Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stained Glass Jesus

I love stained glass. It ranks right up there with snowflakes. So when I got a new camera last year, I decided to play with it in my church's sanctuary. I've just now gotten around to tinkering with the photographs. I'll probably post a few more in the coming days.

This first picture is of Jesus after the resurrection, meeting up with some of His disciples on the road to Emmaus.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. - Luke 24:27

I love the pierced hands and feet.

The menorah may seem like an odd choice to add to this post, considering the title, but I assure you it is not. The temple menorah was often referred to as the "light of the world." Indeed, the three lamps on either side pointed inward to the center lamp, called the chumash, or servant lamp. And the chumash pointed to the Holy of Holies. It is very much a symbol of the Messiah.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Connections to the Past

I received a call tonight from my Granddaddy's favorite niece. Haven't seen her since my grandmother's funeral a few years ago. A distant relative sent her a five-inch binder crammed full of family genealogy, tracing our line back to Wales in the 1700s. She's fixing mistakes to the last three generations, name misspellings and such, and trying to compile photographs for those relatives who don't have one. Then she's going to send me a copy of it.

There've been so many times I wished I'd written down those little bits of information my grandfather told me, like that his grandmother was 75% cherokee, or that an ancestor served under George Washington. I can't wait to get my hands on that book. It feels like a small connection to him.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Homemade Microwave Popcorn

I love popcorn, but I'm not fond of the chemicals that line the bags of store-bought microwave popcorn. So one evening I decided to try popping my own. The results were surprisingly easy, and delicious! So I'm going to pass on this little secret to the rest of you.

 What you'll need:
-1 brown paper lunch bag
-Popcorn kernels (I like to use organic, because that's how I roll)
-1 tablespoon measure
-1 microwave in good working order
-1 large bowl
-Butter (optional)
-Salt (optional)

Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of popcorn kernels into your brown paper bag. Fold over the top of the bag (you could probably tape it closed, but I've never had it come open with a double fold). Place the bag in your microwave and cook it for 2 to 3 minutes, until you hear a delay of 3 to 5 seconds between pops. Take the bag out of the microwave (careful, the popcorn will be hot!), and dump the popcorn into a bowl. Repeat this process until you have the amount of popcorn you want.

To make buttered popcorn, melt one tablespoon (or more!) of butter for every two bags of popcorn that you pop. When you're finished popping your kernels, drizzle the melted butter over the popcorn, stirring to evenly distribute. Salt it, if desired. I use a popcorn salt, available in the same section as the large jars of popcorn kernels.
I love making popcorn this way. It tastes fresh and yummy. Your family doesn't consume all those chemicals in commercially-packaged bags and it's healthier and lighter-tasting than oil-popped. You don't need an air popper and and you can get as creative as you want.
Creative Ideas

1. Make popcorn balls! Allrecipes.com has a recipe for Old-Time Molasses popcorn balls here.

2. Make popcorn garland for your Christmas tree.

3. Get creative with your seasonings. Try garlic and herbs on your popcorn, or caramel.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stash in my Nightstand, aka Glad to be Home

I have an old nightstand that belonged to my great grandparents. It was a washstand in its previous life. Sometime in the middle of the twentieth century, it got booted to their back porch. In the 1980's, my grandmother rescued it and had it refinished, revealing stunning quartersawn oak, also known as tiger oak, beneath five or so layers of paint. Thankfully, the refinisher had some talent and refrained from using a high gloss finish coat like some mistakenly do on antiques. Instead, he gave it a nice soft finish that resembled a patina.

I've been using this washstand as my nightstand for the past 15 years. I cleaned it out the other day and found a couple old pairs of glasses, an old pocket calendar with once-memorable dates recorded, an ancient address book that possessed names of folks I used to know, some of whom I barely remember, a lint remover, book marks, two tubes of Burt's Bees lip balm, cough drops, and pictures my daughter has drawn for me on scrap paper (those I saved).

On the bottom shelf, behind the old baby monitor we no longer use, was stashed a small treasure trove of sermon notes written on old Christian Fellowship* (CF) church bulletins. The most recent was from 1999. As I pulled them out and thumbed through them, tears filled my eyes. That stack of papers represented so much more than just a collection of old sermons. That church had been my family. After four beautiful years, we moved away and were officially sent to their sister church NL (another name change), which ended up being too far from where we lived for us to participate in their ministry.

Tragically, a year after we were sent out, CF split. Yes, the building still stands and still bears the same name, but it's not the same body of believers. The flock scattered.

When I got word that CF had split, my heart broke. It took me a long time to admit that I was angry at the Lord. It took me even longer to realize that He had spared me the brunt of the blow by removing me gently from the midst before it was torn apart. Still, I found myself longing for home. A home that, I felt, no longer existed.

We attended a Messianic Jewish congregation for a time and learned some amazing things about the Hebrew roots of our Christian faith, but we soon discovered that the Messianic movement had an ugly side. It was full of individuals who had left protestant churches because they were offended. Sadly, divisiveness follows those who leave a church the wrong way out of offense. Hence, that little congregation lasted just a year after we joined, before many of the members left, as the division caught up with them and pushed them again out the doors. The rabbi and ribbetzin, discouraged because this was not the first time their congregation had split, decided not to rebuild it.

We moved to our current city seven and a half years ago, and have since attended several different churches. Though we disagreed with some theologically, nothing like that was ever insurmountable. It was the absence of the Holy Spirit's sweet presence and His healing power in their midst that left me cold. We wandered in this desert for six and a half years before the Lord pushed us in the direction of another church, which I will call RC. I say pushed in retrospect, because we stumbled into it quite by happenstance.

I was stunned that first Sunday. The Lord had much to say, and discouragement had left me tone deaf. Finally I was in front of a pastor who was, apparently, in tune with what the Lord was saying in my frequency and was willing to repeat it. But it was more than the sermon. It was the worship music, and the freedom that the worship team gave to the Holy Spirit in their midst. It was the prayer team that waited at the front after the service closed, ready to pray with and minister to those in need. It was congregation family member--a complete stranger--who looked at me and said, "welcome home."

I've recently started accumulating sermon notes again. RC actually provides transcripts of the previous week's sermon, which makes it much easier to read them later on than my silly scribblings sideways on a faded bulletin. But regardless of whether they were already typed out for me or not, these sermons are worth keeping. Much like CF, this church holds a precious and rare commodity for me: the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by granite Scriptural foundation and a passion to see God's people healed...emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

As I bagged all the items I no longer needed from my nightstand, I returned the small stash of sermon notes to their proper place on the bottom shelf, then added the new notes to the top of the stack.

It's so good to finally be home again.

*Church names have been truncated for privacy. Those who would need to know the name already do. For the rest of you, it doesn't matter.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Accent Doesn't Equal IQ

So, I had my routine eye exam today. The optometrist’s assistant was a woman in her late twenties to early thirties, gorgeous Latina complexion, and an accent that I noticed immediately, maybe south Florida. She had me peer into three different machines that measured, graded and photographed my eyes, then took me to an exam room to wait for the doctor. While keying information into the computer, she turned to me and, with a sheepish smile, asked, “So, where are you from?”

“Raleigh,” I said. (For those who don’t know, it’s the capital of North Carolina and an hour and a half from where I now live.)

 She tilted her head slightly, then said, “I mean originally.”

“Raleigh,” I said with a grin.

“Oh.” She frowned, and I could tell she was perplexed by my answer.

“Why’s that? I don’t sound like I’m from around here?”

She shook her head. “No. Not really. Not at all.”

“Where do I sound like I’m from?”

“Uh, I thought you might be like, British, or Russian, maybe. Somewhere European.”

What? Really very much not what I was expecting to hear. Not only have I never heard that I sound international, but how do you confuse British and Russian? Or perhaps my accent is just that muddied. Ha!

Actually, I’ve gotten accent comments across the gamut. I’ve heard that I sound Midwestern or Californian. I have heard that I have a “cute Southern drawl,” (usually by folks who live at a much higher latitude than my current location). Even people from my home state sometimes think I hail from elsewhere when they hear me talk, usually saying that I have no accent at all—not theirs, and not anyone else’s. My friend Julie once said it’s because I annunciate my words more clearly than most people “around here” do.

My theory is that my accent can be traced to my Raleighite roots. I am a native Raleighite, actually, and a multi-generational one, at that—which is an increasingly rare thing in the heart of North Carolina, considering the mass influx of relocating techies we’ve experienced over the past thirty years or so. Perhaps there are so few of us left that folks don’t remember what Raleighites sound like. Or perhaps my voice has become its own thing. I don’t know.

I told the optometrist’s assistant that I sometimes get that "not from around here" comment. She said, “Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Hmm. I pondered that, then responded. “Yes, unfortunately, folks tend to hear a Southern drawl and assign a downgraded IQ accordingly.”

She laughed. “Yeah, I’m from Miami,” she said, “and when I was back there, every time we heard a person from the South, we’d say, ‘Oh, that poor dumb—” she caught herself and amended the quote, “Southerner.’” She keyed something else into the computer, then turned back to me and said, “But after moving here, I’ve come to realize that’s not true at all.”

I once met a guy from Michigan who thought I was pretty but could hear the South in my voice, and he did exactly what her friends in Miami did—assigned me a lower IQ. I was a geology major at the time, so he bought me two of those silly cardstock souvenir boards like you’d find in any tourist trap, one with little tumbled1 rock specimens glued to it, and another with little fossils. He presented them to me with glee, saying, “These are minerals. Do you know what minerals are?”

 Kids learn what a mineral is in middle school Earth Science class. I’d been a geology major in college for two years. That’s like asking a math major if they know what a plus sign is.

Not only did I know what the poor polished minerals on the cardboard were, but I knew the hardness, luster, streak, color, and cleavage. Plus, I was currently studying the closest packing of their crystal structures. Did I say any of this to Mr. Condescension? Of course not. I gave him a good helping of Southern hospitality instead, thanked him graciously for the generous gift and allowed him to continue in his ignorance, while carefully explaining that I wasn't interested in a romantic relationship with someone so different from myself.

I used to cringe when people asked me where I’m from. Did I sound Southern? And if so, did they think Southern equals stupid?

I’ve since grown comfortable with my roots. If I sound Southern, I’m okay with that. If I sound like I’m from Europe, I’ll get a good laugh out of it and ponder for about five minutes whether I've been watching too much BBC America. If a person mistakes my IQ for a speed limit on the highway because of the cadence and inflection of my voice, that's okay too. Why? Because I've also learned that the only person who defines my worth is Jesus Christ.
1Note for those who have no geology background: tumbled rocks are annoying. Many of their natural characteristics have been demolished in the tumbling process. Half of the joy of a rock, mineral or fossil specimen is preserving those unique characteristics that make it what it is. Hence, rock hounds rarely appreciate or value a tumbled stone (exception: stones tumbled smooth by forces of nature…those are cool). We want to see it in its natural state. And we really prefer to be the ones who actually found it…in its natural state. We will appreciate and envy that stunning Crocoite specimen you discovered while sneaking around a lead mine in Tasmania, and we will gladly take it off your hands, but we tend to turn our noses up to the smooth-tumbled and iridescent-purple-dyed quartz you found at the Cowasmoochie Gift Shop and Rest Stop.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kitchen Tip: Measuring Shortening

Here's a handy tip for accurately measuring shortening if you don't have a kitchen scale.

Say you need a cup of shortening for a recipe. Grab a liquid measure that will hold at least two cups. Measure 1 cup of water and set it aside...preferably in another cup. *smarty-pants smile* Dry out your measuring cup, then spoon some shortening into it.
Why dry the cup? So the shortening will stick to the bottom and not float to the surface when you add the water in the next step. Trust me, it's a lot easier to complete this process when the shortening stays on the bottom of the cup.
When you have what looks like a cup of shortening, pour in the cup of water. The water should stop at the two-cup mark. If it's below, you need more shortening. If it's above, you need to remove some. When you've got the amount correct, pour out the water (careful not to dump your shortening with it). And now you're done!
Side Note: Never use dry measuring cups for liquid measures or vice versa, because they are not interchangeable. The measurement discrepancy might not matter in some stove-top dishes, but the difference could make or break your baked recipe. Remember, baking is a science experiment in your oven. If you get the measurements off, your experiment might fail.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Squirrels Don't Like Crisco

Well...it started with my dad, as all good animal stories do. Dad loves animals. He has horses, cattle, dogs and a cat. He's tender-hearted with a mischievous streak (like father, like daughter). Together, we've broken a mare from her fear of water and discovered what happens when the tackle box is left open and a Boxer bulldog steals and eats an entire bag of jelly worm lures (they were not pre-hooked, thankfully). Dad taught me what cats do when you put scotch tape on the pads of their paws, and that toads excrete a substance on their skin that will make a Cocker Spaniel foam at the mouth.

Anyway, my dad and my stepmom were visiting the weekend before Christmas, and he was watching the birds visit the feeder just outside my living room window, amazed at the variety of species, when a squirrel came along, climbed up the skinny wrought-iron pole, and hung upside down to get some sunflower seed. This is not unusual. The squirrels often take turns at that feeder, one or two foraging below while a third snacks above.

Dad, having seen a few too many squirrel-proofing-bird-feeder youtube videos (again, like father, like daughter), said, "Hey, you got some Crisco?"

I eyed him and said, "Yeah. Why?"

"Because I've heard that squirrels can't climb up a greased pole. They'll slide right down."

So I gave him a paper towel with a decent-sized scoop of vegetable shortening on it. He went outside and greased the pole, then came back in, chuckling like he does when he's thoroughly enjoying something. You'd have to know my dad to fully appreciate his laugh.

We stood inside the living room and waited for a squirrel. Didn't take long. Here came one, shimmied maybe a foot up the pole, but we didn't get to see it slide back down. When its front paws touched that greasy shortening, it abandoned mission and jumped off the pole, licked its front paws, shook its head, then dragged its feet and mouth through the grass, trying to wipe off the Crisco. Another squirrel came a few minutes later. That one actually ran to a nearby dogwood, wiping its mouth and its paws on the tree's bark. Word must travel fast in Squirreldom, because of the half dozen bushy-tailed rodents we usually have frolicking in our front yard, none tried to climb up that pole. And that was the last of the squirrels on the feeder until today.

Apparently, the recent rain washed off the last of the shortening. I had to re-apply this evening. :-) But in that two and a half weeks, I've probably saved five dollars worth of bird seed.