Sunday, November 30, 2014

O Tennebaum

We Jacksons do Christmas the right way around here. With lots of Yuletide pomp and Christmas-stance. Friday my mom, sister-in-law and I unpacked the Rubbermaids brimming with stockings, ceramic villages, faux greenery and my moms collections of snowmen and Santa Clauses'. We listened to Amy Grant sing Grown Up Christmas List and Nat King Cole's seranade of O Tennenbaum and lit Spruce scented candles. 

Saturday we gathered in Clan firm and drove to the Christ,as Tree Farm that once was my grandfathers. For 40 years he tended to saplings and fostered cheer through months of sweltering heat and infestations to grow ten acres of pine. We chatted with the new owners, kind as can be and I was just grateful as I chased my niece throguh the memory forest while my sisters little family searched. 

Once we found them just the right one, returning home, we congregated and opened the tins of ornaments that have graced our tree, some for 36 years. Now a flocked, pre-lit wannabe graces our living room, but the effect is much the same as if it were real. And I wanted to share our little tradition with you. 

You see my out-of-place Kung Fu Panda ornament. I would tell you of my sweet dad bringing me this home from his Hallmark job to cheekily foster my love of animated movies when I was in college. 

We may also note that Jacksons are kind but raucous people. And when decorating a tree, the tendency for the most sentimental ornaments to get broken is strong. My brothers baby ornament has survived the fray for 31 years with only a small case of flaking and a chipped top. 

We would all argue who gets to tell you all about the infamous Santa. My dad made this in this Kindergarten class 52 years ago. My mother patronizes our affection for him by insisting he be put on the back of the tree. We'll take what we can get for this little guy to live on. 

My dad would tell you about how for years this ornament was put on as a reminder of my brothers near-yet-far presence while in the army. Now he gets to place it on himself while holding his daughter. 

Someone would share how back in 1991, my parents purchasd this ornament to hold strong to our roots while we moved into Chicago Bears country. It did the job and they raised three very fine Chiefs fans. 

My mom would tell of how she had a lunch pail extremely similar to this growing up, so each year we pull out this ornament and she hooks it on to cherish the memory of childhood. 

And finally, when looking at our tree, you will see these bright bulbs littering the empty space between branches and ornaments and they are their own type of sentimentality. I would explain how my mother bought three boxes of these from Macy's the winter before her and my dad got married. They have met the most liberal demise over the years, but the remnant is still used to fill the gaps. 

This tree tells the story of our family, of births and distance and family jokes. You wouldn't see the raffia my mom insisted on tying to the branches for years, but we would probably express relief at the twine bows absence. But mostly, as I admire the decorum, I am just glad for this emblem that ties our family together. I love that it tells our stories. 

Friday, November 21, 2014


It's Fall. In fact, it's SO Fall like that it's beginning to tip toe into Winter territory. I don't love Winter because I typically run cold....however, a few years ago I discovered space heaters. And out of my heart blossomed a tolerance for Winter that has blessed me and others, who now have to feign less compassion for my liturgy of complaint. 

This is also the time of year I steep in deep pockets of memory. Four years ago at this time, I was deep in depression and feeling spent and out of control. And God met me there. Nothing changed in circumstance but His presence burrowed deep into my marrow. I haven't forgotten those days and I love to remember them. 

I've began again one of my favorite books. One Thousand Gifts. Pondering gratitude and joy. Asking how Jesus can stitch thanksgiving into my being. I keep being pressed by the same verse inescapably. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. 

Philippians 4:6

Thanksgiving precedes the request and the answer. When we live under the banner of heavy gratitude, the kind with the audacity that thanks Jesus for His death, we are acquiescing. We say that we know He will just show up, and it will be enough. True thanksgiving is capable to withstand cancer, infertility, financial crisis, not by making it easier but by promising His presence. And in the abiding relationship that comes from just knowing God to be God, we can acquiesce. Knowing full well that pain will be pain, but that just as Jesus talked to His Father while sitting on the cross, He will hear us too and draw near. 

And in the dear times, when we celebrate well, when we sing a merry tune and revel, holding tight the moments which carry the sweet aroma of things being most well, we know Him to be present too. And isn't that the fundamental difference? We choose to see God in joy as opposed to seeing joy from God. His capability to transform all things to being good and helpful far exceeds our barometer for happiness. It is there that our perception for thanksgiving that we can foster space for it to break our gauge.

In these days of remembering the despair of loneliness of my 20th Christmas, I am incapable of severing that from remembering the hope He gave through being there. It changed everything. It gave me the ability to acquiesce the responsibility to fix and resolve to His shoulders and to just be present in my hurt so I could truly heal. 

As we are about to step into Advent, I am looking forward to this time to think with weighty expectation and joy of the weeks that lead us to the night of our dear Saviors birth. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

To Love and Do

My mom and I took a walk the other day. As the cacophony of leaves created a noisy, yet soothing soundtrack we talked much as we usually do about many of the same things we usually do. One of which is journaling. As I already have elaborated on this week, my mom has taught me many things as she herself has learned them over the years. Besides quilting, she has also shared journaling. 

Writing in that manner is probably one of the greatest sources of spiritual development in my life. In the deep recesses of my childhood closet hide more than a decade worth of spiral bound thoughts. And while there is much less complaining about youthful woes, chores, homework and groundings, not much else has changed. I still choose to go there to contemplate first. These pages are filled with recognition of faults, expressions of sin, repentance, stubborn defiance, mourning over friendships and relationships, but also of wonderful discoveries, impassioned ideas, stories of God's faithfulness and fairness, new friends, newfound dreams, and really happy memories. 

As I'm on the brink of closing another journal, I look at the slow growing stack and love these penned moments of myself. They are imperfect and messy and not very eloquent, but they are the truest expressions of my thoughts and it's important to me that they have a place of their own. There is a reflection in those scrawlings where I take ownership of myself and Jesus meets me there regularly to point me back to Him. 

While I hold an affinity for journaling myself,  I don't see journaling as some grand value everyone should agree fact, it's the opposite. I am first and foremost a proponent of people finding things they like to do or find helpful and meeting Jesus there. Painting, home decor, horseback riding, brewing coffee, restoring a car, trail running. Jesus meets us in creativity because He Himself is the Creator. And in that we are free to do what we love and experience Him in it. 

"The moment good taste knows itself, some of its goodness is lost," CS Lewis wisely wrote in Surprised By Joy. Inevitably because of sin everything we do is already only half good, and we but continue to lose more when we look to the thing in itself to give us substance. The sharpness and beauty of all creative things comes from its innocence. To follow the path of ability and knowledge with abandon, not expectation, is the only way to truly experience creativity the way it was intended. The ambition to create a beautiful thing is not a problem, it is when we lose our love of creating that turns it into something less good. We search for beautiful results because we enjoy them. If we stop enjoying the search or the result, then beauty in its essence has no purpose. 

I also hope to convey that the creativity I am talking about is not in the absence of hardwork and patience but the absence of futility and vanity in the name of attention or self-satisfaction. In fact, when we are truly doing what we love and enjoying the One who enabled us to love it, we are free to work hard because we are uninhibited by laziness, insecurity, comparison, or fear of rejection. We stop doing what we love in the name of impressing people and actually end up finding the most freedom to just like doing it. 

I journal because it is a form of beauty of me. It may not be blog or novel or Kinfolk worthy, but our creative endeavors aren't always meant to be shared. Sometimes they're just for us to know with our Creator, and that, my friends, is the whole idea. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


My mom is currently resurrecting my high school graduation quilt from the grave. There was a cataclysmic incident in college with my roommates dog where she forewent manners and destroyed a corner. As we were formulating a plan to bandage the poor thing (the quilt, not the dog), I just was glad. Glad that my mom did this for me. Glad that we could share in the vision of the quilt 2.0. Glad to be with my mom. 

There is not a couch without a quilted cloak, or a bed without a sock-like shroud in my moms house. My mom has always been a sewer and quilter. Some of my earliest memories are of her sitting in her basement chalet surrounded by a moat of cotton and twill. Many nights I remember going to sleep in my pink room with the duet of my mom singing while her Bernina hummed harmony rising from the air ducts below my room in a soft lullaby. These quilts are one of many of her offerings of hospitality to us.

Quilts are not the only way I see this etching of hospitality on my childhood. When I was 8, my mom began to sacrifice some of her alone time at Whistle Stop, a local coffee shop, to me. There I learned what it is to enjoy simply the presence of another without conversation, her with a Beth Moore study, me with American Girl and Junie B. Jones novels. Over the years, we shifted to Starbucks and we progressed to C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller and art journaling. The silence remained but were also shared with occasional punctuations of conversation for me to share an interesting quote or to inquire about her reading for her Counseling classes. 

My mom has always welcomed me and my siblings. We have always been invited into her world to share time, knowledge, questions, a snarky comment, or her bread. She has portrayed hospitality in the most vivid way possible. Not just inviting us to her home, but into herself. The older I get the more I find these little nuances in my life and I just want to pause and remember them. To pen them and hold them dear to me because they are unique to my family. And let me be honest, while I share a lot of things with my mom, I don't share her love for quilting....which is why I write about it instead. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Only Anniversary I Celebrate

I'm a few days shy of the anniversary of my blog. If I were more patient and organized, I would wait until the 28th, however this is my blog and I'm going to do what I want. 

Four years of blogging. I remember writing my first post in my college dorm room, not really knowing how far this would go. I am really bad about finishing what I start, and something open ended like a blog is just an excuse waiting to happen. But here I am, four years later. I've been perusing old entries this morning and find myself smiling, remembering the various locations some were written, and more importantly I vividly recall how I felt as I penned every one. 

I may not be a brilliant writer, and I'm certainly not a great blogger, but I am so glad I do it. It is a joy for me to have a yearbook of sorts to catalog my process. To remember. To see how far and from where I've come. I started this blog in the crux of a confusing relationship that turned into a difficult breakup. I walked through a season of depression here. Many of my favorite quotes and books are littered throughout. I have written on here from North Carolina, Florida, Hawaii, Dallas, Bolivar and Kansas City. If you dig deeply enough there are some really attractive pictures in here too. But really what I see is Jesus coming into my reality, inconsistently and clumsily in my words but so faithfully in His presence. 

As I read my favorite blog this morning by Jami Nato, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this obscure world of words. I have been able to share bits of life with this woman for six years, and although I have never actually interacted with her (and we both live in KC) I am grateful to have been a benefactor of her transparency. And I hope in some small way I have offered that to others. Even if I haven't though, I am still so glad I have done this for me. 

Jesus has become truer and dearer to me in the past few years than I ever thought possible. He is my consistent comforter, he directs me in an about face from my sin and into joy and gently reminds me of His care for me in the process, He gives me good gifts and hard realities. He is my companion and I hope to see Him as ever gooder and kinder and more trustworthy as the years go on. And this is where I place those thoughts to tumble around. 

I will leave you with the quote from my first post that inspired this whole mess. It still rings so true to my vision. I wish I had a glass of champagne (or better yet, a mimosa since it's 9 am) as I close to celebrate my insignificant-to-most-but-joyful-to-me anniversary. I'll pretend for now and just have two glasses later. 

"Spirituality is not about competency, it's about intimacy...Messy spirituality has the audacity to suggest that messiness is the workshop or authentic spirituality, the greenhouse of faith, he place where the real Jesis meets the real us."
-Mike Yaconelli


Cheers friends!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We Are Womans

Given the opportunity, my mom will share two primary stories of my childhood. The time I told my kindergarten teacher that my dad had left us forever (he was only on a business trip, apparently I really craved the attention of my dinosaur of a teacher who smelled of cigarettes and stale coffee) and my Four Year Old Inquistion. With great curiosity one day, I turned to my mother and inquired, "Mom, are we womans?" 

I must applaud her for containing her raucous laughter. With almost all composure, she responded with equivalent dignity, "yes, Emilie, we are womans." What caused my great need to confirm this fact is a mystery. Maybe I felt slightly insecure with my child-version of the Hanson brothers haircut, or possibly I just wanted to hear that I belonged. 

Regardless, on occasion, I still find myself checking in. Not necessarily of my Woman-ness, but on the integrity of it. You see, I love being a girl. At times, even recently, I have robbed myself of some of that joy by allowing insecurity to override, but in general it is an absolute pleasure. Beth Moore recently reminded me that to be a woman (in reference to p31) is to be worthy of respect, and likewise to offer that to others. 

And that, dear hearts, is a job big enough in itself. Men fight their own bloody battle in the war of manhood, and we have to take some ownership of our fight. In my love of womanhood, I have often lived defeated under an umbrella of insecurity of women I thought better. I speak from experience when I say that no one benefits from creating a mental hierarchy of the women who surround us. It only leaves you on the bottom or top, both are lonely places to make a home. So here's the thing, we really can help each other in this and I wanted to share some of the ways we can. Even if this isn't your current or frequent battle, remember these for the sake of each other, because God knows we all need some allies. 

Also in theme with childhood moments, a montage of the Best (of the worst) Emilie Fashion Moments of 1993. 

-Stop comparing yourself. Stop Pinning quotes of this and just start doing it. We do ourselves and each other a great disservice and lose a lot of ground when we constantly mentally rank ourselves. Our time could be spent better. 

(I was a pumpkin for Halloween five times, mom made the costume and wanted her sweat equity out of it)

-Encourage one another. Be genuine and specific. We could all use more positive reinforcement, especially from people who we may feel threatened by. 

(I hope the black shoes distract you from my toe-headed mullet)

-Speak kindly of one another even when they're not around. We don't have to qualify our stories involving other girls if there is nothing but positive intent in telling it. 

(Why yes, I was the third child and those were all hand me downs....thank you for noticing)

-Know yourself. When you understand your likes and dislikes, preferences, inclinations, tendencies, it allows you to offer others the space to figure that out for themselves. It also enables you to pick out similarities or differences in them and enjoy them better for it. 

(I may not rock bed head-but at least I wore peplum 17 years before it was cool) 

These are things I'm finding helpful in my own day to day. There is room to laugh at ourselves and grace for mistakes with one another when we're not so afraid or feel the need to posture or extend ourselves past what is healthy. And that's what I'm after my friends, let's be the best damn womans we can be. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Juniper Rose Cupcakes

Few things in my life right now excite me quite like good food and good people. Except maybe good people who will talk with me about good food. So when my sister told me about a lovely new spice shop that opened in Brookside, Season and Square, I knew I needed to venture and drag my roommate, Olivia, with me. Not surprisingly, we spent an hour chatting with the owner, a delightful and inspiring woman. 

She introduced us to Dram Apothecary, a company that forages their own herbs/flora to concoct bitters and simple syrups that are earthy and ingenious. Not to mention that their lives are about traveling and picking flowers in order to make cocktails, I'm jealously swooning. My mother had passed along half a bottle of their Juniper Rose simple she had picked up on her own trip to Season. Her exhortation being to bake with it and tell her what to do. 

Discussing with my libation-savvy friend Andrew what would be a good companion for my new acquisition. We settled on cucumber, playing off the cocktail concept, and thus these cupcakes were born. They're different, really light and refreshing as opposed to being extremely sweet, which is how I prefer my pastry. However, I know my brother would be bewildered if I attempted to offer him something so obscure, to put it kindly. 

Juniper Rose Cupcakes with Cucumber Buttercream

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
12 tbsp unsalted butter (I am ardently against margarine ps....use the real stuff), room temp
1 1/4 cups white cane sugar
3 large eggs, room temp
1/4 cup Dram's Juniper Rose simple
1/4 cup gin 
1 cup tonic water (mine was flat, so I used Grapefruit La Croix, it worked splendid)
1/2 tsp rose extract (I tried 1 1/2, but it was a little too floral) 

Cucumber Buttercream
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
4-6 cups confectioners sugar 
1/3 cucumber puréed 
1/2 lime 

For the cake: 
-Preheat oven to the good ole 350
-Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and stir
-In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar
-Add one egg at a time, letting it come together before adding the next 
-Add in the simple, gin and rose extract 
-Be a good baker and add half the dry, followed by half the tonic, then the other halves, letting it blend in between.. I, however, am impatient and added it all at once. Don't do that.
-Fill 24 cupcake liners about 2/3 full and pop in the oven for 18 minutes
-Turn on US Youth Olympics while they bake 

For the buttercream:
-Puree the cucumber in a food processor or blender
-Combine butter and confectioners sugar to mixer and cream
-Slowly add cucumber purée to the mixture letting it blend
-Add more confectioners sugar as you see fit to get desired texture
-Zest and juice the lime and add to mixer

This buttercream was the bane of my existence. I went through and amalgama of cucumber, minced, juiced, simple syruped, before landing on purée as the best texture and flavor. If there is one thing I am well versed in at the moment, it's the different consistencies a cucumber can take on. For those who interacted with me on Sunday, I apologize, I don't normally smell like Larry the Cucmber's estranged cousin. 

I imagine these would be the most fitting at a tea or garden party, but in true fashion, I plopped down on the floor in my living room with a cup of coffee and downed it. I have no shame when it comes to pastry.