Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shower curtain festival

Don't ever accuse me of being shallow. I think I heard somewhere (I'm lying) that the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is National Shower Curtain Appreciation Day. So in honor of this important day I'm having my own private shower curtain festival. I know how to have fun.

I decided my guest bathroom needed a little spiffery. I've sewn shower curtains before and I was going to make shower curtains for the little bathroom that previously only had a simple white plastic curtain that looks like lace. The fake lace has been fine for years but when I get the bug to do a house project I won't rest until it's done. But instead of finding the fabric and getting out the sewing machine, I found these at World Market. Can I just say how much I love World Market? So--voila!--they are up. I've got this thing for having two curtains because I think it makes the room look much more done. The functional plastic curtain is on a separate rod just behind the one with the fabric. You might be able to see it peeking out.

So go out and buy yourself a shower curtain and have a happy day.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Raisin oatmeal pecan cookies

I felt obligated to undo the nausea I induced with my last post. I am repeating a recipe that I posted before. It's Ina Garten's recipe, my photo. These cookies are incredible.

Raisin Oatmeal Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups raisins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Jello with sausage

Since it's almost Thanksgiving and you normally eat way too much I want to give you some help in curbing your appetite. Maybe you just need to look at this lovely dish called Windsor Sausage in Jelly. If merely looking at the photo doesn't kill your appetite from now until sometime after 2014 rolls around, then perhaps I need to list for you a few of the ingredients: gelatin, luncheon sausage, hard-boiled eggs, and Worcestershire sauce. It's not complete without the radish and parsley garnish. Yes, I have the full recipe, and if you really want it, you can beg me. Bon appetit!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Arnold's cranberry sausage stuffing

This recipe is legendary. I've been searching through my cookbooks because I could swear that somewhere in those shelves of books I saved the actual recipe cut from the plastic bag that contained the stuffing cubes and tucked it between some pages. Somewhere. It was handed down through generations of a family (for illustrative purposes only, let's say it was the Mueller-Scharffenberger family). I've been making this recipe for many years and everyone who has it says it's the best stuffing they've ever had. Turkey is overrated; the stuffing is not.

Arnold’s Cranberry Sausage Stuffing

1 (15 oz.) Arnold's stuffing with seasoning
2 eggs, slightly beaten
4 medium onions, finely chopped (1 ½ cups)
6 stalks celery, finely chopped (2 ½ cups)
1 lb. pork sausage, pan fried and drained
1 can (8 oz.) jellied cranberry sauce (beaten until thin)
1 to 2 cups apple juice

Mix the stuffing mix, cooked sausage, onions, celery, eggs, and beaten cranberry sauce. Add apple juice a little at a time, until entire mixture is dampened but not mushy. For less moist stuffing use less apple juice. Stuff 18 - 20 pound turkey. Roast turkey as directed for weight. Extra stuffing can be baked separately in covered casserole for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.


Friday, November 15, 2013

A strange melancholy

"At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance . . . To these causes must be attributed that strange melancholy which often haunts the inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of their abundance, and that disgust at life which sometimes seizes upon them in the midst of calm and easy circumstances." Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol 2, published in 1840
The term “strange melancholy” has been stuck in my brain. I saw the words used in a slightly different context and decided to track it down to its source.

Yes, I remember learning about Alexis de Tocqueville in American History classes but I recall no details of his observations of the American people in the early years of our nation’s independence. Although he wrote nearly 200 years ago, what he wrote in 1840 could have been written today.

I live in a very affluent area. I’m a leftist evangelical Christian, slightly crazy woman who shops in thrift stores and hangs laundry on the clothes line. I paint furniture and sell it. I’m surrounded by wealthy conservative CEOs and diplomats who have personal shoppers and laundresses. My little community is what I call “the cheap seats” and the value of my townhouse is well below the average for the surrounding area, where it’s hard to find a house for under $1 million. Parking lots here are full of fancy Range Rovers and high-end sedans. Women wear fur coats to the grocery store. Skinny teenaged girls with perfect smiles and perfect skin talk about being bored while they flip their perfect hair. They have designer clothes before they are old enough to drive. I see them drinking lattes at Starbucks in their riding clothes. Their mothers look perfect too.

But I overhear snippets of their conversations with friends at the coffee shops or on their cellphones. They don’t seem happy. In the midst of abundance their focus seems to be on what they still need, their frustration over what they can’t control. In the midst of abundance, many of their hearts seem strangely empty, their lives untethered.

I sometimes envy their material wealth, their beautiful houses, their vacation homes by the sea, their gorgeous clothes, their toned bodies, and their fancy parties. I envy them until I smack myself upside the head and remember that those things that I sometimes covet are just empty trinkets. The abundance that truly fills the heart is so much more than trinkets.

So Alexis de Tocqueville got it in 1840. Some things haven't changed. He saw that people can have seemingly abundant lives, full of material things, and still be sad. They chase their tails, trying to get more things, more abundance, and don’t find contentment. I can’t claim perfect contentment either, but I think I’m beginning to learn that the source of true abundance is not of this Earth.

Philippians 4:11-13 “ . . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

A closer walk

I am weak but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I'll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

From an old traditional hymn, Just a Closer Walk With Thee

God is sovereign, powerful beyond my mere mortal understanding. And I am weak. Even my weakness is beyond my mere mortal understanding. Can I draw close enough to Him to absorb by osmosis (or by some other means that I can’t understand) just a scintilla of His strength? Can I touch the hem of His garment and get all I need?

Yesterday was rough for me, especially last night. I was thinking about Mike, thinking about the early days, and I followed it through to how it ended, how he died loving me. And I cried, nostalgic tears but also tears of gratitude, tinged with sorrow. I thanked God that I could still be grateful, despite the grief.

This morning I sat at my kitchen table in prayer. I had a feeling that I can only feebly explain—it was an incredible sense that the Lord really was there, listening to me, being with me. I began to pray, not in a distracted, detached way, but with real fervor, almost a sense of urgency. I realized that I had clenched my fists and told myself, no, I can’t clench my fists, I can’t try to be strong on my own; I must be with Him and rely on Him from a position of receiving. So I prayed with open arms.

I poured it all at His feet, told Him I wanted to draw closer and closer to Him, to rely only on Him. I can’t do any of it on my own. My ideas for what I expected my life to be have not materialized. I want to believe in Him with all my heart and I want to know that my truest joy will come with unwavering trust in His plan for my life, not my failed plan. I don’t want to fear the winds of change or fear facing the rest of my life alone. I want to be able to withstand the grief that life throws at me, knowing there is something much better beyond this frail human existence.

All the while, my arms outstretched in supplication and tears running down my face, I still had a nagging doubt about my sense of God’s presence. Was it real? And the words, “I am with you always,” came to me, unbidden, like vapor in the air. And I felt compelled to open the Bible.

I opened my big ESV study Bible—thousands of pages—to exactly the page in John 16 where I read these verses:

 “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:32-33

 It was such a moment of pure grace. I have never so strongly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. “It’s true,” I said. “It’s really true—God exists. How could I ever have doubted?” I laughed and cried, thanked Him, and asked Him to let me keep this assurance until the end of my days.

Monday, November 4, 2013


The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I come that they may have life and live it abundantly. John 10:10

I once saw a person with “I am Barabbas” tattooed on his arm. Perhaps we should all be called Barabbas.

The Gospels describe the scene as Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, awaiting his sentence. It was the tradition during the festival time that the governor (Pilate) asked the crowd to choose one prisoner to be released. Pilate gave the crowd the choice of Jesus or Barabbas, a notorious prisoner who was imprisoned for many crimes. The chief priests and the elders had stirred up the crowd to release Barabbas and destroy Jesus.

And he (Pilate) said, “Why what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” Matthew 27:23

It is impossible to know what Barabbas did after being freed from prison. Did he go to Calvary and see Jesus crucified? Imagine Barabbas seeing Jesus nailed to the cross. That torturous death should have been his fate, but he drew the “get out of jail free” card. Did he take to heart the fact that an innocent man died in his place?

God saved the world through the righteousness of one man. Jesus’s sacrificial death paid our debt in full. Aren’t we all Barabbas—guilty as charged? Aren’t we all notorious sinners, not worthy of the death of the son of God?

Sunday, November 3, 2013


It’s a perfect fall day. The sky is deep blue and the leaves are in full glorious color. I decided it was a good day to screw on my courage and take a walk in the old neighborhood.

I used to walk various routes through the neighborhood nearly every day when I lived there. But it has been fourteen years since I moved out of the house, and although it’s only about a mile from where I currently live, I have seldom dared go there.

I loved the house—it was an extensive renovation and rebuilding project that I designed and managed. When my divorce was finalized the house was sold and I had to leave. In past years, being in the neighborhood reminded me of what I lost and seeing the house made me cry. It was just another grief.

So today I parked several blocks away and started walking. Funny, I thought, I don’t remember the hills being so steep. I’m fourteen years older now—have I aged that much or did the hills grow? I walked past the house. It’s still beautiful and the landscaping has matured. It was okay—it didn’t occur to me to cry. I felt proud that I had created it, that a big part of me is in that house, whether I live there or not. The neighborhood streets were familiar and I took comfort in being there. It was almost triumphant. I've reclaimed that part of my life in a new way and I think I'll be walking through the neighborhood often from now on.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Moments of grace

Yesterday started out rough—I was feeling the heavy weight of grief, depressed, lonely, angry, withdrawing. I questioned God’s role in all of this, wondered if He really hears my prayers. Yet I prayed, fervently pleaded with Him to be all I need Him to be. I said I was just going to place my pain at the foot of the cross, that this was one of the times I couldn’t carry it alone, and asked Him to take the weight of my heavy heart.

I muddled through the day, periodically saying, “Lord, please get me through this. I can’t do it alone. Please, do something.”

And late in the day I got a couple of encouraging e-mails from a woman I know who has experienced deep grief. One of the things she said was that there are blessings to be found in all things, that I just need to open my eyes to see them.

As soon as the sun set, the doorbell started ringing—trick or treaters. Sweet little kids and teenagers and many parents who stood behind at the sidewalk. They were all polite and full of joy. By 7:30 I had run out of what I thought was a huge amount of candy. My brother was with me and we kept count—our tally was nearly 250 kids. So, with no more candy to distribute, I turned out the lights. Yet the doorbell rang. It was a group of young teenage boys. I told them I was sorry, but I had run out of candy. They were polite and started walking away. I said, “Well, I can offer you a can of cat food or a package of dried beans.”

A kid with braces, dressed as a Rastafarian, or perhaps a white Bob Marley, walked back up the steps and said, “Wait! You have beans? Cool! Beans are healthy.”

So the Rastafarian came back up the steps and I gave him a bag of heirloom dried beans. He told me he knew how to cook them and accepted them gladly. Then he hugged me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been hugged by a Rastafarian after I gave him a bag of heirloom dried beans. Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that grace is all around me.