Saturday, November 26, 2016

Christmas Traditions: Edible Holly



Sometime in the early '90s, at a Christmas fundraiser for charity put on by our department in Nova Corporation, one of my colleagues introduced me to this amazingly delectable treat. It's been part of my annual tradition ever since. I'm not all that fond of baking, so this one is a no-bake, high reward choice to satisfy one's sweet tooth and give a bright, visual appeal.

I've taken these to parties and they disappear fast. Although at one party, some thought they were just decoration and didn't eat them until I explained they were edible. A personal favorite of mine! Similar candy coating as what is used in marshmallow Rice Krispie treats, but a more buttery flavor.

Edible Christmas Holly 

1/2 cup butter
31 marshmallows (regular size, not jumbo. I recommend Kraft Brand for consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons green food colouring
4 cups corn flakes
Red hots or cinnamon hearts (available at Bulk Barn or saved from Valentine's Day)

Instructions: 

  1. Melt butter and marshmallows slowly over low heat, stirring often.
  2. When fully melted, remove from heat.
  3. Stir in vanilla and green food colouring until well mixed and green color is evenly distributed. 
  4. Add cornflakes, turning and stirring until cornflakes are well coated and evenly colored by the marshmallow mixture. 
  5. Working quickly, drop by large spoonfuls onto wax or parchment paper. 
  6. Before the candy sets, add a "clump" of three red hots to each cluster (simulating holly berries) 
  7. Chill. 
Note: These are best if kept in the fridge and served cold as the clusters get too soft and sticky when left at room temperature.

Alternate Serving: After step 4, instead of making clusters, let mixture cool slightly, turn it out onto parchment paper and shape into a round wreath, using your hands (slightly buttered). Add clumps of three red hots around the circle. Add a decorative bow of ribbon or frosting. Chill, then slice to serve.



Saturday, November 19, 2016

Traditions: Best Christmas Chocolates (Not Made by Mom)



And now, on a lighter note:

Since Remembrance Day is over, my son’s birthday is past, my husband’s birthday present has been selected and wrapped for presentation tomorrow on the official day and the USA Thanksgiving does not factor into my Canadian lifestyle, I can now turn my thoughts toward a Christmas theme. I hope to write a few blogs in the coming weeks regarding holiday traditions, in an Advent countdown, of sorts. As time allows, I will post and discuss my own favorites – because, after all, this is my blog – but you, of course, are welcome to disagree agreeably regarding your personal preferences and traditions.

Christmas Tradition #1: The Best Christmas Chocolate (not made by mom)

Hands down, Quality Street.


 Introduced to me by my mother-in-law for my first Christmas in Canada (1981), Quality Street imported chocolates and caramels have been a staple on my coffee table ever since. As soon as that 725g tin is available on sale, I grab one. Or two. Or a few for gifts. Or a case (a back up supply in case of the Apocalypse).
A magical brand, Quality Street has held a special place in the hearts of the public, in Britain and around the world, since it was launched in 1936. The name, Quality Street, was inspired by a delightful play by J.M. Barrie (who also wrote Peter Pan). The two figures on the original tin were originally inspired by the two principal characters, Phoebe Throssel and Valentine Brown, but later became known affectionately as Miss Sweetly and Major Quality. The play was first performed in 1902 and later, the film version starring Katherine Hepburn became the perfect launch to the brand. Imported from England, Quality Street is now enjoyed in over 50 countries around the world.(text from this fan site and the “guide” inside my first tin of the 2016 season) 

There are other wonderful chocolates out there like Lindt, Ghirardelli and Olivier’s handmade (Calgary only, sorry folks), but my sole reason for preferring Quality Street is this: You know what you’re getting. I don’t necessarily enjoy every single chocolate in the stash, which are different shapes colorfully wrapped in various colors so that each one is quite distinguishable long before you bite into it. However, QS kindly provides a handy legend in the tin to advise what flavor each of the 12 colored shapes contains. To see pictures, click here.

From a cached version of the Nestlés website, the most popular flavor was allegedly the Purple One (hazelnut in caramel). This is my least favorite, which I eat only when there is nothing else left. Though this site and another site both disagree with that and with each other about the order in popularity of each flavor. And I disagree with them all. So I will post my own, most favorite to least favorite:

1. Toffee Finger (gold cylinder): The center is the epitome of toffee, a softer mix of the original Macintosh’s toffee and covered in milk chocolate. Slightly thicker than a golf pencil, easy to bite with tasty melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

2. Toffee Deluxe (brown rectangular cuboid): This is a softer toffee wrapped in delicious milk chocolate. I choose this only after the toffee fingers are gone, but alternate it with my #3 choice.

3. Toffee Penny (gold round): An original Mackintosh’s Toffee the size of an old fashioned English penny (hence the name). This sends me back to when I was young and my family toured/sang in Canada. We’d buy the rectangular Mackintosh's solid toffee bars in the plaid wrapper and “Whack a Mack” against the car dash to break the solid bar up into chewable pieces (or when we were forced to share with our siblings). Nestlé has recently reintroduced this bar in Canada. But the Toffee Penny is a perfect, bite-size mouthful of goodness and sticky-pull-out-your-fillings buttery-caramel goodness.

4. Hazelnut Triangle (bright green triangular prism): This is a hazelnut chocolate, and a close tie with my #5 preference. Depends on whether I want plain or flavored chocolate on any given day.

5. Milk Chocolate Block (dark green “brick”): This is a brick of tasty chocolate. I went on a Google rabbit trail to try to describe the actual shape, which is similar to a bar of gold. For you geometric nerds, the closest description I could find is a trapezoidal prism or a frustum of a rectangular pyramid.

6. Chocolate Fudge (pink rectangular cuboid): Fudge-y center covered in milk chocolate. Some older guides (and Wikipedia) call this a Vanilla Fudge. It’s the over-looked, average, middle child of QS chocolates, even mom can’t remember their name.

7. Orange Crunch (orange octahedron): Little pieces of crystallized orange in solid milk chocolate. Almost crunches like toffee crumbs. It’ll do in a pinch.

8. Coconut Éclair (blue rectangular cuboid): A poor man’s Mounds/Bounty bar. Coconut flavored filling inside chocolate. A little dry. Sticks in the teeth.

The rest of these I could take or leave in any order, depending on the day and my mood. Except for the last one. I always leave The Purple One to the very last. 

9. Caramel Cup (gold foil): hard chocolate outside, liquid caramel inside. Messy and unattractive. Sticky sweet. Think melted Rolo with soft shoulders.

10. Chocolate Strawberry (red wrapper, circular): These are the cream centers you hated biting into from the cheap box of mixed chocolates Uncle Rufus got at the dollar store. Even the dog didn’t eat this one. But QS did tint it pink to simulate an exciting tinge of strawberry.

11. Orange Creme (orange foil, circular):  Same as the Chocolate Strawberry but no attempt at disguising the white cream. Just say no.

12. Hazelnut in Caramel (purple, brazil-nut shape): The Purple One. This is a hazelnut in runny caramel wrapped in chocolate (originally it was a brazil nut, hence the shape). See #9 re: the runny caramel. The chocolate is too hard to easily bite and so the runny caramel always squirts out in unbecoming ways. The hazelnut is the consolation prize. As previously stated, this is a last resort when chocolate desperation sets in.

I’m quite certain, if you’ve ever enjoyed Quality Street chocolates, that you have your own list of priorities and very justifiable reasons for your classification system. You may even disagree with my geometric labels on the shapes of the candies. Feel free to agreeably disagree in the comments.

But most of all, enjoy everything in moderation. Including moderation.

You're welcome. And Merry Christmas.




Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Election Epiphany



My election epiphany came Sunday night, watching the live stream of the prayer rally in Madison Square Gardens, led by Chris Tomlin, Matt Maher, Max Lucado and Louie Giglio.

When Louie began praying for Obama, then Clinton, then Trump, that God would bless them and give them wisdom, that he would surround them and make them wise leaders…

I realized, to my own shame, that as often as I have said we need to pray for our leaders, because the Bible tells us to, I didn't and I resisted what I heard Louie saying. I viewed them as my enemies. All evil.

I viewed the press the same way.

My realization is this: I feared "man" more than God.

The reality is this: These are human beings, loved by God. Christ died for each one of them. I need to love them - in humility and respect for the image bearer of God they were created to be and to pray against the influence of the enemy in their lives. All of them. Politicians and press alike.

Further, what if I prayed for every person that triggers my fear and anger? What if I talk to God about it instead of throwing my hands in the air, rolling my eyes, posting my view online, vowing to move or reaching for the wine?

God can and will work in this and every "unthinkable" situation for his glory and for the good of those who love him.

My only hope of change in my world is if I live by what I say I believe. And pray for them. See them as "us" and not "them".

The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

"Lord, to whom would we go? Only you have the words of eternal life." John 6:68



Photo credit: "Woman Kneeling in Prayer" - watercolor on paper by George Henry Boughton, on exhibit at The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shalom



Peace.
Shalom: “the spirit that destroys chaos.”
What an amazing gift.

In the past week, I've lost shalom. It has become evident that I need to build more "margin" in my life again. Just as aging eyes require more light to read, an aging life requires more time to rest, reflect, repair. I've reached my capacity this week and on this day of rest, I count my blessings and number my days.

How do I engage? Let me count the ways:

  1. multiple writing assignments 
  2. working on a memoir
  3. taking a class (1 evening per week plus homework)
  4. assisting in choir (1 evening per week plus newsletters)
  5. and photo club (1 night per month plus Facebook group & field trips
  6. coaching women (one-half day+ per week plus meeing with individuals)
  7. attending hockey games (1-2 per week during home stands)
  8. caring for my home chores (as needed)
  9. arranging repairs on hail-damaged trailer (one time deal)
  10. meeting with my life group (1 evening per week)
  11. remembering to pray instead of worry about my son's recovery from concussion & whiplash 


So the fact that I forgot (and almost missed) a dinner engagement on Friday, nearly lost my temper with a Facebook commenter, then actually did lose my iPhone at the Saddledome last night just underscored the need to slow it down and make some extra space for reflection, relaxation and prayer; welcoming "shalom."

Anyone else identify?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Teach Us To Pray

In our Tuesday morning women's study at my church, we gather in small groups to watch a video teaching session and discuss five days of lessons provided in the study by Priscilla Shirer on The Armor of God. It focuses on each of the six pieces of spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6:10-17 and then adds a seventh piece: prayer (vs. 18-19), which holds all the armor together.

I'd highly recommend the study and would like to share an excerpt, one prayer strategy, based on the acronym P.R.A.Y.

P - Praise

Gratitude to God for who He is and what He's already done should thread throughout every prayer, because ultimately His name and His fame are the only reasons any of this matters.

R - Repentance

Expect prayer to expose where you're still resisting Him - not only resisting His commands, but resisting the manifold blessings and benefits He gives to those who follow. Line your (prayer) strategies with repentance: the courage to trust, and turn, and walk His way.

A - Asking

Make your requests known. Be personal and specific. Write down details of your own issues and difficulties as they relate to the broader issue (of standing against the enemy), as well as how you perhaps see the enemy's hand at work in them or where you suspect he might be aiming next.

Y - Yes

"All of God's promises," the Bible says, "have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding 'Yes!'" (2 Cor. 1:20, NLT). You may not understand everything that is happening in your life right now, but any possible explanation pales in comparison to what you do know because of your faith in God's goodness and assurances. So allow your prayer to be accentuated with His own words from Scripture, His promises to you that correspond to your need. There is nothing more powerful than praying God's own Word. Because even at the mention of His name, the enemy buckles in certain defeat.

- Shirer, Priscilla; The Armor of God, p. 192. Lifeway Press, Nashville.
As you craft your prayers, be authentic, personal and intentional. May it become a habit for your life to praise, repent, ask and receive His "Yes!"

Future Memory



Facebook often reminds us of memories, sometimes sweet, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes sad. It keeps us looking back.

But what if it could show us future memories?
No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor. 2:9)
When I hike, I like to occasionally stop and look at the view behind me, from where I've come. It's often a breathtaking perspective.

But I can't move forward that way.

God has told us he will walk with us and be our shepherd, guard and guide. He will never leave. He walks with us into the future because he's already been there. He has told us what is good. How do we lean into that?
And what does the LORD require of you? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
 Now let's go make some future memories that will take our breath away.



Photo: front range of Rocky Mountains, looking west from Calgary near Hwy. 8, personal collection.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Count the Cost



Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

I understand some people on the autism spectrum have a compulsion to count. While I haven’t been diagnosed on the spectrum, I wondered what it might be like to number how many different items I touched to prepare my daily breakfast (26). Then it expanded to include the multiple times I touched each item and finally the end list of counting each individual action right through to clean up (74):

1. Open the fridge
2. Pull out blueberries
3. raspberries
4. coconut milk
5. and gluten-free bread
6. close the fridge
7. Put two slices in the toaster
8. Open the cupboard
9. Get a bowl
10. and a plate
11. close the cupboard
12. open the drawer
13. get a spoon
14. and a knife
15. set the plate and knife by the toaster
16. set the bowl and spoon on the island
17. open the pantry
18. pull out granola
19. and raisins
20. close the pantry
21. to the bowl, add granola
22. add raisins
23. add blueberries
24. add raspberries
25. add coconut milk
26. open the fridge
27. return the coconut milk and berries
28. close fridge
29. open another cupboard
30. get a mug 
31. close the cupboard
32. put mug on the kuerig
33. open the brew compartment
34. remove the used coffee k-cup 
35. put it in the k-cup recycling box
36. insert a fresh k-cup
37. close the brew compartment
38. get a pitcher
39. fill it with water from the fridge dispenser
40. refill the kuerig water reservoir
41. choose cup size to brew
42. push the brew button
43. open the pantry
44. put away the granola and raisins
45. close the pantry
46. take the toasted bread out of the toaster
47. put it on the plate
48. take the lid off the butter
49. use the knife to butter the toast
50. put the lid back on the butter
51. open the honey
52. use the knife to add it to one slice of toast
53. close the honey
54. cut the toast slices diagonally
55. pick up the plate
56. the bowl
57. the coffee
58. set it all on the table 
59. sit down in the chair 
60. and eat
61. collect the bowl & spoon
62. the plate
63. the knife from by the toaster 
64. set on counter
65. open dishwasher
66. put dishes in dishwasher
67. close dishwasher
68. pick up the dishcloth
69. turn on the faucet
70. wet the dishcloth
71. wipe the counters
72. rinse the dishcloth
73. wring it out
74. drape it to dry on the sink

I realize these are the privileges of a first-world, middle-class, retired woman. I am generally healthy, can move easily and have the financial resources to enjoy fruit even when it is out of season. I’ve lived 58 years and never before “counted” this type of daily ritual. I likely never will again. 

These simple actions are difficult or impossible for someone crippled by pain or injury. The ability to list them may be beyond the reach of someone with short term memory loss or mental illness. A depressed individual might not even be able to get out of bed. A homeless person wouldn’t have means to store perishables or to clean and store the dishes. A person with a demanding job might not have time to sit and eat in peace and certainly wouldn’t be mulling the idea of counting how many motions it takes to prepare breakfast. 

The request that God would teach us to number our days is from Psalm 90 – which also includes this beautiful appeal – one that has comforted me during times of very significant heartbreak:

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

So what is the point?

I have just listed numerous things for which I can be grateful. I am teaching myself not to take the simple things for granted. I am numbering my motions so that I can number my moments and my hours and my days so that I can be wise in how many ways I expend my energy: serving myself, serving others. This is one way the work of my hands is established.

Some people knit or craft, I prefer to think philosophically and write. I am learning to never stop learning. To never take life, food, mobility, comfort, privilege (or even coffee) for granted. To be grateful. And to keep on doing what really counts.

Tomorrow, I go help clean the home of someone who can’t clean for themselves because they are planning a family member’s funeral. 

I won’t be counting anything but my blessings. I am wiser every time I do that.

What have you counted that has made you wiser?


Thursday, September 22, 2016

But I Don't Feel Loved


Oh, my friend, I struggled for many years, and sometimes still do, to believe and trust the love of God. It is an area of weakness which the enemy exploits, and continues to hurl accusations and doubts that God could love me. Or, even more insidious, the diabolical suggestion that I need to earn love by living a certain way or doing a checklist of things.

While we desire the tangible sense of God's love, these wonderful, transcendent feelings are as rare as they are lovely. They are an echo of what's to come. Think of Jesus and his three closest disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter loved the experience - the feeling - so much he wanted to live there. But there was still work to be done... so the experience did not continue at that time. 

It is similar in our own personal journey with Jesus.

I relish those intimate times and try to remember those feelings when my emotions change. I bathe my mind and intellect by soaking it with the truth of God's love in scripture and songs. I look for God in nature, in beauty, in poetry, in family and friends. I go on a treasure hunt to find things, even the tiniest graces, in my life for which I'm grateful, knowing every good gift is from above. I spend time reading God's love letter to me: the Bible. I hang out with people who love him. I read about his love from those who've experienced it.

I think of the gamut of God's love goes so infinitely far beyond the "good, good father" into what my own father explained. When the German language Bible he loved to study would say "God is love," it used the feminine gender, inferring that God's love is like the love of a mother for her child. So not only is the love of a good father and a tender mother encompassed in God's love, the love of God supersedes these genders and is, in fact, beyond our comprehension in depth, breadth, and height. 

Two books that have been significant in this area for me are the small book "The Furious Longing of God" by Brennan Manning and the more contemplative book "Surrender to Love" by David Benner. I also found listening prayer helpful. The books "Rivers From Eden" and "Can You Hear Me?" by Brad Jerzak have been helpful tools for me to learn and practice sitting, soaking in God's presence. These practices and books helped me learn that God doesn't just give us his love, he IS love. The very essence of it. He cannot be anything other than love, cannot do anything that is not in line with his nature of love.

When the feeling of being unloved is strong, don't believe it. Combat it. The truth is, God is love. And he loves you. So those false feelings are coming from somewhere else and it's tricking our emotions into believing something that is not true. 

I really underestimated the physical causes of my emotional depressions - to my detriment. Once I began working out and taking needed supplements to give my body the basic nutrition that had been lacking for so long, I began to "feel" better. I also worked with a personal trainer to discipline my body and a naturopath to heal my body, because the physical body is inextricably linked with the mind, emotions and will.

Since we are instructed by Jesus to "love the Lord your God with all your heart (emotion), soul (spiritual), mind (intellect), and strength (physical body)," we must pay attention to the physical as much as every other part of our being.

Do a personal inventory; a checklist of practical and physical things that can significantly affect our emotions: 
  • am I eating and sleeping well? 
  • is my body lacking any nutrients?
  • are there hormonal imbalances that can impact mood? 
  • do I get your body moving every day, outside in the fresh air? 
  • do I hydrate by drinking enough water (half your body weight in ounces daily)? 
Ask your doctor to test for allergies and food sensitivities; even to assess you for depression or anxiety. Add appropriate nutrition, vitamins and supplements, exercise and meditation to your routine. Find a pastor, counsellor or mentor you trust and ask their counsel in this. Reach out. No one is perfect but we can learn something from everyone and in-person is better than Internet.

This only scratches the surface. It's a daily journey. We practice. As Samuel Beckett said, we try. We fail. We try again. We fail better.


So, start simple. Ask Jesus to show you his love, then watch in anticipation for even the unexpected ways it shows up.

My prayer for you is from Ephesians chapter three:
Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. So please don’t lose heart ... I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your heart as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
Another beautiful passage is Romans 8:38-39: 
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Read and memorize these if you can or write them out and put where you can see them every day.


I hope this is of some help for when you are feeling unloved. There is no easy button. No secret formula. Keep trusting. Keep interacting in loving ways. Keep telling yourself the truth. Open yourself to the presence of Christ. Look for the places he plays, where he's holding his arms out to you, asking you to sit beside him and be still just to hear his heartbeat for a few moments.