Thursday, June 28, 2012

Crown Rose Instead of Crabgrass

Isaiah 61:1-3 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Full size picture of Pansy 'Crown Rose' (<i>Viola</i>)
Family: Violaceae (vy-oh-LAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Viola (vy-OH-la) (Info)
Cultivar: Crown Rose
Spikes of crabgrass are starting to gingerly poke through my garden beds.  In other places in my garden, little leaf sprigs are hiding behind the mulch chips they pushed through.  Weeds masquerading as seedlings.  Did I plant flower seeds there, I wonder.  Oh no, what’s this place going to look like after we go on vacation?

Gardens and gardening are interesting things.  Not long after you establish a garden, it looks as if you haven’t been there at all.  Overgrown plants sagging with dead blooms, weeds defying the expensive mulch you laid, bugs eating holes in precious leaves.  My garden won’t be a garden unless I visit it often and care for the plants I have planted.  A little pruning over here.  A quick plucking of weeds over there.  Identifying and waging war--quickly--with harmful bugs.  What should we do about those beetles?  (Frantic Internet searching and 24-hours later: Better luck next year with my bean plants.) 

The other day I was thinking that we are very much like a garden.  We have allowed the Master Gardener to prune us, pull the weeds of sin, and destroy our enemies.  We are often looking rather spiffy after significant times with Jesus through opening up to wise friends, worshiping the Lord corporately, feasting on His Word, etc.  But then it’s not long before times of neglect allow things to grow right back to what they were and even bigger and more unruly.  We haven’t been letting the Master Gardener tend to us, as only He knows best.

As a novice gardener, I get frustrated at the thought of all my hard work being quickly consumed, of a beautiful space that I labored to create turning into a hill of weeds.  Then I think about God’s side of things.  God is ever forgiving of us.  Whenever we welcome Him back into the garden of our soul, He rolls up His sleeves, puts on His gloves, kneels in the dirt and starts working. 

I know God is the most glorious and powerful being in the entire universe.  He is to be feared, worshiped and honored above all else.  But He is not above gardening.   What brings me to tears and to places of surrender is picturing Him as a patient gardener, willing to take me as I am—culpable for the mess I am in—and nurture me.  From before I was born, He had a vision for my life to become a thing of beauty just as a gardener plans, plants, prunes and defends his garden.  Come, Lord Jesus, into our gardens today for every garden needs a Master Gardener.  Fill this world with the beauty of Your Kingdom here on earth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Garden is Full of Recylced Energy

Today I had a gardener's, scientist's and theologian's perspective on my soaking bowls of parsley plant stalks.  In order to have an herb garden, my husband and I tilled up the soil beside our patio.  Then I added A LOT (and I mean a lot) of organic material to replace nearly six inches of clay we removed.  Then I planted a little two dollar and fifty scent parsley plant about 6 weeks ago.  

What's the Deal with Parsley?

The plant's DNA computed that there was enough sunlight, water and nutritious soil around.  So, it began to convert all the energy it was absorbing through the roots and its solar panels (green leaves) into more and more stalks of curled parsley leaves until they were so big they began to flop on the ground like a tired dog.

Some would say the universe is just a cycle of energy being transferred around and around and around.  I think it's amazing to think about how the "core" of the parsley plant took the energy it was given and produced an abundant plant that would actually benefit from my taking two thirds of its stalks.  (Now it is freed up to produce more!)  

But it can't possibly end there.  Not for me.  Where did all this energy come from.  I mean when you look around your garden (or just all the volunteer weeds and saplings that grow every summer), look at ALL the energy these plants are taking in through their solar panels.  Not to mention all the energy in decaying organic material in the ground that both plants and critters eat (earthworms, pill bugs, centipedes, etc).   The growth of plants is no miracle.  My backyard is a power plant!  My plants are all little factories converting energy into very different, specific forms of plant life.  Some to eat, to fuel our own bodies.  Some to look at for their beauty, to fuel our souls.  (And some to break our backs pulling them out of the vegetable and flower beds.) 

As a gardener and Christ follower, I marvel at these profound realities of recycled energy.  And then I am astounded in contemplating that One energy source outlasts them all, fuels them all, created them all.  The God above all other gods.  The Scientist above all other scientists.  The Gardener above all other gardeners.  

The Great I AM that I AM.  Self-existent One.  

Apart from the air that I breathe, I cannot keep my own body alive, even for an hour.  Yet, He is the Self-Sustaining One who created our Universe, our stars, our Sun, our garden Eco-system.  All that we rely on to live.  He is the air of our souls.  Perhaps that is why one of His names is Holy Spirit.    

One of God's great works and up and coming Starbucks spokesperson.

He is the "atmosphere" that allows all things (known and unknown, visible and invisible) to exist.  He sustains different parts of the universe differently.  He is described as holding all things together.  Every cell in my body was designed by Him to generate the energy it does which keeps me alive.   Even all the invisible qualities that my person hood generates from the unmined recesses of my brain is held together and sustained by Him.  Apart from Him, we cannot keep our souls alive, not even for an hour.  He is the original source from which the parsley grows.  He is the source of my life.  He is more than a good gardener.  A gardener plants and cultivates the seed.  He created the seed--from nothing.

What's for dinner? Parsley from the Herb Garden

I washed, chopped and used the first fruits of my garden today!  Well, don't get too excited.  It was just an herb.  Parsley.  It was all flopped over from growing so big and I came across a Spicy Grilled Pesto Chicken recipe in my Kroger coupons mailer.  (I know, it's called Pesto but the main ingredient is parsley.)

Here's the recipe that is marinating in the fridge right now:

  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. pesto sauce
  • 1 large resealable food storage bag
  • 1-1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, thawed
  • (approximately 4 medium to large thighs)

  • Wash and de-stem parsley. (Wash by soaking in a bowl for 1-3 minutes and then transfer to another bowl to soak.  If sandy in the bottom, repeat 2-3 more times with fresh water.)  
  • Chop parsley in the food processor for about 30 seconds.  (I thought this would be a pain but it was the quickest part and a lot less messy than mincing on a cutting board.)
  • Combine the well-chopped parsley with the ground pepper, Worcestershire sauce and pesto in a large resealable plastic bag.  Mix the ingredients well by squeezing the closed bag with your hands.
  • Add thawed chicken, one piece at a time, into the bag, making sure to coat each piece thoroughly.  Marinage chicken in bag for 15-30 minutes at room temperature or in the fridge.
  • Remove pieces with tongs and grill for about 12-15 minutes, turning once, until the internal temperate reaches a safe 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
We are going to have this with homemade pasta salad:

  • Cook spiral tri-colored pasta noodles al dente and rinse to stop cooking process and cool them.
  • Add whatever you want, but here is what we added:
  • Green and Orange bell pepper cut into bite size chunks.
  • Grape tomatoes (not cut)
  • Half an English seedless cucumber sliced
  • Salami chunks
  • Grated mozzarella cheese
  • (Would have added green olives if we had them)
  • Italian Salad Dressing (we cheated today as we usually make our own)
  • (I diluted the dressing with some olive oil because I thought it tasted too strong.  I added a little bit of salt.)  I think the dressing makes or breaks a pasta salad.  We shall see what we think about Kraft Lite Italian tonight after it has marinated in the salad for a few hours.  
For Dessert I made a frozen yogurt and fruit yummy:

  • Plain Greek Yogurt and a few scoops of vanilla yogurt (2-3 cups total)
  • Two Tbsp. honey
  • Raspberries (whole)
  • Strawberries (sliced)
  • 2 bananas (sliced)
  • (I would have added blueberries but none on hand)

I stirred it all up in and dished it out to five smaller bowls and covered them with plastic wrap and placed them in the freezer.  Dave came up with this idea, but I also saw it in a magazine recently.  They pureed the fruit and made yogurt popcicles.)

Can't wait to eat dinner tonight!  Then, I need to trellis my sugar snap peas tonight.  They are trying to vine on each other.  It's too hot to work outside during the day.  I will explain what I did Monday in another post. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Patience Pays in Gardening

Pictures of our work the past few days.  We finally built the flower bed on the hill and I got to plant in it!  I need to get all these plants in the ground! And there are still more to plant, but I need to draft some plans before I add to an already established bed in front of the porch.  I will take a few days off from planting to do other stuff.
Well, here is the end product!  I couldn't get the pics placed at the bottom and I am too tired to fuss about it.  Since our soil is clay, I filled this box with a 1:1:1:1 ratio of top soil (leftover from a truck load we got for the veggie boxes), sphagnum peat moss, compost and pine bark mini nuggets.  I decided on this mix based on lots of reading on websites and talking to some people.  (I like to grill the garden center employees to compare answers.)  I have found it to be very light and easy to plant, transplant and weed in.  The peat moss is acidic and the pine bark is also (although not as much as the hardwood of the pine).  I will eventually test the soil to see how it comes out.  But for now, I am praying over my plants.  After all, some planted, some watered, but it is God who makes things grow both spiritually and physically.
So, what did I plant, you may be wondering.  I planted three rows of fairly well spaced perennials in here.  Although if they all grow to their fullest potential quickly it will get crowded and need thinned out.  In my mind's eye, I picture a beautiful collection of taller plants (12'' or higher) placed so that the highest ones are in the back.  A stunning collection of blooms and foliage visited by many a butterfly and hummingbird.  (Please, please with sugar on top.)  :o)  IN THE BACK ROW LEFT TO RIGHT: Lupine seeds because they can't transplant as seedlings, a pink Foxglove, Snow on the Mountain (people allergic to latex need to be careful handling this plant), another pink Foxglove, more Lupine seeds (Tutti Frutti mix). IN THE MIDDLE ROW L-R: a Poppy, a spike plant with a round ball from my aunt and uncle's garden (last minute addition, not time to research), Echinecea and Black-Eyed Susan transplants from the seed start barrel (I think), another tall Spring blooming plant from my aunt and uncle, another Poppy.  THE FRONT ROW: violet Penstemon, Clustered Bellflower (purple), another Clustered Bellflower, Verbascum, two Bee Balm transplants (I am pretty sure). I also planted two small transplants in a "cleft" of the hill (with a few handfuls of good soil) to see what these "native plants" are able to do.  And I tucked Graveyard Moss Sedum (a ground cover) in six cracks in the stone wall Dave built for the flower bed.  Now, we need to pray for rain.  It's been blowing past us all day long. 

Dave worked hard last Thursday building me a flower "box" on the back hill.  

I don't know why, but I just have this urge to conquer the back hill.  Maybe because it's a third of our entire yard.  I imagine so many lovely things growing back there. In addition to this flower garden, I am hoping to establish some native plants that will flourish in pour soil.  We won't know until next year if this flower box will be as striking as I imagine it.  Got a major deal perennials back home in Ohio which saved me from my failed attempts to grow perennials from seed.  (Not always possible with some varieties.)  Dave had a fun time trying to fit them in the car.
Creative shade for some transplants. I transplanted about 40 zinnia starts (about 2-3 inches tall).  I LOVE zinnia flowers.  They make great cut flowers for summer flower vases.  I usually buy them from a farmer at the farmer's market who sells them for a reasonable price.  Hopefully I will have some of my own this summer. 
More creative shade for the zinnia starts.  I had such a fun time adding the zinnias to this herb garden because we had worked hard to create a nice loamy soil.  I am hopeful that in addition to my herbs, I will have a beautiful border of flowers to cut from later this summer.
The zinnia starts were fading the next day in the harsh sunlight.  I think I have lost 3-4 of them between my 4 locations (3 plus the original start location).
Feeding herself yogurt and watching her Daddy work from inside the house.  She is 15 months old today.  I also learned that today is one of her great grandma's birthday.  We love you Great Grandma Doris.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Gardening is an addiction

Garden Journal
Thursday June 7, 2012

Divided mum and ground cover to see if we can use them elsewhere in the yard.
Gardening is hard work.  Today, I dug up an overgrown flowerbed on the south corner of the house that extended along the house about five feet.  There was a gangly mum, an interesting ground cover and a stand of irises.  I saved some of the plants.  We’ll see what survives.  I divided the mum into several pots.  It split apart rather easily as I dug it up.  I am not too interested in mums, so I have no idea if I have viable divisions sitting on my front porch right now or not.  I am fairly confident and hopeful that the ground cover will survive.  It seems like ground covers are hardy buggers.  It also divided rather easily.  I like ground covers although I don’t have much experience growing them.  And the irises.  Well, they were one big knot of rhizomes that were impossible for me to dig through.  And I’m just not an iris fan.  Sure they are a nice splash of color in early spring that lasts a long time and they multiply well (unlike tulips or hyacinths, which I happen to love).  But in the end I called upon my husband to dig them all out.  We tossed the rhizomes in the garbage (I know, a major gardener’s sin).  And I cut up the stalks and threw them in the compost bin.  So, I guess you can say I recycled them. 

Beyond this flower bed, the south side of the house has the meters and wires that go into the house to provide us with all the amenities we take for granted.  And a few feet beyond, sits the compressor (the counterpart to a furnace in an all electric house).  And beyond that lays a pea gravel pile leftover from another project that I can’t wait to get rid of.  It’s an eyesore and the neighbor’s cats like to poop in it! 

Weed barrier under the pea gravel.  I am hopeful this area will stay looking nice for a while.  Dave says he will "dress" the site as needed to keep the gravel in place without the brick barriers which are difficult to mow near. 
I am planning to plant a clematis in the small brick wall area and a sweet autumn clematis along the side of the wall in the larger area.  Sweet Autumn Clematis blooms in the late summer/early fall with small white blooms that are very aromatic (according to my research).  I stumbled upon this plant at a major bargain sale.  It's a rather small plant right now.  I don't want it to get too out of control so heavy pruning is in order.
So, Dave my husband dug up the irises and laid pea gravel around the wires, garbage can paver platform (which is currently holding a wheelbarrow load of pea gravel) and compressor.  He’s not quite finished yet, but we are hopeful to use up all the pea gravel minus a wheelbarrow load (which we hope to get rid of via Craig’s list.)

It will be quite a dramatic transformation since this side of the house has been collecting stuff we don’t know what to do with ever since we moved in. 

I knew I would be learning patience in learning to garden.  But what I am learning today seems different than patience.  What is it exactly?  Maybe it’s self-control.  I want SO badly for the south side of the house to be completed. Right now it is sitting two-thirds done.

I feel like a gambling addict because I think that at 6:30 pm with stiff hands, stiff back and weak knees that I can go back outside and finish the project.  In reality, I may be able to get most of it finished but I will come inside a spent and worthless human being.  It would turn an enjoyable project into a tortuous task.  These rational thoughts keep me at bay for a few minutes and then my heart pines again to go finish the project.  I love the sense of accomplishment.  I love getting things done. 

But Rome wasn't built in a day because we humans are finite.  We need to eat (multiple times a day if possible). We need our sleep (7 to 9 hours for most of us).  We need rest from the work that consumes us (enjoy the fruits of your labor--even if it's just sipping iced tea while looking at a half done job).  

Plus, I am prone to change my mind.  And I told my husband and myself that if we are going to do this let’s do it right.  We can't move pea gravel and plants around like text boxes on a computer screen.  It's not that simple.  An evening to think about things and a night to rest will surely do a lot of good for the project, my aching body and my busy mind.   

Plus, my husband and daughter just rushed through the house wearing their bathing suits saying, "Love you Mom, we're gonna play outside."  I see why they looked so mischievous as I sidle up to the kitchen window.  They are playing with a slip and slide in the next-door neighbor’s back yard.  I think I need to photograph and possibly lifeguard this experience.   
She loves water.  And she loves people.  So she loved it!  After her second or third "run" she turned back to the three boys (who had been talking and laughing the entire time) and literally hollered at them across the lawn. 
I think--in her 15-month-old babble she was bantering her own excitement over the experience! 
And maybe trash talking to the boys that she had the best run of everyone!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

My first day of a sabbatical, a rest from the normal routine of my job working with college students.  So this summer, I do not have to travel to a far-off place and help lead a program for college students called Summer Project.  I love that part of our job, but it's nice to have a break.

And during this break, I have chosen to dig myself and our yard deep into gardening projects.  Having only been a homeowner for two years and always traveling during my summers, I have not had opportunities to grow things.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE flowers.  Can't have enough exposure to them during the spring and summer months.  My favorite spot in Oxford, Ohio, (where I lived for 4 years) was Miami University's formal garden.  It is arrayed with tulips, hyacinths and daffodils every spring--well over 2,000 bulbs according to the gardener.  Then, its flower beds are turned over to wide arrays of annuals and perennials for summer to fall flair.  And of course, the small rose garden just across from the pergola showers you with its charm during every visit.

Of course, a question has been lurking in the back of my mind for a year or more. I love gardens.  But do I like garden-ing?  I think pondering that question was very helpful for me in order to approach this gardening project with some realistic expectations.  I spent time thinking about the difference between experiencing a garden and gardening.   I loved my leisurely walks through the formal garden--smelling the roses, photographing the hyacinths and tulips, sometimes sitting alone with God, sometimes studying a passage from the Bible with a college student, sometimes visiting with a friend.  Every once in a while I would run into the gardener and I dreamed of having her job and getting to stay in the garden all day.  But she was there to work, not to leisure.  She had a task list to accomplish.  Plants to maintain back in the greenhouse.  Weeds to pull.  Beds to prepare.  Transplants to place.  Dead branches to prune.  Fertilizer to sprinkle.  Mulch to spread.  Dirty tools to haul away.  Etcetera.  Etcetera.  And finally, sidewalks to sweep so visitors would never notice she had been there.

You see, many good gardeners create spaces for us to enjoy and we give no real thought to how much work it took to create that space.  Would I really enjoy being a gardener?  We shall see.

 I also have a growing intrigue in vegetable gardening.  Doesn't every northerner long for tasty homegrown tomatoes every summer.  And doesn't every northerner want to know if they have what it takes to make things grow?  I guess from the time we were first placed in a garden, we have a question that whispersin our soul: do I have a green thumb?  Can I work the earth and eat of it?  For me, the intrigue started to take hold as we visited the Bloomington (Indiana) Farmers Market every Saturday.  It's a wonderful Saturday morning activity--like attending a carnival every week, but the prices are fresh vegetables, berries, melons, apples, pears, herbs, plants--breakfast sandwiches!  Prices aren't necessarily cheap at the farmer's market, but the food is definitely much fresher and tastier than the super markets.  Local, clean food is all the buzz these days and I am the first busy bee to raise a stinger about our broken American food system.  So, let's grow some of our own so we--like the other local growers--can feast with some peace of mind.

I always liked chatting with the farmers as I made my purchases at the market.  Asking them how their farm/garden is doing.  Asking the difference between this or that heirloom tomato.  Learning that I could take my basil home, put it in a jar of water and then pot it in soil once it grew roots.  The aisles and truck beds of produce looked so beautiful and bountiful.  But would I really enjoy the toil and labor that brought these farmers to this pinnacle of displaying and selling their bounty?  Most of their hands showed signs of prolonged work--swollen, outlined in faded dirt stains and weathered from the sun.  They seemed to love to interact with the earth and thought nothing of digging their fingers into the soil of a tomato plant to see if it needed watered.  I'm not there yet.  I don't know if I ever will be.  But I am taking my first crack at vegetable gardening this summer and I've already learned a lot that I want to remember for future gardens.  

A rough overview of my plans for the summer:

Flowers: I am in the on-going process of planting several (like 25-30) perennials around the yard.  Some in already established flower beds (that need cleaned up) and some will go into flower beds that my husband and I will build.  I won't bore you with all the specifics except to say that we are trying to conquer a hill in our backyard.  Our hope is to establish raised flower beds and vegetable beds on an otherwise weed-run and eroding hill.  With a small sub-division yard, it's a large part of what we have to work with.  It's also all clay.  Clay is full of nutrients, but not in a form that plants can use.  So clay is very hard to grow things in.  Plus, with all the erosion we need to reinforce any soil amendments so they aren't just washed down the hill. 

I am being challenged to learn patience because we, first, we cannot accomplish all these projects at once because each on is a fair amount of work.  And second, even once things are planted they do not immediately morph into the Better Homes and Gardens size and shape.  Perennials will look better and better as the years go (and they receive proper care and pruning).  But this year, it will look as if we planted things too far apart.

Vegetables:  My amazing and innovative husband built me raised garden beds that are stair-stepped up the hill.  To start, he built 4 beds (complete with stairs).  One of the beds, though, will be a decking platform for me to work from.

I am using the square foot gardening method which you can read about at  I planted the garden Mother's Day weekend and then left for two weeks (with friends watering every other day).  I came home to see most things off to a good heart start.  However, a cat or some other critter had dug up about half of my first box (and gotten into my compost container and walked off with lots of good stuff).

It's still early, so I have the advantage of using this as an opportunity to do some successive plantings so that we won't have just one peak harvest and then nothing.

The hill in our backyard before we started gardening.

Some flower seeds started.  Marigolds, bee balm, cone flower and daisies. All flowers that should grow well on the hill once they are well established.  I will put the marigolds in the vegetable garden to fight off pests from below and above-- nematodes and bunnies.

The box garden just after I planted my seeds and starts on Mother's Day.

Strawberry plants in front of the retaining wall.  I am already wanting to move them because they do not get sun until about noon and I have since dreamed of creating a beautiful flower border here.  Gardening is both impulsive and intentional.  It's just a bummer when an impulsive move to buy strawberry plants collides with some long-term plans.  We may or may not get around to moving them.  They won't produce much until next year, so now is the time to move them.

My husband moved the outdoor fire stove that the previous owners left.  It created a great "dead" spot for me to dig up--an impulsive move that I am quite excited about.  It's tempting to plant a bunch of flowers in here, but I am trying to be patient and allow these perennial plants and herbs to establish themselves for much enjoyment for summer to come.  From the wall out, I planted: lavender, red annual (for color), parsley (just an annual), spearmint (to make fresh and dried tea), red flower (for color), butterfly bush (I think I will move this to the back's going to get HUGE), creeping thyme (for a fun ground cover to step on and smell).  Patience, the lavender and mint stand to get very large.  I brought home some lemon balm from my mother-in-law's Ohio garden.  I will replace the butterfly bush with the lemon balm.  Maybe this will become my tea garden!
It's been fun and motivating to read and learn so much about different plants and vegetables and gardening methods.  It's just so hard to keep them all straight.  I am hoping to record some highlights and methods I am using so that I can learn from this experience and build off it in the future.  Of course, I don't know if/when I will get to plant another vegetable garden with our summer travel schedule.  Perhaps God will provide a garden-loving house-sitter. 

Perennial plants I bought at a sale in Ohio.  At $1, $2 and $3 I couldn't beat the prices.  Perennials are $6-10 a plant at the nurseries.  I was so excited because my efforts to start some perennials from seed have been slow or no-go. 

In two weeks, the butterfly bush (second from bottom of photo) has doubled in size.  I bought it at the farmer's market.  Like I said, I am going to move it to the hill because it's going to get really big.  I have another one planted in the front yard that I will keep in that location and see how it does this year.  Butterfly bushes can be cut back to size, but from what I read they can be invasive so I will need to watch out.

The top veggie bed with tomatoes, cucumber, some mint, sage, cucumber and empty spots that either never started or are awaiting a marigold.

The marigolds are doing the best out of all these starts.  I will transplant them into the vegetable garden this week.  The other plants will go on the back hill once we build their beds. 

Bottom veggie bed.  Got dug up by some animal while we were away.  There are cats who live next door, but I am not sure this is their work. 

I long for more curb appeal (without a lot of shrubs), but it's probably going to take some research, planning and yes a shrub or two to get the front flower bed in better shape.  I planted a small salvia (the blooms have faded and the leaves are being eaten by something), a row of zinnias (which are doing great in just 2 weeks), a phlox (which has doubled in size) and some annuals to add color for the season.  The other side of the bed has a daylily, siberian iris, russian sage, a "Dr. Suess" tree as my neighbor calls it and the lattice where I am going to move my clematis plant.
I can't keep planting and moving things or they aren't going to grow well--if at all.
Lesson learned.  Think twice, plant once--a spin-off of the carpenter's rule: measure twice, cut once.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Homemade Granola Bars

Granola Bar Recipe

My friend and co-worker Norma shared this recipe with me.  Norma was a shy, quiet graphic designer from Hawaii.  I caught her eating this interesting looking sooped-up rice crispie treat.  I loved rice crispie treats with a passion, so I made her promise to bring me the recipe.  I changed the raisins to dried cranberries and have loved making it for hiking trips, road trips, special occasions and ordinary days.

Norma was an unassuming risk taker.  One day she asked me if I wanted to go swing dancing--something, she admitted was entirely out of her comfort zone.  It was at her Asian-American church.  Some graduate students from Pepperdine University who were really into swing dancing were giving lessons.  We did a lesson for an hour and had open dancing the rest of the night.  I had never seen so many Asians 'cutting a rug'.  I mean where were the movie producers to hire these experts!  Moving from Ohio to California, I had loved all my Asian American friends, but so far they seemed quiet and reserved as a cultural norm.  Kind of like these granola bars, the experience put together things I loved and helped me realize how much fun they were together!  The gentlemen were so polite, making sure all the ladies got plenty of time dancing.  This was not a meat market; there was serious fun to be had!  And what fun we had!

Anyway, that recipe...

2 1/2 cups oats
2 1/2 cups rice crispies
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (or raisins)
1 cup peanuts (salted or unsalted)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter or margarine (I prefer butter)
1 pkg (smaller 10oz bag) mini marshmallows (or 40 large ones)

Grease 9x13 pan.
1. Heat oats in a frying pan over low heat until lightly browned (I recently warmed them in the microwave for 1 minute in a steamer and that seemed to work also.)
2. Mix oats, rice crispies, cranberries and peanuts together in large bowl.
Heat butter on low heat in a large pot until nearly melted. Add peanut butter and melt. Add marshmallows and stir constantly until melted. (Important: stir continually and adjust heat so that the ingredients don't bubble or burn.)
3. As soon as everything is melted, removed from heat and quickly add the dry mixture.  Stir all ingredients quickly until coated.
4. Spread and press evenly into pan.  Allow to cool and cut into bars.  Store for a few days in air tight container.

Monday, October 03, 2011

A Winged-Seed

A Winged-Seed

Circumstances often make life difficult, challenging—even discouraging.  We make choices that we think are best for us, but then we suddenly find ourselves in situations we wish we could escape.

My first job after college brought me into just that situation.  After a one-year internship with a non-profit organization, I took a job in their Human Resources Department.  This was a switch from the department I had interned with, so I was a 25-year-old newbie.  I was excited to work with such a hopeful group of people doing a purposeful work. 

However, soon after reporting to my new job, I realized that the department was undergoing a complete overhaul.  I found myself sitting in hours of meetings talking about things I new nothing about.  I wanted to “learn the ropes” but it turns out they were busy weaving and tying new ropes.  I would have to be a part of building a new structure with the team.  I felt like I was free-falling.

On one particular day, our small department gathered in our director’s corner office.  Two of the walls were floor to ceiling windows.  Looking out the window was the best thing about the meeting.  My thoughts consumed me.  I was extremely discouraged with doubt and unable to focus on the conversations taking place.  I don’t think I am cut out for this work.  Did I make the right decision?  What am I doing in southern California?  How will I ever find my way back home?    

Then, something outside the three-story window captured me.  Contrasted against the waving green leaves of a tree and the clear blue of the sky, I noticed a fluff of cotton-like material, suspended, floating.  I quickly figured out it was a tiny seed circumferenced by millions of miniature feathers—tufts that took it into flight.  A little up, a little down, onto the next windowpane.  It danced on the tremors of the breeze along the windows and gradually out of sight.  These words came through the ticker tape of my mind: You are exactly where you are supposed to be.  There is not accidental breeze.

As a Christian, I suddenly saw God’s hand in my circumstances.  As that little seedling went rolling, bobbing and tumbling through the air, its Designer and Creator knew exactly what course it would take and where its final destination and destiny would be.  And as serendipitous as it seemed to be floating along, a Sovereign Hand was overseeing its comings and its goings.  And just as this Hand knew that seed’s destiny, so it knew mine.  My Designer and Creator knew I would end up sitting in that room—overwhelmed, discouraged and doubting.    

In His sovereignty, He had led me to this new job, which was 2,000 miles away from my Northeast Ohio hometown.  One moment can be delightful, another horrific and painful.  I cannot avoid the latter.  I cannot have only delightful moments.  But I can know the One who is with me.  The One who sees and oversees.  The One who guides and abides.  The One who encourages and consoles.  The One who endured his own moments, who lived with two feet on the ground while circumstances and emotions went swirling.

The choices I made which led me to this corner office meeting were no accident.  I was not in the wrong place.  I was on a journey.  I would have many adventures, many sojourners, many lessons, and many memories. 

It has been 10 years since that seed swirled in and out of my life.  It’s brief visit brought perspective and courage to many of my days.  Just recently, I stood in my kitchen taking care of my 6-month-old baby girl.  Our first child.  Almost a pure delight, she was having one of her rare grumpy moments.  As I walked past the island countertop, I noticed a black fleck and scooped it into my hand to discard.  How did you get in here, I hurriedly thought, recognizing an old friend.  In the creases of my cupped hand sat a single seed attached to a few tufts of feather, just enough to give it some flight. 

My thoughts turned into tears and rolled down my cheeks.  No matter how difficult motherhood would be, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  There was no accidental breeze.  God created her on that June night and gave her to her Daddy and me.  

There were many more lessons and memorable moments during my first job.  If all goes well, the next several posts will come from those experiences.