To the North! Christmas 2013 trip in review

We are blessed to have such great friends across America and around the world. Visiting them whenever we get the chance is one of my favorite pastimes. So having Christmas vacations that align means The Man and I can often travel during the holidays.  2012 wasn’t a big year for adventures afar, so we were pretty happy to get out of the state for Christmas 2013.

I won’t bore you with a lot of words.  Here are images instead.

Happy New Year! 

Quotable: Why Switchfoot won’t sing Christian songs | ctkblog

One of the best responses I’ve ever read to handle the “are they a Christian band?” false dichotomy.   Here’s just a taste; go read the whole thing (it’s short).

None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.

I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.

via Why Switchfoot won’t sing Christian songs | ctkblog.

Sugar Cookie Mayhem

Sugar Cookie Mayhem would be a fun band name.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made sugar cookies!  Cookie baking was pretty common in our household when I was a kid, but we didn’t really maintain any kind of special Christmas baking traditions. But when I ran across this recipe, I knew I had to try it:

Best soft sugar cookie recipe

This recipe uses sour cream to make the dough extra soft. The cookies come out very soft with a perfect crumble – if that’s your thing.

see? perfectly fluffy cookies.
see? perfectly fluffy cookies.

I’ve finally gotten my hands on one of the silicone baking mats – and they are indeed awesome. “Welcome to the 21st century!” you say? Hey, it may take me a while but I’ll eventually arrive.

Am I the only person who struggles to identify amorphous blobs of cookie as “Santa with his pack!” or “a reindeer!” or “nutcracker man!”?  Because you’d have to be some kind of Icing Rembrandt to get these guys looking like the outline in  Wilton’s catalog.

I bet there are people out there who can make perfectly decorated shape cookies, ones that I could identify … just before I bite the nutcracker man’s head off. nom nom nom   The problem with edible art is that it gets eaten. lol   I don’t have the patience…..

The silicon mats really do make cleanup so much easier.
The silicone mats really do make cleanup so much easier.

Of course nothing says “whoa! look at that mess on my counter!” like sugar cookie baking.

Plus I almost never have this much clear counter space available, so excavation had to take place before the cookie production today. Please tell me I’m not the only person who lives like this? haha

well look at all the counter space that emerges when I decide to clean things off. lol
well look at all the counter space that emerges when I decide to clean things off. lol

Of course, the best part of the cookie life is the decorating … and then the eating.

Coart is a dedicated cookie enthusiast. His Montessori students threw him a surprise birthday party earlier this week consisting primarily of an entire table full of cookies. I think he nearly cried with joy.

I’ve had 3 of these babies this afternoon and I can feel the sugar coma setting in already.

Good thing it’s vacation. 😉

Coart is not amused. lol
Coart is not amused. lol
PRETTY!   We believe in the "random explosion of sprinkles" method of decoration.
PRETTY! We believe in the “random explosion of sprinkles” method of decoration.

VaCaTionIng

Ah, the simple pleasures of a slower pace and a release from duties. 

Nearly all of my life has been governed by the academic cycle — the push and pull of work – rest that rules in American schools, both primary/secondary and college.

I love the rhythm that comes from a year divided by periods when not only is it ok to stop working, it’s expected.

In fact, I’d be thrilled if America decided our religion of materialism had sacrificed enough victims and just closed for business from Christmas through New Years.  I’m so thankful that the  Man and I get our Christmas holidays in sync even through I’m not in the classroom right now.

The week-in week-out grind of “normal work” really wears me down. I haven’t lived in that world much, but always found it exhausting. I think the lack of change is what did me in. No new semester or new year to start, no new classes to plan for and take the focus of your creativity, no uphill climb through the difficult days of November or April with the knowledge that a good-long vacation was coming. You can taste it. You can see leisure out of the corner of your eye when you turn your head. It’s there… waiting for you just around the corner.

This will be a more fun holiday than we’ve enjoyed in a while…. we’ve already got a house of guests yukking it up, playing games, and provoking laughter. Soon we’ll wander around the Upstate visiting friends we don’t usually get to see, spend some time with family for the holiday, and then head North to the Frozen Lands for an unusual wintertime trip.

I hope you get some rest this season too.

Time just to be.

Here’s The Thing About That Bakery That Won’t Serve A Gay Couple…. | The American Jesus

Which is why this story of a bakery that won’t serve gay couples is really just symptomatic of a deeper problem that nearly all of us in the church suffer from – a lack of real, genuine, embodied love.

More often than not, love for enemies has become something we merely affirm intellectually, not something we actually incarnate with our lives.

Worse yet, many of us in the church are embracing this sort of us vs. them mentality as a bizarre form of persecution in which the response of the faithful must be to fight the enemy so the church can remain pure.

via Here’s The Thing About That Bakery That Won’t Serve A Gay Couple…. | The American Jesus.

Leveling Up

Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets.

I realize that a typical reader primarily thinks of Frost’s poetry in one of two examples: “that poem about the guy who stopped his horse in the woods during a snowstorm for no real reason, but he has miles to go before he can sleep, and I guess he eventually gets there?” and “that poem about life has two roads and you pick one that nobody else is on because that’s better in the end.”

Yes, we’re talking about that Frost.  You should read more of him.  (If you had me for American Lit, you’d better also be thinking of him as the guy who wrote “the poem about the couple having a fight after their baby died” and “that poem about fences and neighbors.”)

However, in a move that is sure to ding my English teacher street cred, I’m going to settle into a line from “Road Not Taken.”   Despite the poem’s almost nauseating status as an American favorite, I love the simplicity of its language wrapped around a thought worth thinking.

“And sorry I could not travel both / and be one traveler” 

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way / I doubted if I should ever come back.”

The laws of time and space oppose our attempts to write a multiverse edition of our biography. Choosing one pathway closes off many others, and the “what if?”s of life and autobiography enter a realm that only the foolish dare explore.

Random fact: Randall Thompson (a composer) set a bunch of Frost pieces to music. So if you prefer your poetry as song….

*****
Ever played an RPG?

No, not rocket propelled grenade… though I think it would be fun to take one of those out for a spin.

A role playing game.  You know — Final Fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons (tabletop or online), World of Warcraft, Skyim, Fable, Mass Effect.  You run about usually somewhat in charge of your virtual life, kicking up dust and fighting people/things ….unless you’re one of those crafter people who have to figure out every alchemy skill, thus requiring a lot of flower-picking in The Elder Scrolls.  *raises hand sheepishly*

These games offer amazing opportunities for interactive story creation — your power as player trumps the ability of a passive reader or watcher as your choices (and failures) affect the outcome of the tale.

Oh wait, that sounds kind of like life.   [Yes.  Yes it does. If life had big-ass swords and dragons.  Or big guns and aliens.]

And what’s an RPG without a skill tree to guide your character’s development? [Aside: Check out some amazing skill tree art.]

Since I’m playing Mass Effect 3 (again) right now (saying goodbye to one of the best story cycles I’ve ever encountered), here’s the ME3 skill tree:

So many choices. Except who uses frag grenades?
So many choices. Except who uses frag grenades?

Those binary choices in the later part of the game (right-hand side of the image) start to feel weighty. You can just tell – that imperceptible gut feeling housed in your belly and honed by  years of RPG experience – that the story is racing up its Freytag’s pyramid toward the crisis point, that moment where as a game player you cross The Point of No Return toward The Final Battle(s).

And if you didn’t make the right picks along the way, level up a few key skills, those final boss battles will lead you only to controller-hurling frustration.

So choose carefully, player. You don’t want to backtrack several hours of play just to make the game winnable.

*****
Ecclesiastes is an unusual book. A lot of people claim to like it but really they don’t know what to do with it.  Vanity and emptiness and all that.

“Isn’t that the book where Solomon complains he’s too rich, too sexed, too married, too well-fed, and too likely to die?”  Well, um, you’ve got a bit of it.

Everything ends. Nothing lasts – nothing our hands can touch.

God put that gaping infinite maw into the very core of our hearts so we cannot forget that this life isn’t all there is. It can’t be. And that puts a lot of things into perspective. For example, the Preacher notes a couple times that it’s good for a man (or woman) to eat his food, drink his wine, and enjoy his work.  Not in a “there’s nothing else!” reckless abandon way, but in a “this is all passing away too so let’s not get really uptight about dying with the most toys” sense.

There’s an interesting contrast at the end of chapter 11 heading into chapter 12. Many folks have heard 12:1, where Solomon warns young people to “remember their Creator” when they’re young, not wait till they’re old and decrepit and creaky to regret  all the stupidity they wasted their lives on.

But there’s something pretty cool if you back up a bit into chapter 11 to catch the whole context. Solomon tells young people to walk in the ways of their heart, in the sight of their eyes — under the realization that God will call that to account too. Go. Live. Stop looking back over your shoulder.

What gives youth its cheer?  Is it the spry body, the slim figure, the glow of young pores?

No.  It’s the choices.

What Frost understood, what RPG tech trees illustrate better than I’d realized, is that youth offers choice.  Rowdy, intoxicating freedom to muck it all up.

Do I become a doctor or a teacher?  A librarian or a marketer?  Do I pour more energy into learning the piano or branch out into graphic design? What about that quiet dream of doing some stage work now and then?

Master’s degree? More than one? Graduate school?

Kids now or have kids later?

Ecclesiastes says, “Follow your heart” — his way of saying, Look at what you’re wired to do; follow the paths your feet find comfortable. Stop worrying about it…. But remember – you’ll give account for why you “took the one less traveled by.”  Or decided the beaten path was good enough.

****
I’ve gotten to the age where I’ve stopped telling you how old I am. 🙂

My tech tree is getting into the mid-game stage where I can’t just pop skill points like candy to open up new pathways. This train is chugging down a particular pathway, and it would cost a lot of fuel and time and energy to change its course.

I’m tempted – I really am – by the “what if” questions that prod me to consider how life would be now if I had gone elsewhere to college, had studied something else, had chosen to work in some other field.

But I appreciate the stability of  understanding where I fit. Of owning my own calling, mistakes and all, and setting eyes on goals that only now begin to come into focus.