Wednesday, October 31, 2012


On Monday, I got fancy in the kitchen.

I moved my computer speakers from my bedroom to the counter, plugged in the new Mumford and Sons album, and dumped four of my favorite foods on the counter, determined to make culinary magic happen:


(More cheese).


(Mmm, cheesy rice. Sometimes I stop right there, but my friend Carolyn insists that I'm not reaching my highest nutritional potential.)



Note: I did not take this photo. This is not a picture of what I made. But I foolishly forgot to take a picture of my creation, so I'm hijacking this one, because it's pretty darn close, and what good is a food blog without a picture to make you hungry? That would be like the Food Network launching a radio station.

I opened a bottle of Blue Moon and sighed happily, actually excited about cooking for once. And inspired by My Drunk Kitchen.

Here's my recipe. It's awfully similar to ones you'll find online if you search 'cheese broccoli chicken rice', but it uses all real ingredients, no nasty Velveeta or onions or garlic powder or other ingredients that are expensive or hard to find in the grocery store, or stinky.

Serves: ~ 6 skinny white girls. I am not racist, I just cannot vouch for any other demographic.

2 cups cooked brown long-grain rice
1 normal sized can of Cream of Mushroom Soup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, and 1/2 cup more for TOPCHEESE
2-3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast (just depends on how meaty you want it to be)
12 oz. frozen broccoli
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.
Prepare the rice. Fully cook the broccoli according to package directions. Boil the chicken ~ 10 minutes until it is white all the way through, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. In an ungreased 9x13in baking dish, combine all the ingredients, mix a lot, and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
Bake for like 15 minutes until the TOPCHEESE is melty and delicious looking.


I served it with salad and toast, after consulting the emergency meal-planning hotline (aka my friend Carolyn) for advice.

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's just minutes & highways

It entertains me to try to measure my time in Dayton by things other than minutes and hours and days.

Like, tissues used at my desk.
As of today, one whole box worth.

or Legal Pads consumed:

Puzzle pieces connected (out of 6,000):

Pairs of cleats destroyed:
½ (granted, this pair is about 14 years old).

Miles put on my Corolla:

Frisbee Players with Names Starting with ‘T’ I Have Injured:

Times I’ve been asked “Why the heck did you move to Dayton?”

or “You’re from North Carolina? Where’s your accent?”

or “You’re cold now? You’re gonna freeze in winter.”

or “Well if you’d been here last year, we barely even had a winter.”

Not that I've been counting.

But for real, I've been here almost four months, and it's been hard. But I don't think I can blame any of that on Dayton. I think those first six months after graduation can be hard for anybody. But thankfully I think I've finally turned a corner and found a place where I'm content with where I'm at.

Some unexpected comments in the last week or two have helped me come to that.

I got to talk to my mom for a while last week, and it was great to check in with her. I'm so proud of her because she decided this year to become a leader in the children's program of Bible Study Fellowship. If you've never heard of it, look it up; it's a really great organization. Recognizing how much she had benefited from it, and how much we kids had benefited from the kids program, Mom committed to co-leading a children's class, which means many hours each week of preparation and dedication, and the whole experience is a bit outside of her comfort zone. None of that was a surprise to her going into it, but she felt strongly that she should do it this year, so she has stuck with it, even though it has been a real struggle at times.

As we were talking, Mom said she had come to a point where she was learning to be thankful.
"Wait, say that again, Mom?" I said, a tear running down my cheek as stab of conviction pierced me.
"God has put me in a place where he's stretching me, and I realize I need to be thankful for that, and just trust in Him to provide," she said.
"Ouch," I said.

Somehow, even though I've heard that a lot -- this idea that God takes us out of our comfort zones to teach us about who we are, who we're not, and who we wants us to be -- it hadn't hit home like it did with Mom last week. I don't know exactly why I'm here, but it's sure as crap not so I can be comfortable and stagnate in the sinful, naive, self-absorbed life of my 21-year-old, college-graduated self. 

I'm here to grow. And He never said it would be easy.  

And today I got an email that just made me grin from the inside out and reminded me I'm in a really good place in life. 

I had the privilege of getting lunch with a local bank president today, which I consider one of the top perks of my job, even above the candy jar at the front desk, Thirsty Thursdays and the aforementioned 6,000-piece puzzle.

The reason I got into journalism is not the reason I stayed. I tried it out on a whim because I liked writing. It captured my heart because of the people I got to meet. Even just writing for the City Desk at the Daily Tar Heel back in Chapel Thrill, I knew I'd found something amazing. A job where you get to meet and get to know people in every walk of life, including people you have no business sitting down and having lunch with and would never expect to give you the time of day, is special. I get to pick the brains of the people who run this town, but I also get to find out what makes them tick. 

So today while crammed into an awkward circular booth marked "Reserved for Couples" with a gray-haired bank president, I found out I had something deeply in common with my lunch date. He is the fourth in a family of seven kids, I the third in a family of six. We shared some stories from our childhood, even though the entirety of mine spans less than the length of his tenure as market president. I really enjoyed meeting with him, and followed up with him afterwards to thank him for such a pleasant lunch. He sent back this reply:

"Well we found out that both of us are the forgotten middle child in large families. I believe that helped us both because if we were to amount to anything then we knew that we had to do it ourselves."

I love my job. :-)


Last thoughts for the night. I just got back from seeing the movie Looper. It's good, but it's a time travel movie, so I know I'll be up half the night trying to figure out all the different implications and possibilities. 

A few years ago I picked up the habit of making a wish on 11:11. I've always been mesmerized with numbers and symmetry, so I guess that's part of it, but I also like the reminder to pray twice a day for the one thing I wish for most.

And I actually did this consistently last year every time I looked at the clock on 11:11. I asked for one thing, and I told no one about it. In retrospect, of all the things I could have been spending my wishes on it's kind of insignificant in the scheme of things, but I wanted the last hour of UNC Dance Marathon -- a 24-hour symbolic stand that completes a year of fundraising for N.C. Children's Hospital -- to go off without a single technological hitch, since as the publicity chair I was in charge of all the multimedia elements. My experience on the Publicity committee from the year before when almost everything that could go wrong did was so harrowing that I wanted to do everything I could to prevent a repeat performance, including dedicating all my 11:11 wishes for a year. 

Well, lo and behold the whole thing went off so technologically brilliantly that the hour or so of lag time we'd built into the whole 24-hour schedule (which has like 18 columns and is broken down into 288 five-minute increments) just to be safe, was completely unnecessary and we ended nearly 45 minutes early. Which normally in event planning isn't that big of a deal, but when you advertise to thousands of people that you're going to be standing on your feet for 24 hours and you end at 23 hours and 15 minutes, some people feel shortchanged. I'm not gonna lie, the vast majority feel overjoyed that they finally get to sit down. But we're still going down in the yearbooks as the most efficient Overall Committee in history.

And I had to laugh, because I realized my wish hadn't been specific enough. "Please let all the technology work perfectly at the end of the marathon" apparently didn't cut it, since I could never predict all the other contingencies.

So does that stop me from trying to guarantee some little aspect of the future with my little daily wish? No. I've got a new request, and I won't tell you what it is until it's happened, which might be never.

Anyway, this brings me back to Looper. Don't worry, this is not a spoiler. It just got me thinking. We're all so obsessed with time travel because we think if we just knew the future, it would make everything in the present so clear, or if we could just return to the past and change a decision, it could fix everything now. But every time you do that, you realize it's all a loop and you end up causing the bad things you were trying to prevent.

I guess it's just another reminder that we will not, do not and cannot know the future, nor can we do anything to change the past and we have to focus on the now. I have to ask, am I right before God right now? Are my immediate needs provided for right now? Yes? Good. Go to sleep and quit worrying. No? Please read Acts 16:30-31.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The letter N and the number 1

OK first things first, this is hilarious:

Too funny.

A lot of people have reached out to me after my last post and sent encouraging notes. Thanks to all of you for the support. J

In honor of Big Bird, who is now apparently an endangered species, this post is brought to you by the letter N and the number 1. One day at a time, and thank God for Needtobreathe. It’s weird to think that just one week ago I was waking up to a thick blanket of fog in a cabin at 4,000 feet elevation in the middle of the mountains of Franklin, N.C.

Headed down south to the land of the pines to see my froomies Abby and Carolyn.

Planning our hike on the Appalachian Trail. 

Staring wistfully into the distance, hipsterfied in flannel.

Fall colors waiting to burst. 

I've been all over the US and I think every region has its own kind of beauty, but the western North Carolina variety is so hard to beat. 

Enjoying the view from the fire tower after a .75 mile up-hill hike. Completely ignorant of the 7-mile descent ahead of us. 

This morning I woke up before the crack of dawn to take my car to the only trustworthy mechanic I know of in Dayton – a 45 minute drive north of here – to check my brakes and tires, which have been making an awful ruckus and leaving me terrified of impending winter and the dreaded ice.

In anticipation of seeing Needtobreathe in concert in Columbus Thursday, I declared my car Needtobreathe only zone, and listened to their last three albums on repeat all week.

Monday night I got an awesome surprise when my sister texted me this picture from Anchorage:

"We're engaged!" she said.
She’s getting married! And I can’t believe that 10 years later we’re all getting reunited with Ivo, who left us with so many great swimming memories, stories and nicknames. Come mid-January I will have five brothers, and I’m so excited and honored to be Callie’s maid of honor, if that's not too redundant.

Thursday morning came way too early because I had an event for work about 45 minutes south that started at 7:30 a.m. I got there fine, but as soon as I walked into the conference hall I realized I was in the right place, at the right time, but the completely wrong frame of mind. I’d thought this was an awards meeting for manufacturers, but instead it was a forum on regional development. Switching mental gears felt like changing directions when Coach Greg made us do the whirlpool at swim practice, but I eventually got my head in the game and made some excellent new contacts.

I got a new mix CD from my dear friend Carrie while at work on Thursday, which is the best afternoon pick-me-up I know.

How I feel about letters from home. :hint:

Thursday night finally came after a very slow week at work, and I changed at work into jeans and a t-shirt and a sweater, knowing full well that a Needtobreathe concert is like a breeding ground for hipsters and they’d be coming out of the woodwork. I picked up my friend Chris, who had contemplated the same thing and chosen his ‘most hipster’ shirt – a Cap’n Crunch T he’d patiently eaten four boxes of cereal and mailed off the tokens for, along with a check for $1.68. As he says, hipster clothes must either cost less than $5 or more than $100.

Well, true to our expectation, the hipsters were out in full force … but the line was so long we realized we were in fact in the company of twipsters – the tweenage brand who are both more hip and slutty than I’ll ever be, and don't have to work til 5 so they'd been able to get there early. We took stock of the situation and decided we’d rather sit on the balcony of the open-air bar and enjoy a drink than wait in line to fight to get within spitting distance of the band. The bartender may or may not have pressured us into ordering two ‘beer buckets’ as she called it, a 32-oz cup. Outside of He’s Not’s famed blue cups in Chapel Hill, I didn’t know they sold beer in such quantities, so I was pretty stoked.

We took bets on the tom rate of this particular hipster convention – that is, the amount of Toms shoes per capita, but that number was even less entertaining than the percentage of concert-goers sporting completely unnecessary vests, often fitted over a flannel shirt.
“Excuse me sir, your top half looks like it went to a wedding this evening and your bottom half is missing its skateboard.”

Eventually we went into the venue and wormed our way to a spot on the balcony with a decent view. Needtobreathe is touring their latest album, The Reckoning, and they know how to put on a good show. Unfortunately if you didn’t already know their music, it wasn’t the best introduction because it was hard to understand the lyrics, but I’m still so in love with the passion they put into their songs.

Friday gave me a couple more surprises. I left for work a few minutes early since we had an all-staff meeting at 9. I parked in the creepy garage and walked down First Street. 

As I crossed at the light for Main and First, I noticed a tiny woman wandering aimlessly on the sidewalk in front of my building. She was shoeless and was carrying a bed sheet in one hand and talking to herself. Since she was kind of blocking my path, I stepped to the side. Thinking she had asked me a question but not wanting to engage her, I said “Excuse me,” and kept walking, when out of the blue she turned and punched me in the shoulder with her free hand!
“What are you looking at, bitch?!!” She screamed with wild eyes.
Completely taken aback, I didn’t know what else to do but keep walking. I hurried into my building, where the door lady asked me if I’d seen the woman with no shoes.
“Yeah,” I said. “She just punched me!” I had to repeat the story about six times between the door lady, the news team and the rest of the office during the all-staff.
“Give her a break, she’s already been punched today,” Don said, when the publisher teased me about running into her at lunch the day before.
 “Where were your boxing instincts?” Joe asked.
“I don’t know…we haven’t learned how to punch people yet, only bags and mitts,” I said.
For the rest of the day I made sure to put my key between my fingers as I walked to and from my parking garage, but it was pretty uneventful.
“How’s my favorite Tar Heel settling into Dayton?” asked one of my favorite sources, when I called to follow up on a tip.
“Well I got attacked by a homeless lunatic this morning, if that counts for anything,” I said.
“You’re kidding?! Well, that’s Dayton for you,” he said.

I got the wonderful opportunity to attend an alumni fundraising event at Sinclair Community College, so Friday night I found myself experiencing some crazy déjà vu standing in the same banquet hall I’d been in four years ago for the awards ceremony of the National Cadet Competition for Civil Air Patrol. 

Sometimes I still can’t believe I ended up in Dayton. Chris met me at the event, which included 10 tasting tickets for wine and beer and some amazing gourmet appetizers and desserts. The wines were from South America, Italy, France and America, so naturally we had to try to close out every country. But while we expected one ticket to buy one sip, the wine kept flowing, and in fact one ticket bought one whole glass of wine. With 20 tickets between us, and then a bonus five from a generous couple that left early, things could have gone terribly wrong.
We prioritized.
“I want to try this one – the one with “enticing aromas of strawberry-rhubarb pie, raspberry preserves, and cranberry, with barrel notes of vanilla cream and baking spices” – what how do they even fit all of that into one wine bottle?!” I said.
“It’s less about what they put in the wine as what the people they put the wine in say,” Chris said.
Between the two of us we managed to try nine of the 12 available wines, and felt extremely cultured by the experience. The alumni jazz band pulled out some surprises with an adaptation of music from the cantina scene in Star Wars. We ended the evening with this most excellent series of photos:

We win.

On my lunch break at work one day this week I watched this TED talk: 

It’s kind of long so here’s the Cliff’s notes version. Your body language usually reflects your mood. So if you’re worried, intimidated or generally lacking confidence, your body will show it, and vice versa. People in powerful positions tend to assume powerful poses that take up more space and show how comfortable they are with their environment. Here’s the twist, if you assume either pose, regardless of the mood you start in, your mind will follow your body’s lead and quickly conform to the more confident or more defeated attitude that your body is modeling.

Bottom line: if you can fake confidence with your body, you can become confident. Some of the more confident postures looked like the Captain America stance, or anything that involved taking up more space than necessary.

So I spent most of the afternoon Tuesday finding subtle ways to work in power poses as I went about my work.

And I’m telling you, it works! If for no other reason than the amount of ridiculousness involved in puffing up your chest, spreading out your legs and planting a fist on your hips while filling up your water bottle in the kitchen instantly puts you in a better mood.

I still recommend watching the video, if you’re one of those people that loves to hear about human behavior experiments and the astonishing results.

I’m wondering if this “fake it ‘til you become it” mentality doesn’t have applications to faith. Not that you should ever fake your faith, because if you don’t believe something then I don’t believe God will be honored by your faking that you do. “The true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). But if I desire the end result of having faith, then why not try assuming the posture of someone who has faith now, even though I don’t. Stop worrying, talk to God about everything, even if I'm not sure He hears or how He responds, and just wait.

C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters, "The prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. ... Our cause [this is a devil speaking] is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's [God's] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys" (49).

I don’t know; it’s worth a try. Mumford sums it up pretty well:

I will wait. 


And here's a few photos from my recent adventures:

Getting ready to rappel down the Key Bank Tower!

My boss coming down after me.

We went to the rodeo in Waynesville! Nothing like amateur bull-riding on a chilly fall night.

One thing I like about Dayton is running along the river, especially on days like this one. 

There is a hilarious story behind this way-larger-than-life-or-reason statue of Jesus on the side of I-75 near Middletown. Read it here