Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Brewing Up Some Piping Hot Doubts

I met Nicolette on Twitter. 

{Somehow that still sounds funny to me.} 

She’s a social media consultant in New York City and I answered her tweet for guest bloggers to write for her travel website. She liked my query and published my post, then invited me to join her weekly Twitter chats.

At first I observed the action from a safe distance, because I really had no idea what to do on a live Twitter chat. 

I finally figured out that the tweets fly fast and furious as travelers check in from all over the world to answer questions on a predetermined topic using the group’s hashtag. 

Although I felt intimidated, I told myself if I answered just one question, I would consider my effort a success. Then one week as I was liking other travelers’ tweets and they were retweeting my photos, I realized I was actually having fun. 

Maybe this foray into the Twittersphere wasn't so bad.

I wrote a few more guest posts and it didn't really strike me that they all featured what I cooked or ate during my travels until Nicolette asked me if I’d like to be the travel website’s food correspondent and contribute monthly posts.

That sounded like an assignment that could really whet my appetite! 

But before she got the wrong idea, I confessed that I wasn't much of a world traveler. France and Italy were the only stamps on my passport. 

She said that qualified me as far as she was concerned but then I didn’t hear from her after submitting some recent posts.  

I’ll admit I spent some time fretting that my writing wasn’t travel-worthy after all. Maybe my photos were too amateurish and maybe Nicolette just didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

So this month I wrote about coffee and when I submitted it to her I included a little note that I’d be happy to write about any topic she suggested.

She replied promptly that she didn’t know how it happened but during an unexpectedly busy summer, she’d somehow overlooked my last few posts in her email box and they'd completely slipped by her.

She said she was excited to share them soon. 

So when doubts about what you’re creating start brewing in your heart, when you aren’t sure you should press on, and when you think you have nothing to say or give or share, can I tell you this?

Keep doing what perks up your heart. Be faithful in your daily grind.

Because maybe everything doesn't look as muddy as you thought.

Maybe what's leaving a bitter taste now will sweeten over time. 

And maybe when you wake up and smell the coffee, the delightful aroma of something delicious brewing will revive you.

So grab a cup of coffee and come join me over at Nicolette's site, Culture with Travel

I'd love it {a latte!} if you checked out my post on how I break the international coffee commandments when I travel abroad. 

{Click the image below.}

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart, where my blogger friends are sharing their posts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Making Space to Soar

“This clutter is really bothering me, do you mind if organize it?” 

I wondered what in my rather tidy house could be offending my nine-year-old niece so much that she wanted to clean it. 

I walked into the kitchen and found her standing in front of my refrigerator, studying the shelves. She didn’t like how things were arranged. 

I was a little surprised because honestly, there’s not much in my refrigerator. 

Some containers of strawberries, packs of yogurt, a carton of eggs and about 15 jars of jam is pretty much the extent of it. 

There aren't any abandoned takeout containers hiding in the corners or condiments that are years old.

But I told her to go ahead and move things around however she liked. 

She methodically checked the expiration dates on my cartons of half-and-half and moved the oldest items to the front. She organized my cheese by type and put all the jars on one shelf. 

I asked her why she didn’t tackle the refrigerator at her own house {since I was sure my sister would welcome the help}. She said hers is stocked pretty full but since mine was sort of empty, it was easier to move things around.

I guess when you or your life {or your refrigerator} is fairly empty, there’s room to be filled up.

I’ve been thinking about giving God access to move things around in my life. 

Oh I know he can move in our lives however he sees fit, but there’s something about offering ourselves to him and letting him rearrange those things that we hold on to and letting him rearrange us.  

Because there are so many preoccupations that vie for my attention. 

There's the job-stress {exasperating and recurring}, nagging worries {insignificant and vast}, and perplexing decisions {bulky and trivial}.

But mostly there's the continuous stream of a thousand thoughts that constantly call my name and never have an off-switch.

I'm not sure there is a serene and quiet place where all of it dissipates and unruffles and I feel unflustered and composed.

Life won't linger until everything is organized and sorted through and neatened up, will it? 

So maybe it’s time to make some space in our lives now.

Space for the ordinary and the extraordinary. 

For a blaze of color and creation; breathtaking bliss and wonder; exciting enrichment and adventure; the familiar and unknown; for stillness and sweeping swaths of silence. 

Those are just a slice of the million and one things that are waiting for us to offer space and make room.

So when we fluff the cushions, take a seat and look out over the scenery of our lives, all that clutters is just waiting to be moved around. So we can spread our wings. 

And soar.

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.
-Is. 40:27-31 (MSG)

My niece was quite pleased with her work on my refrigerator shelves and turned her attention to the bags sitting on the floor we’d just brought in from the grocery store. 

“Now I’ll unpack all of these, arrange them in categories and I’ll hand them to you to put away,” she told me.

As I followed her direction, I thought that maybe since I've got more space in my refrigerator, I ought to do some cooking so I'll have leftovers to stock my shelves with. 

Or I could always just call for takeout. I've now got plenty of room for those cute little containers.

A little note on the photos: Thanks to my mother for the Valerie Market photos from her trip to Los Angeles and thanks to my sister for the veggie bar photo from her trip to Rancho Palos Verdes.

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

But That's Another Story

I just learned that my great-grandmother was an Italian cheese-maker.

All my life I’ve listened to my dad tell stories about spending summers on his grandmother’s farm where he rode horses, worked in the fields and cleaned out chicken coops. But this was the first time I’d heard about her making cheese. 

I wondered what kind.

Mozzarella? Provolone? Ricotta?

My dad says he remembers her stirring a big pot on the stove making homemade cheese that she'd take into the city every week to sell, along with her produce, fresh eggs and baked goods. 

Is this where my affinity for food, delight in the culinary arts and interest {although very little skill} in cooking comes from?

Farm life is a rather unusual storyline in my family because I come from a clan of hard-working city dwellers who emigrated from Europe to work in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. 

All I really know about my great-grandmother was that she had the statuesque name of Michelangela and she left southern Italy when she was sixteen to come to America. She had a dozen children but in the middle of her life, she started a new chapter by buying a farm and becoming a business woman. 

I wonder what she thought of her life. 

Did she wish she’d stayed in Italy? What prompted her mid-life change of direction?

I think about the barest of threads that connect our stories from generation to generation. I wonder how I am like those that came before me. 

Maybe I inherited my neat-freakishness from her since my dad tells me she kept a shipshape house, making those doing outdoor work use an outhouse rather than track dirt and mud into her clean house. 

{Which, by the way, I think is a stellar idea.} 

Although sometimes we start a new chapter or turn the page or add an illustration, I think God really writes our life stories.

He's the ultimate author dipping the feather in the inkwell, slipping in commas where we think a conclusion has been written, and giving us a glimpse of the dust cover every now and again so we can find our place in the bigger story

He presides over the divine storyboard, from beginning to end, scribbling in new adventures, composing a collection of love poems, skillfully writing a narrative that gracefully unfolds over the entire course of a life. 

And his stories are unlike any we could have created or chosen on our own. 

I used to wonder if my headstrong notions or over-zealous passions through the years set me on a winding and curvy course away from the mainstream crowds. Maybe they got in the way and things could have been different.

Maybe if I'd have taken that job in Dallas or said yes to that date or kept up the friendship or agreed to serve in that volunteer role, things would be different in my life. 

But I don’t think so.  

I’m pretty sure things were supposed to turn out this way. 

That relationship wasn’t meant to work out. 

That job was never earmarked to be my career. 

That friendship was destined to fade away. 

That opportunity was intended to come to naught. 

That dream was meant to disintegrate.

Everything that happens to us in life contours our character and unfolds who we are on the inside, inclining our hearts toward God until we are near enough to see and hear and feel his heart for us.

For all those things in our lives that don't work out like we thought or dreamed or wanted, in due time new hope emerges. 

Telling myself I have to, should have, or could have been limits my story and makes it only about me.

Because there's never just one way to be happy. 

How could there ever be just one job, one person, one dream that will make a life beautiful?

I'm not sure why, in the middle of her life story, my great-grandmother decided to become a farmer and cheese-maker. 

But I wonder if she realized that her farm was such a place of joy for my dad, offering him a refuge away from his cramped city apartment and inspiring him with the love that was missing in his motherless life. 

Even now, little pieces of her story still flutter across the generations. And maybe it's that way for us too. 

Maybe our life stories are more purposeful than we could ever imagine.

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. -Eph. 1:11-12 (MSG)

Despite my questions, my dad can’t remember what kind of cheese my great-grandmother made. He only recalls that it tasted delicious.

Then a thought flashed across my mind.

Were there any goats on her farm? 

My dad couldn’t rule it out completely but said he didn’t recall any goats. 

Oh well. Maybe the Italian goats I'll meet on my trip to Italy in the spring will turn the page on the comedy chapter in the story of my life.

I'm ready for more of the story.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's Coffee for your Heart. Hop over and read more posts to encourage your day!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Taken by Surprise

I don’t like surprises very much. 

I think it’s because I’m an organized planner and surprises, of course, foil my best laid plans. 

I prefer to avoid having my lifeboat rocked by unpredictable waves and sudden wind gusts that catch me off guard and blow me away.

But last week I was surprised {several times over} and I think I’ve been wrong about surprises.

I’m not sure I want to live a life resisting the element of surprise.

For weeks, I’d been trying to make some decisions and I couldn’t seem to arrive at any conclusions.

When a friend I hadn’t seen in a year unexpectedly sent me a text, we made plans to meet for lunch. She so thoughtfully listened to my dilemmas and offered insightful input that I was sure her timely text was heaven-sent.

Then in just one day the fog cleared, clarity arrived and everything I’d been fretting about with work and finances and travel and friendships took me by surprise.

Do you ever wonder how God is working in the details of your everyday life? 

Even though I have questions and doubts, I know that when I can’t see what he’s doing, he’s always moving.

But the way God moves in our lives is everything I dislike about surprises. 

I can't anticipate or ever predict or be certain of his ways because of who he is. I will always be surprised by God, because there’s more to know than I can ever grasp with my finite mind.

And I realize that I desperately want a God like this. It can't be any other way.

He’s not controllable or able to be manipulated or pushed around. 

It's part of the magnificent, completely powerful and unpredictable nature of God to surprise.

So how can I have faith if I don’t like surprises? 

This walk of faith -- this belief in an unseen and invisible God -- is one unexpected, perpetual surprise. I’ll never be able to completely figure it out but I’m learning to surrender to the mystery.

When we move forward in faith, the element of surprise just can’t be eliminated. 

I stumbled upon the website of Elizabeth Minchilli, a writer living in Rome, who offers food tours of her favorite neighborhoods. 

She also hosts food-centric week-long adventures in Rome that sound delizioso. The week is filled with tours and tastings of mozzarella, pizza bianca and deep fried artichokes, a visit to one of Rome’s oldest bakeries, and dinner at one of the oldest wine shops. 

There's a cooking class, a private lunch at the American Academy of Rome, and cappuccinos as you roam with her all over Rome.

As I stared at the online photo of her book, I wondered why it looked so familiar. 

I looked over at my bookshelf and was surprised to see that I already had her book. Sitting there among my books was Eating Rome

Then I remembered I’d ordered it a year ago only because Amazon suggested it to qualify my order for free shipping. 

I wasn't planning to visit Rome but thought I’d browse it for the recipes. So I clicked, Add to my Cart and promptly forgot about the book until a few weeks ago.

I exchanged emails with Elizabeth who told me her fall tour was sold out but how about Rome in the spring? 

What really piqued my interest on the itinerary was a day trip to the village of Orvieto to visit an organic goat cheese farm. 

Now if you know anything about my love for goats {just kidding} how could I possibly pass up the opportunity of visiting a goat farm, not once but twice in my life, stateside in Atlanta and overseas in Rome? 

{You can read about my Atlanta goat farm adventure here.}

So I’m going to Rome in March. To meet some Italian goats. 

Where it should come as no surprise that I plan to be continually taken by surprise, pleasantly surprised and caught by surprise. 

Which of course, surprises even me.

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When Your Hopes Are Flatter Than a Pancake

When I was in Italy last summer, I saw several abandoned properties during my walking and boating tours and they captured my fancy. 

There was a villa under legal dispute, a stone farmhouse empty and covered with vines yet with a perfectly mowed lawn right down to edge of the lake, and an archway that once led to somewhere lovely but now opened onto a field of weeds.

I wondered about their histories and how they got to their ramshackle conditions. It was hard to tell if they’d been like that for decades or centuries. 

When I see crumbling and ramshackle places, it's easy to imagine a story for myself in their settings. 

I’d be the heroine {of course}, moving to Italy to buy the abandoned farm, renovate the property {with the help of a handyman} and bring the house back to life. 

In my own story, I’d also meet the handsome but churlish neighbor or cranky village bachelor and in time I’d win his heart.

Then we’d happily turn the old homestead into an olive farm with a few goats to make our own cheese. {Cue book deal and romantic comedy movie script.} 

Oh and then we'd open an inn on our farm so a host of hilarious guests would provide plenty of content for future books and movies.

Maybe you've crafted a storyline too but like me, you realize that our lives rarely unfold like a Hollywood movie. 

I don't know about you, but I feel less like a heroine and more like those old houses sometimes. 

I find myself in desperate need of a change, especially on the inside. I'd like those old vines that are choking the life out of me with my mundane routine, rooted up and ripped out. 

And some fresh color on my tired and chipped exterior wouldn't hurt either. 

I’ve been hoodwinked by my hopes and deceived by my desires. 

And honestly I’m a little mad at them too. 

Those tricksters were up to no good the whole time, making me think a new thing was around the corner, turning my head and spinning me off in the wrong direction.

And now I don't even want my hopes rescued and I don't want anything to do with recovering my soul or renewing possibilities.

But it's kind of hard to discard what I've been training my mind and soul and heart to do for more than a handful of years now. 

Do I really want to have the bricks continue to crumble and the weeds to overgrow and the paint to peel after I look back and see how far God has lovingly nudged me to the edges of what I thought I could ever do and faithfully summoned me to places I never dreamed I could go?

So when you want to give up because your hopes are squashed, could I ever so kindly whisper to your heart to do just one thing more?

Flip the pancake.

My nine-year-old niece told me I’d lost my mojo for making pancakes. 

The last few times I've made them, she hasn't liked them and we've gone out for donuts instead. 

Truthfully, my pancakes are nothing special. They're just from a mix in a plastic yellow jug that I add some chocolate chips to, but my niece has always said that I make the best pancakes.

It always made me laugh.

But last Saturday morning, she told me to give it one more try. I made the pancakes the way I always have and flipped one onto the Paris plate she always eats her pancakes on when she visits my house.

She raised her eyebrows and took a bite.

"Yep," she said. "These are as good as they used to be."

Now that I've gotten my pancake groove back, this very small, most insignificant thing has renewed my faith for the days ahead. 

If you're going through something hard or sad or difficult, do the tiniest, most minuscule thing you can think of to give your hope a fighting chance. 

It might be enough to lift your head so your eyes can glimpse that stunning vista off in the distance. 

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.  
2 Cor. 4:16a (MSG)

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