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a few things this summer

I'm writing from the balcony of my little monastic-like cell on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

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I'm here for my MFA residency, my third of five. We are studying Elizabeth Bishop and Constantine Cavafy and Willa Cather, and we are writing and revising, and we are sharing our stories, and we are taking long walks on the trails behind the university and into tow.n for food and drinks with sage and pinon and chile. On our off day, I visited Bandelier National Monument, and hiked to the cave dwellings of the Pueblo people and felt like a tiny speck in the universe and in eternity.

This week marks the six month anniversary of my book's publication. I've heard from many of you (and will respond if I haven't yet, with apologies) about how my story has spoken to you of yours. I'm grateful to you for reading.

A few quick updates: my marvelous writers' group has started a little monthly newsletter. If you'd like a peek into our daily conversations, our varied paths to publishing, and the ways we think about the writing life, you can subscribe here. The next issue is coming in the next few days, and it contains a very happy announcement. 

I've also added a Speaking link to my site here. Check it out and let me know if I will be seeing you in the next few months!

This summer was Jack's 3rd of 3 summers doing PhD coursework in Pennsylvania. It's felt long and short. The kids and I tried to fill the hole in our hearts with traveling - Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, Pennsylvania. Oh, and I got a new tattoo.

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This summer, I read a bunch of formulaic and very enjoyable books by Jenny Colgan. If you want to read about a British/Scottish woman, approximately age 34, who experiences a personal/professional heartbreak/setback, and moves to a charming small town and starts over by opening her own cafe/cupcakery/candy store/bakery/bookstore and possibly finds a little love on the way, then check her out.

I also read middle grade and YA, because along with British chick lit, they are perfect summer genres. I loved Wonder by RJ Palacio and Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr, and I also enjoyed The Greenglass House by Kate Milford and We Are Okay by Nina LaCoeur. Oh, and I read books about place, because as always, I'm obsessed with the interplay of rootedness and wanderlust. I liked At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider, and can only give partial recommendations for Who's Your City by Richard Florida and New Slow City by William Powers.

I watched all three seasons of Madam Secretary on Netflix, because sometimes you need to escape to a world, however unrealistic, where they are politicians you can believe in. I also really enjoyed GLOW and cannot say enough good about season two of Master of None.

As for music, next week I'll post the eleventh anniversary playlist. It's a good one.

And the only movie I got to see this summer was Wonder Woman. I enjoyed it.

The MFA means I'm not writing as much online or even for publication right now, but I think - I hope - good things are coming slowly. In the meantime, thanks for sticking around.

(Linking up with Leigh Kramer...)

a few things this fall

First: I'm sorry. If you've been looking for me here on the blog, I've been absent. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you probably know some of what I've been up to... but I'm in the mood to share a bit more. Ok, more than a bit. Let's catch up. Let me bend your ear. Settle in as I chat away.

Jack spent the summer in Indiana, PA completing courses towards his PhD in Applied Linguistics. This was our second summer apart, and easier in some ways than the first. I visited him and met his friends, and then I took the kids to Colorado, where we visited friends, family, and places that hold so much nostalgic sway over me. We hiked and fed chipmunks and swam and I remembered what I had always liked best about being a camp counselor: the way it forces you to be present to the moment, alive to the physical world around you, undistracted by other things. I felt that this summer, focusing just on the day before me, and I loved it.

When Jack's courses ended, I began my first intensive courses for my MFA through Seattle Pacific University. We met on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe and joined Glen Workshop participants (like my writing buddies Danielle and Christiana) in worship and play and craft lectures. I wrote a little bit about one of our field trips, to the holy site of Chimayo.

The day after I returned from Santa Fe, Owen started kindergarten, and Rosie began second grade. And I plunged into a fall filled with many things: helping coordinate programs for the Honors students at Taylor University, teaching 3 hours of class a week, completing MFA coursework, a (fairly new) gig writing for Our Daily Bread (more about that later), trying to help out with Relief Journal as a contributing editor, nurturing relationships outside the classroom with various students, hosting poetry nights, and of course staying on top of details related to my book coming out in February. Between those things and my responsibilities at home, I am finding my attention scattered, pulled toward so many different, good things.

Life this fall:

Jack ran a marathon with his dad  in Columbus, Indiana, and we had a meal at Story Inn to celebrate.

I went on an overnight retreat with honors students, and took another group to Wheaton for a day to check out the collection at the Marion Wade Center. 

The four of us went to Grand Rapids for a long weekend. While Jack and the kids explored the city, I met with my publisher and attended a conference for writers and editors at Our Daily Bread. I left feeling encouraged and blessed by the humility and sincerity of this group of people, more thankful than ever that they are the ones midwifing my book into the world.

A couple of my writer friends came to visit me. I love when people visit me. I love cooking for them. I love having the long-distance people I love see the place where I live everyday.

Rosie and Owen dressed as Hermione and Ron for Halloween, and for one night my dream of having a red-headed child was fulfilled.

Books this fall:
 

I've been re-reading a lot of Dorothy Sayers for the class I'm teaching this semester. Her Lord Peter Wimsy detective novels build very slowly, but they are smart and funny and worth the investment. Her essays are even better. I love smart women.

Over the summer, I read other detective novels set in Britain, mainly the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. They aren't as good as my favorites by Louise Penny, whose latest, A Great Reckoning, I read in September, but they're satisfying.

The best book I read this fall was Claudia Rankine's Citizen, a moving, genre-bending work that about her life as a black woman in contemporary America. I highly recommend it.

Oh, and I can't forget The Road Back to You, a new book from IVP on the enneagram that has inspired hours of conversation between Jack and me and our friends. I think this book has given me tools to better flourish in my relationships with others. (I'm a 5, by the way.)

Movies this fall:
I really need help staying awake in movies. We liked The Lobster, a sort of absurdist black comedy about what it means to be human, and enjoyed Southside with You, which is like Obama fanfic about Barack and Michelle's first date. I love Michelle Obama and would probably watch countless more hours of this.

TV this fall:
The shows we're adding to our DVR this fall are Pitch and The Good Place. I was less than enthused about the premise of Pitch, which is about the first female pitcher in MLB, but the writers have crafted a show that is nuanced and interesting, and that is about much more than baseball: the dynamics of male-female friendships, for example, and the politicking and money behind the scenes in sports. And The Good Place is funny, some episodes more than others, but I'll watch Kristin Bell in almost anything. Still a little on the fence about This Is Us, which I enjoy but do find to be a bit emotionally manipulative, taking the easy way out in its writing more often than it should.

Music this fall:
We're still listening to Hamilton (and loved watching Hamilton's America on PBS). And did I ever share our 10 year anniversary playlist?

 

Writing this fall:
Honestly, I've been struggling since I finished writing the first book. Do I have anything left to say? This is one reason why being in the MFA right now is good for me, I think. Apart from learning things to strengthen my craft, I'm also being forced to create and to pay attention to my life. Hopefully something good will come of it. 

Also, I have an essay in a book that came out from IVP this summer. You can read "Teenage Heretic" in the collection Soul Bare, which includes poignant essays by writers like Sarah Bessey, Karissa Knox Sorrell, and Seth Haines. 

Maybe the only other thing I've written this fall was an op-ed for the Taylor student newspaper about Independent candidate Evan McMullin. I've been deeply disturbed - I mean, there have been nights I haven't been able to sleep, I went to see a doctor because of a constant lump in my throat, I've been sick - by the religious right's support for Trump this season, by the silence of prominent evangelical men when I expected to hear them condemning the racist, misogynist words and actions of the Republican nominee.  When I saw polling that indicated that a large number of Taylor students were planning to vote for Trump, I wanted to make sure they understood all their options. McMullin is a good choice, but personally, I did vote for Hillary, because although parts of her platform bother me - she's hawkish in the Middle East and more aggressively pro-choice than I am, for example - overall, I believe she's smart, hardworking, dependable, emotionally stable, and has policies that will support the common good. (More here.)

So that's what I'e been up to this fall. How about you?
 

~linking up with What I'm Into at Leigh Kramer. ~

top fives, 2015

I voted on two end-of-year lists that are online now: the Off the Page writers' favorites, and the 2015 Christ and Pop Culture 25, which is going online five at a time this week.

But here are my full lists of favorites from the year, top picks in bold. I called this post "top fives" because that's what Rob Gordon would do, but my "5" is loosely interpreted.

Top Albums
Carrie and Lowell - Sufjan Stevens
Divers - Joanna Newsom
Every Open Eye - Chvrches
Vestiges and Claws - Jose Gonzales
Pageant Material - Kacey Musgraves
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit - Courtney Barnett
Waiting Songs - Rain for Roots 

Note: I got to go to four concerts this year. That seems to be a very high number for a mother.
-Sufjan Stevens
-Joanna Newsom
-Indigo Girls
-Denison Witmer

Top Fiction
the Neapolitan novels - Elena Ferrante
I Want to Show You More - Jamie Quatro
Re Jane - Patricia Park
The Nature of the Beast - Louise Penny
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
the Lunar Chronicles - Marissa Meyer
Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel
No Graven Image - Elisabeth Elliot

Top Nonfiction
Love and Salt - Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith
Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson
Short-term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel and Experience - Bryan Howell
The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash - Judith Kunst
Wearing God - Lauren Winner

Top Movies
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (read CT's review, and Vox's What Is A Mary Jane, and Does Star Wars: The Force Awakens Have One?)
Brooklyn
Inside Out
Selma
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Top TV
The Great British Bake Off
Gilmore Girls (which I re-watched while Jack was gone this summer)
Empire
The Good Wife
UnREAL (which I wrote about for Christ and Pop Culture)
Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt

Top Instagrams (viewers' choice, not mine, but pretty good! Easter, the opening of the Bridge cafe, Two Rivers park, Grandma's cape, trip to China, book contract, first day of 1st grade, Jack's marathon, and the chicks who shortly after that picture became lunch for a predator...)

a few things this summer

It was a strange summer, no doubt, but not a bad one.  With Jack gone, the kids and I ate lots of pizza and quesadillas and macaroni and other variations of carb+cheese. We made up routines to keep ourselves out of trouble: swim lessons, art camp, vbs. Summer school around the kitchen table.

I lost my keys on my birthday, had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere the following week, left home for a vacation and drove four hours before I realized that my wallet was not in the car, and later cut the wire that made our internet work. My friends checked in on me. USAA sent help. Dad overnighted cash. I survived.

the hammock, my best place

the hammock, my best place

We left town as much as we could.  Rosie and Owen made new friends on a farm in Illinois. My mom took us to the neighborhood pool in Arkansas about every day for a week, and we visited Great-Grams in Tulsa, too.  I had a snow-cone that changed my life, hung out with old friends, and saw Denison Witmer at Juanita's. We met Hannah, John, and Shep in Asheville, where the shrimp and grits changed my life again.  And we spent the best week in Myrtle Beach.

Look at all the privilege dripping off my summer!  Sure, I was a single parent for two months, but I didn't have to work AND parent, and I had unimaginable levels of support. (Hashtag blessed.) And even with all that support, I was still so done every night that I managed little more than watching Gilmore Girls reruns.

Ok, a few other things:

FOOD

  • After my snow cone at Le Pops in Little Rock, I bought a dinky snow cone machine and started experimenting with homemade syrups. For a while, we ate snowcones at every meal.  My favorite was raspberry-blueberry, with a splash of lightly sweetened half&half.
That dress I'm wearing in at least three pictures on this page is from  Arrowroot .

That dress I'm wearing in at least three pictures on this page is from Arrowroot.

 

  • I ate at Tupelo Honey twice while down south, and oh! the way they make southern greens. Video tutorial here
     
  • I became mildly obsessed with La Croix sparkling water this summer.  My favorite: lime La Croix mixed with homemade mint syrup. To make the syrup, pour six cups boiling water over a big bunch of fresh mint and a cup of sugar.  Stir until the sugar dissolves, then let the mixture sit for 6-8 hours.  Strain, and reserve the liquid in the fridge. (Recipe via Christiana.)  Add a few ounces of this to a lime La Croix, and voila: refreshment.
     
  • The garden gave us loads of strawberries (turned into freezer jam), roma tomatoes (fresh sauce! homemade noodles!), cherry tomatoes (always with fresh mozzerella and a basalmic glaze), a few raspberries and blueberries (see snow cone note above), greens (see southern greens note above, and also pesto) and the odd zucchini, cucumber, and green bean or so.

BOOKS

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
These novels are like what would happen if Star Wars had a baby with a feminist and then she started hanging out with Battlestar Galactica and an anthology of fairy tales. Start with Cinder and see if you're not hooked.

Running to the Fire: An American Missionary Comes of Age in Revolutionary Ethiopia by Tim Bascom.  
Nuanced and thoughtful memoir.  My review will be in the September/October issue of Books & Culture.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I read this classic because some many of my favorite people call it one of their favorite books. To be honest, I hated a lot about the first two hundred pages or so.  Steinbeck's narrator comes off as mansplainy, and I didn't get any sense that Steinbeck loved the characters he was writing about.  I like my authors with a little less arrogance and a little more love.  That said, I adored the end of the book and what it said about what it means to be human.

This is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith by Ragan Sutterfield
Both a memoir and a theology of the body, this book weaves Ragan's story together with his theological and philosophical insights about what it means to be human and embodied. Ragan's story is especially fascinating to me because Ragan and I didn't just grow up in the same kind of southern, evangelical atmosphere: we actually went to the same church.  The same sixth grade class about the traps of teenageville (chief among them: sex), the same youth group, and for a while, the same school.  How did the things we learned in those places shape our understanding of ourselves as embodied creatures?  How do those teachings about sexuality and the body hold up when examined from a more mature age? If you ever struggle with accepting your body as a good gift that is absolutely connected to your spiritual vitality (in ways beyond abstinence!), I recommend Ragan's book. 

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I read this collection of the "Dear Sugar" advice column slowly, a question or two at a time, while at the beach.  Sometimes I totally disagreed, sometimes I was astounded by her insight, but the way she writes is exactly what it means to speak the truth in love.

Re Jane by Patricia Park
A super-smart, funny, feminist retelling of Jane Eyre with Jane a Korean-American nanny in Brooklyn, this book was absolutely a favorite read of the summer. Park understands American culture and Korean culture and what it's like to navigate multiple cultures and identities at once.

Wearing God by Lauren Winner
I'm only about half way through this one, but it's a beautiful collection of essays exploring biblical metaphors for God.

MUSIC
Oh Taylor Swift. How much I hate your love for bad boys. How much I hate that you say that a kiss in the rain can take away the pain and that boys only want love when it's torture.  so many lies (or half-truths, at best). tbh, I only started listening to you because Rosie heard you in PE class and asked if we could.  I like listening to you sing, but I wish my six year old did not like listening to you.

Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material

Bill Fay - Who Is the Sender

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

Listen to our 9th Anniversary playlist.

TV
UnREAL - This darkly funny drama on Lifetime was my absolute favorite show of the summer. I wrote about it for Christ and Pop Culture.

 

More news coming very soon :-)

 

a few things in October

November is the sneak-attack month of the year. After October is all crunchy leaves and brilliant colors, scarves and boots and pumpkin-related beverages and candy, November falls back and the sun sets early and I want to get in bed immediately after dinner.

But here are some things that have been good in the last month:

Surgery and Diagnosis

In October, mom had brain surgery to remove a tumor which doctors had told us was probably  cancerous.  But it wasn't until today (November 3) that we got the final pathology results of the tumor. Here's an excerpt from my Dad's email about it:

This particular tumor has had our doctors here and in California scratching their heads from the beginning. It's apparently been there for at least two years – maybe longer. And typically, a primary brain tumor in that region of the brain would not be as slow growing or as contained as this tumor was. When ever we asked our doctors to give us an educated guess about the tumor, they deferred.

We expected to have an initial pathology report as soon as the surgery was completed. During the surgery, the doctors did a frozen section on the tumor but the results were inconclusive. When we talked to Dr. Berger following the surgery, he was noncommittal. We didn't know why until today when we read the notes he filed following the surgery. Here is what he said:

"I went through the sensory cortex to access the lesion and respect what I thought was a very circumscribed mass. The surrounding white matter look pristine without tumor and while I thought this was a metastasis, it looked on frozen to be a high-grade glioma, oddly enough."

By the way, glioma is not a word you want to hear it when it comes to brain cancer. A glioma is nasty.


Dr. Berger went on to say "There was no infiltration of the surrounding white matter. Very strange... We will await the final pathology but if this is high-grade glioma she will need radiation and chemotherapy… This is a challenging case."
 

having staples removed

having staples removed

What all the doctors fully expected to be life-threatening turned out to be benign.

Rather than being a high-grade glioma, mom's tumor turned out to a hemangioblastoma and a grade one benign lesion. "I have never heard of a hemangioblastoma in this part of the brain," the doctor told my parents today. "I have removed hundreds of hemangioblastomas. They are kind of fun. But I've never seen one show up where this one did."

Given the location of the tumor, the doctor fully expected this to be a much more serious glioma. The report from the pathologist in California says "supratentorial hemangioblastomas are extremely rare. An intraparenchymal supratentorial hemangioblastoma in this patient is considered an exceptional finding."

In other words: weird.

In other words: PRAISE THE LORD.


Books

I enjoyed Searching for Jack Kerouac and finished off the canon of Rainbow Rowell with Landline and Fangirl. On the plane to San Francisco, I devoured Kyle Minor's Praying Drunk (this is the one you should read!).  Now, I'm in the final pages of Marilynne Robinson's Lila, which is beautiful and worth savoring.

TV
Jane the Virgin!  
Still watching Nashville, HTGAWM, BLackish, A to Z (a pleasant romantic comedy that has just been cancelled, boo), and Parenthood.

Here's a funny story about Parenthood that you can skip if you don't watch it:  A few weeks before mom's surgery, I emailed all my sibs to make sure they understood her situation, and the range of possible outcomes, including the worst possible outcome. Two days later, I was watching Parenthood and saw Adam do the exact same thing: he emailed his siblings about the worst case scenario.  So, if you ever wondered which Parenthood character I am, it's clearly Adam.

Music

Jack does not believe in listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. He gets sick of it.  So guess how surprised I was to come home from Indy one evening and find that he had recorded a Christmas song and lit the evergreen candle.  I am not opposed.

Visit

Jack's sister Hannah and her husband and two kids visited us last week.  We loved getting to hang out in normal time instead of in the busy holiday time we usually get to spend with them.

Also: our kids all wanted to dress up as Star Wars characters.

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I spent a couple of long afternoons working in the garden this month, too, which -despite its total chaos- continues to provide some veg for us. And Rosie lost her two front teeth!

Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer-


a few things in July

Every now and then, I post a list of things our family is doing. (This is a big help when it is time to write a Christmas newsletter and you suddenly think, what in the world have we done this year?)  Here are a few of the things that have marked my summer:

Books
I've been re-reading missionary biographies written for children, examining the rhetoric they use, and whether the harder bits of missionaries' lives are left out in children's accounts.  (If you follow me on Goodreads, you can see my ratings and occasional reviews.)

Transient

I enjoyed Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park, about teenagers falling in love over mixtapes and misfortune in the 1980s, and hew newest novel Attachments, which is a book for lovers of You've Got Mail. Which is to say, it's a book for people who love comedy, romance, or the 1990s.

Making my third summer book named in this way (after Frances and Bernard and Eleanor and Park) was Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses, a totally delightful middle grade novel for adults.  That is, I don't know if it would be totally delightful to middle-graders - maybe the narrator is a tad too precocious - but I loved it. Also - do the girls always get to go first in these titles?  I'll name mine Jack and Amy, just to buck the trend.

I happily checked out Lauren Graham (yes, Lorelei Gilmore)'s Someday, Someday, Maybe, and happily read it on the drive to Georgia. Fun.

A Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon.  I know I'm late to the game on this one, but it's so beautiful, and so surprisingly funny. The book is a recipe for cooking lamb. Yes, the whole book.

Chimamanda Adiche's Americanah was another highlight - read DL's review over at SheLoves.

I'm about halfway through Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr, and while I'm fiercely underlining and nodding my head, I'm placing some question marks in the margins too.

Movies and TV

We've been waiting a long time to watch True Detective, and finally got it on DVD from Netflix this month.  We can talk about the woman problem in this show, and we probably should, but for real, the acting was just gorgeous.

I also watched the second season of Orange Is The New Black, mostly on nights when I couldn't sleep.  The second season was even better than the first, I thought.

All the babysitters are out of town for the summer, so we haven't been to a movie theater even once.  I fell asleep in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but before I did, I felt annoyed at Wes Anderson, for never (rarely) having any female characters with interesting, full-fledged personalities. They're always just symbolic objects in men's stories.

I thought Her was ok, but not as good as the hype. (But maybe the OS Samantha had a more well-rounded character than any of the women in Wes Anderson's films?)

Short Term 12, a drama about working in a group home for teenagers, was amazing - certainly one of my favorite movies of the year.

Transient

We watched Star Wars episodes 4,5, and 6 with Rosie and Owen.  That was fun. I think I can convince them to dress as Luke and Leia for Halloween.

I almost forgot Girl Meets World.  How could I forget the lovely, ridiculous, heartwarming, mindless pleasure of Girl Meets World.

Music

Jack has our anniversary playlist just about ready to go.  I've been listening to that (and soon, you can too).  When I write I like to listen to Nils Frahm and Philip Glass, especially the soundtrack of The Hours.

Trips

I spent a week at a writing workshop at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. I think I'll say more about this later this week, but it was a very profound, difficult, and moving experience.  I listened and learned. Here are my new friends:

 

Jack took the kids on a trip to Cincinnati while I was at Collegeville. Rosie wanted to see the aquarium. They spent a night camping, too.

Earlier in the summer, we visited Jack's family in Georgia - Macon, Tybee Island, Savannah, and North Georgia. Just lovely.

And on Saturday we visited Rich Mullins's grave, something I'll write more about in September.


Writing

At Christ and Pop Culture, I wrote about the problematic reality-dating tv show It Takes A Church.

I also finished the first draft of my book manuscript.  So... ten percent of the way there?

Oh, and you may have noticed that my blog has moved (to add it to your reader, click the RSS link on the right hand side).  Thanks very much to Chris Baker for the layout and design.


In the Garden

So many delicious cherry tomatoes.  So many things.

I can't tell you how amazing it is to come home, after a week out of town, and go to the garden and the henhouse to find your dinner. (Swiss chard, sauteed with garlic and onion and a bit of dried red pepper - bacon, if you have it, - and a fried egg on top.  Perfection.)

Two weeks ago, we found our four hens lying dead in their yard. It seems they were killed, probably by a weasel, for sport.  I would write more about this, but I feel kind of sick writing even this much.  When I saw their stiff, feathery corpses in the grass, I crossed myself - and realized that I've become much more Episcopalian than I even realized.



Any recommendations for me?