Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hello World

One of these days I'll be a dedicated blogger who posts insightful, timely, and creative things for the world at large to peruse at leisure.

Until then, You'll just get my sporadic updates and I'll pretend like you've been waiting with baited-breath for them.

The summer was busy as summers tend to be. The end of summer was a highlight as I was able to visit Georgia and celebrate with my older brother and his wife on their marriage, and my younger brother and his wife at a baby shower. (My nephew has since made his debut into the world. I was blessed to be able to "be there" via the wonders of video chat, but am so excited for Christmas when I get to meet him in person.) It was also great to spend time with friends. I miss the people in Georgia and have a fondness for certain aspects of the South and its culture that you can't find in the Midwest - but I'll be shocked if I ever end up living in the South again.

Chicago has enjoyed an actual fall: beautiful blue skies with a bright warm sun and a cool breeze. Streets and yards were full of fall colors. I've relished the days of jeans and boots and lightweight cardigans. We had our first snow last week - nothing stuck - but for a few moments at a couple times throughout the day - you saw a swirl of white flakes making their way down. It is with guarded anticipation that I look forward to that beauty and magic of snow while knowing that it's also going to bring a slushy mess. It will be my third Chicago winter, but the the giddy excitement about that first blanket of white is still there.

Enough about the weather!

I've been doing a Bible Study the past number of weeks with some ladies from church. We are reading through Nancy Guthrie's The Promised One. It is part of a series she is writing on seeing Jesus in the Old Testament.

I am learning so much. I feel as if I'm seeing scripture as one large continuous picture as I never have before. The way in which God has orchestrated the events and lives of people recorded in the Bible from the beginning of time as prophecies and illustrations of the life and purpose of Jesus is just astounding. It reminds me of my favorite descriptor of God - the great Poet God. For anyone who knows good poetry knows that often when a poem is good - it may appear disjointed at a first glance - but some study, and some attention to both the form and content will reveal a master craftsman whose woven a beautiful image.

If I had to pull only one lesson from the study thus far though it would be this: The Bible is not about me.

So often I open the Bible or sit to listen to a message waiting for what I have to learn - how it will change my life, what directions it will give me, what questions that plague my mind will be answered.

And, these are not bad desires. I'd even say they are good and admirable desires that are most often from pure hearts.

Let me see if I can explain where I am beginning to see the problem with a focus on self (even when it's about learning) when approaching the scripture:

Last week we studied the story of Abraham and Isaac. It is a story that makes me uncomfortable. It seems barbaric, arbitrary, completely unnecessary. But, it's there - and it seems that God honored this obedience from Abraham. And, if I want to follow this God - I want to be honored as well. At times in my life I've taken on almost martyr-like dedication to the idea of sacrifice - claiming Abraham as my model for godly obedience.

Abraham IS a model of godly obedience and faith - - but what has hit me while doing this study about this and many other stories throughout Genesis is this: The point of the story of Abraham and Isaac "is not to convince or convict you that you must be willing to sacrifice to God what is most precious to you. It is that God was willing to sacrifice for you what was most precious to Him." (Nancy Guthrie)

I think I've spent far too much of my life searching for what I must sacrifice in order to achieve the blessing of God's promise in my life - while never understanding and fully embracing the idea that the sacrifice has been made and the promised land has been claimed. Jesus fulfilled this story - he provided the Lamb to be slain and he won the promised land of an eternity in Heaven. That is the point - not for us to spend our lives wondering if we're being as obedient as Abraham - but to praise the One who was.

O, praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Puppy Dog Tails

My younger brother and his wife are expecting their first child in September - a boy! This little bundle of joy will also be the child who makes me an aunt.

I'm ecstatic. And, as such, have been hunting Etsy and other places and favoriting a number of things. I obviously won't be able to purchase all of these things. (Nor would the baby or parents to-be have need or desire for all of them.) So, on the presumption that I have a number of friends who like to ooh-and-awe over baby and young child things whether you have a tiny human in your life or not - -I present a treasury of Baby/Toddler/Little Boy Cuteness! (Plus, some of my facebook friends flat out asked me to tell them what I favorited. Twist my arm!) I'm including things from etsy and elsewhere around the web!

(And just because it seems the thing to do to make these disclaimers: I don't know any of these sellers nor do I get anything from them for "advertising" here. I just like the stuff!)

1. Onesie Sticker Photo-Props. I love these little month markers you can use for your home photo shoots by Lil Baby Bumblebee . Just stick them on a onesie and voila! personalized age outfit. There are a variety of sticker designs for little boys (and girls). I love the transportation ones pictured and the ties are super cute as well.

2. Locavore Baby Onesies from UncommonGoods.com.  Earthy green and red with "Produced Locally" and "All Natural" printed on the front. It makes my hippie side giggle.

3. Off-road wood cars. These rugged vehicles and landscapes are made by Smiling Tree Toys. I'm a sucker for basic, plain, wood toys.

4. Click. You just said, "rawr!" out-loud didn't you? Mhm. Me too. A cute little dinosaur onesie from Rock River Tees.

5..Baby Cowboy Boots.  From Puddin' Toes. Pretty much impossible not to awwwww at that.

6. Custom Birth Announcement Art  There's something about the spelling out of "eight-o-nine in the evening" that makes me love this.  From Invite Me Designs.

7. Houndstooth on a Baby.  I think this is more in line with my style than the style of my nephew's parents - - but what an adorable hat and shoe set!  By Pink 2 Blue

8. I really like these graphic animal prints as they seem they would transition well from baby-boy to little-boy room. From  N. Eve Designs

9. Felted Tool Set. I really do love this. It's ages 3 and up though so I'll just have to wait. From Uncommon Goods.

10. A variety of socks: Baby Tube Socks, Shoe Socks, Puppet Socks, and Oxford Socks . All from Uncommon Goods.

Feel free to share any of your favorite baby/toddler/little-boy things :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Photo Dump

A few blog posts that have been in various stages of drafts over the past number of weeks that will hopefully be coming to you soon:

  • A few of my favorite things: I'm Going To Be An Aunt Edition. Brought to you by hours of clicking "add to favorites" on etsy. 
  • Breaking Fashion Rules. Because I like to pretend like I'm a rebel and fashion rules are good ones to break.
  • A Decade Ago: Thoughts on hitting that 10 Years since High School mark in life.
  • Thankful Lists. I promise I'm thankful. I'm just a bad blogger.

But for now, you get an assortment of random pictures that I found on my camera:

I knew better, but I thought I would see if canned sweet tea was worth it for 79 cents. It was not. Brew your own.

Canned tea is not southern tea

I wore a very bright pink dress the other day and took a very blurry picture of it. It's better than the pic I took where I have no head though. I post it because I like the dress. :)

Pretty Blurry 'n Pink

I made some super simple cards:

Hello Balloon Card

Sewing Card

Quote Card

We had quite a few days of really hot weather (at times followed by days in which I grabbed a jacket. I love Chicago.) I enjoyed the feel of the grass on the warm days though.

Walkin' On Sunshine

I bought glasses to wear in public for the first time in 12 years:

Four Eyes

There are a number of these old-fashioned signs around Chicago. Finally took a quick picture of one. Need to do more and better photos.


And am well stocked for summer reading:

To Read

Sunday, May 29, 2011

America: It's a country, not a god.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am discussing patriotism within the church. While I do have pacifists leanings and aversions to strong patriotism in any context, I don't hate soldiers and believe that a government that literally asks for the lives of its people should treat those people and their families with respect and dignity.

I grew up in a church that regularly incorporated patriotism into worship. On "patriotic weekends"  like Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veteran's Day, etc - we pledged to the flag, sang the theme song of each of the branches of the military, and talked of the honor and sacrifice of the soldiers of our country. During the summer Vacation Bible School camp we said the pledge every day. One of the churches I attended in college had similar patriotic celebrations.

And while I value many things I learned and the foundation of faith I received in that church - I was never comfortable with the overt patriotism. Not even as a child. Even then I thought it was odd and questionable to spend time set apart to worship God in order to worship a nation. Even as a child and teenager who aligned herself with the conservative/fundamentalist beliefs about society and scripture and believed that wars could be just I still found it odd that we pledged allegiance to a nation whose status of "under God" was as questionable during the days of those famed founding fathers as it is today.

And now today as a pacifist-leaning adult I find it downright appalling that we can use a Sunday morning to choose to worship a vastly imperfect nation in lieu of worshiping the nonpartisan God of the Universe

So, I guess I shouldn't have been shocked when a friend showed me this picture of the church bulletin at my childhood church this morning, but I was.

I literally gasped. And the first thought that entered my head was, "Does he get 40 virgins too?"   Because when you take a verse out of context and imply through the imagery that a man who dies fighting for America is  in the will of God and therefore guaranteed eternal life you might as well start up a kamikaze training program in your church. Not only does this image with the accompanying words suggest that war is the will of God, but it also suggest that all those who die in such a war are guaranteed eternal life.

And I know that's not what they're trying to say. I know that I'm being extreme and making a big jump. But the history of the church includes the scar of hundreds of years of people killing in the name of God and eternal life. (And don't try to get out of that history, Protestants, it happened before the reformation.) And, I could talk about Hitler or the KKK and how they each called upon the favor of  God  in their search for  political gains or ideals..

So I'm going to be extreme with this. Because they shouldn't have used God to justify their political  violence and we shouldn't either - no matter how noble or just we may believe our cause to be.

When you present information in order to influence an audience towards a specific belief - that's called propaganda. And while propaganda is a neutral term in its denotation alone, the negative connotations are evident here - this image uses an emotional scene, strong words, and a Biblical passage removed from it's proper context in order to influence a church-going audience towards a political opinion.    

That verse on that image in context says:

1  John 2:15-17

 15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever

I'd like to compare the 1 John passage to another  verse that talks about being undefiled by the world and how to live out the will of the Father - and it gives some pretty clear directions on what that looks like.

James 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

I am so very grateful that while I now still attend an evangelical church there was not a flag in sight or military mention made all this Memorial Day weekend morning. Today we sang praises to God and we studied his word. We also had the opportunity to be encouraged this morning as we listened to a couple share how they are actively living out God's command to care for orphans.

While even with my pacifist leanings I can honor and respect the hearts of soldiers and their families who are willing to sacrifice much in the belief that doing so provides freedom for others,  I don't believe that the house of God is the time for the worship of a nation or its people -  however brave and selfless they may be.

"Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us." -A.W. Tozer

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Dessert

I made Tangerine Semifreddo with Salted Almond Brittle for dessert. Recipe from Epicurious. It was a process!

The first part was to make an almond brittle which was a literal hot mess - but not that complicated. 

Clockwise from top: Yolk custard, Egg Whites, Almond Brittle, Cream

For the filling  I had a number of different bowls set out on the counter at once. First I had to cook the egg yolk/tangerine mixture in a bowl over simmering water and then cool it really fast by beating it while the bowl was set over ice water. It was my first time making any type of custard so the process was new to me. 
Next up was whipping the cream. I chilled a bowl first and then poured the cream in and whipped away. Pretty simple. 

Then it was egg whites time. Whipping egg whites scares me - what with the possibility of both under whipping and over whipping and a fine line in between. Turned out beautifully though! 

After that I folded together the yolks, whites, and cream and layered the fluffy mixture into plastic-wrap lined loaf pans sprinkling some chopped almond brittle in between layers. I wrapped it up tightly and then stuck it in the freezer to set overnight. It looked yummy!

And then about midnight I suddenly realized that while the recipe called for the yolks to be cooked the whites never were. So I started worrying about giving people salmonella and did some googling on freezing raw meringues and decided it would just be better if I re-did the dessert in a safer way. So I drove to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night to  get more eggs and such and then followed instructions I found online to cook/cool the egg whites similar to the process for the yolks. (And, yes, I do embrace my insanity. Feel free to laugh at me. :) ) The egg whites did not get anywhere near as fluffy - but at least there was no raw egg?  The result was a MUCH shorter loaf of tangerine yummyness - but it was still yummy.

The day of I made the tangerine sauce. I think the sauce turned out a little bitter/salty and I'm wondering if it's because I used a juicer to get the tangerine juice rather than hand squeezing. Perhaps some of the rind or something got into the juice.  So, I'd suggest hand juicing.

In the end it had a creamy ice cream texture with a nice tangerine flavor and the crunchy brittle throughout gave it a nice texture variety.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter: The Food

All of the dinner recipes are from Whole Foods

 I had to plate up some leftovers the next morning in order to get pictures. I didn't take the time to take pictures of the food when it was hot and fresh.

Spiced Lamb with Lentils

This was really good. I think if I made it again I would up the spices, add salt, and reduce the chicken broth. The meat and spices smelled SO GOOD before I added the lentils/broth to the pot. Of course - it still tasted good but  the finished aroma was not nearly as strong. 

The cucumber-tomato salad/salsa for the top was really yummy and added a nice coolness in taste/temp to the dish. 

Spinach Salad with Plums and Goat Cheese

I admit, I was a bit leery of plums in a salad. I don't think I'd ever sliced a plumb before - I had always just eaten them like an apple. It was really good though! Worked well with the dressing. This was also the first time I'd cooked with shallots.

Celery Bites with Roasted Red Pepper Cream

I was originally thinking appetizer for this dish - but it turned into a side. The olives made it pair nicely with the Mediterranean feel of the entree.You definitely need a food processor to get this to the right texture  - but they were really yummy. Olives are a new food for me - I don't really like them but have begun to appreciate their flavors in combination/contrast to other flavors. Also, this is dairy free as the "cream" comes from tofu!

Watercress and Green Onion Stuffed Eggs

No pictures of the eggs! They were all eaten during dinner so there were none to photograph as leftovers. They were quite yummy though!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Easter Table

I wanted the table to be pretty but the only tablecloth I could find that was not too expensive was also a cloth-backed vinyl one - not the feel I was going for. ;)
Planning Stage - nothing sewed yet!
So, I browsed the bed linens aisle and grabbed a couple of flat bed sheets that were packaged individually. My table is about 10 feet long - so I needed two of them. I simply cut off the extra and sewed them together leaving the large hem of the sheet at each end of the new tablecloth. I knew that I wanted to make two runners to go across the short-length of the table - so I left the seam off-center rather than in the center so that one of the runners would cover the seam.

For the runners I used blocks of fabric remnants and then sewed ribbon up each side.

Purple, white, and green theme.

For the floral arrangements I used some glass containers and a few short drinking glasses. I bought some moss and a few stems of fake flowers and made five short arrangements for the table. I knew I didn't want anything too tall but wanted something that would fit with the size of my table - so I just made a row of flowers down the center. 

Thanks to my 7th grade home-ec teacher I ironed the napkins into a simple, but elegant, shape. I then put everything together on the table where I may or may not have used a tape measure to get the distances between items. ;)  I was happy with how the overall look turned out. Part of the result of using cotton for the table meant it was still a little wrinkly even after a few times under the iron - but was still happy with it.

Here's the final table! 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Preview: Easter Dinner

A couple weeks ago after I figured out that I would be here for Easter weekend without any other obligations in the days surrounding  I decided to host a dinner party and invited some friends over.

I've spent this week preparing for the dinner tomorrow in full-force "Nicole LOVES this stuff!" mode. It's getting to the point that an intervention may be necessary. Today I ironed napkins and did a "dress rehearsal" for the table setting (Where I may or may not have used a tape measure to place the floral arrangements. I really shouldn't admit this stuff to The Internet.)  And while I did take the time to wash all the china, I resisted the urge to dig out and polish the real silver. The normal stuff in the drawer will be just fine. See? I have self-control!

So, here's a preview of the dinner with some prep pictures I took during the process:


Grocery List! I'll post the actual menu later - -hopefully with pictures of the dishes. We'll see how cooking goes tomorrow and if I have time to use the camera. :)


I made a tablecloth and some runners with bed sheets and fabric remnants. 


Put together some artificial flower arrangements. 


And, dyed some eggs using silk scraps. I was going to decorate with the eggs - but they didn't quite turn out as I was hoping! So, just a fun project.

More on all of this later! (probably in a variety of posts over the next few weeks)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Art

A link to a poem about loss - small things, big things, and convincing yourself to move on. 

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thankful List: Vacation Edition (with pictures!)

Last week I decided I needed a break - and since I had the rare occasion of having two days off in a row that week - I booked an impromptu vacation. I opened google maps, zoomed out, and picked a town!

So here is my thankful list additions all related to that wonderful time of introverted recharging.
 29. Change of scenery: rolling hills, red barns, and roads that aren't measured in blocks. I kept giving restful sighs every time I rounded a new curve or topped a hill and caught a glimpse of of the hills and valleys dotted with cows and lined with fields.
View from a Scenic Overlook on The Old River Road

30. Hotels. Seriously. What a fabulous idea: a clean, comfortable place to stay when there is need or desire to be away from home for a bit.

31. Whirlpool tubs. Sometimes, the ability to soak in warm water is just fabulous.
A bit tricky to get in and out of - but so worth it!

32. Comfy beds with lots of pillows.

33. Good Hair Day

34. Spring weather that means I can start breaking out the capris and sandals. I was probably a bit premature doing this - it was only in the 60s - but I'm so ready for spring!

35. People who preserve history. I toured one of U. S. Grant's homes. It had many original furnishings. It was a vacation home of sorts of his family's during his time in office. I love history and antiques - so I really enjoyed the chance to tour the home.
All original furnishings. :)

36. Cute little towns.
Galena, Illinois as seen from the U.S. Grant home.

37. Truly enjoying the relaxing experience of window shopping. Whole day wandering around and didn't buy a thing. Enjoyed looking. Enjoyed not depleting my bank account unnecessarily. :)

38. Museums. How fun to be able to learn and interact and expand your knowledge. :)

39. Architecture. This is a bridge spanning the Mississippi River. I enjoy the gracefulness of the evidence of human's gifts, talents, and skills as it meshes with God's creation.
Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa

40. Farmland. This heartland farmland is different for some reason than the Southern farmland I know. I can't explain it. But I was drawn to it.

41. Really good apple pie a la mode with black coffee.

42. Being totally ok with being back in the hotel by dark eating instant mac and cheese and alternately reading and watching TV. I'm so thankful that God has given me peace where I can embrace those quiet, bland, moments of life rather than wishing for false excitement that would get me into trouble. :)

43. As much as I wasn't particularly excited about it on this particular morning - I do love fog in general - being able to "drive through a cloud" - pretty cool.

44. Following up on 42 . . not feeling self-conscious at all when I answered happily, "Just went alone! No friends or family in the area!" to the  polite queries of the rental car agent. I am so so thankful that God has blessed me with a mindset where I am not "embarrassed by loneliness and know it's only a place to start" (a loose quotation from the Julie Ormond version of Sabrina).

45. Being able to return to a vocation that I love - it's been non-stop busy since I returned - but at least I love it. :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vacation to the Country

Just got back from a quick impromptu vacation. I was going to update the blog from my phone to keep up with poetry month - but it seems the mobile version of the blogger website is a bit buggy. So, oh well.

Back later with pictures of and a thankful list inspired by the trip. :)

But for now - here's an animated poem by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. It's called "The Country" - but it's not all that much about the country. I like when poetry does something different besides just being words on a page. :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Latinate and Anglo-Saxon Words

In the last post I mentioned the idea of using big words in poetry and how they often have the very opposite effect of the intended result.

When I was an English teacher one of my favorite things to teach was the history of the English language - how it grew and changed over the years as old "Angle Land" was invaded and/or controlled by Germanic tribes, the Roman Empire, and invaders from Normandy among others. Not to mention the words that were added to the American English vocabulary as it moved across the ocean and mixed with languages of the Native Americans and immigrants from all over the world.

In poetry we often classify words as "Latin" or "Anglo-Saxon" 

For the most part - in the history of English - the Latin/Romance words were the words of the ruling and wealthy class - - the government, royalty, the leaders of the church. By contrast - the Anglo-Saxon, or Germanic, words were the words of the poor and the lower class - the everyday farmers and tradesmen and people who lived in the country.

The fact that both of these language influences were part of the history of English has left us with many synonyms in contemporary English - one word Germanic in its root, the other Romantic.  (And by Romantic I  mean the languages derived from Rome  - Latin, French, etc) By nature - the Germanic words tend to be short, bold, with a hard sound. The Latinate words tend to be multi-syllabic with a "pretty" sound.

And while there is much beauty to poems written in the Latinate style - it is the poems full of Germanic words that I find appealing. They often feel raw, honest, to the point.

A few examples of these types of words:

Anger/wrath = rage/ire
Bodily = corporal
Brotherly = fraternal
Leave = exit/depart
Thinking = pensive
Dog = canine
Come = arrive
Ask = inquire 

For the sake of poetry and the "raw, honest, to the point" feel - the words don't actually have to be Anglo-Saxon in origin - but we're going for that idea of the shorter, harsher, words rather than the flowy pretty ones. And, obviously - not every word will be short and harsh - but in general, that's the feel you get.

Here are a couple of poems I love by Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) that I think have a lot of good usage of Germanic-sounding words.

Root Cellar
Theodore Roethke
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!--
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

A poem about rotting food and plants in a dark cellar would just not work with Latinate words. 

 and I'm pretty sure everyone read this in at least one English class during school

My Papa's Waltz
Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Even though waltzes are short steps they are supposed to be elegant - you'd expect flowy words in a poem about a waltz. But - not in this poem, not this waltz.

I'll try to stop my geeky ramblings soon and just post some great poems :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Good and The Bad

I took a creative writing course my senior year of college. The class was educational and challenging as creative writing classes should be and still stands as one of my favorite courses in my educational history.

In this class I learned about bad poetry. That is, that poetry can be bad. There is something in us that says that if someone writes poetry from the heart, if it expresses an emotion, if it uses figurative language of some sort then who is anyone to say that a poem can be bad?  While bad poetry can be meaningful to the author and perhaps even others - I still think that we can call poetry bad when we're talking about an art form.

The truth is - there is a lot of bad poetry in the world. Just check out poetry.com - - if you submit something and they offer to publish it in a book - it's not because it's good. I cannot count how many times I had that conversation with students. Just call me a dream crusher.

Among other things, bad poetry begs the audience to feel something, it uses metaphors that don't make sense - even abstractly, it uses big words for the sake of using big words, it is predictable, expected, and sometimes it just lacks the gift of a poet.

I did learn much about good poetry in that class though - and the lesson that stuck with me the most about good poetry is from the poet Adam Zagajewski - the beginning of his poem, "A River."

Poems from poems, songs
from songs, paintings from paintings,
always this friendly

In other words - art inspires, gives birth to, art. I love how he used the spacing in the poem to show how inter-connected it all is. If you read the two lines together from left to right you see, "Poems from songs", "from poems paintings", and "songs from paintings."

Just as people study real money in order to detect the counterfeit - - those who study good poetry - know when they read a bad one. And, those who study true art - will produce good art. One of the most beneficial disciplines I learned from that class was to take the work of a known poet and "copy" it to a degree. I'd find a poem I loved - count out syllables and rhyme scheme and rhythm and then write my own poem - filling in my words but using the devices of the original poet. These poems didn't always turn out good - mostly they didn't - but when I started writing poems completely on my own - I found that my poetry started to develop a rhythm and a flow.

And as I've found often in my life - poetry relates well to life. When I copy greatness I find that I create greatness. When I try to give an emotional plea - I find that it usually falls flat. When I use big words in hopes of appearing intelligent and thoughtful - I end up sounding fake and without a human connection. Poetry - both good and bad -  has taught me to search life for greatness and inspiration - and for that I am grateful.

Friday, April 1, 2011

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. Every year around April 15th I remember that it is and think, "Man, I wish I would've remembered earlier and done a month-long blogging project on poetry!"  And , finally, 2011 is the year I remembered early enough!

So - the goal for the next 30 days: something about poetry in the blog every day.

I first thought it would be fun to travel through the month with poems I've loved in the order I've loved them - but my brain does not remember chronologically - so you'll just have to settle for scattered memories and new finds.

This first poem I share is one that made me love the use of rich words in poetry. I was in high school when I read this poem and as I discovered the denotations and connotations of unfamiliar words the poem became more and more meaningful. I read this poem so many times as a teenager I practically memorized it.

Holy Sonnet, Number 14
John Donne  (1572-1631)

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
but is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am bethroth’d unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

It was that last part that got me. "never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."  It's startling imagery - when you consider the word ravish. Ravish is destruction. Earlier in the poem the speaker uses the simile of a town - and ravished towns are destroyed. The coastal towns of Japan that were hit with a tsunami have been ravished. Towns throughout history that were subject to the forceful invasion of military forces have been ravished. These towns are not free - they are broken and destroyed and humbled.

But even beyond the image of a town - there is the other comparison in this poem. A person betrothed to one and desiring another. There is image of a lover - a human - claiming that being ravished will lead to being chaste - pure.

A person who is ravished? That means rape. And while I am blessedly not qualified to discuss the horrors of rape - and the 2011 version of myself  challenges the word choice and authority of the 17th century author to use ravish and chaste in the  same line and brings a whole host of modern culturally sensitive issues to the table when reading this poem - in 2000 when I read this poem I just thought the dichotomy was startling, powerful, and poetic. It made me love words and their layered meanings and the way we as humans can express ourselves in beautiful ways that will carry messages that last for centuries.

(side note: I just looked up ravish in the etymology dictionary and it seems that at the time the poem was written there could have also been another meaning to ravish: in the sense of "enchanting" it is attested from early 15c., from notion of "carrying off from earth to heaven" (early 14c.).    It is an interesting addition to the many layers of this word. )

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thankful List: The Birthday Edition

On Friday I celebrated my 28th birthday - so I thought I would get my thankful list up to 28! As always, the complete list so far can be found at the top of the blog under "a thankful heart"

21. Creation. I was up early on my birthday and saw a beautiful sunrise. I wasn't that excited to be up early that day and was trying to get what I needed to done and get back in bed. Then on my way home I caught a glimpse of the sky and I said, "oh, wow!" and smiled and had that sigh of peace that only the beauty of creation brings to me. I just had to stop at the lake and grab a few pictures before heading back to the house.

My Birthday Present from God

22. The art of massage. I had my first ever massage on Friday and do believe I am now hooked. So relaxing.

23. Family. There will be more detailed thankful posts on the varying members of my family at some later date - but this weekend I have taken the time to be thankful that they are in my life - I got blessed with pretty great parents, brothers, and sisters-in law. :)

24. Television shows that aren't trashy. Watched a  a marathon of Scarecrow and Mrs. King this weekend. (Mom got me season 2 for my birthday gift)  Then, the television went back in the closet.

25. Positive, friendly coworker relationships. One coworker organized the "spa day" for my birthday celebration. This past week also had a time where we all needed to support a coworker who had a tragedy. I'm thankful to work where people care about each other in times of celebration and in times of grief.

26.  Finally hearing the explanation for that lyric in that praise song that says "heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss." - - and while I can now understand and appreciate the sentiment . . . the line still kind of squicks me out and I'm not a fan of singing it.  I pretty much just like the "oh how he loves me" part of that song ;)

27. Bible Study. Have I mentioned that before? Every Sunday I'm just thankful that God has led me to a group of people that will open the Bible and question the words in there and talk about what it looks like to live those words out in our lives. I always leave blessed and with something to think about.

28. Fun earrings. I didn't get my ears pierced until I was 23 - but have developed a bit of a love for earrings over the past five years or so. My mom sent me these for my birthday which I thought was rather providential as they remind me of the sunrise on the lake I saw on my birthday morning and will now always be a reminder to me of God's creation and the way He gives me glimpses of His glory even when I'm exhausted and tired and not looking for it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I think maybe they did a HAES study and didn't know it.

Article:  Are The Religious Prone to Obesity?

The study doesn't prove that attending services is fattening, nor does it explain why weight might be related to faith. Even so, the finding is surprising, especially considering that religious people tend to be in better health than others, said study author Matthew J. Feinstein, a medical student at Northwestern University in Chicago

So. Wait. Did they just say that people who attend to regular religious are services are prone to be healthier AND fatter?

After a statement saying that the religious could benefit from some "targeted anti-obesity obesity interventions" the article then says:

Scientists have been studying links between religious behavior and health for years, and have found signs that there's a positive connection between the two. The studies suggest that religious involvement -- whether it's private or public -- is linked to things like better physical health, less depression and more happiness, said Jeff Levin, director of Baylor University's Program on Religion and Population Health.

But researchers have also found signs that people who attend services put on more weight.

That BUT there is so telling.  We've got all these studies that show that religious people tend to be healthier...but...those same people are fat? HOW CAN THAT BE??  It's as if the fact that religious people are fat negates all that other stuff about them being healthy- those other studies must've missed something!  I love how no one even bothers to question the assumption that fat is always unhealthy - - they never even mention, "perhaps its time to society to rethink how it thinks about fat if a group that tends towards healthiness also tends towards fatness."  Oh - wait - they do- near the end. It's because we don't smoke.  
This I'm just quoting so you can laugh with me:

Levin said one possibility is that those who attend services, along with activities such as Bible study and prayer groups, could be "just sitting around passively instead of being outside engaging in physical activity."
Right. Because all the people not involved in those activities are busy being active - not sitting around at desk jobs or watching tv or playing on the computer.

And, this one:

Also, he said, "a lot of the eating traditions surrounding religion are not particularly healthy; for example, constant feasts or desserts after services or at holidays -- fried chicken, traditional kosher foods cooked in schmaltz (chicken fat), and so on."
The great thing about HAES is that if I want to feast at a social event or a holiday - I can - or I can choose not to. I don't have to eat a plate of fried chicken because that's the only time I ever allow oil to pass my lips - - I can have just one and be done. Or - I can eat more and not have that mean that I eat like that all the time - perhaps I'm just enjoying something tasty in community with other people over a shared life necessity that can be enjoyable.   (And also like to sarcastically point out the "services" and holidays feasts that non-religious people partake in.  Superbowl, anyone?)   Note to self: write post on the celebratory nature of food in the Bible.

The article concludes with an admonition to places of worship to promote health and increase awareness of obesity.  The authors of the article would probably like books like: Fit for His Service or Fit For The King. (I'm not linking - I think they are horrible and spiritually damaging - note to self: write post on those books too.)

The last sentence  of the article is one I can get behind:

"Pastors, especially those in poor neighborhoods, could champion programs for more fresh produce and less fast food in their neighborhoods," Sulmasy added.
Yup. I really do think that the lack of access to fresh and healthy food in socio-economic challenged areas is devastating to health. I believe that fresh food is a healthier alternative to fast food.  I don't think fresh food = skinny people. I don't think that preachers should preach the virtues of being skinny. I do think as a matter of social justice that nutritional information based on health and not size should be available to everyone and the church can and  should play a leading role in social justice issues.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Groceries and such

I have no idea if this entry will interest people - but I'm throwing it out there! 

I am in charge of meal planning and everything food related for 12 people. (Though - I do have help picking menus for dinners!) I'm constantly trying to improve my grocery shopping efficiency - so I thought I'd list a few of my tips and tricks and see if you had any to add!

I do one big trip each week and typically one smaller one (it's a good week if I just do one though!)

I plan menus out a month in advance - 5 dinners a week plus standard fare for breakfast and lunches.(fruit, hot/cold cereal, sandwich and salad stuff, eggs, etc.) The other two dinners are leftovers or just whatever you find to make. :)

I make an effort to put dinners that really need fresh meat closest to the grocery shopping days and schedule dinners that can use frozen or preserved meat near the end of the week.

Examples of "end of the week" dinners - - Jambalaya with smoked sausage,  salmon croquettes made from canned salmon, a crock pot chicken meal, etc.  Things like sloppy joes, tacos, shepherds pie etc can also work with frozen ground meat. (Or frozen browned ground meat if you've been extra industrious!)

 I keep all the menus and recipes in a binder. We print a lot of recipes off the internet. If I got one from a cookbook I make a note of that as well.  When it's time to make the grocery list I can just open one binder.

I keep a Word document with my grocery list that has 5 sections.

Section 1: weekly purchases - - milk, eggs, bread, fresh fruit and veggies, etc.

Section 2: Pantry things - either what is needed for the meals that week or things we've run out of like sugar, flour, condiments, etc.

Section 3: Special requests.  These are the things everyone else adds to the grocery lists - special cereals, cookies, certain types of juice, etc.  No guarantee this list will get purchased. Each week a different person gets to choose one kind of sweet snack, salty snack, cereal, and juice flavor for the whole house to share. So - one week a kid may pick Cheerios - so I buy a ginormous box of Cheerios for the whole house and the next week the Lucky Charms kid gets her wish. It works really well at making sure everyone gets their favorite treat now and then, making sure I'm not spending a lot of money on these items, and that the house isn't overrun with sugary snacks and drinks.

Section 4: Monthly Budget. I keep a running track of how much of the budget I've spent that month and how much I have left.

Section 5: Menus for the upcoming week. I've found it very helpful to have the actual menu with me when shopping - so if I can't find a certain ingredient I know if I can substitute. Or, if the schedule only allows me a quick trip that morning - I know I can just get the bare minimum for meals the next day or so rather than the entire list.

Unless I'm 100% certain that I have a certain item I put it on the grocery list if I need it that week. Then, after the list is printed I do a quick "shopping trip" in my pantry and cross out things or adjust the quantity as necessary. I used to run back and forth to the pantry while writing my list. This got old. Fast.

On the actual day of shopping I hit three stores. The first is the store in my area that has the best produce for the best value. Next is the big bulk discount store. There isn't a lot that I buy there - but there are a few things that actually are a better deal.  I try to keep this store to every other week - but sometimes that doesn't work.  And, lastly I go to the regular store to get everything else. Typically from start to finish (including unloading and putting away the groceries) it takes me about 3 hours.

The smaller trip later in the week happens if an end-of-the-week meal really needs fresh meat or if the store was out of something on the first trip or if my brain wasn't working on the first trip. I try to avoid going to the store twice in a week though.

A goal that I have that I haven't quite taken the time to implement yet is to keep a log of the cost of food that I buy often - things that are in "Section 1" I tend to know the cost of just because I buy it so much - but the Section 2 and 3 items I don't always know off the top of my head. If I can start tracking the typical price per oz/item cost of these things and when sales typically occur - then I'll better be able to map out the weekly grocery budget when doing meal planning. Also, I occasionally have to go to the pricier grocery store to get items - they also have sales on occasion which I typically ignore - but if I know the normal cost at the cheap store I'll know it it's a deal or not to get it at the pricier store.  I don't get much into couponing unless it's a grocery store "$5 off $30" coupon or something.  Most of the time - even with the coupon - buying that item in bulk is not cheaper than buying the store brand as the coupon is usually only good for 1-3 of the items and I typically buy everything times 4 or 5 and I don't have time to hunt down multiple copies of coupons. Maybe I'll eventually get there - but no interest at the moment. :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thankful List 3/15/11

(list so far)

11. The opportunity to take pottery classes - I've got a few pieces that I need to finish up over the next couple of weeks  - but I'm going to be taking a break until at least June to free that money up to be used elsewhere. So thankful that I've been able to be creative in this way over the past 9 months though - it's been nice to be "good" at something. :)

12. Lake Michigan - I have the opportunity to drive by it on  a regular basis and look forward to the weather warming up so I can enjoy time at the water this summer.

13. Re-usable shopping bags. I started using them a single person in the suburbs and loved them and now with a large family and in the city I find them invaluable.  They hold so much more and make getting groceries in from the car twice as fast. (These are the ones I use for groceries: Click. ) On days I forget them I dread bringing in the groceries. I've also got a nylon one that folds up nice and small for my purse so that when I'm out it's easy to take it out and carry things in a shoulder bag if I pick up something from a store.

14. A regular place to meet with people to study the Bible. I love that I get to be a part of a Bible study where the Bible is studied without the use of another book to guide.

15. My growing respect and appreciation  for tradition, history, and ritual within the church. Being afraid of it as someone passionately "sola scriptura" only gave me fear. Learning about it and embracing it has offered so much richness and depth.

16. China has opened up to single women for adoptions again. With restrictions and extra paperwork and such - but it's a step in the right direction!  I don't know where my adoption time-line is at the moment with my life not conducive to having a family of my own. I still have two years before most countries (including China) would even consider me as a single - but it's always nice to hear "opening" rather than "closing" in regards to this.

17. Seasons and the coming of spring. So looking forward to the lilac trees blooming outside my home.

18.The ability to give freely - it's such a blessing when I can give from my abundance to others in need - and it's often such a simple thing that I have "more than enough" of - and I get to be blessed by giving it away.

19. Patience. I ten to actually have quite a bit- and I'm so thankful for it - it helps me keep the world in perspective and does not make me afraid to pray for more. ;)

20. Jersey sheets. Bed sheets out of t-shirt material. Someone was a genius and I'm thankful for them!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thankful List 3/9/11

(list so far)

6. The  Liturgical Year in Christianity and the community and unity of believers it creates.

7.  Drive-thru coffee-shops. Just discovered one nearby. It makes those 6:00 a.m. drives so much more doable!

8. Being reminded that prayer is about seeking the heart of God, not about giving God information.

9. Seeing God at work and being able to hear the prompting of the Spirit in my life because of prayer.

10.  Good books. I learn things, I go on adventures, I experience the world in someone else's shoes - I'm a typical book lover.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Feels like Home

After about 19 months of living here . . . my little bit of personal space is finally starting to feel like home. Coming into a furnished room and just trying to figure out what I really needed in the space slowed me down. At my apartment I put stuff I wasn't sure about in the spare room and made the rest of the place pretty. Here - it all went into the bedroom.

It's still a little cramped and crowded for my tastes - but I'm working on figuring out what isn't needed and making the space function best for me.

I rearranged the room a bit a few weeks ago when I swapped out the TV for my sewing machine. A few days ago I found a bedding set that I liked at Marshall's and some curtains for cheap and got those. While I liked the bedding I had previously - it just never felt like me. I already feel so much more relaxed when I come into my room with my new bedding and the curtains and such.  So, basically 2 of the 4 walls of my room have been revamped to work for me. The other two need some work - there are a couple of bookshelves, a dresser, and both the door to the room and the door to the closet on those walls so I need to re-think those spaces to really get the flow I'm looking for.

Here are the two walls that are working for me right now.

You should be able to click the image to see a larger picture.

The curtains have been an interesting journey. I used to just have two long panels hanging on either side - but that didn't look all that great and didn't block any light. Then I got these curtains. My "fear of fire" won't allow me to hang them down behind the radiator - so I knew they needed to be shorter - but I really dislike the aesthetics of short curtains - so I wanted something that at least had the illusion of possible length. I thought of a roman shade idea. And then as I grabbed my safety pins and started messing with the fabric the image in my head became that of the "pick up" style dresses - basically droopy layers. I'm not totally in love with it yet and there may be more alterations in the future - but the fabric has much more of a sheen in person which adds to the "luxe" quality of the pick-up style and it's growing on me. They serve the light-blocking function well though.

I really like the bedding. The set I bought came with Euro Shams - and I've had 2 Euro Pillows that I brought with me from my bedroom in GA in my closet all this time - so it was nice to put those to use.

You can also see a couple of my sewing projects there. I made a sewing machine cover and a throw pillow out of some fabric remnants I had. Close-ups:

The sewing machine cover I copied from a vinyl cover that cam with the machine. It maybe took me two hours.  The pillow is such a simple project when you have a pillow form. At the simplest form you can literally cut one piece of fabric and sew four seams. Voila, pillow cover!  Google "envelope pillow cover" for tutorials - maybe I'll do a picture one one day. . .

Anyway, so that's 1/2 of my room. The other side has a lot more storage that I need to make aesthetically cohesive and functional. Working on it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gifts: College Roommates

I have just one entry for my thankful list of 1000 gifts today. (Hit the "gifts" tag to see the other entry)

5.  My college roommates

I transferred to a new college after my sophomore year of college. I spent the summer in between the sophomore and junior year in Oregon. So - roommate hunting was interesting to say the least. I had absolutely no desire to live in a dorm. God had a pretty amazing puzzle going on though - I was in Oregon doing summer missions - and my partner for the summer had a friend who had a friend who went to the college I was transferring to who needed a 4th roommate in a house full of girls. Sign me up! A lease was faxed to me in Oregon and I signed it and faxed it back and moved in with three strangers a few weeks later.

I don't think these women know how much they impacted my life in such a positive way! I had always grown up around Christians who were my flavor of Christianity - and here I was around people who lived their love for Jesus in different ways - it was very challenging to me to examine what I believed and why and I grew so much! I was blessed by how open they were with what God was teaching them and their struggles.  The four of us lived together for a year, then the next year I moved into a smaller apartment with one of the girls, Bridgett. Later, after college -- another lady from that house - Jenn - and I lived in the same town for a while and we were part of a Bible study together. I really think that year that all four of us lived together really changed me for the better in so many ways - and as we continue to be "talk every few months" friends and our lives bumped into each other occasionally (and I get to facebook stalk them ;) ), I've been so blessed by these Women of God in my life.

Bridge and Nichole are in Georgia. Jenn is in Singapore. And, I'm in Chicago. However - over Christmas of 2009 we were all in the same place and got together to hang out and took a few photos. I am not the kind of person who thinks that college dorm/roommate life is an essential part of growing up - and had I been able to live at home and commute all four years I probably would have - but I'm so glad that God had this plan for me and that I was blessed to be part of the lives of these women.

Nicole, Jenn, Bridgett, and Nichole. December 2009

Things with Lids!