Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Taste & See

One of our church elders wrote a song that we use while going forward for communion from time to time. It’s been greatly encouraging to me, and I wanted to record the words here:

You alone are worthy of delight
I don’t know why I look to other things
To satisfy the longing in my heart
I need your love, to receive your love

All you gave up to forgive us
We receive it, we believe in you

Taste and see the Lord is wholly good
His blood like wine, his body is true food
Break the bread, abide within his love
Take the cup, take the blood he offered up

All you’ve given we will take in
To remember, to proclaim ’til you come back again

— “Taste & See,” by Greg Stump 2008

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Man in the kitchen/man on the porch

One of Gerry’s contributions to the family that I appreciate most is his role as social coordinator. Sure, I like people, but I’m not the type to actually plan a get-together, and I often forget to check in with my friends and ask those simple little questions like, “How are you doing?” Gerry never has these problems.

Every few weeks, he’s been gathering half a dozen people at the house for dinner, and it’s a great thing to come home to! It’s always a great guest list … he’s got a knack for picking people who may not know each other yet, but are going to get along just fine.

Last night, we had over three of his coworkers (two are new to the team), two former youth group students, and our roommate. Gerry had cooked up some fantastic spinach/cheese ravioli, and he made sure that there was a serving left over for me. Odd fact: This was my first time to ever have ravioli for a meal. And it was deeeeeeeelicious! Why didn’t I know this stuff existed before?!

Later, after Gerry had gone to work for a late shift and I’d been in bed for a short while, the doorbell rang twice. After finally recognizing the sound, I rolled myself out of bed, threw on a bathrobe, and went to look out the peephole. Whoever had rung the bell was gone, but had left our screen door swinging open. And then, I heard some sounds on the porch, and then there was a guy opening up the screen door and putting his hands on the glass door! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…

…good thing that I recognized our roommate’s fiance quickly. That boy nearly got himself shot!

Since it was him, I went and let him in from the porch. He had just come to check on her since she was feeling ill and had gone to bed early. I didn’t say much to him last night, but apparently our roommate gave him an earful this morning about not sneaking around on people’s porches at night. (Good for her!)

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It has been hot here in Los Angeles this summer, and our western-facing kitchen bears the brunt of it in the evenings. The last thing either of us wants to be doing at 6 o’clock is standing in front of a hot stove! But cold food is only appealing for so long … sometimes we just want something steamy and savory!

The solution is to wait for the sun to go down and then eat a fashionably late dinner after dark.

I’m really proud of tonight’s “after dark” dish. I wanted to use up some chicken that had been thawing in the fridge for a while, as well as a bunch of yellow squash that we’d picked up last week. For a summer dish, I knew it couldn’t be heavy, therefore no cream sauce … and I wanted to be able to double up inside the oven and cook our side dish for the same time and at the same temperature. The less heat escaping into the house, the better!

So here’s what I came up with … savory/spicy chicken legs with squash and green beans, baked potatoes on the side. The cinnamon and dash of flour gave the dish an incredible bready aroma, and the other spices gave it a perfect light summery bite.

I didn’t give quantities below because I want you, the cook, to be able to spice this up in proportions that your own family enjoys.

Chicken legs
Yellow squash
Garlic cloves
Canned green beans, drained
Olive oil
Flour
Paprika
Cinnamon
Chili flakes
Thyme
Black pepper
Sea salt

Chop yellow squash into small pieces. Mince several cloves of garlic (according to your tastes; I used four small cloves to season five chicken legs). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour olive oil into a 9×13 casserole dish to cost the bottom. Place chicken legs into dish with skins up. Add squash and garlic on top of chicken, and shake the dish so that it all settles. Sprinkle with a few teaspoons of flour. Sprinkle with paprika, cinnamon, chili flakes, thyme, black pepper, and sea salt. Once again, shake the dish so that the ingredients settle. Cover with aluminum foil and put in the oven.

As a side dish, place washed and pierced potatoes on the oven rack beside the casserole dish.

Cook for 25 minutes, then remove casserole dish from oven. Carefully remove the aluminum foil, and drizzle olive oil on top of each of the chicken legs. Add green beans evenly on top of the other ingredients (I used french cut beans). Re-cover with aluminum foil and place in oven.

Cook for another 20-25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of chicken is 170 degrees. Potatoes are also done at this point. Enjoy!

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At the scene of a crash

I have had a headache and feel so drained this morning — but woke up fast when, just after getting off the bus and crossing the street to get to the office, there was a loud and horrible *SQUEAL* *CRASH* maybe 30 feet behind me. Everything went slow-motion for a few seconds, and then I was jogging back to the crash while simultaneously calling 911. There was already a military guy there who had jumped out of his SUV and had checked on the occupants of each of the cars, and when I saw he was taking more time with one driver, I went to the other one to talk with her and hold her hand and help calm her down. She was spooked because she was young and her car was obviously totaled, but no injuries. Just strawberry smoothie all over the place — it only looked like a bloodbath. I got to pray with her, but we got a few sentences out before things got busy again. (Oh well, I know God heard!)

Although I was the closest to the crash in proximity, I didn’t actually see it happen. Thankfully, there were a number of witnesses who were able to talk to the police and explain the situation. So I stayed with the drivers and helped with keeping them calm while the firefighters checked them out.

I gave the girl with the totaled car my contact information and told her that I’d help with giving her rides for a while if she wanted help with that. Who knows what will happen with that. And then after the police released me, I walked the remaining block to the office and got some cold water bottles for both drivers.

It is a miracle of modern technology how crashes like this happen and people walk away from them with only scratches! Even the older car, a ’97 Honda Accord, crumpled as it was intended and completely spared the driver inside. (Aside from the strawberry smoothie explosion.) Gerry’s mom comments from time to time about how the workmanship on modern cars is shoddy because they crumple so easily, but misses the point that, in the process, the people inside are being protected.

Thank God for science. Thank God for engineers. Thank God for technology!

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I was quite proud of myself when, as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, I opened a retirement account with what was then First Union and started making regular contributions. The responsible thing to do, yes? “The power of compounding interest!” they told me. Sounded exciting! I wouldn’t be able to touch the money or move my account until age 62.5, or five years after my last contribution in certain circumstances, but no matter … it was for retirement. I didn’t need the money now.

But then First Union got bought out by another bank, and the new bank started charging me $45 a year to maintain the account. It was an inconvenience, but at least I was earning plenty of interest on this account.

And then the economy went south. I now made a paltry $45 in interest a year for a while, barely enough to pay the fee. (This isn’t a unique story by any means, but for the moment it is mine.) I stopped contributing. And then the bank got bought out again, this time by Wells Fargo, and the maintenance fee went up to $65 a year. Yearly gains almost came to a halt. Le sigh…. But it was what it was. All I could do was sit tight.

Until now! Five years had gone by since my last contribution and I had a reason for a qualified withdrawal … first home purchase.

Well, let’s skip the drama of lost paperwork and bad information and fast forward to 5:14 this evening, when the Wells Fargo manager I was sitting with calmly informed me that there would be a $95 charge to close my account … and no, I couldn’t leave a dollar in the account to avoid closing it.

I mentally calculated how many electric bills $95 would pay (2.8 months worth for those keeping track at home), paid the fee, closed the account, and walked away with money in hand … just about the amount I had put in originally. And finally I am free! (I am left with only credit union accounts, and hope to keep it that way.)

Now I’m sure that this experience isn’t unique to Wells Fargo. It probably would have happened with any of the major financial institutions. But it is a perfect example of how the banking industry is stacked against the “little guy” and how doing the “right thing” is not necessarily the right thing if you are a small-time investor. That $65 yearly fee was one percent of my principal, small but significant… but for an investor with $65,000 in the bank, $65 would barely register. And the $95 I paid to close the account, that’s 1.5 percent of the principal for me, but again merely a blip on the radar for a ten-thousand-aire.

The current banking system allows the rich to grow richer, and that’s okay, but it also penalizes the poor and makes them grow poorer … and that’s not okay!

I finally “get” it, what the 99 Percent protests were all about.

Please, Wells Fargo. Please, Chase and Bank of America and Citi. Consider the little guys. Treat us fairly. Charge us percentage-based fees according to the funds invested with you. (I can’t imagine that this would be bad for business!) We are willing to pay for your products, but it must be in proportion to the services you provide for us, otherwise we can’t afford to do the “right thing.”

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Potluck at el Rancho

The church we’re part of has a dozen campuses scattered throughout the county, and a few months ago, Gerry and I decided to start attending the campus closest to home. Church is held at a lovely, sprawling Spanish-style retreat center on a large spread of property. There’s a lake, picturesque hills, mission-style chapel, hacienda and courtyard, organic farm and more… It’s a very popular venue for weddings!

The somewhat smaller size of the congregation is much more what I’m used to, and being able to gaze on nature through the chapel’s wall of windows while worshipping really helps me to focus. And although it’s the same demographic as up at the main campus, being a smaller group at least allows greater opportunities for getting to know others.

Personally, I think that you get to know people best when you serve on a team with them regularly. So joining one of the volunteer teams at Rancho Capistrano would be just the perfect thing to do … except for the fact that we’re planning to move away in a few months. It doesn’t seem right to show up and say, “Train me. Put me on your schedule. Depend on me. Okay now, I’m leaving.” And it’s not exactly motivating to make new friends when you know you’re going to have to leave them soon.

So I jumped at the chance to volunteer for a special event at church today! We were going to have a potluck (first ever for this campus!) and then light up three giant crosses on the hill for the Easter season … I signed up for the setup team. The plans were grand, for an open-air picnic down on the lawn by the lake. But then it decided to rain all day. Sideways rain. All day. So we put up some pop-up canopies along the side wall of the chapel and did our best to fit tables under the canopies in places where they wouldn’t get drenched every time the water collecting on top decided to empty itself down the cracks between tents. Nope, we made sure that food stayed dry. Just the people got sporadically dumped on … self included. (Free showers! Yay!)

Oh, it was a comedy of errors! The two people in charge got sick and didn’t show up, so we the motley crew pretty much winged it. Some bossypants ladies showed up and tried to stir up drama, but I just kept walking away from them and finding a new job to do until they followed me there.

But all’s well that ends well, and as I reassured one of the guys who was fretting about all of stuff going wrong, “No matter what happens, nobody is going to go home tonight saying, ‘That potluck sucked!’ What they are going to remember is, ‘That free food was awesome! I had fun talking to people! Wasn’t it neat when those crosses went up?!'”

We didn’t actually watch the crosses go up. Instead we hung out in the nearly empty chapel with a few friends and played with their kids.

Today is the first time I’ve felt like I “belonged” there. Pretty cool!

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Tree of Knowledge

“My daughter wanted to go to a panel discussion at a local police department, to lend moral support to a fellow high schooler who would join five other teens in sharing their story from drug use to recovery. I said I would go, too. On the ride home I asked my daughter what she thinks of school drug education programs. She said they tend to backfire. I asked why. She said they tell the kids about every drug under the sun, as well as every other conceivable method of getting high…”

That’s how Andree Seu’s Tree of Knowledge article begins.

What particularly drew my eye to this story is that I’ve been thinking about the overwhelming nature of choices. Although it’s cool to walk into a restaurant where there are 100 menu options, I’m much more likely to be happy with my decision if I am choosing from a menu that only has 10 options. I’m sure there’s much to be learned about happiness and satisfaction from experiences like this.

As I’ve been reading and listening to material on choices and happiness, I’ve also seen a whole lot about negativity vs. positivity and how what you fill your brain with really matters. In a recent fast-paced TED talk, psychologist Shawn Achor shared how it’s discouraging to go into schools to talk about happiness and motivation on a Friday, when on Monday the students heard about suicide prevention, on Tuesday they heard about date rape prevention, Wednesday anti-bullying, and Thursday depression. Those students are primed to be miserable about the big, bad world they live in.

No wonder God says in Philippians 4:8, Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I love Andree’s summary: Not all “knowledge” is good, and not all knowledge brings happiness. It was love, not meanness, that made God forbid us from eating of certain trees. Amen.

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