Friday, December 24, 2010

Of Cookies and Christmas

On this Christmas Eve, my mom made yet another tantalizing batch of cookies. As I helped her roll the dough into sweet small spheres, I savored the feeling of the gritty sugar and sticky wetness against my hands. The smell of cinnamon and cloves and ginger filled the air. Loud energetic laughter trickled up the stairs from the basement. Scraps of ribbon floated around, mysteriously homeless.

Suddenly, life's big questions and messy problems seemed very small and insignificant and far away next to things this tangible. Vague questions and uncertainties vaporized against the solid reality of golden, spicy ginger cookies and bright twinkle-lights sparkling on the Christmas tree a few feet away.

And that, of course, is partly what Christmas is all about. Sometimes those things that seem big and important and pressing shrink into dust and blow away in the face of realities like cookies and ribbons and lights and laughter on a cold snowy night.

In the end, kings and legions of soldiers and all the power the Roman empire could muster didn't really matter very much compared to a seemingly insignificant infant born in an unimportant corner of the world.

In the end, then, Christmas is about making much of small things. Christmas is about remembering that sometimes God's perspective is different than ours. Christmas is about commemorating the tiny, the tangible, and the real. And Christmas is about celebrating one lone event that, in the whole wide expanse of history, really did matter.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

1000 Blessings

I've been thinking about gratitude a lot lately. Back in October, inspired by the writing of Ann Voskamp and Rachel Center, and attempting to journal in a more focused way, I began a list of 1000 Blessings and I'm finding it both delightful and challenging.

The goal? To list 1000 things for which I am grateful by November 1 of next year. Just a few things each day. A few daily notes in my journal. A few daily reminders of God's grace. A few visible marks of the endless blessings in my life.

Through this, what did I originally hope to accomplish?
  • A regular, productive journaling regimen
  • A list of blessings
  • A record of the year
 I won't share all 1000 on the blog, but I do plan to keep at least a condensed version of my list updated here. Here's a few garnered from my list so far:

#1.Sleep
#3. Jeans
#4. The smell of the morning
#5. Mornings off
#8. Books
#9. Sunshine
#13. Blank Paper
#27. Laughter


Join me! What are you thankful for this holiday season?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday Movie List

Chick flicks get a pretty hard, although admittedly sometimes well-deserved, rap. But in all painful honesty, there is not much that I find more stress-relieving than curling up and watching a really cheesy chick flick at the end of a long week.

Some of them are one-time-hitters. The standard plot lines, the ridiculous stereotypes of both men and women, and the deus ex machina coincidences that completely resolve all conflicts right before the credits roll get a little, well, predictable.

But then there are the movies I watch over and over and over again. In fact, in my opinion, they barely qualify as chick flicks. They're not about just a romance, or dating, or soul-mates. They're about life. And people.

So in honor of the beginning of the holiday season, here's my movie list. It's not the 10 best movies ever. It's probably not even the 10 best chick flicks ever. It's just a list of 10 movies that I really love. And everyone, even guys, should watch all of these at least once.

1. Elizabethtown - This movie isn't really about a romance as much as it is about a road trip. It's about two very quirky people who change each other's lives. There's a very dysfunctional, but close-knit family. There's great music.

Great Quotes:
  • "I'm impossible to forget, but I'm hard to remember."
  • "We are the substitute people."
  • "Everybody is less mysterious than they think they are"

2. Emma - I didn't mention the BBC production, because that barely qualifies as a single movie due to the length. But the version that stars Gwyneth Paltrow is quite well-done. First of all, it's faithful to the original story. It's also easy to follow even if you haven't read Jane Austen's novel. Emma reminds me, sometimes, all too much of myself and my friends. She's full of good intentions that often go awry, she's controlling, and she screws up at a fairly regular pace. Ultimately, though, she learns a lot about pride and grace.

Great Quotes:
  • "Marriage is so disrupting to one's social circle."
  • "Maybe it is our imperfections which make us so perfect for one another."
  • "Vanity working on a weak mind produces every kind of mischief."
3. Family Stone  - Talk about dysfunctional families. Even my holidays aren't this weird. Uptight Bostonian Sarah Jessica Parker comes to meet her laid-back, carefree future in-laws and, of course, disaster results. Everybody steps on everyone else's toes. People say stupid things. And 20 minutes before the end of the movie, every character is in love with the wrong person.

Great Quotes:
  • "We're all gonna be down here talking about you."
  • "Hey, I know this is probably a tall order, but I need you to do me a favor, and try not to be so perfect."
  • "You have a freak flag. You just don't fly it."
4. He's Just Not That Into You - This is a hilarious dating-survival guide. But it's also about a lot of people who are all desperately trying, and failing, to find total satisfaction through relationships. The resulting chaos is entertaining, refreshing, and even a little educational.

Great Quotes:
  • "We are all programmed to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk that means he likes you."
  • "That's a lot of prepositions."
  • "I"m not the exception. I'm the rule!"

5.Music and Lyrics - Possibly my single favorite chick-flick. Drew Barrymore is an emotionally dysfunctional and really quirky plant-girl. Hugh Grant is a pop-star has-been. While collaborating on a project, they manage to help each other grow. The best part of this movie is that this movie isn't about perfect love or perfect people. It's about people learning to love each other in spite of, and even because of, their faults and quirks.

Great Quotes:
  • "The few syllables you got out were absolutely devastating."
  • "I have great insight. I'd use it on myself only I don't have any problems." 
  • "I did not pander. I just told her exactly what she wanted to hear."

6. Sense and Sensibility -Another well-done Austen. This story has all of the characters...the cool kid who makes Marianne's heart race but who proves to be a real loser; the well-intentioned but often mistaken Edward, and even the interfering neighbors. It's also easy to watch even if you haven't read the novel.

Great Quotes:
  • "If you cannot think of anything appropriate to say you will please restrict your remarks to the weather." 
  • "There is a painful difference between the expectation of an unpleasant event and its final certainty."
  • "Your friendship has been the most important of my life."

7. The Holiday - Four people, whose personal lives are a complete mess, cross paths, throw each others lives into disarray, and ultimately teach each other a lot about life and love. There's a lot of great music in this one, too.

Great Quotes:
  • "It's Christmas Eve and we are going to go celebrate being young and being alive." 
  • "I like corny. I'm looking for corny in my life."

8.The Proposal - This one competes with Music and Lyrics for my heart. It's just good. Through and through. Family members trying to control each other. People manipulating other people for their own ends. Relationships doomed to be problematic. A lot of great lines.

Great Quotes:
  • "This woman is about as subtle as a gun."
  • "Do you prefer Margaret or "Satan's Mistress"? "
9. Valentine's Day - This one, like He Just Not That Into You, has multiple parallel plot lines. It's another movie about a few people all trying to find true love and happiness and all failing miserably. Even the ideal couple turns out to be only slightly less dysfunctional than the rest of the cast.

Great Quotes:
  • "You don't keep inklings to yourself! You share them! You're like hey guy, I got an inkling you're headed for a fall here! That's what friends do . . !"
  • "My closest relationship is with my Blackberry"
  • "There you have it, folks. Young love. Full of promise, full of hope, ignorant of reality."

10. You've Got Mail - The ruthless owner of a bookstore chain and the quirky owner of a tiny bookstore clash. This movie isn't just about coincidental love. It's about trying over and over again even when dreams fall apart. It's about people realizing what's really important. My favorite part of the movie is the addiction to books that seeps through every part of the plot.

Great Quotes:
  • "The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee."
  • "I always take a relationship to the next level. If that works out, I take it to the next level after that, until I finally reach that level when it becomes absolutely necessary for me to leave."
  • "How can you forgive this guy for standing you up and not forgive me for this tiny little thing of... of putting you out of business?"

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    101 Recipes Challenge

    101 Recipes. 1001 Days.

    Goal: To learn 101 new recipes by August 12, 2013. (Full credit for the brilliant 101 in 1001 idea goes to Day Zero.)

    The Team: Join Rachel from Balance and Blueberries and me in conquering the challenge! If you would like to be added to the 101 Recipes Challenge blogroll, e-mail your link to emilyadams829 at hotmail dot com.

    So here's my "recipe-wish-list". I'll be adding to it as I find recipes that intrigue me. Some of the items are basic staples. Some are elaborate luxuries. Some are complex and time-consuming. Some are convenient and quick.What's on your list?

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Friday Linkage

    It's Friday again. Enjoy a bit of weekend reading!

    I recently discovered Litemind, a cool blog about time management, goal setting, and intentional living. I especially loved his list of quotes.


    I'm always inspired by people who seem to have mastered the art of sharing their space, their stuff, and their time with both generosity and grace. Donald Miller's article was an insightful commentary on stewardship and hospitality.

    This article on Boundless made me squirm a bit. I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to using words to do anything but build up the next person and the article was a timely reminder.

    In all honesty, I haven't read any of the Twilight series. Nor have I seen the movies. This isn't so much due to some passionate stance which I can carefully articulate as it is to a simple lack of time. However, I thought this article contained a lot of insight, both on the Twilight series in particular and on relationships in general.

    Rachel at Balance and Blueberries shared this idea with me and I'm excited. More on this to come...

    What did you read this week?

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Great Stories: Jenna in Uganda

    There are those of us who talk about living great stories, taking risks, and stepping outside of our comfort zones. And then there are those who just do it.

    Jenna Funke, a dear friend of mine and a co-graduate of Belhaven University is one of those. Jenna recently traveled to Uganda on a short-term medical missions-trip. She graciously agreed to share a bit about her experiences there.


    Tell a little about yourself.


    I am from a small town in SC and am currently in graduate school getting my Masters in Occupational Therapy. I love working with children and hope to get a job in a pediatric hospital when I graduate. I also have a passion for horses and sharing love with other people.


    Where did you go and for how long?

    Uganda – We stayed in Masindi, but traveled to a variety of temporary clinic sites in Kasongoire, Kisuuga, Kimengo, and Bwayale, which were nearby. We also spent half a day each at Family Spirit Orphanage and Family Life Project. I was in Uganda for 13 days.

    Describe Uganda:
    The area of Uganda where we were was very rural. A lot of the people that we saw were farmers and worked in the fields. Uganda was very dusty, but a lot more lush and green than I was expecting. Most of the small villages we were at spoke the national African language, their own tribal language, and English.
    We had some translators that spoke English and multiple tribal languages, and some of our patients actually even spoke English. It is very common for the kids to know English, because that is what they are taught in school. The living conditions are pretty poor. Most families live in a small hut and do not have access to clean drinking water. The healthcare system is also very poor.

    With what organization did you go?
    I went with the Medical Campus Outreach group from East Cooper Baptist Church in Charleston, SC. We partnered with Palmetto Medical Initiative, who is in the process of establishing a clinic in Masindi, Uganda. Over 100 people went on the trip; about 80 were healthcare students.

    What was the purpose of the trip?
    The purpose of the trip was to provide medical and spiritual care to the people of Uganda in the more rural areas.

    What kinds of things did you do while you were over there?
    We had eight days of clinic and saw about 200-250 people each day, and close to 2,000 people during the entire trip. I worked in the therapy clinic six of the eight days. While in the clinic, I worked with a team of 3-4 students and a therapist. We provided education on muscle exercises as well as proper body mechanics for work.
    We made numerous hand and foot splints with material donated to our group. Some of the more interesting cases that I got to work with were a child with hydrocephalis, a man who had a stroke three years prior, and even a young girl who needed speech therapy, even though no speech therapists were on the trip. I also got to help manufacture a seating system out of random scrap material for a child with cerebral palsy.
    On one of the clinic days, I was able to participate in the children’s ministry program. During this time, we spent the day playing ball or various games with the children who were waiting for their parents to be seen by the medical team. We also provided a short Bible story on “Daniel and the lion’s den.” This was a neat opportunity to really feel like we were getting to know the culture. The children in Uganda were very eager to try to teach us the language. It was also interesting to watch the children play and see how they interacted with and cared for each other.
    During the other clinic day that I was actually not in the therapy clinic, I had the opportunity to be on the evangelism team. This was a really neat opportunity for me to grow spiritually. I really have not been stretched too many times to share my faith with people I do not know. It was amazing to see God at work in the lives of the people as they came up to us to ask for prayer.
    We tried to ask almost everyone that we prayed with if they knew of Jesus Christ and if we could tell them more about Him. Most of them were open to hearing the Gospel Story and a few even wanted to know Jesus personally as their Savior. This day in clinic was probably one of the most challenging, but rewarding of all the days.

    What is your favorite memory from the trip?
    This is a hard question to answer. I guess my favorite memories were seeing the joy on a patient’s face after we were able to provide treatment that resulted in immediate benefits.
    What surprised you most?
    I was surprised at how many cases we saw of preventable disabilities. It was very sad to see a patient who, if he or she was here in the US, would not be in the same condition, or who would have started receiving therapy much sooner and have had the opportunity to make progress. We saw a few patients who made bounds of progress with just the one treatment session, but also others who we could not do much for because they had already developed such severe contractures.
    What was the most significant thing that you learned?
    One thing I learned that had an impact on me was how important our care was for the people of Uganda. On our first clinic day, I struggled to understand exactly how the role of an occupational therapist fit into short-term missions, since we only saw the patient one time. One of the occupational therapists in charge of my group told me that she thinks giving individual quality care and sharing the love of Christ with them makes more of a difference than sharing our OT skills.
    Some of what we give medically might have a long term impact, but the bigger picture is what we share spiritually - Christ’s love. I think that learning that God can use me to help further His kingdom by giving me the ability to help therapeutically was one of the biggest things that I learned on this trip.
    What is one other thing that you want to share?
    If you want to learn more about our daily happenings on the trip, check out the PMI blog. At the end of the day, individual team members wrote small clips about the clinic experiences.




    *Photo Credits: Jenna Funke

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Friday Linkage

    It's Friday! Here's some interesting links for the weekend. Enjoy!

    Tony Woolief is an occasional contributor to World Magazine, among other things. I recently discovered his thought-prodding blog, Sand in the Gears. Start with this article.

    Real Simple produced a fun color quiz. What's your color personality?

    Ann Voskamp's writing is always beautiful and terribly intimidating. I've been thinking about journals in general (and my journals from high-school in particular) lately and her series on journaling is fueling the fire.

    As I drove north to meet my family up in northern Michigan this weekend, the red and orange hues of Michigan fall overflowed the landscape. If you don't appreciate the "Pure Michigan" ads, then you just aren't from Michigan.

    P.S. For those of you who were wondering, the Shakespeare Challenge is temporarily on hold, due to massive amounts of required reading material for my grad classes. Tragic, but true.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    What Do You See?

    This blog has been a little neglected lately. I'm hoping that posts will come with a little more regularity now that school has started up again in full force. (Or is that wishful thinking....?)

    The other day, I was talking with a former physics major about that mysterious and elusive degree. I wondered out loud what kind of person would choose to major in physics.

    "Everyone sees the world a certain way," she said. "You know someone will make a good physics major when they see the world in patterns."

    Now, I'm definitely not a physics major and when I look at the ocean I don't see the patterns of light waves (like my mom, a former physics major, apparently does). But the conversation did make me wonder how I do see the world. I spent the next three days staring at random objects trying to answer the question.

    Then, one afternoon, it occurred to me. I see the world in stories. Maybe it's just an English major thing. When I look at a clock or a car or a grain elevator, I wonder about the stories behind it. Who made it? Why is it there?

    I saw a harvester working in the fields at sunset last night and wondered about the driver. When would he quit for the evening and go home? What was his family like? What made him choose farming?

    When I see students walking through the school parking lots and wonder about their degree, their goals, their relationships. When I see the outline of the buildings of downtown, I wonder about the lives that play out inside their towering steel structures.

    And now I'm wondering.....how do you see the world?

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Review: Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna

    Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna (Barna Books, 2008) addresses current issues in the modern church. Viola analyzes today's church in light of a New-Testament church model. He also examines the extra-Christian influences on the church throughout history.


    Viola makes the point that many traditional aspects of today's church are simply the results of pagan influences throughout history. Viola believes that these non-Christian influences have undermined the integrity of the modern church. Viola believes that the modern church could solve many of her current issues by simply adhering solely to a New-Testament model.

    Viola walks readers through a fairly comprehensive history of the church in order to demonstrate his point. He demonstrates why he believes specific current church practices such as the church building, church leadership structures, and the traditional order of worship are simply remnants of pagan influences.

    While thoughtful readers could certainly benefit from considering the issues that Viola raises, his choppy style and lofty tone are difficult to overlook. Furthermore, his arguments are hard to follow, are occasionally based on inaccurate interpretations of historical events, and often only make sense if the reader agrees with Viola's initial analysis of the problem.

    His all-encompassing statements, his vilification of opposing arguments, and his overly exaggerated examples make many of Viola's points hard to swallow.

    Mark Driscoll provides a fairly comprehensive analysis of Pagan Christianity here.

    Jessica Muto provides another insightful review at her blog Shiny Mess.

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    Friday Linkage



    Here's the week's gleanings.

    "90...Say What?!" by Chelsea Munneke and "Expect Ingratitude, Practice Gratitude" by Heather Koerner, both of Boundless, were just good. They were sweet and light, but both carried a message that I won't forget soon.

    Donald Miller wrote a compelling three-part series entitlted "Toy Story 3: What We Can Learn From a Great Story." Here's the beginning.



    In the archives of Worldmag.com, I discovered "The Right Time for Babies" by Tony Woodlief. Make time this weekend to read this one. He has some convicting and convincing points that are especially relevant to young Christians.

    Yes, I know there's no Thursday post about Shakespeare. I confess, I'm a couple of scenes behind. But I'm still making my way towards the goal post....I hope to finish All's Well that Ends Well by next Thursday.

    I'm also trying to come up with a way to effectively track the Shakespeare reading here without turning this blog simply into a repetitious series of posts about Shakespeare. I'll keep you posted (no pun intended).



    Finally, see the cute little box on the right? Simply by typing your e-mail into that box, you'll receive Halfway Down the Stairs updates by e-mail! Isn't that convenient?

    What are you doing this weekend?

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Colors on My Mind

    I like to test color combinations on smaller projects, like notecards, before using the color combinations for photo-album pages.

    As I was scrapbooking last week, I felt in desperate need of some color inspiration. I was especially looking for ways to incorporate red and neutrals in a trendy, fresh way.

    Pottery Barn's Chesapeake Collection combined light green, light blue, and red against a backdrop of sand.


    I combined blue, red, and the sand color on one card.

    I was happy with the result, although I think a series of red stripes behind the blue might have worked better than the red waves.

    Where do you go for color inspiration?

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    All's Well That Ends Well, Part I

    Day 1 of this new endeavor was a success, although I am glad I didn't set my sights any higher than the completion of Act I. So here's the recap:


    Main Characters:
    • The Countess, a nice old lady whose husband died.
    • Bertram, the son of the Countess.
    • Helena, the ward of the Countess
    • Parolles. I don't know yet how he is going to play into the plot, but Helena calls him a "notorious liar."
    • Lafeu, an ambassador from the King of France.
    Scene I

    In this scene, we are introduced to the main characters. We find out that Bertram's father has recently died and that Bertram is heading to France.

    Scene II

    In Scene II, Bertram arrives in France and is received kindly by the King of France, who is apparently suffering from some disease that no one can cure.

    Scene III

    A steward tells the Countess that Helena secretly loves Bertram. The Countess calls Helena in and tricks her into confessing her love for Bertram. Helena then explains that she has in her possession a cure for the King of France. The Countess sends Helena off to France to cure the King and win Bertram's heart.

    Words

    For Monday.....Act II.

    Friday Linkage

    Happy Friday! Here are some weekend links.

    Jonathan Acuff wrote an editorial for CNN called "My Take: Why Christians are jerks online." He made some thought-provoking points.

    Asian Bees Photography has a beautiful blog that is just loaded with inspiration. Her pictures are stunning.

    Holy Experience by Ann Voskamp never ceases to completely floor me. Her design is beautiful and unique. Her writing is quite unlike that of any other blogger I've seen. Then, this week, she wrote "When You Can't Quite Figure Out How to Live Your Best Life." Read it. You won't regret it.

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Reading the Bard

    I have a lot of "eventually" goals. Eventually, I'd like my scrapbook photo albums to be current. Eventually, I'd like to go to England. Eventually, I'd like to read all of Shakespeare's plays.

    The problem with "eventually" goals is that they must be turned into manageable pieces to actually become reality. My scrapbook albums are being completed a page at at time. If I can do a page a week, I'll be caught up by the time I'm, oh, 45 or so.


    England just has to sit on the back-burner until after I finish graduate school. And after I find a job.

    But I could be working on the Shakespeare goal more effectively right now. I'd love to read the plays that I haven't read. I'd like to re-read the plays that I frantically raced through during high-school and college English classes.


    So here's the plan for turning "eventually" into reality. There are 37 Shakespeare plays. Every play is 5 acts long. The acts are fairly manageable pieces. My plan is to read 2 acts a week, and to complete a play every 2 and 1/2 weeks.

    I'll chronicle the journey here to motivate myself to keep reading. Join me! Maybe I'll only make it partway to my "eventually" goal, reading one or two plays that I've never read. But maybe....just maybe...I can make it all the way.

    Friday's goal: Act I of "All's Well that Ends Well."

    What are some of your "eventually" goals? How do you plan to turn them into reality?

    Saturday, June 26, 2010

    Friday Linkage

    Yes, I know it's actually Saturday, not Friday. But it's been a busy week.

    There are some really beautiful design blogs out there. Two that are inspiring are Postcards and Pretties and The Finer Things.


    This color scheme designer is a fun tool.

    A few articles on internet use grabbed my attention this week. The New York Times ran an article entitled "The Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness" while Al Mohler wrote an article called "Meet the New American Family, Digitally Deluged."

    How do you manage your time spent online?

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Ready....Set......Stop.

    Sometimes feelings of inferiority, ineffectiveness, and sheer uselessness crowd my brain. Generally, this happens after I encounter people that are smarter, better, or more productive than I am. Often, this turns into a sort of frenzied panic, stemming from the sneaking suspicion that I will live out the next 50 years simply spinning my wheels.

    In the past, I've simply reacted to this by working harder and faster. I've crowded my schedule with easily completed tasks so that I can feel effective. I've over-committed so that, at the end of the day, I can feel that I accomplished something substantial. I've set difficult goals so that I can feel a sense of satisfaction at my achievements.


    And the end result is.......a sense of being terribly under-slept because there really aren't enough hours in the day. Frustration because items on a to-do list or goals achieved don't necessarily make me feel fulfilled. Irritation at everyone around me who doesn't understand why I'm so tired and stressed and frustrated.

    Constant communication ever at my fingertips only increases this sense of panic. And an article by Al Mohler makes me suspect that I may not be alone. Whenever a sense of boredom or a lull in my schedule seeps in, I check Facebook or my e-mail or my phone messages so that every second is filled to the max.



    But it's peacemaking, not frenzied panic, for which we're supposed to strive. Rest is commanded, not a constant mental treadmill. And fear and stress are supposed to be replaced with peace.

    And ever so slowly, I am learning the value of rest. George MacDonald said, "Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness." I've finally started to realize that I don't have to simple produce and do and go and accomplish.

    There is, of course, a place for hard work and diligence and accomplishments. But there's also a time to sit back and realize that, without me, the universe really will keep on spinning. God isn't waiting on me to accomplish His purposes for the rest of humanity. And I'm not as crucial to the rest of the world as I like to think.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Mounds of Paper

    Scrapbooking is a great excuse to mess around with paper and stickers of every color, shape, and size. I can regress to the level of a preschool student without my sanity being questioned.


    This weekend I started some cards. Only one of them was actually completed. The others still need some finishing touches.


    They definitely need some stamping. I love this great orange and white-polka-dot paper.


    I also love the striped paper. It reminds me of the beach.




    I found a site that offered step-by-step directions for making bookmarks. Inspired, I put together some simple ones.



    Meanwhile, I'm trying to catch up on my photo albums. I'm still working on pictures from 2005. Daunting? Oh yes.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    It's the Little Things...

    It's the little things in life that count. Like an organized inbox. E-mail accounts can spin out of control if left to their own devices. My own was becoming overwhelming. As of yesterday I had 150 "new" messages, all of which were over a week old.

    There were 54 pages of e-mails, most of which contained at least somewhat relevant records, but the junk was making it difficult to keep track of the important stuff.

    It was time to do a little housekeeping. I needed to clear out the advertisements, spam, and automated updates. But who wants to wade through 54 pages of e-mails? So I automated the process:
    • I searched for the e-mail address of the advertisement/spam/automated update in question. This helped me find all the e-mails of any one kind at once.
    • I clicked "Mark All."
    • I clicked "Delete. "
    • I repeated this process until I ran out of junk mail.

    Now I was down to 39 pages of mail, but now, at least, most of the e-mails were legitimate records and not useless advertising.

    I'm also unsubscribing from automated updates as they arrive. It takes a few seconds, but it should save time down the road.

    What did you organize this week?

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Friday Linkage

    The summer heat is here in full force. For a fun bit of summer cooking, try the Homemade Ginger Ale recipe at Epicurious.com.

    Christianity Today has a neat article on church history. I also enjoyed The Best-Laid Plans from Boundless.



    I love blank paper. Especially piles of multicolored blank paper. I also love staring at beautiful blogs. Oh So Beautiful Paper conveniently feeds both of these obsessions.

    What did you enjoy reading this week?

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Friday Linkage

    Here are some articles to read during your down-time this weekend.

    I love Boundless. Their articles are consistently thought-provoking, entertaining, and challenging. Sometimes all at once. Two good articles published on Boundless this week are Miracles Happen by George Halitzka and Six Impossible Things by Elisabeth Adams.

    Another thought-provoking read is Every vile or idle word from the Bayly Blog.

    What did you read this week?

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Loveliness to Sell

    A line from my 7th-grade poetry class was running endlessly in my head the other day. "Life has loveliness to sell..." I thought finding the rest of the poem might help prevent the loss of my sanity, so I did a search on Google for the line and found a poem by Sara Teasdale.

    Barter


    Life has loveliness to sell,
    All beautiful and splendid things,
    Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
    Soaring fire that sways and sings,
    And children's faces looking up
    Holding wonder like a cup.


    Life has loveliness to sell,
    Music like a curve of gold,
    Scent of pine trees in the rain,
    Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
    And for your spirit's still delight,
    Holy thoughts that star the night.


    Spend all you have for loveliness,
    Buy it and never count the cost;
    For one white singing hour of peace
    Count many a year of strife well lost,
    And for a breath of ecstasy
    Give all you have been, or could be.


    The poem made me think of cupcakes. (Logical connection, right?) So I used the batter recipe from Bona Vita's Luscious Lemon Cake and made 24 adorable lemon cupcakes with a Ridiculously Sweet Glaze.


    The only problem was that one package of cake mix only produces 24 tiny, petite, miniscule cupcakes. Which were devoured in three hours. Gone. Vamoose. So I doubled the recipe. The second time around, the cupcakes were fluffier. Bigger. And thus, better.


    I whisked sugar and lemon juice together to make the same Ridiculously Sweet Sugar Glaze:

    3 cups powdered sugar
    6 tbl. lemon juice

    I was able to drizzle the glaze on the cupcakes rather generously, but who wants to skimp on Ridiculously Sweet Sugar Glaze?

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    A Whole New World

    Yesterday I drove all over northern Michigan, accompanying my parents on their Craigslist hunting adventures.

    We ended up in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids in search of a Steelcase coffee table. The store where the table was located was an experience in and of itself. It was one of those times where I really wished I had brought a camera. But of course, I had not. So I just gazed in dumbstruck awe.



    Real, honest-to-goodness retro furniture from the '50s, '60s, and '70s filled the store. It looked like a set straight out of Mad Men. Funky chairs and lamps lined the walls. Tables that could have come straight out of my grandmother's house were stacked in the middle of the room. Oranges and yellows and steel and brass was everywhere.

    The store was owned by two recent graduates of design school. They started telling us about their passion for retro furniture. They talked about the mass supplies of designer furniture produced for Midwest homes made rich by American industry during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.

    They talked about the differences between designer retro furniture and cheap knock-offs. They tossed around designer names like Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Eero Saarinen. The table we were looking at cost $40. But some of the furniture in the store was worth thousands of dollars.


    The table is definitely a winner. With steel legs, maple framing, and black glass on top, it looks both classy and contemporary. And it looks good in the living room.

    But better still was entering a whole new world of retro designer furniture where suddenly, ugly old lamps and grandmothers' table took on a whole new meaning.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Review: Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

    I just finished Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What (Thomas Nelson, 2004). Overall, I appreciated Donald Miller's fresh approach to the Gospel. His fast-paced, witty style was less mature in this book than in some of his more recent works, but his writing still kept me turning pages.




    It is easy to slip into a checklist version of Christianity. Went to church...check. Didn't steal a car...check. Gave money to charity...check. However, in this book, Miller takes a step back and presents the Gospel in a way that is both refreshing and convicting.

    Miller's description of "The Lifeboat Theory" and his comparison of the Gospel to William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet were particularly powerful.

    My quibbles with Miller are generally political. He tends to lean towards the political left and, quite frankly, I just don't agree with many of his conclusions on matters political and social. But that's another issue for another time.

    If you can overlook the occasional jab at political conservatives and can be open-minded towards the potential pit-falls of formulaic Christianity, then Searching for God Knows What will be a rewarding read.

    Favorite Quotes from Searching for God Knows What:

    "There are two essential problems with believing God is somebody He isn't. The first problem is that it wrecks your life. The second is that it makes God look like an idiot."

    "It seems like, if you really knew the God who understands the physics of our existence, you would operate a little more cautiously, a little more compassionately, a little less like you are the center of the universe."

    "But if [the gospel of Jesus] is more, if it is a story about humanity falling away from the community that named it, and an attempt to bring humanity back to that community, and if it is more than a series of ideas, but rather speaks directly into this basic human need we are feeling, then the gospel of Jesus is the most relevant message in the history of mankind."

    Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Thomas Nelson, 2004.

    Image taken from: http://missionalchurchnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/searching-for-god-knows-what.jpg

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Dying of Boredom

    The other day, someone mentioned that we don't have to fight for everyday survival the way people used to. Considering my athletic prowess, this is great. Otherwise, I'd probably be eaten by a bear.

    But sometimes I wonder if we aren't fighting battles of a different kind. We don't have to think....we can just turn on the t.v. We don't have to cook (or worse, hunt down our food)...we can just order takeout. In our cheery modern world where everything is a click away, we don't really have to try very hard at all. At anything. And we can still pretend to be productive, happy, healthy people living rich full busy lives. Sometimes it's so easy to just choose ease.

    And we massage our own self-image and tell ourselves and each other that we're beautiful and smart and fun and great. And meanwhile, beneath the hum of image and and the ring of cell-phones bearing news of the latest social drama and the petty rush of every day, our souls shrivel and die.

    Because, in reality, we're narcissistic and dull and we're boring ourselves to death. In reality, we are in a battle for our souls and minds and hearts. In a world where mental numbness is a just a few steps away, we’re fighting for our lives.


    Yesterday, for a few hours, I sat in a quiet, sterile world. We relaxed in dark, cool, rooms while a hot sunny day rolled by outside. We talked about petty nothingness for hours and, when I left, I knew nothing more about the people with whom I'd spent the afternoon than when I'd arrived. Shallow jokes aimed at absent people and self-absorbed conversations were batted around. Everything was clean and quiet because there was no one to make a mess or create noise.

    God made us creatures of action and emotion. And if we don't create and grow and feel and experience, our souls die. Quiet and clean and sterile and still is nice, but the only place where nothing happens is a place where everything is dead. Cells and plants and animals and landscapes grow and change out of necessity. When action stops, life stops.

    We have to get out of ourselves. We need to stare at the sky and realize how tiny we are. We need to be around people better than us and realize how far we still have to go. We need to read the thoughts of people smarter than us because we don't know everything. We need to create because we aren't an end in ourselves.

    We need to try things that are too hard. We need to go further than we know how to go. We need to dream dreams that are too big. Because if we don't stretch, we can't grow. If we're not growing, we're dying. And life is too short to waste a second.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Rules of Engagement

    Etiquette is one of those crazy things, like MLA formatting and state tax laws, that change constantly. Actions considered rude last year may be acceptable today. Many of the traditional "rules of engagement" no longer even apply.

    Technology just makes this more complicated. What exactly are the rule about cell-phones, texting, and Blackberries? Furthermore, what does etiquette look like in the realm of the Internet? What is rude behavior on Facebook? What does a polite e-mail look like?

    Some thoughtful and brilliant unknown person pointed out that etiquette is the outward action of loving our neighbors. When I feel the tendency to simply write off all attempts to observe etiquette and begin to consider manners as a sort of relative set of rules that no longer apply, this concept reminds me of the underlying heart of etiquette. Loving our neighbors.

    It's commonly considered rude to chew with your mouth open. But this isn't some random rule that George Washington's housekeeper invented. It's rude to chew with your mouth open because your behavior will prevent those around you from enjoying your meal.

    It's considered rude to call late at night or early in the morning. This isn't some hard and fast "stop at the stop sign" rule. The tradition is in place because it's inconsiderate to simply assume everyone else keeps the same hours that you do.

    It's considered polite to show up at a formal party with a hostess gift. This isn't your "ticket in." It's simply a way of expressing gratitude to those who went through the effort to prepare the food and host the gathering.

    Loving my neighbor might mean that, while it's acceptable to talk on my phone in a crowded, loud area, I may need to end the conversation when I walk into the quiet library.

    Loving my neighbor involves being thoughtful of those around me and aware of my surroundings. Behavior acceptable with one group of people might not be acceptable in another context.

    I still want to know the answers. I'd feel more comfortable knowing when it's not rude to answer my phone in public. But reminding myself that the heart of etiquette is outwardly showing love to those around me helps me make judgments about polite behavior.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    In Quest of Perfection

    I have set out on a quest for the perfect day-planner. When I was in college, I used the Student Planner published by the New York Public Library. The spacious boxes provided me with plenty of space to keep track of all of my academic and extra-curricular events.

    Last year, I tried to use the calendar system included in Microsoft Outlook. The problem with using Outlook was that, after carefully uploading all of my events for the week, I never had my calendar available when I was out and about. So I quit planning. This was flirtation with disaster.

    I think I could only use a computerized planning system again if I used it in conjunction with a regular planner.

    When I searched for "Day Planner" on Google, the results were overwhelming, though inspiring. This forced me to make a list of the things I'm looking for in the perfect planner:

    • Space. If the boxes and lines are too tiny, keeping track of more than one or two events becomes frustrating. So those tiny cute planners are out.
    • Size. The ideal planner would fit in my purse. So although a big binder might be the most effective solution, a typical 3-ring binder is out.
    • Appearance. I work better with things that are pretty. Practical? No. But a reality. I am far more likely to consistently use something that I like to look at. Hey, that's how Apple made it.
    • A variety of planning tools. A planner that displays a week at a glance is a must. But the ideal planner would also include monthly and even yearly calendars. A section to keep track of expenditures is useful. I've noticed that some planners even include sections for prayer requests, reading lists, extensive notes, and grocery lists.
    I'm considering simply buying a half-size binder and making my own. I'm also considering just refilling my current planner with customized sections.

    Any suggestions? Do you use a day-planner? What are must-haves in a planner?

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    Friday Linkage

    When you have some down-time this weekend, instead of just staring at the Facebook feed, go check out these great resources.

    I recently discovered Boundless, a webzine packed with thought-provoking and often convicting articles. If you haven't read any of their stuff, you should.

    My favorite article published by Boundless this week was "Trying Patience" by James Tonkowich.

    Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a timely commentary on TIME Magazine's commemoration of May 9: The Pill Turns 50: TIME Considers the Contraceptive Revolution.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    The Lost Line

    This morning I woke up with one line of a song going around and around my head. It wouldn't leave. It drove me crazy for the first two hours of my day.

    Then the line suddenly inspired an idea for a blog post. I thought, "Hey, I should write that down so that I don't forget it." But, since I was in a hurry, I didn't write it down.

    Fast-forward one hour. In the car, driving to school, I reached over and switched the radio on. Suddenly, without warning, the line was gone. I couldn't, for the life of me, remember what it was.

    Lesson #1: Write it down. Otherwise, you'll forget it.

    Lesson #2: Sometimes creativity dies a hard death at the end of a long road of wasted toil and sweat. But sometimes creativity dies just because someone failed to write something down.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    This Petty Pace

    We're reading Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope in one of my classes right now. Great book, by the way.

    As my professor cheerily rattled off information about Trollope in class, it slowly dawned on me that Trollope puts most of us to shame. The man was a writing machine. He pumped out words and pages and novels using a rigorous and merciless system that makes my best efforts at time-management look like a 3rd-grader driving a oil-tanker.

    According to his autobiography*, he wrote 250 words every 15 minutes for 2.5 hours a day, producing 2500 words (or 10 pages). That's 70 pages a week. Or 2100 pages a month, if you prefer to think of it that way. Ultimately, he wrote 47 novels using this system. Are you feeling inferior yet? I am. I don't even think I read at the pace at which Trollope wrote.

    It gets better. He did all of this in addition to holding a full-time job. And computers didn't exist. So he did all of this writing by hand. Suddenly my enormous research papers whose deadlines are looming looked small and insignificant. Trollope could write more in 15 minutes by hand than most of us can write in an hour on a computer. Did I mention that he also had a full-time job?

    I'm not quite sure what to do with all of this terrifying information yet, but I'm thoroughly intimidated. And I've come to a couple conclusions:
    1. I could be far, far more productive than I am.
    2. In the time that I spend procrastinating every day, Trollope wrote about 1000 words.
    3. In the time that I spend on Facebook every day, he wrote another 1000 words.
    4. I'm inspired to enact some kind of routine for both reading and writing this summer.
    5. I will never procrastinate on a research project again.
    6. All of the above are true except #5.
    *Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography of Anthony Trollope. New York: Dodd, Meade, and Co., 1922.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Planning for Summer

    The cold, never-ending winter changed overnight into the glorious warmth of early summer. With the fading of the cold, though, my motivation to accomplish anything constructive disappeared as well. It's far more interesting to plan for the summer months ahead than to actually complete all of the grading and research that looms between me and the middle of May.

    So here are some of the things I'd like to do this summer:

    • Read. I'm working on a summer reading list. Any suggestions?
    • Write. I'd like to keep developing this blog. There's some other hazy, undefined projects floating around in my head at the moment, too. A girl can plan, can't she?
    • Bake. This is the summer that I will learn to bake French Bread. I've been promising my mom that I would learn for years and it just needs to happen. Soon. Before Mom despairs entirely of my domestic capabilities.

    So what are your goals for the summer months ahead?

    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    This Rainy Sunday...

    I had a bit of extra time on my hands on this afternoon, so I spent some time making note-cards. First I gathered up the requisite paper products and the blank note-cards.


    I love paper. I think it's an addiction.



    Then I started to cut.



    And glue.




    And sticker. (Is "sticker" a verb?)



    And pretty soon, I had these.



    And I don't even have to cut straight lines.

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    The Beginning

    I've thought about writing a blog before. Too quickly, though, I would swamp my micro-managing self with questions like, "What would my title be?" "How often would I post?" and "What the heck would I talk about?" The last question was probably the most relevant, because nobody wastes their time reading about nothing. Well, sometimes I waste my time reading about nothing. But I would never publicly admit that.


    Then something clicked. Somewhere between reading far too late one night and a desperate search for some reason to procrastinate still longer on my research project, I began to think about blogging again. And I couldn't shake it. So another blog was born. Not that you needed another reason to procrastinate online.