25 May 2014

Don't Forget Whose Kid You Are, A Sermon for Easter 6A

As prepared for delivery, Sunday, May 25, 2014
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, College Park, MD
John 14:15-21 
Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 
"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

My the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you oh God, in whom we live, and move and have our being.

Today’s Gospel reading is a direct continuation of last week’s. Jesus is preparing the apostles for their lives after He is gone. The reading is short, but like much of the Gospel of John is it circular, and it seems to me that the apostles must have found Jesus’ speech incomprehensible. Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will send you another advocate” This advocate is the “Spirit of Truth” which the world does not see or know but the apostles will know because he is in them. And this advocate is coming because Jesus is leaving but Jesus is also coming to them. Jesus will live so the disciples will live, and Jesus is in the Father and the disciples are in Jesus and Jesus is in the disciples.

Even if you know that the Advocate is the Holy Spirit, this passage is not going to clear up any theological questions about the Trinity. But if you take a step back, don’t worry about the details, and listen to the music of the words, the meaning is actually pretty straightforward. We belong to God, and we belong to each other. This belonging is not one of ownership, but of being loved by and loving one another. There is just one rule for this belonging, and Jesus says it twice in our short reading: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Jesus says “My commandments” just four times in the Gospels, all of them in John, and unlike the Moses commandments which filled not only two stone tablets but also the book of Leviticus, Jesus only really has two: Love God with your whole self, and love one another as I have loved you.

Jesus is still getting the disciples ready. They knew that the love of Jesus was a servant love, a feed the hungry love, a speak truth to power love, a touch the unclean love, an eat with sinners love, even a wash the feet of your friends love. What we know, but they didn't yet, is that is an even unto death on the cross love. That love is a tall order, more than any human being could do alone. Is it any wonder that at Pentecost we’ll find the Apostles hiding a locked room afraid of the world outside and of the task they’d been given?

Sometimes we’re in there with them.

We as a society, as a big C Church, are clearly failing at the kind of servant love that Jesus modeled for us, from the children in this neighborhood who won’t have breakfast in the morning after school closes in a few weeks because the cafeteria will close too, to the people around the world who get sick every day because they don’t have safe access to clean drinking water. If we all remembered that we belong to each other, the world wouldn't look like that.

Mother Theresa said “If we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Or, as my father used to say to me when he was sending me out into the world without him. “Don’t forget who’s kid you are.”  And if you think that’s sweet, let me assure you that he meant “There are expectations for you as a member of this family, young lady. Behave yourself.”

Take a moment and imagine what the world would be like if we all remembered that we belong to each other, if we remembered whose kids we are, if we loved each other as Jesus loved us.

There are small things that would look the same. It would look like a new mother handing her baby to a member of her church family so she could have a few moments of quiet reflection. It would look like Wednesday night potlucks where take-out pizza sat next to homemade chicken soup and families without the resources to bring a dish were welcomed anyway, except that there wouldn't be any families without those resources. It would look like our offering of letters on Bread for the World Sunday, except we would already have a sustainable, compassionate food policy, so the letters would read “Thank you, and keep up the good work.” It would look like girls and boys around the world being safe in their homes and their schools regardless of their color, their creed, or their sexual orientation. It would look like our war veterans getting the care they needed in a timely manner, and it would look like swords being beaten into plowshares so that there are no more wars.

If I lost you somewhere in that list. If you thought “Not in my lifetime.” I ask you to remember two things. The first thing is that we are called to do the work, not to finish it. There will be laborers in the harvest long after we are at rest. The second is to think about how many “not in my lifetimes” you've lived through. In my lifetime, the Berlin Wall came down. In my lifetime, apartheid ended in South Africa. In my lifetime we had a woman as a serious presidential candidate and an African-American in the oval office. In my lifetime we have marriage equality in Maryland and 18 other States plus the District of Columbia. In my lifetime we've created pocket computers more powerful than anything on Star Trek. In my lifetime we've eliminated Smallpox.

No, that work isn't finished. The Kingdom of God isn't here yet. But we can do great things when we remember whose kids we are, when we strive to love others as Jesus loves us. The Good News is that we’re not doing it alone.

When my father said “Don’t forget whose kid you are.” the other thing he meant was this: “Don’t forget that you belong, that you are loved, and that love is like an armor you wear everyday, even when I am not with you.”

That is also what Jesus said to his disciples. “I will not leave you orphaned. . . I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate.”  The word we translate as advocate is the Greek “Parakletos” sometimes also translated as “Counselor” or “Comforter.”  In the Greek legal system a defendant had to plead his own case, but could call to his side a paraklete, a person to provide a character witness and moral support.  That is the Holy Spirit that we are promised, a God with us, beside us, reminding us that we belong to God.

There is work to do. The world does not fully understand that we belong to each other. Loving others as Jesus loves us is hard, and it can be risky. But we have our Advocate with us, and we belong to each other. Let’s not forget whose kids we are.

09 April 2014

The Rope Swing

I haven't written anything worth sharing recently, or cooked anything worth writing about. It's been full speed treading water for a while here. I have a novel I'm supposed to be writing, a writing class I'm not keeping up with, and a letter I should have written months ago that I haven't started. 

It's an important letter, and I hope it will be a good and helpful letter, but it will also be a hard letter to write, and a sad one, so I keep putting it off because I am a much better person in theory than I am in practice. But as long as I haven't written that letter I don't feel that I can sit down and write anything else.

And so here I am, with something someone else wrote, because maybe you want to read something wonderful. I've read Charlotte's Web to my boys several times now. E.B. White's prose is magical. I could put almost any of his descriptive passages here to show you what I mean, but the rope swing is my favorite. His phrases swing you in and out of the barn. It makes me feel the wind on my face, the weightlessness at the top of the swing, the lurch as you come back down, and the joy of the flight. It makes me wish I could go to Zuckerman's barn and try it. See if it doesn't do the same for you.

Mr. Zuckerman had the best swing in the county. It was a single long piece of heavy rope tied over the north doorway. At the bottom end of the rope was a fat knot to sit on. It was arranged so that you could swing without being pushed. You climbed a ladder into the hayloft. Then, holding the rope, you stood at the edge and looked down, and were scared and dizzy. Then you straddled the knot, so that it served as a seat. Then you got up all your nerve, took a deep breath, and jumped. For a second you seemed to be falling to the barn floor far below, but then suddenly the rope would begin to catch you, and you would sail through the barn door going a mile a minute, with the wind whistling in your eyes and ears and hair. Then you would zoom upward into the sky, and look up at the clouds, and the rope would twist and you would twist and turn with the rope. Then you would drop down, down, down out of the sky and come sailing back into the barn almost into the hayloft, then sail out again (not quite so far this time), then in again (not quite so high), then out again, then in again, then out, then in; and then you'd jump off and fall down let somebody else try it. 
Mothers for miles around worried about Zuckerman's swing. They feared some child would fall off. But no chlid ever did. Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.
~ E. B. White, Charlotte's Web 

15 January 2014

The Way It Ends - A Lunch in the Park Short Story

Kate woke to the winter sun on her face and the sound of the baby chatting away in her crib. No, Kate reminded herself, not baby, almost two years old. With a sigh, Kate pulled herself away from the warm, sleeping body next to her, undisturbed by the sunshine and the not-a-baby. Kate was always grateful when he slept through the night wakings, but  she wished he would take a morning every now and then, maybe a Sunday morning like this one, so she could sleep late, maybe read a book in bed. 

Kate put her bare feet on the worn rug, rough under her feet, and slipped on her bathrobe, then padded down the hall to a bedroom crowded with bed and desk and dresser and crib and the over-sized personality of a dark-haired not-a-baby who seemed to fill everything.  “Good morning, my girl.”

“Up! Get up! Breakfast!”  That was every morning. Sunday mornings meant a slower start. Kate scattered handfuls of Cheerios, apple slices and chickpeas on the tray of the high chair, mixed muffins, brewed a cup of tea and readied a pot of coffee. 

“Pretty! Booful Flowers!”

Kate smiled at the girl and at the vase of roses on the coffee table. “Those are roses, Priscilla. Uncle Alan bought them for me for Valentine’s Day.”

“Alan here?”

“Yes, he is. And I think I heard him get up.” Kate tipped the muffins out onto the cooling rack and righted them carefully. “I bet blueberry muffins will get him to come out.” Back down the hall she tapped at the bedroom door.  “Breakfast is ready. I made muffins and there’s coffee. Do you want an egg?”

“No eggs. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Okay, I thought we might go to the American History Museum. It’s supposed to be nice today.”  

“Yeah, just . . . I’ll be out soon.”

In the kitchen, Kate sipped her tea with her eyes closed, listening. Priscilla crunched through apple slices. The bathroom tap turned on and then off again. A drawer opened in the bedroom. In the hallway a door opened and clicked shut. There was a knock at the door.

It was Liza, the teenaged babysitter from down the hall. “Hey, Liza. Did you forget something last night?”

“No, Alan asked me to come over this morning and take Priscilla for an hour or so?”

Kate frowned and turned, past Priscilla in her high chair, past the vase of red roses, to Alan who stood in the living room, fully dressed, holding his backpack at his side. “I wanted to talk to you alone this morning,” he said, not fully meeting her eyes.  He put down the backpack and walked over to the high chair. “Priscilla, do you want to play with Liza this morning?” 

Priscilla nodded and reached for Liza. Liza looked at Kate and back at Alan again, uncomfortable, wishing one of them would smile at her.  

Almost immediately Kate did smile, at least around her mouth. “Here, let me send some of these muffins with you,” she said, piling half of them on a  plate. “We wouldn't eat all of them anyway and Priscilla hasn't had any yet.” She handed Liza the plate, and then the diaper bag from it’s hook by the door. “So, I’ll come get her in an hour, I guess.”

Liza nodded mutely and led Priscilla out by the hand. Kate closed the door gently and turned to Alan, pulling the lapels of her robe closed. “What’s going on?”

“Maybe we should sit down.”

“I don’t want to sit down, Alan. I want to know what’s going on.”

“Please sit down.” Alan sat on the couch and when Kate came and sat next to him he took her hand. “Do you remember all the plans we had, all the traveling we were going to do?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I still want to do that.”

“So do I. Priscilla’s bigger now, and my dad is feeling better. He could take her for a week or so this summer and we could go somewhere.”

“I don’t want to go somewhere for a week or two. I want to go far away for a long time.” He paused for a moment as Kate pulled her hand away, and then forged on. “I want to stay someplace long enough to meet interesting people and find a favorite cafe and know the shortcuts home at night. And then I want to get on a train and go somewhere else and do it all again. You used to want that, too, remember?”

“I did, I still do. But my mom, and Theresa, and Priscilla. Everything got turned upside down and I got stuck.”

“You didn't get stuck, Kate. You chose this.”

“I chose it? What did I choose?  For my mother to get cancer? Or my sister to get pregnant? Or did I choose for her to have a breakdown and run away and leave me with the baby? I didn’t choose any of this.”

“Yes, you did. You could have kept the original plan and made Theresa move back with your parents. You could have given Priscilla to your father when he offered to take her. We could be in Prague or Sydney or Madagascar right now.” 

“Priscilla was tiny and my father was worn out from taking care of my mother. You know how much work that was. I didn't have a choice.”

“You always think you’re the only person who can do things the right way. Maybe if Theresa had moved home she could have helped with your mom more. And maybe your dad wouldn’t have been so worn out and Theresa wouldn't have run off. You don’t know how things would have been. You just assumed Theresa would screw everything up so you took over. You chose for her, and you chose for me, too. You never asked me what I wanted.”

“It’s my sister. I know how she is. She would have run off no matter what. And what was I supposed to do with my niece? Just leave her?  What if it had been your niece?”

“Well then I would have dealt with it. But I wouldn't have expected you to deal with it. I wouldn't have just assumed that you’d deal with it. I would have told you to go without me. I wouldn't have held you back.”

“Did I hold you back?” Kate’s eyes began to fill and she blinked back tears. “I thought you wanted to be with me.”

“I did.” Alan reached for Kate’s hand again, but she pulled away. “I still do. I just . . . I can’t right now. My twenties are slipping away. I’m supposed to be traveling and instead I’m here, playing house with you half the time and living with my parents half the time. I have all this money saved for traveling I'll never do if I stay with you.”


“I bought a plane ticket. I quit my job. My flight is on Tuesday.”

“Tuesday? Like the day after tomorrow Tuesday? Don’t you need to think about this some more?”

“I have been thinking about it. I bought the plane ticket on New Year’s Day, and I gave notice at work two weeks ago.”

“And you’re just telling me now? What the hell was last night? Why the flowers and the dinner and the stupid violinist?”

“I wanted one more great memory with you, Kate. I didn't want to ruin our last weeks together. I still love you. I think I’ll always love you. You were the first real love of my life.” Alan reached into the front pocket of his backpack and pulled out an envelope. “I wrote you a letter. I knew I wasn't going to be able to say this the way I wanted to.  I hope . . . I don’t want to lose your friendship, Kate. You've been the most important person in my life since Freshman year.”

Kate stared at the envelope for a moment before she stood up, walked to the front door and opened it. “Get out,” she said, her voice low and unsteady. “Take your letter and your flowers and get out.”

“Kate . . .”

“I said get out!”

Alan stood. “Kate the neighbors will hear you.”

“The neighbors? The neighbors? You mean like the babysitter? You might as well have told her you were breaking up with me. Or do you mean her mother who is probably standing at the door right now?” Kate turned out toward the hall. “Are you getting this, Lena? His plane leaves on Tuesday and he’s only telling me now because he loves me. And I’m telling him to take his bullshit and go.”  She turned back to Alan. “Does that about cover it?”

“Kate, please don’t be this way.”

“I will be any way I want to be. You don’t get a say anymore. Now go. Get out while I am still this way.” Kate stopped and took a breath, staring at the floor. “If you don’t leave before I start crying I will never forgive you.”

Alan put the letter on the table, pulled out his wallet and put a twenty dollar bill next to it. “That’s for Liza.”  He picked up his backpack and started to leave. At the doorway he paused and brushed his fingers across Kate’s cheek. “I’m really sorry.”

Kate kept her head down, her eyes focused on a single nail in the coppery strip of metal that marked the threshold. Alan left, taking the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Kate did not move until she heard the fire door shut behind him. She looked up and saw the letter and the flowers on the table. In a flash she pounced on them and was back at the door before it could swing closed. Across the hall she dumped the letter, the flowers, and the vase into the garbage chute, holding the flap open until she heard the glass breaking in the basement.  Back in her apartment she slammed the door shut, and then stood in the quiet emptiness.

There was no one to call. Her mother was dead. Her sister was missing. Her best friend has just walked out the door. Kate sat down on the couch and stared at the spot where the flowers had been.  

There was gentle knock at the door, then the handle turned and the door opened. “Kate?”

“I don’t really want to talk right now, Lena.”

“Oh, I know, honey,” Lena said softly as she came and put her arms around Kate. “I didn't come to talk.”

Kate leaned her head against Lena’s shoulder and sobbed.

(Read more about Kate and Priscilla in Lunch in the Park.)

26 December 2013

Post Prandial Round Up

A Christmas Feast:
(Maud started it.)

The most important part is the julekake for breakfast, which we had with scrambled eggs. Well, the most important part is to play with the presents.

But julekake is a close second.

 I also made enough to share with everyone in the known universe.

My dough bucket overfloweth.
Well, not yet, but soon after this picture was taken.
Sausages: I sent the husband to the store with a list which said bangers and he returned with a variety of flavors of pork and chicken sausage, none of which could be said to be banger-like.

People ate them anyway. It seemed fine.

Potatoes: What can go wrong with potatoes, cream, cheese and garlic? Nothing, except when you don't read the recipe properly ahead of time and find out it has to cook for 90 minutes, not 60.  Dinner was a bit late.

Carrots: Gingered, as before. Went off without a hitch. 

Brussels Sprouts: Shredded, with the food processor which I wouldn't have thought of myself. V told me about it on Christmas Eve and I sent two pounds of the beauties through the shredding blade lickety-split. It was delightful. I sautéed them with bacon. My sister tells me she likes to do hers in the oven with a bit of bacon pre-cooked, 15 mintutes and they're ready to go she says, and who am I to argue?

Molasses cookies: Deep, rich, gingery and moist.

Lovely. My grandfather always had Archway Molasses cookies around, and I loved them as a child. I love them still in memory, but they are, objectively, not good. These cookies are good, and while they're very grown up, my children both liked them.

Hot cider: cranberries, orange, clove, cinnamon, ginger.

No one else drank it. Most of it went back into the jug and is now outside because the bottle doesn't fit in the refrigerator and the outside is cold enough to be a refrigerator. I think the last time I made a crock-pot full of spiced cider was 2004, when I also offered a crock of mulled wine. People drank the wine, but not the cider. I must remember to stop offering cider to people who don't want it. I must also find some people who do want it so I can make it.

17 November 2013

Sacred Frustration

Feast of Christ the King, Year C
Last Sunday after Pentecost
as prepared for delivery

The prophet Jeremiah wasn't predicting the future in today's reading when he said “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture,” he was just stating the facts of the case. The kings of Judah were, on the whole, a bad group. They were more concerned with currying political favor with whichever nearby kingdom was in power at the time than they were with following God's law or caring for their people. Jeremiah wasn't warning the Kings that great sorrow and distress was coming. They were already there. The scattered flock that Jeremiah talks about was the scattered people of Judah, exiled after King Zedekiah paid tribute to Egypt instead of Babylon.

It was too late to bring the Kings around to better behavior, but the prophet was also called to bring comfort to the people in times of distress, and through Jeremiah, God promises the people better shepherds and a new King. “I will raise up Shepherds over them who will shepherd them and they shall not fear any longer or be dismayed nor shall any be missing. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a Righteous branch and he shall reign as King and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

We hear Jeremiah today because this is the Feast of Christ the King in the church calendar. It may sound like an ancient feast day, but it was first added to the calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to increasing secularism and political upheaval in Europe. Like the Judeans trapped between the Egyptians and the Babylonians, the Roman church was trying to navigate a Europe ruled by men like Stalin and Mussolini. The clear statement was that whatever political negotiations the Church might make, they were not subject to the civil authorities, only Christ was King.

Given the large political implications of this feast day, and the strong words of the prophet Jeremiah, it would make sense to have a Gospel reading that reflected a very Kingly Christ, dealing wisely and executing justice and righteousness. Instead we get a very broken, fully human Jesus, already dying on the cross. What friends he had left were silent and powerless. Even one of the criminals at his side taunted him. “If you're really God, then save yourself, and save us, too.”

But the “good thief” on his other side sees Jesus' God-ship and instead of asking for a free pass off the cross he asks only to be remembered. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus agrees, and because with God there is no difference between thought and word, or word and deed, to be remembered by God means to be brought back into communion with God, and so Jesus promises the thief that he will be with Jesus in paradise, not after some time in purgatory, not after a quick descent to the dead, but that very day. Because God's time is not our time, but instead weaves around and through our time, as soon as the thief asks, the favor is granted.

We're supposed to be like the good thief. Ask to be remembered. Know that we will be with Jesus in his kingdom when the time comes, when God's time comes. We sing that prayer here at St. Andrew's as a Taize during Lent. The repetition of that simple prayer calms me, centers me, reminds me that I am not in charge and that's okay.

But more often than I care to think about, I pray the prayer of the bad thief. I look at the world, full of environmental and political destruction, full of people who are either bleeding to death or starving to death and I cry out “If you are God, save us.” That prayer is not calming or centering, but I believe that prayer is not a failure of faith, but a cry of sacred frustration caused by the separation we feel between the broken, bleeding starving world, and the Kingdom of God.

We don't live only in this human world. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that the separation between this world and God's kingdom has been torn and we have been given full membership in God's Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here, woven around and through this broken human world and we stand with one foot in each place.

We see a broken world with our eyes, but with our hearts we feel what the Kingdom of God is like. Through the parables we can put the Kingdom of God into words. We know that the Kingdom of God is like a job where you are amply rewarded for your good work, even if you were late that day. We know that the Kingdom of God is like a huge tree grown from a tiny seed. We know that the Kingdom of God is a world without strangers. We know that the Kingdom of God is like being welcomed home with a hot bath, clean clothes, a good meal and the warm embrace of a parent who loves us no matter what.

So when we look with our eyes and see this broken, bleeding, starving world, our hearts cry out with sacred frustration, “Come down and save us, all of us.” We want this world to be a good as the other one. We cry out because we know how much better it can be.

That frustration is sacred because it is a call. If you see how things are broken, and you know they should be better then you are called to be like those better shepherds in Jeremiah. To see the world both as it is and as it should be is to see the scattered sheep, and to know that we are called to gather them together again.

To feel that frustration is to feel the pull that God puts on our hearts, a pull that cannot be satisfied unless we follow where it leads. We are not all called to the same place. God's lost sheep are on the plains in Africa, and the streets of College Park. They must be gathered back into the fold with food and water, but also with medicine, letters, rallies, money, and ceaseless prayers.

The damage that has been done to this fragile earth must also be repaired. There have been many bad shepherds, and so there is much to do.

It will not be fast, and it will not be easy. but just as Jesus was called to the cross and there gathered in a lost sheep, so we must go to the hard places, to the places full of fear and doubt and pain and sorrow to do the work that pulls at our hearts.

As Paul prayed for the Colossians, I pray for all of us. May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from God's glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience.

20 October 2013

A Chowder for Fall

We were out of town for a weekend, off the grid on a church retreat which usually takes place in crisp Fall weather. But this year the retreat was a week earlier than usual, and thanks to Global Warming or just bad luck, it was shorts and t-shirt weather the whole time.  I wanted cool days and chilly nights. I wanted to need an extra blanket and to find the heat of the Saturday night campfire a relief, to draw closer. Instead it was warm and the bugs were still out and the fire was so hot I had to roll my log-seat further away. It was still a good retreat. There are no bad weekends at the Shrine, but it was not Fall.

Fall arrived on Monday. The morning was grey and we all knew it would storm even before we checked the weather.  By late morning the wind was blowing hard and the clouds had cracked open. The rain lasted most of the day and the air it left behind belonged firmly to October. It was time to make soup.

I wanted this batch of soup to be vegetarian. The challenge is to make a rich broth without stock. I've never bought a canned or boxed vegetable broth that made me happy. They all seem to be trying too hard. I find it’s easier to build one from the ground up. It does require some chopping. I used my mandoline, and I recommend everyone who wants to cook get one, but a knife and cutting board will do the job just fine.

The garlic might seem excessive, but in a big pot it’s not too much. The garlic cooks and softens and provides a deep roasty background to the soup. The lone jalapeno doesn't add much heat if you remove the seeds and membranes before chopping, but, like the garlic, it adds complexity. Don’t leave it out.

You’ll notice that this soup has frozen and canned corn. Most chowders get a round mouth-feel from dairy, but this one gets it from the canned corn pureed in its own liquid.  It’s not as lush as a cream-based soup, but it does save this soup from the thin feel that many vegetarian broths have.

I made the first batch two weeks ago, and another yesterday.

This recipe is vegan as written and it doesn't need anything, but you could always stir in a spoonful of sour cream or some cheese, and if someone really wants meat in their soup, a bit of crumbled bacon wouldn't be a bad idea.

Bean and Corn Chowder

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion
1 lb carrots
1 head celery
4-6 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno
1 16-ounce bag frozen corn
1 15-oz can corn
5 15-oz cans assorted beans
salt and pepper to taste

Place your largest soup pot over medium heat and cover the bottom in a thin layer of olive oil.  Dice the onion and add to the hot oil with a half-teaspoon of salt. Stir. Wash and slice the carrots. Add to the pot and stir. Wash and slice the celery. Add to the pot and stir. Crush and mince the garlic. Mince the jalapeno, first removing the seeds and membranes if you want mild flavor, leaving them in if you want a kick.  Add the garlic and jalapeno to the pot and stir.

Dump the canned corn and liquid in the blender and blend completely.  Drain and rinse the canned beans. Add the beans, frozen corn, blended corn, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the pot, then add enough water to cover. Increase heat to high. Stir and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread.

05 July 2013

How to Throw a Party Without Losing Your Mind

We need more parties, more opportunities to get together with old friends, to meet new friends, to deepen fledgling friendships. We need more time together. Or, more selfishly, I want to go to more parties. And I want to host more parties, and I sometimes forget that it’s not really hard. So this is advice for me, and maybe it will be useful to someone else, too. 

Just dive in and do it.

First things first, decide if you’re feeding a meal or just snacks, choose the time accordingly. Even a wedding reception can be just punch and cake if it’s at two in the afternoon. Choose an end time. If the party is focused around an event, like a big game or watching the fireworks, then the end time is built in. If you’re just having people over to hang out, then put an ending time on the invitation. Unless you think it would be awesome if everyone hung around all night talking, in which case leave it open. Mostly I want people to go home when the party is over because I want to decompress and go to bed. 

Then decide if you want to cook all the food yourself or have a potluck. If you decide to cook all the food yourself, know that someone will bring something that won’t fit in with the menu you planned. Take a breath, let it go. If you decide on a potluck, relieve yourself of all menu planning authority beyond the main course. If people ask what you need say “Just bring whatever you want.” Deny any and all knowledge of what any guest might be bringing. Accept that your guests might all bring watermelons. It will be hilarious. (Your guests will probably not all bring watermelons.) 

Figure out how many people your location can hold, and how many people you’re willing to feed. Invite the lesser of those two numbers of people. You will forget someone. You will have to leave someone off the list. It will be okay. Someone will not be able to come. There will be room for someone else. You will run into the person you forgot at the grocery store. Invite that person. Give up on keeping an exact total. Somebody will show up with their in-laws in tow, somebody will get sick and cancel on the day of, somebody will show up late having already eaten. No one will starve.

Figure out a way to be part of the party. Choose a menu that won’t stress you out. Have a small enough group that everyone can hang in the kitchen. Put the grill near the seating area. Make everything ahead. You are the host, not the housekeeper. Your friends are coming to hang out, not be served.

Make a list of things you need to do before the party. Plan a schedule so you can do a little bit each day instead of running around like a headless chicken on the day of the party.

Ignore the schedule.

On the day of the party, run around like a headless chicken. Always invite at least one person who will text you the day of the party and say “I’m going to do some errands, do you need anything?” If you don’t have friends like that, get some. Always be a friend like that. 

Your friends are coming to hang out, not to judge you.

Clean your bathroom. (I’m pretty sure Maud wrote that about me, because it was posted the day after she was at my house for a play-date. I've been paranoid about my bathrooms ever since, but she’s completely correct.)

Once your guests start arriving, stop running around like a headless chicken. There’s a lovely prayer for the end of the day in the New Zealand prayer book that includes the line “What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be.” The beginning of a party is not the same as the end of the day, but the principle still stands. Let the beginning of the party be the end of the party prep. Your friends have come to hang out with you. Let it be.

The day after the party, make some notes about what to do differently next time. My list might say
  • Set the freezer to quick ice / buy a bag of ice
  • buy more sausages, maybe also grill some chicken
  • set up a soaking bucket for utensils

Be prepared to eat leftovers for a day or so. I always make too much food. You probably will too.

(Photos from this guy, who is a great co-host in addition to being a great photographer.)


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