Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Life as a Book Report: Confessions

Lately, I have been reading Confessions, by Saint Augustine.
Confessions (Penguin Classics)
(cover photo courtesy of

I do not have words to fully describe the impact this book has had on both my thought life and spiritual life. Currently, in my life there are several unknowns. I am still looking for a full-time position, though I have had a part-time, temporary position created for me. I am concerned about our cash-flow situation. I am concerned about our country's economic system and if using our emergency fund to help our cash-flow situation (which is the reason it is there) is really wise. In short, I worry.

In Confessions, St. Augustine recounts his life story - but from the perspective of a penitent sinner who recognizes both his folly and God's faithfulness at every stage in his life. It really is a mindful. Wrapping my head around the profound truth and simplicity has been a blessing to me at this particular time in life. Processing and meditating on these truths has also required me to renew my subscription twice at Pima County Library.

Seeing the way that St. Augustine recognizes God's hand in all things, even though Augustine exercised his free-will and chose to think and do all sorts of things that drove him farther and farther into darkness - has helped me do the same in my life.

I HIGHLY recommend this book to everyone. In the course of his life, Augustine was a sinner, a seeker, a scholar and a (eventually) saint - much like many of us. His journey to Christ was a long one and choosing Catholicism was a decision that he meditated on deeply. I believe that anyone can benefit from reading his Confessions - sinner, seeker, scholar, or 'saint.'

But you don't have to take my word for it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Oatmeal Cream Pies

Friday afternoon, I was inspired by this blog, where the author tried recreating her husband's favorite Little Debbie snack: nutty bars). As my husband was returning from a week spent working out with the livestock judging team, I thought that I should make his favorite Little Debbie snack: Oatmeal Cream Pies!

I thought this would be relatively easy - I mean, I make oatmeal cookies, slather on some frosting, bada-bing, bada-boom: happy husband. It was really about that easy. I did search from others' oatmeal cream pie recipes - and let me tell you folks, there are A LOT of sites out there who've recreated the pie. Mine is not a 'perfect' recreation; I think it's better! For those claiming "this tastes exactly like the real thing!" their filling used shortening and marshmallow creme - two ingredients that I did not have on hand and didn't wish to buy. So, I kept searching till I found a very simple frosting recipe - and it is goooood.

So, without further ado, MY recipe for Oatmeal Cream Pies that you and your whole family will love. I gah-ron-tee it. (and since it's two cookies, you really feel like you can eat just one at a time.)

Oatmeal Cookies
(Better Homes & Gardens' New Cook Book Limited (pink) Edition)

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (recipe called for cloves; I substituted with what I had)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. oats

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occassionally. Bean in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer; stir in remaining flour. Stir in oats.

Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

As the cookies cool, mix up the frosting.


1/2 c. butter, softened
2 c. powdered sugar
1-2 T. whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat together the butter and powdered sugar. Add in 1 T of whipping cream and vanilla. At this point, I thought the frosting was too stiff, so I added in another T of whipping cream and thought it was creamier.

Pair up your cookies with another of a like-size. Frost the bottom of one, and top with another. Enjoy!

(...and you will, even if you don't like Little Debbie's pies - you'll enjoy these. I do!)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thankful Thursday

As alluded to in my last post, I found out last week that I didn't get my "dream" job. At the same time that I was interviewing for the dream job, I interviewed for a position with the Community Outreach Program for the Deaf (COPD). It was actually a pre-interview - to determine if I had the skill set for the actual position and should be passed on to the Board for review. 

I didn't get that position.

HOWEVER, they saw that I had potential to contribute toward the organization and offered me a part-time, temporary position. While I licked my wounds from dream job, the other offer seemed to be a lame consolation prize.

My first day was Monday.  Even then, it seemed a bit of the consolation prize.  HOWEVER, as my week has progressed, I am quite awed at God's goodness and provision toward our family. 

Who hasn't asked for a job to be created just for them?  Essentially, this job is!  The director recognized my ability to take on projects and complete them - and that is exactly what she wants me to do.  I will be responsible for organizing "Employer Outreach Events" - appreciation, recognition and recruitment.  I will try to develop new job opportunities.  I will also be developing market opportunities to sell products from the woodshop.

Let me tell you a little about COPD's vocational services.  Essentially, they serve two types of clients: competitive and non-competitive.  Those who are able to compete in the workforce against us hearing folks, but need assistance finding jobs or training - are the 'competitive' clients.  The non-competitive are developmentally disabled and may have hearing deficits (deaf or hard of hearing).  These clients require supervision and may only be able to do a portion of the work a competitive person.  COPD has developed contracts with a hotel to do house-keeping, some government agencies to provide janitorial services, Catholic Community Services' meals-on-wheels program assembling the meals, and the woodshop - making shelves, spice racks, book ends, etc.

One reason I feel so blessed is the opportunity to develop new opportunities for a marginalized group of society.  COPD is part of Catholic Community Services.  I think the work the vocational program does is such an important aspect of recognizing human dignity.  We were created both to be and also to do.  Working, creating, contributing - these are part of what makes us human.  I feel blessed to be able to work to provide these opportunities for others.

I don't know how long I will be at COPD, but I am at peace. I know that God will meet our needs! In the meantime, the following verses will be my guiding light and prayer.

Psalm 85:11-14
Love and truth will meet;
Justice and peace will kiss.
Truth will spring from the earth;
Justice will look down from heaven.
The Lord will surel grant abudance; our land will yield its increase.
Prosperity will march before the Lord, and good fortune will follow behind.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Raspberry Pie

I've spent the last thirty hours disheartened.  Upon getting engaged, I started searching for jobs in Tucson. Granted, while TAing, working at ECpE, planning a wedding, and trying to maintain friendships (by being social), the search wasn't intense. (Maybe I should've mentioned working on my Master's project, although that list will give you an idea about why I'm still not finished.) I though I could hit it harder once I got here. I have - but there hasn't been much reaping for all those seeds sown.

Finally, in the middle of July, I had my first interview. Followed by two more the second week. Followed by a second interview. I was excited because this second interview happened to be for a job I deemed my 'dream job.' Not only was I qualified, it's a job that I have wanted to do since a college freshmen! (Any guesses? An Advisor with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) I had connections, even! In the end, though, the job was not to be mine.

In the sports arena, I'm okay with second. When it comes to this, though, second place just wasn't comforting. I even wandered into the, "God. WHY? Why is this so hard? What are you doing? Why aren't you working this out? Am I doing something wrong here?? Why am I not enough for Arizona??"

Been there? Me too - usually when a boy has rejected me in the dating arena, though. My mom referred to it as being in the desert - like when the Israelites left Egypt.  Yesterday, my prayers turned into, "Please, just show me some sunshine. Speak some words of encouragement to my heart. I need some light to keep walking forward."

Today, the sunshine came.

When we wonder why God is causing us to walk through deserts, we're missing the point and not grasping the character of God. When we wonder why God isn't giving us what our hearts desire, we're missing it. If God is who He says He is, if He can do all things, then why am I not asking Him to bring about another opportunity - and believing He can do it?

You know when you have disappointments, people always tell you 'something better is coming.' In this economy, that can be pretty hard to take. I don't want to wait another month to have a steady income. I am ready now. In the moment of rejection, I want to nurse the sting; I'm not ready to look at my situation with eyes of faith. I'm looking at my situation with self-pity.

Today, though, God reminded my heart, "...if you knew who it was that brought this opportunity, you would ask Him to do it again - and maybe even better...." (a version of Jesus' words to the woman at the well in John 4)

This reminder is not new to me. This is now the third time he's used this phrasing to encourage my heart and direct my steps. Here is an example:

Though Dan and I dated during the summer of 2008, we weren't exclusive by any means. However, we definitely broke up in October 2008. The night of our break-up, I asked God to bring Dan back whenever he was ready - for me, for love, for our path. During our time off, though, I let go of him, trusting that God would bring him back if he was the guy for me - and I also started asking God to bring me 'raspberry pie.'

At Junior High retreat that fall, our speaker likened God's grace to 'chocolate cake' - and stated that God desires to lavish us with chocolate cake (what we think is a divinely delectable dessert/reward, but we don't think God really wants us to have it). For me, chocolate cake wasn't a good picture; I'm not a fan, really. But I looooove pie! Raspberry pie, ironically, was a flavor introduced to me by Dan. I love raspberries, but I'd never had raspberry pie.

Raspberry pie represented to me something that was new, unique, and an adventure but familiar - and something that I knew I would love. No specific person attached - just him whom God knew fit 'raspberry pie.'

Little to my knowing, it happened to be Dan.

Today, I am done wondering why not me and trying to figure out the why. I am asking God for my 'raspberry pie' job here in Tucson - and I believe that He is able and willing to make this happen.

Are you in a situation that you can't see the solution? Have you been trying to figure out what God is doing - or why He's not bringing you out of the desert? Don't be like the Israelites in the desert and  grumble against Him and long for what was not good for you (otherwise, He would've granted it), though it was comfortable. Ask God who is able to do more than you can ask or imagine to bring you the dessert, and prepare you to leave the desert and enter the promised land.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Solution to Sweet Corn & Zucchini Burn-out


Caba-what, Jessica??

Cabasitas! A delicious Mexican dish that combines the abundance flowing out of your Midwestern gardens!

You'll need (all or any combination of these items):

An ear of sweet corn
Summer squash
Red Pepper
Blend of Mexican spices (I used chili pepper, salt & pepper because that's all I had)
Shredded Chicken (optional)
Cheese (goat cheese, southwestern blend cheese - whatev)
Flour tortillas

Slice your you're making a fajita.
Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add your veggies and saute until tender.  Throw in some spices. I used chicken that I had cooked the day before and added after the veggies had cooked a bit because it just needed warming up.
Heat your tortilla.
Add the veggie blend to your tortilla.
Add some goat cheese. The first time I had this, my friend had some local goat cheese. It was SOOO good in this. I didn't have goat cheese, so I just used a southwestern blend of shredded cheese. It was still delicious.
Fold up burrito style (trust me!) and enjoy!

SO good. SO easy. SO good for you! The little burst of sweetness from the corn is so good with the slight spice and the delicious veggies.

Scrumptious Sunday

We had a potluck for Dan's department on Saturday. He volunteered me to bring desserts, so I finally got to break in my KitchenAid mixer!

The first dessert: Chubby Hubby Bars - like the Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor. They are very good!

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. unsalted butter at room temp.
1 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 T vanilla
1/4 c. chunky peanut butter
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped pretzles
1/4 c. chocolate chips (for top)
1/4 c. peanut butter chips (for top)
1/4 c. coarsely chopped pretzles (for top)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9x13" pan with foil and spray. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Using a mixer, beat butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients until blended. Add peanut butter. Stir in pretzles and chocolate chips.

2. Spread batter in the pan. Sprinkle peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and pretzles.

3. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.

My version:
I used Trader Joe's mini peanut butter cups (chopped) instead of chocolate or peanut butter chips. I did this for one reason: baking supplies are EXPENSIVE here in Arizona! (hint, hint for those looking for gift ideas. Yes, some flour, spices, and an abundance of chips in various flavors would make my day.) They worked great! The bars are delicious. Definitely make them for something where sharing is necessary!

THEN I baked a second dessert, which I invented.

Due to my abundance of pretzels, I wanted to make that strawberry pretzel dessert. After finding a recipe online, I realized that I did NOT want to make that particular dessert. I did want to make the pretzel crust; I did want to use strawberries. My mom has made this 'dessert' before (those of you dieters will know what I'm talking about) - that involves pureeing your favorite berries, mixing in some yogurt and then some Cool Whip. I decided to combine these. Super easy - pretty good.

Chop 2 c. pretzels in a food processor. Add in 3/4 c. butter (softened or melted) with 3 T. sugar and mix together. Bake at 400 for 6 - 10 minutes in a 9x13 pan.

Wash & quarter 1 pt. strawberries. Puree in a food processor. Mix with two, six ounce containers of yogurt. Finally add 1 8-oz. tub of Cool Whip (I used fat free). Pour into the pretzel crust. Refrigerate and enjoy.

--I put this in the freezer, and it took awhile to 'defrost' and thus be able to eat. I would recommend just refrigerating it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Prescott Pics! & Fast Fact Friday!

Last week, we had the opportunity to travel to Prescott, Arizona for the Arizona Cattleman's Conference. We were there from Wednesday through Saturday and had a wonderful time!

Dan led a livestock judging workshop on Thursday morning - and I got to help score. There is a youth organization for the junior Cattlemen, and this contest was part of it. One little boy who was 5 participated in the contest. He was adorable. During the morning, he did a great job paying attention and even completed all of the judging classes. By the time we'd had lunch, he was ready to go. He came over by me and we hung out and chatted. All morning, he had this big black cowboy hat on - and he had blond hair and cute blue eyes. Oh boy, I could have one of those! :)

The rest of the weekend, Dan worked the trade show representing the Animal Sciences department. I worked on presentation for the second interview and tooled around Prescott with two other ladies who adopted/befriended me! They were great and it is such a blessing to hang out with ladies!

We also got to attend a "steak fry" at one of the local ranches, The Las Vegas Ranch. The owner is a former judging team member, U of A alum, and current state senator. The ranch was beautiful. The trees lining the grounds were at least 200 feet high with a spreading canopy that kept us dry from the sprinkles. They had two big tents set up with white lights. There was a live country band. It was just - amazing. We also rubbed elbows with some state senators, although that wasn't really amazing. (I didn't take my camera along, but wish I would have.)

NOW for some Prescott fast facts!

1. It is pronounced Press-KIT - not press-SCOTT like it looks.
2. While the theme of the conference was "Where Cattlemen Meet at 5000 feet," the elevation is actually around 5300 feet.
3. It used to be the territorial capital of Arizona.
4. Several campaigns have been launched on the steps of the courthouse.
5. It is rich with history! 

The Yavapai County Courthose, which is the same building formerly known as the territorial capitol. Apparently, Barry Goldwater launched all of his campaigns from those steps.

The Arizona state flag

Whiskey Row - and no, it's not all bars! There are some, along with some very cool shops with art from locals.

This is what Whiskey Row looked like in yesteryear.

For my brother

For the Lilly's...who would never own a saloon - maybe it served alcohol chocolates, though?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday

I have started reading St. Augustine's Confessions. It is beautiful and thought-provoking. I love this passage from Book 1, section 4.

What, then, is the God I worship?
He can be none but the Lord God himself, for who but the Lord is God?
What other refuge can there be, except our God?

You, my God, are supreme, utmost in goodness,
mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just.
You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present amongst us,
the most beautiful and yet the most strong,
ever enduring and yet you change all things.
You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you.
You are the unseen power that brings decline upon the proud.
You are ever active, yet always at rest.

You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need.
You support, you fill, and you protect all things.
You create them, nourish them, and bring them to perfection.
You seek to make them your own, though you lack for nothing.
You love your creatures, but with a gentle love.
You treasure them, but without apprehension.

You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain.
You can be angry and yet serene.

Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same.
You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them.
You are never in need yet are glad to gain,
never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts.

We give abundantly to you so that we may deserve a reward;
yet which of us has anything that does not come from you?
You repay us what we deserve, and yet you owe nothing to any.
You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing therby.

You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight,
but is this enough to say of you?
Can any man say enough when he speaks of you?
Yet woe betide those who are silent about you!
For even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe you.

(the breaks are mine)

There is really not much to add...just much to savor and meditate upon and let sink into my soul.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's New Wednesday

I haven't posted much about our "regular" life, lately.

I've done a little decorating:
Our "refreshment" "cabinet"

I've done A LOT of cooking - and took pictures of one meal.

Roasted squash with sausage, rosemary and asiago cheese & mushroom risotto and spinach.

I was also able to recreate my favorite Thai lunch. Nine years ago, I lived in Thailand for two months teaching English at Sripatum University in Bangkok as part of a mission trip. The "dining hall" on campus was a giant, open air (though covered) hall. Along the edges were food vendors. My go-to vendor made fried chicken and rice AND mamat pad gai. Mamat means fried, pad = noodles, gai = chicken. Put it all together and you have chicken with fried noodles - in a peanut sauce with bok choy and a little cilantro. I found Thai Kitchens' fried noodles with sauce and gave it a whirl. I sauteed some chicken, bok choy, added the cooked noodles, then the sauce. In addition, I sprinkled some chili powder and chopped peanuts. It was awesome!

I've also been reaping the bounty of an aunt with a lot of tomatoes this month! My solution for an abundance of cherry and yellow 'pear' tomatoes? Roast them with olive oil, some basil and garlic at 325 for 30ish minutes. Cook spiral pasta - add it in for a few minutes at the end and enjoy. Dan doesn't like tomatoes - and he looooves this dish.

I also got a hair cut!

I've also had three interviews and one second interview. I'll find out at the end of this week about the second interview. I would LOVE this job and feel like it was made for me! If you think of it, prayers are always appreciated.

What about Dan? Well, he's been bringin' home the bacon by going to work everyday. He's spent the weekends in July working on his thesis. He does the dishes nearly every night...and you know, just does a great job loving me and being my best friend.


Here in Tucson, it's 'Monsoon Season.' For my non-Tucsonan readers, that means that this is the one season in the year where we get regular precipitation. Based on the calendar, "monsoon season" begins on June 15. However, the season doesn't really start until there are three days with dew points above 54. (Fast fact, everybody). For 2011, this happened right around July 4.

Prior to July 4, it was H-O-T, hot here. We had nearly ten days that were around 110 degrees, very little cloud cover and a dew point of -2. (only one of those statements is an exaggeration) Hence, when Tucsonans learn just when I moved down here, their reply is, "Oh! Talk about a wake up call!" or "I'm so sorry!" What they're really thinking is, "Boy, she must really love him!" It was not pleasant.

Then July came...and I am in love with Monsoon Season. This statement proves just how Iowan I truly am! Tucsonans hate the humidity; I love it. I bask in its glory as I walk outside and feel my protection from the sun. It's like a welcome hug from an old friend. (Okay, I may be getting a little too nostalgic and ridiculous.) What can I say, though? I really do like it!

Now, I've heard that the adjustment to the dryness comes quickly. So, it may be that when I visit home next May and it's 68 degrees out, I'll proclaim that it's "so hot!" when what I really mean is it's "so humid!" For now, though, I'm holding onto my Iowa roots!

So, the reason it gets humid here during Monsoon Season is the rain! Almost daily, the humidity will climb, the sun will break through and clouds carrying precipitation (usually from Mexico) will burst onto the scene. Some days, it's pretty light. Some times, we get a good ol' storm with thunder & lightning. Once, so far this summer, we've received such a downpour that it flooded our street! It was AWESOME! Below are pictures to prove it. It wasn't that deep and by morning it was dry - but it was cool!

(The title is attributed to all of our local TV metereologists who over-dramatize the season.)

Yep, just goin' for a walk in the flood waters. No biggie.

Check out that spray action! You're not supposed to drive down the flooded streets, as your vehicle could stall. If it does, not only do you have to pay for a tow, but for a ticket, too!