Friday, October 31, 2008

Lonesome River

It's bluegrass from the eigth of the Dylan bootleg series "Tell Tale Signs", a duet with Ralph Stanley. I had heard that Dylan had recorded with him, but could never find this song. It's my favorite from the CD.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Accepting Autumn Part 2

I subscribe to the Simply Recipes blog and the Smitten Kitchen blog. Deb the author of Smitten Kitchen posted the following recipe that I had to share. I also have to make these for ESL tonight. Yes, you can thank me now.

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar (the original recipe calls for the larger amount; I think it could be dialed down a bit)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Cut a length of parchment that will cover the bottom and two sides (makes it much easier to remove), and line the pan with it. Butter the lining as well. (Deb note: I used an 8-inch square, because it was what I had. It works, too, but the brownies are crazy thick and take much longer to bake, just to give you a heads-up.)

2. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.

4. Pour half of batter (about two cups) into a separate bowl and stir chocolate mixture into it. If you find that it is a little thick (as mine was) add a little more batter (a few tablespoons or so) until it is more pourable. This is important because mine was quite thick, and the pumpkin half was quite thin, so I had trouble swirling the two together.

5. In other bowl, stir in the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don’t set.

6. With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Be sure to get your knife all the way to the bottom of the pan–I didn’t, and ended up with a chocolate base, not that it is such a bad thing. Sprinkle with nuts, if using.

7. Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Accepting Autumn

One of the pleasures of Michigan (yes, there are some)is autumn. It's colorful, usually, and crisp air invigorates me without freezing me. I say hello to all my favorite sweaters back from storage and pack the summer clothes away. I love the foods of harvest and the ability to bake a batch of cookies just to warm up the house. But it's a transitional time, winter is coming soon. Autumn is the consolation prize for shoveling snow--raking leaves prepares your muscles for the tougher job coming up in a few months.

I'm learning that I have to embrace where I am at by embracing the local climate changes. Since I live mostly in my head, this embracing attitude must include experiencing the weather with all my senses. Winter doesn't seem so long and weary if I appreciate the benefits of fall right now. I don't always take advantage of God's gift of autumn while I have it.

So I will prepare my seasonal pumpkin stew, bake some apples, rake some leaves, take leaf collecting walks, and sip some tea.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Precious in His Sight

Audrey LeBlanc, Dennis' niece, was born with severe birth defects, but her parents cared for her needs at home in every detail, from how to hold her so she could breathe better, to exercising and massaging her limbs several times a day to how to make her smile. Although parenting a special needs child consumed them, they never wanted to see her die young to alleviate their burden. Their love for her was immense. And they miss her enormously.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him." Psalm 103:13.

It encourages me that God cares for us like a parent who cares for his children, sensitive of their vulnerability and dependence on him.

"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." Ps.103:14

I'm feeling really "dusty" these days. I am not made out of brick. I am not a wall nor a machine. And I have a shelf life, physically. We all do. But why do we treat ourselves and others without respect to the precious life we all possess so tenuously?

Back to Heavenly Man, Yun ends up in a Thai prison that has living conditions thousands times worse than the ones in China. Upon entering over a misunderstanding in his passport and suspicion that he was a spy, Yun writes that men who contracted disease were left to languish in dark corners of the overcrowded cells What caught my attention is how Yun sorrowfully describes the suffering ones as "precious souls". As one who had suffered much himself, he amazes me by his empathy for others.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Heavenly Man

I finished reading the biography by Brother Yun "Heavenly Man", a believer who suffered for Christ as he was jailed and tortured for sharing his faith in the impoverished rural parts of China. The title came from the name he called himself when he was captured the first time and was dragged by the authorities towards his home where an unsuspecting house church was secretly meeting. He feigned insanity and started yelling in code in hopes that his fellowship would hear him and have enough time to escape. Actually, to his horror, his brothers and sisters in Christ came out to check out who was making all that noise, and wouldn't leave but instead, followed as he was dragged to jail which made him act even more crazy. The police forgot about them because Yun had become too hard to handle. From that point on, it was a nickname for him, and his home village was known as "Gospel Village", because people from there believed and became evangelists to the rest of the region.

Brother Yun has a convicting point of view about the hardships that persecution brings to Christians in his country. After sharing about the horrible ordeal that he went through as well as his family and friends, he concludes that the house church in China does not pray for persecution to end. They actually pray that it continues. Yun and his family left China and were ex-patriots in Germany for awhile, and has had a good chance to observe the westernized church in the US and Europe, and hopes that his country's church never becomes like us. Not that they are superior but because the hardships they endure actually make them more committed to God. They count it all joy.

But the pitfalls for sin tend to be different. Yun gets out of jail and goes back into secret evangelism, neglecting his farm that supports his family and ignoring his wife. After not respecting her warnings that she got from a dream to spare him another trip to jail, he got caught. This time it wasn't him who suffers except at the beginning, but his family. His livelihood was subsistence farming and in a primitive agricultural community, women could not do the work alone. No one was left to take care of them because when Christians were arrested, hundreds in one community were incarcerated at the same time so there was no support network left for the families left behind. Mercifully, he was released before his children starved to death, only to find himself already scheduled to speak at several house churches--he had memorized whole books of the Bible and in a place where so few men got training as pastors, and bibles were rare, he was in huge demand.

But even under that pressure, he and his wife agreed to pray together in the mountains and Yun was convicted by God that he was making ministry his idol. Yun realized that he often was doing God's work without God, and that he had become prideful. Many of his keepers and fellow inmates in the jails had failed to break him, but the only time he came to that point of breaking was seeing his children during visitation and that they were going cold and hungry. He had a shift of priorities where his walk with God came first, his wife and kids came second and then came ministry.

As for me, Brother Yun made me glad that I am a Christian but aware of all the things that I focus on which are a waste of time and energy. It made me long to be a heavenly woman, the kind for whom there is no price too high to pay for her faith in Jesus and the Gospel. The kind that counts it all joy to have the privilege to sacrifice for God, and who has experienced God's sufficiency.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brain Work

Lately, I've been doing four suduko puzzles a day and at least two crossword puzzles a week. It's probably an addiction...I don't feel right unless I do them. Like, if I don't work out at the gym, I miss it.

Does it make a difference? I'm not sure yet. Working on puzzles is supposed to keep dementia or senility at bay, and keep our minds sharp. When I work out physically, the scale shows the result. But how do I measure if I am getting smarter?

Teaching English is a sort of puzzle, especially when I am having a conversation with a beginner. Today, I visited a student from my ESL class and we talked for almost three hours. Most of the time, she was having a hard time finding the right word, or if she had the right word, her pronunciation might be off. Or she didn't understand what I meant. We drew pictures, wrote out sentences, pantomimed until we got it right. It took work and required a lot of patience, but we did it. I actually had fun trying to guess what she was saying or finding a way to help her understand me.

Dennis and I lead a Bible study for ESL students, and Dennis' job is to teach and my job is to mainly listen. I listen to Den to make sure that he's saying things correctly and I listen to the students to understand their questions and help Dennis answer them. In many ways, teaching the Bible to students from five or six different countries with various exposure to the Gospel (between none to a lot)and various levels of speaking English is like a puzzle. It takes an extra set of ears and eyes to observe without having the distraction of teaching to assess the situation and discern how to assist. Sometimes, God gives me cross references to help explain or give clarity. The more I observe, it seems, the more I learn.

And learning is work.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I don't grocery shop a lot anymore. I usually run out for fresh veggies and perishables like milk once in a great while. The reason being is because I stock up once or twice a year on staples, usually buying them on sale. But lately, the pantry is getting low and I made a list and headed out to the store. It was overwhelming. I was aware prices had changed, but I wasn't expecting it to be that much.

I made some adjustments--just how important was it to me that I got my favorite brand of mayo that cost almost five dollars a jar, when a store brand was half as much at the price I'm used to paying? Eggs were 99 cents a dozen at Aldi, the warehouse type grocery,compared to almost two bucks at Meijer, the regular grocery store across the street. How lazy must I be to pay for pre-sliced mushrooms at a dollar more when I could slice my own.

Lately, as Dennis and I bow our heads to give thanks for our meals, I've been feeling more grateful than usual. Everything seems to have risen in price, and I wonder if today's prices will be considered a bargain next fall.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Promise Was Made

It was doctor time today. Dr. A wanted to see me after the lab results got in about my kidneys. I've improved some more, and he was pleased. But that was a brief second. We had to talk about my blood pressure and the meds I've taken and then quit.

I'm diabetic, and even though my bp is under 140/90, he wanted to see it a little lower. Like, under 140/85. We went through the fact I decided to stop the Norvasc after my legs swelled up and I got a rash. He wanted me to tell him before I decide to quit a prescription. Before, I took Metaprolel and it turned out I was allergic and couldn't breathe. And he took me off Lisinoprol because it made my kidneys crazy. And before that, I took another common bp med that made my throat swell. Dr. A reviewed all of this and told me that we went through all the major meds possible and then he gave me an analysis of last resort options that probably won't help much.

He said that there was another option, and that was to loose 20 pounds in three months or else he'll have to prescribe another nasty blood pressure medication. He told me if I was willing to make a promise to him that I would do this. I promised.

It took me a year to lose 20 pounds. And now, I've promised to lose the same amount in a quarter of the time. No more goofing off.

No more goofing off at the pool. Time to get serious. So, today, I pushed myself a little more than usual and swam 14 laps nonstop in half an hour. No flirting with my husband, no chatting with Jo Lee, no sharing my life story with Rosie or trying to get to know Tori the lifeguard better. Half an hour of keeping the heart rate way up. Well, I flirted with Hubby for a few minutes but only after I finished my laps.

No more goofing off with Weight Watchers. Write down everything I eat. Plan my menu and print it up and follow it. Go to every weekly meeting. Maybe go to additional meetings per week.

Is my doc tough on me? Probably. Did I need him to be? Definitely. Can I do this? I think that it would drive me to depend on God more than usual. But I hate the blood pressure medications.

I'm wondering what it would be like to lose 10 pounds by November 8th, and then another by December 8th. Perhaps keep pressing on by January 8th, and lose more than the 20 I promised.

The biggest danger is getting complacent and forgetting.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bach for Everyone

Adapted from Bach's Concerto for Two Violins, a jazz version by Taro Hakase and Iwao Furusawa. For a Bach loving friend who is depressed that he finished listening to 155 CD's on everything Bach wrote.
Fredo, my big boy kitten, is a whirligig right now. I think he has ADD. He plays with the piece of paper I wadded up for him, then jumps at the dog's leash hanging on the hook, runs across the room, stops, looks at me and runs the other way, jumping up on the desk. He's the orange tabby with an attitude, about 8 months old, and probably weighs 12 pounds. He's bigger than his momma and he's not done growing.

He just walked calmly by, as though the previous spurt of frenzied activity never happened. Looking for trouble? Probably.

When he was a baby, his mom, Carly, used to move him and his littermates from the spare room closet to the closet in our bedroom. Since I wanted peace and quiet there and not turn our bedroom into a cat nursery, I would gather them all up and deliver them back to their cardboard box in the other room. She and I would go around and around like this for half an hour until she got confused and quit. And the next day, she and I would begin the process of mobilizing her kittens to and fro across the hallway again.

Sometimes, I would come home from work and find assorted disoriented kittens all alone in odd places like the middle of the hallway or in my closet. Fredo was one of the frequently abandoned kittens ending up in the closet, forgotten while the litter remained in the spare room with their mother feeding them in the cardboard box. He didn't fuss, he'd just lay there, waiting for mom to come get him again. I'd pick him up to take him back, and his mom would look at me in horror, like, how did that happen? Talk about ADD. My guess was that she'd start moving her litter, and then next thing she knew, it was lunch time and forgot that she had Fredo in my bedroom closet.

So, the other day, as I organized that closet, Fredo would jump in there purring, rolling around in the corner where his mom used to leave him eight months ago. I wonder how he remembered that spot. After laying there in kitty rapture, he'd walk up to his mom, and try to cuddle with her, but she growled at him to leave her alone. I woke up this morning to see her lying in her favorite spot in the hallway, with Fredo a few inches away with his paw extended to her, touching her tail. From what I could see, she was entirely indifferent to him. She was done being his mom.

One morning, Fredo was taken to the vet to get neutered and was gone for two days while he was in recovery. Carly was a different cat without him around, she began to be her old affectionate self around us. She slept on Dennis' legs, she rolled around on the bed and wanted me to pet her. I realized that not only did she withdraw from her son, she also withdrew from us in his presence. I don't know what this means in cat logic.

I did read that mother cats would drive their kittens away from them when they were old enough to fend for themselves. I did notice that Carly did not grieve for her litter as they left for other homes, and they stayed with us longer than most kittens stay. We kept Fredo because he was hand raised by us, and I knew that was a very rare opportunity these days as most litters are bred by strays. Carly herself is a stray and her trust in us was hard won. She is a part time outside cat, simply because it is impossible to keep her in without her scratching the floor next to the door into shreds. She has brought us mice and small birds as trophies of her hunting prowess. The mice I'm impressed with, the birds I feel sorry for.

At night, on the way to bed, I stop to pet her in the hallway, and sweep her into my arms to take with me into our room. She purrs loudly and doesn't try to get away like she usually does. It is our routine, and she knows that it means that she is welcome to be with us, that she is loved. What endears me most about this is how she doesn't beg or ask for it, but she receives it wholeheartedly as though it meets the secret longings of her heart. Perhaps, in her cat way, she wanted to be closer to us while taking care of her babies and that was why she was trying so hard to get them in our closet and out of the spare room.

Perhaps, I should have let her for a few nights.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Health Matters

Yesterday, I swam about 10 laps in half an hour. Almost normal for me. I had to rest between laps, especially my freestyle laps. It was great.

Afterward, I went to Weight Watchers and found out I lost 4 pounds. There is a meeting at my YMCA once a week, so I can go after my swim.

My legs are continually compressed with special socks, and I'm beginning to accept that. I had a hard time concentrating on Sunday during our class, I was noticing sockless feet and open toed sandals, remembering way back when.

Today I had to have blood work done. The med techs know me by now even though they forget where the only good vein in my arm is. I should get a tattoo. We commiserated about bad veins (the reason I have bad circulation in my legs) and I found out that this happens to a lot of people without any apparent reason.

So, life goes on.