Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just call me Betty Draper (from season 1, minus the unfaithful husband, naivety, and arrogance)

This week I've had the chance to hone in on my domestication skillz (thanks to no work or school)!  I made almond milk, cooked dinner, baked cookies, bug bombed my apartment, worked out daily, and did enough laundry to fill a whole laundromat. 

1) Almond milk:
  • Here are the ingredients I used:
    • Raw almonds
    • Water
    • Honey
    • Cinnamon 
  • Utensils
    • Saucepan
    • First round - centrifugal juicer
    • Second round - blender
    • metal strainer
    • Masher?
    • Large Bowl
    • Pitcher
  • Steps
    • *First I tried to use my centrifugal juicer.  It worked, but had a very low yield and wasted some almonds, so I changed to a blender*
    • Blanch almonds (boil water, leave almonds in for about 1.5 to 2 minutes)
    • Peel/squeeze brown shell off almonds. When they are blanched well it should be very easy to just squeeze and the white almond will pop out. And by pop I mean fly across the room.

    • Soak almonds in water for about 8 hours.  In my first batch I only soaked for 2 hours and it was a little grainy; in my second batch I soaked for about 15 hours and it came out a little more watery so I think 8 is the perfect amount. 
    • Blend about 1 cup of almonds with 2 cups of water.

    • Add 1 more cup of water, about 1 tsp of honey, and as much cinnamon as you like. Mix. 

    • Placed strainer in large bowl. Poured milk through strainer. This was the hardest part for me. I don't have a real metal strainer, just the one from my juicer and it gets clogged very easily. I would definitely recommend getting a nut milk bag, as cheesecloth allows a lot of the graininess through. 

    • Used the "masher" to get as much liquid out of the strainer as possible.  This is another reason a nut milk bag is nice, because you can squeeze it and get a higher yield. 
    • Chilled in refrigerator. 
  • I really liked the outcome.  I think Jason might need more convincing.  The definite downsides to making verse buying:  the store bought almond milk is fortified with calcium and B12 among other things. I'll probably end up buying vitamins to supplement my diet or find other sources of these nutrients. If you have any good suggestions I'd love to hear them.  I don't eat a lot of red meat (hence the lack in B12) and am trying to cut out a lot of dairy products (lack of calcium). 

2) Dinner - Hatch Eggplant Turkey or Tilapia Burgers
  • I LOVE Hatch pepper season at Central Market. I went there on Saturday, fully intending to only buy Hatch related items, but then I saw the most beautiful eggplant and had to have it. 
  • Ingredients:
    • Eggplant
    • Roasted hatch peppers
    • Hatch Pesto
    • Turkey burger
    • Tilapia
    • Bread
  • Steps
    • Slice the eggplant in half, lengthwise. Cut slivers along the inside of the eggplant and lightly salted over the cracks.  Allowed to sit for about 30 minutes.
    • After thirty minutes, I rinsed off the salt and pat dry the eggplant. 
    • Heat oven to 400 F. 
    • Coat pan with cooking spray
    • Place two sets of two roasted hatch chiles on pan (one set for each side of eggplant)
    • Spread Hatch Pesto on eggplant to cover cut side and in crevices created earlier
    • Place eggplant cut side down on the hatch peppers. 
    • Place in oven, let cook for 55 mins
    • After about 25 minutes I put on a whole grain brown rice, bulgur, and other grains blend with roasted pecans and garlic made by the Near East company 
    • When there was about 18 minutes left to cook I sprayed a pan with cooking spray and cooked the turkey burger.
    • With about 6 minutes left for the eggplant I put the tilapia in to cook (we buy steam fresh tilapia at kroger; it's a good price, filling, and low calorie. I wish I could make it fresh and would probably prefer a different fish, but I'm usually pretty short on time and tilapia is the cheapest.)
    • Took the eggplant out of the oven to cool; placed 4 slices of bread on oven racks. 
    • Finished cooking the rice and pulled bread out of oven (about 5-6 minutes)
    • Made two bowls of salad
    • Placed the turkey/tilapia on top of one piece of bread, placed the roasted hatch chiles that were under the eggplant on top of the protein, then scooped eggplant out and placed about 4 squares on top of the chiles. Topped it off with lettuce. 
    • Spread hatch pesto on my (tilapia) sandwich and a spicy habanero mustard on Jason's (turkey)
    • Enjoy!  I thought it was quite delicious and Jason did too.

3) For dessert I made some Betty Crocker Molasses cookies. 
Molasses Cookies and Almond Milk! 

Romans 5:3-5

"...we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us"

*All things expressed hereafter are opinions and my raw feelings about some of the experiences I had this summer. I am not an expert nor do I know the inner thoughts or feelings of the people mentioned. Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree.* 

I've been waiting to find a good stretch of quiet time to write this post. This summer has been full of so many great opportunities and experiences. I chose this verse for the title because of its emphasis on perseverance and hope. In verses 1-2 of Chapter 5 Paul speaks of how our faith has resulted in receiving a taste of God's grace. This taste of His grace is so abundant that even just the "hope of the glory of God" (what is to come) leads to exultation. 

Side note: The common/more modern definition of exult is "to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy; rejoice exceedingly; be highly elated or jubilant."  However, exult used to be used in a way meaning "to leap, especially for joy."  I don't know about you, but thinking about sharing in the life of God makes me want to leap for joy  :)      

Okay anyways, after this Paul goes on in verses 3-5 to recognize that we will face tribulations in this world. Yet, through perseverance we can increase our character and find hope. Then he ties it all together by saying hope does not disappoint because of the grandeur of what we have to hope for (the glory of God). Exult!  

 What does this have to do with my summer?  I had the privilege of meeting some truly incredible individuals who embody perseverance through trials. I worked at a summer program called REAL. The goal of the program was to introduce young adults with vision impairments to employment and independent living. I was a job coach, which involved teaching participants job skills and supervising them on the job. Most of the work I've done in rehabilitation has been in the mental health field. This was a very new and exciting experience for me.

Each job coach was assigned two participants to supervise throughout the program. From the first day, I knew it was going to be quite an adventure. My participants were awesome! We had our shaky moments and definitely did a lot of persevering during the five weeks. We were assigned to work at elections administration in Denton.  The office was full of so many wonderful people who were excited to have us there. But, the jobs the participants were assigned weren't the most exciting. Each afternoon, after a long day of folding cards to be mailed out, they returned to the dorm to hear their peers tell stories about working in retail, testing electronics, and designing a component to Second Life for those with vision impairments. Suffice it to say we did not have the most exciting job. But we made it through and even had some fun doing it.  Thank goodness for my participants, they kept me laughing throughout the day. 

Both of my participants amazed me with the things that they had experienced throughout their lives and how they handled them.  The first thing I learned from this program was why "person first" language is so important. These individuals are so much more than the vision impairments they have. They are people, teenagers to be exact, first. As we all do, they experience things far greater and more meaningful than their visual acuity. I enjoyed so much as my participants started to open up to me about their lives outside of the program. They were all so talented. My male participant was awesome with computers and had played and beaten just about every computer game out there. My female participant has the most beautiful voice! One day after work she sang for me and it was so hard to fight back the tears. There was also a participant who played every instrument I can think of. On graduation day I was down the hallway and heard one of my favorite praise and worship songs being sung; I dashed down and got there in time to record the last part of the song.  He also wrote a beautiful song which he played at the graduation.  Here's him playing the praise and worship song:

I absolutely loved working in this program. It makes me even more excited about finishing graduate school and getting to work with people just like these. 

I recognize this is getting long, but I have one more experience of perseverance and hope to share. For one of my class assignments we were asked to step out of our comfort zone and interact with a culture different from the one we grew up around. I chose the homeless community. One Saturday afternoon Jason and I drove to downtown Dallas. I have to be honest, when I first got there I begged Jason to let me turn around and find a different culture. I was very nervous. But he encouraged me to approach a man standing by himself digging around an ashtray. I went up to the man and asked him to join us at lunch.  Ronald was definitely a little startled. He was very quite for the first 30 minutes and visibly uncomfortable being in Subway. I learned a lot from Ronald; mostly about human dignity and the way we treat those who are homeless. As with those with vision impairments, those who are homeless are first and foremost people. After this experience I can see how someone who is homeless could start to feel less than that.

First, people chose to either look away from us or stare. There wasn't much of a middle ground. I definitely noticed this. I'm used to receiving simple smiles of acknowledgement from others in passing (and at A&M a "Howdy"). This absence was strange. I can see how day after day of this could make one feel as though they are "lesser" than those whizzing by. Even when someone did stop to give change, they did so without a word and usually didn't even stop or look at the person; more often than not, change was tossed in the general direction of the person sitting next to the wall. If there's anything I gained from this, it was to always look at those who are homeless in the eye and give them a smile, a wave. Even if I cannot provide change or a meal, the very least I can do is provide them a sense of dignity. 

Second, I wondered how often Ronald heard his name. Names are such a big deal for humans. No other species takes the time to name their peers. Eventually, your name becomes part of your identity. Girls often change their name in marriage as to be identified with their husband. But as a person who is homeless, especially one who hitchhiked as far and often as Ronald, hearing ones name could be a rarity. In some sense I can also see how this might start to ware on a person, making him or her feel separated from their identity. 

This experience truly had a profound affect on me. The homeless population is one I'm becoming passionate about.  Through it I was able to identify where outreach efforts, particularly those involving social work, might be going wrong. We must start to look at the world through the eyes of someone who is homeless. Perhaps the reason people choose not to go to soup kitchens or homeless shelters is out of feeling increasingly marginalized (look at the typical location of these, about as marginal as it comes). We must start to align our goals with theirs, build trust, and ultimately treat them with the dignity all humans deserve. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

How to get people to come early and stay late for Mass?

At St. Patrick's, entering the 5th grade did not only mean you were "top dog" on the first floor, it also meant you were now eligible to be an Altar Server (AS). For the Vrla kids this was a right of passage. Being the youngest child, I couldn't wait to be just like my sister and brother and stand on the Altar in a black robe and a white smock. Oh the glamours of Catholic School, it's the little things.  

I should have known Altar Serving and I weren't going to get along well when I missed the first day of classes. At this point I should have said, "you know I think I'll wait until next year when I can attend the full 3 days of instructions."  But no, I was a Vrla, my brother and sister had imparted their AS knowledge to me and I had studied their every move up on that Altar.  I was destined to be a pro.  However, what I failed to remember was that my brother was the AS who on his way to kneel on the steps had smacked head first into the candles flanking the sides of Altar, making a surprisingly loud sound of glass on his apparent head o steel. I heard about this incident for weeks from my classmates.  News travels fast in Catholic school.  As far as I know, this was Bryan's only big blunder as an AS.  Me on the other hand...well, I had enough to write a blog about them.  And now the top 5 reasons Mass was so entertaining when Rebecca was an AS:  

Disclaimer:  During the time I was an AS the Monsignor at St. Patrick was a very serious and all about business kind of guy. Altar Serving was not a joke and he would gladly let you know if you were doing anything incorrectly.  I may or may not have been a little terrified of him.  

1) Following Communion the Altar Servers and the Priest clean up all the chalices, wiping them down and putting the tops on.  We were told during classes that the patterns on the top and chalice would match, making it clear which goes with which (see below picture of how it should be). At my very first Mass as an AS I step up to the Altar ready to help Monsignor J (MJ) clean up. He wiped down a chalice and hands it to me.  It has no pattern, and the only difference between the tops are the crosses in the middle. 

Oh and they're each ever so slightly different in size.  Enough to where only one top will fit each chalice. I play musical tops for what feels like 10 minutes, clanking on incorrect top after incorrect top. Finally, MJ takes back the chalice and grabs the correct top as if it was the most obvious thing ever. From that time on after wiping down a chalice, he would slightly tap it against the correct top as he set it down.  You're welcome St. Patrick Altar Servers, I just made your job 10 times easier.  

2) One morning I stood on the Altar holding the book for none other than MJ.  MJ is very particular bout what angle and height you hold the book for him. All of a sudden my watch starts beeping.  My watch alarm is going off.  I had wondered why my alarm hadn't woke me up that morning, instead my sister had to come in my room to tell me to get my butt in gear.  Turns out I had set it for an hour late. My 12 year old self has a mini freak out.  Should I turn off the watch or hold the book at the correct angle?  I don't know!  I look up, MJ is glaring down at me in a way I hope to never see another human being do.  After a minute of awkward beeping my watch finally stops. He makes no mention of the incident to me after Mass, but I know I am permanently engraved in his head as the girl whose watch went off during church.  

3) The best part about being an AS is getting to light the candles.  Fire is fun, always. Not to mention we get to use the coolest contraption to light the candles. It looks something like this:
See that little knob on the lower left side of the lighter?  Yes, well these control the length of the wick. One day while lighting the candles before mass I somehow managed to push this knob up far more than necessary.  The flame was gigantic. I panicked and pulled the knob down, snuffing out the flame.  Whew...disaster avoided.  I went back to the sacristy proud of my quick action.  I was greeted by MJ at the door.
MJ: "Why is the wick all the way down?"
Me: "Oh I was just putting out a flame"
MJ: "If you pull it all the way down after a flame was on it the wick freezes in the lighter.  It's probably broken now."
I try to move the wick back up.  It is indeed stuck.  Fail. 

4) As with all jobs, sometimes there were "no shows" in the AS world. But no fear, there was always at least one or two Altar Servers in the congregation ready to step up to the plate and save the Mass. On this particular occasion, there wasn't just one no-show, there were three. A voice came over the PA system pleading for one brave soul to be an Altar Server for today's Mass. Having already seen MJ, I figured I would volunteer and maybe start to make him like me a little better. I walk back to the sacristy ready to get a "thank you" and a pat on the back.  Luckily I had brought a hair band and was able to tie my hair back; strands of hair and fire do not mix well.  Once again MJ is there to greet me at the door:
MJ: "You're going to be our Altar Server."
Me: "Yup, I sure am, I even pulled my hair back.
MJ: "Those earrings are huge. They make you look like a gypsy"
C'mon man!  I was just trying to be a good Catholic and volunteer to be back up AS.  I never wore those hoop earrings again.  

5) After Mass, I went up to put out the candles.  All the seasoned and "Cool" AS put out the candles by snuffing one out with the bell side of the contraption pictured above and blowing the others out.  Well, I was seasoned and cool...or I wanted to be.  I reached up to snuff out candle one and leaned over to blow out candle two.  In one of my most intelligent moves to date I blow straight down at the candle.  The melted hot wax surrounding the candle shoots straight up hitting me directly in the face.  It instantly dries and I officially look like "two-face" from batman.  First reaction "OOUCH"  Second reaction "I need to get off this Altar ASAP I look ridiculous"  I put my head down and blow out (from a safe distance) the other 4 candles as quickly as possible then run back to the safety of the sacristy.  Luckily, MJ was not there to greet me at the door.  I can only imagine how that conversation would have gone. 

So, how do you get people to come early and stay late for Mass?  Answer, have Rebecca be an AS, she's sure to do something entertaining.