Category Archives: Miscellaneous


So the Danish. The Norwegian. Scots and Canadians and Alaskans. How in the world do these nearly-Arctic people survive winter? Not only are the temperatures rock-bottom, but it’s so dark, so very dark. I don’t know about you, but I’m about done with winter, and I see the sun on a near-daily basis. I’ve been doing some reading on Scandinavian happiness, which is consistently off the charts. The Danes in particular have been getting a lot of press for their concept of “hygge,” (pronounced ahh-choo and gesundheit, I’m pretty sure). It seems our chilly friends have figured out the secret of blissful winters, even in their very cold climate. Candles, fireplaces, light, soft blankets, lots of books, friendly feasts and mulled wine all have a little something to do with it. It’s fascinating, especially for a Southern girl who misses summer nights on the front porch. I’m on a campaign to hygge-up my winter routine and break the winter blues this February, but I’m no expert. My best suggestion for happy winter nights? Brinner.

Mmm! Breakfast for dinner is always a favorite round here. I’ve successfully roped my friends in for lots of brinner nights, and the smorgasbord (see what I did with the Swedish there?) of baked goods, bacon, steaming sausages, cheesy eggs, and bowls of fruit is happy enough for Pharrell and Bobby McFerrin both. Throw in some coffee and have yourself a merry little midwinter.

The best thing about brinner is you aren’t running out the door to get to work, so you get to go a little above-and-beyond with your breakfast dishes. I’m not one to get up at the crack of dawn and make pastry, but I can do it in time for supper. Do a little savory and a little sweet, or better yet, invite some friends to contribute their favorites, and brinner can be a beautiful feast. Good enough for hygge-loving Danes!

Here are some of our favorites:

German “Puff Pancake” with Butter Syrup, recipe credit:

This is really good with a warm fruit compote or jam if you want to skip the syrup, but that butter syrup is kind of to die for, too. It turns the whole thing into something reminiscent of gooey butter bars.

  • 2 T. butter
  • 6 large eggs (about 10.5 ounces)
  • 1 cup milk (I use 2%)
  • ½ t. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put two T. butter in a glass 9X13-inch baking dish and pop the pan in the oven to melt (but don’t let it burn).

Combine the eggs, milk and vanilla in a blender and process on low speed until smooth, 10-20 seconds. Add the flour and salt and blend until just combined; the batter should be smooth but not overblended.

Take the preheated, buttered pan out of the oven and swirl the butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour the batter into the pan and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until the pancake is puffy and lightly browned on the bottom and edges.

Butter Syrup:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup (8 T.) butter
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. baking soda

In a big old saucepan (it will foam and triple in volume at the end), combine the sugar, buttermilk and butter and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat and simmer for 7 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla and baking soda until well-combined. Serve warm over pancakes.


Polenta and Mexican Eggs

Polenta isn’t something I grew up with, but it is essentially a mixture of ready-to-fry grits. It comes in a tube; simply slice like you would slice-and-bake cookies, and fry. The key to this dish is timing. Start by getting the toppings ready to spoon on while the eggs are hot. You can set the table with bowls of beans, salsa, avocado, cheese, and cilantro and let everyone serve themselves.

  • 1 tube polenta
  • eggs, 1 or 2 per person
  • black beans
  • salsa
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • shredded cheddar
  • cilantro

Fry up the sliced polenta and pile on beans, a dollop of salsa, and a sprinkle of cheddar.  Top with fried eggs over easy.  Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with avocado slices on the side.


Banana Cottage Cheese Pancakes

This recipe is quite flexible and can be modified to suit your needs.  The pancakes are delicious — moist and dense, with a consistency somewhat like crepes.  Best served with maple syrup or fruit preserves.

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 2 T. cooking oil
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2 small overripe bananas
  • 1 c. flour
  • milk, as needed

Combine eggs, cottage cheese, oil, and salt in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add bananas, one at a time.  Slowly add flour, by tablespoonfuls, until well incorporated.  If the mixture is too thick, add milk, by the teaspoon, until it blends smoothly.  Cook on a lightly greased skillet or frying pan until golden.


Baked Oatmeal

I have made this with almond milk to satisfy a non-dairy request and it was great!  You can mix up all of the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately the day before and combine just before baking if you want to prepare ahead.  Serve with whipped cream if you want to be decadent (or yogurt if you don’t) and fill up on a big bowl of fruit salad.

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, mix together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Beat in milk, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Stir in dried cranberries. Spread into a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.


Baked Blueberry-Pecan French Toast

This is meant to be soaked overnight and baked in the morning.  If you are having it for brinner, throw it together in the morning and soak all day, then bake before supper.

  • 1 French bread baguette
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ t. nutmeg
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar, divided
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ stick plus 1 t. butter
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained

Butter a 9×13 baking dish. Cut 1 ½ inch slices from the baguette and arrange in one layer in the dish (about 6-8 slices). Whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and ½ cup brown sugar in a large bowl and pour evenly over the bread. Refrigerate mixture, covered, until all liquid is absorbed by the bread, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

When you are ready to bake and serve, preheat oven to 350 F. Toast the pecans in a skillet in one layer over medium heat, stirring often. Toss with 1 t. butter.

Sprinkle pecans and blueberries evenly over bread mixture. Cut remaining ½ stick butter into pieces and heat with remaining ¼ cup brown sugar in a small saucepan, stirring, until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Drizzle butter mixture over bread and bake mixture 30 – 40 minutes or until any liquid from blueberries is bubbling.


Quick Cheese and Sausage Grits

I use the basic recipe for cheese grits from the Quaker Instant Grits box, with a few changes. They recommend fake cheese, like Velveeta; I always use sharp cheddar. I tend to eyeball, it, too—white grits ought to turn a nice pale orange if you have enough cheese. Quaker omits pepper, I use it generously. And in this case, I have listed crumbled sausage as an optional ingredient.

  • 4 c. water
  • 1 c. instant grits
  • 1-2 c. shredded cheddar
  • 1 c. cooked, crumbled breakfast sausage (optional, but yummy)
  • pinch of garlic powder
  • pinch of salt
  • pepper

In a heavy saucepan, stir grits slowly into boiling water. Beware, grits will pop and spatter as they heat up. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 4-5 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Add sausage, cheese and spices, stir until cheese melts.

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Last Nights in England

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”  — Bill Bryson

Here’s a snapshot (or 20) of a few final stops in England.  Winding up our weekend in the Cotswolds, we headed to Leicester, where Michael had 4 days of induction meetings (for his PhD in Early Modern History).  His professor, Dr. John Coffey, was exceedingly generous with time and attention, introducing us around and even bringing us home for supper.  We also spent a full day in Kettering and Olney with Marylynn Rouse, who has spent years volunteering to transcribe John Newton’s correspondence and personal documents.  She gave us the whole tour (and fed us twice!)










Conclusion:  The world is chock-a-block with wonders.  Getting out of our routine once in a while gives us fresh eyes to see them.  Note to self — if given the opportunity, go back!

Sketches of England

Well, this isn’t all.   Not by a long shot!  But it’s week one, for what it’s worth.  Doesn’t show Michael’s HOURS in the library photographing 250-year-old letters, doesn’t show lots of the beauty.  But for those who wonder what we’ve been doing all week, or those who want to plan a trip to Oxford or to Wales… here are some highlights!


The GlobeRenting a carOxford

The Kilns

more narnia paparazzi



Hay On Wye

Somebody at Oxford

This morning I had a nice stroll through C.S. Lewis’ garden and this afternoon I oggled Jane Austen’s handwritten stories.  Really.  I am sitting in a café next to . . . who knows?  Professors, students, travelers like me, here from the four corners of the world, perched above a street that a hundred heroes have walked — Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein, the martyrs Latimer and Ridley, the bonnie king of England.  Oxford seems a lucky place, but I suppose it’s much like anywhere else.  It is the birthplace (or the death place) of people great and grimy, whose ghosts, the tour guides promise, moan about the narrow streets at night.

I felt a little sheepish admitting on my tour of The Kilns this morning that not only was I happily paying out pounds to see Lewis’ home (we stood in the room where he died; a new tour guide perched on his bed to take notes as we listened) — but I had in fact visited another Lewis shrine at Wheaton College earlier this year.  At what point am I truly a Narnia groupie?

Why are our favorite famous people so fascinating?

What makes some people extraordinary?

They say at every breath you inhale a little oxygen once breathed out by Julius Caesar, that everyone with European roots is related to Charlemagne.  That tattered and rat-eaten Magna Carta I saw in the building next door was reportedly signed by one of my husband’s ancestors, and probably, I imagine, by one of mine.  (Might even be the same person.  You know, if you go back a ways, every human being on the planet is related — 50th cousins, so they say.)  And yet some of those cousins beguile and bewitch us.  If you happen to bump into a famous Somebody at the airport, you’ll no doubt come home chirping about it to anyone who’ll listen (I’ve seen a few myself if you are dying to hear the stories).

In The Great Divorce (one of my favorites), Lewis writes about Napoleon pacing back and forth in hell, muttering about whose fault it was.  But while this man of importance and glory frets his eternity away, the narrator spots a woman in Heaven, radiant in splendor.

‘Is it?… is it?’ I whispered to my guide.

‘Not at all,’ said he.  ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of.  Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’

‘She seems to be… well, a person of particular importance?’

‘Aye.  She is one of the great ones.  Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things…. already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’

Hmm.  A life illuminated by joy.  That changes the equation, doesn’t it?  Who’s really special after all?

They say if everyone is special then no one really is.  Give trophies to all the Little Leaguers and none of them really shine.  All those helicopter moms doting on mediocrity… I agree, it’s gross.  But at least the pandering doesn’t last forever.  All that excess of praise peters out at some point as the little rascals grow out of their cuteness.  Unfortunately we don’t outgrow lavishing undeserved worship on lackluster performances, we just focus it on a few shiny people.  There’s no fairness in it — celebrities without a shred of talent, best-sellers without a speck of charm, truly wonderful people who are beloved one year and forgotten the next.  Maybe that quiet fellow behind me in line at the grocery store is the next C.S. Lewis, but I can’t peel my eyes away from People Magazine.

And what of C.S. Lewis?  The words that poured out of that man’s pen are some of the best things ever put to paper (he never typed, did you know that?  Always a fountain pen.  Said it helped him think.)  And yet the man had some serious quirks, some character flaws that would drive you crazy in a brother, or a friend.  I wonder as he wrote about Sarah Smith from Golders Green if he chuckled to think of the people lining up outside his driveway, shoving to get a glimpse.  In Heaven, he might have speculated, he’d be somewhere at the bottom of the heap.lewis-profound

Still, Lewis was a person who did what he did best with unbelievable skill, a person whose words inspire us all to do a little better.  That’s something.

The best and brightest students come here to Oxford, brilliant, dazzling in their accomplishments.  How proud their parents must be!  How proud would I?

How many out of all of them will outshine Sarah Smith of Golders Green?

In an upside-down Kingdom, the top-heavy world will topple (not may, or might, but will).  All that’s up top will tumble down, and all that’s on bottom will tumble up.  Maybe we should all teach our children not to strive for the top but to dive low.

In the words of our good friend Clive Staples Lewis, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.  Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.  If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

My favorite Somebody at Oxford has long since been overshadowed (and overjoyed) by a better Somebody.  Someday we’ll get to meet them both.

The pond behind C.S. Lewis’ home — the pond between worlds?

Ordinary Work

It’s Labor Day.  Break out the cooler, splash some mud, kick back.  Summer slid by in a sticky blur — are you ready for fall?  Today we celebrate the end of vacation, gear up for another year of vocation.  We are back to work — ordinary, beautiful, work.

Today we play, tomorrow we ply our trades.  Remember when you dreamed of what you would be when you grew up?  And now you’re there — astronaut, detective, author, lawyer, president, ditch digger, teacher, missionary to the gypsies.  (That was my childhood list.  I’m two for seven.  You?)  Chances are you’ve never been to the moon or slept in the White House.  But do you still dream?

What will I be when I wake up?

A baker, frosting cupcakes for a friend; a singer, blasting the radio in my car; a nurse, patching up skinned knees with Band-aids and love; a counselor, asking good questions over coffee; a taxi driver, shuttling someone to the airport.

Ordinary work for a lifetime of ordinary, extraordinary days.

In our work, we create, we design, and we reflect our designer, creator God.  Every day stretches before us with untold opportunities to try new things or do old things in new ways.  Every day we can choose imagination over stagnation.  So often we don’t; we settle for stuck when we could soar.  We are like waddling geese when we could flap those wings a little and take flight.

In our work, we serve, reflecting the humble, sacrificial service of Christ.  Ordinary work becomes an avenue for extraordinary love.  We don’t give because we like parting with stuff, or serve because we have excessive time and energy.  We give because someone once gave to us — heaped up, pressed down, running over.  We are the re-gifters.

In our work, we shine, bringing light into forgotten corners of culture.  Into tense boardrooms, we bring peace, into stressed offices, we bring unexpected laughter.  With excellence we may make one perfect product, then another, then another, each a chip of mirror reflecting in its tiny way something far more valuable.

What will you be when you wake up?

I hope that we will be ordinary.  Each of us an ordinary, beautiful piece of the mosaic that would be missing something essential without our little part.

Happy Labor Day!

“And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work.”  –Numbers 28:25

Photo via Visual Hunt

The Power of Like

Big Brother is watching you. That creepy idea has sparked movies, books, and conspiracy theories galore: someone, somewhere, knows what you like, whom you vote for, what you ate for breakfast. Marketing companies analyze your online habits and tailor-make ads to snare you, even varying the cost of potential products depending on your socio-economic status. “Like-farming” is a spammer’s delight. When companies can pinpoint a prospective customer’s vulnerable moments and pounce with confidence-boosting ad campaigns, or a candidate’s campaign can spin out fake news to lure new voters, we really have sunk to a new low…

Read the rest at!

Perspective Podcast

Blessed to be a guest on Chris Arnzen’s “Iron Sharpens Iron” show this week!  Loved the opportunity to linger in conversation a while, and I hope it will give you some food for thought while you jog/do the dishes/drive a bus/bathe a dog.  (Does anyone do anything without multi-tasking any more?)