Sunday, June 27, 2010

What a Weekend!

This weekend has been CRAZY! *B* and I had planned a small vacation with his parents to the Shenandoah Valley for months now, from Friday to Sunday. I'm taking out of state classes on Learning Disabilities from Monday to Wednesday. No problem. Get home Sunday, pack, leave Monday, right? Wrong. I realized at 11:30 pm on Thursday that I had a Sunday flight! So we scrambled to pack bags for both vacation and my trip.

All weekend, I've waited for something to go wrong.

So I got out of work early on Friday and we made it down to Virginia. We actually had a pretty good time. Friday night, we hung out by the campfire. On Saturday, we kayaked down the Shenandoah River. It is gorgeous. We saw all manner of river creatures: fish, turtles, cows and even a mink on the bank of the river. (When I get home, I'll put pictures up). My camera even enjoyed the water. It now has water spots on the inside of the LCD screen. But at least it still works and takes good pictures.

Then, something did go wrong.

This morning, we woke up at 5:00 am in order to leave for my 11 am flight on time. I drove for three hours, then hung out at the airport for an hour and a half. I love airports. They're so clean and pretty, and they make me buy books.
I realized that I didn't have two of the required materials for my class - a textbook we were supposed to buy, and one that we use in our classes. That was what was going to go wrong, I thought. I got on the plane, but didn't see the guy I was supposed to be traveling with. Oh well, I thought, I'll see him when we get off in Hartford. So the trip goes smoothly, and I go down to baggage claim. I do not see my travel buddy. He's supposed to rent us a car (I'm 24 and get charged out the nose). So after frantically calling around, I pieced together that my colleague has said from day 1 that he is not flying. No one told me. So I called another teacher who was up here for the last week, and he drove an hour and a half down to pick me up so that we could drive another hour and a half back up. I traveled for TEN HOURS to get here. That is the same amount of time as if I were to drive here straight up. It would have been cheaper, too.

But I'm here! And I'm in time for the classes.

One of my favorite parts of flying Southwest is the napkin they give you. It has a US map on the backside. This is what I do on the flight:

All the gray spots are states to which I've been. That puts my grand total at 27 out of 50 states! I've also got four countries under my belt. And for my most exciting achievement, I've been to three continents.

While in the airport waiting to board my flight, I was drawn to the Borders shop. I LOVE bookstores, and I don't get to go in often. But I did, and I saw a book for which I've been looking a while now. It's A Mercy by Toni Morrison.

I've never read any of her books, but people always gush about her. If I remember correctly, I first heard about this book from the author herself on NPR. It was a rather good read. It's not my favorite book ever, but I'd give it a 4/5 as far as recently read books go.

That's all for right now. I'll give a thorough tour of my amazing accommodations once I'm safely at home Wednesday :o)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure for this week is having a good, long day. Today, we took the campers to DC. Then, I met my best friend at a bridal store and picked out my MOH dress (as well as a contender for her wedding dress). Then we spent TWO HOURS trying on clothing. I've (apparently) never had a bra that really fits. When I was younger, my mom just dropped me off at that section of Wal-mart and told me to get something that fits. While the experience was physically and mentally frustrating, I'm glad to have finally figured out that crucial aspect of life.

As of tomorrow afternoon, I'm going on a camping trip. I will do a big old post before going to my conference Monday night.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Things have been REALLY crazy. Last week was Camden. I got one day with *B* between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, then we had family stuff to attend to for Father's Day. On Monday, I started one of my summer jobs. At 6 am, before I walked out the door, Hailey ripped the fur off of Evie's tail. It was a huge lump of fur. And my baby is little. My friend, who originally owned Hailey, picked her up until she can be placed in another home. At the same time, another friend (from Oklahoma), showed up at my door. See, I knew she was coming here for the week, but I sort of kind of forgot that she was staying HERE for the week. On my couch. And she brought her fiance. Whoops. Oh well, we enjoy the company. This weekend, we're going on a camping trip, then Monday through Wednesday I'm going to a conference. I can't promise any posts for the week, but I'll try.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


For the past six days, I've been in Camden, New Jersey. When I first signed up to go, it was because a chaperone gets paid $500 to go, and I needed the money for the wedding. I like service trips as well, and I hoped that I'd get something out of it as well. I can safely say not only did I get something out of it, it might have been the biggest proponent of restoring my faith this year.

Camden is a city of 9 square miles across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The only reason I had ever heard of the city before is that it regularly competes with Baltimore (in my home state) and Detroit for most dangerous city in America. The city has no tax base as the state of New Jersey has abandoned it. All major economic opportunities the city should have (three hospitals, and waterfront property) are squandered. The hospitals are tax exempt, and the state owns the waterfront. Three of the last six mayors have been indicted for their crimes in office. I've seen crime and poverty before, but never so concentrated in such a small area. Below is a picture of Fern Street in Camden taken in (from top left, clockwise) 1979, 1988, 1997, and 2004.

Our school took 12 students this particular week to the Romero Center on Federal Street in Camden. We slept in the dorms that once housed nuns for the adjacent St. Joseph's parish. There was a big living room in which we had all of our prayers, reflections, and down time. In this area, there were inspiring murals and lively colors (though my pictures are rather dark).

The students and teachers really did grow to be close in this space of hospitable yet humble surroundings. In this space, some cried (mostly me), there was a ton of laughter, and there was a fair share of deep thought.

Each morning, after breakfast, we started here with prayer as a group. We then went out to a service site that we selected the night before. Some of the service sites were in Philly, some in Camden. A big part of the work we did was "ministry of presence." For many disabled people, homeless people, or people infected with HIV/AIDS, simply having someone to sit and talk with that is not afraid of them is a great joy.

On the first night, we each had three dollars and organized into families of three people each. We drove to a grocery store and were told to feed ourselves for the next day - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Though I wasn't one of the groups, some groups were unable to use refrigeration or electricity as if they were homeless. I really gained a new appreciation for those on welfare. In New Jersey, people get 87 cents per person per meal per day to live off of. I can personally say that this is not enough. During the day, I could not think straight, I had a headache, and I was always tired. I even took a nap, which I never do. When children are experiencing this battle during the school day, their attention level and grades suffer, which only perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

On the first day of service, I visited Francis House. This house is a place for people with HIV/AIDS to go and be with other people who accept them. We met a man named Eddie, who used to be an activist. He was diagnosed in 1979 (yes, nineteen seventy nine). A short time ago, he was at death's door, in a coma for three months. By the grace of God, he woke up, though he forgot how to walk and talk. He is still full of joy and tells his story to anyone who will listen. The saddest part of his story was that he could never tell his parents that he was infected for fear of being disowned.

The second day, we took a tour (by car) of Camden. It's amazing to see the destruction and creation taking place in the city. We were able to see work done by St. Joseph's Carpenter Society. The society took one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, where people had to drag the deceased through the street to a place where an ambulance would pick them up, into a gorgeous low income housing neighborhood. The duplexes are sold at $80,000 after candidates complete homeowner education classes. In order to keep a sense of community and keep the houses in the hands of those who need them, the houses cannot be sold for profit until 10 years after they are purchased. Later that morning, I worked at Bethesda Bainbridge. This is a permanent shelter for about thirty men who have been homeless with a history of addiction or mental illness. We were only able to stay a short time, but we were able to perform some housekeeping tasks for them while we were there.

The third day changed my life forever. I will never forget what happened that day. I chose to go to a place called Toviah Thrift Shop. I was warned that the owner, Rev. Larry Falcon, was amazing. I was game. We always talk, in the Catholic faith, about seeing the face of God in others. For the first time, I can truly say I have.

Papa, as everyone calls him, runs the thrift shop only to keep open his ministry to at-risk youth just west of Center City in Philadelphia. This man loves to talk, and we could have listened to him all day. He talks fondly of all of the children he works with. You can tell that he genuinely cares. On his left hand, he keeps a prayer list. We were even on there before we got there. He wears his heart not just on his sleeve, but proudly out for everyone to see. Next to the thrift shop, he is working on a small garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.

It amazed me that he can find inspiration in the most benign things. In the background of the above picture is a tree. The tree is shading his garden and needs to be removed. Though he notched the tree correctly, he sawed 95% of the way through when the tree shifted and clamped down on the saw. He has not been able to move it. When he was telling us about it, he stopped for a second and smiled. He noted that the whole tree is still alive because of the sap running through the half an inch still left joining the two halves. He didn't half to explain to us the metaphor because we were right there with him. I don't have enough time in the day to explain how wonderful this man is. There's a lovely article about him in Philadelphia City Paper. But really, you need to go there yourself.

On the last service day, my time was split between volunteering at a parish preschool and serving lunch to homeless men at St. John's Hospice in Philadelphia. The children were precious. They are graduating next week, and are so full of energy and love, despite the appalling conditions of their surroundings. As for the homeless men, I was struck by how normal they are. I've served in soup kitchens before. I should know this. But when I saw a man that looked just like my dad, I had to keep myself from crying. It feels great to know that you are, in some small way, making a difference for people who are often overlooked.

After each service trip, we had a small group reflection and a prayer service. It really helps to internalize and process all the things we saw and did. The reflections also allowed people who did not go to a site to understand and benefit from others' accounts of their work. At the end of the trip, last night, we had a commissioning ceremony. We each named one things we would leave behind (as in misconceptions), one memory we'll keep, and one thing we'll take away from the experience. I said, and I honestly believe, that I'll try my hardest to find a parish into which I fit so that I can continue service work. I became a teacher to serve others, but sometimes it's not enough. And really, though I'm helping other people, I'm healing myself. One of the passages they read to us was Isaiah 58:6-8.

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

I rather liked the way that Papa explained it (amusingly, without knowing they read us this passage). He said the worst kind of occupation is preoccupation. You get on a downward spiral of you, you, you, you, you. Serving others helps you break free of that. I really do believe that by helping others and living a life of service, that I will ease my anxieties and live a more fulfilling life.

That being said, it's past midnight on my first day home and I'm exhausted. Good night, World!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Little Break

I'm going on a week long service trip to Camden, NJ with some of the students from my school. I've never been on this trip before, and aside from knowing the names of the kids going and that I should "pack light and dress modestly," I have no idea what's going to happen. Time for an adventure!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

And It Begins - Paradoxes

I've been weaning off of my anxiety medication for the past two weeks or so. Last night was the first night that I've had a recurrence in my old symptoms. It's not as bad as it has been in the past, but then again, I'm still taking half a pill every other day until Tuesday. I have a really hard time not looking up symptoms. I know that by researching (something I love to do), I make my symptoms worse. It's like scratching a mosquito bite until it bleeds. It feels so good, but it hurts so bad.

Last night, my problem was general worry. Some of my side effects haven't disappeared yet, and I was afraid they were permanent. I was afraid that I had permanently damaged myself by being on medication that changed my body chemistry. By watching House tonight, I got a little paranoid about diabetes and heart disease. Again, it wasn't as bad as it has been in the past. But it does worry me a bit. When I get worried, my heart beats erratically and I have gastrointestinal issues.

I often worry that I'll never be normal. I'll either be saddled with awful side effects, or I'll be a hypochondriac. I've never used that word seriously before. But it's true. People throw the term around willy-nilly. I know I have. It's hard to think of myself in those terms. There are so many things tangled up in my head, I'm not sure what causes the problems I have. I've known for quite some time that I had a problem with anxiety, but I've never narrowed it down to hypochondria. That thought is both freeing and damning at the same time. It's like life is one giant paradox right now, and I'm not sure what to feel anymore.

My Tastebuds Have Died and Gone to Heaven

Every year around zucchini season, I make an insane amount of zucchini bread. Ours are still in the flowering stage:

Lucky for us though, our local farmer's market had some for sale.

Today was the day that I started zucchini bread season. I found this recipe a while back and have edited and messed with it until you have what I made this morning.

Pull aside the necessary ingredients:

Starting from the top left, we have white sugar, white flour (though I'm sure you can substitute whole wheat if you tried), vegetable oil, walnuts, zucchini, baking soda, baking powder, ground cinnamon, salt, vanilla extract, eggs, and a mysteriously absent bottle of ground nutmeg.

Wash off three of your lovely, locally-grown zucchini. Slice off the nubs on both ends. This next part depends on your family. For super picky veggie haters, puree the zucchini into a fine mash in a food processor. For zucchini lovers (like ourselves) a rough grate is fine. I was lazy today, though, so we got pureed zucchini with the skin and some chunks left in it. Three zucchinis roughly makes three cups:

Into a KitchenAid bowl (or a LARGE bowl if mixing by hand), crack four eggs. Add 1/2 tablespoon of vanilla extract.

Then add 1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil.

Then add a WHOPPING 3 1/2 cups of sugar. You cannot skimp without getting soggy bread.

Throw the bowl in the stand mixer and mix until just combined. Do not over-beat. I learned that from Alton Brown the other night.

Into another bowl, sift 4 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda, 1/2 tablespoon of baking powder, 1/2 tablespoon of salt, 1 1/2 tablespoon of ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg. I like to put 1 cup of flour into the sifter, but the other ingredients in with it, sift that, then sift the rest of the flour on top.

Pour the sifted mixture into the bowl with the wet ingredients. Again, just beat until combined and no more.

Then, add the zucchini and beat. Broken record - don't beat too much.

Finally, the part I can never omit (though you can if you want to), add as many walnuts as will make you happy. I probably put in a little over two cups.

Mmmm, nom. *B* and I both get healthy spoonfuls of this batter :o)

I grease as many pans as I can find. Here, I made an 8x8 cake pan full, and two bread pans not shown.

After 30-40 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees, they look like this:

Mmm, so tasty. *B* and I ate half this loaf. The other loaf and cake went into the freezer for less zucchini-filled days.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Racking My Brains - Please Help!

At some point in the last few months, I came across some really neat printables for an emergency binder. I remember that on one page, there was space for spare keys, insurance cards, and other nifty things. I cannot find it for the life of me. If that page belonged to someone who regularly reads, please let me know! I'm working on my emergency binders and I really want to use them! In the meantime, if I find it, I'll post about it.

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure for today is the first day of summer vacation!

Today was my first day off. I treasured it, because it's one of the very few I have this year. If you were around last year, I had off all summer because I took three certification classes and spent nearly all my time working on getting us a house. This year, I don't have anymore certification classes, and I have a large expense looming at the end of the year. I have three jobs this summer - a one-week service trip, a morning camp working with arts and crafts, and an evening job teaching kids one-on-one. I will be one busy chiquita!

Today, I got to spend time with my best friend from Oklahoma, who is planning my bridal shower and bachelorette party for this fall. I'm so excited! We gushed about our respective wedding plans, took her 18 month old niece to lunch and Ikea. It was really great to see them. She's been on (roughly) the same cruise I'm going on, so she was able to give great insight.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Do They All Have in Common?

They're pictures of where we'll be for our honeymoon in December!!! We had originally decided to go to New York City. We figured it's Christmas-y. Then, after careful consideration, we realized it will be packed, and that it'd be really nice to go somewhere warm. We just blipped into a travel agency "just to see" what they had to offer. Long story short, we're going on a 7 day cruise to the western Caribbean. We'll be going from Miami to Grand Cayman, to Isla Roatan, to Belize, to Cozumel, Mexico, back to Miami. I'm so excited!!!

The hard part will be paying for excursions. I didn't realize you had to pay for EVERYTHING (including beach access!) on the islands. Crazy, eh? I'll have three different jobs this summer, while getting paid from my school job, so I'm really hoping to be able to save up quite a bit.

Any tips, advice, etc on honeymooning in the Caribbean or cruises in general?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gardens, Herbs, and Kitchen Tables

Today is a random collection of things that make me happy (and not-so-happy in the case of the last part).
I'm just so in love with how things have turned out, I had to put up another picture. The blue bowl on the ground is full of beer. We've had a slug problem, and they will be lured into the beer and drown.

Look at those gorgeous snap peas!

And a close up of the beauties...My peas will be harvested tonight for Sunday dinner!

My first ever tomato! (a roma paste tomato)

We realized that we don't really eat lettuce, so we ripped out all but four plants and put in extra squash instead. Why have it take up space when we don't want it?

My potential hibiscus are about to bloom. We'll soon find out if that is indeed what they are!

*B* made a gorgeous planter with a form of sedum (sedum hispanicum) we picked up at the local home and garden center.

I also tried my hand at freezing and drying herbs last night.

I picked some basil evenly from all plants.

I rolled one big leaf or two little leaves together from stem to tip.

I cut the basil rolls into strips (I believe it's called chiffonade).

I put the basil into ice cube trays, and filled them with water.

They freeze up quite nicely. When totally frozen, pop them out and put them into a labeled freezer bag. They're really good in drinks, or they can be defrosted for recipes.

I cut five sprigs of basil off of my plant and rinsed and spun them dry.

I put them on a paper towel to get rid of the rest of the water.

I pruned some leaves off the end (used later) and tied twine around the end. I found it best to make a slipknot, throw it over the sprigs, then tie multiple knots in it. I had more control over the stems that way.

Here are other herbs I harvested from bottom left, clockwise: parsley, cilantro flowers, mint, thyme, and the rest of the rosemary.

The thyme I froze flat and threw into a Ziploc. Each of the others went into their own cube, covered in water, and treated like the basil.

Yesterday, I also used my genius to re-purpose a too-small hamster wheel. Because we keep our hamsters in aquariums rather than steel sided cages, the water bottles are hard to accommodate. We bought a glass water bottle. I hooked the frame from our old wheel onto the top of the cage, and hung the water bottle from that.
Doesn't this look nifty??

My not-so-happy section: My grandmother bought us an oak kitchen table a few months ago. It is gorgeous. I've been trying to find a tablecloth for it, but have not yet had any luck. A couple of days ago, I noticed some water on it. I wiped it off and this happened:

Where I wiped took all the finish off. So here is my question for all of you knowledgeable people - how does one fix this problem and how can I care for the table in the future?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure is buying my wedding dress! A friend and I went to pick out her bridesmaid dress. I picked the bottom and she picked the top. While we were there, I noticed that they were having a sale on all of their dresses. I just HAD to get it then and not wait until August like my mom wanted. We'll be married in six months and two weeks, so it seemed like the right time. It was just perfect all the way around. I tried it on again to see how it'd fit. The dress is gorgeous. I'm still just a tad nervous because the dress I had on was blue and I'm getting red, but we held up a sash in front and it didn't look bad at all. While I was wearing it, my friend "proposed" that I should be her bridesmaid when she gets married next year :o) I'm so excited!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tending a Different Garden

I've rewritten this post many times in many ways for the past few months, but I've never completed it. I am hopeful that tonight's the night.
The tenth commandment is "you shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s." (Exodus 20:17). When I think of coveting, I think of wanting something to the point of trying to take it. To covet, according to Mr. Webster, means "to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another." Really, coveting is the heart of American society. We've taken sin and turned it not just into a business, but a way of life. We even have an expression for it - "keeping up with the Joneses." It seems hard to get through the day without coveting something. We covet a pair of shoes we see on a website, a house for sale down the road, someone else's stationery at work, we even covet people's lives. How often have we said "I wish I were her?" What's wrong with saying "I'm glad I'm me?"

For most of my 24 years, I have let other people's perceptions run my life. I look to others to gauge my self worth and success in this world. I've let my parents tell me I'm too fat, and I learned to covet others' physiques. I've let others scare me into second guessing my decisions and opinions, and I learned to devalue myself. I've listened to others bash the lives of other people, and I've learned to be judgmental. I've listened to other people gush about possessions, and I've learned to covet.

All of these negative lessons have really put a strain on me. As cheesy as it sounds, they've hurt my heart - physically and emotionally. My anxiety symptoms are mostly physical, with palpitations being the scariest. But I get over my panic attacks. The emotional damage lasts far longer.

I read The Shack by William Paul Young this past summer. It really did touch me deeply. I now go back to a passage which was my favorite. The protagonist, Mac, lost a daughter tragically. His hatred, guilt, and grief was a heavy burden for him. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he tilled up thick, poisonous roots in order to make room for a garden. It became clear to him that in order for the beautiful things in life to flourish, we must flush out those things that hold us back and poison our hearts.

So what do all of these random paragraphs have to do with one another? I am cultivating a different garden than that usually featured in my posts. I am cultivating my inner garden. I am doing my best to flush out those things that cause me nothing but pain and grief in order to make room for joy, beauty, and contentment.

Because I love lists, here we go:
- I will deal with my issues in a healthy way
- I will accept my genetics as they are while focusing on health
- I will do my best to figure out who I am and what I want
- I will learn to not be so guarded with those around me
- I will learn to be "the friend a friend would like to have"
- I will find a church I like, no matter how embarrassed I get

Borrowed from Website

How do you tend your inner garden?