Friday, 30 January 2015

What Did I Do?: Kitchen Experiments

Four weeks down! This past week was pretty low-key, and I'm not sure what happened to my plan to use categories to add variety. This was definitely primarily a food week.

January 22: I have a confession to make: I really like baking bread. It makes me feel "housewifey." And fresh-baked bread both smells and tastes amazing. I started my week by making a braided challah. I have made a New Year's Apple Challah, before, which was good, but not a braided bread.  The Taste of Home Baking Book I got the recipe from also had great illustrated instructions on how to braid bread. I followed the instructions. I started in the middle, brought the left rope under the centre, and the right rope under the new centre. I braided half of it, then I was supposed to turn it around and braid the rest. Except when I did that, I stood there totally confused for the longest time. What I had been doing no longer worked. Finally I figured out that when you turned it around, you had to bring the outside ropes over the centre. The instructions didn't tell me that part! (Can you tell I don't braid my hair?)

The hardest part of making challah is actually not the braiding part; for me, it's trying to get my ropes an even length and even thickness throughout. I was not successful at this, and you can tell. By the time I did the second loaf, it looked a little bit better.

Can you tell which one I made first?

The amount of sugar in the dough and the egg wash made the loaves brown really quick in the oven, but they weren't too dark. And yes, my afternoon consisted of enjoying a cup of coffee and fresh bread and butter. I used a couple of slices to make a sandwich for work, but as I packed it up I really wanted to eat it right away. I didn't.

January 23: I read the last verse of each book of the Bible. It was actually more difficult to take away something meaningful than it was by reading the first verse. Something I noticed though was how Paul and some of the other writers often focused on the grace of Jesus in their closing greetings.

January 24: Tired, almost forgot I had to learn something new, and was happy when my eye caught a link to an informative article on facebook pertaining to the health benefits of turmeric. I had known that turmeric fought cancer, but I didn't know some of the other things I learned. It heals cells and makes them more resistant, as well as kills cancer cells. It can heal inflammation and skin diseases. It can prevent and cure diabetes. Turmeric improves concentration and memory. It is also as effective as Prozac in treating depression symptoms. Turmeric has other benefits as well, but those are a handful.

January 25: Sunday, wanting to relax, I made a cup of hot chocolate out of peppermint tea. I had noticed recently that McDonald's had a peppermint hot chocolate, and although I haven't tried it, I wondered one day if I could make something similar by adding hot chocolate mix to a cup of peppermint tea. Honestly, I didn't expect it to taste good, but I wanted to know how it tasted. To my surprise, it was actually quite tasty. It had a good chocolate flavour with a subtle minty taste to it. However, I did find the aftertaste rather unpleasant.

January 26: In swim class, I was able to increase my distance on my back, and also do relatively well with my initial steps of the front crawl. I also went to and found out that there is a common misconception that immigration officers changed the names of people coming into the U.S. through Ellis Island. I didn't know such a misconception existed. Although names changed, it didn't happen at Ellis Island.

January 27: Tuesday morning was a pretty intense recipe experiment day. I tried two new recipes, with some modifications. I made a Winter Vegetable Soup. It called for parsnips, and I had never had parsnip before. I didn't really know what these big beige carrot-like vegetables were. I learned while making it that they were parsley roots. They smell the part. Anyhow, I also noticed the recipe said to put the soup in the blender once it's done. I don't think pureed soups are very appealing, but I thought I would try it. Anyhow, I put the carrots, celery, onion, and parsnips in the pot with broth, some seasoning and a bay leaf for good measure, brought it to a boil, let it simmer and dumped it in the blender. End result: orange baby food with fresh dill added to it. Or that's what it looked like anyway.

I also baked chicken breasts in foil with olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon juice, dill and green onion, a modification of another recipe, and ended the meal with some challah. That was the really good part. The chicken is debatable, but I'm definitely not making the soup again.

January 28: Wednesday's recipe experiment was a little safer and a lot more successful. I took a Blueberry Orange Bread recipe and made it into muffins. Although not your typical combination for a muffin or bread, I thought it still sounded good. The recipe advised to begin draining the blueberries well in advance if using frozen blueberries, so I did this. Anyone who has worked with frozen blueberries may know that once they're fully thawed, you're pretty much left with shriveled mush and purple juice. Well, I mixed my batter, then added my soggy blueberries, leaving the juice behind. Some of you will know where this is going. I ended up with a purple marbled batter. I should have remembered my last purple fruit salad.

Nevertheless, the muffins turned out beautifully! They're half whole wheat, with orange juice and zest, and blueberries. They're nice and fluffy and it's real hard to just eat one at a time. Who cares that they're purple?

It may be hard to believe sometimes, but I do know how to cook. I really do.

In closing, I want to leave you with some words that blessed me from a Passion talk this week.

"It's not a process; it's finished. God's not doing away with sin; He did away with sin. God's not in the process of taking away our shame; He annihilated our shame." -- Louie Giglio

Friday, 23 January 2015

What Did I Do?: Granny Dresses, Empty Whipped Cream Cans, and Dutch Candy

Week 3 is over! Sigh of relief.  It's bad I feel that way already some days. Although I feel stuck some days, I did have a lot of fun this past week. I have a big list of great ideas, but I can't do them all at once. That would drain my idea bank too fast, and I'd be more broke. Besides, I have to wait for summer to do some of them.

January 15: I tried making dairy-free hot cocoa. Because I'm somewhat lactose-intolerant, I often take lactase tablets if I drink regular hot chocolate, unless it's diluted with coffee. Even if it's mixed with just water, the mix has milk ingredients in it. So I tried making stovetop cocoa using almond milk. I have made chocolate milk with it before, which was pretty good, but hadn't tried cooking it.

It had a quite a distinct almond taste to it, so if you don't mind that it's a good alternative. I curled up with a blanket, my mug of cocoa, and watched an adaptation of Great Expectations.

I also tried pomegranate juice. I've had a pomegranate before, but I find they're a lot of work to eat, and I don't like the bitter white seeds. But drinking the juice straight is also really strong. You would think it's a very healthy juice, but I was disappointed that it didn't even contain any Vitamin C.

January 16: On Friday I went on a shopping escapade. I had a couple potential ideas swirling in my mind, but I definitely settled on one when I looked at the dress section in the first thrift store I walked into. One of the items on my list was to try on granny dresses in a thrift store, and this place had some great finds! Sadly they were all a little too big, and the three other dresses I tried on that I would have bought all didn't fit quite right.

I wish I had had a hat and pair of binoculars. Safari!

This one is rather nightgown-ish.

This one might have looked alright if it wasn't so big.

And I'm sure this one was real classy in its day. 

I didn't buy any dresses, but I walked out with two pairs of jeans for $4.50!  I also took the opportunity to stop in and see The Grace Cafe.  As I was leaving town, I tried to ignore a man standing at an intersection with a sign. But I couldn't. I turned around and went back.

January 17: I had too much fun! I tried to deepen my voice by sucking the gas out of an empty whipped cream can. I think the idea is that it has the opposite effect of helium. I got it for a couple seconds, but it doesn't last long.

This is an afternote. I actually don't recommend anyone trying this. I did later on, but experienced dizziness and a headache. This can't be wise.

January 18: Remember those dutch candies I mentioned last week? Well, I tried one.

And this is what they do to you afterward.

Naw, that's actually just me being crazy and wanting a cross-eyed picture of myself.

I also started reading God's Gift to Women by Eric Ludy. Although written for men, I realized quickly my need for this book right now. Although I have been happier and freer in the last month and a half than I have been in a long time, my relationship with God has suffered, as I have filled my life with distractions and noise. As a Ludy book always does, this book points back to my relationship with Christ, and I've been realizing how much I need to refocus my life.

January 19: I made some improvements in my swim class. I got to use them giant flipper things to swim. I worked on my side swim, and then my back. I was pretty proud of myself when I figured out I could make it across the width of the pool on my back with flippers.  I had this moment where I was suddenly like "I feel like an otter!" I was even prouder of myself when I made it over half the width of the pool without the flippers. It felt great.

January 20: We recently got a new coffee/drink machine at work, which makes Coffee Crisp Cappuccino.  I tried one and it was like awesomeness in a cup! I just can't have sweet drinks like this often. I also went to a store for a glucosamine supplement, and was also introduced to collagen. I asked "What's collagen?" It's like the glue that holds us together.  We lose it as we get older and that's why we get wrinkles. That's about as much as I learned about it then.

January 21: I tried curling my hair with my straightening iron. TRIED being the key word. Because I have natural curls that frizz like crazy, I had to straighten it first. Then I tried curling it. I had next to no clue what I was doing, so I found a Youtube tutorial. I watched it, tried, watched it again, tried. I succeeded in getting a couple decent looking curls, but couldn't get the hang of the technique and there was no way I was going to spend my whole morning trying to do all my hair. Just not worth it. I lose a lot of hair when I straighten it, and I wanted to have a presentable amount left when I was done. And I knew the longer I tried, chances were I'd be accumulating burns on my fingers, ears, forehead, etc. I don't look like a diva, and people who know me know I'm next to clueless when it comes to fashion, hair, and makeup, but especially makeup. That's one of the reasons I don't wear it. But I also just don't have patience for spending a lot of time beautifying myself. So the morning did not result in a new awesome hairstyle. I'll stick to taming my natural curl with cremes and mousse. That's a lot easier.

Now I need to figure out what I all want to do in the next week. Hmm. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Literary Mission 2015

So one of the things I would like to do in 2015 is read all my books I haven't read yet.  And that's a lot. I pulled them off the shelf and photographed them.

I have classics, biographies, novels, books on social justice, Christian living and more. A few of them I have read in the past, or I've started, but need to finish.  If I read one book a week, I have enough to get me through the summer, or most of it. I keep telling myself not to buy any more books until I've read all of mine, but that usually doesn't happen, especially when something new comes out, or I browse the book section in a thrift store and can get them for 50 cents.

Last week I finished reading The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen. Yesterday I started reading God's Gift to Women by Eric Ludy. Although I could argue the theology of men being God's gift to women, I won't. Yes, it's written for young men, but I'm reading it anyway. Two chapters in. It's great!

What are you reading in 2015?

Friday, 16 January 2015

What Did I Do?: Eyeballs, Hockey, Pizza, and New Recipes

Well, Week 2 is finished. It was a bit of a challenging one again. I'm finding I need to have a small pool of ideas to work with on any given day, because my plans and schedule can easily change. A friend suggested different categories and doing something from each category every week. I've been working with that and putting my ideas into categories (there's currently 10).  I'm hoping I can use this strategy to plan and add variety to my weeks. That way you're not seeing too much of the same thing all the time, and I can balance my ideas out.  But, without further ado . . .

January 8: I learned why your eyeballs don't freeze when it gets really cold.  I saw this link on Facebook and thought it would be cool. It was pretty interesting. You should read it too. So, yes, the weather has been freezing lately, but don't fear. As long as you're alive, your eyeballs will be okay!

January 9: I ate a slice of pizza upside down. Meaning, the pizza was upside down, not me. In my 23 years, I have eaten pizza many different ways. For a long time I ate it crust first and worked my way to the point. There was a time as a kid when I peeled off the toppings, ate those, licked off the sauce and then ate the rest. I think that grossed out some other kids at school. I have eaten it with a knife and fork. When in New York, I learned to fold it and eat it New York style. But, I had never turned over my pizza so my toppings faced my plate and tried it that way before. It was tricky figuring out how to hold it right. It wanted to fold over at first.

Starting out with eager anticipation!

I'm starting to lose it!

 And then I was taking pictures and texting while eating it, so that made it a little more interesting. Getting close to the end! I had to resist the urge not to turn it over and eat it the right way. Fun, but I'm not switching permanently to this new method. There were some casualties left on my plate afterward.

January 10: I went to watch a hockey game for the first time! I used to watch Hockey Night in Canada all the time, but that doesn't count. Now I work at an arena, and when I'm not busy, I'll watch games from my concession or from the lobby, but I had never paid to get in, sat in the bleachers and watched a game. So Saturday night, I went and watched our "Junior C" team play. Most of the time when they're playing at home, I'm home or working at the concession, scrambling through intermission rushes.

If I was going to go to a hockey game, I wanted to get the full experience. I froze through the first period, and at first intermission, I went to stand in line at the canteen like everyone else for a half coffee, half hot chocolate. This helped keep me warm. At the second intermission, I had to go get popcorn and put the dill pickle seasoning on it.  It was a good night.

January 11: Sunday was a little more low key. I went to visit a local church where I hadn't been to before for a service. It's good to get such experiences sometimes and worship with other believers. I also tried a new smoothie combination. Vanilla yogurt, frozen mangos, banana, strawberries, and orange juice makes for a good tropical flavour. I made another one the next day again for work.

January 12: Well, the cold, snowy Monday morning started again with my trip to the pool. It was a productive swim class, which I know because of how sore I was after. I learned that if you wipe the inside of your swim goggles with spit, they don't fog up! Who would've thunk?! Afterwards I headed to a music store . . . to shop! I've only ever been able to admire in one of those stores. Monday I let loose and got some new tools and music for my flute practice. I walked out with a music stand, metronome, maintenance kit, music and a whopping bill! Then I had to figure out how to put the music stand together. It required a little head scratching, but no tools were involved. As there were no "constructions" in the box, I had to figure it out on my own. It took about 10 or 15 minutes of fumbling with the parts, but in the end I had a functional stand!

I also tried a persimmon on Monday. You're probably like "What's a persimmon?" And I be like "Oh, I don't know!" They were on sale at No Frills, so I bought one over the weekend and checked online how to eat this fruit. After the first half, I figured out eating out the inside with a spoon worked best. What does it taste like? Oh, I don't know. There's nothing to accurately compare it to. It's kind of like a mango, and the flavour is sort of like an apricot. I know. That makes no sense. You pretty much have to try it to know.

January 13: I made oat biscuits for lunch. I have only made biscuits once before, so I'm a very amateur biscuit baker. The dough had rolled oats and oat bran in it. Mixing that up was easy. It was patting out the dough and cutting biscuits that proved to be a little more difficult. After assessing my sticky mess and knowing there was no way I was going to be able to cut out and transfer dough to a baking dish looking anything like a biscuit, I declared the first attempt a practice round, scraped my dough back into the bowl, and started over using a little more flour. The end result certainly didn't look impressive at all, but they tasted a lot better than they looked. They complimented the meatballs, mashed potatoes and broccoli reasonably well.

In the afternoon, I had to write an English exam, and then use up some time before going to work. So I headed to Slice of Aylmer Deli & Imports to search for a type of Dutch candies, and was successful in my search. I had never been in there before and needed some of these candies for one of my new things to do. But you will have to check back next week to see what that's all about. I'm hoping to do a video of that one, and I think it will likely be worth checking back for. Then I headed to a craft store in town to look at what they had available for another one of my plans. I can't do everything right away. I have to space my ideas and spending. And I can't have seven days of new food related things going on here. So you have to wait for some.

January 14: I made Huevos Rancheros! I had never had this before, but I had thought about making it a lot and just never done it. As I'm writing this, I'm having a cup of tea after enjoying this pretty awesome lunch. Huevos Rancheros is a Mexican breakfast dish made of tortillas, eggs, cheese, and a sauce similar to salsa. But breakfast is good any time of the day. I used a recipe, but also took some tips from my sister who makes this quite often.  Definitely going to have this again. The crunchy tortillas made me wish I had made some chips while I was at it.

Cooking the sauce:

And the end meal with refried beans and avocado. Fat and protein. Mmmm.

Another week down. Only 50 to go!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

What Did I Do?: Learning From Just One Verse

As I mentioned in last week's post, on January 4, I read the first verse of every book of the Bible. I took notes as I went and it was too much to include in last week's post. So here they are and I will include a few further thoughts afterward. Although some verses were difficult to make full sense of without further context, it's definitely interesting what you notice when you take an approach like this.

Genesis: God is the creator; He was in the beginning.
Exodus: Israel's sons came to Egypt with Jacob.
Leviticus: God spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting.
Numbers:The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the wilderness.
Deuteronomy: The book of Deuteronomy is Moses speaking to the Israelites in the wilderness beyond the Jordan.
Joshua: Joshua was Moses' assistant, whom the Lord spoke to after Moses died.
Judges: After Joshua died, the people inquired of God regarding who would fight for them.
Ruth: There was a famine in Bethlehem during the time of the judges, so the man mentioned in this verse takes his family to Moab.
1 Samuel: Ramathaimzophim is a long name of a place in Ephraim.
2 Samuel: David struck down the Amalekites after Saul's death.
1 Kings: David couldn't stay warm when he was old.
2 Kings: Moab rebelled against Israel following the death of Ahab.
1 Chronicles: Genealogy from Adam to Japheth??
2 Chronicles: God made Solomon great when he established himself in his kingdom.
Ezra: Cyrus, king of Persia, makes a proclamation so that Jeremiah's prophecy would be fulfilled.
Nehemiah: Nehemiah is in Susa, the capital, which my footnote says was a fortified city.
Esther: King Ahasuerus reigned over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia.
Job: Job was a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned away from evil.
Psalms: A person who doesn't take counsel or keep company with the wicked, sinners, or scoffers is blessed.
Proverbs: The proverbs were written by Solomon.
Ecclesiastes: These are the words of the Preacher, also Solomon. Footnotes says Preacher could mean Convener or Collector.
Song of Solomon: The writer, Solomon, actually calls it the Song of Songs.
Isaiah: Isaiah begins by describing a vision.
Jeremiah: Jeremiah was the son of a priest.
Lamentations: A city that was once great has become like a widow and slave.
Ezekiel: Ezekiel saw visions while among exiles by the Chebar canal.
Daniel: Jehoiakim was king when Nebuchadnezzar seized Jerusalem.
Hosea: Hosea received the word of the Lord while Jeroboam was king.
Joel: Joel was the son of Pethuel.
Amos: Amos was a shepherd. An earthquake follows two years after this.
Obadiah: A messenger goes out declaring to nations to rise up against Edom.
Jonah: Jonah was the son of Amittai.
Micah: The word of the Lord that Micah received was concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
Nahum: This book concerns Nineveh.
Habakkuk: Habakkuk was a prophet who saw an oracle.
Zephaniah: The word of the Lord came to Zephaniah during king Josiah's reign.
Haggai: Haggai was a prophet to the governor of Judah and the high priest.
Zechariah: The word of the Lord came to Zechariah in the second year of Darius's reign.
Malachi: Malachi receives an oracle of the word of the Lord for Israel.

Matthew: Introduces the genealogy of Jesus; calls him the son of David, and David the son of Abraham.
Mark: Mark introduces his gospel as the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of Mark.
Luke: Many people wrote stories about what happened during the time of Jesus.
John: The Word was in the beginning, with God, and was God. God is the Word.
Acts: This is presumably the second book Luke is writing to Theophilus.
Romans: Paul was an apostle, set apart for the gospel.
1 Corinthians: Paul was called to be an apostle by the will of God. Paul was not the only writer of the book. Sosthenes helped him. Perhaps he wrote it for Paul?
2 Corinthians: Timothy helped write the second letter to the Corinthians.
Galatians: Paul makes it clear he wasn't made an apostle by men.
Ephesians: Paul considered the saints at Ephesus to be faithful in Christ.
Philippians: Timothy also assisted in the writing of this letter. It addresses not only the saints, but also the overseers and deacons.
Colossians: Timothy also helped write this letter. Paul calls himself an apostle, but refers to Timothy as a brother.
1 Thessalonians: Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write this letter.
2 Thessalonians: Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy writing.
1 Timothy: Paul was an apostle by the command of God; Jesus is our hope.
2 Timothy: Paul was an apostle according to the promise of the life that is in Christ.
Titus: Paul was a servant and apostle for the sake of the church and their knowledge of the truth.
Philemon: Paul is a prisoner at this time. Timothy is also writing. They consider Philemon a fellow worker.
Hebrews: God used to speak through the prophets.
James: James is writing to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.
1 Peter: Peter is an apostle and he is writing to the believing exiles in the dispersion.
2 Peter: Peter uses his first name, Simeon Peter. Peter considered the people he was writing to had an equal faith to himself.
1 John: The word of life was in the beginning and it has physical attributes, which the writer and others have experienced.
2 John: John calls himself an elder and he has a love for the woman he is writing to and her children.
3 John: John loved Gaius.
Jude: Jude was the brother of James, and a servant of Christ. We are beloved in God.
Revelation: This is the revelation of Christ, given to him by God. An angel gave it to John, to make it known.

What stuck out to me was a lot of details I often overlook, especially regarding what we often call Paul's letters. Paul didn't fail to make mention of others assisting him and it was interesting to note the reasons he gave for being an apostle. A few verses were hard to understand without further context, so I could be wrong in some of my notes.

Has anything new stuck out to you?

Monday, 12 January 2015

Learning to Fail

If there is one thing I often fail at, it's failing, or to be more accurate, accepting that I fail. In general, I have high expectations of myself and I can be a perfectionist. This doesn't translate to all areas of my life, but it's more evident in things I do for others. I want it done right, without a glitch. And I beat myself up when I get the slightest thing wrong.  Most people would never know how I get down on myself about my failures, because I'm often too embarrassed to let it show.  But it nags at my conscience and eats away at me. It can drive me to depression if I don't get over it.

I have learned that there are areas where I extend a lot more grace to other people than I do to myself. I allow other people to mess up a lot more than me. And this is wrong. It's not healthy. Not being able to accept failure and move on can have a seriously negative impact on one's life.

So as of late I've been learning to let stuff go. I'm trying to learn the balance between not being too careful and not being careless. I'm learning to stop, pray, forgive myself, and keep going. And with that I also need to learn to accept failure without excusing sin.

Recently, I was working on a high school English course, and for my final assignment I had to choose four pieces of work to submit that I felt best showed my improvement. I was supposed to show a balance of my best work, in addition to an essay assignment. As I reviewed work from the last few months, I settled on an assignment that was certainly not my best work. It was an assignment where I had to research people and terms related to existentialist philosophy and write about them. I hated it and found it depressing to just read about some of these people and their ideas. I procrastinated, did a little at a time, and pushed my way grudgingly through it. It took me entirely too long, and I wasn't sure what was going to be the end point of it all. It was not my best work, but I decided this would be one of my four assignments to submit. I wasn't expecting good grades, and I knew I could very well be hurting my mark, but I also couldn't pass it up and say I did all that work for nothing. I submitted it to show my persistence. To my surprise, with the other assignments and the essay, I received the highest grade I had so far in the course.

If you read my New Year's post and my mission for this year, you know I'm destined for failure.  Some people that I've shared this idea with in the past month have certainly not all shared my enthusiasm. They know it will be a huge flunk. They almost convinced me to back out or maybe reduce my goal a little. But no, I'm going to stick to it, even if I'm destined to fail. I know there will be days I will have nothing to write down. But I need to learn to pick myself up the next day and keep going.

It scares me to make it my aim to accept failure. It doesn't seem very appealing, and I think I may be inviting more failure. I need to learn it's okay not to be perfect, it's okay to take off the masks, it's okay to mess up. With that I need to look to the Lord for grace, for forgiveness, for cleansing from my sin, for His Spirit to live in and through me, because I can't do it. And my God's okay with that.

Friday, 9 January 2015

What Did I Do?: Selfies, Swim Class, and My First Flute

So my first week of trying to learn, try, or do something new every day has been quite adventurous so far. It's been a challenge already, but also a lot of fun.  Here's the recap of my first week.

January 1
I learned where New Year's resolutions started and shared about that in my introductory post. Later in the evening, I was reading The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen. It's a pretty research intense book dealing with a lot of global issues, particularly the issue of violence against the poor. I came across a number of words I didn't know and looked them up: counterinsurgency, ad hoc, and opacity. Mind you, even though I wrote down the definitions, the next day all I could remember about counterinsurgency was guerrilla warfare. Ad hoc didn't stick. Opacity did. It's when something is opaque. I guess you can't say "opaquity".

January 2
On this day, I was going to go sock shopping, and I thought it would be awesome to get toe socks. They were such a fad when I was a kid, but I've never had a pair. So I headed to Ardene, thinking that would be the sure store to find them. But they didn't have any. Neither did Marks or Wal-Mart. I learned that Wal-Mart continues to disappoint when I couldn't find some of the products I was looking for. I also wanted a beach towel for my swim class and was really hoping for an Olaf or minion one.  Yes, I think Olaf is like the cutest snowman ever and I'm also partial to minions for their cuteness. I'm convinced big eyes, over-sized heads, and cute voices and giggles sell, and not just to kids.  The closest thing Wal-Mart had was an Angry Birds towel. I'm not a Star Wars fan. The Angry Birds one made it into my basket, but I ended up settling for a blue and green crocodile print one that was more adult sized instead.

But I still had to do something new, and Day 2 was coming to an end. As I headed back into the mall and looked at Ardene passing by, my eye caught something. One of the things I wanted to try this year was going to a mall and trying on a bunch of fashions I despise. Go in and search out ugly. And now my eye caught it. (Please don't take offense at my fashion opinions. I'm rather conservative.) I picked up the article of clothing and headed for the fitting room. I chose to consider this my first fitting room selfie, since I still want to indulge in more of this activity.

The tag said "THIS IS FOR YOU". No, it's really not.

Afternote: This photo was not the first one I took, but it was my favourite. It took me a few shots to figure out how to get the one I wanted, and I had to play with facial expressions. :)

January 3
I tried a pomelo, which I bought the day before. I had never had one of these giant citrus fruits before. It's similar to a grapefruit and it's so big, I ate from it for days, with help. The hardest part is peeling the really thick skin. But they're good. I would get one again.

January 4
This day was already a challenge with my schedule. I want to sleep a little later, go to church, then I had to go work right after church and only got home from work at 9:45pm. So what I did was, instead of reading my Bible as I usually would, I read the first verse of every book of the Bible and wrote down notes about what I learned. I did the Old Testament in the morning, and the New in the evening after work. I had to check the Table of Contents to make sure I didn't miss any, which was good, or else I would have missed Ruth. My notes are pretty long, so I will share them in a separate blog post later on. I also plan to do the same thing with the last verse of each book.

January 5
It was a freezing, windy, blustery winter morning and I packed my beach bag. Oh yes, that was one cool thing I got at Wal-Mart, on sale for a buck! I started my first swim class on Monday. Swimming was an activity not encouraged when I was a child, but I've really wanted to learn for years. I can't swim yet, but I'm working on that. Since I'm the only one that registered for this class, I have one-on-one instruction. My instructor told me that your eyes don't actually burn from the chlorine in the pool water, but from the difference in pH.

 January 6
Tuesday was an unbelievable highlight and I was able to take a big one off my list, in a different way than I had anticipated. I turned 23 a week earlier and spent the day with an awesome friend. We've exchanged gifts for our birthdays for years. She told me I had take a rain check on my present, since it hadn't come yet. Hmm, what could she possibly be ordering that she was waiting to ship? Well, it arrived Monday and she wanted to get together as soon as possible to give it to me. She came over for supper and I made one of my favourite soups (see recipe here), and made cornbread for the first time. I'd had cornbread before, but never made it myself and had a recipe from a health book I wanted to try, which called for cornmeal and whole wheat flour, as opposed to white flour. A successful new recipe.

It was good, but that isn't what I want you to get all excited about.  This is what I want you to get excited about!

This shiny silver instrument is my very own Andreas Eastman flute! I had this feeling for a couple days that this was what my friend was getting me, but I wanted to be realistic and not be too hopeful. One look at the package wrapped in pretty pink paper told me I was right! I used to play the flute when I was in school, but was never able to get my own and I forgot how to play. It was amazing to put it together that night and play it for the first time. I kept a lot of my music from school, and I was surprised how quickly it came back, although I have a lot of practicing and re-learning to do before I can play like I once did.

January 7
I took it a little more chill this day. I sat down for over half an hour in the morning and worked on learning to shuffle a deck of cards properly, which I could never do before. I'm still no pro at it, but I certainly improved. And I learned that after shuffling cards for half an hour straight, your fingers get sore, especially when you have dry winter skin to begin with.

I also picked up my book The Locust Effect again. This time I learned about how corrupt the New York City police were in the 1890s, and the meaning of the word "pogrom," which is the organized murder of a lot of helpless people, typically for ethnic or religious reasons.

Hopefully this gives you some inspiration and new ideas. If you ever want recipes for anything I post on here, just leave a comment and I'll post it. Try to do something new this week, eat, play music, or whatever. Or just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming . . . .  Now you'll be thinking about Nemo. Hehe. :)

Monday, 5 January 2015

School Reflections on Mennonite Culture and "A Complicated Kindness"

This post requires a brief introduction so you will understand what you're reading. In the last few months, I've been working on upgrading my Grade 12 English credit. In the course, I had to read two of three novels, and write three reader response journals for each. One of the books I chose was A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, a novel set in a Mennonite community in Manitoba in the 1970-80s. I was intrigued by a book about my culture and thought it would be great to connect to. I did have to meet a few content requirements, but I liked how the format of this assignment allowed me to express my views and write about Mennonite culture, and I decided to share one response journal on my blog.

Having said that, I want to add that I cannot recommend this book. Readers that know me personally will quickly understand why. The more I read, the more disturbed I became and it certainly had an unhealthy effect on me. However, I also appreciated how the author exposed some of the problems in Mennonite cultures and I really connected to some of the points she brought out. I have tried to be as sensitive as possible in detailing these. Please understand that this is a personal perspective and reflects my understanding and experience of being a Mennonite.


Reader Response Journal 1 for A Complicated Kindness Chapters 1-10

So first I want to vent about how I feel about this book. On a whole, I haven't been impressed. It's a mockery of not only Mennonites, but particularly of the Christian faith. The only way the author can get away with all the use of profanity, including profaning God, is because the story is told from the perspective of a girl who is rebelling against her culture. Having said that, Toews effectively tears down the outward image of Mennonite culture and gets a lot of points about the culture bang on!

While I'm on the topic of my reactions to this book, I may as well expand more. Although I grew up in a different Mennonite culture in a different time, I can understand a lot of what Nomi is working through. I understand that although the characters profess religion and go to church on Sundays, there is a huge youth culture full of sex, drugs, alcohol and rebellion. What happens down at the pits is really not far-fetched. What did surprise me was the author's use of profanity, and particularly using the names of God as swear words. This is generally not acceptable in Mennonite culture, or the Christian faith. The reason she uses it though is to show the Nomi who inside has completely turned away from everything she has been taught growing up, as well as to authenticate characters like Tash and Travis. This was definitely a big disappointment to me, but it does show Nomi's troubled life, as well as the youth culture among many Mennonite groups.

Something that surprised me in a good way was the community's focus on third-world missions, aside from the fact that people are often compelled to serve out of guilt or because of manipulative threats. Depending on the community, this is something that is certainly not always common. In fact, in some churches, actively proselytizing can be very looked down upon. However, on the flip-side, in many Mennonite circles, serving the poor or reaching out through missions is an important way of demonstrating faith.

I don't feel very warmly about the characters. Nomi's a rebel who describes herself as a "sad, cynical pothead." (p.32) I don't find much about her likeable. But at the same time, I pity her, because she, along with her family, and all the people around her are trapped in a religion that is all about dos and don'ts, but it doesn't actually change them. They have the Bible pushed down their throats, but they don't "get it". The result is, of course, misery. I like her dad, Ray. I can't say I'm drawn to her mom, or sister. Travis seems like the kind of guy who will, sooner or later, be most interested in getting into Nomi's pants. Although a little more thoughtful about things, he seems to encourage her increasing substance abuse. I don't like him either.

There are things that Nomi says that really hit the nail on the head, specific ideas and mentalities I could really connect with. "We've been hand-picked. We're on the fast track, singled out, and saved." (p.17) What Nomi describes here is the idea that is common in some Mennonite communities that they're a sort of elite people, almost like a special people to God that will be saved, and everyone else will be condemned. Very wrong, might I add. In Chapter 7, Nomi describes the town she lives in, in relation to the museum village. "It's right next to the real town, this one, which is not really real. It's a town that exists based on the idea of it not existing in the world." (p.47-48) Nomi understands that their community denies the pleasures of this world so they can enjoy the next, but she doesn't know what they will be. She makes a good point here. When having a conversation with her teacher, she hits the nail on the head when she says, "I want to know what it's like to be forgiven by another human being (I was stoned, obviously) and not have to wait around all my life anxiously wondering if I'm an okay person or not and having to die to find out." (p.48) This statement really describes her confusion. In the church I grew up in, and in many Mennonite churches, a common belief is that a person cannot know if they're saved and going to heaven. We were taught that Jesus died for our sins, so we could go to heaven, but that was about it. The rest was up to us. We had to try to live a good life, make our good outweigh our bad, and hope, that maybe, just maybe, we'd make it into heaven. Hell was used to scare little children when they did something bad. If a person claimed to be saved or born again, they were gone off the deep end, and quite possibly rejected by their family. This seems to me to be at the heart of what Nomi can't understand and why she sees their faith as fantasy. It's a "reject-everything-here-in-hopes-of-something-better, in-hopes-we-can-make-it-in" way of life. This is what really saddens me about the culture.

I really appreciated when Nomi said, "Somehow all the problems of the world manage to get into our town but not the strategies to deal with them." (p.52) This is so true. Mennonites are human, just like everyone else, and many of the same problems exist, whether it's drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, abuse, or promiscuity. But many communities do not seem to have solutions to deal with them, aside from discipline or excommunication, which doesn't actually help the people.

There were other little things that made me excited, like chocolate puffed wheat balls. At home, we press it into a pan and cut it into squares. Simple, but always a nice light snack. I got a good laugh when she mentioned how Mennonites stare! Can they ever! Although this is likely largely stereotypical, I can almost see a line of little Mennonite kids standing at the border line of the neighbour's property, just staring! And Knipsbrat, which I learned later was called crokinole in English. I played that as a kid. It was one of those safe, acceptable Mennonite games. Oh, and can't forget the messy, bloody, and smelly job of butchering chickens. Like Nomi, I can't imagine doing that for a living!

What I found interesting and somewhat surprising was that children read Narnia books, and Ray gives Nomi a copy of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. This may really vary by community, but fiction books weren't of great value when I was a child, and fantasy in particular can be a controversial genre in conservative Christian/Mennonite circles. Lewis can be a controversial writer, and people have mixed feelings about Narnia. The allegory is probably the main redeeming factor, and that the witch is actually depicted as bad. Personally, I enjoy Lewis's work, but I was surprised that this is part of the education system in Nomi's community.

I also connected to Nomi's love and desire to see New York City, but for a reason totally different from hers. I was never drawn, per se, to big cities as a kid, but in the past year and a half, I spent over 20 weeks in Staten Island. What brought me there was actually the fact that I was a Mennonite. I was volunteering with Mennonite Disaster Service while they were helping clean up and rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy. I loved being in NY, I got to see different sights, and I loved volunteering with this organization I hadn't hear about before. It also greatly challenged the way I viewed my Mennonite heritage, which I had lost a great deal of respect for. To be quite honest, I didn't even like being considered a Mennonite anymore. But working with other Mennonites in a disaster relief project helped me to see many of the different Mennonite cultures from Canada and the U.S. I also got to know and made friends with people from churches I had little to no respect for, and began to see them differently. I saw that there were people who actually had a genuine, active faith. It did exist among them, even if it wasn't the case with nearly all of them, or at least among the ones I knew. This experience also resulted in something else interesting. I had the opportunity to share my experiences at a number of fundraising and awareness events, and my audience was many times, people from the culture I came out of. Yes, like in Nomi's story, the women sit on one side of the church, while the men sat on the other. It is certainly not the norm to have a young, single woman speak to them! I have often been amazed at the opportunities I had to share with this culture. I am curious to see what will come of Nomi's desire to see New York City and how it will impact her.

The style of A Complicated Kindness is unique and surprising in some ways. It's told in the first-person narrative, Nomi being the narrator. It's effective, because the reader can get right into her head. The story is written free-form, and is somewhat fragmented. Nomi talks a lot about the past, and the past is often interspersed with what's going on in the present. She has a hard time dealing with her mother and sister leaving, and it really affects her life, so naturally, she talks about it. I find that as the story goes on, the focus shifts more to what's happening in the present. However, she jumps from one topic to the next, and many things she talks about are very random. It's almost like the book is Nomi's diary, and she's just writing about her life and what has happened to her.

One thing I noticed right in the beginning was that Nomi speaks about her parents by using their first names, rather than speaking of them as Mom and Dad. This is unusual. Also, the author very rarely puts dialogue in quotations. I wonder why she chose not to do this. Perhaps this is because a lot of the story is just Nomi processing things, or because it reads in many ways kind of like a diary. The author's writing style strikes me as modernist in some ways. She uses assonance quite a bit, mostly when Nomi is talking of riding her bike. In Chapter 8, Nomi frequently repeats "I like to ride my bike" and tells of the places she goes. The author really gets on a roll with the modernist style on page 37: "We'd stand by our front doors yelling stuff like shalom and Faloma and nice aroma let's build a snowma in the dark, we'd just go on and on, in early Menno rap style, until his dad asked him if he wanted a smack. A smack attack jack? Get back on track!"

A literary device used a lot in this book is sarcasm, especially with Nomi being a cynical character, disgusted by her community. There is a dark mood, over the story. Nomi is to a great extent sad and depressed, with a negative outlook on her life and the world she lives in. The author uses wit, especially in the way that Tash responds to their culture and the aspects that make no sense to her, like when she points out they can't dance but they can have sex with extended family members. (p.49) I'm not used to such closely related people marrying, but the girl certainly makes a great point!

I am interested to see where Nomi will end up, and also how this small glimmer of appreciation she has for her community, in the complicated kindness she experiences, will grow or fade.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Years 2015 Plan: What Did I Do?

So here's my crazy idea! I'm not one for making very serious New Years resolutions, but this year, I have a plan:

I'm going to try, learn, or do something new every day of 2015. And I'm going to share about it here on my blog.  Crazy, huh?

Yep, you're all saying I'm going to run out of ideas.  I think so too.  Actually, I already know I'm going to fail.  That's me being realistic.  Things happen, plans change, days throw unexpected things my way, and schedules get cram packed. I might get sick and won't feel like doing anything more than absolutely necessary, or just try to survive another day.  So why am I even going to try?

I'll tell you why. Because I need to learn to fail. Not just to fail, but to get back up after I fail, again, and again, and again. Also, for me, it's not so much about succeeding every day.  It's more about challenging myself, growing, and living with more adventure.  I do have a list of ideas to work with, many of which cost money. I need to come up with more ideas that I can do any day at home. My ideas range from food, shopping, sports, spiritual growth, outreach, traveling, books, hair, and other simple things.

When I say I want to try, learn, or do something new every day, I'm not thinking about a bunch of grandiose ideas.  It can be very simple. I'm giving myself grace to, on the days I'm stuck, to go to a dictionary and just learn a new word and expand my vocabulary. It can even be about just learning to see things from a different perspective, or doing something in a way I haven't done it before. It's about creativity, challenging myself, and being intentional about learning and growing. And it's also true that I will learn new things simply by going through the everyday of life. People say "You learn something new every day." Well, sometimes it's through mistakes and circumstances we learn new things all the time. It just happens.

As I've pondered about this the last few weeks, I've wondered about different things. What if I do a bunch of new things in one day.  Can I use that day to skip out on others, or is that cheating?  If it's my idea, I can make the rules, right? What if I'm trying to learn about something big that will take more than a day? So, I haven't figured out all these details yet, but that's okay.

Today I headed over to Wikipedia and learned where this whole New Year's resolutions thing started. It goes back pretty far; it just looked different. Promises were made by ancient Babylonians to gods at the beginning of every year, and the Romans made promises at the start of each year to the god Janus, where the name for January comes from. Knights during the Medieval era would take "peacock vows" at the end of the holiday season each year "to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry." By the end of the Great Depression, approximately one fourth of adults in America were making resolutions. However, a 2007 study showed there's an 88% failure rate among people who plan New Year's resolutions.  Hmmm, that's not very good.

I'm planning to share what I'm doing and learning here on my blog. I think it will likely be a weekly post summarizing what I did. If I do something bigger that deserves a post on it's own, I will do that. I will disperse other blog posts and series in between. This web page will definitely be looking different from now on, but I hope you will enjoy what you read. I hope it will inspire and challenge you in your own life, to view things differently, to keep learning, to grow, and to try new things.  To live an adventurous life with God.