Tuesday, December 28, 2010

not what anyone expected.

During Christmastime, with all its familiarity and the season's flurry of activity, it is easy to drift into our routine of celebration without seeing the source of celebration with new eyes. Last year, though, I was struck afresh by the hope of Advent. So this year, I was searching for something to make it new for me again. I was joyfully waltzing through the season, but I wanted it to be deep and beautiful and newly profound. And by some kind of grace, that newness finally came on Christmas Eve.

At work, I've been updating our Survey of the Bible course, and last week, I edited, revised and began skimming through the entire thing. As I followed its tracing of the drama of redemption from the beginning, outlined in the early chapters of Genesis, to the present day, I was reminded of the words of the prophets and the oldest recorded promises of God...promises about the one who would come, the Prince of Peace who would reign and make all things right. I recalled the lineage of Jesus, his family tree full of sinners and marginalized folks and very few that we would choose as precursors to the king of everything.

On Christmas Eve at my parents' church, the church I grew up in, the liturgy included a video of a little white line blazing through a dark screen, accompanied by captivating piano music, tracing a picture of Bethlehem and the star, Mary and Joseph traveling, shepherds, angels...and then, the small baby Jesus in the manger.

And it was so simple. But at moment 1:50 of the video, when that tiny manger and outline of a baby were traced on the screen above me, with the promises of the prophets still on my mind, I thought, This wasn't what anyone expected.

They were waiting for a king. They were waiting for power and grandeur and fanfare. I imagine that they watched the rulers and leaders of the day, wondering, Is he the one? Is he? How about this king? This prince? This priest?

No one was looking at insignificant young girls in Nazareth. No one expecting a king would have been paying attention to the life of a poor carpenter. Who would have connected the census to the most monumental religious event ever to occur? Who would have been watching the births of infant boys in rural villages? Who would have kept an eye on the stables in the countryside?

This wasn't what they expected. This wasn't what I would have expected.

But this was it. This was what every single prophecy pointed toward. The tiny baby conceived by a virgin, born in a stable, placed in a feeding trough, resting on a mattress of hay, comforted by the moans of cattle, gazed on by dirty shepherds, with a lineage marked by prostitutes and sinners and nobodies...this was the Savior.

And frankly, a god who would orchestrate a story as unexpected as that to bring about our salvation is the kind of god I want to follow.

I want to serve an unpredictable, unconventional god. I want to serve a god who would write that kind of narrative, full of adventure and heart and nothing anyone anticipated.

And that's what I have been dwelling on this season. I know that all of this has been said before, in one way or another, but as I step back and think rationally, I am remembering once again that this is one incredible story.
So. Merry Christmas. For me, these past days have been marked by quality time and good food and much laughter, and I hope you've been experiencing the same. I've been enjoying time with my family, all the five of us together, and I still have a few more days to revel in the joy of these dear ones and others close to my heart.

By the way, I know I didn't deliver on my promises of fall summaries and snapshots. Something of the sort might still appear, but this coming year, I'm resolving to keep shorter to do lists and minimize the demands I place on myself. So in the spirit of just living, I shall make no promises!

An now, enjoy these last few days of 2010, my friends.

Friday, December 3, 2010

happy december!

As if prompted by the turning of calendar pages and the pending opening of that first tiny door of the Advent calendar, snow began to fall on Tuesday night, and December greeted me with a thin blanket of white and a shaken snow globe of sky.

After a rainy Tuesday, I had gone to bed hoping for snow to greet me in the morning. And as soon as I could force myself out of my warm bed on Wednesday, the first of December, I scampered to the front window to peek outside--and lo! a winter wonderland. (I know, I'm five. But really, people, it's enchanting.)

Over the past few days, I pushed inches of snow off my windshield, narrowly avoided slipping on icy steps, holiday shop hopped and purchased a Christmas gift. This weekend, I plan to go to a holiday artists' market, make Christmas cookies and help pick out another Christmas tree.

And so, with those festive activities, snow, the month of December and food bloggers the world 'round posting cookie recipes, the season now begins in earnest! To inspire you, two photographs from Thanksgiving weekend:

(What, isn't this what your family does at the Christmas tree farm?)

I plan to return with a few fall summary/flashback posts this weekend, and then, I promise you, I will focus solely on the current season.

In sum: It's December! There is snow! Life is beautiful! Merry Christmastime!

Monday, November 29, 2010

the thanks giving post.

Though Thanksgiving has come and gone, I want to voice my thanks before continuing on with updates and new reflections and the Christmas-themed posts sure to ensue.

I got out of town and had a wonderful holiday weekend with family and an extension of my family (aka my brother-in-law's family...my family in-law in-law?) and also that boy I'm so fond of. We went to fetch the Christmas tree for my parents' house and decorated it with twinkly lights and cheery ornaments, which means that I will soon begin waxing poetic and becoming wildly excited about any- and everything even remotely related to Christmas. That's right. Be ready.

But first, some giving of thanks.

It's unfortunate that we need a national holiday to remind us to be thankful, but it seems that we do. (We don't need a national holiday to remind us to eat, so I'm going to stick to giving thanks as the primary purpose of the day/this post.) I probably complain more than I give thanks, which is a horribly skewed way of going about things in a life that has been filled with far more goodness than suffering.

And I want to live a life of gratitude.

There is much to be thankful for, after all. On the most elementary level, I am thankful for the material things that I have but don't need or deserve and so many go without--big things like plenty of food for the table and a little apartment all my own; simple and ultimately unnecessary things like cooling racks for hot loaves of bread; the electric blanket and humidifier that, though also unnecessary, make my Michigan winters much more bearable; shoes for my feet to stay warm and my body well, because it could be otherwise.

And of course, there are the good people surrounding me. There's this one girl who has now lovingly listened to a year's worth of joy and heartache and anxiety, who picked much of my summer sustenance with her very own hands, with whom I've never cooked a disappointing meal and whose single-syllable laugh I at some point unconsciously picked up. There's this other lovely lady in my city but from my hometown who absolutely makes my "short list," whose presence seems to ensure an eventful evening out and with whom a bottle of wine, a dessert (two desserts?), a platter of cheeses or a Valentine's day celebration was never unhappily shared. There is an incredible woman who believes in me more than I believe in myself, has a strength and vitality I strive to emulate and is the kind of mother that makes me want to be a mother.

I have a father who is a source of constant joy and offers much-needed guidance for my professional life on a regular basis, and my mom--who is also one of my very best friends--listens to me talk nonstop whenever I need to. (Seriously. My parents are awesome.) My sister and brother-in-law are living in the same country I am living in, which is something to be thankful for in itself, and on top of that, they are great house guests, read even my longest emails without complaining and are full of wisdom and hope.

There are good folks at my workplace; wise mentors from college and church; dear old friends now living in other cities, states and countries far off; kind landlords who fix even little things like broken doorknobs; new, inspiring acquaintances in this city that is my home.

And there is also a boy who makes me laugh until my face hurts, sees the bit of goodness in everything, listens to every last story even from a boring day, runs with me in the dark, cares about the world and appreciates a good meal or a well-made scone just as much as I do.

Along with all of that, I give thanks for the great big things, the things I ought to be expressing gratitude for with every breath: justice in my daily life, freedom, opportunity, health, peace in my neighborhood--and a good and sovereign God who holds everything, even that which is not just or peaceful or right.

Finally, I am thankful for a vast miscellany of other gratitude-inducing aspects of my life, such as my (currently) pest-and-rodent-free apartment, the fact that said apartment is in a house painted purple, my job (for both its good days and its bad ones), my little office with its fake plant, local businesses where they know my name and cardigans and baked goods and music and artwork and poetry and cookbooks and hope.

May I remain thankful all the year 'round.

Friday, October 22, 2010

on chocolate/pear cake, running and autumn.

On the brink of another autumn weekend--oh autumn how I love you!--I wanted to review last weekend's loveliness.

I made this Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake for some very dear friends' housewarming party. The cake met with great approval, though with its farmers market pears and specks of dark chocolate and that golden taste of browned butter, I shouldn't be surprised. Yet in my personal philosophy, anything remotely worthy of celebration ought to be celebrated, and baking success certainly falls into that camp--as does that happy house filled with some of my favorite people. And so I celebrate. And we eat cake.
Following that lovely evening, I awoke to Sunday's perfectly crisp air and bright sunlight and cool temperatures to run the Grand Rapids Half Marathon, which I accomplished in a pleasing 1 hour and 43 minutes. I was thrilled with my time and stats and so forth. And I will probably regret what I'm about to do, but if you're interested in proof that I was running that morning, here it is. I promise, people, despite the look on my face in the majority of those photographs, I do enjoy running. Ha. But it was an utterly perfect day; it really was. Mist hovered across open grass, and the wooded areas of the route blazed with brilliant colors. People ran in great herds--such camaraderie!--and families and friends held signs and chased the route on bicycles and cheered. And on top of all of that, there's this really great guy who woke up early early early in the morning to bring me downtown to the race and cheer me on. This, of course, made the day all the more wonderful. I am blessed indeed.

Then, in the spirit of recovery, four pals and I enjoyed an afternoon of sun and fall colors paired with fresh donuts and hot apple cider. Delightful.
So with that, cheers to another weekend! May your mornings be bright and your cider be warm, my friends.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

i don't want to miss it.

I have a whole slew of things I want to write about and recipes I would like to share and pictures to post from events and excursions back in September...but for the moment, I offer something a bit more simple.

I'm compelled to write about changing seasons over and over again here. And I think I've said before that I don't know what it is that intrigues me so about this process in nature and the emotions and feelings and memories it evokes in us (or me, at least). But I'm fascinated. On top of that, I adore fall. Yesterday, I read the following in an old post from the Smitten Kitchen: I love fall. I mean, I know how decidedly unoriginal that is to say, but I can't help it. And I'm sure it's even more unoriginal to say it by way of quotation, but doing so makes me feel less alone in my decided un-originality and weakness for all of the beauties of fall--the bright splashes of color in the trees, the crunch of the leaves on the ground, the chill of the crisp air, the apples and squash and cider and dark leafy greens...

And yet. I'm afraid I'm missing it. I'm afraid I'm missing the change of seasons and the glory of autumn and...life. It feels as though there has been so much going on--trips and visitors and a conference and meetings and deadlines and events and friends and a race to train for and an apartment to clean and my first and then second illness of the season--and on top of that, I have the overworking of my mind to contend with as I overanalyze my life, worry about all of the injustice and mess of the world and pursue the impossible task of figuring out both the present and the future right now while staying poised and trying not to let anyone see that I'm a bit afraid of all that may or may not come.

When I got home from work yesterday, I felt that fall had suddenly begun in earnest while I was tucked away in my office. As I walked to my front door, it seemed that I was brushing through more layers of leaves than before, and the air had that feel of autumn that I can't possibly describe with words, and it finally smelled like the season.

I went outside for a moment today on my lunch break. I didn't have any errands to run, and I didn't really want to go anywhere. But before staying in (to write this post--something other than a grant request or press release or newsletter), I wanted to catch a bit of the sunlight on my face, to see the brightness of the leaves in their splendor, to feel a little more free and alive.

It was perfect. Still, cool, bright.

And I don't want to miss this...this season, this time of my life, this moment. It's too easy to wish it all away.

So tonight, I will appreciate the wonder of the season as I run through the leaves covering the sidewalks of my neighborhood, and I will revel in and enjoy the present moments of my life. This weekend, I will bake for friends with autumn fruits and happily run a race in my city. I will appreciate and love well the good folks that surround me. I will decide what needs to be decided, and I will let everything else rest, peacefully. I won't worry about the future...the bluster and ice of the winter to come or the elements of the life that awaits me.

There is too much goodness in my life and in this world to be anything but thankful.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

summer eating.

As promised, in following are some summer food photographs. I'm well aware how belatedly I'm posting this, but for a few more hours, I remind you, it is still officially summer. Besides, the temperatures climbed into the eighties today here in GR, so I think this remains relevant. Enjoy!

Hot oats are my winter staple; this summer, I replaced them with homemade muesli for the sake of staying cool. My version builds from this recipe, and it's a bit different each time, depending on my mood and the fruit in season. (The photograph below might actually be some variant on simple toasted oats, but I cannot remember, and it's close enough to muesli to include it here, I'd say.)

When I spent the summer in Phoenix two years ago, I became quite enamored with the Health Muffin served at a great coffee shop that also introduced me to latte art and created all kinds of baked goodness in its tiny kitchen in the back. When I left Phoenix, I asked if they might be willing to share the recipe, and they happily told me that it springs from the one found on the back of bags of Bob's Red Mill flaxseed. Perhaps someday I'll post my version, but until then, go find yourself said package of flax and simply substitute fresh summer fruit (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches or a combination) for the apples and zucchini for some or all of the carrots. You will be pleased with the results, I am sure.

Sweet Green Pea Crostini, quite heavenly indeed. Recipe found here.

An excellent meal prepared and enjoyed with Sarah G. and Ben on the fourth of July.

Plum-Rosemary Upside-Down Cake, recipe compliments of Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, baked with Taylor in hopes of speeding Ben's recovery from surgery midsummer. This was also the night on which Taylor gave me my 50mm prime lens, which I am in love with.

This cake is called Blueberry Boy Bait. What a name! I felt the same way this lady did...how could I not bake a cake with such a great name--and a great story to boot? (Effective, you ask? Perhaps. I did say it was a lovely summer. But I disclose nothing more.)

And finally, a nectarine and blueberry tart that I baked with my sister the first time she and the dear brother-in-law stayed at my little place. Inspired by two other recipes, we came up with our own version, which Sara posted on her blog. Here I have adorned it with some Greek yogurt. Incredible.

All that said, bring on the apples and butternut squash and sweet potatoes and dark leafy greens. I have extra blankets for my bed and have unearthed my stash of scarves. I am ready for fall.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

summer in review.

Though it is not officially fall, summer has undeniably begun to slip away, marked by shorter days, cool morning air and the occasional gold leaves at the fingers of trees. Summer has flown by, and I'm astonished that it is over, but it was a delight, full of good times with lovely people, notable happenings, some wonderful travels, much fresh produce and the simple joys of the season.
And before I begin to speak of tights and scarves, brisk winds and fallen leaves crunching underfoot, apple cider and winter squash, I give the following photographic review of the summertime (note: stay tuned for an addendum of food photos later this week).

There were days at the beach
and beautiful sunsets
and lazy Saturday mornings spent at coffee shops
and the farmers market.
(That girl is my favorite farmer.)

There was a trip to Chicago with dear friends,
and numerous visitors graced the city of Grand Rapids.
These folks got married,
as did these.
(There was much celebration.)

And in culmination of everything, my dear sister and brother-in-law returned to these United States, a delight I'm still reveling in.
It has been a lovely summer.

We have picked berries,
and we have picnicked... What more could a girl ask for?

In the summer, the song sings itself.

--William Carlos Williams

Thursday, September 2, 2010

i have eaten the plums.

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams (1934)

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I love this poem. However, it is rather irrelevant to my situation; indeed, there are upsides to living alone! Anyway, my friends, I wish you all a happy September. Enjoy these lingering days of summertime (remember, it's not over until it's over). More of an update to come shortly, I promise, and in the meantime, be generous and gracious when it comes to the summer stone fruits in your icebox. But perhaps buy a few extra, too, just to be safe.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

to live everything.

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Don't search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

--R.M. Rilke

Saturday, July 24, 2010

what is it you plan to do...?

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver (from New and Selected Poems, 1992)

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Friday, July 9, 2010


The summer thus far has been full, to say the least. A lovely start to these weeks of warmth, of sidewalks and parks filled once again with people, of farmers markets and sundresses, of friends in town to visit and trips to get away, of daylight that lingers until late in the evening and new beauty that overwhelms.

In my little pocket of the world, these early summer days also brought a rather heightened dose of life in all its fullness. I have experienced loss and the resulting heartache, and I have felt some incredible joy and delight and newness.

And of course, such is life.

My grandfather passed away on June 21, peacefully slipping out of a painful last few months and into something much more beautiful. I went back out to South Dakota for the funeral, my second visit of the summer, and it was a hard but good time of coming together with family to remember well, to cry together, to love one another.

This time also provoked a lot of reflection. Death reminds me of the importance of living well, and my grandfather did just that. He was fully present. He worked hard. He loved faithfully. He sacrificed for others. He was steady.

And as my mother said eloquently of her father-in-law, he didn't have a lot of words. I, on the other hand, do have a lot of words. Clearly. I have a blog, for crying out loud, and my friends and family can attest to the fact that sometimes I talk far too much. But I can learn something very significant, I think, from that difference between my grandpa and me. Because even with few words, his life held so much meaning, and it meant something very good indeed.

And so. May all of the words tumbling out of my mouth and off the tips of my fingers be measured and meaningful and intention-filled, and yet may they never distract me from the meaning of my actions. May my life speak, and may it speak of beauty and hope and truth and love.

Oh, living well is no small thing, my friends.

And so the month of June ended, taking with it the life of one I loved. But just as endings come, so come beginnings, and on July 1, my dear friend Nicole and her husband Dickie welcomed a little one into the world. He is beautiful and perfect, tiny and fragile and full of potential. Holding his tiny, swaddled, two-day-old form last weekend reminded me of hope, of possibility and life and mystery.

All of this life is a good thing, and the intensity of what I've felt this early summer simply serves as a reminder that I am alive, just as heat and glistening skin remind us of the nearness of the sun. As a dear friend and I sipped homemade iced chai and nibbled on scones this afternoon at a favorite spot of mine, we talked about the mystery of life, the confusion that threatens to cloud its beauty, the grace that blessedly slips through anyway.

I hope that grace is slipping through into your life. I hope you're feeling alive in each and every moment you're living.

Friday, June 18, 2010

where the pines are so high

Good heavens, it has been more than a month since last I posted! Summer is (unofficially) here, and life continues moving rapidly along. My apologies for my brief hiatus from this space. One reason for my absence was a recent trip out to the beautiful west, first to a wedding in Minnesota and then to see family in South Dakota. And yes, recap follows.

So first things first: the wedding was wonderful. I loved seeing Rita and G at the start of their adventure together. There were many dear folks to catch up with at the wedding, a couple of charming little farm towns to explore, reception tables to decorate and, of course, joy-filled tears to be shed. I love these two so much, and I'm confident that they will make it and, together, offer the world so much wisdom and hospitality and strength and goodness and beauty.

From this weekend of celebration, I journeyed on to South Dakota...

Although I am from Michigan, through and through, I've always felt that some small part of me is from the Black Hills. My parents both grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, and most of my dad's family still lives there, along with my mother's tall and lovely aunts (seen in one of the pictures below). Every summer of my childhood, my parents, sister and I would vacation out that way, and my memories of growing up are peppered with the moments of those trips. When I walk through the door of my beloved grandparents' house, that peace of home settles into my bones, and I am flooded with the memories of family gathered together and rhubarb pie and card games at the kitchen table, reading books in the living room and falling asleep in the big bed I shared with my sister as the cool summer breeze drifted through the screen of the open door. Life was safe, simple and ever-so-good.

This summer's trip brought meals and ice cream and coffee enjoyed over meaningful conversation with loved ones, long morning runs with my dad, a cousin's graduation party, a bike ride on the Mickelson Trail, a morning of baking with my grandmother, hours spent poring over old photographs while drawing out stories from the past and the simple joy found in the togetherness of family.

And without fail, when I am up in the Hills, surrounded by the deepest browns and greens that nature has to offer, with a herd of buffalo around each corner and elk hiding somewhere in the woods, the sense of home returns. Maybe it's that song my mother used to sing to me, a song, she told me during this trip, that her mother once sang to her: "take me back to the Black Hills, the Black Hills of South Dakota, where the pines are so high that they kiss the sky above." When we were riding our bikes on the Mickelson trail, my dad breathed in deeply and told me that that smell, the smell of the Ponderosa Pines, smelled like the Hills to him. Like home.

And the tiny green leaves of the aspens turn and blink in the light, flickering like candles, clapping like the smallest of hands, welcoming my soul home, urging us to live on in gladness.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

race day + my mother = good weekend

This has been quite the wonderful weekend.

I ran my longest race yet, the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K (just longer than a half marathon), on Saturday morning. Of course, the temperatures dropped from the lovely warmth of earlier days to low forties accompanied by strong winds and misty rain, but it really wasn't as bad as I had begun to anticipate. Besides, when I'm running in that kind of weather alone, I wonder at my sanity, but running in those conditions with so many other people is simply invigorating. There are 21,000 other people running this morning! I think to myself. I can't be crazy! (Though I hear the cries of the non-runners out there, and yes, there is that chance that we are all crazy...)

There is so much I love about races: the energy that comes from being surrounded by so many that love to run as much as I do, the camaraderie of strangers in this together, the conversations overheard, running in the middle of the road, the children with signs to cheer on their mom or dad, new scenery and parts of the city I rarely see, the feeling of accomplishment when I've crossed the finish line. I'm quite happy with my time and still feel energized. It was a great race.

Now I'm on the lookout for a half marathon to run with my dad in the near future... and dreaming of training for a marathon in the further-off future... someday!

My lovely mother then came up on Saturday afternoon and stayed through today for our celebration of Mother's Day. We had a wonderful time; it was so fun to have her here and play hostess to the woman who showed me how to host in the first place. Dinner out last night at a favorite Spanish restaurant played tribute to our shared love of that country. After church today, we cooked brunch together and sat at my little table, light streaming in through the front window, and as we sipped our coffee out of my favorite bright tea cups, my mom remembered aloud when we purchased these cups and their matching saucers several years ago, from an earthy little coffee shop in Montreal during a summer trip we took along with my dad. And here we were today, drinking our coffee together in my first apartment. I love seeing the threads that tie different times and experiences together, making a whole cohesive something out of our seemingly-random lives.

And on Mother's Day, I must just say that I am increasingly thankful for this incredible woman that graces my life with motherhood and love and friendship. She teaches me so much, from small and practical things--like how to keep mold from building up in my shower and how to scramble eggs really well--to the most crucial--how to love well and practice contentment and not be afraid.

My mother is strong and loyal and kind and compassionate. I want to be like her.

Sometimes life is not all that wonderful. But sometimes, like today, like this weekend, it is. And for that I am thankful.

Cheers, then, to long runs and the beauty of movement and strength in accomplishment, to mothers the world 'round, that very concept of motherhood and my own lovely mother in particular.

I hope your weekends were full of joy also.