writing

What I’m Into: February 2016 Edition

 

The past few days have felt positively spring-like here in South Carolina and I am hopeful that it’s here to stay. As someone who is cold 95% of the time, even the mild winters we experience in the south can feel long to me, so I’m all about spring showing up. I’ve been struggling with my health a bit this month, and feeling generally tired and sluggish, and I think warmer weather might help with that as well. Linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2) by Rob Thomas. This is the second Veronica Mars book in what I hope will be an ongoing series. As I said about the first one, if you are already a fan of Veronica Mars as a show and a movie, you will love these. If you aren’t familiar, you might still enjoy them just for the mystery-solving detective aspect, but some of the tone and the connection between the characters might be lost on you.

The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman. This is the third book of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I read the first two books and I think half of this one several years ago. I was intrigued by the first two, but remember feeling like this one dragged. This time I listened to the audio version which is a dramatized reading almost like a radio play. Even with the great reading, it still felt a little long and plodding and much more heavy-handed than the other two in his criticisms of the church and of religion. Definitely not my favorite of the trilogy.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This is another of those YA books that I wouldn’t give to my young teenager, but maybe to the right older teen. The really powerful thing about this book is that it is an honest and revealing portrayal of mental illness in teens that isn’t always talked about openly. Violet and Finch meet on a ledge of the school bell tower, both contemplating their own deaths. In meeting, they save each other, at least for the day, and their meeting leads to a friendship that helps and challenges each of them in different ways.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe. I am fairly recent Rob Lowe fan with most of my exposure to him coming from Parks and Recreation and his new show, The Grinder, so I enjoyed these stories about Rob Lowe’s show biz journey, starting as a teen heart throb in the 80’s If you’re not very interested in the movie and television industry then this might not be the book for you, but if you are interested in it or just like Rob Lowe in general than this is a fun and easy read.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. I’m a huge fan of The Princess Bride so I really enjoyed this book telling some of the behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film and the people involve from Cary Elwes, who played Wesley. In particular, the stories about Andre the Giant, who played Fezzig in the movie, are funny and heartwarming.

In January I read about half of Sarah Bessey’s newest book, Out of Sorts, and fully intended to finish it this month, but I sort of lost momentum. It shouldn’t take too long once I pick it back up, but I’ve been distracted by other things. If you want to see what I’m reading and what I think of it, be sure to follow me on Goodreads!

What I’m Listening To:

I’ve been really enjoying Modern Mrs. Darcy’s new What Should I Read Next? podcast. This is a concept she used to do on her blog sometimes and has now converted into a podcast format where she invites a guest to answer three questions – name a book you love, a book you hate, and what you read most recently -and then gives three book recommendations based on that discussion. It’s lots of fun.

What I’m Watching:

I’m slowly working through the final season of Revenge on Netflix. Jonathan and I are trying (and sometimes failing) to stay current with Brooklyn Nine Nine, New Girl, and our new fave, The Grinder. To be honest, we’ve been busy and haven’t spent a ton of time watching shows together. We did see Hail, Caesar! at the theater this past weekend and we both enjoyed it even though the trailer is a bit misleading. Channing Tatum is hysterical in it.

What I’m Eating:

I went through about a 3-week period where I was eating Chinese takeout every Sunday evening. I just had to have it. The cashew chicken at Yummy Yummy II is bomb. I also made a ton of cookies and strawberry cream cheese muffins for the Bible Study retreat I went on at the beginning of the month. I use this bread recipe and just do muffins instead. I also add chocolate chunks because, why not? Follow me on Pinterest for more recipes.

What I’m Writing:

On the blog I wrote about mindfulness with this post on walks without destinations. I shared a spoken-word poem about love in honor of the 9 year anniversary of my husband and I becoming a couple. I shared Vol. 2 of What’s on my Bookshelf. And I wrote about my continual struggle to fully live in the present even as I look with expectation to the future.

For Modernize I wrote an article on ways to hide cords, cables and other eyesores and started a series of style 101 posts. So far I’ve tackled Minimalist Style and Rustic Style.

What I’ve Been Up To:

For such a short month, February has packed a punch. The first weekend of the month I went away for a women’s retreat with the women from my Bible study. We stayed in this amazing house at Lake Lure, NC, which is where Dirty Dancing was filmed. In fact, it was a very Dirty Dancing themed weekend, complete with my friend Buffy and I doing a lip sync dance to Time of My Life incorporating some signature moves from the movie. Besides all of the great fun, it was also a rich and meaningful time and a great opportunity to get away.

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I heart these people. I heart them hard.

The following week I subbed at the school I tutor at for the entire week, so that kept me pretty busy. That weekend was Valentine’s Day and we had an oh-so-romantic dinner of burgers and fried pickles after which I fell asleep. Epic romance.

The next week we had agreed to stay with some of our friends’ kids for five days while they were out of town. We moved into their house on Wednesday night and stayed with their 3 kids and 2 Saint Bernards until the following Monday. It was fun and tiring all at once and kind of a unique opportunity to imagine what life could look like for us in 15 years. I think Jonathan and I may have had slightly different experiences of it, but it was fun to do together.

What have you been up to and into?

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We took our temporary kids to see this giant tree. Cause we’re super fun like that.

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Our temporary dog was not as easily won over.

 

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What I’m Into: January 2016 Edition

For some reason January always feels like a long month to me. Maybe it’s because the time leading up to Christmas seems to go so quickly that when we get back to regular life it feels slower and more drawn out. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into these past 31 days.

What I’m Reading:

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) by Rob Thomas. I actually read this entirely in December and finished it New Year’s Eve, but I’d already finished last month’s post at that point so I’m including it here. This was written by the creator of the Veronica Mars TV show and picks up right where the VM movie leaves off. If you are a fan of the show and the movie you will like this book. It’s very fun. 

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. This is a unique blend of memoir and food writing by the author of acclaimed food blog, Orangette. The book moves through significant moments in the author’s life as they connect with specific recipes, and each chapter ends with a recipe. It’s a fun, easy read that will make you want to cook.

Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan. I really enjoyed this one. I read Corrigan’s first memoir The Middle Place, last year and found it moving and funny and poignant. In this memoir Corrigan writes about her experience working as a nanny in Australia as a young 20-something. As she cares for two children who have lost their mother she finds herself emulating her own mother, someone she never got along with or appreciated much. I could especially relate because of my own years spent working as a nanny.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I have no idea how to write about this book. The first thing I’ll say is that it’s marketed as a YA book and it is about teenagers and coming of age, but I would never give this book to my teenager. It is….intense. The best part of this book is probably the language which is vibrant and heavily imagistic. I love what this book had to say about art, why we create it and what makes it necessary. Noah and Jude are twins (Jude’s a girl, btw) who have always shared a special connection until some time in their 14th year, something breaks them apart. The story is told in alternating sections from Noah’s and Jude’s perspectives. Noah’s part of the story is told in the past, while Jude’s portions are told three years later. You get bits and flashes of what happened between them from each side until it all comes together in the end. Noah is strange and isolated, drawing constantly, misunderstood by his peers and desperately in love with the boy next door. Jude is rebellious and fiery, ready to crash and burn if that’s what it takes. Something tears them apart in a way that changes them completely, but they each only have half the story.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. I really wanted to love this novel. It had so many things going for it – it’s by a famous food writer and it’s about a girl who works for a food magazine and hides a tragic secret in her past. There’s tons of cooking involved which I loved. And there’s a historical mystery involving long lost letters written during WWII. Like I said, it had fantastic elements, but I just never felt connected with the main character. She felt emotionally distant and I never really attached to her, even when she told her whole sad back story. I also sort of felt like the book was trying to do too many things – there was the historical aspect and the cooking element and a romance and the personal family drama and what felt like an excessive number of minor characters. It’s not a bad book, it just didn’t quite pull everything together for me.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. This is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles, a YA series that takes classic fairy tales and incorporates them into a futuristic story about a world where Earth is being ravaged by an incurable plague and the emperor is locked in a power struggle with Luna, the colony on the moon now populated by a race with special mind control powers. The first book had a Cinderella-type plot, except the Cinderella character was a cyborg. This book picks up where the first one left off, but incorporates a Red Riding Hood character complete with a wolf. I love re-imagined fairy tales, but I’m not usually into super futuristic settings. These books have charmed me anyway.

I’m also about halfway finished with Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts so that will be on next month’s review. Follow me on Goodreads for up-to-the-moment updates.

What I’m Watching:

This month I watched all of the Netflix original series Marvel’s Jessica Jones. I really liked it, but it is pretty dark for a superhero show. And more graphic than I expected it to be. So fair warning. I’m also nearing the end of the third season of Revenge on Netflix. I need to figure out a way to watch Downton Abbey before someone spoils it for me. Jonathan I have been watching Brooklyn Nine Nine and New Girl as they air, but we’ve also just discovered a love for The Grinder starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage.

Jonathan went to see a few movies in theaters this month, but I opted out, both because these particular movies didn’t appeal to me all that much and also because I needed to take a little break from movie theaters which were triggering panic attacks. We did watch two movies at home, The Walk, which is about the man who tight-rope walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center with no safety harness (he was loco) and The Scorch Trials, the second Maze Runner movie. The Walk was interesting if somewhat horrifying and Joseph Gordon Levitt is brilliant and does an impressive French accent, but Scorch Trials was underwhelming. For whatever reason I just can’t get into the Maze Runner trilogy the way I did with The Hunger Games or Divergent.

What I’m Eating:

In an effort to eat healthier, but not be completely bored by baked chicken and vegetables at every meal, I’ve been trying out some new recipes. (Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m eating). Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Moroccan Beef Stew (hint: only use 1 lemon!)

Spicy Italian Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup

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What I’m Writing:

My biggest writing news was a piece I had published by Marie Claire at the beginning of this month. I didn’t mention it here because unfortunately, they took the liberty of adding a title and deck to my article that completely misrepresent what I said and what it’s about. They did leave the body of the article intact though, so if you read it, just keep in mind that I didn’t write the title and deck.

On the blog this month I wrote about my One Word for 2016 and about my wicked case of FOBO (Fear of Being Ordinary). I wrote about mindfulness twice with my attempts to watch TV mindfully and to practice mindful eating. I wrote a guest post for my friend Kelsey’s blog about how I see makeup as a form of self-care. I started a new series I plan to continue sporadically showing you what’s on my bookshelf. And I shared what’s on my “To Don’t” list.

I’ve written a few more interior design pieces for Modernize too if you want to check them out:

A Beginner’s Guide to Accent Walls

4 Upsides to Downsizing

All Decked Out: 10 Ways to Take Your Deck from Plain to Polished

The Non-Artist’s Guide to Mixed Media Gallery Walls

2016 Kids’ Bedroom Trends

On the Internets:

I found so many great things on the internet over the past few months. Starting with this video of Adele doing Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. The whole video is great if you have time to watch it (I think Adele’s accent is so great because she looks like she’s so posh, but her accent betrays her. I love it.) At least watch for James Corden’s impressive harmonizing skills.

This article (with photos) about “What if Guys did Boudoir Photo Shoots?” cracked me up. And grossed me out a little.

This more serious article my sister sent me about Donald Trump and the Christian Obsession with Masculinity is fascinating. And disturbing.

And this really challenging piece from Ann Voskamp on How to Make Time & Space for the Life You Really Want.

And just to leave you on a light note, this music video Kristen Bell and Dax Shephard made of themselves is pretty great. Because they are the cutest couple living.

 

What I’ve Been Up To:

We did precisely nothing for New Year’s Eve (I was in bed at 10 I believe), but on New Year’s Day we went to our friends Lorien and Will’s house where we participated in the annual New Year’s Day 10-course Asian feast. We even had kimchi. It was like being home.

We spent our last weekend of vacation exploring downtown Greenville, a cute town about 1 1/2 hours drive from where we live.

The next week I started back at work tutoring and subbing while Jonathan enjoyed his last week of winter vacation. That weekend we had a blast hosting two sets of our closest friends who both live in the Charlotte area. We ate tons of food and took walks and played a million board games and rubbed Asharae’s baby bump in utter amazement at how she is growing a person while we all sit around doing nothing. It was excellent. They are our people and we love them! (But we didn’t take any pictures together. Fail).

I hit a bit of a slump mid-month and went through about a week where I just felt so down and so incredibly tired all the time that I did almost nothing except show up for my tutoring appointments and sleep. It feels like a lost week because the whole thing was kind of a fog. It sucked. But I’m feeling better now.

We finished our month with a quick trip to Raleigh to see friends and reminisce about when we used to live there. On Friday we stayed with our friends Jerusha and Nathaniel and their 5-month old daughter Edith who is a complete doll. On Saturday we met up with our friends Justin and Mary and their 3-month-old daughter Evelyn who has an awesome head of hair and is working hard on keeping her head up. And on Saturday night we stayed with my best friend and college roommate, Christina, and her new husband Andy who have been married for 4 whole months already!

We also had the chance to visit some of our old haunts like the lake where I did so much of my running when I was training for marathons and half marathons. Raleigh holds a special place in our hearts and it was great to visit again. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up living there again someday!

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I’ve run many a mile around this lake.

Ooh, also, I’ve gotten super into my planner. Like I take out scrapbooking materials and decorate it every week. Like a dork. It’s excellent. Right up there with adult coloring books.

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What have you been into and up to this month?

10,000 Followers Giveaway!

Yesterday something kind of amazing happened. This blog hit 10,000 followers. To some of you that may seem like a lot and to others it may seem like a little, but to me it is almost incomprehensible and completely humbling, especially since the majority of these followers have come within the last year. I know that not everyone who follows my blog reads every post, but I am still overwhelmed by how many people at some point clicked that “Follow” button to show a measure of support.

When I first started this blog almost five years ago, I was right out of college working as a full-time nanny and needed a creative outlet to keep me writing. I wrote sporadically and without much focus and only about five people even knew about my blog because I didn’t share my posts on social media or even tell my friends about them. As I moved into a season of wrestling with my faith, I started to explore some of my questions, my doubts, and my revelations through blogging. I occasionally shared these posts on Facebook, but my audience was still very small.

After moving to Korea, I had a wealth of strange and interesting life experiences to write about and process through. At the same time, I discovered the spiritual memoir genre and found that blogging about my faith helped me sort through my jumbled thoughts and feelings. I started to connect with other bloggers who wrote about similar topics – what it looks like when the faith you grew up with doesn’t quite fit anymore and how faith can change and grow over time. I had opportunities to guest post and invited others to share on my blog. As I grew into this community, I became more serious about blogging as a means of working out my own story and my own faith while connecting with other people. I sought to present my authentic self with my questions and doubts and problems, and hoped that through my vulnerability others could identify with me and feel less alone.  I started to hear from readers who told me that these little essays meant something to them and I started making real life friends with people who read my words.

I know that some of my you came here to read about my travel experiences, some came to read book reviews and recommendations, and some came to read about my faith-wrestling, but all of you have made my life richer and made my moments of vulnerability worth it.

To help express my gratitude to those of you who have joined me on this journey, I’m hosting a little giveaway. There will be two winners and those winners will each receive a book pack with 3 of my favorite books. One set is nonfiction books and the other is fiction. (It was SO HARD to choose just 3 books for each!)

The nonfiction book pack includes: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber, and An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.

The fiction book pack includes: Peace Like a River by Lief Enger, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

The rules are simple.

  1. You must be a follower or subscriber to this blog. (If you are not a follower all you have to do is scroll to the top of the page and look underneath the picture of a younger and svelter me with the little bio. There is a button right under that that says, “Click here if you’re awesome!” Click that button. All this means is that you will be notified when I post something new. )
  2. You must EITHER “like” my Facebook page, which I will link here. (Literally just click the “like” button) OR follow me on Twitter @lilyellyn. If you don’t have Facebook or Twitter just tell me that in the comment you leave.
  3. Finally, leave a comment below telling me either how you found this blog and why you started following OR what your favorite post has been. Be sure to include whether you are more interested in the fiction or nonfiction book pack if you have a preference.

This giveaway is open internationally so anyone can enter.Submissions are open for 1 week and will close on Wednesday, December 23rd at 11:59 PM EST. There is only one entry per person. At the end of the submission period I will collect the names of everyone who submitted and draw two names randomly. I will announce the winners here in a blog post on Christmas Day so be sure the check back.

You guys are seriously the best. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Giveaway banner image credit via StephanieHowell.com

What I’m Into: November 2015 Edition

The holiday season is officially here! I wish I had endless resources for Christmas decorating, but we usually just put up the tree and call it a day. Although our new place actually has a fireplace mantle that would be perfect for stockings…then again, our cats will probably think dangling stockings are toys just waiting to be knocked down. We already play an annual game where every morning we guess how many ornaments they knocked off the tree while we were sleeping. I believe the record stands at six.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been up to in the month of November.

What I’m Reading:

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. I continued my Sedaris kick with this one. I think I liked Me Talk Pretty One Day better, but I enjoyed this one too. As I’ve said before, Sedaris is a strange guy, but amusing and I feel like I learn a lot about writing from the way he paces his essays and the balance between narrative and exposition in them. And he grew up in Raleigh so I like hearing him describe places I have fond memories of.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think I’m more a fan of Liz Gilbert as a person than I am of her as a writer (although The Signature of All Things was pretty good). I listened to this as an audiobook which she read herself and I think that made a huge difference in how approachable and interesting it was. It’s a nonfiction book that’s partially about her coming to terms with the institution of marriage and partially about the historical significance of marriage (in the Western world). The most interesting parts to me had to do with her research on marriage as not being the inherently Christian concept it’s often made out to be and also the tremendously depressing data on how the age of a couple when they marry dramatically influences their chances of staying together. (The younger people marry, the more likely they are to get divorced) and how men’s quality of life improves dramatically after marriage while women’s quality of life is significantly worse. I don’t think this is an amazing book, but I found some of it interesting.

The Lake House by Kate Morton. If you are a fan of Morton’s previous books you will probably like this one. She stays in her wheelhouse with this mystery which involves an old house in the English countryside, family secrets, and movement between the past and present as the reader and the characters try to solve the mystery of what happened to Theo Edevane, who disappeared when he was two years old. I found the ending to be a bit contrived, but was nevertheless charmed by the book.

In the Valley of the Shadow Light has Dawned by Stephanie Ebert. I wrote a review of this little advent devotional here, but the short version is that I loved it because it met me right where I am. I recommend it to anyone looking for how to hold on to hope in the midst of a dark world.

I am on the verge of finishing both Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (AKA J. K. Rowling) so my review will have to wait for next month, but spoiler alert – I’m really liking them both.

What I’m Listening To:

Adele. Duh. Isn’t everyone?

What I’m Watching:

I completely forgot to mention this last month, but I watched all of season 1 of Jane the Virgin on Netflix last month. I haven’t been able to watch Season 2 though because I didn’t start it in time to catch the first few episodes while they were on Hulu and now they aren’t available anymore (I know, I know, first world problems). Jonathan and I are keeping up with How to Get Away with Murder and Brooklyn Nine Nine (our favorite) and we are making our way through the new season of The Mindy Project.

In movies this month we saw Spectre (the new James Bond movie) which was a classic James Bond movie – entertaining but nothing special. We also saw the last Hunger Games movie with Jonathan’s family on Thanksgiving night. It was well done, but, like the book, rather dark.

What I’m Eating:

Way too much, guys. Way too much. One of my healthier fall favorites has been winter squash (acorn squash). Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill the hollow with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar (amount depends on how healthy you want to be) and microwave for 6 – 8 minutes. Eat with a spoon!

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via Huffington Post

What I’m Writing:

I wrote my weekly adventures for weeks 44, 45, 46, and 47 here on the blog. I also wrote about the loss of two dear professors and about advent as the season of holy longing.

I wrote a few more articles for Modernize and while I’ve gotten positive feedback from the editor, I think my contract with them may be at its end. Fingers crossed for a few more weeks of work!

On the Internets:

Did you guys know about Glitter for Your Enemies? Cause I think it’s brilliant. It’s a website that lets you send an envelope full of glitter anonymously to your enemies. So they get glitter bombed. Because we all know how impossible to get rid of glitter. Almost makes me wish I had enemies…

What I’ve Been Up To:

I’ve actually been working a lot this month. I tutor 7 days a week for students from elementary school through college. Some days I just have one student and other days I have 3 or 4. I subbed 8 days this month and picked up 7 freelance articles. Some weeks I have too much to do and other weeks I can’t quite scrape together enough, but God has been faithful and little by little things are coming together, even without a traditional job.

We moved into our new place at the beginning of November and spent the first few weeks getting settled. I did a little photo tour to give you a glimpse of it.

The loss of two of my professors a couple weeks ago hit me hard and made me think a lot about what it means to live life well.

This past week we traveled to Ohio to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws. It was our first time back to Ohio in a year and half and it was good to be with family.

December promises to be full of activity. My birthday is coming up this week and my best friend from college and her new husband are coming to visit for the weekend. A week later, Jonathan’s family will come to visit us bringing along his brother who will be newly arrived from South Africa. After their visit, we’ll travel to see my family in Louisiana for Christmas.

While I’m looking forward to all of that activity, I’m also longing to carve out times of quiet. After two years of being away for the holidays, I’ve become accustomed to a quieter Christmas season.

How was your November? What do you have planned for the holidays?

What I’m Into: September 2015 Edition

September has been a month of high highs and low lows. Korea feels like a million years away and I miss it more than I could have possibly anticipated. September has felt both impossibly long and incredibly short and I’ve vacillated wildly between feeling overwhelmed with all there is to do and feeling unable to do anything at all. We’re settling in more and more every day, but it still doesn’t quite feel normal.

As usual, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Guys. The library. That thing is amazing.

Blood and Starlight

Days of Blood and Starlight by Lanie Taylor. This is the second book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy. These books are intense. And fascinating. I’m completely sold on this YA fantasy trilogy about love and war and revenge and what it means to dream the world new.

selfishSelfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids by Megan Daum. This was the book that earned me some alarmed looks from the librarian. It’s hard to give an overall impression of this book because there are 16 separate essays written by 16 individuals. Some of the essays I really appreciated and resonated with. Some I didn’t like at all. One thing that was interesting to me was that the vast majority of the writers were not people who had never wanted to have children. Most of them were people whose interest in reproduction waned over time, who became busy with other things, who didn’t have a willing partner, or who were otherwise unable. In some ways it was more a book about being content with not having children than it was about coming to the decision not to have them. Regardless, I found many of the perspectives in this book interesting and I certainly resonated with some of them (though not all).

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I actually listened to this as an audiobook and I think the audiobook is the way to go on this one. It’s read by the author who not only has a fantastic dramatic voice, but he does all of the voices and accents of the characters which brings this strange, fantastical story to life.

we were liarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart. This book tells the story of Cadence Sinclair Eastman, a member of the distinguished Sinclair family whose greatest ambition is to be sure to always appear as if everything is perfect. Every year Cadie and her cousins spend the summer on their grandfather’s island. The call themselves “The Liars” and they are inseparable. Until Summer Fifteen when a mysterious accident leaves Cadie with chronic headaches and a gaping hole in her memory. This is a very quick read that’s become pretty popular, but to me it was only OK.  (I listened to this as an audiobook on my way back and forth to Raleigh).

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery . I finally read this book which has been on my To Read list for ages! This is entirely thanks to the generosity of my reader, Duncan, who sent me his copy in the mail so I would have no more excuses. This is a tiny little book that is packed with meaning. It’s one of those rare books that children will enjoy for the basic story line and adorable illustrations while adults will pick up on the underlying commentary about life, human nature, and the differences between childhood and adulthood.

Big magicBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray Love). I just finished this today so it only just made it into September books. I’d love to do a full review of this book because I thought some of Gilbert’s ideas were so important. If you are a creator of some sort, I think this book has value for you. If you are the type of person who is bothered by someone speaking about creativity and inspiration is divine and mystical terms, than this book might irritate you. This book explores the paradoxes of the creative life – that creating art is vital to our humanity, and also completely inessential to human existence. That we should commit ourselves seriously to our creative work, and we should always remember that life and death do not hinge on what we do creatively. Most of all, it reminds the reader of why a creative life is a worthwhile life even if you never receive any kind of recognition for your work.

Currently reading: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Washing the Dead by Michelle Brafman, Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella. Follow me on Goodreads for more reviews.

What I’m Watching:

The onslaught of fall shows is about to hit, but lately Jonathan and I have been sticking to Frasier re-runs, I’ve made it to season 3 of my Gossip Girl re-watch and picked up The Good Wife again. We watched the movie Stardust together one date night (cause I’m on a bit of a Neil Gaiman kick) but I don’t think we saw any new releases. We did watch the first two episodes of How to Get Away With Murder earlier this week and I’m absolutely hooked. Can’t wait to get caught up!

What I’m Listening To:

Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Magic Lessons” podcast which is a sort of companion to her book Big Magic (though it works perfectly well on its own). For the podcast, Gilbert wanted to put a very practical spin on some of the things she wrote about in her book so she speaks with 5 creators (two writers, a musician, a painter, and a photographer who wants to be a podcast maker) who are feeling stuck in their creative lives for one reason or another. In one episode she will talk to that person about what’s holding them back and give them some advice and in the next episode she will call another (famous) friend of hers to discuss the case with them and get their input. She speaks to Cheryl Strayed, Ann Patchett, and Rob Bell, among others.

If you only listen to one episode of this whole podcast, listen to the last one (Episode 12) which is just a conversation between Gilbert and Brene Brown (author of Daring Greatly which I reviewed here and her new book Rising Strong)

What I’m Eating:

I know September was a little early for this, but ALL THE PUMPKIN THINGS!!!! Pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin cake with cinnamon cream cheese icing and pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin butter. I also made this very fall-themed spiced apple pork chop recipe last week and it was delicious. Now if only the weather would get on board with this whole fall thing.

via: Budget Bytes

Spiced Apple Pork Chops via: Budget Bytes

Follow me on Pinterest for more recipes and Instagram for more of what I’m eating (and other things!)

What I’m Writing:

I picked up a freelance job for the website Modernize this month. I’ve got an 8-week assignment with them for now writing various articles about home decor. This isn’t my usual genre but I’m enjoying doing something different (and being paid for it!) If you want to check out some of my articles you can click on the links below. My ongoing assignments are dependent on the number of views my articles bring in so I would greatly appreciate your clicking over, even just for a skim.

Creating a Home That Reflects Who You Are and Where You’ve Been

4 Small Decorating Changes That Can Make a Big Impact

Blogging has been a little sporadic, but I’ve kept up with my 52 Weeks of Adventure with weeks 36, 37, 38, and 39. I wrote about my reverse culture shock and about chronic homesickness. And I wrote about my new appreciation for the Lord’s Prayer and what it means to ask for Daily Bread when provision feels scarce.

What I’ve Been Up To:

Josh and Laura and baby Genevieve, our good friends from Korea, drove through town one afternoon on their way North Carolina to visit some family. They stopped by our place for an hour or so in the middle of their drive which was wonderful and also pretty surreal. It’s always odd to see people you know from one specific context in a completely different one.

Gen loved Ruthie. Ruthie was decidedly indifferent.

Gen loved Ruthie. Ruthie was decidedly indifferent.

We also had the chance to see our friends Sarah and Kyle (also friends from Korea) who were visiting Kyle’s parents who actually live in Columbia (small world!) but I completely forgot to take a picture with them.

I have been loving having our cats back. I used to hate cats before we got ours so I am sympathetic to those of you who are just not cat people, but our cats really are the best cats in the world (not that I’m biased). They are so cuddly and sweet and gentle and soft, even if they are a little obnoxiously needy and oblivious to the fact that I don’t actually want them to shove their little heads under my hands for petting while I’m in the middle of typing.

unnamed IMG_0111

We have (fingers crossed!) found a new place to live. Nothing’s signed yet so I don’t want to say too much about it, but things are looking hopeful! If all goes as planned we will move at the beginning of November. The new place is smaller than the current one, but is a duplex so it feels more like being in a regular house which is fun.

My beautiful bestie, Christina, got married this past weekend which meant I spent more than half of last week in Raleigh for all of the wedding festivities. It was the most beautiful wedding of life.

Could you just die? Exquisite photo credit to Grain & Compass

Couldn’t you just die of beauty? Exquisite photo credit to Grain & Compass

I continue to spend a lot of my time looking for work and while I don’t have a full-time job, I’ve managed to stay very busy lately substitute teaching at a local private school, working on a few freelance writing pieces, and tutoring 4 -5 times/week. It’s not consistent and it’s not quite enough income, but I actually really enjoy having a schedule that varies from day to day and if I could scrape together enough hours doing all of these different things I think I could be happy doing that.

What have you been into this month? What am I missing out on?

Thankful Thursdays, Special Edition: My 200th Blog Post

Today is a special day. Not only is Thankful Thursday, but this is the 200th post I’ve published on this blog. That’s a lot of words, friends.

I’ve had this little space for more than four years, but I’ve only become serious and about blogging and more focused in my topics for the past 18 months. I’ve thought several times about going back and taking down some of my oldest posts, which feel so different from what I write now, but I can never bring myself to do it. Because I’m thankful for where I’ve been and I’m thankful for where I am now.

Blogging has opened doors for me – not in the big, exciting money-making kind of way, but in terms of relationships. I’ve made friends in the past few years, genuine friends-of-the-heart, whom I never would have met if it weren’t for our blogs. Working out my feelings and my faith in this space has given me the courage to grow and to change, to have hard and necessary conversations and to become more of the person I’m meant to be.

I am so deeply thankful to all of you who read what I write here and take the time to interact, to be a part of my life. Your encouragement, advice, compassion, and kindness are inspiring to me. Whether you are someone who has been here for a while or someone who is visiting for the first time, please know how genuinely grateful I am for you.

In the spirit of thankfulness, I wanted to share two of my favorite pieces on gratitude from some far better writers than I. The first is a poem by the great e.e. cummings and the second is a passage from a book of essays by Andre Dubus that I share here every year on Thanksgiving.

I Thank You God for Most This Amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-e. e. cummings

This passage comes from Andre Dubus’ essay “A Country Road Song.” At the age of 49, Dubus suffered a devastating injury when he stopped on the side of the road to assist with a fatal automobile accident. While pulling the survivor out of the wreckage, he was hit by another car. He was injured so badly that he eventually lost one of his legs and was paralyzed in the other. This essay is about his memories of running.  If you have a chance, you should read the entire essay because it is so much better than just this excerpt.

“When I ran, when I walked, there was no time: there was only my body, my breath, the trees and hills and sky…I always felt grateful, but I did not know it was gratitude and so I never thanked God. Eight years ago, on a starlight night in July, a car hit me…and in September a surgeon cut off my left leg… It is now time to sing of my gratitude: for legs and hills and trees and seasons…I mourn this, and I sing in gratitude for loving this, and in gratitude for all the roads I ran on and walked on, for the hills I climbed and descended, for trees and grass and sky, and for being spared losing running and walking sooner than I did: ten years sooner, or eight seasons, or three; or one day.”

I hope today you are reminded of some simple graces in your life as I have been reminded of how undeservedly blessed I am to have this space to share with all of you.

Friday Book Chats: Interview with Poet Karissa Knox Sorrell and a Giveaway

Today’s Book Chat is especially exciting for me to share with you. My incredibly talented writing friend, Karissa Knox Sorrell, is publishing her first poetry chapbook, Evening Body. Karissa is a gifted poet whose words resonate with some of our most basic and essential human experiences. I was lucky enough to read the manuscript of this collection and I can honestly say that these poems are beautiful, evocative, and deeply felt. They are a treat to read.

Karissa is running a giveaway contest at her blog for anyone who pre-orders Evening BodyIf you pre-order a copy, you  will automatically be entered into giveaway drawing for a Booklover’s Gift Pack! The Gift Pack includes three books and a Starbucks gift card.  All you have to do is let Karissa know you pre-ordered a copy and she’ll add your name to the pot! Find more info about the giveaway over at Karissa’s blog.

Want a sneak preview of what you’ll be getting? You can read two of the poems in this collection (“The Boulevard” and “Luminescence”  at Gravel Magazine where they were originally published.

Without further ado, here is my interview with Karissa in which she talks about her poetry, about balancing her writing with her day job and family, and gives some advice for aspiring poets.

Interview with Karissa Knox Sorrell

Karissa

  1. How long have you been writing poetry? Do you remember your first poem?

Since I was a child. When I was in third grade, I chose to take a summer school creative writing course! One particular memory I have is writing a poem about the sunset at my grandmother’s house when I was about 10 years old.

  1. You did an MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) in poetry. What did you take away from the experience and would you recommend an MFA to other writers?

There’s such a debate over MFAs right now! For me, an MFA was the right thing. I wanted to get back into writing and my previous degrees were in education. I needed the expertise, experience, and community that an MFA gave me. I was in a low-residency program, so I was only on campus twice a year, but those residency weeks were definitely some of my favorite times. I learned a ton, was exposed to a variety of writers/poets, became a more skillful writer and reader, and gained a supportive family of other writers. Also, I think being a part of an MFA program boosted my confidence, both as a person and as a writer.

  1. You also write creative non-fiction and fiction, do you still think of yourself primarily as a poet? If not, how would you define/describe your writing?

I think my definition of myself as a writer is pretty fluid. After graduating, I didn’t write much for two years, then I focused mostly on creative non-fiction for two years after that. It has only been a year or so since I’ve really gone back to writing poetry, and it was exactly what I needed. Right now, I would mostly say I’m a poet, but I have written an entire nonfiction manuscript and am in the middle of writing a YA novel. I don’t feel the pressure to compartmentalize, though. It’s okay for me to write different things at different points in my journey.

  1. You aren’t just a writer, you are also a wife and a mother and a professional educator. Can you talk about finding time and balancing your writing with the other parts of your life?

It’s not easy. For a couple of years, I wrote from 4-5 am. I really loved that quiet time in the mornings, but eventually I just felt so tired all the time that I quit. Over the past year, I’ve wiggled in writing time here and there. I might be in the same room as my children and they are watching TV while I am working on poems. I try to set aside a couple of hours each weekend if possible. And occasionally I will get away to a coffee shop for three hours in the evening. I think I’ve finally reached a balance of realizing that I don’t have to push myself so hard. The writing is important, but I also need to focus on other areas of my life.

  1. Who are your favorite poets and who are your influences?

Louise Gluck has a beautiful book called The Wild Iris. Li-Young Lee, especially his book Rose. He has a way of bringing the world into a poem that surprises you and takes your breath away. Rainer Maria Rilke – his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God stays on my nightstand. Mary Oliver. Marie Howe. Gregory Orr. Linda Bierds. I recently read two really great new books of poetry: Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson and The Palace of Contemplating Departure by Brynn Saito.

  1. Many of your poems paint vivid pictures that often capture a singular moment or event almost like looking at a still-shot. What draws you to write about these moments? What do you most hope readers take will take away from them?

A lot of my poems are inspired by real moments in my life. I think our human experiences are undergirded by so many complex emotions, and a poem is an opportunity to sort of dig deeper and pull out that depth and vulnerability so that it can be shared. Poems help us slow down, savor, and contemplate our humanity. I want my readers to recognize something in my poems, something that reminds them of their own experiences and complexities.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

I think one thing is to remember that a poem is not just taking what you would normally write in a paragraph and adding a little white space. While that might be a good place to start if you are beginning a poem, so many things are coming together to make the poem work: word choice, rhythm, strategic use of sounds, strategic line breaks, layers of meaning. A great test is to read your poem out loud and see what it sounds like. However, my biggest advice is to not be afraid. Read, write, let your message spill out of you. Poetry is for everyone.

So, are you ready to pre-order? Click here to order the chapbook, Evening Body, from Finishing Line Press. And don’t forget to head over to Karissa’s blog to enter the giveaway!