The Yáng Guāng of the Tài Yáng

Disclosure: Christianese ahead. I’ll try my best to deconstruct it, though. Also, there are entire fields of study dedicated to answering some of these questions, so please don’t mistake this one post in the middle of my journey for an attempt to conclusively provide answers.

My faith tree feels like it got struck by lightning this past year. Maybe even a few times. The damage doesn’t go all the way down to the root; I still see clear signs of quickening and health, even if they aren’t perceptible in the same way as ten years ago. But there are definitely some branches falling away. I can feel it. Some of the work is too close right now for me to be sure exactly which branches are being pruned and how, but I am trying to trust the process.

I’ve been asking questions I would have been afraid to ask before, and letting go of pointless shame wherever possible.

One of the questions I’ve asked is “What is the point of God?”

If people can still get sick.

If children can die of cancer.

If everything is so damned confusing sometimes.

What are we doing here? Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

The thing is, I think maybe that was the point of Jesus. Because the Old Testament is full of stories of God and Israel just missing each other. There are moments when they see things for the truths they are. But the great majority of the time the nation of Israel is wandering around in the desert, suffering atrocities, committing atrocities, or making and following lots of rules (all the while recognizing themselves as God’s specially chosen people).

There are a lot of things in the world that are utterly bewildering. What is God like, if this is how it’s going to be?

In a letter to the early Jewish church (so some of the first Messianic Jews) it says “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”

I took some Chinese classes a few years ago (long story) (there were a lot of Chinese kids in my preschool class so the center I worked for paid for me to go) (OK not that long). </digression>

I remember in one of my classes the teacher explained that in Mandarin there are different words for light. In English we talk about “the light you turn on” and “the light you use to see”. We can use that word somewhat interchangeably. In Chinese though, the word is not interchangeable. “Tài yáng” means sun. The one that rises in the east. “Yáng guāng”, on the other hand, is defined as “sunshine, sunlight, or sunbeam”. The light that is, is a distinct concept from the light you can see by.

As a child I tried once to stare at the sun. Luckily I didn’t do it for too long, because looking directly at the sun can make you blind (I will sometimes foolishly ignore my mama’s wise advice, but only so far it seems).

There are ways in which it hurts my eyes to look at God right now. Through cancer. Through unexplained illness. Through death.

But if God is utterly like Jesus, as doctrine teaches, then there is some hope; though by no means a full explanation. Jesus, who cries with devastated people. Who uses mud and spit to cure blindness, who hangs out with embezzlers and prostitutes, who takes away shame where it can be of no help, and who preaches shame over those that would presume to make God so very exclusive and inaccessible to oppressed and hurting people.

So if Jesus is the Yáng guāng of God’s Tài yáng, I think I can see the point of him. I can’t look directly at the sun. But the light of the sun is the means by which I begin to see everything else.

Homemade Mondays: Jodie’s Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake

My friend Jodie surprised me with this cake for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. It was super delicious, so I asked her to share her recipe here. Thanks for guest posting, Jodie!

 

Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake

This recipe was adapted from a recipe I found online at Food52.com. I have made this cake 4 times now, and have found what I believe to be the winning combination. Really, it is hard to go wrong eating anything covered in chocolate ganache. I am not a vegan, but I eat and cook a lot of vegan food. My family, especially my mom, is hard on me when it comes to yummy baked goods. I have been accused of not making my sweets with enough butter and sugar. But this cake got rave reviews, and my mom ASKED me to make it for a holiday party. She doesn’t know it’s vegan. This is my claim to fame and super sweet victory.

Cake:
350 / 10″ springform pan (lightly greased) {the original recipe calls for 8″ or 9″ which will change the baking time and thickness of cake. I used what I had, but liked it better because I also added more layers of filling and the wider, thinner cake worked well for that}
Wet Ingredients:
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar added to 2 c. almond milk (or other nondairy milk) and mix until frothy
- 2/3 c. olive oil
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 c. granulated sugar (mix until dissolved)
Dry Ingredients:
- 3 c. All Purpose flour
- 2/3 c. cocoa powder (sifted)
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp sea salt, or 1 tsp table salt
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in three batches until just combined. Mix with a spatula or a mixer on low setting. Pour batter into the two pans and bake for 25 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool until it can be easily removed from the pan. Let the cake cool completely before filling and frosting.
Ganache:
- 12 ounces of semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 c. coconut milk
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- pinch of salt
In a bowl add chocolate chips and vanilla. Set aside. On the stove top in a small pot add coconut milk, maple syrup, and salt over medium heat. Warm until it comes to a gentle boil. Take off heat and immediately pour over chocolate chips. Mix with a spoon until ganache is glossy and smooth. Let it cool to room temperature. (If I am in a rush, I have put it in the freezer to chill it faster. If you do this, don’t forget about it – it hardens fast!)
Filling:
- 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
- 1/2 c. cocoa powder (sifted)
- 1/2 c. maple syrup
- 1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp almond butter
-  1/2 tsp of sea salt, or 3/4 tsp table salt
-  1 tsp vanilla extract
- {1 c. chocolate ganache to be added when it reaches room temperature}
Mix all ingredients except the ganache in a food processor or with a hand mixer until smooth. Put in the fridge so it can set some and the flavors can come together. If you are a finger dipper, and you know you are, don’t judge this filling until it has had a chance to set and after the ganache has been added.) Once the ganache as room temp., take the filling out of the fridge and add 1 c. of the ganache. Process until smooth.
Time to layer!!
bottom cake, filling, top cake, ganache all over top and sides. (you may have extra filling left over to dip graham crackers in, depending how thick you make it)
or
bottom cake, filling, ganache, top cake, filling, ganache over top and sides (there will be no left over filling and you may find you need to make another batch of ganache)
Set the cake in the fridge to set. Bring to room temp to serve. Store in the fridge.
Enjoy the best chocolate cake ever!

Necessary Fun

Goodbye, 31. I will not miss you when you leave tomorrow.

To be frank, you were kind of an asshole. It’s not your fault, really. I know that. But the past year was long, and while clicking over to another number in my age obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, there is a certain relief in turning the page on everything that happened. Too much sickness. Too much anxiety. Too much cancer. Too much death. Just…too much.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to throw a party. I love cooking for people (I get that from my mom who is a beautiful cook), and have ever since I learned to put together simple recipes. In college there were friends who would just randomly show up at our apartment if they thought I was home and ask me to feed them something. The Jewish ladies at the preschool where I worked before E was born used to call me a “balabusta”.

So, it’s not a new thing in my life to be gathering groups of people together. What’s new is how it feels now. Until the past year, I mostly loved having people around just for the joy of it. A couple of us would decide to do something and invite whomever we could think of who would enjoy that thing and our company. Even if it was just taking pictures of each other in silly poses (we used to call it “performance sculpture”) in the flower section at Walmart, we knew how to have a good time.

The past year, the push to gather people together has taken on an aspect of needing to huddle together for a bit in a storm. Instead of just being so taken up with the fun of things that I can’t help but invite people along, I find myself going into a gathering thinking of how much every single person I know is dealing with. The First World does a tolerable job for a while of disguising that fact that life is hard. But all the smartphone apps in the Google Store can’t disguise the fact that people get cancer. They have miscarriages. Marriages are threatened. People need transplants, or they die suddenly of heart attacks or strokes. They have crises of faith and of identity.

And I’m continually struck by how brave it is to come, with all of your Stuff, to be with others. I know how much courage that can take sometimes, because even extroverts get overrun by their thoughts sometimes (contrary to what you’ll read on some of the more absurd “23 signs you’re an introvert” Facebook lists–but I digress).

So we gather. We invite a few friends so that all the pressure isn’t on one person to Show Up. We laugh, we cry, sometimes we talk about our Stuff, sometimes we talk about the price of tomatoes at the market or how to keep our kids from pooping on the carpet so much during potty training. And it’s fun. The fact that people Have Stuff doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their company, but informs and enriches it. To be human is to Have Stuff (sometimes this is uncharitably called “crazy”); to have a really great friend is to have a sufficiently safe space to show enough of your crazy that maybe you can eventually let a bit of it go.

Life is hard and confusing, and we are all doing our best. But in doing life together, the group lends a sense of respite, strength, and safety that can help prepare us to face what we must.

It’s fun, I promise. But Important Fun. Necessary Fun.

 

“…I was sent back…until my task is done. And I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape  upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away….” 

wpid-Rest.jpg

Breastfeeding as Disgusting, But OK (or, On Letting Other People Keep Their Stuff)

We went to a family party with my husband’s family this weekend. It was a lot of fun. There were delicious pizzas on the grill, fun drinks, and most importantly, fun people.

I love that this big noisy Slovenian family I’ve married into gets together and has fun. And they pull other people in, too. One of J’s cousins married someone who has a beautiful firecracker of a Croatian mama. She’s fantastic. Her name is Vesna (because I think maybe if I tried to shorten it to an initial, even on the internet, she would know and maybe I’d hear about it). We talk about canning, about which local farms we go to to get the best blueberries, peppers, and apples. We talk about childbirth and momming and chemicals in our food. She’s so interesting.

This weekend, at the July 4th party, I got to have this conversation with Vesna:

V: I made this one. It has flour, organic sugar from Costco, eggs, and butter. It’s good!

K: I believe you! I think I’m going to try some, even though I don’t really eat butter.

V: Why you don’t eat butter? It’s good for you.

K: I agree, usually, but S has a milk protein allergy and he gets sick. He’s still nursing, so I have to avoid it too.

V: He’s still nursing? FROM YOUR BREASTS? That’s disgusting!

K: HA! Wait, aren’t you from Europe?

V: Yes! Over there they do it until like age seven! It’s disgusting!

K: Well, we really like it, and it’s really good for him. We all got the flu a few months ago and he didn’t get it. And every time we’re all puking he’s just fine. It’s awesome.

V: Oh….huh.

K: *shrug*

V: Well, does he eat any solid food?

K: Yes definitely! Breastfeeding a 3 year old is not like nursing a newborn. He only nurses about once every day or two.

V: Well, that’s ok then.

K: Cool, thanks. Hey! This IS delicious!

 

If I had chosen to think differently about what she was saying to me (in particular about how much of it actually belonged to me and should direct my actions), I might not have felt like that conversation went very well. More importantly, if I was reacting from a place of defensiveness, it likely would not have gone very well. But as it stands, I think it was kind of hilarious and I look forward to talking to her about it again at some future family gathering.

 

Fresh Camp Cleveland

1170756_10201267070612764_15468226_n

These are my friends, Doc and Anne. They have lived in a renovated (mostly with their and their friends’ hands) home in Glenville near Case (a couple of neighborhoods away from us in Cleveland Heights) for about 8 years now, and raise two kids there.

 

hiding with matheo

This is their son M, pictured hiding under a table with our daughter a couple of years ago. They were not as good at hiding as they thought they were.

 

Doc has consistently built up relationships and neighborhood investment since making the Glenville community his home. The Harrills are a great example of how people can and are investing in Cleveland in tangible and meaningful ways. With a lot of intentionality and hard work this city is being reclaimed from empty lots to community gardens; instead of to scatter and live in fear, the response is becoming to gather, connect, and support.

Our family has engaged financially and with our time and elbow grease in what Doc and Anne are doing before and we’ve always been glad we get to participate a little bit sometimes in the important work they are doing. And now they are at a point where the community has been asking them to expand what they have successfully done in summers past to be a year-long program. So many great possibilities if the kickstarter gets funded, but they only have a few days left!

Please consider investing, sharing, etc. if this seems to you like something Cleveland benefits from and should have more of (hint: this is something Cleveland benefits from and should have more of). I’d recommend that you at least find and watch the ReFresh video available on the kickstarter page because it captures something really important about a growing movement in the city of Cleveland.

I don’t need to say too much more about it because they said it well themselves in the video(s). Check it out.

Homemade Mondays: Peppermint Essential Oil for Headaches

OK, so this isn’t a recipe. But I’m including it because I have found this remedy to be so very useful so many times. My friend C** first suggested using Peppermint EO as an “Icy Hot” kind of pain reliever, and I use it very often. It has enough of an analgesic effect that often I can get rid of headaches without taking Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen. Most recently tonight (thus the late post).

Ingredients:

One to a few drops of good quality peppermint essential oil*

Carrier oil such as coconut, olive, jojoba, almond, etc. if that’s your thing*

 

Method:

Rub a few drops of peppermint right where the muscle tension seems to be. After a couple of minutes the oil will work its way in, and there should be a release of tension and pain.

 

*There’s a lot (and I mean a LOT) of disagreement on the internet about what’s acceptable as far as essential oils go. Sometimes the really cheap oils are adulterated or otherwise contaminated, and sometimes people tout their oils as ‘theraputic grade’ meaning safe to ingest. Sometimes people say you should never ingest essential oils as one drop of peppermint eo is as potent as 70 cups of peppermint tea, and sometimes people ingest several drops of oil per day and attribute their good health to that very practice. I don’t know about that, but you should err on the side of caution and do whatever is comfortable for you. The ‘safest’ bet is to dilute oils by mixing them into a few drop of another neutral oil before putting them on your skin. But you’re smart. I trust you to google all of that stuff.

 

**”C” is actually my friend Cristin of Kivuli Massage Therapy (website here) who I can not recommend highly enough. As a massage therapist, as a friend, and just generally as an intentional human in the world. <3

Homemade Mondays: Almond Hummus

I’ve been wanting to try this one for a while. The first person to actually make it was my friend JJ; hers was quite different than mine though. It was milder, and had a slightly sweet flavor. There is a lot of room for variability, and it seems that almond pulp can be used interchangeably in many chickpea or other bean dip recipes. If you find something amazing, please share with the rest of us!

The recipe I’ll include here just tastes like hummus. Nothing too exciting; unless using up food like almond milk leftovers that would otherwise go to waste is exciting to you (it is very exciting to me), or unless soaking nuts, seeds, and grains is your thing because of phytic acid or something. Or unless you just like really good hummus. Because it is really good. This recipe also works really well with the pulp from cashew milk.

 

Almond Hummus

Ingredients:

1-1/2 to 2 c almond milk pulp

1/4 c olive oil

1/4 to 1/3 c tahini

1/4 c lemon juice

2-4 cloves garlic

1 tsp salt

 

Method:

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Turn it on, set a timer for 4 minutes, and walk away. Leaving it in there long enough is definitely key to getting the graininess of the almond pulp to go away. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Lemon will brighten up the flavor, tahini and olive oil will make it creamier, salt will bring all the flavors together. Serve plain or drizzled with olive oil and spices, with veggies, pretzels, crackers, etc.

 

almond hummus