Sunday, May 1, 2011

Finally Spring

If you haven't noticed (which I'm sure you probably haven't), Ryan and I have been away from this blogging thing for a little while. There's one teensy tiny reason why this is so: we moved. Ever done that before? Ever noticed that it takes a little bit of time? Our last blog post was at the end of February: we spent basically all of March renovating the house we were to move into, moved in the last weekend of March, and now, at the first of May, finally feel as if we have had space to return to our normal rhythms of life. One positive about sharing space with others: moving gets done a lot quicker when you do it with six other people. So here I am again, back at the 'ole blogging grind. I must say that it's good to be back!

There's a lot more I could say about moving--we'll get to it all later. But for now, the topic of this post: SPRING! I know what those of you reading this in Texas and Georgia are thinking: hasn't spring already been here for a good two months now? Isn't it about time for fall soon? (Oh, the South. I love you dearly, but I don't miss your 95 degree temperatures in the month of April and the way going for runs at 6 AM in the morning is made nearly impossible due to the unbearable heat and humidity you've already acquired by that time. I just don't).

Spring may be old news for you all, but it has literally just exploded in Pittsburgh. March is the month that is supposed to come in like a lion and out like a lamb, but the North is a little behind. It snowed (that's right, SNOWED) on the first day of April. I had my doubts about whether the spring was ever going to come: the trees stayed bare for waaaay longer than I thought was possible, and pretty much all of April was bathed in drizzle. Cold drizzle; the weather barely peeped its head over the forties the entire month.

But spring always takes me by surprise: after months and months of looking at bare trees, there is suddenly color dripping everywhere. Why, even when you've been waiting for it for so long, does it always seem like everything bursts into bloom over night? That's how it's felt up here. It didn't really happen until last week, but all of a sudden: POOF! Magic! Wildflowers are growing all over the place. There are Japanese tulip trees up and down our street which leave a purple carpet over the sidewalk. There are about seven shades of green I see as I look out of my window now. The days are long--longer than spring days in Texas and in Georgia. (This has felt true, but it actually is: I checked on, which never lies) There is, finally, plenty of time to get out and ride my bike through Frick park, explore new trails, look at beautiful houses I've never seen before, and discover what new life is emerging in the neighborhood. Put simply, it's wonderful.

I feel a bit like I'm five years old. It's how I felt in the fall here: amazed at the beauty I got to experience every day, thirsty to be outside every second and drinking in all of it. Before Spring officially came for good, there was a transition out of winter that honestly felt like it would never end. I suppose everyone always feels that way at the end of winter, but me being the Southern girl that I am, I couldn't understand why it wasn't 70 in mid-March. I just don't do so well with transitions, and everything about our lives for the last couple of months has pretty much been a transition: renovating and moving into a new house, becoming settled there, adjusting to new rhythms in the new space--all against a perpetually bleak backdrop of rain, bare limbs, gray skies, and cold weather. It seemed interminable.

But what's the old saying? It's always darkest right before the sun comes out. . . . or right before they switch the lights on. . . . or something like that. I'm always amazed at how quickly new life springs up: moreover, how quickly we adjust to it, forget the time of waiting, and feel like the beauty we're surrounded with has always been here. Our collective quick memory loss: it's one of the great blessings of life and a big part of why spring is so great.

Bliss. Somewhere in Frick Park. Not sure where this place is, but I will find it one day:
find it I will. Secret, serene place of my dreams:
Bikey Blue and I are coming.

Hope you and spring are getting along famously.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Picture Show

Well folks, winter is most definitely on its way out (let us all praise the Lord together), but up here in PA it has not left the building yet. It is 50 or so outside right now, but last Monday Mother Nature dumped about a foot of snow on us. This was a good thing--it meant I got the day off from school and the chance to take a lovely winter's walk. Along the way I snapped some shots, which I will now share with all of you.

Actually, this is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Our neighborhood is just so cool looking--so many of the houses have been around for decades, many longer than that. I love, love, love the fact that you can walk up the sidewalk to Frick Park with its miles and miles of uninterrupted forest and hiking trails, or perhaps to your favorite local coffee shop, all while
passing these sights along the way. Plus, everything looks quainter (just made up that word) with snow dumped on it, so I figure that now is just as good a time as any to show you where we live.

(I apologize in advance for the poor quality of these pics. Some I took out of my car window and ALL I took on my state of the art, 5.1 pixel Nikon Coolpix, which I've had since sophomore year of college--they just don't make 'em like this anymore, folks. . . because technology has come a long way in the last six years. Ah, well--enjoy!)

There you have it. Tiny favor to ask: if anyone has any wisdom on how to load pictures on blogspot, pleeeeeeaaase leave a comment and H.A.S.U. (hook a sista up).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You *Must* Read This

Allow me to take a break from talking about intentional community to discuss, in the spirit of an NPR series, a book you simply must read: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck.
If you're a fan of memoirs and travel writing, as I am, or simply a fan of durn good writing, you should read this book. It's the story of Steinbeck's roadtrip across the country in search of the "True America" with his trusty French poodle, Charley. In the course of three months, Steinbeck makes his way up from New York to the northernmost part of Maine, then traces the entire perimeter of the U.S. in his camper truck. Here are some of his ruminations along the way:

(On Texas): "Once you are in Texas it takes forever to get out, and some people never make it." . . . . "Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate posession of all Texans." [Speaking of his wife, a Texan] "A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner. My wife refers to herself as the Texan that got away." [On the huge, military scale of all Texan endeavors] "Nowhere are there larger bands or more marching organizations, with corps of costumed girls whirling glittering batons. Sectional football games have the glory and despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners."

Oh, John! I cracked up as I read this entire section. I've never met the man and now never will, but reading this I wanted to draw up a chair in his camper and swap stories on the quirks of these peculiar people we both love dearly. (Much love to every Texan reading this post).

Here's more, on Wisconsin:

. . . "When I saw it for the first and only time in early October, the air was rich with butter-colored sunlight, not fuzzy but crisp and clear, so that every frost-gay tree was set off, the hills were not compounded, but alone and separate. . . . I remembered now that I had been told Wisconsin is a lovely state, but the telling had not prepared me. It was a magic day. The land dripped with richness, the fat cows and pigs gleaming against green, and, in the smaller holdings, corn standing in little tents as corn should, and pumpkins all about."

Hmmm. . . .*ahhhh.* I've never considered Wisconsin before, but on your suggestion, John, I'm booking my flight now--though don't tell the Pittsburghers as they're still Superbowl-sore and won't let me back in the city.

There's much, much more in this book, on the nature of journeys and why it is that Americans everywhere, for some mysterious reason, have the urge to "go" ingrained in our biology. It is a wise, sad, funny book. Most importantly, it met my most crucial criteria for choosing a book: I would like to have the author as my friend.

So now I am looking for a new book and I'm wondering. . . which one of your favorites *must* I read?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bowhunting skills, computer-hacking skills, COMMUNICATION skills. Communities need people with great SKILLS.

   Hello all!  I am at home sick today, but feeling better after my morning cup of coffee.   Sorry for the terrible Napoleon Dynamite quote... couldn't help myself.  I had a conversation the other day that inspired me to write a little bit more about the curriculum of Formation House that we have worked on so far.

    The purpose of the Formation House year (or maybe ONE of the purposes) is to create leaders that can start intentional communities of their own and gain tools to aid communities in which they find themselves ( i.e. churches, neighborhoods, schools, jobs, etc.).  The year is divided into three sections with an intentional focus in each-

   1. Communication and listening skills.
   2. Leadership.
   3. Visiting other communities, Preparing for the next step.

     We are just now beginning the second period on Leadership, but I wanted to share some reflections on our time on Communication.

     In our time in Pittsburgh so far, we have met a good number of people that are interested or have lived in intentional communities before.  Some are excited about it but some share stories about how living in community was hard or hurtful.  I think a wider number of people could relate to this if they have ever been apart of a church or group of friends that has split over struggles with group dynamics.   Just given human nature, community can be messy.  When you share space and life with people, it is easy to come to places of conflict.  All this is the backdrop for our first section of study.  To create a community of any kind, there must be room for communication and healthy ways to go about it.  Considering we did not know each other when we all moved here, we have spent a good deal of time getting to know each other and learning to communicate well!  We have had the routine of meeting on Monday nights (or whenever we can) to discuss the following material:

    We first focused on the book The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.  While this year's group is all married, Formation House has a vision for married and single people studying this book.  The book is written to married couples but can apply to a wide variety of relationships.   For example, one principle is "Create shared meaning."  For a community to continue to function, there must be a shared purpose and meaning between it's members as they look at their goals in the present and future.  This book was very informative- I gave it to my brother and sister-in-law who just got married.

   We then discussed Marshal Rosenberg's Non-violent Communication, and talked about ways to listen and share needs in a way that invites other's to respond in a compassionate way.  The podcasts are very informative, and he shares many experiences where this style of communication has created deeper connection and even kept people out of harm.

   The last study we did was of Collaborative Communication.  This study gave some ways to map out conflicts or important issues in a way that leads to a collaborative resolution.  The awareness wheel was especially helpful.  It is a mat you can set out on the floor and talk through an issue as you stand on different parts of the mat (Communication Twister!).  We have used it in our discussions of chores and how to keep things clean.  Not the easiest subject, but the wheel allows everyone to voice their needs and share in the conversation.  It has lead us to some great routines with the use of our space!

   I have tried to keep this short but the truth is I could talk at length about each of these resources.  It has been great to study these as a group, and I look forward to our next unit on Leadership!  I also feel the need to let everyone know that Formation House is accepting applications for next year.  They will be doing the same curriculum with a group from August 2011 to August 2012.  It has been incredibly meaningful for us, and I my hope is that the 2011 group will learn as much as we have been.  So! There's the plug!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Formation House Article

    I posted a while back about our community being in a magazine.  Thanks Kati for sharing that the link to the article didn't work!  Here is a link to the article on Jay and Amber's blog since they posted about it as well.   Formation House Article

    If you haven't gotten a chance to read the article, I recommend it!  It has a great picture of Jenn "leading a discussion" (she was actually just reading a book, haha).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Church is not a building, folks.

  The Church is not a building.  We are the church.
   I remember when my little brother, Eric, came home one day from church and shared this idea with everyone when we were kids.  It was what he had learned in bible school and he was repeating it proudly to show everyone how much he knew.  But I remember being very confused by this as a kid, because the church I knew met in the church building.  We "go to" or "attend church" on Sunday mornings, then we leave the "church" (building) afterwards and go home.  

   I have long understood the meaning of "being the church," but living in intentional community has really made this truth come alive for me.   One reason is that this lifestyle ensures that church doesn't only happen on Sunday but is something you are apart of daily.  When you share space regularly with Christians and have meals often, it begins to change how you see your faith.  It becomes less about punching in on Sunday, and more about being a part of something bigger than yourself.   So, I guess that I am most excited to share is what all we have been doing lately that I see as being apart of our little church.

   We have focused on hospitality lately and have had people over for dinner several times a week for the past several weeks.  They have been staying for and participating in our nightly prayer time afterwards.  I love having a full house!

   We have been reading the Rule of St. Benedict before dinner as a group.

   We have been learning new prayer styles such as Taize, Lectio Divina,  ExaminePraying in Color, and have been reading from Shane Claiborne's new book of Common Prayer.  I have also been excited to be the song leader for our groups- teaching and learning new songs for prayer.

  We are about to start reading the book Creating a Healthier Church together.  The curriculum for the year is shifting from healthy communication to focus on leadership, emotional awareness and group dynamics in church.

  I will leave you with some pictures of us snow tubing and enjoying winter. They are about a month old, and I can't say that I am still enjoying winter this much!  

Tube-Train with Scott and Kari!

Jenn  about to go down.

We got the train thing down.

Jay and Amber.

Remember when we loved winter!? Now we can't wait for Spring!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good Eats

Hello! Jenn here, back from a two-month absence. Seeing so many people who actually read this thing on our recent trip to Dallas encouraged me to get back on the writing wagon! (Not sure why you do it, folks, but thanks.) Last week was a bit of a whirlwind--after being in Dallas for Eric and Alyson's wedding, seeing every friend we could in Texas, and then getting stuck in Atlanta for two days due to a colossal ice storm (with my parents--YEAH!), it took us a little bit of time to get back to our Pittsburgh "normal."

Just for the fun of it, here's some pictures from Eric and Alyson's wedding. So happy for them (and me--now I have a sister-in-law!)

But on to the main point of this post. We got a lot of joy out of telling all our Texas family about our adventures up here. Pretty consistently, any time we would begin telling someone about our lives in Pgh, these were the first words out of our mouths: "We eat goooooooooood" (even though it's really 'we eat *well*'--oh grammar nazi who lives inside me, I just can't leave you). It's hard, nay, impossible, to talk about our community without talking about the FOOD! We are surrounded by wonderful cooks who bring years of experience to our table every night. One of our community members, Amber (whose blog you can and should read here), who has way more gumption than I will ever have, has taken it upon herself to compile our favorite recipes into a cookbook. I thought I would share some of them with you. If you ever make these and enjoy them yourselves, you have her to thank, because I am literally just copying and pasting these from the online cookbook she's made.

**I've made this one a couple times; makes a very rich, green pesto.

Spinach Linguine with Spinach Arugula and Walnut Pesto
adapted from The Ten Things You Should Eat
  • 3 ounces baby arugula
  • 5 ounces fresh spinach, blanched
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup walnut halves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound spinach linguine

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients except for the pasta in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a little water to the mixture if blending is troublesome.
Add a little salt to the boiling water and cook the linguine al dente. Drain and toss with the pesto. To serve, divide the pasta among 6 bowls, top each with a small handful of arugula, and some Parmesan cheese. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Serves 6

**This next one Amber made once and I fell in deep, deep love.

Stuffed Acorn Squash
adapted from: Simply in Season
  • 2-3 large acorn squash or other winter squash

Cut squash in half and remove the seeds and strings. Place cut side down on a lightly greased baking sheet with sides. Bake at 350 degrees until almost soft but not mushy, 40-50 minutes. You may do this step in advance. Remove from the oven, fill with the following stuffing:
  • 1 pound sausage
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 diced apple
  • 2 cups toasted bread cubes
  • 3/4 cup nuts
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1 Tbs sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp each of: dried thyme, basil and oregano

Brown sausage in a large skillet. Add onion and apple and saute just until tender. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients and stuff into cooked squash, cover and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
Serves: 4-6

**Ryan makes this granola every single week.

adapted from: More with Less Cookbook
  • 2 cups whole wheat/quinoa/spelt flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup coconut (optional)
  • 1 cup flax seed
  • Optional: nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, are also good spices to add. About 4 Tbs total will do.

Blend together in a large bowl and set aside.
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup honey or molasses (using some honey will create clusters in your granola)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbs salt

Combine wet ingredients together. Add wet ingredients to blended dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread out on 2 greased cookie sheets and bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour or until dry and golden. Add dried fruit if desired. Store in containers.
Makes 2 1/3 - 3 quarts

There you have it: a small sampling of the outrageously delicious meals that pass through our kitchen each week. Bon appetit!