Because I love food…

…and by that I don’t mean to call myself a foodie–far from it. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, and I get very little satisfaction from a perfectly executed recipe. Of course, maybe that’s because I rarely enjoy a perfectly executed recipe. So, I envy those people who can assemble ingredients by instinct, and I really envy those who can relegate food to a mere source of fuel. Me? I love to taste, enjoy, savor. So, on the continuing adventure of celebrating my birthday, here are five ways you can join me in a culinary celebration.

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This is NOT the pic from the pub burger last night. I’m not sure what it says about me that I have a plethora of burger pics in my gallery. 

  1. Try Something New! Now, my closest friends will call me a hypocrite for saying this, because I usually always get the exact same thing when I go out to eat. Partly becasue, at home, it’s a fairly rare occasion, and I don’t want to take a chance on being disappointed. But when we travel, I like to get the biggest, most obnoxious thing on the menu, knowing that I may never have this chance again. So, last night, after a long day’s drive, we ended up in a pub, and I ordered this monstrosity of a burger, with bacon and little chunks of fried gouda cheese and this sauce…so yummy. (I took a pic, but can’t find it) Would I ever order it again? No. Do I resent the waitress’ pre-emptive warning that she’d never seen anyone finish it? Kind of.
  2. Nutella. On Ritz crackers. The salty and the sweet… I get a jar every payday. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Because of my school’s pay schedule, I don’t get a check in August. Might have to use some of the birthday money…
  3. Whole-grain frozen waffles are my snack solution almost any time of day. With Nutella (sigh), or with PB&J. But, the most fun thing about waffles? (as if there were so many fun things about waffles…) is to find a new topping. This summer, I added Lemon Curd to my repertoire. Get a box of waffles and try something new!
  4. Indulge in your guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Now, for the record–and, yes, I understand the nutritional nightmare of what I am about to say–I love McDonald’s. There. It is a truth now a part of the universe. But, I also know that this cannot be a regular part of my diet, because I love myself. My solution? I have a Big Mac every New Year’s Day, and a McGriddle every birthday. In-between, as the occasion calls, I get the littlest burger and the biggest, the tiniest fries, and the biggest Diet Coke. But, while I have no actual self-discipline in my life, I can deny my two favorites knowing I’ll get one or the other in about six months.
  5. Treat somebody! I am equally happy when I snatch up a check, or nudge a friend aside at Starbucks as I am when the same happens to me. I know it’s an act of specific generosity to pay for the meal of a stranger, but how lovely it is to pay for the meal of a friend. Or a smoothie. Or…a Big Mac.

Because I Pray. ..

I woke up this morning after a fun day travelling with friends, followed by a pizza-and-cake party, and topped off by a late night chat with my sister and our hubbies as we floated in her pool under a star-filled sky. So, this morning, when I’ll officially retire the “It’s my birthday…” mantra that I lords over everyone for the past 24 hours, I face a new day, like every other new day, full of promise and light.

Celebrate with me today, in praying with me. We forget, I think, in the rancor of what we call “discourse” that we are capable of speaking as a single, strong voice.

1. Praise God for His creation. I’ve dubbed this our “Creation Vacation” Because all of out activities center around the natural works of God’s hand. No matter where you are, stop and observe the details of the Master.

2. Thank God for all you have. All of is can measure our wealth in one word: enough. Most of us can measure it in theee words: more than enough. 

3. Pray for our nation, and ask God to show you what you need to do to make it a place glorifying to Him. Your nation begins with your neigjbor. Take care of each other,  no matter what sign is in the yard.

4. Forgive who you need to forgive, and seek forgiveness to mend a heart. 

5. And the greatest gift–birthday or othwrwise–is to pray for me. And, in turn, ask someone to pray for you. And pray for someone elae. I don’t mean a list of specifics–the health-n-wealth of a Wednesday night meeting. God knows the needs. Just toss up my name. Ans rhen another. Wait for God to catch it, and do wonderful things.

Because I’ve Always been a Reader

I don’t remember not reading. I’ve never lived in a home without books. I know I read long before I went to school, and I have more fond memories of reading childhood books than any other activity. I was the girl who took a book to a slumber party–to any party, really. I’ve always read late into the night (or early into morning), and nothing is more fun than knowing that a friend shares the common love of a book.

So, on this–my true, true birthday–I invite you to celebrate with me by reading any of these books that made the list. (and, boy, was this one hard to whittle down) And if you find a new favorite, let me know! And, tell a friend.

  1. nolanA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I remember seeing references to this book in Bugs Bunny cartoons, and one day I thought…I’m going to read that. And, oh, the love. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve only scratched the surface. I tend to love books about books, and this one is the best. From it, I got the best advice ever for a fiction writer: Live the truth, and write the lie. And Officer McShane still makes me swoon. And I have never, ever NOT cried when a certain singing waiter doesn’t come home. This is a book that I have to re-read every couple of years. Not all of it, just enough to make me so glad it lives in my world.
  2. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. kluger summerA dear teacher friend of mine came with this book to a school inservice one summer, and we just about got kicked out of our session because we were passing it back and forth and laughing. Its a story told completely through ephemera–letters, telegrams, report cards, newspaper clippings. It tells the story of a major league baseball player and his biggest fan during the years leading up to the second World War. It is one of the few books that can make me laugh out loud, and then bawl…sometimes simultaneously. I’ve been known to say that I will judge your worthiness of my friendship based on your reaction to this book. This book easily has the most PG-13 language of any on the list, be fair warned. But totally delightful.
  3. poldark-1Poldark by Winston Graham.  I think I’ve harped on this for a while now. I just picked this up at my mother’s house, intrigued having loved the PBS reboot of the miniseries. The prose is exceptional, the characters live on the page, and it’s the best piece of subversive feminism ever. I only know a handful of people who have read this book, and I’m dying to talk to somebody.
  4. hadassahVoice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. This is the only work of Christian fiction on the list, because it changed my life. The powerful story of first century Christianity, Hadassah is a Jewish slave, serving in Rome, and making a powerful impact on the family who owns her. I love this story because it takes place before salvation through Jesus Christ had a chance to be boiled down to cliche and multi-chorus worship tunes. No matter your faith, you cannot come away from this story without an understanding of how Christianity changes a person, a family, a nation. After you read this book, talk to me, and I’ll navigate you through how you should proceed through the rest of the series.
  5. lauralmanzoThese Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I always count my set of Little House on the Prairie books as my favorite gift, ever. While I always had a book to read, I didn’t often own books, because they were still quite a luxury. I was a library girl, and I checked out the Little House books on a regular rotation. These Happy Golden Years tells the romance of Laura and Almonzo Wilder. It was my first romance. Almonzo Wilder set the bar for all future men. It’s a sweet story, but –like Poldark–carries a feminist message beyond its time.

Because I Am a Watchaholic

Continuing my birthday celebration–I invite you to share with one of the greatest loves of my life. Television. I am unashamed in my love for TV. Quality shows, guilty pleasures, mindless comedy or ground-breaking drama–I love it. I always have. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of watching television with my family. Skipping church for animated Christmas specials. Grasping the sophisticated humor of M*A*S*H. Sneaking peeks at Love, American Style against my parents’ permission.

So, to help me celebrate my milestone birthday, I’m inviting you not to a party, but to the small screen, to share my FIVE favorite offerings at the moment. Some are perfect for a last-minute summertime binge; others might need to find a place in your TV routine. Leave a comment if I’ve included one of your favorites, and if I’ve enticed you to try something new, please let me know! If there’s anything I love more than watching TV, it’s talking about the shows themselves.

In no particular order:

  1. vikings beach 2Vikings. If you haven’t caught this series on the History Channel, you are missing out on some of the most sophisticated filming and story telling on television. The evolution of the main character, Ragnar Lothbrok, from a simple farmer to a king, with an authentic spiritual journey along the way, is masterful. It’s also a fascinating look at early Christianity, and the role that religion played in creating our recognizable Western Civilization. Past season are available on Hulu, and the final installment of the last season will be along in spring 2017.
  2. gilmore_girls_season1_keyartGilmore Girls. Just…there aren’t enough words for this show. Masterful writing, multi-dimensional characters, great fashion. It’s witty and perfect, with the entire series available on Netflix. If you’ve been hearing about it, but haven’t seen it, go. Now. Watch. And get ready for the reunion episodes coming soon.

3. The Paradise. This 2-part mini-series ran on Masterpiece Theater a couple of years ago, and is now available on Amazon. If you’re mourning Downton Abbey, consider a journey to The Paradise. It’s a little lighter, and never quite got the love and attention it deserved.paradise

4. The Golden Girls. Yes, an oldie, but a goodie. (see what I did there?) For those of you who missed out on this show during its 90’s run, you owe it to yourself to check it out and see what a spicy little thing Betty White was before she stepped over into vulgartown. (for that matter, you need to check her out golden-girlson Mary Tyler Moore). And yes, I know Blanche is the sexy one, but Rose has this marvelous little undercurrent…they all do, actually. It’s nice to see smart, sassy television writing, before everything became a lower-case r rating. According to my Mikey, Golden Girls is “always on.” Find an episode and laugh.

5. The 5:30 network news. I’m partial to NBC, because I loved pre-scandal Brian Williams and never bothered to change. I love to watch 30 minutes of national news, without the commentary of “experts” and “contributors” who shout over each other in an effort to tell me what to think. Every half hour starts with the “big” story–war or violence or disaster–and ends with something heartwarming. With a little something enlightening in-between. I leave informed, not battered. I like a show that lets you think.

OK! Come back tomorrow, and I’ll share five books to put you at my party!

 

Fifty Ways to Celebrate a Texas 50

This is my birthday month, and I am celebrating. Usually, I’m pretty low key about birthdays. I dislike parties, and generally stay away from planning any kind of event. But this is a big birthday. Fifty. I remember thinking fifty seemed so old. But even though I’m in the process of sending my baby to college, I don’t feel old. At all. I feel vibrant and healthy and surrounded by people who love me.

So, I’ve decided to celebrate. And, I’m asking all of you to celebrate with me. Not with gifts (please) or with a party (please, please), but by indulging me over the next ten days while I invite you to enjoy what I enjoy. To indulge in the gifts I give myself. I’m giving you FIFTY ways to share this day with me–trying on all of the hats I wear.

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My humble painting of our beloved Alamo. Under a starry, starry sky. What I like to call Lonestarrystarry

Because I am a proud Texan…

  1. Be friendly. Seriously, Texas is The Friendship State. Say “please” and “thank you.” Hold the door for somebody, let the person with fewer items go ahead of you in line. Let the woman with three kids go ahead of you in line. Just slow down a bit and treat a stranger like a friend.
  2. Spend some of the rest of your summer reading Lonesome Dove.
  3. Make breakfast tacos–for breakfast, or for lunch, or for dinner, or for a snack. My personal favorite taco combination is bacon, egg, and cheese. So, for those not familiar,  it’s just a matter of scrambling an egg, frying up some bacon, putting them together in a tortilla, and sprinkle with cheese. Wrap it up, let the cheese get all melty, and…..enjoy.
  4. Today, July 21, has been declared Tim Duncan Day in San Antonio. I’m not a sports fan in general, but the San Antonio Spurs are a unique organization, and Tim Duncan pretty much embodies all that is good in humanity. If you don’t know him, take a few minutes to read up on him. Watch this clip and learn what a class act he is, and why I couldn’t breathe for a minute when I learned he was retiring.
  5. downloadGo to Whataburger. And, if you’re not fortunate enough to live near a Whataburger, go to this website, that of my favorite grocery store HEB, and order the Whataburger starter pack of all their specialized condiments. It’s less than $20, about what you’d pay for any other brand, but so much better. Trust me.

Check in tomorrow and see how you can help me celebrate with the small screen!

 

 

 

Reading Challenge…thus far

20160702_191539.jpgThis year, the only New Year’s Resolution I undertook with any true, um, resolve, was a fun little reading challenge that was floating around facebook. I jotted it down in my handy book notebook* where I list titles I’ve read and vowed to see it through. Half-way through the year, I’m half-way through the list.

These aren’t all the books I’ve read so far this year. I’ve actually read more than 20, but not all of them fit the categories. So, for my own accountability–and maybe to spur a few ideas for your summer reading–here’s where I am…

A Book that Intimidates Me: This was actually the first book I read this year, because I wanted to get it over with. Pale Fire by Vladimir GuywhowroteLolita. This book was given (OK, lent…but I’ve had it for, like, 2 years) by Adriane– a dear fellow teacher/friend of mine. And somehow, after this, we are still friends.  I gotta say, this book was terrible. Like, the entire reading experience was awful. I use the term “read” in its literal sense, meaning my eyes registered every word on every page, but with the exception of aNabokov_Pale_Fire fat girl jumping in front of a train, I have no idea what happened in this story. I have no idea if anything happened in this story. I take it as a worthwhile experience, because it put me in the minds of my students, when I assign them a frustrating read. And I feel like I owe them all a million apologies. Apologies written in small words. Short sentences. Maybe a picture. I love my friend, and I am in awe that she could not only read this book, but also understand it. But we will never speak of it. Ever. Now, she and I have long, late chats at Starbucks where she fills me in on all things Game of Thrones, because hers is a mind that holds all that in. We’ll stick with that! (oh, and next time I promise to bring your book back!)

Book that was Published Before I was Born: Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall. The novel was published in 1945, but I had no idea it even existed in print form until I watched the BBC mini-series (also a remake–who knew?) a few months ago. So, I picked it up this summer–on audiobook, with a lovely British narrator–and fell in love with the story. poldark-1The prose, the writing, the delightful feminist edge. Y’all, if you haven’t read this book…it’s a story from back when books were good. Like, rich and multi-layered. Authors hopped from head to head, and somehow readers were OK with it. Winston Graham doesn’t torture the language to craft a literary masterpiece. He creates conflict from the tiniest scraps of what ties us together. I mean…it’s just good. It didn’t make me laugh or cry, but it brought about little smirks, little shakes of my head, and moments when I just had to stop, rewind, and listen to a single sentence again. And again. So–yeah, this never happens with my audio books, but I’m buying this one in print for sbook bachelor girlsure!

A Book Published this Year: The Bachelor Girls Guide to Murder by Rachel McMillan. I’m hardly ever in the first wave of an audience for a book, because I get behind on what’s what and who’s new. But this is a book I’ve known about since it was a twinkle of an eye. I blogged about it earlier, so not a lot of details here. Only to say that this is such a fun series, an one that I think we’ll see around for years and years. Don’t miss out!

ppzA Book I Started and AbandonedPride and Prejudice and Zombies. I purchased this book YEARS ago–probably within a year of its publication. It sat on a windowsill in my bathroom, with a bookmark in the page 60’s all that time. Knowing the movie was coming out, I wanted to finish it…so I bought the audio book (love audiobooks!) and listened to it on an ill-fated trip to New Mexico. Skip the movie, and read the book. If you’re so inclined. But your world will spin on unaltered if you skip the book, too.

A Book I’ve Been Meaning to Read: The Bronte Plot by Katherine Blackburn Reay. This is a perfect book for anyone who reads books. It falls into my favorite broad genre: A book about books. A bit of mystery, a bit of romance, and a ton of references to literature. bronte plotUnlike Pale Fire, this book made me feel downright smarty-pants smart. Like reading an inside joke with the cool kids, assuming one lives in a world where literary awareness makes you a cool kid. This is by far my favorite of Reay’s novels. I knew of its existence (I know her), but the idea of it sat around in the back of my mind, then its cover image sat around on my Kindle carousel. Once I clicked it open, though, I was enthralled.

*My book notebook–pictured at the top of the article. Isn’t it adorable? I’ve had it for years and, as dictated by my neurosis, I put sticky notes on the pages and write on the sticky notes so I’ll never use it up.

 

 

 

Bon Jour

20160621_074822.jpgThis morning I faced an empty jar of peanut butter. A jar that, frankly, had been bordering on empty for a long time, and under other circumstances, would have been tossed out to make way for that fresh, smooth, new jar. You know how it is, when you open a new jar of peanut butter, and pull the spoon through for that first bite? Yummmm.

This morning, though, such an act seemed like an impossibility of luxury. See, it’s been a six-week gap between paychecks, during which we’ve had to pay off school tuition, buy a vehicle, and keep the college boys from starving. So, those final scrapes along the jar? With still 2 days to payday and a grocery budget in double digits?  Pure precious protein lovingly scraped from the jar onto my toast, along with a sliced banana that, too, had seen better days.

And coffee. Always coffee.

But then, something happened, and that humble little breakfast kicked off a truly fabulous day, brimming with blessings big and small.

  1. I heard the new (to me) Meghan Trainor song on the Today Show, and fell in love with it–mostly because it has an amazing bass line, and I am married to an amazing bass player.
  2. I found a beautiful little trail on my morning walk, and added half a mile because it was shady and lovely and I was listening to Ross Poldark fall in love with Demelza.
  3. Checked my bank balance to find an unforeseen deposit from a royalty check. Not a huge amount, but more than enough for a quick grocery run for lunch. And milk. And peanut butter–the kind that Mikey likes. He’ll get the first spoon.
  4. Cooked hot dogs on the stove with olive oil and garlic sea salt, creating a house that smelled like lunch was going to be something much fancier than hot dogs. They came out with this perfect, crisp texture that my teenage son dubbed “amazing.”
  5. Got a text from college boy informing me that he finalized his schedule and is on track to graduate on time-ish.
  6. Left the hot dog buns on the front porch to steam, so that when Mikey came home, he brought them in declaring–“Look out! Hot buns coming through!”
  7. Came up with the perfect name for a pair of sheep dogs in my current work-in-progress. I needed something Frenchish, and doggy, which is harder than it may seem.
  8. My beautiful friend Rachel McMillan defeated all the powers of the Masters of Tickets and scored reasonably priced tickets to Hamilton! In Chicago! In the Spring! (And when I say reasonably priced, I mean empty peanut-butter reasonable. Like, almost dime-for-dime what my little royalty check came to.)
  9. We’ll be reuniting with our friends, the Lambs, after a long time apart because of vacations, and I’m bringing a pasta dish and strawberry cake–all of which came from my pantry and freezer. Like shopping in a time machine.
  10. –This I’m leaving blank, because the day’s not nearly over, and who knows what blessings await? I didn’t expect today to be anything but ordinary, but God is so, so faithful to make extraordinary things happen in the biggest and smallest moments of our lives.

You know–this morning, when I was scraping and scraping that peanut butter, I thanked God aloud that we had enough for one more piece of toast. Not every family has that. And while I’m over the moon about going to see this Tony Award-winning, impossible to get tickets show, I’m more thankful for the friendship that would make that happen. I love having a son who will thank me for lunch, and a man who will make me laugh the minute he walks in the door, and readers who buy my books so I can buy peanut butter.

Today, scrape along the sides of your life. See the blessings in the places that look bare.