Reading Round-Up: Babies, Blogs, the Book Bazaar

22 09 2014

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today to share some of my favorite reads of the past month!


Friday Night Meatballs: How To Change Your Life with Meatballs (at Serious Eats. Thanks, Jana!)

“Starting next Friday, we’re cooking up a pot of spaghetti and meatballs every Friday night and sitting down at the dinner table as a family — along with anyone else who’d like to join us. Friends, neighbors, relatives, clients, Facebook friends who’d like to hang out in real life, travelers passing through: you are welcome at our table.”

6 Things the Happiest Families Have In Common (at The Week)

“We basically ask three questions. What worked well this week, what didn’t work well this week, and what will we agree to work on in the week ahead?”

Eat, Sleep, Pray: Spiritual Practices with Newborns (at Red Letter Christians. Thanks, Britney!)

 “Scripture’s full of stories of God feeding us. Manna from heaven and bread from the table. John’s resurrection story of Jesus feeding his friends –with fish, then forgiveness — and asking them to do the same. It matters how we feed others.”

Life Among the Bus-Riders: A Window on My City (at Red Letter Christians)

“You watch a man in his work clothes pull the cable for his stop at Olive Street where he departs with two kids, a bag of laundry, and two boxes of food. And you think, ‘It takes someone real smart to navigate fare change, daycare pickup, grocery shopping, and bus schedules all at once.'”

In Print:

 The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

Over the past year, Nouwen has become one of my favorite authors, so when I saw this slim paperback on sale for one dollar at our local Book Bazaar, I quickly snatched it up. In this book, Nouwen explores Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son (as well as the original parable) from several different angles. As with many of Nouwen’s works, you can read the words of this book in an afternoon, and then spend a lifetime trying to internalize their message.


On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckman

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey S. Karp

Both of these books came highly recommended to us as we prepared for parenthood. We have friends who classify themselves as hardcore “Babywise moms” and others who swear by Karp’s “5 Ss.” During a few particularly fussy nights, I found myself reaching for and rereading both books.  Neither has all the answers, but both have wisdom (and specific, practical tips) to share. I have appreciated the breastfeeding advice and sample schedules of Babywise, and have been able to successfully implement the calming techniques of Happiest Baby. As with any parenting advice or philosophy, the trick is finding out what works for our baby — which, I’m discovering, is an ever-evolving process!



Parable Scavenger Hunt (Choose Your Own Adventure!)

5 09 2011

Our theme for the month of September is “Choose Your Own Adventure,” and at youth group, we’ll be focusing on the little everyday decisions that slowly build into a lifestyle of faith. Tonight, our youth got to meet the people who will be in their small group and choose which topic they will study this month.

Our “introductory activity” was a scavenger hunt based on a modern-day version of several parables. (And by modern-day, I mean, Taylor Swift is the “Jesus” figure in one of the stories!  For what it’s worth, this analogy actually went over incredibly well with our youth…they ended up in some heated discussions about this particular parable!). I wrote the scavenger hunt based on those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, which are told in second-person point of view and allow the reader to determine the outcome of the novel.

So, our youth got to insert themselves into the parable retellings and decide things like:

If I was given money to take care of, would I invest it or bury it in the ground?
If I saw someone on the side of the road who had been beaten up, would I come to his rescue or pass him by?
If my dad asked me to help him mow the lawn, would I say yes or ditch him for my friends?

**Disclaimer: I know the modern-day analogies aren’t perfect (Taylor Swift, after all, is not Jesus), but it was a creative way to get our youth into the Bible!  And, whenever they reached a card that had a blue box in it, they had to read the actual Scripture and talk about it before moving on.  They actually remembered the parables pretty well at the close of the evening!

All in all, I included 6 parables in the hunt, with 7 possible endings.  The stories seemed to be just long enough to be interesting, yet not so long that they got bored by the activity. Our version was a scavenger hunt around the church (into the vast uncharted territory known as the “Adult Wing”), which lasted about 25 minutes. But if you wanted to make this a longer activity, you could leave clues all over town and do the hunt by van.

If you’re interested in doing this activity with your youth, I tried to make a customizable version in pdf.

Download here: Scavenger Hunt CYOA

1. Find 31 hiding places for clues. (or, if you choose to have a central ending location, you only need 24)

2. Fill out the cheat sheet on page 1.  This will help you keep track of the stories!

3. Go through the 31 clues, and add your own locations in.

4. Hide the clues!

5. Give your students Clue #0 and a Bible, and send them on the hunt!

6. Let me know how it goes! 🙂


21 02 2010

Just wanted to share a poem by Frederick Ohler that spoke to me today:


Great and holy God
awe and reverence
fear and trembling
do not come easily to us
for we are not
Old Testament Jews
or Moses
or mystics
or sensitive enough.
Forgive us
for slouching into Your presence
with little expectation
and less awe
than we would eagerly give a visiting dignitary.
We need
neither Jehovah nor a buddy —
neither “the Great and Powerful Oz” nor “the man upstairs.”
Help us
to want what we need…
and may the altar of our hearts
tremble with delight
Your visitation

At our Ash Wednesday service last week, Ashley talked about the spiritual practice of confession. She made the point that we often we get into the habit of thinking that the Protestant Reformation did away with the necessity for confession. But that’s not the case! It only did away with the necessity for an intermediary (the priest). It still is an important part of Christian practice to recognize the ways in which we fall short, and then to confess them to God and/or other people.

And sometimes we think that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer — forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us — that we are making some sort of blanket statement to absolve ourselves from everything, all at once. It’s not that we need to be keeping tallies of our sins in our heads…but true confession requires us to search our souls and notice the specific ways in which we have missed the mark. Ohler’s poem employs a sort of linguistic precision that speaks directly into my own heart:

Forgive us for slouching into Your presence…

Let this be my prayer today…

Books, books, books!

9 01 2010

One of my goals for 2010 is to read more books.  I always figured that after I finished school, I would have plenty of time to do nothing but read for fun. But, it seems this isn’t the case.  Life only got crazier, and instead of making time for required reading, I tended to not make time for reading at all.

So far I’m doing well.  I read two books last week and just started a third.  These aren’t easy beach reads, either.  The first two (Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) were powerful, perspective-altering books, and from what I can tell, this third book (Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne) will be, as well.

Which led me to ponder: what have been the most life-changing or perspective-altering books that I’ve ever read?  Not necessarily favorite books, although I think they all fit somewhere into that category, as well.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, in chronological order that I first read them:

1. The Bible.  For obvious reasons.

2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  One of my favorite books of all-time.  It’s whimsical and poignant and somehow perfect.  I’m putting it in here as the sole work of fiction to make the list.

2. Disposable People by Kevin Bales.  This was one of the first books I was assigned to read in college, and it really set me on a path of pursuing social justice as my life’s work (although I’m obviously still figuring out exactly what that life’s work is :))

3. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.  Something about his perspective really resonates with me.  When I’m questioning things, I find myself going back to this book  to reread his explanations and metaphors.  And whenever someone asks me a theological question, I almost always refer to this book.

4. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans.  I actually don’t know if this one actually counts, since I’ve never read it all the way through.  But I’ve read bits and pieces of it multiple times, so that I’m pretty I’ve read most, if not all, of the words in the book.  A really interesting perspective on journalism, documentary studies, art, relationships, post-modernism, and understanding people in general.  It’s a heavy read, but a good one nonetheless.

5. Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.  I first read this book in a time of angst and doubt and frustration with the church.  It showed me that there may indeed be another way to live out this thing we call Christianity.  I’m certainly not there yet, but at least I’m somewhere.  In some ways I think I liked Jesus for President better, but this one was definitely the catalyst.

There are more, of course.  Every book I read leaves me changed in some way.  And the really good ones have passages that stick with me forever.  But I’m always on the lookout for more.

And this leads me to my second list.  Given that my 2010 goal is to read more books, here are some that are on my list right now (if you have any of these that you want to let me borrow, let me know!):

1. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

2. Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson

3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

4. Nurtured by Love by Shinichi Suzuki

5. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

6. Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright

7. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Husseini

8. Out of Solitude by Henri Nouwen

9. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (This one has been on my list for an embarrassingly long time.  Maybe 2010 will be the year)

10. Letters to a Young Evangelical by Tony Campolo

11. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

12. The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

One for every month.  That’s a good goal, don’t you think?

I’d love to hear your lists, too–what are your most influential books? What are you going to read this year?

Day 1!

1 11 2009

Okay, we’re one day into NaNoWriMo, and I’m on track so far!  2,082 words down; 47,918 to go!  The first 1,000 words came pretty slowly, but I think it’s always hard to start something new.  Hopefully the next several thousand will fly by.  (I have a renewed admiration for the hard-core NaNo-ers who have set personal goals of 75,000; 100,000; or even 1,000,000 words.  I think that 50,000 will be plenty for me!)

If you want to track my progress through the month, you can do so at this link:

As long as my yellow bar is higher than the black bar, then I am succeeding at meeting my daily word count.  If you ever see it dip below there, then feel free to harass me into writing some more 🙂


13 10 2009

I’m going to write a novel next month.

This statement is not quite as random as it sounds. I signed up yesterday to become a part of the 11th annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  (see badge, at right)  Along with other aspiring writers from around the world,  I will be spending the month of November trying to crank out 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days.  (Yikes!! The longest thing I’ve ever written, to date, is my senior honors thesis, which weighs in at a mere 19,288 words.  And it took me an entire year to complete)

Now, notice that I didn’t say I’m going to write a good novel.  Half the fun of this organization/challenge is that all of the participants, it seems, are self-aware enough to realize that typing out 1,677 words a day, ad nauseum, can lend itself to a whole lot of awful prose.  As the FAQ state:

If I’m just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?

There are three reasons.

1) If you don’t do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a “one day” event. As in “One day, I’d like to write a novel.” Here’s the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It’s just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you’ll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

3) Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and “must-dos” of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.

Hmmm….either I’ve drunk the NaNoWriMo Kool-Aid, or that actually makes sense.  So, either expect me to disappear from the face of the blogosphere next month, as I will be expending my writing energy elsewhere;  or expect a lot of updates, word counts, and if you’re lucky, an excerpt or two.

Right now, I’m excited.  We’ll see how I feel come mid-November.  In the meantime, I’m off to develop some characters and outline a plot…

Review: North! Or Be Eaten!

17 09 2009

image002Andrew Peterson, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, has recently ventured into the world of children’s fiction, through a fantasy series called The Wingfeather Saga.  I just finished reading Book 2 of the series, North! Or Be Eaten!, and discovered, to my joy, that Peterson’s writing is every bit as quirky and profound as his songs.

First, a disclaimer: I jumped into the middle of the series.  Not having read Book 1, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness , I couldn’t quite find my bearings in Peterson’s strange fantasy world and had to read the first page several times before it started making sense.  Who were all these people?  Nia, Janner, Tink, Leeli, Podo, Peet, Artham, Nugget … how were they related?  And what the heck was a toothy cow?

At first, I worried that this was just going to be another “journey story” that would throw together completely unrelated events under the guise of a journey  (From the title, I’m sure you can guess what direction they were headed).  But I wanted desperately for there to be more to this story than a destination.

Throughout the novel, Peterson remains faithful to his musical roots.   When the Igiby children stop and do their homework, they are not learning science or math, but the Three Honored and Great Subjects: Word, Form, and Song.  Janner excels in writing (Word), Tink in drawing (Form), and Leeli in music (Song).  The last subject, in particular (Song) is manipulated by the forces of both good and evil, and this musical dichotomy sets the stage for the final showdown.

Yes, there is a final showdown.  (Warning: spoilers ahead.  I’ll try not to reveal too many details, but I was so blown away with the ending of the book that I have to talk about it).  Throughout the novel, there is talk of building up armies for an epic battle: Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs versus Gammon, the Florid Sword, and the Kimerans.

But when the final fight actually begins, the Igibys find themselves in the midst of two other, unexpected battles: one involving Podo and one involving Tink.  These are battles of the heart, and it is in these encounters that Peterson’s writing becomes incredibly poignant.  As in the beginning, I found myself rereading pages at a time, this time not out of confusion, but in awe.

It is difficult to avoid comparing this novel to its literary predecessors (The Chronicles of Narnia, in particular, comes to mind).  But North! defies comparison; its symbolism is subtle, unique, and somehow magical.  Peterson goes further than simply retelling the Christian message in fantasy-land.  Instead, he is able to represent it artfully (but not exactly) and move his reader to a heightened understanding of the original story.

I love that the book does not end with the happy cliché of the Igibys reaching their final destination (although they are certainly getting close).  The narrative has shifted; although they are in the final leg of the physical trip, it is apparent that their spiritual journey has just begun.

Yes, it is a “journey story,” of sorts.  But, more than that, it’s a story of hope and transformations and art and mercy and good and evil.  And sea dragons.  And toothy cows.