Friday, February 12, 2016

What if...

What if there was a creator god who existed outside of his creation of time and space and matter, the whole universe, including this one planet we call earth.  What if this god, who I will call "Artist," designed creatures to inhabit this earth and put a unique pattern of himself in them, giving them the desire and satisfaction in making things as well? And the little artists could see and respond to clues and evidences of Artists's handiwork all around them? What if some of them were compelled to adore Artist, whom they had never seen or spoken to but somehow knew him by the evidence of the beauty and order of all the created things around them?

What if he really loved his little artists and wanted to communicate his love and desires to them directly? Being outside his creation of time and space and matter and they just tiny finite beings, he sent them tools to use, tools perfectly designed to help them better understand their creator and their fellow beings as well as to make beautiful things? But what if some of the little artists, selfish and greedy for more creative power than Artist, became destructive instead of creative?  Even though the tools were perfect, they misused them or in frustration just tossed them aside, preferring their own tools and methods?

But what if Artist, in his great love, began to send messages to them through special individual artists who could translate and communicate his intentions? Through these messengers, he critiqued their work, giving praise and correction. What if some artists received the messages with gladness but others rejected them outright, their works becoming dark and destructive and disturbing?

What if, in due time, Artist make an appearance among his creatures, limiting his power and becoming, for a short time, a little artist?  What if, while he was among them, he demonstrated perfectly how to use his tools to create beauty and harmony and order and peace? Would you think the little artists would be thrilled to have, as their very own teacher, THE teacher, the ARTIST, to help them make sense of their design, the Creator of all creators? Some fell in love with him and practiced his techniques and methods, using his tools  and sharing the good news all around. Others, however, did not! They resented his instructions and didn't believe he was the Artist come among them no matter how great were the works he demonstrated.

What if these disbelieving artists started talking about Artist to the established art schools and universities, saying that he was teaching improper or contrary methods, even claiming to be the creator of all creators, the Artist of all artists? What if these schools started to talk among themselves, seeking how they could censure him, silence him, forbid him to teach?  What if Artist disregarded their admonishments, knowing that their motives were only to preserve their institutions and self importance?

What if the established artists and institutions became furious at Artist and sought how they might have him arrested?  What if they paid people to swear falsely about him?  Little artists who had never even tried to make one good thing swore that he was doing it all wrong, leading them astray, teaching them to use the wrong tools! What if they did arrest him? In fear, his friends and followers ran away, leaving only the angry mob to testify. Somehow the trial got out of hand and Artist was sentenced to death,  And they killed him.

What if  Artist had known all along that this would happen? What if he loved his little artists so much that he was willing to go through it all with them so that they could know him and understand him and his techniques?  But, what if, being the Artist Creator who created time and space and matter and earth and all the little artists, couldn't stay dead, but came back to life? What if he did just that, and walked around, talked to his friends and followers, ate with them and taught them again for many days until it was time for him to go back to wherever it was that he existed outside of time and space and matter?  What if he told them that he was going away, but that he would come back again sometime in the unknowable future? And that he would send another messenger to help them remember his tools and teachings, to create many more good things and to share them with everyone they know?  What if this messenger was not like the earlier ones, who were only little artists, but actually another part of Artist that he would send in his place to always be there with them?

What if the rest of the story hasn't been written yet?  What if the believing artists are still creating good things, trying to use the tools well with the help of the Messenger? What if the disbelieving artists are still selfish and greedy and still trying to make up their own tools and techniques and only creating disharmony and destruction?  What if the Creator Artist is planning on that day when he returns to earth to make everything beautiful again, to make his artists great and to restore his creation to its original perfection and beauty?

What if this were all absolutely true, what kind of artist should you be?

Monday, December 22, 2014


The sibilant sigh of
solstice snow. It comes
shrouding familiar scene,
quelling hurried time.
Hushing, shushing, damping, tramping.
Mantling branch and twig in vestal down.

The infant cry of
Infinite Man. He comes
bearing familiar frame,
dwelling in measured time.
Hushing, shushing, forever crushing shame.
Mantling mankind in matchless worth. 

Merry Christmas EVERYONE!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What I Mean by Tacos

Just to make things absolutely clear, when I use the term "taco" I refer to all types of meals wrapped in a tortilla but expressly NOT one of those tasteless, pre-cooked, cardboard-y things sold in packs of 10 in the grocery store. I mean a vast assortment of delicious foods folded or wrapped in fresh, warmed or fried tortillas, either flour or corn. Okay? Just wanted to get that established from the beginning. 

It just so happens that I have jumped into my bean blogging career mid-week, mid-bean batch. Stay with me and you'll undoubtedly get the whole process eventually. Yesterday I found a small bit of salmon left over in the fridge from last weekend and decided on fish tacos with this week's black beans on the side. I thought you might enjoy seeing one on my variations on taco building. Here we go in random, non recipe fashion:

I placed some fresh corn tortillas on a cookie sheet and spread about a half teaspoon of olive oil mayo on each one, then drizzled Sriracha sauce onto that.
I placed them in a 350* oven to warm. Then I put about a half cup of beans in a couple of ramekins. Here's a little hint for you: when reheating beans in the microwave, place a moist paper towel over them before heating. It prevents them from exploding all over your microwave. I zapped them and left them in the oven. Then in a sizzling steel skillet, I drizzled a little amount of excellent olive oil and seared the thin salmon until it turned white around the edges. Because it was so thin, this only took about three minutes. I flipped the fish, turned off the skillet, and finished cooking it by chopping it up with the spatula, stirring as it cooked. 

I pulled the tortillas out of the oven and plated them. On top of each tortilla, I put a whole leaf of lettuce, then the salmon, some grated cheese and confetti-ed red pepper. All over this I drizzled some more olive oil mayo and Sriracha.  I served this with some of that marshmallow and cool whip salad type thing that I made up at the last minute using left over cranberry relish. To make it really special I toasted some chopped pecans and tossed them in at the last minute. Incredible!!
The lettuce leaf makes the taco almost bomb-proof easy to eat and everything was well timed and delicious. 

I forgot to mention this took less than half an hour to throw together. I'm nothing if not practical. I usually serve the largest meal at lunch. In the mornings, I come down to my studio on the lowest level of the house where the kitchen and dining room are also. I lay out my paints, maybe start a painting, and then begin thinking about lunch. If the beans haven't already been cooked, they are started, some meat might be thawed or the leftovers appraised. I make the meal in small increments until it's time to toss it all together just before lunch. This is fun, creative, and most importantly, gets me out of my painting brain which can get too narrow focused, too nitpicky unless I frequently step away from the canvas, breathe some outside air, toss the ball for the dogs, bug Tim in his studio, or fuss in the kitchen. 

I said I would tell you how I became the Queen of Beans, but got all excited about cooking and didn't get around to it. Next time, perhaps. Hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Beans and Such

I have been wanting to start writing again but apparently a huge log jam of ideas has got me bound up.  So, yesterday it occurred to me: I need to write about something different.  Or write about things differently.  And it just came to me:  beans, I bet no one is blogging about.... BEANS.

I love lentils, red and blacks, northerns, pintos and navies. Every week I cook about two pounds.  I start by soaking them in a large bowl of water for at least 10 hours. Next day I rinse and drain the beans and put them in the slow cooker with enough water to cover.  Into that goes a couple thick slices of bacon (or 2 T olive oil if going vegan,) 2 T of salt, and three or four large cloves of garlic; this is my basic, foundational recipe. I simmer them on high for 3-5 hours, depending on the beans** until they are creamy but still meaty and delicious. On day one, we usually just have a bowl of plain beans, with perhaps some fresh corn tortillas, plain or fried, or a small salad on the side. But beans are the main course.

This week I added to the basic recipe 2 T finely ground coffee and 1 T of pure chili powder (not the blend but "chili puro" from New Mexico.) These black beans needed an extra hour or two to soften but when they did, they were fantastic!!!  Yesterday (day two) I added some left over taco meat (ground beef) and served it over a small portion of rice.  This is how the week usually progresses. Tomorrow I'll probably make some tacos al pastor (fresh tortillas, not fried) with beans on the side, or maybe they'll morph into chili.... and so forth until the beans are all gone or I get sick of them. Usually there is only a half a cup or so left at the end of the week that gets tossed so that I can start fresh.

**By the way, if you wonder about the intestinal discomfort from dried beans, a word of warning and encouragement.  Soaking the beans adequately tends to break down some of the enzymes that are hard to digest so by all means, soak them beans!  And make sure you rinse, drain, and then BOIL especially pintos and kidneys rapidly for 10 minutes before simmering them. These have an unusually high amount of the toxin.  If your slow cooker doesn't get hot enough to simmer the beans adequately, you may need to boil all your beans before cooking them in a crock pot.  My slow cooker has an adequate 'high' setting so I cook everything in it right from the start except for pintos and kidneys.

Next time I'll tell you a little bit about how this passion began.  Oh, did I mention coffee beans? Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gardening by Neglect ~ Random Reflections of the Growing Season

Every year I buy a few plants at the end of the season. I troll the home improvement centers for the bargain racks, the"buy it or we trash it" sale at the back of the garden center.  I know it's risky planting trees or perennials in July; the plants take a lot of watering and tender loving care to survive the hottest part of the summer.  But these plants are, after all, survivors.  They have usually had all their top growth die off and are struggling to produce new shoots from the root ball.  I snatch them from their impending doom and say, "Hey, this one wants to live!!  I'll save you, little tree! You can come live with me, scrawny scabiosa!"  Then , if they survive the hottest part of the summer and endure throughout a winter, I deem them worthy of living in my garden.  I call it "Gardening by Neglect."

When we bought this corner lot, it had a four century maples and a few tiny foundation plantings. Over the last 16 years we have planted screening trees, ornamentals and shrubs, and converted hundreds of square feet of perfectly good lawn into expansive borders and flower beds.  The good news is that we can no longer see nor barely hear the car wash behind our alley, we have shaded the house from the hot afternoon sun, we have perennials and re-seeding annuals that bloom in succession all around the house, there are four magnificent rose bushes that border our patio with majesty, clematis climbing all over everything, and bees in abundance.  The bad news is how much weeding and mulching and feeding are required throughout our extensive growing season in this part of Missouri.. Honestly, I just don't have the "spark" anymore to keep it up like I used to.  That  is why I call my technique: Gardening by Neglect.  In other words, if it survives, it survives.  If it doesn't, it doesn't deserve to live in MY garden.  It's a lot like my greenhouse technique.... which means that my houseplants have to be incredibly tenacious to survive my episodic, spasmodic care.

Another thought has perplexed me lately, though.... and that is the tenacity of undesirable plants. I hesitate to call them 'weeds' because one woman's weed is another woman's focal planting. We have a yard FULL of wild violets and clover.  Now, those of you who have battled violets know that they spread tenaciously by bulb.  There are no weed killers known to be effective against them and the recommended treatment is 'pulling."  Yea, in your DREAMS.  Of course, like eliminating any successful invader, if you leave one single bulb, you have lost the battle.  These amazing plants have given me a new respect and possibly a new definition of what exactly is a "weed":  a plant that can grow anywhere, in any light condition, with or without water.  A desirable, on the other hand, must be planted in EXACTLY the right spot with precise amounts of light and water and food. The violets, by contrast, live under shrubs, in full sun, on the dry slope and the bogs, in clay or loam.  They grow literally everywhere, in the cracks of the sidewalk, under the porch, in every lawn and planting area.  Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  The 'lawns' I have over-planted with Dutch Red-Clover and now require no more than one or two mowings a month and, now that the clover is established, very little watering.

A lawn care specialist stopped us the other day as we pulled up alongside our front curb and told us he could take care of our weed problem!  I almost ran him off the block!  What, kill off my clover?  You can call them weeds if you want to, but I call it my lovely, gently waving meadow.  Hey, we live on a corner and nobody has to worry about my meadow encroaching on their boring single leaf lawn.  So do not judge.

I also have learned through observation, that the flower bed always looks less weedy on the other side of the fence, but, if you slow down and walk the neighborhood, as I do every morning with my two dogs, those borders look a lot different upon closer inspection.  The nearer I get, the more weeds I see.  And I do mean, WEEDS.  No one, in their right mind, wants mulberry, black walnut, red bud or elm trees growing up between the zinnias nor do vetch or crab grass belong in the mulch! I am satisfied with a smugness that consoles my urban conformity.  And justifies my claim to having an English cottage-style garden, seemingly random, care less and care free.  Some might just say messy.  To each his own.

So, taking a much more relaxed, laid back kind of attitude works for me.  Sometimes.  Most days. After all the rain we are getting this week I think I will probably have to spend a day or two ripping out the red buds in the seams of the patio and whack along the fences and maybe even 'weed' a flower bed or two.  I'm actually concerned about too much water at this point.  My neglected garden does NOT know how to handle that!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Confessions of a Gaming Grandma

Caleb said he got into the building by using his biotic jumping ability and clambered over the shipping containers and crawled in through an opening.  Since I didn't invest in biotic legs, I had to find a way in by my wits.  That involved dropping down through a hole into an underground hallway that clearly led into the building but I was stopped by a flooded passageway that was charged with electrical current.  After much trial and error, I tossed a couple of empty boxes down that hallway to discharge two explosive mines that barred my way.  I picked up a container, crawled onto a large pipe that ran the length of the hall above the water line, all the while carrying that container.  I got to the end of the passage, dropped the container into the water and scrambled across it onto a barricade.  I reached around and retrieved the container, climbed over the barricade and edged along another pipe on the opposite wall, down the hall and around the corner.  And so forth until I was able to pass beyond the flooded area onto dry footing.  What a rush of excitement and a thrill of accomplishment!  I texted Caleb immediately to tell him how I had gotten into the building.

I was playing Deus Ex - Human Revolution on the XBox.  The game was a Christmas present from my son Ben and I had convinced my grandson Caleb to play.  Of course, Caleb had sped past me on his own XBox and finished, even though he had started weeks after me. Over the next three days I also finished it, choosing the ending option to NOT lie about the twisted manipulation of biotically enhanced humankind and let humanity decide whether or not to proceed with man-made evolution.  Very satisfying conclusion to 40+ hours of gaming.

So, you might wonder why someone like me, a 60 year old woman, is a gamer.  I ask myself that all the time.  I have been slowly and inexorably won over by the medium and there's no turning back.  At first, it was just a lark, mostly to please Ben.  He said, 'Watch this, Momma!  You'll love it!"  And as entertained as I was, I had NO CLUE what it was that I was doing.  Actually, he did most of the playing and handed me the controller once in awhile and I would entertain HIM trying to learn to navigate.  If you have never tried it, don't laugh.  People who have grown up with controllers in their hands have NO IDEA how difficult it is to learn to control two joysticks and a D-pad, two buttons and two triggers, all the while trying to accomplish a goal, solve a puzzle, or the worst, shoot or be shot by some wretched looking alien.
The above boring video is me, ooooooh ages ago (like last year even) when I really sucked at playing.

Ben started me out by letting me play coop with him through the Halo franchise.  We played through so fast I almost remember nothing.  But I eventually grew to love the characters and the story line and began to care about the outcomes.  Then he and I played Portal 2 all the way through on coop.  Then I played through it on single player and I actually began to get a handle on moving around in the virtual world.  Next came the Half-Life franchise.  That took a long time but it was really fun, albeit a lot over my head.  When I came upon the tough scenes I'd just hand the controller over to Ben who would deftly execute his way through the perils for me.

Then I started the game that changed it all for me: Mass Effect 2.  I never played the first one, just jumped right into the second installment.  Ben kept telling me, "Mom, you're going to love this.  You'll start feeling as if this is really your ship and your crew."  If you aren't familiar with this type of first person shooter game, they are incredible entertainment.  Imagine taking a well written novel, turned into a well crafted movie that YOU are in, and you interact with characters and make choices that determine the outcome of the game, reflecting your morals, ethics and loyalties.  You bet you get involved, and you care!  You pursue your crew and win their affection and prove your loyalty and in the end, these choice effect the outcome of the game!

So, this was the first game I ever played without someone leading me by the hand.  I took my time, began it on 'easy' (and eventually moved up to a more challenging level of difficulty) and became "Jane Shepherd, Commanding Officer of the SSV Normandy."  I even painted myself in uniform at the command post of 'my ship.'

I took most of the game to get better at shooting while strafing and running and dodging enemies. Some of the choices that I made I regretted later because I lost the loyalty of one of my main characters and was never able to completely win Miranda's trust.  I never indulged in any of the romance scenes but I hear tell they were pretty intense.  I just don't need that in my imagination.  When 2 ended I was, like millions of other gamers, on the edge of my seat waiting for the last installment.  Of course, when it came out, I spent every spare moment playing the game, sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning.  

Halo 4 came out and I played that through on my own, as well as playing multi-player with Ben, Caleb, and eventually my younger grandson, Jordan.  I have to admit it's gratifying to see their admiration at their grandmother playing their games.  But I also have to insist sometimes that they "let me" play with them because they are so much better that I slow them down.  I run out of cover and get killed, wait to get respawned, run out of cover and get shot.  "Hey guys, cover me, will ya?  Oh well, I'll catch you all later!"

Depending on the game, there are brainteasers and puzzles to solve.  I love the games that give you lots of different ways to succeed.  Deus Ex did just that for me.  I was able to use a combination of skills to advance, not just shooting my way through.  In fact, this game has bonuses for people who play without being discovered or raising alarm.  I can't imagine how long it would take to solve that game without ever having an encounter with the antagonists.  

Anyway, by the time I'm 3/4 of the way through with a game, I'm flowing good and feeling competent and enormously PROUD of myself.  Then the game ends.  Sometimes it is three or four months before I begin another game and honestly, it takes me forever to get my skills back and feel confident.  But I hate to start another game immediately afterwards because I like to spend some time relishing it.  It's like finishing a good book or movie; I never like to plug in another movies as soon as I finish one or pick up another novel the minute I close the cover.  If I would jump into another game, I'd be a more proficient gamer by now.  But that's okay, I'm proud of what I've accomplished and I do have a wonderful time playing.

Does anyone know of a good first person shooter RPG that I can play that doesn't have too much blood and guts and too much cussin' and stuff?  I sure need another game.

Monday, March 25, 2013

On Faith

Recently, my son and I were talking about faith and doubt. His observation was that people who strap bombs to their backs and blow up busses are very secure in their faith. I told him that I doubt and question my faith at times but I keep coming back to a certainty that what I know is true and reliable. But when he asks me (and I ask myself) on what I have based my faith I am hard put to give an answer. Or should I say that, what I would've answered just a few years ago, no longer seems sufficient. His different worldview challenges me to examine my beliefs in order to believe more authentically as well as to communicate those beliefs in a more convincing way.

My faith has been based on a series, perhaps an accumulation, of life events that led me to a moment of realization. It resulted in an awakening, an aliveness that, for lack of a better description, culminated in being "born again". I was in my late teens/early twenties. My brother, Bud, and his wife, Ginger, were attending a Christian Bible study. When they started telling me about it, my mind started percolating. I got excited. In a short time I was seeking, crying out even, for the things they had shared with me to start making some sense. Ginger said, "Read the book of John." So I did. It sounded familiar and foreign and confusing but I persisted.

One story in John particularly caught my attention. In it Jesus was talking to a woman while she was drawing water out of a well. He offered her a different, better kind of water than she was getting from that well. He claimed that his 'living' water satisfied and never needed replenishing. His offer of deep satisfaction made me aware of the cravings in my soul that apparently remained unfulfilled.

In another part of the Bible written by Isaiah I found a portion that read, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which doesn't satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." This also made me aware of that emptiness inside of me. I wanted some of that satisfying water and wine and food!

Slowly things started to fall into place. Passages from the Bible that had previously seemed impenetrable were becoming apparent, as if a blindfold had been removed from my eyes. I was greedy for more knowledge and understanding. I became a sponge.

But, now I wonder, what if I hadn't grown up in a Christian environment? What if I hadn't gone to Vacation Bible School every summer and hadn't a preacher for a grandfather and hadn't been in and out of different churches all my childhood years? Would those passages have leapt off of the pages and ignited a fire inside me? Some of the stories seemed familiar and comforting, almost a homecoming, but was this more than just familiarity? I had acquired an appetite and an awareness for things that had been completely incomprehensible to me a short time before, as if a switch had been turned on. I had a sense of being deeply and profoundly loved. And I had changed, as surely as night into day. I can not say anything plainer than that. And I became a very different person in my attitudes, appetites, desires and delights.

To ME my faith is reasonable and logical. I believe in a creator that loves his creation and interferes to the point of becoming part of it in order to win back his own creatures that had rebelled against him. To my son this is a quaint spin on an ancient mythology rewritten by a small tribe of people who claimed to have a special relationship with this God. He would say its a product of my culture and upbringing and neurons and emotions. He and a lot of other agnostics believe in nothing or, at most, an impersonal clock-maker type of deity that built the world, wound it up and does not intervene in the affairs of men. My son is utterly confounded at the notion of a "benevolent" god that would claim to love his creatures and at the same time allow them to suffer. He is repulsed by a theology that secures the rights of a preferred people to the exclusion of others. Those are things which cause me to doubt, especially the preferred status part. And here is why that bothers me: because I have never questioned it.

Today in church our wise young pastor said, "Doubt wisely; ask honest questions." The question forming in my mind is, if I had read the Bible BEFORE becoming a believer, how would the passages of exclusivity have impacted me? I don't think this blog is the place for an exegesis on election and definitive calling (too many others have done so exhaustively that I wouldn't presume to discourse on it) but suffice it to say that the Bible makes it pretty clear that people are going to eternity either with God or not, and those who are not will be suffering. Some of these texts indicate that God knows who will go to either 'heaven or hell' and other verses go so far as to say that he chooses who goes where. Alongside this, Jesus commanded his followers to spread abroad the love of God, which extends to all his creatures, and that he wants "all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. " I have read these passages since the earliest part of my belief, inserting myself into the family of God. I found them to be of great comfort and encouragement, a precious gift I had received which I did not earn. For thirty five years, through eyes of faith, or child likeness or egotism (depending on your outlook), I have read the scriptures exhaustively and found them to be consistent, cohesive, progressively revelatory and inherently, ultimately, 'mine.' My story. My belief. My tribe and my God.

But stepping back, and looking at this from an 'outsider's' perspective, I can see how one might be offended, feel condemned and rejected. Only a stone-hearted person would not be angered or distressed over the injustice of people being 'left behind." That billions of people have lived and died on this planet without the influence of the enlightenment of the good news of Jesus and that billions more have known about and rejected him, is devastatingly sad. But what about the billions of people who have lived reasonably successful lives without the influence of Yahweh or Jesus and haven't felt any loss?

Part of me says I can't "unring the bell." I DID grow up in mid-20th century America. I have framed my worldview on Judeo-Christian ethics and culture. I did grow up under the influences of religious grandparents. I am completely unable to frame a single thought outside of the sum total of who I am and where I've grown up. Even though I strive to reject error and prejudices and to think outside the 'Christian Ghetto' that I have lived in most of my life, I cannot think as if I came from another continent, culture, or time or space.

I have asked some difficult questions. I hope my reader isn't disappointed that I will not attempt to answer them. To do so would diminish the magnitude of the importance of these doubts which, if held lightly, will simultaneously strengthen and challenge my faith in Jesus Christ. I don't think I am bigoted or small minded or unthinking or uncaring but in the end, I will have to question all of those things, too.