Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All I Want to Be is the Healed Leper Who Turned Back to Thank the Lord

Here's a question: 

When Jesus healed the blind man so he could see or caused the lame man to walk, what happened to them in the days following their transformation? 

Imagine if you'd been blind since birth and suddenly you had vision. Suddenly, you are inundated with color and movement and shapes, and you have no idea what any of this crazy new sensory overload is. How could you tell what a ball is just by looking at it, much less identify its color? How could you get the hang of visual depth perception if, before, your only sense of your environment was through touch, taste, and sound? 

Likewise, if you had been lame since birth and had never learned to walk, would being healed suddenly give you the ability to know which muscles to flex and how to balance on one foot at a time?

I thought about this a lot before. I've also thought about it a lot since my own healing. I know I haven't mentioned much about it since that post, but that's only because I don't have the words, not because it hasn't been utterly profound for me. On a daily basis I continue to be utterly amazed and grateful for what I have been given.

Before, I often wondered if those whom Christ healed were also given new mental abilities, if their perceptions and thought processes were healed along with their physical bodies. I think I can tell you now that not only is that possible (when all things are possible with God) but very likely.

I wouldn't have imagined before that having fears removed from my heart through what can only be described as a spiritually surgical process could also fundamentally transform the way I think, that habits could be erased and replaced in one sudden, glorious moment. When you can't remember a specific fear, the habit of a thought spiral is also gone. I will have a thought and then brace myself for the inevitable spiraling cascade only to be pleasantly surprised that there is no need to brace. The fear is gone, and, therefore, the cascade of other thoughts are also gone. In their place is only peace.

Could I have removed those fears on my own? Probably not. I tried. Oh, I tried. But if the removal is beyond your ability to achieve, no amount of trying will force you to succeed. Until they were gone, I honestly had no idea how deeply they were ingrained, and that has been another startling revelation.

But in the end, it wasn't the removal of those fears that was most important. What is most important is the fact that I had to humble myself and exercise my faith when the moment seemed too grim to endure. Only when I completely surrendered myself to God's mercy was I healed, and that healing was complete and perfect. While I remain imperfect as a human being, I know with absolutely certainty that when Jesus Christ implores us to lay our burdens at his feet so they will become light, He means it in a way I still can't quiet comprehend. It's a promise that is both literal and figurative, and it's beyond human imagining. It is sublime. And it is very, very real.

To try and give you an example of what I am experiencing, I'll use my issue with my physical looks. I don't know why, but it's always been impossible for me to separate my self-worth from my physical appearance. I know it's irrational, illogical, and harmful to think I'm only worth something if I am reasonably attractive in appearance, but no matter how much I read or thought or released emotion or reasoned with myself, that fear stubbornly remained like a big, ugly toad squatting on a bed of pearls and refusing to be budged. Now the toad is gone and all that remains are the pearls. I literally do not care if others perceive me to be more or less worthy based solely on my physical appearance. But that doesn't mean I don't care about my body, either. The outcome is that I want to take care of my body because I am grateful for it, not because I see in its imperfections that I am unworthy of any love or respect or that carrying extra weight turns me into a life failure. There is this confidence brimming inside that I can achieve the goals for health that I am setting, even if it's difficult. And I am gentle with myself. That's very new. Where, before, I tried to think this way, tried to convince myself that this was how I operated, now it's real.

It's a pathetic example because I can't really communicate everything in my heart, but it's an example that a lot of people can relate to. 

I don't know that I need this blog anymore. The need to write this blog seems to have stemmed somehow from holding onto fear. I've enjoyed writing it sometimes, and it's been kind of therapeutic for me. But now it's seems superfluous. I tried to keep it up, but my interest in it is non-existent. I have other things I want to do. So maybe I'll come back, and maybe I won't. For those who have read these ramblings, thank you for sharing my journey with me. 

For now, I'm going to enjoy learning to use a new sense. And every day I'm going to thank God for the miracle of my life.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fulfilling My English Bakery Fantasies One Loaf at a Time

Bread may be the staff of life, but it sure does require some commitment to bake. Normally when I make bread, I'll do enough for four loaves at once and be done. Lately, however, that recipe just hasn't appealed. I want European bread: crusty, chewy, and with no sweetener in the recipe. I have these memories of the English bakeries with their racks of bloomer and cob and farmer loaves piled high behind the counter, while under the glass you can droolingly survey the assortment of pastries both sweet and savory.

Mmmm. I could kill for a hearty Cornish pasty right now...

So I was looking online for inspiration, and I found this blog post that contained a simple European-style bread recipe and instructions. I've messed around with clay ovens and baking stones before, and I've had some good--but inconsistent--results. With this recipe, however, I'm baking up consistently amazing bread. It's substantial, it has a crusty exterior, and the crumb is dense, chewy, and not in the least glue-y. I baked loaves to bring to both of my recent choir performances, and I haven't had to bring home any leftovers. Plus, my family absolutely loves it for bread-and-jam and sandwiches.

(This is where I start daydreaming about having a double oven or building my own cob wood burning oven in my backyard.)

Simple European-Style Bread

(This recipe is in the blog post I linked to above, so I'm copying it here but adding my own observations. The author of the blog also includes a very handy video to demonstrate the method.)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour (I have been using unbleached white flour)
2 tsp salt (I use unrefined sea salt for the best flavor)
2 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water

a pizza stone, large unglazed terra cotta tile, a stone 9x13 casserole dish (this is what I have), or other stone large enough to hold a loaf of bread
pie pan filled with very hot or boiling water

Mix all the ingredients at once in the bowl of a mixer with a bread hook or by hand. Begin sprinkling in more flour a little at a time until you get a shaggy dough that is still sticky.

Pour the dough onto a floured surface and knead for at least 5 minutes. You can't really over-knead this bread dough, so don't worry if you aren't sure when the dough is ready. Sprinkle small amounts of additional flour over the dough to keep the dough from being too sticky to knead, but be conservative with the flour. Allow the dough to remain somewhat sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl (use extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil), turning the dough to coat it in oil on all sides. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place a clean dish towel over the top. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

When the hour is up, carefully and gently release the risen dough from the sides of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. You don't want to punch this dough down. The key is to keep as much of the gas inside the dough as possible.

With lightly floured hands, tuck and shape the dough into a tight ball (this is where watching the video is a really good idea so you can see how it's done). Slash the top of the dough a couple times with a very sharp knife to allow for it to rise while in the oven. You can shape the dough into a ball (cob) or into a longer French-style loaf. I find a cob shape works the best.

Spread a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil on the top of the dough and cover it with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Let rise for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 500 deg. F. If you have a really hot oven, like I do, preheat it to 475 deg. F instead. Put the pizza stone, tile, or stone casserole dish into the oven to heat after sprinkling on a couple teaspoons of corn meal. The corn meal will keep the dough from sticking to the pan. You could also set the dough on parchment paper for its final rise and for easy transport to the oven, but I prefer corn meal and using my hands to move the dough into the oven.

After the 20 minutes' rising time is up, and when the oven is pre-heated, open the oven and quickly set the dough onto the hot stone. Slide the pie pan full of very hot or boiling water onto the rack under the stone or on the floor of the oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 350 deg. F and set the timer for 25 minutes. Remove the bread and let cool completely on a cookie rack before slicing. Yes, wait until it's completely cooled. Be patient.

The reason I use a pan of water is to create some steam. Professional bakeries use steam injection ovens to create that lovely, crusty exterior, but a pan of hot water does a really good job in a kitchen oven. Just don't open the oven once you put the bread in or you will lose all your steam.

When I'm making multiple loaves, I'm kind of married to my kitchen for the day because it's crucial to be really close on the rising times in order for the bread to turn out really, really well. There's only one level in my oven at which to bake the bread, so using two racks at once is out of the question: one loaf would be burnt on top, and one loaf would be burnt on the bottom. Plus, I only have the one stone casserole dish, and I don't want to load two loaves in it or they will touch each other.

Therefore, I start another batch of dough when the first dough is on its second rise. If you don't have anywhere to be, it's a good way to make some incredibly delicious bread while doing other things around the house. Once the first batch is done, you can have a lunch of fresh bread, a hunk of cheese, and some salad. What's better than that?

After you've done this recipe a couple times, you won't even need to refer to the recipe at all. It's so simple and easy.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Little Venting

I haven't been on Facebook for over two weeks now. I'm very proud of myself. But sometimes I just want to share something with others and I have no way to do that.

This article talks about health issues that I think are relevant to every single American. I was shouting out loud the more I read, and what I was shouting was not anything complimentary about how our government has facilitated and even forced the rise of autism and the incredible rise of many horribly diseases by pushing more and more vaccinations containing thimerosal (mercury) and aluminum as preservatives (and which heavy metals have been proven to have horribly adverse effects on the brain and body), accepting bribes from Monsanto and other big companies that genetically modify crops, and calling people who disagree with the government-sanctioned rape of our health "radical," "extremists," and "terrorists."

Thanks for letting me vent.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book Report

Here are my favorite shoes, as promised:

It's a little hard to tell from the picture, but these classy Misbehave heels feature black needlework on white "leather" (all parts are man made). They remind me of Spanish blackwork, which is a style of needlework that, were I to ever pick up a needle and thread, I would very much like to try. They're comfortable, easy to wear, and always make a statement.

And now I'm bored with shoes. I want to tell you about two books which you might be interested to read. The first book is called The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised As Freedom, written by David Kupelian. I don't know anything about the author other than through this book, but it is obvious that he identifies himself as a Christian who believes in right and wrong. Either you find that blatant bias annoying or refreshing. Personally, I don't have an issue with it at all, being a believing Christian myself who goes to church every Sunday and tries to live her religion every day of the week. Kupelian goes through ten areas in politics and society where concerted marketing efforts have been made to turn what was once unacceptable into something to be tolerated and celebrated. There were people who are the "they" to whom we like to refer, and Kupelian points out who they are and quotes them directly. "They" did actually plan and execute campaigns to change the American mindset about things like homosexuality, what teens should worship to be cool, the importance of marriage and nuclear families, abortion, public education, and more.

I couldn't read half the chapter on abortion. I just couldn't stomach it after a while. The rest of the book was truly disturbing as well, but the lies that were told to the public in an effort to make abortion legal and the description of ripping a baby apart while it is still in the womb made me so sick I had to skip to the next chapter. But even if you also can't read that entire chapter without wanting to cry your eyes out and call upon God to blast our world into oblivion for our sins against innocents, I would encourage you to pick this book up and make yourself that much more immune to the seductive pull of carefully planned marketing campaigns that call evil good and good evil.

The other book is more cheerful. I had seen it referenced in an article I recently read, and when I was at the library yesterday wandering through the non-fiction section, I noticed its sunny yellow cover at the end of a stack. Happily, I picked it up and started reading it as soon as I got home. I'm only two-thirds of the way through, so I haven't quite finished it, but it's a tremendously fun and interesting read. It's called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.

I've read quite a number of books on habits, but this is one of the best that I've read. I love books that explore the whys and wherefores instead of just telling me what to do. Duhigg, whose writing is engaging and informative, divides his book into three parts: the first part explores "the neurology of habit formation" and goes into depth on how Pepsodent toothpaste and the marketers of Febreze were able to turn what looked like total product failures into national obsessions through the science of appealing to how Americans create habits. Part 2 delves into the habits of corporations and organizations, showing how changing the habits of the individuals in just one aspect of an organization can create a ripple effect of changes in other, unrelated aspects. Duhigg uses the story of Paul O'Neill (former treasury secretary) and what he did to turn struggling Alcoa, an aluminum company, into one of the largest companies in the world (hint: he used heightened safety standards). And finally, the third part looks into the habits of societies.

If I've made it sound dry and boring, let me assure you that it is most definitely not. In fact, I'm ending this blog post just so I can go and read it some more. Don't call, don't come over until I'm done.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Give a Girl the Right Shoes, and She Can Conquer the World." ~Marilyn Monroe

After the experience I wrote about in my last post, which was fairly life changing, I updated my Facebook status to "Taking a break from Facebook in order to make more time for Korean period dramas." I didn't actually mean that literally, of course (well, mostly), but I've had some interesting questions due to peoples' misinterpretations of what, exactly, I did mean by that. My mother called to ask me what I was doing with the Koreans, as someone at church had seen my status and was wishing me well (through my mother) in my new and exciting endeavor. I never discourage people from thinking that being a writer is anything but glamorous and adventurous, and if they think that my career naturally includes having something to do with Korean television in a capacity other than sitting around like a slug with my eyes glued to subtitles, who am I to argue?

And just to be clear: I watched a Bollywood film over the weekend to keep my horizons broad. One cannot live by Korean period dramas alone, after all, because if nothing else, one's children tease one mercilessly.

But as exciting as my "new endeavor" into Korean television is, I've had a bit of writer's block. Today, I decided to take pictures of the dress shoes in my closet and post them here in an effort to break the block. If I attempt to write about anything more serious, nothing happens. So, let's keep it shallow, shall we?

Torture Devices Masquerading as Footwear 

I love boldly colored shoes as much as I love chunky jewelry. Unfortunately, you can't really tell how painful a pair of shoes is until you've walked a mile in them, literally. I once walked a mile in these unpadded red Vanity pumps because I attended a conference in downtown Big City, and after the conference, the ladies I was with wanted to hit the mall and check out the Disney store. While I consider it irrational behavior to step into a Disney store for any reason other than that you are being held at gunpoint, I can't really point fingers in this case. As they cooed about cute overpriced crap, I sat quietly in the corner with a tear in my eye, surreptitiously massaging the aching balls of my feet. Even walking a few minutes in these shoes is enough to make me limp. And yet I still have these shoes in my closet because they are red.

When I spotted these Chinese Laundry beauties, I had to have them. It doesn't bother me that I'm over six feet tall when I wear them (Husband can handle it. He's tall.). What bothers me are the bleeding toe cuticles after the toe straps have rubbed them raw.

What was I thinking when I bought strappy little sandals? Obviously, I was thinking I am a foot model who has toe cuticles of steel.

I'm not and I don't.

I do own a pair of incredibly comfortable Aerosoles slingback heels. You'd think I'd wear these shoes every time I dress up, but I'm not that smart. If they were a brighter color, I probably would.

Take pink, for instance. Nice, feminine color on these Gianni Bini heels, but you've got a bit of edgy metal zipper up the back and some modern straps to cut the sweetness. These shoes get noticed.

Bootie-style shoes were a fad, but I've got two pairs of them and I wear these Madden Girl booties a lot because they go with anything and they stay on even if you're wearing slippery tights.

The purple suede Steve Madden booties don't get as much wear, however. I'm still wary of pairing booties like this with a skirt. That's a lot of horizontal lines chopping you up into sections. The only way they'd really work with a skirt is if I was wearing monochrome purple, including tights, and I don't own that much purple. Being a big girl, I'd probably just look like a grape. I'll hang onto them until I find great trousers to wear with them, and once in a while, I'll just go in my closet and stroke their soft suede-iness when I'm hiding from the children.

I own a lot of black, blue, and green clothing. Periwinkle shoes like these Fioni sort-of-bootie-style shoes fit right in.

As you can see, I am not a slave to fashion. There are no Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks anywhere on my horizon. I find shoes at thrift stores, and my criteria for buying a dress show is that it has to seriously catch my eye, have a rounded toe (the pink Gianni Binis are an exception), and not be black, as I have enough black shoes to last the rest of my life. Comfort isn't an issue, apparently, or I'd never put on anything except flats. Husband just laughs at me.

Tomorrow, I'll show you a picture of my favorite pair.