Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Secret Sauce






It wasn’t until my sister and I got older and started cooking ourselves that we begun to ask our mom for the recipes.

Mom, how do you make stuffed peppers? 

Mom, what do you do to your sweet cabbage stew?

My mom was always all too happy to explain to us in the tiniest details the making of the peppers or cabbage or anything else in the world. She was delighted that we showed interest in her field of expertise, perhaps because it was so infrequent. She became our culinary Alexa or Siri, including never-tired ‘repeat’ button.

Now, here’s something interesting both my sister and I encountered.

Follow the recipe as closely as we could, our final result was NEVER as good as mom’s.

This was quite mystifying for a long time.

Did you saute the onions until they are translucent before putting in the meat? Yes. Did you put the lid on and turn down the temperature to low? Yes. And still it didn't come out right? Nope.

Not until just recent years, I don't know what but something happened and our mom started sharing her secrets with us.

A secret ingredient for cabbage.

A secret ingredient for peppers.

A secret sauce for…

All this time, she was telling the truth - she wasn't lying - but not the whole truth.

She held back, she kept an ace up her sleeve, so to speak…

When she started getting REAL with us, divulging some of her best kept secrets, it all came together. Now when I make peppers or sweet cabbage, they are as good as mom’s. 

During all these years of practice, I didn't realize I was missing an ingredient. I tried to make a stew or a soup, but, unbeknownst to me, something was left out. 

Following in my mom's footsteps, now, when I share a recipe, I make sure I hold something back... 

I keep an ace up my sleeve... 

... waiting for the right time and the right person... 

When I think of it, it truly is the best kept family secret!


The secret of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he will make them know his covenant. Psalm 25:14

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Making of An Awesome MESS-AGE





Some time ago I heard a guest preacher say, 

You can’t spell a message without a mess.

Amen to that, I thought. He was wise person indeed. He also talked about junk in the trunk, but that's another topic I won't touch here.  

We all want to bring a message to the world.

Important message.

Even life-saving message.

But, we don't like the messy part. We want to ‘sanitize’ the mess out of message. Make it feel-good, nice, soft and cuddly. Or at least palatable. Less damaging, especially to our reputation. 

We want our message, but not so... messy?

According to English dictionary – as well as real life... 

... if you don't have a mess... you don't have a message.

You think you have a message?

Great! Show me the mess...

But that's not the whole story!

What struck me on that perfect bean soup day, while the bubbling pot was slowly simmering on our kitchen stove for hours, was that sometimes, when you and I are in the middle of it, it’s really hard to distinguish what is that message inside our glorious mess. 

All I see is a grand mess, but I can’t detect, I can't decipher a message.

This is where my slow-simmering pot of soup comes into play.

See, to make good bean soup, it takes time. A LOT of time, in my humble opinion. Not just the time to peel and chop, shred and saute. That's just preparation. That's just the beginning! What follows is four to five hours of slow-simmering on the stove-top, or inside a crock pot. Now, to me that's approximate definition of eternity, especially considering that you are going through all this trouble for a single meal which will be consumed and then forgotten in one sitting!

This little fact makes me wonder how much longer must it take to make some good, hearty, soul-nourishing life-soup out of all our heartbreak and failure, disappointment and disillusionment, weakness, blindness and sin?

Your and my amazing, life-saving, messy messages don't need just mess alone. The mess needs some time to process, to digest, to AGE

That, my friends, is how the yummy messages are created.  Put your mess in a pot, fill it up, then slow-simmer for a much longer while than you think is humanly endurable... until all the different flavors of the mess inside come together into one pot of pure deliciousness. 

And, voila, you got your MESS-AGE!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recipe for Disaster




I realize I treat God in much the same way I do my mom.

Dad?

Yes, darling?

I need a recipe. A really good recipe….

Recipe for what darling…?

What do you mean ‘for what?”… for LIFE, of course! My life stinks and I could really use help…

Sure, I’ll help you…

Well, that’s not exactly what I meant.  I don’t need your help…. Actually, I do need your help, but I just want you to give me a recipe… A simple recipe that I can follow…  Maybe four or five easy steps that guarantee awesome results.

I don’t want you to follow a recipe. I want you to follow Me.

I hesitate a bit because I know this is can be a sticky point. But I feel like I have nothing to lose, so I go out on a limb.

Well, no offence but you are kind of hard to follow. It would be much easier if you would just give me the recipe…. 

...

Recipe please… 

...

Pretty please?... With cherry on top?

...


I don’t know how it is for others, but for me, God’s silence speaks louder than Klipsch surround sound system. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Creativity on Auto-Play





I used to ask my Mom for recipes.            

What I meant by ‘recipe’ was really a precise, fail-proof, perfect-every-time science experiment that I can repeat in my kitchen at will. A simple outline to follow, that can be done with my eyes closed, or in my sleep, if need be.

I wanted all the right ingredients, in their right order and precise measurements ready to dump into the pot, walk away from it, come back in 45 minutes and have dependable ‘perfect’ result each time.

I didn’t really want to learn to cook.  To understand what each ingredient brings to the common pot.

I wanted an easy, disengaged, mechanical culinary creativity. Creativity on auto-play.
  
No brainwork. No guesswork.

Luckily for me, my Mom had different idea. 

She wanted me there in the kitchen with her.  Cry the onion tears. Smell the bacon fat.

Her recipes were more along the following lines:

Peel one or two onions, a bunch of carrots…

Is it one or two?

Depends on the size…

She would continue in the similar manner, peeling and chopping, wiping her onion tears with the corner of her apron. Adding sliced carrots, bay leaves… adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that…

How MUCH is ‘a little bit’?  My right brain was turning into a bobbing pot of exasperation. 

Well, it’s according to taste… depends on what you like…

She was introducing wildly subjective, left-brain categories of 'taste' and 'like' which felt like rocket science to my half-brain of choice.

But, I would watch her taste and tweak, and tweak and taste… Pause and think, as if scanning the invisible spice racks inside her mind, looking for just the right ingredient, then light up as she reached into the pantry to retrieve the missing piece of the culinary puzzle.

Frustrating as it was at the time, I learned to appreciate her approach. Eventually, without even trying I begun to emulate it... to the exasperation of all the terrorized right-brain children who want fail-proof recipe that would ensure the delivery of 'perfect' results every time. 


Friday, October 13, 2017

The Exquisite Art of Self-Sabotage







Making bean soup is not rocket science, or brain surgery. Truly, it isn't.

All you need is a nice hunk of smoked meat, onions, carrots and, of course, beans!

But, just like everything else in life, once you put away your mama's cookbook, close the Allrecipes tab on your computer, the moment you whip out the largest pot in the house and turn on the stove, you discover there is a bit more to it than you thought at first.

Because, the soup  - real soup - is made in the doing, not in reading the recipe, or talking about the recipe, or even writing a blog post, or an entire series - about the recipe. 

I am ashamed to even mention this, because it is so incredibly embarrassing.  I can spend an entire day (I am lying… it’s more like weeks and MONTHS!) reading recipe after recipe, salivating over other people’s tantalizing photos, binge watching YouTube culinary instructional videos to the point of utter exhaustion -  and have absolutely nothing, nothing – to show for my efforts.

I call it ‘research’.

I am a researcher.

As a researcher, I can turn the simplest, easiest thing in the world into rocket surgery and brain science, including making bean soup!

But, even for us, researchers, there is place for research, and then there is place to flip the research switch off and do some real life testing inside a real life kitchens.

For some of us, the very thought of this sends shivers down our spine.

What if I fail? 

What if it isn’t any good? 

I think I am not THAT hungry…

Canned soup is good enough…. 

Cooking is for professionals who have their own TV show…

I have outstanding ability to generate an impressive arsenal of excuses to effectively sabotage my own creative efforts.  I don't need anybody else's help or temptation - I do a mighty fine job myself!

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Curse of Canned Convenience







Soups can be super-simple. You walk into the pantry, grab a can, peel the lid open, pour it into a microwavable bowl and heat it on HIGH for 2:30. 

Voila! Your soup is ready!

For some of us, that's the only kind of soup we know, and we love it. A life-saver for busy moms and dads.

It's convenient. 

It's easy.

It tastes fine.  (My mom would disagree. She would rather be caught dead then eat canned soup!)
  
Canned soups are wonderful inventions, I tell myself.

But, some questions remain unanswered.

First of all, do you even know the person who made the soup? What did he or she put in it? How long ago was it made? The expiration date on the bottom of the can years out makes me even more nervous. Imagine a bowl of soup that sits on the pantry shelf for two years???  Would I even consider consuming something like that??!?

Still, canned soups are wonderful inventions for busy, distracted, rushed, on-the-go thoughtless lives we live.  I consume those on semi-regular basis, just like I do the pithy inspirational quotes that pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. They are just enough to take the edge of my soul hunger to keep me from working up a healthy appetite for truly nourishing food. 

They keep me sated, mildly sedated, vaguely unsatisfied and generally unmotivated to sink my teeth into anything of real substance.



Like the mass produced, mass consumed shareable content, a can of soup may fill up my stomach but it leaves me hungry everywhere else. It may silence my growling innards, but leave my body anemic, soul impoverished, and my heart and spirit severely, acutely malnourished. 

It is amazing to me that such conditions can exist on every level of society, regardless of the religious or political orientation, in what is deemed the riches country in the world...

Nobody, I mean, nobody is exempt. 


You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. Matthew 5:6

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Perfect Bean Soup Day







We rarely get them in sunny Florida, but when we do, I try to take full advantage of them.  

The Bean Soup Days. 

Many times it’s just false, empty promises.  Foreboding clouds on the horizon spelling ‘rain in the forecast’ that burn off along with the morning mist by 10 AM. I’ve gotten wiser with age. I don’t trust those clouds anymore. Now, I check my Accuweather MinuteCast for our zip code to ensure that indeed I have a Bean Soup Day that lasts the ENTIRE day, not just through noon or early afternoon at best.  

Yesterday was a perfect Bean Soup Day. The Minutecast glowed in varied shades of green hour after hour, all the way into the dinner time. This is very important, because it’s no use having a bean soup day that turns into scorching steamy sunny day just as you are about to sit down and eat. I’ve done that a time or two, and it’s no fun. 

For an average control freak, it feels rather strange that I can't just decide, I can't simply choose a Tuesday or a Wednesday and make it a 'Bean Soup Day'. At least not where I live. I have to wait and watch, and watch and wait, plan and ensure that most of the ingredients are in stock and handy so when the weatherman says, It's a Go!, I am ready and I go!

If I mess up the timing, what is supposed to be warm and cozy comfort food becomes somewhat of a sweltering, suffocating torture. I've subjected my family to different forms of torture, this being one of them. Conversely, if I miss the window of opportunity, and I am not ready when the timing is right, it may be months before I get another chance. 

But, yesterday the weatherman was abundantly on my side, and I knew exactly what I had to do.


I am making bean soup today! I announced as I was pulling onions and carrots out of the bottom drawer of the refrigerator. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Grand Canyon or Bust






I leave Madame Tussauds-like ambiance of the Visitor Center deeply perturbed. 

Confused. 

In a state of disbelief.  

The slithery grip of the gospel of comfort and convenience follows after me and squeezes tight around my neck.

On the right, the parking lot where our car and escape from this hell is dancing in the fiery haze. 

The Parking Lot call is always the call of ease. Forget Grand Canyon. Forget adventure and glory and gut. 

The small wooden sign - Mather Point - on the left, points unambiguously in the direction of... uncertainty?!?

In this moment, for me, it's a no-brainer. There is one choice left, and one alone.

I must go and find out for myself. 

No shiny brochures. No Photoshop enhanced photos. No overdone marketing hearsay. No knowledge 'experts' regurgitating what they pecked out of books and manuals.  

Not even an IMAX movie inside a state-of-the-art air-conditioned theater will suffice now. 

I can't put it off anymore. 

True or false, live or die, I must meet the Grand Canyon face to face. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

When Hell Freezes Over






A blast of arctic air gushing through the door of the Visitor Center was welcome contrast to the incinerating heat of the parking lot.  We yielded to its icy embrace, feeling instantly energized along with a substantial throng of other visitors who milled around chatting with the uniformed attendants and checking out the exhibits.

All around were pictures of the Canyon. 

Interactive maps of the Canyon.  

Brochures about the Canyon.  

Classes  and courses about the Canyon. 

Certification training for the aspiring Canyon guides.

Everywhere you look. 

Canyon. 

Canyon. 

Canyon. 

You can spend an entire day inside this air-conditioned heaven, thinking you were at the Grand Canyon without ever seeing the real thing!

Several times we were politely encouraged to view a movie about Grand Canyon in the state of the art (of course, also air-conditioned!) theater. We noticed a long line already forming in front of the entrance.

At first, I thought I heard it wrong.  I thought it was a replay of the argument we just had with our two teenagers in the car on the way to the park.

But then we heard it again. And again.

The much-too polite, much-too smiling attendants strongly suggested that we step into the line. 

I didn’t hear it wrong. I heard it right. Still inside my head, I simply couldn’t reconcile…

Why in the world would anybody want to watch a movie about Grand Canyon when you can simply step outside and see the real thing???

I know it's not an excuse, but I can (somewhat) understand the ignorance and inertia of my children. It still drives me crazy, but I can understand.

But this...? 

This - I simply couldn’t fathom. I couldn't comprehend that the same temptation would come my way AGAIN, right here, when the destination is practically at our fingertips, and that from no other than the attendants of the Grand Canyon himself!

I grabbed my husband by the hand, sinking my fingernails deep into his skin and said,

We got to get out of here!, and darted towards the door.

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Deafening Silence







Shredded by the gut-churning uncertainty we trudged along resembling more the inmates on death row than enthusiastic nature-lovers about to have their socks blown off at the sight of overwhelming glory. 

Interestingly enough, the only person who could have alleviated our fears with a word, the only person who’d already had the privilege of  meeting GC face to face - not once, but twice! - chose to remain silent.

At the time I begrudged it. I desperately wanted him to speak up, to assure us, to inspire us and float us on the wings of that inspiration all the way to the Matter Point where I can finally see it for myself.

I wanted him to dispel all our fears with one word. Even one-syllable word would be enough for me.

But he remained as silent as those rocks. Not a single stinking word.

It was only in retrospect that I understood why he refrained.  

Why it was not just O.K. but actually better to stay quiet...


Why it was not necessary for him to speak up, trying to persuade us on Grand Canyon’s behalf. 

But, at the time I simply couldn't either comprehend or accept his deafening silence. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Underwhelmed?







Mom… MOM! DAD???

WHAT?!!??  The urgency in the voice would have made us jump clear across the Canyon to the North Rim if our feet were not stuck in the molten goop of melting Village parking lot A asphalt.

Do you … do you think it’s going to be… if Grand Canyon is going to be…. UNDERWHELMING?

The question reveals that the same fiery demons of doubt tormenting me, now torture my child as well.

Except, it’s ten thousand times worse to see it in your child.

We’ve already been through waaaaay too much.  The burden of the journey weighs heavily on our shoulders. We feel stretched and pushed beyond the limits of human endurance. Even though we are so close - true, we can't quite see it with our own eyes yet but we can feel it there, almost at our fingertips - the big question still remains.

Will it be worth it? Will we consider it worth all the trouble of getting here?

Now, I can say one thing for certain - we did NOT come all the way here to be underwhelmed. We haven’t  gone through so much, exposed ourselves to so much misery, so much stress, so much pain, only to find the canyon, in the word of our teenagers, MEH.

Soooo, how was Grand Canyon?

MEH.

After everything we’ve been through, a mere MEH, just wasn’t going to be good enough.

Breathtaking?

Yes!

Overwhelming?

Yes!

Even terrifying? 

YES!

But, ‘Meh’?

NO! Absolute, unequivocal, resounding NO! 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Out of the Frying Pan into the Convection Oven






Buoyed by such hopeful outlook, we arrived at the gate where we were greeted by a meticulously coiffed creature whose real face was perfectly masked by inordinate number of layers of professionally applied makeup. He/she/it was over-the-top nice, swooshing the supersized eyelashes up and down, creating a bit of a welcome breeze, then took our money with flair. In return we were lavished with not just a couple of hours but a full week of unlimited access to the aforementioned place that rhymes with 'well'.

We were almost at our final destination.

Our resident optimist pointed out that there is still plenty of parking spots in the Village parking lot A. This was immediately balanced by our resident pessimist’s assessment of intellectual properties of the people who choose to visit the park on the hottest day on record.

We swung open the doors, slamming instantly into the solid wall of Arizona’s other-worldly heat. 

Having lived in sub-tropical climate for the past twenty years, one can say that I am rather well adjusted to hot weather. In fact, I love it! But this heat was nothing like what I’ve experienced in Florida.  Our heat, if I dare to brag, is nice, steamy hot and 90% humid. The kind of heat that makes you drenched in sweat after two seconds of just standing there, ridding your body of toxins better than Miralax. The heat that makes you feel like you’ve done a two-hour intense aerobic workout without even lifting a finger.  The heat where you can cook spaghetti without ever opening the box!

I love Florida heat-and-humid combo. It’s like getting two for the price of one.

But, as I said, Arizona heat is nothing like Florida.

If Florida feels more like sauna, Arizona is more like a convection oven. The moment our feet touched the ground we were enveloped by bone-marrow drying temperatures matching the surface of the Sun. It was coming at us from above and below and all around. It felt like stepping inside a crisper sleeve of the hot pockets. I could feel the entire surface of my skin turning into beef jerky as we were walking through the heat wall across the parking lot.

All I could think of was that I did not want my family to be remembered for being baked to a crisp in our foolhardy pursuit of wonder-lust.

A tiny voice reached from afar and yanked me back from dangling over the brink of the abyss.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Perfect Day in Hell








This is just not worth it… A voice from the back seat had the audacity to articulate the swarm of fears inside each of us. ... Not worth at all. If we really wanted to experience Grand Canyon, we could have done it in an air-conditioned IMAX theater…

Yea! IMAX would be much better…

The alliance was formed and the mutiny was catching on.

The under-normal-circumstances totally outlandish idea of a U-turn just as Grand Canyon was not hours but literally minutes away ....

...the laughable temptation to go back to miserly creature comforts of the hotel pool and air-conditioning was becoming incredibly alluring as the prospect of hellish heat was becoming more real also.

Something had to be done before this gets seriously out of hand.

C’mmon guys… IMAX? Really…??? It’s GRAND CANYON for Heaven's sake…  My feeble protest revealed way too much of my own qualm over the situation.

We rode on in silence, each of us visualizing our own version of a perfect day in hell.

Well…, I finally interrupted the derailing train of my own thoughts, …. we don’t have to stay long. If it’s THAT miserable, we’ll just leave. There. No need to kill ourselves over Grand Canyonee. We can pop in for a couple of hours at the most and see how it goes…

I understand this was pretty lame for a Grand Canyon pep-talk but in the moment I couldn't scrounge anything better.

Plus, I’ve always found great solace in the knowledge that there is a time limit to hell on Earth. And perhaps even greater solace in the possibility of setting the timer myself and having an option to bow out of it when staying any further would only threaten to turn into uncalled-for martyrdom.   

Monday, August 14, 2017

It Seemed Like a Really Good Idea at the Time...






Back in March, when we mapped it all out on paper in our study, it made perfect sense.

Our summer trip was during our anniversary…. Grand Canyon was on my bucket list… our teenagers wanted to do it! All this and more was meticulously evaluated, then choreographed into a perfect family vacation inside our heads. We did our bookings, we double and triple-checked our lists. We were as prepared as it could be deemed humanly possible for a family of two middle-aged parents and a couple of teens in full bloom. 

We got this!, we thought, both logic and our hearts confirming our belief it was true.

We arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona at the end of June, during the peak of a record breaking heat wave.  Phoenix airport was under a threat of closure due to extreme temperatures, extreme even for Phoenix. All the locals were hunkering down, shaking their heads at us, the crazy tourons, in much the same fashion we treat the tourists who flock to Orlando theme parks in the middle of Florida summer.

Why would you go to Grand Canyon NOW???
 
Good question!

Back in March, the answer seemed rather self-evident.

Why wouldn’t we???

Today, however, I couldn’t recall even one of those obvious reasons, particularly not what made them so passionately compelling. My bucket list, our wedding anniversary, the grandeur of the Grand Canyon… they all seemed to be evaporating in the heat that was melting the asphalt and the rubber on our new tires as we bobbed towards our impending doom.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Stitch the Cat





Both Lizzy the owner and PJ the pet sitter warned us ahead of time about Stitch, the cat.

Cat is super shy and will hide.

I keep track if he is alive by food and poop levels ….

Don’t expect him to be friendly.  

IMPORTANT: Cat will try to escape if a door or window is left open. Please don’t let the cat out!

I don’t mind cats. I really don’t. But, I am definitely not a cat person.  The cat keeping to himself seemed like a mighty fine arrangement to me.

I can do food.

I can do water.

If I have to, I can even do the litter box, but I would rather let my husband deal with that.

Hairballs on the other hand… That’s where I draw the line.

With so much advance knowledge about Stitch, I was getting rather comfortable with the idea of taking care of the invisible cat. But before I could get too cozy, our resident Cat Whisperer heard the rumor.

Cat??? There is a cat in the house??!!?

With those words my dream of a ghost pet keeping dissipated like morning mist while the house echoed with forlorn meow-meowing, a call from one Kitty to another.

C’mmon people… Cats…. Whatevers! It’s really late. We need to get up early. Let’s go to bed. It’s pointless, I was determined to wrap up this ridiculous search party. 

Just then, out of the basement emerged the Kitty Queen with presumably Stitch the Cat draped over her shoulder.

Mom, I found him, I found him! I found Stitch!, she beamed.

I can see that. The cat eyed me suspiciously. It’s time for your shower.

But what about Stitch?

You can take him with you – cats love baths, don’t they?

Long days and late nights do that kind of thing to me.

From that moment on, the Cat Whisperer and Stitch the Cat became inseparable. They played fetch. They ate together.  They carried on their long conversations in Meow-meownese. They watched Ketflix together. The Cat followed the Whisperer everywhere she went - even into the bathroom!! And if the door was closed, he would keep meowing until the door was opened for him. At bedtime Stitch would go down into the basement bedroom and spend the night sprawled across the Whisperer’s face.  There were more belly rubs administered than I dare to admit. Theirs was the endless unembarrassed, unashamed exchange of loving, giving and receiving.

I scratched my head wondering whether somebody might have kidnapped the real Stitch described  in the warning messages and replaced him with this affectionate, snuggly impostor.

Or was it the Whisperer who, by all the knowing, caring and loving brought out Stitch's transformed nature?
It might be far-fetched but it also made me think if this could be a visual of what Jesus had meant when he said,


My sheep hear my voice and I know them… and my own know me … A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers… I am the Good Shepherd…I know my own and my own know me…