Sunday, November 28, 2010

Too Good

Neal & I have been depressed this afternoon.
We set up our Christmas decorations and tree.
When trimming our apartment in yule festivity didn't work,
we went to Chipotle, otherwise known as trying to anesthetize ourselves.
But all day, from the moment we drove into that Chicago skyline, we just wanted to be back in my family's home where we spent the last four days celebrating Thanksgiving.
Is there such a thing as too good?
There could be.
Too good such that when you leave that too good thing, 
putting up your Christmas tree and seeing the Chicago skyline lit for Christmas isn't enough to soothe the longing in your heart to return to too good.

We gave thanks, and we gave it good.  Too good.
I guess I blame that on 14 homemade pies,
on Tyler and Parker being home,
on the wood-burning stove,
on nights of laugh-crying to Brian Regan DVDs,
on getting to mingle with family from Granny to 4-month old Kaden,
on frost and sunsets and sunrises,
on Big Papa's surprise for Lilly of decking the patio in colored lights,
on getting up at 3:40 am on Black Friday,
on the sound of foot pounding the pavement on a quiet country run,
on going to bed literally sick to my stomach from laughing so hard all day (ab exercises anyone?).
Like I said, we gave thanks, and we gave it good.
And when you're thankful, it can never be too good.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It Has Begun

The holidays.
In the Anderson household, it has begun.
With Thanksgiving this week and Michigan Ave. now lit,
there's just no way I can hold back any longer!
Celebration central, right here.
So much so that it scares Neal a little bit, wink. 

The day before our inaugural holiday celebration date, which was to be Friday, a romantic surprise swooped in and surprised me.
If you think about it, the element of surprise is integral to Christmas traditions,
so it seems just perfect that this year's holidays started out with one.

Thursday night, I walked into our home office around 5:30 where Neal was on hold with the phone company.
We exchanged a few words, and then he said, "Oh, by the way, go put on something nice."
On Thursday nights, we have our church small group, so I had been about to get ready.
When Neal interrupted me, through confused questions on my part, and amused answers on Neal's, 
I found out that we were in fact not going to small group, but instead going out on a romantic dinner date.
What's better, when the whole story came out, I found out that the guys in our small group had together planned this scheme and would all be surprising their wives and taking them out that night instead of to small group.
It all made me smile big.

Neal took me up Wells St. where we had a candlelight dinner at Orso's (remember this?) and dessert next door at Kilwin's candy shop.
The Old Town lampposts were draped in Christmas garlands and I saw a few beautiful Christmas trees in storefronts which sent me squealing.
As I said, it has begun.

{Timeless picture}  
Of a man waiting for a woman to get ready
Bread & oil, Caprese salad, and Chicken Parmigana

Dark chocolate turtle candy for me and peanut brittle for hubby

This night was the best feeling I've had in a long time, really.
It made my heart and my senses swirl with the magic of the holiday season and spending special time with ones I love.
What little surprise could you create for a special someone this year- a daughter, a son, a husband, a wife, a friend?
Surprises are part of the spirit and the sweetness of the season.
Happy celebrating!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Favorite Book

I'm crazy about this book.
I usually have this thing where I don't like being asked the question, "What's your favorite...."
To give one answer for my favorite something often feels too narrow, too definitive.
It's just a nightmare for my at once exuberant and indecisive tendencies.
But please.
Please do ask me what's my favorite book.
Because I like this one so much that it is, absolutely, my favorite. 

I read Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way earlier this fall, but I've just been quietly absorbing its inspiration for awhile.
And thinking about how Shauna, the author, is my new author crush.
I read her first book called Cold Tangerines this summer.
Both books but especially now Bittersweet, have, more than anything else this year
shown me and taught me a way to live.

In the book, each chapter is its own free-standing small essay, and the writing is fabulous- she uses words just the way I love them to be used.
Through both humorous and heavy anecdotes, the painful and bitter parts of life are exposed and processed.
At the same time, she writes about the joy and glory of everyday life, with courage and a good eye, good taste, for the simple things.
The book is raw and funny and sad and deeply solid.
Honest, challenging, so spiritual and then so not, all at the same time in all the best ways.
Bittersweet uncovered so much for me, and wrote to me in my soul language.

Were you to buy it for a girlfriend, sister, or mom for Christmas, I think she might just love it.
Or of course, for yourself, for fireside holiday reading (oh, yum!).
And who knows?  It could become a new favorite, just like it has for me. 
Since I borrowed the book, I'm hoping it could turn up in my stocking as well, *wink.*

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Peek

Here at the Anderson's, this is a peek of what it looks like.
We snuggle into the couches and talk, together and with friends.
We simmer this on the stove top.
We plan Christmas lists and parties and drink chai and cider.
We let warm colors and fall garlands comfort on days when life seems more cruel.
We think on gratitude within these walls; the quiet choices that make life- if not more noticeable- at least richer.

Yesterday, we had a rough day, but concluded it by settling into our cozy haven late at night with a friend and watching Brian Regan DVDs until midnight.
I highly recommend such practices.

It's here that we hurt and laugh and uncover joy and find our way through the life that we recognize as ours today.
It's cozy.  We love it.  And we'll keeping simmerin' the good stuff here all the way until Christmas.
Hope you enjoy this small peek.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Magic Hour

I got my day of warm-enough weather.
Even though this weekend I've been bundled in warm polka-dot socks and a beanie,
the week was unseasonably warm.

If Neal hadn't been unseasonably busy, I'm sure we would've taken a couple more late afternoon Vespa dates... a favorite of ours.
But between student meetings, my job applications, keeping up with our running program, and getting ready for this past weekend's retreat, we kept it at one lovely Lincoln Park date.

Sometimes Neal gets off as early as 3:00pm, and it's then we go for these midday "one hour dates."
Half the day is over, half is still to go.
Who says you can't steal away with your love for a park bench worth of conversation before the day goes on?
A ride, the city neighborhoods, a bench, catching up on our day, feeling instantly away from everything pressing.
It's magic.

And then, just like that, the magic is over, and it's back to hauling the laundry up, baking for small group, straightening the living room for another meeting, filing clutters of papers, answering emails.
But somehow, the magic of the last hour is a fuel for our souls, and "just another day" turns into so much more.

Weekending: 11 Guys and a Girl

Hello there.
Happy weekending, friends.
Guess where I am?
I went with Neal on the retreat he's put on for his 10 guys.
Yep. That's me and 11 guys for the weekend!
I'm feeling very brave.
(I brought a good Jane Austen novel and three pairs of shoes to balance things out.)
Let's just say I'm a little out of my element, but I guess I don't have to try to keep my life interesting!
They gave a big cheer when I told them I'd come this time, and they keep telling me I really am a part of CREW (their RA small group), how sweet are they?
So. Here I am! Enjoying a blend of relaxing and getting to know our guys better.
I'm having a good time chatting with them, and more so, overhearing their hoopla and topics of conversation.
Which, for the record, from my observation, ranges from desert island scenarios, to outrageously random facts, to theology and Bible discussions, and most things in between.
As I was drifting off to sleep upstairs last night, I faintly heard this question, "If we were all stranded on a desert island, who would we eat first?"

Many thanks to both of Neal and I's mommas who have hosted this weekend.
Dinner last night at my family's (the guys are still raving about it), and then the rest of the weekend at Neal's parent's lake house while they're away, complete with meals ready for us in the fridge.
We're blessed by the hard work our moms have done to support us and these guys.
Thanks Moms!
(Will any of us ever find a day where we could actually stop saying that?)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Small Steps

spotted on oh hello friend

I'm looking. A little.
As in, I sent out my first round of applications for counseling jobs in the city today!
Amidst all that has happened this past year, when I sift through the volcanic ash of it all,
I still find myself wanting to go in the same direction as I did as a new clinical psychology graduate.

My timing is different than I thought it'd be, that's for sure.
Even now, I don't know that the timing is right, but I want to find out.
Even now, I don't know if it's the right step to take, but I want to start putting one small step in front of another.

Many of you know that my health remains a challenge, some days being incredibly discouraging, and on others I see signs of normal life peeking out.
Though progress is unarguably slow, some things have finally changed.
I don't have days in bed anymore. I exercise regularly. I'm part of church and small group regularly. I meet with students regularly. I take care of our little city apartment regularly.

Could I go to a job, part-time, regularly?
I think (hope) I'm getting closer.

On harder days I think I'm nuts for starting to look, and other days, it seems perfectly natural as it synchronizes with my good days and my progress-making streaks.
I'll take my time, and take heed to my body's signals.

I met with a career adviser recently and got the advice that what will be needed to find a counseling position in the job market right now is a good amount of time and persistence.
While I wait to see if and when my body will make the final stretch to stable health,
doing some job-searching each week seems perfect for this season:
The slow process of searching out buried jobs seems like it will match up nicely with the slow process of waiting for stability.

So I'm looking forward. I'm thinking forward. But I'm living in today.

Today looks a lot like trying to stay away from all my holiday planning enough to make myself type cover letters each week.
We'll see how that goes!
I already have a couple Christmas parties in the works for our cozy city apartment!
Cheers to the holidays and to small steps.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Swirled Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars & A Life Change

I'm having a swirled pumpkin cream cheese bar with a hot mug of chai tea while I write this.
A bite, set it down. Type. A sip, set it down. Type.
Not bad for a Monday night, eh?
Yes, I made another (delicious) pumpkin and cream cheese recipe. You can find it here.
Somehow I went 26 years without understanding the value of this combination, and you can bet that I will spend the next 26 years making up for it.

In other news, yes I have a life outside of pumpkin and cream cheese.
Let me tell you about one of its greater moments recently.
I had a chance to attend a presentation by a professor from Wheaton last week.
At some point in his delivery, he shared a quote from a book written by Henri Nouwen.
Upon hearing the quote, in a simple, unobserved moment, I felt changed.
What I'm sure was just a bullet point or another minute ticking by for everyone else in the room, felt like an epiphany to me.

"Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality."
-Henri Nouwen

Somehow, upon hearing that quote, that concept, I understand my life better.
I understand better what I've studied to do, what I love to do, what people tell me I do well.
(If there's anything I learned in grad school it was that counseling is actually more about listening than talking).
I love hospitality, and I learned it by example from my Momma.
But while I love to create beauty and make people feel welcome,
I like sitting and talking far better than cooking, doing dishes, and offering tea.

I love to make people feel welcome, as they are.
To make people feel comfortable, with who they are.
To invite people, to share their story.
I love to offer a safe space, where pain can be expressed.
To provide warmth, which brings comfort.
To feed, with words fitly spoken.
So, over a pumpkin bar and chai tea tonight, I'm thinking about how I feel changed.
Though nothing about me has changed, I feel that I am.
I think that's what happens when you see something about yourself or your life a little more clearly than before.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cupcake Craze & A Recipe

There's been a bit of a cupcake craze overtaking the city.
If Starbucks is on every corner, then cupcake bakeries aren't far behind.
If this sounds like a complaint, then consider this moment a prime example of how the tone of the written word can be much more easily misconstrued than that of the spoken word.
In other words, the city's love for cupcakes has fallen right into my own affections as well.

Perfect for friend dates, husband dates, and for us this past year, after-hospital pick-me-up dates.
I can't tell you how many times I secured a quick promise of a cupcake from Neal right as a needle was going into my arm for yet another blood test.
What morale was drained from my arm, I refilled here and there with a cupcake.
I'd tell my cupcake tradition to the nurses as they prepared needles and tubes,
and they'd hoot and holler with approval, bringing to life the otherwise sterile blood-draw rooms.

Cupcake love is not just on our streets, and bringing life to our hospital rooms, but I've brought it into our little home now too.
Because at $4 a cupcake, well, let's just say that it's cheer is not without limits.
But online recipes? Free and limitless...
Until I went to the store to get the white chocolate for the particular cream cheese frosting.

But amidst the masses of recipes, I somehow found another fall treasure that is getting filed into my Anderson family recipe book and given a spot of honor in our autumn traditions from here on out.
You're gonna love it. A lot.

White chocolate, cream cheese, and butter for the frosting.
Pumpkin spice for the cake.
I'm not teasing... here's the link!

And if you're in Chicago, whether living here or visiting, here's the place you need to go: Sprinkles Cupcakes.

P.S. If you "like" Sprinkles on Facebook, you'll get in on codes for free cupcakes!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Vespa & UP

Love this print
Spotted on exPress-o

I love this print! Doesn't it remind you of the movie, UP?
The red scooter looks just like ours, which makes me feel happy-sad.
Happy because now red scooters, especially Vespas, symbolize to me my and hubby's
happy Chicago life.
Sad because our Vespa battery is dead right now, and the days are only getting colder and darker!
I hope we can get our little Vespa charged up for at least one more ride or two.
I still have more Chicago adventures in my Adventure Book I want to go on!

Fall In Chicago Is

"Fall in Chicago is an event. It's like theater: active, kinetic, rich."
-Shauna Niequist

I hope I remember this fall in Chicago for a long, long time.
Summer in Chicago is unparalleled. But fall...fall is spellbinding.
This year though, fall was especially warm, sunny, bright, and ongoingly beautiful, almost to the point of confusion.
Why is it so nice still? people start asking nervously.

It's really funny to me that in Chicago when we have amazing weather for any length of time, everyone gets nervous.
I heard this means winter's gonna be fierce. We're gonna pay for this. It's gonna be the longest stretch of sub-zero temps on record. In history.
It's like we have it so good, we suspect it has to be too good to be true, and something bad must be around the corner.
Weather catastrophizing is one of the humorous quirks about Chicagoans, though there's nothing humorous about our winters, you have to admit.

But while we're walking around nervously catastrophizing about the upcoming winter,
these are the too-good-to-be true scenes we see on our city streets.
At least these are the scenes I see, in my little part of the city.


{A Seasonal Schwinn}

{The Essence of Chicago:
Fire escape, a Vespa, the El}

{Orso's on Wells}
This is the most romantic fall restaurant nook.
I just die every time I walk by it!

Not usually an Einstein's person, but to sit outside amidst mums (no, that does not say nuns) and have a casual breakfast on a crisp morning sounds like maybe I could be an Einstein's person.
{Lincoln Park}
You know the love.

{Back at our backyard Washington Park}
Watching the seasons change here is like marking off your height on a growth chart.
You see that time is indeed passing, and you are indeed changing,
even when you don't perceive it on a daily basis.
{Indeed, a very warm fall}
Terrible for the allergies, but happy for the gift of extended outdoor-friendly weeks.
{Sidewalk displays}

Fall in Chicago is.
Definitely an event.

And on the brink of the holidays, the magic is going nowhere but up.
Happy November 1st!