Celebrate EVERYLOVE heart on Starbucks coupon
I got this coupon from Starbucks last week and I keep carrying it around with me. Not because I want a Mocha, well actually I do, but because I love the idea of celebrating EVERYLOVE.
I know on Valentine’s Day we lean towards the romantic kind of love. But love is such a loaded word there are actually five distinct words for “love” in Greek.
I love this adorable hamster, but which kind of love would that qualify as?
I love God, my husband, my children, writing, in that order. But I love so many things. My list could ramble on like L.L. Cool J. introducing the Grammys. I love baking chocolate chip cookies and speaking French. I love listening to acoustic guitar and running in the rain. I love sipping dark roast coffee, wearing stacks of clanking silver bracelets and wiggling my toes on a sandy beach. And of course, I love you. I love you because the words of a writer are meaningless without someone to read them. So as is my tradition dear readers, I give you my annual Valentine’s gift – a recipe for something sweet and lovely that will hopefully make you smile.
Make these easy cheesecake cookie squares for someone you love (that can include you)
CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE SQUARES
1 (20 oz.) package Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough (for a gluten free version, prepare one package Betty Croker GF chocolate chip cookie mix according to directions, but do not put on pan or bake - yet)
3 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese
½ cup heavy cream
1-cup Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips (save the rest of the bag for snacking)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Line 10x15” pan with foil and spray with cooking spray (like Pam)
3. Press cookie dough into pan and spread to cover
4. Bake 8 minutes
5. While baking cookie dough, mix cream cheese, sugar, eggs and cream in a bowl for about 5 minutes on medium speed with electric mixer.
6. When cookie crust is baked, spread with cream cheese mixture and bake 25 minutes longer.
7. Cool to room temperature.
8. Melt chocolate chips in microwave and drizzle with fork across top of dessert.
9. Refrigerate for at least four hours to set.
10. Share, eat, serve, and smile.
What’s something you love?
A rainbow streaking through the Smoky Mountains helps me slow down and be thankful.
There’s a scene in the movie, The Dead Poet’s Society, where the English teacher at an all boys’ high school asks his students to stand on top of their desks. Some boys pounce toR the flat surface, eager to do something quasi against the rules. Others hesitate. Why? Because they aren’t used to standing on their desks.
Have you ever stood on the top of your desk?
The purpose of the exercise is to get his students to look at things in a new way, to gain a different perspective.
This week of Thanksgiving, I’m doing just that, gaining a different perspective.
I’m on top of Rumbling Bald Mountain in North Carolina. My Internet service is spotty, there isn’t a Starbucks within an hours drive and I have a cold. Nothing serious, but the kind where it feels like my head is stuffed with cotton balls. Everything sounds muffled, tastes a bit bland, smells slightly metallic and my energy is low. But, I’m thankful, well except for the Starbucks part.
I’m out of my routine – off track – on top of my desk.
So, I’m sitting more. Gazing at the sky, listening to the laugher of my family and drinking home brewed coffee.
Since I’ve been on my trip I’ve stared at a rainbow, bright and daring, as if God grabbed a handful of Crayola markers and sliced right through the sky with a burst of color. I’ve gazed at zillions of stars, dazzling bright and white through the vast blackness of night. I’ve watched the sunset, which is more like a swirl of colorful clouds dancing around the mountain peeks. As I write this as 2:33 in the afternoon, I see the moon peeking out early. I’m up so high; I feel like if I stretched just a little further, I could grab it.
“If we want to stay on the road to faith, we have to hit the brakes, pull over to a rest area and stop.” Michael Yaconelli
In my typical day, my busy schedule I am productive and healthy and happy, but if I do the same thing everyday, all the time, I miss out on some of God’s beauty, His gifts. And in the midst of missing His creation, I also miss the chance to say, ‘thanks’.
This year I am thankful for a cold, and a view not from the top of the desk, but from the top of a mountain. Because I have no emails or tweets or Facebook to distract me, because my cold forces me to take things slowly, because I’m up where things look different, I’m gaining a different, deeper perspective. And I am thankful.
How about you? What are you thankful for this year?
The iPhoto screen on my Mac gave me more insight on God and His plans then on mastering my computer.
“Hello, I’m Paul. Fancy we get out of this rubble and find someplace quieter?” I was greeted at the Apple store by the usual friendly smile in a royal blue t-shirt, this time with a British accent.
“Sounds great,” I nodded, eager to escape the din of crazed shoppers clamoring for iPhone 5s.
Paul led me out of the store, down the escalators and to a small café table on the fringe of the food court. “We seem to get a decent signal here.” He pulled out a chair. “What did you have in mind to work on today?”
“PowerPoint.” I opened my Mac with a soft thud. “ I mean, I know how to use PowerPoint, but I want to learn the cool stuff; the animations, inserting my music into just the right places, you know, to make my presentations more impactful.”
Paul slid his Buddy Holly glasses up his nose and frowned. “Don’t do PowerPoint. That’s a Microsoft product.” He lowered his voice to a whisper, “Even if I knew how I wouldn’t be allowed to train you on it. Apple has a similar product you could purchase, but to be honest, if you’re already utilizing PowerPoint I’d stick with that.”
Speechless, I looked at my computer screen for answers. It felt like an apple had dropped into the pit of my stomach. The smells of French fry grease and teriyaki chicken wafted my way. I drove an hour to get to the Apple store. I’m sitting here, just sitting here now. It will take me another hour to get home. I forfeited my time intentionally to learn a specific skill. Three hours of my time.
I looked up to Paul, pleading, as if my needs could overrule store policy, “When I made the appointment on line, I wrote in the notes section I wanted to train on PowerPoint, that’s why I came.”
Paul launched into a crisp explanation of regulations and compatibility and offered to help me with something else. But I didn’t want help with something else. Maybe because I so desperately wanted my excursion to have some value, or maybe because Paul was from Liverpool, and I have always and always will love the Beatles, or maybe it was a dare, but I challenged, “Okay, Paul. Since I’m here. Show me something spectacular I can do with my Mac.”
“Do you have pictures?” He asked in his brisk accent. “Because I’m a photographer, and you can do some truly brilliant things. Let’s take a look.” Paul clicked on my iPhoto pulling up shots of scenery I’m using as the setting for my new book. As he propelled into a tutorial on adjusting saturation and shadows, goose bumps climbed up my arms. Now, I knew why I was here, why God brought me to this place.
“You’re a photographer?” I sat up in my hard metal chair. “Do you ever shoot in film? Or only digital? Because, I’m an author.” I confessed, something I rarely share with strangers. “And the character in the book I’m writing is a photographer. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
And just like that my failed appointment turned into a golden opportunity. Paul and I spent our hour not on PowerPoint, but chatting about filters and tripods and dark rooms. It was the perfect interview I could have never planned. I went to the mall searching for help with my computer skills. Instead, God gave me phrases, and terms and tidbits that only a true photographer would know, adding authenticity and depth to my newest novel.
You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need Philippians 4:19 MSG
And I could tell, oddly, it made Paul’s day too. He glowed as he discussed his passion for photography with me.
God always knows exactly what I need. He always provides, even when I get frustrated and bothered and annoyed, and can’t see what He’s up to. I left the mall warm, content and excited with the sensation of absorbing the sun’s rays on the beach. I was bursting with gratitude and awe for the plans God has for me, and how He brings them to fruition.
What hiccup did you run into today? How do you think God will use it as part of His amazing plan?
Two boys playing violin outside San Luca in Bologna, Italy
I’m a planner, an organizer, and a calendar maker extraordinaire. I have four kids, which means a fun-filled crazy, busy life. If I don’t stay on top of all the practices, assignments, to-dos and errands they crawl on top of me, and smother me.
However, despite all of my color-coding and lists, I have to remember that I am not the one in control.
On a family trip to Italy we needed to check out of our apartment in Florence prior to the proprietor’s arrival to make our train to Venice on time. We dutifully took out our trash, stripped our sheets and dropped our keys in the drop box.
We rolled our suitcases thumpety-thump down the cobblestone streets to the metro, took the metro to the train station and boarded our train, surprised to see an entire class of Italian school children filling our car and our seats. I spoke with a lovely teacher whose English was even worse than my Italian. We exchanged tickets, but couldn’t figure out how we all had the same seat assignments. Together we searched for a conductor, who just as the train began its departure told us to sit tight. We’d sort it all out en route.
We situated ourselves in corners and nooks, plugged in our ear buds and flipped through books until about an hour into the ride when the conductor came to punch the tickets I’d ordered months ago on the Eurorail website.
“Ecco.” Here you go. I presented ours to him, proud of my Italian expression.
He shook his head with a sneer. “These are for tomorrow.”
“Today is Wednesday. These are for Thursday.” He said briskly, not feeling my panic, my pain, and my well-executed plans in a tangle.
“How- how could that be?” The words tumbled from my mouth. My brain churned. He pointed to the date on the tickets, which were indeed for the next day. I grabbed my travel file and frantically flipped through the itineraries. I turned to my hubby and gasped in a stressed whisper, “How did this happen? I don’t understand? Where will we stay in Venice tonight? We’ll be a day early.”
“You cannot continue to Venice.” The conductor’s voice was freakishly flat for an Italian.
Silently he pulled out his calculator and typed in seemingly hundreds of numbers. Eventually he turned the display to me. “This is your fine for riding the train without a proper ticket. You must depart at the next stop - Bologna. You may use your ticket tomorrow to get you from Bologna to Venice.”
A lengthy list of questions from me to the train worker didn’t clear up any of my concerns. The fine was enormous. We knew no one in Bologna and had no hotel booked for our four children, my mom and ourselves. We’d forfeited a prepaid night in Florence. Not to mention the blow to my ego that I’d majorly botched our travel plans and let my family down!
My stomach was like a pulverized pizza. My face hotter than the Tuscan sun. My hands shook like our train car on rickety tracks.
We paid our fine, gathered our group and got off the train in Bologna, the beautiful city of Bologna, home of robust spaghetti alla Bolognese, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, an active political community and ancient basilicas.
In Bologna we stayed in the nicest hotel of our trip, complete with luxury air conditioning and an all you could eat breakfast buffet piled high with Italian pastries and made to order cappuccino. We witnessed a heated protest by impassioned university students, noshed on zesty pizza margarita (for a fraction of a price of what we paid for it in Florence) strolled through the historic university and visited the crowning jewel, San Luca.
San Luca, named for Saint Luke, as in the gospel writer, sits at the top of approximately 300 steps covered by romantic porticoes supported by 666 arches and overlooks the lush city of Bologna from its hilltop perch.
On a 70 degree, sunny day breathing in the architecture, gazing at the sapphire blue sky, marveling at history dating back to the gospels, intoxicated by a strong spiritual presence and surrounded by the people I love most in the world, I couldn’t imagine anything lovelier. Then, two young boys pulled out their violins and played an impromptu hauntingly beautiful concert in the grassy area outside the church, providing the soundtrack for my moment.
My planner said I should be in Florence that day. I thought I was supposed to be in Venice that day. But God knew, there was no place on earth better for me on that day than in Bologna.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
Tell me below - where are you planning to go this week? Where will you let God take you if only you let Him?
Capuchino with a monkey face drawn into the foam - coffee art.
Let’s be honest – travel wears a girl out. Overnight flights, train rides, crowding into hostels or strange hotel rooms, long days of working, exploring and walking plus late nights making sure you don’t miss one single thing all add up to longing – craving – aching for a cup of coffee.
But no worries! Coffee is abundant and decadent everywhere you go (even abroad). You just need to know what you’re looking for and how to order it.
First – when you’re on the road, ditch your Starbucks habit goodbye. Now don’t raise your fingernails at me in a cat hiss. Few things make me happier in the morning than a venti Estima with a shot of mocha and room for milk. However, when in Rome or Paris or Nashville or Atlanta. Embrace the culture!
If you’re in a new town, find the local coffee shop, the one with the menu handwritten in chalk on a blackboard. Ask what they’re specialty is. Observe the locals. Are they all drinking iced coffees? Maybe you should try one on this hot summer day. Is the house specialty a chocolate monkey as it is at JoZoara in Nashville? You’ve gotta try one. It’s like a chocolate, banana, peanut butter milkshake with your daily dose of java all swirled into one. Phenomenal! At Kofenya, in Oxford, Ohio the house drink is a Walk in the Woods. They might know something you don’t. Why not give one a sample?
If you’ve wandered further away from home, embrace the coffee in your new land. Most of the world drinks coffee too, but usually everywhere else it’s STRONG! Order café in France, espresso in Italy or Spain and you’ll get a shot of espresso in an itty bitty tiny white porcelain cup. It’s strong, robust and will wake up your taste buds, then your brain. If you’re used to a venti back home, you might want to order two, or drink one first thing, and another later along your journeys.
Me, I’m a “with milk” kind of girl. So in France I order a café au lait. In Italy I get a cappuccino. When in Spain my daily order is a café con leche.
I also prefer a little sweetness. Don’t look for Splenda, Equal, Stevia or Sweet N Low – those chemicals are bad news and hard to find in foreign lands for good reason. Use sugar. It’s natural and it’s sweet.
Next -- your budget. Order your coffee TO GO – a emporter (in French), porte via (in Italian), para llevar (in Spanish). You’ll save a small fortune, and maybe even be able to afford coffee again tomorrow morning.
If you absolutely can’t stand a Styrofoam/plastic cup OR need a minute to look at your map or reapply your lip gloss or text a friend, order your coffee at a counter or standing up at a café table. Don’t be fooled by the charming waiter pulling out a chair for you. He may think you’re cute, but he also knows if he gets you to sit, you’ll pay two to four times as much to drink your coffee. Who knew sitting was such a luxury?
We’re a bit like coffee ourselves. Some of us are dark or light or tall or short. Some of us are strong or sweet or hotheaded or cool. God created sassy versions and frothy versions and simple and dependable versions of people. But we’re all delicious. Don’t forget that.
Now that you know how to do it, go and open your eyes and taste buds to the rich, frothy sensation of a coffee, wherever you are. Sip. Enjoy. Repeat.
The woods as I see them from my porch, lit by sunlight, alive with green.
When I walk out here, the first thing I hear is silence. In the midst of my crazy-wazy life filled with the ting of a text, the zing of a message, the chimes of a call, the voices of my family, the din of the TV, the to-do’s calling to me in my head, I walk out here and there is the absence of all that noise.
I can close the door from the house to the porch, so no on even knows I’m here. Nobody follows, and for a moment I am alone – alone with my thoughts, my heart, and my Creator.
And He has such incredible surprises for me. After a moment or two of me trying to regain a normal breathing pattern, one that isn’t stressed, or hurried or worried, I realize it isn’t silent out here at all.
I hear the rustle of a squirrel scampering through the woods. An unseen bird calls shrilly to a friend. The friend whistles back. A woodpecker rat-a-tats the bark of a tree.
The earthy smell of soil mixed with the sharp tart scent of leaves heated by sunlight fills the air. The warmth of natural sunlight soothes my skin after the mechanical blast of air conditioner running through my house, my car, the mall.
Here – away from the artificial noise and manufactured smells and machine powered air – there is peace. Reds and pinks and yellows and oranges shade the sky with spectacular sunsets. Light filters in dusty streams through branches. Greens so bright, they almost appear lit from within stagger along my line of sight.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely attached to my iPhone and my Mac. I’m thankful for AC on a 93 degree steamy summer day. I love my car, my house, my family and the mall. But sometimes it’s all too much. Sometimes I need a retreat. And here it is, steps away from my life.
Here, I can contemplate what God’s calling me to do today – who He needs me to forgive, what He wants me to let go of, how He wants me to trust Him, how I can be an example of His love. Here, there appears to be a path right through the woods that leads to Him.
I cannot stay out on my porch forever. I need to live my life and do that forgiving, letting go, trusting and loving God calls me to do. Not to mention those to-do’s that still need to be to-done. But, I can find a moment to come out here and get refocused, refueled and refreshed.
Do you have a special place to find a moment of peace and clarity? Where is it?
A magical show at the Magic Kingdom, providing life lessons and happiness.
1. Happiness is contagious.
When I walked in the park and everyone was waving giant Mickey Mouse hands and blowing bubbles and grinning for photos, it made me skip and smile and wave and say “please” and “thank you” and want to stay in that happy spot forever. I overheard a little girl say, “Mommy, the thing about Disney is, everyone is smiling and that makes everyone else want to smile.”
As I walk through life, I will strive to carry some of those Disney smiles over into every day – to pass on some waves and skips and watch the wave of happiness flow.
2. A little bit of magic goes a long long way.
Rushing past Cinderella’s castle on the way to a certain ride I saw an extravaganza. Mickey and Minnie laughed. Princesses waltzed. Captain Hook swooshed his sword, all with music and fireworks. It felt like a surprise party being thrown for me. No matter how many times I looked at park hours, reviewed rides and attractions, no show could have delighted me more than this. Later I bumped into Peter Pan, literally. There he was sitting crisscross applesauce on the ground, playing with a leaf. He asked my son if he knew how to crow. They stood up together and “caw caw cawed” at the top of their lungs. Despite all of my scheduling and planning and reserving and double-checking for our trip, I could never have arranged a better meeting of my five-year old's hero.
How can I surprise someone today? Something little? Something big? An email, a note, a treat? I’m thinking already, but can’t tell. It would ruin the surprise, but I can’t wait to delight someone when they least expect it.
3. Even when we’re doing exactly what we want with our lives, we need to take breaks.
Do you love your school? Your job? Your boyfriend? Your best friend? Your family? If you are blessed enough to say “yes” to even one of these questions, you still need to take breaks from that thing, to appreciate that job/school/relationship/etc..
Eighty-degree sunshine tickling my shoulders on a January afternoon, music in the air, rides swirling around me, I could think of nowhere I’d rather be. But after walking from Frontierland to Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and back to Tomorrowland in time to use my FastPass, and after winding my way through stanchions, shooting lasers at aliens and spinning in tea cups, I realized it was 2:00 p.m. and we hadn't eaten since 7:30 a.m. (because we wanted to be at the park when it opened). WE NEEDED A REST -- to sit and sip something cold and snack on something salty and reenergize and take deep breaths. It’s the same with life. I need to inhale and exhale and savor where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished. I need to spread out my map and figure out where I'm going next.
4. Even when something is fantastic, there is always room for improvement.
As a child I went to Disney. It was an incredible vacation I remember the details vividly. The monorail seemed like the coolest possible mode of transportation. I actually got to work the controls on the Dumbo ride. The Haunted Mansion made me almost pee my pants. Pinocchio hugged me during the parade. Today the monorail, Dumbo ride, Haunted Mansion and Pinocchio are all still there, but Disney didn’t decide to stop at magically memorable. Now you can meet Rapunzel from Tangled. Now a Jack Sparrow so realistic, it's eerie, peeks out of a barrel on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride . There are fast passes to move lines faster and Epcot and Animal Kingdom and and... Disney didn’t stop at good or great or even spectacular. They continue changing, improving and growing. I need to keep going to – to never settle for good enough.
5. Savor the moment.
I started planning our trip to Orlando in September. I spent hours on Expedia. I ordered tickets and booked hotels and reserved plane tickets. I counted down to the right month, week, day, hour till take off. And then, like the bang of fireworks at the closing ceremonies each night at the park, the trip flashed brilliantly, and was over. I vowed not to let it get away from me. I walked leisurely through the park, stopping and enjoying the miracles around each corner, read the giant pages of the Pooh bear book on the honey pot ride, bought ice cream bars shaped like mouse ears and let the cool vanilla ice cream drip onto my tongue. The trip is over, but not the memories. Just as I still remember the details of my visit to the Magic Kingdom as a kid, my kids will remember theirs.
What am I doing today that I can savor? A snuggle with one of my children, a rich, hot coffee in the morning, a sunset pink and orange clashing with the gray winter sky. What will you savor today?