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Valentine’s Day Fudge: It Takes a Village

This post is part kitchen adventure, part musings on the community that surrounds us.

Since my husband has started announcing the quantity of sugar in all of his meals, I naturally decided to make him red velvet fudge for Valentine’s Day (following Six in the Suburb’s recipe, which has an obscene amount of sugar).

First, sugar and chocolate. (Pot from my hometown hostesses!  I’m not sure where the spoon came from, but we used it to fold our wedding invitations.)

Then, red gel food coloring to turn this velvet red.  It got brighter the longer it sat!  (Food coloring inherited when Rachel moved to Hungary, and never returned.) (Oh!  Don’t panic – mind the comma.  Rachel returned, but I never gave the food coloring back.)

Look at those convection cells in this boiling, viscous, chocolaty mass!

Checking the temperature with a meat thermometer (should have gotten a candy thermometer, but too late) from Lisa and Eduardo.

Waiting for the chocolate to cool to the requisite 110* was the most time-consuming part of this process.  Chocolate apparently has a very high specific heat!  On the plus side, I took a lot of pictures and cleaned the house.

Valentine's Day roses from my hubby decorate the kitchen.

Once the chocolate finally cooled, the recipe told me to blend in butter and vanilla.  Unfortunately, it cooled into such a hard mass that I couldn’t do it!  Enter manly man to whip up his own Valentine’s Day treat.

Between the time Greg stopped blending and I was prepared to pour, the chocolate had hardened into this.  I finally resorted to re-melting the fudge on the stove so I could pour it!  If I make fudge again, I’ll not let it cool down so much before adding in the other ingredients.

Making the cream cheese layer. Mixing bowl from Caroline!

White baking chocolate preparing to go in the cream cheese layer. Bowl from Natalie!

Pretty patterns! Mixer from Aunt Beth.

Okay, now that everything was made, it was time to put it together.  The recipe called for four layers, and thus for two identical pans to put the red velvet layers in to cool.  I didn’t have matching 8×8 pans, but I did have two identical 9″ pie plates, and I calculated that the areas were fairly close.  (“Pi” plates from my math friend Ben.)

The red velvet layer was too viscous to spread out in the pan on its own.  I ended up covering it with wax paper (to keep it from sticking) and a dish cloth (to protect my hands from the still-hot chocolate) and mashing it into place.  (Dish cloth from Julie & Rick.)

Making layers. Back plate shows the layer already mashed out; front plate shows chocolate ready for mashing.

Because it was so hard already, I didn’t wait very long for the red velvet layer to cool before spooning on the cream cheese/white chocolate layer.  Flipping the second red velvet layer on top was no problem – it didn’t stick to the wax paper at all, and its high viscosity meant that it kept its shape easily!

Finished product.

It turned out really sweet, and on the first night I thought it was pretty much a complete failure.  However, this fudge, like a fine wine, seems to improve with age.  The next day at lunch I could taste fudgy-ness underneath all the sweet!  After a day or so, it also got softer and easier to cut.  We’ve given away a lot of it (a 9″ pie plate is a lot to eat!), but my Valentine has quite enjoyed it.

While I was waiting for the chocolate to cool, I realized how many people had physically contributed to Greg’s Valentine’s gift this year.  Mentioned in this post for just physical wedding gifts are eight people!  Even the simplest thing like cooking in the kitchen can remind me of what a community surrounds and supports Greg and me in this wonderful adventure.  We’re not alone!

God said that it was not good for man to be alone before He created Eve.  I think the Bible’s teachings on marriage would say, too, that a man and woman aren’t meant to be on their own in marriage.  God has given us the Church to surround us, challenge us, and uphold us as Greg and I journey through this life together.

I might switch up the old proverb to say: “It takes a village to support a marriage.”

Thank you, our dear friends.  Happy Valentine’s day!


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Baby Blanket

Last week I delivered my Valentine’s gift to the 6-week-old baby boy in our small group.

It was the first time I’ve given away a crocheted baby blanket!   I started in late October, sped up right before his birth in December, and finally finished just before Valentine’s Day.

With my friend Eeyore. He looks a little less gloomy with a happy blanket behind him!

I followed the pattern from A Year of Baby Afghans: Book 4.  Aren’t all the colors adorable?   Baby Forest gave them a good stare when his mama opened up the blanket.

This blanket also marks my first time to change colors and use granny squares.   I’ve decided that I love granny squares as opposed to making the blanket outright.  When I crochet outright, it feels like I make so much progress at the beginning of the blanket and then slow to a crawl for the last 2/3, which does little for my motivation.  Checking off a box at the completion of every granny square – and only working with about 3″ square of fabric at a time – was  great.  Connecting them snugly was a bit more difficult than I imagined, and I ended up redoing most of the whip-stitching.  I hope it will stand up to a curious baby boy!

Changing colors every row, though, really slowed down construction.  For future projects, I’ll stick to larger blocks of color.

A closeup of the pattern.

I also decided to reduce the size from 180 squares to 72.   It was a great choice – I was only six weeks late for his birth instead of six months late, and his parents were impressed by the blanket’s size, anyway!

Full pattern.

I watched NetFlix while crocheting, so in addition to love, this blanket has been made with Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Voyager, Sanctuary, NCIS, and the Chronicles of Narnia.  Good things for a growing boy?

All-in-all, it was a great project.  It was so worth all the effort to see the surprise on his mother’s face when she opened it, and to finally get to hold that sweet baby all wrapped up in his new blanket!


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Grace and Mercy

Marriage: it’s heady stuff, y’all.
Get this: God created the relationship between a husband and wife, and then declared that it is the closest earthly equivalent to the relationship between Himself and His Church. God Himself!
And then, for some reason that I don’t understand, God permits sinful people like Greg and me to enter into this holy relationship, to be a bride and bridegroom like The Church is the Bride and Christ Himself is the Bridegroom.

I was riding my bike in a totally floored state about all of this yesterday, talking to God while I rode.
“God, you’re letting – no, encouraging – Greg and me into a relationship that prefigures that between Jesus and the Church?”
“Me? With Greg? I am seriously twisted inside. Seriously. I really, really don’t deserve him. And I certainly shouldn’t be permitted to echo the role of your Church. I mean, do you even know me?”
Yes, my child. Better than you know yourself.
That shut me up.

I realized later that my feeling of being utterly inadequate and undeserving, and yet still getting to spend the rest of my life with someone as wonderful as Greg is exactly the point. While the Church deserved nothing more than death, her Bridegroom Christ died for her to make her pure. She got what she did not deserve. Wow.

And then (as if this weren’t enough), on Greg’s side, Paul tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. How did He love the Church? He “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor … that she might be holy” (Ephesians 5:26-27, emphasis mine).
I can’t quite think of a command stiffer than that. By God’s great grace, I have a man who is walking this path.

That’s the key, though, isn’t it? Grace. Grace and mercy. The only thing that can support such a high view of marriage as foreshadowing Jesus’ marriage with the Church is God’s great mercy and grace. His mercy allows Greg and me to grant one another mercy when we fall, and His grace will keep us ever-journeying towards a better marriage, until one day we both stand before Christ at the great Wedding feast.

I also know that I, as of yet, have no clue what I’m talking about. So there you go.

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In Defense of Tears

“So,” said Peter, “night falls on Narnia. What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?”
“Don’t try to stop me, Peter,” said Lucy, “I am sure Aslan would not. I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia.”
… “It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

John writes, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).

On my last day at my beloved local church, I wept. It started as I walked up the stairs. My tears flowed freely during the music, I sniffled through the sermon, and I bawled uncontrollably the whole way home, finally collapsing in a muddled heap on my couch.

Many people offered words of comfort: “Don’t cry.” “You’ll be back.” “You will find a new church and new community.” “Something better is coming.”
While their words are true, I rebel at the command not to cry.

“Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid on it.” – Albert Smith

As Tirian said, it is a “great discourtesy” not to mourn the ending of something beautiful, even if something better is coming. Jesus mourned for his friend Lazarus, even though He knew that Lazarus would live again. Each year during Lent we mourn and remember Jesus’s sacrifice, even though we know Easter is on its way. Mourning gives weightiness and value to something’s ending. Skipping the Passion directly for Easter glances over the sacrifice that makes Easter beautiful. Experiencing the emotions of deep sorrow and deep happiness make life real. Without tears, I would just skip like a rock across the surface of life, never allowing it to affect me. Tears show that I have been touched, that I have become attached, that I have loved.

And so I weep for the ending of beautiful things here at Baylor and at Highland. The faces, the places, the laughter, the difficulties, the music, the sounds, the smells, the hugs, even those darn college coffee pots: I will miss it all.

In the midst of tears, I cry with hope (1 Thessalonians 4), for I know God has great things planned. Ahead of me is a new city, a new school, a new church, a new life with which I can glorify God.

You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.
– Lord Digory, C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Kyle’s last sermon, on 1 Thessalonians 5, was a beautiful reminder of this truth: Jesus is coming, and He’s going to bring His own to their one true, final Home! In that Home, there will be no tears!
But until that time, I will have to face the passing of beautiful things, things that faintly echo the melody of that Home. And I will shed tears.

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I know my leave-taking is getting bad:
Tonight, while rinsing out the aromatic liquid, I realized it was my last time to clean the college ministry coffee pots.
I’m gonna miss ’em.

God, when I get to heaven, will we still get to do things like clean coffee pots?

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Sundays have always been a little bit special.
Growing up, Sunday meant church. It meant some one-on-one time with my Dad, wiping doughnut crumbs off eachother’s faces and sitting in the sound booth during service. (I got to give the preacher his microphone battery, and I always got a hug.) Sunday was playing with my brother in the empty dance studio. Sunday was going to Sam’s Club and getting free food. Sunday nights were sitting in the kitchen, parents doing laundry or bills, brother running about, all of us eating cheese and turkey out of the fridge and just catching up on life. Sunday was reading my Bible and getting tucked in by both of my parents.
So Sundays have always been a bit special.

With increased responsibilities and sheer force of time, some of my wonder at the day has faded. It seems difficult for me to remember each Sunday that this was the day Jesus conquered death(!) (especially since His holy Sabbath often contains a lot of homework).

This is one reason Lent is good.
I have observed Lent in some way most of the years since I was a child, but this year I feel like I am learning so much more. I finally got a definite answer on whether Lenten observations continue on Sundays: they do not, because each and every Sunday is a mini Easter! So, the last two Sundays have been celebratory days: I’ve sipped wonderful Highland coffee before church and sat with a delicious Coca-Cola as I read the incredible number of blog entries that have built up over the previous week.
The last four days were really hard to keep my Lenten resolution. I traveled to visit a graduate school, where they got us up early in the morning and proceeded to pelt us with information and activities until the late evening. It was exhilarating but exhausting. By the third day, I was subconsciously (and consciously) searching for a Starbucks at every lab. (You laugh, but we saw one on the first floor of one of the lab buildings.) However, I kept to my resolution.
So today was quite a celebration. I know it sounds ridiculous to celebrate Sunday for caffeine and blogs (and let’s face it, it is pretty ridiculous). But, the beauty of focusing on God during Lent (in addition to giving a good thing up) is that He uses the mundane to teach heavenly lessons. God is using my small celebration of caffeine and blogs to turn me towards the rightful, glorious celebration that is each and every Sunday.

How was today just a little bit special?
I got to go to my wonderful church. I had some delicious coffee. I was given the courage to ask someone to sit with us. I heard God’s words in my pastor’s message. God used me to make someone who had taken the huge step of returning to church feel welcome in His Church. I got to read about my friend’s adventures with furry men and unicorns while sipping a Coca-Cola, and then talk with her about said adventures. (Praise the Lord for Skype!) The sun shone warmly. I got to sit and be with Greg. I had a Sunday night dinner worthy of my upbringing. 🙂 I got to sit in a Leadership Community meeting where Godly men and women expressed thoughts, stimulated my thinking, and worked out how to better help college students follow Jesus. I got to laugh and talk and pray with friends, new and old.
Most of all, today I celebrated that Jesus Christ is risen, making possible every good and wonderful thing.
Sundays are just a little bit special.

That’s what I love about Sunday:
Sing along as the choir sways;
Every verse of Amazin’ Grace,
An’ then we shake the Preacher’s hand.
Go home, into your blue jeans;
Have some chicken an’ some baked beans.
Pick a back yard football team,
Not do much of anything:
That’s what I love about Sunday.

Ooh, new believers gettin’ baptized,
Momma’s hands raised up high,
Havin’ a Hallelujah good time
A smile on everybody’s face.
That’s what I love about Sunday,
Oh, yeah.

-Craig Morgan, That’s What I Love About Sunday (full lyrics)

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In Which I Argue with the Logic of My Dreams

In my dream last night, things had apparently gotten pretty bad. Worldwide depression, some famines, bad weather, etc. The Church (there’s only one) decided that since things were so bad, the world needed to celebrate, so they moved Easter up by two weeks.
In the dream, it wasn’t to remember the glorious Joy that is the resurrection of Christ on Easter morning (praise the Lord!); it was rather a decision to say, “Hey! Let’s all put out happy decorations and light candles and sing songs and eat candy and everything will all be alright again.”
I voiced my disagreement with whoever I was having coffee in the dream. Lent is a time of fasting, prayer, and devotion to remember the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness and His ultimate sacrifice. Cutting Lent short in the midst of hard times seemed counterintuitive; this dream Church was cutting away the time intended for us to better understand our suffering through Christ’s suffering and a time intended for more intense fasting and prayer, all for a surface level happiness.

And I woke up from this strange dream about the philosophy of the Church calendar and decided to write a blog entry.

So, embrace the lessons of Lent.

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