What I'm Into: February 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


February is wrapping up and a new season is soon to be underway. It's still very much winter here. The season I'm talking about has to do with Theatre Life. We're down to a week of performances for our current show which will leave us with rehearsals for one production.  The results of the line-up of upcoming auditions will clue us into what's next.

I'm currently planning a trip to MA SC MA SC MA. I know I JUST got back to blogging, but I'm not sure what my time away will mean for this space. We'll find out!

In the meantime, here are a few pictures from my Mom's 50th and some things I've been into lately. 

What I'm Watching

That Girl on Amazon Prime. Not sure how I've never heard of this...it's amazing. 

Roman Holiday, The Finest Hours, The Lake House, Brigadoon. 

One show I want to check out is called Letters from Ladies. My Mom found this one and it's basically a tv show version of a podcast.

In the Kitchen

Super Bowl food: veggie dip with bread, wheat thins, and sesame crackers; pigs in a blanket; bbq little smokies.

A dinner of southern sides (macaroni and cheese, bbq beans, cornbread, and carrot slices for good measure) after I had a mishap with our Instant Pot that ended with the pork roast not being done in time.  Beef stroganoff. French toast.  My grandma's spaghetti. Buttermilk biscuits. A blueberry coffee cake that was mistaken for store-bought. Also, this cake, these sandwiches, these meatballs, and this soup.

I'm back to craving chocolate chip cookies alllll the time. I used to make them at least once a month. Maybe I should do that again.

For my Mom's birthday, we went the nostalgic route and had chili cheeseburgers and onion rings. It was my very first time eating a chili cheeseburger and I really have been missing out!

Around the Internet

Woolf's essay "Street Haunting" inspired me to write about the February morning I spent with it. I also read Dickens's essay "Night Walks" and Franklin's article on getting a good night's sleep.

This article really resonated with me. I'm not a wife. I'm not a mother. But, I keep house for five and sometimes THAT becomes my identity and how I determine my worth.

Found Podcast - the jury is still out on this one. It's an interesting concept.

The Splendid Table Podcast - America's Test Kitchen Radio Podcast was one of my top five. ATK has gone through some changes and the podcast ended. I've been looking for a replacement and I may have found it!

My newest goal is to express my excitement over the books I'm reading the way she does.

I've been reading the book of John lately. There is always more to learn and God is faithful to teach us!

Linking up with Leigh!

What are you into?

January Reads

Friday, February 24, 2017

I have finished exactly TWO books in February, so far. January already seems like it was so long ago and as I prepared to write this post today I was shocked to see just how much reading I got done last month. I'm honestly amazed.

January always seems to allow for plenty of time to read and this January, I found a number of fantastic books to settle in with. Here we go...


Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers // This mystery featuring both Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane was fantastic. It reminded me exactly what it is I like about Sayers's writing, namely, that it is the prosey-est mystery writing I have ever encountered. Her characters are hilarious. The crimes she writes about depend on technical details. She handles themes that stick with you. I've been talking about and recommending Sayers to ANYONE who will let me. You should read her!

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy // This was a read along that I did with both Julie and Shauna. The three of us have tried Binchy before and all have mixed feelings about her work. This particular book was unique in that Binchy used snapshot style stories of a number of people to tell one single story. It drew all three of us in and reminded us what it is to truly enjoy a book. I had been saving it for a week in winter of my own and wasn't the least bit disappointed with it.

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier // I'll tell you more about WHY I picked this book up later, but for now you should know it's one that I can't recommend. I stuck it out and read it through to the end. It turned out to be the kind of book that I NEEDED to read right now. It's the story of one woman who finds herself pushing 50 with a life full of second chances. Click the title to read my full review.


Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson // I've been reading Henderson since I was in high school. Her writing style is kind of unique. She writes mysteries, but manages to tie in all kinds of human relationships that really add to each one of her story lines. This particular book dealt with some brutally heavy crimes, but she handled them without going into detail. I especially liked this book because she chose to give her two main characters a solid friendship rather than a romance. I'll admit that the mystery itself was a bit weak, but everything else had me wishing this book would never end!

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott // This was a book club pick that we all really enjoyed. We agreed that it was more Austen than Alcott and were amazed that she was only 17 when she wrote it. The second half and the ending MADE this book for me. No spoilers, but there couldn't be a better ending. I'll say this...It's better than the ways Austen tied up both P&P and Persuasion.

Harry Potter number 5 by J.K. Rowling // I read this book off and on throughout January (and didn't actually finish it until 3 days ago). I'll feature it in the round-up of books that I read this month, but until then, you should know that I WANTED this book to be my favorite. Umbridge really, really bothered me. Rowling communicated the evil inside of Umbridge far better than the movie version did. I put this book down over and over again just because of how much that woman was disturbing me.

Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson // I get in the mood for the poetry of Dickinson when the weather turns cold and dark. I read a good portion of this volume in the parking lot while I waited for my Mom to get off of work on the day that I picked it up from the library. Dickinson's poetry will draw you in. You may read a single poem two or three times, move on, and then flip back to read it several more times. The really good ones will force you to read them out loud to whoever is nearby.

There you go, a book or two from each of the last several centuries highlighting a variety of genres that will be sure to give everyone some idea of a good book to pick up next.

What books have you had your nose in lately? 

Do any of these books look especially interesting to you?


Thursday, February 23, 2017


I've had this post sitting in my draft folder since June 25, 2016. It's been a long time coming, just waiting on me to hunt down the pictures and get some graphics ready. The photos were taken with my iPad. Tyler Florence shot a whole cookbook with one...so, a blog post now and then is okay, right?

Up until about a month ago I'd never heard of Chilaquiles. I'm not sure how I've lived this long without knowing what they were, but I'm glad I know now! Here's the story...

I was sitting in my living room watching a new to me show (Guy's Grocery Games) when a contestant decided to make a batch of Chilaquiles. He had this really touching story about his Mom. He said that all her life she was always cooking whatever people wanted to eat. He said that he appreciated her cooking, but that the fact that she cooked what they loved really meant a lot to him. He got all teary when he explained that the last thing his Dad asked his Mom to make was Chilaquiles.

With a story like that, I figured these things MUST be good. So, I watched him make them. I watched the judges rave about them. And then I started seeing them everywhere. One of my favorite food bloggers made a batch, but used canned enchilada sauce. I wanted the REAL deal. Her post convinced me that I COULD do it and that I HAD to.

So, I scoured the internet for recipes and having never tasted them in m life, decided to take a stab at it. I used a combination of these three recipes to get the finished product that I had in mind. I can officially say that I LOVE CHILAQUILES!!!! And I hope you will too.


Ingredient gathering is super simple. Canned tomatoes, jalapenos, onion, garlic, cilantro (or not), chicken broth, salt, oil, corn tortillas, and whatever toppings sound good to YOU are all it takes.

It's not as complicated as you might expect. This is one of those 30 minutes or less dinners. You make your sauce, you fry your tortillas (or use pre-made chips), and then you make a heaping mess on your plate and stuff your face.

They're goooood, I tell ya!


1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes
2 jalapenos, charred, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped (I had to leave this out because my store was OUT, yes OUT. I'll start with about a 1/2 cup and then add more according to taste and color. I suggest you do the same!)

1 Tbsp. veggie oil

1 tsp. salt
1 cup chicken stock

Place tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, onion, and cilantro into a blender. I used a Vitamix and blended it until it was nice and smooth.

Heat oil in a sauce pan over med-high heat. Add the sauce to the pan being aware that it will start bubbling and spitting right away. Be careful and start stirring. You'll want to boil it for about 7 minutes, stirring very often.

Reduce heat to keep things at a gentle simmer and stir in the salt and the chicken stock. Let it continue to simmer while you work on your tortilla chips. The sauce just keeps getting better the longer it cooks.

When you're happy with the way your sauce tastes, prepare the tortilla chips OR use pre-made tortilla chips. If you go that route, skip to the assembly step.

20 (6 inch) white corn tortillas, left out for a day or so and cut into 8 triangles each
oil for frying

Place tortilla pieces into hot oil. I could give you a temperature, but you'll know it's hot when you put your tortilla in and the oil starts to fry it. Cook until golden brown on each side.

Remove chips to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle hot chips with a little salt.

Continuing frying the chips until you've got enough to go around. You'll have to work in batches.

All the recipes say to put the chips directly into the sauce pot. That's not how I work....

Place some sauce into a bowl or a small pot (I went the bowl route). Add chips, add more sauce, and stir until the chips are thoroughly covered.

Transfer your chip mess to a plate, being sure to pour the excess sauce that was left in the bowl onto the chips. Top with shredded cheese, onion, cilantro, lettuce, sour cream, and whatever else your little heart desires.

Repeat until everyone has a plate and DIG IN! These are traditionally a breakfast dish meant to use up old, dry tortillas, so feel free to top them with a fried or scrambled egg if that sounds good to you.

That's it! That's all there is to it. I REALLY like the way they turned out, but I've got plans to play around with different combinations of chiles (3 dried ancho chiles and 3 serrano chiles were recommended in one recipe) and I'd like to try to make it with fresh tomatoes (2 medium tomatoes OR 5 small tomatoes and 5 tomatillos) once as well.

Store the extra sauce in the fridge until you're ready for seconds. You can also do like I did and use it to make a batch of enchiladas. It's ESPECIALLY good for making cheese enchiladas, but that's a story for another day. 

What's a food you've recently discovered?

Have you tried to make recreate it in your own kitchen?

Back to Blogging

Monday, February 20, 2017

February 25, 2014

I apologize if I've bombarded you with posts lately. I have gotten back to blogging before. One of my downfalls is getting into a groove. The problem with coming back is that you are FLOODED with ideas. You take the time to develop each one and schedule posts only to step away because "I have posts scheduled" and then before you know it, you're not back to blogging anymore.

So, this time...I've been writing my ideas down and working on each one a little at a time. It has worked really well so far. I think it's safe to say that I'm "back" again.

Some of my tips from this time around:

Answer emails. People comment. Take time to TALK to them. This is how we bloggers say thank you to one another.

Sit in your chair and write. Take the pictures, upload them, and hit "publish". You don't get to schedule ahead of time yet. If you get too comfy, you'll lose your momentum.

Give yourself specific assingments. Photograph ____ recipe. Collect links for _____. Take an hour to write a post on ______. Honestly, this is the strategy that has made THE most difference.

Make time to read the posts your friends are writing. Don't forget to leave comments to let them know what you think.

Do any of these tips resonate with you?

How has your blogging strategy changed over the years?

Called to Bask

Friday, February 17, 2017

January 11, 2017
I'm struggling with how to introduce this post. I want to write about what it is to live out my word for 2017 and to be honest about how it's going.

On a superficial level, it's going WELL. I'm thinking about God, delighting in the small things, feasting on His gifts, praying over people, and using music to preach to myself. As far as having a disciplined soul goes, it's going HORRIBLY.

The whole purpose of this word is taking time out to be with God. It's about following Jesus Christ's example of slipping away and withdrawing and getting alone with God to pray. It's about going to God for the strength and grace and sustenance that comes from Him alone. If Christ needed this and devoted Himself to this and depended on this, it is something I most certainly cannot live without.

I KNOW this, but somehow, the discipline is lacking and it shows. I had to tell my friend Abigail that I hadn't been in the Word. My bad attitude proves to my family that I'm not actively submitting my spirit to God. The anxiety creeping in proves that I'm not abiding in His Spirit.

You ready for a peek into my journal? (This is for you, Mom!)

via Dec. 29, 2016 //

As I go into 2017, I want to remember that I am waiting on God. I want to BASK in the light of God. I want to bathe in the Word. I want to be one who waits on Him constantly. I want the storm to rage on while I cling to Him. I want to seek His strength and find it and show that I have it. I want to trust His will and His timing for all my hopes.

Isaiah 8:20-22 says, "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness."
My attitude lately has been of one who has no dawn. One who looks around beholding distress and darkness and is hungry and in anguish and even enraged. I've felt it. I've taken it out on my family. God's light has shined into my darkness and I want to remember it. His strength came along showing me where my strength is to be found, namely, in Him. He has shown me on whom I wait, namely, on Him. He has granted me light to bask in and is ever ready with strength to endure.

At every turn I'm reminded of God's grace and strength and peace. I'm reminded that He is ruler over all (Psalm 29). That everything is in His hands. And then, waiting becomes sweet. I'm not waiting on anyone but Him. I'll say that again: I am waiting on Him. His timing is perfect and His will is best. Even if the road is slow or lonely, by it I will know Him and become like Christ and it is on that road that I've been begging Him to keep me all these years...If you're looking for me, you'll find me there.


And yet, here I am. I've reached the middle of February being reminded of these things and being beckoned into His strength only to disregard the call to BASK. If I'm going to keep this resolve, it's going to take effort and it's high time I do whatever it takes to get back on track.

via Dec. 31, 2016 //

I will need to learn from men like Paul and Christ and Whitefield and Washington. To set time out to be alone with God reading and praying and seeking Him. My priorities need shifting. I know that. My "defaults" need resetting.


I'm sharing all of this as a kick in the pants to myself, but also as an encouragement to all of you! Our resolves drive us back to God. They keep us seeking Him and depending on Him and rejoicing in Him, and praising Him.

For me, this going to look like imitating Christ's practice of going away to be with God. I struggle with this because I don't like going away. The thing is, if I'm going to receive God's strength, I've got to go to Him. If I'm going to be one who represents Christ to those around me, I've got to go to the Father just like He did.

If I'm going to bask, I have to bask. 

Let's look to Christ. Let's reset our defaults. Let's put in the effort. Let's BASK. However dark the day, the sun is out!

5 More Things About Me pt. 5

Thursday, February 16, 2017

July 6, 2015

I have this thing with bare ankles. Unless it is WARM (pushing 80+), I need mine covered. Pants must be boot cut.

I don't watch previews if I can help it. Same goes for books. I read and watch based off of recommendations or go by what looks good.

I make up names for people. Sometimes it'll be an adjective or two. Other times it will be a name that I think fits them. Occasionally I refer to them as a person that they remind me of. I do this with real people, movie stars, and even characters in books. It's never mean, but always intentional.

My dream is to have a dining room table that is ALWAYS cleared off unless it's actively being used. You know people that have a tablecloth or a center piece or even just a "scrubbed table"? I want to be one of those people.

In a room full of people, I will gravitate towards the group of middle aged women. This has been true my entire life. It's also true online. Three of my dearest friends are closer in age to (and perhaps even older than) my Mom and were shocked to learn that I was only in my 20s.  I can remember being 3 years old and getting asked if I would prefer to play with the children. I had to assure my aunts that I would much rather sit at the table with them.

Your turn! What don't I know about YOU?

It's been over a year since we've done a round of Ask & Answer. Send me some questions and I'll bring that feature back! The questions can be serious or silly. If you're new, learn more HERE.

A Library Haul

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


There are two places that I go "for me": church and the library. Both have obvious functions and they are by far my favorite places to go.

When I go to the library, sometimes I'm in a hurry. I might be armed with a list, I might be swinging by just to drop off something that's due, or I might be running in to pick up a hold that came in. Other times, I can take it slow. I'll wander around looking for just the right books to take home. Depending on the day, my visit to the library may differ, but I always come away with at least a book or two to dig into.

I'll be telling you about my 2017 Reading Challenge soon enough, but today, I wanted to tell you about a little library game that I play. I don't know what to call it, so I'll just explain. This is the game that inspired me to become a reader. My sister and I played it just last week.

This nameless game is great for getting out of reading ruts. It challenges you to read things you might not normally read AND it gives you an excuse to talk about books with someone else. In order to play this game you just need two things: a library and a friend.

The rules are simple. The game begins by you asking someone to pick out a few books for you. They can put as much time into it as they choose. They can read descriptions, flip through the book, or make a choice based on some previous knowledge they have. OR They can select the book simply by looking at the cover. However they do it, they need to attempt to find books that give them some indication that you will enjoy them.

Once the books are chosen, you commit to read at least three chapters of each book. Once you reach the third chapter you are free to abandon the book if it's not for you. You don't have to have a "good" reason. If your friend's selections draws you in, keep reading!

After that, you and your friend can talk about their selections. They can tell you WHY they chose it for you. You can tell them why you kept reading or what caused you to toss it aside. Hopefully, you'll enjoy the books your friend chooses with you in mind and maybe even convince your friend that THEY would enjoy them too.

This very game is responsible for the place reading currently has in my life. It was 2013. I was recovering from missing my best friend and her kids like CRAZY. I had spent six months going back and forth between their house and mine helping my friend take care of her brand new baby, his older sister, and their house. All of a sudden, my time was my own again and I was beside myself.

I missed the kids. I couldn't seem to stop thinking through my day in terms of snacks and naps and feeding times. I missed my friend and our chats at the end of the day after the kids were tucked away into bed.

My Mom went to the library and I asked her if she'd get a few books for me. I didn't make any requests. I hadn't really been reading much during those six months and I didn't even know what I was in the mood to read.

She came back bearing three books that were completely unfamiliar. I didn't know the authors and I didn't know a thing about any of the books. She said, "Pick one. Give it three chapters before you decide to quit." and then she walked away. I spent the next month making my way through those books that neither one of us knew anything about. I haven't stopped since.

Last week, I asked my sister if she wanted to play. I explained how it worked and she decided that it was too fun to pass up. She chose two books and brought them to the place where I was browsing.

I'll invite you to play a little game now: of the three books pictured in this post, I chose one because of the cover and the other two are the ones my sister chose for me. Of the two she chose for me, one is one I wouldn't ever pick up and the other is one that I would choose based on the cover alone. Care to guess which is which? Go ahead!

Okay...Here are the answers:


Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister // The book my sister chose for me that I would choose for myself.

I know nothing about Dorothy Parker other than that her name is vaguely familiar. As for Meister, I've never heard ANYTHING about her in my life. The colors and font come together making this book look like something I would snatch off the shelf in a heartbeat.


Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum // The book my sister chose for me that I would never pick up. 

It's something about the hands belonging to a child. If I had to guess what this one is about, I'd say it has something to do with those Amish stories. It looks sad and the falling petals make me think of tragedy. 

Everything I Don't Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri // The book I chose for myself based on the cover alone.

The title caught my eye. When I pulled it off of the shelf, I knew it was for me. It reminds me of a piece of writing being edited, there is a tea cup, and again with the font...I have high hopes!


This game has been on my mind because I recently put one of my Mom's picks for me back in 2013 back into her own hands. I've mentioned it over the years, but the time hadn't been "right" until now. She read the first one and has since read the next two or three books in the series!

Some other discoveries I've made this way include: Emily and Einstein and Minding Frankie.

I haven't started on any of these books yet, but I'll be sure to share what I think when I'm done.

Does this sound like a game you would like to play?

What places make you happy?

What did you bring home on your last trip to the library?

Letters At The Grocery Store

Friday, February 10, 2017

January 11, 2017

Today seemed like a good day for another installment of letters. This round was inspired by a recent trip to the grocery store. The picture above has NOTHING to do with anything. It's just pretty and one of my most recent shots. Here goes...

Dear Lady With The Cart Full of Kids,

I heard you correcting your son and I gave you the smile I give to every mother who looks like she needs it. Your words rang in my ears for hours afterwards. "Personal space, son." Those three words say it all. I wanted to high five you.

Dear Lady With The Giant Bottle Of Wine In Your Cart,

Yes, I did a double take. I've never seen a bottle of wine that large. How long does it take you to drink it? Is it THAT good? Is grocery store wine ever good? Carry on. I was just trying to get to the throat coat tea. Yes, you heard that correctly.

Dear Meat Counter Guys,

Thanks for being so kind. I appreciate your good attitudes and your willingness to see me walk away happy. One little piece of advice though...Learn how to identify the different meats and cheeses once the labels are off. I didn't have the heart to correct you and you sent me away with the wrong ham.

Dear Mr. Greeter Man,

I see you almost every time I go to the store. One of these days we're going to have to swap stories. It doesn't seem to matter what time I go shopping, you are there. Sometimes we say a quick hello or goodbye, but we usually just smile and nod. I see you. I appreciate the way you keep up the entryway. When you're chatting with customers, I wonder who struck up the conversation and if they're people you know. Thanks for all you do, I know it can't be easy.

Update: After posting this I discovered a link-up, so of course I'm joining in! Link up with Kristin.

Have any letters you'd like to "send"? 

What kinds of things do you notice when you're out shopping?

February Morning

Thursday, February 09, 2017

I wrote these words on Tuesday morning. These are the kinds of pieces I've been writing more of over the last few years. They're the kind of pieces that might be junk, but I've decided to put this one out there. 

December 4, 2010

I was up at 5 to take my sister into work this morning. It was her day to start drive-thru training. After dropping her off, I crawled back into bed and started playing around on my ipad. I ended up searching for an essay by Virginia Woolf titled “Street Haunting” that promised to tell the story of the time she used buying a pencil as an excuse to take an evening walk. It was only last summer that I finally got around to reading Woolf. I’m enthralled with mental illnesses, but also terrified of them. It’s almost as though they’re catching. I’m not sure if these kinds of conditions come through in people’s writing, but I tend to believe that they do. People with mental illnesses have the burden of internalizing the things that they observe. The terror and sadness and overwhelm that follow can surely not be pushed aside when they hold a pencil in their hand or hover their fingers over a keyboard. In a lot of ways, I think mental illnesses make better writers out of people who may have otherwise overlooked the details necessary to take a piece of writing to the place where it can actually move its reader.

Whatever the case, the essay was interesting. It circled around and around and came back to a place where it will leave every reader thinking their own thoughts. Those kinds of hanging endings have become my favorites. She tied in all kinds of things that I didn’t expect. Things like memories, identity, beauty, philosophy, the power of books, duty, the longing to be carefree, and the idea of home were used to illustrate her observations. Each one driven, of course, by the hunt for a single pencil. I moved from my bed, to the kitchen, to my chair by the window in the front room to read this single piece. I enjoyed it and like every good essay, it inspired me to write my own long before I was even done reading it.

In my room, the curtains were closed, but the light was starting to come in. It was just after 6:30 and the house was quiet. The only sound was that of the traffic traveling along the highway. I heard the distinct rumble of diesel engines. The noise has to travel through an entire neighborhood to get to us, but it always does. When there are no sirens and the neighborhood isn’t making noises of its own, the sound reminds me of the ocean.

I moved into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I put the kettle on and placed a tea bag into a mug. As the water heated, I read a few more sentences. She gave me a chuckle over the part about the dwarf lady seeking a pair of shoes. They had a different way of addressing things in those days. It's  a way that would not go over now, I am sure. By the time my tea was ready to drink, I gathered the mug, my ipad, and my blanket and headed for my chair in the living room.

Opening the curtains, I settled in for the rest of the essay. I noticed that I couldn’t hear the traffic at all in the front room. Now, everything was truly quiet. No matter how hard I listened, there was nothing to hear. Only Woolf’s words broke the silence. Words on a little screen glowing with its own light. I read on, holding my cup of tea in my hands, only pausing occasionally to take a sip. The sky got brighter and brighter and settled into the shade of grey that it will be today. As the end of the essay got nearer and nearer, I found, that like Woolf herself, I was taking a walk I didn’t want to end. The bit about being driven by “the rod of duty” and the idea that “if we could stand there where we were six months ago, should we not be again as we were then – calm, aloof, content?” really spoke to me. There was something to her words. We do go about saying - as she wrote in this essay - “Really I must –“ , in our hurry to do the next thing. We do seek to find happinesses we have known before only to find that things aren’t quite the way we had remembered them. It seems to me that the question she was trying to get her readers to ask is, “Must we?”. The hope she helped me to discover is “the beauty is there to behold.” This was a bit surprising to me since the words she used to take readers toward the end of her piece were not full of hope, but of uncertainty. Still, I finished the piece being certain. Certain of the power of words. Certain of the worth of writing them down, even if only one volume is created and a single copy ends up in the hands of one person. Certain that home is a good place to be and that buying a pencil is a worthy excuse for a walk on a winter evening. Certain that looking around and observing is never a waste of time or energy.

Hours have gone by. I’ve since shared her essay with Kiki, chatted with my Mom, gathered the dirty laundry, taken a picture of my backyard for Renee, eaten a piece of peanut butter toast, tidied the kitchen, and posted a recipe for chai tea lattes to my blog. The day is pressing on toward noon and Woolf’s words are still ringing in my ears. They are still saying what they have to say. I’m listening. 

Best Books of 2016

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

2016 was an interesting year for reading. I read a pretty wide variety of books, but I found myself in quite a few reading ruts. It may have been because my reading year got off to such a good start that certain parts of the year had a difficult time keeping up.

2016 was the year that I stumbled on a few books that had never been on my radar (Mansfield Park and Virginia Woolf), finally read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, collected the rest of the books I needed to begin my Harry Potter Marathon, and picked up a few books that people have been raving about for years (Gaudy Night, The Lake House, and Secrets of a Charmed Life).  

There were some doozies and there were some four and five stars doled out too. Here are the books that I'm setting aside as my top ten.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers - My Mom is responsible for my new-found love of Sayers. I read several of her books at the end of 2015 and into the beginning of 2016. She writes in such a way that I actually find myself craving more of her work (this only really happens with Fitzgerald and Mary Higgins Clark). Harriet Vane is the character responsible for drawing me in. She's a writer, has a love interest without totally losing her mind, and tells it like it is. Gaudy Night is mystery, literary, and holds the magic that the middle of the 20th Century is famous for.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Everything I thought about this book was wrong. I read it because my friend Hannah told me I HAD to and I'm so glad that she did. If you've shied away from this book because you think it's a depressing story about a desperate orphan, put those thoughts right out of your mind. It's sooooo much more and it's sooooo good. It's the perfect book to read in January, just saying.

Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick - I picked this YA novel up because of the cover. It's the cheesiest book in this round up, but I absolutely truly enjoyed it. It takes place in New England during the dead of winter and is penned by a women who LOVES books.

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell - This was a new release in 2016. It's probably the "darkest" book I read this year, but it's not TOO dark. It's set in New Orleans and does a wonderful job at showcasing what can happen when an author simply asks "What if?" with a pen in her hand. This book will not be for everyone, but it isn't because of how Cantrell dealt with the themes that she decided to address with this book. It's a book that we need to read. Fiction can help us think through issues in a way that is a little less threatening.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff - This may be my FAVORITE book (I'll tell you about my favorite novel later on) of 2016. I hauled it out to my garden spot in March where I sat in my camp chair with my back against the warm house. Joanna holds NOTHING back. This book is about working in publishing, writing dreams, Salinger, New York, and starting life on your own. It will make you laugh, it will make you nod your head, and it may make you want to move to New York. I loved it. 

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks - This is one series that I never read when I was growing up and I have no idea why. I want EVERY child to read it. I passed it on to my sister and she enjoyed it just as much as I did. She brought it with her to SC and had our 20 something cousins digging their old copies out. It's well written. It's entertaining. And a British mother wrote it. I'm just sad I didn't get to it sooner.

The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker by Maeve Brennan - This is the perfect kind of book to keep on your end table so that you can dig into it when you're in the mood for a short essay. These kinds of books are a peek at what blogging would have been like in what I consider the "golden ages" of writing. Brennan is a hoot. It took me a while to come around to her style, but once I did, I couldn't get enough.

Rediscovering Holiness by J.I. Packer - Packer brings the grandfather persona to the table of theology. His writing style is so easy to approach and his words will give you just the kick in the pants you need. This book makes a great companion to his other book Keep In Step With The Spirit. Together, they will help you to get to the bottom of what you believe about being a Christian. Rediscovering Holiness set me straight on a few things and encouraged me to seek God's grace. I know that's generic, but let me put this out there: In a world obsessed with personality types and self awareness, Packer is a breath of fresh air. He acknowledges who we are and who we tend to be while pointing the way to discovering HOW to overcome the sin tendencies that are unique to you. Read it. 

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf - I had a difficult time deciding whether to include Austen's Mansfield Park or this book. I decided to go with Woolf's book simply because I think she needs more cheerleaders than Austen does. That said, this review is a two for one deal. Mansfield Park is currently tied with Persuasion as my favorite Austen, so you should definitely read it. Back to Woolf. The Voyage Out is the perfect summer read. Read it when the days are hotter than hot. It's the story of a group of people who all end up on vacation together. As vacation goes, nothing happens, but a ton does. This was my intro to Woolf and I'm glad because I enjoyed it so much that I'm sure to be back for more.

Lady Jane Grey by Faith Cook - If there is one thing I would like to change about my reading life, it's that I would read more non-fiction. I'm super interested in history, but finding credible authors is so difficult that I have all but given up. Paige put this book in my hands after asking if I would be willing to write a piece on Grey for Reformation Day. Cook is an excellent writer. Her book made the research phase of my project exciting and enjoyable. Now I'm interested in Tudor history. And that's really saying something.

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner - Everyone has been talking about this book. I tend to avoid books like that, but then, eventually someone will convince me. Read this book and you'll know exactly why people are raving about it. It tells the story of two women who grew up in England during WWII. It's the story of England, those two women, their mother, life in the country side, and so much more. I'm excited to read more Meissner now.

The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser - This book is probably my favorite novel of 2016. It wasn't particularly literary, but the themes have STUCK with me. It takes place in 1960s Atlanta, GA. The pages of this book bridge the gap between rich and poor, black and white, and what it is to live in the face of tragedy. I still find myself thinking about the characters and picturing scenes from the book in my mind. I copied down some lessons from this book and I have no doubt that I'll be going over them for years to come.

Narrowing it down to 10 titles was tough. There are easily another 7 or 8 books that I could add to the list. Needless to say, if you're looking for a book to read, let me know. I'd LOVE to help you find just the thing!

Have you read or been meaning to read any of these books?

What were some of the best books you read in 2016?

Chai Tea Lattes

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Back in 2014, I reviewed a copy of Joy the Baker's second cookbook. One of the first recipes I made from it is one that I am finally going to share with you today! At the time, I wasn't sure if I was "supposed" to, but enough time has passed that I'm SURE Joy would love for you to have the recipe even if you haven't bought the book. 

Chai is something that has gained a lot of ground in the culinary world. We put it in cakes and cookies. We love the flavors so much that we try to find places for them in all kinds of baked and brewed treats. 

My sister and I have a thing for chai just like so many other people do! When we have the opportunity to try out a new coffee shop, we'll give them the chai test. We'll order one (or two) and see how their version measures up against Joy's and the one at the coffee shop that we both used to work at. How well they do can determine whether or not we'll be back. 

Since moving to this city, we've actually made it our goal to visit all of the shops JUST to try their chai. It's been a fun tradition and I think we'll keep it up wherever we go. It's less about the test and more about the time with my sister for me at this point, but it is still a lot of fun. 

On the best days, I'll head to the kitchen and make us a batch of Joy's to remind us what a GOOD one tastes like. Our friend Aubry has joined in on the craze now. I may or may not have sent some with her "to-go" on a few occasions. 

There is a secret to this recipe that MAKES this the best. I can pretty much promise you that you'll enjoy it more than any coffee shop version you've ever had.  

The secret is simply this: you brew your tea in milk. Of course, having a really good tea helps too. Our favorite is "India Spice Chai" by Celestial Seasonings. 

Joy's version calls for quite a bit of sugar. And coffee. I like the coffee, but my sister doesn't, so I cut the sugar way back (about 1 1/2 Tbsp) and only add the coffee to mine (about 1/3 cup). I'm putting our version of Joy's recipe below and I want you to feel just as free as I did to adjust it to YOUR tastes. 

To achieve the frothy coffee house style foam, simply twirl a whisk by rubbing your hands together (like a boy scout trying to start a fire). You'll want to do this during the reheat section of the recipe, just before you pour it into your mugs. 

adapted from "Homemade Decadence" by Joy Wilson
serves 2

2 cups milk
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 chai tea bags
3/4 cup hot coffee

Heat milk and sugar over medium high heat, stirring constantly until very warm. This will take about 4 minutes.

Turn off heat, add the tea bags, and cover. Let steep for 15 minutes.

Remove tea bags from milk and reheat this milk tea mixture if necessary.

Split the coffee between two mugs and top each mug off with the milk tea.



You can use white sugar, brown sugar, or a mixture of the two. 

My favorite tea to use is "India Spice Chai" by Celestial Seasonings.

If you choose to omit the all of the coffee,  simply add an extra 3/4 cup milk and reduce sugar to 1 1/2 Tbsp.

I know it's been a long time since I've shared a recipe around here. I hope you enjoy this one! If you decide to make it, I'd love to hear about it. It's perfect for rainy days, winter days, and any day you've got some time with the ones you love! 

Do you take your chai with or without coffee?

What's your go-to drink to "judge" a coffee shop by?

What It Means To Be An ENFJ

Friday, February 03, 2017

April 30, 2011
Remember when we talked about personality types allll the time? I mean, there were some people whose blog design dedicated more space to explaining their personality type than it did to their actual name. In those days, personality types were a way for us to identify with and understand one another.

They're still around, but not to the degree they were then. Now, we're talking about the enneagram. Have you heard about that yet? I took a test, but I couldn't figure out how to read the results. So, let's go back to Myers-Briggs for a post, okay? If you haven't taken the test, you can do that HERE or HERE.

I'm a pretty solid ENFJ.

Prior to taking the test I always considered myself to be a definite introvert. I love people, but I'm not ever going to put myself into the center of a crowd. At first, I always gave disclaimers when I would share my type (sometimes I still do). They went something like, "I'm an ENFJ. I'm a definite 'I' by birth. 'E' was trained into me by my Mother." The rest of the description made sense, but I just couldn't understand why the tests always planted me on the "E" side of things.

Whether the "E" was trained into me or came naturally, I've come to understand that the tests weren't wrong. I'm an ENFJ and that means:

I'm an extrovert. I'm someone who doesn't really like to be alone or do things by myself. Being with other people is how I recharge.

I'm intuitive. I listen with my soul. I get people and situations and notice things that a lot of other people totally miss.

I feel deeply. Sentimental, sappy, emotional. Whatever you want to call it, I take things to heart and don't let them go very easily.

I'm a judge. This quality often gets me labeled as a pessimist (something else that I think is HILARIOUS), when in reality I take facts (right along with everything else) to heart. I cannot ignore them and I'm always processing them to weigh people and situations.

If I was going to describe what it is to be an ENFJ in eight words, I would say that the ENFJ is the person who LOVES people. ENFJs care. They like being with people and their lives are pretty much ordered around seeking to understand and help them. The ENFJ's downfall is caring too much and feeling too deeply. That may sound like a humble brag, but it is most definitely not. Those qualities are rooted in pride and can lead to depression if left unchecked. I think the "J" can come out as harshness sometimes too. And the "E" can downright irritate the "I"s in our lives.

Every personality type has its passions, strengths, and weaknesses. I love learning more about myself and as well as what makes the people around me tick. The best part about the different types is figuring out WHY certain people tend to behave certain ways. One book I recommend is J.I. Packer's "Rediscovering Holiness". That book added a new dimension to my obsession interest in this whole personality type business. Packer helped me to think more clearly about the grace that God grants us to overcome the sins that the very natures He gave us tend to draw us toward.

Now, it's your turn!

What personality type are YOU? 

How would you describe your type? 

Have you figured out the enneagram yet? 

What I'm Into: January 2017

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The beginning of January found me eager and ready for everything that was ahead. Christmas and New Years gave me just the amount of time that I needed to recharge, regroup, and prepare for the new schedule that would begin with the new year. The main change that came with January was the fact that my brother and sister would be rehearsing for three different shows. In addition to the regular events of daily life, rehearsal schedules have a way of filling up the corners. 

We've stayed afloat! God has been good to grant us health and the ability to sleep well. There have been plenty of home cooked meals. We've even had time for the occasional movie night. For the first time in my life, I'm actually sad to see January go. Yes, it is COLD. Yes, we are still covered in snow and ice. Yes, we probably have months of winter ahead of us. Somehow, I finally have what Wallace Stevens calls "a mind for winter" and I'm praising God for that mind and the joy that this winter has brought to me! 

You ready to hear about what I've been into?

What I'm Watching

We watched several movies: Wildflower, Fannie's Last Supper, A Song for the Season, The Finest Hours, Nancy Drew, South Pacific (Harry Connick Jr. version), and the old Witness For the Prosecution.

We got started on several TV series: the latest Sherlock, Series of Unfortunate Events, and Love Bird. 

As far as I know, they're all on Netflix (with the exception of Sherlock). I'm most excited about Love Bird, which happens to be a foreign show my friend Erin recommended to me. It's Turkish and also features a fair amount of French. 

From My Reading Chair

I'll have a post coming up with reviews of each of the books that I read in January, but for now, I'll tell you that I finished four books, made progress on two, and abandoned two. 

Two of the books that I read featured a man named "Teddy Hennessy" ("The Season of Second Chances" by Diane Meier and "A Week in Winter" by Maeve Binchy). Weird, huh? The men were both early to mid thirties and were Momma's boys. One was Irish and one was from New England. 

The last book that I finished was Louisa May Alcott's "The Inheritance". If you need a good, quick book, grab it. 

I'm currently reading the 5th Harry Potter book. I took a break from Harry Potter because my sister wasn't in a reading mood. She's back in the game now. Since we're reading them together, I plan to finish this one before picking up whatever comes next on my to-read stack. 

In the Kitchen

My favorite thing about our January schedule was that I was able to cook MOST nights. I've realized that cooking dinner is pretty much THE thing that makes me feel centered. I know that's silly, but if I can't cook or haven't cooked in a while, things just feel "off". I'm not sure if that's part of what God used to help me get through this month, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to keep people fed. 

We ate lots of soup and bread this month. I've been in a baking mood too, so I there were cinnamon rolls and cake just because. Pizza and salad also made a regular appearance. If it was up to me, chili and cornbread would take its place in February. 

Some of the dinners were quick: sloppy joes with tater tots and fruit, biscuits and gravy with fruit, tacos, black bean "taco" salad, and the chicken and dumplings I'm about to tell you about below. 

Some of them took a little more effort: enchiladas with all the fixings, spaghetti, steak and gravy, breakfast casserole, and waikiki meatballs. 

The newest gadget is our Instant Pot. I was super skeptical. But then, Marra and Terri told me about the chicken and pork chops they made in 15 and 20 minutes. Plus, Tracy got one and got rid of her crockpot. So....My Mom was right. Again. So far, we've made a pork roast, a beef roast, "baked" potatoes, and Chicken and Dumplings. The potatoes took 25 minutes. I love baking a whole bunch of potatoes because you can do so much with them: hashbrowns, baked potato soup, twice baked potatoes, add them to breakfast casseroles, and you could probably do potato salad too. What should we make in this contraption next? 

I'm trying my hand at making meat go further and repurposing roast leftovers (my latest success was mock-philly cheese steaks with that roast beef we had left over). 

What I'm Listening To

This month, I've been listening to the BBC's Radio 4 Extra while I cook dinner. At first, I was listening to whatever was live. Then, I got hooked on the audio drama of Dorothy Sayers's "Busman's Honeymoon". I think it has expired, but you can listen to "Little Women" as well as "Poirot"

I've also been listening to "From the Front Porch" which is my current favorite book podcast. 

Lately I can't seem to stop recommending Piper's sermon series on the book of Ruth. Several of my friends are listening to it and I've been listening to it again too. I've been recommending it for six years now, so you know it's good! 

And...Lecrae's old album "Rebel" when I'm out and about.

It's the beginning of another month and we've got a good thing going. Our routine is predictable and yet flexible. It should be good!

I'm linking up with Leigh who is the genius behind these What I'm Into posts.

What have you been watching, reading, cooking, and listening to? 

On the First of February

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

February 1, 2017

I've been writing more, just like I have over the winters of the last five years. For whatever reason, my blogging discipline always suffers when I enter that zone. My mind swarms with ideas, but my creative juices are poured out into word documents and whatever notebook I'm currently filling. I'm here today with my third mug of hot water of the morning, so let's have another one of our chats. 

I started the new year off by downloading the Spotify app. This is at least the third time I've tried to give Spotify a go. I still prefer the variety Pandora provides without any work from my end. BUT, one month in and my favorite discovery is the "Weekly Playlist" they make for me. It's spot on. Last week it was all peaceful piano. This week's list has been smooth jazz. Now I just need to remember to save the songs I especially like each week.  Do you use Spotify or Pandora? I'd love to hear any tips you have! 

Last weekend, we went to a going away party for a guy that was in a Christmas show alongside my brother and sister. I got to talking with his Mom and it turns out that we used to live in the house that his grandma's sister had built. When I was a kid, his great-grandparents lived down the street and I used to visit with his great-grandpa on my way to town. It's strange how small this world is sometimes! That chance meeting is going to stay with me for a while. It's the kind of happy wave I delight in riding. 

I finally talked myself into going to a sport night that a new friend invited me to join in on. I even talked myself into playing pick-up basketball for the first time in years. I forgot how good it feels to run up and down the court and to play defense. The volleyball afterwards is fun, but the basketball caught me by surprise. Do you ever get to play sports? 

Ever since last fall I've been baking bread every chance I get. It's a simple no-knead bread that my friend Evy taught me to make four winters ago. Mix 3 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp yeast, 2 tsp salt, and 2 cups warm water in a large mixing bowl with a plastic spoon. Put a lid on it and wait at least 1 hour (or all day or overnight or however long). Turn it out onto a floured surface and shape it into a round loaf. Bake it at 450* on a parchment paper lined baking pan (DO NOT SKIP THE PARCHMENT PAPER) for 30-40 minutes. ENJOY. This goes super well with a hearty soup or salad. Or toasted with cheese. You can't lose. 

Oh, spotify just threw in some gospel rap. Sho Baraka's "Here, 2016" is a welcome addition to the playlist! I've been listening to Lecrae's old album "Rebel" when I'm running around town. So far, I have the intro song memorized and now I'm working on "Got Paper" because it's too good not to. Do you ever memorize raps? So much of my Scripture memory happened by way of the rappers I've listened to since jr high. My Mom calls them mini-sermons. I call them gooood. 

Louisa May Alcott has me thinking about kindness. Do you know how rare a genuinely kind person is? I think that is the quality that I admire most in people. I always thought it was loyalty or honesty, but it's definitely kindness. I'm glad I know that now. What about you, what do you admire or value in a person? 

Well, I'm off for now. Maybe I'll be back soon! 

What's on your mind today?