Friday, July 27, 2012

happy food: baked oatmeal

Food is always a happy subject.  It just is.

Unless you burn it.

But ketchup covers a multitude of culinary blunders.

And so it is still happy.

Due to the undeniable felicity of food, and because we are friends, I believe it highly appropriate that we share some o' the cheer, eh?  Today I am thinking of baked oatmeal.  This stuff is the super-duper-est easy baked breakfast in the world, and it tastes magical.

Baked Oatmeal
(from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets by Esther H. Shank)

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
(raisins, cranberries, nuts, etc. as you like)
3 cups quick oatmeal

Mix all but the oatmeal together thoroughly.
Stir in the oatmeal.
Pour into a greased 8x12 baking dish (it looks super soupy going in, but don't worry).  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes.
Serve warm with milk.

Yield: 6-8 servings

This is a recipe with which you can easily be creative.  Imagine getting peanut butter or chocolate or various fruits involved.  Oooooh yeh.

Savor the magic, my friend.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

a few of my favorite things... take 2

- sleep -
Eventually you appreciate that two hours of sleep is simply more important than waking up for that Aural Skills quiz.

- my hair -
1.  Its smell.  2.  Its twirlability.
If you know me, this will make perfect sense.

- coffee -
This is above explanation.

- tea -
This too.

- handwritten letters -
What else can contain as much as a letter?

- hebrew -
Who wouldn't love learning an ancient language that's completely useless for present-day conversation?  But really.  I get to read the Bible in its original language.

- singing - 
I looooove singing.
Other people don't love my love of singing.

- green - 
See "ode to green."

- shakespeare - 
My hero.  Who has ever used language like him?  Who possesses that depth of insight into human nature?  Yeh.  Unconvinced?  Let me introduce you to Dr. Thurber...

- words -
Maybe this is why I love Shakespeare.

picture poetry: coffee & coinkidink

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

father knows best

Warning:  This is a bit of a ramble.  Don't read unless you're up for ramble.

I'm wrestling at the moment.

And I've never been a good wrestler.

Before you fall victim to grotesque visions of me in a singlet, allow me to clarify: I've talked about when God gives us blessings, but this post is about when He takes them away... and I don't think I'm alone on the wrestling mat here.

We've all experienced the struggle of loss, on a grand variety of levels, many times.  No matter how many though, the matches that come never fail to present new challenges.  And - if you're like me - you get so caught up in the fight that you forget what's going on... and who's in charge.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 1:21

Not that this is breaking news, but our Father has a plan.  He knows what he's doing, and he knows why, and I have to trust that he's right.  

(I don't say that in a passive manner.  More like a my-life-depends-on-him manner).  

I feel like I'll understand this whole concept a lot better when I'm a parent.  You're probably familiar with what havoc a child can wreak if not for the parent.  Fortunately, parents know what's best for their child and they are willing to go to great lengths to teach, protect, and care for him.

God has his reasons.  

In discussing trust, one of my favorite teachers (Professor Reek, for my Concordia peers) gave an illustration that left a deep impression on me.  I'm liable to mess it up a bit, but mind if I share?  When you build a ship - at least how they used to - you don't start in water.  You start on land.  Close to water.  As you build, you support the structure with props. There can be a lot of them.  When the boat is ready for water though, all those props are taken away... and the boat is put out onto water.  And it floats.  It doesn't need those props.

God gives us so many blessings.  He uses them to help us grow and learn.  He loves us in those blessings.  But ultimately, we don't need them - we need him; and there comes a time when he takes those props away so that we are forced to rely upon him.  That ocean.  And he won't let us sink.  

We would never fulfill our purpose if we stayed on the props, and we wouldn't trust him to hold us up if we never tested the waters.

Perhaps my soliloquy should end here in a neat little package, but - if for my own processing - I'll risk a few more thoughts:  To borrow Shakespeare's words, I feel like I "trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries" (Sonnet 29) because I don't understand.  Sometimes that's all you can do when you hurt beyond hurt - and it's frustrating because it seems like God never answers.

I don't think God is against our wanting to understand, but he is against our not trusting.  What is love without trust?  God's all about love.

Wrestling is exhausting.  As I consider God's trustworthiness, I can't help but collapse - tears and all - into the arms of the only one who will never fail me.  Who will never leave me.  Who will always love me.

My Father knows best.

Monday, July 23, 2012

a sad story

Oh, that I could spill it out in words.
Bleed into a book.
All of it.

I could close it all up 
and put it on a shelf
and never have to read it again.

Friday, July 20, 2012

picture poetry: the silversmith

Thanks to my grandparents Robert and Martha Clark and their business, the Bread and Butter Silver Factory II.  Love you so much.

Monday, July 16, 2012

once upunce a time...

I am currently in New York.  Upstate.  (Sorry, no cities in view.  Just farms).  Visiting family.

This means that I have plenty to write about.  Just relatively little time for writing.

Consequently, I have opportunity to post something different that usual: a story.  Previously written.  I love writing (as you may have read in one of my introductory posts) and could be content forever to keep my scribbles in my cozy little embrace... but - especially after writing that post about blessings,  heh - I don't think that's a prudent course of action.  And let's just be honest: artists want feedback.  Eventually.

So read.  Enjoy (hopefully).  Give constructive feedback, if you will.

Thanks, friend.


        When Emma was four, she named the pipe organ Humphrey.  Daddy would play the yellow keys with his fingers and the big, long pedals with his toes.  Humphrey would sing, and Daddy would sing, and Emma would crawl into the pipe chamber behind the tall, shiny pipes and listen to Humphrey and Daddy sing.
        When Emma was five, Daddy didn't sing anymore.  He didn't play the yellow keys or the big, long pedals.  He coughed, and Humphrey couldn't sing.
        When Emma turned six and two days, Daddy went to sing with Jesus.  And Emma crawled into the pipe chamber behind the tall, shiny pipes, and her lip trembled, and she cried.  Even though she knew Daddy was with Jesus.

Dear Jesus,

I think Humfry is sad.  Becuz Daddy is not here any more.  I am sad to.  Sumtimes I cry.  Do you cry? 


Dear Jesus,

Humfry let me push down peduls today.  I forgot to turn on his lungs first so it was funny at first becuz he was kwiet.  But akshuly I was scard becuz he didnt sing and I miss Daddy.  Pleez hug Daddy for me.


Dear Jesus,

Humfry and me were silly.  Becuz today we made lots of noyz and I pushed down lots of keys and we sang loud.  I think you and Daddy wood laf.


Dear Jesus,

Today is Sunday.  We did church and this man played Humfry loud and bad and not like Daddy.  Humfry got mad but I telled him to love that man becuz I think you wood love him.  And I think Daddy wood to.  Even thoe he played bad.

ps Pleez hug Daddy. 

Dear Jesus,

Humfry cryed agen today.  Lots of peepl cum make him sing now how he dosnt like to sing.  I hugged him for you.



        I glanced down at my cell.  9:53.  So screwed.  I was supposed to be at the church twenty-three minutes ago to go through the service quick and see the organ before I actually had to play it.  Oh, well.  They were Christians.  They'd be forgiving.  And if they weren't, they didn't have to ask me back.  No big.
        Still.  I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and laid my toes into the pedal.

        It was a sizeable redbrick church just outside a military base city.  Emmanuel Lutheran.  I flew into the decently filled parking lot and, one embarrassing parking job later, bolted through the large oak doors.  Men with bulletins and cheesy church name tags greeted me.
        "I'm Amber Stanton - I'm the organist today."
        "Great!  Ted is waiting for you upstairs.  He's one of the ushers.  He'll answer any questions you have."
        I sprinted up the stairs to a view worthy of a magazine.  The sanctuary lay beautifully exposed beneath me: a rich crimson motif pervaded the nave decor, stained glass windows washed vibrant shades across the people-laden pews, and a great polished crucifix graced the altar. 
        A wrinkly old gentleman waited for me beside the organ consul with a bulletin and - upon seeing my armload of music books - an enormously relieved expression.
        "You must be our musician today!  Glad you could make it!" he whispered enthusiastically.
        No kidding.  9:57.  So much for prelude music.
        "I unlocked the consul and the organ is on.  I'm afraid I can't help much more than that, but let me know if you need anything.  I'll be right downstairs."
        "Thank you," I smiled.  I slid onto the bench, set my hymnal on the music rack, and scanned the stops.  Oh, my.  So many stops.  It looked like a switchboard from Star Wars.  This was a beast.  I twisted around toward the back of the balcony and discovered a resplendency of pipes arrayed against the back wall like a vast, frozen choir: massive silver basses braced the adoring ceiling and horizontal brass trumpets suspended themselves like time on an upper tier - and that was only the exposed face; I knew thousands more lay behind them, inside the pipe chamber. 
        Well shoot.  This had better be a singing congregation, because I was gonna open that sucker up.
        The bell tolled its Sunday morning welcome and the pastor's voice announced the first hymn from beneath the balcony.  Flipping down a swath through the rows of stops, I dug into the yellowed keys and improvised an introduction.  The congregation chimed in dutifully as the organ ripped open for the first verse of "Oh, That I Had a Thousand Voices"; they weren't a pastor's convention, by any means, but they had lungs.  Each stanza merited its own sound color, finally concluding in a thick, reedy fortissimo. 
        As the service proceeded, I noticed subtle, breathy pockets in the instrument's blend.  It became painfully apparent when I attempted an interlude on a set of crisp, light flutes: two prominent holes in the melody ambushed me in "Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness."  They tried to whisper their pitch, but to no avail.  Something was wrong with the pipes - their mouths were blocked.
        Curiosity plagued me, but I decided it would probably be within my - and the organ's - best interest not to poke around the chamber during the sermon.  The liturgy proceeded, the Eucharist was celebrated, and the closing hymn sent preacher and acolytes marching out the back of the sanctuary. 
        "Go in peace and serve the Lord!" the pastor's baritone declared from the speakers.
        "Thanks be to God!" rumbled the congregation as it broke into the greeting of neighbors and folding up of bulletins and gathering of purses and suit coats.
        After the final cadence of my postlude, I dismounted the bench and climbed toward the chamber, determined to discover the door.  Disguised in a side panel, it unlatched noiselessly and swung out.  As I was the only soul in the balcony, I hardly felt apologetic in inviting myself to enter. 
        The dimly lit interior boasted exceptional cabinetry for the pipes, especially considering the apparent age of the instrument.  I ducked inside and greeted a steep ladder to my right.  I mounted it and ascended to a second loft of metal choristers.  A plank ran the length of the chamber, parting the ranks like the Red Sea.  An average-sized man could fit if he went sideways; a fat man would undoubtedly be impaled by a front line of ferocious oboes.
        Climbing off the ladder and onto the plank, I began to examine the pipes.  The reeds were fine - no need to look through those.  I shuffled toward a cluster of rectangular, wooden flutes.  Bending down, I noticed little slips of folded paper stuffed into some of the pipes' small, mouth-like openings.  One even had crayons assorted neatly inside. 
        No wonder the pipes were acting up - air wasn't making it across the lips, so of course they couldn't sound.  I crawled over and began extracting the slips, one by one.  Pretty soon a mound started to spawn on the plank next to me.  And as I went, I noticed more: an entire row of flecked, cylindrical pipes were sticking little paper tongues out at me too. 
        "No, I don't see her," the pastor's voice rang across the sanctuary, catching my consciousness.  Oh, goodness, they were probably looking for me!  Organists don't tend to vaporize after the service.
        "I'm here!"  I called from inside the chamber.  My voice thudded flatly against the walls and I scrambled down the ladder.
        Ted was just emerging from the stairs when I popped out the door.  Spotting me, his kind features expanded in surprise.
        "There you are!  We were afraid you escaped without your check."
        Shuffling past a pew to him, I reached out and took the envelope he extended toward me.
        "Haha, thank you.  Sorry about that.  The organ got a little tongue-tied on some of the hymns, so I wanted to look inside quick."
        "Uh-oh.  Did you find anything?"
        "Yeh, actually.  Some of the pipe mouths were blocked.  Somehow a lot of little papers got stuffed inside them."
        "Little papers?"
        "I left them in the chamber when I heard you looking for me.  Mind if I grab them quick?"
        "Sure, go ahead."

        In a moment I was back with a giant wad of papers the size of a duck and a fistful of crayons. 
        "Holy moly, and here we just thought all those organists were fudging it," chuckled the old man as I unloaded on a pew.
        "Haha, no, not quite."
        "Who'd'a done something like that?"
        "No idea.  I haven't looked inside any of these little boogers yet." 
        I picked one up and unfolded it carefully.  Purple crayon and coarse little-kid handwriting covered the page.

Dear Jesus,

Humfry and me sing you love me this I no, and I pushed his keys pretty like Daddy.  We hope you like it.


        What a sweet little letter.  Who were Humfry and Emma?  I handed it to Ted and picked up another one.

Dear Jesus,

Mrs. W  telled me you are like Santa, becuz Santa isnt real.  Humfry is mostly mad at her, but I telled her back that you love her.  I hugged her.  Daddy sed hugs help.


Dear Jesus,

Grampa and me visited Daddys grave.  I am glad Daddy is not in ther any more.  I am glad you got him.  Becuz that wood be lonly.  Humfry and me dont like that.  So thanks.

ps Hug Daddy pleez.

        "Who is Emma?" I asked, still holding the letter.  I brushed open a few more lying on the pew - all of them were in the same first-grader script.  Ted didn't seem to hear me.  I tried again.
        "All these letters were written by a little girl.  How on earth did she get up into the organ chamber?" 
        Ted was opening another.  He didn't look at me.  He just answered quietly, "Emma's daddy was the organist here."
        "What happened to him?"
        "Jim had cancer.  He died four months ago."
        "Oh, wow.  That's rough."
        Ted nodded.
        "Were you close to him?"
        He lifted his face and looked at me sadly.
        "Jim is my boy."
        My breath came in sharply.  I wish I knew what to say.  Ted set his grey eyes back down on the papers littering the pew.  He sighed and patted them.
        "I think I'm going to go get a bag for these.  I'll be right back."
         Lips curving tenderly, he turned and headed down the stairs. 
        I sat dumbly on the pew.  That man was just reading his granddaughter's letters to Jesus.  I unfolded a few more and stared at them silently.  The organ, still on, hummed behind its attentively open-mouthed members.
        Several moments later, muted footfalls padded back up the steps, jerking me out of my trance.  I rose and glided to the bench to gather up my music, slid off my organ shoes and laid them on top of my books. 
        "Thanks for playing, Miss Stanton, and thanks for fixing the organ."  Ted carried a folded paper sack and a warm smile. 
        "Definitely - anytime.  Thanks so much for having me.  It's a beautiful instrument."
        "Yup, I'm inclined to think so.  I'm a little biased though."  He winked.  The somberness that accompanied him to retrieve the sack was replaced now with a sense of peace.  And humor.
        "Soon as I get all these little critters corralled I can see you out."
        "Haha, thanks.  Let me help you there."
        Reaching the pew, he rattled the sack open and held it at the lip of the pew for me to sweep the papers inside.  I knelt down to collect a few that had fluttered beneath the seat.
        "Thank you."
        "No problem."
        We stopped at the organ for me to grab my things and then crossed the balcony to the stairs.  People were still busy cleaning up bulletins and greeting each other and eating donuts when we reached the bottom.
        "Would you like to stay for Bible study?  There's coffee," Ted offered as he tucked the sack by what must have been his coat on the coat rack.
        "Oh, gosh, I really wish I could stay," and I really did, but I had to get back.  "Thanks for the invitation though."
        "You're welcome anytime.  Do you mind if we call you again for playing?"
        "Please do!  I would love that.  Definitely."
        "Wonderful.  Thank you, Miss Stanton.  And thank you for finding those letters."
        He didn't say any more than that, but nodded appreciation. 
        "You're welcome."
        I guess sometimes you don't need to say more.
        I drew open the vast oak door and stepped out into the sunlight.  Kids were running and laughing and shrieking on the modest church lawn as their parents exchanged conversation on the sidewalk.  Piles of midget shoes lay like booby traps across the grass.
        As I cut across the lawn towards my poorly parked car, a little girl with tight blonde curls and bright red slacks paused in her play and cocked her head at me.  She scurried up beside me and squinted up from my elbow.
        "Hello," she smiled.
        "Well, hello there.  How are you?"
        "That's good to hear.  You look like you're having fun with your friends."
        "Whatcha playing?"
        "Ooooo, fun."
        We were quiet for a moment. 
        "Can I do something for you?"
        "You play the organ pretty."
        "Well, thank you very much."
        Without warning, she slipped her arms around my waist and squeezed for several seconds.  Letting go, she squinted up at me again, flashed me a bright little grin, and scampered off.

        I guess sometimes you don't need to say more.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ode to green

This is meant to be a shameless encomium for my long-favored color.  If you have strong feelings about various other hues, I suggest an abrupt cessation of reading.  Also, I refuse to entertain accusations of fallacious argument.

As a brief means of introduction, I will humbly concede that, yes, each color has its own special character.  And yes, all colors are important and we would hardly be able to appreciate any one without the others.

But let's all just admit that green is great.

A recent conversation with a friend involved characterizing colors as they appear to speak to us with "Let's ______" statements.  Here are a few examples:

Black:  Let's get down to business.  (Points to anyone who just started singing about Huns).
Brown:  Let's chill.
Purple:  Let's be regal.  Or plant flowers.
Yellow:  Let's play.
Orange:  Let's giggle.
Blue:  Let's be calm.
Red:  Let's kill something.
Pink:  Let's be pastel and eat chocolate.
Green:  Let's be alive!

Given the statements above, one will easily discern green's incomparable importance.  The functions of all other colors are based upon the assumption that life is a given.  The existence of their respective characterizations - which are undoubtedly accurate - are contingent upon that understanding.  Green, however, is the personification of life itself.  Upon him, all other colors depend.

Now that we've roundly established green's unequivocal supremacy, let's further explore the many facets of his vivacious nature:

-  Green is lush and verdant, casting off the drab pall of winter and cloaking spring fields in the vibrant robe of resurrection.

-  Green is calm - not overwhelming to the eyes with the prick of agitation; but rather, soothing to the spirit with a salve of safety and peace.

-  Green is newness, refreshment.  Like a mouthful of water.  Rain water.

-  Green is strong and hardy, like a silent but indomitable strength.

-  Green is invigorating, adventurous, exciting!  He brushes the eyes with the implacable tickle of novelty.

-  Green is freedom, like open fields beckoning you with a thundering whisper.

Goodness.  Much as I jest, I really do love green... and I don't think my words can do him justice.

Let's just take a moment to enjoy green.  And let him speak for himself.

(P.S.  This wasn't really an ode.  More of a lauding ramble.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

plague or prince?

Two frogs.

That's it so far.

At 8:24 this morning I plodded up the steps to the realm of the living (whether I belonged there just yet was debatable) and, as morning routine would have it, I found myself in my bathroom.  Not that I harbor particularly negative or positive feelings toward my bowels, but I don't generally plan on this part of the morning ritual to hold all that much excitement.  Then again, I don't generally plan to lift the toilet cover to discover a frog perched on the toilet seat, either.

photo by Christian

At 8:26, everything was processing much more slowly than merits excuse.  There I stood, in a state of consternation as only sleepy stupor can effect.  Wow, someone had taken very poor aim.  Gross.  Wait.  Even boys don't usually miss when it involves... 

At 8:27, it clicked, as I stood dumbly in the bathroom doorway, and suddenly I felt rather much infused with life.  It's one of those moments when surprise hits you like a slow-motion hammer, right between the eyes.  I was at momentary loss as whether to thank the good Lord that I hadn't sat upon the amphibious fiend or to flip out that a frog had somehow penetrated the fortress of our house.  Not to mention my comfort zone.

(Side note: I do like frogs.  Actually, toads.  Toads were a childhood favorite.  Christian and I would collect them in the evenings and build cities for them in our sandbox and then set them loose.  Frogs are significantly rarer where I live.  And they can climb, which made them no fun for easy capture.)

After gathering my wits back up off the floor, remembering the harmlessness of the intruder, and reestablishing my long-held affection for his kind, I conveniently recalled my mother's profound disgust for slimy critters.  So naturally, I fetched her.

Froggy was promptly evicted.

A considerably less eventful shower followed, as did brushing of teeth and a morning Bible study.  Later logging onto my computer, however, was accompanied by a muffled shriek emanating from my parents' bathroom.

Froggy had apparently told friends about his morning exploits, as a fellow of his had followed suit and discovered my parents' commode.  Unfortunately, Mama did not discover him until he had become rather intimately acquainted with her unsuspecting hind quarters.

Eviction number two.

This frog invasion has never happened before.  I have never heard of this happening before.  To anyone.  And like I said, we don't even have frogs where I live - especially considering our resident army of cats and one wired dog.

This leads me to conclude only one possible explanation: divine intervention.  And of course, there exist only two reasonable interpretations thereof: in short, plague or prince.

Admittedly, after the second frog, Moses came to mind.  As a firstborn, I have a lot at stake if this turns out to be anything Biblical.  There have been no further frog episodes, but I'll keep you posted.  If cows start dying or we break out in boils, I'm finding me a Fluffy (fellow Mark Meehl students, you know what I mean).

May I be a transparent, silly girl with you?  After recovering from the initial shock of finding the 8:26 frog, my first thought was - not kidding - maybe I should kiss it.  Granted, that thought didn't linger excessively, but it was there.  It wasn't until later that I regretted my decision to refrain.  You see, not too long ago, I had a heart-to-heart with God about the woes of singlehood.  Clearly, this was his answer: he had provided a prince.  On a porcelain throne, no less.  And - tragedy! - I had cast my prince outside!  Alas!

As I lay reflecting upon my self-inflicted misfortune, a muffled shriek heralded redemption.

It's certainly interesting, isn't it, how an object pined after is somehow less desirable upon its reception?  Especially when it is slightly flattened.  In other words, I am recently persuaded that singlehood holds remarkably undervalued advantages and opportunities.  And that making out with amphibians - royal or otherwise - is not in my future.