Saturday, May 28, 2011

World's Largest...Fiery Serpent??

When you drive across the three prairie provinces of Canada (that would be Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta for those of you not familiar with Canadian geography) you find an interesting phenomenon in a surprisingly large number of small, rural communities. What is this phenomenon you ask? It’s the “world’s largest” or “Canada’s largest” or “North American’s largest” or “just a really big” statue phenomenon. Need a little more explanation? OK, let’s name a few:

1.       Gladstone, Manitoba – has the “happy rock”      Gladstone...happy rock (get it?)
2.       Flin Flon, Manitoba has the status of Flintabbatey Flonatin (try googling that one for a historical explanation)
3.       Elm Creek, Manitoba (my home town) has the fire hydrant. (Talk about dog heaven!)
4.       Canora, Saskatchewan has the Ukrainian lady
5.       Beiseker, Alberta has Squirt, the skunk (not sure why you’d choose a skunk for a mascot)
6.       Torrington, Alberta has the statue of the gopher named Clem T. Go-Fur to commemorate the location of the Gopher Hole Museum (a very unique tourist attraction that has to be seen to be fully appreciated!)

I could go on and on...and on, but you get the point. An astounding number of rural communities have their “claim to fame” statue.  Apparently erecting statues isn’t restricted to our time. The Israelites also had a statue of sorts, although it wasn’t erected for fame, fortune or as a tourist attraction. It was erected at the direction of God to save people’s lives!  

In Numbers 21:4 the Israelites are complaining yet again about their circumstances. Rather than appreciating the fact that they’re freed from slavery in Egypt the Israelites are whining about the manna they have to eat and actually go so far as to accuse God and Moses of bringing them into the wilderness to die. To teach them a lesson God sends “fiery serpents” (which is another way of saying poisonous snakes) among the Israelites and many become sick and die from the venom. Needless to say, this quickly brings the Israelites to their senses. They ask Moses to pray to God for forgiveness and to remove the snakes...enter the “snake on a pole”. God tells Moses to make the form of a snake and attach it to a long pole. He says that anyone to looks at the snake will be healed. The bronze snake is placed in a prominent spot in the Israelite camp and anyone who trusts in and believes God’s word, looks on the bronze snake and is healed.

We could leave it there but the bronze snake is mentioned once more in the Old Testament.  In
2 Kings 18 Hezekiah has come into power in Judah. He loves God and is disgusted with the idolatry going on throughout the territory. He begins to clean up Judah’s act by destroying the idols the Israelites are worshiping and what do you thing he has to destroy? 2 Kings 18:4 says, “...He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.” The Israelites took what God meant to serve a specific purpose, refused to discard it when it no longer served that purpose, carried it with them throughout their years in the wilderness and eventually began to worship it!

The giant statues we visit as tourist attractions are a fun diversion from the monotony of long distance driving. I’m not saying these statues are idols, but I think we can all examine our lives closely to determine exactly what has become an idol that eats up time that could be God’s. Is it the television, computer games, your job, your volunteer work, money, or your busy schedule? There may be other things that come to mind for you. Perhaps it’s time to “clean house” as Hezekiah did and break up the idols we’ve been dragging around with us for the past few years. What are some of the statues you've seen in your travels? What are some of the things in your life that have become idols? Click on "comments" below to share your thoughts.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whatever Happened to Puffed Wheat?

That’s right it’s one of those obscure blog posts that starts out with a random thought and just deteriorates from there. I promise you though if you bear with me there will be a recipe at the end of the post! Last night I lay in bed at midnight, not sleeping, but thinking about what to write for a blog post this week. My mind began to scroll through various recipe ideas and what sprang up from deep within the dusty depths? Puffed Wheat Cake, that’s right, Puffed Wheat Cake! Why doesn’t anyone make Puffed Wheat cake anymore? Why don’t you see it at church events, bake sales or pot luck dinners? Was there an official ban on Puffed Wheat cake that no one told me about? For that matter can you even still buy Puffed Wheat cereal? And is it an official brand name and do I need to continue to capitalize Puffed Wheat?

So many questions and so few answers at 12:30 a.m. I remember puffed wheat cereal from my childhood. I think it was sold under Prairie Maid brand and it came in a plastic bag that was as tall I was at six years old. (OK maybe I exaggerate a bit but it was still a honking big bag of cereal!) Puffed wheat seemed to be a staple in everyone’s house back then. My father ate it as the start of his breakfast every morning. He had a special cereal bowl – nice and wide and deep. He’d fill it with puffed wheat cereal, add Corn Flakes, milk and brown sugar. I remember that combination made quite a tasty bedtime snack, too!

Puffed wheat cake was the first thing my mother taught me to make when I started to show an interest in baking early in my childhood years. As a team we'd boil the syrup and then my job would be to stir the puffed wheat in the bowl while she poured the caramel syrup over top of it. We’d quickly pack it into the cake pan before it had a chance to cool. Puffed wheat cake was something that you could just keep eating and never get full. It was easy to eat half the pan before you realized what you’d done. Of course as a kid you knew you’d get in big trouble if you did, but it was just so darn hard to stop!

I haven’t thought of puffed wheat cake in years. I haven’t made puffed wheat cake in many, many years! So what did happen to puffed wheat? Well I had to satisfy my avid curiosity. (Yes I know curiosity killed the cat, but so far I’ve survived 43 years without it being fatal. I like to think of my healthy sense of curiosity as an ongoing learning tool.) I digress...anyway I dragged my husband into Safeway while we were out for a walk the next day to peruse the cereal aisle. The brand Prairie Maid wasn’t to be found, but there was a down-sized version of puffed wheat under the Safeway brand. Funny how in this day and age of “super-sized” everything the healthy wheat cereal bags get smaller! So good news for all those inquiring minds who ever wanted to know...puffed wheat cereal is still available and if you need an excuse to go out and buy a bag here’s the recipe for Puffed Wheat cake.

Puffed Wheat Cake
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla

Boil the sugar, butter and syrup together for five minutes. Add vanilla and pour over seven or eight cups of Puffed Wheat cereal. Mix well and spread into buttered 9” x 13” cake pan.

Enjoy! If you’d like to share any experiences of your own about puffed wheat, puffed wheat cake or a favourite recipe you haven’t used in years please click “comments” below.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Strength in Struggles

This week I’m working at a conference in Prince Albert, a northern community in the province of Saskatchewan. As I approach the conference centre my eyes are drawn to this ramshackle gazebo on the exhibition grounds. It’s a gorgeous spring day, bright sunshine and brilliant blue sky overhead, but the decaying screens flap in the wind like a panicked swimmer flailing frantically to keep his head afloat. Despite the warm day a shudder goes through me as I imagine this same gazebo as part of a thriller movie setting, deserted, and creaking in darkness. You just know the killer is lurking inside, your adrenalin pumps as you strain with all your heart to send a subliminal warning message to the protagonist...but to no avail.

I contemplate this train of thought for a few minutes and then begin to wonder how many of us are going through life like this gazebo. My imagination wanders for another moment...I’m sure when the gazebo was built it was endowed with a fresh coat of sparkling white paint. The newly installed screens prevented the plague of Saskatchewan (mosquitoes) from interrupting love struck couples as they paused to steal a few kisses inside its cozy interior. Newly married couples snapped pictures beside it and husbands laughingly scooped up their new brides to carry them across the threshold. In its glory days the gazebo was clean, pristine, it was popular and it served a purpose. OK, enough time in my imagination!

As I stand staring the gazebo I wonder how many of our own lives are buffeted in the wind like the torn screens of the gazebo. Did you have plans, hopes and dreams ten years ago that now lie in ruined shreds? Did your marriage break down and no matter how hard you try you can’t trust yourself to fully love another person again? Did you lose a child and nothing fills the gaping void in your heart. Do you live with painful consequences of poor choices? Perhaps you want to be happy but no matter how hard you try you just can’t win the battle with the monster that threatens to drag you down into a deep pit of despair and depression? Let’s face it, our lives aren’t easy, they never were and they never will be. I’m not going to sugar coat things and tell you that all you have to do is trust God, accept Christ as your Saviour and you’ll never have any sorrow, pain, anguish or suffering in your life again. That’s just not true! I’m also not going to tell you that if you had enough faith you wouldn’t be in pain, or you wouldn’t have lost your child, or you can just believe yourself out of depression. In my opinion those are lies that simply increase feelings of pain and add on a pile of useless guilt!

Here’s what I will say. I know from personal experience that by trusting God and embarking on a personal, prayer-filled relationship with Him you find a supportive friend who is there no matter how you feel, no matter what you’re facing, no matter what you’ve done. Does your pain instantly go away? No. But you’ll find God gives you enough strength to get through each day. Claim the promise of the prophet Isaiah who says, “...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) You may not feel the presence of God, or even believe that there’s anything different from day to day. I know I didn’t FEEL God when I struggled with depression and anxiety. But in the middle of the dark night when my body was wracked with sobs and all I could do was cry out God’s name I did find comfort and gentle relief from tears. Now, in the aftermath, looking back I realize God carried me through that bleak time in my life and brought me out on the other side, set me down, brushed me off and gave me a gentle push to move me into the brighter future He had in store for me.

You can cry and scream and beat your fists at God, you don’t have to be afraid or hold back, He’s a big God and He can take it. Eventually as you go through the venting and praying process with God you’ll be strengthened, you’ll be renewed, you’ll be able to find peace even in the midst of your sorrow or pain. If you’re hurting, please cry out to God today. He’s there for me and He’ll be there for you. too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Yarn Bombing Sighting - Red Deer Chapters

Periodically I like to mix things up so today's post is slightly off the beaten path. While I was a member at Southwood United Church in Calgary I co-ordinated the prayer shawl group. This is a ministry that involves a wonderful group of people who knit and crochet shawls to be given to people in need of prayer, comfort and support. (For more information on prayer shawl ministries visit the original shawl ministry website or email me). During this time I published a monthly newsletter that typically included a thought-provoking, faith building article along with a pot pourri of knitting/crocheting tips, facts, puzzles, etc. so I have an interest in all things "yarnish". From time to time, in addition to recipes, I'll be posting some knitting/crocheting related topics and sharing some of my experiences as I travel across Western Canada in my role as a medical sales representative.

Today during my drive back home from Calgary I stopped in to pick up a tea at Starbucks in the Chapters store in Red Deer. Given that I'd already had two cups of tea and three bottles of water I practically floated in the door. As I scurried past the pay phones, knees pressed together on the way to the washroom, I spotted a small sampling of public yarn bombing! What is yarn bombing you ask? This is the very same question I asked myself a couple of years ago when I first heard the term used on a CBC radio news broadcast in Saskatchewan. Given my innate sense of curiosity I was forced to resort to the only logical form of research...I googled it!

I was intrigued to discover that yarn bombing was created as a way of using up left over bits of yarn - the yarn is knit or crocheted into various forms and then used to decorate public areas. By the yarn bombers it's viewed as a form of creative expression, and I suppose that's how graffiti is viewed by its artists as well. Unlike regular graffiti though, yarn bombing is easy to clean up or remove. According to Wikipedia this is an art form that's popping up all over the world, with its origin in Texas...who knew! I was so excited to actually see a sampling of yarn bombing live and in all its fuzzy glory (even if it was a small sampling) that I raced back to the car, a silly grin of excitement plastered on my face to retrieve my cell phone and take a picture! This is actually the second incident of yarn bombing that I've witnessed - the first being in Victoria in December. However since we were driving down Douglas Street in rush hour traffic at the time I deemed it best not to leap out of the car to examine up close and personal.

Now I can certinaly see some obvious benefits to yarn bombing:
1. It's always a struggle to know what to do with those left over bits of yarn. If you're like me you're loathe to throw out ANY yarn in case you might NEED it at some point in the future so the yarn bombing activity solves that little dilemma!

2. Some of the public statues you see loitering on city street corners and parks could definitely use some livening up and maybe brightly coloured yarn is the answer.

3. If you've got too much time on your hands and want to add some excitement to your life this could be a good past time.

4. Don't forget the "what if I get caught" adrenaline rush that goes along with it! (I wonder if there's a fine or any by-laws against public yarn bombing. Is it considered defacing public property?)

So there you have it, the seedy underbelly of the knitting world rears its ugly head in an unsuspecting retail environment. What about you? Yarn bombing - creative expression or defacing public property? Have you witnessed a public yarn bombing? Please share your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below.