February 9, 2018

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5 Olympic Games for Your Team

I don’t know about you, but we love, love, LOVE watching the Olympics. Every two years our family rallies for a whole series of somewhat ridiculous celebrations.  This year is no different.

We have drafted our teams – the scoreboard is up – dinner will include American food and Yorkshire pudding (a nod to our current basement resident who hails from the UK) – and popcorn will be overflowing for tonight’s Opening Ceremonies.

I originally posted this for the Summer Games in London, but we’ve used every time since. Here’s a few ways for you to play along and have your own “Team” celebration!


1. Family Viewing Party  – Move around the furniture, pull out the bean bags, bring out the popcorn and watch the festivities together.  Sure, Bob Costas is a fine announcer (pink eye never looked better!), but making jokes and having ongoing family commentary on what’s happening is THE best!!

Cant. Wait.

2. Medal Competition – Of course we’re going to cheer for our country, but then we thought “why not add MORE countries to the mix?”  The more the merrier.  And so, we each selected five additional countries to adopt for the games.  We started by pulling up the medal table from London (here) and then picked a couple of large, medium, and small countries to put on our list.

Through the course of the games, each person will “win” every time one of their countries wins a medal.

What do you win?  A sticker of course!!!  (I hope you didn’t expect something fancy!)

3. Decorate!  After picking our countries, we printed out flags from each country.

My daughter cut out the flags so that each person had a complete set of the countries they were cheering for.  She didn’t turn them over until you could correctly match the flag with the country.
Next, everyone decorated their door.

Billy and I have an especially festive door!

When we have friends staying with us in the basement, they are drafted into the festivities.

4. Food Celebrations!  It’s no surprise that I’ll turn any occasion into a chance to have a new dining excursion. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to experience food from at least one of EACH of our adopted countries.  I’m guessing this is why my son picked China, my daughter picked South Korea, and I KNOW that’s why I adopted Italy.  I’m already scheming on where we’re going for Japanese food from Billy’s list!  

5. Learn Something!  We’ve decided that we have to learn and teach each other five facts from our adopted countries.  This could include how to say a word in a different language, explain the meaning of their flag, talk about their athletes in the games or even, as Billy suggested, learning a local dance.

In all instances, our goal is to have fun and cheer along!

Here are my five countries ready to bring on the medals!!!


What’s your favorite thing to do during the Olympics?

January 14, 2018


Annual MLK Jr. Scavenger Hunt

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” Alan Watts

If you live on the East Coast the Christmas holidays and ridiculous winter weather has meant your kids haven’t been in school for a full week since early December.

I get it.  Cabin Fever is a real thing…and today is another day off.

And soooooooo – coming to the rescue is another installment of the Team Phenix scavenger hunt.  For the last few years we have been doing jump shots. 

Mixed with the occasional optical illusion.

And almost always some time at a park.

This year are back at it again and invite you all to join us. The structure is a little different this year as I added elements of a more traditional scavenger hunt. What do I mean? Well, you’ll just have to check it our yourself.  Click MLK Jr hunt 2018 to snag the instructions.

Get yourselves Out Of The House and have fun!!!

February 14, 2017


Saying Goodbye to Dad

We had Dad’s memorial service on Saturday. It was a beautiful day and over 200 people came to celebrate “Fletch,” and many of them, at our request, showed up wearing cowboy hats and/or boots. So great!!! His friends hugged us, told stories, and made us laugh. I get weepy just thinking about it; I have a feeling “emotional Joy” is going to be close to the surface in the days ahead!

I thought since so many of you followed my Dad posts (a few are here, here, and here), I would also share the talk I gave during the service.

You’ll have to imagine some of the visuals – I was wearing the smallest of Dad’s hats (which was still huge on my head), I showed up with one of his ropes, and my eyes were a tad bloodshot…but these were the words.


This is my Dad’s rope – a layman would call it a “lasso” – it’s precise name is “lariat” but COWBOYS just call it a rope. Dad called it a rope – I mean, he wouldn’t want to be confused as some sort of rookie…

Which invites the question…

Why would a man living in Rancho Cucamonga need a rope?

Even before suburban sprawl arrived along the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, there were no cattle. Fletch never rustled cows across the plains or anywhere else. In terms of a vocation, he’s more closely aligned with a farmer.

And yet, when you think about it and apply just a wee bit of Fletcher logic, you’ll see this rope is the perfect article to describe my father.

This rope is unabashedly Texas… and while you can take the man out of Texas, you will never take Texas out of the man.

Dad’s Texas roots are deep. – his grandfather drove cattle from San Antonio, TX to Abeline, KS – and my Dad admired his Grandad almost as much as he loved Jesus (just to give you a perspective).

Texas is where he discovered his love of animals, plants, and wide-open spaces. It’s where he was raised by my grandma Berta and his 8 aunts (Ada, Althie, Alice, Emma, Ola, Bertha, Bill, Hattie…… such Texas names ), and Texas is where he had the time of his life with his cousin/brother Kenny.

Sure, Dad transplanted to California soil well, but his sensibilities were from the Lone Star State and his personality was Texas-sized.

It’s no wonder in High School his fellow students named him “Best Personality.” You don’t win an award like that unless you connect with all kinds of people.

One of my favorite stories is from a family wedding where the photographer was a young, oh-so-hip, creative guy… a guy named Daley. Here’s a picture of Daley.

Daley instantly loved Fletch. He took countless pictures of him and you can easily imagine why a photographer would love Dad. Dad is a character.. a visually interesting subject. This is one of my favorites.

But even MORE remarkable is how Fletch took a liking to Daley. Forget the family! Every time I looked around Dad was yammering with Daley. Pretty early in the evening Daley complemented Dad on his hat and don’t you know, by the end of the night Fletch gave Daley his hat.

Who does that? A cowboy gives a bunch of things away – his shirt, his hand, his life… well, you don’t give the hat… unless you’re Fletch.

Daley’s knew the specialness of this gift and his professional portfolio includes this shot… making Fletch proud!

But allow me to rope you back into the regular story…The rope…A rope also has a practical side…it catches things. Dad definitely knew how to catch what he wanted. He caught my mom after all.

They met when she was in just the 6th grade …. He waited 6 years to start the courting process, but he was definitely going to rope her in. They were married when she was only 19 and he was 26 and were married 58 years. FIVETY. EIGHT. YEARS.

Wow!  Just Wow!  But you have to know how hard it is to lose your person after 58 years. So many of you have asked how you can help and I want to encourage you to help her find a new normal. As her kids, we wish we could just give her that, but we can’t. It’s going be you, her church family who helps her find new routines and places to belong. So I challenge you to call her up to take a walk, to ask her out to dinner or to see a movie…to catch her in the beauty of God’s love.

But this rope also symbolizes something else to me – something playful, something ornery, something mischievous, and perhaps a little dangerous, which was also part of my Dad.

A quick story… When the first set of grandkids came around (we call them the “A Team” – Sean, Courtney, Westley & Carley) Dad would like to catch them with this rope. It was a “harmless” game because they would run away from Dad and he would try to lasso them. He was really a terrible shot… but one day he surprised himself and his oldest grandson, Sean, by catching him. As the rope flew around Sean’s arm, Dad instinctively pulled back, felling Sean as if he were a steer.

Like I said, you can take the boy out of Texas…

Unfortunately, Sean landed not on the sandy plains, but on a suburban concrete driveway. A root canal and two front teeth later, Sean was back to normal, and Dad never played the lasso game again…

A rope is a persuasive, yet an inelegant way to engage with people. And to be honest… that feels like my dad too.

I won’t make you raise your hands, but think about how many of you were talked into doing things you weren’t really sure you wanted to do?

How many of you listened to a song he loved or story he insisted on telling?
How many of you just HAD to hear his latest harmonica riff?
Maybe you designed flyers? Or joined the choir…

Dad even talked 30 people from the Duetts class into driving to Arizona to build a greenhouse for Rainbow Acres…Some of you may have held political signs at freeway off ramps…and you’re not entirely sure you’re even a Republican.

For people like Dominic, John, Jay, and other men I can’t name… you were persuaded to meet him at 6 am on Monday mornings in a parking lot to pray and study God’s word. And you did it for 15 YEARS!!!  If you hadn’t done your study, he persuaded you to do pushups.

(Aside – Dad had a thing with pushups – he was always making his ag students do pushups for classroom failures!)

And for many of you, Dad simply persuaded you to read your Bible. THIS is the biggest feedback we have received this past week. “Fletch was always urging me to read my Bible!”

He didn’t care if you felt badgered.
He didn’t care that you weren’t interested in ever looking at Numbers or Leviticus. He wanted you in God’s word. The reading plan was his rope… a somewhat inelegant, not always welcomed lasso… but for a bigger purpose

Dad wanted to catch your heart to know the peace God offers.
He wanted you to feel unconditional love.
He wanted you to experience grace.

He wanted you to know the transforming power of a relationship with Jesus because it had transformed HIS life.

As a kid, a Dad, who shares his faith with every waiter, who passes out Bible reading plans to people who have zero interest in Jesus, who wears crazy sunglasses and cowboy hats EVERYwhere – – well, you spend a fair amount of time being mortified.

Sometimes (especially when you’re a kid) you miss the message of grace because you see the brokenness of the messenger.

And that is one of the ironies of death. It is in our final brokenness that we really know who we are and WHOSE we are. It was in Dad’s final moments where everything crystalized…

I understood Dad’s brokenness allowed God’s strength to shine. Dad’s weakness revealed the sustaining grace of Jesus. How else can you account for Dad’s tortured battle with scoliosis that he endured WITHOUT complaint?

Even now by being here with all of you… by seeing how Dad has touched so many lives, we can see God’s mercy and grace.

I wish I could have bottled up the final moments we had with Dad and pour them out on all of you. I wish you could have experienced the laughter and the tears and the holiness of it all.

Dad was ornery with poking and prodding (when Jay Walden came to visit he tried to talk Jay into freeing him from his oxygen mask!) –and he was sweet – he connected to us as my brother read scripture, as we sang hymns (raising his arm in praise, and keeping his eyebrows moving in time with the music), and always, ALWAYS to my mom’s voice.

In his final lucid moments we gathered around his bed and he prayed for us. It felt like Jacob offering a blessing for his children…it was a simple prayer ending with…

“Bless us exceedingly abundantly.
Grace & peace in the name of Jesus.”

Before he went to sleep for his final day on earth he found a new strength in his voice. He was, what could only be called YELLING, the names of the Almighty…



The beginning and the end!!

The Holy One!

On and on he went. He would ask “DO YOU KNOW JESUS??” (We assured him we did).  Jesus tells us in Matthew, “out of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Dad has spoken what was in his heart for years now. I hope we are all absorbing the message.

I want to end by quoting one of the most memorable prayers I ever heard my Dad pray.

It was almost 15 years ago. I was in the car when Dad called and he asked how I was doing. I told him I was sad because my friend Sue (who Dad knew and who is here today) had just lost her dad to cancer. My empathetic Dad started crying and said, can I pray with you for Sue?  (did I mention I was in the car?)

Sure Dad.. Of course…and this is the prayer he prayed…

“Jesus, meet Sue’s needs. Amen.”

That’s it. A perfect prayer. So today, I simply pray for all of us…

Jesus, meet our needs. Amen


Thank you all for loving us well!  The Fletcher Family…

January 16, 2017

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Scavenger Hunt Celebration

(Before the blog post starts, I want you to realize that this is actually Ellie writing and not Joy, just to save you from any confusion.)

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day!

In my opinion, today is a little bit of a awkward holiday because some people take the day off of work/school, some don’t. Fortunately, Josh and I have the day off of school and we spend the day doing this fun photo scavenger hunt. We’ve done this every MLK day that I can remember.

Basically the whole premise of the hunt is to find interesting things around Atlanta and we take a picture in front of it. Beforehand, we will make a list of all the things we want to find, carrying it around with us everywhere we go.

When we were younger, Mom would talk us into taking “jumping pictures.” We’ve continued the tradition up until this year.  This is the earliest jump picture we could find. (2009)

With preschooler tummy, spiky hair, and velcro shoes, Josh was obviously doing something right that MLK day. Me with my pink vest and bootcut jeans, I might not have lived up to his standard in fashion sense. (Let’s just roll with it.)

In 2010, my photography skills were not up to par. Sorry Josh and Mom, for making you look like you’re doing the chicken dance. (2010)

Let’s turn our attention away from my outfit and to Josh’s missing front teeth! How cute. (2011)

Thank goodness for iPhone “bursts.” Jumping pictures have gotten 10,000 times easier. (Also, Bb8!) (2016)

Last year we decided to add an optical illusion. Look out for UP 2, starring Ellie and Josh Phenix, coming to a theater near you. (It’s a short film. Ain’t nobody got time for an full length movie.)

All and all, MLK day has been a fun way to connect with the family.

Want to join in the fun? Here’s our list for the hunt this year. (MLK Jr hunt 2017)

Happy hunting!

We can’t wait to see your pictures!

December 27, 2016


Reminders for a 14-year-old


This year is a big deal.

Transition is the name of the game.
Independence is the “win,” and the primary player on the 14-year-old field is named “annoyance.”

Dad and I are going to get under your skin more often and you’ll do your best to return the favor.

His jokes will be less funny, his questions more probing, and his insight will be frustratingly accurate.

I will butcher lyrics from Hamilton, dance too often, and be too neat for your tastes.

We will remind, ask, and pay attention far more than you’d like.

Put away your phone.
Practice your guitar.
Feed the dog.


Who are you texting?
What did you do at school?
What’s happening with your friends?


How are you feeling?
What’s on your mind?
How is your heart?

These last questions are especially irritating and you should know that we know.

We know because we’ve lived through the frustration with our parents.
We experienced the years of their uncoolness and survived.
We expect emotional outbursts not only because we remember ours, but because you are facing the daunting horizon of High School, driving, and independence; milestones which make parents seem like obstacles.

Don’t fret when you feel compelled to push us away, this urge is part of the 14-year-old job description. (I looked it up.)

However, you need to know it is in our job description to stay here, to walk through this season with you.

We will ask practical questions, be interested in your world, and love and guide your heart. We want you to develop your own relationship with Jesus and to find the place in the world where your gifts are fully developed and used.

In you God has blessed us with a precious and beautiful gift, but you are not ours to possess. You are a gift to everyone you meet and that, my dear, is the best part of your 14 years!

Happiest of birthdays Ellie Belle.

December 9, 2016


Pressure Cooker Cooking 101

2014 was the year I jumped into pressure cooking and, as I’ve said before, it’s been a complete game changer in terms of getting a tasty dinner on the table fast.

In fact, if you are looking for something to put on your Christmas list, I highly recommend an electric version of the pressure cooker, the Instant Pot. In case you’re tempted to go small, don’t. You’ll want the bigger (8 quart) size.

Still, once you get the contraption, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve to understand the settings.  For this, I recommend reading the owners manual. I say that recognizing 99% of the time I skip manuals entirely, but for this gadget, I it’s best to not go it alone.

This is the case of knowing the rules before you break them…and break them you will.

In fact, in my experience, the “pre-programmed” cooking times on the Instant Pot are too long and usually make the food dry. So if you have a chicken dish and you push the “poultry” button the timer goes on for 15 minutes.  However I find 8 minutes seems to be the magic number (and I base this on other recipes and my own experimentation).

SO, if you’re working off a recipe and it says a time that’s different than what the pot recommends, go with the recipe and adjust the timing manually on the pot.

Once you feel permission to make adjustments, an entire world opens up!

If you are jumping into a pressure cooking world, it helps to get a basic pressure cooking book. This is the one I use and it’s basic enough to cover anything I’m thinking about making, but I find the lack of pictures sad…I mean food is BEAUTIFUL…let’s show it off a little!!

In contrast, I drift toward the picture heavy and fabulous America’s Test Kitchen Pressure Cooker Perfection. Of course, google is also your friend.  To get you going, here are some of my favorite links…

This summer I was all about the low country boil which took about 5 minutes to throw in the pot – then I set a timer for 4 minutes. Isn’t it pretty??
It still takes the pot  30-40 minutes to heat up, but you don’t have to watch it or do anything. Just allow for the lead time in terms of when you’ll actually serve it.
Then there’s the super easy rib recipe I blogged on…
I love the honey chicken recipe for weeknights.
And the teriyaki chicken as well…
Caramelized onions because… well, I love me some caramelized onions…
I’ll circle back here soon and show you some risotto deliciousness, but until then, one last tip and probably what you should start with (nothing like burying the lead!!!) and that is Eggs!!!

I’ve previously written about steaming eggs for hard-boiled perfection (here), but then my friend Lisa told me how to do the same thing in the pressure cooker.

Simply put the metal rack on the bottom of the pot,  put in 6-9 eggs (how ever many you need and/or will fit on the rack), pour in a cup of water, then set the timer for 7 minutes.

Release with high pressure then rinse with cold water. The shells peel off like a dream!


October 26, 2016


My New Adventure!

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
Lewis Carroll

I ran into a friend recently who asked me why I was blogging so infrequently these days. Besides being flattered that she noticed my absence, I was SUPER excited to tell her what I was doing with my writing time…and I’m even more excited to tell you.

Are you ready?

I’m working with my husband to launch a podcast about parenting and things that matter to families!


What? Was that a gasp? Can you even believe it?

Ha! OK – so maybe this isn’t the most dramatic development but still, Billy and I have been having a blast plotting, planning, and recording this new venture.

For the moment I’ll spare you the backstory of how we found our way in front of the mics and instead invite you to check it out for yourself.  The first episode explains what you can expect from the short (30 minute) discussion and the show description says:

This podcast is a dialog about challenges and opportunities parents face as they raise kids, enjoy marriage, and live a purpose-filled life. These honest conversations give parents fodder so they can talk to each other, be encouraged, and recognize they aren’t raising kids alone.

So go over to iTunes and search for “Between Parents”  (or click this link).

We would LOVE to hear what you think and what topics you would love to have us discuss!  So while I’ll be blogging less, you’ll actually be “hearing” from me more!

Can’t wait to catch you over there!

October 24, 2016


How to Tackle Monday

Are you dreading today?

One study says most people don’t crack a smile on Mondays until after 11 a.m.!

What in the world???!!!  One seventh of your life is Monday, so it’s crazy to dread today.  Today is precious.

What are you waiting for?

Before doing anything, start by smiling.  You should be embarrassed if you wait until 11 to crack a grin!! Take a power pose and identify ONE single step you can take toward a goal or dream.

Scoff at fear.  Try something new. Have fun!

Do you need a visual of what that looks like?  Well, I’ve got just the thing…

55 seconds of the canine variety.

Figure out where there’s a pile of leaves in your world, then jump in.

You’ve got nothing to fear!

October 16, 2016


On the Road Dining: Taiyaki NYC

I like to think I am up on food trends, but every time I go to New York I am reminded staying current is as much luck as anything else. I think it’s easiest to follow recommendations from friends you trust and let them take you any place they love.

During my last trip to New York I went to a three-day-old spot in Chinatown.


Thanks to Courtney, one of my local/transplant friends, I felt VERY hip. She had read about a new, VERY popular dessert shop with “fish and ice cream” called Taiyaki.


Um. What?
Ice cream and fish?

Imagine Japanese-inspired ice cream – think black sesame, bean curd, green tea – served in a fish shaped waffle-ish cone and then topped with a delicate topping of your choice PLUS a surprise custard in most orders.

If you don’t know what to order or what flavors go well together, Taiyaki has helpful menu suggestions to discover the perfect combo. Of course, if you’re not feeling adventurous, you can always go with a fruit option.


Like many popular spots, don’t expect much seating or places to hang out, but while we were staying around the store, the owner, Jimmy Chen, walked over to say hello. Chen is a recent NYU grad who fell in love with this dessert while he was traveling in Japan and decided to bring it back to Manhattan (he says it’s the first place of its kind).

Props to Jimmy!!  We loved our experience and are thrilled there’s a “new fish in town.”


If you live in New York or travel there, be sure to check it out!


October 8, 2016


What You Know When You’re 12

Don’t you love the prefix “Pre”?

We all know pre means “before,” and I find those three letters surprisingly optimistic and cheerful.

I think PREgame, PREsale, or PREschedule.  All fun things, right?

Today I have a 12-year-old son (what??) who is, by definition, a PREteen.

He is PREparing for some marvelous years ahead filled with opportunities and privileges he’s just starting to imagine. But there’s already so much adventure at age 12, I don’t want to rush through what is already in place. I want to celebrate what PRE brings us now.

Maybe your preteen experience isn’t fresh in your mind, so here are a few reminders of a 12-year-old mindset and how it’s  leveraged in daily life.

Fashion Freedom


Comfort Rules!

There is no shame in wearing shorts year round if they keep you out of uncomfortable jeans. Warmth is overrated!
Are you interested in pairing earth tones with neon? Go for it!
Why are there fashion rules anyway? No one needs those!
If anyone (including your best friend) tells you to go to a cotillion anything — RUN!  Sheesh… that was terrible.

You do you. Ignore everyone else!



Barefoot is always choice #1.
Flip flops are a close second.
Tennis shoes are a negotiated settlement so you don’t have to wear anything from the loafer family!

If you are losing battles for the more appealing options, put the shoes you dislike someplace where no reasonably minded person would ever look… and always know where to find a pair of flip flops when the search is abandoned.

Lightening Fast Learning


Focus intently on the Marvel movie trailers and learn every bit of dialog. Memorize the release dates of movies, TV shows, and Rotten Tomato scores. Even if you can sing every last lyric from the Hamilton musical (leaving out the swear words), chances are people may still believe you have forgotten test dates.

This is your last window to leverage the “just a kid” thing, so play both sides of the intelligence field!

Yes, and…


There are so many things to explore. Parents still think you need to be exposed to a wide variety of stuff, so say yes. Go with the flow. Learn magic tricks. Take up the banjo, or cello, or both! Learn to bake cupcakes. Spray paint random things. If parents offer to take you to a new state, see it as an adventure and don’t complain (or they may stop).

If you have the chance to see American Ninja Warrior, WILL yourself to stay awake until 3 am. Saying yes (even when it means losing sleep) usually has great payoffs.

Notice Little Things


Read the fine print and notice everything that interests you. Watch where your mom hides chocolate chips for her baking. Arrange your Lego mini-figures so you know if anyone has messed with them without permission. Track football rankings so you know which team deserves your support (carving out Broncos, Bruins, and Jackets!).

Look for patterns –  like how signals are timed, when frogs are most likely to be in the pool, and what the dog is doing when he’s trying to find a good place to sleep. Become an expert on the lesser-known benefits of missing teeth (like using the space for holding chopsticks).

Stay Nimble


You have better eyes than your parents. You can read fine print and navigate to websites before they can find their glasses. Pay attention to this type sequencing. Sure, they use words like “sequencing” which can be confusing, but you can move faster than they.

Speed is your friend and flexibility is your cousin, so keep them close.

Remember Promises


When your parents thought riding to elementary school wasn’t possible without getting killed (who needs sidewalks or bike lanes?!) and they PROMISED you could ride your bike to Middle School, hold them to it. Know the precise age your older sister got her phone and then constantly remind your parents of their obligation to you. If they promised Taco Tuesday three weeks ago, don’t let it go.

Parents have faulty memories. It is your job to remind them of their duties.

Make ‘Em Laugh


Things go better when people are smiling. Punishments seem to be lighter and getting past the stink eye is easier if you push someone’s funny button. Use voices. Wear costumes. Remember what makes each individual laugh. This skill will serve you well.

To our wonderful, amazing, 12-year-old son Josh, you are the very best 12 years a boy could be…and you’re just getting started.

Happy Happy YOU day!!