Monday, January 31, 2011

Listening and believing

I've been intending to write this post for a while, but as a friend (and another blogger) said, it's sometimes easier to write about the less deep stuff about life than the real things going on in our hearts. And I apologize for the vagueness of this post but I don't want to be specific about this area of life I'm talking about.

Not that I need another blog to follow, but I've started reading Stuff Christians Like, which is hilarious (readers from my hometown church should read this post about "scooting"). Anyway, Jon Acuff writes a serious post about once a week that usually hits home for me. Last week he wrote about finishing what we didn't start, i.e. trying to take over for God because we think He had a good start but He needs our help to fix it or finish it. Please go read his full post because I can't do it justice here.

As I read the post, I knew I was guilty of doing the same thing. Over the last six months or so, I've been saying to God, "Thank You so much for bringing me to this city, You definitely got the place right, but I'm just going to fix this one area where You seemed to have dropped the ball."

So I've tried to do a lot to change certain circumstances but am met with defeat every single time. And I realized around the holidays that I was doing something and then asking God to bless it, rather than asking God what I should do in the first place.

At the women's retreat I went to in November, the speaker challenged us to spend 30 days praying and listening to God about one specific area of life. I want to be clear that I'm not giving God a deadline. He can change anything in a moment, and He waits because His timing is perfect. The 30 days thing is more about me taking time to really focus on this area of life and listen for God.

And guess what? He is speaking to me in so many ways that I might not have recognized if I wasn't spending time to focus on Him and praying over this area of life.

One of those ways is through the sermons at my church. We are in the middle of a sermon series on the Gospel of John, and the pastors spent three weeks on the story of Lazarus. The question they answer every week is, "How does God dwell with us?" Over those three weeks the answers were "by reframing our expectations" (seriously thought the pastor was saying my name, this hit so close to home), "by entering our grief," and "by breaking the bonds of unbelief."

The sermons were all excellent, and I could easily write on the first one, but I actually want to talk about the third one: God breaking the bonds of our unbelief.

One of the points was that we don't expect much or anything from God. I've been going through Beth Moore's Believing God with a group of girls, and it's been a challenging and convicting study. There are five statements of faith, we say each time we meet, and the one I struggle with the most is: "God can do what He says He can do." I fall into the trap of believing what God says in the Bible but not believing He can still act in the same way He did.

As I've wrestled with this and been challenged to fully believe it, I realize I've made it more about myself than about God. I feel like the burden of proof is on me, not God. One of the points the pastor made in the sermon about unbelief is that God's actions are not contingent on our belief. Martha even said just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead: "Lord by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." But Jesus opens the tomb and raises Lazarus from the dead anyway. What a relief!

Don't get me wrong, I want to shed my unbelief and believe God for big things, even "bigger, sooner" as my Beth Moore group has talked about. But it's so comforting to know that God is not going to hide His glory from me because of my unbelief. The pastor challenged us to ask ourselves the question, "How is my unbelief keeping me from seeing God's glory?"

So my prayer is frequently, "I believe, but help my unbelief." I've already been blessed over the last month in the ways God has spoken to me, and I am starting to more fully believe He wants to show me His glory and wow me with the way He has already handled these circumstances I'm praying over. But that means I can't try to finish the job. It's baby steps but I'm learning to listen for His voice before I act.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Best-ever brownies

I've been MIA this week. I spent last weekend trying to get well. I think that thanks to a lot of sleep I am significantly better. But even by Wednesday, the most exciting thing to blog about was how my sinuses were clearing thanks to using sinus rinse. But I don't think you want any more details than that.

So on to something else. I got an issue of Bon Appetit in the mail the other day. I'm not really sure why, but I was intrigued by the cover that had the headline, "Best-Ever Brownies." I have said before that I believe in making brownies and cakes from a box mix, and my experience with making brownies from scratch has reinforced this belief. But I was still intrigued by the magazine.

I discovered I had all the ingredients (of course the only thing I could come up with for dinner was grilled cheese), and I need to take dessert somewhere tonight so I decided to make the brownies. And I have to admit, they are the richest, moistest brownies I've ever had. I have not yet served them to anyone (hopefully I have enough left for tonight), so this is only my opinion but they are really good brownies. Here's the recipe:

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces (I only had salted butter, so I cut back the salt.)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, chilled
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup walnut pieces (I left these out.)

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. 
Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend.

Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Two things old and two things new

So I made a few minor additions to my apartment decor that I wanted to blog about, and then I decided I wanted to post a couple of my favorite things already in my apartment that I don't think I've posted on here before. So first the older things.

Most of my furniture was either stolen from my parents house or purchased from Kmart or Big Lots. I think I've accumulated some great pieces, and I don't think the things I bought look as cheap as they were. But last January I decided I wanted a chair for my apartment. I saw a couple I liked online, but wasn't finding much at my usual shopping places. And I had also decided I wanted something a little bit different to add some character.

I ended up at a furniture store in town and after much debate special ordered a chair to get the fabric I wanted. I felt like this was my first real piece of furniture because I didn't walk out the door with it that day and I didn't have to put it together. I agonized over this chair so much, but was so happy with how it turned out. I just hope I like it in my next home.

Onto another favorite piece of furniture. My maternal grandmother had a display case in her apartment that I remember seeing every time we visited. She kept various knick knacks, all breakable, in it. I don't think she ever changed anything in it, but I always loved to examine (with my eyes only!) what she had in it. When we moved her to an assisted living place when I was in high school, I asked that my parents keep the case until I could have it for my own apartment.

So several years later, I moved it to Georgia with me. In its original form, it was green, the kind of green that looks good in my grandmother's apartment with her other older, traditional furniture. But this green would have stood out against my white walls, beige carpet and dark wood furniture. Red was my "accent" color for the living room -- if your first apartment can have much of a decor, much less an "accent" color when you can't paint or even remove the wallpaper. But anyway, I picked out a red from Home Depot and started to work on this piece. I had to sand it and sand it some more before I could actually paint and then paint another coat. All of which took several months, fortunately I had a small porch where I could hide my project.

But I did finally finish and get to put it in my apartment. I didn't have a lot of knick knacks to display in it the way my grandmother did, but I had another gift from her. Every year for Christmas she would give my siblings and I a set of matching decorative plates. After she died three years ago, we split them up and all got one from each set. When I was younger, it was hard to act excited about getting a plate for Christmas. But now I love that I have all these plates to remind me of my grandmother and the way she loved beautiful things. The case is in my bedroom now, but it's still something you see when you come to my apartment.

OK, on to the new additions. When I was hosting people this fall for Bible study and other stuff, I wanted a way to have more seating. I thought floor pillows would be a good plan, but I couldn't find any I liked and I wasn't really willing to spend the money on the ones I kind of liked. But now I have a sewing machine, and I can make things like floor pillows. I found the fabric and the pillow forms on sale, and it was really quick to make them. I think they are going to hang out on my cedar chest when not in use to stop using that as my clutter-zone (of course now I'm in need of something to organize the clutter I moved). But I haven't decided if I like them flat or standing up. Thoughts?

Last thing (I didn't realize this post was going to become so long), my mom has a good friend who is an artist and every year paints scenes from our small town for a calendar. For Christmas, my mom got an original framed for each of us.

I had to show it to you before I could tell you about it. But if you look close, I'm the blonde-headed one with a bow and a blue dress. My mom's friend painted this from a picture taken at an annual craft fair in my hometown when I was much younger. It took me several weeks to actually put the nail in the wall to hang it, but I love it, especially that there is a story to it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Never-ending cold

I used to pride myself on not getting sick -- as in colds, the flu, strep throat, etc. I had my tonsils out and sinuses cleared when I was 14, took antibiotics for acne for several years and get a flu shot almost every year. Some combination of those things has meant that I have taken only two sick days in my five years in the working world.

And in the event I do get a cold, a few days of using sinus rinse (same idea as a neti pot), several glasses of orange juice, some extra sleep and Advil Cold & Sinus seem to heal me.

But for some reason, this winter I have been struggling with a runny nose, sneezing and coughing since Thanksgiving. I was quick to blame it on allergies at my parents' house, where there is a dog, something I'm no longer used to being around. But I actually felt worse once I got back to my apartment. And while it hasn't knocked me flat on my back, it has lingered. Plus my usual remedies haven't worked. In fact the cold medicine is actually working against me. It doesn't matter if it's drowsy or non-drowsy, it keeps me up at night.

So I broke down and went to the doctor in mid-December, mostly out of fear I wouldn't get to go near my niece. And I was so hopeful. I thought I would get an antibiotic, feel better instantly and wonder why I didn't go sooner. I think I did improve and find some relief, but it did not instantly take away my symptoms. And just a few weeks later, my sinuses were stopped up again and I felt like I was back at square one.

Last week, I woke up and realized I could breathe out of my nose again. I felt like I had finally turned the corner and was going to go back to my healthy self again. But then Saturday morning I woke up with the runny nose again, and Tuesday morning my throat hurt and the cough was back.

Is everyone else dealing with the same thing and I'm just catching it over and over? I'm starting to think I'm going to have to buy hand sanitizer and actually use it. (In case you don't know, I really hate hand sanitizer -- the way it smells and feels.) Any other remedies I should be trying? 

Last winter was long because of snow, and this winter is feeling long because of sickness. I'm in favor of skipping winter altogether!

*I don't mean to whine. I know people are sicker than I am, and some of you are dealing with sick kids this winter, which I'm sure is even more frustrating. I just got home from work not feeling good and had nothing else to write about.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A book post

A few months ago, I asked for some book recommendations on Facebook, and I got some great ones. My sister, aka "The Lending Library," also provided some good reads. I like writing these posts so I actually remember what I've read, but feel free to skip if you don't need a book.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
I'm not actually sure who recommended this to me, but clearly, they know me because it was the perfect book for me. The book is about an English-language newspaper based in Rome. Each chapter is about one of the employees and then some of the history of the newspaper. The newspaper is struggling, but the book is more the employees' private lives. Anyway, it was a great read for me: it's set in Europe, at a newspaper and has some good characters.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow
OK, I didn't actually read this one, I listened to it in the car. This is the book by the professor who was dying of cancer and gave his "last lecture," which was recorded and went viral on YouTube. The book is an extension of his lecture, not a repeat. He shares about his preparation for it and describes the experience, but he also adds more of his life story and more life lessons he wanted to leave to his kids. I think it was even better to listen to it than read it, but either way works. It's inspiring and challenging.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This is a new favorite for me. The story is told as the journal of the second daughter in a poor family living in a run-down castle in England in the 1930s. Her father wrote a book that did well but hasn't written since, which is a huge mystery. So the plan to bring them out of poverty is for the narrator's older sister to marry into wealth. The book ends up being a love story with lots of amusing antics in between.

I Still Dream of You by Fannie FlaggI shouldn't put this one on the list yet because I haven't finished it. But I have enjoyed it so far. It's set in Birmingham, where I lived for a summer, and I love being able to picture it all. It's been a while since I read Fannie Flagg, but I'm remembering why I've always loved her books.

I still have more books on my list, several I'm waiting on from the library, and my list seems to be getting longer. But I am open to more suggestions!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Out of steam

Struggling to come up with a blog post today. Here's my smattering of thoughts for the end of the week.

• My siblings and parents live in three different cities, all in different states and all south of me. They all got snowed in this week. My parents and sister are still dealing with the ramifications of eight inches of snow in my hometown. We got a minor dusting Tuesday evening. I may be eating my words if we get a major snowfall later this winter, but I was definitely thrilled it was them and not me. Of course, for them snow does actually mean a snow day, not a hike to the office.

• On my list of things to do in 2011 was cut back to the basic cable, i.e. the first 20 or so channels. Between Hulu and Netflix, I very rarely flip channels on TV, and it wasn't worth it to me to have 70-plus channels. My only concern is college football, but I thought I had waited long enough before I cut it off. But apparently, the national championship game was on ESPN, not a major network. Oh well, I think I was better off not watching it. Other than that what I really miss is the clock on the cable box in my living room.

• I had one of those, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" moments over the last two weeks. I upgraded my phone and suddenly I had to upgrade the software on my computer and start from scratch because it was recommended I erase my hard drive (I did have things backed up but it is not an easy switchover). Don't get me wrong, I love new gadgets and have been sold on Macs for years. But I'm not good with change, and it can take me a while to warm up to doing things differently. Just when I was ready to throw my computer out the window, I discovered the "faces" tool in iPhoto. Basically, it groups your photos by faces, but you have to click through and identify the faces in your pictures. I was extremely amused by the way it got people mixed up. It is pretty good, it got my dad's brothers mixed up but at least it knew they were related.

I wish I had something profound to say but I'm burned out this week. What is it about January that makes it feel like the week drags on longer than usual?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Back to reality

Last week was a harsh reality. Some combination of going back to work after several days off and not having the co-op left me starving and crabby by Friday. Dinner was pretty much a failure every night, and even the cereal lover in me was tired of that fall back option.

But here was the issue: I went to the grocery store when I got back in town but was disappointed by the produce and came out with little more than the basics. I realized I hadn't grabbed more than an onion or other random ingredient from the produce section in months. So actually trying to shop in the produce section was a let down after months of bi-weekly co-op pick-ups.

But I knew I needed to spend some time cooking to improve my mood. So I went to a small local grocery store that has really good produce that isn't that expensive. Of course, I had decided I wanted to make broccoli cheese soup and ended up back in the Kroger produce section for broccoli, but it's good to know I have some alternatives until my co-op starts again.

And cooking put me in a much better mood. I made soup, tried a new pizza crust and tomato sauce and made some blueberry muffins. I also put some of my Christmas presents to use. I now know the only way to make soup is with an immersion blender, and I'm not sure how I did it before without one.

I realize it is only Wednesday, but my week is significantly better when I have something for dinner when I get home. It was also good to know that I enjoy cooking for cooking and not just because it's food from the co-op that's going to go bad. Hopefully, I'll get some recipes posted soon.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sewing projects

I promised to show you the things I've made with my new sewing machine, and now that I have given out my gifts, I can show you.

The biggest thing was figuring out what to do with all these fabric books. I made two sets of reversible placemats for my mom and sister.

These were for my sister and were actually pre-sewing machine.

These were for my mom and were my first real project on the sewing machine.

For my sister and niece, I made a wipes holder and a diaper changing pad. See links for the directions. I also made these for a baby shower.

This weekend I completed a camera strap cover with some scraps, and I'm trying to finish another placemat project.

I've been pretty pleased with how things have turned out. I don't sew very straight, so inside-out seams are my friend, but I think I'm getting better. I've also learned you can find anything through Google and YouTube. I never would have figured out bias tape without this video (note: I did pin mine).

I'm already dreaming of making baby dresses and floor pillows. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

All the other things about the holidays

I'm still playing catch-up on Christmas, and I wanted to share some before and after Christmas things.

The week before Christmas, my younger sister flew up to visit. I pretty much dragged her to do everything I already had planned and then abandoned her while I worked. In my absence she baked and baked and baked some more. We had lots of goodies to take with us to my sister's for Christmas, and they were appreciated by everyone.

My one request was that she teach me how to make Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls. Yes, I know there is a step-by-step photo tutorial on PW's website, but I had tried and failed. Mine did not resemble cinnamon rolls in any way. Anyway, my sister had made the dough earlier in the day, and I got home and found this:

Our workstation

 They actually look like rolls!



If you've heard about these, I will tell you, they are everything you've heard and more. Really, these cinnamon rolls were amazing, and I think if my sister hadn't been here to witness it, I would have eaten the leftover icing with a spoon.

So on to after Christmas. For the first time since graduating from college, I had the week between Christmas and New Year's off (well, I worked one day). I got to enjoy some downtime at my parents' house. I went to the movies on a Tuesday afternoon, went shopping with my mom and had lunch with my dad. It was all the things I didn't get to do at Thanksgiving when I was at home but working.

I also got to spend an evening with high school friends for a baby shower. It was so fun catching up and almost felt like nothing changed, I had to keep reminding myself my friend is having a baby. 

Most of these girls were part of my Bible study in high school, our leader is on the far left, and the mom-to-be is left of me in purple.

While I was at home, I also had one of those small town moments. I basically grew up in a small town that is really just a suburb of a medium-size city. There is one grocery store on "our mountain" (the Wal-Mart is less than 15 minutes away but it is "off the mountain"), and it's hard to go in there and not see people you know even if I haven't lived there in 8 years. I made it all the way to check out without running into anyone. But as I was paying, my aunt and then one of my mom's closest friends walked in. It made me love my small town and miss it. But a few days later, I had gotten off the interstate in my current town and a friend called and told me she was driving in the lane next to me. And I realized I've managed to make this town I live in pretty small in the last year and a half, and I was glad to be back.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Christmas recap

I realize Christmas is over and the stores have already moved onto Valentine's Day, but I still feel like I need to document Christmas on the blog though I'm not really sure how to do that. I didn't do a very good job documenting it with pictures, and I'm not sure it is very exciting to describe the food we ate, the presents we opened and the games we played. So I just started writing, and this is what I came up with:

This Christmas was different than any other year. We weren't at my parents' house, we were at my sisters' house. It wasn't just my immediate family. It was my immediate family and my brother-in-law's family, some I'd met before, some I hadn't.

We weren't at the church I grew up in for the Christmas Eve service. Over the course of the weekend, we had all of our usual dishes, but they weren't all served on Christmas Eve. We opened presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning, my brother's dream come true.

Things were different this year, mostly because of this sweet baby girl, who has totally captured my heart.

And all of those things that were different didn't matter. I was still celebrating with my family, I still got to see the look on my siblings' faces when they opened their gifts, and I learned that any Christmas Eve service where I sing "Silent Night" by candlelight feels like home.

And I love that it was a baby that brought together two families to celebrate the birth of Christ.

I love that my family has traditions, and I have great memories of Christmases past. But I also love that we could be open to new traditions and new memories because I know this Christmas will be one we won't forget.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Looking back and forward

I got behind on blogging and just decided to enjoy my time with family instead of blogging last week, so this post about 2010 is late.

I have to say 2010 has been a really good year for me. Over the last year, I really settled into my current city and found some great friends. I challenged myself to cook more by subscribing to a co-op and discovered I enjoy cooking and blogging about it. I picked up some other hobbies along the way.

Not everything was perfect, and I have struggled with my own sin and certain circumstances. But God has met me where I am and showed me the freedom of the Gospel.

I had some cool experiences and stepped out of my box, even went camping twice. I've gotten to spend some great time with family and celebrated a new addition.

I'm a little sad this year is ending, but coming off a good year means hope that 2011 will be even better. I'm not really one for resolutions, but I have been thinking about some things I've wanted to do and feel a new year is a good time to start them.

Here's my quick list:
Memorize Scripture
Return to the gym
Monitor my spending and save more
Make better use of my time

Happy New Year to all of you and best wishes for 2011!