How to Make Grocery Shopping a Work of Art

Now that we have a new Trader Joe’s grocery store near us, I have discovered that grocery shopping can be a work of art. Creativity and art happen when random things come together to make a cohesive, beautiful, and sometimes tasty whole. I’m certain this would work at other grocery stores, but Trader Joe’s seems to me to be especially conducive to culinary art.

Trader Joe's

I have a couple of Trader Joe’s cookbooks at home, and I use them as inspiration for my grocery shopping, but I don’t rely on them completely. Instead, I use “art” to create meals that are both fun to cook and delicious to eat. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I don’t take a list. Yes, I know that goes against every budgetary guide and every tip from people like Martha Stewart and her home economics colleagues. Instead, I create meals in my mind and from the inspiration of the items in the store. You may know that Trader Joe’s continuously adds new items and discontinues others. That’s what makes a trip to Trader Joe’s exciting. I see what’s in stock, what items are and are not available, and I begin to create meals.
  2. I criss-cross the store. I like to start in the meat section and pick a few things that will be the centerpiece of a meal. Since most Trader Joe’s stores are relatively small, I then criss-cross the store to pick up the things that will complement the meat, poultry, or pasta. This is where creativity and art really begin to take shape. At Trader Joe’s you can mix cuisines, you can add fresh produce, or you can pick a specialty cheese to add some creamy flavor to your dish. The possibilities are almost limitless.
  3. I create meals. At Trader Joe’s you can come home with a weeks worth of meals for far less than you might at a traditional grocery store. And the items are much more varied and fun. It’s so fun to put groceries away and see a pantry and refrigerator full of meals that will please both your family and your own taste buds. Once the week’s meals are planned the fun begins. Each night I get to bring ingredients together to make a culinary masterpiece (well…it’s a work of art in my own mind, if nowhere else).

Grocery shopping and cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be fun and exciting when you look at it as a work of art, an opportunity to exercise creativity. Give it try…especially if you have a nearby Trader Joe’s.

How do you make grocery shopping or cooking a work of art?

New Christmas Music

In years past my sister used to ask me what new Christmas music I would recommend. She knew that I loved the holiday season and that I was always on top of the latest, best, and most fresh music to play throughout a holiday season.

Though she hasn’t asked me this year, I bet you’re wondering where you can find some good, new holiday music. At the top of my list this year is the new offering by Matt Wertz entitled: Snow Globe.

This record contains fresh, new takes on old favorites like Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and O Holy Night. But the real stand-outs are the new originals like Snow Globe, Wake Up, Wake Up, and especially Christmas in the City, a tribute to the holiday being celebrated in New York (…no wonder I like it!).

Here’s a link to the CD version if you’re interested: Snow Globe

10 Creative Christmas Gifts for the Creative People in Your Life

Christmas is just around the corner. You’re finding it difficult to think of the perfect gift for the creative person in your life. You really want to surprise her with a creative gift. You really want to boost his creativity with a gift that keeps on giving.

Creative Christmas

Here are ten gifts for the creative person in your life. They are guaranteed not only to surprise, but to boost the creative juices that every “creative” desires. Just click on the item, and it will take you right to place where you can make a quick and easy Christmas purchase.

  1. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered This is Austin Kleon’s follow-up book to Steal Like an Artist, and has incredibly practical information to enhance your creativity and get your art noticed. Interesting tips like “read the obituaries every day” will fuel the fire of any creative.
  2. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationEd Catmull, the president of both Pixar and Disney Animation tells the fascinating story of how computer animation was perfected. As he reveals his personal, autobiographical information, he also shows how teamwork and telling great stories enhances creativity to the n’th degree.
  3. Incase Portable Power 2500 Every creative uses a smartphone so consistently that the battery dies incessantly. I have found that this portable charger (under $30) charges my iPhone quickly with a long-lasting charge from the source.
  4. When I Was Younger This collection of songs by the new band, Colony House, was my favorite album of the year. These songs are filled with the kind of hope that every creative needs to stay the course. I dare you not to start singing along after just a listen or two.
  5. Wine and the Word: Savor & Serve Kurt Senske creatively uses the metaphor and the study of wine (!) to show how it enhances our appreciation both of Scripture and of the Christian walk. After all, wine is mentioned, Senske says, 521 times in the Bible.
  6. Aluminum Credit Card Wallet RFID Blocking Case Here’s a great stocking stuffer for your favorite creative. We creatives can sometimes tend to be a little “messy” or “disorganized.” I was tired of having a George Costanza wallet, so I switched to these, and have never turned back. I love the way my “wallet life” has become organized and clean.
  7. Wide Open Here’s a collection of songs from the uber-creative songwriter, Steve Moakler. He opens with a song about how he’d  “rather make a living being myself,” and carries us along with songs of love, and work, and life that will inspire any creative in their art or play.
  8. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life Twyla Tharp (yeah, that Twyla Tharp…the dancer/choreographer) teaches a master class on creativity in what I consider to be a classic on the subject. Though you may have never even danced a polka, you will learn from Tharp how to be inspired, how to “scratch” for creativity, and much, much more. Every creative should own this book.
  9. Consider the Wildflowers Jewelry If you have a female creative in your life, give her some of this creatively simple jewelry, or send her to a “Consider the Wildflowers Workshop” (for flower design and other creative pursuits). Once she sees the web site or reads the blog, she will be hooked on this jewelry (and 10% of each sale goes to various charity projects).
  10. The ShipIt Journal Five Pack Does your creative friend or relative have difficulty getting work and art out into the world? Give them this 5 pack of workbooks from Seth Godin, master marketer and chief “artist,” and watch them ship their work and art out into the world faster than you can say “creative.”

What “creative” gift would you suggest I get for myself this Christmas?

My Little Girl is Getting Married

My little girl is getting married. This Friday a lifetime of love and nurture will come to fruition in an institution as old as the world itself. A day that I never imagined would come is just about here.

Wedding Father Daughter

The house is quiet except for the drone of a Monday Night Football blowout. The bride-to-be has gone to bed, as has her mother. They are both over-tired from the hustle, bustle, and stress of wedding preparations. It’s the calm before the storm. Tomorrow relatives and friends begin to arrive for an event that will take place, God-willing, only once in our daughter’s lifetime.

The Florida summer has eased a bit into what we might call “fall” in these parts. Prayers are ascending that the rain will hold off to give way to a beautiful outdoor wedding reception. The caterer has been booked, and is set to go. The wedding dress has been bought, fitted, and altered. A limousine has been reserved. The photographer and videographer have their marching orders and will provide the evidence that a great time was had by all.

The mother-of-the-bride has bought her dress. In fact, she bought two “just in case.”

The groom has been working two jobs to save up for the honeymoon, as well as the coming first months of marriage. He’s the kind of person any father would want his daughter to marry. He treats her well, understands her, gives her what she needs, and knows how to deal with her occasional “issues.” He’s a great guy. Now he’s off of work until after the honeymoon. He deserves it.

The bride’s brother will be providing part of the entertainment for the reception. That’s what you do if you have a band of Nashville musicians and you love your sister like he does. His perfectionism will no doubt add some stress to the week, but we all love him for it, because we know that the end product will be something people will remember for years to come.

His girlfriend has been showered with so much talent by her Maker, that she is doing more than anyone might ever expect. She designed the “save the dates” and invitations. She conceived of the decorations and put them together. She will be doing the flowers. She might even be heard singing in the wedding service.

Invitations went out long ago. The results are in, and we now have a pretty good idea of those who will be joining us for the wedding and reception. We’ll really miss the people who are unable to attend. We’ll think of them as we raise our glasses. At the same time, we will so much appreciate those who are there to support, encourage, and celebrate.

I bought a new suit, shirt, and tie. I am in the midst of writing a homily that I will share with my friend, and fellow pastor, who has known our daughter since she was two years old. We will stand before the couple and remind them of the most important thing in any marriage: the love and forgiveness of Jesus, given and shared. And I will try not to cry.

It seems like just yesterday that she was two. I remember the stages of crawling, walking, defiantly refusing to take her medicine, learning to read, giggling with friends, auditioning for plays and getting the parts, braces, high school football games and friends…

And the day we dropped her off at college nine hours away from home. It just so happened to be the place she would mature in her faith, live on her own, learn how to be an adult, and find her future husband.

Now she’s getting married this Friday.

Today we ran some errands together. We stopped for lunch. At the table next to us there was another father there with his daughter who must have been about five years old. I almost encouraged him to enjoy the time with his little girl, but he seemed to be doing so just fine. I’m certain, before he knows it, that little girl will be getting married.

We enjoyed our time together, as well, she and I. It was probably that last time we had alone before she is a married woman. We shared our love of food. Then we got a new windshield wiper for her car. Seemingly mundane stuff, but eternally special in the grand scheme of things.

Because she will always be my little girl.

What memories do you have of a special time or event in your life?

Magic Moments Delivered by Yellow Envelopes

The mail has become very important for us these days. Our daughter’s wedding invitations went out in early July. Now every day we anxiously go the the mail box looking for little yellow envelopes that contain replies to the wedding.

HiRes copy

More than an avalanche, it has been a trickle. Each day we get one, or two, or maybe three replies. All the while I’m anxiously wanting to figure out what will be the bottom line. How much money will come out of my pocket to provide our guests with a nice evening and a fun party to celebrate Ashlyn and Josh bringing their two lives together?

But the trickle of tiny envelopes is a reminder to me that this is yet another special season of life. The march of the postal parcels will soon enough give way to the march of the beautiful bride down the aisle. So for now, it is well enough to take one day at a time and enjoy hearing from friends and family all across the country.

From the very beginning my wife, Tammy, and I have always made certain to appreciate each season of our children’s lives. We cherished the

  • tiny fingers and first teeth
  • frosting-faced kids eating first birthday cakes
  • the transition from tricycle to bicycle
  • preschool and kindergarten
  • school days and little league
  • talent shows and birthday parties
  • homework and report cards
  • high school friends filling the house
  • baseball games and main stage plays
  • senior awards and graduation
  • picking a college and moving away
  • far away phone calls and long evening drives

And now a wedding.

Time is a gift from God that never stops…and never stops giving. Though we often take it for granted, and sometimes wish it away, every day time gives us moments that are magic if we just open our eyes.

So I’m going to enjoy heading to the mail box for the next few weeks. And when I take out a tiny yellow envelope, I will think of the wonderful moments leading up to this one. And I will look forward to the many more that are yet to come.

What is it that reminds you of magic moments in time?

Have a Coke and a…Smile

Someone gave me a Coke, and it made me smile. No, really. It did.

closeup of smile with white teeth

A couple of weeks ago at church, one of our younger members walked up to me after the service and handed me a Coke. It was one of those “share a Coke” bottles that had my name on it. It said: “Share a Coke with Tom.”

I smiled.

Relationship Counselor, and author, Gary Chapman says that people express and receive love in five different languages

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Quality Time
  5. Physical Touch

I took the quiz a while ago and found out that my “love language” is Receiving Gifts. It means I like to show my love by giving gifts, and I feel very loved when I receive gifts.

My young friend didn’t know it, but with her thoughtful little gift she made me feel loved. It was more special to me than she probably even knew. I haven’t been able to drink the Coke from the bottle. I just like looking at it on my desk. No matter how small the token, it’s a reminder that someone thought of me.

All this made me wonder how many simple opportunities we all pass up every day to do something, no matter how small, to show someone that he or she is loved and appreciated. Maybe you don’t know what someone’s “love language” is, but you could certainly use one of the five to show someone attention and appreciation today.

Notice something someone is doing and “affirm” her.

Offer to take some work or a chore off of his hands.

Give a small gift.

Spend more than a passing moment. Sit for a moment and really listen.

Give a hug or pat a back.

Or share a Coke with a friend whose name is on the bottle.

I bet they’ll smile.

An Important Lesson from the Life, and Death, of Robin Williams

I am often in the minority when it comes to this type of thing. It seems that celebrities over whom much of society fauns are least on my list of favorites. I was never much of a Robin Williams fan. It’s tough to trust someone who, in interviews, never gives a straight answer. I was uncomfortable with the fact that I could never really tell who Robin Williams was as a person. His comedy seemed a bit too bizarre, too off-kilter for me (as I said, I realize I’m in the minority).

Robin Williams star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Having said that, Robin Williams starred in what is probably my favorite movie of all time: Dead Poets Society. Though it makes me cry every time I see it, I cry because it touches me and moves me to the core. It reminds me of the kind of teacher my father was: creative, against the grain, memorable. It ignites in me my creative spirit. It shows the importance of freedom for creativity and the value of a caring mentor. When he wanted to be, Robin Williams was a great actor.

There is no doubt that Robin Williams’ life “mattered.” Just witness the outpouring on Twitter, Facebook, Television, and all other media upon news of his death. His life and career had an impact on millions upon millions of people.

And now, maybe even more so.

I have lately been doing a great deal of contemplating over the phrase: “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” No doubt, Robin Williams was fighting his own battles as is evidenced in the news reports regarding his recent (and not so recent) life. People have treated me in ways that show they have no idea the battles I face, and I’m certain I have treated people in ways that show I have no idea the battles they face.

If Robin Williams’ death will remind us that we all face battles, maybe, at least for a time, we will all be a bit more kind. Perhaps we will put the best construction on everything. Maybe we’ll stop talking about people in unkind ways and stabbing them in the back. Perhaps we’ll listen harder, have more compassion, and get people the help they really need when they need it.

No, Robin Williams wasn’t my favorite comedian or actor. But his troubled life and untimely death are an important lesson for us all: “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

What Are You Passionate About?

It all started a few days ago when I read a tweet by Allison Vesterfelt (you really should check out her blog, you know…it’s really that good) that said: “Instead of asking people what they do, ask them what they’re passionate about. Great advice from @theminimalists (you should check them out, too).” So I posted the statement on my Facebook page, and that’s when the fun began.


As people “liked” my post, I specifically asked them what they were passionate about. People were readily willing to answer the question. What great and interesting answers there were:

  • Baking!
  • Accompanying other musicians on the piano
  • Kids. From teaching Sunday School to coaching soccer. I love working with kids.
  • My family
  • Good words. However they are expressed.
  • Helping my students be the best they can, my family, and following the Lord
  • Training, equipping, and encouraging people in the gifts God has given them

Then someone asked me what I was passionate about. The funny thing about your passions is that they are right at your fingertips. You don’t even have to think about what they are. You know immediately.

So, I said: “I’m passionate about helping and encouraging people to chase after their dreams.” I immediately thought about how I helped our kids do that. I thought of how I loved encouraging college students to do it in my thirteen years of teaching at a university.  I thought of how, even now, I have a mentoring group of four young men that I love encouraging to pursue and follow after their dreams. I provide them materials to read that will help them think and dream. I encourage them to write down goals. I enjoy one-on-one time with each of them to provide personal encouragement.

But that isn’t my only passion. The small amount of space on social media won’t allow for my other passions, things like:

  • My family
  • Music of all kinds
  • My relationship with my Savior
  • Biking
  • Date nights with my wife
  • Eating good food
  • The Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers

We are complex people who have many and various kinds of passions. But it sure is fascinating to ask someone what theirs is, and hear which is the first to come out of her mouth. It gets deep into the depths of a person with one quick question and answer.

So I’m going to ask you. I want to know you better. I want to learn from you.

What are you passionate about? 

How’s a Dad to Feel When His Daughter Goes Wedding Dress Shopping?

When our daughter got engaged in December, I had no idea what I was going to face in the coming days and weeks. Who knew that one of the first things to be done following an engagement is to go shopping for a wedding dress? Apparently it takes months for the wedding dress to be delivered once it is ordered. Then it needs to be altered, which takes even longer.

Ashlyn & Me

So less than a month after the engagement, off went my wife with our daughter and her future mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I may be an unusual dad, but I was feeling just a little left out. I wanted to go along. I wanted to feel a part of it all. I have never minded shopping, and this seemed to be one of the most important shopping days of my daughter’s entire life.

But “left out” wasn’t the only emotion I was feeling. My emotions were all over the map. So I decided to have a little fun with it and ask my Facebook friends just how I was supposed to feel while my (only) daughter was shopping for a wedding dress. Answers were predictable, poignant, even funny. People posted things like:

  • Lucky if he doesn’t have to go along.
  • Happy, and proud, and excited. Also a little left out of the fun, she’s all grown up, is this really happening? Shall I go on?
  • Happy, excited on the surface, a little wistful below, and profoundly glad that God has brought two beautiful people together.
  • If it’s anything like how the old babysitter feels, then I wish I was there to hug you.
  • I’m going to go with sadly elated.
  • Broke.
  • Old.
  • Very poooooor!
  • Happy but sad at the same time.

Yep. I pretty much felt all of those things. For some reason I kept having flashbacks of the moment she was born. I was wondering how this all happened so fast. I was incredibly happy for her. I was melancholy for me.

Time has a way of passing and stealing away moments that you wish would last forever. But time doesn’t stop. It keeps going and keeps on giving gifts that come into the present.

That’s why my wife, Tammy, and I always made a point of enjoying each and every stage through which our kids went. And that includes this present stage. It means that we will have a wonderful new member of the family and a whole new phase of life that will produce all new moments and memories.

In the mean time, we went to the bridal store last Saturday. I got to see Ashlyn try on her dress. I pulled out the credit card and paid for it. And I recognized that the little baby who made me shed tears of joy when she was born, is at the phase and stage of life that will probably make me shed more tears over time gone by, over moments that have passed, over memories about to be made, over my little girl becoming a married woman…always mine, but also now belonging to another whom we love like a son.

So, how’s a dad to feel when his daughter goes wedding dress shopping? The whole gamut of emotions.

But mostly blessed.

How would, or will, or did you feel?

A Simple Way to Say More Than Just “Thank You”

Sometimes “thank yous” can be pretty empty. I’ve experienced plenty of empty “thank yous” in my life, and I’m sure you have, too. A simple “thank you”…just those two words…may, at times, not be enough. One can almost always tell whether or not a “thank you” is sincere.

Thank You Green Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Sometimes someone says “thank you” because they’ve been told to, or they feel obligated, or they don’t know what else to say. It’s understandable. But I try not to get myself into a similar situation. When I say “thank you” to someone, I want them to know that I really mean it. If not, I try not to say anything at all.

Here’s how to make sure the recipient of your “thank you” knows that you are sincere:

Add a specific compliment to your “thank you.”

For instance, I know how intimidating it can be to preach in front of other pastors. So whenever I sit at the feet of another pastor and listen to his sermon, I always thank him for his message, and I add to my “thank you” a specific thing I liked about the sermon. It gives me the opportunity to listen carefully, and it provides affirmation for the one who has preached.

When our son, Ben, played his recent CD release show with his band, My Red and Blue, he made sure to thank each of his band mates for all they had done to help him. As he did so, he made sure to compliment them specifically for the way they had played, or the time they had put in, or all they had done to make the evening a success. It’s money in the bank. People are much more apt to loyal and helpful in the future if they sense your sincerity today.

So give it a try today. Add a specific compliment to your “thank you.” You’ll feel good about it, and the recipient of the “thank you” will feel truly thanked.

How do you make sure people know that your “thank yous” are sincere?