Go west, young women.

Portland-2 Portland-3 Portland-7 Portland-10 Portland-12Portland-14Portland-16Portland-17Portland-22Portland-23Portland-27Portland-29Portland-32Portland-36Portland-38Portland-40Portland-42Portland-46Portland-47Portland-48Portland-49Portland-51Portland-52Portland-53Portland-54Portland-56Portland-57Portland-58Portland-59Portland-60Portland-61Portland-62Portland-63Portland-65PortlandcollagePortland-70Portland-67Portland-69So many people gushed about Portland before I headed out there. “You’ll love it!” they said, or “It is REALLY its own sort of place,” they promised. Everyone who had been there had a distinct opinion of Portland and the Pacific Northwest, one they shared eagerly, with many recommendations, and vague cautions that it was a weird- though wonderful – place. I had notions shaped almost exclusively by the Internet’s portrayal of the Pacific Northwest of one of impossibly hip people participating in beautiful and “authentic” pursuits, dining on the finest eco-friendly food and pursuing vague careers in the industries that only exist in the most capitalistic and first world societies, despite these people openly professing to eschewing the materialistic culture of which they are the center. And so I packed my most Socality Barbie outfit and headed west.

And this is all pretty much what I found to be true.

But under it all was a vibe I didn’t expect, I vibe that — dare I say it? — was authentic in a strange sort of way. People were eager to boast of their pastured steak and organic cheeses, but equally ready to help us in every situation, displaying a kindness to strangers and tourists that just doesn’t exist on the East Coast. The countryside was stunningly beautiful, and I found myself taking way too many pictures of the beautiful weekend we were having because the world around us just was that worth sharing.  Yes, it was exactly like the intro musical number to Portlandia, but I found myself wanting to drink the Kool-Aid, buy a beanie, and start acting particular about my coffee.

We explored Cannon Beach the first afternoon, and the drive alone was a highlight, partially because we were somehow upgraded by our rental car company to a swank Jeep that made us feel like way more cool and outdoorsy than we are. (Obviously we blew that cover by posing with and praising our Jeep at every turn, but I just can’t even muster up any shame.) Cannon Beach might be one of the most stunning places I have ever been. We saw it on a rare day of sun, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, a child ran up and encouraged us to place our ears close to the mussels covering the rocks in the tidal pools.


I probably could have gone home happy after listening to the symphony in nature, but the weekend continued with more fun. I did present a paper at a conference and attend some great sessions, and I made sure to provide that really awful elevator mirror selfie as proof that it wasn’t all sightseeing and donuts. But donuts there were INDEED, as we made sure to hit two of the big places to experience Portland’s finest.

We also, at the urging of many of you, headed out to see Multnomah Falls, and it was the perfect way to end our trip. I explained to my French friend who came about the Oregon Trail (which of course makes me think of this), and the “Safety Valve” theory, that of American identity being long defined by the ability to head west and start afresh.

And maybe that magic is still a part of the Pacific Northwest. Maybe part of its charm, part of its beauty, part of its much-mocked idealism and dreamy aesthetic comes from this deeply ingrained idea that the West is there waiting for us to come build our dreams. It is a place where people have historically come because they believe that anything is possible, and when you are there… you start to believe it to.

So Portland, we loved you. See you again sometime soon.

PS: Thanks for all your recommendations! We made sure to hit as many of them as we could, with dinners at Lardo (FRIES FTW!) and Veritable Quandary, brunch at Tasty n’ Alder, and donuts at Blue Star and Voodoo. We also stumbled upon Brunch Box (I’m on a major breakfast sandwich kick… I maybe got one here, at Lardo, and at McDonalds all in one weekend…) for lunch one day and Higgins Restaurant for dinner, and they were both good with Higgins being especially perfect. And of course, POWELL’S. Where I wanted to buy everything, but used exceeding adult restraint.

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Things fall apart.

Some weeks, things just fall apart.

I don’t mean in the global sense, in the meaningful sense, in the sense of drastic life changes or tragedies or disasters. That would be actually worth it’s own blog post. But no, this is just me over here letting you know that I am seriously dropping the ball on a thousand tiny things this week, and the result?

Frozen pizza for dinner and pbj’s for lunch, every day.

And you know what? I’m not even sorry.

I blame it on a lot of things. Like this dissertation, one big looming deadline that is so far away and so vast, that my to do list some days just says “RESEARCH” which sends me spiraling down an Internet vortex that results in no usable information, but a whole wealth of totally random facts and readings. [Like this article, so I at least know where to go to spiral into the void, or watching this trailer ten times, or snort laughing at this year’s crop of duped children — SEE THIS IS HOW IT STARTS.]

Or I could blame it on the traffic, my true nemesis these days as I find myself having to do that which I have avoided the entire time we have lived in DC: drive the Beltway at rush hour at least once a week, often twice. On Monday, I spent 4 hours sitting in traffic, resulting in an entire botched afternoon of productivity, a missed run (because it is basically dark at lunch these days), a hunger induced and poorly planned grocery run, and one very intense altercation with a Banana Republic saleswoman when I finally made it to the mall to pick up James’ altered suit. Was the thirty minutes I wasted arguing with her worth it for the $10 that was returned to me? ABSOLUTELY. And not at all.

Or I could blame it on grading, my favorite productive distraction because it means I can sit back with my red pen and TV shows and pass many an hour… only to find that there is not even a dent in the mountain of remaining assignments.

But really I should just blame it on me, on my innate humanness that some times, some weeks, some days — just lets things fall apart a little. I have always been productive, excelled at time management, and capable of juggling everything. To-do lists are my opiate and I love a regimented life. But right not? I’m having to readjust what productivity looks like. Because I might spend a whole day reading a book, and productivity means deciding that is not where my research is headed. Because I might spend a whole day running errands for James in traffic which means nothing for my own productivity, but lots for his. Because I have not cooked a real meal in a over a week, and I refuse to hate on myself for that.

When things fall apart, I am determined not to fall apart with them. I’ll just stand here as they roll past, drinking from the plastic cup I’m using to avoid doing dishes and pretending that hummus on crackers constitutes as a vegetable, learning to hold on to fewer things. I will hold on to sanity, grace for myself and those I love, sleep, community that matters, and let so many other things fall.

I’m ok with that.

[Also, frozen pizza is maybe the most delicious thing ever. I’m not the slightest bit apologizing for the nutritional black-hole that we are living right now. I know I will regret it soon… but not today.]

[PS: This title is not in any way meant to imply that my struggles have the tiniest point of comparison with those of the book Things Fall Apart, where there are real struggles like colonial powers and repressive regimes and stuff. Just had to throw that out there because GRAD SCHOOL and all.]

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Taking Stock

fall feet

Making : A list of places to eat when I go to Portland next week for work… first time in the Pacific Northwest and I want alllllllll those recommendations!
Cooking : A quiche for a picnic that I am having at noon with the students who went with me to France in June.
Drinking : Chilly mornings have me back to my beloved Sweet and Spicy Good Earth tea.
Reading: All sorts of exciting books about urban migration in nineteenth century France. And about to start an audiobook about the Salem Witch Trials, so it’s just all fun and games around here.
Wanting: Easy Mac. I had some at my office last week and I haven’t stopped craving it since. But now that bacon cancer is a thing, I’m pretty sure Easy Mac is next.
Looking: At the pile of laundry that I am just so over folding.
Playing:  The Finding Neverland soundtrack- so good.
Wasting: Way too much time on so many things.
Sewing: [I think I just always leave this one in to hold myself accountable in hopes that SOMEDAY I will take up sewing.]
Wishing: That there was one more week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because I’m looking ahead and there just isn’t enough time between the too for all my Christmas plans.
Enjoying: Having all my favorite shows back with new episodes, because grading + photo editing makes for some good TV time.  (Brooklyn 99 and The Good Wife FTW!)
Waiting: For Sunday, because it’s always my favorite day of the week.
Liking: The pile of tiny white pumpkins on our table and considering keeping them around all year.
Wondering: If this exhibit will be cool or creepy, and who wants to go with me? (James has already decided on creepy and refused.)
Loving: Cereal. We haven’t kept it on hand in years, but I suddenly got super tired of eggs and have been reveling in Cheerios.
Hoping: That we can find a new apartment….one day of hunting did me in this week and I decided to give up… as has happened every time the past couple years that we try to move.
Marveling: At how this deeply imperfect space that we have lived in for three and a half years has somehow managed to shift my perspective and become the standard against which all other apartments are measured — and found wanting.
Needing: More space though, like for real. This whole “I’ll just write my dissertation at one end of the table where we also do everything else” is getting a tad old.
Wearing: Tights. All those colorful tights that are here to set us free from boring clothes and leg-shaving till spring.
Following: @felinesofnewyork on Instagram. Do it now and thank me later.
Noticing: How we spend so much energy anticipating fall and then it starts to disappear before we can even blink.
Knowing: That maybe the above is true with everything in life.
Thinking: That the reason we all freak out and take so many almost identical pictures of fall in all it’s glory is because we have some sort of desperate attempt to stop time, hold on to fistfuls of colorful leaves, and believe that they won’t turn brown and crumble in our hands.
Feeling: Like this year nature is mocking me, with October being peak fall foliage and November promising lots of bare trees.
Bookmarking: Alllllll the pumpkin bread recipes. If we can’t hold onto fall, at least we can eat it.

How about you all? Taking stock of all the things in life always makes me aware of how wonderfully full even the most mundane weeks are.

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5 [Female Empowerment Songs] for Friday.

In November, I am running a half marathon. I did several of them in college, and I really love this race distance, love how it forces you to actually train but doesn’t totally take over your life. Plus, my race is strategically timed for the Saturday before Thanksgiving, meaning a super fit escalation towards the holidays… followed by a 6-week glutton fest where I drown myself in pie and stuffing.

For the longest runs, I run with a buddy, because I am an unabashed “conversational pace” loving run-talker. But for the shorter runs, 4-8 miles, I love to hit up those audiobooks or podcasts. Unfortunately, my favorite podcast host just left her station, meaning an abrupt end to my two absolute favorite pods, “The Right Reasons” and “Food News.” And so, I find myself turning back towards music to get me through these runs.

I do not have “good taste” in music, or so I have been told. I like what I like, it is almost never obscure and hip, and I stay loyal to songs FOREVER. Once a favorite, always a favorite. I also have a special love for a subset of songs I like to think of as “Female Empowerment Ballads.” And so, for this Friday, I give you 5 anthems of feminine might that I am loving, have loved, and will continue to love. You should know that my definition of empowerment is not if the lyrics are ACTUALLY affirming to feminine strength, but more based on how much I want to yell-sing when I listen along. Plus, with Adele hopping back on the scene and releasing music again (YAY YAY YAY), I just feel like I want to talk about women who sing. Adele, of course, deserves her own entire blog post, so let’s just move on to today’s 5.

“Fight Song,” Rachel Platten. When this song comes on, I crank it up and sing like I too have overcome great adversity, and you probably do too. Take that world – I have a fight song. I’m taking back all those rights through song.

“Halo,” Beyoncé. Yes, this might not be the typical pump-up song. But when I listen to it, I just always feel so empowered to go put on a leotard and dance my heart all over that floor.

“Wrecking Ball,” Miley Cyrus. Ok- hear me out. When this song came out, I saw images of Miley’s disturbing ball riding, but I didn’t actually listen to the song. Then one day on the way to work, I heard an amazing song on the radio and got totally swept up in the chorus of “I came in like a rainnnnnboooowww,” which sounded to me like an excellent way to enter a room. And so I decided to love this song. And even after I was corrected – by a student, in front of the whole class, when I tried to sing a line to teach the French word for rainbow – it was too late. My song love is loyal. (But yes, I didn’t link to that music video, because I still hate it, my love of the rainbow version of the song aside.)

“Stand by You,” Rachel Platten. Rachel gets on here twice because I love her these days. This was the song that they played during SoulCycle and I maybe listen to it on repeat these days. Yes, the theology is sketchy… but those tunes be perfect.

“Unwritten,” Natasha Bedingfield. If you can listen to this song without screaming and dancing, you are a stronger person than me. I WANT TO FEEL THE RAIN ON MY SKIN BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE CAN FEEL IT FOR ME.

What about you- what girl-power jams do you love? May your weekend be packed full of them, accompanied by all the best dance moves.

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Nick & Emily

NickandEmily-4 NickandEmily-8 NickandEmily-10 NickandEmily-20 NickandEmily-23 NickandEmily-34 NickandEmily-35 NickandEmily-38 NickandEmily-39NandE NickandEmily-60 NickandEmily-91 NickandEmily-100 NickandEmily-65 NickandEmily-67 NandE2 NickandEmily-103PS: FALL. Glory be.

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Simple Soup Bread.

breadOne of my most consistent annoyances when trolling the internet is the misuse/overuse of the word “simple.” People, not everything is simple, and simple is not inherently always better. Usually, simple means “expensive” and “well-curated.” Whereas simple should mean eating pizza in your pajamas on a Friday night, it is often attributed to images of children in pristine and minimalist clothing playing with upscale wooden toys. Anyone who has ever tried to keep a child clean AND occupied can testify to the radical non-simplicity of the task.Fall2015-90On the other end of the spectrum, let us not confuse simple with “easy.” I see this misrepresentation most commonly in two domains. The first is cloth diapering. Obviously, I do not have children, nor do I have much (any?) experience with cloth diapering. So if my mom friends feel passionately called to correct me, just save us all some time, label me ignorant, and move along. But every time I read a blog post or Facebook thread about the subject (which happens more than I should admit, as I have a strange fascination with how people spend their time), moms start by praising cloth diapers as simple and amazing… and then continue to detail lots of steps that, while perhaps easy, are legion, and involve way too much energy. Multiple washes, “strippings,” strange cocktails of all natural cleaning products? Not simple.Fall2015-91I have a similar critique of a certain bread recipe I always see floating around Pinterest. It comes in all shapes and forms, but it is some sort of amazing country French bread recipe that you don’t knead, cooks in a dutch oven, etc. The catch? It takes like 24 hours to make. Thus, while the steps might be easy…. who in their right mind gets a craving for bread and then spends 24 hours making it? By that time you could have easily walked to Panera six times and come back with as many loaves. Fall2015-92But then again, a hearty loaf of homemade bread really is the tastiest treat. My college roommate Jenny used to make big loaves of crusty French bread for us to enjoy on cold Michigan nights and I was shocked when she shared the recipe. Five ingredients. Five minutes of hands-on time. An hour and a half total. Bread perfection. So simple. Simple, in preparation and components. But simple too in the final product. Bread that is nothing special, but makes you feel that special coziness all through your being when you eat it.  Fall2015-94 I make these loaves frequently, sometimes messing up the recipe entirely, but it always (miraculously) turns out. We eat it most during the winter months, using it to soak up bowls of hearty soup. Somewhere throughout the years that it has graced our DC table we started calling it soup bread, the perfect vehicle for thick sauces and creamy soups. But it is equally good slathered in butter and honey to start a chilly morning.  Yesterday I just had to have some, and with everything on hand, I made myself a simple loaf of bread in the midst of a complicated world.

Fall2015-95Simple Soup Bread

  • 1 TBS Yeast
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • 1 TBS (but don’t fill it all the way- like 3/4) salt
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 4 cups flour
  1. Mix sugar, yeast, and salt. Add water and allow to proof for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in flour so that ball is a slightly sticky, shaggy, mass. Add more flour if it is too wet.
  3. Knead just a couple times and then form into a loaf on a parchment covered baking sheet or pan.
  4. Let rise for 1 hour(ish).
  5. Cut slits in bread and then put pan into COLD oven. Turn over to 415 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until top is golden and bread sounds slightly hollow when you knock against it.
  6. Cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Best if consumed within 24 hours of baking.


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Give me that Old [Testament] Religion.

Confession: I don’t really like the New Testament.

I mean, obviously I love it, because I love Jesus and I love the New Covenant and all that. And obviously, I find it valuable and important to study because it clearly lays out so many truths that we are to live by and stuff. But if I had my druthers (one of my favorite phrases ever), I would always, always, ALWAYS choose to read or study something from the Old Testament, from that intimidating first two thirds of the Bible that we so often ignore and misunderstand.

I partially blame my dad for this, as he is an OT scholar and so we grew up spending more time in those first books than most kids. But I also credit it to my love of stories, of heroes, of romance, and of sweeping epics. The Old Testament – or as my friend Philip once termed it, the Old Bestament – is brimming over with good stories. Not just the ones we all learn from flannel-graph boards growing up, but weird ones, spicy ones, ones that made my eyes grow wide and think “Do my parents know that the Bible is full of CRAZY SHENANIGANS???” as I flipped through pages as a kid.

I understand why we too often ignore it though, really I do. It gives God the bad rap of being an angry God, one who opens up the earth and swallows people whole when they disobey him, one who rejects people for seemingly minor offenses, and one who appears to only give love to a limited and chosen few. It can be confusing, obscure, and unsettling. Sometimes I hear people, Christian people, talk about the “God of the Old Testament,” and I understand why they want to distance their loving New Testament selves from this terrifying, powerful, and often angry God.

But I think they are wrong to do so, think it is dangerous to discount over half of the Bible as “not part” of the God we serve today. It is problematic to love the God of the New Testament without realizing and accepting that he is one and the same as the God of the Old Testament. Yes, God as we get to know him in the Old Testament is sometimes angry. He is angry at sin, at disobedience, at the neglect of widows and the abuse of the poor. He is angry at those who kill or abandon their children, those who steal and lie and murder. When you look at his anger and work backwards, you find a God that is a tireless advocate for women, slaves, children, the poor, orphans, the lost, and the downtrodden. In short, he is angry at all the things we should be angry at, righteous anger that burns you up until you stand up to defend those who can’t defend themselves.

And beyond being angry, he is often heartbroken, saddened that a beloved people continue to wander in a way that harms them. More than being an angry God, a close reading of the Old Testament shows you a heartbroken God, one who is constantly trying to woo his people back, offering grace afresh.

But beyond all that, I love the total basket cases that make up the Old Testament faithful. Sometimes I read the New Testament, where members of the early church are hanging out, “having everything in common,” sharing everything, singing songs, and strumming those proverbial guitars around ye old bonfire and I gag a little. I realize that we all aspire to the peace and unity of which the New Testament gives us glimpses, and I know that we all dream of the unwavering faith that made martyrs of so many early Christians.

But me? Sometimes I feel more in line with the motley crew of that Old Testament, the ones who have absolutely no clue what they are doing. I read of them wearing sackcloth and yelling angrily at the sky, of them crying out for help and getting no answer, and I think of the times when my faith has felt like that. I read of hopeless and flawed sinners who are said to have walked with God, and it gives me hope. I read of people boldly asking for a sign, holding on for a blessing, asking to see God’s face, and I resonate with them. They do not have the peace of the Holy Spirit, the confidence of the resurrection. They are a mangy bunch of liars and murders, thieves and cowards, prostitutes and barren women. And they are following a God they often don’t understand. When I read the Old Testament, I am reminded that you can be confused, angry, depressed, unsure, alone and still deeply in the will of God. Nothing is more comforting than knowing that the Body of Christ, that happy community we get from the New Testament, is made up of complete wrecks.

Because I can do that, I can be a part of that, and so can you.mg_0106

Of course, the Old Testament is also full of CRAZY SHENANIGANS and foreign contexts, so I highly recommend some learned sources to guide you through.

If you are really diving in for the first time, or need an overview of what is happening, when, and why: The Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter. Structures an understanding of the Old Testament in light of the New Testament covenant. Excellent answers to those questions that trip so many people up about that OT.

If you really want to study an individual book: Get yourself a commentary. I recommend you start with the New Living commentary of Judges (the Ruth section is also awesome!), and not just because it’s written by my favorite theologian and Biblical scholar ever (who you might remember from here). It gives you a chunk of text, notes, and then a page or so that I like to label “So…why does this matter to me?” (See one of my favorite quotes here.)

If you want to memorize some of those awesome Old Testament verses: This app is pretty great for having all sorts of verses and memory tools at your fingertips.

* That photo was taken by my friend and former roommate Liz, way back when we were in college. I know I’ve used it on here at least twice before, but I just love it so I’m trotting it back out once again.

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