Best Chicken Salad Ever (from a non-food blog)

Chicken Salad in Pyrex
Chicken Salad

This is not a food blog. When I do write about food, it’s probably to gush over the genius of In-N-Out’s stream-lined menu, to lament the mystery of thunking watermelon, to praise the goodness known as dry cereal, or to rejoice over finding hidden holiday candy.

It’s not to share a recipe. Except for today. Because sometimes even non-food blogs get hungry. And because I make a mean chicken salad. And when I say “mean” I mean “awesome.”

1. Put the following in a big bowl. If you have a giant red Pyrex bowl from a thrift store, bonus. Measured amounts don’t matter. Truly. Ratios are all that matter. Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing amounts.

  • cooked chicken breasts (I use rotisserie chickens from the grocery store, which goes a long way towards explaining why this isn’t a food blog)
  • halved grapes (lots – any color)
  • chopped celery (a few handfuls)
  • finely chopped green onions (maybe, oh, half a handful – or more, or less)

2. Mix all that stuff together.

3. Add the dressing, which (besides the chicken) is the one ingredient that really matters. Use this kind of dressing. Only this kind. Other kinds aren’t as good. Not even close. Use whatever amount is required for your preferred level of dry-ishness or drippy-ishness.

The only chicken salad dressing you will ever need
The only chicken salad dressing you will ever need

4. Eat – right away (if you waited until the last minute to make dinner because no one could decide what they wanted which probably never happens to you but if it does you know what kind of nameless torture it causes) or after letting it ruminate in the fridge for a bit (if you planned ahead because you’ve been craving chicken salad for weeks both for its deliciousness and its non-cooking-ness.)

That’s all. You’re welcome. Happy weekend.

The county fair midway: (not) a taste of heaven

County Fair(is) Wheel (Photo: CKirgiss)
County Fair(is) Wheel (Photo: CKirgiss)

It’s that time of year again –  when tractors, hogs, rabbits, goats, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and homemade jellies all come together to form a week-long holy union .

For kids, nothing is quite as magical as the county fair. All those animals. All those rides. All those prizes. All that food.

For parents, nothing is quite as trying as the county fair. All those animals. All those rides. All those prizes. All that food.

With its bright lights and thrills and feasting and celebrating, the county fair’s midway presents itself as a paradise of sorts, perhaps even a tiny taste of heaven. So much joy. So much excitement. So much fun. So much love.

Wrong.

Last night, while weaving through midway crowds, my husband said, “It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?”

Yes. It is kind of sad. Besides the fact that the midway doesn’t at all resemble even the tiniest taste of heaven – you must buy your way onto rides, you must earn your place, the last in line are in fact the last in line, the gatekeepers are sour grumps – there is this:

The midway is not a place where tears and mourning are no more. The disappointment of not winning, of not having enough tickets, of not getting yet another mountain of cotton candy hangs heavy in the air.

The midway is not a place of safe belonging. The fear of losing one’s children in the crowd reflects in the crazed eyes of parents. The distinct separation of certain small groups is evident in their stance.

The midway is not a place of contented rest. (For that I’d recommend the 4-H barns – specifically the rabbits). The frenetic collision of blinking lights, bawling babies, and barking ride operators is really just a dolled-up version of common stress.

The midway is not real and true. On the back side of all the lights and music and magic and facades is a row of weary looking trailers and bleak storage bins ready to contain the various pieces of a dismantled paradise.

The midway’s not a bad place. Some people appeared to be enjoying themselves. Momentarily. I think.

But the midway is surely a feeble attempt at the best life has to offer, both in the here and in the hereafter.

Of water bans, words, and privileged nonsense

Confession: I am a soda snob. I like it out of a fountain, in a 32-ounce styrofoam cup, with my choice of crushed or cubed ice, with the option for free flavor shots. And if at all possible, could the straws please be orange?

I gave up caffeine a while ago (all on my own) and sugary drinks long before that (dental necessity) which presents a real problem because not very many places have caffeine-free diet soda in the fountain. (Speedway and QT are two notable exceptions. I can spot either of them from miles away.)

Just a few days ago while driving 750 miles back home to Indiana, I needed (and when I say “needed” I mean “needed”) a fountain pop. My husband needed coffee. In America, if one person needs pop and another person needs coffee, they stop at a gas station, the epicenter of all good and necessary things.

So that’s what we did. At about midnight. Walked into a station fully expecting to walk back out again just moments later with the purchased necessities. Which we would have. Except for this:

No soda No Coffee

Excuse me? Is this possible? Is this allowed? Is this a bad dream?

Shocked. Speechless. Mentally paralyzed. That was me. Mostly because I really, really needed a 32-ounce fountain pop. But also because the sign’s wording was so very wrong, which particular burr rubs me quite raw under my wordsmith saddle.

(Too, I Get A Little
Agitated
When All The
Text
Is Center-Aligned
And All The
Words Are
Capped
And The Line
Breaks Are
Illogical.
No
One Talks Like
That.
Ev-
Er.)

This is what I learned about me that night:

One – sometimes (or maybe always) I care about words more than the situation warrants.

Two – I’m not really a soda snob. Rather I am a rottenly spoiled child. I live in a protected bubble where, if I want a fountain pop at midnight, I expect to get a fountain pop at midnight. Period.

In a world where over 780 million people don’t have access to clean water, I exposed my nakedly narcissistic core when I stood in that gas station, mouth agape, distraught and disgusted by the inconvenience and appalling lack of regard for my pressing needs.

Meeting myself face to face, whether in a gas station at midnight or in my own soul at dawn, is sometimes just the hardest thing ever.

Why my little corner of the earth is awesome

The little corner of the earth where I live isn’t generally known as being One of the Most Beautiful and Interesting Places in the world.

In fact, my proverbial neck of the woods doesn’t actually have any woods. Or mountains. Or hills. Or oceans. Or lakes – at least not when compared to my former little corner of the earth that was home to, oh, about 10,000 lakes.

(Aside from the lacking topography, this Big Ten Land Grant University town also lacks a Trader Joe’s and an Apple Store, which is just so sad and beyond all comprehension.)

Just an hour or so from my little corner of the earth there are some pretty famous places, both topographically and commercially. A Great Lake and its beaches and dunes. A renowned raceway. A Super-Bowl-famous stadium. That kind of thing.

But here, in my little corner, there are none of those things. Just a great big university. And this:

Indiana bale (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana bale (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)

The round bales and the corn fields in and around my little corner of the earth will never make it into a Traveler’s Guidebook or a Sights-You-Musn’t-Miss-In-Indiana ad.

But truly, they are breathtakingly beautiful in a way that’s difficult to describe. They delight my Nebraska-prairie heritage. They make me proud, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with planting, watering, harvesting, or baling.

Whatever else may be missing, in the little corner of the earth where I live, they grow things. Beautiful and important things.

And I love that.

 

 

 

Tiny journals – from old and used to new and useful

I love journals. Unlined journals. Lots and lots of unlined journals. (You can read my relevant confession here.)

Lately, besides loving unlined journals, I’m also loving small journals. Mini journals. Little journals. Tiny journals. Journals that fit in the palm of my hand. Journals that force a person to choose her words very, very carefully because the tiny books neither offer non-essential empty space nor allow non-essential empty verbiage.

Tiny journals force a person to plan out her words. To think carefully about what she will write on the limited pages. To stop and consider what she is doing rather than rushing into a rambling reflection. (And maybe also to wear extra-strength reading glasses.)

Unlined journals are hard to find. Tiny unlined journals are even harder to find. So I must either fall out of love with them or make my own. I don’t know how to fall out of love, so I have no choice but to make my own, and in the process give new life to limp and worn leather goods.

It’s always gratifying to give new life to an old thing. It’s even more gratifying when the new thing is delightful and wondrous and has a purpose. Thus, while making my tiny journals, I glimpse ever so slightly the joy of the Creator when he remakes an old thing (such as me) into as new thing that has a purpose.

Such is the miracle of tiny, remade, repurposed things.

Mini-journal supplies   Mini-journal supplies

Mini-journal   Mini-journals

These book signatures (top left) are 2″ x 2.24″ and 1″ x 1.5″. I decided to punch the sewing holes (read: skewer them) on a princess coloring book (top right) for what I think are obvious cultural reasons. Note my new bookmaking awl (top right). It’s amazing. Splendid. Stunning. You should probably get one. Today. These little books (bottom left and right) are the remade offspring of a purse (orange), a datebook (navy), a wallet (teal), a coin purse (black), a checkbook clutch (brown), and a skirt (fuscia). The larger of the tiny journals are just the right size for copying out Romans 8. I tested it. The smaller of the tiny journals are just the right size for a favorite Psalm or poem or song or fable or alphabet (regular or runic) or note to a special someone, which would require giving up the tiniest of tiny journals, which would require a long pep talk to self about generosity and sharing and friendship and love.

 

 

Inside, outside, upside down: what life sometimes looks like from here

Aerial view (Photo: CKirgiss)
Aerial view (Photo: CKirgiss)

The past few years have been a bit, well, giant-swing-ish.

One main reason: I went back to school for a PhD, on a whim, which doesn’t qualify as even a Really Silly Reason.

Balancing academic life and ministry life has been like riding two different giant swings . . . at the same time…which might explain all the stomach lurches, head rushes, and recurrent bouts of low-grade nausea that often accompany such two-giant-swing seasons of life.

When I rode a real giant swing at camp last week, I videotaped and photographed the whole thing, on a whim, which doesn’t qualify as even a Really Ridiculous Reason. Camera phones are expensive. Giant swings are, well, giant swings. Meant to be experienced. Meant to be exhilarating. Meant to be enjoyed.

In order to videotape and photograph the ride, I had to keep my eyes on the screen. Carefully. While clutching my phone. Tightly. While swinging. Wildly.

In a very small and massively metaphorical way, it was a lot like life – not just my life of the past 10 years but, I suspect, many people’s lives at their most regular.

I missed much of the ride’s wild joy because I was concentrating on filming it. I missed many of the best photos because I was sailing through the air too fast to think or focus.

I got maybe one good picture. One. Plus a nauseous-ish headache because I failed to keep my eyes fixed on the horizon.

There is much blathery blather out there about “being grounded” and “living a balanced life” and “centering yourself,” most of which require a person to ditch life’s various wild rides and creative expressions entirely.

Much better to joyfully ride whatever giant swings may come our way, being sure to fully enjoy them by keeping our eyes on the breathtaking surroundings.

Much better to live a rhythmic life that is sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes wild, sometimes calm, being sure to express it creatively in our realities and our relationships.

Much better to center Jesus – not just center on him but actually center him – which equates to also immersing, surrounding, and filling ourselves with Him.

Life is rarely predictable, balanced, or safe. That was never the intent nor the promise.

Instead, life is sweet (even when sorrowful), exhilarating (even when difficult), and full (even when unknown).

Or at least it should be.

 

A sacred silent space

Sweet Silence Sweet Silence Sweet Silence ***

In case you haven’t noticed (how could you not?) the world is fast, full, loud, chaotic. The chances to sit alone in contemplative silence are few and far between – that is if they exist at all. A dialed-in life (something we are all so good at) easily becomes a tuned-out life (something we all claim to abhor).

I’m spending the week with 350 teens who for 7 days (that is 168 hours; 10,080 minutes; 604,800 seconds) have no phones, no iPods, no computers, no tablets.

They are entirely un-plugged with the hope they can find their way to being completely tuned-in.

It’s a brand new phenomenon for many, one that is difficult at first but is also perhaps the sweetest gift they will receive this week: the chance to be free from all the things that keep them not just connected but also bound to the world around them.

But even better and sweeter than being unplugged for a full week is being solitary and silent for just 15 minutes – a mere sliver of time, a momentary blink of life, a single breath of being.

Silent.

Alone.

(But not really alone – rather more with and within and beside and around than perhaps ever before.)

In such a sweetly sacred space it becomes possible to think freely, breathe deeply, and love fully while in the presence of the mighty and gentle Creator.

We all desperately need such sacred spaces and moments, regularly nestled amidst the bustle and frenzy of life as we know it. The question is not so much how and when those sacredly spacious moments might perhaps happen (for might is as good as won’t) but rather how we will repattern our lives in such a way that those sacredly spacious moments must and will happen.

Our very lives depend on it.

*** Fifteen minutes of sacred silence on the lawn at Castaway Club. At right are a Capernaum camper and her leader/buddy/friend – perhaps the most beautiful image of sacred silence a person could ever hope to witness.

Pits Aisle – a bustling sacred space

In the kitchen of a 17th-century monastery where he was assigned to work, Brother Lawrence discovered how to experience solace and contentment and joy, day after day after day.

But only after many days of unrest and discontent and unhappiness. After all, dirty dishes are not the stuff of prestige and power.

But over time, he grew into a richly deep faith – while surrounded by pots and pans and dishes – wherein he did his “common business” wholly and only for the love of God.

If only we could all live like that. If only we could all be contentedly joyful, whether in a 17th-century monastery kitchen or a 21st-century camp kitchen where the task of washing up after 500 people happens three times a day, each day, every day, day after day after day.

That’s a lot of knives, forks, and spoons. That’s a lot of serving platters. That’s a lot of pots and pans. That’s a lot of bacon grease.

Even so, there are a lot of smiles coming out of Pits Aisle (which, with all its back-and-forth traffic is more like an alley or lane), all day, every day, day after day after day, where the dishwashing crew (aka the Pits Crew) works in a narrow space under heavy heat and high expectations.

Pits AlleyPits AlleyPits Alley

These teenagers gave up a month of their summer, with no pay, so that they could wash dishes. And pots. And pans. And more. For a thousand or so people who will never know their names or sing their praises.

And why? Because the job has to get done. Because Jesus lets us be his hands and feet. Because the common business of life is the soil of faithful living and humble service.

More simply:

  • Because they want to. (True story.)
  • Because they can. (Awesome privilege.)
  • Because they follow a loving Lord. (Wild journey.)

What other reason do they need? What other reason do we?

Dancing with angels

Whether it’s the Trinitarian dance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Great Snow Dance of fauns and dryads and dwarfs, or the celebratory angel dance at creation,* dancing is a Very Big Deal in the world of faith and love and hope and joy.

I wish I could dance. Not just shake myself around, or slide my feet, or wave my arms, but really truly dance. The kind of dance that makes music. The kind of dance that moves mountains. The kind of dance that reflects God’s creative soul.

But I can’t. Maybe I’m too dull. Maybe I’m too afraid. Maybe I’m too self-aware.

Hannah and Kelsey, on the other hand, can dance. And by dance I mean Really Truly Dance. Without fear. Without worry. Without anything holding them back from joy and love and life and freedom.

Please meet Hannah and Kelsey. Tonight I watched them dance. On the beach. (We’re at camp, you see, and so of course after a long day of games and rides and meals and music and play and energy, well, we had a sunset party at the beach because, um, we’re at camp.)

I wish everyone could have watched them really truly dance on the beach because it pretty much reassured me that there is still hope for the world. Serious, awesome, deep, rich, genuine, lasting, true hope. Just because Hannah and Kelsey can – and want – to dance.

It’s quite enough to make today a very good day.

KelsiHannah

* I don’t mean to imply equal value between Trinitarian theology, Narnian holidays, and Job’s poetic metaphors. At least not entirely.

Hearts of stone to hearts of flesh

I’m doing this thing with middle-schoolers in a few weeks that I need 300 writeable stones for. So I went to this mountain of maybe a million and prepared to pick 300.

Photo: CKirgiss
Piled stones (Photo: CKirgiss)

But how does a person possibly pick just 300 stones from maybe a million when the only criteria is that the stones have a writeable surface and when any shape, any color, and any size between a marble and egg will do?

As it turns out, not many stones have a writeable surface. Finding just 300 from a pile of maybe a million requires a fair amount of searching and seeking and finding and picking.

After about an hour, this is what I had:

Photo: CKirgiss
Chosen stones (Photo: CKirgiss)

300 writeable stones, sized between a marble and an egg, variously shaped, chosen straight from a mountain of maybe a million.

They are just exactly what I needed.

But look at them closely, those 300 writeable stones, sitting in the bottom of their bucket: could anything be more blah? More generic? More colorless? More uninteresting?

Or more beautifully breathtaking? You see, when washed from top to bottom, front to back, side to side, with a limitless stream of running water, this is what those 300 writeable stones look like:

Washed stones (Photo: CKirgiss)
Washed stones (Photo: CKirgiss)

Colorful. Vibrant. Bright. Bold. Beautiful.

What a miracle that colorless, uninteresting, dusty, dirty hearts like mine – and like my writeable stones – can be washed clean to expose all the brightly vibrant, boldly colorful, and eminently beautiful essence of the spirit within. (Of course, all that color disappears if the stones are left to dry up – if they forego or move away from the stream of Infinite Living Water.)

What an even greater miracle that hearts of stone can be changed to hearts of flesh – hearts that love and feel and hope and dream and ache and empathize and breathe and are.

I will write on my stones, just as God writes on my heart. But they will always and only be stones. Dead, hard, unfeeling stones. I have no more power to change them into flesh than I do to change my own heart into flesh.

But my powerlessness is the canvas upon which God paints my life in His colorful, vibrant, bright, bold, and beautiful strokes. Indeed. And amen.

The Sovereign Lord says: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a heart of flesh – a tender, responsive heart. (from Ezekiel 36)