Monday, April 17, 2017

A Few Good Books: March

It’s the 15th!  Which means I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share a few of the best books I read during the month of March.  I covered some good ones and a few worth raving about. 

Here’s what I read in March
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

The Road Back to You is a look at the Enneagram personality typing.  I’ve been dipping my toes in this somewhat ancient way of looking at our selves, how we respond in stress and at our best.  I had heard good things about this book and had spent some time listening to the podcast these authors host.  This book was a really great introduction to the Enneagram.  It covers the theory behind it and goes through each of the nine types in pretty good detail.  It certainly isn’t an all-encompassing, comprehensive look at the Enneagram but it’s a great starter and it made me want to look into other resources on the topic.  The authors’ writing style is very warm and accessible as well.  Overall I definitely recommend it!

Born a Crime is Daily Show Trevor Noah’s memoir about his childhood and young adult life in South Africa during Apartheid.  Noah was born to a white father and black mother, which during this era in South Africa’s history was literally a crime.  I’d listened to some interviews by Noah in recent months and have been struck by his wisdom and insight when it came to some of the things that were happening in our country.  I was super excited to get my hands on this memoir.  Noah writes like he talks and I could almost audibly hear him through the words on the page.  His stories and antecdotes were entertaining, eye opening and thought provoking.  The thing I most appreciated about this book was the education on South African Apartheid that Noah provides.  Each chapter is framed with a short “lesson” on different aspects of what happened during the Apartheid era.  There was so much that I didn’t know and Noah gave the reader a master class in an entertaining, approachable and interesting manner.

Americanah was my read of the month.  It’s the story of two Nigerians and their respective experiences immigrating to America and London, and then their return back to their homeland.  This book made me think about so many topics: the experience of immigrants, race in America and England, the way hard life experiences change and shape us.  It was SO well written, and the characters so well developed.  This is a book that will stay with me for a while.  One of the characters writes an anonymous blog about race in America and the author incorporated these fictional blog posts into the book beautifully.  It made me wish that this blog actually existed.  I love good fiction that highlights the experiences of others in a way that helps foster empathy and understanding and this book is heading to the top of my list of books in this category.

I’m slowly making my way through the Inspector Gamache series and The Cruelest Month was the third in the series.  Penny’s created a great cast of characters in these books and they keep me coming back.  The Bible Tells Me So was a super fascinating look at how our culture’s way of reading the bible in order to defend it’s divine accuracy is ruining our ability to  actually read and experience the bible as God intended.  It’s changing the way I read the bible.  And Good as Gone was the palate cleansing page turner I needed after the much heavier Americanah.  It was a fast paced, well told story of a girl who returns 8 years after being kidnapped.  Questions abound over who the girl really is and what really happened.  

That’s my March reading!  What did you read?  Anything I should be adding to my ever growing to read list?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


I love, love, love Podcasts.  A good podcast will make me 99% more productive and it always makes the nightly routine of cleaning up the kitchen more enjoyable (not to mention drowns out the sound of my kids screeching while Tommy bathes them).  If I’m working out, going on a walk, cleaning my house, folding laundry, etc., I’m listening to a podcast.  I’ve been listening to these for years but I’ve really seen a huge uptick in content in the last year or so.  For your listening pleasure I thought I’d share a few podcasts you may enjoy.  (If you’re new to podcasts, this tutorial is a good place to learn how to find them/listen to them)

This one is my favorite, and the one I’m usually quickest to listen to every week.  This is also the podcast I would be doing right now if it wasn’t already being done.  Knox and Jamie are a delightful duo, they are funny and snarky (though my sister thinks they are too mean) and they talk about all things pop culture.  I find myself wishing I could jump into the conversation regularly.  Even if you are not a pop culture aficionado, it’s worth a listen.  Jump in wherever and enjoy!

This was a more recent discovery but I’ve come to adore this podcast.   Two thirty something men are reading the Baby Sitters Club books and discussing them.  The secret sauce of this podcast is in the two hosts themselves.  One review described them as “Frasier Crane and Andy Dwyer” which could not be more perfect.  They are hilarious and they discuss these books as though it were a 200 level English Lit course.  There are a lot of inside jokes that carry throughout the show, so I’d start at episode one.

In the Dark is an investigative reporting podcast.  It wrapped up season one, which looked at the Jacob Wetterling case, one of the first child kidnapping cases to get national attention.  This look at the case was so thought-provoking for me and it made me pay attention to a number of subjects I usually don’t consider, such as accountability in police investigative work and the sexual offender registry laws.  You can binge all of season one now and they just announced that they are working on season two.

There is only one season of this brilliant, brilliant podcast, and sadly it looks like it will stay that way as the creator and media company have parted ways, but The Mystery Show was one of my all time favorite podcasts.  Starlee Kine, the host, solves mysteries every week, the everyday, ordinary mysteries that you can’t solve just by turning to Mother Google.  I realize I’m making it sound kind of stupid, but Starlee has a special charm and an unbelievable gift of interviewing and relating to people.  She has a conversation with a Ticketmaster employee that I still think about.  Belt Buckle is my favorite, but all are pretty great.  (This clip of her on Conan is particularly endearing.) 

Single Episodes of Podcasts

The Liturgists: Lost and Found Series and Black and White

This is a podcast hosted by Michael Gungor of the band Gungor and Mike McHargue (commonly known as Science Mike).  I’ve really enjoyed The Liturgists but the Lost and Found episodes (episodes 6 and 7) were the ones that drew me in.  The hosts share their experiences having a “crisis of faith” or all out loss of it and in my own dark season of doubt these voices were calming and loving guides.  The other episode, Black and White (episode 34), is a conversation with Michael and Mike (who are white) and Propaganda and William Matthews (two black men) about race, racism and white supremacy in America.  This conversation happened almost a year ago, as Trump was gaining steam in the primaries, and, well, now that we’ve seen how that turned out, I think it’s all the more relevant.  HIGHLY recommend it!

Heavyweight: Gregor

This podcast only has one season, and I don’t know if another is coming or not but I really loved it.  The host, Jonathan (who has a really endearing self-deprecating humor) interviews people who are haunted by the “what could have been” moments of life.  Maybe a single moment, that had it played out a different way, could have changed the course of your life.  Jonathan takes them on an adventure where they go back to the people and places to find out what if.  I actually really loved and would recommend all the episodes but Gregor (episode 2), in particular, really stuck with me.  His friend Gregor lent some CDs to a friend who would later use them to create the album that made him a rockstar.  Gregor never got the recognition he thought he deserved, so Jonathan helps him go about making peace with that.  It ended up being a fascinating conversation about art and fame and recognition and career fulfillment.  (I’ll also slip in episode 7 “Julia” which made me want to reckon with my middle school bullies.) 

I just discovered Missing Richard Simmons and it is a fascinating look at the mystery surrounding Richard Simmons- am I the only one who didn’t know that he’s been essentially missing for almost three years???  I also just finished the super popular S-Town.  I actually have some big feelings about this podcast that I'm trying to sort through, more than I could say here, but it's definitely worth listening to and will stir up lots of conversation.

Also, I’m always dreaming up my next project and lately I’ve really wanted to do a podcast. We’ll see if it goes anywhere, but for now it’s a fun dream.  This is just a small slice of the podcasts I’m loving.  I’m sure somewhere down the road I’ll write a part two to this.  Have you been listening to anything good??


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Few Good Books: February

It’s that time again.  Once a month I link up with my favorite book whisperer Modern Mrs. Darcy and share the best of what I read the previous month.  Let me tell you, February was a doozy!  Typically I only share thoughts on the very best two or three books that I’ve read, but this month I could probably write individual posts on each of the seven books I read!  Some of this strayed from my normal reading habits and much of it provided some of the most thought provoking material I’ve had in a long time.  I’m still thinking about much of what I read last month.  I’ll try to keep everything brief.  Here’s what I read in February.

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

Another favorite book guru, Laura Tremaine, raved about this book, calling it the best thing she’d read in 2016.  While it likely won’t top my best of the year book, it certainly captivated me and gave me a lot to think about.  Ruth Wariner is the thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children.  Born into a polygamous Mormon sect in rural Mexico, Wariner’s memoir sits firmly in this context without being about a polygamous Mormon sect.  It’s a story about poverty and family, religious convictions and the bravery to go against them.  I was so struck by Wariner’s mother and the way she could love her children so fiercely and also be so desperate for love herself; at times these two truths felt at odds with each other.  I was unprepared for the ending of this book and it took me a bit to recover.  All in all, I highly recommend this one.

The Course of Love by Alain DeBotton

I’ve raved about this book on Instagram, recommended it to everyone I saw while I was reading it and gave it as a birthday gift last month.  I made the mistake of checking this out from the library, which was a tragedy because if I’d owned a copy I’d have underlined probably two-thirds of it (something I rarely do with a novel).  As it stands I have a dozen or so pictures on my phone of lines that stopped me in my tracks with their truth and beauty.  The novel tells the story of a couple as they fall in love, get married, have kids, fall away from each other and come back together again.  It is average and mundane in its details.  This is the secret genius; you can’t help but see yourself in the characters and their inner dialogue.  Interspersed throughout this story is a third voice, I came to think of it as the professor teaching a Course of Love, using the man and woman in the story to teach deeper truths about love and relationships and humanity.  That is where the best of the book shines.  Some of the lines took my breath away and I had to put the book down and just ponder it all.  I’m not doing this book adequate justice.  It’s a piece of art and it made me want to be a better partner to Tommy. 

Upstream by Mary Oliver

I’ve long loved Mary Oliver and God has met me more than once in the lines of her poetry.  When I heard she had a book of essays out and my local bookstore was doing a book discussion on it, I couldn’t buy it fast enough.  To be perfectly honest, this wasn’t what I expected.  There were some real gems in it and the book discussion I went to actually made me appreciate it more than I think I would have had I just read it on my own, but in all I think I’d hoped to walk away from these essays knowing and loving Mary Oliver the person more.  I don’t know if it was fair to expect that from a book, but regardless that’s not what happened.  I’d still recommend it to those who love Oliver, and it was worth it for the handful of essays that really moved me.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

This was our book club pick this month and I’m really glad because I may not have picked it up otherwise.  I feel like this is a common theme in our society right now, how to say no, how to do less, how to pare back to only what is essential.  McKeown offers some solid wisdom and it came at a time when I’m really trying to discern what is essential and what I have to offer.  I put into place a few ideas from this book and I’ll probably return to it again next year.  It was a good “beginning of a new year” kind of read.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

I grew up on the PBS movie version of Anne Shirley, but somehow I don’t know that I’ve ever read the whole book.  It’s been on my list for a while, but when I saw that Audible had a version narrated by Rachel McAdams, and it was on sale I couldn’t press buy fast enough.  The story was delightful, as I knew it would be, but it was enhanced so much by McAdams voice.  Anne Shirley has become one of my new favorite literary heroines and as the mother of two little red headed girls, I can’t wait to introduce them to her someday.  I’v got Anne of Avonlea on my shelf to read next.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I’ve avoided most of the “Girl” books that have popped up in the last few years.  I needed to read a book with an unreliable narrator for a book challenge I’m doing and I also was interested in watching the movie (because Emily Blunt is one of my favorites) so I figured I’d pick it up as a quick, palette cleansing read.  It was WAY better than I expected.  It’s a page-turner with characters that had more depth than I expected.  I highly enjoyed it and would absolutely recommend it, even if, like me, you try to stay away from any books with “the girl” in the title.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This came recommended as “a book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able” for that same reading challenge.  I was headed out of town for a few days and like to have those kinds of books to entertain me on flights so I picked it up a few days before I left on my trip.  True to its description, I couldn’t put it down and ended up finishing it before I even left on my trip!  This is a novel about the two different life paths that could stem from one decision.  The premise sounded kind of stupid to be honest, but I found that Reid did a phenomenal job of adding nuance and thought to what could have just been a “Sliding Doors” novel.  It's an easy read (and not necessarily the highest of quality writing) but a solid story.  And I was not expecting the ending to be so surprising and strangely satisfying.  

So those are A LOT of words about seven really great books!  I don’t think I’ll be able to read quite that much in March, but I’m in the middle of a few really great books and my hold on a highly anticipated memoir just came up at the library so hopefully I’ll have something to report next month.  How about you?  What are you reading?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

To Messier Houses in 2017

I think it was J.K. Rowling who, when asked how she managed to write those epic books while raising her young children as a single parent, responded that while she was writing her house was a disaster, her bathrooms unclean and the laundry left to pile up.  She said you can’t do it all, all the time.

When I first heard that truth I “Amen, sister”-ed and mentally high-fived a thousand angels.  And then I probably went back to cleaning my bathroom.

I’ve been home with my four kids full time for eighteen months, since just before the youngest was born.  I stepped down from a part-time role in youth ministry because frankly, having four kids in five years will break you a little.  That and no one wants to watch that many kids for free anymore (not even grandma). 

So I found myself home a lot more.  And suddenly every cabinet and closets and hidden nooks and crannies in my home began screaming for attention.  I noticed all the things I should be attending to that I’d previously been unable to pay attention to when I was working part-time outside of the home. My to-do list had monthly projects like cleaning out every closet and cabinet or finally getting around to organizing all those photo albums.  Once I started paying attention to these projects that could but did not need to be done my lists grew exponentially, multiplying like those proverbial rabbits.

And one day I realized that my house was regularly clean, the laundry was done and put away and the major monthly projects were slowly getting done, but my "career" was non-existent.  There is more order than I could possibly need in my home, but not enough fulfilling, creative work in my life.  And I was filled with more angst and less energy than I’d ever felt during my most chaotic days of being a “working mom.”

Over the past few months I've set about trying to reverse that.  I redesigned my weekly rhythms, building in time for creative work and writing when I am most mentally energized, in the mornings at the beginning of the week.  I reprioritized when and how I get things done.  I tackle my work first, the work that gives me energy and stretches my mental muscles.  I fit in workouts in different pockets than I had done before, in an effort to give my best time to the work.  And I leave cleaning for the end of the week, when I’m pretty mentally fried anyway.  (I’ve also taught my kids to dust and clean bathrooms which has changed my life in immeasurable ways.)  I’ve also reprioritized what needs to get done to keep our house afloat and keep me from going crazy and let go of what could get done but could also just as easily be ignored.  I stopped putting five big “organization/cleaning” projects on my monthly to do list.  I put one on there and don’t stress too much if I never get to it.  This means my photo albums are unfinished and my closets a bit chaotic.  But my soul is singing in a way that it wasn’t before.

I’m writing more and planning other projects.  I’ve engaged in activist work in a way that has connected me freshly to God.  I’m happier in my home because I don’t feel a slave to it, which in turn makes me better to my people who live in that home.  They were simple tweaks, inspired by the realization that all the order and organization in my home would never bring me the joy fulfilling and energizing creative work would.  And the reminder that J.K. Rowling didn’t write those beloved books while also keeping a spotless house.  It’s better for me and my family when our house is a little messier but mama feels a little more whole.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Few Good Books: January

In an effort to continue the good reading habits I got into last year, I’m trying to regularly post with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit linkups this year.  I’ll share all the books I read each month and talk a bit more in depth about the best two or three.  And so, without further ado-January in books:

What I read:
Hatching Twitter by Nick Bolton
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
Space at the Table by Brad and Drew Harper
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

The very best thing I read this month was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  It was on every best of book list last year and won a ton of awards and I understand why.  It imagines the underground railroad as an actual railroad system with conductors and station masters but that actually isn’t what the book is about.  It follows a slave on her escape from the deep south up north.  It was fascinating and eye opening and made me realize how much I don’t know about slavery.  We learn the sanitized version in elementary school and that’s usually it.  I want to find some more books on the topic this year.  Also, it was interesting to me to get a better understanding of just how hard it was to oppose slavery in the deep south.  I could write a whole separate post about this but it was sobering to realize that it wasn’t until they got further up north that I could recognize myself in the allies and abolitionists.  To be so in the deep south required more bravery than I may have possessed.  It’s easy to say I would have been the kind of person to help slaves to safety through the underground railroad, but this book opened my eyes to exactly what that kind of risk demanded.  It was harder than our elementary school teachers made it seem.  This will likely go on my list of lifetime required reading.

Space at the Table by father and son Brad and Drew Harper surprised and captivated me.  I heard it mentioned in passing on a podcast I was listening to while en route to the library.  On a whim I looked to see if they had it and they did, so I picked it up while I was there.  It is a conversation between a conservative Evangelical Christian father and his gay son.  They shared their story of Drew’s childhood, coming out and young adulthood, along the way humbly and vulnerably giving the reader a glimpse into the mistakes they made along the way as they grappled with what this truth about Drew and the ways it conflicted with some core Evangelical beliefs meant for their family.  I didn’t always agree with some of the beliefs the father, Brad, held, but I could not deny the deep love, respect and grace they had for and with each other.  They had found a beautiful peace with each other and themselves, and I very much appreciated the hard won truths they shared about a way forward.  It was honest and grace-filled and I was thankful to have picked it up on a whim

Hatching Twitter is the story of the creation of Twitter.  It was engrossing, eye-opening and entertaining.  I had no idea there was so much drama involved in the hatching of that little blue bird.  In The Very Good Gospel Harper rethinks how we define the Gospel and widens the scope to a Gospel that is good for everyone.  And A Fatal Grace is the second in the Inspector Gamache series which I’m slowly making my way through.  I placed an accurate bet on the murderer early on, but Penny still managed to surprise me by the end.

So that’s January in books.  I’m loving what I’ve read in February so far, so I’ll have some good stuff to share next month.  What’s the best thing you read last month??

Monday, February 13, 2017

Election and Redemption

I watched election night unfold that November 8, stress eating gummy bears and slowly sinking into despair as swing state after swing state went red.  I watched with one eye on the t.v. and one eye on twitter where the many people of color that I follow lamented the results.  I lamented with them.  

I know not all were lamenting.  I know that for many this was a victory, a win for the Republican party.  For me this was not about Republican and Democrats.  While I’ve voted for Democratic Presidential candidates, I’ve voted for both Republicans and Democrats in other positions.  My dad was an elected Republican official in our town.  Until this election I would have said I was an Independent who leaned left, or, a fiscally conservative, socially liberal Independent.  This election felt different.  Donald Trump felt different.

I won’t go into all the ways he made my stomach turn during the election.  The examples are well documented.  I will say that as a person who has cared an awful lot about social justice through out my adult life, Trump’s rhetoric and complete lack of self-awareness has felt dangerous and just down right wrong.

In the weeks immediately following the election I wandered around in a state of anxiety and fear.  The news reports of hate crimes committed in Trump’s name and Neo Nazi groups celebrations of his victory did nothing to assuage this.  

And then, through it all, there were Christian leaders joyously celebrating his victory, saying it was ordained by God.

This, of course, caused me to simultaneously throw things and deeply question my understanding of God.  The God I have known, the one that has made my heart worship, was on the side of justice for the oppressed, was against bigotry and prejudice, promoted goodness and kindness and humility.  That God was not found in Trump.  At least to me.

When swastikas were showing up across the country bearing the words “Trump’s America” alongside them, it felt hard to believe that God would ordain this.  When people of color were shoved and intimidated and told it was time to “go home!  This is Trump’s America now!” it was hard to believe that God would ordain that.  And when hundreds were detained at the airport, and refugees, the most vulnerable among us, were turned away, it was hard to believe that the God who very specifically says to welcome the refugee stranger would ordain that. 

But then something else started to happen.  There was a march, attended by millions all across the world.  People stepped up, who wanted to say, no, this is not ok and I’m standing on the side of justice.  There were reports of people stepping in, standing up when people of color were being targeted for hate crimes.

Signs started popping up all around my neighborhood.  Signs that said, “We are not afraid” in regard to refugees and signs in three different languages, Hispanic, Arabic and English that said, “No matter what language you speak, we’re glad to call you neighbor.”  Signs that gave me hope.

In our suburban town a refugee relief organization held an introductory meeting to people who wanted to get involved by helping refugee families transition to America.  I heard one report that over a thousand people showed up for the meeting.

And then there was this report.  On a subway in Manhattan someone had graffitied Swastikas and other hateful messages on every advertisement and window.  People on the subway were uncomfortably aware of this and unsure of how to act.  Someone knew that alcohol erased permanent marker and soon an entire subway car full of New Yorkers were taking out their hand sanitizer and tissues and erasing the crap out of those hateful messages. 

Trump, it seems, has made activists of us all.  More and more people are asking themselves tough questions, paying attention to injustice and bigotry and standing up for the vulnerable, oppressed and marginalized.  

And it’s working.  I saw this on twitter and I hope very much that it is true.

Over the weekend, as I reflected on all the ways good people are standing up for truth and justice I wondered if maybe God was behind Trump’s win after all.  Not because Trump and his ideals embody what God wants for our broken world but because Trump and his ideals gave the rest of us something to fight against for our broken world.  It moved us to action in a way that his win would not have.  On the day of his inauguration in a text conversation with some friends I said, “If he hadn’t won we wouldn’t be marching tomorrow, but the things, the beliefs, the injustice that gave him so much popularity and put people in the position to overlook it all for a political party would still be there tomorrow.  Now we know where we stand and which side we want to stand on.  It was hard to fight the things we collectively, as a society, tried to pretend weren’t there at all.  You can’t fight the things you’re keeping hidden.  Now it’s out there and in some weird way I’m actually thankful for that.” 

And maybe that was what was ordained by God.  The stripping of the false security we all gave ourselves that we were a post racial society.  Or the sense that there wasn’t any work left to be done.  The calling of arms of people who may never considered themselves activists.  People all over the world are saying, not on my watch.

I don’t know if God ordained Trump’s victory.  I don’t know that I can go that far, or speak in that way by God.  But I do know that it is just like God to take brokenness and pain and use it for redemption.  I do know that what broke in our society on November 8, 2016, is being redeemed in a hundred thousand ways since then.  And I, for one, am excited to take part with God in this redeeming work.