Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Not Obvious, But Astounding

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

I have grown up always knowing the story (praise God!) and thus often taking it for granted--thinking it obvious and normal that God took on flesh and lived among us. Heaven forbid! Nothing could be more astounding: "the eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinitely holy Son of God took on a human nature and lived among humanity as one who was both God and man at the same time, in one person...This is the most amazing event in all of history!"*

In case I've never mentioned it here, my very favorite music for stirring my heart to worship the Word made flesh at Christmastime:

Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

You can download it here for a last-minute gift or your own Christmas Day listening :) 

The album goes through the old, old story, from the Passover to Jesus' birth, telling the familiar stories that point to Christ. It begins with this beautiful quote from Sally Lloyd-Jones:
    No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
    It takes the whole Bible to tell this story. And at the center of the story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

May God fill you with joy and wonder as you celebrate the Savior's birth!

[*quote from ESV Study Bible notes on John 1]

Monday, December 17, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 270

Thanking God this week for...

4560. a long-overdue date with my man
4561. a friend so generously babysitting for free
4562. light sabers made from Duplos
4563. Christmas cards from faraway friends
4564. personal notes on the back

4565. Jude running around trying to keep up with big brother and his friends
4566. yoga for working and stretching sore muscles
4567. new babies safely born to friends!
4568. not being impatient and irritated with me like I am with my children
4569. winter hats, gloves, scarves, mittens

4570. December thunderstorms
4571. sunny, warm days for playing outside
4572. free makeup samples
4573. Steve's help with Christmas shopping
4574. the ability to do 95% of it online

4575. our friends' one-year-old saying "Hi!" with such a thick Southern accent that it comes out "Ha!"
4576. early morning prayer with a friend
4577. post-nap snuggles with Elijah
4578. boys "helping" me vacuum
4579. fashion advice from friends

4580. friends around our dinner table
4581. interesting conversations
4582. mocha cheesecake
4583. Jude being so much more awesome a shopper than I imagined, when I dragged him along to look for an outfit for Steve's work party
4584. ladies signed up for our winter retreat

4585. Sunday afternoon quiet
4586. morning workouts
4587. sausage balls
4588. packages arriving just in time
4589. red cashmere cardigan

4590. my parents' vastly improved internet connection for Skyping
4591. Advent wreath blazing brighter and brighter
4592. the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it

Monday, December 10, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 269

Thanking God this week for...

4533. a funny card from my college roommate, just because
4534. new jeans that are comfy *and* flattering
4535. Jude's tears and screaming when I told him it wasn't time to go get "Juh-Juh" from preschool yet
4536. Steve's being recognized, appreciated and rewarded at work
4537. dinner out as a family

4538. Mexican egg rolls
4539. prayer with friends
4540. this funny and brilliant five-minute summary of Downton Abbey
4541. friends I can go to for wise, godly counsel
4542. palm wax candles

4543. dinner with friends
4544. Steve helping me peel, core and slice over 25 lbs. of apples for the freezer
4545. his creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness
4546. browned butter in chocolate chip cookies. genius!
4547. speaking to me through one of Scotty Smith's prayers

4548. Jude's mealtime prayers
4549. Elijah composing a thankful list, unprompted
4550. super fun girl-time on Friday night
4551. new music
4552. opportunity to serve a church family

4553. their girls being sweet to our boys
4554. nursery workers loving on Jude
4555. church members' hard work putting on our Christmas feast and "Spectacular"
4556. Elijah getting up and singing with his Sunday school class for the first time
4557. the Word made flesh

4558. a generous Christmas gift from friends
4559. from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace

Monday, December 03, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 268

Thanking God this week for...

4506. the challenge of NaBloPoMo--the motivation to write
4507. the fact that it's over, and the pressure is off
4508. garland on the mantel
4509. vegetable beef soup
4510. 76 degrees in December

4511. much-overdue decluttering accomplished
4512. sales and coupons
4513. the peace and unity our church has enjoyed
4514. two bushels of organic apples
4515. red mittens on Jude's little hands

4516. the fact that there are a lot worse things Jude could have dumped all over Elijah's carpet than a full dispenser of watered-down hand soap
4517. His Spirit revealing ugly parts of my heart
4518. the awesome things He's doing in a dear friend's life
4519. Elijah's mad Lego skills
4520. Steve's mad cooking/grilling/smoking skills

4521. arnica gel
4522. missing slippers found
4523. the fact that I can laugh now about what was so painful when I was 14 or 17
4524. His wisdom
4525. His sovereignty

4526. His compassion
4527. His patience
4528. cards in the mail, not Christmas, but just because
4529. five ornaments clustered on one branch of our Christmas tree
4530. grace to exercise self-control

4531. grace when I fail to exercise self-control
4532. deeply moving Christmas lyrics

Friday, November 30, 2012

The End

I so hate to end NaBloPoMo on an anticlimactic note...alas, it's eight minutes to midnight and I've spent most of the day cuddling an extremely pathetic two-year-old. Jude is miserable, and nothing but Mama would do. So my house is a mess, but I let him nap on my chest this morning and tried to soak in the moment, knowing soon he will be much too big for that and I'll miss having a snugglebug.

As usual, my drafts folder and idea list is bulging with things I didn't get to this month. As usual, I really need to cut back on the blogging time these next few weeks and use my online time for shopping and creating photo calendars and such instead. But! As usual, I have been reminded of how I *need* to be writing. And I want to keep at it. So I'll be back here and there over the next month, and hope to settle into a better routine in January. I'm still working on the love story series--thanks for your patience :)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Simple Woman's Daybook ~ 11.29.12

Because I need more time to compose the next installment of our love story, a little Simple Woman's Daybook...

Outside my window...
darkness; all I can see is my own reflection and an orange streetlight across the way. The moon was gorgeous tonight though--full or close to it, glowing soft through clouds. 

I am thinking...
that I'm glad I kept a journal so diligently growing up. It's a blessing to be able to revisit my past and remember details I had long forgotten. 

I am thankful for...
grace to fight sin and win small victories. 

From the kitchen...
ruby chicken tonight, at Steve's request for "something cranberry." We're (okay, Steve is) going to smoke some turkey on Saturday, which will be delicious with some roasted cauliflower, and then I am eagerly anticipating using some of the turkey leftovers for turkey panzanella on Monday. I'm also itching to make some chocolate chip cookies. I can't even remember the last time I made those. 

I am wearing...
an old favorite pair of jeans that have always been too big in the waist, but which my sister-in-law took in for me last week; a pink Richmond Fire Department t-shirt from my brother over a white long-sleeved t-shirt; pink socks and my old worn-out suede sneakers. 

I am creating...
Christmas wishlists and gifts for family...or at least, I'm *supposed* to be creating those...

I am going...
straight to bed after finishing this post. Do not check Facebook, do not collect $200. 

I am reading...
the aforementioned old journals. It started with pulling out fall of my sophomore year of college, just for fun, but now I've backtracked to high school to research for my blog series about how Steve and I got together. Makes my runs go faster, for sure :) As far as published books go, I'm reading Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near-Death of an American City, which I am finding cumbersome because of the author's annoying writing style. I'm also in and out of Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like JesusThe Great Divorce and Knowing God. Soon I will be picking up an Advent book or two--I bought Behold the Lamb of God last year, and recently downloaded (for free, both of them!) Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas and Good News of Great Joy

For my Bible reading, I'm in John and almost done with round two of Psalms. Still using my reading plan

I am hoping...
that Jude is miraculously well enough for all of us to go to church on Sunday. He's been running a fever the last two days, poor little buddy. Definitely don't want to spread germs around the nursery. After being gone the last two Sundays, I just hate for one of us to miss again!

I am hearing...
coughing, all the time. Elijah's nasty cough has hung on for a month now, and just when I thought Jude was out of the woods, he started in this week. Ugh. 

Around the house...
Christmas music playing 24/7 - I refuse to put it on until the day after Thanksgiving, and then I make up for lost time :) 

One of my favorite things...
the warmth of Christmas tree lights twinkling in the chill of the early morning, while I curl up in a chair with a hot drink and an afghan crocheted by my grandmother. 

A few plans for the rest of the week...
Tonight began and ended with beautiful women: mentoring with a teenage friend from church, and then calling my own mentor on the way home and catching up with her. Such blessings. Tomorrow I want to enjoy some time outside with the boys, since I think we're supposed to have another warm, gorgeous day. Headed to a friend's baby shower on Saturday, and then having my women's retreat planning committee and their families over for dinner on Sunday night. 

A picture thought I am sharing...
here's a preview of the upcoming love story series. Remember that eighth grade comment about how we always stand together in line? Case in point...here I was probably wishing it was "The Wedding March" instead of "Pomp and Circumstance" :)


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 2)

[start with part one]

By the time Steve and I reached eighth grade, he had had his growth spurt, and he caught my attention again. Though I hadn't had a single boyfriend since the third grade, I was still plenty boy-crazy, and was always in "love" with someone. On April 2, 1996, I wrote in my diary, "I am starting to get the very beginnings of a small crush on Steve."

Steve got chosen to sing a duet of "Someday My Prince Will Come" in our junior high spring choir concert, and I remember feeling so upset that I didn't get picked to sing (and waltz!) with him. In my fourteen-year-old mind, Steve Kannel as Prince Charming was typecasting for sure.

That same spring, I also developed a friendship with Kaleb, who happened to be Steve's best friend. In fact, by late April I was also "starting to like Kaleb just a tiny little bit." At any rate, my best friend at the time talked to Steve in early May about how everyone thought he and I would make a good couple. He said he'd think about it, so I spent the next several days overanalyzing everything, endlessly worrying and wondering why he wouldn't want to go out with me. I wrote:
"If he would just give me a chance, I know we would click. Everyone is right--we would make a great pair! It's fate--we've had to stand together in line since the third grade! Steve & Amy--the class brains, great in choir (that sounds conceited, whoops), I mean, we just fit. It makes so much sense!" 
The next day, the agony continued:
"I hate the suspense! I keep thinking this can't be a good sign (he's had since Friday night!) but [my best friend] says, 'Give him time! Good things are worth waiting for.' She has a point; Steve is a great guy, worth waiting for, but he's had four days--surely plenty of time."
HA! Little did I know I'd be waiting a whole lot longer than that...

After a week or so, I enlisted Kaleb in the cause. He, too, thought Steve and I would make a cute couple, so he did his best, but fourteen-year-old Steve just had no interest. Wise soul that he was even then, he somehow understood the pointlessness of junior-high "relationships" and didn't have any desire to get tangled up in one. He remembers my best friend annoying him to death about it, and thinks he put off answering because he didn't want to be mean--it wasn't personal, he just thought it was dumb to have a girlfriend at age 14. And to think that I thought he wasn't "mature enough to like girls"...!

Anyway, as time passed, I started to give up on Steve. And as Kaleb and I passed notes back and forth about the whole situation, I began to notice that Kaleb's notes were awfully sweet. He said some really nice things about what a great girl I was, how Steve was dumb and if he was Steve, he would be "jumping for joy."

At that point I had to ask: Kaleb, what are you saying here? Because it seems like YOU are interested in me. So I mustered up all the guts I'd ever had...and wrote him a note asking if I was reading too much into it, or if he liked me.

Well, as a matter of fact, he did. So when Steve proved uninterested, I started going out with his best friend instead. Here we are at eighth grade graduation:


Kaleb was my boyfriend for about two months--a good four weeks of which I spent out of town--before I admitted to myself that however badly I had wanted a boyfriend, this was just not going to work. He was a fantastic friend, but we were definitely not meant to be anything more. We broke up the summer before high school, and unfortunately, it took a couple of years before we regained the friendship we'd started in eighth grade.

Meanwhile, Steve dropped off my radar again. As a freshman, I developed crushes on various other boys, and while Steve and I were in show choir together and had classes together, we didn't interact a whole lot. In fact, I would eventually try to set him up with someone else.

[to be continued...]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The oldest of my diaries were in a box in my parents' basement until last week, so now that I have access, I dug out volume 12 yesterday afternoon. I wanted to refresh my memory about how exactly the next chapter of my long history with Steve unfolded, and as I read and copied excerpts from April-May 1996, I was cracking up. Oh, the teenage angst.

After we put the boys to bed, Steve wanted to hear what I'd been laughing about when he got home, so  I read aloud the relevant parts. And they were hysterical--truly. Almost immediately, I was both laughing and crying uncontrollably. It was a shade different from simply "laughing so hard you have tears streaming down your face," and I wasn't exactly sure what was going on.

The diaries are funny on two levels: first, because I was so melodramatic. I was a very precocious child, the 14-going-on-30 type, and you can tell by the way I wrote that I was a reader. You can also tell that I read a mix of books with mature vocabulary, and magazines like YM and Seventeen that used words like "crushing" and "I dig him." OY. And second, because of the irony. It is hilarious because I know how the story ends, because 30-year-old me is reading it out loud to 30-year-old Steve, and our children are sleeping upstairs.

And yet on another level, they're painfully funny, with emphasis on the "painful." However ridiculous my words sound with a decade and a half of perspective, I was serious as a heart attack when I wrote them. I really did think that "the stakes are so high." I really did think that my life was pathetic because here I was in eighth grade and didn't have a boyfriend and probably I'd be single forever. It's silly in hindsight, but the emotions were deeply felt at the time.

As Steve and I lay in bed talking about it later, I thought about my tearful laughter. I realized that it's like, if I laugh hard enough, if I am first to ridicule her, then when you all laugh, you are laughing *with* me instead of *at* her (me). Part of me wants to share all these priceless gems with you, because they really are so stinking hilarious. Yet part of me does feel a little embarrassed putting 14-year-old me out there to be publicly humiliated. I laugh--but there are some tears mixed into the laughter, because I remember that awkward girl with her very real hurts. I kind of want to hug her and tell her it will all be OK.

So I wonder if it really is fair to hang her out and laugh at her, in part because while it would be extremely funny to my 20-and-up readers, it might hit a little too close to home for my younger teenage friends. You can laugh at someone else's teenage angst when your own is equally past and equally laughable (if not equally well preserved)...but can you laugh at someone else's teenage angst when you're in the midst of your own, and your own isn't funny yet? Is it insulting, instead of funny, to watch others laugh at a girl who lived sixteen years ago but was a whole lot like you are now? And, am I really able to simultaneously show compassion and patience toward teen girls while mocking the teen girl I once was?

I'm still mulling over these things (and would love your comments, especially any of you younger readers). Meanwhile, I am thankful to have this record of my life, cringe-inducing though it may be. It helps me see, in black and white, just how very far I have come and how much work God has done in me. And I hope it will give me better empathy and understanding for young girls in my life, whether my own daughters someday or other girls I have the privilege of loving and walking alongside. And also, in the end, it really is great for a laugh.

*The title of this post is a nod to Sarah Brown's Cringe, a book as well as a public reading series. From her website
Once a month, brave souls come forward and read aloud from their teenage diaries, journals, notes, letters, poems, abandoned rock operas, and other general representations of the crushing misery of their humiliating adolescence. It’s better and cheaper than therapy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 267

“If gratitude is an antidote for anxiety, and giving thanks is a real cure for stress, we don’t have to relegate thanksgiving to a holiday, for giving thanks to God revolutionizes all of our days.” (Ann Voskamp)

Continuing to give thanks to God after the Thanksgiving holiday for the gifts He continues to give, including...

4479. safe travels to Ohio and back
4480. my seamstress sister-in-law fixing pants for me and the boys
4481. grace to keep my mouth shut
4482. the way Jude puts a big space in the middle of two-syllable words
4483. a reasonably successful moving sale for my parents

4484. treasures we brought home
4485. the boys' delighted giggles in watching popcorn pop in my parents' old electric popper
4486. the storage units my in-laws own, so we could leave stuff there until we can transport it here
4487. Steve skillfully loading our car as full as humanly possible
4488. old letters from my grandmothers

4489. watching the Ohio State-Michigan game with Steve's family, including his precious granny
4490. my niece wanting to sit next to me at Thanksgiving dinner
4491. family gathered around a loaded table, giving thanks and feasting
4492. reminders of my weakness
4493. hilarious game of Telephone Pictionary

4494. kids playing SO well together with minimal intervention/supervision
4495. girl time with old friends
4496. post-bedtime chat with my brother- and sister-in-law
4497. the physical ability to carry boxes and go up and down stairs
4498. friends sharing the vulnerable parts of their hearts with me

4499. Jude in a corduroy blazer with elbow patches
4500. papers I wrote in elementary school
4501. the health of our church
4502. Jude wanting Grammy over Mama, and how that makes Mom's day
4503. Christmas music season, finally!

4504. home sweet home after a long week and a long car ride
4505. His mercies, new again today

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Parenting Food for Thought

Since I can't seem to manage to put up any original content these last few days, I'll leave you with some links to other interesting blog posts. These are all old (in fact I think they are leftovers from NaBloPoMo last year), so I don't remember vividly enough to say I'd vouch 100% for all the content--but there is some great food for thought here about children and parenting:

Do Unto Your Children as You Would Have Them Do Unto You ~ Sally Clarkson
"If I want my children to honor me and respect me, I must treat them honorably first to show them what honor is.

"If I want them to work hard, they must see me work hard. If I want them to have godly character and not complain, they must observe me making the choices to not complain and to not create strife. How can I teach them to be gentle and long-suffering if they do not receive this from me.

"Of course all of us are selfish and struggle with our own sin and lack of training, which means we will fail often in carrying out these noble displays of love. But if we understand this principle–that the law and prophets are defined by this rule, it simplifies our choices, our behavior. And the interesting thing is that it reaches and opens hearts.

"Our home, our relationships, our family will become what we live by, what we practice."

10 Things Not to Do to an Upset Child and a Couple of Things You Can Do ~ Authentic Parenting
"When children become upset - no matter the reason - it seems as if all polite adult behavior goes out the door. Suddenly, because it is a child, it's normal and accepted to be rude, rough and plain intolerant. Our children's emotional outbursts bring out our inner child and unhinge a lot of discomfort, they remind us of our powerlessness and the reactions of the adults in our lives and often create atrocious response. children are humans too, and if we want to break this vicious cycle, these are a few of the reactions we should try to repress..."

Perfectionism ~ Ann Voskamp
"Sometimes we must speak or the stones will cry out. I have cried. It is now time to speak. To speak of our family’s personal experiences applying the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.

"'Always Obey. No Mercy.' I am not faithfully, unfailingly obedient. I fail…miserably. Often. You know it, Lord. The letters on the screen eddy in pools of tears, testifying. Then why did I ever think our children could be perfectly obedient? 100% of the time?"

Even God Does Not Break Our Will--and why "breaking a child's will" is NOT biblical ~ Elizabeth Esther
"When humans attempt to break another human will, they desecrate the likeness of God in that person and violate their God-given gift of freedom.

"I find it remarkably beautiful that we actually need our intact, unbroken wills to “make progress on the way to goodness.” Indeed, the road to holiness requires strong, powerful wills. It’s such a different thought than the kind of thoughts from my childhood. The difference is a yielded will versus a broken one. When your focus is breaking the will, the only obedience you can ever really expect is obligatory, perhaps even begrudged. But when your focus is winning the heart, obedience becomes a joyful love offering—a heart and will freely given."

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Ugh! On my way to bed, exhausted, and remembered suddenly that I hadn't posted today. I debated going to bed anyway, since I have nothing to say and would rather sleep than blog, but figured I'd throw up a quick "Go Bucks!"

That's all. More real content coming next week, I promise.

Friday, November 23, 2012

High Five for Friday

Inspired by Robin, who was inspired by From My Grey Desk, five quick highlights from the past week...

1. A sleepover with my college roommate. So. much. fun. I've seen her about twice a year since I graduated, but it's usually just a quick visit over dinner, a couple of hours at most. This time she took me to the restaurant where she works, and we enjoyed a fabulous Italian meal. Then we went back to her apartment and spent hours talking, crying, giggling and reminiscing. Stayed up till 12:30 and then got to enjoy more time to chat over breakfast in the morning. Loved it. Love her.

2. Girls' night out with my two best friends from high school. Love seeing these two a couple of times a year and picking right back up where we left off. Getting together over pizza subs from my favorite local place makes it even better.

3. Another dear friend from high school (Kaleb, whom you'll be hearing about in the second installment of my Love Story series) spending several hours serving and blessing my family with his talents, energy and enthusiasm.

4. The happy discovery that the "old comforters" my parents kept talking about needing to get rid of were actually antique quilts hand-stitched by my great-grandmother!

5. Laughing out loud over papers and notes from elementary school and junior high.

How about you: what moments were bright spots in your Thanksgiving week?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Thanksgiving 2012

To continue a seven-year tradition, I sit down this Thanksgiving to note not a couple dozen, but a hundred gifts--these being just a tiny fraction of the countless reasons I have to be grateful today, the endless gifts for which I must give thanks to my generous Father:

1. my adoption as His beloved daughter
2. Elijah seeing Mama writing down gifts and spontaneously asking me to write down a few things *he* was thankful for
3. Annie Leibovitz's exquisite photography
4. the thrilling music and powerful story of Les Miserables
5. funny movie quotes

6. little-boy sneakers
7. instantly-downloadable music
8. streaming music for free
9. iPods
10. music in the car

11. well-drawn maps
12. clear evidence of answered prayers
13. encouraging cards
14. my elliptical machine
15. big spiral-bound sketchbooks for my journal

16. online photo storage/backup
17. pretty camera strap covers
18. a husband who likes to cook
19. chest freezer
20. cooking shortcuts that make life easier

21. grace to say no
22. grace when I fail to say no
23. all of God's promises are YES in Jesus
24. Elijah reciting memory verses
25. Jude chiming in with words he remembers

26. Jude asking to go get "Juh-Juh" when E is gone at preschool
27. Elijah's incessant (and hilarious) "when I grow into a man..." comments
28. living in a place where we have all four seasons
29. His incredible patience with me
30. wall calendars

31. history books
32. novels
33. the ability to read them
34. God's written Word
35. the Word made flesh, WITH us

36. homemade apple butter
37. tart-sweet, crisp apples
38. warm whole wheat bread
39. pumpkin spice everything
40. the ability to taste and see God's goodness

41. hair elastics
42. pretty aprons
43. colorful undergarments
44. adjustable-waist tabs in little-boy pants
45. boatneck shirts

46. husband warming a cold bed
47. older women who have invested in me
48. younger girls whom I've had the privilege of mentoring
49. my incredible family
50. my delightful in-laws

51. childhood friends
52. high school friends
53. college friends
54. mom friends
55. online friends

56. getting to meet online friends in real life
57. cell phones
58. text messaging
59. email
60. Skype with grandparents

61. baby toes
62. my kids' dimples
63. the fascinating mystery of genetics
64. my boys knowing their grandparents and even some great-grandparents
65. written language

66. soap
67. running water
68. my wedding ring
69. digital photography
70. sleepovers at age 30

71. the ability to cook
72. the ability to sing
73. the ability to drive
74. the ability to read
75. the ability to love

76. overcoming my stubborn will
77. not revealing the future to me
78. redeeming the past
79. guaranteeing my inheritance in Heaven
80. providing for my every need

81. home haircuts for my man and my boys
82. being able to pay for a professional haircut for myself
83. the privilege of being His means of provision to others
84. prayer with friends
85. friends telling me I've made them laugh

86. rebukes that sting
87. grace to receive them, conviction of sin
88. mercy
89. being humbled
90. Jesus' perfect record of righteousness, credited to me

91. antique quilts
92. crepe myrtles
93. magnolia trees
94. peonies
95. red star-shaped sweet gum leaves

96. husband's unconditional love, reflecting Jesus
97. how good it feels to stop hiding sin and start walking in the light
98. repentance He grants
99. washing me whiter than snow
100. knowing these hundred gifts are just the beginning of an endless list

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Long Day

Normally when I do NaBloPoMo, I write several posts ahead of time so that I don't have to worry about blogging in the midst of Thanksgiving celebrations. This year I wasn't quite so on the ball. And reality is, today has been a long day, and I don't have it in me to crank out a post tonight. In fact, if I am going to stay up any later, it would be much more beneficial to use the time processing my thoughts in my private journal, rather than crafting a public post for you all. So...happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you tomorrow with a big ol' gratitude list.

Oh, P.S., a funny from today. I actually used the phrase "might could" today--meaning, I believe that I am officially a southerner. I never, ever thought I would see the day that those words would come out of my mouth, but they did. As in, "We might could put these over here." Yeah. What?!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Caramelized Onions

I'm a little obsessed lately with caramelizing onions. It's such an easy thing to do--just takes time, that's all--and it adds so much punch to savory dishes. We use a LOT of onions at our house (much to Elijah's dismay--though if he doesn't actually see or notice them, he'll eat them just fine). And taking the extra minutes to caramelize them first makes everything better. When the natural sugars in the onions break down and the onions turn deep brown, it produces such wonderful flavor.
Start out by melting/heating some fat over medium heat in a skillet, enough to generously coat the bottom of the pan. I usually use butter, sometimes a combination of butter and olive oil. Then dump in your onions--sliced, diced, it doesn't really matter. But use more than you think, as they will really cook down. Salt them and start sauteing.

After about five or six minutes, they're starting to turn a tiny bit brown and translucent:

Watch carefully, stirring occasionally. If they start to stick to the pan or get really brown, add more oil or butter. Fat is your friend! I promise you, good, real fats are not making you fat; processed carbs are. Don't be afraid of real butter, especially from healthy, pastured cows (we love Kerrygold--the most beautiful yellow color, not all anemic like regular butter, and soooo yummy).

Another ten minutes, and they look like this:

You could definitely use the onions in anything at this point; they are tender. But if you can keep going, it will get so much better. Here they are another seven minutes later:

Getting closer, but be patient. Give the onions another five or six minutes:

Almost there, but don't quit yet! Keep stirring, turn the heat down and/or add fat if you need to, and in another 5-10 minutes you'll have this: 

YUM. I could just about eat those with a spoon.

Add them to your soups to give added depth to the flavor (particularly baked potato soup). Keep them in the fridge and throw some in your scrambled eggs in the morning. Stir some into a bowl of steamed green beans and your side dish goes from boring to mouth-watering.

Here's the difference, side by side, between cooked onions you can use...and caramelized onions you will love: 

OK, so my food photography skills leave something to be desired. But I promise you they taste divine.

This is such an easy way to make your food a little more impressive, add a little pizzazz. And it's so easy! About half an hour total is all it takes--if you plan ahead, you can have them going while you're doing other dinner prep. You can even do a big batch all at once and freeze them if you want. Try some in your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, and you'll never go back if you can help it.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 1)

It came to my attention a few months ago a year and a half ago [!! has it really been that long?!] that many of my readers don't know the story of how Steve and I got together. Well, that just happens to be one of my most favorite stories ever...how can I not share it on my blog? And what better time than during NaBloPoMo?

The problem is, where do I start? Do you want the abridged version, or the extended cut? Because Steve and I go way back. I'm talking, we-met-in-second-grade way back.

[Note that adorable Steve is where our boys got their cuteness. Note my mullet, permed only in the back. Oh yes. Permed and then probably brushed out. Klassy.] 

But it's my blog, and I can split this post into as many parts as necessary, so we're just going to jump in and see where this takes us. Possibly through old journal entries which are almost certain to be a complete riot. My life is, sometimes to my delight and sometimes to my utter embarrassment, well-documented from about third grade on. Someday we'll talk about how many volumes of journals I have accumulated over two decades...

Anyway. My earliest memory of Steve is us standing in the lunch line together. He made a mean comment about one of my friends. I tattled on him. He got his name on the board. Not exactly love at first sight.

At some point my feelings changed, because we're both pretty sure that we were "going together" for about two weeks in third grade, and that it probably involved one of those "do you like me? check yes or no" notes. OK, let's be totally honest: I definitely instigated that. Eight-year-old Steve was not doing any girl-chasing. I did have a steady boyfriend from kindergarten through third grade, when he broke my heart right before Christmas before dumping me for my best friend. (Slightly traumatizing, even at age eight.) But after that, let's just say no boys were pursuing me for a long, long time. (See: aforementioned mullet, for starters??) Looking back I can laugh about that, and see it as God's protection, even...but boy, at the time, did I struggle with self-worth and identity when so many of my friends had a steady string of "boyfriends." 

But I digress. Oh boy, this is going to take a while. 

So Steve and I had a brief fling in elementary school, which was afterward a source of much disgust and mortification on my end. I wish I had my third grade diary to quote (pretty sure that one is still in my parents' basement)--though maybe not; I was a mean girl sometimes! 

I think we were classmates again in fourth grade, and eventually I started liking Steve again. I might or might not have written an anonymous poem and put in his Valentine box. OY. Nothing came of that, though, and for the next few years our paths diverged. It was a tiny school, so we certainly still saw each other, but we didn't hang out with the same people and/or didn't have classes together, and I lost interest. I don't really remember much about Steve during those years, except that I hit my growth spurt long before he did: 

Yeeeaaaahhhh. Wow. Not exactly crushing on a boy--however cute--a full head shorter than me. And though I had finally grown out the mullet...I obviously still did not know how to do my hair. and those glasses! those teeth! those clothes! oh bless her heart. I still hurt for that awkward girl when I look at pictures like this. 

Eventually little Steve caught up with Amazon girl, though, and by eighth grade, my interest was rekindled. But that part will have to wait for another day, as my handsome man is home and my boys are waking up from naps. To be continued...

The Entire Series: 
1: Second Grade Beginnings
2: Junior High Crush
3: Kissing Dating Goodbye
4: Falling in Love, Onstage and IRL
5: "Are They Dating? They Should Be"
6: Other Fish in the Sea
7: Enter Prince Charming (Not Steve)
8: Not Actually Over Him After All
9: Have I Just Made a Huge Mistake?
10: A Wrench in Steve's Plans
11: A Revelation: Steve Speaks
12: And So It Begins
13: Cautiously Growing Closer 
14: Define the Relationship: Just How Serious is This? 
15: Sparkly Jewelry
16: I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife

Sunday, November 18, 2012

White Umbrella Giveaway Winner

And the winner, chosen by random.org, is...

comment #2, Brenna Kate!

Send me your mailing address and I'll get  The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking in the mail to you ASAP.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and to my sweet friend Sandra, who started it by giving the book away to me!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

NYC Girls' Weekend: Day 4

Day 4 of our trip was September 11--and it was a bit eerie to be in the city not only on 9/11, but on a day just like that awful day in 2001--a Tuesday morning, warm weather, crisp blue sky. We had seen several fire stations with memorials to fallen comrades; on our way to breakfast on the 11th, we passed a station in SoHo where the men were in their dress blues, welcoming (I assume) family members of lost firefighters. A strange occurrence on the subway later made us a little edgy. And as we wandered throughout the city, especially down in the Financial District, I kept thinking of what it must have been like on that day. So unimaginable...

We took the subway to NoLita for breakfast at Prince Street Cafe, recommended by my friend Danielle. The special trip out of our way was well worth it--besides getting to see yet another part of Manhattan, I'm pretty sure the French Toast Vanilla and Citrus Brioche was the best I've ever had in my life. So, so good!

Then we caught a train back uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I read somewhere that if you looked at every object in the Met for five seconds, it would take you more than three years to get through the whole museum! We came with a list of a few highlights to hit, but it was still completely overwhelming. I can't say I've ever been a big art-museum girl, but I'm increasingly drawn to fine art; if I lived in the city, I'd want a Met membership and I'd go often. So much beauty, so much talent and history. Two of my favorite things of the highlights we saw were the Arms & Armor hall...


...just look at the intricate detailing on this suit of armor!:


...and Camille Pissarro's paintings:


But I was struck by so many things...the gorgeous lines of marble sculptures; the texture of Van Gogh's paintings; the sheer scale of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Our Met visit was topped off, literally, by rooftop views of Central Park and the skyline...


...as well as Tomas Saraceno's Cloud City sculpture (have to give my mom credit for suggesting this cool shot of me, the reflected skyline and the sculpture):


From the Met, we traveled back to the southern tip of the island to start our second Stray Boots tour. First we explored Battery Park, which has several tributes to the fallen firefighters of 9/11.


We caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, then began the Wall Street and Old Manhattan tour, which took us through the oldest park in the city, Bowling Green (the revolutionaries cut off the crowns that used to cap the fence posts in 1776):


...past the famous charging bull, up Broadway to Trinity Church and then to the Federal Reserve. At this point my mom's camera died, and I haven't gotten pictures from my aunt's camera yet. Unfortunately, at the Federal Reserve we took a wrong turn, and walked several blocks before we realized our mistake. By that point we had run out of time to finish the tour, as we had flights to catch. Still, it was a great way to explore--I'd definitely do a Stray Boots tour again. Learning a little history about the oldest part of Manhattan was fascinating.

The bright side of our wrong turn was that it put us near a different subway station--which meant I got to stop in Chinatown after all! I had been hoping to grab authentic jiao zi, something introduced to us a couple of years ago by our friends who used to live in China. One of the best dumpling places in the city was near our itinerary route on Monday, but we had to rearrange those plans. I hadn't quite given up on the idea, and realized that another dumpling place was just a few blocks from the Canal Street station where we'd have to change trains. So I put Mom and Judy on the right train to get back to our hotel (they had no desire for Chinatown *or* extra walking), and ran over to Tasty Dumpling, a little hole-in-the-wall on Mulberry Street that sells the best fried dumplings in Chinatown. I sat in Columbus Park enjoying my jiao zi and listening to two elderly men playing Chinese music. It was the experience as much as the food.

From Chinatown, I had just enough time to get back to the hotel, grab my luggage, and set off on another public transportation adventure. I didn't want to pay cab fare since I had the unlimited subway pass, so I  opted to take the subway out to Queens and catch a transfer bus to LaGuardia. I'll spare you the details, but it was a pretty stressful trip, with me freaking out that I was cutting it too close. Thankfully it all worked out just fine (and then my plane ended up being delayed, go figure). So I sat at the gate using the free iPads to complete our Old Manhattan tour with the help of Google :)

And that was our trip! So, so, fun. Priceless memories with my mom and my aunt in the city I love more each time I visit. Thanks, Mom and Aunt Dewey, for a fabulous 30th birthday celebration!

Prologue: how the trip came about
Day 1: 9/11 memorial, Thai food and a Broadway show
Day 2: Upper West Side church and brunch, library, Union Square tour
Day 3: Grand Central, Brooklyn Bridge, Gramercy Park, The High Line

Friday, November 16, 2012

NYC Girls' Weekend: Day 3

Day 3 began bright and early: my mom and aunt wanted to watch Good Morning America being filmed live in Times Square.


So we stood around outside doing that for a while, and watching for celebrities. No one I really cared about, but it was funny to watch my mom and aunt get all excited about the GMA personalities. We actually stood for a while in the little fenced-off area for the paparazzi, next to the door where GMA guests enter and exit--I snapped this photo of Trista and Ryan from The Bachelorette.


Then we ate breakfast at a little diner called Evergreen before heading to Grand Central Terminal.

Aunt Judy had never been there, and we needed to pass through it via subway anyway, so we came up into the terminal to gawk a bit. Sadly, I had all kinds of camera issues this trip. First, I forgot that my 50mm lens really isn't ideal for tourist photography. Not a huge issue since I had my pocket point-and-shoot which has a wide angle lens...until the battery died. Then I filled up the memory card on my Nikon. Then I killed the battery on my mom's camera!

Anyway, at Grand Central we caught a train down to the Brooklyn Bridge,

then walked across the East River to Brooklyn. 

Definitely a fun (free!) thing to do, though I would suggest starting in Brooklyn instead, and walking *toward* Manhattan (we spent most of the walk turning around and rubbernecking).


From there we returned to the Flatiron District to finish our walking tour. Here are my mom and aunt completing a photo challenge--this picture cracks me up! :)

The last few clues took us to Gramercy Park, another fascinating historical neighborhood I'd never visited. The park looked so enticing, and we needed a place to sit and rest--we were startled to find it gated and locked! Turns out it is the only remaining private park in the city; only residents of the adjacent homes have keys.

For lunch, we ended up at Pete's Tavern, the oldest continually operating restaurant and bar in NYC. During Prohibition, it was disguised as a flower shop.

It's also known as the tavern where O. Henry wrote "The Gift of the Magi"--and a hotspot for celebrities, apparently. The food wasn't anything spectacular, but the atmosphere and the history were really fun.


Our tour concluded back at Union Square with a recommendation to treat ourselves at Max Brenner's "Chocolate by the Bald Man". So we did. The service was kind of terrible and the prices steep, but there's nothing like dipping an "OMG Cookie with dark chocolate" into melted milk chocolate.

A little bit of heaven in my mouth. Plus my aunt and I split a piece of s'mores pizza. You'd have to have a ridiculous sweet tooth to enjoy it, but since I do, we were in the right place.

With our tour over, we were only a couple of blocks from Strand Book Store, "New York's legendary home of 18 miles of new, used and rare books." I took the opportunity to browse the New York history section and pick up a couple of bargains.

Then I realized that we were just a short walk from Everyman Espresso in the East Village, recommended by my favorite food blogger. Deb at Smitten Kitchen says of their latte with faintly spiced Mexican chocolate, "I’m pretty sure I wept the first time I tried it." So I left Mom and Aunt Judy to sit and rest while I ran over a few blocks to try one for myself. I can't say I really tasted the spices, and I didn't cry, but holy cow, was that an amazing latte. So incredibly smooth and rich and creamy. I don't think I've ever had a coffee that smooth.

From there we crossed town to walk The High Line, a park built on an old elevated railway on the West Side. Another new neighborhood (Meatpacking District/Chelsea), with views of the city from a unique angle. The railway has been landscaped beautifully, and early evening was the perfect time to stroll the length of it.


After all that, we were spent. We returned to the hotel and crashed for a while before going back out to grab a late bite at Junior's.

[Day 4: NoLita brunch, the Met, Old Manhattan tour and dumplings in Chinatown]


Thursday, November 15, 2012

NYC Girls' Weekend: Day 2

Sunday morning's breakfast on day two of our NewYork girls' weekend featured a nice slice of humble pie. You see, when I'm in New York, I like to pretend I belong there. I know the names of the neighborhoods. I don't wait for the "walk" light at crosswalks. I can navigate the subway system. So well can I navigate the subway system, in fact, that I can rush you onto a train just before it leaves the station--only to realize that it's an express train, which will take you 40 blocks north of your stop. Nice, huh? I was so concerned about missing the train and having to wait 20 minutes for the next one that I didn't look closely enough. Thankfully we'd allowed plenty of extra time, so we got on a downtown train and rode back, no big deal, and I got knocked down a peg or two :)

Our destination was Redeemer Presbyterian Church's West Side campus, where I was fervently hoping to hear Tim Keller. He typically preaches at four of the church's six Sunday services, but they do not publish the schedule, so we just had to pick one and hope for the best. Unfortunately Keller wasn't around, but the service was still great. The music was stellar, as you might expect in New York: a piano and brass quintet played a Vivaldi concerto for the prelude/offertory/benediction! And a lovely soloist led the singing. David Bisgrove, the pastor who preached, gave a wonderful sermon on the story of Naaman--in fact, if I'd only heard it and not seen him, I might have thought it was Tim Keller. Not only was it a sermon I could imagine Keller preaching, but their voices even sounded alike.

After church we walked just around the corner to an Upper West Side brunch spot called Good Enough to Eat--only to find a long line stretching down the sidewalk.

I didn't know if Mom and Aunt Judy would want to wait, but they said, "Of course--that means it's good!" And oh, it was. I'm normally a sweet-breakfast girl, but I wanted to get a good, pure taste of their strawberry butter, which I'd never heard of until I read about it on more than one restaurant website. My BLT omelette was fantastic, and the strawberry butter on my biscuits...yeah, I could have eaten it with a spoon. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.


Our next stop was the New York Public Library's "main branch," the landmark building on Fifth Avenue.

Beaux-Arts architecture is my favorite style. Just absolutely majestic and awe-inspiring. We started out with a guided tour but ended up ditching it to explore on our own (the sweet old man who led it was pretty long-winded). So many gorgeous architectural details...

 plus the Rose Reading Room (which you've probably seen in movies):

...and the stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne to write Winnie the Pooh. I was drooling over the children's collection.

Then it was on to Union Square for an interactive walking tour/scavenger hunt from Stray Boots. Given that I could be happy just walking up and down the streets of New York, this seemed ideal: a tour conducted via text messages. So you go on your own timetable, you have no annoying guide; you can make pit-stops and detours. They point out all kinds of things you wouldn't otherwise know to look for, and you get to learn fascinating trivia along the way. Stray Boots has these tours in several major cities, and more than a dozen of them in various Manhattan neighborhoods. We started with the Union Square and the Flatiron District tour, which took us up Broadway to the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park.


While we were there, we grabbed dinner at the Shake Shack. It's technically a chain now, but it met my criteria since it started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park--the one where we ate was the original location. The burgers and fries were good but not spectacular (I think Five Guys is probably better), and the line was awfully long. I did really enjoy my Shack Attack Concrete though--"concrete" is their word for blizzard/McFlurry/etc., made with frozen custard, and mine included hot fudge, chocolate sprinkles, and chocolate truffle cookie dough. And it was a great spot for soaking up a gorgeous late summer evening.

Bellies full, we resumed our tour and explored a few more landmark buildings in the area

before it got completely dark and we decided to put the rest on hold for the next day.


Back in Times Square, incidentally, we spotted Snoop Dogg and the Naked Cowboy (who is apparently now accompanied by a Naked Indian...only in New York) before calling it a night.

[Day 3: Grand Central, Brooklyn Bridge, Gramercy Park, The High Line]

Prologue: how the trip came about
Day 1: 9/11 memorial, Thai food and a Broadway show

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

NYC Girls' Weekend: Day 1

My New York adventure began with a thunderstorm that closed LaGuardia to all incoming traffic and diverted my plan to Allentown, Pennsylvania. UGH! But it really could have been so much worse. I arrived only about two hours late, and my mom and aunt waited at the airport for me. We had to rearrange our itinerary a bit, but no major harm done. We took a thrilling (and expensive, oy!) cab ride into Manhattan and checked into the Hotel Edison near Times Square.

Our first order of business was to buy unlimited-ride subway passes, since I had plans for us to be alllll over the city. We took a train to lower Manhattan and grabbed a late lunch at a decent but unremarkable cafe.

I spent as much time researching restaurants as I did planning other things for us to do. My goal was to avoid chain restaurants at all costs, instead going out of the way to eat at places that were uniquely New York. If I can eat there in Ohio or in Tennessee, why on earth would I want to waste time there in Manhattan?? My mom and aunt are not the adventurous foodies that Steve and I [like to pretend we] are, but they were GREAT sports and let me call the shots, within reason, since it was my birthday trip. I had some hits and some misses, and some plans had to get rearranged, including Saturday lunch--since my flight came in late, we didn't have time for the SoHo sandwich shop I'd found. But the New York-style pizza slice I had at Cafe Bravo was good for being impromptu.

We had passes to visit the 9/11 Memorial on Saturday afternoon, something I hadn't thought of, but which my mom and aunt had requested. I'm so glad they did. After seeing the World Trade Center towers way back when, and seeing Ground Zero as a rubble-filled pit in early 2003, I got to see the monuments established in tribute to the victims and heroes of 9/11. The names engraved in bronze around the actual footprints of the towers give you an overwhelming sense of the scope of the loss, making it at once enormous, and very personal.

Since my brother is a firefighter, I feel a special draw toward, and awed admiration for, the firefighters who led the charge *into* the towers when everyone else was rushing *out*. I found the names of men about whom I've read books:


The arrangement of the names is unusual and very deliberate--rather than alphabetical, they are grouped into "meaningful adjacencies." First responders are together...each of the four flights...


...people who worked for the same company... Within those groupings, family members had the option to request that their loved one's name be listed beside specific people. The memorial website explains: "Some requests were between relatives and friends; others were between people who had just met, but who responded together as events unfolded. This design allows the names of family, friends, and colleagues to be together, as they lived and died." I saw a handful of names like this, which were particularly piercing:

We saw the Survivor Tree, which was salvaged from the wreckage only to be uprooted in a storm while it was being revived at a Bronx nursery. It survived that, too, and was replanted at the site:


And it was moving to see the Freedom Tower going up in view of the memorial--such tremendous loss and tragedy, yet such spirit rising taller, grander, hopeful.

After our visit there, we went out for dinner and a Broadway show. Crunched for time, I was afraid we were going to have to forego my evening restaurant choice as well, but it turned out perfectly. We ate in Hell's Kitchen at a Thai place called Room Service, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The ambiance was classy and hip, not at all touristy...

...the service was FAST, which we needed to make it to our show, and the food was fantastic. My Pad Thai was so delicious, and Mom and Aunt Judy, who'd never had Thai food, both raved about what they ordered. AND, did I mention we each paid under $10 for our entrees? In Manhattan! Thanks to Carmin for the winning recommendation.

As we walked to the theater, we had our first celebrity sighting. A wedding between two theater moguls was just letting out, and as charter buses waited to load glamorously-dressed guests, we spotted Judith Light (who remembers watching Who's the Boss back in the 80s??). We found out later that it had been quite the guest list: Barbara Walters, Tyra Banks, Donald Trump. But we didn't have time to stand around and gawk, because we had tickets to Nice Work if You Can Get It, a new Gershwin musical starring Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara.

I could have listened to O'Hara sing all night long; she was phenomenal. Honestly, though, I was a bit disappointed with my show selection. Some of the themes/music/costumes were pretty risque; a lot of the plot celebrated/winked at promiscuity (the main character, Broderick, falls in love with O'Hara while engaged to his fourth wife). It wasn't the 1920s feel-good family musical I was expecting, though there were some funny parts, and the ending was pretty satisfying. All in all, I'd recommend downloading O'Hara's songs from iTunes and getting tickets to Newsies or Wicked instead.

Once the show was over, we couldn't resist running back to a little bakery we'd passed on the way called Schmackary's, for after-theater cookies. I had to try one with candied bacon in it--yum. Can't resist that salty-sweet combination...and doesn't bacon make everything better?

And that was day one!

[Day 2: Upper West Side church and brunch, library, Union Square tour]

NYC Girls' Weekend