We all agree that vegetables are good for us. But often it takes some intentionality to change our eating habits to include more. I know that I go through spurts where I'm aware of my eating, and times when I take the easy way out and go for the chips. (Don't potato chips count as a vegetable??)

If you need some suggestions on how to include more vegetables in your diet, you might want to check out this website a friend shared yesterday. Readers' suggestions include keeping vegetables in easy site on a top shelf, cooking (especially roasting) vegetables ahead of time so they're easy to grab on the run, and doubling vegetables at mealtime.

To those I'll add a few of my own.

Remember to include a variety of vegetables on your shopping list. It's hard to eat them if they're not in the fridge. Don't forget frozen and canned for moments when you're short on time. I love canned green beans and they make an easy snack.

Make soup. This is especially easy to do in the winter. You can heave all sorts of vegetables in a soup with the benefit of keeping all of the nutrients in the broth. I've recently modified my mom's vegetable soup recipe to look more like the Sicilian Chicken Soup at Carabbas and it's yummy and easy. If you get on a roll (and you have the freezer space) you can make a large pot of soup every week, put some in the freezer, and after a while have a nice variety to choose from. Or you can just eat from the same pot all week!

Keep a list of interesting salads. I get pretty bored with the standard - lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber - but often as dinner approaches I have little creativity. Keeping a rotating list of optional salads out where I can see it (and shop for it) is helpful. The reality is, if it's not written down somewhere, I'll default to the same old.

Here's the recipe for a broccoli cauliflower salad that's easy to make as well as a carrot salad that's a favorite. Both can be made ahead.

Broccoli-Cauliflower Salad

Broccoli, cut up into small florets
Cauliflower, cut up into small florets
Red onion, thinly sliced
Cherry/grape tomatoes
Fried bacon, crumbled

1 c mayonaise
2 T sugar
1/4 cup parmessan cheese
1/2 t basil
1 T milk

Add enough dressing to cover salad. Best if mixed a bit ahead so the flavors can blend.

Carrot Salad
3 1/2 c grated carrots
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 garlic clove or 1/2 t chopped garlic
3 T lemon juice
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/2 t salt
fresh ground pepper to taste.

Combine carrots, parsley. Mix remaining ingredients and toss. Keeps well for 2-3 days.

I love writing for myself first. Today, I made sure I stopped to think about what vegetables I was going to add to my grocery list!
The Good Samaritan by Ferdinand Hodler

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:21,21) 

I wonder when the people in that Jewish synagogue began to perk up their ears during Jesus' teaching. What made them feel like there was a true authority in their midst? Was there a conviction to what he was saying, a willingness to commit that they didn't see in their own own teachers? Even so, there are many people who speak with authority (our current political campaigning gives us easy examples) without really knowing what they're talking about, or able to deliver what their "gospel" preaches.

We're not told in Mark what Jesus is teaching about. Luke tells us that Jesus had used this text from Isaiah in an earlier synagogue visit:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because
He anointed me to preaching the gospel to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind.
To set free those who are oppressed.

Jesus did not hesitate to identify himself and his mission. But right away, his authority was challenged. A man with an evil spirit calls out to heckle the young rabbi. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 

Jesus is unfazed. He rebukes the spirit and orders him to leave the man. Freedom. For the oppressed. At this the congregation is even more amazed.

The other gospel writers tell us that before Jesus began his ministry, he spent some time in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil. The first temptation was to prove his authority. If he really was the Son of Man, the mocking voice dared, surely he could turn those stones into bread. But Jesus didn't have to prove who he was to anyone. Even as a young child he knew what he was about, and as he grew he leaned even more fully into the implications of being the true Son of God, anointed by the Spirit of God to do the work of God.

It makes me wonder about those of us who follow the Christ. Are we equally confident in our own calling, what it means to be a child of Almighty God? Do we believe in the same empowering Spirit of love? If so, do we still feel like we have to prove something to someone? Or like Jesus, are we moving with conviction, using the authority that has been given us to fulfill our own missions, whatever they may be?

One of the gifts of art is its power to awaken desire, enticing us to taste more deeply of the joys of life. Several weeks ago I posted a poem by Denise Levertov, where she describes the profound silence in a winter landscape, fog slowly rising up a hill. There was magic sprinkled throughout the lines. When I woke on Tuesday morning to snow, fog and a rising sun, I knew I had to grab my camera and head out to the Yellow Breeches, just a short walk from my house. Beauty was waiting, I was sure of it. And I wasn't disappointed.

Another poem has also been in my mind since I read it over at Robin Bate's website, Better Living Through Beowulf. Robin is committed to the proposition that literature can help us live better lives, whether it's giving an insight into human behavior, inspiring us with models worth imitating or beckoning us toward a hidden beauty. Reading Velvet Shoes reminded me of all the times I've walked in muffled woods, drinking deeply of the soundless space, mesmerized by white lace veils. Desire newly quickened, I found myself eagerly awaiting the first snowfall. When the snow finally came, I took a detour from my normal path to work, crossing the field to stand at river's edge. The snow muffled my shoes and my breath expanded into the silence. 

Velvet Shoes
 By Elinor Wylie

Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as a white cow’s milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

The youtube is a choral rendition of Robert Frost's famous poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. You can read the whole poem here.
snow, fog and sun...
Last year I started eating kale after a friend introduced me to kale chips. The chips weren't really that good, but I was surprised that the taste of the kale wasn't bad at all. I figured that since it was probably good for me (isn't that what they say about dark, leafy vegetables?) I should add it to my diet. After a little research, I realized that there are a lot more things going for kale than I knew! Here are some pluses for this leafy veggie:

1. Major source of fiber
2. Two powerful antioxidants
3. Anti-inflammatory help with omega 3 and Vitamin K.
4. Vitamin A
5. Vitamin C

For additional info and some more benefits, you can check out this link.

The way I like kale the best is super easy. Don't buy the kale that's in bags, but choose the greenest, freshest looking bunch you find. Simply strip off the stem (this keeps the kale from being  bitter) and chop into bite-sized chunks. Put some olive oil in a frying pan and dump in the kale. Sprinkle with garlic salt and stir-fry several minutes until the kale is cooked, but still a bit al dente. It's OK if you don't like it - but if you do, what a great way to help your body out!

Kale is also a good ingredient for certain types of soups - I've always loved the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden which is full of kale. Here's a recipe that's very similar to one I use from Pioneer Woman. There are lots of pictures, but if you scroll down to the bottom, you'll find the ingredients and a simpler set of directions.
Calling Disciples by Hi Qi

God has spoken once, twice have I heard it,
that power belongs to God.
Steadfast love is yours, O Lord,
for you repay everyone according to his deeds

Psalm 62: 6,7; 13,14

Yesterday's psalm has long been one of my favorites, especially how the psalmist weaves together his description of God in those last verses: strong, loving and just. God as strong and loving are themes with which we resonate. But the justice of God can give people pause, evoking images of the accountant God, pouring over a ledger as he makes sure that nothing is missed, nothing overlooked, morphing then into the stern judge whose pounding gavel seals a verdict, and finally becoming the dark, implacable executioner, deaf to cries of mercy.

It's for those reasons that the story of Jonah is especially helpful. Not the part about the whale, or "big fish," which is what evoking the prophet's name first brings to mind, but the reason that Jonah didn't want to carry out God's bidding in the first place. It would have been easy for Jonah if God just wanted to use his voice as a warning siren, after all, this city had sent out armies that had laid waste the countryside of Israel, raping and pillaging without conscience. A blitzrieg might be too kind. But Jonah had a sneaking suspicion, which was proved right, that God didn't really repay everyone according to his deeds. That his steadfast love and mercy actually trumped justice. And that's why he balked.

After going through Nineveh and preaching repentance to its inhabitants, the people of Nineveh believed God; "they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it." (Jonah 3:10)

This is the character of the king whose kingdom Jesus comes to announce as Mark portrays him walking into Galilee. It's God's way of doing business: committed to truth-telling (this is what you have done, and deserve) but deeply committed to love (I'd rather forgive) and empowerment  (let me help you live in a better way) that Jesus wants people to embrace. And so he begins his stump speech: "The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:15) 

Not only is this a new way of thinking (one of the ways you can interpret the word "repent"), but Jesus is going to need some help getting his message out, which is where the recruiting piece comes in. Follow me, Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, James and John, busy with the morning catch. God is doing something new and there's only one way to find it. I'll show you what I mean, and then you can be part of my endeavor to draw people into this new reality. You're good at trawling for fish, but once you catch what I'm talking about, you're going to want to gather all sorts of folks into this way of life.

Responding to Jesus' invitation for those first disciples meant a radical shift in occupation. That's not always true for those of us who accept citizenship in this new kingdom; after all, we still need food, and fish has plenty of omega 3. No, the difference may not be in what we do, but why and how we do it: empowered by the Spirit of God; living truthfully and aware of the consequences (both good and bad) of our actions; and motivated by a love that just won't stop. Can it really happen? Yes, says Jesus. Believe it, and come along.
The Bride of the Wind by Oskar Kokoschka

Last night, friends and I watched George Clooney's The Descendants, a story about a family in the process of losing their wife and mother. The impending death provides the opportunity to untangle a jumble of emotions - grief, anger, loss, betrayal, sadness, hurt, regret, thankfulness. Unruly and at times unwelcome, each makes its presence known, demanding both an acknowledgement and a response.

All of us yearn to love and be loved deeply, and because of that openness and need, it is the relationships we care about most that not only bring us our greatest joys, but also deal us our deepest wounds. Still, as a friend said after the movie, by watching the complexity of other relationships, at times we can see the truth about someone who has hurt us in the past, and recognize that things are not as simple as they seem.

It's the awareness of these inner complexities that anchors the following poem by Robert Hayden. Sometimes the contradictions between longing and hurt, between love and anger cannot be resolved. We state the truth: the consistency of "banked fires" blazing, or good shoes being polished (and all without thanks), but we state with equal certainty that "chronic angers" produced a cold that was never splintered or broken.

And yet, even these truths are not the end of the truth-telling. That, too, must be acknowledged, for what do we really know of another? The whole truth, like life itself,  remains unfathomable

Those Winter Sundays
Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Note: The painting above shows Kokoschka and his lover Alma Mahler as a shipwrecked pair in stormy seas. "He satisfied my life and he  destroyed it", Mahler is quoted as saying. Born in 1886, the Austrian painter, poet, and playwright is best known for his intense expressionistic style.




Taking time that I would usually use to blog to try and understand the SOPA and PIPA controversy.

I must admit that I find checklists helpful. Especially when it comes to helping me reflect on how I'm living. As you might imagine, from someone who decided to start a website entitled "Let's Choose Joy," I'm pretty intentional about making choices that lead to a more healthy, integrated, joyful life.

Of course, the downside of being intentional is that you can become way too serious, unless you're intentional about not being serious, which is where checklists come in handy. Here's my latest attempt at seeking balance.

Be intentional about healing.
Whether it's emotional health or physical health, I still have areas that are in deficit mode. I don't assume that I'm as healthy as I can be, so I keep an eye out for twinges. Although I don't look for problems, I'm open to things that naturally appear.

Keep growing.
There are so many ways to grow, things to learn, skills to acquire, aspects of life to appreciate. Growing, unlike healing, doesn't start from a deficit. It may start from zero, but hangs out in the positive zone, and makes life lots more textured and interesting.

Don't forget to fill up.
Here's the part where having fun makes it to the list. I need to do things that have no obvious positive result - just fun for the sake of fun. I've finally found a music buddy, so last Sunday we grabbed 10.00 seats and took in an amazing concert by our local symphony. Hummed all the way home. Especially important is to know (and remember) those things that are pure joy to me.

While the other three categories focus on myself in appropriate ways, I remind myself of the joy that comes through giving to those around me. Whatever stage I am in I can always give. Even the gift of companionship is enough on a day I feel like I'm worn out. Or perhaps I can give others the opportunity to give to me. (The Golden Rule in Reverse).
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me."
John 1:43

It seems appropriate to be talking about leading and following today, as we celebrate the life of one of America's most powerful and significant leaders of the past century. When Martin Luther King, Jr issued a call for people to follow him into a path of non-violent resistance to the corrupt powers of his society, people followed. Whether it was to participate in a sit-in, to register to vote, or to march on Washington, there were many who heeded King's just and passionate words.

When Jesus comes on the scene in John's gospel reading, he is issuing a call for followers. Philip not only answers in the affirmative, but he heads out to find his friend, Nathanael. Although a little perplexed that something worth paying attention to could come out of a backwater place like Nazareth, Nathanael is curious enough to check things out. When Jesus stuns him by his uncanny knowledge of Nathanael's activity - as well as his character - Nathanael signs on.

As we move into the season of Epiphany, we are given the same challenge of following Jesus. The question that we need to answer is "why would we do so?" What makes Jesus worthy of following? Here are at least ways to answer that question.

First, Jesus knows whom he is calling. Both the Old Testament reading and the Psalm make this point. God knows the boy Samuel, sleeping in the temple under Eli's care, and calls him by name. "Samuel, Samuel," the unearthly voice will urge, not giving up until it is satisfied that it has caught the youngster's attention. Samuel is the one God knows is able to next lead his people and he personally recruits Samuel into this sacred service. (I Samuel 3:1-10) 

Similarly, in the Psalm, we are reminded that

LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar. 
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether. 
You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me. 
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it. 
For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
(Psalm 139)

We need not be fearful that God has made the call to us based on false advertising; there is nothing that surprises the All-knowing Creator. "Where can I hide from your presence?" the Psalmist will ask further on. God has formed us and walked alongside us since our birth; with the knowledge and love of a invested parent God issues the invitation to walk in paths of righteousness.

Second, Jesus is worthy of being followed because He is both fully God and fully human. As a perfect man, filled by the Spirit of God, he is able to live out the life that all the rest of humanity, infected with the "sin-virus," broken and and in need of healing, are unable to do. To some, the assertion of Jesus' divinity, seems to divorce him from humanity. Even though Paul will say, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of  God." (2 Cor 5:21), some argue that a sinless Jesus is unfollowable, impossible to emulate. It would be easier if he had some flaws, some baggage to overcome, goes the argument. But I don't buy it.

For Jesus to be fully worthy of imitation, he needs to behave in a completely exemplary way. Otherwise, we would need to become his judge, stating that in this situation, we should behave like him, but in this we shouldn't. It is true that we have to do this with many other leaders, even those whose vision puts them heads and shoulders above their companions. "Only human," is what we say, when weaknesses are exposed; devotion diminishes and we qualify our remarks. Be like Tiger Woods, we  may say to our son practicing his golf game, just not in the way he treats women.

This isn't an issue with the human/divine incarnated Christ. In every way he is fit to be followed. He will be tempted in every way, says the writer of Hebrews, but he will be able to show us the way through the temptation. Like us enough, and not like us in ways that are crucially important to God's deepest plans.

There is another possible error though, as we think of following Christ. In his divinity, we can make him unattainable. Surely, he had some sort of "God app" that he accessed through a superhuman brain. If only I knew everything, I could be like Jesus, we muse. But if Jesus were truly human, he relied, as we all must, on the Spirit of God who not only formed, but also filled him, to live out his daily life on earth. Rather than having plays funneled through his headset from a celestial coach, I believe he lived as we do, dependent upon the daily guidance and power of God's spirit. It is true that he didn't have fear, anxiety, pride or anger blocking the directives of God's voice, but he still had to listen. And if he was able to know what God wanted, as a human, so can we.

When Jesus issues the invitation to become his follower, he does so knowing who is on the guest list, and what resources are available to answer this call. Like the disciples who received the Spirit in those rushing Pentecostal winds, we are able to access not only the healing we need to become whole, but the wisdom we need to become mature. Filled with the same Spirit, we are able then to follow this carpenter from Nazareth, secure in the knowledge that He will be a leader worthy of emulating, in every way and in every situation.
photo credit: Anna Kostenko

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape - the loneliness of it - the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it - the whole story doesn't show." Andrew Wyeth

Unlike my husband, who spent much of his life in the Bahamas, I grew up in Pennsylvania, and so learned to appreciate the starkness of the winterscape. Seeing the trees bereft of leaves was a grounding experience for me, and those evening sunsets silhouetting the black lacy branches were as lovely as anything spring could offer.

Several years ago, a friend mentioned that often our inner work mirrors the landscape or season we find ourselves in. During the winters of our lives we find ourselves being stripped bare; the outer trappings fall away, leaving only an inner core, the "bone structure" of who we are. As familiar roles are taken from us, or change requires us to investigate new pathways, we shiver, exposed and uncertain.

But though we may feel diminished, the self remains. Apart from the busyness of life, apart from our productivity, and even our clarity, we exist; in the stillness, our breath reminds us that we are alive. And if we are willing to embrace the "absolute patience" of winter's handiwork, we may find ourselves experiencing the happiness of pure being.

The Breathing
  Denise Levertov

"An absolute
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
cobwebs, the grass 
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear."

For more of Kostenko's photography, click here.