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!

Good Things: 1.12.18

Each week, I try to end on a high note: with a list of good things that happened over the course of the week. My life is fairly busy and often I tend to focus on the bad, stressful or distressing things that happened. To help myself see, appreciate and be grateful for the blessings in my life, I’m choosing to set aside time each week to list out a few of them.

I highly recommend it and suggest you do the same. With no further ado, here are a few good things from the week that was:

  • IMG_0277A fun dinner with sweet friends. Once a month, I get together with a few of the coworkers who became like family to me during my decade (plus) at LifeWay. My friend Mike and his wife, Tricia, set the menu and open up their house to us, and the rest of us brings sides and desserts. It’s always a good time of conversation and laughter—and suggestions of what to watch next on Netflix. I’m grateful for these people and the sweet ways they continue to pour into my life even though we don’t see each other every day anymore.
  • Making progress on a goal, even if it hurts. I don’t really do resolutions. But I do like to go into a new year with some goals. One of my goals for 2018 is to get back into a routine of exercising regularly. So this week, I went back to a class I have loved in the past at the YMCA, Les Mills Body Pump. The Downtown Y started offering a course on Tuesdays, and that’s fairly easy to get to from work (not as easy with the demolished LifeWay building in the way) and I could take a class while Nashville traffic died down then head home and eat dinner. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty getting back into the routine of regular exercise. I thought I might die somewhere around the bicep track. But I persevered and am glad I went. Even if I’m really, really sore.
  • Chocolate, coffee and great coworkers. There have been some stressful days in the office this week, to say the least. In the midst of it, some of the moments of sanity have been brought to you by Ghiradelli squares, a lot of coffee and wonderful coworkers who were some of my biggest cheerleaders (and bringers of coffee).
  • Inclement weather. I don’t often wish for snow days since I am involved in communications for a university and canceling class often means early mornings filled with emails, cancelation posts and calls to TV stations to announce the closure. But with impending ice apparently on the way, classes are canceled and administrative offices are closed. It’s nice to not have to worry about driving anywhere!

2017: The year I failed my book list

stack-of-books-vintage-books-book-books.jpgI had lofty goals in January 2017. Those goals included a lengthy list of books I wanted to read (35!) before the year came to a close. . . and I’m here to admit today that I failed.


In truth, I only knocked three books off that list last year. Two I remembered to check off online and one—Stephen King’s On Writing, which I highly recommend—I apparently forgot about.

I read a few other books—books that weren’t on the list and I apparently wasn’t thoughtful enough to go add them so that I’d look more accomplished—but nowhere near the 35 I set out to read.

So this year, I’m giving myself a fresh start. I’m reworking that list, removing a few books and adding in some others. You can check out my 2018 reading list here.

When you do, you’ll discover the challenge I’m issuing. I want YOU, the readers, to pick out one book for me to read this year. What novel do you think I just have to read? Is there a biography, leadership or devotional book I should check out? It’s up to you!

Leave your suggestions in the comments.


Lessons in the rubble


A chapter in my life came to a symbolic, cinematic end today. The new owners of the LifeWay property in downtown Nashville imploded the Draper Centennial Tower to make room for the upcoming Nashville Yards project.

16989468115_baabbbeaf5_zI spent 12 years working every day in that building. Twelve years that spanned only two offices (a rarity for anyone who works at LifeWay past a year). Twelve years of hard work, amazing coworkers and lunches in the cafeteria.

I watched from home, via livestream. As the building crumpled in on itself, I thought about the memories those hallways and offices held. Those EC planning meetings where we laughed until we cried. The week of feasting before Christmas, department meetings and Monday devotions. That time my friend Jason and I watched the trailer for a scary movie and both screamed when something creepy suddenly showed in the video. That weird sticky eyeball that we threw onto the ceiling of my office and it got stuck and stayed there. I kind of hope it’s still there, somewhere in all the rubble. There were stand-up meetings, tough conversations and people who would stop whatever they were doing and pray for you. Cart luge. Birthday celebrations. Practical jokes. Laughter, a good share of tears and so many hugs.

I will admit that the implosion affected me a little more than I expected. I understand and agree with the need for change and know the new LifeWay building just a few blocks over provides better resources for the nature of the work in today’s world.

But after the tower fell and the smoke began to clear, I realized a couple of things.

  1. It was just a building. It wasn’t the building that made those 12 years of my life so special. It was the people, the relationships. My coworkers. The talented people who graciously wrote for me for years and those who trusted me with the words they’d birthed into the world and allowed me to prune and shape them. Many of my coworkers became more like family and those relationships continue today. The building may be gone, but those are the things that last.
  2. In the end, only the things that really mattered will last. Buildings fall. Jobs change. Stuff is just, well, stuff. What mattered within those walls was those relationships and the shared goal of the material we created. We were there, united under one mission: to create resources that God used to draw people into deeper relationship with Himself. I hope that even now, the resources I worked on continue to draw students closer to God. The fact that He would use our humble efforts is amazing, to say the least. The walls where we planned and prayed for those resources are gone, but the mission continues. At times, the work may have felt like just meeting deadlines, but it was work with an eternal impact.

And eternal things last.


Let’s be us.

Last night, at the close of a long week filled with news reports that saddened and depressed me—the news of Charlottesville, Va., incredibly ignorant comments leveled against a very well spoken DACA student who wrote a well-informed, respectful op-ed piece in the Tennessean— I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed. I ran across a post from a journalist I like, Steve Hartman, who has made a living simply telling the stories of regular people from around the country, detailing their struggles, the moments in their lives when everything changed, their day-to-day lives and the acts of service, attitudes and tasks that help us to recognize that everyone—the people next door, that man down the street, that person whose politics you don’t agree with—have a story to tell and something to offer.

Steve hosted “CBS Sunday Morning” yesterday, and took to social media earlier in the weekend to point out that he wasn’t an anchor and never had been and went as far as to admit that he was nervous. He asked for advice on which tie to wear, having bought two since he never wore them, and chose the yellow one, the clear viewer favorite.

As the hours left in Sunday began to wane, Hartman took to social media to thank his fans, not just for their wardrobe advice, but also for their encouragement. “You say I make you cry. But you turned the tables this weekend,” he wrote. “Many of you sensed I was a little outside my comfort zone and wrote things like, ‘You got this!’ It helped. It felt like a team effort.”

But it was Hartman’s next few words that shone a little light into the darkness of this weekend.

A few even said, “You’re one of us!” I thought a lot about that. I thought — who exactly is “us?” Who are all of you who choose to follow, friend, and even advocate for a news reporter? I know from experience how diverse you are. Your backgrounds and political beliefs vary widely. So then who is “us?”
Maybe we’re just the hopeful. Maybe we’re the people who still believe the world is mostly good. Regardless, I’m grateful we found each other.

In a week where there has been so much division, so much us v. them, so much hatred against others because of skin color or immigration status or whatever, it was good to be reminded of the word “us.”

The thing that makes us “us” is our humanity. And when we choose to look at another person and regard them as lesser, we aren’t just hurting them, we’re hurting ourselves. What happened in Charlottesville is wrong; there’s no other way to say it. As a Christian, I cannot condone bigotry and racism. We are made in the image of God, and when I degrade you, I degrade Him.

So this week, let’s live, think, speak and act with an “us” mentality rather than a “them” mentality.

Let’s be us.

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