Big birthdays provide opportunities to celebrate and reflect. In honor of turning fifty on Monday, I thought it would be fun to share with you my list of 50 discoveries and delights as I reflect on my life at this point. May they bring a smile to your face, and perhaps, a nod or two of agreement. Enjoy!
In no particular order:
1. I finally learned how to make sourdough bread—thank you, Covid.
2. Strength and conditioning really works. My body is the strongest it’s ever been.
3. The world of audiobooks—another silver lining from the pandemic. When I couldn’t get to the library, I could download another book from my Libby app.
4. The power and availability of the Holy Spirit in my day-to-day life. 2020 has been a hard year. (What an understatement!) At times, I faced challenges that I thought might undo me. Yet, in each of those moments, the Holy Spirit either provided me with the words and strength I needed or the comfort and peace of his presence in a way that was undoubtedly his doing, not mine.
5. The mouth-watering transformation of cooking a pork butt in a crockpot. The Carnitas are the best.
6. A rotating number of favorite walking routes to enjoy. Most of them take me by water—one of the gifts of living on the North Shore.
7. Reading through the entire Maisie Dobbs series by Jacquline Winspear—I LOVED these books. Maisie and I walked many miles together during the lockdown and beyond.
8. Going back to school at almost 50! In August, I started a graduate program at Friends University in Chrisitian Spiritual Formation and Leadership. I’ve learned so much already. What a privilege and joy to learn more about spiritual formation in the company of some amazing people.
9. Embracing the long-haul view of marriage. Brad and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage next summer. Personally, I had some growing to do in our marriage. I’m grateful for a husband who loves me deeply and tells me so often. He is my biggest cheerleader in life. What a treasure!
10. The gift of time with Jake and Anna. It’s not always sunshine and roses having your young-adult children at home. This past year has provided us a significant chunk of time. We’ve frustrated each other for sure along the way, but we’ve also laughed, played, and shared good times together.
11. I can do hard things. Thank you, Tsh Oxenreider, for your description of leaning into hard times that you wrote about in At Home in the World. You nailed it!
12. Books and Breakfast: This past summer, some friends and I gathered each Saturday to discuss books we were reading. We sat on each other’s porches and brought our own breakfast and beverages. (Fun fact: I recorded this idea on Tsh Oxenreider’s Good List podcast and it aired on episode 48!) This gathering was a highlight of my summer and a boost to my reading life.
13. Deepening friendships—No matter if you have one friend or fifty, we all know how important friends are. This past year, I’ve been especially grateful for the friends in my life. Some of them live close by and others live far away, but in the midst of uncertain times, they have been a steady presence in my life.
14. Podcasts—Another staple on my walks. I’ve whittled down my list to a few favorites: The Good List, The Next Right Thing, The Bridgetown Church, and The Englewood Book Review. Check these treasures out!
15. The world of Zoom—I never imagined myself teaching online, but last March changed that. I’m not a techy person, but I figured out how to use Zoom, the chat feature, and to create breakout rooms with only a few hiccups. I have been grateful more than once for the ability to see the smiling faces of my students as we gather for class. Thank you, Zoom.
16. Starting basil from seed—I’ve grown basil before from seed, but last spring it felt more significant. Watching tiny green shoots burst out of the soil filled me with hope. I had three trays of basil growing at one point (thanks to stubborn encouragement from my husband to grow more)! I’m quite pleased with my frozen pods of pesto, waiting to be used in the freezer. Yum!
17. Chickens—Right before lockdown, Anna drove to the farm store and bought some chicks. All four of us delighted in caring for and watching these babies grow. It was another hopeful example of new life during an uncertain time.
18. Marilyn McEntyre—I went on a Marilyn McEntyre book-buying spree this fall, purchasing a number of her books. She’s the kind of writer I aspire to be. Her thoughtful words inspire and challenge. She’s intelligent, articulate, and wise. I love her small book called Make a List. It’s a list-lover’s dream come true!
19. Muji pens—I’ve loved these pens for a while. I’m partial to the .5 nib.
20. Kitchen Islands—For Christmas, Brad and I received some gift money that we used to buy one. Ours has space for two chairs along with shelves for extra storage. The extra countertop space alone makes this a winner for our kitchen.
21. Flax Pond—I’m sharing one of the best-kept secrets in my area. This Wetlands Sanctuary is amazing! It was Anna who first took me there. I love the diversity of the landscape and the fact that hardly anyone is ever there. You can walk all the way out to the beach even.
22. Anti-Racism training—This fall I participated in a six-week training through my school. A colleague led our faculty and staff through the curriculum he designed. Even though the training is over, I don’t want to forgot about the life-long work of being anti-racist.
23. Hearts and Minds Bookstore—I’ve ordered all my books for graduate school from this independent bookstore located in PA. Every time I call to place an order, I receive wonderful customer service. Plus, it’s fun to hear Bryon, the owner, comment on the books. My books arrive in a timely fashion and always neatly packaged.
24. The power of a phone call—In the last week alone, I’ve benefited from some timely phone calls. Don’t underestimate the power your words have to communicate love and care to another person.
25. Keeping multiple tabs open on my laptop—So, maybe everyone else already knows this (or has even been using them for decades!), but this simple practice has made my life easier. I leave open the tabs to my email accounts and other websites in my browser that I use all the time. Thanks, Brad.
26. Being thankful for travel pre-Covid—It’s hard to imagine traveling to new places at the moment. Better than any souvenir are the memories from some of the trips I’ve been fortunate to take. If I never get to visit some of the places still on my bucket list, I am grateful for the traveling I have been able to do.
27. The world of Scotch—I’m not really a Scotch drinker. I prefer a glass of wine most of the time. But my husband loves a good single-malt Scotch–as well as investigating fine Scotch blends and other whiskies. In fact, he’s become quite educated on the topic of spirits. He’s taught me how to sniff out different notes and to enjoy the complexity of a beverage that I would not normally drink.
28. Camping in the Catskills—In August, a tropical storm moved through our area, knocking out our power for eight days. We were not happy campers for most of those days. Brad and I had planned a camping getaway (one last fling before school started) around that time and we almost didn’t go. We felt like we already had been “camping” at home. Thankfully, we went and had a wonderful time hiking in the mountains—just two hours from NYC. Sharing adventures together is the best!
29. How to make an Old-Fashioned cocktail—Though I normally prefer wine, I have learned how to make a really good Old Fashioned. I love the flavor combination of orange and rye whiskey. If you’re ever in the area, stop by my house and I’ll make you one.
30. 50 books read in 2020—I’m almost there! I think I’ll make it by December…
31. Mary Oliver’s poetry—A good friend introduced me to her poetry a number of years ago. Recently, I’ve been working my way through Devotion, a selection of poems from previous works. Her poetry is like prayer for me. It forces me to stop and pay attention. It forces me to thank God for his creation.
32. Dallas Willard—He’s the man! In my classes thus far, I’ve read one of his books and parts of two others. This past week I read his chapter on the Beatitudes in The Divine Conspiracy and it’s no understatement that my mind was blown. His writing can be dense at times, but his understanding of spiritual formation and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is life changing.
33. Buying in bulk—Brad laughs at my long-held aversion to stocking up, but I’m starting to see the wisdom in it. If there’s a product that we KNOW we are going to use before it goes bad (and we have the storage space), then why not buy 1-3 extra. This isn’t to say that Brad doesn’t go a little overboard, especially in the early days of COVID. If you need black beans or lentils, hit me up!
34. Meditating on Scripture—I’m learning how to do this.
35. Paddleboarding on the Sound—I’m a newbie, but I am grateful for the opportunity to try this with Anna and my friend Amy.
36. Fire Pits—If it wasn’t for outdoor fire pits, my social life would be nil. Thankfully, we enjoyed a number of gatherings with friends around a fire since last spring. Hospitality looks different these days, but it can still happen.
37. Brown Girl Dreaming—I’m almost finished with this YA novel by Jacqueline Woodson. I love the poetic structure of the book. It’s beautiful writing and I can’t wait to share her work with my students.
38. Ransom Fellowship—I feel like Denis and Margie Haack are good friends. The doors of Ransom will close at the end of this year, but my life and my faith have been deeply impacted by their writing. They were the first ones I heard talk about Christian discernment and “living in Babylon”. I want to be like them when I’m 70. Check out their website.
39. Learning how to write an academic paper—Wow! Now that I’m on the other side of the table, so to speak, I have greater empathy for my students. Even though I teach writing, it has been almost thirty years since I wrote a paper for a class. True confession: all the prewriting practices that I instruct my students to use before starting to write, I didn’t follow for my final paper back in October. I was a sorry mess five hours before it was due. Thankfully, my husband talked me off the ledge and gently said, “What are you trying to say?” Oh, yeah, that’s why an outline is helpful.
40. Cooking dinner—Since the pandemic, I have found cooking and baking to be hugely therapeutic. I think many of you will agree. Maybe it’s because we want to feel like we have some control in an out-of-control world. If I assemble certain ingredients, usually I can expect a certain outcome.
41. My personal style—New Yorkers are known to wear a lot of black and I think this has rubbed off on me. Mostly, I’m drawn to neutrals that I can spruce up with fun accessories like jewelry and scarves.
42. Teaching The Hobbit—This past week I finished reading/teaching this novel with my students. This was my 12th time teaching The Hobbit. I discover new insights and marvel over Tolkien’s writing every time I read the book. In these turbulent times, I resonated with these final words spoken by Thorin to Bilbo: If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
43. Cross Country—I’m so grateful that despite Covid and the lack of meets this fall, the girls cross country team was able to practice each afternoon. We needed this outlet and we needed each other.
44. Figuring out how to fix or do something on my own—Too often I rely on my husband to help me when I have to figure out something mechanical or technical. Lately, I’ve had some moments where I’ve read the directions on my own and taken care of whatever it was I needed to fix, etc.
45. God is love. I feel like I’m only beginning to understand the depth of this reality. I’ve grown up all my life saying this phrase and believing it. But now, I’m starting to get it. I don’t think this side of heaven I will ever fully comprehend how much God loves me, but I want to.
46. Sourdough discard and pizza dough. For a while, I threw away my discard. 😦 I found a food blogger who uses her discard to make pizza dough. It was a happy discovery. My dough takes longer to rise, but so far, my dough has gotten good reviews here at home.
47. Yahtzee! My family humors me by periodically allowing me to rope them into this old favorite. They might be at their limit for a while, actually.
48. Breath Mints—Anyone else feel like they need to stockpile these in light of wearing masks all the time?
49. Madfit workouts on YouTube—If you’re looking for a good workout to mix up your routine, I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve tried so far.
50. Christ in you, the hope of Glory. If I were to get a tattoo, this is what I would engrave on my body. I’m drawn to these words from Colossians 2 because they describe my heart’s desire: for Christ to fill me completely and fully. And one day, when I stand before a holy God, I will see him in all his glory. This is hope indeed.