Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Things I Learned in June and July

I learned all kinds of interesting things this summer--today I'm linking up with Chatting at the Sky to share my random tidbits :)

1. Pink lemons actually exist. 
I always assumed that "pink lemonade" was colored either by berries (berry lemonade has been a love of mine ever since the late 1990s...Snapple broke my heart when they discontinued the flavor) or by good old Red 40. But it turns out, lemons come in pink varieties! As usual, it was Smitten Kitchen who opened my eyes to this surprising delight.

2. Alcoholics Anonymous isn't evidence-based treatment.
Until I read this eye-opening article in The Atlantic, I took for granted the common teaching about addiction: the only way to be free is to quit cold-turkey and never, ever have a sip of alcohol again. As it turns out, more than a few mental health experts are questioning the prevailing wisdom. Studies don't really support the dogmatic assertions of AA, and many care providers have found other methods to be more effective for helping alcoholics turn their lives around. 

3. An "array" can refer to an orderly arrangement in rows and columns. 
It isn't often that my husband schools me on vocabulary words :) This one came up at dinner one night when discussing the boys' latest memory verse. We've spent the summer learning Revelation 19:11-16 and 21:1-6, and have worked out a system that seems helpful for our family: I practice the memory work with the boys at breakfast, and then at dinner, they tell Daddy what they worked on, and he helps them understand what it means. One night we were discussing Revelation 19:14: "And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses." I had assumed it was referring to the armies' being "dressed" in fine linen, with "arrayed" used as a synonym for "dressed." But Steve saw the word "arrayed" near the word "armies" and immediately thought of the term "array" as "an arrangement in rows and columns." In context, I think it's probably the former definition, but I learned something new, since I had no idea the word "array" indicated such a specific arrangement.

4. Alfredo is the Italian equivalent of buttered toast or saltine crackers.
Alfredo sauce won't be found on a menu in Italy, except at restaurants that cater to naive tourists.
According to this article I stumbled across, you won't find "fettuccine alfredo" on a menu in Italy any more than you'd find "saltine crackers and ginger ale" or "buttered toast" on a menu in the U.S. Because that's essentially what pasta alfredo is to the Italians: an incredibly basic food that your mother might make when you have an upset stomach, but not something you'd ever order in a restaurant. The Italian version, called "pasta al burro" (pasta with butter) or "pasta in bianco" (white pasta), is plain pasta with some butter and Parmesan to dress it up just a little. It has since been Americanized, with copious amounts of heavy cream, but it is not an authentic Italian dish. Neither, for that matter, is spaghetti and meatballs (Italians eat both, but not in the same course, much less mixed together in the same dish).

5. Duolingo is a fun, addictive (and free!) app for learning a new language. 
Speaking of Italy...! I admit this method of language-learning is way outside my ordered, linear-thinking box (I keep wanting a list of verb conjugations, or wanting to ask WHY you use this word and not the other), but I suspect in some ways it's more effective. At any rate, I'm having fun trying to learn enough Italian to get by! And it's not even one of those "free" apps that tries at every turn to get you to purchase extras. Just fun and game-like. I've actually thought about getting Elijah started with Spanish, since it's supposedly so much easier for kids to learn new languages. FYI, there's also a web-based version, so you don't have to have a smartphone to try it out.

6. A horrifying number of Africans were enslaved and brought to the Americas during the 16th-19th centuries, though most did not end up in the United States.
During the slave trade from the 1500s-1800s, more than 10 million Africans were brought to the Western Hemisphere, but fewer than 4 percent came to North America. Most went to the Caribbean and Brazil. This animated map provides a stunning picture of the way Africa was plundered.

7. Growing peaches is a fascinating combination of science and art. 
We've been buying big half-bushel boxes from The Peach Truck every summer for the last few years. I also follow their gorgeous Instagram account (and the story of how they got started is charming). Earlier this summer they shared an interview with the owner of Pearson Farm, where the peaches come from, and it was full of interesting information about how the fruit is grown. The farm is in Fort Valley, Georgia, where about 95% of Georgia peaches are produced. They prune the trees "to look like a hand, palm up, holding a softball." And after the trees blossom and begin producing 2500-3000 peaches each, pruners return in April to thin the fruit to about 500 peaches per tree. For the record, their results speak for themselves. We eat our weight in Pearson peaches during the few weeks they are available!

8. The peregrine falcon is the world's fastest animal. 
It's not the cheetah, as you might expect. Peregrine falcons are far faster, achieving dive speeds over 200MPH. Though, to be fair, they're going that fast in a freefall, not by flapping their wings or sprinting. But then again, as Steve pointed out, if you can freefall that quickly and yet be in control and not kill yourself, it's still pretty impressive. The boys and I learned about peregrine falcons and several other birds at this year's animal show at the library.

9. Rit color remover can save a ruined white sweater. 
A couple of months ago, my white cardigan somehow ended up with large, bright green ink spots on it. I tried all the usual remedies (hairspray, straight rubbing alcohol, OxiClean) all to no avail--the ink faded to a light blue, but the sweater was still ruined. I was about to try bleach as a last resort, or if that failed, just dye the sweater black. But then I found Rit color remover at JoAnn. And (for less than $2!) it worked! My beloved sweater was rescued and looks good as new.

What have you learned this summer?

Monday, August 03, 2015

Is Messy More Real?

When a friend of mine visited last week, I welcomed her into my cluttered house, its floors badly in need of vacuuming, by saying, "I'm not even going to apologize for the mess--this is just what it looks like at my house. I'm keeping it real."

That was the truth, and it's good as far as it goes: Let's be honest about our messes, instead of putting on a front. But while my desire is to be authentic and encourage others not to fake it, I sometimes forget that this mindset can also carry a frustrating subliminal message. If "messy is authentic," then "you're only real and authentic if you're a mess." And is THAT the truth?

I don’t want my friend to clean frantically before I come over; I want her to remember that I’m interested in seeing her, not her house! But so often, it doesn’t stop there. My healthy perspective morphs swiftly:

“I want your house to be messy because it will make me feel better about my own messy house.”
“If your house is clean, I feel threatened, inferior.”
“If your house is clean, I’m afraid you will judge me.”
“If your house is clean, I will preemptively judge you for being fake and trying too hard.”

How do we break out of this gross whirlwind of comparison and competition? I'm asking and attempting to answer such questions today over at Ungrind. Click over to read my thoughts on "Chasing a Standard We Can Meet."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Multitude Monday, Take 352

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
—G. K. Chesterton 

Thanking God this week for...

7436. a morning of rich conversation with a friend, much-needed fellowship
7437. being awake to beauty on the drive across rural Kentucky

7438. s'mores snack mix
7439. Elijah's missing watch finally found
7440. the way talking with Steve sharpens my thinking

7441. a gift card from friends = free dinner out
7442. Pad Thai at Pei Wei, shared with Steve, eaten with chopsticks
7443. a big box from The Peach Truck

7444. a friend's courage to be honest about her PPD struggles and ask for help
7445. leisurely mornings of reading and snuggling with the boys

7446. early morning prayer with a friend
7447. her asking me hard questions
7448. her encouragement, affirming how God has gifted me
7449. a friend here to borrow cloth diapers and chat about parenting
7450. much-needed new light fixtures in the dining room and kitchen

7451. a friend's humility and sensitivity
7452. a hopeless stain coming out of my white cardigan
7453. fresh sliced peaches in oatmeal, on pancakes, in leftover pie crust, eaten deliciously plain

7454. prayer with women from church
7455. Sara Hagerty's memoir resonating deeply and prompting me to rethink how I view God and life
7456. her lovely, praise-filled Instagram feed
7457. breaking through my massive unexplained funk
7458. a playlist of worship music to reorient my heart

7459. grace to desire to serve my family and bless them with food they love
7460. first tomato pie of the year
7461. Steve's tenacious love when I am unlovable
7462. free Dairy Queen treats from the library's summer reading program

7463. a friend's baby's crazy mohawk
7464. snuggles with a sweet two-year-old girl in the nursery
7465. promising to hold the wicked accountable for their plunder, bloodshed, injustice
7466. promising to flood the earth with the knowledge of His glory
7467. the terrible beauty of Selma

7468. weeping with His people
7469. fallen crepe myrtle blooms

7470. a giant pile of packages on the porch
7471. patiently condescending to hear His servants' complaints

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tomato Pie: The Holy Grail of Summer Recipes

Every summer I rekindle my obsession with this crazy thing called tomato pie. Tomato WHAT? you might be saying. I had never heard of it until a few years ago either, and it took me two years after printing the recipe to finally give it a whirl. But Oh. My. YUM. You are about to make the most glorious culinary discovery. I am so excited for you.

It is with great anticipation that I wait for tomatoes to show up at the farmers' market, that I wait for them to get good and ripe. Part of me dreads the work it will take and the mess it will make, because I'm not gonna lie, this pie is a bit of a diva. It's not for the beginner cook or the faint of heart. If you make your crust from scratch, you will be in the kitchen for hours. HOURS, at the end of which it may look something like this:

But then you will sit down to this:

 ...and you will know what summer tastes like, and you will not regret a single dirty bowl.

First things first: Don't even think about attempting this with underripe tomatoes. And don't even mention this pie in the same breath as grocery store "tomatoes." You need them good and ripe. Add in some bacon (because duh, BACON), sweet Vidalia onions, and cheese--lots of cheese. You're drooling already, aren't you? Here we go:

Double Crust Tomato Pie
(adapted from Home-Ec 101)

1 recipe double pie crust (come on, if I can do it, anyone can--see below)
3 lbs very ripe tomatoes
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I use half cheddar, half mozzarella or Monterey Jack)
3-6 slices bacon (more or less depending on how thick it is)
3 TBSP mayonnaise (supposedly you can also use cream cheese, but don't use light mayo)
dried basil


1. Cook bacon. FYI, if you didn't already know this, you want to do that bacon in the oven, not on the stovetop where you have to flip it and get spattered with hot grease. And you want to cook it on this pan. Best bacon you have tasted in your life, forever and ever, amen. 400 degrees, 20-25 minutes. (If you want to cook all the bacon, and snack on the extra while you cook, I won't tell anyone you only needed three slices for the pie.) Turn the oven to 425* to preheat for the pie.

2. Get those onions started. You don't *have* to pre-cook them; you could just slice them super, super thin (the original recipe makes me laugh: "No, thinner. No, thinner still, we want the Calista Flockhart onions.") --but sometimes they still turn out slightly crunchy. I like to cook them, because why not, the whole recipe is a pain and makes a ton of dishes anyway, what's one more--and because caramelized onions. These take quite a while, and you have to keep an eye on them--you don't want them to burn. (It would make sense to start them first, but if you wait until the bacon is done, you can caramelize them in bacon grease instead of plain old butter. Just saying.)

So, slice up the onion and throw it in a pan with a tablespoon or two of fat on medium heat. Stir occasionally, turning the heat down and/or adding more fat if they start to turn more dark brown/black instead of golden brown. Saute for about 45 minutes or until they look something like the bottom right picture (keep in mind I am no food photographer):


3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core tomatoes and cut an X in the bottom of each one. Boil tomatoes for one minute or until skin loosens and begins to peel away. Remove tomatoes and place in cold water. 

4. Slice tomatoes, scooping away some of the seeds so they aren't quite so wet, and place them in a colander over a large bowl. Sprinkle them with salt (and pepper, if you like pepper--I don't) and allow them to sit and drain while you prepare the other ingredients. 

5. In a medium bowl, mix together the cheese, mayo, and crumbled bacon. 

6. Lay the bottom pie crust in a 9" pie plate. Cover the bottom with a layer of tomatoes, then spread half the caramelized onions over the pie (you'll have to use your fingers to separate them and spread them out). Sprinkle with dried basil (the original calls for 1/2 tsp; I don't measure and probably use more).

7. Create another layer with the remaining tomatoes, the rest of the onion, and more basil.

8. Spread cheese mixture over the top.

9. Lay the second pie crust over the top. Seal the edges and cut slits in the top. (You'll probably want to put something underneath the pie pan in the oven, in case it bubbles over.)

10. Go ahead and make a foil shield now, since you'll probably need one and it's much easier to do when the pan isn't too hot to touch. Bake for 45 minutes at 425 degrees. Check the pie after 30 minutes--if the crust is browning, cover the edges with the shield.


11. Let the pie set for at least 15 minutes before slicing so it won't be quite so runny.


Pie Crust
I don't claim to be an expert on this, and I don't even care much for pie crust, if we're being honest. But this recipe has worked better for me than the one or two others that I've tried, and I think it makes a pretty tasty crust, even if I still do give the end to my kids. The recipe comes from my friend Mandy--she and her husband were the first to invite us over for dinner when we were new at church, and she served us a fudge pie that was absolutely delicious--so much so that I asked for this crust recipe, since I enjoyed her crust more than any other I had tasted. 

I also have found that it works quite well with white whole wheat flour, if you're trying to be a little healthier and avoid white flour. 

Without further ado...

2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
2 T sugar
1/2 c. shortening, chilled (I use Spectrum's non-hydrogenated shortening)
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/4" pieces
6-10 T ice water

Pie crust requires planning ahead--you have to chill the shortening and then chill the crust. So start early in the day (or even a day or two before).

Combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. (You can absolutely do this by hand with a pastry blender, but a food processor makes it SO much easier.) Add shortening and process until the mixture is the texture of coarse sand (about 10 seconds). Scatter the pieces of butter over the flour mixture and cut the butter into the flour until the texture is coarse crumbs, with butter pieces no larger than small peas (Mandy suggests doing this in 10 or so one-second pulses). 

Turn the mixture into a large bowl and sprinkle 6 T ice water over it. Use a rubber spatula to fold the dough until it sticks together. Add up to 4 T more water if it will not stick. You can use your hands, too, but try not to get the dough warm. 

Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each into a 4-6" disk. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour (I stick them in the freezer for a while to make them really cold). 

I can't offer any tips on rolling the dough out or pinching the crust; I am terrible at that part. For tips and tricks, I'll refer you to Smitten Kitchen's pie crust tutorial.

Tomato pie. Now you know. Your family will love you forever. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Multitude Monday, Take 351

"Gratitude is the proper response to an abundance of gifts. Gratitude is the posture of the soul that most readily increases receptivity. Gratitude demands humility, since only those who acknowledge their dependence, their need, and their delight in the goodness and kindness of another can be grateful. Give thanks always and for everything. And be specific."  
--Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth

Thanking God this week for...

7407. encouragement that the Spirit is at work in me in the midst of ongoing struggles
7408. Hallmark recordable storybooks--my dad's voice reading The Little Engine That Could to Jude
7409. The Valley of Vision prayer book
7410. friends inviting us to swim at the Y as guests under their membership
7411. time to relax in the water and chat while our kids splashed

7412. my boys' healthy teeth
7413. Google Earth enabling me to see my friend's new home
7414. Steve's incredible example of being gracious and assigning positive intent with impossibly ridiculous colleagues
7415. a sweet note from a beloved former professor
7416. unwanted items sold locally on VarageSale

7417. He hears and answers "at the beginning of [our] pleas for mercy" (Daniel 9:23)
7418. I can plead not because of my righteousness but because of His great mercy
7419. purple hydrangeas on my phone wallpaper, courtesy of BHG's Instagram feed
7420. a prompt check from our travel agent to cover the cost of her mistake
7421. a phone conversation to catch up with my college roommate

7422. Elijah coming to the dinner table: "Roasted broccoli! YEAH!!"
7423. boys splashing in a kiddie wading pool
7424. His promises to redeem us from our spiritual adultery
7425. His steadfast love and relentless mercy
7426. free fast food from the summer reading program at the library

7427. the sweet and obviously skilled tailor who is fitting Steve's suit for his brother's wedding
7428. family pizza and movie night
7429. His tender compassion toward His wayward children
7430. Steve and the boys washing our cars

7431. a shared pint of Sea Salt Caramel Truffle ice cream for National Ice Cream Day
7432. evening yoga to work and stretch sore muscles
7433. loads of fresh produce from the farmers' market
7434. generous, unexpected thank-you gift from church friends Steve helped
7435. amazing homemade pizza

Monday, July 13, 2015

Multitude Monday, Take 350

"So if you are awash in a sea of God's gifts, dive in and savor them. Relish all there is to relish in them as a means of expanding your mind and heart to know God more deeply. Receive God's gifts gladly, give thanks for them, and then be as generous with others as God has been with you."
--Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth

Thanking God the last few weeks for gifts like...

7355. long daylight hours
7356. air conditioning
7357. the perspective that fasting brings
7358. exposure of my heart and its disordered appetites
7359. Steve's endless patience and gentleness

7360. the boys' first experience of the symphony: Pixar in Concert

7361. the way music can evoke emotion so powerfully
7362. access to it and the means to expose our boys to it
7363. Saturday morning prayer, coffee and conversation with a dear friend
7364. our church's culture of celebrating life, throwing showers for fifth babies
7365. having to help the boys choose gratitude over whining --> good for my own attitude

7366. a family hike at Radnor Lake

7367. heavy but really good conversations with Steve
7368. blackberry picking

7369. Elijah's voracious reading
7370. gorgeous clouds at sundown

7371. a zoo visit with friends
7372. the adventure of getting caught in a downpour

7373. rain was better than sweltering heat!
7374. a friend's powerful example of loving her neighbor sacrificially
7375. clouded leopard cubs

7376. a decade of marriage to the man of my dreams
7377. a big fancy dinner at home with the boys for our anniversary
7378. first sweet corn of the summer
7379. Jude's face when he saw I'd bought some

7380. Airbnb
7381. first tomatoes of the summer
7382. a family bike ride on the greenway to see fireworks + avoid the traffic

7383. glow sticks from the dollar store
7384. Elijah's excitement about Sunday school, loving his teacher
7385. Jude singing the doxology terribly off-key

7386. an afternoon spent with a family from church
7387. crepe myrtles beginning to bloom
7388. the capacity to learn a new language
7389. His promises to tenderly shepherd us
7390. the wise and loving earthly shepherds He has provided to us at our church

7391. a friend's support and encouragement in efforts to get healthier
7392. a new blue skirt
7393. a friend's husband getting baptized
7394. zinnias from the farmers' market
7395. 18 years of walking with Him

7396. the fact that my biggest problem last week was ruined vacation plans
7397. grace to remain calm and not get angry with our travel agent
7398. evidence of the Spirit growing me: I felt more empathy than judgment for her mistake
7399. we didn't lose any money in the whole debacle
7400. grace to process my emotions in light of Truth and His steadfast love

7401. our pastors, who reflect the Good Shepherd as they care for our souls
7402. finding out I had $20 in credit from consignment sales at the bookstore
7403. blueberry cake
7404. boys eager to be Mama's helpers

7405. lunch and time to catch up with friends
7406. a High Priest who can sympathize with my weakness and extends mercy & grace

Monday, June 08, 2015

Multitude Monday, Take 349

"...keep your eyes open, your heart broken,
and the words thank you always on the edge of your tongue."

Thanking God this week for...

7332. Vacation Bible School mornings
7333. Steve's healthy view of his job--not having his identity tied up in his work
7334. supper salads
7335. hydrangeas blooming in the neighborhood
7336. the privilege of spending a morning studying Scripture

7337. our turn to be family of the week on our church's prayer list
7338. being able to go to Wednesday night prayer meeting since school is out
7339. the beautiful, earnest prayers of brothers and sisters
7340. hearing them pray for our family
7341. time to chat with our pastor afterward

7342. boys sitting and reading with me first thing in the morning
7343. friends coming over after VBS
7344. an encouraging note from a friend
7345. double-batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam
7346. opportunity to serve a friend by babysitting her boys before VBS one day

7347. houseful of boys, having fun and playing together
7348. a friend babysitting so Steve and I could go to a work party
7349. her loving me and my boys enough to share helpful insights
7350. the fact that I can serve Jesus by cleaning a bathroom
7351. my parents' enduring marriage, 35 years strong

7352. fantastic discussion in our women's Sunday school class on Colossians
7353. inviting us to "continue steadfastly in prayer"--the fact that we are never bothering Him, but He delights to have us continually in conversation with Him
7354. friends around the dinner table on Sunday night

Friday, June 05, 2015

May Gifts and Instagrams

Somehow I didn't manage to put up a Monday gratitude post for the entire month of May. Thought I would just hit the highlights plus a few photos from Instagram--this month, I've been thanking God for...

7285. a family bike ride on the Bicentennial Trail

7286. Jude bringing me a clematis bloom from the backyard
7287. eight children sponsored through our church on Compassion Sunday
7288. fresh strawberries
7289. boys wanting to make their own thankful lists

7290. peonies

7291. a Mother's Day coupon for 26 kisses

7292. Pampered Chef warranties

7293. the forgiving cut of a maxi dress
7294. field trip with Elijah

7295.  Steve taking care of me when I was sick
7296. Jude being an unbelievable champ when I was sick, requiring almost nothing of me
7297. indoor plumbing
7298. bleach wipes
7299. feeling human again

7300. strawberry shortcake for supper

7301. the pleasure of watching all three of my guys devour it and delight in it
7302. tiny gingko leaves, new growth on the ends of branches

7303. grace to say no to my flesh
7304. dry shampoo

7305. fresh lettuce from the garden
7306. the privilege of watching a sweet girl grow up over the last 4-5 years and celebrate her high school graduation

7307. so very much evidence of God's grace at work in her
7308. her radiant smile, feeling of accomplishment
7309. antibiotics

7310. a gallery wall in my dining room! finally!!
7311. magnolia blooms
7312. their lovely scent when you walk by a tree
7313. this amazing, forthright call to the church by Jen Wilkin
7314. Jude yelling outside: "BIRD! HEY BIRD! THERE'S A WORM OVER THERE!"

7315. Christy Nockels' new worship album
7316. visit from Steve's family
7317. the privilege of speaking to a small group of women on Psalm 63 and finding satisfaction in God
7318. my dear friend's generous hospitality
7319. other women's wonderful insights in our Sunday school class, seeing things I hadn't thought about

7320. nursery duty = rocking a sweet towheaded 2yo for an hour while he slept on my chest
7321. the way fresh eyes cause you to notice things you've passed a hundred times but never seen
7322. God's compassion toward rebels
7323. no school = no early alarm for the boys = extra morning quiet time for me
7324. rhubarb from my in-laws

7325. spider plant babies from my mother-in-law

7326. gorgeous deep orangey-red lilies lining a friend's front porch
7327. a friend sharing her heart and painful struggles
7328. opportunity to pray with and for her
7329. the way Jesus is so beautiful in her in the midst of her suffering

7330. visit from old friends
7331. kids pretending to jump and dance like Newsies 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Things I Learned in May

I can't believe I haven't written a single blog post since last month's "Things I Learned" post. Anyway...

1. Immigration is not like Disneyland. 
I don't have a lot of strong or well-informed opinions about immigration. It's just not something I've researched enough to understand. I would say, however, that I probably had something like the mindset Bronwyn Lea describes: "If they want to move to the U.S., they should do it legally and just get in line." Her personal essay, picked up by HuffPo, was eye-opening. A few startling insights:
I would love to be the holder of a green card -- that elusive piece of paper which would grant me the right to remain in the U.S. indefinitely -- but as it is, I don't and can't qualify. There is not a single category under which I can legally apply for permanent residence.

...there are very few categories under which one can apply for permanent residence, and unless your employer is sponsoring you or you are marrying in, you have to be a bit of an ├╝ber-mensch (as in, a scholar of international standing, a Pulitzer prize winner, an Olympic athlete, to name some of the examples listed on the website) to qualify.

...What I want you to know is that there is no line. Immigration is not like Disneyland, where if you pay enough money and queue patiently for several hours, anyone can ride Space Mountain. There is not a single line that I can stand in on my own merit. Even with language and education and money and privilege aplenty, even though I don't come from India or China or Mexico, there is no line for me. 
Definitely read the whole thing for a huge dose of empathy and education.

2. Alice Seeley Harris was a missionary who helped take down King Leopold's barbaric reign in the Congo.
Harris was one of two women I'd never before heard of until I learned about their heroism last month. Katelyn Beaty wrote about Harris in a compelling article that argues for the importance of women wielding power in society and working outside the home:
The year before Alice and John had left for Africa, Kodak had debuted its Bulls-Eye camera, which could process photographs without a darkroom. Alice began using one to document Congolese who had been beaten and maimed by officers, first sending photos back to the magazine of their host agency, the interdenominational Congo Balolo Mission. Within five years, Alice’s photos had circulated beyond the magazine, composing the Harris Lantern Slide Show, which was shown throughout England and eventually the United States. Ordinary citizens who had assumed Leopold’s rule was civilizing and beneficial were faced instead with the irrefutable carnage of colonialism.

3. Nellie Bly was a groundbreaking 19th century journalist and aviator.
A Google Doodle introduced me to this remarkable woman, whose reporting on the plight of the oppressed led to systemic reforms in the 1800s:
She spent 10 days posing as a mental patient in New York's notorious Blackwell's Island and returned with stories of cruel beatings, ice cold baths and forced meals. Her reporting led to reforms of the system and set the tone for her career. She exposed corruption and the injustices of poverty by telling stories of the disenfranchised, the poor and women. When she covered the Chicago Pullman Railroad strike in 1894, she was the only reporter to share the strikers' perspective.

4. "Belgian waffle" is an oronym (at least the "Belgian" part).
This word-of-the-day/history lesson came from my favorite cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen. Deb informed me that "the Belgian waffles we know of in America are an oronym (word of the day alert!) of the 'Bel-Gem Waffle,' the Brussels waffle vendor that brought them to American via the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and started something of a national waffles craze. 'Bel-Gem' mutated into 'Belgium' then 'Belgian' and the name stuck.

Oronyms (I'd never heard the term before) are a pair of phrases which are homophonic. When pronounced without a pause between words, phrases which differ in meaning and spelling may share a similar pronunciation. One popular example: "ice cream" and "I scream."  

5. Peonies are the state flower of Indiana.
I get a little obsessed with peonies every May, as evidenced by my Instagram feed. My white ones here in the South are always the first to bloom and the first to go; after they are sad and dead, I get to enjoy pink ones around the neighborhood and my northern friends' peonies of all varieties. A native Hoosier friend shared that they are the Indiana state flower. Much preferable to Tennessee's state flower, which I just now looked up and found is the iris. I hate irises.

6. Tulip poplar trees flower in the spring, and the petals look like candy corn. 
I learned to recognize these trees a couple of years ago from a favorite picture book that we check out of the library every fall, Autumn Leaves. It wasn't until this spring that I noticed they actually flower. And when the petals fall, they remind me of candy corn:

7. Cold-brewed coffee is significantly better than regular coffee.
I really enjoy iced coffee, and until last month, I made it by refrigerating regular coffee. Finally I got around to trying this cold-brewed business I'd heard about--Smitten Kitchen (who else?--I feel like she shows up in every one of these "things I learned" posts) convinced me. It turns out there is a scientific reason why it's better: when you don't use hot water, you don't get the bitterness. Just smooth and dreamy coffee goodness. I find I need far less sugar this way. It's also convenient because while it's a bit of a pain initially, you end up with a big jar of coffee concentrate that will stay fresh in the fridge for quite a while.

Lately I've been doubling the Smitten Kitchen basic recipe. The concentrate is fantastic with a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio of whole milk to coffee...but that's a lot of calories. My compromise is something like 1:1:1 coffee, milk, and water, with a splash of half and half and a little maple syrup. The creamier it is, the less sweetener I find I need, and I think the fat calories are a whole lot better for me than the sugar. The Pioneer Woman has a recipe for brewing an entire pound of coffee at once, which would be great for a crowd.

8. Dry shampoo totally works. 
I've been hearing about this for years but only recently got around to trying it out. Amazing. I'm a fan.

Head over to Chatting at the Sky for a roundup of more May lessons. And leave a comment--what did you learn last month?

Friday, May 01, 2015

Things I Learned in March and April

HOW is it that time again already?

I missed March, so here's a roundup of two months' worth of random things I learned. (Thanks as always for the inspiration, Emily!)

1. Steve doesn't really like the Psalms.
What in the actual what? This earth-shattering information came to my attention in a discussion around the table with our small group. One of the other guys said he doesn't like them either. They were lamenting being in Psalms for their daily reading...my eyes about fell out of my head. How can you "not care for" PSALMS?!?! Does. Not. Compute. This did, at least, lead to an edifying conversation in which we rejoiced that God gave us a wide variety of Scripture to enjoy, knowing that some parts would speak best to some personalities and other parts would speak more loudly to others. (But seriously. How can you not like Psalms?)

2. I can buy my own birthday flowers. 
Once upon a time I believed the entire world should revolve around me on March 18 each year. Turns out I am growing up. I have learned to lower my birthday expectations and embrace what comes, rather than getting worked up about what *doesn't* come. Flowers just aren't a thing Steve does. He's got a million other strengths; bouquets aren't one of them. I went to Kroger a few days after my birthday and realized, you know what? There is nothing stopping me from spending ten bucks and treating myself to birthday flowers. Plus, then I can get exactly what I like. (If only I knew how to arrange them...)

3. Daffodil is the common name for all flowers in the Narcissus genus. 
All jonquils are daffodils. But not all daffodils are jonquils. And buttercups have nothing to do with any of these. OK, so I didn't actually *learn* this--I'm sure I won't remember any of it--but it was interesting nonetheless. Bottom line: daffodil =/= buttercup, and those yellow and white flowers along the side of the road in early spring are NOT buttercups.

4. I, the champion speller, was misspelling two words. 
I probably would have sworn to you it was "miniscule" until I saw this tweet:
Somehow around that same time I discovered that "benefited" does not have two Ts. What?! I would have also fought you over insisting it was "benefitted." The single T actually *still* looks wrong to me.

5. The first major genocide of the 20th century was 25 years before the Holocaust. 
April 24 is known as Armenian Remembrance Day, because on April 24, 1915, Ottoman Turks killed more than 200 Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul. More than a million were killed in 1915-16. It seems that pretty much all unbiased scholars confirm this was indeed genocide, but the Turkish government rejects the term and has scathing denouncements for anyone else who attempts to use it (which has caused some controversy as President Obama apparently called it genocide years ago and promised to do as president, but has not actually lived up to that declaration).

In fact, "the man who coined the word genocide, Raphael Lemkin, was thinking of the killings of Armenians in what is now Turkey when he created it." Alarmingly, there's also an infamous Hitler quote regarding this: In 1939, defending his decision to invade Poland and describing his genocidal intentions, Hitler said, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

As a direct result of the 1915 genocide, Armenians are one of the world's most dispersed peoples. I had never before heard of any of this until now, the 100th anniversary. More information can be found here: Q&A: Armenian Genocide Dispute

6. If you rearrange the letters in "Presbyterians" you get "Britney Spears."
This little tidbit came from my favorite writing professor, who retired this month--she posted a photo on Facebook of a note she'd gotten from former students long ago, "Things We Learned from Mary Brown," and this was on the list. Ha!

7. Two words: Roasted Broccoli. 
As Jude's adorable little friend would say, "Oh My M. G." I could polish off an entire pound of broccoli cooked this way, all by myself. I first got the recipe here, where it's referred to as Crack Broccoli (it really is that good). My favorite cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, also posted a recipe for "crispy broccoli" just this week. But I think that it can be simpler than either of these recipes.

Contrary to the Crack Broccoli recipe's insistence, the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar is *totally* unnecessary and should be omitted. The salt called for is also way too high (and that's coming from someone who LOVES salty things) and you really don't need to go up to 500 degrees (I'm feeling a little sensitive about super-high oven heat since cracking my favorite stoneware last weekend...plus who wants a 500 degree oven in the summer?). Smitten Kitchen uses a lower temp, but all kinds of unnecessary ingredients. All you really need is a pound of broccoli, 3 T melted butter (I don't think EVOO is  advisable at high temps) and 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Toss and roast at 425-450 for about 10-15 minutes or until nice and brown. Devour.

A related sub-lesson: You're supposed to peel broccoli. Who knew? I never did it before. But the outer layer of the stem really is woody and tough, and the broccoli gets much more tender (tenderer?) if you peel it off. Doesn't matter much when you're eating it raw or steaming it to death, but for this you'll want to take the extra step.

Head over to Chatting at the Sky for more fun and fascinating randomness!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Needing to Be Needy and Fighting Together

Breastplate of righteousness. Belt of truth. Helmet of salvation. Shield of faith. If you’ve been in the church a while, you’ve heard more than one call to “suit up” with Ephesians 6 armor. And if you’re like me, you’ve imagined yourself as a solitary soldier, dressed head to toe and ready for spiritual battle.

It wasn’t until much later that the obvious dawned on me: A lone soldier is a sitting duck. 

Last month at Ungrind, I wrote about our need to be honest about our physical needs and the glorious glimpses of grace seen in helping and being helped. Today, I'm over there discussing spiritual battles--because if it’s hard to ask for help with practical needs, it feels downright impossible to reach out for support when we’re emotionally or spiritually low. We’re embarrassed that we’re still struggling with the same old sin; we’re frustrated by how stuck we feel, maybe even too cynical to believe a friend’s words could make any difference. Yet we need each other even more here, in our most tender places of vulnerability.

Click over to read about how I'm experiencing grace when I'm needy and grace to help others fight

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

If You're Needy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands (Or: A Tribute to My Amazing Mother)

I wrote last month on Ungrind about the beauty in helping and being helped--how important it is to be honest about our needs and let others demonstrate Christ's love for us. Then I had opportunity to take my own advice...and oh my goodness, I am here to tell you it is good advice, if I do say so myself :)

They say that God does not give imaginary grace. He distributes it like manna; He provides what we need for this moment and asks that we trust it will be on the ground to meet us tomorrow. So I suppose that when I say, "I cannot even imagine being a military wife or a single mom--I could never, ever do it"...the reality is that if I had to do it, God would give me what I needed.

But I am thankful that to date, my worst solo-parenting challenge has been a two-week business trip. And I am not afraid to admit that His grace to me has come not in the form of supernatural strength and patience to push through on my own, but in the form of humility to ask for help and an extended visit from this beautiful, servant-hearted woman:

When Steve made plans to be in Europe for 13 days, and it became clear that I would not get to tag along, I emailed my mom. My parents were due for a visit this spring anyway--so, "please," I said, "could you come for part of the time I am on my own?"

Her response was to fly down for an entire week.

Grammy landed in Nashville on Wednesday, March 25, a lovely belated birthday present. And the number of mournful "I miss Daddy"s I heard from the mouths of little boys decreased exponentially. She took us out for lunch at Chuy's...


...and, as I rolled my eyes, bought Lego Bionicle sets the boys had been drooling over ("For Easter! Just let me--I don't live close so I don't get to do this very often!"). She played ball in the backyard, picked boys up from school, washed dishes, babysat, even vacuumed my floors. She read countless books; she helped me work on a project for the house; she took us out for frozen yogurt. Perhaps most valiantly, she let wiggly boys take turns sleeping in her bed :)

We dragged Elijah and Jude to a "GIRL movie" and took them on a field trip to Cheekwood.

In between all that, we chatted about everyday life; we delighted in the boys together and laughed at the funny things they say; we exchanged eye rolls at their drama. One night late in the week, after a particularly trying bedtime, I came downstairs, hugged her, and said, "THIS is what every night would have been like for the last week if you hadn't been here. And I would be institutionalized. THANK YOU."

We also spent an evening listening to Vietnam-era recordings of her parents and siblings, which I recently had converted to digital audio files. (The family sent cassette tapes back and forth with my uncle when he was in the Army in Vietnam, as apparently the quality of phone calls and/or opportunity to make them was terrible.) I'd never heard her dad's voice before, and it was fun to hear really young versions of my grandmother, aunt, and uncles.

Then on one of her last days here, when both boys were in school, we did a Stray Boots tour in Nashville! We loved the ones we did in New York a couple of years ago, and we each independently had the idea to try one of the Nashville ones. We had a perfectly sunny day for it and so much fun being tourists.

The only thing I regret is that I didn't do what Jude is inclined to do to me: grab her hand while walking together and say, "I'm so glad I have such a nice mama." :)

So I'm saying it now: I'm SO glad I have such a nice mom. She is an extravagant display of God's grace to me and my family.