Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Important Announcement

As many of you have probably already heard, Google will stop supporting Friend Connect as of March 1. This is a Blogger site, so I will still have Friend Connect for now, but I am also installing Linky Followers. I thought long and hard about this one, and decided on Linky Followers instead of Google+, at least for now, because I'm just not feeling entirely comfortable with what I hear about Google+. So - if you want to keep getting my updates (and I hope you do!), please click on the Linky Followers window in my sidebar and join in. If you prefer not to use Linky Followers, then I hope you'll stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, or by RSS Feed - links for all are on the right sidebar.

Thank you, and I hope everyone has a happy Leap Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cooking Rice

Please tell me that I'm not the only one who has ever ended up with a crunchy mess when I try to cook rice using the directions on the back of the box! I was starting to wonder if one just needed some kind of special knack for cooking rice because so often it ended up being either overly crunchy or a soggy mess when I tried to make it.

However, I found a couple of methods that changed that for me, and I'm sharing them below. One tip, though: Do NOT use Minute Rice! In addition to being processed and treated, it just doesn't cook up the same way regular rice does. Nowadays, I normally use brown rice or basmati rice.

So, how to make foolproof rice? Think pasta. Instead of trying to figure out the perfect amount of water for the rice to absorb while simmering slowly on the stove, just heat a pot of water to boiling as you would for pasta. Then pour in the rice. Let it keep boiling away over medium heat until your rice is nice and tender, then drain and serve.

If you'd rather not waste water, the More-With-Less cookbook made my life so much easier by teaching me that it really is possible to cook rice in the oven. My final product isn't quite the same as their recipe, but here's what I do:

1. Mix rice and hot water in casserole dish (2 parts water to 1 part rice - and I heat my water as hot as my sink will make it).
2. Add salt and about 1 T. butter
3. Stir, cover tightly and bake at 350.
4. Depending on the brand of rice you use, it will take 20-40 minutes to bake. I usually check the rice at the 15/20 minute mark. If rice dries out, add a little hot water while baking.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Some Lenten Music

Though I'm not Catholic, I still find the season of Lent well worth noting and celebrating. The somberness of Lent and the remembrance of Christ's sacrifice for us contrasts with the great celebration of Easter. So too does the utter darkness of sin and separation from God contrast with the light and the freedom of our redemption. During Lent, I find myself thinking thinking on passages of Scripture such as the reminder in Romans 2:23, "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," and we know from passages such as Romans 5 or from Romans 6:23 that our sin brings death and separation from God. And yet we are also encouraged in Romans 5:8 by the reminder that "for God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." And when I mentally follow that path from Christ's earthly life to His crucifixion, my heart also follows that path from my own death in sin to the redemptive secrifice made for us, and I cannot help but wonder.

And at this time of year, this time of pondering and wondering, I find "What Wondrous Love is This" to be such a beautiful and comforting hymn.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Like Mine With Cheddar

Please tell me I'm not the only person whose first Five Minute Friday thought centered on food.

I do like my grits with cheese, though. Butter and bits of bacon are also good, but cheese grits are the bomb. And don't be enticed by the lure of the instant grit. They just don't taste the same.

Which of course leads me to my second thought upon seeing this week's Five Minute Friday prompt - My Cousin Vinny. The scene with the grit-eating witness is hilarious, but also a good reminder to pay attention to the little details in life. They might make your case, help you figure things out, or best yet - point you to God.

And eventually, my mind drifts from grit-eating and movies to the grit that irritates my eyes. I can rub and rub at it until my eyes turn red and hurt like fire, or I can endure the irritation for a bit until it all washes out. Life is full of those little irritations. And I have to wonder - perhaps if we don't worry at them so much, they wouldn't dig in quite so painfully?

I'm spending my five minutes being way more random than usual this Five Minute Friday (and on Saturday, no less!). Five Minute Friday is an exercise in writing wild and free, and if you've got five minutes, why not hop over and give it a whirl?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Defense of Slow Bible Reading

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night

- Psalms 1:2

Bible Reading

We all know about "Read Your Bible in a Year" plans. And there are also six month plans. And even a 90 day plan!

These aren't bad things. I've read my Bible in a year and in that year, marvelled at the connections between Old and New Testament as I saw God's covenant and plan pass from age to age.

However, reading on the fast track isn't the only way. We learn different things from God in all the many ways we study and experience Him. And this year, even as I am surrounded by the convenience of one-year Bible reading challenges, I have decided on something a little different.

I'm reading my Bible slowly. Very slowly. I don't know how quickly I'll get from end to end because this time I'm focusing on the journey rather than that last page of Revelation which is arguably the destination. I know it will take more than a year, though.

My plan is obviously not a regimented plan, and I don't have a set schedule to go with it. I suppose in a world of planners, I might be rebelling just a little bit. I just get up in the mornings, read the selection for my group Bible study, and then flip to Genesis (why yes, it's February and I'm still in Genesis) and see how much God wants me to read. My one commitment is that I will read and study every day.

And as I read over the text, often more than once, the patterns of word and phrase jump out at me. With no deadline on reaching the end of the Book, I am set free to research meanings of words, differences between translations, I can chase cross-references all through Scripture and it's making me see God differently.

I read through the Bible quickly last year and was blessed by getting some small glimpse of the big picture. And now, for the next few years, I will get to read more closely. As I read Genesis, I feel so much closer to God. As Christians, we tend to focus more closely on Jesus as shown to us in the Gospels, but as I study now, I can feel a sense of excitement about Jesus as I see this great plan of salvation taking shape. We are instructed in Isaiah 34:16 to "Search from the Book of the Lord and read," and as I do this, I find myself loving God and loving Christ more each day.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Colossians 3:16

So, tell me. Am I the only rebellious slow reader out there? How does God speak to you through His word?

And I'm linking up at Faith Barista today:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Midweek Links - To Life!

The Komen for the Cure/Planned Parenthood debacle combined with the Obama administration's decision to force certain religious institutions to provide birth control coverage over their objections has really gotten me thinking about life issues. I've been pro-life for as long as I remember and the idea of abortion saddens me. However, these sorts of issues seem to be taking on more urgency these days.

There are so many good resources online about various life issues that I scarcely know where to start. If reading books like unPlanned isn't enough to convince you that there's real money changing hands in the death industry of abortion, Christianity Today ran an excellent article on the influence of money in the abortion culture. On the one hand, one can see this as disheartening. However, I see it also as opportunity for the pro-life movement to learn and grow in effectiveness.

Bound 4 Life also had a rather eye-opening article up on their blog dealing with media coverage of pro-life vs. pro-abortion events[hat tip to Jessalyn from Desiring Virtue for tweeting the link.] The way in which the issue is presented has a lot of influence on how the general public views them. Since it lately seems like those of us who are pro-life are letting ourselves be painted as a small group of fringe crazies, I found this article helpful. And, by the way, I have been to the VA legislature many times - the number of pro-life sympathizers vastly outnumbers the number of pro-abortion sympathizers - but you almost never see that mentioned in the news.

We hear a lot about pro-life issues concerning the unborn, but what about after those babies are born? We as Christians are called to value God's gift of life, and it doesn't stop being a gift once that baby exits the womb. If we care only about the unborn and do not step in to support the lives of those who need it after they're born, then we are only doing part of what we are called to do. When I think of ways to help children saved from abortion, many things come to mind but adoption is certainly one of them. And this article on how adoption is Christian makes a wonderful case for it.

And then, at the other end of the life spectrum, we have that other life issue that fewer people seem willing to talk about - euthanasia. Sometimes I think we expend such energy protecting the potential new lives among us that we forget the old and the sick who need our prayers, caring and protection as well. This article about the rise of legal euthanasia in the Netherlands is not only disquieting; It also causes me worry for what might happen in this country. If we start to devalue life, might we end up in a place where we find ourselves offering euthanasia to the ill and weak whether they wish it or not?

Lots of food for thought here, I know, and it barely scratches the surface of what's out there in terms of resources to allow one to contemplate and deepen views on life issues. Have you seen any good resources on life issues out there? If so, share them in the comments!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Presidents' Day

American Flag

"It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible."
- George Washington
George Washington, 1795

"While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian."
- George Washington

"In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it."
- Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln - head & shoulders portrait

"Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in His own good time, will give us the rightful result."
- Abraham Lincoln

Happy Presidents' Day!!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Delighted in Me?

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
-Psalm 18:19

DEFINITION of "DELIGHT": 1: a high degree of gratification : joy; also : extreme satisfaction
2: something that gives great pleasure
3archaic : the power of affording pleasure

-from Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Double chocolate delight 002 copy
You have to admit that something like this crosses your mind when you hear the word delight, don't you?

We are not perfect. We all sin and fall short. I consider that Bible 101; it's the reality check that we all get when we start thinking we're too holy and it's one of the first things we learn about being Christians. None of us can be wholly righteous, but we can be saved.

But then there's that delight factor - that chocolate and fruity treats factor. We're all sinners and we've all done terrible things in the eyes of God. Yet He does not just save us. We are told repeatedly throughout Scripture (but especially in the Psalms) that God actually delights in us. He didn't save us begrudgingly because He had nothing better to do. God actually loves us so much that he really delights in us. Or, to put it another way, God takes pleasure in us as if we're a treat rather than an embarassment. It's that simple and yet almost unbearably huge paradox that underpins our faith. We cannot earn worth and salvation on our own, but God wants us and takes such delight in us that He would shower us with His love anyway and move us to seek Him.
Even though I often fill my Friday pages with run-on sentences and other affronts to grammar, The Gypsy Mama lets me keep writing free and wild for five minutes every Friday. This week's topic is "Delight", and if you want to write for five minutes, I hope you'll come join in. You can link up with everyone here:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Even Before, He Knew

So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

- Genesis 6:7-8
Noah's Ark, Dordrecht, The Netherlands

Genesis has opened my eyes lately. Often when people speak of God's promises or His love, they speak from the New Testament or perhaps from Psalms. Yet as I read Genesis this winter, I'm not only travelling the familiar roads of history that I recall from childhood; God is showing me how very long His history with us runs. Even before He sent Christ to live on earth, even before we had the church, God knew He had these big plans for us!

In this account of the Flood, we learn that the sinful behavior of humans on earth greatly grieved and displeased God, and God decided to destroy them. But He spared Noah and His family, whom He loved. And not only do we see God's wrath tempered by mercy and grace here in this account, but as I read this story and others in Genesis, the connections to God's plan for us as shown in the New Testament become so clear. And I can see that God's mercy is not a New Testament concept alone.

In Luke 17, Christ Himself draws the connection for us. Talking of His second coming, he says in Luke 17:26-27, "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." As I read these passages, I cannot help but feel some awe as I realize that even as God sent the flood, He knew that these events in Luke would transpire. We speak so often of God's plan in terms of Christ, but even as far back as Genesis, God had a plan and He knew how He would save us.

There's something comforting about reading Genesis and seeing these mirrors between the events of the Old Testament and the ways in which God uses them for us today. We see the Flood in Genesis, and then in Luke, we have Christ telling us that His return to Earth will come upon us all just as suddenly someday. And God has always intended that! And in a beautiful picture of God's love, we see in Genesis 22 how Abraham obeyed what must have been a frightening command from God to prepare to sacrifice his only beloved son - a foreshadowing of God's own sacrifice of His only beloved son for our salvation.

There is such meat to the Old Testament that I think sometimes gets neglected in favor of the New. And yet, as I read, the knowledge that God has known and has planned these centuries of history stands out to me, and I find myself falling in love and seeking His face ever more strongly.

What do you find in the Bible when you go back to the beginning?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fish Meuniere

For Valentine's Day, I wanted to make a nice, romantic dinner for my husband. My husband also has an extra busy day planned at work, so I know things will be hectic. And that is why I settled on Flounder Meuniere. It's a French method of preparing fish. I'm not quite sure what Meuniere means, but I think it translates roughly to, "the easiest fancypants dinner you'll ever make."

Fish Meuniere

1. Start with 4 fish fillets. You will need to use thin fillets (traditionally this dish is made with sole, but flounder works well and is a little nicer on the budget).

2. Put about 1/3 cup of flour in a baking dish. Season both sides of each fillet with salt and pepper, and then dredge in the flour.

3. Heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in nonstick skillet over high until shimmering. Then add 2 T. of butter, one tablespoon at a time. Swirl the pan until butter melts. Once foaming subsides, place flounder in skillet, darker side up.

4. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook without moving fish for 2-3 minutes, or until edges are opaque.

5. Flip fish over (using 2 spatulas helps prevent breakage), and cook about 2 minutes longer.
NOTE: Depending on pan size, you may need to cook your fish in batches.

6. Once fish is cooked, place on foil-wrapped plate inside oven, and prepare browned butter sauce.

7. To make sauce: Cut 4 T. of butter into 4 pieces and melt in skillet over medium heat. Continue to cook, swirling pan, for another 1 - 1 1/2 minutes until butter browns and has slight nutty aroma.

8. To serve: Sprinkle fish with fresh chopped parsley. Stir 2-4 tsp. lemon juice into browned butter, and spoon over fish. Garnish with lemon wedges, and enjoy!

Note: Depending on the season, I'll usually serve this with a side of spinach in light vinaigrette, or with braised winter greens such as kale or chard.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Making Plans

As you probably figured out already, I tend to write about a whole variety of topics here - everything from homemaking to thinking about life and faith. Lately, I've decided that I want to have more a schedule because it helps me focus my thoughts. So, here is what you can expect to find in my little corner of the internet:

Monday - whatever I feel inspired to write - you might see anything coming up here (kind of a like a real Monday!)

Tuesday - homemaking/recipes

Wednesday - Midweek Links - links to articles that I think more people ought to see

Thursday - thoughts about life, faith, God

Friday - Five Minute Fridays; I love the Five Minute Fridays writing prompts over at The Gypsy Mama, and they really help me think and get more creative as a writer!

So, is there anything you want to see more of here?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Trusting His Plan

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding."
- Proverbs 3:5

nursery 3-1

I'll say it flat out, both bold and shaking with fear all at the same time.
"God, sometimes I just don't know what You're doing."
"Why, God, why?"

I know one of the major desires of my own heart. For so long, even since I was a child, I knew I wanted a home and a family of my own. I have been blessed with so much in life, a wonderful and godly husband, a good education, loving friendships, and plenty of happy memories. But one by one, my friends and family have all settled into their own households with children and still - no babies.

And it's hard. It's hard to long like that and to wonder why. And sometimes on the really dark days, to wonder what's wrong with me that God would not trust me with a child. And yet deep down I know. God has a plan. I don't pretend to know it all or understand, but He has a plan for me and for everyone else on this earth.

There are hard days, but God is faithful. God is there. And even when it hurts, I trust. I trust there is a plan, even if it doesn't unfold at my pace or as I might wish it. Human understanding doesn't illuminate all, but I can trust in One who knows what He is doing, and this brings comfort even when the longing will never quite go away.

This was written in five minutes. Well, mostly five minutes. I did take time to look up the Scripture reference because, "I'm pretty sure this is somewhere in Proverbs" wasn't quite what I wanted to post as a citation. Five Minute Fridays are a day to just let out the joy of writing freely. Come join!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Counting Costs

There are those who refer to us homemakers as “parasites.” Or who try to guilt us out of our homes by pointing out how poor we must be making our families by stubbornly refusing to get out there and earn a paycheck. I’ve seen homemakers firing back with data showing how much a homemaker is worth, how much a family saves by the wife staying home to care for the children and other services rather than having to pay for daycare or household help. While there’s some validity to these points, I find in my own experience that focusing on the economic issue alone rather misses the point.

Money is not the reason I’m called to keep the home, and I suspect it’s not the primary force that brought anyone into this lifestyle. I know there are some who cannot be full-time homemakers because their family’s circumstances will not allow it (saving up to stay home in the future, disabled spouse, etc..), but as one for whom it is a possibility, I think it’s truly my calling.
As I've transitioned from full-time to work to focusing my energies on home as well as working from home, I've been thinking about different aspects of this life. And today I'm talking about weighing the financial versus the eternal focus of home ministry over at Desiring Virtue. Come join us!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wealthy indeed

See that picture? It's not from Flickr or any other common image site. I took it myself, and these are all the Bibles I have in my house at the moment. It's a little deceptive, though, because my husband and I had a few more which we donated shortly before Christmas.

We thought these four were all we needed. There's my husband's Bible from college, which he reads daily and which has been used for swearings in at various posts he has held. And there's the adorable kids' Bible that I keep for when little guests come to vist. I have my Reformation Study Bible(ESV), with its helpful articles and notes. And then there's the NKJV Bible, chosen for its being a large-print edition. I find inductive Bible study very helpful and illuminating, but I didn't want to do all my note-writing and coloring of keywords in my "nice" study Bible.

That's right - I have the Bible I read and pray over and a Bible for when I want to go digging in deep, coloring and writing all over the margins. When I saw that, I just stopped for a moment with the realization that I am so incredibly rich in the Word that I can have more than 1 Bible for more than 1 type of study. How amazing is that? And not only this, but we can have Bibles in more than 1 translation. My goodness, we even have enough that we can give away extras!

I'd never really thought this through before, but when I learn about people such as the Vidunda in Africa, who lack even 1 Bible in their own language, the immensity of my wealth in Scripture astounds me. But we are not blessed simply to enjoy it for ourselves; We can share this bounty with others. And through blogging with the OneVerse project and being a monthly OneVerse partner for the Vidunda, that's exactly what I want to do.

I want there to be a day when the Vidunda can go looking through their houses to see how many Bibles they have.

And if you'd like to see what some of the other OneVerse bloggers have to say about Bible poverty, you'll find us linking up at My Journey to Authenticity.

And here's a challenge for you! - Why don't you see how many Bibles YOU have? You can post your photos on the OneVerse Facebook wall.

OneVerse Blogger

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chili Rice - yum!

This is a recipe I picked up somewhere along the way in college. It reminds me of a kind of near cousin to the classic red beans and rice. It's got ground beef instead of ham or andouille sausage, and there's a lot more chili powder, but I still see a resemblance. And most importantly, it's really delicious!

Chili Rice

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 T. chili powder (my favorite is Penzey's)
2 tsp. salt
1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
1 can red kidney beans

1. Brown meat with onions and peppers.

2. Add remaining ingredients except rice and beans and cook over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes. It's okay if the mixture bubbles, but don't let it boil hard.

3. Remove from heat and pour into a large casserole pan. (9X13 works best if you're making full recipe)

4. Evenly distribute rice and beans into mixture and stir. Don't be worried if it looks a little soupy; this is normal!

5. Cover and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Check mixture after 35-45 minutes and if all water absorbed, add up to 1/4 cup more water.

6. Take out and stir after the full hour has passed, cover again, and return to oven for additional 15 minutes. Serves 6-8.

Enjoy! This is really good with just a simple salad on the side.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Becoming Real

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
-from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

It's not all cuddles, hearts and flowers. Some days being real hurts. It's aching all down the sides from struggling to breath on a bad asthma day. Or burning dinner - I'm sure the neighbors could smell it. Real gets grouchy, tired, and doesn't look like a model in a magazine.

Real clothes get stained, sometimes from the cuddles of grimy, beloved people and pets. Real houses look "lived in" and sometimes the dusting is done days late because there are real people who need us more than things. Real couples argue sometimes and drive each other crazy - and then bring each other back together even more in love than before. Real people are made in the image of God but are fallen in sin and would perish were it not for grace. And it is from this grace that we learn what real truly means. Real is loved.
This was written in five minutes with no editing for Five Minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama.