The nurse adjusted her pillow and said, “Your granddaughter’s here. Do you know Katie?”

She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Of course I do!” Faintly, but in her usual emphatic way.

The nurse nodded and left and we sat for a few seconds.

“You know that I love you.”

“I sure do, Grandma.”

“Good. I know the same thing, but about you.”


There are a lot of stories I could tell about my Grandma. She was a firecracker of a lady. I never, ever, questioned whether or not I stood in her good graces. I never once worried that I’d inadvertently offended her and didn’t know. I can not begin to say how reassuring that is. I look earnestly for that quality in my friends, and seek to create a safe space for that dynamic in all my important relationships.

As our family prepares to gather and remember a long life well lived, here I’ll share a couple of the moments with her that were most formative or memorable for me.

Godspeed, beautiful lady. I miss you.


During one of our visits to see her in Washington D.C., we had this conversation and it will probably remain my favorite memory of her.

“I appreciate that we have so many strong women in our family, you know?”

She raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, I have a pretty strong personality, I think.”

“Yes! You certainly do.”

“I think I get a lot of that from you.”

My grandma looked flabbergasted. “WHAT? What are you talking about?”

“Well, because you….um, well….because you have..a strong…personality?”

“THAT is not true. I do NOT have a strong personality. No one has EVER said that to me before.”

“Oh! OK, Grandma. Sorry. My mistake.”


My slightly younger cousin Jeff and I were small, and playing over at his house. He hit his head on something and there was a lot of blood, so we had to go to the hospital so he could get stitches. I, with that delicate sensitivity of soul which is not uncommon to the tender age of five or six, was more concerned that I had to stop playing with all their fun toys and go to a boring place. Jeff was, understandably, more concerned with the blood and pain coming from his face. As we prepared to go, I muttered (again with the sensitive), “OK, but do we have to listen to him scream?” (Jeff, if you read this; sorry about that! And I hope your head’s ok. I’m guessing it is, by now. You’ve seemed well each time I’ve seen you all these years since.)
My Grandma drew up to her full height, looked me square in the eye, and said, “KATIE. Be kind.”
Sometimes, when I realize I am being ungenerous in my interactions, I still hear the echo of that exhortation in my mind. I’ll try, Grandma. I love you.
Great Grandma Della

The Dissonance of Advent

I’ve really appreciated Advent this year. I don’t mean in a Pinterest, made a hand-made ornament out of cinnamon with my children every day sort of way. I mean that the season of Advent just feels really right, somehow.

It feels good to remember that Christianity has this tension built into it because we don’t live in a world where things are all as they should be. Still we are told that God loves us and is always, always doing His best for us. There is confusion built into that, and no small amount of cognitive dissonance sometimes as I try to sort through a tangle of thoughts about God. You know the great thing about dissonance in music though? Eventually it resolves. There is a cadence. That is the promise of Advent. Advent promises that whatever modulation we find ourselves in now, we will get back to tonic eventually. It invites us to sit with tension and hope. Humans desire a deep sense of security and if that is to be found in our surroundings, we often don’t look further. Dissonance draws us out do deal with it, though. I once got my toddler to start cleaning up by playing a cadence a few times and then only playing the first chord and not resolving it until she moved to start putting her toys away. Dissonance is unstable, and even a small child can tell that our ears want unstable harmonies to resolve.

Dissonance of any type can be deafening. It can make it seem like everything’s just noise. It can be interpreted as such, if I choose. There is logic to assuming that we crave pattern and sense from the universe because we were made for it, but there is also logic to assuming that we only seem to see a pattern because we want to; sometimes circumstances seem to imply there is no intentionality governing what happens to us. Maybe, though, to judge all of reality by those moments of greatest dissonance is like trying to explain the legend of King Arthur by saying it’s about some guy who sleeps with his sister. That explanation is not without basis, but it also doesn’t really tell us the whole story.

I wish I could explain the whole story. Of everything. It would be so nice to be able to tell my friends, “This is why this is happening to you.” It would have been so comforting last year to say to my husband, “You’re sick now and it’s awful, but you’re going to be fine. I read ahead and you don’t have a lifelong debilitating illness after all.”

Advent reminds us that not being reconciled to our circumstances is allowed. We are made for more than complacency. We don’t get easy answers. We get Advent. We get a promise that we are not crazy for thinking that this is not how it’s supposed to be.

 I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

A Princess Worth Mentioning: Irene

An excerpt from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.

“She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to be afraid. Very soon she was sure that she had lost the way back. Rooms everywhere, and no stair! Her little heart beat as fast as her little feet ran, and a lump of tears was growing in her throat. But she was too eager and perhaps too frightened to cry for some time. At last her hope failed her. Nothing but passages and doors everywhere! She threw herself on the floor, and burst into a wailing cry broken by sobs.   She did not cry long, however, for she was as brave as could be expected of a princess of her age. After a good cry, she got up, and brushed the dust from her frock. Oh, what old dust it was! Then she wiped her eyes with her hands, for princesses don’t always have their handkerchiefs in their pockets, any more than some other little girls I know of. Next, like a true princess, she resolved on going wisely to work to find her way back: she would walk through the passages, and look in every direction for the stair. This she did, but without success. She went over the same ground again an again without knowing it, for the passages and doors were all alike. At last, in a corner, through a half-open door, she did see a stair. But alas! it went the wrong way: instead of going down, it went up. Frightened as she was, however, she could not help wishing to see where yet further the stair could lead. It was very narrow, and so steep that she went on like a four-legged creature on her hands and feet.”

Homemade Mondays: Raw Honey For Pink Eye

S recently came down with what appears to have been adenovirus. It was a fever for a few days, and then he came down with pink eye. In lieu of writing up my own info about it, I’ll just share what mommypotamus had to say about it, because it was helpful and clear. And the honey eye drops worked very, very quickly. I put them in S’s eyes before bed and in the morning he woke up with clear eyes. And they were so simple to make! Just equal parts raw honey and boiled, cooled water (boiling is important for disinfection, cooling is important for not killing off all the helpful raw honey goodness…). This method of treatment was approved by our pediatrician, who I spoke to a couple of times during this illness.

**I am not a doctor. If you have a serious medical concern please stop googling stuff and call a health care professional you trust.**

Homemade Mondays: Vegan Mac and “Cheese” (no, not the gross Velveeta kind)

One of the comfort foods I missed the most during my dairy free time was macaroni and cheese. I wish I’d discovered cashew-based cheeses earlier; they are so easy! In certain applications they are even creamy and yummy enough that I actually didn’t miss cheese. The “cheese” part of this was also delicious spread thick on bread and fried up like a grilled cheese.

Vegan Mac and “Cheese”


2 Cups cashews, covered by at least 2 inches and left to soak 1-2 hours on the counter or overnight in the fridge

1/4 C lemon juice

3-4 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup or so of water (more if it’s too thick at the end)

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tbsp miso of your choice

2 cloves garlic

3/4 tsp salt

a dash of black pepper

pasta of your choice



While the pasta is cooking, combine all other ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend on high for a few minutes until everything is very well combined and creamy. Adjust seasonings as needed. Drain pasta, add cashew mixture, and garnish with fresh herbs, meat, “meat”, veggies of your choice, or just eat it the way it is.


Kind over Nice

It was freshman year, and time for our Thursday night Real Life meeting for Campus Crusade for Christ. The guys across the hall from my dorm room started gathering up people to head over in a big herd (when you’re a freshman in college and away from home for the first time it’s comforting to do things in herds).

“Is K coming?” said one of my fellow Crusaders.

“Uhh, I don’t know….Katie, why don’t you go knock on her door and see?”

I trotted off down the hall and knocked on K’s door, bible in hand and sure she was just running late. She’d come with us for the first few weeks of the year, after all.

*Knock, knock.* “Hi! Are you coming to Crusade tonight?”

Her face flashed with anger. “NO!” She said quite firmly and shut the door hard in my face.


I was sitting at the Oxley cafe a couple of days later for a sandwich when K came and sat down next to me.

“I’m sorry I slammed the door in your face. I just…can’t go there anymore.”

“Oh! Ok. Why not?”

“It’s just…the church is made up of people, and it’s not supposed to be perfect and cookie cutter and…” She explained herself for a while, and eventually realized I was completely lost.

“Look. Katie, you’re smart. You can figure out how to be what they want, and say what they want you to say. You can make them like you. The question is, do you want to?”


It took 14 years, but I think I am finally beginning to unpack what she meant.

At the time, it wasn’t true in the least. I had no idea how to make people like me. I didn’t feel like other people’s approval had anything at all to do with me.

The thing is, K’s correct. At this point, I can often figure out what people want me to do. And that is often useful to keep in mind. The problem that knowledge presents then is what to do about it. It goes a little like this: if someone is going to be offended by my choice to abstain from a particular food I can eat it, not eat it, or leave. If I choose not to eat it, I can explain why, or leave it alone and let them assume whatever they like about me (if they care to). If I explain why they can believe the best about me or not. People may like me or dislike me a little more in a given moment based on what I say. I didn’t used to know that but now I can even see it happening sometimes. My words have an effect.

It’s exhausting. What am I supposed to do with all this information?


From the Merriam Webster site:

Full Definition of KIND

chiefly dialect :  affectionate, loving


a :  of a sympathetic or helpful nature

b :  of a forbearing nature :  gentle

c :  arising from or characterized by sympathy or forbearance <a kind act>


At first glance, it would seem that kindness and tenacity are at odds with one another. It doesn’t immediately read as “sympathetic or helpful” to tell someone that they’re wrong about something, that you’re hurt by their actions, or that what they’re doing is harmful to themselves or others. I get that. Does that mean we should never do those things? I think not. I think it means we may do well to expand our definition of kindness. A small definition of kindness (which I’ll refer to from here on out as being nice) is the wide road to people pleasing and denying others feedback which can help them meaningfully learn about themselves and the world. Can it really be kindness to stand by and let someone we care for harm himself or others when we might be able to help him not to do it?  The more I think about it, the more being nice begins to look less like actual kindness.

Someone I trust recently told me that kindness is not something to strive for because kindness is about people pleasing rather than doing what is best for myself or others. I disagree. I think kindness goes far deeper than being nice and that those two things do not always or even usually look the same.

Kindness holds on tenaciously when niceness would let go. Kindness pushes through awkwardness, offense, and hurt. Sometimes, kindness draws boundaries or even steps away for a time when niceness would stay put just to keep the peace for the moment. Niceness may hide the truth to make people happy; kindness looks for the most gentle way to say what is true and necessary.

Being nice instead of kind is like trying to sing a harmony part without any melody to go with it. It might be ok sometimes, but mostly it’s not enough and it will definitely never be a whole song. To put a Sondheim quote on it, “Nice is different than good.” Or, to apply it here, nice is different than kind.

K was right. I’m smart. But figuring out how to be nice to everyone all the time is not a good use of my intelligence.

What am I supposed to do with all this information? Sometimes the answer, thank God, is nothing.

I can figure out how to get more people to like me by being less of who I am. The question is, do I want to?

The answer, I am relieved to find, is no.

kind over nice


Homemade Mondays: Drinking Chocolate

I first learned about drinking chocolate at Mount Vernon* during a family trip there.

One of the things I missed when we had to give up dairy was hot cocoa (I know you can use almond milk but it’s really just not the same). But while this is markedly different, it’s delicious enough that it fills the empty chocolatey space nicely. And if dairy is your thing, you can add a bit at the end for some extra creaminess.

Drinking Chocolate

Serves 2-3

Ingredients and supplies:

1/3 c sugar

1/3 c cocoa powder

dash salt

add-ins of your choice (see below)

wide mouth quart jar

wand blender (You could probably do this in a regular blender but we like the wand blender)


Combine sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in mason jar. Add boiled water to make about 1 1/2 or 2 cups altogether, then blend until well combined. stream in add-ins with the blender going. Taste, adjust flavorings and add-ins as needed, and serve.


Extract of your choice: standards include vanilla, almond, mint (a very little bit of mint goes a long way)

Heavy cream or Half and half

Whiskey, rum, or flavored liqueur of your choice, like kalhua

Candy cane

Whipped cream (use this as a topping, not streamed in, obviously)

drinking chocolate

*Mount Vernon is a peculiar mix of confronting the facts of slavery and standard white privilege denial. You can go and tour the slave quarters and read about what life was like for the three hundred and nineteen slaves living there at the time of George Washington’s death, and while it doesn’t go into too many details, they don’t hide the fact that these were, in fact, people who were owned. And yet, when we reached the end of our tour, there was a demonstration of how to make drinking chocolate “like Martha Washington herself would have made it.” Really? Ground the cacao pods into powder by herself, did she? Still, this stuff is delicious, and these days as long as you get fair or direct trade chocolate, you can even be sure no one has to be enslaved for you to drink it. So that’s nice.

We get ours from Costco right now, because I found Rodelle cocoa powder there and found this post on the internet about it (granted, it’s anecdotal and secondhand information but I chose to go with it for now; there’s also this on their website if you’re interested in reading further):

“Elise Neufeld says:

OCTOBER 3, 2013 AT 2:44 PM

Being concerned about cocoa powder, I contacted the company which supplies cocoa powder to our local Costco (Rodelle brand), and was shocked to get an email back within a few hours from their president. I was so impressed with his answer that I reproduced it below:

“It is very important to our company that our vanilla and cocoa are sustainably and socially sourced. Myself and our procurement team routinely visit our growing regions to personally audit our exporters and farming cooperatives for such issues you have mentioned. I was a Peace Corps volunteer many years ago and I learned at an early age how important it is that all parties are treated fairly throughout the supply chain especially when it comes to commodity food products in developing countries. We do source a number of “Fair Trade” products but I do feel that a lot still needs to be ironed out when it comes to the “Fair Trade” certification. Therefore we have established our own criteria based on working with transparent cooperatives supporting them with social programs and paying premium prices to the farmers. I am proud to say we have impacted over 15,000 farmers for the better by having such strict procedures in place. We do have more information on our website regarding our programs. ”

It’s good to know that even some of the bigger brands are committed to ethical sourcing!”