23 August 2008


Apparently now when I type titles to my blog, it decides sometimes to revolt and type in Nepali script. This time it says "nesting". The script is much like Bengali script, so I can sort of read it.

Last Friday morning on my way to get coffee in the kitchen, I stopped dead in my tracks, sniffing the air. There was a cool breeze blowing in from the open living room window, the sunlight was already slanting down through the huge old tree in front of our house. It was early. I could hear the voices of kids outside.

"It smells like something. What does it smell like?" I asked Court. She froze just as I had, narrowed her eyes, sniffed a few times, and waited. "It smells like school," she said with eyebrows raised.

Yeessssss! That was exactly it. The edge of coolness, the smell of lawn mowing in the neighborhood, the smell of morning. It makes you want to buy new pens and note cards, doesn't it?

Today the roomie and I cleaned up a storm. The kind of cleaning where you wipe down your weird tiled kitchen ceiling and scape leaves out of the window sills, make everything fresh, rearrange the slip covers, dust the baseboards, clean out behind those catch-all radiators, evict the spiders that have taken residence behind shelves and in dark corners. How satisfying.

For Perhaps:

School starts Thursday, and I think this cleaning frenzy is a form of nesting. Going to school is a bit like having a baby--there are some things you can expect and know will be hard, some amazing things that you never could have known were in store, some things you will learn about yourself and others that are great, and some things that will be revealed about yourself and the world that are not so great. Getting ready for the flurry of activity, the full weeks and many books to read and meetings to attend. Making space, organizing. Mentally, emotionally. There is build-up, there is anticipation.

A group of us in what I have recently decided to name "the western edge of the eastside" (which sort of works, depending on where you are in St. Louis) are setting up a carpool group. There is talk of community dinners before some evening classes. I think that, yes, I am excited for school to start.

The faculty moved into offices in the new building on campus, one that they have been working on for the past year. It was needed, since the other building is sort of falling in on itself. At the same time, walking through to drop something off to a professor sort of gave me a heart ache. The building is quite lovely, quite expensive and smelling like fresh paint and newness.

But I think I am just kind of ruined. My office with the new job will be in this beautiful building, but there is the reality of the rest of the world that is a low hum (sometimes a loud screech) in my brain that makes just going through daily activities of living uncomfortable and saddening. I actually posted another thing like this a while back, but took it down because I felt like a real Debbie Downer. But it still sickens me: I see this, and I can't help but think of this.

As I sit in classes learning about counseling, I focus my mind on the thin, sorrow etched face of the woman whose living room I sat in in Ethiopia. A woman whose eyes looked exhausted, whose life for the last several years has entailed caring for her husband, who is now in the process of dying. About a month ago, we sat in this living room and prayed with this man who is in the final stages of AIDS, whose brain has been affected by the disease. He sat up in a chair and light poured in to their tiny corrugated metal home through a sunlight cut into the roof. It came down right on him, as if he were being illuminated by Light Himself. His face became golden with the light. I felt like I was catching a glimpse of some sort of transfiguration as we prayed for healing and comfort for this family. It was a sort of bizarre, holy and life-transforming thing that you don't soon forget, that induces mourning and hope at the same time.

Lord have mercy.

So. As the school year begins, there is anticipation, there is sorrow, there is frustration, there is thankfulness for friends and community. And there is the hope that with all of us God breaks in and captures our hearts for a vision of his Kingdom that is more than classrooms, more than maddening discrepancies, more than situations that feel hopeless, more than what we personally can or can't do. I reflect back over years past, and the ways God has confronted, transformed, challenged, healed, chided and beckoned. And I guess as the school year starts I sort of know what to expect from myself and from Him: I have no idea what it will look like, but I am looking forward to more; asking him to show us more.

18 August 2008


I am a cook. I have sliced and roasted, toasted, stirred, sautéed, pureed, baked, boiled, measured, chopped, spooned, spread, diced, mixed and shredded.

Today I poured the muffins into the tins, and made the scones. The scones plop down onto the metal trays one by one filled with all kinds of mouth-watering things—cranberries and almonds, walnuts and chocolate chips, cinnamon, apples, raisins, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, bananas. There are times when there are chunks of butter in the dough, so that when you bake them off, there are little glistening pools. They steam a bit. They melt in your mouth. They are biscuity outside and soft inside. Golden brown on top—that’s when you know they are done. You don’t set at timer. You check back often.

There is the flour, patted off my hands and onto my apron a hundred times a day. Buttery off-white sugar cookie dough made in the big mixer. Its texture is fluffy and soft; you can barely taste the cream cheese and vanilla, but they are there. Sugar cookies with with vanilla butter cream frosting on top, sprinkled with shiny, brightly colored sanding sugar to decorate the sunflower and ice cream cone shapes.

The colors and textures—you wouldn’t believe them: the waxy skinned green zucchini and cucumber; red tomatoes that smell like heaven. The eggplant with the skin of a shark, the skin of a seal, the waxy deep purple skin. It is a bit squeaky; is shiny and waterproof. Amazing God-made thing. Squash with its spongy texture and intricate patterns of dots and seeds inside, like a henna tattoo in white.

Then there are the watermelons, with their stippled green outer layer and surprising pink insides. The juice runs out when you pick up the slices; soft and crunchy at the same time. Who could think of such a combination? As I slice, I think: what if we had to describe our food to aliens, to people who didn’t know what watermelon was?

At 8:30 I go out to cut stems of basil that grows as tall as your waist in the back garden, near the fire escape. I feel like a culinary florist. Snip snip.
Today I make small focaccia pizzas on herbed bread with garlic and olive oil, provolone, artichokes, roasted red peppers. Tomato, basil and mozzarella. One that is savory sweet: spinach with tart cranberries, gorgonzola and a drizzle of honey on top. Cheddar in slices, mozzarella in soft shreds, parmesan in even shards, feta in tasty little crumbles.

I stir the giant pots of black beans and onions, tomatoes and cilantro. Make rice with spices and lemon juice and garlic to go with the falafel patties, baked in the oven until they are brown and crispy. Tray after tray after tray brushed with olive oil and filled with sliced vegetables for roasting.

The kitchen smells of cinnamon, then of garlic and onions, then of chocolate chip cookies. I need to chop thirty potatoes—chop until my fingers are numb.

Everything has a process, but to me it is a wonderfully loose science. There is always a new combination to be made to fit your mood—a subdued tomato garbanzo bean soup, an ostentatious three bean wine and cheese soup with crusty toasted bread to go alongside. A new flavor fitting to each season—roasted apples with sautéed onions, honey mustard and brie on wheat bread. Depending on the busyness of the day, we make treats in secret. Our favorite is croissants stuffed with roasted walnuts, raspberries and chocolate.

We eat together, tasting new experimental recipes. Maybe this is why when you work in a kitchen with someone, you feel a little like family. We eat together standing around listening to someone’s mix cd brought from home, or to NPR’s morning edition. It sounds funny, but there is a whole world inside that tiny space. We talk about unexpected things, things that would surprise you.

Everyone brings their hunger to the kitchen, if you know what I mean.

When it is time to leave, my feet ache a bit, and my hands are stained with the ingredients I have used. I am covered in a misted film of olive oil, spices, flour and butter, and the smell of roasted coffee. I untie my apron and pack up my cds, and emerge into the intense sunlight of the hot afternoon. Later, I find a stowaway slice of zucchini in the cuff of my jeans.

I have been a cook. And now, back to school.

15 August 2008