Repeat the Sounding Joy

Four weeks ago we celebrated Thanksgiving. We gathered around the table, gave thanks, ate, celebrated, and laughed with four generations of family.

We wandered around a Christmas tree farm and sought out a tree to mark the season, an emblem of beauty and tradition.

Two weeks ago, I moved to a new 'hood, made a home for myself. And peppering it with red and green, attempted to create spaces of joy, celebration, and life.

Last week, we marked Christmas in true Chicago form, enjoying the general splendor of a city who does it so well.

It's hard to believe we are approaching the close of the Advent season. This Sunday marks the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. It is a season of "coming" of "coming to", the expectant and joyful anticipation, watching and waiting for the birth of Jesus. It is the anticipation and expectancy that I love most about this season. The ever-rising excitement that leads us to the apex of the story. The thread that has been running through the story of creation at last makes itself known in the birth of Christ. And it is not just a birth, it is a beginning; it is a mark of redemption; it is a testimony to the immense love of the Master of the Universe. It is our Creator making a way for us to live, and live wholly

What a wonder.

It is the wonder that Linus shares with Charlie Brown. 
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 
That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown."

It is that same sense of wonder that George Bailey has upon discovering Zuzu's petals, upon remembering who he is, that his broken heart and his crushed spirit have a love and place.

After reading some of Pope Francis' recent writings in the "book" the Vatican recently put out, this excerpt on the way of beauty stuck with me:

“Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty." Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus. This has nothing to do with fostering an aesthetic relativism which would downplay the inseparable bond between truth, goodness and beauty, but rather a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of touching the human heart and enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it."

As we light the last of the candles on the wreath and come around the table, may we experience the way of beauty in moments like Charlie Brown and George Bailey had. As we enter the final week of Advent, may we seek to fill life with new splendour and profound joy.


As we gather

With Thanksgiving less than a week away and so much happening in the world and in my own life, it's enough to make a person grateful. I've been thinking of all the dear people in the Philippines and how devastating their last couple weeks have been. To think that they will rebuild and recover, with the knowledge that this could all happen again. I'm exceedingly thankful for organizations like World Vision who have responded so well with disaster relief.

Just last weekend my family celebrated the baptism of Elsie Camille, my firecracker of a niece who has brought such spice and joy to our family. While we prayed blessings and peace over her little life, tornadoes ripped through central Illinois and thousands of homes were destroyed. I've been haunted by a gentleman on the news the night of the storms who said he lost his wife two weeks earlier, and now his home. With deep sadness and tears, he said, "I'm done."

We celebrate the gift of a life. And in the blink of an eye, mourn so much loss.

This is a week of feasting. Our tables will be laden with vegetables and breads, turkeys and pies for the taking. There is nothing I love more than cooking and eating with my family. When we have Thanksgiving at home, my mom and I spread out our recipe books and pencil in dishes, until we have the perfect blend of old and new. I'm in charge of Parker House rolls, a spinach salad with pomegranates and feta, classic apple pie, and a new dish I'm really jazzed about: Sweet potatoes with stilton and walnuts.

With so much happening around the world, sometimes I struggle. Feeling shamed for being so excited about sweet potatoes, guilty for gathering around such a fine feast. I wonder, what is the place of something like Thanksgiving in the midst of a tornado or a typhoon? The show must go on, right? I believe that God made the world and called it good, so that we might enjoy it. So that we might revel in his creation and live without lack. But the truth is, we are broken. All of creation is broken. And so we must learn how to live in the tension of a Thanksgiving feast and devastating disaster, trusting that God threads hope through our lives with a purpose.

We have an abundance, so much to give thanks for. I have been in the midst of so much, big decisions and sleepless nights. It has made me so grateful for my family, for warmth, for a job and a home, for even the short number of hours that the sun appears, for the numerous people I know I could go to if I lost everything in a typhoon or a tornado. I pray that I won't forget it, that I will be reminded that this very life is a blessing, that I will be plagued by a sense of presence, that I will speak and move with kindness, generosity, and thanksgiving. And that I will be compelled to live with great joy, compassion, and mindfulness.

I remember Job's reply to God, after losing everything:

I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

I do not know why the Philippines were struck by a typhoon, why so many 3rd world countries are plagued by disaster. I don't know why just hours south of my city entire towns were leveled by tornadoes. But I  pray on this eve of Thanksgiving week that the Master of the Universe would reach out and hold our spirits high if we cannot. That he would plant a seed of hope, that we would seek a mind of thankfulness, and that those of us who have much, would give much. May we remember, as we gather around the table.


There and back again

This time last week I was just coming back from that gorgeous city on the sea. You know the one I mean. The one that quietly steals your heart with her coastal beauty, her very urban yet somehow woodsy and rustic aura. 

On my return flight, we took off and crested just above the clouds until parallel with Mount Rainier, majestically floating atop the clouds. It actually took my breath away. I let out a little "Oh!" and turned to the grump beside me so we could share in our delight, but I guess he didn't really see it or didn't really care. I wondered, is this just how you feel if you're from Chicago and don't see the mountains ever? I'm not sure I could ever not really care.

I'm indebted to you, Seattle. You did me good. 

I stayed with this sweet friend of mine who works at the amazing new Storyville cafĂ© in Pike Place Market. It was a long overdue vacation, time away from Chicago, and an opportunity to wonder at what it would be like to live in this fine city. So while my amiga worked in this glorious light, dolling out espresso that will make your heart sing on a damp Seattle day, I explored.

I walked the Market and tried the best of Seattle's pastries, taking in the splendorous displays of fresh fruit and veg. It took everything in me not to buy a big, gorgeous bouquet of flowers for $10. Next time, Southwest, I swear I'll carry on these flowers.

Dying to get out on Puget Sound, I took the ferry to Bainbridge Island. Which was worth every single penny, just for the chance to be whipped about by the wind and see the sun dip low in the sky. As we approached Bainbridge, I smiled, because in just 30 minutes on the ferry, I was worlds away from the city.

And wouldn't you know that some of the best pizza is actually not in Chicago? I've been waiting years to visit Delancey, having learned about this Ballard gem from one of my favourite food bloggers, Molly Wizenberg, who opened the restaurant with her husband in 2009. Because I love Molly and I love Orangette, I knew I'd love Delancey. The wine, the mushroom thyme pizza, the winter salad, the atmosphere, the brick oven. If you're ever out Pacific Northwest way, don't miss it.

In the past two weeks I have moved to a temporary new home, been to Seattle and back again, spent far too much time dealing with grown-up decisions, pilgrimaged to Springfield on a brisk and beautiful camping trip to conclude the season, and drafted a Thanksgiving menu in which I was allotted only one new recipe. All to say, I'm thoroughly whipped. There's been a great deal of movement and transition, late nights and early mornings going on here. Let's hope a few rounds in the kitchen will ease my spirit and make things feel a little more like home.


Here goes. 101.

I missed it. How could I have missed that?!

My last post was my 100th post (!). And I totally missed it. Only realizing it after I had written and posted last week and logging back in to see "100 posts".

Wow, friends. We made it. We did it. 100 posts together. I think that's worth a mention! And if this wasn't so virtual and you weren't all so far away, I would pop a bottle of champagne and cheers to you all for keeping up with this scraped and layered palimpsest of a blog.

Once I realized my major faux pas in missing a mention of my 100th post, my mom reminded me of the big bash that Ellen had for her 100th episode. Which made me feel even more lame. Ah well, I'm not Ellen and this is not a daytime TV show. So let's embrace our differences and celebrate 101!

Here goes. 101.

Whew. That means I've been writing and posting here for 2.5 years. Go figure. I went into this endeavoring to share my "work" (words) with "the people" and in an attempt to keep myself accountable to my writing. I don't always hit my once a week mark. Sometimes I don't feel like I have anything valuable to say. And other times I'm bursting with thoughts and reflections and news.

Take this week, for example. I did make this incredible squash coconut curry - which was really amazing and firey. I also made a really beautiful and really delicious apply pie. My first of the season. I set out to make a pie for a little gathering and realized that all my recipes are packed in a box. Because we're moving a week from tomorrow. So, I made it from memory, using good sense, baker's intuition, and my approximately 17 years of experience making apple pie. And it was perfect! Which made me feel great because I recently heard something about how we are losing some measure of our intelligence because we have become so dependent on Google. Apparently, if we gave ourselves 30 seconds to try and recall the information we might have stored in our brain before Googling it, we would be smarter. It felt good to exercise my right to remember and bake with confidence.

Also, since my 100th post, I attended a live show of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and Radiolab in a glorious series of NPR camaraderie and realization of what my favorite radio hosts really look like. Both amazing nights.

But none of that is really why I sat down to write. Yes, curry and pie and radio are all good things, but I've been thinking about some things a little deeper than all that and talking with some friends about things a lot harder than making a pie from memory.

A friend posed this question to me: Do you ever feel like if you don't take the biggest step of faith you would be disappointing God?

My response: YES.

Furthermore, do you ever feel like if you don't take the biggest step of faith you will disappoint yourself?


I know a lot of people who are in some very unique periods of transition and soul-searching right now. It is so exhausting to try and discern what you should do. Sometimes I think God makes it very clear, and sometimes I think he asks us to take the trajectory of our life and faith into consideration and make a choice. Humanity is a conundrum - because we like having options, but once we have options, we can become paralyzed by our fear of choosing the wrong thing. Or paralyzed by our fear of disappointment.

This is huge. I think we probably spend way too much time thinking about disappointment and guilt. The truth is, we are imperfect beings. We mess up an awful lot. And probably cause our fair share of disappointment. But here is another truth I find to be very freeing: this is not news to God. The whole purpose of his beautifully and powerfully designed thread of redemption, culminating in the death and resurrection of the Son of Man, is so that we can be free of all that. The Master of the Universe did not create a world full of beauty and joy and places and things to explore so that we can feel guilty for enjoying it. Nor do I believe he gives us choice, opportunity, and avenues of transition so that we act or fail to act out of fear of disappointment.

My prayer for myself and for the many people I know who sit in this tension, is that we would be compelled to move with intension, clarity of mind and spirit, and great joy.

I think Frederich Buechner says it best:

"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."


14 1/2 Things Everyone Should Do or Know How to Do

I have a friend who's always recommending articles from Relevant magazine. Once you start poking around their site, you can get lost in a web of articles on faith, culture, ambition, and the current state of things. Last week I read an article on 3 Steps to Determining Your Dream Job, which disappointingly, did not produce a magic eight ball response but requires a fair bit of effort on my part. This week I read an article on 20 Things Every Twentysomething Should Know How to Do. A few of my favourites from the list: Hold a Conversation with Someone of Any Age, Parallell Park, Bite Your Tongue, Be Alone. And then I stumbled upon 10 Books Everyone Should Read by 25-ish, which I found incomplete (and the Bible doesn't count).

What with all this "listing" going on, all these neatly packaged articles on what you should do and know and read (which I found both helpful and kind of box-ing), I decided to make a "list" of my own, inspired by the lists above and fueled by the things I have come to believe to be good and true in the world, things that have so prominently shaped my own life.

A very inconclusive list of 14 1/2 Things Everyone Should Do or Know How to Do, in no particular order:

1. Travel somewhere new.
This could be a neighborhood in your city, a different state, a new restaurant, and once in a while, somewhere you don't know the language. It will teach you about yourself, the world, and most definitely, put things in perspective.

2. Cook something.
The ability to cook something truly delicious is one of life's greatest joys. Make it a habit. Host a dinner party. Share recipes. Start from scratch. And enjoy!

3. Read a great piece of literature.
East of Eden. To Kill A Mockingbird. The Alchemist. My Name is Asher Lev. Pick something off your age-old "to read" list that is sure to challenge and inspire you. You might learn something about history, humanity, yourself, and you will be a better reader and writer because of it.

4. Spend time in your local library.
The public library is one of the greatest uses of our tax dollars. A quiet archive of words, at your fingertips.

5. Power-down your devices.
This is simple. We should be able to do this without issue, but we don't. It separates us from the people immediately around us. So make it as much of a habit as powering-on.

6. Opt out.
Learn to say no. It is a practice that will serve you well your entire life in a society that teaches you to always say 'yes.' Sometimes no is better.

6 1/2. Opt in.
Learn to say yes. You don't want to say no to everything, then you'll never do anything. It's especially important to say yes to those things that feel right in your gut, or those things that really challenge and inspire you.

7. Go it alone.
Community is important and essential to a well-balanced life. But in a world of 7 billion people, it can be just as important to learn to be alone. See a movie. Go out to dinner. Take a walk. Just do it alone, because you can, and sometimes, it's just what your soul needs.

8. Spend time with your grandparents, or someone's grandparents.
It's a fact: they won't be around forever. So have dinner with them, listen to their stories, learn from their mistakes. Life is a gift.

8 1/2. Spend time with children.
Another fact: they won't be young forever. They will remind you how to play, give you an excuse to be silly, and give you a reason to say and do things you wouldn't otherwise. Also, they will love you purely and authentically.

9. Give something that means something to you.
Time. Money. A meal. A coat. A photograph. Give it to someone who needs it, whose life will be better for the gift. Without a doubt, it will be an even greater blessing to the giver.

10. Walk or ride instead.
Carve out a little more time to get from A to B and opt to walk or ride there instead. You will probably take note of things you wouldn't otherwise, maybe meet some new people. And you will learn how much of the world operates walking or riding most of the time.

11. Be authentic.
This is important. Perhaps one of the greatest cries of this generation is for authenticity. So be you. There's a reason you were created that way.

12. Give it a go. Take a risk (and if you make a mistake, acknowledge it).
Don't live in fear of what you do not know. And maybe don't always base your decisions on what is "safe." In an ever-evolving world, there is always something new, different, or unknown. The fact is, you'll never know until you try it. And if it doesn't work out, it's ok.

12 1/2. Be decisive.
We live in an overwhelming world of options. We tend to deliberate over trivial matters because we have been so inundated with choice. The ability to choose is a gift. The ability to be decisive is refreshing and essential.

13. Spend time with someone who is sick, disabled, or dying.
It will put things in perspective, teach you to value your life and your abilities. And probably, it will bless them. And you.

14. Mourn with someone.
One of the hardest things to know how to do. Usually it requires more silence than speech. It is more about learning how to be present with someone, lamenting with them.

14 1/2. Celebrate with someone.
Be sure that in learning to lament, you are on the lookout for the joys. It's true what they say, "You only live once." We have been created and celebrated, so let's do the same. May you see the wonders all around you and celebrate.


What's not to love

Now that that's done, we can talk about autumn, and all the lovely things that come with it. We've had such a string of gorgeous, perfect fall days that I haven't minded the transition. Although the days are getting shorter, and I regularly finish my evening runs in the dark - which just makes me think about winter.

I had bookmarked a couple great recipes with figs at the beginning of September, anticipating their short and delicate season and not wanting to miss out. I returned from New Orleans just in time to grab a pint of black mission figs. They can be kind of hard to find and you definitely want to use them shortly after buying them, they don't like to sit around. I've used dried figs before when out of season, but the delicate texture and earthy, floral flavor of fresh figs are incomparable.

I made two stand-out recipes, courtesy of Martha Stewart. I won't be tooting Martha's horn just yet - I've made a handful of her recipes that have disappointed me. But I guess she knows her figs.

This Fresh Fig and Almond Crostata is really just another fancy name for a galette. I've spent my summer making all forms of galettes, sweet and savory. What's another galette thrown in the mix? It's just too easy and too delicious. You barely even need the recipe.

The same goes for this super simple Pizza with Fresh Figs, Ricotta, Thyme, and Honey. When I saw this recipe, I immediately set a handful of my precious figs aside, destined for this purpose. I love bringing sweet and savory together. The flavor of the thyme coupled with the earthy figs and creamy ricotta is really sublime. Drizzle it with a bit of local honey and you've got a real end of summer hit.

If you can still find a fig or two in your local market, snatch 'em up! You have to try these.

After figs, I spent time with good friends and picked a half bushel of apples, a half bushel of squash, a perfect little pumpkin, and for the first time, milked a big ole' cow name Norma. What's not to love about this season of bliss?

Also, I recently read this book from Jojo Moyes. And listened to this podcast from Radiolab. I haven't stopped thinking about either of them. The Moyes book will change the way you think about the disabled, and well, we'll leave it at that. Don't go Googling this book if you plan to read it - it will spoil the impact of the story. Just read it. And the Radiolab podcast - it's about Blame and it will challenge your stance on this moral conundrum, why and how we treat blame, and "what happens when we push past it with forgiveness and mercy." I was listening to this while out on a run, which is pretty standard, but I realized I had slowed down significantly, so incredibly weighty and hard this subject is. It will shake things up.

Ok, back to Wednesday. Happy hump day, all.

Fresh Fig and Almond Crostata

For the Dough:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
2-4 Tbs ice water

For the Filling:
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
4 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 lb ripe, fresh figs, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Make dough: In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, and salt to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water; pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, gradually add up to 2 tablespoons more water). Do not overmix. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days).

Make filling: Combine almonds and sugar in a small bowl. Add 1 egg, butter, flour, vanilla, and salt; mix until smooth, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine figs and lemon juice; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a large lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll dough to a 14-inch round. Spread almond filling in center, leaving a 2-inch border; top with fig mixture. Fold border over edge of filling, pleating all around; press down gently to seal. In a small bowl, mix remaining egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water; brush dough with egg wash.

Lifting edges of parchment, transfer crostata to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 1 hour. Let cool on baking sheet at least 30 minutes. To serve, cut crostata into wedges.

Pizza with Fresh Figs, Ricotta, Thyme, and Honey

Pizza dough (either make whatever recipe you've got on hand or pick up the ready-made dough at TJ's for a last minute meal)
1/4 cup fresh ricotta
Fresh thyme, chopped
3-6 sliced fresh figs
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 Tbs honey

Place pizza stone or inverted baking sheet on rack in top third of oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Transfer stretched dough to parchment. Dot dough with ricotta cheese. Top with thyme and figs. Season with salt and pepper; drizzle with olive oil. Transfer to oven: Slide parchment onto stone or baking sheet. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and bottom is crisp. Drizzle with honey.

A note on figs: 
The prettiest fresh figs aren't always the tastiest. Perfectly ripe figs, which are plump and tender (but never mushy), are often slightly cracked, with a bit of "honey" forming at the stem. They're highly perishable, so use them right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 days.


When it's all said and done

So much to tell. And so much to live and hope that you remember. It's so easy to get caught up in it all and forget who you are. My prayer over the last few weeks of insanity has been, first, for grace, and second, that I would remember who I am, in order to act out of that place of being. I did not always succeed. It's dangerous how quickly our brain and our spirit interact with our tongue and our body - a miracle of creation and science, to be sure, but also a curse that enables you to act or speak as an impulse of the moment. I am grateful for the grace of my fellow human beings.

I just spent a week in New Orleans for my work's biggest event of the year and the culmination of most of my efforts this year. Nearly 3,000 leaders in Christian community development gathered in NOLA for our national conference. Amazingly, I came out on the other side of it in one piece. It was maybe the longest week of my life and definitely the most exhausting. By the end of it, I felt very much like I feel after flying overseas for 20 odd hours. No major life decisions should be made in these moments.

It was really incredible to see 3,000 kindred spirits from all over the US and different parts of the world come together for a few days to consider how we might further change the world, how we might transform our communities. Do we all agree on all things? No, no we don't. And that's good, because how does a community of same-minded people grow. But I think I can safely say that we do all agree that this isn't how it's supposed to be, and something has to change.

I sat in a session where a pastor shared that we must also remember to care for our own souls in the midst of this change-the-world work. The next morning, writer and attorney Michelle Alexander spoke about mass incarceration, our incredibly inept penal system, and how it has become like a "new Jim Crow." I sat, speechless and captivated, as she spoke, stating, "The criminal justice system operates more as a form of racial control than a system of crime prevention." And later that night, an American Jesuit priest, came on stage - looking a bit like Kris Kringle - and shared about his 20+ years of work with gang-involved youth in Los Angeles.

How do you begin to process all of this?! How do you go back to an office and a desk and a quiet home after hearing all of this? It changes you, and it plagues you. And it becomes increasingly difficult to keep working behind that desk and keep living, having learned and heard and experienced all of that. Not to mention the fact that this is all wrapped into my work. And I experienced all of this while in a half-present state of mind, impaired by my exhaustion.

We slipped out into the city for a night. In search of beignets and jazz.

Well, at some point, you have to go home. And a huge part of you is exceedingly grateful for the normalcy and silence of home after this kind of experience. Because you need the familiar, the routine, the rhythm of making coffee in the morning and walking to the library, to begin to ponder the harder questions of what this all means.

On my last day in New Orleans, I took a gloriously solo streetcar ride to The Ruby Slipper for breakfast. After several straight days amidst thousands of people, I was aching for some time alone. This is one of my favorite spots in New Orleans. Their name was inspired by a powerful sense of homecoming when they returned to New Orleans after Katrina. "There's no place like home."

I found this blessing from John O'Donahue that has resonated with me this week, upon coming home with pockets full of all we have seen and heard, considering my own Personal Legend. 

For Courage

When the light around you lessens...

When you find yourself bereft 
Of any belief in yourself...

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking 
That darkens your world,

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.


I'd say that's a win

Way back in May we planted four small tomato plants of varying types - a lovely cherry tomato that a friend started from seed, a bushy little patio tomato from the farmer's market, and two medium sized tomato plants that I can't remember the name of but we bought because the farmer said they wouldn't surpass my height (liar). And here we are in August with heaps and heaps of tomatoes (!). By the time I'm actually getting around to writing this, our plants have all started to slow down, with a sad sign of the end of summer. But with these four not-so-small tomato plants we have made batch after batch of homemade salsa, lovely tomato salads, several kinds of grilled pizza with fresh tomato, mozz, and basil, and many other tomato-inspired meals. For a little while there I was eating tomatoes with every meal. Last week at the farmer's market my friend bought an entire bushel of tomatoes to make sauce. A bushel!

You gotta love summer's end - when she spills out the very best and last of her harvest in all its glory, one final push of produce to over-indulge in preparation for a garden of quiet for many months.

I've got one last tomato-rich recipe on the docket: a lovely Herbed Tomato Tart.

I also just finished a great end of summer book, The Last Summer of the Camperdowns. A saucy and cleverly written story about a WASP-y family on New England's coast. The dad, "Camp," is running for office while his wife trills and snarks about absolutely everything, living like a queen, and refusing to face their mountains of debt. And their daughter, Riddle, left to deal with them both, navigating her own summer between childhood and adulthood, holding tight to what she knows of a mysterious disappearance and how it could destroy her summer. A great summer read with an incredible ending! Don't miss this one.

In other news, I am both sad and excited to be welcoming September in this week. It means there were a few things I missed on my summer to-dos, many stories I failed to write about, and several blank canvases that are sitting beside me still blank. Work has been super nuts and most evenings consist of a short run, a salad (with tomatoes, maybe?!), a bit of clean up/catch up, and a good book to hide away in. Not to mention the two weeks in early August that I was struck down mighty hard with an ear-sinus infection duo. But I refuse to mourn the summer's failures. I'd much rather celebrate the summer's successes. 

Two very excellent camping weekends.
Two equally excellent weekends at friends' lakehouses. 
Eight pounds of freshly picked blueberries. 
Several pounds of freshly picked peaches. 
A few blueberry peach pies, and tarts and cakes and salads.
Countless trips to the farmer's market.
A good tan and sun-lightened hair.
And a slew of good books.

I'd say that's a win.

And last weekend we celebrated a hot and sunny Saturday with pie at Bang Bang Pie Shop. A real Chicago gem. Iced coffee on tap. Chocolate pecan and summer ice box pie made with sage ice cream, lemon curd and macerated blueberries. And a biscuit with jam for good measure. Yum. Definitely a success.

Not only did we celebrate pie this week, we celebrated a great man, a world-changing speech, and a march for freedom. Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

With recordings of I Have a Dream still ringing in my ear, I read this in My Utmost:

Continually bring the truth out into your real life, working it out into every area, or else even the light that you possess will itself prove to be a curse. 
The mountain-top experience must be so genuine that it shows in your life.
Your theology must work itself out, exhibiting itself in your most common everyday relationships.

Maybe that's some of what MLKJ was getting at. That if we believe in truth and justice and beauty, then we better be working it out in our everyday. A sobering thought. If that dream, that light, is as genuine as we say it is, then the whole world should see it. Starting with the most common everyday relationships. 
And maybe a slice of pie or an herbed tomato tart to share.


This one stuck with me

I've been pouring through books lately. I read this really great book that left me ravenous and then went two whole days with nothing to read. I ended up at the library scouring the latest Book Review publication for recommendations. I no longer trust only the bestseller lists. First thing I look at are the endorsements. I want to know who's backing the book, and if it's an author or a publication that I respect, then I'm game.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, had been on my to-read list for a while. I had my eye on it when it was first published, waiting for it to be released in paperback. It was worth the wait. Unlike some memoirists, Strayed has both a great story to tell and is a great writer. Sometimes I'm amazed by a story, but so disappointed by the writing, that it ruins it for me. Wild is an incredible story of the 26 year-old Cheryl Strayed's somewhat spontaneous trek across the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from the tip of California to the tip of Washington. She goes into her journey in the midst of a bit of a life crisis - having lost her mom, her marriage, and her sense of direction in life. It is an epic story of perseverance, camaraderie, and the strength of the human spirit. Like so many of my favourite authors, at the start of each section of the book, Strayed has included quotes or lines from a poem. This one stuck with me:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"

After Wild, a friend had recommended Wonder, by RJ Palacio. She said that everyone should read this book, especially every school kid. It's a young adult book, which are sometimes real gems, about a boy named August who has a whole combination of symdroms or diseases that have severely disfigured his face. The story is told mostly from his perspective, about his first time going to a real school and the incredible family and friends who surround him. It is another triumphal story of the human spirit and the human capacity for goodness and light. The book closes at a school award ceremony, where the principal shares these words before August, his class, and their families after a year of struggle and victory, from the great J.M. Barrie's Little White Bird:

Shall we make a new rule of life...always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?

I wrote it down because I wanted to remember it, and the story of August, and make this one of my own rules of life.

I went into a camping trip this past weekend armed with my hammock and a slew of new books. I had read Jeanette Wall's first two books ages ago, when they were first published. She is another of those memoirists who really knows how to tell a story. Her stories are small-town, tragic and triumphant. The families in her books are always quite broken, and her latest, The Silver Star, is no exception. It is a Scout Finch-like story about the determination of two sisters to continue living despite their mom's inadequacies. With the help of a distant uncle, a small town, and sheer tenacity, Liz and Bean make it out just as well and with as many wounds as Jem and Scout.

I am only about 70 pages in to Khaled Hosseini's latest, And the Mountains Echoed, and it is already proving to be another page turner with a heartbreaking story of an Afghani family. He opens with these lines from 13th century poet Rumi:

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

Summer is not yet over, folks. Here's to many more good reads before the day is done. 


Making the most of it

I've been meaning to get to this for days now. I hate when I put my writing off. Because it makes me feel like it's a chore, it tells me that I don't enjoy it or I'm not good at it or something. But none of that is really true. And sometimes, I just have to close down my various devices and call it a day, having accomplished nothing on my "to do." My "to do" at work is so immense right now that I've decided I am exempt from at-home "to dos" until further notice. At least, until our biggest event of the year is over in September. And on my work "to do" are many writing and editing and staring at screen projects that suck something out of my brain so that when I step foot in my house, I go, "What writing project? What blog?"

I even started telling myself that I needed an iPad. If I had an iPad, then!, yes, then!, I would do diligence with my writing. Isn't there something about the iPad that makes you a better, more diligent, perseverant writer? There must be. 

Forgive me. Sometimes, you just need a serious brain-break.

Moving on...

I love buying large quantities of seasonal fruit and veg. If I had a larger freezer/fridge/pantry, I would be in real trouble. Last year I bought a bushel of apples and the farmer kept trying to talk me out of it. I was like, hey, pal, I want this many apples, and aren't you supposed to try and sell these to me anyway?! I went up to Michigan last weekend with my friend Trish to pick blueberries. We picked eight pounds of blueberries each - which really isn't that many. We both had two buckets hanging from our necks and had to stop because of the shear pain of 8lbs of blueberries dangling from your neck by a rope. I kept thinking about migrant workers and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving and mercy. By the end of our two hours out in the blueberry bushes, we both had lines of sweat making tracks in our dirty hands, feet, and faces. But it was so worth it! 

As if that wasn't enough, we cleaned up and went back out to pick peaches, which is a slightly easier task. We picked with restraint, knowing neither of us had the space or ability to eat through pounds and pounds of peaches. It's sad, but I'm already wishing I'd picked more. Some day I'll have a deep freeze and a pantry lined with Ball canning jars and pie after pie lined up on the counter top. Some day.

I spent the rest of the week washing and eating these glorious fruits, scheming and scanning for the best recipes. I had several pounds of tart cherries yet from a friend's cherry trees. One of my favorite ways to use fresh cherries is in a beautifully simple and rustic galette. So easy. I made two of these gorgeous Cherry and Peach Galettes with Almond Cream.

I'm used to almond cream made with almond paste, which is divine, but I didn't have any almond paste, so I used a Martha Steward Almond Cream recipe that worked just fine.

Almond Cream
Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/2 stick unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup almond flour
3 Tbs dark rum
1 tsp pure almond extract
1 Tbs flour

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. 

For the galette, you could use either puff pastry or a pie crust. Spread a good bit of the almond cream all over the pastry, leaving about an inch all around to fold over. Toss your fruit (anything fresh and delicious will do!) with a bit of sugar (1/4-1/3 cup depending on the tartness of your fruit), a few tablespoons of flour, and a squeeze of lemon. Add the fruit atop the almond cream. Fold the sides over the top, pinch a bit if needed - you don't want your juices to leak out. Sprinkle all over with sugar. Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes.

And because I still had an abundance of blueberries and peaches, I made the summer of all desserts: pie. Blueberry peach pie is one of my favorite summer pies. There's something really special about those two. Also, super easy to make. It will make your house smell blissfully like an orchard and a bakery and a sunset all wrapped into one.

Blueberry Peach Pie

Double pie crust
3 cups of fresh blueberries (washed and dried)
2 cups of fresh peaches (peeled and sliced - easies way to peel a peach? dip the peaches in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, let cool, and the skins will slip right off!)
3/4 cup sugar
3-4 Tbs flour
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 each ginger, nutmeg
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
sugar for sprinkling

Make your favorite double pie crust recipe. Let it rest in the fridge while you toss your fruit with sugar, flour, a bit of cinnamon, ginger, and fresh nutmeg, and a good squeeze of lemon. Roll out your doughs, dump the fruit into your shell, top with the second crust, pinch and fold in the excess dough. For a beautifully golden crust, brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Cut slits into the top to release steam. Bake at 400 for 50 minutes or until the filling has thickened and the crust is golden and crisp. If you've got a pint of heavy cream laying around, whip it up while the pie is cooling. 

In between the galettes and the pie, I may have made a favorite lemon blueberry cake and a new recipe for fruit preserves made with chia seeds and honey.

Ok, so I may not have been writing, but at least I was productive. 

So, if you find yourself at the end of July with pounds of peaches, blueberries, and cherries to spare, you know what to do. If you need a bit of a brain-break, make something really fresh and delicious to celebrate the long summer days. August starts this week, friends, (yikes!) so let's make the most of it.


She already has a great beginning

This incredible thing of light and life and joy suddenly beamed into the week, breaking into my Tuesday and reminding me of the gift of beginnings.

Welcome to the world, Miss Elsie Camille.

She is an absolute gem. I couldn't imagine a sweeter girl to call my niece. We'd been anticipating her arrival for many months, secretly hoping she'd join us on July 4th so we could call her Americus. And secretly relieved that she didn't so we wouldn't have to.

I had a pretty good feeling all along that this baby was a girl. I knew there was something really special and beautiful growing in my sister's belly. But I couldn't have imagined how beautiful and perfect she'd be.

Sometimes I forget how all things point to a Creator. I don't realize how magnificent it is that my tomato plant grows and flowers and produces fruit. How the sun rises and sets with each day. How a sun-ripened cherry can taste like summer. Or how a sister can carry a baby for nine months, and suddenly, a girl, a testimony to all things good and all things right, can come into this world and remind us of the Maker of the Universe. The one who made the world and called it good, the one who set the stars in the sky, and the one who gave Elsie Camille a perfect set of lips and a head of strawberry hair just like her mama.

She knows nothing of the world's poverty, of humanity's brokenness and the continual struggle to set things right, to bring ourselves back to how we were created to be. Sadly, she will probably learn these things far sooner than any of us would hope. We will protect her and guide her and teach her the way of grace and redemption.

But more than anything, I hope she will learn to live a great story. She already has a great beginning.

I hope she will learn to laugh when something is funny, cry when her heart must mourn, fight for wholeness when things are broken, and celebrate with joy every single day, because it is a gift and a joy to have life. And I know the world is a better place because she is in it.

May we rejoice and sing, ever mindful of his mercy.


Of the midwest beauty

Greetings from...SUMMER!
Yes, that's right, folks, it is indeed (and officially) summer here in Chicago.

This is how I know:
We have herbs in an abundance! Dill, anyone? It's already half my height. And the bag of cherries we plowed right through were absolutely perfect.
The hair is blonder with every afternoon in the sun and the freckles are a-multiplying.
And lastly, we celebrated the summer solstice, June 21, and the sunlight is waning until nearly 9pm.

I've been spending as much time outside as possible, to make up for the 9hrs a day I am cooped up in an air-conditioned office, which I swear is some form of torture for the Chicago-dweller in summer. We have only a few short months of this, folks! We must live it to the fullest!

Brilliantly enough, I spent summer solstice outside in it's entirety, camping with one of my dearest friends. We went up to Kettle Moraine for a long weekend, in an attempt to fulfill our longing for adventure, for summer lovin', and for being, eating and sleeping outside. Camping is one of my sweetest and most common memories from my childhood. We grew up camping as a family - traveled all over the US with our gear and our verve for life in tow.

I love cooking and eating outside. Even the simplest of things taste so much better over or around a fire. There's nothing like the exhaustion of worn out legs from hiking and the sweet reward of falling into a sleeping bag, with the moon streaming in and a quiet breeze through the tent screen. And, I love having the smell of the smokey fire stuck in my clothes.

Needless to say, our brief, if somewhat rainy, stay in the Kettle Moraine was just what this soul needed.

We made a little home.

We hiked through meadows and forests. Always looking for wonder and wild elsewhere, I was reminded yet again, of the midwest beauty.

And, we most certainly, celebrated the summer solstice. With fresh asparagus and s'mores and a super-moon, we welcomed summer and the day's incredible stretch of light.

Always on the heels of the solstice, I celebrate 27 years of wonder. It's strange, because I can remember so vividly writing about my 25th birthday. And here we are already. My birthday happened to land on my grandparent's celebration of 60 years of marriage.

60 years of marriage > 27 years of living

We had a big family extravaganza to mark the occasion. I'm not much into "extravaganzas." But this one was kind of great. When you try to cram 38 people into a family photo, several of them being under the age of 4, it's bound to create memories.

I even got to hang out with the cutest of boys.

Even though this big shebang may not have been my preferred way of celebrating my 27 years, it did make me thankful. It was kind of like a display of blessings. As if God said, "Oh, so you're wondering what your 27 years have been all about? You're wishing for something bigger, better, more wondrous, more of a story? Well, here is what it's all about. This is what it's all for. This is how the story all began."

My grandpa turned 80 this year. And the youngest great-grand baby was born 12 days ago.

I walked away from the whole thing feeling rather shamed for my ungratefulness, for wishing for a different kind of day, even a different kind of life. This is the life I have been given. To have been given life at all, is itself a gift. And I walked away feeling blessed. Knowing that there are at least 37 other people in the world who know and love me.

I met someone on the train the other day who was asking for money. This is not unusual. He started to share his story, which I believe to be true, and which, sadly, I imagine is also not unusual. He had screwed up when he was a kid, and ended up in jail for a few years. Now, he is homeless, sleeps on the trains at night. Eats and cleans up at the shelters when he can. He can't get a job, because of his record. No one will even interview him. And he has no family or friends. He has no one.

If I needed a home, a meal, a job, there are 37 people (and more) who would be there.

Friends, I am blessed. We are blessed.
May we go out into the streets and be a blessing to those who are struggling through their story.


It is for us the living

It has been way too long.

I have been wanting to write here for so many weeks. And now that I'm finally here, I have so much to share. These past few weeks have been crammed with spring loving. Lots of amazing food. And some really great travels.

I've been eating as much spring veg as possible. Buying way more at the farmer's market than one person can eat. Because I know it will be a full 11 months until I can eat it so deliciously again! I can eat an entire bunch of asparagus in one sitting. They are unbelievably tender this year. The farmer I get my 'gus from says he's not sure why it's so good this year, maybe all the rain and cooler temperatures we've had. 

My lettuce isn't quite ready to cut yet. But the bunches we've been getting from the market are incredible. And absolutely beautiful. Wouldn't these make for a gorgeous bouquet?

I am mostly the only one in my family who loves radishes. I get it from my grandpa. I've been getting these gorgeous multi-colored bunches from the market that I can't help but show off. These amazing jewels of red and purple and magenta.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy a radish is on a buttered piece of toast with sea salt sprinkled on top. I've been so busy the last few weeks that I haven't had much chance to make bread. As a result, I neglected my 2.5 year-old sourdough starter and nearly killed it. I noticed it in the fridge last week, and it had this horrifying layer of dark matter on top. But I saved it (!), poured off the waste and gave it a clean jar and a nice helping of whole wheat flour. When I came back to it the next day, it was so incredibly active that it was begging me to make a batch of bread. One of the best sourdoughs I've made. I think it was the fear of death that made it so good. My radish gems on a thick slice of sourdough toast, with a few wedges of cheese, and a fresh peach a friend brought from Georgia made for the perfect Thursday lunch.

In between all this glorious spring we've been celebrating, I spent a week in Baltimore for work. I'd never been before, but what a city. I spent some time in downtown, near the harbor and in Little Italy. But we also hung out in the Baltimore 'hood, meeting and listening to some of our ministry partners. I've never seen so many vacant homes as in Sandtown. Street after street of boarded up row houses. I'm so grateful for the work of our friends in Sandtown, who have partnered with Habitat to try and make the area a little more livable. I loved the spirit of the place, and how openly they greeted and welcomed us to their 'hood. I saw this "shop" on a street corner in Sandtown and just couldn't help myself, it was too great:

After Baltimore, I spent a couple amazing days in D.C. Nearly four years ago, when I was a student at Columbia, I met an artist from Albuquerque who was inspired to initiate a large-scale, collaborative, activist art installation. I had made a cradle for her first installation, the Cradle Project, an installation of  a thousand hand-made, recycled material cradles as a representation of the thousands of children orphaned by aids. 

Naomi Natale's second activist art project was much greater. After spending some time in Africa and seeing the result of mass genocide, Naomi started the One Million Bones project - an installation of one million hand-crafted bones, laid out as a symbolic mass grave on the National Mall in Washington D.C. After five years of sharing about her project, making and collecting bones, the project at last came to completion as the bones were laid on the mall, a mass grave and a call to action laying at the feet of the capital.

Before we began the installation, representatives from various faith practices said a word, a prayer, or a poem. A rabbi referred to the Book of Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones, how God breathed into the bones and they rattled and came to life. We laid this valley of dry bones for nearly four hours, remembering and mourning, breathing life and hope into the future as we called for an end to mass genocide. 

After the installation, I went to see Lincoln at his memorial. Something about the splendor of the memorial and the grandness of the one million bones, made me reflect as I read Lincoln's words etched in the stone:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Carrying these words of remembrance and exhortation, I walked to the memorial of another great and broken leader. A man who sought to finish the work, to bind up the wounds, to seek a just and lasting peace among and with all. As you near the memorial, you walk through a rift between two mountains of rock and approach a segment of stone, moving around to the front to see the figure of MLKJ carved into the face. And that's when you see it. This piece of stone that has been removed and carved out of the mountain behind it. Etched on the side are these words:

Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

What an incredible thing to be remembered for. I stood before piles of bones, a great man in a great chair with a war and a history of injustice and sacrifice behind him, and a stone of hope, broken away from a mountain of despair. I felt small and powerless, wondering what I was doing with my life to change the world, to bring justice, to offer my life as a sacrifice for the good.

Here we are, the living, dedicated to the unfinished work, the great task remaining before us, resolved to finish the work of binding up the wounds, caring for the widow and the orphan that the dead have left behind, and endeavoring for a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.


What happens when you live

My oh my.
Do you ever feel like you're dealing with things beyond your age or ability?

That's kind of how this past couple weeks has felt. The decisions. Oh the decisions! Not to mention the responsibility. It's exhausting.

But there's something good about it too. It forces you to really think about things. And I think the fact that these things, these decisions have come to you says something. It is like the world is defending it's belief in you and your ability to rise above your own expectations.

There's nothing more compelling than a person who gives you something seemingly beyond you and saying, "I believe in you. You can do this. And you can do it well."

It's exhilarating, fulfilling, exhausting, and terrifying.

Also, it puts things in perspective. It makes me grateful that I don't have to deal with these big things, these things so beyond me everyday. Some people, a lot of people around the world, deal with big, life and death, sunrise to sunset, things that are so much greater than they are, so much weightier, so much more grave than they should ever have to know.

I did this race a couple weeks ago. A 25K we were doing for these kids in Haiti. The first 10 miles were great. The last 5 were hilly and definitely not without difficulty. By mile 13 you're just kind of running for the finish line, and you keep running regardless of how your legs feel because you're almost there. Almost. This is where your mind's concept of time can become ruinous. So around mile 14 when I'm just thinking about the finish, I hear this yelling behind me, "Heads up! Make way!" Up comes this little team of runners, pushing a boy in a wheelchair, calling for cheers and whoops for their last mile. I was so overcome - to see this incredible team of runners who had just pushed and run with this disabled boy through 10 great miles and 5 hilly ones. That was just what I needed to finish. And to finish well.

So, friends, whatever you do, finish it well.

After a week packed with decision and responsibility and stress, I needed a sabbath. I was reminded of what it means to celebrate shabat. On the sabbath, you ask, "What feeds your soul?" And you do that. To know the sabbath rest is to feed your soul. And so I did - at my very favourite cafe, with this incredible book, without a phone or computer, and with a dry and thirsty soul.

So this weekend, amidst whatever else you do, feed your soul.

I've been talking a lot with a friend of mine about peace and suffering and discerning the direction of your life. So far we have more questions than answers, which is pretty standard these days. We can't figure out how it works, how you're supposed to know which way to go, how you're supposed to give a yes or a no or really go after something. I think there is this really complex and beautiful tandem relationship between the will and desire of God and your own inclination and strength of character.

I used to think that when things were right, you would experience a total peace. Divine peace. Wholeness. Shalom. I believe that is what God desires for us. It is how we were originally created to be and it is what, I imagine, we are ultimately seeking most. But now? In the brokenness? Things are a little more complex. It's like we are knowing the not peace in order to know the complete peace. Remember Lazarus? How Jesus stayed where he was two days, knowing his friend was sick and dying, so that Lazarus didn't just experience healing, he experienced resurrection.

The same way that Lazarus lived in his illness, in Jesus' silence for two days, I think we might experience some of the suffering, some of the grief, so that we can experience the resurrection.

We bear the burden, to finish well. We endure the week, to feed the soul. We live in the tension of our brokenness and longing, to celebrate resurrection.

And as we live and move and have our being in the tension of all these things, sometimes you just need to paint outside.

Sometimes you find mushrooms; sometimes you don't.

Sometimes you just have to walk around with your bike helmet on and look for cheetahs. Because you can.

And sometimes you just need to stand in the glory.

I guess that's what happens when you live.