My New Favorite Thing About Our Neighborhood

Are you ready for this? Look what we have!

A lending library!

My neighbors installed this pretty little library in their front yard, and now everyone in the neighborhood can swing by to exchange books with one another. It makes my heart so happy!

When Evan came home from work the other day and I started gushing about it, he said, “Oh, that makes more sense. As I drove by I thought, ‘That’s the largest mailbox I’ve ever seen.'” Ha!

Until we moved into this house, Evan and I had only ever lived in apartment complexes together, so maybe that explains why we had never built any relationships with our neighbors. Here, we’ve been so blessed with neighbors who have been intentional about getting to know us and sharing life. To be honest, it feels like a complete cultural shift for Evan and I, but it’s one we are so grateful for. I find myself wondering what accounts for the difference. Is it apartment vs. home, suburban vs. urban, or Florida vs. Michigan? I’m not really sure. It’s probably a combination.

***

Admittedly, it’s hard for me to hand over books I love. I stood at my bookshelf for a long time, considering what books to pass along. I want to contribute something that I loved, that I think other people will love too, but the truth is, it makes me happy to see those meaningful, well-loved books on my bookshelf. (This is something Evan and I debate about all the time–is it worth holding onto books we’ve already read and will likely not read again? I say yes, he usually says no.)

But sometimes, I have to remind myself that the value of the book doesn’t lie in the paperback itself. It’s not so much about the passages I underlined or the surprises in the plot. It’s more about the change that took place in my mind and heart as I read; the new things I now understand about a different culture, place or time;  and the glimpses of myself I uncovered in each of the characters. The Chosen means something to me not because it sits on my bookshelf, but because it helped me learn that the tension between faith, family, and friendship is worth wrestling with. Love that Dog means something to me not because of it’s cute yellow and blue cover, but because I helped me understand more about why I love poetry and why kids need poetry in their own lives. Somebody Told Me means something to me not because of the passages I flagged with sticky notes, but because the stories within it broke my heart and helped me discover the power of storytelling. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is valuable not because of its place on my shelf but because of what it taught me about growing up and courage and family.

And so it goes.

So, when I pass along a cherished book to a friend or our little neighborhood library, I’ll remember that sharing means giving someone else the opportunity to change and grow and learn and simply enjoy as they, too, turn the pages. (Isn’t that why we teach kids to share, after all? Because it’s not about the value of the item, but about the relationship building and heart-change that happens along the way?)

And let’s be honest–I can always run to the bookstore and grab myself another copy if it comes to all that.

This afternoon when Ian and I got home from running errands, we dropped off a young adult book I had read during my teaching internship, and in exchange, we picked up a new Pete the Cat book for Ian. (Admittedly, Ian didn’t enjoy the process because he thought were going to play at our neighbor’s house, but he’ll figure it out eventually.) Even our brief time here in Grand Rapids, I’m learning that sharing with my neighbors is so worthwhile: sharing sandboxes, sharing opinions, sharing afternoons on the porch, and now, sharing books.

What I’m Into: June 2015

Today I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I was into in June.

June was another full and fun month around here. We celebrated 5 years of marriage by spending a weekend in Chicago, Evan’s mom has been in town visiting us (and his dad will be here in a few days), and yesterday, we learned that this little baby we’re expecting is another BOY!

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I continued wrestling with finding a good rhythm at home with Ian, but we just keep plugging away and making progress little-by-little. I didn’t do nearly as much writing as I hoped or follow-through on my Power Sheets as well as I would have liked, but that’s what a new month is for.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about paying for music I love instead of just streaming it, and I’ve been wrestling with the news out of Charleston and the rest of the south and where we go from here.

Every day, I checked the weather in Florida and felt grateful for this beautiful, cool, breeze Michigan summer we’re experiencing.

Read and Reading:

This month, I finished reading The Happiness Project, The Giver, and Station Eleven. I’d recommend all three, but Station Eleven takes the cake. I’ve gushed about it to pretty much everyone. I started reading State of Wonder and Daring Greatly(I feel like I’ve underlined practically every word of it). I’ll probably need to pick up the pace if I’m going to finish my summer reading list.

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Funny and oh-so-true. Let’s try to not be this person.

What a cool creative practice! I think this would be a good thing for me to try.

An awesome list of picture books I’d never heard of but am excited to check out.

I have been mulling this over, because I’m not sure what my right time of day is.

I need to read some Flannery O’Connor.

I’m wondering what in my life is routine vs. what is ritual.

This bit about the JOY of missing out instead of the FEAR of missing out? Oof. That’s big time.

Listening to:

Evan and I saw Inside Out while in Chicago, and I loved it so much. (Though, honestly, I feel like someone should have warned me that it was about a family moving across the country!) The discussion about it on Pop Culture Happy Hour is really great.

Joy Williams’ new album is out, and you must go listen to it right. now. It’s beautiful. While I am still grieving the loss of The Civil Wars, she stands firmly on her own two feet.

Chicago:

Ok, guys. Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge the FOOD in Chicago. Amazing. We ate at Yolk, Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe, Chicago q, and Quartino… and they all get counted among the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. I was seriously having a moment with the pulled pork sandwich at Chicago q.

And I was absolutely in LOVE with the Chicago Institute of Art. I could have spent forever there.

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Here’s to a wonderful, warm, summery July!

Dear Evan: 5 Years

Dear Evan,

Five years ago today, a DJ made you get up and dance by yourself at the beginning of our reception, which was pretty much the definition of everything you hate most in the world (dancing and being the center of attention).

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Five years ago today, I unknowingly kept scooting away from you during the ceremony, because I was nervous you were going to step on the edge of my dress. We’re slightly off-center in all our pictures.

Five years ago today, your grandparents actually got up and danced, which was surprising to all of us.

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Five years ago today, we flooded the hotel lobby with smoke from the sparklers we used at the end of the reception, practically giving the hotel staff a collective heart attack.

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It was fun.

I’m thinking about all the exciting things we have to look forward to in our sixth year of marriage: Ian’s second birthday, continuing to get settled in Grand Rapids, welcoming our new baby into the world. You will hopefully publish some research papers, and I will hopefully write a book.

But it’s the mundane and unexciting that makes our marriage what it is, and I am so looking forward to that stuff. We’ll eat frozen pizzas and too much fast food. We’ll spend too much money on coffee, and we’ll try to force ourselves to have budget meetings every week. You’ll ask what’s wrong and I’ll try not to reply, “I’m fine.” I’ll brag about Gator sports, and you’ll ask how many players have been arrested lately. We’ll make a lot of student loan payments and fill our car with tanks of gas. You’ll browse tech web sites and I’ll scroll through Instagram. We’ll play cars on the floor with Ian and wonder if our newborn had enough to eat. You’ll sing Bob Marley songs just to drive me crazy. We’ll never keep up with the laundry. You’ll squish all the bugs.

It’s a good, good life we’re building. And one day, we’ll tell our kids stories from these first five years: how we found our first apartment only two days before we got married, how we filled out FAFSA forms on our honeymoon, how we drove to Turner Field to see Chipper Jones play baseball, how our friends gave us a car when we couldn’t afford one, how we cancelled our cable every year until college football rolled around, how we learned to love and communicate and live as a team.

Five years ago today, we said yes to a lifetime of good things and hard things, questions and answers, sickness and health. We said yes to doing it all together. And that’s what we have done.

You have given me 5 years of patience and encouragement, loyalty and determination, quiet and rest, fun and adventure. You keep me steady, and I can’t think of any better teammate.

Love you. Happy anniversary.

In Charleston

today

it rained here.

blue skies in Charleston

is what i’ve heard

doesn’t seem right.

it just doesn’t seem right.

light a candle to show

you’re praying

is what i’ve heard.

doesn’t seem enough.

it just doesn’t seem enough.


i do it anyway

and each time

i walk

past

i pray

“help, Jesus, help.”


martyrs

in the middle east

is what i’ve heard.

don’t seem so far away

they just don’t seem so far away

today.

The Most Important Work

Sunday night I had another cry-fest in bed with Evan about this stay-at-home mom gig. I was sad that the weekend was over already, but not in a normal “boo hoo it’s Monday” feeling. I had a sense that I didn’t have anything to look forward to this week. (That feeling wasn’t TRUE, of course, but it was REAL.) It came from more than just staying home–it came from missing my friends, missing my job, feeling discouraged in my writing, feeling uncertain about whether I’m doing a good job parenting Ian. IMG_2038

At any rate, being the normally emotional person I am (and pregnant on top of it), I just cried. And then I cried harder when Evan said sweet and encouraging things because it was such a relief to hear them. (Of course, his response is then, “Oh, great, I’m making you cry more. I’ll just shut up now.)

The truth is, I do love my time with Ian, but I also find it stressful and draining. And I’m so hesitant to talk about my struggle with this because I have dear, dear friends who would love the privilege of staying home with their kiddos, and I know this gig is just that–a privilege. It’s something that wasn’t at all feasible for us even six months ago, and now it is, and I don’t want to miss it. Every moment I get with him–at home or at the grocery store or in the park–is a chance to build the kind of family we’re hoping for and dreaming of, like Ann Voskamp says. I don’t want to take it for granted.

And yet, I also have to admit that I feel distracted by the end of the week and stressed by the beginning of Monday, because I’m often thinking of the other things I’d love to be doing. I don’t want to be doing something else besides being at home with Ian, but I want to do something in addition to being home with Ian. This makes me feel selfish, as if I can’t give up my own self-centered and faltering desires for what is the most important thing I could possible do in this world.

I read that C.S. Lewis quote, always popping up as I scroll Instagram and Pinterest: “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” It fills me with guilt for every time I ever thought, “I could use some alone time,” or “I want to write,” or “I feel stuck.”

But here’s where I’ve landed, today: it’s not that any of these other things I love are more important than mothering Ian. But they are also important. (It seems so simple to write it down, but guilt has a way of wrapping it’s tight little fingers around you until you can’t quite see straight.)

The most important thing I can do is abide closely with Jesus, loving Him, loving the people around me, becoming more fully the person He created me to be. Mothering is part of that, but it’s not the only part, and even though I feel like all those disparate parts can’t possibly coexist, I know He holds it all together. Yesterday, I prayed“Gather me Lord to be with you as you are with me.” That’s what I keep praying. If I am being selfish, I want to repent and hand it over and love more like Jesus. But if I’m not, I’m praying for the freedom to embrace it, to widen my definition of what it will mean for me to be a mom and be myself.

Ann Voskamp wrote, “Parenting isn’t overwhelming when we simply understand how to serve in this minute.” So I’m handing each minute over, asking Jesus how to serve and love and be right them. Maybe it’s to write, or to walk across the street to the neighbor’s house, or to meal plan, or to read, or to journal, or to sit down on the floor and play cars with Ian again.

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I’m praying that Jesus with gather up all the pieces and use them to make me whole.

Book Club Saturday: Our Favorite Board Books

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Board books are a genre I pretty much ignored completely prior to Ian being born. I think I dismissed them as boring and dumb, to be honest, and it’s true–some baby books are boring and dumb. But they can be so lovely and so fun, and Ian has grown to absolutely adores them. On Episode 4 of the Sorta Awesome podcast (which is my current favorite; I think you know that because I think I have been talking about it a lot), Megan and Rebekah talked about some of their favorite books for babies…and I had so many favorites I wanted to add to the conversation. (Because, hello, when do I ever get tired of talking about books?)

Also, small disclaimer: I really don’t like Sandra Boynton books. I know that most people love them, and when you head to the board book section of any bookstore, I think Sandra Boynton books take up half the space. But I just don’t like them. In The Bedtime Book, the animals exercise before they go to bed, which is fine, but they exercise AFTER they take baths and brush their teeth! This drives me crazy. I should get over it, but I can’t. It’s the book snob in me coming out. Let’s at least have the books make sense, ok? (I’m being slightly facetious about this. No offense to anyone who loves Sandra Boynton!)

So, without further ado, here are my favorite board books:

  1. The “BabyLit” books. Each of these books is themed to match a piece of classical literature but conveys a typical “baby book” concept like counting, colors, or sounds. We own Moby Dick (an ocean primer), Romeo & Juliet, and Pride & Prejudice (which are both counting books). If you’ve read the classics, these are super entertaining for the grown-ups, too. (I almost never get tired of saying, “Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy” in my fake British accent.)
  2. Dear Zoo. This was gifted to us at one of my baby showers, and we read it almost daily for awhile. It’s a “lift the flap” book, and Ian loves to see what animal is hidden underneath. I like this one because it doesn’t just name and identify the animals; it also tells a story. There’s also some great vocabulary in here, like “fierce” and “naughty” and “perfect.” Now that Ian’s bigger, he likes to make the animal noises as well.
  3. Olivia. The illustrations (all black and white with pops of red) make this perfect to read with young babies who love high-contrast. This is one of the first books that I saw Ian not just look at or flip the pages, but actually respond to: “ball” was one of his first words, and he loved to point out her bright red beach ball. Olivia also gets high marks for being hilarious and entertaining for the parents (including a Jackson Pollack joke). We should get to enjoy these books too, right? (Olivia’s younger brother’s name is Ian, making it perfect for our family.)
  4. Goodnight Moon. When Ian was a newborn, we wanted to be super intentional about building a bedtime routine (even if he was still in the middle of crazy newborn sleep patterns). Goodnight Moon is a classic and a perfect bedtime book; it was special part of that bedtime routine. (We read this along with Really Wooly Bedtime Prayers, which is a great little book of prayers for families.)
  5. On the Night You Were Born. Mamas, have your box of tissues handy. Ian doesn’t love this book as much as I do, but it’s still a great bedtime story. The illustrations are detailed and collage-like with lots to look at. It’s such a unique and special look at the love parents feel for their kiddos. I can see this book weaving its way into the culture of a family: “Look, the moon stayed up until morning for you!”
  6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Ian’s ultimate favorite. We went with this theme for his 1st birthday party. The repetition, counting, and bright colors make this a great book for little ones. Ian loves the different page sizes and pointing to the different foods. Even when he was very little, he would smile each time we pulled this book out. I love Eric Carle, and especially this book.

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    Ian and I reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Look at that tiny, smiley baby!

Some honorable mentions: 

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (I confess that I think this is annoying to read, but Ian likes it)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You see? (A gold mine for teaching: animals, colors, sequencing, repetition, and on and on!)

I Love You Through and Through (Super sweet. Ian loves to identify his body parts as we read it.)

Are there any great ones that I’m overlooking here? I’m always up for adding to our collection, especially with baby #2 on the way!

My Summer Reading List

I have been thinking a lot over the past week or two about how I really want something to mark the transition into summertime. Admittedly, I feel like I’m still getting used to spring here in Michigan; it’s everything I can do to not walk into people’s yards and start clipping myself bouquets of peonies. So, I’ve felt a little hesitant to fully embrace summer. But then I went to the grocery store, and I saw summer everywhere I turned. Displays of mustard, ketchup, and relish for barbecues. Paper plates patterned like watermelon and American flags. Pool noodles in every color of the rainbow. I was instantly wishing for childhood afternoons on the porch by my parent’s pool, my mother-in-law’s well-stocked cooler of snacks on the beach, the smell of chlorine and hot dogs and macaroni salad, and afternoon thunderstorms. (Here in Michigan, I know I am going to miss Florida’s afternoon thunderstorms.)

Summer feels like a funny thing for me this year. I spent eighteen years as a student, with clear delineations between summer and the rest of the year, and then I kept that trend going as a teacher. Even when I was working in children’s ministry, summer was a little different: we welcomed in a new team of volunteers, a more flexible schedule, and an emptier calendar.

But because I’m not working now and Ian isn’t school-aged, I have nothing concrete to mark my transition into summertime–no shifts in my job or responsibility, no changes to our schedule. Still, it feels important to mark the change somehow, to gear up for the transition. I think it will help me truly savor each season as it comes and enjoy each day as it comes, even if it’s an unremarkable Tuesday.

Inspired by Ali, Elise, and Natalie, I’ve written up a Summer Manifesto, which I’ll share later. But the other thing I want to do this summer is read, read, and read some more. Anne Bogel (whose blog is my favorite right now) just shared her summer reading list, so I thought I would share mine as well. It’s flexible; I reserve the right to change it up however I feel like it because, hello, it’s summer. When I thought about how many books to include, I ended up with 12. It works out to about 1 per week (June-September), but I realize that I probably won’t read them all. This will at least give me lots of options, depending on my mood. My bookshelf and “to read” lists are bursting with non-fiction I want to read, but I’ve been more in the mood for fiction lately, so I tried to honor both sides of that by alternating between fiction and non-fiction picks. I’m also going to try to read only one or two books at a time this summer; it just seems like the slow, easy, summery thing to do.

So, here it is: my summer reading list!

summer reading list

1. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin: I am in the middle of this one now and loving it. My cousin Meaghan mailed it to me awhile back, and I’m so glad because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise. I hope to write a little more about it later, because it’s given me lots to think about.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry: I instagrammed about this the other day; it’s a classic that I missed out on somehow. I saw it on a shelf at the library the other day and just grabbed it.

3. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown: I bought this awhile back, but it got packed up towards the beginning of our move and I didn’t get a chance to start it. It will be my first foray into Brene Brown’s work, and I’m excited about it.

4. State of Wonder by Anne Patchett: I have wanted to read something by Anne Patchett for awhile now, and again, I just saw this on a shelf in the library, so I grabbed it.

5. The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson: Emily Freeman talks about this book a lot, and it came in the same Amazon shipment as Daring Greatly. It’s sitting at the end of one of our bookshelves right now, so I feel like it’s constantly staring me down. I wanted to work some meditative, faith-focused work into the list somewhere–reading books like this is one of my biggest ways my faith tends to grow, which is especially important to me while we’re still looking for a church home.

6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer: I’ve heard this book talked about and recommended so often, and I’ve been dying to pick it up. I’m always game for anything set during WWII.

7. Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair: I imagine this will be a light and easy and practical summer read. (Maybe a good one to flip through slowly across the summer.) I’ve wanted to read this because we’re in the middle of decorating and setting up a brand new (to us) place, and with Ian running around like a crazy person and a new little one on the way, it seems like a logical choice.

8. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis: I have been (very slowly) working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia series. I got stuck here before we moved, and it’s time to pick it back up again.

9. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls: My friend Missy has been telling me to read this book for forever, and I even grabbed a copy from a friend who was giving it away last year, but I haven’t picked it up yet. Now seems like as good a time as any.

10. First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett: Modern Mrs. Darcy included this in her summer reading guide as a “Book you can’t put down,” and I thought it sounded immediately interesting.

11. Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman: This book doesn’t release until August, so it will be something I can look forward to all summer long. If you’ve ever talked to me about books and writing, you know I love Emily and her work. I can’t wait to dive into this one, too.

12. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: Ok, so this book feel like it’s a bit outside of what I would normally like–apocalyptic flu and all that. But when I first heard it reviewed on Books on the Nightstand forever ago, it sounded so interesting! I expected there to be a long wait for it at the library, but it doesn’t actually look like the wait list is too bad! So I will try to get my hands on it this summer.

And there you have it! I’d love to work in a few more pieces of children’s lit (which I love even more in the summertime for some reason) and maybe a book about writing…but I’m trying to be honest about how much I’ll get accomplished. We’ll see how it goes; I’ll keep you updated.

What are you planning on reading this summer??