Friday, September 30, 2011

7 Quick Takes

I figured my week of miscellany was as perfect a time as ever to join  7 Quick Takes Friday at Jen's weekly blog carnival.  (p.s., did you know Jen lives in Austin too?  I've been reading her blog for a couple of years and had no idea she lived in Austin until just before we moved here.  Just another one of those cyber-graces, I guess.)

Here we go....
--- 1 ---
Last weekend I attended a Silent Retreat with  sixteen other women from our church.  I've got a post lurking in my mind about the experience.  Also, about 1,347 pictures to upload.  It wasn't that there was so much to see, but that it was the first time I felt like I could cavort in nature without dying of heat exhaustion.   I'll post on that soon, but thought you'd like my friend Lori's comment when I told her about the retreat:  Can you imagine getting 16 women together for a whole weekend and no one was talking?!? 

--- 2 ---
I've told you about 1 bazillion times about my sister and her world-famous money-saving blog, Cha-Ching On A Shoestring, but there's still more to tell!  This week Kaley and her husband Wes spent three days in New York City taping to tape a segment with Anderson Cooper for his new daytime talk show.  She just keeps on getting more and more amazing!  

By the way, if you like to save money, you should follow her blog.

--- 3 ---
Speaking of saving money, I'm not a very diligent couponer.  But the best piece of advice I've used from my sister is e-mealz.  My whole family loves the menus I print out each week and I love, love, love how simple it is to plan meals and to make grocery lists.  The site is very easy to use and you can select from a variety of options (e.g., which grocery store you prefer, what kind of healthy choices you're trying to include in your meals, etc.)  I'm sure Kaley is going to tell me that I should get some kind of special code or link or something so that I get credit if you use the e-mealz service. If you want you could go to her blog and sign up through the link there and she can just owe me a favor or something.

I snapped a shot of the Low-Country Stew we ate Tuesday night (just before every single piece of food was devoured).

Low-Country stew:  potatoes, corn, onion, shrimp, sausage

--- 4 ---
Someday I'll have to tell the story about how I managed to be the mother of four children but not do one minute of grocery shopping or one load of laundry for like two or three years straight.  For now, I'm loving every minute (almost) of grocery shopping and laundry I get to do!

--- 5 ---
Really, for years my kids have picked on me for being a great big "soccer mom" flunkie.  I'm just not that kind of girl -- with or without the mini-van.  But for this season, moving into a new town I'm sticking very close to home so that everyone can get settled in without too much emotional damage.  I'm kind of loving cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and pretty much surprising myself every day.  Imagine my shock at the turn of events that include me homeschooling my 8th-grade daughter starting on Monday.  Not only that I'm going to do this but I'm really excited about it.  More and more crazy grace coming our way these days...

--- 6 ---
Speaking of surprising grace and home education, I just had my very first writing credit at an online magazine!  I've been enjoying catapult* magazine's bi-weekly issues for many months now, exploring the practical topics of living thoughtfully in our culture.   In fact, several of my Wednesday words posts have come from the daily asterisk emails sent out *culture is not optional (*cino), the same makers of the magazine. 

This issue's theme was surrounding the topic of Teaching Well.   You can read my essay, "In Search of A Good Education: the importance of gratitude and true grit" by clicking here.  While you're at it check out the whole magazine and join the conversation.

--- 7 ---
That's all for now.  Gotta run to the grocery store.  (no, Mom, I'm not kidding).  Here's a happy video (via Anthology) to inspire you to enjoy this lovely fall weekend.

"Golden Tree" by Martin Brooks from Ninian Doff on Vimeo.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Austin, Nice to Meet You: weeks 3-6

Keeping up with this week's promised miscellany, a list of our past few weeks here in Austin:

1.  Have I mentioned Chuy's yet?  So, I might have been a teensy bit biased coming into Austin because of the consistent rave reviews from this guy.  Still and all, it's just plain good Tex-Mex, served up by super friendly wait staff in a fun and funky building. Plus, even if none of that were true, Chuy's would still have their creamy jalepeno (which is kind of like crack for tortilla chips; the perfect blend of creamy and spicy flavours).

A couple of Mondays ago, on Brian's day off, we went to Chuy's for lunch and I remembered to bring my camera.  Also, you'll notice I'm keeping up my tradition of frozen margaritas for lunch.  I think it'll help me become more Texan.

there's salsa, fresh guac and then there's creamy jalepeno!
this was our visit to Chuy's our first weekend in Austin;
 my little friend Annie is demonstrating her technique
 for getting the most out of creamy jalepeno
Brian + Tamara = fun Mondays

2.  I promise I do more things here than eat, but I just want to tell you about the mod coffeehouse where my new friend Micha and I met up about two weeks ago.  Flightpath Coffeehouse, in the historic Hyde Park neighborhood, claims to be Austin's oldest coffeehouse.  The coffee was good, the pumpkin bread perfect, the wireless free and the neighborhood lovely for walking so Micha's baby boy could nap.  I'm hoping to go back here occasionally to write or read.  
I forgot my camera so I'm hoping they don't mind me
 borrowing these from their website?

3.  Speaking of Micha, have I mentioned how we met?  It really is just a fun story so let me tell it one more time on this nifty little timeline:
  • 5 years ago:  I began stalking reading this guy's blog.  Somewhere along the way, I heard him mention this worship leader/songwriter intending to write and record a song for all 150 of the Psalms.  I was intrigued and...
  • 2 years ago:  I invited him to be a featured artist at Union Center's art show (incidentally, that's also how I met this guy).  Then the piano playing psalm-loving poet cyber-introduced me to this lovely and amazing woman and...
  • about 1 1/2 years ago we became blogging friends (partly inspired by the fact that she and I had similar jobs in our respective churches).  Last December she commissioned a poet from San Francisco for their church's Advent celebration.  I read the poems and tucked the poet's name in my memory.
  • 2 months ago, when I posted the news about our move to Austin, Haley cyber-introduced Micha and me because both of our families were moving to the SAME city during the SAME month from opposite sides of the country (mine from NY, hers from San Francisco).
  •  It gets even weirder.  Micha's family preceded us into town and one of their first Sundays here decided to visit a little Anglican church they'd found online: Christ Church Austin.  Yep, you guessed it.  The one and the same church who had called us to Texas in the first place.  
Crazy, right?  Since Micha and I have met in person we realized we had other blogging connections through this lovely woman in PA.  It's a small world out there, folks.

4.  In other fun turns of events, I was able to attend the HopeArts Festival Kick-Off event on September 10.  For those of you keeping score at home, Hope Chapel of Austin is the place where, in 2006,  I first stumbled on a church community trying to do faith and art well. 

Jason Harrod & Brian Moss at Art Show on Main 2009
Without ever meeting me, they  mentored our whole troupe of hopeful artists in upstate NY.  And, now, I live here.  And I get to participate with them in their next festival in July 2012.  How unbelievably, grace-full is that?  Not only did I attend, but the arts pastor, Brie Walker Tshoepe, asked me to write some reflections for their blog.  The very same blog I used to scour like a groupie, hoping something would rub off on me.  Jesus loves me, this I know...

You can read my reflections at HopeArts blog, click here.

5.  Speaking of grace-full, some kind-hearted new friends blessed my kids with free passes to Austin City Limits festival two weekends ago.  Not only were the passes free, but they were to the two shows my kids most wanted to see:  Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire.

Arcade Fire @ ACL 2011

Crazy grace, right? 

I wanted Andrew to write about how he earned his free ticket, taking a job shuttling clients for a marketing firm's junket.  Yes, I said "driving clients".  That would be through a brand new city in a 15-passenger van, without a GPS. Oh, the price we'll pay for good music. 

 Maybe he'll do us the honor of writing it sometime, but the kid has the nerve to have a life so he's not here right now.  In the meantime, here's a video for you.  

I'll be back tomorrow with more odds 'n ends and assorted miscellany.
Until then, enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Mixtape: miscellany medley

Just like the lint trap on our dryer, my blog draft file seems to get clogged up every once in awhile.  I figured this week would be as good a time as ever to share the hodgepodge that's been accumulating behind the scenes here lately.  The only theme you'll see here this week could be filed under the heading miscellany, medley, anthology, melee, odds & ends, and the like.  (look who loves

Really, every day will be a mixtape day around here this week.  Hope you enjoy!

track 1: music

Where's Ulysses released their second -- and final -- release is available for free download here.  I'm not sure why I'm surprised about this, but I think the second EP is even better than their first!  I'm totally going to miss this group.  

 track 2:  film

What do an elderly topiary gardener, a retired lion tamer, a man fascinated by mole rats, and a cutting-edge robotics designer have in common? Both nothing and everything in this unconventional documentary directed by Erroll Morris. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (Referring to the robot specialist's strange philosophy of robot design structure, not Erroll Morris's documentary techniques!) interplays, overlaps, and interrelates these four separate and highly specialized documentary subjects in order to in truth study all of humanity, raising questions about the future of mankind. Written by Matthew F. Griffin

Brian and I watched this together last week -- kind of on a whim.  Frankly, the subject matter was so odd we figured we'd know within a few moments whether it was worth our time.  We watched every moment and it was an unusual, well-crafted,  strangely beautiful documentary.  I'd argue that there are really five subjects in this film;  director Erroll Morris' mastery makes what would seem to be uninteresting, unrelated, even ugly, subjects connect in seamless, even beautiful cinematography.  Once again we were reminded that when a human being knows his purpose in life and pursues it with excellence and passion, we are all elevated.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

becoming forgiven [imperfect prose]

i've lost count the number i've recited this prayer
somewhere between my catholic friends and the baptists
regarding the others, how many times eyes rolled
at the mention of the title

It should be called the Disciple's Prayer, you know.

i've lost count the number i thought i had no one 
to forgive so i would be forgiven
until the words roll off my tongue
leaving behind the vain repetition of the slightly-miffed 
the increasingly more annoying
intentions were good and didn't mean to hurt
the little slight i barely noticed
and the one who overlooked 

the number of those unaware i hold them accountable
seventy times seven,  
requires rote recitation three times daily, sometimes
four, to account for the repetitious Lord's
praying these now-counted disciples off to graceland
with me, becoming forgiven

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Hungry Child Can't Wait: Ask 5 for 5 [guest post]

I offered to host Sarah Lenssen here after reading about her campaign #Ask5for5 at Mama:Monk today.  With a simple fundraising plan, Sarah has raised just over $32,000 for Somalia's famine crisis since she kicked off #Ask5for5 in August. May God bless both those with plenty and those in want through Sarah's efforts.  

Guest Blogger: Sarah Lenssen from #Ask5for5
Family photos by Mike Fiechtner Photography

Thank you This Sacramental Life and nearly 150 other bloggers from around the world for allowing me to share a story with you today, during Social Media Week.

A hungry child in East Africa can't wait. Her hunger consumes her while we decide if we'll respond and save her life. In Somalia, children are stumbling along for days, even weeks, on dangerous roads and with empty stomachs in search of food and water. Their crops failed for the third year in a row. All their animals died. They lost everything. Thousands are dying along the road before they find help in refugee camps. 

At my house, when my three children are hungry, they wait minutes for food, maybe an hour if dinner is approaching. Children affected by the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia aren't so lucky. Did you know that the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging whole countries right now, as you read this? Famine, a term not used lightly, has been declared in Somalia. This is the world's first famine in 20 years.12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance and over 29,000 children have died in the last three months alone. A child is dying every 5 minutes. It it estimated that 750,000 people could die before this famine is over. Take a moment and let that settle in.

The media plays a major role in disasters. They have the power to draw the attention of society to respond--or not. Unfortunately, this horrific disaster has become merely a footnote in most national media outlets. News of the U.S. national debt squabble and the latest celebrity's baby bump dominate headlines. That is why I am thrilled that nearly 150 bloggers from all over the world are joining together today to use the power of social media to make their own headlines; to share the urgent need of the almost forgotten with their blog readers. Humans have the capacity to care deeply for those who are suffering, but in a situation like this when the numbers are too huge to grasp and the people so far away, we often feel like the little we can do will be a drop in the ocean, and don't do anything at all.

When news of the famine first hit the news in late July, I selfishly avoided it. I didn't want to read about it or hear about it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I wanted to protect myself. I knew I would need to do something if I knew what was really happening. You see, this food crisis is personal. I have a 4-year-old son and a 1 yr-old daughter who were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought. If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother's hungry child?

My friend and World Vision staffer, Jon Warren, was recently in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya--the largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 people. He told me the story of Isnino Siyat, 22, a mother who walked for 10 days and nights with her husband, 1 yr-old-baby, Suleiman, and 4 yr.-old son Adan Hussein, fleeing the drought in Somalia. When she arrived at Dadaab, she built the family a shelter with borrowed materials while carrying her baby on her back. Even her dress is borrowed. As she sat in the shelter on her second night in camp she told Jon, "I left because of hunger. It is a very horrible drought which finished both our livestock and our farm." The family lost their 5 cows and 10 goats one by one over 3 months, as grazing lands dried up. "We don't have enough food now...our food is finished. I am really worried about the future of my children and myself if the situation continues."

Will you help a child like Baby Suleiman? Ask5for5 is a dream built upon the belief that you will.

That something I knew I would need to do became a campaign called #Ask5for5 to raise awareness and funds for famine and drought victims. The concept is simple, give $5 and ask five of your friends to give $5, and then they each ask five of their friends to give $5 and so on--in nine generations of 5x5x5...we could raise $2.4 Million! In one month, over 750 people have donated over $25,000! I set up a fundraiser at See Your Impact and 100% of the funds will go to World Vision, an organization that has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for decades and will continue long after this famine has ended. Donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact by government grants to help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support, healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families suffering in the Horn.

I need you to help me save lives. It's so so simple; here's what you need to do:

  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (
  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.
  3. Share #Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter!
I'm looking for another 100 bloggers to share this post on their blogs throughout Social Media Week. Email me at if you're interested in participating this week.

A hungry child doesn't wait. She doesn't wait for us to finish the other things on our to-do list, or get to it next month when we might have a little more money to give. She doesn't wait for us to decide if she's important enough to deserve a response. She will only wait as long as her weakened little body will hold on...please respond now and help save her life. Ask 5 for 5.

Thank you on behalf of all of those who will be helped--you are saving lives and changing history.

p.s. Please don't move on to the next website before you donate and email your friends right now. It only takes 5 minutes and just $5, and if you're life is busy like mine, you probably won't get back to it later. Let's not be a generation that ignores hundreds of thousands of starving people, instead let's leave a legacy of compassion. You have the opportunity to save a life today!


from the book pile, 2011: The Habit of Being by Flannery O'Connor

I've been working my way through the tower of books teetering off the antique writing desk that serves as my nightstand.  Working my way through reading and working my way through the thoughts and learnings each title provokes.

When I first started this blog in 2006 (is it possible that this April marked my fifth anniversary of blogging?!?) one of my goals was to nurture a forum that kept me accountable for the cultural goods I consume.  Of course, I didn't really know then to articulate the goal in those terms.  The truth dawns gradually: as in in worship so as in culture -- I did not make it, but it is making me.

Having also gotten quite clear with the truth that I will never be a professional book reviewer, I've let myself off the hook and changed up the way I document my reading.  Hope you enjoy!


18. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor
Authorselected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald
Genre: Non-fiction (memoir, biography)
Published: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1979

General Impression:  Reading this book was a labor of love.  Since I read her first short-story, Flannery O'Connor intrigued me.  Not only because of her masterful storytelling, but because she wrecked all the preconceived notions I'd formed of her.  For years before I'd had the opportunity to read any of her work, I felt like I knew her from the way her famous quotes were plastered in every essay, article, book and blogpost on the subject of art and faith I'd ever read.  

"This woman must be amazing!" I thought to myself.  Since my conservative Baptist schooling had never even breathed the name Flannery (and that's probably just because she's a devout Catholic, let alone somewhat vulgar), I'd never read anything she'd written.  Until I read The Violent Bear It Away.  And I did not immediately understand her brand of genius, but I really, really wanted to.  

So, last summer I read a biography (Flannery by Brad Gooch) that I found in the new release shelf at my local library.   And that was definitely helpful to my understanding of the author.  But I still wanted to better understand her writing.  So this summer I tackled The Habit of Being.  The book is formed from Flannery's prolific letter writing over an almost twenty-year span until her painful death, lovingly curated by her author friend Sally Fitzgerald.  The book (before the index) is 506 pages long.  And I read every single one.  It felt a bit like searching for clues to answer my question "Can I take this woman seriously when she says that she loves God and loves the Church and loves writing?" 

 Her take on the world is completely outside of my paradigm.  If she were alive today and lived next door to me I think I'd avoid her for fear of her sharp insight into human behaviour, my behaviour to be specific.  But letters, I could handle and letters seemed to be her favorite form of communication as well. 

What surprised me most was the way she seems so often gentle, empathetic, even silly, in her letter writing voice.  This felt quite different than her storytelling voice and rounded out my perspective on Flannery as a woman, daughter, mentor, and friend.  

This is a book I've shamelessly marked up and will return to time and again.  I hope that by the time I actually get to meet Flannery in person, I won't be so afraid of her.  In the meantime, I'd like to be a little bit like her, the way she refused to take herself too seriously while at the same time observing fervantly the truths of God and the human condition and writing them exactly the way she saw them.   I'd like to make her a little bit proud, but I'm guessing she wouldn't admit it either way.

A Brief Apologetic In Response to the Criticism that Her Writing Was 'Perverse':  

"I think what you do is to reduce the good and give what you take from it to the diabolical. Isn't it arbitrary to call these images such as the cat-faced baby and the old woman that looked like a cedar fence post and the grandfather who went around with Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger - perverse? They are right, accurate, so why perverse? I think you call them perverse because you like them. They may be perverse to the bourgeois mind. Thomas Mann has said the grotesque is the true and anti-bourgeois style. But you don't have a bourgeois mind and for you perverse means good. Nobody with a religious consciousness is going to call these images perverse and mean that they are really perverse. What I mean to say is that when you call them perverse, you are departing from the word's traditional meaning."

The Response to Criticism from Protestant Christians That As An Author She Didn't Understand the Mysterious Inspiration the Holy Spirit, in Which I Felt Understood in the Criticism I Received From Protestant Christians That As A Worship Leader I Didn't Understand the Flow of the Holy Spirit In Service Planning:

"The problem in answering a letter like this is to admit your own sins without having them laid at the door of the Church. All this flow business he is filled to the gills with and the flow is considerably above reality. You can never put your finger on him. Those of us who deal with matter and form can be nailed to the wall, but these people who are always rising to flow with the spirit, just go on flowing. ... Even if one were filled with the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost would work through the given talent. You see this in Biblical inspiration, so why think that it would be different in a lesser kind of inspiration? If the Holy Ghost dictated a novel, I doubt very  much that all would be flow. I doubt that the writer would be relieved of his capacity for taking pains (which is all that technique is in the end); I doubt that he would lose the habit of art. I think it would only be perfected. The greater the love, the greater the pains he would take."

Not Necessarily the Best Example of Her Writing Advice, but the Most Succinct:  

"The gist... is that all writing is painful and that if it is not painful then it is not worth doing."


With the emotional and physical turmoil of our move, I've been doing some comfort reading lately.  Just want to list the titles here for the record-keeping's sake.
19.  The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
20.  Roast Beef, Medium & Pink Tights and Ginghams, Edna Ferber
21.  Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
22.  Peace Like A River, Leif Enger


becoming Word

"Prayer is the superabundance of the heart. It is brim-full and running over with love and praise, as once it was with Mary, when the Word took root in her body. So too, our heart breaks out into a Magnificat. Now the Word has achieved its 'glorious course' (2 Thess. 3:1): it has gone out from God and been sown in the good soil of the heart. Having now been chewed over and assimilated, it is regenerated in the heart, to the praise of God. It has taken root in us and is now bearing its fruit: we in our turn utter the Word and send it back to God. We have become Word; we are prayer."
-- Andre Louf, Teach Us to Pray

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

becoming petition & intercession

Carol Aust, CIVA's Images of Faith
"Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints."  -- Ephesians 6:18
The devotional text points out the all-inclusive language in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He seems intent to leave no stone unturned in his exhortation: all times, in every prayer, always persevere, for all the saints.  

Millenia later, my family has been direct recipients of what the text calls "Word-centered, communally framed prayer life".  We have been held together by the hospitality of pray-ers, carried across both literal miles and intangible chasms of the unknown.  There have been days I have known this embracing intercession as a sheet of bubble wrap buffering me from fear, doubt, grief, exhaustion.  There have been nights I've woken and known the prayers of the saints in a snatch of hymn-lyric or soothing sentence playing over and over in my head.  

During the final days of this year's June, on one particularly troublesome day it dawned on me that we were holding back our requests for fear of asking too much.  It occurred to me that there was no better time than these present circumstances to get crystal-clear about our hopes and dreams and wishes and concerns and needs.  That to make fuzzy, vaguely spiritual requests of our God and through our prayer community was a form of unbelief.  A form of cooperating with the accusations of the Evil One against our Father, our brothers and sisters and ourselves.  

Getting clear about our petition is the way to pray with eyes wide-open in expectation for God to move.  Inviting community to make requests on our behalf bears us up and holds us accountable to remember and rehearse the movements of God on a daily basis.  

And this is all in addition to the very Spirit of God who is at all times praying in us and for us.  Oh blessed intercession!  O blessed community!

"O Lord, never let us 

think that we can stand by ourselves,

and not need you. Amen."

     -- John Donne

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday mixtape: becoming prayer

A while back I mentioned I plan to work through Richard Foster's A Year With God.  One of the perks in this devotional is that the readings for each day are only numbered sequentially not by the calendar.  This way, if you miss a few days you don't need to read two weeks worth of dates to catch up.  You simply go to the next page and keep working through the particular discipline you're meditating.

This is a very good thing because I am sloooowww.

I'm only to the second discipline, Prayer.  And it is a good practice to meditate, indeed.  There's nothing like being on the brink of unemployment, then finding a job opportunity across the country, then putting your house on the market, saying goodbye to everyone you know and moving your four teenagers and your fearful self across the country to nurture a healthy prayer life!  

Still, I'm forgetful, fearful, ignorant and, sometimes, just lazy.  This week I'd like to share a few of my learnings here in this blog space.

track 1: visual art
Untitled (prayer list)
Guy Chase

At the Wailing Wall

track 2:  music

Derek Webb, Feedback

track 3: poem

The stripling posturing
before the hero;
the mature man
posturing before

God. Circularity
is endless, yet
one prayer, slipping
the reason, speeds out

into the cornerless
universe so close to God
as to open a crater
in his composure.
R.S. Thomas, Residues (Tarset, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2002), p. 61.

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