Sunday, December 11, 2011

Homemade Christmas

Our very first Christmas together as a married couple is fast approaching -- well, is already here. We don't have much room in our apartment for a tree, and we don't have much money to spend on buying lots of decorations that we'll just have to store and move over the next few years anyway.

But how to make our little home feel like Christmas?

We spent most of our weekend doing just that. Armed with paper, scissors, and some imagination, we made Christmas.

(Be kind and remember I don't claim to be a professional photographer.)

We hung snowflakes cut from notebook paper and Anthropologie catalogues from our kitchen pass-through.

They make magic shadows.

Cake stand, old book, sugar = winter.
(the light was terrible)

Some greenery, more paper trees, and a mason jar.

Same theme, different notes.

It's simple, and definitely not Martha Stewart, but we're happy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On Contentment

The dryer is purring, the brownies in the oven filling our apartment with chocolatey smells, and this nasty month-long cold seems to be on its way out at last.

I don't often feel content, especially in the throes of daily living -- even when that daily living is filled with things I have longed for: my beloved husband, a full-time job I enjoy, good food and my own home... All of those joys come with many more sacrifices, much hard work and responsibility, much dying to self. To really embrace my marriage and keep it healthy, Millie has to die. To love and serve my toddlers at work, Millie has to die. To keep my home clean and hospitable, Millie has to die. What strange ways God works and gives and grows us, that in order to live, we must die.

This paradox has been playing in my mind for months, especially in the light that these five months of new marriage have been the hardest of my life -- and I do not say that lightly. God has put pain in our lives these past months that Andrew and I could never have foreseen, never have prepared ourselves for. We pray that we are being sanctified through these deaths, in the strange way that God works His wonders.

One of the struggles since marriage has been fighting to find a job, to find my place in this community, to find how I can work and contribute -- to a business and to my family. I approached the job market with the gifts that God brought out in me during college, gifts that would be valuable in the work field: organizational and administrative skills from working in my college library, writing and editing abilities from four years of English study, customer service from summers waitressing, and patience and flexibility from working at Ridge Haven. I held these out, seeing my gifts and abilities, and God ignored all of them. I was so sure He would place me somewhere to continue refining these gifts He's showed me, in some office, or even a library.

Absolutely not.

I'm an assistant teacher at a daycare -- a job I genuinely enjoy, but never would have placed myself in. (I had never even changed a diaper until the day of my working interview.)

My struggle has not been with the job itself, though some days that has been the source of my frustration. I just wonder what the balance is between developing and using the gifts and talents that He gives, and relying on Him. So often I feel way over my head, uncertain, inadequate, like I don't have what I need to do my job well. But I have Him, and that's enough. So then, what with my abilities? I know they don't sanctify me, or earn me favor; I just wonder how they're going to come into play later, or if they were only for that past season.

Like in every season, all I can do is trust, and I can trust, because I know that this God, my Maker and Savior, not only knows me, but loves me.

And every day for the rest of my life, I have to cry, I believe; help my unbelief. And I'm so thankful that I am free to be patient. His timing in my heart is specially suited for my life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Avett Brothers

This is one reason I love these guys so much: they pulled this gem out at the Tuesday concert.

I lost my voice Tuesday evening, and still don't have it back.

Monday, November 14, 2011

[insert title here]

There is no continuity here, so consider yourself warned. I do not apologize.

Look, something shiny!

Hydrangea Blossom, Diamond Stacking Ring, Engagement ring Sterling Silver, 18k Gold Flower, Made to order

1.This cold I've had for two weeks? I don't think it's going anywhere: While talking to one of my little toddlers at work the other day, he sneezed. While my mouth was open. He sneezed in my mouth.  

2. I finally got a Pinterest account!

3. Two of Andrew's buddies have birthdays this week, so they're coming over for dinner on Wednesday. We bought a duck (we wanted a goose, but that sucker was $70!), and I'm working on my pie crust for a chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Mmmm!

4. Tomorrow night? Drew will be here. Oh, and the Avett Brothers. Yup. We'll be there.

Pinned Image

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mallow Mania!

Did you know that a marsh mallow is actually a plant? The Althaea officinalis is, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, indigenous to Africa, and thanks to an ancient remedy for sore throats made from its roots, we now have delicious floats in our steaming mugs of hot chocolate.

File:Althea officinalis flor.jpg
Image via Wikipedia

Thank you, pretty flower!

I have wanted to make my own mallows for a good while , after learning that, in fact, this is possible, and that my grandmother made her own marshmallows all the years she and my grandfather lived in Brazil, when my mother was very small. Andrew's weekend absence on a church men's retreat provided the perfect canvas for my amateur culinary art splatters.

(Before I proceed, I must warn you that I planned to take pictures of the process, but as it is a rather time-sensitive ordeal, and Andrew wasn't around to help ... there are none. I shall borrow some from The Mighty Internets.)

My favorite cookbook, Baked, from the rather well-known Brooklyn bakery of the same name (check them and their sweet cookbook out here), contains dozens of yummies I'm dying to try, but today, it was mallows. 

They seem fairly straight-forward, as home-made candies go, only requiring six ingredients: gelatin, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt, and confectioner's sugar. Simple, right? The book calls for gelatin in sheets, but after some research, I discovered this can only be purchased in gourmet bakery shops or online, so I furthered my research to find out how to substitute regular gelatin for the sheets. It's the same stuff, right?  

You're supposed to put the gelatin sheets in cold water to sit while you get the actual candy part going (the corn syrup and sugar and such) -- I measured out my gelatin crystals, poured the cold water over them, and promptly realized I had no way of separating the cold water from the gelatin. You see, you're supposed to just pull the sheets out and melt them. I had a bowl full of cold water, ice cubes, and millions of tiny little gelatin crystals.  Whoops.

Pressing on (what else could I do?), I mixed my sugar and corn syrup and left it on the stove to reach the proper temperature, and went on a mad search for something to strain the gelatin with. A sieve was, of course, way too porous, and a paper towel too flimsy. I finally settled on a dish towel that resembled cheesecloth, and crossed my fingers as I held it one-handed over a colander and slowly poured my gelatin-infested water over top.

It worked! Plenty of crystals still oozed through, but I had a nice big glob of gelatin stuck to the towel, and another smaller glob in the colander. Breathing a sigh of relief, I put the emancipated gelatin back into its Pyrex bowl, and melted it over a pot of steaming water on the stove.

The melted gelatin went into the mixer bowl with some additional corn syrup, then the melted corn syrup and sugar were added, and the KitchenAid mixed happily away for five minutes, which transformed the mixture into something amazingly resembling raw marshmallow ...

Making marshmallow
Image via Let Her Bake Cake

Just like that! In went the vanilla and salt for one minute on high, then the whole lot was poured into a greased 9x13 pan, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and left to sit for an agonizing six hours.

Filled with all sorts of doubts regarding potential failures, mostly connected to The Gelatin Incident, I washed four loads of laundry, read some of Great Expectations, and generally wished time away until I could know if I was, indeed, bionic woman enough to successfully make my own marshmallows.

Six hours later, I dusted my counter top with confectioner's sugar, ran a knife around the edge of my pan, and slowly, wondrously, pulled one giant 9x13 marshmallow out of the pan. It weighed a ton.

DIY Girl's Guide to Making Marshmallows - Inspired Nest
Image via Inspired Nest

I meticulously marked one-inch increments along the edge, and triumphantly sliced that giant mallow into over 90 smaller mallows, which were rolled in more confectioner's sugar, and stored nicely in a Tupperware, where they should keep at least a week -- if they last that long.

They are fantastic: sweet, but not sickening, the vanilla flavor is pleasantly strong, the texture springy and light, and they melted almost instantly in our hot chocolate.

I did take a nice picture of the completed mallows, but the file is being ornery, so you'll just have to take my word for it that my mallows do, in fact, look like this:

Image via This Week for Dinner

I have eaten one at least every time I've walked into the kitchen.

As the recipe I used is from a published book, I hesitate to detail it online, but a simple Google search will provide you dozens of recipes for mallows.

You can also buy the Baked marshmallows (or cookbook) online here.

Happy Mallow-ing!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Germs are Not for Sharing

You know what happens when you hang out with fifteen toddlers all day, wiping noses, changing diapers, preventing bites, and in general both loving on them and trying to keep the chaos to a minumum?

You get sneezed and coughed on daily, that's what happens.

Germs Are Not for Sharing illustration by Marieka Heilen
Image via:, illustration by Marieka Heilen

Which is why I'm at home sick today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday Night Shakespeare

Now that I'm in transition between my former part-time job, and my current full-time job, I am now working full-time, and instead of an hour for lunch, my break is the fifteen minutes in my car between Job A and Job B, in which I cram my peanut butter sandwich in between shifting gears. I'm thankful to be working full time, but I will be even more thankful when those 40 hours are in the same place.

It makes the days long, and I now understand why my house was never consistently clean growing up, the lesson learned by every other adult. I don't want to clean my house when I've been working all day.

But, last night, Andrew planned for us to pack a picnic supper and a couple blankets, and we drove off to Sinkland Farms, where we paid $15, sat on our blankets, ate our sandwiches and pretzels, and watched an open air performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," as performed by New River Valley Open Air Shakespeare.

Working hard makes those quiet moments so much more enjoyable. Life lesson number fifty-two, I suppose.

Friday, October 21, 2011

all kinds of different

For some reason, every time I've begun to write this blog (which has spanned over several days), immediately that song from "Toy Story" jumps into my head -- when Buzz is taking over Woody's place. Strange things are happ'nen' to me... 

But really, strange things aren't happening to me. Just different. Such as . . .

It is cold here in Blacksburg. Fall was suddenly over in a torrential gust of freezing cold wind. I cannot feel my fingers, and I'm pretty sure I saw some snow yesterday.

Two weeks ago, I realized I desperately needed a haircut. After a few hours searching the all-knowing internet for salons nearby with good reputations, I braved a walk-in. Naturally, having picked one of the top salons in town, they were booked solid. All week. So I made an appoinment for Tuesday of this week. Tuesday morning, I had a job interview that ran 45 minutes over my hair appointment time. I was too embarassed to call and reschedule, so I tried for a walk-in at another highly recommended place the next morning. Success! I now have much shorter hair, zero split ends, more vibrant curls, and ... bangs!

And, the best change of all? The job I interviewed for? Bam! it's mine! 

I've been working part-time at a Christian school here in Blacksburg, working as a PE teacher and as the director of their after-school program. It's been a hard job, but I enjoy the kids; especially some of the ones in Aftercare. But, being a poor newlywed married to a medical student, full-time was needed. So, I've been applying and interviewing here and there, and today, I began part-time at my new job! I'll switch to full-time as soon as my school finds a replacement for me.

What is my new job, you ask? Well, I'm just as surprised as you are. It's here, at the Adventure Club Center. God continues to throw me curveballs, but this one I like. I never considered working in childcare, even with three summers of camp experience. I've wanted an administrative job, period. So God put me in a school, teaching PE (did I mention I'm not an athelete?), and playing freeze tag with elementary school kids. And I've been applying for full-time jobs, mostly administrative.

But ... God has again surprised me. I am now working at a daycare, of all places. With the toddlers (I'm going to get so good at changing diapers...), of all ages. And, here's the best part: I love it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


My dad's mother died before when my dad was a young twenty-something, before he was married. I've heard so many stories about Mildred, about the extraordinary godly woman she was, how she helped shape my family into one that served the Lord, how well she loved people.

You can see Mildred circled.

For a wedding gift, my grandfather gave me Mildred's cookbook. It's just an old Betty Crocker cookbook, but it was hers, and it has her handwriting in it. The most used recipe is obviously the waffles; the inside front cover is marked with "waffles, page 196", and she taped an entirely modified version over the original recipe over the page.

We've been eating waffles most lazy Saturday mornings like today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Splatter Paint

Pretend I have transformed the past few days into a blob of paint, and now I shall splatter it on here, just to share a few moments.

1. I had coffee and breakfast with my friend Andrea this morning; she asked me about my writing and I responded with some excuses why I'm not, or should be writing. To which she told me, in a very nice and firm way to get over myself and just write. Stop making excuses, just do it. Yup. I needed that.

2. You know what's delicious? Granny Smith apples with Nutella. (I thought this was an original idea, until I just found this nice picture on Google...)

Image via

3. One of my kindergarteners at school today informed me that he had to poop, so I give him permission to go to the bathroom. I assumed that was that, but then ... "I need you to come with me and help me wipe." Oh. Okay. He then apologized frankly for it being potentially "disgusting" (I informed him I have, in fact, seen poop before), and then took a full minute to talk himself through a system of how he would lock and then unlock his stall door to let me come help. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud; I don't think he was embarassed at all, and he's very precise in everything he does ("I'll tell you okay, and then I'll unlock the door, and then you come in."). For all the time I've spent around kids, I must admit this was a first.

4. Andrew and I joined Grace Covenant!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Autumn exercise

My feet are bare and chilly,
the sky untainted blue
so clear it aches my eyes
to take in such a view.

Reds and golds like sparks
set fire to reaching trees,
bobbing, bowing, rustling
in the changing breeze.

Cider mugs and sweaters
will usurp summer things,
for apple pies and chilly winds
are what dear autumn brings.

Image by StGrundy

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It really is good news

"I believe; help my unbelief!"

I've always read this response to Jesus in Mark 9 as a shameful admission, a confession of a sub-par level of Christianity. Which goes to show my arrogance and complete disregard of the gospel I claim to believe.

The man who cries this to Jesus in this passage stands out in stark contrast to Jesus's disciples a few verses before, who had been unable to cast a demon out of this man's son. The contrast comes, as expected, from the difference in the level of belief between the man and the disciples, but in the opposite direction I have always thought. The reason the disciples could not cast out the demon is not because they did not believe enough (this is crucial, reader), but because they did not believe at all. Jesus rebukes them later, calling them out for not even approaching the throne of grace and power in prayer before attempting to cast out the demon: he does not say that they did not pray enough, but that they did not pray at all. Having been given authority by Jesus to cast out demons, they trusted in the gift itself, the power itself, and not in Jesus at all. Hence, they tried to cast out this demon in their own power and, of course, failed.

The father of the boy, however, admits his unbelief -- but in admitting that, he also admits some level of faith in Jesus.

This, reader, was what cut to my heart during the sermon this morning:

The gospel is for those with weak faith. Communion is for those with weak faith. Heck, Jesus is for those with weak faith.

I have forgotten the gospel so completely that it was a joy to my heart to hear this truth today. To come to the Lord's Supper in absolute humility, to realize that it doesn't matter how long or how often I pray, how excellent my "quiet times" are, or how much I feel that I am growing. The level of my faith does not matter. There is no such thing as "having enough faith." Anytime I try to muster up enough faith to accomplish anything, I am resting in my own work, and attempting to manipulate God by my own accomplishments, as though He owes me something for being so great.

What matters is if I am resting (by any amount of faith) in the work of Jesus Christ.

It is not the excellence of my Christian walk that saves me. Let me say that again.

It is not the excellence of my Christian walk that saves me.

It is the work of Jesus that saves me. That, and nothing else.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Joys (which include official wedding pictures)

Sundays are officially my favorite days of the week. Lunch with friends, calm afternoon, and tonight, hike and dinner with different friends. And a morning of solid teaching, in both Sunday school and the service. Our Sunday school class is taught by Tom Gardner, a poetry professor from Virginia Tech, so it's kind of like taking Sunday school from Beth Impson or Whit Jones. I'm learning so much about the Gospel of John. He actually just finished a book on John, which is on our Christmas list.

image via Baylor University Press

To top this weekend off even more, our wedding pictures are finished! The fabulous Kelly Davie has a sneak peek of them on her blog. I love how some are so obviously film instead of digital. I can't wait to see the rest of them. Great job, Kelly!

Image by Kelly Davie

Friday, September 23, 2011

Everybody Bakes Bread

My mother used to read me this book when I was a little girl, and we both still call it a favorite: Everybody Bakes Bread, by Norah Dooley. It's about a neighborhood in which everyone inside on rainy Saturday is baking bread, of all ethnicities. Pitas, challah, cornbread... The story is charming, and the recipes are included!
Image via

For the past few weekends, this has been the story of our home: everybody bakes bread. Well, just Andrew and me. Even though my mother is an avid and gifted bread-meister, I have never baked bread. Pies and cookies and biscuits, yes. Bread, no. My first attempt was a simple Victorian milk bread. I didn't know that my oven is unusually hot, so I accidentally overbaked it. I so wish my camera wasn't sick, but for now, we'll rely on borrowed pictures. My bread looked like this -- except overdone thanks to my sneaky oven, and my lack of dilligent watching. I wasn't thrilled, but it tasted good, and I suppose the fact that it rose and baked golden brown should be encouraging for a first try.

image via

You can bake it in this distinctive S-shape, or braid it.

The next weekend, I attemped a Turkish flat bread called ekmek, made with honey and olive oil. This turned out slightly better, as it is supposed to be crispy and crusty. It was particularly good with an olive oil dip. Yum!

Image via

I came home from work earlier this week to a house that smelled of cinnamon rolls -- or so I insisted. Andrew declared the only thing in the works on the stove was a pot of beans he'd been soaking. No. I smell cinnamon rolls. I asked him to walk to the mailbox with me so he'd notice the smell when he walked back inside. Huh. I do smell something like that, but I don't know what it is. Then, I discovered a pan of rolls and loaf pan with dough rising in it. That sneaky man made bread! I had no idea he knew how; apparently his grandmother taught him. And, of course, his bread was better than mine.

Image via

He made the rolls in cloverleafs, which makes them so delightfully soft and nice to pull apart.

Don't worry. I'll get better.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wednesday Book Review Part Two: The Kite Runner

I really don't know why I picked up this book to read; it's not my usual style. I bought it for a dollar off the library's sale table -- and I'm glad I did.

File:Kite runner.jpg
Image: Wikipedia

Set in Afghanistan's recent history, from the 1960s to the early 2000s, The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a privileged young man whose greatest desire in life is to please his successful, athletic father. As this leads to an deep division between 12-year-old Amir and his best friend and servant Hassan, and as the tumultuous political climate of Afghanistan drives Amir and his father to America years later, the adult Amir is forced into a life of courage and selfless love -- ways he has never chosen to act before.

The New York Times Book Review calls this book both "haunting" and "powerful," according to the front cover of my copy. For once, The New York Times is dead on. Hosseini's subject is painful, excruciating even, and he does not flinch from portraying the hurt of his people. He also does not flinch from a deeper theme of redemption. Instead of taking the easy and obvious path to hoplessness and self-pity, Hosseini, like Amir, chooses to write with courage, to take his story to a place of redemption. Though Amir has lived a life in the shadow of his father, a life of depending on others to fight his battles and take care of him, he is given a chance to fix what he destoyed at age twelve. He is given one chance, one phone call, one opportunity -- and he takes it, though it leads him to terrifying situations and places, he does not shirk from the duty he is called to. A boy of fear and hatred becomes a man of courage and love.

Equally moving to my heart was Hosseini's portrayal of the Afghani people. I am an American and a Christian, and I have never given a thought to the pain of Afghanistan. I have never given a thought to their suffering, their poverty, their humiliation and fear at the hands of the Taliban. God forgive me for my selfishness, for not loving my fellow man.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review Part One: How to Buy a Love of Reading

The consequence of having a husband in medical school is that I have a husband who studies all the time. Which is exactly what he's supposed to do, being in medical school... but it also means I'm curled up beside him on the sofa, him with his laptop and me with a book. I never complain about a circumstance that leaves me curled up with a book.

My two most recent reads have been How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Image via:
her review here

I picked this book off the library shelf entirely because of its cover and title. I do, I hate to say, often judge a book by its cover.

This is a novel for those who love books, about a girl who hates to read ("Never met [a book] I liked"). Set in the land of Gatsby, and continually referring back to Fitzgerald, this novel revolves around a community of families so fabulously wealthy that they have everything they could want -- and none of them are content. The story centers around Carley, a poor student, an overweight and unpopular disappointment to her obsessive mother, whose parents hire a writer to craft her a novel for her sixteenth birthday, a book she has to love. They intend to buy her the love of reading.

Gibson takes Carley, her best friend Hunter Cay (the community's golden boy and aspiring writer who falls continually deeper into the pit of alcohol and drugs), and Bree McEnroy (the struggling and bitter author hired by Carley's parents) on a dark and painful pathway through the hidden sins of the elite upper class and the elements of story until they each uncover their own selves. This is a story about stories: the ones we live in, the ones we love to read, and the ones we make up to ignore the truth around us.

I kept reading through to the end because I was curious how Gibson would save her characters, who all seemed to be drowning while trying to find themselves, and trying to save each other at the same time. Gibson seems to stereotype the upper crust, giving them the life as seen on television: nothing but alcohol, drugs, sex, and secretly hating one another and themselves -- and no one to save them but themselves.

More than the search for self, I saw in this novel a deep, painful cry for something more. Perhaps it's foolish and naive of me to say, but I kept thinking the whole time I was reading, these people need Jesus so badly. In the search for themselves, these characters destoy themselves. Hunter spends the entire book under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both. None of the husbands love their wives; none of the wives love their husbands; none of the children love their parents. This is a book of wounded souls searching for themselves -- they have nothing but their own selves, their own sins and guilt, the knowledge that they are broken and cannot fix it. Gibson gives them nothing but clever satire, a finished story for Carley, some deep literary metaphor that will not satisfy.

Gibson's novel seems intent on proving her own cleverness. And yes, she is witty, and the story is compelling. But to me, Gibson's novel proves her own blindness, her own foolishness. Her characters are hopeless, and she leaves them hopeless. No matter how much more they know or love themselves four hundred pages later, she still left them in the deepest darkness.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Towers, Crosses, Thoughts, Hopes

Our pastor challenged us this morning, as he does every Sunday morning, to examine our lives and hearts to see if we are living like the gospel is real. That's all he teaches, and all we need to hear: the gospel, over and over. I forget it every day.

The events of September 11, 2001 were horrific, the wicked product of minds twisted by sin and hate. When Andrew and I were in New York City in July, we went to Ground Zero, and to the church across the street that is much more a memorial to that time in history than the fenced-off corner of construction. Our hearts broke for our country, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our shared pain and grief.

But we who proclaim the name of Christ cannot live in grief, cannot stop there. We have a hope beyond this world; our hope was never in this world, this country, this present anything. We must live always for what ultimately matters. Yes, that means mourning and loving -- of course! But we do so because of a much greater purpose in life. We live for Christ, not for our own reputations, our own comfort, pleasure, success, or glory. We live for Christ, and so live in disgrace and shame in the world's eyes. We live for Christ, and die to self. At least, we must if we are to follow Him fully.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Mark 8:34-36

Jesus said this to the whole crowd, not just his disciples. Anyone who would follow him must daily take up his cross. Living so completely for Jesus is not just for the Pauls and Peters and Stephens and Martin Luthers of Christianity -- we are all called to such a radical life, all called to live completely for Him every day. In our normalcy, in our daily jobs and shopping and cleaning and bill-paying, we live completely for Him, doing all things not unto ourselves.

Of course we can't do this on our own. Of course we hurt and struggle and fail and sin. Of course. But our hearts yearn for Him instead our ourselves, and that makes all the difference. We live by faith, not by the law. Our hearts yearn for his glory more than our own reputation, more than our country's victory, more than comfort or pleasure or happiness. And one day, the pilgrim days will be over.

Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father's smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee...
"Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken"
words by Henry Francis Lyte

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New every morning

Marriage is an incredibly stretching state of living.

Duh. You could've learned that from ... well, anywhere. Even diehard singles know that marriage is hard and full of newness. Some days, marriage is nothing but new things.

The past two months have been for me, the two best and most deeply difficult and painful months I have ever experienced or struggled through. And yet, slowly, in the smallest and sweetest of ways, God loves me continually, unceasingly, patiently. He breaks, and He mends.

Today has been a sweet Saturday, full of good newness.

1. Andrew and I both ate our very first Chick-Fil-A breakfast this morning, along with new favorites from Starbucks: a salted caramel mocha frappe for me, and a pumpkin spice latte for him. We took our spoils to a town park and ate them under a blue, blue sky.


2. I buy books and they sit on my shelf for ages before I finally decide to buck up and read them. Today was such a day: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, bought at a library sale for a dollar. It is a painful story, full of sin and hurt; it made me cringe and want to walk away, but I am holding on, hoping for redemption. East of Eden is, after all, a dark story about sin, but so much more and deeper than that also.
The Kite Runner

3. Homemade bread! My mother is a whiz in the kitchen, and has the gift of baking bread. I have no idea if I have inherited this coveted trait (I had a momentary lapse of memory and forgot how to braid when I had my three nice ropes of bread dough laid out), but my kitchen sure smells good!


4. And, like every day, God's sweet mercies are new to me today. The gospel is new to me today, because I have forgotten it since yesterday. Tomorrow, I will begin again, learning and re-learning the sweet truth that God Himself died because He loved me more than He hated my sin, loved me more than the life of His Son, loves me enough to daily give me mercy and grace, loves me enough to daily sanctify me to be like Himself, as an earthly father gently builds his children to be like him. And the great comfort is that He promises that one day, all the sad things will be untrue, and I shall be fully sanctified, fully the image and daughter He means me to be. Then I shall be new, indeed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Virginian Culture!

Andrew's best friend Dwight came up for the long weekend, as they haven't gotten much time together since we got married (sorry guys). The two of them planned to hang out Saturday without me, but when we got wind of what was happening an hour away, we knew that all previous plans were scrapped.
What, you ask, could be so exciting?

The Hillsville Labor Day Flea Market and Gun Show!

We piled into our car and drove the hour down the road to the tiny town of Hillsville, Virginia. The town boasts a population of less than 3,000 -- but during the Labor Day weekend craziness, they expect about half a million. Holy cow!

The flea market takes up the entire town. We parked at least half a mile away from the beginning of the festivities, and walked over two hours before we reached the other end, probably two or three miles away. Every inch of the roadside is lined with booths, selling all manner of the ridiculous wares you find at flea markets, and in many cases, the booths are three or four deep off the road -- or they are only the beginning of a small town of booths. Dozens of tent cities spread off the main drag, full of strange crap and being admired by thousands of equally strange people. It was fantastic!

VFW Labor Day Gun Show, Hillsville Virginia Labor Day Flea Market

Anything you could possibly want is available -- as long as you don't want anything of too high a quality. Dozens of the booths are nothing more than yard sales, full of old bottles and toys. Others are thick with old kitchen equipment, bulk drugstore items (from birth control to deodorant), baseball cards, historical collectibles (those booths were pretty cool), "name-brand" clothing, handmade jewelry, bras in bulk (!?), and piles of Army surplus clothing.

There are equally as many food carts of the sort you only see at town fairs and carnivals, which only sell foods that are very fried and always make you sick. Funnel cakes, chicken on a stick, corn dogs, jumbo turkey legs, ice cream, you name it. Dwight treated us to funnel cakes; it was my first funnel cake since fourth grade, can you believe it?


The best part (other than watching the thousands of people, which was quite entertaining), is the fact that this draws an entire crowd to the second part of the event's title. This is also an annual gun show, which means hundreds of those in the crowd are wearing large orange stickers proclaiming "Guns Save Lives." Oh -- and probably one-third of the booths throughout the town sell guns. Which means probably equally one-third of the considerable crowd are men of various ages walking through the flea market with guns slung over their shoulders.


It's not at all disconcerting; mostly amusing. I'm not at all making fun of this culture: I am a South Carolina girl, born and raised, and a member of The National FFA Organization. But it still makes me smile to see so many interesting people all together in one place.

We didn't buy anything other than food (which made us sick later), but we spent all day walking around, calling one another's attention to various items of interest. Namely, a copy of The Fairie Queen that was about a hundred years old (kind of kicking mysel for not buying it), a case full of KKK artifacts, Justin Beber signs with personalized names, and a framed Lord of the Rings drawing from the 1980s. (This we later saw again in someone's wagon.)

Did I learn anything grand? Did I buy anything artsy? Did I meet a famous person who I'm now friends with?
Pssh... no.
But we had fun.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brief debrief

I can't tell you how I've been. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I will eventually. God has been furrowing deeply, molding firmly, digging His fingers in painfully.

A year ago this week, I found out I would have this poem published, in The Christendom Review. I thought, then, that I had suffered. And I had -- but not like I would. And I know my suffering now will be eclipsed by even greater later in my life, as God continues to sancitfy me. But it is, as Laura said, so much easier to pray for relief than for sanctification.


To lighten the mood: guess what?

One of my friends here in Blacksburg just opened an Etsy shop, and her work is adorable. She sews, but all of her creations are entirely upcycled, so they all have stories beyond their present life. My personal favorite are the vegetable placemats.

Upcycled Cloth Placemats with Vegetable Appliques
Image: Katherine Lile, via Etsy

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My friend Harry -- and why you love him, too

Friday evening, Andrew and I were invited to dinner at our pastor's home. Deep into the grilled chicken, homemade bread, and fruit salad, and at some point after his daughter laughed so hard she spewed milk across the table (never seen that happen in real life before, I must say), the conversation slid comfortably into a topic that has been pounced upon and happily jawed over by millions of people worldwide since 1997.

Harry Potter.

Image via, artwork by Mary GrandPré, special edition cover for Deathly Hallows
(isn't it awesome?)

I confess myself a shameless addict to the scar-headed hero's story, but as Andrew and I were driving home, I wondered how it is that this story, more than any other I know, has the power to draw people together, to make a stranger say, "I love that story, too!" and laugh at a joke about a Crumple-Horned Snorkack in a way that no non-Comic-Con-attending person would about any other story, even a phenomenon like Star Wars or (God forbid) Twilight.

So, why does Harry entrance us so?

Because, dear reader, when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone first appeared in bookstores, I (and every other young-twenty now) was nine years old. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finally reached my hands, I was a sophomore in college. Ten years of my life, from age 9 to age 19, were spent in the company of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and in countless delighted hours reading their adventures and wondering how deep J. K. Rowling was winding the mystery. Almost half of my life to date, I have not only known of Harry and his companions, but have also read of their struggles, seen them (as well as Rowling's writing) grow and mature -- as I myself was growing and maturing. You see, reader, I grew up with Harry.

I believe that the majority of Harry Potter fans in the world love Harry for this same reason. Not because of the fantasy world he lives in, not even for Rowling's brilliant storytelling and championing of true and honorable (even biblical) ideals like love and redemption, but because to us, Harry is someone we know well. We've been friends with him for ten years. We know what he would say if we asked him this or that question; we know how Ron and Hermione would react to this or othat situation. So when someone acknowledges a mutual love of the series, it's really acknowledging a mutual friend. "Hey, I know him, too!"

I love Harry Potter because I appreciate Rowling's craftsmanship, her themes, and her heart.
I also love Harry Potter because I grew up with him, cared about him, Ron, and Hermione. I've spent ten years of my life with those people, and ten years is a long time.
I like Harry because we're friends.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Modern Poetry Blues

Yesterday, I decided that I would act like I live here in Blacksburg: I got my library card. And, as Arthur taught us, Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card! (if you don't believe me, see for yourself)

I walked into the Blacksburg Public Library, and paused. It is beautiful in there: full of community event bulletin boards, happy posters, pleasant workers, and shelves and shelves of books. I walked in and thought, I want to work here! And then it hit me: of all the positions I've held in my rather diverse work experience, I loved nothing like I loved working in the library. I think, when I'm able, I want to pursue a Masters in Library Science, specializing in children's literature. Doesn't that sound lovely?

I left the library with three books (Oliver Twist was checked out already...): Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, How to Buy the Love of Reading, by Tanya Egan Gibson, and The Best American Poetry 2010, edited by Amy Gerstler and Devid Lehman. 

Poetry. I need to get back in the game. That's exactly why I checked out the most recent collection of lauded American poetry: to see what poetry is now. I'm terribly old-fashioned, I know, but it saddened me to see the purposeful, careful, genius structure of traditional poetry replaced by prosy free verse that seems more self-important than concerned with containing a deeper idea, a beauty deeper than its own brilliance.  

I'm sure as I continue through this anthology, I will find poems I love and see the merit of, and perhaps I will learn to appreciate all of them for what they are, but now, sipping my coffee and reading the first handful of poems, I wonder what happened to men like Keats and Hopkins and Frost. We've replaced the subtlety of form and complex images with the shock of too-honest similes, too obviously full of sex, despair, or sentimental childhood memories.

I know many disagree with me, and perhaps I'm just not as informed on the subject as I should be, but I wonder what is to be gained by discarding structure, form, and purpose for a so-called freedom that shamelessly disregards the history and literature of hundreds of years; we've discarded the original masters like Shakespeare and Wordsworth for the more recent rebels, like William Carlos Williams, who dare to write obtusely and baldly, forgetting that poetry is about sound and sense and not a blank page on which to rant and shock.

It makes me sad to see that poetry, like our culture, like academia, literature, ethics, art, and relationships, has ceased to be based on its own foundation. I know I shouldn't be surprised, since we live in a world fast decaying, continuing the Fall that began thousands of years ago. I hate that beauty, too, is tainted and changed.
I wonder, if our poetry seems apathetic about its past, about the deep and beautiful tradition of its history, what's a girl to do?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Blue(berry) Heaven

Guess what grows in Virginia?

Photo: Andrew Sweeny
Andrew and I spent yesterday morning at a local farm, filling our bucket with pounds and pounds of the biggest, most delicious blueberries I have ever seen or eaten. The farm is completely natural; no pesticides or anything, so you can eat those guys straight off the bushes -- and eating is encouraged. Did you know that flavor in blueberries varies from bush to bush?

 I kept thinking about Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal.
Image by Robert McCloskey, Image via

"Little Sal picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail ... kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!"

My berries went kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk, so loudly and delightfully in my large tin pail -- until, of course, Andrew and I picked over a gallon, so the plunking stopped.

Photo: Andrew Sweeny

And, of course, like Sal, we ate as many as we put in our bucket.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wedding pictures! (indulge me a bit here)

I haven't posted a single picture from my wedding! I'm still waiting on our official wedding pictures from our fabulous photographer Kelly, but I can show you a few of my favorites from the candid shots I've been given (and though a few of these are on Facebook, not all of them are. I'm not just copying, no worries!).

My yellow tea kettle is whistling. How happy. Peppermint tea!


The weekend of our wedding was splendid. It was such a blessing to be surrounded by so many friends who love us and are rooting for us and our marriage. It eases all doubts when you marry someone you know you love, who is your best friend, and who is highly approved by your other friends. Andrew is friends with all my friends, and I love all his friends. I can't imagine how some people decide to marry without such support. I realize all circumstances are different, but I know that community has such an incredibly important role in my life -- and should in the life of everyone, especially those who claim the name of Christ -- that I can't imagine marrying anyone outside the context of such a wonderful, loving and supportive community.

That said, the community wedding weekend was wonderful. All the bridesmaids stayed at my parents' house with me, so all my friends from different places had to meet each other and be friends. Ha! I love each of those girls so deeply, and each of them has blessed my life in a tremendous way -- I wouldn't have shared the day without any of them. Thank you, my dear ones.

The Friday before the wedding, Andrew's extended family had a luncheon, since it was basically a family reunion for them. Andrew and I, and my immediate family, joined them, then we met up with the wedding party at the coffee shop for the afternoon.

Then, the rehearsal. My parents live about ten minutes from the Hill House, where the wedding was to take place. In that ten minutes, between leaving my house and arriving at the Hill House, the weather changed from too-hot June sunshine to a perfectly torrential monsoon.

Needless to say, the rehearsal was a bit scattered -- inside, then outside, then back in as the rain came and went, teasing us.

Photo credit: Rachel Jones

You can see how shiny the bricks are from the rain.
But, everyone was a good sport about it.

Photo credit: Rachel Jones

I don't know if you can tell, but we're standing in a giant mud hole.

Other than the rain, it was a nice evening. Dinner was excellent, though my appetite had begun to go already due to nerves, so I couldn't eat as much as I would've liked.

We made sure the wedding party knew the essential dances -- working at summer camp gives you odd priorities like that.

Photo: Rachel Jones

Andrew and I (with some help from Ridge Haven people, of course) taught them the essentials: "Cotton-Eyed Joe", and the ridiculous but oh-so-fun "500 Miles."

They thought I was crazy, but that's okay.


Saturday was a perfect day, so I won't bore you with my chatter. Just look at these lovely pictures!

Photo: Rachel Jones
We were married here, at the Hill House in lovely Abbeville, SC.

Photo: Rachel Jones
Our two superb ministers: Jeff Thompson and Andrew Lupton; Andrew and his best man Dwight

Photo: Chris Kloc
My lovely girls and Andrew, waiting for me.

Photos: Tim Moss
My dad and I rode up in a horse and carriage -- not typical Millie, but it was my wedding day.
It was fun.

Photo: Tim Moss
And I saw Andrew's face...

Photo: Martha Faires
He had two perfect tears on his cheeks, one from each eye.

And then we got married!

Photo: Bonnie Sweeny-Hutchinson

Photo: Bonnie Sweeny-Hutchinson

Photo: Tim Moss

Photo: Bonnie Sweeny-Hutchinson

Photo: Bonnie Sweeny-Hutchinson

Photo: Rachel Jones

Photo: Taylor McKissick

Photo: Kelly Davie
My darling, wonderful girls.

Photo: Tim Moss

Photo: Tim Moss
Our beautiful and yummy cake was made by my best friend from high school and bridesmaid, Jessica Maddox. She's super -- and the cake was absolutely delicious. We only had a bite each, but sporatically during our honeymoon, Andrew and I would look at each other and say, "I hope they saved us some cake!"

Photo: Tim Moss

Photo: Tim Moss

Photo: Rachel Jones

Photo: Rachel Jones

Photo: Tim Moss
Everyone danced admirably.

Photo: Rachel Jones
Hi-fives and good-bye!

It was a blast -- a blart, as we used to say.
I'm so glad the day was splendid, and I'm so glad I don't have to do it again.