Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Currents in the Mist

Autumn in the Midwest brings cooler temperatures, lovely displays of fall colors and mornings with thick blankets of misty fog. These are the misty fogs that can be watched rolling in and slowly envelop the still heavy eyed and sleepy morning risers, such as me, in a cloud. Fog or no, the first thing in the morning is to let the dogs out. Spotlights are turned on and I can actually see thousands, hundreds of thousands of tiny water droplets moving on air currents.                                                                                                                                         Positioning myself just right in the lights, I can now see how my movements are changing the patterns of the air. I can’t resist moving my arms and legs, slowly raising my arms over my head, then balancing on one leg. The water droplets twist as they are caught in small airborne whirlpools; the currents are changed by my movements.                                                                                                Most of the time, we can’t see how everyday movements impact the currents of air that swirl around. It is the occasional fog or smoke that makes these things visible to the naked eye. Subtle things, those currents, like influences of people in my life.                                                                                                                                                        An eighth grade math teacher of mine passed away yesterday. He made a subject that has always been a challenge for me into something intelligible. I remember being able to do math and I remember his kindness. There have been many that have made wonderful influences in my life as well, sweet currents that have surrounded me and others.  Teachers who have grown, mentors who have guided, friends of celebration and solace, pastors to shepherd, family to love, and many kind strangers who have been eddies.
                                                                                   We often do not see the true twirl and whirl of our influence, the changes our movements make in the currents. The unlooked for encouragement that may change a life, the writing that enables the courage of good men, and songs that let us share our most gentle loves; churn words, spin and twirl in the fog – create beautiful currents around me and the people around me. I may not be able to see them, but I can choose how to shape them. I want them to be beautiful.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Looking at Pumpkins

Pumpkins come in all of these really fun varieties.  They are white, green, orange, striped, mottled, big, small, oblong, perfectly round, squat, skinny, fat, bumpy and smooth.  They can have stems that are large, small, short and long. In all of these shapes, you can see in pumpkins how creation has this wonderful echo throughout, design elements are used in clever ways over and over.    
A pumpkin sitting on the bale of straw in the front of the house caught my eye. I noticed that it wasn’t truly just orange.  It was like a faux finish of orange, on top of a cheery yellow.  It looked rather sunny.  In face it looked rather like photos of the sun.  Seemingly random bits of orange in thicker and thinner patterns cover the surface, like it could have a pumpkin flavored solar flare from any moment. 

I have met people that are like this.  They just seem to burst with life and joy.  They are encouraging, vivacious, and warming – just like the sun.  I have also noticed that these tend to be multi-faceted individuals who have experienced flares in life and learned from them; using them later to bring warmth, comfort and courage to others. These are people I, and others, want to be around as they are drawn to the genuine caring.

This is a wonderfully green and orange pumpkin with deep grooves that lead to a valley where the stem is.  That stem, with a round of green at its base rises up like a mountain out of a plain.  Variances of color and a twist of the stem leave the tip of the stem uneven; undoubtedly a peak weathered with many mountainous weather fronts.

There are a few women who I have met that are many years young, and in years of age rather elderly.  And they have done that gracefully. They are like these mountains rising out of the plains, standing as beautiful monuments. Wrinkles, lines and scars indicate the weathering they have witnessed. But they still stand, and gather life in beautiful ecosystems around them. Water flows from snow capped peaks to nourish the cycle of life. They share their wisdom, gracefully and lovingly; they relinquish controls that I think would be very difficult to relinquish. Not placing their value in the ability to do, but in being. 
Is it a pumpkin, or is it art in pottery?  Something in a light tree trunk brown with a crackled white glaze.  The small lines of tannin peek through the white and remind me of the shape of waves moving through the ocean.  Lines indicate movement, just as those cresting waves show the movements of the wind and water. 

The artists, entrepreneurs, movers of large and small movements; those who see an idea in their mind and heart and then go about trying it – these are people who enrich the world around them. Encouraging by example to do, experiment, hypothesize, research – to try; these are the people who I think teach me bravery to move.  To move with the wind and the water, and know that perhaps I will find myself on new shores.

I’m going to keep looking, who knows what other worlds will be seen; microcosm within a macrocosm.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Football Away Game Soup – Minestrone

 A damp fall day, where yellow leaves fall and beautiful orange pumpkins stand out bright against the golden browns of the season, is the perfect season for hot minestrone soup. This hot soup full of veggies and swirly pasta is hot in the Crockpot and ready to savor.

Have you ever sat down with a group of strangers, soon to be friends, and reveled in the differences and similarities? I have had that opportunity not too terribly long ago. It is such fun to find that our differences are not as wide as we originally think, and that our commonalities are so much greater. Sitting down over a meal and sharing a little bit of our lives can create something beautiful and sustaining. 

Minestrone is a great fall soup that is full of the mix and match of fresh ingredients still available in the Midwest as the temperature cools. There is not a right or wrong mix, just add your favorite ingredients and enjoy. 

In a hot skillet, add Italian seasoning and one pound of ground pork. Stir the pork in the skillet, until it is cooked. I prefer to let larger chunks of the ground pork remain unbroken, adding an additional texture to the soup later. Let the pork cool and add it to the Crockpot. 

On a cutting board, coarsely chop one pound of carrots. Slice mushrooms into large slices and garlic into small slivers. Peel and cut large chunks of zucchini. Slice a dozen cherry tomatoes in half and quarter two large sweet onions. Add the vegetables to the Crockpot and stir. Open up a favorite jar of spaghetti sauce and add it in. Mix everything together. Then, pour beef broth into the Crockpot to make the desired thickness of soup. 

Turn on the Crockpot and let the soup cook.  When all of the vegetables are tender it’s time to prepare the pasta. Heat water in a large saucepan until boiling, I chose campanelle because of its fun curly shape. Once the water is at a full boil, and bubbling along merrily, add the pasta. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.  After the pasta is completely cooked, add it to your hot soup.  Use a large spoon to mix everything up, pull out your favorite soup bowl and enjoy.  Or even better, share it with someone else!

Football Away Game Soup – Minestrone 

1lb. ground pork
1 lb. carrots
1 package of mushrooms
1 medium zucchini
2 large sweet onions
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 large can beef broth
Italian seasoning
12 cherry tomatoes

1 box campanelle pasta

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mind Your Lines

I am a people watcher in stadiums, airports, shopping malls and just about everywhere else. I don’t really think about it, but just seem to soak in observations of the characteristics of people around me; people often watching other people. Children in particular are watchers, with their seeming affinity for teenagers, watching these newly semi-independent and driving high school and college students. They have much in common, but yet the world of the teenager and young adult has expanded in ways that children dream of. Children, they seem to see everything. I know we are all unaware at times (maybe most of the time) of how our daily actions, words and choices can impact others. So, I want to encourage us all to mind our lines.

I did the marching band thing, so I heard a lot – A LOT – about each persons’ feet being in the designated spot at the designated times. Watching and paying attention to how individual choices impact the whole encouraged all of us to mind our lines. One person standing a half-foot off of the mark, and voila, the next thing you know a third of the line is off as well. 

Mind your lines in marching band because there is a child watching and dreaming. They are seeing themselves on that field in the future. You can make sweet music of possibility. 

Mind your lines on the cheerleading team as you go through carefully choreographed routines. You are displaying graceful and dynamic strength. 

Mind your lines on the football field as you choose how to play with heart, reacting to challenges along the way. You are showing sportsmanship.

Mind your lines in the stadium as you call out encouragement to the team, those words can get carried away in an instant.

It is not group conformity, this minding of lines. It is much more demanding. It is leading with good choices and setting an example.  It is making these good choice even when the others around you are stepping off on the wrong foot and miss the hash mark on the marching step.  Mind your lines, set an example. There really are others watching and learning, it’s an incredible opportunity to make a positive impact. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Football Soup Season – Chicken Pot Pie Soup

I love autumn. I think it may just be my favorite season, minus those snowy nights that are perfectly still and quiet, with bright full moons shining down. The ever changing hues of fall are something which attracts my eyes; as leaves change from green to orange or yellow, red or burgundy. Corn stalks are burnished gold in the sunshine. Leaves fall, sounding like rain drops and are great fun to try to catch. The smell of rain is different, not made up of the thawing smells of spring or the hot misty smells of summer. 

Beyond the feel, sounds, and smells of autumn – I love the flavors! Crunchy apples with each bit ranging between tart and sweet, I have to pause to enjoy each bit and each apple’s fragrance. As the temperatures cool outside, the warming influence of a bowl of soup is lovely and welcoming. A soup that is easy to put together and is a handy crockpot recipe as well.

In the crockpot, add a bag of frozen chicken breast; this is a great recipe for one of those big bags that you can get a good deal on. With that, add a bag of frozen green beans and another of corn. A family size can of Cream of Chicken soup should be spooned in, adding water to the can and pouring it into the crockpot as well. 

Peel approximately a pound of carrots and about a dozen yellow potatoes.  Chop them coarsely and add them to the pot of soup.  Include two large white onions, cut into quarters.  I finish by flavoring my soup with red pepper and a little rosemary.  

Cook until chicken and vegetables are cooked through.  The potatoes and carrots will be tender when cut. Add milk to richen the broth and cook about another twenty to thirty minutes. The chicken pieces will be very tender to either pull apart with a large fork, or remove them with a slotted spoon, cut them up and add back in. 

Chicken Pot Pie Soup - enjoying the warming goodness of the pot pie filler without all the extra calories of the crust.
1 bag of chicken breast, skinless and boneless  *
1 family size bag of frozen green beans
1 family size bag of frozen corn
1 lb. of carrots
1 medium size bag of yellow roasting potatoes
1 family size can of Cream of Chicken soup
2 large white onions
1/2 cup of milk     
Red pepper and rosemary to taste

*If I had had time, I would have used a whole chicken to make this soup.