Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Moonlight and Meatloaf

In the Author’s Note in Some Form of Grace, I promised readers some down-home recipes from Flo’s restaurant. Today I decided to go with Flo’s Famous Meatloaf because when Flo features this as her blue plate special, the line is out the door. (Get recipe here.)
To get the ball rolling on this post, I googled “quotes about meatloaf” (not to be confused with “quotes by Meat Loaf”), hoping to find something really clever or funny as a good lead-in. Fortunately, I found quite a few quotes. Unfortunately, I also found that in the food world, meatloaf is maligned only slightly less than Spam. Of those quotes, 99% of were not the sort that would entice you to click on a meatloaf recipe. For example: “Meatloaf. I don’t like it. It’s like a bunch of hamburgers that got caught in a car accident” (Norman’s Corner, 1987). Or this: “Meatloaf. Smeatloaf. Double beatloaf. I hate meatloaf” (Randy-A Christmas Story, 1983).  

But I was diligent in my search and eventually came across this: “If you make this meatloaf for the boy you’re hung up on, you’ll own him” (Bijou Hunter, Damaged and the Bulldog.)

Ding! Ding! Ding! I’d hit the Daily Double. A quote for meatloaf AND Valentine’s Day  all in one. I could multi-task! In the blogosphere, it doesn’t get much better. 

For all the verbal abuse it takes, meatloaf—if done right—can be delicious. And, believe me, Flo does hers right. As proof, I made her recipe for dinner while recently visiting family. My niece said her husband didn’t eat meatloaf, so she’d bring some fried chicken. Not that I was watching, but that evening I noticed he not only ate meatloaf but went back for seconds. 

So ladies, if you want to please your sweetie this Valentine’s Day, whip up this recipe for a romantic dinner. Chill the wine, dim the lights, and, as the quote says, “…you’ll own him.” 

Give this recipe a try and let me know how it works for you, but please keep your comments G-rated.

PS Gentlemen, this goes for you, too. What lady wouldn’t appreciate a meal thoughtfully prepared by your own hands? And if you throw in kitchen cleanup, she’ll be positively swooning.

PPS Wine with meatloaf? Why not? Go here and enter meatloaf in the search bar.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

First Runner-up: Expectancy

Last week I blogged about joy, the word that would direct my mind set for 2018. I explained in that post I’d decided upon the word during Advent when I read in Philippians 4:4 that uplifting command to "Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again--rejoice!” intriguing combination
of allegory and analysis
Until that time, I’d had another strong contender: expectancy. I’d begun considering it early in the fall, after reading Allen Arnold’s The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create,  

While reading this book, a section of it gave me pause because it seemed to go against so much of what I’d been told all my life about having expectations. I’d always considered expectations desirable things. What happened to "setting our expectations high" or "living up to high expectations"? When we complete any task, we have certain outcomes we want our work to achieve. What’s wrong with that?
But while Arnold doesn’t encourage having expectations, he does recommend living with expectancy. And he explains there is a vast difference.

Expectations are what we think should happen. They lead us to think we should be in control. And when our expectations are unmet--which often happens--it leads to disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement.

Living with a sense of expectancy accomplishes the opposite. Expectancy is being open and prepared to accept what does happen.  Living with expectancy keeps us in a state of readiness or anticipation for what comes our way—whether good or bad. Expectancy leaves room for God to take our lives, our work, our situations far beyond what we would have ever imagined.

I'll admit it took me a while to wrap my mind around this idea. But after giving it considerable thought, it began to make sense. And it gave me an entire new way of looking at the book I would soon be releasing. What freedom there was in letting go of expectations for Some Form of Grace! I sent my best writing, publishing, and marketing efforts into the world and let go of expectations for reviews or awards or financial success. I could live in expectancy of what God would do with my book. 

Both joy and expectancy would make excellent focus words for the year. In choosing between them, the struggle was real. For various reasons, joy won out, but that doesn't mean I won't be living in expectancy of what God will do with my choice. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

I Chose "Joy"

The odds of my sticking to a New Year’s resolution are about the same as an egg sticking to a brand new Teflon skillet. So a couple of years ago, I jumped at the idea of picking an idea or word to focus on for the new year rather than making a resolution I would never keep. Whoever came up with this brilliant idea, I thank you from the bottom of my undisciplined heart.

The word I chose for 2018 is joy. Please bear with me as I explain how I arrived at it. A few years ago (I’m still not sure how this happened), I became the “co-facilitator” of an adult Sunday school class at my church. After a study of the book of Acts, we decided to embark on a study of the letters of Paul. We figured it would take us about a year or so to work through them but soon discovered the Apostle had a lot more to say to Christians of the first century than we’d originally thought. We also discovered he has a lot to say to Christians today. So after three years of diligent study (with an occasional break and a few rabbit trails thrown in), last fall we were ready to tackle the book of Philippians. Chronologically, Philippians is near the last of Paul’s letters, so like a horse who senses he’s near the end of a journey and starts trotting for the barn, we charged full steam ahead, not even planning to break for an Advent study. But as so often happens with God’s “mysterious ways,” Philippians turned out to be a perfect study for Advent. The last Sunday in Advent found us at Philippians, Chapter 4, which includes that beautiful commandment (notice it's a command, not a suggestion) for Christians to be joyful.  “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (v.4)  And what is Advent if not a time of joy? 

Of course, a Christian’s joy shouldn’t be limited to the season of Advent. It should be continuous. And that is why I chose the word joy for 2018. Through the good times and happy experiences and even through the hurts and disappointments, I want to be mindful of and dependent on the deep-seated joy God provides for those that know him.  I want to always be aware that “ache is not the last word for those who believe God” (Ann Voskamp) and that “Joy…is the gigantic secret of the Christian” (G. K. Chesterton).

For my favorite video of 2017 and a demonstration of pure, unadulterated joy click here. If you can watch this and your spirits aren't lifted, you might want to check if you're alive. 

                      Wishing you and your loved ones unlimited joy in 2018!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent Reflections: Grace and Bling

Unfortunately, Nordstrom has sold out
of their sandals. But if you think the man
 in your life would LOVE a little bling,
 these can be purchased at Neiman- Marcus.
I’ve long considered laughter one of God’s best gifts to people. In my Advent reading, I discovered Ann Voskamp feels much the same way. In fact, she calls laughter “oxygenated grace,” and I agree it's exactly that. How else could we survive all this Earth-generated insanity without moments of  belly-holding, tears-flowing exuberance? 

For about a week, I’d been planning this post, thinking about what poignant and insightful thoughts I could share on the subject. I fear I was headed toward a post that was more likely to evoke tears of boredom than tears of laughter, but then my daughter Kristin called. Fortunately for you, my plans changed. While I hope you see this as more of an offering of “oxygenated grace” than an opportunity for Grammy Dee to tell about her precious grandsons, in reality it might be a bit of both.

Kristin called to tell me about going Christmas shopping with seven-year-old Brooks. (Yes, Master Brooks is seven now!) On a mission to pick out a present for his dad, she and Brooks somehow ended up in the high-dollar section of Nordstrom—the section with designer clothes bearing designer price tags. Before Kristin figured out her mistake, Brooks had already zeroed in on the perfect gift for his dad. “Oh, wow, Dad will LOVE these!” (Brooks hardly ever lacks for enthusiasm.) He picked up a black leather sandal, all blinged out with gold studs.

Kristin could only stare, struck speechless by the disconnect between her son’s perception of his dad’s fashion sense and the actual thing. Among the statements she could make with certainty about Brad, “Bling is not his thing,” would be a near the top. How could she explain that his dad would appreciate a pair of black leather, gold-studded sandals about as much as he would a new pony? Fortunately, the problem solved itself when Brooks turned the shoe over and saw the price tag, for while he might be enthusiastic he is also practical. 

“FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A PAIR OF SANDALS?!!!” His astonishment resonated throughout the entire first floor. But not easily daunted, he moved on to another pair of shoes he was sure his dad would “LOVE!!!” A pair of designer red suede sneakers. 

Kristin determined that this store was clearly not going to fulfill their shopping requirements, so she ushered Brooks down the mall to Dillard’s where—his enthusiasm in no way daunted—he wasted no time picking out some more perfect gifts: a snow globe or a shiny gold cocktail plate. Once again, he assured Kristin his dad would “LOVE!!!” them. 

At that point, Kristin saw this shopping expedition was going nowhere and suggested they meet up with Brad and Bennett, who were happily ensconced outside the Hickory Farms store scarfing down popcorn. Five-year-old Bennet had finished his Christmas shopping many days before at his preschool, where he and his classmates had purchased minimally-priced gifts from among items donated by parents. (Think white elephant sale.) 

Brooks was not happy about this halt to his endeavors. I mean, a guy’s enthusiasm can stretch only so far. He’d made several wonderful suggestions only to have his picky mother veto them for no good reason. 

Back at their house, the Christmas tree is still lacking a gift from Brooks to his dad, but thanks to Bennett, Brad is not giftl-ess. Nor is he bling-less. Kristin has it on good word—from Bennett—that come Christmas morning, Brad will be the proud owner of a shiny gold chain.

I’m sure he’s going LOVE it! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reflections on Advent: A New Connection

At my church’s annual Christmas brunch, the question was raised: “Are you ready for Christmas?” It seems we hear it everywhere this time of the year, and it has been known to throw more than one person into a yuletide panic. Please don’t hate me, but since I’m not hosting Christmas at my house this year, I haven’t shifted into panic mode. Yet. I still  need to do some shopping and card-mailing and baking, but at least I don’t have to do a lot of decorating. And I don’t have to search for an Advent devotional book because this year I’m re-reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas.
I’m a fan of Voskamp not only for what she writes but also for how she writes it. Admittedly, her style is sometimes a bit confusing, but I’ve found if I linger over her words long enough, I realize she has actually used the just the right words in just the right order. 

While reading the first devotional in her book, I lingered long over this: “The mattering part is never what isn’t.” Confusing at first, but it makes so much sense in the context of her focus on Isaiah 11:1-2, 10. “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot …” 

I don’t claim to be a theologian or Bible scholar, and I’m not presuming to rewrite Voskamp’s devotional. This is just my personal takeaway, my reflection, on her words. In these verses, the prophet Isaiah is saying that what has been cut down and cast away—the what isn’t—no longer matters. In the midst of its upheaval and destruction, God promises the nation of Judah a new shoot, a new way to connect to him through a Messiah. A new what is

What a wonderful thought with which to begin Advent! In spite of our past disappointments and failures—our own personal upheavals—God has provided us a new what is in Jesus. We can go forward, clinging to the new shoot of Jesse's tree, connecting with God through him. Praying that during this season of Advent, you will find the time and desire to make or strengthen that connection.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

More Than Just Eating

Not sure what it says about me, but when I finished writing Some Form of Grace, I noticed there was a lot of eating going on in the story. My first inclination was to attribute the high incidence of eating incidents to my unfortunate passion for food. But then I recalled some information I’d read several years ago in How to Read Literature Like a Professor. In that book, author and English professor Thomas C. Foster explains that whenever you run across characters in a story sharing a meal, more often than not there is more than just eating going on. He claims, “Whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion." And, indeed, much communion does take place over the course of my story.

Admittedly, I didn’t have this notion all plotted and outlined as I developed the eating scenes in my novel. But as I look back on it, I realize I’d happily stumbled onto this important principle. Two of my characters who are at odds with each other begin to bridge their differences only when they sit down  together for a snack (yellow cake with buttercream frosting). After that, many of their self-revelations take place while consuming food in some form or another, and as a result, their understanding and acceptance of each other continue to grow. 

The point of this post is twofold. First, it serves as an intro to a new page on my blog. In the Author’s Note in Some Form of Grace, I promised to post recipes from Flo’s Restaurant from time to time. It is only fitting that the first recipe is for bread pudding, as the yummy dessert provides an opportunity for further bonding between the protagonist Gracene and her foil. Second, this post comes on the brink of the holiday season, a time that heavily focuses on food and eating and fellowship. This Thanksgiving, whether you participate in a family gathering or join with friends or take part in a public or church-sponsored meal, remember to do this: Give thanks not only for the food but also for the people around you—for those with whom you can clasp hands and say, “I’m with you…we form a community together.”

May You and Your Community Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

NOTE: If you want to know how bread pudding brings two people together, you’ll have to read the book. But if you want an easy recipe for one of my personal favorite desserts, you have only to click here.

Mark and Kathy Sewell, dedicated sponsors and volunteers
at Exodus House celebrate at annual Thanksgiving Dinner
hosted by Wesley United Methodist Church.
Residents, administrators, and sponsors came
together to celebrate God's gifts of redemption and

Benny looks very pleased with the
Christmas decoration he got to pick out.

Kim's apartment will definitely be decked out
in style!

Jay claims these are for his kids.
Yeah, right...

Monday, October 30, 2017

Orange Jello Fluff

I received an invitation from Maria Polson Veres to attend an open mic event where she would be reading selections from her newly released chapbook Church People. Being a big fan of Maria and her work, I accepted. 

As the title suggests, Church People is a collection of poems about individuals she has encountered on her faith journey as a Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and—I love this—“failed agnostic.” The few poems she read aloud enticed me to buy her book, and since then I’ve read through it at least three times and have insisted other people read it as well.
Having experienced a rather varied path on my own journey of faith and having made my own observations from both the front and back pews, I recognize many of the characters Maria features in her poems: the searching, the sure, the broken, the restored, the disillusioned, the inspired. However, I could never portray them with the heart-tugging poignancy or laugh-out-loud humor Maria does. 

Lines and images from her poems linger with me long after I’ve read them, surely a mark of meaningful literature. In “Breakdown,” the despair of a man who “all his life [has] fixed” things but is helpless to repair his “broken” wife haunts me. On the lighter side, in “Billie Sue Gets Her Way,” the “lurching, dive-bombing” notes of bagpipes screeching out “Amazing Grace” give Billie Sue the final send-off she’d hoped for. 

There it was, right inside the door emitting
an orange, ethereal glow.
As proof of the persistence of Church People, I offer this incident. On one of my tri-weekly drives to Walmart, the image of orange Jello fluff (from “Pot Faith”)  popped into my mind, and I burst out laughing. Not grinning or chuckling, mind you. Laughing. At that point I figured any literary piece that could invade my thoughts at random and elicit such a strong reaction needed to be shared. I toyed with the possibility of posting about Maria’s book on my humble blog but had misgivings. Worrying about whether I could do her work justice, I walked into Walmart. 

What happened next is the stuff of miracles. After I smiled at the greeter and stepped into the deli section,  my eyes were instantly drawn to a kind of orange, flourescent glow. And right there on the middle shelf was ... wait for it ... Orange, Jello. Fluff. With the millions of products Walmart offers, what are the odds that item would be the first one I saw? No doubt, many of Maria’s “church people” would’ve considered it a sign. 

I know I did.