• My One Word for 2022: Mindfulness

    I’ve shared often about how I don’t really believe in setting New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, tend to choose a word or phrase to help guide me over the coming year. In 2015, I chose the word home. 2016 was grow. 2017 was querencia, and the following year was well. 2019’s word was enough, and 2020 was rooted. This past year, I focused on the word embodied, and while I sense that I’m not completely done with that particular word yet, it was time for me to start thinking ahead about where God and life have been leading me.

    Which brought me to this year’s word: mindfulness.

    Let me tell you: I fought against it a bit. Mindfulness seems terribly unexciting, to be honest. But it also feels very right and very true for the season that I am currently in. I’ve been working to consider the environmental impact of my choices which is, in essence, being mindful. Whether it’s downsizing to one car, shopping second-hand and avoiding fast fashion, or choosing reusable or even biodegradable products, I have felt it very important to be conscious of taking care of the earth and our global community and I want to continue this mindset in the new year.

    I’m also embarking on a No-Buy year as a way to enhance my life value of slow living, reject capitalism, and become more mindful of how and where I spend money. As I continue my seminary studies, I am being mindful of where I perhaps may be called to ministry. I am committing to be mindful of my health, eating a variety of foods that make my body feel vibrant, moving in ways that are joyful for me, and making sure I stay hydrated and rested. I want to be mindful of how I choose to spend my time, especially surrounding social media and the tension between how I use it vs how it can use me. Mindfulness is reading more books, and embracing the early mornings, and the discipline of prayer, and study. It means healthy boundaries, and living in community, and remembering we all belong to one another, and choosing to live as if the kingdom is here on earth just as it is in heaven. Being made well means having accountability, and learning to say no, and exchanging what might make me feel better in the moment for what will sustain me in the future. It means, as Jonathan Martin would say, learning to be both vigilant and tender; to see hard things and sometimes say hard things–and yet, not allow my heart to be hardened. It means fresh air, and singing more, and writing, and taking care of my skin. It means wearing clothes in the size I actually am and not the size I want to be, because ain’t nobody got time to be suffocated by what doesn’t free you, and it means recognizing that’s a metaphor for living an authentic actual life, too.

    Mindfulness might mean hard work, but it’s also holy work, and it’s where I feel called as we walk into this new year.

    Do you make resolutions or choose a word or intention? What’s your focus for 2022? I’d love to hear from you; simply leave a comment below!

  • city landscape landmark skyline

    The Table of My Ancestors: Week 15 (Spain)

    To read the post that started it all, click here!

    This week’s exploration took me to the city of Segovia, northwest of Madrid, in the in the comunidad autónoma (autonomous community) of Castile-León. Segovia is the site of the expansive medieval Alcázar palace and the famous Segovia aqueduct, the city was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1985, and its famous recipe?


    Not just any cake, though. It’s a cake called ponche segoviano. A special kind of rich vanilla cake that is layered with cream and topped with marzipan and a sugar topping. The topping is then blow-torched into a sort of trellis pattern, which carmelizes the sugar. It’s traditionally made in a rectangle and sold in Segovia. There has even been a war of patents for the authorship of this sweet, which finally won the confectionery El Alcázar as inventors of the product and the texture.

    So, yeah. This is no ordinary cake.

    A photo of ponche segoviano from bake-street.com

    As it turns out, trying to recreate it was no easy task. I didn’t have rectangular cake pans, and I also (go figure) don’t exactly have blowtorches lying around. That said, I’ve learned throughout this project that adaptation is okay, and sometimes we need to focus on doing playing the cards we’re dealt without worrying about what’s in everyone else’s hand. The point of this project was to explore my ancestry through cuisine, and part of the exploration process is learning what does (and doesn’t!) work for me. I’m a unique and complex individual made from unique and complex heritages — and the gift of this project, I think, is that I get to learn from my ancestors while applying everything to my here-and-now context. What a gift.

    (Plus, through my research, I learned that ponche segoviano only started to be sold in the mid 1920’s, and my DNA suggests my Spanish ancestry goes back further than that. So the chances of my ancestors having made this particular dessert are slim to none.)

  • facade of ancient landmark with arches

    The Table of My Ancestors: Week 14 (Spain)

    To read the post that started it all, click here!

    Finding Spanish recipes has proven to be a bit of a challenge, mainly because Spain’s cuisine is quite similar to my cooking style already. So I’ve started looking at different geographical regions and what they’re known for. Along the way, I came across a recipe for chuletas de cero a la Madrilena — pork chops from Madrid. Buying fresh, juicy pork is key, as is the paprika and parsley. Overall, it was a simple, tasty meal that I’d definitely make again! I served it with some oven roasted potatoes and carrots.

    I’m really excited about next week because I’m tackling my first Spanish cake — stay tuned!

  • aerial view of city buildings

    The Table of My Ancestors: Week 13 (Spain)

    To read the post that started it all, click here!

    The second-largest percentage of my DNA is traced to the Iberian Peninsula: Spain and Portugal. This area had over 800 years of North African rule, which is not surprising since the third-biggest section of my ancestry is represented in the North African region. I’ve been practicing Spanish for several years, so it was exciting to see that Spain was so largely represented in my genetic makeup. (Fun fact: quite a few Spanish words actually have Arabic origins!) As I piece my family tree together, it seems likely that conquistadors from Spain and Portugal in my ancestral line colonized North Africa, and the mingling is what contributed to my unique DNA.

    I make quite a few Spanish dishes regularly because they’re simple and delicious. (I love me some tapas!) Spanish food focuses on fresh, quality ingredients and the basic spices are salt, olive oil, paprika, and garlic.

    One of my current favorites I discovered is simply called pan con tomate — literally just grilled bread with some olive oil and sliced tomatoes. I’ve been eating it for breakfast with some goat cheese or Greek yogurt.

    For dinner, I spiced up (literally) another favorite — arroz con pollo. For an extra Spanish touch, I made a bravas sauce with pimenton to go over it.

    A few years ago on New Years Eve, we made a delicious paella that I can’t wait to recreate later in the month. For now, though, I’m enjoying eating looooots of pan con tomate and exploring traditional Spanish recipes that will bring the tastes of the Iberian Peninsula home.

  • How to make an eco-friendly family Advent calendar on a budget!

    I used to get my kids chocolate Advent calendars. They were quick and easy ways to do a family countdown until Christmas, and the kids loved them and looked forward to opening a new door each day.

    The problem, however, is that once they swallowed that last bit of chocolate, it was over. They were on to the next thing. All the anticipation and reflection that ought to come with the Advent season was gone in one or two bites. And we all were still left wanting.

    So this year, I made the conscious decision to slow down. Using an old photo hanger (which could easily be recreated with some wood, twine, and a hammer and nails), I clipped up reusable burlap bags for each day of December. The little wood cutouts with the dates on them were purchased from Etsy for less than $5, and they can be either hot glued on or tied around the bag with some twine. (I chose the latter.)

    This whole thing costs (way) under $20 to make!

    Since family dinners are the time when we all sit together and connect, the kids will get to open one bag after dinner each night leading up to Christmas. What you fill the bags with is totally up to you!

    • candies or chocolates
    • cookies (I wrap some mini shortbreads up in a brown paper bag and put them in)
    • small ornaments
    • little toys
    • pieces of a Nativity set (our is made of olive wood, and I placed the 12 pieces sporadically throughout the month so the kids can build it as they count down)
    • coupons for special treats to enjoy as a family (I did: choose your own dinner; make ice cream sundaes; family movie trip; and more!)
    • tickets for family activities (I did: bake for neighbors; make Christmas cards for shut-ins; choose a gift to donate through a non-profit’s giving catalog; and more!)
    • scripture cards (we do one a day)
    A few of our ideas

    There really are so many ways to make this project your own and tailor it to your own family! The best part is you can use a lot of the ideas year after year, so it’s an inexpensive way to celebrate each December. And the quality time you get with your kiddos truly is priceless.

    If you end up trying one of your own, leave a comment to let me know. I’d love to see what other people are doing!

  • anise aroma art bazaar

    The Table of My Ancestors: Week 12 (Egypt)

    To read the post that started it all, click here!

    As I close out my month of exploring my Egyptian heritage, I feel like I’ve grown in my appreciation for the culture and the history, particularly, of this fascinating country. But in all honesty, the food aspect has been just…okay. The last dish I’d had planned is considered the national meal of Egypt, and it’s called koshari. It’s rice and lentils mixed with elbow macaroni and chickpeas, then topped with a homemade tomato & vinegar sauce and crispy onions. It sounded pretty strange, I have to say. Just a big ol’ bowl of starchy carbohydrates covered in sauce. In fact, I debated not making it at all. But, as I posted in my Instagram stories, it is important for me to remain authentic through all this, so I pulled up the recipe and began.

    Everyone eyed the dish with suspicion when we sat down to eat, including me. But I’m happy to report it wasn’t nearly as strange as I thought it would be. Sure, the starches all kind of blend together in your mouth, so you have no idea if you’re eating rice or a piece of pasta. But it was a warm comfort food, and I can see its appeal. The tomato sauce was unique and added a nice zing of sharpness to the carbs, and the crispy onions were, well, delicious. I don’t think I’ll make it again, but I do think I’ve learned a few things through cooking this dish.

    Egyptian koshari

    The first is a reminder to keep being open to being surprised. And that applies to all of life, not just this project. So often, if I think I know how something is going to go, I make up my mind and make judgments about it ahead of time. But here’s the thing: sometimes I’m wrong. (Shocker, I know!) We’re all wrong sometimes. And what’s important, I think, is not that we never get it wrong but that we learn from it, instead. We get back up and try again, try a new way.

    The other thing came from a brief conversation with a lovely friend of mine named Fiona. She reminded me that authenticity, the very thing I’ve wanted to hold tightly to, also means variation. Every town or family has their own “authentic” recipes or ways of doing things, and each would swear that theirs is the quote-unquote right way. Authenticity certainly is a big buzz word in today’s society, but like Fiona, I think I may need to release some of my expectations of that word. This is, after all, my journey through the countries of my heritage. It’s deeply subjective, and it isn’t going to look like anyone else’s.

    Recognizing that brings a deeper sense of freedom, I think, as I start the second half of this project.

  • The Table of My Ancestors: Week 11 (Egypt)

    To read the post that started it all, click here!

    It’s been nearly three months of exploring my ancestry through food, and I am learning so very much. I’ll be honest — there have been a few recipes that fell flat because the kids’ palates aren’t as adventurous as mine. But even then, the joy that comes from sitting down to a common meal as a family is worth it all.

    The table is central to our family’s theology. It represents the wide welcome of Christ to feed on God’s feast of goodness, mercy, and love. It is also the great equalizer: no matter what divides us or what our differences may be, we all come to the table as equals, as those who hunger and desire to be filled. There’s a reason that food and feasting and tables are so prevalent in scripture, I think. God desires that we all get our fill.

    The table is where we connect — to God, to each other, to our community as we remember those who don’t have enough, as we work to give them what they need. It’s a place where we get to be ourselves, where we’re always welcome and wanted, where we can talk and taste and share stories and catch glimpses of the divine in each other.

    What we eat doesn’t really matter, in the end. Whether the kids like it is unimportant. But that space and time together — it’s there that the air between heaven and earth is thin.

    With all this in mind, I set out to make chicken shawarma this week. If you haven’t heard of shawarma before, it’s a dish that consists of thin slices of meat that are stacked in a sort of cone shape. The meat (which of course is exquisitely seasoned) is then roasted on a slow-turning vertical spit, and then served in flat bread as a kind of sandwich.

    Now, I obviously don’t have a vertical spit to roast meat on, so I gave my best effort via oven roasting the chicken. Of course, there weren’t as many crispy bits as an authentic shawarma, but the star of the show was really the seasoning. I have loved experimenting with all these different flavors!

    My son refused to even try it, and my daughter only ate the flatbread, so obviously, they weren’t the biggest fans. But it opened up a conversation about why I am making so many Egyptian meals this month, and I was able to explain my Egyptian heritage to them, which they both thought was pretty cool.

    Next week is my last Egyptian recipe, and then we’re off to España!

  • Embodied faith

    “From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God is intrinsically connected to matter.”

    My professor ended his weekly devotional video with those words, and I can’t stop thinking about them. I think it’s because there’s such a temptation in modern Christianity to make our religion all about the head, or the heart, or the soul, all at the expense of the body — the flesh and bone and marrow and muscle, the tangible, the tactile, the physical. But ours is an embodied faith, displayed perfectly in an embodied Christ.

    Our biblical arc begins in a garden and ends in a city. The ark of the covenant, which carried the very presence of God, will be seen when we inhabit the new heaven and new earth. Jesus healed with mud and spit, and all this reminds me that things and nature and objects — all of creation — bear the fingerprint of God. And, I believe, God somehow exists in them.

    Why does it matter? Because if true, our walking-around, right-here and right-now lives matter so much more than we realize. Because if true, our planet, the very dust from which we were made, is sacred. Because if true, we are a beloved community that is part of a beloved creation. Because if true, redemption and salvation are not just for our souls but for our bodies and for our earth, too.

    If God dwells in a wooden chest covered in gold, I imagine God also dwells in bread and wine and blood and breath and wind and trees and clay and songs and books and paint and fire and animals and tears and skin and me and you.

  • wood man people woman

    The Table of My Ancestors: Week 10 (Egypt)

    Through my research, I have found that Egyptian food can be quite similar to Middle Eastern food, of which I ate quite a bit during my years overseas. However, this week, I came across a recipe I had never heard of before but sounded quite delicious. It was for something called umm ali, which is a national dish of Egypt. The legend is that it dates all the way back to Egypt’s Mamluk era (1250-1517) and is named after the wife of the Sultan at the time. She asked her cooks to come up with the most delicious dessert they could create for a victory feast, and it was so good that she distributed it among the people of the land. Umm ali is a type of bread pudding, made with puffed pastry or phyllo dough (I used the former), raisins, shredded coconut, pistachios and pine nuts, then topped with a milk and sugar mixture and baked.

    This was absolutely delicious and changed my views on Egyptian food. My family hasn’t loved the recipe so far this month, but umm ali won them over. It’s best served warm with some whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

  • Church In The Margins

    About ten years ago, I walked away from church.

    I didn’t lose my faith in Jesus, but I did say goodbye to worshipping in the same way with the same words and the same songs and in the same routine. Instead, I found a new way to do church. Because at the end of the day, church for me is finding the holy in unexpected spaces — spaces where I encounter Emmanuel, God with us — and responding to it.

    If God is truly in all things, then why did I have to be IN a church to HAVE church?

    So, I had church in living rooms and at kitchen tables, on porches and hiking trails, in orange armchairs and bookstores and breweries. I had church with grandmothers and brothers and seekers and musicians, with people of different races and different denominations and different genders and different sexual orientations, and God showed up, and it was exceedingly, abundantly good.

    I’m back in church now, and truly, I love the liturgy and prayers that my pastor-husband leads us in there. But as I reach the approximate halfway point in my seminary journey and discern my call for ordination and soon, prayerfully, place myself under the care of my Presbytery as an inquirer in the ordination process, the one thing that I’ve been wrestling with is whether I really want to do pastoral ministry “in a church.” Yes, those have been my words. Because I think, when I get right down to it, I want to pastor, and I want to minister, but I want to do it in a place where we can re-imagine church together, not as a building in and of itself, but in unexpected places that bleed into the margins, for that’s where I find Jesus showing up the most.

    So. I’m still gonna get that M.Div. I’m still, Lord willing, going to be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). I’m still gonna be a Rev. But as far as how I lead a community, a church, once that’s all said and done? That’s still a big unknown.

    And truthfully, I’m ok with that right now. Because the Holy Spirit loves to surprise us, and for now, all I need to do is trust that goodness and mercy, wherever I may go, will follow.