Recipro City – I live there

Get it?  Recipro City = Reciprocity.  Weak, I know, but it’s how I was thinking about it, and it’s true, I do live there.  I wish I could say that I didn’t, and I try to improve, but for the moment, more often than not, I feel like I am quite firmly rooted in that settlement.  This municipality is based on the economy of merit=favor.  And the amount of merit necessary to gain favor is completely subjective and left up to me in my not-so-fair city.  There is very little grace, and very high, though also very selective, measurements for the standard. 

I realized how entrenched I was in this mindset a few weeks ago.  I find that I am very derisive and patronizing to those whom I believe are not living up to the standards.  The standards, again, that I have set for them…how hard they should work, how much time, effort and thought they should put into things, even the things they should say or not say.  I find that the more someone does not meet my standards, the worse I treat them…the more condescending and unbearably arrogant I become.  One of the ridiculous things about this is that I seem to be the standard.  If someone is not working as hard as I (think I) am, or demonstrating as much common sense as I (think I) do, or putting as much effort into something as I deem necessary, they become the target of my merciless superiority.  I seem to take it as my right to treat them in a manner openly derogatory and demeaning.  I assume an attitude purposely (although not exactly consciously) designed to make them feel stupid.  At least it wasn’t conscious until recently…I don’t think I knew I did this.  I have several people in my life at this moment whom extract all of the feelings of disdain I am speaking of here.  For months, I have been slowly more and more convicted about my behavior in response to my frustration with them.  I seriously turn into a pompous you-know-what when dealing with what I have decided is unworthy behavior. 

And the unworthy behaviors I have picked are not even particularly “evil,” they’re just annoying…things like carelessness and lack of forethought and disorganization.  If I was going to get so miffed over any types of conduct, I would like to think it would be injustice or cruelty or something like that.  But, no, it seems that I am just as society trained me up to be, egocentric to the point that my blood only seriously begins to boil at things that specifically inconvenience ME.  I am rarely at the other end of serious injustice or cruelty, and so I can dislike those things from afar.  But catch me after I’ve had to work harder to correct someone else’s mistakes or pick up someone else’s slack at work or answer someone’s stupid question, and you’ll get an earful. 

So, not only am I the standard, but the standard is based on how helpful your existence is to me.  The less helpful your existence, the less worthy of respectful behavior you are.  I think this attitude is not only linked to human nature, but to the consumerism of our society.  Not to blame society.  I like to think I have “beat the system” as far as falling into societal traps, but clearly this is not completely true, and sometimes the societal traps I find so repulsive are just behaviors that cater to our human nature, so whether it’s society or not, it’s still me allowing my own selfishness dominion or some part of my life.  And I mean to talk about consumerism, so here we go.  Consumerism generally teaches us that we should more highly regard and respect those who have something more important to offer us.  You go to the doctor and show him deference.  You check out with the convenience store clerk and show him superiority.  I do the same thing.  I wish I could say I didn’t.  After all, I have most often been in positions in which I was the one looked down on…waitressing, fast food (even the title of manager doesn’t get you much respect), catering server, nanny.  These are jobs where the whole point of your being there is to “serve.”  And that’s how people treat you.  Like a servant.  Mostly.  I mean, obviously, there are exceptions.  But, honestly, even the exceptions are often very patronizingly trying to make themselves feel better by being nice to “the help,” and it is very painfully obvious.  My point is that you would think I would be above this kind of what-you-have-to-offer equals how-well-you’re-treated-by-me mentality.  But I’m not.  As soon as what I have to offer begins to exceed what I think you’re offering me, I begin to treat you in a degrading fashion. 

I know it seems like I got off-point with that consumerism thing, but can you see how it’s connected?  The point of this whole thing is that I am not valuing people.  In my economy, people who do what I expect of them deserve my acceptance.  I am valuing what they have to offer me instead of valuing them, seeing people as only a means to a good for myself.  Even in the first instances I was discussing, because in those, it’s when I begin to believe that my employer is gaining more benefits from having me as an employee than I am gaining by being employed, when a friend is gaining more benefits from having me as a friend as I am gaining in return.  When I start to think the balance is off in someone else’s favor in any relationship (by relationship I mean any interaction with people), I become dissatisfied, judgmental and, often, just plain mean.  However, when I think the balance is off in my favor, I smugly embrace it as just repayment for all of those times it was NOT in my favor.  Since, you know, I am wise enough to recognize all of these situations in their true light. 

My economy is not the same as God’s economy.  Thank God.  Literally.  If He rolled His eyes at me every time I did something He knew to be stupid, ignored me when I stopped being useful or thought me unworthy of consideration because I could not offer anything as important as what He could, I would be completely and totally in despair, because this is my inherent condition.  God, through Jesus Christ, offered everything to people completely unable to repay Him, unable to deserve Him, unworthy to look at Him.  And, yet, I choose to see myself as important enough to dismiss people right and left simply for annoying me.  I have really been trying to control my condescending impulses and be nice even when I find people’s behavior to be incompetent.  Controlling the outward impulses of open disdain is nothing, however, to controlling the attitude causing them.  When I can look at a person and see value regardless of what they have to offer, it will be cured.  There is a statement that I’m sure you’ve heard: “Use things; love people.”  This is in contrast to the bulk of my existence, which tells me, “Love things; use people.”  I consider myself to be fairly non-materialistic.  I am coming to realize that I am just materialistic in a different way than materialistic is usually meant.  It is not necessarily rampant in the area of wanting lots of things, but it is monstrous in the area of wanting everything I offer to be equaled in return.  C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit….”  If I could wake up every day and see this in people…in every person…their intrinsic worth and significance as a being loved and sought by the One True and Perfect God, how different would my responses be? 

I would like the rule of my life not to be reciprocity, but grace, mercy, love, respect.  I don’t want people to feel like they have to earn this from me, and constantly fear losing it, and, yet, there are people in my life whom I know do fear this.  People I have made to feel ignorant and unworthy because their performance was not up to my standard.  People who feel intimidated by my scathing condescension.  I have seen it in their faces, heard it in their tentative replies, felt it in their attempts at reparation.  I don’t want to be that person.  I apologize for being that person.  Whoever you are, I want to love you unreservedly and unconditionally.  I have a ways to go, and I can only get there by allowing God to work in me, but acknowledgement is the first step, right?  Everything is baby steps from here on out.

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Virtually Symptom Free

I realized yesterday that I had not written to update the status of my physical state since I discussed the acknowledgement of God’s power over the physical as well as the spiritual.  If anyone wants a reference for what what we’re talking about here, check out my Technical Difficulties  and my Last Lesson from “Captivating” posts. 

When writing those posts, I had been battling overwhelming physical symptoms in a lot of random areas, to the point that I was worried they were about to become debilitating.  A few of my symptoms at that point had been going on for years, but this year a lot of fun additions had been occuring, and rapidly worsening for several months. 

Through the lessons mentioned in the other referenced posts, I had started treating each physical symptom as a spiritual attack, immediately claiming the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the authority that He gave us over evil, in addition to praying to God for healing.  I know this sounds crazy…especially if you’re not a Christian.  But Christ did give His followers authority over evil, and our skeptical society has caused even Christians to roll their eyes at this kind of talk.  When you begin to speak of demons purposefully causing people pain and suffering, people start dismissing you off-hand.  Well, dismiss me if you like, but I know what I know.  I know that before I started rebuking the power of evil in Jesus’ name and asking God for healing, I had been feeling worse and worse for months.  And I know that after I started doing this, my symptoms went on a dramatic down-swing, and are now all but gone.  I no longer have the shooting pains in my head, the terrible headaches, the dizzy spells, the blurred vision, the tremors, the twitches, the fatigue, the random other pains or any of the many other crazy things I had going on.  The only lingering symptom is one I have had since I was a teenager (general body aches) and it’s even decreased. 

I know that there is an extreme this can be taken to, and someone could read this and take it to mean that if we just had enough faith and prayed enough, we could get rid of all of the bad things in our lives.  It could be interpreted that I’m saying there’s a demon under every rock, hiding our keys from us and making us sick.  I don’t think this…I think that discernment is gained through prayer and intimacy with God.  Only through maintaining a relationship with Him can you know if something is a spiritual attack or just plain life happening.  I think most of us take this to the other extreme, though, and treat nothing as a spiritual attack.  When we do this, we deny God’s power and allow Satan a stronghold to get working on.  We just live in our trouble, not realizing we have been given the authority to get out of it.

I’m feeling like I’m saying words that are not strong enough to convey how important I think this is, and like I’m not really getting my point across or like I’m leaving something out.  I’m not sure.  I just wanted to give God the glory publicly for my healing.

I also want to say that I think there was a lot that went into this healing.  My boyfriend had been praying for me rigorously, and had been encouraging me to do the same for months before God opened my eyes to the spiritual implications of my physical problems.  I also wrote my Technical Difficulties post before I came to this kind of understanding.  I think there were many factors necessary for all of it to occur.    I’ll mention things that I know were definitely all necessary, but I cannot exclude the fact that there are probably tons of other miniscule things that had to happen.  Consider this a skeleton list.  First, someone else praying for me with a belief that I did not have at that point.  Second, my opening up about my difficulties and being humbled by asking for help.  Third, listening to God’s voice when urged to read a book that I did not have any interest in reading, which led to the breakdown in my mental blinders to God’s power.  Fourth, acting on this newly rejuvenated faith with constant prayer.  And the fifth, I believe, is no less important…giving God the props for it. 

Here’s to You, God.

Now with 15x’s More Garlic!

My apologies to anyone who is expecting deep thoughts here in my posts lately.  I think my intellect is taking a sabbatical.  I have, however, been very busy in my kitchen, which seems to be my default subject when nothing is going on upstairs.  I’m like in “do” overdrive, but “think” seems to have flown out the window.  This happens periodically. 

Also, I usually type my posts in Word and then move them to the WordPress site because I don’t know how to increase the font size otherwise, and I know this is miniscule.  However, it also screws up the format, and I have to re-work everything and I don’t feel like doing that today, so get out your reading glasses.

At least the follow-up on my preserving experience is pretty amusing…. I don’t know what I was thinking while I was making my pickles and salsa.  Perhaps I was focusing on the details of the things I didn’t know so things I did know did not have room to make their way to the forefront.  I’m not really sure.  All I know, is that three days after I made them, I was suddenly hit with a thought…”Wait a minute….”  This thought was followed by google searches which only confirmed what I already knew.  The recipes for the pickles and the salsa both called for cloves of garlic.  A clove, as most of you are aware, is ONE of the little pieces that will come off of a bulb of garlic when you break it up.  They are pre-separated in to wonderful sections.  Sections called cloves.  This is important.  And for some reason, my brain chose to ignore this tiny little detail.  I broke up the bulbs of garlic and everything, but instead of putting 6 cloves in my salsa, I put 6 BULBS of garlic in my salsa.  All beautifully peeled and chopped.  It actually took quite a long time because I was chopping it all by hand.  You would think I would have realized it during this long process.  But I didn’t, and so the result was pickles and salsa with roughly 15x’s the amount of garlic called for.  I’m not sure that’s a selling point.  “Now with 15 times more garlic!”  Hmmm.  The amazing thing is that everything was still beautifully edible.  The pickles are strong pickles, like movie theatre pickles if you’ve ever had those, but amazingly, not overwhelmingly “garlicky.”  The salsa, although definitely a little heavier on the garlic than I prefer with just plain chips and salsa, is possibly the best salsa I have ever had on tacos because it is so flavorful. 

But, alas, this discovery meant that even my one tentatively cabinet safe jar was not to be stored.  See, the flavors grow stronger the longer a preserved item sits.  If the garlic is strong now, I can’t imagine how strong it would have been in a couple of months.  And so, my first batch of preserved food cannot be preserved after all.  But it is yummy, and so not a terrible loss.  And again, definitely a learning experience. 

I did try again this past Sunday, and now have one newly preserved, and presumably safe jar of salsa in my pantry.  The process was also not nearly as daunting the second time around.  I took the luxury time in between waiting for the water to boil and things to also make candied carrots  (I don’t like carrots, so I had to make them a way I would eat them) and chicks-in-a-blanket.  That’s chicken sausage, and I rolled it up in homemade dough, and it was delicious.  I have found a crust/dough recipe that is the best…it’s made with sour cream and butter instead of shortening, and I would think better for you than shortening crust.  From what I understand of crust making, it’s also easier to get a successful one.  I’ve never tried other crust, so I don’t know.  I just happened to not have shortening, so I was looking for a recipe with some other thing and I’m sure glad I stumbled onto it.  I don’t think I would ever try another one.

Then, well, you know how I hate to waste things, right?  Making salsa requires that you get all of the liquid and seeds out of the tomatoes and only use the “meat” of them for the salsa.  So, from making salsa last week and this week, I had a decent amount of tomato juice that I did not want to just throw out.  I started to make tomato soup, and I added lots of soup-type ingredients to it, and put it in a crockpot.  Although it smelled really good, every time I tasted it, I thought, “I don’t want to eat this by itself.”  And then I remembered that I don’t like tomato soup.  Why would I make it if I don’t like it?!  So, I chopped up some squash, threw it in the crockpot with it, and ran to the store to grab some more ingredients to make some squash lasagna.  I used the “tomato soup” with squash thrown in it as my “meat”/tomato sauce layers in the lasagna, and it was delicious.  (Still is delicious as we haven’t finished it yet.)  My boyfriend said, “It couldn’t have been any better if it had meat in it.”  Success!  I didn’t waste all of that wonderfully nutritious organic tomato juice AND I made something seriously tasty.

So, along with the squash lasagna, we can now add squash tacos, squash soup and squash chips to my Squash repertoire.  I figured out it works very well in any recipe if you just treat it like the meat.  Season it like the meat, do whatever you would do to the meat, and it is great.

Connie’s Creek-Bottom Pickles

You know how I said I liked Gettin’ Down to the Roots of things?  Well, yesterday I had my first experience with getting to the roots of food preservation.  Commonly known as canning.  Even though you’re putting it in a jar.  I have trouble calling it “canning” because, as far as I know, unless you’re a factory, there are no cans.  Why not “jarring”?  So, I’ve been calling it “preserving,” but everyone I mention it to inevitably says, “Canning?”  *sigh*  Yes, canning.   

I’ve been thinking about figuring out how to do this because of the ginormous box of vegetables I get from my CSA every week.  I pick up my boxes on Thursdays, and I find that every Wednesday I go on a cooking frenzy of sorts to use up the overwhelming amount of vegetables I have not yet managed to eat.  I know that you can freeze some vegetables, but all I have is a regular refrigerator-freezer and if I just started stuffing it with the vegetables I haven’t finished, it would be packed in two weeks tops.  I was thinking that learning to preserve would be a little better stewardship than baking multiple vegetable-laden casseroles, soups & salads and eating them for the next 4 days straight.  You know, spread out the love so that come the end of my vegetable-train, I can still have yummy and good-for-me things to eat without going broke. 

If you’ve never preserved anything before, and you start looking at the instructions on line, it kind of knocks the enthusiasm out of you.  I wanted to make pickles and salsa.  It seems that each different item you want to preserve has different requirements: the amount of acid necessary to make sure you don’t get botulism (encouraging), the length of time you boil the filled jar based on altitude (oh, the details), or the kind of pot you have to use in the case of boiling vinegar for pickling (it seems that non-metal pots are required???, or Teflon lined pots with no scratches in them…do you know ANYONE who has a Teflon lined pot without scratches??  I ended up using a stainless steel saucepan.  I figure stainless steel doesn’t react to anything.)  The instructions were daunting to say the least.  Not to mention the fact that there a billion different recipes for pickles, and testimonies of all kinds of people saying that this recipe is gross, this one makes the pickles mushy, and a myriad of other things, basically, “I will never use this recipe again because __________ .”  Insert any reason you like into that blank.  Who knew there could be so many different things wrong with pickles?   

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the fact that it took my lovely giant pot three hours to boil.  This pot is big enough to cover quart-sized jars standing right side up, and considering the fact that I have an electric stove top, and my only large burner is broken, I’m not really surprised.  I expected it to take a while, so I, thankfully, started it when I knew I still had to research pickle and salsa recipes and go to the grocery store.   

I will try to spare you all the rest of the minute details; I’m sure you already heard more than you wanted to.  I will say that you come up with questions you did not think of while you are in the middle of the most important part, filling the jars, lidding them and then dunking them back in the giant pot of boiling water in order to seal.  There’s not really opportunity at that step to call your mom and ask if this is OK, so you just keep going, and hope.  Or at least that’s what I did.  Only to learn later that it’s probably not OK, and at least 2 of the three jars I completed will have to be refrigerated and eaten like regular refrigerated food.  So, I could’ve just stuck my pickles and almost half of my salsa in jars without all of the other rigamarole.  However, I wouldn’t have learned anything, and it seems that at least one of my jars of salsa could survive the pantry shelf for a while.  We will, of course, find out later…you know, if I don’t get botulism and die.   

I actually tasted my salsa before jarring it, and it was pretty good.  It looks more like relish, but tastes all right, so I don’t really care what it looks like.  I’ll let you know how the pickles taste within the next week or so…gotta let ‘em turn into pickles first.   

And now for explaining the title of this particular post: my boyfriend dubbed my pickles, “Connie’s Creek Bottom Pickles” because of how they look.  See, you put fresh garlic cloves in the bottom of the jar, then you put the cut cucumbers in, then you pack fresh dill around them and throw in a few peppercorns, followed by pouring the boiling vinegar in.  Here is the result:       

 pickles-smaller.jpg …hence the title.  My boyfriend said it looks like I took a jar, scooped up the creek bed and put a lid on it.  Complete with fish, pebbles and seaweed.  Lovely.  I only hope it tastes good.  Here’s a picture of all of my beautiful semi-preserved jars from yesterday…a momentous occasion.  pickles-and-salsa-smaller.jpgpickles-and-salsa-smaller.jpgpickles-and-salsa-smaller.jpgpickles-and-salsa-smaller.jpg