Thursday, January 28, 2010

How Did We Get There?

I was going to do a bit of venting about the fracas at dinner tonight, but then my son meekly knocked on my door and came in to apologize, so, never mind.

When I cook beans for dinner I'm really not out to ruin his evening, but somehow it often does. We told him, as he sat there on the verge of a mental and emotional breakdown over his bowl, that someday he might have a girlfriend who's a lousy cook, but he would need to be able to choke down whatever she makes in order not to hurt her feelings. His response?

"I'm allowed to have a girlfriend?!"

Oh boy...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Today dawned sunny, but cooold. So very cold. The mid-twenties warmed into the mid-thirties by noon and I figured that if I was going to run at all, I had better get going before I talked myself out of it. For the program I'm supposed to run three days a week, with a recovery day in between. My week begins on Saturday, when we go run with our friends, so Monday and Wednesday are the next two days. Friday I'll be taking an easy day out on the road instead of going for too long between runs. Trying to keep the self-discipline going- it's part of the point.

I have some new running gear that I was eager to try anyway, so I donned my insulated pants; three layers on top; headphones running to the nifty pocket on the sleeve holding my phone/music player which was playing a podcast of music and audio cues for my intervals; hat and gloves to finish the warmth; and out I went!

Today was Week 2, Day 3, which means that after a five minute brisk walk I ran 90 second intervals with 2 minute walks in between. As I ran the music helped to keep me upbeat and not pay so much attention to the snow flurries that were hitting me in the face. Having the intervals given to me by the audio helped a lot, instead of carrying the kitchen timer and re-setting it every time.

So 25 minutes later I finished my final run and walked out a five minute cool-down before getting back inside for some slow stretches. Funny, but the house hadn't seemed so very warm when I left it for my run.

Frozen face and drippy nose aren't so bad really. I got out there on a day that I'd much rather have stayed indoors and pushed through to the end of my run with no cheating. Yes, there are physical benefits to be sure, but the knowledge that I actually accomplished this run today feels better than anything else right now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jerusalem House of Kabob!

Since we moved to the Reading area, we have passed a unique looking establishment every time we drive to church, or really anyplace toward the city. Not far from the local Islamic Center of Reading, there is a halal grocery on one street corner, and diagonally across the intersection, the Jerusalem House of Kabob, combined with the Holyland Market, as announced by the giant yellow on red banner across the front of the store. We are adventurous eaters, and enjoy travel, so we figured that a dinnertime in the Holyland might be fun.

Music straight from the Middle East played as we entered the store. As we perused the shelves of the market, Jim saw many products that he had seen in the grocery stores in Dubai. Almost everything had the name written in Arabic first, with English added as well. Smells of olive oil, garlic and exotic spices emanated from the "restaurant" side of the store. Perusing the menu, Jim felt right back in Dubai as we read off the choices. The girls quizzed the owner on the vegetarian-friendly offerings and were assured that the falafel was the way to go. Jim chose the beef kabob platter and I went with a chicken kabob sandwich. Isaac wasn't so sure; no order for him.

While we waited for our dinner we chose a few items from the market shelves. A Turkish coffee that Jim remembered, boxed falafel mix, Lebanese olive oil, aromatic Basmati rice. Once out food arrived we said a blessing and tucked in.

Oh. Yum.

The girls' eyes opened wide as they tasted the wonderful flavors of their falafels wrapped in pita and seasoned with a delicious tahini sauce. Jim's beef tempted our cautious Isaac and my chicken was marvelous. I'm sure we were a sight to behold as we exclaimed over the wonderful meal and shared tastes. Jim had ordered a red lentil curry soup that was heavenly, and quickly shared around the table. The hummus was the best that I have ever, ever had, and did not last long at all.

I have a feeling we'll be stopping in more often now.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Just wanted to share real quick some photos from the past week...

Erin loving on Milo in the basement. She had clipped his claws earlier, which may account for the look on his freaked-out face.

Still in the basement, Isaac pauses from his ping-pong practice for a shot.
Beautiful reflection at Gring's Mill. I'm not familiar enough with this park along the river, but I plan to be back for more photos and maybe a run once the pathways dry up.
Chicken under a brick, cover recipe from Bon Appetit, September 2009. Yum. I changed it up slightly, adding chopped fresh sage at the point of cooking in the pan, and a drizzle of honey as it went into the oven and when I turned it. Oh baby. And it's beautiful too!

Dinner guests, Ross and Margaret Anne, with their precious new baby, joined us for the chicken on Wednesday.

Mary Claire, absolutely precious.

And her sweet Mommy too.
That's all for now. I plan to get out this weekend for some shots that I've wanted to take around town. A little more purposeful, a little more involved. We'll see!

Decisions, Decisions.

I am not one to make "New Year Resolutions". Yet, the beginning of each New Year is ushered in in the midst of a holiday break from school with the kids home, a lot of non-routine activity, and reflections on the past year as it ends. Once the kids resume school and the decorations are put away, it is natural that some changes take place. There is an initial shuffling about of activities and priorities as we try to find where exactly the balancing point is.

We therefore have a few changes to our life that will be put to the test in the coming months to see which will last and become part of the norm, and which will pass on to the graveyard of good intentions.

I have already mentioned here my involvement in the Camera Club and my hope to improve my photographic knowledge and skills. I will be putting some of what I have learned to use with my film camera as well. Follow through once the images are captured will be a challenge as I don't want to simply dump them into the black hole of my external hard drives, only to linger in unfinished obscurity. I need to get printed and copied to disk those that are worth keeping, and eliminate those that aren't.

I have also mentioned the girls' dietary shift to vegetarianism. We are still figuring out how to better accommodate that. I'm thinking that they could plan at least one or two meals a week that will be entirely veggie, and I can use the many resources that I have already at hand to increase the variety of meat-free dishes that are served at each meal. This is still a work in progress.

Through the inspiration of a friend in Florida, some of our family have begun training to run in a 5K race in the Spring. Following a program called the Couch 2 5K running plan, which is designed to take couch potatoes to a 5K run in 9 weeks, we are entering our second week of training tomorrow. Another family from church are joining us in the understanding that a little accountability helps us to keep to the schedule and aim for our goals.

Our most important goal this year, indeed, ever, is to train our children in the ways of the Lord. We have been able since the beginning of the school year to maintain a routine of family devotions each morning before the kids go to school. This has been working well, for the most part, but we seem to have compressed our time with a lack of discipline about waking up in the morning and losing our focus on the importance of our family worship. We are attempting to renew that focus and re-invigorate our devotional time with emphasizing how very vital it is to each of us and our relationship with our Heavenly Father, as well as our family relationship one to another.

Along similar lines, my own personal piety is always in need of improvement. I am still attempting to finish my reading of Calvin's Institutes. I had hoped by now to be moving on to Jonathon Edwards, yet that shall have to wait. I'm pretty sure that finishing Edwards in a year would require being stranded on a deserted island with his books, but I digress.

So there it is. Personally, and corporately, the goals and desires that have developed for myself and our family in the past weeks. Let's see if we can truly incorporate them into our lives this year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weeping With Those Who Weep

As we have watched the News coming out of Haiti this week, of the pain and loss and unspeakable suffering, we have felt so very helpless. Jim was down there a couple of years ago to help a Missionary who is supported by our church, so we have a first-hand knowledge of how very destitute Haiti was even before the earthquake struck last week. Already the recipients of massive amounts of aid from around the world, and needing the help of medical missions constantly, they were certainly not prepared in the least for a disaster of such magnitude.

Watching the horror unfold in the days immediately after the quake, as News crews and cameras began reporting on the aftermath, we weep and pray. What began as horrible has grown to become unimaginably worse. From a mother laying on a mattress in a field, being held down by friends, because her grief over the loss of all five of her children has driven her insane, to seeing dump trucks full of unidentifiable dead bodies emptying its gruesome load into a mass grave, the pain and anguish are too great to bear.

Our Missionary and his family were all able to evacuate safely to Florida on Saturday and we have read and watched reports of others fortunate enough to escape with their lives and families. Yet Kate works with a young man whose entire family is in Haiti, only he and his mother moved to the States, and he has been able to reach only a few relatives, uncertain of the whereabouts of most.

So, inevitably, we must wonder; where was God when this happened? Is God, as Pat Robertson claims, punishing Haiti for a pact they made with the Devil?

"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, "it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." -Luke 9:2-3

How can we discern the will of God in such a situation?! Certainly the punishment for anyone, Haitian or not, who chooses to turn their back on the Lord of Salvation and serve false gods has paid for their treason before 200 years pass. The people of Haiti have suffered much over the years, from corruption to disease to poverty, and they have fled when they could. There are in Haiti many who are faithful to the Lord, who serve and worship the true God of the Universe.

I don't have an answer to such a big question, no tidy package to mollify the conscience and make a grand excuse for God. The Lord has his plans and purposes, his ways are beyond searching out. I will not presume to know the mind of the Omniscient one.

I do believe that all things that happen come from the Lord's hand. How frightful to think that an earthquake is beyond God's control! Scripture clearly teaches that all things, whether they bring joy or pain, are under God's decree. A tragic event sent into the life of only one person has ripple effects which touch many lives. How much more is that magnified when it is a disaster on the scale of what we see unfolding in Haiti? In one way or another, the whole world is being touched by this event. A myriad of purposes splashing around the globe from one earthquake.

But, oh, such a high death toll, such suffering beyond comprehension!

God's ways are higher than our ways.

What of those who die quietly around the world every day, individually, yet without the Lord? Those who have forsaken the Savior of men while they lived, only to die and face the righteous judgment seat of God? They enter into eternity by the numberless thousands daily, with eternal suffering on a scale which causes the Haitian crisis to pale in comparison.

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he
may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will
abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the LORD."
-Isaiah 55:6-8

Perhaps this crisis is just what we need to wake a slumbering and dying world to the reality of their peril. Perhaps this is what it will take to shake a comfortable church out of her pews and back into the fields which are white for the harvest. Finishing his answer to his disciples from the question above, concerning why the Lord would ordain a painful circumstance, Jesus answered-

"We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." -Luke 9:4-5

So let's do what we can. As John Piper once said when asked about Missions, "Go, send, or disobey". I'll add to that, PRAY!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Photography Fun

In the past many weeks I have been going to, then joined, the local camera club's meetings here in Reading. The Berks Photographic Society consists of photographers from professionals to hobbyists and casual camera-nuts like myself. I'm hoping that if some of their knowledge and experience don't exactly rub off onto me, I at least might learn a thing or two from them.

Thus far I have picked up a stray bit of knowledge on a couple of occasions. Enough to get me into the realm of "knowing just enough to frustrate myself". One tidbit that will continue to grow is the link to a website which provides a whole lot of photography lore. Ken Rockwell maintains a site through which he shares his photos, experience and knowledge, and reviews camera gear. From there, and others I know, I learned that there is a certain lens without which I can no longer live.

Fortunately, this discovery was made before Christmas while the girls were trying to figure out what to get for me! They pooled their resources and ordered The Lens, which arrived this past Saturday- oh boy!

And now, the photos! (some, at least!)

It's indoors, it's night time, and there's no flash needed!
The aperture opens up nice and wide to use the available light for a
smashing shot without blinding the lovely models!

That nice wide aperture also gives me a very shallow depth of field,
which means my subject is clearly set apart from everything else in view.

Using a flash would have given my sweet kitty the "green-eyed demonic" look.
But in this low light we just see that his eyes are big and black.

That's all for now, more to come later.

Recipe for Pork Chops With Black Pepper : La Cucina Italiana

This is the recipe over which I labored before learning that my older daughters would not be eating it since they had taken the pledge with Erin to abstain from meat... It is absolutely amazing, I promise you.

Recipe for Pork Chops With Black Pepper : La Cucina Italiana

Posted using ShareThis

Exciting News!

It has taken several days for me to get here with the news, but better late than never, right? Saturday Rebekah checked the mail only to find a letter from the Culinary Institute of America which began with, "Congratulations, you have been accepted..."!

Rebekah has been accepted into the school at the top of her list, which is also the premiere Culinary Institute in America, certainly, and probably in the world. Our chef, our Bekah, our child who has known with a singular focus for years now just exactly what she wants to do with her life, is now looking at an open door that leads to that future! What an answer to prayer this is.

Now we are praying still that Bekah would be focused and disciplined in the competitions in which she is going to participate at the State level, would proceed to the National level and succeed there as well, so scholarship opportunities would be available. There are other avenues which we will be pursuing for financing and scholarships in the meantime.

Now the paperwork begins as we work on the many details before us. But it is work that we are pursuing with great joy!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why Vegetarians? Why?

Tonight I prepared the cover recipe from one of Bekah's hoity-toity cooking magazines. It takes a bit of planning and preparation and a few special ingredients, as well as hoping for everyone to be on-time to dinner. With the latter in view, we didn't actually eat until after 7 pm, in order to have everyone home from work and enjoying the culinary masterpiece all at once. I say masterpiece only because it is absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious, even though it is a fool-proof recipe once all the pieces are in place, not because it takes any extraordinary skill. It is a beautiful sight as well. And, oh, the smell...

Wouldn't tonight be the night that, once seated at the table, the girls peel back the layer of confusion to reveal that they are all choosing to be vegetarians...

Oh- I entirely forgot to mention that this recipe is based on PORK CHOPS.

Another glass of wine please. It helps to dull the pain as I bite my lip to avoid saying something I'll regret.

The upside: I can spend less on groceries since I'm only buying meat for three people.

(struggling to find more entries for this category)

The downside: Why linger? Let's just not go here.

My girls are making a choice based on health reasons, not inconvenience to Mom...

Oh boy.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Quiet Saturday Morning

Yesterday was so relaxing to share the first day of the year with my family. One of our gifts for Jim on Christmas was the HBO series, John Adams. I had read reviews that sang the praises of not only the production and casting, but also the faithfulness to the actual truth of this story. So yesterday between various household tasks- bring in wood for the fireplace, care for animals, peel potatoes- and mealtime, we watched the first three episodes. Years ago I read the book John Adams, by David McCullough. My memory fails me in the finer details, but thusfar they seem to be doing a fine job in not "PC-ifying" the story.

I was the second to bed last night, Rebekah being the first. She has always been keenly aware of her need for reasonable amounts of sleep. The others stayed up reading or working on a project for Erin's room, which is almost finished.

When I came downstairs this morning to get my coffee, I saw that Vali had not been put behind the hallway door for the night. We have learned that she needs to be confined when we aren't able to observe her, because she behaves badly if she thinks no one is watching. Sure enough, the downstairs is strewn with the contents of the kitchen trash can this morning. I don't think she got far enough down to get the pork roast bones, which would have been a huge prize, but also very dangerous for her. The mess is, of course, a big problem. A potentially larger problem with this tendency of hers is the danger of eating everything she finds that smells so great- to her. Poisoning herself, or swallowing something that would need to be surgically removed is rather likely. She really is her own worst enemy.

So not only are we facing the task of taking down the tree today and getting other end-of-vacation chores done, but we get to start off with cleaning up another of Vali's messes.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Welcome to 2010

New beginnings are on the horizon. We change our calendars, and this year we even change out the double 0 in the middle of the name of the year. I saw a discussion a week or so ago questioning what we will call this past decade; the 60's, 70's or 80's are easily said and defined by now. But what do we call these last nine years, the "o's"? Someone suggested the "Aughts". Ha, not in America we won't- that sounds waaay too British.

Regardless of what it ends up being called, this past few years have been quite a ride for us as a family. Ten years ago today we were preparing to move to Florida. We lived with some friends in Grove City while Jim house-hunted and began his new job in South Florida. There was snow on the ground when we actually left in February, I can't remember if we had a White Christmas or New Year.

Back then I had little idea exactly who John Calvin was, and if I did know I certainly didn't care. Now I have spent a year reading his Institutes of Christian Religion after learning in the church we attended in Florida just who he was and the impact he had on our beliefs by his scholarship and writing. Our time in Florida served, among many other things, to open my eyes to a wider and deeper heritage in the Christian faith than I had previously known. As it happens, those Old White Dead Guys knew a thing or two, and it is indeed beneficial to get to know them. (I'm including Augustine here, but I'm not sure what ethnicity he was, wasn't he from Africa?)

I say that I have spent a year reading the Institutes; I have not finished them in that year. A funny thing happened as I was reading through Book three- Jim came home from Dubai. As he was away for five months, I was delighted that my husband was home. There was so much catching up to do, so much normal life to share, so many daily conversations over coffee and lunch. Not having a job meant that he was here day in and day out to keep me company, every morning, every meal, every time I sat down to read...

It was uncanny. Jim could be at his desk in the basement, on phone calls, doing classwork, emailing potential employers; but if I sat down with my book, suddenly he was upstairs to talk. If I'm not "actively working", then I must want to visit. I love my husband, I do. Really. But the solitude in which to sit and read is a rare treasure, and that solitude is what I need to finish my reading!

Well. Yesterday being New Year's Eve, I traded with someone else at work and went in for an extended shift at Curves, opening at 8, closing at 3. As it happens, we also had a bit of weather yesterday. Snow started falling before dawn and we had an accumulation of maybe two to three inches at the club before it was over. Fortunately I took John Calvin along with me. For the first two hours and 15 minutes I was alone with my reading- what bliss! Just me and Calvin, and the snow trucks out in the parking lot. Over that seven hour shift only five women came in to workout, with large gaps in between.

I sailed through two weeks worth of the reading schedule to make it into September and Book four! Yee-haw! I finished Calvin's apologetically firm, yet God honoring, discussion of the just condemnation of the reprobate, and am now reading his doctrine of The Church, using the Nicene Creed as his guide.

Since any discussion of the former topic is necessarily long and tangled, I will not begin to open it here. I will merely share one quote that is worth meditating upon.

"God's grace is tasteless to men until the Holy Spirit brings its savor."

Now I am reading the fourth and final book of the Institutes, which Calvin titles "The External Means or Aims by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein". Chapter 1 is "The True Church with Which as Mother of All the Godly We Must Keep Unity". In a note at the beginning of the chapter, the editor writes that "The space accorded by Calvin to the doctrine of the church in the Institutes is evidence of the high importance it assumed for him." Indeed, Calvin's purpose for writing the Institutes was, in part, to define the distinctions between the Roman Catholic church and the teachings of the Reformation.

Having attended many different "flavors" of churches over the years this topic is turning out to be far more interesting than I expected. Certainly Predestination and Election are the doctrines for which Calvin is best known, but his teachings encompass every aspect of practice and belief into a cohesive whole. As a Pastor and teacher he desired to lead his congregation into all truth as found in Scripture, and his zeal for Christ and His Word allowed for no compromise or soft-pedaling of that truth.

After identifying the marks of a true church as the ministry of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, (of baptism and holy communion) he declares that, "...believers have no greater help than public worship, for by it God raises His own folk upward step by step."

Calvin's high view of God's sovereignty surely informs his opinion of God's care for and guardianship over His church. It's common knowledge that there is no "perfect church", since each church is made up of sinners and will be flawed. He therefore contends that a church with the marks of authority described above, however defective, is not to be forsaken. We live in a society that seeks out churches that will be a "perfect fit", that will minister to "felt needs", and that will be "sensitive to seekers". If no such church is found, then we'll just wing it on our own, be "lone wolf Christians". After all, all we need is a Bible and God will speak to us, right? I was riveted as I read the following...

"It is of no small importance that (the church) is called "the pillar and ground of the truth" and "the house of God" [1 Tim. 3:15]. By these words Paul means that the church is the faithful keeper of God's truth in order that it may not perish in the world. For by its ministry and labor God willed to have the preaching of his Word kept pure and to show himself the Father of a family, while he feeds us with spiritual food and provides everything that makes for our salvation. It is also no common praise to say that Christ has chosen and set apart the church as his bride, "without spot or wrinkle", [Eph. 5:27], "his body and... fullness" [Eph. 1:23]. From this it follows that separation from the church is the denial of God and Christ. Hence we must even more avoid so wicked a separation. For when with all our might we are attempting the overthrow of God's truth, we deserve to have him hurl the whole thunderbolt of his wrath to crush us. Nor can any more atrocious crime be conceived than for us by sacrilegious disloyalty to violate the marriage that the only begotten Son of God deigned to contract with us. [Eph. 5:23-32] (italics mine)

Calvin's zeal for and his uncompromising stand on the Word are just the ticket for stiffening the spine in our churches today.

Happy New Year!