Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beat the Drum Anyway


I always look forward to getting the mail for the day. Unfortunately, so do my children. So, if I'm not quick enough, I have to patiently watch them wrench it from the drop box that goes into our house -- wincing as precious mail gets crushed and torn. After I allow them some obligatory junk mail pieces to open, then it's Momma Mail Time!

I love the mail. I also love email. It's probably because I love writing and the written word. However, email will never take the place of a hand-written letter or card -- which are sadly becoming a rarity....but that's another blog post.

So today was no different. Somehow, the mail escaped unnoticed and unscathed from my children's attentions. However, pickin's were slim. A circular ad, a credit card agreement change and then one piece I didn't recognize. At first glance, I was ready to toss it. It listed me with my maiden name and then married name. The only place I have anything listed like that is on Facebook (all you married women know about that one...people from high school and earlier cannot find you if they don't know your new married name).

So, my first response was to roll my eyes and start mentally ranting about Facebook and the privacy evils they have been dealing with. But my curiosity got the better of me and so I opened it and realized it was a newsletter from the missions organization I used to work at in Brussels, Belgium after I graduated from college. There were some familiar faces and some that were new. However, my eye locked on a quote that was set out from the rest of the copy....and it imploded my brain. 

The quote came from a visiting pastor from Burkina Faso who was working on a project with the media ministry. Here's what he said.

"My people have a proverb:
'He who beats the drum does not know how far it goes.'"

Did you get that?  You might need to read it again and walk away from the screen and just let it simmer in your brain a bit. I'll wait....

Are you back?

Did it go as deeply within you as it did within me?

Drum Beat

There are so many ways to chew on this one. One of my first thoughts was about drum majors. I learned on Wikipedia (that great internet resource) that, "The drum major position is one of leadership, instruction, and group representation, but usually not administrative duties." Which sounds to me a lot like they get to dance around and jam, while bossing around the rest of the band.  Plus, they were those really ornate uniforms with ample plumage on their hats. They bear all the pressure of making the band perform. If a misstep happens we all look to him/her in silent accusation.

The more I thought about the drum beat in this way, the more it resonated with the type of person who is in a position of authority that informs their leadership -- like a president, a pastor, a police or fireman, a teacher or union boss. Although their direction in keeping the beat on track is necessary, we really expect them to do so. After all, it's the nature of their vocation.

So I mentally scratched that picture and my mind centered in on the lone person playing a solitary jimbay drum. If you've never heard one played, you're missing out. The nuances in the sound that is achieved by the minutest of changes in the hand position and placement is astounding.

My mind started pitting the cacophony of the entire drum section of a marching band against that solitary drummer. Truly, one would drown out the other.

But, that one little drum by itself can pierce the quiet and bring about warning, a portent of something to come, a call to prayer, invitation to a celebration, or just express the emotions of its player.

Do you ever feel like that lone drum player?

I don't suppose that anyone out there ever gets tired of doing good -- especially when it seems to go unappreciated -- and worse, when it's an object of scorn.

And truly, working hard to not lose your temper with your "problem-child" day in and day out does not seem to stack up to doing relief work in Haiti.  Resisting the urge to gun your engine to cut off the crazy driver who cut in front of you a few minutes ago (flashing your Not of This World decal in their proverbial face nonetheless) might not seem like much of an accomplishment...you know when you think about the person who is hungry but still refuses to steal.

But I truly think it's these "little" good things that we choose to do -- day in and day out -- that define us. After all, it's easy to beat that drum when people are looking at us in anticipation. It's like it's our duty. But, when no one is watching at all? That's when the true beat of our heart shows itself.

And yes, we can't know how far that drumbeat will travel. The person we choose not to retaliate against in the fast lane, might go home and carry that grace forward to their family members. That "problem-child" might one day grow up to be a relief worker in Haiti.

We just don't know the full affect of our actions.

So, be encouraged to keep on beating that drum...someone may actually really need to hear it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Soul Touch


I've been reflecting on...well more like marinating in the memory of an amazing weekend I recently spent with some kindred spirits in Milwaukee.

We gathered together for a banner event -- the wedding of our mutual beloved friend, Krista. While this wedding was much anticipated, I know Krista won't be offended or surprised to hear that the time our group of friends would be spending together was just as eagerly anticipated.

These people are forever ingrained upon the pages of my life. We worked, lived and breathed together in Brussels, Belgium, where we all worked for a variety of Christian missions organizations that were all housed in the same buildings. I had the pleasure of getting to work with several of them, and even got to be roomies with a couple of the girls. But the bonds went deeper than that.

There's nothing like leaving everything you know and are familiar with to live in a foreign country that speaks not one, but two different languages other than your mother tongue. Add in great stretches of the absence of sunlight, a rotten exchange rate to the dollar and therefore, frequent poverty, homesickness, and living and working with complete strangers -- strangers whom you need to rely on to help you transition to this new life, and who are really the only ones who can help you have a sense of home away from home. Add all of these together, and you might have a recipe for disaster.

But, this didn't happen. Instead, we embraced the change, struggled in our language classes, earned our Belgian driver's license, traveled Europe on our time off, shared our histories, ate epic chocolate and mind-blowing Lebanese pitas, offered a shoulder and plenty of kleenex when homesickness was acute, and basically interwined our lives and heart strings with one another.

These are the types of things that bond people together. It wasn't the quantity of time that we spent with each other (and looking back one of my dearest friendships from that time holds the record of the least amount of time I spent with anyone there). Rather, it was the intensity of those times that fused our hearts.

Soul Touch.

It's what happens when people push through the polite platitudes and into the depths of sacred territory.

And because of the distance of that reach into the core of our very being, soul touches leave a mark. Because it's impossible for people to see each other's souls in such a rustic and vulnerable state, and not be forever altered.

And yes, you can abuse that sacred connection -- that's why separation is so brutal, and heartbreak is so shockingly painful. 

But when soul touch is treasured -- and even carefully protected -- it's a wonder to behold.

It can happen with intention or be completely unplanned. And that's how we can sometimes get ourselves into trouble. We can touch souls with someone we were never meant to touch -- and then we deal with the consequences. Many extramarital affairs begin in this way. That's why the Bible cautions us to, "guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (Prov. 4:23)

But when we get it right, there's nothing quite like it. And that's why I could sit there on the floor of our hotel's lounge and dip my spoon into the communal quart of frozen custard (from Kopp's of course) and laugh until we cried about who-can-remember-what with people whom I hadn't seen for several years (and some that I had never met until that weekend) well into the night.

And although I had communicated infrequently with some since those days in Brussels, being there together in that place in time brought back a veritable deluge of memories of Saturday morning berry pickings and communal pancake feeds, dancing on the cobblestones of the Grande Place, sipping coffee or enjoying a Dame Blanche at our favorite hangout on the Place, La Brouette, riding the TGV bullet train to Paris for the day -- just because, and pooling our money so we could buy a pint of Dreyer's ice cream for $6.

I genuinely love these people. They knew me "when," just as I knew them. The years that have followed have been well-enjoyed chapters from those original pages we penned together.  And even if it's several more years until we are able to enjoy each other's company once again, I know that the reverberations of that original soul touch continue on, and nothing -- not time, not economic hardship, not marital status changes -- will ever be able to erase that fingerprint that has been forever imprinted.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Adventures in Meat Grinding

With fingers trembling in anticipation, I folded back the lid of the smallish box and pulled out the current object of my obsession. So white...so smooth...such shiny glinting metallic accents.

Ever since I had seen one of these beauties online, I knew I needed to make one mine.  And now...the dream had finally come true.

I eagerly tried it on....a perfect fit...like it was made for it to be there.

And then...I turned it on and smashed a whole bunch of glistening beef down it's gullet.

Yes...it's true...I finally tried out my grinder attachment for Mabel, my "majestic yellow" KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  It was a red-letter moment for me and the fam.


And now...that moment was finally here. After much debating and doing a quick research of the product reviews on Amazon on the fly at Costco in front of the meat section, I selected my cut of beef: Beef Round Eye Round. (Don't ask me why the word "round" has to be in there twice...I will be demonstrating my complete and utter lack of beef knowledge soon.) The price...$3.49 a pound, with 4.29 lbs purchased total. I'm pretty sure that it is a round roast -- my second choice since a sirloin round seemed to cost a ridiculous amount. I also bypassed the filet mignon roast...pretty, lightly red and devoid of fat. However, I couldn't justify the $30 price tag. I also eschewed some of the more fatty chunks o' meat because I didn't want to have to saw it off, and I didn't want to have to eat it later in ground up form.

So, I still have some meat research to do...obviously...if I want to make this not only a healthful option, but economical as well.

So, you might be asking...why grind your own meat at all?  Well, I mentioned it a previous blog about how I have become a little grossed out by the way our ground beef is processed. Many different cuts of beef from many places on the cow, and not just that cow, but several cows, freaks me out. It seems to be a recipe for disaster when you take several different animal cuts and smash them together in ground form. What if 3 are perfectly healthy animals, but the fourth is a bit sickly? How would you begin to even extract that meat from the other 3 once it's all ground up together?  The answer is...you can't.

What's really attractive to me is that I can select my own cut of meat from ONE animal and then grind it myself. Barring actually choosing my own animal to be slaughtered and buy cuts of meat from, I figure this is as good as it gets right now (although I hope that's an option for us soon.)

So, there I was with my beef round eye round, cutting board and somewhat dull Cutco knife (which I need to sharpen for next time) and a whole lot of ambition. I followed the directions as to putting on the attachment (easy) after I washed all the parts with warm, soapy water and had selected the "coarse" grinder blade. I sliced that roast into thin pieces...


....and then turned on the mixer and started feeding them through.

And as easy at that, the meat started coming out...well, ground up. It looked a little bit funny...like fat red worms, but it was like sweet vision to me.


The directions said to send it through twice. However, after trying a few handfuls, it didn't seem to be making it any smaller (I did use the coarse grinder blade after all), so I quickly abandoned that idea. We mostly use our ground beef for casseroles, enchiladas and tacos, etc. If I were doing hamburgers, I would probably opt for the fine grinder blade. I sent through a couple of slices of bread (as suggested by an Amazon review) to clean out the innards of the blade casing, and then I put the pieces in the dishwasher and washed the blades by hand and left them to air dry.

- Total time to cut meat into strips: 10 minutes (would have been faster if the knife were sharpened)

- Total time to grind 4 lbs of beef: 6 minutes

- Total Ziplocks of 1 lb. of ground beef: 4

So, what's my verdict? I honestly didn't know what to expect, but the ease with which the meat went down into the hole and then was pulled through and ground up and pushed out the plate was amazing. I didn't need to use the little "push tool" very much at all. The pieces of beef seem to slide through on their own. I definitely think that this doing this entire process 1 or 2 times a month is worth the 20 minutes or so of my time. The peace of mind is already priceless.  Now...I just need to update you with how it cooks up and tastes. The round eye had hardly any fat and I trimmed off any that was there. Apparently, it will cook up pretty quickly and won't stick to the pan.

And...after doing a little bit of additional research, I have learned that relatively cheap cuts of beef (flank, chuck roasts) seem to be what I need to buy. So, that's what I will purchase the next time, and what I'll keep my eye out for in the sales flyers.

So, next up will probably be grinding my own turkey breast...or chicken.  And apparently I should be able to use the grinder on some strawberries for jam...after a thorough washing and sterilization of course.

Stay tuned...

UPDATE:  So, I cooked up some of the meat for enchiladas from this batch that I ground the other day...wow! I was pleasantly surprised. Meat cooked up tender and moist and actually, I had an excess of water that I needed to drain out, but no visible fat. I'm loving it!