Tuesday, August 25, 2015

around the table

 “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, 
"what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.

I hear about these people who glance up at the clock only to realize it’s three in the afternoon, and they haven’t eaten lunch.  I will never understand these people – people who eat purely for survival and view meal time as an obligatory task giving them fuel to tackle more important endeavors.
I know they exist – people who eat plain chicken, put skim milk in their coffee, and don’t plan weekends to revolve around new recipes, but these are not my people.  I love food, and not just the eating part.  I love everything that goes along with it.
I love reading through cookbooks, bookmarking recipes, and meal planning for the week.  I love pouring a glass of wine, turning on music, and chopping piles of veggies to be thrown into a hissing pot.  I love plopping my children up on the counter to help measure, mix, and taste test every step of the way.   And I love it all even more when I know friends will soon arrive to gather around the table.   It doesn’t have to be a meal fit for Top Chef; pizza and Three Buck Chuck will work just fine because ultimately, it’s not really about the food.  Food may be the starting point, the common ground, but when friends take time to sit around a table and eat, it will eventually lead to sharing life together.  That is the real reason I love to cook.  
Every so often God loves to blow me away by answering a prayer I never had the guts to actually pray.  I mean really, how ridiculous to ask the Lord for friends who love food as much as Stephen and I do.  And yet over the past ten years, God keeps surprising us with dear friends that can talk food and embrace a messy kitchen right alongside us.
These are friends who come into our kitchen and know right where to find the cutting board and bread knife.  They invite us over hours before dinner because it’s just expected that yes, of course we want to help stuff the perogies or roll out the tortillas.  We know their spices are in the corner cabinet, and they know our wine corkscrew is in the top left drawer.  We sample sauces simmering on their stove, and they help themselves to anything in our fridge without asking.  We know we are welcome to set up a pack 'n play in the back room if today’s meal overlaps with naptime or bedtime, and they know they are welcome to stay long after I’ve gone to bed.  I love this.  To me, it is friendship at its greatest.
And such was the case this weekend as Stephen and I teamed up with Matt and Beth for what I can only assume is the first annual, Smokefest 2015.  

Matt arrived at our house at 6:15 am to pick up Stephen and our grill.  After all, one grill isn’t enough for Smokefest.  Hickory woodchips were placed on the charcoal and the meat (a beef brisket and 14 pounds of Boston butt!) was on the grill by 7:30 am.  Rotating shifts were assigned in order to allow each family to still go to church. Beth and I were on sides and pie duty, and the five children stayed out of the kitchen as long as we allowed them to stick a finger or two into the whipped cream filled bowl.   We made multiple trips to Kroger to pick up forgotten ingredients, and the pork took four hours longer than expected.  I ate at least half the greens right out of the pan before they even made it to the table, and 9-month-old Andrew pounded a good portion of the mac & cheese before all the dishes had been past.  But look at that spread. 

Twelve hours of food preparation with friends.  Worth every minute.  

 “…the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God’s presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table.”
-Shauna Niequist, Bread &Wine 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


 There once was a girl who loved to write.
That’s me.  Joy. Welcome to 44 & Oxford.
I have loved to write ever since I was young, but somewhere between post-college graduation blues and oh-man-this-is-adulthood, I started believing the lie that grown ups don’t write for fun. 
Today, that changes.

Today I remember that I’ve always been a writer; it just slipped away for a bit.  
Let's take a moment and remember together. 

Age 6: I fill the pages of my first diary, shamelessly using phrases such as “Dear Diary” and “See you again tomorrow,” and then hide the tiny key under a ceramic Beauty and the Beast figurine on my highest shelf.
Age 7: I co-author my first novel entitled Tom and Amy’s Birthday Party, a riveting page-turner of two best friends thrown into the ultimate test of loyalty when they discover they’ve planned their birthday parties on the same day.  Venues have been booked. Invitations have been mailed. Classmates are taking sides, and no one is backing down.  Will Tom and Amy’s friendship survive?  (I can’t make this stuff up.  Unfortunately, we gave the only copy to our second grade teacher as an end-of-year gift.  After all, she had laminated the cover for us.)
Age 11: My fifth grade teacher gives me the Most Likely to Win the Pulitzer Prize award.  This is most certainly the result of the brazen letter I voluntarily write to our state governor pushing to expand recycling programs in school cafeterias.  Wow. Such gumption.
Age 15: I take my first journalism class, which propels me into a career as a reporter for the high school newspaper. (You may recall my column titled Joybells Tells.)
Age 18: I enter college with intentions of pursuing a degree in journalism, but change majors after watching an episode of Oprah dedicated to teachers.   I sit on my couch crying, weeping, sobbing uncontrollably as Oprah highlights teachers who changed the lives of their students. (Should I be embarrassed right now?)   After the show I call my mom to tell her I am switching majors, to which she responds, “Yeah, I knew this was coming.  You’re meant to be a teacher.”
Age 22:  I stand in front of my first class of fourth graders, counting down the minutes until our first writing workshop together.   With a giddy smile, I release them to open new notebooks and write anything they want.  They stare at me, then at their blank pages and back at me.  “What are we supposed to write about?” one boy asks.  “Anything you want!”  30 minutes later and there are still just blank pages.  Wait.  I have to actually teach these children to write?
Age 25: Official adulthood settles in and takes its toll.  Teaching is overwhelming, my beloved writing workshop continues to be a major flop, and I’m too tired at night to do anything but watch all ten seasons of Friends. True story. 
Age 28: I discover blogs and spend an ungodly amount of time scrolling through the writings of strangers whom I soon begin referring to as friends.  I consider starting my own blog.
 Age 28 plus a few months: I talk myself out of the blog.
Age 29: I consider starting my own blog.
Age 29 plus a few months: I talk myself out of the blog.
(You get the idea. Lather, rinse, repeat.)
Age 30 Something:  Another literacy coach tells me I need a space to write and to stop making excuses and start a blog already.  She warns me that hardest part is coming up with the name.  She is right.  Poor Stephen (the hubby) is trapped in a 5-hour brainstorming session of potential blog names during our road trip to Pennsylvania.
And this brings me to today. 
There will always be a world out there pulling me away from writing.  There will be lunches to pack and a snooze button screaming to be hit one more time. But I need to start writing again, and I hope you will consider doing the same.
Thanks for stopping by. Let’s do this.