The Gift that Skipped a Generation

I suffer from a very real syndrome. "Jack-of-all-trades, but master of none." I can do a little of everything, but am just not fantastic at any one thing. The one gift that I definitely DIDN'T get even a small dose of is cooking. It saddens me. I mean, I like to EAT. I can follow directions very well. I have a heritage of good cooks on both sides. What happened??
I have a particularly affected issue with the cooking. I can make something three times very well, and somewhere between my fourth to sixth time attempting a dish, something falls apart. After numerous quality quiches, I mucked the last two up, and my normally not picky at all husband wants no part of quiche now. I have a long history of tasty enchiladas, but the last batch tasted like they were seasoned with roadside weeds. There was an odd bitter taste. Then, there was the great broccoli cheese soup I ruined. The Tall One is very gracious and usually eats these tragic concoctions.

Much to my dismay, I get confident about a recipe and attempt to make it for "company." This attempt usually ends in culinary crashing and burning. My most notable crash and burn was making breakfast for 10 at a recent retreat. Easy things like biscuits and eggs went down the tubes. Breakfast is usually something I can whip up blindfolded!

Sometimes my own creativity gets the better of me. I think because I've watched a few minutes of a cooking show, I can throw in a dash of this or that to enhance the flavor. It's my particular sickness in general, trying to figure out ways to fix or enhance or change everything I see. I've been known to fix hand-written grocery store signs with my own Sharpie when I see a misspelling. Sadly, with my audience of mostly one Tall eater, I've about run through my recipe box with a virtual chainsaw. I presented another bland and uninteresting Chicken Marsala last night...thus ending my quest for homemade Chicken Marsala. I will retire it. Pretty soon, I think we will just be eating cereal for every meal.

Here are the recipes that I have effectively marked off:

1. Beef Stroganoff--there was an incident with my deciding that Dijon mustard would be a good addition. Wrong.

2. Chicken Marsala--can't get the chicken to brown before I add the saucy stuff...keep ending up with a mushy mess in the pan. And blandness.

3. Quiche--of all types. Not sure what happened here. Made about 10 successfully, with the exception of the one where I tried the fake, healthier eggs. Fake and healthy usually tastes bad.

4. Beef Enchiladas--didn't have my green chilies, tried to make a substitution. Very bad results.

5. Broccoli Cheese soup--over salted, over cheesed...icky gooey ickyness

Like most bachelors, I can make you some spaghetti! My roasts are fairly consistent too. Both of these dishes have avoided my cooking curse. Come on over. If you dare.


What I learn in class...Storytime with Shelley

The first eight years of my full-time working life I spent at a mega-church, working with prison outreach, sports/recreation, missions, and youth (mostly youth). It's amazing how out of touch you can get with real people working at a church. Not that our congregants were fake, but we were all sorta similar...mostly white, evangelical, middle-to-upper class, etc. I know that I was living in my calling, so I don't diminish where I was or what I was up to for those years.
Three years ago, though, I knew it was time to move on...first from the job itself on staff, but a few months later...from the church itself, as Jonathan and Amanda were starting a new church (Renovatus--and their new fancy website, BTW). Both decisions have been life-altering. (read like...the whole blog for some of that info.)
But today's Storytime with Shelley is about my friends at York Technical College. Night classes. Digital Design. Rock Hill.
Though I work at a mid-major university, and can take FREE classes here...the program I am interested in is computer/graphic design. Winthrop's program is geared toward art and a four-year degree, so I opted for the local tech school. The schedule and certificate program better fit my life.
I have so enjoyed the sheer diversity. At age 33, I am often on the younger side of my classmates. The older ones are there mostly because they need more training to be employable and times are tough. They have kids, sometimes grown children, full-time jobs, and major set-backs in life. Like Fred.
Fred's design work was mediocre at best...but he always had something to say with it. He fueled his passion for politics (he's a Libertarian) through his art. Even his bank logo was a soapbox. I loved Fred, with his ever-present Fedora and love for Fellini films. Fred's dad was never around, and his mom was...well, from what I can gather a paid "escort." Fred is on wife number 6 and has children all over the U.S. Fred has a soft heart and has lead a rough life. After a year in classes with him, I got to know him pretty well. Sometime over the summer, Fred disappeared. Rumor had it he up and moved to Virginia in the middle of the semester. I miss Fred.
My nature is to walk in, sit at the computer, and be absorbed in my own work. I have learned to stop, to help, to take advice, and to listen. I have been truly frustrated by my own lack of skills and knowledge, and have depended on classmates and teachers to get me past the point of wanting to throw a monitor across the room. We're all in it together...young and old, talented and not-so-much talented...trying to fuel our artistic sides and one day perhaps our wallets. It is fascinating to see how many different interpretations you get with the same assignment. I love my night class people. They have taught me so much about life and art.


Guest Blogging

I am a guest blogger...kinda like a guest star, just with less pay! I am involved in a Christmas production this year called "The Birth." We're in our third year, and this will be my second year to be involved.

Click here to read my guest blog. Apparently, not only am I a co-conspirator, I'm also inimitable! (that is, according to Nathan Rouse, the incomparable writer/director/performer)

Click here to buy your tickets...it's not too early! We'd love to pack it out with our Charlotte-area family and friends!! Make it a night out in Plaza-Midwood! Or make a trip from wherever you live.

It's not too early to start thinking about Christmas. Big box stores have had their junk out for weeks now. Fight back by supporting your local artists!

~The Inimitable Shelley Jones


What our country needs most...accountability

Oy vey. I'm up to my ears in political rhetoric these days. Not only the Presidential hotbed, but being in a "border-town," I'm getting all the North Carolina ads every 30 seconds. I live in South Carolina. I don't care about "Wasteful Walter Dalton" or crazy Kay Hagin. I'm tempted to DVR EVERYTHING I MIGHT WANT TO WATCH over the next three weeks and zoom through the mud slinging commercials.
So, a political post? Yeah. I feel the need. I got fired up watching the debate the other night. I have no desire to discuss the merits of either candidate...as I really don't think either one really has a total package. I have chosen my candidate, and we'll leave well enough alone. What fired me up was the discussion on education. I'm not an educator, but I am surrounded by them...my own husband and family members, and then I do work at a university that is the foremost teaching training school in South Carolina...
I hear the candidates talk about competition and vouchers, and I think they're missing the boat altogether. What our schools need is a huge dose of ACCOUNTABILITY...not only for teachers, but also for STUDENTS and PARENTS and ADMINISTRATORS.
We wonder why our students don't measure up to the rest of the world? We have baseline expectations for them, that's why. Just pass 'em through. No Child Left Behind grades schools on a variety of factors, one of them being attendance. Low-performing schools will do anything they can to receive a "good grade" on any part of this scorecard. So, often times, children who should be suspended for consistently deplorable behavior get to come to school and continue to disrupt classrooms so they are counted in the attendance. Students who sit in class and do NO WORK are passed if they "show improvement," because we need to move the students along...why? To increase the grade on the scorecard. And the teachers who fight with said students all year to get them to behave or to write something besides their names on an assignment are to blame? (can you hear me screaming now?)
I have lived through these scenarios. Parents today are quick to believe their children over teachers. People, teachers do not get paid enough to have time to hold a personal grudge against a child. They really aren't singling the kid out. They really don't have time to concoct bad behaviors and frame your child for classroom "crimes." Our society of "me and mine" has infected our classrooms. Richy rich parents want a completely customized educational experience, in which their children are appropriately challenged, but not so much that the child cannot make an "A" without studying. Parents on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum are just trying to get by, and often don't have the time or money to assist with their student's education. A call to the greater good would be in order for all of us. There are more children than just one in a classroom. Ideals of community have been lost on us over the past 30 years. A crippling selfishness is hurting all of us. These kids who disrupt have been enabled by parents who cut others off in traffic because they're in a hurry or yell at a store clerk for making a small mistake.
Better reforms in the educational system would be to hold administrators accountable for provided relevant teacher training, instead of throwing something together to check it off their list. Hold administrators accountable for disciplining unruly students, despite what it might mean for the school report card. Hold teachers accountable for teaching and interacting with students, for creating an environment in which students can learn HOW to learn, instead of how to pass a standardized test. Curious students will fuel a good school. Hold parents accountable for reinforcing good habits at home and make participation in their child's education inevitable. Reach out to parents who don't have resources...feed hungry students and provide real-world support. Let's learn some lessons about living peaceably together in community...about not lashing out when things don't go our way. While I'm at it...a National Standardized Test would give us benchmarks to see where we need to pick up the pace, or whose educational practices are working.
It's complicated, I know. Inspiring hard work and instilling discipline are more difficult than lowering expectations and a turning blind eye to bad behavior. If there's one thing I know about people, though, we really do like clearly defined parameters. We really do want to live up to expectations of others in a healthy way. We really do want to succeed if we're encouraged. We are selfish by nature, but in order to have a healthy society, we need to put some thought into how we can service the collective community through education. And I'm off to see if I can practice what I preach.


Into the woods.

When I go to the woods, I begin to wonder if I could just stay. I mean, I want to stay. But could I make it? I have these moments when I indulge a crazy-wonder about moving to the middle of nowhere and becoming hermit-like. When the world keeps spinning so fast and furious, the politicians are slinging mud, the stock market is bottoming out, family members are losing retirement money, deadlines are looming, demands are increasing, and days just aren't long enough...I long for the rhythm of the woods. The fading light of sunset, the crickets and frogs, and yes, even owls...delightful. I love waking up to the sound of a stream versus the scream of my alarm clock. And need I mention the fact that comfortable shoes are the norm here?

Some pics from our weekend in the woods...


Penny Sue Price...or...Patience has a Price

I sit next to a lady named Penny Sue Price in my photoshop class. I knew better. There were so many seats I could have chosen. But there I sat, and as you know, wherever you land on the first day is usually where you end up...otherwise you upset the cosmic seating arrangement balance. Plus, you can create a folder on the desktop and store stuff there.
But Penny Sue might have been worth a move. Or maybe I'm supposed to be sitting there. The Lord likes to teach me lessons about myself and my pride and my ignorance through Penny Sues. Penny Sue is older, and most everything about the computer confounds her in general. She blames it for losing her files, for crashing (when it hasn't), and for myriad other things that it can't do by itself. She mutters constantly and blurts out questions during lecture...questions that make no sense. Even when she addresses a question directly to me, I usually have to ask her 12 questions to understand how she got to where she is in her problem. Sometimes I think we don't speak the same language. As I hurriedly try to refresh my brain for a quiz in the next class, she chats it up with me about solar power and her car payment...and the way she talks always makes me feel like I was dropped into the middle of the conversation and have no idea what she's talking about.
Basically, I don't understand how she got to this class with few computer and social skills. But I am starting to admire her tenacity. I would not have stayed. From what I can gather, up 'til now, the class may as well have been being taught in Chinese, because opening a new file is a challenge for her...and we are chugging along at a pretty good clip. She continues. She asks questions. She struggles, but she stays.
All of this to say, at first, I thought I'd continue to sit by Penny Sue because it would be a good thing to teach me some patience, and be another step in getting over myself. I am learning, however, that as I continue to see the less fortunate as "projects," I will never really get over myself. Julia reminded us last night to live from our HEARTS, not our MINDS. My heart needs to learn to love as Christ loved...and he loves ME in all my ignorance about the way HIS operating system runs. When I doubt whether he has lost my files or has crashed my life...I am Penny Sue. He continues to be patient with me and to love me and to show me that I am not his project; I am his beloved. I cannot conceive that He doesn't get frustrated with my ignorance and inability to learn simple lessons the first eight times He teaches me. But he doesn't. He is gentle and loving. And the more time I spend with Him, the more I become gentle and loving...less prideful, as though I have something besides His love to offer Penny Sue. That's ALL I have, humbly, together with His patience, as we both learn how to photoshop. Stay tuned.


Compassion, Justice, Jesus

So, I totally stole this video from Michelle Wheeler's blog (thanks!)...but it was too stirring not to post. How do we serve the poor and neglected in our everyday lives? Whether we're in cities, burbs, or countryside...there must be a way.

This video was shot entirely on a cell phone.
It won the Tropfest, NY 2008 Film Festival.
Click for link (I couldn't get it to upload!!) It's just amazing and poetic and beautiful.

For more, our Pastor spoke about this very topic on Sunday: link to study notes or link to web page for podcast.
How can I make this a way of life and not just a random, occasional act?



Mystery solved. We now know "who?" Last year, our pond was violated and fish disappeared...(see post and picture). A series of events just unfolded, and we have discovered the culprit. He visited a few weeks back...sitting boldly in our yard, staring at us...then staring at our precious fishes. He sat on the kennel fence just feet away for almost an hour, daring us in a way. I kept having visions of him flying toward my hair. Even when he flew away, he settled on a high branch overlooking the pond...his presumed sushi buffet. We covered the pond with a screen and other sundry items to keep him at bay. But we felt optimistic, and uncovered it...putting the plants back in, and hoping the coverage would be enough.

He returned last Thursday and picked off the slowest fish...my favorite, Otis. The other fish were traumatized and would not come to the surface for days, even for food. Screen now firmly in place for good.
Jerod sat by the fire pit Saturday night, and heard a "crumpet" behind him (his word, not mine). The pesky bird ninja had landed on the top of the shed, looking for another free meal. Not this time, silent flier. It was easy to feel bold watching him from the inside. But I'm quite sure the owl was as interested in the fish as he was my hair and eyes. Freaky, I tell you.
As we all sat around the fire making our s'mores, he teased us from the darkness of the woodsbehindourhouse..."WHO?" I know who. We captured you in action, you ninja bird of darkness. Stay away from our fishes.

Click for more photos.