what i’m into :: october & november 2015.

Football is on the television. We just ate P-Dub’s creamy tomato soup for dinner, which has been a fan favorite of ours since I first learned to cook. Which would also be the first year of marriage. Which would also equate to a scant over five years ago. We’re settling in for a long winter’s night, and once again, it’s time to link up for What I’m Into. Also, an announcement: this will be my last official What I’m Into for awhile. I’m letting myself off the hook. It might happen, but I’m not putting the pressure on to link up monthly, or even every other month (as much as I love my friend Leigh and the community of monthly writers). We’ll head into some new directions in 2016, which I can’t wait to tell you about eventually. But for now, here’s a small glimpse of the past two months. Join in and enjoy! 

We continue to enjoy our walks down to the local lake, especially because fall has fallen and it’s crisp outside!

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Little dude is a piece of WORK when it comes to dinner. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be eating me out of house and home by the time he’s two.

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The boys and I flew up to Salem, Oregon for a visit with my family and friends. I also got to speak at a couple of churches while we were there, and meet up with a friend-from-the-internets, Chara!

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And Cancan and I landed ourselves in jail. Ugh. I hate it when that happens.

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Otherwise, I read a few books, including these 4 and 5-star reviews: 

Simply Tuesday (Freeman, 4/5): While I liked A Million Little Ways better, she definitely has a lot of nuggets I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

The Boys in the Boat (Brown, 5/5): Seriously. Who knew I’d love boys and boats and yet another historical non-fiction World War II novel so much?

For the Love (Hatmaker, 4/5): For the love of a pretty funny lady, read this book.

Rules of Civility (Towles, 5/5): It’s just good. And fun. And a slice of American history we’re just now coming into, if you ask me.

Accidental Saints (Bolz-Weber, 5/5): She makes me want to be a Lutheran, or at least accept God’s love like a Lutheran. Man. Loved it.

The Buddha in the Attic  (Otsuka, 5/5): Haunting. Chilling. A crazy-different way of storytelling.

Take This Bread (Miles, 5/5): Dude. First I’m Lutheran, now I’m Episcopal. The theology beckons me in.

A Widening Light (Shaw, 4/5): Luci Shaw is actually the editor (and writer of) several of the poems on the incarnation. They’re lovely to sit with and muse over.

The Silver Star (Walls, 4/5): Jeannette Walls has such a distinct, flavorful way of telling stories. This too was not a let-down.

The Middle Place (Corrigan, 5/5): Can I be a memoirist like Kelly Corrigan when I grow up? Nah. I’ll just be me, but I’ll carry her storytelling ways with me in my pocket.

The Waste Land and Other Poems (Eliot, 4/5): There’s a reason he won the Pulitzer.

Cutting for Stone (Verghese, 5/5): Okay, this book is so long you’ll feel like you’re betrothed, but have no fear: it’s excellent.

Also read: The Magician’s Assistant; Women are Scary

Currently reading: Breaking Busy; The Nightingale; The White Tiger; Big Magic; The Beginning of Desire; Maleficent

If you’d like to unite as book nerd friends, forever and ever, amen, then let’s be friends on Goodreads!

Otherwise, here’s a bit more of what we’ve been up to: 

We went to a super lame pumpkin patch in Alameda, California, and this picture was the closest we came to proving lameness otherwise.

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Here’s what I’m up to in this picture: I am holding my super snuggly bear of a little boy right after his bath. Is there anything better in the world?

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I’ve had a hoard of speaking engagements this fall, which has been a ton of fun. Here I am down in San Jose, California, wearing what is apparently my speaking shirt, and being cheered on by two dear friends, Jenn and Dorcas.

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And here… drumroll, please… I am, making MFT (My First Turkey)! Stop the presses, cuz girl you know it’s true. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I roasted a fifteen-pound bird.

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We went to a wedding, and a week later, the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I got away for 36 hours thanks to the generosity of our extended family. We’ve had some epic guests and visitors, and I’ve got to tell you: we’re usually so caught up in the moment we neglect to take a picture. I think that’s a rather good sign.

Otherwise, I’ve been doing my own nanowrimo this month, attempting to finish my manuscript. And, 65,694 words into it, I have a little less than two chapters left to write. Now that is something worth celebrating, friends.

We’re trying our hardest to love and lean into life, and embrace each day for all it brings.

Happy Advent!

xo, c.

So, what have you been into the past couple of months? What have you been reading and watching and doing? And how much do you want me to cook a turkey for you? 

What I'm Into
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books i can’t stop thinking about: fiction, #4.

And, just like that, another day, another dollar. First things first: Happy Thanksgiving! I hope today finds you full of food and friends, family and football, inappropriate comments from your Uncle Bill, and oodles upon oodles of thankfulness. I, for one, will be basking in a bath of the Pioneer Woman’s Sweet Soul Taters (because, yum), and attempting to successfully cook MFT. My First Turkey. That’s right, folks.

Glory, glory. Wish us luck. 

But, before we forget why we’re here, it’s the final edition of “Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About: Fiction.” This one was hard to narrow down, that’s for sure. Unlike the first year of reading voraciously, when I heard about this New York Times Best Seller List series called Fifty Shades of Greyand, um, well, had my eyes opened, I’m getting a little pickier about my reading choices. And for good reason, Christian Gray.

So I’ve got four books that I just loved, which I hope you love as well. Here you go!

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(1) A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman, 2012): What can I say? Grumpy Old Men meets Grumpier Old Men. But for Sweden’s biggest curmudgeon, life happens. The reader not only begins to hear the story but to realize the power we can have in one another’s lives when we choose to love. It’s easy to love someone when they love you back. But when they don’t and they just grump – that’s a whole new story.

(2) Rules of Civility (Amor Towles, 2011): A book club pick, I’d had it on my shelf for awhile but hadn’t picked it up yet. Character heavy and historically entertaining, Towles envelops his reader in a story that transports you back to New York City in the 1930’s. As one of my friends said, “I felt like I picked up a 1936 issue of Star magazine, and just soaked in the bathtub for hours, entertained beyond belief.” Whether or not that convines you to read the book is up to you, but I say go for it.

(3) Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline, 2013): Again, this is another one of those books that everyone said I had to read. But sometimes when everyone is doing it, I want to run in the opposite direction and find a whole new, undiscovered book. Well, shame on me. There’s love. There’s history. There’s the unbelievable, based-on-true-accounts part of this story. And for those whom adoption has touched personally, this is a must-read.

(4) The Buddha in the Attic  (Julie Otsuka, 2011): Book club does it again, man. The aforementioned books, although hard-to-digest at times, leave you feeling good at the end. But this one does not. It’s haunting, about a forgotten time in history involving Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens during World War II. The way in which the story is told is super unusual, for there’s not one character we latch onto but a whole host of characters who experienced an injustice.

So, there you go! I’ll continue to work through a stack of books in the month of December, but for now, this is what I have for you.

Happy reading!

xo, c.

So, what would you add to the list? Which, of the above, did you abhor? And what other bits of Thanksgiving thankfulness would you like to add?

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take this bread: discussion post.

If you read Monday’s post on my favorite Christian/spiritual memoirs read in 2015, then you noticed Sara Miles’ book, Take This Bread. I read the book as a part of the Red Couch Book Club, and then wrote this discussion post as a reflection for it. Join the conversation!

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I’m not sure how it happened, but this past Sunday, I found myself holding a bowl of gluten-free crackers and a bowl of wine, repeating holy words over and over again: The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you. 

It was sacred and it was haunting and it was humbling, all at the same time.

I’d been the worship leader that day, not the one who sings Jesus-tunes, but the one who welcomes the church body and initiates the Prayer of Confession and muses aloud over the beautiful absurdity of the Assurance of Salvation. Speaking into a microphone is something I know how to do, something that doesn’t scare me but brings a sort of new life, especially when it involves speaking of Christ.

But I wasn’t prepared for the communion piece.

I wasn’t prepared for my brothers and sisters, young and old, black and white and Asian and Latino, to stream down the aisle. I wasn’t prepared for the silence and I wasn’t prepared for hallowed thank you’s. I wasn’t prepared for the tears, and I wasn’t prepared for the way time seemed to stop, for the Spirit who seemed to magically hover right in our midst.

This bread and wine, this meal, this body, this life is at the heart of the Christian tradition, and, as Sara Miles writes in Take This Bread, “at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured our freely, shared by all.” (p. xiii) This experience, found on a Sunday morning at your neighborhood church or through the words of this month’s Red Couch Book club selection, unites us together.

Maybe that’s why her words have felt like a holy communion for me, a meal to feast on and think over most every night. Take This Bread has eerily brought me back to the beginning, back to the origins of our faith: to the God who cares for orphans and the widows, to the Spirit who beckons in the mostly unlikely of believers, and to the Christ who welcomes all to the table.

the thoughts have only just begun! Click here to read the rest of the post. Otherwise, what book have you read lately that’s changed your thoughts on the church, on bread and wine, on spirituality as a whole? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

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books i can’t stop thinking about: christian/spiritual memoir, 3.

It’s like the days just keep on ticking, because again, we find ourselves at the intersection of “Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About: Christian/Spiritual Memoir” Edition. I mean, you knew this one was coming, right? You know this is like my gang of people, those whose writings I most resonate with because it’s what I write, too.

So (no surprise here), you also probably know that I’m drawn to the different, the highly unlikely, the not-so-cut-and-paste-Jesus garden variety. If I’m speaking your language, you must give these four books a try:

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(1) Wild in the Hollow (Amber Haines, 2015): I’m usually not an Incourage reader, because, well, I’m lame and sometimes it just feels too “just add Jesus-water and you’re golden” for me. But man, writer Amber Haines is a poet at heart, and she blew me away. Even more than her story itself is the way her prose carries the story along. It takes your breath away and restores your insides all at the same time. It’s like, dreamy, man.

(2) Searching for Sunday (Rachel Held Evans, 2015): RHE! RHE! RHE! Chant it with me! Many of you have been along for popular blogger turned author and speaker Rachel Held Evans‘ writing journey, and like her two previous books (Faith Unraveled and A Year of Biblical Womanhood), this one did not disappoint. Not only is the story away from the Evangelical church, into the Anglican church terribly intriguing to me, she also magically weaves brain and soul into heart-words. This is certainly her best book yet.

(3) Accidental Saints (Nadia Bolz-Weber, 2015): Oh, snaps. Between four years of loosely-defined Lutheran theology in college, a hoard of favorite friends who happen to also be ELCA pastors, and the words of a tattooed, cussing, high church pastor named Nadia Bolz-Weber, I’m a fan. Her words will make you laugh and cry and cuss and feel the feels, as if for the first time. Enjoy.

(4) Take This Bread (Sara Miles, 2007): What happens when a political activist, left-wing feminist, card-carrying lesbian walks into Saint Gregory’s in San Francisco? This story happens. This book happens. This beauty happens. And it is a reminder that not only does God welcome all to the table, but he gladly gives and provides for all at the table. I enraptured by Sara Miles’ words, and can’t wait to catch up by reading her more recent Jesus Freak

So, there you have it: of the twelve Christian/spiritual memoirs I’ve read this past year, these were the top four, the ones I still can’t get off my mind.

Happy reading!

xo, c.

So, what about you? What would you add to the list, and what were your favorite Christian/spiritual memoirs that you read this past year? What, of my above list, would you absolutely, positively strike in horror? 

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books i can’t stop thinking about: YA, #2

I told you it was coming: the second installment of “Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About, YA/Young Adult” Edition. If you’ve been around me for any amount of time, you’ve probably come to realize that I a) think teenagers are hilarious, b) think every human should be in relationship with some teenager, somewhere, and c) always love keeping a little adolescence in my life by reading YA.

So, without further adieu, here are four of my favorite young adult novels that I read this past year:IMG_6006(1) I’ll Give You the Sun (Jandy Nelson, 2014): Disclaimer #1 (which you may very well see in every selection of books): this novel is not for everyone. It “stars” a set of young adolescent twins, a boy and a girl, who’ve lost their mother and therefore have to navigate the new normal. So it involves all those things you’d find in a normal teenager’s life: family, relationships, love, sexuality, creativity, and self-discovery. But, bonus, there’s also incredible story weaving and figurative language throughout it all.

(2) The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (Heidi Durrow, 2010): This is perhaps the darkest of the four selections, but Durrow’s storytelling style is captivating. Like We Were Liarsit took me awhile to understand what was going on, but once the ingenuity is understand, it’s hard not to call it brilliant. Definitely pick it up and give it a gander.

(3) To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960): I know, I know. You’ve read it before. NO. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS BOOK SINCE YOU WERE FOURTEEN YEARS OLD, YOU MUST READ IT AGAIN. I’m not sure how I let more than twenty years go by from its first reading, but I could not put it down. You know this is one of the most compelling and most important books ever written, so please, read it (again).

(4) Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli, 2000): Technically a children’s book, Stargirl is magical, and the one book thus far that I can’t wait to read to and with my boys someday. Among other things, good children’s literature not only evokes an emotional response, but it ends on a positive note. And sometimes, we all need a little bit of Disney in our lives.

So, that’s it for now. Pick up a Young Adult book if you haven’t lately, and see if it changes you. Because (secret’s out): YA books are not just for young adults. But don’t tell anyone I told you! Otherwise, check back Monday for my four favorite Christian/spiritual memoirs of the past year. 

Happy reading!

So, what would you add? What were YOUR favorite YA books you read this past year? Otherwise, from my above list, what would you delete and spit out of your mouth? It’s okay. We can still be friends. 

rituals: fluffy tails & peanut butter (kelsey jenney).

Guest post Tuesday! Today’s writer is an old friend of mine, someone I met my first year in ministry when we found ourselves in the same discussion group. She is an infectious person, in the most positive sense of the word, and uses more exclamation points (!!!) than anyone I know. So, meet Kelsey, and cheer her on at the end by leaving a comment. 

I LOVE PB&J… It’s my go-to Favorite Breakfast! Peanut Butter, Jelly Time!

I eat it open face in the morning, you know I want to keep it classy in those early morning hours where I feel like there is a lot of flurry… Makeup to do, emails to write, and lists that have piled of expectations I have not managed to accomplish yet!

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Hunks of fruit heaped on sprouted bread, and a crunch that tastes so delicious and familiar. I also love the bread to be really toasted, like a 5 on my toaster! Haha, that compliments the gooey peanut butter spread and extends comfort in those early morning hours of each day!

I should back up and say… I’m a quirky person by nature and having rituals and rhythms makes life, in more ways than I care to admit, feel manageable!

Want a small glimpse into a few of my rituals… Well, I pump my gas to the nearest $.05… $32.95, $22.15, etc, always needs to end with a 5! I have used the same pink comb since high school, pulled my hair to the same side of my face with a bobby pin with the same hair spray brand to hold my massive curly hair captive, I open the blinds in my house in the same order every morning, and always use 3 exclamation points, at least, at the end of every text!!!

I am a walking ritual in so many ways… a creature of rhythm, habit, or maybe a small case of some OCD tendencies I might need to explore after writing this. Haha! These small moments of ritual provide some consistency in the day ahead.

In the early morning hours, I roll out of bed, make my way downstairs, open the blinds, pour my dark roast coffee, and put my toast in the toaster.

It is with the smell of peanuts, and their nuzzle… I Am Here is spoken!

I am embarrassed about the cry of my heart most days as I sip coffee, and eat my PB & J. It weighs with the longings and desires I have, all of the things I want to change about the world, about me… all I wish was different, or the small things I find myself being frustrated by way too easily. The moments of anxiety, mixed with a delightful jam or jelly. There are the days I feel uncertain and it all weighs a little more on me. I can honestly get lost in here. My own head, the swirling thoughts and fears that come with each day.

Then their noses press into me. They look with their big brown eyes, and I see two faces, and I hear it again, “I am Here.”

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These furry, friendly faces, my two Giant Goldendoodles, or as they are usually referred to… The SnuggleBears. Goofy, large, wonky, and all sorts of fluff, these two, bound down the stairs with an ease… Another Morning!!!

They hear the toaster, they sit and watch. They sit patiently and wait. Ever since I have had Mason and Milo, now 8 & 7, they have joined me on the couch with the Today Show, Journaling, Coffee, and PB & J!

It might be perfection, even as I think about it now, my heart leaps. These two buddies, side by side with their big brown eyes focused on one thing… TOAST!!!

I couldn’t tell you when this all started, but the boy dogs know they always get the right corner of the toast after I am done, which means I start eating on the left corner… Ok, as I re-read that I realize I might be a bit obsessive! Haha but it’s true… I eat it clockwise. They know my rhythm so well now that they wait. Eyes big, glued to the bread… Mason always drools just a little, but not enough to be too gross, and Milo slumps down, head resting on the edge of the couch, trusting he won’t have to fight for his piece.

They sit, they wait, they watch. Attentive. Patient.

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It is so simple. It is so sweet. Honestly, it is our little rhythm. A ritual of being fully present.

Those big, brown eyes that reassure me they are present to me. Without an agenda, well besides wanting a bite. Fully embracing the current moment. Fully Present.

In those quiet moments, I hear it quite loudly through their faces, “I Am Here!”

I am REMINDED of the one that is always present. Without agenda or distraction. The one that KNOWS my rhythm, my tendencies, my fears. The one that sits patiently with me in ALL things. Our God, who extends His hand and gives us the right corner… THE BIG Right Corner. Always the right, best corner for us because He knows us. He knows what we need!

Without distraction, I can be patient with myself again because I trust our God will give me GOOD things. I am known and seen, plunged into the depths of His love.

He will give us Himself. Everyday. Through the noise in my own head, and the longings of my heart He sits and waits with me, “I am Here!” And especially in the mess of this junky, broken world, my longing is to know He is near.

Yes, through drool, wet doggie noses, wagging fluffy tails, corner pieces of bread, and peanut butter I am reminded that there is one who is always present with me!

I want to look at my God with unwavering trust, He has this. He has me. In fact, I would argue he stares right back at each of us with gushing amounts of love, grace, and big right corner pieces of goodness!!!

“You are welcome!!!” I exclaim to the boys, as I stand up, and if dogs can smile, they do!!! And then I smile too, eyes big for the day ahead “Thank You Lord, I will be present to You today!!!”

Little lessons from my friends with four paws, who love their right corner piece of PB &J!

heykelseyKelsey might look like Ms. Frizzle, but her LAST name is Jenney. She believes that in this life we are given joy, laughter, and soooo much LOVE!!! She is on Young Life Staff in Michigan, and has a deep love for ALL things Animals, especially her TWO Puppers Mason and Milo. She enjoys scarves, black coffee, walking, and watching all things Real Housewives. She can never have enough Peanut Butter, Hummus, or Guacamole… OR Wine and Vegan Treats if we are getting REAL honest! You can find her on her blog or on TwitterIt’s Cara again: didn’t Kelsey just WAKE YOU UP this morning? Pups and peanut butter and God – it doesn’t get much better than that. Leave her a message below!

books I can’t stop thinking about: non-fiction, #1.

If you haven’t noticed, things have been somewhat quiet around here. And for good reason: I’m doing my own little nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), and gave myself a self-imposed deadline of November 30th to finally finish my manuscript. I finally passed the 50,000 word mark this weekend – huzzah, huzzah! – with quotes from Leonard Cohen, the Apostle Paul, Charles Dickens and Melanie DaleThe end is in sight! Whether or not my words actually end up in your hands someday is still to be determined, but for now there is a story to tell.

Meanwhile, because I’ve also found myself engrossed in stacks of books, quoting left and right because their words make me tell the story even better, there have been books I can’t get off my mind.

So, over the next two weeks, on Mondays and Thursdays, you’ll have four installments of “Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About: Non-Fiction, Young Adult, Christian/Spiritual Memoir and Fiction.” They’re all books I’ve read in the past year, and they’re all (obviously) books I’d love for you to read as well.

Without, further adieu, let us commence installment #1, Non-Fiction:

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(1) The Whole-Brain Child (Daniel Siegal & Tina Payne Bryson, 2011): This is hands-down the best parenting book I’ve ever read. It just makes sense. My three-year-old is not throwing a temper tantrum to rile up my insides, but because he’s growing developmentally. He needs me not to dismiss him, but to meet him where he’s at in his little life. It was just as a book should be: easy to read, short from cover to cover, and brilliantly profound, all at the same time.

(2) Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson, 2014): Seriously. I’ve said it before (like  here and here), but I’ll say it again: READ THIS BOOK. I am passionate about issues of racial justice because I’m passionate – in general – about human beings, but this made me understand the need for justice on a whole new level. This may very well be the best (and most important!) book I’ve read this year.

(3) Tiny Beautiful Things (Cheryl Strayed, 2012): Now, first of all, this book is not for everybody. I didn’t agree with all of Strayed’s advice myself, but isn’t the point of an individual handing out her advice? However, she’s a story weaver, and some of the answers she gave to various readers HANDS-DOWN have stayed with me and imprinted on my mind. So, in that way, twelve thumbs up.

(4) The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown, 2013): We shall now label this book “The Book Cara Judged By Its Cover Because the Title Contained the Words ‘Boys’ and Boats’,” two words that wouldn’t usually draw me in on first glance. But y’all, it is not only a phenomenal story in and of itself, but it’s well-written and it gives you a slice of history at the same time. Bonus: if you’ve spent any time in the Bay Area or the greater Seattle area, like I have, you will delight in knowing right where the story takes place.

So, that’s it for today. Be sure to check back in on Thursday for “Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About: Young Adult.”

xo, c.

So, what would you add to the list? What are some of the best non-fiction books you’ve read this year? Do tell, do tell! 

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