because His love won’t run out

The last neighbors, strangers, and friends had just left Pancake Mondays at Patrick’s apartment when another neighbor knocked to say thank you for the invitation we left on his door. Ted had lived across the hall from Patrick for 6 months, but they had still never met.

For some unfortunate reasons, we have moved the Pancake Mondays operation to Patrick’s apartment for the month of March. And (are we surprised?) what appeared to be every bit evil, God has turned into every bit good. Patrick and I both have griddles now and the ingredients float between our apartments as we host neighbors, strangers, and friends for pancakes and waffles and bacon.

the sign on my door...

the sign on my door…

Last night, we all sat on armchairs and stools and leaned against the wall with criss-crossed legs on wood floors. Tam took drink orders and I flipped waffles in the kitchen and Patrick taste-tested until we got the recipe and timing just right (wafflemaker courtesy of my favorite neighbor-friend Yeun). 

Everything about Monday night was just the right amount. Laughter, conversation, neighbors, and friendly banter. Good, old-fashioned neighborhood love was happening around a coffee table stacked with waffles, coconut jam, peanut butter, raspberry jam, coconut, syrup, and chocolate chips. 

I think we tripled a cinnamon vanilla waffle batch and served 13 people in all. I saw several neighbors as I was taping up invites and those who had plans asked if there would be a repeat the following week. “Yes!” is fun to say when it means more pancakes and neighbors and crowded living rooms.

I kept wandering into the kitchen to let out excited squeals and Patrick kept following me to match my joy because community was happening in the other room. It’s like we uncovered a secret that God has already spoken so plainly: the love Christ has lavished on us is meant to be lavished on others.

So, we crack the door open, mix up some batter, and trust His love won’t run out.

photo by Patrick

photo by Patrick

when eyelids protest at half-mast

Sometimes, in a season of late winter nights and early chilled mornings, my eyelids protest at half-mast to honor the sleep they have been denied. Sometimes, I am more gauche than my unusually high average. I leave pancakes on the hot stovetop in the morning and I spontaneously hit up galleries in Manhattan looking like disaster and I lean over to check the hot water when my roommate inserts this phrase calmly into the story she was telling,

“… ‘is your scarf on fire? your scarf is ON FIRE”

These are real life stories of my real life self. And, surprisingly, I am not more graceful at half-mast. After forcing my eyes into alert and screaming like a scared child, I hopped back and forth and swiped at the sparks jumping around my neck. So smooth.

And last night, half-mast style, I sat my gray dress down with a beer in the kitchen while a roomful of wonderful people enjoyed macaroons and comedy in Patrick’s tiny living room with no seating. I crossed my legs on the food-covered wood floor and admired the fact that I was still wearing uncomfortable heels… and the fact that the macaroon making party wasn’t a complete disaster and mostly the fact that there was a successful gathering of friends and strangers and neighbors laughing in the other room.

My second wind came eventually and it carried me through until 4:30 am, when we walked into my apartment after I lost to Patrick (but within respectable reach) in the game Ticket to Ride Europe Edition.

On a regular basis, I am wrestling the wind instead of feeling the breeze. I don’t know if one is better than the other, maybe they are equal and equally good. But these are real life stories about my real life self.

We really did invite 20 people into Patrick’s apartment last night to whisk egg whites into stiff peaks and blend $15 almond meal with powdered sugar and cocoa. I really did attempt a very specific recipe that reads “difficulty: hard” with a bunch of people who were varying levels of comfortable in the kitchen. But that didn’t really matter, because it was all set up on a 2×10 piece of wood on top of two chairs next to the bookcase in the living room.

photo 1

Wrestling the wind is risky.

I’m never sure where I will get thrown and if the landing will be safe. In a literal sense, Patrick thinks I should get renter’s insurance and never leave the stove when I turn it on. As an analogy, I don’t think insurance is an option.

Sitting next to Patrick in the kitchen last night listening to the laughter in the other room, I knew that wrestling the wind was worth it. Chocolate disasters and recipe improvisations and floor seating… all of it. I guess life and fullness is about inviting people in to messes as much as it is inviting people in to order.

We are all amateurs at life, at least everyone I have met. Our lives are not storyboarded like a Kinfolk photo essay. The recipes we attempt are not always delicious and sometimes we have to throw something away and start from scratch (during the dinner party). Our apartments don’t have seating enough for a crowd more than three. We spill wine and say the wrong thing and misspell macaroon. We are all amateurs at life and it is okay to be honest about all the ways we are not “adult.”

Maybe I’ll never have a full day to prepare for a party. Maybe I won’t ever feel confident about the space I invite people into or my attempts to make them feel “at home,” but my attempts as I wrestle the wind are worth it because of the laughter in the other room.

I think God means for us to live together like amateurs, to invite each other into chocolate disasters and ill-fitted living rooms. I hope I don’t ever get old enough or adult enough to stop learning these lessons. I am listening to the protests of my half-mast eyes and I will sit to feel the breeze soon, but right now I’m surveying the scene where the wind has thrown me. And it looks good.

photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

getting comfortable with being ordinary

The oatmeal wheat dough is raising in the oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

It feels like someone just boxed my ears and if I knew who it was, I might just let loose some Scrooge on them. But, I don’t and that’s probably better. The upside of this whole sick thing (because there is always an upside) is that there is bread dough in the warm oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

Making bread is a big commitment and probably why bread machines and bakeries and sliced situations are so popular. Who has hours to linger around a warming oven and who has patience to knead a ball of dough for 6-8 minutes? Few people.

And it might be easy to make assumptions about those few people with that kind of time on their hands – that they are smaller or less important or less interesting. Those ordinary folks with rugged hands and simple lives.

I’d like to be that kind of simple folk – just ordinary, you know.

I’m not saying I don’t want to be great or that I don’t want to pursue the passions buried in my gut or that I don’t want to marvel and chase dreams. I’m not saying that.

I just never want to make life more complicated than it was when God sent a celestial choir to a group of simple folks hanging out in the fields. These were the kinds of folks who spent long hours doing ordinary things and these were the kinds of folks God wanted to tell about the Savior’s birth. These were the folks who heard it first, in a glorious arrangement of God’s best choir.

Anyway, there are a lot of lights here – buildings and shops and trees lit up for the holidays. But the lights are always on and people are always working, always getting ahead and afraid of falling behind. The lights are always on and people are always looking for something other than ordinary.

I know I get sucked in just like everyone else. I want people to know me and like me and appreciate my creativity. But there is wisdom inside this slow day. And wisdom in an ordinary life, the most ordinary there is, that can point more easily to a Savior who makes all things glorious.

It was not the shepherds – their stature or accomplishments or reputation – that made that middle of the night song so superb. It was the Lord who sent the host of angels, the Lord who made the starry night display, the Lord who wrote the music and the Lord who directed the song.

Maybe if we can get comfortable with being ordinary, we’ll be more prepared to hear and listen and participate in what God is orchestrating in these days.

I’m going to go pour another cup of tea and see if I need to punch down the dough.

how to make the neighbors talk

The average “how to” article is written because people want to know how to do something they don’t already know how to do. But this isn’t your average “how to,” I suppose.

In December, my sister and I moved into a house that was built in 1865 on a block in what used to be an Italian neighborhood near downtown Des Moines. The biggest selling point for the house was the landlord with the loud voice, who lives next door. I guess that prompted our next day move in. We saw the house on a Friday night and moved in on Saturday with a simple handshake sealing the deal.

And the pair of us, we moved in with intentions. We weren’t just going to be the two look-alikes with questionable driving skills and frequent memory loss on trash day. We wanted to be the kind of friends and neighbors who did more than wave en route to the driver’s seat.

I can’t tell you we’re there yet – but I can tell you about our progress and how to make the neighbors talk.

It all started in January when Christina decided the people with the worst job are airport workers working the early shift on a Saturday morning. As part of her church outreach, everyone in the congregation had been given $20 to bless the community in some way (funded by a private donor). So, off we went at 5 am on a Saturday to pick up donuts and coffee at Hy-Vee. A few very interesting conversations and several surprised airport workers later, we still had donuts and coffee.

(Now, remember I’m not saying this is how to recruit friends or admirers or a following… just how to make your neighbors talk. I just want to throw this in here, to be clear.)

We came back and took a nap before delivering the rest of the donuts and coffee to our neighbors. Yep, we just walked door to door and introduced ourselves, in all our roused and ruffled Saturday glory, and then when they looked at us like we were crazy we raised up our offerings and said, “Do you want some coffee and donuts?”

And do you know what they did? They invited us in! So, in we went to our neighbors’ houses to chit chat about neighborhood things and learn a little about some of the lives on our street. When we got back to our house, we kept saying, “That was so random. That was so random.”

And that was that.

Then there was February, when Christina discovered some leftover Halloween candy in her car and I unpacked some Valentine’s decorations from Mom in the kitchen. Christina crafted together some pink baskets with candy and I made sugar cookies from scratch. And Christina went out to deliver them door to door. She didn’t see very many faces, but she left them in mailboxes instead.

That’s when Tremain showed up on our doorstep. He had a chain necklace, a coat with fur, and several sparkly pieces in his mouth. He stopped Christina as she was walking in the door and said, “I just wanted to say thank you for the Valentine” and gave her two candles he had made for us along with a very sweet letter. A few days later, we received a card from Marie down the road and she said, “It was the only Valentine I received this year. It meant so much.” I remember Marie’s house because it has a very friendly lamppost in the front yard.

We really didn’t need an occasion to pop over to our Mexican neighbors’ home. We have been swapping baked goods since the week we moved in. And now we know that if you knock on the door you should be prepared to stay for a while. I once arrived home from work and told Christina I would be gone for a few minutes to bring a pumpkin cake next door. An hour later I came back wiping my mouth after enjoying a delicious tostada cooked to Mexican perfection. There were about 30 baking powder biscuits and an unhappy Christina to greet my satisfied belly.

Then there was March and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. I went on an Irish baking frenzy – making Irish soda bread, shepherd’s pie, and irish soda cookies to bring to our neighbors. Caraway seed is a funny ingredient, but we reasoned that traipsing around to distribute something “irish” made our intrusions a little less weird. Looking back, I wish we just would have done cookies with green frosting or celery because caraway seed is just too strong of a taste. In any case, we knocked on doors and left cookies in mail boxes with an invite to church on Easter Sunday. Christina did another sweep with personal invitations later to invite everyone to church and then Easter dinner at our house.

Meanwhile, we got invited to a fiesta where they put tequila in the fruit punch and chocolate on the chicken. It was the best garage party we’ve been to in a while and the only one where Christina depended almost exclusively on my Spanish and her good looks to not embarrass herself.

Then there was Easter and, as it turns out, our neighbors mostly had plans. But an adorable couple across the street (lived here for 60 years) brought over a secret recipe jello and we made promises to have them over for dinner soon. Our Easter table filled up anyway, with our grandparents, a high school student and a friend (and thank goodness because we made two main dishes!). It was perfect.

Last night, I finally brought their jello dish back along with some banana bread. Luis and Arlene invited me right in to their kitchen. We chatted about the weather and about the neighborhood and then I asked them what they liked to eat for dinner because we’d like to have them over. They said they were easy to please.

I can tell you one thing, the neighbors are talking. They might be talking about dry, caraway seed cookies or they might be talking about the two pony-tailed girls making the rounds at 8 pm or they might be talking about stale candy and church invitations. We don’t really know what they are talking about, but we hear bits and pieces.

“Are you those girls in 318?”

“Oh, Marie was asking about where those cookies come from and we told her it was you girls.”

“Yeah, those irish ones were weird.”

“Now, are you two sisters?”

You want to make your neighbors talk? Figure out ways to get invited into their living rooms.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

God is glorified in our love for one another

She wandered in to the kitchen, shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?”

Twenty years of provision fell heavy on my heart and I brimmed with thanksgiving. My grandma, who had hosted countless Easter gatherings at her home and provided the homemade bread and deviled eggs for too many Easter gatherings at my parents’ to count. Her knobby fingers have kneaded more dough and cleared more dining room tables than mine can dream about.

And she wandered into my little kitchen after our ragamuffin Easter dinner to offer her help. But, not just to wash the dishes and de-bone the chicken… because as we scrubbed the carmelized onions out of the bottom of the stew pot, she asked how she could pray for me. We chatted about how to make the best beef stew from roast leftovers and about how to make creative meals out of de-boned lemon sage chicken. And she said she was praying about my job constantly. She put her hand on my arm and looked at me with a steady gaze and assured me she was praying.

This was the first Easter my sister and I hosted at our humble rental home in our little Des Moines neighborhood. We invited our neighbors, our grandparents, and a few friends. We conquered Lemon Sage Chicken and Chuck Roast Dinner with (surprisingly) very few catastrophes or disastrous substitutions. The sunshine started early and was still proclaiming resurrection joy when we arrived at our house after church.

I’ll admit, no amount of Febreze in any scent can compare to a house with a roast in the oven. The smell was coming out the windows when I invited my grandparents inside, where they spread out the deviled eggs and fresh baked french loaf. Just before our celebration began, our neighbor Louie came over to bring a jello salad and his regrets that he wouldn’t be able to make it with his wife. We made plans to have them over for dinner soon (and vice versa) and I introduced Louie to my Grandpa.

Our guests around the table ranged in age from 15 to 80, but the laughter was all the same level after my Grandpa said grace. We enjoyed elderberry jelly and lemon-buttery potatoes and conversation and laughter. We enjoyed it all and we enjoyed each other and our laughter lingered long after enjoying my Gram’s puff pastry dessert with coffee.

But, it was that moment when my Grandma wandered into the kitchen to offer her help (and more than just her help), that I breathed a sigh of gratitude for the way we are designed for relationship.

Our front doors are meant to swing open to family and friends and strangers – to break bread with one another, delight in the gathering and the eating and the laughing and the conversing. We are made to live together in relationship and our hearts are glad when we live as we were made to live.

My heart was full today as we broke bread together, as we laughed together, as we prayed together, as we washed dishes together, and as my Grandma looked me in the eyes and told me she prays for me constantly.

Because I know she does.

God has woven our hearts together intentionally to reveal His glory. He is glorified as we benefit by loving one another, sharing with one another, bearing each others’ burdens, and wandering into the kitchen to say, “How can I help?”

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

how does He love me? let me count the ways

Too much. Too full. Too wonderful. Too magnificent.

I don’t know where to put it all – the love, that is. It’s like I’m a bucket sitting under a faucet on full blast that someone forgot about. Except there is no mistake – no forgetfulness or neglect. The water running over all my edges is every bit intentional.

Maybe I can give a glimpse… a little slice of the millions of miracles that burst like the morning in my life. There is power in naming blessings, even if our attempts to name miracles make them sound like they are less than miraculous. May God be glorified by my grateful heart today.

You might read these and think, “I see a few things there I might call miraculous, but even those are stretches. I can explain most of these away with reason (or lack thereof) or chance.” To you I boldly say: “Friend, everything can always have a different ending. Always. These endings are miraculous because they happened when they didn’t have to. Join me in my gratitude or don’t, but let me know if your heart feels lighter if you choose the latter.”

I’ll start from last Thursday, just because this list must have a beginning and an end. But, I’d like to try to count the ways.

  • Praying with high school girls on the streets of Ames and sharing my heart for the harvest party on Saturday to be a time of love, community, fellowship, and blessing… and praying against the weather the meteorologist predicted because a fall party really must happen on a cool evening with the leaves dancing in a gentle breeze. (Miracle – ever thought that praying for miracles is a miracle?)
  • An impromptu gathering of friends to laugh and share and make decorations for said harvest party… which ended up also being a sleepover.
  • Sharing pumpkin apple pancakes with a beautiful friend while listening to her heart to love youth and grow in ministry… and praying again against Saturday’s weather, claiming clear skies with severe boldness. Miracle.
  • A volunteer on Friday with a heart of gold willing to share in all the tasks at work that drain energy from my veins. Nothing short of a miracle.
  • An afternoon of errands and baking and listening to the weatherman… and praying again against Saturday’s weather (tornadoes predicted and severe storms likely).
  • Despite numerous adjustments and a desperate lack of mathematical skills (one should not only multiply ingredients when changing a recipe, but also take into account the cooking method and container), chili for 40 was set to simmer in the crockpot and another pot safely stowed in the fridge.
  • A clumsy maneuvering around several kitchen mishaps (spilled liquid Crisco, sketchy ingredient substitutions and clumpy powdered sugar) still resulted in delicious desserts.
  • A phone call from across the world that came at the precise moment of baking, preparing, decorating, planning exhaustion when I needed just that kind of diversion.
  • The safe 2:00 am arrival of my Honduran sister and the hours of catching up that followed until we resigned ourselves to sleep at 4:30 am out of sheer willpower. Seriously, a miracle.
  • Baking pumpkin muffins early Saturday morning and filling the kitchen with the flavor of fall right before laughing every minute of a mile run for charity with a dear and silly friend who didn’t mind a threatening sky.
  • Sitting snuggled together in a wet stadium with family (new and old and adopted), cheering on our favorite team in our favorite colors at the 50 yard line. Miracle.
  • When we left the game, Alejandra and I had absolutely no idea where we parked in the residential area by the stadium. Not an idea. At the point of exasperation, we prayed. When we looked up, my car Eddie was looking back at me. Miracle.
  • Opening a trail of gifts from my Honduran sister that told the most beautiful story of friendship. Every card I opened had so much meaning and so much laughter. If you had told me 5 years ago that this former student would now be a close friend, I would have given you the crazy eye. Miracle.
  • Though the morning was full of rain, the afternoon cleared and cooled enough to hang lights outside and accomplish all our pre-party planning without any funnel clouds in the sky. Miracle.
  • Mulled spiced wine happened and it was just as delicious as I imagined. Seriously, that one is a miracle.
  • Invitations to +-25 people which read, “bring friends and a fall-inspired dish” draws the most beautiful and diverse crowd with the most delicious and surprising spread. The combination of people present at the harvest party last night will never happen again, but it was exactly the right and best group of friends and strangers. Miracle.
  • A sister who set up a photobooth to capture memories and laughter and stories like only a sister knows how. She knows exactly the kind of gift that makes the most sense to the person on the receiving end. Her creativity and thoughtfulness comes out in all sorts of joyful ways and blesses others like candy at a parade. Miracle.
  • Conversations with friends (new and old) that were just as delightful as the absolutely amazing spread of food. Moving in and out of conversations was a dance I’ll to any day. Miracle.
  • Flowers, coffee, and some of the best hugs I’ve had in a long time. Impromptu songs, piano playing, games, and the kind of laughter that makes strangers walk in wanting to be a part of whatever is happening (because that happened, too!). Miracle.
  • A gift that somehow appeared from around the world wrapped in all kinds of thoughtfulness, a card in the mail with sweet, sweet words of encouragement and love, hearing the voices of friends from different places and my niece say, “Happy Birthday.” Miracle.
  • Laughter is a category all its own. I could marvel at laughter all day if you’d let me. What a mysterious and wonderful thing it is to laugh. Miracle.
  • When the last person walked outside, the raindrops finally fell. But no tornados, no severe weather, no tropical catastrophes made a mess of the harvest party. Miracle.
  • Sunday morning coffee before college Sunday school class, where we thought about how Jesus stepped toward brokenness and evil and sin in order to speak Truth amidst confusion. Miracle.
  • A sermon that spoke to my heart – learning about friendship with God through the life of Jesus and understanding how that gives us a boldness that is out of this world. Miracle.
  • Sweet, uninterrupted conversation with one of my favorite miracles – hearing her heart and desire to seek the kingdom first and trust that “all else will be added.” Miracle.

Miracles, all of these.

My heart is full to overflowing with blessings and I know the Giver of all these gifts. I know the Maker of everything good before it was made.

How does He love me? Let me count the ways. Let me tell you all the benefits of having such a friend.

But, it might take forever. Just FYI.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

like wrestling a jellyfish

We were sitting around a crowded table at the youth offices with plastic plates piled with Abbey’s ciabatta pesto creation and various other potluck offerings. Our Bibles and devotionals and journals were all spread open in the mix of things and we were talking about how Jesus learned things. He studied the Scriptures and realized what it was He was supposed to do. As he learned, he obeyed by submitting to what was prophesied about Him. Jesus learned things.

Doesn’t that sound crazy?

It could have been all the banana bread baking or the fumes of a newly refinished gym floor a few doors down, but as the realization settled in, we wrestled. We tried to make sense of Jesus being human – learning things from the Lord and learning things about life that he didn’t know before. We wrestled through the possibility of another human obeying perfectly and submitting to the Father’s will. Yes, we know it’s not possible. We know that Jesus fulfilled the law. But, we thought about it. We wrestled.

And that’s when I looked around and saw that we were thinking of things, imagining things, wrestling with things that made our minds hurt a little bit. It kind of just came out,

Sometimes, when we seek hard after the Lord in Scripture … sometimes it’s like wrestling a jellyfish.

They looked back at me blankly while the picture played in their minds. I probably should have, but I didn’t take it back, because I really do think that our searching sometimes feels slippery and even that sometimes we are surprised by what we find. Sometimes answers seem illusive or strange and sometimes they sting. But, we’re drawn into that wrestling match because there’s something incredibly beautiful about knowing more of something so wonderful.

Yes, the analogy breaks down, as all analogies do.

But, until someone gives me a good reason not to, I’ll keep wrestling the jellyfish as I seek to know more about my Savior, to find out what pleases Him, and then delight to do those things.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

stuffing peppers and bellies

I grew up in the country. When October 31 came around, we would get dressed up and take a tour of the countryside, stopping at neighbors’ and relatives houses who were all ready for the “Nichols kids.” I never knew that other kids went to houses where they didn’t personally know the people inside. Sometimes, we even sang a song or sat on the sofa for a while Because we were getting candy and popcorn balls, but we were also giving … a little time for them to treasure.

Well, I didn’t go out to trick, treat, or sing at houses last night… but I did stuff something other than a candy bag – PEPPERS! I used this recipe, but made some serious changes. I didn’t measure anything, for starters. I used fresh tomatoes and brown rice. I threw in some extra spices and (probably the biggest change) I used some peppers we got from my neighbor and I couldn’t tell you exactly which kind they were.
Something funny happened in the middle of making these little guys… I realized it was 3 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch! Good thing I had a BUNCH of rice mixture left over! I threw some on a corn tortilla, added cheddar and salsa… and 5 minutes later there was lunch!
And then the peppers came out :)

I decided to get my community on and head over to my friends’ place to share these peppers and finally watch Tree of Life (terrence malick’s new flim). We ended up putting the rice mixture on top of this baked goodness and then throwing it in for a second baking to melt some cheese on top and dinner happened accompanied by some delightful conversation!

Then we watched Tree of Life.
(more on the Nature vs. Grace discussion in the film to come!)

So, what did you stuff last night? A candy bag? Your belly?

Did anyone stuff their brain on the Reformation in honor of the anniversary? I spent a bit of time reading this article at the Gospel Coalition, “Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel” and thinking about how history remind us of God’s faithfulness and our responsibility.

What thoughts have you, dear friends?

Tomorrow, I will write about the Tree of Life. Oh my, is there ever much to say!

sweating cinnamon

How is the baking business, you ask? I just got back from the gym and I’m pretty sure I sweat cinnamon, if that’s any indication.

I know it’s a stretch, but it made me think about the fragrance of Christ. As a creative writer, I know smell is the sense that best captures a reader – the sense that will take the reader directly to the place in the story where all the action is because we remember smells. I can be lingering in a play room and instantly be transported to my childhood by the smell of a toy. Maybe you have passed by someone on the street and you can’t help turning around because you almost feel like you know him… because of the cologne he’s wearing.

I love that our sense of smell is carried on the invisible wind, but the proof is in the vivid images that rush our minds at the slightest whiff. This thought led to my remembering this verse from 2 Corinthians,

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

We are willing captives in God’s triumphal procession, spreading around the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. Wow. I sincerely wonder if the fragrance of Christ lingers when I leave a place. When people are around me, does their mind have a vivid picture of Christ front and center? It’s way more eternally significant than leaving cinnamon in my fragrant wake.

Anyway, these were my thoughts while on the treadmill tonight… when I wasn’t watching the BYU volleyball game (thanks to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, BYU international television accompanied my workout… which reminds me – I should get Hope College to televise some sports action down here!).

5 ways to keep stress out of the kitchen

A ball of chocolate chip cookie dough ready fo...

a dough-y ball of sweet goodness!

There are a lot of possible stressors in the kitchen, but I strongly feel that the kitchen is a place where stress should be relieved not added. If I let baking stress me out, I would certainly be in quite a predicament at the moment (launched a bit of a baking business in order to raise money for an upcoming mission trip). So, here are some personal tips if you are finding yourself conditioned to dread the combination of cookie dough and cookie sheet.

  1. exact measurements
    Yes, I do have and use measuring cups… occasionally and as strong suggestions. I believe strongly in the power of estimation and (to be honest) I enjoy the uncertainty and risk involved in “eye-balling it,” as my mother used to say.
  2. noise
    I hope this is an indicator of a future of full kitchens: I like to bake while talking, singing, and laughing. I’ve also been known to have the occasional intellectual discussion over a healthy lump of cookie dough and I highly suggest it. No philosophical argument will come to fists when you’ve got something as sweet as cookies in the oven (with gooey fingers)! If I’m not talking on skype, hanging out with friends, then I’m singing my favorite sounds and some you can get for free: noisetrade, briterevolution, designers.mx, just to name a few.
  3. stray drips, splats, and the occasional cookie on the floor
    Everything while you are baking is EDIBLE, so don’t forget you can clean up/taste test all in one enjoyable finger swipe! While baking and talking to my mom on skype about this stress-free post, she says, “don’t forget about the flotsam and jetsam…” to which I reply, “I have no idea what language you are speaking right now, mom.” After a half second blank stare, she says, “Well, I don’t really know what it is either….(giggles) but I’ll look it up for you.” We finally figure out it’s originally a nautical term used to describe floating debris or items thrown overboard. Apparently, my mom thinks this also means things spilled in the kitchen. I’ll take it, mom.
  4. burnt edges
    Here’s the deal, folks: you will inevitably get a wee bit past the recipe-prescribed “golden edges” every once in awhile. It’s just one of those kitchen facts of life. So, be “easy” as my Canadian friend Heather would say. Just go with the flow and, trust me, there is always somebody who genuinely prefers cookies the way you’ve just taken them out of the oven. Burnt, brown, or between gooey and barely baked… they will get eaten and enjoyed!
  5. clean up
    As much as I want to say clean up can be skipped entirely – that’s actually a way for you to smother all the silly cheer of freshly baked goods. My method? Scrub a dish or two while the cookies are in the oven. As I use bowls, spoons, etc., I collect things in one bowl and put it in the sink to soak so when I do get to it everything is in a clean-ready state. I might also use already floured, sugared, and soda-ed utensils over again in a different recipe if I’ve got many things happening at once (regular occurrence). Lastly… keep the conversation or music going through cleaning. I certainly don’t like to be standing at the sink alone, scrubbing out the last bits of tasty cookie remains from a pan. No need to resent the cookies for making a mess! Even clean up can be social!

Okay – so there are 5 things. I’m learning here and I’m hoping to store some of these lessons for the days I can manage my own kitchen. If baking is as stress-free as I just made it sound, I might want to think about a new career!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy