Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sometimes It’s OK to Throw Food Away

Recently my mom gave me some white cucumbers.

They were supposed to be white. That was the weird part.

To me, green is a nice healthy color. It screams, “Eat me! I’ve got something your body needs!” White vegetables are fine—I’m fond of jicama and cauliflower, and russet potatoes are fine. But on a vegetable that I normally think of as green, white screams, “I’m dead! I’m decomposing! Don’t eat me!”

Despite my vegetable color inhibitions, I was willing to give the ghostly cucumbers a try.

The only problem was, I don’t really know how to use cucumbers. I enjoy the fresh taste of cucumbers on sandwiches, but one cucumber cut into slices goes a long way, and I not only had my mom’s two anemic-looking cucumbers, but I also had two healthier-looking green cucumbers.  And I only wanted to eat so many sandwiches.

Plus, these last few weeks have been incredibly busy for me and I didn’t anticipate having much time to cook in the near future.

I could picture what would happen: those white cucumbers would sit in the fridge, slowing getting rubbery and shriveled and all the while becoming even more unappetizing. Then my mom would call and want to know how I liked the cucumbers she sent me. Having grown these cucumbers by the sweat of her brow, picked them, cleaned them, and sent them with my dad all the way from Minnesota to Iowa would mean that my mom has affection for and pride in these pale vegetables that I just didn’t want to shatter.

I needed a quick fix for my cucumbers.

As luck would have it, when I was working at the library just one day later, a cookbook came in through our drop box that I happened to pick up and peruse.

That cookbook just happened to have a cucumber soup in it.

That cucumber soup just happened to call for 11 cucumbers.

I didn’t have 11 cucumbers, but I thought, “I’m an experienced enough cook, right? I can improvise a little bit, right?”

So, that’s just what I did. I added the vinegar and the honey to the chopped and peeled cucumber pieces. I let it marinate overnight. And then I pureed the whole mess with an avocado.

It was during the pureeing that I first began to notice how quiet my husband was.
It was when I set the big bowl of cold green soup on the table that I realized my husband’s silence had nothing to do with being tired from work.

Here is what my husband saw:

My husband, who for me will eat kidney beans and tofu instead of meat, who will calmly consume Brussels sprouts and cabbage, was turning his nose up at the cucumber soup.

His upturned nose proved to be a premonition because, as it turns out, neither of us could stand the texture like watery applesauce and the strong flavor of vinegar.

We had a whole big bowlful of cold cucumber soup.

What to do?

You guessed it: I threw it all away.

The whole bowl of soup poured into a Ziploc bag and dropped in the garbage.

I raged at myself inwardly for a few minutes—my inability to recognize a terrible recipe, my waste of a delicious avocado, my callous misuse of my mom’s hard-earned cucumbers.

But I finally decided to give myself some grace. As much of a perfectionist as I am, sometimes in my life, it really will be necessary to give up, throw out what I’ve been working on, and start over.

Of course, lessons can and should be learned, such as:

“Read through ingredients critically before you throw them together.”

And, “Make smaller batches when trying new recipes.”

Or, “Don’t make a chilled cucumber soup. Ever.”

I suppose my mom will eventually want to know what happened to her white cucumbers. I will be truthful. And when I share with her the picture of our chilled cucumber soup, I’m pretty sure she will agree that sometimes it’s OK to throw food away.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Cacophony of Praise

My husband’s sister and her husband were in ‘the adoption process’ when I met them three and a half years ago. This adoption process finally drew to a close two weeks ago.

Most of those three and a half years were spent in the chaotic flurry of paperwork and government red tape that is only fully appreciated by those who have adopted a baby from another country, but the last ten months have been a bit—and I say a bit—more understandable for the rest of us who watch and pray from the sidelines.

Ten months ago my husband’s sister and her husband had a baby boy in Ethiopia referred to them. Or they were referred to him. Now I’m not sure on the terminology. In any case, suddenly last October, we had the face and name of a baby to color our prayers.

Two weeks ago, my sister- and brother-in-law finally brought this baby home.

A great deal of prayer has been directed from my lips and heart toward God on their behalf throughout this process, and I was eager, oh so eager, to finally meet this baby and see the fruition of so many prayers.

My husband and I were finally able to meet this little boy (for he’s no longer really a baby—he walks, runs, and smiles a beautiful eight-tooth smile) this past weekend.

We drove to my husband’s parents’ house for our annual family gathering. My husband’s three siblings and their spouses all congregate and we enjoy a weekend of family and fun.

This was the first year with a third generation present at this particular family gathering and it was a welcomed change for all involved.

Our family’s dynamics are changing, and with each change and passing year, we see God gently leading, guiding, and loving our family.

We chose to forego church on Sunday morning in favor of a family worship time. My husband was in charge of picking and leading music, and one of the songs he picked was the familiar hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.

I closed my eyes as we lifted up the refrain to our Heavenly Father, while my newly adopted little nephew added his own vocal interjections (and that boy has some lungs on him).

Three and a half years is a long time. Ten months is longer still when there is a specific child waiting for his parents, but in that moment God’s faithfulness to me, to our family, crystallized for an instant from a misty promise into a glitteringly beautiful truth.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness;
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Epilogue to an Anniversary Date

I have been away at a family gathering over the weekend or I would have shared my anniversary date epilogue sooner.

Because our anniversary date was almost a week ago and, frankly, old news, I only bring it up now to brag on the selflessness and patience of my husband.

At the risk of sounding a little bit unstable, I would like to share a secret about my imagination.

Under certain circumstances, it cannot be stopped.

Any combination of these certain circumstances may or may not cause my imagination to run rampant; that’s how tricky it is.

These circumstances are:
1) an event that causes my routine to deviate widely from the norm
2) caffeine overstimulation
3) an intense or scary movie that shatters my fragile nerves

By celebrating our anniversary, all of these conditions were neatly met:
1) I left work early, we got dressed up, and we drove to a far-away neighboring city to celebrate an anniversary.
2) We ate a deliciously heavy piece of chocolate cake filled with chunks of Kaluha chocolate at the restaurant.
3) We decided on our way home to rent and watch a new Redbox movie as a way to relax and enjoy the last few hours of our anniversary celebration.

I’m not even going to say what movie we rented because I know that the majority of people who have seen this movie were most likely not phased by it in the least. Suffice it to say, it was a ‘thinking’ movie.

And when I couldn’t fall asleep later that night because of all of the unwelcome ‘thinking’ my imagination was doing, my husband was patient enough to be woken up at 1:00 in the morning without a fuss and rub my arm for a while to help me relax.

In fact, he had the opportunity to display his exemplary patience and self-sacrifice a second time when he was awoken at 1:00 in the morning the following night by a wife who could not seem to shake the effects of that oh-so-griping Redbox movie.

Yes, I am very, very blessed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A New Place, A New Anniversary

Monday, August 15, was my two-year wedding anniversary.

My husband was kind enough to plan our anniversary date, even though I didn’t ask him to do the planning in a very gracious way. Because I love Italian food, he made reservations at a nice Italian restaurant in a larger town nearby.

On Tuesday, the designated day to celebrate, we got dressed up and drove 50 miles to this nice Italian restaurant. (Yes, I know I said “nearby.” In rural small-town Iowa, a town 50 miles away still qualifies.)

My husband and I have unconsciously eased into a tradition of taking pictures of each other across the booth when we’re sitting in a restaurant. We often take a picture before food arrives, just after food arrives, and then again while eating. And often we take pictures just of the food. So, after two years of marriage, we have quite a series of booth pictures and food pictures.

Taking our booth pictures on Tuesday night reminded me of just how much our situation has changed in the last year.

When we celebrated our first anniversary last year, we used a five dollar Baker’s Square gift card that I was gifted for some surprisingly unspectacular action… closing a checking account, or something. We purchased pie and coffee and were careful to stay within the five dollars.

The reason we were careful to stay within five dollars was because we were at the moment semi-homeless and definitely jobless. I say semi-homeless because we were staying with my husband’s parents, who had very graciously opened their home to us for a limited amount of time while we tried to find jobs.

For the purpose of this post, I will not explain the reason that my husband and I were simultaneously jobless, but for those of you with overly active imaginations, we had not participated in any illegal or otherwise –unacceptable-on-the-jobsite activity. We had been trying to find jobs for at least two and a half months, and stress had become a constant, though unfriendly, companion.

We tried to make light of our anniversary and enjoy having made it through a year of marriage quite successfully (in our opinions). We had the camera and were busy taking our booth photos when the woman in the booth behind my husband turned around and asked us to stop taking pictures. She was paranoid, she said, and she did not want to be in our pictures.

Consider the tremulous bubble of happiness that I had managed to produce up until this point popped.

I left my key lime pie on the table and rushed off to cry in the bathroom for about fifteen minutes.

We managed to salvage that anniversary date with a walk around a random neighborhood near the Baker’s Square, but all in all, I have hoped ever since that all of my anniversary dates would be better than that one.

Our date was better this year.

We took our booth pictures this year.

We were not interrupted by a paranoid person.

We have a home.

We have jobs.

We are very blessed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Putting the Zumba Test to My Self-Esteem

Somehow I survived the period of time between my fifteenth birthday and my twentieth birthday without the deluge of insecurity and dissatisfaction with physical appearance that seems to pour down over the Unite State’s female population.

Shortly after I turned 20, however, those feelings snuck up from behind, wrestled me to the ground, and I’ve been trying to thrust them from my person ever since.

There have been days that the weight of those feelings has been a heavy weight to carry, indeed. These days, though, in general find me stronger and the weight of insecurity and personal dissatisfaction is not as overpowering.

That was, however, until I decided to attend a dance-aerobics class.

A friend of mine had asked a few times if I would like to join her at a Zumba class in the local dance studio.

Zumba? What in the world is Zumba? As I was to find out, Zumba is a robust and lively blend of aerobics and Latin dance. Having grown up in a reserved semi-conservative Christian household, I should have predicted immediately that Zumba and I would not be bosom buddies on first contact.

However, attend a Zumba class I did.

I arrived before my friend, and stood around awkwardly in my baggy running shorts and t-shirt. It was a bit of a stretch to show up at a dance class filled with toned, artificially tanned high school girls, and I felt stretched almost to breaking when I realized that the dance teacher fit right in with those perfectly shaped bodies.

The girls were nice enough. At least, they completely ignored my friend and me, which in my opinion was highly preferable to the only alternative I could imagine: overt derision and ridicule.

The ‘class’ was going fine, in my opinion. (Though I hardly dare call it ‘class,’ as that word invokes the idea of guided learning. This experience was more akin to a baby eagle’s moment of being booted from the nest to ‘learn’ to fly.) I found that if I focused only on the teacher and pretended I was a marionette, whose every body part was made to move in tandem with hers, I could actually follow along quite well. I could imagine that my body was undulating fluidly, gracefully.

I was a ribbon, rippling effortlessly with the music.

Until I got a glimpse of myself in the wall of mirrors (which I began to refer to as the Wall of Shame) at the front of the room.

This is what I saw: a tiny pale head on a thin pale neck, skinny arms, skinny legs, all protruding from a shapeless baggy center.

And I was not undulating gracefully. Nor was I a ribbon rippling with the music.

I was a scarecrow, arms and legs flailing; a chicken, with neck, torso and limbs jutting at every angle, in movements seemingly unconnected with each other.

Watching myself only seemed to make the flailing worse. Eventually I gave up in despair and turned my attention back to my lithe, scintillating instructor. Gone were delusions of my Zumbra prowess.

And yet… and yet I was still able to enjoy myself. Yes, ignorance may have been a bit more blissful, but I found I was able to enjoy the feeling of my body in motion, able to enjoy the challenge of making my movements mirror the teacher’s.

As long as I didn’t turn my attention back on myself.

Biking home after my Zumba ordeal, I reflected. Isn’t life so often like that? When I put the focus on me—on my happiness, on my appearance, on my stuff—I am unhappy.

I don’t want to carry the metaphor too far and compare watching a Zumba instructor to keeping my eyes on God. The one simple thought was enough for me: keep your eyes off of yourself.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New (for me) Form of Prayer

I struggle with prayer. Mostly, I struggle with staying focused.

For example, I may start out praying for my little sister. A few seconds later, though, I realize that I also wanted to pray for the victims of the latest natural disaster that I read about in the news. Then I may remember that I never spent time confessing sins that I know need to be confessed, which might lead me to praying for a coworker I dislike and want to learn to love. Then my thoughts may start wandering to the to-do list I have sitting on my desk at work and I start making a mental note of things I forgot to put on the list in the first place. I start to worry that I won’t have time to get everything done that day, and I pull out my planner to write down the absolutely imperative things I’m afraid I’ll forget.

Before I know it, I’ve worried myself right out of prayer and into the nitpicky details of my daily life. At that point, if I’m feeling especially tenacious, I’ll try to discipline and quiet my mind back into a prayerful state, but if I’m feeling anything less than the utmost motivation, I’ll give up and move onto the rest of my morning routine before leaving for work.

Because I struggle so much with prayer, I try to learn more about prayer. And because there are oh-so-many books about prayer, I know I am not alone in my struggle.

An acquaintance of mine introduced me to new book on prayer recently: Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God. The back of the book describes that this form of prayer “…can take as little or as much time as you have or want to commit… Drawing is half the prayer, the other half is transporting the visual memories or actual images with you to pray throughout the day.”

I was inspired, and after reading through the book (a quick read), I took my somewhat inflexibly pragmatic brain to task. I’ve included some of my most recent in-color prayers. The first one shows my prayer through and meditation on a psalm:

The second one here shows a prayer of frustration about a sin I struggle with, as well as prayers for some organizations that my husband and I support. (The name of a missionary we support has been whited out of the shape on the right.)

Because I tend to be a visual learner, this has helped me call to mind prayers throughout the day when I normally wouldn’t think to pray.

And, let’s be honest, the bold colorful result at the end of a prayer time is also part of why I like this prayer form. Sometimes I just want a tangible result to my prayers, and this is one way to gratify that desire a little bit without trying to force God into a corner and demand that He make the prayer time feel worthwhile before I leave the act of prayer.

This prayer form takes more time than what I usually allot myself to pray, but the results are a richer and more focused time of prayer.

I think I’ll continue to pray in color, at least sometimes.

While I wait, I also learn to pray.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A New Perspective on the Size of Our House

Demographics are rapidly changing in our little Iowa town. I like this a lot. I love getting to know people who come from a different culture than me, and right now, this is the place to be for cross-cultural interaction.

Ten years ago the town I live in was about 99% white, and most of those people were of Dutch decent. Today the percentage of people of Latin American decent has risen to be about 12% of our town’s population. That’s a big change in ten years.

After having lived for many years in the Minneapolis/St. Paul suburbs, living in a small town with a wide socioeconomic range has been intriguing and exciting. White flight has already begun, sadly, and parts of our small town are starting to look like uniform suburbs, but the demographic change has been so rapid that affluence is forced to brush up uncomfortably against poverty.

This is good for me.

My husband and I rent a little house that meets our needs very nicely. It’s not big—a kitchen with a dining nook, a living room, a tiny bathroom (though it does have a bathtub, not just a shower), one small bedroom, and a dank, dreary insect-infested basement. The only time I think the house isn’t meeting our needs is when friends or family come through and we can’t offer them any place to stay for the night except the floor in front of our loveseat. Sometimes I want at least one more bedroom.

While we wait for the pitter patter of little feet in our home, my husband and I have been trying to get to know people in this little town. So, we joined a Bible study with people from our church, and in the interest of wanting to get to know people from the Latino community, I’ve started cooking monthly with a group of Latina ladies I met through the library.

Both the Bible study and the cooking group rotate from home to home of those participating in the group.

When we rotate to different homes in our Bible study, I start to feel dissatisfied. The Bible study is all young couples, and only two of the five couples in our study have children. However, all of the couples except us own nice, new-looking houses. With multiple bedrooms.

How, you might ask, do very young couples afford large brand-new houses? I haven’t the faintest idea.

When the Bible study took place at our house in June, I was nervous. We hadn’t yet gotten our window air condition unit, and the temperature in the house was hovering around 83 degrees. In order to get everyone in a circle to be able to discuss our study materials, we had to pull literally every chair that we owned, from the desk chair, to the dining room table chairs, to the flimsy card table chairs that we keep downstairs. It all felt inadequate, after sitting on puffy sofas for Bible study in other homes.

In July the cooking group came to my house. All five women, including myself, clustered in the kitchen, bumping into each other while we cooked, while the five children who had come played with the toys I borrowed from the library’s story hour supplies.

One of the ladies present had not been in the United States long. Always eager to practice my Spanish-speaking skills, I chatted with her a little bit outside before everyone returned home. She was wondering, she said, how many people lived in my house with me.

“Just my husband and I,” I told her.

“Oh.” She paused and looked at the house behind me. “Only two people in your whole house!”

After everyone had gone, I went back inside our house and looked around. From where I stood by the front door, I could see into every room in the house, but I looked at each room with a fresh perspective.

Only us in this whole, big blessing of a house.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Something I’m Not Doing While Waiting

After my husband and I got married I was impatient to start a garden, but the right opportunity didn’t present itself until this spring.

We had been in an apartment of some kind from September of 2009 through August of 2010. We moved into a new rental house in September. Some water damage in the basement before we moved in had necessitated digging up a plot of the grass in front of the house.

By November of 2010, our landlady had not refilled the area in with grass seeds, so I planted some daffodil bulbs. By spring of 2011 I still had a big blob of dirt in front of the daffodils, which left me with the perfect garden plot.

So, I planted an in-ground garden:

I planted onions, carrots, and lettuce.

I had also been reading about container gardening and decided to try my hand at that:

In my containers I planted a tomato plant, a red pepper plant, and some herbs.

That was in May, and I still  was diligently lugging jugs of water from the back of the house by the container garden to the in-ground garden in the front of the house. By the end of June I had some beautiful lettuce leaves to harvest and eat. I had planted three four-foot rows of lettuce. I’ll remember for next year that, unless I plan on lettuce being my main dish in every meal for about a month, I need to plant less lettuce. Much less.

Then work, vacation, and oppressively humid days got in the way. The container garden continued to receive care and attention (water), but the in-ground garden was left to fend for itself.

When we came back from vacation, my lettuce plants had spiked to about two feet high, and I decided they were no longer edible.

Because the lettuce plants had turned unsightly and flourishing weeds added to the unsightliness, I completely put the in-ground garden out of my thoughts except for a casual glance on my way in and out of the front door. I continued to water the container garden. I’ve now been harvesting tomatoes from the containers on a regular basis.

Finally last week I could no longer ignore the in-ground garden. I tied my hair back, set my mouth in a grim line, went outside, and pulled up the lettuce plants, which were by then almost as tall as me. I watered the one carrot plant that survived the summer, and I pulled up most of the onion bulbs. Though the bulbs only got to be about two inches in diameter, I’m pretty proud of how they’ve survived without any help from me.

This is my in-ground garden now:

Notice the daffodils? Nope, you can’t. They’re covered over with a healthy layer of weeds that I have yet to tackle.

This is my container garden now:

It wins the favorite child award.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Current Waiting Situation

This evening I told my husband that I had decided to start a blog. Then I asked him, “What would make people want to read a blog?”

He answered, “Well, people generally read a blog if it has an interesting story to tell or if the writer is especially entertaining.”

Oh dear.

I definitely don’t have an interesting story to tell, so that one’s out the window. And as for being especially entertaining… I truly doubt it.

I would love to be a mommy right now, or very soon, but for one reason or another (sorry, no specifics yet) my husband and I are not parents and do not expect to be parents in the near future. So, the story of this blog, interesting or not, is contentment while waiting. More specifically, it’s what I do with my time while I’m trying to contently wait to have that first little one.

My husband and I live in a small-ish farming town in northwest Iowa. No wait! Don’t leave! Bear with me.

We’ve been married for just shy of two years.

My husband is creative. I think he’d probably be able to make our life sound a whole lot more exciting than me, if he ever had an inclination to write a blog. He spends most of his free time intent upon the laptop that sits on top of our piano, with ear bugs in his ears, composing music. I think his songs are interesting and very well-done, but he would shrug that off, probably thinking that I’m not really qualified to give musical advice.

Even though he loves music, he’s the sort of quiet person who would be incredibly unhappy if he had to lead a workshop on some aspect of music composition and would much prefer to be the anonymous person in the kitchen washing up dishes after the conference lunch was served. (However, if such a conference was to take place, and he was able to go, he would rather attend as a participant than do dishes.)

I would not be happy washing dishes, but nor would I be happy leading a conference. I’m much happier working with children. I spend half of my week as an assistant children’s librarian, leading story time and other kid-meets-book programs and the other half of my week as a children’s programming director at our church. I rest, sometimes uncomfortably, between being wanting to hide my shy timid self away and wanting to get to know every family that comes into our library and church.

I am, however, quite decidedly an introvert, and I spend most of my free time reading, attempting various crafts, or organizing something in our house.

I do trust that God is at work in our lives. Even though the temptation is there to be discontented with our situation just because we don’t have any little ones, I’m attempting to squeeze the most out of my life before children, my life while waiting.