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The beautiful-est little Christmas thing ever

Dec

24

Posted by on Dec 24, 2015 | 5 comments

Clay pieces

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. ~ Thomas Merton

 

I believe in the art of play. I believe in the play of art.

Scripture tells us we’re created in the image of God, and in him we see creativity beyond comparison, imagination with no bounds. Nature screams it in her beauty, her complexity, her diversity.

Study your hand. An odd thing, perhaps, but look at it in a way you never have before. You’ll be amazed. Your nails, the joints, the prints on fingers and thumb. Lines that might not tell your future, but certainly tell your life. Your hand is art by a masterful creator. And that’s only one tiny part of you.

As image bearers we share in God’s creative nature, and I think children know it best. Or maybe they’re freer to declare the joy in, and goodness of, their work: “Look what I made!” They know how to be proud without a hint of arrogance.

Children grow up and forget so many important things (adults forget so many important things), or maybe self-awareness settles in and we stuff down or crowd out or silence the creative in ourselves.

Of course, Hobby Lobby and Michael’s exist for those who remember.

This year I signed up for a clay class at my church, led by two friends whose artistic talents match the joy they have in sharing their giftings with others. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and they make you believe there’s Midas touch in your fingers.

Each week they supplied us with a flat of clay and new instructions, and from there we cut and shaped, slipped and scored our way to something incredibly special: my new favorite Christmas nativity.

I’ve always loved crèches, and though there are so many beautiful ones you can buy, my favorites are handmades.

A beautiful takeaway from the class is a deeper glimpse of God as potter; clay in my hands helped me grasp the care and intention in God’s creation of humanity. Not that I’ll ever fully understand it….

I loved both the process and end result. I strongly encourage you to take an art class in your area, but it comes with a caution:

Don’t strive for perfection; go for perfect imperfection. It’s so much more beautiful.

 

My angel. I’d probably re-think that heart now, but when I added it, it was a simple expression of love.

Clay angel

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. ~ Picasso

 

I had a hard time with Joseph and my little sheep. I couldn’t get Joseph’s hair quite right, I smudged the pattern in his cloak when shaping him, and my sheep? Well, he looked like a cross between a brain and a wig for Joseph. In the end they were fine, a great reminder how forgiving clay is. 

Joseph and a sheep

 

Mary, Babe in Manger…and tools of our trade. I had hoped Mary’s head covering would be removable; same with Jesus’ swaddling cloth. But, the way I made them they became attached (a little harder to paint…I’ll take note the next time I work with clay).

Mary and Jesus in manger

The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection. ~ Michelangelo

 

Glazed but not yet fired in the kiln. It is amazing to me how different they look before…

Glazed but not yet fired

 

And after.

Handmade Clay Nativity

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. ~ Aristotle

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The Bookmark Thief

Sep

01

Posted by on Sep 1, 2015 | 4 comments

There were no greater treasures than her books - Robin Dance

It was likely birthed as a gentle correction to my inconsiderate transgression: I had dared to turn down the corner of a page in one of her books.

For one so young, she took good care of her special possessions, and there were no greater treasures than her books. These were no papery trophies staged on a shelf. They were stirrers of imagination, journeys of escape, introductions to new friends. It wasn’t hard to figure out those she loved most, loose bindings or passages lined and noted told on her.

You could read this child by studying her bookshelf, and even more so if you opened some of those books. For a season, she carefully applied Wite-Out to profanities, a discovery that made me shake my head in wonder and admiration. We were intentional parents who did our best to train a child in the way she should go, but this was beyond expectation. She was so much better than I ever hoped to be. In case you didn’t realize, “bad” words do show up in children’s books sometimes.

If memory serves me rightly, I was annoyed when she scolded me for folding a page corner to mark my place. She was making a mountain out of a molehill. I was disrespecting her property. Neither of us was particularly impressed with the other’s point of view.

I don’t think I fully understood the gravity of this breach to her until she handed me a present a few days later, a hand-stitched bookmark. Certainly, it served both of us, but it was no doubt a love offering. She paid for it with humanity’s most valuable currency – time – and to me it was priceless.

I was heartbroken years later when it was no where to be found.

 * * *

But this is a story with a happy ending, the kind punctuated with tears, heart-wrung but binding joy to sadness in the presence of good but hard things.

 

She found the bookmark she had sewn for me half her life ago.

She was in the process of turning her room into mountains, piles to sell, piles to give away, piles to throw away, piles to keep. The yuckiest pile was the one marked undecided; it held sentimental attachment but no practical good. Every thing was a symbol of something more, a memory or season worth holding onto. It wasn’t about the thing itself but the everything else of it that made these things so hard to get rid of. If you’ve got an old tee shirt in your drawer you haven’t worn in decades but won’t throw away, you know exactly what I mean.

Somewhere in the sorting and pile-making, she found my bookmark. Neither of us know why it was in her room but who cares? She found a treasured possession.

When I look at this bookmark, I see her then. I can sense her indignation over my scarring her precious book, and her satisfaction in figuring out a brilliant solution.

Uneven stitches…ragged edges…skewed alignment–the casual observer might see a mess of imperfection, but all I see is something perfectly beautiful.

 

The same could be said of all of us, I suppose.

* * *

When you’re raising your children it feels like it will last forever, doesn’t it?  The fridge is a revolving gallery, measuring time in footprints and thumbprints and handprints. Crooked letters and misspelled words. Construction paper and tissue paper, glitter and glue and gumption.

We save every masterpiece…

because we don’t quite know when the last one will be The Last One.

But make no mistake my friends, there is a Last One.

* * *

I find her sitting on the floor in her room surrounded by piles of things wanted and not, an undoing of the life she’s constructed for more than a dozen years. It will be the place she’ll remember as “home” when she’s grown and away, the house dreams about her childhood will travel back to.

The bookmark is on the floor next to her –  “The bookmark you made me…!” “Yeah, I’m not sure why it’s in here….” – and the sight of it slays me happy. It’s a prodigal, an old friend, treasure found, and surely it’s a good sign of some sort. The edges are a bit frayed and the ink escaped her lines, but those things only endear me further.

Sometimes you can love a thing so much it becomes an idol, but sometimes that thing is a just a placeholder for something else, and there’s no sin or shame in those affections.

 

Memories roll in like thunder. So do thoughts of her future.

In four days we’ll pack up the piles she decided to take and drive 1400 miles to go confidently in the direction of her dreams, to begin living the life she’s imagined.

The bookmark stays with me.

 

 

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The Wedding Gift and Mr. Housman

Aug

11

Posted by on Aug 11, 2015 | 8 comments

Toulouse from Reed and Barton Select

Mr. Housman was a crusty old man with gravel in his voice.

 

A stubble of white dusted the sides of his head. His skin was a map of liver spots and blotches. When he stood his tallest I could look him square, and his belly looked like he had swallowed a watermelon whole.

Mr. Housman was never in a hurry. Even if those stubby legs could’ve shuttled him faster, he wouldn’t have bothered. He had lived long enough to learn that getting there quicker wasn’t always better. Better than most, he knew life was less a straight shot and more a tangled road.

If Mr. Housman were a book, you’d do yourself wrong to judge him by the cover. He was much, much more than meets the eye.  Slipping out in a wink or slight nod, mischievousness might’ve been his superpower.

He had been with the company longer than I had been alive.

When I first met him, I was intimidated. I was fresh out of school and he was a walking institution. I thought I knew something until I was around people like him. When in the presence of a sage, I became aware of how little I knew, how brief my life had been in comparison. People like Mr. Housman had trudged the history I had only read about in school.

My perception started shifting as soon as the stories began. His prickly veneer masked satin.

Mr. Housman had one son and one wife. He’d say he got it right the first time. Among a pile of surprises I’d learn about Mr. Housman was finding out he and his missus fostered children. More than you can count on your fingers and toes. That’s something.

That’s great love.

 

When I got engaged, the company I worked for hosted a bridal luncheon a few weeks before I left to start my new life. I remember sitting around a long table full of people, most of whom probably came for the good eats more than the good-byes. Mr. Housman wasn’t among them.

A few days later he stopped me in the hall and squired me to a quieter spot. He handed me a beautifully wrapped gift, heavy and easy enough to guess what was inside–a set of flatware. Though I would never admit it to him, I knew we weren’t going to use it. I had bought a good set of stainless when I moved out on my own a year earlier and I had registered for “nice” silverware when we engaged.

Soon enough, however, I would discover Mr. Housman’s gift was a seed for a dream…

 

…but that’s another story for another time.

When he handed me the gift, he winked and said something like, “This is just a cover…” and I was confused as he reached to shake my hand, an odd gesture even for an odd man. He withdrew his own hand leaving a small slip of paper in my palm, or at least that’s what it felt like until I looked down.

It was a yellow post-it note with three words in his familiar script. One of those surprises about Mr. Housman you wouldn’t have anticipated was his beautiful penmanship.

“Go, and quietly.”

I turned it over and it was stuck tight to a neatly folded $100 bill. (In today’s dollars, about $212, a very nice gift.) I quickly glanced up to challenge him – it was much too lavish a gift – and, without a word, he dismissed me with a wave of his hand as he turned to walk away.

Twenty-eight years later, the flatware is still unopened in its original box, still a dream’s seed.

Twenty-eight years later, Mr. Housman’s wedding gift is the one I remember best.

 

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The Perfect, Most Delicious Way to Cook a Steak

May

20

Posted by on May 20, 2015 | 3 comments

The Perfect Way to Cook a Steak

Google “How to cook the perfect steak” and you’ll have 6.7 million returns telling you how to do it. Pioneer Woman, Bobby Flay, Emeril, Gordan Ramsay, Guy Fieri, Rachael Ray, Robert Irvine – even Martha Stewart – all have recipes and methods touting theirs as the best steak in the world.

But then there’s Wes. The guy next door you’ve never heard of. Wes, who makes the best steak I’ve ever had. Wes, who also happens to be my neighbor.

Lawsy, we hit the jackpot.

Wes is an analytical kind of guy who appreciates the science of cooking. He understands the relationship between acids and bases and what happens to food on a molecular level. I understand as long as Wes understands, it’s all good.

Really, REALLY good.

If you’ve already signed up for the 30-Day Protein Challenge, you know it’s not all about beef–that just happens to be my favorite type of protein. (Which made it a no-brainer to work with the Georgia Beef Board during Georgia Beef Month to promote the #ProteinChallenge.)  A slow-cooked roast with carrots and potatoes is practically my love language. Beef tacos is a family favorite. And burgers on the grill? Well, no one does ’em better than my own husband.

One of my favorite discoveries during the 30-Day Protein Challenge is all the delicious-sounding and good-for-you recipes they have. If you’ve been reluctant to try the challenge because you think you’ll be eating the same thing three meals a day for a month, you should sign up for access to so many meal ideas (all the other information is bonus).

Except for cooking a good ol’ filet or rib-eye. For the perfect steak, you’re going to want to do it Wes’ way. Anything else is sloppy seconds.

Wes’ World Rocking, Life-Altering, Magical
Way to Cook the Perfect Steak*

Preparing the perfect steak

 

  1. Buy high quality steaks from your favorite grocer. My favorite is a filet but my husband will choose a rib-eye for the marbling every time.
  2. Lightly coat steaks in corn oil, about a teaspoon per side. Wes uses Mazola, which works out just fine for us, because that’s all I’ll use for the Best (Apple Pie) Crust in the world.
  3. Season heavily with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, coarsely ground.  Apply equal amounts of both the salt and the pepper, and be careful to season with respect to thickness of the steak.
  4. Heat a large, seasoned cast iron skillet to very hot on a propane burner outside; you’re going to sear the steaks, and at this high of a temperature, it’s best to do so outside because they will smoke.
  5. Sear at high heat two minutes per side or until outside is a nice dark brown (not black).  After taking them off, allow to rest at least 5 minutes.
  6. Finish in 500° oven or grill (indirectly only) 10-20 min until desired temp is reached.  I use a baking pan, but a rack on top of a pan is ideal.  Finishing will take some practice; each steak is different–i.e., ribeye cooks different than filet. Or you can feel the steaks with your finger to judge the doneness. A meat thermometer can help as well.

My friends at the Georgia Beef Board suggest medium rare as the optimal level, cooking to an internal temperature of 145°.

During the searing process the steak should reach approximately 100°. At this point you can actually put the steaks in the fridge and finish them in the oven later or even the next day.

Make sure to allow time for your steaks to rest at least 5-7 minutes before cutting.

Enjoy!

Be sure to sign up for the 30-Day Protein Challenge for daily tips, recipes and great inspiration to eat better, in order to feel better. 

Also, if you haven’t yet entered to win one of four prize packs sponsored by the Georgia Beef Board (including $100 toward beef at your favorite grocer’s), there’s still time! Enter here.

NCBA_PC_FeelTheDifference_300x250

 

 

*Which Wes actually got from his friend Laurence…which is very similar to Alton Brown’s method of preparation.  

 

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The Fantastical Birthday Miracle

Mar

30

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 | 19 comments


The Birthday Miracle at Weingut Heuriger Reinprecht in Vienna

 

Last year for my birthday I got a miracle.

Definition of miracle

No exaggeration, textbook definition…I know miracles when I see miracles.

It wasn’t that I had the good fortune of celebrating in Vienna, Austria (traveling with my husband on a business trip) or that I got to spend time with my dear cousin Ellie and her mate, Walter. Those things, though extraordinary, are easily explainable.

Chocolate cake and whipped creamIt wasn’t my scrumptious dessert, either – equal parts chocolate cake and fresh whipped cream – though that was something special.

It wasn’t even that we were able to find this particular restaurant after first taking a wrong turn or two, off the beaten path but one Ellie and Walter had stumbled upon five years earlier.

And what makes this story all the more wonderful is what happened the year before, the year I turned 50, when – among a laundry list of challenges – our waiter hated me so much he threw my food on the floor rather than serve my birthday dinner.

Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but this story is God’s honest truth. Just thinking about it makes me want to happy-cry.

(I started to tell this story then, but never got around to finishing it….)

It started rather ordinarily at a kitschy Austrian restaurant and local wine tavern, Weingut Heuriger Reinprecht. Forgive these awful pictures; lighting was poor and I was more interested in living this than documenting it well.

After all, until it happened, how could I know a Fantastical Birthday Miracle was about to occur?

 

Weingut Heuriger Reinprecht

Selfie at Weingut Heuriger Reinprecht

 

Birthday Dinner at Weingut Heuriger Reinprecht in Vienna Austria

 

Kitschy walls at Weingut Heuriger Reinprecht in Vienna

 

Dinner in Austria

 

But we’ll get to that. First, let’s look at more memories.

My dinner…I wish I could remember what it’s called. Much more interesting sounding in German, it was basically a roast with carrots and potatoes. Fork tender. Dee licious.

 

German roast, carrots and potatoes

 

And the musicians…HOLY MACKEREL, THERE WERE STROLLING MUSICIANS….! I’m pretty sure the guy playing the guitar sampled every wine the tavern offers before he started work that night…

 

Strolling musicians at Austrian restaurant

 

 

I requested Arrivederci, Roma, a song from Seven Hills of Rome, a movie you’ve probably never heard of but one for which my grandmother had the album. I remember sitting next to her massive stereo/tv/radio combo and playing that song over and over. I thought it was beautiful and fancy and SO GROWN UP.

I’m pretty sure this joker was making up the words, though….

(By the way, you get a glimpse of The Fantastical Birthday Miracle in the video).

They sat at our table for quite a while laughing and telling stories, my cousin interpreting . Most of it was lost in translation.

Eventually it came up that the Americans were there to celebrate my birthday, so of course, they broke into an Deutschlish rendition of Happy Birthday.

And then it happened.

 

They said something in German and pointed to a lady behind them. Ellie, translating, squealed and explained it was her birthday, too. One translated question led to another and we discovered WE WERE BORN ON THE SAME DAY, THE SAME YEAR!!!

The next thing I knew, the lady had run over to our table and was sitting next to me, hugging and weeping and telling me it had been a very bad year. I asked, “Children?” because children can give plenty of reasons for having a very bad year, but she shook her head, “No children…” and she hugged me again. I decided it was best not to press.

Corinna (named after the song Corrine, Corinna because her parents loved it so) was from Berlin and a friend of hers had brought her to Vienna for a birthday getaway. They happened upon our restaurant by “chance.”

What are the odds of two women born on the same day, 4,600 miles apart, ending up celebrating their birthday in a tiny Vienna suburb at the same restaurant AT THE SAME TIME?!?!

 

One in a centillion, I tell ya.

So we hugged some more, and I held her face in my hands and told her she was beautiful and she was a very special birthday gift to me. Tears streaked her face and she hugged me again. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Her friend joined us and we visited a while longer and entirely too soon it was time to say auf widersehen.

I still can’t believe I have a Berlin Birthday Sister.

 

Corinna is a wonder, a marvel, to me. A miracle.

 

16769264608_b9bb010f19_b (1)

 

And so a year has passed and I find myself thinking about meeting her again, wondering if she’s thinking about me, savoring our memory like I am. I’ve prayed for her as she’s come to mind, hoping this past year has been a better one for her.

And I regret not having the presence of mind to exchange contact information, last names…anything, so I could check reach out to her again.

But maybe it’s exactly as it should be.

* * * * *

In celebration of my birthday, I’ve got a wonderful giveaway for you (RV $150)! Click here to check out the details and enter!

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The magical thing about pigtails

Sep

22

Posted by on Sep 22, 2014 | 17 comments

Darling pigtails

Today I put my hair in pigtails.

I’m not even sure what prompted me to do it. They’re messy. It doesn’t look good or cute or even appropriate, but I had no idea it could be an instant attitude adjuster. I mean, on the day girlfriend gets a new cut and color, I’m as confident as I’ll ever be. But two ponies in the back of my head? Boom! I’m one better than that–I’m s a s s y .

I don’t know if it’s pathetic or precious (I’m hearing Jen Hatmaker in my head as I write that), but I’m sassy with no one around. Sassy people will understand (so I hope you understand).

What pigtails lack in fashion they more than make up for it in fun. When I turn my head from side to side they swish my neck. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, it feels like six years old. Have you ever known a six-year-old who didn’t think the singular goal of life was TO have fun? Exactly.

When my husband and I were dating (and apparently serious), I remember putting my hair in pigtails one day and he thought I was darling. I’m the worst rememberer in the world, so the fact I recall this is telling. I remember him swishing them with his hands (see? fun!) and saying, “When we have a little girl can she look just like you?”

That’s the magical thing about pigtails I suppose–no matter your age when you wear them, you’re always a little girl.

* * *

It’s no fun if you don’t play along–what makes you feel sassy or six again?

 

Image: Boo from Monsters Inc., quite possibly the darlingest pigtail wearer ever imagined.

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