Sunday, December 28, 2008

Same Kind of Different As Me

While I do read fairly quickly, I rarely read an entire book in an afternoon, but today was an exception. In the span of three hours, I laughed, cried, ached, and hoped along with two very real men, Ron Hall and Denver Moore, as they told the sovereign story of their intersecting lives through their New York Times bestseller, Same Kind of Different As Me. I'm a sucker for non-fiction, but would recommend this book to anyone--even if you tend to be a fiction snob.

To borrow the succinct tag-line, the book tells the story of "a modern-day slave, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together," causing me to reevaluate my perception and prejudices toward the homeless in my own city, to grieve the reality of modern-day slavery in America, to examine the limitations I have set on my obedience to Christ, and to remember that "earth ain't no final restin place." The book's 67 short chapters mostly flip flop from Ron's story to Denver's story, piecing together the puzzle of their lives into a beautiful landscape full of depth and wisdom. Their story is not only one of two unlikely fellows befriending each other, but also one of Christianity and Christ's transforming work on this planet. However, the book is never preachy, but instead reminds me of Donald Miller's writing, and speaks of suffering and hardship with the grace of Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy.

I'm ready to lend this book to the first person who asks; it's worth your time...and just might change you in the process.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Texting, but not proud of it.

After months of discussion and reluctance, I finally stooped and gave Phil (and consequently me) texting for part of his Christmas present. It's actually more of a gift to our friends, since they text more than we do, so for those of you reading this, you're welcome.

I know that adding texting to our phone plan in December 2008 causes us to look frugal and/or old fashioned, but I do, in fact, have some very legitimate and logical beef with the whole text messaging craze, and it goes like this:

First, I completely understand that there is a time and place for texting. It's convenient, especially when you're in the middle of a meeting or something and literally cannot talk to someone but need to get them a message. It's also helpful when confirming plans with someone, which really doesn't require an entire conversation.

However, for the most part, I see people using texting as a substitute for actual conversation (see cartoon above). Conversations on the phone (and, heaven forbid, in person) just seem to require too much of a time and energy commitment these days--a detriment to communication and relationships everywhere. In my speech class, my students learn early in the semester that 93% of all communication is non-verbal, which means that when we text or email, we are really only receiving 7% of the message being sent; we miss the tone of voice, facial expressions, pauses, etc. that would be present in a face-to-face or at least phone conversation. This swings wide the door for potentially disastrous miscommunications and, in the long run, cheats people out of learning to communicate well. When people text instead of talk, they communicate incompletely, half-heartedly, and often distractedly. In my humble opinion, it is the lowest form of communication.

That being said, please understand that I am not a text-hater. Too many people, though, overuse texting, leaving actual phone or face-to-face conversations in the shadows when it should really be the other way around. So, for now, I have texting on my phone, and, while I'm glad that I'll be paying less per month (since I won't be paying for all the texts people send) and will occasionally enjoy the convenience of using it, I really do feel like I am stooping, like I have compromised my morals in some way. So, I still might call you back when you text me because I'd rather hear your voice that look at your words on a phone, but I'm going to give it a chance and at least give you all the gift of knowing you can text us for free.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Christmas traditions

Phil and I just returned from spending a week with my family in Chattanooga, and it was delightful in every way! As I reflect, it seems like I am on the brink of some major life transitions, so I'm (a bit nostalgically) remembering and enjoying the Christmas traditions that I grew up with. Here are a few of them:

1. Every Christmas Eve, my mom sings a solo of "O Holy Night" (consequently my favorite Christmas carol), and, as everyone at church says, "It's not Christmas until Stephanie sings O Holy Night!" With her vocal performance background and soprano voice, she literally sounds like an angel. In fact, I love her singing so much that I have my brothers pocket call me from church on the years when we can't be there so that I can still hear her sing.

2. Every Christmas Eve, after reading the Christmas story from the Bible, my dad reads "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and all the younger kids in the family act it out as it is read. Always a humorous rendition!

3. We have breakfast casserole once a year--on Christmas morning. Often, things are more precious because they are rare. Christmas casserole is one of those things. Also a rarity, but oh-so-good: my mom's homemade wassail.

4. We take turns opening presents instead of opening them all at once. In fact, this year my youngest brother started a new tradition that I hope we keep: from youngest to oldest, we all take turns being "Santa" and choosing a gift for someone else under the tree. It may have taken us over two hours to open gifts, but we were able to see everyone's reactions and gifts, and what else were we going to do?

5. We have a feast on Christmas night--complete with sparkling grape juice and a birthday cake for Jesus.

6. We light the advent candles on the advent wreath throughout the month of December, concluding on Christmas day. It's always a wonderful devotional time as a family and a tangible reminder of the birth, death, resurrection, and coming again of our sweet Savior, Jesus.

These are traditions that I treasure each year and look forward to, no matter my age. And isn't that an intrinsic gift that tradition offers, that by definition tradition rarely changes? In a world that's full of change, it's nice to have a few constants. It's funny how a song, a meal, a wreath of candles, or the way we open presents (such seemingly small and inconsequential things) actually create depth and anticipation in us that is more significant than we realize.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Does anyone know a good "arian" doctor?

Today we taught 3-year-old Sunday school. Here's the conversation I had with Kaylee:

Kaylee: My Mimi told me I need to be an arian doctor.

Me: An arian doctor? Okay.

5 minutes later...

Kaylee (with plastic cow in hand): Hurry! Let's get the stethoscope. This cow is very sick. He needs an arian doctor!

Me (understanding dawning): A veterinarian?

Kaylee: Yeah, an arian doctor! Hurry!

Me: Okay! Let's hurry! What is this sick cow's name?

Kaylee (without missing a beat): Mongo.

Me (addressing the cow): Well, Mongo, let's see what's wrong with you. (to Kaylee) Hmmm...what should the arian doctor do first to help him feel better?

Kaylee: Listen to his teeth!

Me: Of course! Let's listen to his teeth so we can find out why he doesn't feel very good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Missing: one white knee-length robe. about three years old. missing since yesterday.

I often wonder if I don't have the mind of a senior citizen. I love play scrabble, work crossword puzzles, drink hot tea, and...lose my mind once in a while. Well, I don't actually love losing my mind; it just happens. For the last 24 hours, the object in question is my knee-length white robe that I wear on a regular basis. It has gone missing from the hook on the back of my bathroom door, and it's not in it's alternate location, on my bed. Immediately, I begin to suspect theft. Who would want my bathrobe? Phil? No, he's been out of town. Has someone been in our house and moved it just to mess with me? Nah. Did I wash it? No again.

And then, just when I had given up hope, I went to reach for my jacket this morning and found, there among the coats on the coat rack, my bathrobe, trying to fit in with the cool kids, but failing terribly. There you are! I thought. That's odd. I wonder who put you there. And then I realized that I was the only one in the house for the last 24 hours; I am the bathrobe thief!

And, of course, my senior citizen self has no recollection of when or why I would have placed my bathrobe in such an usual location. Even Phil likes to mock me about it. Still, you have to admit that 24 hour turn around isn't bad.

Monday, December 8, 2008


On our way home from church, Phil and I saw a license plate with the mysterious letters: LGNABCH. I didn't even notice that they stood for anything at first, but Phil was verbalizing all of the possibilities he saw: "Large Nab Church"? "Large Non-Applicable Baptist Church"? Something in German? Then my wheels started turning: "Lasagna Bitch"? Knowing how territorial I can be about certain foods, it seemed like a fairly plausible explanation. However, as we slowed to a stop light, we saw a small window decal that proved us both wrong. It said "Laguna Beach." Of course. And now I can't see the letters as anything but Laguna Beach...even if Lasagna Bitch is better.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Christmas Card Rebellion of 2008

Since holiday decorations have been up for weeks and carols have been on the radio all month, I thought I'd go ahead and make a pre-Thanksgiving Christmas announcement (and no, we're NOT pregnant): we will not be sending out a Christmas card this least not at Christmas. For those who are disappointed or confused, here's our reasoning:

1. Nothing monumental has happened in our lives in the last year. We live in the same house, have the same jobs, and have nothing new to share at this point concerning our futures.

2. Let's be honest: Christmas card creating, writing, addressing, stamping, and licking is just plain stressful. Especially when you have to work right up until Christmas.

3. Since there is a bombardment of Christmas cards in December, it will be more fun (and significantly increase the odds of people actually reading our letter) if we send one later in the year...say, in March when we find out where we'll be living for the next 4 years.

4. There's no rule that says you have, we're not this year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Living for the weekend

Prepare yourself for a few deeps thoughts.

Why is it that we live our days working for those few and fleeting moments in which we can not think and not do? So often we are motivated by weekends, free time, or 5 o'clock on any work day. We hear it all the time: "I can't wait for the weekend," or "I sure am glad we have Thanksgiving break soon," or "Only a few more hours till I can go home," or "Thank goodness it's Friday."

While I'm not advocating a busy, chaotic, or workaholic lifestyle, I am questioning the eternal value of turning off our minds. Is that not when Satan will attack? when our defenses are down? And doesn't sin begin first in our minds as thoughts?

And when we finally sit down to rest, it isn't typically true, satisfying rest, but the rest of distraction and escapism. We feel off-kilter without our cell phones, like the feeling you get when you take off a long-worn ring. We immediately turn the TV on, open our E-mail, and surf the Internet--simultaneously. This isn't rest but distraction, a need to be in constant communication and interaction without ever leaving the couch. We are in a generation smothered by technology, a generation where technology thinks for us, so we don't have to remember directions or phone numbers or birthdays...or most factual information, for that matter. We bequeath those parts of our brains to cyberspace so we are left with partial brains partially thinking about a portion of reality.

I am also not suggesting that everyone should move to a remote place and become a philosopher. There is great good that comes from engaging the culture through watching movies, listening to music, or less interactively, napping. These are good activities, but they aren't the best, so they're not what we should be living for. It comes down to a question of motive and a question of engagement. By watching a movie, is it self-serving? Do I even consider my motives? Am I using that experience to draw conclusions about Christ or principles for godly living? the culture? to enter into conversation with others?

I find nowhere in the Bible where God instructs people to disengage. Often, however, He calls us to be alert, to examine ourselves, to watch, to pray, to take every thought captive, to avoid idleness. Far too often, I find myself living for that one moment at the end of the day when I can escape through reading or TV or some other form of relaxation. While there's nothing inherently wrong with reading or watching TV, there is one glaring problem: these are not what should motivate our living. To borrow from Paul, "For me, to live is Christ."

Friday, November 21, 2008


I've never seen a movie on its opening night--not Titanic, not Star Wars, not Lord of the Rings, not Harry Potter. I'm not sure if that means I'm uninteresting or just plain smart to avoid all the fans dressed as their favorite characters and squealing at the actors on the screen. I certainly do not make a habit of seeing movies targeting the teen population...on opening the area where I teach. It's a little hard to get away from work that way and some of my students are still baffled by the fact that I don't live on a cot in my classroom all weekend.

However, to honor a birthday promise to one of my favorite 16-year-olds, I accompanied her and several of her friends to the premier of Twilight tonight. And even though I spend time around teenagers all week, I still forget how squealy and ecstatic girls become over what I have coined "romantasy," or a fanciful romance story. That's right: the movie started and girls throughout the theatre squealed with anticipation and excitement. And the first shot of the lead male character, Edward Cullen, provoked yet another round of squealing with additional comments like, "He's so hot" and, "Oh my gosh, look at him!" and, "There he is! He's freaky, but I like that." There was a stirring, a physical current of anticipation in the room, complete with girls giggling and speaking to each other in high registers. I just sat there and inwardly grinned--so thankful to be finished with that era in my life, but also enjoying watching them experience the thrill of a craze. Of course, a romantasy just wouldn't be complete without the kissing scenes, which earned themselves a dreamy "aww" from the crowd. The movie ended with yet another squeal session before everyone began filing out, smiles on faces and brains already preparing a full dissection of each moment of the movie. The matinee was a brilliant time to go because the line for the 7:15 movie was out the door when we left!

While I found the whole spending-the-evening-with-teenagers experience humorous, I was also honored that they would invite me into their social lives for an evening. It was nice to forget bills, Christmas gifts, cleaning, and work for a few hours; for just a few hours, everyone lived happily ever after--romantasy at its finest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Our recent trip to Charleston, SC for Phil's residency interview at MUSC:

I knew when our hotel was flanked by a Starbucks and a Dunkin' Donuts that our trip to Charleston was going to be a good one. When we arrived, we spent the day walking around down town, perusing the outdoor market, walking along the water, and gawking at the old "town houses" (mansions), and yes, taking a carriage ride.

Be it known that neither Phil nor I have ever taken a carriage ride in any city--ever. We prefer to blend in in new places, to look like a local even when we're tourists. I do realize the substantial amount pride and illogicality of that, but it's true nonetheless. However, the history buffs in us won out. We were dying to know the stories behind the buildings, the houses, and the various military forts, so what better way to do that than a carriage ride through the city? Granted, we were the only ones under 60 on the carriage, but it turned out to be quite an educational experience. We sat in the very back and just as I finished whispering, "I hope they don't make us all go around and introduce ourselves," our tour guide had the grand idea of having us introduce ourselves, starting with us, in the back. Phil voted for telling everyone that we were Jan and Kenneth Jorkins, but I introduced us before he could go through with it. When I said we were from Alabama, our tour guide, Matt, said, "Roll Tide," and we were quick to interject that we weren't those kind of Alabamians (Go Dawgs!). Below are some pictures taken during that memorable carriage ride:

Throughout the old part of the city, there were private gardens everywhere, and while we couldn't walk through them, we enjoyed peeking at them through iron gates. It literally felt like some parts of the city were frozen in time.

One of my favorite older houses had an old boot scraper outside the front door and I loved the wrap around porches everywhere!

I broke my sunglasses several weeks ago and bought some new ones at the market--finally!

That evening, we were wined and dined at a delicious seafood restaurant where we met some wonderful people who justified why Charleston is known as the "kindest city in the nation." On Friday, Phil had his interviews while I went back downtown to window shop and take in the water that I love so much. We finished our Charleston experience with a late afternoon trip to one of the beaches there. The fog was rolling in and the sky was beautiful--dream-like gray--and we enjoyed walking and discussing the day's experiences. Although we didn't pack for the 78 degree humid weather, we certainly loved the city and Phil really liked the program. It's definitely in our "fav five."

Monday, November 10, 2008


My brain is a revolving rolodex, a to do list that updates itself constantly--a quality that has proven to be both beneficial and highly frustrating. At any given moment, I am a good 8 steps ahead of myself. Instead of thinking "Let's watch a movie," I'm thinking, "If we start a movie now, it will be over at ______ o'clock, which means that it's probably later than we want to go to bed. So, do we start a movie now and not finish it or do we wait until another time to watch it? And if we are watching a movie tonight, then I need to make something for dinner that's quick so we can go ahead and get started. And we can't have the quiche in the freezer for dinner because it will take too long to defrost and that's to take to someone next week, so I'll have to use something else..." The thoughts go on, but I'll stop there. It sounds ridiculous to type, but I think that it might just be the way females are wired, that whole multi-tasking business.

This self-updating to-do list of a brain does tend to help me use my time well and to be intentional with it, but I have a hard time resting my mind--something I envy in the type B's of the world. The brain that allows me to be extremely efficient and to see a panoramic picture of things is the same one that causes me to sometimes miss the things that matter most, to overlook needs in the lives of those around me, and to err on being too practical at times.

And now, if I don't wrap up this rambling post, I won't sleep long enough, which won't be good since I need to wake up and run errands, make bread, and go to the grocery store...which all needs to happen in the morning so that I can pick up Phil's pants from the alteration place after lunch..............

And while I am lost in tomorrow's thoughts, there are those tonight who are wishing they had hopes for tomorrow at all. What a humbling, worthwhile thought.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bed Farkle

Don't judge a blog by its title. Don't do it. Or you might find your thoughts catapulting in the wrong direction. With that sage advice, let me dispel what bed farkle is NOT: Bed Farkle has nothing to do with sex, farting, or any other bodily function. Bed Farkle is a variation on a dice game, given to us by none other than Dwight Johnson, Phil's dad. If you've never played, it's extremely easy to learn, requires a little strategy, and taps into our universal desire to gamble, which makes it slightly addicting.

Basically, there are 2-6 players who each take a turn rolling 5 dice. Points are awarded for rolling a 5, a 1, or pairs, triples, or straights. You may roll more than once on your turn, but that's where the little bit of strategy comes into play. The first player to reach 10,000 points wins. To read the official instructions, go to

Bed Farkle, then, is simply playing the game of Farkle on one's bed before going to sleep. It's a perfect way to wind down at the end of the day and the uneven, soft surface of the bed adds an extra element of chance when the dice roll (I'm easily entertained).

How could you not want to play a game with a title like that? It's a great conversation starter: "Do you want to farkle?" Prepare to be judged for such a question, but don't worry--farkling isn't dirty, it's just dicey. (Pardon the pun--I couldn't resist)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

R.I.P., Old Faithful.

Today is not just any day. In addition to being the first day of November, it is also the day I replaced my 5-year-old cell phone affectionately known as "Old Faithful." Though I dropped it regularly, it served me without fail until recently when static started coming through as I was talking with people. So, in memory of Old Faithful, I'd like to share with you some "My phone is so old jokes":

My phone is so old that the customer service rep laughed at it when I showed him.

My phone is so old that I couldn't even find a picture of it on the Internet.

My phone is so old that I have had it longer than I've had a relationship with my husband.

My phone is so old that the buttons are rubbing off.

My phone is so old that I've never seen another person with it (which is part of why I love it so much).

So, I am the (reluctantly) proud owner of a new T-mobile Samsung olive green and black flip phone. The guy at the store said, "What features do you want your new phone to have," and I said, "Um, I'd like to be able to call people, but other than that, I really don't care. I'm low maintenance when it comes to phones. No cameras. No Internet connection. No frills." He looked at Phil, pointed at me and said, "Keep that one" and then told me to "write a book" for the rest of the female population that apparently has a different set of values and expectations concerning their phones. I must say that I took his comment as a compliment.

I'm still in the comparing stage right now, finding features I like better and worse in my new phone, but like everything else in life, I'm sure I'll adjust to this new change. But if I don't, Old Faithful is still at the house, tucked away like the Velveteen Rabbit, never forgotten and always loved.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

cheap thrills.

I have a ridiculous confession to make: I love--absolutely love--using a new bottle of shampoo. While I'm strictly a Suave girl, I'm one of those people who always tries a new smell, so when I'm at the end of a bottle, I can't wait to use that last drop to start with the new scent. In fact, I've been known to throw away a bottle with a little shampoo left in it just so that I can use the new kind. Lately, I've been on a Suave Professionals kick, and apparently it works well since every time I go to have my hair cut the people ask me what products I use. You should see their faces drop when I say Suave; it's like I just insulted them or something. Anyway, I opened a new bottle of Suave Professionals Humectant shampoo and conditioner this matter that I have no idea what humectant is. It smells like coconut and makes my hair clean and shiny, and that's all that matters. Happiness doesn't have to cost a fortune after all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


A phone conversation with my 9-year-old brother:

ME: Hey buddy!
JOSEPH: (obviously disappointed) Oh. I thought I was going to talk to Phil.
ME: Well, you were, but I just wanted to say hi first and tell you that I love you.
JOSEPH: Okay, well, can I talk to Phil now?

I guess I can't blame the kid. I mean, he's had to grow up with two sisters and no brothers at home, so he can't help it if he prefers talking to Phil (a guy) over me. I can handle it. In fact, I know how he feels since I grew up with only brothers and no sisters. But I will be tackling him the next time I see him...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ham-Ham-Hammer Time

An M.C. Hammer classic, "Too Legit to Quit" popped in my head today and just wouldn't leave--typical of those catchy 80s songs. Anyway, I shared with my creative writing class that the song had been playing like a broken record and one of my students said, "Is that song, like, old?" And another said, "I don't know that song." And yet another, "Those are the words to that song?" Before they could floor me any further, I stopped them with an incredulous, "You really haven't heard that song? Am I THAT old, really?" (And of course I'm thinking, "Is that song old? Because it doesn't seem old to me.")

A sweet girl in the front row said, "Mrs. Johnson, you're not old." Brown noser or not, that girl is getting an A.

There's a lot from the 80s that needs never to return (big hair, glowing makeup, leg warmers, tied t-shirts, splotchy jeans, braided belts, and neon colors, to name a few), but M.C. Hammer, jellies, and Alligator polos are welcome to stick around. They're just too legit to quit.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Just Say No

While many Americans would confess to caffeine addiction, I suffer from caffeine sensitivity. That's right: only decaf for me...unless you want my heart rate to speed up, my head to pound, my body to become jittery, and my emotions to turn somewhat bipolar. I realize that the term "caffeine sensitivity" takes a lowly place on the health world shelf next to Restless Leg Syndrome, the common cold, and allergies, but it is a real medical condition. Thankfully, there's an easy cure: avoid caffeine. For me, that means I must divorce myself from regular coffee and tea, but may still maintain my relationship with decaf and chocolate.

If my body reacts this way to a minor stimulant like caffeine, I can only imagine what would happen if a real drug got in my system. I'd be that kid who dies the first time she tries Speed. The motto "Just Say No" comes in handy. Speed? "No." Caffeine? "No." Chocolate? "Yes please!" So...I have a weakness. At least it's not drugs.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Last Sunday as Phil and I were driving home from our small group, we heard a loud thud on our car window. Now, there are quite a few things that could have made a loud thud on a car window: a blind bird, an oversized locust, a rock spewed by a passing car, animal suicide...or a good old fashioned egging. That's right: we were egged--just one well placed egg that hit the window behind the driver's seat, thankfully not scratching the car. I actually would have suspected the blind bird over an egg--evidence that it's been a while since I was in high school.

Despite the minor inconvenience, I found the whole experience quite entertaining. My life has been fairly uneventful lately, so why not throw a little egg into the mix and make it more interesting?

Conveniently, we were only a few feet away from a gas station where we used the windshield cleaner to rid any trace of the egg. (You never know what substance you might be cleaning your windshield with). The funniest part of the story is that while Phil was cleaning our car, there was a guy one spot over at the gas station doing the exact same thing because he, too, was a victim of the egging incident. No car left behind.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Besides the school year being in full swing, there is another reason why I have been so inconsistent in writing lately. I'm not proud of this, but I must confess a new addiction: the Twilight series. For over a year now, the girls that I teach have been magnetized to these books, reading them during every free moment, animatedly talking about them, and begging me to read them. I resisted because they were described to me as "A story about a girl who falls in love with a vampire." Now, I'm not really into vampires or anything else that sucks your blood, not to mention a story that teenage girls drool over. However, after a year of resistance, I finally gave into reading the series in order to at least be able to converse with the girls I teach.

Let's just say that I devoured the first book (500 pages) in four days and borrowed the second from one of my students today.

I must admit that it is aimed at teenage girls, but it is also a New York Times Bestseller, is extremely well-written, and reads a lot like Harry Potter with well crafted suspense and characters. It's easy to read, leaves you with just enough questions to turn the pages at lightning speed, and includes clean romance, which is nice for a change in the teenage girl book world. Of course, the romance has to be clean if the girl is in love with a vampire; if he goes too far, he'll suck her blood!

One thing I really like about this series is the variety of girls that are drawn to it. Unlike some books, they aren't written with unattainably perfect characters or the "popular girl" audience in mind. The protagonist is an average, flawed, unassuming girl, which makes her very accessible and attractive, and because of that, the reading audience is void of any social status.

While the books are surprisingly convincing, I defer to the wisdom of Bart Simpson: "Vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins, and eskimos."

Friends shouldn't talk friends into running

I really thought I was immune to peer pressure, but apparently, I'm easily persuaded by those I love to do even the most illogical of tasks. Actually, it's not peer pressure; it's the innate competitive nature that comes from growing up with so many brothers; I just can't say no to a challenge.

Take my best friend, Alisa, for example. In college, she thought that running a 15K sounded like fun and naturally thought that I would like to join her in an hour and a half of grueling pavement pounding. While I did actually enjoy the race and have a "runner's high," (particularly when a guy in his yard was blaring the Rocky theme song and spraying us with water from his sprinkler) I can't say that I ever wanted to do it again.

Well, here we are six years later, and I can honestly say that I probably haven't run more than 2 or maybe 3 miles at a time in those years. A few weeks ago, Alisa approached me again--this time about a 10K race in November. My fortitude had waned some in six years, and my initial response was, "You've got to be kidding me. I'm not a runner. Why do you keep asking me to train for races with you?" However, after several weeks of trying to justify NOT running, I finally gave in to the challenge. So, yes, I'll be running in the Vulcan 10K in November, and since I haven't run in so long, I'm actually enjoying the training since it's different from my normal routine. It's something new and something to share with friends, and that makes life a bit more interesting and full somehow.

So, look for me in the Vulcan 10K; I'll be the one in the back running the 12 minute mile and singing the Rocky theme song to myself for inspiration.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Book Plug

It's dangerous to let me loose in a used book store, and I found myself in a little hole-in-the-wall place a few weeks ago when I was in Dothan, AL. National Best Sellers or NY Times Notable Books always catch my eye and I tend to enjoy most of them, so when I saw Gwyn Hyman Rubio's book, Icy Sparks, I was compelled to try it (you don't have much to lose when buying from a used book store). The story is set in the 1940's in back hills, small town Kentucky and follows the life of a young girl, Icy Sparks, who is raised by her grandparents. Icy has Tourette's Syndrome, but since it isn't recognized as a neuropsychiatric disorder at that time in history, she is sent to a mental institution hours away from her small town where other "loony" children are sent. However, after several months there, the doctor finds nothing wrong with her and sends her back home with some behavior therapy. This coming of age story chronicles her battle both with social ostracism and within herself as she longs to be normal in a world that has no place for her. The book is filled with humor, insight, and compassion and is one that I highly recommend. And it also has another plus: short chapters, which means it's a quick read because of the "just one more chapter" mentality. Next on my list to read (and also from the used book store): Three Junes by Julia Glass--a bestseller, of course!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fried Green Tomatoes

I ordered an appetizer of fried green tomatoes at a restaurant the other day that were absolutely divine. "I bet I could make those," I thought. So, on Saturday, I picked up some green tomatoes at the local farmer's market and yesterday I found a Southern Living recipe to follow and got to work. Let's just say that my homemade version rivaled the restaurant's. Just typing about them makes my mouth water. So, for all you kitchen experimenters out there, here's the recipe I used (and I don't recommend skimping on anything or trying to make a more "healthy" version):

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 medium-sized firm green tomatoes, cut into 1/3-inch slices
vegetable oil
salt to taste

Combine egg & buttermilk in a shallow bowl and set aside.

Combine 1/4 cup flour, cornmeal, 1 tsp. salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl or pan.

Dredge tomatoes in remaining 1/4 cup flour, dip in egg mixture, and dredge in cornmeal mixture.

Pour oil to a depth of 1/4 inch in a large skillet; heat to 375 degrees (med-hi heat). Drop tomatoes, in batches, into the hot oil; cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels or rack. Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt.

Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese on top of each one and serve with marinara sauce.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


The following is a poetry exercise I do with my creative writing class. I find pictures of several exotic flowers, and their job is to write an 8-line poem that is a series of metaphors describing that flower. At the end of class that day, we try to guess which poem goes with which flower picture. The goal is that we begin to notice detail and notice facets of nature that we otherwise would have overlooked; it's also helpful when teaching metaphors. Here's one I wrote tonight as a sample for my students tomorrow. I have no idea what kind of flower this is, but it is one of the most beautiful and creative pieces of nature I have ever seen.

A tie-dye t-shirt drying in dewey grass
An open eye with 80s blue mascara
An alien with three plum tentacles and a flowing skirt
A hot dog and kiwi picnic
A rocket at takeoff, spewing blue fire
A graceful tutu-ed octopus
An impractical speckled umbrella
Eight silver-green shovels with one unforgettable handle.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More is Less

I like to develop theories about various activities and patterns in the universe, and my latest is the "More is Less" Theory, which states that any product with enough sway, power, and popularity, eventually shortens its name. Take, for example, the Macintosh computer. When I hear the word "Macintosh," I think of pixled images, no Internet, Oregon Trail, and perforated printing paper, but when I hear the word "Mac," a thousand sleek, intelligent pictures come to mind. Why? Because Apple has conquered the More is Less Theory. Another example: Coke, formerly known as Coca-Cola. If I were to ask you for a Coca-cola, you might think I had aged a few decades or perhaps just arrived from another planet. Why use the mouth full "Coca-cola" when you could just ask for a Coke? Coke, too, has a firm grasp on the More is Less Theory.

This theory applies to people as well: become famous enough and we don't even need to mention your last name anymore. Cher. Bono. Regis. Madonna. Oprah. Actually, Oprah has moved beyond just the first name recognition to the single letter recognition, O. She and George W. do have something in common after all. However, Obama might be competing for rights to that letter, so we'll see what happens.

Despite what you might think, less isn't more.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tut, tut. Looks like thought showers!

For those of you who don't read the Limbaugh Letter like my husband, you missed quite an entertaining article this past month about the buzzword "brainstorming." Apparently, the town of Kent, England has decided that the term brainstorming "might offend mentally ill people and those with epilepsy." Just to clarify, it's not that this term is offensive; it's that it may be offensive...because people with mental illnesses and epilepsy have storms in their brain? And that is something they are embarrassed by and might possibly consider offensive? According to Kent's town council, the answer is YES. So, the politically correct term is now "thought showers," which, might be offensive to meteorologists world wide. So perhaps they should change it to "thought explosions," although that's too easily linked to terrorism. Maybe "brain power"? Or would that offend the geniuses of the world? Political correctness is a black hole. So, just remember: the next time you're in Kent, England doing some brainstorming, make sure you're thought showering or you could have to have some diversity training--Michael Scott style.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A new Olympic sport

My dreams have concocted yet another creative morsel: a new Olympic sport! What sport could possibly top gymnastics, beach volleyball, or the swimming of U.S.A. darling, Michael Phelps? Why, downhill water hockey, of course. This new event combines downhill skiing, water skiing, and hockey to deliver a face-paced, intense and wet competition that is sure to wow audiences around the world. In this one-on-one event, two athletes water ski down a wide and gradual water slide while hitting a hockey puck back and forth with hockey sticks. Each athlete can only touch the puck once before his or her opponent must touch it, and this "hot potato" effect must continue until the bottom of the slide, where there is a red line. Once the players cross the red line, the person who hits the puck first and successfully lands it in the net at the bottom of the slide wins a point. If the player unsuccessfully shoots, neither player receives a point. After each run down the slide, the players return to the top for another round until one player reaches five points. The player who earns five points first is declared the winner.

I'm considering contacting the Olympic committee to tell them about this novelty. Nevermind that this sport defies physics and logic; that's its draw. And you have to admit that it's much more of a sport than, say, curling. Downhill water hockey? In my dreams.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Writing, living, and Chinese food

I read an article in The Writer magazine today, explaining that good writing comes from good living. Maybe that's why I have a hard time blogging during the school year and such an easy time in the summer. The author suggested living creatively, oddly, adventurously with the aim that it will fuel more interesting writing. He noted that it might be appropriate sometimes to take off a day of work, try a new skill, write with your non-dominant hand, or go somewhere unusual. Some might call teaching adolescents an adventure in itself (and it is), but from August to May my life crams with work, ousting that extra time for "creative living." So, one of my goals this year is to find time and ways to do interesting things in the midst of the working world--not just so that I'll have more to write about, but also so that I can have some f-u-n. After a day of planning, meetings, making copies, and putting tennis balls on the legs of desks so they don't scrape the floor, I'm ready for some of that good living. So, in honor of living creatively and well, Phil and I are off to my brother's house to order Chinese food (it's only appropriate) and watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics! Life is good.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two more dream stories

As many of you know, my dream life is extremely active and entertaining, especially after reading before going to bed. Phil and I have been reading book 7 of Harry Potter out loud to each other at night (I've already read it once and Phil is experiencing it for the first time) and it has produced some pretty hilarious and outlandish dreams. Here are the latest two:

1. The first dream wasn't very coherent, but what I remember is that by friend Matt, who is in med school with Phil and goes to church with us, was a renowned lawyer, dressed very suavely with a crisp suit and tie, shined shoes, a briefcase, and aviator sunglasses (of course). He ended up on a helicopter that started to spin out of control. For whatever reason, the pilot wasn't doing anything, so he took the controls and safely landed it. Because of that, we named him "church lawyer," although at another point in the dream he was also the pastor of a mega church. When he was the pastor of the mega-church, he was bringing on the reformed theology (no Joel Osteen, thankfully) dressed in slacks and a button down--maybe a tie--and it was rather carnival-like with people moving around all the time, ushers with headsets, and 3 rows of balconies. So, if the medicine thing doesn't work out for him, he could apparently be a lawyer, pilot, and pastor...or all three, for that matter!

2. My second dream this week was a bit more coherent and was the product of one of my new favorite shows, Last Comic Standing. In my dream, however, it was Last Improver Standing. I was in the final 20 or so contestants and, while I didn't think I was good enough to win, I was able to hold my own. Here's how it worked: we went out on stage in pairs, not having any idea what we would be asked to do, and were judged on our ability to improvise a scene. One time I went on stage with an exceptionally attractive guy. We were given the first line of the scene and that was it. Unfortunately, I can't remember what the line was, but I do remember making all the judges, audience members, and most importantly, the hot guy laugh, which was rewarding. The second time I went on stage I was with a middle-aged woman and there was a small pile of props there that we were to incorporate into a scene. All I remember is using a bunch of green apples somehow and yelling at her (in character, of course). I woke up before the final cuts, but it was nice to be so entertaining and creative and fearless! Only in my dreams...

We have several chapters left in Harry Potter, so I'm sure there are more dream stories to come. Until then, beware: you might just show up in my next nocturnal adventure!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back to school

There was a time when I looked forward to the beginning of a new school year--mostly for the new, colorful folders, new clothes, and new classes. In seventh grade, I was most excited about a pink and aqua folder, a new pair of Keds, landing a top locker, and having almost all my classes with my best friends, Kim and Caroline. (Side note: I also played the french horn and had what I affectionately call the "trifecta": glasses, braces, and bangs).

Today is my last day before reporting to work for another year of teaching and I am honestly excited about it. I usually finish the school year feeling fairly depleted in every way, so the summer pace of part-time work and part-time relaxation was just what I needed to refuel for a new school year.

I will, however, miss the following from my summer schedule:
slow mornings
dressing down
coffee with friends
working out regularly
staying up late
slower pace
less stress
counseling at Sav-A-Life

But I am also looking forward to the following starting tomorrow:
structure in my schedule
new students (and old ones)
a fresh start
reconnecting with colleagues
writing more by teaching creative writing
relying on Jesus more
football games
fine tuning my teaching practices

So, school year 2008-2009, here I come! Tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A novel of poetic proportions

I recently read Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez's book, Love in the Time of Cholera, and while I recommend it with reservation due to content, it's form is exquisite. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, Màrquez writes prose that drips with intelligence, beauty, creativity, and purpose. Somehow, he makes even a novel sound poetic. Here are a few phrases and sentences that I underlined as I read just because of their brilliance:

"they almost always have crystals in their heart"
"insomniac dawns"
"like a wind out of yesterday"
"there was no innocence more dangerous than the innocence of age"
"the irreparable rush of days"
"those lips petrified by the terror of love"
"the charitable deceptions of nostalgia"
"the spell of habit"
"the bay belched filth from the sewers back onto land"
"the wintry eyes of his dog"
"the maggot broth of memory"
"the doe's gait of her younger days"
"he was living his final afternoons"
"the invincible weight of her age"

and my favorite:
"He recognized her despite the uproar, through his tears of unrepeatable sorrow at dying without her, and he looked at her for the last and final time with eyes more luminous, more grief-stricken, more grateful than she had ever seen them in half a century of a shared life, and he managed to say to her with his last breath: 'Only God knows how much I loved you.'"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hooked on Phonics

Let's be honest: America has unhitched itself from phonics; we are independent, self-sufficient, and certainly above needing rules concerning letters in order to create a word. Let the laws of language roam where they may; we are not following, and that's our final answer.

The word nuclear, for example, is quite challenging for many well-respected people, including my husband and our very own President. Somehow, the word that looks so simple on the page comes out NU-kew-lar. Embrace relativism: exchanging one vowel for another and moving things around a bit is fine; besides, everyone is doing it.

My latest mispronounced favorite is sudoku. It is always spelled the same way. Every consonant has a vowel after it that sounds like it looks. Should be a shoo in, but I've heard everything from su-DOO-ko to so-KOO-doo, and, most recently, su-KOO-do, which sounds more like some sort of martial arts move than a logic puzzle. Americans have always had a hard time learning other people's languages.

Of course, I must reveal my own hypocrisy: I've always called a plague a "pleg," which, unfortunately sounds strikingly like an abbreviation for "prosthetic leg" rather than an epidemic.

The most nucular pleg, however, is that America is not hooked on phonics. But who needs to learn phonics when you could do a sukudo puzzle instead?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


The very word "blooper" is such a blooper of a word. At the risk of seeming juvenile, an invented word combining common silly words like "loopy" and "poop" and "blob" is bound to have ridiculously funny results. I must confess that I have spent the last hour of my life watching "Stupid Game Show Answers" on Youtube...and laughing out loud...and loving it. There's something in us as humans that loves to laugh at the blunders of others, or even ourselves, and I am no exception. In fact, I was in Chattanooga this past weekend for my brother's birthday and we pulled out home videos in which one of my brothers fell on his face and we couldn't resist watching it over and over again. It's that preoccupation with bloopers that causes Japanese game shows and shows like "Wipe Out" to have such wide audiences. So, if you have nothing better to do or just need to lighten your day with laughter, go to Youtube and watch some foozling, bungling, blubbering bloopers!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A few of my favorite things...

When I was in 5th grade, I played the part of "Marta" in the high school performance of The Sound of Music. Consequently, I know and love all the songs to that musical...except when they get stuck in my head. This morning, the broken record of my mind is playing "My Favorite Things," so I thought, being the list-maker that I am, that I would make my own list of favorite things (in no particular order):

slow mornings
children laughing
The Office
smoothies in the summer
game nights
chocolate chip cookies
just-shaven legs
getting the mail
sharing a meal
dreaming silly dreams
Downy wrinkle release
reading memoirs
listening to a good story
organized sports
deep conversations
the smell of my hair after a shower
unscheduled time
a good sneeze
Balderdash with the family
Nike women's shox pursuit (see picture below)

Just a few of my favorite things. Now, if I could just get the song out of my head...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My coffee theory

Coffee always tastes better when someone else makes it. I know it's dangerous to use words like "always" and "never" because of their sweeping assumptions, but in this case, it's appropriate. No matter what brand of coffee I buy and make, it never tastes as good as when others make it. At first, I thought it might be my old coffee maker, but after some deep cleaning of the filter and some introspection, I'm convinced that it tastes sub par simply because I make it. It's like eating hotdogs at a baseball game. Other than your childhood and the occasional cookout, most of us do not prefer hotdogs for dinner, but a ballpark dog--now that's truly enticing.

I was reminded of my theory today as I shared a cup of Publix's decaf breakfast blend with my friend Melissa. She was apologizing for her Publix brand, but honestly, it was a delicious cup of coffee--strong and sweet (I highly recommend it). She could have given me a cup of any brand and I would have loved it because (you guessed it): I didn't make it! (Thanks, Mel!)

When someone else makes the coffee, it means you are with others when drinking it, and there's something about that beverage that begs for company and invites good conversation. It also means you don't have to work for it, which might be a more honest explanation.

Whatever the reason, my theory is uncontested: coffee is better when someone else makes it. I dare you to try to prove me wrong.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Relinquishment: letting go to God

For my seminary class, I've been reading a book by John White entitled Parents in Pain. I am currently neither a parent nor in pain, but I found chapter 9 on relinquishment to be transforming both for my life now without children and for my future life with them. The way to give our kids freedom, the author argues, is to let them go to God. White would be the first to say that it is good to teach our children to respect their elders, to say thank you, to strive for excellence, peace in the home, etc., but far too often, we view these good things as rights instead of privileges. Often, we assume that the privileges of parenthood are rights and this is our problem. White explains that relinquishing means we are to yield, to give up, to let go of several things:

1. Forsaking the right to be proud: While you may be proud of your children and push them hard, what is your motivation in having them succeed? Is it self-serving in any way? White wisely states, "Your children were not given to you in order for you to boast. Let your boast be in God's goodness to them and to you.
2. Giving up the right to uninterrupted enjoyment of your children: Some parents always want their children close by even when they are grown, motivated by their own needs and desire to be surrounded by their children. The question again is one of motives: "Is my first concern really with their moral development or is it with my own needs?" Often, we would rather control our children so that we can enjoy them, not realizing that that control is poisonous.
3. Giving up the right to possess my children: This is the idea that you "own" your children, and will manifest itself in overly controlling parental decisions.
4. Be willing to forego any repayment for what you have done for your children: It is easy as parents to want and expect something in return for all the years of thankless caregiving we have offered our children, whether we expect them to care for us when we are older or whether we expect a simple thank you. We must give up our expectation of getting something in return for our love so that when it does come, we are fully of joy.
5. Giving up your right to uninterrupted tranquility: This one is the hardest for me. To quote White, " To have children will almost certainly mean that you will have problems. They will arise when you least expect them. They pay no heed to your plans, your convenience, your headache, your schedule, your finances....There are times when you can and should insist that your needs take priority over your children's demands. But if your peace depends on so controlling events that nothing gets out of hand but that everything remains in its place, then either you or your children are going to be in trouble." Again, domestic tranquility may be your privilege, but never your right.
6. Giving up your right to immunity from gossip: What happens when our children don't meet the approval of society's standards? What if our children shoplift or are involved in a drunk driving accident? We must forfeit our seeming need to look good to those around us and focus instead on the open, accepting arms of Jesus.
7. Allowing your children to face pain and tragedy, and allowing them to accept the consequences of their own actions: In other words, "let your children discover at an early age that fire burns." Of course, giving children responsibility happens in stages, not all at once, but do not attempt to "cover" for your teenage son or daughter or get them out of a situation for which they need to take responsibility.

White concludes, "At its heart, relinquishment is not relinquishment of your children but of delusions about your own power, the delusion that you have power to determine their destinies. I do not know what destiny whether small or great God plans for the children who most concern you. I do know that you will have more peace if you can grasp how crucial relinquishment is, how utterly safe it is to place your children in God's sure hands."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Tonight we had "brinner," a term coined by none other than Turk from the fabulously hilarious show Scrubs. Brinner, or breakfast for dinner, was a Sunday night tradition in my home growing up, but since being married, we inexplicably had not made our brinner debut until tonight. There's nothing better than blueberry pancakes, bacon, and fresh fruit salad to end a day, and when else do you get to eat dessert after breakfast? The verdict is out: brinner is a winner.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The tale of the roaches, the rice, and the microwave giveaway

The following story is true. Be it understood that neither the husband nor the wife were at fault in this mishap and that the wife really is a good cook. The author would also like to recognize the uncanny resemblance this story has to the Seinfeld episode, "B.O."

Once upon a time, there was a kind young couple who were blissfully making dinner. But what seemed to be an ordinary, uneventful evening soon became one of the most humorous, bumbling nights of their lives.

Our story actually begins several years ago when the couple were first married. Just weeks after they had moved into their home together and had unpacked their belongings, two small roaches took up residence in their microwave display area. They were drawn in at night by the light of the microwave and found that they could crawl in through the holes in the back. However, what they did not realize was that once they made their way into the display area, there was no way out, and tragically, for both insect and human, the roaches died. Since the microwave was only weeks old, the couple couldn't justify throwing or giving it away, so they were forced to look at the roaches (affectionally called "Roachie") as they became more and more translucent. If nothing else, Roachie became a humorous conversation starter when guests came over to the house.

Now back to the couple making dinner. Earlier in the week, the wife had sent the husband to the grocery store with a very detailed list, including "a bag of brown rice." Not thinking that she needed to be more specific about the brand, she was slightly surprised to see "China Doll" brown rice when he arrived at home, but figured it would suffice.

This brown rice, however, took more time to cook on the stovetop than usual, so to save time, the wife followed the microwave instructions--exactly. "Cook for 30 minutes on 50%."

About 25 minutes into the micro-waving process, the wife began to smell something burning. Upon opening the microwave, she was greeted with billowing black smoke and yelled for the husband to take the bowl of rice outside, which he did with great heroism. The rice, however, was burned to a black crisp and created a smell that wafted through the entire neighborhood.

The couple spent the next several hours burning candles, boiling vinegar and cinnamon, plugging in air fresheners, and opening windows to shoo the smell out of the house. At last, they realized that it was simply time to admit that the microwave had lost the battle. They gladly set the microwave on the street, hoping that some unfortunate soul might pick it up, and then they were off to buy a new, clean, roach-free microwave!

Sure enough, just after an hour of heavy rain, some hoodwinked person picked up the microwave, much to the couple's delight. And that night, after washing their hair and clothes several times over, the couple went back to their blissful lives, free of roaches and China Doll rice. THE END.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The little by little principle

I must begin with the confession that this principle is not my creation; if it were, I would probably have named it the "Give me a!" principle. The "little by little" principle is this: everything worth having in life will require small investments over time, like building a house of cards. The other part of the principle is that an absence of making small investments over time leads to a slow death of the spirit. Most of us want the end product without doing the little by little everyday effort.

Far from originating with me, the little by little principle is first mentioned in the Book of Exodus when God tells the Israelites about how they will conquer the promised land of Canaan. Canaan was inhabited by a variety of people groups, many of which had well-trained militaries, giants, and other intimidating figures. God says, "I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land" (Exodus 23:29-30). If God had allowed them to take over all of Canaan in just one year, they would not have had enough Israelites to tend to the land and livestock, which would have resulted in disaster. Instead, God wisely allowed them to conquer people groups little by little, which allowed for the Israelites to grow in numbers and experience, leading to success.

God has always been about the business of giving us a little at a time, that we might prove our faithfulness with a little and be kept from destruction, ultimately resulting in His glory. Professional card stacker Bryan Berg would be the first to say that you must be diligent in the small things (the individual cards) in order to produce a final product (the house of cards). This principle has many applications for our lives spiritually, relationally, and intellectually. First, we can apply the little by little principle to our daily times with the Lord. Reading the Word one day does not typically change a person, but reading it every day--even if it seems to be completely powerless at the time--does result in an intimacy with the Savior that can't be traced to a single moment, but years of moments that create something bigger than itself. Second, we can apply the principle relationally. I think particularly of parenting and how a well-mannered child does not just appear, but is the result of many minutes, hours, days, and years of discipline, love, modeling, prayers, tears, and triumphs. Third, this principle applies to our intellectual lives. My students often whine and wonder, "When will we ever use algebra in our lives?" and they don't realize that it's not about the algebra, but that algebra is a deck of cards used to create the house of education; without algebra, they have a wall missing.

The examples of the little by little principle are endless, but identifying this principle has given me such purpose and intentionality in the small stuff of life, giving it value. While I may be frustrated by the slow pace that this principle demands, any more than a little at time would be too much for me; like the Israelites, my give-it-to-me-now mentality would lead to destruction and depletion. As C.S. Lewis said, "Hell is getting what you want all of the time." I'm grateful that the universe functions under God's principles and not my own, or I would literally experience hell on earth.

(For the record, that's Bryan Berg in the picture standing with his 25 ft., 9 in. card creation--not surprisingly a world record. Check out the the video of him creating the capitol building at

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My disappointment with poets

Whenever I read poems, I always imagine the poets to be sublime, superhuman and magical. In my mind's eye, they have purple eyes and skin that glows; they live in forests and talk to animals; they can time travel; they don't have belly buttons. So, I am always a bit nonplussed by the actual authors themselves, ordinary men and women who are going bald, have circles under their eyes, wear sweaters, go for jogs in the park, and fill up on gasoline just like anyone else. Billy Collins in one such person: an ordinary man with an extraordinary ability to create poetry that sends electricity through my brain. His writing has such depth and accessibility that it compels me to read more. Here's one of my favorites:

On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

rearranging. furniture.

I'll keep it brief, but I decided to rename my blog and blog address; "Cara's Blogtropolis" was apparently just a fad that was on its way out. So, I thought long and hard on the new title and hope you like the change as much as I do. It's like rearranging the furniture in your home; everything is the same, but it's fresh and you like looking at it again.

Sinning in my Sleep

For those of you who know me, you know that I have a very active dream life. I dream in color, detail, and theme; it's like watching a movie in my sleep every night, and I've found that I have more bizarre dreams if I read before I go to bed, which I usually do. I've dreamed about being a robot, about spiders, about spying, and, most recently, about my high school reunion. I woke up this morning dreaming that my high school reunion was held in a large gym with an industrial kitchen attached--nice. Apparently, in addition to having a reunion, we were making it extra special by bringing our own food and sleeping in cabins nearby...for an entire weekend. We had organized games in the gym and cereal at midnight--a true reversion back to the good 'ole days. When the weekend was over, however, everyone left fairly quickly with legitimate but probably not entirely true excuses like, "I have to catch my plane" (even though it doesn't leave for 8 more hours) or "I need to pick up my kids" (even though my mom said she'd keep them until late tonight) or "I have some work to do before tomorrow morning rolls around" (whatever that may be). Convenient. So, I was left by myself to clean all the dishes we had used all weekend long, and here was the thought I had in my dream: "I hope someone sees me doing this so I can be thanked for all this work." And there it is. My depravity at its worst, finding me even in my sleep. God has such a funny way of reminding us of our sin, doesn't He? So, if anyone has an extra measure of humility and servant hood out there, I need a heavy dose.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I finally sat down to read the latest issue of Cooking Light that arrived at my house several weeks ago and came across a fascinating article about a restaurant in Denver, CO called SAME Cafe. The name stands for So All May Eat, and it's a non-profit restaurant founded by husband (chef) and wife, Brad and Libby Birky. The restaurant is unique in that there are no prices on the menu and no cash registers to be found; patrons pay with donations or manual labor. The restaurant serves mostly organic food and has an average of two soups, two salads, two pizzas or wraps, and one dessert on the menu, which changes daily. The idea is to offer affordable, healthful food to those who otherwise could not afford it. In addition to drawing in college students, blue collar workers, and the homeless, this unique cafe also lures the middle and upper class. Its seven tables provide a quaint, informal atmosphere and the food smells and tastes delicious--who couldn't resist?

How does a place like this cover their overhead costs and actually make a profit? Both Brad and Libby are still working on that; in the meantime, they're both working full time jobs in addition to running the cafe. However, there are some strategies in place that are helping. First, those who are wealthier often donate more than the meal was worth, and in addition those who cannot or do not want to pay can offer an hour of work (bussing tables, washing dishes, etc.) in exchange for their meal, which means that the Birkys don't have to hire outside help. Also, since they are filed as a non-profit organization, they can apply for government grants and also accept donations online.

The cafe is such an effective way to meet one of humankind's basic needs and even goes a step beyond that by making that food healthful and available to all who walk through their doors. If you want to learn more, go to I know that if I'm ever in Denver, I'm definitely looking up the SAME Cafe...and leaving them a large donation...or some significant elbow grease!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remembering Pop-pop

Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of my grandfather's death, and the day was full of sweet memories instead of overwhelming sadness. The cliche that time is a great healer can seem trite at times, but there is great truth to it; passage of time is medicinal when grieving a loss of any kind.

It's like letting go of a helium balloon: the actual letting go is the most difficult part, but with each passing moment, you relinquish it a bit more. As the balloon shrinks, so does your need for it. While your heart is still filled with longing, it's also filled with hope: how far will it go? Who will find it? That tiny speck of oval rubber in the sky is destined for greatness! To borrow from Sandra Cisneros in her short story, "Eleven," the "runaway balloon [is] like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny-tiny that you have to close your eyes to see it." Grieving the death of a loved one is like that.

The actual moment of letting go is the hardest. Over time, we slowly relinquish them and, though our hearts are full of longing and loneliness, they are also full of hope, knowing that God has found them! Eventually, our lives adapt so much that we don't see the one we lost every time we look around, and when we do see them, they are smaller and nostalgically sweet. Like the runaway balloon, they never disappear; they just go home, and we must close our eyes to see them in our memories and in our dreams.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Snail Mail Resolve

With the invention of the cell phone, email, facebook, AIM, and other virtual communication devices, the old-fashioned snail mail method of communicating has gone by the wayside. I have just one friend in the entire world who still writes me hand written letters on a fairly regular basis and I LOVE finding her letters in the mailbox. When I was younger, I often wrote five letters a week on average, and developed an anticipation for that moment when the mail carrier came with that day's treasures (or trash, as the case may have been).

A hand-written letter says: "I have taken time out of my day to think of you. You are worth 43 cents. The 10 or 15 minutes I invested in this letter were by no means wasted. For this little chunk of my day, I have thought about another person longer than a minute." A hand-written letter is one of the most intentional acts of thoughtfulness a person can perform.

With that said, I have unfortunately succumbed to the far easier and more convenient (albeit less personal) ways of communicating with others and regret that I have abandoned the letter-writing of my youth. So it is with much resolve that I am going to attempt to write more letters...starting today. And hopefully it's realistic to aim for writing one letter a week because who doesn't like finding a "real" letter in the stack of credit card offers, bills, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons? I know I do!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

This is your face on Meth

While most people were out eating, watching a movie, or dancing last night (Saturday), Phil and I were home watching a PBS documentary on meth use in the U.S. Phil heard about it in a lecture at the hospital, and our combined nerdiness compelled us to watch it online last night.

Actually, the documentary was fascinating...and quite frightening. It discussed the trends of meth use in the U.S. including where it's being made, the purity of the ingredients, and the effects of meth on children and adults alike. If the picture above is any indication, meth causes irreversible and fast-moving damage to a person's body and brain. In a matter of months, their physical appearance changes, and they actually lose their natural ability to experience pleasure, having to seek it through drug use instead. Additionally, meth use has a heavy influence on physical and sexual child abuse. It's one of the most overlooked and silent epidemics in our nation, and I encourage you to take an hour and watch the online documentary at

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nickel and Dimed

Summer is a time for catching up on reading, and I've been on a non-fiction kick for most of the year. One way that I find good books is to go to the library and look through the section of summer reading books for high school students, which always has a thoughtful variety of books I've read and not read. One of the "not read" books that I had heard about before was Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Ehrenreich is a journalist with a Ph.D. who chooses to see what it would be like to live at the poverty level. Instead of interviewing people from that station in life, she actually takes months off, moves to various cities, and becomes one of the lower class Americans. From Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she takes on jobs as a waitress, hotel maid, house maid, and a salesperson at Walmart. The book chronicles her experiences, exposing the insufficiencies of minimum wage, the ineffectiveness of management, and the near impossibility of having money for something other than rent or groceries.

Because she is a writer, this New York Times bestseller is an easy read, and because it's based on real life experiences, it is absolutely fascinating...and humbling. I highly recommend this book--even if you don't normally like non-fiction. Through experience, wit, and raw data, this book will change how you view the lower class and how you view yourself.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Pop a cap in your roof

I thought I had learned nearly everything there was to know about Alabamians since living here for the last 8 years, but today I learned something new. Apparently, in Alabama, people like to shoot guns in the air just for the heck of it. I'm pretty sure there are some more constructive ways to celebrate or vent or kill time, but I suppose they don't see it that way. Today I discovered that my roof was the unfortunate recipient of one of those air-bound bullets.

Our roof has been leaking on and off for almost a year now. We've had the roofers out several times to no avail, but today they found the culprit: a bullet that looks almost identical to the top one in the picture above. According to the roofer, when a bullet hits a roof (as it does often?), it makes a bigger hole than the bullet itself (a lesson in physics) and causes a leak (aha!). I asked the guy if I could keep the bullet to show people, but he said he had to take it to his boss. I wonder if they have some sort of roof-bullet competition going on at the office...a glass case for all the bullets they find and a bonus for the largest bullet in a given month? I hope our roofer gets the bonus...or at least gives our bullet an advantageous position in the glass case.

So, if you live in Alabama, beware: someone might just pop a cap in your roof.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Everyone has those moments (or days or years) when you think you can (and should) be famous, and there's something about karaoke that evokes those feelings--something about having a microphone in your hand and a really catchy song playing that makes you feel like a rock star. To be quite honest, I don't have a resume when it comes to singing karaoke; I'm usually the one getting enjoyment out of watching others sing off key. However, I have recently discovered that in small groups with people I know, I can't get enough. Today, for example, I spent over an hour singing the best of the oldies, and I'm convinced that it's one of the best ways to spend an hour. Of course, there were only two of us and we were in a home, but it's that non-public atmosphere that allows me to leave my inhibitions and belt a few tunes. I'm even known to sing in accent when I really get going. So, I'm thinking that Phil and I should have a karaoke party at our place sometime soon, complete with inflatable microphones for best effort, best voice, and best ingenuity. Who wants in?