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

fall asleep counting my blessings

You know the scene I’m talking about, right? The scene from White Christmas where Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney meet in the middle of night because both can’t seem to sleep… and so the famous duet, “Counting My Blessings” emerged.

Today, I’m open-eyed, sleep-counting. The thing is, there are almost too many blessings to get sleep. I wonder what advice Bing Crosby would have for that…

I invented a recipe today and made a royal mess of the kitchen. I didn’t set out to be so creative, but I got there real quick after I got cavalier with the size of my baking pans. I was pretty hopeful when I poured the harvest brownie batter into three pans of different sizes and pretty disappointed when the baking soda/powder didn’t expand my desserts like I hoped.

So harvest brownies became chocolate cream cheese fudge layered brownie dessert. Yes, it became that. I mixed up a cream cheese frosting that failed, which led to the cream cheese, chocolate fudge number that succeeded (I think) and became the finger-licking middle to the two unfortunately thin layers of harvest brownie.

All this while the roast cooks in the crock pot and the bean salad waits to be made on the counter, because tomorrow is Food at First downtown and I’ve got friends to meet up with still tonight.

Blessings.

Full days and short sleeps can keep a person counting without ever falling asleep. It’s a place I could easily navigate as a 20-year-old and one I don’t want to admit is getting harder.

Prayer walking with high-schoolers in the afternoon, teaching college students this morning, baking with cinnamon and pumpkin: blessings. Football games, acoustic guitar sessions in the basement, sitting in the balcony to worship with new community, hearing the Word of God preached with power: blessings. Laughing in the fellowship hall after church, breathing in the breeze on an autumn walk, riding mo-peds under the star-speckled sky, clustering around a tailgate for celebration, stretching the late night hours until they break: blessings.

I am not falling asleep, but I will keep counting.

Counting my blessings.

one FINE day

Remember that movie, One Fine Day?

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Well, yesterday was about as FINE as it could get! I spent the whole day laughing with and talking and listening and dreaming with a very special Honduran someone. She reminded me of all the reasons God filled me up to be poured out during my time in Honduras.

It was amazing to introduce her to a few aunts and uncles and cousins and see her fit right in. She sensed right away our bond through Christ and His love and I’m so thankful! My family does an AMAZING job of showing love. I can’t wait for the big thanksgiving extravaganza in a few weeks! This was ONE fine day – imagine what several will be like with friends and family gathered up to celebrate the many blessings we have!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

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

how NOT to gain 100 pounds while baking

I think I could almost say I am studying baking as a second language right now. I won’t say it’s easy, but I will say it is very rewarding (even if only in the “kitchen smells good all the time” sense). Anyway, I thought I might share with you some of the things I’m learning in BSL. I hope, if you ever choose to take on this delicious course, you’ll take note of this extremely important advice so it doesn’t become painfully obvious that you’ve enrolled in said course.

 

in the midst of mad baking!
  1. Do NOT brew a fresh pot of coffee while the cookies are in the oven
  2. Make sure you begin the cookie process just after you’ve filled your tummy with good things, not before
  3. While the dough is rising in the oven, throw some green beans on the stove – fresh, crispy green beans with salt, pepper, and a bit of butter. Then MUNCH on those instead of the “broken cookies”
  4. Hide the milk!!
  5. Entice your friends into the kitchen with the job of “taste-tester” and then TRUST them!
  6. Remind yourself with each batch or finished cake that these items are going to be sold – and that finger-licking isn’t necessarily professional.
  7. Intentionally plan a workout following your baking session so you can’t over-indulge… you know you will regret it later.
  8. (This is my favorite) Allow yourself to lick the cake pan, once the cake is safely on its serving plate. There’s no point in completely denying yourself the good stuff!

That’s all I got for now. Any other suggestions from fellow bakers-in-distress?

let that LOVE fly like cRaZy!!

You lead me out of myself

INVITE FOR 2010 SWEET DINNER
INVITE info

I’m getting ready for the SO-FAMOUS Sweet Dinner (10, 09, 06), which is happening on Thursday!! I have been thinking so much about what it means to love – really, truly love people. Loving these senior girls for the past three years makes it hard to write about love without crying. They make fun of me for it, but I’m not ashamed. Maybe tears are part of the overflow, too?

All I know is, I’ve got a GIANT lasagna (ahem, I might have used a turkey pan) and I have big plans for the special heart tins my mom sent me in a package last year. I’m working on parodies and decorations.

And in all these things, every once in awhile I take as deep a sigh as I can manage to remember that all this is just a reflection… it’s all overflow and I’ve got to keep getting filled.

So, I thought these words would be good to start out the morning. One of my favorite sounds to rummage up inspiration in my soul is The Arrows from South Africa. Two ladies rocking out, weaving clever lyrics with layered melodies is what I call a good time. Well, maybe if you read these lyrics for pilgrimage you’ll get the picture. I wish I could find a youtube video to post (if you can, let me know!). Here is their myspace page.

On this pilgrimmage to the new Jerusalem
and it’s the highway of holiness that gets me there
start of the journey is the day when I let the seed
fall to the ground and the day that I die is the day
I start to climb

On this pilgrimmage to the new Jerusalem
and it’s the highway of holiness that gets me there
every time I choose Your way instead of going my own direction
those are the times when I fall right behind
that You come to lead me along
will You lead me on?

and if I ever lose my hope
You’re there to light the fire
You bring me everything I need
when You quiet me with the Love you give
and You sing those songs all over me
and You tenderly
You lead me out of myself
and You walk with me

On this pilgrimmage to the new Jerusalem
and it’s the small and the narrow gate that gets me there
I know that many are called but that only few are chosen
those are the few who abandon themselves to pursue Your kingdom come
Your kingdom come

and if I ever lose my hope
You’re there to light the fire
You bring me everything I need
when you quiet me with the Love you give
and you sing those songs all over me
and you tenderly
You lead me out of myself
and you walk with me
and you walk with me
and you walk with me
and you walk with me

Today, my chorus is, “Lord, lead me out of myself”

and let LOVE fly like cRaZy

sweet smell of spice and other things nice

Tonight we got back into the monday-baking swing of things. Elena and Alejandra brought laughter as a friend to fill all the lonely spaces in my kitchen (only recently vacated after Christmas left). We detoured from our normal crowded kitchen routine because there was just simply too much catching up to do. I baked and they talked – anything else would have resulted in a disaster on all sides.

I promise I would admit it if I resented their un-helpfulness, but I’ll tell you what I told them, “Just having you in my house makes me so happy.”

I felt like a 26 year-old version of my own cheesy mother… and, well, I don’t mind a bit! I realize now that all those times we were crowding my mom probably made her feel pretty popular. I don’t think it was just the smell of spaghetti or casserole or chicken… I think it was a kind of home-baked smell she had that invited us in to chat. It could be wishful thinking, but I hope I inherited that fragrance!

It doesn’t hurt that just the sight of this beautiful apron (thanks, sister!) brings culinary inspiration!

 

as you can see, the baking was accompanied by much laughter!