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Wealth

enoughAs we were graduating from college, we kept hearing of friends being offered big jobs with high starting salaries and sign on bonuses and suddenly there was all this pressure, not to find a career, but to land the perfect situation. My guy was then my fiancee, and with his shiny new Business degree came big expectations. It’s interesting how quickly we moved from wanting to make a difference in the world to desiring the biggest and the best. For years I viewed wealth as an elusive vapor, something to be captured and held onto tightly and only available to a select few.

Twenty five years later, on the other side of all that, the perspective is so different; I can look back over the years and see what was important to us and our true markers for wealth at various stages of life. When we were first married, we bought the only brand new car we have ever, or probably will ever own. We made big purchases without looking ahead and pushed for promotions. Wealth looked like recklessness and freedom.

Then we had a house full of kids, a mortgage and all that comes with those commitments. I can remember walking through our peaceful home in the middle of the night, checking on children and feeling rich, like we were going to be caught squatting in somebody’s house, living someone else’s life. Wealth was clean laundry and a freezer filled with meat.

As our children grew and my guy climbed the corporate ladder, it was easy to get caught up in the next big thing; where would his career take us next? We shrugged off the questions and focused on staying in one particular part of the country and committing to relationships and ministry. Wealth was mourning and celebrating with loved ones and raising children who were healthy, happy and safe.

Today we are in a season of wealth that is so different than all the rest. Our children are the people who are moving on and making big plans, and trying to determine the importance of success and happiness. Today wealth looks like a full dinner table and the satisfaction that we have done enough. That we are enough. And that we have more than enough.

 

Photo credit: Rebecca Green

 

Don’t Keep Score

scoreboardAre you a score keeper? I am embarrassed to say that I was.  For years I was convinced that my husband wasn’t giving his all in our marriage. It felt like he was trying to get away with doing the least amount of work, and it was my job to catch him and put another number against him. In my mind he was so far in the hole, he could never climb out, even if he wanted to! I just wanted him to give 100% all the time, like I was doing, was that so much to ask?

Then my world got rocked. My parents divorced after 40+ years together with no chance of reconciliation, no counseling, and no real explanation. I was in shock for several months, processing this foreign terrain that I had no desire for. I didn’t have the energy to work, to take care of our family and home or to socialize. It would be safe to say that I wasn’t giving our marriage the time of day, much less 100%. But my husband was. He was praying over me and over our family, he showed me so much grace as I was grieving, and he never kept score.

It occurred to me that in our marriage we need to give 100% together, not each. Rarely is this a 50/50 deal, usually one of us is carrying the bulk of the load while the other is learning, growing, reeling or just exhausted from life. There was no longer a need for a score card; I had to trust that my husband was doing the best that he could, and my job was to join him, not compete with him.

Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5

Lemon Greek Yogurt Pie

IMG_450936372I have been in a lemon mood lately, not sure why. Last Spring we were in Italy and saw so many lemon trees that I had to buy a plant when we returned. It took 6 or 8 months, but my plant returned one perfect lemon. It was the sweetest thing. So this year I’m hoping to double our even triple our harvest! In the meantime, I’m making lemon pie with organic lemons because the recipe calls for lemon zest, and it feels like the safer way to go. I found a baked lemon pie recipe that I like from ‘Tastes Better from Scratch’, but didn’t have sour cream on hand so I used Greek yogurt instead, and I prefer a graham cracker crust with lots of nuts in it so you get the sweet and salty combination, so I changed that too. Here is the result.

Lemon Greek Yogurt Pie

2/3 c graham cracker crumbs

2/3 c pecans, toasted and chopped

3 T sugar

1/3 c butter, softened

1 c sugar

3T plus 1 1/2t cornstarch

1 c milk

1/2 c lemon juice (2-3 lemons, use fresh only)

3 egg yolks, slightly beaten

1/4 c butter, softened

zest of 1 lemon (1T)

1 c Greek yogurt, plain or vanilla

1 c heavy whipping cream

2 T powdered sugar

Mix together the first four ingredients until moist and pack the mixture into a 9 inch pie plate, going up the sides pf plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes and allow to cool before filling.

Crack eggs in a small bowl, beat slightly with a fork and set aside.

In a large saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in milk and fresh lemon juice and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick and bubbling.Reduce heat to low and cook for two more minutes. Add a spoonful of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and stir well. Repeat this process with two or three more spoonfuls of the hot mixture added to the egg yolks. (The goal is to temper the egg yolks so they don’t cook when added to the hot saucepan.)  Poor egg mixture into the saucepan and stir well. Bring mixture to a gentle boil and cook for two more minutes. Remove from heat. Add softened butter and lemon zest and stir until butter melts completely. Allow mixture to cool and then stir in Greek yogurt. Add filling to your pie shell. Refrigerate while making whipped cream.

Blend together last two ingredients on high for 1-2 minutes until it is the consistency you want, pour over the top of the pie and add a slice of lemon on top.

Uptown Funk

hiphopI have mentioned before that I attend a dance class at my local gym a couple of times a week. What started out as an exercise in humility turned into a real workout where I have the opportunity to move in a way I rarely do in life. The instructor is my age but she’s that woman you know who is always the right color of tan, and looks great in ridiculous workout clothes and a huge scarf on her head and she’s sunny and enthusiastic, always happy. Probably because she gets paid to dance.

Anyway, we were dancing recently, she faces our group of 30 or more women and performs hip hop, salsa, the mambo and other dances I cannot name. Our only job is to mimic her. It took me weeks to get out of my head enough to even enjoy the class, and then I was able to look around and see the others. We are a ragtag crew; some women obviously took dance for years when they were younger and slip easily from one move to the next, anticipating the next step as it is being called out over the pumping music. But then there is that group of us who always vie for the back row, clumsy and a beat behind with the wrong leg moving. From time to time the instructor will leave her perch and shimmy right up next to us, encouraging us to make up our own moves. My freeform signature move is to freeze as she gets near me because I have forgotten everything I’ve learned. Every time.

What I like most about this class is that the leader of this group is so beautiful and talented, and she treats us as if we are too. She encourages us and laughs with us, and calls us to keep going, even places a belief in us that we can move like that. The parallel is so obvious in my walk with Christ; I am a sad representative, a faint echo of my Savior who is ahead of me, encouraging me to keep moving and to keep growing. God could laugh at my attempts or make it clear a hundred different ways that I’m just not cut out for this, but instead He is always there, cheering me on and instilling a belief in me that I can be more, that if I show up and mimic Him, I can get outside of my own head and maybe even find a signature move in this world.

 

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

IMG_450809358This is the ultimate cake for a true chocolate/salted caramel lover. Honestly I can think of only three people I am willing to bake one for because it is such a beast! One of those three had a birthday yesterday and this was the result. I used this recipe for my daughter’s high school graduation party and that’s when I learned that if you’re going to make one, you might as well make two or more, and it’s best to give yourself two days to pull together all the components and to allow for cooling time. The recipe came from Martha Stewart, but I have inserted some comments of my own in bold throughout.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

For the Cake

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans (I use 1/3 whole wheat four)
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Coarse salt (sea salt)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil (I use canola)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Caramel

  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Coarse salt (sea salt)
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

For the Frosting

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped, melted, and cooled (1- 2/3 cups semi sweet chips)
  • Garnish: flaked sea salt, such as Maldon  (found at Sur la Table)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, 1 1/2 cups warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.

  2. Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks, and let cool completely.

  3. Make the caramel: Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will spatter); stir until smooth. Return to heat, and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 2 minutes (this takes at least 15 minutes more for me). Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.

  4. Meanwhile, make the frosting: Whisk together cocoa and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a clean bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture until combined. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.

  5. Trim tops of cakes using a serrated knife to create a level surface. Cut each in half horizontally to form 2 layers. I do not cut the layers in half, I serve this as a three layer cake.This uses a lot less caramel, so I am left with several jars of salted caramel sauce for another use. Transfer 1 layer to a serving platter, and spread 3/4 cup caramel over top. Top with another cake layer, and repeat with remaining caramel and cake layers, leaving top uncovered. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

  6. Frost top and sides of cake in a swirling motion. Sprinkle with sea salt. This cake should be refrigerated for up to three days.

 

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The Problem

problemYears ago I worked at a Women’s Center writing protection orders for victims of domestic violence. My primary job was to interview women who claimed to have been abused, detailing the violent acts they had witnessed and advocate on their behalf to the judge, asking for a restraining order to be issued against their perpetrators. Some mornings I would have as many as four women waiting for me, because we were the only place for three counties that could do this work for free. It was a dark time for me, constantly hearing stories of torture, rape and manipulation by loved ones, and trying to calm scared, panicked women and offer them resources.

After working in this environment, I can understand why nurses are known for having a wicked sense of humor and police can get very cynical over time when dealing with the public; you can’t help but become calloused to the pain and misery people are in. I can remember leaving my office at lunchtime with two more protection orders to write and saying out loud to a co-worker, “If it wasn’t for all these women I could get my job done!” Ouch. I was overwhelmed and under supported, but those women didn’t deserve to have someone with my attitude advocating for them that day.

How many times do you find yourself in a similar position?

As a stay at home mom a few years later, I sometimes felt this same way:

If it wasn’t for all these kids….

When my marriage doesn’t feel like the fairy tale I had envisioned:

If it wasn’t for this man….

The irony is that those women I was working to protect? They were my main priority at the time. And those sweet treasures I got to hang out with? They defined me for years. And that wonderful man God gave just to me? Way better than anything I could have ever imagined for myself. I have found that often the thing I am most passionate about can also be the thing I am most burdened by. I guess it makes sense on the human level, but I want to someday reach the point of just being grateful.

If it wasn’t for these women, I wouldn’t have a job.

If it wasn’t for these kids, I wouldn’t be a Mom.

If it wasn’t for this man, I wouldn’t be complete.

 

Relax

fearsAs our children grow up we look for signs of normal growth; is Junior getting taller than his sisters, is little Princess coming out of her awkward phase. Those are physical characteristics, but there are other signs of being a normal teen that we as parents can get stuck on. I know this one personally, and now that I’m several years into it, I can see the conflicting messages I was sending, and a little bit of crazy thinking.

In the past I have found myself questioning our children’s behaviors; why isn’t she interested in dating anyone? When is he going to ask that girl out? When I was this age I was never home….

Now, I don’t view myself as a worrier at all, I’m just not wired that way. But I do notice a lot, and hear what other kids their ages are doing and when my teen isn’t, it makes me question, and need to understand. I will tell you that I have rarely received an answer that I understood. I have actually pushed my kids in the past, encouraging them to move into what society deems as normal teen behavior. Here’s the crazy thinking part: as soon as they take me up on the very thing that I have encouraged, I get concerned about a whole new list of things!

What if this is the one? Now we can never leave him home alone again. What is she doing when she’s not at home with us?

Parents, this is so unfair, and even detrimental to our children. First of all, let’s all relax a little and stop pushing our kids into something they are obviously not ready for. Believe me, the time will come. Too soon. Secondly, when it does come, trust your child to make good decisions, rest in the years of investing in these treasures you’ve been given. Obviously, don’t place them in situations that can foster bad behaviors, but can we keep the conversations with them, and prayers for them, going and trust that they are moving along at the pace they should?

Fathers (and Mothers), do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Colossians 3:21

 

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