The Gift List To Reform the Mail-it-in Gift Giving Funk

On a lighter note than last…

So basically, I don’t get out of the house much anymore. Or at least off the block much. Husband has a new job, which has significantly changed MY life, probably like first and foremost, and I just don’t have the youth and vitality I used to. Youth, vitality, and a lot of good WILL are required for going to Anywhere in this little town of Los Angeles. It’s like, really, if I have to mess up my kid’s nap schedule, miss a meal, pay for parking and almost pee my pants to get anywhere in this paved, crowded world, I’d really rather take a nap myself and just skip the whole thing.

Which brings me to the gift-giving season. Number 1, I don’t know why it’s a season. (I personally think we should give gifts to each other whenever we feel like it and not when we don’t, except those people that NEVER feel like they should give gifts to ANYone in which case they should HAVE to give gifts to everyone and me at all the times.)

(deep breath)

Number 2, lame gifts stink. We’ve all done the no-idea-so-I-got-you-this-scarf-hat-gloves-set. In this day and age, so friendly to those too lazy to shop outside, and customized to the nth degree, that scenario is less and less necessary. Gifting is a great opportunity to enhance someone’s life, acknowledge that you know something about them, and be true to your own values with whatever means you have.

Here are some ideas that fit the bill to me. (Click on photos for links where applicable.)

// pancake mix //

Some people host us, and serve us really well. A pretty quart jar with all these dry ingredients and a little note with the rest of the mix is enough to say thanks for all those hot meals, warm hugs, and cozy friendship. And pancakes are better than lentils. il_340x270.358128182 (This is my dad’s pancake recipe–he is a giver.) IN the jar: 1.5 c. flour, 1 T. baking powder, 3/4 tsp. salt, 2 T. sugar. ON the tag: Whisk in 1 egg, 1.75 c. milk, 1 tsp. vanilla, 3 T. oil.

// sandals //

For those of us lucky enough to be in So Cal, what we lose in sanity on freeways, we gain in year-round sandal wearing. And these are suh-weeeet, even if you only show your toes 2 months out of the 12 month year (seriously, consider moving and/or getting, I mean, giving these, because make the most of those 2 months!). Handmade in Uganda. Empowering to women. Very comfortable. Versatile. crp2289
// rest //

This place is a refuge. You (and maybe a few others) may want to send your favorite missionaries or pastors to a 5 day retreat to Genesee Home. Beautiful accommodations and meals included, wonderful company, privacy, gentle structure and minimal programming. Lots of beautiful space for restoration. We had the gift of going last month and it helped us so much. Distractions, intense work and deep-issue avoidance take time and intentionality to detox from; this is a good place for finding wide places of God’s grace once again. We did not find any other options so reasonable and welcoming on the west coast. Sponsor what percentage you can, and do the footwork to get others on board for the pastors or missionaries whose longevity you are pulling for. It is a gift with exponential rewards. IMG_5720 IMG_5712IMG_5714IMG_5710

 

 

 

// children’s best //

These books are so wonderful. They are engaging to the most distracted child. One we received from my sister-in-law and my boys love it. The other one is just wise and uplifting; it is good for the little audience and the not-so-little reader. Also Both-Boy Approved.
71DYPJVp-2L   PressHere_3D1

 

 

 

// foodie much //

A lot of people care a lot about food. Honestly, it is a privileged thing to worry about at this juncture. I am privileged that if I really wanted to, I could drive 30 minutes to a healthy grocery store with cheaper prices on natural products and buy wholesome food; most people can’t do that. It’s privileged state does not mean the issue is less valid; it’s just incredibly difficult in many places in this country, physically and socio-economically, to practice healthy eating and holistic health. For those who are not needing much but passionate about this subject, I suggest a gift to this incoming Market in honor and appreciation of your beloved foodie. I have been to meetings at this Market and I believe in it. It’s incredibly difficult to open a business like this in an area like ours; it is actually more expensive to open a small business here than in “safer” and “better” neighborhoods. The people starting this Market are committed to and educated about our neighborhood, food deserts, and our assets and needs. It’s inspiring and it would be a thoughtful, inspiring gift. Couple it with a food basket if you are uncomfortable with a 2 dimensional gift.

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// worldly beauty //

It’s like Anthropologie with a purpose. It’s unabashedly pursuing the same taste and market and who can blame them. Noonday Collection is where you should probably go for the socially-conscious, stylish amiga in your life, and maybe your next birthday is a trunk party, who knows. If times are tough, give them a magazine and a gift card; it’s pretty enough to wrap. Sometimes I walk through Anthro for inspiration; it is seriously encouraging to me. Well, this is like doing that without, you know, the traffic. Endorsed by the likes of Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Melton. Also, it helps fundraise for adoptions, over 1200 actually. A big deal. _CWP6917-l

I hope that helps; gifts mean something. Many things if we’re lucky. Happy gift-giving.

// Stay thankful. //

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Final Destinations

True discretion is impossible without true humility. – John Cassian

It is not my favorite time to leave the country for six weeks. And it turns out I’m not as awesome at international travel as I once thought.

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Sure I’ve flown to and fro “Africa” (isn’t that specific?) several times without a thought but there have been people at either of my final destinations meeting me at the airport. I actually cannot remember the last time I flew somewhere completely new, let alone with small children in tow. lt is humbling to be in this place. Where I am the one reading books, not knowing if the descriptions and characterizations are accurate. Where I am the one e-mailing a stranger, asking if diapers are available and tank tops are appropriate. Where I will probably be the one changing currency at the worst place possible. Somehow, subconsciously, I believed that living in a foreign country and having many European and Kenyan stamps in my passport would equip me for entering anywhere, including Central America, without hesitation or hiccup. As though bad Swahili would help us find our shuttle in Guatemala City. 🙂

We are going to learn a language. We are going to be tourists. We are going to stay with a family we don’t know.

It is going to be an adventure and I am sure that we will come through it better, stronger as a family, and much improved in Español. I am looking forward to actually being there. Historically, I have loved and embraced going to places less developed than I where live. It is just the actual going–the getting there–that is daunting. While traveling between worlds in high school and college used to be a nice transitional space of sleep and reflection, that flew out the window with the onset of Parenthood. Instead of wrestling with identity in the formerly beloved “transitional space,” I will be wrestling with a preschooler and Lap Child for a couple of plane rides, a lay over, a brief hotel stay, a couple shuttles, a bus ride, and a taxi ride. If we’re lucky.

Until then, I have been plodding away in preparations, not feeling very adventurous at all. Outwardly thinking through packing for a rainy climate and leaving our house. Inwardly feeling through how it would be to not have my friends nearby, whose proximity may deserve credit for my sanity on any given day. I’ve been feeling through what it means to miss some rituals and changes that are happening in our absence. Community events that mark time and grief and celebration. A wedding and birthdays, the birth day of our first nephew perhaps. The departure of our church planting leader and new organizational structures. For some, it would be a relief to miss most of these things. To me, it is disorienting.

Despite the revealing of many fears and insecurities, I am thankful for this Unknown. For the opportunity to study Spanish in a beautiful country that many of our friends here call Home. I am thankful for the adaptability and joy of our children, the blessing of our teammates, and the richness of the cultures of this city that all urge us “Go!” I am thankful that we will have one main task there instead of the five or so we juggle here and for the opportunity to take old friends called Travel and School off the shelf for a brief time again. I am thankful for the privilege and wealth that we enjoy that allows us to invest in Spanish in this intensive way and travel between countries with ease.  I am thankful that no matter how new the ground is, He promises to be there and give me sure footing.

We are not alone and though we are strangers, we are known. In, out, behind, before.  The mysteries and misgivings of this time are only upsetting because I too often deny and cap the uncertainties and wonder in my normal life. In going, I am forced to be conscious of subjecting myself to what may come, entrusting ourselves to His good care. In staying, I can easily convince myself of the myth of sequential, predictable safety and comfort.

I am thankful that this is all reminding me that I am not in pursuit of securing myths as padding around my life. That predictability is not my final aim and destination. I am glad for the reminder that no matter how involved and responsible I feel, time marches on and these are good times to become less entrenched. There is grace here, in the leaving, the packing, the learning. We move on.

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Believe it or not, here are a few things that just had to be done before we go. (I am convinced that if pretty garlands hung around the city, people would be happier.)

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Reality Bites

Sometimes you just have to face it: healthy snacks don’t taste good.

Okay, I’m sure there are some but as I was tidying my cupboards this week, I had to come to terms with the fact that that large quantity of raw almonds I bought in a moment of healthy valor was going no where.

And that brings me here:

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Delicious crunchy sweet salty dressed up and roasted raw almonds that won’t last a week in our house. 🙂

In case you too would like to eat what’s in your cupboard, here’s the recipe.

4 c. roasted almonds, unseasoned*

1/2 c. honey

2 T. butter

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

1/2 tsp. table salt

3 tsp. cinnamon

1 c. + 2 T. raw sugar

(*If you have raw almonds, roast them by baking them in a single layer at 375 for 10-12 minutes, stirring them every few minutes, until aromatic and darker on ends.)

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Simmer the honey and butter together for a couple of minutes over low heat until translucent. Stir in all the almonds and keep stirring for a few minutes until they’re all shiny and warm. Dump them all out on a piece of wax or parchment paper.

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Gather all the other ingredients in a gallon size resealable bag or bowl with a lid. Once the almonds are cooled enough to touch and not melt the plastic bag, use the paper they’re on like a sleeve and empty it onto the sugar pile. Shake until coated and spread out on a new piece of parchment or wax paper.

Store in airtight container to keep fresh. I like mine in the fridge. Or by the handful.

A Sweet Story

There sure are a lot of things to learn about. My 1-year-old is having a hard time learning to control his temper and throwing arm. My husband is learning about me. Pray for him. Our just-turned-4-year-old is learning that if he spends his birthday money from great grandma on one thing, he cannot get another (bummer). Such a hard thing, especially on the heels of mastering wiping his own rear end. And I? Well I am learning about many things, most of which I’ve written about. Thanksgiving, marriage, pausing, racism… those are some biggies. But there are also the things that fill out the fabric of every day life that you can’t find volumes of books about. Just random blog posts.

An important “scrap” that recurs throughout my “quilt,” if you will (I promise, I’ll stop), is a heart-warming pattern of brown sugar and butter. That’s right, cinnamon rolls. Among other things, I’ve been learning about cinnamon rolls. I’ve made a lot of versions, from my aunt’s roll recipe-turned-breakfast to the Pioneer Woman’s abundant version, and I have the love handles to prove it. And today, I wanted to share my favorite recipe. I know, longest intro ever to a recipe. However, I’m sure that brevity is not why you read this blog…

My Favorite Cinnamon Rolls –

5 cups flour, 1/2 tsp. soda, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 c. sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 5 tsp. yeast or 2 packets – mix all together in large bowl and make a well in the middle.

Warm 1.5 c. buttermilk, 1/4 c. water, and 1/2 c. oil on low heat on stove, stirring constantly – till thoroughly warm to finger; add to large bowl.

(You’ll also need butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dental floss, cream, more buttermilk, and powdered sugar in the future for these babies if you follow these strange directions to a “t.”)

*if you have a breadmaker, put wet ingredients in bottom, add dry, with yeast last. Let it do its thing through the first rising and then get Jabba the Hut out to shape. My lovely neighbor convinced me to try one. Found it at the thrift store for $4! Maybe your local thrift store has one too. 🙂 It’s nice to try something for the first time 20 years after their peak.

Gently incorporate into flour mixture. Take your time, go slowly. Knead several times. Let rise 45 mins. in warm environment. (Breadmaker Owners, come back here.) Prepare filling ingredients: melted stick of butter, all your brown sugar, a lot of cinnamon.

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Roll out dough on lightly floured surface into rectangle. Pour most of the butter over dough to make nice puddle. Spread out evenly. Smear your buttery hands or spatula and the extra butter in a 10×15 pyrex, or a 9×13 and 8×8. Cover the butter with layer of brown sugar. Heavily sprinkle brown sugar with cinnamon. Drink water. You’re going to need it.

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Roll “hot dog” ways until you have one long log of cinnamon roll goodness. Get out dental floss (thanks, Mom!). Cut one inch segments by placing a length of floss under the log, grabbing ends and crossing them until it cleanly slices through dough/goo. (I confess, this is the primary use for floss in my life.) Place in dish, repeat. Give them a little space to grow. If you have some extra inches that don’t fit in your prepped dishes, use a few ramekins, and bestow caloric wealth on your neighbors for their breakfast.

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Cover tightly and put in fridge overnight for a delicious breakfast. Bake at 325 for 15 mins or so, until golden brown. Don’t worry – they’ll still be soft and gooey. Mix equal parts buttermilk and heavy cream with powdered sugar for an icing if you wish. Store in fridge.

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The Whole Enchilada

My favorite dish at our local Mexican restaurant is Enchiladas Suizas, which I believe is usually made with tomatillos, resulting in a green sauce. I didn’t have any of those tonight, but I did have chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and big tomatoes to use. The result is a new recipe for Chipotle Enchiladas Suizas sauce. (I think that “suizas” refers to a sauce with dairy in it.) It’s loaded with vegetables and protein. We loved it!

2 large tomatoes, 1 zucchini, 2 cloves garlic, 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, 2 tsp. adobo sauce, 2 small avocados, 1.5 cups chicken broth, 1 tsp. chicken bouillon, .5 cup chopped spinach, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, .5 cup half’n’half or cream.

Boil tomatoes and zucchini whole 10 minutesish or until easily punctured with butter knife. Put in blender with everything else except cream. Blend. Pour a layer in bottom of casserole dish. Construct enchiladas with whatever you want (we used chicken, jack cheese, spinach), plus a few spoonfuls of the sauce inside, and line ’em up. Stir cream into leftover sauce and pour over enchiladas before baking. The recipe makes enough for 2 large dishes of enchiladas. I froze half of my sauce (pre-cream) in a jar.

If you try it, let me know how it goes. 🙂

Pretty Pennies

After years of realizing and considering the seven million ways that Husband and I are different (one mill for every year…), one thing I’ve really come to understand about myself is how much my physical environment effects me. He loves the natural, rustic world as much as I do but doesn’t feel the weight of clutter, blank walls, unending cement, wires, and Mess between visits to Nature like I. I go for months in this life without stepping on soil and Earth that is native to that place. Sometimes it feels like I spend days picking up cool, plastic toys that have no texture, pretty prints or history (though the boys are trying to change that with every toss and tumble). Even the dust in my house is unnatural. Remnants of the freeway my kitchen faces darken the cleaning cloth and I stand on my tip toes to see the sun fall over the asphalt in the evening. Over time, my senses feel more dull, and I am less appreciative and noticing. It’s important to my balance to take care of my home space–to have it be kind to my eyes and meaningful in its contents. I really value beauty. In this urban sprawl, a peaceful walk in the woods or a moonlit jaunt through a wheat field isn’t really in the cards. I have to admit that a perusal of Anthropologie can be a temporary salve and leave me feeling inspired and sharpened. This is crazy-talk to my spouse. But that’s okay. He generally likes the end results of my aesthetic cravings.

Coupled with my hunger and eye for the pretty and natural is a practical, frugal side that hushes the urge to invest too much time and too much money in my temporal surroundings. What is too much? Of course, I have no idea. But there is a thing and I am wary so I’m caught in a tension. I hope that even if I had endless resources that I would still strive to find and make beauty in simple things and thoughtful ways. I enjoy the challenge and process….at the risk of turning our home into some wacky craft bizarre…

Here are a few simple things that I’ve done to fill a purpose and add beauty (I think) to our home. I share these because sometimes people tell me that they like something in our house or that they can’t see spending money on decor or that they spend too much money on home stuff. These are a few pretty things that didn’t cost us much at all and help make our home a place that I love and (I hope) our family and friends can enjoy and see beauty in.

Recovered jar lids with pretty paper. I like the idea of reusing things but I don’t like the idea of staring at labels of korma sauce for the rest of my life. Traced around the lids and cut out the circles giving an extra 1/2″ margin of space all around. After cutting notches in the circle every 1/4″ or so, it was easy to fit the paper well onto the lid with some mod podge.

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I bought this storage chest at a ReStore for $10. These are great places for raw materials, and thrift store type furniture and finds. The hinges needed some reinforcement and then, as groovy as those elephants are, I covered it with laminated fabric using a combination of staples and hot glue. Not extremely professional but it works.

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Artifacts from Kenya hold even more special significance since my parents no longer live there. I loved the fabric of a decorative bag that our friends gave away as wedding favors (with Kenyan coffee inside). I was just a little happy to find that when I took the seams out, it fit a unique frame that I picked up from a garage sale ($5). Wah lah – art. Sorry, World Market. 😉Image

Last one. I bought a lamp from a garage sale that had no lampshade. I eventually found a cheap shade that was blah, but had nice shape. Old hymnals that thrift stores practically give away are a great thing to have around, whether you make cards, collages, or, you know, cover lampshades. 🙂 Below, with the help of mod podge, is the result of wanting to turn an ugly shade into something meaningful and vintage. I used high-tech, industry-exclusive masking tape to secure the edges on the inside. 🙂

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How do you decorate or improve your surroundings on little to no budget? I’d love to hear and see your ideas. Give this non-pinteresting girl some help. Puuuuleeese?