wild ride called faith and let every deed you do rise up as a prayer of love to the God who is the giver of all good gifts.

And enjoy your next meal with gusto.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Plums, Tomatoes, and Apples, Oh My!

This is old news now, which you're really not supposed to post on a blog. Being current and up-to-date is important, but I worked so hard on canning a couple weeks ago that I couldn't not post this. After all, besides working, preserving food has occupied a good bit of my time in September. Here are some photos about my recent adventures in this food-intense time of year. 
Apples ready to be washed, chopped and cooked down into wonderful applesauce. These are red and green Gravensteins from Hansen's Farm on Green Bluff.

The water bath canner is steaming and the apples are cooking!

My wrists were literally sore that Saturday evening from all the chopping and coring I did. We are talking about 34 pounds of apples here!

That same day, I made tomato jam with eight pounds of Sun Gold tomatoes from my parents' house in Portland. I got the recipe here. Tomato jam is a little weird sounding, but it's actually delicious with toast, crackers, and, I've heard, with chicken. I'm excited to experiment with it.

Here's what I canned in two days' time: 10 jars of tomato jam, 8 jars of plum preserves (like in Anne of Green Gables), and 14 quarts of applesauce. Before you think I'm crazy for all the jam I'm making (and still need to make), I'll just say two words: Christmas presents.

I also got this flat of tomatoes from a lovely couple in my Sunday School class. I now have six quarts of lovely tomatoes in my freezer for winter soups and casseroles.
I've had a pretty good culinary run lately, too. After eating this veggie lasagna for a whole week, I took a break from cooking and ate many grilled cheese sandwiches. On Friday (9/21), I was suddenly inspired to make a pizza. I made half a recipe of whole wheat pizza dough and spread olive oil sauteed with rosemary and shallots on the crust as the sauce. I topped that with mozzarella cheese, sauteed zucchini, crumbled bacon, and three eggs. I stuck it in the oven for 20 minutes. Yum!
On Sunday, I cooked down the bones of a Costco rotesserie chicken. While it was cooking, I went to my garden at Dottie's house to cut some flowers and ended up having tea with Dottie for an hour and a half, meaning that the chicken was on the stove for three hours. So my stock was very concentrated and flavorful. With it, I made a Morroccan Chicken Cous Cous soup. It called for zucchini and a sweet potato. I didn't have a sweet potato, so I substituted Green Bluff carrots and Delicata squash. Delicious!

A final note: In my Sunday School class, we're studying a book called A Year of Plenty, which was written by a local Presbyterian pastor named Craig Goodwin. He writes about his family of four's adventures with eating and buying local for a year. We had a great discussion about chapter one on Sunday, and I plan to post every week about the topics that come up in our Sunday School discussions. I invite you to add your voice to the conversation in the comments.   
Thanks for reading! Hope your week is off to a great start!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

To Azusa and Back

Here's my long-awaited post about my family's trip to Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, to drop my sister Julie off at her first year of college. You've already seen a couple photos in this post, but here's the full story. I'm going to do this by posting pictures and putting the photo's description under the photo.

This is ALL of Julie's stuff in the car. We couldn't believe it. I was like, "What in the world did I take to college?" Because I assure you, the car was much more full five years ago. The best answer we could come up with was that it snows in Spokane and not in L.A., therefore I had to pack more clothes.
Outside the house in Portland, ready to pick up Dad and hit the road!
The first day (Wednesday) we drove to Redding and stayed overnight. On Thursday, we powered through CA to Azusa. We had a lunch at a rest stop somewhere (can't remember where!) and had these lettuce wraps with chicken salad in them. This was Julie's last-minute idea when we were packing the cooler on Wednesday and it was delicious! 
Finally!! A sign for Azusa!!
That's right, we had In-N-Out Burger for dinner on Thursday night! We ended up getting it again at an Azusa Family/Student Carnival on Saturday night. I had In-N-Out burger for the first time when I was 16, but I honestly don't remember anything about the food. I only remember wanting a t-shirt. (No surprise if you knew me at that time.) So I was eager actually to taste the food, and it was delicious!! The burger was flavorful and not greasy, the fries were salty and crispy, and the vanilla milkshake was sweet and cold. A treat!

After dinner, we toured the campus with Julie as our guide. The signs appeared in the lawn outside Julie's dorm on Friday morning to welcome new students. Fun, huh? Here's Julie and Mom peeking in the window of Julie's dorm room.

After a less-than-satisfactory hotel experience on Thursday night, we were eager to spend the whole day at Azusa. As we drove in, we were greeted by this welcoming committee. It was so fun! As RAs rushed over to help us unload the car, several people assumed that I was the college student. I couldn't tell if this was a compliment or not. :) It didn't take us long to unload the car and bring it all into Julie's room. Julie is in an all-girls dorm with two other roommates. We had a chance to meet and spend a little time with both roommates and their families. It was fun!

We ate breakfast on Friday morning at a little Mexican bakery by our hotel. Here's my breakfast with the beginnings of a Target list. As usual, we had to make a pilgrimage to Target for odds and ends and to Costco for a mini fridge. This is a vitally important part of a parent's job. (My parents still take me to Costco when they're here in Spokane.)

The rest of Friday was spent organizing Julie's room, attending an outside fair in the campus center, meeting roommates and RAs, enjoying a dinner picnic with a band, and listening to several speakers in the big event center. On Saturday, the students and families split up and went to separate workshops. My parents and I enjoyed the workshop we attended, which talked mostly about the Azusa's strengths-based approach to learning. In the afternoon, Mom and Julie organized Julie's room, so Dad and I went to Trader Joe's!! We were 10 or so miles from Monrovia at this Trader Joe's, which is the headquarters for Trader Joe's. How cool is that?!
We bought Julie this beautiful bouquet of flowers at Trader Joe's and got her some snacks (chips and guacamole). We had a lot of down time on Friday and Saturday in which we got to spend time together as a family. It was wonderful to meet fellow students, get to know the campus a little, and enjoy the unique excitement of the freshman experience.

The top photo was taken at the Carnival on Saturday night. We ate with several of Julie's friends that she met on her Mexico mission trip with Azusa this summer. The picture with Mom and me is the main plaza of Azusa's West Campus (Julie lives on the East Campus...about a 10 minute walk away). It's a beautiful campus with lots of palm trees and big flowers. On the walk to and from the east and west campuses, we noticed grapefruit trees! How crazy is that?! We ended up going to an Azusa men's soccer game after the carnival; that was fun!

After a lovely worship service on Sunday morning, the president and campus pastor gave every family a piece of chalk and told us to find a place on either campus where we could leave a little drawing to signify the start of our daughter/sister's college career. Julie chose a spot near the academic building where many of her social work classes will be held. I drew this picture and then we prayed for Julie. I tried to get a picture with all four of us, but I obviously had some trouble. :)
Throughout the weekend, I was encouraged by how Christ-centered Azusa is. Dad and I spent an hour on Sunday morning praying with other parents and the Chapel staff for this new freshman class. For peace. For calling. For love of God and neighbor.

It was hard to leave Julie at the end, but we all felt encouraged that we are entrusting her to a good institution and a great God. I pray for Julie every day and trust that college will be as wonderful for her as it was for me.
Mom, Dad, and I left Azusa at 1:15 PM on Sunday afternoon and made it home at 4:45 AM on Monday morning. The whole drive was fine for me except for the last two-ish hours. I was so tired I literally could hardly keep my eyes open. My mom was the real hero--she drove most of the night. We did listen to All Creatures Great and Small on the way back, which was a delight, but boy were we glad to fall into bed on Monday morning. My poor dad had to go to work at 7 AM while my mom and I were sound asleep. We were all dragging Monday evening, but I am happy to report that we are fully recovered and the time spent with Julie was worth every long minute of driving. :)
P.S. This (below) might have been a little bit of what we looked like on the drive back. Get us out of here! Hehe.