Wednesday, July 26, 2017

all this from deodorant


I turned 34 in January, and Stephen bought me a six-pack of deodorant.

I'd been out of deodorant for over a week and was using his Old Spice. I didn't mind, but apparently, he did.

Gifts aren't my thing. I'm crummy at giving them, and a spoilsport when receiving them. I like practical gifts that equate to a crossed off item from my to-do list; in this case, buy deodorant. It is tempting to blame this lame attitude on the busyness of motherhood, but sadly, I've been like this for years.

Soon after Stephen and I were married, his mom gave me a jumbo pack of paper towels and toilet paper as a Christmas gift. She did this as a joke, but I was overjoyed. Last year she gave me cleaning supplies, and this past Christmas she wrapped up diapers for our two-year-old son. Best. Gift. Ever.

A year-long supply of Secret deodorant was speaking my love language. I thanked Stephen, and then opened the card tucked away in the bottom of the bag. As much as I adored my deodorant, this card contained unexpected life-giving words. I froze. I reread. 

"I'm taking the kids to Columbus this weekend. You will have approximately 30 hours at home by yourself. Pour some wine, turn on Netflix, and eat any food you want without having to share with the kids!"

Come Saturday morning, I shooed the three of them out by 9. I waved good-bye from the front porch, both giddy with excitement and overwhelmed by freedom. I walked back inside ready to fulfill my first fantasy: a clean floor. I swept the kitchen and gleefully anticipated the beauty of thirty crumb-free hours.

I showered - with no interruptions - and then opened my new deodorant. I hadn't used Secret since I started buying my own deodorant. The past fourteen years have seen more Suave or whatever's-on-sale deodorant. Stephen had sprung for the deluxe; it was my birthday after all.

I lifted the lid and popped off the plastic protective shield. The smell rushed me back to my childhood bathroom. I could see my 3-inch curling iron forcing the tips of my hair outward. I could see my hot pink Caboodle bursting with Lip Smackers and an extensive Bath and Body Works collection lining the counter. I could see myself buckling the strap of my overalls, choosing from an array of chokers, and slipping into Doc Martins to complete the ensemble.

I love remembering that girl, and it is much easier to do when I am alone. I closed up the deodorant and went down to our basement. I moved a stack of heavy boxes until I found the one I wanted, tucked in the back and near the bottom. At least a dozen journals dating back to second grade were lined up like soldiers in that box. I pulled a few out. No plans? No interruptions? It seemed like the perfect time to curl up, do some reading, and hang out with that girl.

*****

Over the past few months, I have been thinking about childhood and adulthood, and the pages of those journals brought clarity to my fragmented thoughts. Sometimes I think that girl is lost, but as I read about her day to day drama, I remembered life when I spent time doing what I enjoyed. Brilliant. There was work time and play time, and I was good at both.

But I'm not sure how those pieces of who I used to be can still fit into who I am and who I am becoming.

I used to think adulthood was about moving on and leaving behind silly pastimes of childhood. I felt foolish, even embarrassed, when I wondered what happened to all the fun. Fun? Pastimes? Grow up. I was convinced I needed to created a new mature self. It was all rather thrilling at first, embarking on independent territory, finally doing whatever it was adults did that seemed so mysterious. But after a solid decade of trying, rethinking, examining, and transforming into adulthood, I am beginning to think I've got it all wrong.

Maybe adulthood isn't about leaving behind and moving ahead.

Maybe I don't need to create a new grown-up Joy.

Maybe I need to rediscover a former self, sort through to find the best, and settle in for the long haul. That's what I'm doing right now - sorting through and settling in.

I am participating in Coffee + Crumbs' Year of Creativity, and one of our first assignments was to reflect on this question: "What were some of your favorite creative activities as a child?"

When I was younger, I loved to write. I found hours to lay on the floor and write through life. I wrote dozens of notes to all my friends to be delivered the next day at school. I filled journals and notebooks with real stuff and trivial stuff. I wrote about what it meant to love Jesus and about when each of my girlfriends got their first period. I wrote about how I wanted to be skinny and about how much I loved this boy named Dan. It all mattered.

When I was younger, I loved to dance. The dance studio and stage were my happy places, but I was equally content to pump up Janet Jackson on the 6-disc stereo system in the basement and choreograph fourteen different music videos to Rhythm Nation. I could choreograph an entire dance in my head as I lay in bed, sometimes slipping out of the covers to mark a few steps in my dark bedroom. I leapt through parking lots, tap danced while brushing my teeth, and can still bust out a rather impressive full body roll in the passenger seat of a car. My dad and brother made a rule that I couldn't dance at the dinner table, so when the rhythm hit me, I would stand up and dance next to the table. My shimmy and shake just couldn't be stopped.

When I was younger, I loved being around kids. I planned summer camps for the kids in our neighborhood. I volunteered in children's church and worked as a camp counselor. I was the babysitter who came with a bag full of fun, and if there were no real kids to entertain, I'd enlist a handful of make believe children to participate in crafts and science experiments. I dreamed of being a teacher and had the greatest classroom on the block set up in my basement, complete with a lesson plan book, math textbooks, and an overhead projector. Kids were my jam.

When I was younger, I thought a lot about food. I figured this meant I was destined to be overweight my entire life because none of my size-two friends ever seemed to think about food. I didn't know about cooking or menu planning or entertaining, but I flipped through cookbooks and magazine to dogear recipes. I rarely made any of these dishes but still loved to look.

What if these were more than just hobbies or memories from my childhood? What if God intended for me to write and dance and create and love children and um...eat, all my life?

I look around at 34, and there are surprising similarities to 16.

Yesterday, I got up early and spent an hour writing. A few hours later I taught a Zumba class that included a new salsa dance I choreographed last weekend. I took my kids to the park, and we did some crafting and Popsicle making when we got home. During their nap time, I planned lessons for a kindergarten and first grade jumpstart camp I'm teaching next week. And later in the day, I made a new recipe for dinner - citrus marinated pork tenderloin with a mint pesto.

I couldn't see how each of these passions had a place in my life during my twenties. I thought I had to let them go, particularly if they didn't lend themselves to an income. But I was wrong.

One by one, they have each found their way back to me at just the right time. I love the thought that my childhood passions are still there, woven into my soul, eager to resurface and forgive me for the years they were neglected.

All this from deodorant.

I wonder what would happened if I opened a bottle of CK1.



Monday, July 10, 2017

why lu and beth are rocking my world

I would like to introduce you to my friend, Beth. Although if you've been around 44 & Oxford for awhile, you have met her before.



She is the one who invited me for pancakes when I had no friends.

She is the one who fixed my shelves when interior decorating gave me hives.

And she and her hubby were the ones who hosted Smokefest 2015, twelve glorious hours of meat smoking, pie making goodness. 

Our paths first crossed in 2009 during a class at our church for young married couples. We were both young and both married; surely we'd be compatible. We made casual small talk for a few years, and I always wanted to be her friend. She was witty and confident and had the cutest curly-headed little boy I had ever seen. It only took four years, but she eventually called me. All of her friends had left Oxford, and I'm pretty sure she was lonely. It worked out well because all my friends had also left Oxford, and I was lonely too. It wasn't the most thrilling of pick up lines; she asked me to help her plan the women's event at our church. I was kinda hoping for something more like tacos and margaritas, but I said yes right away. She was surprised and said she was prepared to whoo me into agreement by taking me out for pancakes. Now you're talking. I said yes again. It was during this breakfast date that I learned Beth cuts her entire stack of pancakes into small bites before she begins eating. It's so cute.

A few weeks ago, Beth's first novel, Lu. was released.



I feel so proud and so impressed I could just burst. We've spent countless hours over the past two years talking about writing and what it looks to write when you're a mom of young kids and what it means to obey God and trust God in your writing. We've talked about how to write when you don't feel like it and how to write when no one is reading it. I love talking about writing with Beth, but mostly I love talking about life with her. She's the real deal - honest, messy, present, committed, and doing it with confidence that she is loved by God.

Last summer Beth showed up at my door with the first draft of her book.

It was good.

Like really good.

Like I-can't-believe-I-know-the-person-who-wrote-this good.

I want you to hear from Beth, and I want you to hear about this story. Then I want you to buy this story and read it and give it someone. (Or enter to win two copies below!) I believe in this story, and am joining alongside Beth in prayer "for the girls who are looking but still haven't found - this one's for you."

*******
This "interview" took place at Beth's house on a Thursday morning with five children underfoot. We were interrupted no less than fifty seven times by these darlings despite our unashamed attempts to quiet them with yogurt tubes, Netflix, and monkey bread. 

Joy: Hi Beth.

Beth: Hi.

Joy: Your son is riding his bike in the street.

Beth: Oh shoot. Be right back. (Timeout.) Ok, go ahead.

Joy: Hi Beth.

Beth: Hi Joy.

Joy: Now my daughter is drawing with chalk on the side of your house.

Beth: That's fine.

Joy: OK, I have some early memories of meeting you at church. What are some of your early memories of our friendship?

Beth: I remember you came and talked to me after church one Sunday, and you were wearing a cute wide belt.

Joy: I was? What color belt? Black?

Beth: I don't remember.

Joy: I only have one. It must have been the black one. I never wear that anymore.

Beth: Oh you should. It was cute. Then there was this period of time we only knew each other by mutual friends, so we had a good year or two of awkward encounters - the kind where you don't know if you need to reintroduce yourself or if you remember one another. I also saw you at the wine festival when you were pregnant with Charlotte, and I kept watching you to see if you'd drink any wine.

Joy: Did I?

Beth: No. Rule follower.

Joy: Right after that was when I came to your house to borrow a maternity dress - the one with the pockets.

Beth: Yes! All dresses should have pockets! But we really didn't become friends until 2014 when my friends moved away and your friends moved away, and we were the only ones left in Oxford. I guess we were each other's B list, but it turned out alright.

Joy: You will forever be the friend who taught me to love pancakes. Before you, I would have said that pancakes were just fine. I didn't know what I was missing. What are your secrets to a really good pancake?

Beth: Definitely! Number one: Use a hot cast iron pan. Number two: Use butter in the pancake batter but cook them in canola oil.

Joy: Wait. Really? I didn't know that one!

Beth: Oh, Joy. Yes, you need to cook them in canola oil. Number three: Use a recipe that calls for buttermilk. Don't pay any attention to expiration dates, especially if this is the only thing you're buying buttermilk for. It's sour milk anyways. And number four: Let the batter rest for at least a half hour. I don't know why, but I think it makes them fluffier. There might be a scientific explanation, but I'm not a scientist. I'm a writer.

Joy: And I am living proof that this will take your pancake making to a whole new level. I have many memories of sitting at your kitchen table eating pancakes and talking about your book. So now, let's talk about Lu. You've always wanted to write a book. Why this story?

Beth: I always loved reading. When I became a Christian in college, I was excited because it opened up a whole new world of books. But when I went to that market, I was disappointed. The female characters were either too good or too bad.

Joy: But you love Redeeming Love, right?

Beth: (Looking like I'd lost my mind.) Who doesn't love Redeeming Love? But in so many books, I felt like I knew where the plot was going. And when I went to non Christian fiction, I was reading about girls I didn't want to be - girls who were sleeping around, spending money - I didn't like that either. I wanted to find a book where the main girl was a girl I wanted to hang with. It was this character that drew me to writing.

Joy: You started this book seven years ago, but set it aside - which is my nice of saying you quit. Talk to me about that.

Beth:  Yeah, I started writing this book seven years ago. I quit my job to do it, and I put my son in daycare. And then I tortured out seven chapters. It was painstaking. I was unsatisfied, and I was haunted by what success looked like. I thought I'd never reach it. The writing wasn't coming, and I thought if I couldn't get someone to publish this, I was a big, fat failure. So I stopped writing. I failed.

Now I know those seven chapters were a self ambition to glorify my name and make me great. It was necessary that I lay it down completely to get back on the path God had for me. I told God I would never write again unless it was for Him. I thought my writing days were done; I thought I was laying it down for good.

Joy: What happened in those seven years?

Beth: When God called me back to writing three years ago, I spent a full year wrestling with Him. He was saying it was go time, and I was resistant to it. I was nervous about the past, so I was dragging my feet. I feared my past self more than I feared God. But He has a way of frustrating your life when He wants you to do something. It was easier for me to lay my writing down at His feet seven years ago than it was to pick it back up again. I was more comfortable with God as disciplinary than redeemer.

When I finally took that step in faith, not a step to write, but a step to believe He had changed me, to believe the Beth that was sitting down to write this book was a new person, He proved each day how deeply He had healed me. Writing was hard, but it was also deeply satisfying. That kind of contentment and sanctification come from God's hand. You can't conjure that yourself.

Joy: You said "When God called me back to writing." Can you be more tangible and explain what that looked like?

Beth: He put writing in the forefront of my mind. When I laid it down, my prayer was that God would take that desire away. I didn't want to want it anymore. I asked Him to take away any desire that wasn't in keeping with Him. He did this. He took away desires like living in a beautiful house, living in an adventurous place, having a massive bank account, traveling - typical American dream stuff. Over time, I didn't care much about those things. But my desire to write was always there. And it suddenly became persistent; it moved up in the ranks, constant knocking and telling me it was go time.

Joy: You said God frustrated your life. How so?

Beth: I stopped getting enjoyment in other things. Work that had been satisfying wasn't anymore. I also became very envious of my friends who were seizing their dream - like you. I remember when you started this blog. It was something you had wanted to do, and you did it. I was choosing not to, but I saw friends who were. Envy usually isn't a struggle for me. I like to be in the front row clapping, but suddenly I was backed into the corner I had made. God was asking me to write again, but I was too scared.

Joy: I know that most of this book was written between 4 and 6 am. How did you manage that, especially as a mom of three boys?

Beth: This is hard, especially for moms. We have these dreams we want to see accomplished, and as moms, we never want to put the family out. We want to work around them. But in order to do something like a blog or a book or anything big, you have to claim some things for yourself. That is why for me, I needed to claim a name , claim a space, and claim time. For my family dynamic and my natural energy, I had to get up early. There were times the alarm went off, and I didn't want to get up, but I knew that if I didn't get up, I wouldn't write that day. The family did take a hit. I'm not the hottest ticket in town, especially come 7 pm. There were also mornings my oldest came down at 6:30, but he came with a book because he knows I write until 7. I'm OK with that. They get a lot of me the rest of the day.

Joy: What is your hope for this book?

Beth: I hope that a woman who has discounted the idea of God will pick up this book and see the other side to this argument. Because that was me at age 18. Lu, at her core is seeking. She is doubting. She has a lot of questions, and she's smart and independent. She is searching but won't buy something hook, line, and sinker. There is a layering to her journey. She needs to be hit on emotional levels but also on intellectual levels. There is a part in the book where she is challenged to read her Bible. "Just because you read it as a child, doesn't mean it's childish." Christians are thinkers. She needs to discover that Scripture is viable.

I absolutely believe God had me write this book because somewhere there is a girl who needs to read this book and will be saved. I don't know her name but God does. I have stopped praying that it will reach that one because I know it will. Instead, my prayer is that I will know about it.

The numbers are out there. What if I only have 5 likes or only sell 200 books or never recoup my investment? God didn't promise I would. He gave me story and told me to write to reach that girl. So I am praying for her, that she will find this story.

Joy: When I read novels, I often wonder how much of the story the author knew ahead of time. Was this entire story mapped out or was it more of a "bird by bird" kind of thing?

Beth: I had a very basic arch - how a modern woman who looks like you and me would find God.  I knew I wanted her life turning upside down in a way our lives turn upside down, I wanted failed relationships and a failed job. I knew she would put all her eggs in one basket- this city, this job, this guy. But what would happen when that didn't work? And that is where we find Lu at the beginning of the book.

The rest went chapter by chapter. I always knew the next thing to write, but I never knew beyond that. I knew God called me to write this story from the time I was in grad school, but I didn't know how. I did know that obeying God in this book was a daily discipline. So I set my alarm for 4, and I showed up to see what God was going to do, to see what he would have each character do and how it would all come together. It was an adventure. Chances are if there are things in the book that took you by surprise, it took me by surprise too. I became more comfortable with the unknown.

Joy: So what's next?

Beth: Book 2. Which was  a surprise to me. I intended to write one, but the story needed a book two. It was great to write how a woman comes to faith, but book two is about how a woman grows in her faith and how she takes ownership of it. It is a different type of story to write and fun because I get to put her  in a lot of awkward situations. There is tension because the Bible says you're made new, but you're made new in your same old world. Book 2 is the story of how Lu navigates that.

Joy: We also get to find out about the guy, yes?

Beth: Yes. (Insert mischievous smile.)

Joy: Anything else you wanna talk about?

Beth: Well, it must be really exciting to hang out with someone who wrote a book. So let me ask you, what is it like being friends with an author?

Joy: Oh my. Yes, great question. Well, we get to talk about your book all the time, so that's really fun. And last summer, you brought me a copy of your book in a three ring binder the day before I left on vacation. I was the only one with a three-ring binder and pen in my hand at the beach. You also let me pick a favorite head shot from like 47 choices, and you sent me tons cover designs but didn't even pick my favorite.

Beth: Whoa. I sound intense.

Joy. Totally, but we do other exciting stuff too, like pick paint colors for your writing room, talk about blog designs, and plan a book release party. You did forget to send me an invitation to the book release party, but that's alright, I got a text. You also asked to set up a book table at my husband's birthday party, and made me take your author photos. But those turned out so poorly we had to stop after five minutes and hire a real photographer. It isn't always glitz and glam, but at least you make me really good chocolate chip pancakes.

 *****


You guys, I love this book. You will too, so go get your hands on a copy.

You can enter below to win two signed copies of Lu. I'm giving away two copies to one winner so you can read one and give the other to a friend. And then you can go buy more copies here. The winner will be announced on Friday.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
There were a few verses Beth clung to during the writing of Lu. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 was one of those verse.



Click here 
for your free print of this verse.

And be sure to hang out with Beth on her website.

 "I wasn't much different than other girls - wading into each new day to walk the familiar streams of who we think we are and where we think we're going. But sometimes the light breaks on the surface in a new way, and we spy a shadow of the unseen that causes a break ... "
-Lu.



Trying to act cool at the book release party.

But we were kinda freaking out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

because one day you won't

Two years ago, I walked into my bathroom to find this.



Charlotte's Croc filled with acorns.

There is no story behind this photo, no explanation other than this is what happens when children live in your home. I laughed when I saw it, which is a blessing because had it been a different day or different hour I might have thrown those acorns away and chucked the shoe into her room, annoyed with how her stuff invades every corner. But on that day, at that moment, I loved it. It was quirky, confusing, and so childlike, so perfect. I took a picture because one day she won't leave a shoe filled with acorns in my bathroom.

Every so often, I've thought of that picture and try to mentally dogear other moments that ooze with childhood. But now I can't remember most of them. I wish I had written some down. I wish I had taken a picture.

Some have been ridiculous scenes, announcing to the world that children have been busy living in this home.

Some have been irritating moments, reminding me I laid down my preferences when I chose to be a mom.

And some moments have been so precious they steal my breath to whisper,  "Yes, you really are a mom."

I want to notice those moments. I want to remember those snippet of life.

Because one day she won't lay on the floor doing puzzles in her rain boots and underwear; she won't decorate every dresser knob in her room with a sock, and she won't ask if we can buy matching dresses.



Because one day he won't spread out blankets and pretend to be a pig rolling in the mud; he won't insist on sleeping with trucks in his bed, and he won't ask "You go oomba?" each time he sees me grab my neon yellow Zumba shoes.



Today I will notice those moments.


#becauseonedayyouwont


Thursday, May 4, 2017

stolen tulips & bbq chicken salad



It was Mother's Day 2007. Stephen and I had been married just over a year and living in a spacious but sketchy apartment in the suburbs of Chicago. We invited my parents, my brother and his wife, and both of my grandmas into our apartment for a three-tiered tower of various bruschetta and an absurd amount of this salad.



California Pizza Kitchen had been a family favorite in my childhood home, and despite the extensive pizza offerings on their menu, my mom always gravitated toward this salad. I was able to hunt down the recipe, and it was a perfect choice for Mother's Day lunch.

Stephen and I decorated our tiny table with a lovely, yet stolen, bouquet of purple tulips. I do not condone stolen tulips, but our budget barely left room for chicken breasts let alone fresh flowers. So we got creative - or perhaps unlawful. There was a community of "luxury" townhomes nearby with an enormous display of tulips surrounding their entrance sign. On our way home from church (from church!), Stephen pulled into the entrance and u-turned around the large island of tulips, setting up our car for a quick getaway. He sprung into action, flying out of the driver's side door and yanking up tulips in a manic fashion. He dove back into the car with a mass of flowers clutched against his chest, threw them in my direction, and squealed out as he shut his door. I was stunned by the speed and agility I had just witnessed.

I started to wonder if he had stolen tulips before.

We were so cute. You see those purple tulips? I didn't pay for those...

BBQ Chicken Salad
Adapted from California Pizza Kitchen
Serves 4 as a main dish

The chicken in this salad is best served cold, so I would recommend grilling it the night before or earlier in the day. However, I don't always plan ahead that well. The salad will still be delicious if your chicken is warm or room temperature.

Also, the fried tortilla chips are fun to make at home and can be made ahead of time; however, if the idea of making your own tortilla strips is a total turnoff, you can buy these in bags at the grocery story. No shame.


Grilled Chicken
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • about 1/4 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce 
Get your grill set for medium heat.

Mix the olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, and salt. Pour over the chicken and let it marinade at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Grill the chicken until cooked through, about 5-6 minutes on each side.

Let the chicken cool and cut it into cubes. Toss with BBQ sauce and keep chilled. 


Tortilla Strips
  • about 12 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2 inch wide strips
  • vegetable or canola oil for deep frying
Using a heavy frying pan, heat a couple inches of oil. Carefully add strips and submerge into the oil with a metal slotted spoon. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Carefully lift out of the oil using a slotted spoon and let them drain on a paper towel.


Salad
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cleaned, dried, and chopped
  • 1/2 head Romaine lettuce, cleaned, dried and chopped
  • 12 large basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound jicama, cut into matchsticks (see below)
  • 1-2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can sweet corn, rinsed and drained (even better if you grill some corn alongside the chicken!)
  • big handful chopped cilantro
  • 1 pound tomatoes, diced - or cherry tomatoes cut in half 
  • about 1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
  • about 1 cup of your favorite ranch dressing
***I buy jicama in the produce section at Kroger, so hopefully you can find it at your grocery store. It is a large, round root vegetable that looks similar to a turnip. However, its flavor and texture is somewhere between a potato and pear. Just try it. You'll like it.

To assemble the salad, mix the lettuce, basil, jicama, cheese, black beans, corn, cilantro, ranch dressing, and half the tortilla strips. Top the salad with tomatoes, chicken, the rest of the tortilla strips and drizzle with BBQ sauce.




And I would like to formally apologize to the fancy townhome community down the road from Country Glenn Apartments in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

We should not have stolen your beautiful tulips, even if there were hundreds.
Even if we had no money.
Even if it was Mother's Day.
Even if the entrance sign by our apartments only had cigarette buds and old condoms.
No excuses.
I'm sorry, and I owe you some tulips.
Or some BBQ chicken salad.


P.S. This is another except from the book I am writing for my children