31 October 2014


It's Halloween!!! While I love Valentine's Day the most of all holidays, Halloween is the most fun because nearly everyone is on the bandwagon with me. I feel like with Valentine's Day, I have to convince people that it doesn't suck. Pretty much everyone agrees that Halloween does not suck. I know there are some, mainly Christian, exceptions; but I was spared most of that growing up. My parents always embraced Halloween as fun and silly. A time to play make-believe on a grand scale and get rewarded for it with candy.

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I did not live in a very safe or welcoming part of town. Some areas close by were great, but my immediate neighbors were wary of me and I them. We'd nodded in greeting at each other, but had never really spoken. But then came Halloween. I love Halloween and always have and that was the first year that I was a grown-up passing out candy and not a kid getting candy. I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to be on the other side of this holiday love I so much. So, even though I wasn't so sure about this neighborhood, I decided I couldn't let that stop me.

My next door neighbor was a big, tough looking guy. He was tall and muscular and often scowled. Of all my neighbors, he was one that I kept my guard up with the most. But then came Halloween. I'll never forget when I first saw him come out of the house. I thought I was hallucinating or maybe seeing big, red spots. He was in a full-body Elmo suit. Never has anything been more disarming. When he saw that I was also dressed up and handing out candy, he came over to talk with me. We exchanged names and compared and traded candy. We shared our love for Halloween and how great it was to see these cute kids and give them candy. I kept my guard down and said hello to him every time I saw him after that.

That's what I think people don't think about with Halloween: it's all about your neighborhood. You go out and actually walk your streets and go up to peoples' houses and talk to your neighbors. When else do you get that kind of opportunity? It's a chance to touch and see and be silly with the people Jesus calls us to love as ourselves.

Last year I was a peg-legged pirate.

As promised, pictures from my Halloween party last week.

24 October 2014

Halloween Party

Okay, so you obviously already know of my love for holidays. I mean, I went all out for Labor Day, of all things. And, while Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday, Halloween is a very close second. Growing up, my parents did not ascribe to whole "Halloween is an evil and un-Christian celebration of witchcraft and mischief" thing. Rather, they thought it was a great time to have fun and be silly. They understood that going out Trick or Treating gives the whole family a chance to meet our neighbors that we wouldn't otherwise have. I was raised with the understanding that Halloween is about fun and candy.

Next week I'll go into my thoughts about the holiday itself and, if you're really lucky, I might even get into a historical discussion of the origins of Halloween. But, this week, I'm feeling very distracted by a Halloween party that I'm going to tonight. I recently became a youth leader at my church and we're having a Halloween party this evening. I'm so excited, I could burst! I spent the last several weeks perusing Pinterest and getting ideas for festive snacks. Last night I made much of what we'll be serving today.

As you can see, I really got into the spirit. What can I say, I love a theme!

These Rice Krispie pumpkins turned out to be so easy! You just make Rice Krispie Treats and dye the melted marshmallows orange before you mix in the Rice Krispies. I found that it took A LOT of food coloring to get them bright enough because the white marshmallows make the color pretty pastel. But, as you can see, I accomplished a nice pumpkin orange. Once you've mixed the Rice Krispie Treats up, let them cool for a little while before you shape them into balls. If they're too gooey, they won't hold shape and Rice Krispie Treats remain pretty malleable, even at room temperature. You'll want to spray your hands with cooking spray to keep the marshmallows from sticking to you. Don't worry about making the balls squatty like a pumpkin, that will happen when you add the stem. The stem is made from a tootsie roll, cut in half. When you push it onto the top, your pumpkin fattens and gets more pumpkin-y. Some of the pictures I saw online had icing leaves, but I liked them like this. (Plus, I didn't feel like making green frosting.)

This is my attempt at offering a healthy(ish) snack. Turns out, apple slices, peanut butter and marshmallows make a surprisingly great mouth. These were just my prototypes and I think I will have to cut thin apple slices for the party as they kept falling over. I love how cute and simple these are. I wish I would have been able to find the colored mini-marshmallows since then they would look more like zombie teeth. These are still pretty awesome, though.

This one is super cute and it was really easy. I'm calling it Zombie Puppy Chow. All you have to do is make puppy chow using whatever recipe you prefer. Then, add Halloween/fall themed candies. I chose candy corn, Reese's Pieces and candy eyes. 

This was by far the most complicated of all the snacks, but the payoff is pretty great. These Jello Worms are going to be a big hit, I am sure of it. You take three packets of unflavored gelatin and one packet of red jello (I chose raspberry flavor, but anything red will do) and mix them into three cups boiling water. Once it's fully mixed, stir in 3/4 cups whipping cream; this gives it the two-tone look since it will separate. Add a lot of green food coloring to make it kind of brown/gray. (As you can see, I was too frugal with the food coloring.) Then, take 100 straws and extend the bendy part to get the ridges. Rubber band them together and put them in a cylindrical container, bendy part down (only to make sure it gets filled with jello). You don't want the container to be much wider than the bundle of straws because the jello on the outside is just waste. (I'm sure I could come up with something clever to do with the leftovers, but I've got a lot on my plate already.) I decided to do two bundles in two tall tumblers since I didn't have a container that was the right size for all of them. Let them set and then squeeze the worms out into a bowl. Squeezing them out is time-consuming, but look at how cool they are!

I'll try to post pictures of the actual party next week. Have a great weekend and Happy Halloween!

10 October 2014

On Choosing Joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
~James 1:2

In the wake of my father's death, I found myself doing something strange. I identified anything good that had come of his death, and clung to it. I know this sounds crazy - to search for goodness in something terrible; but there was so much terrible in my life, that I needed something - anything - to ease it all. I was blessed to have been able to see so many people I love gathered at my home and at the memorial services. I was blessed to be in Colorado for the birth of my first nephew. I was blessed to have some of my college debt forgiven because my father had taken out the loans in his name. I was blessed to spend the most difficult and challenging months of our lives at my mother's side. At the time I called this search for goodness finding the blessings; but now I think of it as choosing joy.

I find myself coming back to this verse in James over and over again. Throughout my life, it has meant many different things to me. When I first read it, I was drawn in by the idea that trials develop perseverance - that adversity brings growth. Later, I read it as an admonition of grumbling about my struggles in life rather than facing them and growing through them. I wrote recently, of a time when it gave me strength and hope about where I am and where I'm going - that perseverance is both something I'm developing and something I've developed. But as I read this verse today, it speaks to me of choosing joy.

There is a scene in Romeo and Juliet that I think about often. It's act 3, scene 3, just after Tybalt and Mercutio have been killed and the Prince has sentenced Romeo to banishment. Romeo is hiding in Friar Lawrence's cell and the Friar returns to tell Romeo of his fate. Romeo goes on to lament and says that banishment is bad as death because there is no life beyond Verona's walls. The friar keeps trying to get Romeo to see that this sentence is a generous one, but he is having none of it. Finally, when Romeo draws his sword and holds the tip to his own chest, the dear Friar snaps. He admonishes Romeo for shaming his shape, his love and his wit with this threat to kill himself. He reminds him of just how many things and people he has to live for and smacks Romeo as he lists them, ending each sentence with "There art thou happy?!" Near the end come my favorite lines:

A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love:
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.

The Friar is telling Romeo to choose joy. 

It can sometimes be hard not to think of joy as something that happens to us. Like we can only experience it when there is something external that influences it - when someone is kind to us or we do something fun or accomplish something difficult. But what I think James and the Friar are trying to tell us is that joy is a choice. James tells us to consider it pure joy, not simply that it is pure joy. Even in trials, we can, and should, choose joy. 

I have a little way I check in with myself in the morning on the walk to work: I ask myself if the sun is on my face or in my eyes. If the sun is on my face, I'm choosing joy. If the sun is in my eyes, I'm not. It's the exact same external experience, but it's my choice how I respond to it. On days the sun is in my eyes, I try to feel its warmth on my face by the time I get to work. It is amazing what this practice has done for my psyche. 

Choosing joy can be so hard, though. When you're in the middle of trials, everything seems terrible and out to get you. It all seems like it can't and won't ever get better. But if you can open yourself to finding the blessings, you can find hope. Finding a way to take a step away from our pain to look at the landscape can be transformative. 

To me, choosing joy means taking time to find it. It means listening for the sound of birds, or celebrating a silly holiday to its fullest, or calling a good friend just so she can make you laugh. It means taking stock of your circumstances and choosing to focus on the good stuff, rather than the bad. It means feeling the sun on your face and not in your eyes.

03 October 2014


I think I've probably told you enough times that I love holidays. I love celebrations and joy and presents. I love the break from the routine that usually comes in the form of a day off or a party (or both!). I love gathering with friends and doing something special. I figure that life can be boring or sad too often, so we should celebrate every chance we get.

I have never understood when people don't like it when a big deal is made out of their birthday. I like it when everyone knows and I feel celebrated in all facets of my life. It was my birthday last Thursday and I have had a wonderful time celebrating. My best friend came into Philly for a long weekend and we had a party with all my friends on Sunday. I love having a special time to do your favorite things with your favorite people each year.

Part of the beauty of birthdays is that we can be celebrated without humility. As a Mennonite, it can be hard to take a compliment, much less abide a whole day of being celebrated. But on your birthday, it is wonderful to just allow yourself to be celebrated. To thank everyone who tells you something good instead of finding ways to refute them. To receive gifts with gratitude and not embarrassment. To show your friends you love them by receiving their celebrating.

That's part of why I love birthdays so much; but I think the bigger reason I love them is that it is the only day that we celebrate people for nothing more than existing. The other celebrations we have for people usually center around accomplishments like promotions, new houses, pregnancies and engagements. You don't have to accomplish anything more than being alive to be celebrated on your birthday. I know that some years just being alive is an accomplishment in and of itself; but more often than not it comes easily.

Being celebrated just for existing feels similar to God loving us just because we are. God rejoices when we accomplish things, but God also celebrates when we simply wake up in the morning. Having a day dedicated to just celebrating ourselves can help remind us of the way God loves us. God loves us with all the joy and encouragement that we receive from loved ones on our birthday.

Allowing ourselves to be loved for nothing is not as easy as it sounds. It can be easy to feel unworthy of God's love. But scripture tells us over and over again that God's love is given freely, just because we are. We do not need to do great things or be a good person or make all the right choices, God loves us just because we are. On our birthdays, we get to be celebrated just because we made it another year. What a blessing.

A few snapshots of my fantastic birthday weekend.