Good Things 2.2.18

So, it’s a little later than I usually post and you probably thought I’d forgotten about our little weekly get-together. But alas, I have not! It’s just been a bit of busy day. So let’s get on with celebrating the things that made this week special!

  • My employer recently added a new benefit, Smart Dollar. Truth be told, I didn’t want to do it. I’ve always been reticent to do “money” programs, mostly because I think I don’t like being told what to do. . . and I don’t want to have to admit that I haven’t always made great money choices. I admitted here a few weeks ago that finances were something that consistently caused me stress, so when the opportunity arose, I knew I had to take it. I went to the info session and signed up. I’ve been using the budgeting tool and hope the info helps me to be less anxious about finances.
  • I got in the habit of grabbing breakfast on my way to work one day a week. For whatever reason, I stopped several months ago. But yesterday, I was running late, it was a gloomy day and I needed a pick-me-up, so I stopped in at one of my favorite places, Dozen Bakery. Their blueberry muffins are my absolute favorite, and they serve Crema coffee. DELICIOUS!
  • hulu-live-tvI cut the cord on cable last weekend and chose to go with Hulu with Live TV. For me, the switch has been mostly seamless. I still get to watch all the shows I want to watch, have more sports channels than before and by donating to PBS, I get access to all the local NPT and Masterpiece shows I like. I may add the Hallmark Movies channel on Amazon Prime in the future, but for now I’m happy. Even if my live CBS station on Hulu wasn’t so great this morning.
  • It’s been a weird week of odds and ends at work, with me tacklings tasks on lots of various bits and pieces of my job. Even though it’s felt disjointed, my planner seems to say that I’ve made progress.
  • I got a haircut and color yesterday from Elliot at Aura Salon. He does such an excellent job on my color that everyone thinks it’s natural! (Which makes me laugh and laugh.)
  • I get to hang out with a few friends tomorrow for a brunch and then we’re going to do a little crafting. We may sound like little old ladies, but it will be fun. And with our lives going in so many different directions, it will be good to get to hang out and see one another.

100 Words on old doors

I drive past the house often. A 1950s brick house in a nondescript subdivision in south Nashville that sits catty-cornered on a corner lot. The one with the outline of a door that once upon a time, some owner decided to brick in. The doorway is gone, but the outline is still there.

Every time I pass, I wonder. Did he walk out that door to mow the yard? Was that the way she came in after a long day at work? Who were the people who lived here, who walked in and out that door every day? Are they remembered or forgotten?

Their memories and the bright details of their stories may have faded into the background, but the outline still remains. They were here. And their lives mattered.

130 words

Bonus post: Book 31

I had all these intentions of announcing the final pick for my 2018 reading list last week, but as often happens, life got in the way. But, alas, I have made the selection, and today’s the big announcement.

Drum roll, please!

51Bs3nWoAOL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Book number 31 on my 2018 Reading List will be. . . . Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Nominated by one of you, this book grabbed my attention. As an introvert, I’m a listener and a thinker. When I speak up about something, I have likely thought about it for a really long time or think what I have to say is important. Being the center of attention is something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable, even though there is a part of my personality that desires a good job to be acknowledged. I’ve often worried that my introverted nature makes people think that I don’t understand or

In our world, which seems to prefer extroverts in many ways, I’ve often worried that my introverted nature means people overlook me or that I need to play against type and promote myself more.

Susan Cain’s book appears to speak into a lot of that. I can’t wait to dig into it!

Thanks, Bailey, for the suggestion!

Let’s be the church.

In December 1997 when the Heath High School shooting happened, I was finishing up the first semester of my freshman year of college. Located near Paducah, Ky., Heath High School was a familiar name. My family sometimes drove to Paducah to shop, especially around Christmas. About a two hour drive from my hometown, Paducah was the halfway point on the drive from the bootheel of Missouri to Nashville.

My college years are punctuated by school shootings. In my sophomore year, Columbine happened. When I heard the news, my mind instantly flashed to a classmate we’d just interviewed as an assignment in my first journalism class. She was from Littleton. In the days that followed, I was glued to the news coverage, terrified, shocked, confused. It made the horror of our world and our own capability for evil become more real than they ever had before.

The violence didn’t end there. Virginia Tech. Northern Illinois University, Newtown. The list has grown long in these 20 years. And for those cities, small and large towns and college campuses, the horror of that day leaves a scar that never fully heals. Time in these places are now starkly marked by “before” and “after.” Everything is different, and it will never be the same. Innocence is lost, and evil indeed lives here.

Another city was added to the list this week: Benton, Ky. Located so close to my hometown that our local new station covers the city, Benton is a small town in southwestern Kentucky. My brother spent two summers working at a camp near there, attending church in Benton. What Benton made me realize, perhaps belatedly, was that this violence could happen anywhere. Down the street from my house. In my hometown. At the school my best friend’s kids attend. Where my sweet kindergarteners from church go.

Evil indeed lives here. In this world that is so capable of breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring moments of true human compassion, evil is also very real.

I had to turn the coverage off this week. As someone trained as a journalist, I want to know the facts, but I find it hard to not become emotionally involved, especially when this tragedy happened so close to my hometown. I can’t not imagine the depth of loss, the grief, the sadness carried by those affected.

I want to live in a world where there are no more alerts about mass shootings that scroll across my phone. I wish that cycles of abuse and poverty and addiction and more didn’t trap people in their currents and pull people under their waves. I wish we as a society truly focused more on putting others first rather than getting what we want for ourselves.

I wish for a better place, but wishing rarely makes anything better.

So I will work for a better place. I will be kind when there is no reason to be kind. I will ask God to help to open my eyes to those in need and help me to see how He would use me.

So instead of allowing this moment to become one defined by partisan politics, believers, let’s be the church. Let’s mourn with those who mourn. Let’s pray as we’ve never prayed before. Let’s love and serve to the best of our ability.

Let’s be known by our love and shine some light in one of our country’s darkest moments.

Good Things: 1.26.18

It’s been a week. A week full of beautiful things, hopeful things and some incredibly terrible things, like the school shooting in Benton, Ky. But, as the week closes out, I’d rather focus on the good things in my life and invite you to do the same with yours. With no further ado. . .

  • I got my MoviePass card this week. I signed up about 10 days ago, and the card came in the mail earlier this week. Truth be told, after doing several social media searches about MoviePass before taking the plunge, I was hopeful, but also doubtful that the card would arrive quickly or that I’d have problems using it. Nothing could be further from the truth. It came quickly; I used it last night, and everything was flawless.
  • MV5BMjQyMjEwOTIwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTkzNTMxNDM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Speaking of movies. . . I saw The Post last night. Granted, being me, I’m predisposed to like movies about journalism. I loved it! I thought Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) were phenomenal. I also loved how the use of Nixon tapes and nuanced references to the historical record really placed this movie at a particular time in history and made you understand it better. At the same time, the film is also a product of this particular moment in history. If you’ve read an essay I wrote here months ago, you know where I stand on journalism’s role in our republic. The movie seemed to think it was a “for such as time as this” moment to declare the same thing. I get that The Post isn’t the movie for everyone, but I loved it.
  • A good friend of mine is celebrating a milestone birthday with a big party this weekend. I look forward to good food, friends and music!
  • I stopped by Red Bicycle today and got a butterbeer latte on the way to work. That will brighten anyone’s day!
  • I had my performance review at work this week. It’s good to be encouraged!
  • A friend and I made some progress on a project we’re planning for the students we work with at our church. I’m excited to guide them through the process of using their creative gifts and talents to serve and encourage the church.

What are some of the good things in your life this week? Share a few in the comments!

Book Review: The Secret Rooms

51+mMzUv5eL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_A friend of mine gave me this book for my birthday. She said she had enjoyed reading it over the summer and thought I would like it.

It had so many of the things I like. A mystery from the past a person in the present is attempting to solve. Someone who is digging through archives trying to uncover the truth hidden in one of the great houses of a titled British family. My tendency is to pick books set in the WWII era or Regency era, but this one was set during WWI. I’m glad I took the little departure from the usual!

The thing that really interested me, once I figured it out, was that the story relayed in this  book is true. The book declared right on the cover that it was “A TRUE story of a haunted castle, a plotting duchess, and a family secret.” (Sounds like the best kind of Lifetime movie, right?!) Even though it was on the cover, rocket scientist over here didn’t grasp that it was a non-fiction book until I’d read several chapters. LOL!

Once I realized the book was recounting an actual researcher’s quest to unravel a mystery, I was entranced. The book, written by Catherine Bailey, recounts much of the life and death of the 9th Duke of Rutland. John (the duke) died alone in the cramped family archives of his home, Belvoir Castle, of pneumonia on April 21, 1940. His son ordered the room sealed. Bailey was one of the first historians allowed in the rooms, and the person who discovered that John had carefully excised three periods of his life from the family’s papers. All correspondence or anything that could shed light on those dates—one from his childhood, another from the early 1900s when he was serving at the British Embassy in Rome and one more when he was serving near the front during WWI—had simply disappeared. John has seemingly spent the last days of his life making sure these sections of his life were effectively erased.

Bailey’s book takes you through her journey to uncover the truth, all the while weaving in moments from John’s life and information from his family correspondence and other records. If you’ve ever read A.S. Byatt’s Possession (or seen the movie, which is different from the book), the concept of finding clues within the archives will be at least somewhat familiar.

I’m a lover of mysteries and thrillers, but generally stick to the fiction variety of both. It was fun to come across a book that was nonfiction, yet delivered on all levels as a mystery. If you like the kind of mystery where everything is tied up in a neat little bow at the end, this may not be the book for you because while the secrets behind the excised portions of John’s life are uncovered, the motives and inner workings of those decisions and the people involved are not completely explained.

It’s a long read, but a worthwhile one, especially if you’re a history buff who has a penchant for archival research (like me). If you love a real-life mystery, check it out for yourself!

Things I Like: Instant Pot

OK, guys, I realize I’m a little late to the Instant Pot game, but better late than never, right?

Last year, it seemed like 3/4s of my friends on social media got an Instant Pot for Christmas. My feeds filled up with posts about recipes and how great Instant Pots were and the magical things you could fix in one.

Being a dyed in the wool Missourian, I was of the “I’ll believe it when I see it” mentality. But nearly a year later and the people who’d gotten an Instant Pot last Christmas still loved them. And more than that, after seeing all the things you can do with one, I wanted one, too.

This Christmas, I got an Instant Pot. And you guys, all the things you said were true!

You can make EVERYTHING in this handy contraption. Everything. I cooked chicken tenders in 12 minutes, then shredded the meat with my KitchenAid mixer and made one of the best chicken noodle soups I’ve ever made. I made the lemon chicken soup I posted on the blog last week.

I’ve made more than soup, too. One of my favorite things to do is to create tiny breakfast casseroles using the small casserole dishes my friend Mindy gave me for Christmas. Three eggs, a little milk and cheese, whatever add-ins I have on hand from veggies to sausage, ham and cream cheese. The whole thing is done and ready to eat in about 12 minutes. I just mix the egg mixture together the night before and pop the casserole in the Instant Pot the next morning. After my shower, my breakfast is warm and ready!

But the crowning glory of my Instant Pot happened this past weekend. I roasted an entire chicken in the Instant Pot, in 40 minutes flat. It was delicious! I picked the meat off the bone, left some in the fridge for salads and other meals, then put the rest in the freezer for enchiladas, soups or other things I might want to make in the future.

The next day, I used the chicken bones to make a bone broth that I can use in recipes. An entire chicken cost me about $5-6, and that one purchase will make so many meals possible!

So, the Instant Pot has my seal of approval, if that counts for anything. Watch for more Instant Pot recipes to be featured here on the blog in the future.

71n5ICKunsL._SL1500_I own the Instant Pot Ultra 6 Qt 10-in-1 programmable pressure cooker, shown above. There are so many models, but I’m sure you could find one to fit your needs and lifestyle.

Good Things: 1.19.18

Because of winter weather hitting Middle Tennessee this week, I had an unexpected day at home on Tuesday. Every morning since then, my first coherent thought upon waking up is to ask, “What day is this?”

All that aside, today is Friday, which means it’s time to celebrate all the good things from the week that was!

  • Snow day! Snow days don’t usually mean sleeping in for me, mostly because I’m part of the process of notifying local TV stations when the university won’t be in session because of weather. But Tuesday did mean a day at home in cozy socks, eating yummy soup and trying to write a story while it peacefully snows outside my window. Oh, and chasing my dog, Mac, around in the snow, which he thought was the best fun.
  • A good night. I help with an arts ministry at my church that helps students develop their artistic gifts for the glory of God and edification of the church. We teach them to sing and lead worship as well as other ways they could use artistic interests like graphic design, writing, photography, etc. We kicked off the spring semester last Sunday with a hot chocolate bar with all the fixings and played some fun games. It was good to be back with my students (7-12th grades) and to see some new faces.
  • Blessings. There are moments when I am just thankful to God for the way He provides. During a recent sermon at my church our pastor asked us to consider what it was in our lives we were withholding from God, not letting Him have control of. As I prayed, the answer was clear to me: finances. I acknowledged that truth: I don’t trust that You’ll truly provide for me, God, I prayed silently. I walked out of the service determined to loosen my grip on the financial resources He had given me. But Christmas was expensive. And life is expensive. And I have some medical bills, and Mac needs to get his teeth cleaned. . . the list of things goes on and on. This week, God gifted me with two—count ’em, two!—freelance opportunities.
  • Completing to-dos. Strength Finders ranks my top strength as “achiever,” so it just makes sense that the fact I’ve been able to check a number of items off my to-do list at work and home despite the snow day makes me happy.
  • Warmer weather. I love living in a place where I can experience all the seasons. I don’t mind cold weather, to a point. And apparently that point was a windchill below zero. Warmer temperatures are on just around the corner, though!
  • Book suggestions! We almost have a winner. Help me pick the final book in my 2018 reading list. The finalists are By The Book by Julia Sonneborn, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain; Unseen by Sara Hagerty and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Follow me on Twitter (@countessmandy) and vote in my poll to pick the winner!

Lemon chicken soup for a cold day

IMG_8679With a little freezing rain and snow complicating daily life in Nashville over the weekend, I knew my cooking adventures were likely limited to what was already in my house. Since Saturday kicked off cold and clear, I thought soup would be perfect for lunch.

But to complicate things, I’d used up all my chicken broth a couple weeks ago making a really delicious chicken noodle soup in my new Instant Pot. I didn’t have beef or veggie stock, so if I was going to make soup, I was going to have to get creative.

Then, my eyes landed on three lemons I had sitting on my kitchen counter. I’m a Hello Fresh subscriber, and they often send lemons to use to make a quick, fresh salad dressing. It’s nice every once in awhile, but I often prefer the dressing I have in my fridge. So I sometimes just have random lemons lying around.

The lemons made me think of a soup I’d had years ago and loved: lemon chicken soup. That made my thoughts turn to the shredded chicken cooked and frozen, sitting in my freezer just waiting for a recipe.

Having never made lemon chicken soup, I google a couple of recipes and made up a plan that would work for me and the ingredients I had on hand. For a culinary experiment, I have to say it turned out pretty well!


3 lemons
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups water
2 packets granulated chicken bouillon (I used this one)
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 to 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
1/3  to 1/2 cup rice

Salt, pepper, garlic powder and lemon pepper, to taste

Whisk together the juice of two lemons, cream of chicken soup, water, bouillon and milk in a large saucepan (or if you’re like me and obsessed with your Christmas gift, an Instant Pot). Stir in frozen shredded chicken. Zest about two teaspoons worth of the remaining lemon and add it to the soup mixture. Stir in the rice, then season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and lemon pepper to taste. Thinly slice the lemon you just zested and add to the soup mixture, for added flavor and just because it’s pretty.

I simply set my Instant Pot on “slow cook” and let the whole thing simmer away for about 2 hours, coming to check on it periodically and adding seasoning as needed. This could easily be done in a stock pot over low to medium heat. Since you’re basically just waiting for the chicken to thaw, the rice to cook and all the tastes to meld together, it’s not a soup that takes forever.

I would have added some fresh parsley at the end if the ice hadn’t taken mine out! No matter, though. It was still a delicious, warm lunch on a cold day!

In Search Of

old-letters-old-letter-handwriting-51343.jpegI have friends who can tell your their lineage down to the most minute detail. “I’m a quarter German,” they say. Or “My 10-time great grandma can over on the Mayflower.”

Me? I never really knew. “There must be some German,” I’d say, “since my mom’s family name is Bumgardaner.” Somewhere along the line, I’d read that the Crows probably had ancestors in Ireland. But there was still so much I didn’t know about my family heritage.

I’ve always loved genealogy and family stories. Even as a child, it interested me. I’m that person who DVRs shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” and Henry Gates’ “Find Your Roots.” A big part of that interest stems from a love of stories and history, but also just not knowing much about one side of my family.

My dad descended from a large family that holds large reunions every other year and that line is well traced by several family historians. But my mom’s side of the family is still shrouded in a bit of mystery, at least for me. My grandfather was a man of few words, and he passed away when I was 13, before I had much time to ask any questions. His sister, my great aunt, researched the family line, but she has also passed away. So has her daughter, and now it’s a bit unclear where her genealogical research is.

So, when I was thinking about projects I wanted to tackle on the blog this year, taking you along as I attempt to delve into that family history was one of the big ones that came to mind. I’m hoping to write a post each month updating you as I delve into my family history and attempt to trace my Bumgardaner line.

I can’t wait to get started and see where history takes us!

“A finished person is a boring person.” Anna Quindlen