Monthly Archives: February 2014

feasting, fasting, and dreaming of bread

Ricky and I are almost finished with our Whole30–an elimination diet that cuts out all grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, alcohol, and anything processed for thirty days. The idea is to reduce inflammation and discover if any of those foods are making you sick, and for us, it’s also a way to shed some holiday pounds and detox from sugar. In case you’d like to know, our Valentine’s Day dessert was a roasted sweet potato with ghee, strawberries, blueberries, and a sprinkle of nutmeg–which is actually quite delicious–but it was hard for me to focus on that after smelling the warm, cotton-candy aroma of fresh-out-of-the-oven red velvet cupcakes I’d baked with the kids. But–lest you think we’re noble or anything like that, know that we’ve both cheated. Ricky ate a fish sandwich when a friend came to town and I took a big bite of Silas’ peanut butter and honey sandwich one day when no one was around (it was an awesome moment). We discovered that our trail mix has sugar in it and ate it anyway, I’ve drizzled  honey into my coffee a time or two, and last night we seriously considered making it a Whole25 so we could be done before the weekend.

Also, every Sunday we gladly accept a broken piece of bread and a sip of wine. Our pastor sometimes gives out very large pieces of bread, noting that it’s a habit he formed during his prison ministry days, from wanting to offer the inmates as much nourishment as possible. We don’t complain.

Since I’ve confessed, I feel justified in bragging that we sat and watched our kids eat McDonald’s at the Air and Space Museum (it was the only food choice available, it was dinnertime, and they were about to stage a mutiny) and did not eat a single fry. I was totally having a battle in my mind. We then drove an hour back home and picked up some Chipotle bowls–green salad, steak, grilled peppers and onions, pico de gallo, and a gigantic scoop of guacamole. It tasted like heaven, and victory. That was a high point.

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A few other high points: whipping olive oil, and egg, and some lemon juice into mayonnaise that’s better than anything you can buy, better skin from our increased avocado consumption, and making Paleo spaghetti with our friend Adam, who came to visit us right in the middle of our Whole30 and jumped right in with us. Roasted brussels sprouts and bacon. Coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon and plain almond milk. Sparkling water (Silas calls it spicy water) with a squeeze of fresh lime. Berries with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, no sugar necessary. A new appreciation for the beauty and versatility of whole foods.

A low point: discovering I’m allergic to plaintains. What the what.

It may seem like unnecessary self-torture, but I’ve also been reading Shauna Niequist’s luscious book Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table during our Whole30. It was just too beautiful of a book to put down until February 25th (oh yes, I’m counting down at this point.) The book is full of mouth-watering recipes like blueberry crisp, breakfast cookies, and risotto, but there’s also a chapter called Feasting and Fasting that strengthened my resolve. She writes:

I love the feasting part of life. I don’t want Thanksgiving without stuffing or Christmas without cookies and champagne. I don’t want to give up our family tradition of deep-frying everything we can think of on New Year’s Eve. But I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully–physically, spiritually, and emotionally–in a life that also includes fasting.

And:

Fasting gives me a chance to practice the discipline of not having what I want at every moment, of limiting my consumption, making space in my body and in my spirit for a new year, one that’s not driven by my mouth, by wanting, by consuming. (both quotes from Kindle edition, p. 133)

On days when I’m home with my children, my life seems to revolve around food. Ricky and I alternate making breakfast, then there’s a morning snack, then lunch, then dinner planning mid-afternoon if I’m on top of things, then making said dinner while handing hungry children slices of clementine oranges to tide them over, then a steaming cup of reward-tea after all littles are tucked into bed. I don’t go more than two hours without thinking about food, and sometimes it feels like a burden. It makes me think of some nursing shifts, when I would run like mad from 7 AM until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and suddenly realize I hadn’t eaten anything, find some food to inhale, and get back to running. There was something freeing about it, in a way–being too busy to think about food very much.

Fasting is different, though. Fasting is when you’re thinking of food but intentionally moving those thoughts elsewhere. That’s more like what this Whole30 has felt like–spanning lots of cooped-up, snowy days and the holiday of chocolate and sugar. I feel a new sturdiness inside. I have more energy. I really, really want to eat the things I can’t have, simply because I’ve told myself I can’t have them.

There’s a space in my life that isn’t being immediately filled. That, I think, is the point of all this.

I’m fascinated by the parallels between my relationship to food and my spiritual well-being. Our church foremothers and fathers were onto something big as they observed the church calendar, which is essentially a series of feasts and fasts.  I’m in Church Calendar Kindergarten right now, but I’m loving the guidelines I find there.  They help as we try to settle into a rhythm of enjoying the bounty of the earth and caring for our bodies,  holding ourselves back from having all things at all times, making the days of fasting worth it, and the days of feasting a true reward.

Those are kind of lofty words for a cheater-pants, I know. Fasting is about humility, too. Let’s just hope we can make it five more days.

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The Peace

It’s a special day on the blog–I get to share some of my husband’s words. Ricky is my favorite person to talk to, because he tells the sometimes-uncomfortable truth and asks the Good Questions (the ones we all want to ask) and looks people in the eye, and isn’t afraid to introduce the elephants in the room. I could write a long list of the things I like about him (let me count the ways) but here’s my favorite thing: when he asks, “How are you doing?”, he’s really asking. I’m so grateful for him, and the way our conversations have helped me move forward many times. And, since what he’s written about for today’s post is a journey we’ve shared to a large extent, it’s quite meaningful to me. I hope you enjoy it, too.

It was late summer in southern New Mexico.  I walked across the parking lot, from the door of my car to the door of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Las Cruces.  As I entered, there wasn’t a familiar face; after all, I was only there because some out-of-town friends, James and Deborah and two-year-old Edmund, invited me.  I didn’t normally set foot in mainline churches, and I’m sure asking for instructions didn’t help me blend in either.  As the service progressed my friends arrived, I fumbled through the scripted service, and I smiled as sippy cups and hard plastic toys rolled on the ground.  We sat in the back near an African family with three kids.

And then came the Sharing of the Peace, the part of the service when people shake each other’s hands and say something like, “Peace be with you.”  First, James turned to me and smiled over some of God’s Peace.  Then, Deborah and Edmund managed to flash some quick Peace before diving for the sippy cup again.  And then strangers walked over to me and initiated the transaction of passing me the Peace.  I tried to reciprocate, but I found it difficult.  I couldn’t seem to manage passing Peace to anyone.  I faked it.  I didn’t have any to give.  Instead, I clumsily accepted the orbs of Peace handed to me.  I cried.  I didn’t know why.

I think I do now, though.  I needed people who didn’t know me, and who looked nothing like me, to be willing to accept me and wish me well.  I needed to witness that that still happens, because it had been so long since I had.

Every time in recent history that the American Church has assembled itself on the national stage, it hasn’t been to call attention to what makes Christianity beautiful—grace and genuine good will.  It has been to dutifully emphasize the boundary which defines who’s in and who’s not, to clear away the smudges in the line and remind us that, really, not all are welcome or deserving to participate in our community.  It steals from the playbook handed to middle-schoolers on how to efficiently create cliques, and it squeezes out those who are just different enough: single unwed pregnant women, thinkers, homosexuals, Democrats.  It fights to maintain a dominant “Christian” culture, enforcing compliance through the legal system.  It fights to be in power.  This is not what I understand Christianity should be.

Jesus gives us some good words for this:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

How can we see clearly enough to pass judgment on the single, unwed mom if we haven’t felt the weight of responsibility of figuring out how to maintain a full-time job and give birth to a baby, all without a partner to lean on?  Or how do we point fingers at the young man trying to figure out if he is gay if we’ve never had to choose between living a lie and being cast into exile?  Living life in community with people who are different than we are is messy and complicated, but the Bible says we are supposed to try to put up with one another (Ephesians 4:2).

Since moving to Maryland I’ve tried to pass Peace to new people I meet.  I smile at them and look them in the eye; I try to remember something about them and wish them goodwill.  Usually, they’ll pass some Peace back to me too.  I like to think it is a welcome interruption given the faster pace of life.  The Lutheran church my family and I have started attending is simple and allows for different sorts of people to make up its membership.  My kids are loud and think it is silly to spend the first 15 minutes of the service with the rest of the adults, but as the adults walk around and pass Peace to one another, they also pass Peace to my kids.  That is precious to me, and if there is ever a time when my kids need some help finding Peace, I think will be precious to them, too.

Ricky is an engineer and appreciates all things technical.  He likes playing music, watching his kids sample new foods, and an occasional, lively political debate.  He lives in Columbia, MD with his wife and three beautiful children.

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supple

My first big girl Bible was a pale pink Precious Moments NIV softcover. I drew ballerinas on the inside cover and doodled my name and a few verses in colorful marker. I faithfully studied my memory verses for Sunday school. I could sing all sixty-six books to a catchy tune by age three, I’m told.

It’s packed away in a cardboard box, with a tiny blue willow china tea set and other mementos of a simple, sweet time.

In the awkward years between child and teenager, my parents gave me a thick, dark brown leather Spirit Filled Life Bible. That was my Bible all through high school. I carried it to school, camp, conventions, and church. I wrote enthusiastic, sincere notes in the margins, followed by exclamation points. I highlighted favorite passages, and then underlined them when I came across them again.

By the time my senior year of high school was coming to a close, the spine of this Bible was broken and chunks of pages would fall out easily. The highest grade I ever received for a college course was a 98, for The Bible as Literature. I attribute that to my time of intense study as a teenager.

It too is in a cardboard box, along with letters folded into interesting shapes (relics from pre-texting days), pictures from mission trips and youth conferences, and passionate journal entries. Those were the days of eagerness and sincerity, days of blissful unknowing.

Next came a navy blue slimline New King James Version, given to me upon my high school graduation by my pastors on May 20, 2001, with the inscription may the Lord bless you and keep you scrawled in the front.

Unlike its predecessor, its cover remains intact, and the notes are a bit quiet, followed by more question marks than exclamation points. This is the Bible with which I’ve struggled.

Its supple leather cover remains intact; I’ve been the one in pieces.

I’ve read this Bible and wished I could go back– to when the words were nothing but beautiful, to when I didn’t see the harshness of humanity in them;  to when I could get lost for hours, drunk on a kind of love. Instead, I’ve been soberly examining, and when I find writers who’ve been able to find precious things between the lines, I inhale their words like I used to inhale the other ones.

It’s taken many years to understand this: the Word of God is first and foremost a Person. When I read ancient words keeping Him in mind, they take on a new color, a new meaning. I believe I’ve known this Person for most of my life; that many things have clouded my view, that many things still do.

I can mark the seasons of my life by these books. I keep them like the treasures they are, but I think I’d like to get another one soon.

For the new season.

A different draft of this piece was originally posted on Noting Now.

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accepting help with open hands

Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to fear.

Because of our daughter Aimee’s history, she has some developmental delays–enough to qualify for Early Intervention services. We’re grateful, of course, that these services are available (not only that, but licensed, caring professionals come to our home, at times we choose, and we don’t pay a dime.) But I’ve noticed something about my daughter’s therapy appointments: I tend to be tired and sad afterward.

I’ve struggled with how much of this to share, because Aimee’s story is her own to tell. My hope is to tell the truth about my experience, while protecting hers.

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Over and over, my husband and I have been reminded that Aimee is on her own schedule and she’ll reach milestones when she’s ready and so we try to keep faith that things will happen when the time is right. From the time she came to our home, tiny and fragile at six weeks old, to now, we’ve navigated a tricky balance between gently pushing her forward and pausing when her cues prompt us to.  When she took her first steps and pointed to the dog magnet and found her nose, we cheered a little louder and clapped a little longer than with our other children, because she had to work harder, and longer, to get there.

Still,  fear casts a shadow over whatever milestone is supposed to come next.

Fear provokes a helpless, anxious response to the big questions: Can I accept any outcome, while continuing to work for the best possible outcome? How will my daughter be treated in life? What will school be like? Will her heart be broken by careless words?

Will those careless words be mine?

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Since we recently moved to a new state, we’ve been establishing care with a new agency, and that means meetings, assessments, and interviews. Last week we did what’s called a Routines Based Interview– a tool used to outline the activities of a typical day and find any areas of concern or potential for improvement. This sort of thing stresses me out, to be honest. It feels invasive and intimate (because it is) but at the same time I know it’s for my daughter’s good. It’s a first step for the therapists, to direct their focus.

Part of the interview was to identify our support network–all the people in our lives who interact with Aimee in some way. The last time we did one of those was in New Mexico, and let’s just say the page was full. Church, friends, neighbors, babysitters, day care, social workers, therapists, grandparents–we don’t have some of those resources here, and it takes time to build up the sort of support network we had before.

One of the interview questions was “when you lie awake at night and worry, what do you worry about?”–ironic because it caused that very thing. That’s what Early Intervention does though: it brings to light things that may not be noticed otherwise, and it’s a good thing because that’s the first step to any sort of change. And this particular exercise helped me to realize that I was carrying the burden of responsibility for making things happen.

Throughout this journey, I’ve had to remind myself that I’m not the one in control. I lay down the burden, but I’m quick to pick it up again.

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I spent some time with my fear: praying, journaling, airing my thoughts out loud with my husband. He has many of the same fears, and shared how he handles them. In stillness, I was able to see myself clenching my fists tightly when it came to Aimee’s care. I realized that I have some discomfort with the “special needs” label. No one wants their child to be labeled, of course, but this had more to do with my own bias. Deep down, I was angry about it.  During the foster-adoption process, there were so many unknowns that I simply started filing them away in the back of my mind. It hurts to bring things to the surface, and so I’ve been in pain, but it’s a pain with a purpose. Like childbirth.

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The next time our therapists came over, Ricky was able to stay home for the morning. He wrangled Silas while I talked to the Early Childhood Educator and Speech Language Pathologist about their findings from the interview. Together we came up with some practical, helpful ideas and a manageable plan to implement them. We all sat on our living room floor and read books, practicing pointing and naming, singing songs and laughing at Silas and Aimee’s antics. I noticed, surprised, that I felt light and hopeful. I had put the burden of Aimee’s well-being down, and opened my eyes to the people around me who are working for her good as well.

The interview served two purposes: helping us to figure out the next steps for Aimee, and helping me to let go of some toxic baggage. The first was the intended purpose, the second I’m taking as a gift. We can’t care for children well without caring for ourselves too.

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The mood’s been different around here since then. My energy to parent creatively has been renewed. We’ve been painting, and playing dress-up, vrooming cars around on the floor, having spontaneous dance parties, building train tracks and reading under blankets–all things I long to do with them, all things I find incredibly difficult when I’m burdened down. I find myself more like the mother I want to be, because I’ve accepted help–externally and internally.

Making myself vulnerable to outside help is a really uncomfortable process. It involves shedding light on my insecurities as a parent, and admitting that I don’t have it all together, that truthfully I’ve been struggling to find balance ever since adding a third child to our family.

It takes bravery to show up for our real, everyday lives.

I want to write on every mirror in the house: ASK FOR HELP. And when the help comes, let it in. Internalize it. Open the fists, see the good that’s all around.

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I’m still unpacking my fears, but I’m determined to remind myself daily that I’m part of a team. It’s not all up to me. This frees me to focus on our precious Aimee–to notice her curiosity, unique personality, progress, setbacks, and downright cuteness– and just be her mother, her advocate, her cheerleader.

So thank you, pain. Thank you, discomfort. There are beautiful things to come.

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Lead Me On

Today’s post is from my delightful friend Erica Pelzel. Erica and I met during our college days, and I’ve admired her ever since for her energy and creativity. She taught me (and many others) to crochet, has the best laugh in the world, and once, when my then four year-old son greeted her at the door (in his underwear, it should be noted) with an ecstatic “I just went poop in the potty!”, she didn’t miss a beat and congratulated him with equal enthusiasm. That’s just the sort of person she is. She’s gracing this space today with some real talk about motherhood, tiredness in its many forms, a hard year, and hope.

I used to be an awesome quiet time haver. I had the perfect spot, my Baby Girl would sleep for hours, I didn’t have a care in the world… but as Baby Girl grew, that disappeared. As I sat with my open Bible this morning I just stared– intimidated by where to start and struggled to work past my terrible reading comprehension until I could get just… there. To the place where all in my mind and heart is calm and my ears are tuned into the frequency of His voice. After reading at least three Psalms and not remembering a single word, it was as if these words jumped straight off the page to me– as if they were raining down in sweet drops to my desperate and hungry soul:

“Send Your light and Your truth; let them lead me.” -Psalm 43:3, HCSB

I am comforted by the word “send” for some reason.  Maybe because it says to me that if He sends something, all I have to do is receive it.

I’ve always been a good girl, a super-passionate Jesus-chaser and churchgoer… until this year slapped me with a weary reality. Over the past year, I’ve felt like I’ve been barely hanging on.  I’m great at acting– superb in fact– I can pretend my way through any situation and put on an “I’m fine” face like nobody’s business.  But that’s the thing– I haven’t let it be anybody’s business that I’ve been drained and tired.  I haven’t let it be anybody’s business that I’m hurting.  I haven’t let it be anybody’s business… not even Jesus’.  And that’s my fault, really, not His.  In the tornado of motherhood, marital issues, sickness, hospitals, bills, more sickness and pretending to have it together I found myself with the open Word this morning, yearning to let my business be His.

If Jesus sent things solely on the basis of how  “good” of a Christian I’ve been… I’m afraid to say that I deserve no such package as His light and His truth.  But today– today I felt a glimmer of hope begin to illuminate my cold, protected heart.  Like the first gleam of dawn, I feel hope that this season will pass and that His joy really will come this morning; He is sending His light and His truth to lead me.

I’m not sure where and I’m not sure how, exactly, but I feel thrilled knowing that He has already sent it.  The more I say it, the more I believe it and the more it washes over my mind, my ears, my thoughts, my heart.  He’s sent me His light in this dark season.  He’s sent me His truth.  And through this confusing time somehow… somehow He’s led me.  I won’t pretend to know how or try to explain something I don’t understand, but here– in the stillness of this moment– I know it is coming.

I know it is here.

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Erica Pelzel is a wife, mother, and creator of beautiful things. Check out her projects and musings at ericapelzel.com.

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What I’m Into: January 2014

Hi there! I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her monthly What I’m Into series. You should too!

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January felt long to me. We spent a lot of time indoors, which I usually love, but I’m just not accustomed to months of cold, or to snow that stays on the ground for more than two days, for that matter. Turns out, snow isn’t all glittery magic and fun. Who knew?? Not this desert girl, although I do still feel giddy when it starts to snow. I am now the owner of a pair of rubber boots and two giant bags of rock salt, and our coat closet is bursting with puffy coats and various fleecy things; I gave up trying to close the closet door weeks ago. I’ve also given up mopping, because seriously what’s the point? 😉

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Anyway, we try to stay entertained with indoor things, and go to the park pretty much whenever the sun’s out or the temperature rises above 30. My definition of cold has changed, drastically 🙂 Life is good, and Spring will be wonderful.

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Books

  • I finally read Glennon Melton’s Carry on, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed and loved it. Glennon’s style is warm, real, and well, disarming. I felt like her writing gave me permission to admit some things to myself: that time spent with small children is often more exhausting than enjoyable, that everyday activities can be simply overwhelming, that loving my neighbor is hard. Reading the book was like one of those four hour coffee-shop conversations that I used to have with friends: cleansing, intimate, hopeful.
  • I took my time with Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything by Mandy Steward. I’m amazed at how many parallels there seem to be among people, particularly women, who grew up with some sort of fundamentalism and are now trying to find a personal, honest faith in our twenties and thirties–something that feels true to our actual experiences with the Divine, but also honors the good parts of our spiritual foundation. I especially loved this:

“God becomes and God unbecomes,” Meister Eckhart, German mystic theologian, once said. I am taken by the mystics because they managed to see God in everything. I love Meister Eckhart’s idea that we learn God, we encounter Him, we are given an image to build an understanding of His deity on and just as quickly, He changes forms, and we unlearn Him in that old way so that we can relearn Him in a new way. In this sense, if we can keep up with His movement, our faith will never have the opportunity to become dry or brittle. (p. 140, Kindle edition)

  • I’m a few chapters into Cris Beam’s book To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care. This one’s been on my to-read list since I saw it on NPR’s book recommendations list from 2013. Our daughter’s adoption through foster care was fairly smooth, even if we did have to wait longer than we thought to finalize everything, mainly because there simply weren’t other people who were willing and able to take care of her. I’m curious about what other experiences are like, particularly for the children involved. Reading this book reminds me of how different each experience with foster care can be; how unpredictable it is in nature.
  • Check out my Goodreads profile if you’re interested in other books I’ve read recently or what I’d like to read 🙂

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Other Happenings

  • We started a Whole30 a few days ago (six to be exact–that means it’s been six days since I’ve had half & half in my coffee–pity me!) and it’s going well so far. We don’t have any major health issues that motivated us to try a Whole30; mainly it’s about some weight loss and packing as many nutrients into our bodies as we can, but I’m curious to see if we’ll notice any major changes in how we feel, our skin, etc. I’m drinking a lot of tea, and discovered Tazo’s Cocoa Mint Maté, which tastes interesting all by itself. Something I love about restrictive food seasons is that they force you to come up with combinations you can get excited about. One of my favorite lunches these days is some mashed sweet potato with some type of meat, tomato, cilantro, and avocado on top, sometimes with a fried egg. I’ve found the Well Fed cookbook to be incredibly helpful, too– we made the “Meatza” last night (ground beef crust with sauce and veggie toppings, and the kiddos got cheese on theirs) and it was a hit, so it will make a good replacement for our usual Friday night pizza.

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  • I’m gearing up for a job search, slowly. Transferring my nursing license has been a little more complicated and slow-going than I anticipated, but I think realistically I should be working sometime in February. I’m excited about the work but sad about the long hours, as usual, and really hoping for a day-shift position and a non-ridiculous commute. We shall see. We have a wonderful babysitter who’s agreed to nanny a few days a week, which is a huge relief! I’ve really been missing my work lately, and look forward to a healthy balance of work and home, which I always find helps a great deal with my well-being.

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Listening & Watching

  • The kids and I have been listening to the Frozen soundtrack quite a bit. It’s especially fun to belt out Let It Go with them while we’re driving around. They get pretty intense 🙂
  • I’ve been enjoying Audrey Assad’s gorgeous album Fortunate Fall and meditating on the lyrics quite a bit.
  • Other than that, I’m in a music rut. My default is to turn on Pandora while I make dinner, but lately I’ve been missing listening to whole albums.
  • Ricky and I have been watching Homeland, and my word it’s a good show. I have so many feelings about it–I love that it gets into the tricky questions of allegiance and who the good guys and bad guys are in terms of the United States and the rest of the world, and Brody’s character–chewed up and spit out by various ideologies–absolutely breaks my heart.
  • I watch Downton Abbey and Parenthood pretty regularly. Both of those are heart-breaking these days too. Maybe I need to find some happy television?

So, that’s January. What have you been up to? Do you have any good albums or happy tv shows to recommend?

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