Yesterday the girls and I played Monopoly.


The outcome of the game is pretty clear from the picture, but read on….

Jonathan was my business partner. I’ve been reading real estate books, all of which talk about the strategy of Monopoly, and I warned the girls that I was going to crush them.

They took up the challenge, but Sophia did all the crushing.

She had what I considered a lukewarm strategy–buy the cheapest properties and house-and-hotel them up. She even traded Kate an expensive green property for a brown.

And then she cashed in every time we landed there, and she used the cash to create a monopoly on the other corner: Boardwalk and Park Place.

She never had to mortgage a property or borrow cash. (Dave Ramsey would be proud.)

First Kate went bankrupt.

Then me. (Jonathan had long since left to play Superheros.)

Sophia gloated for a bit, and after dinner, the girls regrouped upstairs to play again.

This time, Kate won. “I used Sophia’s strategies and they worked!” she reported.

Maybe I’ll have our fearless and brainy middle child take a look at our retirement investments this afternoon.


Unrelated, but worth recording nonetheless: On the way home from church, Jonathan asked how his body AND soul AND spirit was going to get into heaven. That led to an interesting conversation of the Last Day and our bodies and what is the soul and all kinds of deep questions I wished I could have punted to Derek. But I’m amazed at the depth of this kid, just barely four and asking these questions. Between his theology and his extrovert tendencies, he’s going to be a pastor, a politician, or a salesman. But hopefully not all three, because that seems to me to be the next-gen version of the current evangohispterpastor.


(Can you see it?)


And finally, a very early shoutout to my incredibly talented friend, Katie Schuermann, who is writing one of CPH’s first fiction books–series!–in years and years. I was thrilled about the news, and now I’m reading a special preview copy of the book, and yesterday on the treadmill I was absolutely sobbing over it, speed-walking with a tissue in hand and trying to pull myself together so I could take care of my children. Today, I’m counting down till Jonathan goes down for a nap so I can get right back to these characters who are sticking with me. Now that’s a good book. I can’t wait to share an endorsement and a full review when pub time gets closer, so stay tuned for that.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

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A year or so ago, Lauren challenged us to do a 10 in 10, i.e. take a picture every hour of your day and post it with a caption. At that time, I was working at {shudder} the restaurant-supply-company-that-shall-not-be-named, and every day was pretty much just like the one I documented. Now, I’m in a much better place, working three days a week at a job I absolutely love, and wouldn’t mind documenting, but have the freedom to document one of my “home” days, too. So here’s this year’s version, with the challenge from Adriane.

This particular home day was a pretty relaxed one. Kate had a friend to sleep over and we were watching over our neighbor’s pool. You can see where this is going: no pictures of laundry or housecleaning in today’s 10 in 10. So, without further ado:

The Ten in Ten, Friday, July 11, 2014 edition.

1. Menu-planning time. I normally do this on Saturday, but we have VBS this weekend so I’m getting ahead. Funnily enough, Derek and I sit in certain spots at the dinner table, but when it comes time for sermon-writing or menu-planning or whatever we’re working on, we switch spots. I guess we feel more creative in a spot where we don’t stuff our faces.



2. Coffee-grinding. Derek’s hand-grinding our pourover coffee. Yes, I’m spoiled beyond all reason. Yes, it’s ruined me for church coffee.



3. Drinking our coffee on the back porch. You guys, you haven’t experienced heaven on earth until you’ve sat on our back porch during amazing summer weather, drinking coffee early in the morning and hearing the birds talk to each other in the woods and smelling that heavenly camp smell. It’s the best of both worlds: a comfortable mattress and amazing coffee AND camp feel. Not pictured: one of our elders came over to learn the pourover coffee method. He brought Panera and had me at the blueberry scone.



4. Breakfast for the Firefighter and Princess #2. Princess #1 is still asleep, having stayed up past midnight with her friend. (See their team Instagram for their hilarious videos.)



5. Haircut time for the littles! Sophia tried to grow hers out but eventually decided the short spunky look suited her better. I even paid it forward and gave a random mom sitting there my other coupon. Next door at the Dollar Tree, Kate and her friend bought me a gift basket full of spa goodies to thank me/apologize for the nuclear-level mess they left in the kitchen after making homemade bath salts and lip balm.



6. On to Kroger for the week’s groceries. I’ve been sticking to Walmart, not because I like it whatsoever but because I can consistently save around $40-60 a week buying the exact same stuff there. However, I wanted to get some raddicchio for a pizza–it’s a kind we tried in Boston with raddicchio and gorgonzola and artichokes, and it was amazing–but even Kroger didn’t have it. #lame



7. My latest stack-o-books. The cottage we stayed in at Isle of Palms is for sale, and  I talked to the owner about it to make sure it wouldn’t go under contract before the 90-day honor period started (kind of complicated, but basically a new owner would have to honor bookings for 90 days, and we were just outside of that period, so if it sold immediately we’d have no beach vacation). The owner was very talkative, and gave me too much information about how they were losing money from the cottage, etc., and her husband just wanted to get rid of it. When we got there and I remembered all of this, I got curious, googled a bunch of vacation rental by owner stats, crunched a bunch of numbers, and got interested in reading real estate books as a result. What I’ve learned: there are basically only two ways to lose money on a rental cottage on a beach in a normal economy: buy too high, or mismanage. Or both. In any case, she’s trying to sell the place for almost twice what she paid, and now that I know the math, I guarantee it won’t be a real estate investor who buys it unless they can get her a few hundred thousand down on the price.



8. Post-lunch swim! Poor Jon-Jon missed out because he had to nap, but the girls and I headed across the street to take advantage one last time of our neighbor’s pool before they came back from their trip.



9. Kroger, take 2. Post-swim, we dropped Kate’s friend off and went back to Kroger to get one more string of clearance lights for our porch, plus three Libby mason jar glasses for the kids, so we can be real southerners.



10. Fire pit post-fire: I forgot to capture the actual fire pit blazing, because I built the fire myself (Derek usually does it) and my latent pyromaniac tendencies consumed me as I arranged and poked and optimized and fed and prodded, and the kids made s’mores, the tree frogs sang, and the lightening bugs (that’s fireflies to all you Yankees) flitted around the yard. Just picture a perfect summer night and ignore this wet mess. Also ignore the fact that the top half hasn’t been filled in with river rock yet, as we have yet to get to the river this year. But Saturday, it’s river time, baby.



That, folks, is my Ten in Ten. And now it’s your turn, ladies. I won’t link to you all, but you know who you are.


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We’ve been home for nearly 24 hours and I can still feel the waves lapping at my toes.

We toured Fort Sumter,


took tourist pictures at Rainbow Row (feeling slightly bad about it since real people live there),


and gaped at the gorgeous, imposing Federal-style homes south of Broad and on the Battery in Charleston (not pictured because I was too busy gaping to get my camera out).

We dressed up and went out for a fancy dinner at Blossom and ate delicious, perfectly-prepared fresh fish.


We ambled through the Magnolia Plantation gardens, where my heart fluttered like a southern belle at the sight of beloved Spanish moss hanging from the biggest, brawniest live oak trees you can imagine.


We met friends at Holy City Brewing for a taste of craft beer.


And, of course, we went to the beach.


The girls were naturals in the water, riding the waves and jumping and swimming and floating like pros. Jonathan preferred to build with his “diggers” and make sandcastles and, once in awhile, dip his toes in the water and “jump the waves” with the help of a taller person next to him. We shelled, walked, ran, splashed, and went through two cans of 70 SPF sunscreen and half a bottle aloe vera gel. And in the evenings, when the little ones were showered and tumbled into bed, we read quietly in the living room of our pink beach cottage.

On Thursday, when the tropical storm brought rain to Charleston, we went to the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry for some good old-fashioned indoor play. There was a lot of pirating (Jonathan) and grocery store clerking (girls) while Derek and I looked on.


Every day brought a new and wonderful experience, but by far the best day for me was July 4th, when we drove out to a public boat landing north of Isle of Palms and boarded a boat bound for Bulls Island, an uninhabited island that’s part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

We hiked through the interior first, passing through Alligator Alley and spying 5 of the 1,000 or so alligators living on the island. The kids named them Movey, Sleepy, Moss, Ally, and Swampy.


At Boneyard Beach, we gaped at the hundreds of sun-bleached oak trees washed out by the shifting sands and forming a graveyard of sorts.


We walked the beach and found crabs, sand dollars, multiple jellyfish and sea turtle shells, and some of the most beautiful shells you can imagine on an uninhabited island where everything isn’t picked over by tourists. We swam in the ocean and looked back at the beautiful, undeveloped land of the island while we rolled in the waves.


Too soon, it was time to make the 1.5-mile trek back to the dock to catch the 4 p.m. ferry. The kids had already walked over four miles and swam, and we were running a bit late heading back. I don’t think we’ve ever hiked so fast–especially in 90+ degree weather–but we had wet swimsuits to cool us off and a beautiful path back through the island.

That evening ,we joined the other vacationers and watched the Isle of Palms fireworks show from the beach. Jonathan’s first fireworks, and he gets to watch from the beach! He declared the fireworks his “most favorite” part of the vacation.

Look at us, all tanned and beachy. For those of you who think Tennessee is hot and humid in the summer, try South Carolina. And know that our tans will soon fade into a work-appropriate paleness soon enough.




Speaking of work, I’m working through piles of laundry and opening piles of mail and reading piles of email. And while I’m sort of dreading the piles of work awaiting me at work, our trip to the beach was so worth it. I’d do it again next year, except for this: Derek and I were talking about vacations, and how this is our first real vacation in five years. Then we got all Dave Ramsey and started talking about how quickly we could pay off the house. I said, “Everyone better enjoy this trip because we’re not going anywhere again till the mortgage is paid off.” A few days later, Jonathan wanted to go somewhere and he asked, “Is the mortgage paid off?” Silly boy. Silly boy with big ears and an even bigger brain.

I don’t know when our next trip will be, but I know where it could be: one of the Washingtons; that is, Walla Walla or D.C. I can already taste the wine (or history).

But right now, it’s good to be home. I loved the low country, but the mountains are my personal Kansas.


Here we are in mid-June, and all we’ve got to show for the summer on the lame side so far is

  • 0 trips to the river
  • 0 hikes

But, on the awesome side, we have

  • 1 week of swim camp for the girls
  • 1 trip to Boston for Derek and me
  • 1 stay at the grandparents for the kids
  • Sophia’s first communion

I’ll start with Boston. We were there just in time for gorgeous, sunny, humidity-free weather in the 70s, and Boston is nothing if not a walking town. You can really get from neighborhood to neighborhood on foot so easily, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to do anything else unless you’re taking the T (that’s subway to all you non-locals) to the JFK Museum or the Sam Adams brewery. We walked to the harbor, and down some of the 38-mile harbor walk. We walked the Freedom Trail, which takes you through all the cool historic sites from the pre-Revolutionary war, including Paul Revere’s house, an old graveyard containing the remains of Mother Goose, Sam Adams, and other famous early Americans, and the Old North Church where the two lanterns were hung when Paul Revere made his famous ride.


Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We also ate a ton of good food, including an amazing quinoa and kale salad I’m trying to replicate at home this week; the best homemade pasta I’ve ever had at Strega’s in the North End; blue cheese-artichoke-radicchio pizza from Scissors, where they literally cut a piece of your choosing off the pan; and a sweet potato and avocado sandwich on amazing homemade country white bread.

Walking, beautiful weather, a gorgeous city, good food, history, and a fantastic CPH meeting. Boston couldn’t have been better. I’m terrible at pictures, but Google+ conveniently created a little slideshow of our trip for Derek, so I’ll post the URL here and hope it works. It’s both amazing and creepy (that G+ knows every single location we were in Boston.)

Speaking of the CPH meeting, our strategic planning guest speaker was Dr. Bernard Bull of CUW, a digital/educator who gave a talk/workshop on digital learning. Obviously all the teachers in the room were riveted, but so was I as a digital marketer, as he explored different ways you can learn using technology. My favorite point he made is called the Flipped Classroom, where a teacher can pre-record the lecture, students watch it the night before class (in lieu of homework), and then class becomes not a one-sided lecture, but a dialog, a Q&A, a one-on-one as needed to clarify, reiterate, and hone in on trouble spots in the lesson. This literally was not possible before technology, and it can dramatically increase learning and retention. This seems so obvious and yet not many classrooms are doing it, not even the progressive and forward-thinking Maryville City Schools, who pride themselves on innovation and excellence but who actually just teach to the TCAPs, because so much depends not on a red wheelbarrow, but on a good classroom score.

In their defense, flipping the classroom is flipping a centuries-old educational model. Change in technology is coming at lightening speed, but lags far behind in education. I’m mostly ok with that, because I don’t want my kids to be the subjects of radical experiments, but some of these principles seem really obvious.

Another concept he covered is called the SAMR model, which takes technology from a simple Substitution (think using a Smart Board as a white board) to Augmentation (improving the task using technology, e.g. spellcheck on a computer) to Modification, where you can redesign a task–for example, using Skype to complete a group project remotely, to Redefinition, which is using technology to do something that previously was impossible, such as the Flipped Classroom or a software-based tool that uses programming to take you to harder or easier questions based on how you’re doing on previous questions.

Obviously there’s a lot of goodies in here for religious education as well, when you think about how pastors have traditionally taught confirmation or Bible studies forever. We tend to cringe at the idea of, say, using videos in place of a “real” pastor teaching, and with good reason, because that’s the Substitution model and doesn’t really improve the process. But what about using smart software to build students’ Bible knowledge? What about pre-recording confirmation lectures and spending the class time digging into the nuances?

Anyway, I digress. This is what happens when you dump a month’s worth of thoughts into a single blog post. On to Sophia’s first communion this morning (thanks to Chuck for taking the photo).


Sophia has been through a full year of confirmation instruction, particularly on the Lord’s Supper. She is 7 1/2. It’s kind of strange; I do think 13 is an arbitrary age for confirmation and first communion that was an LCMS invention that has to do with an “age of accountability” that serves many congregations well in terms of order and structure. But here in our church with the support of the elders, Derek has opened up confirmation instruction to some of the younger kids who are ready and willing to take it, and an opportunity for first communion to those who have completed at least a year, who understand what the Lord’s Supper is and can speak to it, and whose parents and pastor have judged their readiness. And yet. With all that, a tiny part of me was like, “She’s not ready!” I asked Derek a few times and he assured me she is ready, and I can only conclude that I am not ready. And that became apparent when she stood up there and answered the questions and I could hardly keep from bursting into tears.

Here she is answering the questions (and I was halfway through before realizing I should have turned the camera sideways. Oops.):

Finally, it’s Father’s day, and I’d be remiss not to thank my dad for being a great role model and above all for teaching us the faith. I think back to the many ways I was a trial to my parents and am thankful that they didn’t give up on me.

And to Derek, for being a great dad to our kids, who is involved and engaged beyond what I could ever hope for and who also never gives up on our kids and never will no matter what comes.

I’ll end with two of my favorite pictures; the first is my dad and me circa-late-70s, and the second is Derek and the girls on Father’s day six years ago in Knoxville.

Gretchen with Dad.jpg

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That’s June in a nutshell, folks. The next two weeks involve a week of gymnastics camp for the girls, a day trip to the Creation Museum in Cincinnati, and general getting-ready for our Charleston/beach vacation, for which Kate has a countdown timer set on her phone that periodically reminds her of how many days, hours, and minutes are left before we go. I think it’s safe to say she’s mildly excited. Who am I kidding? We all are.

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I took this screenshot of Kate’s Instagram post the other day so I could send it to Susie. Who is Susie, and why would I send her this shot, you ask?

Susie is only the greatest family friend one could ever have. She has been a part of our family since we moved to Knoxville, and no Maryville move would change that. Her great-niece and great-nephew are often with her on the weekends, and they are fast friends with my kids. Susie runs them around and does all the fun stuff I’d never do or let them do, and most importantly she’s the kind of person who is there for you when you don’t have anyone to call because you’re in a bad place or an emergency or you simply need to be talked off the ledge and back into reality.

So it came about that Kate is taking on more responsibility at home, and sometimes she babysits for us for short periods of time, and we do not have a home phone. I always knew that when it was time for to get a phone, it would be time. Not her time, but ours, and because we needed it for her to be safe and to be able to reach us immediately if necessary.

Her friends all have iPhones. That’s a whole other story in my head, but I’m not going there now, except to say that she knew she wasn’t getting an iPhone from us. So she decided to save up for one, which I encouraged because even if I wasn’t crazy about her end goal, I liked that she had a big goal in mind and wanted to work toward it. Susie heard about this and it happened that she’d bought a 2-year-old iPhone from her coworker a year ago, which she gave to her brother, who didn’t like it, who got himself an Android.

She tried to give it to Kate. We texted for an entire evening with me saying absolutely no and her saying absolutely yes. She finally convinced me, Derek confirmed he could get a SIM card and add her to our plan for $10/month, and Kate was in seventh heaven.

But the phone has brought up a lot of stuff, and it’s made us talk about phones and habits and being social and being rude, and all the fine lines in between. And it’s been good. A good conversation for our family, and one the world at large should be having as well.

Essentially, we’ve come up with these standing rules:

No phones during dinner. This one is so obvious it barely bears stating, but it’s amazing how many people we see in a home or restaurant setting simply ignoring each other while engrossing themselves in Facebook or Twitter. I know a guy who makes his friends stack their phones on the table during dinner; the first to check his phone foots the bill. If they all refrain, they split it like normal.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as if the family conversation turns toward what’s on the schedule for the week and we pull out the calendar, or if one of us is proving a point and has to Google a definition, or we’re taking hilarious pictures and videos of the action. But even then, if we don’t watch ourselves, we’re all suddenly staring at our screens and the conversation has died. It’s scary how quickly this can happen unintentionally.

(An aside on dinnertime and phones: I’m constantly lamenting the fact that people don’t have an established dinnertime anymore. It used to be that no one would ever, ever call during the dinner hour of 6 to 7 p.m. unless it was an emergency. Back in the Beaver Cleaver days, if the phone rang during dinner, someone was surely dead. Now, no one seems to eat at the same time let alone at the same table, and the dinner hour is gone. I may sound old-fashioned and grumpy about this, but I’ve done my research here and study after study–not to mention common sense–shows definitively that kids get better grades, are more well-adjusted and happy, eat better, and are more confident if they have family meals. So much good stems out of this hour that we try to keep it absolutely sacred at our house whenever we can. Aside over.)

No screens an hour before bed. I have this cool app on my computer called f.lux, which mimics the sunrise-to-sunset and makes your screen turn a calming orange at night and a reviving blue during the day, but even that doesn’t combat the proven difficulty getting to sleep after staring at a screen too close to bedtime. I don’t even let myself or my kids read books on the screen for this reason. Besides, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned hour with a paper book before bed, and we make enough trips to the library and the kids are ahead enough in their reading levels to prove this is a useful tip.

(Which, by the way,  I got from my mom. She used to head to bed an hour early and read. I used to think that was silly, but now I do it and have my kids do it too, because it’s a very calming and relaxing time to unwind and get a good night’s rest.)

Resist the urge to pull out your phone when you’re bored. We all do it. But it’s a terrible habit, especially if you’re in the company of other people–everyone from your spouse to your kids to your friends to your family. You are sending a message loud and clear to the other person or people you’re with: “I am bored with you. You are boring me.” Yikes! How offensive is that, when you think about it? I tell the kids that 1) it’s ok to be bored sometimes, that you don’t have to be entertained 24/7, and 2) if you’re bored maybe it’s because you’re boring, and you need to liven things up and make an effort to create an interesting conversation. This is a life skill that will serve them forever, so they might as well learn it now. I spent hours that added up to weeks and months and years listening to my parents talk about the most boring subjects on the face of the planet but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t have a phone to escape into because I actually learned a lot being forced to listen all the time.

As adults, we do this too and it’s terrible. It’s interesting in the workplace; people excuse their rudeness by saying or thinking that they’re working, they need to be connected, etc. Sometimes it’s nice to have that phone to get stuff done while you’re stuck in a totally useless meeting, but other times it’s incredibly rude to be texting while your colleague is presenting or you’re supposed to at least look like you’re engaged with the group.

At social gatherings, getting your phone out says one of two things about you: you’re bored (which really means you’re borING) or you’re uncomfortable, which means you should put away your crutch, find the least engaged person in the room, and sit down and have a conversation and get out of your own head for awhile.

No phones at church. This last one is for the kids only, but it bears mentioning because both my girls brought theirs today while I was home sick. There’s nothing technically wrong with it, except if you scroll up you’ll see all the bad reasons they pull it out: as a crutch, because they’re bored, etc. And more than anywhere else, we want them to be fully engaged at church: with God’s Word and with their Christian family.

All of these rules and caveats aside, I absolutely love the technology we have now. Who ever thought when I was getting my first email address in college in 1995 and we were using dial-up internet on our Gateway computers that we’d some day carry a computer in the palm of our hands, accessible anywhere, any time? More than anything else, I love to learn and read and grow and pursue knowledge, and having more information produced in the last 60 seconds than was produced through most of history right at my fingertips available for the taking is truly astonishing.

I love that my kids can jump on YouTube and watch videos (in Kate’s case) on proper violin fingering, or (in Sophia’s case) how to get ice powers like Elsa, or (in Jonathan’s case) Peppa pig. I love that they can text me silly things from their grandparents’ house or from home when I’m out of town. I love their ridiculous selfies and movies and finding surprise X-ray pictures on my iPad.


The phone is a pretty great tool. And we want to keep it that way.

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Hooray for summer, for sleeping children (till 6:30 a.m., anyway), for bonfires and s’mores and swim camp and gymnastics and orchestra camp and hot days and most of all, for our upcoming vacation!

Because Derek and I are wiped out. A guy at work just went somewhere tropical for a week for his tenth anniversary, and four days after his return he still swaggers in with the Beach Look: the tan skin, loose white button-up shirt, pink shorts, and leather flip-flops. The look of refreshment, of renewal. Compared to our look, which is pale and frazzled, but wearing shorts nonetheless because the weather is hot and humid this week.

It’s been a week. After returning from Denver last Friday, I went up to St. Louis on Wednesday for meetings, overcoming my fears (sort of) and taking the tin can charter plane up and back. The views were lovely even if the trip wasn’t.


Next week Tuesday I’ve got to go to Boston for another work trip. It’s another charter flight up and back. More of me plugging into my happy music and praying that a) we don’t die and b) I don’t throw up, not necessarily in that order, all the while working on presentation strategy with the team as if it’s all a day in the life. Tomorrow, Derek and I are hiking Mt. LeConte. We’ve always wanted to do it and now our church group is going, so there’s no time like the present except for the small problem of me feeling like I need to crawl into bed for the next week. I’m just done in, both because of all the travel and because of all the catch-up I have to do at work and home because of the travel.

(Here I should note how many times Derek and my mom  have talked me off the ledge, and my father-in-law has predicted that the clients will start going on vacation any day now and the crazy will slow down. It’s nice to have people in your life who can give you perspective.)

Last night we celebrated the end of the school year with a pint at Casual Pint (conveniently located next to Kate’s orthodontist), dinner out, and a quick bonfire before the rain rolled in. I have to say, we prefer Bluetick for the beer, the company, and the pint size. It’s ironic that the Casual Pint serves 12-ounce pours (and for those of you who aren’t up on your math, a pint is 16 ounces, so it’s pretty much false advertising). Bluetick goes the other way, with 20-ounce “proper pints” as they call them in Britain. So if you’re in town and wondering where to go, now you know.


Some day I need to learn to take decent pictures so I can capture the gorgeous spring we have in Tennessee. Especially after traveling so much lately, I come back here and it’s truly home. My dad wondered how we could stand looking at so much green all the time, but it’s much more complex than just a sea of green. The green has shades, and textures, and shapes. It changes subtly and dramatically, depending on the season. I never get tired of our “mountain retreat” house and the incredible views out all the windows, and this time of year it truly feels like a retreat with the trees leafed out and not a neighbor to be seen.

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I (obviously) didn’t take this picture, but this is the magic we see here. Summer has started, and we’re so ready for it. Bring on the hikes in the mountains, wading in the creeks, walks and bikes on the Greenway, swimming in our little hidey-hole at the Little River…and most especially, our vacation in Charleston, from which we will come back as relaxed as Gumby and as tan as our poor pale European skin can stand.



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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. –F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve always loved paradox.

How is it that two things so seemingly contradictory can both be true, at once, together–and, particularly, make sense?

Lutheranism, or more correctly according to my dad, Christianity, has a number of wonderful paradoxes. Many of them form the base of our theology, which is why I say Lutheranism, although, direct quote from my dad, “I wouldn’t call them ‘Lutheran,’ because Luther simply got into the thought-world of the Scriptures and expressed what is there.” But that’s exactly it: the particular lens through which Lutherans look at some of these ideas in tension is unique.

Here’s a list I came up with–can you add any more?

  • Law/Gospel
  • Sinner/Saint
  • Bread and Wine/Body and Blood
  • In this world/Not of this world
  • God/Man
  • Heaven/Hell (if we go to heaven, it was all God; if we go to hell, it’s all us)
  • Now/Not Yet
  • Human Evil/Divine Good (“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”)

And, of course, the greatest contradiction of all: the cross. Humiliation/Glory.

My dad added to my list

  • Christ the Lamb/Christ the Shepherd (Rev. 7)
  • Christ the Lion/Christ the Lamb (Rev. 5)
  • Christ the Priest/Christ the Sacrifice (Hebrews 7-10)


Most of you have seen this painting in our dining room, created by our dear, talented artist friend Terrie and given to us in Knoxville. She called it “Sinner and Saint.” We get a ton of comments on it. It’s not easily understood, and the concept of sinner and saint is even harder to swallow–why is why we love it so much.

Why all this talk about paradox? Yesterday I listened to this great podcast with Jennifer Russell and Bryan Franklin about being an entrepreneur vs. business owner. The entire podcast was great, but I especially loved the section on paradox. Great leaders, Russell and Franklin say, are able to “hold” paradox.

Last night I was reading my notes to Derek, and he said, “This sounds very Lutheran.” It does, it really does. Read on.

What is “holding paradox” exactly? It simply means you can experience the truth of each side and feel them both simultaneously without demoting the meaning of the other. They used the example of universal significance: In the context of the cosmos, you’re unimaginably insignificant. And yet, to your loved ones, you could not be more significant. Everything you say and do matters. Your vote counts, and so does how you use your life and love and intention.

[Where's the Lutheranism in that? Why, just add God into the mix. He created this vast universe, and yet He knows the number of hairs on your head and He has your days counted and He hears all your prayers. Pretty cool.]

Most people, when presented with a paradox of this magnitude, cannot handle the truth of both sides at once, so they either believe one side and dismiss the other, or they put the other in a cognitive dissonance box because there is simply no way for their mind to reconcile these two disparate beliefs.

But, Franklin and Russell say, dismissing or ignoring one of the two sides of the paradox rob you of its power, which is that things only appear to be contradictory because you’re looking at them in a lower dimension than they’re made of.

[Again with the Lutheranism: we humans do this all the time, trying to process, define, and box God in to our piddly frame of thinking, when what we know and what we think we know and what we really don't know are way out of whack.]

The example they give of looking at a paradox in a lower dimension is like looking at a 2D drawing of a 3D cube. I love this analogy, because as a kid I used to sit around and draw 3D objects constantly when I was bored in class. This year I discovered that Sophia does the same thing. Yes, she’s my child inside and out.

So in the 2D drawing, the lines are at funny angles and they cross each other, when on a real cube, they are at 90-degree angles to each other. If you hold that sensation of a 90-degree parallel when you look at the drawing, it pops in your mind and you elevate to 3D thinking, where there is no conflict.


The lesson: any time you feel things in conflict, pull out. Absorb the paradox. Allow yourself to see a broader and more sophisticated view.

I love the examples they gave for a relationship paradigm, because it has application to everything from marriage to parent-child to colleagues at work. The relationship paradox is that between present perfection (“You’re absolutely wonderful just the way you are”) and the drive or force that says you can be even more (“Even though you’re absolutely wonderful, I know you could be even better”). Think about this in terms of a parent-child relationship. We all love our kids to pieces and think God gave us absolute perfection, and yet we invest time and energy in teaching them to be better people: to not hit each other, to clear the table, to become good stewards and the type of people who serve others in the world.

In a work setting, holding this relationship paradox, if done correctly within the entire company, can  help everyone grow and learn. The idea is to not throw blame but to constantly strive for improvement while acknowledging that each person is responsible for and perfectly suited to their job. For me, that would mean I’m superfantabulous at digital marketing, but that when–and that’s when, not if–I screw up, the other team members would push me to do better, to be more.

For oneself, holding this paradox means you can acknowledge your present value and yet strive for more, without one eroding the other. Think, Franklin and Russell say, about how compelling a leader you can be with this tension.

The final thing I loved that they said was how when you hold a paradox, you can make decisions that serve both sides of it. In the case of raising kids, it’s “I love you just the way you are, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and I want you to try harder on your math because you’re being lazy and I know you have it in you to solve these problems.” The decision is to do the hard thing in service to the now and the growth.

For work, it’s “I am perfectly suited for this vocation, but I am committed to always striving to be better at it and to continue to grow and learn in it.”

In a marriage, it’s “This person is God’s gift to me as my lifelong partner. He is perfect for me. I am perfect for him. Yet we continue to improve and solidify our relationship because we’re focused on the now and the long haul.” The decision is to admire, love, and respect while continually trying to make an imperfect relationship better.

(On this one, it’s easy to see the opposite effect, either dismissing one side or practicing cognitive dissonance on it: You can know God gave you your spouse without understanding the drive to improve–and without that, many relationships grow sour and cold. Or you can try to improve–usually the other person–without recognizing that he or she is perfect, as is, for you.)

Which brings me right back to the Lutheran tension of the “now” and the “not yet.” Apply the idea of “holding the paradox” here: You can experience the complete truth of God’s kingdom already being here and yet not fully here until Jesus returns again. Or Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine: It IS bread and wine. It IS body and blood. While theologians have argued over the nuances of “This is my body” and “This is my blood” for centuries, we are comfortably able to hold this paradox.

Because we know we’re all arguing over a 2D drawing instead of getting that we simply don’t get the 3D reality.

What did we ever do without a Trader Joes in Knoxville? I first discovered TJ’s when we were living in Palo Alto. At the time, I was all about the inexpensive wine. (Not 2-buck chuck, though. More like 5-buck sauvignon blanc.)

Here in the grand state of Tennessee, we can’t buy wine in grocery stores. Or beer in wine stores. Or high gravity beer in beer stores. Or a wine opener in a wine store. But I digress. There’s no wine at the Knoxville TJ’s, but I’m discovering the food. Oh, the food. My favorites:

The butter. You wouldn’t believe how creamy and fresh the unsalted butter is. I made fish with brown butter, balsamic, and caper sauce tonight and the difference between that and regular grocery store butter is unbelievable. We can even tell in baked goods. It’s just so good, and cheap too.

Speaking of fish, we’re now in love with TJ’s fish. It’s wild-caught in the U.S., smells normal when you open it, and is super flaky and tender. We gobbled it up and can’t wait to have more. I haven’t made fish in ages, ever since I discovered that even the Kroger fish comes from China. Sure, fish is brain food and the Chinese are smart, but I want our fish to be local, thankyouverymuch.

Arugula. I’m crazy about arugula, and Walmart doesn’t sell it and Kroger’s goes rotten too fast. TJ’s is dry, so it doesn’t rot, yet super tender and fresh. We eat a lot of salads and make tons of arugula pesto, which is delicious on everything from chicken to noodles to salads.

Cheese. The blue cheese, goat cheese, feta, manchego, and Parmesan is outstanding, and again…have I mentioned cheap?

Greek yogurt. Creamy and real. Enough said.

Cereal. The kids love the Toasted Oatmeal Flakes so much, we buy at least two boxes at a time.

Irish Breakfast tea: My 9 a.m. staple.

Red pears: Weirdly, I could buy these at the Fellini Kroger in our old ‘hood, but they’re apparently banned in Maryville. TJ’s are juicy and sweet.

Apples: Inexpensive and crispy.

Pasta: That whole al dente thing? Totally true with this pasta.

Haricots verts, aka thin, tender green beans from France: Even Jonathan eats these, especially when I add a little butter and salt.

I know everyone else loves TJ’s for the ready-made frozen food, but I’ve not had much luck with that, besides those amazing, delicious chocolate croissants Heather mentioned one day, which I can’t buy again because they left Sophia out. Side note: everything is made in a facility with peanuts and tree nuts these days! I had to go to five different stores to find Easter bunnies for the kids this year. Today, Sophia came home and said they got M&Ms for a post-test treat, but she couldn’t have them, and then a kid brought in a birthday treat, and again she couldn’t have it. Poor baby. :( The only thing that cheers me up is knowing that she is motivated to stay away from nuts, and as much as she loves chocolate, isn’t tempted by treats that could make her sick.

So of course I let her have her own treat after school. And because Kate is a good big sister, she got one too.


Update 5/10: Capers. I forgot the capers. At Trader Joe’s, you can get these gigantic jars of capers, which is fantastic because we eat them on a lot of things. Pasta, chicken picatta, and salad in particular.

I’m feeling hungry again….

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Our sweet boy has been having trouble staying quietly in bed at night, so Derek invented a few simple rules for him to follow. As he learned them, he added his own. I particularly like #6.

P.S. Yes, he ripped the vinyl airplane on his wall off one night. Yes, we need to repaint.

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The family, Easter 2014.

The backstory: honestly, this was the most relaxed and beautiful Holy Week we’ve ever had, and although I say “relaxed” anyone who is in a pastor’s family will understand that what I mean by that term is not “we sat around in easy chairs all week and watched TV and ate bonbons” but rather “on Sunday night we only half-collapsed and were not so physically and emotionally spent today that we could literally not move.”

What I mean is, Derek’s sermon-prep went really well, and anyone in a pastor’s family knows that sermon prep going well or not going well is a huge X factor in how Holy Week will go for the family. I also mean that my wonderful mother-in-law hosted Easter dinner so on Saturday all I had to do was make two pies and an egg casserole for church, keep the kids in order, get their things out, help set up at church, prepare for the Easter egg hunt, and set up the kids’ Easter baskets. And, often, someone or several someones end up in the hospital and/or going to meet their Lord on Holy Week, but this year that did not happen. We also did not host anyone late into the night on Holy Saturday, as has happened in past years.

On Easter morning we were organized enough to get the family together for a pre-service picture before any of us spilled food down their front, changed, or disappeared into the ether. And I’m not trying to minimize the true Easter miracle, but that felt like quite a coup.

[Then I talked to Melanie, who is single-handedly carrying on our tradition of hosting meals for anyone and everyone at First Lutheran. She hosted 33 people yesterday. I'm a slacker.]

Our services were lovely. We had amazing attendance on Good Friday. I’m not a church-numbers person, but I am a percentage person, and having a high percentage of people attend Good Friday services and not miss, you know, the whole reason for Easter and the resurrection, is wonderful. Our choir practices went smoothly and I think we did a nice job in the services, especially on Good Friday when we sang “Jesus in Thy Dying Woes” between the Seven Last Words.

If you haven’t read Matt Walsh’s Easter post, stop what you’re doing and go read it now.

The icing on the Easter cake was when Jonathan announced out of the blue, “Easter is not about candy and the Easter bunny. It’s about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.” You got it, buddy.

(This year I decided the Easter bunny is stupid, which my dad will say I should have decided years ago, but in a rebellious familial twist I introduced all the magical characters having not had them as a child. I didn’t know how to tell the littles that there’s no Easter bunny, so Derek said, “Just say something like, ‘You know the Easter bunny is just for fun, right?’” So I did, the very next time it came up. I’d agonized over the delivery and anticipated questions about Santa Claus, but instead, from Sophia, I got nothing Santa-related but deep concern over the Tooth Fairy. Which means I stumbled, covered up, and managed to salvage the Tooth Fairy, feel like a fraud and a liar, and disabuse the idea of the Easter Bunny all in one awkward conversation. This parenting stuff is not easy.)

Ramble number two: broken families suck. There’s not much more to say about that because it’s too close to my heart, and besides, everyone knows this in a very painful way either through direct or tangential experience. It’s just that holidays, particularly celebratory holidays like Easter and Christmas, which should be full of joy and happiness (and they are, even so, in the eternal sense), become clouded with pain and silent suffering and loneliness that throws life under the cross into sharp relief.

Related, you can only choose to be faithful regardless of how others act. I am extremely proud of people I know (you know who you are) who choose to be and stay faithful, to keep families together at all costs, to live a life of sacrificial love even when it doesn’t bring happiness and self-fulfillment and all the things Oprah and the prosperity gospel taught us we need. No one said it was easy to do the right thing.

Ramble number three: Although I 99.9% like the fact that we share everything financially, I do not like it this week. Derek’s birthday is on Monday and he’s sitting in the other room, and he calls out, “Sweetie, what’s this Amazon charge that’s labeled ‘gift’?”


I guess this is where pin money comes in, but you can’t order on Amazon and pay in cash, so I’m still stuck. And, without giving too much away about the gift, I’ll just add that being a tall person, he is impossible to shop for locally. The girls are in on the secret, though, and Sophia has promised to “act normal” if anything arrives and “pretend it’s just a box of wine.”

Final ramble: Whenever I take those brain tests I always come out dead-even between left and right brain. That makes sense to me, but going further I find that although my thoughts very much center on the emotional, right-brained side, I can only manage to express myself on the left-brained side. Analytically, with data points. I find this endlessly frustrating and have never heard of or found a way to “fix” it, if indeed there is a fix. I’m sure part of it is my Lutheran/German/English-stiff-upper-lip background that sends off alarm bells reminding me that displays of emotion are unseemly, but it sure does hamper my writing and how I communicate with people. I literally cannot find the words to express how I feel, or if I can, I cannot release them, and I hate that because it makes connecting with people so much harder.

In certain circles where I hang out, people would suggest I get private coaching. My gut response is Lutheran/German/English: No way. I will continue to stumble around and hope people are deep enough to read between the lines and make inferences.

Because even as I long to actually express myself, I cannot bear the thought of it.

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