Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lonely Choices

I'm thinking of getting a regular job again, for a while at least, one with a weekly commitment to work during the daytime most days.  Part of me feels like it would be torture.  I hope I'm not lazy.  I hope I'm not resistant to all kinds of commitment.

Another option may be to participate in a research study.  It would involve 2 weeks away from friends and family.  I hope I would still have internet access, at least an allowance of time each day.  Being away from my friends for so long would be hard.  But I think I could do it, promising myself a bash of social experiences afterwards.  Besides, as one of my more introverted friends pointed out, I could view it as an extended spiritual retreat, a time to pray and read and journal.  I'm grateful that this doesn't sound impossible to me, or even all that scary (though it does sound serious; what if God says something unexpected?).

I've spent a year trusting God to provide for me, and it has been marvelous to watch.  Even recently He was reminding me just how much my anxiety about money is unwarranted.  I don't want to give up on the lesson.  I want to trust Him to provide through work of whatever kind, or from the deliveries of ravens, or by sustaining that which I already have - whatever means He wants.

The truth is, I don't like making these kinds of decisions for myself.  I need God's guidance.  I wish for human authority.  And not really having that makes it a little bit harder, to feel the need for income, to search out possibilities, to evaluate things on my own, and to make commitments (or decline them).

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vacuum's Two U's

Why does "vacuum" have two u's, IN A ROW?  It's a weird word.  But, looking at another double-u word might help our understanding: "continuum".  This totally makes me think of the bad guy we love to hate, and his immortal omnipotent (sort of) race in Star Trek, the Q.  Not to be confused with the "collective", which is Borg.  Anyway.  We actually use a recognizable root of "continuum", so it is easier to see that the last "um" is a suffix to indicate something about word forms.  To quote Matthew Lancey on, "Double U was/is fairly common in Latin because of its complex system of word endings to indicate case, gender and so on."

So.  "Continue" (back in Latin spelled "continuare") becomes "continuum" when the verb becomes a noun*, and "vacare" or something like it becomes "vacuus" (adjective?) and "vacuum" (noun?) in Latin.  Etymology Online says that the word is probably a loan-translation from the Greek "kenon" which only slightly resembles "vacare", "vain", or "vacuus" - all of which are attested words in the family tree of "vacuum".  We had the great idea back in the 17th century English speaking world of spelling "vacuus" as "vacuous", which is clearer on the pronunciation and only slightly less obviously Latin.

A lot of sources online (really reliable ones like Yahoo Answers) say that there are two u's because how else would you know to pronounce two different vowel sounds there?  But, um, I don't really think that's how words work.  These people are either gullible, or bluffing the Internet looking for the gullible.

What I really want to know is why there is only one "c".  If there are ever seemingly pointless double consonants in words, it tempts me to double other lletterrs also. ("Embarrass", anyone? There are two doubles, and I spell it wrong the first time, every time.) Just saying.  Though I must say that if the "c" were a "k" like it should be, for some reason I wouldn't feel the need to double it in the same way.  But then, the vowel's pronunciation would bother me.  And if we insist on leaving only one "c" in our English transliteration, could we pronounce the "a" as a long "a" like in "bacon"?  Or maybe we could try "bacoon", "baakon", "bakun", "bacconn"?

*In my life, I am much more tempted to turn nouns into verbs.  I imagine this is historically predominant, also.  Therefore, when I am keeping my tone intentionally casual, I say things like "churching", "small-group-ing", "dishes-ing".  Verbs are a lot more fun, if they have a description built into them.  My preschool-teacher-friend also says that kids initially think much more in pictures than in words, so it is good if we can keep our speech so vividly picturey.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chocolate Chip Nut Butter Bites

This is a recipe describing the way I have been experimentally baking these days.  Recipes are not the boss of us; they are tools and guides, and the more we understand about what makes a good dish, the less we have to follow exact measurements and specific ingredients.

I just can't call these cookies.  Because if I call them cookies, people expecting cookies will frown at me, and think I'm a bad baker.  These are healthy(er) things shaped like cookies, with chocolate chips like cookies, but not really cookies.  They are a dessert.  
I told my friend's kids, who sampled these, that I would send their mom the recipe.  I don't particularly expect her to make them, and I don't especially expect any of you to make them either.  As her husband pointed out, they're pretty expensive cookies.  One advantage of them, though, is that they are gluten and dairy free, and with growing numbers of people attempting such dietary restrictions, I thought I'd try them out. 
Process in a food processor for 5-10 minutes, scraping sides occasionally, until it makes a "butter":
3-5 hands-full of almonds and/or cashews and/or peanuts (peanuts will have a stronger flavor) (substitute 1/2 cup total nut butter from a jar if you want... keep extra on hand in case the dough is too soupy)
1 can drained garbanzo beans/chickpeas (Watch for good deals on these, places like Big Lots or HMart or Trader Joes, or get your friends to give you the about-to-expire ones off their pantry shelves...)
1 egg (or egg yolk, particularly if you're short of nut butter, as the whites will make the dough runnier) (The egg is optional, but I think it greatly improves the texture.)
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of baking soda
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of baking powder
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of salt (on the lesser end if the canned beans were salted, or if you are using a nut butter from a jar, which happens to have salt as the ingredient, or if your nuts were salted)
1-2 hands-full brown sugar
A quick pour of vanilla
A drizzle of maple syrup or honey (optional) (I want to try molasses.  Molasses is amazing.  But it will also overtake the other flavors.)
Process these with the nut butter until smooth.  If dough is so soupy that it won't stay in a blob on a cookie sheet, but rather will puddle before it even starts to cook, you need more nut butter.  Another option is to sprinkle some oats in there.  (Apparently there is some debate that I don't understand about oats having gluten or not.  Choose according to your level of intolerance and hype-acceptance.)
2-4 hands-full chocolate chips (Guittard Real Semisweet or some other allergy-friendly brand if you care about dairy free or soy free)
Stir this in by hand.  
Chill dough.  Like, make these before a meal, chill during the meal, and pull it out after you've rinsed the dishes and the table, to bake some up for dessert.
Preheat oven to 350.  Drop small spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.  Cookies will start at about 1.5 to 2 inches and spread to about 2.5 inches as they bake.  They bake for 15 minutes.  (Other recipes I read said 20-25, but it doesn't improve the texture and it does give the bottoms a kind of weird burned bean taste...)  Nut Butter Bites won't remove from the pan as easily as cookies, because they don't have the same kind of greasy fats as butter or Crisco.  I didn't have much trouble, just know that there will be a little bit of cake-like residue on the pan, like the inside of a used muffin cup liner. 
I think they're best warm.  They're better if 1) you're not expecting a cookie, and 2) you don't think about them being basically hummus with chocolate chips. 
These nut butter bites are good for you, though.  There is protein from the beans and nuts.  Nuts and beans have minerals in them, and vitamins, that we US Americans need and don't get enough of.  And the nuts (not so much peanuts, keep in mind) have those useful kinds of fats that we don't get enough of either. 
Cashews are high in: protein, fiber, B vitamins, Vitamin E, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.  They have anti-oxidants and monounsaturated-fatty acids (good for your cholesterol). 

Almonds boast about the same list of beneficial nutrients, with less selenium and more calcium. 

Peanuts have a little less health benefits, but they're still present, including protein, iron, B vitamins, and zinc.
Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) boast protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium.  They are mild phytoestrogens, so they serve to naturally balance estrogen levels in our bodies (against synthetic estrogens from meat and dairy and pharmaceuticals.) 
Maple syrup has zinc.  It's nothing compared to molasses, though, which offers calcium, iron, magnesium, and selenium. 
A lot of these ingredients are good for your digestion, liver and hormones, energy and strength, bone health, skin health, heart health.  But they still have sugar, so don't go too crazy with them! 

To God be all glory.  


Monday, May 11, 2015

Review of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (with spoilers)

Fanny Price is one of the most boring heroines in literature.  She is always good, always correct, and it seems that her only faults lie in being too timid and being too easily fatigued. 

Edmund Bertram is one of the least interesting heroes in literature.  He is sincere, intentional, and sober.  His primary shortcoming seems to be thinking the best of people and making the most of bad circumstances. 

But isn’t real life and real goodness more like this duo?  Do they not refute our human tendency to buy into bright personalities, to follow confidence, to love foolishly?  Isn’t it hard to draw the line between dying to self and giving in to the pressures of those less wise?

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, does seem to be busy pressing these truths.  The most charming characters are the ones who oppose the good.  Mr. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary may not set out to be wicked, but they don’t try to be good.  They try to seem good.  They may even wish they were good.  What good could be done with them if good people took them under wing, befriended them, taught, influenced, married them? 

How are good people to resist the allure of reforming their lovers?  How are good people to judge accurately? 

While simultaneously facing these dilemmas and illustrating them, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram move through the excitement of new connections in the small neighborhood that has been their comfortable home.  Over and over again you see the heroine and hero making mistakes because of the things that influence their perspectives.  They doubt themselves.  They deceive themselves.  They reproach themselves.  They deny themselves. 

And all through the plot, following paths merely tangential to each other, they’re getting a chance to discover the value of each other’s steady, reverential characters.  So when the events conspire to divide them from all the temptation of flattery, charm, and attraction, little wonder they proceed to fall in love with unsatisfactory brevity and with a felicity the envy of all their foolish relations. 

To God be all glory.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Full-Flavor Chocolate Chip Cookies, A Simple Recipe

Cream together in a stand mixer: 
2 sticks of butter
1 t. vanilla
1 c. brown sugar

1 egg YOLK
2 eggs
Beat well.

Mix in until just combined:
3 c. all purpose flour (I live near Denver, CO.  If you live at a lower altitude, reduce flour by 1/4 to 1/2 c.)
1 t. salt
1 t. baking POWDER

Pour in:
1 1/2 to 2 c. semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1/2 c. white sugar
Stir/knead until sugar and flour are incorporated.

Refrigerate dough. 
After at least a few hours (until the dough is thoroughly chilled) scoop out 3-T. sized cookies. Shape into balls, then flatten to about 1/4 inch tall and about 2 1/2 inches diameter. 

Bake at 350 for about 14 minutes (ovens vary, adjust bake time accordingly). Sprinkle a little extra salt if desired, immediately upon removing from oven. Remove from pan and let cool briefly on a rack before gobbling up every gooey bite.

I don't know about you, but it drives me crazy when I find a recipe on a blog and I have to scroll through pages of prep photos and stories about husbands, children, and grocery stores before I get to the need-to-know information to make the food!  So I put my recipe at the top.  But I do want to let my regular readers know that I have been researching and testing chocolate chip cookie recipes for about a year now, and I'm very happy with these results.  There is a more complicated recipe that I like slightly better, but this version is one of the best I've *ever* tasted!  

My sister makes amazing cookies.  I think that three things make them amazing: her laziness (using a stand mixer and taking frequent, sometimes day-long breaks), the huge size of the cookies, and using margarine.  I want big, soft, not-too-cake-like cookies myself, but faster and with butter instead of margarine.  These cookies are not crumbly.  They are not crunchy like store-bought cookies.  They are not flat.  

I like the flavor of butter in my cookies.  These have it. 

I like my cookies to have extra dimension in their flavor: sweet, chocolate, butter, salt, and a touch of caramel.  These accomplish that.

I like my cookies to be just a tiny bit gooey in the center, and not dark brown on the edges.  Here they are.  

A long time ago I read a suggestion of adding extra fat without too much extra liquid, by adding an egg yolk.  I've tried with and without the extra yolk, and I think it makes a difference in helping the cookie to stand up and stay gooey.  

Baking powder makes the cookies fluffier/taller than baking soda.  

Adding the white sugar at the end causes the outsides to caramelize during cooking, for an ever-so-slight crispiness encasing the soft cookie.  Using a little more brown sugar than white also contributes to the deeper flavor.

I'm liking Guittard's Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, all GMO free, yummy flavor, and excellent melting.  They're sold at my local Safeway and Sprouts stores. 

To God be all glory. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Found Etymologies

I was thinking the other day about the word found, and how it can mean “discovered” and also “begin, lay the base”.  So I decided to search the etymologies, primarily using and supplementing with other dictionaries available online such as the Webster’s 1828. 

Found, as in “lay the base” is from the Latin for “bottom”.  It shares a root with fund, which entered English meaning “bottom, foundation, groundwork” and quickly came to mean “stock of available money” by the 1690’s.  It is theorized that the PIE root, *bhudh- is also the source of Old English botm – and maybe even the Hebrew for “build”, banahBuild, in English, is supposed to come through the Germanic for “home, building” from a PIE root, *bhu- "to dwell," from root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow". 

In Old English, the word timbran was preferred to communicate “to build”, but it died out and primarily remained in our word timber from PIE *deme- "to build," possibly from root *dem- "house, household" (source of Greek domos, Latin domus; and of our words: domestic and domain and don). 

The derivative verb, founder, is less encouraging that the verb found – the latter meaning “to establish” but the former meaning “to collapse” or “to sink to the bottom”. 

Another sense of found, as in foundry, means to “cast metal”, originally “to mix, mingle” from the Latin fundere “melt, cast, pour out” from the PIE *gheu- “to pour”, cognate with guts “bowels, entrails”, gutter, gush, and geyser

The noun fountain comes from the Old French fontaine, “natural spring” from the Latin fontanus “of a spring” and fons “spring (of water)”.  The proposed PIE is *dhen- (1) “to run, flow”. 

Find, my original curiosity for the day, is from the Proto-Germanic *finthan “to come upon, discover”.  Before that, it comes, we think, from PIE *pent- “to tread, go” as in pedestrian and path and pontoon.  Isn’t that lovely imagery? 

But isn’t it curious how these such similar words are thought to have independent etymologies?  It makes me wonder how well-attested the published etymologies are, or could there be alternatives that are more united? 

To God be all glory.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Studies in Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes I crave different aspects of chocolate chip cookies, resulting in a situation where there is no *perfect* recipe for me.  But I want to know which things to change in order to get what I want. So I've been experimenting.

~ I live in Colorado, not in the mountains, but considerably higher altitude than sea level.  If your altitude is lower, you might want to reduce the amount of flour you use.

~ Parkay margarine makes Stephannie cookies.  She's my sister, and around our friend circles, they are famous.  But I don't like margarine.  I want my cookies to have butter.  This brings up problems.  Because butter makes cookies flat.  In any case, Parkay is saltier than unsalted butter.  Use salted butter and/or add extra salt.

~ Use enough salt.

~ Adding flour does not fix flat cookie recipes.  I mean, if you add enough, they're not flat anymore.  But they're barely cookies anymore.

~ I read in some awesome cookbook at a friend's house one time, and it has changed my baking forever, that it is very useful to add other forms of fat than butter.  Go figure.  My first attempt has been to add an extra egg *yolk* (I think the recipe book suggested this).  I've tried a bit of coconut oil, which is supposedly a dough conditioner anyway.  I can't tell a difference.  I'm starting to wonder if I use a higher-quality butter if it would yield better (fluffier, but still tender) results.

~ If you brown at least some of the butter before using it, it adds a nutty and/or caramel dimension to the flavor.

~ Play with adding just a hint of spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg.  Add some flavor and warmth.  Everyone I know experiments with vanilla amounts, too - that is, they splash it instead of measuring.  Some brands of vanilla extract have a funny flavor; use a vanilla that you like.

~ Use a good kind of chocolate.  Dark, semi-sweet, and bittersweet, are by definition basically the same thing; different companies apply the terms to distinguish their products, but they don't have a definite meaning.  Different companies use varieties of ingredients.  I don't know what you like.  If you're a normal American, you might just want to go with Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips for the comfort of familiarity.  I read recently that Guittard melts very smoothly.  70% bitter is not sweet enough, I know from my most recent experiment - especially when you're experimenting with reducing the sugar.

~ Don't reduce the sugar.  1 1/2 c. sugar (brown and white mixed, in different proportions), 3 c. flour, 2 sticks butter.  Those are the basics.  Don't skimp.

~ Use enough chocolate.  Chocolate helps the cookie to have structure.  Don't let your dough be too warm when you mix the chocolate, or it will melt.

~ Other firmer ingredients can also help the structure of the cookie, like other kinds of chips - toffee, for instance.  Or you can add dried fruit.  I also like some recipes that have uncooked oatmeal mixed in.

~ I'm curious, based on an article I just read whether the darkness of the brown sugar affects raising.  Does darkness describe levels of acidity?  If you added just a touch of a different sweetener, could that help?  Particularly, I'm thinking about a tablespoon or less of molasses.

~ Leavening: the Toll House recipe calls for baking soda.  My favorite oatmeal cookie recipe has baking powder.  My most recent attempt had both.  The jury's out, but I suspect baking powder gives a better rise, especially if you're letting the dough rest in the refrigerator for a while.

~ You must refrigerate your dough.  It enhances the flavor mixtures.  But the main reason is that it keeps the cookies from spreading too quickly.  Flat cookies mean all sorts of unpleasant things like crispiness, only one layer of chocolate chunks, or not fitting as many on a pan without them running into one another.

~ I've learned that baking powder, at least, responds quicker in a slightly hotter oven.  I'm considering starting hotter (425??) for a minute or two, then reducing the heat (350).  It's all about helping the rise.

~ The pan you use matters.  I think the metal, the shape, the color all contribute to how your cookies bake.  I don't know your oven or your pans, but if something works for you, take note and keep using that!

~ Do *not* over-bake.  Take your cookies out when the centers aren't jiggling, and the edges are beginning to brown.  Do not wait until the tops of your cookies are brown if you want a soft gooey cookie.  You can let the cookies rest for a bit on the pan before removing to cool.  Another thing you can try is to squish the edges of your cookies towards their centers after removing from the oven, to keep them from setting so flat.

~ If all else fails (and sometimes just because), supplement your cookies with cheesecake dip, ice cream, salt, milk, hot drinks - to complement the tastes.

~ Also if the cookies get stale for some crazy reason, carefully re-hydrate using steam (or butter?).

~ Try freezing extra cookies, and remove about 15 minutes before eating, for a cold chewy treat.  You can freeze the dough, too, but I have very little experimentation with that.

~ To reheat in a microwave, make sure you use power settings below 5 to prevent crunchy burnt spots.  I find that about 30 seconds on power 3 works best in my microwave.

To God be all glory.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Gifts: A Christmas Etymology Devotional Meditation

A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents. 

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words? 

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”. 

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality. 

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage). 

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side. 

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:
One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.” 
Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.” 
To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?” 

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.) 

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”. 

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”. 

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy. 

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard? 

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”. 

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place. 

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients. 

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger. 

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip. 

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”. 

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”. 

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!) 

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy. 

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs. 

To God be all glory. 

Many thanks and credit to the resources of and in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to for Scriptures.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014


What Makes A Culture? 

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures? 

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more? 

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances. 

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos? 

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food? 

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose. 

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world. 

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business? 

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property? 

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues. 

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders. 

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating? 

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages! 

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do? 

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about? 

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things. 

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized? 

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle? 

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are? 

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved? 

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe. 

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold? 

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work? 

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often? 

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another? 

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide? 

To God be all glory. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Man of My Dreams

I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series, how well it taught the lesson.  Anne turned down a silly farmer who asked her to marry him via his sister.  She said no to Gilbert who’d been her rival all through school.  She was disappointed when her best friend agreed to marry the ordinary local, Fred.  But maybe her friend Diana was onto something.  Maybe Anne’s tall, dark, handsome, charming ideal wasn’t what Anne really needed.  As fiction conveniently wends its way, Anne met with such a man at college.  They courted for months.  And in the final breathless moment when he asked her to be his wife, she realized that she’d been wrong.  Her girlhood husband list had been dreamy and foolish.  There was nothing so wrong with this man.  But her heart wasn’t in it.  The truth was, she had been meant for Gil all along, only her stubborn fantasies had kept her from accepting it. 

Having a list seemed to help me when I was in high school.  It reminded me that love and marriage were about choice, not just feelings.  I still like my lists, even if only for self-knowledge.  In my case I was over 20 years old when I realized that a man doesn’t have to have a career plan for the rest of his life to make a good husband.  Many of the men I have ever respected (including my own dad) have been hard workers, caring for others, but trying different things, or whatever work they could find.  In a changing world, myself even desiring a bit of adventure, how could I demand stability? So my list has been modified.  As I've gained humility about my own certainty of how the world should be, I've grown a bit more relaxed about some of the things.  

Never mind the unforeseen and unknown; what selfish attitude is it that tells me that I can decide what I want and demand that I get that or else?  How was that affecting my relationships with men?  Is that what marriage is about?  Is that what life is about? 

I know lots of examples of people digressing from their lists as they matured:

A friend said she’d never marry someone in the military.  Then she met her husband on a military base in Japan, and she changed her mind. 

Another friend said her husband would have to own a top hat.  Would she really turn down an otherwise perfect match because he didn’t own the ideal accessory?  (The answer was “no”, she wouldn’t turn him down!)

Some friends wrestled with more serious questions.  Could they marry someone who was not a virgin?  What if his views on finances (debt, saving, spending) was different from hers?  If God was calling her to ministry, could she marry someone who didn’t have that same calling? 

I suppose it goes both ways.  No doubt men have their own hang-ups.  One man I know struggled because his family owned many animals and the woman he was interested in had severe allergies.  I’ve heard that many men planning to be missionaries look only for women who are pursuing the same goal. 

Some of these things are generally good wisdom.  A pastor I know counsels people to marry only if they’re physically attracted to one another (successful legacy of arranged marriages notwithstanding).  I know couples who were not attracted at first, but as they proceeded with their relationships, gained such feelings.  I myself would rather not marry someone in the military because of the demands on time and loyalty.  It’s a good idea to be unified about things like money and children and ministry.  But they’re not essential.  And sometimes, especially when we’re young, we don’t know what we need.  One artist friend knew God would provide her with an artist-husband, whose soul could understand hers.  Another artist friend has been married for decades to a man who’s good with numbers instead. 

Still other friends now happily married look back and think their "lists" or ideas were lacking some significant points, like respect for parents.  

In our society we barely know what marriage is really about, let alone what makes for a good one.  Sometimes parents and mentors advise us.  Sometimes they’re just taking a guess and pioneering new territory they never ventured on in their own relationships. Some of it is good advice, general wisdom.  A lot of it is promoting self-interest.  Some of it is universally-useful advice about trusting God and loving others. 

Are there legitimate deal-breakers?  Is it wrong to have a list of things we’re looking for?  What guiding principles are there for deciding to get married?  What is marriage?  What contributes to a good marriage?  If you choose rashly at first, is there hope for a good marriage in the end? 

But the fuss we make about who to choose… 
~ Miss Austen Regrets

To God be all glory.