“Why” or “Can We Afford to Chew”: An impression from Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted

The Last Thing He WantedI could list many books that have made an impression on me; several of them written by Joan Didion. But one book by Didion took me by surprise. It started as an easy read for escapism but as the pages turned it impressed upon my soul a feeling – a weight, a haunt, even – that still resonates months after I returned the completed book to the shelf. The Last Thing He Wanted is a political mystery/thriller – not a genre I’m typically drawn to. It’s neither my favorite nor the most revered of Didion’s works.  It was an enjoyable enough read, a refreshing change of pace for me, and reflects Didion’s gift of straightforward yet soulful, staccato storytelling. Yet Didion weaves into her erratic mystery the riveting theme of “why”. The impenetrable question that drives so much of our reflection and life. Why? What led to this? How did this come to be? What parts of my long, sordid history brought me to this point, right here and right now? Motivated me to this action? And most of all, Didion asks, does it even matter?

A character in the novel, while considering omitting from her autobiography the death of her childhood best friend, says: “Because it didn’t actually change my life. I mean I cried, I was sad, I wrote a lot about it in my diary, yes, but what changed?”

The character’s mother (the book’s narrator) reflects in response, “I recall explaining that ‘change’ was merely the convention at hand: I said that while it was true that the telling of a life tended to falsify it, gave it a form it did not intrinsically possess, this was just a fact of writing things down, something we all accepted. I realized as I was saying this that I no longer did.”

The narrator continues, after a tangent, “The business of Elena McMahon, then, is hard for me. 
This business of what ‘changed’ her, what ‘motivated’ her, what made her do it.” 

That business is hard for me, too. 
I’ve spent many long nights and foggy journaling mornings searching for that answer, sure that such shed light would revolutionize my life, convinced that such an answer was the key to unlock my moving forward. Stagnant without it. Struggling, swimming, sinking even, as I tread water on that question of why, what changes me, what motivates.

How did I get here? How did I become who I am? What made me into whatever this I that I have become?

Finding that answer would certainly propel me forward, part the waters, be the wave to crash me onto the shore. For even that kind of movement would be going somewhere. It would get me to land. 

As the novel progresses, the narrator reflects on another character, “Treat Morrison himself appeared to have no interest in examining what I am distressed to notice I was choosing to call ‘his formative years.’
…Treat Morrison said nothing for a moment. ‘A lot of people get some big mystical kick out of chewing over things that happened forty, forty-five years ago,’ he said the,. ‘Little sad stories about being misunderstood by their mother or getting snubbed at school or whatever. I’m not saying it’s self-indulgent or self-pitying or any other damn thing. I’m just saying I can’t afford it. So I don’t do it.”

Didion spent 140 pages meandering around the question of “why?” – begging it and making me beg for it, not for the character as much as for myself, my own formidable, formative years – just to throw it out with the dismissive words of an esoteric, elusive cog.

And yet a brilliant cog. Whose statement, while framed in avoidance, actually speaks depths.

I know that “mystical kick” all too well and the vicious cycle of degradations it can lead one on. I know that “chewing over things that happened” and the inevitable jaw ache that follows, bringing no satisfaction to the craving nor soul-thirsting hunger. And I know that the answer to the question “Why?” will not wrap up a story with happy endings nor bring resolution. Because I know that the answer may never come, nor even exist.

And so, Treat Morrison, of all the impotent and uninspiring characters to exist, you have inspired. You have left an impression that this waxen heart desperately craved. You have planted a question that has overgrown and replaced the age-old, endlessly nagging adage of “Why?” with the transformative catharsis of, “Can I afford to contemplate it?”

And with that question comes an answer. A short, simple answer at that. No.

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Filed under Essay, Literature, Original Writing

To the Moms Who Haven’t Gotten Their Act Together Yet

Dear Mother-in-the-park-with-your-eyes-on-your-phone-and-not-on-your-child,
Haven’t you read the articles and blog posts about the importance of giving your full attention to your child and not to a lifeless electronic object? The ones about how much your child needs your active presence and not your passive oversight? The ones about your child’s precious personality and how that child thrives on your interaction which you deprive them of when you  interact with your phone instead? What about the ones about the brevity of their youth and liveliness and how you better take advantage of all the moments now before they are gone forever?

I’ve read them. Several of them in the past year. They’ve been so inspiring.
And so guilt-inducing. They made me self-conscious every time I pulled out my phone when I was in public with my children.

But I know where you’re at. I’m there too. And I don’t think it’s wrong.


Looking at your phone instead of your child may not be the best thing you can do to nurture your child in that moment but it may be the only thing you can do in that moment.

It may be that you’re adding a reminder to your never-ending to-do-list that would otherwise vanish into the vast emptiness of your “memory” if you didn’t add it in those few seconds.

It’s quite possible that you’re Googling sleep-solutions because it’s the only way you can keep your eyelids pried open so that you don’t collapse onto the park bench and get mistaken for a bum (especially with all the baggage it takes to get from the house to the park with a couple of kids).

Or maybe you’re Pinning recipes, trying to find the one recipe you can make work for dinner tonight, using the hodge-podge of groceries left in the fridge between shopping trips.

You could be texting your husband (first chance to do so today!) to check in on his day (or if it’s been a really rough morning, to desperately check his ETA this evening).

Or maybe you do look like you’re semi-interacting with your child, because you’re snapping their picture to upload to Instagram.
How else are you going to let extended family know you still exist, since you don’t have time to answer their phone calls?

God-forbid you’re on Facebook catching up with friends. You’re already on a “play-date” with your mom-friends, aren’t you?!
…Let me just say, if you still think a play-date is opportunity for quality adult social interaction, you obviously don’t have young kids. Facebook may just be our only adult social interaction this week.

The fact of the matter is, sitting on that park bench, phone in hand, the screen’s warm rays glowing in your face, may just be the only five minutes of (relative) peace and quiet you get before bedtime. (Nap time isn’t what they promise you. Despite all the well-wishing older women who encourage you to use that time to “nap” yourself, you know that if you actually did, the household really, truly would finally collapse from utter neglect.)

That five minutes, inbetween breaking up a squabble over who gets what swing and kissing the owie acquired by falling off said swing, may just be the only moment you get to mentally and emotionally recharge (especially for those of us who are naturally introverts) before diving back into the carousel of motherhood with it’s incessant demands for not just mental attentiveness and physical exertion but also emotional outpouring, so much so that you begin to wonder who cries more: you or the baby.

IMAG5064bMoms, you are the mender, the healer, the carer, the giver, the supporter, the cheerleader, you name it. Your child knows that. Five minutes on your phone is not going to change your child’s perspective of you. It’s not going to damage your relationship with them. It’s not going to stunt their development. It IS  going to reassure them that you are there and that you do prioritize them because you DO put down your phone when your child needs you (or a band-aid, or a juice-box, or a potty-break). You DO look up at them when they call for your attention as they hang upside-down on the monkey-bars for the hundredth time that day. You DO allow your brain to overflow and  become immensely scattered as you respond to every demand from every direction, (often via your phone): home, church, job, family, friends, and of course, those sweet, sweet children.

And you know what else? You DO take that five minutes to disappear into the land of Smart-Phonia (and, yes, even Social Media), to unwind, to reset. You take that breather so that when the bell rings, you can dive back into the game with as much gusto as ever. You know your limits and you do what it takes to not surpass those limits so that you can continue be the giving, caring, active parent that you need to be. And you pray. You beg for grace. You join arms (often electronically) with the other mothers out there on their knees, thankful when you’ve made it through one more day, when you’ve advanced your child one day further into this crazy adventure called life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting all those articles out there encouraging you to get off your phone so you can be a more active and  involved parent. I think they provide an immensely valuable reminder of how priceless the role and responsibilities of a parent are. I have been sincerely inspired and challenged by them to sacrifice myself even more to be as much of a parent as I can be, by God’s strength and grace.

But I wanted to make sure you know there’s validity to the other side of the story. There’s validity to using your phone, even as an occasional escape, even in the presence of your children.
Now, let’s not use that to justify laziness or selfishness BUT let’s use it to become stronger women, more gracious to our children, and more compassionate to our fellow mom. Let’s recharge, let’s plan our meals, let’s build and fulfill our to-do lists but let’s also not neglect our true source of power and peace because Facebook and even parenting forums cannot provide the wisdom and grace parenting requires.

Let me remind you as I remind myself that five minutes of Scripture reading, meditating, and prayer can give us so much more than any Instagram update. It’s okay to let our children see us on the phone. But it’s empowering (to us and to them) to let our children see us pray.




Filed under Children, Christian Living

My Birth Story: Juniper

Like all good stories, this one begins a long time ago; particularly, during my first pregnancy. I had heard enough advocacy for natural childbirth throughout my life to be slightly suspicious of the typical hospital method of birth. So before I delved into the experience myself, I spent a good amount of time researching birthing options. It started with watching the documentary The Business of Being Born and then borrowing from the library the book by the same authors, Your Best Birth. I also borrowed and read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Two other books that I bought and found very helpful were The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Active Birth. I realized a little too late that I probably read TOO much. I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want but then it was a matter of what was actually plausible and possible for us to pursue. I was disappointed to find we had no local birthing centers. I was hesitant to deliver my first child at home, without any idea of what to expect. But most decidedly, our insurance wouldn’t cover any portion of a home birth, but – go figure – would almost completely cover a (much more expensive) hospital birth.

So I did what I had to do: wrote out a very thorough birth plan and labored at home as long as I could before heading to the hospital. Altogether I labored for 10 hours, six in the hospital. The on-call doctor was actually fairly supportive of my birth plan and the nurses were nice enough. The experience wasn’t horrible. I tried to move around and walk when I could but did spend most of the time in the hospital laboring (and pushing) on my back. I was about 90% sure I was going to die (or at least would prefer to die) during transition, all of which I spent curled up in fetal position myself. Even though I had requested to tear naturally instead of receive an episiotomy, my doctor talked me into one at the last minute, literally in-between pushes. I wasn’t quite in the position to resist. So instead of precious moments bonding with my baby right after birth, I had to cringe through who-knows-how-many stitches.

d-mombaby2All in all, it was enough to make me want something different the second time around. And thankfully, my husband’s new job meant new insurance – one that would cover a portion of home birth! (Also one with a high deductible that we would have to pay anyway – might as well pay it to a model of care I felt supportive of!)

This change happened a third of the way through my pregnancy so I got in touch with LB, a local midwife who came highly recommended from a good friend, home birth advocate, and doula-in-training J (who will also come into the story later). Everything seemed to indicate I was a good candidate for homebirth. The only hesitation was that LB would be out of state for a training conference early in the month that I was due. Since I wasn’t due until the 18th and had that date fairly well confirmed by an early ultrasound, we thought we would be safe. My first baby came a day after her due date and LB was due to return with almost a week and a half to spare if this baby came on time. Just in case, another local midwife JB would be on call if anything happened while LB was gone. So we went ahead and pursued prenatal care with LB.

With all that prefacing, I’m sure you can imagine where this story is headed. I met with LB on a typical prenatal care schedule but the tone and atmosphere was completely different than the sterile, impersonal doctor’s office. She came to my home, often bringing along her own baby. The visits were warm and friendly, making it easy to ask plenty of questions and to feel well informed. Instead of getting curt, matter-of-fact answers that I often got from the medical system, LB gave thorough explanations, sharing her deep knowledge and understanding of the entire pregnancy and birth process.  I met with LB a day before she left town and everything was progressing well. I promised, jokingly, that I wouldn’t take any long walks or do anything else that might spur on labor. I could tell my body was gradually progressing towards labor, with the usual surge in nesting and whatnot, but nothing told me it was urgently impending. I figured I still had a good week or two which would give LB plenty of time to return.

photo(3)On Thursday (my 38 week point!) I entertained the idea of skipping the women’s Bible study I attend just because I was tired. But I knew it could be one of my last to attend, so I went and felt fine. Friday morning I woke up feeling mostly rested, until after breakfast at which point I crashed on the couch and didn’t move for the next hour. Thank goodness for Blue’s Clues to entertain my two year old until my husband conveniently had a mid-morning break from work. I even looked up if sudden exhaustion was a symptom of the onset of labor. Of course it was, but no more so than any of the other symptoms that could put you either hours or weeks away from baby. On Saturday I took another substantial nap within hours of waking up. It was refreshing so in the afternoon the husband took me and Cailyn out for frozen yogurt. We walked around a bit, including through the grocery store – I love that hunch that told me to go ahead and get two gallons of milk as well as a few other groceries we were low on. Throughout the day I had been feeling more Braxton Hicks than usual but I attributed that to the walking I had done. They weren’t necessarily more intense, just more frequent.

To switch to a slightly more graphic mode, on Saturday I had also noticed an increase in cervical mucus, including streaks of red. But again, I knew that didn’t guarantee anything immediate. By the end of the day I had lost several small pieces of what must have been my mucus plug. I got excited but still assumed labor was several days off. The several days it would take LB to return, of course.

Saturday night I stayed up until 11pm. I had discovered during the last week that the later I stayed up, the easier it was to stay asleep through the night. Sam was still up in the living room. Soon after I lay down in bed, I felt a few Braxton Hicks. Or so I assumed. I felt them in my abdomen and not my back and didn’t feel the telltale rising and peaking of a real contraction. But after feeling a handful of them within 45 minutes, I thought it might be worth timing them. I was quickly surprised to find the contractions coming every five minutes or so. Then I got a handful of contractions coming every two minutes. By then they started feeling like real contractions, building in intensity before fading again. They were only lasting 20-30 seconds at that point, and weren’t quite stopping me in my tracks, but the fact that they were there still caught me by surprise. By 12:15am, I went and told Sam and as he got over the initial stun, I fumbled around about what to do next.

Part of me was still hesitant to believe that labor was starting. With Cailyn, I remember several nights of sporadic contractions before real labor started. I was hoping that could be the case here, but went ahead and called JB, our back-up midwife, to let her know what was going on and to hopefully get some feedback on what I should do next. I was immediately comforted by her warm, friendly voice. She carefully listened to me describe my contractions. And then with a slightly nervous chuckle she told me she was already on the way to another birth. Imagine both of our surprise! She still gave me 100% attention on the phone though, walking me through a number of questions and giving appropriate advice. Based on my descriptions of the contractions, she thought they were still sporadic enough that active labor may be a way off. She suggested several things to try to slow labor progress so she could hopefully attend her first birth and then make it to me in time, telling me to contact her in the meantime if anything changed.

I got off the phone with her around 12:30pm and I followed her first suggestions by filling up the bath tub with warm water while Sam made me a cup of hot tea. Sam then asked if he should start setting up the birth pool we had rented. My first reaction was that it was too soon to be bothering with that, but I then realized there was nothing we were waiting on. He left me in the bathroom to soak and time my contractions and went to work on the pool in the other room.

Starting to consider that it was quite possible JB might not make it in time, I called friend/doula J who had already offered/agreed to attend our birth. Thankfully she was already awake and functions well as a night owl. She talked to me for a few minutes and said she would come over when I wanted her to. Of course, still (wishfully) thinking I had plenty of time, I told her I would let her know when that was.

Soaking in the bath did help with relaxation. The contractions had begun to pick up intensity before I got in the tub but once in the water, it was easier to get through them. I continued to time the contractions. It gave me something to focus on to get through them. I tried to balance fighting off the creeping intimidation and fear of possibly giving birth without a midwife there, while also holding onto it somewhat, knowing (and hoping) that fear could slow and inhibit labor. But in my case, contractions kept coming consistently every two minutes, lasting about 30 to 40 seconds, gradually longer. JB had said that they should be hitting at least 40 seconds to make significant progress so I tried to hold off for 30 minutes of consistency at that level before updating her, but I caved just short of that and texted her around 1:30am. She asked if they felt strong. At 1:36am I replied saying yes, they were significantly painful. And painful they were.

Originally the water had helped toned down the pain but it had gotten to the point that the water didn’t seem to make a difference.  I began feeling the contractions much more in my back to the point that I couldn’t just recline in the water.  Also to the point that I couldn’t stay silent. What started as mild moaning to get through the peak of the contractions turned, within a few contractions, to not being able to hold back a yell. This was right after I had texted JB and it sent Sam running to the bathroom (yes, he had still been dutifully setting up and filling the pool for me; and yes, I had still been anticipating transferring from the cramped, shallow tub to a real soaker.) I couldn’t say much to Sam at that point, except that it hurt.

Based on the timeframe and the pace of my contractions, I had estimated I was maybe halfway progressed. And that thought was almost unbearable. The pain was coming in such strong waves that I couldn’t fathom bearing it for several more hours or even several more minutes. I started thinking that the only option might be to call 911 and maybe make it to the hospital where I could cave to an epidural. An intense pressure built up within me. It released suddenly with a BM and simultaneously a gush of fluid. The former was obvious and easy to acknowledge (sorry for the TMI, but this is a birth story), the latter took me a moment to process–my water had broken! Maybe I was closer to delivery than I thought! But a moment was all it took because within seconds of that I was crowning.

I’m not sure quite my words or tone, but I immediately let Sam know and he dialed JB right away. Before he could even get her on the line and before I could get beyond the quick thought that I needed to try to push slowly so I could avoid tearing, her head was out. Her head was OUT. Suddenly all the pain and intensity was gone. Time seemed to freeze. I suddenly couldn’t remember what I should do next. I knew I had to wait for the next contraction to deliver her shoulders but the minute that it took for that contraction to come seemed to last forever. During that time JB was on the phone talking Sam through what to do. I remember asking Sam to ask JB if it was okay that the baby’s head was under water. Of course I knew it was safe for a baby to be born in water; I had even planned for it. But something about the suddenness of her arrival and the reality of it happening here and now threw me off guard. But then that one quick push came and she came all the way out. It was 1:40am: two and a half hours since my first contractions and two and half minutes since the contractions reached such intensity I thought I wouldn’t make it (which should’ve told me that it was time to deliver).

I pulled her up to my chest, just like that. I held her tight for just a moment before pulling her back to look at her face and to check that she was breathing. (She was!) In the meantime, JB had told Sam to call a third local midwife, LC, who could come quicker than she would be able to. But because of the suddenness of it all, she also suggested we call 911 as they could arrive faster to make sure everything was ok.

Sam did call 911 and the dispatcher walked him through a few more steps to make sure the baby was breathing clearly and such. The firemen arrived pretty quickly and before they did I had delivered the placenta and Sam had clamped the umbilical cord. I had also managed to send a text to J and my MIL to come because the baby was here. J arrived soon after the firemen and was a perfect balance of calming and controlling presence, especially in contrast to the firemen (God bless their souls) whose big, burly presence didn’t quite fit the atmosphere. They did provide Sam with a scalpel so he could cut the cord. Then the EMT arrived and asked what hospital I wanted to be taken to. When I said I planned to give birth at home and didn’t want to be taken to the hospital if I didn’t need to be, she gave me a blank stare before saying she needed to check what to do because she had never responded to a home delivery that didn’t want to be taken to the hospital. (All we had to do was sign a waiver). Another nice EMT checked my vitals.

junisfirstphotoIn the midst of this, Juniper latched on and started her first feeding. I also remembered to check to make sure she really was a girl and in-between various interruptions to look over and discover that she had all her fingers and toes and that she really was quite perfect. She had surprisingly thick, dark hair (I was expecting another baldy), dark blue eyes, a clear complexion, and a round little head. Debates are still out on who she most resembles.

In the hustle and bustle, Cailyn had also woken up and got to come in and see me and meet Juniper (after we had gotten cleaned up a little bit). She was half asleep and as stunned as the rest of it, but handled it impressively, catching on right away that her new baby sister had finally come and being sincerely happy about it. My in laws also arrived and took part in the excitement before taking Cailyn home to stay the rest of the night with them. And pretty soon the emergency responders all trickled out while J stayed to help Sam take care of baby and me.

J and Sam helped me back to bed and by that time LC, the third (and final!) midwife arrived. Even though I hadn’t met her before and my first contact with her was a middle-of -the-night phone call (after she had just attended two births in the past day), she was as sweet and as helpful as could be. She checked me over, especially because the walk back to bed had caused me to get light headed and almost pass out. She was a little concerned about my blood pressure and pulse but after having me recline and breathe deeply, they improved. She did conclude that I had lost a good amount of blood but nothing that bed rest and some chlorophyll couldn’t fix. I had also torn but mildly compared to before and not enough to warrant stitches (yay!).

P1070470LC also examined Juniper and found her to be in great shape. She weighed in at seven pounds, five ounces (compared to Cailyn’s eight pounds eleven ounces!) and 20 inches long. J stuck around to help her and was so dear to make sure everything got cleaned up. Sometime after 4am everyone had left and Sam and I settled into bed (our own cozy bed!) with the sweetest little baby in-between us and just stared at each other in disbelief.

P1070482All the times and all the ways I had imagined our birth possibly going, I had never imagined anything like this. And as shocking and almost traumatic as it was, I really don’t know if I would have it any other way. I was SO thankful for the midwives’ help, even if from afar or after awhile. LC came back and checked in on us the next day. And LM visited and checked in on us upon her return from out of state and again a few days after that.  I can only imagine how great it would’ve been to have one of them, especially our original midwife LM, present during the labor and delivery but there was also something empowering about getting through it with just Sam by my side. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I would plan for my next birth alone! But experiencing first hand that “birth works” is something else. Between instinct and education I had become convinced that natural birth was the way to go. But knowing it is nothing compared to doing it. And ultimately I am so thankful to God that I was able to do it, have my husband by my side, and most of all able to come out of it holding a healthy, beautiful little girl and having health myself.


First Family Picture, a couple hours after birth.


Filed under Children, Family

DIY Frosted Animal Cookies Tutorial

Hello blogging world. I know I’ve been gone a pathetically long time. I have no excuse other than life being busy. Or me being lazy. Or both.

Believe it or not, I did start composing a handful of posts just to get interrupted and then not come back and finish them. And I’ve had ideas for many more posts that never got started. It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything. I’m actually in the midst a sewing streak right now – the longest I’ve had in years! If I work my way back to try to cover some of the interesting/creative things I’ve done over the past few months, I could have content for weeks! But that’s a big “if.”
As much as I like writing and as much as I like crafting, it can be counter-intuitive for me to try to write about crafting. Because then I’m spending time writing instead of crafting and vice verse or something. But enough of my sad story.

Here is a quick project I was thrilled to stumble upon.

I love me some Mother’s Circus Animal Cookies. There’s something so perfect about the frosting, the soft cookie inside, the SPRINKLES outside. Mmmmm! But they get pricey when added to the weekly grocery budget.

What isn’t so pricey is the drab, boring, frosting-less, sprinkle-less animal crackers. I have a HUGE bear-shaped tub that Cailyn is currently (and quickly!) working her way through.

It occurred to me that even though the plain version is called a cracker, it’s probably the same thing as the inside of the Circus Animal Cookies.

THAT insight joined a long-overdue lightbulb that goes waaay back to November when I helped my MIL make cupcakes for my SIL’s baby shower. The cupcakes we made came from the book What’s New, Cupcake? by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson which contains some of the cutest, most creative cupcakes I’ve ever seen. We made the cupcakes called “Shower Heads” which is such a clever play on baby showers.


(Picture snipped from Amazon’s book preview, to show them in their full glory, and because I can’t find the pictures I took of the ones we made.)

They are simply mini-cupcakes with wafer cookies on top to make the faces. As you can see, the wafer cookies have a smooth coating which I thought would be chocolate. BUT IT ISN’T! No, not at all. The amazingly smooth, creamy coating for the faces is FROSTING. Just plain-ole, store-bought, in-a-jar frosting!

When I heard that I almost gave up hope. I’m not at all a cake artist and I definitely can’t manage frosting. If I get it on the cupcake (and not in my mouth by the spoonful) that’s an accomplishment. Forget trying to make it smooth!

But let me tell you a secret: This was the EASIEST thing EVER. It took a little practice to not make a mess but as far as making it smooth – no effort!

Want to know how? I’ll tell you!

But, I’ve taken a detour from my original topic. Although I’m hoping you have guessed where this goes. The brilliant method I discovered back in November for making cute little edible baby faces could, get this(!), make ANIMAL COOKIES!

So I took a couple big handfuls of the plain, boring animal crackers out of my daughter’s tub. (She loves them, by the way. But she doesn’t know better, yet.)
I took a large sheet of wax paper spread over a plate.
I took my jar of store-bought frosting.
And, of course, my fun, colorful sprinkles.

I scooped a few generous spoonfuls of frosting into a microwave-safe bowl. And… I microwaved it! For all of 5 seconds. And then another few seconds at a time until it was smooth.

See? You know it’s ready when it’s the texture of melted chocolate. And yes, that’s a cookie hiding in there.
(You’ll have to forgive me for the pictures. The project went so fast I only got some pictures when I was almost finished with it.)

Then you take a regular dinner or salad fork and use it to dip the cookie in the frosting. If your frosting is deep enough in the bowl, you can just dip the cracker in on the fork and pull it all out, nicely coated. If you’re reaching the bottom of your bowl, like I was, you can flip the cracker over a couple times until it’s coated.

Then – this is important – take advantage of the slots in the fork and let plenty of the runny, goey frosting drip off. Even rub the bottom of the cracker against the side of the bowl, to get rid of excess. Believe me, the cracker will still have plenty of frosting on it. If you leave too much, the frosting will form a big puddle under your cracker when you set it down.

Then just slide the crackers  (crackers? I should start calling them cookies now that they officially have more sugar than nutrients) off the fork and onto the wax paper. Gravity will do most of the work for you.

Keep dipping cookie and sliding them onto the wax paper until you have enough to make you happy. And I’m sure you can be a lot more careful and precise and make your animal cookies look a lot prettier, but I have an bad habit of racing sloppily through a project to get to the end results (a tasty cookie, in this case.)

If your frosting starts to loose its smoothness or gets difficult to work with, just pop it in the microwave again. Unlike can happen with chocolate, I never noticed any detriment to my frosting when I re-microwaved it. I guess the time is so short (again, just 5 seconds!) that you aren’t coming close to burning it.

Then give the dipped crackers a few minutes for the frosting to set and sprinkle with multi-colored (or your favorite colored) sprinkles. The traditional nonpareils do the trick.

I found that when I sprinkled too soon, the sprinkles would sink down into the frosting after a while. It didn’t affect the taste at all, but they didn’t look quite as pleasant as when the sprinkles rested on top of the frosting a little bit. So test it out to find the right timing to let the frosting set without letting it get so solid that sprinkles won’t stick. And if you’re making a large batch of cookies, take a couple breaks in between dipping to sprinkle.

Another trick I found is that when I set the cookie on wax paper that already had sprinkles spilled all over it, the sprinkles stuck to the bottom of the cookie and actually gave it a nice resting place that kept the frosting from oozing out around the cookie as much.

Once you’ve finished these unbelievably simple steps, you’ll want to dig right in. (Cailyn obviously did.) So go ahead. But popping them in the fridge for a few hours definitely helps them set! The longer they were in the fridge (12+ hours) the more the frosting hardened  so the texture became like that of the Circus Animal Cookies. Until then, they tasted wonderful but there was a distinct difference from the store-bought kind. The homemade ones were.. moister? They were pretty much like frosting on cookies (and who would argue with that?!) But giving them that time to set allowed the frosting to become a little more candy-coating like, as you expect from the store-bought variety. If that makes sense?

Anyway, the only way they lasted the 12+ hours is because I wanted to test the time they needed to set. I think I snuck one (or more) every hour. It was just the right amount to feed my sweet-tooth. (Okay, who am I kidding? I could’ve eaten 50 of them without blinking an eye.)

Cailyn thought they were pretty exciting, once I let her at ’em. I only let her have a few because I didn’t want her to get smart and start rejecting the frosting-free animal crackers (and because I obviously ate the rest of the frosted ones.) But she certainly enjoyed them!


March 30, 2012 · 8:25 pm

Why Calvinism is Confusing and Where Logic Comes In

Calvinism… Five Points… TULIP: these terms go far to clarify a doctrine to those who see and believe it. But to those who don’t see or believe it, or don’t know or understand the doctrine, these terms can muddle it all the more.

What I’ve come to greatly prefer are the terms (granted, translations) that Scripture itself uses to describe the doctrine in question: Election and Predestination.

According to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary the words can be defined as follows:

Elect: select; by implication favorite: – chosen, elect.  (G1588)

Predestine: to limit in advance, that is, (figuratively) predetermine: – determine before, ordain, predestinate. (G4309)

The definitions are fairly straightforward. There are also similar terms, such as foreknew, choose/chosen, and called.

In the few discussions/debates I’ve had on the topic, it seems easy for people to say “I don’t agree with Calvinism” or “I don’t believe in the five points.” Honestly, that’s all fair and good. But what I don’t hear as often or don’t see people quick to say is, “I disagree with election” or “I don’t believe in predestination.”

Why? Because Scripture itself uses and teaches those terms.
Elect is used an upwards of 20 times.
Predestine is used at least seven times.
Foreknew/foreknowledge is used another handful of times.
And that doesn’t count the numerous uses of chosen and called that relate to this doctrine, (or other variations that I didn’t think of or come across in my five minute word study.)

While the doctrines of election and predestination haven’t always been crystal clear to me and I have at times been stumped by arguments from opposing views, the evidence in Scripture is undeniable. And even beyond the evidence, the logic of these doctrines has become overwhelming obvious to me.

In church this morning, I was listening to the powerfully convicting hymn “All I Have is Christ” (Jordan Kauflin/Sovereign Grace Music).
The line that stuck with me was, “And if You had not loved me first, I would refuse You still.”

The line draws obvious inspiration from 1 John 4: 10 & 19: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins… We love because he first loved us.

At the heart of that line (and those verses) is the doctrine of man’s utter depravity. I believe a true Christian would be hard-pressed to deny utter depravity. It’s foundational to the teaching of the gospel and the acceptance thereof. (See also: Romans 3:9-12; 23. Romans 8:7-8. Job 15:14-16. Mark 10:18. 1 John 1:8-10.)

With man’s utter depravity in mind, particularly the following aspects: “No one seeks God” (Rom 3:11) and “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7), there seems but one logical conclusion to make. Since we couldn’t seek God, God first sought us. And (returning to 1 John 4) since we couldn’t love, God first loved us.

In other words, the necessary conclusion of utter depravity is that God initiated (and continues to initiate) all aspects of salvation, including what initially drew us to Christ.

I think (hope) most everyone would agree with that.
The slight step beyond that then, is that if God initiated salvation by loving us, making that love know to us, calling us, and opening our heart to submit to Him, then He would see it through to salvation. That’s the “I” of Calvin’s TULIP: Irresistible Grace, FYI. And I suspect that’s one of the most logically challenging parts of the doctrine for many people to “accept”: that if God calls us/chose us/opened our hearts to Him, we won’t be able to resist that but will (eventually) respond with saving faith.

While it doesn’t coincide with our own perception of free will, based on the doctrines revealed in Scripture, irresistible grace is not only (mysteriously) consistent with free will, but also the logical conclusion to utter depravity and God’s initiative in salvation.

But it’s not just logic! It’s written throughout Scripture. The most commonly referenced passage to explain that is probably Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

But there are others:
John 6:37 & 44: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

Ephesians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

… And that’s not even getting into the whole discussion of the sufficiency of God’s calling!

The other major issue most hold with the doctrine of election and predestination is not a new one. As a matter of fact, it was addressed in Scripture when the doctrine was originally being explained, that is, the issue of, “Is it FAIR?”

Is it FAIR for God to chose some to believe, which implies He must chose some NOT to believe?
Is it fair for God to elect some to eternal salvation while in the same hand sentencing others to eternal damnation?

It may not settle well with our consciences, initially, but I’ll let Scripture speak for itself:

Romans 9:10-24: “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls–  she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” [Emphasis added.]

So my final question is, again of logic, would be why is almost an entire chapter of Scripture devoted to justifying a doctrine if that doctrine doesn’t exist?

…And regardless of any impressions or actual interactions/experiences gathered from historical or current “Calvinists” or “Reformed Christians” or whatever they may be called, this doctrine is the most liberating doctrine and the ultimate expression of grace.
It really is best summed up as Doctrines of Grace because it depends on nothing more. Nothing I do. Nothing you do. No qualities of my own that could earn His favor. No move in my own heart to choose God. No attempt of my own to seek Him. It leaves no room for pride, arrogance, or even legalism, despite our own bent towards those.
On the contrary, I am saved by God’s mercy alone, from the midst of my wretched depravity, “as I ran my hell-bound race” (in the words of the previously quoted hymn by Kauflin.)

And because I can’t say it any better, I’ll share the last verse and a quarter of said hymn:

You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You

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Life is But a Breath

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
– Joan Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking)

This past weekend brought a frightening reminder that life is fragile.

But also that God is in control and that God cares.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103: 2-5

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Five Favorites: Sufjan Stevens Songs

Sorry for skipping last Friday’s “Five Favorites.” We were out of town but my real excuse is that I couldn’t decide on a fifth favorite for the next list I had planned: Five Favorite Sufjan Stevens Songs.

I could listen to Sufjan Stevens over and over again. And we do. At home, in the car, and even all throughout Christmas season thanks to his FIVE Christmas albums: Songs for Christmas, which include covers of all the favorites and plenty of originals.

Christmas aside (Why am I thinking about Christmas? It’s May!), he’s released plenty of music that’s fitting all throughout the year. So much (nine albums!), that I’m not really sure why I’m attempting to narrow down my favorite songs into a list of five. But I am.

So here goes (in no particular order):

1. Heirloom (All Delighted People EP)
First of all, this EP might be my favorite album of his. Beautiful. An excellent way to return from his music-making hiatus. This song is so tenderly poignant. Sufjan has a way of communicating the rawness and often ravaging of relationships like no one else can, “And when your legs give out, just lie right down and I will kiss you till your breath is found.”

2. Pittsfield (The Avalanche)
This is probably my longest-time favorite. Even the brokenness of families can be relayed in a stunning way by Sufjan. He captures and recapitulates a glimmer of hope in this song, both in the subtle sleigh bell ringing and in the line: “You can work all of your life as I’m not afraid of you anymore.” I also love the line, “Things unspoken break us if we choose.”

3. The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us! (Come On Feel The Illinoise!)
This is an illustration of how even his song titles can be works of art. This song is another that reminesces on childhood. It has very hopeful -even exuberant- sound that captures the livelihood  and adventure of youth but it also has an solemn undertone that relays confusion, regret, and mourning. Again Sufjan touches on some of the darker aspects of life, intertwining the heights and depths of our experiences in a true-to-life form. This song portrays how even a child is affected by death and tragedy. “I cant explain the state that I’m in, the state of my heart, he was my best friend.”

4. Damascus (Outtakes & Rarities)
Out of curiosity, I just looked this song on SongMeanings.net and came across this fitting quote by “monkishtroy”: “Testament to how good Sufjan is– almost any other artist would consider this song one of their best works and feature it on their album, but Sufjan deemed this just a B-side. So cool.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. While this song has a blatant reference to the Biblical account of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, Sufjan seems to use that as more of an analogy and derives from it deep personal meaning. The desperate refrain, “It takes me back against the everglades, back against the out-of-state, this is the last place I go” rings in my head  for hours after the song ends.

5. Impossible Soul (The Age of Adz)
This song is off of Sufjan’s most recent album, in which he has developed his style. I didn’t find myself drawn to as many songs on this album but this one probably has the most allure to me. It retains more of his classic sound than many of the other songs. But at 25 minutes in length, it has a very orchestrated composition, while still maintaining his deeply emotive lyrics. Although most of Sufjan’s songs come across as strikingly personal, this one seems to touch on an especially sensitive area: “And all I couldn’t sing, I would say it all, my love, to you, if I could get you at all.” The song continues in a fashion that relays the conflicting emotions and conflicts that arise in a relationship under pursuit. Although it’s not always as “pretty” sounding as most of my other favorites, it is brutally honest in its attempt to relay the nature of relationships. My favorite line: “My beloved, you are the lover of my impossible soul.” And, of course, the hopeful refrain, “Boy, we can do much more together; it’s not so impossible.”

Bonus: Variation on ‘Commemorative Transiguration & Communion at Margruder Park’ (John Fahey cover)
I didn’t count this as one of my five, as it’s a cover. But it’s beautiful. Just listen to it. Musically it captures a lot of my favorite things about Sufjan’s sound. And it’s a lovely tribute to a classic hymn.


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