Tuesday, August 28, 2012


On my walk home from work tonight, I swiped through a couple screens of Facebook on my phone while waiting at stoplights.
Just as I was thinking about how Facebook turns into Babybook near the end of your 20's, I spotted this little gem (your baby is a gem too).

Community is an upward climb in the city, but I'd be silly to think this an urban challenge only.
 Yes, in the city half the battle is getting a parking spot.
Then there's the buzzer to get in the door, the desk attendant who wants all but your social security number, elevator rides with strangers, and all to visit our apartment with no dining room or even kitchen table.

Our friends have eaten on (read: not off) our living room floor and couches for years.
While husband and I can wax eloquent about just how we would string the lights over our hypothetical outdoor patio and the hours we would spend sitting out under those lights and stars with our suburb friends and neighbors, I really hope we never live in the suburbs.
Like cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye hope.

Community is for here and for now, no matter where we live.
My favorites from the list...

Turn off your TV     Leave your house     Know your neighbors  

Use your library     Have potlucks     

Read stories aloud     Dance in the street     Start a tradition

Organize a block party     Open your shades

Share your skills     Take back the night

Know that no one is silent though many are not heard.

How do you build community, or hope to, in your here and now?

Monday, August 27, 2012

3rd Coast

Yesterday it poured rain all day and night.
Thank heavens, literally and figuratively.
It was also Sunday, and that made the rain a closer friend than that of other days.

Husband and I ducked through the rain to a place that feels like home to slow nights and dark weather.
I pulled on leggings and rain boots and leaned in to him under umbrellas and the glow of residential street lights, the effect blurred by water droplets.

And I was ready for fall, just like that.
(I'm an easy sell).

August/September in Chicago is like middle school.
It's impossible to know if you should want to look backward or forward.
Childhood or adulthood?  Summer or fall?
Some people would choose childhood, and some people would choose adulthood, but no one chooses middle school.
The in between feels all wrong, wreaks havoc on your emotions, and you never know what to wear.

But back to 3rd Coast.
We watched the rain from the sub-sidewalk level cafe and stayed long after coffee cups were drained and the check was paid, surrounded by empty tables.
Back at our apartment for an early night in, we used only candles to see the candlelight mingle with the city lights on the reflection in our windows.

I would choose fall.
And I would choose 3rd Coast in any kind of precipitation.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reaching Up

Photo by The Youngrens

 Yesterday as I pulled up to the first stop light on my way to work, I watched 18-year-olds pull luggage across the street to a smallish square plot of brick,
 brick surrounded by buildings that reach up to join the rest of Chicago in the sky.

As I sat in my car waiting for the light to turn, my rearview mirror all of the sudden became prominent and I saw my own feet hit that brick plaza for the first time nine years ago.

I moved to Chicago nine years ago for college to study at Moody Bible Institute.
I have to smile at that girl and the day she brought her bags to Chicago.

I try to find her mind that day.
I have to smile at the places outside of her consciousness that surrounded her on every side.

He was there that day.
 These streets, these dailies, these iconic landmarks-turned life landmarks were staring back at her, unrecognized.
The same sidewalks that would stand beneath me for the next decade as I learned to stand on my own, they were there.

I look at this photo with the buildings reaching up behind, with him, and I smile at that girl, for that girl, with that girl.
And then the light turned green.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Good for a Week

Hello, friends!
 Hope you got in on the book reviews last week and found a little something to fill your Amazon cart before you sharpen too many pencils, get back to packing lunches each night before bed (I never do that), or buy fall flats (I hope to do that).

Husband and I spent the weekend on a lake in Michigan (not to be confused with our daily Lake Michigan).
It's college move-in time again, and so per the calendar swing, we've been spending lots of time with some pretty stellar RA's and student leaders.
At the retreat it was a beautiful thing to sit down to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks without a thought of how those things would come to be.

I'm trying to be a good person and think of how to make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks come to be this week without giving in to my bad city habits of dining out or flaking out.
It's hard to be a good person, but this is my good faith effort.
We'll be good for a week.

Friday, August 17, 2012


The credibility of these reviews is slowly declining through the week.  We've now sunk to the level of book review based on secondhand first impression.  Good thing it's Friday or we'd be reviewing books we haven't even heard of.

Husband packed this book along with The Book of the Dun Cow for Mexico, and this biography turned out to be his second read.  He's about a third of the way through the 600+ pages and he loves it like I loved Mexican Coca-Cola.  (Who is the deeper soul?  I know, I feel so deeply about Coke.  Always have.)

Husband's first impressions are none too shabby in credibility, but since he's still reading I refer you to the Wall Street Journal's review in the meantime.

I shared earlier in the week one of my favorite ways to find new books.  Husband's seems to be from his favorite blog,  DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed;  I've noticed a direct link between his Amazon cart that blog.  Bonhoeffer was also on our pastor's summer reading list.

To order Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, click here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Book of the Dun Cow

The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
It's Thursday, and you're still reading book reviews!  Don't worry, we'll go have a Chicago hot dog or something soon.

This book is one of husband’s reads, so today's review is a secondhand account.   I'm itching to read it myself but until then, it’ll be a “he told me and I told you” kind of arrangement.  

The Book of the Dun Cow is a fantasy novel.  It's for children, but it's for adults.  Think C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.  But instead of an oversized wardrobe and a passel of English children, the story takes place on a farm where all the characters are farm animals.  Similarly to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien's writings, a great story of good and evil splays across the pages while you're meeting simple characters like a rooster, a depressed dog, and a brown-ish gray cow.

Many people want to make Wangerin's farm tale a monument to symbolism and moral allegory.  What hooks me about this book is the author’s assertion that The Book of the Dun Cow is no such thing.  He writes, "What The Book of the Dun Cow is not—nor was ever intended to be—is an allegory.  Allegories ask an intellectual analysis: 'This means that, this detail in the story is equivalent to that fact, that doctrine, that idea outside the story.'  The Book of the Dun Cow invites experience. Allegories are reductive of meanings; they bear a riddling quality; they demand the question, 'What does this mean?' But a good novel is first of all an event."  Preach.

The Book of the Dun Cow made the review list partly because I've never seen a book so emotionally impact Neal.  When I sat down to type out this review, I asked him why this was, and he summarized the book's message this way, "Evil must be engaged; it's painful, tiring, and exhausting, but evil left un-addressed allows evil to continue to expand its borders."  Silence.  This post is now ending.  I have to read this book.

To catch up on what's happening at  City Lights this week, click here.
To order The Book of the Dun Cow, click here.

Traveling Mercies

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

I first fell in love with Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird, a book about the writing process.  In Bird by Bird, she normalizes the writing experience and consequently made me feel less neurotic.  Any writer that can make you feel less neurotic is worth the $15 book (therapy is much more).

While Lamott titles Bird by Bird "Some instructions on writing and life," she paints Traveling Mercies as "Some thoughts on faith."  Traveling Mercies is memoir-style, a series of essays that are separate yet all connected to the whole.  Lamott describes in raw terms her troubled childhood, her at once begrudging and powerful conversion to Christianity, and many moments of pain and hilarity in between. 

She lets herself be completely unpolished for the reader, giving everyone the permission to be nothing but scathingly honest with oneself and one’s life experiences.  She’s often irreverant, sarcastic, and prone to expressions of obscenities, all in the spirit of truth-telling and truth-searching.

I loved how she exposes life’s mystery, tragedy, and irony without denying its startling beauty.  The essence of life is not knowing which one we will be startled with today when we awake: beauty or tragedy.  One day never predicts the next.

I went crazy for the poems and quotes she includes at the beginning of each section, my favorite being the quote from her 7-year old son, “I think I already understand about life: pretty good, some problems.”

To catch up on what's happening at City Lights this week, click here.
To order Traveling Mercies, click here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Started this book at 30,000 feet up.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

One way I find new books to read is by internet searching "best book club books."  This search usually returns great literature: smart, original, and content that makes you twitch because you just can't wait to discuss it.  This book kept turning up in my searches, but for months I left it alone because I couldn't get a sense of the book from the title.  I mean, honestly, that title.

There is a simple joy though, to opening up a book and having absolutely no idea what it's about or where it's headed.  I hate to rob you of that, but here we are.  I'll parse the title to get you past its obscurity and then leave the story to the pages of the book.

Guernsey is one of the English Channel Islands, and like much of Europe, was occupied by the Nazis during WWII.  The people on Guernsey formed a literary society (a book club) as a ruse for getting together with friends and neighbors when the Nazis otherwise did not permit it.  During the occupation, the people nearly starved and were limited to turnips and potatoes for survival, forced to give all their livestock to the Germans.  As every good book club hosts food, the friends got creative and made potato peel pie for their meetings out of their meager provisions.  After the war, a writer in England happens across this community’s survival story and sets out to write a book about their war-time stories.

And that's just the title.  The rest includes some of the most beloved characters I've ever read, witty and sarcastic dialogue, love triangles, quirky observations, surprises of both delight and dread, and references to various literary works that lovers of classic fiction will revel in.  The book is laugh-out-loud funny, and then all the sudden arrestingly sad in regards to WWII realities.  The story models the ability of the human spirit to laugh and cry in the same moment; these are my favorite kinds of stories.

Lastly, a twist: the entire book is written in letter-format. 

To catch up on what's happening at City Lights this week, click here.  
To order The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, click here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Reading List That Did Not Disappoint

I'm spending the afternoon today at a place that will make you glad down to your bones to be a Chicagoan, The Bourgeois Pig.
Mondays are quiet in coffee shop corners, so I had this room all to myself (!)
This place is for literary lovers, with the sandwiches on the menu all named after classics like "The Great Gatsby" (a slight twist on the classic club sandwich) and "Pilgrim's Progress" (sourdough bread, mayonnaise, oven roasted turkey, avocado, red onions & swiss cheese).
I opted for a black bean soup and a latte and deemed this the place to put together a little reading list.

Some of you have asked me about that reading list I promised from our vacation in Mexico.
I'm so excited to get it to you and even though today feels like a fall day in Chicago, there's still summer reading allowed!
If it's not allowed, then I guess I'll just be breaking the rules for some time yet.
I'm okay with that.

I've included books from both me and husband's lists, so I hope you find a little something just right for you amongst the titles.
A his and hers, if you will.
I'll post one review each day this week, so check back tomorrow and the next day and the next if you're looking for that one book to end the summer or for books for a fall coffee shop list.
Ringing of the Little Engine That Could, I bring you the Reading List That Did Not Disappoint.
You can't go wrong!

Friday, August 10, 2012


"Contentment is the only way to really have anything."

Leave it to a plane ride and a few days off to clear your head.

Have a head-clearing weekend!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Puerto Vallarta Part III: Epilogue

Puerto Vallarta Days:
Puerto Vallarta Nights

Monday, August 6, 2012

Puerto Vallarta Part II: Cabana Love

Love cabanas.
Cabanas & love.