Signs at Christmas

“You will be so impressed when you come home and see allllll my snowmen!” Mama’s voice smiles over the phone, oozing with sarcasm. Every year I criticize Mom’s hideous figurines set in haunting displays about the house. We’ve always quarreled over decorations, neither of us mincing words.

I’m nearing the 270 Columbus outer-belt, a route made familiar by my countless OSU commutes. It’s 10:30 p.m., and the city is nearing its bedtime. Weaving through traffic, I choose the swiftest lanes, paths memorized on my drives to campus. My 10-year-old iPod nano (a gift from my sister and her then-boyfriend) shuffles, playing indie Paper Route, and just then, driving through the glowing Columbus city-scape, it’s like it’s 2011 again, everyone’s in college, life is crucial, and TØP is a backyard band made up of a homeschool kid who used to play Christian high school basketball.

The city is a backward bronze horizon as I turn dark west. Soon I reach the familiar plains; the howling wind comforts me, and the stars are visible on the open plain.


“I just love the snowmen you’ve set out!” I gush, upon alighting on the front steps.

Mom rolls her eyes and gathers me into a hug. Papa is napping silently, bare feet sticking out of his favorite denim blanket, eyes behind an old Qatar Airways sleep mask.

It’s 11:00 p.m., and though I’ve already eaten supper, I stuff my face with blood oranges, Emma’s popcorn, homemade dipped gingersnaps, peanut butter blossoms, and a giant slice of frosted tea-ring. It occurs to me that my gastroenteritis ER disaster is firmly in the past.

Mama and I quietly catch up in the living room, me breathlessly explaining my own Christmas miracle from earlier that morning, which can only be explained here as me requesting a Very Important Email from a long-lost professor in Seattle. The sensitive situation required careful research, phone calls, a letter, and a certain kind of academic etiquette that I’m never sure if I get quite right. I can tell you that Thursday night I fell asleep half-seriously asking God for an email for Christmas. The next morning I drove my 30-minute work commute in glum anxiousness, not knowing where to turn during the week of Christmas break, if my efforts were in vain.

Haphazardly checking my email before exiting my car for my last day of work before Christmas break, I gasped in surprise at my inbox, too afraid to even read the brand-new email.

It was better than I could have even hoped.

I was beside myself upon entering work, that I couldn’t figure out what to do in the office with my excitement, so I just went to the bathroom and refilled all the toilet papers.

Isn’t it freaky when your prayers are answered in super-specific, timely ways?

Mom, of course, had heard the whole story twice, but listened gently in motherly raptures at my excitement. In the living room, we giggled over Oasis Chorale news, and Mama and Papa listened quietly as I played for myself for the first time Arvo Part’s “The Deer’s Cry.” Struck by its meditative, almost Russian-sounding quality, I carefully read the text:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in me, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me,
Christ with me.

It’s chilling to imagine performing this piece. Simply put, disciplined worship forms us. And the vision of the future here, the already-not-yet of the Gospel described here is so profound, that it lent a moment of soberness to our crumbly-cookie gathering.

Let me be honest: the disparity between my own brokenness and the Christ-centered existence mentioned in this text breeds spiritual insecurity for me, a common topic for me and my mentors. As I approach the new year, I continue to explore ways to build spiritual confidence and unity with Christ.

Saint Patrick, who composed the text in 433, chanted the text along with his comrades while fleeing through a forest, away from persecutors set to kill them. The story goes that the travelers were transformed, as reported by the perpetrators, into a deer and twenty fawns. Thus, St. Patrick was saved.

(What a strange manifestation of grace, using common forms. Strange and common… like an email.)

Dipping into Disciplines for the Inner Life last week, I was encouraged to pray not for answers, but for the sense of being heard, by God. Is that what had happened when I had checked my email before work?

Receiving exactly what you ask for is confidence-boosting. It is also rare. It also breeds doubt because you second-guess if it’s actually an answer, or just a coincidence, something you received that’s so small that you shouldn’t have prayed about it in the first place. (Call me irreverent, but I struggle to pray for lost coins. I’d rather divert the Lord to, say, the border.) Then, once you decide to actually call it answered prayer, you try to interpret it. What does the “answer” mean for you and your one, beautiful life? Does the answer have anything to bear on other requests, much more monumental, for which you seek wisdom?


One and a half days later, I stuff my feet into brilliant purple running shoes and pull on tights and all manner of winter running garb. I steal a handkerchief from my dad’s drawer and tie it over my nose and mouth to protect my lungs.

Shaking out my legs on my first vacation run, I squint my eyes through the only opening on my face, between my hat and scarf. I pick up speed, and the earth quiets. The sun has set, and the entire landscape is a frozen brown, the lavender-blue sky meeting the razor-straight solitary trail, lined by scraggy saplings. Just before I reach “The Tree,” I hear a thundering under the wide expanse. Over my right shoulder, I catch a movement, and my adrenaline surges.

Three white-tailed deer thunder toward me.

For a moment, their light hooves match my rhythm, then thunder past.

I chase them, and their tails disappear just up ahead.

I can’t help but remember…

…“The Deer’s Cry.”


Perhaps readers think that such a sighting may be common for Ohio landscapes, but I’ve been running this trail for twelve years and have never once spied such wildlife.

The experience was so otherworldly that it’s hard to not ask what sort of meaning it prefigures.


For now, I turn to the Psalms:

“As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.”

Psalm 18:30-33

I hold this memory close at the end of this page-turning year.

Food I Made in the Kitchen

Once a year, I make something in my kitchen to eat.

(Last year I cooked chicken in red wine, once.)

Since many of you enjoy reading my annual forays into That Remote World of Actually Cooking, I thought I would share with you this year’s Food I Made in the Kitchen.

This year I baked Christmas Morning scones. In October. Because I’m really bad (LIKE REALLY BAD) at occasions and birthdays and all that, so I normally plan celebrations way in advance. The more frequent tendency, though, is to pretend to mindlessly float past friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, and baby showers, when in reality I’m nearly choking on poison guilt (much like the time I accidentally bought pumpkin gnocchi instead of regular, and cooked it with a red sauce anyway, and tried to eat it). The simple truth: if I don’t plan for a holiday three months ahead of time, Christmas and birthdays more often than not come out looking a little like this:




I found the recipe for Christmas Morning scones from and was simply captivated, despite the fact that nearly all the ingredients were things I do NOT have in my cupboards. (Don’t you hate that?) Things like flour, sugar, and baking powder. Anyway, I bit the bullet and bought the ingredients.

Actually, the only ingredient that was a splurge to buy was fresh rosemary. Wal-Mart only had organic, so I picked some up and then lingered over the gluten-free brown rice flower but finally put it back because I wanted to make something where I actually follow the recipe for once.

Was really confused that the recipe said to preheat the oven to 450 and to use parchment paper, since parchment paper ACCORDING TO THE BOX is only safe to 420.

Aaaaaaanyway, I prepared the dough, a most amusing experience, since I’ve never worked with dough as an adult, and was a little confused when the “dough” I made had the irregular consistency of old makeup, like really powdery Play-doh, with globs of dry flour on top. Instead of whisking it more, I got out a hand-mixer, but nothing I did really made the dough come together as such, so I just balled it all up into a sort of big Play-doh ball and shoved it in the freezer, before and after which I furiously googled and image-searched “scone dough consistency” to no avail. I was really giggling at this point. But maybe that was because of the fumes. Chopping up so many bits of rosemary, leaves quite the trance-inducing aroma.

When I removed the chilled dough from the freezer, I discovered that I own no rolling pin, so I decided to mash my Play-doh ball into a round disk with my hands. I cut the circle into eight pie-shaped pieces and plopped them on the parchment paper. I turned down my oven because ACCORDING TO THE BOX parchment paper is only safe to 420!


I spent the next 14 minutes nervously dancing around the oven door opening, closing, and re-opening it multiple times (til it spoke to me, “Nevermore!”). The little bits of butter in the batter sizzled a bit. My parchment paper turned a little brown in spots and started to smell like almost-burnt popcorn. The scones didn’t hardly rise, but I was a little proud of the life-giving aroma (minus the hint of almost-burnt popcorn) coming forth from my oven and apartment, so that when I passed my neighbor in the hallway while taking out my trash, I smiled inwardly to myself at all the good I was unleashing on the world.

Moment of truth: pulling my scones out, I had no idea how to tell if they were done. A little jello-y in the middle, but are they supposed to be like chocolate chip cookies? The best chocolate chip cookies are a little moist in the middle when you pull them out of the oven, sort of underbaked. Is this how I should treat scones? I was a little disappointed to find that the flour I had sprinkled down before “rolling out” my scones caused the bottoms to burn. But I picked up a piping hot, slightly moist half-scone, tossing it back and forth like the hot potato is was, until I could hold it enough to taste the moist dough, where nutmeg, rosemary, and vanilla were all vying for my attention. The first taste confirmed it. THESE SCONES ARE MOST DELICIOUS.

The thing I like best about these savory and sweet scones is that the flavors are so present that a single scone is very satisfying. For example, I had just one scone after an 8 mile run on Satuday, and combined with two eggs soft-boiled to perfection (for a little protein), I felt perfectly full.

Make these scones. Offer me scone-baking tips.

You’re welcome for this post.







Homemade Christmas

To whomever decided that we should do “Homemade Christmas” for this year’s family gift exchange, I’d like to say a big fat hairy, “Thank you.”

At least that’s what I was saying, through gritted teeth, as I was finishing up my gift on Christmas Eve. Not to mention that I had known for a year that I was supposed to make my gift. And I only started making it the week before Christmas.

Whose idea was this anyway?

Oh yeah, that’s right. Mine. Heh heh.

It wasn’t SO bad. Last week we all began to encouraging each other, desperately… with old Christmas adages. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (RIGHT?!!) “It’s the thought that counts.” (RIGHT?!!)

I loved the responses I got when I told people my family was gonna do Homemade Christmas. An older couple who came into the restaurant declared, “That’s a WONderful idea! What are you going to make?” They were clearly enamored with the idea of a young person bothering to make something with their hands.

A young coworker of mine heard about our idea, and he asked what I was going to make for my sister. I tried to play it cool, “Oh, you know, well, my sister’s married now, so… you know, I thought I’d make her some pillows for her couch. Yeah, I wasn’t really sure what to make… you know.”


I walked back out to the dining room, and I heard him exclaim to the servers around him, “Dude! That would SUCK!!!” (I think he meant that he couldn’t imagine having to make a gift. Or having to receive a home-made gift.)

But you know what? Who really needs another gift card, you know? Do you ACTUALLY need that new Hollister hoodie? And a new video game? Really? Little children are starving in India. If we raised money to send them money for food, they couldn’t even keep it down because dysentery plagues them because of the dirty water they drink due to bad sanitation. But, yeah, I mean, I want a new membership to Urban Active, too. Really?

So, I whipped out the (quite hidden) Pinterest-y me, bought some pillow forms, and ransacked some local thrift stores for some cool material.

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For this one, I sewed up an old pillowcase and then printed a giant Times New Roman initial. Next, I raided my vintage button collection for old red buttons and sewed them on in the shape of an “M” for several hours. (I made it through THAT monotony by listening to Father Gilbert.)


I created this pillow from a refurbished extra-large Old Navy polka-dot top.


Abigail had passed on this awesome skirt to me several years ago, but it never quite fit me, so I cut it up and sewed it into strips. Once I had one long strip of fabric, I sewed up the pillowcase. (This is SO hilarious, because I cannot sew at all!)
My *favorite pillow is: the sweater pillow. I took a second-hand Lands’ End sweater, hacked off the sleeves, buttoned it up, flipped it inside out, took in the sides, measured the pillow, and sewed up the top and bottom. Then I unbuttoned it, flipped it inside out, and covered the pillow. Viola!

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After I finished making it, Mom was flipping through the January issue of Good Housekeeping and found the exact same pillow (well, one that was designed by Laura Ashley anyway) and it was listed for $74. I think they copied me. I should probably sue.


Not only was I wielding a needle and thread this Christmas, but someone actually caught me in the kitchen. (Shocker, I know).
A highly inaccurate domesticated image of myself: here I am making scrambled eggs for Christmas brunch. Oh… what? Egg shells?


These next photographs demonstrate the healthy holiday eating habits of our family. (You ARE ignoring the piles of Christmas cookie containers, there, aren’t you?)

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After brunch, carols, the Christmas story, and sharing together, we came to the revealing of The Gifts, Which I Made Everyone Pose Awkwardly With.
1) From Abigail to Mama: a Precious Moments counted cross-stitch.


2) From Mama to Papa: a denim blanket (made from his old jeans), and framed photographs of The Ancestors.


3) From me to Abigail: couch pillows!


4) From Josh to Rachel: a wedding website! Cool.


5) From Jeremy to Josh: eight hours of manual labor on “The Man Cave.”


6) From Rachel to me: a sister bag! (She chose some of my favorite pics and then used iron-on transfers.) (I also got an iTunes gift card for the win!)


7) From Papa to Jeremy: a hand-made wooden shelf (classically wrapped in a sort of hipster, masculine design with newspaper, electrical tape, and yellow ratchet straps). Thanks, Dad-in-law-to-be.

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And that, folks, was my family’s Homemade Christmas gift exchange.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!

A Victorian Christmas

It’s time for “A Victorian Christmas!” My sisters and I have been practicing for several weeks now. We ride in the minivan to Jenny’s house in London where we rehearse our lines. Jenny teaches us how to say our lines with what Mom calls, “expression.” I like Jenny’s house. I think her house is Victorian. In the parlor there are big rose-colored drapes made out of silky wood-grain fabric that youth group girls use for bridesmaid dresses. The ceiling are extra-tall, and the wallpaper has little flowers on it. We sit on a white rug in the parlor. The white rug is how big it is on the loft on the stage. We practice staying on the rug. And we sing in the music room. Jenny plays the piano, and we practiced staying “in tune.” Sometimes we are out of tune. We try to sing better. It’s kind of hard because the boys sing different parts. Sometimes, on Saturdays, we go with Mom to practice with the choir. We get to play with the other kids. There are babies, but they are never fun, and they always cry. We have to be quiet when they adults are singing. The Saturdays are really very merry.

Abigail is hoity-toity, and she sits and listens to the adults practice.

“I love ‘And the Glory of the Lord,’” Abigail says, “It’s from the Messiah.”
“What is the Messiah?” I ask.

“It’s Handel’s Messiah,” Abigail explains.

“Well, I like when they sing ‘Jingle Bells!’” I announce. It’s really fast. And it’s pretty, too, because the men sing low, and the women sing high. In one part, the men sing a line… “Now the ground is white, Go it while you’re young, Take the girls tonight, and sing this sleighing song; Just get a bobtailed bay, Two forty as his speed, Hitch him to an open sleigh, and crack! You’ll take the lead!” I think it is about a guy who likes a girl, because the men sing it, and they say “take the girls tonight.”

The best part about the “A Victorian Christmas” is that we get to wear make-up. And not just lipstick! We put on, “the works.” The ladies have to put on our make-up for us. (Mom doesn’t know how to put it on.) First they put on foundation. It smells funny. Like sweet medicine. Then they do the blush. They use pink because we are little children. We have to close our eyes. And then they use those “brushy-thingies” on our eyelashes. Sometimes I get tears. They also put red dots near our eyes. It makes our eyes look brighter on stage under the lights.

“You have beautiful skin!” they say, as they slowly apply the eyeliner.

“Don’t ruin it,” they warn.

I wonder how I could ruin my skin.

“What do you mean?” I ask. The two ladies look at each other and smile knowingly.

“Just don’t mess it up.”

I was seven. I didn’t know about pimple scars and the drying effects of cheap make-up.

“The Victorian Christmas” is a musical dinner theatre performed at a local restaurant every two years. Emily’s mom and sister got to be in it last time. This year Emily gets to be in it! She gets to wear make-up, and curlers in her hair, a big white night-gown, and a night-cap. The play is set in the 1800s, and it’s about the Madison Choral Singers, Hiram P. Wilkins, his children: a brother, Emily’s sisters, Emily, and Mrs. Bristol, who’s loud and obnoxious, and an old lady who dances to “Fa La La La La,” (except that she’s not old, they just use make-up to make her look that way), and Mr. Miller, an Amish neighbor, and his grandson Tommy. And a sheep. A real live sheep. And there is beautiful singing. Emily wrote down what each of the songs sound like:

“Jingle Bells” arr. David Willcocks: “This is my favorite. It’s very fun!”

“Jesu, Word of God Incarnate” W. A. Mozart: “This song is kind of sleepy, like a cello.”

“As Lately We Watched” Arr. Charles Black: “This is fast, like wind-shield wipers. And my mommy has a solo!”

“Sons Day Carol” Arr. James McKelvy: “Why can’t they stop saying ‘Holly’?”

“In the Bleak Mid-Winter” Gustav Holst: “An old man has a boring solo.”

“He is Born” Arr. David Willcocks: “This is a surprise!”

“Angels We Have Heard on High” Arr. Roger Wagner: “The ladies can sing really high.”

“And the Glory of the Lord” G. F. Handel: “I learned what alto is.”

“Still, Still, Still,” Arr. Norman Luboff: “This is the prettiest, sleepiest, baby Jesus song.”

“The Shepherd’s Carol” William Billings: “We giggle methinks!”

“Deck the Halls” Arr. David Willcocks: “Merry Christmas!”

“Sir Christemas” William Mathias: “It sounds like they drop an organ.”

Emily was ready for dress rehearsal. She had practiced her lines, taken out her curlers, and applied her make-up. Now she was ready to climb the small ladder to the stage loft.

“Okay, children!” Jenny said, “You can go up now.” Emily climbed up with her sisters to the loft.

Since it was just rehearsal, the stage lights were up, and Emily could see out into the audience. Except for a couple of seats, the chairs in the audience were empty. Emily saw one of her friends sitting there with her parents. Emily smiled and waved. Emily’s friend looked surprised, but waved back. Then Emily lowered her hand as she noticed Jenny watching her from stage left.

Dumb! Dumb, Emily!

Emily usually prided herself in following all of the rules. And the first stage rule that everyone learns (in kindergarten, even) is NEVER wave to anyone in the audience! Emily knew it was only rehearsal, and it might not matter, but still. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten the rule.

“Where did you get that?!” Emily lunged at her sister Rachel. Rachel was holding a piece of white bread. She pulled her hand out of Emily’s reach.

“A waitress gave it to me!” Rachel announced, “If you go in the kitchen, you can get some! There’s a lot of it. It’s in a drawer where they keep all the bread. They were giving it to us.”

“I want some!” Emily said.

“Go get some!”

“Will you come with me?” Emily asked shyly.

“No. Get it yourself.”

“But Rachel! I don’t know where anything is! Please come with me.”

“Uhh! No, Emily! I’m not going with you.”

Emily humphed off.

“Hey, Emily,” Rachel said.

Emily turned around.

“When you bite the bread, you can see your lipstick on it. It comes off onto the bread.”

They both laughed.

“Please come with me?” Emily begged again.

“Nope,” Rachel said, as she smiled righteously and walked away.

Emily sighed. She turned around and walked toward the doorway into the special banquet kitchen. She peeked around the corner, but didn’t see anyone. Emily wasn’t sure if she was allowed to be in there or not. No one was in the kitchen. No one was behind her in the backstage area either. The cast was probably practicing in a back room. Should she go in and get the bread?


Emily jumped when she heard a voice behind her. She turned around. It was Rachel.

“Aren’t you going to get any?”

“Just wait, Rachel!” Emily snapped. She turned her nose in the air and walked straight into the kitchen. Now. Where was the bread?

“It’s over there,” Rachel pointed to a large silver-metal cabinet. Emily really wished Rachel would go away.

“Are we allowed to just help ourselves?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know,” Rachel said as she bit into her own piece again.

Emily glared at her.

Suddenly the waitresses came pouring back into the kitchen.

“Do you want something?” asked a hurried waitress.

Emily started to feel silly. Rachel had made it sound like they were all nice… giving bread to little girls in dress-up costumes.

“Um,” Emily stammered, “My sister got some bread… And I didn’t know…”

“It’s in here,” she said as she opened the drawer of the big metal cabinet. The smell of freshly-made warm bread wafted into Emily’s nose.

“Do you want wheat or white?” the waitress asked mechanically.

“WHITE!” Emily said a little too abruptly. Emily took a piece of white bread and ran out of the kitchen.

She found her sisters and the other two boys backstage. They all had pieces of bread. Emily bit into her piece. She stared at the pink half-circle that her lipstick made on the white bread.

“Look at my lipstick!” Emily announced. Her sisters examined her bread, and they all laughed.

The blue lights came up. Before, Emily and the children were quietly playing in their loft “bed.” Now they leaned over the loft railing,their adorable curls falling in their faces, and sleepily, dreamily, watched the singers prepare for “Still, Still, Still.” The piano began playing softly. The children, as instructed, began to yawn as the lullaby melody was sung. Emily loved this part. She stared out into the blue stage lights and exaggerated several yawns. Soon, she and her sisters and the two boys were laying down on their pillows, their white night-caps visible through the rose-colored railing. The children “slept” as the flurry of stage activity continued.

“What time is it?” Emily anxiously asked her sister Abigail who was lying beside her. Abigail stealthily retrieved the small clip-on watch the girls had previously hidden under the covers.

“It’s almost seven,” Abigail said gravely.

“No!” Emily thought. “I’m going to be to be late!” she whimpered to her bigger sister. Emily had to be rushed off to her elementary school after the performance to make it in time for her school Christmas program. She and two other girls had a special part: a trio, and they were to wear special choir girl outfits. The program began at 7:30, and Emily’s performance was near the beginning. She would never make it on time.

“I’m going to be laaaaate,” Emily began to sob uncontrollably. Her sobs were silent, but she began hiccupping.

“Emily, it will be okay. You’ll make it,” Abigail whispered.

“Nnnnoooo, I wwon’t,” Emily sobbed. She was grateful, though, to her older sister. Abigail had consented to be “the middle man” in the loft, the girl to lay beside the boy who was not their brother. To Emily, that would have been the awfullest of fates.

“Emily, stop crying!” Abigial reasoned, “You have to! Your make-up is starting to run.”

“It is?!” Emily wailed. She began crying even harder.

“Shhh, Emily!”

Emily wiped her eyes on the gray blanket and stared at the flesh-colored residue. She tried to stop crying but couldn’t. This was the worst thing that could happen, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Emily stared at her plate. There was one cherry tomato on the side of her starter salad.

“Do you like cherry tomatoes?” Emily looked up at the actor, Brenda, who took her place beside Emily at the after-banquet.

“Why, yes, I do,” said Brenda.


“Why do you ask?”

“Well, I was hoping you didn’t,” Emily said, “Because if you didn’t like cherry tomatoes, I was going to eat yours for you.”

Brenda, the actor, laughed.

Emily was excited. She was going to Jenny’s house for “A Victorian Christmas” party! Emily’s family stepped into the warm house that was full of food, festivities, and laughter. Emily’s sister joined the other children, but Emily found herself standing by the big Christmas tree in the front-room. The Christmas lights reflected in the dark windows and on the glossy wood floor. Emily wanted to touch the shiny ornaments, but didn’t.

Some of the actors helped Emily and her sisters get some snacks. They soon settled in with the other children who were watching an animated Disney movie called “Beauty and the Beast.” Tommy and his friend Austin started howling because the Beast took his shirt off. Emily disapproved.