Friday, November 26, 2010


Was your Thanksgiving happy?  I sure hope so.

We enjoyed not one but two full Thanksgiving meals!  The first was with the Sandor/Kemp clan and was filled with laughter (lots of laughter!), good food, the sharing of family memories, and traditional games, including one where everyone took a stone from a basket and wrote one thing they were thankful for on one side and their name on the other.  One person started by drawing a stone at random and reading the blessing out loud while everyone else around the table guessed the author.  Whomever wrote the blessing drew the next stone, read it aloud, had everyone guess, and the game continued until all blessings were read.

I wrote the words 'being loved' on mine, but my favorite sentiment came from one of the boys.  It simply said, 'pie.'

Chris and I decided we could easily retire in Mom & Pop Kemp's sitting room.  It was the one with wood paneling lining the walls, lanterns and glassware on every ledge, three rocking chairs and the familiar smell of a used bookstore.

Being in that room caused me to reminisce about all of the Thanksgiving holidays we spent at my Grandma & Grandpa Foster's house in Olympia, Washington when I was growing up.  Their rules were always less strict than the rules in our house.  We could eat as much as we wanted (including seconds of dessert), they had a dog named Mischa and an old John Deere pedal tractor.  I always raced my siblings to the front door of Grandma & Grandpa's house hoping to be the first one to ring the bell.  Grandma would let me taste a piece of the turkey fresh out of the oven, and, as my memory serves, that dinner table easily sat fifty people.

Well, except the kids table.  Did anyone else have to serve time at the kids table a few years too many?

The second Thanksgiving meal we received this year was at the Barski house.  We hardly left the table once we had served ourselves, as the conversation was engaging and filled with lively family stories (and we were weighed down by delicious food!).

With bellies stuffed and hearts full, we went back to our house, put the leftovers in the fridge, and ended our holiday via speaker phone with my family, and iChat with Chris's family.

We didn't sleep until after midnight and when we did, we slept well.

This morning I decided to brave the crowds and go shopping for a mattress cover for our guest bed, pajama pants for my husband, and other items I didn't know I needed until I saw them at a discount.  I've never intentionally shopped on Black Friday before, and I have to say it wasn't terrible.  Granted, I went after the early morning crowds. And, while the cashier lines resembled those from the Harry Potter premiere we attended earlier in the week, the staff did well to move us along quickly.

I came home with a smile on my face and a stomach ready for turkey; though I'm not quite sure how that's possible.  I did mention we had two Thanksgiving dinners, right?

Monday, November 22, 2010

marry me?

Ah, love.

Just thinking about it makes me giddy, experiencing it makes me happy, and watching it in its purest and most vulnerable form brings tears to my eyes.

This year, we witnessed two brothers propose to their girlfriends. It wasn't originally planned that way, but how wonderful it is when plans get thrown out the window and love takes over.

Meet Nick & Rosie:

Ben & Janelle:

© photo credits: Johannah Strahsburg

Nick proposed last month during a show they were performing with their band.  Ben proposed last night at the annual Candlelight Walk in the Medina townsquare.  Both moments were surrounded by friends and family, and both proposals were a complete surprise to the girls.

Considering how Chris and I met in a chatroom (when meeting online was something people only whispered about), and were married in less than a year, I celebrate nontraditional romance and am no longer a proponent for long engagements.  I might be in the minority on that one, but I think there is only so much planning you can do before you end up micromanaging a beautiful thing.

Young love is sweet, and I think a little naivety goes a long way.

Cheers, friends!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

soul food

"I awoke this morning with a devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.  Shall I not call God the Beautiful, who daily showeth himself to me in his gifts?" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Over the past eight and three-quarter months, hubby and I have enjoyed many a dinner date with new friends.  We aren't shy about inviting ourselves over to your house, accepting invitations, or inviting people to our house.

I experience so much joy when a home is filled with love and laughter and music and friends, don't you?  Especially when you don't plan the time beyond the food.

It just happens.

Well, except that one night we surprised our senior pastor and his wife with a Hawaiian cruise-themed dinner.  Several weeks prior, Pastor Jeff had undergone his second shoulder replacement surgery (because the first one wasn't done right).  The date for the surgery was scheduled without a lot of notice and the anticipated recovery time interfered with plans they had made to vacation on an Alaskan cruise.  Upon hearing that, I roped in four other friends and my husband to help throw them a surprise evening of cruise-themed fun. "Welcome to Happy Island Cruises aboard the S.S. Fun Time!" was our greeting.  The 'tour' included a few hours of food and entertainment. We had a gourmet taco bar, bingo, trivia, a two song sing-a-long, Hawaiian shirts and leis, fruit juice, desserts, and a tambourine.

Another memorable dinner date was at the Sandor ranch.  After hours spent talking, eating, watching the kids play football, eating some more, and meeting their new baby goats, the adults all gathered inside and the guitars came out.  We sang a collection of lively campfire songs.  Some we knew, some we kind of knew, and all included feet tapping and hands clapping.

On the day before Easter, we enjoyed a traditional Hungarian feast with the Bansagis, Namenyis and Allens.  It was a real treat to be invited to this annual family gathering and a day that could have easily lasted in to the next.  Everything we ate was made from scratch and overflowing in abundance.  I can only imagine all of the hours that went in to preparing that meal for us.

The Arenas also showed us a good time when we had dinner at their house in July.  Not only did we enjoy spirited dinner table conversation, but we were introduced to the fourteen year-old family frog (Chubs) and a hamster with its own wardrobe (Jellybean). Chuck, the dad, showed us his fringed jacket from 1969 and his favorite Halloween costumes from years passed (all sewn by his wife, Beckie).  The latter part of our time together was spent gathered in the living room, sprawled out on the floor, listening to records.  I felt like we were transported back in time with their collection of 45s.

Not long ago, we had the privilege of spending an evening with Connie and Jackie Wheeler - one that included Connie's homemade lasagna and a time of prayer and singing.  Jackie has struggled with chronic pain and illness for some time now and is often too weak to attend church.  So, Chris and I brought church to her.  We talked about the blessings of the Lord that night, and filled their home with hymns and hallelujahs.

Two of our single guy friends, Skylar and Tyler, invited us over for dinner at the house they share in Valley City.  Skylar made us his famous alfredo chicken pizza, which we devoured outside on a backyard picnic table.  After dinner, we went to the local ice cream parlor and ordered cones that we ate as we walked to the park.

Then last night, we had dinner with the Goulandrises in their beautiful home by a lake.  Julie is Irish and John is Greek.  She sings on the worship team at church, and he owns a burger joint in town. They are both generous and kind-hearted with personalities the size of planets.  It was a delight to gorge on the savory food Julie prepared for us, and to sit together drinking coffee and sharing stories.  At one point, John played his bouzouki and showed us how to dance.  OPA!

There are a dozen other families we've had the honor of sharing a meal with in Ohio.  Some of those gatherings involved water sports, movies, hot tubs, homemade wine, board games, ping pong, World Cup soccer, karaoke and bonfires.

Each date was perfect and good for the soul.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

bon vivant

My foodie dreams came true today.

Along with thousands of other local food and wine enthusiasts, including eight of my lady friends from church, I attended the annual food show in Cleveland.

Aniko, Beckie and I stuck together most of the time and devised a plan for covering the entire event space by weaving up and down the aisles.  Our idea worked well, as we started with show cakes and ended with hearty fried cinnamon bread drenched in butter and maple syrup.

Three hours of sampling bites from every food group and region of the world, exchanging recipe ideas, talking with exhibitors about their products, marveling at the latest health food trends (cookies that look like cookies and taste like cookies, but are composed of vegetables) and gluten-free offerings, tasting fresh cooked risotto and handmade chocolate truffles, throwing caution to the wind of calories and carbs.  It was bliss.

My first favorite break of the day was when we sat at the Fruit Growers Marketing Association and Ohio Apple Marketing Program booth to rate new strains of apples.  We were each presented with a tray of apple slices to taste and compare, including the whole version for us to look at and judge by appearance.  We had crackers and water to cleanse our palates after each bite, and a survey form to share our opinions.   I felt like I did my part as a produce consumer. After all, the fruit industry depends on me.

P.S. If you ever see the Gold Rush apple at your local grocery store or farmers market, buy it!   You will love it.

The other favored break of the day came at the end of our food sampling tour when we sat in on an hour presentation by Food Network celebrity and chef, Alton Brown.  He is known for his sarcasm and science, and was sure to keep things interesting by demonstrating cooking techniques with salt and beef.  He also took questions from the audience, including the expected, "What is your cooking inspiration?"  His answer: hunger.

Brilliant, man.

With sausage and coupons under my arm, I left the events center satisfied.  It was a day of culinary wonder and indulgence that I hope to repeat next year.

Thank you to Amy & Nancy Girton for the awesome tickets!

Buono mangia!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

road trip

While Chris was in Virginia for a work conference, I drove to Grantham, PA to visit friends I hadn't seen in over five years.

As it turns out, Grantham is only six hours away from Medina.

I remember when we lived on the west coast and the Hardings moved away, I had no concept of where they were actually landing.  Beyond the fact that geography is not my forté, the east coast just seemed, I don't know, like an incredible distance from California and Washington.  Even though I've been to Europe more than once, Europe seemed more accessible to me than Maryland (where they lived first) and Pennsylvania . I'm not even being dramatic, though I realize it's a silly notion.

Now, six or seven years later, we find ourselves in that "incredibly far away" part of the country and less than a day's drive from our dear friends.

My adventure started Tuesday morning and ended yesterday evening. I arrived at their place in time for dinner and left after a late breakfast.  I did most of my driving barefoot and sustained myself with caramel soy lattes, bottles of water, apples, crispy rice bars and McDonald's french fries.  My selection of road music resembled a Lilith Fair tour (with the exception of my boys, Def Leppard), and was all my own choosing.  I don't think I'll ever grow tired of singing the songs of Indigo Girls at the top of my lungs.  I will, however, grow tired of Larry Norman anthologies (a Chris Holowaty special).

Fred and Michelle took good care of me upon arrival, and our visit felt like little time had passed.  Well, aside from the three children they've birthed over the years.  The oldest (Emma) we knew when she was a baby, but now is tall and well-spoken and can read and just started riding her bike without training wheels.  The second (Abby) is an entertainer, funny, and full of stories.  And the youngest, Samuel, is a handsome little guy who recently discovered his toes and mobility by rolling.  And wasn't it just yesterday hubby and I were singing in the Harding wedding?

I guess time flies when you're really living.

Smile.  Life is in session.

Monday, November 8, 2010

forever family

© photo credit:

November is National Adoption Awareness Month.

While there have been seasons in which Chris and I have considered adopting a child, each time we come back to a place of knowing we are on a different assignment from the Lord.  Our life and hearts are full of love for children, young and old.   They may not be ours to keep, but they are ours to hold.  We are grateful for the life God has given us, and the influence we get to have in our community, even without babies of our own.

We do have several friends who have adopted, are in the process of adopting, or are hoping to adopt some day.   What a joy it is to rally around each of those families!

Last August, we were invited to join Mike and Melanie to celebrate the adoption of their two children.  Elijah and Emma were given to our friends as foster children first, but Mike and Melanie fell in love and knew they wanted to adopt these siblings as soon as their biological parents and the courts would allow.  After two years of hoping, waiting, praying and paperwork, the Gardiners became a forever family.

This morning, I was invited to join Russell and Cassie, as they finalized Russell's adoption of Cassie's biological daughter, Jenna. Jenna has known Russell as her daddy since she was a toddler, but the process of adoption took four and a half years to complete.  Today, Russell was made Jenna's 'legal and forever' father.

Both of these scenarios bring tears to my eyes.

Not only because I got to be there for the moment the final documents were signed and sealed, but for the fact that these families chose each other.  No matter what the sacrifice, these two families persevered and held on tightly to their convictions that these children would legally belong to them some day.

I don't think there is a greater joy than knowing you are loved.

No matter what.

Friday, November 5, 2010

cranberry sauce

The weather reports this week have predicted rain, temperatures below 40 degrees, and possible snow showers.

Last night I visited my friend, Anna, at the cafe she works at in Valley City, and we saw sleet.  It was the real deal, even if it only lasted for a minute.

All of this frigid weather talk has inspired me to fill our home with the scents of Fall.  I have baked batches of butternut squash, crispy marshmallow treats, turned Amish baby reds in to mashed potatoes (with blue cheese), spritzed the spiced cider-scented room spray from Bath & Body Works, heated up mugs of actual apple cider, today I'm going to cook a pot of lentil soup, and yesterday I had fun with cranberries.


My husband has a knack for sarcasm.  So, before I turned my bag of raw berries in to something palatable, I responded to one of his remarks by pelting him with a dozen of the fruit pieces first.  He deserved it.  Granted, he threw them back at me, and we ended in a fit of laughter (and a truce).

Following our hallway antics, I went back to the stove and cooked up a perfectly tart and sweet batch of cranberry sauce, adding blueberries, dried apricots, orange juice, maple syrup, cinnamon and apple butter.  I was determined to not add any extra sugar to the mix, and I succeeded.  Chris doesn't like homemade cranberry sauce, so I will be the one to indulge in this Thanksgiving staple (three weeks before Thanksgiving).

Speaking of cranberry sauce, I leave you with a memorable exchange from the 1993 movie, Shadowlands:

C.S. Lewis: Have you got any cranberry sauce, Mrs. Young?
Mrs. Young: Cranberry sauce, what's that?
C.S. Lewis: Well, it's sauce made from.. cranberries.
Mrs. Young: You find me some cranberries, Mr. Lewis, and I'll sauce them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

safety song

© 1985 Grunt/RCA

My safety song is Starship's We Built This City.

What is a safety song, you ask?  It's the song you default to when you can't shake a more annoying one out of your head.

On our way home from a delightful dinner visit with our Seattle brother-in-law (who was in Columbus on business), hubby had the passenger's seat laid back and I had the wheel.  As Chris dozed off, I enjoyed my role as DJ and spent several minutes scanning through stations, looking for the perfect road music.

I landed on The Brew 105.7, a station that features a mix of 80's rock.   I blissfully sang through all of the songs until the station started cutting out as we got closer to Medina.  I should mention, the station before The Brew was playing ABBA (not my favorite), so I switched it, and one of the first songs playing on 105.7 was Starship's We Built This City.

Chris loves ABBA.  He hates my safety song.

Sure, Blender magazine named this anthem "The #1 Worst Song Ever" in 2004, but I'm still a fan.  I mean, have you ever heard a tastier lyric than, "knee deep in the hoopla?"

I think not.

What is your safety song?