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Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking back, looking forward…

Looking back, looking forward…



 “The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger.” Job 17:9 (NLT) 



There are two days left in this year.  I’m looking forward to our annual Kwanzaa party.  I sent Evites with the following sentiment…

Let the fruits of the harvest spark a new beginning. Let the principles of Kwanzaa guide and inspire us all towards greater understanding.  Let the joy of Umoja (unity) guide and inspire us all towards greater understanding.  Let the revelry begin!

You know how we do it.  Join us for the annual celebration of friendship, fun, and the hope and blessings of the New Year.

We can't wait to see you!


It has been our tradition to open our home on the first day of the year, choosing to spend it with friends and extended family, including a few folks who haven’t missed a party in nearly 20 years.  I guess we believe that the way you begin the year is the way it will be…a day filled with laughter, love, and enough.  There is a comfortable feeling; a peaceful spirit; I cannot wait. 


But before we can celebrate New “Year’s Day, there are a couple things left to do.  I’m cleaning, ridding the refrigerator of last year’s food, ridding my house and my life of last year’s clutter.  I’ve been more successful at decluttering than I anticipated; it’s a good thing and I intend to continue.  That’s my looking back.  Have I left the year well?  Did I do my best?  Did I give it all I had?  I think I did ok.  I will bid 2011 a fond farewell, as opposed to years I bum rushed out the door.  I can appreciate the growth, though much of it was painful, but I’m embracing what was and anticipating what will be.  And what will be is EXTRAORDINARY!

Moving forward, I’ve got black-eyed peas, rice, and kale to make, and a mess of chicken to fry for the Karamu luncheon.  There will, of course, be buljol and pepper for breakfast, five-spiced pecans as a snack, and a variety of sweet things for dessert, including pecan bars, pumpkin cheesecake (a gingersnap crust), peppermint sugar cookies, and brownies, if I can get my little miss to bake them. 


Moving forward, I have a promise I made to my mother to talk to my brother more regularly.  I thought we did an okay job of keeping in touch, but mom rarely speaks on things without a reason, so when she brought it up, I agreed…at least twice a month, not including emails and FB. 


Moving forward, I will keep my word-timely; I generally do what I say, but when I commit to something now, I try to move on it within 12 hours.  My niece asked for my Christmas breakfast recipe for shrimp and grits; it is today’s feast. 


Moving forward, I will insist on forward movement.  I will fear less; say less.  I’m going to listen more to the voice of the Universe, and not be so anxious.  I changed my ringtone, from a Charlie Brown Christmas, to Feeling Good, by Nina Simone. 


Moving forward, I’m not waiting to be happy.  I am BEING happy, now. And, I am going to exhale, and let go of it all.  ALL of it. The righteous keep moving forward, because they are led.  They don’t do the leading.  So, I’m getting out of my own way.  And knowing when I give up I’m not out there by myself makes me happy.  Mission accomplished, being happy.  And you know what happiness is, right? Happiness is today’s reminder that God is Good.


Today’s feast: Christmas Shrimp and Grits

Back Story~ for every year that we’ve been married, my husband and I (and now the Little Ws too), have enjoyed this low country-styled treat.  It just isn’t Christmas without my shrimp and grits. 

2 lbs U15 shrimp, cleaned and deveined, shells removed

¼ lb butter

3 T chives, minced, and some left whole for garnish

the juice of two limes

salt and pepper to taste

grits, cooked according to directions


Melt ½ the butter in a warm saucepan, and toss in shrimp, cooking until pink.  Remove shrimp to a separate dish.  Squeeze the juice of both limes into the pan, add remaining butter, and stir until the sauce is emulsified.  Remove from heat, and add chives.   

After grits are cooked, spread them in a shallow dish (about 1 inch thick) to cool and set up.  Using a biscuit cutter or wine glass, cut grits into disks. 

Place a disk at the center of each plate, arranging shrimp on and around the grits.  Spoon the sauce over all, and serve immediately.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dance or die…(dedicated with love and pride to SR and NPD)


He Treats Me to a Feast; Notes from my Abundant Life

Dance or die…(dedicated with love and pride to SR and NPD)

…knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.   But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:3-4 (NKJV)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) courtesy of SR


This year, I witnessed a new Christmas miracle.  I learned giving, and I observed spiritual maturity, (literally watched someone grow) as God made me wait patiently (which I hate to do) until He spoke to and through someone else, allowing me to pray, cry, rejoice, and finally minister the celebration of the birth of Christ through dance in a whole new way.  It wasn’t the Christmas I anticipated, it was simpler AND more joyful than any I can remember.  Sometimes, you just have to Dance or die…

Precisely two weeks before Christmas, a member of our worship committee confirmed that I was dancing Christmas morning.  I laughed.  No seriously, I did laugh, because I hadn’t any idea what she was talking about.  I do not dance with the liturgical ministry at my church.  I belonged to another ensemble before we joined, and maintain that affiliation.  Turns out God had a work to do and my only choice was to let Him do it.

Just before we prepared to minister through dance on Christmas morning, one of the deacons passed through our warm up space, saying (I’m paraphrasing…) when you are preparing to bless someone through ministry, seven devils will try to come against you.  We laughed, because we’d already battled them:

Since we hadn’t been given any previous notice about dancing on Christmas, we had nothing prepared.  We prayed about it, and decided to dance anyway. 

Once we’d decided to dance, we learned there’d be an additional artist to work with.  We prayed about it, and committed to dance anyway. 

We couldn’t find suitable rehearsal space; the choreographer I’d reached out to had no time to work with us.  We prayed about it, and determined to dance anyway.

One dancer had to be found (she eventually got lost again), another decided to step in, just because that is her spirit, as a third felt led to manage operations rather than dancing, from the sidelines.  I tried to release all my concerns and promised, prayerfully, to dance or die.  We all prayed, and hoped we’d be able to dance anyway. 

By the evening of dress rehearsal, program having already gone to press, we were down from 4 to 2 in reality, and down to 1 actually, in terms of what other participants observed in dress rehearsal.  I was tired and sore, my steps were leaden, uncertain.  I was optimistic (or blind).  If ever there was a time to pray and dance anyway, I’d landed on it.

At this point we were spiritually spent, emotionally drained, and out of time AND options.  I was deeply discouraged, but not ready to give up.  Then my phone rang.

I thought my burdens were heavy.  I thought I had a lot going on.  I am reminded of Plato, famously quoted as saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I got a little lost in my own stuff.  Had I been looking to my left, I’d have witnessed the evolution of a new depth of spiritual strength, as I watched a sister go from frustration, resignation, anxiety and disappointment to strength, joy, and an intensity of praise that inspires me even right now.  Had I looked to my right, I’d have seen the kindess of someone who agreed provide rehearsal space AND to dance with us, going even further by crafting my random ideas into a cogent work of choreography merely suggested by me and fully orchestrated by her.  Her stalwart strength (and it's quiet power) just gave me confidence.  Sometimes, in spite of your fears, frustrations, in spite of it all, when the music begins to play, without stopping, you must be fierce. You must keep moving like your only options are to dance or die.

We danced anyway.  We prayed hard, cried a little (at least I did), and gave our best work to God (SB would have been proud).  From our meager offering, He made much.  I am again changed.  Not by the dance, but by the sheer work it took to get us there.  Once again, it’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process.  So, I’ve learned another lesson, counted yet another blessing.  Happy Birthday, baby Jesus, God with us, Light of the World.  For Unto Us a Child is Born….just my daily reminder, that God is Good.


Today’s feast: Buttermilk Biscuits

Back story~ the cooking equivalent of dance or die, make these once or twice, and the process (more a process than a recipe) becomes part of you.  Once you master it, you are no longer afraid, and can master tender, flaky, southern biscuits like you were born to it.  This recipe makes a richer and slightly fussier (in a good way) biscuit than my drop biscuit recipe.  Enjoy!

2 C Eagle Mills Ultra Grain, flour (or whatever you’ve got lying around)
5-6 T cold butter, cut in small cubes
2 ½ t baking powder
Scant 1 t sea salt
Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix all dry ingredients.  Cut in butter ( I use a fork) until the mixture looks like streusel (crumbly).  Add buttermilk sparingly, starting with about a 1/3 C, until mixture comes mostly together.  Dump out onto a floured work surface, and kneed gently (without overworking) until you have a dough.  Cut with a glass or biscuit cutter, and bake until golden brown.  They won’t even need butter.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

a vanilla day...


He Treats Me to a Feast; Notes from my Abundant Life

Dear Lord, grant me a vanilla day…

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
14 Timothy 6:6-8 (KJV)


Talked to my Gayle this morning, warning her that I’d asked God for a vanilla day.  I have lately regaled her with numerous tales of things gone wrong, unexpected challenges, you know, the things that make you go “hmmm…”  This morning, after dropping kids on time, I called her, full of expectancy.  I’ve asked God for a vanilla day. 

I like good vanilla.  Rich, complex vanilla bean, creamy and cold.  A singular experience, and metaphorically, something upon which you can focus, solely.  I’m taking a break from fireworks and complications.  I told her I didn’t want a hot fudge sundae  day with whipped cream and sprinkles, or some rich and exotic something I’d never experienced before…I just wanted vanilla.

Sometimes, when I’m thirsty, I ask for water.  Often, a gracious host will .offer tea, soda, something “grander.”  I demur politely, because all I really want is water.  According to 1 Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”  That sounds like a plan.

Today, I actual have a plan to get a few, not a lot, of things done.  I’m trying to keep it simple.  I have begun cleaning my house for the holiday, decluttering, culling out, stripping it down.  Compounds and complications can be fun, I guess, they have their place, but I’m going simple.  Timothy also writes that “for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out…”  That being the case, let’s keep it simple.  It may not always come to us that way, but we can choose clean, or cluttered.  I’ve done cluttered for so much of my life, I’m asking for vanilla.

Tonight, I will bake cookies and brownies with my children.  I’m whipping up another batch of my oatmeal cranberry cookies, (my new addiction), but also a simple shortbread, clean and elegant.  Like vanilla.  Like my simplified prayers to You, Lord.  I don’t know what’s best for me, I do not know what is in Your plan, but I do know that You know.  Maybe You’ll grant me vanilla.  Maybe You’ll give me something new and wonderful, and I will humbly praise and thank You.  But, since I’m simply going about expectantly, knowing that I will be blessed but content not to concern myself with what that blessing might be, I say Thank You.  I am again reminded that God is Good. 

Today’s feast: Shortbread

Back story~ these are the cookie equivalent of vanilla ice cream.  Really good vanilla ice cream…

3 C  flour
¾  C sugar
¼  t kosher salt
1 ½  C cold butter (cut in small cubes)
½  t rum (or extract, if you’re teetotaling)
½  t almond extract
2 T cold water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, and salt); cut in cold butter until the mixture looks like streusel. Mix the rum, almond extract and  the water together. Fold into the dry ingredients, a little bit at a time, until the mixture holds together in a ball.

Roll the dough out onto a floured work surface, and sprinkle with flour; to a thickness of ¼ inch. Cut into shapes with either floured cookie cutters or a knife, and place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Bake 15-18 minutes, just until edges are lightly golden.  Cool at least 3 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a wire rack to set up completely.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Don’t give up yet…


He Treats Me to a Feast; Notes from my Abundant Life

Don’t give up yet…
For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; 
 and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, 
whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another, though my reins be consumed within me. 
 "But should ye say, `Why persecute we him?'--seeing the root of the matter is found in me.
 Job 19:25-28 (KJV21)

What's the worst that can happen? If it doesn't do well I can put on my big girl panties, deal with it and move on.
Halle Berry



I did not have a great weekend.  It devolved in agonizing sequence, like a car crashing in slow motion; crumbling, like maybe a building demolition film run at half speed, first a single brick, and then all of a sudden, CRASH! For those in the know, I will say this…church meeting, fallen pizza, microwave (if you don’t know, you’ll never know).

By Sunday afternoon, I was pretty discouraged, including that I’d committed to dancing and choreographing a new liturgical dance work in about a week, including some people I’ve never worked with…a sane person would crawl in bed and vow not to come out until spring thaw.  I have never been described as sane.

Somehow (read by God’s Grace), I made it through.  I always do, but I never know I’m going make it through my storms until the clouds begin to clear.  The lesson, which I seem to need to learn about once a month, is not to give up.  Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse…they might, but that’s no reason to abandon your faith. 

Job had it worse than I ever will.  I simply do not believe it is God’s Will that I suffer similar trials.  Therein lay a place to begin my praise.  Job offers a lesson few are willing to admit to themselves...that being that the root of the problem rests not without, but within… “But ye should say, Why persecute we Him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?"  (Job 19:28 KJV21)  If that's not a reason to pull up your big girl panties, I'll never find one.  We are our own worst enemies.  We make the biggest messes.  And, when the messes are not of our own making, we seldom make them better until after we've made them scads worse.  

Here is today’s lesson…don’t give up, yet.  Even when things are bad, remember this (courtesy of my Gayle), if you have to pull up your big girl panties and deal with it one more time, the elastic is going to break and you might really have to show your (OUCH)…..but you will get through it.

The church matter will resolve itself, in time.  The pizza fell, but an important lesson was learned.  And the microwave? That’s just poetic justice…something that will keep me a la Giodanda (look that up), for several years to come.

 

I’m thankful, Lord, that You never leave me, and that You’ve made me more stubborn than smart, because I hate to give up. Tenacity and clarity, those are today’s gifts.  Two more ways I know, God is Good.

 

image borrowed from
 http://www.forget-me-notgiftbaskets.com/CranSchmertCC.jpg
Today’s feast: Crispy Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies 

Back story~ Last week, I found what I thought was the coolest, fat-free recipe for Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies, where the butter substitutions were canned pumpkin and applesauce.  I’ve used applesauce in brownies and other things for years, so I was all in.  The cookies were HORRIBLE.  I couldn’t salvage them at all.  A smarter person might have given up, but I knew there was gold in the right combination.  I researched and crafted another, better recipe, replete with nearly a pound of butter.  (I can do moderation, but I will not live a life of complete sacrifice) They are SO good that I have to make them in small batches or give them away…or I really will need big girl panties!
3/4 lb (3 sticks) unsalted butter (I cheat and use a tub and a half of whipped butter to save time)
1 C light brown sugar, packed
1 1/8 C granulated sugar (I use raw brown sugar)
1 large egg
3 C rolled oats 
1 ½ C all-purpose flour (I’m using Eagle Mills Ultra Grain, with 2* the fiber)
3/4 t kosher salt
2 1/2 t baking soda
2 C dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together butter and sugars, then add egg.  Separately sift together the dry ingredients.  Incorporate dry and wet ingredients and then gently fold in the cranberries and the oats, just until mixed.  Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes, just until they’re golden brown.  They are so rich that they will be fragile.  Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Try not to eat them all…

Making it sexy…I’m planning to make some more, and will try rolling the dough into a log I can chill in the refrig...making them easier to get into the oven, more uniform, and also for gifting (think bake some, give some dough)

DON’T GIVE UP.  THE BEST STUFF COULD BE JUS AROUND THE CORNER

Monday, December 12, 2011

Choose to shine…


He Treats Me to a Feast; Notes from my Abundant Life

Choose to shine…

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."Joshua 24:15
(NIV)


Last week, two friends suffered great loss.  One mourned with a girlfriend from college the unfathomable loss of a daughter; as another shared via Facebook the sad story of a father welcoming twins while bidding farewell to the wife who birthed them four short hours after delivery.  I know its Christmas, but sometimes it’s hard to shine. 

When I heard the first story, I immediately chose to comfort my friend, as a mother empathizing another mother’s loss.   Life can be hard, harsh, more than we believe we can bear, but we are never alone.  The second story prompted me to act--posting reminders that love and life are precious, and we should honor them as such.  Life gives us many choices, including whom we will serve, not just when things are good, but more importantly when things go wrong.

Life can be hard, but it isn’t always.  Kahlil Gibran wrote “the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.” Last week another friend of mine fell back in love. It’s new, and fragile, but love is a precious gift.  Shine on, girl.  We are thankful for the joy she feels right now.  I choose to think the best for them both, and offer a prayer that what they feel will last a lifetime.

We are the lights of the world, and though lights dim, while we live, they burn.  Choose.  Burn bright.  Choose.  Do good.  Be thankful that in your struggling, there is the comfort of a Perfect God, who doesn’t expect us to be (perfect)…Last week’s sadness reminded me to choose and appreciate joy, and to shine anyway.  To be thankful for all that I am, and all that is within my world, not because of those who suffered lost, but to ensure that those whom I love know it, NOW.  I choose to shine brightly, just in case my joy blesses the one person who really needs it.  A random kindness might just save a life.  Isn’t that something you’d choose to participate in doing?
Choose laughter anyway.  Choose love anyhow.  Shine, particularly when it’s hard.  It’s what we’re meant to do…and choosing is just another thing for which I am grateful.  Just another reminder that God is Good.


Today’s feast: Homemade Taco Seasoning

Back story~Lately, I’m choosing to make versus buying things that are cheaper and better.  I have neither maltodextrin nor MGS in my spice cabinet, and have never missed either in my cooking.  Once you realize that it doesn’t take that much more time or effort to do it from scratch, you’d be surprised what can come out of your kitchen (I make tortilla and potato chips regularly, and even kettle corn when I take a notion)

For one lb of ground meat (we use turkey…)

2 t chili powder

½ t paprika

1 t onion powder

½ t unrefined sea salt

½ t garlic powder

½ t ground cumin

½ t oregano

ground cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whip up a large batch and store it in an airtight container.  You save 

at least $1 every time you make tacos by doing it yourself.

Monday, December 5, 2011

T’is the season…


He Treats Me to a Feast; Notes from my Abundant Life

T’is the season…

"Comfort ye, comfort ye My people," saith your God.  
"Speak ye comfortingly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received from the LORD'S hand double for all her sins."  The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: "Prepare ye the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Isaiah 40:1-3 (KVJ21)

Last night, my family attended a community performance of Handel’s Messiah.  For the uninitiated, Messiah is an oratorio, an opera written to be sung, not acted, on the life of Christ told through scripture, from Old Testament prophecies about His birth through His life, death, resurrection and finally His glorification in Heaven.  I grew up with Messiah, as both a church musician and dancer.  I’ve sung the work in performance, as well as having the honor to minister through dance a modern interpretation of “And He Shall Purify,” performed by Tremaine Hawkins in Handel’s Messiah, :A Soulful Celebration.  I just didn’t realize how much I’d missed it, or how desperately, like water to parched ground, I needed it. 

Sitting here at the keyboard, listening to my modern rendition, I wipe tears.  I needed the launch to my Christmas season, and even more, I needed words of comfort.  Despite our children who squirmed and chafed through about 4 hours worth of performances that included recital-worthy piano, symphonic bells and harp pieces by young music students (as a veteran of elementary school talent shows, I’ve learned that nobody’s child, including my own, is cute after 90 seconds…), but they’ll sit through it again next year, as well as suffering (or not) to listen to my Quincy Jones CD.  I enjoyed it.  I enthusiastically sang the Hallelujah Chorus (twice), and was stirred and smiling the rest of the evening.

It’s officially Christmas.  I don’t need any presents.  I don’t like shopping.  I want to bake, and clean, and prepare for a miracle.  As the year ends, the message of comfort so resonates with me…we are a nation is crisis, transition, filled with fear, uncertainty, in desperate need of a miracle.  Imagine the promise, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” We are comforted.  We are forgiven; our iniquities pardoned.  Deep sigh……

Lord, thank you for comfort, and for joy.  Thank You for sending me a beacon in a Christmas concert.  Thank You for the private joy of music that soothes, and speaks to me, in the random quiet of my office space.  Truly, You are an awesome and omnipresent God, to get me at this time, at this place, at this moment.

I already have my Christmas present.  Comfort.  And I am again assured…God is Good.

Today’s feast: Roasted Boneless leg of lamb, pot roast style

Back story~This is pretty much how I learned to make a pot roast from my mommy, of course I jazzed it up with a thing or two.  After last night’s concert, we came home to a house fragrant with rosemary, garlic, roast lamb, and had a Sunday evening supper fit to celebrate the birth of a Baby King.  Serve with sparkling pear and apple cider and an arugula salad, simple dressed with a splash of balsamic vinaigrette, and enjoy, like we did.

4 lb boneless leg of lamb (I find them on sale occasionally at Costco)
5-6 large garlic cloves
2-3 T olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
3-4 springs rosemary
¼ t sea salt (or kosher)
Pepper to taste
5-6 medium potatoes, cut into wedges
1 C baby carrots
1 medium onion, rough chopped
1 bell pepper, rough chopped
2/3 C ginger beer (I’ll post a recipe eventually, you could always use stock or water)
½ C dry vermouth

Make a seasoning paste by crushing the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and rosemary in a mortar and pestle.  Add pepper, and use the sea salt as an abrasive.  Rub the seasoning paste all over the roast and set aside. 

To a warming crock pot, add the potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers.

Heat about 1 T olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and sear/brown the roast on all sides. Place the roast atop the vegetables in the crock pot.  Deglaze the pan with ginger beer, or whatever you have on hand.  Toss in the vermouth (you can leave it out entirely, if you choose) and cover.

Turn the crock pot up to high, and cook until done (check after about two hours).  YUM!

OneWord 2015

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