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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Laying Aside Weights - Getting Rid of Brain Clutter, Asking the Right Questions

More in this series.

Luke 12:15  And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

Curiously enough, there is some connection with getting rid of useless objects and getting rid of useless thought patterns and habits. Addressing one seems to help us address the other.

Consider these two pictures of the same room taken from almost the same spot:



Doesn’t the second picture make you feel better?  The first picture feels noisy, chaotic, and cluttered!  The second feels peaceful, free (because there’s room to move), and orderly.  This directly affects us mentally and emotionally.

When your environment feels crowded by excess stuff, chaotic, disorderly, it is hard to keep your thoughts orderly, clear and free of excess baggage.  It is easy to be distracted by the non-essentials when your living space is full of non-essentials!  It is easy to get distracted from what you need to do when there are too many unfinished projects around.  It’s probably common to end up doing nothing in order to avoid all the complications in the way.  If you stuff your closets and extra spaces (like the spare room above) with things that either are not needed or belong somewhere else, there’s a good chance you’re doing the same thing with your mind and/or emotions.  It’s an oddity of human nature, yet it makes sense.

When we focus on physical things, which are not the true essence of life, it’s no wonder that our minds and emotions become distracted with abstract things – emotions and thoughts – that don’t count.  Sometimes it works the other way too.  When we have emotional or mental things we don’t want to deal with or face, we can become obsessed with physical things as a way to distract ourselves from what we need to deal with.

I’m reminded of some excellent counsel a friend gave me once when I was dealing with a disappointing situation. She reminded me that the important thing was to “be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). There are many ways that thought could help us if we would just remember it!

So, one aspect of this challenge that I want to work on is not just clearing the physical space in our house, but also clearing the mental and emotional spaces inside of me for the things that really matter.  This means trying not to waste time and effort and thoughts on things that are irrelevant, that don’t relate to my Father’s business and have no point in my own well-being.

Now I have plenty of areas to work on this!  I hope to address some of them here in hopes that it will help others as well.  But, in showing the need to ask the right questions, today I want to deal with the matter of fretting over things that I can’t change or that are not my responsibility. To fret is:To cause to be uneasy; vex…To gnaw or wear away; erode…To produce a hole or worn spot in; corrode.”

For example, there were three products that I liked that recently changed their formula. (You know, “New and improved” and all that stuff.)  In the first place, I hate making returns.  (Who actually likes that, right?)  But, I also was thinking about what I “ought” to write to the manufacturers to let them know that I don’t appreciate the changes and wish they hadn’t done it.  But, “ought” I to actually spend time doing that?  For me, I tend to spend much time thinking about what I “should” write and little time actually doing it.  In fact, usually I never even  “get around to” the writing part!

Asking a few pertinent questions could help resolve this.  The following list is not an “apply-in-every-situation” type list. They are just some questions that I thought of in relation to this situation, though I think they would be helpful in some other areas as well.

1. What does this have to do with my service of the Lord?  Is it profitable to the life to come (1 Tim. 4:8)?  Answer: Nothing. No.

2. Is this ___________ essential to my well being?  Does it help me maintain a workable comfort level?  In one case at hand I can say “No”, and that I’m probably better off without it.  The other two products do effect my health but, as it turns out, one product did not prove to be a problem, and in all three cases the change the companies made has prompted me to find other solutions that may in the long run prove to be better, healthier and/or cheaper!  (Rom. 8:28)

3. Is it a good use of time, energy and/or emotions?  Not as far as emotions are concerned, and probably not for time and energy.  After all, even if I did write, what is the likelihood that the companies would listen? Not a whole lot. Not enough to make it worth my time.  (Yes, I know that letting companies know what you think helps them make better choices, but remember I seldom, if ever, follow through; and since I have more important things to spend my time, emotions, and energy on, it really is not worth it!)

Conclusion:  It isn’t worth the bother; lay it down!

If the answer proved to be yes in any case, then the next obvious question would be:

What should I do about it?  And, obviously then I should do that as soon as possible in order to lay the thing aside and move on.

Since I tend to “fret myself” about a lot of things, it would save me time and trouble if I asked these questions whenever I realize I’m picking up that weight.  Too often I end up “stewing” as my Gramma would have called it.  If you “stew” long enough you will disintegrate and go to pieces, and that is not a good thing.  :-)  Maybe a better analogy, in keeping with our discussion, would be to say that I keep myself from moving on quickly as I drag around this weight.

So, one weight I need to work on is laying aside these episodes of “stewing”.  That’s easier said than done, believe me!  After I first wrote this post I discovered that my favorite unscented lotion had been changed to include a fragrance which I cannot tolerate.  It was very annoying, and I started down that route of “what I should write” again before I convinced myself to stop.  Yet, knowing the fact that I seldom ever follow through and write to a company, what use is it to “stew” over it?  None really.  It just ruins my day or afternoon or morning or, even worse, my night.  Why not just let it go and look for a better solution, especially since that seemed to work out with the other cases?

What about you? Do these questions ring a bell with you too?  Do you have another list of questions you should ask yourself?  Maybe your fretting is in another area and you need a different set of questions.  Part of the challenge of laying aside weights is learning to ask the right questions, and remembering to do so at the right time!  So, today’s challenge is to compose a short list of questions that will help you throw off some of the emotional and mental clutter in your life, particularly “stewing” over things, or fretting.  Try to make the list short and to the point.  Be honest with yourself.  It would probably be helpful to print or write out the questions and put them where they will be a good reminder to you. :-)

Philippians 3:13-14  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gramma In An Apron

Here is one of the few pictures I have of my Gramma Hoover wearing an apron.  This picture was taken before my grandparents were married.  Grandpa is on the far left and Gramma is in the middle holding the toddler.  They were churning ice cream the old fashioned way (for those of you who don’t recognize this) with some family members.
Aprons were an important part of Gramma’s life, as they are in mine.  I remember her wearing them quite often when she was cooking.  Unfortunately she was pretty consistent in remembering to take it off before a picture was taken, or it was under the table where it couldn’t be seen.  She wore mostly half aprons in later years when I was old enough to remember.  I don’t know why for sure, because half aprons don’t really protect the most vulnerable area for cooking.  But, as you can see I came by my love of aprons quite naturally.  The one she was wearing here looks like a pretty floral print – just my style. :-)
February 21 was my Gramma’s birthday.  Gramma is still an important part of my life.  She passed on many sayings, a lot of advice and wisdom, a love of wholesome books, her fashion sense and so much more. She also was (and is) a dear friend, not just my grandmother.  I look forward to being with her again in Heaven!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thoughts from the Past – America the Wasteful

April 17, 2006
America the Wasteful

A couple of weeks ago my parents and I had stopped to pick up a few items at a large store. As we were returning to our car across the large parking lot I happened to notice that someone had dropped a bag from a local fast food restaurant on the ground and either intentionally run over it, or it had been run over by someone else. Whatever the case, it obviously still had food in it, some of which was spreading itself on the pavement.

This small incident got me to pondering on the wastefulness of Americans - perhaps of most "western" cultures.

My grandparents went through the Depression and were all missionaries, so wastefulness was something that was frowned upon in our family (though not as strictly as in some). My mother used to wonder that her grandmother never got food poisoning from the aged leftovers she ate. I wondered that my Gramma didn't do the same; and my mom is in a fair way of being the same, despite my dad's efforts to convince her she can't use leftovers that long.

I remember years ago being in a home for dinner. The lady had prepared a nice meal of baked chicken. Afterwards, as we were cleaning up the kitchen, the young wife proceeded to deposit all the food trash from the meal into the broth in the baking pan which also contained what was left of the chicken carcass. My mom asked her why she didn't use that broth to make soup. The young lady had never thought of that before and was sorry she had wasted it! This in spite of the fact that she was raised in the country by frugal parents.

There are other instances I’ve heard of or seen - the family who never ate leftovers and so the wife threw out everything left including the roast beef; the family who threw away cookies when they were more than a couple of days old; the people who were going to throw out the remainders of a turkey breast until their dismayed guests offered to take the it home, and so on. One sickening example was the church where almost all the women threw away all their leftovers after a church dinner regardless of their family's financial state (and some were quite poor).

Wastefulness. It is the result too often of fullness of bread and no "need" to extend our hand to the poor. Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.

Now I admit that my family is not perfect at this by any means. We throw away more spoiled food than I like, and at times I feel really bad about it. I don't suggest that we become paranoid nor over scrupulous. That only makes us anxious and can cause useless guilt (to say nothing of food poisoning). It is interesting though, that while so many things are preached and set forth today as "necessary" for us to do to "please God", you almost never hear this kind of wastefulness condemned. And yet, we have Jesus Christ Himself as the example of wisdom in this! After the feeding of the five thousand we read in John 6: 12, When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

Proverbs 12:27 The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Laying Aside Weights - So, Where to Begin?

More posts in this Challenge.

Hebrews 12:1  Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

So, how do you actually knuckle down and really get started with laying aside the physical weights that are besetting you?  In the first place, it would be good to select an area of specific need if you haven’t yet, and since my most pressing need at the moment is to get rid of clutter and unfinished projects, that’s where I have started.  I suspect that most of you can use this too since there are many of us that are so “fabulously wealthy” that we have to fill the garage (ouch) or spare room, or a storage unit or backyard shed with our excess stuff.

The first thing that probably started me down the road of reconsidering  possessions and clutter was a little book my dad loaned me called Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James.  While I don’t agree with everything she had to say (she is not a Christian writer), I found some things in her book that were challenging and helpful.  However, I really didn’t implement a lot of it.

The next thing that gave me pause to consider was last spring (2011) when we evacuated our house and headed south when a powerful storm was going to brush us from the north.  The feeling of leaving almost everything you own (I took a few things in a couple bags) not knowing if anything will be there when you get back is weird to say the least. (Note: We live in Central Texas – this is tornado country!  Praise the Lord we didn’t even have hail damage here from that storm!)

Then in September that year the wildfires started.  With high winds at the beginning of the month and extremely high fire risk due to prolonged drought, things were pretty scary for awhile!  We gathered up our “to go” pile in a few boxes and bags, and put several day’s worth of clothing and essentials in a back pack.  We were living with the constant possibility of evacuation because fires were popping up all over Texas and spreading, sometimes rapidly.  Some were positively huge. 

It’s a strange feeling to go through your house and pick out the few things that you’d really like to keep and can load quickly into the car in case you have to leave suddenly because of a wildfire.  It made me stop and think about some of the things that I own.  Really, if I never use them, what is the point?  Why are they cluttering my life?  And, what is important here?

Matthew 6:25  Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

I didn’t think of this verse at the time, but I think it fits in a way.  Life is about so much more than stuff, even though things can bring us some temporary pleasure.  We also read in Luke 12:15,  And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

In my first post I also mentioned the inspiration I’d had from other sources, particularly some of the things that have been helping me more recently.  I’d like to pass on a few more ideas that might help you get started and make some headway if you haven’t already.

Again, please remember that I put a disclaimer on my sources.  Please use discernment with these things.

The first one I want to mention is the “fast 21 thing purge” which I saw on a lady’s vlog. Simply grab a bag or box and head through the house.  The goal is to quickly search and find 21 things around the house that you don’t use and either put them in the bag/box to donate, or throw them away.  Because you are going fast and only picking out 21 items it won’t take too long, unless you let yourself get bogged down with the decision making process. This I am all too familiar with.  The important thing is to keep moving, make the decision and then stick to it.  Get the things out to the car or buried in the trash as soon as you can.  (I haven’t yet used this method since I’ve been working on a slightly different type of purging challenge which I hope to explain later.)

I probably should mention the respect of personal property here. I feel pretty strongly that it isn’t wise or helpful to carelessly throw out other people’s stuff – especially things they are going to miss.  One friend’s sister-in-law decided to sort through her sister’s basement and threw out most or all of her brother-in-law’s school mementoes. Naturally, he was quite provoked! My great-grandparents moved often and they threw away all Grandma’s toys except one doll every time. This seemed to affect my grandmother in later years.  She was very attached to things and even showed some hoarder tendencies. So, try to be wise about this, even with your kids. Include them in the decision making process when possible. (Teaching them decluttering skills now can have lasting benefits!)  I know from personal experience that it can be hard in some situations, but it is good for your relationships to your family to respect their property.  Then if you do need to reduce things without their presence for some reason, they will know that you won’t be unkind about it.

The next quick method of getting rid of things is to “go shelf by shelf”.  Sometimes it is just too hard to think about doing a whole job at once, but if you do a little here and a little there you can make it.  Just go shelf by shelf as you have a few minutes.  Clean, declutter and organize just that one small section at a time.

For example, today I wanted to clear out the fridge of things that were old, tired or not getting used.  I knew that trying to clean the fridge itself at the same time would be overwhelming for me, so I stuck to the first job of just clearing out the junk.  This worked well, and my fridge looks a lot better even if it isn’t clean – yet! :-)  So try going “shelf by shelf” when you have a few minutes – talking on the phone, waiting for something to cook, waiting for someone, etc.  Even baby steps are steps!

Another great suggestion from the same lady is to “suffer for 15 minutes”.  The basic idea in this is that you can chip down an iceberg 15 minutes at a time. :-)  You can’t do it all at once, but if you do it for 15 minutes a day you can eventually get it done!  Her description of being overwhelmed by the enormity of a project fits me to a “T”.  I am one of those don’t-start-because-it’s-too-much-to-do people.  I also tend to be one that starts a project then pushes it aside if it’s taking more effort than I thought or if I run into a snag.  But, this “suffering for 15 minutes” is a good idea and I want to give it a try.  By limiting the “suffering” to that time frame I think even I could make some progress!

And speaking of those unfinished projects lurking around making me feel guilty and unaccomplished…. 

Here is one last good suggestion that I need to seriously put into practice: Abandon an unnecessary project.  Ok, I know that’s not what she titled it, but the fact is that some of our projects that never get done really aren’t “fun” projects.  We may have thought at some point that it would save us money or be useful or that it would be fun but, we found out that either we wouldn’t get it done, or it wasn’t fun after all.

Though I hadn’t heard this suggestion till today, I’m tickled that I’ve already been working on this. I have recently discarded three “fun” projects that were cluttering my life.  There was a scrapbooking blank calendar that was made unnecessary since I discovered it is easier to create my calendars online.  I also decided to discard my paper raffia which I had used to make baskets.  I don’t think I’ll ever do that again, so it might as well go.  These craft items will be offered to friends, and if they don’t want them, they’ll go in the donate pile!  Yes!

I also sorted through the stuff I collected for scrapbooking.  At one time I thought I would be a scrapbooker, but as it turns out I am a card maker. So, why fight it? :-) I might put together some photo album type books, but probably never any involved scrapbooks with journaling, mementoes, and lots of ornamentation.  It’s time to let it go.  So, some of the items were delegated to card making, some selected as worth keeping, and a number of things, which will go unmentioned in case any of my family reads this, were discarded. <grin> Some things will be sent to the appropriate family members and they can decide what to do with them.  Out of my space. :-)  Whew!  That feels good, actually!

So, were you inspired to put any of these ideas to use, and if so which ones?  Maybe you came up with your own method for working down the pile.  Want to tell us about it?  Leave a comment! :-)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Leftover Oatmeal Cookies

I had quite a bit of leftover oatmeal recently, but I wasn’t that keen on making Cooked Oatmeal Cake.  The thought crossed my mind that there should be a recipe for making cookies from cooked oatmeal, so I looked it up online and sure enough there was!  It looked good, though, as usual with a few changes. ;-)  (I reduced the sugar already, in case you like to do that with cookie recipes.) 
Most of my family here enjoyed these quite well.  Ahem!  There was one dissenter who takes exception to raisins in his cookies, but that makes more for the rest of us, right?  My husband liked them at any rate, and after all, that’s what counts for me. ;-)

2 C. brown sugar
1 C. butter
3 eggs
2 C. cooked oatmeal
2 C. all purpose flour
2 C. white whole wheat (or regular whole wheat)
[Note: You can use 4 cups of all purpose flour.]
3 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. vanilla
3 C. chocolate chips
1 C. coconut
1 C. raisins
Cream sugar, butter, eggs and cooked oatmeal.  Mix in the flour, baking soda and salt; then the coconut, chocolate chips and raisins.  Scoop onto baking sheets by tablespoonsful about 1 – 1 1/2 inches apart and flatten slightly. Bake at 375F for 10-15 minutes or until cookies are set and starting to brown slightly.  Allow to cool on baking sheet about 5 minutes before removing to racks.
(I put mine on parchment, so I had no trouble with them sticking.  I don’t know if the baking sheets need to be greased.  The original recipe said nothing about it, but it was a little short on instructions.)
These cookies freeze well.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dad In the Kitchen – A Tribute… More or Less :-)

My dad with a jar of beet pickles he concocted when we lived in Tennessee.

When I was a kid, Daddy’s cooking always seemed a little like Russian roulette.  Sometimes you got something really good, sometimes you got something really awful; and there was usually nothing that was in between – certainly nothing ordinary.  He was a “fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants” cook, so he never, or seldom, had a recipe for what he made.  Sometimes he could remember how he made it, sort of; but other times he could not.  If it was really good we were usually pretty sorry about this.  If it was really awful we were glad. :-)  But, either way, it was always an adventure to eat what he made.

His green herb sauce was one of his all time successes.  It was excellent.  It was one of those things that, if he had had the money and desire, he probably could have marketed it.  It was delicious served with meat, and I’m sure it would have made an excellent creamy dressing mixed with mayonnaise and sour cream.  He did write down what he put in it, but not how much, and since he gleaned a lot of random things from the interesting garden we had that year, we’ve probably never had quite that same mixture since.

He has also made some very notable lime marmalade, some tasty “stir-fried” vegetables, quite good pickles, deep fried goodies of various types, and so forth.  He was famous (to us) for his seasoned salt, which he did manage to make write down, and make more than. :-)  His all time “interesting” dish, in my opinion, was probably his wild day lily soup.  It tasted pretty good, but it was just plain weird, especially if one of the ants he missed while cleaning the flowers ended up in your bowl!

Daddy’s shark stew, however, would have destroyed the reputation of any chef. ;-)  If I remember correctly, the shark actually started its culinary career in the form of baked steaks, which were less than popular. This was due to the weird taste which may have been mostly the shark; though I at that age I was also suspicious of the curious sauce he put on it.  In an effort to make it into something more palatable, my dad converted the leftovers into stew, which was even less popular!  In fact, it was so awful that even he didn’t want to finish it. That’s saying something since he’s enjoyed some pretty weird stuff in his time!  The stew was put in the freezer “for future reference” and it stayed there until it was later removed and buried under the roses! :-)

Another of his noted failures was the time he decided to make “bologna sandwich spread” with hot dogs instead of the pickled ring bologna it’s usually made with.  Well, hot dogs don’t have the flavor of ring bologna, as he discovered.  That sandwich spread pretty much tasted like mayonnaise and pickle relish and whatever else he put in it for seasoning. :-)

I have to give my dad credit, though.  He did teach me some things about cooking.  Mom always called on him to finish spicing the curry because he has a knack for that type of thing.  So, I learned to use herbs and spices in my cooking more from him than from Mom.   In fact, not long ago I managed to rescue a failure of my own in the line of a chicken and pasta dish by using some of the seasoning ideas he taught me.

Daddy has always been inclined to garnish dishes too, even dishes that Mom prepared.  His colorful additions to everything from salads to desserts were an inspiration.  Sometimes I remember thinking he’d gone too far, but after all, he had fun doing it.  And, we usually weren’t forced to eat the garnishments if we didn’t want to (as in the case of wild day lilies, though they are actually edible). [Photo: A salad my dad helped make and garnish with pickled beets or turnips and artichoke hearts.]

Some dads solve the problem of needing to cook by making a telephone call for delivery or take out.  But, Daddy wasn’t inclined to resort to “take out”, especially pizza delivery, since we had plenty of ingredients in the freezer, fridge, pantry and cupboards.  Sometimes we did go out to eat in an extremity, but I don’t remember ever having pizza delivered when I was growing up, unless it was at the instigation of a guest who was also paying. ;-)  It was not considered a good option on our budget, plus Daddy wasn’t much impressed with the quality of that type of pizza.  I suppose he figured he could make something more nourishing himself.   Maybe not tastier, but definitely more nourishing.  :-)

Before I was old enough to “man” the kitchen in an emergency, if Mom couldn’t cook, Daddy “came up with something”.  Usually, though, his cooking adventures were just that – adventures for the sheer fun of it!  He seemed to really enjoy just inventing something and then watching us eat it, whether we wanted to or not. :-)

This is another photo of the salad pictured above along with some absolutely delicious grilled chicken that he made. The chicken was marinated and it was superb.

In recent years Daddy has become very adept at grilling, but he hasn’t been so inclined to cook.  He has roasted coffee, made a few salads and refrigerator pickles, helped with the grunt work for our canning, and prepared a few sauces and dressings, but the larger than life items have fallen by the wayside.  The demands of running his own business, his interest in writing, and more recently his yard and gardening projects have overshadowed his occasional adventures in the kitchen.  We’ve probably missed out on some great things because of that, but we’ve lost some great family legends too.  You know…, the kind that begin, “Do you remember that awful ____________ that Daddy made…” :-)

Pickled beets and eggs that my dad and mom made together.  They were delicious! :-)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wheat Berry Salad

I found the original recipe for this in a magazine, but as usual, I altered it. :-)  It turned out quite well and was a refreshing change for the carbohydrate part of the meal.  Plus, it felt like we were eating something really healthy that was delicious too!  It is a good hearty dish, and leftovers keep pretty well.  I added some smoked white cheese to it later for a light supper and that was good also.  It would probably be quite good in a packed lunch.  Enjoy!

1 1/2 C. wheat berries
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1/2 C. chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
1/3 C. dried cranberries (or cherries) 
1 Tbs. dried parsley
1 green onion, tops only, chopped
3 Tbs. olive oil
Juice of one lemon (about 2 Tbs.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. allspice
In a large sauce pan, cover wheat berries with water so that they are covered by about 2 inches.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until the berries are tender enough to chew easily.  Drain and allow to cool completely. (Hint: You can boil and drain them a day ahead and refrigerate them overnight.  This makes a nice cold salad.)
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients until well mixed.
Makes 6 servings.