New Art for Your Everyday Enjoyment: iola magazine

***This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for reading!***

In my twenties, my husband and I rented a furnished terraced home in southwest London. We slept in someone else’s bed, ate dinner at their long refectory table, and pretended we enjoyed their unusual taste in art. After two years spent living in a home designed for someone else, I was entirely over it. We had a pre-schooler and a baby on the way, and my nesting game was strong. I wanted to make our nest feel like more than a temporary stay in someone else’s house–I wanted it to feel like our home.

Around this time, a dear friend and fellow American was returning to the States for good. Her home in London had been the most unique, quirky place I visited, filled with vintage treasure she collected throughout her years overseas. In the middle of her packing frenzy, she arrived at my home one day with two grocery bags filled with British home decor magazines. She’d amassed a gorgeous collection of magazines filled with bright, beautiful photographs.

These were the days before pinterest, houzz, and instagram, when one boiled a pot of tea and sat down for the tactile pleasure of turning glossy pages filled with promise. I’d never purchased a single home issue before then, and I stacked the thirty or so magazines in a pile next to my bed, and began to flip through them page by page. It was nothing short of a revelation.

I mark that time as the beginning of a love affair with creating beauty in my home. It was as if my friend had left open a secret door and I’d stepped into another world–one where I could escape and dream and let my imagination run wild with the pleasures of cast iron tubs and vintage treasures and English gardens manicured just short of wild. I had never seen anything like it before, and after I finished with my stack, I saved my pocket money to buy as many magazines a month as I could afford.

As digital content has taken over, and life has become busier and more distracted, I miss the simple pleasures of brewing a pot of tea and flipping through the pages of magazine. I miss stories printed on thick paper, accompanied by carefully curated photos. I love a good blog post or instagram feed, but there is something missing in the physical connection, in the ability to place a thumbed-through work of art on the coffee table and return to it as often as the mood strikes me.

I no longer save pocket change for magazines, but when I heard my friend, artist (and Brit!), Abi Partridge was creating a new magazine called iola, I felt that old thrill again at the thought of holding art in my hands. When she offered me the chance to contribute to the first issue, it was a sweet surprise, a wink from heaven. Only God and my husband knew that I’d secretly hoped to find my photographs and writing in-between the pages of a women’s magazine someday.

The inaugural issue of iola is filled with inspiration, photographs, stories and poetry. It’s printed on thick stock, and is one of the loveliest magazines I’ve held in ages. I’d love for you to enjoy it as much as I have, and perhaps to read my piece on books for the armchair traveler. To celebrate, I’m giving away two copies of this issue, fresh off the presses.

If you’d like to enter your name to win a copy, please leave a comment below and tell me the name of your favorite periodical before the internet took over. (Mine was the British version of Country Living Magazine. Swoon) I’ll choose two winners at random. The giveaway ends on Tuesday, February 13th.

If you prefer to purchase your own copy, you may do so here.

Read more about the magazine and the contributors here, or listen to the iola playlist whilst reading here. There is also a free phone wallpaper of the front cover image for you here.

If you find yourself with a copy, will you let me know what you think? I’d love to hear the feedback from readers.

I’m off to set the kettle boiling. Happy Reading!

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My Favorite Books of 2017

I love best of the year lists, and what’s better than a best of the year list of books? I typically read an eclectic mix of modern fiction, classic works, memoir, and christian living books, and this year was no exception.

I re-read more books than I usually do, and I also read an enormous amount of smaller pieces (essays, articles, extracts) in preparation for the freshman writing course I teach. This led me to read even more widely than usual , which gave me a wonderful variety of stories, viewpoints, and writing styles.

However: a note on diversity. This list is sorely lacking in writers of color, and for that I apologize. While I did read books and quite a few shorter pieces by writers of color (my favorites: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and ONE:Unity in a Divided World by Deidra Riggs), this is an area of my reading life I hope to intentionally improve upon in the coming year.

On to the books!

Favorite Fiction:

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

“Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents…”

Both heartbreaking and redemptive. A fantastic read for lovers of historical fiction set in WWII.

Howard’s End by EM Forster

“The self-interested disregard of a dying woman’s bequest, an impulsive girl’s attempt to help an impoverished clerk, and the marriage between an idealist and a materialist — all intersect at a Hertfordshire estate called Howards End. The fate of this beloved country home symbolizes the future of England itself in E. M. Forster’s exploration of social, economic, and philosophical trends, as exemplified by three families…”

I wish I’d read this sooner, but I did find it oddly relevant today, in the current climate of social, economic, and gender divides. Worth reading for the language and craft alone.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

“Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.”

I had no idea what to expect with this novel, and I found it profoundly moving and thought-provoking as it explores sensitive issues of gender and sexuality. Of all the books I read this year, this is the one that has stayed with me more than any other.

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

“Betty Smith has, in the pages of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, captured the joys of humble Williamsburg life-from “junk day” on Saturdays, when the children of Francie’s neighborhood traded their weekly take for pennies, to the special excitement of holidays, bringing cause for celebration and revelry. Betty Smith has artfully caught this sense of exciting life in a novel of childhood, replete with incredibly rich moments of universal experiences–a truly remarkable achievement for any writer.”

Oh, this is such a fantastic, timeless novel. I followed my reading of it with a visit to the Tenement Museum in NYC, and it was the perfect complement, causing the book to come alive in a tangible way.

 

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

“The characters we meet, from Sally, the unborn baby at the beginning of the novel, who becomes the center of the story to the nuns whose personalities we come to know and love to the neighborhood families with whose lives they are entwined, are all rendered with extraordinary sympathy and McDermott’s trademark lucidity and intelligence.”

This was my final book of fiction this year, and it was stunning. This is not a lighthearted read by any stretch, but it is honest and effortlessly told, which is always the sign of good writing. I highly recommend this one if you’re in the mood for a novel that asks hard questions about life, death, sin, and faith.

Favorite Non-Fiction:

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

“Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each chapter looks at something―making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys―that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday.”

What more can I add? This book is perfect for those of us who live out our faith in ordinary, everyday suburban lives as we work and raise families. Warren helps us see how small practices can guide us into a richer expression in the life of faith.

 

Rhythms of Rest by Shelley Miller

“In this warm and helpful book, Shelly Miller dispels legalistic ideas about Sabbath and shows how even busy people can implement a rhythm of rest into their lives–whether for an hour, a morning, or a whole day. With encouraging stories from people in different stages in life, Miller shares practical advice for having peaceful, close times with God.”

This book came at just the right time when I needed encouragement to pursue a regular Sabbath in my life. No condemnation, no judgement, only gentle nudges in the right direction. A lovely book.

 

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

“Carolyn Weber arrives at Oxford a feminist from a loving but broken family, suspicious of men and intellectually hostile to all things religious. As she grapples with her God-shaped void alongside the friends, classmates, and professors she meets, she tackles big questions in search of Truth, love, and a life that matters.”

A well-written memoir following Weber’s journey to faith as she studied for her PhD in Oxford, England. I thoroughly enjoyed this insider’s view into the world of academia set in the city of dreaming spires.

 

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

“This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage takes us into the very real world of Ann Patchett’s life. Stretching from her childhood to the present day, from a disastrous early marriage to a later happy one, it covers a multitude of topics, including relationships with family and friends, and charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore.”

I loved this collection of essays. Wise, funny, and written with incredible precision. Perfect reading for a writer who wants to learn the art of writing from one of the best.

 

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

“This intimate and revelatory book is a celebration of Rome, a wondrous look at new parenthood, and a fascinating story of a writer’s craft—the process by which he transforms what he sees and experiences into sentences.”

Doerr’s writing is exquisite. As a parent, former ex-pat, and fellow writer, I fell in love with Doerr’s memoir of life in Rome as a new parent to twins while struggling to write his novel All the Light We Cannot See (another must read.)

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Care to share your favorites of the year? Leave a comment or hit reply from your in-box if you’re a subscriber. For more of my favorites visit me on goodreads, or read last year’s list of my favorites here.

*All blurbs taken from amazon and all photos taken from goodreads

**Some of these books contain adult language and adult situations, which I’m down with because–I’m an adult;) If you’re sensitive to either, you might want to research further before purchasing.

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Katharina & Martin Luther: A Book Giveaway

**This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to our winner, Michele!**

When Michelle told me she was writing a book about the marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther, I imagined her sitting among stacks and stacks of dry historical documents in a library carrel, possibly stress eating chocolate. I saw her sitting in the center of a swirl of words written by men for men about the historical significance of men. I couldn’t fathom how she would find enough material to write about one woman’s experience during the Protestant Reformation–even if that woman was a runaway nun married to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther.

Very few of Katharina’s own words and letters remain, but out of the copious amount of Martin Luther’s writings and those of his followers, Michelle weaves the strands of Katherina’s  life together to create a fascinating story. Michelle manages to capture the essence of  their marriage as seen through the eyes of observers in their home and through Luther’s private letters. It is thoroughly researched, thoroughly educational, and thoroughly entertaining.

Katharina lived in a time and place when women, however smart or strong-willed or educated, were treated as second class citizens. Marriage and motherhood were their highest (and some would argue, their only) calling. And yet, Katharina influenced her husband and their household in innumerable ways. She was a revolutionary ahead of her time who would not be silenced. When confronted with circumstances beyond her control, she looked for ways to circumvent them. When she encountered error or false speech, she spoke truth. Where she saw opportunity, she reached out and grabbed it.

She is exactly the kind of woman I want my girls to become. Women of valor, of truth, of resistance. Women who work tirelessly, who rise early in prayer, who serve and love and speak light into dark places. Women who are not bound by the words with which men label them, but who rise above those words and recognize themselves as Beloved, Chosen, Accepted, Free.

We live in a time where the messages my girls receive about who they are and their value as women is conflicted and confusing. A time when misogynistic speech rings out from the highest offices, and boys in the classroom repeat what they hear our leaders say. They sit in the middle of a swirl of words spoken by men for men about the significance of men which informs their view of the world and their place in it. They need women like Katharina, who lived in far more challenging circumstances, to speak to them today.

I’m so grateful Michelle sat surrounded by stacks and sifted through the mountains of words. I’m encouraged by Katharina and Martin’s story, and I think you will be too. In honor of strong women everywhere doing hard things, I’d like to gift one reader with a copy of Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. It’s the story of two imperfect people resisting the establishment together for God’s glory. I can’t think of a better time to read it.

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I’m giving away one copy of Michelle’s book, and I would love for you to have it. To enter the drawing either leave a comment here on the blog, or on my Facebook page. In an entirely unscientific method, I will choose one name out of a hat and notify a winner by next Monday, Feb 6th. Happy commenting!

My Favorite Books of 2016

Photo from instagram

I spent a good portion of this year dog-earing and underlining required reading books for graduate school. Some of them were fantastic, others made me want to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks in order to finish. I read fewer books than I hoped, and fewer books related to my personal interests, however, I read more widely than I have in years. I consider that a personal win. I give you my top ten books of 2016. Would you share your favorite reads with me too? One can never have too many books piled around the house, waiting to be read.

Best Fiction:

Gilead by Marilyn Robinson

“…an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart.”

This is a book to read slowly and savor the craft of Robinson’s words. The themes resonated with me deeply as the daughter of a minister, and brought me to tears at times. Brilliant and beautiful. Well worth the time it took to read it.

Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

“…a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.”

A story worth telling wrapped up within excellent storytelling. I think about some of the scenes and themes in this book often. It opened my eyes to the varied experiences of black women in America, and the nuances of being born a black American vs an African immigrant vs a black immigrant from the islands. I have so much to learn, and Adichie’s voice is both powerful and touching at once.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“…sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.”

I typically shy away from fluffier, chick-lit type books, but it’s hard to write fluff about WWII. I loved the strength of the female characters and the arc of the story. I read a fair number of books set in this time period, and this was a less emotionally intense story than my last WWII read–All The Light We Cannot See–which was a favorite in 2015.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

“…a young wife and mother on a failing farm in rural Tennessee who experiences something she cannot explain, and how her discovery energizes various competing factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians—trapping her in the center of the conflict and ultimately opening up her world.”

 Kingsolver’s writing is a notch above almost everything else I read. She writes with a depth of understanding for what motivates us as human beings, what causes despair, what creates change. I found this to be extremely timely given the political divide we’re facing as a nation and this shed some much needed light on rural life in America.

Best Non-Fiction:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives.”

There’s not much I can say apart from the fact that this book was life-changing for me. Coates’ experience and concern for his black son brought me to tears and led me to repentance. This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding race relations and what it means to live in the body of a black man in America today.

Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy

“Through stories of planting and preserving, of opening the gates wide to neighbors, and of learning to speak the language of a place, Christie invites readers into the joy of small beginnings and the knowledge that the kingdom of God is with us here and now.”

Christie’s book was a jewel in the dark heart of winter. She is one of my favorite writers–lyrical, insightful, gentle in every way. Read my full review of Roots and Sky here. Then buy yourself a copy.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

“Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination.”

Fascinating, imaginative, and a new way of writing memoir. Solnit weaves in far more than her own life story, which makes this book rich in its telling.

Best Devotional:

At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time compiled by Sarah Arthur

“With a title inspired by T. S. Eliot, this “literary” prayer book is for every Christian who has ever felt led to pray while reading a novel or a poem. These great writers know the things of God but speak in metaphor.”

I can’t speak highly enough about Sarah Arthur’s literary guides to prayer (there are three). She has exquisite taste in literature and poetry, and is finely tuned to the work of the Holy Spirit through the use of such works, accompanied by scripture. Her books have revolutionized my devotional time.

Best Collection of Poetry:

Words for Empty and Words for Full by Bob Hicok

“As always with a Bob Hicok book, fascinating and a book you sort of can’t help but pick up and suddenly, two hours later, find yourself having read straight through. I can think of just about no contemporary poets who publish such consistently great work.” —Corduroy Books

I did read this straight through, and there isn’t much higher praise I can give for a book of poetry. It also happened to be a reading assignment for school, but what a wonderful discovery. Accessible, witty, and profound.

Best Series: 

The Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series by Louise Penny

“Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away.”

Still Life is the first in the series of eleven, and I’m well into reading the fourth book. I enjoy a good murder mystery, and these are some of the best I’ve read. The writing is rich with imagery (nothing squeamish) and deep character development. I’m addicted, and I hope Penny writes more.

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Care to share your favorites of the year? Leave a comment or hit reply from your in-box if you’re a subscriber.

*All photos and blurbs taken from goodreads

**Most of these books contain adult language and adult situations, which I’m down with because–I’m an adult;) If you’re sensitive to either, you might want to research further before purchasing.

Falling Free: A Book Giveaway

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“Hallelujah, there is no one-mission-fits-all. Heartbreak, loneliness, isolation, and lack aren’t organized by zip code, and he’s begging all of us not to detour around the pain.” ~Shannan Martin in Falling Free

***This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for reading!

I live in an affluent area, surrounded by affluent people, doing whatever it is the affluent do. If the rumors are true, the teens do heroin and shots of vodka on weekends. The fathers do long hours at work, and potentially one of the women they meet there. The mothers do pills or wine or retail therapy.

This is an overgeneralization, of course. There are healthy people living full, meaningful lives in our community. Generous. Kind. Purposeful people. But, in my experience, the rumors often hold a kernel of truth. I know cheaters. I know mothers who pop or sip or over-shop. I know kids who go wild. I know parents who support their wilding.

There is a pervasive poverty of spirit metastasizing and killing families in communities like mine. It is silent, but it is epidemic. It is deadly. I recognize something of myself in the mothers and fathers and kids here. I may not be acting out these dysfunctions in my everyday life (although I have been known to shop my feelings), but I know my heart, and it’s often filled with anxiety and fear. It is prone to wander. It is selfish and consumeristic and fickle.

I recently read Shannan Martin‘s challenging new book, Falling Free, where she chronicles her family’s move from their comfortable, middle class life in a beautiful, old farmhouse to an urban center riddled with crime, drugs, and failing schools. In short order, her husband resigned from his job to become a chaplain at the county jail, they adopted a young man with an arrest record, and they flung open the doors of their home, and became a haven for toddlers, wayward teens, and former criminals.

In her book, Shannan shares her story of how deciding to follow God into his upside down kingdom turned her family’s life inside out and upside down. She writes of the good and the hard, the gut-wrenching and the holy. It’s a strong book, a call to live with the ferocious love of Jesus, a vivid reminder of what it means to truly live with a kingdom mindset today.

Falling Free left me wondering how I can obey Jesus’ call to love the disenfranchised, the poor, the outsider, when my real life is filled with the “Haves” rather than the “Have Nots”. I know for this season of life, we are living exactly where God has placed us. I’m certain that God has brought us here to grow roots, to learn what it means to belong, and perhaps, he has rooted us here to offer others a place of belonging.

I don’t know the answer to my wonderings yet. I don’t know how to meet the needs of the people around me, much less the needs of the people in communities I’ll never meet. Shannan writes, “Hallelujah, there is no one-mission-fits-all.” and I bathe in this grace. While I don’t know my exact mission for living like Jesus in my community, I do know that it begins by asking myself hard questions. It begins by examining my own heart, and looking for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth in both my community and communities outside of it. There is room for all of us to use our gifts, our abundance, and our rootedness to show others the love of Christ. Pain isn’t restricted to a zip code, and neither is generosity.

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I’m giving away one copy of Shannan’s book, Falling Free, and I would love for you to have it. Prepare yourself for a roller coaster of emotions, because you’re going to feel ’em! To enter the drawing either leave a comment here on the blog, or on my Facebook page. In an entirely unscientific method of drawing a name out of a hat, I will choose and notify a winner by next Wednesday, Oct 5th. Happy commenting!