Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Wheat and the Weeds

I had a pumpkin spice latte this morning from Starbucks, and it tasted like fall, and like Boston and rainy mornings and birds, like used bookstores and depth.  It tasted like refuge in God, like warm safety, like a feeling I can't quite describe, and time with Jesus by the lake and crispness and quiet.
I thought to myself: Surely, life has been sweet.

Last night I went with a bunch of girls to see The Giver.  I've read the book many times, because even as a child I think I knew it had something real and true to say about life.  (I hope I can leave my life having said things that are real and true).  I'm not a movie critic, so I won't comment on its value except to say I liked it and it touched something deep in me.

Life is so rich and so hard.

The world is so overwhelming when we stop to think of it.  War, and death, starvation, suffering, brokenness -- all is so achingly wrong, so painfully wrong.  And naturally our hearts long for the end of it all.  Many have asked why God doesn't rid the world of suffering, and its a bigger question than I could answer.  But The Giver touches on the reality that to rid the world of suffering is to rid the world of love, and all that is worth celebrating  -- of laughter, dancing, risk, sacrifice, and beauty.   Meryl Streep's character in the movie says, "When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong.  Every time."  And you can feel it from her character (side note: Meryl Streep is amazing), the frustration, the longing to be free from pain, the desire to control our circumstances.  Can't we connect with the truth in that, even in our own lives?  Can't we agree that we so often choose wrong?

Once, Jesus told a story to make a point about this.  From Matthew 13:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
It just moves me.  The world is awful and good and broken and beautiful and we live here.  To pull up the weeds is to uproot the wheat.  To remove suffering and wrongness is to also remove beauty and life.  This is why Jesus came, in a way--because we are stuck here in a world that is terribly broken, and we need hope that one day it will all be dug up -- it will all be made right again.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Exploring Arizona: Papago Park Hike

I'll admit, since we moved to Arizona six months ago, we have done almost zero of the many amazing things there are to do around here.  We are homebodies, and there's no shame in that.  Jonathan's favorite thing to do is go out to eat, and even then we don't often venture outside our go-to places.  I don't hate spending Friday night at home watching a movie.  But it is a goal of mine to get out and do more things that there are to do in the area.

So I'm starting a series on the blog called Exploring Arizona.  I can't promise we'll do anything exciting every week, or even every month, but I am making it a goal to take day trips, explore new places, and find some bright things in this great state.  Especially while the weather is nice!

This morning, since I have a puppy who thinks he will die if he eats breakfast later than 6 am, I decided to get a jump on the day and take him for a long walk with the sunrise.  I planned to go to a park right down the street, but spur of the moment decided to be different and explore a new place.

Papago Park is big city park that lies at the intersection of Phoenix and Tempe.  It is home to several easy-to-moderate hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens (both those are on my list of places to explore).

The hike we tackled was the Eliot Ramada loop, the longest trail at about 2.7 miles.  It is listed as easy/moderate.  The first half of the loop was paved, winding uphill through the distinctive red stone formations.

Remy was a little hesitant at first exploring a new place (like mother, like dog), but once he got going he loved it!

Just got some new shoes - had to try them out!

Phoenix in the distance

This was a great hike to start the day with.  I can't really say I've been hiking in a long, long time, but I love exploring desert landscapes and being up with the sun.

If you're into that kind of thing, there is a health and wellness section of the loop with different outdoor exercise equipment and instructions.  Who doesn't want to swing on these rusty handlebars?

The second half of the loop winds around a golf course and is not paved.  I remembered halfway through I should probably watch for snakes -- can't be too careful!  There were lots of birds to see and hear of the backside of the trail, which I loved.  It was the perfect hike for less-than-a-foot-tall Remy, with a good amount of up and downhill (I think I was on the bike section) but nothing too strenuous.  

Overall, a successful outing!  There are many more things to do in Papago - can't wait to explore them all - next time with my nice camera instead of just my iPhone!

Saturday, February 22, 2014


A few weeks ago we celebrated Jonathan's birthday by having a few friends over.  I made shrimp and sausage Gumbo for the occasion - a family recipe.  I would say secret, but it's really not rocket science.  Besides, I cheat and use a roux starter from a jar instead of taking the time to make my own roux.  A roux - for those not acquainted with Cajun cooking - is essentially just oil and flour mixed together and cooked until it turns light or dark brown.  It thickens the liquid slightly and provides the rich, nutty taste for which gumbo is famous.  Using a roux starter saves me the time of standing at the stove stirring.  I'm not really even tempted to feel like a lame cook for taking this shortcut, because roux starter or not, this gumbo is a crowd pleaser.

I started with a few tablespoons of roux starter (or good old fashioned stirred at the stove roux) in a mixture of half water, half chicken broth (about 6 cups).  I let it simmer for about 20 minutes, while we peeled and deveined a bag of frozen shrimp.  I despise deveining shrimp.  Gumbo can technically be made with just chicken or sausage, the gumbo my grandma made growing up always had shrimp, so I never skimp on the seafood.  
Also while the roux simmers, I chop up some good andouille sausage, an onion, bell pepper, and most importantly, okra.  You can't make gumbo without it.  In fact, the word gumbo may originate from an old word for okra.  I got mine at whole foods, since sometimes you don't see it at your usual supermarket.  
All that gets thrown in the roux pot and cooked at a low boil for about 30 minutes.  A little salt doesn't hurt.  
It's easy to make and feeds a small army when ladled over white rice.