March 22, 2021

Goodbye, Old Friend

A friend of mine reminded me that this space still exists. I hadn't really forgotten, but I also hadn't really thought about it in a few years, either. 

And I feel like this belongs here. 


We had to say goodbye to Jeb last week. I promised SoldierMan I wouldn't write a 10 page eulogy, and that's not what this is. But the blog post telling the story of how we got the dogs is still on my "most popular post" list there on the side, which is wild to me. So this is for y'all - those of you who may still be around 😂 - you've been with us and the puppies since the beginning. Since before! Wow! 

For those who don't know, Jeb developed squamish cell carcinoma - skin cancer - inside his nostril. It's a non-metastasizing cancer, so unlike the cancer you're probably thinking of, it doesn't spread to internal organs and kill you itself. It's deforming and degenerative, but typically when a spot pops up, you just cut out that particular spot, and that's that, until a different spot pops up. Unfortunately, because Jeb's was inside his nose, that typically superficial procedure would become an invasive one. And even if we were inclined to spend $$$$ on a surgery to treat it, he was 10 years old, and there was every possibility that the treatment would be more harming than the disease.

So we put him on painkillers and tried to keep him as comfortable as we could. Honestly the worst part was that he didn't act sick, or old. He was still playful, full of energy, annoying Achilles like crazy because Jeb wanted constant togetherness. 

In the end, though, the cancer began to obstruct his airways too badly, and to cause chronic infections in his skin. I'll spare you the details. But even for a cheerful dog, it was not a great life. 

So last week, I took him to the vet and said goodbye. SoldierMan and the kiddo stayed home, because #covidthings, because we didn't want Achilles to be left alone, and because I just didn't want the kiddo there anyway. 

Jeb was my first dog, so this was a first time experience. And really it went as well as you could hope for - considering in the end, my dog died. But true to form, he sat holding my hand while we waited for the sedative to take effect, and he fell asleep smiling. 

Because of course he did.

All of that is my catharsis to bring Jeb's story to closure in this space. 

That's part of why I'm here.

The other part is to take a step back and reflect on how I knew God better through Jeb. 

For a few years now, I've begun noticing particularly in the Bible how God talks about animals. It's led me to a lot of questions. Why, when Adam was lonely in the garden, did God begin the search for companionship by parading all the animals by? They were ultimately rejected as mates, obviously. But still, it happened. Why did God put animals on the ark with Noah? The typical response is "so people  would have something to eat!" But why did God make his rainbow covenant to never destroy the earth by water with Noah AND with the animals? Why did God tell Jonah He was hesitant to destroy Ninevah on account of the great number of people AND animals? And why, when the people of Ninevah repented, did they put sackcloth and ashes on their animals as well? What on earth to animals need to repent of? Or does our sin taint creation quite that thoroughly? And how does all creation praise God? Why did God say the cattle on a thousand hills belongs to Him, if cattle was only created to basically be plants with blood (food for humans)? We could probably go on with other examples.

For some people this isn't a question. For most of my life, it wasn't. For most of my life I was more than ambivalent toward critters. Zero feelings of sympathy for animals, really. I see now what a gap that left in my psyche. I remember years ago, a friend tried to tell me that raising your kids with pets was a significant part of psychological emotional development, and I ridiculed her for it. I'm pretty ashamed of that now, not only because I was wrong. 

But what I keep coming back to most is Romans 1: "since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen."

So I ask myself now, what invisible attributes of God did I learn from spending 10 years with Jeb?

The obvious ideas would be faithfulness, nearness, unmerited forgiveness. Jeb had all those in spades. Everyone knew I couldn't even walk around the house without him in my shadow, hearing his nails click-clack behind me. In the last year or so he wouldn't even start his day unless he had given me a good morning "hug" by wrapping one paw around my leg and rubbing his face on me. For the first time in years, now, I have no bruises on my legs, and it's a little sad.

But there are other things, too. One of the big ones I can think of is answered prayer. Over the years taking care of these dogs, God answered many small prayers for their health and safety, which grew into bigger prayers for bigger issues. At the end, God answered prayers for discernment and peace as to when to put Jeb to sleep, not a day too late. It was a proving ground for building confidence in coming boldly before the throne in other areas of life. If a sparrow, or a dog, doesn't fall without God seeing it, how much more can I feel safe leaving issues of the soul in His hands.

I also learned about stewardship. The cattle on a thousand hills belongs to the Lord, and so did Jeb, really. He was my dog, but he was really God's dog. I was just taking care of him. We talk all the time about how puppies are good practice kids, and this is one aspect in which that's true. Our kids don't belong to us either. We're stewards of their minds, hearts, and bodies for a period of time, but then we have to let them go. And in the end, they stand before Yahweh God on their own, without us at their shoulder whispering the right answers in their ear. On a smaller scale, the "practice kids" taught me that, too.

I cried because it was over, but I am also smiling because it happened. I didn't even want a dog, I certainly didn't want my own stinky, snarffly shadow that (bless his heart) didn't even understand why we got upset when we ran inside with muddy paws. But I got so much more than I expected from that weird little coyote-dog puppy in El Paso. 

You're probably wondering right now, how are Achilles and the kiddo doing? 

Well, SoldierMan and I were pretty torn up, thanks for asking 😂

The kiddo, she loved Jeb but he was always my dog, more than the family's dog. Achilles is more of the family's dog, at least as far as she's concerned. (He considers himself SoldierMan's dog, but I don't know if he has a choice at this point.) I think she misses him more than she realizes, and we're all trying to be a little extra patient with each other.

Achilles was confused the first couple of days. Every now and then you can see him searching for something, not finding it, and then settling for his ball or a toy. He's eating and playing like normal, for his elderly self. "Normal" for him has become sleeping 18 hours a day and complaining when I talk too much - so not a lot of change there. 

I'm not going back to check this for typos, or put in citations, or anything. I'm ready to close the book here and walk out. I can't promise when or if I'll come back here. A lot of the stuff on this site could be removed (and probably should) and the world would lose nothing. Also I'm busy doing stuff-and-things. But if you came by and can say hi, I'll be glad to see you for a minute :) 


March 11, 2018

Just tell the story: and other reflections about manmade traditions

On Friday nights, I AWANA. I’m with the k-2nd grade group, and it’s a fun class. Especially the kindergarteners. They’re sweet kids who get super motivated and competitive about those little plastic “jewels” they earn from memorizing Bible verses.

Anyway, the lesson one week was about Jesus’s “Parable of the Sower.” Now, if you grew up in church at all, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you didn’t grow up in church or spend much time in a traditional (expositional) church, you may not make the connection immediately. Why?

Because “sower” isn’t a word for the average 21st Century English speaker.

And this is where the trouble began. Even after reading the whole story to the kids, even after watching a cartoon showing the action of a man spreading seeds along various types of soils, they still had it in their minds that Jesus was talking about someone who makes clothes and fixes buttons. Not a farmer.

(It was actually a very good lesson, once we got over this hump. And the kids did get it in the end. Just to say.)

But Jesus was talking about a farmer.

But instead, we use the word “sower.”

Why?

Because it’s the KJV word, and darn it, we use the KJV word even in the ESV, the NIV, the HCSB, and mostly whatever English version you have, because – tradition. That’s really the only reason. Manmade tradition.

And then we have to spend waste time explaining to people what a “sower” is before we can even get to the point of the story.

I find myself getting frustrated by these things more and more frequently. “Joy” instead of “happiness.” “Sower” instead of “farmer.” “the LORD” instead of “Yahweh” (that one goes way beyond frustration for me, actually.")

Why do we purposely obfuscate plain meanings of Scripture? Is it because we feel more spiritual, or more learned, if we use the “old” English word for something? I mean, we don’t go so far as to insist on “thee” and “thy” anymore, usually. Because we know that’s a linguistic stumbling block for the average 21st century English speaker. And I feel pretty confident saying that, when translating the Bible into other languages, they choose the most accurate contemporary equivalent for individual words and phrases as possible.

Why are we so uncomfortable doing this in English?

Why don’t we give up the other sacred cows of our churchy vocabulary and recognize that saying “farmer” instead of “sower” doesn’t dilute the power of the Word any more than translating the Bible from Latin into English did? In fact, I dare say it would have the same beneficial effect.

December 29, 2017

Meal Planning 101: Setting Up for 2018

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I won’t claim to be an expert, but I will tell you that I’ve honed a system for meal planning that has taken so much stress and frustration out of my routine. And yes, it does involve getting set up for the entire year. Don’t feel overwhelmed – an hour or two of time the first week of January is all it takes. If you’re interested in giving it a try this year, read on:

Step 1: Choose your tool

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Planners are such a personal choice, I’m not going to say you MUST pick this-that-or-the-other. However, I do have some strong suggestions:

  • Get one with a 12-month length. My system works best this way, and I really feel like it’s worth it, whether it’s a dedicated meal planner or a life planner.
  • Make it portable. You don’t have to take it to the grocery store every time, of course, but once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be surprised at how often meal inspiration hits you, and it’s nice to be able to write it down right away
  • Try a few. If you aren’t settled on a planer system right away, don’t give up if the first one or two you try just don’t work, for some undiscernible reason. There’s a reason there are dozens of planners and brands and styles. Something different works for everyone.

Step 2: Make your list

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This is your master list of all the meals you know your family will eat, at least most of them, most of the time. Make sure you can add to it throughout the year as you discover new winners. Throughout the year you will pull from this list so you don’t have to “come up” with fresh ideas out of the clear blue. Mine is just a random list in no particular order. If you want to put them in a more organized system, such as style or length of cook time, that’s a great idea. But a simple list works for me.

NOTE: Make the list. Trust me. I have a deep kitchen drawer stuffed with cookbooks that only get referenced a few times a year – when a recipe I’ve written on the list pops up. Unless you are already in the habit of pulling out every. single. cookbook. (and facebook video and pinterest link) every. single. time. you sit down to meal plan, you probably won’t start now. Make the master list, and refer to external sources when necessary.

Step 3: Choose your favorites

This is why I recommend a 12 month system. This is where we start making headway. I pick out a handful of meals that we don’t/shouldn’t eat too often – because they take all afternoon to make, because they are delicious calorie bombs and we will eat the whole casserole in one evening, because they call for exotic ingredients that hit our budget – but that we do love eating, and I scatter them throughout the year.

For example: I pick lasagna, and I write down “lasagna,” on the 3rd Friday of every quarter. Then I pick out Chicken Pot Pie, and I write it down on the 6th Friday of every quarter. Etc. Depending on how many of those types of meals you have, you can have 20 or 30 dinners already “planned” before you even get to that month in real life.

Step 4: Come up with “hints”

Friday nights are (usually) crock pot nights here, because our schedules mean we eat dinner separately. Thursday nights are family Bible study night, which means I make a big entree we share with 3 other families. Saturdays and Sundays are either takeout or something simple like frozen pizza. With those already set, that only leaves me 3 or 4 days a week where I need to actually plan a meal each session. And then some are already planned, because of Step 3! See? Less work in August because I put in the extra work in January. When you figure out your “hints” to help you segment your weeks and days, it flows much more quickly!

Step 5: Give yourself flexibility

You might be thinking: “How can I plan meals 5 and 6 months away? I don’t know what I’ll feel like tomorrow, or even next Tuesday?” When you start each meal planning session – whether it’s one week, two weeks, or an entire month - the trick I’ve found is to use a rubric for planning each set of meals. Ask: How many beef meals are we eating? How many poultry? Fish? How many Italian, how many Mexican, how many comfort food, etc. Keeping a mix/balance in each set of planned meals allows for some “spur of the moment” wiggle room, because one your meals are planned, you can buy all the ingredients you’ll need, and have them on hand.

And there you go! The framework for a solid start to meal planning for 2018. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! I also post many of my meals on instagram now, @jacilikestoeat.

If you have your own tips and tricks to share, feel free to leave them below and share the wealth Smile

August 8, 2017

Great American Cookie Company Icing Copycat Recipe

And if you don’t think that’s a sexy title, you’ve got rocks for brains.

icing

Ladies and gentlemen.

It is here.

I scoured the interwebs, I tested recipes and variations of those recipes. I went to multiple stores to get just the right ingredients. I sighed. I (nearly) cried. I bashed my head against the steering wheel. I drank a real coke.

They said it couldn’t be done. They said “nearly” was “as good as.”

They were wrong.

This is the end of a personal odyssey lasting years. To crack the secret of the Great American Cookie Company’s icing.

Anyone can make a giant chocolate chip cookie. That’s no big deal. Anyone can pop open a can of premade frosting and call it good. But that’s not good enough in this household. To be a legit cookie cake (or double-doozie) it has to be the real GACC icing. There is no substitute.

At least, until now.

Like I said, there were other recipes consulted and multiple tweaks made. You won’t find this recipe anywhere else. This is the one, y’all. Posted on August 8, 2017.

Without further ado (and I am all about making as much ado about this as possible, I feel like I just won the Olympics. I may even feel empowered enough to take on Mazzio’s Ranch) here it is: the recipe

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Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoons merengue powder
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk (approximately)
  • 2 tbsp hot water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

Directions:

Combine wet/wet-ish ingredients in large bowl. Gradually incorporate powdered sugar and merengue powder alternatingly. Beat at high speed until stiff. It will be VERY stiff. *This makes a lot of icing. Enough for a two-layer 11x14 cookie cake with a thick center layer, and then some.