We finished seminary!

At approximately 3:00 AM last Friday, Ben and I finished seminary. Here are our 3 AM faces:

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The final week was total madness. When both people in the household are working and finishing grad school at the same time, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be Crazytown USA! Make that the semi-annual Crazy Parade in Crazytown USA. Every day we would go to class and/or go to work, finish up at work around 5 pm, come home, slam some dinner, and start studying. About 10 PM we would take a break to get Starbucks coffee, which would keep us going until anywhere between 2 and 4 AM. I don’t know what it is about Starbucks iced coffee with milk, but if I drank that at 11 or so, I wouldn’t feel sleepy AT ALL until 4:00 in the morning. Insanity. Delicious, caffeinated insanity.

After waking up Friday morning we pretty much rolled out of bed, did laundry, packed our suitcases and headed to Williamsburg. Thank goodness we had had the foresight to book a weekend getaway there about a month earlier. We stayed in the always fabulous Powhatan Resort and just chilled out. We took a LOT of naps, had amazing breakfasts on our outdoor patio, went shopping at an outlet mall, went swimming, took walks, and hung out in the historic downtown area (my favorite place!).

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It was beyond awesome. Kind of felt like another (short) honeymoon. It was so nice to be able to focus on each other instead of on our darn, darn laptops. Or any screen, for that matter.

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It was great to be able to recharge and reconnect with our weekend in Williamsburg. Since then we’ve been struggling a little to get back on a schedule that feels normal — having a couple of weeks where we habitually drank coffee at midnight and stayed up til 2 or 3, followed by a weekend where we slept whenever we wanted, kind of confused the heck out of our poor bodies. Plus there’s always some residual crankiness to deal with. But things have been improving every day, and I think we’re almost back to normal … whatever that is.

Today we got some of our grades back, and it looks like all A’s for both of us this semester! We’re happy, and grateful to finish strong.

This weekend is graduation. And by “this weekend” I mean “this weekend”! The whole weekend is pretty much one big event. Friday night is our baccalaureate service, which we’re both speaking at (gulp). Saturday morning we have a practice and an open-house party at the seminary president’s house. Sunday is the actual graduation day and after that we’ll be going out to dinner with Ben’s family. My family can’t be here, but as a graduation present they bought Ben a new suit and me a new dress, so we will be proudly rocking our new sponsored outfits! :-) I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures … for this, my very-last-ever graduation. I think. ;-)

Spring Break 2013

Sorry about the vanishing act last week, but it was my spring break and I threw all responsibilities to the wind because my twin sister Anna came for a visit! It seemed like it had been forever since we had had time to really catch up. It was amazing to see her and do fun stuff, all while fielding the constant stream of “Are you guys twins?!” comments. Seriously … we get so much of that.

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It has been unseasonably cool here, which was too bad since it would have been fun to do more warm-weather activities. But of course we didn’t let the chilly breezes keep us from visiting the beach — one of Anna’s favorite places to see when she’s here. We huddled under blankets the whole time, listened to Eric Clapton, and munched on Trader Joe’s snacks. Hey, I’m not complaining!

 

Another fun highlight of the week was watching Ben and his volleyball team win the city championship. They won last year as well, so he was CRAZY psyched for the tournament, and honestly I was relieved to get the game started so he could work off all the energy and hyped-up-ness! Our apartment is just too small for all the pre-game pacing, planning, fidgeting, chest-thumping, etc.) Whew.

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It was a lot of fun to watch him and his team playing together. Everything came together for the tournament and they played so smoothly and well. Ben also had some great plays and did a fantastic job scoring points as well as preventing the other team from scoring too many. :) He’s a great volleyball player — I never get tired of watching his sexy serve (um … sorry. but he does have a great serve!) Ben plays with a ton of heart and intensity that brings a lot to his team. And everyone else on the team is just fantastic as well — I’m so glad Ben has been able to be part of this group for the last few years.

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We had been planning for a long time that this trip would include a great sushi experience. Our favorite all-you-can-eat sushi place did not disappoint! As you can tell, Buddha himself presided over the event … haha. No seriously, we greatly enjoyed stuffing our faces with all the sushi we could hold. Yeah, the whole “eating healthy” thing took a break that week.

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One day we took a fun little day trip up to Williamsburg. I used to think there wasn’t much in Williamsburg — just Busch Gardens and a few other theme parks. But over the past year or two I’ve discovered a lot of other fun things in Williamsburg and it’s now one of my favorite places to get away to for a day — it’s only about an hour to an hour and a half away, so it’s easy to get there! My favorite spot there has to be Aromas Café on Prince George St in the historic downtown area. It has a wonderful cozy vibe and they have a big menu with all kinds of tasty lunches, desserts, and of course coffee.

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We spent most of our day in Williamsburg at the outlet mall. We had a blast hitting all of the stores, especially the Gap and Banana Republic outlets. I bought some sweatpants at Banana Republic that have simultaneously redefined the meaning of the word “comfortable” while ruining all of my other clothes for me. I love them so much, I even broke my firmly enforced “No sweatpants in public” rule over the weekend and wore them to a late-night movie! I KNOW. I guess I figured that Banana Republic sweatpants were classy enough??! I must be losing my mind … that’s what sweatpants will do to a person.

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Haha, Anna is going to kill me for posting this picture of us in a shopping frenzy.

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On another day, of course we had to spend a few hours strolling around downtown Norfolk, especially the harbor, where we went on the requisite ferry ride.

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What better way to spend a lazy morning than snuggled up in a sun-baked window seat at the eclectic Café Stella? (If you haven’t figured it out yet, coffee shops figured prominently into this week)

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On the final evening of Anna’s visit we had a memorable experience at Abbey Road Pub & Restaurant, which is down at the beachfront on 22nd. Anna loves to go hear live music, and after a rather unfortunate attempt to catch a live band earlier in the week (which was a lame, overpriced, and eardrum-shattering experience I’d rather forget about), Ben did some research and found that a singer named Mike Proffit was going to be performing at Abbey Road. He was playing covers of classics by the Eagles, John Denver, and others, and he has a wonderful voice and sound. Since it was midweek, there weren’t a lot of people there, so we got a lot of attention — they took requests and even played a song about Minnesota just for us. It was so fun — we stayed there for three hours, just relaxing and listening while eating um, A LOT of really good appetizers and desserts. :)

 

 

Roasted chickpeas: Just think of them as bean croutons…

There are just times in your life when you go on a salad kick. I’m on one of those right now, and truth be told, it’s the kickin’est salad kick I’ve ever been on. It’s lasted a few weeks now and shows no sign of letting up.

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I guess I shouldn’t make it sound as though every day I make myself lunch and find myself looking down at my plate saying “Oh, look, salad again! I really can’t seem to get out of this rut.” In actuality, I’m making a conscious choice to eat salad every day. Part of it is a desire to get rid of some seminary squishiness which has found its way onto my body via hundreds of nights sitting like a lump for hours, memorizing flashcards or writing papers. Part of it is just because salad is awesome. But it is intentional. I’ve made it my new “thing” — and everyone should treat themselves to a new “thing” once in a while — to have salad once a day. I’ll tell you one thing, it makes figuring out what I’m going to eat on a given day so much easier.

It also forces me to think of new and cool things that would look good lounging on a bed of greens, because as much as I could eat a salad of spring greens, dried cherries, walnuts, goat cheese and a lemony vinaigrette EVERY SINGLE DAY, I just have to branch out. For myself. For posterity. So I won’t get bored. Well actually …………. no, it’s simply because I’ve eaten all the goat cheese and it’s all gone and I’m very sad about it. (Just being honest here… the only really valid reason not to eat goat cheese is that there is no goat cheese.)

So here, in the category of “salad topper / goat cheese replacement” is a pretty tasty idea … roasted chickpeas. It certainly is not original. I was inspired by Smitten Kitchen (which these days, with her cookbook on my shelf, I almost always am). Roasting chickpeas is a cool idea because you only ever eat chickpeas in hummus, right? When was the last time you ate a chickpea that wasn’t all pureed and tahini’d up? I know right? It’s always nice to see an ingredient in a different light … especially when it is almost always eaten the same way. Also, chickpeas take well to roasting. They get crisp on the outside while staying soft inside, and they pick up spices like little sponges. Crunchy ones. They’re sort of like bean croutons. Yeah, that has a definite ring to it …… not. (Although, Tom Haverford at least might go for this nomenclature.)

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Roasted Chickpeas

1 can (15 oz) chickpeas*
1 Tblsp olive oil
Coarse-ground salt and pepper
A dash each of cumin, garlic, and/or any other spices you prefer (Indian ones would be great)
A little fresh squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drain and rinse chickpeas, and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Spread out on a pan. Add olive oil and toss to coat. Then add the salt, pepper and spices — as much as you like.

Roast for 10-15 minutes, turning the chickpeas once halfway through the cooking time, until crisp and golden. You’ll definitely need to taste-test them to tell if they’ve reached your preferred level of crispiness. But once they’re there …. well, you’ll just know. Remove from the oven and squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over them. Eat as a snack or toss ‘em on a salad. Enjoy!

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*Or garbanzo beans; both names refer to the same thing. I just prefer to say chickpeas, because if I say garbanzo beans, I can’t help but stretch it out so it sounds like “gaaarrrbaaaaaaannnnzooooo beeeeaaanzzzzz.” It’s just that kind of word. So, unless you enjoy being stared at in the grocery store, better to stick with “chickpeas.” It’s safer that way.

Caramelized onion & goat cheese panini with balsamic drizzle

This post is for all you onion enthusiasts out there. Not for the ones who like their onions raw and crunchy and full of bite. But for those who like their onions caramelized and meltingly soft, sweeter than you could ever imagine an onion could be.

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My friend Tessa and I have started a nerds’ cooking club … a club for total food nerds. Members: 2. Every few weeks she and I brainstorm an impossibly delicious recipe and gather ingredients. She comes over and we whip something up in my tiny apartment kitchen, then sit down and eat it, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, usually while planning what we want to make next time. This week, we were thinking about doing french onion soup but decided against it when I dreamed up this idea for a french-onion-soup-inspired panini. As it turned out, the panini didn’t end up tasting anything at all like french onion soup, but it just might be 1,000 times better.

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The reasons why this panini is so delicious are many. One of the most significant reasons definitely has to be the goat cheese. Because one of the deep truths that governs our universe is that nothing made with goat cheese could ever be bad. The goat cheese redeems anything. But in this case, the sandwich is already good, and the goat cheese just takes it to a whole new level of awesome. Another great thing about this is the onions (of course!). Using a combination of sweet yellow and tangy red onions makes it much more interesting … plus red onions are insanely delicious caramelized.

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Besides that, this panini has a lot of great contrasts. Crunchy bread and soft filling. Sweet onions and tangy cheese. And a drizzle of balsamic syrup that blends in just enough and stands out just enough. Also, it’s a really easy panini to make since it only has a few ingredients. Bread. Onions. Goat cheese. Balsamic vinegar. That’s about it.

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Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Panini with Balsamic Drizzle (this will make about 4 sandwiches, but it depends on how much onion you put on each!)

Good sliced bread (We used French and foccaccia; use whatever you like)
A little butter
1 red onion
1 yellow onion
Olive oil, salt, & pepper
Balsamic vinegar (about 1/3 cup should be enough)
Plain goat cheese (chevre)

1. Thinly slice the onions and put them in a pan with olive oil, salt, & pepper. Cook over low to medium heat, turning/stirring from time to time, letting the onions slowly cook. Watch them so they don’t burn — but they should turn a beautiful golden-brown and soften while still holding their shape. The best way to know if they are done to perfection is to taste them! Just don’t eat the whole pan before you can get them onto a slice of bread. Be patient … it will be worth it. :)

2. Meanwhile, butter the outsides of the slices of bread. Preheat your panini press.

3. Also meanwhile, heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat with the lid off. All you are doing is getting it to simmer and evaporate so it will thicken. Once it’s reduced to about half, take it off the heat. Don’t let it get to the point of getting syrupy, because it thickens a lot once it cools. It may seem to runny when you take it off the heat, but once it cools it will be perfectly drizzle-able.

4. Spread a thick layer of goat cheese on one side of a slice of bread (the other side should be buttered). Top with a generous pile of caramelized onions and drizzle with balsamic syrup. Top with another slice of bread, buttered side out. Repeat to make 4 or so paninis. Cook on the panini press until browned and crisp. Enjoy!

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Theological tomboy

In the latest twist of irony that seems to accompany my life, this past weekend my church held a women’s conference. Many women from the church went to nearby Williamsburg and (I hear) had a great time. Except I wasn’t there, because I was at the regional conference of the Evangelical Theological Society in Lynchburg, VA. With a roomful of dudes. Lots and lots and lots of dudes.

That’s the thing about being in seminary as a woman. You had better get used to being around men all the time, because that is the reality. While part of me thinks that this is an unfortunate reality, part of me has made peace with it. I would still love to see more women studying theology. Meeting a woman who has studied theology or who knows Greek or who understands this hugely important part of my life at all, still gives me a huge rush because there are so few of us. My friend Annalisa has been such an inspiration to me because she is a thinking, studying, writing, seminary-trained woman. It’s awesome to meet women like that, but there (in my experience at least) are not a lot of them.

But anyway, the reality of being a female seminarian surrounded by men is still reality, and it’s OK. It just makes me feel like a theological tomboy — running with the boys when all the women are at a ladies’ conference. And I’m fine with that. I just happen to fit into more than one community — the community of Christian women, and the seminary/theology community — and I enjoy being a part of both.

I had a lot of fun going to the ETS conference. My professor and a few of my classmates, as well as Ben and I all rented a cabin in the woods outside of Lynchburg. We heard several lectures from the highly-respected Greek scholar Dan Wallace, as well as attended a lot of presentations with the long, wordy titles packed with theological jargon that you’ll only find in academia. Oh, academia. I love you so much. We also had some great food (which fortunately did not include sushi because my last experience with sushi Lynchburg was disastrous — do not attempt) and participated in the stereotypical heated theology discussions. It was pretty classic.

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Sorry about the blurry pic — that’s Wallace in the center. My Greek professor, Keiser (on the left) studied with Wallace.

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The cabin where we stayed was close to Appomattox Courthouse. Which may or may not be pictured here – we weren’t sure and nobody really cared. Hey, we’re theologians, not historians! Just kidding … the truth is, we didn’t want to pay money to actually enter the historical site … buncha cheapskates. :)

Art makes everything better!

I am currently all jittery and skittery with excitement because today I ordered two new pieces of art for my house.

I admit, I’m pretty much obsessed with hanging beautiful things on my walls. It’s one of the best ways out there to add color and personality to your space — especially if you can’t paint. At least I’m lucky and my walls are a nice plain white which provides a good canvas for lots of cool artwork.

As much as I love getting my hands on free or really inexpensive art (and it can be done — I’ll have to blog about that sometime), sometimes you find something for sale that you LOVE and you know will make you smile every time you look at it.

That’s how I feel about the fun, quirky posters at Pop Chart Labs. No I’m not making any money by advertising for them in this post! :-) I just love their stuff. I’ve been ogling their coffee print for a few months, and I just bought it to hang in my guestroom / study room.

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They also just came out with this new kitchen tools print, which I immediately fell in love with.

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I’m going to put it up in my kitchen above the sink, where I really wish there was a window but instead there’s just a boring wall. This piece is huge — 2 by 3 feet, so it will fill up almost the whole wall (!). It will be fun looking at the cute graphics and details while washing dishes … a whole lot more fun than wall-gazing, that’s for sure.

I’m going to pick up some poster frames at Michael’s (they were 40% off when I checked yesterday) so I can frame and hang these babies the instant they arrive.

So – what’s your favorite piece of art in your home?