Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas and viruses and New Year's--oh my!

You read that right--viruses. Plural. As in today was the first day in three weeks that I have not had to take medicine for something. First it was mastitis, then pink eye, then a GI bug the day after Christmas that had the entire Johnson clan down for the count, and then laryngitis the day after that.

Thankfully, I'm on the mend except for a lingering cough and a very scratchy sultry sounding voice. Sigh. 

Apart from the virus attack, our Christmas was fantastic, spent with both sides of the family. Lots of laughter, good food, traveling, and general good cheer, as it should be. Best of all, Phil was off for five days straight. I'm considering a petition for our country to give both parents paid leave at the same time when a child is born. So. much. easier. And Moo does love his daddy!

Speaking of Moo, he has some new tricks now that he's 6 weeks old and all:
  • smiling
  • cooing
  • sucking his thumb
  • making a motorboat sound (I'm pretty sure this is on accident, but it's still pretty cute)
See him all grown up in his Christmas outfit? This is his "Yes ma'am?" face. As in, I just called his name and he said, "Yes ma'am?" That's what I'd like to think, at least.


And my most recent favorite picture of him:
Don't you just love those dimples?

Since Daddy is on call, that little handsome and I will be ringing in the new year together--hopefully by sleeping peacefully through it. :) New Year's resolution(s) to come...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advice

A friend recently asked me if I had any parenting/baby advice (good or bad) to pass along since she's due with her first in a few weeks. Prior to having a child, I would have been replete with advice, but now I'm reluctant to give it. Every kid is different. Every family has its own challenges and circumstances.

So here's my advice--two things:

ONE: Let yourself be human. In other words, let yourself NOT have all the answers, not have all your ducks in a row, not have everything in your life "together." The first weeks after having a baby is not about having things together; it's about admitting that you don't and getting help when you need it. I'm learning this one still. Learning that it's okay if I don't have time to put my contacts in AND people are coming over, okay if my carpets are dirty a little longer than I'd like for them to be, okay if my clothes don't fit quite right yet. These things are simply HUMAN. No room to judge because, let's be honest: who really has all their "stuff" together?

TWO: Look to the good. Every stage of parenting has its challenges and blessings, and in the midst of sleep deprivation, spit-up, not getting anything (not even a smile!) in return, eating struggles, infections, and whatever else might come your way,  it's easy to focus on the challenges instead of the blessings. I'm learning to focus on the good--on the sleeping baby on my shoulder, on the sweet noises he makes when he eats, on how healthy he is, on the marvel that is the washing machine. Looking to the good makes for such a more joyful life, and that's the one I want to lead.

So, that's it. That's all I've got. Take it or leave it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aaaaand, I'm back!

Let me introduce you to my favorite little guy on the planet:

For privacy purposes, we'll call him "Moo," but let's just say that Phil & I are absolutely in love with his name and what it means. 

He made his debut on November 16, weighing in at a whopping 8 lbs., 1 oz., and measuring 22 inches long! As my grandfather would say, "He's a long drink of water." Love those sayings, don't you?

Since then, we've had our ups and downs, but we're figuring this whole parent-kid thing out and it's pretty incredible. 

AND guess what's back??

That's right, my ankles are back! (Please ignore the lovely spider veins, sock imprints, unpainted toenails, and random scrape). And my rings fit me again. Ah, the little joys! Remember these?

Adios!

Little Moo doesn't like to take very long naps during the day, so when I do have the spare 20-40 minutes while he's down, I'm deciding whether to:
  • Get dressed
  • Eat a meal
  • Take a nap
  • Get the mail/load the dishwasher/start laundry/or any other household chore
You can see why "blogging" hasn't quite made it to the top of the list. But I have a bunch of posts up in the 'ole noggin, so be on the lookout!

 Until then, here are a few more pictures to leave you drooling over:





Friday, November 11, 2011

Latest reads

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I know I'm a little behind the craze with this book, but WOW--what an incredible read! I'm always impressed when someone's first novel is as riveting, well-written, and well-developed as this one. I loved its fictional (but all-too-identifiable) peek into Southern culture, its delicate yet firm handle of race, its character development, and its perfect amount of mystery at the end of each chapter that leaves you wanting to read more. I also liked how each chapter was told by a different narrator, allowing the reader a more complete view of the story. Despite my sympathies for the other characters, I still found myself identifying most with the main character, Skeeter. 

I stayed true to my policy of not watching a movie before reading the book, so now I'm just waiting for the movie to come out in our dollar theatre or at Red Box so I can see it. I've heard only good things! If you're behind the times like I was, it's time to pick up this book. Prepare yourself for some late nights of reading complete with tired eyes in the morning--well worth it!

The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris
My friend, Jessica, recommended this book to me after reading it with her book club. Now, I've listened to Michele Norris on NPR for years and have always found her to be an engaging host and have always assumed (why?) that she was a white woman.

So, when Jessica told me about Norris's memoir and about how it focused on race relations in the South--particularly in Birmingham--where her father, a black man, was shot by a white police officer, I was hooked. What was this woman's story? I had to know.

A week and half later, I finished the book. I admit that I went into reading the book with expectations that it would be politically charged and have a tinge of racial bitterness. What I discovered was a book that takes a very honest and unbiased look at the South during segregation, almost entirely omitting politics, and focusing rather on personal, human experiences, which are always interesting.

What I found most interesting (and humbling) about the book was how black men like Norris's father fought in WWII for social justice overseas and then returned home to severe discrimination and danger in their own home towns. Makes me want to find war veterans everywhere and thank them for their service--both abroad and at home--appropriate for this Veteran's Day.

Mentioning familiar places like Ensley and Crestline Village, the book took on a local feel, although Birmingham's racial past is nothing to be proud of. In fact, I was appalled that in the memorable past such things happened as Norris describes in the book. I haven't been to our Civil Rights Institute in years, but this book has inspired me to go back soon, if nothing else to pay homage to those who lived through such horrific times and to remind myself that issues of race in the South are still present in more subtle ways.


Somebody Told Me by Rick Bragg
I recently discovered Rick Bragg, a Southern author who has written for a series of big newspapers, including the New York Times, in addition to writing memoirs. Somebody Told Me is a compilation of some of his best news stories, covering all sorts of injustices and human interest stories from the '90s. I have to admit that I skipped the chapter on Susan Smith (I just couldn't stomach them with a child on the way), but the rest of the stories were fabulously written. The chapters are divided by topic (race relations, aging, school-age children, etc.) and each chapter has a handful (or two) of 2-3 page stories, making it easy to slip in a quick story any time of day. I highly recommend this book, although beware: most of the stories are sad ones and some will make you downright angry.

The Rest of God  by Mark Buchanan 
My friend, Christen, recommended this book to me, and, while I'm typically a writing snob when it comes to Christian literature, I have to say that this one was actually fairly well written. Unfortunately, I read this book several months ago and since I borrowed it, I didn't get the chance to underline and interact with the text like I usually do, so my memory of this book is in broad strokes at best and won't do it nearly enough justice. 

As the title suggests, the book is about theSabbath, but more than just the day-of -the-week kind of Sabbath; it's about slowing down life, taking time to gain perspective, carving out moments for various kinds of rest, taking time to see God in the moments of our lives. Buchanan steers away from a do's and don't's list for what a Sabbath should look like and instead asks this question: is what I'm doing life-giving or life-sucking? If it's life-giving, then it is a Sabbath (day or mindset) activity. So, what might be life-giving to me (writing) could be life-sucking to another. Or what might be life-giving to my husband (yard work) might be life-sucking to me. I liked taking time to contemplate what in my life is life-giving and finding so many different ways to experience Sabbath rest.

So, that's what I've been reading. What have you been reading lately? Any books I need to add to the stack on my bedside table?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Miracle.

I SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT LAST NIGHT.
Like I didn't get up once.
Not even to go to the bathroom.
Not even to cough.
Not even because I was uncomfortable.
Not even to roll over.
EIGHT. UNINTERRUPTED. HOURS.
I don't remember the last time that happened. 
It probably won't happen again for a very, very long time.
But it happened last night. 
And I'm thankful.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hurry up and wait

Last week at this time, I was told that I'd probably be induced tomorrow because of my swelling. So, mentally I prepared to be a patient in a hospital this week: I ran around all weekend trying to get all my errands done and I worked late hours to make sure all my sub plans were in order.

Cue Monday's doctor appointment.

The good news: both my blood pressure and weight are down, which indicates some improvement in my swelling.

The bad news (but ultimately really good news): I won't be induced unless he hasn't come by next Wednesday.

So, today was MY LAST DAY OF WORK FOR THREE MONTHS. So wonderful! It's like running a marathon and seeing the finish line. My students were so sweet and brought me diapers and told me how much they'd miss me. Seriously, they are why I love my job so much.
The nursery...we've since hung a few things on the walls.

BUT I'm ready to be off. And now I have some unexpected down time and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it since I wasn't prepared for it. The nursery is done (see pictures). The groceries are bought. The clothes are washed. The floors are...kinda clean. The car seat bases are in the car. We are ready!
His crib...
Phil's now "vintage" football pennants that he's had since he was seven!
These two framed wonders are now hanging over the crib. We'll call it an early education. :)
SO...

Any suggestions on how to spend my last few days sans baby? Obviously, sleep is on the agenda already and a pedicure is out of the question because of the swelling (although a pedi is definitely in the postpartum plan!).

We're still crossing our fingers for an 11/11/11 birthday, but we'll see. Can't wait to meet the little guy!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Typos

Got this in the mail this week--apparently a reminder about Phil's upcoming dentist appointment...or something like that. :)


Not pictured: the return address that read "* Philip Johnson" and a stamp pretty much in the middle of the postcard. Quality.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Where I've been

Grading? Yes, lots.

Nesting? I guess, a little. 

But mostly, I've been hiding behind these lovelies:

Need to see a close up? Thought so. Here ya go: 


For the record, I did not pull these pictures off the internet; those are actually my cankles, my swollen legs, my nonexistent knees. Thank you, Baby Boy Johnson.

I went to the doctor today and her exact words were, "I mean, they're not the worst I've seen, but they're in the top ten. (Pause to look again) Maybe the top eight." Nice. And then this:

Me: "I mean, they don't even look like my feet!"
Doctor: "They don't even really look like feet!" 

You don't even want to know how much weight that much water retention translates into. I'm hoping it will translate into losing a lot of weight quickly when all this is over. I mean, I might be the first woman to get stretch marks on her feet. There's no explanation for this kind of water retention; I'm just one of the lucky few. :) 

While all this edema isn't bad for the baby, it is elevating my blood pressure and, obviously, giving me quite a bit of discomfort. I'm having to go in to the doctor a couple of times a week to monitor it. In fact, my doctor recommended several days of bed rest this week, but I don't think I'm going to take her up on it because I'm really feeling fine and I don't want to burn my sick days now just sitting around. She said the baby is healthy and measuring perfectly, so it was up to me. Honestly, it's just easier to be at work than to make sub plans, so I'm sticking it out for now. I might take off a week earlier than planned, but for now, Baby Boy is healthy, in good position, and ready to enter the world whenever he decides! 

Until then, I'm wearing pants exclusively to protect innocent eyes everywhere. See how cute and normal I look when my legs are covered?
You can imagine how many pairs of shoes fit me these days: exactly two. One is a pair of flip flops and the other is a pair of black clogs that are really too tight but I make them work. So, with the cold front and several more weeks of work ahead, I was lucky to find these at Ross this weekend: 
Super cute. Ugg brand (who knew they made clogs?). Most importantly, they fit AND they're comfortable. I'll be living in them, thank you very much.

So, THAT'S out there. Let's just say I'm learning about sacrificing for my child already. :) 

Husband points (again)

Two weeks ago. 
In the throws of a grading frenzy.
Fighting bronchitis. For the third week. 
It was only Monday. 
Came home to these:
And to groceries bought and put away. 
Best. Husband. Ever.
Most resilient flowers ever: $10 at Walmart 
(This picture was taken today, two weeks after they were bought!)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Media fast: Part III

Over the weekend, I found myself thinking, "I can't wait for this fast to be over so I can watch my favorite shows and have some brainless down time again." Clearly, my heart still needs some work, so the fast is still on. In fact, this paring down of media--especially during the week--may just become a new norm. I like the simple, the time to reflect, the time with others, the slowing down, and as hard as it is not to crave brainlessness, there are more meaningful ways to unwind that surfing channels or the Internet--at least for me.

In an effort to avoid the easy temptation of legalism, Phil and I have watched some shows lately, but only when we've planned on it and when we've agreed to turn it off after one episode; we're done with killing time by just seeing what's on TV; we're done with distractions...or are trying to be.

With that said, I feel like my heart has a long way to go before it's longing to use that time to really commune with God, but, in His gentle and gracious way, God has met me this past week. Here's a preview:

  • As strange as its sounds, God has allowed me NOT to sleep well or much this past week, but those wee hours have been some of the best reading/journaling/reflecting I've had all week. Tonight's one of those nights.
  • Thanks to God speaking through Ann Voskamp's book, 1000 Gifts, I'm learning to find the beautiful and redemptive in the ugly and mundane. I'm struggling with nights like tonight when I'm awake at 1:45 a.m. and am learning to not let go of that moment until I meet God in it. It's such a discipline and goes against my natural tendency to complain, but I'm learning to replace complaining with gratitude, and it's been transforming.
  • I'm learning more about my prayer life. Someone in Sunday school recently asked, "What dominates your prayer life?" My answer was two-fold: 1) praying for others and 2) praying for results. Neither of these is sinful in themselves, but they have the tendency to become so. For example, praying for others can become a way for me to avoid coming before God myself, avoid confession, avoid listening, avoid really opening myself up to Him changing me. Instead, I feel really good about myself for praying and praying for others and leave my time of prayer with a pat on the back but little actual communion with God. In the same way, praying for results ("Lord, heal ______'s marriage," "Lord, change _____'s heart," "Lord, help _____ go smoothly") causes me to miss the journey and the mess of the process, which is where God is. I miss the gifts and guts of now by praying for positive outcomes only.
In addition to more direct time with God through reflection/prayer/scripture/writing, I've also been able to enjoy life-giving activities like hanging pictures on the wall of baby boy's room (anticipation is such a gift), multiple walks with friends on late autumn afternoons, trying new recipes, finishing books and starting new ones, and dinners on the back deck with the hubs. Good things going on over here. I have a long way to go and my heart is still resistant, but I'm learning. And it's good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Media Fast: Part II

So, here's the thing about this media fast: it's not so much that I cut out the distractors as it is what I do with all that extra time. While I'm using my time more intentionally, the idea of a fast is to gain perspective, to turn to more eternal things, to spend time with God. And to be honest, I can't say that I've spent that extra time pursuing the eternal.

I've gotten a lot more grading done, which makes me feel accomplished and on top of things. I've cooked every night this week, which makes me feel accomplished and on top of things. I've exercised every day, which makes me feel accomplished and on top of things.

But fasting is not about feeling accomplished and on top of things. It's been a nice perk & I've certainly reaped the restful benefits of a simpler schedule, but feeling like my ducks are in a row is not the point. Not at all, really.

So, my challenge to myself for the second half of our media-free week is to spend the excess time on more life-giving endeavors. Now, yes, I'll still have papers to grade, but I don't want extra free time to translate into me becoming a workaholic.

I want to see God, and to see Him I have to seek him, and to seek Him I have to make time for him, to create space, and to use that space for study, reflection, writing, being outdoors, reading, prayer, creating, being in community with others--anything that points me to Him and is life-giving rather than life-sucking. Rather than seeing my extra time as an opportunity to pare down my to-do list (oh, how I love my control!), I want to see it as time to slow down long enough to gaze at God--however that may look.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Media fast

Do you ever feel like life is whirring by you so fast that you can't really grasp onto anything, can't take in anything? It's been a little like that over here lately.

And in the middle of the whir, I find myself living for my down time, for 8:00 or whenever it is that I am home and finished with all my obligations and lists for the day. And I find myself spending that down time in the most brainless ways possible because, let's be honest: it's the end of the day and I'm tired and I need to be distracted from life for a little while. So, I watch an hour of TV or check websites. And it hits me: these are the things I'm living and longing for? These are what I live my hours looking forward to?

So, on the heels of a challenging conversation with our small group last night and some quality discussion together, Phil & I have decided to take a week-long media fast. For us, that means no TV, no Facebook, no reading blogs, no online TV watching, and minimizing how often we check our email. Basically, we're cutting out the "distracting" parts of media and trying to spend that time more intentionally.

Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with enjoying TV shows & using the Internet, but they've become what I live for & what I look forward to & they've been keeping me from more worthwhile ways of spending my time, so for me at this time, they're causing more harm than good.

We don't  watch that much TV anyway, but when we get to the end of the week and think, "I didn't have time to ________ (insert something that takes 30 minutes or less)" and then realize that we've spent at least that long watching a show or checking websites, we can see how the minutes of media here and there add up to hours and keep us from doing what is more important.

Like blogging.

I've put off so many blog posts because I don't want to do the work of writing. I don't want to be disciplined and creative and have to think at the end of the day; I'd much rather veg in front of the TV and let my mind wander. So, here I am on a Tuesday afternoon with TIME to write and I'm doing it because I've eliminated the distractions that normally keep me from it.

And it feels good--in an eat-more-vegetables kind of way. It feels healthy and new and difficult and refreshing all at the same time, and I have to say that I'm enjoying the simplicity of being unplugged. I'm looking forward to catching up on cleaning, reading, recipe-finding, relationships, letter-writing, and lots of little loose ends I've been avoiding because I "don't have time." I'm looking forward to slowing down and paring down and giving my mind and heart S P A C E to see--really see--life deeply.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Latest Reads

I'm always in the middle of multiple books at once to satisfy whatever mood I'm in, and in the last couple of months, I've finished two of them and recommend them with mixed reviews.

Upon the recommendation of several friends, I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which turned out to be unlike any other book I've read. It was a Biblical fiction piece, taking the story of Dinah, Jacob's only recorded daughter, and imagining what her life would have been like during Bible times. The novel focuses on women and the cycle of life and death both through the monthly cycle (hence, the title) and the life cycle itself.

I'll start with the positive: my favorite part of the book is the way the author made me think about the reality of the culture during that time. Diamant is either Jewish or has significant knowledge about Judaism because, for example, she would write about meals that were prepared and refer to foods and ways of cooking that we know nothing about today. It's easy to read the Bible and overlook the more minor characters like Dinah, so placing her in a culture and making her the hero brought to life a time in history that I wouldn't have understood as well otherwise. I also thought the theme of life--bringing life into the world, longing for it, and going through the cycle of it--and of female friendships were poignant and touching--especially to a female reader.

While I genuinely enjoyed the book, I also can't say that I'd read it again. For one, the idea of Biblical fiction is a hard one for me. The author makes it clear that she's not trying to rewrite history, but I had a hard time separating what I knew to be true from the Bible with the story she wove throughout the book. On that note, the book, while such a beautiful statement on women's relationships, had quite a feminist bent. Only a handful of men (if that) had any integrity, which rubbed me the wrong way since so many of those men (Dinah's father and brothers), while glaringly imperfect, were also cornerstones of the Christian faith. In an effort to highlight women, who are often overlooked in the Bible, Diamant swings to the other extreme and completely annihilates men's positive characteristics.

After reading that bit of fiction, I was ready for some nonfiction, so I picked up a book my mother-in-law recommended called The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. It tells the story of Moehringer, who grew up without a father and who was essentially raised by a group of men at the local bar. The book is well written (Moehringer has experience writing for the New York Times and has been a reporter for various newspapers) and uses intentional memoir tactics like showing instead of telling, ending chapters with punchy sentences, and inviting the reader into the story, making his writing lively and powerful. The bar becomes a family for him, a refuge, and yes, he would say, even a sanctuary--a holy place where he is accepted, celebrated, and understood.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the read (although beware of some language if you choose to pick it up). However, I did find the undercurrent of alcoholism sad. He never comes out and says "I was an alcoholic," but he doesn't have to; he lives at the bar night after night, describes the absent state of his mind, the hung-over-trying-to-work experiences the next day and we don't have to wonder. But I do feel sorry for him. Sorry that his life was so difficult. Sorry that he became so dependent on alcohol. Sorry that his father was absent. Sorry that he had to be raised in a bar. I imagine Moehringer wouldn't want me feeling sorry for him for all (or any) of those things. He would say his time in the bar was his growing up, his education on manhood. I just wish he could have gotten his education another way. That being said, I absolutely recommend this book if you like nonfiction. The story is easy to read, well written, and compelling.

On my bedside table:

  • The Help by Katheryn Stockett
  • Baby Wise by Ezzo & Bucknam
  • One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekend getaway

Call it a babymoon if you want, but Phil & I took a little trip to Atlanta a few weekends ago just to get away together and it met & exceeded our expectations! We vowed to see no family and not over schedule our time and we stuck to it, making it one relaxing weekend.

Many thanks to my sister-in-law for the heads up about a Living Social deal, we scored a two-night stay at the Artmore Hotel in midtown, which meant we drove a maximum of 10 minutes to the rest of our destinations that weekend. The hotel was chic & modern--a young look in an old building. Because they were so full that weekend, we ended up staying in a "studio," which meant that our bedroom was upstairs and our living room was downstairs. Was that alright with us? the concierge wanted to know. Um, yes. The hotel room was honestly the size of our apartment two years ago in Chattanooga and decorated with some of my favorite colors: red, black, & white. Indulgence!

After checking into the Artmore and picking our jaws off the floor exploring our weekend studio, we headed to what would be one of the best Braves games I've ever seen. It was Bobby Cox night, so we got to see all the old players from the 1990s AND McCann broke the record for most hits in a season AND the Braves hit five home runs to take the win. It made me want to tomahawk chop with the best of them.

Saturday, we enjoyed sleeping in and a complimentary breakfast before heading to Atlantic Station to wander around a bit. Not needing or wanting to buy anything in particular, we grabbed some lunch and headed back to the hotel, deciding to spend the rest of our afternoon at the High Museum of Art. In fact, our hotel was so close that we just walked to the museum and enjoyed a few hours of AC and stunning art.


After all that walking, my ankles had become cankles and needed a little elevation, so we spent no less than two hours with our feet up watching "cable"--another indulgence since we don't have cable at home. We're convinced that shows on A & E & TLC are put there just to make viewers feel more normal about their own lives.

We ate dinner outside at Park Tavern, looking over Piedmont Park. The weather was pleasant, the food delicious, and the company the best!

Sunday's brought us to Ikea as we looked for a new chair for our living room. Never having been there before, Phil just about drooled when he saw how affordable and well-laid-out the store was. Thankfully, we found just the chair, enjoyed oohing and ahhing at various home decor, and ate lunch in the cafe before heading home with a chair crammed in the back of our Honda.

We're counting down the weeks until our family becomes three, but we're also enjoying these last weeks of being just two, and the Atlanta trip was the perfect pre-baby getaway!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Last day of summer


By my absence in cyberspace lately, it's probably pretty clear that the school year has begun. BUT before I started back, I took full advantage of my last official day of summer, a Wednesday, & Phil just happened to have the day off as well, so double wonderful!

The day began with an hour-long walk with my friend Jessica. It was early enough that the heat didn't scorch us and we enjoyed an easy sway of serious & silly conversation. 

Next, Phil & I barely made it to V. Richards for brunch before they started serving lunch only. We'd actually never been there before, but had heard rave reviews from lots of friends, and we were not disappointed! I ordered the Greek omelette (spinach, tomatoes, feta), which came with toast, fresh fruit, and cheese grits, and Phil ordered the eggs benedict, complete with grits & fruit. The decaf coffee finished off the meal nicely and we enjoyed a leisurely conversation in the tiny diner, which has since become one of our favorite places in town to eat! 

After brunch, we decided to avoid the heat by watching a movie (because we could). We were hoping that Redbox still had Jane Eyre, but they didn't, so we landed on the most recent Narnia movie. Not the best, honestly, but it I don't remember the last time I watched a movie in the middle of the day, so that made up for any lack in the movie itself. 

Next, we hit up the UAB gym & enjoyed getting a little activity in our day, and I followed that by going to coffee with a friend and having one of those God-ordained conversations. Love those.

The evening held slow hours spent watching So You Think You Can Dance and reading one of the four books I'm in the middle of. 

All in all, not a bad way to finish off the summer--especially our last kid-free summer. It felt good to relax and slow down, and it's made the first two weeks of school more restful as well because I've had something to give. How would you spend your last day of summer?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

If you give a mouse some coffee...

Every city has its must-go-to coffee shops, and one of Chattanooga's is Niedlov's. They're known for their homemade breads, but their lattes hit the spot too.

The other week, I had the opportunity to go to Niedlov's with a dear friend and just as we were sitting down to our coffee, I looked down and in the corner only FEET away from us was a mouse. Eek! Actually, there was no screaming. I'm not one to scream at rodents, and this one was particularly cute and moving slowly, so he (she?) wasn't creepy at all. However cute he was, a mouse in a coffee shop isn't that cute, so we moved to the other side of the shop &, not wanting to alarm any other customers, I discreetly told the girl behind the counter about our furry friend.

If you're tempted never to go to Niedlov's right now, keep reading! It gets better--promise.

About 30 minutes later, the mouse found us again and I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. So, I grabbed a water cup and trapped the little guy under it. Then, I told the behind-the-counter people that I had it trapped & did they have a dust pan so we could send him on his way. Yes, they did, and one of the guys working there took him out to the freedom of the great outdoors.

As a thank you for my service to the cleanliness of Niedlov's, the workers insisted that I take home a loaf of bread on the house. And since they insisted, I had to accept, right?  It was the easiest way I've gotten something free in my life! Their bread is some of the best I've ever tasted, and I'm quite the bread connoisseur. So, I left with a beautiful sliced loaf of Chattanooga Sour Dough and my friend (for being a very loyal accomplice) went home with a bag of sugar cookies. The bread was gone in less than a week--no lie. Of course, we shared some with friends, but I would find a mouse a day if I could get a loaf of bread like that out of it.

Before you judge a place like Niedlov's for having a mouse, I'm pretty sure that every bakery has a little mouse war going on, and at least this one wasn't back where they make the bread. And really, if you could just taste their bread, you'd know it'd be completely worth a mouse siting. My mouth is watering for you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lost in time


Watch out, people. I'm about to get all "Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" on you. Or, if you prefer a less poetry-nerd example, I'm about to get all "Seasons of Love" on you. Confused? Sorry. Just read.


Sometimes, life is measured in minutes
, counting down until the bell rings, the timer goes off, the alarm sounds, the phone vibrates.

Other times, life ticks by in hours, anticipating time to accomplish a task, what I will do the second half of the afternoon, when I will meet someone for coffee--always how I will get this done now so I can do that then.

Then, it can fly by in whole days, planner filled, calendar marked up, sometimes-busy, sometimes bursting-at-the-seams-wonderfully-full days that blur if I'm not careful, if I don't slow.

Or be doled out in weeks, gulps of time that "fly" even though we've lived every second of them.

Sometimes, I see life in months: months 'til school starts, 'til the babe comes, 'til we go on that trip, 'til Christmas!

And once in a while, life looks like years, experiences bracketed off by milestones, age, growing-up. Experiences only bracketed after enough time has passed to see the markers, to see years of life piled up into recognizable seasons.

I even imagine life as a lifetime, a whole living, breathing, individual-but-communal experience full of every stage of life as we know it. Can you imagine? Living through every stage? It's glorious! And scary. And overwhelming. To think of a lifetime of experience wrapped up in one person, a person whose unique print on the planet is so easily forgotten.

Which is why I also know life to be eternal, a life longed for that weds all that is beautiful and good in this world with the perfection of the next. It's not locked by time. It's unimaginable, mysterious, frightening, tremendous, exciting, Divine, and what makes my moments & minutes matter (they're eternal)...and not matter (they're temporal) all at the same time.

Does time's slipperiness ever baffle you, flying and slowing all at once? 

Psycho(analyzing)

I recently took time to label my blog posts, mostly for my own convenience since I tend to post things like recipes here and forget to print them out. Maybe you noticed the new labels along the right side of the landing page?

Anyway, I was surprised by how many (or few) posts fit into certain categories and am wondering what it says about me.

For example: the vast majority of my posts fit into the "deep thoughts" or "funsies" categories, which either says that I'm confused about whether to share deep or silly things on here, or that I like them both and am both. I'm going with the latter. (Of course, those who know me know that I'm way more on the "deep" side than the "funsy" side, but I'm workin' on that).

Another example: Second runners-up: books and food/recipes. No surprise there. Two of my favorite things. My labels have got me pegged.

My husband ranks around third, but at least he's in the top three, right?

Surprisingly low number of labels? Music, adoption, travel, & teaching--some of my greatest loves. Well, truth be told, music isn't one of my greatest loves. I'm more of a I-love-to-sing-and-play-instruments kind of music lover more than a band-groupie-concert-going music lover. But the rest of them are  LOVES of my life, so why am I not writing about them more often? Lots of reasons, but mostly, I think it's sometimes most difficult to wrap what you love into the confines of words. It's also probably why there are a lot of "funsy" posts because "funsies" are easy to write about.

Now it's your turn. What do my labels say about me that I've missed? So much unplowed territory. Knock yourself out.

And the burning question: how do I label this post???

Monday, July 18, 2011

Midnight snack

I have grand plans to write something of a little more substance on here soon, but for now, the world needs to know about the greatest midnight snack (possibly in the history of midnight snacks):

WHEAT THINS
dipped in 
CREAM CHEESE
dipped in
CINNAMON SUGAR

People, the salty-sweet combo is perfection in your mouth. I'm warning you, though: ration the ingredients. A full box of wheat thins plus a full tub of cream cheese plus an endless supply of cinnamon sugar = the inability to stop eating all that savory goodness! Not that I've tried it, of course. 

Go ahead. Try it. And let me know what you think. Do you have any delicious snacky food combos? I'm almost out of cream cheese and need a new idea for tomorrow night's indulgence...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer reading

Summer reading is so much more enjoyable as an adult, isn't it? Here's what I've been reading:


My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
A fellow English teacher recommended this nonfiction work to me, and it isn't a book I'd normally pick up because at first glance, it's a story about college basketball. But it's not just a sports book, which is what I found out, so don't discount it too quickly. Prior to reading this book I knew of Pat Conroy in name only. What I discovered was that he was a self-proclaimed mediocre basketball player for the Citadel back in the 1960s, although his life and his game are anything but mediocre. It was at the Citadel that he realized his ability to write, recognized the damage his abusive father had done, and learned revolutionary lessons that clung to him into the present. While there is, admittedly, a lot of basketball in the book, basketball is really just an avenue for him to write, and the story--basketball details and all--is absolutely riveting. In fact, I'll share a few longer quotes from the book in a different post because they're just that good. The actual mechanics of his writing are tight and have a down home feeling, but the concepts communicated in conjunction with those mechanics are the mark of a true artist. I highly recommend taking a chance on this book. I'm looking forward to reading his novel, Lords of Discipline, next, which is a fictional account that mirrors more of his experience at the Citadel.


The Mine and the Well by Gin Phillips
Another gem of Southern literature! I read this for a summer book club and had never heard of Birmingham native Gin Phillips before. Bottom line: It's a must read. Like Conroy, Phillips' story as well as her language is beautiful and compelling. The novel begins with a mysterious woman tossing a baby into the family well, and the rest of the book explores the ramifications of that incident and builds suspense as you join the characters in trying to figure out who did it and, what we really want to know: why. The story is told by five narrators with unique perspectives--all members of the same Alabama family in the 30s--so the story never has a lull. The father is a coal miner (where the "mine" part of the title comes in) and it's beautiful the way Phillips expresses the mine and the well as symbols of both life and death simultaneously. At less than 300 pages and exploring ideas about poverty, racism, family, and small towns, the book is a quick read and one that will leave you wanting more of Gin Phillips' writing.


Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
No, that's not a typo in the title; it's the kind of title you see in adolescent literature, which is what this book is. I try to read at least one adolescent novel every summer and another fellow English teacher recommended this one, which I enjoyed. Compared to the other books I've read recently, this was definitely "brain candy"--much more plot and character driven with less focus on language. That being said, the story was well-crafted, interesting, and had me turning pages so fast I finished in days. The novel tells the story of a girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and leaves tapes for 13 individuals who in some way contributed to her desire to end her life.  The narrator is one of those 13 people, and he was in love with Hannah, so it makes her reason for including him in the tapes even more mysterious. My only critique is that with 13 different people whose lives intersected, it was sometimes hard to remember who was who and I found myself having to look back at previous chapters. That being said, it was an easy book to read and tackled difficult issues like suicide, rape, and bullying without being remotely cheesy. The message, that you never know how your decisions affect the lives of those around you, is certainly one that's relevant to teenagers today. Because of the content, however, I'd recommend this book to older teenagers and adults only.

Next up:
The Red Tent by Anita Diamont
The World According to Garp by John Irving

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Healthy Homemade Fish Sticks

Phil grew up eating fish sticks on a weekly basis, and he still loves them. However, frozen fish sticks are a little less appealing now that I'm an adult, so I haven't made them in all the years we've been married. SO, when I saw this recipe in the June issue of Cooking Light, I knew I had to try it (website has helpful step-by-step pictures). Don't be deterred by the long ingredients list. Most of them you have on hand, and if you don't you can omit or substitute easily (see my changes in green). Also, I was a little skeptical of the red pepper flakes, Cajun seasoning, and cumin, thinking that it would be too spicy, but it wasn't spicy at all and would even be kid-friendly. I served the fish sticks with steamed broccoli, fresh tomato slices, and homemade squash casserole. I'll definitely be making these again!

Fancy Fish Sticks

  • YIELD: 4 servings (serving size: about 3 fish sticks, 2 tablespoons sauce, and 1 lime wedge)
  • HANDS-ON: 25 MINUTES
  • TOTAL: 40 MINUTES

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon Creole mustard (such as Zatarain's) I used Dijon b/c I didn't have Creole mustard
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning I used Tony's because it's what I had on hand
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup lager-style beer
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons creamy mustard blend (such as Dijonnaise) I used a blend of mayo & dijon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • large egg whites
  • large egg
  • 2/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) I used crumbled Ritz crackers
  • 1/3 cup unsalted pumpkinseed kernels, toasted I omitted and added more crackers
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper I used a dash of red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound halibut or other lean white fish fillets (such as cod or pollack), cut into 4 x 1-inch pieces (about 12 pieces) I used tilapia and it worked great
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • lime wedges

Preparation
  • 1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cover and chill.
  • 2. Preheat oven to 425°.
  • 3. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray, and spread evenly with oil; heat in oven 12 minutes.
  • 4. Combine flour and black pepper in a shallow dish. Combine 1/2 cup beer, mustard blend, lime juice, egg whites, and egg in a shallow dish; stir with a whisk until foamy. Place panko, pumpkinseeds, cumin, and chipotle pepper in a food processor; pulse 20 times or until coarse crumbs form. Place panko mixture in a shallow dish.
  • 5. Sprinkle fish evenly with salt. Working with one piece at a time, dredge fish in flour mixture. Dip in egg mixture, and dredge in panko mixture until completely covered.
  • 6. Remove preheated baking sheet from oven; place fish on pan, and return to oven. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork, turning once. Serve immediately with sauce and lime wedges.
  • Sustainable Choice: If Pacific halibut is not available, you can use Alaskan pollack and U.S. Pacific cod as alternatives.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

30 before 30 update

It's been 6 months since I made my 30 before 30 list, so it's time for a little update:

  1. Read through the Bible (or at least be in the process of doing so). In progress. I'm still in Exodus, but am only a couple of chapters away from Leviticus and I've taken lots of detours along the way. I'm okay with it.
  2. Publish something I've written. Hoping to get on this sometime this summer.
  3. Take another big trip with Phil Done...sort of. Probably won't happen with Phil, but I did go to Boston with my Aunt in April, so I'm counting that. :)
  4. Work up the guts to sing karaoke in public. Not counting on this happening, but we'll see...
  5. Journal weekly. Hasn't been weekly, but has been regularly, so I'll take it.
  6. Plant a vegetable garden in our back yard. Done. See the updated picture. I ate raw green beans and cherry tomatoes this week! Still waiting on the peppers & cucumbers to come in. 
  7. Roll my own sushi. Done
  8. Finish typing my grandfather's WWII letters to my grandmother. Also in the plans for the summer.
  9. Learn to change a tire. Not yet.
  10. Donate platelets. Not gonna happen for a while since I'm preggo. 
  11. Find some new teenage girls to invest in since all mine are graduating this year. Done. Have some amazing girls from Samford that I get to hang out with about once a month!
  12. Take more pictures. Working on this. Still a struggle...
  13.  Invest in a bookshelf for our bedroom. Done
  14. Our new reading nook!
  15. Volunteer. Done. Helped with VBS this summer. Not that I'm done for the year, but it's a start!
  16. Go to a Broadway show (doesn't have to be in NYC) Hoping to see Les Miserables (my favorite!) when it comes to Bham this fall!
  17. Actually use my yoga videos. Um...yeah. Hasn't happened. Should probably get on that.
  18. Shop at Whole Foods from time to time. Not yet.
  19. Try at least 4 new restaurants in Birmingham. Done. 
  20. Invest in at least one more piece of art crafted by a friend or family member. Hoping to make this happen at Christmastime...
  21. Snorkel. Another one that probably won't happen. Oh well. 
  22. Get a massage. Or two. Not yet.
  23. Dance at wedding reception (call me crazy, but I hate dancing in public). Done! I slow danced with my 12-year-old brother at my other brother's wedding. Taught him the box step and he was a natural! I have to admit that dancing was his idea, though. :)
  24. Watch a sunset. Or two. Sad that I have to put that on a list. Done. Phil and I spontaneously pulled over at a lookout with our takeout food in hand last weekend. A little taste of heaven. 
  25. Play volleyball. Not yet.
  26. Go camping again with Phil. Not yet.
  27. Ride my bike. Not yet. 
  28. Help a stranger. Not that I remember.
  29. Write a letter to someone who has greatly influenced your life who has no idea the impact they've had. Not yet.
  30. Cook a five-course dinner using all new recipes. Not yet, but several of you have offered to do this with me, so let's get going!
  31. Thank you, Craigslist!
  32. Paint our bedroom a color I like. Done. Changed this one. I decided I was fine with the color, but have been doing a little makeover on the room. Added a bookshelf & chair for a reading nook, moved around some furniture, and hung some pictures. Love it!

So, lots still in the works, but it's nice to have some of them checked off! Let me know if you want to join me for any of them!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Really Big Thing #2: my new niece!

A couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law brought home their daughter, Finley, from China! She has been longed for and prayed for and loved for so long and it's surreal to have her here. I had the privilege of spending some time with them this week, and it's remarkable how natural she is in their home, to see her smile, to watch her smitten older brothers play with her. She is funny, beautiful, playful, and sweet, and I pray she will know how loved she is by her family, community, and heavenly Father. Welcome home, sweet Fin!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Belated BIG news!

I was on vacation last week, which, for me, means vacation from blogging too, so I'm officially back now and it's time to catch up on some really big things!

Really big thing #1: We're pregnant & just found out this week that we're having a boy! "Most definitely a boy," according to the sonographer. :) Glad it was clear, and it dispelled any irrational fears that our child would be a hermaphrodite. We all have those irrational fears. That was (one of) mine. The ultrasound was amazing, though. Seeing him move around (he's very active), suck his thumb (or pick his nose...it was kind of hard to tell), and have a healthy report made him so much more real to us and we were all smiles leaving the room. 

Here are a couple of 4-D shots of him from the ultrasound. Makes it hard to wait to meet him!
Top right is his head w/ eyes, nose, & mouth. Not sure where his hands ended up, but I promise he has arms & hands somewhere too! Phil says it looks like his baby pictures. If so, we're in luck because he was one cute baby!
His boxer pose (and evidence of his arms and hands)! Check out his little foot too!
You might be wondering: why is Cara just now blogging about this really huge thing in her life when she's already halfway through her pregnancy? Good question. I have several answers for you. 
  • Pregnancy is overtly public and intensely personal at the same time. Most of the thoughts I have about being pregnant and being a mom I'm writing in my pen-and-paper journal, for my eyes only. It's just too deep and too intimate to include in a blog like this for the world to see. 
  • The purpose of this blog was to help me write more frequently and to give me an audience (a.k.a. a little motivation to write), and I want to guard against this becoming a blog exclusively about my son. While I'll love him fiercely and will probably want to write about him all the time, I really want to preserve the varied nature of this blog, so you'll probably see frequent posts about him, but not exclusive posts about him. (Disclaimer: for those of you who blog exclusively or often about your children, I think that's wonderful and I love reading about your kids and what you're doing! Keep it up! Also, I may find blogging about my child irresistible once he's in the world, so I'm not making any promises, just sharing my intentions).
  • I honestly couldn't figure out a way to put "We're pregnant" into what I'll call "writer words." In other words, "We're pregnant" sounded too boring for the miracle and mystery of new life, so I was paralyzed as a writer, copped out, and wrote nothing.
On to what you really want to know:
  • Due date: 11/11/11 (best. due date. ever.)
  • Yes, I'm showing, but not that much. Since people have a strange curiosity about preggy pics, I'll include one here, but it's not that exciting. Promise.
  • Names: We have no idea, but when we do, we won't share it until he's born. We're open to suggestions, though, so bring 'em on!
Oh, and here's what my mom gave Phil & me for Mother's Day and Father's Day. We were thinking about wearing them on a date soon to see if we can get a free dinner out of it. :) 


Really big thing #2 coming later...