Archives for August 2013

My Favorite New Tradition That We Haven’t Started Just Yet

I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes trying to figure out how to write this post.

Because it’s about Ann Voskamp. And her gorgeous new book. And I don’t know if y’all know this, but Ann is sort of a brilliant writer. So any attempt on my part to try to do justice to her thoughtful, tender, insightful words feels like it falls woefully short. I mean, I’m a person who uses A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS and is admittedly overly dependent on parentheses.

(But that Ann, on the other hand.)

(I tell you what.)

(She’s a poet.)

So I’ll just tell you a story.

A couple of years ago I went on a Compassion Bloggers’ trip to Ecuador – along with Ann, her husband, Kelly, Melanie, and Amanda. On the fourth day of our trip, we woke up early one morning, hopped on a bus, and set out on an almost six-hour trek to the Amazon jungle. It was hot, the traffic was horrible, and the roads spiraled this way and that way and sometimes felt like they circled back to right where we’d started. Most of us were popping Dramamine tablets like they were cough drops, and it only took about 20 minutes before Melanie proved that she had some serious skills when it came to snatching a plastic grocery bag from our friend Keely at the exact moment when she realized that THE SICKNESS, IT IS INEVITABLE.

Once the roads started to straighten out a little bit and the motion sickness started to release its WHITE-HOT GRIP, everybody started to visit. Well, Melanie wasn’t doing much visiting because she was still trying to convince her stomach to cooperate, but the rest of us were talking about whatever came to mind. Kelly and I were deep in a discussion about college football when our attention turned to snack foods in Ecuador, and as we rifled through the snack bag on the bus, here is what I remember about our conversation.

Me: “This chip says that it has MORE cheese, but I think it tastes more like corn.”

Kelly: “I think it’s kinda good, though.”

Me: “I think I’ll try this one – it looks sort of like cheese puffs.”

(minutes later)

Me: “Well, at first it’s like Cheetos, but then it sort of tastes like Fruit Loops.”

Kelly: “Fruit Loops? It tastes like cereal?”

Me: “Yes. First you taste cheese. Then you most definitely taste strawberry.”

So what I’m telling you is that Kelly and I were a wee bit obsessed with the snack foods and our personal taste tests. But somewhere in the middle of our in-depth analysis, I tuned in to a conversation that Ann was having in the seat behind me. And in that deep, melodic voice of hers, she was discussing the beauty of the book of Colossians with Shaun, who was sitting a row or two behind her.

So, to sum up:

Kelly & Sophie – snack foods
Ann & Shaun – the doctrine of justification

PRACTICALLY THE SAME THING.

I always think about that day on the bus when I marvel at Ann’s ability to focus on what matters most. She’s a deep thinker, a gifted writer, and, for so many of us, a trusted, treasured voice of encouragement and wisdom who makes us want to love Jesus more. That’s why I’m thrilled about her new book – which was released today – called The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas.

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Here’s a little peek:

This, this, is the love story that’s been coming for you since the beginning.

It is possible for you to miss it.

To brush past it, to rush through it, to not see how it comes for you up over the edges of everything, quiet and unassuming and miraculous—how every page of the word has been writing it, reaching for you, coming for you. And you could wake on Christmas only to grasp that you never took the whole of the Gift, the wide expanse of grace. So now we pause. Still. ponder. hush. wait. Each day of advent, he gives you the gift of time, so you have time to be still and wait.

Wait for the coming of the God in the manger who makes Himself bread for us near starved.

For the Savior in swaddlings who makes Himself the robe of righteousness for us worn out.

For Jesus, who makes precisely what none of us can but all of us want: Christmas.

Sometimes the heart waiting for the Gift . . . is the art of the Gift.

This waiting, your art—mark it.

Mark advent with a counting, a way of staying awake and not missing.

It could happen like the numbering of time, like the rings on a tree.

Like a leaning over that Jesse Tree of the old Testament, that Jesse Tree axed down, and counting rings down to the greatest Gift, to life out of the dream cut off.

That Jesse Tree, named after Jesse, who was the father of David—David to whom God promised that his line and his sons and his family would reign forever without end.

And when David’s sons and grandsons and great- grandsons turned from God and loved the gifts and the flesh more than the Giver and the Father—their kingdoms fell. Their homes fell apart.

It looked as if the whole family tree of Jesse had been chopped right off at the roots. But God . . .

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: you and your family will be blessed by this book. It has 25 different devotions for the Advent season, and each day has its own ornament. In the absolute sweetest, most edifying way, it’s the stuff that Christmas traditions are made of. You can buy it here on Amazon or here at Barnes & Noble.

Enjoy, y’all.

Because It’s Time For Kick Off

Listen. I feel like I owe y’all a little bit of an explanation.

I know that I mention “work” from time to time, but I never get too specific about it because, well, about seven years ago when I went to my boss about transitioning to part-time (I transitioned back to full-time when Alex started going to school for a full day), I very awkwardly uttered one of the most awkward sentences there is.

“I feel like I need to tell you that I have this, um, BLOG where I write some stuff sometimes.”

My boss was super supportive and enthusiastic and whatnot, and then he gave me some wise and sage advice that I think about every single day of my life:

“I don’t think you’ll ever regret having firm boundaries in terms of writing about work on your blog.”

Those words have stuck with me. In fact, when I was talking to Emma Kate this past weekend, she said, “You know, you really are very protective of your work stuff.” And I am. It’s a huge part of my life, it’s a huge part of my heart, and it’s also a huge part of my day-to-day right now. But it’s off-limits as far as the blog goes (sometimes I wish that it weren’t off-limits, because OH SWEET MERCY, THE STORIES).

SO. That’s why I’ve been a little scarce around here lately. Work has kept me hoppin’. What I know for sure, though – because it’s proven true year after year after year – is that things will start to settle down in the next month or so, and there will eventually be a morning when I wake up and don’t feel like my to-do list is screaming at me. And when that happens, the blogging switch will flip to “on” again and angels will sing (not really) and my hair will suddenly look fantastic (not really – but oh, a girl can dream).

And in truly important news, COLLEGE FOOTBALL STARTS TONIGHT. We are giddy with anticipation in our house – and equally excited about waking up Saturday morning and being able to turn on College GameDay. I don’t have any idea what kind of season Mississippi State will have, but I can’t wait to see the boys in maroon and white hit the field. I also can’t wait to hear the fight song and maybe bear witness to a little good-natured pre-game swagger (all in the spirit of competitiveness and sportsmanship, of course). It’s the very best time of year.

Plus, you know, DIPS.

I didn’t get a chance to pull together a DipTacular like we’ve done in the past (not that it requires a whole lot of organization, but it does require some forethought), but all day long I’ve felt compelled to share the tailgate foods that we’ll be having for supper tonight. I’ve never really been one for the full-fledged execution of a theme, but there’s something about the beginning of college football season that makes me crave the stuff we’d enjoy at my friend Daph’s family tailgate (fried meats, various cheese-laden delights, lots of chocolate, etc.). So it seems only fitting (at least to me) that I’d share our 2013 Kick-off Menu.

(That sounded very official, didn’t it?)

(Please keep in mind that I am feeding upwards of three whole people.)

So here’s what we’re having:

Bacon and Blue Cheeseburger Potato Skins (only I’m using cheddar instead of blue cheese, primarily because that’s what I have in the refrigerator)

Best Pasta Salad Ever (I know it’s another starch, but it’s leftover from last night, so we’re running with it)
1 pound rotini pasta
1 cup sun dried tomatoes
2 cups sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup red onion
2 small cans of sliced ripe olives
1 8 oz. bottle of Kraft Caesar salad dressing
1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cover tomatoes with water and boil for about 12 minutes or until tender. Drain, chop into small pieces, and set aside.
Cook rotini according to package directions, then drain and let cool.
Mix all ingredients together (GENTLY!), then chill in refrigerator overnight. This is even more yummy the second and third days – if you can keep it around that long.

Southwestern Tossed Salad

Symphony Brownies

It promises to be a delightful evening.

What’s on your menus, college football fans?

The Big Boo Cast, Episode 27

Well, Melanie and I decided to record this podcast on a Tuesday afternoon whim, and as always, we had no plan, no rhyme, no reason. We did, however, have some thoughts about Justin Timberlake, John Mayer’s new album (Ben Rector’s, too), the Ben Affleck-as-Batman brouhaha, why I liked Argo, college football, and Candy Crush.

It’s all very academic. SCHOLARLY, you might say.

And in the interest of providing you with a thorough podcast experience, here’s the Taylor Swift / JLo video that Melanie mentions, and here’s the Kristen Chenoweth video that I talk about.

Also, it may be my favorite ending to a podcast ever. Because sometimes unexpected moments are the very best ones.

You can click here to listen. Or here. Or, as always, you can subscribe on iTunes if you’re feeling particularly fancy.

I’d Write A Song About It If I Could, You Know, Write Songs

If you had spent any significant time at my house this summer, here’s what you would’ve heard me say approximately 4,822 times:

“I’m hot.”

“Oh my word I’m burning up.”

“Hold on – I’m gonna have to turn down the air down.”

“I’m hot.”

“OH SWEET MERCY THIS HOUSE IS ON FIRE.”

But here’s the thing: our house really isn’t hot. We’re surrounded by lots of very tall trees, and thanks to the way the sun moves across our roofline, we rarely have direct sunlight pouring in through the windows. Most people could put our thermostat on 75 and be more than comfortable all summer long.

But.

Ever since I turned 40, I am not what you would refer to as “most people” as far as air conditioning needs are concerned (well, truth be told, I have always been a little high maintenance in this area). And this summer, I’ve taken my AC neediness to staggering new heights. It was so bad in July that I made an appointment with my doctor and informed him that SOMETHING WAS TERRIBLY WRONG, but he checked some levels and numbers and whatnot and assured me that everything is perfectly normal and fine and good. I’m just dealing with hormones combined with some first-book stress (book stuff has been oh-so-fun, but my nerves have been cuckoo). And I’m sure my doctor said some other very wise and important things, but I was so busy fanning myself that I couldn’t really hear him.

David has been a good sport about my CAN WE PLEASE TURN DOWN THE AIR flare-ups, even when his teeth are starting to chatter and he’s bundled up in a blanket. He’s even been sympathetic to the fact that I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and feel completely certain that flames are in fact shooting out of the back of my head. However, I do think that there’s a little bit of fear and trepidation when I remind him that all of this hormone-related summertime fun is just beginning. We could have YEARS of it ahead of us, and I guess the only up side of that is that when the area around his chair freezes completely and encases him in an indoor igloo, I will be able to stand anywhere within a five-foot radius of him and melt all of that ice in less than forty seconds.

Seriously. If I touched that hypothetical igloo, it would sizzle.

Late this afternoon I was cooking supper, doing my best to stand near a vent while I chopped broccoli and sliced a couple of onions. I realized that David was home from work when I heard him shut the door of his truck, and right about the time that I looked down the hall toward the front door, he walked inside – holding a very tall box.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well, I got you a surprise,” he said.

And as I made my way down the hallway and slowly realized what was inside that box, I grinned like crazy.

Because.

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PLEASE LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT.

(I’m not really going to tell you all about it.)

(But look! It has features!)

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BEST SURPRISE EVER.

I mean, I know that I loved it when we were in our 20s and 30s and D would occasionally send me a big ole floral arrangement, but honestly, who needs flowers (or even chocolate) when you can have A TOWER FAN WITH A REMOTE CONTROL?

That is some 40-something romance, people.

And my hormones and I have never been happier.

Amen.

Mostly The “I” Whispers, But Sometimes It Stands Up And Screams

Well, all I can say is that I LEARNED SOME THINGS reading your comments on college football traditions at your respective schools. I must have said, “Well, I had no idea” at least 25 times. Honestly, I’m so taken with all this new college football info that I’ve considered preparing a study guide and then giving myself a quiz. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, Y’ALL.

Besides reading all of your comments, I spent a good portion of the weekend trying to take care of my inner introvert a little bit. I’ve mentioned before that I’m an INFP on the Myers-Briggs, but I am borderline on the E (extrovert) and I (introvert) part. I’ve heard a couple of friends say that this means that I’m a social introvert, but all it means to me that is that when I am with a group of people I will have big laughs and big fun and all manner of enthusiasm about how we need to get together more often, but when I get home and shut the door and take a few minutes to settle down, I start to long for a cold, dark room where I can be alone and be quiet and think way more than I talk.

And do you know what’s weird? I have a vivid memory of the first time that I was aware of the “I” side of my personality. I spent the first 17 years of my life thinking that I was an extrovert because, well, I loved nothing more than hanging out with my friends. But one fall weekend I went to Ole Miss (I know – we’ll process ALL THE IRONY later) with my friends Merritt, Elizabeth, and Melissa, and after the football game, we changed clothes (because of course we were dressed to the late-80s nines for the game) (I remember that I was wearing a long, red, v-neck sweater over gray pants) (only I turned the sweater around so that the V would be in the back because SASSY) and headed to fraternity row to visit a few of our hometown friends at their respective post-game parties.

Here’s the part I will never forget: I made it 30 minutes – THIRTY MINUTES – before I knew that I couldn’t take even one more second of all the noise and the people and the revelry. So I told my friends I was tired, walked back to the dorm where we were staying, put on my pajamas, and fell sound asleep by 10:30.

I can’t really explain it, but I was acutely aware of my inner introvert rising up and saying, “NO MORE.” It’s happened hundreds of times since then, and now I know that if I ignore it, my mood and my energy level and my general attempts at pleasantness will suffer. So this past Friday, when I finally got to the end of a week that had demanded an unusual amount of extroversion – and when I realized that we didn’t have anything on the calendar – I started to wonder if there was some way that I could stay at home all day Saturday. You can imagine my delight when I realized that YES, YES I COULD.

And oh, did I ever make the most of it.

I drank coffee until 10, I wrote, I hung out with my people, I watched some TV, I read, I cooked, and I woke up Sunday morning feeling like a new woman.

What about y’all? When you need to recharge, are you more likely to look for some way to get some (relative) peace and quiet – or do you set out in search of adventure / time with friends / a fun weekend trip? I have sort of an over-the-top interest in this kind of stuff, so I can assure you that if you have habits that you think or quirky or maybe even a little eccentric, I will find them UTTERLY FASCINATING. So feel free to share.

Love,
Your INFP Friend
(whose “I” is now feeling so much better)

It’s About That Time

I am elated to report that the high today in Birmingham was 78 degrees. SEVENTY EIGHT DEGREES. It is August 15th.

The Lord is faithful and worthy to be praised.

And then – AND THEN – if that weren’t enough, I found this little treasure in our mailbox this afternoon.

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I realize that you’ve probably already seen that picture if we’re friends on Twitter or Instagram, but I think it bears posting again because COLLEGE FOOTBALL, OH MY WORD.

I have to say, though, that this summer has been so busy that I’m way behind on my usual pre-season activities. I’ve barely read the message boards, and I haven’t listened to sports talk radio in months. I don’t really know who’s supposed to be good this year except for Alabama and A&M, and since I live in Birmingham, those predictions provide fair warning that I have about two weeks before walking into any clothing store means that I’ll be swimming in a sea of houndstooth. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy for my Alabama friends and their rich football heritage and etc., but have mercy, I WOULD NOT MIND A BREAK FROM THE HOUNDSTOOTH.

Because here is what every clothing store looks like from September – December.

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There are houndstooth dresses and shirts and gloves and headbands and earrings and umbrellas and paper goods and sunglasses and phone cases and dog leashes and scarves and tights and more scarves and shoes and rain boots and never let it be said that the Alabama fans do not enjoy a theme.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking tonight about how lots of the SEC teams have a catchphrase (for lack of a better term) that their fans say to each other as a sign of loyalty or solidarity or pure-dee football crazy. In Alabama people even use the phrases as greetings – so instead of saying “hello” or “hey,” Auburn fans greet each other with “War Eagle,” and Bama fans greet each other with “Roll Tide.” The phrases also work for “goodbye.” Sort of like “aloha,” I reckon.

(This video provides an excellent illustration.)

(And if you’re wondering if it’s realistic? YES.)

At Mississippi State, we greet each other with “Hail State” (though Sister and I tend to say “Go ‘Dogs,” for whatever reason), and Ole Miss fans say “Hotty Toddy” (lately there’s been a whole thing with “Fins Up,” and even though I know Rebels don’t care a lick about a Bulldog’s opinion, I think the whole land shark thing muddies their mascot waters – but that is another discussion for another time). In the last couple of years Vanderbilt fans have adopted “Anchor Down,” but I don’t know if it has caught on as a campus-wide greeting or if it’s just more of a team motto. Texas A&M fans are partial to “Gig ‘Em,” and while Arkansas fans don’t necessarily say hello to each other with “Woo Pig Sooie,” they have turned #wps into one of the most recognizable college football hashtags (well done, Razorbacks).

The bottom line is that each SEC school has its own unique culture, right down to the ways that fans communicate with each other. I know that schools outside the SEC have similar traditions, and now that we’re just a couple of weeks away from kick-off, I thought it might be fun if some of us shared our favorite saying(s) for our favorite college team(s). I mean, I think it would be all kinds of fun to watch, say, the Akron / UCF game on August 29th and have the inside scoop on what the fans like to yell. Otherwise I’ll just be sitting on my couch and cheering, “Go…YOU! Go!”

(And listen. I know that it’s important to keep college football in the proper perspective. Certainly I don’t think any of us intend to let our whole lives revolve around football. But I do think it’s fun to enjoy the anticipation of the season.)

(I believe I’ve sufficiently over-explained.)

All righty. What say you, college football fans?

p.s. Hail State.

p.p.s. Go, ‘Dogs!