Wednesday, December 11, 2013

learning to love

Ten years into learning to love
my body someone asked,
What don't you like?

What don't you like
about your body?

My mind traced the curves I know
from lotion slathered on, slowly,
and looking into mirrors until
I saw beauty. Nothing there in the
curves and sags not to love.

I once fell backwards
into a bank of snow with a laugh.
cheeks flushed from two hours
of clearing fluffy white from sidewalks.
Heart and arms strong for the task.

When I run, I feel like I"m gliding -
my feet above the track my body soars,
less swiftly than it feels for sure,
but I soar on these  legs that resemble trunks
with their muscles toned from years of carrying this
well curved body of mine across the face of the earth

My eyes have earned me long gazes
from admirers who could not seem to pull
their eyes away from mine. They are my vain pride,
but I allow them that for they are the part of me
I've never hated.

Genetics, a propensity to have my nose
buried in a book or a computer screen.
My eyes need help. Fifteen years of contacts.
They beg for a break. The budget agrees.
I switch to glasses.The cheap kind.

I perch them atop my nose and cringe
a little at their prominence with their dark
black frames and the way they seem to cast
shadows over and into  my eyes.

And here I must learn to love my eyes
as they are - deep blue (but sometimes green),
flawed and imperfect like the rest of me.
I have spent a decade learning to listen to my body
and to give her what she needs.

So, here too, I listen to the cherished
voice of my body, I listen to the voice that says
she's more, that her flaws do not deem her
unworthy, that there is something to still
to love in these eyes that see this world.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Paper Christmas tree

I don't have a Christmas tree currently (and no real reason to get one), but I wanted a little holdiay decor.  I was also cleaning out things under my bed and ran across my scrapbook paper stash and thought of this idea. I didn't need to buy anything new to make this, so that's my kind of budget friendly decor!*

I used a 2" circle punch to punch out hundreds of circles out of green (or mostly green) paper.

Then I drew a Christmas tree (just a tall triangle) on some brown shipping paper and it was time to glue! I recommend a fun Christmas movie to watch while you work.

I did the outline first and then went back and filled in. You want to start from the bottom and work your way up - just put a dab of glue on the top of the circle so that the bottom and sides can curl up later. 

A glue gun makes this pretty fast. I'm sure I would've been highly annoyed if I was fiddling with a glue stick or some other kind of messier/longer drying/harder to get out glue.

glue. glue. glue. I didn't make a pattern with the different papers, just random.

At the top I used a 2" scalloped circle punch and some gold glitter paper for the star.

Then I trimmed the excess brown paper off from the sides of the tree and, voila! Tree! I took a look at it and filled in any bare spots with extra circles. I very slightly curled up the bottoms of the circles to give it a more dimensional look. 

I hung it on the wall with a few command poster strips. (It's heavy!)

And then the "trunk" is one of the scrap sides of the brown shipping paper I trimmed off earlier rolled up into a very narrow tree trunk. 

Added a little elf climbing the tree - and, It's Christmas in this house!

Some of the paper has shiny/metallic parts on it or glitter - and it really does catch the light to give that illusion of a light when you walk by it.

Bonus? I can roll it up and keep it and use it another season. :) 

* If you don't have a circle punch - you'll probably want to buy or borrow that in order to make this (though you could cut a few hundred circles by hand . . ). Alternatively, I bet triangles (or squares/diamonds) would also look cool and be easier to cut without having to buy a punch.  If you don't have the brown paper - use any kind of sturdy wrapping paper you have - or piece together pieces of other paper.  You may see a little of whatever the paper is on the finished product depending on how much overlap you have - so just keep that in mind. :)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Knowing People

The theme of my brain the past few months seems to be all about "relationships."

As I become more and more convinced that "living in peace" is of utmost importance I ask, "How do you do that? How do you make it matter? How does peace work on a national, global scale?"  As I read the stories of other people who have sought to live in peace and make peace the way of life in their neighborhoods and countries and world, the recurring theme is relationships. You listen to others. You sit down at dinner with people. You do this especially with people who have different perspectives, backgrounds, etc from you.

It's fascinating and infuriating.

This is so small, so simple, so slow.

But it seems to work, it seems to matter.

Somehow you get to know your neighbors and it makes you care about neighbors across political and geographical borders. Somehow when you understand what it is to be poor or sick or alone or foreign or scared through the eyes of someone with whom you have shared a meal, then you empathize with the poor and sick and alone and foreign and scared that you don't know or see. And you know it's not a simple solution. You know that there's not one answer, a magic wand, that is going to solve the deep and divisive problems in our world.

In her memoir Mighty Be Our Powers, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee reminds us that "Organizations like the UN do a lot of good, but there are certain basic realities they never seem to grasp. One is that every war is different . . . because the reasons and the ways countries fight have everything to do with their histories and the way their societies are organized. If conflicts aren't identical, resolution can never be one-size-fits-all." (170)   Lessons she learned while advocating peace to end the Liberian war (which worked) can be used and applied to conflicts in other countries and at other times, but she understands that without actually knowing the people, without having relationships, one cannot effectively work for peace.

So I am trying to "live into" this this fall, to make decisions based on relationships. To build relationships so that I build community, and hope that community builds peace.

A couple of days ago, I was at the grocery store, getting my coffee creamer and almond milk when I saw a man in a motorized wheelchair a few feet down from me. He had parked in front of the glass-doored case and was making an effort to begin the process of getting milk. Far enough way to open the door, close enough to still be able to reach. I'm sure it's a science he has practiced frequently. I stood there for a brief moment, not wanting to take away his "agency" - not wanting to offer aid if it was going to just be a reminder to him of how many "simple" things he could not easily do for himself. I didn't want to offer to help if I was just going to be one more person making uninformed assumptions about his abilities and independence based on the fact that he moved around while sitting in a chair.

But in the brief seconds that I contemplated whether to offer help or not my brain said, "Relationships. Think. Use who you know."  So I thought of my mother, who has limited physical mobility at times and who has made use of her share of motorized carts. I glanced at the man's face, his body language, and I knew what to do.

I didn't know this man, had no relationships with him, but I know my mother and her body language when she needs help or when she doesn't. And so when I asked, "Can I grab something for you?"  I was not surprised when he gave a relieved sigh, sat back in his chair a bit, and said, "Yes. That one there on the top. Thank you."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quotations, Photos, and Musings

It's been a while since I've done a "what I've been into" post and I'm horrible at keeping up with these things month by month and can never be consistent with the categories. So, this is a "here's a few things from my life" post. Much of it will be October. But September will sneak in.

Some recipes:

Slow Cooker Squash Stew  (This one got an, "Oh, ok, that's good." out of my roommates who wishes I made more fried chicken and less veggies. So I call it a win :)  It was also great reheated later.)

Vegan Brownie Pumpkin Pie:   (SO GOOD. Took it to a pot luck. Attempted a whipped maple-coconut cream, it was more maple-coconut sauce, but a great addition. Pretty easy recipe, though lots of dirty dishes.)

Actually,  "Oh She Glows" has become my favorite place for yummy vegan recipes. There's a sweet potato-oatmeal breakfast casserole sitting half-made in the fridge right now. I'll get it finished up and taken to class in the morning.

Some quotations:

Dorothy Day insisted on "not serving soup one day and war the next. We were to live without killing, no matter what the provocation or consequence, no matter how many other Christians or Christian bishops were fighting wars or blessing them." Jim Forest, "Remembering Dorothy Day" in Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ed. Walter Wink

"The seminaries did not teach me. I had to discover it by myself. They did not teach me that it is more interesting to know a Hindu than to know Hinduism; it is more rewarding to know a Buddhist than Buddhism, a Marxist than Marxism, a revolutionary than revolution, a missionary than missiology, wife than the "marriage and the family" course, Jesus Christ than christology." Kosuke Koyama Water Buffalo Theology, 150.

"The ways in which Western culture encourages the anxious conscience to patrol the flesh, which tears, tears up, trembles, tables, and tires, might lead in one instance to those social technologies of food disorders and surgical enhancements, readily fit to the female form. In another instance, it creates an economic and cultural structure of exclusion. . categorically multiplying abject and economically "waste/d" bodies." - Sharon V. Betcher, "Becoming Flesh of My Flesh," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion

"True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power.. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplied the existence of violence and the bitterness in the universe, while the former may . . . bring about a transformation and change of heart." - MLK Jr.

Some photos:

Went to New Orleans in September.  Enjoying a beignet and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde.  Loved this city. 

Got a haircut. Fuzzy photo, but I LOVE the cut.  Although, people have told me it makes me look younger,
which makes me realize I've crossed that age threshold where "you look younger" is now a compliment. 

Went thrifting with my roommates. One of them found me this pin that says "How dare you presume I'd rather be thin?"
Best thrift find ever? yup.

Went apple picking and hay-riding with friends. I am a butternut-squash lover, so this was kind of awesome.

Some cryptic musings:

A number of years ago someone asked me, "What's your passion?" and I had no idea how to answer. Sure, I was interested in things. But, passionate?  I was more of an "no highs. no lows" kind of girl. I liked to be calm, plod on, don't make waves. But it bothered me that I didn't know what my passion was and so I kind of said, "Figure that out, Nicole. You should know that." 

I think I've figured it out. There are a few issues where I will dig my heels in and stand up a little taller and talk a little louder and not apologize for my opinions. Not because of stubbornness, but because I have invested time and energy and mental power and relationships and my life into these things and I think they matter, a lot.  

It's anything but calm, but it's fabulous. 


I will be graduating from grad school soon. It is the most uncertain my future has ever been. I've got some of those gut feelings about where to head, but I don't have any guarantees. In undergrad I knew I was heading to teaching. When I left teaching I knew I was headed to Chicago. When I left Chicago I knew I was headed to grad school. I don't know where I'm going now. But I know my passions, and I can see how those can play out in a hundred ways, so I figure the path that's out there for me has to fall at least close to one of those hundred things, so I'm not too worried. But I still get that little pit of anxiety in my stomach when I think about it, still wonder if all my continent crossing and uprooting and new experiences is going to leave me with wonderful memories but without a real path. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

making the bed: a morning post over coffee

I think I saw it in a movie once. Maybe Corrina, Corrina ?  The lady making the bed grabbed two corners of the bed sheet, raised her arms, flipped her wrists and the sheet went flying high into the air and then on the way down spread flat and slowly floated onto the bed. It was magic and grace and art.

I don't make my bed every morning, sometimes I just pull the rumpled covers up and call it a day, sometimes I don't even bother to do that.  But when I take the time to really make the bed, I love to do it this way, all the covers come off and then I grab two corners of a sheet, raise my arms. flip my wrists, and I find for a few brief seconds I'm mesmerized by the grace and beauty of the sheet falling through the air.

I can remember going into my parents' room as a child and making their bed. I seem to recall that I often decided they needed different blankets and pillows on the bed - choosing from the linen collection based on how the colors and patterns looked together, rearranging pillows just so. I'm not entirely sure how my mom felt about the redecorating eye of a child, but she always said thank you. The girls at my job in Chicago made their own beds for the most part, but occasionally if I had the time on "linen wash day" I would take the clean sheets upstairs and make their beds. I knew that at the end of their long days of school and sports and clubs and homework and chores that a made bed was a small gift, and it's one I loved to offer.

It's a little moment in my morning, one that tugs on the parts of my heart that loves to make things homey, that understands on some deep level just how important making a bed is, I wonder about future beds I will make. Foster children? Guests at an Inn?  Nieces and nephews over for a fun weekend with their favorite aunt? Helping out a neighbor with  limited mobility?

In those seconds as the sheets fly high I see hopes and dreams caught up in that brief billow of air.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Snapshots of When We Were on Fire (A synchroblog post)


I am in the aisle seat of the third row back from the stage. The auditorium is filled with hundreds of teens and youth leaders at summer camp.  A dramatic depictions of the Angels' point-of-view of the crucifixion just finished and the speaker is asking us what that means to us.  He begins the invitation. The lights dim, a quiet hymn begins to play, and he asks, "Are you sure? Do you know for sure that you belong to Jesus?"

My palms are sweaty and I close my eyes to block out that nagging unsureness. I'd been in church all my life and thought I was a Christian. But three years of awake-at-night was making me wonder.

And tears fell from my eyes while sitting in that aisle seat. So I stood up and was soon on a bench outside with a friend, a few feet from the overlook on this mountain-top college that boasted a view of three states on clear days.  She read scripture and prayed, said, "You know what to do." And I said that prayer again. The one I'd lead other people through on mission trips. And this time it felt like peace.

Though my views on the concept of moment-of-salvation, (soteriology is the word I've learned in seminary) have changed drastically, I try to save this moment from my often judgmental and cynical hindsight because it was pure and honest and, ultimately, life-changing.


I am in London.  I have come with a small group from my youth group to  join other kids from United States youth groups to be "on mission" here.  I have walked the streets of Northern London for a week, offered prayers with the owner of a boxing gym, offered my "British" sandwich to a grateful homeless man, sang then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, how Great thou art with friends at the top of our lungs in the twilight darkness next to a sidewalk fruit stand where we marveled at the bounty of bright red cherries being sold by the man wearing a turban.

On Sunday I find myself sitting in a pew at St. Paul's Cathedral, refraining from communion because they use real wine. I am cringing at the "smells and bells" and the way I see it all as fake and stuffy. On Wednesday nights at home we sang with drums and lights and smoke and that felt real as I waved one hand in the air, the other hand patting rhythmically over my heart. But in that pew, while I scowl and judge I hear a whisper in my heart, I am here too. My scowl softens and I wonder what I am missing.


A speaker at one of the youth trips said, "You should have something marked on every page of your Bible." So I am laying on my bed with my Bible open and a pen and highlighter near me. Genesis and Exodus were a breeze. Leviticus was no trouble at all. But now I'm in Numbers and I am faced with an entire page of names and numbers. Eventually I find something, I don't remember what and that Bible has long been retired, but by the end of the year every page in my bible has a circle or a star, an underline or a highlight.  And then I start again the next year. And somehow all these words, even the names and numbers, are burrowing into my soul and that is going to make all the difference in the hard years that are coming.


There are five of us in a side room. We are going slowly through a stack of "visitors cards" and praying for the names one by one. Praying for God to be peace and salvation, healing and hope. We are on our knees and holding hands, and then as our knees begin to ache and our palms grow sweaty we are flat on our face and palms to the ground. Prayers for these names become praise to God. When the last person has spoken and the quiet has reigned for a few minutes, we get up, walk into the main room, grab a slice of pizza and join in as worship music plays from the stage and 300 teenagers fill our youth room for our monthly "outreach" event.  Later that night, we'll stand to the side as some of those names we prayed over come over to us and want to know a little more about Jesus.


I am sitting on the floor of a small waiting room at a nursing home. A couple dozen of us had just spent the afternoon visiting some of the residents, and as we end our time and wait for everyone to finish we gather here in this room. Someone starts singing, O Lord please light the fire, that once burned bright and pure, replace the flame of my first love, that burned with holy fear. And then one song cascades into the next and we are offering an impromptu concert. Our hearts overflowing in song, if not fire.


It is years later. I have journals stacked  at the end of my bed detailing my love-relationship with Jesus the Messiah, detailing the peace and joy a midst my questions and fears.  Somewhere in those journals the questions become stronger. The writing less frequent. Until one day I am driving down the road, tears streaming down my face, and telling God he lied. I trusted you, and this is what I got?  I will spend the next many months-rolling-into-years making myself show up at church and I will sit in the pew, white knuckles gripping my Bible as I listen intently for some path back to the peace, but deathly afraid that all I'm going to get is hurt again. The songs and underlined verses pop into my head at the oddest times, I kneel down to pull a box from under my bed and I remember the aching knees that went with earnest prayers, a friend invites me to a Mass and the candles brings back the voice, I am here.

And this time it adds and I will not let you go. 


You have been sifted as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail so that when you turn back you may strengthen your sisters and brothers.

. . .from on fire, to sifted like wheat, and turned back again with a different flame.

This is part of a synchroblog event for Addie Zierman's new book When We Were On Fire.  I'm hoping to read it soon - her blog has blessed me and given me so many "me too!" moments about my evangelical upbringing - it's blessings and struggles.  More info on how to link up your blog entry and find other submissions by clicking here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

a few thoughts on eating mostly plants

I have been eating a "mostly vegetarian and sometimes vegan" diet for 10 months now.

A sampling of reasons why I made this change:

1. I genuinely like eating "healthy" foods; I like vegetables.
2. I'm a wanna-be hipster, this seems like a hipster move.
3. Something in my gut (pun intended) told me this was a good change.
4. At the very least, the current meat industry (factory farming) treats animals in cruel and horrible ways and has various negative impacts on the environment and the economy.
5. I get to worry less about cross-contamination while cooking. This makes my anxiety-prone brain happy.
6. On a "full time student" budget - simple vegetarianism is generally much cheaper in my area.
7. The aesthetics of a full produce basket in my kitchen make me happy.
8. I enjoy experimenting with new recipes and discovering new foods/cooking methods. Nothing like having to toss 99% of your standard go-to meals to get started on "new."
9. From a faith perspective, there is something to the fact that the creation story does not include the killing of animals until after the fall.

There is one thing that was not my motivation though, and that has surprised me with it's quiet, steady, presence in my life these past ten months.


For lent I did strict vegetarian only diet. But even then, I wasn't focused on the fasting. I was focused on the "adding."  As in, I could afford a few extra of the "expensive" fruit and veggies and grains since I wasn't buying meat.  I was getting new and exciting recipes. Learning new things. Feeling new connections to the world around me.  All good things.

But, as the honeymoon phase ended I'd have really intense desires for various meat-based foods. It was never even a hunger-craving, but rather a desire for the other impacts that food had on me. Food and taste and smell is powerful. There is a reason things like "comfort foods" exist. They are satisfying and warm and familiar. They fill some emotional need and serve beautiful purposes for our mental health. For me those things are a chicken-broccoli casserole, roast beef and meatloaf the way mom made it, and hot dogs with sandwich relish (the way I ate them with my Grandaddy).  After living away from my home-state (in fact, away from that entire region of the country) for four years, there are restaurants  and foods associated with "home" that ease feelings of homesickness because they offer some connection.

One thing I've found myself asking as I encountered these desires for these various animal-based foods is, "What kind of vegetarian dish can I make that will mimic that?"  And, of course, barring some molecular gastronomy techniques and some highly processed meat-alternatives that still don't quite get it perfectly right, the answer is: "There isn't one. I can't recreate that taste another way."  I can come close, get an approximation, something that might quench the hunger craving, but not the soul-desire.

I am completely in favor of supporting the basic biological fact that sometimes food that nourishes our body also nourishes our soul and our emotions. I am not one to outright dismiss "emotional eating" because food is more than contents for your stomach. But as I identified these desires for feelings and realized that in this way that I've chosen to live that those desires could not be met in the familiar ways, I understood "fasting" as a spiritual discipline in ways I never really had before.

So my moments of desire turned into. "hmm. Roast beef sounds really good. I remember Mom making that at home. I remember learning to make it. Dad often requested it on his birthday. It was the first meal I made for the kids at work in Chicago. Those are good memories with family and friends" and I thought about the memories, maybe called my mom, thanked God for those times, and thought about why I wouldn't buy the roast just to recreate the taste and smell (see list above).  It's not the same as the powerful memory of smell and taste - I don't get the same result. But I also have good memories around board games, jokes, special days, and fruit salad.  There are other ways to satisfy those desires for connection to my past. And the fasting from ways that involve animals allows me to ask what I'm really wanting when I "crave" Chicken Divan and I find myself better off for knowing the answer. And, my mom probably appreciates the phone calls I make (though she doesn't normally know she's the answer to my chicken craving when I call).

I have literally been trying to decide what to do about Thanksgiving since January. There is a local farm where I can reserve a "life well lived" turkey if I decide to do that, but I guess the question is, do I need to do that to enjoy the day?  Everyone knows thanksgiving side dishes almost outshines the bird - so a side dish feast seems a brilliant way to celebrate as well.

At the end of the day I try to  offer myself grace in this process.  Last night I listened to my friend Sarah give a presentation on loving Jesus and loving animals and how that all fits together.  I'm sure she'd be ecstatic if the whole world instantly became vegan, but she offered us much grace in the process - "choose one meal to be vegan,"   "be a vegetarian who occasionally eats bacon." It's better to make informed and knowledgeable choices about our food, she said, than uninformed ones.

For me, I've discovered this year that the "informed" and "knowledgeable" is about how animals are treated and if I'm ok with that, but it is also being informed and knowledgeable about myself -  recognizing emotions and desires and connections to people and the world around me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Taking Up Space

If I had written a "What I've Been Into" post for the month of July it would be about how I've been reorganizing my apartment. My two roommates from last year moved out and three new women are moving in soon. July was my in-between time. I pushed furniture around, cleared out cabinet spaces, scrubbed and vacuumed.  While I occasionally started to get a bit lonely, I enjoyed the month of introverted bliss.

One of the main projects was to make sure that all of the three new ladies would have enough space. Last year it was just two of us for a while, and then when a third person moved in she didn't need much space. So, my things were quite spread out around the apartment. I've been re-organizing and condensing kitchen and bathroom shelves, emptying out what was an extra closet last year so that the fourth person could have it, and trying to maximize the space in my own closet and under my bed. 

I've been working hard to make sure that the space is as equitable as possible, but the bedrooms are different sizes and mine (that I'll share with one other person) is the big one. I realized I was battling some type of guilt over that, despite the fact that I was not the architect. Last year, when we were divvying up kitchen cabinets I took the smallest one, trying to be fair or generous or something, and soon found the tiny sliver of a cabinet unsuitable for my stock of various lentils and beans, vinegars and oils. In reorganizing the kitchen this past month - I arranged some of the dishes into that tiny cabinet, leaving one large cabinet free for each person's food storage. (One is slightly smaller, but I freed up a drawer for whoever gets that cabinet.)

The other night as I agonized over square inches, shelf space, and equitable 
proximity to power outlets,  it hit me, "I'm afraid I'm taking up too much space."


When I buy airline seats I am very methodical. I check the make and model of the plane on seat guru and analyze the inches of width in the seat design of various planes.  I choose my seat near the window, not for the view, but for the ability to lean my body into the unoffended wall and away from the presumed discomfort of my flight neighbor-to-be. On the morning of, I dress nicely to prevent the "lazy slob" description. I arrive early, so that I can board in the correct zone and slide into my seat before my row mates arrive and I have to squish my body through.

A few months ago, I flew stand-by. I jumped from gate to gate waiting on a flight, any flight to get me to my destination. A couple of minutes before takeoff my name got called. I made my way down the aisle of the almost-full plane and glanced at the letters above the seats and realized I had a middle seat. I took a deep breath as I saw my seat - one empty slot between two seats filled by slender men. "Excuse me, that's my seat!" I said with a smile. He got up and let me through. I avoided eye contact for fear of seeing annoyance or even disgust. I buckled my belt (relieved that it fit) and squeezed my arms together, pulling in my wide chest in the process. I made myself as narrow as possible.

Somewhere in the flight I relaxed out of necessity. One can only hold a squeezed-in position for so long. But as I relaxed and realized the world didn't end and my neighbors didn't huff in disgust I mentally relaxed as well. This is my body. It takes up this space. It deserves the space it inhabits. My neighbors' long legs were folded up awkwardly in the space between his seat and the one in front of us. His legs were not wrong, they are not committing some social travesty by needing more room to be comfortable. Neither was my width. Here, the airline had shrunk and crammed: every inch a dollar sign. Money was deemed more important than people. It was a choice I submitted to when I boarded a plane, but their focus on profit did not mean my body was wrong. My fellow passengers had made the same choice - to fly in a coach seat with unknown neighbors. 

Outline is Me. :) 

I'm no psychotherapist - but I'd call the fears of "taking up too much space," whether it's my body on a plane or my life in an apartment, related.  Realizing that connection helped me breath a little easier about the apartment sharing. I'm doing my best to set things up to be equitable. I'm more than open to the input of my future roommates and to share the things I have. The best I can do is be me and thankfully that is all that is required.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Napkins and Beauty

In May of 2009 I sat down to dinner at a large table with about a dozen other people. Women and girls filled the table and greeted me warmly and asked me questions about my life. My presence at that dinner table was part of an interview for me to work and live in the home as a houseparent in a non-profit residential program. 

I loved everything about it. The girls, the home, the town, the job. It was all so me. Well, I guess I should say I loved almost everything. At the dinner table my plate of chicken sat atop a bleach-stained and wrinkled placemat and my silverware lay across a faded floral napkin with frayed edges and a thread bare hole in the middle. 

I'm willing to admit here that I've got aesthetic snobbery issues. I'm willing to admit that despite my love of [almost] everything during that job interview, those napkins bothered me. Why were obviously worn pieces of cloth still being used? These young women deserved the dignity of pretty, or at least neat, napkins! 

Hospitality is in my blood, I toyed with the idea of becoming an interior decorator. I value things being pretty and welcoming and pleasant. While my emphasis on where those things should fall in the scheme of important things has changed over the years, my heart is still firmly rooted in making spaces welcome and hospitable - and in my head that has often meant "nice." While it may sound silly, I was literally kind of sad for the people who lived in that house that their napkins had holes. 

Fast forward a few months and I'm packing up my apartment. Getting rid of most of my belongings, putting things I love into storage, and selecting the bare minimum to move with me 800 miles to my new job as a houseparent. As I sorted through my kitchen I pulled out my napkins, and placed them in the "Take to Chicago" pile with a smile.

Now, my napkins were not fancy. They were simple linen squares in a neutral color. But thy were clean, the color was consistent, the hem was in tact, and there were no holes. I had laundered them carefully during the two years I had used them and folded them as soon as they exited the dryer. They were clean and neat and wrinkle free. I would take them with me and replace those worn and faded things I had seen.

The napkins got put into the linen drawer at my new home and job. I threw out the torn and frayed ones. Over the next three years as countless meals were served at that large dining table they were put into rotation with the other napkins. They got tossed in the laundry hamper after our family dinner each night. Laundered, folded, and put away back in a drawer for the process to repeat the next day.

At the end of the summer of 2012 as I prepared to leave my job as a houseparent and move on to grad school in Philadelphia I was organizing the dining linen cabinet and ran across a couple of those napkins that had I had brought with me years before. 

They were splattered with bleach spots. A couple of thready holes found their way into the fabric and the hems were tattered and frayed. Evidence of hundreds of meals and cycles through the washing machine. Evidence of laughter at dinner and stories of the day. Evidence of tables full of food and a chorus of "pass the .. . " for ten minutes while we all filled our plates. Evidence of chore time and the labor to wash it, fold it, put away, and re use it all over again. 

For the three years I had  lived in that house, I had not had sole control over those napkins. I did not launder them myself, careful of temp and cycle and detergents. I was not there every time they were put away to ensure they were folded and not crammed. The napkins got swept up into the life of a busy house and were part of that community.  With so many people and so much life to be lived, the napkins quickly got pushed off my radar of things about which to be concerned.  While I will argue in favor of caring for our material goods, even meticulous laundering would not have preserved napkins that went through hundreds of washes. They were used as they should be and showed the signs of age. 

With all my "aesthetic snobbery," I wouldn't trade those three years of laughter around the table, dinner clean-up, and loud music during chore time for the prettiest napkins of all. 

That summer as I organized the linen cabinet, I took one of those napkins I brought with me to Chicago that was now faded and torn and placed it in my "take to Philadelphia" pile. It'll never be used as a napkin again I'm sure, but it's there in a memory box so that when I run across it one day in the future I'll remember those family dinners, the way that chore time became a dance party, and that some things are more important that aesthetics.

Monday, July 22, 2013


About six years ago I heard the CDC statistic that African American children are three times as likely as white children to die from accidental drowning. I asked myself why, started doing some research, and learned a history that started in making sure slaves couldn't escape via the rivers, traveled through segregated public swimming pools where separate was not equal, and continued its journey through the correlation of minority populations with low income and therefore limited access to swimming facilities. Add to the lack of swimming access a resulting natural fear of the water passed down through generations. It was the first time I saw structural, systematic, institutionalized racism and it literally killed children. 

I had been the typical southern conservative white girl. I figured affirmative action had done its job, I thought people cried racism because they wanted something without working for it. I believed in equality for everyone, I just thought we were already there, or at least we would be if people would stop dragging the past into the present.

But once I learned that statistic all I could see we're drowned children. Mothers and fathers crumpled next to a small casket. I cannot accept a world in which I ignore that centuries of oppression continues to kill children.

And so when mothers and fathers who are crying next to caskets of dark skinned boys tell me that this reminds them of something from those days when nooses hung publicly because everyone assumed that of course the black boy was wrong, I'm going to listen. I will listen when friends and neighbors and people all over an entire country join in to say, "We are him, because we know what it feels like to have eyes follow us around the store, to have women cross the street to avoid encountering us, to have police officers stop and frisk us just in case. We know what it feels like to be suspicious to people whose history and culture has told them that our dark skin holds dark motives."

I can appreciate a legal system that at least states that people are only found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but listening to those who tell me of the centuries of reasons why so many people doubt that their children are good and worthy of life breaks my heart. This is not the world I want to leave to future generations.

I believe that we have to acknowledge that racism still exists in order to move past it. While I always want to be aware of my "privilege" and the fact that I need to listen more than I speak on this issue, I also want to be someone whose not afraid to speak and to remind others to listen. I hope this little bit of my heart shared here encourages someone to listen intentionally to those who are hurt and troubled by things you think are overblown, exaggerated, or pointless.

-originally posted as a facebook status tonight. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

What I'm Into: Summer Edition

I am enjoying "summer" mode. I still have various things that I need to accomplish for my collection of jobs, but I am SO enjoying a break from classes and the accompanying non-stop to-do list of reading and writing.


If you haven't been reading Charles Martin and you like novels, you need to start reading his books.  His newest is Unwritten and lovely.

I am a couple chapters in to At Home on the Range by Margaret Yardley Potter. It's an old book that's been recently re-published. It's a narrative-style cookbook and it's hilarious, along with being really interesting from a food history perspective.

I finally got around to making a goodreads account. I've been obsessively rating books and adding books to my "to read" list for the past couple of days. We'll see if I actually keep up with it. I've never been very good at keeping lists of what I read.

On the Dining Table
. . is my sewing machine

I went and scouted a thrift store to see if I could find some old vintages sheets to up-cycle into clothes. I spent one entire Saturday crafting a shirt. It's got errors galore and made me wish for a serger to finish up the inside seams, but I am happy with my effort.

My first attempt at sewing a shirt
I drew a pattern based on a current shirt I own. I thought I had done a pretty good job in drawing the pattern after reading up on it quite a bit, but I had not accounted adequately for the amount of stretch in my current shirt vs. the fabric I was using, so, first attempt was rather snug. Ripped out the seams and added a long vertical panel going up both sides and down the insides of the arms.  If someone is examining the seams of my shirt they will notice that it seems a bit odd to have that, especially on the sleeves, but since it matches on both sides, it's not really that bad. If I use the pattern again I'll sew the collar together and to the front/back of the shirt first and then add the sleeves last, as it got a little oddly shaped the way I did it this time. Thankfully I was able to fix it by just folding the collar a bit and tacking it down.  I added a few buttons to the collar, and voila,  vintage floral shirt! I love the vintage patterns that are so in right now, but have a hard time finding clothing that fits me in that style. This works. The sheet cost me $2.

Second sewing project - also a $2 sheet from a thrift store. This is a circle skirt - so it's just a doughnut of fabric with a waistband sewn in.  I kind of love it. I'm trying to decide where it's public debut should be - I have a couple of options  coming up in the next couple of weeks.

The snaps I used to fasten the waist are also quite vintage - check out those prices!  The 30 pack in the picture is marked 35 cents. Today, you can get a 30 pack of snaps from Jo-Ann Fabrics for $3.49. I inherited these snaps along with some wooden spools of thread in an old wooden sewing chest that was given to me n Chicago.


I took one of my much-loved train trips.  

I haven't been very adventurous in the kitchen, so nothing exciting to report there.  I tend to rotate through tomato sandwiches, chips and guac, egg salad, zucchini "burgers" on pita, and baked potatoes fairly often. Living in a place with no a/c makes turning on the oven about the last thing I want to do in the summer. I need to figure out some yummy salads I can make at home. 

In the land of Television, I had been excited about a new season of MasterChef, but it seems to have devolved into the mess of overly produced drama full of selfish bickering that characterizes reality TV.  So, that's been scratched from the watch list. 

I've never been into music enough to really recommend anything, but I will say that I enjoyed having the "Brenda Lee" station on Pandora as my soundtrack to work the other day. If you're ever in the mood for sing-along old-school country and rock, that station is a winner. 

So, my summer has been reading and sewing and generally enjoying not having a paper constantly due.  One more year of grad school coming up and then it's on to rest of my life.   I think enjoying what is likely to be my last summer "off" is a lovely way to spend this year. :) 

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Traveling with Neighbors

Sitting in the Lounge car, looking up.
I spent a few days travelling my favorite way - by train.  I traveled out to Chicago to visit friends and celebrate the graduation of couple of the kids that I worked with during my years there.  I so enjoyed the chance to visit and see everyone!  The train trip was fabulous as well. I updated with this as my facebook status:
People I had convos with on the train: a world traveler on his way home from a six month vacation, a mom going to visit her navy-chaplain daughter, a small town dad visiting his daughter in the big city, a film maker who told tales of train hopping in his college days, a social activists who worked to end the death penalty in her youth, and a grandmother who beamed with joy telling me about her job helping special education kids on the school bus.

I always like to ask people why they take the train instead of a plane. I rarely get the "afraid of flying" answer. It is most often something about a relaxed pace, the views of the country you can't see any other way, and the fact that the remoteness of the path usually means a day of no cell or wifi service where you have nothing better to do than watch the scenery roll by as you get to know a neighbor.

Most railroad stations I've been in immediately beg you to feel nostalgic. Philadelphia's 30th Street Station is no exception. The long wooden pew-like benches fill the waiting area for the trains and the overhead signs are black with white letters that flip into place to announce the incoming and outgoing trains and track numbers. The fast clicking sound echoes off the high ceilings and marble every few minutes.

There's something that appeals to my nomadic heart to have memories of long conversations with strangers as we sat in chairs that swayed as the train clicked along, drinking glasses of wine. Sometimes the conversations are nothing important: reminiscing about television shows of our childhood or sharing tales of favorite vacations. Sometimes, they get more serious. After a few hours one asks me, "Are you happy?" and I can tell he really wants to know. Later, he shares more about his past, about the reasons he is not. There is much time, but not enough to solve these big problems. I silently pray for a wise answers and a way to love my neighbor. The backdrop to our conversations a constantly-changing panorama of rivers and mountains, fields and barns, small towns and big cities. Introvert that I am, I love these long conversations. No one on a long-distance train is ever in a hurry, and something about that "there is no where else to be" mentality keeps my social fear of being a "bother" at bay.

Even when I wasn't talking: there were conversations to overhear.  Like, the one among a mixed-group of men - aged 19 to much older. The oldest wearing a shiny red jacket, ripped at the seams, with the Marine logo and "Vietnam" on the back. He walked with pained effort, gripping the seats as he strove for balance. A younger man, probably in his 30s, stood up and offered this man his seat and then introduced himself as an Afghanistan vet.  Another guy came along - he was currently in the navy. The youngest and the only one not in the service, wanted nothing more than to be a pilot and peppered the men with questions. The Vietnam vet was on his way home from visiting the Vietnam Memorial - he went to touch the names of his fallen brothers. He told stories that you could tell had been told many times, and he even repeated a few during that train ride, but the younger men never shushed him or walked away.  My mind whirled with the implications of war on the lives of these men and the rest of the world, the sadness and loss in their stories only solidifying my beliefs regarding non-violence. But, this was a beautiful moment of respect and dignity and honor.

The return trip had some interesting juxtapositions.  I transferred trains in D.C.  I got off my overnight train with my fellow slow-paced travelers and walked on to a short regional train filled with D.C. Power suits. Though, my seat mate was still chatty. After the two hour ride up to Philly I switched to the local commuter train to get back to my town. No one talked on this train. Eyes forward, ear-buds in, no conversation. We're all tired and going home and it's been a long day. No one cared to know about their neighbor and there wasn't time anyway.

If you are ever travelling across the country and can spare a couple days on at least one end of the journey to slow down, I highly encourage you to take a train trip. This was my first summer train trip and I suggest going during longer daylight hours if at all possible - more time to see. I booked a sleeper car once years ago, and that was nice, but unnecessary. The coach seats lean back and a leg rest pops out. Bring a blanket and a pillow with you and all is well. The tracks will rock you to sleep a midst the company of newly-found neighbors.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

What I've Been Into: March


MY CAR!   I have not owned a car in four years. The first three years were not a big deal at all. Chicago makes a car free life easy, and if I do say, preferable. Suburban Philadelphia? Not so much.  So, with a little money and a lot of help from friends and family - I got myself a car!  It's been on the road longer than I have, has built in cassette tape storage, and a rear-facing third row.  It seats 8 and I am hoping that for however many years it gives me, that I can "pay it forward" on offering rides to others as a thank you to all the people who helped me out when I needed it.  A few days after I got it I spent hours driving and saw a lot of this:

The scenery was a winter wonderland but the roads were clear, so it was a glorious drive!


My roommate introduced me to Songza. I don't know how many times I've said, "I wish Pandora had "I want to dance around the kitchen" station and been sad when they didn't. But songza? Songza does!

Favorite for the aforementioned mood is "Walking on Sunshine" with the description "Some songs just have a certain je ne sais quoi; when you hear them you start skipping down a crowded public street. Embarrassing? Absolutely. Will you care? Not likely." 

I've also made good use of their Thunderstorms playlist when trying to lull myself to sleep. 


I missed Call the Midwife when it first played, but PBS  put it back online so I caught up on that and am excited that season two is starting!

Watch Season 2 Preview on PBS. See more from Call the Midwife.

Babies and British accents, what's not to love?


bought a Kindle edition of most of the Anne of Green Gables series for 99 cents. I stay up way too late at night and give myself some time to escape into fiction. 

I'm really enjoying the essays in Readings in Planning Theory edited by Fainstein and Campbell. Good stuff in there on planning and justice!  If you are a nerd how about cities run and who makes decisions and who gets the short tend of the stick, it's a good read. 


One of the people who helped me out in the car-getting process requestd a key lime cake - so I made this and it was quite yummy!

Definitely a "black coffee" dessert as it was very sweet and tangy.

I was having a burger craving and made this - it was SO GOOD:

And this may be my favorite quinoa dish yet. Make sure you have enough onions to make it through all the qunioa - the onions are a vital part!


I briefly considered buying a scooter until I realized that buying a scooter to accommodate my size would cost WAY more than a car. I think my scooter-ownership desires could be satisfied with this though:

Scooter Pizza Cutter

Other Things:

Started a new job (that makes 4 part time jobs and full-time grad school. I still procrastinate OFTEN. Makes me wonder what I could do if never got lazy and task-avoidant. . . .)

Visited GA for a very quick weekend. Saw friends and family. Went "grocery shopping" in the parents pantry.

Turned 30!  I have a few blog drafts of being introspective about that. Don't know why I haven't published one. I have no problem with the age 30, but looking back at my twenties in hindsight makes me realize what a full-of-life decade that was - ups and downs, plateaus and adventures. It's interesting to contemplate the differences in 20 year old me and 30 year old me. Maybe you'll get one of my self-reflective entries here :)

What have you been into?

Linking up at What I'm Into

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Different Way

A little over ten years ago someone handed me a CD with a sermon on it and said, "listen to this."  I put it in my backpack and forgot about it for a few weeks. I pulled it out though one day and popped it in my CD player and listened.

I was mesmerized. I listened to that sermon over and over again.

It was about Jesus and his disciples. It was about the Jewish understanding of "rabbi." It was about who this group of men were before they followed Jesus and who they were afterwards.

That sermon changed my life. Literally. I started believing different things about God and me. I didn't know it then, still deeply rooted in my conservative Bible-belt Christianity, but that message made me look at the Bible differently.

Not long after that, I sat in the garage-turned-classroom of the college aged Sunday school class at my home church and listened to the teacher talk about scripture as a prism. How the ancient Jews viewed scripture that way, knowing that if you held it up to the light of truth, the colors would refract out in an array of angles, and if you turned it ever so slightly, the pattern would completely change.

And a few years later my heart got broken. By a boy, yes, but mostly by God.  I had been as in love with the boy as I knew what love meant then, but I had trusted God. I had thought I heard God and ignored some warnings in my gut in favor of  the "divine guidance" I thought I heard. In favor of the "voice of God" I had learned to divine through years of pew-sitting and Bible-reading.

So when my heart got broken I was bruised and scarred by the boy for a season, prone to the habits and feelings most broken-hearts endure I am sure. But with God the brokenness felt like a shattering. Stained-glass perfection in a thousands shards that poked and pricked and drew blood no matter which way I stepped it seemed.

I sat in church pews with white knuckled grips on my Bible and left in the middle of more than one "just trust God" sermon.

The broken heart healed first, the shattered soul a while later. Neither are ever the same of course, but I kind of think that's a good thing.

Today, the preacher who preached that sermon on the CD is nationally known, though few knew who he was back in 2003.  He's known for a progressive view of Christianity. He probably gets called a heretic as often as he gets called a saint. I don't agree with all of his views and have never heard another of his sermon's that changed me the way that first did, but that's ok. I needed that first one.

In the years where I struggled to stay committed to a God who I thought had failed me, I kept trying to turn that prism and see the light a different way. It took a while, but I finally got it to move a bit, finally saw another possibility. It didn't wipe away hurt, but it brought some healing.

I am thankful for that now-controversial preacher and for my Sunday school teacher - for daring to suggest that there were other ways to see God, to see scripture, to see myself. I didn't "need" the message on those days, but God preserved the truth in my soul and they served as strings gently tugging me back, holding me tight, during the years when nothing made sense.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

What I've Been Into: February Edition

In the Kitchen:

One day in the middle of the month I went, "Huh, I haven't eaten meat in a week."  And so, I got a little more dedicated to fully switching to vegetarian since I hadn't even noticed.  It's been SO MUCH easier than I had anticipated. I don't have any specific recipes to share - but "Mediterranean Sweet Potatoes" have become a staple meal for me.

Baked Sweet Potato (microwave if short on time, oven if I think ahead enough)
Stuffed with a mixture of olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese, oregano, salt, and pepper.  SO YUM.

And, not my kitchen, but I was having a major falafel craving and found a quite yummy falafel sandwich at Reading Terminal Market in Philly. I may or may not have eaten that for three days straight since it was across the street from where I was for those days . . . . Craving: Satisfied.  I've been pinning falafel recipes, but haven't tried any yet. Hopefully next month!


I have started a pinterest board to keep up with my 2013 reading.  The most interesting this month has definitely been Open Veins in Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. It's a few decades old, but it's very eye opening about global politics and economies.

Source: via Nicole on Pinterest


When I load my Hulu Queue I usually choose "Switched at Birth" first.

I've been surprised by how much I enjoy the sitcom "Go On" - I'm not usually one who likes comedies - but it's a nice little show.

One Word Update:

Source: via Nicole on Pinterest

Enough has never been far from my mind - but I haven't done anything spectacular with processing it this month.  It's just kind of a constant theme. I have noticed that I've been adding "for today" on to the end. "A vegetarian diet is enough for today."  "The work you are doing is enough for today." "This much progress is enough for today."   It's a reminder of daily steps, perseverance, building blocks to a bigger picture. A reminder that rest is good, that our bodies are designed to stop and sleep and nourish themselves. That our minds and mental health are designed for community and silence.  I wouldn't say that I've ever been one to really struggle with self-care in any great way, I've never been the over-achiever who forgoes sleep, food, and other humans in the name of getting ahead. I think if I had through through the word "Enough" more I wouldn't have chosen it because I would've said, "Nah, I"m ok with that" - but I'm glad I chose the word - it's been a focusing word for me in many ways.

Highlights of the Month:

The end of the month was The Justice Conference. The overarching theme seemed to be "perseverance." The reminder that this is a long-haul venture. Change is slow, the work is hard.  This was reiterated to me as I was able to spend a couple days with my urban policy class visiting some dis-invested neighborhoods and talking with people who have been working for change in those areas for decades. They have accomplished so much, and there is still so much to do.  I was struck by how the overwhelming majority of the people working in the neighborhoods I visited were women, and I kind of wanted to shout, "Eshet Chayil!" at all of them.

Here's a video that I really love from the conference:

Is Justice Worth It? feat. Micah Bournes from World Relief on Vimeo.

Looking forward to March:

February was super busy for a variety of reasons. March is a down month in terms of needing to be in specific places at specific times, but it will be full of reading and writing and catching up on everything that got pushed to "not an immediate need" in February.

And, March is birthday month!  Turning 30 this year. It's weirder than I thought it would be - mostly because  (especially as a grad student) I keep seeing/hearing about things that I've aged out of.  Oh well!  I'm happy with my life path - being too old for certain internships just makes the dizzying array of choices smaller. :)

Link up and see what others are into!

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

Sunday, February 10, 2013

administrative note

As you may have noticed, the posts on my adoption advocacy involvement are now gone. This was for a couple of reasons that I won't be going into specifically here.  If you were generous in donating money, please know that the money is still going to help orphans find homes, and thank you for your contribution!  

Friday, February 1, 2013

What I'm into: January


Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the 21st Century

Most of my spring semester classes didn't start until this past Monday, but one did start a few weeks ago. This class is on Urban planning and policy analysis and I am mostly fascinated by it. Really enjoying the book listed above and some of the other reading for the class.

Between finishing up a visit home the first  of the month and working extra hours to buffer the checking account for the busy semester, I didn't have time to read much of anything else in January!  February will have much more reading! ,


Downton Abbey is back!  I do love that show. Thanks to the fact that I watch it online after the fact, I'm having to stay away from twitter on Sunday evenings.

And, also:

That scene literally had me crying. For those who know me and my lack of functioning tear ducts, this will surprise you.  It was a beautiful, beautiful scene. If you don't watch Parenthood, you should.

In the Kitchen:

My love of butternut squash continues.

This recipe for vegan Curried Lentil and Butternut Squash stew was SO GOOD.  It was not very pretty when I made it, but it tasted good. I took it to work for lunch the next day and my boss demanded the recipe as soon as she caught the smell.  (In fair disclosure: my roommate said it smelled like I dumped a jar of applesauce into french onion soup, but she didn't taste it to give a taste judgment, so make your own opinions.)

Butternut Squash and Crispy Sage Pizza

That's the one I made. I'd like to try to get the squash to crisp/blacken up some more, but it was quite yummy!  The leftovers reheated well also (in the oven, not the microwave.)

Picture that I inexplicably love (that I'm sneaking from December)

Hanging out with my nephew

Company I discovered:

Trade As One's "Change for Good" subscription: Learn More

Basically - it appears to be a non-perishable, fair-trade version of a CSA share. I LOVED having a CSA years ago where I had a weekly allotment of fresh-from-a-local-garden vegetables and such to use to cook. Trad As One makes a seasonable box of food and other items and ships it to you. The subscription price seems reasonable for what you get! (It's a bit out of grad-school budget still, but I'm hoping it will still be around when I'm a regular adult again.)  If anyone signs up and gets the boxes - let me know what you think!

For February:

 I'll be there! Anyone else?

I am seriously excited about my classes (mostly. ;) ).   I'm taking one on Global South Theologies and Policies  - and am already appreciating the reading for that.

Link up and see what others are into!

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh