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Rocks

photo (34)My guy and I were sitting on some large rocks, taking in the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea. The sun was starting to set and couples were coming near with food and drink and blankets to watch the last few minutes of light leave their world. He asked me which way I wanted to take to return to land.
I checked our options; we could return the way we came, back up the manmade steps that was still well lit by the sun, or we could cross the harbor by way of those large rocks, like the ones we had been sitting on. Definitely rocks.
He went ahead of me and lithely jumped from boulder to boulder, calling to me to be careful, it would be very dangerous to fall. I wasn’t thinking about the danger at all, I was imagining how he probably was as a kid, cautious but willing to risk. Then I came to the first jump I would need to make to cross and I froze. I could not will myself to move. I heard the water hitting those big rocks just below me and my depth perception has always been a little off, so I felt certain I was going to fall. I couldn’t even turn back and go the safe way because I was halfway across by the time I realized just how dangerous it was.
I called out to my guy who quickly double-backed and was amused by my fear. Then he saw that I was truly afraid. He did exactly what he always does, held out his hand and helped me maneuver each step I needed to take, encouraging me as I moved forward with him. My brain knew that If I fell with him holding onto me I would probably be in more trouble than if I was on my own, because he would yank my arm tightly and break a bone or two, but reason was not working at the moment. I had to have the comfort of his presence in order to keep going.
My spiritual life has often been like crossing those rocks. I know we are on the adventure together, but often choose the harder path for no good reason and try to go it alone. I find myself scared and confused and call out to God, who is so willing to come alongside, His presence instantly making me feel safer and more capable. I don’t know if it’s pride or stubbornness that gets me into trouble, maybe both, but I am so grateful to have a God and a guy who are both willing to rescue me over and over.

Caprese Salad

photo (7)This is seriously one of my all-time favorite foods, we had one every day we were in Italy, and I came home to have another.

It’s traditionally meant to be served before dinner, and the colors are meant to resemble the flag of Italy.

The secret is to have the very ripest tomatoes and best mozzarella, oil and balsamic that you can afford, so in my opinion, it’s best in the hottest months of summer.

 

Caprese Salad

1 large, ripe tomato, sliced

4 oz. fresh mozzarella

3 sprigs of fresh basil

1/4 c. olive oil

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

salt, pepper to taste

Place the tomato slices on the plate, top with mozzarella then bail. Lightly pour the olive oil over top, then balsamic dressing. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with fresh french bread.

The Answer is Yes

shareYou know the drill: there is a birthday in your house and child 1 receives all kinds of new treasures while the siblings look on with hungry eyes. How do you teach birthday-child-who-has-more-than-they-could-ever-want to share his new bounty?
We had to institute a policy early on; the first day with the new treasure was just for the recipient, no need to share at all, but after that whenever asked if someone else could play with it, the answer was yes. I would watch as the new owner would begrudgingly stretch out their tight fist to hand over the item and often not be able to even watch their sibling enjoy playing with it at first. Usually within minutes they would both enjoy the treasure together. It can be painful to share our toys, especially the really cool ones.
We did this to try to teach them the joy of having new things, and the importance of sharing them with others, even while they were still new. The policy worked in your favor whenever it was someone else’s big day – you knew that you were going to be able to play with all that new stuff in less than 24 hours. Over time, it became something that we said in our house, “the answer is yes” and went on to mean that we share information or time or talent when we are asked, whenever we can.
Lord, help me to keep and cultivate this mindset in our house and in my own life. Help me to share what I’ve got, and to remember that the answer is yes.

Maybe….

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Relationship experts tell us that love is a verb, something that we have to make ourselves do sometimes; show love to someone and the emotions will follow. Often the hardest person to love is yourself, even though we all know it is so important to do so.

If you don’t love yourself, maybe you need to act like you do, until you do.

Getting More Than I Bargained For

jays-juiceAfter several days in Amsterdam I had a craving for my daily fruit/vegetable juice and went to my trusty Trip Advisor app to find a juice shop. It was a good distance away, involving taking a tram and walking several blocks in an area I had not yet seen. At first I was hesitant, but decided to go for it. This suburbanite dodged bicycles, motorcycles and people, maneuvered the tram and got the the area of town where the shop should be. Map in hand, I began to look in earnest. It took a long time but I finally found the shop so I went inside and stood in line. The man behind the counter was the owner and seemed to know everyone who came in, preparing their drinks from memory while discussing other topics. It was my turn and I said, “I’ve been looking for you for a long time!” The man locked eyes with me, came around the counter and took my hand. I thought he was going to shake it but instead he massaged it, then went up my arm to the elbow, still massaging. He muttered quietly, “you’ve been looking for a long time, all right. Relax and forgive and forget.”

Wha??

I laughed nervously and he proceeded to hug me. Close. He held me there until I relaxed. He talked quietly about my energy and massaged my back while holding me. It was powerfully intimate but not in a sexual way. People would come in and out of the small shop, talking to him all the while, making it seem like this was very commonplace. Thoughts were running through my head back and forth between, is this ok? and this is amazing….

He made my drink, he never asked me any questions except about the ingredients and was I feeling better than when I came in? I was. Other people entered the shop and he asked me to stay so he could explain, but when the shop emptied, he just held me. It was so bizarre. And so natural. When I stopped fighting the need to be appropriate I leaned in and allowed myself to feel the love this person was offering. We were not man and woman or even two strangers, we were simply two humans. In a juice shop. In Amsterdam. On a Thursday.

I said to him, “you have a profound gift for loving others.” He looked at me and said, “and so do you.” We talked a little more, he was from Aruba, previously an alcoholic and drug addict who got cleaned up years ago and opened his store to give people whatever they need; some need encouragement, some need a massage, all need love. Now, I don’t want to make too much of this encounter, but I also don’t want to shrug it off because I walked away changed. Changed in the way that you view the world a little differently now. I have rarely experienced pure love in my lifetime, that kind of love that wants nothing in return, that is simply willing to give. I have been writing a blog about three forms of love from the Bible for almost two years, and found something so simple and profound in an unlikely place. For all I know, this guy is half crazy and gets a kick out of seeing what he can get away with, but I don’t think that’s it. To me, this was a powerful example of Jesus’ love for every one of us. What if we leaned towards one another in an effort to connect more on a human level and let go of misconceptions and expectations? I still have so much more to learn.

Ultimate Birthday Cake

birthday cakeI love to make birthday cakes. I love to celebrate people and to eat cake, so it just makes sense. My family and closest friends know that my cakes tend to be really ugly, probably  because 1) I’m not a perfectionist in any possible way, and 2) I get impatient for the final result and often don’t wait long enough for cakes to cool before frosting. So they all know the uglier, the better it’s going to taste. Beware of a pretty cake from me, it means I didn’t have a hand in making it. This is the ultimate birthday cake, in my opinion. My bestie and I make it for each other on our special days, and I don’t think anybody else appreciates it nearly as much as we both do, so we get lots of cake twice a year. I’m struggling with the realization that it’s another 6 months till the next birthday. The recipe is from The Cake Mix Doctor, and yes, gets its start from a mix:

 

Chocolate Praline Cake

For the praline:

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • ¼ cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans

For the cake:

  • 1 package (18.25 to 26.2 ounces) chocolate cake mix
  • 1 package (3.9 to 4.09) instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 to 1 1/3 cups water (see note above)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • Topping:
  • 1¾ cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 2 tablespoons, or to taste, confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated chocolate or miniature chocolate chips, if desired
  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut 2 rounds of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of two 9-inch round layer pans. Spray the bottom of the pans with vegetable oil, place the parchment rounds in the pans, then spray the parchment with oil.
  2. For the praline, place the butter, cream, and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the butter has melted, 3 minutes. Divide the mixture between the two pans. Sprinkle the pecans over the top, dividing them between the two pans. Set the pans aside.
  3. For the cake, place the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, and oil in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the mixer speed to medium and blend for 1½ minutes, or until the batter is smooth. Divide the batter between the two pans, pouring it over the pecans. Place the pans in the oven side by side.
  4. Bake the cakes until they spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 37 to 40 minutes for Anne’s cake mix and 35 to 37 minutes for Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, etc. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and invert each onto a rack to cool praline-side up. Remove the parchment rounds.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the whipped cream. Place the cream in a chilled large mixing bowl and beat on high speed until cream has thickened, 1 minute. Stop the machine and add the sugar. Beat the cream and sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more.
  6. To assemble the cake, place on cooled layer on a cake stand, praline-side up. Spread with half of the whipped cream. Place the second layer on top of the first, and spread the top with the rest of the whipped cream. Garnish the top with grated chocolate or mini chips. Drape with plastic wrap and chill until serving time.

McDonalds in Downtown Milan

Photo (30)This time last week my guy and I were walking the streets of Milan, Italy. I am still reeling from the fact that I was there, in the midst of all that history, culture and diversity. We took a lot of pictures and when we show them to someone we find ourselves trying to describe just how much bigger and more grand everything was. The camera couldn’t capture all that there was to see, and our words fall short in describing what it felt like to be there. But we still try!
As we entered into the main square of Milan, one of the very first things I wanted to do was to sit at a sidewalk café and sip a cappuccino and watch the people pass by. We heard so many different languages and watched as people, bicycles, cars and motorcycles lived together in a small space; people simply made room for each other.
Another thing I noticed was the fact that there were current icons like The Apple Store and McDonalds wedged into buildings that were hundreds of years old, balancing the look of new and sleek in the backdrop of timeless and historical. This was fascinating to me because I can’t imagine choosing to eat McDonalds when there are cafes offering fresh meats and cheeses, pasta and gelato at every turn; and yet there were so many people sitting on the steps of the piazza, digging into a fast food bag. I guess people often want what is familiar.
It made me think about my own habits. Am I settling for McDonalds in downtown Milan? Are there ways that I am choosing the familiar, the comfortable over what might be better? Am I willing to look a little further, to risk trying something different over always knowing what comes next? I haven’t eaten at a McDonalds in years, so we sure didn’t bother to go there while we were in Italy, but instead ordered items that were unknown, sometimes from menus completely in another language. We had a couple of things that were not our favorites and we learned about a lot of foods and customs that we would happily adopt.
I am just starting to settle down enough to reflect on our time in Europe, but one thing I know is that I want to keep asking, stretching and risking being uncomfortable over always knowing how things are going to turn out.

Photo (31)

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