Independence Day

I’ve mentioned before that T and I grew up in a small town in central Kentucky.  And, if you’d ever spoken with someone from Campbellsville, you would know that the city’s Fourth of July celebrations are the pride and joy of anyone who calls it home. The much-anticipated festivities—the parade, the hot air balloon race, the fireworks finale—make up the largest celebration in the state, and bring wanderers, college students and long-since relocated Campbellsvillians back home year after year.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed a Fourth of July in Campbellsville. So I wasn’t looking forward to being 14 hours away from home this year. I spent the week leading up to the holiday dreading the inevitable homesickness that would come with being away from the traditions that were so much a part of my life. It was going to be an “Independence” Day on an entirely different level, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

That’s why, on July third, I decided that T and I needed to have a plan for the next day. We needed our own celebration to keep the ache of being away from home at bay. So we decided to throw a party. T invited his co-residents and their families over to our apartment for a cookout and we crossed our fingers that they’d say yes (despite the fact that we barely knew them). Thankfully, the  short notice didn’t seem to matter; like us, the other residents knew no one in the area and had no other options for Independence Day plans.

At one point before everyone arrived, T and I acknowledged the possibility that our guests wouldn’t click and that the cookout had the potential to be awkward or uncomfortable. But we tossed some burgers on the grill, whipped up some coleslaw, threw the front door open and hoped for the best. Once everyone arrived and the introductions had been made, I could see that we’d been concerned for nothing.

That evening when we sat down for dinner, I was reminded of the power of a shared meal. When people sit down around a table full of food, they’re instantly united. The table provides common ground, a link between us, and gathering around it requires us to look one another in the eye—to put down our phones and turn off the distractions—and to truly see and hear each other. At the table, we share more than just food; it’s here where we let down our guards and go beyond the small talk.

That, I think, is why I have grown to love inviting people into our home and feeding them. It’s about more than just “entertaining.” It’s about creating a comfortable place where friendships can be created and cultivated. I happen to believe that the best place for that is around the table, with plates of hot food and people with full bellies. And I saw proof of that on a hot, humid evening in July when a group of Florida transplants ate burgers and hot dogs and drank sweet tea and—if only for a moment—forgot about the hometown celebrations they were missing.

It’s true that I felt a slight longing for home as we watched fireworks in a nearby park later that night. I’ll be the first to admit that I have no plans to make missing Campbellsville’s Fourth of July a regular occurrence. And while I’ll always choose tradition when it comes to the holidays, this year’s Independence Day had a different purpose; it was for celebrating a new chapter, and bringing together a group of strangers who somehow found themselves in the same stage of life at the same time. As it turns out, all we need to not be strangers anymore is a picnic table to gather around…and bug spray. Lots and lots of bug spray.

Creamy Coleslaw

The first time I took this dish to a potluck, someone came up to me and said, “I consider myself a coleslaw connoisseur, and I think this is delicious!” Not one to argue with expert opinion, this coleslaw became my go-to for picnics and cookouts and any other outdoor eating event. And, on top of the fact that I rarely come home with leftovers, I can throw it all together in ten minutes or less. To me, that makes it the perfect summer recipe. Enjoy! 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 16 oz package of shredded coleslaw mix
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise (Duke’s is my favorite)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or more, to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons parsley (fresh or dried), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, onions, Old Bay, parsley, salt and pepper to make the dressing. Chill until ready to serve.

Just before serving, pour coleslaw mix into a large bowl and toss with dressing. Adjust seasoning by adding more Old Bay, salt or pepper if needed.

Recipe adapted from “How to make the best creamy coleslaw” by FoodieCrush. 

 

Three years

Three years ago on this day, I became a Mrs.

T and I got married in our small Kentucky hometown, in a church packed with our family and friends, and then danced the night away under a tent on my grandparents’ farm. It was lovely and beautiful, and I still look back on that day astonished at the sense of peace and easiness that filled it. I was simply overjoyed and ready to become the woman T called his wife.

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When we said “I do”, T and I had been a couple for seven years. We’d dated all through high school and college and, though we understood that there’d be things to learn as a married couple, I think we sort of assumed we knew all there was to know about one another. We didn’t. Over the last three years, we’ve learned little things like who is more of a morning person (T), and who is better at loading the dishwasher (Me); we’ve also learned bigger, more impactful lessons like how to listen and understand one another, and how to handle change and difficult decisions.

Don’t get me wrong; when it comes being a wife, I still consider myself an infant. I realize that three years is just a tiny span on the timeline of our lives. We still have much to experience and much wisdom to gain before I consider myself qualified to offer sound advice. Nevertheless, here are three things I’ve come to know and understand in our three short years of marriage.

Community is crucial. One of my favorite memories from our wedding day is when we paused during the ceremony to participate in communion. T and I were able to stand at the front of the sanctuary and look out over the seats filled with seven years’ worth of people who had loved and supported and cheered us on. Then and now, a solid community of people who love Jesus and us has been a vital part of our relationship. Our community has challenged, counseled and encouraged us…and doing life with them is fun! Marriage was never intended to be an adventure tackled alone, and when T and I are surrounded and supported by others, we’re stronger as individuals and as a couple.

Imperfection isn’t fatal. I walked into marriage with a very specific definition of what it meant to be a wife. I’d watched my mother and grandmothers excel at supporting, serving and taking care of their husbands my entire life, and I planned to do the same. And then, one morning just a few months into our marriage, T was getting ready for dental school and realized he had no clean scrubs. My response? Tears. (Seriously.) To me, a forgotten load of laundry felt like a major failure as a wife.

That day, T ended up wearing the same pair of scrubs he’d worn the day before. And you know what? Nothing bad happened. I realized that I had been putting far too much pressure on myself and taking this wife thing far too seriously. Sure, I was called to serve my husband, but I was called to do so joyfully, and with the understanding that perfection is simply not the goal. I needed to let myself off the hook, and give myself the freedom and the permission to learn and make mistakes for my own sanity and for T’s. After all, the crying over dirty laundry scenario wasn’t exactly something either of us wanted to relive.

My marriage is bigger than me. From a young age, I was taught that the purpose of marriage is to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His church. And while I understood this on a basic level, the last three years have given me the opportunity to experience the joy and the responsibility that come with representing something of such magnitude. I’ve come to understand that marriage is about something far greater and deeper than finding someone to love for the rest of my life. It’s about combining the talents and knowledge and energy and passion of two people in order to know God more and serve people better than either of us could alone. That is a lofty task, and we fall short a lot. But it’s  when I have this goal in sight that I feel truly connected to T, and true growth in our marriage is possible.

The last three years have been an absolute joy (aforementioned laundry incident notwithstanding), and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey that has, at least for the next several months, taken us South of the Bluegrass. I love knowing that, no matter how far we travel or how much around us changes, God is molding us into a couple he can use and grow. So, here’s to another year of being a Mrs., and to many, many more.

Until next time,

M

Sailing lessons

When T and I were preparing for our move to Florida last month, we spent so many days organizing, sorting and packing. The hours of work and piles of stuff seemed endless, and there were so many  things we had accumulated over three years of marriage that had never been used or appreciated.   So, as we made our way south, I made a promise to myself to spend the next year diligently trying to live more simply and be less attached to my stuff. 

Yesterday, I was forced to put my money where my mouth was. T’s family is visiting this week and we chartered a sailboat as a Father’s Day gift for his dad. The moment of truth came when I climbed onto the boat…and my iPhone did not come with me. Instead, it tumbled out of my hand and into the water; gone, ruined and without hope of retrieval.

As you might imagine, my first thought was to throw myself my very own pity party. I had, after all, just lost one of my most cherished things and it felt as though an extension of my hand had gone missing. As we set sail, I made a mental list of all the terrible consequences that would result: no email, missed messages, lost photos.

And then, I looked up.

I was sailing. On a beautiful boat, across a beautiful ocean with a beautiful family. The view, the breeze, the feeling of floating effortlessly across the water…all of it was breathtaking, and I was sulking about a very replaceable piece of technology? It suddenly felt quite ridiculous and shallow.

That’s when I remembered the promise I’d made a month ago. I want to use the things and spaces in my life to connect to and forge relationships with those around me. In that moment, I was doing the exact opposite, allowing an object to keep me from truly enjoying the experience right in front of me.

We all fall into that trap, of course. So often, we get caught up in shopping for, purchasing and caring about things that we forget about the truer, richer purpose God has placed in our lives: to connect with and care for people. We say that having more things—more technology—helps us to do more, know more, connect more. All the while, we know that, in fact, unplugging and distancing ourselves from those devices is what brings true, authentic connection.

But there’s a difference between knowing these truths and putting them into action. And sometimes, it takes a phone at the bottom of the ocean to remind us that the emails can wait and the world won’t come crashing down if a couple of text messages go unreturned. Granted, losing a phone isn’t a wake-up up call I hope to repeat anytime soon (filing a claim for a lost device is less than pleasant). But it was one that I needed in that moment.

For the rest of the trip, I focused on truly seeing and listening and being present. As it turns out, the lack of fancy, shiny technology is the very thing that makes sailing so captivating and refreshing. When the wind and the sails are the only factors determining your course, it’s easy to notice and appreciate subtle changes and details otherwise missed. When there’s only ocean for as far as the eye can see, it becomes automatic to find joy in those who are on the boat. In seeing this, I was reminded that when we have the opportunity to live in a moment of simplicity and stillness, we shouldn’t think twice about taking it. And that’s a sailing lesson I won’t soon forget!

Until next time,

M

Here are just a few photos from our day at sea. If you’ve never seen the ocean from the bow of a sailboat, add it to your bucket list…and leave your phone at home!

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The gift of summer

Some of the best summertime memories from my childhood involve my sister, our cousin and a gigantic inflatable dolphin we used to take turns “riding the waves” on the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast. For several years, our family vacationed in Panama City Beach each summer, and I loved those days spent running back and forth between the ocean and the pool, ice cream sandwich in one hand,  beach towel in the other.

Today, one of my favorite things to do at the beach is watching young kids play, perhaps because it takes me back to those days when I was one of them. I’ve noticed that kids seem to automatically approach the ocean with total abandonment, screeching and laughing, arms flailing as they run into the waves. At the same time, ocean play is serious business. Young beach-goers will run from water to sand, water to sand, over and over again (to the point of exhaustion) just to build the perfect sandcastle.

Over time, that sense of wonder and play seems to soften a bit; we grow up, launch ourselves into careers and take pride in having it all “figured out.” I think that’s why I love summertime, and particularly summer at the beach, so much. Because it’s a time when we can return to that sense of wonder and forget about how successful or beautiful or powerful we are in the eyes of the world. Even if only for a season, we get the chance to lose ourselves in the wind and the sun, and—twirling in the waves—be seven years old again.

Maybe, just maybe, God gave us the precious months we call summertime to remind us that, at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of His kids. Sloppy, imperfect and certainly unruly…but His. We so often call Him “Father,” but forget to give ourselves the freedom to just be his sons and daughters. Maybe summer is our chance; our opportunity to be children who don’t just say  a passing “thank you” for the things we’ve been given, but truly, loudly delight in the small, simple gifts from our Father…like ice cream sandwiches and the magic of building a sandcastle.

Until next time,

M

Grilled peach sundaes with balsamic reduction

It doesn’t get more nostalgic than an ice cream sundae. To me, sundaes are the best kind of summertime dessert—they’re big and cold and messy, and have the power to conjur up childhood memories and brain freezes all at once. Earlier this week, T and I made “grown up” sundaes, complete with grilled peaches and homemade balsamic reduction sauce that I could eat with a spoon. The peaches are smokey and sweet, and the balsamic adds the perfect bit of tanginess.

 

IngredientsIMG_1141

  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • Two peaches, halved and pitted
  • Two tablespoons canola oil
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Granola, for topping

First, make the balsamic reduction sauce: Stir balsamic vinegar and brown sugar together in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to let simmer for 15-20 minutes, until mixture is reduced by half. Remove from heat and set aside (sauce will continue to thicken as it cools).

For the peaches, heat grill to high. Brush the peach halves with canola oil and place on the grill, cut side down. Grill until golden brown and cooked through, about five minutes.

Top peaches with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a sprinkle of crunchy granola. Devour quickly to prevent melting!

From bluegrass to sandy shores

Our journey from the rolling hills of central Kentucky to the crystal blue beaches of central Florida happened exactly one week ago. My husband, T, and I—accompanied by my most generous parents, a pick-up truck and a borrowed trailer—made the 12-turned-16-hour trek, complete with one collision with a deer, one flat tire, three rain storms and what felt like an endless number of stops for fuel. The journey wasn’t easy, but our new home at the beach was beckoning.

Our move to the Sunshine State is a result of T’s quest to become a successful, practicing dentist. He graduated dental school a month ago, and has elected to complete an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency, a one-year program that will allow him to expand his skills and ability to treat patients with complex dental needs. T chose this particular residency, located in the Tampa Bay town of Seminole, for the wide range of opportunities it offers; I agreed because of its close proximity to the Gulf and fresh seafood.

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Don’t misunderstand; we have a deep, true love for our Kentucky home. It’s where we’ve spent our entire lives up to this point; where we grew up, fell in love and built a beautiful life. And leaving family and friends and memories behind comes with a whole slew of emotions, from nervous excitement to downright fear.

When those feelings of anxiousness start to creep up on me (as they have several times over the last week), I’m reminded of something I wrote in my journal when we first made the decision to relocate: God lives in Florida, too. He is present, and that little truth means we can have peace and confidence and even joy about moving across the country from everything and everyone we know and love. Over the past seven days, God has proven that to be so. We’ve seen His artistic expression in brightly-painted sunsets, His creativity in the ocean’s brilliant shades of blue and His power in our first tropical storm. This week, perhaps more than ever before, God has used his creation to remind me that He’s here, He’s big and He’s excited to be on this adventure with us.

Today, as I write this, my view outside the window of our two-bedroom apartment is quite different from the view I had a week ago. It’s filled with palm branches, a large tree growing mangos that I can’t wait to pick, and several lush plants I’ve yet to identify. Rolling hills and horse farms have been replaced with sandy shores and an ocean full of dolphins and sea creatures and migrating manatees. And while the newness of it all may leave us with a certain degree of culture shock, it also means there are new neighbors to meet, new places to visit and new experiences to be had around every corner.

The next year will be one unlike any other for T and me. And I think that makes it worthy of documentation. I have no idea what types of stories, ideas or discoveries may come to live on the pages of this blog, but I’m learning to embrace the uncertainty. After all, isn’t it the mystery of not knowing that makes an adventure worth having?

Until next time,

M