Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Love Is Sweet

One of my closest friends, Bridget, was married to her best friend Jay this past June. During an extremely hot ‘first day of summer’ in rural Manitoba, they pledged their commitment to each other in front of their closest friends and family. It was a perfect summer wedding—outdoor ceremony with lawn games and iced tea before the tented BBQ style reception. The property where the wedding took place simply blew my mind—the house was the epitome of Pinterest gorgeousness and the yard had enough various landscaping areas to create nothing but flawless pictures. 

The lovely couple was married on top of a bridge with a heart shaped pond under them, iced tea was served in mason jars with chalkboard labels so you could keep your glass all night, and custom printed wine bottles and uniquely potted succulents created a simple focus at each table. This picture-perfect outdoors summer wedding was exactly what the bride and groom wanted and they couldn’t feel more joyful in how everything worked out.

As favours for the wedding, and as for snacks for guests between the ceremony and reception, Bridget requested a Cookie Bar! As a lady who loves to bake I couldn’t help but say yes and immediately start to brainstorm cookie flavours and set up options. One of the reasons it was cookie bar, and not something more generic like a candy bar, has a lot to do with Bridget and Jays relationship. Since the beginning of their relationship, Bridget has always baked Jay chocolate chip cookies for his lunch kit. Every week she would make a big batch and by the end of the week they were always all gone! To this very day, Bridget still bakes Jay chocolate chip cookies every week. It’s such a cute story so it’s no surprise cookies were going to be a feature!

For the guests to enjoy and take home were over 6oo cookies with the appropriately named Jays Chocolate Chip being the main attraction (and largest cookie jar!). The classic chocolate chip cookie was joined on the table with Ginger Crinkles, heart-shaped Sugar cookies filled with sprinkles, Peanut Butter cookies, Oreo Chocolate Chip cookies and Lemon Coconut Crinkles. It was so fun to bake such an exciting variety specifically picked to please the taste of every sweet tooth in attendance. The cookie bags themselves were incredible adorable—hand stamped with the name of the happy couple, their wedding date and the extremely fitting sentiment of ‘Love is Sweet’. The great thing about the stamp, it can be used for Thank-You cards!

The Cookie Bar featured hand-painted signs letting guests know it’s a cookie bar and, of course, “All you need is Love… and a few cookies!” Decorated with heart sprinkles, dashes of coconut, lemon slices in one jar and chocolate chips in another, and vintage crates for visual interest. All the cookie jars were decorated with lace-tape around them (so much harder to put on than you would expect—just ask a fellow bridesmaid and I) and hand-written chalkboard labels. Of course, a frame with the story of Jays Chocolate Chip Cookie was there for guests to read to explain the cookie bar and share a little insight into one of the couple’s special moments.

Seeing folks enjoying the cookies was like icing on the cake to an already flawless wedding day for one of my best friends. It was an honour to be in her bridal party, give the ‘toast to the bride’, and contribute to her special day using one of my passions. I pray for their growing love to be as perfect as freshly baked chocolate chip cookies- soft and sweet on the inside when they share their intimate moments together and crisp on the outside, to shelter their love from the harshness of the world and to keep each other safe and strong.

*All images courtesy of the always gorgeous Steph Schulz Photography

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Filling the Expectation Gap

The expectation gap can simply be defined as the gap between what we expect to happen, and what actually occurs. The gap between what we expect to happen and what actually happens is a space we easily fill, often without giving it a second thought. Our minds immediately start racing as soon as an expected outcome doesn’t occur; “What happened?”, “Where are they?”, “What are they doing?”… The list of questions can be endless, and will vary from situation to situation. While this gap naturally occurs when an expected outcome doesn't come to life, the emotions you choose to fill the gap with is really the important thing.

When I lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, my wonderful husband, some awesome friends, and I attended Oasis Community Church. To this day I don’t know if I’ve been involved in another church that was exactly what I needed the way Oasis was. The messages were easy to understand, practical to apply, and scripture was always backed up with perspective on culture and life in general when it was written thousands of years ago. Context was always given and to this day, that is something I always both appreciate and seek out in a message I am listening to.

During a series on Marriage at Oasis, Dustin (the awesome pastor) had given a message on Expectations. Oh boy, was it a good one! This message stuck with me and is something I wouldn’t say I think about regularly, but when I start to fill my expectation gap with negative thinking, the words which were spoken pop into my head and I snap myself out of it-- I remove the negative thinking and replace it with positive.

Bridget and I at her wedding. Photos by the
always gorgeous Steph Schulz Photography.
One of my closest friends was married this past June and I was honoured to be a bridesmaid and give the ‘Toast to the Bride”. My beautiful bride of a friend and her husband both attend and volunteer at Oasis—the same church I attended when I was living in Winnipeg. When Dustin spoke during the ceremony, his main message was about filling the expectation gap.

I found this to be extremely amazing for a few reasons;
  1. It’s a great message and one I am reminded of as I go about life.
  2. It’s applicable in all relationships from business relationships with co-workers, to relationships with friends, family and especially the marriage relationship.
  3. I had recently chatted with one of my best friends about the very same topic!  
We all have expectations. Even those who say they don’t expect anything are still expecting nothing! When you expect something, it can be quite the alarming experience when your expectation isn’t met. Let’s create an example to help you understand more clearly…

Say your significant other says they are going to be home at a certain time. You clean up the place, make dinner, and are ready and anxiously awaiting their arrival. Their expected arrival time comes and goes and you are left waiting. Perhaps you send a text inquiring for a new ETA and you don’t hear back.

What’s your reaction? How do you fill the gap now left between the expectation and reality?

Often, an immediate reaction is to fill it with something negative:
‘They must be working late and didn’t think of telling me”
“They went out not caring to let me know or invite me”
The list of negative gap fillers can go on and on and get even more negative and disrespectful. Now that you have this negative mindset, when your significant other comes home your mood is sour, your mind is still spinning all these elaborate stories of things that could have happened, and you feel betrayed and alone.

No matter what the real reason of the unmet expectation, your negative mindset is already setting the other person up to fail in your eyes. They can say ‘Sorry I got caught up in the office and my phone died so I couldn’t text you.”, “Crazy traffic today!”, “I gave so-and-so a ride home after work.”  Even though all these responses are completely legitimate reasons, they can be viewed as “yea, whatever” reasons to you, because in your mind, the dish already ran away with the spoon and you’re the fork no one wants feeling left out of the information loop.

What would happen if you filled the same expectation gap with positivity?
“Traffic could be really bad right now”
“Their phone is always dying and they probably just can’t text me to tell me what’s up”
“I’ve been leaving hints about wanting flowers lately, maybe they are out getting me some!” (the last one is how I often fill my gap hehehe). 
Even thinking a simple “I trust my significant other, they love and respect me, I know everything is all good” is enough to leave you feeling positive even though your expectations aren’t being met, and won’t leave you in a bitter mood for when they do arrive home.

Dustin used some funny examples during the ceremony—one was of Bridget perhaps going on a shopping spree and Jay not knowing why. Another was of Jay coming from work late and Bridget not knowing why. Before you assume the negative, expect the positive, and be open to conversation to find out what really happened.

Too often this negative mind-set so easily fills our thoughts, and the positive doesn’t even get a chance to sneak in. When things are weird at work the gap can be filled with thoughts of getting fired or everyone talking about you behind your back; when things don’t go as expected with friendships thoughts of jealousy or envy can creep in; in your closest relationships, those negative thoughts can spread out into every part of your daily living. Who knows, perhaps the other party involved in meeting your expectation had no idea an expectation even existed (which can be common—especially in new relationships!)!

Let’s all vow to fill the expectation gap with the positive. It’s good for you, for your relationships, and you’ll actually feel the difference in your actions, your decisions and your responses. Next time you notice a negative thought creep in when your expectations aren’t met, fill it with the positive and make a note to talk to the other party about your expectations and why they weren’t met.  Communication is so important and will make you realize you probably had no reason to worry and be negative in the first place!

Thanks Pinterest!

When have you filled the expectation gap with negative thoughts? Did you see how the negativity flowed into your interactions and mood for the rest of the day? When have you filled the gap with the positive, and have you felt the difference? Positivity for the win!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cupcakes for Change

Remember that time I gushed about how much I love cupcakes? I had baked up some cupcakes for the Live Different Academy graduation and I pretty much went on for a solid paragraph about the epic awesomeness that are cupcakes. I then went on to mention how you shouldn’t get me started on MINI cupcakes…

Well...Sorry… (kinda)

Mini Cupcakes?! Unreal! The cuteness factor meter is through the roof when it comes to mini cupcakes. It’s all the best parts of a cupcake, but smaller, which makes it better. Compact cuteness, diminutive deliciousness, petite and pretty; It’s everything good in one—without making you feel guilty because you just ate a cupcake (even if their teensy size means you just ate six of them).

A new establishment opened in Hamilton called 541. It’s an Eatery & Exchange and it’s absolutely lovely. I know I use the word lovely a lot but when we look at the definition of lovely, there is no better word to describe how splendid this place is.

1.charmingly or exquisitely beautiful: a lovely flower.  
2.having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye, as a person or a face.
3.delightful; highly pleasing: to have a lovely time. 
4.of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.

In their own words, “We are an eatery; offering fresh, homemade meals and baked goods in the heart of Hamilton. We are a place of exchange; where ideas are shared and where people can engage with one another.”

If this concept of delicious meals and meaningful connections doesn’t convince you about how great of a place this is, let me tell you my favourite part...

541 has ‘buttons’
Allow me to explain. The area of Hamilton 541 chose to set up in was intentional. They went into a neighborhood that needed love and light, and set up with a purpose. While you are paying for your incredibly priced goods you are provided with the amazing opportunity to purchase a button from the 'Button Bank'. The purchased buttons then go into a separate 'Pay-It-Forward' jar where those who don’t have enough money can grab a button and use it towards the cost of their beverage or meal. 

This is phenomenal for a few reasons; the first being it’s such a tangible way to show love to those in your community that allows individuals to stay in their comfort zone. It’s a nice ‘introductory step’ to changing your community without getting really personal-- all you do is buy a button and put it into the jar. Second, it provides those who wouldn’t normally consider themselves welcome in a place so nice the warmest invitation to step inside and enjoy the hand-crafted café-standard beverages and belly-warming food, and gives them a sense of value  and respect. The value and respect which would come from being able to pay for a meal yourself, especially if it is something you are usually unable to do, is something I can’t even imagine. Too often we look at those who aren’t as well off as us through a lens that lacks the same respect we would give to someone who is doing better than us. Everyone deserves the same respect—especially when it comes to how we can serve and show care.

As an exchange, 541 recently hosted an art gallery evening. The public came out to an evening of delicious bite-sized eats, refreshments and viewing art created with a purpose. For this evening I contributed a last-minute batch of mini cupcakes. At the time my wonderful husband and I were living with another couple, and the lady of the unit is a talented photographer who took pictures of the evenings events. She snapped a few photos of the cupcakes in all their adorableness and I was happy to hear they were well received by those in attendance (I couldn’t attend as it was past my bedtime-- 2am wake up comes early!).

These cupcakes were from-scratch Funfetti, topped with decadent chocolate and vanilla swirl buttercream. I figured funfetti was the best option—first as we are celebrating such an extraordinary establishment, and second, why make people choose between chocolate and vanilla frosting? Give ‘em both!

I am so grateful for Meag’s willingness to take photos and her ability to capture their cuteness. I am grateful for 541 and how they are giving dignity and respect to those who need it most, and providing a tangible way for individuals to help their community. I am grateful for opportunities to use my skills to help others—even when that skill is baking cupcakes.

I encourage you to seek out the do-gooders of your community and help out in any way you can. Who knows, maybe your version of 541 is a few doors down just waiting for you to discover it, and I bet they could find use for your skills to make your community a better place.