Monday, October 28, 2013

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake

Some people collect stamps or coins.

I collect recipes.

Some folks devour novels, while I prefer cookbooks.

Indeed, much of my life, I have been in denial of my infatuation with food. I like to look at pictures, follow people on Pinterest that are creative in presenting and photographing their food-fare. And judging from the stacks and boxes in my office and kitchen, I also enjoy printing recipes that I think I may want to remember.

Just glancing through, you can clearly see that its so much about the flavors of autumn. Fresh ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a pinch of clove, apples, caramel, chocolate, real butter and cream cheese dominate the lists.

And pumpkin.

One of my very favorite cook books is written all about chocolate. Published in 1987, this copy of  Nestle Toll House Recipe Collection has some of our most tried-and-true choice recipes, held together by mere threads of book binding.

Few things make me feel as content as pulling out the old white Kitchen Aid mixer, which belonged to my mom, to whip up something yummy. When I went to bake this family favorite, I decided to double the recipe. One for some other folks and one for my own loved ones. I learned long ago if making something to give, that I need to make some to stay as well. 

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 cup solid pack canned pumpkin
¾ cup milk
1 cup Little Bits semi-sweet chocolate (I use regular sized chips)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoon finely chopped nuts

Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt; set aside

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar and butter; beat until creamy. Beat in eggs and pumpkin. Gradually beat in flour mixture alternately with milk. Stir in semi-sweet chocolate pieces. Pour into greased 9x13 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting: In small bowl, combine cheese, butter and vanilla extract; beat until creamy. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar; beat well

Garnish: In cup, combine 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate pieces and nuts.

Frost cooled cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Sprinkle with garnish.
 (I lightly chop nuts and chips)

Happy last Monday in October!

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Monday, October 21, 2013

How To Get Dressed

The morning air hung cold, as I hurried down the narrow sidewalk. Trees line up like wooden soldiers, wrapped in late autumn rays of sun. Every beautiful leaf seems to cling to the life-giving vine, with deep hues of garnet, flaxen golds and silk-spun colors. I was under-dressed for the changing weather. A warm jacket and some gloves would have been a good idea, but I didn't plan that far ahead before running out the door.

The day was already passing me by.

Getting up in the black of dawn, had not helped these feeling of being behind.

Walking up to the desk, the woman said warmly,

"Hi! Do you know it's Tuesday?"

I smiled and nodded.

She pressed on, "You are suppose to come on Wednesday."

"Wow," accompanied with a blank stare, is the only reply I could muster.

To get here on time, I had ran out of the house in the middle of a project, leaving one-hundred regular tasks of undone dishes, cluttered rooms, laundry and deadlines. Driving to town, I had driven more aggressive than I should, sped through two yellow lights, became annoyed with drivers, all to arrive, where I wasn't. even. suppose. to. be.

Yes. Wow.

Driving slowly away, I wondered if it was my mind I was loosing or if I am just too busy. Some of it is lack of administration on my part. There is a piece of me that should just say no sometimes. So this week I've been processing the things I put my hand to, what I want to really accomplish and how to live out these days I have left.

This is all I know.

On this day, I had come to town to spend time with a child that I only know by her first name. I have no idea if the time we spend together will make any real difference in her world. I had requested Tuesday's, but was assigned Wednesday and I need a better system to manage the hours in my days.

As messy as I am, I just want to love on people.

I want to reflect Light in a dark world.

Colossians 3:12 shed some insight on how I can live this out.

"....chosen by God for this new life of love,
dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you:
compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline."

How do you live this in the real , everyday, crazy-of-life?

I heard Andy Stanley explain some of the words like this:

Compassion: To feel what other people are feeling.

Kindness: To loan your strength to someone. To extend to people what they need.

Humility: Seeing everyone equally. Not better. Not less.

Gentleness: To respond to a person on their level of strength.

Discipline: Restraint.

For some of the years, I have known Jesus, all I saw were religious people, making rules, trying to keep rules and tearing down people who didn't.

Church people, sitting in church, talking about churchy things, but in the Monday through Saturday life, not living much different than anyone else.

I just could not get it figured out.

But the thing I'm learning is that Jesus only asked me to follow Him, not other people.

Love, is to distinguish me from all of the rest of the world, as unnatural and hard as that may be.

What comes natural is to be harsh, unfeeling, selfish, prideful, lazy and unloving.

These things no one had to teach me. They are like breathing.

When someone cuts me off in traffic, pushes in front of me in line, lies about me, leaves me out, hurts my family  -the easiest thing in the world is to react in an unloving way.

But when I pause and let my behavior be marked by the One I love, my life somehow reflects His love.

It is like someone turns on floodlights in a dark room.

This is not a denial of the problem, a running from reality or being a whimp. In fact it takes great restraint, courage and strength to love those who are unloving toward you.

It's all up-side-down and in-side-out.

Extending unmerited kindness in real life situations. That's mercy.
Dealing with people different than they might deserve. That's grace.

In his book, "The Mercy Prayer," Robert Gelinas says, "Mercy precedes grace."

That is what Jesus came to do for us.

Unmerited kindness to people who didn't deserve it.

These are not just a list of fluffy words.
They are not just nouns and verbs and adjectives.
They weave together with the overreaching concept of love to help us live a different way.

When it happens, let me assure you, that it's not because I'm such a nice person and I have it all figured out.

It's because Jesus is living in me and through me.

I'm always asking for more wisdom so I can see past the actions and faces to the hearts of people in my path.

Oh, that the stamp of my behavior, should not be rushing through life, but rushing to people.

That I'm not overloaded, but overflowing with the good things He gives me to do for His glory.

This probably means, I will continue to look a little crazy. It will probably mean I will continue to get up early, stay up late, and multitask often.

But may I wear these glorious tokens of grace: Love, compassion, humility, kindness, quiet strength and restraint.

For these things will never go out of style.

Counting blessings here:

#1242, #1243, #1244 
My daughters. Each a sweet unique gift.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

When The Journey Is Hard

It was a small, round, unusually smooth stone. The spot it rested was out of place. Scooping it into the palm of my hand I felt it's grainy weight against my skin. Cupping it for a moment, the uniqueness of it intrigued me, and made it worthy of adding to my personal little pile of stones. It was never my intention to have a pile of rocks, that could be mistaken for a small altar, on the ledge in my office. Each of the collected stones had come to me in different ways. Every stone had a story to go with it.  I considered them my stones of remembrance I guess. Visual reminders of mile-markers in my life.

The reminders are everywhere this month, that part of my journey and story is breast cancer. Burly football players are clad in pink accents, shelves in stores are lined with items and there is media overload in the month of October about breast cancer awareness. Indeed, it is a fact, that breast cancer is the second biggest cancer killer of women, with lung cancer being the biggest by far. Still, too many women belong to the breast cancer club, that no one wants to receive the announcement that they are a member.

My voyage into the sea of pink, that set my soul assail with cancer, began in February of 2010. Like so many women before me, the words numbed my mind and rocked my world. For me, it was like being handed a my death certificate. Perhaps not this week, or this year, but at some point this would be the battlefield I would die on or because of.

I'd seen it happen too many times.

Breast cancer often attacks women at the core of our identity. This cancer threatens life, femininity and the only physical body we are offered to walk this earth in.

What I could not have known, is that the thing that threatened to destroy me, would be the thing that God would use to refine me, not define me.

My cancer served to accelerated the process of my spiritual growth. Each step of pain and faith redefining what how I saw life and the Author of Life.

It's a different kind of knowing. A deeper knowing the Lover of my soul. A leaning in, trusting, releasing. A loosening the cords of pride and prayerlessness.

Trust me, I would not have chosen this, for me or for anyone, but our earthly reality is that we are all taking another step today, toward the end of our lives.

The reality is that no matter how good your genes are, your diet and exercise plan, or your doctors, the fact is that no one lives forever on earth as we know it.

I am frequently contacted by woman, who have received some sort of heartbreaking news. They stop me in the store, find me on facebook, e-mail me, send notes in the mail, text and call. It's not that I know so much about the subject, but the Lord brings to me, women wanting to share their stories, fears and heartache, so I can share the Hope I have in Jesus. It's all about Him and if they see anything in me they are attracted to, it is His Spirit that draws them.

They often want to know this: "so how do you live when they tell you that there is cancer?" They want to hear a voice that has walked a piece of the path that they are facing. They are searching for hope in what feels like a hopeless situation.

The thing that I often wonder, is how do I explain... how do I describe... that the cancer which they found eating my flesh, revealed a deeper decay in my life. This death sentence of sorts, made me aware of some spiritual cancer that lay more insidiously than the physical condition.

It's not a popular message that all suffering has meaning in the Kingdom of God. 

Fighting through the shadows of cancer, bring most of us who walk this valley, face to face with how fragile, finite, and fallen we really are. Reality springs forth, how we desperately  need to be sustained by the God who made the universe. That all the positive thoughts in the world will not bind up a broken heart, bring freedom to those held captive to sin or shine light in the darkest places of a soul.

We need the salve that only Jesus came to offer this world.

My cancer served to accelerate my walk with Jesus. It provided clarity to my calling on this side of heaven.

God used what could have been a stumbling block, to remove from my life path, things that were in the way of my serving Him more fully.

Sitting in the waiting rooms and walking the halls of the cancer centers, I had the privilege of meeting so many brave, beautiful souls in the battle of their lives. People being guided by professionals in difficult decisions and procedures. So many are gone now, only three years later.

We can't run from pain or hide from problems that are bigger than we are. But these times can be used to become closer to the One who knows the number of our days.

Deeply rooted growth, rarely come in seasons of abundance and ease. The trust-bonds of our heart are stretched and strengthened in seasons of the unknown and unwelcome change.

These beautiful golden strands of faith, bind us to The Great Physician.

One beautiful woman in my on-line world, who has two young children and one precious husband, just got her second diagnoses of an aggressive cancer. For anyone familiar with the issues of cancer, you may know that the first diagnoses rocks your world, but the second is almost a certain death sentence to your door.

She says this: "I just want to rest in and allow Jesus to write my story, even though it isn't the story I was hoping for."

Her beautiful faith cuts me to the core.

She knows in Whom she has believed and she is trusting Jesus even though everything in the world screams for her not to.

This beautiful young woman knows the real Secret of life and living. She knows that there is a deep intimacy that comes from traversing the valley of one-thousand, shadows-of-death and learning reliance on the One who is calling our name and counting the hairs on our head as each new day dawns.

In the insanely unexplained, there is a deep blessedness that comes from waiting on the Lord and watching Him be faithful in the hard, suffering process.

I am ill-equipped to tread on the soil, of the subject of suffering, but I encourage you today to press into the One who understands our suffering, because He came to earth and suffered to the point of death that we may have life.

One day it came to mind, that the round stone I had gathered was the size of my cancer. The size of the flesh they removed. God had whispered the reminder that He gave me the rock before the trial. It increases my faith and trust and causes me to stand amazed at how the Living God speaks to us and loves us so individually and personally.

It stirs something deep in my soul.

It awakens this desire to reach out to women hungry for Jesus.

Women who long for healing, freedom and purpose. I don't have all their answers, but I know the One who does.

Do you know Him friend?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Counting 1000 Gifts Here

#1238 - Field trip with the grand-kids.
68 miles, an old church, on a windy hill, and children singing...

#1239 - 30 plus women who are showing up to Breaking Free study. Praying blessings on you all.

#1240 - Family time, annual pictures, laughs, pulled pork and camo.

#1241 Stepping out in faith with Cherri Putz. Yes we are crazy.
We have a plane ticket to the If Conference, but no tickets to the event.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who Are You Like?

When the girls were still young, we found ourselves in the office of a successful businessman in a local community.

He was a kind, gracious soul who extended wisdom and acceptance as if they were nothing at all. On the wall of his office hung a huge portrait of a man unknown to me. The face was accentuated with an elaborate wood frame, complete with intricate scrolling, carved features and gold gilding. 

Something about the man was familiar. His demeanor was calm. He appeared regal, yet not seeming to be proud. His eyes gentle. Hands relaxed.

My friend noticed my gaze and with a sweeping gesture he waved his hand at the wall where the portrait hung. "Do you see that man?"

 "I did notice him," I answered, a little embarrassed for staring.

"This is the man who changed my life," he responded in a matter-of-fact tone.

He went on to tell me how as a boy, he lived in a large city, in a bad part of town.  At a young age he was associating with people who were already making poor choices. This man, who's picture hung huge on the wall, had seen in my friend what the boy desperately needed to see in himself. It was such a life changing relationship, that he honored his mentor with the portrait on his office wall.  

I desired to have someone like that in my life. A person who could see in me, what I could not see in myself. A woman who was a beautiful blend of trusted, wise friend yet possessed some of the qualities that I needed to developed. Someone honest, yet encouraging. It was almost too much to hope for. For me, I didn't just need a nice person to invest in me. I needed a woman who loved and lived Jesus.

There was a woman in our church who I was drawn to. She was in her 70's, had lived and served in Ecuador for 26 years and lost her husband to cancer. 

There was just something about her I loved. At first I hesitant to approach her. It seemed strange to just walk up and say, "Hey! Do you want to hang out with me?" I think I was afraid she would reject me, or if we did start meeting that we wouldn't connect at the heart and that would be awkward too.

The nudge continued. 

One day I just blurted it out and asked if she would be interested in mentoring me. She was quite surprised that I asked. In her humble shy way, she asked me what I expected from this relationship. I hadn't really thought about that and didn't have any real expectations. I just wanted to hang out with her and hope some of who she was would rub off on me. We did began to meet. It was a sweet thing that I wrote about here. 

Some of the things that deeply touched my soul from the time I spent with her? She was available. No agenda. Just available. She was young at heart. We laughed like school girls, when on walks, ate amazing food and shared life. She was in the process of writing a trilogy. Seriously how many people can say that?!? I had no idea when we began our friendship. And when I told her I thought I was suppose to write she cheered me on. Just to actually say those words to her was huge. And she believed in my dream because she knew the One who had placed it in my heart.

There have been a host of other precious people that have impacted my life and help mold my soul, but Pauline holds a special place, because I desperately needed a woman to show me how to walk a better walk. Someone further down the path in maturity to help me reach for higher ground.

Our Pastor is currently preaching on a series and is using a diagram to help illustrate spiritual maturity. All attempts to define such a thing have their short comings,  but I appreciate the visual this brings.

It is a circle divided into pieces of pie.

The first sliver of the graph is when we don't know Jesus, the next is when we come to believe and we are spiritual infants. The visual continues to be separated into toddler, teenager, and adult maturity. He has been teaching how too often we spend years and years in pews and never grown up to spiritual adults. How too many times, we are older yet still acting like children spiritually, demanding our own way, whining about all kinds of things that aren't how we think they should be.  

There are so many problems when we stay unchanged. One big issue is that we need to be spiritual adults to help "parent" the young Christians and new believers. 

When it comes to mentoring it's easy to think we could never do that, since we don't have it all together. The fact is that we will never have it all together. We just need to be growing. And no matter where we are on the journey there will always be someone who is younger spiritually than we are and someone more mature than we are.

One of my very good friends, who I consider to be a mentor as well, has been a believer fewer years than I have. Since she has immersed herself in the word and has been obedient to what she has learned, I consider her more mature in her walk than I am because of it.  

The fact that we have sat in a church all of our lives does not determine where we are spiritually. Wouldn't that be easier? And no matter where we are, isn't it time to get moving? Friends, it is critical that we be growing in our relationship with Christ and having a mentor can speed up that process and make it sweeter in the journey. 

A few thoughts on being a mentor
 and finding a mentor:

This is a spiritual thing. So ask the Spirit to give you eyes to see and wisdom
in how to proceed, in who to approach.

It doesn't have to be a lifetime commitment.
Some relationships certainly are on-going.
My experience is that often there are seasons.
Commit in the beginning to a certain amount of weeks
like a fall or spring season, etc. 

Express any expectations you have up front. Some women like more formal structure.
 I like a more organic approach that involves lots of coffee. 

Mentoring is about relationship. This involves time spent, words of encouragement and acceptance. 

Mentoring is not an ongoing personal counseling session or one person giving
and the other person always taking. 

In different seasons, God will bring
different people to us to invest in and who will invest in us.

Mentoring is a fancy word for being a trusted friend to someone.

These are just my personal observations. I hope they are helpful as you consider having a mentor and being a mentor.

One other thing Pastor John says, is that we take on the spiritual DNA of those we spend time with. 

When I think of people who I admire, I am gazing into the faces of others who invested in them as well. 

I am so grateful for the women God has used to help me grow more like Him. Still I know that there is no replacement for time spent in reading, studying and living out the Book He left, for our instruction. 

The goal is always to be more like Jesus. 

I realized later what was familiar about the man in the portrait with the exquisite frame. He had the same demeanor as our businessman friend. The one who admired his mentor had now become so much like him. It's a reminder too, that we need to choose carefully who we allow to influence us. Luke 6:40 says it well, "..everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." 

In whatever season of life we find ourselves in, my prayer is that we would be growing in our relationship with Jesus.

Question friends.

Are you a mentor or do you have a mentor? 

Share your insights or experiences about being or having a mentor?

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Monday, October 7, 2013

When Fall Has A Flavor

Photo by Becky Hasenhauer

Autumn rains arrived and brought with them a damp chill that penetrates. Evenings fade into cool temperatures and mornings dawn while it is still dark. Stars seem to hang closer, pinned to the sky and pierce the brisk air. When the geese fly low toward the lake their sound is the calling card that ushers in fall. 

It makes me look for the flannel sheets, my over-sized sweat shirts and fleecy slippers that were hiding in the back of the closet.

And fall has a flavor. For me it's forkful's of raw apple cake with spicy homemade caramel sauce. Yes, cinnamon, nutmeg, and all things spices. It's chili soup simmering on the stove, made a little different every single time. Our family favorite version is taco soup. This too is mostly made with what is available, plus corn, homily (which my mom used to serve up like salad and I thought I'd never eat again in my whole life) and taco seasoning added with chili powder. Then topped with grated cheese and a single dollop of sour cream.

With corn chips.

These chips only have three ingredients listed on the package, all of which you can pronounce. The salty crunch with each thick bite, join the smooth, cool and creamy which rest on top of the hearty chunks of meat and beans. On an amazing day there could be corn bread that is sweet with golden honey purchased from a local bee keeper and fresh ground cornmeal that has a different flavor than anything you can purchase in a box. But friends, a box of cornbread works too. 

This time of year, apples are so fresh they snap when you bite into them, pine cones fall from the neighbors tree, and maple leaves are my very favorite leaves to find in pools of rain water and bird baths. For some reason they were my favorite even as a child. I would find them wherever I could and bring them home. Then we would take curls of colors from old broken crayons and place the maple leaf between two sheets of wax paper and apply heat to melt all the colors together with mom's iron. I'm sure that crayon wax oozed from the sides onto the metal and I wonder how many times mom had to find this out the hard way.

I so love the cascade of autumn colors. Coppers, burnt reds, deep oranges and flaming yellows. And I have to hold myself back from buying every basket of fall mums at local stores.

It may be, for the love of the baskets.  I feel the same about old bottles, chairs and wood with peeling paint in general. There is something in me that wants to collect them and but them on porches. Mostly other peoples porches, because mine is too small really, not to mention that my husbands taste is more clean and contemporary and he married an eclectic messy.

Maple is another one of my favorite flavors. For some reason, my taste palette files it  under a "fall flavor" even though it certainly is not. It happens to be the secret ingredient in came to be known as my grand champion whole grain cinnamon rolls. There was probably no other entries that year at the fair in whatever division I enter them in, but I brought home the ginormous purple ribbon with overdone ruffle that said that taste was the very best. My family thinks so even without the fussy ribbon. The flavor of maple teamed up with pecans and real butter are good anytime of year, or day, but it just feels like a fall thing.

Mostly I don't use recipes, but here is a rough idea of the proportions I use as cinnamon roll filling:

2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or more)
1 tsp fresh cinnamon (or more)
1 tsp real maple flavor (or more)
(purchase at health food stores)

Use whatever kind of dough you like. Roll out the dough in a rectangle, smooth softened butter over surface, add filling above. Roll, slice and bake in a pan. Make it simple and buy frozen dough if that makes it doable for you, but try it and let me know if you are in love with maple too.

Today, in a large roaster in the oven we are making homemade apple butter. The smell will drift into every room and may even mask the smell of puppies who are living with us another week. 

There will have to be bread too. To feel the warm flour, press the palms of my hands into the spongy texture while kneading the dough. When it come out of the oven, with it's golden-brown crusty top and steams as you slice it open to slather honey-butter over each thick slice. (Equal parts butter and honey.)

These food things are connected to the  space and time that I occupy.

The rich colors, aromas and flavors are like tonic that bring a level soul-satisfaction because they are part of the bounty God has blessed us with.

October has this cozy place in my heart that is delicious, beautiful, full of good things and blessing.

What flavor is your fall?


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© Rhonda Quaney