Monday, February 28, 2011

The Livin-Life-With-You Friends

The older I get, the more I see the value of having friends in your life with whom you can simply live life. I cherish those friends of mine who I can call up on a whim and invite over to my house - or invite myself to their house - and together we'll just be.

I write about this today because I had a weekend of such encounters. On Friday night, a couple friend of mine called to hang out, but I had to do some baking. I half-jokingly said, "Well, you guys can come over here and help me bake cookies if you want." It was a wonderful evening. Very laid back, no pressure, and a great example of just living life together. By the way, we all wore our pajama pants and sweatshirts!

Again on Sunday I was fortunate enough to have an encounter like that with a different friend. She and I wanted to hang out, and we decided we'd run errands together. We went to various stores, but my favorite example was when we were at Target. We navigated our cart together through the toilet paper aisle, we compared prices on paper towel, and we even browsed the candle section and managed to smell nearly every candle. I absolutely love that I have friends that I can simply "BE" with. These are the sweetest kinds of friends to have.

Who are your friends with whom you can enjoy the simple, day-to-day events of life? Take a moment today to write a note of thanks and acknowledge the gift that they are!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Norwegian Rosemaling

My sister and I have stumbled upon our own tradition of taking a community ed class together each year. The last two years we have had the privilege of taking courses that teach us about our Norwegian heritage. Last year we learned how to make Rosettes just in time for Christmas. This year our course was Norwegian Rosemaling.

Rosemaling is a style of painting that people in rural Norway used for decoration. I learned last night that the traditional colors are yellow, rust, and blue. It's a flowing, scrolling style of painting that uses C and S strokes. DON'T GOOGLE IT YET! You'll see images far more superior to anything that I produced last night. :) Wait to see my first attempt and then you can be wowed by the skilled artisans whose work is on the web!

I'm a perfectionist through and through, and so it was difficult last night to put myself out there and try something new and so out of my comfort zone. Luckily I had my sis by my side, so we navigated this new skill together...with the help of chocolate that the instructor provided. I knew after she passed around a bag of full-size candy bars that it was going to be a good night.

We began by practicing C and S strokes on scratch paper. The instructor was very encouraging and said over and over again that there is no "right" way to do it. She said that we as artists have our own spin on it, and we should let that come out. That's not a great thing to say to a perfectionist. In my head, I'm thinking "I need a sample! Teach me EXACTLY how to do it!" :)

It was a great class, though, and finally Lins and I felt brave enough to start painting on the actual project - a box. Here is how my first attempt at Rosemaling went:

This is the front of my box. I did this at the end when I wasn't being as careful, so I don't love this side as much as some other sides. Yes, that's the perfectionist talking!

I wanted to put something larger on the top, so I made this tulip design for the center. The edges looked like they needed attention, so I used a very very thin brush to make the white designs.

And here is the side I'm most proud of. I really like how this design turned out. I had fun blending some different blues to give the image more depth.

Okay, now you can google Rosemaling and see some professionals' work. It's truly amazing and so beautiful! I have a much greater appreciation for this style of painting now that I have tried it and see how difficult it is!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Second Chance

Do you ever feel little nudges from God? I do. Maybe. At least I think so? Some days it's just plain hard to tell.

Sometimes I get the idea in my head to say hello to someone I pass by on the sidewalk, or to offer help to someone. Today I had the urge to offer a ride to a woman I saw in the grocery store.

I know it sounds a little random, but I recognized this woman from my neighborhood. I think she has a slight mental disability, and I often see her walking to the bus stop when I'm going for a walk through the neighborhood. I've always wanted to get to know her so that I could greet her by name when I see her around the area.

She was two customers ahead of me in the check-out line. I watched as she carefully counted out $32 to give to the cashier. Another employee packed her groceries into two bags. I watched as she politely asked him to repack it into one. I knew why she wanted that. She wanted less to carry because she had to walk home.

I felt the urge to offer her a ride home. I knew about where she lived, and it was absolutely on my way home. BUT, I was afraid to be a creeper. I wondered if she would feel unsafe with a stranger offering her a ride. If I'm honest with myself, I was mostly afraid of being rejected.

I played a few games with God in my head. "Lord, if she's walking out at the same time as me, then I'll ask her." Well, she wasn't, but she was still within ear shot so I could have called to her.

I didn't.

I unlocked my nice warm car and hopped in. I turned the key, and began to back up. I felt a little wimpy and disappointed in myself. Did I let another opportunity slip by? Was that a prompting from God to give her a ride, or just my active imagination?

That's when I saw her pause on the sidewalk, turn around, and look back at the store. I had a second chance. I'd make my move.

I pulled up alongside her, rolled my window down and asked "Do you live on Hampshire?" She said she did. I introduced myself and told her that I too lived in the neighborhood. Then I popped the question, "Would you like a ride?"

She smiled an amazing smile right away, and made her way around to the passenger side of my car. She put her heavy grocery bag on the floor of the passenger seat, scooted herself in and closed the door.

We pulled out of the parking lot, the entire time my mind frantically trying to figure out if what I was doing was legal or not. I don't know why I worried that it wasn't. I think this was just so out of my normal realm that my brain was on overload.

I didn't want her to feel awkward, so I said, "How was your day today?" She said good and we began talking about our jobs. I learned that the sidewalks haven't been plowed yet from the storm, and so I imagine her hesitation at the grocery store was where she was going to walk! The street wasn't a great option, as it was a busy one, and the sidewalks were covered in about a foot and a half of snow.

She was pleasant company and thanked me throughout our conversation for the ride home. When I pulled into her driveway I again told her where I lived (trying to make her feel safe and know that I really AM a neighbor), and she thanked me (again).

I can't wait to see her on my walks. I look forward to greeting her by name. I hope she remembers me. What a gift that interaction was, and I am so incredibly grateful that God gave me another chance to help her. I wish I could be better about taking those first opportunities He gives me, but I am ever thankful for his grace which gives me a second chance.

This song came to mind today as I drove away from her house. Enjoy, and remember to take the first chance you're given. :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Changing Conditions

This past weekend we visited some friends in Bismarck, ND. After a great weekend, we began our 6-hour trip home a little earlier on Sunday than originally planned due to a looming mid-February snow storm.

We left early because the weather reports were suggesting that this could be a snowstorm big enough to rival our December one. That was a big one. We had 17 inches of snow and things really slowed down in the cities. Leaving early seemed like the smart decision.

We knew we wouldn't be driving in the storm the whole way, just about half of it. However, after we had been on the road for 4 hours and still not seen a single flake, I began feeling foolish for leaving so early.

4.5 hours. Nothing.

5 hours. Nothing.

5 hours and 1 minute. A flake. Then another. Then some more. Soon it was really snowing and there was accumulating snow on the road. Once we entered the metro area, the wind was whipping the snow around and we could hardly see the road signs before needing to turn.

When we got off the highway near our home, we could scarcely see a half block ahead of us. Was this really happening?!? Just an hour prior there was not a flake to be had, and now we were in an all out blizzard.

Metaphorically, I've had days like this before. Have you? You're going along just fine and then something happens and you feel like you're in a blizzard. Maybe it's a frustrating phone call or email you received. Perhaps you had a bad interaction with someone during the day. Maybe you just started coming down with a cold or flu and everything changed.

What can we do when our days change from easy driving to blizzards?

On my hard days, I try to remember to breathe. Sometimes I make a gratitude list to remind myself of the things in my life that are going well that I'm thankful for. On really rough blizzard days in my life, I leave my Bible open near me so that I can have quick access to God's words. If it isn't possible to have my Bible with me, I'll write a comforting scripture verse or two on a recipe card and keep it in my back pocket.

Watch out for changing conditions in your life, and make sure to be prepared.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Glimpse into the Subconscious

I washed my hands in the 3rd floor public bathroom, grabbed a paper towel, and put my hand on the door handle to make my way down the hall and get back to work.

As I pushed on the handle, it went down much easier than usual. Then the door swung open, nearly hitting me in the face as an incoming woman and I nearly scared each other to death. We caught our breath, apologized repeatedly to each other and then laughed it off, going our separate ways.

I kept thinking about that incident as I walked down the hall back to work. My mind has a way of replaying embarrassing things like that frequently. One thing that stood out to me was the woman's shirt. It was a sleeveless green shirt, the kind you'd wear under a suit coat. My mind started wandering without my permission, and I wondered what her office's dress code was like. It must be pretty strict if she has to wear a suit as the receptionist.

Wait a minute. What?

Did I just assume she was the receptionist? Why would I assume that? Because she's a woman?

Instantaneously images flooded into my mind of all of the women I've crossed paths with in the hallway or the bathroom. Have I EVER assumed that any one of them was the businesses owner at the office suite where they worked? Have I ever assumed that they were a financial planner, lawyer, executive or president?

I couldn't believe it. Seriously? This has never occurred to me?!?

I was so mortified by my own self. I felt incredibly frustrated that somehow these stereotypes have taken root so deeply in me that I didn't even realize what I was doing. I'm embarrassed.

Here I go around saying that women can do whatever they want to, have whatever career they want to, and can hold their own with the best male professionals out there. However, when it comes to my subconscious, I assume that women are assistants. Women are receptionists. Women are the ones who keep their male bosses organized.

Where do I go from here? How do I rid myself of that awful stereotype? How have I limited myself by this deep-rooted, silent stereotype that after nearly 30 years has made itself known?

What other stereotypes are lingering?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Peaceful Conflict Resolution

The same day that I was teaching the Kindergarten class that I referred to last Monday, I had one kid come up to me complaining about another. Not surprising. He told me "I want to do a stop sign with Molly."

I had no idea what a stop sign meant, so I just said the classic adult thing to say; "Maybe later." Then I promptly headed in a different direction.

Well, these kids are persistent, and about a half hour later Jacob came up to me again and said "I want to do a stop sign with Molly." So, I pulled a classic substitute teacher move and said okay, then vigilantly watched to see what was going to happen so I could pretend to know what it all meant.

Jacob went over to the whiteboard and pulled down a laminated sign, then looked in my direction. Apparently, I was supposed to come too. I looked at the sign, and it was an acrostic of sorts for the word Stop. It read:

S - Say what you are feeling.
T - Tell what happened.
O - Own your part of it.
P - Peaceful partners.

I read off the first one to them, the s. Right away Jacob said "I feel angry when you don't treat me like a friend should be treated."


Read again what he said. He is saying how he feels, he knows how a friend should treat you, and he knows he's not getting that treatment. AMAZING!

Molly answered, and we moved on to the T - Tell what happened. Each student stated their side of the story.

For the O - Own your part, I was surprised to hear the "victim" Jacob say that he shouldn't have been so angry about it. I had to pinch myself to really believe what was happening. 5 year-olds were communicating - and communicating better than most adults!!

We got to the P - Peaceful Partners section and this proved more difficult. Molly didn't really want to admit she had been treating Jacob poorly, so it was hard for them to find a resolution. It was really dragging along, and finally I said, "I think we'll have to talk about this after lunch." I walked away and began helping other students.

No more than 5 minutes later, Jabob runs over to me, smiling, and says, "We're peaceful partners!" I asked him how they came to that and he said with enthusiasm, "We shook hands!"

That's all it took. They talked about what they were feeling, they worked it out and shook hands. Amazing.

I pray that other schools are doing as intentional job of teaching peaceful conflict resolution. Can you imagine what our world would be like if we all went through STOP when we were frustrated with someone? So many times we let miscommunication rule, and hurt feelings linger. These kids are learning healthy conflict resolution, and finding success at age 5.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Home Remodel - Lighting

I had the privilege of working on "Operation Confidential" this weekend with my dad and brother. Zac was out of town so I thought it would be the perfect time to do a surprise home improvement project - weekend warrior style!

The project - take out the low-hanging ceiling fan and replace it with recessed lighting. The hoped-for benefit is fewer bumps on the head and better lighting overall.

Step 1: Invite my family over to help me clear the room.
Step 2: Cover all the furniture that couldn't be relocated.

Step 3: Call in the experts - Dad and Brandon.

Step 4: Cut holes in the ceiling where the cans will sit.

Step 5: Create a new electric box for the dimmer switch.

Step 6: Try not to think about the mess to clean up.

Step 7: Wire the lights.

Step 8: Install the cans.

Step 9: Sit back and enjoy!

Isn't this amazing? It was so fun to work on this project with my dad and brother. Well, I should restate that. I didn't do a whole lot with the installation, but I provided the best meals that I could and even made homemade ice cream and brownies for an afternoon snack. Thanks Dad and Brandon for your hard work. We will think of you each time we turn on the lights!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Last week I taught in Kindergarten. I forget how crazy and honest and funny those kids can be.

Literally two minutes after one girl walked in the door I heard "You're my FAVORITE teacher ever!" I'm pretty sure I just asked her what her name was and after that said, "It's nice to meet you, Nicole."

Apparently, greeting children really gives you an in. Another girl, shortly after she walked in and was greeted, gave me a gift. I'm not sure what it was. It seemed like a doll slipper or a mitten. I don't know if she really knew what it was either, but I received it then "absent-mindedly" set it down in the classroom and "forgot" to take it with me when I left. I'm pretty sure her mom would be upset if this girl gave me that doll slipper/mitten!

Over the course of the morning I sent about 10 kids to the nurse for tummy aches, sore throats, eyes that "felt funny," hurt noses, and cough drops. Let me follow up to say that these 10 were not the only ones who asked. I refrained from sending AT LEAST that many more who asked. Poor nurse. I tried to get them to stay in the classroom, but they were so persistent. It reminds me of the story of the persistent widow in the Bible.

My favorite moment, though, came as we were getting all of our outside gear on. Imagine 19 5-year-olds trying to get hats, mittens, snow pants, boots, and jackets on. One girl's snowpants zipper broke and my fingers were getting raw trying to fix it. One girl needed me to tie her scarf, two more zip-ups, and one girl who needed my help getting everything on. Meanwhile, someone kicked someone in the privates, one girl was dancing around, one kid was just staring off into space, and I was trying to prompt them all along so they could get out to recess before recess was over! In the midst of this circus, a sweet, wide-eyed blond kid comes up to me and says, "Mrs. Harder, I have something awful to tell you."

Oh geez. What in the world could it be now?!? Did child Y kick yet another person in the privates? Did this one pee his pants? Oh dear. I don't know if I can handle awful.

"Mrs. Harder, I think Ellie wants to marry me."

There it was. his "something awful." I tried not to chuckle, but looked at him and somberly said, "I think you're a little young for that."

He replied, "I think so too."

You just never know what you're going to get.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Doro Wat - The Finished Product

In Doro Wat, we started with the onions, then added some spices, and now to complete the dish you need chicken...and eggs. After you peel the hard boiled eggs, you slightly score them before adding them to the stew so that the flavor seeps in. Yum!

Here is the wat cooking. It's pretty soupy at this point, but I left it on the stove for another hour after this, and it cooked down nicely.

Below is the cooked-down wat. This was about the consistency it was at when we served it. I think it looks like sloppy joes. :)

The Outtakes
Now, you know from the blog about the onions that I had quite a bit of down time on my hands while the wat was cooking. I decided to wash and freeze some blueberries for smoothies.

And that didn't kill enough time, so I made some granola!

Yep, wat still cooking...

I didn't want my house to smell like onions for years from now, so I did my best to contain the cooking smells in the kitchen by opening the kitchen window, even though it was only 8 degrees....

...and setting up a fan by the cooking onions to blow toward the window...

...and setting up a fan by the living room to blow the air away from the living room...

...and shutting every door possible! It was amazing to me how, after spending 5 minutes in one of these rooms with a closed door, I would come out into the main part of the house and be hit with the smell of cooking onions. The closed doors really worked well to contain the cooking smells.

I had a fantastic time cooking Ethiopian for the first time. I know I'll do it again. Maybe next time for you!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Doro Wat - The Spices

My Doro Wat called for some spices - berbere, azmud, and kibe. Ironically enough, I had just used up all of my berbere, azmud, and kibe last week! Well, okay, that's not totally true. My pantry has never seen spices with names like these. The most adventurous my pantry gets is cumin.

I knew these spices wouldn't be available at the nearby big-box grocery store, so I made my way to the computer, boldly sat down in front of the glowing screen and typed in "Ethiopian Grocery Stores - Minneapolis."

The results surprised me - there was an African grocery store just blocks from my house. How did I miss this? It wasn't an Ethiopian grocery store, though, so I wondered if it would carry the specific spices I needed. Then my eyes came across "Shabelle Grocery and Restaurant: Ethiopian and East African Foods, Fresh Spices & Meats, Grocery and Restaurant." Perfect.

I soon made my way to the quaint shop on Franklin in Minneapolis. As I walked toward the front door of the store, Ethiopian faces smiled at me, greeted me, held the door for me. This new experience was turning out to be less overwhelming than I thought. And!

Once inside, I found the section I needed; however, some of the product labels had names that resembled my shopping list items, but weren't exactly the same. I wanted to make sure I got the right ingredients - after all, I had spent all this time cooking down the onions. I was not about to let my Wat go bad because of incorrect spices!

The store employee was so kind and he helped me out a great deal. Here's what I purchased:

The red spice in the bag is the berbere. It's a mixture of all sorts of spices, and is hot like cayenne pepper.

The black spice is azmud, or black pepper. The recipe was clear that I was NOT to substitute American black pepper for this, and now I know why. Azmud is totally different than American pepper in smell, taste, and texture. My azmud came somewhat granular, so I had to crush it down to a powder, which you see below.

And finally, the butter spice with which to make Kibe, spiced butter. I had hoped to buy kibe already made, but it was just as easy to make it myself.

To make Kibe, melt down butter. I'm on it!

And then add one spoonful of spice. Check!

My final purchase was the tell-tale sign of Ethiopian food, Injera bread. It is used to grasp the main dish, kind of like a tortilla is used in authentic Mexican meals. You pull off a piece with your right hand, and use it to scoop up the stew or sauce. Yum!

Next time I'll show you the cooking Wat and the finished product!