About seriouslyseekinganswers

I am on a spiritual journey in which I'm questioning everything I think I know.

Book excerpt: Why is everyone so angry?

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my previous excerpts, link HERE.

Even in this age of extreme polarization, conservatives and progressives still have at least one thing in common: Our anger.

Why are we all so angry?

We’re angry because we can’t trust anyone these days. People in positions of authority lie to us shamelessly. Congress sells out to special interests. The news media are hopelessly biased. We suspect insurance companies make more medical decisions than our doctors. Members of the clergy molest children and church leaders cover it up. Scam artists pose as IRS agents so they can steal our identity and go on a shopping spree. 

We’re angry because we’re bombarded with change. Occupations become obsolete before we finish training for them. Staying current with the latest technology is a full-time job. Cultural shifts mean the rules of etiquette keep shifting. We adapt to these transitions, only to confront more demands for change, with no time to catch our breath. We worry we’ll lose everything that matters to us – our livelihoods, our way of life, respect for our values. 

We’re angry because injustice reigns. People face discrimination based on race, gender and every other human difference imaginable. Powerful people bully and exploit less powerful people with impunity. Nations go to war for reasons other than national security. Poverty persists as the gap between the rich and poor becomes a yawning chasm. Nearly 30,000 children die every day from starvation and other preventable causes. Political candidates vow to address these issues, then forget their promises once elected. 

We’re angry at the petty annoyances of modern life. Junk mail, email spam and telemarketing calls elude our efforts to block them. Appliances stop working the minute the warranty expires, and giant corporations no longer seem to care whether we’re happy with their products or not. Getting a prescription refilled or a driver’s license renewed has turned into a bureaucratic ordeal. And just try to get a live person on the phone when we have a question or need help with something. Yes, these annoyances may seem like trivial first-world problems, but they keep coming at us. All. Day. Long.

We’re angry at other people’s sins. Those progressives/conservatives (depending on which side we’re on) not only keep sinning, they flaunt their iniquity. They celebrate their greed, their violence, their bigotry and their moral depravity, and no one lifts a finger to hold them accountable. What’s worse, these same people stoke public anger at us for not thinking or acting the way they do. When people who are unhappy with us try to shame us, our fury increases exponentially.

We’re angry at our own weaknesses. We know intellectually what we need to do: Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, pay more attention to our relationships and practice self-discipline. The challenge lies in translating intellectual knowledge into action. We can’t seem to quit our bad habits or stick to a healthy eating plan. We should be doing more in our communities, but who has the time? We feel like the Apostle Paul, when he says in Romans 7, “I don’t understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. … I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” 

We’re angry because we’re overwhelmed. We’re constantly pulled in 20 different directions by our overloaded and chaotic schedules. We cross items off endless to-do lists: our to-do list for work, our to-do list for household chores, our to-do list of personal self-care routines, our to-do list of urgent matters, even a master list to keep track of all the to-do lists. We juggle so many balls in the air, we’re convinced we have to keep these multiple to-do lists or we won’t remember to do simple things like brush our teeth. Despite all the to-do lists designed to help us hold ourselves accountable for how we spend our time, we can’t keep up with all the demands. 

We’re angry because we’re anxious and afraid. Each day, the news presents another potential catastrophe for us to worry about. What can we do about climate change, or have we already passed the point of no return? Is there anything these days that doesn’t cause cancer? Will technology replace our jobs with robots? Will Social Security still be around when we’re 90? How do we keep criminals from breaking into our homes, our credit card accounts and our retirement funds? If the wrong political party gets into power, will we be forced to live according to a value system we abhor? Will we still have a country in four years? Will we get through this pandemic alive? Will our loved ones?

We’re angry because we’re lonely. The social distancing prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our ties with family, friends, colleagues and members of our faith communities. However, even before the pandemic, people were becoming increasingly isolated. Technology keeps us focused on our screens rather than our relationships. Time spent climbing the career ladder equals time spent away from people who matter to us. Frequent career moves also uproot us from our communities and this loss of connection leads to a loss of our support systems. 

We’re angry because we’re grieving. We have lost 500,000 people to COVID-19 in the U.S. alone – that’s a half million parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors and valued colleagues. Worldwide we’ve lost two million human beings and counting. We’ve lost jobs and businesses. We’ve lost our family gatherings, our concerts, our church services and our vacation trips. We’ve lost our freedom to come and go as we please. We’ve lost our sense of safety, our sense of security and our sense of control over our own lives. We’ve suffered so many losses we’ve run out of tears, and still the losses escalate.

We’re angry because we’re exhausted. Cumulative, unrelenting crises generate fatigue and despair. Each week, we hear about yet another terrorist attack, another mass shooting, another natural disaster. War rages endlessly in hot spots around the world. Political scandals persist unabated. People around us won’t stop fighting at work, on Facebook, on the streets or even at church and their constant bickering wears us out. 

We’re angry because we feel powerless. We know what policies would resolve our problems if only our leaders would summon the political courage to implement them, but we’re not in charge, and they won’t listen to us. We write to our elected officials, who respond with a form letter that makes it clear they (or their assistants) failed to read past the first paragraph. We march for life, for peace, for justice or for other noble causes, and for a brief moment it appears we might see change. But then the public gets distracted, the media chases after the next shiny object and we’re back to the status quo. We sense that nothing we do matters. Our efforts seem like a cosmic joke.

We’re angry because we repress our true feelings. The Psalms brim with poetry about anguish, pain, fear and grief. The Bible offers an entire book titled Lamentations. Jesus wept. Yet our modern culture discourages overt expressions of strong emotions. “Suck it up, buttercup,” we’re lectured. “Stop the pity party.” With few acceptable outlets for the legitimate expression of painful emotions, we simply “stuff it” until we erupt. In some circles, even positive emotions such as passion and joy are suspect. “Curb your enthusiasm,” we’re told. Outrage, on the other hand, is not only accepted but encouraged and celebrated.

We’re angry because questions are forbidden. When confronted with inquiring minds, religious and secular ideologues alike discourage too much probing. “You mustn’t question God’s will,” some folks sternly warn us if we dare to question their interpretation of Biblical truth. Not that the “nones” are any better in this regard. Heaven forbid we question one tiny iota of an identity group’s dogma. That’s a good way to wind up cancelled like a credit card.

We’re angry because we’ve lost our sense of meaning. In a society that worships Mammon rather than God, success means having a fancier job title than our neighbor, and “enough” gets defined as whatever the neighbor has – plus one. If our neighbors define “success” and “enough” the same way, we become trapped in a competition we can’t win. Our homes runneth over with stuff, but material goods fail to satisfy. The brass ring turns out not to be so shiny once we’ve grabbed it. People in 12 Step groups often speak of “spiritual bankruptcy” – a state of psychic numbing or sleepwalking in which our lives lose all meaning beyond getting our needed fixes. We want our lives to amount to more than eating and sleeping, acquiring the latest toys, dodging other people’s dramas and crossing items off to-do lists, but we don’t know where to start. 

Experts agree that emotions are complex and often intertwined. Fear, anxiety, grief, frustration and feelings of futility can masquerade as anger. Fighting against whatever we perceive to be the source of our anger helps us feel more powerful and promises to give our lives meaning. Sadly, at the moment, rage seems to be what connects and unites us.

The good news: If we’re angry, we’re not alone. We can rest assured we have a lot of company. Given everything that’s going on, our anger is understandable, reasonable and legitimate. In other words, we’re “normal.”

The bad news: If we’re angry, we’re not alone. Unfortunately, anger is often contagious. When people around us lash out at the rest of the world, this tacitly gives us permission to do the same. When not channeled in a constructive way, our collective anger can become our collective insanity. And a long line of folks stands ready to exploit our personal and collective anger for their own ends.

Questions for readers: How do you see our anger being exploited, and by whom? How can we channel our anger constructively? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on this article. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

Adding and subtracting for Lent

When it comes to healthy eating, I’m not one to weigh and measure every single thing I put on my plate. Nor do I have the patience to constantly track calories. My common sense tells me to avoid crash diets that ask us to eliminate whole food groups, even if they promise to take off ten pounds in one week. And I’ve learned the hard way that putting any item on a forbidden list only makes me suddenly crave it.

For me, taking off weight has required developing sustainable habits I don’t need to think about – at least not too much – once they’re established. And what better time to initiate a new positive habit than during Lent? Some experts say it takes about 30-40 days for a habit to get firmly established, so the time frame is perfect.

In recent years, some people I know have added a new tradition to their annual Lenten discipline. Instead of (or in addition to) giving something up, they approach Lent as a time to “take something on.” This could include anything from daily prayer and meditation to better self-care to a new charitable commitment.

Since Ephesians 4:22-24 tells us to put off the “old self” and put on a “new self,” I’ve begun including both a sacrifice – or “subtraction” – and an “add-on.” That is, I dedicate each Lenten season to acquiring a new positive eating habit as well as ditching a negative one. 

This addition/subtraction process makes sense to me psychologically. Experts agree shedding a habit can be hard unless we replace it with something else. Examples I’ve adopted include replacing salt with herbs and spices, replacing “refined” starches with more fiber-rich whole foods, and replacing sugar- and fat-laden munchies with “legal” snacks.

Over the years, these small tweaks to my eating habits have yielded great long-term benefits. Here are some habits I’ve added and subtracted during the past few Lenten seasons, along with a couple new ideas I will be working on this year:

  • Subtract added sugar. I’ve found that some things – cornbread, applesauce, dry cereal, iced tea – actually taste better when they’re not gunked-up with added sugar. I’ve also become an inveterate label reader because I’ve learned that manufacturers sneak the nefarious substance into all kinds of foods where one wouldn’t expect to find it, from ketchup and peanut butter to fat-free yogurt. Thankfully I’ve discovered “no added sugar” versions of all these things.
  • Add fruits and vegetables. The U.S.D.A. recommends we eat at least 3-5 vegetable and fruit servings per day. I’ve come up with several ways to slip more of these into my diet – adding a small salad to my lunch, adding spinach or other veggies to pasta dishes, replacing soda with a small glass of V-8 juice. See my blog post “Meeting My 3-5 Challenge” (link HERE) for a list of ideas.
  • Subtract added salt. Again, I always check labels – more and more popular brands now offer reduced-sodium versions of their soups, sauce mixes and other products. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh produce, and less likely to contain salt than canned veggies. Since I’ve begun replacing the added salt called for in many of my recipes with herbs and spices, I’ve found I don’t even miss the salt.
  • Add fiber. One easy way to do this is to substitute whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta for the refined stuff. Other good sources of fiber include raw veggies, avocados, berries, legumes, nuts and seeds. I also don’t peel potatoes, cucumbers or apples.
  • Subtract red meat. Being a Midwesterner raised on a farm, I grew up eating lots of beef and pork. While I don’t plan to eliminate these from my diet – at least not at this time – I have begun to replace some “red-meat” meals each week with fish, chicken, eggs or a plant-based protein such as beans or lentils. 
  • Add healthy snacks. I’ve developed a repertoire of “legal” between-meal nibbles. Best are munchies that help me meet my daily quota of fruits and vegetables, such as fresh fruit chunks and raw veggies with dip. Also good are snacks that have higher protein content and fewer carbs, such as a small dish of sugar-free pudding made with fat-free milk, or snacks high in fiber such as air-popped popcorn.
  • Subtract impulse buys. I’ve found it much easier to avoid eating “junk” if I don’t bring it into the house in the first place. Grocery shopping with a list helps, as does not shopping when I’m hungry. Since the pandemic began, I’ve been ordering groceries online and having them delivered, which makes avoiding impulsive purchases so much easier that I plan to continue shopping this way once the quarantine is over.
  • Add portion control. The “plate method” suggested by the American Diabetes Association is attractive because there’s no weighing, measuring or calorie-counting. (Note: You don’t have to be diabetic to use it.) The plate method involves filling half a nine-inch plate with non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli or carrots, one-quarter of the plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables such as corn or potatoes, and one-quarter of the plate with a protein source. For detailed information on the plate method, link HERE and HERE.
Source: Centers for Disease Control

I feel it’s important for me to point out that I didn’t make all these changes at once. Each Lenten season, I’ve made one or two small changes at a time, which means the new habits have been acquired over a period of years. For example, the first year I focused on subtracting added sugar and adding more fruits and veggies on my plate. Since then, I’ve added/subtracted a new habit or two each year. This year I will be working on avoiding impulse buys and using the plate method for better portion control. Baby steps, as my spiritual advisor always liked to say.

The good news: These baby steps really do work. So far, I’m about 25 pounds down from my top weight. Yes, the weight has come off much more slowly than it would have with a crash diet, but the bottom line is that it’s staying off.

God’s other book: Sunrise, sunset

In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 

When we read this passage, we may be tempted to think of abundance in terms of wealth or material possessions, but I sense that Jesus had something entirely different in mind. 

Like sunrises and sunsets, for example.

My husband and I have been blessed with a beautiful park near our home, and I’ve encountered scenes like this one several times when driving or walking around the lagoon at dusk.

I must say there are few things more awe-inspiring than the vivid colors that seem to bounce off the treetops just as the sun prepares to set, especially in the fall. 

Unless it’s beholding a “mackerel” sunset as I walk out my front door.

Or an entire sky that has turned solid pink.

Of course, beauty doesn’t always have to be brilliantly ostentatious. Sometimes it’s subtle, as in this scene of a setting sun poking through the mist behind snow-covered branches.

In tough times, I’ve found sunrises and sunsets to be pure balm for the soul.

One night (among many this past year), I don’t think I managed more than an hour of sleep as I lay awake pondering the pandemic, the political situation in our country and a series of little crises closer to home, while asking myself and God one anxious question after another. But then I happened to glance out the window just as the sun was rising. The scene in front of me was enough to put my angst-ridden brain on pause for several minutes.

At the tail end of an exhausting week about a year and a half ago, some longtime friends invited my husband and I to join them at an all-you-can-eat buffet for a feast of serious comfort food. As I stepped out of the car and walked through the restaurant’s parking lot, God greeted me with this stunning display of abundantly extravagant beauty. 

I like to begin each new day by reciting Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” I must admit some situations pose a challenge to this resolution, but sunrises and sunsets always give me a reason to rejoice and be glad.

Recipe: Kale salad with walnuts and cranberries

Who says salads have to be boring? This one is as chock full of deliciousness as it is full of nutrients. 

The kale is rich in Vitamin C, while the cranberries add fiber and the walnuts and blue cheese crumbles contribute protein. As with all my recipes, I use products and ingredients that reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat content.

This recipe makes a 1½-cup serving or two ¾-cup servings. Use the smaller serving as a side dish or the larger serving as a light lunch by itself.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped baby kale
  • 2 tablespoons chopped unsalted walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sugar dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat blue cheese dressing
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles (optional)

Directions

Remove large stems from the kale, rinse thoroughly and chop into bite-size pieces.

Add walnuts, cranberries and dressing to the kale in a medium-size mixing bowl, and toss until everything is thoroughly covered with the dressing.

Pour into a salad bowl (for the main dish) or divide evenly into two smaller bowls (for the side dish) and sprinkle with the blue cheese crumbles.

Nutrition information

Serving size: ¾ cup | Calories: 112 | Carbohydrates: 13 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 6 g | Saturated Fat: 1.5 g | Cholesterol: 6 mg | Sodium: 160 mg | Potassium: 205 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 5.5 g | Vitamin A: 65% | Vitamin C: 65% | Calcium: 10% | Iron: 3% 

Serving size: 1½ cups | Calories: 225 | Carbohydrates: 26 g | Protein: 10 g | Fat: 12 g | Saturated Fat: 3 g | Cholesterol: 12 mg | Sodium: 320 mg | Potassium: 410 mg | Fiber: 8 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin A: 130% | Vitamin C: 130% | Calcium: 20% | Iron: 6% 

Those mittens

Peace-loving person that I am, I generally try to avoid sharing political memes on social media. But occasionally, something comes along that is so funny I just have to make an exception.

A photo of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Biden-Harris inauguration, sitting with his arms crossed and wearing gigantic mittens, proved irresistible to the meme artists of the world.

Even the Senator himself is reported to think the memes are hilarious. So of course I haven’t been able to resist sharing a few of my own favorites.

Fashion magazines love to tell readers how to re-create a celebrity’s outfit. Note the manila envelope.

The Senator photobombs the vice presidential debate.

Here he is with one of our favorite cartoon characters.

Go ahead … pull up a seat at the table.

This has to be one of my favorites.

This was inevitable …

And last but not least, one web site (link HERE) even lets users insert the image into any Google street view photograph. Just type in your address/location and voila! So I simply had to invite the Senator – and his mittens – to our house.

My first thought upon seeing the memes was, “I want those mittens!” They look super warm. Alas, the mittens were a gift to Mr. Sanders from a supporter who reported on Twitter that she made them from some rather unusual materials. So they are truly one of a kind:

How cool is that?

Book excerpt: The Wide World of Anger

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my previous excerpts, link HERE.

One of the biggest factors underlying today’s extreme polarization is the bottomless pit of seething resentment and rage running through our society like hot lava.

I mentioned in a previous post that many people I encounter these days seem more cranky and defensive than they used to be, and some seem to be spoiling for a fight. We have Road Rage, Airport Rage, Parking Lot Rage and Starbucks Rage. We have Climate Wars, Health Care Wars, Class Wars, Mommy Wars and even Worship Wars. We spew our in-your-face venom onto everything from t-shirts, lapel pins and bumper stickers to coffee cups, refrigerator magnets and doormats like this one sold at Amazon.com:

“The easiest thing you’ll do all day is get ticked off at something,” Jeffrey Kluger writes in a Time magazine article titled America’s Anger Is Out of Control (link HERE). “Someone cuts ahead of you in traffic? Ticked off. Guy in front of you at Starbucks needs his entire order remade because his mocha half-caf, double frap had the wrong frigging number of espresso shots in it even though you know full well nobody can taste the bloody difference? Exceedingly ticked off. We’re all that way – and that’s a problem. Anger is … quick, it’s binary, it’s delicious. And more and more, we’re gorging on it.” 

The gratuitously nasty responses to a popular bumper sticker handed out by school districts offer a perfect illustration of this free-floating over-the-top anger. Personally, I think proud of my honor student bumper stickers are a nice way for schools to show appreciation to hardworking students and promote academic achievement. But apparently some folks beg to differ, judging from their own bumper stickers. My kid beat up your honor student and my kid got your honor student pregnant are just a couple of the snarky “statements” that leave me shaking my head. Good grief! If we don’t want our young people using drugs, joining gangs or making other unfortunate choices, why the hostility toward kids who are doing something right?

Lloyd Vries at CBS News (link HERE) shares, “A reader wrote to me, ‘Just do the country a favor and shoot yourself.’ … How angry does someone have to be to write something like that? And ‘Mr. Go Shoot Yourself’ is not atypical. Surf the Internet for a second or two, and you’ll see the venom pouring out from those who verbally attack each other.” At my computer I type the words, “Why is everyone so angry?” The Google search yields nearly 150,000 entries and an inescapable conclusion: Vries is correct. There sure are a lot of angry people out there.

A short browse through just a few of the 150,000 entries reveals that the population of folks gorging on anger isn’t limited to the U.S.

The British are vexed about Brexit, among other things. Some display their fury in ways that rival their U.S. counterparts on the rage-o-meter, according toan article for The Daily Telegraph in London (Short-Fuse Britain: Why is Everyone So Bloody Angry? – link HERE). Judith Woods writes, “Last weekend, my children and I were nearly knocked into the canal by a cyclist incandescent with rage that I was walking by the canal. He was followed by a peleton of similarly rude men in a tearing hurry who refused to give way to pedestrians, as they are supposed to. I was sorely tempted to lie across the path in a gesture of defiance, but I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t have pedaled straight over me, leaving cartoon tyre marks, so instead I shouted at them. Of course I did: I’m as cross as everyone else.” 

What do people get cracked about in Australia? Blogger Jacqueline Lunn (link HERE) relates: “In the space of a week I’ve seen people get twitchy at each other as they wait in the line for ice cream. I’ve seen scenes of obvious, quite nasty, frustration due to an elderly man exiting a bus. I’ve watched three grown men, not one but three, push past my 10-year-old daughter to be served before her at the counter. Brows furrowed, on a mission, about to snap. Her older sister had to stand with her so pushing past was thwarted. I’ve completely cracked it because the dishwasher wasn’t unpacked when I’ve come home from work. Cracked like an egg rolling off a benchtop.” 

In a feature article on the Web site Modern Ghana (link HERE), Nicholas Ameyaw-Akumfi recites a litany of angsty issues that will sound familiar to most Americans. “Why are people so angry these days?” he asks.“It seems as though everything challenging in life is hitting them faster and from every direction. Changes in technologies and communications have caused their lives to move faster. Unemployment prevails as the cost of living keeps rising. Sleep doesn’t come as easy as it used to.” His account of how Ghanaians respond will sound familiar as well: “A spilled cup of coffee in the morning can ruin the better portion of a person’s day and a ringing telephone or barking dog can set their nerves on edge.” 

Meanwhile in India: “How have rage and vitriol become so addictive?” asks blogger Manika Raikwar Ahirwal, managing editor for that country’s NDTV (link HERE). “We need our daily dose of rant. And if it’s angry and full of abuse, even better. … In this new world of hatred, your mission, if you so choose, is to destroy without prejudice. Anything, everything is fair game. We will target you and by association anything we can get our hands on.” 

As my husband would say, “Ay, covfefe!” And to think some of us here in the good ol’ U.S.A. thought we might be able to escape from our own Fury Festival by fleeing to another country …

All this frenzy calls to mind the parable of the boiled frog – a cautionary tale most of us will hear sooner or later if we attend enough business conferences or stress management seminars. The storyline goes like this: If a frog is suddenly tossed into a kettle of boiling water, it will jump out and save itself from impending death. But if the frog is happily swimming around in lukewarm water, with the temperature turned up gradually, it will not perceive danger and will be cooked to death. 

Turns out the boiled frog story may actually be nothing more than an urban legend. In reality, say some experts, the frog will be smart enough to hop out of the water in the nick of time, no matter how slowly one turns up the heat. I’m left wondering, however, whether we humans will be so sensible.

Questions for readers: What factors do you see leading to so much anger? If you live outside the U.S., is there similar anger and polarization going on your country? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on this article. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

God’s other book: Ice sculpture

When I looked out the picture window in our living room on New Year’s Day, my first thought was, “I hope this isn’t a sign of what 2021 is going to be like.” In central Illinois, the year started out with … an ice storm.

But I had also pledged to start each day finding something to be grateful for and I had to admit, the ice really was pretty. Especially since I didn’t have to go anywhere that day and could stay warm and toasty inside while enjoying a feast of hoppin’ john and greens with my husband.

So I got out my camera and pointed it out several windows to see what the lens might capture. The thin coating of ice turns twigs into a work of art.

In our driveway, we have a small tree we call “the clubhouse.” Dozens of birds gather there, and we can hear the chorus of chirping as soon as we walk out the front door. Even the ice didn’t deter the birds from having their regular “meeting,” but … BR-R-R-R-R!

I love how each of the berries on our neighborhood crabapple trees has its own icicle.

If you look close, you can see a bead of ice hanging from every single one of those berries. Just. Wow.

And I was certainly grateful the sheet of ice that covered everything, including the electrical wires, was only about a quarter inch thick and we didn’t lose power.

So, may everyone have a blessed and happy new year!

Recipe: Hoppin’ John

For several years now, Pete and I have enjoyed a New Year’s Day tradition of inviting friends to our house for hoppin’ john, greens and cornbread.

Hoppin’ john is a traditional southern dish made with black-eyed peas and rice, and is said to bring good luck if eaten on New Year’s Day. My husband, who grew up in East Tennessee, brought the recipe with him when he moved to Illinois. 

As usual, I’ve modified the recipe somewhat to meet my dietary restrictions. For my version of hoppin’ john, I use brown rice – the frozen kind for convenience. I’ve actually come to prefer brown rice for its nutty texture. Plus, it has more healthy fiber than the more heavily processed white rice. I cook the bacon separately and drain off the grease before adding it to the recipe, which allows me to add some delicious bacon flavor without so much saturated fat, and I sauté the onion and pepper separately in olive oil. I use Tony Chachere’s no-salt seasoning blend in place of salt. Low sodium chicken broth adds flavor.

We serve the dish with greens and cornbread, which are said to further ensure prosperity for the coming year. For the cornbread, I use Martha White self-rising buttermilk corn meal mix, and follow the recipe on the back of the package. This brand of corn meal mix does NOT have added sugar, which not only makes it better for my diabetic diet, but also more authentically southern.

Most years, our friends bring their own favorite dishes, along with their musical instruments, making for a great potluck feast and jam session. What better way to start the New Year off right?

Unfortunately, this year we’ll be celebrating with just the two of us because of the pandemic. But our friends will be with us in spirit, and the leftover hoppin’ john freezes very well.

This recipe makes about eight one-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen whole grain brown rice
  • 1 12-ounce package frozen black-eyed peas
  • 3 slices bacon, crumbled
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tony Cachere’s no-salt seasoning blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth

Directions

Combine black-eyed peas and chicken broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Thaw the brown rice in the refrigerator overnight, or heat in the microwave oven following package directions.

Cook the bacon on a plate lined and covered with paper towels in the microwave oven for 3-4 minutes, or until crisp, and crumble the bacon.

Sauté the onion and pepper in olive oil until tender and caramelized, and sprinkle in the no-salt seasoning, red pepper and black pepper.

Combine rice, black-eyed peas (with broth), bacon and sautéed vegetables. Add one cup water and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour into baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in 425-degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Stir again and serve hot.

Nutritional Information

Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 240 | Carbohydrates: 38 g | Protein: 8 g | Fat: 6 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 3 mg | Sodium: 125 mg | Potassium: 305 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 20% | Calcium: 1.5% | Iron: 6% 

Ah, 2020!

If anything good can be said about this past year, we must admit it has generated some hilarious memes.

Since 2020 has lasted about 10 years, retailers have surely had enough time to introduce a 2020 Barbie. Not to mention the inevitable commemorative Christmas ornaments. Alas, this might not have been the best year to let our imaginations run wild when it comes to anything from Halloween candy to relaxing drinks to baby food. And Time Magazine may have missed a bet when designating their Person of the Year.

Enjoy.

And on a more serious note …

Our annual Christmas letter

Dear Family and Friends,

We certainly don’t need to tell any of you what kind of a year this has been! It’s been a year like none other in our household – even that year when the Cubs finally won the World Series. Our little “QuaranTeam” (two humans and two cats) has been holed up in our home since March – which seems like last week and 10 years ago, both at the same time.

The good news: We’ve been learning lots of new things – like how to get our groceries delivered and how to use technological marvels like FaceTime and Zoom. We’re learning new recipes, because we’re eating at home all the time now, something that hasn’t happened before in our adult lives. We’ve started doing yoga at home too, since our exercise class for seniors went on hiatus when the pandemic hit. Who knew yoga could be so much work? We’re even relearning how to style long hair. Debi’s hair hasn’t been this long in 20 years, and Pete’s hasn’t been this long since his hippie days in the 1960s. 

In October Pete did a presentation for a virtual history conference (over Zoom, like everything else this year) for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The title was “Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation in Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860,” and he’s thinking of expanding it. In the meantime, it keeps him busy with something more constructive than posting political memes on social media. The photo here captures Pete doing his Zoom presentation from the comfort and safety of our home.

We have decided to use the enforced downtime constructively to write the books we’ve been threatening to write nearly forever. Debi’s book, with the working title We Need to Talk, will examine the polarization ripping apart our society and share her personal search for an appropriate Christian response. She has gotten several excerpts written so far, which she’s publishing on her blog Seriously Seeking Answers. Pete’s been blogging, too, and there may be a book in the offing. Not that we’re competitive, but in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep, Pete has sometimes been detected outlining a book about Swedish immigrants (an expansion of the paper he presented for the virtual history conference) and quietly humming “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” 

Despite the lockdown, we’ve continued to “attend” church every Sunday. Although our building has been closed for all but a few weeks since Lent, a dedicated team of volunteers quickly learned the technology necessary to make our virtual services happen. We’ve been able to participate in weekly Bible study and book group meetings via Zoom as well. Our community service committee has developed several creative ways for us to help people in need in the larger community. And we learned how to use another new technology – iMovie. Here, we made a video of ourselves sharing the peace, to be uploaded and used in an online church service.

Debi has also been busy cleaning the basement, garage, closets and cupboards, and Pete has been chipping away at the archaeological midden in his office. Who knows, we might actually come out of this quarantine having achieved one of Debi’s life-long bucket-list items – a meticulously ordered household, with a place for everything and everything in its place, even in the garage and the basement.

Oley and Champaign have provided their usual endlessly adorable companionship during this shelter-in-place adventure. They continue to be their sweet, lovable, ornery, mischievous selves, thus making our isolation much more bearable.

So we all wish you a “Meowy” Christmas, and what we HOPE will be a much better New Year!

Blessings,