31 December 2008

2008: the year in pictures.

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot

I saw some friends do this on their own blogs, and I thought it would be a neat way to capture 2008 - a photo for each month.

...a winter walk through the neighborhood with my niece.

...buds appearing on the Bradford Pear in preparation for spring.

...a perfect beach day in California with Jen.

...our back yard comes to life again.

...discovery of the Cedar Ridge Preserve, a mere 20 minutes from our house...who knew?

...a trip back home to New Jersey - enjoying the mild weather and tall, tall trees at my parents' house.

...celebrating 3 years with my wonderful husband.

...a visit from Victoria for Labor Day.

..."young and fabulous" ladies' night out with Suz in Nashville.

...a trip to New Jersey to enjoy the gorgeous fall foliage.

...one less item on the "life list" - we finally visited The Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center in NYC!

...a meaningful, handmade Christmas.

29 December 2008

Christmasy home.

I took these today. Only a few more days to enjoy the lovely light of Christmas in our home. Until next year....

by day.

by night.


Hope your Christmas was BEAUTIFUL.

15 December 2008

Winter breakfast.

I had the most delicious wintry breakfast this morning. I got the idea after visiting Full Quiver Farm on Saturday, where we get our eggs, cream, milk, and cheese. Debbie, the mother of the Mennonite family who runs the farm, was telling me that every morning before milking the cows, they have a big, hearty family breakfast of farm-fresh eggs and sausage and toast (from her homemade bread of course). But on special days, they have oatmeal with fried apples, honey, cinnamon, and fresh, raw cream. I begged her to tell me step-by-step how she did it.

I was salivating by the end of the conversation.

So this morning, I decided to try her oatmeal concoction, except with Pocono Cream of Buckwheat, which I love, and which is also gluten-free.

First, I boiled water in a saucepan and then added enough Cream of Buckwheat for 2 servings with a pinch of salt. I then sliced a Gala apple very thinly, leaving the skin on, and heated up about a tablespoon of butter in a cast-iron skillet. Once the butter was melted, I tossed in the apples and covered them generously with cinnamon. I placed a lid lightly over the pan and let them kinda fry/steam for about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, I retrieved some Medjool dates from the pantry that were left over from my Thanksgiving stuffing. I removed the pits and chopped them up. In the absence of honey or agave or maple syrup, these dates give just the right amount of sweetness, and I love their texture. [Sidenote: they're also a great non-sugar snack for kids!]

Back in the cast-iron skillet, my apples were happily frying/steaming away. You would not believe the aroma that swept through my kitchen when I removed the lid. It was pure heaven, I tell you.

When the buckwheat was done, I split it between two white rustic bowls, my husband peering over my shoulder like a four-year-old kid waiting for some candy. I sprinkled the chopped dates on top, slathered it with fried apples and all the buttery cinnamony sauce, and then poured some raw cream on top.


It kind of looked like this picture, but a million times better. I would have snapped a photo, but Steven and I were too busy eating it up in 3 seconds flat and then begging for more...

11 December 2008

Nutty coconut goodness.

This is the most satisfying cookie I've had in a really long time. It has everything a cookie should possess...rich chocolate, nuts, slightly chewy yet firm texture (not crispy) and great density. In fact, I might even start referring to it as the "PMS Cookie" - it's that good, ladies (and 'gents - who will be thanking me once their women get a hold of these).

The best part? Zero sugar. Zero grains. And you'd never even know it!

Nutty Coconut Cookies
Preheat oven to 350.

Combine in bowl:
1/2 cup nut butter [Choose your favorite - peanut...almond...I like to use raw cashew butter for these cookies.]
1/2 cup agave nectar or raw honey
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped raw nuts [You can use walnuts, pecans, or even a mix. Just don't use roasted nuts! You want them raw.]
Dash of sea salt
1/2 cup mashed 100% unsweetened cacao chips [Basically, these are like chocolate chips, but they're 100% cacao vs. regular baking chips which add sugar. Ghirardelli makes a great one, and you should be able to get it at a regular grocery store.]

Mix all of that together, and then mix in 1/2 cup coconut flour. [You can get this coconut flour at some Whole Foods locations, or you can get some here or here. If you can't find coconut flour, you could probably use another gluten-free flour like this brown rice flour, although I haven't tried that specifically.]

Wet your hands so the dough doesn't stick, and then form the dough into 1-inch balls. Place them on a baking sheet [I line mine with parchment paper]. Bake for 18 minutes at 350 until the tops are golden brown.

If you want them to be even more soft and moist, decrease the baking time to 15-16 minutes. MMMMMM!

You'll be the hit of the Christmas party if you bring these! And no one will fall into a sugar coma.

10 December 2008

True Christmas.

There so many things to love about Christmas. Even as I write this, the house is dark and peaceful except for white twinkle lights, it's a chilly morning outside with a small dusting of snow, and Ray Charles is serenading me with "This Time of the Year" in the background.

But still, something feels strange. Something feels different.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my husband peeped his head out of the attic and started sliding boxes full of Christmas decorations down the retractable attic stairs while I stood at the bottom and caught them. We then watched a new classic, Love Actually, as we filled our Dallas home with gold ribbon, garland and two trees (a big one and a mini) decked with ornaments like my Mikasa Volkswagen Beetle and another of two mice sitting in a stocking that says "Christine & Steven: A Perfect Pair" (a gift from my mom, of course). But about halfway through the evening, something didn't feel right. Suddenly, I blurted out to Steven, "I feel sad."

I almost didn't realize I had said it aloud until he asked me why. At first I couldn't quite pinpoint it. But it was definitely an unwavering sadness that had been lingering all night, more and more with each new ornament removed from its tissue paper wrapping.

One of the things I really appreciate about my husband is that he lets me live my own story, and he knows when I need to figure things out on my own. So there I was, left to process this strange thought in my own silence. I kept rearranging the mantle - shifting around the garland, picture frames, and stocking hooks until I had reached my own personal "perfection." As I placed the little porcelain nativity in the very middle of the mantle, front and center, I realized what was happening.

This year, everything is different. This year, my dad had cancer. That alone would be enough to change everything...but also this year, my husband and I helped start a new business and have less money than we've had in a long time. This year, my brother lost his job and has been unemployed for 4 months. This year, we had more dreams taken from us. This year, I learned that my problems are nothing compared to the abandoned children roaming the dirty streets of Darfur or the precious people fearing for their lives in Congo. With all of that, somehow decorating a house to make it feel whimsical or Christmasy just feels a little bit empty.

And that makes me sad, because I love that part of Christmas - the warm, cozy "it's a wonderful life" feeling. I still want that. I just want to curl up on the couch with my husband and closest friends and my dog Greta at my feet and watch Elf and All I Want For Christmas without a care in the world, totally oblivious to the struggle.

It's kind of like when I first returned from India, and then again a year-and-a-half later, when I returned from Africa. With all the joy and goodness I had experienced on both of those trips, I had also seen some shocking things, and there was this feeling of displacement when I returned to my American life. The only way I can describe it is that I knew, "Things are different now." I had seen the things I had seen. I had experienced the things I had experienced. I could no longer go back to the way things were, to that ignorant, innocent place of not knowing.

So, I guess that's the source of the sadness this year. Things have happened in life - difficult things. My family was exposed to cancer. We can no longer rely on the security of money. People all over the place are losing their jobs. To think of going crazy in a shopping mall buying a bunch of gifts or filling our lives (and the lives of our friends and family) with more stuff that we don't need just seems so pointless.

Because with all honesty, I can say that I have never truly experienced what Christmas is all about...even growing up in a church with the yearly Christmas Eve candlelight service and the children's Christmas musical and all the gifts on Christmas morning. Why do we even decorate a tree? Why do we fill our homes with white lights? What really is "advent?" all about?

In talking to my dear friend Jenni who celebrates advent every year with her husband, I'm learning more about the meaning, the glorious expectation. The celebration. It's not that Christ was born on December 25th. It's that at least once a year, we stop our ever-growing, ever-more-complicated lives and listen. We stop to remember the beauty of what's behind it all, the foundation of it all: Jesus Christ knew we needed help and that we couldn't do this thing on our own. So He did the most radical act of love possible...He came down to us. He said, "I'm going to make myself a human so I can go and live among them, to show them real love."

John 1: 14 says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Stop and think about that for a second. To me, that is the most beautiful single line in the entire Bible. Encapsulated in that one sentence is all the sacrificial love imaginable.

I realize I'm getting started a little late for "advent" this year, but I'm going to do my best to refocus. The Advent Conspiracy website is helping me learn more about how to practically live out "the something different" that's stirring in my heart. I also love this website, a resource from Jenni's hubby.

In processing all this, I've learned that I can no longer enjoy the decorations and the music and the parties and the Christmas feasts without deeply knowing a greater purpose. I still think my livingroom looks beautiful and cozy. I still can't wait for our Christmas party. But more than that, God saved my dad. I don't need money to have joy. I don't need more stuff in order to be fulfilled. My home can reflect the peace and joy in our lives, but it's only a shell. This year, if for the first time, I want to see through all the distraction and experience true Christmas. I want to experience Christ.

01 December 2008

I NEED AFRICA - launched today!

Remember the "I need Africa more than Africa needs me" campaign that I blogged about last week? It LAUNCHED today! If you want to get an amazingly comfortable American Apparel Tshirt that also benefits Africa (and even some for Christmas gifts...), then check this out...

When I think of Africa, the following images immediately come to mind: Starvation. AIDS. Child soldiers. Genocide. Sex slaves. Orphans. From there, my thoughts naturally turn to how I can help, how I can make a difference. “I am needed here,” I think. “They have so little, and I have so much.” It’s true, there are great tragedies playing out in Africa everyday. There is often a level of suffering here that is unimaginable until you have seen it, and even then it is difficult to believe. But what is even harder is reconciling the challenges that many Africans face with the joy I see in the people. It’s a joy that comes from somewhere I cannot fathom, not within the framework that has been my life to this day. [read more]

Also, look at this beautiful video...

26 November 2008

I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

"It is Africa that has taught me that possessions in my hands
will never be as valuable as peace in my heart.
It’s just one of this continent’s many lessons.
I came here to serve and yet I’ve found that I have so much to learn,
and Africa, with all its need, has much to teach me."

At an orphanage in nowhere, Uganda, I fell in love with a girl named Margret Harriet. From the moment we arrived, she found a home on my lap, and there she stayed for almost 4 straight days. Her answer to pretty much any question was "Jesus". There was a current of peace (and a little bit of shyness) running through this child. During a scary thunderstorm one night, she found me in a crowd of children and took my hand with a strength you should not find in a child.

When I left the orphanage on our last day, Margret gave me this letter. Printed on the envelope, it said "To Christine. Jesus is good all the time." The letter read:
Dear Christine,

How are you? Are you fine? For me am not fine because I miss you so much because your going back. I pray for you Christine. I love you so much and I pray for you every day and every night. I love you in Jesus name. I love Africa. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Good bye, good bye Christine.

Margret Harriet
That letter is one of my prized possessions, and I still cannot get Margret's face or sweet voice out of my mind...because it took a child at an orphanage somewhere in Uganda to remind me that God is good. Even through losing your parents and having one pair of shoes and eating the exact same meal of maize three times a day and sleeping in a concrete room. He is good. If that is the only reason I went to Africa, it would be enough.

I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

Three years ago, I decided to be a part of Mocha Club and African Leadership because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something outwardly significant with my 40 work hours a week. And have there been lives saved, children fed, wells dug, schools built? Yes...but beneath all my to-do lists, conference calls, and emails, a stark truth has undoubtedly risen to the surface: God does not need me to save Africa.

How self-centered, how prideful of me to think otherwise.

God will carry out His purpose for Africa, and I have the privilege of being a part of it. Once I embraced this freeing truth, something happened in my heart - and I saw that Africa was actually changing me.

My work is more joyful now, and I find myself looking fervently for the beauty and wisdom of the African people, rather than seeing them as people who deserve my pity.

When I traveled to Kenya and Uganda in the fall of 2006, the time when I met Margret Harriet, I thought I was going to serve and love the African people in a way they'd never seen. But after stepping foot on that continent's soil, the raw reality of humanity stared me in the face. I looked into its eyes, and it was oddly beautiful. I walked through places like the Kibera slums, one of the filthiest, most shocking places I had ever been in my entire life, and at the end of each day, all I wanted to do was go back. I had already forgotten the putrid smells, the human waste running down the street and the piles of burning trash....and all I could remember were the children who loved going to school and played joyfully in the schoolyard...the men and women who served their communities faithfully...the HIV-positive ladies who sold their handmade jewelry to make even the smallest amount of income.

The people I encountered in Africa experienced intense challenges, loss, and pain, yet they demonstrated even more intense courage, hope, and joy. By all logical reasons, they shouldn't have. I thought I was going to teach them, but they taught me. They are triumphant. They are heroes. I want to be like them.

So why do I need Africa?

Without Africa, I act as if I am the author of my own life. I need Africa to teach me surrender.

Without Africa, I feel I deserve certain "things" - a wonderful house, a big happy family, freedom, and enough money to buy whatever I want. I need Africa to teach me that possessions do not equal happiness, as I so often want them to.

Without Africa, it's easy for me to be selfish with my time. I need Africa to soften my stone heart - not just to those across the ocean, but to those in my own community.

Does Africa still need our efforts, our time, our money, our service? Absolutely. It is a continent in need - politically, socially, and economically. There are sickening, unfathomable things that happen there everyday. But to think that's all Africa is, is a tragedy. To think that we in America "are so much better off" is a tragedy. Africa is not just a place of despair - Africa is JOY. Africa is HOPE. Africa is Margret Harriet and Prince and Peter Diing and beautiful Portia…

"Portia" by Jeremy Cowart

You don't have to go to Africa to see it. Read the stories on our blog. Look at the photos. In these places, you will experience people who do not have much, but who have everything.

You can also start a new conversation about Africa. Share your comments, and even blog about it yourself - why do you need Africa more than Africa needs you?

And then come back here December 1st to see what's next...

22 November 2008

Embracing 31.

It's been a memorable 31st birthday so far, and it's only 11:30am. To me, a perfect birthday includes wonderful things like a trip to the farm... a new comfy tshirt...a bouquet of coral and magenta roses...and homemade pumpkin pie for breakfast. Hmm, pumpkin pie for breakfast? Don't mind if I do!

I awoke this morning, the first of my 32nd year, wrapped like a cocoon inside my down comforter. My husband had already risen, turned on the space heater, and was clinking things around in the kitchen. That's one of my favorite feelings...waking up early and hearing activity in the kitchen, the rustling of socks on the hardwood floors. As I rolled out of bed with eyes still plastered shut, I pondered the first important question of the day, Is my flat-ironed hair from my two-day-old haircut still salvageable? I walked groggily to the bathroom mirror to examine. Cowlick-free? CHECK. Kink-free? CHECK. Still shiny, yet not greasy? CHECK. I fluffed it a little and headed for the kitchen. It's going to be a good day.

Steven had already whipped up some eggs with ground turkey and brewed us some steaming hot Enfusia in the French Press. Ahhh. You probably never thought you'd hear this from the Baileys, but we haven't brewed coffee in months. Enfusia is now our comforting drink of choice...in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening. We can't get enough of it, especially with a bit of Vanilla Creme Stevia and coconut milk. Mmmm.

Armed with travel mugs, we left the house at 7:30am to embrace the chilly morning and head out to the farm where we go every Saturday to pick up fresh eggs, cream, milk, and other goodies like lettuce so beautiful it could be a bouquet. Full Quiver Farm is about an hour outside of Dallas in the small town of Kemp, TX...which is really not much of a town unless you count the smattering of antique shacks on the side of the road, "Hotties Tanning Salon," a Pennsylvania Dutch store, and some gas stations. But I so look forward to this mini-road trip each week, because it always teaches me more about simplicity...priorities...perspective...all things I'd like to learn more about as I celebrate another year of life.

The farm is operated by a sweet Mennonite family - a mother, Debbie, a father, Mike, and their nine children. Needless to say, with having such a large family and living off whatever they can grow on their patch of Texas land, they know a little bit about the simple life.

As soon as we pull up the gravel drive, Debbie always emerges out of her little farmhouse in her long dress, hair tied back simply in a covered bun, the wooden screen door clapping behind her. She is always full of vibrancy and joy as she talks about her family and the farm. For example, I've learned that their only reason to go to the grocery store is for salt, pepper, and oatmeal. And that they tried to go on a family vacation once, but they all couldn't wait to get back home to their farm and sit together in the pasture around a warm fire. This morning, she told me about her family's upcoming Thanksgiving feast (the same exact menu every year) and that there will be 37 guests with all her children and grandchildren. I love how I always leave the farm with more of a desire to live simply and confidently. And don't get me wrong, I love her happy chickens and their happy eggs, too.

Steven and I loaded up the coolers with all the farm-fresh goodies and headed home. We drove back holding hands with my head on his shoulder, and we talked about the cookout we're having tonight with some friends that will include the first backyard bonfire of the season. It's 45 degrees and overcast in Dallas and we're taking advantage of it. As we drove, I thought about all I had already experienced this day. What more could I want? I have everything I need.

When we returned home, the morning was still young, and I talked on the phone to my dear Suz, who sent me a book of inspirational quotes called Live Good for my birthday. I've been reading many of them over and over, but this one will not leave me:

"I am not afraid...I was born to do this."
~ Joan of Arc

There is so much more I want to say about this quote, but for now, I'll just say I've been pondering it, and it's deeply challenged me. What was I born to do? Today at 31, I feel as young as I did at 21. I feel energized when I think about the future and the days ahead. And more and more, as God shows me my purpose here, I'm shedding some of that fear. I'm more willing to live simply because it's not as scary to give things up. I'm finding that as I embrace the years, the years embrace me.

06 November 2008

Autumn path.

For anyone who ever thought New Jersey was the "armpit of America," take a look at this...

Ken Lockwood Gorge in Clinton, NJ

05 November 2008

Autumn steps.

We just returned from a delightful trip to enjoy autumn in the northeast. I can't wait to share more about the trip! But until then, here are a few places my feet have touched...

14 October 2008

08 October 2008

You're Invited!

If you live even remotely close to Dallas, TX, then you need to come hang out with us at "The Real Food Story" Nutrition Conference at SMU, Oct. 17th & 18th. It's completely free and open to the public, and it's being presented by (my husband's company) The Movement Dallas!

D Magazine and the Dallas Morning News are already buzzing about it! I'm so proud of Steven for all he's helping make happen, and I'm excited to see how people's lives are changed and helped through this conference.

Some of the topics that will be covered...
  • losing weight and getting lean
  • balancing hormones
  • improving digestion
  • sleep recovery strategies
  • gaining energy without stimulants
I don't know a single person who wouldn't be curious about at least one of those...so I hope to see you there if you can make it!

25 September 2008

A sercy.

Have you ever heard of a sercy? Well, neither had I, until I stumbled upon the blog Purple Bottle, where a blog writer named TruPeach posted about it. She had heard about it on another blog and was paying the kindness forward by posting it to her blog readers.

A sercy (also called a "cerci") is kinda like a little, unexpected gift. Another description I found: "It might be something you really liked – like your favorite gum, candy, ice cream or some small trinket. Usually it was something that you never asked for...but was often given out of friendship."

How delightful.

On TruPeach's blog, she said she would send a "sercy" to the first 3 people who commented on her blog that day, and then those 3 people, upon receiving their sercy in the mail, would then "pay it forward" by offering a sercy on their blogs. Well, I was the first commenter!

You won't believe what TruPeach sent me in the mail...this adorable homemade garland! What a thoughtful gift from a complete stranger! I've already hung it in my office!

So, now as promised, I am doing my part by offering you a sercy...

"Pay it Forward Exchange: Here are the rules: I agree to send something fun, cute, and nice to the first 3 blog owners who post a comment on this entry. In turn, those three will post this information and pick 3 people they want to send something to and so on. Unfortunately, due to postage costs, I can only pay it forward within the United States. If you are interested in participating, be one of the first 3 blog owners to leave a comment!

You have to promise that you will then post about this on your blog, link to me, and then send something to the first three people who comment on your blog so that this continues. When I have the first three to comment I will email you a request for your shipping address and I will send out something that I hope will make you smile!"

24 September 2008

Just being.

On my lunch break today, I went out on the front porch and realized the sun was a bit cooler than usual. I sat on the top step, wrapped my arms around my knees and decided to "just be" for a little while, something I rarely do during the workday.

With only myself to blame, I have let many of my days become so fast-faced that my work hours have flown by in a state of frenzy, my lunch "breaks" spent scarfing down food at my desk and working against some imaginary clock that no one is enforcing but me. Shushing my husband when he tries to talk to me as I'm typing an email is not OK.

In addition, the stress of this overwork has started to manifest itself in my life physically, and that is also not OK. I can no longer afford not to stop...not to rest...not to slow down. What am I trying to prove anyway? What is the point of working myself so hard in the name of serving....that it hinders my ability to serve? It doesn't even make sense. I don't think it serves God for me not to take care of this body or to keep fueling a twisted pride that I am better than someone else for doing more.

As I sit here today in the early fall sun, I'm glad I stopped. And like a little reward, I'm noticing some things I would have missed otherwise...

...More and more buds on the roses and hollyhocks...

...The click-click-clicking of a cricket somewhere in the grass.

...Slowly swishing leaves high up in the trees, showing a few beginning tinges of yellow.

...Twisting vines of the morning glories that have claimed the front porch railing...

...An airplane high up in the sky, framed perfectly between the limbs of our baby oak tree (look closely)...

...My shadow in the sun...

...The gorgeous inspiration on these pages in my new Coastal Living that I just discovered in the mailbox...

I think I'll sit out here a little bit longer. Paint my toes. Finish reading my magazine. And hopefully return back inside more centered, more peaceful, more aware, more ready to live life in a way that honors God and cares for myself in a healthy way.