Tuesday, December 27, 2011

hello snow

Finally, snow we can get excited about!  

Big white flakes started falling this afternoon, which was a welcomed surprise as I walked out of my office.  The weather forecast shows it gone by Thursday, so we're enjoying it while it lasts.

Sadly, we didn't have a white Christmas, which was a shift from last year's blizzard season.  I like to think that snow is God's reward to me for suffering through our sweaty summers.

So far, it's felt more like a Seattle winter than a midwest one, but I'm grateful the humidity won't return for another half dozen months, and I still get to wear layers.  I don't even mind waking up to a house that's 56 degrees inside.

Not one bit.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Two weeks ago, we gathered a thirteen member team and embarked on a six hour road trip to Cowen, West Virginia.

Our mission was to help two other churches host a Christmas party for families in the area, included the distribution of presents to kids.  It was a quick trip (less than 48 hours), but an important one.

During the three months prior, I collected friendship bracelets to take as a small gift of our own.  My hope was that the children of West Virginia would feel loved by other children, from other states, who knotted and braided the bracelets just for them.  We brought 317 of these, along with crafts made by our congregants.  The most popular items were the colorful hair bows created out of duct tape.

We stayed overnight at Camp Caesar, ate camp food, slept in bunks, and all worked together to prepare a festive atmosphere for our guests.  The men on our team spent a few hours at a local mission, organizing their pantry and warehouse.

Rev. Gary & Lily Melton are the cute elderly couple who run the mission in town, which feeds over 300 people each week.  Their tiny facility is located a few miles down the road from the camp where we hosted the party.  The Meltons have felt called to serve the poor all of their lives.  Once their own kids were grown, they relocated to the area and began their work 16 years ago.

Next summer, we'll take a larger group back to help the Meltons with their work, and to host a ministry week for the families there.  We're talking about a sports camp for the kids, construction projects, and possibly an event with our Spa Team.

I am amazed at the level of poverty that exists in our country, including the families we met in West Virginia.  As we drove to the camp, we saw several remote areas covered in snow with single trailers and mobile homes.  Not trailer and mobile home parks, but single units scattered throughout the region.  I remember wondering to myself if any of those families ever get lonely.  The folks we met looked tired and worn - their children seemed to be the ones carrying joy for them.  Simple joy in desperate times. 

"Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark." - George Iles

One week ago, we joined our senior pastor at a home in Wellington, Ohio.  Two families in the area have a desire to start a home church there, as an extension of Cornerstone Chapel.  We shared a rich evening talking about their hopes and joining in their excitement about this opportunity.  At one point, two of the daughters played violins for us, someone else played piano, and we all sang songs and shared stories in their living room.

It's fun dreaming with people who share our heart for community.

Then last Saturday, Chris & I helped lead a Christmas Eve service with our friend, Jeff, who works as a guard at a women's prison in Cleveland.  We were surprised by the zeal that flowed out of these ladies, despite their circumstances.  They sang the Christmas carols with gusto, and blessed us with performances of their own (sign language & dancing).  Hubby did a little preaching as well, and we were both so moved by the time we spent there.  We had our own church's gathering to go home to, but were tempted to stay and do the prison service all over again.  

Peace on earth, goodwill to all.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

small town

Bettye from Evansville, IN: "The tradition is, if you are single you have to sit on Santa's lap, when you get married it's an option."

Julie from Sioux Falls, SD: "Dad checked to make sure I had my "long johns" on so when walking the mile to school I wouldn't get frost bite again."

Jan from New Bedford, MA: "When I was very young, my Dad used to tease me and my brother, saying that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals could talk."

Julie from Rawlins, CO: "Once a year we ate homemade pickled herring and potato sausage, and were required to remain seated at the table while my parents ate lutefisk."

Virginia from Quitman, TX: "Why decorate a tree when the person we loved the most was there with us?  We decorated Grandpa instead."

I wonder what Mary would write about her memory of Bethlehem the day Jesus was born?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


One of these things is not like the other.

We're grateful for all the gifts we've been given this holiday season: handmade ornaments, sugary sweet baked goods, festive cards, family photos, care packages.. and chicken.

You know you've achieved midwest status when you receive a whole fryer for Christmas!  Thanks to Derek and the Newton clan for sharing your bounty with us.

And to everyone else, we are blessed by you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

on stage

Chris and I have an affinity for the arts.

The production doesn't even have to be Broadway caliber for us to buy tickets.  We like going out on the town.  Plus, we enjoy the live entertainment, especially when we are familiar with the playwright or one of the actors in the show.

Growing up, my parents often took us to see stage performances. Everything from local plays and dinner theaters, to full scale productions ala Phantom of the Opera and Stomp, they fostered our creativity.  When I was in elementary school, we auditioned as a family for regional shows at our community theatre.  We had a good run acting in Oliver Twist, The Music Man, and Working.

I have the VHS tapes to prove it.

Over the past month, we have taken in a one-woman show at the Cleveland Public Theatre (called Ya Mama!), and Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, featuring our talented friend, Chloe, who played four different characters:

Plus, David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries, which was followed by the irreverent SNL-parody, The Loush Sisters:

I also attended a dance presentation, featuring my young friend, Victoria (who danced on pointe for the first time), and the choir performance of another young friend, Kaitlyn, at Strongsville High School.

Needless to say, it's been a colorful month on stage.  I'm eager to see what comes our way next year.  We already have our eyes set on this, and my hope is that I will actually get to New York before I turn 40.

I have a few years yet, but it's out there. 

Monday, December 12, 2011


What are empanadas?

My answer: "Fried pockets of love."

Would you believe that I avoided making these for the first ten years of marriage?  My only excuse is that Chris's mom is an excellent cook. She was a personal chef for wealthy estate owners when Chris was small.  Everything she makes is from scratch, without a recipe, and dang good.  It can be intimidating.

I was not an excellent cook in 1998 when we said our vows.  I mean, I knew enough that we wouldn't starve.  But, grilled cheese sandwiches and pasta can only be interesting for so long.  Someone even gave us a crockpot as a wedding gift, but it turned out to be a lemon.  I could never understand why our meals were tepid after eight hours on high.  

Finally, after years of trying recipes, reading cooking magazines, scouring cookbooks, asking friends and coworkers what they ate for dinner and how they made it, and watching cooking shows.. I got the hang of it.  There are still some foods and dishes that I find daunting, but I have definitely grown in confidence over time.  I'm not sure why it took me ten years to try my hand at the fried meat pockets my husband likes so much, even when his mom assured me they were easy.  Then, I found the pre-made dough at a Latin American mercado in Seattle, and the rest is (delicious) history.

Turns out, my mother-in-law was right.  

Yesterday, our young adults group met at our house for the last time, and I made sure I fed them something they loved.  I prepared 72 empanadas for our 15 hungry friends.  Half of them were a combination of chicken, green chilies, salsa, black beans, lime & cheese, and the other half were refried beans, black beans & cheese. I served them with sour cream, two kinds of salsa and Tapatio hot sauce on the side.  I've cooked for this crew twice a month for a year, and each meal is something different.  I made the empanadas once before and their reaction was so memorable that I knew this would be the perfect finale.

Then again, I've never met anyone who hasn't fallen for love..
deep fried.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

trumpets resound

As you know, my husband is one of the associate pastors at our church and the music minister.  His job has evolved over the past 21 months, including implementation of change within the structure of the worship program.  Not surprising, that change has been met with both affirmation and resistance.  

The good news is that we have all grown together since we got here, and it's refreshing to see the fruit of that labor become sweet. Since the start of this year, Chris has envisioned a brass section for the worship band.  Today, that vision was realized.

What I love about how my husband leads is that he doesn't accept only the best most polished musicians and singers on his teams.  He looks for some measure of skill, sure, but it's not the only qualifying factor. He genuinely desires to see people grow in ministry, and welcoming amateur horn and string players is part of that equation.

I absolutely loved having the tuba, trombone, French horn, and trumpets in worship this morning.  What a joyful noise!  

The only thing that made me smile wider than seeing my husband's vision become reality, was when each musician took turns shaking out the spit from their instruments on stage.                                              
"Shout your praises to God, everybody!
Let loose and sing!  Strike up the band!
Round up an orchestra to play for God,
Add on a hundred-voice choir.
Feature trumpets and big trombones,
Fill the air with praises!"
- Psalm 98:4-6 (The Message)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


It's snowing in Medina today.

Wet snow, it probably won't stick.  But, it seems this is the beginning of our winter.  Strange to think that less than a week ago, hubby and I were riding bikes together on a 60 degree afternoon.

Mainly, I wanted to show you the new fingerless mittens I ordered from ModCloth.  They arrived yesterday, just in time for the freeze.

Cute and practical, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Something exciting happened to me this month.  

My little business was featured in a local publication called Mimi Vanderhaven!  I was interviewed and photographed and waited on pins and needles for the release date.  

In tandem with the article, I offered discount vouchers (similar to Groupon).  I had 50 available, and wasn't sure how long they would take to sell.  I thought, 90 days?  Maybe 60?  No less than a month, I was convinced.  My vouchers sold out in FOUR days!  

I'm pleased with how the article reflected my heart for what I do, and I'm eager to become a fixture in this community.  The response was.. is.. incredible.  I just love all of the phone calls and e-mails I've received, and all of the new faces I've touched.  

"I've been given the gift of helping people look good and feel better about themselves and I don't take that lightly."

I meant every word.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  

Everyone is in a good mood.  Homes smell like love (love smells like pumpkin pie and apple cider, in case you were wondering).  People say nice things to each other.  God is given the credit He's due.

Oh yeah, and I get to stuff my face with food I only eat once a year.

Last Thanksgiving, we joined two different houses for two full meals, and savored the traditions of each family.  Today, we'll be joining another two families, in one big home.  In a couple of hours, I'll be preparing my blue cheese stuffed mushrooms and green bean casserole (the bright cheesy kind that makes you want to eat your vegetables) to take to the feast.  Note: I add crushed garlic to the recipe, extra green beans, and I bake at 350 degrees.

With my family, we used to talk about the things we were thankful for before the meal.  Now, we talk about it as we're eating.  I mean, who wants to have a long discussion while hungry?  Especially when a plate of everything wonderful is baiting you?  Our items of thanks are represented by uncooked corn kernels.  We go around the table taking turns speaking our gratitude out loud and then drop the kernels in to a bowl.  

Because I tend to be long-winded, I have a two kernel limit.

Ah, I miss our families.  Sure, we are surrounded by dear friends who have become our Ohio family, but there is something about being with the ones you grew up with or joined by marriage.  So, today my two corn kernels go to the extended Kelly and Holowaty families.

You are our favorite blessings.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I'll admit it.  I'm a little food obsessed.

I'm that girl who takes pictures of her meal before she eats it, and I pretty much have to restrain myself from saying something about food every time I sit down to write a blog entry.  I just love sharing my culinary adventures with anyone who will listen.  

Like here, here, here, here, and here.  This year, I doubled the food posts.  I apologize in advance if this increase becomes a habit. Some days I can't help myself.  

P.S.  Calling myself a "foodie" makes me feel better about the whole thing.  

Which is why the food tour Chris and I went on for our wedding anniversary this year will hardly come as a surprise to you.  We took food tours in Seattle when we lived there,  discovered new things about a place we adore, and tasted a variety of savory bites from local vendors.

This time around, we toured a town that several friends in Medina have encouraged us to check out.  They said it was artsy and eclectic and lined with interesting places to eat.  They were right.  Tremont is my new favorite Cleveland neighborhood!  For generations, Tremont was an Eastern European immigrant town, and even housed the short-lived Cleveland University.  Like the rest of the city, Tremont has a bit of a depressed history, but those who live there now are loyal.  

We started our tour at Lincoln Park, where we met up with the rest of our party (a blended family of five).  Due to a snafu with the tour company, our tour guide, and the departure time, the seven of us got to listen to a psychodelic-jazz-fusion band play in the gazebo while we waited.

Not pleasant. 

Thankfully, the ear bleeding only lasted half an hour (!) before our guide arrived and we began our brisk walk.  There were four food stops along the way that started with chicken & waffles at The South Side and ended with chocolate at Lilly.  The in-between included pizza at Lago, a stroll past several art galleries, hipster coffeeshops and creatively angled homes, and a sampling of curry dishes at Ty Fun.  Lilly was my favorite taste of them all.       

Not only was it bright (pink) and inviting, but shop owner, Amanda Montague, actually introduced herself to us and told us all about her business.  As if her personality wasn't enough (seriously, she deserves her own Food Network show), she gave us a sampling of her handmade truffles perfectly paired with a peach lambic.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think to pair chocolate with beer, until Lilly.

After that happy tasting, I knew I was hooked.  I promptly filled a 12 piece box with my new little truffle friends.  Amanda was sure to remind us to consume the chocolates within ten days.  

They lasted two.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Living in the midwest is lovely, but I do miss many things about the west coast, including all of the little bistros and restaurants and street musicians, and that vibe that makes Seattle so great.

Treehugger’s Café transports me back to the place inside of me that naps during sticky Ohio summers and applies hand lotion again and again during the cold dry winter months.  Everything about this space (the ambiance, the menu, the staff, the café’s commitment to local agriculture and organic farming) makes that inside place come alive.

Last month, my friend Brenda took me here for the first time.  She and I shared an eggplant panini and a black bean burger with a sweet cinnamony carrot salad on the side.  The panini was my favorite of the two sandwiches, but that pretzel bread surrounding the black bean burger was pretty tasty.  On Wednesday, Anna and I went here for lunch (this was her first time).  Anna had the lemon chicken & pesto panini with tomato basil soup, while I had a leafy green salad and a bowl of their vegan pumpkin soup.

While I may have to drive a ways to get here, and it might not be surrounded by six coffeeshops, mountains, or unshaven bike messengers, I do appreciate the effort.  Treehugger’s Café will be there when I need my northwest fix.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Our trip to Gettysburg wasn't just a history lesson.  

It was my first district foursquare conference, a fun getaway road trip (just the two of us), the best-night's-sleep-in-a-hotel-bed experience I've ever had, and a history lesson.

As you would imagine, the town is patriotic and everything nods to the events that happened in July of 1863.  Images of our forefathers and the American flag were a common sight.  Even the carpeting in the Wyndam was presidential.  

Sightseeing was on our agenda (naturally), so we decided to spend some time at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. The Cyclorama was stunning!  We only toured the inside, but there were several other tours available along the path of the battle. There was no way you could leave Gettysburg without mentioning the American Civil War.  

Even for me (not a history buff), this was fascinating and unforgettable.  It certainly gave me a new appreciation for my freedom.
The conference itself was a warm slice of midwestern pie.  

We met some wonderful people within our denomination, listened to inspiring speakers, prayed with others and received prayer, and shared in Communion with a hundred other attendees.  Awards were handed out, pastors were ordained, Gaither-style music was sung, and we all even held hands at one point during the weekend.  

We are charismatic, after all.

"I hope peace will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time."
- Abraham Lincoln, August 26, 1863

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Last Friday, we had our first snowfall of the year.  Last night, we had a thunder & lightning storm (including a Tornado Watch).

The weather here continues to excite us, even if it means all of the leaves my husband and neighbors raked to the curb will likely be blown back in to their yards.

Our city sends vehicles around the neighborhood to suck up the leaves.

Just not today.

Monday, November 14, 2011


How do I love thee, Argentine husband of mine?

Let me count the ways.

10.  Yerba maté.    
9.  You have the most darling abuela.
8.  You love your mother.
7.  Empanadas.
6.  World Cup Soccer.
5.  Dulce de Leche.
4.  Your Spanish is s-e-x-y.
3.  You buy me flowers.
2.  You help me be a better me.
1.  Chimichurri steak & leg of lamb.

Happy anniversary, mi sueño.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Punxsutawney, PA.  

Home of Gobbler's Knob and a rodent named Phil.

It was our halfway destination en route to Gettysburg last week for a district foursquare conference.  We were so eager to walk the streets where Bill Murray may or may not have walked during the filming of the comedy Groundhog Day, that I left the youth retreat after midnight on Saturday and we started our drive East early the next afternoon.

We lost count of how many small towns we drove through along the way, but were pleasantly surprised by the snow on the ground and the children dressed in costumes.  It made up for the fact that I was missing my favorite thing about Halloween (handing out candy to the neighbor kids) and was a sight that endeared both of us.   

Farnsworth House was where we slept that first night.  A delightful Bed & Breakfast located in East Run (Marion Center), PA, owned and operated by two gentlemen named Jon & Bill, Farnsworth House was an unexpected treat.  Jon restores player pianos and makes a mean omelette, Bill is an interior designer, and their home is an opulent treasure in the middle of nowhere.

Our proprietors were wonderful.  Hospitable and friendly, they even stayed up late with us sharing stories from their childhood and giving us a tour of their antiquities.  My hubby had a turn at the player piano player (also called a pianola).  It's an intriguing art that you can learn more about here.  Bill sang music from The Producers as Chris worked the piano player with his feet and hands.  Between the music and storytelling and Bill's fresh baked cookies, we had a truly lovely evening with two new friends.  In the morning, I asked Jon to tell me about the dinner parties they've had in their home, and more stories of grandeur emerged.  They even suggested an Italian restaurant in a neighboring town that served me the best handmade fettucini I've ever eaten.

After our goodbyes, we drove the remaining fifteen miles to Punxsutawney.  We were greeted by a large wooden sign in the shape of a groundhog wearing a top hat, and a gas station attendant who pumped our gas for us.  I asked him if it was the law in Pennsylvania, like it is in Oregon.  He said no, it's just a service they like to provide (free of charge).  

Nice folks.

In all honesty, Punxsutawney wasn't much to see.  I mean, what can you expect from 3.4 square miles?: a gift shop, Phil's Burrow, Gobbler's Knob, and several fiberglass statues of Phantastic Phils. The McDonald's in town was featuring their McRib sandwich, does that count?  

At some point that afternoon, it occurred to me that the animal this town is famous for is a distant relative of the one digging holes in our backyard.    

And yet, we bought a mug.