Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by Hendrik Averkamp
I've been wondering for several days whether or not I should keep blogging. As I reflect on the past three years, I'm really pleased that I have been so consistent in posting. It's been gratifying to see that I can express my thoughts on "paper" and there are several posts that I am particularly proud of. In addition, the blog has been a place where I have been able to grow into how I imagine myself. My first post was a poem I had recently composed. I had the feeling that if I just kept it to myself, it wouldn't be the same. Even if nobody read it, still the act of making my words public was important to my sense of self.

I didn't post much more poetry, but I did start putting out more of my thoughts - writing down those ideas which were on the order of "I've been thinking," a phrase my children heard often at the breakfast or dinner table. I moved on to exploring thoughts on theology and personal health. The Sunday posts were an oppotunity to fill in what the Sunday sermon had inspired. The healthy living posts morphed into sharing favorite recipes, which in turn encouraged me to keep looking for more healthy ways to cook.

But perhaps my favorite posts have been my Friday posts - where I've scoured the internet for poetry, music and art to share. Like a freshman english project, finding poetry has made me love poetry even more. A recent trip to Barnes and Noble looking for some poetry for a friend, led to some familiar faces, in part due to poets who have become favorites over the years. Needing a piece of art to illustrate a post, or creating a post out of a Chihuly or Van Gogh exhibit reminds me how much I'm drawn to art. I've discovered some great sites for classic art and myriads of artists who continue to create breathtaking pieces.

My password for this account includes the word "encourage" and though no doubt I've encouraged some of you who have found your way to this blog, I think the encouragement has been flowing often toward me, nourishing my soul, enriching my own joy. And so, like most writers, in the end I've ended up writing mostly for myself.

Still, I'm noticing recently that I'm having to choose between time at the blog and time at the piano, or reading, or cooking, or the myriad of other things that make my life meaningful and full of joy. And so while I may not close my blog down indefinitely, I think I'm going to take a break to leave more time for other creative pursuits. A friend of mine, Farida, who I found through the "Better Living Through Beowulf" blog I've mentioned in past posts, sent me a poem this morning which sums it up better than I could.

My life has been the poem I would have writ
by Henry David Thoreau
My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.

Perhaps living my life will include sharing and reflecting on it at this blog. Or maybe my writing and creativity will take a different bent. (There's still so much I want to interact on with Julian of Norwich, for instance, and I wonder how best to do that.) No matter what the future looks like, it's been great hanging out here at "Lets Choose Joy," Thanks to all of you who have made comments and shared posts. May this New Year be filled with blessings and joy.
12/21/12. The end of the world? No. The end of an age? Perhaps. If so, today is the first day of a new age. What if it's the age where we learn how to love each other deeply, imagine possibilities where each person flourishes, and use our resources to make those futures a reality? 

I long for this to be true of us a human race - that we are entering a new era that culminates in a new world. In honor of that hope, I'm posting the first movement of Dvorak's "New World Symphony," a favorite from childhood. The winds awaken our hearts with a yearning for all things pastoral; the brass calls us to the adventure. May we take up the challenge, open our hearts, let our creativity be ignited, and step out with grace.
A while ago I saw a picture of an apple galette and have been waiting for the right time to give it a try. And yesterday was the day. Here's the picture of it coming out of the oven. Of course I forgot to get another one once it was on the antique cake platter! Ah well.
A galette is any type of flat, round cake made of pastry and filling. I used my pie dough recipe and filled it with apples, craisins and nuts. The look is so artisan it makes you feel like you've started baking in a brick oven. Having a silpat or other silicon baking sheet definitely helps, although it's not necessary. But if you're still looking for a late Christmas idea, these are wonders - nothing sticks to the pan, and they're a breeze to clean up.

This recipe is slightly modified from this site at epicurious.

Apple/Craisin Galette

your favorite pie crust recipe or prepared crust
I made enough for a double crusted pie (1 3/4 c flour)

4 apples
4 T sugar (raw sugar works nicely, especially on the edges)
1/4 c craisins
1/4 c apricot jam
chopped walnuts for garnish

Roll out pie crust on parchment paper or silpat. Transfer to a baking sheet. Slice apples thinly and toss with 2 T sugar, craisins and lemon zest. Spread crust with the apricot jam. Arrange the apples in the middle of the pastry, leaving the outside 1 1/2 inches uncovered. I arranged the apples on their sides around the edge, then filled in with the rest of the apples, so it was a little more full. Top with a small handful of walnuts.

With a pancake turner, lift the edges over the filling, crimping together. Brush edges with milk and then sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, then turn down to 375 for 30 minutes or until pastry is nicely browned.

The trickiest part was getting it from the baking sheet to the cake plate. I make an oil crust, so this was probably why. Garnish with vanilla ice cream  or whipped cream. Bon appetit!

3rd Sunday of Advent

Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)

The events of Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook are so present that I can't not mention them in this post, but so fresh that I don't feel as if words are the right response. This morning I sat at the piano and sang "May it Be," from the Lord of the Rings. It's my prayer to all those who are grieving now.

May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh! How far you are from home

Mornie utulie (Darkness has come)
Believe and you will find your way
Mornie alantie (Darkness has fallen)
A promise lives within you now

May it be the shadow's call
Will fly away
May it be you journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun
Nebozvon (Skybell) by Aristarkh Lentulov, 1919
One of the best parts of the Christmas season for me is the wonderful concerts that are offered. It's a smorgasbord of sound that can be overwhelming and impossible to fit on one plate. Sometimes I wish I could take a goodie bag home and open up some of these wonderful evenings in January, or even March, when I could use some cheering up.

Anyway, last week some friends invited us for dinner followed by a handbell concert. (Both were excellent.) The musical selections at the concert were varied and included a version of Fum, Fum, Fum that showcases snappy sound and some fancy mallet work. But the standout for me was a piece entitled "Christmas Eve Sarajevo, 12/24." Having written several blogs on  "The Cellist of Sarajevo" last summer, I was immediately intrigued. The music interweaves "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" with "The Carol of the Bells" and the opening strains are an homage to the cellist who inspired the book. The ending is a tintinnabulation (what a great word!) that's exciting and triumphant, and a whole lot of fun to watch in person as ringers scramble back and forth to make sure each note is sounded. I loved the piece so much I went home and bought it, and then had to figure out how to upload it onto Youtube so I could share it on the blog. This version is from the Raleigh Ringers.

Since I can't pair the music with a good dinner, I chose the first of four sections of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe entitled "The Bells" as an appetizer. Notice the unusual indentation, so specific a placement that it reminds me of the care used by the ringers in setting out their various bells and chimes at the concert. And who can't be caught up by the infectious rhyme scheme -  onomatopoetic perfection. The painting "Nebozvon", by Russian artist, Aristarkh Lentulov with his cacophany of color, adds a perfectly flavored garnish. Enjoy~

The Bells
by Edgar Allen Poe

   Hear the sledges with the bells--         
      Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
       How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
           In the icy air of night!
       While the stars that oversprinkle
       All the heavens, seem to twinkle
           With a crystalline delight;
         Keeping time, time, time,
         In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
    From the bells, bells, bells, bells,          
              Bells, bells, bells--
  From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

Several weeks ago I headed over to Boiling Springs (PA) for a late autumn walk. As the name hints, there is a spring in the vicinity that feeds a small lake; the town is as quaint as can be. The weather was awesome, and after wandering around the lake, I stopped at the Cafe 101 looking for a glass of water and maybe a bite to eat. On the munchie display were bags of pretzel buckeyes. Oh My Goodness! Having a sister who lives in Indiana, I know all about buckeyes (chocolate covered peanut balls) but the pretzel addition was inspired.

Since they were a little pricey, I decided I would buy them (not for myself but) for my son-in-law, whose birthday was a few days away. When I sent a picture to the Indiana sister for inspiration, she asked how they tasted and of course I just HAD to break the bag open to see. Yup, they were as good as they looked. But then -you guessed it - I had to make a new batch for my son-in-law, as his bag was fast disappearing. Here's a recipe that I found on Pajama Chef, which worked quite nicely with a slight modification on the dipping chocolate. I sent some with my daughter to her office and they were a hit. So if you're looking for a fun holiday snack, here goes:

Pretzel Buckeyes

I cup creamy peanut butter
2 T butter, softened
1/2 - 3/4 c powdered sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
small pretzels
1 1/2 c chocolate chips
2 T shortening

Mix peanut butter, butter and sugars. They'll need to be stiff enough to roll into small balls about 1" diameter. Place between two pretzels and gently squeeze. (I'm not sure exactly why, but this was really fun to do!) Put the pretzels in freezer for thirty minutes. Melt chocolate chips with the shortening. You can do this over hot water, but I just stick mine in a glass measuring cup in the microwave for a minute or two, stirring after the first minute, and putting back in if the chips aren't fully melted. (Make sure there's no water in the bowl). Dip half of the pretzels into the chocolate mixture. Makes 4-5 dozen.

For the original recipe click here.
For more detailed dipping chocolate help click here.
Therapy of Hope by Maz Lyonga
Second Sunday of Advent

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endur-ance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5) 

I was caught by this section in yesterday's scripture reading - how Paul sees that the end of suffering may result in the capacity to be full of hope. This is true, he says, not because we ourselves become more hopeful, but that we are filled more and more with the spirit of hope, which is the spirit of love. As he will say in that well-known section describing love (1 Corinthians 13) "Love always hopes."

Here is my own paraphrase of this section of Romans 5, followed by segments of Romans 8 and snippets of Psalms.

Our faith in God’s love (demonstrated to us through Jesus’ life, death and  resurrection) has restored our connection to God, the All-Powerful Spirit of Love. We realize now that we are meant to share in the life and love of God. And when suffering comes our way, we understand that it is meant to strengthen us and to form us into people in whom the Spirit has more and more room to act. As we take on God's ways of thinking and acting, we become ever more hopeful of God’s purposes being accomplished, not only in our lives, but also in the world around us. We become convinced that all is well, and that all shall be well, for we are grounded in God’s love.

So when we meet suffering and hardship, we know how to make sense of them. We know that they come, not to keep us from God, but to bring us nearer to God. And God is at work in us and around us to bring us into fullness of life. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-love. Who or what can come against this powerful, wise, loving presence? God is for us, doesn’t condemn us, nor want us to be filled with guilt or shame. Indeed, far from condemning us, Jesus is right now sending us his love, his grace, his mercy, his joy so that we are able to merge even more with the loving presence of the Trinity. Nothing can separate us from this love. It is above us, around us and in us. We are drinking from this love, dancing in this love, pouring out this love. We are of God, and like, a mother, she does not forget her offspring. We are the bride of Christ, and as true of any beloved, he holds us in his heart. We are the dwelling place of the Spirit of love, and Spirit flame burns bright enough to overcome any darkness. 

We are of God, we are in God, God is in us. This Advent season, let us be people of love. Let us be people of hope.
Sunday begins the celebration of Hanukkah, a series of holy days that spring from a mystery. How did a small amount of sacred oil sustain the menorah in the temple for eight days (allowing just enough time to make a fresh amount of oil) when it should have only lasted for one day? Like the  bush Moses encountered in the wilderness, burning and burning without being consumed, there is no answer except that, somehow, God was there.

Mysteries are all around us. Some things, cancer disappearing overnight, a check in the mail for exactly the right amount on a critical day, missing an oncoming truck may truly defy explanations - can even be called miracles. But even those things we think we understand are mysterious. Because beneath every answer is another question. After what?, when? and how? there sits a why?.

In this poem by Mary Oliver, we are encouraged not to put too much stock in answers. They keep us from seeing what is truly amazing. Grass turns into flesh and bone. Gravity, though strong enough to tame water and rock, cannot keep our thoughts from the sky. The briefest touch with a stranger creates a bond that lasts forever. These, and many more wonders that we daily encounter, deserve our awe, our bug-eyed call to look. They cause us to laugh in astonishment with those of like mind and together bow our heads.  

Mysteries, Yes
Mary Oliver
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
  to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
  mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
  in allegiance with gravity
    while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
  will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
  scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
  who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
  "Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
  and bow their heads.

Evidence, Beacon Press, 2009
A bite or two in, before I added the fresh ground pepper!
Somehow during the shopping for Thanksgiving we ended up with several bags of carrots. What to do? Thankfully I'd picked up a tasty carrot soup recipe from a friend during the time we lived in Costa Rica. Elizabeth lived down the road and her home was always full of delicious smells. I think of her whenever I pull out this recipe. I decided to add some garlic and ginger (ingredients from another soup I'd tried) and the results were so good, I sat down and ate a bowl an hour before lunchtime.

The result is part savory, part sweet with the thyme and ginger contributing some interesting touches. It's a fairly easy recipe, the only finicky part is the blending at the end typical of those creamy soups. Enjoy!

Orange Ginger Carrot Soup

4 cups grated carrots
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup orange juice
1/2 onion chopped
1 t garlic
1 t thyme
2 pieces candied ginger
salt and peper to taste

In large Dutch oven saute the onion and garlic. Add the carrots, broth, orange juice, thyme, and ginger. Simmer for 40 minutes or until carrots are well done. In batches, put in blender and process until smooth. Serves 3-4.
First Sunday of Advent

As every woman who has been pregnant knows, there comes a time when, no matter how tired and uncomfortable, swollen ankles or not, a deep urge to clean house rises from places primaeval. Often called "the nesting instinct," the compulsion was so strong a few days before my youngest daughter's birth that I canceled house guests so I could organize my closets. To this day, I feel a twinge of regret I just didn't have them down no matter what.

The liturgical season of Advent is set aside so that we may welcome anew the Spirit of the Christ child, preparing ourselves for the miracle of a personal incarnation which brings peace, freedom, forgiveness and joy. But as anyone who has cleaned house knows, the process is not always pleasant. To get deep into corners may require opening up some boxes tucked away in hopes of being forgotten, or scrubbing grimy layers formed by neglect. God, in his desire to fill us more and more with his love, gently nudges us to open up each room, each closet, each cupboard so that it may be refurbished and infused with new life. 

When I think about the courage that it takes to be open to God's Spirit in our lives, I am inspired by my daughter, Aletheia. About two years ago she took up ink and yupo and began to create art that came straight from her soul. We were all caught off-guard by the intensity, color and movement that jumped off the page. Soon her apartment was stacked with art supplies, canvases, and frames. I've pulled a few of her pieces into a slide show above.

Aletheia, whose name is Greek for truth, talks about her art this way: Art has become the agent for freedom in my life. I was bound by perfectionism, control, and inadequacy; painting has allowed me to get messy with my hands and be ok with messiness in my heart.

It's this same willingness to embrace the messy that I think Rumi is getting at in his poem The Guest House. Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi mysic, knew the wisdom of what we might call the spiritual exercise of reflection, sitting quietly with our experiences. In this state, our thoughts and emotions are to be welcomed, invited to a cup of tea while we listen to what they tell us of our past hurts or present joys. By welcoming these unexpected visitors with grace we will be led to new freedom; allowing the violent sweeping will only clear us out for a new delight.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! 
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Note: Aletheia's art can also be found here.