Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Treasure Hunting

About a week ago, John and I spent time in the Bahamas with my parents aboard my dad's boat Treasure Hunter. The boat is named after the verse, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

While we were there, we certainly saw a lot of underwater treasures. We snorkeled almost every day over beautifully colored coral, spotting several sharks and a 100 pound grouper. We also collected many treasured memories, such as feeding swimming pigs, visiting an island of iguanas, and sharing meals on the back of the boat, overlooking the turquoise water.

But this isn't a blog post meant to recap our travels. Instead, I want to try to capture and share the immense splendor of the sea. Favorite places are very intriguing because they have the power to bring back memories, inspire us, comfort us, challenge us. 

I love snorkeling because it brings me face-to-face (quite literally) with a world that is unknown. The colors, shapes, and magnitude of the coral are difficult to fathom until you're swimming over them. I feel as a stranger in the sea, observing a home I wasn't invited into. At each turn I stumble upon sights that surprise me, such as an underwater grotto with light streaming through the roof like cathedral windows. 

Whether you're traveling this summer or not, we all have places that inspire us. The park in my neighborhood is often where I go to reflect, and John and I have had several meaningful conversations there while walking its paths.

As a part of learning to be present this summer, I want to be mindful of where I am. Where am I storing up my treasures? Am I only spending time somewhere because it's convenient or fun or required? Or is there a greater purpose to where I am, recognizing the beauty of creation or building relationships?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Appreciating Summer

The summer season is the time to slow down and appreciate the longer, lighter days by spending them with friends and family. So before summer slips away, I want to commit myself to taking advantage of a little extra time I'll have now that some weekly activities are on hiatus.

It's often tempting to set out with ambitious plans for the summer - cleaning, organizing, reading that stack of books by the bed - only to be derailed by relaxing and not doing much of anything with my extra time.

Instead of setting big goals for this summer, I want to focus on learning to be present, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. John and I are going to be traveling throughout this summer, so when we are in town, I want to take full advantage of being home. (As a side note, if my blog posts are sporadic this summer, it's because of the fun trips we have planned.)

In front of our new house... soon the screen and awning will be removed, and it will be resided and repainted!
Thanks to Leah for the photo!

Summer is also often spent getting on track for the rest of the year, but this process can leave some people anxious for what lies ahead. To this, I offer the same suggestion: Be present and appreciate the summer season for what it is. Many people receive hope and patience from the verse, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11).

But what is often left out is the context that this verse is in, which I believe adds even more power to the hope it offers. God is speaking to people who have been exiled to live in Babylon. Directly before this verse, God says to them, "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters... But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

Do you see? His plans involve them being present where He has them now. Not where they want to be. Not even where He'll have them in the future. For now they are to be. To plant, grow, and develop through relationships and in community with each other. Now the change - the heart change - can take place.

"Welfare" is "shalom" or peace, and peace will come to the city when we are present there. Live there. Invest our lives there.

This summer, I am excited that John and I will be moving into our new house here in the city of Atlanta. I look forward to being present and getting to know our neighbors. We can't wait to eat dinner out on our porch and invite friends to join us. We're on a journey to be present in the city, and thank you for coming along with us!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What's your strawberry and lime today?

A few weeks ago, I bragged on my husband and posted about how small things really do matter.

I said that when you are aware and intentionally finding small graces during what could be an unmemorable day, suddenly each day is a new adventure.

Well the reverse of this principle is also true. When you purposefully seek out small ways to serve, love, surprise, or thank others, it provides the opportunity to make their day memorable. 

Oftentimes, I think we are hesitant to act on ideas that we have to serve others because the cost outweighs the benefit in our mind. And this thinking negates the intention of the act of service anyway.

Instead, through offering gratitude for small things that happen during my day, I've come to see that I can love others through little gestures as well. 

For instance, last night John and I had a couple over who had never been to our apartment before. Though I had already prepared dinner, I wanted to also show them in a small way that I appreciated them coming over on a Monday night and spending time with us. I quickly sliced a couple strawberries and half of a lime and put in into the water pitcher. Although this took only a few minutes of my time, our guests really appreciated the added touch. (And an entertaining tip sidenote: The water tasted like candy and is great for a summer meal!)

My question to you today is, What's your strawberry and lime? How can you take a minute out of your day and bless someone else? It doesn't need to be costly and overstated. Simply listening to a coworker who you might typically tune out, or writing a short email to let someone know how much you appreciate them... any small gesture can make an impact.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Asian pasta salad: Week of Ginger Finale

A dish called Asian pasta salad kind of reminds me a fusion potluck gone wrong. But before you wrinkle your nose thinking that I'm mixing ginger with some mayonnaise-drenched pasta dish I'll let you know that I really dislike mayonnaise.

Asian pasta salad is instead a great combination of buckwheat noodles, slaw, lots of veggies, and ginger. Yum. So if you want to make your mom something special for dinner tonight, I'd definitely suggest this meal!

Asian Pasta Slaw Salad

Serves 4
6 ounces buckwheat noodles, broken in half
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 red onion, vertically cut in thin strips
1/2 red pepper, vertically cut in thin strips
6 mushrooms, chopped
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
6 cups shredded red cabbage, or Trader Joe's broccoli slaw
1/2 pound shrimp
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper


  1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
  2. While noodles cook, heat 1 tablespoon oil in pan. Add onion, red pepper, and mushrooms. Cook 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in shrimp and cook until done.
  3. Combine soy sauce and next three ingredients in a bowl, and whisk together until combined. 
  4. Add sauce mixture, slaw, and carrots to shrimp mixture. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  5. Add shrimp mixture to drained pasta and toss to coat. Top with green onions and serve.

Friday, May 11, 2012

More sweet and spicy mornings: Day III of A Week of Ginger

Today's recipes for A Week of Ginger show you how to incorporate ginger into baked goods that you want to add an edge too. 

The first is a muffin recipe that is perfect as a dinner side or for breakfast. I used the Better Homes and Gardens "Make-it-Mine Muffins" recipe, but switched it up a bit by adding ginger and lemon zest. With whole wheat flour and applesauce, these ginger muffins are pretty much "guilt free" too.

The second recipe is a sweet and spicy granola combo that is perfect as a stand alone snack or as a topper for yogurt. Enjoy!

Lemon Ginger Muffins 

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup almond milk (or regular or buttermilk)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 Tbsp grated ginger
Zest from 1/2 of lemon

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease twelve muffin cups. In a medium bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside.
  2. In a bowl combine eggs, applesauce, milk, butter, ginger, and lemon zest. Add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Stir just until moistened. (Batter should be lumpy).
  3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each to two-thirds full.
  4. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden. Cool in muffins cups on wire rack for 5 minutes then remove and serve.

Ginger Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 cup raisins


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Mix oats, almonds, and sunflower seeds in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (except the raisins) with a whisk.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the oat mixture and mix well, until the oats are thoroughly coated.
  5. Spread evenly over cookie sheet, and bake for about 30 - 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the granola is golden brown.
  6. Remove from oven, pour in container, and stir in raisins. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spicing up your morning: Day II of A Week of Ginger

During A Week of Kale, I invited you to add some adventure to your morning. Well, if you're up to the challenge again, how about spicing up your breakfast routine? 

In addition to loving green smoothies, I've begun adding ginger to my smoothies too. The ginger adds a refreshing touch, especially when used with hemp protein powder. 

I've made the switch from whey to hemp protein powder for a couple of reasons. First, for lactose intolerance reasons (though a scoop of whey powder doesn't really affect me too much) but more importantly for nutrient sake. Whey protein powder has a list of ingredients that I can't pronounce. Though I have Trader Joe's brand, I still prefer putting food in my body that I recognize. Hemp protein powder's ingredients are simple: hemp, palm sugar, and cocoa. Also, hemp protein powder has 9g of fiber per serving, compared to whey's meager less than one gram. 

The one drawback is that the whey powder is definitely tastier and more "chocolatey." Hemp is more "natural." However, because of A Week of Ginger I now discovered the perfect accompaniment to my hemp protein powder. You guessed it... ginger!

Today, I enjoyed a Banana, Avocado, Ginger Smoothie (picture at top) 

1/2 banana
1 inch slice frozen avocado
2 frozen strawberries
1 Tbsp. wheat germ
3 Tbsp. chocolate hemp protein powder
1/4 tsp. vitamin C powder
1/2 Tbsp. grated ginger
3/4 to 1 cup almond milk (depending on desired creaminess)

Preparation: Blend together (in your Magic Bullet!) until smooth.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spice up your week with A Week of Ginger

Ginger is a great spice to incorporate into spring and summertime recipes. It adds spice but in a refreshing way, so as not to compete with the heat outside. So add some spice to your week and enjoy these ginger recipes at BeEmbraced all week long!

Ginger has a lot health benefits: It contains antioxidants, is an anti-inflammatory, relieves gastrointestinal distress, and protects against several kinds of cancer.

Bought in the root form, it is easy to use and store. Simply peel the ginger and either slice it, mince it, or grate it depending on the intensity of flavor you are wanting in the dish. If you add ginger in the beginning of cooking, you'll get a subtle taste, but when added to the end it'll be spicier. To store, keep the ginger un-peeled and in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Or, what I do is put it in an airtight bag in the freezer. It will last up to six months this way and when you need it, you can simply grate it directly into the meal. Easy and yummy!

I've always been a fan of ginger but lately I've been experimenting with it in fun, new ways. Throughout this week I'll bring you some of my staple recipes, along with ones I've experimented with, to give you a variety of ideas on how to use ginger in every type of dish. Enjoy!

Carrot-Ginger Slaw
I came across this dressing recipe in Cooking Light, and decided it would go perfectly with my Thai Chicken Soup. Missed this recipe? Find the soup here!

1/4 cup grated carrot
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallots, divided
1 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
4 teaspoons rice vinegar 
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt 
8 ounces Trader Joe's broccoli slaw (any cabbage slaw will do, but this is my favorite!)
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
large red bell pepper, thinly sliced

  1. 1. Combine carrot, orange juice, 1 tablespoon onion, olive oil, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, ginger, and salt in a mini food processor; process 1 minute or until well combined.
  2. 2. Place slaw, tomatoes, and bell pepper in a large bowl. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon onion. Toss with dressing.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Learning To Be

Usually the first verb you learn in a new language is "to be." It is the foundation for all other verbs and conjugations, but it also stands by itself to mean exist, occupy, occur, identity, represent, signify, etc. 

"Be" is such a simple word but complex concept.

From the beginning, God calls himself "I Am":
"God said to Moses, 'I am who I am.' And he said, 'Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.’” -Exodus 3:14
 "I am who I am" can also be translated as "I will be what I will be."

It's evident that learning the meaning of "to be" is fundamental to who we are. We were created in the image of God, so we too are intended to reflect this state of "being." Not in a hippy, yoga way (though I do love yoga), but in a way that is being present. 

I talk a lot about being embraced by the journey (hence the blog name), and a large part of this is about being present where you are. It's often said that the journey is more important than the destination. But what does this look like? How do we put "being present" into practice?

Being present is something that I am just beginning to learn. As a goal-oriented and achievement-driven person, I want to know that what I am doing fits into a larger purpose. 

But life change often doesn't happen through programs or strategies or goals. These are the methods not the meaning. Lives change through relationships. Through being with someone. 

Treat someone to coffee this week... for the conversation not just the caffeine 

Being present is probably the simplest yet hardest concept to practice. 
It is intentionally pouring all you have into where you are now.

I'm learning that I don't need to know how to fix the failing schools of Atlanta. I need to know the students. I don't need to know how to revitalize my entire neighborhood. I need to know my neighbors. 

Invest where you are, whether you see yourself there in the future or not. Be present by being known. Be present by living intentionally for your present, not for your future. You'll never reach your future because it's always ahead, always the destination. But you're in your present now, on the road, on the journey.

In an individualistic, isolated existence often extolled in America, being present and being known is transformative. For yourself and for others. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Isn't that the question that everyone is still trying to answer, whether you're 5 or 50? Or 23 in my case.

When I was little, I loved lining my stuffed animals up into rows and teaching them what I had learned at school by writing on an old chalkboard. I would even write up report cards for each stuffed animal (and I had a lot!), including extensive teacher comments on each one.

Another game I played with my best friend was "spy" - inspired by the Harriet the Spy movie and Nancy Drew books. I had a composition notebook and fanny-pack complete with magnifying glass, whistle, and compass. We would dress up in "camouflage" - and in my ten-year-old years, a lime green shirt with matching bright green shorts hid me in the trees - and walk the neighborhood. We would then proceed to solve all of the neighborhood's mysteries, like why a house alarm was going off or why paw prints were evident under a "Curb your dog" sign. I would record these clues in my composition notebook and by the end of the afternoon, we would have solved the mystery and saved the neighborhood.

Funny enough, my mom has been both a teacher and a criminologist, so maybe those two careers are more connected than at first glance.

Being a cowgirl partly came true when I lived in Nashville for four years during college...
Yeehaw to line dancing and country music! 

However, as adults, the difficult part about answering the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is that we're tempted to want to give one word answers, like we did as kids, but our reality is not as defined. And oftentimes we want to change our mind every month day, but our adult world doesn't find that acceptable.

What I'm learning right now - and part of the reason that I started BeEmbraced - is that we need to learn to be content in the present, while still having a vision for the future.

Start discovering the joy of being embraced by the journey you are on:
  • Recognize that you don't need a one word answer to what your job is, what career path you're on, or even what you're passionate about. We are deeper than one word answers, one path destinations. It's ok to be in the process of discovery.
  • Allow yourself to dream. Suspend the need to have a concrete plan or perfectly defined answers, and instead ask yourself, "What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail?" I was recently asked this question in a self-discovery course, and it shocked me. I couldn't come up with anything because I kept getting stuck on thinking there's no way that'd be possible. Stop seeing the roadblocks. See the vision.
  • Start discovering your passions by acting on them in bold ways. You probably have some specific areas you're drawn to or interested in, such as health care access, AIDS prevention, or homelessness. But to really test and develop these, you have to interact with these issue-based passions on a deeper, more meaningful level. You need to get out of your comfort zone and confront these personally. What this looks like will differ from person to person and issue to issue, but you won't discover your purpose or "what you want to be when you grow up" until you meet your passions head on.
...And maybe your little kid dreams will end up having a kernel of truth to them.