a sign


"Then God said... 'I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth.'"  

- Genesis 9:12-13

I'm not gonna lie. Today was kind of a craptastic day.

I don't even know why, really. Work wasn't terrible. Nothing bad happened to my family or friends. It was just an average, mundane Thursday. Maybe that was the problem. Average. Mundane. I don't know. But I felt melancholy all day and knew that the only thing that could lift my mood would be going for a run when I got home from work.

See, the best runs are the ones when I'm upset and on the verge of tears. When I'm angry. The pounding of my feet against the pavement releases a little of those pent-up emotions with each step. I crank up my music and run away from all my problems. And I knew I needed that today.

I was happy to feel unusually warm air when I stepped outside to do my pre-run stretches. It was sunny and warm enough for a tank top and capris. In February. That in itself lifted my spirits. I slipped in my earbuds and set off down the street, ready for some endorphins to fix me.

I hadn't even gone half a mile when I felt raindrops.

Seriously? 

Normally, I would have called it quits and headed back home, but not today. I wasn't about to let some stupid water ruin the only good part of my day. So I pressed on. And despite all the misleading sunlight, the rain fell harder, soaking my clothes, striking my eyes so forcefully I had to blink constantly. But I was determined to not stop. Not today. This run was the only thing in my life that I could control.

As you may have noticed from recent posts, I've been all mopey and introspective because of my twenty-fifth birthday. I've been frustrated and unhappy with my job as a nurse, my singleness, my unfinished bachelor's degree, my living situation, even my dumb short haircut that isn't growing out fast enough. I feel so static. So stuck. And there's nothing I can do about any of those things, because they are all out of my control at this point. The only thing I can do is run. So I wasn't going to let the weather beat me this time.

The rain continued to fall. Water dripped from my hair and trickled down my neck. Droplets streamed through my eyebrows, blurring my vision. My shoes made rude squelching noises. My drenched clothing made me feel twice as heavy, yet I kept going. And I felt all bad-butt as I did so. I wasn't wimping out like I always did. I was in control. I was pushing it so hard, in the pouring rain, that any onlookers would surely think me crazy.

Just as I began to get all metaphorical in my head, thinking about how this run was like life, how I hadn't let life's trials, like the rain, get the best of me, I came upon the biggest hill in my neighborhood. All fired up, I took it on. I trudged along, barely moving but going forward nonetheless. And as I climbed, I grew close to tears. I was so proud. I was so thankful to God for giving me this moment. Even when all else in life was static, I was moving now. 

Finally, I topped the hill. And that's when I saw it. Through a silver sheet of rain, the biggest, most perfect, most beautiful rainbow I had ever seen stretched before me across the sky.

I stopped instantly and stood in the center of the road, breathless, open-mouthed, gazing at the heavens in pure awe. I felt my fingers remove my earbuds, though I don't recall consciously deciding to do so. The rain began to cease around me. The only sound was the pleasant chirping of birds overhead. Everything else became still.

In that moment, my emotions overwhelmed me. The beauty and the hope and the memory of God's promise to Noah in Genesis completely overwhelmed me. The sunlight warmed my rain-soaked skin as hot, salty tears fell from my eyes. All I could think was, this is for me. Oh my goodness. This is for me. I breathed a prayer of thanks to God because I knew, then and there, for the first time in a very long time, that there was hope. That He still had a plan for me. That He had brought me through so much pain and darkness to get me here, in the light, unharmed and stronger than ever. This mediocre life wasn't all I would ever have. Things would be okay. No, better than okay. He would take care of me, He would provide for me, and my future would be beautiful.

Man. It's impossible for me to accurately describe the beauty of that moment. But I had my own little solo worship service. I put my earbuds back in and turned on some Telecast. I couldn't thank God enough for allowing me to have such a powerful, moving experience. For healing my spirit. For restoring my hope.


"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

 - Jeremiah 29:11

#84- Make A Homemade Pizza


MMMMMM!

I found a recipe online for homemade pizza dough and followed it carefully. While the dough was rising, I chopped and prepared all my toppings- all veggies except for a ball of freshly-made mozzarella from the Publix deli. (The fresh cheese MADE it. There's nothing like fresh mozzarella.)

I can never decide what toppings I want, so I divided the pizza into thirds: the first section had a base of olive and butter, the second had basil pesto, and the third had traditional marinara sauce. I scattered sliced cherry tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, sauteed spinach, purple onion, and bell pepper across the various sections and sprinkled a little basil on top. 

It was PERFECT. 

I mean, seriously delicious.

Here's the pizza crust recipe I followed:

Ingredients

2 cups bread flour
1 cup water (heated to 120-130 degrees)
1 package highly active quick-rise yeast
3 tbsp olive oil (and a little extra for greasing the rising bowl and baking pan)
Pinch of sugar
Sprinkling of cornmeal (to use later for dusting surface; does not go into dough mixture)


Directions

Preheat oven to 150. Mix flour, yeast, and sugar together in a bowl. Stir in water (make sure to check temperature with a thermometer) and olive oil until the dough thickens. Knead dough for a few minutes (you may need to add more flour if it's too sticky). Grease an oven-safe bowl with olive oil. Form the dough into a round ball and place it inside the greased bowl. Cover with wax paper. Turn off the oven and set the covered bowl inside for about an hour.

When the dough has risen to about twice its size, remove bowl. Turn the oven back on and heat to 500. While the oven is warming up, sprinkle cornmeal on a large surface. Cut the dough in half and shape into two round balls.*

(*You can do whatever you want here. This recipe makes enough to fill two medium pizza pans.)

Using a rolling pin, flatten out the dough until you have the desired shape and thickness for your pizza crust. (Thinner is better; remember, it will rise a bit more in the oven.) Carefully transfer to a greased baking pan and smooth out as necessary. Using a fork, poke a few holes across the dough to prevent air pockets from forming. Bake for about five minutes.

Remove from oven. Add toppings. Return to oven and bake for about five to seven minutes or until cheese has melted. (I broiled mine for the last two minutes to make sure the cheese was really melted, and it turned out wonderfully.) 

That's it. Slice it up and enjoy! 

This was definitely as good (honestly, better than) most restaurant pizzas I've had. Everyone in my family went on and on about it, and now my dad wants to do Homemade Pizza Night at least once a week. 

Running 101: 5 Awesome Songs for Running


You just got off work. Or maybe you just woke up, perhaps so early that it’s still dark outside. Either way, you’re tired. You don’t feel like working out. But you are determined to live a healthy lifestyle, so you force yourself to step onto the treadmill, onto the walking track, onto the trail. You slip a pair of ear buds into your ears and pull up your favorite playlist on your MP3 player. The music starts. You begin to move. You are sluggish at first, but you awaken as the music permeates your skull. Your footfalls match the beat of the song. The music propels you forward, and you feel a surge of energy. You feel light. Free. Even giddy. You are running, and you are loving it.

What happened? The music.

That’s what helps me, anyway. More than anything. First, it’s a distraction from my shortness of breath and the pain in my shins. Second, focusing on the inspirational lyrics of certain songs is the equivalent of having a personal trainer inside my head. And third, listening to eerie soundtrack music while running alone in the dark is the perfect thing to get that heart rate up and make you go faster.

Here are five of my favorite, most inspirational running songs that are guaranteed to help you get moving when you’d rather be snoozing beneath your cozy covers or sprawled across the couch with a bag of Doritos. In no particular order:

1) “Never Going Back to OK” – The Afters


THE song for someone who used to be a fat, lazy, couch potato and is determined to change and never go back. Pretty much my anthem.

Best Lines: “I feel alive and it hurts for a change/And looking back and it's hard to believe/That I was cool with the days that I wasted complacent and tasteless and bored/But that was yesterday”

2) “Let’s Go” – Calvin Harris


I have a hard time believing this song was not written about running. It’s about as “get-up-and-go”-ish as a song can be. And it’s also all about putting your past behind you and moving forward.

Best Lines: “Let’s go/Make no excuses now/I’m talking here and now/I’m talking here and now/Let’s go/Your time is running out/I’m talking here and now/I’m talking here and now”

3) “Lose Yourself” – Eminem


The clean, edited version!!! This one’s sure to get you pumped up. It builds, it’s got the ultimate carpe diem (or YOLO, as the kids say these days) message, and well, it’s all around pretty bad-butt.

Best Lines: “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment/You own it, you better never let it go/You only get one shot, do not miss your chance and blow/This opportunity comes once in a lifetime”

4) “The War Inside” – Switchfoot


I love this one because it’s about internal battles, about making the choice every day to fight. I put it toward the end of my playlist for when I’m getting tired and ready to quit. When every step becomes a painful struggle, and I have to fight my negative thoughts or my tired calves to keep going, this song helps me find the strength to push through it.

Best Lines: I am the war inside/I am the battle line/I am the rising tide/I am the war I fight”

5) “Burn For You” – TobyMac


I’m starting to see a pattern here. This catchy ditty is about being transformed into a new person. It’s a spiritual story, but the parallels here are obvious. The entire chorus is just so amazingly perfect for a good run.

Best Lines:  “I feel revived again/I am alive again/ You got me lifted and lifted you lift me up/I feel revived again/ I'm energized again/You got me lifted and lifted you lift me up”

NERD BONUS:

6) “An Awful Lot of Running” – Chameleon Circuit


I’m not ashamed to say that the Doctor Who theme song (and er, maybe even a couple of different versions of it, plus “I Am The Doctor” in all of its glorious epicness. You mean everyone doesn't pretend they're being chased by Daleks when they run?) is on my running playlist. But it gets even worse better! The London-based Whovian band Chameleon Circuit has some pretty sweet Who-related songs, and this one is the perfect one to run to. Especially for those of us who are secretly training to be the Doctor’s next companion. Allons-y!

Best Lines: “So many places I've been/There's so much more to see/We've got galaxies and planets and moons/And an awful lot of running to do”

Haters gonna hate.

7) The Walking Dead Main Theme”



This is a great example of what I was talking about when I mentioned eerie soundtrack music that will quicken your heartbeat. As you jog along listening to this, just imagine a horde of flesh-eating zombies on your tail. And if you’re listening to this alone and in the dark, it’s easy to do!

What songs get you moving? Share your favorites in the comments. 

#19- Take A Kickboxing Class


I've been wanting to try out the new kickboxing class at my local YMCA for the few months it's been around, but I've always been too scared. I have trouble keeping up in Zumba, so how could I possibly attempt a Billy Blanks-style, Chuck Norris-ish kickboxing class?

Well, today, I finally sucked it up and got over my fear. 

Awkward creeper shot before class started
The class was sixty minutes of intense cardio. There was, sadly, a lot less punching and kicking than I was expecting, and a lot more squats, jumping jacks, lunges, push-ups, and (dun dun DUN!) burpees. She also led us in several super high intensity bits that she called "turbo time", where we had to do all of the above and then some at a ridiculously fast pace. I did my best, but I had to pause and scratch my head in disbelief a time or two.

Anyway, I survived. I didn't have to leave early. I didn't have to go sit down for a while. I didn't even fall or accidentally kick anyone.

Very proud of myself and very sweaty afterward

One more thing to check off the 101 Things list!

Snow Days


In Alabama, you can tell the local weatherman has mentioned a chance of snow when you go to the grocery stores and find that they are out of bread and milk. That's because around here, snow is a big deal. It comes rarely, and when it does, panic ensues. Schools and businesses will shut down. Roads will close. The power may go out. So we dash to the store to get the essentials, because we know we may be stuck at home for a few days.

On Monday, the weatherman announced that our area might get "a light dusting" of snow on Tuesday afternoon. The school officials told us we might get to go home a little early the following day because the roads might get icy (and school buses and curvy mountain back roads covered in ice are not a good mix).

So it was business as usual Tuesday morning. Then around nine-thirty, I walked over to the middle school (which is adjacent to the high school I work in) to run an errand. And when I stepped outside, I saw this view of the football field:


The "light dusting" that wasn't supposed to arrive until after noon had already begun. And it was coming down quickly. And it wasn't melting. It was collecting.

We ended up leaving school at 10:30. It was nearly 3:00 before I made it home. The roads were horrible. Horrible. Like I said, we don't get snow and ice that often, so we don't know how to drive in it. There were cars in ditches, eighteen-wheelers flipped over. On the interstate, I saw long stretches of immobile cars in both lanes, many abandoned by people who had either run out of gas or given up and decided to walk. The disturbing, apocalyptic sight reminded me of The Walking Dead

After trying to navigate that mess for hours, I had never been so happy to get home and see my family. And once I had safely made it home, I could enjoy the beauty of it all! 




The "light dusting of snow" turned into several inches that lingered and kept my school closed for the rest of the week. So I had a lovely surprise holiday that involved endless pantry-raiding and watching Netflix. Perfect for hermity old me.

I also made snow cream for the first time.


We never got to do this growing up because my dad (a retired environmentalist) warned us of the toxins and such that the snow soaks up while passing through the atmosphere. But now that I'm a grown, responsible-ish adult who makes my own decisions, I thought I would give it a try, just this once. Surely one bowl of polluted snow cream wouldn't do too much damage.

I filled up a large cup with the cleanest, whitest looking snow I could find and mixed it with sugar, soymilk, and a little vanilla flavoring until it looked like ice cream. 


It was really delicious! (And I'm still alive, so I guess it was okay to eat it.)

#54- Build A Blanket Fort


This was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. My sister and I loved to drag the wooden high-backed chairs from the dining room to the living room and strategically cover them with blankets we gathered from around the house. We always had the best time hanging out in our cozy hideouts.

I thought it would be a fun, easy one to check off of my newly created 101 Things in 1001 Days list (which you can read in its entirety by clicking the tab at the top), so I forced my sister to play along on this lazy Saturday.

It was a bit of a challenge to fit both of us inside such a construction now that we're 5'6" and 5'9", but we made it work. Once we had made it all nice and comfy with an overflow of pillows and covers, we scrunched up inside and did what always used to do in our indoor tents:

Eat food and watch Disney movies.


Homemade veggie pitas, potato chips, and The Sword in the Stone.


It was just as much fun as it used to be!