What I’m Reading

I won’t lie. I often struggle to finish things I start.

Just last week, I got around to completing a scrapbook of our South Africa trip from 2+ years ago. I’m still dragging my feet to put a wedding album together. That dining set makeover from last fall was my game-changer in the world of Get Your Projects Done Already.

But so far, 2015 has graced me with this ability in the much more relaxed world of reading. And because I’ve directed all my free time to these books, I thought I’d share what I’m loving right now. Maybe you’ll love them, too?

delicious1. Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Recommended to me by Mom, this was a foodie book – lots of talk of cheese and spices and lengthy meal descriptions (not complaining). The language is elegant and rich, yet playful, and the book blends stories from present day New York City with Midwestern tales of World War II. A thoughtful and charming read.

2. Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez

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Thomas gave me this cookbook for Christmas, and I proceeded to read it for a week straight, much like a novel. Ashley writes at Not Without Salt, and the woman has so much skill in pairing flavors, not to mention her stunning photography. The recipes are slightly more adventurous than what I’m used to cooking, which I believe is a good thing. I’ve already tried a handful and may have found a second love in the tarragon aioli.

The recipes are divided first into four seasons, then broken down into date night menus that include a cocktail or drink, appetizer or side, main dish and dessert. Ashley also gives an introduction to the menu based on her own date nights in.

“Together we are eclectic, introspective, creative, and funny – basically one hell of a person. A decade into this thing called marriage, I no longer wish for Gabe to be different, or more like me. Instead, I’m able to see the very reason why we are a team. Our differences attracted me to Gabe, drove me absolutely crazy, and made us strong. Gabe and I are soul mates, but we worked damn hard to get here” (p. 37).

This book is special, and I’m marking it up with joy.

3. The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smithnesting

My sister gave me this one, also for Christmas. The Nester is not a DIY blog, but Myquillyn instead focuses on loving your home in its imperfections – not waiting for the next house to be the dream house. It’s filled with practical tips (like where to save and where to splurge), but the greatest value of this book is its reminder of why we create inviting spaces and rooms in the first place.

In one section, she writes about the apology trap:

“I always apologized for my home to protect myself so people wouldn’t think I was a slob, or at least so they would know that I acknowledge I can be a slob and that I’m not okay with it and that really I have much higher standards than this and my house does not meet my requirements. But that day, I realized that when I apologize for my home, I’m declaring to all within earshot that I’m not content. That I’m silently keeping score. That I put great importance on the appearance of my home and maybe, just maybe, I’m doing that when I visit your home, too.

“Don’t apologize for what you have. It makes guests feel uncomfortable, it encourages discontentment, and if you’re married and your husband hears you apologizing for what he’s provided, it could be hurtful” (p. 61).

Other tidbits:

  • Buy a plant. If it dies, that’s okay. Buy another kind of plant until you find one that lives (p. 193).
  • For the love of all that is lovely, don’t be afraid to make a nail hole (p. 82).
  • Live in and enjoy your space. Don’t fret when something breaks or gets scratched, because that is a sign of a life well lived. Yippie, you are doing it right! (p. 194).

4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

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This book. I heard about this bestseller probably a year ago, picked it up for cheap at the bookstore and flew through it. The story is pieced together by emails and letters interwoven with narrative and dialogue. It centers on a mother-daughter relationship (that, of course, has its dysfunctions) and had me laughing out loud at 7:00 in the morning and 10:00 at night. It has a ton of wit and soul, even in the serious parts. Loved.sweet paul

5. Eat & Make by Paul Lowe (in progress)

Again, another Christmas cookbook. It’s written by Norwegian Sweet Paul, namesake of the quarterly print magazine. Flipping through, the book is filled with recipes, many of which will push my tastes (again), and kitchen crafts, like jam jar salt and pepper shakers and coffee filter paper flowers. I’m excited to really dig into this one.

6. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider (in progress)

blue bikeI can’t get away from non-fiction for long, can I? I discovered Tsh through her podcast, found here. The tagline of the book is “The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World,” and it centers on living consciously by way of small choices that make up a life. I’m like a sponge with these kind of books; should be a good one with many wise words.

Side Note: A few weeks back, I wrote about our transition to a new city, a new home with new coffee shops and schedules and one-way streets to memorize. This season, despite its tough moments, is doing a lot in my soul. These books have undoubtedly helped me make space in my brain and heart for both wisdom and whimsy. Words change us, you know?

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How We Talk About Our Bodies

This is the time of year when everyone and their uncle talks about kale chips, pilates class, “easy” ways to lose 10 pounds and keeping health resolutions going – at least through January.

I get it. And I’m with them (except for my research yesterday on homemade puff pastry. The butter, Lord help us all).

Last week, I saw that some bloggers were gearing up for a prayer event that happens once each month called 12 Prayers. Each month focuses on a designated issue or topic. The goal is to read truth and attack the issue with prayer throughout the day, in 12 prayers.

This month’s focus was, rightfully, body image. Here are a few prayers from the day:

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“We pray that we would stop trying to grasp perfection for a vessel that is weak and dying.” 2 Corinthians 5:2-4

“Help us see where YOU find beauty.” Proverbs 31:30

“We pray that our souls would know the dignity we possess because we are made in your image.” Matthew 22:37-40

“We live our lives convinced these bodies are about us and our identity but we ask that you would take them back for your glory. When we forget their true purpose, remind us that these bags of flesh are tools for advancing your Kingdom, nothing more and nothing less.Romans 12:1

I loved this mini-study for a few very different reasons.

It went straight to the heart of what our bodies are made for. We like to like our bodies. This study did not claim that liking our bodies is bad. But it can be futile. We’re so critical of ourselves, scrutinizing dimples and shapes and the hair on our arms.

And our culture has competing ideals – we’re expected to strive for the (albeit often unattainable) flawlessness we see on magazine covers, yet raise the white flag and sign body peace treaties, accepting ourselves for who we are now. What? As long as perfection is the metric of success that society pushes, real body peace is hardly an option – by earthly standards.

What if we bypassed this confusion and celebrated our bodies for what they were made for? Not just high cheekbones and tiny ankles. What if we didn’t “settle” for what we have, didnt’t over-eat or under-eat to meet the expectations in our heads, didn’t say we’ll be happy when we have visible abs or triceps?

I’m under the impression we have every right to celebrate our bodies because – for heaven’s sake – we were given bodies with breath! To worship, and to fulfill God’s purpose of advancing the Kingdom while we can.

What this tells me is that my vision and purpose for my body is not about working out. But it’s not about not working out, either. What I’m saying is that I should eat the kale chips AND the puff pastry. We can’t abandon caring for our bodies (we were entrusted with them, after all). But the obsessions and critiques and wars with food and super close-up mirrors don’t rule us. They can’t, because we’ve already established a higher calling for our bodies.

The study also opened my eyes to the encouraging power of Instagram. No, really. A while back, one of my favorite authors wrote an article about Instagram’s Envy Effect, or how it’s tempting to project our lives in idealistic and inauthentic ways. While I know plenty of that goes on, I love seeing examples of how media can be used for encouraging and building. The idea of 12 Prayers relies on scripture, a group of writers’ honesty, and a dedication to spiritual movement. Now it has me wondering how I can implement something similar in my circle.

On a related note, I came back around to this blog post that advises how to talk to daughters about their bodies. Should I have a daughter one day, I hope I communicate some of these things to her.

And thanks, Mom, for frequently singing the ‘Miss America’ song when you heard me walking down the stairs in the morning, before you even saw what I was wearing.

With Unclenched Fists

I’ve been a conscientious person for as long as I can remember.

From matching outfits since age 2 to feeling sickeningly anxious about going into school without my homework finished, that sort of became my reputation. I liked order, sensibility, and using time – as I saw it – well.

I always had expectations of myself. And that often transferred to me having expectations of (and desiring some control over) how I spent my time – and, specifically, what results I gained from it.

That creates some problems.

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When Thomas and I went to separate colleges, we talked for days about how our weekends together would be. If I made the trip north, I imagined dinner together, splitting a gelato at our favorite coffee house, then waking up early to make breakfast and go to Target and imaginatively pick out what doormat or desk our first house would have.

But I’d get up there, and we’d be indecisive on a restaurant. Then the gelato place would be too crowded with chai latte sippers for us to sit and actually enjoy said gelato. We’d stay up until 2 a.m. watching a movie with a terrible plot and wake up at 10 the next morning – my favorite time of the day sacrificed to sleep. And pretty soon it would be time to leave and I would think, “What happened to our weekend?”

My expectation wasn’t met. The result wasn’t enough.

I was so fixated on the “perfect” plan, making me unavailable to letting the weekend unfold for what it was. An informal dinner, yes. A late night, yes. But still a precious weekend. Not wasted time.

For many of us, the natural reaction is to face new (or even routine) situations with clenched fists, demanding a certain result. Not a loud, openly assertive kind of demanding, but the quieter, passive-aggressive kind.

Maybe you expect vacation to restore you back to zero stress. Maybe you have high hopes for that new job with a vague title. Maybe you’re putting in a whole bunch of time to a project that doesn’t seem to be giving you the results you want.

When we throw weight behind these expectations, consciously or not, our exterior toughens.

Our fists close tighter. We become less open-minded, more resentful, and more tired.

Not that planning is a bad thing, or working hard is useless. I don’t believe that. But my expectations have frequently caused me to be closed off to opportunities that offer inherent beauty – the kind of beauty I don’t see because my hands aren’t open to it.

My goal is unclenched fists.

I still want to be a conscious person; that hasn’t changed. But instead of trying to force the outcomes in a certain direction – my direction – I want to loosen my grip. Accept what happens with grace and humility, rather than stubbornness and irritability.

If we do that, if we can risk not knowing and keeping an open mind and appreciating things for what they are, I think we’ll find beauty.

As We Close Another Year

Changes have come fast and furious these last few weeks.

Some I’ve handled more beautifully than I imagined I would. Some have been rocky.

The Thursday before Christmas, the husband and I (and the dog daughter) moved into a new apartment. The days leading up to the move, I realized just how ungracious I can be surrounded by a tornado of stuff I’d rather just put in a closet and not address. Our belongings were in a state of upheaval, and my soul felt the same way, too.

It occurred to me how important “home” is to us. Especially for two individuals who love their space organized just so, being rooted somewhere is comforting. And just days away from Christmas, it didn’t seem like ideal timing. Then again, when is anything ever perfectly timed?

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We packed. We recruited help. We moved.

And we love it!

In a matter of hours, this new apartment become “home.” And with some greenery on the door, the tree in place and big bulbs outlining our garage, it actually felt like it.

I prepped myself for the alternative, halfway thinking that our first married Christmas –  in a new house as a young wife – would evoke neutral, borderline scary/sad feelings. I was so wrong. For some reason, an attitude of thankfulness came more naturally than I expected, and I wasn’t so locked into my traditions of the past that I couldn’t appreciate my own reality. Even if I did nearly recreate the same Christmas morning breakfast that I’ve had the past 21 years of my life. So what.

That’s not to say my expectations of this first Christmas – in a new home as a young wife – were all met. I expected to surpass my doubt and make some yeast rolls with ease. Rather, I curdled the buttermilk on the first attempt. I expected to wrap presents creatively and instead gave up trying to package a round candle and stuck it in a bag.

And the wonderful news is…that’s all ok.

It’s so easy to hold ourselves, our homes, our skills or spouses, for example, up to such high standards. Sometimes, we just need to allow ourselves to adapt to the new scenario in front of us. Give ourselves the chance to bend and flex as needed, and grace when things don’t go as planned. I don’t do that often enough.

My Christmas was one of deep change. A healthy, happy and somewhat challenging change. I hope you had a meaningful one this year with your family and friends. Shall we jump into 2014?

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Slow It Down

You learn a lot about yourself at 5:00pm after a long day with somewhere to be in the following hour and a dinner to throw together in that time frame.

Or maybe that’s just me. A couple days ago.

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I don’t handle rushing very well. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I enjoy being punctual, but a character flaw in that I err on the side of freaking out internally when tasks are more hurried than I’d like them to be.

I get moody. Quiet, though my head still spins from the day.

It occurred to me, as I made pumpkin waffles for dinner (a great recipe, if a little high-maintenance), that I am a better version of myself when I have even ten, fifteen minutes when I get home to sit. Decompress. Talk to husband and love on my pup.

Because all those things are compromised when I don’t take that time. Lord knows I can’t read a recipe and pay attention to anything else simultaneously.

It’s like our souls need time to recalibrate. Maybe for me that’s every day at 5. Regardless, I’m beginning to pay attention to my character at the end of a long day, and I don’t always like what I notice.

The best version of myself arrives when the mess and stress have time to fade away before jumping into the next thing.

Do you like who you are at 5:00pm?

For You Traditionalists

My family held one of its most diligently-adhered-to traditions this weekend.

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We make homemade applesauce one evening every fall.

It’s really quite an operation, and we have a system after all these years. You wash the apples in the sink (usually a job for the kids) and send them to be quartered, where they’re then dropped into a crazy-hot pot on the stove. Once they’re soft, they go to the crank, and while someone pushes the apples down, the junk (skin, seeds, etc.) comes out one side and sauce comes out the other. Then we load up the bowls with sugar and a whole lot of cinnamon, put them in containers, label them “Metheny Applesauce 2013” and freeze them to give away. The whole batch lasts throughout the year.

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It’s one of my favorite traditions, as it ushers in the fall season, gives us time to talk and laugh, and everyone has a role. Even if it’s just entertaining the little ones (or our new, beautiful, adopted puppy, Delilah. She’s a doll. You’ll definitely see more of her soon).

In every tradition, there is stability. There is the knowing that you’ll do it again and again and continue to remember that funny time last year when you made applesauce, watched “A Christmas Story” seven times through on TV or traveled across states to see friends for a week. Whatever your tradition is.

These are good things. They help shape who we are and what we value. We just can’t get stuck in them.

Isn’t it easy to be attached to these experiences? To esteem them so much as to disregard all else? Isn’t that why when Christmas falls on a Sunday, attendance is often low?

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I’m learning that the ability to flex, to move, to do something different is just as important as the ability to stay right where we are. It can challenge us to not get stuck in our ways. For the stubborn, like me, this is healthy practice.

I know this isn’t always fun. As people change, traditions sometimes change with them, and the process can be disheartening. But it doesn’t have to be the end. So much more can define us than our traditions.

So while you have them, enjoy them. Create them. Make more. But perhaps try not to get stuck.

To My Youth Group

Because my youth group’s first meeting is this weekend, it has prompted me to think about the upcoming year and what I wish for them. For us.

I want them to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. The pragmatism of my upperclassmen boys and frilliness of my middle school girls. That there will be harmony among each other, and much laughter.

I wish them strength as they start another school year. To overcome stress caused by too much note-taking, too much comparing or too little rest.

And that they would come to realize that Christ defines them. That no matter what jeans they wear, sports they play or grades they receive, they are enough.

As for myself, I don’t want to care for them from a safe distance.

I want to work to understand them better as individuals and let them know that I, too, have giggled about what boy likes what girl. I, too, have held myself to an unreasonable standard in school.

And fortunately, there is a God so much bigger than what we try to become on our own. Don’t we all need that reminder sometimes?

To my youth group, I love who you are. I really hope you know that.

I can’t wait for another wacky year with you.

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Time to Move

I never thought books could hold me back.

I relish in hearing stories of faith being challenged and adventures that individuals find worth pursuing. I read about people taking jobs and quitting jobs, road-tripping and choosing to stay. I read about crazy generosity matched by crazy creativity and these huge risks people take to serve others. I read about people who don’t care about cultural expectations and decide to engage in life, rather than be burdened by it.

And my response is always, “That’s so neat. They’re so brave/innovative/insert-adjective-here.”

Then I rack my brain thinking of all the things I could do, too, until I talk myself down from that place.

It becomes easy for me to read inspirational stories and simply close the book, saying it was a good read, but have no resulting motion on my behalf.

So now I’m toying with this idea that we can take our most inward thoughts and then act on them.

We can absorb the stories of adventure and love and everyday life to no end, or we can challenge ourselves to react. To move. And these movements can be counter-cultural, too, just like in those stories we read.

It may be a trip. It may be an act of kindness. Demonstrating love or forgiveness. Anything, really.

That kind of life we imagine for ourselves as the most fulfilling or God-honoring, it can begin today.

And it took me a while to realize that.

So for the next while here at Make of Me, we’re going to explore this idea. We can think inward to act outward and change some things, no matter how seemingly small or overwhelming. We don’t have to remain in the same place, wherever that may be.

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This week, I’m in Florida. We had the chance to hang out with my in-laws for a week at the beach and took advantage. My first thoughts upon being invited were so Mallory-esque. Questioning whether a second trip to the beach in two months was indulgent. Whether I should just stay at home and get some hours at work.

Then my more sensible husband and I agreed – we won’t always be able to just “pick up and go.” So we decided to. And I’m glad.

Things I Learned In July

I’m linking up again with Emily Freeman over at Chatting at the Sky to blog about every quirky thing we learned last month. Here’s my list. Perhaps you could make your own?

1. Hand-written notes matter. I finished up thank-you notes from the wedding this month, and I often questioned if my five-sentence sentiments would mean anything to the recipients. One couple at church (who attended the wedding AND celebrated BOTH their birthdays on that day) came up to me and said they appreciated the note, and it was so sweet that we acknowledged how they spent their birthdays with us. Our words matter. Online, and hand-written.

2. The cliche that a life change often equals a change in hairstyle…well, that was true for me. One afternoon, I dreamt up this idea of a new hairstyle. So I went for it, and chopped it off! Maybe next time I’ll go darker…

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3. Sharing stories provides connection. When Prodigal Magazine featured a story of mine, I received so much feedback and encouragement for sharing such personal emotions. Readers began to say, “Me too.” And that was awesome.

4. Allison Vesterfelt’s blog resonates with my soul. She’s the editor of Prodigal, and the last three posts she’s written have spoken so directly to my current thoughts about transitions and big decisions and life in between stages. Check her out.

5. It is so fun when family keeps getting bigger. T’s brother, Paul, married the love of his life, Hannah, at the end of the month. It was a beautiful outdoor wedding, and the start of a pretty rad married siblings relationship. Love it.

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6. Sometimes it’s hard to follow through on our commitments. But we must. A few months back, Thomas and I had the goal of sponsoring a child through Destiny Rescue. We still plan to, but haven’t moved on it. And I think it’s time. Thank the Lord for grace.

7. There is much risk in moving your life forward. But when your husband looks this good in graduation attire, it’s worth it. 

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Things I Learned in June

One of my newfound joys in blogging is exploring other people’s blogs. I enjoy finding authors who topically speak and write to my interests, and who I can learn something from. Emily Freeman writes over at Chatting At The Sky. She’s funny, true and at the end of each month writes a post about all the things she learned in those 30 some days. She encouraged her readers to do the same for this month.

Thus, here are some of the many things I learned in June:

1. Cooking is a form of creativity. And I like it. I’ve found satisfaction in creating a full meal from lots of different ingredients and making it look pretty on the table.

2. Walkie-talkies are still fun as adults. We brought them on the youth group’s mission trip to communicate among vans, and the conversations induced so much laughter. Over and out.

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3. Speaking of the mission trip, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the people of Appalachia.

4. It is possible to roast asparagus in a toaster oven. The countertop appliance isn’t just for toast anymore, people.

5. Even children work to overcome fear. My precious five-year-old nephew wanted to run and jump off the diving board so bad, but he was terrified of not knowing what the result would be. Eventually, right before having to leave the pool, his little legs sprinted off that board and into the water. He was so brave! Even if it did take a little monetary bribing.

6. Friendships change as people change. And the result is often life-giving.

7. I don’t totally appreciate when it’s sunny and rainy at the same time. The possibility, yes. The contradiction, no.

8. Articulating why I believe what I do is more crucial than ever. I don’t want to be a blind follower, but instead dig into defenses for Christianity. My current bible study, ‘Why Do You Believe That?’ will continue to help me in this.

9. I don’t get tired of the music from Pitch Perfect. I really don’t.

10. Transitioning into marriage was rougher than I thought. For a short period of time, anyway. I learned it’s ok to be sad for what’s behind you, but in no way should that overpower the excitement of a new adventure.

What are some things that you learned in June?

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