Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Five Things That Are Saving My Life This Winter

Today I was perusing a few blogs and came across several (beginning with Modern Mrs. Darcy) who mentioned the idea of listing the things that are saving you (as opposed to the things that are killing you, which can sometimes be easier to identify).  The idea comes from Barbara Brown Taylor's book Leaving Church, which I have never read.  I have, however, been eyeing her most recent book Learning to Walk in the Dark.  It's on my list.
Regardless, I thought the idea was worth thinking about, and I've taken the time to write down a few things that are saving me right now:

1.       The Dog Park – Remy and I have gotten into a pretty consistent routine these days.  At least three days a week, I’ll drive him over to the dog park after work to burn off his energy.  He loves it – loves to run free, chase balls, wrestle with his best buddy Dexter, and eat poop when he thinks I’m not looking (or even when he knows I am).  Recently I realized I need the dog park as much as he does.  I need to be outside.  I need to stand up after sitting at a desk all day.  I need my dog park friends, who I see almost every day but I know only as “Skippy’s dad” and “Lady with the three-legged dog.”  I miss it when I don't go.

2.       Early morning at Starbucks – I’ve been meeting a friend at Starbucks on Mondays and Fridays before work.  I usually get there around 5:30, spend time praying, journaling, reading, and then she meets me around 6:00.  It  is motivation to get out of bed in the morning and get moving.  It’s time spent with God, reflecting on my life, talking and processing.  And mostly it’s a friendly face in the morning, sharing my life with someone.  We really only see each other for maybe 10-15 minutes.  I have to leave for work at 6:15.  Sometimes we don’t say much to each other at all, sometimes I’m late for work talking.  But she is present with me, and knows me, and is for me, and that has been a lot to me lately.

3.       The (fake) lives of others – I recently found myself with more time on my hands than I had at the end of last year.  I’ve filled some of that time reading novels and binge watching TV shows.  Yes, I would like to tell you I’ve been feeding the poor and making cookies for my neighbors and having long conversations with my husband about our dreams.  But the truth is, I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted.  I don’t know how long I have been this way. I didn't realize it until I realized it.  In the past, I would have been able to guilt myself into spending my time doing something “for the kingdom,” or at least something to better myself.  But currently, I am fairly invested in the lives of the young Canadian police officers in Rookie Blue.  Invested enough that I actually think of them sometimes when I am not watching the show.  Maybe this means I am escaping from all my problems into a fantasy-land in which I can, instead, worry from a distance about the problems of others.  To be honest, I am ok with that for a season.  I've also been finishing up the Divergent series by Victoria Roth and am eagerly anticipating the second movie, which comes out in March.

4.     Quilting -- Another portion of my free time has been spent making baby quilts for friends of mine.  I've finished one (see below) and am in the middle of another.  I'm a creative person, and this has been my creative outlet lately.  I am so thankful for that, especially during a time when nothing in me has wanted to write, or had anything to say.  It is mindless, and colorful, and makes me feel connected to my grandmother who recently passed away.  And I can do it while watching Rookie Blue.  Or Chopped.  

5.     Coffee -- I recently had coffee and a bagel with a friend who I've known for almost ten years.  This is the friend who unequivocally knows me better than I know myself.  We've haven't lived in the same city for a few years, and when I ordered a drip coffee she said, "Uh, you don't drink coffee."  And yet, apparently, all of a sudden, I do.  This is because there is free coffee at work and a miraculous lineup of creamer flavors keep appearing in the communal fridge.  I loathed the day I would become one of those people who need coffee to function -- and I don't think I'm there yet.  But all of a sudden there is something very comforting about my morning cup of joe.  This is convenient, because Jonathan has also been on a coffee kick lately.  He got a Chemex coffee maker for Christmas and has been trying out new varieties at home, which is drastically decreasing our monthly Starbucks expenditures.  Everyone wins.  


It may be question worth thinking about for you, too:  What is saving your life this winter?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Wheat and the Weeds

I had a pumpkin spice latte this morning from Starbucks, and it tasted like fall, and like Boston and rainy mornings and birds, like used bookstores and depth.  It tasted like refuge in God, like warm safety, like a feeling I can't quite describe, and time with Jesus by the lake and crispness and quiet.
I thought to myself: Surely, life has been sweet.

Last night I went with a bunch of girls to see The Giver.  I've read the book many times, because even as a child I think I knew it had something real and true to say about life.  (I hope I can leave my life having said things that are real and true).  I'm not a movie critic, so I won't comment on its value except to say I liked it and it touched something deep in me.

Life is so rich and so hard.

The world is so overwhelming when we stop to think of it.  War, and death, starvation, suffering, brokenness -- all is so achingly wrong, so painfully wrong.  And naturally our hearts long for the end of it all.  Many have asked why God doesn't rid the world of suffering, and its a bigger question than I could answer.  But The Giver touches on the reality that to rid the world of suffering is to rid the world of love, and all that is worth celebrating  -- of laughter, dancing, risk, sacrifice, and beauty.   Meryl Streep's character in the movie says, "When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong.  Every time."  And you can feel it from her character (side note: Meryl Streep is amazing), the frustration, the longing to be free from pain, the desire to control our circumstances.  Can't we connect with the truth in that, even in our own lives?  Can't we agree that we so often choose wrong?

Once, Jesus told a story to make a point about this.  From Matthew 13:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
It just moves me.  The world is awful and good and broken and beautiful and we live here.  To pull up the weeds is to uproot the wheat.  To remove suffering and wrongness is to also remove beauty and life.  This is why Jesus came, in a way--because we are stuck here in a world that is terribly broken, and we need hope that one day it will all be dug up -- it will all be made right again.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Exploring Arizona: Papago Park Hike

I'll admit, since we moved to Arizona six months ago, we have done almost zero of the many amazing things there are to do around here.  We are homebodies, and there's no shame in that.  Jonathan's favorite thing to do is go out to eat, and even then we don't often venture outside our go-to places.  I don't hate spending Friday night at home watching a movie.  But it is a goal of mine to get out and do more things that there are to do in the area.

So I'm starting a series on the blog called Exploring Arizona.  I can't promise we'll do anything exciting every week, or even every month, but I am making it a goal to take day trips, explore new places, and find some bright things in this great state.  Especially while the weather is nice!

This morning, since I have a puppy who thinks he will die if he eats breakfast later than 6 am, I decided to get a jump on the day and take him for a long walk with the sunrise.  I planned to go to a park right down the street, but spur of the moment decided to be different and explore a new place.

Papago Park is big city park that lies at the intersection of Phoenix and Tempe.  It is home to several easy-to-moderate hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens (both those are on my list of places to explore).

The hike we tackled was the Eliot Ramada loop, the longest trail at about 2.7 miles.  It is listed as easy/moderate.  The first half of the loop was paved, winding uphill through the distinctive red stone formations.

Remy was a little hesitant at first exploring a new place (like mother, like dog), but once he got going he loved it!

Just got some new shoes - had to try them out!

Phoenix in the distance

This was a great hike to start the day with.  I can't really say I've been hiking in a long, long time, but I love exploring desert landscapes and being up with the sun.

If you're into that kind of thing, there is a health and wellness section of the loop with different outdoor exercise equipment and instructions.  Who doesn't want to swing on these rusty handlebars?

The second half of the loop winds around a golf course and is not paved.  I remembered halfway through I should probably watch for snakes -- can't be too careful!  There were lots of birds to see and hear of the backside of the trail, which I loved.  It was the perfect hike for less-than-a-foot-tall Remy, with a good amount of up and downhill (I think I was on the bike section) but nothing too strenuous.  

Overall, a successful outing!  There are many more things to do in Papago - can't wait to explore them all - next time with my nice camera instead of just my iPhone!

Saturday, February 22, 2014


A few weeks ago we celebrated Jonathan's birthday by having a few friends over.  I made shrimp and sausage Gumbo for the occasion - a family recipe.  I would say secret, but it's really not rocket science.  Besides, I cheat and use a roux starter from a jar instead of taking the time to make my own roux.  A roux - for those not acquainted with Cajun cooking - is essentially just oil and flour mixed together and cooked until it turns light or dark brown.  It thickens the liquid slightly and provides the rich, nutty taste for which gumbo is famous.  Using a roux starter saves me the time of standing at the stove stirring.  I'm not really even tempted to feel like a lame cook for taking this shortcut, because roux starter or not, this gumbo is a crowd pleaser.

I started with a few tablespoons of roux starter (or good old fashioned stirred at the stove roux) in a mixture of half water, half chicken broth (about 6 cups).  I let it simmer for about 20 minutes, while we peeled and deveined a bag of frozen shrimp.  I despise deveining shrimp.  Gumbo can technically be made with just chicken or sausage, the gumbo my grandma made growing up always had shrimp, so I never skimp on the seafood.  
Also while the roux simmers, I chop up some good andouille sausage, an onion, bell pepper, and most importantly, okra.  You can't make gumbo without it.  In fact, the word gumbo may originate from an old word for okra.  I got mine at whole foods, since sometimes you don't see it at your usual supermarket.  
All that gets thrown in the roux pot and cooked at a low boil for about 30 minutes.  A little salt doesn't hurt.  
It's easy to make and feeds a small army when ladled over white rice.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Sunrise

I've always been one to enjoy a sunrise more than a sunset.  Maybe it's something about the symbolism -- a sunrise is hope, light, and life.  I love being up early, when the world is quiet and there's a small chill in the air.  Something about the serenity soothes my soul every time.

This morning I was at Starbucks with a friend.  We've been meeting up at 6 am a few days a week before work to get ourselves out of bed early enough to spend time with Jesus.  It has been extremely worth it and life to my soul to get time with a dear friend and to start my day early.  When I was in high school I used to get up early every day and read the paper with a bowl of cereal.  I hate being rushed in the mornings.  I am an old person at heart, as evidenced by the nice elderly folk hemming me in on every side.

As I wrapped things up this morning (I'm reading an amazing book by the way: A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman), I smiled with contentment at the first strokes of color coming up on the horizon outside the window.  Arizona is known for its beautiful sunsets, but I think the sunrises are just as spectacular, its just that few are up to see them.  As I watched, colors turned from dusty blue to pink, from pink to vibrant orange, and suddenly I realized I had to see that sunrise.  Starbucks is no place to view something like that.

I quickly bagged up all my things and charged out of the place.  I ran to my car and as I started it my hands were shaking.  A sunrise isn't something that waits around, and I knew this one was going to be glorious!  There is a park down the street I went to once, with a big lake, one of those places that I wish I visited more often, but I usually just stick to my boring routine.  

I raced out of the parking lot.  I didn't even put on my seatbelt.  I always put on my seatbelt, because I am a great lover of rules.  I exclaimed out loud to myself as I watched the colors accelerate in my rearview mirror.  I drove over the speed limit.  I only needed to make it two blocks!  

I careened my car into the parking lot by the lake and literally ran to the shore.  No one was around but me.  Me, the waterbirds, and this:

This was my actual face of delight.  Orange from the glow.

I sat by the water for a few minutes taking it all in.  And then, as soon as it came, it was gone, the colors faded into hazy blue, the birds awakening from their slumber and pecking in the grass.  

This is the kind of morning that makes for a beautiful day.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hope and Sugared Cranberries

Christmas cheer is in full swing, even here in the desert.  The stockings are hung by our chimney with care, our tree gives a soft glow every evening, and our little fireplace dances.  The temperatures have dropped down to freezing -- my Boston-bred husband couldn't even stay out long tonight.  But it makes it all seem much more cozy and festive.

We've been doing a little advent reading every night, just to remember the magic and wonder of Christmas before it slips away.  I love the idea of advent, of waiting, hoping, anticipating.  Advent - "coming."  He is coming.  The whole world sparkles with it this time of year.

I've been thinking about hope a lot lately, which is appropriate since on the first week of advent we light the hope candle.  When we feel disappointed, broken, lost, bored - hope gives us reason to sing.  Someday, somehow, things will be made right.

I took a drive this week into Phoenix to pick up something I purchased on Instagram.  Honestly, it opened a whole new world to me, new neighborhoods, new people, new adventures to be had.  And just like that, another candle lit, another little light of hope that life can flourish here in the desert.

A new addition to our gallery wall (and I am in LOVE with it).  "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." - Hebrews 6:19

In the spirit of making Christmas feel all the more Christmasy, I made some sugared cranberries this week.  If you're looking to get a lot of bang for your Christmas buck, this is the project for you.  These are SO easy to make, are completely addicting (and also probably fairly bad for you), and look  festive and beautiful on the table.  

The original recipe for these is from Cooking Light.  But it's easy enough that I can write it from memory after making it once.  All you need is:

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups fresh cranberries (I got mine from Trader Joe's)
3/4 cup superfine sugar (or regular sugar that you ran through

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan.  Heat on medium, stirring every so often, until all the sugar is dissolved.  Bring it to a simmer, but not to a boil, then remove it from the heat.  
Pour in the cranberries and stir to coat.  Pour the whole mixture into a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight (or 8 hours, or in my case, about 24 hours because I didn't get around to the next part until then).

Drain the cranberries.  Bonus: save the water and use it as a holiday sweetener in cocktails, coffee, etc!  Easy and delicious cranberry simple syrup.

Pour the superfine sugar onto a plate and roll the cranberries through it a few at a time.  Place them on a baking sheet to dry at room temperature for about an hour.  

Then pour into a pretty bowl and enjoy!  If you can keep from eating them all first.  They have a perfect, crisp little pop when you bit into them, and a delightful combination of sweet and tart.  I can't get enough.

In fact, I think I'll go have a few now.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

With New Eyes

Jonathan and I spent Thanksgiving this year on a last-minute trip back to Boston, to visit his family.  As we drove down the main street of his town, I found myself seeing things with new eyes.  It's one of my favorite things to do when things start to seem ordinary--to remember what it all looked like the first time I saw it, before everything got dusty and average in my mind.

I remember the first time I was in Norwood.  I mentioned it a few posts back, how we drove at midnight down the silent streets, lit up in an array of white Christmas lights, a little town, its little square, very quaint and New England.  When I first saw it, it was beautiful.  There's the big Catholic church in the square next to old bars and ice cream shops.  The local bridal shop where I tried on the bridesmaid dress for my sister-in-law's wedding.  The breakfast diner that Jonathan has been frequenting since he was two (the same waitress still works there). When we were first dating, he used to love to drive me past his old high school, so proud that they were renovating it.  We spent a few minutes one starry night trespassing on the football field where he used to play drums in the band.  It is small town America to me, and nothing like where I grew up.  To be real, it's suburbia--it's not like there's one dirt road and a stoplight.  But something about that New England spirit is sowed deep in the ground there, somewhere between the Dunkin' Donuts and the Friendly's, past the little cape-style houses, down the commuter rail tracks behind the middle school.  
I joke that my husband is the definition of a townie, but it's something I love about him.  It took a lot of courage for him to move across the country on this adventure, and he's paid for it in homesickness already.  But it has been worth it, and does make it all the sweeter when we can go back to the frigid air and familiar sights of home.  We can see things in a new way because we've missed them for a few months.  

All that to say, I want to remember to look at things with fresh eyes more this season, especially with Christmas approaching.  Can I remember what a lit Christmas tree looked like to me when I was a little girl, still full of easy joy and belief?  Can I choose to remember what I loved about my job when I first started working there, before the drudgery set in?   Driving around Tempe, this place can seem like Anywhere, USA.  But if I choose to really look, I see the palm trees.  They were one of the first things I remember marveling at when we landed here.  And it reminds me that this is an extraordinary place full of beauty and new life.  Seeing with new eyes is more than just imagination.  It's choosing to remember what is still bright and beautiful about the world in front of me.

Choose to see something with new eyes today--and enjoy!

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