Thursday, September 26, 2013

the time we got mac & cheese as a wedding gift [a mini story]

*Think Christian published a short essay I wrote in response to Chipotle's viral ad. If I'd had space for 100 more words, I'd have included this story about the dear woman who gave us mac & cheese for a wedding gift.*

Twenty-two years ago -- and only a few months after our wedding day -- my husband and I knocked on the door of a church acquaintance’s apartment.  She’d invited us to join her and her three sons for dinner.  It was her wedding gift to us.  We were touched.  We’d never been to her home before but we knew a good bit of her story.  Her on-again, off-again husband lived in prison.  Each time he got out he promised to sober up, quit the drugs and be her man.  Each time he left her jobless, pregnant and broke.  

Since her quiet invitation following service one Sunday I’d tried to imagine what dinner in her home would look, feel and taste like.  She weighed probably less than 100 pounds herself and I wondered what sort of food she had to offer.  Frankly, I was nervous.

We arrived to her hot kitchen, children and their toys cluttered bare floors.  She stood over a pot on the stove, stirring bubbling water.  On the counter a blue and gold box, cardboard lid ripped open, stood our entree:  Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  

Frankly, I was relieved.  We knew this food.  It gave us something in common. Turned out the entree was the entire meal, we sat where we could find a seat, television blaring and enjoyed creamy noodles and awkward conversation.

It's one of the best gifts I've ever received.


What's a food gift you remember? 
Tell us your mini story.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

7 Quick Takes: bad news, good news, Fox news and more!

Add to the Beauty:  I've known my mother-in-law for approximately 30 years.  In that time she has never owned a house (always rented), but made beautiful landscapes in each yard.  She is talented and hard-working and inspires me to add beauty wherever we live.  This photo is from our time in New York this August.

Do you find yourself amazed the way seven days twist and turn through national and international stories of tragedy, suffering, political hairballs and minutia so that by the end of a week you forget half of it?  

Me, too.  I've already lost track of which day we heard reports of mass murder in our nation's capital.  I spent the day glued to news updates, trying to understand why it seemed our attention span is getting shorter and shorter random violence.  I asked my facebook friends and they shared some great insights.  

And now Nairobi.  Christ, have mercy.

I've also been following this story all week.  I am not politically savvy.  Nor do I devote the amount of time necessary to keep up with all the nuances (subtle or otherwise) of economic policy. 

Here's what I do know.  When Brian and I started having children we were pretty much children ourselves.  We were still college students.  We knew how to work hard.  We were naive when it came to family planning, maybe, but we knew how to work hard.  We were responsible and had goals for our lives.  

We did not have enough money to cover our grocery budget.  Family and friends invited us for meals.  My grandparents graciously purchased any food item that was "buy one get one free" at the grocery store they didn't even like shopping at in order to help stock our cupboards.  We worked, studied and cared for our children.

And, still, we needed public assistance.  My grandparents -- economically conservative souls of the Greatest Generation -- said to us "That's why part of our paycheck goes to help fund those who need help.  Someday your paycheck will do the same."

So, Fox News, our family was the face of food assistance. I'm morally indignant at your self-imposed rhetoric against the SNAP recipients, 72% of whom are working families with children -- just like my husband and I twenty years ago.  In addition, I'd ask some of those in the House of Representatives to take a few theology courses before they start quote mining Scripture to defend their bills. 

further reading: Your Christian Hypocrisy is Showing: On Pope Francis and the U.S. Congress at God's Politics

I've mentioned my day job a few times.  How I've taken Roz (from Monsters, Inc.) as my role model.  Here's a facebook post I wrote this week telling a brief story about the gentleman customer who softened my hardened, scaly heart:

Since I often complain here about cranky customers I speak to on the phone at work, I need to tell you about the wonderfully gracious man just now. I saw his caller ID, I knew he had good reason to be angry with us, I knew it wasn't my fault and I took the call, bracing myself for his outrage (which is the typical response). I apologized for our error and he said, "It's OK. I'm not mad. What we have here is an inconvenience, not a crisis." What a blessed man. And, yes, I hung up the phone and prayed blessings on him and all future generations of his family.

--- 4 ---
I thought he was so wise, I made this to help me remember those words always:

More good words I read online this week:

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy at Huffington Post (thanks to my sister, Alicia, for sharing!)

On proving God at Conversion Diary: a former atheist speaks into the Explore God initiative among over 300 Austin churches 

Confession: Yom Kippur 5774 at Good Letters:  my Messianic Jewish friends just celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and I'm trying to learn what that means

Robert Farrar Capon: Saved In His Death at Out of Ur: more on the life and legacy of a priest who "savored the gospel's dark playfulness"

A Goldberry Evening at Curious Acorn:  just pretty (and inspiration for all future Hobbit viewing parties!)

And I fell in love with these boys.  Actually, maybe they just reminded me of the boys who grew up in my house:

Unlocking The Truth - Malcolm Brickhouse & Jarad Dawkins from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.


A beauty and grace-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

a scent story

This poor photograph is a bit ragged,
but the cherubic cheerleader in the center would be me, circa 1972.

I'm at the YMCA this morning.  The sun is not up, neither am I, really.  I begin pedaling, plug in earphones, stare out at the dark north Austin street.  Inhale, exhale, inhale. I daydream I'm in high school again, entering the gymnasium, cinder block walls painted in two colors.   The smell is a mixture of rubber and body odor. Three sounds mingle with the remembered odors:  the sound that sneakers make eeking across a polished floor, the creak of metal bleachers, the buzz of the always-flickering fluorescent lights overhead. Just outside the double metal doors someone's choosing a Coke out of the machine and the can clunks down the chute.  Someone's leaning over the porcelain drinking fountain, slurping water, wiping drips of drink and swat with the collar of their cotton T-shirt.  

My grandmother tells the story of a time I, younger than five, took a nap at her house.  As the story goes, I sprang up mid-slumber hollering DE-FENSE! I guess I've loved a thriving gymnasium since I was the toddler cheerleading mascot of the basketball team my daddy coached, to the years I sweated my face crimson cheering for our school's team (go, Cougars!), to the years I sat in the bleachers as the coach's wife, making my own toddlers behave and trying to ignore the parents grumbling each decision my husband, the coach, made. 

All this reminiscing because I caught a whiff of body odor and sound of sneakers slapping floor in the Y's basketball court.  And, maybe also, because it's September reminding some dormant inner clock that it's time to hit the gym.

How about you?  Tell me about a scent that transports you to another time and place.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

7 quick takes: throwing in the towel on my sinuses, summerer in Austin, unexpected mail and more!

Occasionally, my husband and I wake up to these sorts of gifts waiting for us.

I've been sick this week.  Brian made a passing comment this morning about me "suffering from this same issue for the past 20 years".  I got ready to argue with him until I recalled a vivid image of me holed up in the bedroom, surrounded by tissue and cough drops and vaporizer steam in the house we lived in when Andrew was 1.  Andrew is now 22.  

You'd think I would have thought about getting more serious help for chronic sinusitis before now.  Who can say why we put up with the things we do?  Maybe because a couple times a year I feel like I have a legitimate excuse to stay in my pajamas all day and binge-watch British murder mysteries?  Maybe because I have some sort of fantasy that I transform into a Meg Ryan/Kathleen Kelley sort of adorable when I'm sick in bed? Maybe it's because I'm hoping each time that I'll end up stranded in a snowstorm in my mother's house where she takes care of me with hot tea and soup for three days.  (that did happen once -- best way to be sick ever)

Maybe I'm trying to be like my grandmother -- the worst sufferer of sinus pain and least-willing to use medicinal remedies.  I've saved a voice mail from my Grandma calling to remind me her home-made solutions to sinus suffering. 

Maybe it's all the great blog content inspired by my sinus maladies over the years with riveting titles such as Sick, Sick and Tired, and Bad Medicine.

Yeah, no.  I finally made an appointment with an ENT specialist.  Please don't tell my grandmother.

--- 2 ---
Speaking British murder mysteries, what's your favorite?  I was recently introduced to the long-running Inspector Morse which spun off to Inspector Lewis and, this summer, the four-episode prequel Endeavour

I wish (and hope) Endeavour gets another season because one was not enough.

While I've been laying around making my husband wait on me and my boss keep the office going single-handedly, I'm excited about some of the great, productive stuff so many of my friends have managed this week...

My friend Phaedra added a wonderful Etsy shop to her already-delightful offerings, Bonny & Blythe Vintage

My friend Jason Harrod released his latest album Highliner today!

My friend Micha of Mama:Monk went to Guatemala with World Vision and wrote about it

I'm trying so hard to not complain about the month of September in Austin.  I've decided it's pretty much the same as February or March in New York only -- rather than dirty snow and random blizzards -- dead grass and 100 degree temperatures.  Even if I hadn't been sick, I'd have probably stayed inside behind closed blinds and curtains all week because we are officially in the season of Summerer here. (see below)

More good things I saw online this week:

This Incredible Obituary May Be the Best Thing You Read All Week at Huffington Post

Homosexuality, Identity and the Grace of Chastity at The Catholic World Report 

Life Gives Sight To A Chaotic Universe at NPR

Remembering Robert Farrar Capon by Rachel Marie Stone at Christianity Today: plus my review of our Readers Guild experience reading Capon's The Supper of the Lamb

The best part of being home feeling horrible is that somehow -- perhaps, providentially and most certainly grace-fully -- I kept receiving unexpected gifts in the mail.  I don't think it was because I was sick, but just blessed with thoughtful friends and family.

By the way, that hot pink stationary is a letter from my mother the Dollar Store Diva and you can use her free printable to make your own thank you notes here:  So Many Thanks stationary with printables

--- 7 ---
We finally watched the last two episodes of So You Think You Can Dance.  I continue to be so impressed with this program and wish all reality talent-type shows would take some notes on how to run a competition that adds -- rather than exploits or subtracts -- dignity from its participants.

Here's one of my favorite dances from season 10:


A beauty and grace-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

tea, tangerines and Seamus Heaney on a Saturday morning

There are many reasons I've never read a single poem by Seamus Heaney before today.  One or two of the reasons are my own laziness.  One or two I blame on reading too many Bible verses in Christian high school.

Today, redemption happens.  Maybe there's a gift to us all when a great, good man dies.  We take notice.  And realize a body of work ended and I hadn't even yet stopped to take notice.

This morning, I open a gift from the poet.  If I read no other poems from this man, I've spent this one quiet Saturday morning reading words like these....

Death of a Naturalist
Seamus Heaney

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy-headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was 
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown 
In rain.

    Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
the slap and plop were obscene threats . Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

Friday, September 06, 2013

7 quick takes: 2 weeks worth!

Clark's Oyster Bar for date night!
Clark’s Crush: St-Germain, Falernum, Chartreuse, RieflĂ© Cremant
+ a slice of lime, rapsberry and blueberries = YUM!
First week of school done and it was a good week.  The girls won't admit it, but I think they were glad to get back.  Especially since this year was a relatively "boring" first day; no one had to start a new school, new building or new friends.  What a relief after several anxious first days the past few years.

Kendra's first day of kindergarten and her first day of senior year & Natalie's in pre-K and sophomore year; the matching color scheme is a happy coincidence

I homeschooled Kendra her year in kindergarten.  She was a joy.  The first day she was so excited to get started.  You know what the date was?  September 11, 2001

And, yes, we did eat pumpkin chip cookies.  And, yes, they are still the best part about the first day of school.  

Another milestone we recognized this week was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and MLK's infamous "I Have A Dream" speech.    We watched the speech in its entirety, thanks to YouTube.  My husband very much cares that we hear the most famous part of the speech in context of the entire 17 minutes.  And watching the man shift from speaking from notes to proclamation over the crowd, I think there is something beyond just the natural human talent going on here.  There is a divine flame being fueled.

And then we cried a bit.  Because we got turned around driving through Birmingham this summer and I'm pretty sure that part of the city has not reached even close to what the great civil rights leader dreamed for it.  

God, help us.

Martin Luther King speech at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

In August 2011, on our trip from New York to Texas, we spent a night in Memphis, visiting the National Civil Rights Museum.  If you ever have the chance, please go. And take your kids. 

Kendra wrote a post about our day in Memphis, Murphys Take Austin: Day 6

--- 5 ---
I was reminded of this sweet poem and illustration listening to the podcast this week.  Such sweet girlhood memories...

The Writer's Almanac from September 2:
It's the birthday of Eugene Field (books by this author), born in St. Louis, Missouri (1850). He wrote dozens of children's poems, including "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night / Sailed off in a wooden shoe / Sailed off on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew."
He said: "All good and true book-lovers practice the pleasing and improving avocation of reading in bed ... No book can be appreciated until it has been slept with and dreamed over."
Some good reads online the past two weeks:

AND, if I may be so bold to add a link that includes one of my own essays...

For the next seven weeks our church is joining up with over 300 other Austin churches to Explore God together.  I'm still figuring out what this means, but I'm loving the idea that over 300 churches in one city are joining in on the same conversation.  I think each week we'll be talking about the hard questions many people ask:  Why does God allow pain and suffering?  How can we know if Jesus is God?  What is the Bible? Why would a loving God send people to Hell?  

Here's hoping for conversations that bring new hope and new peace to our city.


A beauty and grace-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

how our family spent 60 hours in a minivan and lived to tell about it: 20 conversation prompts

Still cleaning out my blog draft folder of the posts I meant to share during the summer.  This from the family vacation to New York and back in July:
How Our Family Spent 60 Hours In A Minivan and Lived To Tell About It

#1 - Everyone makes and shares a playlist (yesterday's post)

#2 - Make a game out of traffic jams 

not our minivan -- obviously.  Toys 'R Us in Times Square

A long time ago in a land far, far away I worked a job that included the responsibility to corral all sorts of people into creative brainstorming sessions.  I kept a basket of kinesthetic toys (koosh balls, 3-D puzzle pieces, play-doh, fuzzy pens) on my office bookshelf and Gmail folder of creative conversation prompts.  When we moved from New York I left behind the basket of toys, but kept collecting the conversation prompts. I don't remember when I first heard about Plinky but for four years I've been saving the weekly round-up of conversation prompts in my email inbox.

A few weeks before our drive to New York Alex and Rebekah were looking for something to do on an evening at our house together.  Somehow I managed to talk them into wading through four years worth of Plinky prompt emails to collect their favorites for downtimes in our roadtrip.  They wrote each prompt on a slip of paper, folded it in half and -- on the morning of our trip -- filled the cupholder between the two front seats.

Just outside of Austin, on the notoriously horrendous I-35 we hit our first traffic jam.  In that moment I knew exactly how we'd use the Plinky prompts.  For the rest of our sixty hours home and back again, every time we hit a traffic jam we chose a new question and keep the conversation going until traffic got moving again.  The idea worked so well we almost felt excited when traffic stopped.

Keep in mind that our ages range from 15 to 43; adjust your conversation prompts accordingly.  

  1. What's the last dream you remember having?  What do you think it means?
  2. If your life were made into a movie, what genre would it be?
  3. When's the last time you put your foot in your mouth?
  4. What's something you can't understand, no matter how hard you try?
  5. If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?  Why?
  6. List your criteria for a good day.
  7. Name a movie that frightened you.
  8. What toys from your childhood do you still wish you had?
  9. If you could get any tattoo for just a week, what would it be?
  10. Describe your favorite teacher.
  11. Name 3 songs that remind you of specific people in your life.
  12. You just moved to Sesame Street. Which muppet do you choose for your roommate?
  13. Which natural disaster freaks you out more?  Why?
  14. Describe your best Halloween costume.
  15. During which decade of the 20th century do you wish you'd grown up? Why?
  16. If you were on a game show where you got to choose a few friends to call for help, who would you pick?  Why?
  17. You've just been handed the keys to the city. What's the first place you unlock?
  18. What do you think you'll remember most from the last year?
  19. Name three words you would use to describe your family.
  20. Make a menu for a dinner party based on a favorite movie.
When my kids asked me why I kept saving the emails since I no longer need them for my job I told them they help me with my fear of small talk.  Every week I read the email and tuck away a few questions as back up for the next time I feel like I'm going to die in a conversation.

What questions would you add for your own roadtrip --  or rescue from small talk?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

how our family spent 60 hours together in a minivan and lived to tell about it: 6 road trip playlists

To celebrate the end of summer I'm emptying out my draft folder of all the wonderful ideas for blog posts I intended to share with you this summer.  Maybe they'll still be interesting to you at any time.  Or maybe you want to tuck it away for next summer.  

Either way, I hope you enjoy!

How our family of six spent 60 hours together in a minivan and lived to tell about it

#1 - Everyone makes and shares a playlist

In the days before our travel music fit in digital space, Brian prided himself on spinning road trip playlists, barreling down the highway with one hand on the wheel and one hand shuffling through the giant CD binder on his lap.  Our kids fondly recall this experience as "Big Daddy Spinning the Hits", priding their young selves on identifying each new song within the first couple of notes.

So, a couple of things have changed since then, not least of which is added safety of plugging in a digital music source with pre-programmed playlists.  

We've learned a few things about listening to each other's ideal roadtrip music:
1.  A good playlist lasts for about 10 songs 
2.  No one talks through the music 
3.  No critiquing each other's selections 
4.  Sing-a-longs and random dance moves are encouraged

Murphy family road trip playlists 
(in order of youngest to oldest)

1.  Drive All Night by NEEDTOBREATHE
2.  Trenches by Logan Daniel Garza
3.  Downtown by Lady Antebellum
4.  Riff off by Pitch Perfect Cast
5.  It Is Well With My Soul by Daniel Martin Moore
6.  Live Forever by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
7.  Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine
8.  Gold Digger by Kanye West
9.  Next To Me by Emeli Sande
10. Alive by All Sons and Daughters

("courtesy of Bekah's supposedly-9th-grade iPod, because my iPod broke"): 

1. Lets Get it Started by the Black Eyed Peas
2. A-Team by Ed Sheeran
3. God's Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash
4. Helena Beat by Foster the People
5. Mr. Brightside by The Killers
6. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield (probably spelled that wrong, just so you know)
7. Ammunition by Switchfoot
8. Club Can't Handle Me by Flo Rida 
9. Boom by P.O.D.
10. The Underdog by Spoon

from Kendra: Obviously this is a throwback playlist, MAKE SURE you mention that to all your followers. I'd like to be known for having a themed playlist. Not that it's a competition or anything (except it totally is).

1. Build Me Up Buttercup- The Foundations 
2. Comeback Kid (That's My Dog)- Brett Dennen 
3. Down There- Bronze Radio Return
4. I Love the Nightlife- Alicia Bridges 
5. Lost in My Mind- The Head and the Heart 
6. Once in a Lifetime- Talking Heads 
7. Spirit in the Sky- Norman Greenbaum 
8. All We Are- Matt Nathanson 
9. The Way We Get By- Spoon 
10. Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight- James Taylor 


1.  Entertainment--Phoenix
2.  We Don't Care--Kanye West
3.  I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)--Alicia Bridges
4.  Peace Train--Cat Stevens
5.  Unbelievers--Vampire Weekend
6.  Say It to Me Now--Glen Hansard
7.  Colombia--Local Natives
8.  One Way Trigger--The Strokes
9.  Demon Dance--Surfer Blood
10. Lorelai--Fleet Foxes

1.  Towers Down Under - B.I.M.A. (Bon Iver mashup album, online)
2.  Doo Wop Chop - Where's Ulysses (listen to this song here)
3.  Elephant - Tame Impala
4.  100 Dollars - Manchester Orchestra
5.  Sowing Season - Brand New
6.  Wavin' Flag - K'naan
7.  With a little Help from my Friends - The Beatles
8.  Getting Better - The Beatles
9.  Steve McQueen - m83
10. Please Ask For Help - Telekinises
11. Everyman needs a companion - Father John Misty


The original soundtrack from Elizabethtown (only listen while we drive through Kentucky!)


1.  Back in Time - Huey Lewis and the News
2.  Mess Around - Ray Charles
3.  What I Like About You - The Romantics
4.  I'm On A Roll (Live) - Over the Rhine
5.  Margaritaville - Jimmy Buffet
6.  Something Like That - Tim McGraw
7.  American Girl - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
8.  Bad Reputation - Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
9.  You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon
10. Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show

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