Monthly Archives: May 2015

Photo Friday: One Exquisite Day in New Zealand

This week has been rough for number of reasons. Sometimes when Josh and I start feeling down, we play this game where we say, “Remember that time we walked along the Seine eating crepes?” or “Remember that time we camped on a Puerto Rican beach?” or “Remember that time we picked wild blueberries in Sweden?” It’s a fun game. We have indeed been very blessed with many excellent adventures together.

Today, for Photo Friday, I want to recall one exquisite day in Queenstown, New Zealand.


It began by waking up in Wanaka, a resort town north of Queenstown. As lovely as Wanaka was, we had to get a move on. We had a strict itinerary on this trip. Before visiting New Zealand, I had never really thought about how big New Zealand actually is, but our journey from Auckland in the north, down to Wellington, across the channel via ferry, down to Milford Sound, and over to Christchurch, ended up totaling a walloping 1,996 miles! And we did it in 16 days in this thing:

DSC_0761Our first stop of the day was a wine tasting at the famous Gibbston Valley vineyard. This was the first vineyard to take off in the south due to the discovery that, while Merlot and Chardonnay fail in the tough Southern ground, Pinot Noir excels to transcendent heights. If you ever get to taste a wine from the Otago Valley of New Zealand, DO IT.

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We continued south and found ourselves immersed in idyllic Queenstown. It’s hard to describe how painfully pretty Queenstown looked that glorious Autumn day. The streets, buildings, shops, and sights all enchanted us. But it was the setting of Queenstown that took our breath away. See for yourself.


We parked our camper at the west end of town and walked back east along the edge of Lake Wakatipu (by the way, that’s really fun to say).


We passed by monolithic Sequoia trees and elderly Californians jokingly questioned whether they made a U-turn somewhere.


We couldn’t resist stopping for tea at a cafe and sitting outside to people-watch.


I took this picture of Josh. We quickly dubbed it his “first day of school picture.”


We strolled through what I firmly believe to be the greatest park in the whole world. The park was an entire peninsula that stuck out into the lake with views on all sides. It had everything: hiking trails, tennis courts, giant trees, frisbee golf, and flowers that seemed to go on forever.

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Getting a bit weary, we checked into our Holiday Park, rested a bit, and then headed back out to find some dinner. Queenstown at night felt like a fairyland. Perhaps a better way to describe it, for any of you Harry Potter fans, would be to say it is the closest I have ever come to feeling like I was in Hogsmede. It even had a magical candy store with sweets of so many varieties that my inner child did cartwheels inside my head. Just look at Josh’s face:

Alas, I took this with my crappy phone camera. But you get the gist.

Alas, I took this with my crappy phone camera. But you get the gist.

We eventually found a magnificent meal. Also, New Zealand beer makes me happy.


I wanted to wander forever. But we had some big days ahead of us. The next day we continued our journey to Milford Sound. I will tell you about that glorious day another time.



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3 Lessons by Dog…so far.

Meet Archie*, the newest member of the Sauerman clan! DSC_0509

He’s pretty great, the little poop monster. Archie has a crazy story. One day back in January my husband’s coworker was in a parking lot when someone drives up to him and says, “Take this.” He hands him a 5-week-old puppy through the window and drives away. The coworker brings the puppy into the office where another co-worker fosters him. Fast-forward five months and this second co-worker needs to move away and can’t take Archie. And that is how he came to us.

I am on Day 6 of dog ownership and I go back and forth between thinking ‘This is the greatest!’ and ‘Good Lord, what have I done?’ You see, Archie is a puppy. I have never had a puppy before. My family adopted my childhood dog when he was a year and a half. That dog was already potty-trained, already comfortable in the crate, and fine being left alone. Archie is nearly potty-trained, nervous about the crate, and definitely not cool about being left alone. He builds up energy and goes spastic. But after he gets to run around some, and maybe gets a treat or two, he cuddles up next to me like a perfect little angel. Oh, my emotions!

One thing has become clear so far: There is a big learning curve with this. I expected a curve, but there are so many things I want to fix with his behavior RIGHT NOW. I know, I know…all of you who already own dogs are shaking your heads at my naiveté. But seriously, I don’t know how people used to raise dogs without the internet.

Because this blog is about creativity and learning and other such good things, today I will share what I have learned so far:

DSC_05081. Patience. I read the Cesar Milan book on a friend’s recommendation. He talks about exhibiting calm assertive energy. I can now say that, as goofy as this voo doo-ish philosophy sounds, I haven’t found anything that works better for getting my pup to quit acting out. Even so, the sound of his barking, though playful, raises my blood pressure and I have to stop myself from yelling. When I yell, he just thinks I’m barking back and it’s a fun game. He needs to learn that barking gets him neither a treat nor the frisbee nor even my attention, and that lesson needs to come from my consistently calm, assertive demeanor. He’s getting it, but slowly. I’ve only had him for six days. I need to cut both of us some slack.

DSC_05042. Thankfulness. My hope with getting a dog was that it would help habituate good behaviors in me, as well as the dog. For instance, I anticipated dog ownership would keep me more active, maybe help me lose weight. But I am now looking forward to habituating thankfulness for everything Archie does well. As both he and I learn more about each other, I feel myself becoming increasingly thankful for behaviors he does get right, for the affection he shows me, and for the silky touch of his little ears.

3. Love of the Kong. I bought this toy at the pet store remembering that my childhood dog liked it. It also promised to be indestructible, so that’s a win. Then I met this lady while walking Archie who told me that if I stuffed the kong with a mixture of peanut butter, yogurt (for the probiotics), and kibble, AND THEN FROZE IT, it would keep the dog entertained for hours. Sure enough, this doggie popsicle pleases Archie to no end. I am convinced that God sent that lady with this message. Everyone has slept better in my house because of it.

Stay tuned for more lessons by dog!

*We did not name Archie, but I am satisfied with the name. My association with the name is Archie Leach, Cary Grant‘s real name. My husband had the brilliant idea that maybe one day we will get a girl puppy and name her Ingrid for Ingrid Bergman, and we will have quite the Notorious pair!


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Three Lessons from Creativity in a Food Desert

I have been thinking about this article for many days now.

Why A Philadelphia Grocery Chain Is Thriving In Food Deserts

It gave me so much hope, but I’ve had to step back a minute to figure out why. Today I want to analyze this with you and see what lessons we can apply to other “big problems” in our cities.

First, a short summary. The article highlights the creative work of Jeff Brown of Brown’s Super Stores in figuring out something that has eluded many grocery companies: How to sell wholesome food–and make a profit–in low income areas. The food desert problem is dire in many cities. I know from experience in Chicago that going into grocery stores in low income areas can be shocking; the dearth of fresh food is alarming. But access to fresh and healthy options is not the only problem. The cost of those options and not knowing what to do with them inhibits buyers in hard-pressed areas. Because of these challenges, Jeff Brown and his team relied heavily on market research to understand their local consumer and respond to meet their needs in stunningly varied ways. Brown’s Super Stores did everything from stacking tomatoes in pretty pyramids to altering bus routes to demarcating separate Halal meat sections to offering health exams. I am so impressed both with the quality of their research and with their willingness to experiment with solutions.

Lesson #1: You can never ask enough questions.
The market research in this project is what Design Thinking Coaches call the Empathy stage. It is going the extra mile to get in the shoes of the people in your target market and understand the complexity of their position. It differs from most research because it doesn’t ask pointed questions to validate decisions that have already been made. It is agenda-less learning; analysis can happen later. Without asking these painstaking questions, Brown’s team might never have realized how critical a close bus stop would be, or how bank access, like healthy food, is hard to come by in poorer areas. The best part is that asking these questions not only yields business solutions, but it honors the customers and establishes relationships.

Lesson #2: It’s about relationship, stupid. 
Everywhere you go you hear about “eating local.” One big reason I believe this is the case is that knowing where your food comes from gives you not only a sense of peace but also a sense of community. Farmers markets are fun because you get to talk to people, build relationships, ask questions about the food and what to do with it. I LOVE holding up an unknown vegetable to a seller and learning about how great it can taste in soup. Brown’s team has championed this relationship-building through thoughtful questions, staying accessible to the customer, and continuously figuring out how to build loyalty, even going so far as to host a jazz club on the second floor.

Lesson #3: Experiment, Experiment, Experiment
I once heard a pastor at a conference share about programs she helped start at her Washington DC church. The audience listened with rapturous attention as she told us about homeless ministries and art programs for inner-city kids. The secret of her church’s success, she said, was their attitude. Any time someone had an idea for a way to help people, she would say, “Go and experiment.” If it didn’t work, she would just say, “It was an experiment!” and that would be the end of it. This is taking the phrase, “There’s no harm in trying” to another level, because it confronts that overinflated sense of risk and pops it like a balloon. I love it. This article reminded me of that marvelous “experiment” mindset because Brown’s team could have easily neglected the research they gathered, as so many other companies do. They could have said, “It’s too difficult to stack the tomatoes” or “We aren’t in the banking business.” But, at least from this article, it doesn’t seem like they ever did say such things. They acted on the empathy research, and that inspires me.

I hope these lessons encourage you to go the extra mile with your endeavors. Just imagine what we can accomplish!

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Photo Friday, Inspired by My Swedish Pen Pal

A few years ago our dear friend John got married. Over the course of the time we were in town for the wedding, we got to know another friend of the groom’s who had come all the way from Sweden. It turned out that she and John became friends while they were both living and working in Palestine. As we ogled at Josefin’s photos of Scandinavian paradises, she invited us to visit her in Sweden. I said, “Don’t mess with me, because I will come.” She was serious. And just to prove it, a few months later she Facebook-messaged me asking if and when we could come that summer. So Josh and I went to visit Josefin and her husband, and it was the start of beautiful friendships.

Given, however, that Sweden is very far away, Josefin and I make due with writing to each other between visits. In our world of fast-paced communication, I can’t describe how intensely refreshing it is to have a pen pal. I love how the letters allow for more intimacy but also more structure. Most of all, I love reading Josefin’s writing. She is quite an extraordinary writer, and I can only imagine what she is capable of in her own language. For example, in her last letter, she talked about her recent trip back to Israel and Palestine. Josefin, I hope you don’t mind, but I was so struck by your description I wanted to show it off:

It was wonderful and amazing but also awful and ugly to be back. The region of contrasts. Workshops about peace, stories giving you hope – and others making you lose it. Seeing old friends, getting to know new ones. Expensive wine mixed with cheap falafel. Almond trees flowering in the day, teargas shooting at night. Dear Israel and Palestine. Maybe it’s the contrast and the presence of life, and death, that hooks me there. I both hate and love that place. Keep longing to go back. Always.

In honor of my Swedish friend’s love of the Holy Lands, on this Photo Friday I am delighted share a mashup of photos from Stockholm and Israel. Enjoy!

Stockholm at Dusk

Sea of Galilee

At the Market.

At the Market.



Buddies and a Castle

Siblings in the Promised Land

Click on the photo to learn the concept of FIKA!



Jesus was here.


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How do we learn to learn?

I’ve dreamt the same dream at least twice now. In the dream, I am back in high school and it is the end of the year. Finals are coming up. I realize I have neglected to go to one of my classes for the entire year. I don’t even remember what time of day it meets, but I realize I am responsible for a year’s worth of information for the upcoming test, and I wake up wondering how I’m ever going to pull off a passing grade.

I am sure we could psychoanalyze this scholastic nightmare in a number of ways, but today I want to hone in on an aspect of public school education that, clearly, still haunts me: school didn’t teach me to learn; it taught me to memorize information and regurgitate it on tests.

I always wanted to love learning. After all, Sesame Street and LeVar Burton told me to. But it really wasn’t until I was half-way through college that I realized academic achievement wasn’t the goal; LEARNING, i.e. cultivating my mind, my outlook, my worldview, was. Ironically, this epiphany hit me after a professor told me–ever so kindly–that my essay was so bad he refused to read it. Pushing past a curious mixture of laughter and despair, I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning re-reading my text and forcing my neurons to reroute.

The strangest part of this experience was that I found myself able to focus better on my work. I wanted to get it right. The drive came from a curiosity, a desire to know. Unfortunately, however, very few of our schools structure their curriculum around students’ curiosity. They structure it around a government-regulated, grade-based curriculum that covers only what can be tested empirically.  This article by Jordan bates on the Creativity PostThe Inadequacy of Mass Education & the Case for Autodidacticism, (it’s a mouthful but a very good read…trust me!), beautifully breaks down the need for more emphasis on learning to learn. Here is an excerpt:

“…This state of affairs all but forces schools to emphasize only those things which can be quantified—objectively measured, empirically verified. It is notoriously difficult to devise fair assessments of critical thinking, creativity, imagination, curiosity, and the like, so we don’t, mostly (at least not until college), which in turn indicates to students that those things are not vital. This is a tragic miscommunication, considering that those qualities are indispensable to both an innovation-driven economy and (arguably) a fulfilling life.”

Bates goes on to advocate for teachers to encourage an attitude of autodidacticism and set the expectation that students can and should learn to teach themselves. Students will be infinitely better prepared to address the complex problems of the world if they learn to actively pursue their own questions. Amen!

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My Fantabulous Fusion Fish Tacos

Last Tuesday was Cinco de Mayo so we figured dinner ought to be Mexico-inspired. It took a few minutes before it hit me: FISH TACOS.

DSC_0478I’ve been working on my recipe Mexican/Asian fusion tacos for a little while now. The other night I got it to taste so fantastic (if I say so myself) I wanted to share the recipe with you.

Emily’s Fantabulous Fusion Fish Tacos 

2 filets of cod, chopped
2 tbs sweet chili sauce
2 tbs lime juice
salt and pepper

Marinate the above for at least 30 minutes.

2 tbs greek yogurt
2 tbs mayonaise
1 tsp sriracha

Mix together the above. If you want a drizzle effect, spoon sauce into a plastic bag and cut off the tip of the corner to make a pastry bag.

Heat a skillet with 2 tsp canola oil until barely smoking. Pan sear the fish until golden brown. Set aside.

Warm corn tortillas, then assemble tacos with fish, shredded napa cabbage, and green tomatillo salsa. Drizzle siracha cream. Ta da!


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Creativity and the World’s Biggest Problems

When I was in college my university offered a few courses loosely categorized under the heading, “Big Problems.” At the time, I just thought it sounded funny. In retrospect, I wish I had enrolled. At least I have the pride of knowing that my school wanted someone to think critically about these things.

Everyone knows the world has big problems. We are just really good at not thinking about them. The Baltimore riots of late shone light on some of these big problems in our own backyard, awakening us to the daily struggles many of our neighbors face, and, most of the time, face silently and hopelessly. I was reminded of another Big Problem just now as I looked in my inbox and saw this subject line:

BREAKING NEWS: Nepal Earthquake Leaves Thousands Vulnerable to Trafficking & Exploitation

The article from the International Justice Mission that followed asked for prayer and support in this time of crisis, not just for the normal post-disaster needs, but to help protect against violent offenders who might capitalize on the chaos and enslave people who had already lost what little they had.

It is easy to read this and feel completely helpless. I might even say it is entirely natural for the horror of this reality to paralyze us. But we mustn’t stay that way. We need to remember that there is yet hope.

This blog is about creativity, and I was reminded today as I read through the International Justice Mission’s email that our creativity is one of our greatest tools or, might I say, weapons in our struggle with the world’s big problems. How? Because creativity prompts us to ask critical questions. These questions help us identify the big problems and can point us to a solution. In this Ted talk given by Gary Haugen, president of IJM, Haugen identifies the elephant in the room: Why aren’t we making more of a dent in global poverty? We send so much aid, and yet poverty still prevails in so much of the world. Haugen shows through stories, statistics, and arguments that by asking questions he and his team identified that poverty is not the root problem but rather a symptom of violence. This violence is a product of the lack of law enforcement. Therefore, we should tackle the problem of poverty through creative and holistic approaches to building better systems of law enforcement in areas where they do not exist. This is what IJM does.

Watch this video and please share your thoughts. Ask yourselves two things: Am I asking the critical questions that unveil the core problems? How can I employ my compassion, creativity, and talents to address that problem?

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