Thoughts on Being Creative

Granola

In Thailand, I learned to make my own granola. Not because it’s a Thai thing. Far from it. I had some missionary friends who were good at making the very best granola—far better than any store-bought version I’ve ever had—so I learned from them. And from several online chefs, because granola is one of those things that does not require that you stick to a precise recipe. I took a bit of advice from Alton Brown, a bit from a lady named Megan, and some from Gluten-Free Girl.

Once I learned that I was gluten-intolerant, making my own favorite breakfast food became a necessity for several reasons:

  1. GF granola is hard to come by in the places where I tend to live.
  2. In Belize, where I currently live, GF granola costs the price of a lobster dinner. I’m not exaggerating, either.
  3. Store-bought versions tend to contain a lot of oats and very little of the things that make it a really good granola. You might as well just slap a label on for “roasted oats with a little bit of other stuff.”

So this afternoon, since I was going to fire up the oven in any case (I have a gas stove from Mexico, and you have to light the oven when you want to use it, and then hope that you guessed the heat setting correctly since the oven dial is neither in degrees Fahrenheit nor Celsius, nor does it have a 1-10 dial like some gas ovens do), I decided this afternoon to also bake some GF blueberry muffins for which I had a simple mix.

While I was able to enjoy a blueberry muffin in no time, making those brought nowhere the amount of joy that making the granola does. It’s not because they don’t taste good, nor that they didn’t give off nearly the amazing aroma the granola did while that was baking. The issue was a lack of creativity. All I had to do was add 1/2 cup of cold milk, stir, pour into a muffin tin, bake it, and voila! Cool and enjoy. Tasty, yes. Uncreative? You bet!

With the granola, though, I could choose which nuts I wanted to include this time. (I chose almonds and pecans.) Whether I wanted to use maple syrup or honey or coconut sugar. (Maple syrup it is.) I could decide if I wanted to make enough to share (for sure) or just enough for a week or so for me.

As I was enjoying the smell of the coconut oil and the granola baking, I thought of a lady whom I met not long after moving to the Caribbean. I had led a workshop on Serious Play and talked about discerning which tasks that didn’t bring you joy you could delegate or outsource. “But that’s precisely my problem!” the lady objected in a thick English accent. “I’ve hired out all my work. I’m bored to the bone!”

Think about it:
She had totally robbed herself of the gift of creativity—and of hard work!

I doubt you’re the type who’s bored. Nor am I. There’s so much to enjoy around us—if only in creating new recipes for granola. So, a few things before I share my recipe:

  1. Do not overbake granola. Do not wait till the oats are crisp to the touch as they keep cooking after you pull them out of the oven. Just bake it till the nuts are toasted and you can smell the oats baking. That’s about 15 minutes. Stir it, and bake for another 15-20 minutes.
  2. Do not add berries or dried fruit till afterward, when the granola has cooled down. If you do what some recipes say and add fruit earlier, those become like little rocks in your granola that could break a tooth!
  3. Substitute, substitute, substitute. If you don’t have maple syrup or honey, use brown sugar and water. If you don’t care for coconut, don’t add it. If you like lots of nuts, use lots. If you are not super sensitive to gluten, use regular oats. And traditional, large flakes are the best for granola. (Oats itself is free of gluten, but some companies transport oats in the same trucks as wheat gets transported in. Unless you are super sensitive, it’s way cheaper to just use regular oats.) If you prefer vegetable oil to coconut oil, use that. In fact, I think the only common ingredients in all the granola I have made are oats and salt!

With that in mind, here’s the recipe I use as a guideline when making granola.


Granola

1. Heat the oven to 350°F or 180°C

  • … or set to #4 on a 5-dial gas oven and hope for the best.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. A deep baking sheet is best since you’ll need to stir the granola, and a cookie sheet will make that a challenge. I’ve even used a skillet before!

2. Mix together dry ingredients

  • 5 or so cups of traditional, large-flake oatmeal (GF if necessary)
  • 2 cups of chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, cashews, macadamia, raw peanuts, or whatever nuts you prefer)
  • 1 or two cups of seeds (sunflower seeds, flax seed, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 cup of dried coconut (unsweetened, if possible)
  • a big pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • some ground nutmeg

3. Separately, mix together wet ingredients

  • 2/3 cup of coconut oil (or olive oil, or vegetable oil)
  • 1 cup maple syrup (or honey, or brown sugar with water)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

4. And separately, prepare dried fruit

  • 1/2 cup or more craisins or raisins or sultanas
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries, if you’d like
  • 1/2 cup goji berries, ’cause it makes the granola way healthier 😉
  • 1 cup cut up, dried apricots or dried mangoes or dried bananas

Add (2) wet ingredients to (3) the dry ingredients. Do not yet add (4) dried fruitStir well and add to the prepared baking sheet.

  • Press down on the granola so it’s packed quite tight. This will allow for chunky granola.
  • Put granola in the oven.
  • After about 15 minutes (or when the house starts smelling of oats and coconut oil roasting), stir the granola and return it to the oven for another 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven. Don’t stir. Just let it cool completely.
  • Add (4) dried fruit
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, or longer if kept in the fridge—in Belize it has to go straight into the fridge!

Enjoy with yogurt on fresh-cut fruit as a delicious parfait. ‘Cause like Donkey said to Shrek, everybody likes parfait! Or as a snack, or with milk as a healthful breakfast food—even if, like me, you sometimes eat it at dinner time…


Please comment by responding to one of these questions:

  1. Insofar as creativity goes, what’s your favorite thing to make?
  2. If you had accepted the first Blue Thread Life invitation/challenge of 2018, how’s that going? What have you learned about yourself?
  3. Do you ever experience God’s joy when you cook?

Your Personal Invitation

IMG_0968

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks and decided to extend a formal invitation to you to go on an adventure. Where to? Well, you won’t need to pack a bag. You won’t even need to buy a ticket. No need for a passport—or for a budget—for that matter.

The adventure to which I’d like to invite you is the Blue Thread Life.

The Blue Thread Life is
seeing the evidence of God
in everything you do,
every single day,
including in the unique expression
of your personality,
and in your business/job.

Essentially, my invitation to you is to learn to look at life and at faith in a fresh way, to see the wonder of God in the things, the people, the events around you.

Granted, you may see photos of where I live and think, That’s easy for you to say. Look at your surroundings! 

Truth be told, while the photo at the top of this post was taken this morning, and while this truly is a short walk from my home, the Blue Thread Life is about more than just beautiful sunrises and sunsets. There are many things behind the lens you don’t see, things I won’t expand on now, but that make life in a beautiful place like this challenging—really challenging.

Challenges you will have. But when you look back, you’re able to see the Blue Thread of God’s presence even through those. And you see how he has woven events and lives and choices together into a beautiful tapestry.

As part of my invitation to you to this Blue Thread Life adventure, I’ll be posting invitations. If you choose to accept these, don’t just think it. Please tell us in the comments below! Ready?


Invitation 1

  • For one month, keep a simple gratitude journal. List at least 5 things you’re grateful for each day, ways in which you noticed God’s Blue Thread in your day. (If you miss a day or two, please don’t let that keep you from picking it back up!)

Again, if you’re in, please post a comment below. Tell your fellow Blue Thread Life adventurers what you’ve seen, experienced, or learned. Or use #bluethreadlife as a hashtag if you post insights or pictures elsewhere.

Have fun!

 

Johari’s Window and the Prayer of Examen—Growing through Listening

Nurturing simple strategies for growing in self-awareness

I guess it’s a a sign of aging when you calculate the date of an event and realize it occurred half a lifetime ago. That is, in fact, how long ago I first moved to Taiwan to work at a school that did not exist—a minor detail I only discovered after several days in the country thousands of miles away from home.

After the bait and switch, I felt comfortable to find a different job on the island—not a difficult task for a qualified English teacher. Which is how I ended up working at a magazine. In my first year as an editor, a certain Mr. Baldwin visited our company to present a writing seminar. I don’t remember all he taught us, but these two points have remained with me. You can apply these to any role where, from time to time, you commit thoughts to paper——an important email, a blog post, or an academic paper can all benefit from these basic editorial skills.

Read More

The Blue Thread Life

Kayak

An Invitation to an Adventure in Living

I’ve been racking my brain the past week thinking of how to answer a friend. “How is it that you look at the world and see things so very differently?” she asked me. “Where does that come from? And can you teach others to do the same?”

Some of it might simply be my nature. At the same time, I am convinced that my worldview was greatly impacted by the fact that, when I was little, our family was close friends with a husband and wife who were blind. We attended the annual parties for the Pretoria Association for the Blind despite the fact that none of the Booysen clan were visually impaired. Or so we thought.

Through our friendship with Dan and Martie, we learned to see the world differently. We learned ways to “look with our hands,” touching kitchen counters, for example, to check if they’re really clean. And we learned more significant lessons, like always allowing someone who is visually impaired to simply slip their arm into yours so they can follow rather than be pushed, a lesson that extends far beyond the obvious.

By the time I was in college, it was happy to learn that our dormitory was to house Martine, an incoming freshman, and Hettie, her guide dog. Through my friendship with Martine, I grew to appreciate the world around me even more. She taught me to see with my ears, with my hands, with my nose. And from Martine and many others, I learned to see with my heart.

Along the way, other experiences have sharpened those skills. Moving to the US at age 18 for a year and to Taiwan at 25 for several years similarly made an indelible imprint on the way I look at the world. Since Taiwan, I’ve lived in several other countries, and each time I encounter a new culture, I am gifted with yet another frame through which to look at the world around me—and the world within. For it matters not how many countries I’ve called home; if my heart had not changed along the way, I’d be no different than I was before I met Martine, or even before Dan and Martie, for that matter.

In Taiwan, though, I learned how to slip my hand into Jesus’ arm and let him lead me through the alleyways of a city where at first, I couldn’t understand nor read a single word. Not knowing anyone with whom I could share thoughts about what I observed around me—the smells, the tastes, the sights and the sounds—Jesus became my travel buddy extraordinaire. Close to three decades and seven passports full of stamps later, he’s still that and so much more.

So how does that relate to a Blue Thread Life?

A Blue Thread Life invites you…

  • to see the world around you with different eyes,
  • to be fully alive, not simply go through the motions,
  • and to look at your own soul through a different lens.

A Blue Thread Life offers…

  • intentionality in the way you approach life,
  • the way you view work,
  • and the way you integrate your faith in all of life and all of work.

And a Blue Thread Life unlocks…

  • beauty
  • and meaning,
  • and leads to a life of convergence, where who you present yourself to be in public is the same as who you are behind closed doors.

 

The infinity knot in the logo represents the Blue Thread that runs through all of life, tying together the seen and the unseen, the opportunities before us and the courage to jump in with both feet. It connects life’s joys and pains, the meaningful and the seemingly mundane.
Welcome to the Blue Thread Life!

When the Cows Come Home

3 Lessons Learned in a Dinka Cattle Camp

I heard the low drone before I saw the animals: a bass choir of about 10,000 cows, counterpointed by the clanging of bullet shells against cowbells forged from old USAID oilcans. And I saw the dust rise from the horizon.

“The cows are coming home,” Steven, my South-Sudanese director, announced, just in case we had missed the sounds and the dust. The we I’m referring to was a group of mostly medical staff from the NGO I was working with in Kenya at that time. Then there was I, the one whose job it was to take photos and write stories about the children at our school in the desert.

Earlier that evening, we walked from Steven’s village near Kolmarek, South Sudan, to the cattle camp to see where the people we had been treating at the clinic all day were living. They are the nomadic Dinka people. They are cow herders. I watched as children scurried to do their jobs: tying each and every cow to its own stake. Toddlers ran to pick up fresh cow dung to add to the drying piles that would be burned that evening. “The cow ash keeps the flies away,” Steven explained. Dabbing his forefinger in some ash, he added, “It’s also good to brush your teeth. Want to try?” Read More

When the $%*# Hits the Roomba

4 Ways to Deal with a Crisis

Picture this: You’ve worked your socks off to secure a position on your company’s President’s Circle. This means you win a free vacation to a tropical destination, and you get to take someone special along to share the joy. So your wife weans the baby, and you secure care for the kiddos with the help of the grandparents and the nanny. It takes a solid year of hard work to make one of the top sales positions in the company; it takes almost as long to get everything ready for your week awayThe fact that you and your wife have not been away from your three young kids makes this an especially-big treat!

Once in the tropics, you Skype daily to make sure everything’s going great at home. Which it is. Until it isn’t. Until your dear old dog loses control of his bowel movements. In the house. During the day. Shortly before the Roomba’s scheduled cleaning time…
Read More

Happily Single: Keys to Thriving in a World Full of Couples

“You singles out there, go to the lobby and just find someone to marry.”

Gulp! Someone whom I know and respect actually said that at a meeting I attended a few years ago. I kid you not.

It wasn’t a meeting about marriage or singleness; I wouldn’t attend either of those. It wasn’t part of some treasure hunt or a game like The Amazing Race, either, where teams had to successfully complete challenges. Read More