relationship tidbits: many the miles

My now-fiancé and I began our relationship in a way that is anything but conventional: with him in the Chicago area and I in Southern California. We had met and became close as freshman at college, but he had transferred after our first year… a couple months later, we began dating, 2,084 miles apart. Over the next three years, the two of us lived on two continents, in six states, and in four different time zones. We’re together now (thankfully!), but I will never forget what it took to get us to this place.

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How could I describe our long-distance relationship? It was constant motion, trying to connect and reconnect, share our lives from afar, coming together and moving apart and then doing it all again. It was a fight, a choice, a joy. Long distance forced us to decide from the beginning whether we were going to be honest and raw and persistent, or not. There was no middle ground. And so throughout the years, we spent thousands of hours on the phone, on Skype, even sending care packages to each other. We watched movies simultaneously, we read books out loud, we studied with the video chat on, we fell asleep while the other person was on the phone.

Being in a long-distance relationship was exhausting and I would never wish it on another couple. But, at the same time, it was a blessing in its way. Will and I learned how to truly communicate with each other, to work through our arguments, to discern exactly what the other was thinking by a pause or a tone or a particular word choice. After months (and eventually, years) of conversation, we grew to truly know each other. When we went through pre-marital counseling earlier this year, we scored in the 90th percentile for communication and conflict resolution. Both us of laughed when we saw the numbers because we knew it was all those hours on the phone that strengthened us in such a way. How could it possibly be any other way?

In truth, most of the “long-distance relationship tips” can be applied to any sort of relationship. But when you’re separated, things get reduced to the core pretty quickly. There’s no watering it down. And this stuff matters. So, here are my long-distance tidbits:

1)     Identify what the other person needs to feel loved & connected. For me, short bursts of frequent communication was enough… if Will texted me every couple of hours, or we were able to talk for twenty minutes before bed, or we chatted for just five minutes three times throughout the day, I felt loved. Will, on the other hand, needed quality time: that is, communication without distraction and without a time limit. Because we knew these differences, we could make sure to reach out to the other person in a way that was necessary for them.

2)     Tell the truth. Always, always, always. Glossing over the uncomfortable things is easy when the other person isn’t around. But instead, Will and I quickly learned that in order to have a healthy relationship, we needed to be honest when we talked… every. single. time.

3)     Be creative. I’ll never forget the autumn day that I got a letter in the mail from Will and opened it to find a bright red maple leaf. In Cali, it was still summer, but having such a tactile symbol of fall reminded me that Will was still out there, somewhere where the leaves were falling and people had to put on a coat before they went outside. And I’ve been known to send him baked goods a time or two, of course.

4)     Allow yourselves to spend time together without talking. When you’re long-distance, the overwhelming majority of your time spent together consists of conversation. For us, it was sometimes tempting to avoid connecting with the other person simply because we don’t want to talk right at that moment. Instead, we needed to just put Skype on while we studied and allow ourselves to be quiet together, no pressure. Sometimes one of us would watch a TV show, or read, or take a nap while the other hung out on the computer screen. And that was okay.

5)     Be wise about choosing when to see each other. Visiting isn’t just about finally getting to see each other; it’s about money, about your time, about choosing to see your significant other rather than your family and friends. Will and I did everything we could to visit each other as often as possible, but there were times when we had to make the hard choice and say “no” (and for couples who live within driving distance, I’m sure that this is an even larger and more difficult consideration). Maybe it’s because I needed to spend Christmas with my family, or because the flight just wasn’t cheap enough, or because Will wouldn’t be able to take off from work so we could spend time together. That being said, when you can make it happen, make it happen.

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p.s. photos found here

p.s.s. Want more tidbits? Click here and here.

blessed

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -Matthew 5:1-12

It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? And it’s certainly counter-cultural. In today’s Western society, we are told to grow up to be strong & assertive, charismatic & likable, rich in every way, initiated into the things of this world. To make it, we must fight to be seen, to be heard, to be respected. That is the “kingdom of the world”. And it makes sense to us, to me, because our very minds are seeped in sin, in brokenness, in pride and self-centeredness.

But then there’s the “kingdom of heaven”: this holy, grace-filled rule of God is both a current reality (found in the incarnation of Christ and indwelling of the Holy Spirit) and a prophecy (the future hope of the new heaven and new earth). If I’ve learned anything from the book of Matthew, it’s that this kingdom of heaven is the very opposite of the kingdom of the world. Christ promises blessing on those who are poor in spirit, mournful, meek. While we seek strength, Paul tells us instead to delight in our weaknessOver and over again, the Biblical writers told us to rejoice in persecution.

As children who have been adopted by God, Christ’s work in us is one of sanctification. And that means righting our perspectives, our attitudes, our priorities, so that we live for the kingdom of heaven. It may seem illogical to stay naive when those around you consider it foolishness, or to chose to mourn rather than pursue happiness, or to show mercy when it can come back to bite you. But, our striving for righteousness necessitates it. And we are promised so much as a result. Look at the second half of those verses…to be blessed, and in such incredible ways, is certainly worth being counter-cultural.

p.s. If you want to listen to the sermon that inspired and guided this post, you can find it here.

artisan bread, the easy way

Is there anything better than the smell of bread baking? I don’t think so.

Well, maybe eating the said bread. That’s pretty incredible as well.

I’m a huge fan of artisan bread… it is delicious and heart-warming and filling in the best way. And the fact that I can make it, on my own, for just a couple of cents a loaf, without kneading or investing in a bread machine, is enough to make my day. And so I’d like to share it with you, so that your day can be a little better than you thought it would be when you woke up this morning. You’re welcome!

My biggest instruction in this technique comes from The Italian Dish. You can head over to their website for much more detailed information of what exactly is happening throughout this lovely bread-making process. I owe them a ton of thanks for their tutorial.

Bread-making is mostly composed of mixing and waiting. Start with some warm water and mix in yeast, salt, and flour. Cover it up and let it sit for a while (at least two hours, to be precise). Part one: complete.

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Over the course of the two hours, it will rise quite a bit. If you’re feeling daring, now is the time to get creative with the flavors. For this batch, I tried three new combinations: rosemary & garlic, orange & cranberry, and parmesan cheese (the rosemary, of course, came from our little garden). It’s as simple as dividing the dough and stirring in the various yummy bits.

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Shape the dough into loafs, making sure that the top portion is tight and smooth, and place them on parchment paper. Let it rise for another half hour. In the meantime, stick a baking sheet in the oven.  Dust the tops of the loafs with flour, slit them with a sharp knife, slide the parchment paper on top of the heated baking sheet, place a pan of water underneath, and…. that’s all! Watch a show on Netflix while the bread releases all sort of lovely smells into your home.

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And then, enjoy! We found that the orange and cranberry loaf tasted divine with blackberry jam (that one was definitely my favorite), while the other two worked best with a little olive oil. Whatever makes your heart smile.

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No-Knead Artisan Bread

INGREDIENTS:

3 c. lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tbsp coarse salt
6 1/2 c. ap flour
mix-ins as desired
DIRECTIONS:
1. Warm the water to around 100* F.
2. Mix in yeast, salt, and flour with a wooden spoon.
3. Cover with a lid or dishtowel, set in a warm place, and allow to rise for at least two hours.
4. Place a piece of parchment paper on your counter and dust your hands with flour. Pull the dough and tear off a piece the size of a grapefruit. If you are mixing in any herbs, fruits, nuts, or cheese, place that piece into a separate bowl and add the toppings. Use the wooden spoon to mix them thoroughly.
5. Shape the loaf by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, ensuring that the top is smooth and tight. Place the loaf onto your parchment paper and let it sit for 30-40 minutes.
6. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 450*. Place your baking sheet in the heated oven and let it warm for 20 minutes. Fill a pan with water and set it beside the oven.
5. Dust the loaf with a little flour and slash the top with a knife.
6. Slide the parchment paper into the oven and place the water right underneath before quickly closing the oven door. Allow the bread to bake 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown. Remove and enjoy!

i think i wanna marry you

Here’s a smile from me to you.

things that give me heavy boots

Some days, some nights, I feel overwhelmed by the state of this world. There’s so much pain and so very much suffering, and even though there is beauty, there is also more brokenness than you or I could ever know. In the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the narrator Oskar calls this deep feeling “heavy boots”. He’s only nine years old, a little boy who lost his father on 9/11, but he walks through life like he’s trudging through waist-deep snow, pushing upstream in a strong river, taking each step with weighted shoes.

In the book, there’s a passage where he is speaking to his mom, simply listing all the things that give him heavy boots. It’s inspiring, in a sad sort of way, because sometimes I feel exactly the same way.

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So, what gives me heavy boots?

… Alzheimer’s disease, condescending people on the Internet, how my insurance company doesn’t really care about my wellbeing, how I can’t stop biting my nails, text-speak, regret, short-term mission trips, arthritis, kids who can’t get adopted because they’re too old to be “cute”, local commercials, when people don’t understand that they’re being made fun of, the flowers at Wal-Mart that have been dyed unnatural colors to make them more attractive, the people who think those neon flowers are attractive and actually buy them, parents who ignore their children, headaches, middle school, church-shopping, elitism, unrequited love, when I get presents that show that the person doesn’t really understand who I am, daytime TV doctors, homeless people who hold up signs on the side of the road, widows, husbands and fathers who go to war, kitchens that don’t have dishwashers, and knowing that having ten dollars in my pocket makes me richer than two thirds of the whole world.

Will once told me that one of my greatest traits was that I felt deeply, both the pain and the joy surrounding me. Both are good, he said.

 Although it may be tempting to only talk about the bright and beautiful parts of the world, the truth is that this life is worth grieving over. The people around me deserve my sorrow.  The world is broken, and to deny that fact would be refusing to acknowledge how it all should be. Not only in the big, sweeping ways- the poverty and injustice and rape- but also the thousand little ways. So, I feel the weight of it all sometimes. And on those days, I just keep moving forward, acknowledging the tragedy and lamenting the pain, waiting for redemption. Walking in my heavy boots.

the definition of bittersweet

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“And he sang to them, now in the Elven tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

We haven’t gotten snow in what, a decade? And yet, last night, I watched through the windows as soft flakes began slowly falling from the dark sky. I could literally hear exclamations of joy and surprise throughout the neighborhood as everybody realized what was happening. People ran outside and onto the beach, finding coats and tobbagans long stored away, making tiny snowmen before they returned inside with an awakened desire for hot chocolate. We all became children again, delighting in the thin white blanket now laying over our world… it was magical.

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let’s stir fry

This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of my staple dishes, complete with the Madi-seal-of-approval and all. It’s a combination of several recipes I discovered in various corners of the Internet and is the basis of about 67% of what happens in my kitchen. It’s easy. It’s tasty. It’s healthy. It’s infinitely customizable.

It’s stir fry.

The basic components are pretty simple: vegetables, meat, and sauce.

When I make this dish, I usually use tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and sugar snap peas, mostly because I think that color in food is important. Bright, happy food makes me feel, well, bright and happy. Plus, these particular veggies have a good mixture of textures, making the stir fry both tender and crunchy in all the right ways.

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Boneless chicken breasts and a sweet-and-spicy sauce (garlic, hot sauce, ginger, brown sugar, honey, and, of course, soy sauce) round off the ingredient list. Ta da!

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You want the vegetables and chicken in a manageable size… the first step is to use whatever it takes to get them there.

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Start by browning the chicken, one side then another. And when that’s done, pour the sweet-and-spicy on top.

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See the transformation? Yum. Let that simmer for a few minutes and then add the mushrooms and sweet peas, since those are the ones that need a little more cooking time… and then throw in the broccoli and tomatoes. Now, if you want to be fancy, you can reduce the sauce on the chicken and cook the vegetables in a different pan. That intensifies the flavor. But I was lazy tonight, so one pan it is. Add salt and pepper to spice it up.

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And that’s it, folks. Madi’s stir-fry, your stir-fry. These are the basics, but once you get the concept down, you can happily use it to feed yourself for the rest of your life. Change the chicken to shrimp and make a lemon-butter sauce instead. Try it with bok choy and balsamic vinegarette. Or use bell peppers and onions, cumin and cayenne pepper for a Southwestern flair. Serve it with rice, with pasta, with quinoa. The possibilities are truly endless.

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Madi’s Sweet-and-Spicy Chicken Stir Fry

INGREDIENTS:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
2 c. sugar snap peas, halved
1 c. mushrooms, chopped
2 c. broccoli florets
1 c. baby tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
2 tsp garlic, chopped
2 tbsp hot sauce
salt & pepper, to taste
DIRECTIONS:
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
2. Combine brown sugar, honey, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and hot sauce in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside.
3. Place chicken strips in hot oil and brown on both sides. Add sauce and simmer uncovered 4-5 min.
4. After sauce has begun to thicken, add mushrooms and snap peas and stir well. Allow to cook another 2-3 min, then add the broccoli and tomatoes.
5. When the broccoli is bright green and tomatoes are soft (another 2-3 min), remove from heat.
6. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

p.s. I owe a thousand thanks (and a kiss or two!) to my incredible fiance for taking these photos. He’s simply the best.

the night circus

Remember when I told you that I’d be revisiting my bookshelf, to rave about my absolute favorite books? And explain why it is that I love them so? Well, today, I thought I’d introduce you to the first on that list. Drumroll, please……

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.” (summary found here)

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The Night Circus is, in one word, enchanting. I have never read a book that is so incredibly rich in imagery, beautiful and sensuous. One of my deepest joys in reading is being drawn into a multi-dimensional world, a world of taste, texture, and smell. And The Night Circus is just that. The main character in the book is the circus itself, and so the story is not as much about what happens, but what is: think of a wondrous and whimsical Cirque Du Soleil, but with true magic secretly weaving throughout the acts. Yes, there are characters and there is a plot, but the heart of the novel is found in the garden made entirely of ice, or the tent full of memories, or the wishing tree, where one person’s wish is lit by another’s. Morgenstern’s imagination is incredible, and she exquisitely builds a world that is fantastic and yet just believable enough to make you hope that it all could actually happen. The writing is lyrical, sometimes reading more like poetry than prose, and the ending is achingly bittersweet.

To be fair, I must mention that The Night Circus has somewhat of an ambiguous storyline: the point of view shifts frequently and the timeline is nonlinear. Ultimately, the plot itself is saturated with mystery rather than clarity. Although the blurb above mentions “a fierce competition” and “a remarkable battle”, the book is not full of action, but is instead slowly meandering and subtle. And some may find that frustrating. But it’s just so good in every other way that even my type-A personality was wooed.

A favorite quotation, for your delight:

“They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss. Though you watch them for some time they do not move. No stirring of fingertips or eyelashes. No indication that they are even breathing.

“They cannot be real,” someone nearby remarks.

Many patrons only glance at them before moving on, but the longer you watch, the more you can detect the subtlest of motions. The change in the curve of a hand as it hovers near an arm. The shifting angle of a perfectly balanced leg. Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet still they do not touch.”

 

the wisdom of mrs. fey

Last night, I had the pleasure of chatting with a group of lovely ladies in a life group I recently joined: there were six or seven of us, all from diverse backgrounds and histories, each beautiful and young and smart. Over the course of our conversation, we ultimately landed on the temptations & struggles that we undergo as women… what, we asked, was the thing that we fought most desperately against each day? I’ll give you one guess at the answer: body image, body image, body image. We have such unrealistic expectations for ourselves, we admitted. But that doesn’t make it any easier to shake off the desire to have a “perfect” body.

I’ll come back to this topic one day, I’m sure. But for now, I just want to take a second to laugh. And so, I’ll share what Tina Fey has to say on the matter.

“Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, [and] the arms of Michelle Obama… The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”

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Now, that’s keeping it in perspective.