Saturday, December 24, 2011

About That Bread Machine...

AWE-some! In case you were wondering how my loaf of bread turned out the other night, when I was writing my last blog entry, here's a picture of it in all its glorious perfection:


It was perhaps the nicest loaf I've ever made, even nicer than all the loaves I've lovingly shaped by hand over the last couple of years. It was so light and fluffy, I could scarcely believe it was 100% whole wheat (freshly ground in my Nutrimill grain mill, of course).


Since then, I've made three more loaves, including apple cinnamon bread. My Zojirushi Mini is so small I can leave it out on the counter all the time--which annoys Bill just a teeny bit. See, its footprint is only a bit larger than the toaster:


If you look closely at the picture, you'll see that it has a Jam button. Naturally, I've already tried it. I made strawberry jam the other day. I just dropped in the mashed fruit, some demerera (natural) sugar, some lemon juice, and a bit of Sure-Jell pectin. Then I turned it on and waited one hour and 20 minutes.

It was a little thinner than I'm used to, and not quite as sweet. But really quite tasty. Next time I'll add more pectin.

I still have to try the Cake setting: banana nut bread, apple cake, and zuchinni bread. Next will be the pasta setting; I'm a little scared about that one.  Oh, and I've got my eye on a gluten-free recipe from the Zo Mini manual; it calls for brown rice flour, which I can grind up in a jiffy using my grain mill. I'm curious whether the bread machine has the touch that I seem to lack when it comes to baking gluten free bread. You'll be the first to know when I find out.

This thing will keep me busy for weeks--or at least days. You've got to get you one!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Joys

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, on the recommendation of a woman I met during my training for the 3-Day Walk. It’s slow going because she has a very odd writing style, but I’m getting a lot from her message: that we draw closer to God and live in peace when we take time to be thankful for all our blessings, no matter how small. For example, she thanks God for the beauty of the fragile, iridescent soap bubbles when she’s washing dishes.

I think I’ve lived more in an attitude of thankfulness since I’ve been reading; it’s so easy at this time of year. Here are just a few of the joys I’ve been thanking God for:
·         Holding hands with my sweetheart in front of our beautiful tree, adorned with the kids’ humble handmade ornaments—just like Mom and Dad’s tree when I was growing up.

·         Christmas traditions, old and new—such as making homemade marshmallows. (This is my second time to make them, and Allyson has been begging for them the entire year.)

·         The wonder of Christmas music that makes my heart rejoice over the gift of our Savior.

·         Dear friends, old and new. I can’t believe how God has opened my heart to so many friends in the last couple of years. I’m not the shy, withdrawn woman I once was. (Hallelujah!)

·         New truths revealed after decades of reading the Bible, like today’s lesson that it’s not my job to seek God’s will, only to seek God, who reveals His will to me by changing my motives and desires. I’m seeing this in my life, and it thrills me. Example: I realized on our last weekly nursing home visit that I was actually having fun; it was no longer just an act of obedience.

·         The way God has answered my prayer to let me see the beauty in people whom I might have deemed unlovely, and in others I might not have even noticed—like sweet Estella, who loves cardinals, and who grew up watching birds in Nebraska where “there wasn’t much else to do back then.”

·         Seeing Allyson’s delight as she played Santa’s helper today, holding out a box of Kleenex to each elderly patient as Santa handed them a bag. She brought them so much joy, and it made my heart glad.
Allyson with My Coworker, Mike

·         The opportunity to visit with family at our Christmas celebration. It’s such a pleasure seeing my nephews growing up and getting married, and getting to know them as young adults.

·         Watching Ethan grow into a considerate young man, who helps me with cooking and helps Bill with yard work (with a bit of arm-twisting).

·         Volunteering with Bill at Allyson’s very first school Christmas party and seeing her in her “natural environment.” (Also meeting her so-call boyfriend Elias. Daddy’s not too sure this falls in the joys category.)

·         Christmas cards to remind us of all the friends and family we love so much.

·         And… my brand-new Zojirushi Mini bread machine, which bakes a day’s worth of bread so we can have it fresh every day! It just arrived about two hours ago, and of course my first loaf is already inside. Bill’s rolling his eyes at me, but I think he’ll change his tune when we’re enjoying that hot loaf. Then again, he probably has the sense not to eat bread at 11 PM, and by morning it will be a bit stale. And I will go to bed happy but with a tummy ache.

Do You Think She’s Family?
I know this is supposed to be a bullet list, but I can’t resist adding one story about our last nursing home visit. We were saying goodbye to one of our favorite patients, Fabian, when his roommate pointed at Allyson and asked, “Do you think she’s part of my family?” (He’d never spoken to us before.)

I said, “No, she isn’t. But she’ll probably give you a Christmas hug if you’d like one.”

“I’d love a hug from a pretty girl like her.”

She hugged him then, and his grin almost brought tears to my eyes. Next, he surprised me with a firm handshake and a strong, confident voice that reminded me of an executive. “I’m Bob,” he said.

When I told him my name, he said his oldest granddaughter is Sarah too. And then he told me all about her career as a teacher in Japan. I was shocked that I could have an enjoyable conversation with someone who… well, someone so senile. Now we have one more favorite patient to add to our list.

My cup runneth over!

How about you? What are you thankful for this season?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Even in a Webinar

Have you ever been amazed at the unexpected ways you can hear God's voice? Each time I think I've seen the most amazing way--like God speaking to me through my Pilates teacher's instructions--He goes and tops that...
Last week I was sorry for my fall Bible study to end, but I have to admit I was looking forward to seven weeks off so that my evenings would be a little less full during the holiday season. Still, I scarcely hesitated this past Tuesday when one of my Bible study friends, Angel, asked if I'd do another Priscilla Shirer study with her over the Christmas break--Discerning the Voice of God: How To Recognize When God Speaks.
Here's how I explained it to all the friends whom I invited to join us:
If you’re like me, you need to focus on resting during the Christmas season, so
your first instinct may be to say, “I don’t have time.” But consider that
working on a study keeps you accountable to stay in the Word, which helps you to
rest in God. And getting out one hour a week with other ladies could also help
rejuvenate your spirit.
And that's how I ended up at the kitchen table yesterday morning, rubbing my hands together in anticipation as I cracked open the lesson for Day 1. It began with the story of Habakkuk, who initially questioned God, asking how long he would take to answer. God's reply took my breath away: "Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days--you would not believe if you were told." (Habakkuk 1:5)
Priscilla invited me to list the personal circumstances that have been troubling me and then focus on how God is speaking to me concerning them. The first two came easily, but my pen stumbled over the third concern that came to mind; this was one I was trying to let go of, one I'd given up asking about. The last concern was another one that I hated to write down because surely God must be tired of my endless waffling over whether/when/how to finish my novel.
At the end of the lesson, Priscilla told me to write out a prayer expressing my confidence in God's control of my circumstances and my desire for Him to speak to me about them. Here is part of what I prayed: "LORD, you are kind and merciful. You are a God who hears, who calls, who answers. I praise you for what you are already doing [in these situations]."
Although it was a quick prayer, and I was in my kitchen instead of my beloved prayer closet, it was one of those times when I really felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and I prayed with fervor and anticipation.
Imagine my delight about 30 minutes later when I read an email that spoke directly to that concern that I'd hesitated to write down. As I checked the time of receipt, my heart skipped a beat. Yep, it was sent shortly after my prayer. Coincidence? Maybe.
Just a couple hours later, God spoke to me for the second time. I was in a webinar, an online presentation called "Training Online: Creating Visual Stories That Resonate." Now I do enjoy this type of presentation on some level, but I really much prefer the classroom environment over listening to a stranger's voice and watching PowerPoint slides on my computer. So I never expected to be riveted, utterly captivated by this speaker as she explained how to use the classic story arc to draw in your learners and motivate them toward lasting change. It wasn't exactly new information to me; I'd heard this before in my fiction writing classes. But there was something about the way she presented it that spoke to me personally.

She showed a fascinating analysis of two very different speeches that captivated audiences, Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" and Steve Jobs's introduction of the iPhone. Both speeches began with what is, moved to what could be, back to what is, back to what could be, etc. And both speeches ended with a call to action.
She ended her presentation by modeling two of the strategies she'd suggested: anticipating and overcoming objections, and a call to action.
This phrase flashed on the screen in simple white letters: "But I'm just..."

"I know what you're thinking," she said. "You're thinking, 'I'm not Martin Luther King or Steve Jobs. I'm just a trainer, an instructional designer, a...'"

She paused for a moment to let us acknowledge the truth of her assertion, and then she went on in a voice low and heavy with emotion. "The truth is, you've been called. You have the power to tell your story as only you can. You can deliver your message in a way that will create lasting change. You have to tell your story, and tell it with passion."
Tears of wonder slipped down my cheeks. There were 999 other people on that call--the session maxed out at 1000--but I knew that Nancy Duarte was speaking directly to me. And the hair on my arms stood on end as I recognized the anointing of the Holy Spirit in her words.
How do you do this, God? How do you continue to surprise me? I wondered. You're not supposed to be this inspired by an ONLINE WEBINAR. Everyone knows online training is boring!
I was positively giddy for the rest of the day, and today too. I've got my passion back, and I can't wait to put pen to paper again!
But God wasn't through. There were two more requests on my list.
Tonight I was enjoying some Christmas music while I washed the dishes that couldn't go in the dishwasher. I sighed when the music faded out and the DJ took another one of those sappy calls about the theme of the night: the best Christmas gift ever.
I half listened as a woman fought to hold back sobs while she told how her family had fallen on hard times. Her husband had lost his job and drifted into destructive behaviors, and her marriage had been shaken. For a couple of years, she continued to love him and extend grace, all the while praying for his salvation.
I perked up at this point, my soapy hand hovering over the dishpan.
"And now, he has given his heart to God," she said, as I shared her happy tears. "We still have nothing, nothing. But this will be the greatest Christmas ever because now we can share.... He finally understands why we celebrate Christmas."
She went on to encourage everyone who was praying for someone's salvation not to give up. "Even if you've been praying for years, and you think it's never going to happen, don't give up."
A grin broke out as I realized God had just encouraged me about my last two requests. I can't wait to see how God will bring those two to himself. In the words of Habakkuk, "The vision is yet for the appointed time.... Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay." (Habakkuk 2:3)
Have you ever been flabbergasted at how God spoke to you? Would you please share your story?
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