Friday, October 2, 2015

Fair trade

Please pray for me. I am weak and textiles are strong. But then I can work up some major league rationalizations. Here we go . . .

A month ago (it was much more than an month—it was almost 6 weeks ago) I posted my personal “manifesto” promising that I would not buy any clothing for one year. Perhaps it wasn’t really a promise, rather more like a thought, something that would have been nice to do. But, you know, things happen and sometimes we (I’m not alone in this, am I?) change our minds.

I have walked through a number of places that sold clothing in the 6 weeks since the manifesto and my resolve did not weaken. But a few days ago I went to Marshall’s, the mecca of discount shopping. I had to go there for the sake of my health. You might need an explanation. I’ve been reading a book about the beauty product industry, how it is not necessary to buy expensive products, that often the expensive products are no better than perhaps petroleum jelly or baby oil. In this book, the author writes that one should use a washcloth only once before laundering it because—horrors!—a wet washcloth can expose you to harmful bacteria if used repeatedly. I’m lucky I didn’t get a terminal case of bacterial face crud in the years that I’ve used a washcloth more than once. Those wet washcloths could have killed me. So I had to go to Marshall’s to buy all the plain white cotton washcloths I could find. It was the only reason I went into the store. There was a cold rain outside and it was the last place I wanted to be. It was a sacrifice, but I did it for my grandchildren.

Although it was truly a drive-by shopping excursion, after securing the washcloths and heading for check-out, I maneuvered my cart through the sale aisle of the women’s clothing section. I would have gone straight through the center of the store but there was a huge group of handicapped mendicant nuns (I think they had orphans with them) in the center aisle and I didn’t want to disturb them because they were blind and barefoot and I was afraid the cart might hurt them. (Oh, gosh—I’m could spend some extra time in Purgatory for this lie but thankfully I don’t believe in Purgatory.) As I raced past the sale rack, a beautiful white embroidered blouse practically jumped into my cart of its own volition. It had been reduced twice from its low Marshall’s price to a mere $15.

I knew it was no cheap blouse made in China. My innate textilian instinct told me that it was really hand embroidered and the tag confirmed that it was made in Mexico. I sensed that some indigenous woman had labored over the hand stitching in this blouse and it was a horrible injustice, indeed a human rights abuse, for this to be hanging so ignobly under fluorescent lights on the rack of a discount store in Vienna, Virginia. So I took it home with me to protect it from further shame.

Once home, I looked it up online. Indeed, my instincts were right. I found it online for nearly $100. Ha! The company had photos online of the indigenous women who shed their blood to make this blouse. Here’s the description that I found:

"One of our most popular blouses, the light weight, 100% Mexican cotton Rebecca features an oversized fit with fine, slimming pleats in front and back and lovely hand embroidered details on the front and the sleeves. Embroidered by the talented women of Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico! Preshrunk. XS - XL * Embroidery may vary due to the handmade nature of this product.”

So, my manifesto be damned! I did this for my people, for the women of Oaxaca and Chiapas, in solidarity with them to support them trying to make a decent living with the work of their hands. I might not even wear the blouse, but just keep it hanging in my closet as a symbol of my commitment to support indigenous people everywhere.

Then again, I might wear it to a Farm Aid concert or something similar, but only because I’m committed to the cause.

Here’s the photo posted on the website of the company that is committed to fair trade and to supporting the artisans of Oaxaca and Chiapas. I feel like I should send them a check for what the blouse should have cost.

No more shopping for me—I can’t take the emotional roller coaster.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Alone with God

I lift my eyes to the hills
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 21: 1-2

Last night I had a telephone conversation, catching up with a dear old friend. She was like a sister to me but in recent years circumstances have created distance between us. She is a beam of sunshine, kind and generous, and I have loved her for a long time.

Lately her life hasn’t been easy—deaths of people close to her, financial hardship, a series of stumbling blocks that would break the best of us. But she carries on with only a slight dent in her usual cheery disposition. Mostly she just seems so tired. She is sandwiched in that awful position that some of us reach in the middle of life—children grown but not quite independent, aging parents who need care, ourselves aging and the big question of how we will find the resources to support ourselves for the rest of our uncertain future.

I just want to put my arm around her, to tell her she’ll find a way, to tell her I understand.

Yes, I have been there. I’ve seen my life not turn out how I hoped it would. It has been much harder than I ever expected. But in all the losses I have experienced, in all the times that I have felt crushingly alone, wondering how I would navigate through life, doubting I had the strength or resourcefulness to go the distance, I found my way. I didn’t find my way through my own strength; no knight in shining armor came along and solved my problems or mended my broken heart. I found God.

When I found myself broken, on my knees, I realized that on my knees was where I needed to be. No one was going to rescue me so I prayed. No, it wasn’t even prayer—it was pleading. I said, “God, please exist. And if you exist, please hear me. And if you hear me, please let me feel your presence. Please work in my life. Do something!”

He heard me. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He does exist. It didn’t happen in a day or even a year, but slowly I began to find my way and grew in faith. There is no comfort, no support, nothing that gives meaning to my life more than my assurance that He is with me. It has been an amazing experience growing in relationship with Him.

Other than the incredible community of people in my church (and my sister with whom I share my love of God) I find myself somewhat isolated on this path. My closest friends do not share my faith. I’m sure that they must roll their eyes at me, wondering where this Jesus freak came from. The cheese stands alone. I no longer downplay my faith or my love of Jesus. I don’t try to hide my commitment to follow Him. It’s okay. I don’t try to evangelize or to convince them that I’ve got all the answers. I just live with this peace that surpasses all understanding.

And, as for my dear friend who is struggling, what can I do for her? To my knowledge, she has never expressed any interest in knowing God. Maybe it’s there, in her heart. I don’t know. I love her. I want to tell her that she can step out in faith, that God will flood her heart with meaning and hope, that all the wounds of the past will melt away, and that people who once were strangers will become like sisters to her. I am finding that peace and I pray that she will too. I’ll just put my arms around her and pray for her.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Greedy fool

Forgive me, but I'm back on my high horse again about the absolute absurdity of the clothing industry. I'm wearing a shirt today that I bought at the thrift store not long ago. It's a rather plain plaid cotton shirt that is so hugely oversized that it looks like one of my father's old shirts. But that look rather appeals to me. It was in like-new condition when I found it at the thrift store. However, it was rather pricey at $14 because it has a Neiman Marcus tag in it. It's size 0, by the way--total vanity sizing. I thought, okay it's more than I usually pay but it's in great condition and I'll wear it, especially since it doesn't have to be dry cleaned, and I like wearing a size 0. The good news--it was made in England, not in a sweatshop in Bangladesh.

The brand is Eskander. It doesn't mean anything to me because I'm not a frequent flyer at Neiman Marcus. So I looked it up online. The stinkin' shirt--a shirt that looks like a shirt my father bought at J.C. Penney 40 years ago--retails for over $500. So some woman bought the shirt at Neiman Marcus, probably never wore it, and then donated it to the thrift store.

What in heaven's name are you people thinking? Do you know what $500 could do if you donated it to a charity like Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) that is doing relief work with refugees and others all over the world? Could you give the money to a local soup kitchen? I suppose that, if I challenged them, people shopping for $500 blouses in Neiman Marcus would think I'm a lunatic with no right to infringe on their right to spend their money as they please. It just seems the height of greed and materialism. I wonder how they rationalize such things.

So I'll schlep around town, to the grocery store and the paint store, wearing my shirt that cost someone $500. I have my own blind spots where I don't see my greediness and I can be a fool when it comes to hoarding shiny trinkets. But I feel like wearing a sign that says: "Some greedy fool bought this for $500 but the greedy fool wasn't me."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Do I really want to be the canary in the coal mine? Here’s the deal.
Yesterday I had my annual physical, which included all the usual things plus a pneumonia vaccine injection. I passed the physical with flying colors, except for the cholesterol issue. (I saw that one coming since I was non-compliant on my previous prescription of statin drugs to lower my cholesterol. It’s a family problem—I’m not alone on this one. My drug refusal was because I read something somewhere, reliable of course, that said statin drugs are dangerous.) Today I went back to the doctor because my upper arm where I had the pneumonia vaccine injection was red, hot, and swollen. It is not a one-sided highly developed deltoid muscle, but my left upper arm looks bigger than the right arm. My doctor said my reaction was a little extreme, on the high end of normal, and I need to watch it in case it gets worse.

She suggested I take Benadryl—nope, can’t do that because Benadryl makes me crazy. I have a paradoxical reaction, meaning a drug that makes most people drowsy can keep me up all night. I learned this the hard way. I’m also allergic to numerous other drugs, including antibiotics and pain killers. She chuckled, remembering that just yesterday we had a discussion of my high sensitivity to things that don’t bother normal people. It’s the canary thing. The only thing I can do is apply cold compresses to my arm.

Just a couple of weeks ago a friend remarked that I am one of those canary people because I was (and still am) profoundly moved by the refugee situation in the Middle East and Europe. That photo of the rescue worker carrying the body of the Syrian child that had washed up on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea was beyond heart-wrenching. I will never get that image out of my head. And I read a book about poverty and horrible living conditions in Haiti so now I am worried about the little Haitian girl that I "adopted" through Compassion International. There's just too much trouble in the world for me to cope like a sane person.

The canary metaphor refers to the canary in the coal mine. In times past, mine workers would keep caged canaries in the mines to alert them to deadly gasses. Apparently canaries are ultra-sensitive to toxic gasses. If the unfortunate sacrificial canary died, the miners would know that the toxic gas levels were becoming dangerous even before the miners were aware of them.
That metaphor of the canary in the coal mine has been extended to refer to highly sensitive people who react strongly to physical, environmental, and societal issues. I found an explanation in an article by Amy Scholten, MPH, entitled Making Sense of High Sensitivity. (Found at Scholten writes:
Are you more easily overwhelmed than most people? Does it seem that you feel and sense things more acutely than others? Do you need frequent time alone to recharge? Have you felt "different" from most people and out of step with the furious pace of modern life? (Yes, yes, yes, and yes I respond.)
"You're too sensitive," you've been told. Perhaps you sense that somehow you're a "misfit." The prickly implication here is that there's something wrong with you. But according to psychologist Elaine Aron, Ph.D, sensitivity isn't a weakness; it's simply an inborn trait. And in its healthiest form, sensitivity is a rare gift!
Oh, wow—isn’t that special? I love these people who can turn my prickliness—my rashes, my racing heart, and my uber reaction to the woes of the world into a rare gift. I’m still not sure I want to embrace this canary role. It could turn deadly—you know what happened to the canaries in the coal mines. Do you think I look yellow? Do you see any feathers emerging from my rashy skin? Don’t take me into a coal mine. Please.

Friday, September 4, 2015


photo credit Shutterstock
Last night, at about suppertime, I tried to call her. I haven’t seen her for probably 15 or more years—and when I worked with her she was in her 70s, so that would make her quite old now. I did an online search for her name and the area where I thought she had lived. I found a listing with her last name and dialed the number. It was a long shot.

A nice woman answered and said there was no one there named Marie Wise. She asked how old she would be and I said she probably was up in her 90s now. I apologized for disturbing her. She said, “It’s no trouble at all, but Aunt Marie doesn’t live here. She lives in a nursing home near Baltimore.”

“She’s your aunt? She’s still alive? Do you have a number for her? Could you get a message to her?” I asked.

“Well, no. I haven’t seen her for years, but I hear she’s still doing okay. I think she’s in Catonsville, up behind the Home Depot.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. But I added, “I just want Marie to know that she had a huge influence on me, that she is the kind of Christian I want to be. She probably doesn’t know, but I want to tell her.”

“Bless your heart,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll be talking to her.” We left it at that.

Marie was the front desk receptionist where I worked, back in the days when my marriage was ending and I was a mess. I loved that woman. I can still see her sitting at her desk, her worn Bible beside her, nearly every verse marked in some highlighter color, like Joseph’s coat of many colors. Often, at the end of the work day, I would just hang out with her for a few minutes, or I’d squeeze in a quick visit in the middle of the day to breath in a little of her peace. Her faith was like a rock and she exuded joy and wisdom, gifts that had to come from the grace of God. I wanted what she had.
On my final day at the job, when I was leaving and knew it was unlikely I would see her again, I stopped by the reception desk on my way out. She hugged me and we said that we loved one another, right out loud in the middle of the office. We had a special bond and I couldn't even appreciate at the time how much she meant to me. I'm sure I cried.

All these years later, as I think back about that time and wish I could talk to Marie now, I imagine how the conversation would go. What would Marie say to me?

She would say, “It’s always something, isn’t it? That’s just the way life is because we’re not in heaven yet. Trials and tribulations, uh huh, we’ve got that for sure. Ride it out, hold on to the hem of His garment, and put your troubles at the foot of the cross.”

Marie—a woman whose faith shone all around her—made me want to be her kind of Christian, a calm, convicted woman, with faith like a rock. So when I ask myself what would Marie do?—I know the answer. She’d pray, give it to Jesus, and keep waiting for heaven.
I love you, Marie, wherever you are. Thank you for the gifts you gave me.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Xander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Yesterday was a rotten day for my spirits. I was feeling down because—but for circumstances beyond my control—it should have been my 48th wedding anniversary. It also would have been my former husband’s 70th birthday. (Yes, we got married on his birthday.) He didn’t even live long enough to get out of his 50s so I suppose I should consider myself fortunate to be alive. But sometimes being alive doesn’t feel so fortunate.

Last night I called my mother, just to check in with her. She’s 89, on oxygen, barely ambulatory. She asked how I was doing.

I said: “Not that great.”

She said: “Well, I’ll cheer you up. I can always cheer you up. I’ve been awful sick all day today.” (She went on to recount her woes that I won’t share—suffice it to say she had digestive upset.) “And I’m awfully lonely. I was supposed to visit with Mae today but I was too sick. I just don’t have any friends here. Well, there was Shirley, but she died. My friend Ruth down the hall was very friendly, but she died. My neighbor Joan with the one leg died, poor thing. And Mr. Miller liked me, but did you know he died too? And I really don’t think I have much time left to live now. Oh, but I’m supposed to be cheering you up. How’s your cat?”

I replied: “Mom, my cat is dead. She died before Christmas.”

She said: “Oh, I didn’t remember that. What happened?

So I had to explain my cat’s illness and death. Again. That really helped to lift my mood. Then she started asking me why I don’t ever bring her to my house to stay. “All the stairs, Mom, you can’t do the stairs. I think I’m going to have to hang up now.”

She replied: “No, no, don’t hang up. I want to talk to you so I can cheer you up. Did you know Joe Donohue died?”

At that point we both laughed at the absurdity of the situation. All that death can be pretty funny after all.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The no clothes manifesto

Simplifying and paring down one’s possessions is not a novel idea. Books, workshops, and websites praise the value of living with less. I get it.

Just today I read an article on Apartment Therapy (photo credit to AT) about living with no closet at all. I’ve been cleaning out my bedroom closet for years. Things go out; more things come in. But in recent months I have become more ruthless. Items of clothing no longer have sentimental value to me. That cute sweater with the beaded design on the back, the one I bought in Austin when I was shopping with my daughter, the one I bought because my daughter thought I needed a change from my usual dowdy clothes? I wore it a few times when I was feeling frisky, but it is years old now and it began to lose its shape. (Hmm. . . perhaps I am the one who is losing my shape, but I prefer to blame it on the sweater.) Well, that sweater finally got purged. I’ll keep the happy memories. The sweater and lots of other things, with or without sentimental value, have gone. No longer do I own 100 pairs of shoes. Everything I own fits comfortably in one closet with room to spare.

For years I have believed that retail therapy was the cure for any ailment. Bored? Go see what Marshall’s might have. Depressed? Maybe they have some new jeans at Nordstrom Rack. I’m a sucker for a deal—give me a coupon, a secret code to get 40 percent off online, throw in free shipping and I’m all over it. I can just feel the serotonin flooding through my brain. And the thrift stores—wow! I have found fabulous clothes, beautiful silver jewelry, and unworn designer shoes. I even know when the thrift store is offering additional discounts. And now, those things that I bought at the thrift store because they were incredible deals? Many of them have been weeded out, purged from my closet. It doesn’t matter how great a deal I got if I don’t wear it. The same with the things I thought I should wear to improve my image or the cute things that I probably would have worn back in my hippy days in the ‘60s. My image is beyond repair and it has become foolish to dress like Stevie Nicks at my age.

All of this closet purging, this simplifying, got me thinking about my attachment to clothes. Yes, I’m easily distracted by shiny objects. But gradually it has dawned on me that this is incredibly foolish and wasteful. I think my many hunting and gathering excursions into thrift stores have actually over-loaded my clothing sensibility. It all looks like junk to me now. It all smells funny and the pure quantity of discarded clothes makes me a bit queasy. I noticed that much of the discarded clothing on the racks of the thrift stores comes from retail stores like Target and Kohl’s and Forever 21 that sell cheap clothes, often trendy clothes that are made to be worn briefly and discarded. Have you noticed the smell in one of these retailers that sell cheap clothes—they have a particular aroma that almost has the undertone of insecticide. That should be a sign.

I did a little online research about the clothing manufacturing industry. I learned that 98 percent of the clothes sold in the United States are made outside of the U.S., mostly in China. Our clothes are relatively cheap because they often are made using child labor or people who work on sweat-shop subsistence wages, in horrible working conditions. Remember the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013? The factory produced clothes for retailers including Benetton and Walmart. Over 1,000 people died.

Suppose most of our clothes were made in the United States? It would create jobs but we would have to pay more to stuff our closets full of things we might never wear.

All of these things together pressed in on me—the rampant consumerism, the mindless retail therapy, the waste, the exploitation of people in 3rd world countries to produce clothes—as I cleaned out my closet. And I wanted it to stop.

So, here’s what I’m doing. This is my personal manifesto: I am not buying any clothes for one year. That includes accessories, shoes, and the cheap bauble jewelry that clutters my drawers. If there’s a small fire in my room and all of my underwear is destroyed, I’ll buy new underwear. If I get married (that would be the most incredible surprise of all!) I might buy a simple wedding dress. And shoes . . . maybe a few things for the honeymoon—no, stop! I can’t have too many loopholes in the manifesto. One year, starting today, right now. So that means I can’t go out tomorrow and stock up for the coming year. It includes buying clothes at estate sales, thrift stores, outlet centers, and street vendors. If I go to Paris . . . no, stop!

Lord, have mercy! What have I done? What am I going to do when I’m in desperate need of retail therapy? Guess I’ll find out. This is my first manifesto ever. I'm feeling quite the revolutionary. I wish I had a Che Guevera tee shirt.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

That point of light

A number of years ago I sat in silent meditation high in the mountains of West Virginia. It was one of those times that I was able to sink deeper and deeper. Time faded away. I could feel that invisible essence of my being shrinking smaller and smaller until it was nothing—it simply merged with the mountain air. I imagined that could be what it feels like to die, so peaceful, free of earthly attachments.

And today as I sat in silent contemplative prayer, the image of that meditation in the West Virginia mountains came back to me. I could see that my core essence is but a point of light, buried deep inside me, protected by organs and sinew and skin and bone. That light was God’s creation, a part of Him. He stretched out His hand and from His finger came the light around which I was formed. And that light is still within me. I carry in my inner being a part of God and that light will never be extinguished. When my mortal body dies, the light will return to Him—God in me and I in Him.

This creates a longing so profound. I know that my words do not describe it adequately and I also know that some people may think me crazy. So be it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Chili provençale aka ratatouillaise

Do I need to be reminded that this blog is called Cooking + Praying? I’ve been much more focused on praying (and life in general) than on cooking. There’s a reason for that and I’ll confess if you promise not to tell anyone. I’m trying to lose weight. Again. I lost it and it found its way home. So I’m just eating protein and vegetables. No carbs, no sugar. Not even fruit . . . sigh . . . and she says that at the height of peach season. I have discovered that croissants and pizza and pasta and jelly doughnuts and beer are all on the NO list. No barbequed potato chips with sour cream. (I think I’m going to cry.) There is no joy in Mudville. Actually after a couple of weeks I feel like I have the jelly doughnut and beer monkeys off my back. But if they arrived at my door, begging me to let them in, I probably would not resist too hard.

So I’ve been hoping that some delicious recipe would come into my life—anything that does not include another hard-boiled egg, another hunk of roasted chicken, or another leaf of spinach. So in pursuit of this recipe today I went to the farmers market and then to the grocery store to get the ingredients. I cooked the recipe exactly as written but for a couple of deviations. I couldn’t find harissa so I used some Indonesian spicy salsa sort of thing I found at Trader Joe’s. Oh, and I doubled it—more about that later.
My comments on the recipe:
(1) I used fresh tomatoes but I refused to peel them. The produce alone cost me over $30. I think next time I’ll used good canned tomatoes. It’s not worth the effort and the expense to use fresh tomatoes unless you have a garden and an excess of tomatoes. In the early cooking it appears that the peels are beginning to separate from the tomato pulp and they are floating around in the mixture. Do you think I would actually stoop so low as to pick them out with my fingers?

(2) I doubled the recipe because I want to bring a batch to my sister tomorrow. It grew and grew as I added ingredients. There is a boatload of zucchini and eggplant in this recipe. It grew out of my largest Dutch oven so I had to put it in my big soup pot—at least it fit in the oven where it is now resting at 350 degrees for over 2 hours.
(3) I didn’t peel the red bell pepper either. I roasted them like the recipe says but I struggled to peel them. I know there’s a technique but I forget what it is and I was too up to my elbows in kitchen mayhem to look it up. The pepper peels are floating in the mixture along with the tomato peels. Now I know how to remove them.
(4) My kitchen is a mess and it’s hot so I left it all, hoping that some kind soul will come into my house and clean the kitchen. Just in case you want to attempt this yourself at home, the photo is of my kitchen at this very moment. I’m afraid to go back, even though the beeper is telling me it’s time to stir the pot.

(5) The good news is I tasted it, albeit prematurely before the flavors can really mingle, and it’s delicious.

Kristin Espinasse calls the recipe “ratatouillaise” but in my mind it’s kind of like Chili Provençale. The following is quoted from her site, link below:

The dish has two secret (and untraditional) ingredients — a generous drizzle of honey, which heightens the tomatoes — and a dash of something spicy — I used harissa. Herbs, sautéed onions and ground beef join the vegetables in the covered casserole before it’s placed in the oven for a slow simmer. In the photo above, you can see the “raw” state — the vegetables still bright and crunchy. After a couple of hours, they turned soft and creamy, rich with a deep, meaty savor. Paired with couscous, this made a superb Sunday dinner — with leftovers for another weeknight meal (over pasta or soft polenta). The best part? It leaves your house smelling like a summer kitchen in Provence.


The word “ratatouillaise” is a hybrid of ratatouille and bolognaise (spelled the French way).

Olive oil
2 red bell peppers
3 onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
2 lbs tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 large zucchini, peeled in stripes, and cut into 1.5-inch chunks
3 small eggplant, peeled in stripes, and cut into 1.5-inch cubes
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon harissa
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper

Cut the red peppers in half and remove the seeds. Line a baking sheet with parchment pepper and arrange the peppers on it. Roast the peppers at 400ºF until their skins have blistered, about 20 minutes. Peel the peppers and slice them into thin strips.

In a large Dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of oil and sauté the onions and garlic until they’ve softened and start to turn golden. Add the ground beef, breaking up the chunks with a wooden spoon. When the meat has cooked, stir in the tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a (separate) sauté pan, warm a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high flame, and then add the zucchini and a dash of pepper. Don’t overcrowd the pan — cook in batches, if necessary. Sauté the zucchini until gently softened and starting to turn brown, about five minutes. Add the zucchini to the meat mixture. Repeat with the rest of the zucchini, then the eggplant cubes. Add them to the meat mixture. Stir the red pepper strips into the meat mixture, along with the honey, harissa, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and 1.5 cups of water.

Bring the mixture to a boil on the stove, then cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook the ratatouillaise in the oven, stirring every half an hour, until the vegetables have collapsed and everything is “bien confit” (well reduced) — about 2.5 hours. If too much liquid remains, uncover the pot for the last 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

I found the recipe on Kristin Espinasse’s site, A Day in a French Life at:
Complete instructions with photos can be found on Ann Mah’s blog here:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Throw the dog a bone

Lord I believe; help me in my unbelief. Mark 9:24

 It’s inevitable; I should have expected to come crashing down from the mountain.

I’m confused about what God is—how do I even imagine something so vast, so incomprehensible as the existence of God? Who is He? Exactly what am I believing in, praying to, trusting? Trying to grasp this, I read about God’s nature, that our limited human brains can’t even begin to understand Him. And instead of being in awe of Him, instead of being comforted by His vastness and His power, my brain goes into overdrive trying to figure it out, trying to hold on to something tangible.

When I pray my mind wanders. I try sitting with Him in silent, contemplative prayer and I think that I really need to paint that wall in the living room where the paint is cracking but remember that was a slightly deeper shade than the color I used in the hallways and I not sure I even have any more of that living room color so should I go buy a gallon of the original paint color or would it work to use a different color, maybe darker or lighter, or should I just repaint the whole living room, but what a huge task that is because of all the windows and doorways and I’m just not up for a project that huge right now . . .  The inside of my brain is like Alvin and the Chipmunks on speed. Can you just turn it off, woman? Geesh.

Instead of resting quietly and comfortably in the existence of God and feeling my union with Him, I get distracted by the vastness of creation and what He is and the nature of infinity. “Be still and know that I am God.” Okay, work with me here, I’m trying.

“Lord, I’m hurting. I believe, I believe. But I can’t recapture the feeling that I had before, that absolute certainty, that blissful union with you. Can you please just throw this dog a bone and let me be with you for a while without all of this static?” I cry out in desperation.

One thing I know to be true: faith is strengthened by doubt—so consider this a strength-building phase. If I never doubted then this faith of mine would be unexamined and less deep. I have felt the depth of a relationship with Him. I’m in a fallow phase now and I know from experience that if I just trust Him and not give up, that feeling of relationship will reemerge from this swamp. I will not run away. I will dig deeper. I will remind myself again and again that God is a mystery, an unsolvable puzzle, and again and again I will pray for trust, for help in my unbelief.

And I go back to Scripture to find assurance that the Lord will not let me get lost, that He sent the Holy Spirit to help me understand.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26

Come, Holy Spirit, come.