Hi

What’s up, y’all?

Sorry haven’t written very prolifically (is that a word?) lately…I have had tons going on!  I just now finished making a very large batch of fresh salsa.  Mmmm.  I missed that from my tomatoes last summer!  I’ve just started getting enough in my CSA to get back into it, and this year, my CSA program included a “swap” section at the pick-up.  If they have something extra, they bring some, and if you would like that instead of what was allotted in your box, you just trade it in approximately equal amounts, which in turn adds to the variety of what you can swap for.  This week, apparently, some people did not want their tomatoes, and as I don’t like carrots, I made the switch with visions of fresh, chunky salsa in my mind!  So, I have a good sized bowl of it as you can imagine since I used 8 tomatoes, 5 peppers, 1 onion and 1 bunch of cilantro, plus the appropriate spices and liquids of course.  I go through phases when I just want to eat chips and salsa for dinner, breakfast, whatever.  OK, enough about salsa.

What has been keeping me so busy?  Well, I started the tent thing on Sunday.  Don’t get too excited…I managed 4 days of it, but am staying the weekend with a friend.  It was all going wonderfully until it rained.  I made it through 2 small showers, although I did learn through those that I had a leak problem.  The second one clued me in as to where it had been leaking.  I was confused before because it seemed like it leaked in a lot of places, but I couldn’t find any holes.  Hmmm.  But I learned that it was leaking at the pole connector at the very top of the dome on the tent, so the water would come in there underneath the rain fly, and then drip down the underside of it until it just fell off wherever it got too heavy.  And that is why there was water everywhere. 

So, Wednesday night I went to bed, knowing it was supposed to rain, but not having had the chance to fix the tent, hoping I’d be able to make it through whatever we got.  No such luck.  I woke up about 1:30 AM to POURING down rain.  I adjusted things in the tent, because there were a few areas that would stay mostly dry, due to how the rainfly sits…I tried to lay down and go back to sleep.  But it poured for 2 hours, and it was still going, and by this time, all of my bedding except for one blanket was pretty well wet.  The dry spots are not large enough for my bedroll!  I decided to call it a night, got up and went to a local 24 hour coffee shop.  I hung out there from about 3:30 in the morning until 7:30 or so, at which point I went to work (early).  I even washed my face and brushed my teeth in the bathroom there, and put my make up on at my table.  Appropriate, I know.  It’s kind of fun being homeless.  🙂 

I should tell you that the people whose back yard I am staying in have an outdoor building with a couch in it that they have said I could use in the event of bad weather.  (Not to mention they’ve said I can really just come in the house if I want to.)  I don’t have a reason I didn’t go in there.  It just seemed fun to go to the coffee shop by then, I’m not sure why. 

What did I do at a coffee shop for 4 hours?  Well, I can (and have) sit at a coffee shop for much longer than that, but this particular time, I was writing.  Which is another reason I have not been posting very much.  I am writing a book.  This is one of the reasons I wanted to live in a tent – to have time/inspiration to write the book that has lain dormant in my mind for years.  Even though I am still working, somehow the adversity of tent life makes you feel like you are supposed to be writing.  I am writing a fictional story – probably really for youth.  It is sort of along the lines of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series or C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  Books like those have always been my favorites, and to this day, are the books I will read and re-read again and again.  So, I decided I should write one of my own.  I was talking to a friend one day, and thinking about how I always say I want to write a book, but I never start it.  And it hit me – if I wanted to write a book, I would write one.  And if I didn’t write one, then I didn’t really want to…if I wanted to bad enough, I would make it happen, regardless of whatever 10 minute windows I would have to work on it because of time constraints.  So, I started it, and it definitely digs into my bloggin’ time.  Sorry ’bout that, guys.  I’m 37 typed pages into it.  Woo hoo!

I love to write on it, because I don’t plan ahead what will happen.  I know that sounds crazy, but I literally decide as I am writing what will happen next.  So, when I get to a turning point, I’m excited to “find out” what does happen next.  One day my un-boyfriend (that’s sort of like an un-birthday, which is where it is not really your birthday but you treat it like it is) was sitting next to me while I was writing, and happened to read a paragraph where my characters were about to enter a door behind which something was happening – you know right at the literal threshold of suspense.  He read the one paragraph one the page, and asked me what they were going to find when they opened the door.  I said, “I don’t know.  I haven’t written it yet.”  He looked at me like I was a little crazy, but later I read the follow up to him, and he got on board with thinking that doing it that way was probably good. 

I really do think God works through that, because after I write something, I always think it is way too good to have just come out of my own head, especially with no forethought.  It is not meant to be just a silly book of entertainment, but to really make readers think and engage, so if it becomes that, I will know it is God who did it.

So, there – that’s what I’m up to.  Hope you are all well.

Later,

Connie

P.S.  I’m not sure why I felt the need to write this as if I were writing a letter, but I did.

Advertisements

My Journey to Vegetables

If you’ve been to my blog before, you’ve probably read about my CSA boxes of vegetables.  Well, today I’m going to tell you about my long trip to attain this much sought after box of vegetables. 

The pick-up for my veggies is on Thursday, between 4:15 and 5:15.  Yes, you read correctly.  I have exactly one hour to pick my vegetables up.  Usually I can make this happen because my jobs are so flexible.  But sometimes, I don’t want to turn down a good day’s work just so I can pick them up.  Such was the case in this instance.  I had to work all day on Thursday, morning and night. 

In the past, I had a friend who was in the same CSA group, so I could just have her pick up mine as well with very little inconvenience to her.  However, now I am doing a winter CSA with a different farm as the other one ended, and she chose not to participate.  So, it’s all me.  When considering my options for what to do, I thought about asking a friend to go get them for me.  I have a couple who live not too far from the pick-up location.  However, the time window is so small…with my summer CSA, I had 3 hours.  I hate to make anyone who is just getting off of work drive extra during rush hour, possibly having to hurry in order to get there before the pick-up ends.  Besides, the two friends who live closest and I feel comfortable asking are the two friends that I somehow always end up asking favors of.  Although I’m sure they would not want me to feel this way, I feel like I am favored out.  And so, I opted to contact the farm and ask if I could do some sort of alternate pick-up arrnangement rather than chance inconveniencing a friend.

The lady from the farm said they had a pick-up today (which was Tuesday) in ________, TN or I could just come to the farm and pick it up there.  After I told her where I lived, she said the farm was probably closer and so she commenced with directions. 

I knew it wasn’t close, but when I got off the phone and did my yahoo map search (mapquest is consistently incorrect), I discovered that this was going to take me [approximately] 1 hr. and 21 minutes.  Hmmm.  Not really what I wanted to do with my day off – spend 3 hours (round trip) picking up vegetables, you know.  However, I had already arranged it, and they were doing me a favor by offering the option and I hated to call back and change what I had just set up.  I resigned myself to it, and upon realizing I was going to be driving on the Natchez Trace (official scenic drive, no trucks allowed, mostly 40 mph speed limit) for 30 miles, I decided I would just enjoy it like I was purposefully taking a scenic drive. 

I drove and drove through the hillside, and finally was somewhere around one mile from the farm, according to what I understood of the directions, anyway, when I received a phone call.  From the farm lady.  There was a problem with my box.  It got sent with her husband to __________, TN by mistake.  Oops!

At this point, I not only have to go further than the farm would have initially been anyway, but I have gone about 30 miles out of the way.  I wasn’t mad…I mean, I caused the confusion by changing the routine up in the first place.  That’s what I get for being difficult.  And attempting to be self-sufficient. 

And so, the directions commence again.  Farm lady’s directions the first time were sketchy.  For example: “Go to _________, TN and take Hwy ______.” ____________, TN was a town to which I have never been.  And also, “Take every possible right after that turn until you see a big red barn.”  Does this include driveways?  I was confused already and I hadn’t even started driving.  Hence, the reason I went to yahoo maps.  Only now I am [approximately] 1 hour and 21 minutes from my house.  No yahoo maps here. 

I listen to farm lady’s new directions.  Follow this road until you turn right on nameless highway.  When you get into ___________, TN, turn right on the “main road”.  When you get to the street “where you would turn left if you were going to the square,” [Oh, the square in said town where I have never been!] turn right instead.  Then, of course, there is the obligatory church where you turn.  This is understood in the South.  All directions must include turning somewhere at some church.  I’m pretty sure it’s a rule.  It might even be in the Bible.

I have been pretty hard on farm lady.  I say this because, amazingly, I had absolutely no trouble whatsoever finding the pick-up location in __________, TN.  Thanks, farm lady.  I’m sorry I doubted you. 

I also should tell you that by this point, I have been driving for about 2 hours and I have REALLY got to pee.  So, I’m thinking I’m going to run up the the vehicle, get my veggies and then go to the nearest store that looks like it might have a bathroom.  I turn in to the parking lot, and see my farm guy.  And then I see the news camera.  And the reporter.  They’re in the middle of an interview with him.  I pull in and watch the interview taking place in my rearview mirror.  Besides the fact that it seemed rude to run up in the middle of their interview with the camera rolling, I spent the first part of my day staining the unfinished wood trim in my bathroom.  And I looked like I spent the first part of my day staining the unfinished wood trim in my bathroom.  And I possibly looked like I had spent every day of my life staining the unfinished wood trim in my bathroom.  It wasn’t pretty.  There was no way I was going to risk appearing on any newscast anywhere. 

I waited.  And waited.  And waited. 

Oh, all right, it was only 10 minutes.  But have you ever had to watch a farmer get interviewed when you had to pee super-bad and you just thought you were going to get to pee within the next 5 minutes? 

I didn’t think so.  Moving on…

That’s really about the end of the saga.  Without further incident, I picked up my vegetables, went to a gas station which turned out to have working restrooms although both restroom doors had “Out of Order” signs on them, and “bought” my restroom visit with a bag of chips.  (Am I the only person who feels it necessary to do this?  I can’t just go in to use the restroom; I feel like I am taking advantage.  So, I ‘buy’ my bathroom trips by purchasing something cheap that I really do not want.) 

Picking up my vegetables turned out to be a four hour venture.  I don’t think that I would have said to myself, “Self, I think it’s the best idea in the world for you to spend four hours of your day picking up your vegetables.”  But then you would not have gotten to read my lovely story.  And I wouldn’t have gotten to take a nice drive in the country.  And I wouldn’t have learned to trust farm lady.  Not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t have gotten my vegetables. 

That said, to the friends of whom I spoke when I said I felt like I was favored out, expect a phone call next time I cannot make it to pick up my vegetables, favored out or not.  Hey, you can always say no, right?

Nothing???

I just finished writing one post, but I think that the gap in my postings to prior to that has made me especially verbose today.  I was sitting here continually thinking of other things I wanted to say.  However, none of them really made sense in the context of my first post of the day (which was already jumbled enough), so I decided that for the first time ever, you get 2 posts in one day.  Are you excited yet?  It’s like winning the lottery, right?  OK, well, maybe not, but just humor me.

In my first post, I stated that I was hoping a day of “nothing” would recharge my immune system because I felt like I was fighting off a cold or something.  In retrospect, “nothing” is not at all a word that I think I can use for what I did today.  I was quite productive actually. 

I looked at jobs on-line for a while.  I do this every so often, just to see if I am missing any exciting work opportunities.  Alway open to a change you know. 

Then, I decided I was going to do some cooking.  I have had ideas of what I wanted to cook with my CSA box of vegetables this week brewing since I picked them up on Thursday, so I researched the particular vegetables I had, got some recipes, and went to it.  It’s good for me to cook a lot when I have a day off so that I can have the leftovers to take with me to work.  I try to only eat my own (organic) food, and I am more successful at this if I don’t have to rush to think of something I can make with tomatoes and bell peppers at 7 in the morning.  I can immediately feel a physical difference if I start eating other food now that I have basically been off of it for a while.  I start feeling worse almost immediately.  Thanks to God for impressing me to go all organic. 

Well, I had lofty plans with my cooking today, and it all turned out wonderfully.  I didn’t really mean to when I started, but it ended up being like the meal to see how many vegetables I could use at once.  Here’s the inventory of what I used:

Two butternut squash, two delicata squash, one spaghetti squash, nine tomatoes, four bell peppers, one eggplant, two onions and two cloves of garlic.  Of course, I used other things…that’s just the vegetable list.  I made a delectable Delicata Squash & Bell Pepper Casserole, a superb Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce and then for dessert – a brilliant Butternut Squash Meringue Pie with homemade crust.  Yes, you read correctly.  Think pumpkin…it’s really OK.  I was confused at first when presented with the idea, myself.  But a pumpkin is really just a big squash.  My Butternut Squash Meringue Pie is quite delicious.  I don’t even like Pumpkin Pie…it’s better than that. 

And I have to tell you, if you’ve never had spaghetti squash, it is a thing you should try.  I had never cooked it before last month, and it’s pretty amazing stuff.  If you don’t know the scoop on it, you cook it, and then scrape out the insides with a fork.  It comes out in strands, and you use it exactly like you would use spaghetti noodles.  It’s very tasty. 

So, for lunch, I had a main dish (delicata squash) with a “pasta” side (spaghetti squash) and a dessert (butternut squash).  Squash, squash and squash for lunch?  All I have to say is that I marvel the versatility of vegetables.  I really never imagined how interesting they can be before this year.  There was not the hint of monotony in my meal. 

After lunch, I spent a while hunting places to live on the internet, and contacting the possibilities.  Yes, I am going to be moving here pretty soon.  I even went to view one place today, but it was a no-go, I think. 

And now I am writing this.  So, that was my day of nothing. 

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

Gettin’ Down to the Roots

I was thinking about my job history today, and realizing that I sort of go backwards into more and more basic jobs…or at least the jobs I have sought out and felt compelled to take fit this category.  Apparently, I like getting to the origins of things – down to the roots.  There were some silly behind the desk jobs mixed in there and a restaurant management gig, but as time went on I just fell into more simple things.  I worked for a carpenter for almost two years, as I mentioned in my Squash posting.  I got a basic (very basic) knowledge of carpentry from this.  I could probably build you something that would stand up and function as it was meant to (at least, something simple…not a house or anything).  That is not to say that I would build it very quickly or that it would be very pretty without my receiving more in depth instruction.  Although, I did get up to building about a fireplace mantel a day on my own from start to finish, and they looked good enough to put in people’s houses.  So, with practice, I could be all right, is where I’m going with this.  I think I would use this skill much more often in my current life if I had any tools.  That makes it harder.  I did build a picture frame for one of my paintings, but that’s the extent of it since I quit this job.  Making this frame taught me that building things without electric saws would be much more difficult, as I purchased a manual box mitre saw to cut the angles.  Yikes. 

Right now I work for a caterer.  With this job, I have gotten a much better understanding of food and how to use it.  I have turned into one of those cooks who cannot exactly give you the recipe because I just throw things into it.  I was not one of those cooks prior to working this job.  I remember, in the not so distant past, my fascination at learning that you could actually make your own salad dressing and also grasping the concept that herbs were actual growing things that you could get fresh, or even, (who would have guessed?), grow them yourself.  I don’t know how old I was before I actually made this connection.  Before working this job, I used canned soups for casseroles and bought crusts for baking.  Now, I’ve moved back a couple of steps, and actually attempt to make things myself.  I make my own soup and my own crust; I buy whole chickens and cut them up so I can boil the carcasses (MMMmmm) and make something yummy with the broth.  I find it pretty entertaining, and sort of like an adventure.   

I also work part time for a nanny service.  A nanny service, you say?  Yes, a nanny service.  Just like a dating service, only for nannies.  I get hooked up w/ families who need babysitters.  Some nannies get permanent placements, but me, I’m afraid of commitment.  I don’t want a relationship…I’m a one-night stand babysitter.  A few of my clients have been so great that I ended up having a relationship with them anyway, but there are no hard feelings as needs and availability changes for either party.  My point is that it is childcare…also very basic.  And I have learned a lot about kids since I started doing it almost 2 years ago.  I learned things I would and would not do if I had my own kids or ever do have my own kids.  I learned that I actually like kids more when I’m around them more.  They’re funny. 

So, here’s my point: building, food, childcare…basic needs.  I have no career goals (see my post on Ambition), so when I get tired of something, I change it.  Well, I’m getting tired of catering.  I’ve reached my peak, if you will.  Lofty, I know…the pinnacle of catering.  But I’ve been considering what to try next.  This has led me to analyzing my past jobs, which has led me to this insight of my increasing turn back to the basics.  So, I was thinking, “What is more basic?  What is the next step backwards?”  Odd, the way I look at things.  OK, so we have three categories to think backwards in.   

Building: I would actually be interested in taking this road, learning how to build, say, my own log cabin from trees on my land.  (I mean, if I had land, you know.)  However, I don’t know of anyone who’s doing this.  Do you?  I’m sure I could find a company who builds log houses or something, but I bet they don’t go cut their own logs down and do whatever the heck you have to do to them.  Meaning, I want to start from scratch.  Maybe I’m skipping a step, I’m not sure.  Maybe I should learn how to build a log cabin first, and then learn how to prep the materials.  It seems all too intertwined to me, though.  I’d like to start at the beginning, and even if I did know someone who was building their own log cabin, those kinds of people are not usually paying people to come help them, and although I like to fantasize about it, I cannot live on nothing. 

Childcare: the only way I can think of going backwards in this is having my own or becoming a midwife.  I’m definitely not about to have my own, and midwifery requires school, so that’s out.  Someday I will have to elaborate on my views of the educational system.   

I know some of you are probably really shaking your head and scrunching up your face trying to figure me out.  I’m sure I sound like a weirdo.  I don’t like the idea of education (at least not the standard kind), have no career goals, and am trying to go backwards instead of advancing up the ladder of success.  I think that our society is mostly backwards – that education is rarely what we get in our schools and universities, and that ambition is divisive and unnecessary.  I think that most jobs are peripheral rather than strategic.  Who is it you’re going to want in a crisis?  Someone who can grow your dinner or someone who can program your computer?  The jobs left to the country folk, are the most essential, in many respects.  We’ve created the need for other jobs, and without those, I’m aware that society could not function as we know it, but without the people who grow our food and build our shelters, etc., it could not function at all.  Which is more important? 

Returning to where I was going with this, what we have left out of my categories is food.  And reversing that train takes me to farming – the root of all food.  Ahh, farming.  It sounds so homely and comforting and HARD.  Haha.  However, this is what I have attempted to look into.  I just thought of it this morning, and e-mailed a few local organic farms that I found online.  (I’m a firm believer in organic food.)  Anyway, we’ll see if anything comes of it. 

Squash

So, I have gotten my CSA  vegetables for the last three weeks, and it is just as exciting as I imagined.  I really must be an adult to be so thrilled every week about a gigantic box of vegetables.  And I mean gigantic.  I signed up for a half share, which is supposed to be a quarter bushel, but every week I go and pick up my vegetables, which are jam-packed full in a half bushel box…for those of you with poor math skills, that’s TWICE as many vegetables as I thought I was going to get.  Apparently, these guys are really generous.  I’m not complaining.  (I did ask to make sure I didn’t mistakenly get signed up for a full share so I wouldn’t feel dishonest.) 

Well, one has to get pretty creative in order to figure out the usage of a half a bushel of vegetables every week when one is not married or living with a family.  I find this to be a magnificent challenge.  This past week was a little easier because my boyfriend and I actually went on a vacation (hence the lack of posts), so I had someone else to help eat them.  However, it was also harder in a sense because we were camping, so I had to find ways to eat them fast enough for them not to spoil with no electricity.  I did bring a cooler with these great ice packs that keep stuff cold for approximately 3 days, but beyond that it was a race to eat the most perishable things fast enough.  I should tell you that I am sort of a crazy person about not wasting things.  I am not a pack rat about stuff, but when it comes to things you can use up, I will use it ALL up to the very last drop before I begin a new something else.  Leftovers beware. 

A great example of this was when I worked for a carpenter friend of mine…he needed brain surgery and was having a little trouble with his driving in the meantime, so I became a sort of carpenter chauffer, but he figured out I was not so bad at building fireplace mantels either, so I got put to work.  We were almost out of the standard screws we used for almost everything at one point, and he had bought another case.  Well, I unloaded it and brought it into his workshop.  I looked at the old box with some yet unused screws, and looked at the new box with its brand new ones, and crazy kicked in (just wait, you’ll see).  About a week later, my carpenter boss looked into the new, full box of screws and said, “Why is this Ziploc bag of screws in here?”  I immediately burst out laughing and could not even tell him I was laughing so hard because I knew it was completely ridiculous.  Finally, I managed to get out that I had put the screws from the old box in the Ziploc bag because I wanted to use them first.  It was the old Chick-fil-A philosophy coming out in me…I was indoctrinated with FIFO (First In, First Out) for those of you who have never worked in any food service capacity.  You should have seen my boss’ face when I said that.  He looked at me crazy, and immediately emptied the Ziploc bag into the rest of the full box. 

What does this story have to do with vegetables, you ask?  Well, this philosophy most definitely extends into my new vegetable venture.  Every meal, I look into my giant box of vegetable goodies, and think which of these can I use first in order for nothing to go to waste?  And when I go pick up my new box of vegetables every week, I make myself finish everything from the old box first.  This is very exciting for me.  Besides that, it makes me think of new and creative things to do with the different vegetables.  I have to say that it is definitely squash/zucchini season, and that these crops must be very prolific.  I have been getting other things, but nothing else really cook-able (more like greens and tomatoes and cucumbers).  So, when I cook, I am always trying to find a way to use my squash and zucchini.  This is a challenge because my boyfriend “doesn’t like squash.”  Or at least he didn’t.  I have cooked squash (and zucchini, but it’s basically the same thing, you know) every way you can think of.  In addition to eating squash raw as a vegetable dipper, I have cooked squash with sausage and squash with scrambled eggs and squash in a quiche and squash with parmesan cheese and squash with beef and mushrooms and rice and onions and squash with green beans and bokchoy and squash with kohlrabi.  (I got you on those last two, didn’t I?  Bokchoy is a green, and more common than kohlrabi, apparently often used in Chinese stir-fry recipes.  Kohlrabi is a root vegetable very like a turnip.  I haven’t met anyone who had heard of it before yet…except the lady who I pick my vegetables up from.)  Well, while we were camping, my boyfriend decided that he did like squash after all, but only when I cooked it.  I’m hoping that actually has something to do with my cooking ability and not with the fact that he decided he ought to get used to it if it was all I was going to feed him.  We get a newsletter with our vegetables, and this week on the back they talked about how much squash/zucchini we have been getting.  It said, “You know you have become a creative cook when you can repeatedly bring squash to the table without groans.”  Yay!  It doesn’t mean I’m a good cook, but at least maybe I qualify as a creative one.  And that’s my story about squash.

Community Shared Agriculture and Thanks

I have to thank my friend Jody for bringing Community Shared Agriculture back under my radar.  I read an article on it in the newspaper early spring, but completely forgot about checking into it after that.  So, last week I get an e-mail with a form attached for signing up.  Way cool.  If you don’t know, Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) is basically a “subscription” to whatever is grown at a local farm.  The farm I signed up for grows organic vegetables and a few fruits as well.  This farm (called Eco-Gardens) allows you to order a full or half share…a full share is half a bushel and a half share is a quarter bushel, which is plenty for me.  It’s reasonably priced, too.  I would definitely spend more money buying a quarter bushel of organic vegetables at the local store.  Not to mention, I don’t have to shop.  On the sign-up form, there is a list of what these guys grow, and you rate how much you want (or if you want none), and each week your quarter bushel shows up w/ something.  Woo hoo!  It’s gonna be like a surprise package every week!  I’m really stoked about this; can you tell?  For someone who doesn’t like to shop (ME!), this is great.  I don’t have to go decide what vegetables I get, I just go get whatever I get.  So, this isn’t just a local thing…these CSA’s are all over the place.  Mine supplies vegetables for 26 weeks…that’s half the year.  Not bad.  So, if you like supporting local agriculture and prefer to get fresh vegetables or are trying to eat organically with a little bit less expense, I encourage looking into it.  I’m excited to figure out how to cook spaghetti squash when that comes in….hmmm.  And also interested in how they get watermelon to fit in a quarter bushel. 

 And for anyone who read my last blog and is praying for me, thanks.  I have actually felt like a person the last 2 days, and although my human reaction is to say, “Well, the severity of it was probably on the way out anyway,” I know that’s just Satan’s argument because he wants me to deny God’s power.  While my symptoms have not disappeared, they have gone back to being manageable.  So, thanks for praying.  And also you don’t have to stop if you don’t want to.  

I Want a Cookie or Self-Indulgence

I was going to title this “Discipline”, until I realized that I don’t really have much insight into discipline, but have much into its corresponding vice, Self-Indulgence.  Much of this essay will probably be about the abuse and extortion of food.  That is because I struggle with this constantly.  The incessant reminders of what “thin” means in today’s society may augment my impression of the struggle.  I could possibly be blowing my demise way out of proportion simply because I wish to be thinner, and cannot seem to attain this end of my own volition.  However, the premises would remain the same on a smaller scale or, indeed, applied to a different subject, and perhaps it is good to exaggerate them to stress the points.  Thankfully, for you as readers, there is almost an unlimited choice of other areas that my self-indulgence branches out into, so perhaps you will not be bored. 
Self-indulgence is one of those pesky vices that can rear its ugly head in every aspect of your life.  So, you may conquer it in one area, but it does not mean that you have purged yourself of it altogether.  Granted, it is probably easier as you go along.  Winning a small battle here and there will probably strengthen your ability to be the victor of the war, but it by no means ensures it a certainty.  I’m not sure that there is a better way to begin with this subject than to jump right in to specific issues.  So, here we go.
Example #1:  I have a little debt that I would really like to pay off.  It’s credit card debt, which means that the credit card company allows me to make unreasonably small payments in order to milk my debt for all of the interest it’s worth.  At one point, I seemed completely unable to motivate myself to pay any more than the required amounts, though fully aware that my moderate debt would take me approximately 7-8 years to pay off at that pace.  Well, I’m fairly reliable when it comes to finances, meaning, I always pay my bills.  If you send me a bill for a specified amount, you’ll probably get that amount, and even before the due date.  So, I appealed to my logic: if I had a bill that required me to pay more than the credit card bill required me to pay, I would pay it.  And off I was to search for a bank loan to pay off my credit card debt, for the bank would undoubtedly want their money faster than the credit card company, therefore requiring me to pay more and aiding me in getting out of debt faster.  Well, it turned out that my credit card had an unusually low interest rate that my bank could not compete with, AND this loan would require something like a $150 start-up fee.  The bankers were, for some reason, still trying to talk me into this loan after we reached these conclusions.  I may be self-indulgent, but I’m generally not just plain stupid.  I did not take their loan offer, and walked out of the bank feeling a little dejected.  And then I thought to myself, “How ridiculous am I being?  If I want to pay more on this bill, then I should just pay more on it.  It’s like a child to have to wait until someone forces me to do something in order to accomplish it.  I may as well be in elementary school if I have that little discipline.”  And so I began paying more.  It is now approximately one year later, and I am two thirds of the way through paying it off.  And now a little confession – I have begun my examples with the one at which I have been the most successful.  Clearly, I want you to have an impression of me more favorable than is honest. 

Example #2:  I want to lose a little weight.  I am not fat, but I am just at the point at which all of the clothes I used to love accentuate all of the worst things about my slightly larger frame.  In other words, I have taken the very necessary first steps towards becoming fat by becoming fatter.  I have been at this point for well over a year.  I seem completely incapable of doing the things I know I need to do in order to accomplish the goal of getting back to my desired weight.  I have gone through a few phases where I did well.  For nearly two months, I ate almost exclusively vegetables and fruits during the day, and then dinner was carte blanche.  Somehow, I didn’t lose any weight during this period (probably because my fruit likes far outnumber my vegetable likes), but I felt better about myself, and better in general.  Obviously, the feeling better about myself does not come solely from accomplishing the goal of losing weight, because during this span of time, I was at peace with my eating habits, even without shedding pounds.  It was being disciplined about it that increased my self-esteem.  But, alas, this ended while I was traveling for the holidays.  It’s quite difficult to be so limited in what you ingest when you’re visiting someone else’s house, unless you want to appear finicky at best and rude at worst.  I also managed to cut out sweets altogether for a short time, but this ended as well.  I’m not quite positive how, but I’m sure it had something to do with PMS or being frustrated with work or something of that nature.  My self-indulgence in this area continually causes my self-esteem to plummet; causes me to feel like a spoiled child incapable of understanding the consequences of my actions.  8 cookies for breakfast = fat.  I seem to have a serious lack of forethought, in this, and most areas.  I know what the consequences are, but like the cliché of a teenager in a drag race, seem to believe I am invincible.  But as I’ve said, it’s not just the weight part of this struggle that troubles me.  It’s my complete (seeming) lack of ability to control my impulses.  I like (as I’m sure most of us do) to pretend to myself that I am more disciplined than your average Joe – that if I choose to do something, I can do it.  I believe half of the value of self-discipline is proving to yourself that you are capable of doing something, or not doing something, whichever the case.  Only I prove to myself the exact opposite.  I have proven over and over that I am quite as self-indulgent as everyone else, and undoubtedly more so than those whose slim figures drive me to self-loathing and disgust.  I have a friend who is thinner than I am, by just a bit.  She was, in the very recent past, one of those people that everyone would comment: “She’s so thin,” with envy disguised as admiration or simple observation.  This friend informed me a few weeks ago that she was joining Weight Watchers.  Bear in mind that she was apparently going to join in order to lose the same amount of weight that I would like to lose, or at least no more.  The thought that someone so obviously not obese (and already thinner than I!) would think to join Weight Watchers seemed ridiculous to me.  She was ascribing to the same philosophy I had initially taken with the bank loan.  If she had someone forcing her to do it, she would.  At that moment, I thought myself better than her; that I could do it simply by choosing.  I was in denial – in denial about the past year and a half, because if I could do it simply by choosing, I would have done it by now.  Unless, the point is that I have not really chosen.  Is this the point?  Can two, so diametrically opposed positions, “I want to lose weight,” and “I want to eat the cookie,” coexist?   Does “I want to lose weight” simply fly out the window at the moment of eating the cookie, or does it change to something like “I will start losing weight after I finish this cookie?  And will this amended statement only be true until I am seriously tempted by the next cookie?  When I, in no uncertain terms, decide to lose weight, is it then that I will begin accomplishing it?  Honestly, I’m not sure, but I am aware of at least a few rationalizations that come into play, deluding me into thinking that I am not being self-contradictory.  One is that somewhere my mind understands that this cookie will not necessarily make me fat.  However, it does not seem to be able to grasp the fact that eating every cookie I come in contact with, will.  It is hard to see the danger in the collective, when you are looking at the singular.  I have a feeling that alcoholics probably do the same thing, i.e. this drink will not make me too drunk.  Possibly, it is that whichever desire is heaviest on the balance scale wins, although I don’t believe so, because I have some pretty weighty desires on the side of not eating the cookie that often seem to lose, i.e. not becoming a diabetic (it runs in my family), better self-esteem, fitting into my clothes, proving the steadfastness of my character (and all over a cookie!).  The lust for a cookie is much more primal.  Much closer to a very straightforward, “I want.”  Perhaps that is why it wins.  It’s like the collegiate professor trying to argue with simpleton.  The professor’s arguments go all above the simpleton’s head, and while the professor is rattling on with his profound arguments, the simpleton ignores that “nonsense” and, completely unperturbed, does the thing he was intending to do.  Maybe I should just take an adult’s position as to a child, and when I want a cookie, simply slap myself on the hand.  And although I’m sure this would cause me a few other problems, perhaps that is all this primal desire understands.  I also believe that the self-indulgent voice in my head usually argues something along the lines of “I deserve.”  And therein lies another flaw, another severe defect that leads us far from discipline.  Our rights…this right to a cookie, the right to some little pleasure when the whole rest of the world seems against us.  The world is cruel to make a little thing like a cookie such a moral dilemma, with my self-worth hinging on the balance of to eat or not to eat.  I am sure the men reading this will think how dramatic I have become.  The women will understand exactly what I say.

Perhaps I can put it into more universal terms, even sticking to the issue of food.  I’ve worked in the food industry, and I cannot tell you how amazed I’ve been at the mastery food has over a person’s character – how a dignified man in his business suit can turn into a ludicrous madman over a simple case of missing mustard…an irrefutable case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or how a well-dressed, mouse-voiced woman can articulate to you the order in which the ingredients must be stacked on her hamburger, by drawing you a picture, and labeling each item in its place.  Although I cannot dispute the understandable expectation to get what you have ordered in a restaurant, I can greatly disapprove of the reactions that NOT getting exactly what you have ordered will bring about.  I’ve seen this businessman acting exactly as your two-year-old would if you were out of his favorite snack, and all you had was leftovers from dinner, which he hated.  You would at least wish that you could make him understand that sometimes you have to make the best of things, that leftovers are better than nothing, and he would have to do without his (insert favorite snack) this time.  Only, in a restaurant, the issue is usually resolvable.  The man has thrown his tantrum quite before giving anyone the chance to rectify it.  But, let’s even imagine that he has given them a chance to absolve themselves – does a failure to remedy the situation then give him the right to throw his tantrum?  I would argue, no. 
So, going back to our rights, did the man have the “right” to his mustard?  How far can we take that?  He had a right to desire the mustard, I suppose.  I don’t think I can go so far as to say he had an inalienable right to mustard.  But even if he had, nothing can excuse his infantile reactions upon not receiving it.  Discipline is, at the very least, a means of controlling our petty desires, and a means to dignity and grace in the face of misfortune (including the absence of mustard).  How are we to teach our children any self-control or discipline whatsoever, if we cannot graciously accept not always getting our way, even if it is at the incapable hands of others?  But, how are we ever to learn how to do this, except by not getting our way by our OWN hand sometimes?  You cannot expect to be successfully cheerful in the face of disappointment forced upon you, if you have never even disciplined yourself to face some sort of denial when you are in the best of temperaments.  Herein lies my great quandary.  I seem incapable of denial, in most areas.  I have grown into an adult, out of the reach of my parents, and forgotten how to say “No” to myself.  I remember being told “No.”  I was not a coddled child.  How did I grow up into this bundle of appetites waiting to be quenched, with very few scruples about quenching them?  Because it is my nature – my nature to be constantly drifting away from order, like the universe.  It’s easier to drift than to stay.  Discipline requires something of me.  Self-indulgence is easy.  It also grants the illusion of control.  When I am having a bad day, if the only good thing I can control is having a cookie, it seems very tempting, just for the sake of having something good.  It’s hard for me to refuse even if I am not hungry, and even when my palate is really craving something completely different.  Simply because I know cookies to be good, even if it’s not what I want at that moment, it seems, in a sense, like I am “treating myself” or “getting away with something” to have one.  Boy, I showed them.  My point is that self-indulgence seems almost not to be cured by its supposed object.  It seems to want to indulge simply for the sake of indulgence, and not (at least not exclusively) for the pleasure of said object.  I want to indulge, frankly, because I know I can.
Although unintentionally, I have already jumped out of the puddle and into the greater pond of discipline itself, rather than issues it affects.  I don’t remember when I realized that I had become so very lax in refusing myself.  I just observed suddenly one day, that I thought my mother wouldn’t allow me to have so many “cookies” if she were still in charge.  I thought, at that point, (which has been some time ago), that I should perhaps begin exercising my “No” a little more frequently.  I have finally, I think, realized how perfectly lousy I am at it.  I hesitate in writing my next assertions, for I feel the very hypocrisy of writing, but not following them.  However, if men ever only preached of vices they had mastered, there would be few sermons in the world worth listening to.  I firmly believe that I should be able to refuse a temptation (cookie, or otherwise) simply because I know it’s best, based on a rational belief, a moral or a thought, i.e. refusing cookies due to all of the reasons I listed before.  But as stated in the paragraph about the man and the mustard, in order to be able to do this with any consistency, through bad moods and celebrations, when it’s because someone has stolen my cookies or broken them, I must sometimes, refuse myself simply for the sake of practicing refusal.  I have not even mastered “no” in the first scenario, when it is rational, beneficial and desirable, except for in short spurts or when in a pleasant mood.  I certainly haven’t managed it when the conditions are unfavorable. 

Some people manage self-indulgence by removing the temptation.  I recognize some of the rationale behind this method, but would argue against its long-term effectiveness.  If a smoker stops smoking only because there are no cigarettes on his deserted island, is there any virtue in it?  I would assert there is no merit in behaving well simply because the temptation is no longer present, no discipline without something desirable to resist.  My boyfriend taught me this, and even with this example.  He stopped smoking with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket.  He believed to quit only because the cigarettes were not available was not really quitting at all.  As soon as he was faced with the temptation in any real sense, he would simply start up again.  I can agree that sometimes the removal of the temptation may be necessary at the start of a discipline, but if the object is not brought back at some point during the training, the lessons will almost decidedly be a failure as soon as the offending vice is reintroduced.  And besides this, sometimes removing the temptation is simply not possible.  I work for a catering company.  Unless I am planning to quit my job, a plethora of sweets will approach me at every turn, nearly every day.  A man struggling with lust cannot realistically remove all women from his sight.  And, so the key has to, at least partially, be a mindset.  I’m not sure quite how to attain this mindset of decision that actually brings about change, but as with my credit card payments, I know I am capable of changing my habits, I just want something outside of myself to make me.  When I decide that I need to “just do it,” in the very well known words of Nike, is when I will.  Clearly, I have not reached this point of illumination in my eating habits.  I do believe, though, that the difficulty is mostly in our minds, and much less so in practice.  It’s the imagined pleasure of the cookie that makes it difficult.  Never mind the fact that it brings approximately 60 seconds of sweetness, the only good part being while it is actually in my mouth.  As soon as that moment is done, I am back to being guilt-ridden at my wantonness.  I think it’s also very important how we perceive temptation.  If I dread going to work because I know I will be faced with my very favorite dessert, and I will have to look at it all day and feel deprived if I don’t eat it, and guilty if I do, then I am certainly going to fail, because I am miserable both ways.  If I feel dejected by having to do without, and I feel dejected to no greater extent when I give in, why not feel dejected, and yet have the sweet as well?  However, if I go to work thinking what a day of challenges I will have, yet another opportunity to strengthen my discipline, to kill my self-indulgence, to beat the Devil, perhaps my fighting spirit will get me through.  This is for me, an encouragement that will strengthen when I already have a basis for refusal, but I know that I cannot solely rely on it, because, my fighting spirit slowly deflates with the wearing drudgery of every day life.  Like a soldier expecting the rigors of battle and the rush of adrenalin, but instead faced with marching interminable fields, growing wearier every slow moment, my fighting man finds that brownies and cakes are no foe worth keeping his morale high enough to win any battles.  “It’s not really worth fighting that hard, is it?” he thinks.  “The enemy is not all that bad.  The real enemy is this job and my headache.  I think a cookie might do me some good after all.”  God forbid there should be more than one enemy at a time.  It is ill fated that a greater enemy, or the one we are feeling the brunt of at a given moment, seems to un-guard us from the dangers of any other.  Temptation, unfortunately, is known to kick you when you are down. 

I alluded above to something that I believe to be quite true.  Self-pity leads to self-indulgence.  Perhaps it is the greatest pre-cursor.  I find that when I am happily working away with no extra troubles on my mind, temptation seems a very feeble thing.  My arrogant heart veritably laughs at the ease of refusing whatever enticement is in front of me, forgetting that yesterday when I was worried about the bills, and didn’t get a good sleep, everything I saw that I knew I should not have was torture – but, not really, because I folded.  I threw in my hand.  I gave in.  This poor, weak muscle, discipline has had no exercise to strengthen it.  Discipline leads to a heart that cannot be swayed – a soul that will not bend to the demands of the terrorism attacking it every day, even when already tired and broken.
 I should broach a subject I have heretofore accidentally avoided.  I have been mistakenly treating discipline as something we use only in the refusal of something negative.  It is something much more, and probably, I have allowed my gloomy representation of it tarnish its beauty already.  Discipline is the only road to most things of any substance that we desire.  Without it, we rarely accomplish one dignified act.  Haven’t you heard the woman say, “I would love to learn how to do that,” and wondered why she didn’t just learn it?  For me, it is, “I want to read more.  I want to write more, paint more, sing more, pray more.  I want to learn Italian.  I want to take more walks.”  What is stopping me?  My self-indulgence, which is really the opposite of self-indulgence; it is self-destruction, inevitably carrying me down a road full of meaningless events, void of achievements that will in any way matter.  It’s the ultimate magic trick – look at the shiny penny of fleeting pleasures while your life is going by in the background.  What of this outside force I am waiting for?  I actually believe it is valid, only not in the sense of Dad pushing us, our teacher scolding us, or our boss giving a deadline.  The only outside Force capable of teaching us discipline itself, is God, Discipline personified.  Everyone else simply gives us a consequence equal to motivation in one specific category lacking discipline. 
In my experience, the effectiveness of the reward or consequence varies in direct proportion to its immediacy and severity.  I know a man with heart trouble who quit smoking not because he had heart trouble, but because every time he smoked a cigarette, it was immediately almost impossible to breathe.  I’ve known a pregnant woman who quit smoking, not in order to protect her baby, but because it made her nauseated.  The consequence worked for them, because it was more immediate, more tangible than the real reason.  I find it difficult to stop eating cookies, because I do not see myself getting fatter each time I take a bite, nor do I see myself get thinner each time I resist.  The rewards and consequences are too long-term, in my state of immaturity, for me to take any notice.   God’s discipline is not dependent on the rewards or the consequences.  I got a taste of this when I was no longer constantly disappointed with my eating habits, and myself, although, as I said, I was shedding no pounds.  As self-indulgence really seeks only the object of indulgence, discipline is its own reward.  As you would tell an addict that quitting for someone else will never last – they must do it for themselves – I will go farther, and say that quitting cannot be enticed in any lasting form by promising thin-ness or sobriety, or at least not in my case.  I suppose I should not speak for the world.  We’ve already seen that when I am perfectly aware that the results of discipline far outweigh the pleasure of self-indulgence, I have still failed.  Discipline exists for Discipline’s sake, for God’s sake, and comes with a package of many consequential rewards.  It is a small picture of what God means when He says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.”  Seek discipline, and you will gain its rewards; seek its rewards, and you will gain nothing.  I think that some will doubt this assertion, but look at it this way: If a child makes his bed every day because he is afraid of the whipping he gets if he does not, you don’t call him disciplined, you call him scared.  Along the same lines, if a child makes his bed every day because he gets a dollar when he does so, you don’t call him disciplined, you call him greedy, or maybe just a miniature tycoon…but never disciplined.  Any act performed or omitted in order to receive an award or escape a punishment, has little virtue of its own.   Following this train of thought, I am not sure how to teach discipline as something to be learned for its own sake.  If we take the consequences and rewards away, there is very little to teach us with.  Perhaps as creatures of habit, when we have made our bed enough times and received enough dollars, and not made our bed enough and received enough whippings, discipline will begin to whisper its true nature to us.  Could it be that we learn it by going through the motions?  That at first we simply do it for the rewards and to escape the punishment, but then, just maybe we will begin to seek it, to seek God, and will finally begin to triumph.   I recently babysat two sisters, three and five years old.  The mother was still at home, and the girls asked if they could have a piece of gum.  The five year old has apparently been successfully chewing and then spitting her gum out for quite some time.  The three year old still has some issues with swallowing it as soon as she is bored with its novelty.  The mother told the three year old that if she did NOT swallow her gum when she was done with it, she would get a nickel.  The five year old asked if she got a nickel for not swallowing hers.  The mother said, “No, your reward is that you get to keep chewing gum.”  The five year old had learned the purpose of gum – that it is to be chewed and spit out.  The three year old had not yet figured out that you cannot treat gum as you treat food, because that is not what it is for.  But she understood nickels.  The reward/consequence system is used in order to teach us the purpose of a discipline.  For example, “No, you cannot treat food as an activity.  It’s for your nourishment…oh, wait, but you can’t treat it as a security blanket either.  It will not keep you warm or comfortable, and it will also make you overweight.  That’s not what it’s for.  Or, “No, you cannot treat lust as you would treat an itch, scratching whenever, wherever, and in whatever manner the impulse strikes.  That’s not what it’s for.”  The reward is rarely the purpose of the discipline being learned – one would never tell the little boy that the purpose of making your bed is to receive a dollar.  The purpose is to be neat.  The incentive is the dollar.  Once we understand the purpose of any given discipline, in theory, we should no longer need the reward/consequence system, just like the little girl with her gum.  She didn’t need the nickel; she already had it down.  Her reward was enjoying her gum.  Or as C. S. Lewis states it in The Weight of Glory, “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”  I never understood that statement before.  Our reward for discipline, once we understand the purpose of the issue in connection with it, is that we get to enjoy the thing we used to abuse and extort; enjoy it in the manner it was meant to be enjoyed.   I think I just recognized the story of The Prodigal Son in that anecdote.  I never noticed that it was about discipline before.  It seems that discipline can get jealous when its new members are rewarded for their small achievements – when they are fussed over for their baby-steps.  The three year old gets a nickel for doing something the five year old has been doing for simply ages; the run-away son gets a party upon his return when the elder has been faithful all the while.  The trick to facing this with grace is in understanding that the nickel and the party are like dog treats for training a pup.  They are given because they are the tools by which any actual knowledge is taught, only used when real understanding is lacking.  To want to go back to the reward system would be like going down a grade even though you passed with flying colors.  God treating us like this would be like a parent still screaming with delight every time their 10 year old spoke, as if it were their first word.  Why should we ever progress any further if the prizes are so easily won?  Discipline is about learning to do what is right, regardless of consequence or reward.  God slowly weans us from these, like a bottle from a baby, but the goal is right for righteousness sake.I said above that once we understood the purpose of a discipline, we should no longer need the reward/consequence system.  I think I left something out.  We can thoroughly understand the purpose of food, and not care a whit.  We must understand the value of the purpose.  A teenager with an unstoppable metabolism does not understand the value of nourishment and eating right.  He may understand all of the concepts, but until he grasps the value, he is not even halfway there.  I understand that the purpose of making my bed every day is to be neat, but if I do not value neatness, then the likelihood of my making my bed is very small.    I wish I could truly recognize that all of the things that would create any sense of accomplishment in me, all of the things that would make me more of who I believe God created me to be, are possible only in discipline.  Anything that would in any way have far-reaching effects beyond myself requires discipline.  But my self-indulgence tells me that I’m tired and, just tonight, I should watch TV and relax.  I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to relax, right?  The problem is that it isn’t really relaxing.  It is giving in more to the idea that I don’t matter.  I might as well watch TV because I have nothing to contribute.  It’s a desire to shut off your brain (that I do not condemn, because I am fighting it this moment, have been fighting it all day while writing this essay!), to forget that the world exists, that you exist, to turn in responsibility for apathy.  I should clarify that I do not think TV itself evil.  I also understand the need to let your brain relax, rest, process the things you haven’t had the time to glance at.  My words here are based on my own experience, that TV does not soothe my spirit.  If I am seeking rest, TV has never been the place I am able to find it.  I do find that as soon as I press the OFF button, all of the things I was trying to forget come rushing back on me with no relief.  If I take some time, pray, meditate on God’s Word, and give Him a little chance to sort out my thoughts, then I feel I have used my time wisely, and I even feel more relaxed.


Self-indulgence offers me many options of things that are easy to begin, but I almost always regret them when I am done.  Sometimes, I don’t even regret them for they are too transient for regret.  Sometimes, I don’t even remember them.  That is what self-indulgence gives me.  Discipline asks of me things that are difficult to begin, but once I have begun them, I am always glad of it, proud of it.  Those things change me – move me.  They matter.  That is the gift of discipline.