Saturday, December 19, 2009

The WSJ gets it right

Check out this interesting article from the Wall Street Journal on the decline of American culture. A little bit of a downer, but really insightful and important to read.

Friday, December 18, 2009

4 Years!

December 17th marked FOUR adventurous, mysterious, fun, difficult, exciting, fulfilling, exceptional, delightful years of marriage!

Phil brought me some gorgeous roses and we celebrated at home with some pinto noir, barbeque salmon, roasted potatoes, steamed green beans, a tomato-feta salad, and chocolate chip scones. After dinner, we watched the video of our wedding ceremony (we had actually only seen it once, about 4 years ago), which left us feeling unspeakably grateful for all those who attended and participated in that day with us, making sacrifices to be there that we're still learning about.

We were supposed to go the the Smokey Mtns. this weekend to celebrate since Phil's off this week, but there was a blizzard last night and currently they have TWENTY-SIX inches of snow up there! All kinds of roads are closed even getting there and then we'd have to make it up a steep hill with no four wheel drive to get to where we're staying. So...we'll try to make it up there tomorrow, weather permitting. If not, it's still luxurious to sleep in and spend non-scheduled time together!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To consider at Advent

“Do you want to be delivered? That is the one great question Advent puts to us,” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Does even a vestige of longing burn in us? If not, what do we want from Advent, what do we want from Christmas?”

For a great advent reading each night, check out this link from Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Theory of Two First Names

It's been a while since I've posted one of my "theories," so here's the latest: people with two first names are automatically assumed to be stronger and cooler than those without two first names. Think about it. Matt Ryan. Ron Paul. Matthew Henry. Benjamin Franklin. Anne Frank. David Thomas. Eddie Murphy. Matthew Perry. John Stuart. Tim Allen. Elton John. Even television shows have picked up on this: Clark Kent. Lois Lane. Dick Tracy. Ricky Bobby. John Wayne. Who did I forget?

As I type these names, I realize that the two-first-name phenomenon happens more often among males, but regardless of gender, the double first name is dynamite in my book. Too bad I married a guy with the last name Johnson. Thankfully, he's a great guy and I can overlook the fact that his last name is uninteresting and, more importantly, isn't a first name. To those of you who have the distinction of having two first names, you have automatic cool points coming your way!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Welcome to our home

I should have posted these back in June when we moved, but just didn't get around to it. Please overlook the poor lighting in these pictures; it was a rainy, dreary afternoon when I took them, but I had just cleaned my house and actually remembered to pull out the camera, so we'll have to take what we can get. It's the perfect little place for us and we love to have visitors!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The nicest people in the world

I did a big chunk of my Christmas shopping yesterday morning, and I learned something. The nicest people in the world are gay men and the folks that work at Lifeway Christian Bookstore. Seriously. I was in roughly 8 different stores yesterday and those were the people who actually seemed to care about me as a person. It sort of made me laugh, though, because I doubt those two groups of people would want to share a category, but they do, and I appreciated them both. Happy shopping, and let me know what nice people you meet along the way.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Must-Read Henri Nouwen Article

I have always enjoyed reading Henri Nouwen's books, but haven't read much from him in several years. If you aren't familiar with Nouwen, he was a Catholic priest who has written many, many books and who worked in a facility in Canada for those who are mentally ill and rejected by society until his death in 1996. While he's Catholic, I have found all of his writings applicable to me as a Protestant as well.

I recently came across an article he wrote that's too wonderful not to pass along. It's about three spiritual disciplines that help us remain faithful to God. And before you quit reading because of the word "discipline," he explains that the words "discipline" and "disciple" are the same word. He defines discipline as "the effort to create some space in which God can act." I can live with that. The three disciplines he discusses are (in order): solitude, community, & ministry. And they're not scary--really. I've read other articles and books on spiritual disciplines that seemed impossible and tedious and overwhelming, but this is different. It's based entirely on our identity as God's beloved.

I'm not doing the article justice, but it's worth the read--to the very end--so if you have 10 minutes, please, please read it. I don't beg people to do things very often, but this is one time when it seems appropriate. To read the article, follow this link. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So worth it

I recently found a recipe on a friend's blog for homemade caramel popcorn with cranberries. It looked so beautiful that I decided to make some for Thanksgiving and let me just tell you that it's worth the hour and a half it takes to make (really just half an hour of prep and 1 hour to bake). Oh my goodness. It's baking in my oven as I type and every 15 minutes when I have to pull it out and stir it, I absolutely can't resist eating a few bites. It's delicious! So, if you have some extra time over the holidays (ha!), I highly recommend this delectable little treat!

Here's the recipe:

Caramel Corn with Cranberries

14 cups plain popped popcorn (scant 2/3 cup unpopped kernels)
1 cup honey roasted peanuts (optional)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cranberries (I use dried)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the popped popcorn and peanuts in two large bowls.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and butter over medium heat. As the butter starts to melt, stir to mix completely. When the mixture begins to boil, stir constantly for five minutes. Remove from heat and mix in the baking soda and vanilla extract. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir a couple of times (not all of the popcorn will be coated).

Transfer popcorn mixture to 2 large roasting pans (or pans with edges).

Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. After 30 minutes, stir in the cranberries. After an hour, turn the popcorn out onto parchment paper, break apart, and allow to cool. Try not to eat it all at once!

Book Plug: Lauren Slater's Lying

Well, I'm back from the land of paper writing and absolutely must share a book recommendation: Lauren Slater's Lying. Have you ever read a book, listened to a certain song, or watched a sunrise and it's inspired you to go create? This nonfiction book was like that for me. After reading it, I had this insatiable desire to write, and I wrote one of the best stories I've produced in a while. But beyond moving me and moving me to write, here are a few things I love about this book:

- The honest, compelling, deep nature of the writing
- The way the author blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction
- Her insightfulness about God, herself, and the way the world works
- The structure of the book (four sections, each section based on a different phase of epilepsy)
- How she universalizes addiction of any kind
- Her awareness of her neediness
- The coherence between style and content from beginning to end
- The poetic quality of her writing
- The questions she raises concerning what is real and true, and what truth means

Even if you don't love nonfiction, this book is worth the read. The story is powerful, tragic, hopeful, deep, funny, and convicting all at once, and once I started reading, I couldn't put it down.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

"How odd that we are tethered to the truth of our bodies and yet, at the same time, utterly free to sculpt ourselves."

"There are two kinds of darkness, the first so full of breath yo know you are close to God. The second is the darkness of distance, of plugged-up tunnels and exhaust."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Break time

This is how I write a paper. Spread out, on the floor for space, a cup of tea, a snack, my computer, planets of research revolving around me, windows open, quiet. There wouldn't be a desk large enough for me to work on. Four pages out of fifteen done in two hours. And every couple of hours (or minutes?), a break to check email, eat lunch, turn up the heat, or, well, blog. Pathetic? maybe. But it works.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meet Perry the Pumpkin

He's the one on the far right with his mouth open. Isn't he cute?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mouth-wateringly delicious!

Subscribing to both Cooking Light and Rachel Ray Every Day, I have my fair share of new recipes to try each month, which I love. Typically I try to follow debut recipes to a tee so that I don't mess anything up, but lately, I've been putting my own spin on recipes, depending on what's in my fridge and in my brain. So, here was last night's concoction, based loosely on a Rachel Ray recipe:

Spinach and Mushroom Calzones

2 lbs fresh spinach leaves
1 package pre-sliced mushrooms
1/2 small onion
1 tsp. garlic
10-15 grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced
8 oz. mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 roll refrigerated pizza dough
Marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 425. In a large skillet, boil 1/4 cup water. Pour in half of spinach. Turn until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Pour in other half of spinach until wilted, and drain. Allow spinach to cool some. Meanwhile, in the same large skillet, saute mushrooms, onion, and garlic in a little olive oil. Press as much liquid as possible out of spinach and coarsely chop. Place chopped spinach in medium size bowl along with tomatoes. When onions are translucent, drain and add to spinach mixture. Add cheeses and Italian seasoning, stirring until all ingredients are combined. On a greased cookie sheet, spread out pizza dough. Fill half of the long length of dough with spinach/mushroom/cheese mixture. Fold dough over to cover the mixture, pinching edges to create a pocket. Make sure there is at least one ventilation slit in top of calzone. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into 5-6 slices and serve with marinara sauce. Serves: 3-4. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cloudland Canyon

Last Saturday, despite temperatures in the 40's and a fairly constant drizzle, Phil and I followed through on our plans to go hiking at Cloudland Canyon. We wanted to go while the leaves were still in the middle of their magical transformation and here are a few glimpses:

We've decided to try to hike in the mountains every autumn possible. It's too gorgeous to pass up!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This season's drink pick: Tazo Chai

I have to give my sister-in-law, Bekah, credit for introducing me to the deliciousness that is Tazo chai. I first tasted a chai latte when I was in high school at my favorite coffee shop in Chattanooga, Greyfriar's. With its black tea and spices, I excitedly concluded that it tasted "like Christmas" and couldn't get enough of it. However, my wallet could get enough of it, so I rarely bought it. Last year, though, Bekah introduced me to the cartons of Tazo chai that you can buy in the grocery store (specifically Publix and Target; Wal-mart doesn't carry it), and it has been my fall/winter indulgence ever since.

The best part (besides saving money) is that it's so easy to make. You pour half your mug full of the chai concentrate and fill the rest of the mug up with the milk of your choice (I prefer skim). Stir, microwave for a minute and a half, and voila! A perfect cup of chai that tastes just like it came from a coffee shop. If microwaves freak you out, you can heat it up on the stovetop in a saucepan, too. And at $3.99 a carton and eight servings per carton, each cup of chai runs me about 50 cents, which is a heck of a lot better than $3.50. It comes in decaf and regular, although I have to have regular.

With the leaves brightening and falling and the cooler temps outside, I have a carton of chai in my fridge, another one on deck in my pantry, and a hot cup of it in my hand. Tis the season to drink chai!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Say Anything

Today was a rainy Sunday afternoon, so Phil and I decided to watch a movie and found ourselves thoroughly entertained by the 1989 classic, Say Anything, starring John Cusack and Ione Skye. We had both seen pieces of it and, of course, knew the famous scene where Lloyd Dobbler holds up the boom box playing "Your Eyes" when trying to woo back Diane Court, but we had never really had the full Say Anything experience. It did not disappoint. We were entertained--not so much because of the movie's quality, but because of it's dated hilarity. If you need a good laugh, watch an 80s movie; the clothes, subpar acting (although I love John Cusack and think he's brilliant in most of his movies), and cheesy lines certainly had us laughing the entire hour and forty minutes! It's quite possibly one of the most quotable movies ever created. Here are just a few of our favorite lines:

Diane Court: Are you shaking?
Lloyd Dobler: No.
Diane Court: You're shaking.
Lloyd Dobler: I don't think so.
Diane Court: You're cold.
Lloyd Dobler: I don't think I am.
Diane Court: Then why are you shaking?
Lloyd Dobler: I don't know. I think I'm happy.

Lloyd Dobler: The rain on my car is a baptism, the new me, Ice Man, Power Lloyd, my assault on the world begins now.

D.C.: Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?
Lloyd Dobler: 'Cause I'm a guy. I have pride.
Corey Flood: You're not a guy.
Lloyd Dobler: I am.
Corey Flood: No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don't be a guy.

Lloyd Dobler: What I really want to do with my life - what I want to do for a living - is I want to be with your daughter. I'm good at it.

Lloyd Dobler: I'm gonna take Diane Court out again.
Corey Flood: Well, that's unlikely.
Lloyd Dobler: Is the movies a good second date? You know, as a date?
Corey Flood: Well, you never had a first date.
Lloyd Dobler: Yes we did. I sat across from her at a mall. We ate together. We ate. That's eating. Sharing an important physical event.
Corey Flood: That's not even a scam.
Lloyd Dobler: What's a scam?
Corey Flood: Going out as friends.
D.C.: No, it's not. Scam is lusting.

Joe: Dude, where'd she dump you, man?
Lloyd Dobler: In the car.
Denny: Oh man, your car? Man, Dissed in the Malibu. Thats your castle, man.

CLASSIC. To read more, go here. I think I'm going to go on an 80s movie kick. Any suggestions of ones I need to see?

Thursday, October 1, 2009


For anyone who read my last blog (now deleted), I apologize for its snarkiness. Not sure what got into me, but I hope I'm over it now. Any other recovering "snarks" out there?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Supply and Demand: Home Edition

I realized the other day that since moving to Chattanooga, we have bought far fewer items than when we lived in Birmingham. Of course, we're also living in a smaller place, so I'm sure that plays into it, but my theory is this: when inconvenienced by "stuff," we will not purchase it as often. In Birmingham, we lived 10 minutes from 3 different malls and 2 minutes from 3 different grocery stores. Now, we are 15 minutes from a grocery store and 30 minutes to a mall or any store and it causes us to evaluate whether or not we really need to go or really need those items. I see this principle in the food department: when we have a ton of food in the house, we tend to eat more. Or with money: when I have more cash, it's easier to spend it. It's the same with "stuff": if it's convenient, I'm much more likely to buy it.

So, I'm grateful that we live on a mountain with lots of hiking trails, walking paths, and parks nearby, because that's what we find ourselves doing most of the time--not just because we enjoy it, but because it's (you guessed it) convenient.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

End of summer salad

Limited amounts of food in the fridge can lead to great creativity in cooking, like the End of Summer Salad that I created yesterday. There are several ingredients, but they happened to be in my fridge, so if you have them around, I highly recommend trying this recipe. It's not only delicious, but beautiful!


Honey roasted almond slices (from the bag--so much easier than homemade!)
Feta cheese
Pulled white meat from rotisserie chicken
Ken's Raspberry Walnut Healthy Options salad dressing

The blueberries give it a tart flavor, but the feta balances it out with its smooth, rich consistency. The chicken already has seasoning on it, so it adds some saltiness while the almonds add crunch and the dressing ties it all together. Bon appetit!

Friday, September 11, 2009


I'm thinking about grief today, about what it would be like to lose a sonmotherfrienddaughterco-workerfathergrandparentlovedone. About how words would be insufficient and almost insulting to my emotions. About how the loss would crush any other priority, about how I would have to go on with life--eating meals, taking showers, going to church, meeting friends for coffee--and it would all somehow feel like a betrayal to the one lost, like I don't care enough to halt my life too. About grief and anger and questioning and heaviness and tiny, tiny specks of hope that I can barely see. Are they really there? I'm thinking of eight years ago when hundreds of healthy heartbeats stopped their rhythm and I'm thinking of my mother-in-law who lost a child to SIDS over 30 years ago and I'm thinking of Sharon Solwitz, a writer who lost one of her teenage twin boys to cancer and I'm thinking of my 20-something friend Emily who lost her husband of 15 months in the line of duty in Iraq and I'm thinking of mamas around the world who have had to watch their children fade and I'm thinking of my grandmother who longs to see her beloved again on the other side. I'm thinking about how we grieve loss and how strange it is that that kind of emptiness can weigh so much. And I'm thinking about how everyone wants to make you feel better and tell you that it will be alright, but the truth is that, on this side, it will never seem right again. And that's okay.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The new Comeback Kid

Sorry to all you hardcore, punk rock fans out there; this post has nothing to do with the Canadian band, Comeback Kid.

I was doing a little light reading the other day for class, plodding through Plato's "Gorgias," and came across a phrase that must needs come back. If you didn't catch it, that phrase is "must needs." Microsoft Word identifies it as a typo, but I think that the word combination offers a new possibility of meaning. Instead of just "must" or "needs," the alliance of the two words gives it urgency, seriousness, and backbone. And the best part about this phrase is that it's reversible; "must needs" and "needs must" mean the same thing. Phenomenal. If you really want to investigate all the intricacies and history of this phrase, check out this website.

As for me, I'm adding "must needs" to my list of needed comebacks along with New Kids on the Block, Gushers, one cent gum, and leather pants.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Trivia Night Done Right

Thursday nights might hold the best comedy on TV, but Wednesday nights in Chattanooga host the best trivia competition and company! Prior to a few weeks ago, I had never participated in a trivia night, but now, there's no turning back! For those who don't know, trivia nights are held in every city, usually in a restaurant or bar. It's free to play, and you can have an unlimited number of people on your team, although it's wise not to have too many or you'll have to divide the spoils (we play with 6-8). Much like a sports competition, the night is broken into two halves, each half asking 9 trivia questions. After each question is asked all the teams have one song to turn in their answers and must decide on how many points you will wager for that question. They throw in a bonus question at "half time" and at the end as well as some "double point" questions during each half. The top three teams win some sort of prize. Because we play at Buffalo Wild Wings, the 3rd place team wins 12 wings, the 2nd place team wins 24 wings, and the 1st place team wins $50--enough to pay the tab for all the beer and margaritas you drink.

I am generally a detriment to any trivia team, because my forte is not remembering random facts. However, the key is to have a well-rounded team with individuals from all areas of expertise (history, sports, literature, music, movies, etc.) and to try to find the trivia place where the dumbest people are so that your odds of winning increase. :) Seriously, even if you're terrible at trivia like me, it's fun to participate, and you actually know more than you think!

In our very first trivia experience, our team, Don't Mess, won 2nd place!!! I won't go into the sob story about how we were in first place all the way up until the last bonus question and then got robbed. But still, 24 free wings wasn't too bad. We're looking for a first place finish, though, one of these Wednesdays.

Here are a few trivia questions we've had. See what you can do:

1) What Disney character was banned in Finland because it did not wear pants?
2) What is the Greek and Roman name of the god of wine and fertility?
3) What British band name was inspired by a painting of a cat with no ears?

There were several questions much harder than those, but of course I can't remember them because I didn't know the answers! So, if you're looking for something fun to do with several friends, give trivia night a try. Not only is it free, but it also holds the possibility of free food and/or drinks! Cheers!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Calling all writers

If you're interested in learning more about the actual craft of writing, check out one of the following books:

Heard's Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way

Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers

Goldberg's Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life

When I finish reading them, I'll let you know which one I find most helpful and/or interesting. They're all cheap at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You've heard of job security? How about job irony?

You might recall my previous post about my general aversion to canines. If you don't remember, take a moment to read it one more time, just to get the full effect of what I'm about to divulge.

I have a job passed down to me from my brother, passed down to him from his wife. It's an easy job, one that requires minimal time for decent pay, and one that involves being outdoors, which I love. The irony? I get paid to walk and brush a dog several times a week. That's right: I--the one who is awkward and standoffish toward canines of all kinds--am a dog walker. Ironic, isn't it? Thankfully, the dog is calm, small, and likes me despite my lack of affection toward it. Phil is hoping that it softens my cold heart toward owning a dog one day, but so far, my will remains frozen. And I know it sounds like I don't care about this dog at all, but I'm actually quite nice to it: I talk to her in that ridiculous baby-voice that we all use when talking to small children or animals; I give her verbal affirmation when she poos, actually decides to walk in the direction I'm leading her, or drinks her water; I brush her thoroughly; I keep her from zapping herself on the electric fence; and (gasp) I even pet her throughout the dog walking ordeal. So I'm not inhumane. I'm just a little dog-numb, that's all. Although even I can't deny how cute the dog in the picture looks, which is pretty much the little furry face I see several times a week. Alanis Morisette can add this to her "ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife": "dog-walking girl who's aloof toward dogs". That's right. Go ahead and sing it. I am.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The purpose-driven English degree

When I tell people that I am working on a Master's in English, the general response is a very polite, "Oh, neat. So, what are you planning on doing with that?" Buried in that genuine question is a deeper curiosity about what it is that English majors actually do with themselves post-higher eduction. It's a legitimate question, I admit. Americans seem to have a hard time justifying that which does not have a clear goal or contribution to society. We look at those in law school or medical school and see future lawyers and doctors. We look at those in pharmacy school or business school and see future pharmacists and businessmen or businesswomen. But for some reason, when we come across the English or philosophy or sociology student, we wonder if they really have any significant contribution to our world. Of course, no one would dare admit these things out loud, but the truth is that most of us, if we're honest, view the seemingly "non-productive" route as the bottom of the vocational food chain. And please know that I am not above thinking like this. In fact, a determining factor in me being an education major instead of an English major in undergrad was that I could not stand the thought of not knowing what I would do with my degree when I finished. I wanted to know that there was a point and a goal and a tangible outcome to all the time, effort and money invested into that degree.

And here I am several years later, facing those same questions and fears--from both myself and those around me. "What are you planning on doing with that degree?" It's a legitimate question, but I don't think it's the right one. Because the truth is that I cannot answer that question right now. I hope that it makes me a better teacher and a better writer, and I hope it opens avenues to writing that I would not otherwise have had, but I really have no idea what I'm going to do with it. A better question is, "Why go to graduate school at all?" This I have an answer to, because I could not rightly begin a degree without grappling with that question. To be clear, I am not going to graduate school to make more money, to have more letters after my name, or simply because I could think of nothing better to do. While the answer to this question could be its own blog entry (or book), the basic version is: I am working toward this degree because God has given me the gift of writing and an open opportunity to study it in more depth, and, for me, it would be disobedience toward Him if I did not write. Of course, I could be obedient to Him without a degree, but He has so clearly opened doors for me to go to school this year that I would be remiss not to walk through them.

My prayer and goal is that He will use this time of study and writing to further His kingdom. And that takes a generous amount of faith because I want to know now what the point is. I want to know that I'll be able to write a book one day, or that something I write will help people know Jesus better. But I don't know that right now. I feel like He has said, "Go to the land that I will show you," and so I have abandoned what would have been a more comfortable life this year (getting a job) and have walked through every door He has opened, and I will continue to walk through those doors unless He closes them. This is not irresponsible living masquerading as faith; this is obeying Him even when it doesn't make practical sense. So, I'm learning to live by faith, to be satisfied with the questions, and to find purpose along the way and not just in the final outcome. In the words of my sage grandmother (who is also a writer), "The real joy doesn't come in whether or not you're published, but in knowing that you're being obedient to God."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Birthday dinner tradition

In the Wharton household, there is a tradition that on your birthday, you have the privilege (and responsibility) of choosing the menu for your birthday dinner. I have a theory that this tradition only improves with age: while we used to have odd combinations of macaroni and cheese, fried ham, and chocolate milk, we are progressing to more tasty (and balanced) meals. So, my sister, Lydia, turned 12 on Monday and she chose her favorites: spaghetti casserole (the child had 4 servings!), bacon (a must-have for any Lydia birthday meal), separate plates of every fruit you could imagine, including mango, and homemade chocolate chip pie. Not too bad. My other sister, Hannah, turns 14 on Friday, and, true to my theory, her menu is even better: steak, twice baked potatoes, my homemade bread, broccoli..and some kind of chocolate dessert. And there is no Wharton birthday that doesn't involve sparkling grape juice. I mean, nothing says "celebrate" like a bottle (or five) of sparkling grape juice. My mouth is watering just writing about it. I have three siblings and a sister-in-law with July birthdays, so July is a pretty delicious month in our family.

The tradition was a bit of a problem in high school when my brother and I, who share a birthday, had to create the menu together, but we figured it out. And some members of my family never grow up; my dad and one of my brothers can think of no meal more satisfying that burgers, watermelon, and baked beans. Fair enough. My birthday isn't until March and I'm already thinking about the menu...sushi? grilled salmon? steak? steak and shrimp? It will definitely involve some homemade chocolate chip cookies.

At any rate, this tradition is one that I cherish and anticipate with every birthday, not just because of the delectable food, but more importantly because of how valued it makes the birthday person feel. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nerd alert!

It's no small secret that I am one of those people who always wants to learn more, so when watching TV (which is rare), I find myself drawn to channels like Discovery and Discovery Health (along with a few other must-see shows like The Office). Since we don't have cable (the philosophy behind that is a blog for another day), I have discovered the joys of online watching and have most notably discovered that PBS's Frontline shows are all archived. Frontline is an hour-long show covering anything from sex-trafficking to the elderly to poverty to medicating kids--basically just plain old stimulating topics that are worth digesting. So, if you're in for a nerdy moment, check out the frontline video archive and choose a topic that interests you. If you don't have a whole hour to spare, each video has 7-10 minute chapters, so you can watch it in small segments. If you watch one that is particularly fascinating, let me know!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Two strokes of genius

Phil and I have been craving sushi for the past month and finally found a night when we were both free to scout out the rice-roll goodness in Chattanooga. While I'm missing the oh-so-affordable and delicious sushi from Maki Fresh in Birmingham, we did find ourselves some tasty rolls at a place called Sushi Nabe. The only problem? The sushi roll was too big for my mouth. And it's not just this place; it's everywhere. If you read this previous blog entry, you might recall that I have an unusually small mouth, so a "bite" of sushi is about two times too large for me. I end up looking vaguely like a chipmunk and have trouble swallowing--quite entertaining to anyone dining with me, I'm sure.

So, I propose sushi sliders, half-pint versions of all the best sushi rolls around at half the price. Who doesn't like little versions of things? They're "cute," and, as we all know, "cute" sells.

While we're on the subject of brilliant ideas (and no one out there better steal this and make millions without giving me a cut of the profits), here's one that I've thought about for a while: mini milk jugs. Call it a "jug-ette," if you will.Everyone longs to drink milk straight from the jug (and if we're honest, we've done it more than a few times), so why not make a small, 1-pint jug of milk that you swig from all morning long? It would be the exact same shape as a regular gallon-sized jug, only about a fourth of the size. Brilliant, I say!

If the sushi sliders and the jug-ettes (sounds like an 80s band name!) ever make their way into the world, I would like to go on record and publicly state that I did actually think of them first.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sign me up...for laughter!

There are some things that I just don't need to experience in my lifetime. Bungee jumping? Not for me. Plastic surgery? I think not. Cannibalism? I'll pass. Eating noodles through my nose? Not if I can help it. Wife carrying contests? Now that's one I hadn't thought of before.

These contests, started in Finland as a joke, have caught on over the years in several Scandinavian countries and even all the way across the pond to Maine, which holds a contest annually. The competition is fairly self-explanatory, but just to clarify any obscurities that might be out there... Male athletes must carry a female in a 253-meter foot race that includes both land and water obstacles. The man who completes the course in the fastest time wins his wife's weight in beer--nice. Actually, in America, you win money, which is even better (according to some). There are also prizes for "most entertaining couple" and "best costume" for those with outstanding personality and creativity but not so outstanding time. There are no fewer than 12 rules to this competition, including the fact the the woman you are carrying may be your wife, another man's wife, or any woman over the age of 17. All I have to say is, if Phil was competing, there would be no one but me in that position on his shoulders!

Just think: for a mere $100 and a plane ticket to Maine, Phil and I could join about 40 other American couples in this contest. Not sure we could beat the world-record under-a-minute time, but we could go for the "most entertaining couple" at least.

There's one person who does think he needs to experience everything before he dies: Dennis Rodman. That's right, America's own controversial athlete participated in the 2005 Finland competition; is there anything that man hasn't done?

If you aren't laughing already, check out this youtube video. Huh-larious.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Freeze tag

When reading exorbitant amounts of literature and research on any given morning, the opportunities for distraction are abundant, and they increase exponentially when sitting outside in a squirrel-friendly area. So, as I was researching Emily Dickinson's deconstruction of Calvinism (yes, it's as confusing as it sounds), I heard a little squeaky rumble on a nearby tree. Looking up, I saw two playful squirrels chasing each other all around the tree. Suddenly, one of them completely froze near the bottom of the tree with its head toward the ground. I thought that it was just trying to convince the other squirrel that he had mysteriously "disappeared" and that he would move in a few seconds, but as I sat there, I began to wonder if he had actually become stuck in that position. As minutes (yes, plural) passed, I realized that I must document this brilliant display of showmanship, so I went inside, found my camera, and took this picture:
Unfortunately, the experiment of how long he would stay there was foiled by my movement toward him in trying to take the picture. We've all known it, but now it's proven: squirrels are smarter than we think.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A series of letting go

The other week, I had the privilege of spending the morning with my 88-year-old grandmother, and I was reminded once again of her wisdom and grace in living and in growing older. Because she no longer drives, we had a delightful outing to Walmart and then to lunch at one of my favorite little restaurants in Chattanooga, the Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe. Throughout the morning, she was so good about knowing her physical limitations and asking for help when needed. She'd say, "I need to hold your hand for a bit," or "I usually get a motorized wheelchair when I'm here." (And might I add that she was a pro at the electric wheelchair!) I hope that I can not only recognize my physical limitations when I'm older, but also be humble enough to take steps to preserve my safety and energy.

My grandmother is also slowly losing her memory, and whenever she can't remember a detail, she has the wisdom and light-heartedness to laugh at herself and admit, "Oh, I just can't remember that anymore!" I'm afraid my response might be frustration or anger at my memory leaving me, but she has a habit of accepting what God gives her with peace and immediacy.

Lately, I have been most impressed and humbled by the grace with which she is aging, and I have told her so on many occasions. Her latest response was powerful: "You know, it (aging) hasn't happened all at once. I've had to let go a little bit at a time, so it's not so bad. It's just a series of letting go, and I think God has done that to remind me that I will need Him all my life." I love (and hate) that idea of "a series of letting go" because the truth is that all of life should be lived that way. God often calls us to let go of expectations, dreams, material possessions, and self, and I pray that more and more I will, like my grandmother, accept such calls with grace, faithfulness, and a good sense of humor.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Context Clues

Every family seems to develop their own "isms," and our family is no exception. Anyone who has spent significant time around us knows that our trademark Johnsonism is what I like to call "Context Clues." I must both acknowledge and possibly rebuke Phil's college roommate, Jordan, for helping to instigate this family idiosyncrasy. "Context Clues" works like this: in any given two words, the last word is limited to simply a letter. For example, "It's a beautiful d." Using a little common sense and, as the title suggests, context clues, this sentence simply states, "It's a beautiful day." See if you can figure these out (answers at bottom):

1) a babbling b
2) electric b
3) hot c
4) frozen d
5) granola b
6) to g

It would be un-American to have rules without exceptions so the exceptions are as follows:

1) If the abbreviation takes longer to say that the original word, you should not use the abbreviation. For example, "wake b" (board) works, but "boiling w" (water) doesn't. Typically, the abbreviation is a "c," "d," "e," "g," "v" or "b."
2) You almost never use an abbreviation for more than one word at a time
3) The word abbreviated must be the second word, not the first

Feel free to incorporate this Johnsonism into your own family if it helps you communicate more humorously and/or efficiently; we have found it to accomplish both those goals. Also, please add any suggestions that might improve on our context c's.

1) babbling brook, 2) electric blanket, 3) hot chocolate, 4) frozen dinner, 5) granola bar, 6) to go

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Primrose Inn

In our recent visit to Acadia (see photo album on my facebook page), we stayed at a quaint, homey bed and breakfast called the Primrose Inn. We chose it because of its outstanding website, but now love it for far more respectable reasons. Beyond the delicious gourmet breakfasts, daily afternoon tea & cookies, private porches, comfortable room, free water & cokes, free Internet, a fantastic DVD selection, hiking and biking trail books to borrow, free lip balm (yes, these things are important), and pretty much any other amenity that you could possibly want or need, the innkeepers, Katherine and Jeff Shaw, are believers. We had an opportunity to talk with Katherine for a while one afternoon and to hear their story of how God moved them from California to Bar Harbor, ME three years ago, taking them away from a life of excess and materialism and into an unfamiliar and fairly godless area of the east coast. I was most impressed by their heart for service, particularly to pastors. They allow pastors and their wives to stay at the inn for FREE! This is such a blessing to so many burned out pastors who go there for respite or for pastors who couldn't otherwise stay in a place like that. Other innkeepers in the area don't know what to make of it, which is such a ministry in itself.

If you ever plan to go to Bar Harbor, you would be foolish to stay anywhere but the Primrose Inn. Even if you're not the bed and breakfast type, I would highly recommend it. In fact, we met so many interesting people from all over the country who were staying there and many of them said it was the nicest bed and breakfast they had ever been in. It's five star treatment for a very reasonable price.

And ever since our return, I'm not satisfied with cereal for breakfast anymore. I've been making french toast, blueberry pancakes, etc. We'll see how long it lasts, but I was spoiled by the breakfasts up there! I'm already craving some sausage and mushroom strata for tomorrow morning...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Blitz

After our packing and moving blitz, I'm tempted to document my aching muscles and nostalgic thoughts, but instead, I want to focus on the positive side of moving. Three "lessons" in particular emerged from our relocation experience:

1) I was able to see my closest friends and family in the last three weeks. There's nothing better than spending quality time with people who know you and still love you, and moving compels people to see you "one last time." Even though we'll be back in a year (and will be visiting sooner), it was a nice excuse to connect with friends.

2) I learned to receive help. As one who tends to see herself as strong, independent, and, yes, prideful at times, it was difficult for me to accept help from others. Many thanks to three guys from med school who gave up six hours of their lives to sweat and lift boxes. No amount of Sonic slushies could come close to compensation. Thanks to my brother and his muscles for the unpacking help and my sister for her organizational touch. And thanks to the rest of you who helped clean, organize, pray, and encourage us. And before this starts sounding too much like the "acknowledgments" section of a book, on to #3:

3) I realized how much stuff we had/have, which made me want to simplify our lives even more. My thoughts are churning over how to reduce the amount of stuff in our lives, reassessing how we spend money, how we waste, and how we hoard. I'm even one of those people who purges their house once or twice a year and I still felt like we had a lot of possessions. Moving has been a great reminder of how little we really need and how what we own is really just stuff--unimportant in the scope of things.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Big Mouth

Today was my annual dentist appointment and, after a week or two of severe heat and cold sensitivity in one of my teeth (don't you wish that word could be tooths?), I was convinced that I had finally created my first cavity. Much to my relief, it was not a cavity. The problem? I use a toothbrush that's too big for my mouth, causing irritation in my gums. This information should not be surprising, considering someone asked me if I still had my baby teeth when I was in high school. "Big Mouth" was never my nickname in a literal way; I really do have one of the world's smallest adult mouths. Next time you see me, check it out. I'm okay with it, but it does mean that I now have to brush with a child's toothbrush. "Do you want a fairy princess one?" my hygienist asked. "Sure, why not?" I replied, thinking how this would really help my I-look-younger-than-I-am-problem. And yes, the toothbrush has Ariel on it...and sparkles...and is purple...and fits my teeth just right so that I don't have exposed gums that make my teeth hurt. So, here's to all you little mouths out there: suck it up and join the recommended age of 5-7 year olds who use the same size toothbrush. Now you don't have to just be a kid at heart; you can be a kid in the bathroom too.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Another must-read

Many of you think that all the books I recommend are depressing because I'm a sucker for non-fiction and reading about life that is...messy and imperfect and difficult. I feel like we learn the deepest during times of great desperation and despair, so I try to learn as much as possible from these people, gleaning wisdom, experience, and understanding into lives that have seen many more valleys of death than my own.

Immaculee Ilibagiza's book, Left to Tell, is one such story, as it recounts one young woman's experience living through the Rwandan Holocaust of 1994. (If you haven't seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, you might consider watching it. It tells the same story and is one of those movies that you're glad you saw, but never want to see again). After reading this book, it's hard to imagine that I was a middle schooler then, probably stressed about exams or my jammed locker when something so awful was going on across the ocean. Without giving away too much of the story, Immaculee tells her account of growing up in Rwanda, hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for three months to escape imminent and violent death by Hutu rebels, and her faith in and dependence upon God throughout her heartbreaking experience.

Only in America do we expect life to be easy and then question God when it isn't. Only in America do we think we deserve happiness or have a right to peaceful living. Of course, we all wish for and desire that, but we certainly do not deserve it. God has made two promises concerning crisis and tragedy and neither includes a carefree life. He has promised that 1) We will experience it in our lifetime, and 2) He is good and ever-present. Some contend that those two statements cannot coexist, but as with so many Biblical truths, it can--and really has to be--both and.

After reading this book, I am more aware of suffering around the world, more grateful for my own country--even in the middle of a recession--and more challenged to depend on God in the midst of difficulty and trial, trusting that He has perfect and redemptive plans for me. This book is a quick read and such a vivid reminder that out of the valleys of death come deep, rich, refined gems of hope.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Shamelessly branded

About a month ago, my trusty L.L. Bean hiking boots finally gave out as the rubber sole completely disconnected from the shoe. These boots had admittedly been through a lot; several countries and many a hiking trail later, it's more surprising that they lasted a decade than that they broke. I loved these hiking boots, so I got on L.L. Bean's website and online chatted with a customer service representative who was friendly, helpful, and sent me links to the correct forms I needed to print. I sent the boots back free of charge, fully intending to simply have them repaired. However, L.L. Bean has a policy that if you ever return anything you bought from them that has broken, they will replace it free of charge--amazing. My shoes were so old that I didn't even know the name of the style I had, and I didn't see anything like the online, so I opted for a new pair of Keen hiking boots in case they weren't able to repair the old ones. A few weeks later, there was a brand new pair of hiking boots in my mailbox...along with a $20 check because the Keens cost $20 less than my original pair! So, they actually paid me to buy new shoes! I don't buy from L.L. Bean often (partly because their products are so long-lasting), but you can bet that this happy customer will be purchasing merchandise from this company again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mary Oliver, I love you

It's National Poetry Month, so it's only appropriate with you that I post an April poem. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets, and a friend of mine just gave me her latest book of poetry, Red Bird. Here's my favorite so far, reminiscent of W. H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts":

This Day, and Probably Tomorrow Also

Full of thought, regret, hope dashed or not dashed yet,
full of memory, pride, and more than enough
of spilled, personal grief,

I begin another page, another poem.

So many notions fill the day! I give them
gowns of words, sometimes I give them
little shoes that rhyme.

What an elite life!

While somewhere someone is kissing a face that is crying.
While somewhere women are walking out, at two in the morning--
many miles to find water.
While somewhere a bomb is getting ready to explode.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


It came as no surprise that I, a wonder of a woman, was asked to be Wonder Woman in a funny video at school. I mean, what kid doesn't want to see his or her teacher dressed in fierce, patriotic, caped wonder? I sure would. And how could I turn down the opportunity to dress in costume in the middle of a day that is as far from Halloween as possible? I enjoyed going into the administrative offices asking if they had called for a super hero. And no, you may not borrow my costume.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yard Sale Taboo

There are some items that just shouldn't be sold at yard sales: half or mostly burned candles, wet clothing, a small wooden bannister, and...certain videos. This past weekend, Phil and I worked at a yard sale for our church, which raised money for families who want to adopt but struggle to afford it. Since we love orphans and will hopefully be adopting in the next several years or so, Phil and I volunteered our services. The day was beautiful, we had a great turnout, and I didn't buy a thing, but one item begs to be documented.

I was organizing the DVDS, CDs, and VHS tapes (remember those) when I came across one VHS tape that was in a classic home video sleeve. Thinking that it might be a Disney video that had lost its case, I looked at the edge of the tape to see if it had a title. What I saw was nothing less than disturbing. There, hand written on the case, were the words "Baby # 3." That's right. In the hubbub of swiping items to send to the church yard sale, someone accidentally (let's hope) included the tape of their child's birth. As curious as I was to know whose snafu this was, I resisted the urge to bring it home and resorted to showing it to everyone I could find.

So, take a lesson from some anonymous woman with at least three children: even if you're busy being a mom to three kids, make sure you don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Plural? Please.

Some people have an irresistible and inexplicable desire to make singular words plural--especially when it comes to store names. Take, for example, Barnes and Noble...or as my hyper-plural friends would say, Barnes and Nobles. Now I realize that "Barnes" has an "s" on the end of it, but that doesn't mean that Noble is dying for one too. Or what about Parisian, the clothing store now known as Belk? Why is it that people want to call it Parisians, as if there are lots of French people inside they want to buy? And finally, J.C. Penney. So many people (including my wonderful mother) often refer to it as J.C. Penney's or just Penney's. Now, this plural morph is somewhat correct because James Cash Penney actually started this chain, so it is, technically, his store. But the truth is that most people probably spell Penney like the coin, so by calling it "Penney's" it really just comes out sounding like they're going to a place with fountains harboring pennies at the bottom.

I realize that I'm an English person and that this might be a nit-picky rant, but come on, people: English is hard enough without adding an "s" to singular words. Now that that's out of my system, I'ms goings to goes to the parks fors a walks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Camping, a broken boot, and one perfect spring night

I love everything about camping except the actual sleeping part. My husband, on the other hand, just loves everything about camping. So, since we had some free time this week and the weather was irresistibly beautiful, I agreed to join him in a camping excursion to Oak Mtn. We began our adventure with a late afternoon hike (see below)

As we were on our hike, my trusty L.L. Bean boots that I've had for years finally gave out:

So I had to jimmy rig it for the rest of our time out there:

Then we set up camp, complete with a cot and a blow up mattress inside the tent (did I mention we like our sleep?) and then made one heck of a fire over which we cooked hot dogs for dinner. We enjoyed a night unplugged and away, looking at stars, and having deep conversation--perfect right before a lot of change in our lives with the match coming up tomorrow.

After a so-so night of sleep, we woke early with the birds and walked a short ways to this:

Could there be a better way to start the morning? or a better time in our lives to remember that the God who intricately and perfectly created and orchestrates creation will also take care of us (Matthew 6:25-34)?

Despite my reservations about camping, I'd give the experience an A-, on account of the sub-par sleep I experienced. Other than that, I highly recommend a night in nature every now and again. There's something almost healing about it.