Monday, March 31, 2014

the tale of two cakes

This is why I'm not on Pintrest. I find enough recipes from other people's posts. Then I google them and, if it sounds good enough, I make it.

Recently, a friend mentioned that she made a chocolate cake, but it was gluten free. It used quinoa. You'll remember my quinoa experience. Since I had quinoa left over, I decided I should try this cake. I googled it and found it. Don't be fooled by the recipe (linked below). This makes a LOT of frosting. And the quinoa I used required 3/4 cup uncooked to equal two cups, cooked.

On St. Patrick's Day, someone posted a Guinness chocolate cake. I googled that and the picture looked beautiful. I knew I had to make that one too. But when and for what occasion would I make either cake?

We had dinner with friends Saturday evening. I took the quinoa chocolate cake. It was a hit.

Today we had a staff lunch at work, so naturally I took the Guinness cake. It was also a hit.

If you like chocolate cake, both of these are superb in completely different ways. The quinoa cake is light and fluffy and the frosting is also light. The Guinness cake is super dense and super moist. It has a cream cheese frosting which is very rich. But it compliments the almost molasses flavor the beer gives the cake.

Here's one of the cake recipes.

Here's the other one.

I think you should decide for yourself.

Oh, and for Bill's birthday? I'll be making this cake.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

at the lakeshore

I was at a retreat last night at Camp Geneva. It was for the women of our church. The theme was being Mary in a Martha world.

It was a wonderful getaway. Rest, and relaxation at the lakeshore. It was just what I needed.
Today we had free time. I took a nap. Then I took a walk on the beach. Here's what it looked like. It reminded me of another planet. Or Iceland.

Or is it Greenland that is actually covered in ice?

Whichever it was, it looked surreal. It was pretty cool.
In this picture at the very edge of the horizon, where you see the dark blue, that's the open water past the ice. 
Here are the ice chunks and snow mounds.

It's also strange to me (although as a Michigan resident I should just get used to this fact) to walk on the beach in a winter coat, gloves, and closed toed shoes.

I feel as though when I walk on sand I should be wearing flip flops. 

That reminds me of the year that we lived in Savannah. For my birthday (Dec. 13th) we went to Tybee Island. Where we walked on the beach barefoot because it was warm. Warm like seventy degrees. I'm pretty sure I was wearing capri pants and a t-shirt. No jacket needed then. 

Whether it's warm or not, the shore is still a reflective place. It restores my soul. And for that I am thankful.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Almost Famous or, Things You Didn't Know About Me

Do you know that I am almost famous?

If only there had been a photographer there.

I was the first person to check out a book in my college's new library. That's what the librarian told me. But there was no one there to record it. Maybe, somewhere in a very dated computer system, this is logged.

I also helped measure and draw up the plans for the old library (known as Poetter Hall, and before that Preston Hall). Those drawings are supposedly in the Library of Congress. (I linked it for you so you don't think I'm just making this up.) It was for a class on HABS and HAER drawings. Those stand for Historic American Building Survey and Historic American Engineer Record. We recorded the building, as it stood in 1998, and drew it according to our measurements.

I shook Kevin Spacey's hand. It was the premiere of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" at the Civic Center in Savannah. My roommate sat out on the bleachers lining the red carpet until I got home from class. I joined her, and we waited until the stars came by. Kevin Spacey was one of them and I stuck out my hand. He shook it!

I am a [volunteer] City Commissioner serving on the Historic Preservation Committee, or HPC.

I've been on the Today Show. It was Mother's Day, 2009 and it was our "Spring Break" trip to NYC. We went later that year so students who finished classes in May could join us. It didn't matter with regards to the weather. There were temperatures in the 30's. It was still freezing. We made signs and held them up and I was right behind the weekend anchors as they stood outside. "Hi Mom!"

I'm sure there are more "almost famous" moments. But I can't think of any more right now. That's okay, I'm sure you're overwhelmed at my fame… I'll give you a moment.

I'm thankful for these fun and random opportunities.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spencer's 2nd birthday party

I forgot my camera, but I had my phone. (Here's a great tip: never leave your phone unattended while you use the restroom when your teenage niece is still sitting at the table. 176 photos later… I found this out.)

Here's the birthday boy!
 He kept walking over to the bowling balls and would say, "Bowl". Or maybe it was, "Ball".
Either way it was cute.
 He likes hats, so we got a new one for him. He immediately took it and put it on. 


That's how the kids wear them these days. (That's how they wore them back in the day too. I'll be sure to tell him that when he's older.)
I'm thankful for both my nephew and my niece, who are at this very moment on their way to Florida for spring break.

I asked my sister to bring back warmer weather and sun. She said she'd try. I told her at least send me some pictures.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

spring green

Despite the snow and cold, I saw signs that nature has not given up on spring. There are crocus ready to bloom, although they do look like they've croaked with their sad blooms hanging their heads low to the ground. There are tulips (they could be hyacinths, it's difficult to tell this early) sprouting. Those leaves are about two inches above the ground.

Even with the snow, things are still growing. Mother Nature can keep throwing snow at us, but spring is here.

I'm thankful for the small, green signs of spring.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

better the second time around

Bill's home! He hasn't been home since March 16th. I saw him last weekend, but I picked him up in St. Joseph to drive to Indiana. It's on the way to my parents. Why would he drive to GR only to drive right back by the office?

Anyway, I celebrated his homecoming by making leftovers. I had some ham and bean soup in the freezer. When I made it the first time it wasn't as good as I had hoped. I decided when I pulled it out to reheat it that I would add actual chunks of ham (I had used a ham hock to make the soup, but no ham). That's what I did tonight. It made a huge difference and was very good.

While that was heating up, I decided I needed bread of some kind to go with the soup. But I didn't have any bread.

What's the next best thing?


But not just any biscuits, cheesy garlic biscuits (think Red Lobster).

I quickly found the recipe and literally tossed the ingredients into a bowl. Then into the oven and ta-da! Ten minutes later the biscuits and the soup were ready.

I'm thankful for leftovers.

Obviously I'm thankful that Bill's home. That's a given.

I'm much more impressed that dinner was as good as it was.

Monday, March 24, 2014

back in the groove

I have been anxious to get back outside to walk and then run (okay, jog) after this winter. My goal every year is to walk/jog until the end of November. Then, after the spring break trip the first of March, to get back out.

This has been a very busy month and it's still been snowing. Two weeks ago I was in St. Joseph answering the phones at Bill's office while his office manager was on vacation (no, it wasn't anywhere tropical, although technically it was warmer than Michigan, he went to Alaska). Then last week on Monday and Tuesday, I was back at the office to answer phones again. I spent Wednesday at my job.

I could keep going, but the result is the same. It's the 24th of March and today was the first day since November (I think) that I have been out to walk.

I walked 2.4 miles and it felt wonderful.

I'll tell you how I really feel tomorrow.

Although after the bouncing yesterday on the trampolines I didn't feel too bad this morning.

I'm going to work back up to 3.1 miles. I was starting to cramp a little toward the end of my walk, so instead of trying to push myself after three and a half months, I decided that a 2.4 mile walk was pretty darn good.

I'm so glad (thankful) to be back to my exercise routine.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It'll make you jump

Our Sr. High and Jr. High youth groups went to SkyZone tonight. If you don't know what that is, think trampolines. "Rooms" of squares of trampolines.

One of my students said that when she goes, she's tired after ten minutes. 

We had one hour of jump time.

She wasn't kidding. Once I got out there and started jumping, I was ready for a break. I stopped and it had been seven minutes. Am I that out of shape?

I don't think so, jumping just takes that much out of you.

I wonder how sore I'll be tomorrow…

I went back out there and jumped off and on. I watched them jump into the foam square pit. I watched Lili and Lillian beat ALL the boys at dodge ball (oh yes, dodge ball on trampolines). I jumped some more.

I'm thankful for a place like this where I felt like I could jump high enough to fly. It was a blast!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pizza and Pop

Before we went bowling for Spencer's 2nd birthday, we went and ate dinner at Cool River Pizza. If any of you are in Indiana reading this, you should go check it out. It's some pretty good pizza.

Cyndi recommended the double stacked cheese bread which was gooey with cheese. They bring you cheese and marinara for dipping. They'll even bring you ranch if you are into that sort of thing. It turns out, Cyndi and I are. Ranch!

For the first time in a very long time, I had coca-cola. Pizza and coke. There's not too much of a better combo.

Pretzels and beer.

Cheese and wine.

Milk and cookies.

Pizza and coke.

See? I can only come up with four. And I don't think that first one really counts. I don't know that I've ever eaten pretzels with beer. I've had beer with a burger. I've had beer with onion rings. I've had beer with pizza. I just don't hear many people talking about a good combo like beer and (fill in the blank).

Back to the pizza. I would say I'm something of a pizza connoisseur. I've had pizza in New York City (that is legit stuff out there), I've had deep dish pizza in Chicago, I've had REAL pizza in Naples, Italy (more legit than NYC based on history and that it really is that good), I've had greasy, run-of-the-mill pizza at late-night parties, I've had burnt pizza, stuffed crust pizza and every kind of pie in between. The second best pizza to our experience in Naples happens to be in our own backyard.

Not literally.

In Grand Rapids. Harmony Brewing Company is making their own pizzas and they are the best we've had since Naples. I'll say it again and again.

Harmony has the best pizza second only to pizza from Naples, Italy.

On a weekly basis, we eat pizza at youth group. It's okay. But there are times that I've had too much of that pizza and the thought of one more slice makes me want to gag.

When I can experience other pizza it's a nice departure from the norm. Cool River Pizza delivered (ha, pun not intended only because we dined in) on the flavor department. The toppings were plentiful, the seasonings were just right, the sauce wasn't too sweet or too spicy and it was gooey with cheese. I should tell you, we ordered the Cool Chicken Ranch pizza and the Everything But the Veggies pizza.

I'm thankful for all the different kinds of pizza this country has to offer. I'm also thankful that Cool River Pizza didn't disappoint and, for me, knocked it out of the ballpark.

Friday, March 21, 2014

this is spring break weather

Sixty degrees! Bill is ready to move.

We just drove to my parents for the weekend. We're here to celebrate Spencer's second birthday!

Um, I just realized the last picture I have of him is from the fall. I'm a bad aunt. But here's his picture from his first birthday. I'll be sure to take pictures tomorrow.

In the meantime, we are all thankful for the warmer weather.

Although it's supposed to snow all weekend back in GR.

After dinner tonight, we took a walk. "We" is Mom, Dad, Bill and I. I wore a fleece pullover. And I wasn't freezing cold.

I don't know how to feel.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

winter vs. spring

Was I sneaky enough? I wanted to post the picture of the flowers Bill sent. But by the time I got home last night, I didn't have time to plug my phone into my computer and load the picture, and the post it to my blog. I did it just now instead and back posted (dated?) it. 

That really was what I was thankful for yesterday.

Today is the first day of spring! The first thing I saw when I looked out the window was…

Green grass?


Flowers blooming?


Buds on trees?

Not even close

What I saw this morning, freshly fallen on our deck, was snow.

Not a lot, just a dusting. Then the sun came out and melted it away.

The sun went behind clouds again. But that didn't stop Molly and I from walking to Jersey Junction (from her house) to celebrate her passing her driver's test and the first day of spring.

I'm thankful that it wasn't so cold that we didn't want to walk there. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

thanks for the thanks

These greeted me when I walked into the church office today. I said those are pretty and our receptionist informed me that they were for me!


Of course they are from Bill. He sent them to me as a small token of gratitude for helping him in his office while his office manager was on vacation.

He's the best.

This is the irony post. I'm thankful that Bill thanked me with a bouquet of flowers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Just the facts

It turns out I'm Irish! Irish on both sides of the family. I was pretty certain there was Irish on the maternal side. My paternal aunts are red heads, I don't know how I didn't put two and two together sooner.

My guess on the fraction is also pretty close. It's something like my great, great grandfather on mom's side and my great, great, great grandfather on dad's side. So 1/128 sounds about right. Don't worry, my mom told me that she has all of this written down. Whew. I'm really not good at genealogy.

It also lends more weight/credence to my liking for warm beer (it has to be stout, I can tolerate a porter as long as it's not cold), meat & potatoes, and my temper. I've always blamed my strong German roots. Now I can blame the wee bit o' Irish and it's legit.

I'm still looking for Italian roots. Maybe that was in a former life.

In the meantime, check out dinner from Saturday night.
 Don't worry, last night we celebrated by eating the traditional Mexican Skillet. Oh, wait. That's not tradition for St. Patrick's Day...
Saturday also included my first official trip of the season to Jersey Junction. Yum! This means warmer weather is headed our way. And I promised Bill that we don't have to go back until Memorial Day.

Today I'm thankful that I'm feeling better. I have no idea whether it was the cabbage, corned beef, beers, ice cream, all the food I ate in Chicago, taking my vitamin on a less than full stomach, or what but it has passed and I am happy for that.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hollywood cliché

I'm not sure if the corned beef agreed with me. I was a little sick yesterday. I ended up coming home from youth group and crawling into bed where I slept until 6am.

Today, I'm back in St. Joseph helping Bill by answering the phone at the office.

It may be cliché, but I totally realize why movies show the receptionist filing her nails.

Because that's what you have time to do between answering the phone.

I was sitting here, between phone calls, and realized one of my nails was torn. I pulled out my nail file and as I was fixing it, that's when the cliché dawned on me.

I laughed out loud.

All I need now is one of those headsets so that I don't even have to lift the receiver.

"Good morning, this is Emily, how may I help you?"

On the thankful note, I left the house this morning in time to see the full moon set and the sun rise. Both were beautiful.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Wee Bit 'O Irish

I know I write about Pioneer Woman a lot. I really enjoy her blog and she continues to give me new recipes to try.

Today was no exception. I decided we needed to celebrate the wee little bit 'O Irish in my blood (right, mom? We're some small part Irish, even if it's only 1/128 it counts) and made Corned Beef and Cabbage. We had them with boiled potatoes. But not just any cabbage. And not just any corned beef. We had this.

Please, take a minute and click that link. You have to see the pictures.

It was amazing.

I'm so glad I made it and I can't believe I've never tried it before now.

I'm thankful for the new recipe and a spin on traditional food.

Friday, March 14, 2014


It's "Pi"e day. I forgot all about it until Bill reminded me when he came home from work with a McDonald's Apple Pie and a Shamrock shake!

On top of both of those wonderful treats, it was also a beautiful day. It got to 50 degrees! The snow is finally melting. It was sunny. I didn't even wear a coat when I ran out to the store.

Our fireplace is finally repaired.

Last year, on this day, this photo was taken.

I had no hope of seeing any crocus today, but then given the temperature, when I checked the mail I glanced over at the spot closest to the house where the majority of the croci are planted.

Sure enough! There are green stems coming out of the ground. One little patch even had purple buds just like those above. They aren't as upright, the cold has wilted them. But there is green.

When Bill let Atticus out this morning, he declared that he could smell spring.

I believe him.

Then I passed a dead skunk on the road.

That's another sign of spring.


Today I have an abundance of thanks.

For the crocus, for the smell of spring, for apple pies (even if they weren't pie shaped), for repaired fireplaces (yes, we see the irony of the warmer weather), for Shamrock shakes and for Bill because it was an amazing gesture.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I am really into dresses. While I have only started wearing more of them recently, I remember the first time I was really drawn to a dress. It was Cousin Mark's wedding back in 1994. His mom wore a beautiful pale green gown. For whatever reason, that gown is my Cinderella dress.

I haven't owned a dress like it yet. My wedding dress was close, but it no longer fits (yay)!

I have had the occasion to purchase a gown for a black tie event. I bought a black gown. Unfortunately it came from China and, in typical Emily fashion, I didn't pay close attention to details. The dress fit, with the exception of length. It was about a foot too long. Apparently to the Chinese we are all towering giants. I had the dress altered but haven't had the occasion to wear it again.

Tonight, Bill and I are going to an event. The dress is business casual, but I will still wear a dress.

I have several to choose from. However, I just found this website (thanks to my favorite blogger the Pioneer Woman). I'm in trouble. They have adorable dresses! And the prices are decent. Yikes.
This dress came from Jenny. 
I wore it to our High Tea at a Quota event last summer.

Thanks PW for the new website. I'll be dreaming and shopping for sure. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's pronounced "Keen-wa"

I'm going to pre-blog about our dinner. If it turns out, I will try to remember to write more about it after dinner. But I'm going through a sinus bout and don't have all my faculties about me. Instead I have boxes of tissue, bottles of lotion, sinus pills and wadded up balls of tissue. In other words, I may be passed out, snoring loudly on the couch after dinner.

Or a ball of energy. In which case I'll be out shoveling snow.

Maybe not. I'm really over the stuff for this season.


I'm making a sausage, pepper quinoa dish. It all goes in the crock-pot for two hours (on high). It's going to have some sweet (honey), some tanginess (red and orange peppers), and spice (homemade sausage from our local grocery store). I think it will be quite the filling dish with the quinoa.

Wish me luck. I've never cooked anything with quinoa before. Couscous? Yes. Long grain (not instant) rice? Yes. Risotto (Arborio Rice)? Yes. Pasta? Are you kidding me? Of course. Quinoa is a first. I'm confident I can master it.

At least I know where the closest fast food restaurant is.

I'm thankful for creative cooks and all the recipes they have shared.

Editor's note: the dish was delicious. Bill and I each had a serving topped with cheddar cheese and then a serving topped with monterey jack cheese. Each was different and delicious in its own way. I recommend it if you want a quick, weeknight dinner. Just know that quinoa is super, teeny, tiny. When the directions tell you to rinse it, make sure you have a fine mesh strainer. Here's the link to the recipe.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the change that jingles in your pocket

I almost forgot! Despite the fact that most of the sidewalks in Chicago were covered in snow, guess who still found money?

Okay, it was only a nickel, but still.

It made me happy.

Then I laughed. I don't think there has been a trip where I haven't found money.

I'm thankful for my sharp eye.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hurt and Broken, Healing and Believing

We were invited to a friend's house yesterday. This couple opened their doors to a community of people. They knew that not everyone would become best friends.

There was a person there who, I believe, has for whatever reason come to dislike me. It had been blatantly obvious in their actions. It was especially evident as I heard them mutter, "who invited them?" as we were taking off our shoes.

Needless to say, I was aghast. My feelings are hurt. Really hurt. I am broken. I have tried telling myself that isn't what they really said. But the truth is, those were the words spoken.

How can someone be that mean? How can someone be that hurtful? It wasn't like it was said in a corner and someone else overheard and told me. No, I heard it come from their mouth, in a room full of people.

I'm not always nice. And maybe I have said something similar that someone has overheard. I can't be the pot calling the kettle black.

But it doesn't make it hurt any less.

Especially in a place where we were coming together for love and community.

Lately, I have been thinking about the phrase, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Oh the truth in that.

Especially after coming back from a mission trip.

Does this person know me? What caused them to say these words? Are they afraid?

I just read through a devotion with Psalm 145 as the scripture. The verses didn't strike a particular chord in me, but the devotion that went along with it did. The writer talks about how anger is like a boat floating on a sea of fear.

Maybe this person is afraid. Afraid of having fun. Afraid of the freedom I have. Afraid of my confidence.

It's the last phrase of this devotion that helped me most, "God loves us steadfastly, unconditionally, gently, freely".

No matter what, I have to remember that it doesn't matter whether or not a particular person loves me. It's my faith that should I focus on and not worry about what others think or say to me.

I've been thankful to friends before, and today I am thankful for those who stand by me and for those who love me, and especially for those who have kept their mouth shut unless they have something to say that I need to hear. Also, for those who work to make the world a better place by saying kind words. And loving unconditionally and loving their neighbors.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tuesday in Chicago

On Tuesday morning, Sami went out early to pick up an order of Paczki's, a Fat Tuesday tradition. We left earlier for the Ethiopian Community Association and made it there with time to have devotions in the van. We shared the paczki's on the way.

The teacher for the class had called out sick. We had worked with the students who needed special attention the day before while the teacher had taught the "advanced" students. Since the teacher was sick, the director asked for volunteers to help with the advanced class. Tim and I jumped at the chance.

The director gave us their worksheet. This group was working on superlatives and comparatives. Easy!

Or so I thought.

They may have been advanced in that they could speak english. But because we were using words like small, smaller, smallest, they didn't quite comprehend the meaning. We had a marker board and we drew shapes to describe the words. That worked until we got to poor and rich. At that point we moved on. We stopped teaching the class as a whole and handed out new worksheets. The new worksheet had story problems and the students had to write sentences like the example. Here is my example:

Jen went to the grocery store in the morning.
Jen planted flowers in the afternoon.
Jen listened to music in the evening.

Did Jen go to the grocery store in the morning? Yes, she went to the grocery store in the morning.
Did Jen listen to music in the afternoon? No, she listened to music in the evening.

I started helping a woman who reminded me of my mother-in-law. She was very sweet and was taking copious notes. She understood answering the question in the positive but had difficulty understanding the negative. She answered everything with a yes. No matter what. I worked with her until the end of the class. I think by then she got it. She called me teacher and thanked me. All of the students asked if we would be back tomorrow? No, we were going home. They said, you'll come back tomorrow. We kept telling them no, we were going home. But so were they, so they figured we would come back too.

From there, we drove over to Greater Chicago Food Depository. We made a quick stop at the McDonald's drive-thru and we ate our lunches in the car.

The GCFD is very similar to the one in Philadelphia where we volunteered. It was a huge, clean warehouse that receives large donations from all over. Then GCFD goes through and sends out food to different food banks, schools, etc.

At GCFD, we put labels on individual peanut butter packets. Everything that is packaged and goes out has to be labeled. Since these came from the manufacturer, they were not labeled (I think because they were not for individual sale). Each box had 120 packets in it. There were several other groups there. We needed to get 4,000+ labeled. By the end, we had done over 6,000! They had several statistics on food insecurity in the Chicago area. Of course it was too many facts, my brain was on overload and I don't remember. Just know that the numbers are high.

Their mission statement is,
We have 1 goal, 
1 mission.
To fight hunger,
1 dollar,
1 meal,
1 person at a time.
Until the day
no 1 goes hungry.

In Grand Rapids, one in five children is food insecure. I've heard the phrase "one is one too many" and I know that hunger is one thing that we can all fight together.

Back to our trip. After we finished at the food depository, we dropped Tricia off at her house. She had a volleyball tournament and needed to change and get her car. We went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, (where Tricia met up with us before her game). 

We headed our separate ways after dinner. The rest of the group went back to the housing site where we bought t-shirts, packed and cleaned. We loaded up the van and were headed home by 7pm (still local time). 

Sami dropped me off at 11:50pm (Eastern time). Whew! We made it home.

Just in time! The next morning, Sami went to start the van and it wouldn't start. Big Red got towed to the Ford dealer. I haven't heard what was wrong, but she's back in the church parking lot as of tonight (Sunday) and even had a bath! (Boy was she dirty.)

That was Chicago!

I am thankful that we made it back. I'm also thankful for all of the organizations working to deliver, receive and distribute food to those with food insecurity.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Monday in Chicago

Monday started out a little behind. There is a school near the housing site, plus it snowed. That equaled us being late by forty-five minutes to our first site. That site was the Ethiopian Community Association where we taught ESL to adults from not only Ethiopia but also Nepal, Myanmar and several other countries. The volunteer coordinator explained the process of bring refugees into the U.S. It is quite a process and I had no idea that is how it worked.

In a nutshell, the U.S. allows the most refugees of any country, all of whom are placed on a waiting list once they have moved to the country of refuge and have asked to be relocated. The U.S. allows 70,000 refugees per year to move here. I don't know if he told us how many refugees are waiting at any given point, I feel as though he did give us that number, but it is many times more than that 70,000.

Clarence and I sat at a table with two gentlemen. The man I was working with didn't even have id yet. That was his first day. ESL is not an easy thing to teach. Our language is complicated. The students were given a form with the instructions to, "Fill out the form". It was a typical form with spots for name, address, birthdate, etc. After the students filled out the form, we were to check it against their id.

Shortly after we began, another man joined our table. The first man that I was helping, Ali, could spell. And that was it. He kept spelling every word over and over. The second man, Ibrihim, got much further until we got to the zip code.

He wrote down too many numbers. He wrote down six numbers. The problem with that was that his zip code had sixes in it. It was 60660 and he wrote 606660. How does one explain that there were too many numbers? Then how does one explain that it's only five numbers. I would say five and he would say six. I pointed at the numbers individually at his id and then at his form. It took several times through the zip code before I think he finally caught on. At that point I crossed out the last six. And then class was finished.

Everyone else had a little more success. Their students understood English and they had full conversations. But I had remained patient, and that was good.

From there we went back to the housing site where we could not find any parking. We drove through all of the lots associated with our parking pass. We finally gave up and parked at McDonald's. Sami stayed with the van (and drank coffee while reading a book). At 2:30pm she drove over and met us. We headed out to an area of town known as Devon. It's a mix of middle-eastern and Pakistani. We broke up into different groups and set about with a different set of instructions and money to purchase something that represented the area. I was with Shawn, Tim and Stephanie.

We stopped in a restaurant and questioned the owner. He had been there about twenty years (I think, the facts are starting to slip my mind). He told us that it used to be a Jewish neighborhood but the Indian population slowly took over. We asked how to say hello in his native language, which was Hindi. I couldn't tell you what he said.

From there we walked further down the street. We kept passing dress shops and restaurants. Finally, Stephanie said that she wanted to go in one of the dress shops, she had questions. The one we stopped in was actually known for wedding "dress". I use quotes because they had clothes for men and women.

The man there talked with us for at least twenty minutes. He was kind and full of information. He let us feel how heavy the dresses are (check out all the bead work). He even let Shawn try on the head piece for a man (see below).
 One of the heavier beaded dresses.
 The couple's outfits will match. The groom and his family come in and shop, then the bride comes with the groom's family to pick out her dress. The groom's family is very involved.
 Here, the man wraps the tail (?) around Shawn's arm explaining that it's wrapped around the bride's arm too, binding them together.
 Shawn poses (a very rare opportunity).

From there we crossed the street to go in a large grocery store. We bought cookies, after asking patrons for recommendations. This store had everything from Mexican, to Middle-eastern and everything in between. 
 Check out the "American Style Cream and Onion" chips! Ha.
 We had to find taro root and another root, and I can't remember which was which!
We also had to find out what a sari was. We found out it's the shawl, but not a scarf, that women wear. They wear them all the time in their home country, but for here, it's more for special occasions. Some will wear them all the time.

From there, we went to A Just Harvest. A soup kitchen. We worked alongside members from a church and helped serve a few dozen people. They weren't very busy because it was the beginning of the month. Social Security, Disability, Food Stamps, etc. were just renewed/paid out. The people we served were all kind and appreciative. We were actually surprised that there weren't more people because of the cold weather. Eating at a soup kitchen doesn't mean you're homeless. 

From there we went to a Peruvian restaurant. The best kept secret in Chicago, according to their sign. No kidding. It was amazing. The best dish was Papa a la Huancaina. Boiled potatoes served with a cream cheese type sauce. I googled it when I got home and found a recipe. After I make it, I'll let you know how close it was and I'll share it. Sarah also prepared us for the rice served with french fries. I'm not sure that's a legit Peruvian dish, or if it's americanized, but it was also amazing. Especially when you spooned the leftover cheese sauce over it. We had a beef dish and a chicken dish too.

We did not want for food on this trip. 

After that, we headed back to the house to debrief and go to sleep.

On Monday, I was especially thankful for my patience teaching ESL and definitely for the Peruvian dinner.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sunday in Chicago

We went to Lawndale Community Church. They were celebrating their 35th anniversary. The church is rebuilding the surrounding community. There were numerous facts about LC3 (as they are affectionately calling themselves) that Sarah shared during our prayer tour. I don't remember them. I do remember the service. It was dynamic. As individuals came up to the "pulpit" (I use that term loosely because their church was in a gymnasium and was in the round) they gave their name and how many years they have been attending. There were several individuals who have been attending since coming to the Hope House (one of their mission sites). A few have been there since 1978, including "Coach" their pastor. The choir sang a testimonial song and we were clapping and moving to the beat. (I couldn't sound more white as I write it, could I?)

After church, we headed over to Auto Zone to get a new battery and new windshield wipers. Thank goodness we had extra time.

We went back to the housing site where we split into two groups. 4S's and ETTC. Since I haven't told you who all went on the trip, I shall share that now; Sami, Stephanie, Shawn, Sean, Emily, Tricia, Tim and Clarence. You can figure out the two groups.

We had our immersion. This is where we are each given two dollars to buy our meal. We may share it if we wish. We have a backstory and are given directions to a neighborhood where we are to explore it and find out core information. Our group was sent to Little Vietnam. We were living as a family from Vietnam who had just moved to the city. We were out of money, except for the $8. (There were other questions, but again, I have forgotten.)

We set out by shopping in the local markets.
 Tricia and Tim are trying to decide what groceries we could purchase
(we are told to try not to use fast food).
 I took a picture of water chestnuts because I've only ever seen them in their prepared form.
 I think this is the bag of Prawn chips that we bought to share. I never did try one!
 This is the market we tried to find food. We ended up at a convenience store where we bought bread, bologna, processed cheese slices, juice and pretzels for $5 and change.

Our group desperately wanted to share our food with someone who needed a meal. But it was so cold out that we could not find anyone. We walked a few blocks, the wind biting, and we finally decided to head to our other neighborhood. From Little Vietnam, we went to Lincoln Park. If you know Chicago, you may know theLincoln Park area has come around in the last few years. It is not the place to find the homeless or hungry individuals. We could not find a place to sit and eat our lunch either. We finally found a church. It was locked, so we sat on the front steps, somewhat out of the cold, and ate. From there we headed back to a coffee shop we had passed near the El. It was 2:45 and the coffee shop closed at 3pm. We bought a hot chocolate and used the restroom. We hung out as long as they let us, until 3:15pm. Our directions told us that the train ride back would take forty minutes. We decided if we got back five minutes early, we did okay.
The other thing I'm thankful for is that there are heat lamps at the stops. Here we are, waiting for the train, as close to the heat lamp as we can get.

Sami sent me a text shortly after we got on the train. Their group was already back. Because it was so cold, there were not many people riding the train so the ride was only twenty minutes. From the station we had a short walk, which we ran because we were pretty cold. 

Our two groups shared their experiences and warmed up. Sami's group had gone to Boystown. It's a very colorful neighborhood. They chose not to go in any shops. Not because of the cliental but because of the products. Gay porn isn't quite the college spring break experience. Plus, the focus was buying lunch, not those things. They too had hoped to share food with someone. While they were unable to do that, they did find someone to talk to. We share our experience. All in all, not the best immersion we have ever gone on.

From there, we went to dinner right down the street at a Mediterranean restaurant. The hummus was delicious. Sami, Tricia and I shared our dinner. I had chicken, Sami had falafel and Tricia had the beef. The chicken pita came with a garlic sauce. We had to ask for more, it was so good.

It was only 7:30pm by the time we got back to the housing site, but we were pretty tired. I think the girls were in bed by 9pm. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fun in Chicago

First we stopped by Jersey Junction. They opened on March 1st, but since Sami's Speedy Shuttle Service picked me up at 6:30am JJ wasn't open yet. No worries, Sami is the best and had ice cream that we ate outside. In the snow. Only a true ice cream lover in Michigan is crazy enough to do that. 

That would be me.

We made it to Chicago by 10:30am (local time). We stopped by a donut shop for some gluten free donuts for a friend of Sami. Sami also picked up a dozen donuts for us.

From there we picked up Tricia. We ate lunch at Gino's and then went to the John Hancock building and went up to the observation deck. Here are my photos.
 That's Navy Pier and the frozen Lake Michigan.
 Looking north up Lake Shore Drive.
 My selfie for Instagram. I love heights.

(No, I don't.)
 The Sears/Willis Tower in the background.
From there we walked down to Millennium Park and took pictures in front of the Cloud Gate.

After we stopped to get coffee, we drove to the CSM site located at North Park University. We checked in and unpacked. We had dinner at a Columbian restaurant then we took our prayer tour. I never knew there were different prayer tours; we took the West Side Prayer tour. I will admit that I didn't get everything out of the prayer tour that I could have because I was driving Big Red (our fifteen passenger church van). It was snowing. The wipers kept freezing up. The defrost only worked with the fan on high. I could see out of 30% of the windshield at any given time. I focused on driving, avoiding potholes (or as we started calling them; "big", "bad", "pot" or "hole"), listening to Sarah, our host, tell me where to turn, stopping at stop signs (many are hidden behind large vehicles parked too close to the corner), and keeping the van shiny side up.

We bought new wipers the next day. It made a world of difference.

I digress, after the prayer tour, we went to bed. That was Saturday.

I was thankful for Shawn who kept jumping out when we would stop to try to knock the ice off the wipers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

First things first

I will get to our trip tomorrow or Friday. For today, I'm thankful that we made it back.

Sami dropped me off at 11:51pm last night.

This morning she sent me a picture of the fifteen passenger van being towed to the dealer. "Big Red", as we affectionately call her, has died.  I don't know what has happened to the ol' girl, but we may not get her back.

I am so thankful that we made it home.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gone Fishin'

No, not really. I don't fish. I don't eat fish. I don't hook worms on fish hooks. I don't fish.

I'm off with the college/young adults on another spring break mission trip. This year we're headed to sunny, tropical, wait for it, Chicago!

After last year's incident, I will not be taking my laptop with me. I will blog about our trip when I return.

We left this morning at 7am. Send us good thoughts or prayers while we're gone. We'll return late (midnight) Tuesday night.

It's a shorter trip because Illinois state law requires TB tests for individuals working with children for more than two days. It's very complicated. Needless to say, we're coming back a day early. I'll be back to blogging Wednesday.

For the time while I'm gone, know that I'll be thankful each night that I crawl into bed for sleep.