Forgiveness Giving

One loaf of my Never-Been-to-Maine Pumpkin Bread

During Lent I hoped to push myself a bit more in my giving and bake bread for folks who were truly hungry, sad, needy, or with whom I struggled. That’s why I ended up at the Rescue Mission with ten loaves of my brother’s bread, and stopped to offer cornbread to a homeless man who was begging outside of Trader Joe’s…  Thankfully, I couldn’t think of too many people that I disliked, but even so, two people came to mind in a flash. My hope was that by giving these people something from my very own hands, something that I labored over, that my heart might be softened and I might find a better love for these folks.

The crossing guard won me over in a heartbeat as she sat there in the rain and waited for the rivers of children to flee school. When I drive by her now, I hold a completely different image of her in my mind and heart than I did only a short month ago.

I wasn’t so sure about Woman Number Two. She has been rude to me and my children over and over again. Once, she even laughed aloud at me, rejoicing in my stupidity. I kept imagining that I would bring her bread and she would throw it in the trash while I watched. And I couldn’t imagine what I might say. I’m bringing you this bread because you’re so mean, and because when thinking of people I need to forgive, you came right to the top of the list!

No. That wouldn’t be right at all. For this giving is more about me and my need to love and forgive than it is about trying to help anyone else change…

The first time I brought bread to Woman Number Two she wasn’t working. I gave the loaf of molasses bread that I’d made for her to some folks peddling pixie sticks instead. But on Holy Thursday, just yesterday, John Ronan and I walked into the store and there she was, pricing little trinkets behind the counter.

She greeted me with a head nod and I slowly said my rehearsed line. My kids love to come in here, and whenever I bake I always make something to share. We live nearby, and I just thought you might like it.

A smile, a big, surprised smile, and her eyebrows went up as I handed her the pumpkin bread. She didn’t say anything for a moment and then… In all my 35 years of this store, you’re the first. I smiled. Really. 35 years, she said. She mumbled something else, but I didn’t catch it. John Ronan had already made his way to the toy aisle and I needed to supervise.

He and I looked at toy rings that squirt, and after several minutes I coaxed him toward the door. By this time the husband had made his way to the front register and as we were just about to leave he said, Are you the one who made us this delicious bread?

I smiled and nodded, and noticed the woman already eating a torn off piece of  pumpkin bread. She said, This is delicious! Perfect for lunch!

I smiled again and as we left, I heard her say, …in all these 35 years.

***

I feel thankful, and convicted. Maybe she’s had her mean days, but I’ve been just as mean. I’ve made snide comments, reveled in others’ failures, given people dirty looks. I know I’ve cut people off driving around town, and cheated, and lied. Maybe I’ve softened, but that’s all due to Christ, and maybe she doesn’t know Him?

Maybe in all these 35 years no one has cared enough to tell her of Him.

My priest once said that if you have difficult people in your life, that it helps to find a good and beautiful image of them and keep that foremost in your mind whenever thinking or dealing with them. He said that that image will not only change you, but it will eventually change them too. That pumpkin bread brought out a grateful smile that I will never forget, and I know that by braving this, my hardest episode of giving, that I’ve been…

changed.

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Holy Week=Loaves and Loaves

Prosphora–six loaves

Mixed: 10:15

Molded: 11:15

Baked: 11:45

We have so many prosphoron bakers at our church that my name has never been added to the official list. But this Holy Week, with services every day, liturgy almost every morning, I had a feeling that a few extra loaves would be welcome. So when I posed the question to Father Nicholas Monday evening, he said that three loaves, or five even, would be VERY welcome.

If you’ve ever read my children’s book, The Woman and the Wheat, then you’ve certainly read my sentiments about how to spend a day baking. But the book really isn’t about baking and bread at all, it’s about Christ, and the miracle and love and joy that we find in that cup that is offered to us each and every liturgy. And that’s what Holy Week is all about, and what Pascha is all about, and what baking prosphoron in all about. Love, and joy and Christ.

I’ll be blogging, in the next few months, about my adventures with prosphora. Basically, you need to reverse your bread-baking instincts and focus on one thing–the seal. I’ve got a few tips for you, and look forward to putting together that series of posts.

Meanwhile, it’s still Lent and I’ve got some forgiveness giving to do. This morning, once the stores open, I’m off on my hardest task–to take a loaf of pumpkin bread to a crabby business owner. I asked my husband if he might enjoy taking it to her in my stead, but he gave me one of those you-can-be-brave looks. In just an hour, I’ll be off!

Hoping you’re having a beautiful, lovely spring day.

More soon!

Recipe–Lenten Chocolate Cupcakes

Friends! We’ve made three batches of Lenten chocolate chip cupcakes in the last week that we’ve shared with friends, and two batches of Lenten cornbread that I brought to church on Lazarus Saturday. I have to say–I’m sooo ready for butter. Is Great Lent coming to a close? Although these recipes are satisfying and even tasty, and although I appreciate and invite this time of focusing on more prayer and more love and more giving instead of food, I can’t wait for Pascha–and to sing over and over and over and over that Christ is risen!

It amazes me that something made with water, instead of milk or soy milk, that contains no eggs, and that has a tablespoon of vinegar actually tastes delicious. But these muffin/cupcakes are yummy. So yummy that little signs get popped on top of them so the last one doesn’t disappear unexpectedly.

Time Commitment: Ten minutes to assemble ingredients and mix, and twenty minutes to bake.

Tools you need:

  • Muffin pan (12 muffins)
  • Cooking spray
  • an oven :)
  • 1 large bowl, 1 small bowl, wooden spoon, plus measuring cup and utensils…

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup cold water
What to do:

Step One: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add chocolate chips and stir.

Step Two:  Spray the muffin pan with vegetable oil, or insert muffin cups. Mix the wet ingredients in the small bowl.

Step Three: When the oven is hot, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Don’t over mix. Scoop the batter into the muffin pan and pop straight into the oven.

Step Four: Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove the cupcakes and let sit on a cooling rack. Cool 10 minutes, then enjoy.

Step Five: Don’t forget to share!

Cheers…

Happy Endings

My daughter is performing in a Storybook production of Pinocchio starting today. Ducking in and out of rehearsals these last ten days, I’ve watched the characters take shape, seen a wide array of props tried and exchanged and repaired, and have simply enjoyed being transported to the Appalachians, where this version of Pinocchio is taking place…

So… I thought, on Opening Day, I’ll bake some cornbread for the cast! The little muffins will match the plaid shirts and overalls perfectly…

John Ronan was the perfect mixer, flour-spooner, and basket-carrier.

Leaving the house, we encountered my husband walking back from the coffee shop. We shared a warm muffin with him.

Two blocks later, I spotted a homeless man on the corner. I stopped, having plenty of muffins in my basket, and offered him one, which he promptly tucked into his backpack. He told me his name is Bear, and blessed me.

Next stop. Flowers. Sunflowers for my hard working actress!

And the rest of the tale departs from Storybook Land, and heads straight to comedy central. After the show, which was adorable, I fell down some stairs backstage, twisting my ankle. If you know me, you know I’ve had plenty of twisted ankles over the years… The ankle twisting led to the fall, which led to the head bonking against the wall, which led to shock (the real kind), which led to embarrassment, which led to hobbling out of the theatre with a numb and swollen foot, which led to fainting in the car. Eek! What a way to top off opening day!

No photos of the fall. I was preoccupied.

Seriously. It’s lent and I’m feeling God’s grace. For here I lounge, my foot propped up on pillows, the fountain gurgling outside the open window. I’ve listened to hours of an audio Bible recording and am grateful for time to just be, and think. All storybook productions finish with a happy ending, and despite the black and blue, the scraped knee, and the sore head, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish this day of living and giving.

Cheers!

Not Afraid of New

Been baking, been baking!

And writing…

As a writer, my most awesome adversary is fear. Do I really want to know that character’s deepest secrets? Do I want to reveal so much of myself through my words? What if I spend my whole adult life pursuing this career and end up being a dud? Fear. It’s the root of writer’s block. Fear. It’s what makes me stop writing mid-thought and head to the kitchen for potato chips.

Having been a gymnast as a young girl, each day I was challenged to try new tricks. I was asked to become stronger, more flexible, faster and more daring. In general, the entirety of a child’s life is built on learning and having to master new trick after new trick. Dressing themselves. Tying shoes. Learning to swim, and read, and make friends, and share, and brush their teeth until they gleam.

I’m not a child anymore; my life has steadied, and is full of routine. The learning curve has dipped… I’m even forgetting things! We’ve lived in the same house for over ten years. We send the kids off to school with the same peanut butter sandwiches. I struggle with the same vices over and over again–against impatience, against anger, against being sluggish and selfish. And I’m noticing that the older I get, the more fearful I become.

I see this in myself, and it has turned me more toward prayer, but it has also brought about a desire for being child-like again, for being vulnerable and willing to tackle something new. And as I try new things, I know my kids are watching.

Here are a few simple things that I’ve been up to…

Jalapeno bread. The other day I chopped up some spicy peppers and tossed them into the mix. Super spicy. I’ll be making this mix again when cheese is back on the menu!

French corners. I recently pulled out the sewing machine and taught myself how to make a version of French corners. Took three napkins till I’d figured it out, but now I know!

Japanese bags. I recently purchased some fabric and a crafting book from a Japanese company, to help in that country’s recovery . I love the little book, which has patterns for bags and book covers and blankets. Problem is, the headings are in English, but the text is in Japanese! I went for it anyway, admiring all those foreign characters, trying to match the photographs and pattern drawings.

Giving in the spirit of forgiveness. I’m still in the middle of this new experiment and have had only one success. But there are 17 days left until Pascha; time is on my side.

What about you? What sorts of new things have you either talked about learning or are currently trying? Knitting? Planting a garden? Surfing, sailing, skateboarding? Playing the harmonica?

I’d love to know!


Delightfully Simple

A batch of rolls and a beautiful boule

Mixed: 9 am

Molded: 10: 40

Baked: 11:45

John Ronan, my littlest, loves words and uses them often (often, often!). He is adventurous and inventive with his speech, and is even learning to use just the right lines to charm the ladies.

“Lylah!” he said, trying to get a new acquaintance’s attention. “Would you be delighted to share one of your buns with me?” Lylah reached into the bag and broke a warm roll in half. John Ronan hesitated. “The whole thing!” he finally said, losing a bit of his charm and a measure of his cool. But he recovered, and he  shared. And I wasn’t surprised at the choice of words. Meeting Lylah was delightful.


Our family has been in Arizona this last week visiting family. We scurry from house to house, eating, playing, loving each other and making up for so much lost time. It’s always a treat to be here (my husband has a gazillion brothers and sisters, plus parents and aunts and uncles and grandmothers!!!). Last visit we were lucky enough to see a blue moon and try out a new way of bringing in the New Year. This visit has been more about walks in the desert, book signings, small gatherings and a visit to The Simple Farm where we met Lylah.

Lylah and her husband Michael have started an urban farm in Scottsdale, near my sister-in-law Val’s house. At The Simple Farm they have hens and goats, and grow herbs and vegetables. Lylah believes in working hard, in tending the plants from start to finish, encouraging lettuce to bolt in order to finish the growing cycle and develop those precious seeds… Val has talked of Lylah to me, and has talked to Lylah about me–seeing something similar in who we are. Maybe it’s that we don’t mind dirt under our fingernails, or that we appreciate many things with a French country twist… Anyway, I was honored to be introduced to this lovely woman and her way of life.

I brought her bread. Rosemary rolls seemed appropriate–and after that initial breaking of bread and sharing together, she gave us a tour. John Ronan really wanted to take home a chicken, and you know what? so did I! A chicken and a goat. Or maybe, five chickens and three goats. This rural way of life, urban or not, appeals to me.

Do you have any folks in your neighborhood making a go of an urban farm?

Maybe give them a visit, take them some bread, invest in their goats or just buy a dozen eggs. I’m guessing they will be a lot like Lylah. And though we didn’t take home a chicken this time around, (just a feather), we did make a new friend who is lovely, giving, and……… delightful!