Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hilarious Trentonisms in Exchange for Wiping Butts

We all have to do things we don't want to do. My 4-year-old has to do his chores before he can play. He says when he is a daddy, he will be the boss and he won't have to do things he doesn't want to do. (That ought to work out well for him.) He reminds me of this daily. And then he tells me that one of the things I have to do that I don't want to is wipe his butt... just in case I'd forgotten. 

He's completely right, however. If I could choose to keep my boys without wiping four hineys, I would do it. Alas, I have to choose.

I choose tush blotting. 

In exchange for those things I don't want to do, I get to live in a home and spend my days with boys who say the funniest things EVER. As I am typing this, said 4-year-old is chattering away in my ear about music he can make with the silverware and asking me why I keep typing and erasing, typing and erasing. And now he's telling me about how he loves his CTR ring so much that I should really get my own CTR ring so I can remember not to yell. Or step on books. Or eat so much chocolate. 

Here are a few things he said yesterday while we were in the van on our way to pick up a Zaycon order of bacon and sausage: 

"Mom, you're like the dog I never had."
It should be noted, he regularly refers to me as a dog. However, after being thoroughly offended the first time, when he told me he wanted to find a wife that felt like a dog, that felt like ME, I realized that this was a good thing. He LOVES his dog, Lola. She is warm and fuzzy and makes him feel good.

"You always break the rules sometimes!" He said this because I got frustrated with him while we were baking cookies and sprayed him with the sink attachment. Yes I'm the adult.

"We should go to Joan's house after she works and sleep in her bed and see where she lives and take a nap with her." Wouldn't be as creepy if Joan wasn't the owner of a local Chinese food dive. Yikes.

"Once I have my own wife and kids, I won't be sad when you and daddy die at all!! I'll be so happy!!" So rude. Hahaha.

He also says some amazingly profound things that have touched my heart like:

"Mom, just because you make mistakes doesn't make you a bad mom."

"I just love my brothers so much that it makes me cry a little!!"

"I have a warm feeling inside.
That must be the Holy Ghost." This was during a listening of the song 'Glorious' by David Archuleta. Listen to it here. Right now. This version too. You won't regret it. 

So I guess I'll keep him. He teaches me more than I ever expected. Being a mother is one of the most invigorating, infuriating, habit-changing, amazing things I will ever do. And I wouldn't change it for the world. Even with the butt wiping. 

SIDE NOTE: My sister has been on my case about blogging more so we can preserve some of the ridiculous things we usually discuss via group text with our mom. I told her I would work on that, and so I am here. But in the process of writing this blog, I managed to do the following: 

4-year-old was still hungry. Toast went under the broiler. I promptly forgot about it. Chaos ensued. Kitchen filled with mists of darkness. Smoke detector went off. Cancel button wouldn't work. 4-year-old said I ruined Christmas. Baby woke up. Twins ran a muck. 4-year-old forgave me. I took a picture. And then we all giggled as I sent the picture to my mom and sister via group text. We've come full cir

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fear is a pig. KILL THE PIG!

Jon has this great quilt that his grandmother made for him when he was little.  It. Is. Awesome.  Old, soft, big, and perfect for snuggling with in front of the TV.  I decided I wanted to make one for Mac.  So I did.

Here's the thing; I've never made a quilt before.  But this post isn't about how to make a quilt.  There are far better resources out there to teach you how to make a cheater quilt than I.

I would like to address something else though, and that is fear. 

Warning: the following may get a little heavy, but you'll survive.

I like to learn. I like to learn new stuff, about stuff, how to do stuff...I just love the process of learning and doing and experiencing.  We live in a time of unprecedented access to knowledge and that makes the whole jack-of-all-trades thing lots easier than it has ever been in the history of the world.  But fear can keep us from these opportunities...fear of the unknown and fear of failure.  It is so much easier to never begin than it is to face the possibility that you might do it wrong, it might not work out, people will know you failed.  I see this in my students.  I remember fighting it myself as a teenager.  I still fight it myself.  But it is this fear that robs us of joy and accomplishment and experience and growth...some of the main reasons we are on this earth. 

Sometimes people ask me where I learned how to do some of the things I've done.  The answer is, I just did it.  I wanted to have chickens, so I got chickens.  I wanted to make cheese, so I ruined a batch before I tried again and succeeded.  I wanted to make a quilt, so I did.  I asked people how it was done.  I invited a friend over to help (thanks Auralee!).  I read about it.  I just jumped in and did it.  It isn't perfect.  In places, it isn't pretty.  But it is mine and I improve with every stitch.  And if I had really botched it, I would have been out what I paid for the material, but I always get to keep what I learned from the experience.

I'm not advocating jumping in with your eyes closed.  Do some research, ask around, and get help.  But then get moving and DO the best you can with what you have.

So, here's to failure and the death of fear!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It was Legal in Missouri until the 1970's to Kill Me: A Gun Rights Story

I teach high school US history.  I don't consider myself a historian, per se, but I do love the stories of the past.  I recently took a world history class from BYU and, odd as it may sound, find solace in the consistency and predictability that exists in the cycles of human history.  I also find myself sometimes lying awake at night with a stomach ache for the same reason. 

With the recent Mayan apocalypse, there was much discussion about the end of the world.  Obviously, I'm glad it didn't happen.  But history has shown us that the end of the world "as we know it" happens relatively frequently.  History also has shown us that our liberties and freedoms are tenuous at best (illusions at worst), and while the recent murders in Connecticut, Oregon, Colorado, and Texas are heinous, they are small fry compared to the genocides that have occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Germany, Cambodia, China, Russia (not to mention Scotland, ancient Egypt, and countless other ancient civilizations) and in other countries where the citizens were denied the right to defend themselves from their governments.  Historically, the worst mass murderers have always been governments.

So, as you can imagine, the recent push to limit US citizens' ability to arm themselves gives me reason to pause.  I have more personal reasons to be concerned, though.  I'm a Mormon.  An Extermination Order existed in Missouri until the 1970s that made it legal to kill a Mormon on sight. My and my husband's concerns are articulated below in an article he wrote.

"As a memberof the LDS church, I have a relatively recent history that demonstrates the importance of being able to defend ourselves with guns. In this case, our family ancestors were driven from their property under an extermination order signed by a governor. I feel it important to be able to defend myself and my family from such aggression.

On October27, 1838 Governor Boggs of Missouri received false reports by people who were fighting against the Mormons. As a result of the false reports he thought the Mormons were planning on attacking the city of Richmond. Governor Boggs ordered the state militia treat the Mormons "as enemies and [they] must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good." This resulted in many attacks on homesteads, and on Mormon settlements. A Colonel Hinkle, who was a member of the church, agreed with the state militia forces who had come to attack Far West, Missouri, to: 1) give up the church leaders, 2) give up the property of members of the church who had taken up arms (to defend themselves) to pay for those who were attacking them,  3) the saints would leave the state under protection of the state militia, and 4) give up their arms (HC3, 188). "The Governor's troops then marched into town, and under pretense of searching for arms, tore up floors, upset haystacks, plundered the most valuable effects they could lay their hands on, wantonly wasted and destroyed a great amount of property, compelled the brethren at the point of the bayonet to sign deeds of trusts to pay expenses of the mob (militia), while the place was desecrated by the chastity of women being violated." (HC 3, 192). My wife, Leah's great great great grandfather, John Pack, was among those forced to sign a document "paying" the militia for driving him from the state.  

The Constitution guarantees "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." The founders of our country, like me, understood the right to bear arms was not to protect our right to sport hunting - It is a right to protect ourselves from tyranny."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

By Bread Alone

Lunch my senior year of high school consisted of daily trips to the Wrathall's house. Sometimes we would put people in the trunk to fit more in the car.  I'm not advocating that, it's really really stupid in hindsight, but I'm just telling you that Amy-Jo's house was a very popular place to be.  Partly it was because it was a comfortable house for teenagers.  Partly, it was one of the more convenient houses of all in our "group", but to be perfectly honest, mostly it was Fay Wrathall's homemade bread.

She would bake five or six loaves regularly and we would devour at least two every day for lunch.  She provided lunch meats, veggies, cheeses, jams, peanut butter, and any other fixin you could hope for, in addition to the fresh baked bread.  This bread was seriously the thing that dreams were made of.  Soft, sweet, healthy...teenagers don't think of it in those terms, but you just felt so GOOD after eating it.  And for all of the thanks of a bunch of teenagers, who never contributed a dime to my knowledge...she deserves sainthood.

Sometime in the years after, I got the recipe from her but was too intimidated to try to make it.  I have tried other whole wheat bread recipes but usually end up with something more intended for masonry than consumption.  As I've gotten older, I've become more and more concerned with all the crap that is put into our food; I've become a bit of an obsessive label reader.  It started when I came home from a mission in Germany, where preservatives and chemicals are not regularly used in their food, and could literally taste those things in ours.  I've tried to make more and more of what my family eats from scratch, as a result.  I've also tried to become more self reliant in the past few years, and somewhere along the way acquired five 35 gallon garbage cans of wheat (thanks Petersons!), but had no idea what to do with them, so I just toted them from house to house.  Recently, I set out to learn.

We've started incorporating fresh ground wheat into our pizza dough, rolls, and other breadstuffs and I've learned some tips and tricks and so set out to conquer whole wheat bread.  It wasn't until a friend on Facebook reminded me that I had Faye's recipe that I decided to try it.

Oh man.  Time warp to '94.  Ok, so it isn't quite as good as hers was (I'm still learning), but it is the best whole wheat bread I have ever made. AND it takes about two hours from start to finish.  No lie.

So here we go:

2 3/4 cups warm water in the mixing bowl
1/3 cups oil (I use olive, but have used coconut and it was great)
1/3-1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 Tbs yeast
2 cups bread flour
1/4 cup gluten flour
Mix thoroughly and let sit about 10 minutes
Then add
1 Tbs salt
4-5 cups whole wheat flour

A word about the flour:  I grind my own wheat.  I used to sift it, but found it unnecessary.  The wheat flour and bread flour are best kept in the fridge if you aren't going to use them regularly.  They have a tendency to go rancid faster than normal flour.  I'm making bread regularly enough and only grind enough for two weeks, so I don't have to worry about that anymore.

The dough should be pretty sticky.  I knead it in my Kitchen Aid for five or so minutes after adding the third cup of wheat flour before I add any more.  Wheat flour takes longer to absorb the moisture and so can trick you.  You think you haven't added enough flour so you add more, but if you'd waited a minute it would have dried up.  Now you've added too much, and voila: brick!  Ok, so give it a minute.  If after five minutes it is still too sticky, add a few tablespoons more.  Minute or two, then a few more.  Be patient.  Err toward too sticky to handle.  But just barely.  It should just come off the edges of the mixing bowl.  The amount will change from day to day, as well, so don't think just because it was six cups one day it'll be the same the next.  It's affected by humidity, temperature, moisture in the wheat, etc.

Knead it for about 12-15 minutes.  Cover and set aside.  The recipe I have says to let it rise for 15 minutes.  We keep our house cold enough in the winter to kill houseplants though.  Milk won't curdle, and bread won't rise.  So I set my oven to 400 for one minute exactly, and then turn it off.  Then I let it rise in there.  Or I leave it on the counter for 30 minutes, if I have the time.  A slower rise makes for sweeter dough (thanks for the tip Maren!).

Punch it down and divide it in two or three or whatever floats your boat. I found that it has the best consistency if I use my biggest loaf pans, which are 9x5 glass.  Form loaves and put in greased loaf pans.  Put back into the oven and let rise about 30 minutes (or longer on the counter, if you have the time).  The loaves should be a couple of inches over the top of the pans.  Pull them out and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put the loaves back in and bake for about half an hour (depending on the size of your pans and your oven). The internal temperature of the bread should register about 190 degrees.

I brush the top with butter, but it isn't necessary, unless you're like me and subscribe to the philosophy of Julia Child, which is that butter is always necessary.  Empty immediately onto cooling racks.  Let it mostly cool before you slice it!  Too early, and you ruin the crumb.

If I did my math right (remember, I'm an English and a history teacher) it costs about a dollar a loaf to make.  It tastes soooo good.  And it is good for you!  Enjoy. :D

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Comfort

I teach a current events class at the high school where I work and, as a result, I'm forced to keep a very close eye on the atrocities that daily face this world. Some are the result of natural disasters, some the natural consequences of individual's exercise of their agency, which harms themselves as well as others. 

So often, I hear, "how could a loving God allow this to happen?" Innocent people all over the world suffer every day and, assuming this isn't a random biological experiment perpetuated by a sadistic universe, there is only one explanation that makes sense to me, and that is life within the context of the Plan of Salvation. We have a purpose here on earth. Justice exists. So does mercy. And all sorrows will be swallowed up in the atonement of Jesus Christ. 

The talk following is one of my favorite on the subject. It is especially appropriate as we mourn with those families in Connecticut, Portland, Israel and Gaza, Syria, and all over the world who are experiencing heartache, loss, and disappointment. 

God bless us all as we keep in mind the reason that we celebrate this time of year.

Christmas Comfort
Jeffrey R Holland
Ricks Devotional December 1, 1998

    ...My text is from the second chapter of Luke, and you’ll all recognize that as the text for the Christmas story. It is the text from which most of our Christmas messages are given. But the passage I am going to use from Luke 2 is not a verse we very often hear at this season of the year, nevertheless, I believe it is at the heart of the Christmas message. I speak of the beautiful moment, approximately 40 days after Mary’s delivery of the child, when she and Joseph took the baby named Jesus to the templewhere the infant was to be presented unto the Lord. It was desirable for all children to be so presented in the temple, but in the Israelite tradition, it was of particular importance to present the first born son; a rite stemming from the miraculous days of salvation in Egypt, when the first born of the Israelite families were spared destruction. In memorial, all first born sons, in all of Israel, were thereafter dedicated to the service of the Lord, including Levitical service in the temple itself. It was not practical for every first born son to be presented there, let alone to render service there. Nevertheless, the eldest son in a family was still claimed as the lord’s own in a special way and had to be formally exempted from his requirement by the pain of an offering, or a redemption. It’s here at this point of the story that we realize just how poor Joseph and Mary are. Think of Thanksgiving, think of Christmas, and think of these two. The standard offering on behalf of such a child was a yearling lamb and a pigeon, or a turtle dove. But in cases of severe poverty, the Law of Moses allowed the substitution of a second dove, in place of the more expensive lamb. Mary and Joseph presented their son to his true father that day with an offering of two pigeons; two turtle doves. This young couple and this son who would save us all knew what it was like to face economic privation at Christmastime.
    As they made their way toward the temple that day, the Holy Spirit was resting upon a beloved elderly man named Simeon, one who the scriptures describe as just and devout. It was revealed to this gentle and venerable man that he would not die before having seen the Messiah, the Lord’s Christ, as Luke phrases it. The spirit then led him to the temple where he saw a young carpenter, and his even younger wife, enter the sanctuary with a new born babe cradled in his mother’s arms. Simeon, who had waited all his life for the consolation of Israeltook that consolation in his arms, praised God, and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to light the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them and said unto Mary his mother, “behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. For a sign which shall be spoken against, yea a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” I’m suggesting to you today in Rexburg, that there is a profound Christmas message in the one this dear old man gave to sweet and pure Mary in that first Christmas season. He was joyously happy. He had lived to see the son of God be born. He had held that child in his very arms. He could now die the happiest man in all of Jerusalem, maybe in all the world. But his joy was not of the superficial kind. It was not without its testing and it’s trying. In that sense, it didn't have much to do with toys, or trinkets, or new clothes, or tinsel, though these have their Christmas place. No, his joy had something to do with what he said was the fall and rising again of many in Israel and with this child’s life, or at least with his death, which would be like a sword piercing through his beloved mother’s soul, we might well ask, was such an ominous warning, such a fateful prophecy, appropriate in this season of birth and season of joy? Surely such was untimely, maybe even unseemly, at that particular moment, when the Son of God was so young and so tender and so safe and his mother so thrilled with his birth and with his beauty. Well, our answer is yes, it was appropriate and yes, it was important. I submit that unless we see all the meaning and the joy of Christmas, the way old Simeon saw it all and, in a sense, forced Joseph and Mary to see it, even if they didn't want to, the whole of Christ’s life, the profound mission, the end as well as the beginning, if we do not do that, then Christmas will be just another day off work: a little food a little fun a little football, a measure of personal loneliness and family sorrow for many others. The true meaning, the unique and lasting and joyous meaning, of the birth of this baby would be in the life he would lead, and especially in his death, in his triumphant atoning sacrifice (remember why Joseph and Mary are in the temple in the first place), it would be in his prison-bursting resurrection. It is life at the other end of the manger that gives this moment of nativity in Bethlehem its ultimate meaning. Special as this child was, and divine as was his conception, without that day of salvation, wherein he would gain an everlasting victory over death and hell on behalf of every man woman and child who would ever be born, you and me, until that day should come, this baby’s life and mission would not be complete. Worse yet, without that triumphant atonement and resurrection, he might have been remembered only as one born in abject poverty, scorned in his own native village, and tortured to death by a ruthless Roman regime that knew everything about torture and death. But wise old Simeon, who understood all of this (he is an old man) he understood that birth was ultimately for the death, and a death that he was soon to face, it thrilled his soul that salvation was come. Thus Christmas was sobering as well as sweet for him, and so too will most Christmases be for us. Lying among those gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also a crown of thorns, a makeshift royal robe, and a Roman spear.

    I do not want this to be an unhappy message; indeed, I intend it to be a supremely joyful message; a message of special comfort. But to make it that, I must speak of Christmases and other days in our individual and collective lives that, for whatever reason, may not be very happy or seem to be always the “season to be jolly.” For many people in many places, this year, this Christmas, this December, may not be an entirely happy Christmas; one not filled with complete joy because of the circumstances facing a spouse or a friend, a child or a grandchild. Or perhaps that was the case another Christmas in another year, but one which brings a painful annual memory every time the put the tree up. Or, and may Heaven bless us that this is not be so, perhaps this may be the case in some future Christmas, when unexpectedly, and seemingly undeservedly, something goes terribly wrong. When there is some public or very personal tragedy, in which it may seem, at least for a time that, “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

    By way of illustration, let me share a few examples that I pray are not too painful or too personal for anyone in attendance today. I recall that some years ago, in the very heart of the holiday season, a fire broke out on a conveyor belt 5000 ft into the Wilburg Mine, near Orangeville, in Emery County, Utah. The story gripped the entire state and then drew national attention. One man miraculously escaped, but all 27 of the others had finally been found or were declared dead by Sunday, December 23rd, two days before Christmas. On Monday, December 24, an article in the Deseret News began, “Today, in church, watching his mother sob, Chris Pugalese knew that this Christmas time was going to be different. His mother, Cathy, lost no one in the Wilburg Mine fire, but she, like others, felt the pain of those who did. Chris may not quite understand that the sadness that dampened his family’s Christmas destroyed the holiday joy of 27 other families. Those families may never again celebrate Christmas without recalling the death of a father, a son, a daughter, or a brother.”

    More recently, tragedy struck even a little closer to our family. Exactly one week before Christmas in 1994, a Sunday morning, a freak accident on Hwy 128, nine miles northeast of Moab Utah, plunged four teenagers to their deaths in the frigid water of the Colorado River. They were magnificent young people by every standard: a student body president, a valedictorian, two Eagle Scouts, a Laurel class president, traveling that morning to sing at a missionary friend’s homecoming in nearby Castle Valley. Two of the four were brothers, Joseph and Gary Welling. Exemplary sons of our childhood friend and 20 year old St. George schoolmate, Elaine Faussa Welling. This Christmas won’t be as difficult for the Welling and Stewart and Adaire families as 1994 was, but it will be difficult because the memories will return. It will reopen a deep wound and every Christmas for the rest of their lives will undoubtedly carry some echo of that Sunday morning pain for those families.

    Now, may I be even a bit more personal, and in conclusion, leave you with something considerably more cheerful than all of this has been so far. On the evening of December 23rd, 1976, my father underwent surgery to relieve the effect of osteoarthritis in the vertebrae of his back, vertebrae which were beginning to impinge on his spinal cord. The surgery was successful, but near the conclusion of it, he suffered a major heart attack. 8 hours later, he suffered another one. From those two attacks, he sustained massive damage to a heart that was already defective from an illness suffered in his youth. By the time we finally got to see him, wired and tubed and gray and unconscious, it was mid-morning on December 24th, Christmas Eve. “Magnificent timing,” I muttered to the universe. Pat and I stayed at his side all day, as much for my mother’s sake as for my father’s. He was not going to live, and at age 60, she had never had to confront that possibility in their entire married life. As evening came along, we took her to our home. She needed calming and our three little children deserved some kind of Christmas Eve. Pat has created a wonderful world of holiday traditions in our family and we tried to do the Christmas Eve portion of those, but it was a pretty joyless exercise, I’ll be quick to admit. We tried to laugh and sing, but all that these children understood was that their grandmother was crying, that their dad was very sad, and that their grandfather was somewhere alone in a hospital, not free for the Christmas visit that had been planned. After hanging just a few of their mother’s annual Christmas Eve gingerbread men, they uncharacteristically suggested that perhaps they should just go to bed a little early this year, reassuring everyone that this was their choice and something that they really wanted to do. You can imagine how convincing they sounded; about as convincing as our caroling had been. I gave my mother a blessing, convinced her to try to get some sleep. I stayed with Pat for a while, putting out a Christmas gift or two, and then I told her to hold the family together, as she has done all of our married life, and that I was going back to the hospital. There was obviously nothing I could do there. She knew it and I knew it. But she also knew it was my Santa Clause who was lying there alone, with all those tubes and IVs and monitors, and she said not a word to try to get me to stay.

    So at the hospital, I sat and walked and read and walked and looked in on my dad and walked. He would not, in fact, recover from all of this. I suppose everyone knew that. But the nursing staff were kind to me and gave me free access to them and to the entire hospital. A couple of the nurses wore Santa Clause hats and all the nursing stations were decorated for the season. During the course of the evening I think I checked them all out, every one, in every wing of the hospital, and sure enough on every floor and in every wing, it was Christmas. You’ll forgive me if I admit that somewhere in the early hours of the morning I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. “Why does it have to be like this?” I thought. “Why does it have to be on Christmas? Of all the times to lose your dad, did it have to be the night when dads are the greatest guys in the world? And gifts for little boys somehow appear, that in later years would be recognized to be well beyond the meager Holland budget? Lying under that oxygen tent was the most generous man I had ever known; a Kris Kringle to end all Kris Kringles, and by some seemingly cruel turn of cardiac fate, he was in the process of starting to die on Christmas morning.” In my self-pity, it did not seem right to me and I confess I was muttering something of that aloud as I walked what surely must have been every square inch of public, and a fair portion of private space in the hospital. Not really sure how many people I startled that morning.

    Then and there, 2 or 3 am, I guess, in a quiet hospital immersed as I was in some sorrow and too much selfishness, heaven sent me a small, personal, prepackaged revelation; a tiny Christmas declaration that was as powerful as any I have ever received. In the midst of mumbling about the very poor calendaring I thought the Lord had arranged in all of this, I heard the clear unbroken cry of a baby. It truly startled me. I had long since ceased paying attention to where I was wandering that night and only then did I realize I was in the maternity ward. Somewhere I suppose near the nursery. To this day, I do not know just where that baby was or exactly how I heard it. I like to think it was a brand new baby, taking that first breath and announcing that he or she had arrived in the world, the fact of which everyone was supposed to take note. It may have been just a baby saying it was time to eat and wondering where that comforting cuddle from a mother was. But wherever and whoever it was, God could not have sent me a more penetrating wake up call. I felt a little like another, who in reply to his questions heard the Lord declare, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” You’ll recognize that as God’s statement with some sternness to Job. It was as if the Lord were saying, “Listen, this is the happiest night in the whole wide world for some young couple, Jeff. Some couple who may otherwise be as poor as church mice. Maybe this is their first baby. Maybe he is their own personal 'consolation in Israel', perhaps the only consolation they have right now in what may be a very difficult economic life. In any case, they love him and he already loves them, and think of the calendaring, think of it; born on Christmas day. What a reminder that they have each other now and forever. Whatever happens, good times or bad, they have each other. Whatever pain may lie ahead, whatever sword may pierce their souls from time to time, they will be triumphant because the Prince of Peace was also born this same day once in Royal David’s city. Temporary separation at death and the other difficulties that attend us as we all move toward that end are part of the price we pay for love in this world. The price we pay for the joy of birth and of family ties and the fun of Christmas together. Old Simeon; weathered and tried and tested old Simeon had it right. And so did the Morning Stars and the shepherds and the angels who shouted for joy, praising God and singing Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men. Jeff, my boy,” he seemed to be saying with that baby’s cry, “I expected more from you. If you can’t remember why all of this matters, then your pitiful approach to Christmas is no more virtuous than the over-commercialization everyone laments these days. You need to shape up just a little. You need to put your theology where your Christmas carols are. You can’t separate Bethlehem from Gethsemane, or the hasty flight into Egypt from the slow journey to the summit of Calvary. It is of one piece. It is a single plan. It considers the fall and rising again of many in Israel, but always in that order. Christmas is joyful not because it is a season or decade or lifetime without pain or privation, but precisely because life does hold those moments for us. And that baby, my son, my own beloved and only begotten son in the flesh, born 'away in a manger with no crib for his bed', makes all the difference in the world, all the difference in time and eternity, all the difference everywhere, worlds without number, a lot farther than your feeble eye is apparently able to see.”

    Well, I felt reprimanded. I can’t fully describe to you what happened to me that morning, but it was one of the most revelatory Christmas experiences I have ever had or assume I ever will have. And it dawned on me that that could have been my young parents who were so happy that morning. I was a December baby and my mother never wearies of telling me that that was her happiest Christmas ever. Perhaps the joy they felt that day at my birth was to be inextricably, inseparably, eternally linked with my sorrow at their passing; that we could never expect to have the one without the other. It came to me in a profound way that in this life no one can have real love without eventually dealing with real loss. And we certainly can’t rejoice over one’s birth and the joy of living, unless we are prepared to understand and accommodate and accept with some grace, the inevitability including the untimeliness, on occasion, of difficulty and trouble and death. These are God’s gifts to us; birth and life, death and salvation, the whole divine experience in all its richness and complexity. So there lay my dad; the great gift giver, he who found bicycles and bb-guns and presents of every kind somewhere. Now he was making his way out of the world, starting that journey on Christmas day, on the wings of the greatest gift ever given. I thought of another father; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” True fathers and mothers were all alike, I realized, coming up with the best gifts imaginable, at what is often terrible personal cost. And I am obviously not speaking of material gifts or monetary costs. So I was mildly but firmly rebuked that night by the cry of a newborn baby. I got a little refresher course in the Plan of Salvation and a powerful reminder of why this is the season to be jolly and why any Christmas is a time of comfort, whatever our circumstances may be. In the same breath I was also reminded that life will not always be as cozy as chestnuts roasting on an open fire or an unending splendor while we stroll, walking in a winter wonderland. No, life will have its valleys and its peaks, its moments for the fall and moments for the rising in the lives of all of God’s children. So now it’s old Simeon’s joyful embrace of that little baby, just before his death that is one of the favorite images I try to remember at Christmas. I’ve repented since that night. In fact, I did some repenting there in the maternity ward. If you have to lose your dad, what more comforting time in all the world than Christmas? None of us would want those experiences for the Wilburg mine families or the Moab seminary students or a thousand other painful experiences some people have at Christmas, but even so, in the end, it is all right. It is OK. These are sad experiences, terribly wrenching experiences, with difficult moments for years and years to come. But because of the birth in Bethlehem and what it led to, these are not tragic experiences. They have a happy ending. There is a rising after the falling. There is life always; new births and rebirths and resurrection to eternal life. It is the joy of the stable, the joy of the maternity ward, forever.

    “If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” Martha said to him once, probably in the same tone of voice I had been using up and down the hallways of that hospital, “if that arthritis just had not required surgery, there wouldn’t have been any strain on his heart. If that conveyer belt had just been shifted a little to the right or to the left, it wouldn’t have started on fire. If there just hadn’t been a small patch of ice on that particular stretch, so close to the Colorado River”and on and on and on. Jesus has one answer for all of us. One answer, for all the whys and what ifs and would haves and could haves and should haves of our mortal journey. Looking sweet Martha firmly in the eyes, he said for all in Rexburg and Orangeville and Moab to hear, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. Whoseover believeth in me shall never die.” Yes, for me, the most important Christmas visitor of all may have been old Simeon, who, not in the absence of hard days and long years, but because of them, would sing with us tonight at the top of his voice, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. No more will sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He will come and make the blessings flow, far as the curse was found.” Of this Christmas witness, I am a witness, in the sacred and holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Crockpot Chicken Chili Soup

So, you'll notice there is no picture for this post.  I didn't expect to post it, so I didn't document the process.  And then we ate it so fast, I didn't even get a picture of the end result.  It was gone and I was, like, "Whoa. That was awesome."  but I didn't have a recipe so I wanted to remember how I made it and it occurred to me that this is the place to do that.

Here's the deal: I work three part time jobs, was finishing a college class, have a one year old, and spend way too much time on Pinterest.  I'm busy, man.  I teach high school every other day, rotating days every week.  I also am the administrator for the Adult Ed program in our district, so I work every Tuesday and Thursday night.  That means that dinner on those days that I teach from 8-4 and then have to go back to the school from 5:45-8 or so is really tricky.  I needed something that would be ready to eat when I walked in the door.  So, I remembered that we had a bunch of frozen chicken breasts in our freezer and it is starting to get chilly, so chicken soup just seemed like a good idea.  I had also recently canned some chicken broth that I wanted to use.  The following is how it all came together.

On Monday night, I threw the following into a crock pot:

*Half an onion, diced
*Half a green pepper, diced
*Three cloves garlic, diced
*Two frozen chicken breasts (they were huge and we ended up giving quite a bit to Jon's mama and dad for dinner because there was so much)
*Two cups broth
*One can of Rotel (diced tomatoes with green chilis)
*One can of tomato sauce
*One can each of kidney and great northern white beans, drained
*Couple of tsps of salt
*Pepper to taste
*Palmful of ground cumin, paprika, marjoram, sage, parsley, oregano and basil
*Splash of Worcestershire sauce and chili sauce (I used Tampico)
*Handful of brown sugar (to taste)

After 8 hours on low, I removed the chicken breasts and shredded them and then returned them to the pot.  It didn't taste quite right though, so I added a bit more salt, Worcestershire sauce and that is when I added a handful of brown sugar.  Sweetening it just a touch made all the difference.  I ate it with a dollop of sour cream and it would have been great with tortilla chips, but it was great without them too.

So, if you are looking for a minimum effort dinner that is perfect for the onset of autumn, here you go.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Country Platter: Dinner #6 -- Chicken Fried Steak


The glorious thing about Chicken Fried Steak is that you can whip it up quickly, not to mention men LOVE it. 

It's an All-American, traditional country meal that fills the belly. You can't get much better than that. 

What You'll Need: 
1-2 lbs ground beef (This is different than traditional chicken fried steak, which calls for tenderized round steak... we don't like round steak in our house. Too chewy. And ground beef is cheaper. And we love the taste of the ground beef with the breading I use, so tada!! Cheap, quick, and easy chicken fried steak!) 
1 cup flour (plus 3 T flour for gravy)
Seasoned Salt
Garlic Salt
Black Pepper
1/2 cup Milk (plus 2 cups milk for gravy)
1 egg
1/8 cup frying oil (canola, vegetable, coconut - whatever you choose) 


First, defrost your meat. I use about 1/3 lb ground beef for each steak. You can vary the size for your eaters. Next, prep the breading ingredients. I use the Pioneer Woman method of breading. And her pictures are MUCH prettier, so stop by her site.

I put some flour in a pie pan, add some seasoned salt, some garlic salt, and some black pepper. Mix that all up, and prep the wet ingredients.

Put 1/2 cup milk and 1 egg in another pie pan. Whisk it up with a fork.

Form your ground beef into "steaks" -- essentially elongated hamburger patties. Dip each patty in the milk, then the flour, then the milk again, then the flour again.

Heat up your frying oil on medium-high heat, and when it's ready (throw a pinch of flour in there - if it bubbles well, it's ready) place your "steaks" in the oil.

 Let those bad boys fry in your oil until they're golden brown and cooked through. I flip them several times - very carefully - and when they're ready, pull them out and place them on a plate, lined with a paper towel.

Drain the grease into a cup, and then pour 1/4 c of the grease back into the pan. Add enough flour that the mix starts to "pull" off the bottom of the pan. Keep whisking and cooking that flour and oil for about three minutes, or until it turns golden brown and starts to smell reeeeaaalllly good.

At this point, whisk in the 2 cups milk. Keep whisking as the gravy thickens, If you need to add more milk, go for it. Add salt to taste, and tada! You have your gravy. I obviously forgot to take a picture of this part of the process.....

So this is what you get instead...

Empty gravy pan...

 Full gravy boat!!

This is a picture of my plate tonight. The steak's really small and the lighting was terrible, but I promise - it was delicious!!!!

As you can see, I served this with mashed potatoes, more gravy, and corn that we just put up a week ago. Mmmmmm.

Ground Beef
Seasoned Salt
Garlic Salt
Black Pepper
Frying oil (canola, vegetable, coconut)