I have a roast in the oven.  My first.   I also have ten blog posts started and abandoned since early February.  It’s a ridiculous feeling to have creative block/fear over a hobby.  I’ve been wanting to sit down and say something brilliant for weeks.  Which was my first problem.  And when it comes to being creative, it only takes a first problem to shut the whole thing down.

Jaron and I spent the second half of February traveling in California.  Our first visit to Jaron’s hometown in many years and it was breath-taking.  We found ourselves dreaming of being back on the west coast, near family and dear friends with whom we have years of history.  Near pine trees that overlook the Pacific from vine-covered cliffs.  Where the smell of salt and forest sublimely intermingle.  For us it smells like the place we fell in love.  From there we went to my hometown, did some of our favorite eating with some of our favorite people, and played three times in support of our record release.  After returning to Tennessee we turned around for Illinois and played again, the first time with a full band in almost six months.

With so much travel and so many events and conversations it should have been easy to sit down and journal.  So many wise words were said to me by the various mentors we were able to see, I should have had plenty to recount.  We received so much loving support surrounding our record release that I should have joy spilling over the pages.  But sometimes when I’m presented with beauty, and fun, and familiarity, I forget to receive it.  Instead, I turn to dreaming.  Dreaming of what I can do and where I can do it.  How I can capture the things I love and build them into my ideal life.  Trying to picture the path to a small cabin by the ocean that’s great for entertaining lots of people, in a beautiful mountaintop valley in the city.  If you will.

So it may come as no surprise that sitting down to write after spending so much time scheming did not produce much.  A few disjointed thoughts, a couple preachy paragraphs on subjects I don’t care much about, and a complete lack of vulnerability or connectedness.  Which is always the result when I over-indulge daydreams.  I make so much mental investment in the destination that I have nothing to say about the journey.

So here I am waiting for a roast, watching a movie about a columnist, and writing about writing, which I despise almost as much as songs about songs.

And I only have a roast in the oven because my CSA delivered it and I didn’t have the heart to slice it up for a stew.  Which I suppose is the same reason that I write.  Not because I have an idea, but because I get one.  Not because I have anything at all, but because of the need to do something with what I’ve been given.


In 2002 David Wilcox released his second live album and on it he introduces a song about decision-making by treating Robert Frost’s most famous poem in this way:

“two roads diverge in a yellow wood and sorry i couldn’t travel both and be one traveler long i stood.

and stood i long and standing still for longer still, still standing still. looking down one as far as i could but then the other just as fair. in fact, the way i came over there looks pretty good, too. i could have all three. if i stayed right here i could have all three potentially. i don’t have to move at all, do i? i don’t have to really choose….

oh, but then i realize that all the paths are getting shorter at the far end. ’cause we only have so many steps to take. we only have so much time… so i have to choose. so i have to trust.”

One of the new fears in my adult life has turned out to be the fear of losing previous opportunities. When confronted with options I find myself more than anxious about the outcomes. Having children, settling in a city, moving on from that city, staying with my current job, finding a new one. Walking the dog, not walking the dog! (just kidding)

I find myself at this divergent road some days, looking longingly down all three paths. And sometimes afraid that I failed to notice the road I should have taken and it’s gone forever!

I find myself, like D.W. describes, treating God like “a game-show host sort of a God saying, ‘well, let’s see which one you’ve chosen… Oh no!” Looking at things from an incredibly sad, Western, naive perspective. Making my life a sentence that should be diagramed, instead of a poem. Printing a photo of the Carlsbad flower fields in grayscale.

But the truth is, I have no need for a map or a guarantee. If I look back at my life to this point, it’s not the “good decisions” that make me smile. It’s the snapshot experiences and the people there with me. It’s a God who welcomes me every single time, no matter which road I’ve taken, or where it’s taken me. If I could choose to be on a perfect path, with divine binoculars and GPS, I would say ‘no’. If given the choice, I much prefer my current situation. With a kaleidoscope and a divine traveling companion.

The holidays.  The busiest time of year for most of us, and Jaron’s busiest season at work, possibly tied with Easter.  In the past we have mainly endured the season.  Little decorating at our own home and even less time together than in the regular day-to-day.  Christmas 2007 was the most painfully memorable.  Jaron led five services in four different styles in two towns in two days.  Yikes.

This year, we were intent on simplifying.  Jaron’s work for church services may have been busy like every other year, but we eliminated holiday travel.  It was painful to be away from family all gathered together to celebrate, to miss my niece and nephew wearing the same pajamas on Christmas morning that my mother made for us as little ones.  The truck my dad made for JP and the puzzle he made for Mary. But, in all honesty, it was worth it.

I come from a fairly jet-set family.  Half of my dad’s business is in Hilo, HI, my sister and I are now in the midwest, and my extended family is almost entirely in San Diego.  We’ve made a habit of flying to see each other several times per year at any cost.  Even credit cards.  But determined to “act our wage” this year, we settled in for our first Champaign Christmas.

So, Christmas Eve night, after the church services were finished and the presents wrapped, we set up a mattress next to the fireplace in the living room and camped out for the night with Banjo.  Next morning brought one of my favorite Christmas celebrations to date.  With the economic downturn there is much talk about rediscovering smaller, deeper joys.  That was exactly what our day was this year.  Jaron and I exchanged gifts, read by the fire, made Rick Bayless’ seafood soup , listened to Handel’s declaration of the birth of the Savior, and took Banjo for a snowy walk in the woods just east of here.  Our first Christmas as just an immediate family.  It was perfect.

Another unexpected gift this year as a result of our plans to stay home was that we were able to attend the wedding of our dear friends, Holly and Todd, on New Year’s Eve.

Now, I have to admit that we were cheating just a touch, because we were well-aware that we would be visiting San Diego mid-January, when flights are one third the cost of Christmas-time. We are so ready for a dose of sunshine.  It has been bitterly cold the last week, consistently below zero with wind chill.  We’ve been spending a lot of time like this, hands and feet tucked in, trying not to think about the massive heating bill headed our way just to keep it a chilly 62 inside.

This visit will be another new experience in our effort toward simplifying.  We are staying with my parents rather than couch-hopping with as many dear friends as possible.  We have no extra entertainment budget and plan to eat as many meals as possible at home, much like we do in Champaign.  I’m looking forward to a slower visit this trip.  Time to sit on the swing with my dad and enjoy the weather.

We will be squeezing in the fun opportunity to lead worship at my hometown church, Emmanuel Faith, so if you are there please find us and say hello.  Saturday night at 5:30 or Sunday morning at 11 in the main worship center.  We’d love to see you!

Jaron and I returned late last night from our first trip across the Atlantic.  4 days and nights in Ireland.  We got a great deal (seriously, cheaper than flying home for Christmas…) and it was a destination we’d both been enamored with for quite some time.  What better way to welcome 30 years of living than fish and chips and a pint at a thousand year-old Irish pub?  If you ever need to feel young, just spend some time where there is real history, heartache, and triumph.  We LOVED Ireland.

Since our stay was so short we spent most of our time in Dublin, walking the stone-paved sidewalks, marveling at the Christmas decorations on Grafton Street, and feeling a little bit like we’d just been dropped into a Harry Potter movie.

We also took a train one morning to visit the coastal town of Howth with a priceless hike along the cliffs before fresh fish and chips at the docks.

Meals were meaty and huge.  The surroundings were almost always quaint and sturdy.  On our final day we visited the legendary cafe at Avoca village and had brown bread and with roasted tomato and red pepper soup for lunch.  Supper was a half liter of microbrew and fish pie back in Dublin at a gastro pub that was part of an old castle and I was spellbound by the detail of the architecture and the simplicty of the wonderful food.  Two meals I will never forget.

So on returning home to Thanksgiving I’ve got Irish food on my mind and ideas brewing for ways to incorporate it into upcoming meals based on Thanksgiving leftovers.  I wondered about combining the two and settled on adapting Avoca’s recipe for shepherd’s pie to use leftover turkey and sweet potatoes.  The result was exactly what we were hoping for.

First, the prep.  Peel and chop 1 yellow onion.  In a large pan or stock pot, saute the onion in about 4 tbsp olive oil until translucent, but not brown.  Shred 4 cups of leftover turkey with a fork and add to onions.  (You can also use 2 lb ground turkey.  If so, add it raw to the cooked onions and brown before adding other ingredients.)

Also add:

3 tbsp worcestersire

2 whole sprigs thyme

1 teaspoon tomato paste

3 carrots, peeled and diced

2 chicken bouillon cubes and 2 c water

salt and pepper to taste

Cover and cook this combination on low heat for 25 minutes.  Remove cover and continue to cook on low for 25 minutes more.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

If using leftover mashed sweet potatoes make sure you have at least 4 cups.  If starting fresh, peel and cube 3 lb of sweet potatoes.  Place in stock pot, cover in water, add salt, and bring to boil.  Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until tender.  Drain the potatoes and put back over low heat.  Add 1 c half and half, 4 tbsp butter, 1 egg yolk, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mash the potatoes well and taste, adjust seasoning as desired.  Set aside.

Once the meat mixture is done, remove the thyme sprigs and spread it into the bottom of a deep pie dish, along with juices from the pan.  Cover with the mashed sweet potato and spread evenly, creating texture as desired.  Heat at 350F for 20 minutes and broil for 5 more, or until the sweet potato mash has browned at its tips.  If you want to make this ahead of meal time, let it cool in the refridgerator and leave time to warm it at 350F for 40 minutes.

This turned out to be a great dish and adapted with very little adjustment.  Hearty, sweet, savory, and fresh-tasting.  Approximately 8 servings.