Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tim As A Young Boy: Old Photographs

If pictures can tell just one true detail about the subject, all these pictures here tell one consistent information about Tim. That he has always been a happy and good-natured person ever since he was a very young boy. It could also be that he was obedient - that when he was told to smile, he really did. 

Pictures are like books, the story lies in the imagination of the reader.  Like some of the modern art pieces that our family saw recently in one of the museums inside the Royal Palace of Madrid, they revealed a different story to each of us.  As for me, Tim was a cute boy with sleek hair!  When I met him, however, his hair was wavy/curly.  :)

Tim with his mother and brother

Tim and David

Tim and David

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Friend in Need is a Friend in Deed

The act of kindness done for others doubles or triples in value by the time they are received. That is what happened to me last weekend. When we arrived from our family Spring vacation, not only did my friend Sue - helped by her son Erich - made sure our pets had food, also stocked our fridge with delicious food so that we could have food to eat the following morning, That was really very helpful for poor travelers like us. They also setup Easter eggs around the house so that that Miriam could hunt for them. I must say that they were very sneaky in the way they hid the eggs.

 A friend is like an extension of the hands of God.  My friend, Sue is like that to me. She is always there for me and my family.  Most of the time I don't have to tell her anything, she just knows what to do.  I feel very blessed to have her not only to benefit from her goodness but also to have a close reminder of how I should be to her and to others around me.  I value her friendship not only because she is of help to me but most importantly the presence of someone I can trust and share a part of my life with. 

My friendship with Sue started when Brahms and Marcus were in first grade.  The two became friends and so Sue and I did.  Eventually there were two families doing things together.  It helped that we both have three children who are of similar ages and husbands who can discuss technology in depth.  Ever since the children were in elementary school we spent Easter dinner and egg hunt together - rain or shine.  But now that some of the older kids are living farther away and/or working, it has become more difficult to have a complete-family egg hunt.  But who knows, maybe one day we can have all children together again who knows when) and we'll do what we used to do for the sake of the gone by days.  :)  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Toledo, Spain

On our third day in Spain, we took the train to Toledo, Spain - a 30-minute ride from Madrid.  Since we did not have a lot of time to go around the city we took the double-deck Tour Bus to the city where we got a panoramic view of the city.  The city is old, as evidenced by the narrow alleys which, along with monochromatic beige to tan-colored buildings, characterize the city.

As we approached the center of the city from the train station, I saw a giant billboard that said "Toledo: Capital Espanola de la Gastronomia".  The Gastronomic capital of Spain! It was indeed easy to find something to eat from any point.  We entered a store that specialized on Marzipan where I bought  one block of the almond goodness.  For lunch I got chorizo empanada while everyone else had Spanish sandwich with ham and cheese.

We spent most of our time in and around the Cathedral of Saint Mary.  It is the most significant landmark of the city. It is definitely the most beautiful and largest cathedral I've ever set foot in. It is an old Gothic building - built long before my native land was discovered by Ferdinand Magellan.  It is definitely a tourist attraction.  And to think that when my people were still using sticks and palm leaves to build their homes and before they had seen people of the western side of the earth, somewhere in Spain they were already designing and constructing such magnificent cathedral.  I can't help being reminded of the game that I like so much - Civilization.  Technology and military strength determine who conquers who and who builds what.  But then at some point, revenues and the happiness of the people determine speed of technology discovery and the eventual victory of a civilization.  But in real life, there's only one who sets the parameters of real victory. 

After visiting the Museo del Prado and the Royal Palace, I was pleasantly surprised that I could take pictures of everything inside the cathedral.  However, this pleasant surprise left me ill-equipped for the occasion since I left my good camera in the apartment and carried only my cellphone.  :(

I love the look of cobblestone that is really old and worn.  It appears now that whenever we go to places with cobblestones I end up taking such pictures.  I don't know why, but I could guess that it is the sense of antiquity with the imagined history behind and imperfection which might have been considered perfect at the time that attract me to cobblestones. It is for these reasons that we had some installed in a small section of my garden but...sigh...they just don't evoke the same impression.

Architecture, Chandeliers, Paintings, Tapestries and Rugs: The Royal Palace in Madrid

On the second day we were in Spain, our destination was the Royal Palace.  It was within a 10-minute walking distance from our apartment.  We had a easy entry since we skipped the long line to get tickets - Thanks to Tim who was thinking in advance - getting our tickets ahead of time.

Considered to be the biggest royal palace in Europe by floor area (1.5 million sq.ft) with 3418 rooms, what else can I say about this Spanish Royal Palace?  As we toured the open spaces, I wanted badly to take pictures to help my memory about this huge place.  However, picture-taking was strictly prohibited. Even so, I tried to take just one picture of the grand dining hall with 14 enormous chandeliers and not to mention the sconces that  hung from the walls.  Unfortunately, I was seen by the room guard and he advised me to put my cell phone in my purse.  Sigh.

Deprived of the aid of electronics, my brain tried to consolidate all the things I observed inside the palace:  architecture, chandeliers, paintings (both ceiling frescoes and royal portraits), tapestries, rugs, and a few nick knacks such as crown, scepter in the throne room and violins and violoncello by Stradivarius in another room.  That's right, inside the palace is a picture of grandeur and opulence but expressed in a consistent monotony of those things - architecture, lighting, art, textile (tapestry and rugs) and some very precious little things. That's it.  When you get to the last rooms being shown, the rooms increasingly become predictable.

The palace is of baroque style - which I find very ornate with lots of arches.  Every room is furnished with very very grand chandeliers, there was no exception.  Ceilings are not boring.  They are painted in such a way that you want to take notice of them including the moldings around them.  On the contrary, the walls are hardly noticeable because they are covered with portraits.  I thought that the  ones I saw at the Museo del Prado were amazing but I found out that they are only sketches of the artists while practicing for their final works which are displayed inside the palace.  Where there are no paintings, there were tapestries that came with a story.  Most of the tapestries depict pictures of the members of the royal families and their special events but there was one exception.  Inside what they call the Meeting Room are tapestries that showed everyday life of the common people.  My kids and I thought that it is the facade that the ruler wanted to show other rulers whom he would be meeting - a concern for the masses.  But we soon found out that the tapestries were a collection of the pictures that showed the "Power of Spain".  So we were wrong.  They were in fact meant to show off the Spanish imperial power. On the floor are custom-made rugs that were meant to fit the size and shape of the rooms.  In most cases, though, the rugs are rolled away from the traffic area.  I assume that they unroll them only for the special people.

Brahms and Tim discuss about the asymmetry of the staircase...maybe.

As a family we have visited other palaces in the past such as Windsor Castle in England, Edinburgh Castle ans Scone Palace in Scotland, Prince John Castle in Ireland, Cardiff Castle in Wales and even the Tower of London which, apart from being a prison, was also a Royal residence, etc.  These royal residences are big and opulent but like the residences of the commoners, they also are the places where joyful celebrations and tragedies happen.  People who live in them share the same longings for prosperity, honor, power and health as those who live in smaller houses.  They eat the same things only differing in presentation, preparation and quantity.  They collect things - only more expensive ones.  They have more of everything including headaches, intrigues, and problems. Visiting these museum residences are good for helping me understand the way wealthy people live in the past.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Chicken Marsala

There comes a time when you learn a recipe and the food turns out tasting as good as what they serve you in one of your favorite restaurants. Or perhaps they're not the same but you, in your not-so-humble opinion, believe they are.  And you do it again and again. Then you begin to wonder why you still need to order the same things anymore.  Tradition?

This is a recipe by Tyler Florence which I revised to include alternative ingredients just in case you don't have them at hand when you feel like cooking and to add an optional hint of acidity from lemon juice.  It really works without it but sometimes depending on your preferences you might prefer a little kick to it.

Chicken Marsala*
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts  (or boneless skinless chicken thighs - about 1 1/2 pounds)
All-purpose flour, for dredging
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced, or a handful of bacon bits (optional)
8 ounces porcini mushrooms, stemmed and halved (cremini or button mushrooms will work)
1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken stock (beef stock works also)
2 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

If using chicken breast, put the chicken pieces in between pieces of plastic wrap on a cutting board and pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/4-inch thick. Put some flour in a shallow platter and season with a sufficient amount of salt and pepper; mix with a fork to distribute evenly.

Heat the oil over medium-high flame in a large skillet. When the oil is nice and hot, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Slip the cutlets into the pan and fry for 5 minutes on each side until golden, turning once – do this in batches if the pieces don't fit comfortably in the pan. Remove the chicken to a large platter in a single layer to keep warm.

Lower the heat to medium and add the prosciutto or bacon bits to the drippings in the pan, sauté for 1 minute to render out some of the fat. Now, add the mushrooms and sauté until they are nicely browned and their moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Pour the Marsala in the pan and boil down for a few seconds to cook out the alcohol. Add the chicken stock and simmer for a minute to reduce the sauce slightly. Stir in the butter and return the chicken to the pan; simmer gently for 1 minute to heat the chicken through.  Adjust taste with salt and pepper as necessary.   Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.  In our house we like to serve it over rice.

*Slightly revised Tyler Florence recipe

Friday, March 4, 2016

Shifting Allegiance

(In my attempt to organize some cluttered thoughts about  following an invisible God... this is what I came up with.  It is a work in progress.)

Follow me, my yoke is easy…
This is a familiar verse to me. And for the longest time my personal translation of the verse was - To follow Jesus is easy because we can unload our burdens to him to carry for us. There could be no better motivation to follow Jesus than that! I believe there are others who share the same understanding of the verse. But what does that make of our Lord Jesus Christ then if not a mere servant to whoever follows him?

In any given journey, there comes a point when we have to choose a path to follow one and disregard all others – which only function then as markers.

Follow me… Jesus calls us to follow him. God is invisible. He exists beyond human’s physical sensory capabilities. In the Old Testament we read that God showed himself to his people in the form of a cloud that hovered over the tabernacle - a portable one that they carried along with them in the wilderness. But when they did not see the physical sign of the presence of God the Hebrew people they made god for themselves to worship. Unaware that God walked with them, they replaced him with a material object to which they gave their worship to. For man, it is easy to follow a leader if he is discernible by the human judgement. A thorough background check of his qualities coupled with a personal audience tells us whether a leader deserves our loyalty or not. But God is invisible. How to follow an invisible God? The Old Testament Israelites are not so far from where we stand today. And just like them, sometimes we do not have a clue about God even if he walks with us daily – because He is invisible. So we make up his image based on the shallow knowledge we have and most often the best we can come up with is a golden calf.

“What would Jesus do?” is a common saying when we want others to choose wisely. God gave mankind an instruction manual and tools on how to go after Jesus. But just like the manual that comes with IKEA furniture, no matter how they convince us that it is easy to assemble, it takes careful investigation of the pieces and carefully following the steps.

But where is God?
In this time and age the golden calf has evolved in to something more educated and modern interpretations. It has become simply a religious group. That group is spirit-filled and charismatic – just like how King David’s church would have been. Sometimes it is what Christian groups believe. Their statement of faith coincides with what I believe is true therefore to join them is following the Lord. It can also mean service. Follow the Lord in mission. I will follow the Lord wherever He sends me - the mission field. Observing the Ten Commandments, attending church service, reading the bible, getting involved in a church ministry, tithing, teaching/attending a bible study, etc. can all often be interpreted as “following” nowadays. But is that really where God is? Are they not similar to the laws the Pharisees tightly clung to for righteousness sake? Assuming that these are the valid ways to follow Jesus, then it is easy to know when or not we are following Jesus. But because we do not know where these ways of following him end it is rather difficult to know what is considered enough. This is a burdensome situation.

 Assuming this is what it means to follow Jesus, then what does it mean to NOT follow Jesus? If we are not following him then who is there to follow in his place?

I believe there is a complicated question at hand. If I do not know where God is, how can I follow his lead? If I do not follow Jesus then who is there to follow?

Man’s every though is either motivated by his pursuit of God or his pursuit of God’s created things. It is often easy to quote the bible, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

This means to strip your thoughts and ambition of the rewards for the work you do except that which comes from God. Yes, we get paid by God only by his grace. Sometimes we Christians say, “we do this and we do that for God” - but behind the façade of our activities, somewhere in the depths of the mind we also expect to be seen by others as being good and thus elevate our image to some degree. We all vie for that position, accolade, recognition, salary range, medal and that trophy. I work so that I will come out better, richer, smarter, skinnier, more popular, more recognized and cooler. All these, to me, are not working as unto the Lord. We work for my own end. Yes, we pray to God ever so intently to get him support our agenda.  But do we have room for God in our thoughts?  (Psalm 10:4)

Shifting Purpose
In his book The Pursuit of God, Tozer says that “self is the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us”. We, in our own personal motive, make up our own hindrance into God’s presence. This seems very simple and easy to understand. But it is quite complicated and often misunderstood and unnoticed. There is a very fine line between our good intentions and our pride. We can start with the perfect motives on the things we do and think about -- but in the process, our thoughts shift from God is great to I can do it. Our initial goals of seeking God turn into seeking fulfilment with God as my almighty helper. What seems like a subtle alteration is in fact a severe shift in our purpose. We all intend to be living proof of God to our world. But in the subtlety of the human ego, our motives veer ever so slightly to provide a living proof not of God but of the one that was created in God’s image – self.

Apart from God, man’s desires and cravings pull him away from his Maker. We’ve seen this portrayed in the life of the first ever man and woman on earth. Adam and Eve desired knowledge that they disobeyed the one and only commandment God gave them at the time.  It is a natural tendency for any man to grab the title for anything we perceive as great. But when we fail to maintain the steering wheel towards the direction of God’s glory then we fail God.  Proverbs 16:2 says “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”  Do your actions announce the presence of a great God? Or have you changed the direction of your path so that your actions proclaim your worth and the things you deserve?

Do I find joy in knowing God and do I desire more of Him everyday? My God, forgive me, you know I'm guilty. Examine my heart and show me where I fall short every waking moment.  Amen.