Saving My Life: Spring Edition

As per the phrase by Barbara Brown Taylor, this is a pictorial look at the things saving my life throughout spring.

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Working on my Find Your Fade shawl (now about 85% completed!) at our friends’ during a recent music rehearsal. Their home sits near the Illinois River and is as tranquil as it looks.


A house in our neighborhood usually has their blooming dogwood tree decorated with plastic Easter eggs and this year was no exception. Now that the blooms and Easter have both been celebrated, I still feel myself smiling as I drive past this uplifting tree.


When visiting Seattle a few summers ago, my main souvenir was purchasing this Longchamp purse at the flagship Nordstrom store downtown. The salesman said many ladies in Seattle carry them since they are weather resistant, so loading up my bag with all my earthly possessions I need for the day to carry during the spring rainy season in the Ozarks has been a lifesaver.


After finishing Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott last month, I was inspired to bake a (low sugar) classic apple pie. It had been years since I last baked a pie from scratch, so I was pleased with how well both the crust and filling turned out! And what better time to do so than for Easter Sunday lunch, where we hosted our favorite octogenarian friend for ham, homemade potato casserole, asparagus, and bakery rolls after church.


The line from On the Road Again by Willie Nelson, “The life I love is making music with my friends,” sums up this photo perfectly.  Our church family, namely our praise team family, means the world to The Optometrist and me and it saddens us greatly that one of our dear friends is soon moving away. In light of his forthcoming departure, snapping this photo of our people before a recent Sunday morning late service was a moment I wanted to capture for ever and always.

What are things saving your life this spring?

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Oh those wonderful snow days

One of the benefits of working in higher education are the days when you, like your students, have a snow day. Yet, since we’re nestled among the Ozark hills in Oklahoma, snow days are a bit of a wild card. Some winters we’ve been pummeled with snow and ice, others have found us staring at that which is barren and stark. So far, this winter has been the latter of the two, and I had been longing for a bit of snow to transform the landscape and give me time to stay home to knit, fix good food, and cozy up by the fire. With the most recent winter weather systems, my wish came true – two snow days over the past two weeks!

The view of our back porch and yard

We often marvel at how many of our neighbors leave their garage doors open, practically year-round. Last week’s snow didn’t seem to deter two of them.

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Snow knitting/crafting

I finished knitting my second pair of socks! These are for the Optometrist and fit him wonderfully!
Pattern: Simple Skyp Socks with the Fish Lips Kiss Heel
Yarn: Premier Wool Free Sock Yarn in Pueblo

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And a quick little knit for me.
Pattern: Bandana Cowl by Purl Soho
Yarn: Tosh Vintage (Madelinetosh) in Tart

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After my grandma passed away I inherited her sewing machine and have had great hopes of developing my seamstress capabilities. I sadly discovered many of the needed functions of this older machine no longer worked, so I made an unexpected purchase of a new Singer Classic Heavy Duty machine just after the new year. My immediate inspiration was the Sock Sack, a little bag with a divider to separate two balls of sock yarn, which had been mentioned by several knitters on Ravelry. I, too, was inspired to buy the pattern and thought it would be a breeze. Well…as a novice beginner I now realize this project was probably too industrious, but I had the gumption to persevere and so I did!

Bird’s eye view looking into the sock sack with the zippered divider separating two cakes of yarn as I work on Spectra. I think my favorite parts are the little snaps that guide each ball of yarn, preventing them from getting tangled up.

Along the way I ripped out many stitches, rewound many bobbins, re-threaded many needles (accidentally broke a needle, too), pondered over the directions with The Optometrist a great deal, and rejoiced when my (non-abstract) brain would finally visualize the desired result. In addition to this process teaching me patience with myself as I learned a new skill, it also provided me with a crash-course on learning my new machine, and the end reward of successfully finishing a project I will actually use.

The pattern comes in three sizes (this is the medium size) so the next time I find myself near a fabric store, I’ll pick up another yard of material to make the smaller size, and see if the second one will be easier and more polished than the first!

Snow cooking

Our snow days also provided me with some leisurely time to fix a hot, hearty meal, with enough leftovers to enjoy later. All of these were new recipes we tried and enjoyed!

One-Pot Lemon Chicken

Chili Pasta Bake (originally found via Pinterest) and Roasted brussel sprouts from Midwest Living. I had to do a bit of finagling to cook both at the same time, since the recipes called for differing oven temperatures. I covered the chili bake with aluminum foil when it was almost through baking and put the brussel sprouts in a little earlier than called for. After the pasta came out, the sprouts still weren’t cooked, so I put them under the broiler to cook under direct heat for a few more minutes. That did the trick!



Homemade version of chicken tostadas

Directions/Ingredients:
Boil thawed chicken tenders in hot water (around 4 cups) approximately 10 minutes. I added a teaspoon or so of chicken bullion granules to flavor the water a bit more. After cooked, remove chicken from liquid. In a bowl shred with two forks and season with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder. Stir to mix well.
Warm corn tostadas according to package directions.
Layer: (heated) refried beans, shredded cheddar cheese, shredded chicken, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and drizzle with Cholula. The half avocado can be eaten by itself as a side, or pieces can be added on top (I did a little bit of both).

Looking ahead this week, there’s snow in the forecast for Wednesday…maybe I’ll get another snow day?

Birthday Happiness

After celebrating another 365 days journeying around the sun last week, I discovered what an added joy it is to share birthdays, and any other day, with one you love. I took the day off work and my sweet optometrist treated me to a special day in the city! First stop: lunch. I dined on a most tasty blackened tilapia sandwich at a little cafe, which happens to adjoin my favorite used book store. You can guess what came after lunch. I was so pleased to buy:
In This Mountain by Jan Karon, the only Mitford book I somehow didn’t possess in my collection.
The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn, my favorite food memoir I devoured (all puns intended) while in grad school. It will make a lovely addition to my bookcase.
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, a sweet children’s story I loved as a little girl, with my original copy lent to a trio of sisters who never returned it. I am victorious in reclaiming it!
Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris, the wild card in the bunch. I read the first of the True Blood series years ago, which I found rather gratuitous on many fronts, so I hope this series will prove differently.

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Next came a visit to a local art museum, where neither of us had visited before. No photos were allowed on the inside, so we snapped this photo at the entrance. While Native American and Western/cowboy art aren’t my favorite genre, we were both terribly impressed with the scope and diligence employed in displaying, maintaining, and connecting this collection to the public.

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We ended our day with dinner at the cutest little Italian restaurant downtown. Their homemade salad dressing, hand crafted pasta, inviting ambience (aprons strung as curtains, family artifacts mounted on the walls) and scrumptious tiramisu were the perfect end to my birthday-day.
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On my birthday I also decided to begin reading through the Bible again. This was a goal I achieved throughout 2011 and have felt spiritually aimless these past few months, so I found my 365 daily devotional NIV Bible and set to work! How much more balanced I am as I begin my morning in the Word, journeying yet again through the Creation and early stories of God’s relationship with men and women on earth.

Yesterday, this passage stood out to me:
[After Lot was told by two angels that Sodom was going to be destroyed and he needed to leave] When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. ~ Genesis 19:16. How many times has the Lord prompted me to go and flee, and like Lot, I falter or second guess what needs to be done? Probably too often, truth be told. This awareness prompts me to be thankful for His grace that takes me by the hand and leads me out of one bad situation into the safe place where I need to be to avoid destruction and ruin. Yes and amen.

Thus begins another day of life, work, love, music, and prayer.

Becoming

As laundry churns in the dryer, I have time to reflect on my day, week, and month. Although this marks the 5th week of the semester, yesterday was the first day I can say I’ve actually had time to sit at my desk and think about something other than what needs to be done next. I’m a planner to the core and therefore thrive on being busy and having a full schedule, especially when I know I’m helping people, but a reprieve from the hustle and bustle is sure nice every now and then.

School resuming also comes with stability and routine in other areas of my life, with some new additions. Knowing my friend Jaclyn was moving to California to begin seminary left a vacancy for our Sunday School class to have a teacher. I knew about her move for quite some time and had begun praying to see if the Lord would have me step into this position, which He has allowed me to do! Our young ladies group recently began studying Radical by David Platt, where we are being challenged to take Scripture at its core, apply it to our lives, and set aside our Christian comforts we so often think we “deserve.” I’ve also been dually challenged and encouraged by Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey by Margaret Feinberg, which I finished last week. My two take-aways from many gems are as follows:
1.) The realization God plants seeds in the rocky areas of my life and brings forth fruit. It may not be as well-matured and beautiful, but He is able to use every area of my life for His glory.
2.) Even while wandering in the dessert, “God gave his people a taste of the better things that were to come” (p.142). Though the Israelites had not yet arrived in the Promised Land, God was still providing sweet nourishment along the way.

Other lessons God is teaching me:
1.) do I agree in knowing my sole purpose on this earth is to give Him glory?
2.) do I truly believe God answers prayer? My prayers?
3.) do I believe He can/will change the hearts of those who do not believe, for whom I long to trust Jesus as their Savior?
4.) living with a more generous spirit in how I spend time investing in the lives of others w/o strings attached // spending my money in wholesome ways w/o the worry of there not being enough.

And a constancy:
“I will cause my people and their homes around my holy hill to be a blessing. And I will send showers, showers of blessings, which will come just when they are needed.” ~ Ezekiel 34:26 (NLT)

Furthermore, my spirit has been encouraged and stimulated through a new community group I’ve joined. Most of our group are all from the same church, but some are not, and some are seeking. I am so excited to invest myself in these people as we learn more about each other; sharing in life’s struggles and joys. It’s our desire to bring others into the fold, engaging one another in spiritual discussions, loving on seekers with the love of Jesus, caring about them simply because they have value as people. The process of learning, relearning, discovering, embedding, believing scripture, and hearing God’s voice clearly brings a thrill to my soul.

Yesterday as I drove to work I noticed the side of a storage building had been spray painted with graffiti professing true love: Jesse loves Tamie. Immediately the Lord reminded me that His love for me is not proclaimed through a roadside attraction but on my very heart.

“But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says:
‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called
you by name; you are mine’.” ~ Isaiah 43:1 (NLT)

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.” ~ Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV)

The way I view the Old Testament will forever be different because of a recent experience I am privileged to have had: attending a friend’s bat mitzvah.

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Being invited to celebrate this milestone in Allison life, her entrance into young womanhood, was a thrill in and of itself, but experiencing a full Shabbat service with Hebrew readings from the scrolls of the Torah, listening to the Temple congregants sing in modal harmonies from the prayer book, and eating bagels and lox afterward was a once in a lifetime opportunity for this Christian girl.

Later that evening I attended a local Cherokee pow-wow with friends. My senses were once again assailed, this time with tribal cries, colorful costumes, and the smells of Indian tacos.

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A bat mitzvah and a pow wow in one day? Amazing.

Another exciting re-development is that our community knitting group has restarted! Last Tuesday was our first time to meet in several months and I loved not only seeing my yarn friends, but seeing all their wonderful projects: dishcloths, baby blankets, slouchy hats, hand embroidery…all so unique, just like us. Over the weekend I paid a visit to the public library to pick up my requested copy of The Knitter’s Year: 52 Make-in-a-Week Projects-Quick Gifts and Seasonal Knits by Debbie Bliss and am pleased to have made 1 and ⅔ Christmas tree ornaments since then.

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Three separate pieces, a quick sew up the back of each piece, stack them together, run thread through the tops of all three, and voila! Now to churn out at least a dozen more from my personal knitting factory between now and December…I think I can do it!

Other recent crafty and culinary feats:

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Booties en route to baby Liam in Missouri!

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Chocolate-espresso torte made for a dessert auction at church benefiting our mission team going to East Asia. This was the first time I’ve made a torte (flourless chocolate cake…oh so decadent) and look forward to making another where I can enjoy the spoils of my labor with friends. Maybe.

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Courtesy of Emeril and Good Morning America, this butternut squash and apple soup recipe has quickly become one of my favorites and, yet again, did not disappoint.

With hints of fall in the air, the confidence of God’s leadership in all areas of my life, opportunities to be creative, and live in community with others, I am reminded of a new favorite scripture, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” ~ Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

Yes and amen.

Back to School

The last vestiges of summer:

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What a gift it was to have an entire weekend with Megan, my kindred-spirit and college accountability partner! Afternoon rain brought cooler temperatures, which allowed us to enjoy a comfortable movie night in the park (Iron Man 2).

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Faithful reminders of who God is in the collective lives of our Sunday School class.

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Out with the old MacBook, in with the new MacBook Pro!

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Finished baby blanket for friends who live in the Panhandle.

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Thanks to attending a cupcake decorating class at the public library, I came home with these: a Halloweenie swirl, ant (chocolate covered nuts) at a picnic (coconut shavings), lemon pie (yellow M&Ms), and lettuce (green frosting covered corn flakes) in dirt (Oreo crumbs).

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Another weekend blessing in the form of a visit from Aarik & Brooke. A tour of my library and taking a picture in the Y collection was a must.

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An adult lesson learned: even though you move to a new place, new friends move on to newer places. It filled me with sadness to say goodbye to my new friend Jaclyn, but send her off with blessings knowing God is going to do amazing things in and through her as she begins seminary in San Francisco. PLUS, I now have a terrific reason to travel and visit her!

After eight work weeks of four, ten-hour days and a lackluster student population on our rural campus, this week brought about the long-anticipated return of the fall semester. Seeing our library bustling with students coming and going brought a smile to my face and heart. As the new semester dawned Monday morning, I couldn’t help but remember this delightful quote from You’ve Got Mail:
Don’t you love New York in the
fall? It makes me want to buy school
supplies. I would send you a bouquet of
newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your
name and address. On the other hand,
this not knowing has its charms.

While I certainly don’t live in New York, and it was still over 100 degrees in Oklahoma today, I am reminded that fall will come again. Last week I opened my closet and told my long-sleeved pants and shirts, “I’m sorry you’ve been neglected for so long. I promise I will wear you again…I just can’t say when.” Ah, fall – marching band performances, hay rides, turning leaves, and the prospect of Christmas coming again.

And though Christmas is still four+ months away, I cling to the promise of God’s purpose in sending Jesus to this earth to be God with us every day of the year, not just on December 25. This week has been demanding, both mentally and emotionally…and I wish it were different. My heart has taken a beating, and while I desire to “live a life worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10), this has honestly been easier said than done. In the midst of my relationship turmoils, Jesus is with me. When I don’t see His hand at work, when I’m at my wits end, when I’m ready to give up He is still with me. When I don’t want Him to be with me, when I wish He would leave me alone and let me do life my way, He gently tugs on my heartstrings and says to me, “Beloved, my ways are higher than your ways. I see the big picture. Keep trusting in me.”

Two things you told me
That you are strong
And you love me.
Your Love is Strong by Jon Foreman (Psalm 62:11-12)

Yes and amen.

February Snow-cation

After enjoying the 75º temperatures on Saturday and taking a leisurely bike ride around my neighborhood, Oklahoma has experienced it’s share of winter’s wrath this week.
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Even though the sleet and snow didn’t blast into town until early Tuesday morning, the University made the decision to close campus for Tuesday late Monday afternoon. Each day since then I am filled with little bursts of happiness when I’ve received campus-wide alerts stating how the University will be closed the next day…and the next…and the next. Since I am quite the homebody this indoor exile has given me a chance to play Pioneer Woman (à la Laura Ingalls Wilder), wear my pajamas most of the day, and be creative with meals prepared at home.
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Turkey burger (a first), sweet potato fries, and a side salad.

The result of being snowbound equals saving money, but I have a feeling this will only balance out the cost of my forthcoming electric bill. Yet, it sure beats the alternative, which I have experienced in snow storms past. No heat in the winter = NO fun.

Other recent wintry days have resulted in me trying my hand at a few new recipes and projects. Thanks to my kind parents, I received a springform pan for Christmas (and a microplane grater – hurrah for kitchen accouterments!). Last month I made my first bona fide cheesecake (chocolate chip with Oreo crust) as I hosted a dinner party (another first) for our January installment of book club. It went over with flying colors!
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After my kindred-spirited friend Megan taught me how to crochet during our sophomore year in college, my post college yarn years have been more devoted to knitting and learning the necessary pattern abbreviations to slowly master this art. However, two of my fiber friends recently crocheted these cute market bags made from cotton yarn. With a little guidance from them on how to execute the pattern, I picked up my crochet hook, did a little modification to the handle and overall size, and here’s what I came up with:
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I’ve made two of these from colorful Valentinesy, cotton yarn, one of which I actually kept for my personal use (a rarity) and shopping pleasure. It has accompanied me on my two most recent Wal-Mart trips and has served as a fun conversation topic between me and the person checking out my groceries. Plus it’s eco-friendly! No more of those annoying skinny plastic produce bags that are difficult to open without licking your fingers first, and after pushing the shopping cart around Wal-Mart without gloves on, you never know what germs are crawling on your fingers from said cart. I am therefore all the more thankful my bananas and onions can happily coexist in their new cotton, germfree home.

The new year has also brought along some new exposures to books, music, TV, and movies. I have namely enjoyed:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
It’s a Book by Lane Smith (my new favorite tongue in cheek children’s book)
The Guy I’m Not Dating by Trish Perry (fun recommendation from Addie I found at our church library)
Doo-Wops & Hooligans by Bruno Mars
Downton Abbey on PBS Masterpiece
The Closer Season 1
The King’s Speech (so heartwarmingly good)

I have also sought out a practical Biblical constancy to carry in my mind and spirit each week:
– “excel in the grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7)
– understanding what it looks like to carve islands in my day of spending time with the Lord (John 10:10)
– asking myself if I have “longed for things we’d never really need” – from Fireflies and Songs by Sara Groves
– learning the difference between form and function in my walk with Christ (example: prayer (function) — bowing your head and closing your eyes while praying (form). There is nothing sacred about the form. Liberating, no?)
– “For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4 NLT)

Additionally, I have felt the Lord leading me to pursue church membership at First Baptist here in town and will make this decision official on Sunday. I feel like my recent contributions to the church choir, library committee, and hopefully an upcoming mission trip abroad are only the first of many opportunities I will have to be about my Father’s business among a local church body.

As it looks right now, my snow-cation will cease on Monday, which means I’ll put away my Pioneer Woman bonnet, change out of my jammies, and wear my librarian clothes to work instead.

This is a New Year

As 2011 begins I’m thankful for fresh, new starts. To me, this is a reminder of God’s grace in my life, continually giving me a clean slate of opportunities to know Him better. Yes and amen.

At this conclusion of 2010 I have taken a look back at books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched and reflect on those which have had compelling story lines. Out of the 70+ books I’ve read this year, the ones that have stuck in my mind are:
The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Host by Stephenie Meyer

While I haven’t watched nearly the same amount of movies, those that have made a lasting impression are:
It Might Get Loud
Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I
Inception
The Way We Were

As always, there are so many more books to read and films to watch, which I simply haven’t yet experienced. It’s always exciting to discover untapped personal treasures.

For other recent treasures, here are a few memorable moments shared with friends towards the conclusion of 2010.

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Celebrating my friend Brian’s 30th birthday, along with some of our closest college friends.

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Nothing says Christmas like a cookie exchange! My friend Alyssa and I enjoyed hosting some of our friends & work colleagues prior to Christmas break. (My Oreo bonbons were a smash hit!)

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A beautiful Oklahoma sunset.

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Fellow college music major friend Andrea and I met David Phelps (The Voice) after his Christmas concert. AMAZING! (Both the concert and getting to meet him afterward. He’s taller than he looks on TV, but let’s face it, practically everyone is bigger/taller than me…)

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How does one spend the last hour at work before the Christmas holiday? By reading Elle (Sarah reading about Sarah) and joining in on the bean bag throwing contest off of the third story of the library, of course! One of our staffers had drawn a super cute target depicting rabbits in various poses of duress. A good time was had by all.

Christmas itself was a wonderful time to take a quick trip to Silver Dollar City with mom & dad, be with family, read by the fireplace, and simply have time to sleep, which is a wonderful feeling of mind and body being restful. Yet, as much as I enjoy having time off, I equally love routine, so I’ll be glad to go back to work tomorrow. Our students return next Monday for the dawn of the spring 2011 semester and I’m excited about all it holds. After all, the best is yet to come.

This is a new year
This is a new day to rise shine, lift up your eyes
And point the way to God’s great light
New Year by Charlie Hall