Peace in Troubled Times– Musings and Prayer

Is it possible to be at peace when there is so much trouble all around? Jesus tells us that he gives a kind of peace that can keep us steady even in the midst of trying circumstances and trouble in the world.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Monday: Let’s read these words of Jesus’ over and over, meditating on his statement that we will have trouble in this world, but that, even so, he gives peace. Let’s pray for his peace for ourselves and for our nation and world throughout this week.

Tuesday: How or what does the world give? How is that different from what Jesus offers?

Wednesday: Ask Jesus to help you receive his peace, even when there is trouble all around. He tells us that he gives so that our hearts won’t be troubled and so we won’t be afraid. I appreciate the realistic words that there will be trouble. That tells me I don’t have to work myself up to some kind of denial of reality to have faith or peace. There is trouble of all sorts, but Jesus offers us a kind of peace that can exist and calm us in the midst of trouble.

Thursday: Meditate on Jesus’ words, allowing them to fill your heart and mind. Sometimes it helps me to write out and memorize some verses that help me receive his peace. Some verses I find helpful are Psalm 23; Psalm 27:1-4; Psalm 46: 1; Isaiah 43: 1-2; and Philippians 4:7.

Friday: Jesus tells us we can expect to have trouble and difficult times and yet somehow still have peace. Talk to him about your troubles and fears, asking him how you can have peace even in the midst of them. I sometimes go for a walk and pour out my heart or even rant to him about what’s troubling me.

Saturday: Let’s pray together that Jesus’ peace and love will overcome the strife and conflict that is raging in our country and around the world. How can each of us share that love and peace in our circles, whether local or far-flung?

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Ground Turkey Tofu Zucchini Stir-fry

It’s a bit odd that I don’t usually post about food, since I love to eat, but last night’s experimental creation turned out to be delicious, and I want to remember what I did, so I’m posting about it here. I had some ground turkey in the fridge and a couple of zucchinis I wanted to use (of course I have zucchinis in the fridge at the time of year!). Stephen wasn’t home, so I decided to throw in some tofu, which he never likes, but I love.

I coarsely chopped a medium sized zucchini in my vitamix, then stir-fried it briefly in sesame oil in my wok. I cooked outside on the side burner of our grill, because our stove is a glass topped one and I can’t use my wok on it. When the zucchini was soft and not quite starting to brown I scooped it into a bowl. If I hadn’t been so hungry I probably would have browned it a bit, since I love zucchini like that, but it was fine cooked lightly. I then stir-fried the ground turkey and a package of firm tofu diced into bite-sized chunks in avocado oil. I used avocado oil for the meat since it has a higher smoke point than sesame oil and I wanted to cook the meat over a high flame. I tossed in some ground sage, some garam masala, some curry powder, some Hungarian hot paprika, and a bit of salt, and cooked it all till the turkey was well-cooked and the tofu looked like it had absorbed flavors.

Line up of seasonings I used

I mixed the zucchini back in and stirred it all together, then served it over sauteed kale with a little fiery hot toasted sesame oil sprinkled over the whole mix. Yum! I will definitely make this again!

Summer is…

…the loud buzz of a cicada, bringing back memories of summer days of childhood. Days with no agenda, no pressure of homework, nowhere I needed to go. Days ofexploring the woods to explore on my own or running through the woods to meet a friend and build a fort. Dashing through the lawn sprinkler or lying on my back watching clouds float through blue sky.

Most of my summer days now aren’t as carefree as the days of summer vacation from elementary school, but I still cherish days like today that reflect an unhurried pace that nurtures my soul.

Virginia creeper growing a crown on a post in the yard

Wandering barefoot through dewy clover in the morning, sun-warmed grass in the afternoon…

Exploring our woods, eyes open to see what’s special today…

Our woods, a beautiful tangle of green

Water striders dancing in sun sparkles on the stream…

I love watching these little creatures dance on the surface of the stream

The graceful curve of a cattail…

Cattail curves

Deer tracks in the mud– beside the stream, flowing lazily in the heat of summer…

Ferns, light against dark…

I think this is sensitive fern
Maybe hay-scented fern? I need to look these up.

A young sassafras on the forest floor…

Growing near the base of a HUGE sassafras that fell down last year

And back in our yard…

Flowers bright in sunshine…

Nasturtiums in my hanging baskets
Trumpet vine hiding under leaves

Mint growing happily around the foundation…

Grapefruit mint– I have different varieties of mint in different spots around the foundation.

and mint in my iced tea as I savor this day…

Dragon well green tea with peppermint

lying in the hammock watching clouds float through blue sky.

Hammock view

Justice and Mercy: Musings and Prayers

Injustice and violence sparking anger and retaliation, leading to more anger and violence… The news has been dismaying, sad, and overwhelming. A lot of change is needed and often the issues seem so big and so deeply rooted that I feel helpless to do anything about them, but my thoughts these past few days have been returning again and again to the question of what can I do where I live to make a difference in some small way. In that vein, I want to meditate on the following verses this week, keeping in mind all sorts of people, situations and contexts.

17-18 Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. James 3:17-18 (The Message)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Monday: Let’s read and meditate on these verses throughout today, allowing the words to sink deeply into our minds and hearts. Thank God for his wisdom that shows us how to live in peace and in a way that helps others live in peace.

Tuesday: Ask God to make you holy in such a way that your thoughts and attitudes would reflect his grace and mercy toward all who cross your path, helping you to get along with people, being gentle and reasonable.

Wednesday: Evaluate your actions, words, and thoughts, asking yourself if they are contributing to peace or to strife, to justice or to injustice.

Thursday: Are you willing to yield to others, putting their interests ahead of your own?  Ask God to help you humble yourself before him and before others, honoring him with your actions as you treat others with honor and dignity.

Friday: How do you tend to react to those who have been broken in some way, whether by injustice done to them or through their own mistakes, or through some other difficulties of life? Thank God for his mercy toward you and pray that you would be full of mercy for others.

Saturday: Where and how can you contribute to building healthy community where justice and mercy prevail? Pray for guidance and discernment about this. 

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:24

Lian Zhen Workshop

I spent days this past week at a wonderful workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck– Lian Zhen’s East Meets West Chinese Painting and Watercolor workshop. I learned a lot, had a great time, and came away very much encouraged about my art and motivated to move forward with it.

Monday we learned about Chinese spontaneous style painting and we painted sunflowers, using Chinese colors and ink on raw Shuan paper, which is very thin and about as absorbent as paper towels.

Sunflowers- Chinese painting colors and ink on rice paper

The second day we learned how to do Chinese detail style painting. We painted an angel fish with a complex background, using Chinese colors and ink. I still have more to do on the background of this painting. This is on mature Shuan paper– rice paper that’s been treated with alum to be less absorbent. It is very thin and a little sparkly on the side we used.

Angel fish- Chinese colors and ink on rice paper

On Wednesday we painted a rooster, using watercolors on cold pressed watercolor paper. That felt like coming home to me after painting on the rice paper, even though some of the painting technique was a little new to me. We only used three colors for this: Antwerp Blue, Pyrrol Red, and Hansa Yellow Light.

Rooster and chicks- watercolor

On Wednesday afternoon Lian demonstrated how to mount rice paper paintings on 90# watercolor paper so that they can be matted and framed. I’m looking forward to trying that soon.

Thursday and Friday we worked on a large, complex watercolor using a pouring and splattering approach– very new for me. The subject was also new to me– a sailboat complete with lots of rigging, as well as a complicated dock in the background. It took me quite a while just to figure out what was what in the photo. I still need to do finishing touches on my painting, but I am fairly happy with how it’s coming along. At any rate, it is a learning piece, and I am very happy with all that I have learned in the process of doing it.

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After masking light areas and splattering paint on Thursday
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Boat painting work in progress

On Thursday I finished the masking stage of the boat painting a little while before lunch, so I decided to try painting Rowan on watercolor paper but using Chinese paints. I used a photo I had on my cell phone and tried to paint quickly, as we had done for the rooster. I didn’t end up staying as loose as I was intending, but I am happy with how it turned out.

Rowan- Chinese paints on watercolor paper

On Thursday evening there was an exhibition by many of the many workshops happening at Omega. We all hung our paintings on the wall, and four of us did demos for the audience. Two painted a sunflower painting and two of us painted a rooster on rice paper using Chinese paints and ink. We painted it in under ten minutes, while Lian explained what we were doing and then conducted a fake auction, pretending to auction off the rooster. It went for $1,000!

Rooster demo 070716

I don’t always paint barefoot– we had to take our shoes off in that room!

It was altogether a challenging and inspiring workshop, and I’m looking forward to putting the skills I acquired into practice, both in paintings of the sort we did in workshop, as well as incorporating some of these techniques into other work I do.

Musings and Prayer on Creative Abilities and Work

This coming week I’ll be attending a workshop on Chinese painting and watercolor, and I’m looking forward to a great week of creativity, art, and learning. I know that God has given me a love for art, whether quick sketching, careful and detailed drawing, or watercolor painting, and I greatly appreciate any opportunity to increase my skills by learning from a master.

I often find that it is through art that I most naturally connect with God. A few years ago when I was experiencing a long, spiritually dry spell, God seemed far away, if there at all, and I had little inclination to pray, and there was no passion in it. I spoke with a wise friend, whose first, seemingly irrelevant, question was, “How’s your art these days?” When I replied that I had been too busy to do any, she said that God had made me to be an artist and that sketching or painting was an important part of worship for me. If I neglected that, my spiritual life would suffer. That afternoon I set aside all my “important” tasks for the day, pulled out my long-neglected sketchbook, and started sketching birds and trees, soon becoming fully absorbed in what I was observing. And then in a little while, I found myself praying– for others, for myself, and just in wordless connection with God.

This week, since I’ll be focusing on my art so intently, I want to ponder a variety of Bible verses that speak of God’s gift of creative ability, of connecting with him through the abilities he gives us, and of how I can use the abilities he’s given me to do good and honor him.

Monday: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”   Ephesians 2:10

This is one of my favorite verses. I know how much I enjoy doing a careful drawing or painting and how special it is to me, so I am awed at the thought of God making me as his handiwork. Let’s let our imaginations run with the picture of God carefully crafting each of us, like a master artist or craftsman making a special creation.

Tuesday: God created each of us, as his handiwork, to do good works. What kind of work has he made you to do? What kind of work delights you and feels meaningful? Ask God to show you what he has made you to do, what special works he has prepared you for and for you to do.

Wednesday:Then the Lord said to Moses,  “See, I have chosen Bezalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.‘  Exodus 31:1-5

Is there any kind of creative work that you do or would love to do? Writing? Computer programming? Gardening? Cooking? Working with animals? Solving problems? Too often we minimize the value of our skills or passions. Ponder the thought that God may have given you your interests in order to accomplish his work on earth.

Thursday: Ask God to give you wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, as well as creative skill, so that all your work can be done in a way that honors him and does good.

Friday: Ask God to help you connect with him more and get to know him better through doing whatever work he has given you a passion for. See if you can use some of that time to talk with him about your needs and desires, and your concerns for yourself and others.

Saturday: How can you approach your work, whether a hobby or a responsibility, as a way of partnering with God to accomplish his work on earth? Let’s meditate on this today, especially as we engage in the work we do or think about what we long to do.


Forget-Me-Not Pond

Sam’s Point: Ice caves and a sky lake

Stephen by Lake Maratanza
Sketching in the wind on Sam’s Point- it almost blew my journal away!

I didn’t expect to be wearing a jacket on the 4th of July weekend (and wishing I had taken a warmer jacket), but that’s what hiking the Ice Caves Trail at Sam’s Point will do. We had a stunningly beautiful day for hiking– clear skies; bright sunshine; vivid colors in all shades of green, plus pinks, blues, and yellows; a brisk breeze (actually a strong wind); and incredible vistas. Sam’s Point, which is now a part of Minnewaska State Park Preserve, has a rare, dwarf pitch pine barrens ecosystem, one of the few such places remaining in the world. As we hiked, the fragrance of the pines in the sun rose around us, making the air delicious to breathe. Other sections of the trail are lined with sweet fern, also filling the air with fragrance, while mountain laurel blossoms filled the areas of deciduous woods with a pink and white  blanket of blossoms.

View from Sam’s Point- high rock bluffs and distant Catskill Mountains
Mountain laurels and ferns blanketing the woods

The ice caves are a real treat on a hot day, as refrigerated air wells up from ice deep in crevasses. These ice caves are formed by an open fault– the Ellenville Fault Line, which is the largest open fault in the United States– and rock debris from the Shawangunk Ridge, which formed deep caves that stay cool enough for ice to remain well into summer, providing air conditioning for the hiker and unique growing conditions for plants not normally native to our area.

Entrance to an ice cave at Sam’s Point


Lake Maratanza, a “sky lake” is the highest lake in the Shawangunk Ridge at 2,245 feet above sea level. With today’s wind, the lake’s surface was whipped into waves that made a wonderful lapping sound as we walked along the road beside the shore. On the west side of the lake we sat in a sheltered cove, where the water was still and a Common Yellowthroat serenaded us as I sketched.

Lake Maratanza at Sam’s Point Preserve