every square inch

I army crawled out of the bedroom last night, but the floorboards right by the door gave me away, even as I was singing “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” in slow fade perfection. The hymn is her usual sleep inducer, but I guess a nasty cold will make a baby uber aware of being alone. This baby at least, this Zella Ruth. In the middle of every stealthy retreat, she would reach out sweaty, pudgy hands and lift her chin with eyes still closed – expecting to find me on the other side of her still soft touch.

For the first time in almost seven months of mamahood, I kept a log of rectal temperatures and naps as I swam inside my little one’s red eyes and employed my own clothes for snot rags (not the first time for that).

This morning I was glad for the sanctuary of Lincoln Road under the sunshine and blue skies of an unseasonably warm January day. I irreverently mixed “Peace Like a River” and “It is Well with My Soul” on the short walk to the pie shop, thankful for a coat and a baby to cover up my snotted garb.

This Sabbath is slow and staccato, long snuggles interrupted by gravel coughs and wet sneezes. Her wispy hair has started to peek out over her ears and we still aren’t convinced of its color.  Sand or cypress wood grain or amber, maybe. I’ve had time to inspect the curious patches of length on the top and back of her head, neither looks like fashion.

This Sabbath is not how imagined motherhood, not that I was ever romantic about it. Zella sits in a diaper next to me, in my pajamas. She is momentarily entertained by the feel of her fingernails on her pale pink snowsuit. I am seizing these moments to listen to Epiphany music and write a few rambled thoughts. This makes two weeks of home church.

It was supposed to be a big storm last weekend, but we’ve heard that before. We woke up slowly Saturday, eventually making fluffy buttermilk waffles and sitting in the late morning window light to watch the flurries gather on the ground. The neighbors joined our lazy fun around 11 am for snowfall projections and cheese boards and card games. Curiosity led us outside, where the blizzard was real. I made it a couple blocks and 10 pictures before I decided it was best for me to pick up the essentials (hot chocolate, chocolate bars, and dark chocolate covered cranberries) and hold down the fort.

I felt like a real mom – you know, the kind that stays inside so there is something warm to eat when the cold adventurers are soaked to the bone. With Zella Ruth still strapped to my front, I started the soup in between capitalized texts to all my adventuring friends: MTA IS SHUTTING DOWN AT 4! MAKE SURE YOU CAN GET HOME.

Then my husband called,

“Hey, is it ok if everyone comes over?”
“Yeah, that’s fine, but I don’t think they’ll be able to get home…”
“I know, how do you feel about having all of them spend the night?”
“Oh…. Ohhhhhh! Oh. Yes, uh, ok yeah. Yep, let’s do it. Ok, yeah!”

And that’s how nine pairs of boots found their way to our door, wet layers got draped over radiators and shower curtains, and a vegetable chicken soup doubled in depth.

I can’t be certain, but I think it was a full house.

The crowd huddled around stovetop hot chocolate and chips and salsa and hummus before the soup was ladled out to a stack of bowls. And somewhere into the evening in between board games, those who could find dry socks fetched groceries for a second dinner from our corner market.

All the ingredients for our church’s monthly Burrito Bar were sliced and diced in the fridge when we found out church was canceled the next day… so the breakfast menu was easily set and additional invites were sent out to friends and neighbors.

And that is how we spent Storm Jonas – covering every square inch of our apartment with humans and board games and chicken soup and whiskey and hot chocolate and laughter and burritos and coffee and a doorstep full of snow boots.

Every square inch.

The living room full of sleeping bags and the clogged bathroom sink and the tiny-turned-industrial kitchen and my heart and the slow flushing toilet and the deep, snow covered streets and the baby girl on my hip – all of these square inches.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” ― Abraham Kuyper

Now this baby girl lays on my lap, sleep-nursing after afternoon company and before a small crowd returns for dinner. Her cheeks have less flush and her sneeze has less slush, thank God. I think we’ll have leftover spaghetti squash… no, probably not enough. Maybe the chicken thawing will stretch if it’s over a salad? Ooh, or maybe a mushroom red sauce? Probably the easiest would be some sort of stir fry… I’m not sure.

I never had the imagination to picture this scene – this baby stretched across my knees while I hover over her to write this blog post and simultaneously brainstorm impromptu dinner plans. There are lot of things I do as a mama that surprise me. My mama self is not near as organized or gentle or patient or forgiving as I think I had hoped. I can remember seeing moms and saying, “I totally want to do that with our kids…”

In my private thoughts, I hoped I would shed all the worst of me like old skin when I had a baby and put on all the best of me like mom pants. In my public thoughts, I knew that was never a possibility.

I never thought I would be the mama nursing her daughter while sitting on the toilet… or the mama who wears pajamas all day and then also the next day… or the mama whose life is entirely rearranged by a little tiny human and her red eyes… or the mama who just spliced three blog posts together in order to post something on her blog.

I thought it would be hard, and it is. I thought it would be good, and it is. I thought it would be adventure, and it most definitely is.

Patrick brought home the bulletin from church today and the closing hymn was “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” It makes me feel like we’re doing church every time we lay Zella down to sleep and that makes our home feel sacred. It is really what we are after – a closer walk with the One who owns all the inches in all the sabbaths and storms and sleepovers.

Ok, babe is awake and folk songs can only distract for so long.

 

Love, Gram

I am sad you don’t get emails from my Gram.

I read this one over and over, and then several times out loud to different audiences because it is that good. I wish she would start a blog, so everyone could read about the musicians removing their caps because of unpredictable weather at a church service and because they were facing the east. I didn’t make any changes because I want you to read it exactly like I did (the first, second, and fifth times).

Caroline and Patrick, do we have a new address?  Since I don’t do a lot on Facebook of a personal nature, I would like to have an address! ! ! ! ! ! ! !   We had church in the park yesterday.  When they moved the music equipment to the stage the sun was shining and when we got there at 10; it was still shining, but when the service started at 10:15, the clouds had appeared and the musicians removed their caps as they were facing the east.  Service, grill meat, sit down to meat and salad and dessert lunch.  As we finished and were visiting, it began to sprinkle, the music equipment and table and chairs got moved back to the church very rapidly before it began to sprinkle in earnest.  Here in Griswold Iowa, we have had rain EVERY SINGLE DAY.  At least 6 inches for the week.  Good for some thingss, like the corn and beans, but hard on my dahlia flowers.  The Raspberries are BIG at the beginning of their fall season.    And we will have apples.  But the squirrels like the delicious ones, they nibble and they then fall to the ground and that’s it. Sounds like your apartment is just right according to what I heard from someone.  The right size for pancake mondays, right distance from the train, close to old pancake friends, etc. etc.  Got any pictures?  Patrick, one night the girls were fixing  supper while Cindy was on skype and they burned the bacon!  She couldn’t believe it and they were standing right there!  ! ! ! ! !    Love, Gram

You are welcome.

what to do with abundance

If you are not feeling like a long read, will you at least skip to the bottom and give me your honest vote? Thanks!

I am such the typical Brooklynite today, riding a French vintage bike in a flowy denim dress in the July summer heat with an adventure backpack and no helmet. Wearing a denim dress and a helmet seemed like a decision I would regret in the heat (also I had managed to throw up the perfect little bun that a helmet would destroy). So, I chose danger.

It had to happen, really, because I did a bunch of homebody things this morning like laundry and cleaning and long distance phone calls (okay, fine… a little bunch) before getting out into the sunshine to meet up with some good friends. I like to string things together like twinkle lights… then this and this and this, until the whole day sparkles. Meeting my friends’ baby Eloise Ruby was the first of many twinkles and I guess I’m trying to say that explains the adventure backpack. So many twinkle lights.

So, I am camped out in the hipster-est Fort Greene coffee shop while my bike Betty hangs out in the sunshine, proudly showing off her perfect wire basket and yellow fenders. Eye roll.

A little/a lot of me wants to be at something called the Cass County Fair. You’ve never heard of it, but I promise you wish you had. If I tried to explain the detailed fair schedule, as published in a little handbook by the Cass County Fair Board, it would sound like every stereotype of what makes rural ridiculous to city folks. It is tucked away in a regular county of a very regular flyover state.

But you’ve never been, so you can’t possibly understand what it’s like to walk through the long, white commercial barns to grab bags of free goodies or how it feels to know you have animals in the pig barn or the dairy barn or the beef barn that have your name hanging over their stall. You don’t know the nervous frenzy of waiting to see if your 4-H projects deserved statewide recognition. You don’t “get” the anticipation of the County Queen contest or the talks that happen around campfires or the solidarity of feeding animals at 6 am. This whole rant sounds like crazy, I realize.

You don’t have to understand the irony of my being ultra hipster on a day like today, but that little slice of Midwestern American life is my kind of crazy. I wish (a little bit) that I was eating pancake breakfast at the 4-H food stand with my uncles and cousins or dipping my candy lollipops in my grandma’s ultra creamy coffee like I did when I was seven years old. I know it doesn’t make sense, but it was my kind of crazy for 18 years of life, so it feels appropriate to enjoy some nostalgia as my family lives inside that world this week. I’m living in a different crazy these days, making new memories and living the moments of future nostalgia.

It’s been interesting to answer questions about marriage because it is hard to know where to put all the wonderful. It is surprisingly difficult to figure out how to manage all the abundance and I suppose that is the best way to explain this transition: I am learning to manage a new kind of abundance.

New normals, new abnormals, new routines, new breaks of routines, new escapes, and new dead ends. And really, I haven’t been able to manage any of it. [Also, update on that July heat: full blown rainstorm outside this hipster cafe window.]

It’s like that silly analogy about the way we see the world… the half-empty / half-full glass scenario. We always want it to be full, right? Regardless of our chosen perspective, the assumption is that the best way the glass can be is full. So what happens when a pitcher unleashes abundance over the top of that controversy – when the only perspective from which to see the glass is overflowing. Do we manage the abundance by sopping it up, even though the very thing we wanted has happened and more?

That’s a tricky one. I would say this is a #firstworldproblem but I think it’s everyone’s dilemma if they have every felt abundance. What does the right kind of gratitude look like? How do you know when to jump in puddles and when to hold an umbrella? What is okay to stay a mystery and what should be known?

I know, I ask too many questions.

Maybe that’s why the Cass County Fair feels like a good place to be today. I’ve carved out quite a few geographical escapes over the years (from my own questions) and the Cass County Fair is one of those places. I get to rally around someone else’s success and ambition, chatting on those familiar silver bleachers under some shade (if we’re lucky).

Abundance is worth pondering – worth the questions and the coffee shop afternoons and the confusing blog posts. I am learning, slowly.

Part of the beauty of an overflowing cup is the mystery of always being full but always being filled.

It is really never supposed to make sense or get figured out or be understood. Abundance is like sunshine, maybe. I could spend all day inside with thick books and light refractors and smart instruments and science stuff, but I would never get inside the beauty of sunshine abundance. I would never enjoy the mystery of being full of sunshine while still being filled with it. Sometimes the best explanation of mystery is swirling with outstretched hands and uplifted face under an abundant sunshine sky.

On a completely unrelated note, would you help me do a little research? If I was to write a, ahem, lengthier piece… what would you like to read from me?

1. Hospitality / Neighboring
2. Something heavy with philosophy / doctrine thoughts
3. Anecdotes / Blog Excerpts / Personal Stories
4. Some combination…
5. Something obvious I haven’t thought to have as an option

Ask your mom, friends, pets what they would want to read from me and then let me know. The rain cleared outside, so I better get Betty home before another downpour results in a wet mess of this unfortunate Brooklyn hipster.

frivolous friday

In the spirit of lavishing love “just because,” I set out to soak as much in as possible this morning before I leave for Iowa in about an hour. I woke up to run in the park, dropped off my laundry, biked over to chat with Lele in our other favorite neighborhood coffee shop, and wrote out some thoughts. Then, when the responsible and predictable part of Caroline said, “Go home and pack” the carefree and whimsical Caroline looked at my beautiful bike with a basket and said, “Adventure instead.”

So, I did. I biked up Bedford and through Fort Greene. I meandered away the minutes I didn’t have walking the streets where no stores were yet open. I swayed under the shade and I smiled for no reason. I closed my eyes and walked with my head toward the cotton candy clouds, just because.

I jumped back on my bike, noting the ridiculousness of my summer dress and the goofiness of my grin, and biked over to Park Slope where I did more aimless walking. And all the time, it was okay that my joy didn’t have direction. It was okay that I wasn’t frantically checking and re-checking my bags I packed last night while watching Runaway Bride (it was free on Amazon Prime and who doesn’t love Julia Roberts with Richard Gere?).

It was more than okay, it was perfect.

What is the dumbest thing a bride can do one week before her wedding? Ride down the big hill in Prospect Park with her hands outstretched and her knees/elbows/face exposed to possible catastrophic collision. And that’s exactly what I did. I spread out my hands and embraced the breeze and it was exactly the best way to leave Brooklyn before coming back a Mrs.

I know it doesn’t make sense and I promise it isn’t just because I’m in love. I think I am finally realizing that adventures, a lot of times, are not planned. And receiving love brings joy to the giver as much as it does the receiver (if not more). So, when God gives good gifts like this absolutely beautiful day, it delights Him when I step completely into it.

Turns out, His delight is my delight. Let the adventures begin!

this is the first day

“This is the first day.”

Sure, Sunday was the beginning of a new week and the beginning of the Easter season and the beginning of Spring. But it was not just that, not at all just that.

“This is the first day,” our pastor said at least five times in his sermon Sunday.

He said it like he was announcing a baby’s first breath or a rocket’s first flight, like there was a definite and precise time of origin and there was not anything like day before that day. Like, perhaps, when the first dawn broke the first day as God breathed life out of nothing.

When Christ rose from the dead, everything changed… forever. Everything, forever changed. History and future and eternity and the way the sunlight presently stretches across my morning routine. Sunday would have been the first day of a new work week for the Jewish people, but all work was different on this new “first” day, in light of the resurrection.

We are living in the light of an empty tomb – on the sky side of a conquered grave.

That is why we spread the feast table in Prospect Park on Sunday and gathered friends and broke bread and said grace and joyfully remembered together our redemption. We are on the sky side of a conquered grave with Jesus.

As if that wasn’t reason enough to celebrate on Sunday, Patrick decided it would be another first. He thought that Easter was the most appropriate time to make this special invitation because of the way every feast and marriage and celebration is wrapped up inside the immeasurable blessing of salvation.

At the end of a long day of celebrating, Patrick asked me to be his bride and it is making me the happiest little Midwestern Brooklyn girl you have ever seen.

It took a while for the shock to wear off (when I say I had no idea it was coming, I mean like you would be surprised if those big check people showed up at your door). Of course, I was hoping it would happen in the future, but I was not expecting it Sunday when we could share the joy with my brother and sister-in-law who were visiting… which is probably why our excitement turned into silly dancing in my living room.

And now, this.
I am engaged! I have a fiance! I am going to marry my best friend!

The sweet beauty of Easter just claimed a whole new piece of my heart. It’s like knowing the best secret that I can tell everyone and like my rib cage is warm like the best whiskey. It’s… sorry, words won’t do at all here. Words just won’t do to explain how wonderful it feels to step into love like this.

I’ll spare you my mushy babble for now. I will just say that it seemed the best way to start this part of the journey – remembering the Bridegroom we anticipate together and the marriage feast He has prepared.

For now, we will enjoy “every good gift” the Lord pours out and we will enjoy it with all the zany delight those gifts deserve.

 

this tornado loves you

I have to give credit to Neko.

Her song “this tornado loves you” was the inspiration for all the surprise birthday party craziness. Well, her and Patrick’s obsession with surprises. I wanted the whole night to feel like a tornado – the surprises, the plans, and the people. But, the best kind of tornado – the reason why Helen Hunt was one of those storm chasers in the movie Twister. Because there is something exciting about getting swept up in that spinning motion; there is something really thrilling about the energy in the air that can lift things off the ground.

That’s the kind of feeling I wanted to create.

The surprise-keeping was torture. Last night, after he walked in and looked like this:

photos courtesy of Chris!
photos courtesy of Chris!

…after that I started breathing again. Why was it so important for him to walk into a room full of people celebrating him unexpectedly? Because he loves surprises and I love him. 

All the weeks of knotted up insides and half-truth schemes and several versions of party themes… all of it was worth the look on his face when he realized his friends in this city will do crazy things to make him feel special.

He didn’t make it easy, though. He wanted to come over yesterday to help me deep clean my apartment (from the terrarium party the week before). After I had hidden the morning’s baked goods and refrigerated the first of many bacon treats and covered the rum bacon ice cream, I relented. He brought over fresh doughnuts and his Swiffer (the good kind that sprays) and immediately handy-manned a lamp we’ve been needing to fix. Then he spent a good 20 minutes beating my area rug on the fire escape before we cleaned all the floors. He almost insisted on carrying my laundry down, but I wiggled out of that one (because the laundry was a ruse to get him out for a few hours, but I legitimately need to do laundry desperately).

When he left, my party planners (and the best friends ever) arrived and we set the tornado in motion.

And then I changed our dinner plans so many times that he became very hangry. He got so frustrated (to be fair, we had planned to eat at 6:30 and I didn’t tell him where to meet us until 7:30). Instead of being suspicious, he was just a really severe combination of hungry and angry. I can thank his stomach for helping to keep the surprise, I guess. But I felt horrible. When he opened the door and I was dressed up, he still didn’t think anything of it. He was mostly still hangry.

But then he turned the corner and a room full of people sang to celebrate him. And that whole scene made me so happy!

People brought magnets (one of Patrick’s random favorite things) and wrote memories down on tornado cards. There was bacon ice cream and bacon wrapped dates and candied bacon and nutty bacon chocolate bark and chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake. And there was laughter.

Midway through the party, Patrick read one of the tornado cards that said “this surprise has wheels.” And everyone grabbed coats in time to make the B43 a party bus (the driver even said Happy Birthday, Pat over the microphone when we got off). We caught a sweet concert that our friend Rebecka rocked out, where we met more friends and ANOTHER surprise cake. From there we headed to one of our favorite spots to close out the night with some multi-colored disco lights and some of Pat’s best dance moves. It was all so good, it almost felt like I  was the one unwrapping gifts all night.

But after all that, after all the party planning and party having and party traveling, my favorite part was this morning. It didn’t have anything to do with the party last night, but it was the most special thing.

We were sitting in church with big grins across our faces. We greeted our friends we had seen just hours before and we passed the peace to friends we hadn’t seen in awhile. We worshipped in song and through prayer and with full hearts as the sun reached through stain glass to warm the tops of our heads. And as we stood in line for communion, we heard “Jesus Paid It All” circling over our heads.

This was my favorite part. There is a bigger tornado of love that swallows up any we can create. It’s heavy and light and mysterious and reckless. And it happened this morning when I heard about Jesus healing the paralytic.

As much as we love surprises – giving and receiving and sharing – God must love them most. He made us to have that face we have when we walk into a roomful of people who want to celebrate us. He made us with insides that knot together in nervous excitement when we don’t want to spoil the story. He made us and we reflect Him. So He must love surprises. I wonder what face He wore when He surprised creation with His love.

I wonder what His delight looks like when we are surprised by His joy and grace every day.

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