Friday, October 31, 2008

Free Sin Boldly Audio Download

Bloggy book giveaway participants -

Still working your way through Sin Boldly? Here is a way that might help you finish:

Download the audio book for free!

That's right, just head here and download the file to your computer. Then you can listen to it while you go about your day.

Personally, I'm a HUGE audio book fan. I often have them on while I drive, fold laundry, cook dinner, and clean the house. I love having something going on in the background while I make my way through otherwise mundane tasks.

And for those of you who aren't participating but are still interested in Sin Boldly, here is a way to enjoy it - for free!

Welcome Rina Marie!

Our friends Bryan and Erika welcomed a baby girl into their life yesterday! Congratulations! We're so happy for you guys!

She is perfect.

And I love that her name means "a shout/exclamation of joy" in Hebrew.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bloggy Giveaway - Deadline Extended!

For those of you who are participating in the bloggy book giveaway, you may remember that tomorrow (Thursday, October 30) is the deadline for posting your review.

But for me, October passed by in a complete blur.

Anyone with me? I have a feeling I'm not alone here.

For this reason, just in case any of your are a little behind on your reading, I'm going to extend the deadline by one week. That's right! To qualify for the prizes, please post your review (and tell me you've done it) by:

Thursday, November 6th

I'll announce prize winners on Friday, November 7th.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Prayer for the Here and Now

I was spending some time praying last night, and reading through a favorite little prayer book when I came across this portion:

When the way seems dark before me,
give me grace to walk trustingly.

When much is obscure to me,
let me be all the more faithful to the little that I can clearly see.

When the distant scene is clouded,
let me rejoice that at least the next step is plain.

When what Thou art is most hidden from my eyes,
let me still hold fast to what Thou dost command.

When insight falters,
let obedience stand firm.

What I lack in faith let me repay in love.

This is my prayer.

The future is so uncertain for us right now, and these words struck me in a way that was both comforting and challenging. I was reminded that what is important now is to be faithful with what I have been given and what I do know, trusting that God will direct my steps in His timing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Git 'R Dun Day

I'm home. It feels incredible.

Not that I haven't enjoyed my ping-pong trip around the Midwest these past couple of weeks! I spent time with family in Chicago this past weekend, enjoyed excellent Indian food with Jenni and Sarah in Grand Rapids last week, witnessed an incredible array of colors on my drive, and even road-tripped it with Jamie for a couple of days.

Oh, and worked. A lot!

But my favorite part of the trip? Coming home and spending time with my boys. We had a completely lazy night together. Josh even had a pot of spaghetti sauce brewing for me when I returned. We watched TV, took Riley out, and went to bed on time. I didn't check email, barely touched the dishes, and still have a half-full suitcase upstairs that is waiting to be unpacked.

Which reminds me...

There is a lot that I've neglected lately - from laundry to eating right to certain sewing projects to blogging (have you noticed?). I also have a stack of bills to pay, belated birthday cards to mail, and emails to answer.

Let me just tell you - I can't WAIT to dig in and put my life back together. And as a result, today is my official "Git R Dun" day. Josh is out of town tonight, and instead of dwell on our lack of time together I'm going to use the opportunity to be very, very productive.

I may not change out of pajamas, but I'll put a bunch of other pieces to my life back in place.

Here we go.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When You're in Memphis... have to do two things:

1. Eat authentic Memphis barbecue at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

2. Go to Graceland.


and Check.

Well, kind of. Graceland actually costs $27 (at the cheapest rate) so we checked out the gift shops, took pictures at the entrance, and peeped over fences at Elvis' famed mansion. And paid $8 to park. But it was worth it.

I've had a trip to Tennessee planned for work for months now, and when Jamie found that out she was immediately intrigued by the idea of a ROAD TRIP after her visit to Bloomington. It has been great to have her along for the ride, and I'll be sad to take off from Nashville without her tomorrow!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Weekend With a Jamie-Twist

My friend Jamie came visited me last year around this time, and we decided ages ago to repeat the fun. She flew in Friday and we've managed to pack in as much fall excitement as possible since then.

First, a trip to an orchard with the intent to drink cider, eat caramel apples, and go apple picking.

Unfortunately we were only 2 for 3, since that orchard didn't allow for any picking. Actually, we failed to see a single apple tree on the premises - a little suspicious. But we managed to eat our caramel apple and drink cider all the same, in addition to purchasing a bunch of apples to take home. Not a complete loss.

Here we are looking for apple trees. Do you see any?

After wine tasting and a tour at Oliver (mmm), we stopped for some specialty cheese and bread before heading back home. A classy appetizer for a football game, huh? But delicious. That evening we watched Michigan lose - again - and made what seems like gallons of applesauce. Thank you Sarah for the recipe! It is delicious, and I truly feel domestic after having made it. Who knew it would be so easy?

Sonic: We've Got It, Other's Don't

Do any of you Michiganders get frustrated to see Sonic commercials on TV, only to find out that the closest is in South Bend, IN? We always felt that way when we lived in Grand Rapids, and Bloomington used to be the same way. But when we returned to southern Indiana this summer we were thrilled to find that one cropped up in our backyard.

We therefore needed to make a pilgrimage to Sonic when our friends Patrick and Erin came down from West Michigan last month. This morning we learned that Jamie, who lives in D.C., has the same Sonic problem and was totally excited to try it out for the first time. She wasn't disappointed.
Today we headed over to the cute artist colony/tourist trap down the road for more fall fun, checking out the awesome colors on the way over. We enjoyed tasting fudge, knick-knack shopping, buying old fashioned candy, and (of course) trying on hats.
And did you notice what I was wearing in these pictures? Yes - that's right - LONG SLEEVES. And a puffy vest to boot! Yay for crisp, cool, fall temperatures. It is about time!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Writer's Block

I've got it. Big time.

All evening I've wanted to post something.

I googled "blog post ideas" and looked at websites like this.

I contemplated telling you a story from childhood, listing my top 10 "must haves" for a business trip, and finishing a book review post I started last week. But at this moment I don't feel up to it.

Then I started a new "favorites" post about my beloved pair of red tennis shoes. But in its current state, its awful. Totally boring.

So I'll turn this over to you, Internet. Is there something about me that you're curious about? A funny moment we've shared that you'd like me to recount? Perhaps a how-to (but keep in mind my limited number of skills)?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stopping to rest in Pittsburgh

I’m just stopping by this little blog o' mine for a brief respite before I continue on my way.

Life has taken a sharp turn into crazy this month. It isn’t a surprise. We knew it was coming and were prepared… kind-of.

Josh has recently started interviewing for post-grad school jobs (are we really at that point already?!? I thought we just started this process), and he gets to juggle those between class, group meetings, and getting home once in awhile to let the dog out. In the past week my work has taken me to Charlotte, Cleveland, and now Pittsburgh, with planned stops in Cincinnati, Nashville, Memphis, Grand Rapids, and Chicago in the next week-and-a-half. It is exhausting to think about. Much as I enjoy my job, being gone 10 days out of 14 isn’t my first choice. Especially when it means that I don’t get to see much of my darling dog or my cute husband all dressed up in a nice suit.

But despite being away from my two favorite boys, I've enjoyed this journey so far. For one, time alone in the car is peaceful for me. I was able to rent an audio book of The Hiding Place from the library before I left, and the story, though terribly sad, is both refreshing and inspiring. I’ve read it several times before, and it has that effect every time. Here is a woman that loved God, cared deeply for His people, and was used by Him to touch thousands of lives. I love stories of God working through ordinary people. Not only that, listening to Corrie ten Boom's story of faith and courage helps me put my own life - whatever my frustrations, desires, and fears happen to be at the time - back in perspective.

On a more superficial note, I've also enjoyed spending ample time in excellent bookstores (don't worry, Josh, I only have two new books), my solo dinner of P. F. Chang's last night, and finding awesome new jeans on sale at the Gap.

By far my favorite part of this trip (and feel free to call me 75) is witnessing the brilliant array of colors along the road. Yes, it is my own mini color tour! The rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania were nothing short of incredible today, as I made my way down from Cleveland. I've been trying all day to capture a good shot but none of the pictures do it justice. Perhaps this is because I'm trying to take them with the camera on my phone. But in the spirit of cutting down on the number of electric devices and power cords I need to travel with, it is all I have with me.

Okay, so in this picture, the trees look past their peak. Some even look dead. So you'll just have to take my word for it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

White Bean Chicken Chili

This recipe is a fall/winter staple in our home! I'm not really a chili person in general, but really enjoy this take on it. I started making this when we were first married, having received the recipe (once again) from Lanser Family Favorites.

I brought this to an event last night and had several requests for the recipe. I promised to post it here.

2T oil
1 lb skinless chicken breasts cut in small pieces
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, cut up small
1 18 oz can diced tomatoes
1 can chicken broth
1/2 t oregano
1/4 t cumin
1 15 oz can white beans
2 cups frozen corn
optional toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped green onions

Lightly brown chicken, onion, and garlic in the oil in a large pot. Stir in tomatoes, broth, and spices. Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes. Add beans and corn. Return to boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. We (especially Josh!) top this with shredded colby jack cheese and sour cream.

And, for the record, it is STILL 80 degrees in Bloomington. Come on fall weather! I'm cooking like you're here already!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Power Cords

I remember my first portable electric device - a Sony Walkman.

It was great for playing my favorite Amy Grant tape, Heart in Motion. It even had a digital AM/FM radio component, which was pretty sweet, back in 1993.

And it ran on batteries. So did my first camera.

A few years later I started college with a laptop (which I promptly named Julie) and cell phone. This was the beginning my experience with multiple power cords. But two wasn't so bad. Eventually I switched to a cheap digital camera, and along with that change brought another power cord into my life, along with a different cord that connects the camera to the computer.

Since then I've accumulated an iPod, another cell phone (this one for work stuff), and an eReader. Oh, and a husband, who has his own set of electronic devices. And for my last birthday I received a bluetooth from my parents, who were concerned with me driving across the country while talking on my cell phone. Now I can talk hands-free, which is great.

But holy cow power cords. They've really exploded out of control these days, and we end up with areas of our house that look like this:

And this:

And this:

Can anyone relate?

For the record, I do realize I'm a little spoiled when it comes to this stuff. But I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in owning a variety of great little gadgets.

Does anyone have a good solution for keeping them organized? They all have different little connections, and I have a hard time figuring out which is which. I also tend to lose them... I'm on camera cord #3. Thankfully there are random folks in China that will sell me cheap replacements on Ebay!


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

And While We're On The Subject of Josh...

I saw this on the blogs of a couple of bloggy friends, and especially since Josh contributed to this blog for the very first time yesterday, knew I had to join in the fun.

1. He's sitting in front of the TV, what is on the screen? Alone? Premier League soccer, Pro football, baseball, ESPN, or Mike & Mike in the Morning. With me? NCAA football, LOST, The Office, or CSI reruns.

2. You're out to eat; what kind of dressing does he get on his salad? Ranch. The cheaper (more watery) the better.

3. What's one food he doesn't like? Rice.

4. You go out to the bar. What does he order? A Coke!

5. Where did he go to high school? Whitewater High School in Whitewater, WI.

6. What size shoe does he wear? 10

7. If he was to collect anything, what would it be? A few years ago I would have said CD/DVDs, but the advent of iTunes, Blockbuster Total Access, and our limited budget have changed that.

8. What is his favorite type of sandwich? Does a Wendy’s Double Cheeseburger with no onions count?

9. What would he eat every day if he could? Pepperoni Pizza

10. What is his favorite cereal? Classic, yellow-box Cheerios. Big time. I have to buy them almost every time I’m at the grocery store.

11. What would he never wear? Anything pink or overly loud.

12. What is his favorite sports team? The Michigan Wolverines, of course! But the Tigers, Lions, and Red Wings rank up there, along with Liverpool (soccer).

13. Who will he vote for? Neither of us have figured that out yet.

14. Who is his best friend? Me, since that fateful time a few years back. His laptop comes in at a close second.

15. What is something you do that he wishes you wouldn't do? Leaving books around the apartment. It drove my parents crazy, too, when I lived with them. Go figure.

16. How many states has he lived in? Quite a few: Michigan, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana. But ask him how many houses/apartments he has lived in? It is somewhere in the high 20’s. No joke.

17. What is his heritage? Heinz 57. I'm told that Dutch, English, and Native American at least help to make that up.

18. You bake him a cake for his birthday; what kind of cake? Hm… yellow with raspberry filling, maybe?

19. Did he play sports in high school? Yep, basketball and golf. But as a younger kid he was pretty into soccer, baseball, and hockey, too.

20. What could he spend hours doing? Playing video games, either FIFA Soccer or NCAA Football.

21. Does he belong to any men's organizations? Not unless counts.

Yes, I'm married to a sports nut. And yes, it has rubbed off on me a little bit.

But my goodness do I love this man, mostly for reasons I haven't mentioned here. I'm incredibly blessed to share a life with him!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Josh's Review: Pandora

I'd like to introduce my husband, Josh, in his inaugural blog post!

After 18 months of the Brown Family Blog, the day has finally come. I have been asked to "guest" post on the blog (even though one of those "j's" in the blog banner technically does stand for Josh). I'm not sure that I can live up to the high literary precedent that Jessica has established, but I'll give it my best shot.

The subject of my first post will be none other than a profound review of an internet application that Jess and I have come to enjoy over the past few weeks. is free, streaming, online radio site that is aligned with the Music Genome Project (more on this later) and adapts to personal tastes to deliver a customized radio experience. Pandora has been around since 2005, but for those of us who are not early adopters (or not incredibly perceptive of the world around us), I will provide an introduction. I even hesitated to check it out after my friend Patrick mentioned it, but I'm glad that I finally looked into it.

When I first went to the Pandora website, I was asked to input the name of a band that I liked. I entered Counting Crows (my favorite band) into the box, and the "Counting Crows Radio" station popped up on the screen. I don't remember what the first song was, but I remember that I liked it. I was intrigued. I renamed the station "Josh Mix" and decided to give it more information with which to build my radio station. The first three artists that I added were longtime favorites The Beatles, Pearl Jam, and Jackson Browne. Shortly after that, I added more of my favorite artists (Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Oasis, Damien Rice, The White Stripes, Neil Young, Dire Straits, The Shins, and Joe Purdy among others), and the station changed to reflect those tastes.

While it is fun to enter bands and see the content change, there is another way to personalize the music mix of the station. When songs are played, I have three options for each song. I can give the song either a thumbs up or thumbs down, or I can give no opinion. If I give a thumbs up, Pandora will play more songs like this in the future while a thumbs down will have the opposite result. Over the first 40 or so songs that were chosen, there were songs by artists such as The Wallflowers, Audioslave, Merle Haggard, Ray LaMontagne, The Postal Service, The Eagles, Radiohead, The Doors, Elliot Smith, Joshua Radin, and more. Probably 25% of the songs are from artists that I specified, another 50% are from other artists whose music I am very familiar with, and the rest is pretty new to me. Jessica also has a station of her own, so she isn't stuck with my musical taste when she wants to listen.

One of my favorite things about Pandora is that the music isn't bounded by traditional genres, but it seeks to play music with similar traits (the Music Genome Project rates all songs on a total of 400 dimensions). While some of these traits imply genres (they'd be nearly useless if they didn't), no song is excluded based on genre. As someone who enjoys hearing new music, the chance to hear a wide variety of new music is the biggest advantage over just letting my iPod play on shuffle. Ever since I let my satellite radio subscription lapse a few years ago, I have missed the exposure that I had to new music. Pandora has helped to fill this void somewhat, and I have already heard a few interesting artists. There is also a bookmarking feature on the site that allows me to keep my eye on a certain artist or song.

Although there are a lot of things that I do enjoy about Pandora, there are some limitations to the service. There are only 4 opportunities to skip songs in an hour, so you may have to sit through some songs that you don't want to listen to. While this is better than traditional radio, the advantage does go to the iPod in this regard. A little troubling also is the fact that I have probably only listened to 200 songs or so, and a few have come up 2 or 3 times. While this in itself isn't a problem, I'm hoping that there is a great enough variety that I won't have heard everything there is to hear after a couple months. Pandora does give you a short description of why it plays each song, but, being the nerd that I am, I would love to see it mapped out and get a better idea of how the Music Genome Project groups songs together.

While not a perfect solution, Jessica and I have really enjoyed our "discovery" of Pandora, and we wanted to pass it along. Along with the website, there is also an iPhone application that could be a great way to listen to Pandora on-the-go. I can't give a review for this, as I don't yet have an iPhone, but it seems like it could be fun. Unfortunately, there has been some talk that Pandora may not be able to operate if the music industry ever delivers on their constant threats to raise their royalty rates, and I hope that this doesn't come to pass. The web radio is a very fun diversion (especially for those that are looking for a little variety in their music). All in all, I would give Pandora a pretty strong recommendation, and I'm glad that I signed up.

This wraps up my long-winded review of Pandora, and I'll fade in to the background as Jessica regains command of the blog. Maybe some day I'll pop back up, but I guess we'll have to see.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Update: Bloggy Book Giveaway

For those of you who signed up for the Bloggy Book Giveaway #2, I have some good news!

You ALL get to participate!

If I don't already have your address, I'll be contacting you soon. I can't wait to hear what you think, so be sure to let me know when your review is posted. You have until Thursday, October 30 to qualify for prizes!

On another fun (yet unrelated) note, a special guest blogger has agreed to post about an awesome new website we've been enjoying. And who might this mysterious guest be? You guessed it - Josh will be making his appearance here for the very first time! Be sure to welcome him to the bloggy world!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Goodbye Saturn

We knew it was only a matter of time.

Our gold 2000 Saturn SL2 lost its battle with... well... everything. It has struggled with transmission problems for somewhere around 5 years now. Last year it developed a wonderful habit of kicking in the anti-lock brakes any time slowed down to turn of for a stop light. And yes, the grinding/crunching noise kicked in, too. An attractive crack ran from one end of the windshield to the other. And then a couple of weeks ago the engine died.

While I can't say I was sad to kiss it goodbye, I'll reserve a mini SL2-shaped place in my heart for it and look back fondly on the time we spent in that car. We shared some good memories in that puppy.

The Saturn was Josh's college car - a gift from his grandparents. It was the car we sat in when Josh told me he didn't have feelings for me, but did like one of my friends. And it was the one we sat in the night we started dating (after he'd changed his mind about me!)

And the road trips we put it through... perhaps it is no wonder it died a premature death. We rock at road trips. Only a month or two into our relationship we drove the Saturn to New York City for an architecture project Josh had to do. I remember how thrilled we were when we discovered just how easily we could talk to each other - for like 12 hours straight. It also took us to Toronto, Chicago, Grand Rapids (lots of times), Boyne Mountain, Cleveland, Wisconsin, Traverse City, and even Phoenix and back a couple of times.

And since I totaled my Camry 2 weeks before our wedding, we shared the Saturn for the first six months of our life together.

We had great conversations, fun times with friends, and even a few fights in that car.

And now the Saturn phase of our life has ended. I don't mind moving forward without that car. It will actually be nice to have two normal, non-shady cars for the first time in our married life. Also, for the record, I don't like the look of a gold car. But looking back on the bank of memories from that car I thought it deserved the dignity of, well, a blog post.

Here's to you, little car.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Because I Know You're Dying To Know...

I chose #2. They were always my favorites but I wanted to be sure.

But the beautiful thing about Zappos? Free shipping both ways! So if I don't like them, I'll send them back and try again.