Sunday, July 29, 2012

Circle of Friends Book Club: Feeding Mind and Body

             Circle of Friends, the book club of which I’m a member, has met for almost fifteen years.  It is composed of bright, educated women who share a passion for reading and discussion. We also share another passion: food. Cooking it and/or eating it! Each month, along with our book discussion, we enjoy a wonderful potluck meal in a member’s home.

            Our book selection for July was In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. To avoid a lengthy post, I’ve provided a helpful link to a synopsis. Although the book is a #1 New York Times Bestseller, it received mixed reviews from our members. Providing a look at the Nazi’s rise to power in the 1930s, the book is a well-researched and documented account of a perilous and confusing time in world history. For those who are drawn to this period and seek answers to how such atrocities could have occurred, the book provides some revealing insights. And Larson is to be admired for his unbiased, almost journalistic approach to the subject. Obviously, this is not light reading. It is not even inspiring reading, as it serves up few heroes during this tumultuous time. So while some members found the book intriguing, I think others were in the mood for something more entertaining or uplifting. However, the book did generate interesting and thought-provoking discussion, and I think one way to keep the tragedies of history from being repeated is to keep the conversation going.

            While reactions to the book were mixed, our salad-and-dessert luncheon received five-star reviews. One dessert that garnered many recipe requests was Shelley’s Pink Lemonade Gooey Butter Cookies. With a name like that, how can they be anything but melt-in-your-mouth delicious? Shelley tells me there is a Pink Lemonade Sugar Cookie mix, but it is not nearly as good as this recipe made with cake mix. And she says these cookies freeze well. Once again, for the sake of space, I’ve provided a link. Thank you, Shelley, for introducing us to these scrumptious cookies! And btw, I can tell you this recipe is basically “idiot”-proof. I tried it and the cookies came out tasty, if not quite as pretty as Shelley’s. J


A Good Read

Friday, July 20, 2012

Can I Help You? I'll Try My Best!

         In my post Screamin’ and Kickin, I admit I tackled blogging reluctantly and without a clear focus. But through much soul-searching, I eventually settled on my purpose: to become the Erma Bombeck of the blogosphere. Rather ambitious, I know, but wasn’t it Robert Browning who said “...a [woman’s] reach should exceed [her] grasp”? Or as my Arkansas friend Denver puts it, “You should shoot for the moon if you want to clear the fence.” So while it might be a bit beyond my grasp to scale to the literary heights of Erma, that became my lofty goal: to offer funny, entertaining, and occasionally poignant insights into life.
            Then I hit a snag. I read (in a blog, of course) the purpose of blogging was to offer helpful advice and to provide links to more helpful advice. Oops. Other than the recipe for 3-2-1 Cake, I’ve dropped the ball in the helpful advice category. And for two good reasons. 
            First, I lack expertise in any one area. (I can just hear the voices of my family, friends, and adversaries rising in unison: “But that’s never stopped her before from giving advice!”) There’s a difference, however, between expert advice and one’s opinion. And well...yes...I’ve never been shy about vocalizing my opinion. But somehow it’s different when words are put in writing for perpetuity...or until my blog ceases to exist. Second, there are already millions of blogs out there, written by experts and offering information on everything from acne to zucchini. So while the world could certainly benefit from another beauty or gardening idea, it doesn’t need to come from me. I’m taking my cue from the blogs I enjoy most—the ones that entertain and inspire me. The ones that make me laugh and make me think. 
            But just to show that I’m not totally opposed to the helpful blog concept, I’m willing to compromise. Did you notice the links I provided in this post? And in the same spirit of helping, I’ve received permission from my amazing book club friends to share their insights and comments on the books we read. Perhaps this will help you in your reading selections. My book club friends are also talented cooks, so from each monthly meeting I’ll share a recipe that received rave reviews from our members.  
             There is one subject on which I consider myself not exactly expert but at least above average. If you ask me a question about grammar, I’ll do my best to answer it. And if I don’t know the answer, I’ll provide you with a link. :-)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Right Gear: A Lesson from My Bike

I recently bought a new bicycle and made an amazing discovery: The right gears make a world of difference! My old bike had gears, but only two of them worked. One gear got me off and the next gear kept me going. But it required a lot of huffing and puffing, and I was developing some serious quad muscles. My new bike, with its twenty-four gears, has not only made biking a pleasure, but it has also freed up some of that huffing-puffing time for thinking. One of those thoughts: Life—just like bike riding—requires us to shift gears from time to time to get the most from it. 

Low Gears 

The low gears are designed for starting out and climbing. They get us smoothly into our ride and give us extra oomph for inclines. In life, there are the times we need to operate in the low gears. As the day begins, prayer, meditation, and/or scripture reading can give us the boost and encouragement needed to get through the day. Same with climbing.  Challenges in life require extra help. They call for us to shift into the very lowest gear and rely on help from a higher source. Life’s low gears don’t relieve us from all the hard pedaling. But as we plug along—breathing heavily, sweating, grunting, maybe even complaining—we know we’re not doing all the work alone. And we know we won’t be climbing forever.  

Middle Gears 

Unless we’re in training for a bike-a-thon or a hotter-than-hell trek across Iowa, we’ll do the bulk of our riding using the middle gears. These gears are best suited for level sections of the road. Here, the bike and rider share the work, but it is fairly easy, and the ride is smooth. We have time to look around, take in the sights, enjoy the cool air on our faces. Hopefully, we can spend most of our lives in middle gear where we enjoy our work and problems are minimal and manageable. These are good times for reflection and for giving thanks for the gifts of contentment and everyday pleasures. 

High Gears 

Traveling in high gear is exciting. Zipping along at top speed, we’re exhilarated. We might be flirting with danger, but that’s part of the thrill. We’re going somewhere, and we’re going there fast. We experience those same moments in life. They’re fun. They give us a chance to test ourselves, stretch our comfort zones, see what we can do. But as fun as those times are, they never last. And would we  want them to? Could we keep up that pace forever? Would we enjoy it as much if we did? Often when we’re in those situations of complete bliss, we suddenly find ourselves sailing along a little faster than intended. We suspect we might be losing control and we panic. Those are the times to gently apply the brakes, to slow down and take inventory of what needs to be done. To ask ourselves what adjustments need to be made?

Sometimes merely slowing down isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to press hard on the brakes. Come to a complete stop in order to avoid disaster. One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God!” Be still. Hmmm. Maybe sometimes the best gear in life is none at all.    

My shiny, new wheels. Now, if someone would invent
a helmet that didn't make me look like an insect on an
Orkin commercial, my riding pleasure would be complete!