For everyone whose Christmas holds both joy and pain, who celebrates with sadness on the edges, and for whom the waiting and wanting is more present than content and satisfaction, this carol is for you.

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!

And 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.”

May you hear the bells and have a merry Christmas.



Happy fall from the land of endless sunshine (unless it’s foggy) and relentless 75-degree weather!

This is that time of year when I’m jealous of all of you who don’t live where the weather is always awesome. Because “always awesome” means “always the same.” Even though the temperatures drop more at night and there’s a slight chill in the air, it’s still in the 70s most days. Here’s the nut: It’s not cold enough for hot chocolate. Send your pity and that blizzard breeze to me at 123 I Can’t Believe She’s Complaining, CA. Do not send it to my husband. He’s never been happier, meteorologically speaking.

This weekend I pretended it was cold by making molasses cookies and drinking tea while curled up under a woolen blanket. And actually, it was a little cold in our apartment this weekend because the windows were wide open.

Before I tell you why, can we agree to separate what you see in the picture above from what I’m about to tell you? Good.

They were open because a kind plumber named Cesar and our kind landlord were passing tools through the window while hard at work lifting our toilet off its setting in an attempt to resolve a long-standing plumbing problem. How bad a problem, you ask? Let’s just say we’ve become intimate with our neighbors in a way we never wanted nor dreamt possible.

There is no way to transition from that to these cookies, so let’s just dive right in.

Brad and I completed our one-month kidney cleanse and it was awesome. I usually suffer through cleanses kind of like I’m suffering through this warm fall. But this time I noticed a major difference in my energy levels, the consistency of my concentration, how alert I felt when I woke up, and my stress levels. Now we’re gradually re-introducing the foods we cut out to see how our bodies feel. So far eggs = awesome, oats = bloating, and salmon = thank God we’re eating meat again.

This weekend we introduced gluten again, but wanted to do it gently, so we chose einkorn flour. Our friends Tim and Shanna have posted a wealth of information about einkorn on their blog, and their cookbook, The Einkorn Cookbook, is coming out in December. Pre-order yours, folks, it’s gonna be good. Basically, einkorn is an ancient wheat form with less gluten than conventional wheat. We first made pancakes with it. (If you’re keeping track, pancakes = wonderful.) Then, I got excited to bake again and made these cookies. They’re soft and cakey, and an excuse to eat the molasses my doctor literally just prescribed, like on my care plan prescribed, me to eat more of.

einkorn molasses cookies
makes 2 dozen cookies
adapted from Deliciously Organic

I didn’t roll our cookies in sugar because we’re still limiting our sweets. But you’re welcome to do so before baking. 

2-1/2 cups einkorn flour
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/3 cup raw honey
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients and stir until completely mixed and the dough is stiff. Let sit for five minutes while you line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop up about 1-1/2 tablespoons of dough, roll into a ball with your hand, and place on the parchment. Repeat for all. Press with a fork or with your fingers (that’s what I did–those finger imprints just prove they’re homemade) to flatten slightly. Bake for 10 minutes.


el plato

Before we moved to California, Brad and I talked about one day visiting Los Angeles and one day driving Highway One and one day going to wine country and one day living near an ocean. I filed these trips and experiences under Nice Things Other People Have the Time and Money to Do. Then we moved here. Now I’m dumbstruck that we can live our bucket list. (Like cutting out of work early in the middle of the week to drive to Napa for dinner and a Lone Bellow concert. Amazing!)

Moving here and living here still seems like something so big, so outside what we could have accomplished ourselves that all of it still seems like a gift. Some days I want to give the gift back. Mostly on Giants game days when very drunk, very vocal, and very smelly people fill the commuter train I take. But virtually every other day I realize that this job that brought us out here is a gift. This work project in LA that paid for a night in a hotel and our miles to go down is a gift. The best way I know how to say thank you to the God who brought us here is to show him how much I’m enjoying this great gift he’s given us.

Where does that lead us? Well, it leads us to the West Hollywood outpost of Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant. We’ve been to their San Francisco location and were really impressed with how they made a plate of all veggies, rice, beans, and nuts taste so full of flavor and have so many textures. In LA this summer, four women at the table next to us were slamming margaritas, but we contented ourselves with this plate of yum. It’s roasted butternut squash, chorizo mushrooms, escabeche (I learned that’s basically pickled carrots and peppers), served with rice and beans and topped with cashew “cheese,” cilantro pesto, and pico de gallo. For those of you who remember my hummus plate, you already know I like meals that are basically a giant tray of condiments and encourage a little messiness. This is that.

Brad requested I make it while we’re on this cleanse (no meat, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, no caffeine, no sugars). Yes, it’s about one hour of hands-on time and the ingredient list seems long. But none of it is hard and each part comes together quickly, so you don’t even think about how crazy it is that you’re making no less than seven things from scratch for one meal.

Recipe and photos from our trip to LA below.
IMG_1730Happy at Manhattan Beach.

IMG_8823My man on the Man(hattan) pier.

IMG_1747The observatory was stunning. A few of the doors were painted jade green; that against the creamy white was so beautiful.

IMG_8832Some locals told us we had to go to Griffith Park Observatory to see a city institution, catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign and see the whole valley. I’m so glad we took their advice. The observatory was stunning.

IMG_8839We are huge dorks who wanted to make sure no one missed the Hollywood sign. See also the photo below.


el plato
makes 4-6 servings, depending on how you divide up the goods

Based off the entree on the menu at Gracias Madre.

for roasted squash:
one butternut squash

for rice:
1-1/2 cups rice
4 cups water

for escabeche (barely adapted from here):
3/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon honey OR one dropperful liquid stevia (I used stevia)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 carrots, thinly sliced or diced in a food processor (I recommend this. It took me forever to slice)
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, halved

for cashew cheese (adapted from here):
1 cup raw cashews soaked overnight or for at least one hour
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a splash of raw apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper

for cilantro pesto:
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 clove garlic
juice from one lemon
about 3 tablespoons olive oil

for pico de gallo:
four large fresh tomatoes
1/2 red onion
1 clove garlic
a handful of cilantro
juice from one lime
splash of raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 jalapeno (optional)

for black beans:
2 cans (or 4 cups) cooked black beans
sea salt

for mushroom chorizo (adapted from here):
8 oz. mushrooms, diced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

corn tortillas (optional)

PLAN OF ATTACK: Start with the squash. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, then place the halves cut side down in one inch of water in a glass 9″x13″ pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until soft.

While the squash is baking, cook the rice. Add the rice, water, and salt to a pot and bring to a boil, uncovered. Let boil softly for 30 minutes. Drain the rice and put it back in the pot and let it sit, covered, with no heat for 10 minutes to steam.

While the rice is boiling, tackle the escabeche. Place the vinegar, salt, stevia or honey, oregano, and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 3-4 minutes or until soft. (If you like your veggies a little more crisp, cook for only 2 minutes. We needed softer for Brad’s jaw). I strongly suggest using a food processor for the carrots, by the way. I labored way too long with my crappy knife and crappy knife skills to produce the toothpicks you see in the photo above. Not really worth it. ANYWAY. Once the veggies are cooked to your liking, pour the whole mixture into a bowl and let cool. If you make this a few days ahead, keep it in the refrigerator to ripen.

Next, the cashew cheese, which couldn’t be easier: Put everything in a Vitamix or food processor and blend until smooth.

Whiz together the cilantro pesto by putting everything in a Vitamix or food processor and blending until the herbs and garlic are finely chopped. (I didn’t clean out my vitamix between the cashews and the pesto, but you do you.)

At this point, my rice was done and steaming and I just left it covered. My squash was out of the oven and cooling until I could touch it without burning myself. So I forged ahead, well, actually Brad did, with pico. Add all ingredients except one tomato to a Vitamix or food processor and blend in bursts until relatively smooth. Dice the remaining tomato finely and stir in.

Heat the black beans (rinse them thoroughly if you’re using canned) by placing in a pan with a little salt. I left these slightly bland to contrast the other strong flavors on the plate. Remove to a bowl.

Make the chorizo mushrooms in the same pan: Cook the mushrooms over medium heat until they start to express water and are halfway cooked. Add the remaining ingredients and saute until cooked through.

Heat tortillas using method of your choice (I use a toaster oven).

ASSEMBLE: Put slices of peeled butternut squash on a plate. Surround with a spoonful each of rice and beans. Add the remaining toppings to your taste. Spoon into tortillas if you like. Though honestly, after taking the picture above, we forgot about the tortillas and just ate the whole thing with a fork and it was awesome.


Early June: We tasted at the Chateau Montelena, whose Chardonnay beat French white wines in an international blind tasting. That’s when California wine started to sit at the grown-up table. And this little day trip we took with Brad’s aunt, uncle, cousin and his wife, and uncle-in-law and his wife, is when I realized I could easily take to the good life.

June: My parents came to visit! This week was my happiest since we’ve moved here. We did so much and my mom wrote each day’s agenda down in a little notebook because she is the cutest that way.



June: All of us at Muir Woods. This is also the week I found out my parents are suddenly obsessed with trees. They stopped to stare at different trees up and down our block, all through Muir Woods, and anywhere else we went. I don’t remember them doing this when I was young. Or heck, even 18 months ago when we lived in the same state.



June: Mom, Dad, and Brad: Greatest Hits. Album art shot at Quivira Winery.



June: The ocean makes even my freakishly huge father look small.



June: Pomponio beach.



June: My little mama on the beach.



July: Friends of ours from Des Moines drove through San Francisco when they moved back to Portland. This is their daughter, who fell in love with me and I with her. It’s a shame she often preferred walking because I could have held her the entire time they were here.



July: I guess she’s pretty darling walking, too.



July: Oana, Elsie, Andrew, and Brad: Greatest Hits, Vol II. Album art shot near Lombard Street.



July: Then THESE little edible nephews came to town. The way Brad loves them and the way they adore him makes my stomach flip. Three of my favorites in this shot here.



July: Before we moved, Max made a book of famous sights in San Francisco for us so we would know what to expect when we got here. Two days before we left, he read it to us while I sobbed. We pulled it back out this summer so he could mug with it when we took him to all the spots he wrote about it.



July: And Harry, what a crackup. While sitting in this booth at lunchtime, Harry began a campaign of charming the waitress. The second she walked up to the table to greet us, he sat up straight and announced, “I’LL HAVE THE CHEESEBURGER!” After we finished our meal, she came by to check on us and he stood on the seat and said, “WE ARE READY TO LEAVE.” Let’s take him everywhere.



July: This beauty is my littlest sister’s best friend, so she’s like my little sister. She and her husband were touring Cali and we met for a few great hours at a coffee shop in Mill Valley to hug and smile and talk and laugh at how different we are. I love her. (Aubrey, move here, mean it!)

Not pictured: All the hard and boring stuff.


Hi, my name is Joanna. I write this blog, in case you forgot. (I almost forgot.)

I have old news from early summer plus new news from now-ish to share before moving on to…other old things I still want to think about and write about. This is the result of being a long processor. Something happens, but I don’t really understand what happened until three months later when I’ve had time to put the thing in proper context. Indulge me while I get it out of my system:

// Old news: The Casual Vacancy is not a good book. In fact, I didn’t cross the finish line on this one even though I was at an airport for four hours by myself with only the book to comfort me. It was that bad. Putting aside the is-it-there-is-it-not plot, I think J.K. Rowling tried way too hard to remind us this is an Adult book for Adults who are not teens who like magic but Adults who like real Adult things. Her tools were swearing, vulgar language, so much sex, and the most despondent cast of characters. New news: Winter’s Tale also belongs in the category of bad books that were my only consolation at an airport. That is 700+ pages of WHAT?

// Old news: I continue to love virtually every retelling of Pride and Prejudice and Emma I encounter. This time, it’s the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, both made-for-YouTube web shows that coincide with real-time social media posts by the characters. The episodes are short, the adaptation of each is creative, and if you need any other reason to start watching them immediately I give you these two words: Darcy. Knightley. New news: Austenland. A hillarible movie (and book) I can’t wait to watch again with my friend over Skype while we drink wine and reminisce about when we were young and silly romantics, then laugh about how we haven’t changed at all. If you need any other reason to watch it immediately, I give you these two words: Basically Darcy.

// Old news: We’ve been eating gluten- and cow-dairy-free the last six or so weeks and I have some yummy recipes to share as soon as I resign myself again to being a horrible iPhone food photographer. New news: Today is the third day of a 30-day kidney cleanse. On Sunday, we begin the “juice feast” portion of the cleanse. Garlic juice, y’all. Pray for me.



Brad’s mom and dad are here this week and all I have to say is: Family is awesome. Particularly parents because they think every meal we make is the tastiest thing they’ve ever eaten, they say you’re the most stunning beauty they’ve ever seen, and every place we show them is so wonderful and we are so clever to bring them there. It is the BEST. Other good things below.

// Watch this five-minute video of an autistic man who can memorize aerial views in minutes, then draw them with insane accuracy. It will blow your mind (and also maybe make your mind feel like a slacker).

// Why writers (and everyone) should read the classics. This article also includes a working definition of “classic” from Ezra Pound that I hadn’t heard before: It is a classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.

// If it sometimes feels like all the gentrified neighborhoods feel the same—artisanal ice cream shop, upscale flea market, cafes with chalkboard menus—it might be because there is a formula.

// This week’s I Love Space entry: a timelapse video of the space station flying through an aurora. (You all are following @Astro_Reid on Twitter, right?)

// Nathan Bransford’s Page Critiques are good reminders of what works in writing–and how important an editor is.


Quotes about writing or reading from People Who Would Know. (All of these from How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman, a comforting collection of short profiles of novelists.)

“Some people think, ‘Oh she’s so virtuous to get up that early,'” Morrison says, letting loose a smoker’s cackle. “It has nothing to do with that. I get up because a) the sun’s up, and b) I’m smart in the morning. I just can’t get it together in the evening.” —Toni Morrison (Me too, Toni. Me too.)

“It’s like going into a dark room,” he says, his voice slowing. “I enter that room, open that door, and it’s dark, completely dark. But I can see something, and I can touch something and come back to this world, this side, and write it.” —Haruki Murakami

“I have a theory,” he says in a deep baritone. “If you lead a very repetitious life, your imagination works very well. It’s very active. So I get up early in the morning, every day, and I sit down at my desk, and I am ready to write.” —Haruki Murakami

“So you have to mistrust your memory. Because memory likes to make things look nice, it likes to make complicated things simplified—and I wanted to write down this mistrust. It’s one of the reasons why I tell stories which begin this way and then I make a correction, a variation.” —Gunter Grass

“I’ve begun working on a writers’ Hippocratic oath,” Wolfe says. “The first line of the doctors’ Hippocratic oath is ‘First, do no harm.’ And I think for the writers it would be: ‘First, entertain.’ Entertain is a very simple word. I looked it up in the dictionary. Entertainment enables people to pass the time pleasantly. And any writing–I don’t care if it’s poetry or what–should first entertain. It’s a very recent thing that there’s a premium put on making writing so difficult that only a charmed aristocracy is capable of understanding it.” —Tom Wolfe

“I feel comfortable operating within stringent restrictions in all the books,” he says—”a list of things I can and cannot do.” He picks up Black Swan Greene, which is told entirely in Jason’s voice. “So, if you write a book in the first person, you can’t give any information to the reader that the protagonist doesn”t know–unless you smuggle it either through the narrator’s stupidity or, in the case of Jason, of this device of him not knowing what he knows. Once you decide the rule, you can see how what happens is dictated. So you don’t have to work out what happens, you just have to work out the rule.” —David Mitchell

“I think about how much thinner literary characters have got since the disappearance of Christianity.” —A.S. Byatt


Those who know me well know I have a pretty healthy paranoia about technology and privacy. And when I say healthy, I mean I’m convinced Facebook wants to steal all my personal identifying information and use it to strangle puppies. That’s why I deactivated my account a year ago. It had nothing to do with how much time I wasted on it. *Cough.*

ANYWAY. Because I like to feed the worst parts of my personality, I picked up The Circle by Dave Eggers. In it, a young woman gets a job at Circle, a tech company that started by making it easy for everyone to create an online “TruYou” profile. With it, you can make payments, review your favorite products, even vote, and it’s all so friendly because your TruYou is tied to your social security number. When people use their real names, they don’t troll, apparently. (Except we all no there are people on this planet with no shame who would TOTALLY still troll and be really proud of it.) The young woman, who was written so thinly I can’t even remember her name except it starts with an M, quickly and accidentally sets into motion a plan to “complete” the Circle, which involves her sleeping with a lot of people, wearing a camera around her neck at all hours, and tweeting…I mean “zinging” until 3 in the morning. Things rapidly move toward a totalitarian state and people die and there are drones involved.

The first night I started reading it, I had a nightmare about The Circle recording me. The second night I woke up with my own voice screaming in my head, “CHOICE! Choice is what you lose when everyone’s watching!”

(You’re thinking of a word, and that word is tranquilizer.)

It’s not the writing that will make you tense–the writing is only so-so–it’s how much of the technology and the arguments for it you’ll recognize in today’s world. Like 24/7 ankle monitors for infants. Or small cameras ostensibly for monitoring the weather but that could monitor whatever you want. And entire offices being asked to wear stress monitors while at work (scroll down, it happened at LinkedIn). Or asking an app to decide whether or not you belong. WHAT.

This is the part where I mention I just joined Instagram. Run for your lives!



This soul is 28 and tired. Already.

Everybody wonders, What if the worst happens to me? Will I survive it? The worst hasn’t happened to us (thank God), but I never considered the alternative: Sitting on the edge of the worst, sometimes close, sometimes farther away, but always side-by-side, crawling to an unknown end. This crawl diminishes all good things.

I’m challenging myself to see the crawl as a pilgrimage. It’s an epic journey where surprise provision is made, fellow pilgrims join me, and the vistas and the valleys don’t distract me from the goal: to finish well.

When I look at where Brad and I are with a pilgrimage in mind, I know it’s fair to call the day-to-day managing of his illness work. I recognize the constant pressure this journey puts on us and know it needs some relief. I also know relief doesn’t always come from the same source. Saturday, it was yoga. Sunday, it was discovering Two Dots for the iPad and letting my brain play.

Today, I’m drawing a line connecting how needy my soul is for rest and my months-long curiosity about Sabbath traditions. Mainly, as a disciple of Jesus, does this Jewish tradition have anything for me? And how does Jesus reframe the Sabbath for me? (The other, more quiet question: Would I have the discipline to change what’s now a grab-bag of days for one that’s intentional? And even more quiet, but it’s The Big One: If we do change, how would God use this in our lives?)

I need rest. My husband needs rest. Our marriage needs rest. Out of that rest, I want new energy, fresh creativity, and a more true devotion.

That sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I grabbed these quotes from a book by Abraham Joshua Heschel I read on the Sabbath. Read them and tell me you don’t want that kind of rest and peace. They’re helping me think about what a Sabbath day might be for us, but I’m curious if any of you have already done this. Maybe you have another way to refocus. What is it?


He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.


Relaxation, then, is not an end; it is “for the sake of activity,” for the sake of gaining strength for new efforts. To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work.  …  Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The day is a palace in time which we build.


Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats*, the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of endless peace, or to the beginning of an awareness of what eternity means.

 *I felt this way yesterday and am so thankful for the people I told who said, “That’s ok, we’ll pick it up for you today and pray. We’ll give you that rest.”

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Do not resent your place in the story. Do not imagine yourself elsewhere. Do not close your eyes and picture a world without thorns, without shadows, without hawks. Change this world. Use your body like a tool meant to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Better every life you touch. We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shekinah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag. 

N.D. Wilson via Billy Jack Brawner III