The Unexpected Winners of 2020

Well. We made it out of 2020. Or at least some of us did. I wish we had more people with us.

Here are some things that I recommend based on my last year of life. Some of them might make your life better, depending on who you are.

The Ordinary skincare line: I actually began using this stuff back in 2019, but 2020 gave me more opportunity to try things out and nail down a routine. I usually order from their website, but you can find part of their line at your local Ulta store. I took a bad picture of their store in London last year. Their products are pretty uncomplicated and inexpensive. Here’s what I use:

  • Rosehip seed oil
  • Acetic acid
  • 2% Reintoid
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • AHA/BHA peeling solution
  • Glycolic Acid Toner
  • Mineral sunscreen

I don’t use all of these things every day, but over the course of the week, all of it gets used. One thing I use twice daily that isn’t on this list is TruSkin (vitamin C/hyaluronic acid). I used to use the vitamin C from the Ordinary but I found it too oily. Vitamin C has also helped my kids who struggle with teenage acne (when they remember to use it).

East of Eden: this book has been on my to-read list for years, and I finally jumped in and did it, with the help of my little book club. It is dark, heavy, and glorious. As a writer I could see little episodes where Steinbeck just wanted to include a funny story to lighten things up a bit. It was one of those books that I closed and immediately wanted to begin again. If you read it, tell me.

Nadia Hussain’s noodle jars: when shutdown began in March of 2020, I did a lot of experimenting with food to keep my mind off things. This recipe was a clear winner. It’s a little labor-intensive at first (and the smell of the paste cooking might drive your family or roommate to resent you), but it’s worth it in the end. Basically you make a flavor paste to keep in the fridge. When it’s time to eat, turn on your kettle (or as they say in Australia, “boil the jug”). Put a spoonful of the paste in a small mason jar. Top with uncooked vermicelli (I’ve found that these noodles work the best), frozen or leftover cooked veggies, and meat if you desire (I use canned chicken breast most often). When the water’s boiling, you pour it over the whole mess and let it stand for a little bit. Then you have a hot and happy noodle bowl lunch. You can easily do this at work if you have access to a way to boil water. See all of Nadia’s recipes here. You’ll recognize her if you’re a fan of The Great British Baking Show. She also has a show on Netflix.

New York Times No-Knead Bread: while we’re talking about food, let’s talk about the easiest bread you will ever make. The hardest part of making this bread is remembering to start it the night before you want to eat it. It comes out crusty, a bit sour, and airy every single time I make it. I’ve made it so many times this year that I have the recipe memorized (not that impressive. It has four ingredients.). If you want to take another version for a spin, try this no-knead everything bread from King Arthur Flour. I know you’re all doing Whole30 right now, but in February, try this thing.

Amazing Birdseed: This is such a weird one. About halfway through the year I upgraded the kind of birdseed I buy, and we are the most popular lot in the neighborhood now. It turns out the Audubon society really knows something about birds, go figure. It’s been great to watch the huge variety of birds we play host to. I also bought one of these bird feeders for the dining room (where we do school most days) and it’s downright distracting — in the best way. Here is the bird seed I buy at our local Lowe’s.

So there you have it — skincare, books, food, food, bird food. Seems about right for a year at home. What were your winners for last year?

Resolutions for the Remainder

I began this year dreading another election year on social media. Last time around, I saw things reach such a pitch and pace that I couldn’t really hear much by the time November arrived. I have a few friends who have good, reasonable conversations on social media, but most of the talk seemed like furious yelling by the end of the election cycle.

This year, I wanted to compose some Commandments of Social Media to help me and perhaps others navigate this year.

But then, 2020 happened. And it has continued to happen. For the last six months. And now it’s half over.

Along the way, I have realized that many of my own struggles on social media translate into real-life contexts as well. I’ve seen myself be paralyzed by fear in these days. I’ve felt my brain go blank with the uncertainty of what to do or how to act. I have lashed out in anger at my family. I have given days over to “doomscrolling.” I have been prayerful on some days and prayerless on others.

As a result, my Social Media Commandments have morphed into some Resolutions for 2020, or perhaps better said, Resolutions for the Remainder of 2020 and the time beyond. Resolutions frequently weigh me down, when I take into account the work of God being slow and steady rather than instantaneous. However, my prayer is that these would be a steady guide to my thoughts when I drop into the spells of fear and confusion. They are intended kindly, to myself and to you. Remember that we have a great high priest who sympathizes with all our weaknesses (Hebrews 4).

  • Resolved: to treat other human beings as image-bearers of God, regardless of their political affiliation or lack thereof.
  • Resolved: to acknowledge that I probably don’t have all the information.
  • Resolved: to remember that I am foremost a citizen of a kingdom and a servant of the King, not one of an earthly country or ruler.
  • Resolved: to work for the good of my earthly country in the small ways I am able.
  • Resolved: to represent the statements and actions of others truthfully.
  • Resolved: to live my life in real time with three-dimensional people, and to speak in contexts that provide community and require accountability.
  • Resolved: to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and quick to forgive.
  • Resolved: to act from a place of wisdom, service, and love, rather than one of fear.
  • Resolved: to remember that it is the Lord Almighty who makes kings, peoples, and nations rise and fall.
  • Resolved: to believe and think about the good headlines (from verified sources) as much as I do the bad ones .
  • Resolved: to begin the day meditating on eternal truths given for my good rather than temporal truths given in headlines created to drive web traffic and advertising revenue.
  • Resolved: to refrain from passing and distributing on social media: gossip, uncharitable speculation, or insult.
  • Resolved: to implement a “Year of Jubilee” policy. In Old Testament Israel, the Year of Jubilee came once in a generation, and it was when debts were forgiven. Forgotten birthdays? Not answering text messages? No worries. It’s 2020. No one has ever done a pandemic before. 
  • Resolved: to implement a “Year of Jubilee” policy going forward into years when there isn’t a pandemic.
  • Resolved: to be a humble student of history and science, and therefore acknowledge that I am not one impervious to (a) bad research; (b) viruses and pandemics; (c) the political climate of the day and age; (d) my own biases.
  • Resolved: to have proper expectations of authority, be it police, presidential, or scientific; to have the same expectations of myself in whatever capacity I bear authority.
  • Resolved: to make good use of the “mute” or “unfollow” button if it helps me better love people in real life.
  • Resolved: to press into truth, beauty, goodness — both eternal and temporal, both given for my good.
  • Resolved: to read more books and fewer tweets, articles, headlines, and polls.
  • Resolved: to allow hope to triumph over cynicism. 

Babe Ruth Goes Hunting

One Friday night in November, a shiny black car with New York plates pulled up in front of the Big House on Dawson Road. Four men got out. They were wearing expensive suits topped by long wool coats, and each sported a fedora. As the cases were pulled out and brought up the narrow cement steps into the house, the guests were welcomed inside by the hostess, Annie Armstrong Dawson. She briskly introduced herself to each of the newcomers. “Hello, come in, there’s coffee on the stove. When you’re settled, come downstairs for some pie.” Annie’s Belfast accent was charming, but the men understood that this invitation was more of an instruction.

Annie was used to having her upstairs rooms full of guests during the weekends of hunting season. Every year the second floor of the Big House was occupied with men from all over the Northeast, come to hunt in the acres of wooded hills that surrounded Deer View Farms. The days took on a familiar rhythm: coffee in the early morning hours, a big hot breakfast after the sun rose, quiet afternoons, and then Jack Daniels, cards and cigarettes in the evenings. 

After the evening milking, Annie’s son Sam washed up and made his way up the hill and into the kitchen at the Big House. He wanted to meet the men he would take out hunting that weekend. He knew one of the faces immediately from the morning paper. Even to those who weren’t baseball fans — Sam wasn’t — Babe Ruth was a household name and face. Not wanting to embarrass his guest, Sam made no sign of special recognition. He exchanged names with all of the men, shook hands politely, and told his usual few stories about the successes and failures of hunters on the farm. The men laughed along with him easily. After a few instructions for the early morning meetup, he walked the short distance back to his own small home next door.

That Saturday’s hunting expedition was a successful one for everyone but the Babe. Sam watched him spew his frustration after a few narrow misses. Much like he might have at home plate in the Bronx, Babe ground his teeth and spat. Eventually, the band of hunters headed back to the house for breakfast and a nap. They gathered that evening around the farmhouse table in the kitchen of the Big House, drinking too much and telling raucous stories. Annie tried to stay ahead of them, washing glasses and emptying ashtrays.

When the sun rose after hours of hunting the next morning, the Babe still found himself without a trophy. He walked empty-handed back to the house, squinting into the white sunrise and muttering. Even their host, Sam, had bagged a beautiful buck, though the rack was nothing to speak of — it had a broken brow tine on the right side. Still, it would feed his own small family through much of the winter, and Sam was thankful.

After a few hours, the group of men had packed up their belongings and made their way to the car. Sam emerged from the barn in his coveralls, wiping his hands on a towel. He smiled, shook hands, and invited them to come again. The car was laden down with the deer from the weekend, its shiny paint coated with a layer of dust and hair. They drove off and left the farm quiet again.

On Monday morning, Annie performed her morning duties as usual, tending the farm cats and brewing the coffee for the morning break from chores. She fetched the morning paper from the box at the end of the driveway. Back in the kitchen, she poured herself a cup of coffee from the percolator and settled into her usual spot at the yellow table. She smoothed out the front page of The New York Daily News and saw Babe Ruth’s grinning face looking back at her. Next to the bold text “Babe Bags a Beaut,” Ruth crouched triumphantly next to a buck with a broken brow tine on the right side.

Help for Parents Who Are Suddenly Homeschooling (against their wills)

Hi friends! All week long I’ve been joking that I ought to open a Remote Quarantine Consulting Business because I’ve homeschooled for thirteen years. However, since schools are now closing right and left, here is some of my best advice for free. Be kind, be wise and be well in these uncertain days.

Time management: It’s OK to take a day or two to pretend you’re on vacation. Sit around in your pajamas and watch movies, etc. But I would suggest that the majority of your days still have a rhythm to them. Get up and get dressed as you usually would. Set a time for breakfast. We usually do something active between breakfast and the start of school (here it’s chores), so they can burn off a little energy before I’m asking them to sit for a while.

Scholarly pursuits: understand the difference between “school at home” and “homeschool.” The sooner you embrace the fact that your home cannot function as your school does, the less stressed everyone will be. For elementary students, I suggest changing activities every 20-30 minutes during actual lesson time. Set a timer to help with this. Then drop the lesson; go outside, send them to read for a bit, or do a read-aloud. Or the one that we homeschool parents love to Instagram: do a read-aloud on a blanket outside with snacks. What a world.

Eat the frog: You guys know the old adage, right? If you knew you had to eat a frog every day, you’d want to do it as soon as possible to get it over with. If there’s a subject that your kid hates, try to do it earlier in the day before you are both tired.

Lean into delight: light a candle. Turn on some music. Pick a book that everyone loves to read aloud together, even if it’s a re-read (check out the resources at Story Warren). Make lunch interesting or take it outside. Go for a walk. Marathon a movie series that your family loves. What is the culture of your family that you can invest in and preserve during this time? Lean hard into that. I think, since our usual English Premier League matches are postponed, we will be watching some old games just for fun.

Let them be bored: it is not your job to amuse the children every hour of the day. They have minds and creative wills of their own — you know this because you’re the one that hears their stories. Force them to use them. They can do it, I promise. Provide open-ended supplies: legos, dollhouses, art supplies, journals. It might take a few days of complaining to work through this, and you’re going to want to turn on the TV. Resist the urge (more on screens in a minute). It’s good for you all to get away from each other (within your quarantine limits) for a little while. A note to parents who like having things “just so” — creative children are usually messy. Make peace with this. It’s a good time to use your timer, both for the “be bored” time and the cleanup time.

Adult human skills: parents who complain about how your kids still don’t know how to do their own laundry, this is your moment! It’s time for home economics class. If they can reach the bottom of that washer, they can do laundry. Make ‘em. Their future roommate/spouse/child will thank you. You can even pick a project in your home and involve them — my youngest helped me paint her room at age 6. It was not as disastrous as you might imagine. Maybe they want to brainstorm meals with you or learn some cooking skills. Then, when they’re back at school and you’re back at work, you can text them and say, “Hey, can you start dinner?” and something great will happen.

Have a plan for screens (the negative spin): set some ground rules, or those screens will overrun your day and everyone will turn into zombies. Here at our house, the kids must finish school and chores before they’re allowed on screens, with some exceptions to email or voxer friends. Try not to turn on the TV “just to see what’s on.” If you can’t say what you’re going to watch or stream, maybe find something else to do. This is difficult — it’s a battle here in our home every day. I could probably do an entire post on just this topic. But if you’d like to investigate more, we use a combination of physical control (the devices have a spot where they stay), wi-fi control (with Disney circle) and device-based control (with the ScreenTime app). When my kids were smaller, I saved screen time up like gold and used it all up when I was trying to make dinner.

Have a plan for screens (the positive spin): like I said before, we’re going to use screens for good things during this time. A movie marathon. Old sports games (have your kids seen the Miracle on Ice? Mine haven’t). Documentaries. We also use devices for chatting with friends, using Marco Polo and Voxer. We use Hoopla for free through our public library for audiobooks, movies, and comics. Libby and Overdrive might be an option for you, as well.

Give grace: Lastly, this is a scary and uncertain time for everyone. Give yourself grace. Give your kids grace. There’s no model for how this should look. Things will be back to “normal” eventually. Go to bed on time; take a shower; take a walk. Start again tomorrow.

For the Rabbits: Hutchmoot is a Sending Place

“‘No. You’re forgetting,’ said the Spirit. ‘That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about the light.'” – Lewis, The Great Divorce

Hello, dear fellow Hutchmooter.

You are now experiencing reentry. Please keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times, and wait until the car comes to a complete stop. Reentry is not pleasant for anyone. It’s a strange mix of feeling full, of having so much to talk about, to share, to process — and maybe you don’t have anyone to do that with. Maybe you have to hit the ground running with small children the moment you enter the door. Maybe you have an unforgiving boss who doesn’t care about your weekend. And you — you’ve been altered, you’ve been fed. You feel different and you wish you could put it into words.

Maybe this was your first time at Hutchmoot, and you were astonished at the restful space that was given to you. You were unhurried in your heartfelt conversations with people who were once strangers, but now are dear friends. You lingered over your coffee, made with care and love and handed to you with a smile. You’re overwhelmed with the simultaneous joy of a creative space like Hutchmoot, but you’re also exhausted and your brain and spirit feel full to the brim. While you don’t want to leave, you feel that if you had one more session to sit through and think through, you might slump over onto the floor out of sheer overload.

Maybe this was a returning time for you. You knew the faces to expect, the hugs to anticipate, and the jokes to be told. You might have opened up on a new level and shed some tears with kindred spirits. You felt, as you have many years before, that this was a home-going of sorts. Yet every year is different, and there are new things to think about and sort through. Your heart feels uplifted and filled. You lingered in the parking lot and didn’t want to leave yet again. 

If I may, I’d like to remind you of one very hard thing: Hutchmoot isn’t a staying place; it’s a sending place. 

Wherever in the world you’re returning to, you’re sent there. You’ve been placed there by design. You aren’t there by accident. At least for now, and for most of us, Nashville isn’t where we belong.

You, artist/creative type/appreciator, serve a purpose in the kingdom of God in your actual, local, geographic location. You are a part of the body, unlike any other part of the body where you are. You aren’t meant to be like everybody else.

Part of the glory of Hutchmoot is that you feel like people “get” you. You ask them if they’ve read that book, and they have! And they loved it, too! Remember Lewis’ quote about how friendship is born the moment someone says, “What, you too?! I thought I was the only one!” Hutchmoot is full of those moments, and they are delightful and soul-nourishing.

But back at home, you are a bit more unique. Not everyone thinks the way that you do. This, also, is by design. If everyone thought like I did, the budgets would never be balanced and the times tables would never be learned. But that’s because I serve a different function than someone else who excels at those things.

It’s easy to interact in that “you too” manner at Hutchmoot because some of the work has already been done for us. We know that we make a Narnia reference and almost everyone will perk up. We know that people will want to talk thoughtfully about films and not cast them aside out of hand. There are relatively safe conversational spaces to occupy and know you will be welcomed. But that’s because the Proprietor, the Hutchmaster, and the staff have worked very hard to establish grooves for us to run in. The way has been paved, the example has been set, and the space has been made. At home, this is probably not true. 

May I suggest that you do some hard work to find those “you too” moments with the members of your local place? 

Not everyone there is easy for you to love. You’re not easy for some of them to love, either. Recall Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian church about the parts of the body. You might be an eye who has nothing in common with an ankle or a hand. Remember, you have the most important thing in common: you have Jesus! The body of which you’re a part is the very thing you have in common. 

Because you’re good at imagining, let’s imagine for a moment a group of eyes talking to each other. “What a night I had!” one says. “The Body left the contact lenses in overnight and it was a battle all night long.” The other eyes nod in agreement — they’ve experienced that as well. Another pipes up, “I saw the most beautiful meal the other night, but Stomach was a real downer and said we could only have a few bites.” Someone replies, “yes, my Stomach is that way too. Why don’t they understand what we see? How beautiful it is?”

It might take more effort for an eye to have conversations with stomachs, ankles and hands than with other eyes. But they are still part of the same Body, and they can’t do without each other.

I have long felt, as many of you do, that The Rabbit Room is a unique place worth preserving. It’s different, it’s new to some of us, and it’s a haven. Anytime there is a sniff of controversy, we have the difficult conversation or we just do the hard work of lovingly pressing through and forgiving a difference. There is special care taken to major on the majors and allow kind disagreement on the minors, because we can’t let conflict destroy this special place we’ve got.

But this is what the church ought to be to us, as well. Perhaps familiarity with the institution of the local church, and the way it has become lazily enfolded into cultural Christianity, has made us careless in striving for the preservation of it.

If the past decade in America is any indication, there is a shift happening in American culture. We are, slowly but surely, moving from “a Christian nation” (may I say, we were never this — and that’s another post) to a post-Christian one. Though the changes are uncomfortable, the church is being refined. It’s becoming increasingly uncomfortable for people to hang onto churches for the social capital. This is a good thing.

As this shift continues, the need increases for you, Rabbit. Your local body needs your voice of hope. Your vivid descriptions of Heaven. Your songs in the night. They won’t all understand it at first, and some of them will never “get it” at all — at least, not at the level your idealistic heart wants them to. But for those who do, you may function as a life preserver. Russell Moore has made it a habit of saying that the church is moving from moral majority to prophetic minority. As this happens, the songs and stories will grow all the brighter. The church needs its artists and its poets, striving with their musical hearts towards peace in the church and for the hope of Heaven.

So don’t stay in Nashville, Hutchmooter. Go sing to your people at home. Maybe we’ll see you next year. We’ll hug you when you get here.

His Heart Beats

IMG_20151009_151801664_HDRRecently I asked the kids to help with with one piece of school planning. We needed a signal for the start of school. We always begin the day around the dining room table at 8:30 in the morning, but I wanted to pick a song that would signal to the kids that it was time to gather. I thought this might be a better alternative to me shouting their names, sometimes nicely, sometimes no-so-nicely.

I gave them one restriction — the choice needed to be an Andrew Peterson song. Since I’ve been listening to him for twenty years, Andrew’s voice has an immediate calming effect on me, which is advantageous when we’re gathering for school, for both teacher and students. He is the mother/teacher whisperer.

Andrew’s most recent album came out over Easter weekend. It’s entitled Resurrection Letters, Volume I. It is a prequel to an album he released over a decade ago. This most recent offering is all about Jesus’ resurrection — the actual event. The opening song, “His Heart Beats,” could not be more literal. We hear about Jesus’ heart beginning to beat again, his lungs filling with air, and him rising up to walk again.

Here is where a sanctified imagination can serve us. Let’s sit with the fact of the resurrection for a moment. A person that was dead “a moment ago” is now alive again. His skin warmed up. His eyelids opened. He spoke for the first recorded time, to Mary. Maybe he had to clear his throat first — can you imagine?

No, really — can you?

“The blood that brought us peace with God is racing through his veins,” Andrew reminds us. That blood was sitting still and pooled just a moment ago. It’s moving again.

If you know me at all, you know that Resurrection Sunday is my favorite day of the year. It’s better than Christmas or my birthday or even a British Royal Wedding (!). Charlotte always shows off on that Sunday. The azaleas are usually in full bloom that week; the early bulbs have given way to the later ones, and the trees are flowering. I am one of those people who insists on greeting people with “He Is Risen!” (– this is our one special thing, Christians! Let’s use it!)  I usually make a few ridiculously decadent desserts. We jam our house full of people until it can’t hold anymore and they spill out onto the lawn. We eat and talk until we can’t do either anymore. My goodness, it’s wondrous. The reason we sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” is still true all these centuries later, and if I have anything to do with it, we’re going to have a party to celebrate.

But also — if you know me at all, here we are in August, and I’m anxious about the beginning of the homeschool year. No matter how long I do this — I begin year thirteen tomorrow morning — I still get scared every single year. Perfectionism nips at my heels and tells me I can’t do it. The lists rise up endlessly, and for some reason I convince myself that I must have everything decided/finished/perfect by 8:30 tomorrow morning. It’s a lie, and I fall prey to it every year.

I found myself grieved Saturday night, sending out a few emergency texts to friends to ask for prayer. I am blessed with faithful friends who responded with encouragement and promises to pray. I am blessed with a faithful husband who doesn’t give credence to my fears, but instead holds me when I cry and put too much pressure on myself.

Back to our song choice. The kids told me earlier this week that they wanted Andrew’s “His Heart Beats” to be our gathering song. It wasn’t my first choice. I probably would have picked something about family, or enjoying God in nature, or something Hobbit-ish (he has a few of those). But as the week wore on, and I battled emotion, fear, vulnerability, and perfectionism, the truth of the Resurrection rang like a crystal bell in my mind.

As I was laid bare by the temptations to grasp for control, Jesus’ faithfulness rose up to meet it. He said he would raise the temple up in three days’ time, and He did it. He just does not do these things in the way we expect. Our marriage, our family, our parenting, our story, has not looked at all as we expected. And yet — He is still faithful. He will do it.

Jesus is still just as alive on a Saturday in the middle of August as He is on the moment of sunrise on Resurrection Sunday morning.

My sin is just as dead as it was then.

Death itself is just as dead as it was that first Sunday, “very early on the first day of the week.”

And that, friends, is wind in my sails. That is why I can get up tomorrow morning, embrace my failings, take a step forward in my God-enabled strengths, and pull these kids along with me. It will not be easy. There will be days, just like there are every year, when I’m tempted to run out into the street and flag down that big yellow bus just to get a moment’s peace. Jesus died for that impatience, as well.

Happy first day of our school to you, friends. And if you’re up for it, turn this song on at 8:30 tomorrow morning and whisper a prayer for us. Jesus is alive, and He’s listening.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. — I Cor. 15:26


Friends, Stories, and Songs

A few months ago, my husband and I attended a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Rogers on the topic of CS Lewis and creativity in Christian community. Instead of lecturing on the finer points of the nature of creativity in church life, or outlining Five Points for Pursuing a More Creative Life, Dr. Rogers began by telling us a story.

He wanted to talk about his friend who had just passed away a few weeks before. You might recognize his friend, Ben Ellis, from a viral video from last year. When Mr. Ellis was in his last days on earth, students from the high school where he taught for years, made a special trip to his house and sang to him. (Mutual friend Russ Ramsey tells more about Mr. Ellis here.)

What Jonathan wanted us to know about his friend Ben was that he was a man who pursued friends as his creative pursuit. He knew all the students, as well as their siblings, by name. He had a reputation for making students late for class because he would ask them — and really want to know — about their worlds. He was creative in the ways he thought about people and encouraging them. He made everyone who knew him feel seen and known.

Pursuing friends and Christian community as a creative pursuit — what an idea! How can we as Christians be about developing this culture? Since we are all made to be sub-creators, in the image of God, the ultimate Creator, we can order our worlds and create priorities within the freedom God has afforded us.

Pursuing people in this manner is an area where I could stand to grow. It requires effort and paying attention. Mr. Ben Ellis remembered everyone’s names, attaining for himself a reputation of thoughtfulness that was earned with hard mental labor. I’ll never forget the first day of class with one of my education professors. She took a picture of each of us. She had them printed and flipped through them each morning, praying for us by name. We all knew we were on her heart while she sipped her morning coffee.

There’s one character from recent pop culture that comes to my mind when we discuss attentive friendship:  Leslie Knope, the unquenchable optimist from Parks and Recreation. galentines-day-card-1Is there any other character you can think of who is a more considerate friend? It becomes a joke on a regular basis, because not one of her friends, nor her husband, can possibly keep up with her. She knows everything about everybody — and instead of using it for ill, she capitalizes on it for doing good to those people. She knows Ron Swanson’s ideal birthday would be a quiet evening (with steak, a cigar, and “Bridge on the River Kwai”) instead of a giant surprise party. Beyond birthdays, Leslie gives each of her female friends a personalized gift on her invented holiday “Galentine’s Day” — “an event for celebrating lady friends!”

Most often creativity is spoken about in terms of visual art, song, and the written word. But culture is created wherever humans make their lives together. Our homes, marriages, friendships, and family relationships are an area where gratitude, creativity, and joy in one another can be on display. We can’t all be Leslie Knope –though I have a few friends who would rival her! — but we can all grow in creatively embracing and loving the people in our circles.

The First Week of August


The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.
― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

And Yet He (She) is Such a Man (Woman)

Well, who can believe Election 2016?! Really?!

It came to me last night that the feeling I’ve been having about this year’s Presidential campaigns is akin to a moment in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. As the conventions draw to a close, there is a kind of resignation that has settled over the nation. Here they are, our two major party candidates. And yet…

Mr. Wickham. He is the scoundrel in Pride and Prejudice (200-year-old spoiler, sorry). He’s handsome and charming. Yet his true character is revealed when he takes off in the middle of the night with the Bennet’s youngest daughter, Lydia, who has been convinced that she is in love with him.

Elizabeth and the family finally receive word that Lydia is fine, and that Wickham has agreed to financial terms to marry her. Naturally the family has to agree to pay him a hefty sum, but they are willing to do so to attempt to salvage their reputation. If they did not, the chances of the other girls being able to marry at all disappear.

There’s a moment in this scene where you see Elizabeth come to terms with the situation. She speaks to her father:

“And may I ask — ?” said Elizabeth, “but the terms, I suppose, must be complied with.”

“Complied with! I am only ashamed of his asking so little.”

“And they must marry! Yet he is such a man!”

“Yes, yes, they must marry. There is nothing else to be done….”

Of course, we learn later (another spoiler, sorry) that this is actually Mr. Darcy’s great moment of self-sacrifice for Elizabeth — and all comes out well in the end. All well, except for the Bennet sisters who now have a miscreant for a brother-in-law.

Look, I get that last night was a big deal historically speaking. I do. A woman was nominated by a major party. First time. High five, sisters. I want to be happy. I am happy, as far as that goes. America has finally caught up with Europe in this respect, for starters.

But we must elect someone this year.47_mrs_bennet_Pride_and_Prejudice

And yet she is such a woman.

And across the aisle….such a man.


Where are my smelling salts?


Grandma McGlone and a Letter from Denver

Last year my husband’s grandmother passed away. She had lived in Colorado most of her life and always cheered for the Broncos. After the funeral, the family went to Mile High where my brother-in-law completed a pass to my husband on the front steps of the stadium.

Throughout the fall, the family passed around via snail mail Grandma McGlone’s t-shirt. Everyone took turns wearing it for a Bronco victory.

So you might say…it’s in the blood, and has been for decades.

In September, David was catching up on sports headlines on ESPN and saw this story by Scott VanPelt (sorry for the clunkiness — I can’t get this to embed).

SVP: One big thing – ESPN Video

David saw a letter-writing routine to be in keeping with Paul’s exhortation to “encourage one another” in I Thessalonians 5. He was inspired to write some letters. He bought some stationery and stamps, and began the next week. Every morning he wrote a note of encouragement to someone in our church.

When he completed the entire church directory, before he began again, he decided to write a note to the guy who inspired him to do so in the first place. So he jotted a note to Peyton Manning, tracked down a generic Broncos address online, and sent it off.

Three weeks later, an envelope from the “Denver Broncos Training Facility” arrived in our mailbox. I saw it and my heart sunk — I was sure David’s note had been returned. Maybe he had the wrong address, or they sent a generic “thanks for the note” reply.

It turned out that Mr. Manning is just really prompt with replying to his mail.

Inside was an autographed picture of Peyton, inscribed with a handwritten note to David and the familiar signature.

So — pretty hard not to cheer for Peyton Manning last night, despite my eleven years in Charlotte. I’m certain the Panthers have many years of success ahead of them. But I’m really glad Peyton got to go out with a win.