Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Journey Through Life

          No photos today.  Instead, I have written a short story of my life and the God sightings I have had along the way.  Each sighting has made him more real to me and has increased my knowledge of him, and ultimately, my love for him.  I hope this story resonates with you...

Walking through a field of wild flowers for as far as the eye could see, I trailed my finger tips over the soft petals that reached up for more of the sun. I understood their reaching, for I too relished the feel of the sun as it warmed me through to the inside of my being.  I shut my eyes and navigated through the tall flowers only by feel of the sun on my eyelids, brightening the darkness that might have been had I turned my head away.  Slowly, savoring the feel of velvet flowers on my fingers and delighting in the warmth of the sun upon my face, I walked.  Every once in awhile, I would feel a flower of particular softness or size and I would pause to pick it and place it in my ever growing bouquet.  I had yellow crocuses, white daisies, towering spikes of pink delphinium, drooping heads of fox glove, playful sunflowers and many more I couldn’t name but which had struck me so with their beauty that they found their way into my hands.  

I walked as such for a luxurious amount of time, lingering here and there in a patch of a specific flower to soak in its essence. I felt no hurry, no rush, no driving need or gnawing hunger.  All was as it should be and as it always would be.  Or so I thought. 

In the passage of time and distance, I found myself at the edge of a forest of such commonplace features that I was not tempted to enter. However, the cool breeze that came from within, brushed over my sun-kissed skin and allured me past the boundary of the first trees into its refreshing and tranquil depths.

The change was delightful and I wandered my way, brushing past rough-barked trees, ducking low boughs, caressing the soft needles of formidable evergreens, until I was completely lost.  I had not paid any attention as to how I arrived at this spot - a wrong turn or two, a butterfly to chase, a desire to look closer at an object that called to my attention - and I was completely without direction.  No path to guide my way out.

Discouraged and a bit frightened, I sat down on a rotting log, tarnishing the purity of my white sundress.  In such a state, I began to hear the sounds of the forest – the ancient creaking, the foreboding rustle of leaves, and ominous shuffling. I knew there were forces out there with which I wouldn’t be able to wrestle victoriously and I felt small, timid and alone. I grew very afraid. 
Suddenly the wind kicked up, violently snatching up leaves and sending them thrashing about as it threatened to knock the bouquet out of my hands. The shock of thunder knocked me to the forest floor and paralyzed me until I realized I had dropped my flowers. I frantically scrambled on hands and knees to pick them up before the wind sent them off, scattering them to the most unreachable destinations.  As I rescued the last of my blooms from their unknown fate, a frigid rain began to fall.  Soon it fell upon my head as though poured from a bucket, taking my breath with it as it battered the dark earth into submission.  Lightning struck a tree behind me and it’s victim split in two and fell within inches of where I grappled on the forest floor.  My hands were torn and bleeding, my knees were scratched and stinging dreadfully as I frantically crawled, seeking shelter, ultimately found under an ancient evergreen.

In that relative calm, with the storm wild about me, I could feel my heart throbbing and taste the tang of my fear on my tongue.   My vision blurred.  Blinking away tears, my terrified eyes searched the darkness for that which could save me.  Nothing.  I was destitute and hopeless. I clutched tightly to the bouquet in my fist, desperate to hold onto something of warmth and beauty.  I moved the bright, tender petals ever closer to my cold and anxious face. 

It was then that my focus corrected itself. For instead of sensing the danger and terror around me, I breathed in the warm, gentle scent of the blossoms in my hand.  I cherished the sensation of lavish petals caressing my parted lips.  I warmed in the glow of their brilliant colors that overtook the darkness around me.  And as the darkness dissipated and the storm subsided, I discovered to my joy, a lone flower, growing out of a rough and craggy rock with a deep purple hue so unlike the bright oranges, yellows and whites I held in my hand.  This flower, though beaten by the wind and rain was yet somehow, untouched.   Had I never strayed this deep into the dark forest, I may never have seen it’s beauty – not more beautiful than those in my hands but of a different quality and bearing that gave me courage and a sense that I was not alone but in the presence of strength and calm.  I can’t say I delighted in this flower, as I had in the flowers from the meadow, but I felt a peace that I couldn’t explain, in the midst of my fear and predicament.  

This precious little flower got me wondering if there were others about.  As the rain slowed to a stop, I tripped and stumbled from out beneath my shelter to this little bloom and plucked it rather greedily. I was a little worse for the wear for I was smudged with dirt and grime.  I felt the coolness of the air that had been so pleasant in the beginning now turn to a damp chill as time in this forest passed, but as I took in the aroma of this new treasure, I found it pleasing and warm, the way one is warmed by the first feeble ray of sun after such a storm. I felt hope and a bit courageous! Enough so, that I began to wander again, this time with purpose, determined to add to my posy, more of these precious, unobtrusive, jewels.  I was determined to seek where I must and find what I could.  

I looked to my left and found a dark purple columbine regally growing under the shade of an evergreen.  I wandered around large boulders to find a blue flower so deep in hue I could almost taste the coolness of it’s color in my mouth.  I found more flowers as I climbed over and under fallen logs rotting in the moist, heavy air, until finally I came to a stream and discovered to my delight that the opposite bank was peppered with a rich, blood red flower I had never seen before.  I slid down the bank, fully prepared to charge through the waters to gather this prize gem, when I noticed how swiftly and deep the waters ran.  I checked myself and weighed the cost against the reward and felt so strongly that I must add those striking flowers to my arrangement that the cost was of no concern.  I plunged into the cold waters and kept my eyes on the prize.  The rushing waters were frigid and strong, currents I couldn’t see threatened to pull me off course, but I strove forward and lunged onto the opposite bank.  Grateful, I fell back into the flowers, allowing them to surround and cover me. Worth it?! Absolutely!! I was giddy at my own daring!

I’m not sure how long I lingered in the presence of these flowers, but soon I felt it time to go. I added a few of these beauties to my growing collection and headed up the steep bank to see what lay beyond. To my joy, I noticed that the forest, which I had come accustomed to, thinking it to be my new reality, was at it’s end in the near distance. The air was lighter, fresher, with the smell of warmth and the taste of summer.  Clutching my hard-won prizes in my hand, I sprinted past the last few remaining trees until I felt myself warmed through by the sun.  The thrill of pleasure and relief I felt was indescribable.  

As my eyes adjusted to the brightness of the world around me, I looked at my new bouquet with seasoned eyes.  The colors were brilliant and varied, the textures and scents mixed among themselves into a blend of depth and dimension I hadn’t been blessed to notice before. These were not only the light colored flowers of ease and leisure bestowed upon me from a meadow of sunshine, these were also the dark, rich flowers of purples, blues and reds, that cost me much to gain, yet in my torn hands and filthy dress, they looked all the more beautiful and precious than had I found them at my feet in just this simple moment.  I cherished each and every flower I had accumulated, but somehow the ones harder to obtain gave me an inexplicable feeling of security, a stronger sense of belonging and a greater sense of understanding.

Again I found myself walking through a field of wildflowers, but somehow I was changed.  Yes, the dirt and smudges of the forest were still with me, but it was more than that.  I turned to look back over my shoulder at what I had just come through.  Seeing the forest there, now so distant, deceptively quiet and peaceful, I knew what chaos and fear had been hidden within. I thought back to my terror and how in the midst of it, my perception had changed with nothing more than a clutching of the flowers to my breast as I remembered their beauty and promise of light.  It was then that I had found the others hidden within the chaos that had ultimately guided me out of such savage darkness.  Their beauty so enchanting as to be enough – all I would need to find my way. 

 I will never forget my journey through the forest, nor in some strange way, do I want to.  Though the sensations of fear and helplessness may subside a little, the beauty that I had found there will be cherished forever.  To say that I would walk through that forest again, or others like it, if it means holding this bouquet before me in my hands or one of greater depth and variety, is to speak the truth. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mini Chocolate (good for you) Cakes (for breakfast!)

Wow - what a name!  Really, I should call these "chocolate pancakes" bc that's what they are.  They are meant to start off your day in a deceitfully healthy way, but they taste so much like cake that I just couldn't help myself when naming them.  My boys find these little cakes absolutely delicious!! I, on the other hand, don't really care for chocolate cake with maple syrup, especially first thing in the morning, so I find them fairly easy to avoid.  

Now, were I truly my father's daughter, I would be all over these!  My dad is a man who can handle his chocolate! I have seen him eat a Haagen Dazs double dark chocolate, chocolate chip bar for breakfast!  And though he denies it to this day, I have at least 5 other witnesses!  So this recipe is for him in hopes that he can get his chocolate fix off something healthy!!  

As for me, I'll stick with my light and crispy waffles. Hey..... speaking of waffles, I would like to say something about my recipe I posted in March that will help you with your pancakes today!  Read below!

Waffle side track
If you haven't tried the waffle recipe I posted March 15, I encourage you to do so! I have had quite a few people tell me they love them!! (If you "follow" the blog, you can leave your comments below or you can leave your comments on FB where I announce the latest blog! I love to hear from you!!).  They told me their waffles turned out light and crisp with the perfect texture but I had a couple people tell me they were a little too heavy.  I suggested to those with the heavy results to try again but this time to do so by sticking a spoon in the flour and fluffing it up a little so it's loose and airy as opposed to compact and stacked.  Then, measure it into the measuring cup.  Do so by using the spoon to fill the cup NOT by scooping the cup into the flour.  Once the cup is filled to overflowing, take a narrow straight edge and scrape off the remaining flour.  

Baking is considered a science with it's exact measurements, but I also believe there is an art to it as well.  Having made these waffles many times before, I know what I want my batter to look like; I know how I want it to spread over the skillet. So, I add the required ingredients in the amounts written, and then I let the batter tell me what to do. I will usually add a bit more liquid (sometimes flour) to get the right consistency.  The waffles should be more runny than they are thick.  If the batter just sits where you dropped it and it doesn't move at all to fill in some cracks, then the batter is to thick.  If it runs freely to fill in all the cracks, it's too runny.  Play with it a little and find the consistency you like and make note of what it looks like - pretty soon, the science of your waffles will become your art!

Back to the pancakes

Be sure to measure the flour the same way - loosening the flour with a spoon and then using the spoon to scoop the flour into your measuring cup, making sure to level the flour off with a straight edge.  Also, in both recipes (the waffles as well as the pancakes), I recommend that you use a whole wheat pastry flour which is less heavy than a dense and coarse wheat flour - for those of you who mill your own, I use a soft white wheat milled to a fine flour. 

For my youngest son, I make a second batter to accommodate his dairy and wheat allergies - I simply trade out the wheat for a not-wheat all-purpose flour such as Bob's Red Mill and use almond milk instead of cow's milk.

In this recipe I have also added chocolate protein powder.  I can't tolerate a meal without staying power! If all my breakfast contains is simple and complex carbs, that meal isn't gonna take me very far!  This may be an "optional" ingredient but it's required in my house.  With three boys who already eat their weight in food and then some, everything they eat has to count and has to last!

Let's get to it!
In a large bowl, add:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 scoops chocolate protein powder (optional)

Mix to combine.

In a small bowl, add:
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup milk or almond milk
2 TBS canola oil
1 tsp vanilla

Mix to combine.  Add the wet to the dry and stir until combined.  The batter should look like brownie mix.  Not super smooth and not super lumpy. I like my batter to pour on to the griddle without running everywhere, as opposed to plopping and not spreading much.  Whatever you prefer, add more liquid or flour, a little bit at a time - it won't take much - to get the consistency you want.  

The griddle should be preheated at 300 degrees.  Much higher than that and the cakes will burn without cooking through.  Keep your eye on them.  When they have a few bubbles and are dry around the edges, flip them over.

Feel free to have some add-ins and some add-ons:  for add-ins - chocolate chips, raspberries, strawberries, or orange zest and a splash of orange juice; for add-ons - whipped cream, a berry puree, peanut butter, maple or cherry or some type of berry syrup.  Like I said earlier, these don't totally turn my crank but were I to add something like fresh raspberries in the batter and a dollop of whipped cream on top, or maybe dark chocolate chips within and a raspberry puree without, THEN I might be on to something!

The quick and easy fave in our house....

Peanut butter and syrup!


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring is Springing!

Have you been outside to check it out?! This is my favorite time of year - but I say that about summer, fall and winter too!!  :0)  

I just had to get out today and play a bit! Mostly in celebration that I had this whole day blocked off for jury duty which got canceled last night so I have a FREE DAY today!!!! Yahoooo!!!  Which, unfortunately, will entail many errands... but so what!?  I don't have to sit in a stuffy room, under florescent lights (which I can't stand in the least), listening to testimonies that are NEVER as dramatic as what you see on tv, to help decide the fate of someone I don't know, who likely did something they shouldn't have done, to someone that wasn't gonna take it!! Oh.... do I have to miss all that?!  Thank God for BIG mercies!!

So let's go back outside... 
Do you see what's happening out there?!

New growth is pushing through the remnants of the old.  Life is springing forth from that which was dead!  Hope rising from ashes, glory in place of mourning, and beauty to cover old scars.

Do you ever really see that first moment of new life?  Every spring I watch the branches of the trees to see when the start of that first bud will appear and every spring I miss it!  It seems as though, in one moment, the trees are bursting with fuzz and buds!!  But I never see the slightest hint that they're even on the verge of waking.  It's just so sudden, which I suppose is why it's called Spring.  (Be easy, I'm just coming to terms with the fact that the name for the season is so literal!)  In what presents itself to be the slightest moment, with what appears to require no thought or preparation, life springs from the life-less.

But we are not fooled!  There is much going on inside each tree and plant that the naked eye can't see! And if I can take the liberty to compare, there is much going on inside myself that the naked eye can't see either, my own spirit doesn't sense it, my own soul isn't able to perceive it, but one day new life will spring forth!  No, I'm not speaking literally - I am NOT pregnant!! Though there are some babies out there that tempt me to try just one more time - and you know who you are!!!

No, I'm talking about character and personality.  I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago and I would bet neither are you!  Have you watched the change with your own eyes?  Have you observed yourself gradually becoming more gentle and patient, or more bitter and angry?  Were you actively nurturing love and compassion or did they seemingly come out of nowhere?  Were you able to measure the growth of the bitterness that now chokes your heart or was it a slow, deliberate, and secretive growth, unknown even to you, that one day caused the eyes of those who know you best to pop open in surprise, and caused their lips to declare how you've changed.  Or maybe you can point to a season, like a well-timed frost, that killed the buds of kindness, the fragile blossoms of forgiveness, or the tender bulbs of vulnerability.  This is the ever-changing cycle of life within my being that sprouts new growth from the death of the old and which continues to grow me into the person I am supposed to be and am slowly becoming.  

In truth, just like the buds on the tree and the hidden bulbs in my garden, the characteristics that make up who we are lie in wait.  We experience the weather, fight off the bugs, overcome the weeds, take in some nutrients, and clear out the waste.  And somewhere hidden within our being there is a process that is taking place that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  It is often slow and delicate,  unplanned and far from thought out, it's a minute shifting yet a powerful force, because, suddenly, there it is, springing forth in one unexpected moment bold enough for the world to see... the beauty, glory and hope of new life!

And as with all of nature, this undetectable growth is powered by the Creator of the Universe!  This power in me, one individual among the billions in the world today AND witnessed in the trees and plants in my teeny-tiny little yard, which is a fraction of the earth that is so small I can't even name it, is mind-blowing!  Why would He allow His power to be used for someone and something so insignificant?  Why would He care? About any of us or any of this?!

Because He IS love.  He can't help Himself.  And that is why spring springs every year... for God soooo loved us that He sent His son to love us to death, so that we could spring forth to new life!

So Happy Spring!  Get out there and enjoy it! And while you're at it, pull a few weeds - nature's character builders!!! Somehow they found new life as well!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Welcome Home!

Ahhh, it's good to be back! Though I love traveling, there is nothing like my own bed!!  We were on the road all week and it was absolutely delightful!! Yes, even the driving - the ever-changing scenery and a good audio book can keep me happy in the car for hours!! 

A week in AZ with my entire family, bookended by two days of driving and sight seeing, was just what I needed!! The weather in AZ was perfect! Mid 80's - mid 90's.   The resort full of opportunities for swimming, putt putt, tennis, running on mountain trails, water volleyball, laying out with a good book and a fruity drink, and lazing in the lazy river!  The food was great at times and average at others but it was NOT prepared by me nor cleaned up by me which is HUGE!

To think that yesterday we were hiking in Arches Nat Park under sunny, 85 degree skies, enjoying the warmth of the sun on our tanned skin, the amazing views and the wildly varied landscape, only to wake this morning in Colorado to mild weather with clouds over the mountains that soon rolled in obscuring everything in sight by dropping huge snowflakes and swirling them in all directions is a bit shocking!!!!  

No, no... I'm ready for warm spring! Not the spring that kills my peach buds and prevents me from baking peach crisp, putting up peach jelly and just enjoying the perfect peach off the tree this summer!!  I was actually enjoying the 67 degree weather as we drove through Vail last evening even though I knew it meant that the death of another fabulous ski season was fast approaching!  Now I hear it's snowing so much up there that they closed I-70!  Ohhh... were I stranded in the mountains with my skis, this wouldn't be so frustrating, but as I'm here at home unable to play in it, with work to do and reality to face.... well, mamma ain't that happy! 

No pics today or recipes, I just have too much to do!  :(  The fun stuff will have to wait! I just wanted to say "hi" and welcome myself back home as best I could when I would still rather be.... on the road!!