Wednesday, February 22, 2017

That Takes the Cake

When I was in Paris a few years ago, I bought a tiny card at a paper store with an illustration of a girl carrying a big cake. I liked it because I’d always harbored a little idea of one day running a coffee and cake shop.

It made sense to me since I like to bake. And I like to drink coffee. So why shouldn't I dream big and then follow my dreams?

I’ve mastered my grandmother’s cream cheese frosting recipe — in several different flavors — that I use to frost my cakes. 

And I’ve put in years of practice by making my niece and nephew’s birthday cakes and throwing holiday parties where everyone says they love my desserts.

I've bought pans and colors for icing, pastry bags and piping tips. I have a wire cake leveler for making flat layers, a cake turntable and different sized icing spreaders.

I love looking through cake decorating books for ideas, and a few friends have even asked me to make cakes for their family celebrations. {And they paid me too!}

I even imagined my name up in lights. 

My niece’s tenth birthday was last week and her cake came from a bakery this year. I didn't make it.

She wanted a chocolate chip cookie cake {something I’ve never tried} but she wanted me to pipe a dolphin in blue frosting on the cookie cake.

As we mixed up the icing together, she talked about the past 10 years of cake-making for her birthday. 

There was the puppy cake, the pony cake, the ice skating cake, and the year she went to see Luke Bryan in concert and wanted a cake that looked like a microphone. 

From the time she could hold a piping bag, she's helped me make almost all of them. She thinks it’s great fun. 

And she makes me think too.

What if our big ideas are just as good when they stay small? 

What if instead of listening to all the voices that tell us to go out and conquer the world out there, we listen to the voice that whispers to look around us right here and do some good within our own little world?

I can't get enough of these words from the Message version of the Bible.
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 
- Rom. 12:1-2 {MSG}

I know that God plants dreams in all of our hearts, a unique menu of talents and skills he’s given us that we can choose to use, develop and hone. 

But maybe we just assume because they’re dreams they should be big dreams, wide and extraordinary and remarkable. 

I've read the inspiring words written on canvases, etched into charms: Follow your passions. Never let go of your dreams. Live a great big life.

I admire and applaud those who do that, but maybe there’s also something noteworthy about living small and ordinary. 

That might only hold meaning to those around us, in our circle of friends, at our workplaces, neighborhood and churches.

Overlooked gestures like baking muffins and sharing them with my neighbor. 

Having coffee with an acquaintance who's feeling a little lonely. 

Getting out my baking pans because my niece sends me a text that she's really hungry for my vanilla cake and could we make one together?

These intentions are worth aiming for and following too, aren't they? Making them a reality is sometimes no small feat, juggling schedules, making time and expending energy. 

And they might even be worth more than we could possibly think.

So I no longer want to open a little cakery. 

The truth is, I need far more training {both culinary and business} than I have for an endeavor like that.

I think I'd much rather make fun cake-baking memories in the kitchen with my niece. Where it seems something always goes wrong, just adding to the little adventure.

The dolphin we piped on the cookie cake was messy. We had the wrong sized piping tip. 

We scraped it off and tried again. 

Even with the second effort, I thought it looked more like a blue blob than a dolphin, but my niece thought it was great.

As we all gathered around the cookie-cake to sing happy birthday to her, she asked for the dolphin to be carved out of the middle of the cookie. 

That was the piece she wanted to eat. 

Maybe your little corner of the world is like mine, where small things can loom large, what's unnoticed is noted, and what seems temporary can have a lasting effect.

Like the memory of a slice of cookie-cake that's so very sweet.

{And no, I did not make this swan but I'd like to learn! It's a culinary creation from the Swan Coach House in Atlanta.}

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine's Day Tale

Once upon a time, a man wrote me a poem for Valentine’s Day.

Although it sounds awfully romantic and should have been the stuff fairy tales are made of, the ode written in my honor wasn’t quite like that.

Many moons ago I was a starry-eyed girl in my twenties and my boyfriend at the time said he wanted to write me a poem to express his feelings for me.

For weeks he'd been talking about the effort it was taking him to compose this literary feat, so I couldn't wait to read it. 

He drove to my house on Valentine’s Day and hand-delivered his sonnet to me.

But he didn’t want me to read it in front of him; he said the words were too tender. 

So he gave me a red rose, handed me the poem and left.

As I read through the two painstakingly written pages, I discovered the surprise ending.

He said he loved me. . . . and he hated me. 

And he didn't know what to do about it.

After the jolt of reading the word hate in a poem about love, I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised. We'd dated for almost a year and he wanted to get married. 

I just wasn't so sure I was the one he should marry. 

As he envisioned me being his wife, he'd tell me what he didn't like about me. 

He said he hated how my shoes dragged across his carpet when I walked, and he didn’t like how I peeled a hard-boiled egg. 

{In case you're wondering, he magically pulled the eggshell off in one long strip and I smacked it hard on the table and chipped the shell off in tiny bits.}

I guess I failed to realize that for him, carpet-walking and egg-cracking topped the list of his most desirable qualities in a future spouse. 

There were plenty of other idiosyncrasies too, that he pointed out, but they were all compatibility factors, not character flaws. 

Our relationship ended not long afterward.

Maybe a poem isn't the wisest way to tell a person what you wish they could change. 

Especially when a girl waits all year for Valentine's Day.

That's why I’m glad there’s an entire book of poetry that tells me how much God loves me. 

The Psalms are filled with eloquent and emotional verses, many penned by David, a man who experienced God’s great love for him, despite his many failures and flaws. 

I love the soaring language and the heart-rending honesty as he cracks {and sometimes flings} open the door to his soul.

The Psalms tell me that even when I don't measure up and fall short, God is always kind.

Even when my actions don't please him, he’s forever loving.

And even when my heart goes wandering toward other passions, he still wants to be with me. He pursues me with devotion, encircles me with love, and surrounds me with grace.

Who wouldn’t want a love like that?

David's silver pen writes:
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. - Ps. 57:10 {NIV}
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. - Ps. 143:8 {NIV} 

No love on earth matches God's love for me. No love exceeds it. No love compares to it. 

I could search the dating world {via the internet} for someone to love me like God can, and I wouldn't be able to find that unconditional love anywhere.

God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks.
How exquisite your love, O God! How eager we are to run under your wings,
To eat our fill at the banquet you spread, as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water. You’re a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light. 
Ps. 36:5-9 {MSG} 

But every so often I pull out a sweet reminder of God's love, shown to me in human form. It's my first Valentine's Day card, given to me when I was a five-month-old baby. 

It's from my dad. 

He wrote inside that I was a little bundle of joy that won his heart, not just on Valentine's Day, but every day of his life.

And that's my all-time favorite, happily-ever-after Valentine story. 

I'm joining my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What's the One Thing You Can't Live Without?

There are so many things in this world to be concerned about, but these days I'm wrapped up in my own little world, worrying about a few things I can't live without.

Like air, water and shelter. 

The air conditioning system in my house needs replaced since it's old and leaking oil.

I can't get a glass of water from my refrigerator dispenser since the water line is frozen. 

I have a stack of foreclosure notices saying I'm delinquent on my mortgage payments.

Since I live in Florida air conditioning is a definite must-have, and I suppose I could drink water from the faucet, but a place to lay my head at night is an obvious necessity.

So first things first.

It had only been a few days since I'd gotten my mail so I was quite surprised to find my mailbox overflowing with notices from my mortgage lender. 

They said I hadn’t made any payments for months. They said I was in danger of foreclosure. They said I owed them $5,000.

And I had no idea what they were talking about. 

I’d recently refinanced my loan and had been faithfully paying the bills sent to me each month.

I frantically called customer service and when I finally got to talk to an actual person, she put me on hold and said she needed a few minutes to read through all the notes posted in my account.

I sweated it out while I waited.

When she finally came back on the line she said it seemed it was all a big mistake. 

Apparently the bank had misapplied the payments I’d sent and since my account looked unpaid, it automatically generated the foreclosure notices. 

She laughed and said not to worry, just ignore any additional notices I might receive but there was no harm done.

{Except of course, for the extra gray hairs it caused me.}

So I called my sister to vent.

I said how hard {and expensive} it was to choose an air conditioner, and that I was tired of the water not working in my refrigerator {despite recent repairs}, and how these and several other problems currently on my list cause me so much worry.

Finally she said, why don’t you just move into an apartment and let the super take care of everything that goes wrong?

At first I thought this sounded like a spectacular idea. 

Then I wondered if they still called apartment managers supers {or was that just on the TV show Friends}?

Then I realized she was being sarcastic.

She told me to stop planning for the worst and worrying about life's inconveniences and difficulties.

She told me to stop acting as if I were all alone in the world and have no one to help me. 

She said it may seem this way just because I’m single without someone to share the burden of decisions and or help me make choices, but that I couldn't be more wrong about my way of thinking.

It's true that I let these false perceptions replay in my mind, telling me I'm overwhelmed and I've got a lot to figure out. Then this all-consuming train of thought distracts me from taking my concerns and fears to God.

I start to believe that if I can control all the details of my life, then I won't have to worry so much. But of course, this is impossible and soon the typical challenges and problems of the day become paralyzing personal quandaries that are all I can see.

But if I'm honest, I need them.

These worries and quandaries are what make me realize how much I need God. He's what I can't live without.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and he helps me. -Ps. 28:7

When I look back through the chapters of my life and notice all the times I agonized over decisions that turned out just fine, or the times my worst worries were unfounded, I realize that God has been faithful to me. 

Thinking that trying to control my life will help me avoid unpleasant surprises or bad news just makes me anxious and fearful. So after I do what I can to complete my part in each of these situations, I'm standing aside and shoring up the foundation of my trust instead of circling my worries.

I'm reminding myself of these words said by Jesus so long ago, yet still so relevant today:
“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 
Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? - Matt. 6:25-27

So I turned my attention to the work in front of me. 

I emptied my freezer and left the door open for a few hours and water is now flowing through my refrigerator door once again. 

With my brother-in-law’s input, I chose my new air conditioning system and am awaiting installation.

But I'm still afraid of a few things, of course.

As I moved the trash container in a corner of my kitchen, I saw a little tail sticking out of it. 

It was a lizard. I stood staring at it for a full 15 minutes for a sign of life {because lizards often look dead but aren’t} before I mustered the courage to sweep him into the trash bag.

So it made me wonder if I lived in an apartment, would the super come and take care of lizards, frogs and bugs for me?

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For All Who Stumble Along

I seem to have a history of stumbling around. 

This somehow happens to me frequently and it's always cringe-worthy. I can say with complete certainty that I will never trip the light fantastic.

This scenario played out again this week as I was running late to meet my handyman after work. He was waiting for me to tell him how far I wanted my new chandelier to hang from the ceiling. 

Scurrying up the stairs in the parking garage of my office complex, my high heel caught in the leg of my floppy pants and I found myself laid out on the cement floor.

My iPhone took the brunt of the impact as my hand hit the pavement, cracking the screen.

Maybe it’s the shoes. Maybe it’s the wardrobe. Maybe I’m just clumsy and I really did need those ballet lessons I begged for when I was eight. 

{So surely this is all my mother's fault, right?}

I seem to be prone to tripping, stumbling and falling.

Like when I fell down the stairs at work {different location, same result} tripping over my heels and bumping down each step, the contents of my purse spilled out around me. 

That episode took effusive insisting that I didn't need to file an incident report to our vice president who came rushing to the bottom of the stairs when she heard the commotion. 

And to take stumbling to an international level, I twisted my ankle on cobblestone steps at a restaurant in Italy, falling on top of my camera and ending up with a gash in my knee and a ruined skirt.  

But my shoes weren't to blame then since I was wearing flats, but I told myself that my feet were so used to high heels they didn’t know how to walk without them. 

{This makes perfect sense, doesn't it?}

But I so often feel as if I'm stumbling along toward God, too. 

I'm walking just fine, moving forward, until I lose my footing. 

Then I'm startled by words I didn't expect to hear, taken aback by an unfamiliar situation, or dazed with uncertainty that paralyzes my decision-making ability.

And I wonder what made me so sure this was the way to go, and what I should do now? 

I'm shaken up a little and trip over my own two feet, lose my balance and find myself flat on the ground.

But for all of us who feel as if we stumble along, there's hope.

I've taken the liberty to change the pronoun from he to she in the verses below. I love to think of them this way and maybe you will too:

The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
though she may stumble, she will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds her with his hand. - Ps. 37:23-24

So I take heart knowing that while one of my hands is busy picking up the pieces scattered in my tumble, my other hand is held, tucked in his. 

But occasionally I stumble upon something that's surprisingly delightful

I wrote about one of those times over at Culture with Travel when I happened upon an honest-to-goodness diner in Paris serving American breakfasts, just a few blocks from my hotel. 

After reading the menu posted on the sidewalk, I couldn't wait for breakfast so I could enjoy what I was missing the most about home. 

{Hint: If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know it's my favorite topic to tweet about!}

Then last year I discovered a book was written about that very restaurant I'd eaten in. So if you'd like to read about my American breakfast in Paris and see photos of the diner, click here.

I've come to realize that my stumbling doesn’t always result in insult and injury, although it's sometimes rather expensive as the bill for my new iPhone screen will attest.

I guess I should just add that expense to the bill for my handyman to hang my new chandelier. If you read last week's post, you may remember he said it would be a complex job with insulation falling from the ceiling while he was precariously positioned on an extra tall ladder. 

Well, it ended up not being as messy as he thought and the ladder made it in and out of my house without breaking anything on the way. {And my handyman made it through okay, too.}

It wasn't cheap but I sure do love the chandelier.

Now when I climb the stairs in my house, I’ll have a lovely, graceful light to guide me. 

And hopefully keep me on my feet.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. That's where my blogging friends and I hang out every week. Join us there!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Seeing in a New Light

Chandelier in Hotel Florence in Bellagio, Italy

I’m kind of in love with chandeliers. 

{You might be able to tell from my blog header photos.}

Especially vintage, French-inspired Italian-esque, chippy-painted white ones. 

I don’t even care if they work. If there are a few sparkling crystals with a hint of a Parisian flair, I’m tempted to buy one solely for use as a decorating accessory.

I’d actually like to replace the ceiling fans with chandeliers in every room in my house, but living in Florida without ceiling fans isn’t really a cool idea. 

{Just a little Floridian humor.}

Chandelier in a historic villa in Bellagio, Italy

I have vintage chandeliers in my living room and entryway and a crooked one hanging near my kitchen, that swings wildly no matter how much I tilt and straighten it. 

But I’ve long thought about getting a chandelier to hang over my stairs.

Since I live in a townhome and there aren’t any windows near the stairs, it’s a perfect space for an interesting light fixture to light the way up and down the stairs.

So last weekend my sister took me to a designer lighting store where she’s had success unearthing great deals. Her latest steal was a showroom model fully assembled chandelier for her entryway.

While I was still in the first room staring at the ceiling, she crisply inspected the entire store, pointing out several to me that were on sale.

I couldn’t make up my mind.

As soon as I saw one I thought I loved, there was another one I liked even better. 

The lights and crystals were a little blinding.

I was overwhelmed by all the dazzle and when I become unsure, I tend to think I should do {and buy} nothing.

My sister said I should just choose one I love and decide later where it should go.

Then I found a chandelier in the back corner of the store she hadn't noticed. 

I wasn’t sure about the best place to hang it in my house, but I knew it was the one.

There's nothing like a lighting store to get you thinking about all the places in your life that could use some illumination.

There’s a decision I need to make soon. 

And an emotional strain I’m thinking about unloading. 

And there are a few dreams I’ve been carrying around that I’m close to putting in cold storage.

For all of these and a few dozen other large and small concerns, I wish I had a big bright light to show me the way to go, what to do, or how to act. 

Inside Notre Dame in Paris

We want a light to show us the way forward, but God wants to be our light.

We want the light-bulb moments to understand the circumstances that don't make sense, brilliant insight into the difficult decisions, and dazzling clarity for the heart-wringing wrestles in prayer.

But instead we have the luminous light of God's presence.
He is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth. -2 Sam. 23:4

For it's those of us who are searching in the inky-black starless night, seeking answers to our deepest questions, and pursuing fulfillment of our still unmet yearnings who get to see God in a new light.

When there's just a shadow showing us there's light off in the distance, illuminating only the next step forward, we learn to trust that what we have is enough and believe what he says is the truth.

Here in our mostly ordinary days, he is the glorious light to our lives, through his words, among those around us, and in between the darkly difficult trials and the magnificently splendid seasons.
The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. - Ps. 119:130
Knowing and seeking and finding are a lifelong pursuit, but enlightenment along life's journey is really God's gift to us, isn't it? 

St. Paul's Chapel in Manhattan

Since I wasn't lucky enough to snag a display piece like my sister's, my new chandelier is spread out in pieces on my dining room table, waiting for my handyman to assemble it. 

He's not all that excited about hanging it in my stairwell.

He says it needs an electrical box installed through the attic and maybe a covering over the ceiling light that's already there. 

{He said a few other things too but I lost track of it all, except that it sounds tricky.}

He says the main thing is his ladder. He doesn't know if it will reach to my ceiling and it will be hard for him to work perched over my stairs, but he says he’ll give it a try.

{I'm just not sure exactly when.}

And by the way, if you’re easily swayed by the names of items like I am, I discovered as I opened the box that my chandelier is from the Venice collection. 

I think that might be an enlightening illumination straight from Italy, don't you?

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there to read more posts from my blogger friends!