The Way Way Back


The Way Way Back is the back row in an old station wagon, the one that sometimes faced the rear. It is not a place of honor. The way, way back is where Duncan (Liam James) is relegated when he heads off to the beach for the summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin).

The first scene of the movie is poignant and powerful, the trailer captures just a hint of it’s awkwardness and cruelty. Duncan arrives at the beach house knowing he does not fit into this world and with little hope that he will enjoy his summer. But he finds a place where he fits in, an aging local water park.

This story isn’t new, but some of the best stories are the ones that are familiar to us, and this one was ably and beautifully told by the film. It started with a great script but was executed well both in direction and acting. It was fantastic to see Steve Carrell playing such a different character. I’m beginning to be convinced he’s a much better actor than comedian. Toni Collette is always marvelous, and as much as I wanted to hate her character at times, she made a difficult role sympathetic. Sam Rockwell, Nat Faxon and Maya Rudolph were all terrific as staff at the water park and their scenes gave the film the levity it needed. There was a small shout-out to Memphis in one of those scenes that made the theater roar with delight during the screening I attended.

When you are in the way, way back, there’s no place to go but up. The ending to this film doesn’t tie up every loose end, but it left me thoughtful, happy, and looking forward to seeing what Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who co-wrote and co-directed The Way Way Back) will come up with next.

4/5 stars | Rated PG-13 | Now playing in select cities, opening everywhere July 26 | view the trailer on YouTube

On Surf Lessons and Trying New Things

When we went to the beach a few weeks ago, Kate and Lexi had their first surf lesson.

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They have been interested in surfing for a long time and dreamed of having a chance to try it for themselves. Most people in Memphis and Birmingham go to the Gulf when they go to the beach, but we always go to the Atlantic with my family. I figured we should take advantage of the upside of the longer drive and give them a little something to remember. It started with a long walk to the beach, carrying their boards.

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They patiently learned all the things you need to learn on the beach. They did safety exercises and practiced good posture. They tried a few things from just a few yards out, getting a feel for the board under their feet. Then we watched as the instructor led them out far from the shore.

From what I could tell, a lot of surfing is waiting. The rest of it is hard work, paddling and fighting the waves. It is scary to be out far beyond the breakers, even if you have an surf board to hang on to and an experienced instructor. (It’s pretty terrifying for those watching from the beach as well.)

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Then there are the few seconds you have to find your balance as you try to get on your feet. I wish you could see the delight on Kate’s face when she realized she was really surfing.


Trying new things is not easy. Watching Kate and Lexi learn to surf was thrilling and frightening and humbling all at once.

The whole experience made me start thinking about this latest round of job hunting. It’s hard to put myself out there and be willing to fail. But like a child who dreams of catching a wave and popping up onto her feet, I must be prepared to fall and to let the waves beat me. Only then will I know the true delight of doing what I only hoped I could. Thankful for these two, parenting them is a constant education.

Yard of the Month

20130712-141252-e1373694069792When we moved in two years ago, the house across the street was for sale. It had been on the market for a while, and even though it obviously needed updating, it had good bones and wasn’t so bad it was uninhabitable. Every week people came to look, but no one took the plunge.

One morning I noticed an under contract sign on the house, and a few weeks later, it had sold. Then, the joy began. The couple who bought the house began to fix things up. The peeling, dull yellow paint was replaced by a warm light brown. The scraggly bushes everywhere were ripped out and replaced by green grass. Two comfortable chairs with cute pillows appeared on the wrap-around porch, then more flowers and more greenery.

When I walk down the stairs and out the front door, that house is the first thing I see. Watching it being restored little-by-little, week-by-week has been a source of encouragement. So when we returned from vacation and I noticed the sign in the yard, I was so excited for my neighbors. It is one thing to pour your heart into making something what it was meant to be, it is another for the whole neighborhood to recognize it.

I wish every act of redemption came with an physical award, a greater and better prize that will not migrate to a new winner at the end of the month. But for now, I will smile at this small acknowledgement of the good and beautiful when I walk out my front door.

Kate is 9

Happy Birthday dear Kate! We are so proud that you are ours and admire your kindness, tenacity and sense of wonder.


A little interview, for fun.

What was the best thing about being 8? Chariot Races, the Olympics and studying ancient Greece.

What are you most proud of learning? How to write in cursive.

What was the best book you read? Detectives in Togas.

What is your favorite song? “Home” by Phillip Phillips

What is your favorite tv show? Jessie

What are you looking forward to about being 9? Being a junior bridesmaid.

What college do you want to go to? UNC.

Do you think you’ll get married when you grow up? Have any kids? Yes, I think I’ll get married and have three kids.

What do you want to be when you grow up? A scientist.

Writing for Children and for Myself

One of the things I’ve been busy with this year has been writing a year’s worth of children’s church lessons that go through the basic, big picture story of the Bible.

I had many goals for this project. I wanted to treat children with respect and tell them the truth. I wanted to avoid easy answers and moralizing that weren’t readily available from the text. I wanted to complement the Jesus Storybook Bible and cover some stories that it omits. I am looking forward to going back through the whole thing and editing it, but for the most part, I feel like I am on the right track.

I expected that writing the curriculum would be more profitable for me than it will be for any single kindergarten or first grade kid who may sit through the lessons. It did not surprise me that I struggled at times with how to explain certain stories to kids because I struggled to explain them to myself. But there were a few surprises along the way.

796ac18eea40ed66b10f350e42c15641For example, when I wrote about Jonah recently, I tried to tackle that tricky fourth chapter of Jonah that is often forgotten by story bibles. I remembered well that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, did not think the people deserved to be saved, and threw a fit in chapter 4 after the city was spared. But Jonah’s fury is not quite the way I remembered it. When I read it again, it was clear he was saying, “Lord, isn’t this exactly what I thought would happen when I was still at home? That’s why I ran away in the first place! I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

Jonah had every expectation that God would save the Ninevites. He was mad that God for being that gracious, that merciful, that he would save even evil Nineveh. Of course, Jonah had his issues, but I couldn’t help but admire his great faith in God’s power. I know that changing hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit, but Jonah woke me up to some of my own apathy about God’s love for others and his ability to save even those who seem the least interested or needy.

I hope that some churches are able to use what I’ve written and that it will help others, but even now, I am thankful for the opportunity to have wrestled with God’s story this year and for the church that funded the endeavor. Four more lessons to go!

Long Time, No Blog

Hello again. I apologize for the long absence from this blog. I took a temporary job last semester and had to keep up my writing gigs in case it didn’t turn into a permanent gig (it didn’t) so I was run ragged from all the work I was doing.

But, I have a little more time at the present, so I am reading more books and getting out to run and doing other things that are healthy and make me happy. Blogging is somewhere on that list, so even though blogs in general–and this blog in particular–have jumped the shark, expect some posts here for the time being.

Books I Read in 2012

A decent year for reading, didn’t finish as strong as I had hoped, but I was busy writing!

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Looking for Alaska by John Green
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Compassion, Justice & the Christian Life by Bob Lupton
Stuart Little by E.B. White
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

How Children Raise Parents by Dan Allender
Leaving Egypt by Chuck DeGroat
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
The Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Exact Place by Margie Haack
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian
Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Salvage the Bones by Jessmyn Ward
Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
A Curtain of Green & Other Stories by Eudora Welty
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Breath by Tim Winton
Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse
Creation Regained by Albert Wolters
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Gold by Chris Cleave
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
How to Talk to Your Child About Sex by Linda and Richard Eyre
Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick
The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory
The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Ireton
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen
The God of the Mundane by Matt Redmond
Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth Speare
Small Things with Great Love by Margot Starbuck
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Glorius Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian
The Shaping of a Life by Phyllis Tickle
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Underdog by Markus Zusak

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen
Love Does by Bob Goff
Every Day by David Levithan
Hippie Boy by Ingrid Ricks

Happy Birthday, Lexi!

Happy Birthday to Lexi who is SEVEN today! She is full of life and navigates all kinds of situations with ease: diligent in the classroom, tenacious on the soccer field, fun with friends. I am proud to be her mom.

A little interview:

What was the best thing about being 6? Starting first grade.

What are you most proud of learning? How to do cartwheels.

What was the best book you read? The one I am reading right now, Absolutely Lucy by Ilene Cooper.

What is your favorite song? I like too many to choose.

What is your favorite tv show? Shake it Up!

What are you looking forward to about being 7? Going to the beach on vacation.

What college do you want to go to? I’m only seven, Mom.

Do you think you’ll get married when you grow up? Have any kids? Yes, I think I’ll get married and have one kid.

What do you want to be when you grow up? A rockstar when I am a teenager and a veterinarian when I am an adult.

Wordless Wednesday

Slightly Lightened Shepherd’s Pie

The goal for this recipe was to lighten it up a bit without compromising taste. Michael told me if I hadn’t told him about the changes I made, he wouldn’t have noticed. I consider that a victory. This makes a very full 13×9 casserole we eat for two days, no sides necessary.



1 pound ground beef (85/15)
1 pound ground turkey (93/7)
1 medium onion, diced
2.5 Tablespoons of butter (divided)
2 cloves garlic
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
5 cups frozen mixed vegetables (such as broccoli, carrots, corn, peas, green beans.)
1/2 cup of beef broth (99% fat free)
2 teaspoons worchestershire sauce
1 head of cauliflower, in pieces (or a bag of frozen cauliflower)
1.5 pounds (about 4 medium) yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup all-natural sour cream

Preheat oven to 400. Brown ground meat, drain and set aside. Cook garlic and onion in 1 TB of butter until translucent. Add mushrooms and 1/2 cup beef broth, cook for 3 minutes, add vegetables and cook until tender. Mix vegetables, meat and worchestershire in 13×9 pan. When you start the filling, set a pot of water to boil. When boiling, add cauliflower and cook until very tender (6-10 minutes). Fish out with slotted spoon, then add potatoes to water. While cauliflower still hot, use food processor to puree until almost smooth. I keep the cauliflower in the food processor bowl and switch to the plastic dough blade. Add potatoes when very tender, and mix/mash with sour cream, parmesan and 1.5 T of butter. Add mashed potato and cauliflower mix on top of the meat and vegetables. Make peaks with the side of a fork. Bake uncovered at 400 until topping starts to brown (about 30 min.)


As instructed: Serves 8 | 407 calories per serving | 38g carbohydrates | 4g fiber | 27g protein | 16g fat. Obviously, you can use lower fat ground meat and sour cream to reduce the fat if you are into that, all cauliflower / no potatoes for the topping to reduce the carbohydrates if you lean paleo, etc.

The Exact Place by Margie Haack

A good memoir allows readers a glimpse into another person’s experience and leaves them better for it. The Exact Place recalls Margie Haack’s childhood in the harsh and wild landscape of rural Northern Minnesota. Margie and her husband Denis have a fantastic ministry called Ransom Fellowship. Michael and I have enjoyed their writing on faith and culture for many years, so I had no doubt that I’d enjoy this book, just as I’ve enjoyed Margie’s writing over the years on her blog and in Notes from Toad Hall.

Oftentimes, books set it rural places are idyllically pastoral, a glorification of country life. Though Haack’s childhood had some rural pleasures anyone can admire, she did not shy away from recalling the difficulties of rural poverty. These details made it feel honest and real, but so did the recipes and the happy memories as well.

One of the recurring themes of the book is Margie’s relationship with her stepfather, and her longing to know her biological father, who died before she was born. The tension as she tries to earn his love is palpable and at times, heartbreaking, but it wasn’t so overwhelming that it weighed down the book. It is a part of Haack’s story, but it is not the whole story, and there is certainly redemption to be found when we explore and acknowledge the brokenness in our lives.

The Exact Place is the second book published by Kalos Press, and I am so excited by their work so far. If you buy the print copy, they will give you the ebook for free, fantastic for people like me who appreciate both print and digital mediums for reading. Also, you can lend out your copy of the physical book while retaining your digital copy, just in case you need it.

As childhood memoirs go, this is a lovely and moving work. Though it is spiritual, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has moments of levity and joy as well as pain and yearning. It’s real and it’s good, just like I expected from Margie Haack. If you like memoirs or are familiar with the Haacks, I highly recommend it to you.  (8.5/10)

I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. The opinion expressed is my own.

September Books

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber was one of the most buzzed about books in my circles in 2012. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as I thought it would. It would have benefited from more editing, which surprised me as the author is an English professor, but the setting could not be beat. (8/10.)

Every Day by David Levithan is a Young Adult book that just came out. The premise was interesting to me, but the execution wasn’t as good as I had hoped (6.5/10.)

Every year, I read a little Wodehouse. It’s good for the soul. Mike and Psmith did not disappoint, it was my first Psmith novel and it will not be my last. A lot of cricket was described, which I thought would be dull, but it really wasn’t (8.5/10.)

How to Talk to Your Child About Sex by Richard and Linda Eyre is a straightforward book about the subject. Though the authors do not mention it, they are Latter-day Saints, so their suggestions skew conservative though they try to be general and made it easy to customize for various families. Some of the scripts were really unlikely, but still thought provoking (6/10.)

The Exact Place by Margie Haack is a lovely memoir I will review in full soon (8.5/10.)