Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Complete Idiot's Guide...

Even though nobody in our family can be described as picky, it’s still hard to find a food everyone truly enjoys. We all eat pizza, but I am not nearly as big on it as my kids are, and we all eat Thai, but my kids are not nearly as big on it as my husband and I are. We all like Mexican, but each of us has a distinct preference as to both what we want in our burrito and how it’s rolled up.

But, there is one thing we all absolutely love – and that’s sourdough bread. In our house, heaven smells like toasted sourdough with butter on it. Our love affair with sourdough might have stemmed from my husband’s Northern California roots or from my Croatian aunt’s home-made panja, and we just passed on this shared sourdough gene to our children. Call it nature or nurture, the fact remains that we can easily polish off an entire loaf in one sitting. Now, the grocery store price for a loaf of good sourdough runs approximately four times as much as regular white or even whole-wheat bread. This puts us in somewhat of a quandary and, no pun intended, feeds our passion for more.

So, several weeks ago when I stopped by our local library, it wasn’t a total surprise when with a corner of my eye I spotted Complete Idiot’s Guide to Artisian Breads, I heard it call my name.

Hey, you! You, YOU - I am talking to you - don’t act as if you can’t hear me!

I looked around to make sure nobody is disturbed and discreetly moved few steps away, towards the shelf with foreign movie DVDs.

Stop right there! Pick me! Pick ME!

Shhhh! Stop yelling!
I growled. This is a public library!

Few people looked in my direction. I waited until everyone was back to whatever they were doing before I continued, this time making sure nobody is overhearing the conversation.

You are talking to the wrong person, buddy.
I snarled under my breath. I am NOT a baker. I am a BURNER! I am the Killer of all yeast. I am the Destroyer of everything that crosses our oven’s door. It’s hopeless. I am sorry. Go home with somebody else.

No, no, no. You got it all wrong. You are EXACTLY my kind of a person. See, Complete IDIOT’S Guide…

I don’t appreciate being called an idiot in a public place,
I whispered through my teeth.

Oh, stop being so sensitive and just take me with you… I’ll…

I grabbed a bunch of DVDs in front of me and dropped them into the basket. Then I stepped back to the shelf with the rowdy impostor, picked him up like a used Kleenex and dropped him under the pile.

Alright. Just stop barking. If you insist, I’ll bring you with me.

I used self-checkout as fast as I could and virtually ran out of the library, leaving both librarians and customers equally baffled behind. We drove home in silence. I unloaded the library cargo into our reading basket where the Guide sat squeezed between Pirates Past Noon and The Gollywhopper Games untouched for several days. One late afternoon I heard a murmur…

I-am-waiting… I-am-waiting…. I am waaaaiiiitiiiing….. I-am-WAITING!

I sat down and pulled the Guide up.

Well, thank you! He said politely. I almost got suffocated there, at the bottom of the basket.

I wasn’t going to apologize.

What do you want from me? I asked.

What do I want?!! What do you think? I didn’t come all the way from the library to sit at the bottom of your book basket and smell stinky Pirate’s feet! Let’s get the kitchen dirty! Let’s bake some bread!

We already went through this.
I was tired. I am not a baker. End of story.

But all of you LOVE to eat, especially sourdough. C’mon, it’s really not that hard. Just try it.

As I opened the book and flipped through the pages in front of me a faint aroma of baked bread begun to tickle my nostrils. Sourdough dinner rolls, ciabattas, crusty sourdough boules, garlic-rosemary focaccias….

Fine! I’ll give it a try. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I know it’s not going to work, but I am willing to try. Where do I start?

Starter! You start with a starter.
The Guide said with a huge grin. Clever, isn’t it?

I could tell that he was in his element.

Ha, ha. Very funny. I said grimly and turned to the Sourdough Starter page. The instructions seemed simple enough – three ingredients in all.

I think I can handle that, I said as I headed towards the pantry.

And so we begun. I fed my little ‘pet’ every day, like a brand-new parent, all worried whether I am doing it right, whether it’s too cold, or too warm, if I should feed it more often or less. We gathered around it and peeked under the lid, whispering to each other as if it’s a sleeping baby tucked under a cozy blanket.

The romance went on for about three or four days and then things turned south. At first, I noticed a slight discoloration. Then the smell. Which got worse. And worse.

This isn’t working.
I told my husband. I think I should just pitch it.

Don’t pitch it! Use it.
Responded my always cautious, methodical, polar-opposite mate.

Use it?!!! Are you crazy? Use it for what – rat poison? It’s bound to ruin the dough!

It’s SOUR dough, remember. It’s SUPPOSED to be sour.

I understand ‘sour’… but, this… this is… UGH!

It’s just flour and yeast and water – no big loss … it’s worth giving it a try. Whatever you make, babe, I will eat.

I looked at my taste-testing superhero suspiciously, for ordinarily I am the one in our family encouraging craziness. I savored the spot like ill-fitting shoes.

This is what it feels like to be the other person in my off-the-wall adventures.
I pondered.

I got a mixing bowl out of the cupboard and looked up the Sourdough bread recipe. I mixed the flour, yeast, salt, butter and water, hesitating for a moment before I poured the gray, smelly goop in.

This is insanity! I am ruining a perfect batch...
before I could finish the sentence I heard the familiar voice taking my train of thoughts into an altogether different direction.

...of plain, boring, white bread, high on air and low on substance by giving it depth and texture and character and personality you all love so much. Hon, the making of sourdough is just like the making of life. You stick with common ingredients, you get common results. But, if you take risks, embrace the bitter and the sour, mix it all well in, you might very well get an exceptional result. You make the choice.

Are you now presuming to be The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Life and Disappointments

Oh, no. Not at all! A much more comprehensive edition of that volume has already been published long time ago. In fact, I’ve seen several copies on a bookshelf in your study – quite dusty, if I may add. And I am not referring to your housekeeping habits. Perhaps you can check it out some time… the same way you did with me…

With that, the Guide fell silent. I waited awhile, hoping with all my heart that he would say something more, challenge some other deeply rooted prejudice of mine with his grace and truth. But, he didn’t. It was as if with this his role in my life was fulfilled and adding anything else would betray his greater purpose.

I finally turned away and slowly walked towards the bookshelf.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Bench

Call me hopelessly romantic (or crazy!), but last night, after I’ve already gone to bed, I remembered that earlier in the evening I saw my neighbors’ old wooden bench on the curb next to their house, ready for the garbage truck. I couldn’t check it out when I saw it, so I just made a mental note to come by later in the evening and see if I should engage in a rescue mission or not. Of course, I forgot all about it until, well, until I remembered. So, I got out of bed, put my clothes back on, dragged my husband along, and under the cloak of late night, we picked up the bench from the curbside and brought it to our porch.

Do you want their kitchen sink, too?
He pointed at the pile of construction garbage, eying me suspiciously.

Nooo, just the bench! I chuckled, trying to appreciate his warped sense of humor.

It was too late and too dark to examine its condition right then and there. Our neighbors might have had a very good reason for getting rid of it. In daylight, the bench turned out to be quite beautiful. I discovered that the wobble we noticed while we carried it last night was actually by design, for it was a rocking bench! It had a nice shape, with a gentle curve on the back, and upon closer inspection, it revealed sturdy materials and solid craftsmanship.

You are gorgeous, I said, in accordance with my habit of talking to inanimate objects, Or, at least, you had been. Before the mean Florida elements took their toll and left you with cracked and peeling varnish, filthy and moldy. What am I going to do with you?

The first thing was quite obvious. The bench was covered with dirt so I grabbed a garden hose and wash it all the off. I tipped it back and forth and from side to side, until it was all clean and the pieces of loose varnish removed.

This is going to take a lot more than good cleaning,
I mused. It will require some serious elbow-grease, the scraping of the old finish, the scrubbing of the moldy areas, perhaps even some spot-bleaching… and then it would need a primer and at least three coats of paint...

That seems like an awful lot of work, I continued with the monologue. Are you worth it?

Part of me wanted to cut corners, grab a can of spray paint and finish the job, right then and there. I knew it wouldn’t be right. I knew it wouldn’t be lasting. But, hey, it would be easy! And then, in a month or two, the paint would peel away and reveal old cracked varnish, and grime and mold… and I would have to do it again… and again,… and again…

What a waste, tempting as it may be… I don’t have time or energy for that…
I objected.

But, part of me couldn’t bear to see the beautiful bench rot at the top of the city dung heap, when with some time and effort I might be able to return it to its former glory, prolong its life and ensure many years of delightful, useful service of refreshment and rest to our family, our children, perhaps even our children’s children and to all the weary travelers that our gracious God may send our way. It was up to me to make the decision...

What shall I do with you, old bench…? What should I do with you...?

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Constant

If what you are saying is true, it’s worth giving your whole life to it, I confidently vocalized my conviction. What I didn’t voice was the ignorance and arrogance of this ‘mature’ 20 year old atheist who KNEW it could not possibly be true. This, of course, implied that my life was off the hook, all my own to chart and direct according to my own designs and ambitions.

For the first time in my life I was confronted with the outrageous claims of Jesus Christ, and, to be honest, I didn’t particularly care for them. I already had a plan for my life. I liked my plan. And I didn’t appreciate anybody coming in and messing it up.

But, what if it is true…?

The lingering question settled like a cloud over this self-proclaimed “Truth-Seeker.”

In the subsequent days and weeks He tenderly and mercilessly peeled away layer upon layer of defenses and stubborn resistance until I was ready to say an unequivocal yes to Jesus. Not too long after that my own words came back to haunt me.

I said that if it were true, it was worth giving my whole life to it… now, I know it’s true, but there is no way I can do it. I hate to admit it, but I love my life too much. I know none of it is worth a squat compared to You, but still… I can’t to it alone. I need Your help. Will You help me…?

All I am asking you to do is to listen to Me and follow Me today, just one step at a time.

Just one step? I think I can do that. I can do one step with Your help.

And so the story begins. One faltering step after another. Turning into an amazing roadway of faith and uncertainty, fear and trust, as moments became days and days became years and years became decades. Since then, empires have collapsed, wars erupted, countries have changed names and borders. I have been in possession of four different national passports, my identity stripped away from me with each changing government.

I also became Mrs. Doug and a few years later, Mrs. Caleb’s Mom and Ms. Victoria’s Mom. I had jobs I loved and jobs I hated. Babies have been born to us, and babies have died. I felt lonely beyond words and enjoyed the best of both worlds. Over the years, I’ve been acknowledged more than I deserve, and also deemed obsolete and non-mission critical. Cancers have visited our shores and dumped their baggage with us. I became a gardener and an interpreter. And a scribbler.

In one of the episodes of the TV series LOST the protagonists experience rapidly changing shifts from one time period to another. One moment they are here and now, the next they can find themselves 20 years in the past or 20 years in the future. The continuous change is causing severe stress on their minds, emotions and bodies. For some the changes impact them so profoundly that their very lives are threatened. In the course of the story we learn that individuals who have a strong emotional bond with at least one other person seem to be able to resist the detrimental effects of change. They have a constant. The constant gives them stability, a point of reference, motivation and most importantly, hope when the world around them seems to be falling apart. When I think of the continually changing landscape of my own life, I can clearly see one Constant, Jesus Christ. What an oasis of living hope and stability He is to all who listen and follow Him, just one step at a time.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever
. Hebrews 13:8