Showing posts from 2015

Heavenly Light

This was the featured image on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Facebook page this morning. It's the perfect image for a Sunday morning, especially on Memorial Day weekend when we remember the lives of those lost in the service of our country. This weekend many of us also choose to remember the lives of family and friends that have passed on. And so the illuminating rays of sunlight over the Missionary Baptist Church in Cades Cove speak to each of us and to those no longer with us. It's not hard to feel the spirit and the peace portrayed.

This morning my friend, Bryan Nowak, noted that the sunlight looked like heavenly beams. I smiled knowing I had titled this image "Heavenly Light" shortly after the photograph was taken last June. The name is inspired by a sacred choral postlude I was introduced to by my nephew, Chris Plaas, who sings with a men's chorus called Brethren. The hymn, featured on the Brethren's CD Prayers and Praises, was written by the …


Life is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, highs and lows. We don't stay in the same place -- physically, emotionally, or spiritually -- for very long before something changes and we must also change. When we arrive at a high place, a low invariably follows. I'm sliding on the downslope tonight after arriving on a big high this morning. To fight the feelings that accompany downslopes, I pause to reflect on the good things of the past few months.

Spring is my favorite season and April is my favorite month of the year. April is dogwoods and redbuds, tulips and daffodils. It's about Easter and Jesus Christ, it's about new life and second chances, it's a celebration of surviving a long, cold winter. April is an explosion of wildflowers that fill me with joy -- trillium, trout lilies, and lady's slippers. As I drove the Loop Road around Cades Cove last Wednesday afternoon and observed the last of the dogwood blossoms fading and falling to the ground, I felt a twinge…

Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake

Another Saturday night and it's time for another pound cake! This time I went for a chocolate sour cream pound cake -- something I've not made before. I trust my vintage Southern Living magazine recipes (this one is from 1992) and this one is another winner. I tweaked the recipe just a tiny bit and added a glaze. Here's what I did:

For the cake:
1 c. unsalted butter, softened, plus additional to prepare pan
2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
6 lg. eggs, at room temperature
2 c. all purpose flour (plus additional to prepare pan)
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 c. cocoa
8 oz. dairy sour cream
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. cocoa
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10" Bundt or tube pan and set aside. Sift together flour, cocoa, and baking soda and set aside.

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. …

Lent Photo-a-Day 3/27: Meditate

A couple of weeks after my mother's death last summer I went for a drive in the Smokies to think about what I was experiencing and let some of my feelings out in a safe place. I parked in a favorite location along the Little River, grabbed my camera, a pencil, and a journal and found a nice rock to sit on at the water's edge. Snippets of verse had been running through my mind as I drove the Little River Road, but they found a home as I meditated on this view. I didn't take time to put this image and poem on my blog then, but I want to remember so I'm doing it now.

Just for today 
I will drive through the Smokies like a tourist,
I will savor every curve in a road I know by heart.
I will listen to water crashing over big rocks
And know that beneath still water lies a strong current.
I will remember that green leaves don't stay on trees forever,
And the yellowed birch leaves floating at my feet are a sign of what is to come.
I will watch clouds float across the sky
And know t…

Lent Photo-a-Day 3/17: Endure

I returned to the "scene of the crime," the place where my healing journey began in 2011. This time I did not turn right after crossing the bridge, taking the "flattest, easiest trail in the park" to Cataract Falls. No, today I went left on the nature trail to the John Ownby cabin, a 1.2 mile loop that involves a little uphill climb heading towards the cabin and again upon leaving the cabin. It's an easy trail, no doubt, but that first climb quickly reminded me of my miserable conditioning. Although my legs were fine, my cardio endurance is sorely lacking.

My body, mind, and spirit took a huge beating over the winter and today it showed big-time. Being cooped up at home caring for Daddy has done no favors for my health and fitness. But I'm still on my healing journey, still growing, still overcoming, still taking big baby steps, still enduring. Things will get better, I'm sure of it. I'm hiking on!

Lent Photo-a-Day 3/15: Celebrate -- Baby Steps

Today's post is inspired by a conversation I had with a friend at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Volunteer Appreciation Banquet last night. Though we don't know each other well just yet, our life journeys have recently led us down a shared path -- the unexpected death of a parent. Life has issued each of us some other difficult challenges. Though different in our challenges the struggle is maybe not so different. I shared just a tiny portion of my struggle, though time and circumstances did not permit a more heartfelt, private conversation. One of the things I have learned is that all challenges are overcome by taking baby steps. It's impossible to take bigger steps or get through the challenge faster. I've also learned that all baby steps really are big steps. And so I'm sharing a piece of my story with the hope that it will be of help to my friend, to all my friends who may wonder if they can survive and conquer. I promise, if I can, you can too.

I was…

Lent Photo-a-Day 3/12: Stop...and Smell the Daffodils

Back when I was an undergraduate student at UT, I remember making a weekend trip to Cades Cove in mid-March -- a season I had not visited in previously. That was the visit I discovered the daffodils blooming near the cemetery at the Methodist Church, and I fell in love. The following year I carefully timed my return just to see the naturalized flowers herald the arrival of early spring in the Smokies. Since that fateful day, I have tried my best to get to Cades Cove to see the daffodils as often as possible. 

The removal of grazing cattle led to increased growth of shrubs and trees near the Methodist Church so the flowers aren't as plentiful there as they once were (yes, I'm sad about that). A hillside of blooms near Hyatt Lane is now my favorite location, in part because there are so many flowers there and in part because of the panoramic views from "daffodil hill." Even on a gray, overcast day like today, the masses of sunny yellow daffys brighten the scene. They re…

Lent Photo-a-Day 3/11: Wise

Today's photo topic brought to mind two of my favorite things -- the University of Tennessee and the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. As the daughter of  a UT professor, I grew up on campus. I went on to get two college degrees at UT (to go with one from Vanderbilt). I've been blessed with the opportunity to be well-educated. But being intelligent and well-educated does not assure that you are a wise person. Wisdom comes from life experience, making decisions, making mistakes, and learning from the experiences of others. Wise people do not need to be well-educated to make good choices if they are in tune with God. I know a number of highly educated people who lack wisdom, though they believe themselves to be very wise, very shrewd. The best combination is to be educated and wise -- a lofty goal. A favorite scripture verse from the Book of Mormon addresses this idea:

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of…

Lent Photo-A-Day 3/9: Sabbath

"If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." Isaiah 58:13-14

The Sabbath Day is not like the rest of the week for me. I choose to not shop, dine out, participate in sports and other activities which would require that someone else work on the Lord's Day. I spend time in church, with family and friends, and appreciating the beautiful world Heavenly Father created for His children. I feel blessed by my choice to honor Him by respecting the day He set aside for us to worship, pray, and rest.

Lent Photo-a-Day 3/4: Poor

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3
I didn't make up this list of topics for the Lent photo challenge. Whoever created the list could not have known what today, March 4th, would mean for me. They could not have known that I would be "poor in spirit" today -- the first year I had to remember my mother's birthday without her presence. It's been almost seven months since her passing. Seven long, difficult, very emotional months. This week has been one of the hardest weeks of them all, even harder than Christmas. I feel emotionally beat up.
Daddy wasn't feeling too great today after yesterday's big day in Cades Cove. I feel a little devious, but needing some private time for me, I left him home and drove across town to the cemetery. I did not tell him where I was going. I couldn't face his sad eyes. How could I explain I needed to go without him? I couldn't so I avoided the conversation. I hope I wi…

Lent Photo-a-Day: Near


Lent Photo-a-Day 3/2: Bless

My mother quoted Job often, especially in times when life changes left me feeling a sense of loss. I'm pretty sure my faith is nowhere near that of Job's, but I am learning that I am blessed by the Lord in all things. I love that bless is a verb, a word of action. It is human to focus on how we want the Lord to bless us, give us what we desire in life. The scriptures tell us that He will give us the desires of our hearts if we trust in Him. This is good, but we can take it to the next level by focusing on how we can act to bless others. The well-loved phrase, Lord, let me be a blessing to someone today. shows us the way to move beyond ourselves to others. In the many years of my illness when I couldn't do much of anything, trying to find ways to bless others gave me a sense of purpose. I did little things, really little things, but it made a difference for the recipient and for me. Because I felt the Lord's love in those moments, even though my health was taken away f…

Lent Photo-a-Day 3/1: Celebrate

Life offers many opportunities for celebration. Births and birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, and life achievements all come to mind when I think of the word celebrate. We mark the passing of time, life's turning points, and accomplishments, large and small, with celebrations. In my family, photographs document many of those celebrations. We never were home movie or video people. Mother shot mostly slides and I am a print and digital image photographer. That means we have a closet filled with slide carousels and drawers and bookshelves filled with photos, some neatly stored in albums and many not.

Today I decided to acknowledge the celebration that accompanied the completion of my PhD. For me this day was about far more than a college degree, it was about not giving up. It was about hope, and patience, and a ferocious tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds -- not in my favor. It was about not letting devastating illness take away my life and my dreams, but most of all, it w…

Lent Photo-a-Day 2/28: Powers


Lent Photo-a-Day 2/26: Place

Over the course of my life I have enjoyed an intimate relationship with special places -- places that have significant meaning and importance for me. As a phenomenologist I have explored the relationship of space, an infinite expanse, and place, a "center of significance or meaning that may be used as a guide" (Thomas & Pollio, 2002). A phenomenological geographer, Yi-Fu Tuan, talks about place as space "made into an object." We attach names to objects, we can describe the characteristics of objects, and often we are able to express our feelings about objects. We do all those things in describing our experience of special places, also.

There are a number of places on this planet that are very special to me. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of those places. I have favorite locations in Cades Cove, along the Little River, and on park trails. In the last couple of years one location has come to hold the most meaning for me -- Clingmans Dome. As the high…

Lent Photo-a-Day 2/24: Path


Lent Photo-a-Day 2/23: Covenant

As a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have grown up understanding the importance of making and keeping sacred covenants with my Father in Heaven.
"A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and a person or group of people. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey those conditions. When we choose not to keep covenants, we cannot receive the blessings, and in some instances we suffer a penalty as a consequence of our disobedience. Covenants mark the path back to God."   Many of the covenants I have chosen to enter into happen in the temple, a sacred place of instruction and covenant-making. I love every opportunity I get to travel to Nashville and attend the temple. I am able to feel the peace of God's love there and recommit to keep my covenants with Him. It's a great blessing!


A friend of mine, Jim Bennett, posted a photo of his wife and grandkids on Facebook this afternoon and indicated he was participating in a Photo-a-Day project for Lent. For some time I have  been fascinated by the activities people engage in before and during Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have never participated in any Lenten traditions since they are not a formal practice in my church. In studying the ideology behind Lenten tradtitions, I can see where engaging in a period of preparation for the holiest day in the Christian year has great merit. Last year I tried to do a few things but I confess, I did not fare very well. This year I believe I'll try this photo-sharing opportunity and see what added meaning I can find in remembering the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Jim tells me there is a word associated with each day of the challenge. Today's word is Joy. Moments of pure joy do not happen all that of…

Dot's Beef Stroganoff

Busy church schedules mean Sunday night suppers are best if I plan ahead and use the crock-pot. This recipe is a long-time family favorite, but it's not MamaJo's. No, this one comes from John Rankin's Mom, Dorothy Rankin. Dot was my Sunday School teacher for most of my teen years and she was a wonderful cook. I've tweaked the original recipe just a little but it's very true to Dot's vision. This is not your typical thick, gooey mushroom sauce stroganoff, rather its a delightful tomato-rich sauce that's just a bit different. I think it's amazing and best of all, it's easy!

Dot's Beef Stroganoff

1 lg yellow onion, thinly sliced
6-8 oz white button mushrooms, sliced
2-2.5 lbs lean beef steak (round steak or sirloin), 1/2" thick and thinly sliced into strips

2 T canola oil
2 T butter
1-10.75 oz. can Condensed Cream of Tomato soup
1 T Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 c sour cream
salt and pepper

Heat 1 T. canola oil in a …

Up in the Air So Blue

When I was a kid I had a favorite poem, The Swing, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall, Till I can see so wide, Rivers and trees and cattle and all Over the countryside--
Till I look down on the garden green, Down on the roof so brown-- Up in the air I go flying again, Up in the air and down!
Back then I could often be found in the backyard giving the swingset a workout, usually while singing my favorite church songs at the top of my lungs. Childhood joys are so simple, aren't they? Now, decades later, some things haven't changed. I still love to go up in the air so blue, but now I drive a car to the top of the Smokies where I can see over the rock walls to the streams and green valleys below. My feet may be firmly planted on the mountaintop, but my spirit is flying -- up in the air and down! And yes, I'm still singing my favorite church song…

Microwave Mac n Cheese

Way back in the stone age when microwaves were the latest technology, My Mom got a  cookbook filled with recipes intended to help microwave owners use their appliance for something more than making popcorn, boiling water, or reheating leftovers. Yes, you really can cook in the microwave. Of the many recipes she tried, Mom used this one the most. The other night I decided to pull the now falling-apart cookbook out and give Microwave Mac n Cheese a try. I cook the pasta on the stove in traditional fashion, but the cheese sauce and casserole are done in the microwave. Since today's microwaves are more powerful than their predecessors, some adjustments have been made. Here's what I did:

Pasta: The recipe calls for 1-7oz pkg of macaroni but I prefer a heartier pasta for this sauce. I cooked 4 cups of dried penne pasta in boiling, salted water for 10 minutes. You aren't cooking the pasta all the way, just until it is a little more dente than al dente. Drain and transfer to a mic…

Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake

I love pound cake. Good pound cake. Moist, dense, did-not-come-from-a-box pound cake. And I've been using the same recipe for over 20 years, because classics don't change. Oh, I've tweaked the Southern Living original recipe just a little bit for this variation, but it's the same southern favorite that would have been proudly served on a dinner table in Steel Magnolias or Driving Miss Daisy.

1 c. unsalted butter, softened (no substitutions!)
3 c. granulated sugar
6 lg. eggs (at room temperature)
3 c. all-purpose flour (I use White Lily, of course!)
1/4 tsp. baking soda
8 oz. dairy sour cream (the real thing, not reduced or low-fat)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel

Fresh-squeezed juice from one lg. lemon
2 c. powdered sugar

Remove butter, eggs, and sour cream from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Don't skip this step! Thoroughly butter and flour a ten-inch tube pan, tap out excess flour…