Poland: Days 1 and 2

It's been a whirlwind so far here in Poland! After a long flight from D.C to Munich (layover due to weather and really tight quarters---none of the guys got to sleep on the nearly 9 hour plane ride) and a 1.5 hour trip from Munich to Gdansk, we had some more downtime while we waited for one of the Polish pastors, Piot (Peter), to come pick us up. After a few hour trip, we finally arrived in Czersk--a village of about 10,000 where we are staying with Ludvick and Camille. They are a wonderful couple with a beautiful home. They have been nothing but hospitable--Camille is an EXCELLENT cook and has fed us some great, authentic Polish food (all from scratch!) while Ludvick has been our tour guide bussing us all over to nearby villages. Last night we went to a nearby forest to see a beautiful river and do some hiking. On the way home we stopped in the town square to watch a traditional children's Polish group dance and sing. Tonight he took us to a beautiful Scandinavian cemetery that has been used for nearly 6,000 years in a forest---I got to eat wild blueberries here! Then he and his wife took us to another nearby village where an international folk festival was going on. We watched groups from Poland, Bulgaria, and Macedonia dance and sing. He also bought us some Polish bread (I can't pronounce it or even begin to think how to spell it!) that was topped with cheese, onions, cabbage, and meat. They are very gracious people.
The entrance to the Scandinavian cemetery
Connor, me, and Nate enjoying our Polish food at the folk festival
On the bridge at one of the forests near Czersk

Today we also visited the Baptist church in Chojnice--this is the church that is hosting the English camp we're here to work at. The pastor there, Henrik, is fantastic man--he and his wife have 8 kids and 1 on the way! After our team meeting, Henrik took us into the town and gave us a tour--according to him, the part of the city we were in was nearly 1,000 years old. Of course, the buildings have been renovated since then--but the history of the town is phenomenal. The Polish people have really endured a lot---the Germans in both World Wars and the Russians during the Communist era. They have only been free from Communism since about 1989, so they're still a relatively "new" country. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful country. All of the people we have met so far have been hospitable and very kind.

The Chojnice Baptist Church

The camp starts tomorrow---I'm not sure how the internet connection will be, and I know our schedule is pretty crammed. I'll try to blog during the week, but if not--look for a new post next Monday or Tuesday. I've also posted a bunch of photos to Facebook---so feel free to check there to see more of this gorgeous country!

If you're a praying person, here are a few prayer requests I have:

-Energy--we are all getting really tired as our bodies struggle to adjust to timezone differences. It's currently 11:55 PM here, but 3:55 PM in the states.....we will be stretched this week. So please pray that we would have some sort of supernatural energy to make it through.

-That we would rely on the power of God--the pastor who is joining us from Washington led us in a short devotional today on 2 Corinthians 12:1-9 (Paul's weaknesses). We talked about how we all have weaknesses--these are especially evident in situations where we are unfamiliar with our surroundings. My weakness right now is a feeling of inadequacy--I don't feel cut out to speak to people about Christ, I don't feel confident in my teaching abilities (especially to a group of Polish speaking junior high students!), the language barrier is a bit overwhelming at times, and I am tired. But---we can use our weaknesses to recognize the power of God--Paul writes, "Three times I begged the Lord to take it [his weakness] away. Each time he said, 'My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me."

Thanks again for all of your support!!!


Poland Update

Tonight is our last night in the states! Our flight leaves tomorrow morning from DIA--we have a stop in Washington DC and one in Munich before flying into Garczyn, Poland. We'll then go to a smaller village near Chojnice to prepare for the Family English camp we'll be helping with. The camp will start on Sunday. I am assigned to beginner junior high students. For my bible study and conversation time it will be all jr. high girls; the English class will be co-ed. Nate will be working with high school boys. Our schedule for the 10 day camp will be something like this:

7:30--Team prayer and worship
9:15--Group worship
9:45--English reading time (Bible study)
11:00--English class
2-5:00--Free time
5:00--Conversation time (back with our Bible study groups to talk about whatever)
6:30--Evening meal
7:30--Evening event time (campfire, scavenger hunt, talent show, skit night, etc)
9:00--Worship time/testimony time/optional bible study/relationship-building (coffee house style hosted by the local church)

As you can see---we have a FULL schedule! Poland is 8 hours ahead of us, so it will definitely be an adjustment for us.

If you're a praying person---here are a few things you could pray for:
  • An unusual amount of energy to make it through the day and be able to serve the Polish people with an open heart
  • Unity among our team
  • Focus on Jesus (right now I have a lot on my mind--graduate classes, school, home, personal issues---I'm finding it tough to really focus on this trip)
As I wind down the evening, I have a few verses that are really sticking with me tonight I'd like to share:

"You see, we don't go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." (1 Corinthians 4:5-7)

I will have access to a laptop/iPod, so I'm hoping we'll have a wireless connection so I can digest the trip through blog posts. Check back for more updates!


Nebraska Writing Project

This Monday and Tuesday I was at the beautiful Benedictine Mission House in Schuyler, Nebraska for the Nebraska Writing Project advisory board retreat. It's a peaceful and calming place. Throughout the two days we (20 teachers) reflected on our accomplishments and struggles last year and planned for the year to come. There's a lot that goes into planning an entire program that provides professional development in the area of reading and writing for teachers!

So far I've taken 15 hours of Nebraska Writing Project classes (and am in the process of taking 3 more), and I have LOVED every minute of it. Each course has offered me excellent and practical professional development--I've had the chance to question, evaluate and improve my own teaching, develop personal and professional relationships with some of the best teachers in our state, and develop a love for inquiry. This year I'm also serving on the advisory board--which is a great privilege.

If you are a teacher who is looking for growth opportunities--please consider getting involved with the Nebraska Writing Project. You don't have to be an English teacher to do this because ALL teachers can use reading and writing in their classes!


Favorite Corn-Syrup Free Products

A few months ago we made Scotch-A-Roo bars for Nate's students. It came time to add the corn syrup, and I suddenly realized how icky it is. Don't get me wrong...Scotch-A-Roo bars are tasty treats. But the corn syrup freaked me out, so for the past month I've made a conscious effort to eliminate corn syrup from our house. It's amazing how many products contain corn syrup! If you look at the ingredients list on many cereals, breads, and other snack foods you'll find that its often one of the first ingredients listed (or close to the first). So, I thought I'd post a few of our favorite corn syrup free products in case anyone is interested!

From left to right: Nature Valley granola bars (they have so many tasty flavors!), Orrowheat thin sandwich buns, Annie's organic strawberry harvest fruit snacks, Newman's Own honey mustard (lite) salad dressing---a side note about this product: there are so many varieties of dressings and all the profits gained go to charities, Blue Diamond almond butter (a great alternative to peanut butter), Trop 50 orange juice (half the calories as regular OJ), and Stachy's Simply Naked pita chips (also comes in many varities!).
We LOVE cereal at our house! These are all high in fiber and protein and serve as excellent snacks!

(I apoligize for the awful photo!) Who doesn't love ice cream?!? Thankfully, Haagen-Dazs has created these little guys that only contain FIVE ingredients! I love the coffee flavor, but if that doesn't strike your fancy, I'm sure you can find something you like from this list:
Milk Chocolate
Vanilla Bean

Poland Update

It's one week until we fly out for our missions trip to Poland. Each time I see people around town they always ask, "Well, are you ready?" I've always responded with a stressed-out, "I think so." Today I'm feeling different. I don't have a clue as to what level or ages of students I'll have in English class, I don't feel completely confident in my abilities to lead a Bible study made up of English speakers--not to mention a mix of Polish and English speakers, the thought of flying in a plane for the first time freaks me out, I don't have my testimony written, and I still don't feel totally prepared for school (it starts 2 days after we get back). But--I am ready to go. Of course I have apprehensions, but my desires and readiness to immerse myself in a new culture and love people completely overshadow any shade of doubt.

Last night as I cooked dinner I put on some Caedmon's Call--we saw this band along with solo performances from Derek Webb perform at Lincoln Berean a few years ago. They are fantastic. At the concert though they talked a lot about the short-term missions trips (particularly India) that gave them opportunities to serve and a new outlook on life. So as I cooked, I listened to songs they played at their concert and found myself listening to "Two Weeks in Africa" and "Share The Well" over and over:

There is one message that sticks out to me in both songs: we can ALL serve. I believe that going overseas to serve is something each person should experience at some point in their lives, but we don't all have to go to Africa, Poland, or India. There are plenty of needs right here in the United States...or even, dare I say it, Nebraska! Your faith status doesn't matter---you're economic status doesn't matter--you're career path doesn't matter--your age doesn't matter (we have an 8th grader from our church in Poland right now, serving and loving the Polish people). We are all capable of loving and serving one another. Here's a perfect example:
Earlier this week I received an email from my sister in-law, Amy. She said that she was talking to Deni (her 4 year old daughter) about our trip when they came up with the idea to buy children's books about Jesus to send with us to give to kids or parents. Amy took Deni shopping and they picked out a book together, bought three copies, and sent them to us. This little girl is 4--and though she may not fully understand missions, she knows that she's telling people about Jesus. She's doing her part and serving how she can. Everyone can serve. It's my goal this year to do more of it right here at home.


The Swell Season

Note: This is an adaptation of a an earlier post--I tried embedding the video from NPR to my blog--it worked for a few weeks and then started playing some crazy, annoying song whenever I opened my blog. So...I took the video off :( If you want to hear The Swell Season (which I highly recommend you listen to), click on this link.

If you haven't experienced NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts--you are missing out. I love these intimate performances by a wide variety of musicians. Tonight I choose an older concert to watch--The Swell Season. I am having a hard time describing what it is I like about this duo. They are extremely endearing---maybe its Glen Hansard's Irish humor and the fact that he plays on an old, beat up guitar or Czech singer and instrumentalist Market Irglova's shyness that draw me in. I am a sucker for people who wear their hearts on their sleeves---it seems that The Swell Season does just that when they perform. Listening to them sing is like listening to them reveal their deepest, darkest secrets. It's intimate and beautiful.

A few weeks ago Nate and I watched the movie "Once." The movie kept popping up on the ad bar in my Pandora account a few months back, and I had found the video in the $5 bin at Alco here in town this spring. We finally got around to watching it--it features The Swell Season's Hansard and Irglova. It's a simple movie set in Dublin and it follows the two as they meet and begin making music together and eventually end up parting. The movie is enchanting and has converted me to a fan of The Swell Season.


One of the reasons why I teach...

I've been working in my classroom today preparing for next year. As I busied myself revising class documents, in walks a former student. This is no ordinary student.

Last year he was in my English 9 class as a junior--he struggled academically despite being a very bright kid. He had poor attendance and spent a lot of time in the principal's office. In my class he refused to participate in many class activities and had a tough time turning in assignments. However---he is intelligent. This is a kid who had a rough time growing up and this probably interfered with school. I think that a lot of people gave up on him. I worked my tail off trying to convince him to believe that he was smart and capable of passing English. Early in the year we wrote This I Believe essays--just like NPR's This I Believe podcasts--and he brought a scribbled, handwritten essay to class that blew me away. Yes it had lots of misspellings and grammatical errors---but it was packed with honesty and insight and used language that rolled off the paper like poetry. When I told him how much I loved his essay and that I thought he had a talent for writing (he truly does), he softened a bit...not much...but enough for him to do a little more work in my class. A few weeks after that he moved to Denver. It was very sudden, and I never had the chance to say good bye to him.

Today he stopped in my classroom to chat. I couldn't hold back a smile as he sauntered into the classroom sporting his numerous tatoos and wearing his usual tough-guy smile. We talked about the summer, how his school year had gone (he passed ALL of his classes and is on track to graduate this coming school year!!!!), the book, Night, that he read and enjoyed in his English class (in my head I was screaming with joy as he talked about how awesome the book was), and his new found hobby--boxing.

During our conversation he said, "So you comin' back to teach here next year?"

I told him I was, and he said with a smirk on his face, "You know--you were tough on us last year."

I laughed, "You mean, I expected a lot?"

"Yeah," he said with a chuckle.

I took that as a thank you. We continued our chat until his friends got done with summer school, and before he left I gave him a book, The Contender (a book about a kid who struggles but makes his way through life by boxing), and his journal from last year. I could tell he was suprised. He flipped through his journal and then shoved both books into his backpack.

I said, "Don't throw that book away--I think you'll like it."

"Nah--I'll read it" he replied with a smile. I thanked him for coming in and told him to have a great summer and an even better school year.

It's incidents like this that reaffirm my career choice. No matter how hard it may be, no matter how unvalued I may feel, I am helping kids--even if it's just a few. And beacuse of this, I will always remain involved with education.


Recipes of the week: July 12-18

One of the reasons why I love summer so much is all of the extra time I have find and make new recipes. I love digging through internet sites and magazines to find recipes that are unique, accessible, and wholesome. Here are a few new recipes I made this week (sorry for the lack of images to accompany this post!):

Wednesday: Egg Salad Sandwiches...a wholesome, tasty, and easy recipe.
Thursday: Pasta Fagioli
Friday: Blueberry-Raspberry Crisp
Saturday: Coconut Macaroon Pancakes...a nice twist to traditional pancakes!
Sunday: "Skinny" Omelettes (I know it's not Sunday yet, but I am planning on making them for breakfast tomorrow!)

Each recipe was DELICIOUS and passed the husband test. I've saved each of them on my Evernote account AND have them on my iPod for future use!

Blueberry-Raspberry Crisp (great for breakfast and dessert!)*
Makes 8 servings
Prep. 15 minutes, bake at 350 for 55 min.

Berry mixture
4 c. blueberries
1/2 c. light brown sugar
3/4 c. flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour--it gave it a nice, earthy taste)
Juice and zest from 1 large orange
2 c. raspberries

3/4 c. flour (again--I used whole wheat pastry flour)
2/3 c. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. chopped pecans

1. Heat oven to 350
2. Berry mixture: In large bowl, mix together blueberries, 1/2 c. light brown sugar, flour, and orange juice. Place into a 6-8 cup baking dish. Evenly scatter raspberries over the top.
3. Topping: In another large bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in oats and pecans.
4. Sprinkle topping evenly over berry filling. Bake at 350 for 55 minutes, until bubbly. Allow to cool 15 minutes before serving.

What I like about this recipe: I LOVE berries! The sweetness of the blueberries and the tartness of the raspberries blended perfectly together. We ate this for dessert after lunch and then I had it again for breakfast the next day. The recipe could be easily cut in half and "healthed up"--instead of using enriched, white flour, I opted for whole wheat, all-natural pastry flour (packed full of fiber and not enriched). I didn't feel bad eating any of it either because I used all-natural ingredients!

Pasta Fagioli*
Makes 8 servings
Prep. 10 minutes, cook 13 minutes

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3 Garlic cloves
2 cans of chicken or veggie broth
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 Tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 Tsp. salt
1/4 Tsp. pepper
8 oz. Whole wheat pasta (I used the bowtie kind)
2 Cans of cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed
Shredded Parmesan (optional)

In large saucepan, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add diced cloves of garlic; cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in pasta. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10-11 minutes, until pasta is tender. Stir in beans (don't forget to drain and rinse them!). Cook 1 minute or until beans are heated through. Top with Parmesan cheese.

What I like about this recipe: It's EASY! This was a "dump and pour" recipe made with common ingredients that didn't take a whole lot of thought or time. I used all natural, 99% fat free chicken broth and whole wheat pasta to give it a healthier edge. And, I cut this recipe in half since it's just two of us, and we still had leftovers for the next day. Plus, it's a filling meal--we each had a serving along with steamed broccoli and fresh bread and we were stuffed!

*From August 2010 issue of "Family Circle" magazine


How He Loves: Part 2

I did some research tonight and found this great recording of John Mark McMillan singing his song. I also found a blog that sort of summarized a bit of the back story behind "How He Loves." If you've heard the David Crowder version of this, you'll notice that there are some differences in the two. The biggest difference, however, is the additional verse in McMillan's version. One blog, The Paperthin Hymn, reports:

"In the words of the writer himself, John Mark McMillan, he tells of a story where one of his best friends named Steven was in a prayer meeting, and Steven prayed a prayer which was “Lord, if you would shake the youth of the nation, I would give my life for you today”. And that very night on the way home he died in a car accident. And so John believed that the Lord accepted his offer- and that if God responded to the first part of the prayer by taking his friend, then the Lord will respond to the second part. But several years passed, and he spent that time wondering when the youth movement would happen, and he felt like everyone forgot about his friend . And then several months ago he was playing at a conference and he was urged by another mutual friend to sing this song, which we wrote the day after Steven died. And he believes that in some way this song is a fulfillment of that prophecy. That the impact of this song on the youth was the fullness of a life taken by a loving God all those years ago."

You'll notice in the lyrics (last verse) that McMillan refers to Stephen, the martyr from the Bible (read about him in Acts 6:3-8). It's a beautiful parallel and a testament to what both Steven (McMillan's friend) and Stephen (martyr) did. They served and testified of God's power...glory in afflictions.

Anyway--Hope you enjoy this emotional performance of "How He Loves" by John Mark McMillan as much as I do...

How he Loves

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath
The weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize how beautiful you are
And how great your afflictions for me

Oh how he loves us so
Oh how he loves us
How he loves us so

Yea He loves us
Oh how

We are his portion
And he is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking
So heaven meats earth like a sloppy wet kiss
And my heart burns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
He loves us

Oh how he loves us so
Oh how he loves us
How he loves us so

Yea He loves us
Oh how

I thought about you
The day Stephen died
And you met me between my breaking
I know that I still love you God
Despite the agony
See people they want to tell me you're cruel
But if Stephen could sing
He’d say it's not true
Cause you're good

How He Loves: Part 1

Today was a rough day. We visited with a doctor in North Platte today about infertility--it looks like we have one more procedure that we would be willing to try out. Nate and I went on a long walk tonight to really dissect the situation and both agreed that we need to fervently pray for God's timing and for a sense of peace. We have got to saturate our situation in prayer. A friend sent me this verse today that I think really justifies this need for intense prayer:

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off ? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly…” Luke 18:7-8

So as I slowly recovered from the long day, I picked up my guitar and felt the need to sing "How He Loves," originally written by John Mark McMillan but perhaps made famous by The David Crowder Band. I remember hearing the DCB version of it on my way to work one morning and I instantly fell into a natural state of worship. But as I played through the song tonight the first verse hit me.

"How he Loves"

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath
The weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize how beautiful you are
And how great your afflictions are for me

First off, I am really feeling God's love and presence during this stage in my life. I didn't always feel this way--for a while I was bitter towards God. I wondered why he withhold something so great as children from me. But as I've poured over scripture, worshipped, and talked with great friends I am realizing He is present. I am "bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy." And suddenly I am aware of how much glory and praise can come from this situation. I'm still experiencing a lot of true heartache--a pain I've never felt before--but I can praise Him for all He's taught me (empathy, compassion, to appreciate what He HAS given us, understanding, PATIENCE, how to truly love a person, that my value does not lie in my ability to procreate) and all He's done in this situation (He's showed me so much grace, given me strength to get through some of the roughest times in my life, brought my husband and I closer than we've ever been before). Tonight I am realizing "how great His afflictions are for me."


Our Weekend Get-Away

This summer has been a whirlwind. Nate completed 11 hours in only 6 weeks towards his Master's Degree, and I completed 9 more. We've also been planning for a missions trip to Poland. Needless to say, we haven't had a lot of time to enjoy each other's company. We also haven't done a good job of treating ourselves in our almost four years of marriage, so it's a goal of ours to do more of it (within a budget of course!). So..this weekend we packed up and headed to the Kearney/Grand Island area for the weekend (Nate was still in Lincoln, so we met in Kearney). We got a hotel room on Friday night, had dinner at Red Lobster (I LOVE their coconut shrimp!), and then went on a walk at Harmon Park (this is where Nate proposed to me!). The next morning we slept in, ate breakfast in bed, and then headed downtown.

Nate proposed to me in that gazebo five years ago!

Can't you tell that Nate is super excited?!?

I am a sucker for original shops, cafes, bakeries, etc. While strolling downtown we stumbled in to Tru Cafe, a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch dishes made from fresh, organic, and local ingredients. They also serve great beers and Nebraska wines.

A view from "The Bricks"...notice the detail on top of the pillars....

My egg salad sandwich and Nate's chicken salad wrap...both were delightful.

The inside is so charming!
This is probably my favorite part of the restaurant. They have this piano situated on the sidewalk in front of the store for people to play. I love that Tru Cafe and Kearney are supporting and encouraging music-making.
After we ate lunch, we headed down the road to Hastings, Nebraska. I hadn't been to Hastings in about ten years, and a friend of ours and former teacher at OHS is moving to this community next month to start a new teaching job. He just scored a beautiful loft in the downtown area above The Back Alley Bakery. I had read about this place in a Nebraska Life magazine a few months back, so I was eager to try it out. This place creates natural artisan breads that are unprocessed and use as many organic and local ingredients as possible. This is not frozen bread dough that is popped in the oven, people. The grain is ground right there in the store. We bought a loaf of the three-pepper cheddar and it was delicious! They also serve Lincoln's own Cultiva coffee. Again, another charming small, town shop that is worth the stop!


Chocolate Puddle Cookies

I had some free time on my hands tonight, so I decided to bake. I may not seem like the baking type--but I have a secret obsession with it. I love finding and trying out new recipes. I found this great blog, 101 Cookbooks, a few months back that has a great collection of wholesome recipes and also features quality writing and photography.

Tonight I tried out a not so healthy recipe from here :) for a type of chocolate cookie. What I like about this recipe is its simplicity--with just six ingredients, its a quick and easy way to get that chocolate fix we all have. The cookies end up looking and tasting a little like brownies but in cookie form.

Just an FYI: don't forget the parchment paper! I tried to go without it tonight and my cookies stuck to the pan--it took some serious spatula work to get those bad boys free!

Chocolate Puddle Cookies

I've used both 365 organic powdered sugar from Whole Foods, and Hain organic powdered sugar with success. I prefer to use non-alkalized cocoa powder (Scharrfen Berger or Dagoba) but also tested with Droste, which is a Dutch-process cocoa powder. All with success. On the nut front, be mindful of how you toast your walnuts - it's the single factor that impacts the personality of these cookies most. Using deeply toasted walnuts makes for a much more intense, nutty cookie. Lightly toasted walnuts can sometimes be mistaken for chocolate chips, and make for a much more mild cookie. Both good! Also, cooking time - you don't want to over or under bake here - over bake, and your cookies will cool too a crisp, under bake, and they are too floppy and crumbly. Also, underbaking makes it more difficult to remove the cookies from the parchment paper after baking - you get the swing of it after a batch or two. Use large eggs, I suspect if you use extra-large, the batter will run, and you'll have to compensate with more powdered sugar.

3 cups / 11 oz / 310 g walnut halves, toasted & cooled
4 cups / 1 lb / 453 g confectioner's (powdered) sugar

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons / 2 oz / 60 g unsweetened cocoa powder

scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon real, good-quality vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 320F / 160C degrees and position racks in the top and bottom third. Line three (preferably rimmed) baking sheets with parchment paper. Or you can bake in batches with fewer pans.

Make sure your walnuts have cooled a bit, then chop coarsely and set aside. Sift together the confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and sea salt. Stir in the walnuts, then add the egg whites and vanilla. Stir until well combined.

Spoon the batter onto the prepared sheets in mounds of about 2 tablespoons each, allowing for PLENTY of room between cookies. These cookies are like reverse Shrinky Dinks - they really expand. Don't try to get more than 6 cookies on each sheet, and try to avoid placing the batter too close to the edge of the pan.

Bake until they puff up. The tops should get glossy, and then crack a bit - about 12 -15 minutes. Have faith, they look sad at first, then really blossom. You may want to rotate the pans top/bottom/back/front.

Slide the cookies still on parchment onto a cooling rack, and let them cool completely. They will keep in an airtight for a couple days.

Preparing for Poland

This weekend was our first weekend back in Ogallala in five weeks, so when we got home we felt frazzled--there was unpacking to be done, our basement had water in it, the checkbook needed balancing, the yard work needed to be done. But when I sat down to check my email I had a new message in my inbox about our Poland trip. Rather than feeling excited, I groaned and dropped my head into my hands--the last thing I wanted to do was prep work for our trip. There were other, more immediate needs to be addressed.

But---whether we are ready or not, we leave in 22 days. There is a lot to do: purchase gifts for our bible study groups and translators, prepare a few lessons for our English classes, complete a few bible studies, write our testimonies, pack. We also have to get our classrooms ready before we leave as we will return only two days before school starts! It's a lot to wrap my brain around and it's easy to sit and complain about it.

So to combat negativity and overwhelming feelings, I am trying to spend a little time each day researching Poland to help get me excited for July 29th. Nate and I came across the video above on Hulu this weekend--it's a short, 30 minute video about Poland, specifically Krackow, Auschwitz, and Warsaw. We aren't going to be in any of these cities, but the video did give us a good taste of Polish culture.

While we're in Poland we'll be teaching English at a family camp that a local Evangelical church puts on. But more importanlty, we'll be sharing about Jesus with the campers. Most Poles know who Jesus is from their Catholic background (Poland is predominately Catholica). But I've been told that having a personal relationship with God (a core concept in Evangelical Christianity) is something that is more unfamiliar to them. So, throughout our time in Poland we'll be talking with the campers about a relational faith. I'm excited to have these conversations--to share about what God has done in my life.

But after seeing this video, I am even more excited to learn from the Polish people about how to strengthen my faith--how to become more devoted, more dedicated. The video shows and talks about hundreds of churches and how important these are to Polish culture. This makes me think of my own grandparents who attend Catholic church a few times a week--and I can't ever remember a time where they missed church. They pray regularly, are active in the church, and are regular attenders. They truly are devoted to their religion. Unfortunately, I can't always say that I have the same devotion to my faith. Many Evangelical Christians rag on Catholicism and are quick to point out "wrong theology." But there is something we can learn from Catholics--how to be devoted to a cause. Their dedication is truly respectable.

So--if you're a praying person and have some free time on your hands, here are a few things you could pray for:
1. A sense of peace--that our minds would be eased and that we wouldn't let the stress of preparing to leave the country get to us.
2. Open hearts so we can learn from the Polish people about how to strengthen our own faith.

Thanks for your support! I'll try to post more updates as the trip grows closer.


Cheap Music

The title of this blog would make a good poem :) Anyway--to help me relax after a long trip home from Lincoln, I browsed through Amazon.com and found the coolest thing: 100 MP3 albums for $5 each. They're are some great artists featured: Radiohead, The Shins, Iron and Wine, Norah Jones, Jakob Dylan, Adele, Modest Mouse, CAKE, R.E.M, etc. Check these albums out!

The Cup

As always, I've enjoyed my time in Lincoln this summer. I've made it a point to visit different area hot-spots over the past five weeks. One of these is The Cup. It's a quaint bakery/restaurant on 25th and Randolph. Their food is wholesome, nutritious, and made with as many local ingredients as possible. I've had their sandwiches, salads, and muffins, but never tried their homemade cupcakes. So today I purchased a carrot-pecan cupcake for myself and a vegan chocolate chip pecan cookie for my husband...both were delicious! It's a great atmosphere--and they play fantastic music (Iron and Wine is currently seeping from the speakers). I encourage you to check out this place next time your in the capital city.

New Adventure: Rock Climbing

Yesterday a friend of mine from the Nebraska Writing Project, Erica, took me to the climbing wall at UNL's Rec Center. As we gorged on Thai food at the Blue Orchid (which by the way is one of my new favorite restaurants) the night before, climbing was brought up and Erica invited me to come along. I immediately said yes, but my brain was screaming....Idiot! You're afraid of heights!

Despite the lack of buy in with this whole climbing thing from my brain, I went.

Erica was kind enough to borrow me her daughter's harness and explain to me some tricks of the trade. I started up the simplest route and got about 2/3 of the way up before my legs and arms were shaking uncontrollably. I turned around, hands and feet still clinging to the wall, and said ever so stoically--I think I'd like to come down now. I thought for sure Erica, who has been climbing for just about a year now, would laugh and think I was a bit of a weenie for wanting to come down so soon and respond with something like, Really? Already? Hmmmm....well I guess if you want to chicken out you can come down now captain weenie. Instead she simply said in a non-condescending way, okay. You can not even imagine how relieved I was. Once I was lowered to the ground I made my way over to the bench to settle my quivering legs.

As I sat down I felt embarassed and a bit defeated as I am a highly competitive person. It's not that I'm out of shape and physically can't climb the wall, it's more of a mental thing. Which I think is harder to deal with. You can do something to get your body in better shape--but overcoming a mental battle isn't that easy. As I settled my body down--the adrenaline was really flowing--I watched Erica and many other scale the wall. These people made it look so easy.

About 20 minutes later I decided to head up another route. There was a kid on the one that I was previously on, so the route I was climbing was a bit more difficult and had a place where the wall jutted out. It started off fairly well--I made good headway until the jut. In fact I even got my hands to cling to "rocks" above the jut, but when I went to move my legs to propel myself over the bulge---I froze. I knew where to go, my brain was sending signals to my legs as to where to move next, but I could not move. I clung to the wall for what seemed like forever and then my legs started quivering. One of the climbers who was patiently waiting her turn cheered me on from down below--Erica tried coaching me as to where to make my next move. But my body was not responding. I soon lowered myself down.

It's amazing how much a physical obstacle--like that bulge portruding from the climbing wall--can slow us down or even stop us dead in our tracks. They suddently turn into mental obstacles.

As I drink my coffee, nurse my aching upper body muscles, and reflect on my new adventure--I find myself feeling proud and this surprises me. I didn't even make it up the wall. But I did face a fear--despite being terrified of heights, I stepped out of my safe bubble and got on the climbing wall. I remember Erica saying something to me right before I got on the wall--as she tightened all the cinches on the harnes I said, By the way--I'm freaked out by heights. And she responded with something like, Don't let anything or anyone stand in your way. We've all heard this advice whether it was while sitting on a parent's lap confessing what we wanted to be when we grew up or right before we faced a fear. It's simple really--but I wonder what my life would be like if I didn't let my fears conquer me.

I hope to go climbing again--I live hours away from this wall, but I do have intentions of coming back and making it to the top of at least one route.