Have you ever gone through the day knowing exactly what you need and feeling to stubborn to pause, reach out, and claim it?  the last few days, i’ve been running around and haven’t stopped to fuel my body properly – lazy, i guess.  but i got to the end of the day and realized that my body would be much more relaxed – and able to fall asleep – if i had drunk water through the day.  usually i balance my rather high coffee intake with equal/greater amounts of pure (lemon-juice-spiked) water, which diffuses the caffeine nicely.  well, i didn’t this time, and by the time i got home after a late night at work and tried to get to sleep, i realized that my whole body was stiff, my head vaguely ached, and my jaw was clenched tight as a spring (i seem to carry all my stress in my brows and my jaw). 

After a long streak of avoiding prolonged time in Scripture and in prayer, I’ve felt the same clenched exhaustion.  The last week has brought more prolonged time in the Word, more relaxed accepting of teaching and influence from the Spirit in quiet times and in groups.  I feel like i’ve just downed a full eight glasses of spiritual spring water.

One of my favorite places to visit anywhere is Rickett’s Glen, Pennsylvania.  There’s a state park there with waterfalls at nearly every turn of the trail, and every time i’ve been there, i’ve been overwhelmed, as though by a cascade, with the apt comparison between the attributes of God and water.  Living water… satisfying our heart’s thirst as the deer is satisfied by streams of water.  Provider of actual, physical water – symbolising all our needs – making water in the desert for the Israelites from a rock. 

(more references are in there – go find them.  i’m going to, too).

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**inspiration for this post came from Mighty Maggie, who recently blogged about why she lives in Seattle – hop on over to the West Coast and say hello!**

i am an Iowan.  I am from the land of corn, soybeans, hogs, and small, sprawl-y city-towns.  Where green and yellow worn together means that you are either a fan of John Deere farm machinery or the Green Bay Packers – in that order.   Where trucking hats are worn without irony.  And where everyone’s mother has an arsenal of casserole recipes at the ready (my favorites: chicken-broccoli and corned beef).

 but i love – dearly – living in philadelphia. 

there are no farm implements here, no john deere references (outside of Urban Outfitters).  There are citified professional folks, and loud hoagie-sellers, and devoted (read: crazy, rude, intense) football fans of the other team that wears green (the Iggles).  there are row homes stacked on top of each other, sandwiched in between the laundromat, the pizza place, and the ethiopian restaurant – and the hippy bike shop.  there are neighborhoods of families who have, for generations, christened, married, and died in one parish.  there are neighborhoods where young men die every day.  and neighborhoods where art emerges like butterflies from crumbling mortar chrysalides. 

there is a neighborhood where i live, tucked up in the third floor with a roommate and a kitchen.  the city makes sense because of my kitchen.  like a pinhole camera, i look at neighborhoods through the shape of food, at their inhabitants through the lense of hospitality.  in my kitchen, i make things from the vegetables i bought in the Clark Park Farmer’s Market, or dive into the nan I ordered from the Pakistani restaurant, or nibble on sweet bread from the Reading Terminal.  I bake cinnamon rolls and take them to a West Philly church-brunch, or friends come in and we share stories of SEPTA regulars (Philly public transit) over bottles of beer.  if i cook with red wine (which i love but am usually too cheap to buy for myself), i feel like i’m steppin’ up to an Old City level of sophistication.  If I pull out a pizza box for a classic pie, I feel in touch with my inner South Philadelphian.   Before I venture out to explore, I pack my pockets with snack food from the Trader Joe’s in Center City, where I encounter all the environmentally-conscious foodies that swarm to cheap organic salad dressing like bees to sustainably-farmed honey. 

From my kitchen, I just want to love on this city.  There are other places from where, well, maybe a casual handshake will do, but this post is about the love, and me and my kitchen have it bad for this city of the brotherly sort.   

one other thing that makes me irrationally happy… making food that just works…  i’m not sure i could duplicate the recipe if i needed to, but last night, this was delicious…

 based, very loosely, on a panzanella (italian bread salad), i added a whole garden full of fall veggies in lieu of the purist tomato/cucumber/basil combo.  i cubed and pan-fried some butternut squash and eggplant, then briefly roasted some onion half-moons… broiled some bell pepper strips and diced tomato, and tossed everything together in a bowl with a torn-up loaf of sourdough from my local artisan bakery – then drizzled with a wee bit of balsamic vinegar.  and then topped with toasted, slivered almonds.  somehow, the bright tanginess of the peppers and tomatoes, the sweet heft of the onions, and the mellow nuttiness of the squash and eggplant (accented by the smoky crunch of the almonds) worked perfectly against the  sour softness of the bread.  and the vinegar just sort of took all the flavors to eleven, so to speak! 

 i can brag about this without shame because it was a nearly accidental combination.  these were simply all the vegetables that were still in my produce drawer after a happy visit to the farmer’s market last week.   i took the resultant salad to my church small group potluck, where the hostess had, coincidentally, fixed a roast pork tenderloin for the main dish – which was absoulutely the perfect flavor and texture for the salad to support!  oh, we feasted.  three cheers for food-serendipity. (c:

Open studio day, walking around under sunshine and burnt-gold leaves with friends

looking at creative, interesting, innovative art

 eating eggplant with tomatoes and garlic

finally figuring out how to cook lentils

baking cookies without burning them (i hate setting a timer)

coming home from the farmer’s market with armfuls of produce, locally grown.

cooking said produce and eating it.

mixing spices as one mixes paints, extemporaneously, and achieving a perfect, though previously unknown, balance of flavors.

moving the pen just so across the paper to form letters that are lovely to look at just for their lines, completely apart from what they mean as pieces of language.

dancing the night away, figuring out how to improvise steps to a song that just won’t let you stay still.

espresso.  strong.  rich.

kneading bread dough with my hands.

tucking in my sofa’s slipcovers until they finally look neat and tidy. 

scrubbing my kitchen sink until it shines.

perfect electric guitar tone.

the new album by Feist.

the website for Over the Rhine (www.overtherhine.com).

travelling.

i’ve been getting into swing dancing lately – have any of you ever tried it? 

 [ha! i say “any of you” as though speaking to some mass of people.  unless “mass” is defined by “one – sometimes,” i am, perhaps, delusional.  (c:  but on with the delusion!]

i love it.  i have had so very much fun, and i think i’m learning a good bit.  the great part about the social dances i’ve been to is that they start out with a lesson where all the “leads” (usually guys) stay put and all the “follows” (usually girls) rotate around to different partners for the duration of the lesson.  this is a great way to learn from folks who know a little more and/or to learn by helping others figure out something new.  i’ve learned all sorts of new twists and turns and sharpened my basic skills by dancing with guys who have been doing this for years. 

 though, undoubtedly, a great burden is placed on the men who lead, i’m learning that there is, in fact, an art to the follow….

you have to actually. follow.

 with apologies for the split infinitive, it’s true.  you can’t just get complacent in the rhythm of the dance and execute expected moves.   a couple might go through a whole song without varying from the basic “side, side, rock-step” pattern – but the lead might also change it up randomly, leaving the follow to rock-step out of turn when he’s trying to get her ready to do some cool new spin.   or, worse – she might start to lead him into moves that she wants, mixing him up and throwing him off his role in the dance.

 i usually go dancing with two guy friends, and they’re great dancers.  They’re really nice guys off the dance floor, and they are equally gracious (as well as talented) on.  They’re also very helpful in pointing out how I can improve my form. 

For example, friend A and I were trying to learn the Lindy Hop one evening – and for two die-hard East Coast Swing dancers, this is a bit of a trick at first.  We were trying to master the basic step – the swing-out – and were having a bit of trouble.  I was the main problem: I kept trying to travel where I thought the step was going, fighting friend A’s guidance for where I ought to be. this past weekend, though, i think we got it.  for me, that meant catching the rhythm so that i could properly follow – much more than just sort of hanging on the end of the guy’s arm, waiting to be spun, dipped, etc.   i’m catching on to the idea that you have to let the guy know you’re there – that you’re ready to follow him.  he’ll lead if he has an idea that you’ll come with him. 

 it’s easy to consider following a passive act, but it involves holding your body in gentle opposition to his – responding with slight pressure to his hand in yours, or leaning into his hand on your back.  definitely, you have to trust that he won’t just forget you’re there and move his hand.  to lead, he has to pay attention to his follow.  in fact, one of his main jobs is to make her look good – to create a sequence of steps that show off her movements.  one of my favorite moves to dance is the pretzel, for exactly this reason: at the beginning of the count, the lead lifts both the girls hands up overhead, letting her far hand go and letting her near arm slide against his for several counts as she does her own shimmy-thang at the other end.  sure, he gets to swivel around a bit, too, but it’s the girl, with her swirly skirt and hips, that really gets to show off.  it’s his job to make sure she gets to shimmy her heart out for that measure.

i’m not married yet, but this always makes me think of the interaction between a married couple.  there are clearly defined roles, and one person is the designated “lead,” but that doesn’t mean that the “follow” just rolls over and plays dead, to be dragged along through life.  it means that she keeps close to him, watching what he’s doing, trusting him, and responding to his cues.  and at certain points in the dance, she gets to shimmy her heart out.  (c:

the other night, i was staring absentmindedly out my bedroom window – it’s what a daydreamer does.  an absent gaze was interrupted, though, when i realized that a male silhouette had just crossed the backlit window of an apartment across the street.  i’m embarrassed to admit that my first thought was curiosity (and a desire to watch what story might unfold) – i think we all have a little voyeur inside, don’t we? and then my second thought: avert your eyes. 

he may be moving around, backlit, in front of windows without drapes, but his proximity to my view does, by no means, grant me privileged access to his actions.  i have an unwritten responsibility to supplement his thin curtains by veiling my view – as a matter of respect, and a matter of hope (that others will do the same for me).   it got me thinking about a lot of things in the city that fall in one’s field of vision – things one is not supposed to see.

i’m not supposed to see the anger in a high school student’s face- even though we’re pressed against one another in the crowded bus for blocks as i go to work and he goes to school.  in the bus, one is only supposed to see three things: the fare box, an empty seat, and the please-stop-here cord.  anyone looking anywhere else transgresses with his eyes. 

i’m not sure i’m supposed to see people on the sidewalk in my neighborhood, either.  i’ve taken to saying hello to people i meet.  i’ve tried to adopt the (west?) philly “how’y’doin” (with a nod) that doesn’t really intend to ask how someone is doing – it just says hello in a courteous, respectful way.  but it’s been a struggle – because though sometimes i get a friendly smile in return, it’s often a stone-cold stare right past me.  those people have averted their eyes – and they’d appreciate it if i did the same. 

there are circumstances that are supposed to be invisible: the guy sleeping in the doorway of the Center City apartment building; the kid panning for change at the train station; the broken-out car window that’s like the calling card of the neighborhood drug addict.  if you acknowledge the visibility of these things, you’ve entered into them – and you can’t get out without sharing the blame or finding a fix.  most times, it’s just easier not to look.

but if we stop looking, will we forget how to see? how long can we avert our eyes before we go blind? 

 (and how can i keep looking without going off a deep end?  if i look, how can i help but appropriate what i see?  i guess one needs to balance out the bad that will creep in to every field of vision by seeking, deliberately, the good that can be found if looked-for.  is this why we are exhorted, in Scripture, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith?  is this why nothing makes sense to the Psalmists until they considered God’s deeds throughout history – until they reflected on His sovereignty, power, and goodness?  )

marvelous vegetable, the zucchini. y’know, i never had really eaten it before this past year. this summer has been the summer of the great green squash: it’s my new best veggie friend…(c:

i never used to enjoy summer. It’s always been, for me, the time when people leave -or when i leave people. for a girl who craves and savors stability, summertimes gained a very bad reputation as the season of shuffling: first, older friends left for college. then i left for college. for years, good-byes in may and new good-byes in august bookended warm months and disallowed any settled pattern or community. first it was just moving 100 miles back and forth from my hometown to my college town (go cyclones!), but then I moved 1000 miles away from home, and summers were far from home and filled with studies, then with a new job…

but last summer was a golden summer: a steady group of folks settled in the same neighborhood, and i began to think warmth was not so bad. community was in place.

beyond the people-factor, silly as it sounds, my love for a season hinges heavily on the aesthetics that season presents. what kind of food can i cook? and (yes, i am this shallow) what kind of clothes can i wear? autumn has always claimed the yearly throne in this area: what can compare with a pot of homemade applesauce bubbling on the stove and a cosy corduroy jacket or warm, deep-colored scarf?

but this year, i discovered (read: was introduced to by loving friends) summer clothing and summer vegetables. 

before, i have been happy to slog out the summer in winter layers (that is, i don’t buy any short-sleeve shirt that i can’t wear under a winter sweater later on — nothing bright and sunny-colored; mainly black, white, olive, dark blue, and brown. eek.). my roommate, lover of sun and warmth, tried to help me devise a summer outfit before we went out one night and ended up delving into her own closet to help me find a top that didn’t make my summer skirt look like winter. So i took myself to macy’s and, with much deliberation, bought a light-weight eyelet blouse, lightweight shorts, and a pale orange polo shirt (short sleeves! not remotely layer-able!).

even more remarkable… i actually shopped for and bought a cute, bright green 2-piece swimsuit and beach towel this year and, with the company of aforementioned Roommate and lovely friend Joy, went to the shore two or three times. previous visits to the beach involved the swimsuit i purchased in eighth grade. i’m now twenty-seven. while it’s nice that the suit i bought back then still fit well enough to work (when paired judiciously with a pair of shorts), it was time to retire the speedo one-piece that was hardly fashionable even then. so in the new suit, with trusty, sun-lovin’ friends, i even managed to get a little tan this summer! for a pasty-white girl of german-irish descent, that is a very major accomplishment.  thanks to the lovely Roommate and Miss Joy.

my other discovery was summer vegetables. my marvelous local farmer’s market (and my friend Ben, who’s the master of garden-based cooking) introduced the wonders of the zucchini, simply sauteed with tomatoes and other sundry summer veg. amazing! for very little oven output, you get a bright-tasting, nutritious, and cheap dinner. i made a variant last night and was happy all evening … sauteed onions and garlic, cubed a zucchini, and added a gorgeous heirloom tomato. when everything had softened a bit, i tossed it all with whole wheat couscous and was happy as a summer-lovin’ clam.  thanks, Ben.

so summer. i’m actually a little sad to see it go! in my memory, this will be the season i reveled in community, a community that taught me to love orange shirts, accompanied me to the beach of green swimsuits … and introduced the zucchini. long live the zucchini.

a friend of mine from south asia recently put her finger exactly on that part of my anglo/germanic middle-american heritage that has always eluded me. or rather, i have always thought i eluded it.

i don’t think i’ve done this consciously, but over the last seven years, i have systematically stepped out of my cultural upbringing. i dated an asian guy for two years. i moved to the east coast. i spent a year and a half writing my thesis on an italian-american family living in manhattan’s lower east side. i even figured out a reason to live in new york for the project. in. new. york. me. in the big city. on my own. and now i live in another big mid-atlantic city! i’ve even learned to cook everything but my mother’s recipes (just let me know when you’re coming over: i’ll either have sicilian red sauce for the penne or ghanaian chicken in the pot for you (and neither are found in the family cookbook)).

i’m beginning to wince on behalf of my background.

i’ve been so busy appreciating other places/cultures/backgrounds that i have disrobed my own of its rightful, modest significance. . . and really, in context, i struggle to appreciate any sort of significance to my own background. politically, i tend to run in rather liberal circles, and it’s not popular there to be a reasonably well-off middle-class girl who’s not only white, but also anglo-saxon and protestant (w.a.s.p.).

i just got back from a business trip to the near midwest, and i found myself in a home-like environment: the land was flat; the accents were homey (round “o” , flat “a” ). in spite of myself, i remembered how fond i am of all the sounds and tastes and sights that are home/heritage for me. it made me incredibly homesick and has made me realize how much i judge people from my own social background: how can they live with much and not do something to help those who have little? but then, how can i presume to know that they’re not doing something to help? more importantly, am i doing the thing for which i wrongly judge them?

as i was sharing all this with a globetrotting, midwesterly-rooted friend over dinner last night, he humbly challenged me to consider what i was doing myself to respond to my own frustrations. i was properly put in my place, and have been considering more pro-active ways to express frustrations. with my time and my material resources, i want to be purposeful about putting action behind words. first stop: applying to volunteer with an organization reaching out to kids in rough spots through the arts… check out http://www.buildabridge.org/. hope to be able to help out there in the next couple of months… it’s just one step, but it’s a step.

and it’s a step toward realizing that the problem is not where i’m from, or what my background is ethnically/socially/economically. God has given me all that’s in my heritage for reasons He knows and can use. He has also blessed me with beautiful opportunities to know people and places with different cultures – I love it! but He has not given those opportunities and that affection so that I could grow discontent with the life He has planned out for me. How ungrateful, and how whiny I can be!! Seriously, my heart gets quickly ugly with this sort of sin, and is so easily caught up in popular attitudes that I trip over envy and land flat on my face. Instead, may He fill my heart with thankfulness for His sovereign plan and with faithfulness to love Him by loving others!

The best wedding of the season, by far, was my little brother Kyle, who married his love, Amy, on April 21.

I couldn’t be happier that he chose her to join our family – what a blessing she is! She complements him perfectly, and their wedding was a really eloquent expression of who they are together.

Beyond the fact that the groom was my much-loved brother, this was the most beautiful wedding I’ve seen. Aesthetically, it was lovely: a mid-nineteenth century church – complete with picturesque churchyard – elegant flowers, lovely colors, gorgeous gown — even a picture-perfect spring afternoon! But it was the meaning and symbolism behind each part of the ceremony that was very, very special.

My brother and his (now) wife love Jesus more than anything. They opened their wedding by singing His praise, and they centered their vows on His instructions for their love to one another. They paused to wash each other’s feet in the middle of the ceremony, offering a vivid illustration of Christ’s service to His followers, and of their desire each to serve the other in the same way. One set of readings, from Song of Songs, was read in response by Rob and Sonia, husband and wife who are both dear friends of Kyle and Amy, and it was surprisingly fresh to hear each part read by a lover and his beloved.

I was honored to stand up with them as a bridesmaid, and from where I stood I had a straight line of sight to where my parents sat in the front left pew. We none of us kept back tears at our deep, deep happiness for Kyle. Goodness, I’m tearing up just writing this! I very much doubt that I can express how special this day was. I’ll let some pictures serve as my best attempt…



Taking a brief break from wedding posts (one more to come)…

I am so incredibly energized by people who live and move and even breathe with passion. There is something really precious to me about conversations with a person whose whole being pulses with what he/she is saying. After small group last night, I got to chat with a friend, Sarah, who I’ve just recently met. She’s in the middle of a Ph.D. in education, and is deeply moved by / moving towards real reform in urban public education. Seeing kids learn and understand on their own lights her eyes, and it was easy to see that the only thing giving her patience right now, since she can’t be in the classroom, is studying to make that classroom better once she gets back to it.

Hearing her story, the things that led her to be where she is now, was one of those conversations where, as my dad used to say, “if that don’t light your fire, your wood must be wet!” It reminded me of how many folks in my life right now are like that, and how much i appreciate them… and how earnestly I want to be that sort of person, myself.

The city is a discourse,
and this discourse is truly a language:
the city speaks to its inhabitants;
we speak our city,
the city where we are,
simply by living in it,
by wandering through it,
by looking at it.

- R o l a n d B a r t h e s

::listening::

The Decemberists - Picaresque Over the Rhine - Trumpet Child NPR - Morning Edition

::feasting::

Target tortilla chips (surprisingly, addictingly good) Espresso

::reading::

Jane Austen - Mansfield Park Mark