generous hearts

christmas donationsThe kids ministry at Hope Community Church, where I attend, decided that it would be awesome to collect Christmas presents for the kids at my favorite orphanage in Uganda.  I went to all the Sunday school classes and shared a little bit about Rafiki Africa Ministries and showed a short video with all the kids in it, and invited the Hope children to bring presents for the Rafiki children.  The kids were all super excited about it, and had lots to say.  I loved their enthusiasm and was so encouraged by it.

But the moment that touched me the most is when I was visiting the first grade class (who I taught last year in Sunday school and adore them all) and after we took a picture for a Christmas card, one little girl came up to me, took a bracelet off her wrist, and said, “Do you think the orphans in Africa would like my bracelet?” and without hesitation, she put it in our donations box.

I loved so much that this sweet little one’s heart immediately was so filled with love and generosity, that she gave up a bracelet off her wrist.

Merry Christmas, Rafiki Kids – know you are loved by these kids in Minneapolis who have never even met you.


Sunday Celebration

I had my last Sunday at Watoto Church three weeks before actually arriving back in the United States – this is mostly because I was on safari and then flew out on a Sunday.  But it ended up being the perfect Sunday to end on.

Watoto North Sanctuary

The Sunday before I arrived in Uganda, the church took what they called, “My Miracle Missions Offering” and I heard it was an awesome service full of dancing, singing, and giving.  The offering was collected for missions – and their goal was 1 million US dollars.  I love so much that they are a church in Uganda – a place you think of as missionaries going TO, and they are supporting a church in Israel and a church plant in Burundi and in South Sudan. 

Each week there would be an update telling how much money was raised.

Then on my second to last Sunday, the pastor announced that the church met – and exceeded – their goal.

The pastor said to come next week, ready to celebrate and to bring your vuvuzelas. 

That final Sunday was a terrific worship service – at the end of the service, they had all the children come into the service.  We (and by “we” I don’t really mean myself) sang a song in Swahili and then we all joined hands and everyone prayed outloud at the same time for the churches that are being planted and for the church in Israel.  Then all the kids filled the stage and we all stretched out our hands toward them and prayed for this generation – that they will grow up well and that God will use them to impact his kingdom and that they will be a generation of godly leaders in Uganda.  I know that God is always with us, but it was one of those moments when you can really feel His presence.

SO cool. 

Banana Split Cupcakes

This year I am so lucky to teach Sunday School with Rebecca, Bethany, and Brieanne.  We have a crazy big class of kindergarten and first graders.  Fortunately they are awesome little genius children who are super fun to hang out with and don’t mind squishing around a table together.  

Here are some of the reasons these girls are awesome to teach with – if you have children you should probably recruit them to teach your kids Sunday school.

(p.s. I’ve had some great co-teachers in the past, so if you are one of them, please know that I like you too!) 

  1. They are all really easy to get along with.
  2. They are all hilarious.
  3. They are all GREAT with kids.  Seriously – our styles of teaching just mesh so well together.  And we all have the same standards we hold the kids to, so it is seamless transitions from week to week as we rotate the teaching schedule.
  4. They plan super fun lessons.  Things like making temples out of graham crackers and frosting when learning about King Solomon, and going into a small dark room and spritzing the air with water when learning about Jonah.
  5. They are so excited about teaching the little kiddos about Jesus.  Their joy is contagious.
  6. They are basically just generally all around awesome.

Naturally I decided that we should probably be friends outside of Sunday School, away from all the small children.  So I invited them over to bake!  

It was a great time.  I don’t know if there has ever been so much laughter in my kitchen (and I’ve baked with some pretty hilarious friends before).  

We tackled an insane looking recipe from Annie’s Eats: Banana Split Cupcakes.  I picked it for two reasons: it looked like a lot of work, so it seemed like a good team effort cupcake; and there was a general love of banana floating around our e-mail thread. 

What does this cupcake consist of, you ask?

A banana cupcake.

Filled with a strawberry and pineapple.

Topped with whipped cream.

Drizzled with chocolate ganache.

Sprinkled with sprinkles.

And with a cherry on top.

Can you say AMAZING??

And yes, we are quite proud of ourselves. 

a Christmas Joy rough patch.

Saturday started out so promising… so full of Christmas joy.  I had Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee for the first time (it is amazing – how have I never purchased it before??).  Then I baked Christmas cookies with Heidi and Cara.  Also wonderful.  I came home, finished my felt Christmas trees while simultaneously watching a Christmas movie on Netflix and the beautiful snow falling outside my window.

I packed up the cookies and my Christmas cheer for Hope’s Christmas party: it was a night full of promise.  Promises of Mr. and Mrs. Claus stopping by for a visit, of Home Alone being watched, of snowflakes being cut out, and of games being played.  Christmas magic everywhere.

And then disaster struck.  Completely out of the blue.  Well, 71% out of the blue.  Well, if I’d connected the dots it really wouldn’t have been that out of the blue at all.  I need new tires, but haven’t gotten them up, and apparently the car guy new what he was talking about when he said I’d better get them before it snows.  It was kind of like my car was going ice skating.  And there wasn’t even THAT much snow.  I felt like such a lame Minnesotan when I turned around a mile from home in just two inches of snow.  My poor little car couldn’t handle it.

I said, “Hey Car, you should do more than just spin your tires.  You know, like maybe drive forward.”  Car said, “Laura, that is a GREAT idea.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  I said, “I don’t know car.  You’d think it would have been your first response to me pressing on the gas pedal.”  Car said, “Laura, I was being sarcastic.  Maybe if you would give me tires that actually work, I would do my job a little bit better.”  I said, “Fine.”  Car said, “Fine.  And we turned around and went home.

To help ease my sorrows, Tiffany offered to make us dinner.  (us being me and Tiffany, not me and my car)

In efforts to regain some of the lost Christmas joy, we went for a magical stroll in the snow to take in magic of the neighborhood Christmas lights.  I was definitely starting to feel better – much more Christmassy.  It was like we were living in a snow globe.  Love.  I even had to be held back from frolicking amongst the giant candy canes at the neighbor’s house.  One house has their lights choreographed to music.  Since I didn’t have my boom box on my shoulder, we couldn’t tune in to the designated radio station.  We tried singing a couple songs to see if they worked.  But eventually we just had to walk away.

Next we played “slide down the icy street in your boots”.  I didn’t think I could play at first – too much traction on the soles of my boots and safety consciousness in my heart.  When we found some slipperier ground, I timidly joined in the fun.  Next game: see if you can catch the super giant snowflakes on your tongue.

And for the grand finale of our stroll in the snowflakes, we thought it would be the most magical to walk through the woods near our house that are a part of a local park.  While we approached the park, I got out my cell phone so that we could listen to Wintersong while walking through the woods while living in our Minnesotan snowglobe.  What could be more magical than that, right?  

Then Tiffany saw this sign.  

Yup, you’ve read correctly.  The woods were CLOSED due to an archery tournament.  WHAT?!  Who has archery tournaments in the middle of the ‘burbs??  We weighed our options, and decided that the sorrow now in our hearts would be better than the pain of being shot by an arrow.  With heavy hearts we walked away.

We tried walking around a random tree on the side of the road while listening to the pretty music, but it just wasn’t the same.  

Then we went home.

We ate dinner.

We watched a Christmas movie.

I went to sleep and dreamed of candycanes, sugar plums, and future Christmas parties that I would actually get to attend.*

*those were not my real dreams.  but I wish they were.


Cupcake Camp

A couple of fun girls from church came over to learn all my secrets to a successful cupcake baking experience.  The real secret was that I don’t actually know what I am doing, and I just make it up and hope for the best!

We made these delicious cookie dough filled cupcakes, which naturally were from my favorite cupcake recipe provider: Annie’s Eats.  

Besides having being super fun to bake with and hang out with, cupcake day with Hilary and Kari had other perks too, such as wearing this awesome baker’s hat:

Please note the awesome hat and adorable rubber spatula: 2 keys to a successful baking experience

Here is some of the sage advice that I passed along to them, forever changing their baking lives.

  1. Cute cupcake liners are the key ingredient to any recipe.

    Exhibit A

  2. A little flour spill is nothing that can’t be overcome.

    Exhibit B

  3. If you are out of toothpicks and can’t do the traditional clean toothpick test to see if your cupcakes are done, touch the top of the cupcake.  If it springs back up, it is ready to come out of the oven.  If it is not done, you should bake it longer, plus it will eternally have a finger indentation in your dessert.
  4. 3 Tablespoons of milk really will do wonders to take your frosting from a substance that looks like clay, to a substance that looks like delicious frosting!

    Exhibit C

  5. Sharing is caring and fun.  Unless you are using your amazing new cupcake corer.  In that case, you should share, but then take it back as soon as possible to hoard all the fun for yourself.

    Exhibit D

  6. Hiding edible treasures will brighten anyone’s day.

    Exhibit E

  7. Cupcake insides that are surgically removed are definitely meant to be eaten before any baking project is finished.

    Exhibit F

  8. When in doubt, always double check the recipe.

    Exhibit G

  9. Fancy cupcakes are so much more fun when you tackle them with a friend.  Then your 4 hour baking project will only seem like 3 1/2 hours.  3 and 1/2 hours of laughs – not too shabby of a way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

    Exhibit H

  10. These cupcakes are delicious.  I would recommend them.  Time consuming, but pretty easy!

    Exhibit I

  11. Watch your friend’s face when they eat a cupcake from you.  Their face will light up with pure joy, and you will feel elated at your baking accomplishment.

Exhibit J

I had so much fun baking with you, girls!  I can’t wait to do it again sometime soon!!!  🙂

    Starsheep, babies, and cupcakes.

    This past weekend was the kind of weekend to write home about.  It was just that good.  It was filled with my favorite people and doing some amazing fun things.  Oh, how shall I even begin to recap?

    Friday = Baking Day.

    Steph and I threw a baby shower for our dear friend Sara on Saturday, so Friday was prep for that.  I’m fairly certain that Jesus knew I wouldn’t have time to accomplish everything I needed to and still sleep, so He arranged for my principal to allow us to work from home on Friday afternoon.

    *Disclaimer: we did not have kids at school on Friday – the afternoon was already slotted for report card prep.

    So in between entering grades, I made mini muffins (baking tip #1 – know how many a recipe makes.  This may prevent you from making 24 giant mini muffins instead of 36 actual mini muffins)

    I also baked Oreo Cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes.  I was excited to use my new adorable spatula and decorating dots from Jill and my decorating book from the sibs. 

    And I made use my own brilliance.  They were a hit!  Here are some photos of the epic success.  (Please humor me while I celebrate when this happens, because not all of my baking turns out brilliantly). 

    Saturday = Crazy Busy Day O’ Fun

    In the morning we had Sara’s baby shower.  It was so fun to celebrate with her, and also amazing to see friends I hadn’t seen in years.  I loved catching up with everyone so much!   My students were also excited to hear about the baby shower, and promptly requested a field trip to the hospital to visit my friend and her baby when the baby is born.  Don’t worry Sar – I asked, and none of them have a bus, so they accepted the crushing of their dreams with the answer of “no” to their field trip wish.

    Then Saturday night, my church had a film fest – it was incredibly fun.  People could form a team and then were given a two week window to make their 3-6 minute films.  Everyone was a assigned a genre, a mandatory prop: a hula hoop and a mandatory line: It’s like drinking from a firehose.

    After the premiere of all the films, awards were given.  It is the one time of year our church dresses up.  Personally, I made good use of my bridesmaid’s dress from my brother’s wedding.  It was the right choice.

    I must say I love attending church with so many ridiculous and creative people.  A lot of groups, including my roommate and some other friends of mine made really funny movies.  I think if you search 707 Film Fest on the internets (specifically youtube) you should find some of them posted for your enjoyment

    This by far my favorite: (before watching it, you should know that The City is an online platform for churches – similar to facebook, yet quite different – and that is where we sign up for events and get info on what is happening at the church etc)  (You should also know that you don’t need to be familiar with The City to enjoy)  (You should also know that this will not leave your head for weeks)  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  But you should still watch it.

    You should also know that afterwards I was able to meet several members of the band.  It was a real honor.  I got my starsheep poster autographed and have it hanging in my room.  

    Which brings us to Sunday.  The day of rest.  Thank goodness!

    Three Lauras, Pho, and an Elf

    On Saturday I had a Christmas cookie baking day with some new fun friends!  There are several things that made this delightful.

    #1 – Three of the four bakers were named Laura

    Really that should be enough to convince you it was wondrous… but I guess I could share a few more tidbits of happiness.

    #2 – They all seem to bake similarly to me: haphazardly.  It was brilliant.

    Exhibit A) Let’s microwave the premade dough.

    Exhibit B) Let’s crack an egg to mix it in – oh wait, the egg chosen was hardboiled.

    Exhibit C) Let’s take cookies off the tray, set them out to cool, only to discover that they are not done, so let’s put them back on the tray and re-bake them.  (In our defense, it is really hard to tell when cookies are done if they are green?)

    Exhibit D) Let’s drink incredible amounts of coffee and not eat any real food all day long.

    Exhibit E) Some of us One of us had never heard of almond bark before.  And it turns out it is not made from the bark of almonds.

    Exhibit F) “These will look so great after they bake!”  “Oh, these look worse after they are baked”

    Exhibit G) Saran Wrap.  The devil’s invention that we wrestled with to cover the plates at the end.  It was a true test of our friendship.  After we got a good system down we tried to show off to the Lauras.  Fail.  Cookies started falling off the plates with every move we made.

    Take that and add in a lot of ridiculous conversation, a common love to travel, attempting to use new nicknames to distinguish between Lauras, and you get a magical day of baking, a magical day that never ended.  Our baking went almost twice as long as it was meant to.  But it is ok, because we had way more than twice the fun.

    Afterwards we went out for pho at a dodgy hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant in Minneapolis.  It was absolutely delicious.  And yes, with our dinner we drank more coffee.  Vietnamese coffee is basically shots of espresso with sweet and condensed milk.  The glass was sitting in a bowl of hot water to keep the coffee warm.  It was basically like drinking warm coffee ice cream.

    And afterwards, naturally went to church to watch Elf

    and hung out with Buddy and Santa afterwards.

    All in all I would give the day 2 thumbs up.  If I had more thumbs, I would put them up as well.

    Hello, Christmas.

    Last weekend was all about decorating for Christmas.  First my roommate and I decorated our place.  She put up four Christmas trees in the time it took for me to put up one.  But I will say that my tree could eat her trees. It is always so fun putting the ornaments on the tree and remembering putting up these same ornaments as a child, and remembering where some of them came from.  My parents got us a new ornament each year, and now as adults, we have enough ornaments to decorate a tree!  My grandpa used to make us an ornament each year too – it is fun to put them on the tree and remember what a great man he was, and look forward to seeing him again in heaven someday.  Sunday a bunch of us stayed after the church service to bring Christmas festivity to Hope!  I am pretty sure that we inherited the Christmas decorations from the church that met in our building before we did.  There are some really special things in those storage bins: dozens of little red cardinals in golden nests and little gold french horns and violins.  Needless to say, we do not use all of our available options.  We go for a simpler more classic Christmas look.  And we learned from last year and recruited newbies to wrestle the giant wreath of death onto the wall.  Yet some people, I won’t name names, thought we should go for a more “creative” Christmas approach.  Enjoy some pictures of Christmas decorating.

    Now that all the decorating is done… I am on to Christmas celebrating!  Cookie baking, elf watching, santa visiting, and ice skating will now commence!

    Sunday School Moments

    1) The worship band was playing in the sanctuary which is located directly above my Sunday School room.  A little 5 yr old girl who’s family was visiting said: “When will the music stop?  The bass is so loud!”

    2) Me saying “I had a birthday this week and am now very old.”  A little girl replies “Are you going to need a cane soon?”

    3) Children are playing charades acting out ways they can be a helper.  One child guesses: “Did you make a hole in the wall and now you are fixing it because you weren’t supposed to make a whole and your mom isn’t very happy?”

    Unrelated to Sunday school, but related to real school – I realized I have a student who is most definitely named after (with a slight variation) Celine Dion.  This made me very happy.