Archive | July 2013

Travelog: Touring the USS Alabama

with a little kid…

Traveling and site seeing with a kid is an experience like none other. In fact the term ‘adventure’ is certainly appropriate and kind of takes on a different meaning. a la: Will we make it out of here without falling over the railing? Will we have a major meltdown on Aisle 9? I try to embrace the challenge though. After all, watching your child’s mind get blown far outweighs the tantrum risk. So with that mindset, we decided to take Ransom (Age 2.75) to the USS Alabama. We wanted to show his little toddler brain the biggest boat he’d ever seen.


This place is really neat and I highly recommend it to anyone passing through the Mobile area, with or without a preschooler. The main attraction is a WWII-era battleship that you can just wander around as you please and take it all in. Almost all the doors are open, with color coded tours, informational plaques, room labels, and the occasional uniform-wearing mannequin. Everything is as it was in the ’40s, from the dentist chair to the missile silos. (well, probably without the live ammo now.)

Really, its SO LARGE that its nearly impossible to see everything. Housing over 2,000 people during its service period, I mean can you imagine? That’s about the size of our TOWN. With Ransom in tow, we managed to see about 7% of the place, and that was plenty.

Deck hands of all sizes can try out many arrays of awesome brass knobs and gauges.


Everyone also has to try out the bunk beds.. its a requirement. I believe these were actually the infirmary bunks. One of the coolest things I heard all day: Scout troops (boy and girl both) can reserve the place OVERNIGHT for a sleepover. How amazing would that be? I need to volunteer as a chaperone.


Actually, being in the belly of the ship seemed to make Ransom a wee bit anxious. He begged to take every possible exit path out to the light. So after we finished half of the ‘yellow’ tour, out we went.

On the ship’s deck there are plenty of guns to play with and turrets to crawl in. In this photo I actually think Ransom is actually excited about being able to see 18-wheelers on the highway from here. FOCUS, child.


While you’re on the deck, you can climb all up through the center tower of the ship as well. I mean, WAY up there. Observe the location of the flags in the previous photo compared to the next.


Don’t they look so emo?

Although there were several mini-meltdowns and lots of white-knuckles on the railing, Ransom had a great time. And no one fell overboard.

And now for the ‘throwback’ portion of the post, here’s a shot of me and my then boyfriend touring the place in 2004. Aren’t we babies?


The Frozen Berry Blues: A Tutorial

Taste Testing.  Gotta make sure we got a good crop!

Taste Testing. Gotta make sure we got a good crop!

One of my favorite childhood summer memories is picking blueberries with my Mom in New Jersey when we would go to visit my grandparents.  We’d go to one of two of our favorite spots, both parks not far from my grandparents’ house and pick the little ripe berries off the bush.  But those berries never lasted long.  We’d pick them and eat them mostly…or bring home a small bucket of them that would be gone in a few brief days…eaten in tiny bowls with cool whip….or just stuffed inside hungry mouths.  My mom tells stories of blueberry picking when she was about my age with her irish-wolfhound who apparently would eat the berries right out of the bucket if Mom wasn’t watching.

The last time I went New-Jersey-blueberry picking, I was about 14…and it wasn’t until last summer that I got the opportunity to go again, this time in South Carolina with Keith and his family.  But they didn’t just pick a few to snack on during the ride home.  Nope…they came with their game faces on…and in a few hours we walked away with about 20 pounds of blueberries to freeze and enjoy throughout the year.  I couldn’t imagine what in the world we would do with the coolers of tasty berries we drove home in my car, but a cobbler, some muffins, and lots of bowls of plain berries later, our seemingly endless stockpile only got us through about 6 months.  So this year,  Keith and I decided to double our efforts, found a local spot this time, and set to work.  On our first trip, we brought home about 30 pounds and made our first deposit into our deep freezer.  The second time, we brought backup…our friends Blake and Rebecca and their two little girls who turned out to be expert pickers.  (“Look at THIS berry!  It’s so tiny and cute!” or “Come down THIS aisle!  I found the best bush of them all!”)  At the end of the day, each family took home about 15 pounds.

Rebecca and I proudly displaying our haul.

Rebecca and I proudly displaying our haul.

As we carried our bounty to the cars, Rebecca and I chatted about the best way to freeze all that we had picked.  So today, I bring you my “recipe” of what’s worked for us….a method passed along by Keith’s mom and step-dad last year.  And no worries…there are still blueberries to be picked this year, at least in Tennessee….although the clock is ticking, so you’ll want to get them this week!

"Straight off the bush and into your mouth!" says the seven-year-old.

“Straight off the bush and into your mouth!” says the six-year-old with glee.  I’m pretty sure in the far reaches of my parent’s photo album, there is a similar photo of me at that age doing the same exact thing.

How to Freeze Blueberries

What You’ll Need:


*1 gallon freezer bags & a drinking straw OR the new vacuum seal bag sets.

*cookie sheets with a rim

*box fan

What to Do Pictorial Guide:

1. Pick your blueberries.

I'd recommend doing this with family and friends.  So much fun.

I’d recommend doing this with family and friends. So much fun.

2. Spread the berries out in a single layer on the cookie sheets.  DO NOT WASH THEM**.  Make sure you pick off any stems and weed out any smushed berries, unripe berries, leaves or other non-tasty tidbits that might have gotten in your bucket.

**The bluish dusty stuff that you find on your berries is actually nutritious….plus washing then freezing them can make the skin tough.  You might want to check with your berry farm to make sure they don’t use any pesticides that could be harmful.  That could be a game-changer.

Keith does some quality control on our second round of berries.

Keith does some quality control on our second round of berries.

3. Lay the sheets of berries out in front of the box fan and turn it on high.

Fan? Check.  Pans of berries? Check.

Fan? Check. Pans of berries? Check.

4. When the berries are dry, put the pans in the freezer for at least an hour to overnight, or as long as it takes for the berries to feel frozen.  (This way the berries freeze evenly and won’t stick together.)

5. Pack the frozen berries into gallon ziplock bags, about 3/4 full so they lie flat well.  Close the bags most of the way and use the straw (or vaccum sealer) to suck out any extra air.  This helps reduce the buildup of frost on the inside and helps reduce freezer burn.

So many bags of blueberries in the freezer!  Yummmmy!

So many bags of blueberries in the freezer! Yummmmy!

6.  Take a handful out of the freezer when you need em.  I did some research that said that blueberries will last over a year frozen this way….but I can’t imagine you letting them last that long.  They are just too delicious!

Southern Paleo Whole30 Semi-Healthy Turnip Greens

Happy Friday people! This recipe comes to you out of a moment of desperation at the local Sunflower (its like a tiny grocery store) where I was attempting to shop for groceries, and had the following item on my list: vegetable.  While Sunflower does not abound with selection, I wanted variety and noticed they had an impressive array of large leafy greens.  When in Rome (i.e. rural Mississippi), right?

I’ve since made this recipe 3 times, so obviously the Johnsons are fans.  I don’t recall eating greens of any form in my life prior to this, so I’m filing this under ‘I can’t believe I didn’t try this sooner’, right next to cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Perhaps my taste buds are going extinct in my old age, but actually Ransom even eats these, albeit in tiny bits.  He loves bacon though. Who doesn’t?  So here’s the recipe, taken straight from the reputable source ‘‘.

I think that technically, if you use the correct type of bacon, this recipe is shockingly both Paleo and Whole30 friendly.  Maybe its kind of healthy too, as leafy green things tend to be.  Except the healthiness probably gets all neutralized by the bacon grease.  I don’t know.. I like bacon though.  Certainly this is more healthy than say, kraft mac-n-cheese.

You will need:

  • 4 or more slices of bacon, chopped into 2-inch pieces.  {I don’t think you can use too much here.}
  • 2-3 bunches of turnip greens
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 red pepper flakes, optional
  • salt, to taste

turnip_greens (2)This looks like a lot, but trust me it cooks WAAAAAAAAY down.


1.  Open the bundles and rinse the greens at least 3 times in cold water. (Otherwise they’ll be a little ‘gritty’.)

2.  Cut out large stems and chop. I use the following technique on large stems.

turnip_greens (3)Slicing off the stem.

3.  Cook bacon in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until it begins to brown; add onions and continue cooking, stirring, until onions are softened.

turnip_greens (4)Nothing will make your house smell more awesome than frying bacon and onions together.

4. Add the garlic, pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute longer.

5. Add the greens, a little at a time, until wilted.

6. Add the chicken broth and bring back to a boil.

turnip_greens (5)That’s right, WAAAAAY down.

7.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour. Taste and add salt, if needed. You will need the salt if you skimped on bacon, you health nut you.

8.  Eat!

turnip_greens (1)Greens are the least photogenic dish on the planet, so I added a chevron background. Boom.

Up next for me: Collards? Beets? Artichokes?

DIY Floor Refinishing and Other Moving Adventures

We’ve been living in the new house for just over a month now, so its high time for an update post.  A lot has happened around here already, and the longer we live here, the clearer our vision of the ‘Johnson Nature Center’ becomes.  Really the house suits us so well.  I’m realizing how naturally everything is transitioning from ‘their home’ to ‘our home’.  We’re liking it better and better all the time, and we have many plans and dreams.  We want a comfortable, well-utilized, organized interior, and an exterior with every sort of adventure and fun to be had – a garden, deep woods, a tree house, a porch swing, maybe some chickens of our very own?  Simple as that.

Our first adventure started almost immediately.  Having been homeowners for approximately 52 hours, we pulled up all the vinyl tile in the “great” room… i.e. the living/dining/kitchen/laundry combo room.  That’s the majority of the house, approximately 1000 sq ft or so, but it was kind of like biting your finger nails.  Once you start, there’s no stopping till its done.  Its too addictive.

houseupdate1_August surveys our progress.

The tiles were only glued to themselves, not the floor at all.  How awesome is that?!?  So the “demo” portion of the project literally only took three hours.  Underneath, the soft pine floors were in mediocre condition.  Here’s a shot of the one of the worst areas.


These babies were walked on for 20 yrs or so and were definitely in need of some attention.

Oh, we’d be smart to refinish this before we move in,” we thought.

So we put our moving plans on hold and off we went to Lowe’s.  We used about $500 worth of sandpaper/polyurethane/brushes/masks/so on.  Not a minimal expenditure, but much more tolerable than the $2k-$3k cost to hire it out.  We also rented a Varathane EZ-V ($40/day from Lowes).   The sander is very DIY friendly, i.e. it won’t grind a hole through your house like the professional models.  But the downside is that its SLOW.  We started at 9pm on a Friday and the sanding portion alone took the entire weekend.

houseupdate8_August on the first pass with the sander – it takes 3 total.

The big EZ-V can’t reach into corners or right up to the wall, so we got creative on those areas.  I mostly did this part while August wrangled the EZ-V.  My tools of choice were, an orbital sander, a weird “Mouse” sander, and then just plain sanding by hand.  Oh, the massive pile of sand paper we went though.  And our floors are pine, I can’t imagine how much you would need for a harder wood like oak.

photo 2That wild look in my eye is from doing this exact thing for HOURS

Then  I applied four coats of polyurethane over the next week, one coat per day.. I used semi-gloss for the first two coats and frankly, things were looking TERRIBLE.  Like, tears in your pillow terrible.  Like, what was so wrong with the old finish?  Why did we not just leave well enough alone and buy a lot of rugs?

For the third and fourth coats, I switched to a satin finish.  MUCH much better.  1000% better.  Whew.

In between each coat, I also sanded the entire floor by hand with 120 grit sandpaper (just to scuff it up and smooth out bubbles).  Sanding was followed by vacuuming and then a once-over with a mineral-spirits-soaked rag to pick up dust.  Note to self: next time, figure out a way to rent something to do that scuff sanding.  I’m SURE something exists.

It was truly difficult task. I had the appropriate mask but the fumes were still gross. Knees and back totally wrecked.  Muscles sore everywhere.  In the end, the results are pretty good.  No, its not perfect.  And we saved, oh $2500 or so by doing it ourselves.  That’s nice and all but I’m not sure it was worth it.  Seriously, it was work.  In hindsight, the thought of spending $3k to have some other guy just handle it?  (Alternate note to self: next time, figure out a way to earn $3k extra and skip this mess.)

Truly though, we do love to Do It Ourselves, no matter how hard the work it.

Having used an oil-based finish, we then had to let the floors air out for about a WEEK.  And THEN we started moving in.  Nowadays, we’re mostly done with the moving portion, but all the things remain in a fairly chaotic state.  On a good day, the kitchen looks like this

:houseupdate6_Floors looking nice and satin-y, yes?

Whose bright idea was it to sell all of our furniture in Colorado before we moved back?  Me?  A questionable decision for sure.  Yes, in theory it made sense to dump all that junky furniture and not move it all the way across the country.  But the reality is now this:  We don’t own any drawers.  No dresser.  No desk.  And I am the slowest decision maker on the planet, so one month later, we still have very few drawers.

We are using a simple cardboard box system in place of a dresser.  You know what, it works just fine.

IMG_1544.JPG (2)From left to right: shorts drawer, t-shirt drawer, pajama drawer

So, my future holds a lot of overly considered purchases.  I’m terribly indecisive, frugal, and picky.  Thus far, I have procured two rugs and one sofa, although only one rug has arrived. Here it is, my happy space in a sea of insanity.

houseupdate7_The new rug

A wider frame would show approximately 10 million legos scattered on the floor.  So yeah, the house interior needs a lot of work and a lot of organizational bins.  But we do have nice floors.


Further Reflections on the Amazon

View of one of the villages from the front of our boat.

View of one of the villages from the front of our boat.

The last time I posted about my trip to Brazil with Justice & Mercy Amazon, I was still fresh off the flight home and my heart was still reeling, so I gave you facts, because facts are easy.  They don’t require heart-searching or deep thought, emotional processing or involvement of feelings, morals or points of view.  Facts are simply statements of things that are, and truth be told, that was the easy way out.  But since then I’ve been hoping to bring you something that reads more like an Ann Patchett novel and less like the REI summer catalogue (although camping gear advertisements can be fascinating).  A way for you to see what I saw in the eyes of the people I met, hear their voices, comprehend their needs, and experience the Lord as I did.

This particular trip was a survey of sorts…to connect with villages along the Rio Negro, the branch of the Amazon River just outside the Brazilian city of Manaus where JMA has a ministry center…in the middle of the jungle.  But beyond Evernote files of photos and GPS coordinates and several legal pads of carefully documented notes of physical needs: diagrams of improvements that can be made in the future to school and church buildings, plans for sustainable projects and school supplies, we came home with hearts and minds full of stories of people.  Stories that didn’t end when I stepped off the boat and headed home to my tidy house in America, but stories of people that are continuing on each day and are being lived even as you to read this.

As I clambered off the Discovery boat and down the gangplank into one of the villages…a precarious task in and of itself that was further complicated by the ever present violin strapped in a pack on my back…I noticed a teenage girl with highlighted hair watching our group with keen interest.  She made a beeline for me after I played my violin in our short worship service, stuck her hand out, and said in perfect English, “Hello, my name is Emily…it’s nice to meet you.”  Although this ended up being the extent of her non-Portuguese language skills, I commandeered one of our translators for a few minutes so we could chat.  She wanted to know if I was friends with Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, or any of the boys from One Direction. I was curious about her knowledge of pop culture and she explained that she’d only recently moved in from another village where a friend had a TV that picked up the South American Disney Channel. My mind went immediately to my niece who is almost thirteen years old and also named Emily, and how she too loves celebrities and fixing her hair and makeup.  But unlike American Emily who is presently absorbed in summer break activities before returning to middle school in the fall, Brazilian Emily is not currently attending school as the government has failed to provide the village with a teacher for anyone over grade 6.  Teenage pregnancy is common among these villages as many of the girls have little opportunity for school or work or any kind of spiritual discipleship or guidance.  We’d seen it over and over in our travels on the river, and several of Emily’s peers, who were standing a short distance away, were already balancing babies on their hips.  My heart broke both for these other girls and at the thought that Emily might be next.  I could tell that she was smart and that she had big dreams, but also that she was impressionable and could easily be swayed by the things that the world paints as desirable.  The wistful glances she threw as a few boys her age with trendy haircuts ambled by us made me afraid for her heart and her future.

Another team member gave her a Bible and asked if she’d heard about Jesus.  She said that yes….some other missionaries had come and told the village all about Him and that she’d probably believe some day.  Just not yet.  As we sailed off, I watched her splashing around in the river, flirting madly with a boy who seemed a few years older than she was.  I just wanted to reach out and pull her on-board with us and take her home and disciple her.  Because that was not an option, I fervently prayed that she would be kept safe and that she would not only be provided for physically, but that the longing in her heart would be met; that she could find her identity in Christ and the prosperous hope and future that He plans for her…and for each of us…to have. (Jer29:11)

Emily and Me.  My prayers for this young heart are constant.

Emily and Me. My prayers for this young heart are constant.

Several of my team members and I met for dinner last Thursday night to debrief from our trip and brainstorm ways that we might translate all the information we collected into game-plans for future trips.  As we took turns sharing memories around the dinner table, a single theme seemed to resonate in all that was being said: our ministry is nothing if personal connections are not made.  And doesn’t that perfectly mirror the gospel?  That Christ calls us not to a checklist of good things to do in our fleeting time on earth, but to relationship with Him and with the Father, and with each other.  I’ve been reading through the Biblical New Testament books of Mark, Luke and John this past week and time and time again there are examples of how Jesus conducted His earthly ministry: by meeting a physical need and pointing the person straight to the Father.

“Son, your sins are forgiven…Get up, take your mat and go home” (Mk2:5&11)

“Daughter, your faith has healed you…Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mk5:34)

“He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God…AND healed those who needed healing.” (Lk9:11)

I love this model.  Jesus demonstrated that it is equally important to give someone a food bag as it is to share the Gospel with them.  To give a young girl an education and a useful skill as well as discipleship and instilling in her a sense of self-worth in Christ.  In line with this, JMA seeks to empower and bring dignity to the people of the Amazon River Basin not only through sustainable projects, relief supplies, building projects and education, but also through teaching the Word, care for the jungle pastors, and other forms of evangelism and discipleship.  I am excited to watch as they continue to find new avenues to further the Kingdom of God in Brazil, and blessed to have played at least a small role in their work.

{If you would like to make a donation to the ongoing work in the Amazon or participate in a future trip to Brazil, you can find more information by visiting the Justice & Mercy International website and clicking on their link to The Amazon.}

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 9.03.50 PM

Weekend Update

Today I interrupt our regularly scheduled Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting system to bring you a brief Saturday blog entry.

Since my post last Wednesday about our first egg, I’ve had lots of folks wondering if we’ve had more eggs….and the answer is YES!….several times over.  Because I’m a graph kind of girl, here’s a little chart I whipped up for you this morning, followed by some egg and chicken photos for your viewing pleasure.  Based on the breed norms for New Hampshire Red chickens, I’m expecting to get approximately 100-140 eggs from Jane by the end of the calendar year.  I’ve also heard that chickens often stop laying for a little bit in the winter when it gets cold.  So instead of an every-other day thing, I’m thinking she’ll lay a whole bunch through, say, November, and then maybe go a few weeks or months without laying any.  So far my theory seems to be accurate, but we’ll see how this all plays out.

Can you believe we've gotten an egg 4 out of the past 5 days?

Can you believe we’ve gotten an egg 4 out of the past 5 days?

Eggs 1 through 4, labeled by date.  I know we won't always be able to do this record keeping system for every egg, but for now, it's lots of fun.

Eggs 1 through 4, labeled by date. I know we won’t always be able to do this record keeping system for every egg, but for now, it’s lots of fun.

A little morning Bethany/Jane time.  She's such a sweet girl.

A little morning Bethany/Jane time. She’s such a sweet girl.

Ginna’s Outback Slaw

I’ve always been a picky eater.  Always.  I think it runs in the family because my grandmother used to tell tales of how sometimes all she could get my mom to eat were Hershey bars and gallons upon gallons of milk.  And I won’t even get started on my Uncle Bill.  Although he now loves lots of random things (like Indian food), as a kid I’m not sure what exactly he ate.  For me….everything had to be “plain” and if one food touched another? Forgeddaboudit.  I would refuse to eat either food.

Things started to turn a corner in my early twenties, and then got amp-ed up to a whole new level last year when I started the challenge of tasting and cooking one new food a month. (You can read all about that adventure by checking out my list here.)  And of course, being on the road as much as I am for work (I’m a violinist/personal assistant/tour manager in case you’ve been dying to know what I do in real-life), finding things to eat as a picky eater can be difficult.  I used to subsist on rolls before I went Paleo.  And once, I ate five Klondike bars out of a Green Room freezer at a gig.  I’ve gotten into a routine now where I can pretty much figure it out (I pack healthy treats in my bag, take advantage of any free time to find healthy food that I like, or request it ahead of time when that’s an option.) but the olden days….well…..they were tough.

Although my mother insists that I used to like coleslaw as a child (and I actually have a vague recollection of that), somewhere along the way, I stopped liking it.  Big Time.  Then one day…at this one event….someone assured me that the coleslaw being served didn’t taste anything like coleslaw and was delicious.  The ONLY reason I believed them was because my sweet friend Ginna Siniard was the cook at this particular event, and I’ve never eaten anything that Ginna made that wasn’t dee-lish.  Also, it just didn’t look like the coleslaw I knew and didn’t like.  So I decided to taste it.  Three servings later, I asked her for the recipe…and permission to post it on the blog, both of which she was gracious enough to give me.

So here it is.  I’ve named it Ginna’s Outback Slaw in honor of both the chef and the event where I consumed more than my fair share of it.  The perfect side at any summer BBQ.  Maybe you’re throwing one of those this weekend and this recipe is just what you need?

Ginna’s Outback Slaw

Ingredients: Veggies
* 2 packages of tri color slaw
* celery and green onion, chopped (you can often find this pre-chopped at the grocery store if you are in a hurry or are making a large batch)

Ingredients: Dressing
*1 Cup vegetable oil
*6 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
*4 Tablespoonssugar
* boullion from Ramin noodles package

Ingredients: Crunchyness
*1 package ramine noodles, crushed
*1 Cup sliced almonds
*1 Cup sunflower kernels  (please, no shells)


1. Mix veggies together.

2. Heat vinegar enough to dissolve sugar and bouillon. Add to oil, mix well.

3. Toast crunchy bits on cookie sheet until crisp.

4. Toss dressing and veggies together.

5. Add crunchy bits just before serving, so it doesn’t get soggy.

6. Enjoy!!

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