Here I Am

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Occasionally when I’m in church or Wal-Mart or the line to register my car, I can’t help but notice that one unruly child who is challenging her or his parents minute by agonizingly long minute. They scream. They kick. They throw an all-out fit. I think to myself, this is what duct tape was made for. Just kidding. I want to say that I’m always very Christian-like and pray for the parents’ patience and sanity.  Sometimes that is true. Sometimes that is not at all what I’m thinking.

I honestly don’t remember my kids at that age being such a handful when we were in public. (Not that they weren’t. But that was before Instagram and Facebook so I can’t verify anything.) But I do remember one of them being extraordinarily slippery. That sucker could slip away in broad daylight under three search lights. Holding on to him in a store was like trying to stand up on a slip-n-slide covered in baby oil. We would blink and that little stinker would be gone. Then he would go into quiet mode. No talking or snickering or burping noises to give him away.

Once in a Wal-Mart we searched and searched. We called in the security people to help us locate him. Just when I was at my wit’s end and sank to the floor in tears, I heard his little voice, “Here I am.” He had shimmied up into the middle of one of those round displays of ladies dresses and came down only when he was ready to be found.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about those three little words. Here. I. Am.here i am

In the Bible that phrase was used when God called to Abraham to ask him to offer his son as a sacrifice. Without hesitation Abraham answered, “Here I am.” When God called to Moses from the burning bush Moses simply replied, “Here I am.” And when Samuel was in the temple and God called, his answer was, “Here I am.”  It was a simple matter of them being ready to be found by God. They were not hiding. They were not asking God to wait a sec. They were available to God immediately when He called.

Here I am.

I want to be that kind of person. Not one who hides. But one who is willing to be found. No games. No search and rescue. No temper tantrums. No hesitation. Just a simple willingness to let God find me and use me. Right here. Right now.

Here I am.

Are you willing to be found?

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:4

 

 

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Bonus Recipe: Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

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chocolate-chip-oatmeal-cookiesI adapted this from a Ghirardelli’s recipe Melissa Reagan shared with me. I just exchanged the regular flour for gluten-free and added one more tablespoon of butter. That’s it. And it worked beautifully. Jackie is eating them as fast as I can bake them!

(If you are not gluten-free and want to try the original recipe, go here. Either way they are way yummy!)

INGREDIENTS

12 ounces Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
1 cup butter plus one tablespoon, softened
 (I “defrost” it in the microwave for a few seconds)
3/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unsifted gluten-free flour
 (I used Pamela’s Artisan Gluten-Free Flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups oats, uncooked

INSTRUCTIONS

Pre-heat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl (or bowl of stand mixer with paddle attachment), beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color (about 4 minutes). Add vanilla and egg, and mix on low speed until incorporated. In separate bowl, stir flour with baking soda, salt, and spices; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in oats. Fold in chocolate chips. Use a small ice cream scoop to drop onto ungreased cookie sheets line with parchment paper. Bake 8 to 9 minutes for a chewy cookie, 10 to 11 minutes for a crisp cookie. Cool 1 minute on a cookie sheet; remove to wire cooling racks. Store in tightly covered container. Makes about 6 dozen 2″ cookies.

Gluten-Free Bread that Doesn’t Suck

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gluten-freebread.jpgSo…Jeff and I have gone gluten-free. It is not a necessity. But we are trying to improve some health issues that have been reported to respond well to a gluten-free diet. It has opened a whole new world to us. A crazy, weird, and expensive world.

I looked at prices and almost said diet schmiet, we can’t afford that. But then I found a book for my Kindle Fire that has changed my mind, Gluten-Free on a Shoestring by Nicole Hunn. She has a section on what to buy and what to make, where to get the best deals on groceries, and basically how to make it work.
itbends.jpgOnce I had the basics down, I started playing with recipes. The first bread recipe I tried was okay, but not great. It had a metally taste and was very dense. It worked okay for toast with peanut butter. The second loaf I made was almost inedible. We are using it for a doorstop. But the third one, with a little tinkering, is AMAZING. It tastes great. It is soft and flexible like real bread. We are very, very happy with it.
This recipe came from the blog onegoodthingbyjillee.com. It is Jillee’s Gluten-Free Bread that Doesn’t Suck. And it doesn’t! It is yummy and flexible and light and moist.

I adjusted it to fit the ingredients I like and how I bake.  So I’m leaving Jillee’s name off. I hope she is not offended. I will be making my version over and over again. Enjoy!

 

Gluten-Free Bread that Doesn’t Suck

Ingredients
4 cups Pamela’s Artisan Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup powdered milk
3 large eggs at room temperature
¼ cup butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
⅓ cup honey
 or sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water

Directions
Spray gluten-free cooking spray into two 8-inch bread pans. I like to use ceramic pans.
Add the yeast and honey to the 2 cups of warm water and stir until dissolved. Set aside.
Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and powdered milk together in a medium-size bowl and set aside. Put eggs, butter, and vinegar in the bowl of your mixer and mix for about 30 seconds with the paddle attachment. If the butter is chunky, that’s OK.
Add half the dry ingredients to the wet mixture in the mixer. Mix just until blended, and then add half of the yeast water, then remaining dry ingredients and mix for another 30 seconds, until blended. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the rest of the yeast mixture, then turn the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for 4 minutes. Your bread dough should resemble thick cake batter.
Spoon the dough into greased bread pans. Smooth the top of the dough with wet fingers, if desired. Wet a dish towel and put in your microwave. Heat on high 30-60 seconds until there is a little steam. Set bread in the microwave on top of the towel and let rise for approximately about 50 to 60 minutes. In last 15 minutes, pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
When the dough has risen to about an inch above the top of the pans, place the pans in preheated oven on the middle rack and bake for 35 to 55 minutes or until the bread’s internal temperature reaches 200 degrees with an instant-read thermometer. (This is very helpful! It’s hard to tell when gluten-free bread is done.) Mine was done in 30 minutes, so keep an eye on it.
Remove the bread from the oven and let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Then carefully remove loaves from pans and place on racks to cool. Brush with butter if desired.
Allow bread to cool COMPLETELY. (Don’t cut into it while it’s still warm or you will flatten it.) Let the knife blade do the work. Don’t press down, just keep “sawing” across the top until you get all the way to the bottom of the loaf and hit the cutting board. The bread slices will keep their shape much better this way!

Do You Know Me?

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Today is my birthday. I’ve been told I am old. I am okay with that. I am old-ish. But I am wise-ish also. For me it is a good exchange. I’m proud to be 53. That would have been considered ancient in the Middle Ages. I would have been the wise sage people sail across oceans to meet and get advice from. Everyone would have wanted to know me. They would have brought gold and grain and spices. Not such a bad scenario.

One of the great things about our social media society is that you get scads of birthday wishes from people you love and people you barely know. Which got me thinking about the word “know.” Do I “know” all the people who wish me well? Yes. But the levels of “knowing” are varied and significantly different. I know of people like the prime minister of the UK who has befriended me on Twitter. I “know” who he is and some of his politics. I “know” Facebook friends who I’ve met and chatted with only through social media a little better. I “know” friends from childhood but not who they are as adults. That knowledge is limited, but I would I would still say I know them. I “know” my girlfriends because we have shared our lives, our pain, our joys, our dreams. I know what they’ve gone through and they know me. I “know” my siblings, parents, children very well. I have lived with them. I know them because I’ve experienced life with them—its a first person kind of knowing. It goes beyond recognition, conversations, stories, or acquaintance. And I “know” my husband in a way that I know no one else. (Lucky me!)

But how well do I “know” God? I know of Him, I’ve read all about Him. I have chatted with Him and written to Him. I grew up with Him. I “know” Him and He “knows” me. He has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and still loves me. I have leaned on Him when there was no one else close enough or strong enough to go through the pain or shadows with me. I know I can trust Him. And just the other day while I was praying I called him “Honey.” (It just slipped out when I was praying passionately.) So I know Him quite intimately. But I want to know Him more. Much, much more.

As I think about the year to come, I pray that my depth of knowledge increases tenfold in my relationships this year. With God. And with you. If you are reading this, I “know” you. And knowing you means I’m praying for you. May God bless you and may you get to know Him better and better every day.

Knowing you makes me a better person. Thanks for being in my life however it is that I know you.

Happy birthday to me! (Spices and gold are still appreciated!)

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life.
Proverbs 16:31 NLT

What Day It Is

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The question we hear most on this trip is, “What day is it?” It usually takes a discussion involving two or three chaperones to answer that question. We thought this was day three on our Stupendous Band Tour. If we left on Thursday, however, this must be day four since it is Sunday night. But with a day of airport time, the time difference, and today’s change to daylight savings time, we feel like this is day three–otherwise known as the “grumpy day.”
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It started off with me waking from one of the deepest sleeps ever. Wow, was it hard to emerge from the depths. The alarm may have gone off for a minute or two or ten (only my roommate, Jonette, knows for sure). Then a couple of my girls went back to sleep after a 7:15 am wske up visit from me and almost missed the bus. They ended up getting ready in like four minutes since everyone was waiting. Grumpy.
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The day got better. The weather was sunny and warm (downright hot by Minnesota standards). We took a tour of Salzburg with Ms. Winnie as our guide.
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Walked over the lock bridge. Saw the fortress, a piece of pickle art, Mozart’s statue, his birth house, the house he grew up in. Saw an amazing graveyard, several cathedrals, horses, a coffee shop, and the best chocolate store in Austria.
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Jonette and I had coffee on the bslcony of Thomadini’s and sausages again for lunch. Yum. Then we shopped for eggs at an amazing shop with thousands of exquisitely hand-painted eggs. Our group may be responsible for a dozen or two making their way to the U.S.
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Spring has sprung here. Green grass and flowers are everywhere. Our kids played beautifully in the Mirabell Gardens (one of many gorgeous garden squares in Salzburg) at the summer castle (aptly named since we were all suffering in the warm temps with hot band jackets).
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Lots of people came because they knew tbere would be a concert and others were beguiled by the music and joined us. Total success. Mr. Christianson got a text from the mayor thanking us for such a great performance.
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After a short rest at the hotel (where shoes and shirts were changed for the benefit of all), we were back on the road again. This time to play a concert in St. Vitalis Church. It was small and it was challenging to get the sound right. But, Boy Howdy, did the band rise to the challenge!
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The small wooden church filled with Salzburgians ready to hear and appreciate lovely music. And our kids delivered. It brought tears to my eyes to see the kids do so well for an audience who knew and appreciated each note. I was so proud–I would have popped my buttons if I hadn’t been wearing a zippered jacket. Those gracious, wonderful people asked for an encore then gave the band a four minute ovation. It was one of those awesome moments in time that is imprinted on your soul. What memories.
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What day it is? Awesome day.

Chillin’ in Charlotte

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Everyone made it to the buses on time for the trip to the airport. No big issues getting instruments checked, getting ticketed, and through security. Perfect.

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Jeanette and I had fabulous sushi while listening to a piano player tickle the ivories.
All was great.
They called for us to board our flight for Frankfurt. Phones were turned off, neck pillows readied, passports pulled from the bowels of backpacks.
Then the dreaded announcement. “We have to delay the flight due to an engine check. We will board in thirty minutes.”
That was at 8:00 p.m. one hour ago.

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Now it says 9:45.
But the kids are finding fun things to do. No worries. It will all work out.

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All is good. Can’t keep kids from having fun.

Austria, Here We Come

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Today we head for the Minneapolis Airport to fly across the ocean to see the if the hills are truly alive with the sound of music. They will soon be alive with Minnesota teenagers!

I am a chaperone for the Shakopee High School band as they tour Germany and Austria and play three concerts in the land where Mozart was born and composed amazing music. There are more than one hundred of us traipsing over there together. Exciting. Crazy. Once-in-a-lifetime. Pray for us!

I was going to start a new blog for the trip, but how much can I blog in one week? So I decided to put the posts all right here.  So come back often and check it out. There should be photos from Rothenburg, Munich, Salzburg, Innsbruck. Stories. Exhaustion. Cries for help.

I can’t wait.

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Rothenburg, Germany, our first stop.

I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go.
Genesis 28:15 NLT

Dreams

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Once again I was awakened by fierce night sweats last night. If you have never felt these, they are hard to explain. Most people think you just feel hot. It is so much more than that. It feels like you are trapped in a microwave, cooking from the inside out, and if you don’t get out of the covers or clothes RIGHT NOW you will explode like a potato left too long in the mic with pieces jettisoning against the glass to slide slowly to the bottom. Anyway….

I was in the middle of the most delightful dream. As I emerged from the cloud of my dream I was happy and joyful and just wanting to get back to sleep to experience more. But I suddenly realized that my innards were roasting and that I had to throw off the covers, turn on the fan, and possibly move to Antarctica. I was not happy about this interruption. Once things had cooled down and I was back to my shivering self, I realized I could not remember what I had been dreaming about. What was it? It was so clear when I first woke up. Now it was a swirling cloud of vapor. I concentrated and calmed my mind—trying to recreate that feeling of wonderment I had before the reality of the microwaves kicked in. But it was gone. I could only find wisps of the dream remaining—vapor trails of what was or could have been. Bits of happiness. Feelings of fulfillment. Snatches of peace.

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It made me think of another kind of dreaming. Those goals, ideas, and hope-to-do-someday plans that keep us fired up when we are young. Lofty ideas. Challenging hopes. Napkin-drawn blueprints for a life we want to build.

How many of us lose those dreams when reality butts in? We were going to start a bed and breakfast, write a novel, travel the world, become a missionary. But we lost a job, had kids, got sick, experimented with the wrong obsession, and the dreams faded. It is frustrating and exasperating.

How do you pick up old dreams when they’ve been lost or put on hold for the unexpected or even for different or shared dreams? How do you coordinate old dreams with new realities. Or do you? Maybe you dream new dreams. Bigger dreams. Dreams that encompass your past, present, and future. Dreams so big only God can make them all work together, reforming the misty possibilities into concrete realities.

That is the kind of dream I want. The kind that includes my messy life—the hot flashes and tea drinking and sign reading (hello, my name is Marilyn and I am a sign reader) and apologies and dirty baseboards—all of it. I want the kind that are too big for me to do by myself. I want God-sized dreams.

And, if it is not too much to ask, I would like to remember them.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Ephesians 3:20–21 MSG

Belly Button Bread

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Belly Button BreadI make this bread. We call it Belly Button Bread. It has nothing to do with belly buttons. Although I have to admit when it is rising it looks a bit like a belly—well a middle-aged belly maybe. And the little divots we put into it before it bakes sort of look like innie belly buttons. At least that is what Darla thought when she saw the first loaf. The moniker stuck and its been Belly Button Bread ever since.

The original recipe started from a recipe I saw on the Naked Chef. (He never was nekked that I saw.) I’ve added, subtracted, messed with, and generally overhauled the recipe to be something that is easy for me. The basic recipe is what follows. But we change it up sometimes and add cheese or thinly sliced tomatoes or basil or garlic or olives. I have even made a sweet version and topped it with cinnamon sugar and butter. YUMMO.

Play around with it as much as you want. Or stick to the recipe. Just be careful who you give it to once it is baked. They will keep asking for it and you’ll feel obligated to bake more and more and before long you’ll lose your job and live to watch yeast get all foamy, and smell this amazing bread baking. Be careful!20140313_180609

I put the salt and bread flour in my fancy dancy mixer and give it a whirl. You can just use a big bowl. Whatever works. Then add the honey to the warm water and mix before adding in the yeast.

When the yeast water is all foamy, turn the mixer back on and slowly add it to the flour. Once it is all mixed up, I take off the paddle and put on the hook attachment. Then I add more flour until the dough forms a ball and comes away from the sides in one big lump. You can mix it in by hand in the bowl or on a floured surface until you have a smooth, slightly sticky dough. Knead for five or six minutes.20140313_193346

Put it in a bowl that is coated with oil, pop on the lid and wait for about an hour. This is when it kind of looks like a belly. Sort of.

Then it is divided into two pans, brushed with oil, poked, and left to rise again.

Finally it is dusted with rosemary, baked on high heat, and fills your house with a  smell that will make you weak in the knees. Really it will.

focaccia doughRECIPE

Ingredients
2 cups warm water
2 TBS active dry yeast (about 2 pkgs)
2 TBS honey or sugar
2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour if you don’t have this)
2 1/2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 TBS kosher salt
2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling (or whatever oil you have)
1/2 TBS rosemary, roughly chopped or banged around in a mortal and pestle

Directions
Combine the warm water, yeast, and honey in a small bowl. Put the bowl in a warm, not hot or cool, place until the yeast is bubbling and aromatic, at least 5 minutes. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the bread flour and two cups of flour, kosher salt, olive oil, and the yeast mixture on low speed. (Or do all of that in a bowl or on a floured surface using your hands.) Add in more flour until the dough has come together. Continue to knead with dough hook for 5 to 6 minutes on a medium speed until it becomes smooth and soft. Give it a sprinkle of flour if the dough is really sticky and tacky. Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly floured surface, then knead it by hand 1 or 2 times. Again, give it another sprinkle of flour if the dough is really sticky and tacky.Lightly coat the inside of a plastic, lidded bowl with olive oil and put the dough in the bowl. Attach the lid and put it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, at least 1 hour. Punch down and divide into two pieces.

Dust two baking pans with corn meal (or if using metal pans you can coat liberally with olive oil). Put the dough onto the pan and press it out to fit the size of the pan (leaving it free form makes it look more authentic). Drizzle or brush the top with olive oil. Spread your fingers out and make finger holes all the way through the dough. (Chef’s Note: Yes, this is strange. But when the dough rises again it will create the characteristic belly buttons. If you do not make the actual holes in the dough, the finished product will be very smooth.) Cover with plastic wrap.
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Put the dough in the warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. Ten minutes before the dough is finished rising a second time, preheat the oven to 550 degrees F (or as hot as your oven goes).

Liberally sprinkle the top of the focaccia with  rosemary and lightly drizzle a little oil on top. Bake the dough until the top of the loaf is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and let it cool before cutting and serving (or dig in immediately before Jackie can get his hands on it).

Enjoy!

House Shopping

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Today I met my new realtor and we went house shopping. Unfortunately they do not have them in a big box store where you can compare price tags and see the same model in nine different colors and maybe put a Malibu Ken in a room to see how that works. Nope. You have to trek across counties, fiddle with lockboxes, and imagine, while squinting your eyes and turning your head sideways, how the Oliva dining set would look here or the drum playing would echo from there. I was totally wishing for Hermione’s magical purse so I could bust out my four-poster bed and try it in the owner’s suite.

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The good news is I have a fairly good imagination. The bad news is it was immediately apparent that our stuff would look crappy in just about every house we looked at.

The problem wasn’t the houses. We looked at all new builds today. Beautiful hard woods, rich cabinetry, burnished copper railings. Newer and shinier than Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar.

Our “stuff,” however, is close to thirty years old and loved into shabbiness. It is time-worn and lived in. Like that favorite sweater you hang on to year after year and wear with both skinny pants and elastic jeans because it is comfy and holds memories in every size. Our stuff is beat up and repaired and has layers of family life splattered all over it.

So maybe it won’t immediately look at home in a new house. But I am sure we will scuff up, wear down, and personalize the new house so the old stuff will feel right at home in time for Jackie to break out his Risky Business moves on the beautiful hard wood floors. Instead of nicks from light saber fights or dents from remote control cars, the new house will have scuffs from banjo playing gone wild and scratches from car keys falling from pockets. We will fight and cook and play and love until the new house is home and our stuff would seem out of place anywhere else.

Lord, help us find just the right house to love!

So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!
2 Corinthians 3:11