Holiday Recipe Ideas

01 July 2015

We are only days away from a sunny holiday weekend and what better way to say "Happy Birthday, America" than with good food?! And in case you are still debating what to throw on the grill this weekend, here are three of our favorites!

Bacon Chutney

Dear Friends,

30 June 2015

Friends who agree with me and friends who don't. I'm writing you this letter because I am confused and heartbroken and just done. I am writing this because I love you and because I think we can do an even better job of loving each other. It's been a long time since I wrote you a letter and I wonder if you know how I really feel about you and about Jesus and about our country and about my children and all of the concerns I have for their well being.

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On Friday afternoon, I overheard someone say "Well, I guess you heard that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage." Being out of town and away from the news reel for the last few weeks has been nothing short of amazing, but it also meant I was more than a little out of touch with what was going on in the "real world". I had seen the ruling earlier in the day, but had made a conscious effort to stay away from Facebook and not to engage in any debate regarding my feelings. I know that it's a hot topic and that everyone has their own reason for believing the way they do and there isn't much chance a Bible verse or a platitude is going to sway them otherwise.

Josh and I have talked long and hard about where we fall on both the political and spiritual side of this argument and agree that where we are is a hard place to be. Within a day, there was a war being waged on our social media feeds and we couldn't do anything but sit back and watch the damage our friends were doing to each other. There was this strong part of me that thought it was better not to say anything. I am not a homosexual woman seeking marriage and I don't have a personal stake in this issue. Or do I? 

Over the weekend, I read article after article shared on Facebook and I was having a hard time identifying with a single one. I decided it was better to say nothing at all than to be perceived as something other than exactly what I am. Monday morning, I read something for the first time that was anything even remotely close to what I was feeling. I forwarded it to a few friends and family with whom I had been peacefully debating and then texted it to Josh. I told him if I were going to write a post about my feelings I would call it "SCOTUS, POTUS & Jesus." We got a good laugh out of it and talked about how that was the quickest way to alienate all the people who might be reading along. I know that most people don't want their "happy mommy blog" served with a side of politics and religion. I know this because I saw quite a few people express those thoughts rather abrasively in comments sections all over the blogosphere yesterday. And it hurt my feelings. It hurt my feelings for those people who were so upset that they had to be mean to someone they previously enjoyed reading. It hurt for the blogger who was sharing her heart in a sacred place she had created for herself. It hurt most for those people who were being personally attacked in the process. 

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I supported the Supreme Court decision on Friday and it had very little to do with my beliefs. I am a small town girl, who grew up in a world with a very narrow world view. I'm not saying there is anything inherently wrong with small towns or with conservative world views, but many times we believe what we're told without ever investigating anything for ourselves. We make assumptions and judgments without considering the lasting ramifications. I am believer. I believe the Bible was divinely inspired by a Holy God and I think His word is infallible. I think that there are a vast number of things I don't understand, that I likely misinterpret and maybe even skew in order to answer my own prayers. I believe that it's highly likely many of those things were left to be a "holy secret" because having the ability to understand God completely would limit Him in so many ways. I have no doubt that there are things I'm getting wrong on a daily basis and all I can do is rely on Him to guide my steps along the way. 

I understand why many Christians oppose the ruling, even if I disagree with them. What I don't understand is our approach to people who aren't "like us". I don't understand the snide remarks and the name calling and the bitterness towards people that we don't even know. I don't understand passive aggressive Facebook statuses. I don't understand people who use scripture as a weapon. I saw people sharing Bible verses on Friday for the first time ever. People who days before were spouting expletives and inappropriate photos were preaching the Word on Friday because it fit their agenda. This, I don't understand.

I make it a point not to debate divisive issues, especially in a public forum. Words are so often misconstrued. It's hard to fully express yourself in 140 characters or less, and be sure that someone gets what you are trying to say. Regardless of how we feel about spiritual matters, social justice is something we should all be able to agree on. The nightly news is a highlight reel of all the ways we are failing each other. There shouldn't be a question of whether every American citizen is entitled to the same rights and respect - regardless of race, religion or sexual preference.

I know in the grand scheme of things, you probably don't care one tiny little bit about how I'm feeling this week. We may disagree about the Bible or politics or Japanese food or {strongly disagree about the horror of} country music, but above all else I want you to know that I love you. I love that you come here and read about people you don't even know. I love that you send encouraging emails and comments and that you think all of my neuroses are hilarious. I love that you live in a country where you are able to pursue your dreams, no matter your circumstance. I'm sorry if you don't have access to some of the same privileges I did, because of the color of your skin or the amount of money in your parents' bank account. I'm sorry if you've been mocked or belittled because you're a woman. I'm sorry if someone masquerading as a Christian spewed vile and ugly words at you because you're different. I'm doing the very best I can to teach my girls how to love well. That's the only thing we can do to keep their friends from suffering those same realities in the future. I'm teaching them that instead of devoting all our time and energy to complaining about flags and marriage equality and gun control, they can meet the very real needs of people all around us. I'll tell you what a very dear and precious person said to me just yesterday, "If there are homeless children, hungry families and millions of people in the world lacking clean water and education... [then we] are MISSING THE POINT OF JESUS." Indeed.

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UPDATED TO ADD: I intentionally withheld scriptural references because I don't want anyone to see this as one more place to throw scripture around like a sword. I try only to discuss divisive issues within the context of real relationships because they call for a delicacy that can't often be found in a public forum. Please extend grace if we disagree or if I've offended you in any way. You are always welcome to comment below or email me if you'd like to chat. I welcome conversation and debate, as long as we can agree to be kind and respectful.

In case you want to read some other beautiful articles about the topic, I'm sharing a few of my favorites here: Jennifer wrote a LOVELY piece today about her children | this one is good stuff, but you'll need to grab your tissues | a pretty simple call to Christians who disagree with the ruling | THIS is the article that resonated with me and that I shared on Monday morning | Jen Hatmaker's post last spring says ALL THE THINGS. It's written from a biblical world view, for sure, but points out all of the delicate ways in which this conversation needs to be had, especially when it becomes a public one.

#collaboreads: Paper Towns

29 June 2015

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What better way to kick off my return to the blog world {hello, unexpected two-week hiatus} than to link up with the always fabulous Amber and Rachel to share an "almost" book review. They introduced us to #collaboreads last month and today is the day we finally get to link up! The concept is simple - there are only five steps:
  1. Visit their blogs and see the criteria for each month's link up.
  2. Go choose a book.
  3. READ {you get 30 whole days}.
  4. Write a review to link up with Amber & Rachel.
  5. Do it all over again next month!
The criteria for June was that the book had to be on the New York Times' Bestseller List at the time you began reading.

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Last spring, I was given a sizable Amazon gift card and decided to use to download all of the new and slightly more expensive {than my normal book purchase} books that I had been hearing all about. The Fault in our Stars was one of those. Like many of you, I immediately fell in love. So much so that I promptly used the remaining balance on my gift card to download everything else John Green had ever written. Paper Towns managed to sit on my Kindle for an entire year, unread, but because the movie adaptation is hitting cinemas this summer, it is still hanging out on the YA charts.

In part one, Margo Roth Speigelman takes Quentin {our terrified-of-everything lead character} on a seemingly spur of the moment, overnight adventure that changes his perspective on pretty much everything. In part two, Margo has disappeared and Q is desperate to find her. Did I mention he is hopelessly in love? Piecing together clues she left behind, he begins a search to find his missing friend. Finally, part three is filled with a last-minute road trip with his friends - new and old - where he hopes to finally track her down.
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I'll admit that when I find a book that I like to read, I'm hard pressed to put it down. Couple that with the fact I was reading this on vacation and it didn't take much more than a few days to complete. Not only could I not wait to finish it, but I was constantly taking screen grabs {hello, iPhone Kindle app} to remember all of the funny little parts I loved later. This is one of those books that will make you feel "all the feelings". I found myself laughing out loud, tearing up, cheering on Q and getting exceedingly frustrated with our heroine. It was twisty and turny in a not-at-all-suspenseful way and I found myself racing to the finish line. The final section of the book was definitely my favorite and where most of my virtually dog-eared pages come from. True to life, spending a few days in a minivan on the road teaches you all sorts of things about your companions and ultimately yourself.
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I know that Green's books are written for a Young Adult audience, but I'm of the opinion that a well-written book is always worth reading, no matter the intended audience. I'm sure I would have loved reading this as a high-school student, but I doubt I would have appreciated the characters or the nuances without a little more life experience. Even though it's been over fifteen years since I walked those halls, I remember attempting to navigate those friendships and hardships and almost adulthood. At the time you feel so smart and in control of everything but reading this as an adult made me appreciate it all so much more. 

The characters in this book are such misfits. A group of people who are tenuously tethered by a single character at the beginning of the book are packed into a minivan falling in love with each other by the last page. I loved the reminder that it is often the people we least expect that make the biggest impact on our lives. Margo is a bit of an enigma. She is quite the rebel and aside from a weird relationship with her parents, you don't get much background on what makes her so angsty. Quention is adorable. He's that geeky kid in school with the obscure band t-shirts and the almost perfect hair. You want Margo to fall in love with him SO VERY MUCH. I especially loved the accidental love story between Ben {Q's best friend} and Lacy {one of the it-girls from Margo's crowd}. It was so unexpected and I loved reading as they figured out their relationship. You know who I hated, though? Margo's parents. There is a part of my 35 year old self who wants to chastise her for being irresponsible and making stupid, adolescent decisions. But there is an even bigger part of me who is cheering her on the entire time. I would hope that, as a parent, I would have handled everything about her in a completely different way. Josh and I were just talking last week about how we remember thinking our parents had it all together and actually knew what they were doing. On the flip side, we realize that they were flying by the seat of their pants and that all of their decisions were made in survival mode. I'm not sure that we know anything more than we did as 18 year old kids! I'm sure I will bungle all sorts of teachable parenting moments, but Margo's parents missed a perfect opportunity to connect with their daughter.
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Amber asks the question - what other books / movies / television shows remind you of this book? John Green is one of those authors with a bit of a formula. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but like reading a Nicholas Sparks or a Jodi Picoult novel, you kind of know what to expect going in. After The Fault in Our Stars and Finding Alaska, I was bracing myself for devastation and what I found was a completely different kind of bittersweet. And even though the story line is so completely different, the entire time I was reading the book I couldn't help but think of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Maybe I just have a thing for quirky, boy-meets-girl, coming of age stories.
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Nothing bugs me more than a poorly designed book, especially when the cover isn't pretty or the type is poorly designed. I am a classic "choose a book by its cover" reader, especially when I don't have any other information to go on. Just this week, I lost myself in a bookstore for a few hours doing nothing but looking at pretty covers. I'm sad that I can't comment much on the design of this book, since I read the Kindle version on my phone. I had challenged myself to read physical books that I could hold in my hand this month, but it seemed silly to purchase this one again when I already had it downloaded. I will say if I were picking up a copy of the book to keep on my shelf, I would definitely go for the original cover art. I'm never, ever a fan of the movie poster cover and this hand-lettered title is right up my typography-loving alley.

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This is one of those books that I really want to give 5 stars, but then where do you go from there? I'm sure there are books that I've read and loved more, but this one is definitely one of my more recent favorites.
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And you can't have a book review without a favorite passage, right? -- "Maybe it's more like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like, each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And these things happen -- these people leave us, or don't love us, or don't get us, or we don't get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack open in places. And I mean, yeah, once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable... but there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And it's only in that time that we can see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out."

Dance Recital Recap

12 June 2015

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I made the joke on Saturday that Dance Recital day is one of my favorite days of the year and one of the other moms raised her eyebrows and said "Really?!" It's probably hard to imagine because we spend twelve hours running up and down flights of stairs, swapping out tights and costumes and hair accessories with no thanks and I'm pretty sure I didn't manage to eat a bite of lunch until sometime around 3:30. The thing is, it's a day spent with little girls smiles and glitter and any day spent watching them do what they love best is a day well-spent in my book.

Since Ella's team performs in all three recitals, we were up early with a full face of makeup and a car packed to the gills. We left Sophie lounging at home with her daddy while we grabbed Chick-fil-A for breakfast and headed downtown for a 10:15 call time.

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Their first performance of the day was ballet. You haven't seen these costumes yet, because they don't perform ballet during competition season. They were dancing to a patriotic number and were dressed as Rockettes. I adore this costume and they looked beautiful on stage! I was trying to grab a picture of a few of them in the hall outside their dressing room and Kristen ran in to photobomb them. These girls are so much fun.

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Since we have taken PLENTY of photos in her other two costumes this year, I wasn't as worried about capturing them as I was these. It doesn't help that they have to be dressed an hour in advance of show time, so there was plenty of posing to do. 

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I didn't grab any pictures in their competition costumes because we were too busy getting in the swing of things and figuring out their schedule for the day. I did manage a group shot in their finale costume, though. All of the competition teams danced together to Celebrate and We Are Family to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our studio. Each team wore a different colored skirt and it looked SO GOOD on stage.

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Tazzie's class performed in the afternoon recital this year {thank goodness says her daddy}. I was glad to have one recital under my belt before she got there, but also glad not to have two little girls in the evening performance {the largest and craziest of the day}. Since having two little girls in two dressing rooms on two different floors is pretty much a nightmare, I got her ready in Ella's dressing room instead. The competition teams have private rooms with mirrors and makeup lights, while the little girls are all in a giant room together, with no hanging space and very little counter space. It was a no-brainer. After she was all dolled up for the day, I walked her up to hang out with Jennifer and Braylen while I changed out Ella's hair for her next number.

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I cannot get over how adorable these two are together. This is their second year in dance and although they decided that it wasn't for them this year, they managed to finish out the year with lots of smiles and loved the recital. Who knows what next year holds, but we're hoping to find lots of time for them to hang out.

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After Sophie's performances, I took her out to sit with our families in the audience and discovered that Josh and my parents had the perfect seats! I hate that I missed Ella's ballet performance and Sophie's dances from this perspective, but I did get some great ones of Ella during her jazz dance and the finale.

That's her below with the massive blond bun, second from the right.

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And again in the center of the stage.

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The teachers all did a great dance together to celebrate the studio's 25th anniversary. It is always so fun to see them dance and this year was PERFECT.

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After the show, we hung out with our families for a bit before Ella had to get ready for the evening show. I am sick that I somehow managed not to get a photo of the girls together by themselves, but I do have these great ones with the grandparents.

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Of course, every family photo attempt looks something like this. I did manage to snag one where everyone was smiling, but I couldn't resist sharing this one. Sophie pretty much poses or makes a funny face in the first shot we take EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

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By the time 9 o'clock rolled around, the moms were exhausted and hoping for a reprieve, but in true form these girls were still quite energized and begging for frozen yogurt. A big group of us drove to a local place and let them giggle and dance for another. Taking ten girls in full stage makeup to a popular dessert location is always interesting. They got plenty of attention!

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The dance recital is usually the finale for our season, but this year Ella has one last performance {next week} at nationals in Panama City Beach. It was so weird to pack up dance costumes and makeup while trying to get us ready for the beach, but she's so excited about spending one last day dancing with her friends this summer... at least until Summer Intensive starts.

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Forgive one more week of {almost} radio silence. We'll be at the beach until Father's Day and posting might be sporadic {thanks to sketchy wifi}. See you soon!