What I’m Reading – September 2014

Somehow or another, the summer has flown by and fall is on the way. And I find myself eagerly anticipating the cool mornings like this one that almost demand that I sleep in and then make my way to the local coffee shop, as I’ve done today.

And with the shift back to a school-year schedule (yay!), many things seem to fall back into place. Seems as good a time as any to take a look at what’s been inspiring me lately.

Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes

100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake: I had the opportunity to meet Lisa and her awesome family at the Food Blog Forum a couple of weeks ago. She and her husband shared some of the strategy behind their very successful blog, which Lisa started a couple of years ago with a 100-day pledge to only eat “real food.” She has kept right on with pledges to avoid processed food on a budget, and she just came out with a beautiful new cookbook.

Definitely an interesting read, and I’m kind of in love with her blog recipe for Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes. They made for the perfect Sunday morning breakfast, and the leftovers reheated beautifully in the toaster oven. The bananas provide just enough sweetness, and they’re delicious with some fresh fruit and just a drizzle of maple syrup. Next up from the world of real food: Lisa’s Super Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits, perhaps with a fresh batch of roasted tomato jam.

“Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt” by Momastery: Glennon writes inspiring, honest blog posts about her life and her struggles and invites guest posts from equally honest women. It’s beautiful, or sometimes—as she puts it—”brutiful,” equal parts beautiful and brutal. But thats life. I’m really interested in checking out her book, Carry On, Warrior.

Anyway, she recently wrote this post about giving herself the best and easiest kitchen makeover ever—a gratitude makeover. In includes gems like: “You guys. I have a REFRIGERATOR. This thing MAGICALLY MAKES FOOD COLD. I’m pretty sure in the olden days, frontierswomen had to drink warm Diet Coke.” And apparently I’m not the only person who loved this. The article caught the attention of the Today Show, who interviewed her in her home. 

Humans of New York by Brandon Staton: I think I was vaguely aware of this project before, but a few weeks ago I started following the Facebook page pretty closely, and I honestly think it’s the single awesomest thing on the internet right now. This guy stops people on the sidewalks of New York City—all kinds of people—old, young, rich, poor, white, black, brown, you name it. And he takes their picture, and he posts it with a little tidbit from their conversation. He asks them about their past, their family, their dreams. So many times when I look into those faces, I wonder if anyone has ever asked these people these things. If they’ve ever had a chance to speak their truth. Some of the stories are hopeful; some are unbelievable sad. But they are all 100% REAL.

Right now, Brandon is traveling abroad. He’s recently been in Iraq, Ukraine, and Sudan, and he’s currently posting from India. It’s been fascinating. I love seeing the different kinds of dress, and the Ukrainian children with flowers in their hair for the first day of school. And I love seeing how the hopes and dreams and fears of all of these human beings are really the same. In the face of everything happening in the world that seems to dehumanize us, this work is really, truly important.

Isla & the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins: Isla is the third book in a three-book set from this awesome author, who—full disclosure—is somewhat of a friend and who lives about three blocks from where I’m sitting right now. Yay local! I have loved all three books, but this one is my favorite. As one of my friends put it, Stephanie’s writing does not sound like and adult trying to be a 17-year-old girl. It sounds authentically 17. And in the case of Isla, I cannot agree more.

Isla is a senior at an American boarding high school in Paris, and she’s had a crush on classmate Josh since freshman year. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I tell you that they finally get together, but their journey is rocky, and really SO real. I can’t tell you how many times while I was reading that I wanted to shout through my tears: YES! It’s exactly like that! Read it. Love it. Also, this book put Stephanie on the New York Times Bestseller List, she debuted at #8! So incredibly proud and excited for her!

Anyone else noticing a theme here? Am I searching for the REAL? What have you found lately that says REAL to you?

Simple Garden Salsa + Some Tasty Blog Inspiration

We have been traveling a lot toward the end of this summer (including the vacation with the running!) and have also been otherwise busy with various things, which means that our garden has gotten away from us a bit!

Faced with a countertop full of quickly ripening tomatoes and a couple of jalapeños, I was reminded of a recipe I had pinned on Pinterest a while back.

Garden Fresh Salsa

So I made salsa! And took pictures of it! And posted it on my blog! But first, some background…

Under normal circumstances, I think I have a pretty great job. But this week, we got to do something new and exciting and inspirational. We hosted the 2014 Food Blog Forum conference, which was two and a half jam-packed days of food, friends and lots to learn. There were about 120 bloggers—some who were just starting out and some who made a living off of their blogs.

During the conference programming day, the educational sessions covered recruiting your family into blog work, working with publications, and food photography. These sessions were hosted by some super smart people, and I really enjoyed hearing from them.

And although during all of this I’m picking up tips I might be able to use at work—to capture more compelling Instagram photos in restaurants, for example—I’m also thinking about this little blog and what the future might hold for it. Continue reading

What I’m Reading – March 2014

Some of the things I’ve been dipping into recently, in no particular order:

  • Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner: For me this is a reread. My husband gave me this book a few years ago, knowing it was on my wishlist, and I found it incredibly fascinating the first time I read it. During this Lenten season, I’ve been going to a Sunday School class all about the practice of Sabbath—what it is, where it comes from, how to do it, etc. It made me want to pull this book out again, and I’m enjoying it just as much the second time around. The author, who converted from Orthodox Judaism to Episcopalianism as a young woman, gives 12 brief reflections on Jewish practices she would like to see resurrected into Christian lifestyles. It starts with the Sabbath, and the other 11 are equally as compelling.
  • “5 Things I Miss About Weighing More than 300 Pounds” on MindBody Green: When I first discovered MindBodyGreen.com, I ate up all the inspirational and lifestyle content I could find. I lost some affinity for it over time, feeling like it offered a lot of “shoulds”—they do linkbait headlines really well. But I do check in from time to time and was intrigued by this one. Would love to know other readers’ thoughts…
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso: A good friend of mine used to work for a publishing company, and she gave me this book about six years ago. Despite my love of cookbooks, I never even opened it! Imagine my surprise when I cracked it last week and was immediately enchanted by the authors’ story of their little Manhattan food shop and by their recipes designed for entertaining and picnics. So delightful! Can’t wait to try some of these recipes, and plan more picnics!
  • “Shadows By the Sea” by Adam Rhew: This piece appeared this month in Charlotte Magazine and was written by a guy I knew in college, and awesome journalist and just a really nice guy. Every day, it seems, I am blown away by amazing storytelling of some sort or another. Adam’s story of the mysterious death of a police officer on the Outer Banks is intriguing, frustrating and gritty.
  • “Fred Phelps and Our Offensive Gospel” by Rev. John Russel Stanger: Since the news of the illness and subsequent passing of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, I’ve seen some interesting things online. The ones that have resonated the most are ones of compassion, ones that actually made me realize what it means to pray for my enemies. I like Stanger’s sermon because it speaks to that, and also because it is tied to the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well, the same story we worked with our youth to tell in church this past Sunday. I love this bit: “God loves Fred Phelps just as much as you and me. And that is really offensive. This is the offense of the gospel: The living water is not reserved for those who are most loving or repentant or even gracious.”
  • Struggle and Hope in Durham, N.C.,” featuring photos by Justin Cook: This photographer is another amazing journalist that I went to school with, although I don’t think we ever met. In this piece on Slate.com, he shares some of his photos from the rougher neighborhoods in Durham, photos that show great pain and great potential. They are beautiful images, and they also opened my eyes to those entire worlds that often exist just out of site.

What words have struck your heart lately?

Vacation Countdown, With a Twist

My vacation counter says its 143 days until the day. The day I get to, officially, vacate. And yes, I’m counting. But it’s not just because I’m really going to need the vacation come August—I really will—it’s also because I’m training. I’m training for my vacation to Wisconsin.

I’ve told a couple of people at work about this plan, because I’m a semi-firm believer in publicizing your goals to make it harder for you to give them up. Not that this has necessarily stopped me giving up in the past, but I figure it’s worth a go. Some people have seemed pretty excited for me, other have looked at my like I have two heads. But it’s not really about them. This one is for me. So here it is:

I’m training so that my husband and I can run a 10k on our vacation. Not a race, just a good, old-fashioned, for-the-hell-of-it run. That’s 6 miles long—or in other words, that’s twice as far as I’ve ever run before in my life.

Check it out:

The point is to run from the Wisconsin Capitol building, along the shore of Lake Mendota, out to Picnic Point (nice views!), and then back to the Memorial Union on the UW campus, where I WILL be ordering a pitcher of beer and spending the following hour staring at the lake with said beer. And then, if everything goes smoothly, I will still be able to move my legs in order to get back to our vacation rental. Wish me luck.

I think the desire to do something like this comes from a few places. The warming weather and fond memories of Madison make me want to be outdoors, both here at home and when we get there. And this month, my Weight Watchers meeting is placing a heavy emphasis on activity. I thought having an awesome goal might help me get out the door and on the road, or trail or yoga mat. There are a couple of local races, a 5k and a 4-miler, in the coming months that I’m thinking will make good stepping stones, too.

So there it is—143 days to be ready to run a 10k (or really a 9.86k, but close enough). Prayers, positive vibes and tough love are all welcome.

New Thoughts for a New Year

photo by jordyferket

photo by jordyferket

During the past few months, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about blogging, but needless to say, I haven’t done much actual blogging. I could blame part of it on my job—I moved into a social media manager position at work, and I love it, but it does mean that I’m online All. The. Time. So when I’m off the clock, doing work-like activities become somewhat less appealing

Or I could blame it on other things going on in our lives. There were the holidays. And then we bought a house (our first!). And then we moved in to said house. And now we are taking our sweet time unpacking and settling in. In fact, I am writing this from a loveseat in our “croffice” (craft room + office) that we only unpacked this weekend. It was like we added a whole new room to our house.

But really, what I think the issue is—and honestly, what the issue always is—is my perceived need to make a blog post mean something. To make it have a purpose and a certain level of quality that, were I trying to make a living here, would be a real concern, but that, as things are, really don’t come into play.

All of that is to say that I think I need to make a New Year’s blog resolution. And here it is: for the rest of 2014, I will not take myself too seriously in this space. I will not require myself to have grown prior to writing, but will allow myself to grow through the writing. And lastly, I will not be embarrassed by this post, or by the number of times I have posted similar things in the past. I and my little website, and my one friend who reads it, will push through, and maybe we will grow together.

Sweet dreams, little website. Until the next bit of silliness arises between us.

What I’m Reading – Nov. 2013

I like to share what I’m reading, and I like hearing from others what words are reaching through screen or paper to speak to them. What is reading, if it is not sharing?

If you read a lot of other blogs, you may notice some similarities between my list and Rachel Held Evans’s regular Sunday Superlatives column over on her blog. Since hearing her speak a couple of weeks ago, I have really become interested in her writing and in her reading. And she does an excellent job of curating a list of things that inspire, excite, challenge and inform me. A few of these things are from her list, and some are not.

  • The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot, as told through comic strip illustrations. It’s just the first half of the poem so far, but it has always been one of my favorites. And thanks to RHE for this one—really made my day. :)
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: Wow. I blew through this one in about two days, and I already want to read it again. It combines so many things that I love about novels—multigenerational family sagas, historical fiction, the ways of life in a different time, culture, ritual, strong women. Highly recommend.
  • “How the Hidden Dangers of Comparison Are Killing Us and Our Daughters” by Ann Voskamp: Another hat tip to RHE for this one, I was taken in by the writing and the emotion here. And the message of course. Reading things like these make me wish we could speak with such a level of honesty.
  • “I Do Not Have the Right Kind of Cancer” by Kayla Massey: A friend of mine posted this on Facebook. I don’t know if she knows Kayla or if Kayla is a friend of a friend or if she is a complete stranger. What I do know, just from reading this post, is that Kayla is a brave and awesome woman. Or, as Rachel would put it, an eshet chayil—a woman of valor! Kayla tells her story about facing colon cancer and some of it’s less lovely trappings at a very young age. But really she talks about loneliness, and silence, and how it has no place in healing. You may be in Milwaukee, Kayla, but this North Carolina girl is sending you a big hug. Thank you, a million times.
  • Pep Talk from Catherynne M. Valente for NaNoWriMo: I’m probably not going to finish my novel this November. In fact, I know I will not. But I really liked this pep talk from the early part of the month and thought it would be inspirational, you know, whenever.

Have you read anything lately that has caught your eye or stopped your heart?