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!

million miles to go

I love this song by Joy Williams and Trent Dabbs… not because it is catchy or clever (because it is those things), but because it reminds me to persevere. Tonight, it’s really not about a layered love relationship as much as it is about chocolate dough chilling in the fridge, a newsletter almost finished, and a cup of I Love Lemon tea that needs refilling.

One thing you should always do when you start a recipe – read through all the directions (especially if it says chill for about 1 hour). Don’t worry – I’m not fazed. The countdown begins… at 9:12 pm.

Today, I told a student she was an onion with many layers and after-school I taught cheers in heels behind my closed office door. Interesting day? That’s not the half of it! 🙂

I can also now, at 10:55 pm, go on record saying the following:

Though recipes may be gracious about cavalier attitudes towards flour and sugar, it is NOT SO with ingredients like semi-sweet chocolate chips (tried substituting COSTA bars), dark brown sugar (tried substituting unknown Honduran sugar alternative), and chocolate mint wafer candies (tried substituting chocolate mints, like the ones you get at a restaurant).

Yep, I just wanted that to be officially on record… and also, you should only believe the exclamation, “So easy!” on a recipe if you have all the ingredients… and start very early… and are not still wearing your white pants from work.

I’m not disappointed, though. I finished my newsletter and spent some solitude time in the good ole cocina. I’m pretty sure my version will fly tomorrow, but we’ll see. If not, there’s always

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Monday are YUMdays!

MONDAYS are YUMDAYS

I love Mondays. No, really. I LOVE Mondays.

You think I’m kidding, but today sealed the deal. Here are some of the things today that overflowed my cup:

 

 

  1. I drove to school instead of rode the bus, which perfectly placed about 8.5 extra minutes to spend with David in 1 Samuel
  2. I ran out of coffee filters at my house, but savored a Vanilla Chai tea… delicious start!
  3. I met the day with uncharacteristic (before coffee), silly joy and greeted students with grand gestures and lopsided smiles.
  4. During our mid-morning break, I was heading back from an errand in the administration building, secretly hoping two certain, special students would be waiting in my office… and THEY WERE. I think I scared them with my loopy-ness and laughter, but I don’t care. I love it when I find students in my office… especially when the special ones appear!
  5. CHAPEL happens Monday and today was such a blessing! I am sure many of the seniors won’t admit it, but they want to know about hearing God’s voice. That was exactly the message!
  6. Then, I got to counsel one of my favorite students using a SWEET analogy about records playing in our heads. Sometimes we’ve let the record of lies steal the show and we listen to it over and over and start to believe all the foolishness it plays. We’ve got to put that sweet record called Truth on stat and then you better believe we’re gonna speak and act out of that life-giving overflow! I’ll admit, my favorite part was connecting it to a Corinne Bailey Rae song, “Put Your Records On” because every time I saw her I broke out into singing.
  7. I love that THIS was shown to remember our time at the SLEEPout!
  8. then…(drumroll) it’s MONDAY so that means culinary collision with two of my favorite ladies! I seriously can’t explain how beautiful and brilliant these girls are… so I won’t try. Just read this blogpost and you’ll get a little taste of the night (not a real taste, but a cyber-ish one:).
  9. I love praying in my car on the way back from Monday baking dates. Shoot, and I just have to say again how much I love these amazing high school girls. They may/may not be changing my life (mostly may).
  10. I may/may not have consumed too much caffeine today (mostly may), which means I might be up writing for awhile!

I hope you are going to

let LOVE fly like CRAZY

with a wink and a smile

I’m not sure why, but this song was playing in my head as I sat down to write today. I just lunched on my version of a Honduran staple – baleadas (substitute wheat tortilla, take out salty cheese, add salsa) – and now I sit helplessly waiting to hear back from students who are probably sleeping and completely unaware that my afternoon plans somewhat hinge on their replies.

In the meanwhile, I want to bring you up-to-date on some of the happenings here. In my typical, completely disconnected fashion, I’m giving it to you straight today about baking, meanings of words, and a strange desire to start a movement.

LovE CakE!

I’m still marinating on this idea of baking and sweetness and life and tasting … yesterday was the last day of chapel and I spent the morning hours (prior to 6:30 departure) baking up some serious pumpkin gobs with butter/cream cheese frosting. A week of creative treats for the seniors who bring their Bibles to chapel almost wore me right out, but there is a beautiful, redeeming quality to what some women painfully label a chore.

This redeeming quality to laboring in the kitchen is not the look on people’s faces when they eat your hard-won creation (though I’ve found I often make them eat it in front of me so I can see a reaction) nor is it the exclamations of delight and the serious battle for second helpings. The redeeming quality is an empty tupperware at the end of the day.

I (quite haphazardly) stumble onto the school bus in the morning in professional garb, toting a backpack and the familiar tupperware container with secret treats. By the time I get to school, I usually have frosting or chocolate or some unknown ingredient stuck to some inconvenient place. But, back to redeeming qualities…

The tupperware goes out from the house full and comes back empty. Every single one of the little, labored-over creations has found its place and that knowledge only finds me right back in the kitchen to make it happen again. What joy! Check out this video that my friend Kasey Miller (who, by the way, is one of my favorite inspirations in the kitchen!!) shared… this will make you want to LOVE CAKE too!

gracia and gracias

So, my word study on “pan” and “paneh” might have failed, but I’m very interested in the connection between the Spanish words, “Gracias” (thank you) and “gracia” (grace) and I think this will lead to something more conclusive. Both words are derived from the Latin root “gratus,” which means “beloved,” “agreeable,” “favorable,” and “pleasing.”

I was originally interested because at the Micah Project sometimes we just spend time in prayer thanking God for His character. Many times, this will come up, “Señor, gracias por tu gracia!” Maybe no one else takes notice or thinks it odd, but whenever I hear that, I wonder about the strange and beautiful connection between gratitude and grace. When we say thank you, we are responding to an action or a gift or something we have received. Gratitude is what happens (or should happen) after receiving something good. We feel strange accepting a gift or complement without giving something back, so we express our gratitude by saying, “Thank you.”

Here is where I get really interested… why do we use almost the exact same word to describe unmerited favor? The Miriam-Webster dictionary (and many Christians) gives the first definition for grace to mean what is received from God and that which allows one to have faith in what Christ did on the cross.

So – back to that Latin. If the Latin says, “pleasing, beloved, agreeable,” and “favorable,” why am I stuck on these two words? Well, if we say “thank you” because we have received something, that person or persons have become (in some way) beloved or agreeable to us. What is AMAZING is that we have done absolutely nothing to please or become favorable in God’s sight. Even our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), but God called us “beloved” and showed us “favor,” though we came with nothing to deserve this response.

WOW!

starting a movement

Everybody is making movements these days, so I thought I would throw in my two cents about what deserves “movement” status. Maybe it’s because I’m sitting here waiting for a student to tell me if she does/doesn’t want to meet for coffee (though she told me for sure yesterday) or maybe it’s because I’ve been around young people long enough to know commitments are … fluid at best and often motivated by bad information.

So, I’d like to start a movement. The movement will be called, “we care and follow through with things that matter.” I know – it’s not very catchy right now, but I think I could hire some serious PR and those flaky kids would really start jumping on board. Well… they would jump on board if the message was so diluted no one knew exactly what kind of movement they were joining. But, they would join for sure, eventually. And, by that time the whole purpose of said movement would be moot (case in point).

That’s my point.

It is very easy to get kids fired up about things (there are many, many broken things to bemoan in this world) and very hard to get kids fired up about searching serious answers followed up by serious action. I’m not talking extreme, here, folks. I actually think things get extreme when we get distracted by flashy PR campaigns and people telling us what is important and what to do about it.

I guess it would be refreshing to see a youth movement with, as my high school history teacher used to say, “fire in its belly.” Everything from coffee dates to mission trips to environmental debates would be informed by something solid – something true and absolute and transformational. Let me know if you know of one and I’ll scrap the whole idea.