A Kilo of FrankenChex and a Serial Cereal Murderer

I am a cereal guy. When I was a youngster, I devoured the stuff, descended upon any unopened cereal box like the locusts of Joel. It was all fair game, too. Chex, Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms--they all made the rotation. In fact, if cereal boxes could talk, they'd probably put me on their "Most Wanted" list; I was a serial cereal murderer.

Knowing my penchant for baked grains and milk, my parents kept multiple boxes in the house, each of which could be further categorized in one of two ways: morning cereal, the kind that comprises a healthy part of your well-balanced breakfast; and, cartoon-emblazoned boxes of sugary crunch for what they called "grazing."


Yes. I was an insatiable beast of a boy, a kid with a ravenous appetite who ate more than any buffalo on any mid-western range. I grazed after school, while watching "The Cosby Show" or "Full House," and most often, before bed.

As they say, old habits die hard, and at thirty-six, I still nurse a hankering for a hearty bowl of cereal at the end of every night. I'd like to say that my tastes have changed, that I don't crave a good bowl of Lucky Charms every now and then. But no matter how strong the craving may be, my metabolism isn't what it used to be. So, I generally avoid the more sugary offerings, keep it all above board.

That is, until this week.

It all started with a Facebook post in which I was discussing the recurring tug-of-war with my desire to eat a night-time bowl of cereal. I found I was not alone. In fact, a great many of us enjoy a hearty bowl while winding down the evening in our most favorite reading chair. Some of the old fogeys keep it plain--Wheaties, milk, spoon. Others, though, vacillate between making the healthy choice and making the more childlike ones. (Ain't that the way of the world?) In any event, Jill Terrell harms and I were extolling the virtues of both Chex and Lucky Charms when she had what I like to refer to as a brain typhoon. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 6.02.08 AM

It was nothing short of a stroke of genius. Combine the wholesome goodness of Chex with the magical marshmallow flair of Lucky Charms? Now we're talking!

I couldn't stop thinking of the General Mills mashup, and so, a few nights later I decided to give it a go. It took some dedication, sure. (It's amazing what sobriety will do for one's dedication quotient.) After all, it's not easy to pick out an entire bowl's worth of Lucky Charm bits. But as they say, nothing worth doing is worth doing half-way. And so, employing good old fashioned American ingenuity, I created the following Frankencereal. (It's ALIVE!)

Cereal 1

What's more? It lived up to my expectations. The first spoonful was like a home-coming of sorts. The whole-grain goodness of the Chex, the smattering of marshmallow charms--oh what a foretaste of glory divine!

Unfortunately, what I'm now referring to as FrankenCharms (or "Lucky Harms," after my brain-typhooning friend Jill Harms ) is not available on the market. It's true; I could package a batch and send it to you Fed-Ex for a small fee. I'll give you a fair warning, though; the street price for a kilo might be a bit rich for your blood. And sure, you could go through the time and effort to home-brew your own batch. I'm proposing an alternative, though--a letter-writing campaign.

Dear General Mills,

Consider the people, the good adults of this grand and wide world. Our tastes have matured (for the most part). We love the understated crunch of your corn Chex, your rice Chex, your wheat Chex. But here's a secret: most of us miss the marshmallow charms of old. And so, on behalf of my constituency, I respectfully request a cereal mashup, a cereal suicide of sorts. Chex Charms--it's your next big thing. And when you brew the first batch, I'll take a case.

An overly impassioned plea? Maybe. But a boy can always dream.

The Light We Need to See Everyone In

It was a warm west-Tennessee day. The humidity beaded on my brow, so I pulled the ball cap from my head and wiped away the sweat. There was a row of green pole beans laced with purple striations.  I was in Stratham’s field.

“Rattlesnake beans,” he said.  ”At least, that’s what mama used to call them on account of the fact that rattlesnakes shaded under the thick lower foliage.  That, and when they dry on the vine..."


I have the distinct privilege of writing over at Ann Voskamp's place today. The Haines family feels blessed to know Ann as a good prayer, a timely word, and a gentle (but strong) soul. Would you join me, and continue reading there?


In the waiting room, a child looked at her mother with earnest eyes and announced loudly, "I'm starving momma." "No you ain't, now sit down and hush," the momma said.

The Ore-Ida jingle clanged on the television, "it's Ore-ida-rida-rida," while steaming bagel bites were pulled from the oven and piled high on a plate. The little girl in the waiting room wrythed, tortured. "Momma, I need somethin." She was emphatic, needy. I guessed her to be eight. I didn't blame her.

"Hush now; we'll get something after your brother comes out." The mother was adamant.

I watched from the far side of the room. In the land of plenty, we have lost a sense of lack. We are betrayed by our beltsizes and bank accounts. We are not starving. None of us. Not really.


A few weeks ago I followed Lindsey Nobles and the Food for the Hungry bloggers as they traveled to Ethiopia. They saw the faces of malnutrition, of developing-world starvation. They've counted ribs, seen bowed legs, lollipop heads.

I wonder how they feel when they hear their friends complain, "I'm starving."  I wonder if their guts churn a bit, if the fire rises in them. I wonder if the first world colloquialism pains them.


Scott and Allison drove three hours to bring us company and a bit of dinner. Scott and I stepped down to the coffee shop and he asked how I was holding up. "I don't know," I said, "but I wish Titus would just eat." He said he was sorry, said that a time like this brings him to repentence. "I don't think enough about my connection to food, about God's connection to it," he said.  "I don't think about what it means to hunger; not really."

We sat in silence and I looked over the reflection pool.  I wondered what Jesus meant when he blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Maybe he's watching us all, the best of his creation, thinking, "I wish they would learn the pangs of right hunger; I wish they would learn to eat."


Update: please keep praying for Titus Lee. We need him to tolerate feedings and gain weight.  Amber will update again soon.


Life Parables [a re-post]

I posted this piece in August of last year and it seemed an appropriate day to repost. This summer has turned into yet another drought and we're all waiting for two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen to fuse and fall. Still waiting. And while we're exploring metaphors, check out Amber's exploration over at Ann Voskamp's today. Ann continues to labor in the upside-down, unshakable kingdom, and she's invited Amber as a co-labor. You can find water there.


August 1, 2011

“Blessed is the time of waiting, when we stay awake for the Lord, the Creator of the universe...."  -- Columbanus

It’s the any-dayness of this late stage of pregnancy that serves as the metaphor. Amber sits on the couch, groaning quietly under the pressure of a contracting uterus. They are coming more consistently now. Harder. Longer in duration.

She lays awake mostly, the infernal sword of Damocles hanging over her neck. There is fear in the labor. Birthing is violent. I have seen this three times now. There is glory in the end; she knows that. But the anticipation of new glory is sometimes overshadowed by the anticipation of the process. She is, after all, only human.

Today the contractions will cease for a bit, and she’ll be convinced that she’s only been experiencing pre-labor pains. We’ll have an almost normal day, I expect. And tonight when we sit on the couch, when she drinks her raspberry leaf tea, the contractions will resume. Harder, still. Longer in duration, still. We’ll try to watch a movie or read a book. We’ll try to distract ourselves from the anticipation, but you cannot ignore labor pains. They always come like a thief in the night.


My world, the one in Northwest Arkansas, is turning to ash. The grass has withered. The flowers have faded. The trees have tanned under too much sun. They beg for a drop of relief, groan in anticipation of spring rains.

I pay a migrant worker to mow my lawn, the lawn that lays dead or dormant outside of my sunroom window. It hasn’t needed mowing in a few weeks now and I wonder how he’s making due. Sometimes work dries up and blows away. It’s happening all across this great Midwest. Work and weather can both be so fickle, the misery of both so persistent.

He and his wife lay awake at night too, a different kind of sword hanging over their necks. It’s hard to put food on the table when drought has robbed you of work. They groan with creation, “Lord, a bit of rain please.”


I have these friends, a couple married for many years now. They have lived through the anticipation of birth, the raising of children, the matriculation to a near empty nest. It’s a lonely place, the growing apart. They’ve considered the neighbor’s spouse, the coworker, the friend at church. They’ve considered anyone but each other.

She’s strayed, and maybe he doesn’t know it yet. Or maybe he’s strayed and she doesn’t know it yet. They lie together at night, silent on their separate sides. They wish it weren’t this way, believe it could be different. They silently pray for salvation from a dead marriage. They silently pray for the resurrection of dead souls.

Tomorrow they will visit a family counselor who will remind them of their vows. He’ll tell them that the covenant covers infidelity. He’ll remind them of Hosea and they’ll work through the metaphor. They’ll groan in anticipation of healing, eye-roll and sigh through many an argument. Repairing a marriage is a violent process. I’ve seen it many times now.

In the end they’ll lift arms in adoration, four limbs melded back into two. They’ll rejoice in the coming of the new, the passing of death. They’ll have another twenty good years, I expect. That’s how redemption works.

The metaphors are all around me. If only I could learn to listen.

Doing Dishes (a Kevin Still original)

We've been thinking through gratitude this month, with the topics loosely oriented around the supper table.  Today Kevin shares a piece of poetry that somehow reminds me of an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show, but that's another topic altogether.  Nice work, bullfighter. As an aside, if any reader can name the form, I'll mail a forty pound turducken their way, just in time for the Thanksgiving meal...


Doing Dishes   An agreement made seven years ago: she would cook, I would clean. Culinary balance restored before it was broken.   My knuckles split once in the winter. Hands beneath water, fingers rubbing forks, while cold air scrubbed off skin like dried sauce from plates.   My wife finds a travel mug in the car, bug-gut thick coffee and cream fuzz around the bottom. I uphold my end, and sulk.   Still, I like the sink and the liquid heat, the Do to Done piles dipping down dirty through baptismal lathers. My priestly hands   pickle to the hilt, sleeves to the elbows, my thoughts washed in the quiet of our life.