Friday, December 23, 2011

A little bragging

My Great-Aunt Lucy Toal is one of the featured local heroes of Tucson in the Tucson Weekly. (Scroll to the 9th feature)
It's such a neat story because she is just doing what she can to help others. It's not a one-time gradiose gesture, but faithfully doing what she can [still do] that, in turn, immensely blesses those who need a bit of hope the most.

 She is my Grandpa Joe's sister (mom's dad). This idea of 'Christian duty' was instilled in them through the strict 'Catholic discipline' of their parents, as my Grandpa related to me in a letter. Grandpa lived his out differently than Lucy; as a public servant, elected to the state legislature representing the people of his district. When I was in an elected position through our professional organization, I wrote him for some advice. In our generation what we see as 'outstanding' and worthy of recognition as a 'local hero,' Grandpa described it as just doing his duty. As a life-long, faithful Catholic, I think he just viewed his 'goodness' and 'acts of service to others' as a simple responsibility to the Gospel; a calling to live faithfully with the 'Golden Rule' always in mind.
As a descendant of such humble faithfulness, I hope I live out that same sense of caring and commitment to others. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Words

If you read my last post, you can see that Advent has been on my mind lately.

I am a "words" person. I love words. God speaks to me in words. It may not surprise you that my love language is "words of affirmation." When in Thailand, my roommate and were feeling particularly beat-up (spiritually) and need to be reminded of truth. What did we do? Create the "Wall of Truth" - where we wrote all the attributes of God in different colors on separate notecards. What resulted was a VERY faith-affirming work of art.

This Advent, while in church, God would lay different words on my heart from scriptures, Psalms, homilies, and songs. One Sunday, I wrote them down and then asked my friend Nicole to create some "Subway Art" with the words in 'Advent' colors. (purples and pinks)

The result is one thing that I will put up in our house for years to come to remind us of the reason for the Advent season. If any of you are interested in getting a little postcard of the wall art, comment on the blog and I will send it to you.

Isn't it awesome? Seriously, everyone needs a Nicole in their lives! To check out her blog and other creations, click here.


The last time I posted was the beginning of Advent, which was entirely appropriate, as the post was about God beginning a new work. Advent is a season of preparation. During this time, we are to prepare our hearts, minds and lives to receive a new the promise of a Messiah coming to dwell WITH us.

Unlike many other Advent seasons, I truly feel God doing a new work within my heart. This past year has been one of many, many...many life-changes. Naively, I thought that none of it would be a big deal. After all, "I can do all things through Christ." While this is true, getting married, leaving a job, looking for a job, getting a job, leaving your HOME (and many friends and family), joining the church, looking for friends and entering the desert (in so many more ways than one) all take a toll.

At our parish, on Monday nights there is a women's faith sharing group. I have only been able to make it twice. The first Monday of Advent, I went. Our book selection was The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander. The book focused on Mary's "yes" to believe God, receive the miracle of Emmanuel, and bless the world by birthing Him. Houselander likened Mary to 'the Reed' (as in a musical instrument - like the clarinet) God used to bring the music of Christ.

The premise of the first few chapters (which were all I read, as I only went one time) were that we, too, are vessels (reeds) like Mary. For vessels to hold anything, they must be hollowed out. During Advent, we must be emptied of the sins that have taken root/entangled us, so that we can receive the grace of Christ. In turn, then, that grace may flow out of our vessel into the lives of others.
Houselander used three examples of vessels (although I can only remember two): the reed and the chalice. Both are hollowed, so that they can fulfill their purpose. The reed and chalice have two very different purposes, but both are filled to bless another. The take-away thought was two-fold: a) our hollowing out/emptying serves a purpose - so that we may receive something greater - and carry that into the world; 2) the shape of the vessel is designed for its purpose. What 'hollowing' out are you experiencing? How may God want to fill that for blessing?

I was reminded of the what Paul wrote in 2nd Timothy 2:20-21:
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

The message states the end of verse 21 poetically:
Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing.
Advent is a time to make ready, to prepare to receive a gift. How is God asking you to get ready? What stumbling block is He nudging you to remove? His nudging is so that we may be ready to receive His gift so that we can bless this world.

Let us make ready. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Expectations: Epiphany

You know what I love about God? He inhabits my thoughts. He wakes me up, leads me through my thoughts and into a greater revelation about life. I am writing this particular blog simply to record what he laid on my heart early this morning.

A few weeks ago, I had read on a friend-of-a-friend's blog about advice that she would give to a couple getting married. She was given this advice and it has been a life-saver. The earth-shattering advice? Have no expectations.

Wh-what? NO expectations? None? Are you kidding me? And then your my know-it-all heart says, "Yeah. Right. How is that even possible? It's not. And how is that healthy? Shouldn't we have expectations for behavior? How do you know what is good & what can be improved upon if you don't have expectations?"

Spoken like a true educator, right there, Jessica.
But is it spoken like a supportive, respectful, gracious spouse?

Kinda sounds like a big, fat NO to me. Unfortunately for Dan, it's taken me nearly six months to figure this out. During this present season of gratitude (still is Thanksgiving weekend to me; although Advent does start this morning - and perhaps this is why my present epiphany is so special), I recognized that while I may feel grateful for my husband's presence, my words haven't really communicated just how thankful that I am.

It's been a heart-to-heart holiday for us (which is good considering we are two days away from that half-year-of-marriage mark). I had begun recognizing the ugliness of my heart-attitude, but talking with Dan definitely confirmed it. I may think of them as expectations but they are communicated to Dan's heart as short-comings and failures. What a way to boost my husband, huh? What a way to show respect.

I have this very strong desire to be right. I want to justify my case and position until I am blue-in-the-face. I do this with Dan; my parents; God. Last night, I was thinking about it like this:
So, you have no expectations - is this the same as giving grace?
If it's the same as giving grace, then does this mean that God doesn't have expectations of us?
Surely, God has expectations of us. Right? OR, is it different because God is the Creator and therefore is fully justified to have expectations of His creation and we I am not God, and therefore shouldn't be standing in judgement of my fellow created being, my husband?

Honestly, I am not sure how God led me to my morning revelation - but He did - and here it is.

It started thinking of Matthew 7:2, "Judge not; lest in the same way you, too will be judged." I have thought before on this verse and decided that you can often recognize the way that people are judging themselves based on judgements (or opinions since 'judgement is so unpopular of a word) that they cast upon other people.

When we have expectations of another person's behavior, very few times has that other person been informed of the expectations - or - been involved in the creation of these "important" expectations. We are setting ourselves up as the judge, ruler and executioner when we impose expectations upon another.

Last year, I read the works of Paolo Frieire, a Brazilian philosopher (for lack of a better word) and educator. He regarded that man are subjects because they have been created with the ability to create and transform their world/present reality. Animals are objects because they can only act upon their world - not transform or create it. They have the ability to act upon it, but not interact. Their actions may change their world (over time) - but it is not because they consciously thought, planned and deliberately acted thusly.

My expectations objectify my husband. He was not involved of the creation of them. He just knows when he falls short. (And let's really be honest, when he does meet them, I haven't been really good at communicating that. I mean, it was just a benchmark. Ugh. I would hate being married to me.)

Suddenly, I thought about my workplace. We have been doing the same thing to our students. We have ideas and beliefs about their behavior, attitudes and learning development; we create objectives so that their progress can be measured. We have gone to great lengths to communicate expectations TO them. What involvement have they had in the creation of these ideals? Until they are involved, the benchmarks will be unmet; expectations on both parts will be unfulfilled.

We need to allow our fellow men (husbands, students, even children) to be Subjects. This does mean that we will have to give up control; let's be honest, though, the results of my control don't bode well for anyone. They have been created to be creative and transform their world.

My role needs to focus on encouraging them to think critically, to understand their power, and to use it to better their world. When I can do this, I am honoring God in my role. When I don't, I become frustrated, angry, ungrateful - but, I should. I am 'kicking against the goads,' so to speak. God created all of us to act creatively and thoughtfully to transform our reality. When I objectify people, His power & plan have become impotent.

Well, I need to start transforming the transforming myself.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Life as a Book Report: The Help

I recently finished The Help, by Kathryn Thornton. I watched the movie prior to reading the book. Unlike other books, the movie is better. This story is so powerfully told visually. The written word provides a good read, but not the rich, visual context that the movie can provide - and does so well. 

When I thought about how this book related to my life, I felt at a loss. However, I am a bit like Skeeter, the main character - the uncoventional white girl, who went to college to get an education not a husband; who notices life and thinks deeply about it; who is go against the grain, even at the cost of all she's known; who, in spite of questioning & thinking deeply, doesn't quite understand the cost.

Like Skeeter, I really wanted to get an "MRS" degree from my baccalaureate degree experience, but didn't stand a realistic chance of attaining this. Unlike Skeeter, who had career direction - desiring to be a "real journalist," I didn't - really. By the grace of God, I've attained positions that fit my skills & interests in ways that honor Him & serve others. Like Skeeter, I love thinking, observing, learning and questioning. Like Skeeter, I find people fascinating; I get irritated by injustices that I observe; I love writing. Like Skeeter, I am naive...idealistic..."innocently ignorant." Like Skeeter, I have made choices that were not 'popular.'

When I first joined MAEOPP, I heard the term "white privilege." The term was new to me - and hard for me to imagine the term describing reality. I didn't know that people still experienced prejudiced judgements or were concerned of being discriminated against - in Iowa - simply because of their skin color. To me, those things happened in the past.

Again, it may sound naive, but watching and reading The Help really helped me understand this concept and its effect. To put it simply, for Skeeter to write this book she had to endure being the outcast of Jackson's society. In itself, this would be hard when it's all you've ever known. We would call her brave. But, for 'the help' who told their stories, the penalty was much, much higher. They could lose their jobs and face closed doors when they tried to get a new one (because it's one tight group in Jackson); their husbands could lose jobs; they could be beaten, raped, or killed. White privilege provided a cushion for Skeeter that her suffering was really just a discomfort. The women whose stories were being told had no such cushion - and really, didn't even have law on their side.

If for no other reason than to have your eyes opened, read the book - or watch the movie. It's a lesson we (I) needed to see.

Life As a Book Report: Grapes of Wrath

I finished Grapes of Wrath a couple of months ago, but haven't yet sat down and given you my review.

I had never read the 'Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck. In high school, we read 'Of Mice and Men' and in middle school, I had read 'The Red Pony.' Honestly, I knew very little about the 'Grapes of Wrath' - other than it was an acclaimed, and 'dangerous' book. ('Dangerous' as people have tried to have the book banned.)

When we were driving "Route 66" during our 'Honey Ride' to Tucson, I became very interested in reading the book. As our guide along what used to be "Route 66," we used a book that highlighted stops along the way from Chicago to California. Reading that book, I learned about the 'Okies.' Realizing, for the first time, that this was a derogatory term given to the native Oklahomans' mass exodus toward the 'promised land' of California during the Dust Bowl/Great Depression.  During our PBS phase this summer, we watched a documentary about the Dust Bowl. Fascinating.

I loved this book. Everyone needs to read it. In fact, I would love to teach a course on "Ag Literacy, Literally" - examining how literature about agriculture, farmers, and farm-life, influences our view. How does it color our beliefs and understanding? Is it more powerful than reality?

First of all, while I knew about the Dust Bowl, I had very little knowledge about the effects of the Dust Bowl on people. Grapes of Wrath highlights the life of the Joad family. The Joad family homesteaded the land that they farmed. For those who are 'Far & Away' fans - they would have been part of the Boomer-Sooners who raced to scoop up 160 acres the government granted to new settlers. Oklahoma was prairie ground. The first few years of cropping the ground yielded abundance because centuries of grassland had built up the organic matter, resulting in rich soil. However, the cropping methods, carelessness and over-zealousness of farmers and investors soon depleted the minerals.

The next generation needed more land to farm in order to turn a profit. Soon, the homesteaders became share-croppers, farming land for absent-owners. Farming and living off the land was all they knew. They were connected to the land. When the droughts came of the late twenties/early thirties, the farmers couldn't pay up. When the winds came, and precious top soil flew thousands of miles away, the tractors came. The land-owners came for their land; replacing tenant-farmers with tractors.  Fliers popped up. These fliers promised paying jobs to those willing to work the fruit & vegetable crops of the West. People contemplated; winds blew more; people decided. They left Oklahoma - Kansas - Texas - by the thousands.

The decision didn't come easily. This life; this land were all they had known. They were connected here - to the land and each other. Families were a unit; neighbors had seen you through it all. There was a deep network of community. Though they had little, their culture was rich. 
They left for a promise - the promise to make a new start - and a new life. If food and jobs are in abundance, then replanting would be easy enough.

I am not going to lay the book out for you. If you know me, you can immediately see why these themes are dear to me. Though I now live in big city in the Southwest, my heart loves rural America. I love the idea of Jeffersonian agrianism - that all should be connected to the land. I love history and policy. I really enjoy learning about the great American (agricultural) experiment.

160 acres - free for the taking. In the Midwest, this allotment of land would have been more than enough (back in the day) for a small farmer. In the arid states, it is not. As stated, over-zealous farmers had little knowledge about caring for this dry land. Utilizing conservation practices started - as a result - of the Dust Bowl. Roosevelt brought folks to the Dust Bowl states to teach these new ideas.

These beginning chapters were not what angered folks to suggest banning Grapes of Wrath. No, the anti-communist movement tried to ban the book based on the suggestion that migrant, agricultural workers needed to organize in order to protect their wages. I am not pro-communism; however, I am pro-person. The living conditions - the hatred - the discrimination - that these Okies endured was apalling. Hope guided them to this 'promised' land; hate met them at the border.

Grapes of Wrath is a fascinating, thought-provoking read. But you don't have to take my word for it! (Right, Lavar?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bear Down Arizona

On November 5, the University of Arizona celebrated Homecoming. Let me tell you what, they do Homecoming well! On campus there is a "mall" (not the shopping kind) - but like a mile-long grass oval.

During home football games, this is where people tailgate - right in the heart of campus. During Homecoming, departments and colleges set up tents all along the mall and people visit different tents. It's like VEISHEA met the State Fair (for all you Iowa Staters out there) - in really, really beautiful weather.

How beautiful was the weather? It was mid 60s and sunny. AH-mazing for AH-rizona (in my opinion). We even came across tickets to the game. Horrible game - but a fun time with friends in "real" football weather. It was even cold enough to warrant hot cocoa at half-time!

This is where I work. Seriously. Second floor people.

See? Norton School of Family & Consumer Sciences. I told you. I wasn't joking.

We may not have fall, but the midwestern universities don't have palm-tree lined avenues leading to their Office of Admissions.

One of the "Southwestern-style" buildings

Old Main - the first and oldest building on campus, now home to the Office of Admissions

The University of Arizona's marching band playing "Bear Down, Arizona" the fight song

That giant paw & awesome Wildcat headband - FREE - at various booths during Homecoming! (and those cute models are our friends' kids)

Nothing says Homecoming like a BUS-TACHE!

One of Dan's judging team members busting out the 'pretzle' as part of the Rodeo Club's "float"

Campus cacti

Our Retailing & Consumer Science club (TREND) put on a UA Fashion Show. This is the "hipster" look.

Pretty sweet view - those are the Catalinas in the background!

Decked out in our red & blue

Go Wildcats! (2 of the cheerleaders are my students, too!)

Fall Comes to Tucson

A couple of weeks ago, the "living in the city" blues hit me pretty hard. I needed out. There's just something about having spent the month of October with 80+ degree weather that made this Midwestern girl crave the time I could wear jeans and a long-sleeve shirt and a jacket.

Solution?  Head up the mountain! The beauty of Tucson is that we are surrounded with four mountain ranges. I contacted my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Steve and we headed up Mount Lemmon - part of the Catalinas.

We hiked around for a couple of hours. Then we went into the village of Summerhaven and had a delicious pizza for lunch. After all that fresh, brisk, mountain air and sunshine, I went into the office and FINISHED. MY. almost. THESIS.

All in all, a pretty successful day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Quick-E's

Before I begin - remember the Quick-E's that used to appear in the Iowa State Daily "back in the day"? They were so much cooler than last year's "Just Sayin'..."

1)  I LOVE my job. LOOOVE it. What makes it really the perfect job is that I get to advise AND teach. On the days that I am not loving one part, I've got the other to bolster my spirits.
--New hire at the Norton School in the honeymoon phase of life

2)  How hard is it to navigate your university's webpage to find resources - like "where the Math Department is located"?
--Advisor asked mundane questions once too often during appointments

3)  Who else LOVES the fact that Tucson's reaching overnight lows around 50? ...and the high yesterday was 75 and today is 80? "Fall? Is that you? My long-lost friend?"
--Displaced Midwesterner in the 'Great Desert University'

4)  When your friend gives you advice to finish your 'almost-thesis' BEFORE starting your new job, you should listen to her.
--Graduate student one chapter away from finishing her almost-thesis

5)  Who marries a livestock judging coach? Honestly. Crazy people, that's who. No newlywed likes being away from her husband over three weeks in a six week period.  However - the time that is spent together is very cherished.

6)  Every weekend is "yard sale weekend" in Tucson. Don't expect to sell everyday items. The people that will come will buy 'strange' items like old appliances - and knives. Or your neighbors that apparently don't have bed sheets or cooking utensils.
--Yard-saler & Tucson new-comer

7)  If you carve a pumpkin (or two), don't leave them sitting in your house for a couple days. Strange mold starts growing.
--Lazy Jackie O'Lantern carver

8)  Selling TVs at a yard sale doesn't work well unless you are prepared to receive half of what you thought was a fair price.
--"Life isn't fair, why should yard-saling be?" Money-Lover

9)  Do you think you could make pumpkin gingersnaps without ginger and molasses?
--"Creative" baker

10)  Why get your PhD when you'll just be asked to do more stuff?
--Man who already spends 50-60 hours doing his job

11) I mean, RESEARCH - not even the fun stuff that I already get to do...
--Man who spends 50-60 hours doing his job that includes 'fun' stuff like spending weeks away from his wife with students that kind-of exasperate him

There, ladies and gentlemen is a quick take on our life brought to you by the Quick-E's of an Iowa State undergrad from that late 90's.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembrance leading to reconciliation

The typical question surrounding September 11th is 'where were you?'

As the anniversary date has approached and I've reflected, I have come to this realization: where I was when I learned of the attack is not nearly as important as how I have been shaped by it.

Looking at life ten years later, it could be assumed that not much has changed. Look deeper, though, and there's more depth. September 11th woke me up, in a sense. I was an idealistic youth. In the past ten years, my idealism has been jaded; my false sense of security shattered - and then rebuilt; my worrisome side feared the future (though that wasn't really due to September 11; I worried about the future before).

I still love America. Like many of us, the politics of the last ten years tend to jade us. There is this conflicting view of America - the America of the history books, the 'two Americas' of John Edwards, the tea-party America of personal financial freedom, the liberal America of personal moral freedom - and the bickering in Congress makes you wonder just who "we" are.

On September 11, 2001 in four dramatic, tragic events - those petty bickerings erased. America was us - all of us. America was again, the beautiful, inspiring dream. America gave birth to this reality that we, as human beings, are 'created equal and have a right to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness.' Individually, we may define these differently - but when this was taken from some of us, we rose up - as one.

In ten years, a lot has happened. We responded, reacted, sought revenge. We bickered. We fought. We disparaged each other.

Every time September 11 rolls around, we were jolted back to that day. The day our world stopped. The day we wondered what the next day - week - month would bring. The day we cried. Prayed. Hugged. Called. Loved. Stopped.

Yesterday, we remembered. We memorialized. We thought. We cried. We prayed. We hugged.

What about today? How will this next decade lived in remembrance be shaped?

As I prepared for church yesterday, I told God about what I was feeling and thinking - and asked him to lead me, teach me through these emotions.  His word spoke truth into my heart:

Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Should a man nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?
Should a man refuse mercy to another, yet seek pardon for his own sins?
If he who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days: set enmity aside.
Remember death and decay: cease from sin.
Think of the commandments: hate not your neighbor;
of the Most High's covenant: overlook faults.
Sirach 28:2-7

The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion.
Psalm 103:8

Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?"
Jesus answered, "No, not seven times, but seventy times seven."
~Parable of the Unforgiving Servant~
Jesus added, "So will my heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters."
Matthew 18:21-35

Mercy. Justice. Forgiveness.

I am not claiming to have the appropriate response to September 11th - then or now. I simply realized that September 11th caused us to remember something greater than ourselves. Remembering this should lead us to reconciliation. Reconcilaition with our family, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow Americans who think, act or believe differently.

Showering mercy, grace and forgiveness to all honors those whose lives have been lost - before, on and after September 11th. It honors our heritage as Americans - and God.

God has blessed America - whether we have always responded perfectly is not the issue. He has blessed America - and we have, in turn, been blessed. The issue is our response. When we have been blessed, we in turn must bless.

May our remembrance lead to reconcilation and our reconciliation lead to action.
May Americans bless....

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Every experience God gives us,
every person He puts in our lives
is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.

~Corrie ten Boom

Last week as I prepared for another interview, hoping it'd be my last, I thought about the infamous question: How does this position fit into your career plans?

I hate that question. I've never been one of those people who has my life 'figured out'. Sure, I knew what my college major would be at age 16 - but not my career.  After all, for that 16-year-old, the college major was the vehicle to the career of marriage. Yes, my career goal was to obtain my MRS. For real. Even in the 21st centurt, we still existed. :)

So, 'stumbling' into an my position as a Talent Search Advisor was really a blessing. God provided me with a career path!

I think even as a college freshmen, I knew I'd like advising. As a college senior, I wrote out what types of jobs I would love to pursue - they were something like this: college women's ministry, college advising, college teaching, leading study abroad trips for college students, and public gardens' education programs. See any type of theme emerging?

What's funny about life - and God's provision - and God's timing - is that we never quite know what to expect.  While that theme obviously points toward investing in college students' development, obtaining an actual job in your dream area requires a) those jobs being open, b) qualifying for said job, c) the search committee believing you're worthy of an interview, d) said search committee actually choosing you for the position.

I thought the perfect job for me was one that I didn't get. (Those who follow this blog know what I'm talking about) While I love the college campus environment, I wasn't sure if that was where I'd end up getting employed. I'm also pretty passionate about non-profits and community programs - so I applied to those programs. My temporary position has been in such a program. I've enjoyed it - but....

So, last week as I prepared for this latest interview for a position advising pre-majors and teaching a communications course, I thought about my crazy little career path. I realized that my life - and career path - are like the game Classic Concentration.

Little pieces of my life are slowly being revealed to show the bigger puzzle. I'm not sure what the step after this one will be - but I know that God is revealing a greater picture though each of my experiences - and maybe one day, I'll figure it out.

For the time being, though, the newest picture revealed is that I have a new full-time job as an Advisor in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona - which is one of the most forward-thinking, progressive college departments I've encountered! VERY EXCITING!

These are the words that I'd used to describe the Norton School: responsive, progressive, perceptive.

Just as I was really wondering how God would provide for our needs, and the day we asked for His provision - He provides a job. My oh my - what a God we serve!

(I hope this post makes sense.... Dan and I have been celebrating with some Michigan State champagne!) 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

You're So Vain...

You probably think this post is about you. Well, it's not! It's about me.

Today, I curled my hair for church - for the first time in about three months. (I've been blow drying it straight, lately.) I wore my new $6 khaki-with-silver-threads skirt with a white tee and a chunky necklace. I felt like a little desert princess. I looked good.

We got to church early, and one of the priests was making rounds and greeting people.  When he got to us, he said, "(muffled by background noise) extraordinary this week." My response, "Thanks!" Dan's response, "I was...."

The priest looked a little baffled. I asked what he said, and he replied, "I asked if you were extraordinary this week."

I said, "I thought you said I looked extraordinary this week!" Before I could say much more, he walked on.

UM. Yeah. I'm so vain that everytime I do think that song is about me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Last night, I had another wedding dream. The focus this time, though, wasn't on Dan and me - but my family, specifically, my young cousins.

The setting was the reception. Zachary, our ring bearer, asked me to dance. As we started to dance, he just hugged me - I was about to correct him about 'proper dance space', when I looked down and saw that he was crying. His dance with me was his chance to communicate love and say good-bye.

I love that Zachary. He is full of spitfire - a little unpredicatable at time - all boy, lover of sports - and thirsty for victory. He can be a bit much, at times, and there are times when you need to teach him at the rules of the game are not "Zachary wins." BUT, I love this kid because he also has a very soft and tender heart. He doesn't show it to a lot of people - unless you can recognize it in his disappointment at losing. It's there, though.

Spitfire: Zachary publicly displays his feelings toward MORE pictures....

Sweetheart: this was his idea. Our photographer asked him to take my bouquet (as in stand next to me and hold it) - he got down on one knee to present me my bouquet. It was so precious.

Zian (older brother to Zach- on the right) and Hunter (on the left)- were the official 'noisemakers' - responsible for handing out the noisemakers to the guests.

The last person that I danced with was Hunter, cousin to Zian and Zachary. He is such a special boy. He is quiet and soft-spoken, a total outdoorsman like his dad and grandpas, and a teachable little soul. I remember that I had to coax him to dance with me. The next thing I knew, as we entered the dance floor, he aged five years and was a 14 year old - with facial hair and looked just like his Uncle Mark! I was just in disbelief. Where was my little boy? Where was little Hunter and who was this man - with a beard  at age 14?? (I guess this dream demonstrates how much of a Kies, he really is!)

Oh dreams...sometimes, you make no sense. But one thing is clear - I love my family...and I miss seeing them change and grow up. (Okay, I know it's only been 3 months...but they change so fast!)

Friday, September 2, 2011

How Do You Like Arizona? Follow-Up

Beyond the "my best friends are in the Midwest" aspect, here's one challenge I've found to living in Tucson: the lack of summer.

"Say whaaa, Jessica?! Isn't it like sunny 90% of the time and 105 degrees?"

Yep. Exactly what I mean.

I'm used to summer being the time I spend outside. Soaking up sun, searching for eateries with outside patios, walking all the time, throwing open a few windows (when you get those cooler days, of course), playing sand volleyball or slow pitch softball, grilling out, having outdoor parties - you know! When it's above 100, you don't really want to be outside much, you know?

So, getting used to spending summer indoors has been a process.

But you know what will be awesome?  In a month-ish when I can do all of these things for the next nine months while my peeps back in the Midwest enjoy the cool, brisk fall weather (k, I'll miss the colors - and that first 'fall is officially here' day - but I'll enjoy weather like that all winter) and then dig themselves out from snowstorm, after snowstorm, after snowstorm. :)

Yeah, we'll take visitors....

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How Do You Like Arizona?

Whenever I meet someone new - which is essentially everyone - and they find out that I moved here three months ago from Iowa - which is the response to the first question asked (where are you from/when did you move here?) - the follow up question is always: "So, how do you like Arizona?"

Most of the time, folks are referring to the weather. That's when I get to tell them how much I have enjoyed the monsoon season because of the humidity (which almost always elicits shock and disbelief). I don't mind the 'dry heat' - which does exist, folks - until the mercury stays up around 107 - 110 for several days on end.

What I don't tell people - since most are making conversation and don't really care - is that while Arizona is fine and I enjoy my life here, I miss having friends. I feel so blessed that I have family here; so blessed that I have a college friend here who is a friend and colleague to both Dan & I; in fact, I even have a high school classmate here! (we did have some classes together; technically, she was a year younger).

I miss my close girlfriends, though. I'm thankful for the last year to hang out with you (all)...just wish you were here, in person, sometimes. I know you'll visit. I know some of you have already planned your visit. I am so thankful for you. Just want you to know - you're missed.

How do I like Arizona? I like it.

Is it home? ...sort of? That part will come...I have faith. :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Life as a Book Report: Confessions

Lately, I have been reading Confessions, by Saint Augustine.
Confessions (Penguin Classics)
(cover photo courtesy of

I do not have words to fully describe the impact this book has had on both my thought life and spiritual life. Currently, in my life there are several unknowns. I am still looking for a full-time position, though I have had a part-time, temporary position created for me. I am concerned about our cash-flow situation. I am concerned about our country's economic system and if using our emergency fund to help our cash-flow situation (which is the reason it is there) is really wise. In short, I worry.

In Confessions, St. Augustine recounts his life story - but from the perspective of a penitent sinner who recognizes both his folly and God's faithfulness at every stage in his life. It really is a mindful. Wrapping my head around the profound truth and simplicity has been a blessing to me at this particular time in life. Processing and meditating on these truths has also required me to renew my subscription twice at Pima County Library.

Seeing the way that St. Augustine recognizes God's hand in all things, even though Augustine exercised his free-will and chose to think and do all sorts of things that drove him farther and farther into darkness - has helped me do the same in my life.

I HIGHLY recommend this book to everyone. In the course of his life, Augustine was a sinner, a seeker, a scholar and a (eventually) saint - much like many of us. His journey to Christ was a long one and choosing Catholicism was a decision that he meditated on deeply. I believe that anyone can benefit from reading his Confessions - sinner, seeker, scholar, or 'saint.'

But you don't have to take my word for it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Oatmeal Cream Pies

Friday afternoon, I was inspired by this blog, where the author tried recreating her husband's favorite Little Debbie snack: nutty bars). As my husband was returning from a week spent working out with the livestock judging team, I thought that I should make his favorite Little Debbie snack: Oatmeal Cream Pies!

I thought this would be relatively easy - I mean, I make oatmeal cookies, slather on some frosting, bada-bing, bada-boom: happy husband. It was really about that easy. I did search from others' oatmeal cream pie recipes - and let me tell you folks, there are A LOT of sites out there who've recreated the pie. Mine is not a 'perfect' recreation; I think it's better! For those claiming "this tastes exactly like the real thing!" their filling used shortening and marshmallow creme - two ingredients that I did not have on hand and didn't wish to buy. So, I kept searching till I found a very simple frosting recipe - and it is goooood.

So, without further ado, MY recipe for Oatmeal Cream Pies that you and your whole family will love. I gah-ron-tee it. (and since it's two cookies, you really feel like you can eat just one at a time.)

Oatmeal Cookies
(Better Homes & Gardens' New Cook Book Limited (pink) Edition)

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (recipe called for cloves; I substituted with what I had)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. oats

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occassionally. Bean in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer; stir in remaining flour. Stir in oats.

Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

As the cookies cool, mix up the frosting.


1/2 c. butter, softened
2 c. powdered sugar
1-2 T. whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat together the butter and powdered sugar. Add in 1 T of whipping cream and vanilla. At this point, I thought the frosting was too stiff, so I added in another T of whipping cream and thought it was creamier.

Pair up your cookies with another of a like-size. Frost the bottom of one, and top with another. Enjoy!

(...and you will, even if you don't like Little Debbie's pies - you'll enjoy these. I do!)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thankful Thursday

As alluded to in my last post, I found out last week that I didn't get my "dream" job. At the same time that I was interviewing for the dream job, I interviewed for a position with the Community Outreach Program for the Deaf (COPD). It was actually a pre-interview - to determine if I had the skill set for the actual position and should be passed on to the Board for review. 

I didn't get that position.

HOWEVER, they saw that I had potential to contribute toward the organization and offered me a part-time, temporary position. While I licked my wounds from dream job, the other offer seemed to be a lame consolation prize.

My first day was Monday.  Even then, it seemed a bit of the consolation prize.  HOWEVER, as my week has progressed, I am quite awed at God's goodness and provision toward our family. 

Who hasn't asked for a job to be created just for them?  Essentially, this job is!  The director recognized my ability to take on projects and complete them - and that is exactly what she wants me to do.  I will be responsible for organizing "Employer Outreach Events" - appreciation, recognition and recruitment.  I will try to develop new job opportunities.  I will also be developing market opportunities to sell products from the woodshop.

Let me tell you a little about COPD's vocational services.  Essentially, they serve two types of clients: competitive and non-competitive.  Those who are able to compete in the workforce against us hearing folks, but need assistance finding jobs or training - are the 'competitive' clients.  The non-competitive are developmentally disabled and may have hearing deficits (deaf or hard of hearing).  These clients require supervision and may only be able to do a portion of the work a competitive person.  COPD has developed contracts with a hotel to do house-keeping, some government agencies to provide janitorial services, Catholic Community Services' meals-on-wheels program assembling the meals, and the woodshop - making shelves, spice racks, book ends, etc.

One reason I feel so blessed is the opportunity to develop new opportunities for a marginalized group of society.  COPD is part of Catholic Community Services.  I think the work the vocational program does is such an important aspect of recognizing human dignity.  We were created both to be and also to do.  Working, creating, contributing - these are part of what makes us human.  I feel blessed to be able to work to provide these opportunities for others.

I don't know how long I will be at COPD, but I am at peace. I know that God will meet our needs! In the meantime, the following verses will be my guiding light and prayer.

Psalm 85:11-14
Love and truth will meet;
Justice and peace will kiss.
Truth will spring from the earth;
Justice will look down from heaven.
The Lord will surel grant abudance; our land will yield its increase.
Prosperity will march before the Lord, and good fortune will follow behind.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Raspberry Pie

I've spent the last thirty hours disheartened.  Upon getting engaged, I started searching for jobs in Tucson. Granted, while TAing, working at ECpE, planning a wedding, and trying to maintain friendships (by being social), the search wasn't intense. (Maybe I should've mentioned working on my Master's project, although that list will give you an idea about why I'm still not finished.) I though I could hit it harder once I got here. I have - but there hasn't been much reaping for all those seeds sown.

Finally, in the middle of July, I had my first interview. Followed by two more the second week. Followed by a second interview. I was excited because this second interview happened to be for a job I deemed my 'dream job.' Not only was I qualified, it's a job that I have wanted to do since a college freshmen! (Any guesses? An Advisor with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) I had connections, even! In the end, though, the job was not to be mine.

In the sports arena, I'm okay with second. When it comes to this, though, second place just wasn't comforting. I even wandered into the, "God. WHY? Why is this so hard? What are you doing? Why aren't you working this out? Am I doing something wrong here?? Why am I not enough for Arizona??"

Been there? Me too - usually when a boy has rejected me in the dating arena, though. My mom referred to it as being in the desert - like when the Israelites left Egypt.  Yesterday, my prayers turned into, "Please, just show me some sunshine. Speak some words of encouragement to my heart. I need some light to keep walking forward."

Today, the sunshine came.

When we wonder why God is causing us to walk through deserts, we're missing the point and not grasping the character of God. When we wonder why God isn't giving us what our hearts desire, we're missing it. If God is who He says He is, if He can do all things, then why am I not asking Him to bring about another opportunity - and believing He can do it?

You know when you have disappointments, people always tell you 'something better is coming.' In this economy, that can be pretty hard to take. I don't want to wait another month to have a steady income. I am ready now. In the moment of rejection, I want to nurse the sting; I'm not ready to look at my situation with eyes of faith. I'm looking at my situation with self-pity.

Today, though, God reminded my heart, "...if you knew who it was that brought this opportunity, you would ask Him to do it again - and maybe even better...." (a version of Jesus' words to the woman at the well in John 4)

This reminder is not new to me. This is now the third time he's used this phrasing to encourage my heart and direct my steps. Here is an example:

Though Dan and I dated during the summer of 2008, we weren't exclusive by any means. However, we definitely broke up in October 2008. The night of our break-up, I asked God to bring Dan back whenever he was ready - for me, for love, for our path. During our time off, though, I let go of him, trusting that God would bring him back if he was the guy for me - and I also started asking God to bring me 'raspberry pie.'

At Junior High retreat that fall, our speaker likened God's grace to 'chocolate cake' - and stated that God desires to lavish us with chocolate cake (what we think is a divinely delectable dessert/reward, but we don't think God really wants us to have it). For me, chocolate cake wasn't a good picture; I'm not a fan, really. But I looooove pie! Raspberry pie, ironically, was a flavor introduced to me by Dan. I love raspberries, but I'd never had raspberry pie.

Raspberry pie represented to me something that was new, unique, and an adventure but familiar - and something that I knew I would love. No specific person attached - just him whom God knew fit 'raspberry pie.'

Little to my knowing, it happened to be Dan.

Today, I am done wondering why not me and trying to figure out the why. I am asking God for my 'raspberry pie' job here in Tucson - and I believe that He is able and willing to make this happen.

Are you in a situation that you can't see the solution? Have you been trying to figure out what God is doing - or why He's not bringing you out of the desert? Don't be like the Israelites in the desert and  grumble against Him and long for what was not good for you (otherwise, He would've granted it), though it was comfortable. Ask God who is able to do more than you can ask or imagine to bring you the dessert, and prepare you to leave the desert and enter the promised land.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Solution to Sweet Corn & Zucchini Burn-out


Caba-what, Jessica??

Cabasitas! A delicious Mexican dish that combines the abundance flowing out of your Midwestern gardens!

You'll need (all or any combination of these items):

An ear of sweet corn
Summer squash
Red Pepper
Blend of Mexican spices (I used chili pepper, salt & pepper because that's all I had)
Shredded Chicken (optional)
Cheese (goat cheese, southwestern blend cheese - whatev)
Flour tortillas

Slice your you're making a fajita.
Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add your veggies and saute until tender.  Throw in some spices. I used chicken that I had cooked the day before and added after the veggies had cooked a bit because it just needed warming up.
Heat your tortilla.
Add the veggie blend to your tortilla.
Add some goat cheese. The first time I had this, my friend had some local goat cheese. It was SOOO good in this. I didn't have goat cheese, so I just used a southwestern blend of shredded cheese. It was still delicious.
Fold up burrito style (trust me!) and enjoy!

SO good. SO easy. SO good for you! The little burst of sweetness from the corn is so good with the slight spice and the delicious veggies.

Scrumptious Sunday

We had a potluck for Dan's department on Saturday. He volunteered me to bring desserts, so I finally got to break in my KitchenAid mixer!

The first dessert: Chubby Hubby Bars - like the Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor. They are very good!

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. unsalted butter at room temp.
1 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 T vanilla
1/4 c. chunky peanut butter
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped pretzles
1/4 c. chocolate chips (for top)
1/4 c. peanut butter chips (for top)
1/4 c. coarsely chopped pretzles (for top)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9x13" pan with foil and spray. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Using a mixer, beat butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients until blended. Add peanut butter. Stir in pretzles and chocolate chips.

2. Spread batter in the pan. Sprinkle peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and pretzles.

3. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.

My version:
I used Trader Joe's mini peanut butter cups (chopped) instead of chocolate or peanut butter chips. I did this for one reason: baking supplies are EXPENSIVE here in Arizona! (hint, hint for those looking for gift ideas. Yes, some flour, spices, and an abundance of chips in various flavors would make my day.) They worked great! The bars are delicious. Definitely make them for something where sharing is necessary!

THEN I baked a second dessert, which I invented.

Due to my abundance of pretzels, I wanted to make that strawberry pretzel dessert. After finding a recipe online, I realized that I did NOT want to make that particular dessert. I did want to make the pretzel crust; I did want to use strawberries. My mom has made this 'dessert' before (those of you dieters will know what I'm talking about) - that involves pureeing your favorite berries, mixing in some yogurt and then some Cool Whip. I decided to combine these. Super easy - pretty good.

Chop 2 c. pretzels in a food processor. Add in 3/4 c. butter (softened or melted) with 3 T. sugar and mix together. Bake at 400 for 6 - 10 minutes in a 9x13 pan.

Wash & quarter 1 pt. strawberries. Puree in a food processor. Mix with two, six ounce containers of yogurt. Finally add 1 8-oz. tub of Cool Whip (I used fat free). Pour into the pretzel crust. Refrigerate and enjoy.

--I put this in the freezer, and it took awhile to 'defrost' and thus be able to eat. I would recommend just refrigerating it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Prescott Pics! & Fast Fact Friday!

Last week, we had the opportunity to travel to Prescott, Arizona for the Arizona Cattleman's Conference. We were there from Wednesday through Saturday and had a wonderful time!

Dan led a livestock judging workshop on Thursday morning - and I got to help score. There is a youth organization for the junior Cattlemen, and this contest was part of it. One little boy who was 5 participated in the contest. He was adorable. During the morning, he did a great job paying attention and even completed all of the judging classes. By the time we'd had lunch, he was ready to go. He came over by me and we hung out and chatted. All morning, he had this big black cowboy hat on - and he had blond hair and cute blue eyes. Oh boy, I could have one of those! :)

The rest of the weekend, Dan worked the trade show representing the Animal Sciences department. I worked on presentation for the second interview and tooled around Prescott with two other ladies who adopted/befriended me! They were great and it is such a blessing to hang out with ladies!

We also got to attend a "steak fry" at one of the local ranches, The Las Vegas Ranch. The owner is a former judging team member, U of A alum, and current state senator. The ranch was beautiful. The trees lining the grounds were at least 200 feet high with a spreading canopy that kept us dry from the sprinkles. They had two big tents set up with white lights. There was a live country band. It was just - amazing. We also rubbed elbows with some state senators, although that wasn't really amazing. (I didn't take my camera along, but wish I would have.)

NOW for some Prescott fast facts!

1. It is pronounced Press-KIT - not press-SCOTT like it looks.
2. While the theme of the conference was "Where Cattlemen Meet at 5000 feet," the elevation is actually around 5300 feet.
3. It used to be the territorial capital of Arizona.
4. Several campaigns have been launched on the steps of the courthouse.
5. It is rich with history! 

The Yavapai County Courthose, which is the same building formerly known as the territorial capitol. Apparently, Barry Goldwater launched all of his campaigns from those steps.

The Arizona state flag

Whiskey Row - and no, it's not all bars! There are some, along with some very cool shops with art from locals.

This is what Whiskey Row looked like in yesteryear.

For my brother

For the Lilly's...who would never own a saloon - maybe it served alcohol chocolates, though?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday

I have started reading St. Augustine's Confessions. It is beautiful and thought-provoking. I love this passage from Book 1, section 4.

What, then, is the God I worship?
He can be none but the Lord God himself, for who but the Lord is God?
What other refuge can there be, except our God?

You, my God, are supreme, utmost in goodness,
mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just.
You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present amongst us,
the most beautiful and yet the most strong,
ever enduring and yet you change all things.
You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you.
You are the unseen power that brings decline upon the proud.
You are ever active, yet always at rest.

You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need.
You support, you fill, and you protect all things.
You create them, nourish them, and bring them to perfection.
You seek to make them your own, though you lack for nothing.
You love your creatures, but with a gentle love.
You treasure them, but without apprehension.

You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain.
You can be angry and yet serene.

Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same.
You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them.
You are never in need yet are glad to gain,
never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts.

We give abundantly to you so that we may deserve a reward;
yet which of us has anything that does not come from you?
You repay us what we deserve, and yet you owe nothing to any.
You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing therby.

You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight,
but is this enough to say of you?
Can any man say enough when he speaks of you?
Yet woe betide those who are silent about you!
For even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe you.

(the breaks are mine)

There is really not much to add...just much to savor and meditate upon and let sink into my soul.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's New Wednesday

I haven't posted much about our "regular" life, lately.

I've done a little decorating:
Our "refreshment" "cabinet"

I've done A LOT of cooking - and took pictures of one meal.

Roasted squash with sausage, rosemary and asiago cheese & mushroom risotto and spinach.

I was also able to recreate my favorite Thai lunch. Nine years ago, I lived in Thailand for two months teaching English at Sripatum University in Bangkok as part of a mission trip. The "dining hall" on campus was a giant, open air (though covered) hall. Along the edges were food vendors. My go-to vendor made fried chicken and rice AND mamat pad gai. Mamat means fried, pad = noodles, gai = chicken. Put it all together and you have chicken with fried noodles - in a peanut sauce with bok choy and a little cilantro. I found Thai Kitchens' fried noodles with sauce and gave it a whirl. I sauteed some chicken, bok choy, added the cooked noodles, then the sauce. In addition, I sprinkled some chili powder and chopped peanuts. It was awesome!

I've also been reaping the bounty of an aunt with a lot of tomatoes this month! My solution for an abundance of cherry and yellow 'pear' tomatoes? Roast them with olive oil, some basil and garlic at 325 for 30ish minutes. Cook spiral pasta - add it in for a few minutes at the end and enjoy. Dan doesn't like tomatoes - and he looooves this dish.

I also got a hair cut!

I've also had three interviews and one second interview. I'll find out at the end of this week about the second interview. I would LOVE this job and feel like it was made for me! If you think of it, prayers are always appreciated.

What about Dan? Well, he's been bringin' home the bacon by going to work everyday. He's spent the weekends in July working on his thesis. He does the dishes nearly every night...and you know, just does a great job loving me and being my best friend.


Here in Tucson, it's 'Monsoon Season.' For my non-Tucsonan readers, that means that this is the one season in the year where we get regular precipitation. Based on the calendar, "monsoon season" begins on June 15. However, the season doesn't really start until there are three days with dew points above 54. (Fast fact, everybody). For 2011, this happened right around July 4.

Prior to July 4, it was H-O-T, hot here. We had nearly ten days that were around 110 degrees, very little cloud cover and a dew point of -2. (only one of those statements is an exaggeration) Hence, when Tucsonans learn just when I moved down here, their reply is, "Oh! Talk about a wake up call!" or "I'm so sorry!" What they're really thinking is, "Boy, she must really love him!" It was not pleasant.

Then July came...and I am in love with Monsoon Season. This statement proves just how Iowan I truly am! Tucsonans hate the humidity; I love it. I bask in its glory as I walk outside and feel my protection from the sun. It's like a welcome hug from an old friend. (Okay, I may be getting a little too nostalgic and ridiculous.) What can I say, though? I really do like it!

Now, I've heard that the adjustment to the dryness comes quickly. So, it may be that when I visit home next May and it's 68 degrees out, I'll proclaim that it's "so hot!" when what I really mean is it's "so humid!" For now, though, I'm holding onto my Iowa roots!

So, the reason it gets humid here during Monsoon Season is the rain! Almost daily, the humidity will climb, the sun will break through and clouds carrying precipitation (usually from Mexico) will burst onto the scene. Some days, it's pretty light. Some times, we get a good ol' storm with thunder & lightning. Once, so far this summer, we've received such a downpour that it flooded our street! It was AWESOME! Below are pictures to prove it. It wasn't that deep and by morning it was dry - but it was cool!

(The title is attributed to all of our local TV metereologists who over-dramatize the season.)

Yep, just goin' for a walk in the flood waters. No biggie.

Check out that spray action! You're not supposed to drive down the flooded streets, as your vehicle could stall. If it does, not only do you have to pay for a tow, but for a ticket, too!

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Life As a Book Report: This House of Sky

To put into words exactly why you should read This House of Sky by Ivan Doig is difficult. You just should. You must. You'll love it. Trust me.

This is a "Dan book." He recommended that I read it at least a year ago. I've had it in my possession for several months; long enough that he couldn't remember to whom he loaned it. I finally read it and loved every minute of it.  Maybe it's because I'm living 'in the west' now, so I'm fascinated by 'western life'; maybe because I'm married to a 'shepherd'; maybe because I'm a lover of rural life, simplicity and days gone by; maybe because I'm fascinated by history and relationships. Maybe. Whatever the reason - if you find yourself in any of those categories, you'll love the book.

The setting is rural, western Montana and the time spans the early 20th century through the mid 1970s. The book is a collection of memories from Doig's family journey to Montana from Scotland and their experiences homesteading, ranching, rodeoing and living in the sparse, sometimes harsh landscape of western Montana. He describes the landscape and ranch life with such depth, richness, beauty and clarity.

Please, please, PLEASE read the book. Give it to your parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles. I am. (psst! act surprised when you get the book!)

Now for how it relates to my life...

Doig recounts the passing of a way of life.  Montana's homesteaders found that after years of struggling, 160 acres just didn't cut it. Eventually homesteading places were bought up by larger ranches, and men could take on jobs working for ranches. Raising livestock dictated the pulse of this area. As the book closes, Doig's home area has now become a logging industry.

I love history; I love my family's history; I love pondering about my family's roots and experiences. Growing up, I used to develop stories and imagine life on our land from years before. We had an old barn up the hill in an area where we used to keep hogs. I loved wandering in that barn. It was so dilapidated and filled with dust. Granted, the "flooring" was just dirt - but I always just remember SO. MUCH. DUST. walking through there. There was even ooooooold dusty hay still in the middle of the barn. I just loved going there and living in my day dreams for a few hours. So much of Doig's life was spent living in his imagination, as he grew up an only child in some isolated areas.

Furthermore, I've watched the landscape of rural Iowa change in my own 'short' lifetime. In our small town of Orient, the surrounding areas were full of families who farmed 'small' farms (500 acres or less?) and lived good lives. Today, those families have thinned out. As we graduated high school and college, we've moved on to larger cities and towns. Our already small school now has graduating classes in the lower teens. (Yes, folks, like 14.) The industry that has supported livelihoods for years...isn't. Jobs for those with college degrees are sparse. Men like my dad who have a college degree and came home to farm earn nicknames like 'Professor' - because those who leave and return are a rare commodity. In recent years, there have been some who've left and come back. Those who do, I admire.

Putting into words why you should read this book is very difficult me. You just should. So, whenever you get around to it - you won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Life As A Book Report: Saints Behaving Badly

I've wanted to do this blog series for awhile. The main impetus is that when I read a book, I read books that make me think. For this reason, I don't read a lot. Not because I don't want to think, but I have to want to read and taught. My husband (and many others) enjoy reading - and read a lot. Dan reads every night. He reads a variety of books: sports, political, mysteries, biographies, westerns. He's voracious.

I'm not. I like reading. I'm a good reader. Heck, I got a 35 on the Reading portion of the ACT - which is based on comprehension. I'm a choosy reader - because of that need for thought to be stimulated when I read. I'm not always a ready & willing audience, but when I am - I need to read. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears - and so it is with me and the books that I read.

This lengthy explanation, which has nothing to do with the book I'm about to report on, is simply to say: this won't be a weekly - or even monthly series. (On the other hand, I'm really interested in reading right now, so it might be monthly.) Also, the point is: when I read, I think about what I'm reading and apply it to my life - and I often find correlational themes and messages. It seems that I read for purpose, not pleasure.  (Even though books I choose for pleasure seem to teach me plenty!) My favorites are those which delight and teach me. Those will be the books reported on here.

Without further ado, Saints Behaving Badly by Thomas Craughwell:
Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints
cover courtesy of
I received this book from dear friend Andrea upon my confirmation into the Catholic Church this spring. As a newly minted Catholic, I obviously, needed to know something about the saints - and should have a fondness for them. As a newly minted Catholic, my affection toward them was really more intrigue than fondness - as it is a little hard to shake Protestant skepticism and Evangelical distrust of "anything but Jesus."

My dad, the lovable Gideon that he is saw the book and at once proclaimed, "Ah! It's just a book of testimonies!" Which it is; and which is exactly why the lives of saints should be learned about and venerated - because their stories are the same redemptions by the grace of Christ that our lives are today. (Which is also one of the reasons that I love my dad so; always looking for what binds us.)

Saints Behaving Badly chronicles the lives of twenty-eight holy men and women of the faith - most of them saints. There are some well-known saints in there: Saint Patrick, Saint Augustine, and Saint Francis of Assisi. The others were not known well to me. Each 'chapter' was dedicated to portraying the early life, the sinful life, the transformation, the repentent life and the death of each man and woman.

I was surprised at the time this book spanned - starting with Saint Matthew (one of the twelve apostles) in the first century through Venerable Matt Talbot of the late 1800s. For much of my Christian life, I've had this very small view of the 'communion of the saints'. Mainly, that we had Jesus, the twelve disciples, the new church and then fast-forward to today - and you have me. I know that it is very narrow-minded, but I never really gave much thought to the past twenty centuries of Christians until delving into the Catholic faith. For me, the connection to the past generations of Christians - many of them Catholic - has given me a sense of foundation in the church. This was one of the main reasons that I chose to embrace Catholicism (and Dan - but another story).

I read this book as part of my morning devotions. It was a great complement to my daily Bible readings to learn about a saint a day. It is really eye-opening to read about decisions to choose Christ and the Catholic church amid persecution: from the Romans to the English protestants. In nearly every testimony, their sinful past (ranging from promiscuity, adultery, gambling, lover of blood-sports, playboy, idoltry and devil worshipping) was overcome through strict devotion to prayer, serving others through selfless devotion, living simple, quiet lives - or establishing an order to teach/serve others. Their path to holiness always was marked with humility and great reverance for and submission to Christ and the Church.

My "take-away" lessons from these are many. However, the main one is the challenge to think of myself no more higher than I ought. To embrace my circumstance in life, rather than question it, by looking for ways to serve and love others is my life lesson from the lives of the saints.