Archive | August 2013

A little family, a little music, a little fender-bender…

Last Friday Keith and I flew to Raleigh, North Carolina to visit with his dad and stepmom.  With our busy schedules and the miles in between us, we sometimes only get to see them at Thanksgiving, so having a weekend to go visit was quite the treat.  My mom was able to get away that weekend as well, so we met her in the airport in Atlanta and she flew with us to Raleigh…the first time we’d been on a plane together since I was 14!  (I had to laugh as she obediently pulled out the safety card and read through it during the flight attendants’ demonstration, commenting on how the pictorial guide was actually super confusing…..)  We had a great Friday night eating dinner together and then walking around the Sarah P. Duke memorial garden at Duke University.  Such a beautiful place.

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A view of the coy pond and steps from a little overlook. So peaceful!

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I was so excited that this great blue heron let me get this close! I was only about 10 feet away when I took this shot.

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My mom and I in front of one of the fountains. (Why yes, those ARE the boots I mentioned wanting a few posts ago! They were a birthday gift from my sweet husband and I LOVE them!)

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The chicken coop at the learning garden. My favorite spot!

Keith's dad explains the fine art of tobacco picking.

Keith’s dad explains the fine art of tobacco picking whilst looking all Little Shop of Horrors.  (“Feeeeeed me Seymour, feed me!”)

A few months ago a group of folks from the Greensboro Outback America chapter asked if I would be interested in coming to town and playing a concert of my own.  While I’ve had lots opportunities to play in bands of other musicians, with symphonies and even played solo recital pieces growing up, I’ve never had my own full-length show.  The idea of it was as exhilarating as it was intimidating, but after a few months of planning and practice, I was beyond excited to “get the show on the road.”  Saturday morning, my mom stayed in Raleigh for some more hang time with Keith’s family, while Keith and I headed about an hour away to pick my band up from the airport.  After an amazing lunch at the Boba House, we were on our way to Hope Chapel where the concert was going to be held that night when we were rear-ended.  Fortunately no one was hurt (although I’m pretty sure the girl who hit me won’t have a car again any time soon.)

Thankfully, this was the other car, although my rental had it's rear bumper "rearranged" pretty good as well.

Thankfully, this was the other car, although my rental had it’s rear bumper “rearranged” pretty severly as well.

The concert that night was truly a dream come true.  Since I started taking violin lessons at age two and a half, I’ve dreamed of getting to play my own show and it’s surreal that last weekend that dream became a reality.  We played 90 minutes of some of my favorite songs: hymn arrangements, bluegrass cover tunes, even one or two classical pieces thrown in for good measure.  I was blessed to share the stage with two top-notch players, my long-time friend Adam Moritz on guitar, and a new friend (who I actually met that morning when I picked him up from the airport) Gabe Dixon on keys.  These guys played their hearts out and made me sound good! It was awesome to have my family there along with some other friends and ministry partners. I loved every second of the show and pray that I’ll have the opportunity to do it again soon.

Showtime!  Concert in Greensboro.

Showtime! Concert in Greensboro.

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L to R: Keith’s dad, Keith, me, my mom, and Dreama, Keith’s stepmom. So thankful for such an amazingly supportive family!

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Best backup band a girl could have: Adam Moritz (acoustic guitar) & Gabe Dixon (keys)

My family and band all flew/drove back home early Sunday morning but I was able to stay and lead worship with the Hope Chapel praise band for their morning service.  It was such a great instrumentation: two acoustic guitars, steel guitar, upright bass and fiddle.  I was in Heaven.  I also got to spend the afternoon with my sweet friend Caroline and her parents before heading back to Raleigh to catch my flight home.

I don’t know what will happen next in my music path, but I’m so thankful to the Greensboro Outback Men’s group for inviting me to come and play.  You let me fulfill a life dream and I’m grateful for the opportunity to play music for you and your community.

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Yard Tour

We’ve had our new place for nearly three months now. I’ve shared various tours of the indoors (here’s one) and I’ll put up more pics as we sort out the interior situation, but progress is slooooow.   So for today, I’ll take you on a tour of the grounds.

We are kind of remotely located now, but we’re really loving it – all members of the family including the dog who couldn’t be happier.  Everything is so peaceful and serene.  We have ivy covered trees, lighting bugs, and the neighbors’ roosters crowing off in the distance.  Here’s a shot of the driveway I took early one morning.  I think the gravel is one of my favorite parts… Its so wholesome.

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This guy used to greet you by the driveway.  I guess he was the previous owner’s ‘scare crow’, but he wasn’t in the garden.  Alas, we pulled him out of the ground last week.  Can you believe it took me 3 months to do it?  So creepy.

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Near the house we have a greenhouse.  Its sitting right in some large ivy-covered oak trees, so I’m not sure how much sun it actually gets.  It should get more in the winter after the leaves fall, but for now we have a 100% shady greenhouse.  The siding & roof could stand to be replaced.

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But I kinda like it.  It has potential I think.  Potential to become a dog house?  Guest room?  Sewing room?  I’m just kidding, but really what am I going to do with a greenhouse.  It has water, electricity, and a propane heater.

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Beyond the greenhouse stands the “Shop”.  Here we keep the lawnmower, tractor, tools, and whatever else that needs a home.  I don’t mind the gray but the maroon accents aren’t really my thing.

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Ransom stores his truck here too.  Shenanigans like this occur in the yard regularly.

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Past the “shop” is the “shed”.  The inside of the shed is still mostly bare, except for the construction of Ransom’s (sssssssh) birthday present.  Just what we need – another outbuilding.  He’s gonna love it though.

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And behind everything, we have a small fish pond.  This is a great place for quick fishing trips, and to get Abby some exercise.  She loves to swim.  The fish are all tiny though, and we think overpopulated.  So, there’s probably some work to be done here in the future as well.

IMG_2864I skipped the garden but there’s nothing too exciting going on in there right now.  Its not even terribly overgrown because we figured out how to get the lawn mower inside the fence.  Hurrah!

Cooking With Figs

The figs have continued to ripen out on the trees here, but the pace has slowed way down. No more picking half a bucket full every day for preserves, but that’s okay.  I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate them into our meals, and this is my favorite recipe so far. Its adapted from Southern Living (where else?), and when I first read the ingredients, I kind of gasped a bit.

The recipe could’ve been named ‘Best of Johnson Gardens 2013’.  Of all the ingredients, I only needed to purchase three things – the steak, the cheese, and some parsley.  All the other fresh ingredients are readily available in our garden, like so:

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What luck eh?  I’m definitely adding parsley to the garden plan for next year.

I’ve made this recipe three times in 5 weeks, and its definitely a keeper for the Johnsons.  Quick, easy, low cost, and really tasty.  And very unique.  We have been really blessed by the fruits of the previous owners’ labor and I sure plan to keep it up, brown thumbs and all.

If you don’t have figs, I’d substitute strawberries in the salsa.  And for the steak, I’ve used skirt, flank, and a thinnish sirloin all with good results.

Rosemary Steak with Fig Salsa

Ingredients

Marinade:
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Fig Salsa:

  • 3 cups chopped fresh figs
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

And of course:

  • 1 (1 1/4-lb.) flank or skirt steak
  • 3 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled

Preparation

  1. Mix up the marinade ingredients and rub onto both sides of steak; cover and chill 30 minutes to 4 hours.
  2. Preheat your oven on ‘broil’.  I used the high setting.  Cook the steak in a pan about 8 inches from the heat, for about 5-8 minutes per side.
  3. Let the steak rest for 5 minutes then slice into thin strips at an angle to the grain.
  4. Mix up the fig salsa. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Spoon fig salsa over steak, and sprinkle with Gorgonzola.

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Up next – is figgy pudding a real thing? 🙂  off to google…

The “Hens” and the Bees

I love it whenever I run into someone I know and the conversation turns to my chickens.  Since there are a few questions that always seem to get asked, I thought I’d just do a whole blog post and answer them since I’m sure that there are others of you out there that are curious as well.  Folks always start with:

“So are they high-maintenance?”  – The answer is no, not really.  At least no more work than your average pet.  If you’re down with walking a dog, scooping cat litter box, cleaning out a hamster cage or buying food for your fish, you can probably handle chickens.   We have an automatic food dispenser that we fill about once a week, and an automatic waterer that we fill every 3 days or so.  In addition, we collect eggs once a day, and I take a shovel and remove any large piles of poop from under their roost branch every 3 days or so.  (The girls apparently go potty like crazy while the snooze at night.)  All that takes about 15 minutes.  The most time-consuming part is the set up process….choosing/building a coop, and the first few days of making sure everyone is ok.  Then it’s pretty easy going unless you have a sick chicken, etc.  But again, that’s with any pet.

“So are you doing this just for the eggs?” I like to call the chickens our “pets with benefits.”  Because the start up costs even for a small flock of 2-6 birds are more than a goldfish or hamster, or even a cat or dog sometimes (a good coop will cost you anywhere from $500-$1000 to buy or build), you can’t go into it thinking that you’ll save money on eggs.  Plus, our family usually eats about a dozen and a half eggs a week, more if I’m baking or cooking something, and a chicken only lays an average of 4-6 eggs a week, so between our three laying girls, there are still days that we have to supplement with a dozen or so from the farmer’s market or grocery.  Plus, “pullet eggs” which is what they lay up to the first year, are about the size of the “medium” or “large” eggs at the Kroger.  So if you’re used to purchasing the “Extra large” or “jumbo” eggs, you’ll need about two backyard-hen eggs for every one egg.  All that being said, our eggs are for certain way more delicious.  We look at the chickens as a hobby, and the fresh eggs as a yummy return on our investment.

Bottom line: if you’re looking to save money, this isn’t the way to go.  But if you’re looking for super yummy eggs, a fun hobby, and a great way to teach kids responsibility, then chicken farming might be for you!

And then after that, there’s always one person that lingers a little and pulls me aside, casually, of course, and says something to the gist of…..

“So how do you get all these eggs if you don’t have a rooster?”  Um, err….well…..so……I’ll try to do this to where things won’t get awkward for either of us.  Once a hen reaches maturity (read “goes through puberty”), her body produces  (on average) one egg a day.  (If you missed 8th grade biology, this happens to female humans too….just….thank goodness…..not once a day.)  If there’s a rooster around….and, um,  “the daddy chicken loves the mommy chicken VERY MUCH,”  then the egg that the hen lays might have a baby chicken in it.  There are methods of finding out called “candling” that show if there is an embryo (chick) inside the egg or not.  However, if you don’t have a rooster around, that doesn’t mean that the hen doesn’t lay the egg.  Her body still makes it, and she still lays it….there’s just no way for the egg to have a baby chicken in it.  An unfertilized egg is what we enjoy making into breakfast and there’s no chance that you just prevented a chicken from being born.

Whew.  I’m sweating.  And for any of you trying to figure out how to have “the talk” with your kids, do not send them my way….unless you wanted to read this blog together…but that just seems weird.

Anyway.  For any of you contemplating chickens, I hope this helped just a little.  And I say go for it!

Monk Chairs

My Monday morning scene.  Chickens, chairs and coffee....much cheaper than therapy.

My Monday morning scene. Chickens, chairs and coffee….much cheaper than therapy.

If ever there was a day that my soul needed to start off with a cuppajoe and a few Psalms, it’s today.  If ever there was a day where I absolutely did not have time to sit down and drink a cuppajoe and read a few Psalms, that day is also today.  And it’s making me miss my time at the monastery when I was able to just be still and pray and read and enjoy God’s creation.  But amidst all this busy-ness, I decided to make myself sit and be still for a few minutes to write this blog post and to pray for the week to come.

It’s crazy around here.  Jane the chicken has an eye infection.  Saturday, I drove 7 hours to help host a baby shower for my six-and-a-half-month-pregnant college bestie, and then turned around and drove the 7 hours right back home yesterday.  I’m taking a violin lesson in exactly one hour from now.  I have plans tonight.  I have an audition tomorrow night.  I have an all-day rehearsal Wednesday.  I have a full-time job.  You do not want to see the mountain of laundry piled up in the laundry-room right now.  And my sweet co-blogger is also swamped…in fact, she’s on a work-trip right now, so everyone is feeling busy.  Good-busy, but busy nonetheless.

Have you ever seen “Pawn Stars” or one of those other shows where people bring interesting trinkets in to sell?  It cracks me up every time because the people who run the pawn shop always say “Um, that’s really cool but I have no idea if it’s real/what it’s worth.  Let me call my buddy who knows all about this exact genre of random item and he’ll come by and look at it.”  And Keith and I always laugh at how he has “a buddy” who knows about every exact weird thing on the planet.  Well, I’m about to do that to you sort of.  When we were at the Abbey, one of my favorite spots was to curl up in these “monk chairs” in the garden.  They were so unique looking and so amazingly comfortable.  Ergonomic, simple, stylish; I wanted some.  So we took photos and then we called “Keith’s buddy” Ryan who happens to be an amazing furniture maker on the side.  We sent Ryan the photos, he worked his custom-build magic, and this weekend on my drive, I swung by his workshop and picked up our very own monk chairs.

I’m not sure where in the landscape of our backyard they will land, but for now, they’re on the deck so I can sit in them and write this blog and watch the chickens scratching around for bugs and weeds.  It’s funny.  I’ve only been here ten minutes, but already I just feel calmer and more prepared to take on the day.  Maybe part of productivity is knowing how to prepare yourself.  And I know that I need a moment of peace and prayer and a good cup of coffee to gear up for the day.  And a healthy dose of chicken-hilarity.  (Louisa had a shiny new egg waiting for us when we got up, and Jane just toddled up the ramp into the henhouse squawking, so we should have a second egg today in just a few minutes).

So I pray all of your Monday’s are off to respective good starts no matter what that looks like.  If you dropped your kids off for the first day of school this morning, if you went to work at a job you’ve been doing for the past ten years, if you’re still nestled under the covers willing yourself to Just. Get. Out. Of. Bed.  Take a moment.  Find your “monk chair” and relax and be thankful for all that is going on.  And then get out there and live life to the fullest.

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custom-made monk chair. If you want your own, leave me a comment and I’ll get you in touch with our carpenter friend.

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monk-chairs from the back and side. so simple, and so comfy.

P.S.  If you live in the Greensboro, North Carolina area, I’m playing my first solo violin show at Hope Chapel THIS SATURDAY, AUGUST 24TH, 2013.  It’s free and open to the public and my back-up band is crazy good so you should come.  Would love to see you there!  I’ll be the girl with the violin.

And the winner is……

So it’s Saturday morning already and the results of the Annie Downs double-book-giveaway are in!!!  We loved all the comments and book recommendations…for sure the best crop of comments we’ve had in a while.  But, in this game, there can only be one winner

…and that winner is…..

Leslie!

yay, Leslie!  She slid her entry last night in just under the wire with the shortest comment of them all, but takes home the gold anyway.  Leslie….check your email inbox…all we need is your mailing address so we can send a little “Perfectly Unique” and “Speak Love” your way next week.

For everyone else…thanks so much for participating in our first-ever giveaway.  If you still want to check out the books, you can pre-order Speak Love here (it releases next Tuesday, August 20th!) and purchase Perfectly Unique here.  I promise they are amazing and while they are aimed at girls ages 13-18….but I always say they are great for ANY girl who was once a teen.

Thanks to everyone who joined in the fun!  We loved having ya’ll come by.  Enjoy your weekend…and if you somehow missed Mary-Hall’s hilarious post on the woes of Mississippi’s Craigslist site yesterday, you should check that out here.

See ya’ll Monday!

How (Not To) Use Craigslist

Good thing Bethany is carrying the blog these days with coherent and meaningful posts.  (Go HERE to enter her birthday book giveaway which is ending in like, 2 hours). And then I come along on Friday with something mildly humorous and fairly useless. Alas. Last Friday I showed you my new couch, and FYI we are definitely keeping it.  However, we could still use several more furniture items in the Johnson residence.  Couple that with our new ‘no tv household’ status, and what I’m left with is a LOT of time to browse Craigslist.

Oh Craigslist, you addicting beast.  I bought and then sold all our home furnishings in Colorado with lots of success and very little drama.  And now in Mississippi, well its just not the same.  And yet I still spend at least a couple hours a week perusing what’s for sale here.  I love a good treasure hunt, but sometimes enough is enough.

So, listen up Mississippi craigslist’ers (who certainly don’t read this blog.. unfortunately), here is what you are doing wrong.  {Read this in kind of a condescending, know-it-all voice.}

#1)  Don’t repost your junk every single day! 

Seriously I get the worst deja vu because you will find the same listings reposted, day after day after day. Give us all a few days in between re-posts, and consider dropping the price when you do.

This is one of my favs.  It gets reposted like, every other day.  Why is no one snatching it up?

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Well, for starters its an ‘elk mount’ for sale in the Furniture category.  And for two, its got to be the ugliest elk mount ever.  Consider these images, a real elk and a real cow, and you decide what’s going on with the $275 ‘elk mount’.

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Seller, just give it up.  Find yourself a different way to make $275.

#2) Don’t overprice it!  Craigslist is for good deals, not retail pricing, especially for used furniture.  Especially used ugly furniture.

Example:  This massively brown sectional..  So classy. You will need a rather large house, that’s for sure.  $800? I wish you all the luck in the world, seller.

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Seriously, ugly used couches have approximately no value.  Just sayin.

#3) You really have to post a picture. 

Nobody buys anything off craigslist that doesn’t have a picture.  Don’t try to squeak by with a ‘text me for pictures’ line in the description either. BTW, if you have a picture on your phone, technology will probably allow you to attach it to the Craiglist listing, one way or another.

I love this guy.  He started the title of his post with ‘LOOK’ and yet, what are we supposed to look at?

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#4) You also need to use words.

A picture is required but ya know, words are also important.  Buyers will use that little search box to search for specific words, so you may get more views if you put in a good description.  Color, shape, genre, style are biggies for searches.  Condition and size are also really nice.

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#5) Know what Craigslist is good for and what its not. 

If you have something that’s really valuable, then Craigslist really isn’t probably the best venue.  I mean, it is FREE to use.  Example:

A $9k globe?  What is the point of reposting this thing (See #1) all the time?  Nobody looking at Craiglist is looking for a $9K globe, and you’re just clogging up my computer screen.  You might want to try an antique dealer of some sort.  Or maybe that pawn shop in Vegas on the History channel… Just throwin’ that out there, but I can promise you, your average collector of really expensive globes is not perusing the Mississippi craiglist.

globeCraiglist is for stuff that’s too big to sell on ebay, that you don’t want anymore, that you don’t mind selling for a smidge less than its worth to have someone come to your house and take it away from you.  K?

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Seriously Craigslist can be the best thing ever and I am only telling you this out of love.  So let’s get it together, okay Jackson?  I’ll still be here lurking to snatch up those deals whenever you’re ready.

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