moments of peace without the power

candles

As I was sitting at my table last week, the power went out. First there was a brown out and then it was gone. As I sat in the darkness, these thoughts ran through my mind, “I am in America where we do not pre-pay for electricity so no problems with that, so then it is time to check the neighborhood and see if it is more than me.” As I walked out my door, I was met with silence and darkness; the power was out for the time being. In that moment, rather than calling the power company to find out what happened, I realized that my soul gave a sigh of happiness and I was content to enjoy the dark.

The windows were open and the cool night air filled the house. I found my headlamp on my dresser and lit a few candles that cast a soft glow around my home. There was a drizzle coming down outside and I heard the soft drops of rain from time to time as I picked up a book to read. I could prep some emails or do some work as my laptop was charged, but that was not how I wanted to fill those magical moments. Instead, I wanted to feel the peace and capture the quiet. How many times have I cooked by candlelight, read by headlamp, or showered in the dark? It brings back a flood of memories, most of them happy memories, nearly all filled with a sense of adventure. I love that without power the noise of modernity goes away and nature speaks a little louder. I love the soft glow it casts on the hours.

An inconvenience to some, the power outage was a silent and perfect gift for me that Sunday evening.

street children: part of my life traveling the globe

I have now been back in the US for four weeks, and I cannot shake the thoughts of the people on the street in Addis Ababa – mostly women and children. In the streets of Addis, particularly near the large churches or mosques as well as the shopping areas, women are on the street with the children begging. These are some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head, this is part of my story as I travel the globe.

I love to walk when I travel – it lets me get to know a city, affords me a small measure of independence, and lets me stretch my legs after inevitably long days of meetings in cross-cultural settings. It gives my body a chance to become tired and my mind a chance to be rejuvenated. But when those walks are filled with women and children on the streets begging, I often find myself rethinking whether or not I should walk that day or how I can re-route (easier said than done as I typically try and stay to main streets). This makes me cringe inside. Each one of these people is known by God and so many stories from the Bible come flooding back to me. Stories about helping those in need, of seeing the children, of loving those ignored by society. I want to say that my mission is elsewhere, but as I walk, these women and children enter into my space, or I into theirs, and I cannot ignore them and pretend that I am called elsewhere.

None of this is new to me. But as I get older, I find that it gets harder, not easier. What brings each person to the street and keeps them there is a complicated story. I cannot pretend to know an individual’s story, but I do know that there is more to every story than ever meets the eyes. I know that there are systems that promote the problem and do not provide alternatives. I know that people come to the city hoping to find work, and I wonder how deep their disappointment runs. I know that sometimes there are people who collect the money from beggars (in a way employing them to beg) and I wonder if there is any hope. I know that each person has a story and I wonder when they last got to share it with someone who wanted to hear it, to someone who showed them love rather than pity.

One young girl lives so clearly in my mind. She was four or five years old, and she got up from sitting with her mom and baby sibling to follow me, to almost dance around me, with her arms outstretched. She followed me for close to a block, her eyes also searching those around me in case there was someone else, a better candidate, to ask for money. As I prepared to cross a busy street I turned and pointed to her mother, telling her to go back. Our shared language was that of the hands and the body, and words of asking for money. What I wanted to do was bend down and tell this little girl, “Sweetheart, you are beautiful and loved. I wish I could give you a childhood filled with play, but I do know my Father and yours is watching after you and He loves you. Do everything you can to learn, to find an education, and to get off the streets. You have value little one.” Instead, I sighed with gratitude when she chose to not cross the street with me as I could not bear the idea of her crossing it later by herself.

 

When I travel, I do not know what to do with these women and children. It is a mystery to me. In the countryside, it is so different. There I am the odd white woman walking. Sometimes people talk to me or children follow, but it is because it is something to do and I am an enigma. There I know my place and what I am there to do. I am there to work with water and sanitation and hygiene. I am there to see communities transformed and to work with local partners who make that possible. On a bad day it is frustrating and disappointing work, but on a good day there is little that could be better as it is work filled with hope, health and transformation. When I walk in the city, I have none of this.

 

This is one one of those things where I don’t believe there is an easy answer, but I do wonder if sitting in the complexity of the situation and admitting that I don’t know is part of the answer. That, and praying for grace and wisdom in each situation.

three weeks, three locations

Three weeks, six cities, two countries on different continents, travel by foot, car, 4-wheel drive and plane. Not a particularly abnormal three weeks of my life. In California I enjoyed wine country, in Michigan I was blessed with another week of stunning spring, and in Ethiopia I discovered regions I had not yet visited. Now I am back in California and am looking forward to a few weeks during which I will not be visiting an airport or living out of a suitcase.

week 18: San Luis Obispo, CA, USA

127big124122126big123125

 

week 19: Kalamazoo, MI, USA

130big128129133132131134

week 20: Ethiopia

136big135138137141139142

greek yogurt pancakes

I had some amazing yummy pancakes at Renee’s house a couple of months ago. I say Renee’s house because her husband Kylie is the chef in the house and we were (as per normal) the amazingly lucky people being served a scrumptious breakfast. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting out here in California skimming some food blogs and came across a recipe at The Pioneer Woman for “Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes” that sounded rather like what Kylie had made. But, while I keep a stock of Greek yogurt in the house, I do not keep sour cream. I modified the recipe to create a healthier version that makes my taste buds happy and downsized it be a recipe for one that is hearty and yummy.

Before you get to to the recipe, I need to ramble a bit about Greek yogurt. I grew up on the Middle Eastern version of Greek yogurt, lebaneh. My mom taught me to strain plain yogurt to make my own lebaneh from plain yogurt well before it was readily available in America. Now suddenly Greek yogurt is everywhere in America and there is no need to make my own. But one of the things I have found in America is how important it is to spend the time to read the list of ingredients for anything that is a staple in your diet. Greek yogurt should read like this: milk, active cultures. That is it. But, there are cheaper ways to make ‘Greek yogurt’  that include pectin or other thickening agents (especially when it comes to low-fat or non-fat versions). If pectin or thickening agents are included in the list of ingredients, know that you have a nice thick-feeling yogurt but you do not have is Greek yogurt, or lebaneh. The brand I use is Fage. Do your own research next time you buy some Greek yogurt and see how your chosen yogurt measures up to the test. If you cannot find one that works, buy some plain yogurt (with an equally simple list of ingredients), line a strainer with a couple layers of cheese cloth and dump your yogurt into it. Put the yogurt in the strainer in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight. What remains is Greek yogurt (the thickness of which will is variable based on how long you strained it), the liquid is whey and water that you can throw away. It is all about having real ingredients for real food. Now, for the recipe.

pancakes

Greek Yogurt Pancakes

Combine in small mixing bowl:

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 3 Tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp wheat germ
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp banking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together in small bowl:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2-1 tsp vanilla

Combine top list of ingredients in small mixing bowl (Greek yogurt and dry ingredients). Whisk together egg and vanilla in small bowl, then fold into yogurt combo. Scoop 1/4 or less of batter into a  hot skillet and cook over medium-low to low heat.

Add some fruit and this recipe is a hearty meal for 1 person. Doubling the recipe would be good for 2-3 people.

i love coming home

a photo a day: week 17

location: San Luis Obispo, CA

As much as I love to travel, I love to come home. I love familiar feelings of places that I know, that share a piece of my story and a part of my history. I intuitively knew that this is different than nostalgia, but I could not make that thought tangible, so I looked nostalgia up in the dictionary.

Nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or a wistful affection for the past, typically a period or place with happy personal association.” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

This love of coming home is not a longing of the past. Instead it is a sense of belonging and a placement within history. My home is my haven where I am free to create and to simply breathe. It is my place of peace that I share with loved ones. Every time I move, I work to make my new house my home as quick as possible, and I am glad to say that as I fill the pores of this house with the smells of cooking and her walls with my photos it is becoming a home, a place I love to come home to.

116117119118121120

 

a photo a day: discovering beautiful lands

Weeks 12 & 13

Location: Cross-country Atlanta, GA to San Luis Obispo, CA

After last bits of laughter and fun with family, dad and I towed the trailer across the country. It was long day through both beautiful and plain country and then we arrived at the ocean and drove north to find my new home in San Luis Obispo. Beautiful. Right now the land is green and full of stunning flowers. The strawberries are fresh and from the local farmer’s stand. I am soaking in the goodness before the season changes to bring brown colors and different fruits. I am blessed.

88big84858687899093919294979695big

the start of a new adventure

Right now I am on the road west. I am on a long road trip with my dad, my car, and trailer filled with my belongings. Approximately 2,400 miles from start to finish, this trip from Georgia to California will close the door to several beautiful months off with family and friends and swing open the door to my new adventure: life and work in California.

wide open road

Next week I will be joining the team at Lifewater International as their Director of International Programs. This is a nonprofit I have known and respected for many years and consider myself incredibly blessed to have this as my next adventure. My work will continue to focus on water and sanitation around the world, so get ready to hear more about that and be introduced to new places as I both make my home in San Luis Obispo and travel the globe to meet with new partners.

This is the start of a another beautiful adventure.

 

a photo a day: the glory of spring

Week 12

Location: Atlanta, GA

This was a week of welcoming spring. I believe that there is a magical two weeks, sometimes it lasts as long as three, where spring puts on a grand show. Out of a barren wanter during which the trees of stood barren and cold come buds, then beautiful flowers, and finally fresh green leaves. Trees take their turn showing off their beauty before they slide into the green that will grace their leaves through the summer. If you blink, you will miss it.  I try and soak in every single bit of the glory of spring so that I can have my fill while it is here as it never stays for long.

81797883big828077

hiking the cumberland river trail

That particular weekend in January we were hoping to go camping, which took some serious commitment for me because I don’t love the cold. But, I believe in seizing the day, and this was the weekend available. Then it got all rainy and muddy on Thursday and Friday. Muddy and cold and a chance of rain. We decided sleeping indoors was a wise move. Someday maybe I will fall in love with cold weather camping. Maybe you will be the one to make that possible. For now, this is this the story of that weekend.

IMG_0178

Camping nixed, the goal was to find a place to be outside. Breathing in nature is good for my soul, and even if I was not camping, there was to be an adventure. We flipped through a book I highly recommend called 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Nashville. There are different editions of this book for different cities, and I think they are brilliant. I am writing this particular trip up here because it is a place I wish I had known about when I was living in Nashville. We went to the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail near Ashland City and did about an eight mile walk on an old railroad path that was paved over. It was flat and easy walk, but the sky was blue, it was warmer than anticipated, and it was a new area. The trail continues for another segment just as long (though I am not sure if it is all paved). For much of the walk we felt like we had it to ourselves. It would be perfect for a bike ride, a hike, taking a stroller, just something different that is close and easy and not muddy when it rains like crazy. Besides, if you do the first part of the trail, there is this random bike welded on top of a pole. Random and odd and made us smile that day.

IMG_0182

 

IMG_0184

I often find that adventures end well with a hunt for a local diner or restaurant. It is now becoming a tradition – sometimes something grand is found, sometimes greasy locations where it is rather clear I am not a local. This time we found a Vuocolo’s Italian Pizzeria, a restaurant in what looks like a house. Inside it feels like a house and there are really only two tables. Would it be good? We had our questions, but that is part of the adventure, part of the game. It was outstanding. The owner will happily divide the pizza in half or quarters so that you can each get what you want. I think it was the best pizza in the Nashville region. Why don’t you take a trip up there this spring or summer? Go for a long walk and get some pizza, then let me know what you think. 

IMG_0194

 

IMG_0195

a photo a day: week 11

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

I have a new nephew, whom I love dearly. He was a whole two pounds heavier than his brother at birth, and his cheeks clearly show the chub. As such, we presently call him Squishy. We give him endless kisses and try to not gobble him up whole. The other glory of the birth of the nephew is hours spent with his big brother Thumper. Hours at the park and playing games and reading books. And hopefully hours of him napping. Pure glory dear friends, pure glory.

76big747073757271

a pizza taste-off

Four pizza places within four blocks. There are stories behind some of these places – one started after disgruntled employees left. One is legendary because of its cheese. What do I do when I hear about all of this? I decide that we need a taste-off. And of course we can do this in an affordable (and at least semi-non-indulgent) way: one slice of plain pizza with red sauce and cheese. All in all, four slices of the classic, basic pizza. Line them up and start tasting. The three of us would take a bite move on, take another bite, swap locations, shuffle around.

pizza

We were looking for the total package: crust, sauce, cheese, price, and location. The one with legendary cheese? A horrible crust and the sauce was only so-so. I love brick-oven pizza, but the one with a brick-oven styled crust did not have the right sauce or cheese to go with. One cost $2.50 while the others were all less than $2.00; it was also the furthest away. Our decisions made, we each headed back for one more slice. We laughed, we chatted, we analyzed together. And for less than $15 we had lunch for three and made a memory.

Where did this happen and which pizza joint was the winner? Irrelevant. The point is that we created fun in the middle of the week when we needed some laughter. Go, grab some friends and make a memory.

 

a photo a day: weeks 8, 9 & 10

These weeks have been weeks away from the internets, slowing down and enjoying the space in my head. With time seeming to fly by at faster and faster rates, this time has been a gift. As I look forward, I am thinking about how I continue to build in balance and include the arts, the beauty I see everywhere, into my life. Which makes this little photo project even more beautiful and fun. I have loved finding the beauty in the journey so far this year and look forward to continuing to find these photos and share them with you. This is the photo overview of my past few weeks of quiet.

63big4951535054645259555758606156656267666968